Monday, 26 April 2010

Has Beens And Cheese Balls

Past My Best

As is natural for any writer I sometimes wonder about the impact of this blog. No, column. I'm going to call it a column and you can go ahead and call me pretentious.

Anyway I don't mean it's impact internationally. I don't expect it to become a regular feature in a national broadsheet leading to two best-selling novels (a la Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones), but I remain hopeful that those who know me might enjoy it from time to time.

It is with this in mind then that I found something a friend said to me at the weekend quite disturbing. Admittedly he is my friend and therefore biased, and he had been drinking Guinness for four hours previous to our conversation, but the thrust of his message was that he enjoys my work immensely. All of which was a very welcome boost until it transpired that he hasn't even seen this column, and was in fact referring to a series of diaries I wrote when I was a teenager.

So, if you don't think much of what you are reading now, you can rest assured that I was a good writer 20 years ago. In the opinion of one of my closest, lifelong friends. The question of why any teenager would allow even (especially?) his closest friends to read his diary is something else entirely, and something which even the world's greatest psycho-analysts may never figure out.

Cheese Balls

It was a depressing Monday morning. The reasons for this are a blog (damn it!) of their own, and one which will not be published until the situation reaches it's denouement. Despite the gloom I happened to strike up a cheery, polite conversation with a young girl who works at the other end of our office. I couldn't even tell you what she does, or even what department she works in. All I know is that she is friendly and polite.

Now this conversation is relevant only because my colleagues take every opportunity to find humour in my antics. Not in a nasty way, you understand, but you have to have something to get you through the day. Especially in the current climate. All of which led one colleague to refer to me during the ensuing discussion about my perceived intentions as a 'Cheese Ball'.

'What does that mean?' I asked.

'It means you are cheesy' she answered unsatisfactorily.

I laughed, despite having never really grasped the concept of what 'cheesy' actually means in this context. Perhaps that fact proves my colleague's point, and that cheesiness is something which can only be truly achieved by those who don't know they are doing it. Or perhaps I really was chatting her up and am therefore morally reprehensible, and due to be shot at dawn.

Whatever gets you through the day, but I maintain my innocence.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Sudafed - Don't Do It Kids

I'm not here to laugh at suicide, but when having a spot of lunch (get me, they don't have lunch in Thatto Heath) with a couple of friends the other day we did stumble upon an amusing anecdote that is loosely related to the theme.

Many years ago I came home from a night out in town feeling utterly terrible. Events had conspired against me (which they seemed to every week but usually I was more philosophical about it) and so I decided I didn't want to feel anything any more. At this point an important distinction is necessary. I didn't want to die, or even be hospitalised or anything of such gravity. I just didn't want to feel anything. I ended up feeling a twat.

Now my mother doesn't normally stock the kind of drugs that provide what I needed and so as I was living with her at the time I had to make do and mend. I went to the medication drawer (everyone has one, don't they?) and could only find a packet of Sudafed. To this day I am not entirely sure what Sudafed is meant to do. I think it is something to do with nasal congestion but it might just as easily be a remedy for the Bubonic Plague.

What I do know about it is that it does not kill you. At least it did not kill me. I took somewhere between six and eight tablets (I can't accurately recall, it was a long time ago, which is a defence I swear by) and was soon fast asleep. And so it had the desired effect you might think. Well yes, until you consider that for three days afterwards my head was spinning like Lord Mandelson on Speed (or Sudafed) and that everything seemed to be happening at three times it's normal pace. This was most disconcerting and was enough to ensure I have not repeated the exercise since.

These are the kind of things I laugh at when I go for lunch with my mates. Seriously, there is something very wrong with me.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Take That And (The Conservative) Party

'A working class hero is something to be'. So sang John Lennon in December 1970.

Apparently the legendary ex-Beatle was trying to tell us something about working class people being 'processed' into the middle classes of an increasingly capitalist society. Or becoming wealthy, as it might be more commonly known.

