Monday, June 29, 2009

Out of the loop

Last Friday morning just before 9am, while I was in the dentist's waiting room, my phone rang. I could be heard but could not hear. Oh dear. It had been playing up all week, ever since Monday but it was still serviceable. I managed to copy my phone directory to my sim card and about 3 hours later the thing completely died on me. I don't have a landline.

It has been a peculiar weekend. I used a public phone box for the first time in years and was shocked to find it now costs 40p minumum. For this you get 20 minutes. Fine, but who wants to be stuck behind someone making a 20 minute call in a call box. BT are removing them complaining that they are not being used. Of course they aren't , they're too bloody expensive. But they are for emergencies and should be maintained. I would have liked to have made several short calls but I wouldn't have been able to afford it. This is the moron Adam Crozier school of business thought: it's not used all the time, scrap it. Then two people want to use the last one at once, one gets angry at being held up and vandalises it. BT remove it because of the vandalism problem. There's such thing as a public service. This is the same with the post office: shut all the sub POs so everyone uses the main one. There are now queues at the main one almost all the time so everyone starts doing everything online (like printing stamps and getting the weights wrong, so the clerk told me) so the Post Offices are deemed unpopular or surplus to need. Shut them down.

Apart from not having a landline (or a telly. Have I told you that before?), I don't wear a watch either. I use my mobile and it serves as my alarm. I borrowed an alarm clock because I had to be up very early on Saturday morning but it was too loud and kept me awake all night even though I put it on the landing. I could have thrown it down the toilet. It was an old clockwork one (the clock, not my toilet), made in Scotland (when was the last time you saw "Made in Scotland" anywhere?) and went by the trade name "Jock". How quaint. The hands were out of sync so the alarm was impossible to set. It was a useless Jock (like Adam Crozier). I went to Argos and bought a cheap alarm clock for £4. Argos is the only place in the world where you can buy cheap alarm clocks that just tell the time and wake you up. Nobody needs them anymore because everyone has a mobile phone.

By far the worst part of the last few days has been the feeling of total isolation even though I live in a town of 50,000. I have been completely uncontactable and for the most part, been unable to contact anyone without spending a lot of money, something I don't have. I don't know my neighbour's phone numbers, I have no computer at home. I send texts, not to many people, just a select few. It's pseudo conversation and it stops me from feeling lonely, even though I'm not overtly gregarious. I never thought I would ever really miss my phone but I have. Thankfully my brother-in-law is sending me an old one which I should receive tomorrow - I can't wait, something I find rather sad. I gave my old mobile to my Dad, my mum uses my sister's old cast off. My mother has just started to text and thinks it's fun. Odd, it used to be clothes that were passed down, now we pass the latest technology the other way.

Friday, June 26, 2009


Poor, poor Farrah Fawcett. Destined to be the answer to pub quiz questions for eternity.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Packing heat

It has been a good week.

Last week I went to a funeral. Or rather, I tried to go to a funeral. My Uncle Mike's to be exact. Or rather, to be even more exact, my Mum's late younger sister's husband's. Mike was a cracking bloke, blessed with a fantastic sense of humour, a love of (at various times and probably sometimes all at once) golf, smoking, Tottenham Hotspur FC and the odd libation (I do believe he ran the bar at Rye House stadium for a while). He always seemed to be around when we were kids and I can remember him being an excellent conjuror, something I'm sure he regretted as we always pestered him to get his tricks out whenever we visited. He was also probably responsible for my interest in the blues as I remember as a young teenager picking up a musical reference book from his shelf that explained the nature of the pentatonic scale and the modulations involved. I was fascinated because for once I'd just about grasped some musical theory (it's about the only theory I've retained). The same day he produced Eric Clapton's "461 Ocean Boulevard", something I thought seemed a bit out of place in an "old" person's record collection. I hadn't seen him since my Grandma's funeral in 1996 but he'd rather kept himself to himself after the death of my aunt in 1985. He was someone of whom I had genuinely fond memories and wanted to pay my respects; I had to go.

The funeral was for 10am in Harlow, which was going to be a bugger from Crewe. I borrowed a Satnav, planned the route and set off at 5.30 am. The satnav said I was going to be there at 9.18. Stacks of time. Then it all went arse over tit, a lorry having a wheel changed on the A14/A1 junction, getting stuck behind a hire van and the final straw with 3 minutes to go, the bloody satnav sending me into the council estate next door to the crematorium (apparently, I wasn't the only one this happened to). I missed the ceremony. If it had been my satnav I would have jumped on it. My cousin, Mike's daughter, had come all the way from Sydney NSW and she made it in time. But the rest of the day was great, I met up with some cousins I hadn't seen for years, had a good laugh with them and it was a seriously fun day, which would have pleased Mike no end. I'll be sticking with maps and the traffic reports.

