Rufus Hound is a big old cross patch. Every week he's picking things that annoy him and venting, right here on ShortList.com. What a grump...
April 2nd 2013
Yes, alright, I'll give you scratching - they're good for that. But surely a species capable of inventing the Hubble Space Telescope could find an alternative, were there no nails to hand.
Be honest, the thing you spend most time doing with your fingernails is wiping the shit out from under them. Someone told me years ago that a swab taken from under the nails of a tube passenger found three different types of faeces. Three! Like somehow, if it was just two, it'd be ok.
And toe nails! Don't get me started on toe nails. I'd call them pointless, but the irony is that the only thing they show any aptitude for at all is stabbing their way through a perfectly serviceable pair of socks. And what the f*** are big toe nails made out of? I don't know the name for it, but they should be using it to cover the underside of military helicopters in Fallujah, or on the drills they used to dig the Channel Tunnel.
If I ever go to prison (estimated odds 10-1), I'm gonna grow my big toe nail to about three times its normal length, use it to shiv the prison daddy, then cut my way out of there through a wall, hyper-Shawshank style.
Hmmm. Maybe they're not all bad...
2. Two headed shark
That's right. Double Jaws.
3. Captive Advertising
What I am beginning to object to, however, is the idea that companies have a right to advertise to paying customers. Get on any short haul flight these days and the first third of your journey will be spent with some semi-literate dildo with a microphone blarting on about their over-priced-and-execrable “refreshment options”, their members club, their skymall, their affiliate car-hire partners, their website... and the crafty bastards do most of this during the period when you're not allowed to put your earbuds in “for safety reasons” (I'm sorry, but if your plane can be bought down by my listening to the new Eels album, then you shouldn't be letting people on the f**king plane to begin with. Never mind scanning people at the airport for bombs, someone better make f*cking certain Abu Qatada hasn't bought himself an iPod).
The idea the airlines - trains, busses, taxis, shopping centres etc - are really running with is that, by buying a ticket, we have given them permission to sell their shit at us, when, what they should be doing is respecting the fact that we've just parted with £150 for A FLIGHT. In other words, get on with providing that service to your paying customers whilst leaving them the f*ck alone.
Just how far this “sell-in-captivity” approach is going was bought home to me this week like a Tyson right hook. My sister-in-law just gave birth to a gorgeous baby boy.
Now, I don't know if you're familiar with the whole 'giving birth' thing, but I think even an absolute dunce could guess it's a pretty big deal for the parents. Aside from the mother's anatomical inversion and the father's clueless concern, the moment when they first meet their off-spring is as near as we humans get to pure magic. It's utterly sacred.
So, imagine their surprise when, an hour into my nephew's life, amidst the carousel of doctors, midwives and medical professionals, in bounded a photographer and, in the parental Nirvanic haze, rattled off a few snaps.
Now this all feels a bit obtuse to me, but I can accept that maybe some people might want some professional shots of the happiest moment of their lives. I suppose, with a little savvy and verve, an expert picturesmith could capture this personally momentous event without anyone even knowing they were there - making it known, some weeks later, that copies could be made available for purchase.
But that's not what happened. Some pudding with a digital camera lumbered in, took a million photos, picked out the half-dozen that weren't out of focus, blurred or had her thumb in them, and then started trying to sell them to the parents, whilst they were trying to focus on THEIR HOUR OLD BABY.
Each picture would have cost them £25 (already outrageous) but, as a special offer, if they ordered there and then, they could get all of the photos on a memory stick for £85!
Do you see what's happened there? Do you? The old “Do it right now and it's cheaper” routine. It's one of the oldest sales techniques in the book. It's all about closing the deal. “Don't go away and think about it, buy it right now! Here's an incentive!”. And they're pulling this shit on people who have just had babies yanked out of them.
To whit, I have just found their website and sent them the following email:
I've just found out from some friends of mine that you're using pressure selling techniques on the parents of newborn babies.
I would say that I hope you are utterly f*cking ashamed of yourselves, but I know you aren't. Justify what you do all you like - having just given birth is something that commands respect, not commerce. You may well say "Well, many of our clients/customers/chumps really appreciate what we do", but the only possible reason for that is because cretins like you have so utterly devalued the sanctity of the human experience that people can no longer separate shit from shinola.
I hope you all die - and when you do, maybe one of my photographers could just pop in and capture the moment of your passing, so that your loved ones could have a keepsake of such an important moment. Only £85 the lot as long as they buy them RIGHT AFTER YOU'VE DIED!!! SPECIAL OFFER!!
Go fall in a hole.
March 21st 2013
“It doesn't matter if you're a great artist, or play the blues and make everybody cry. It's what you do as a human being that counts at the end of the day.”
This was said by Beverly Martyn, folk singer and long suffering ex-wife of the singer-songwriter John Martyn. I know she did, because I just watched her say it again on YouTube. She was repeating something she had said to her late husband before they had split, in the documentary “Johnny Too Bad”. And since I first watched it three weeks ago, it's really stuck in my craw.
