Monday, 31 August 2009

The Barber, The Fruitcake and the Three Harley-Davidsons

I left my things on the table, went up to the bar, then returned with my pint and sat down. A chap nearby turned to me. "I wouldn't leave your phone lying about round 'ere," he said. "Don't worry, " I replied, "I was keeping an eye on it from the bar. And besides, I thought you looked pretty trustworthy."

This was a lie. Probably in his late 60s, by his appearance it was clear he was a perpetual adolescent. Tracksuit bottoms, rugby top stretched over his belly, a JD sports bag - the sign of the Chav. Shoulder-length grey hair held back with a pair of shades. In front of him sat a pack of B&H and a pint of Carling.

He winked, pulled out a cigarette, and used it to point across the room at a rowdy bunch of low-lives. "It's not me you should be worrying about, it's that bunch over there." He started for the door, then turned back. He wasn't finished. "I own the barber shop next door, know everyone in this town. I HATE this town. People always bothering me. 'Can I have a fag?', 'Could you lend me a quid?', and worst of all are the charity collectors. Every damn Thursday they plague the streets."

I agreed with him. The town where I work is without a doubt the most miserable place in England. Surrounded by estates, filled to the brim with drunks, chavs and charity collectors. I glanced out of the window. One of the local fruitcakes walked by. An old man wearing red trousers, a long fur coat and a black fedora with a yellow ribbon. A Gandalf-like staff completed the look. I have seen him before, always wearing a hat of some form. Sometimes a bandanna, sometimes a fedora, once in forester's hat with a large red feather. The barber rolled his eyes. "Don't get me started," he said.

Turns out the barber (like me) supported Spurs. Best start to the season since '61. We had plenty to talk about. Football unites like nothing else. We couldn't remember all of last week's goal-scorers. "Oi Phil!" yelled the barber, "who scored Spurs' goals last week?" Phil only drinks Newcastle Brown Ale, a cheap and pikey drink if there ever was one. Phil only wears one shirt, blue-checked. A man of routine. This town may be a dive but it certainly has character. He grabbed a copy of The Mirror and gave it to the barber. "It's all in there," he said.

The barber was looking out the window. He whistled softly. Two girls walked past. Short skirts, tanned legs, high heels. Three Harleys whizzed by. Three Harleys, three horns sounded. If there had been three girls the scene would have been perfect. I took my leave, already late back to the office.

On my way back a drunk approached me. "Do ya have a spare fag?""

Monday, 24 August 2009

The elegance of teabag flinging

I've always liked the word elegant. It has a touch of class about it. We use it in a number of ways, as I'm sure you're aware. We use it to mean refined, tasteful, classy, and this can be regarding appearance, behaviour or style. Elegant handwriting for example, which I don't have, or elegant dark suits, which I don't wear.

We also use it to describe a pairing of beauty and simplicity, often relating to movement or execution. A mathematical solution can be elegant, or a dancer, or the parabolic path of a teabag flung across the kitchen, landing perfectly in a mug. I'll tell you what, if teabag flinging was an Olympic sport I would hold all the records. 100m, 200m, 1600m.

But what is the opposite of elegant? A clumsy camel? A complicated rat? A working-class gorilla?

Bang and crash, clang and clatter. The man stumbled onto the train with less stability than a newborn giraffe, struggling with a heavy laptop and clutching his coat. (The man that is, a newborn giraffe is unlikely to use a laptop, or wear a coat). Wonky tie, shirt engulfed in huge sweat patches, huffing and puffing, his heavy breathing could have blown my house down. He pulled an apple out of his pocket, took a large bite and proceeded to chew with his mouth wide open, spitting, crunching and splattering, glistening pieces were splaying out like tiny shooting stars. Elegance, and its opposite, are entirely experiential.

Monday, 17 August 2009

The KGB could never touch me, but as for those gormless droids...

My star sign? Not a question I was expecting. Mother's maiden name perhaps, or the name of my first pet*. You know, the standard security questions. Given a choice I always go for the pet name, it feels a bit more secure, not even the KGB could know the name of my first pet. Unless little Bovril was a spy I suppose. Sometimes I mix it up a little, adding some extra security by giving the name of my second pet, or my sister's pet, or even an imaginary pet. In short, I am uncrackable.

"I don't know my star sign," I said, suffering briefly from an inferiority complex, " but how about I simply tell you my date of birth?"

"Sorry Sir, " she replied curtly, "but we are not allowed to ask that any more. For security reasons."

She, I imagine, titillated with reason. My reason, on the other hand, was shafted. I trembled, groping about blindly in the depths of my mind. No light, no handrail, just confusion. All I wanted to do was inform the credit card company of a change of address, and now I was answering a quiz on the Zodiac. (Perhaps I was going mad, mad as the fruitcake I saw in a pub recently. Having bought a carbonated bottle of cider he spent ten minutes pouring it repeatedly from one pint glass to another. I asked him why he was doing this. "To get rid of the bubbles," he said. Or as mad as his companion, an old man dressed entirely in denim. This nutter ordered "blackcurrent and soda" and spent the next half hour playing with the ring tones on his phone.)

"You can find out your star sign in a newspaper or magazine, " she added helpfully.

"Listen," I said, "I'm not an astronomer, or an astrologer." Or Mystic Meg. "I wouldn't be seen dead reading the charts. What possible reason do I have for knowing my star sign? How about I just tell you the month I was born in?" The only thing I care less about than star signs is netball, celebrity gossip or Madonna's adoption plans. Screw that, I care even less about Coleslaw. The last time someone (in jest) read me my horoscope it was completely wrong. Instead of having "my lucky day" I got stuck on a train for two hours that broke down on the one part of the line that had no mobile phone reception.

