Friday, December 14, 2012

It's just data

A thing I have learned in the last couple of days is an important thing about our modern era of digital video: It's just data.

In the old days when I filmed something, it would be on a tape. I'd digitise that, and then the tape would go and sit in a box in a cupboard. If a hard drive melted, that's fine, cos there's always that tape in a cupboard.

It's all changed since we all moved over to the glossy, baffling world of HD Video (what is the difference between i and p? Can anyone ever explain that in a way that doesn't make you want to burn their star wars figures?). You'll film stuff. It'll sit on a card, which is like a tape but a hundred times more expensive - so you don't keep the card, you back it up onto a hard drive. Which... in theory is fine.

Until something goes wrong. A couple of nights ago, halfway through some work, a hard drive just wandered   away. As it went, I started frantically moving stuff off of it. I was glad of the warning, and so acted quickly.

In my completely calm and rational search for 500 gig of space, I noticed a project on a random hard drive. "Oh, that old thing" I thought, and deleted it.

A day later, looking for something, I realised. I hadn't deleted a random backup of an old project. I'd deleted the project itself. Months of editing work, gone. But, you know, I could always get it back from the rushes.... only, also gone were all the rushes. With the same click.

In the old days, if I'd had to, I could have reassembled the project - I keep copies of the project in dropbox, so it's just a matter of redigitising the rushes. Only the rushes no longer sit sleeping in a cupboard. There is no cupboard. They nestle snugly in the folder itself. Until I pressed "delete".

That's the difference between tapes and tapeless. In a crisis panic, I'd never open up a cupboard and throw out my rushes. Even if I'd bought an especially mimsy cardigan that needed hanging up really quickly, I'd never do that. But it's not the same with tapeless rushes. They're just space.

Clearly, I need to think differently about backing up projects - no longer is it enough to have a spare copy on a hard drive. I need to buy a hard drive that is effectively that box in a cupboard. And even so, a hard drive is not as reliable as a box in a cupboard. We all know that feeling where you plug in an old hard drive after a couple of years and it goes "hmmm" like a winky Sauron, its contents shifting into a Schrodinger state. Does that happen with a box in a cupboard? No.

A cameraman told me a relevant story about digital projection in cinemas. A hard drive of the "film" is delivered. Each time you play it, it needs a code fetching from a server to unlock it. A problem that cinemas (especially small, independent ones) are experiencing sometimes is getting onto the server to get the code to unlock the film. So they end up showing the film from the emergency backup DVD.

By the time I die, we'll all exist backed up on hard drives. Which will be fine. Until someone can't get onto the server, or find the right power cable. And then we'll sit there. In a box in a cupboard.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Once I had a stalker

And I've just found my old emails about it. It was a curious affair, so I'd better hide a few names.


It all began in the October 2000. I'd just got a job running the BBC Cult site. The BBC at the time had a Cult TV messageboard. Ironically, I didn't yet have access to moderate it, as I'd only just got the job. However, just before I joined:

  1. The BBC had changed the timeslot of the X-Files (nothing to do with me)
  2. There'd been a mistake in an X-Files quiz (nothing to do with me)
  3. Some members of the messageboard had complained that the atmosphere on there was unfriendly.
  4. One of the messageboard moderators had, without my knowledge, grandly announced I'd been appointed to run the new site which the X-Files messageboard would become part of.
With me so far? First of all (we'll call him) Mr Stalker posted an angry message to me, blaming me for changing the scheduling of the X-Files. This was removed, but not by me. IT being as slow to set up an account as it was, I couldn't have, even if I'd wanted to. I had no direct contact with the BBC Messageboard team (they were a pretty independent bunch paid for out of my budget). Mr Stalker then posted the following about "my actions":

This is without any doubt the strictest and most disgraceful moderation I’ve ever seen. I would like to propose a Week Long Blackout of the BBC X Files Forum starting from Monday Morning. If you would be interested in Operation ‘BBC BLACKOUT’ please say so here. I don’t want to do this, but the moderation is disgraceful. Does the host have any comments to make ? 

What? No posts about the X-Files? For a whole week? The Head of the BBC Messageboards sent him an immediate email:

"Hi [name removed],
  
It seems I need to sit down with the hosts and moderators and talk about this message board and how it is run.  It's YOUR message board... Let me sort this one out for you.

Please send me your thoughts.  Ring me if you like too."

I know she sent this email. Not only did she then forward it to me, the forum moderators, my manager, and my manager's manager ("Can we organise a meeting to discuss this urgently please?"), but... well, we'll see why later.

The moderators were actually quite unhappy with the Head of the BBC Messageboards' instant response (They copied me in on a lengthy report to her which concluded "It's simply not true that we delete 'whole threads of relevant posts' as Mr Stalker is suggesting. We're disappointed that in this instance you didn't feel it necessary to consult us first").

This is when it gets weird. A strange message appeared on the board from Mr Stalker:

"Jim, did you get my phone call?"

I hadn't. I was curious as to why he was calling me Jim, and to what phone call he was referring. I wondered if this explained the sudden number of empty voicemails we were getting on the home answering machine (mind you, at the time, we had "Livin' La Vida Loca" as our answering machine message). 

He then continued to post. Apparently I "had a nice house". Mr Stalker also had some observations of my personal habits. This was getting creepy. 

We now reached December. And Mr Stalker posted the following:

"Jim,
Maybe you should start by accepting help when you are offered it. You ignore me. Well... If your going to treat your regulars like sh*t then you can shove your fuc*ing quiz... Trust me Jim, you wouldn't appreciate help if it came up and bit you on the ass. And if the moderators are going to delete this, please advise Jim that I think that even rapists show respect to their victims, than James does."

It was eventually taken down, not because it compared me unfavourably to a rapist, but because he'd gamed the swear-word filter. 

I considered this was progress. Not only had he got my name right, but he was now sending me abuse. Perhaps he could be banned? Instead, here's an apparent response from the Head of the BBC Messageboards to Mr Stalker:

I thought you might want to have a 'between you and me' type discussion so that I can sort this out.  I can do some internal stuff to improve the situation.  I have already spoken to James Goss today about this, explaining that I feel you may have a point/deserve a hearing.

(I say "apparently" because this email wasn't copied in to me. However, as you'll later see the style is quite consistent with it being from the Head of the BBC Messageboards.)

As a result he wasn't banned outright, just suspended. Shortly afterwards, he was allowed to rejoin. At which point he posted the following thread about me. Its title? "how he likes 2beat himself". 

The moderators removed this (thankfully before referring it to me for fact-checking) and suspended his account for a short period of time.

Shortly afterwards, the BBC received the following email (edited) from Mr Stalker:

Mr. Stalker wrote:
To: cult@bbc.co.uk 

Dear Sir/Madam,
Recently a new HOST has been appointed, Mr.James Goss. I have reason to belive he is conspiring to repress me.... A moderator/s also continues to harass me on the forum by deleting every single message that I post... He has intimidated me through private mail from his private AOL address... It's making me really upset, as there are no grounds for deleting my messages... I hope there is a line of investigation you can take for this matter. Could I have a BBC contact number!
!
, where I could telephone a complaint in person as this problem has reduced me to tears on many occasions.

Now, this was a serious allegation.  His email had come through to an inbox I had access to. I read it, and then duly passed it to my manager and asked him to start an investigation. Luckily, the investigation into me was helped by Mr Stalker. Here's a sample email I apparently sent him:

Snowie[deleted]@aol.com

Good to hear from you! 

I know I can be a bit of a wally sometimes-like with the WMM topic- but would like to think that I am a fair and reasonable person and I don't mind a bit of good humour even if it is directed at me!