No, we humble souls know that glory is found in the loving embrace of an appreciative family. In our dewey eyed offspring, welled up with the privilege of having us as their genetic benefactors. Or even (less sarcastically) knowing that against so much of the modern world's smoke-and-mirror/bread-and-circus bullshit, your kids provide something authentic and real. That being a part of a functional, supportive marriage is bloody hard work, but that the rewards are legion and noble. Meeting people who live in this spirit of familial love is utterly magical, and we are drawn to them. I don't believe in auras (because I'm not a 14-year-old girl) but it definitely feels like there's a kind of spiritually nourishing radiation that seems to come from these love people, and to that end Mrs Martyn, you couldn't be more right.
But the problem, Bev, that I only heard you say this because they were making a documentary about your ex. A documentary that opens with the man himself saying: “I've been shot a few times, stabbed a few times. But that's because you put yourself in danger. I prefer the company of lunatics. I prefer the company of people who live on the edge, not in a straight line. That's not for me, y'know? I don't like it.” And, arguably, it's this attitude that made him worthy of document.
As a society, we talk endlessly of “family values”, the importance of parental presence etc., yet those with whom we are most resolutely impressed have - more often than not - utterly eschewed these in favour of all out self-servitude.
A list of heroes:John Lennon
Imagine. You're Julian Lennon and you're so bummed out by your Dad leaving that Paul McCartney writes “Hey Jude” just to cheer you up. Oof.
Never married. Never had kids. Endlessly on tour, hung out with his band and some hooker.
Left his wife, mistress and kid at home so he could go cruising with Hardy.
Family lived in Stratford-upon-Avon. Bill lived in London. Before this arrangement, had “seven lost years” - i.e. got f*ck all done.
In a letter to a friend Einstein writes of his son Eduard, that “it may have been better if he hadn't been born.” Great Dadding, Albert!
Richard the Lionheart
Probably gay - no kids. Nearly a thousand years later, still famous.
“Daddy's just off to the moon. I might... what? Oh, sure... there's a pretty good chance I won't ever see you again, sure. Anyway, be good to your Mom...”
His kids saw him as a spiteful, wife beating monster. But even against that, his eldest son wrote “He had been there: starred in the movies, married the young women, driven the fast cars, taken the drugs, drunk the wine, made all the cash, spent the cash and let down all those people who had ever really cared for him.” Is it just me, or is there still a tone of admiration for the old fella – a man who once abandoned this son in Venice, to run off with his new, 23-year-old, bride?
These are the men we revere. The people who pursued a singular vision at the cost of all else. “Driven”? “Haunted”? “Troubled”? Maybe. But selfish – OH! - selfish to a man, consistently putting their own dream before the needs of their offspring, wives or families.
Indeed, that may even be why we heroise in the way we do. The Great Men of Great Britain seem far more at home impressing strangers than they do those who actually have to live with them. Sportsmen, Musicians, Soldiers, Leaders, Performers – those pursuing greatness are all far more interested in being loved en masse than intimately, perhaps realising that legacy only works with volume.
Please don't now expect some pithy summation at the end of this article. I respect you too much to try and square this chasmic dichotomy with some half-arsed aphorism. I've met people who are greatly loved who will never have a statue made of them and I've met selfish arseholes for whom bronze is already being cast. Whether we choose to be loved in our time or 'for all time' may be a choice we make, or indeed, a decision thrust upon us, whilst the nobility of our lives retrospectively decimated or magnified by the changing tastes of those yet to come.
The one thing I do know is this: Yes, many of our heroes were selfish, but selfishness is not what makes you great. It just makes you an arsehole. Your greatness will be defined by what you actually do - like killing Iranians or having a shitload of kids by different women in Wales. Great.
15th March 2013
There's a reason I'm self-employed, and that reason is that the moment people I don't trust start telling me what they will allow me to do, I take it as a personal affront of Jovian magnitude. Who deigned that these people should have any say over me? Who are they? Robotic yes-men who've achieved some minute organisational superiority by turning automaton to the corporate will, by swallowing the rulebook and regurgitating it back down the ladder, by bending over, cheeks splayed and allowing their betters to slide all the way in, nuts deep, untroubled by resistance or complaint.
I love working with people. I have no problem at all with having a boss. In my life I've shifted shingle off roofs, done PR, taught kids science, sold cookies, worked in pubs... and along the way had some brilliant bosses. I can honestly tell you that, due to a great boss, I sold biscuits with as much enthusiasm as I ever bought to stand-up.
I suppose my problem isn't with so much authority, as it is with those people who have chosen to de-humanise themselves for cash. And let me be really clear what I mean by 'de-humanise'. I mean that they have parked their empathetic understanding that people are fallible/mischievous/different etc. in favour of becoming a machine that obeys and dishes out rules.
Life doesn't fit into a spreadsheet. Take a look at the Serengeti. Awash with existence, yet not one data analyst amongst them- not even the zebras, who are already barcoded, ffs. Yet we 'higher' creatures have embarked on some divine course to remove the chaos from the business of living. We seek order, rules, methodology – all of which is cool, apart from one minor detail: life is chaos. It's a randomly generated, boundless, clusterf*cking surprise-engine in the cold, unfeeling vacuum of space. It's as utterly beautiful as it is completely terrifying, as ‘wonder why?’ as wonderful.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we should just drive wherever we like or go on carefree killing sprees. Obviously, a foundation of practical guidelines is a bloody must. But three days ago, an electrician in a supermarket stopped me from going through a door he was rewiring.
“You can't go through here, mate.”
“I've been told.”
“But my car is right there,” I say, pointing at my car.
