Sunday, 31 August 2008

I hate bus drivers

"Two two-day adult rovers please", I said placing thirty quid down on the tray. "That'll be twenty quid" he said, printing out two one-day adult rovers. "No, I said, we need two two-day adult rovers. Look - here's thirty quid." The bus driver rolled his eyes and sighed at me as though I was some kind of twit.

I hate bus drivers.

Tell a lie, I don't hate them, I just dislike them. Bus drivers come in two camps. In one camp there's the jolly, helpful, right-out-of-children's'-TV type of bus driver. These guys go out of their way to make you feel on top of the world. Then there is the grumpy, sighing, eye-rolling, make-you-feel-like-a-twit type of bus driver. These guys are on a mission to make you have a bad day. They ought to get paid less.

Ha, I'm kidding, honest. And to be fair on him, it looked as though he was having a terrible day. The bus was completely full of OAPs. So much so that while the heavily pregnant missus was given a seat, I had to stand for the entire forty minute journey.

None of us were happy. Our bus was twenty minutes late, and after forking out fifteen quid each for our "adult rovers" we were expecting a) punctuality and b) a seat.

These days I spent most of my time grumbling at public transport. I would probably be much happier if I lowered my expectations, but NO, I tell myself, it's a matter of principal. I overheard my wife complaining to the old dear next to her. She explained what had happened on the Isle of Wight this summer.

The touring companies had decided to dump their coachloads of OAPs in the larger towns and force them to get round the Isle themselves. The result was that suddenly a bus was picking up 20+ OAPs a time, all needing to buy their "adult rovers". The bus services have been struggling to cope with the sudden increase in numbers. The touring companies had given them no warning.

I heard one lady mutter something about "no one is to blame". What nonsense. I hate it when people say that. There's always someone to blame, in this case it is the touring companies.

The bus was too full to take on any more passengers. It hurtled past several crowded bus stops without even slowing down. As we sped away from the angry crowds I looked back and chuckled to myself. An angry old man in a red scarf was shaking his fist at us. At least I was on the bus.

This cheered me up and I settled down to enjoy the journey. Public transport isn't so bad after all.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

How to cause maximum delays at a cash point.

1) Keep your finances in such disorder that you have no idea what the balance is in any of your accounts. This means that at the cash point you will want to check the balance for every card you have. If you are shocked, which you probably will be as the balance will be less than you expected, then you can take even longer as you question how and why.

2) Have no idea how much cash you are going to withdraw. This is simple. If you allow your cognitive processes to stop at "I need some cash", then when it is your turn you can pause and ponder as you try to decide how much to take out. Note, this works particularly well when coupled with the previous point. To achieve maximum effect, do not even think about how much you want to withdraw when you are in the queue.

3) Do not get your cards out ready before it is your turn. If you do this particularly well, you will have to rummage around for minutes to find your wallet or purse.

4) When it is your turn remember that there is no rush. You had to wait, and the people queuing up behind you can wait too. Aim for inefficiency. Check your balance, be shocked, check another account's balance, be shocked again, then have a think about how much you want to take out. Again, don't rush. Now is the time to think about what you are going to be doing that day and how much cash you need. Add it all up in your head. Advice slip? Have a think, don't be forced into any quick decisions. Receipt? Have another think, do you or do you not want a receipt? Take as much time as you like.

5) Accidentally press Cancel so that your card is injected. Then you will have to wait a few seconds before you can insert your card, re-enter your PIN etc. Do this several times.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

The Owl and the Two Chavs

There they stood. Tall, dark and handsome. Well, not quite. Short, weedy, and scowling like monkeys would be a better description. The two chavs made their way up the platform, swaggering like drunken cowboys.

I placed them in their late teens, possibly early twenties (dehydration due to constant spitting, and smoking to boot, had probably aged them somewhat). One of them had his hands on a pack of those bangers. You know, the little twists of paper with gunpowder in. With astounding maturity (believe me, I was astounded), they spat and banged their way up the platform.

They got to the far end of the platform and then they saw the owl. Most of our stations have a fake owl to scare birds away from the power units. The chavs started to taunt the owl. "Oi, owly, oi oi oi". They threw a few bangers but it was too far away. It started to get a bit post-watershed, "Oi you ******* owl, bang bang bang...".

The brilliance of this is that they weren't messing around. They genuinely thought it was real. The rest of us just watched and chuckled as they made fools of themselves. You can imagine them now, outside MacDonald's somewhere, "'member that ******* owl, it wouldn't ******* turn its head..." and "aww...the stupid bird...".

As their train arrived, another group of chavs turned up on our platform. The original two started swaggering back down their platform to the train. The new group started to taunt them. By this point our train had pulled in. The two groups were yelling at each other through (and over) two trains now. "Oi, what yer lookin' at?" they cried. "Come on then".

And then the two trains departed. The fake owl didn't go anywhere.

