Sunday, December 30, 2007

Good knight, and good luck

For the 24th year running it appears I've been overlooked in the New Year Honours list, published yesterday. But having learnt not to take the repeated snubs too personally, I'm not that bitter about it. Others are far more deserving of the accolades. There's Michael Parkinson, 72, chat show host: presumably knighted because the Queen and Gordon Brown both like to watch him have a chat with Billy Connolly on a monthly, recurring basis. There's Kylie Minogue, 39, but with a bottom not a day over 28, awarded an OBE for being so ruddy bloody brave. And er... some posh rugby sods... and for some bizarre reason, a load of people from 'the world of retail' (where is this world? Can we go there or is it some kind of abstract, metaphysical nonentity that exists only beyond the boundaries of my perception? Or are they just on about Woolworths, Clinkards and Thomas The Baker and all that? If so, I've been to those places and understand it all now).

In preparation for when I'm eventually invited to receive a knighthood, I've already planned how I'll go about refusing it on a republican point of principle. This will see me rank alongside other great refuseniks like JG Ballard, LS Lowry and David Bowie. But rather than a simple and traditional refusal via a written medium, I've decided I'll actually turn up and cause an almighty scene at Buckingham Palace by rejecting it in the Queen's face. Having feigned delight and pride in the weeks leading up to the ceremony, nobody will be any the wiser as I proceed to the front of the room, kneel at the feet of Her Majesty and quietly bow my head. And yet, just as she wields her big massive sword and gets ready to caress my shoulders with it, I'll scramble to my feet, turn on a sixpence and sprint out of the room at full pelt.

This will be monumental. If I get carried away with myself I may even just carry on running all the way out of the palace, down The Mall, through Admiralty Arch and into Trafalgar Square where I'll perform a lap of Nelson's Column before turning down Northumberland Avenue towards Embankment, and somersaulting into the Thames. I believe this headline-grabbing act can serve as a catalyst for the glorious, democratic, socialist revolution I've been plotting in my head. It will be a grab at the collar of the docile masses. A cattle prod to the buttocks of the puppet people. Society will gradually reassess its true purpose and stop routinely destroying itself, and my utopia will finally see its fruition.

Anyone who accepts a knighthood, and any other honour for that matter, has to be an egomaniac. What next? Their own blogs?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

So this is Christmas

The annual festival of repeatedly setting the table, repeatedly washing the pots, people exchanging gifts of what effectively amounts to bric-a-brac, and going to bed drunk with heartburn is over. It was alright: nothing terrible, nothing special. The whole thing was lit up by the mechanical torch I recieved, which doubles up as a universal phone charger. I'll believe it when I see it.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Some say the devil is dead

I'm so misunderstood. My life has developed into an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm recently, with me cast as Larry David and stumbling through an assortment of embarrassing yet understandable misunderstandings. Two of them involve my place of work, which is presently the council department dealing with children in care, based in Manchester's arty and humourously named Chorlton-Cum-Hardy (well, how else would you manage it?).

On Tuesday me and my boss Maureen, 55, originally from Ormskirk, spent the afternoon sealing 1,127 brown envelopes together. We get on very well and conversation always flows quite freely, so the task wasn't as bad as it might sound. When our discussion turned to Irish heritage I raised the topic of the popular but controversial Irish folk band The Wolfe Tones, who I've spent many family car journeys listening to as a child and, more recently, many evenings sitting and rewatching their hilariously cheap 1980s video release whilst giggling wildly. They're so fiercely Republican and anti-British that they're often banned from playing in England, but they're extremely funny, and that's the reason I'm fascinated by them. I started naming some of their songs and when Maureen, 55, claimed to have not heard 'Some Say The Devil Is Dead' I began to sing it aloud. It's a fine tune and goes like this:
Some say the devil is dead, the devil is dead, the devil is dead,
Some say the devil is dead and buried in Killarney.
MORE say he rose again, MORE say he rose again!

('Devil' is pronounced 'divil', as you can hear here).