“You'll have to go round.”
“Mate. You've just seen me pay and bag up my stuff. I'm not nicking anything, am I. Go on?”
“No mate. You can't come through here.”
So I didn't. One human stopping another human from walking to his car, without either of them knowing why. We used to laugh at these people. Esther Rantzen pilloried these people on national television for a decade and then, whilst we were laughing, somehow, most of us actually became these b*stards. Being a “jobsworth” was once the preserve of the fool with a modicum of power, but now corporate culture has sought to turn us all into unthinking, unfeeling cyborgs, capable only of doing as we're told. And we do this because, seemingly, it's only this specific type of mindless cretin that gets promoted – or, in these straightened times, not sacked.
Well, I'm sorry chums, but this is the taste of poison to old Ruf. Hospitals are closing, libraries are done for, disabled people are being used as firewood whilst the richest people in the country get richer. I'm not a full blown conspiracy theorist by any means (I can't quite go for all that New World Order stuff) but is this culture of subservience, of unquestioning acquiescence, not the exact sort of thing that, say, a set of vampiric fiscal overlords may wish to instil in the 99% of the population that isn't them?
So, I say this: Yes, I'm a middle aged father of two with a massive f*cking mortgage that he can't really afford. Yes, I live in one of the most middle class places on Earth and yes, I do drive a five year old diesel Volkswagen Golf, but somewhere, deep down inside, I'm still punk as f*ck. If you tell me to do something, without being able to explain to me why, then I reserve the right to tell you to go f*ck yourself. Not because I hate you, but because we should create a society where people actually relate to one another as people, not as problems to be managed, or as situations to be handled. The rules are made to be broken, because breaking rules is the funnest part of being alive. It fuels the chaos and it fights the dead-eyed subservience that we're encouraged to think is the hallmark of a decent society. It isn't. Taking care of the poor is. Treating the sick is. Helping each other is. Obeying rules just means you've had the fight knocked out of you, and you're better than that, right? Course you are, we all are!
So, bring forth the swagger! Back yourself! Chin up, shoulders back! Get some sh*t? Have a pop back! Why? Why?! Because I told you to, that's why.
8th March 2013
1. Having loads of followers on Twitter
2. The Numbers Game
3. The Audience
So what do I do? I boil everything down to the lowest common denominator. I make explicit a point that was hitherto implicit. This is another thing that Twitter forces you to do endlessly. Once you've got a lot of people reading what you tweet, it turns out a LOT of people won't get it or will misunderstand it and – thanks to the interactivity innate to the microblog – add their drooling feedback to the tidal wave of idiocy that deluges your replies.
The effect this has is that now, if you read the tweets of anyone with more than about 50k followers, chances are that they're full of modifiers. “Please read this link... but you don't have to if you don't want to.”, “It's not for everyone, but I love the new Lumineers track!”, “Lovely weather round my way. Sorry if it's not so nice where you are.” Nothing can be expressed without an attempt to stem the flood of bullsh*t response.
And this in itself changes how people actually communicate with each other. You decide to follow someone because you like them, only to find that they're actually a sort of anodyne version of what you thought they were. They're not. They've just self-perverting to assuage morons.
It's actually worse if you make a joke. Invariably, any joke made can be met with a fairly obvious response. The more followers you have, the more you can expect to hear it. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over....
The solution? Never read your replies. But then, what kind of egomaniac do you think that makes you? That you think your pointless bullshit has value and everyone else's is beneath you? You narcissistic monster.
4. The Sadness
However, because I've got loads of followers, other people are desperate for me to share their tweets with a wider audience. Loads of these are utterly fatuous (“Oi! Mate! Any chance of a RT FOR NO REASON WHATSOEVER!!!!!!!!!” - why would anyone else want to read this?) but lots more are people wanting me to RT their blog about surviving their stroke, raising money for kids with Leukaemia, Help for Heroes, rare diseases with no funding, dying parents, petitions for sexual abuse laws to change... the list is endless and all of the causes, I'm sure, totally deserving.
But if I start RTing one of them, I'll end up RTing all of them and the number of followers I have will plummet, because there's few things more saddening than a never ending stream of 'the-cold-hard-realisation-that-life-is awful'. And I need those followers, because I have so much I need them to know...
5. The Delusion
But, I'm sticking my head into the disappointment-lion's mouth one more time. I'm signed up to do a thing called #twittermillions, raising money for Comic Relief. In a nutshell, if you raise a few bob for this most excellent of causes, then I could end up giving you my motorbike. And not just any bike, but the Special Edition Triumph Bonneville T100 Steve McQueen. It's absolutely gorgeous and, like I say, it could be yours. I've blogged about it here if you fancy getting involved. Who knows, maybe Shortlist.com will prove to have more influence on the outcome than Twitter. It wouldn't bloody surprise me.
1st March 2013
There seems to be an increasing list of ways in which I'm just not the same as the pool-ball-eyed zombies that make up an increasing share of our population. This sense of otherness has become the filter through which all information passes – and seeing as how we live in the information age, that's a hefty bit of filtration.
Here are the things that seem most pertinent to me, the five-sided prism through which the whole wide word is refracted into my brain:
1) We're all going to die
2) We're duel core computers running Windows v1
3) There's no shortage of us
4) There's no God
5) What's the point?