***

The Owl and the Pussy-cat Chavs went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey bangers, and plenty of money cigarettes,
Wrapped up in a five pound note. Tucked behind their ears.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
'O lovely Pussy Chavs! O Pussy Chavs my love(s),
What a beautiful Pussy Chavs you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy Chavs you are!'

Monday, 25 August 2008

The giant clunking bohemian fist.

The group across the room were bohemians. Are bohemians (I presume). Six of them, three men and three women. Let me start with the women.

Two of the women were in their fifties, wearing "shawls and things", as my great uncle would say. The third was clearly the gran. She was as shawled up as she could possibly be. A sort of bohemian queen I guess.

She was a real character, and the most noticeable thing was her giant opal rings. On her left hand she had four, on her right she had two. These were massive, massive, massive rings. Her great clunking bohemian fists were swung around with venom, clunk clunk clunk. I imagine health and safety would have had a field day. "Sorry madam, but they're just too dangerous. You could cause an earthquake with those. We'll have to take 'em in."

I'd like to dwell on this, it stressed me out a bit. I don't understand the concept of six rings, unless it was three on each hand. If I was a multiple-opal-ring-wearing-kinda-chap, which I'm not, I would go for a more consistent and symmetrical approach. You know, either four on each hand, or three on each hand, or none. Not that I can't cope with asymmetry - I don't mind a little bit of asymmetry - but four on one hand, two on the other, what the Hellman's Mayonnaise was she playing at?

It was probably just the whole anti-establishment, unorthodox, bohemian style, with the shawls and things.

And then there were the three gents. One of them was older than the others, mid sixties I'd say. He had an American accent, and was wearing a creased suede suit. Now here's the thing. It was so creased that it must have been deliberate. It was either bought from some bohemian clothes shop that sold permanently creased gear. Or he had crushed it under his car tire for a year to achieve the same effect. Or more likely, gran had creased it with her great clunking opal fists.

The funniest thing about this group is how well spoken they were. Even the Queen would have been jealous. The next chap thought he was Hugh Grant. I would place this chap in his later fifties, but he thought he looked much younger. With a sort of hypocritical twist, he had blow-dried Hugh Grant curtains. I say hypocritical, because surely that is not a true bohemian thing, hair dryers, salons, Hugh Grant, etc.

I don't have much respect for Hugh Grant lookalikes. I mean, Hugh Grant is a genius actor, although a bit samey, but why would anyone try and look like him?

His shirt was also terribly and deliberately creased, and partly hidden by one of those sleeveless puffer jackets - I have no idea what those things are called. Body warmers? I don't have much to say about the third chap. He was a bit younger, a bit smarter, and much quieter.

The bohemians had the table by the door. There was a clear reason for this. There was rarely a moment when they were all sitting down together. Most of the time they were smoking outside. Not cigarettes mind you, just cigars, cheroots, and bohemian rollups.

Note, I've nothing against these guys. Their bohemian extravagance simply caught my attention. Wine, cigars, cheroots, opals, Hugh Grant, wine, cigars, clunk clunk clunk, creased suede jackets, creased shirts, it was all too much.

We had to wait a long time for the bill. The bohemians were holding everything up. It was mainly Hugh Grant. Body-warmer on, he was attempting to negotiate the bill. We couldn't quite make out the point of dispute, but we got the gist. Something to do with a lobster. Hugh Grant felt that the lobster they had eaten wasn't a whole one.

Finally it got resolved, and out they charged, a thick bohemian cloud of smoke in their wake...

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Until we bleed (DO NOT try this at home)

"Until we bleed" was a game played by some friends at university. Whatever you do, DO NOT try this at home.

The game was played every Friday. The activity and setting would vary, the rules were simple: the game continues until someone bleeds.

One fatal evening the game took place on a hill. The group took turns to race a mini-scooter and a go-kart down the slope.

It was all very organised, with cones, high-visibility vests, a camera crew, and a car waiting at the bottom to drive the competitors back to the top of the hill for their next race.

As the evening progressed there had still been no blood. It was growing darker, and the lads were going to have one more race before going home.

The final two competitors - let's call them Andy and Jimmy - prepared themselves at the top of the hill, while the rest of the lads waited at bottom. As they watched, Andy climbed into the go-kart, and in a moment of madness Jimmy suddenly undressed, right down to his boxers. He leapt onto the mini-scooter and the race began.

Up to this point, the go-kart had won every race. I'm told this was because the mini-scooter drivers had tended to err on the side of caution, and had been dabbing the brake for most of the descent.

As this final race begin, it started as all the others had, with the go-kart pulling quickly away into the lead. But as they watched, the stark white figure of Jimmy caught up and overtook the go-kart. This time Jimmy was not dabbing the brake.

It was pretty tense. Everyone knew what was going to happen. Inevitable really. Just turn the key words over in your head. Mini-scooter, high speed, semi-naked scooter driver, gravel.

