Thursday, August 21, 2014

Lowering the tone - a shameful tale of teenage misogyny

Forgetting my manners, I stare across the desk at the young lady studying her playing cards. At least I think she's studying them. All she does is glance back at me with an impish smile on her face, and that knowing look that hasn't changed since the game started.

It's her poker face, and she certainly knows how to play. I, on the other hand, an eighteen-year-old student whose only source of income is from collecting trolleys for a local supermarket, has no idea, except for the fact that getting four of something is very good indeed and that five is cheating and might get you shot in the head by an angry cowboy.

But this is no western saloon, this is the second-largest bedroom in a four-bedroom detached house somewhere in the English home counties, and I've got an actual model up here playing poker with me. Heaven knows how I got her in here, past the parental vanguard at the front door, the knowing leer of my younger brother, but she's up here with me and there's no denying the truth, the triumph. My triumph.

She's tactful, I'll grant her that. She hasn't commented on the flowery wallpaper covered with posters for eighties bands and RAF fighter jets. She's said nothing about the fact that our card table is little more than my sister's old desk, covered in scratches, one of the drawers not working since somebody jammed too much rubbish in there, sticking it fast. She sits there, demure in her leather jacket, looking at her cards, that impish smile not moving an inch.

I draw a card and raise the stakes. I'm not sure what I'm doing here, but I think I might be winning. Not a flicker from the other side of the table as the money begins to get serious.

Shuffling nervously in my chair – I've got the uncomfortable wooden one that's always brought downstairs when we have too many guests for dinner, and dad has to fix the extension on the table that turns it into a huge circle with a rotating lazy susan in the centre for that added Chinese banquet bit of class – I decide what to do next. My hand's good but not great, and I'm sure that smile is hiding something. If she wanted to, I'm sure she'd flick a strand of blonde hair from her face, and give me that come-on to throw everything all-in and see what she's got.

And by which I mean cards, and not the other. Or do I?

A decision is made. The die is cast. All in, whatever that means. All my money on the table. Hardly an impressive amount, but it's every last penny. I want to see those cards, win or lose.

I've got a pair of threes, a pair of sevens. Not bad. I raise an eyebrow in mocking triumph. Beat that, lady.

With a flourish she turns her cards over. Three Jacks.

"Arse," I say, the first words to pass between us since this doomed hand started.

She looks down. She is naked, that classy leather jacket gone, an air of surprise on her face. Nevertheless, she strikes the pose known to millions of easily-pleased tabloid newspaper readers.

"You bastard," Sam says at last, "You hacked the game didn't you?"

Of course I hacked the game. You're not going to buy Samantha Fox Strip Poker for your BBC Micro and NOT hack the game, are you? 

Versions for other popular home computers are also available.

I get paid fifteen pounds for a day's shoving trollies for those ungrateful bastards at the supermarket and this game's eaten up ten of them, and I've only got five quid to last the rest of the week. Of course I'm going to hack Samantha Fox Strip Poker and hack it hard.

Young people! This is what is known as a "cassette". A cassette.

The grainy eight-bit image of Britain's number one topless model smiles back at me from the black-and-white monitor. It's less a monitor, more an ancient portable television set which one day, at the very depths of financial woe, I shall sell for two pounds. But at the moment, it has a topless, depressingly low resolution image of La Fox staring back at me.

It is a minor triumph of the teenage programmer's art. I hate to lose, so I fix the game so that I always win.

And I reset the game, and I win again.

And later, I learn that the penultimate picture in the sequence is the best one, so I fix the game once more.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What depression is / What depression isn't

Outside my house, there's an old man in a pair of overalls trying to coax an injured bird out of the middle of the road so it won't fall victim to the relentless roll of traffic. Twenty yards away, lies a mess of fresh blood, feather and claws where an avian friend wasn't quite quick enough. If that's not allegorical of something, I don't know what is.

