Friday, December 23, 2011

How the Vampires ruined Easter

The story about Tim Minchin having a song about Jesus cut from an ITV show reminds me of a time, long ago, when I was launching a BBC website about Vampires one Easter.

It had been live 15 minutes before I got bollocked. I got bollocked for everything, but this bollocking was from someone very high up in who'd been on a management training course I can only imagine was called the "Deep fried chocolate shit sandwich". The phone call went like this:

iBOSS: "Hey! Love the design of your vampires site.... but I need you to take it down immediately."

ME: "What?"

iBOSS: "It's a lovely design and great content, but it just seems inappropriate and culturally insensitive. We can't have content about Vampires going out at this time of year."

ME: "Sorry?"

iBOSS: "It's great to see such innovation, but I'm afraid Easter is the wrong time for the subject matter of Vampires. In fact, if it was done by someone else, I could call them deliberately offensive to Christians."

ME: "What? Wait. Jesus wasn't a vampire!"

iBOSS: "You're a very clever person, but I must say that you are now twisting my words. But yes, we just cannot cause any offence through the association between Jesus and Vampires."

ME: "What association?"

iBOSS: "Your association. It's very clear. The BBC just cannot broadcast anything to do with Vampires at Easter. It's a rule."

ME: "Is it?"

iBOSS: "Well of course it is, obviously."

ME: *thumbing through the Radio Times* "Then why is BBC Two showing a season of Hammer films over the Bank Holiday weekend?" I list the titles of the films, ending with "...and Taste the Blood of Dracula on Easter Monday."

iBOSS: "oh. Well, perhaps I was mistaken. But anyway, just thought I should call and say what a lovely design it was. Well done."



Last night we went to David Hoyle's thing at the RVT - which was kind of amazing, ish. He ranted about the arms race while dressed as a christmas tree. Then a fat drag queen stapled tinsel to her arm.

"Don't look," said the boyfriend. "There's so much blood." I didn't look.

There was to be a special performance by an ex-porn star. The ex-porn star has now got fat, which probably means he's happy. He's relaunching himself as an actor. He stood around doing appalling mime for ten minutes, ate some cold baked beans, and then rammed some fairy lights up his bum.

"It's no way into the National Youth Theatre" sighed the boyfriend.

A drunk man put his coat on to go home. But didn't. He just stood for an hour, slightly to the right of the stage, staring at us, frozen. It was like the sign language interpreter got stage fright. Odd.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ridiculous Development Projects #1: Blake's 7 2000

I figure I can now tell the story. Since the department I worked for, the department after that, and then the whole building are all long since shut down.

A long time ago, a department I worked in was doing a lot of development work. By which I mean "not making anything". (They actually managed to make one television pilot - it was a CGI game show with punters bombing cities in planes. Sadly, they handed in the first show the week of September 11th and little more was heard from it...).

Anyway, at the time, this department was full of telly people (who didn't get to make any television) and online people (who made an awful lot of websites). You can guess the pecking order. Every now and then online people were summoned by the telly people to discuss "future projects". As I was running a science fiction website at the time, I got the summons fairly regularly.

I sat down at a meeting.

BOSS #1: "So. We're going to do Blake's 7!"

ME: "Uh, but..." (I was never any good at brainstorming. Never say "but-"). "You don't own the rights."

BOSS #1: "We'll get them. Where's Jason?" (Jason was Boss#2 - whose name has been changed.)

JASON arrived late (Company tactic - always arrive late to a meeting. You prove you're most important if you then ask for a summary of what you've missed.)

JASON: "So kids, what've I missed?"

BOSS #1: "We're going to remake Blake's 7."

JASON: "Amazing. I'm just off to the loo."

JASON is gone a while. There is a reason for this. JASON had a massive drugs habit. Everyone knew about it. I later found out who his dealer was - he was one of those people in the department of who you thought "well yes, but what do you do?".

JASON comes back five minutes later, glassy eyed and sniffing and sits down.

BOSS #1 launches into a passionate pitch for why he wants to do Blake's 7.

JASON nods for a bit, then...

JASON: "Yeah yeah yeah. But I'm thinking.... what it's missing is Gambling! and Lesbians!"

BOSS #1 fears JASON. We all do. I often vomit before meetings with him. We both nod nervously.

JASON: "Come on, yeah! Let's mix it up! Blake's 7! Gambling! Lesbians! But let's make it Century 21 and 360!"

BOSS #1 falls silent. His dreams aren't yet shattered, but they've tipped off the tabletop of ambition and are heading towards the hard wooden flooring of despair.

JASON then glares at me. His nostils flare - revealing bushels of flecked white nasal hair. He is clearly giving me ten more seconds to come up with something before the shouting begins.

So I come up with my big idea. My big "oh fuck it, he's so off his tits, he won't remember this meeting."

As a matter of fact, I'm wrong. S-Club Blake's 7 is in development for several months. Then they realise they don't own the rights.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

From The Red Carpet

Okay. I'll admit it, I'm fascinated:

I've been wondering for over a year now what the deal is with From The Red Carpet. What is it... doing? I understand the Orange ads (especially now the Rio one's gone forever) - but I can't see the point of From The Red Carpet. Nice lady in a frock yells pleasantries at celebs from a distance cut together with bits of the trailer.

In the early days, it was just Kim Taylor Bennett and us -

In many ways, those were the golden days, when Kim would ask Gerald Butler if he'd like to take her down, and he'd blush, while everyone else in the cinema would wonder how much longer their popcorn would last.

But those golden days are no more. Episode 21 was when it all changed. When From The Red Carpet sold out. All of a sudden, they were sponsored by M&Ms. Kim was relegated to sidekick with all the grace of a kidnap victim putting on a brave face for the hostage video while two CGI chocolates banter at her.

The two elements are grafted together with all the subtlety of the American version of Battle Of The Planets - in the latest episode, Kim is left sat alone in a sidecar, mugging emptily away while her M&M masters work out what to say to her. She doesn't even have a name any more. She's now just "Woman In Frock Who Jamie Bell Can't Wait To Get Away From".

No. I just can't work it out.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Electricity in my teeth

Man In seaside cafe: "There's something in my house. They've been using my electricity, I think it's the Police at nights. It's the television. It gives me ailments. If you use the national health dentist they put pellets in your teeth which the satellites pick up. I am suing the government for two billion pounds. I've been reckoning it up."

Woman behind counter: "Yes, well, you won't mind paying £2.85 for that tea, then."

Monday, November 07, 2011

How to miss a train

I used to be very angry. It's probably because I had a very stressful job and let it get to me. These days, I'm not really angry, unless I've got a deadline or I've discovered a mug from the dishwasher has been unloaded incorrectly.

And then... on Saturday, I made myself miss a train. I left my flat to get to Paddington. I had an hour before my train. You can walk it in that time.

I had several opportunities to catch that train. When I got onto the underground and realised they were running that special Saturday service where they switch off most of the lines - I could have turned around and walked away. Got a cab. Walked. Hired a rickshaw.

Instead I tried to get to Paddington using the Metropolitan Line. Not since Sherlock Holmes found the Bruce Partington Plans has anyone used the Metroplitan Line to get anywhere. But I had a go. Sitting next to me on the train was a woman rocking and crying "I'm going to miss it, fuckit fuckit fuckit". She was actually sobbing. I nearly comforted her, but she glared at me.