1) There's no escaping this. So, the pretence that that isn't how this ends is baffling. I can't remember who said it, but “You are just something that doesn't exist that is taking a holiday.” With that in mind you may as well try to fill your meagre days with an explosion of new experiences, right? Base jump off The Eiffel Tower, Become a Human Cannonball and try to out notch the bedpost of Ron Jeremy, right..?
2) Wrong. We're capable of such incredible thought – one of us worked out that energy and matter were kinda THE SAME THING! That means one of us looked at sunshine and his finger and went “Twins!” We have the internet and hot water and microwaves. We know almost exactly how immeasurable our universe is. We're so smart that we know exactly how the impending environmental/resource apocalypse will kill us and the global effort required to avert it.
Front page of the papers this week? “Mancunian has wank.” To paraphrase Oscar Wilde “We are all of us made of stars, but too rolling around in the gutter.” Fear addles us, and we seek solace in the minute and mucky.
3) People get oh so upset when an 8 year old Russian girl is filmed driving at 80mph down an ice road, but lets be honest, when you were eight, that would have been the greatest day of your life. “But she could have died! Or killed others!”, we shriek. 21,000 children will die today, and none of them got to sit behind the wheel of an Audi A6.
4) There just isn't. There's no grand plan, no interventions, we're just all alone spinning round the sun, able to see outside of our goldfish bowl, but like our aurelian friends, unable to get out. We could choose to see that as the best argument for global fraternity – we are all we've got. But instead we create new invisible friends, new deific justifications for cruelty and abuse and anyone who calls “BULLSHIT!”, is accused of insensitivity or a lack of respect.
5) What's the point? There is no innate point, but that doesn't render life meaningless. To quote Glenn Duncan “You have to love life, that's all there is.” but surely it follows that anything that isn't making our species better is worth ignoring and moving on from. Our only point is to keep getting better. To see where the great human experiment leads when we focus on being our very best and enabling the best of us to fly, unanchored.
As such I just think that anything not paying into this is worth burning to the ground.The deceivers, the liars, the corporate thieves, the bailout bullshitters, the besuited nurse takers, the stealthy class war generals, the racists, the small-minded, the cold hearted and the people who say “common sense” when what they mean is “I'm scared.”
We are endlessly capable, but food for vampires that we're too afraid to kill.
2. Cool Britannia
There's a shop called Cool Britannia on Piccadilly Circus. It's full of flags and shit. I go past it every day and it's rammed with tourists who think that this is a genuine representation of the best these shores have to offer. But everything they sell is utter tat. The worst sort of imported, plastic, Union Jacky shit. I suggest we nationalise it. The private sector has failed. From here on it it'll just sell DVDs of the Olympic Opening Ceremony and raffle tickets to meet Michael Palin/Ronnie Corbett/Dawn French. All proceeds to The NHS.
Ever write a column and realise that it makes you sound like a high minded communist? What the fuck am I playing at?
February 22nd 2013
I think it was Peter Serafinowicz and Robert Popper's seminal Look Around You (for those cursed with ignorance of this comedy titan, it was a surreal parody of that 80s telly aimed at schools and you should go and buy it immediately) that started it. Funny word contractions, I mean. In a scene where trained ants build an igloo, the kindly narrator says “ Thanks ants. Thants.” (You can see it here)
This was nigh on a decade ago, and so utterly hilarious did my flatmates and I find this, that for the next two years, there were very few conversations that didn't then feature pairs of words smashed into one another. Nowadays, most people find this such a reliable form of hilarity, that everyone's at it. And fair enough, say I. If a little word play can raise a smile, play away.
This week, however, my brain's permanent readiness to see the cut-and-shut manglings of our mother tongue has had me falling foul of mainstream sensitivities. Yes, it's terrible that a double-amputee olympic hero has shot his beautiful model girlfriend in a tragic event, played out now for the world's scrutiny. But all I can think is “Hmmm... he must have been pissed off and serious.” I'm not a good person.
2. Missing things
Ever been round someone's house for a party, and their kid sits at the top of the stairs, and your mate has to go up and repeatedly put them back to bed? Ever wish the kid would just STAY IN BED because it's a real drag - watching you mate disappear off over and over again, only to return with that look of a person trying to balance their parental responsibility with their desire to get shitfaced with you? Well, I used to be that kid at the top of the stairs. I can't stand the idea that someone's having fun and I'm missing out.
But, this last Thursday night I missed out in a major way, and I'm gutted.
The fire alarms went off in The Comedy Store (no – that wasn't the fun bit; unless your a big fan of 120dB industrial sirens). The MC that night was a chap called Andre “Vinny” Vincent, a Store stalwart and (in the best showbiz tradition) a close personal friend of mine. Ever a man to carpe the old diem, Vinny ushered the 300 strong audience from the UK's most hallowed comedy club, and down onto Orange Street, whereupon an idea occurred. Knowing I'm currently resident at The Theatre Royal on Haymarket (for those readers who haven't done The Knowledge, they're very close), he explained to the evacuees that his mate Rufus Hound was working in “that building over there”, and that if they all started chanting “Rufus, Rufus, Rufus!” then maybe I'd hear and stick my head out of the window, in enormous and hilarious confusion at the baying mob beneath.
