REPORT A PROBLEM
The ticket said Hoe-Down. It even said ‘Yee-ha’ in big letters and there was some clip-art of a cowboy and cowgirl dancing. However, as soon as we reeled through the door - roaring drunk wearing tassels and Zapata moustaches – we knew we’d made a terrible misjudgement. The barn was full of serious, hardcore line-dancers who just stood there stony-faced as we fired our cap guns into the air. Not one of them was in costume and we were the youngest there by about 20 years. All we could do was brazen it out and drink the place dry of firewater.
The British aren’t great travellers - mainly because of how things are done abroad. When I get off a plane it’s always a mild surprise that my luggage is there; that my taxi or hire car is waiting for me; that my accommodation is where it should be and the price is the same as I was quoted. In Britain, i’m so used to inefficiency that I can never trust anything completely. It takes a few days into a trip for me to adapt and understand that the rest of the world doesn’t seem to suffer from such a problem.
£674! For a small, one bedroomed flat - £674 worth of electricity in three months! I bet NASA’s bill isn’t as much as that. I’m out all day and most weekends, the heating’s only on for an hour in the morning and two hours at night – what am I doing wrong? The helpline is pointless, they’re about as pleasant and useful as gonorrhea – which I hope they all get. I’m utterly powerless to do anything about this bill, but for the record, and if I have enough words left, I’d just like to say that n-power are a set of
Having said that, today I got through to someone useful on the helpline. Her name was Lisa and I hope she doesn’t get gonorrhea. Apparently, instead of asking me for a meter reading, they estimated the amount of electricity I’d used. As a base for this estimate, they used a period last year when I misunderstood how to work my heating and accidentally had it on for 24 hours a day for 3 months. Recalculating my bill using the correct readings, it turns out that instead of £674, my bill should really be for £68. Good job I rang up.
I don’t get star struck. In the past i’ve met some big celebrities - Bruno Brookes; Barry Chuckle; the keyboard player from múm - and remained completely unfazed. However, when I bumped into John Breckin who played left-back for Rotherham United in the early 80’s, I turned into some sort of Japanese schoolgirl. Admittedly, I was half-cut, but I think my gushing enthusiasm at shaking his hand frightened him a bit. I may have come across as a dangerous obsessive. It was the same when I saw Ronnie Moore in a nightclub once. There was genuine fear in his eyes.
When you’re young and ambitious, you think that if you work hard enough you’ll always get your reward. Then the real world hits real hard and you realise that instead of the cream always rising to the top; shit floats. Understanding this is one of the few benefits of being older. You’re able to be more pragmatic, accept things easier because there’s less to prove to anybody – even yourself if you’re really lucky. I often wish I was 22 again, but then I’ll speak to a 22 year old and I’ll see how naïve and clueless they are. Bless ‘em.
Has anyone seen Jason? He’s a nice lad, a bit shy and awkward but nothing unusual for someone working in IT. We always included him in our office banter and I think he enjoyed it despite never really fitting in completely. I’d left the company by the time he had his breakdown but I bumped into him a couple of years later and we chatted for a while. He seemed ok, if a little distant. Nobody’s heard from him since Christmas and he’s now a ‘Missing Person’. They found his car abandoned near the Humber Bridge on the 30th December.
Is anywhere as miserable as a city-centre on a sunday afternoon? Generally, the bigger the city, the more lonely it makes you feel. Not just obvious places like London or Birmingham, it applies to beautiful cities like Sydney or Boston too. It could be something to do with seeing them out of their normal context with all the shops shut and the streets empty. Maybe it’s a brutal reminder that on a valuable weekend afternoon you’ve got nothing better to do – no loved ones to spend time with. I try to sleep through as many Sunday afternoons as I can.
Aled Jones shouldn’t be a radio presenter. Nothing against him personally, but as a DJ he’s so utterly bland. Faced with him or Sara Cox on Radio 1, I flicked through the commercial shows chasing Take That’s new single from station to station. Couldn’t stand those either, the DJ’s all sound the same and they play about 10 ads to every song - a song which is always something inoffensive and dreary. It can ruin your day. When I was a freelancer, I’d decide which company to work for based largely on the radio station they played in the studio.
Our client, Karen, has got herself a copy of Quark Xpress. Apparently she thinks that there’s nothing more to graphic design than knowing how to use the software. There’s a time when I’d have been insulted by that, a time when I would have cared. Now, I just think it’s funny – I can’t wait to see what she comes up with. The sophisticated corporate identity that we’ve developed and carefully managed for her will be mangled and mutilated beyond all recognition. Letting her have a version of Quark is the design equivalent of handing a loaded revolver to a monkey.
I went to Harrogate last weekend. I used to work there but I haven’t been back in about 6 years. Seeing it with fresh eyes, I was struck by how lovely it is – I didn’t seem to notice before. I suppose the same applies to Holmfirth. In the past, when visiting as a tourist, I remember how much I liked it. However, now that I actually live there, it’s just another town. It makes me wonder where I’d have to go – and for how long – in order to return to Rotherham and see it as a nice place. Prison, probably.