Oddly the time I'd reached Baker Street, I was in almost the same state. Like I'd caught it off her. I still had half an hour. I could still walk to Paddington in half an hour. But no. I decided, against advice from a nice man on the platform... I decided to catch a bus.

You know those people... on buses... who the driver makes an announcement about "We're not moving until the man with the ikea bag gets off"... I was that person. Suddenly, my Oyster card had expired, or something. And I was just stood there, like an angry mad thing, saying "Honestly!" and rolling my eyes. At an empty bus stop. As though I expected London to care. London doesn't care. That's its charm.

So I tried to catch a tube to Paddington again. And I missed my train by a minute.

The lesson here is that, next time it all gets a bit much, I'll either get a cab, or actually just try, rather than simply start shaking like a washing machine full of stress and socks.

The other thing that puts it into perspective - slow train journey, changing at Bristol Parkway and all, is that I was trying to get to Taunton. Which - the night before - had just had a horrific traffic pile up.

"Sorry I'm late," I said to my Dad on the phone. "It's been a nightmare."

"No, no it hasn't," said my Dad, and got on with banging nails into his new shed.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Happy Anniversary

My boyfriend and I don't know exactly when we first met. This fact is puzzling. I still find typing "My boyfriend and I" really, really weird. It still feels strange, and also it's an oddly formal phrase, as though we open supermarkets and christen cruise liners together.

Anyway, he arrived in my life one mystery day last October. We do know when our second date was - we bumped into each other at the Trafalgar Square Hate Crimes Vigil. Because what romance really needs is to be surrounded by a lot of gay men trying to look solemn, not check grindr, and not set their hair on fire while wondering if it's rude to slope off before the inevitable Brian Paddick.

So, in the spirit of it being a year and all, we went along to the Trafalgar Square Hate Crimes thing again last night. Now, forgive me if my tone's all wrong. I think hate crime is ridiculous - I can't imagine disliking someone so much that I'd fairly casually murder them. Not even chuggers. And yet, for some peculiar reason, it seems to keep happening to gays. It happens to a lot of other people, but I think it's okay to have one night a year when we feel cross that it's happening to us. Although, frankly, every year the stories get worse. What with a barman being set on fire and America having cornered the market in humiliating students to death... FUN!

Anyway, we went to the vigil. There was the inevitable Long-Speech-By-The-Relative-Of-Harvey-Milk about how we should hate hate and love love and banish dark vibrations with light energy; a wonderful (short) speech by Elly Barnes about how she was actually doing something about it every bloody day; and some dreadful anti-hate-crime rap by what appeared to be a white geography teacher doing the end-of-term party. What began a couple of years ago as a nearly spontaneous outpouring of rage has become as dull as a trip to an airport. Perhaps this is how we show that we're solemn - if we're prepared to stand in the rain for an hour listening to Harvey Milk's interminable nephew then we can't be the careless flibberty-gibbets you think we are. Mind you, if next year we could just have Elly Barnes, that would be very nice, thank you.

We stood and hugged and set our candle holders on fire. Whether it was because I had a terrible cold or I was quietly moved, I appeared to be crying a little. Then, when they announced Brian Paddick, we got the bus home.

"Happy anniversary," said my boyfriend as he put on clown make-up and went out to a Hallowe'en rave. I stayed at home and watched Larry Sanders until I fell asleep, very happy.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The True Cost Of A Castle

This post is about being given things and getting rid of them... and, at the bottom, how much unread books cost you...

A while ago, I muttered on here about trying to buy a new bike. Well, a reader on here gave me one. Yes, the lovely Hugh gave me an old mountain bike and I've been flying around town on it ever since. Which is just marvellous of them.

In a similar spirit, we had a party the other weekend where people brought along old books and DVDs and swapped them with other things. Less bring-and-buy, more give-and-take. Any books left over goes to charity. It was almost successful. Well, it was a lot of fun (we got drunk and ate cake), but taught me some interesting things about possessions.

Here goes:

They just do. A pile of spare Agatha Christies went in seconds. In fact, most of the crime fiction vanished. The literary fiction got tutted over - especially the more recent stuff (How The Beach and Brick Lane have gone out of fashion). The science fiction was either carried away instantly or sneered at loudly and longly (it is, actually, rather awkward trying to explain, at a distance of 20 years, exactly why I loved Greg Bear so much. As far as I can tell all his books ended with the world going explode).

But anyway - a book is a thing beloved and shared and tutted and picked over. They're not dead yet.

When did DVDs stop being shiny things that we all loved massively? I was shocked when a friend announced he'd archived his entire collection onto a harddrive and was throwing them all out. Shocked and appalled... until I started going through my collection and ended up with a massive pile of things (CSI? Even for the tasty crime twink with nice hair? No). But what stunned me was that no-one wanted any of my DVDs (apart from a spare copy of Firefly). So, we took them to Cash Converters. Armfuls of them. Hundreds of pounds worth of shiny shiny discs... and got £18 for them. Sad, but then, unless it's rare, it's hardly even worth ebaying them. Isn't that odd? It's like they're obsolete. It's a good way of stopping me spend money buying more of the buggers. It's like my inner "50 quid at HMV" man died there and then.

The nicest thing was admitting defeat. It actually felt liberating accepting that I will only ever like two Woody Allen films, that I will never finish a book by Angela Carter, or re-read London Fields. It's nice to look at things on shelves and think "crikey, when they released the X-Files on DVD the first time, they really got it right", or "Those reproduction Agatha Christie first editions look a lot nicer now that there's no Robert Bloody Browning near them". That said, there are still things on the shelf that I'm keeping as a badge of honour (I've suffered through Jude The Obscure. I want people to know this) or as a threat to my leisure time (Throwing away Ulysses is a step too far). It's also lovely having empty shelves... and knowing I'll fill them again.


Talking of cash, there's got to be a value to throwing things away.

Let's assume my flat is 300 cubic meters.

And let's take the average rental value of a flat in London to be £2k a month.
Some maths tells me that that's 24 grand a year for 300 Cubic meters. I get a bit confused here, and go "hrr, hrrr, hrrr", but I think that's £80 a cubic meter a year.

Let's take James Ellroy's The Dudley Smith trio (20 cms x 13 x 5), which clocks in at 0.0013 m3... 80 x 0.0013 tells me that that book costs 10 pence in rent a year. Every year it just sits on the shelf. And, as I've read 2/3rds of it, that 3p just hanging out there.

Taking this to extremes, a lego Castle takes up 0.036 m3 - which costs a whopping £2.88 a year.

And the cat, surprisingly, has a volume half that of a Lego castle. So she only need pay £1.50 a year.

I am now wondering about whether to introduce a levy on my boyfriend for being so damn tall.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Loving the Travelodge

Good morning. I've just wasted £80, and I'm actually quite happy about it.

A few weeks ago I needed to book a hotel room next week for work. And, after about five goes at the Travelodge website finally managed it. I've never quite worked out what it is about their site, but at busy times I get the feeling their server throws bookings up in the air and then sees which ones stick. Anyway, on my second day and my third computer I finally managed to book a room for next week.

This morning, Travelodge emailed me to ask if I'd enjoyed my stay and my heart stopped. Of course, obviously, as some point during the booking-seven-times-stress-tastrophe I'd booked a room for the wrong night. Which is a terrible thing to find out and a waste of £80. But... better to find out now than next Monday. When it would be awful.