Now, The Theatre Royal is by no means the only theatre in that part of town. Within a 100yd radius, there's The Phantom of The Opera at Her Majesty's, The Book of Mormon (soon) at The Prince of Wales and Old Times at The Harold Pinter. In fact, from the mid point of Orange Street, The Harold Pinter Theatre is the closest and it's current production is receiving rave reviews, in no small measure thanks to a blistering performance by Rufus Sewell - who, upon hearing his name repeatedly bellowed in the street below, opened his dressing room window to be met by three hundred faces that were as confused as his own. Man, I shoulda been there.
A lot's been said/written/heard/screamed/etched in blood this week about Hilary Mantel's “attack” on “our beautiful, defenceless princess and heir-bearer Kate”. So, adding to the melee seems a little bit pointless, but then, when has that ever stopped me?
Read it here.
It's really brilliant. A bit of genuine wit and élan from one of the greatest writers of her generation. It makes the point that female royals are basically reduced to walking clothes horses with vaginas. So, seeing it refried, served up and deliberately misrepresented by cretins for the slack-minded makes me despair. Seeing our own Prime Minister join this tabloid shit train was just the warm, brown icing on an already faecal cake.
So, I propose a new system from here on in. Everyone's assigned a score based on how much of the world around them they understand, and once you've had your number, you're only allowed to pass judgement on those with a lower score than you. Good system, right? So, let's say Louise Mensch wants to attack the lyrics of a One Direction song. No probs. Go ahead, Lulu. However, if she fancies – I don't know, let's just say, off the top of my head, theoretically- tweeting a little dig at someone WAAAAY smarter than her about an article she clearly hasn't understood? Ah, sorry Menshy. You're gonna have to leave her the f*ck alone, you quasi-populist, emigrant sell-out.
This seems to be happening all the time these days. People who don't “get it”, harping on about why something is wrong, without ever realising that there's a difference between what has been said and what their ill-functioning brains are capable of understanding.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion”, seems to be the principle of the age. Yet our synaptically challenged brethren believe this to mean “All opinions are equal.” Well, you morons*, they just f*cking aren't. They really, really aren't. Some people – and get ready for this bombshell – know loads more than you, and what's more, are much, much cleverer than you are. What they have to say about stuff may simply be beyond you. Don't get mad -get out of the way! Make room for the people who aren't still flinging bum dirt at their own reflections. Get on with eating your crayons and let the grown-ups get on with the free expression of ideas, unhindered by the ricocheting sound that comes from the inside of your head, by your thought-exempt outrage or your re-re-re-regurgitated opinion.
I get it. I do. You hate being disparaged or ignored, but I'm afraid it's going to keep happening – because you're a F*CKING IDIOT and Hilary Mantel isn't. So shut up.
*Not you. “Them”.
15th February 2013
From the moment the pregnancy test goes blue, your life will never be the same again. When the little critter emerges into the world, unknown rooms of your heart spring open and flood with an entirely new love. There is never a moment's doubt in your mind – if push came to shove, you would gratefully die for them. However, these trainee people can also be total d*cks. I own two of them, and trust me, it's not all finger-painting and hug-me-daddy.
Despite working nights, I got up early this morning so I could walk the boy one to school, only for him to spend the entire walk asking “Why can't Mummy take me?” And I'm not allowed to tell him to f*cking well f*ck off, because of some sh*t my wife keeps telling me about “long term psychological damage”.
The girl one (18months) struts around the house like she's on a mission from God to slowly, but unswervingly, f*ck everything up. “Let's put some shoes on the stairs.” “Let's just tear this book in half.” “Let's smear cheese on everything.” And yet, because she's basically a mixture of angel and drunk bonobo, there's no reasoning with her. I can't sit her down and explain how this sustained attack on the world around her is slowly driving me toward mental prolapse. I just have to accept that's who she is, that it's a phase, that it'll get better as she gets older, blah blah blah. But I swear to god, on her eighteenth birthday, I'm going to take everything she owns and set fire to it, right in the middle of her party, unless she tells me where the TiVo controller is RIGHT F*CKING NOW.
Frankly, if you're going to shell out on a German built one, you expect more than seven years out of it. I mean, we got nearly three decades out of the Polish one, and the've no real engineering heritage at all. So, Vatican, if you're reading this, may I suggest having a look at a Japanese one. Sure, traditionally, they've not always had a great track record but some of the recent Toyotas are nigh on indestructible, so if they can build trucks, they'd surely be able to bang you out a decent God's-representative-on-Earth.
Or you could go Swiss. I mean, you've already got them to do your guarding, so...?
But then one day – just for a lark – I hopped on the number 14 bus, knowing that with the state of London's roads, this would prove to be a foolish idea. Far from it! 50 minutes later, there I sat in my staff common room, looking to all the world like the sort of keen employee that I kept being told off for not being.
The 14. Not only did it offer me a seat, but seeing the capital city above ground was infinitely preferable to the subterranean un-where offered by its rival. And so began a love affair. The number 14 and I had all sorts of adventures thereafter. Riding it all the way into town to pursue my burgeoning stand-up career, watching a girlfriend fall off the back of it or getting some much needed exercise as I pelted along behind it, screaming; the 14 and I just clicked.
There have been other buses too. As a resident of Uxbridge, the A10 regularly saved me when I awoke at Heathrow, having travelled in slumber down the wrong fork of the Piccadilly line. Indeed, currently, I can barely leave my front door without the 111 steaming up behind me, and offering me a lift to the station.