Thinking back, I remember Maureen glancing around the office uneasily immediately after my rendition, but I was so lost in the moment that I didn't realise everyone else had heard me. It was only yesterday morning, when I opened a Christmas card from Fergus, 58, who works on the other side of the office, that I realised my outburst had gone further than Maureen's ears. It read: "Some say the devil is dead? What's that all about? Merry Christmas." I approached him at pace to clarify the matter but before I could even begin to explain myself, the full horror of his impression of me became clear when he asked if I was "one of these IRA types". I'm just thankful I'm only a temp and can shrug off this reputation when I leave in mid-January to go and start a real job, where I'll no doubt be somehow misconstrued as a holocaust denier within a week. The suggestion that I have links with the IRA is preposterous because, as I pointed out to Fergus, it would take a great deal of effort to be sectarian when you're agnostic. We agnostics are far too noncommittal to be capable of espousing the necessary levels of hatred. He nearly soiled himself. He had Kenco coming out of his nostrils.

Maureen, 55, is also at the centre of another misunderstanding in that everyone who works on our floor is convinced we're lovers. This stems from the fact that we spend every working hour together and because she's so generous in letting me get away with doing no work that she even lets me accompany her outside for cigarette breaks, despite the fact I don't smoke. We process through the open plan office saying we'll be "back in ten minutes" and then eventually reappear, flustered and breathless, having ascended five flights of stairs. Fresh from the joys of a cigarette, Maureen's face is usually a picture of contentment. It's all a terrible misunderstanding. Mind you, every middle-aged woman needs her sectarian toyboy... right ladies? In seriousness, she is very good company and regales me with endless stories of her history in trade unionism, her being arrested four times for obstruction in the 1970s, and constantly assures me I'd "blush" if she told me everything she got up to in her youth. When I declared my admiration for Tony Benn she described me as "a man after my own heart" and revealed that she adorned her bedroom walls with posters of him when she was a teenager. Marvellous. We just don't have teen idols like that anymore.

I'm aware this is dragging on, so I'll keep my final Larry David moment brief. I'm hoping to be able to forget all about it anyway (that's why I'm recording it here, in writing, for eternity: my reasoning is not what it once was). While walking to Sainsbury's a few hours ago to buy some wine and chocolates for Maureen's Christmas present (honestly, it's all a terrible misunderstanding) I noticed a car waiting to pull out of the supermarket car park without its headlights on. Aware of the dangers this could pose in busy traffic on a dark winter's night, I thought it best to alert the driver of the vehicle to the situation. As I traversed the pelican crossing, walking a matter of yards in front of the car's bonnet, I turned to them and made what I consider to be the internationally-recognised signal for "excuse me, you appear to have forgotten to switch on your lights" by raising my hands in tandem and opening and closing my fingers repeatedly. The response from the two middle-aged women in the driving and passenger seat was a blend of bemusement and disdain. I quickly realised that my internationally-recognised signal could easily, albeit wrongly, be perceived as "awiight ladies, oi oi, lemme 'ave a honk of yer jugs then". It was all a terrible misunderstanding... I immediately recoiled in horror and desperately hoped they wouldn't make the leap of judgement that I was some kind of delusional, dirty traffic policeman on day release. I then had a brainwave and decided to stop simulating a sexual act in the middle of the road and just pointed at the car's headlights instead. They immediately grasped what I was trying to say. So there's a tip: whenever hoping to save someone's life by telling them they're driving in darkness, point at the bloody lights. Unless they're clearly swingers. And you're game.

I shouldn't be allowed out.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The vermin allowed a thought to pass them by

Further to the earlier pigeon-related post, it seems that wherever I go I can't escape the wrath of our feathered foes. The stairwell pictured below is a fire exit at work, and two pigeons have managed to get through a small gap in an open window but don't seem able to get back out again. What fools.

Thankfully there is a locked door between them and where I took the picture, so they can't physically attack me, scratch my thighs and gouge my eyeballs out. But the place is a mess of feathers and what can only be described as pigeon shite. They're trapped in there forever, with no supplies, which means they're destined to suffer a slow, torturous death. So that's good then.

N.B. I notice I've done consecutive Manics lyric-inspired post titles. Unthinkable (until now, when I've quite clearly done it). Further proof, if needed, that there is an appropriate Manics quotation for every possible event in life.