The scooter began to shake. You know, the kind of frantic shaking and bobbling of something that is going to fast and is just about in control, but only just. Jimmy appeared to be having difficulty steering the thing. It was swinging to the left, to the right, hitting a bounce, back to the left.

The lads all remember the next bit. It happened in slow motion. Jimmy losing control and tumbling to the ground, sliding and rolling across the tarmac.

For a moment he lay there still. And then, stumbling to his feet, he staggered a few defiant steps and raised his arms victoriously. The lads at the bottom cheered.

They all went with him to the hospital. Jimmy was OK. A bit bruised and cut up, but OK nonetheless. When the doctor asked what had happened the camera crew were able show him the video.

The next time they played "until we bleed" Jimmy decided to stay at home. He wanted "a quiet one", he said.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

The Definition of Cutting it Fine.

Now this is the definition of cutting it fine. There's a new bod on the commute. I see him each morning on my way to the station.

Let me set the scene. Every morning I arrive at the station around 7, ten minutes before my train. Without fail, as I approach the station, this bod speeds past me, sweating like a badger.

The station barriers swing down as the 7:01 to London Victoria approaches. With incredible daredevilry, he nips into a newsagent, and emerges a few seconds later with a paper. He then sprints towards the barriers.

The 7:01 trundles over the crossing into the station while our hero waits impatiently at the barrier. The barrier starts to lift and he scurries under, and then ducks and weaves through the oncoming pedestrians.

He charges up onto the platform and into the 7:01, seconds before it pulls away. What a man. Over the last few weeks I've seen him miss the train twice. On both occasions I allowed myself a tiny smile. Not that I take pleasure in him missing the train, honest, but if he will continue to cut it that fine...

Friday, 22 August 2008

Nekkid Room Etiquette

Over dinner the rest of the group asked whether we had experienced the nekkid room. We hadn't. The nekkid room was one of those Swiss steam rooms that require you to be completely stark nekkid. You can't even wrap yourself in a towel.

They even had a sign up displaying a man in a towel with a big red X. And just to make sure, another sign said "No Towels".

The real reason we hadn't yet visited the steam room was me. Scared stiff. Probably due to the uncertainty, the fear of the unfamiliar, and a complete ignorance of nekkid room etiquette.

Take eye contact for example. Is it expected, permitted, or forbidden? Not that I wanted to make eye contact in the nekkid room, I'll have you know, but it would still be helpful to know. And what if there are others in there when you enter? Should you keep your mouth shut, enter with your eyes down, and then stoically stare at the wall pretending you are completely on your own?

Or should you grunt a hello and knock out some pleasantries about the weather? The last thing you want is an awkward conversation with a nekkid stranger. Well, no, I guess the last thing you want is sudden and chronic diarrhoea, but I'll leave that one alone.

It could just be me, but I also worry that the extra nervousness brought on by being nekkid could lead to embarrassing blunders. Imagine it, you enter a pre-populated nekkid room and then slip over. Or you enter, but there's no seating space round the edge. Do you stand awkwardly in your nekkidness in the centre of the room and ask people to squeeze up (um...nice...), or do you turn round and leave?

Anyway, I embraced my fear and the next day we paid the nekkid room a visit. There was a couple already in there, nekkid as babies. The bloke grunted a hello, made a couple of observations about the weather, and then quietened down.

Phew, the eye contact and greeting questions were answered for me. I stared stoically at the wall...

The next day while having a swim we saw a couple head to the steam room (the outer door was poolside). A few minutes later we saw the entire American ski team head in to join them.

Now that must have been awkward. I don't imagine nekkid room etiquette knows quite what to do with that.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Five Things I Hate About Toothpaste

I have always disliked toothpaste, but I've never really thought why. Here are a few reasons. I'm sure you could contribute some more. Or am I on my own here?

1) Worst of all, the tickly toothpaste cough.

This happens so rarely that some of you may never have encountered it. It tends to occur at night when you are trying to go to sleep.

You've brushed your teeth as normal, and everything is going swimmingly until you feel an excruciating tickle at the back of your throat.

You can't get to sleep because every few minutes you're interrupted by the tickle that forces you to cough. Every time you swallow it brings on the tickle.

This leads to a terrible cycle of death.

Cough, swallow, tickle, cough, swallow tickle...

I would speculate that it is more likely to occur if you have a sore throat, but I have plagued by the tickly toothpaste cough when I have been absolutely fine.

2) The congealed gunk.

This sticky, white, smeary mess ends up on the toothbrush holder, on the sink, in the toothpaste cup (or wherever you stash the toothpaste tube).

3) The stains on the clothes.

These invariably get discovered later in the day, like when you're walking to work and find an embarrassing white smear of toothpaste on your trousers, or down the front of your navy blue shirt.

