Friday, July 25, 2014

Too damn hot: A tale of mirth and woe


I once vowed that I would never, ever complain about being too damn cold. It being too damn hot right now, I pretty much stick by this vow, right up to the moment later this year when gets too damn cold then I will forget I ever made that vow and complain like a bastard.

It was a vow made in haste, one summer's evening in Reading, when I and my former wife decided that it was be a great idea - with temperatures somewhere up in three figures - to go for a carvery meal at the local Harvester.

I bloody love a carvery meal. Jane, however, was born with sense and good taste and is trying to wean me off them, so I am forced to resort to stealth carveries, tables at which are booked 'by mistake' and hey - look at the vegetarian option - it's pasta and red sauce! This usually results in the Angry Pinched Face, at which we are both experts.

If I ever end up in hospital, I have already noted there is a Toby Carvery next door to Frimley Park, so I shall be down there, my drip on a trolley, bum hanging out of my gown, demanding that they stack me up with the three-bird roast, and don't skimp on the potatoes.

Carvery meals are up there with egg and chips, cheese on toast, Heinz Cream of Tomato soup, and I will fight any man who says otherwise. The layers of carvery fat will save me as the blows rain down on my pudgy body.

So, a mid-July Sunday, pavements so hot you could cook a steak, and me of the ex decided to go down to Whitley and stuff ourselves with the finest meats that Harvester had to offer.

Now, anybody who knows Reading knows one thing about that part of town: The Whitley Whiff. It was the smell of the nearby sewage works, compared with the delightful stench coming out of the Courage brewery, to make one distinctive pong for which Ricky Gervais got a decent 15 minutes of stand up comedy.

On that day, the Whiff was the worst it has ever been - every turd dropped in Reading in the last month or so was exposed to baking sun, and mixed with the wort wafting off Courage's, grown men were puking in the streets.

I know, because I was one of them.

We sat in the restaurant as waiting staff wilted, the chef stood in front of a grill saying "Sod this for a laugh" as another order for scorched meat came in, and more and more fools turned up to sit cheek-by-jowl in a packed eaterie where there was not one jot of ventilation, but plenty of antique farm implements fixed to the walls. If a fight ever broke out there, it would be a massacre.

Despite ordering everything off the menu, I probably lost a good couple of pounds in weight in there, all seeping out of bodily pores and down the back of my neck. And when I sweat, I'm like [inappropriate Jimmy Savile/Rolf Harris gag goes here].

Emerging from the Harvester, full to the gills with prawn cocktail, well-done steak and chips, something from the dessert menu, and a nice coffee on top of a pint of Strongbow, I was sweating like the proverbial pig as the Whiff caught me full in the face.

"Yarch," I said with some gusto.

"Yarch," I repeated, with rather less gusto, but rather more volume.

Ten minutes later, with the air conditioning roaring away like hell in the old Austin Allegro, I vowed never to complain about being too damn hot. But right now I'm too damn hot, so stuff that promise.

I made no such vow regarding carvery meals, and you will have to hold me at knife-point to get one out of me. And even then I'd have my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The parting of the teeth

"That's aces"

After a lifetime of dodging the bullet, to the dental hygienist, where I am ushered into a room full of torture equipment and advertisements for electric toothbrushes.

On the hottest day of the year, I am confronted by a small man with wispy hair, his smock done up tightly to his neck, looking for all the world like one of those small men with wispy hair that star as demented surgeons in slasher horror films about unnecessary surgery. In front of him is a tray of torture devices, all hooks and picks, fastidiously sorted – I note – by size, the sure sign of a demented surgeon with a byline in unnecessary surgery, for which people pay £47 a pop.

He has a radio in the corner of his tiny room, not playing Radio 1 or 2 or Heart FM like the other surgeons in the practice. This is playing Wagner, music to scrape teeth by.

"Do you floss?" he asks.

"Yes," I lie, but he sees right through me, and prepares his implements.

I take myself to my special place – a beach on a Pacific island where I once sat and escaped the madness of the world for one beautiful afternoon – and only emerged once he had done his worst.

There was mercifully little blood.