I like to think that, in a parallel world, there's another me who had a brilliant time in a Travelodge last night. Perhaps I met someone - ooh, in a bar, or something, and said "Would you like to come back to my hotel?". Which, even when it's the Travelodge, sounds classy. Although, what would you seduce them with - there's no minibar. There's not even a shortbread finger to break in two.

It's not the first time I've done this with Travelodge - during one of their £10 deals I accidentally booked my parents a room in Canaray Wharf. In fact, I bet there are thousands of ghost rooms spread across the City, every night patiently waiting for people who will never come....

Monday, September 19, 2011


Twitter's a funny old thing, really. Obviously, it's killed off the blog and replaced it with the chance to watch famous people RT charity walks and missing hamsters.

But it's also that odd thing that in no time at all the people I follow are mostly topless men and Caitlin Moran.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gaylita (or the Masque of the Deadly Twink)

Where have all the messed-up gay teenagers gone? I'm sure they're still all out there somewhere, queueing for the Glee Concert Movie, but the public face of Gay Youth is very different.

Picture the scene - a birthday party of gays with beards, all of us drifting happily through our thirties... but someone had brought along their work experience student. Who was 17.

Now, this would have been fine. Really, utterly fine if he'd done what 17 year olds should do - which is stand around, mumbling and not making eye contact. But at some point there's clearly been an upgrade. And none of us coped with it well.

I watched him scythe his way through the party like a twinkling version of the Masque of the Red Death. I vowed that I would not fall. I would not become one of his giggling victims. And then he was standing in front of me. Smiling.

"What is that cologne you're wearing?" he said to me. "It suits you."

I blinked, mumbled and looked at my boots.

"Where did you get those boots from?" he asked.

I muttered something again and shifted nervously. A tiny bit of my brain went "Oh. Pay people compliments. It clearly works, but damn it's obvious. Learn to do this when you grow up." The rest of my brain just fizzed.

When I opened my eyes he was still there. Smiling. "So, ah," I began, just about not adding "My boy". I knew he was from Oxford. That seemed safe. "What college are you at?" Phew.

A tiny laugh. "I'm not. I'm still at school." The same smile.

I ran away to the bar. When I returned he was smiling at someone else and I felt both relieved and jealous.

But he came back. To tell me stories of how he'd been travelling the Pigalle, performing stand-up in French and having sex with businessmen in cars. All said with a dreadful, confident shrug.

Someone staggered to our table - in any other circumstances he'd have been the belle of the ball, but no-one noticed him. Not really. Desperate for attention, he'd have set himself on fire if he could, but instead covered himself with birthday cake while roaring about how drunk he was. Then he slunk away, unmourned.

We didn't have eyes for him. Just for Gaylita. We had eyes for each other, ust about, but hooded cautious looks that said "Are you? You're not, are you?"

And then he left, off to catch a bus home, and the spell was broken.

One of us sat there, almost in tears. "He made to kiss me, and I said no. But I could have... I could have... why didn't I? Oh, he said I was special. I was special to him, wasn't I? Would it have been so very wrong?"

We consoled him with the concerned air of Colonels dealing with a fellow making a spectacle of himself in the club over a Chee Chee girl. But we all knew... there but for the grace of god.

I patted the old boy on the shoulder. But I knew. Before Gaylita had left, he'd leaned over to me, pecked me on the cheek and whispered "You're so hot." And then he'd gone. But I knew. I knew I was special.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

To the drugs dealers outside

Dear Drugs Dealers outside -

You know what I really hate about you? Yes, you bring the area down, you piss on the stairs, you deal drugs in front of a playground full of toddlers, you beat up your clients at 1am, you talk late into the night about how you hate fags and the pussy that you are banging, you set fire to the flower beds, you prey on the recovering addicts at the local hostel, you still insist on saying "ohmydays", you have nicer phones than me, and the police seem completely powerless to stop you, whether it's dealing bicarb or setting fire to the swings... but what I hate the most about you is that you are smoking Marlboro and it smells like HEAVEN.

Yrs, an ex smoker with a loss of perspective.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Losing the War

If you're a rolling news channel, you're only as good as your last war, and BBC News has had some pretty dreadful ones lately. Turning to Sky News for coverage of vital events is like relying on a slightly dodgy friend for all your gossip - you know you shouldn't, but it's just so entertaining. And recently BBC News has been anything but.

Hot on the heels of BBC News's abysmal coverage of the London riots comes their coverage of The Liberation of Libya. On Sky News you could see nighttime crowds in Green Square, celebrating and firing guns. On the BBC it was still daytime as they made do with a loop of library footage from earlier in the day. At 2am they were still claiming that this was a report from "The Front Line". But the broad daylight suggested that the fighting, and the story, had long since moved on.

The picture quality on Sky and Al Jazeera was never going to win an award - but it was there, fresh and live, and a bit like chat rouelette with guns. Sky News even had a fabulous lady in a tin hat - Alex Crawford, standing right there, in the middle of Green Square, with the plucky look of someone who just knows they're going to get played by someone fabulous in the movie of all this.

Meanwhile, the BBC's man on the spot was trapped in his hotel... 5kms away. His twitter account went from initial frustration:

to an increasingly Evelyn-Waugh's-Scoop desperation, including a plea for Sky News's correspondent to come and liberate him.

His on-air appearances had a similarly hapless air, the poor man looking like a freshly-bollocked fish. It must have been terrible for him - trapped in his hotel by the government, in an increasingly dangerous situation, surrounded by minders with guns... but it made for dreadful, dreadful television. And having to carry on reporting gamely on the view from his window (er, silent night) while his rivals had jubilant crowds, gunfire, and the thrilling tearing down of flags.

After a while (out of frustration or pity), BBC News cut away from the poor man and settled for showing still pictures from the internet (like the liberation version of Tony Hart's gallery) and then a studio interview with a dull man in a beard until we gave up and went to bed.

BBC News gamely ignored the stunning coverage by its rivals, except to make the occasional petty corrections ("@SkyNews reports that looters are moving into #Rixos hotel... not really. A few."). This morning they've put on a bolder face (in an article which could only be more bathetic if called "My room service hell as Tripoli fell..."), and are pointing out at every opportunity, with wounded pride, how dangerous Libya still is. But, as the fighting continues...

...the war for news has been won. For the last few weeks, Sky have made us forget the Corpse Copter, Kay Burley and even that shouty man... and instead have proved the one thing that no-one wanted to see... that the BBC's rolling News service just isn't worth watching.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Reclaim the streets

Last night social media came into its own and rolling news ended up looking silly.

At about 1am, as the London riots reached Camden, I got chatting to my neighbour Kim. "BBC News is rubbish," she said, "What's going on?"

I told her we were getting our news off Twitter. "Oh," she said, "How do I do that? I only use it for the celebrities."

Not that Twitter was entirely reliable. You know how in an office there's normally one PA who can't resist sending round emails saying "Just passing this on, but a friend of a friend overheard a foreign man with a beard saying to steer clear of town tonight..."? Well, Twitter is a breeding ground for these trouble-stirring fucktards. The one mercy is that at least they can't tweet in Comic Sans.