Note, toothpaste somehow never gets on white shirts, it can't be bothered with that.

4) The toothpaste at the foot of the tube.

For some reason we continue day after day with a tube that is basically finished, desperately trying to get the toothpaste out of the foot of the tube.

I'm not sure if this is an environmental thing, not wanting to waste it etc, or just a "I'll buy a new tube tomorrow" kinda thing.

5) The cupboard full of tubes.

With the toothpaste situation it is usually one extreme or another. Either we're doing our best to squeeze toothpaste out of an empty tube, or we have somehow ended up with a cupboard full of tubes.

The latter occurs because we can never find a new tube when required, so buy a new one, or typically we buy a few on some sort of deal. The spares get put in a drawer or cupboard, but can't be found when needed, and so it goes on.

Then one day you come back from the shop with a new tube and find that you have a stash in the bathroom already. The cluster of toothpaste tubes laughs at you for having struggled with an empty tube for the last two weeks.

Monday, 18 August 2008

A bad day, and one of those "laptop boys".

If a bad night's sleep wasn't bad enough, I then slept through my alarm because I was so tired. During one of those busy times at work when you just don't oversleep.

All this made was made worse by the fact that I run the morning show, and therefore my wife was late for work too.

And if that hadn't made me grumpy enough, I didn't have time to eat breakfast or make lunch. I had to sprint for the station to ensure that I only got to work 90 minutes later than usual, which meant I spent the entire journey sweating like a badger.

The last thing I needed was one of those "laptop boys" sitting in front of me on the train. He gets on, and whips out the biggest "laptop" I have ever seen. A Mac of course. That's not a laptop. It's a tabletop. Or even a mountaintop. I don't know if its a Macbook (don't really know my Macs I'm afraid), but it shouldn't be because its too damn big. No book is that size.

I've nothing against Macs. Honest. I like the hardware, but they're too expensive. And OS X makes me feel like I'm being dragged through a playpen backwards, wearing a joker's costume and a hat covered in bells, whistles and bouncing beach balls, chased by yappy dogs and...ok I'll stop.

Ok, bit harsh on the OS, it probably allows you to customise the maddening stuff away, and I like the built in shell.

But then, I'm a Gnome man through and through, avoiding KDE, Windows and beach balls like the plague.

But this one was just too big. As he opened it I actually saw a shadow travel over my magazine. If I brought in a CRT and an oldskool tower case they would take up less space. Maybe I should - just to make a point.

If anyone objects I'll just say "What? It's just my laptop."

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Empowerment?

I'm fed up of hearing about local empowerment, about giving power back to the communities. It is a load of nonsense, and it gets my goat. Like nothing else.

The things in the local community that I want to see changed I'm completely powerless about.

There are three things in my community that bug me. Dangerous driving, nuisance parking and "gimp grandchild" cyclists.

The main road from which our complex is accessed is plagued by dangerous drives. At one end of the spectrum you've got the boy racers, and at the other end you have the twit businessmen in their Mercs and BMWs.

Unfortunately, when I say dangerous I don't mean it is an accident hotspot. I just mean that it is a nightmare when you are crossing roads, trying to pull out onto the main road, or if you own that garage on the corner that has been crashed into twice in the last six months.

The local authorities won't do anything because statistically it is not an accident hotspot. When I say "do anything", I mean that if there were a couple of speed cameras, and if police were regularly in the area it would not be a problem.

But according to the police statistics (no idea why this is not the Highways Agency's statistics) there are not enough accidents to warrant any action.

In a similar vein, nothing will be done about the nuisance parking. The exit from our complex (a number of blocks of flats) is basically a T-junction. Cars park up one side of the stem, and right up to the junction on the main road.

Meaning that turning into the complex you can't see cars coming out, and frequently have to stop, reverse, shunt around and so on.

It also means that leaving the complex you cannot see the cars on the main road until they are right upon you.

So when combined with the frequent speeders, this is a nightmare, and a very dangerous one at that.

So, putting my empowerment cap on, I contacted the council. who sent me on to West Sussex Highways, who in turn send me on to the Highways and Transport HQ.

Several weeks later they get back to me to say that a) there is no intention to review the use yellow lines (or lack of) b) statistically it is not an accident hotspot and c) yellow lines can't be introduced "just because of" inconvenient parking and d) a bit of congestion is welcomed because it helps bring the speed down.

Hmm, yeah, brings the speed right down. So, what they really mean by "empowerment" is, um, "powerlessness" I guess.

And then there's those stupid cyclists. And I say that laced with grace and love. The footbridge is signposted "no cycling". This is not just to be annoying. This is because the footbridge is too narrow to cater for cyclists and pedestrians. The only acceptable thing to do is to get off your bike and push it over. It's only a short bridge dagnammit!