So as of next week I am going to start to email you the quiz for you to proof  read and I would welcome any other contributions/suggestions/ideas you may have in making the board the success it is.

Cheers

Jim :0)

PS Ok Snowie is a bit fluffy but it is a nick name that was given to me by an 
ex-partner which has kind of stuck!  lol!!!! I will consider your suggestion 
of something a little harder!! lol!! 

It's weird reading an email that's apparently written by you. I didn't write it. Here's why:
  1. Why  would I email someone not from my BBC address about BBC business?
  2. This is "intimidation"?
  3. Much as I love Tintin, no-one has ever called me Snowie.
  4. lol!!
This didn't stop us all taking it very seriously. My manager looked into it. It was decided the emails were forgeries and we asked that Mr Stalker be permanently banned. Lol!! 

Instead, the Head of the BBC's messageboards continued to "reach out" to Mr Stalker, asking him for more evidence and allowing him to continue posting on the boards.

I'll look for your reply tomorrow. Hold tight and I'll try and improve things. Once I have your permission, then I'll have a quiet word with James Goss.

So, to summarize, Mr Stalker had likened me to a rapist, talked about my masturbatory habits, and claimed to know my home number and where I lived.... and, instead of banning him, the Head of the BBC Messageboards seemed to think Mr Stalker "may have a point" and that a "quiet word" needed to be had with me. 

Maybe she was just acting as a genuine peacemaker in the best interests of the community, but from my point-of-view I was trapped in a situation that was uniquely BBC Kafkaesque. I was the subject of a hate campaign, much of it published on the BBC website, and the person responsible for overseeing that bit of the site wanted it to continue. I was alarmed and scared and my flatmates wondered about changing the phone number.

Which is where my manager came into his own. I had an... interesting relationship with him. He could be very intimidating. But this was definitely his finest hour. He summoned the Head of Messageboards to a meeting. This is how I remember it going:

MANAGER: Ban him. Permanently.
Head of Messageboards (HOM): No. We can't. It's a community.
MANAGER: So, you intend allowing this persecution to continue? 
HOM: Persecution, that's a strong word.
MANAGER: Where does your traffic come from?
HOM: From the... er... users. The community.
MANAGER: But how much traffic comes from the links to the boards from the Cult site?
HOM: uh... I'd have to go through the logs.
MANAGER: James?
ME: About 90%
MANAGER: And how long would it take you to remove all those links from the Cult site?
ME: Er, about half an hour.
MANAGER: Do it.
HOM: Wait... wait!

This is when my manager played his trump card. You see, Mr Stalker had started up a website. Where he not only posted up all the email he had purportedly received from me, but also all the (seemingly genuine) correspondence from the Head of the BBC Messageboards. Such as:

Would you like to have a chat with me to discreetly air your views re: the Cult TV Message Board? Thought you might like to be given the opportunity. I'd like to help (discreetly and confidentially with no-one else knowing)...I promise, faithfully to do what I can to resolve your situation.

Best wishes...

Her reaction to finding this had been republished online was rather less conciliatory. We know this because Mr Stalker also helpfully published it:

I went over to see both the Host and Editor of the Cult TV message board this morning.  I have also had a meeting with the BBC Moderators, and our lawyers. You are presently breaking BBC Copyright/the law by hosting a website which is defaming a BBC employee - it also contains BBC copyright images. 

The site was taken down and he was permanently banned.

End of story?

Not quite. It became a case study for safer management of BBC Communities and the protection of BBC Staff. I was even allowed to host the BBC Messageboards, but under a pseudonym. A happy ending?

No. A year later, the BBC Communities team launched a series of chat rooms. Understanably nervous/terrified about this, I warily agreed that there could be a weekly "Cult Chatroom", but wanted nothing to do with it. It lasted three weeks and then, the morning after the third one, I received an email from one of the community team:

Something happened last night. Ask to see the log of the Cult chatroom.

Intrigued, I asked the manager of the Chatrooms. There was a long "I don't think you  need to see that" delay. Eventually, after some chasing, the log turned up. It made increasingly painful reading as the moderator clearly didn't know anything about any of the BBC's Cult television programmes, and the chat moved from gentle mockery, to abuse, to name-calling to angry chaos. The name of the moderator? "James Goss".

Worse, the chat ended with "James Goss" announcing  "We're closing tonight's chat and the Cult chatrooms until further notice." And then, "If you have any comments, please email [myemailaddress]@bbc.co.uk"

Guess who emailed me? Mr Stalker.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

A restricted view of tonight's Martian Invasion


War of the Worlds live.

Yes, it was all kinds of amazing, but... (oh, how hateful to carp about these things) but... but for £50 tickets I'd hoped for something a bit better than a view of some speakers and the lighting rig. I'm sure there's a very exciting, engaged debate to be had about non-subsidised arts, but really and honestly, I can't remember a notice when I was booking saying "There'll be a restricted view of your Martian Invasion".

Being a long way away from these things normally doesn't matter. After all, in these arenas, there are usually screens. And yes, there was one screen showing what was going on - it was the screen hidden behind the speakers and the lighting rig. Hum.

If you're going (and do, if only to marvel at the Martian War Machine on stage), then clearly, if you want to see death rain down on you, you're going to have to pay more. There, an actual Death Tax.

Not keeping up with 70s concept albums, I was unaware that this was the dubstep remix on tour. I had no idea a dubstep remix could tour. Indeed, I've only a hazy idea what a dubstep remix is, but it seems to be a bit of "wobblewobbleboosh" over samples of Liam Neeson saying "black clouds" (Note: the Gran in After Henry once peerlessly described Walkman music as "going wickaboom wickaboom, that's all it is"). Anyway, if you're going to fiddle with something, you may as well fiddle with it harmlessly. And it gave us the joy of watching Jeff Wayne conduct the dubstep bits using Dad Wedding Dancing.

Looming over the action was a big screen. The big screen we couldn't properly see. From our £50 seats. (Yes, I am going on about this, but you can't help sitting in a packed arena and doing "How much is this making?" maths). On the big screen are a lot of computer graphics. It's as if Jeff's popped down the local technical college and told them to go crazy for their summer project. And go crazy they duly did. Some of the results are amazing and impressive. Some of them... well, Jason Donovan's suffered a lot of indignity in life, but to see him dragged off stage and then rendered as a CGI barbie doll being devoured by a tripod against clip art of a church is possibly a new low.

Maybe I was missing the full beauty. Due to the speakers and the lighting rig getting in the way. Of my £50 seats. That's the real victory of the Martians. Making you feel cheap for only spending £50 on tickets.

Do go, though. There's a lot of spectacle you can enjoy, really enjoy. You can also marvel at how tiny the average human bladder is. War of the Worlds is not a long show - it's two 45-minute albums, after all. With an interval. And yet there was a constant trickle to-and-from the bogs. As the Artillery Man commented, the nice thing about the Martians invaded was that the sewers were flushed clean and sweet.

The final shame was that, if a stadium could be said to scarper, it scarpered before the end. This wasn't a matinee showing of 27 Dresses at the Vue. This was War!of!the!Worlds! Live!on!Stage! with a Real!Live!Tripod!, but the people of Manchester grabbed their coats and made for the exit before Jason Donovan had even finished his curtain call. Which is a real shame, as they then missed the genuinely impressive bit at the end where they let off all the remaining pyrotechnics. Which looked amazing. Even from my £50 seat.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The quick wilderness


One of the advantages of my boyfriend living in Manchester is that it's just possible for us to nip to Scotland for the weekend.

One the trip we learned the difference between the two types of Too Good To Be True when it comes to hotels.