Monday, December 17, 2007

If I can shoot rabbits then I can shoot morris dancers

Over the weekend we had a visitor in the unruly shape of Tom, 23, from the south, and in between walking him around Manchester's Christmas Markets and listening to him saying how cold it is in the north, we stumbled upon a morris dancing display. I still find it hard to understand what morris dancing, that wonderful example of good old 'English eccentricity' involving choreographed stepping and shuffling around while waving handkerchiefs and sticks, is really all about. At first glance it appears to be some kind of satanic ritual calling for the domination of evil in all of its most pure and potent forms. However upon further observation, it quickly becomes clear that it is nothing but a vehicle to advance homosexuality via the medium of public dance. These men skip about, dancing towards each other in a tantalising fashion before suddenly spinning away and grinning slyly, backed all the while by very dainty music. It is abundantly clear that morris dancing is purely a dancing means to a sexual end for these men, 50. Employing their white hankeys to symbolise their physical surrender to one another, their dancing is mere foreplay to the grand finale of a group orgy back on the tourbus. NOT THAT THERE'S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT.

Camp as houses.

However... having decided it was all about sex and nothing else, I then discovered it wasn't, afterall, anything of the sort and I had, incredibly, been totally mistaken. While observing proceedings and trying to avoid the gaze of the man walking around with a hat to collect money to fund this sordid ritual, I noticed a younger squad member standing at the side. On the subs bench, if you like. He only looked about 25, but was still kitted out in the full regalia: clogs, tassles, and all. There were, however, some crucial differences: he had a skinhead and was wearing a long, double-breasted, black leather trench coat, which clearly renders the man a fascist. And thus, this quandary is solved and the secret of morris dancers unearthed. I'm just surprised I hadn't picked up on it before given that those who take part are universally white, and seemingly at pains to appear overwhelmingly joyous - a surefire sign that somebody has something to hide. So there we have it. We allow these white supremacists to dance through our streets, throwing cash into their hats and applauding wildly in the absence of knowledge that these men, 50, are merely the friendly face of the BNP. Of course, we must let them perform in the name of freedom of dance, but equally we must confront and squash them, through rival dance if need be. Dance is the only language some of these fascists understand. And sex, of course. What depraved little men.

Important libel disclaimer: Not all morris dancers are fascists, just most of them.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Download your personal Christmas card

You wouldn't believe the price of Christmas trees this year. Much like the soaring price of bread, they're going for previously unthinkable amounts of cash. Market forces are at work, and in some ways it seems a shame that tree fans are being held to ransom at what should be a time of goodwill. But then again, Christmas is, afterall, nothing but a lurid festival of commerce and materialism designed to keep our artificial capitalist economy afloat, so perhaps it's fitting. Anyway, the tree has gone up in Flat C and yes, it's a real one.

The inhabitants (and a tree)

To celebrate all of this, I hereby invite you to download your own personal Christmas card from me and flatmate Anna, 24. It might not look very personal, but once you print it out on some white A4 paper, fold it in the correct way, and fill your name in on the dotted line, it will be. If you're still in any doubt as to your card's sincerity, feel free to send in your name and we will, after considering your reputation and character, respond to either confirm or deny the sentiments expressed within it.

1) Download your to-be-personalised card here.
2) Adhere to these simple folding guidelines:

3) Fill in your name.
4) Display prominently in your home or place of work - away from naked flames. And scantily clad flames too.

As you may have spied, the tree is overseen by a Gareth Southgate angel:

Middlesbrough manager Southgate (pictured), 37, married, once beleagured, deserves his place at the tree's summit and special tinsel hair because of Boro's glorious shock victory over top-of-the-table Arsenal last weekend. I just hope he's still in the job at Christmas.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Pigeon(s)

Although most aspects of my 79 days of living in Manchester have been nothing but pleasurable, there are a couple of causes for chagrin surrounding my place of residence, otherwise known as Flat C. One of them is thus: it has transpired that our building is the number one hideout for the entire pigeon population of south Manchester. They while away the hours of the day on our roof - often in large gangs, wearing hoodies, swigging from bottles of cider and holding their hands down the front of their trousers. I remember when we moved in, I arrived first and while familiarising myself with the flat - exploring and opening cupboards and then closing them again, as you do - a pigeon suddenly flew into the windowpane, giving me a fright and sending me into tumult. I hoped this was an isolated incident, but it isn't and they plague us every day.

