I bought you a pair of shoes, a trumpet you can blow and a book of rules.

Kookiest Samurai Overspends Outlandishly

I don’t know whether I am quietly relieved or disheartened that I have the comfort of Jo’s randomly selected words to write about this week. Although the words make me moan and groan, it does kick me into gear and make me write, so I’m all for it. Having said that, I am going on holiday on Monday and so next week’s blog will have to be created out of my own brainspace once again; I’m just not sure my brain can cope. I promise here and now that I only mentioned my holiday because of the implications it may have on my blog. I won’t show off and go on about like an overexcited schoolchild/smug tw*t (delete as applicable.)

That’s enough preamble; onto the blog.

Looking back at my school years, it seems a little ironic that we were all so concerned about looking cool and individual and quirky, that we all wore the same clothes. Even on mufti days, we had a version of a uniform. Until about year 11 I can guarantee that on any mufti day, all of my friends would wear some form of chain attached to their jeans, a black hoody advertising the coolest/latest band and jeans that were so baggy, my mum half expected to see a stray paratrooper clinging on around my ankles. This would, of course, be completed with the attractive eyeliner and the vans trainers. I was never particularly cool or leading in the trends; my favourite hoody had ‘Phonics on it, my trainers were O’Neill and I couldn’t be bothered with all that makeup. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Stereophonics, Blink 182, Spunge, Nickelback and all that, but was I was never a true grunger – I just liked scruffy clothes. As teenagers, we are so worried about being an individual that we cling to one of any number of social stereotypes, which ensure that we never stand out in a crowd. When I moved schools, I remember having a conversation with one of the girls at my new school who was wearing two completely different trainers. When I asked her why, her response was “so that people think I’m mad.” At that moment, I felt like I had never known anyone less mad. Strangely, this moment made me realise that the most important thing was to be yourself and be proud of that; at least you are honest to yourself then and surely the most individual you can be?

All this idle memory bashing makes me question my “kooki-ness”. Am I the kookiest? Is that something I even want to be? Eccentric, quirky and individual? Well, it would be nice if people saw me that way, but I certainly won’t be trying to achieve those heady heights. As I type this, all I can hear is David Bowie’s Kooks:

“…Cause we believe in you, Soon you’ll grow so take a chance, With a couple of Kooks, Hung up on romancing.”

It’s a great song, which is now stuck on loop in my head. Anyway, with that plug over, I shall continue with the blog. As I was saying, I would like to think that I am individual and unique, but I definitely don’t want to be seen as an outlandish, attention seeking brat. It’s a fine line between being quirky and irritating, but people who throw their cash around and are outlandish show-off seem to be a long way from the line. It seems to be that the those people who attempt to be quirky and crazy seem to miss their target somewhat.

Now, I love spending time with fun loving, mad people where I feel totally with myself, so I can be mad and loud, without fear of judgement. It occurs to me that everyone has a kook inside them and equally, everyone has an introvert in them. It just needs different social occasions to bring it out of people. For a start, when I see old school friends, I become almost drunk and stupid with excitement; I personify the outlandish kook. Yet, with good friends who I see regularly, I can’t be bothered with that and I’m relaxed to the point of lazy with them. This sounds like a terrible thing, but they would kill me if I was a hyperactive, irritating little shit all of the time. Trust me, I would and I’m meant to be on my side.

Nowadays, I am confident about who I am (most of the time anyway) and I don’t consider myself to be an outlandish kook; to be honest, that’s all too much effort. Although, I am prone to overspending. This is the person who has more dvds than HMV and owns a black Wii because it was pretty (and £10 more expensive). Although, I have made quite a case for myself, I’m not sure that I am at the level of a Samurai; the Japanese Military nobility. I’m not sure I understand the term military nobility, but all the same, it seems very regal and only available for those who are mature, silent and deadly. Am I mature, silent or deadly? Ho hum. Considering that I’ve spent all evening on twitter in an attempt to avoid writing this and simultaneously making poor corpse gags, I suspect not. Oh well, better luck next time, at least I’m not an outlandish kook.

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It’s swings and roundabouts really…

I may have spent the last four days working from my sister’s house, amidst the chaos of two children, but I haven’t totally lost my mind. Rest assured, this is not a blog discussing the ins and outs of outdoor play equipment. Sitting on my train back to Reading, I am lost without my usual weekly burst of random words. Although it can be difficult to create a succinct blog about four random, nonsensical words, it means you discuss something you wouldn’t usually consider. Sadly, this week I will return (briefly) to an inane retelling of my week, carelessly shaped into a theme.