Hotel #1: £40 for a hotel room in Glasgow is cheap, but not insanely so. The booking website said it was nothing special, but would be fine. It was actually horrible. Horrible in a "reception full of building waste and a man behind the counter asking if we minded having no bathroom" way. The room was tiny and filthy and we checked out in about 5 minutes.

Hotel #2: £35 for a hotel room on the shores of a loch? Now that is ridiculous. But, actually, I can recommend the Arrochar Hotel. I can imagine it's hideous in summer when it's a coach trap for American tourists, but out-of-season it's The Shining with a great view. A really great view. A view so great that when I went to the breakfast bar I just stood and gawped at the view before even trying to locate the grapefruit segments. The bar was a laugh - it was lit like an airport lounge, and a man stood in the corner crooning hits from the 50s. But we didn't care - we spent the evening in our room, watching Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter and drinking scotch.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Hammer Time

Fans are mental. It's almost part of the definition. However, if you drew a Venn Diagram that showed "Loving something too much", "The Internet" and "HD Video Standards" the overlap would be the Hammer blu-ray releases:



As far as I can work out, the story goes like this - after years of firms slapping out "will this do?" DVD releases, Studio Canal come along and decide to lavishly restore them for blu-ray. You'd assume the result would be rejoicing in the streets. Instead it's more like this:


I find the whole thing baffling. There's a special blog in which Hammer painstakingly (to the point of eye-watering tedium) explain every single restoration choice in a language which is practically machine code (Sample sentence: "1.66:1 – a predominantly UK and European widescreen aspect ratio designed to be centre matted from a 4-perf 35mm frame..."). And underneath is a torrent of comments, bandying about acronyms and aspect ratios like quadratic equations (1.66:1 COF = 1.33:1 DNVR DPOD).

Like staring into the Matrix, it's mesmerising without making much sense. On one release the restorers offered a print that was deemed "too sharp without enough of the original grain visible". When they eased the effect back for the next release it is screamed at for being "too soft and too grainy". Clearly, they cannot win.



One of the latest furores involves The Devil Rides Out. On original release there simply wasn't the time/budget to finish the effects. The restorers have dared to sympathetically finish them - they've not added lens flare laser guns, CGI kangaroos, and Greedo does not shoot first - they've simply pasted in the odd background, tidied up some nasty matt-lines, and risked painting in a missing fetlock on the Angel of Death's horse. That kind of thing. You'd assume they'd be thanked for bothering.

No.

The outpouring of qaudratic anger is unstemmable. (http://blog.hammerfilms.com/?p=321#comments) Some of it is understandable - a few years ago, Optimum restored The Avengers, and nearly every release had to be recalled, reissued or apologised for, leading to a lot of fan cynicism about "restored releases". But in this case it seems to be some nice people caring very hard about some films for the first time in 50 years. I'm on their side (a deciding factor is that, on the special features, they all appear to be hot). Also on their side is a commenter who pops up, like a voice in the wilderness, to say:

"Chris Walker: It must be soul- destroying to restore a film after months of painstaking work, and then have to face a ton of abuse and criticism from so called “experts” who all know better...  It is a 55 year old film made for peanuts by a small company. It is never going to look like “Gone with the Wind”, so people please deal with it."

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Bleak House

Bleak House has been defeating me for 20 years now. I guess I was spoiled by the amazing television version with Diana Rigg and Denholm Elliot:


I think it was on in the same amazing year that gave us Twin Peaks, GBH, and, er, Star Trek TNG Season 2. But I remember how great it was.

So, I remember how odd I found trying the read the actual book before going to University, how I abandoned reading it at university, and how I've picked it up ever since, read those first few pages about fog, and then put it sadly down. I've even bought repeated copies, as though somehow owning more and more would allow me to read it by osmosis. They all remained unread.

Every time I picked up another book, and I'm not kidding, I've always felt that tiny guilt that I wasn't finally getting on with Bleak House. I've not had this problem with other Dickens books - but there's something about this one. Perhaps it's that the title and the atmosphere are matched to a plot that (for all it's grubby tangles) is really quite simple.

Earlier this year, I tried again. I got quite far, then suddenly found myself reading half a dozen Perry Masons and thinking "Perry would have solved Jarndyce and Jarndyce in an hour and then gone out for cocktails and dancing with Lady Deadlock." Ever since, I've picked it up, got a little further, and stopped.

Finally, wonderfully, I found this:


I'm not sure entirely what to think. It's kind of cheating, especially when poor Hugh Dickinson is doing so much work (he really do do the police in different voices, he do). It's about 30 hours long, and I dread to think how long it took to record. But it means I'm whipping through it.

I am finally going to finish Bleak House.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Expensive Farts

It's our anniversary. Yes, two years since this blog stopped being fun.

We celebrated by going to a Vegetarian restaurant. I hate Vegetarian restaurants. There are exceptions, but, by-and-large you find yourself smugly overcharged for chickpea curry. I decided to be cunning, and asked friends on Facebook. I then presented my boyfriend with the crowd-sourced list and said "pick one".

He picked the wrong one. It was a bland shed lit by tea lights. In one corner a man read a Russian novel. In another, two women talked church politics ("I always find that black women, when you're dealing with them...", "Well, I'm black, and I never-", "That's you, dear."). We sat in a corner and looked at the menu. It was depressingly uninventive. He ordered the chickpea fritata. I ordered the chickpea curry.

We ate in glum silence. It was kind of like prison food, give or take a human ear. The whole dreary process lasted less than an hour and cost over fifty quid. We then went and bought anniversary gaviscon.

The shoddy horror of the whole experience is that there is fun vegetarian food. Inventive, exciting stuff - raw burgers, tofu fantasies, seaweed surprise. Not stuff worse than you could make at home. The shocker was the mark-up. Half a tin of chickpeas each is not exactly wild truffles.

We then went to a party (pausing only to stand outside McD's and sigh) and got talking to a beautiful Frenchman, who said "Me and my boyfriend, it's only been two years, but I tell you, you know after a few months. I knew immediately. I'm going to propose. Seriously. Here's my mind map for how it'll work." It was pastel-coloured. We said nothing.

After that we went home, watched a Hammer film about incest and drank scotch. Happy anniversary.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Your bacon isn't smuggled

One discovery of my flight to Berlin is that you can take bacon in your hand luggage. You do get a funny look from the x-ray lady, but no-one has yet discovered a way of weaponising bacon.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Don't Mention Berlin


I'm standing in a flea-market in Berlin. A young American girl walks past, dragging her hot German boyfriend.

"Oh wow, this stuff is amazing," American girl enthuses. "We have a wonderful word for this, you know. Kitsch."
"Yes," says her boyfriend, "we have that too."

Going to Berlin is a little bit like going on holiday to the Death Star. You can try very hard, but you can't quite forget that something dreadful happened here. There's still an abundance of wide-open spaces, leafy gaps appearing in rows of houses, sudden wastelands glimpsed as your train crosses districts.

You're even reminded of it in museums. I went to see the Pergamon Museum (do go - there's almost an entire Greek Temple and the Gates of Babylon. Indoors. Amazing), and even there there's a small exhibit explaining how the temple was damaged during the bombing, taken by the Soviets, and grudgingly recovered. It was then that they realised that still more bits went missing, and someone had the job of touring the home counties, visiting members of the English army who had taken away the odd souvenir.

The on-trend thing to do if you're a hipster is to break into the Spreepark and then announce that it's so over. The Spreepark is a theme park that went bust a few years ago. Its owner absconded to South America - not the first time someone from Berlin's done this, but he did take the rides with him, which must have been quite a unique DHL phone call. He and the rides returned, but customs discovered he'd stuffed the rides full of cocaine. So now the park remains, a creepy ruin, chained-up... with fences just begging to be climbed, and a giant ferris wheel spinning in the wind, making the sound of the screaming of a thousand souls. We broke in, and it was enormous fun.