THAT'S MY DEPRESSION THAT IS (It's not my depression, though it might be that of somebody else. I don't want to be a squished bird)

A week after the death of Robin Williams, just about everybody has an opinion on mental illness and what it is or isn't. Some of those people are even living with depression or anxiety, and I respect their courage for speaking out and breaking down the social taboos of being a fellow fruitcake.

So, with that in (oh-ho!) mind, I've been trying to get my thoughts together on this, but being at the bottom of a swing of anxiety and panic, it's not been easy. Because anxiety's a fucker.

So here's what depression isn't.

Depression isn't the same for everybody.

At least, I'm pretty sure of it. I only have experience of my own depression, and Jane's depression by proxy. I can't fully explain how my brain - or her brain - sometimes goes wrong, its triggers, its effects to her, its effects on me, because there are no words for some kinds of feelings. We can only give a small idea of how it rips your insides out, reduces your world to a diameter of ten feet, and tears your internal monologue to shreds.

That's the thing I hate the most about anxiety. I can't have a decent conversation with myself - the other half is reduced to random words, snippets of sentences, insane questions, unwelcome opinions and random insults - fifty per cent of me has stopped making sense, and the other half is struggling to keep up. At least the internal jukebox continues playing. The minute that stops, I'll be dead.

"Sure, I get depressed too," nobody ever said to me. How do I know what other people feel? How do I know what do to? In the words of the song by Heaven 17: "Alone but not lonely, I move on".

Depression isn't logical.

I actually got the "Why are you depressed? You've got a great job, you're recently married, you've got a family" talk last week from an actual letters-after-their-name doctor.

Obviously, depression and mental illness is not her forte, or she might not have said that, but it's something you hear a lot from people who don't know how messed up you are inside. I nodded my head, and ignored her advice, pausing only to tell everybody on sharing, caring Facebook.

Yes, I do know how lucky I am to have etc etc etc, but that's not how depression actually works. It knows no logic. All of your truths become untruths. Nothing you know as positives matter. My anxiety dismisses all that as a million things rush my brain at once.

Anxiety is overload, and it goes something like this: There's too much to do - What if I'm found out - What if I die - I'm too tired - I can't sleep - I'm no good - I love you - I hate you - You're nothing - Only three hours' sleep before the alarm goes - I'm awake - What if I'm found out - Did I lock the back door? - You're rubbish - You're doing fine - You've got 30 years left, tops - You're...

Oh yes, I'm always aware of oblivion, which is why there's always one constant: Staying alive. I'm rather attached to this body, it's the brain that could do with a hot wash and fast spin.

But you can't switch that relentless, nagging internal voice off. The drugs help, and sometimes I'm happy, and sometimes I can answer one question at a time. No logic, no pattern. You have good days, you have bad. Currently: bad, but able to pour it out onto a page that might even make sense.

So you work, you smile, you try to appear alive on the outside while war's being raged behind your eyes. Just keep that jukebox running.

Today's jukebox selection: Karl Bartos (Kraftwerk) and Andy McCluskey (OMD): Kissing the Machine

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Wisdom of Old Ben Kenobi, heavily-armed madman of this parish

While I get my act together on something I've got planned for later this week, have this.

You *would* have thought he would have remembered doing that, eh?

Friday, August 15, 2014


A run-of-the-mill report on Kim Jong Un attending the test fire of a rocket showed a series of photos of the Supreme Leader enjoying himself far too much as he farts about with weapons of mass destruction.

Loaded onto Twitter, a new feature allows them to be tiled together to tell a story. Thussly:

Oh-ho! Says an internet wag – that's going to be an internet meme before you know it. And so #KimMischief was born.