This week has been pretty unremarkable on the whole, but it has still had its ups and downs. The weekend was fantastic. My partner in crime and general evil sidekick, Jo, came down for a brief visit and we spent Saturday catching up with a dear, lovely friend from uni. Essentially, we crashed from Nandos to Wetherspoons to random streets in Reading. As is so often the case when Jo and I are together, the video camera came out and we behaved like talentless performing monkeys in the middle of the city centre. I don’t know what it is about us that makes us want to record our prattish behaviour for eternity. (And this is coming from someone who gatecrashed a living statue’s gig and ended up standing there wearing his hat and umbrella for several minutes.) Talking of silly behaviour, we planned to celebrate Chinese New Year (not Valentines Day, puh-lease) at the Comedy Store. Unfortunately, both by fault of the Players popularity and my forgetfulness on the ticket buying front, it looked as though we were going to have to arrive a couple of hours early and queue in the hope of getting tickets on the door. However, due to Jo’s wiley ways and irreverent charms and a random act of kindness from a stranger, our plans changed out of all proportions. Following a conversation with one of the Players on Twitter, he very kindly left us tickets on the door and unbeknown to us, he reserved seats for us and came to make sure we were ok in the interval. When we arrived and discovered that we were to be ushered to our seats, I have never seen Emma, Jo and myself completely overwhelmed and speechless for quite so long. I couldn’t believe that someone could do such a nice thing on a total whim for a random stranger; we were so touched by it that all we could utter for most of the evening was “Lovely Neil” and “No, seriously, how lovely is Neil?” Needless to say, we had an absolutely brilliant evening, which was enhanced by Neil’s generosity. Having said that, I will always remember Jo posting a picture of my toilet on twitter and Neil questioning me about it. I suspect I will always be the weirdo with my toilet on twitter.

I enjoy most forms of comedy and go and see stand up once a month, if I can manage it, but one thing that really gets on my wick is Mock the Week. I think it’s basically because it’s so competitive and reminiscent of animals tussling in a bear pit. A trip to see the Comedy Store Players is entirely different, it’s an incredibly giving and generous form of comedy; it simply doesn’t work if people are selfish and try to hog the limelight. As an audience member, you are really involved in the whole thing and generally (with the exception of some Wednesdays!) it’s a really giving atmosphere. I’m a big fan of giving and niceness. Having said that, the Players aren’t all niceness, sugar and spice; some of the things that come out of their mouths would be enough to shock even the most hardened of person.

I like to be open and always offer my things out for all and sundry. I guess, I think that people’s reward will be in Devon/heaven (delete according to your religious persuasions). At a party not to long ago, someone said I was money grabbing and I found that pretty offensive. I don’t like it if I think someone is taking the piss or looking for a free ride, but I love giving people things, it’s a great thrill seeing someone happy through something you’ve done. This week I’ve been working from Shelley’s house and spent my early mornings and evenings playing with the kids. I know how hard it is to juggle the kids (although, I bet Mark Heap would manage), so I’m more than happy to help. I’d hate to be sat downstairs enjoying myself whilst everyone else was running around like an idiot to get things done. To me, it makes total sense. So now, I’m homeward bound, happy and very knackered. I have run round like a headless chicken all week and today everything seems to have gone against me. I’m incredibly skint (why does everyone take out big wedges of money at the same time?), my expenses haven’t been paid and then I attempted to get my train. We got in the car to go to the train station, got caught in a snowstorm and subsequently missed my train. I then had to buy a new ticket and wait an hour and a quarter for the next train. Then, to top it all off, as I got on the train, I realised that I’d left my phone in Tiverton service station. So, my week? It’s been swings and roundabouts really.

Slumberous Fetlock Louts Frenziedly

As you may have guessed by the peculiar title, I am still attempting to create blogs out of totally random words. It’s fun. Apparently.

When I was first given this selection of words, I was quietly pleased, mainly because I actually know what a fetlock is. However, and as is often the case, I think that we can turn to the words of the late, great Mark Twain.

“Familiarity breeds contempt (and children).”

Now, setting the children aside (the best thing to do in my experience), because I could talk about my horse and her lazy fetlocks, I cannot see past this and develop a more complex narrative.  During this period of writers block, I will turn once more to Mark Twain. After all, he is the man behind one of my favourite quotations.

“Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.”

Every time I go to write one of these blogs, I can hear these words echoing around me. I use the words that I am told to use each week, but I distort them shamelessly to turn it into a flowing story. Perhaps I would have a career working for the Daily Mail after all?

As a matter of course, I tend to look up the dictionary definitions before I start writing. I always hope that something may have a definition that I was unaware of, which might give me a nugget of inspiration. This week’s shock was “lout”. I thought of it in terms of slang and not as a verb, which describes it as “to bow or curtsy” or “to bend or stoop.” For those who are not versed in equine biology, the fetlock is the joint between a horse’s cannon bone and the short pastern. In human terms, it is essentially their ankle. So if I put this sentence back together I can finally see something! Please sit back, make yourself comfortable and fall into my world of nonsensical sense. Oh, and remember the words of Mark Twain; I have collected my facts, now it is time to distort them for my own means.