It's a curious sensation - amusement parks are designed to give you safe, exciting thrills - and you get a similar sense of artificial danger sneaking around a closed one, trying to avoid the security company. We dodged one patrol and fell through some bushes onto a forgotten railway track. It is, actually, quite hard running on a railway. We ended up crouched by a stagnant log flume as a police car and a bicycle patrol went past our heads. It was at this point I said to my boyfriend, "Well, we've climbed over a wall and we're being chased by guards. In East Berlin." Hipsters have reinvented the cold war.

We left, feeling very daring. We then passed a crowd of American tourists kicking a padlock before clambering through a massive hole in the fence. They strolled around, taking photos with the flash on and laughing about how, if they met any guards, they'd just bribe them.

Later on, we went to a bear bar. Two giant screens hung over the bar. One showed bear porn. The other showed The Muppet Show. The bears stood around trying to be serious and growly (although one tried to chat another up by pointing at the Muppets' guest star and cooing "That's Gilda Radner. She's fabulous!").We stood around laughing at the terrible carpet in the porn.

When we left, my boyfriend complained "It's weird knowing everyone's looking at you working out how much you'd cost." He paused. "I'm sure you must have felt that way once."

Saturday, September 08, 2012

On-Demanding


The problem with piracy, people point out, is that it's so much easier than doing it legitimately.

Last night, we decided to watch Iron Sky. I loudly said how it'd be avaialble through my Virgin set-top box. Turns out, it wasn't, but it was through Virgin's Online OnDemand service. How hard could it be?

STEP 1: Order film.

STEP 2: Install a new, different version of Silverlight.

STEP 3: Reinstall browser.

STEP 3: Re-order film.

STEP 4: Enter my Virgin account details.

STEP 5: Re-enter my Virgin account details.

STEP 6: Wait... you want me to set up a whole new Virgin account, different from the one I use for all other Virgin Media stuff?

STEP 7: (swearing)

STEP 8: Set up whole new account.

STEP 9: Order film.

STEP 10: Quick trip to Pay Pal.

STEP 11: Curious diversion on the PayPal site where they bring up whether it'd be easier if I entered my credit card details. Well, no, as that's why I use PayPal, silly.

STEP 12: (put dinner in microwave as it's getting cold now)

STEP 13: I have bought a movie!

STEP 14: But wait... would I like to stream or download? It's an either/or, chum. And no changing your mind.

STEP 15: Open up speed test. Apparently, my Virgin broadband isn't fast enough to stream a film from the Virgin website. Fun.

STEP 16: Click "Download movie".

STEP 17: Install "Virgin Media On Demand Movies Playing" software.

STEP 18: As Asterix would say "!@@##1!!!%%^&!¬"

STEP 19: Start downloading movie.

STEP 20: While waiting, try to ignore massive "Cannot play on this device..." caption on the player. It's just bad design, it's just there to tell me that I have downloaded no movies that cannot not play on the player. Helpful.



STEP 21: Movie downloads (in only 10 minutes, so actually, you now, I could have defied that speed test after all - but let's not risk it).

STEP 22: Movie starts playing. Amazing.

STEP 23: Plug laptop into telly.

STEP 24: Movie stops playing and flashes up error message.

STEP 25: Restart player. Movie plays.,

STEP 26: Remember crispy dinner needs re-microwaving. Press pause.

STEP 27: Movie crashes again.

STEP 26: Restart player. Enjoy Iron Sky!



THINGS TO POINT OUT:
1) We actually had no rows during this. This was partly because my boyfriend went and hid in the kitchen, eating Naan bread in the dark.

2) I had just downloaded a movie. The people of 2002 would be a bit chuffed by this. Craig David, for one, would be delighted all week.

3) Buying movies through set-top box? Sooo easy. Buying MP3s, even from audiobook firms (some of whom, yes, I work for occasionally) really easy and pleasant.

4) No, I haven't tried iTunes as that's installed on my Netbook. It's only just powerful enough to run it, and, while I'm quite happily letting iTunes declare liebensraum over it, I'm not going to risk damaging our fragile entente by asking it to play a film.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Amsterdamp

Recently, we went to Amsterdam. My boyfriend  bought a pair of shorts to go clubbing in.

"I think those are pants." I said.
"No, old man, these are definitely shorts. It's just a European cut. Can you hold my wallet? There don't appear to be any pockets in these shorts."

So, we headed out with him dressed in a micro t-shirt and a pair of knickers. Like so:



He suggested we go to a club called The Eagle because 
there's one with that name in Manchester and it's dead classy. I wasn't convinced - the Dutch branch had no windows and even from the outside, it looked a bit fisty. "No no," he assured me, "It's part of a chain. The one in Manchester is a swishy cocktail bar."

Slow dissolve to us standing in a dimly-lit bar that smelt of poppers and kidney infections. There were no cocktails.

"I'm fairly sure it's a sex club," I insisted, but he shook his head, suggesting we go to the "lounge" upstairs. It contained a lot of dark corners and a picnic bench lit by a single red bulb.

"Don't sit on the picnic bench," I said.

We went and sat in a corner and slowly sipped our drinks. They may not have been cocktails, but they were very strong. Probably a good cure for shigella.

There was a long pause.

"This seat is quite damp."

Another long pause.

"I'm sitting in a sex club wearing only a pair of pants and something is dribbling down my leg."

Thursday, August 23, 2012

I'll take you to Blackpool

My boyfriend suggests we go to Blackpool for... well, he doesn't call it a romantic weekend. Instead he tells me there'll be chips involved.

Having seen a few too many episodes of The Hotel Inspector (apparently they can't do an episode in Blackpool without mentioning rodents and roaches) he decided that, as the gays like do like their cleanliness, we'd stay at a gay hotel. He asked his old flatmate for advice.

Which is how I ended up phoning a place where all the rooms are named after divas. "I can't give you Bassey, but Kylie's free then. It doesn't have a chiller but it does have tea and coffee making facilities." I'm sure Kylie would approve.

We check in. It's homely. Very homely. With a tiny disco in the front room and a notice advising us to book early for Christmas. We go up to our room. I boil the travel kettle while my boyfriend checks the Hotel Booklet. And then pauses. "Have you seen this...."


We had accidentally booked into a sex hotel.

Friday, August 17, 2012

10 good things about Freelancing

Ten good things about freelancing:

  1. Sofa = Office
  2. The canteen never shuts
  3. If a book is that good, you may stay up till 3am reading it.
  4. And have a lie-in till 10 the next day. Sometimes.
  5. Being in for the delivery man
  6. Lego = Team-Building Away Day  .
  7. You get to go to the gym when the only other person there is a pervy-looking gymnast.
  8. No meetings*
  9. The giddy rush that comes from being able to turn down a hateful project. 
  10. Cat = Manager
(* this is not true. Everyone has meetings)

I could list the bad things, the many, many bad things. But today I am celebrating the good.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Party party

I went to a marvellous party given by a friend who likes Labour. She likes Labour so much the highlight was her children playing "Bash the Tory pinata" as a papier mache concoction of Boris and Dave exploded in a haribo shower. For her politics is fun.


Also at the party was a young Labour activist. He was good looking, even if all his clothes felt a bit tweedy/flanelly/corduroy, and he had that vibrant passion about politics that 19 year-olds have. For him politics was decidedly not fun. We'll call him Blairette.

My feelings about politics have always been summed up by Bridget Jones:
"Labour stands for the principle of sharing, kindness, gays, single mothers and Nelson Mandela as opposed to braying bossy men having affairs with everyone shag-shag-shag left, right and centre and going to the Ritz in Paris then telling all the presenters off on the Today programme."