These rumours went hand in hand with stupidly thoughtless photoshop forgeries (London Eye in flames, anyone?) - and with exactly the same bleating caveat as you used to get with those shit-stewing emails of "Don't shoot the messenger!!! Just want people to stay safe." No, no you don't - you just want people to live in fear.

The nice thing was the way that Twitter self-policed these things very efficiently, and soon proved a great way of serving up news, comment, and even the odd bit of brilliant gallows humour . That said, if you're easily offended, Twitter ain't the place for you. Or maybe it is. As London got progressively sadder (and drunker) there was a noticeable increase in people loudly taking offence, forgetting that humour is frequently as valid a defence mechanism as leaping on a high horse.

While Twitter triumphed, the BBC News Channel had a peculiarly glum evening - as though everyone had gone home and was hoping we'd all go to bed, rather than staying awake, desperate to know our homes were safe. Instead we were treated to increasingly out of date footage... and then, madly, BBC News went over to Singapore. For an hour and a fucking half. While warehouses burst into flames and the violence spread across the country, BBC News pressed on gamely with their planned Singapore coverage, flapping around like a flaccid cock at an orgy.

We turned over to Sky who had thought to send out reporters to try and cover the catastrophe. A man called Mark (with good hair in a crisis) stood on the streets of Clapham asking rioters if they were happy with what they'd done. Back over on the BBC the rioters and looters were still being called "protestors", which seemed a bit hopeful. But, as someone said on Twitter, "BBC News so out of date they've just reported a fire on Pudding Lane".

Again, I keep mentioning Twitter. At about 2am people started talking of a clean-up of the streets. We staggered to bed, vowing to go along to the one in Camden.

As it turned out, the worst of the damage in Camden had been blitzed by street cleaners used to the weekend market. So we were sent to Clapham...

What followed was both wonderful and the dullest flashmob of our times, as over a thousand people gathered with brooms and bin bags ready to clean the shattered High Street. We waited... and we waited.... and we waited...

We were all VERY middle class, politely queuing to tidy up the chaos. We were so middle class that when Sainsbury's handed out free croissants, we applauded.

But... as the hours ticked by... it became more curious. We were, for example, penned in. It was very politely, discretely done, but penned in we were. We were there for the cameras to take pictures of - nice, jolly, lovely people trying to do their Ealing Comedy bit with brooms and brio. As an example of a community reclaiming the streets of a vibrantly diverse area we were all a bit white and middle class. Which was possibly a bit disappointing for the media who got consequently over-excited when a passing rasta Mum started shouting. She may have been screaming mad, but at least she didn't look as though she was a freelance web designer.

There was an upside to all of this... the totty. There was, after a while, nothing better to do than gawp at the sheer quantity and quality of the hot men of London who'd turned up with brooms and troubled expressions.

They were supplemented by the nearby branch of Fitness First who disgorged their trainers and resident muscle marys who joined the crowd, milling, pecking away at their iphones with pudgy fingers and furrowed brows. It was more crammed with hot men than gay pride. It also felt a bit wrong... which made it all the better.

In the end... Boris turned up. Like the crowd were a nice little backdrop for a photo op. Shortly after that the crowd were allowed to finally start cleaning up. Funny that.

But overall... it was a good thing. The right thing to do. And there's a nice feeling to being able to recognise my broom on the picture that went round the world.

Monday, August 01, 2011

RIP TJ Hughes

I am very sad that TJ Hughes has gone into administration. I discovered a branch in Glasgow last year and I've been more times than to the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art. Or the Polo Lounge.

I think I loved it because it's a battered relic of the 70s ("As are you" the Affection Unit muttered as I dragged him on a farewell tour of their lavender hand creams). The shop was orange and formica, resolutely unmodernised, but also weird. Sometimes the lobby display would be vacuum cleaners, sometimes trampolines. The rest of the ground floor was taken up by celebrity perfumes by non-celebrities (Helloooo Samanda! the twins from Big Brother.

The "fashion" department was the creepiest. At the top of the stairs you'd be met by a picture of two children. A yellowed and creased picture of two children. Who by now must be approaching pensionable age. The only customers would be old ladies whose leopard print skirts swished against their crutches.

The basement was where TJ Hughes swept everything that didn't even belong in TJ Hughes - electric fires with fake logs, teapots and industrial concrete steamers. I loved going down there, mostly because the escalator squeaked in exactly the same tune as the incidental music to Doctor Who: The Greatest Show In The Galaxy.

On our farewell tour, the Affection Unit and I went up to the top floor where pleated curtains hid. We were met at the top of the stair by a Scottish Ginger Prince. "Are you twose looking for duvets? We're down to singles and kings and it's a miracle if you'll find a valance." He wandered away, leaving us surrounded by mercilessly floral scatter cushions.

"I think we've pulled," muttered the Affection Unit, pointing to where the Ginger Prince lurked among sprays of fake dried flowers. I nodded, not really listening. I'd spotted a sale on tea towels. Everything must go.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The art of negotiation

ME: "Let's not have this row now. Not when I'm drunk and covered in biscuit crumbs."

BOYFRIEND: "When are you not?"

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why is digital radio so crap?

The BBC has launched a project to crowdsource mobile coverage across the UK. I think they should launch a similar investigation into Digital Radio.

We're constantly assured that DAB covers over 90% of the country with transparent wonder. But I'm sat here in Central London listening to the familiar sound of robots squabbling and I'm thinking "really?".

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Little Furry Friends

I'm in the Glasgow flat with the Affection Unit and the cat (this is a while back, but I'm catching up - but hey, I'm so settled I now go on holiday with my cat and my boyfriend, which is either what normal people or what Dr Dolittle would do).

And the problem is... I wake up. At first I think it's because he's snoring. Okay, I figure, I can deal with that. Only his snoring is... odd. Extreme. Weird. Worse than that guy who said "I grind my teeth together" and then sentenced me to a sleepless night in Crouch End sharing a single bed with either a cement mixer or a pile driver (and neither of those are euphemisms for balling till dawn). No, this noise is worse. Then I realise.

It's not snoring at all. It's scuttling. There is a mouse under the bed.

I am horrified. I have literally no idea what to do. Which is when I remember I have a boyfriend. And suddenly, I realise blissfully why I have one.

"Wake up," I say, "There is a mouse under the bed. Do something."

He stares at me. He says "wuhhhh?" a bit. He blinks. But he is awake. It is now his responsibility. Forget long country walks and evenings out and evenings in. Dealing with vermin - this is the real reason for being in a relationship. Should Ryan Reynolds and I ever get married, it's going in the vows.

We lie there for a bit. Working through the various levels of "are you sure?" and "what do we do?". To be frank, we're not actually making a great success of Dealing With Vermin, but at least we are in this together. Which is something. Even if our current solution appears to be clinging to each other like Laurel and Hardy waiting for the piano to drop.

It is at this point that the cat wakes up at the foot of the bed. She yawns with the careful luxury of a cat who has been rather enjoying the wonders of a memory foam mattress and then she stretches out a paw in our direction. "Ladies," she says, "Let me deal with this," and vanishes under the bed.

Seconds later the cat takes something to the living room. There is a lot of noise. Then an eerie silence. A few seconds later the cat returns to the bedroom alone, jumps back on the bed, and goes to sleep.

Horrified, we leave the bedroom and search the living room. Lying on an Ikea lamp like Aslan on the altar is a mostly dead mouse. The cat, fetched from her slumbers, gives it no more attention than an old catnip toy, and cleans herself.