They flap and trot about, making quite a lot of noise and shedding feathers onto the Padmobile lying below. Whenever I deem it sensible to leave the flat, I hear them insult me. Yet when I glance skywards to let them know I heard what they said, all they do is smirk. I feel the pigeons are slowly grinding me down. I worry that their long-term intention involves driving us out of Flat C and taking over the property. I fear a coo.

The kitchen window (ignore the grime - it was already there when we moved in)

If there are any answers to all of this, I'm not aware of them. Short of calling in Tommy Saxondale with his pest control expertise, it would seem we are powerless to deal with the vermin in a legal way. I may have to resort to vigilante methods, such as leaning out the 'Velux' (yes, it's a brandname) window in the guest bedroom and throwing darts at them. Come to think of it, I remember once reading that if you feed uncooked rice to pigeons, they die on the spot because it clogs up their throats. Brilliant. I will try sprinkling the roof tiles with Basmati and provide an update from my prison cell.
"You can't kill it, but you can't live, live with it either, never, no human being can go on living in the same house with a pigeon, a pigeon is the epitome of chaos and anarchy, a pigeon that whizzes around unpredictably, that sets its claws in you, picks at your eyes, a pigeon that never stops soiling and spreading the filth and havoc of bacteria and meningitis virus, that doesn't just stay alone, one pigeon lures other pigeons, that leads to sexual intercourse and they breed at a frantic pace, a host of pigeons will lay siege, you won't be able to leave your room ever again, will have to starve, will suffocate in your excrement, will have to throw yourself out of the window and lie there smashed on the pavement, no, you're too much of a coward, you'll stay locked up in your room and scream for help, you'll scream for the fire brigade, for them to come with ladders and rescue you from a pigeon, from a pigeon!"

Patrick Suskind, 'The Pigeon'

See, they're so evil they even made Suskind forget how to punctuate properly.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

I want to fly and run 'til it hurts

The fascinating story of so-called canoeist John Darwin's disappearance and reappearance has been literally unfolding before our eyes this week. Provided you've read about it in a broadsheet newspaper, that is: if you read about it in a tabloid, no unfolding will have been necessary and, although you may consider this to have been far more convenient, I can assure you you've missed out on a great deal of unfolding fun. The story carries a whole extra dimension of hilarity (as opposed to an unwhole extra dimension of hilarity) for me because the Darwins' plot was seemingly conjured and initially executed in Seaton Carew, a matter of miles from Middlesbrough. Seaton Carew and Panama could not be more different. I'm referring, of course, to the fact Panama serves as a secretive tax haven for wealthy foreigners to obsess about preserving their personal fortunes with no regard whatsoever for the greater good, whereas Seaton Carew is a noted Marxist commune. Other than that, they're identical. For a start, Panama City is also by the sea and I'd imagine this will have helped the couple settle.

The public are reacting to the story with a combination of awe and disgust. I say: 'Fair play'. Have we not all considered faking our own deaths at some point or other? Just downing tools on the spot and disappearing from view without anyone's knowledge can be an immensely attractive notion. When life becomes too much to deal with - a spring breaks in your mattress, batteries cease operation in the TV remote control, or you arrive at an escalator and find it's been turned off - we've all thought about it. I have no problem with the odd faked death if that's what somebody deems a sensible thing to do. Most people fake their lives on a daily basis anyway, so why should a faked death be deserving of any more moral outrage? When it comes to people choosing between faking life or faking death, I'm not in a position to pass judgement.