"Sorry Sir..."

"Madness," I said, "this is supposedly a secure banking line and nobody but you can hear me." I glanced over my shoulder at the impatient queue of gormless droids behind me. They glared back. They could almost certainly hear me, the bank was laid out in typically incompetent fashion, but telling the truth would spoil my argument. "I've already told you my name, old address, new address and credit card number. If someone is listening in they already have enough information to bleed me dry. From what I remember there are twelve star signs, and twelve months, what's the difference? In this rational age how can you expect me to know my star sign?"

"Your star sign is Gemini," she said brusquely, "remember it for next time."

*I don't know if this security question appears outside of Britain, but it always appears as a default or example security question - for all sorts of services.

Monday, 10 August 2009

The day she popped the ultimate question...

A typical lazy evening. Aided by a glass of red, I sat at the desk tweaking my fantasy football team. What could be better? My wife sat on the bed, looking at property on the laptop. Click, that's nice, click, like what they've done there, click, look at those curtains, click, what kind of human being would paint a room that colour?

"So," she said, looking up from the bed. "How do computers work?" Find a man emersed in all things football and knock him off his perch. Not an easy question either. Mo, a software developer, was momentarily at a loss. What he needed was a cloak of anonymity.

My wife's lack of computing understanding has always amused me. Note, she's far smarter than me, far better at doing life, far more aware, far more eloquent. But she simply uses computers, to her the computer is one of life's great imponderables. As long as they work she is happy. I, on the other hand, am a computer geek. After working in my current job for close to six years, and five years of marriage, my wife confesses to know very little about what I do. (As an MI5 operative that suits me fine). He works in IT, she'll tell her friends, something to do with finance.

Roused from fantasy football bliss, I struggled impotently to answer the question, deciding to keep things simple. "Think of it in terms of layers," I said, "a bit like an onion. Putting it very simply, at the core is the hardware. The memory, which stores data and instructions, the processor, which executes the instructions and all the input and output devices. The operating system sits on top of all this, so you don't need to worry about ones, zeros, data and instructions. You just use it."

Suspecting that her interest was waning I cut to the chase, leading on to my own career. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to fill her in. "In the olden days coding was a cryptic kettle of fish, you had to understand nonsense like machine code that looks like someone was just having a laugh. These days writing code is very different."

I pulled my soap box out of my pocket, blew off the dust and climbed onto it. "Modern languages have evolved to be extremely clean and legible, shielding us from boring stuff like memory and whatnot. Integrated development environments make it a lot more fun. Clean code written to high standards and following best practices is actually very understandable. You could look at some of my code and know exactly what it is doing."

"Right," she said, "come and look at this house."

Monday, 3 August 2009

The Orangutan's Daughter

So here's the deal. I've been thinking long and hard and have decided to cut down the amount of time I waltz through the blogosphere. With the demands of my job, the tiring little monster baby, and the realisation that I just don't make enough time to discover new wines watch The Wire read and relax, it's time to make cuts.

So I'm going to aim to post once a week, probably on a Monday, and keep Monday as my blogging day. This'll mean that I won't be visiting your lovely blogs with my usual regularity during the rest of the week, but at the start of the week I will be your man. In other words, I will continue to exercise the standard protocol of blogging reciprocity, but I won't be about so much. I just wanted to let you know - in case you are sitting in your armchair on a Thursday night, drinking some cheap Scandinavian lager and thinking "where the hell is Mo?". Anyway, I don't want to dwell on this so without further ado...

We went for a late breakfast at our favourite cafe. Favourite because of the food and atmosphere, not because of the layout, which is worse than my parents' living room. Imagine a tiny room stuffed with ten mismatching sofas. That aside, the food is divine and the mushrooms, well, the mushrooms are simply spectacular.

I had mushrooms on toast, my wife had a crayfish sandwich. Bubba trumped everyone with her organic
"roast dinner" purée. A young girl scampered in, closely followed by her mum and (presumably) grandma. They sat at the table next to ours. The mum was clad in what can only be described as a tiny black party frock. Very short, very revealing. She wore wedges so high they would have been beyond the wildest dreams of any ski-jumping Lego man.

Most remarkable of all was the colour of her skin. It was so orange that you would naturally assume her father was an Orangutan. Either that or she had fallen into a vat of fake tan cream. Oranges and lemons,
say the bells of St. Clement's.

She sat close to Bubba, emitting a powerful orange glow. While thoroughly enjoying her purée, Bubba was becoming increasingly interested in Mrs Satsuma, her little grubby hands swinging dangerously close. "You're hoping Bubba grabs that lady," observed my wife. "That would be ideal," I replied.

An elderly lady sat down at our table. Ignoring the countless unoccupied tables, she was merely exercising those rights that all old ladies believe they have - the right to invade the privacy of anyone with a baby, the right to touch any baby with grubby opal-ringed fingers, the right to act as a sort of "proxy grandma" to any baby encountered.

"She doesn't want to eat, she wants to socialise," said Bubba's new proxy grandma. "The only person wanting to socialise is you," I thought, tired of prying strange elderly hands off our baby and desperately hoping that Bubba would eat up quick.

As Lady Clementine got up to leave a small grubby hand swiped at her frock. She didn't notice and left the cafe, a delightful little orange hand print adorning her bum, the "roast dinner" purée perfectly matching the colour of her skin. It was ideal.
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!