Here's a few I made earlier.
"Hello? I'm looking for Mr Bolokov. Ivor Bolokov"

"Hello? Is that David Cam-moron? I'd like to speak to David Cam-MORON"

"Your mum"

"May the Force be with you"

"Hi, I'm looking for Mr Buttz, first name Seymour"

And forget geographical impossibility, this is my absolute favourite:

I am SUCH a fanboy

Thursday, August 14, 2014


Oh God, it's happening again. Another well-known face is linked with something unpleasant, innocent until proven guilty goes out of the window, and it's a complete free-for-all of asshattery and ill-judged douchebaggery*.

Which leads to the see-you-in-court money shot.
So behave yourselves on Twitter, or you'll be up before the beak before you know it.

*Now a genuine word, according to the OED.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On not having shards of metal dragged out through my eyeballs by a huge magnet

WARNING: This machinery has the ability to drag shards of metal out through your eyeballs with its ridiculously large magnet. Cool!
To Frimley Park Hospital for an MRI scan on my gammy foot, made somewhat nervous at the number of times I was warned in the official documentation about having shards of metal dragged out through your eyeballs by a huge magnet.

In truth, having shards of metal dragged out through your eyeballs by a huge magnet is an undesirable outcome in any surgical procedure, and if there's one process where it's bound to happen sooner or later, it's lying down inside a huge doughnut that contains a huge magnet.

To be frank, I had no desire to have shards of metal dragged out through my eyeballs by a huge magnet, and I told them so, on the spot. Luckily, I was assured that this hardly ever happens, as it tends to spoil their day, not to mention that of the poor sap having shards of metal dragged out through their eyeballs by a huge magnet.

So, confident that I wasn't etc etc, I lay myself down on the gurney and let the MRI scan technician strap my foot into position. Then he handed me two things: A pair of headphones ("To drown out the noise of the scanner") and a panic button ("Just in case something terrible happens, like ...err... shards of metal ...err... nothing").

I put on the headphones, and to my utmost horror, I found that it was piping the local commercial radio station ("A better mix of music") directly into my brain, and the opening bars of Richard Marx and Right Here Waiting, one of the most insipid middle of the road radio hits of this modern age, rightfully classed as a crime against humanity. Hardly what I'd call "a better mix of music". I hit the panic button immediately.

They say that one MRI victim in ten thousand develops super powers. Confident that that one person is me, I took myself home, and waited for invisibility, flight or super strength to manifest itself.

Alas, my super power appears to be an ability to peel open hard boiled eggs all in one go. Rubbish for saving the world, but S.H.I.E.L.D. want me for their staff canteen.

Huzzah for the NHS!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Saturday, August 09, 2014

The question nobody's asking about North Korea

In the last couple of weeks, North Korea's Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un has looked at:

1. Ladies' hosiery
2. Ladies' shoes
3. Lube

What's your game, Kim? Is it the wife's birthday soon?

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

How to dock in Elite Classic without killing yourself to death - A guide for the roving space git

Kids! Stop shooting space stations! They hate it.
With Guardians of the Galaxy currently in cinemas presenting the job of roving space git as a valid career choice, it pains me to say that we seasoned commanders are going to have to take a few of you back to basics when it comes to piloting your craft.

After all these years, it has been brought to my attention that some of you dweebs still can't dock your space craft. And if you can't dock, you're essentially screwed. God help you lot when Elite Dangerous comes along. You'll starve to death in the cold vacuum of space, most likely.

I didn't become --- E L I T E --- and a noted roving space git without knowing how to dock, and thirty years after I first eased myself behind the controls of my Cobra Mk III, the ESS Douglas Adams, I've continued to ignore the so-called "convenience" of the docking computer. Slow, clunky and an excuse for poor piloting, the docking computer should only be used if – for example – you have limbs hanging off as the result of a particularly nasty space battle, or if you are drunk. Pulling hyperdrive when drunk is A Bad Thing, m'kay?

So, let's assume nothing here. You're either a harmless n00b, or a Commander that has somehow mucked by through trial and error (and most of it error). Believe it or not, despite some people saying docking is difficult. They are idiots. You're just doing it wrong.