Dance music makes me miserable. Not in a ‘what’s happened to the music industry - how can people enjoy this?’ kind of way, I mean the music itself. Perhaps it’s because it makes me feel excluded. My friends used to be into dance music so I’d often get dragged along to trendy clubs where I’d stand in a corner getting gradually drunk and melancholy because girls wouldn’t speak to me. In fairness, I wouldn’t have spoken to me either. Moaning about crap music and generally looking like a brooding miserablist can’t be very attractive to someone having a ‘banging’ night.
My three favourite double-entendres:
With my shaggy beard and woolly hat, Anna said I resembled a troll. I said I preferred to look like an elf and she replied:
‘You could never pull off an elf.’
Marce is a swimmer. I asked what sort of pool he needs to train in, whether there are any special requirements. He said it didn’t matter,
‘as long as it’s wet and it’s got a length in it.’
During a discussion about the Grand Canyon and how to get to the bottom of it, Phil told me:
‘My grandmother went down on a donkey.’
I think I’ve finally recovered from my midweek hangover. Drinking on a school night isn’t something I do regularly and I wasn’t really anticipating getting as drunk as I did. It was a Burlesque night in association with the Huddersfield Literature Festival and I had such a great time that I concentrated on enjoying myself and completely disregarded the consequences. I’m so glad that I’m still irresponsible enough to do that – it felt all rebellious and naughty. It’ll be a sign that I’m definitely past it when the thought of the aftermath is more significant than actually having the fun.
Ronan Keating represents what’s wrong with society. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a shoddy product (in Ronan’s case, cover versions identical to the originals apart from his awful, squawking voice) just as long as you market it relentlessly. I’m sick of seeing his weird, pointy face everywhere. His campaign is so cynical – exploiting his involvement with Comic Relief to flog his single; releasing an album called: ‘Songs For My Mother’ just before mothering Sunday. If he put as much effort into his music as he does into peddling it, perhaps the songs would be good enough to sell themselves.
Increasing the cost of chocolate to combat obesity follows the usual trend. Problems with alcoholism? Add more tax. Too much air travel? Raise the price. Too many cars? Congestion charges and toll roads. Whatever the problem, the first solution is always: ‘make it more expensive’. Don’t rich people have these issues too? Maybe if the government looked a little deeper at society, they could improve it so that people needn’t rely on these things to give them comfort. As it is, it just looks as though they’re using moral concerns to justify bleeding more and more money out of us.
I’ve loved the band Elbow for many years so it’s nice to see them finally get some long deserved recognition. The lyrics to their songs are charged with wit, intelligence and emotion and the singer, Guy Garvey, almost matches Jarvis Cocker for charm and stage presence. Apparently, he’s also becoming a bit of a sex symbol - he’s been described as: ‘the thinking woman’s beardy crumpet’. I can’t tell you how pleased I am with this. He’s making it cool to be clever and sensitive and his appearance serves as an enormous inspiration to other fat, bearded northerners like myself.
I had another attack of jamais vu today. I’ve had a few of them recently, they usually occur when I’m tired and driving. Suddenly, everything will become completely abstract; reduced to shapes and colours. I’ll be aware that I’m inside a box; that there’s a large round object in front of me; that I somehow need to stay between the white lines painted on the black thing passing underneath. Luckily the feeling wears off as soon as panic starts to set in – it only ever lasts for a second or so at most. Maybe it’s my brain re-booting. Or unravelling.
When Boyzone were releasing a record last year, Ronan Keating tried to grab some publicity by calling Thom Yorke ‘an idiot’ in the press. This is supposedly because Thom deliberately ignored him in a Dublin hotel. In a similar incident, after Radiohead turned down an invitation to meet her, Miley Cyrus said: ‘Stinkin’ Radiohead! I’m gonna ruin them, I’m gonna tell everyone.’ A publicist for the band responded: ‘When Miley grows up, she’ll learn not to have such a sense of entitlement.’ God, I love Radiohead. They’re one of the few things in life that will never let you down.
I’m off to Amsterdam on a stag do this weekend. I’ve shied away from alcohol fuelled city breaks before – there’s nothing that makes me more ashamed of my country than seeing the streets of a foreign city polluted by British drunks. Plus, it seems such a waste to spend the entire time holed up in a bar – you could be anywhere. Fortunately, i’ve explored Amsterdam before so if the weekend does end up being all beer and breasts, I won’t feel quite so cheated. There always reaches a point where drinking stops being enjoyable and turns into an endurance competition.