I'm not really a details person. It's curious the way people are polite at parties - in that we tolerate people being very rude to us but go out of our way to avoid giving offence back.  Blairette was thundering away about how Boris was an evil, crypto-fascist Murdockian running dog (gawd, student politicians sound the same now as they did in the 90s). I casually said I thought he was actually rather endearing, and pointed out that, if Ken had got stuck on a tripwire, we'd have seen a massive sense of humour failure, rather than a grown man valiantly waving a flag and doing Thomas The Tank Engine impressions.


I did not, at any point, say I thought Boris was the best thing since sliced oxygen. Just that he was fun and handled bad situations well.

BLAIRETTE: (a hiss of denouncement) "Did you vote for him?"

ME: "No. I voted for the nice lady who is dressed by her cats. But I put Boris second."

BLAIRETTE: "That makes you a fellow traveller! The Greens don't count! You're voting for the Bullingdonian Enclave!"

ME: "Actually, I was just making sure I wasn't voting for Ken. He's the kind of boyfriend you'd have help arrange you a mortgage, whereas Boris is the one you'd got out for dinner with."

BLAIRETTE: "I'll have you know that Ken wrote a restaurant review column. It was very entertaining, actually."

ME: "Well, I'm not sure I'd eat at a restaurant he liked-"

At this point Blairette dismissed me and starting urging my friend to back his tabled point of order at conference, which, if passed would allow people to not only table points of order but also clarify a  mandated speaking point when tabling points of order. "It'll blow the place apart!" He really figured this nonsense really was the way to enhance the unions, grow power, and make people vote Labour again.

I found it all baffling, tiresome and sad. It's tedious being lectured on politics by a 19 year-old expert. It also made him quiet hard to fancy (I bet even his undercrackers were corduroy). My last encounter with Labour Activism was at a car boot sale where a book stall was manned by two very bright gay young things who urged me to attend meetings with the promise of free tea, biscuits, and a throupon in the disabled loos. The thing they remembered was that politics is supposed to be - just a little bit - fun.

That's why those of us who blithely voted Labour in 1997 voted for them - because it felt like we were putting the fun people in charge. And it's why I now find it so hard to vote for them. They started hanging out with weird friends, then doing hateful things, and finally, they became dull. Even the sexy ones.

The other thing was realising I was being lectured on why it was my social duty to vote Labour by someone who was 5 in 1997.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Them gays and their rights and stuff

I signed a petition. Just one. I didn't realise it would have consequences.

I am not a political person. I don't understand the reasons why things happen, I know enough about local politics to know I'm powerless, and at the last mayoral election I voted for that nice lady because she looks like she's dressed by her cats. The world is a bad, complicated place, and I'm fairly convinced that if I tried to sort it out, I'd make as much of a mess of it as when I tried to clean a laptop with spray bleach.

But, you know, from time to time, I sign a petition. The one in question was about giving a (quite hot) Ukranian gay some rights or something. I didn't read the small print, I just thought that bad things shouldn't happen to hot people.

What I didn't realise was that I was unwittingly joining the "Purpose Foundation" and consenting to receive regular emails from "Andre and Jeremy" urging me to sign yet more email petitions, and to forward their emails to my friends to get them to sign them. (The phrase "one final push" may have been used, several times).



You remember when The Guardian launched that double-page spread in the middle of the paper to publish a a daily poster of a striking piece of photo-journalism? At the start, it was eye-catching, wonderful and occasionally moving. It then became your Daily Misery Porn Pull-Out, an interchangeable blur of crying mothers and starving babies, screaming "You Should Care More!". The fact is, after a while, you don't. Like a familiar picture on the wall, after a while, you stop noticing it's there.

The same with sending regular emails from "Andre and Jeremy" about fresh atrocities that demand my signature on an e-petition to strike a vital blow/send a stern message/change the game/refresh the legacy etc etc. You may think you've created a protest movement. You haven't. You've just created manual spam.

In my imagination "Andre and Jeremy" have become idealised idealists. Andre gets back from his shift at the Shelter, hanging the bike up on the hooks in the lovely whitewashed walls of their uptown apartment. He's about to prepare dinner using some locally-sourced ingredients, when he notices something wrong. Jeremy is sat, staring sadly at his macbook. "Oh no," Andre sighs, giving his lover a backrub, "What's happened now?". "Don't worry," says Jeremy, "I've got the internet onto it. Together we'll fight this."


I just don't entirely buy that signing an online petition changes a thing. It may do. But it just feels too easy. Remember when we all got hot under the collar about that nasty Jan Moir and rushed to the Press Complaints Commission? Nothing. And filling in a PCC online complaint form was actually quite hard.

Sending me constant emails telling me to be outraged yet again just makes me sad and even more convinced that I can't change anything.

There's a lovely mention in Private Eye of Ethan Zuckerman's Cute Cat Theory of how online activism really works. In brief - people don't really care about much online beyond looking at cats and porn. Governments think they do and block their access to stuff like Facebook. The masses can't look at cats any more. They get cross. Result: uprising. He came up with the theory in 2008. When the Arab Spring happened in 2010, Mr Zuckeman got proved very right indeed.

Monday, July 02, 2012

The three-second rule does not apply

Boyfriend (crawling in at 3am on Saturday morning): "After you left,
Tara and I found a rubber truncheon on the dance floor and started
taking pictures of each other deep throating it. It was HILARIOUS."

Me: ...

Boyfriend (suddenly awake at 3am on Sunday morning): "Ow. My throat
hurts and my tonsils are swollen. I think I've got an infection. How
can this have happened?"

Me: ...

Sunday, May 27, 2012

New Media, Old Boiler

When the Internet was invented, it was all about an Information Super Highway into CyberSpace. Which initially meant Project Gutenberg and a Star Trek episode guide. Shortly afterwards the Internet invented sex and hasn't looked back since (I remember working for a firm where we used to test the speed of a PC's processor by loading up an unintentionally hilarious animated gif on a porn site - if they were banging like hyperactive steam hammers then there was a chance you'd be able to run FrontPage. Ah, innocent days).

In the early days shopping involved emailing someone your credit card details, or buying a cheap DVD from Amazon and then paying £31 import duty. It was exciting, it was cutting edge.

I don't know at what point the internet got boring. Was it just after "other people" found out about Lolcats, or when the gays got grindr on their mobile phones? Or was the moment, just now, when I caught myself shopping on ebay for spare parts for my boiler?

This is a liberation for me. I used to have a sexy plumber. Then I got a really dull Greek one who turned up briefly to try and mend the timer on my boiler 18 months ago. I said I'd like a new timer switch. He brought me a thermostat.

ME: Will this turn on the boiler at 7am?
HIM: Yes. If you wake up. You can turn it on then. From your bedroom. With remote control. Is wireless.
ME: But will it turn on the boiler at 7am if I don't wake up?
HIM: Yes. If you leave boiler on all night.
ME: And will it turn off at 9am after I go out?
HIM: Oh yes. If you use Remote Control. And work nearby. Is wireless.
ME: But is it a Timer Switch?
HIM: (puzzled pause) No, is Thermostat.
ME: I would like a Timer Switch.
HIM: Okay, boss. I get you now. But this... this is wireless.
ME: It is not a Timer Switch.
HIM: No.
ME: Can I have a Timer Switch?
HIM: Yes. If you really do not want this Wireless Thermostat.
ME: Yes please.
HIM: You want it?
ME: No, I want a Timer Switch.
HIM: Ah, okay, I go get you one right away. If I have to come back three dozen times I shall do this for you.