There are some cyclists who do this, but most are selfish imbeciles who do one of two things. The crash past you, forcing you out of your way, or they cycle right up against your heels the entire way, or until you despair and ask that they overtake. We've actually seen a cyclist crash into a pedestrian on this bridge.

But the police can't do anything, they have bigger and better things to do. Fortunately, being empowered and all, I can prevent them getting past, or knock them off my bike....

Just kidding. Honest.

Friday, 15 August 2008

The "Smartest" Paperboy In Town

On my walk to the station I often see the "smartest" paperboy in town. Hmm, yeah, smart, that's right.

This lad does his morning round on his scrappy little scooter. To be honest, I could be out of touch with the morning round going rates these days, but I don't imagine he gets more than 20 quid a week.

So. 20 quid minus, say, 10 quid on fuel, leaves him a tenner a week. By my troth, given the fact that he would do it just as quick on a push bike, which would also keep him fit, this guy is a bit of a wally.

Wally? Don't be harsh. Misguided, that's all. My hero would be furious.

I miss my hero. I used to see him every morning as I walked to Brighton station. Everyday we would pass each other around 7am.

To start with I ignored him. I'm that kinda guy. Keep myself to myself, especially at 7am. Over time I noticed that this gentleman (my hero) had some kind of "special" status with the other bods that were around at that time.

The postmen, the street cleaners, the paperboys, the milkmen, the commuters, the cats, the dogs...everyone, they all worshiped this guy, and he responded to them all.

I would guess he was 60ish. With the people he met he was daily greeting them, asking after their health, continuing running jokes, and all this on the move - a quick "what a lovely day", or "and you're dad is back on his feet again now?" or "that was a good game of football last night, wasn't it?" and so on.

Feeling missed out, one morning I sent a nod and a "mornin'" in his direction, and I was in. From then on it was a "mornin'" or "nice day for a stroll eh?!" or "glad I brought my brolly!" or "Spurs were unlucky last night". I was included.

I assumed he was on his way back from a night shift of some sort, or on his way past me to the hospital for a day shift. Then I realised he worked at a newsagent, sorting out the papers for the rounds each morning. And all with a cheery attitude and a heart to know everyone he saw each day.

But I tell you what, he would have not have been impressed with this kid, the smartest *cough cough* paperboy in town.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Clowns and ice-cream vans (a guest entry by The Friday Joker)

I am not the only person in this world who finds clowns to be not only not particularly funny, but also a little scary. I know this because I have found out that there is a technical term for the irrational and abnormal fear of clowns (coulrophobia). What the technical term for a perfectly rational and normal fear of clowns is, I have yet to discover.

However, these strange fears are by no means limited to men with large shoes, collapsing cars and implausible orange wigs. I have long found ice-cream vans with their catchy tunes to be not only extremely annoying (which they undoubtedly are) but also somewhat disturbing, as though they were a sort of modern equivalent of the Pied Piper. A number of weeks ago, I went for a walk through a leafy part of northern Brighton, and, everywhere I went, I could hear the frighteningly jolly jingle of an ice cream van (“If you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise”). This carried on, street after street, lane after lane, until I fully expected to see Mr Whippy waiting for me around the next corner. Even when I reached home and ran into my bedroom (perhaps to hide?) I could hear, through my window, the sound of the ominous purveyor of iced confectionary, as if to say "You got away this time, but in the future you might not be so fortunate".

Perhaps the only way out of this maze of fear and unreason is for me to don a clown-suit and begin dispensing ice-cream to children in a brightly coloured van with a catchy jingle. Now that, surely, would be a disturbing sight.

The Friday Joker

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

When Ivanhoe killed my Kiwi Fruit

Yesterday got off to a bad start when I overslept. It was only my wife's alertness (unusual for that time) that saved me. The day got even worse when some schmuck ignored countless free seats in my carriage to take the spot next to me.

Schmuck? Be graceful I tell myself. Schmuck is a bit harsh. He's just flagrantly breaking the rules, the standards, the protocol. Protocol, the conventions or standards that define the right way to live.

He had clearly not read the handbook. Why would anyone completely ignore all those free seats?

I had just taken my seat, and was just getting into my routine. Flicking through the sports pages of the free paper. Berbatov gone yet? Nope. I took out my magazine and book, and then bang, this violator of protocol plonked himself right down beside me.

I moved and found a new seat.

The protocol is simple. You should never sit next to another commuter until all other options are exhausted. A free pair of seats should always be chosen above a partially occupied pair.

So if you get on a train and you have to choose between sitting in a vacant pair of seats, or taking a free seat next to someone, you always do the former. There are a few exceptions to this. If you have heavy luggage with you, then sitting in a seat right next to the luggage holding area is allowed - even if that means violating said protocol. But this commuter showed a total disregard and lack of respect for the most basic of rules.

It is all to do with personal space. The daily grind tests us all, and therefore at all times protocol should be followed to keep us all sane.