But four times this week I have waited for the 139, and four times I have been bitterly disappointed. We just don't seem to click. I don't know if it's me or the 139, but we've got off on the wrong foot and I just don't trust it now. I've spent too long in the cold and wet to ever now feel fondly toward it. I'm sure it will go on to be lovely to other passengers, but I will not be amongst those ranks. Instead, I'm now seeing someone else. Yes, she's a lot slimmer. Yes, she's younger too, but it's not about that, 139. I wanted it to be you, us, together, but well... you've made it quite clear that's not what you wanted. So, goodbye.
8th February 2013
So how in the name of all that's holy, do we allow ourselves to be served cups of beige sh*twater without complaint? I'm serious here. When was the last time you bought a cup of tea that wasn't f*cking awful? I think that's why coffee has been such a success of late. So indelicate is its flavour that it's demi-impossible to ruin. Start with good beans and you'll probably end up with good coffee. But tea? Tea is craft and care and technique and – dare I say it – art. Yes, it may be impractical in our modern, sped up age. Yes, it may be unfair to expect the people who serve us (operating with their full 11 minutes training, no benefits and minimum wage) to give a damn about the 3000th cup of hot whatever they've served that day or, indeed, to be fully versed in the procedure required to make it properly. And yes, maybe I'm just another whinging Canute, refusing to accept that change has come, that the tide has turned.
But for f*ck's sake, if we bought anything else that was as permanently such a terrible a version of itself, we'd revolt. A car with no engine and only two wheels? No-one would buy it. Underpants with no leg holes? A Y-front affront! But, order a cup of tea, and from the moment the request has left our mouths, we know that what we're about to get will be a piss poor imitation of something wonderful, yet still we pay up, voicing no complaint.
Tea, if you can read this, I'm so sorry. You deserve better. You deserve Orwell, but we treat you like Orville (i.e. fisted).
2. Tea Clarification
Come round my house. I'll ask you, “Cup of Tea?”.
And because you're a wonderful, powerful, exceptional man, you'll answer “Yes.”
And, shortly thereafter, I bring you a cup of tea.
Such brief discourse, and yet sufficient to bring about a delicious outcome meeting our mutual expectations. Perfect.
However, walk into a restaurant, cafe or coffee bar and ask for “A cup of tea” and be prepared not for “a cup of tea”, but for the question “English Breakfast?”.
Apparently, it is beyond the wit of our nations beverage vendors to understand the concept of what a cup of tea is, even though, actually, we all know.
“Ah, yes,” you say “but what if the person wanted Lapsang Souchong? Or Assam? Or a fruit tea?” to which I would reply “Well, in that case, they should have F*CKING ASKED FOR IT.” Anyone requesting “a cup of tea” and then being surprised that they haven't been bought Tung Ting Oolong, Yerba Mate or Mao Feng is an utter b*llend. Society shouldn't be bending to suit these people. They should have to realise that there's an established way of doing things and they can either join in or hurl themselves into a fire.
We all know what a cup of tea is. Stop making us pretend that we don't, you pretentious ars*holes.
The main driver for the continuation of life is reproduction. Cease to reproduce at a faster rate than you're dying and it's Dodo time for you and yours.
We see this all the time in Attenborough fronted, HiDef nature fests. Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it: doing it.
We humans however, enjoy a loftier position in the tree of life. Yes, a chimpanzee may fling faeces, but we write emails of dissatisfaction to our elected officials. Not for us, the world of the primitive, we are better than that. We have outgrown the animal.
Now, turn on your telly and watch Babestation for one minute.
Yeah? Got it?
That's right. We're pigs in ties.
4. Digital TV Channels
What I hadn't realised is that a surfeit of these 'phone-in, tits-out' channels now exist. Plastic, panda eyed women contorting their reflective, orange bodies for the benefit of unseen, c*ckfisted perverts. It made me feel sick, yet I never quite rushed to change the channel.
Please believe me, it wasn't because it was arousing. Despite being alone and unable to sleep, these aeneous sexers inspired nothing but a sort of human-wide dismay; that we're brilliant enough to create digital television technology, yet we use it for this soulless titillation. Trust me, the only thing I was likely to ejaculate was my dinner. Yet I continued to feel that maybe, if I kept watching, somehow, it would all make sense.
It never did.
I slowly trawled through the multitude of phoneslut channels, each press of the '+' button, filled with hope that the next thing to illuminate my darkness might be an old episode of 'Cheers', yet instead being greeted by more twisted flesh, more fake hair and more acrylic nails tweeking more surgically placed nipples. A teenage boy's mind made real. A never-ending, faux-carnal carnival.
And then, suddenly, Al Jazeera.
That shouldn't be allowed.
5. Saying Goodbye
I had thought of writing them each a card with a quote from Life of Pi in it (I said I was emotionally retarded, not incapable of saccherine sentimentality), but the quote seemed inappropriate:
“I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go; but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye.”
It doesn't now.
1st February 2013
Choo-choo! Chuff! Chuff! Chuff!
So, could anybody tell me what am I doing sat here on this over-priced, primary coloured, bleeping, malodorous, chuntering, tribute to the concept of go-f*ck-yourself?