He charged me £100 and I never saw him again. The internet - it may be dull, but it means that I am no longer a slave to my plumber. (Although in the early 2000s the phrase "Slave to my plumber" would have got a lot of hits).

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Einstein on the Beach


Some relationships have to survive rows, lies, and infidelity. Ours had to survive Philip Glass. We made it into Einstein On The Beach, and we came out the other side, five hours later, tired and dying for a pee, but still very much together.

Other couples weren't so lucky. Genuinely, a relationship ended three seats away from us - although it took her about four minutes to storm out along the aisle, squeezing past knees, muttering excuse-mes and shooting back the odd venomous glance. She lingered, hoping he'd come after her, but he stayed where he was, watching as a child Einstein swung above the stage, throwing paper aeroplanes.

My favourite ex, Simon, introduced me to Philip Glass in the 90s, along with futons and "It's not you, I'd just rather move to Houston to design a staircase". We'd sit in bed, listening to "Songs From The Trilogy" while I read a book about spaceships and he pored over a Haynes Manual. I liked the music much I went and got the full operas - but Einstein on the Beach always defeated me.

At the time I lived in a flat with really loud upstairs neighbours who'd keep me awake with band practice till 3 every morning. I'd wake up at 7 and, as I left for work, would put on Einstein on the Beach. Loudly. On a loop. All day. After a week, the cat refused to go near my room, so I stopped. Strange when you look back and think "Ummmm.....".

Anyway, that was a long time ago. And, since then I've seen one Glass opera on stage and it was amazing - so perhaps, Einstein would be just as great live.

Well, it was. Kind of. And it was utterly wonderful and baffling and etc. But, you know, could have been over and done with in about two hours flat without anyone missing a bit. Of course, that's not the point - in the programme notes, Glass hints that the mind-numbing repetition is the idea, and the audience reaction is more important than what's going on on stage - or, in other words, sneaking a smug glance at the couple two rows down who fell quickly asleep in each other's arms, or at the recently-single man three seats away, who sat, rapt and grinning for all five hours and then gave the show a standing ovation. He looked, oddly, like a weight had been lifted from him.

And yes, if you ever get a chance to go and see it, do. And, if you're lucky enough to be in a relationship with someone who'll go with you, take them. If to see if you can make it as far as "Two Lovers" at the end.  Here it is in Lego...



Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Killing (a year after everyone else saw it)

So, I've finally watched The Killing. It was hilarious.

(NO SPOILERS AHEAD)  The thing I most loved about it was Pernille. Not since Sheri Palmer stole 24 has there been a crazier wife on television. The following image doesn't do her mad eyes justice:


You may cry "But wait! She was playing a grieving mother! Do not mock!" but all the same, her eyes rolled around like two magic eight balls falling down a spiral staircase built out of suspicion and lunacy.

A friend bumped into her at BAFTA and complimented her on her acting. "What, this?" she giggled, and did the Crazy Eyes. She was in on it too! If I ever do a tumblr, it will be Pernille Is Worried About Things:






My other favourite thing about The Killing was Sarah Lund. Not for her jumper, but because she's rubbish. If she nipped out to fill up the car, she'd arrest the petrol pump attendant and blow up the gas station, all the while not making eye-contact with broken-hearted suspicion. It's as if Bambi were assigned to the LAPD.


Needless to say, my favourite scene in The Entire Killing is in the last episode when Pernille and Sarah Lund go on a car journey together:




See? Brilliant. If they ran someone over, both of them would pretend very hard it didn't happen ("What was that?" "What was what?" "What? What are you making me say?" "I don't know. What aren't you saying?" etc). The sheer joy of this scene made up for The Worst Thing About The Killing... which is that...

The Murderer Can't Have Done It. Remember the moment in Twin Peaks when you found out who killed Laura Palmer and wept with rage and horror and frustration? The Killing manages to make you go "No, really? Are you certain? Did someone else oversleep that day and miss being the murderer? I mean, if you're absolutely sure they did it, then that's fine, I guess. But, honestly? After 20 hours? This?"

Sadly, The Killing Series II is boringly brilliant from start to finish. Not only is it about Troubled Soldiers Who Pout Even In The Shower, but the plot is so mind-bendingly fiendish that I stayed up till 3 last night just so that I could finish the last four episodes in one giddy "but... but.... but...." gallop.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Inactivity


We've suddenly got a whole load of new facilities in Somerstown. It's as though the Council is going "Ignore the BioMedical Zombie Research Factory we're building - look, a community cafe!" (the Zombie Factory rumbles on - if you want to know how scary it is, Gordon Osborne has called it "the most important building in the world").

One of these new things is that they've given an indoor squash court a makeover. For years our Community Sports Centre was a room that smelt of socks with a grumpy man on reception next to a broken drinks machine. But it now, after months of intense building work, appears to be...  a squash court with a Shiny Granite Front.

Curious to know what they offered (and cos I'm no longer allowed to eye up the sweaty businessmen in my old gym), I popped inside. The grumpy man was still on reception. The drinks machine was still broken.

I asked for a leaflet explaining their services. He pushed something over the desk to me. I read it on the way home. The Activities for Adults section read "Pick up a leaflet from reception". Oh.

Undeterred, I followed the website address printed on the front of the leaflet ("http://www.stcsc.co.uk/") and got.... Page Not Found. Mysterious.

I wonder if it's actually now an emergency bunker for the Zombie Factory staff to flee to. That smells of socks.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Meaning of Cleaning

There's a dry-cleaners on our street (it featured in the film of Somerstown as a sign of urban grittiness). It's quite a nice old laundrette, actually, but the woman who runs it is... well, she's a bit strange. My boyfriend uses her a lot (he dresses in things that need cleaning, unlike my attire of cat hair and cardigans). "Funny thing is, everything's 4.99, but she never gives you that penny change," he said.

He sent me in there to pick up a suit and a jacket.

(Sorry, I've just realised I'm writing a post about laundry. Shit. This is an all-time low. Even Babylon 5's last year didn't do stubborn stains)

The woman who runs it looks like Rosa Klebb's slightly-backward sister. I once interviewed her for some vox pops on soap operas and her answers were all "Emmerdale." As in...
Q: What's your favourite soap?
A: Emmerdale
Q: Who is your favourite character?
A: Emmerdale
Q: What do you like most about it?
A: Emmerdale
Q: What's, er, er, er, the funniest thing about Emmerdale?
A: Emmerdale

 (and so on). It's why I avoid her if I can. But I couldn't this time. So, I popped in.

Rosa started shouting at me, grabbed the ticket and then, after some squinting, handed me two bright green suits. I politely told her that they weren't the right clothes. She told me she'd never got it wrong in her life. Although (with much squinting) she did admit she had got the price wrong on the ticket.

"That's because they're the wrong clothes."
 "You owe me another ten pounds." she persisted.
"But I don't want those clothes..." (they were very green suits. The kind of suit a jockey would wear to a wedding).
 "Well, why did you give them to me if you don't want them?" she snapped.
 "But those..." I gestured helplessly at the rail, "Those are the clothes I want."

She squinted, snatched the green suits from me, and then, with great reluctance handed me over the clothes I wanted, peering suspiciously at the ticket.
 "Are you sure?"
"Yes."
"Okay." She took the money from me and then gave me the wrong change. "I don't have the penny," she said.

Undaunted, I took a coat in for her to clean yesterday. She made me write my name down and then started to copy it slowly and carefully. She had problems with my first name.
"What's that say?"
"James"
"How do you spell that?"

I wish, I just wish, I had thought of saying "E...M...M...E...R...."

