Wednesday, 26 November 2008

The Art Of Humiliating Yourself

When it comes to humiliation in the public arena, I like to avoid it. Not that I don't humiliate myself, far from it, but I steer clear of humiliation in the same way that I steer clear of dog poo on the pavement, grannies in buggies, daytime television, stinging nettles, cleaning sieves and post offices on Thursdays.

Q: Cleaning Sieves?
A: Sieves are kitchens' most despicable affront to human sanity. There is nothing worse than battling with thousands of tiny pieces of rice lodged in a sieve's holes. It drives me so berserk that all sorts of puerile thoughts enter my head. I end up secretly wishing the inventor of the sieve has a freak accident, slipping on a tiny piece of rice and jamming a teaspoon deep into his cerebellum. My wife and I have reached a mutual agreement. I keep the kitchen clean and tidy, but she cleans the sieve.

When I do humiliate myself it tends to be fairly minor. Like tripping on raised paving stones. You know when you just catch one, stumble for a few steps and then carry on walking pretending no-one noticed, but knowing that someone behind did notice, and knowing that that someone is smiling like an ape that has just been given a peanut.

There have been other incidents, like the time on my crowded London commute when a pair of boxes in my sports bag inexplicably leapt out of the bag into the aisle. These things are always inexplicable. I fantasise about recreating the scene with a miniature carriage full of mice. One mouse has a sports bag on the luggage rack. I then spend thousands of hours pushing the carriage along to see if the mouse's boxes leap out of the sports bag...

Or the time at work when I spat some gum binwards, and it sailed gracefully over the bin and rolled right up to a standing colleague.

But on the whole, I don't humiliate myself.

Let me tell you about Stephen. Stephen (pseudonym) is a friend of mine. Stephen and Humiliation are old friends. Stephen and Humiliation go way back. In fact, I imagine that Stephen and Humiliation frequently hang out at family reunions.

One day Stephen was walking through Warwick Arts Centre on his way to the bus stop. As he approached the exit he heard someone call his name. The Art Centre's exit splits into two, with one half a wheelchair ramp and the other half a flight of steps. They are separated by a metal railing.

As Stephen turned towards the caller he wrote himself a mental note. Ramp and steps are approaching, it said. Watch out for the railing, it said. Otherwise things could be painful, it warned ruefully.

Some friends were sitting in a cafe a few metres away. Stephen engaged in some small talk while continuing walking. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the railing approaching. Stephen wrote himself another mental note. End this conversation quickly, it said, its tone a little more urgent.

Not that I actually read these mental notes. That would be really weird.

Stephen's nether regions collided with the railing head on, but at enough of an angle to send him over head first. He caught hold of it just in time to prevent him crashing down the stairs. Hauling himself up, and turned to face his laughing friends.

As he raised his arms in a "what can I say?" gesture, his bus pass (inexplicably) flew out of his hand and glided through the air like, well, like a gliding bus pass, hitting the ground and sliding several metres across the floor.

Stephen had to walk the long walk of shame over to the bus pass, and then the even longer walk of shame back to the exit.

On another occasion Stephen was cycling home from a lecture. He took the usual short cut out of the university. The one that took you up a curb, over a grass bank and down into the sports centre car park.

On the descent down the grass bank he was taken cleanly off his bike by a suspiciously low branch. All in front of a class of school girls waiting to enter the sports center.

If there is anything worse than cleaning a sieve, it is being knocked off your bike by a tree branch in front of a class of teenage school girls.

Well, I suppose having a teaspoon jammed deep inside your cerebellum is worse.

I imagine that Stephen's mental note consisted of a scrap of paper featuring a crayon drawing of a stick man falling off his bike in front of a laughing school girl, with the word "disaster" in bold red scrawl.

Stephen got back on his bike, and rode off with his head held high. His dignity was left somewhere on the grass bank.

My wife trumped all of these incidents when she took a tampon out of her handbag instead of her credit card and handed it to a cashier.

I don't know how the cashier reacted, but I know what he should have said.

"Sorry Ma'am, but we don't take tampon."

Thursday, 20 November 2008

20 Minutes

20 Minutes. There's a lot of things I can do in 20 minutes. Burp a baby. Kill a mockingbird. Let the dogs out. Drink a pint. Tie my shoelace 40 times. Count to 1200 (one elephant, two elephant, three elephant...). On this occasion I had 20 minute wait at Gatwick Airport for my train. No prizes for guessing what I chose to do.

I had barely got to "ten elephant" when I decided to buy myself a healthy chocolate snack, so I stopped counting and headed off to WHSmith. The store is roughly one minute away from the platform, so that would still give me 18 minutes spare. With a bit of luck I would have time to point Percy at the porcelain on the way back, and maybe even drop off the kids.