For the first time I notice that there is rather less teeth in my mouth than twenty minutes' previously. In fact, he has scraped off so much tartar and associated crap from my mouth that there are actual gaps between my teeth where there were none before.

"Mur?" I ask, not quite knowing how my mouth works now, but inside I am all:

 "You really should floss," he says to me, pointing a hooky thing at my face as if to say "This can go up your nose and whip your brains out like a dead pharoah, no problem at all."

"Sell me some floss," I say, not wanting my brains whipped out of my nostrils like a dead pharoah. "Do you take a cheque?"

"Yes, make it out to Dr Lecter."

I flee.

"See you in six months?"

Monday, July 21, 2014

Car Crash Flashback


Oh, the humanity

Home from work and straight to bed, for those 5.15am starts are a killer. Blocking out the sound of the school disco going on next door with a pile of soft furnishings on top of my head, I drift into unconsciousness.

Of COURSE, the phone is going to ring the second you're finally asleep.

"Hello, this is Ricardo from the insurance legal department, I'm ringing about a car crash."

I am awake, my panic button well and truly pressed, for I have not been in a car crash for years, nor have I knowingly been the witness to one. Had a few near misses, mind you. What's the insurance legal department got on me?

"Which car crash is this?" I ask.

"We need to take a few personal details," says Ricardo, clearly reading from a script and he's having problems with the words longer than a single syllable.

"Which car crash is this?" I ask again, safe now in the knowledge that he doesn't even know my name, the only thing he has in front of him is a list of phone numbers of potential marks. 

It's a mystery: I haven't even done anything to get me on the con merchants' list, unless you count that time I helped that Nigerian prince move £8m out of the country, but that was purely legit.

But Ricardo presses on, probably fully aware of what's to come.

"It was an accident you had in England and Wales between now and 2012," he reads, thinking this is adequate explanation. It is not. I am tired. This prick has woken me up from a dream about sexy ghosts.

"Oh, piss off Ricardo."

He does not call back.

Friday, July 18, 2014

My big plan to make the Olympics more fun



The Rio 2016 website reminds us that the next summer games are only two years away. It also shows us this picture, which illustrates – very wrongly – what they think BMX riding might be.

 
 If the carry on their preparations in this manner, one or two athletes might be in for a shock when they turn up for their events.

And herein lies my big plan to make the Olympics – both summer and winter – exactly 253% more fun.

  1. Everybody qualifies for the games in their own sports as normal
  2. They turn up in Rio fully trained and with all their kit ready to go
  3. Their name is drawn out of the hat, and they are assigned a random sport in which to compete
  4. ???
  5. PROFIT! (Also: TOP COMEDY)
Can you imagine?

A weightlifter sinking to the bottom of the pool during the synchro swimming

Boxers forced to wear full kit for the table tennis

The weeds from the clay shooting forced to run the marathon (at the point of their own guns in necessary)

Hammer throwers doing that thing with the ribbons and the hoops in the rhythmic gymnastics

Absolutely anybody who doesn't do ski jumping doing the ski jumping

Lord Coe should get on the blower and bring the whole thing back to London where it belongs. We've done a reasonably successful games – now watch as we mess it up in supreme style.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Baxter Prophecy

Raymond Baxter: Gentleman. Prophet.

Back in 1980 or 1981 – I can't remember to be honest, and the year isn't hugely important anyway – our school was visited by one of the gods of British television: Raymond Baxter.

The host of BBC1's Tomorrow's World, the name inspired awe in teenagers of a certain geek level and made Thursday nights (TW and Top of the Pops) the highlight of the week. The only problem for me was that the former fighter pilot turned affable old-school television presenter would only be addressing the Sixth Form. I was not in the Sixth Form. Disappointment loomed.

"Good news, Coleman," said my tutor Mr Delaney, "They're letting one person from each middle school group go to the talk. Do you want to go?"

"Shit, yes, sir!"

"Beg pardon?"

"I said 'yes sir'."

Everybody called Mr Delaney 'Donkey'. We only called him this because on our first day he told everybody that his nickname was 'Donkey' (after the Val Doonican song), and we were forbidden ON PAIN OF DEATH of every uttering the D-word in his presence. So, in an early manifestation of the Streisand Effect, even other teachers called him Donkey, often to his face.