Monday, April 16, 2012

Good with computers

Last week I was working in Manchester, in a flat opposite this:



It took me a couple of days to notice (after all, the flat was next to an Aldi), but I wandered in and was amazed and shamed. Partly because of their array of Samsung Netbooks at £150 each - which is a good £50 less than I spent when I ruined my last netbook with spray bleach while high on dental anaesthetic.

It's about time I got a new Samsung netbook - the old one has never quite recovered (both from being repaired and having iTunes installed on it). So, I went back the next day. And found something even odder... the corner was filled by a lot of people waving their hands as a man with tattoos shouted at them. It was kind of an inverse lapdance situation.

It turned out I was attending my first Laptop Raffle, as Mr Tattoo would hold up a laptop, say how many there were, and then enter any takers into a free drawer for them. Due to it being late in the auction, I walked out with the netbook I'd wanted for £100.

I only mention this really because I am normally so STUPID with computers that I'd just like to point out I got something right.

To balance this out, I am waiting for a package form a courier. Which is like a Hail Mary for any fun.

Friday, April 06, 2012

A Round Tuit

Mr Castle was my teacher when I was 10. He had a dish on his desk which said around the rim "At last I have final got A Round Tuit".

I always wondered what one of those was.

Now I sit surrounded by half-finished books, DIY projects, and blog-posts, let alone four different work assignments and a desire to really finish archiving all my casettes to MP3 and I really, really wish I had got a Round Tuit.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Wrong Train

I may have gone off the train journey to Glasgow. This morning's train really put the lean into Pendolino, and just when I was thinking "oh dear", the woman next to me threw up. It wasn't exorcist style, but she did put the toilet out of order, and wheelie luggage was spreading sick thinly through the carriage like cheap margarine at a vicarage tea.

It was after Wigan that things got bad. A woman got on with her toddler, who were a handful. The first I really knew about it was the regular kicks in my back. Then she reached over from the seat behind and handed me a plug. "Can you plug this in?" the mother asked. "It's for his DVD. The battery is getting low."

He son flicked it open, and a very loud counting song started up.

"Oh," I said, unplugging my laptop, "Only it's a bit inconvenient."

The mother stared at me. "It keeps him quiet," she said.

"Do you have headphones for that DVD?" I asked as the counting song continued. "It is rather loud."

The mother shook her head. "No," she said.

"Oh," I said, "How delightful."

I'm not that kind of gay. But I sat for the next two hours with the power cord draped across my shoulder while her child sang, screamed, and continued to kick the back of my chair.

If my cat behaved like that on a train, the RSPCA would take it away from me, or I just wouldn't travel with it. But I hate the horrors that are inflicted on us in the interests of keeping children quiet. Especially when they're loud and don't work.

On the plus side, my basic arithmetic is loads better.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Cat in a tube

I'm quite lucky with my cat. It's a remarkably placid creature - this means "you can take it on public transport without it turning into a screaming vortex of claws and diarrhea". The cat's just been to Cardiff for a week. She thoroughly enjoyed being doted on in a strange house full of stairs and spent the journey back asleep under the passenger seat of my boss's car.

She's even just about fine on the Tube. The best thing about her is that I've actually had natural, unforced conversations with strangers on the tube because of her.

Let me make this clear. I hate it when backpackers and travelling magicians suddenly announce "Good morning Central Line, why so glum? I'm gonna put a smile on some strangers' faces cos back home where I come from [Brisbane/Bournemouth], well, gee, folks just talks to each other all the time."

This is the London. We are not "folks". We have our ipods, the Metro and staring. We need little else. We certainly do not need someone in shorts full of the wonders of life to do card tricks before realising that all they have to look forward to is a shift at the Walkabout and sharing a room with 14 other travellers-not-tourists and a vegan coeliac a long way off the Goldhawk Road.

That said, the brilliant recent series about The Tube has shown that London does have a heart after all. And that we should, perhaps, show it more. Watching The Tube has made me realise I should be a nicer person on The Tube as it's not TFL's fault. Most of the time.

Watching The Tube also makes you realise that passengers are pretty much the problem. Although I do think that, if they brought back booing as a polite way of expressing disapproval, we'd all be a lot better off. It's certainly more socially acceptable than tutting or punching a hapless TFL worker. And yes, I'm looking at you, vile cow from episode three who rolled her eyes and said "well, really" when told that the Victoria Line was closed because someone had fallen onto it.

Anyway, taking a cat on the underground is a great way of redressing the balance. Yesterday a lovely woman started talking to me (through the cat, admittedly), saying how much she wished she had a cat of her own. We ended by wishing each other a good day, just like we were...

... Victorians. That's it. Bring back Victorian politeness. After all, it's only a matter of time before the government brings back the Workhouse. Why not bring back quaintness too?

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Twitter and Women

I'm still not quite understanding Twitter. I view it as a way of finding out mostly what Grace Dent and Susan Calman are doing with their hangovers... but, occasionally, I'll try and actually engage with it.

This isn't a "I did a thing on the internet and it went wrong and oh me" whine. But it is a puzzler.

I said something like "If we could cure some things, let gays marry, and put women in charge of some countries then we could switch Twitter off and go out." Not, I rush to point out a world-ending statement - I was in a Chinese Buffet at the time and waiting between dessert mountains. It got retweeted a bit (if that was you, thanks)... but here's the thing...

I mentioned how I'd put women in charge of more countries as a nice way of uniting (quagmire alert) Aung San Suu Kyi, protests at female circumcision and the fact that Angela Merkel appears to be the only person in Europe going "George, don't do that."

Thanks to the retweets I got a couple of comments. Only a couple... but both said, in effect "Women in power? No thanks. We tried that with Margaret Thatcher and look where that got us."

What annoyed me then... and still does... is that both of the people who said this... people who declared that 50% of the population, an entire gender, should NEVER be eligible to run a country based purely on ONE SINGLE example... both of the people who suggested this... were...

... women.

No, no I'm baffled.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Salford Museum


The Salford Museum was quite odd... but shows the city off to its best. As the boyfriend pointed out "It's moved itself as close to Manchester as it possibly can." In other words, it's only round the corner from Poundstretcher, which is my idea of the best Museum Gift Shop ever.

The "promoted Highlight" of the museum was a charming Victorian Street, complete with urchins gamboling merrily around in borrowed hats. But, the real highlight was that the museum was saturated in DILF.

There was a grunt of them, sat at primary school tables on tiny chairs, watching their offspring make puppets, like a Gorilla Tea Party. Just around the corner was an exhibition of Salford's Sporting Heritage - which was mostly jaw-dropping pictures of long-dead young men playing rugby while smoking woodbines.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Sometimes a hangover

Sometimes a hangover is unexpected. Sometimes it's well-deserved. And stealthy.

Last night, in preparation for a few days away, I had the joy of minesweeping my own kitchen - half a bottle of cava, little bit of rose, dregs of some vodka. You know, like a one-man hen night. I'm reading a biography of Margaret Rutherford, and, as she was almost teatotal (preferring an evening plate of bacon and eggs) it somehow felt like I was drinking for the both of us.

In the book Ned Sherrin describes her holding court at a party, taking bird-like sips at a sherry and smacking her lips while declaring "Ambrosia, sheer Ambrosia!"

I did not take bird-like sips.

Anyway, I woke up this morning feeling fine, which was nice... and then... as I opened my email, felt a sudden sinking sensation. This is normally how email makes me feel, so I pressed on. One email was from the ever-so friendly manager of my gym. It was a breakfast recipe:

4 ounces of oats uncooked ( people who has allergy to wheat choose gluten free oats)
4 tablespoons slivered almonds ( people who has allergy to almonds use other type nuts)
2 cups organic natural yogurt
2 cups cottage cheese


Cottage cheese? That did it. It was fate's way of telling me to go out and get a bacon sandwich.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

That awkward moment at the gym...