Were Lennon to convey the same message now he could easily be talking directly to Gary Barlow. Unwisely, the Take That front man has publicly pledged his support to the Conservative Party for the forthcoming General Election. In doing so, he has taken the even more dubious step of being seen on the road with David Cameron on the campaign trail. The pair were seen launching a new X-Factor style talent contest for young people, though it remains unlikely that Cameron will replace Robbie Williams as the fifth member of the group. Come on, they're not a band. Bands play instruments.

Which is not to say that Barlow is not possessed of great talent. In fact, whether you like pop music or not as a genre, you have to concede that Barlow is one of the best songwriters of his generation. Very few of his peers have churned out such a volume of pop classics in a career now spanning almost 20 years. Barlow is consistently brilliant in his field.

Yet I can't help but feeling some measure of disdain for his political choice. For one thing it is unwise for someone so heavily reliant on populist culture to reveal anything about his politics. The only possible result is that you will alienate a large number of your audience to some degree. I for one will never listen to 'Never Forget' again without the nagging feeling that he has done just that. For another he is just plain wrong. There is something sad about his Phil Collins-esque alliance with the politics of greed. There may be finer margins between the two main parties' ideologies these days, but to side with the Tories is still to fart in the face of social justice.

It would have been easy to pepper this piece with Take That references to pick up my usual quota of cheap laughs. But surely I'm above that?

Are the Tories Back For Good? In politics Everything Changes if you have a little Patience. Personally I'm going to Pray that May 6 does not become the Greatest Day of Cameron's life and that the smarmy tosser never gets to Rule The World. Or even the UK.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Monday's Wheel Issues

I don't normally write about anything that happens at work. It's a bit of a taboo. There's far too much scope for offending the wrong people unintentionally, which would be disastrous if they happen to be more important than me. Which most of them are.


Late this afternoon I was asked by a student to check whether we had received her attendance sheet for a placement she had been on. I went through the relevant file and found nothing, roping two of my eager-to-leave colleagues (It was almost 4.30pm) into the search. They couldn't find it, not that is until one of them went back to the original file and located the offending document AT THE FRONT OF THE FILE!

Now, everyone makes mistakes, but this is not what you need as a wheelchair user. People think you are a spasmo to begin with, so there is no future in making such elementary errors. The combination of a wheelchair and staggering stupidity (albeit temporary at the end of a long and quite stressful day) only serves to intensify the humiliation. I have set the Disability Rights movement back decades and can only apologise to any of you out there who might be among our number.

Unless you are thick in which case you deserve all you get.

Able-bodied people can be just as thick. Yesterday a friend of mine (wheelchair user, but they are not all, I promise you), phoned to ask if I was alright. He had heard that someone using a wheelchair had been involved in an accident near to my local pub. There were police and an ambulance in attendance, and the victim had clearly suffered significant injury.

'Nah, wasn't me mate, I stayed in on Friday', I told my friend, to which he replied;

'Oh good. Tell you what though, I got told it was me!'

I nearly dropped the phone laughing. For some we wheelchair users all roll into one. I have lost count of the number of times I have been mistaken for another wheelchair user (this friend Phil, and another friend Paul being just two examples). I look nothing like either from the seat cushion upwards. Yet neither of these beat being mistaken for Malcolm, who uses an electric wheelchair! I look nothing like Malcolm from the fucking wheels up!

Come on Britain. You're not trying..............


While we're on a theme, I have an older story for you. No less embarrassing, and sadly no less true.

I was on a night out with a group of friends in Liverpool some years ago. It was one of the wettest, shittiest nights weather-wise in all human history. I was crossing the street close to Lime Street Station (I love it there) when a man approached me with a big friendly smile;

"Alright mate.........." he began as he approached me, adding;

"I've got a brother just like you.............."

I gave him a look of puzzlement, carefully considered my options and said;

"What, you mean he is piss wet through?"

He did not continue the conversation..........

Friday, 16 April 2010

Clash Of The Titans

I was going to write a review of this, the 2010 version of a classic tale of Greek mythology, with it's preposterously large serpentine monsters and grumpy Gods. I still might, but before I do there is something I should probably share with you about Clash Of The Titans.