"Shit, yes, sir!"

"You'll have to dress up, though," he warned me. Sixth-formers at Piggott had to wear a suit to school, and I was going through a phase of scruffy jumper and school tie knotted to the size of Mike Tyson's fist. "Have you got a school blazer?"

I did not have a school blazer, but my brother did, so come the day of the Baxter visit it was dressed up like a proper toff for the first and only time in my entire secondary school career. And like a proper toff and a swat I planted myself in the front row in the sixth form block, pad at the ready to take notes for my report on the great man's speech. Think Will from The Inbetweeners, briefcase wanker.

And so Baxter arrived to much glad-handing from teachers who were pleased to have caught such a prestigious scalp, who had travelled al the way from his home about two miles away. Two miles! Celebrities in our midst! (We also had singer Mary Hopkin living in a house behind a huge hedge down our road, and Kenny Everett across the fields and down by the river, but to have Raymond Baxter too, well...)

And then he spoke. At length.

I, for one, was hoping for jolly japes about the making of Tomorrow's World and how he might have snapped off Judith Hann's hair after freezing it in liquid nitrogen for a laugh*. Or winding up James Burke behind the scenes with the latest in high-tech killer robots**. Or perhaps rollocking tales of his time as a WWII fighter pilot, giving Jerry at damn good thrashing in his daring raids on V-2 sites***. Or...

Nope.

Instead he told us about a future where resources were running short, our country – North Sea Oil exhausted – becoming dependent on other producers while science scrabbled for alternative sources, as governments and business clung grimly to the oil and gas they know and love. All this at a time when man-made pollution and population expansion would cause climactic and food supply crises.

"Perhaps not in my lifetime, but possibly in yours," he intoned gravely, to a quiet room.

Boring, this young teen thought to himself, slamming shut his notepad with hardly a word written.

But I still went and did the celebrity thing, because that's what you do. I got his autograph, told him I was in the Scouts, and he urged me to use my bright young future to work towards solving the future problems that he had spoken about.

So far, I haven't.

Raymond Baxter was, in fact, one of the first famous people I had ever met, and I was a bit overawed by the whole experience. He he remains one of a growing list of well-known people I have encountered that prove "Never meet your heroes" to be the complete rubbish that it truly is. Douglas Adams, Lenny Henry, Neil Gaiman, Dennis Norden, Spike Milligan - take a bow if you're still breathing enough to do so. 

"So," said Donkey the next day, "Was it any good? What did he say?"

"He said we're all going to die, sir."

But he was right. So very, very right. I should have listened.

* He never did this
** Nor this
*** But he certainly did this

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A couple of reviews

Midge Ure: The sideburns are gone



You know how I am with Ultravox and the relentless praise of all connected to my favourite 80s band. However, I've never really found myself at home with Midge Ure's solo career - I bought The Gift in the mid-80s, but didn't find myself enthused by subsequent works.

That is - as they say on Tomorrow's World - until now. Like Alison Moyet's comeback album of this year (The Minutes), both have rediscovered their electronic roots and come up with something that takes 40-somethings like me back to what we nostalgically call "the day".

Fragile, then, is a collection of songs and instrumentals which show Midge back in love with music. Surely it's no coincidence that both he and Ultravox partner in crime Billy Currie have put out spanking good albums immediately after their Ultravox reunion. More of this kind of thing, I say.

Many highlights on the disc, but the one I liked least on first listen (Are We Connected?) is the one that won't leave my head; while the instrumental Wire and Wood makes a confident play for all TV and film incidental music for the next year.

Eight Viennas out of Ten, with a Vienetta for pudding

_____________________________________


I'm often asked to review books, and this - err - tale of niche interest piqued my curiosity.

It's a comic novel about a dowdy pensioner forced to abandon her hopes of making it as a serious writer to make ends meet through the medium of filth, and her adventures in finding out exactly what said filth should contain.

In this world of Fifty Shades po-faced mummy porn, it's good to have something out there proudly poking fun at the genre and proud of the fact that it's pure, daft comedy. Adapted from an initial novella and its sequel - both of which have sold reasonably well to good reviews - Rosen's pulled it all together, fleshed it out and ...err... whipped together a comic novel in its own right.