Unfortunately there are protocol violators everywhere. There used to be a commuter on one of the Brighton trains whose goal (I can only assume) was to ignore protocol and drive me crazy. I would see him on the platform at Preston Park in his Bellocian coat. He would get on the train and head straight towards me. Not even the old "evil eye" would deter him. Vast swathes of unpopulated seating areas would not tempt him one bit. He knew exactly which seat he wanted.

Remember this. It is impossible to dissuade a determined protocol violator.

But there are a few techniques I recommend that can make a difference. There's the old "evil eye". And then the old "bag on the seat" trick. This can only legitimately be used when there are free groupings of seats available. You can use this to give the illusion that the seats next to you are taken and deflect the protocol violator towards a free pair or group of seats. Note, leaving a bag on the seat of a crowded train is a violation in itself. That forces a seatless commuter to ask you to move it, even though there are no other seats.

There are a few other variations of this, such as holding your paper in such an expansive way that it has the "puffer fish" effect, again giving the impression that your area is taken. Again, on a crowded train this is also a violation.

Anyway, this guy was a protocol violator and I simply had to walk away.

The day hit rock-bottom when I found my banana and kiwi obliterated at the foot of my bag. Actually, obliterated is the wrong word. That implies there was no trace of the fruit. But oh yes, there was definitely a trace...

I don't want to talk about it, but I believe they were crushed to death by either my lunchbox or my hardcover copy of Ivanhoe. My money would be on Ivanhoe.

The day redeemed itself when I tasted my apple. The apple was coated in kiwi juice, and was absolutely delicious. If there's ever a call for GM fruit, it's an apple-kiwi hybrid.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Old men and their shorts

Entering the gym I was hit by the beat of the 80s. An old man was rolling around on one of those giant rubber balls. I've never been sure what those things are for, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. But what is it with old men and their shorts? He was wearing a pair of "old man" shorts - you know, those tiny shorts with stripes up the side that only marathon runners and old men wear.

This old man was brilliant, some day I'll emulate him. When he wasn't rolling around on the rubber ball he was doing step-ups, perfectly in time with the 80s anthem in the background (I imgane he'd done this routine before), his crazy white hair towering magnificently.

Every now and then he got out one of those "squeeze and squirt" cleaning bottles, and wiped down the apparatus, including things that he had not even used. To be fair to him, he was probably assuming that some sweaty monster had previously used them. Come to think of it, he was probably assuming that I was that sweaty monster.

When he left he took his 80s anthem out of the CD player. I already knew it was his. He even put the radio on for the rest of us. What a great bloke. He reminded me of a retired partner of our sister company, a 70-year-old with shingles that beat me at squash. I decided that enough was enough and gave up squash.

The funny thing about gyms is that there's always some awful radio station blaring (Heart, Kiss...), yet everyone in the gym is listening to their ipod. At least this old man brought his magical 80s anthem and was letting us all know. And there's always one of those rowers. You know, the guy who is on the rowing machine when you arrive, and is stll there when you leave, rowing, rowing, rowing. The annoying thing about these rowers is that they tend to be bored, watching everyone else. I wish they'd point the rowing machines at the wall.

The other day we were down the Duke, when an old man burst through the door. He was wearing the tiniest pair of "old man" shorts, and tucked in to them was a checked shirt, fully undone. Nice. He was carrying a pool que, and forced his way into a bar billiards game that was already running . The lads that were playing were furious. I won't be emulating his look but if I ever fancy a game of bar billiards and can't be bothered to wait...

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Lager & Lemonade. With Ice.

When the time is right, I love Pearl Jam. Like right now, as I (horror of horrors) flick through the Daily Mail, sipping Young's Special, over a lovely quiet lunch break. I dislike the Daily Mail, or as Rod Liddle recently put it, that 'sulphurous organ of Satan', but it is the pub's free paper and there is nothing superior available. Note, by superior I don't mean the Guardian or the Independent.

I'm distracted by a guy at the bar, ordering what appears to be his third "Lager and lemonade with ice". I'd always thought that only a Des (designated driver) would drink that, but this guy certainly wasn't a Des. Two other guys come in and order Fosters. Come on. Who would drink Fosters with such a fine array of Young's? What kind of person...

Everyone loves a free paper. The other day I was skimming through one of the free papers on the train, acutely aware that the guy across the aisle was reading it over my shoulder and eagerly anticipating the moment when I had finished with it. This is clearly against train protocol, which states that "the personal space of a paper holder should be respected at all times, even if the paper in question is a free paper". I was done with the paper pretty quick (most of it is trashy celebrity gossip - why would I want to read about rich socialites messing up their lives and frittering away their time?), and when my antagonist was looking out the window the other way I subtly slid the paper onto the table by my window. You know, about as far away from him as possible.