My boyfriend is, it should be said at this point, so vegetarian even his shoes are made of lentils. But, while I stand there, crying a little, he calmly fetches the dustpan and flings the mouse out of the window. Followed by the dustpan.

"I hope the mouse didn't suffer," he says, sadly.
"Its last thoughts were that it could fly." I say.

We go back to bed. I am convinced I can hear hundreds of mice in the skirtingboard ready to pour out into the living room. So he holds me until I fall asleep. I am never going on holiday without a cat or a boyfriend again.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dinner With The Folks

I get back from Glasgow and we go out for a meal at my parents' favourite Turkish restaurant. We go there about once a year and it's a treat my parents talk about every time they discuss a London visit. "Ooh, the bread!" my mother will often gasp fondly. They used to dream about going back to Turkey. Now they're so old they simply dream about a Turkish restaurant in Mornington Crescent.

Well, they're never going back there again.

The nice thing, the lovely thing, about them being so old is that, after a lifetime of not making a fuss, they've finally started complaining. We were halfway through our starters when waiters descending, snatching their plates away mid forkful. Dad and I looked stunned. My mum turned around, bless her, and yelled, "Bring that back and then just piss off."

She will clearly be a terror in the care home.

The manager arrives a few minutes later and offers by way of justification, "But so many of our customers are in a hurry to get to Koko...."

To which I yell at him, "My parents are over 70, do you really think they're going clubbing?"

He shrugs. On the walk home my mother says "I have never been clubbing. Do you think I should enjoy it?"

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Parents in the City

My parents are staying in my London flat while I'm away. They've kind of moved house but are camping in their motor home before they can move into their new place (apparently they will live somewhere near a shop, which will be novel for all concerned).

Besides doing what my parents normally do when they're in residence - scouring the place from top to bottom and rearranging things which shouldn't be touched, they're having a bit of local trouble. The last week or so we've had a new, rather nasty group of drugs dealers who hang around beneath the window. I've told my parents to call the police if there are any problems as they're just tiresome.

Last night the drugs dealers beat up a client outside. My parents did not call the police as they did not want to cause a fuss. They are shaken by it as "his screams just went on and on till your Dad turned off his hearing aid". I am quite cross with them.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Bad Taste Boyfriend

My thoughts turned to Tom Daley, as they do frequently (His growing up is the gay version of Emma Watson Syndrome).

AFFECTION UNIT: *tuts* You know his Dad's just died.

ME: Oh :(

AFFECTION UNIT: Still, this means he'll be looking for a father figure....

Thursday, June 02, 2011

When Bad Things Happen To Good Daleks

Many years ago, when I looked after the Doctor Who website for the BBC, we had a Dalek. First of all, it was a battered original prop that the lovely BBC Visual Effects man Mike Tucker found for us, but then one day a department called BBC Heritage asked to borrow it for an exhibition and then refused to give it back. Eventually, they offered to return it if we paid for 18 months of storage fees. We said no. They probably melted it down.

In 2005, we moved offices and it was decided it would be nice if we had another Dalek. Luckily, Mike had just finished building a Dalek for the new series and had various bits of the original props that had been used left around:

So, we paid for him to assemble them into a beautiful original Dalek. It turned up and was very much adored. Our department was supposed to provide a perspex case for it. Or a plinth... or... well, discussions rumbled on and a plinth never arrived.

Then I moved to Wales and would occasionally visit the Dalek. One morning the finance department were trying to fit their fattest member into the Dalek (To chants of "You can do it Mehmet!") Sadly he couldn't, and the Dalek never quite recovered. I mentioned a plinth again. Partly out of concern for poor Zeg and partly because it's quite funny saying "Dalek Plinth". Try it.

I felt sorry for the poor thing. It was, after all, a real Dalek prop. And lovely. But now looked a bit sad.

I left the BBC, and the department itself vanished soon after, but the Dalek remained. In a corner of a kitchen. Sadly. Probably the only original prop still in the BBC's hands.

And, er, how is it being cared for? There are, naturally, lovely corners of the internet devoted to guessing the fate of the BBC's Dalek props. They are assembled using care and concern and detective work.

I just used Facebook:

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


A woman is dragging her bloke around Lidl.

"You are bang out of order. BANG out of order. BANG!" she yells, slapping packets of sliced meat into her basket.

She's got a great body, but a face that somehow screams "less drugs more moisturiser". Her bloke just looks hangdog.

She gets to the counter and starts screaming at the till assistant. "You know what this fucker's done? Do you?"

The man at the counter demurs.

"I only just got home to find him in the fucking bathroom wanking with his best mate. Didn't I, you stupid pig?" She jabbed her boyfriend in the elbow. He looked more miserable. She shouted some more, forgot her pin number, then left Lidl, kicking her boyfriend ahead of her.

The staff behind the counter then performed a perfect Mexican wave of eye rolling.

PS: Sorry, it's been a bit quiet. I have asked the Affection Unit if I can sleep around to provide the blog with stories of silliness. "Of course you can, sweetheart," he says. "Joking."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Strangers on a Train

So, the Affection Unit and I are on the train back from Glasgow. And it's a horrible train.

Eight people are arguing over two seats. All of them have tickets for the same seats. Unfortunately a woman and her luggage are occupying them. "I don't have a reservation, no," she says, "But my son MUST sit with his back to the engine."

That kind of train.

We slump down somewhere. We're not having a row. But then again, we may only be speaking to each other via that cat. You know how it goes.

There's an announcement - upgrade to first class for 15 quid. We look around the carriage. A jolly lady is on the phone, "Och, Mary! They're saying it's terrible full, but I'm not moving my case up. It's so big and heavy and I'm sure it'll be fine! Have you seen Laura's ankles?".

We upgrade.

We find a free table. There's a posh-looking lady. We smile. We sit down. We quietly place the cat on the edge of the table. We nod politely.

And then it begins. Please note - travelling with a cat is a great way of making new friends. On the journey to Scotland we'd ended up with an impromptu petting zoo. Now, on the way back, we were sat with a woman called Elaine whose husband was something big in the International Monetary Fund in Washington. She spoke with a refained English voice that dropped like a stone as soon as she talked about her mother in Ayr.

At some point we were joined by a nice lady called Charlotte who had the air of an escaped nun. We were talking about maths and Charlotte suddenly announced, "I'm sorry, they lost me with Calculus. Silly of me, I know, but Calculus did it for me. I ran away to India and smoked a lot of dope." Turned out she ran a pension fund and lived in Islington, so it had clearly worked out well for her.

Shortly after Preston we had a picnic. Charlotte presented quiche, we provided some dips, and Elaine produced a bottle of wine. We started to laugh a lot.

The cat kept shooting "please adopt me" glances at Elaine. We freed the cat from her basket and she looked about to jump onto my lap - but instead bolted under a seats. I went to rescue her and discovered that, even in first class, people are shits.

"That was the worst thing you could have done!" someone informed me.

"I hope you know I have cat allergies," said a woman.

The cat had curled up under a seat, and required a tiny bit of fetching out. Frankly, compared to the horror inflicted on trains by your average toddler, fairly minor. But interesting to see how people reacted.

Elaine loudly shouted "take no notice!" and informed us that when Kennedy was shot she was on stage with Sooty and dressed as a diddy-girl.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Unleash the Zombies!