My Dad took me to the old Savoy cinema in town to see the 1981 version. Now the most under-used club since Tiger Woods' 4-iron, the Savoy was once the only option if you wanted that cinematic experience. Sadly, it only had three screens. None of them were wheelchair accessible, but that's another story. We've had all that with the trains. Anyway, it's 1981. What do you want? Equality? Fuck off. We need at least 2010 years for society to get anywhere near that. And even then...........Ok, I'll stop now...........

The point is, anyway, that I was terrified as a five-year old. One look at a ludicrously large winged horse and that was me, screaming the place down. Best we not even get started on Medusa, save to say that I have had a phobia of snakes for as long as I can remember and it might just be down to her hairdresser.

I was hoping to be rather less hysterical upon visiting the infintely more accessible Cineworld in 2010. I managed it, though that is not to say that there isn't enough in Clash Of The Titans to inspire a slight tantrum should one be so inclined.

For the most part it is all good fun. If you can get past Sam Worthington's Perseus being played out as a faithful tribute to Russell Crowe's Maximus in Gladiator. If you don't mind the appearance of a random Bond girl (Gemma Arterton) pushing Andromeda out of the role of love interest and into the relative walk-on part of Kraken-fodder. If you can avoid spending the entirety of the film wondering if Draco (do you think that is where J.K.Rowley got the idea from?) is played by The Rock. He's not, he's played by Mads Mikkelsen, last seen in the same God Awful Bond Movie as Arterton.

If you can get past this, and Worthington's muddled accent (Australian? Scottish? South African? Gungan? Turns out Worthington was born in Surrey but is a graduate of the Australian National Institute of Dramatic Art), then there is much to enjoy also. What's not to like about a plot which sends Perseus on a quest to discover how to fell the aforementioned Kraken, thus sparing the life of Andromeda? To do so he must behead Medusa, who is now apparently so repugnant to men that one look into her eyes turns them to stone. So why do I still fancy her then? Could it be because she is actually played by Natalia Vodianova, a Russian actress and model who may sound like a tennis star, but is actually most notable for being the face of Calvin Klein and for once hosting a semi-final of Eurovision? Probably.

Andromeda is placed in mortal danger by Ralph Fiennes' creepy Hades, a performance that has unfairly sparked comparisons to Rowley's Lord Voldemoort. After all, Hades is much older than any two-bit Wizard-waster, and thus has first dibs if there is any croakily-voiced slithering (Slytherin?) to be done. Hades thinks that mortals are most ungrateful, and has decreed that he will release the terrifying Kraken unless the people of Argos agree to sacrifice Andromeda within 10 days. Does anything get delivered from Argos within 10 days? Do they even deliver? If not, that joke doesn't work and I can only apologise. I'm an idiot.

Less convincing is Liam Neeson as Zeus, who it is revealed is not only the biological father of our hero (Star Wars, anyone?), but also a rapist. Turns out he sneaked into Perseus' mum's room late one night and enjoyed the most wicked of ways. You're a fecking God! Just ask. Yet to say that this indiscretion is out of character for Zeus would be unfair, as character is something that this particular incarnation lacks almost completely. Neeson spends much of his time wearily arguing with brother Hades, and wanting to be anywhere else but here.

Yet through all of this, through all of the overly long battles with giant scorpion creatures, you can't help but will Perseus on as he flies in on the back of the mighty winged (and oddly black) Pegesus for his final confrontation with the Kraken. And I don't think I'm spoiling it (this story is roughly 2500 years old after all) when I tell you that our favourite Demi-God does not disappoint. Though personally I felt that the Kraken was a somewhat one-dimensional fighter, relying far too heavily on his sheer enormity and ugliness than any great combat skills.

Clash Of The Titans will not change your life, but it may very well make your five-year old cry so do the decent thing and book yourself a babysitter.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

No Pain, No Train - Part 2

TWELVE DAYS LATER........................