Cruel? Perhaps. In hindsight it sounds like some sort of psychological experiment. But it was an innocent impulse, an application of natural justice if you like. Before I'm attacked for my cruelty by some Guardian readers, let me just say that normally I offer the free paper to the person next to me. In fact, if he had asked if he could have it when I had finished I would have obliged with the gentleness of a lamb. But after reading over my shoulder and circling like a vulture he deserved it.

My subtle movement was spotted immediately. "Can I have it?!", he blurted, loudly and to the whole carriage. He then scrambled across, before snatching the paper off the table. I felt terrible.

Right now, Pearl Jam, Beer and the Daily Mail are the perfect combination. Last night I ate a fabulous steak, and today I got a piece of software running 90% faster. The thought crosses my mind that had those two been combined that would have been an even better combination.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Café du France

A typical lunch break. My first stop is the cash point. The problem is always the same. I only need a quid for my can of Coke, but I have to take out a tenner. I've always hated this. The remaining nine pounds just fritters away. Life would be so much better if the ATM could cough up a single pound coin.

The problem with pedestrianised town centres is charity collectors. Today they're out in force. When I first started working here I stopped and engaged with them (I was too polite to say no). I don't do this any more.

The thing is, I have decided what I will give, and who I will give to, and these guys are so persistent and commission-driven that stopping to chat is like being beaten with a fly trap. Don't get me wrong, charities do wonderful things in this world. It is simply that having to walk past four or five of these guys twice, on the way out and on the way in, three lunch breaks a week, is just too much. On a good run only two of them will approach, but on a bad day it could be every one. Twice. You end up feeling like Ted Striker in Airplane.

A number of options are available:

"Man of Steel"
This is my favourite, and simply requires you to walk determinedly by, looking neither to the left nor right, avoiding all eye contact and smiles. It's not always easy to blank them, but is probably the most efficient option.

"Give in Always"
This one speaks for itself. My least favourite option.

"Say No like a Gentleman"
Don your hat and take your cane, this is where you stride past with an air of grace and kindness, giving them a firm no, but with a gentleman's smile.

"Oh, is that my phone?"
This is also known as the "cop-out" method. You simply pretend you are on the phone. This is a tad deceitful, but can be made genuine by making a real phone call (if you have one to make).

"Bad Samaritan"
No prizes for this one - just cross over to the other side. Note, this can be tricky if there are a lot of charity collectors (there usually are), as they often spread themselves out to cover all available space.

"Covert Op"
Take cover, and slink, dodge and scurry your way round them, ducking behind other pedestrians, lampposts, flowerbeds.

Today I am the bad Samaritan of Steel, zig-zagging my way between the charity collectors, my face set with a steely "even Clint would be in awe" glare.

Café
du France. This always makes me chuckle. A "French" café in Surrey that is run by Poles. In an ideal world there would be a mad triangle - an English café in Poland run by Frenchmen, and a Polish café in France run by some Englishmen. Bizarrely as I write I hear "English, French, Polish, English, French, Polish" going round my head to the tune of the Three Blind Mice. Now that's weird.

I like this place because it is cheap, and because of the table-service. The problem with Costa (& the rest) is the noise, and the queues, and worst of all, they're so expensive. Why spend twice as much money AND queue for a quarter of my lunch break?

The Poles own two cafés, one either end of town. All the staff are Polish, which I have no problem with (I actually find it quite nice, almost self-contained in fact), but I wonder what the "equal ops" brigade would say. I guess there are equal opportunities amongst the Polish...

I take my can of Coke and sit down. A glass and ice are brought immediately - it is just so nice for things to be speedy - and this is where I normally take out my book. Right now it's Ivanhoe, and I love the frequent use of the word knave, which I'm told means boy, but that's not important right now.

Anyway, lunch break is over now (after all, I have spent it writing this), time to venture back down the street. I take the long route through the indoor shopping centre (for some reason the charity collectors are not allowed in there), but still have to pass one final sentinel. But I'm in luck, a "cancel out" unfolds right before me. This is when one charity collector is chatting to another, forcing them both out of play and providing a temporary opening. I took the opening and it made my day.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Eccentric Commuters

The best thing about commuting is the eccentrics. They come out in force. It is possible the proportion of eccentrics amongst commuters is no different from elsewhere, but I'll tell you what, every day I see commuting eccentrics exhibit their stuff in true style. Before I continue, some kind of disclaimer is necessary. Shouldn't I be leaving these people alone, and mind my own business? Am I being cruel? Nah, when you see the same people every day for weeks, months, years, we all watch each other with a kind of weird commuter familiarity. And besides, there's probably some guy writing about me now ("some gimp keeps watching me, grinning as though he is writing a blog entry about me in his mind...").