Well, UKCMRI (aka The Kings Cross Death Camp) have written to us all to smugly announce that they really have got planning permission to spend the next 4 years building their one-size fits all solution to The End Of Civilisation As We Know It. Next door to my flat. And the Eurostar.

Quite how they've achieved this on land that was supposed to be used for building affordable homes for key workers is still a little bit of a mystery, but their leaflet is very pleased with itself.

Oddly, now they've got the go-ahead, the artist's impression has got a little bolder. Here's how they used to publicise it:

And here it is now:

Gone are those lovely friendly trees that helped to hide how big it really was. Gone is the suggestion that the roof is a shimmering waft of gossamer glass. Instead, it's a massive "fuck you" of a building. This isn't any ordinary Scary Bio Lab. This is a Shiny One.

Also, you can now clearly see the chimneys. Which when quizzed at a meeting turned out to be mostly for the incineration of corpses. Coo.

In return, we get three community support police officers for three years. Who I'm sure will do a great job in dealing with the understandably alarmed protesters.

It's not all doom and gloom. As part of the coup de grace to the community, they're closing down the allotments that have stood on the site and have launched an exhibition to show the rich architectural heritage of the area that they're now gloatingly destroying.

I look forward to the next edition, which will probably have the headline "Say goodbye sunlight, hello smallpox".

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Why I hate Halfords

Sometimes a firm has an utter disconnect between a great online presence and the grim reality of their stores.

I tried buying a bike from Halfords. Yes, I know, but their site offered a brilliant "reserve and collect" service - you reserve it, and they'll assemble it for you to collect when they open the next day. No sooner had I placed my order than they texted me with the order code. Fantastic online service!

The next day I turned up at the Halfords store in Mile End. It was empty apart from two people behind the bike desk, both playing with their mobiles.

I handed over my reservation code. The guy made that "kiss my teeth" noise so valued in Customer Service. "I've not built any of today's bikes yet. So...."

"But," I protested, "Your website...."

KMT again. This time with a shrug. After prompting, he tears off a till receipt, scribbles down the phone number of Customer Services and then gets back to talking with his colleague about sneaking off for the afternoon. As he wore a badge labelled "Duty Manager" I hardly think this was the perfect crime.

I rang customer services and explained that there's a difference between their amazing website and their awful shop. The response was an audible shrug. It would have been better if she'd said "Well, we're Halfords. What did you expect?" What's most puzzling is that someone at Halfords has clearly put so much money into trying to rehabilitate their brand online, but they're still wearing the concrete boots of their shitty shitty stores.

To cap it all, when I get home empty-handed their amazing website had emailed me with tips to help me enjoy my new bike. Way to twist the knife.

Sadly, I probably will end up having to buy a bike from Halfords. But I'll be thinking "Fuck you" every step of the way. Because I know that's what they're thinking about me too.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Avengers: In Colour

Well, you've probably heard about The Midsomer Murders race row (where the producer announced that there was no place for ethnic minorities in his show).

My friend Lee reminded me that this isn't the first show to play the "last bastion of Englishness" card. He was talking about The Avengers - a show which had a "no blood or blacks" policy written into its writers guide ("NO COLOUREDS" got block caps, just to make sure). Just like Midsomer, kinky sex was fine, but not mutliculturalism.

What makes the Midsomer debacle all the worse is that The Avengers tried this policy in the 1960s. It was a silly policy then, designed to preserve The Avengers' picture postcard never-never England which made it such a scrummy international sale (it's the only English show ever to air on US network television, and was so popular in South Africa they made their own radio version. Go fig).

However, as a policy, it was also a failure. Quite a few black people ended up in The Avengers. They all appeared to have gone to Eton, but then so did everyone in The Avengers, even the gals. The show just couldn't tell interesting stories without them

So it's interesting that what The Avengers couldn't manage in the 60s some crackers bloke's managed to do in the 21st Century. Well, I say interesting. I probably mean repellant.

Mind you, racism is one of those bafflingly old-fashioned things. Like pressing flowers or shitting in the street. I still remember staying late at work to read the inbox after the first episode of new Doctor Who went out. It was an amazing evening. Reading through over a thousand emails, people who'd just got in touch to say what an amazing time they'd had, proud Dads sending in photos of their happily terrorised children... and one man who'd emailed to say "The best bit was when she dumped the c**n."

Yeah. Still makes me feel queasy.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Out of the closet

As I write this, the boyfriend is eating cornflakes at the exact time the cat is using her litter tray. It's a singularly awful collision of sound.

Anyway, the point is, many years ago, when I first moved to London, I had all my Doctor Who books on a shelf in my bedroom. I say all, I mean about 20. Which is probably more than enough for some people. I was, at the time, trying desperately hard to date a man called Christian Fletcher (you would, just for the name, wouldn't you?). He was over one time when he spotted the books, lurking at the bottom of the shelf. "Oh," he said. "Are those DVDs? My flat mate loves Doctor Who DVDs." He then realised they were books and his startlingly pretty face fell.

Things cooled shortly afterwards. Mind you, it may also have been me not realising that mobile phones record each missed call and me trying to get hold of him six times in one evening when I was at a play round the corner from him... "Did you call?" he texted. "Many many times?"

In a bid to seem more sane, I took to calling boys less and also decided to hide Doctor Who from my life. After all, this was the Space Year 2001 when Doctor Who was not cool and if I wanted to impress people to get laid I'd tell people I worked on the Fame Academy website. What a difference a decade makes.

When I moved into my own flat, my room had two wardrobes. As most of my clothes were novelty t-shirts with kittens on, I didn't need to hang much up, so I turned one wardrobe into the Cupboard Of Sad. This was because a week after I moved in, my parents sent a van along with ALL of my stuff. Crates and Crates of books. Including... hmmmm.... treasured relics of my fishbowl-lensed-mouth-breathing childhood.

So, into the Cupboard of Sad went hundreds of Doctor Who books. Novelisations, Novels, The Doctor Who Knitting Book, Junior Doctor Who And The Brain Of Morbius (being a bowlderised version of a particularly gruesome adventure. In hindsight, as wise a move as Junior Hannibal Lecter And The Silence Of The Lambs. Junior Doctor Who also tackled And The Giant Robot and then fell silent). The Doctor Who Cookery Book, the first volume of an illustrated encyclopedia (notable for pastel drawings of monsters and for missing out the letter 'K'), a book in which two baffled American lesbians toured the space quarries of England, and even a hardback alarmingly called "25 Glorious Years". Basically, all of my parents' wearisome love and pocket money slapped into a cupboard. Along with books that were still coming out. That were all read, adored, and then quickly hidden away.

Oh, that glorious decade of luring people back without them even realising that a few yards away lurked my shameucopia, hidden behind two MDF doors. It looked like an ordinary cupboard, but it was much sadder on the inside.

Things have changed. Maybe it's growing up. Or getting a boyfriend who doesn't care about my obsessions so long as they don't get in the way of following the Swedish heats of the Eurovision Song Contest. Perhaps it's that Doctor Who is very cool now. Or just that I need somewhere to hang my shirts (I still have one t-shirt with a kitten on. I wear it down the gym and you can fuck off if you think you're taking it away).