Everything about train travel in the modern age is offensive, and if you think it isn't, you're not paying attention. The whole point of public transport is surely that it allows the public to transport themselves. However, this is a notion that the people actually running the rail network seem to have interpreted in the same way that an Australian farmer might “interpret” a flock of sheep: we're to be fleeced, screwed and eaten.
One could easily suppose that there is no-one in the UK today who gives a tinker's cuss about the quality of the average rail journey, yet the facts would imply quite the opposite – there must be whole legions of dark souls whose every waking moment is spent designing new and intricate ways to make the whole thing as utterly hideous as possible. For example...
1. Buying a ticket
“Hahaha!”, laugh the train people “You fool! You've fallen right into our trap!”
Your problem is that you didn't know you were going somewhere a month previously! If you had, you could have simply enrolled with the rail franchise on their website, provided no more than 30 personal details about yourself, your family and your business, bank details and account numbers and then bought a S.A.S.G.C.T Ticket (Super Advanced Cagoule Teaser Saver Grade) for something resembling affordability.
Arrive at the station, debit card in hand on the day of travel though, and you'd better have your back to the wall, because there's something very unpleasant about to happen to you and no-one can do a damn thing to save you.
2. Not buying a ticket
When I was growing up, you could get on the train. I know! You could get on it and whilst travelling a guard might sell you a ticket. Or you'd simply pay at your destination. It was a more noble time. A simpler time. A happier time.
These days, the supposition train companies have of you is that you are an a*sehole. How could you not be? You travel by public transport – you must be the sort of person that they've seen on Jeremy Kyle. You need to be taught a lesson. And, no. Not the lesson about humans being fallible or capable of empathetic understanding. The one about you being criminal scum and about how efficiently they have brutally dehumanised their staff.
“Now, cough up Tommy. For you ze journey is over.”
3. Passenger information
32 separate pieces of information telling me that the big red lever in the ceiling is an alarm, that poorly stowed luggage may fall from the overhead shelf and that the bin is a bin.
Do you see what I mean? The people running this service think we're so utterly neanderthal that we don't know how shelves work. Anyone who doesn't understand shelves is pretty unlikely to have mastered reading, so all of this signage is a total waste of time.
My favourite has to be a green sticker that tells us what to do if they crash the train (I wouldn't put it past them). You should break a window with a tiny hammer. There's a seven point set of instructions stuck to the window that explains how to do this and at the bottom sits an illustration of a person climbing out of said smashed window. As if, having survived the crash and got as far as smashing the glass hatch, one might stop, refusing to leave the train as there is no pictorial instruction to so do. THEY THINK WE'RE IDIOTS.
5. Your train company has no soul
If you're not sentient, you can't. Sorry. Things that aren't sentient include shoes, table tennis bats and train companies.
Therefore, when I hear “SouthWest Trains would like to apologise for the late running 9.22 to London Waterloo.” I know these things:
i) SouthWest Trains wouldn't 'like' anything. It doesn't exist as an entity capable of feelings.
ii) Therefore, it doesn't give a shit one way or the other about the 9.22
iii) The fact that the people responsible for running the service want to foist the blame for their sh*tness onto a non-sentient collection of rails and stock, implies that they're weasely little b*stards who want to dodge the responsibility for the fact that they're rubbish at their job.
iv) The apology is meant by no-one. Not only is no-one 'sorry' but the other part of an apology – the bit where there's some suggestion that future measures will avoid a repeat of this poor situation in future – is also bullsh*t. They know it's always going to be like this, because they aren't going to fix it because - as we've already established - they're terrible at their jobs and they think you're scum.
v) Therefore, this 'apology' is nothing of the sort. It's just vague, placatory noise; a toaster dressed up as your nan. Awful.
6. Everything is a disappointment
There's more of course - plenty more – but I'll end it there, as I'm just reaching my stop. I know this because three LCD boards, an announcement and the trolley orc have just told me.
Just as well, or I'd have missed it.
25th January, 20131. The death of the book cover
Touring round the country has led me to some fascinating late night drinking holes populated by fascinating late night drinking sorts. So it was, one midnight, that a man (mid-fifties, almost definitely a drug dealer) looked me in the eye and told me that my life was tantamount to a hollow gourd, were it to end without my reading The Brothers Karamazov. Such was the conviction with which this statement was made that, within the hour, I had it downloaded onto my Kindle.
It's an odd thing taking book recommendations from people you're pretty sure are drug dealers. It's like getting a recipe from an undertaker or a horse-racing tip off a lollipop lady. There's no reason why you shouldn't, it's just... y'know... s'weird.*
Anyway, what's annoying me most this week is that no-one knows.** I've been on four trains, sat in seven cafes and, briefly, one park, but due to the digital nature of my purchase, not one other human being knows I'm reading Dostoyevsky.
No-one has peered at the cover of my reading material and then given me that wink which implies “Nice one, smarty-pants”. No sylphic geek girls shysmiling through beanie framed fringes. No auric thrum of acknowledgement from Waterstones-looking types. Not a sausage. I ask you, what's the point?
As does Dostoyevsky.***
3. UK's 30% drop in Vandalism
Attributed in part to “social media [being] the new graffitti”. Oh, great. So the kids who used to draw cocks on bus stops are now spending their time calling me a c*** on Twitter. I think I preferred things the way they used to be.