Tuesday, March 23 2010. Those of you familiar with the tale of woe that was part 1 will be alarmed to know that it takes less than two weeks for more train tomfoolery to take place.

Again it is those serial offenders at Lime Street Station who must be held responsible for this latest farce. Again it is assistance on the 5.01pm to Thatto Heath which proves beyond their capabilities. Only this is a different type of farce. A whole new angle on balls-ups. On reflection, I can only admire their versatility in this field. It must take a great deal of effort.

4.45pm. Just as out of breath as I was previously, I arrive at the station in good time. I pass through the platform gate and notice the same burly woman at the gate from the original, sorry tale. Again I ask for assistance. Again she nods and begins whispering into her walkie-talkie. 'Charlie Tango, Tea-kettle Barbecue.' Or something. I take it that means I should go through and wait by the platform.

There is a digital clock on the platform. A few minutes pass. 4.55pm. No panic. After all, notwithstanding the obsessive security surrounding ramps at Lime Street, it shouldn't take that long to board the train. I go back to my mp3 player and my muddled, post-work thoughts. A passing rail-worker suddenly attracts my attention. I'm about to ask for help, but he's on to me in a flash;

"It's not us mate." he offers, pointing to the company logo on his uniform.

"It's Network Rail." I think he says, though I'm so stupefied by the idea that privatisation has come to this that I can't be sure. If I'm right, what he is telling me is that he cannot assist me onto the train because he does not work for the company providing the train. And he's not alone. No fewer than three men tell me the same thing. It's like being left to die on the side of the pavement by the Good Samaritan because he has just got a job with BUPA.

I look up at the clock once more. 4.59 and 35......36..........37........38 seconds. At the other end of the platform, near the front of the train, I can make out the rotund figure of the guard. I wave at him. Casually at first, upping the ante with each movement until by 5.00 and around 28 seconds I am wildly jesticulating like a soon-to-be ex-extra in a Jaws movie. He's no Roy Scheider, and consequently decides that he hasn't seen me. I wasn't expecting him to start ringing bells and telling everyone to get off the beach, but I can't help but feel a little let down as he noncholantly steps back aboard the train.

I glance once more to the gate area and see nobody, turning my gaze again to see the 5.01 to Thatto Heath pulling away from the platform. There is a quite ludicrous moment when I think about pushing after it. Chasing the very last train when it's too late, as James Morrison might say. I am reminded of Gene Wilder doing something similar in a film called the Silver Streak and realise it's futility. If an able-bodied actor in an action comedy can't keep up, what chance an overweight raspberry who really needs a tyre change in any case? I don't move, but can still hear the voice of my late Grandmother shouting at Gene to 'hurry up, you fool.' as he begins his pointless pursuit. She was an optimist.

At this point I do something I am not normally given to doing. I complain. It's probably not her fault, but I tell the burly woman at the gate with the walkie-talkie that she and her colleagues are 'a disgrace'. She seems unmoved by this, or by the fact that they have actually managed to let me miss my train home. Still, she mumbles into the walkie-talkie once more, waving a hand at me as if to suggest I should be a little more patient and all will be fine.

Moments later a man I presume to be her senior comes through the gate and questions me over the incident. He's extroardinarily bald. He puts me in mind of the little man in the Benny Hill Show who spent entire episodes being slapped on his bald pate and running away from scantily clad women. I can hear the famous, accompanying music in my head as he apologises profusely, and can't help but think that the image suits this ridiculous situation.

There are no scantily-clad women by way of any consolation, but the man does at least help me onto the next train, due to depart around 20 minutes later. He makes it clear to all staff on board what will happen to their nether regions should they fail to help me disembark at Thatto Heath. I can't resist pointing out to him that his staff had already demonstrated this part of their repertoire less than two weeks earlier. I'm in full complaint mode now, but a sense of relief stops me giving it the full Victor Meldrew.

I go back to the music and my own thoughts, and try not to think too much about where I will end up this time.................