To my dismay I was thwarted by the joint efforts of a lotto-junkie and a trainee cashier. A deadly combination. The two were locked in some sort of bitter dispute. The lotto-junkie seemed to be purchasing every scratchcard available. Titles included "Monkey Money" and "Money For Ewe".

The latter must be the lowest form of scratchcard available. "Money For Ewe" has a huge background image of a ewe, and each little scratch item is a ewe. Talk about bottom-of-the-barrel.

I waited patiently as these gibbonoids fought it out. I can't remember what they were fighting about, I was too busy working out how many years of mental gymnastics I would require before I bought a "Money For Ewe" scratchcard. It came to 16 million. The heated shop floor was making me sweat like a badger, and I started to panic as I realised that the chances of making my train were as narrow as a stick insect's waist.

I made my train, but only just, and I arrived perspiring like a mad horse and busting for a wee. 20 minutes. Time flies so fast when you're having fun. Next time I'll stick with the counting.

Strictly Come Prancing

Three cheers to John Sergeant, who quit the show Strictly Come Dancing this week, saying that his performance had been "a joke to far".

Not that I watch, or have ever watched, the show. It's not really my cup of tea. Or even my pint of beer, glass of Rioja or tub of ice cream for that matter. As my wife's granddad would say in his broad Yorkshire accent, "Wot's t' point of watchin' a bunch of am-a-t's when you c'n watch t' real thing instead." (My source of information is the Metro.)

I just don't think this kind of show is the bee's knees, or the wasp's nipples (as the great Douglas Adams would say) or even the crayfishes' tinsy winsy toes.

In short, Sergeant's abysmal attempts to dance each week were slated by the judges, but his humour and popularity won him a legion of fans who kept him in week after week.

His hilarious moves included dragging his partner (Kristina Rihanoff) around like a sack of potatoes, stopping mid-dance to re-introduce himself to his partner, pretending to read a newspaper and stomping around like he was squashing grapes.

Apparently his next dance, Murder On the Dance-floor, was going to feature him shooting at the judges. However he feared that people would have found that too much to handle and resigned instead.

Too much to handle? What a shame. I for one would have climbed into the barrel, scraped through the bottom, dug to the centre of the earth, and actually watched the show.

I say it again. Three cheers for John Sergeant.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

The Squeezebox Boom (an audiophile's dream)

(and getting Squeezecenter up and running on Fedora 9)

I'm afraid that if you're popping by for some of my usual witty observational drivel you'll be disappointed. For once, I'm writing on something technical. It you are a technophobe then I would leave now. On the other hand, if you are an audiophile, or simply love cool things that just work, then read on.

The Squeezebox Boom is a gorgeous all-in-one network music player with an integrated amplifier. A mere thirteen inches long and five inches high, this baby will rock your joint, look and sound awesome, and make you smile like one of the goons in the Listerine advert.

It hooks in to your home network, over wireless or Ethernet, and allows you to access your digital music collection via a cute little LCD interface. Best of all, it plays virtually any digital music format, including MP3, FLAC, WMA, WMA Lossless, Ogg Vorbis, AAC, Apple Lossless, WAV, and AIFF.

This is a big win for me, as all my music is in Ogg Vorbis (I can hear you technophobes starting to wail, but I did warn you not to read on), which generally offers better quality sound at similar file sizes to, say, MP3.

The software required is called SqueezeCenter, which is open source and available for Windows, Mac and Linux, which is a joy for someone like myself who refuses to run Windows or Mac.

Setting it all up is a breeze. Download and install SqueezeCenter (instructions online), and point it at your music collection.

Turn on your Squeezebox Boom. It will gracefully lead you through connecting to your network (wireless or Ethernet) and finding your SqueezeCenter. Then you can browse and play your music to your little heart's content. The sound quality really is fantastic.

I can't speak for other distros, but I set up SqueezeCenter on Fedora 9, Fedora being one of the loves of my life (somewhere behind God, my lovely wife and my little baby girl). Installation was a painless as eating a Jelly Baby, and just as juicy.

On Fedora, simply do the following as root:

rpm -Uvh

then do:

yum install squeezecenter

to install SqueezeCenter.

You then need to open the following ports in the Fedora firewall:


Note, if your music is (sensibly) on an external hard drive then you will want to auto-mount this using fstab. Otherwise SqueezeCenter will start before your drive mounts (How are you technophobes doing?). You probably want to make sure that it is only mounted read-only for most users, but as a starting point a root do:

mkdir /

vi /etc/fstab

And add an entry

/ vfat auto,defaults,umask=000 0 0

After rebooting this will auto-mount ready for SqueezeCenter.

Reboot, and SqueezeCenter will be up and running. Browse to http://:9000 to access SqueezeCenter. It will lead you through the setup, pointing at your music collection etc. etc.

A delight.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Memoirs Of A Rubber Duck

I write this from a cardboard box destined for a charity shop. The usual crap. Full of rejected items including a tea-stained tablecloth, some old computer speakers, a teach-yourself-Spanish book and a grubby teddy bear. I've not had an easy life, that's for sure. I hope we're going to Oxfam (I'm partial to the adverts).