I've been thinking a lot about how I'll fake my death when the time comes. I can't see me taking the John Darwin, 57, of Panama, route of bashing up an old canoe and arranging for it to wash up on a beach. I'm not one for extreme sports, so a canoe-induced death just wouldn't be feasible. I would imagine I'll go for something far more mundane, so as my fake expiration might retain a shred of legitimacy. Perhaps I'll be making a round of tea for the family but disappear from the kitchen in the process, leaving behind three cups with milk in and two with none, plus a careless damp, sugar-coated spoon sitting on the worktop. My family would know I'd never abandon tea-making duties and leave matters in such a mess without there being some set of genuinely tragic circumstances. Not without licking the spoon first. 'Making tea, presumed dead' - living it up in Stockholm. That's where you'll find me.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


With a knowledge of films that is notoriously scant, there are a multitude of 'classic' motion pictures I've yet to lay eyes upon and perhaps never will. This is thanks to my stance that film is largely an overrated medium, particularly when originating from Hollywood. However I am delighted to report I have recently been to see the film 'Helvetica', which is the name of a typeface (rather than a name for a fictional posthumous kingdom for sinful veterinary practitioners guilty of crimes such as calling hamsters nasty names, spitting in the faces of kittens, and using puppies' heads as pin cushions). Since its inception in 1957, Helvetica has spread so far and wide that it is the ubiquitous font of our time.

The film documents the history of the typeface and its widespread use around the globe, featuring interviews with all the hottest names on the lips of the typographical fraternity. It offered a window to the secrets of the industry and the torturous process of designing a typeface. Uniquely fascinating stuff. The blurb in the cinema literature posed the appetising question: "Is it fascist or socialist; pedestrian or inspired?" Discovering the answer to this quandary alone was enough of an incentive to attend. Although, for some reason, the question was never answered in the film. Regardless, I have arrived at my own conclusion that Helvetica is a decidedly fascist typeface and should be resisted by all. Its domination of the typographical landscape - it is used for the logos of an unfathomable number of global brands/high street chains - is akin to the ruthless globalisation enjoyed by the likes of McDonalds; spreading characterless uniformity worldwide and generally getting where it shouldn't. Clean cut and modern, Helvetica is regarded by many typeface pundits as the all-time typographical zenith. What nonsense - I regard it as dull, immoral and despotic. If we're not careful it will drive other good, honest, hard-working typefaces like Verdana and Tahoma from the marketplace. I hereby declare an official Never In All My Life-endorsed boycott of Helvetica. You won't find any of it on this page.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Aussie by numbers

I'm intrigued yet mildly appalled upon hearing the BBC is set to replace Neighbours - which it will lose to 'Five' some time next year following a protracted bidding war - with a brand new Australian soap of its own. At first glance it seems a terrible idea, and one which can only fail. At a second glance, again, it seems a terrible idea which can only fail.

Do the BBC's programming bigwigs seriously think we, the discerning viewers, will put up with any soaped-up Australian claptrap? That our appetite for antipodean drama is so rampant that they have to try and construct a carbon-copy format in order to fill the void? If they think the top quality drama, captivatingly cringeworthy dramatic devices and sheer magic of Ramsay Street can be simply replicated, they're very much mistaken. I forsee a flop of Eldorado proportions.

Some of Neighbours' characters and storylines over the years have been of such a calibre that I've occasionally considered them more important than my actual life. Who can fail to have been engrossed by Karl's ongoing love/hate relationship with the medical profession when we all know, deep down, he's the finest GP that side of the Tropic of Capricorn? Who among us has never wept, alone, while rewatching the slow and painful death of Madge Bishop? I sweated profusely the time Cody Willis was innocently gunned down in the confines of her own living room because some drugged-up nutcase was on the rampage in the street. Shivers ascend my spine every time I think of the unbridled thespian power of Susan's response to hearing of Karl's impending fathering of a child with mistress Izzy in 2004: perhaps the finest Neighbours street scene ever ("from now on Karl, expect nothing from me but hatred"). Watch it now. Sometimes I awake in the morning and realise that overnight I have dreamt of possessing an Erinsmail account. When I famously hooked up with Joe Mangel (a.k.a. Mark Little) at All Tommorow's Parties earlier this year I was starstruck beyond belief by his oafish, plebian charm: "This fucker's got a camera." Brilliant.

Will 'Out Of The Blue' ever be capable of stirring my inner essence in such a way? Not likely. I'll be flicking over to 'Five'.