I spent the next few days at the family seat in Kent. I'd not been back since I returned to Crewe at Easter 2008 so it was good to be there, especially on Father's Day. I don't usually go in for all that sentimental card-shop stuff but it was actually good to do the odd son/dad thing, like take bits of my car apart and problem solve together for a change. There is a poignancy there that I don't wish to dwell on but I do hope that one day I shall experience the same as a senior citizen. Ashford has also changed a lot in the last year. It's now a very modern town but despite all the changes, it still retains a distinct character and doesn't look like a generic off-the-shelf town. I do hope they put the brakes on its growth though before it swamps the local villages.

On Monday on my way back up north, I arranged to meet my dearest and sweetest friend, and, when being particularly blonde, occasional feature of these pages, AJ. I haven't seen her since last century. She is what would probably be termed a force of nature; 100 mph one minute and say "I'm really painfully shy, you know" the next. She's also the only person I know that can disappear to Dubai for ten years and come back looking exactly the same age as she was when she left instead of looking like a baked walnut. She'd tried to prepare me for the shock of seeing her again after so long but she needn't have bothered. It was extraordinary and I felt embarrassed for her, I must have looked like a taxi driver who'd been on shift for 36 hours in comparison. But we had an afternoon and evening of enormous fun. But there was one typical AJ moment. She has always loved chillies; I do too but not to the same extent. We used to occasionally share a jar from Selfridges when we worked together - I would have two, she'd have the other 28, in about 15 minutes. We went for a meal on Monday, to an Italian in Amersham. She'd already polished off a couple of doses of garlic oil and ciabatta and then settled down for a plate of spaghetti carbonara. She asked if she could have chillies on it. The hottest. But it wasn't enough for her so she asked the waitress to bring her a bowl of dried chopped ones. She returned a couple of minutes later with a bowl the size of a teacup, brim-full of chillies. AJ took it from her and promptly tipped the whole lot onto her already heat-laden meal and churned it in. The poor girl's jaw visibly dropped, "I'" she muttered, quite dumbfounded. "I'm so bloody glad I'm not going home with you tonight," I said loudly and quite non-plussed, having not batted an eyelid during the whole episode. I've known this girl for a quarter of a century, nothing ever surprises me. "I'm even more glad I'm not waking up next to you in the morning."

A couple of minutes later:"Wasn't hot enough. Didn't like that". She didn't even break sweat.

Friday, June 19, 2009


If you've been listening to the wireless then you will have noticed that on Wednesday the BBC reported a proper news story and not something featuring Robert Peston (due to my not owning a television receiver, I have so far been fortunate enough not to witness this gentleman putting the shits up the working public. I'm staying at the country seat for a few days and despite there being several televisions here, the folks prefer ITN. I still haven't seen him). My immediate thought about sticklebacks being declared piscene geniuses was that a revered (and oft quoted as a piece of quite useless information) part of my Nuffield biology was now in question. Anyone of a similar vintage to myself may well remember the story about the sticklebacks in a research lab tank that appeared to get particularly excited at precisely the same time, each and every day. Except Sundays. I think I've remembered this correctly: the male fish display a red flash when on the pull. This would provoke aggression and excitement in surrounding fish depending, of course, on their gender. A sharp-eyed technician noted that the unexplained agitation coincided with the delivery of the post and of course, the Royal Mail then used, as it still does, red vans. The measure of fishy intelligence in the 1960s presumably didn't included the ability to decide whether a threat or potential suitor was of an aqueous or terrestrial nature.

However, it is a shame that some sections of our society still appear to display even less intelligence than a two inch long animal commonly found swimming in ditches. By the way, these morons call themselves British nationalists. I do hope you didn't cast a protest vote.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Spotted outside Crewe Baths earlier today. If you're going to litter, dress it up a little.

I am going to be spending a few days darn sarf. I'm attending a funeral in Harlow tomorrow morning and have decided to take advantage of the location to nip across the river via my old place of employ (look out for me, Andy. Same old car) to visit the ancestral seat in Kent for a few days. It's the nearest I've come to a holiday since January 2007. If you work for the JobCentrePlus, I have told you already as I'm due to sign on Friday. I will be doing my job search via my mum's computer; I would hate for tax-payers' money to be wasted on a lazy, good-for-nothing ne'er do well. Heaven forbid.