Few people realise we rubber ducks have a soul, let alone the higher consciousness that we all have. Massive minds trapped in small rubber bodies, you wouldn't believe the strain that puts us under. Sworn to secrecy, those that have spoken out have been swiftly removed. Who by? Well, the Illuminati are the prime suspects. The Pope has made incriminating comments off the record, but publicly the Catholic Church denies everything.

I just can't bare to face another charity shop. The rejection, the under-valuation, the stuffy shop floor full of dust and bustling old ladies, it is all too much for an old duck like me. So I'm speaking out for the rest of us. If you don't hear from me again then you should fear the worst.

A low self-esteem is part and parcel of being a rubber duck. Destined to a life of bathroom (or charity shop) living, with the damp, the mould and the unlawful assembly of tacky bath toys. The things we witness. Some are too disgusting or inappropriate to relate.

Encased in a rubber body, typically isolated from other rubber ducks, our conjugal rights are non-existent. Subjected to viewing the basest scenes and foulest smells that humans can produce. A truly clean bathroom is a rarity. The damp, mould, mildew and ubiquitous pubes give us Monday blues every day, constant colds and chest infections. I knew a duck that died of pneumonia.

Children's bath times are the worst. The chaos, the wee, the clutter. Shampoo in our eyes, splitting headaches caused by the constant screaming, having to put up with low-life plastic bath toys.

Of course, there have been a few pleasant moments. The day I was put in a jug of Pimm's. An alcoholic disaster. The last thing I remember was drifting peacefully into oblivion. I woke up in a net with all the usual bathroom paraphernalia with a pounding migraine. Did I get any aspirin? Yeah right.

Our lives are so full of people, no personal space whatsoever. Oh for an uninterrupted life. Completely unemployable too, it's not as if we have any career prospects. Unless you are a blue rubber duck. They sometimes get to go on mass trips down the Thames. But nothing for a common yellow like myself.

I hope I don't sound contemptuous, I just feel used, downtrodden, destined to a life of misery and 50p price tags. Conventional economics I guess. If this ever makes it into public circulation I just hope something is done. If rubber ducks aren't oppressed, I don't know who is. Estimating conservatively, over one trillion rubber ducks have been produced. Where are they now? Landfill? I've got off relatively lightly.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Kickass Christmas Ideas For Men

I was looking around for Christmas gift ideas for my brother, dad, brothers-in-law and father-in-law. As I thumbed through some gadget magazines I found so much cool stuff I had to write my own Xmas list. It reminds me of one of Calvin's (of Calvin and Hobbes), a massive cross-indexed volume.

If Father Christmas - or is it Santa these days? - disappoints me this year I will definitely be very disappointed.

While I'm still working on my first draft - you can't be too careful with Christmas lists - I'll let slip a few ideas.

Solar Backpack
These things are becoming more common, and aren't that expensive. You can get one for 50 quid or less now, packaged with an abundance of adaptors to charge pretty much anything. See for an example.

Multi-Purpose Solar Charger
Hey, I know it's on the same vein as above, but just as cool. And if Santa feels a solar backpack or radio-controlled helicopter is out of his price range, or if you've just been a bad boy, then this could be a compromise. You can get these babies anywhere, just Google it.

Radio-controlled Helicopter
You can get some great little toys for under 30 quid. See This is the kind of present we (us men that is) dreamed of as kids, but those days they were too flimsy and far too expensive. You can never get too old for something like this, and it sure as hell beats getting underwear.

A nice pen with a built-in laser pointer
OK, with all the hoo-hah about silly twits trying to blind airplane pilots, make sure you don't buy one of these for the black sheep of the family. But for a sensible law-abiding chap like myself it would do just fine. Not sure what we would really use the laser for - what am I, an architect? - but never mind about that.

Miniature Tabletop Football
Don't laugh, you can't grow out of this. The problem with table football in the past was that the dumb things were just too big, a nuisance to get out, and not the kind of thing you would want in a modern apartment - destroying the aesthetics and making your beautiful home look tacky, which is not want the sophisticated modern man wants at all. Especially if he lives in a cool brickwork-exposed renovated warehouse apartment like they all do in the movies. These little ones are just perfect. See for a nice one.

Loo Stickers
Stickers that you can aim for when going to the toilet, increasing your accuracy rates by 80% (apparently) - also at You get them in different sizes to improve your skills. Who says these are just for kids?

USB Coffee Warmer
Not sure what the green lobby has to say about this. Geoge Monbiot will probably hate this kind of thing. I mean, surely you should just drink your coffee when the temperature is just right? Loads of people sell these now. I may decide to hold out for the USB toasty maker.

Hope these help. I just hope Santa doesn't disappoint me.
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!