It's very simple. When you reach planetary orbit and the space station appears on your radar, aim your ship for a point directly between the station and the planet's equator. The space station ALWAYS appears in a geo-stationary orbit with the access door facing the equator. Get onto this line and the battle's won.

As you draw level with the space station (it should be showing as zero elevation on the tactical radar), switch to right screen view and activate missile targeting computer. As soon as the station hits the cross-hairs, you get the "beep" that you've acquired a target, come to an immediate dead stop. Reset the targeting computer, because nobody likes firing missiles at the space station at which they're about to dock. It just makes the police angry.

Switch back to front view, and turn on a sixpence to face the space station using your tactical radar as a guide. Your targeting system should beep again, and the choice is yours.
Almost on target, but why aren't you giving it full speed? Chicken.
Either let loose all your missiles and die horribly. MWA HA HA HA HA HAAAAARGH DIE DIE DIE POLICE SCUM!!!!!

Or (and I prefer this) dive full speed toward the door. Match station rotation if you like, but that's for losers. Wait until the doorway completely fills your front view and THEN hit your docking computer. Brown trousers time for the occupants of the space station, easy life for you in your craft.

Congratulations, you have docked. Time to get blarted and look out for a zero-gee rub'n'tug shop that can help you out with that gammy shoulder of yours. Or just make friends with a talking racoon. Your choice.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Restaurant Review: Wimpy, Festival Place Basingstoke

The finest foods known to humanity
After a difficult morning clipping a reluctant dog's claws and taking a mildewed duvet to the local tip, what better way to sate one's appetite than the finest food British cuisine has to offer? Failing that, Wimpy in Basingstoke.

Mere yards from the famous Wote Street Willy, my companion and I found ourselves seated in Basingstoke's premier restaurant, perusing the new Wimpy menu. Shockingly - yes - the Maitre d' handed us a multi-paged laminated tableau, whereupon the establishment's fare is displayed, allowing those of us with less than perfect reading skills to point at whichever they desire.

For the seasoned Wimpy connoisseur, all the Wimpy regulars are there, the difference being the opportunity to add extras on to your already classic bender or burger.

The head waiter himself took our orders. My companion went for the quarter-pounder with cheese with onion rings; after some deliberation my choice was the same, eschewing the onions for mushrooms and a slice of bacon. A wise choice, it transpired.

We settled down to take in the ambiance of the establishment: Functional seats and pole-up-the-middle tables, a nod toward Jamie Oliver's "Fifteen" establishment, with a touch of the Gordan Ramsay - excellent to throw in self-defence should the chef become a little testy. Background music consisted of a selection of popular hits from - we understand - Heart FM, but one was too busy beating the radio to death with a stick to find its true provenance. N'inquiet pas.

The sommelier came and took our drinks orders. We both chose a fine Diet Coke 2014, prepared from syrup and carbonated water from massive tanks on the premises, we believe, topped with locally-produced ice cubes.

And then, the main course. One cannot begin to describe the flavours: Freshly deep-fried pommes frites. Recently pan-fried mushrooms. Almost certainly recently cut-in-half wholemeal bun, and meat seared to perfection by a man in a paper hat. All topped with the house piece-de-resistance: A specially prepared sauce from the finest tomatoes, courtesy of the House of Heinz. Heaven knows how they do it, but completely divine.
What other restaurant chain offers paper napkins complete with pop music nonsense? YOUR MOVE JAMIE OLIVER

With portion sizes somewhat larger than you'd expect from other premium restaurants, we declined the offer of a Brown Derby (although it did cross our mind this this might have been some sort of invitation to either a secret society of Wimpy customers, or a deviant sexual practice), and paid, bidding the Maitre d' a fond farewell on the way out.

Then, to the 99p Store opposite to point and laugh at things.

A fine afternoon's fine dining in one of Basingstoke's finest restaurants. In summary: Fine.