Here’s a guaranteed way to avoid getting stopped at traffic lights - I’ve tried it, it works, but it involves a bit of preparation. What you need to do is starve yourself for a few hours; make sure you’re absolutely ravenous by the time you get in your car. Then, buy a huge sandwich and keep it on the passenger seat ready to take a bite from whenever you stop. Every light you encounter will then be green. It’s things like this that sometimes make me think that there might be a God – and He doesn’t like us very much.
The Australian Deal Or No Deal is a lot faster paced than our version. It’s on for twenty minutes and it’s very glitzy; there’s lots of music and clapping. This was before Noel Edmonds re-invented himself as some sort of creepy uncle so I’d never seen the game previously and didn’t have the first clue what was going on. I watched it religiously, my utter bewilderment only added to the fun as I tried to work out what was happening. When my flatmate eventually put me out of his misery and told me the rules, I never watched it again.
Red light etiquette from a guide book that I picked up from our hostel in Amsterdam: ‘Prostitutes. If you visit one of the women, we would like to remind you, they are not always women. Do not take pictures of the women. Out on the streets, do not shout or use bad language towards these women. Show some respect. If you have any problems with a girl or a pimp, do not hesitate to ask a police officer. We know why you are there and you can hardly surprise us. So have fun, enjoy our city, and respect this neighbourhood.’
We only took hand luggage on the flight. Because anything over 50ml of liquid is such a colossal terrorist threat, it meant that all twelve of us had to leave behind our deodorants; shower gels; shampoos and aftershaves. As soon as we were through security, we clubbed together and bought one set of toiletries for us all to use. Unfortunately, the spray-on deodorant we picked left horrible white stains on our clothes. When we were all together, it looked like we’d been branded. Still, it made it easier to find each other when the strobe came on in the nightclub.
There aren’t too many things that make me feel proud to be British, but I can think of three.
1. The Second World War. Not just ‘The Bulldog Spirit’ but also the boffins working secretly to crack codes and think up bizarre espionage missions.
2. Wallace and Gromit. The attention to detail; the gentle charm; the obvious love that’s gone into every frame.
3. Manners. I know it’s a stereotype but it’s one I’m quite happy about. Obviously, it disappears completely when alcohol and large groups of people become involved. Then, we just turn into the rowdy dregs of Europe.
When you’re away from home for a weekend, the first night is always the best. You’ll gear yourself up for saturday night of course, but it’ll be too planned, too forced. Friday night, the warm up night when you anticipated taking things a bit steadier, will be the better of the two. This is because you’re so excited to be there after the journey. Everything is fresh and new and there’s not as much pressure on you to have a good time. The unplanned nights are always the best. Look at New Years Eve for example, it’s always an anti-climax.
A sign on a roundabout: ‘Rotherham – home of KP Nuts and proud of it!’ Is it really proud though? Perhaps the council, who the people of Rotherham elected to speak for them, decided the sign was worthwhile. Perhaps they conducted an opinion poll. Perhaps there was some kind of vote that I missed. I’m doubtful. Because the sign was blue and had a big logo on it, I think it more likely that KP put it there themselves. Fair enough, they’re free to peddle their savoury snacks if they must, but I object to being told what I’m proud of.
Marks & Spencer have got an effective scam going at the moment. The signs say: drink + crisps + sandwich = £2. It doesn't say
sandwich, you have to study the tiny disclaimer on the poster hanging above head height to realise that by 'sandwich', they actually mean
sandwich. When you get to the till you’ve committed to the own-brand crisps and crap pop and there are too many people behind you to take anything back. Therefore, you get stung for £4.50. In my queue alone, I saw 4 people get ripped off like this.
Notes from a horrible train journey:
- The obligatory youth with blaring headphones. Why is it always dance music? Why is it never anything decent that you wouldn’t mind listening to?
- The woman crying hysterically. In a packed carriage, only two people asked if she was ok – a Japanese woman and an Indian man. A typical example of British reserve.
- The drunk lunatic with a savage looking dog. Whichever connection I took, she was always there to haunt me. The journey seems so much longer when you’ve got to try and dodge eye contact with someone sitting nearby.
The train from Exeter should have taken 4 hours. It was a direct route so it wouldn’t have been too bad, I could read my book or have a nap. However, the train was cancelled and the only advice I could dredge out of the elusive staff sent me zigzagging across the country with numerous changes and long waits at random stations. 8 hours later, when we eventually pulled into Sheffield, my carriage looked as if it was carrying refugees from a war zone. I could have flown to New York in less time and for about the same money.
Beards are a symbol of manliness and virility but there are a lot of pogonophobes out there. People will imply that you’re using a beard as some sort of face shield to cover up the horrors lurking beneath. They’ll throw names like Roger Whitaker, Noel Edmonds and Mr Claypole at you. However, they’re goatee wearers, proper ‘beardies’ are a lot cooler: Thom Yorke, Che Guevara, John Peel, Brian Blessed in Flash Gordon. But prejudice is only one of the problems with beards. Soup, ice-cream and colds mean that you can never afford to be too far away from a mirror.
The Tip Jar