But I've now stuck all my Doctor Who books on shelves. Well, nearly all of them. There's still a couple of hundred to find space for somewhere. The urge to re-read them all is almost overwhelming. The cat likes them too. She's eaten quite a bit of The William Hartnell Handbook. I think he'd approve.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Of Tunbridge Wells

The Affection Unit takes me on a date to a public toilet in Tunbridge Wells. It's now a tiny club, which is hosting a set by Florrie, the new Xenomania act (hint: boyfriend is music journalist. According to me the members of Xenomania are Betty Boo, Betty Boo and Betty Boo. This is what gets me A Sharp Look).

But it's very exciting being in Tunbridge Wells. We are surrounded by tiny children dressed like they're the Mini Pops auditioning for Skins (Vintage cardigans: still so in if teemed with tights and nothing else).

It turns out there's a support act. The support act are White Boi Rappers who bound around yelling "Brap" and "Skank". "Are you going to die?" asks Affection Unit. I later look up the word "Brap". Urban Dictionary tells me: "A sound uttered when a heavy tune comes on usually heard in garage raves. Combine with gunfingers for best results." Which explains the strange hand gestures they kept making. AU points out that they're so young, they probably have never heard of Ali G, which kind of makes it all right. Their mums are standing right behind us. They are doing wedding dancing. With gunfingers.

The rapping young tories are accompanied by a girl. She's got an amazing voice and looks magnificently bored. At the end of the set she sulks away into the night, while the rest of the band stand around looking very pleased with themselves. "We're FS! We're FS! Look us up!" they keep saying. They don't appear to realise that FS is the name of a gay educational magazine about STDs. (AU checks twitter - apparently they are also called FSteam so may be aware of the confusion).

They are followed by another support act. It's a female singer who does really nice twirly folk, surrounded by men in tweed playing guitars. FS's mothers shake their heads sadly. I think it's rather nice.

Then nothing happens for an hour. During this time, the girls-wearing-cardigans-as-dresses are gradually joined by a lot of men who are tall and rather rugged with exciting facial hair and very large arms. There is still no sign of Florrie, but the view is very nice.

At this point, I have to leave to get the last train home. I never get to see Florrie. But I do get a text to tell me that she is amazing and that the bearded men have all taken their tops off and are dancing in their vests. I have left my boyfriend in Tunbridge Wells surrounded by hot bears. And that is my Friday night. Hmmmn.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Free Man

Spent a lovely week in Portmeirion.

I was fascinated by Clough Williams-Ellis, the village's creator. He comes across as carefully eccentric - everything about the place was invented, even the name (it was originally called something like Chilly Mouth, but Clough picked something a bit grander, but couldn't quite decide on a pronunciation).

Clough built it on a patch of land near an Uncle's estate, and made the most out of the microclimate, creating England's first purpose-built holiday village. Royalty came, Noel Coward wrote Blithe Spirit there, everyone was charmed by the basket-weaving hermit in the woods. It was a nice little folly that Clough picked away at in between proper work.

Then the bombshell dropped. The resort was actually making a lot of money. Wife and daughter tactfully realised that, as it was a business, it should behave like one. The dour cheese-pairing hotel manageress was replaced with a flamboyant man with a parrot called Agatha who worked the guests with charm.

Portmeirion already had a shop, but the takings tended to disappear - this was probably related to the discovery that the charming Moroccan barman slept there at nights. Instead, private garages in the villas were done away with, replaced with shops. But what were the shops to sell? Clough's daughter had a brainwave and invented Portmeirion Pottery, which soon became an internationally famous Welsh pottery brand. Curious, as she had it all shipped in from Stoke-on-Trent.

Clough was a great proponent of proper town design. Stalin offered him the role of his chief town planner, but Clough was disturbed by how much he liked the great dictator and instead contented himself with creating Stevenage. He did more than anyone else to create laws for listed buildings and planning permission - but at the same time made sure he was able to work without them at Portmeirion. Similarly, he established the Snowdownia National Park to preserve the Welsh countryside... but ensured that its borders skirted around Portmeirion.

There is a convenient fiction that it was originally established as an artisan's community, but it was always a holiday resort, and one that daytrippers flocked to. The entry price fluctuated according to demand, with a sign outside saying "In order to discourage visitors, the entry price today is __. If you wish to avoid this impost, kindly turn around".

The idea for a holiday resort was ripped off by Billy Butlin, who established a cheap-n-cheery version at Pwllheli. This was requisitioned from him during the war, and afterwards the Pwllheli town council used Clough's planning laws in order to block its reopening. They'd never cared for Butlins, and invited Clough along to the subsequent enquiry - Butlin had nicked his idea and built a tawdry resort, surely he'd be against it? Instead, Clough announced pointed out that Butlins' customers had been through a horrible war and surely they deserved a holiday? To each according to his need, and all that...

Mind you, when Clough discovered the trustees of his Uncle's estate was planning on turning the castle bordering Portmeirion into a home for wayward youth, the businessman in him swiftly decided it would be much better as another hotel.

Clough was a Welsh noble of a certain era that never actually spoke the language. Nowadays the resort is proudly Welsh and staffed by the nicest, most crisply-efficient people you could wish to meet. It's also baking hot in February. Which is surely impossible, but also beautiful.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

BBC Cult saved

You've probably seen this link already. If you'd like your very own copy of the BBC Cult site, you can download it from there.

From an intellectual copyright point of view... No, I have no idea whether this is infringement, piracy, or the bravest piece of online archive rescue ever pulled off. But it's made me happy.

Interestingly, I quietly enquired at the BBC whether it was possible to have a copy of my site before it was gone and was told it would be too tricky. Or, er, not.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Glasgow Again

People are nicer in Glasgow. Not all of them, obviously, as otherwise Taggart would be about bunnies and cupcakes, but by and large.

I was up visiting the flat there to do a couple of odd jobs. I painted a door badly, shake-n-vac'd the hallway and weeded the window boxes. I then remembered that one of the windows was stuck, and set out looking for a handyman.

This turned out to be really easy. I found him through my local hardware store (actually, there are quite a lot of hardware stores in the East End of Glasgow. I go to the one that looks the least like a serial killer's cash-n-carry). The man behind the counter (he's called Jim. We're on first name terms now) said "Sounds like you need Cory. You'll find him in the pub."

Information: I have never before set out to deliberately find a handyman in a pub. I have stumbled across a few, but those were happy accidents. And anyway this wasn't one of *those* pubs - this was a bunker built out of concrete and fruit machines nestling in the shadow of an electricity sub-station. But still, it was thrilling to walk up to a bar and said "Oh hello! I'm looking for Cory."

The barmaid blinked and pointed to a corner. "Thanks awfully," I said. As I trotted away I could hear her eyes rolling. You see, there's a problem with my diction in Glasgow. I go from being a bit 1940s Newsreader to full on Fauntleroy. It's like I've bumbled in from the Drones club, policeman's helmet tucked proudly under one arm.

Cory turned out to be a tiny man anywhere between 30 and 90. I explained my problem. "I may be round later on this afternoon," he said. Then he looked at his pint, considering it carefully. "Actually, make that tomorrow morning."

"Really?" I said. "That would be utterly lovely."

I figured he wouldn't turn up. But he did and he spent a merry morning teaching me how to repair double glazed windows. At the end of which he charged me a tenner. Do you hear that, London plumber who has been charging me hundreds of pounds not to mend my boiler for five months? Do you? Ten pounds. I gave him twenty out of shock.