Looking at my dvd collection, which is vast and may take several days, I could probably name the programmes that I have enjoyed from start to finish on one hand. And I would still have enough fingers left to do some basic arithmetic. It seems to be incredibly rare to find a series that maintains a high quality throughout. Two prime examples, for me, are Spaced and Fawlty Towers. I would love to add The Thick of It to this list, but as it is, as yet, incomplete, this would seem a little unfair. However, it deserves a spot among the best; The Thick of It combines an excellent ensemble cast, incredibly sharp writing and worryingly, it has provided a basis for my views of political workings and procedure. Having watched The Thick of It, I’m hardly surprised by political antics. Harriet Harman was driving, whilst using her mobile,  had a car accident and simply drove off.

Anyway, I digress. Spaced is a subliminal masterpiece, which was lovingly crafted by Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes (nee Stevenson). When I watch it, I am always struck by the sheer amount of time, effort and ultimately passion that has gone into its creation; it employs just one single camera, so everything has been painstakingly filmed from every angle and every shot, sequence and effect has been placed there for good reason. The story itself is fairly innocuous; two strangers want to change their lives and after building up a friendship move into a flat together. But it is this simplicity that I think allows the programme to continue so successfully to the end – the story was never so complicated that it could not be adapted for any situation or storyline. Each episode was a mini adventure and never managed to disappoint. This was their first project where they were given the reins and yet they could still create something that remained consistent and fresh. Even the ending was perfect; the second series builds to a climactic arc and just before the end, Tim and Daisy realise their wrongdoings and manage to restore the peace without resorting to cheesy clichés and a predictable ending. Then, just to give a little bit extra to their viewers, they created a documentary, with a quick twist at the end, so that we could see our favourite characters briefly once more. Excuse the fanatic ramblings (it’s hard to stop once I get going), but it is clearly their enjoyment of the process and passion for their creation that means that they could put 150% into their project and then decide to quit whilst they were ahead. It takes a brave person to stop on a high before everyone finds new projects and has less time and enthusiasm to commit to it. I’m sure that all three of the brains behind Spaced must have gotten so tired of people asking if they would do a third series, but I am so much happier that it is a perfect, complete package. Admittedly, we are much better at doing this than the Americans who just let things run and run, almost like a racehorse running frantically almost to breaking point? (Bare with me, I’m not rambling completely off topic for no reason.)

There are so many programmes that I loved and awaited the next installment eagerly, only to be disappointed at the last minute. Coupling, Teachers and Green Wing are perfect examples of this. I will never understand why Coupling carried on when one of the main cast members left and likewise, Teachers, when every single member of the original cast departed. Green Wing was the most upsetting; the first series captured me in the summer break from uni and I was so excited about the second series. Until it broadcast that is. It was as though a group of writers watched the first series and attempted to imitate it; it still had the same quirky characters and sketch style episodes, but the everyone started acting hugely out of character and it all seemed a little tired. If series one of Green Wing was a stand alone thing, it would be the pride of my DVD collection. I would think it was one of the best things since, well, sliced bread. But despite it being one of the most watched DVDs on my shelf, it is now tainted by its older brothers sat next to it. Series two tries very hard to recapture what made the first series so groundbreaking; but it is so obvious that they are trying hard – the visual gags, fast forwards and fast editing style are all still there, the jokes are as thick and fast as before. Some scenes are so much funnier than any in the first series, but it doesn’t work this time, there is a real feeling that it is contrived and forced. What really switched me off was the constant ups and downs between Caroline and Mac; it was a lovely storyline, but will-they won’t-they was fairly tired at the end of the first series, but here, no episode is complete without an absurd twist in their tale. The writers seemed to keep wanting to push the tired joints of Green Wing to keep it bending and turning mad until it was near exhaustion.

I said that the creators of Spaced were incredibly passionate about their project and therefore, did not want it to fail. If this is the case, then can we suppose that the team behind Green Wing were not as passionate or caring? Now, I cannot say that as it is entirely unfair on the team behind any programme, but it does lead me to think about the never ending contradiction between creativity and money. Presumably a lot of programmes get dragged on past their death because they bring money in, and without wanting to sound like a hippy, I wish we could see these comedic masterpieces as art and not kill them by overplaying them. It’s a fine line between success and overkill, but I just wish people would respect it a little more. Of course, some programmes are knackered before they get dragged up to the start line; Big Top and the Life of Riley spring to mind and the writer inside me (let’s not go there) is crying, wanting to know what they have done to deserve a BBC1 primetime spot when they are quite clearly, absolute drivel of the highest order. However, I can’t talk about these monstrosities because they never started with any promise or frienzied excitement, not like Spaced or Green Wing, they just started as they mean to go on. What can I take away from all this? Well, I suppose I can be happy in the knowledge that I can put Spaced on and not have to dread watching the final episodes or just pretend that only one series was made. I’m pretty sure this will have come across throughout this blog, but yes, I am a bit of a geek and I take these things far too seriously. (I’m just saying what you are all thinking!)