Take the M&S guy. Every morning I seem him stuffing his face with M&S food (it's not just food, it's…). The little fruit salads in plastic boxes, the über-expensive little smoothies, the packets of miniature croissants. Every evening I seem him on the way home, scoffing on a bag of M&S goodies. The little pasta dishes in plastic boxes, the über-expensive little packets of nuts and crisps. Big deal, you say, what's your problem with that? No problem at all, I guess I'm just a bit freaked about by the intensity and the maths. That must be a fifty-squid-a-week habit (excluding lunch). Having said that, it's not just food, it's M&S food…

Waiting for the Brighton train home I always see the same two gentlemen. They stand chatting like old buddies until the train pulls in. As the train grinds to a halt, one gentleman stays exactly where he is, and the other gentleman scurries 20 feet up the platform and gets in the next carriage. This happens every day without fail. I can't quite work it out. Perhaps they aren't really buddies at all, and they are colleagues just "being polite" before giving each other space. It could be a simple matter of routine - before they knew each other they used these particular carriages. Perhaps the gain of their chosen carriages (placing them marginally closer to their own station's exit point) far out ways the pleasure of each other's company. Perhaps we'll never know, but if anyone has any other suggestions then please send them my way.

And then there is the chap in the plush grey suit. I haven't seen him in a while, but I used to see him a couple of days a week on the way home. I would arrive on the platform and there he'd be, waiting for our train, always dressed in a plush grey suit. I would head up the platform, and get in the rear carriage when the train arrived. As the train pulled away he would enter my carriage from the previous one, always looking a bit frantic, and then take a seat in my carriage. This happened so often that once I actually waited long enough on the platform to watch him get in to the first carriage, before he entered my rear carriage as usual. It's just so random! Maybe he was always waiting for a colleague or friend down that end of the platform, and when they didn't show he would head up the train. Maybe he just enjoyed the march up the train. Most likely it is just an elaborate conspiracy to confuse me.

And last but not least, the "Boots lady". For a while I had a connection at Gatwick Airport, and every morning I saw this lady alight from my train and head into Boots (just to clear my name, I would see her heading to and from Boots because I would usually be on my way to get a coffee). I assumed it was her lunch, and thought nothing of it. Then one day I was shopping in (another) Boots during my lunch break, and there she was - she worked at Boots! A mystery.

And after all that, I'll leave these people alone.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Dragons' Den

My problem with Dragons' Den is that it is not extreme enough. The Dragons should be seated in towering vampire chairs at the back of a mahoosive cave, full of holes, lizards, fire and bats. Behind them should be a wall of fire, and the entrepreneurs should have to walk the full length of the cave dragging their goods. On the way out (if no deal is met) they should be chased by wolves.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

The Protocol Of Living

Once again a Friday night demonstrates to me that some people just do not get it. Life has protocol, and as Clint Eastwood would say, there are two kinds of men (or women) in this world. There are those that live and abide by life protocol, and those that just do not get it. Actually, there is a third kind. The kind that simply violate protocol.

Take personal space. There are simple rules regarding it, and rules exist to cater for any and every situation. When walking on the pavement, there is a always an acceptable distance between yourself and those in front on behind. The onus is obviously on those behind behind - you can only see the people in front - the one with the most responsibility is the one at the back!

The acceptable pavement distance is clearly a variable. In a busy town center, with all the noise and bustle and crowded pavements, the acceptable distance is actually extremely small. However when enjoying a romantic chat while walking over, say, Shoreham footbridge, on a quiet evening, the acceptable distance is much greater. You can imagine my frustration when walking over Shoreham footbridge last night, having an in depth chat with my lovely wife, and some chimp is walking right behind us.

Who does that, and why?! I don't understand the mindset, I mean, "Yuh, there's a nice couple in front enjoying a deep and meaningful, I'll walk right up their backsides just to let them know I'm here." Arrgh who are these people, and where do they come from?

The rules are simple. Give those in front the personal space that the situation demands. If they are going too slow, then speed up and overtake. What could be so difficult?

And then there are the neighbours in the flat next to ours. 2am we wake up to thumping music and lots of loud laughter. We bang on the wall. Let's hold that thought. Banging was really the only option. Getting dressed, going downstairs and outside, round to the next block's communal door, and trying to guess which buzzer, before eventually being stabbed by a group of drunken thugs who did not appreciate the intrusion, was not our idea of fun. But banging on the wall is the standard protocol for this kind of situation. It means "too loud, sorry to bother you, but please turn it down (it IS 2am for Pete's sake)".

So how did they respond? Well, not quite in the cultured fashion we were looking for. "Don't knock on the ******* wall.", a whiny voice screamed, "You'll knock the ******* pictures off." The music was turned up further, and we could just make out the whiny "...knocking on my ******* wall" appended to every sentence. I kept my sanity by imaging a group of drunken revellers, ears bleeding, stumbling around the other side of the wall trying to put the pictures back up...
As I have quite a few new readers since I became a "Jelly Biter" I've put this up here again. To understand the context you must read this post!