4. 4K HDTV
It was my last night, in Manchester, of a fortnight's stay. At 4am, my wife and I realised we had none of the required equipment to beat the hangover that we'd spent the last five hours compiling. No medicine, no collection of rehydrating sports drinks, no bananas. Drunk, all of my hunter-gatherer instincts kick in and I realised I must provide for my fragile woman *grunt* *snuffle* *chestbeat*
So it was that I left the louche embrace of the hotel bar, stumbled Spar-ward and was on my way back just ten minutes later.
However, at the top of Canal Street, a mere 75 yards from my hotel, a chap in shell suit (clearly spying the medicinal treasure contained within my white polyurethane luggage) tried to mug me.
He and two accomplices attempted a combination of trying to trip me over and shoulder barge me at the same time, but, dear reader, they had much underestimated my Miyagian**** reflexes. With a slight hop into an arabesque pike, gainer, tsukahara and dismount, I had dodged this Lancastrian crime fest with gymnastic aplomb.
I had escaped - but when you're basically a shitfaced Batman (as I was that night), ne'er-do-wells cannot remain un-chastised. So I turned and, with my inner Dark Knight springing to the fore, I shouted “What the actual f**k, man? I mean, like, what the f**k?! F**k off and stick it up your f**king a**e, you f**king p**ck.” What happened next was incredible.
To my absolute astonishment, the three of them turned on their heels and scarpered. Like properly ran away, like gang-baddies in a Jackie Chan film, after he's spent ten minutes whupping them. They fled.
Unbelievably, I had done it.
I had won.
It was only as I turned back toward my destination, that I realised the doorman of the hotel – 6 feet tall, shaved head, scarred knuckles – had seen the fracas and was pegging it up behind me.
I hadn't scared them off at all. He had. I had merely danced around them like a 14-year-old Chinese girl.
Pride goes after an averted fall, as no-one says.
(*)In fact, now I write this down, the proper weirdness of it has just struck me. If he was a drug dealer, then how many wired, googly-eyed Bez-s have sought him out in the middle of the night, desperate to snort some cannabis or shoot up a fat spliff of whizz when, actually, the apothecary in question was curled up elsewhere, with a thousand pages of nineteenth century mordernist existentialism.
(**) Except you do now. Which is very much the point of why I've written this.
(***) BOOM! Literature joke! You wouldn't have got that in Celebrity Juice.
(****) Wax on. Wax off.
18th January, 2013
However, I hope that when I tell my inquisitors about the play, they sense the professional satisfaction emanating from me, they can smell my luxurious jobchuffedness and they know they're meeting a man who has something approaching – as Jeff Buckley sang – a satisfied mind.
Anyway, earlier this week, a combination of physical exertion, a mild cold and bad luck saw me flob on my own face. Right on it. About half a mugful. I don't care how much 'doing a bit of theatre' validates your sense of self, if you're lying on the floor with flob all over your face, you're a twat.
2. Soap Fascism
Because I'm currently on tour with the play, I've been staying in a lot of hotels. As such. My body has been treated to a multitude of different lotions and liniments, as provided by some of the UK's most affordable inns. But it just dawned on me the other day – for centuries people cleaned themselves with oil and sand. No-one died of this. So, do we really need shampoo and Conditioner and body wash and body lotion and face wash...and...and...and... Who decided our bodies were this complicated? They're not. If you're covered in stink, wipe it off. If you're not, keep going 'til you are.
I propose a new system. Next to every shower from here on in will be nailed one squeezy bottle of goop, fragranced with whatever-the-hell-Robert-Downey-Jnr-smells-like.
There we are. Sorted. Don't mention it.
3. Horse Burgers
So, seriously, you ate a bit of Desert Orchid? Big whoop. Your life was a hollow mess of aching pointlessness. But, now? Well, now you're just a little more French! You eat horse! Who knows what's next for you? Socialism! Foucault! Gitane-y lung cancer! La Monde est votre huître.
That's the problem with this country. We'd rather eat the shit we expect, than the embark on the tasty adventure of an unknown tomorrow. Now stop whining and eat your stallion.
4. The Killing Web
Bad week for the shops, wasn't it? The internet continues in it's psychopathic quest to kill our actual real world, just like The Terminator warned us it would. Blockbuster? Duhrr.. we've got Netflicks now Granddad? Jessops? Bllrrrp. My phone does that. HMV? Get serious! I'm downloading everything it ever sold right now! For free! (I got a voucher off Groupon)
That HMV has bit the dust sucks especially hard, as – being a 33-year-old manchild – I've always felt at home in there. However, I think we have to accept that this is the modern world. Times change. I mean, their logo was a dog looking into a gramophone for chrisakes. Do you know what kids these days want? Robots. Robots looking into an invisible MP3 player. Made of nuclear fusion. With big tits. With massive tits. So, farewell shops. It was a blast.
5. Piano practise
11th January, 2013
1. David Bowie Erectionists
I get it. There's this guy, he changed the face of music, was totemic for sexual liberationists and merged high art with gene genies, blah blah blah, but come on. This new thing? It's... well... it's um... y'know... honestly... I have no opinion. It's like he's redefined zero. I feel utterly nothing about it. It's definitely not awful, but it's not amazing. It just... exists. But stone the crows! The way white middle class men 40-60 are going on about it, you'd think Christ had teamed up with Psy to release a cover of 'Smack my bitch up'. Let's be honest, if any other