Unguarded John Handpicked Therapeutically

When the lovely Jo gave me unguarded John handpicked therapeutically to write about, I was hit by a metaphorical wave of John. Thankfully, there are no Johns that I know that fit into this category, but Johns from the media past and present? There are many. John Major, John Terry, John Prescott, John Sessions, John Sargeant, John Humphries… I could go on, but then I would risk losing my reader. In my eyes, there are only really two Johns in that list who could be described as unguarded. John Terry and John Prescott.

John Terry has been the subject of more text jokes this week than Michael Jackson. Now, I know very little about football and don’t really understand the ins and outs of the situation (hence why I shall move fairly swiftly onto the easy joke of John Prescott), but I’m not sure I understand why John Terry is in quite as much trouble as he is. Yes, I know he slept with the wife of one of his colleagues, which is undefendable. If you do that kind of thing, you are a git. But if I had an affair with a workmate, would I be at risk of losing my job? I’m not sure that I would. Obviously if it was affecting my work, that would be another matter, but the real issue itself is not the business of my employer. I think the problem comes with John Terry because he earns an extortionate amount of money. Footballers earn more money in a week than most of us would see all year, which I can’t even begin to justify or explain, but it’s just the way the game is. The problem is that people (and mostly down to papers, specifically the Daily Mail) think that they are then morally superior to anyone else. The fact that they are such high earners means that we put them on a pedestal and wait for them to fall. If, perchance I had been given Tiger as a noun, I could have said exactly the same thing. Yes, John Terry and Tiger Woods are meant to be disciplined sportsmen and they should act properly, but they aren’t in a position of moral responsibility. Not like someone who is paid with our money and decides how we live our day-to-day lives.

Cue John Prescott. Now here is a man who is in a position of moral authority. A small minority went out to vote in 2005 and a percentage of those thought he was someone who would represent the country well. I think everyone (especially any mirth-meisters out there) was saddened when Harriet Harman replaced him as Deputy PM. There is something adorably childish about John Prescott; I think it’s that innate ability to misunderstand the words live and pre-recorded. The way that he persistently says the wrong thing and looks socially inept all at once is quite incredible. In that way, I would describe him as quite unguarded. Displaying or feeling little wariness. That seems to describe the man, whom most people remember for punching a guy with a good old-fashioned, eighties perm. Now there is unguarded, if ever I saw it. A man of professional standing, who cannot control himself when having an egg thrown at him. In the event of being egged myself, I would not be overly happy, but I think that the good old-fashioned British stiff upper lip would keep me in check.

The notion of handpicking initially sounds like such a good one; something, which by its very nature is selected personally. In this day of over-hyped organic produce in supermarkets, one assumes that the worst is removed and you are left with the best possible sample. What is wrong with that, I hear you cry. Well, if you look at it in another light, think of the leftovers. In retail or supermarket terms, this means that someone is left having to buy the inferior product. In a work environment, there may well be someone who cherrypicks their workload, thus choosing things that highlight their strengths and leaving others to cover for them. Anyway, I digress (and all to vocalise a personal slight), politicians, such as John Prescott (and John Major come to that), are renowned for cherrypicking their workload. They promise you so many things in their manifesto, which they simply cannot manage to fully complete in one term. So, they begin by choosing what will make the biggest positive effect on our lives. Obviously, if this change goes swimmingly, then it makes them look efficient and like they’ve got our best interests at heart, and even if they haven’t, it doesn’t matter they are still making our lives that little bit better. The general goodwill that they may receive after completing such a task could be described as somewhat therapeutic. Doing a good deed for others always serves to make us feel better about ourselves. You often see politicians handpicking their work and choosing either something that is highly emotive to a large group of people or a problem that is easily resolved; afterall, everyone feels better when they’ve got something in the bag. I’m not saying that there is anything bad or immoral about this, we all do it from time to time and most of the time it has a positive effect on us, but as the Chilcot Inquiry tells us, sometimes they let these decisions get out of hand. Blair was so convinced that he was right and that he had to follow Bush into war. In my mind, this is one of the finest acts of political cherrypicking ever; did Blair feel better at the end of it? You bet. To this day, he offers no sympathy or even doubt that he made mistakes.

Now I would like to raise a toast to next week’s blog. And let’s hope it’ll be a little easier!