I have been taking Sir Paul's advice and have been eating salads. I believe it is this action that has made it possible for me to slip, sylph-like, into a suit I last wore six years ago. It's a tight fit and after 4 hours in the car I'll be regretting it but I'm happy in that I've been doing my bit for the planet. Sir Paul can feel justifiably pleased at his initiative, maybe he can think of some more as his chauffer drives him between any one of his 17 houses, the national treasure. If you're on your way to Peasmarsh, Macca, pop in. Mum does a cracking cold collation. With cold potatoes and all the trimmings. I have encountered a slight problem though, I appear to be farting a lot because my body's not used to all the roughage. I suppose it's OK as long as I fart less than a cow.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Annual lecture

Today is six years without a cigarette day. I never thought I would but I have. There have been plenty of excuses along the way that I could have used to start again but my resolve has never wavered. Surprising because with most other things I'm disgustingly weak-willed. I still don't see myself as a non-smoker because I still "like" it inasmuch as I never found the habit overtly disgusting (although there are occasions when people sit down next to you in a pub or restaurant who stink of the things when it comes pretty close and filthy curtains and ceilings are pretty awful). I would feel I've let myself down badly if I started again though. I'm not really sure what the key is but if you want to give up, you can.

I can't even say I remember having cravings as such - like any vested interest, the manufacturers of patches and other "aids" make it out to be far worse than it is. They're in business, it's in their interest that you take as long to give up as possible. They have shareholders who demand a dividend and it's even better if you relapse. Don't listen to the people who say it's hard, they really didn't want to give up and made it difficult for themselves. If you're weak-willed you'll side with them and believe them. Listen to the ones who didn't have a problem - there are loads of us out there. If you really really want to give up, you'll be reassured. I really didn't want to smoke anymore. I value increased taste and smell and being able to breathe easier. I don't suffer Reynaud's any longer - the tips of my fingers don't freeze - as my circulation is much better. I can travel for more than an hour without having to plan a cigarette break and I'm a safer driver. I'm not spending over a fiver a day on killing myself. It's the only hobby you can take up that from the moment you start, you're actively shortening your life. Don't listen to the idiots who say Auntie Edie lived to 98 on 40 Senior Service a day, remember the hordes of her contemporaries who never made it past 60 and who looked 60 when they were 40. That was a lonely 38 years with no friends.

Do it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Burning Issue

Monday, June 08, 2009

Fear and loathing in Crewe

On Saturday a lot of old men stood on the beaches of Normandy and wept for their fallen comrades. 65 years earlier they'd stood on those same beaches after wading through sea stained red with the blood of their friends as part in the largest invasion force in the history of humanity in an effort to free the world from the hate and tyranny enshrined in the vision of one evil man. I walked into town today full of anger, looking at my fellow citizens wondering which of those evil bastards made those brave men's sacrifices worthless by electing two of the vilest and most contemptible of human beings conceivable into positions of responsibility. One of the founding principles of the European Union was that together we would not allow these parties ever to flourish again. Now we're electing them. I hold my head in shame as a member of the human race.

I'm not a jingoistic patriot but I love this country. I still honestly believe it to be one the best places on earth to live. We've done a lot of wrong in the past but we've also done a lot to try and put that right. It's not always worked. We constantly learn and we'll learn from the mess this government's currently in. But we're still free and allowed to speak, criticise, praise without duress and protest as free people regardless of our past crimes and misdemeanours. These are precious freedoms. There are very few countries on earth where you can do this. Cherish our freedoms while we still have them because if you continue to vote for these mindless hate spewing thugs, you will have few chances to in the future.

I apologise to all my black, brown, yellow and non-English speaking friends, you and your families still are and always will be welcome at my house.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Disorder, disorder!

Quite the most amusing story to have emerged from the whole expenses farce was the one yesterday concerning Gerald Kaufman. Anne Widdecombe thought Michael Howard had "something of the night" about him; comparitively Kaufman is a full blown gothic novel complete with piercings and fake blood but apart from being slightly scared of him, I've got no particular axe to grind with him. He's a good and well-respected MP, has a fairly sound sense of humour and doesn't generally suffer people taking the piss with idiotic explanations. For instance, in committee, he was particularly withering towards the CE of the Royal Opera House regarding the perceived wastage during its refurbishment using Lottery money a decade or so ago, so much so that she resigned. He's been around a very long time and hasn't been a particular drain on the public purse, being one of the more frugal of MPs. He's on our side in other words.