Essentially a story of middle class embarrassment in the face of farcial odds, I'd be the first to admit it wasn't quite my taste of Viagra-spiked tea, but I stuck with it to the satisfying conclusion, and there are some genuine laugh out loud moments.

A fun, light read if you're into that kind of thing. (For eg, granny sex comedy)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Act - Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now


Heaven knows I worship the ground Claudia Brücken walks on, but this monstrosity should have been drowned in the bath. How long will you last, dear reader, before you destroy your computer with hammers and fire?

The management prefers Snobbery and Decay, Act's one true classic on the ZTT label.

Oh sod it, here's the 12" version which is even better.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

"That's the last time I take you bloody kids anywhere" and other parental catchphrases

A typical view for the Coleman clan on a family outing


These days, people stay to the very end of the cinema credits to see if there's an extra scene where Samuel L Jackson invites the protagonists to join the Avengers. I've even downloaded an app for my phone that tells me if this is going to happen for any given film, saving me from sitting there like an arse as the house lights go up and the cinema workers wait with thinly-veiled impatience for you to clear off so they can muck out the auditorium before the next screening.

But I'm used to sitting through ten minutes of slowly-rolling credits in an empty cinema screen, as I was brought up to stay until the very, very ends and "it's the last time I take you bloody kids anywhere."

"It's the last time I take you bloody kids anywhere" – the unintentional, exasperated catchphrase of my late mother, who brought up three kids in west London and latterly the commuter belt of suburbia with an air of recognition that we wouldn't behave ourselves wherever we went. She was right, too – we were a rabble that even the most patient of parenting couldn't tame.

She was also fond of "At this rate you'll lose all your teeth by the time you're twenty," the almost daily threat that stemmed from any sort of toothbrush misuse. I am 48, and still have all of my teeth, so I win on that one.  "Oh, blow," a defeated mum would have said. But…

So many days out, so many treats, all ending with "It's the last time I take you bloody kids anywhere", as we were piled into a taxi, or dragged onto a bus back to Hammersmith. The museums in South Kensington. A Wimpy bar. Down to the Thames at Fulham to throw things at ducks. And so many trips to the cinema.

The first cinema we were told we were never going back to ever again was some concrete monstrosity on a visit to my grandfather's place in Essex. It was Bedknobs and Broomsticks in a time where Disney thought two hours was not nearly enough for a kids' film.  I – at the age of five – had had enough by the first 30 minutes, and that was the last time we bloody kids were being taken anywhere.

The last time my mother took me to the cinema was (if I recall) was in the summer of 1978 and the dizzying lights of the cinema in Marlow to see Grease. Marlow, a commuter belt town so dull that they have to import other people's outrage. But we queued up at the Odeon (an old fashioned single-screen cinema with a circle, uniformed doorman, the whole nine yards), saw the big summer hit, and – as usual – sat through the end titles while all the cool people were already waiting for the bus home outside.

And the reason for this madness? My mother was brought up properly, with high standards and a sense of decency. She alone knew that quality cinemas still played the National Anthem after every screening, and it was your duty to stay to the end and stand to attention. So we stayed to the end, and stood to attention, a sea of empty red velvet-effect seats rolling all the way down to the blank screen.

All except for me, because a surfeit of fizzy pop had left my bladder at bursting point, and I had spent the time the credits took to roll to sneak out to the gents' and sort out this distressing state of affairs. In retrospect, I could have timed it better, for as the drums rolled and "God Save The Queen" played to a near-empty auditorium, I was spotted edging along the back wall towards our party, and certainly not standing to attention as tradition dictated.

She at least waited until we were in the car before giving me what I considered – bearing in mind my bladder-based desperation – a rather harsh verbal going over. "That's the last time I take you bloody kids anywhere," and this time she meant it. The next time we were on our own. Good thing too, because it was Life of Brian.

As a parent myself, I am pleased to report that I too have unleashed "That's the last time I take you bloody kids anywhere" on my own brood, and "At this rate you'll lose all your teeth by the time you're twenty." Still waiting for that one to come good.