I'm stepping out of the shower as another lightbulb blows. A man walks in. We shall call him Jurgen (although he sounds like he's from Surrey). He squints up at the changing room ceiling.

"Bloody dark in here," he grunts. He is, I have already realised, mostly arm.
He starts to get changed for the shower with the air of men with large muscles. He is very casually naked and manages to pretty much fill the changing room.

I'm trying to put on my socks, and am aware that his buttocks are very loud and extremely close... as though someone has tried to demonstrate dimensional transcendentalism by holding a large peach right in front of my eyes.

I'm reminded of an old BBC Gym Manager, who had either no sense of self or all too much. He'd stand in the shower with the curtain open, merrily soaping his bits like Nanette Newman recreating the potter's wheel scene from Ghost for Fairy Liquid.

Anyway, there's Jurgen, all bum and arm and grunting. There's the dim lighting. It's kind of sauna-ey. And then a repair man comes in to fix the lights. He's new. He's very Brazilian. He's like a fridge freezer with a tan. If the room felt small, it's now tiny.

Jurgen saunters a millimetre closer to him. "Mate, can you look at that bulb?" His smile says "You won't press charges."

The repair man smiles back, and explains that that's just what he's here to do. He then reaches up, and most of his t-shirt goes with him...

I'd like to say that the reason I leave immediately is because I'm in a loving, stable and committed relationship.

Actually it's because I'm mortified either of them will realise I'm listening to a CD walkman.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Special Needs


My boyfriend is dyspraxic. When I first met him, I assumed this was a fashionable term for "clumsy" coined by parents who'd decided that dyslexia was a bit last year. As someone always picked last at games, it seemed a bit unfair that they've now come up with a phrase for "can't catch" that actually gets you out of everything but Cross Country (oh, if only they'd told me at school "if you run round this field a few times you'll be able to sleep with people at university not in the Young Conservatives..." Ah well).

But no. My boyfriend is severely dyspraxic. At first I thought it was thrillingly romantic that whenever we hugged he'd fall on top of me, but it turns out that he has absolutely no sense of balance. Or co-ordination. Or where his keys are.

Most of the time, I find this very endearing. Occasionally funny. But not last night.

We were in a Thai restaurant, and my boyfriend and I were eating with chopsticks. Thanks to once having a brilliant Australian-Chinese flatmate I am fluent in chopsticks (but my grammar is appalling). But, after years of practising, my boyfriend isn't - although he's perfectly happy steadily teasing the food from his bowl ("It stops me wolfing it down without a chance to enjoy it," he says, casting a significant glance at my empty plate).

However, his slow-paced manouevering was not good enough for out waitress, who, after a minute descended helpfully. "Do you want a fork?"

My boyfriend waved her politely away.

It's when she came back five minutes later that I got cross. "I'll show you," she offered, snapping a fresh set of chopsticks open and started making hand movements.
"It's very easy - like this."
We shook our heads.
"He is dyspraxic," I said, tightly, noticing that my boyfriend was staring tightly at his food.
She nodded. "Go on, try! You can do it!"
I guess this is the dyspraxic equivalent of asking someone in a wheelchair to ginger up and damn well walk.
Giving up, she returned with a fork, and my boyfriend took it, sadly.

"We're not coming here again," he said.
"Quite right," I said. I was cross that he'd been humiliated, even by someone very well-meaning. But the food was good. My chicken stir fry was excellent and his vegetarian tofu looked stunning.

"Um," He paused and held his fork up. "You don't think this tofu looks a bit like... chicken, do you?"

Oh.

Friday, January 27, 2012

In The Bleak Midwinter


At the start of this month, I was sat in a log cabin by a loch. The rest of England was jamming twitter, remarking that it was so windy they'd seen their car drift by the patio. I was snug.

It was my boyfriend's idea. He quite fancied going up to Fort William - and it turned out to be a lovely thing to do. The sleeper train leaves at 9pm and gets in at 9am which means you can actually enjoy getting drunk in the buffet car, rather than crawling into a rattling bed at 2am, and staggering hatefully out of it a 7am cursing your head and the civet cat's piss coffee. Instead, come 8am we were sat eating croissants and chugging through snowy mountains.

Using the internet, I'd arranged for a taxi to take us to that castle by Loch Ness you see in the postcards. It seemed like "A Thing To Do". It was all dour fun, in its own bleak way, but you can probably imagine what four hours in a cab were like when the driver's opening gambit was "No, don't get me started on politics..."

It was like a primer on Scottish Political Theory, mixed in with some caustic remarks about how hard it was to find employment in the area if you've done "a wee bit of youthful GBH", and a couple of laden remarks about how nice it was when English people paid a tip. There was also a very long silence after he asked "Are you two... brothers?".

Anyway, two days sat in a log cabin, walking along the shores of a loch until you could chew the rain, and then back home for soup. I think that's what's nice about being old and happy.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Soul Food

My boyfriend is a statistic. You see on the news about graduates applying for hundreds and hundreds of jobs without getting an interview... well, he's that statistic, plugging hopelessly away at a job market where suddenly even a trainee junior assitant intern (unpaid) must have an MBA and fluent Mandarin.

His first job vanished while he was on holiday. He came back to find the office literally gone. For a while he washed dishes at the local pub. And now, finally, he's got a job saving the world in... Manchester.

Now, I love Manchester. It's a wonderful city. And Salford Quays, like any shiny sky palace by the water, has a certain bleak grandeur. But my boyfriend's flat is in Salford – the bit in-between.

When we went up to view it, it seemed nice enough. Horrible street, but the flat itself had been the victim of a gay decorator with more money than sense – an explosion of halogen, chrome, wood and granite, beams exposed, surfaces angled and a Juliet rail dangling over Salford's only tree. It was, in other words, lovely – and the flatmate very laid-back. Mind you, when there's a remote control for your curtains, why wouldn't you be laid-back?

The snag came when I visited for the weekend. It turned out that last time, the laidback flatmate had done “rental tidying” - whipping up a cupboard jumble of ashtrays and magazines that now spilled over everything. It was filthy. Not in a bohemian way but in a “I'm not sure I'd even piss in that toilet” way.

Stuff dangled from the ceilings – some of the wires had held up a fish tank. Others had held up a sling. One of the mirrors in the bathroom was apparently “two-way”, but was luckily so filthy that it no longer worked.

So we spent the weekend tidying and bleaching until it reeked of swimming pool. It's made me cheerier about the cat-hair squalor I live in. Much cheerier. I may take the next year off cleaning.

Salford does have some charms. We've found a Polish Shop that sells 12 flavours of Vodka. But that's about it, really. We sat outside a drag casino waiting for a bus for 20 minutes in rain so fierce even the old ladies tutted, their knuckles tightening on their shopping trolleys.

Mostly, we walked around the Arndale Centre, buying cleaning products and talking brightly about how we were going “to make this work”. And by last thing on Sunday night, we'd kind of done it. It still looked like a brightly sparkling recycling bin, but you could at least touch things without feeling like you were in one of those adverts for “the hidden germs that lurk in your home”.

Come Monday morning I woke up and it felt nice. I even managed to walk back from the shower without my bare feet crunching on a domestic gravel of breadcrumbs, dust and cigarette ash.

Back in the bedroom, my boyfriend was waiting for me. “I've made us coffee,” he said. “We've got five minutes. We can sit in bed and drink it.”

My boyfriend is brilliant. He can salvage any situation. This was, I thought, as I picked up my coffee and sat down on the bed, going to work after all.

Which is when the bed collapsed.