To celebrate, I went out to buy bacon. A thing I can't get over is that one bacon roll is £1.20 and two are £1.40. This appeals to both my parsimony and my gluttony. I managed to get most of the way through my order without a problem, but then we reached the following exchange:

Ed (for it is his cafe): Sauce?
Me: Ooh, tomato ketchup please!
Ed: Where are you from?
Me: Er, London. (puts on you-got-me face) How could you tell?
Ed: I couldn't. I just knew you weren't from around here.

Ed hands me the bacon rolls and, as I turn to go, he says "Look after yourself." It's as though the next scene will feature Blythe Duff staring down at my headless corpse.

Instead, Fawkes takes me out for quid-a-drink night with friends (Even the pubs here are pound shops). The conversation briefly touches on whether they've seen more dead bodies than seals in the Clyde.

At the bar, a Very Weird transvestite is talking to a politely bored barlady. The transvestite is very small, with a very deep voice that has all the vibrancy of an automated train annuncement. "I'm planning on doing some more stand-up," he intones. "I don't know what quite yet but it's bound to be crazy. For instance, I was thinking about things that two men would never say to each other at a bus-stop...." He tails off. "I mean, you could have that, couldn't you?"

Downstairs in the gents, two lesbians are kissing while using the hand-dryer. Glasgow lesbians are like this - they're everywhere and they are very happy. So happy that they can't even stop kissing while surrounded by drunk men urinating optimistically towards the urinals. Above them is a poster advertising an upcoming PA by Adam Rickett. It is apparently a great way to celebrate Valentine's Weekend, and it is free to get in, with amazing drink offers. I don't know why I mention this, but I'm oddly fixated by the juxtaposition of two people expressing their sexuality with careless pride and Adam Rickett.

Upstairs I sip at a shooter of black zambucca to hoots of derision. One of the people I'm drinking with gets a message on Grindr. It begins: "ASL?". We hoot at this - who says that any more? The next message he gets is "Cool. Blow job? You look hot."

Baffled, he shows us his Grindr profile pic. It is of the squinty bridge in the docks. He shrugs.

Yet more proof that Glasgow people are friendlier.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

BBC Cult to close.... again!

Yesterday the BBC website announced vast and sweeping cutbacks. Sadly, a lot of wonderful people are losing their jobs (happily, maybe a few less wonderful people will also go).

The BBC also announced it was closing 200 websites. Crikey. That's a lot. Or is it? A friend sent me the list... pointing out that the BBC Cult website is being shut down.... again.

I produced the Cult site years ago. It was axed the last time the BBC announced an online restructuring.

And now, in order to save money it is being axed again.... at a saving to the licence fee payer of £0.00. What's the point?

Last time the site was allowed to stay online because... well, the licence fee payer had paid for the content to be made, and there was quite an outcry. In order to allay this, People In Suits announced that the content would stay there - and it's still very popular. It seems silly not to keep this resource freely available.

Mind you, Cult was axed because the BBC saw no future in programmes about vampires, dragons or Daleks. Ah well....

Anyway, why not go and visit the BBC Cult website? While you still can...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Prepare for the Zombie Apocalypse

Zombies are dull, but they are dullest when they are your neighbours. In news that's attracted a whisper of press coverage, the Kings Cross Apocalypse Factory has been approved.

UKCRMI is, depending on how you see it, either the UK's biggest biomedical research lab or the UK's biggest Zombie Farm. And I live next door to it. I can't help but feel that an imminent outbreak of ravenous ghouls is going to push down property prices.

How do I know that the worst is going to happen? How do I know that the streets will be filled with brain-hungry research scientists? How do I know that UKCMRI is really the vanguard of the zombie apocaylpse? Because Boris Johnson thinks it is a good idea.

Run. Save yourselves. Run.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The song of the naked cowboy

The Naked Cowboy is in town. The New York street entertainer has been hired to promote a range of bagels by singing about them. Clearly
- He's not naked
- With a body like that, he probably doesn't eat carbs
- It's January
- What?

But these things are all entertaining and it beats slumping around the flat tidying away the last of the Christmas lego. The Naked Cowboy, I have discovered, is a TM and a franchise. His website includes a link so that you can apply to be a licensed Naked Cowby. But no, not until my post Christmas lard has shifted.

January's an odd month, though, isn't it? Nothing really happens, everyone's either dieting or not drinking, or saving or whatever, so maybe it's nice that there's the occasional Naked Cowboy as a distraction from the Month Of Feeling Mildly Dissatisfied With Your Lot.

As my friend Lee points out, life is not a competition. That said, I wouldn't mind being Jake Shears for an evening. I know it's wrong, but I'd just like to try it.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

You don't have to be mad to dance here...

There is a lady who occasionally stands outside the Euston Hilton dancing. She sometimes has an old tape walkman, but mostly she's just grooving to her own tune, a 33rpm steady, circular raunch that can go on for hours.

She normally wears pink spanx, a cheery top and scrunchies. Given the chilly weather she's currently dressed in sensible winter beige layers. I waved. She waved back. These things are good.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

The gym in January

Well, it's grim. At the moment there appear to be two kinds of people down the gym.

The Impossibly Hot
I have no idea where they've all come from, but nearly every time I go down there, someone utterly stunning is strutting around, yoinking the heaviest dumbbells around on their pinky finger while jogging merrily away. Please, some of us still have mince pies at home. It's maddening of you to be so perfect. Also, annoyingly, they split into "Straight" and "Gay, but puh-lease, way out of your league, honey". So it's just me in the corner with Radio Four.

The New People
Welcome. We know you won't be around in February, but you do make the next four weeks that extra bit awful. Yes, the gym has free towels - but you're not supposed to take them home with you. And, if you must, please not an entire armful.

Also, why are you so demanding? Yesterday I was busy struggling away (the weights have got heavier over the Christmas break, too) and realised a woman was staring at me. She looked impatient. She was waving her arms at me. She wanted my attention, clearly. Realising she had it, she put her hands on her hips and started to talk to me.

I held up my hand - truth to tell, I had just got to a bit in Northanger Abbey where Catherine Morland was having a most interesting turn around the room, so had to press pause. While I fumbled with my ipod, the woman actually rolled her eyes.

"Hello," I said, "How can I help?"
"I've just joined. Can you show me how to work the treadmill?"
We go over to the treadmill. The woman glares at me accusingly. "It's different from the ones I am used to."
"I mean, how does it start?"
I press the large button labelled "Start".
"Fine. [huffy noise] How do I control the speed?"
I press the Up arrow. The treadmill goes faster. She watches the empty belt go round and round, critically. "That's a bit fast for me, wouldn't you say? I prefer a walking pace and 7.5 kilometers is not my walking pace."
Wondering vaguely how Catherine Morland would deal with this, I slow it down for her.
She nods. "But how do I stop it?"
I point to the large red switch labelled "Quick Stop."
"Oh," she says. She then turns around and marches into the changing room.

Curiously, there wasn't an ounce of fat on her. On balance, I think Catherine Morland would have jumped up and down on her twigletty neck until it snapped and then danced Sir Roger de Coverley on her twitching corpse. But that's just a guess.

PS: Relationship still going. Boyfriend wailing that he is now totally obese. In practice this means that half of his twelve-pack has vanished for a week. Disaster.