Which is why I'm particularly suprised that he's explained the reasons for him having to buy a pair of Waterford crystal grapefruit bowls at £220 down to his self-diagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder. I done a LOL. Gerry, not interested. You have the same breakfast every day. I'm stunned. I do, too. Porridge. It's good for you. Slow release carbs, low GI (I think. Whatever GI is) and good for the heart. Except on Sundays when I blow it all by feeling compelled to have a gut-buster full English on my special big plate. My treat (not for the pigs, obviously). What's of rather more interest is why you thought it reasonable to claim expenses for something most of us would use our day to day income to purchase. If my special big plate were to get broken I would be expected to replace it out of my dole-scum allowance, I'm not allowed to put a claim in. If it were the only plate I had then I may be able to get a crisis loan but I'd have to pay it back straight away. Moreover, I lived for years with someone who had OCD, if all I'd had to contend with was the requirement for the same brekky every day I'd have been happy whereas it bloody near drove me to breakdown. Was needing a pen at £225 OCD as well?

I've had enough of expenses now. Job done, government broken, which is what the Barclay brothers wanted. All it's really proved is that most of them are greedy and totally devoid of morality, some more than others, and that most of them play a corrupt system to a degree and that they looked after themselves by manipulating the rules of this corrupt system in their favour. "It was within the rules" means nothing when you make the rules; Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot made their own rules, too. It's particularly vile that that most upstanding and moral of professions, journalists, of all people, are profiting from this story. I wonder how many are putting in inflated claims for sitting outside MP's second homes for hours on end waiting for another crappy sound-bite? Bearing in mind of course that these expenses are ultimately recouped in the price we pay for the consumables advertised in the newspapers and the TV stations the hacks work for, I think we should be told.

Thursday, June 04, 2009


As you know, I am currently unemployed. In fact, I think I'm probably unemployable unless I want to clean toilets. I'm of a certain age but due to "things" outside my sphere of control have been out of the employment loop for a while. It doesn't look good on a CV, however well I dress it up and potential employers aren't stupid. O levels instead of GCSEs (even if a C grade O was for 50% plus rather than 18% as it has been recently) and a leaving school date of 1979 really don't help. If an employer can't work out that I'm just nudging 50 then he or she is phenomenally stupid and yes, ageism does exist despite what they tell you down the jobcentre.

A while back I had an idea for a bit of business enterprise. The trouble is, because I'm broke I lack most of the resources needed to carry it out and as it won't yield a return for a while I'll need other means of support until it does. But it's a runner and with time and effort, should eventually provide a reasonable living. I've been trying to find out how I stand vis-vis benefits and government assistance should I decide to devote time to this enterprise, after all, it's the stated aim of our proud and supposedly competent prime minister that his government will pull out all the stops to get people back into work.

Our prime minister is unfortunately, as are most other politicians, arse-numbingly stupid. There are over two million people unemployed and only ever 4 jobs. There is no point in making my CV more attractive to an employer (part of the help available to me after 6 months of being unemployed), there are people out there infinitely more qualified than I who will walk into these jobs. Getting me to revise my CV satisfies the Jobcentre's targets. They're not even going to grant me a proper face-to-face interview on my 6-month anniversary of being unemployed in a fortnight, they are going to phone me. Wow, that really makes me feel fucking special (I'm really very sorry about the deterioration in my language. Swearing isn't big or clever. Not all the time, anyway). Let's be realistic, eh? Getting people into work means giving them the means to create jobs and supporting enterprise, however small-time. There is a scheme I could join - this is the government's support for enterprise, as explained to me by Simone at Crewe Jobcentre plus this morning: at the moment I get £60 a week JSA and can barely survive. After 6 months (and only after six months of being out of work) I can jack that and get - wait for it - £50 a week for 16 weeks while I try and start a business up. For her part, Simone understood my plight and tried to offer a grain of comfort. Well, she said, you only need to satisfy us that you've done three things each week to look for work. Look in the paper, speak to someone about a job, go on the internet, that'll do. What you do the rest of the time is up to you. Of course, if I get caught "doing my own thing" while claiming income support or whatever, I'll be on a hiding to nothing. Ho hum. This government really doesn't have the first idea.

On the other hand, please don't waste your vote today. Bear in mind it's proportional representation so if you're protesting, I'd rather have clueless than Nazi.