Fancy a Game of Life?

One of the things that is definite about modern life is that if you create something that captures the public’s imagination, the remakes, spin offs and franchises will fund you well into your retirement. For some reason, unbeknown to me, the American audiences are unable to watch the original British version of something; they need it to be remade especially for them. Do they not know how much we lived off American sitcoms as teenagers? Watching the new series of Friends was such a ritual – it was played on Sky a month or so earlier than it was on Channel 4. I clearly remember that Hannah’s next door neighbours had Sky, so they would record it onto a video for Hannah and then we would all borrow it after her. Sure, there were some jokes that we wouldn’t fully appreciate because they mentioned places in America that we may not know, but it was all about watching people from a different culture. We were able to believe that six friends could live this affluent lifestyle and do nothing but drink coffee in America. Had it been in England, we may not have believed it. Anyhow, many tv shows have been remade: The Office, Teachers, Life on Mars and very nearly, Spaced.

Some of our best loved stories have been remade for film; I ask you, how many more remakes of Sherlock Holmes do we need? It has nearly caught up with Robin Hood now. We saw how mad Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes (nee Stevenson) got when they thought their beloved baby was being pilfered from under their noses, so think how old Shakespeare must feel. His plots have been used from here to Kingdom come in stories, plays, films and songs; Westside Story and Ten Things I Hate about You to name but two. Of course, Shakespeare didn’t have the ideas first; he nicked them off some other bugger first. Stealing and “redefining” stuff is a great part of our culture; it always has been and it always will be.

Bearing this in mind, I started to think about our childhood games. They modernized Austen’s Emma into Clueless to appeal to the kids, Pride and Prejudice became Bridget Jones Diary, so why can’t we rework our board games? Think about it logically. Cluedo was quite ahead of it’s time in some ways; it had respected members of society accused of murder. I’m not sure that there are many games designed today that would accuse a Reverend of murder. There are other parts of the game that need modernizing though. Have you ever met or read about anyone who has suffered from the menace of the candlestick? Perhaps Chloroform would be a better substitution? Although I’m not quite sure how they would represent that in miniaturized form.

I plan radical changes to the Monopoly set. Instead of collecting all four train stations, perhaps you could buy a parking slot for your bike at each station? Then we could scrap the income tax and replace it with the Congestion Charge. Another thing that would have to be introduced was Community Service; in this day and age, you never get arrested and sent straight to prison, you always get the choice of community service. So, perhaps instead of going to jail, you can miss two goes whilst completing your community service? I think we should scrap the old fashioned ideas like winning a crossword or a beauty contest and replace them with things like “you got through to the second round on X Factor” or “you’ve won Big Brother, lose a life (if you have one) and win £500.” The negative cards could include “you had far too much to drink last night and had your bag stolen last night. Cancel your credit cards, report it to your mobile phone provider and lose £150.” We could compromise with “You have bought a new iPad. Go forward three steps, but lose £300.” Another of my favourites would be “You made the mistake of trying to go down Oxford Street during the Christmas rush, miss a turn”, perhaps followed swiftly by “You were cautioned by a Community Police Officer for aggressive pedestrian activity, pay a fine of £100.”

The Game of Life is another game in drastic need of modernisation. For a start, you could introduce the growth of polytechnics and further education colleges. When you get the choice of which way to go, you could then discover that you thought your university was reputable, but now they are running out of money and have closed your department down; miss two goes whilst you protest and then take a lower paid job at the end. This could carry on with things like “you forget to register your baby for school before it is born, watch it plummet down the social spectrum. You don’t miss a go, but will have a guilt ridden life.”

I get very upset when the things that I love get remade, but I think that board games could be so much more fun this way. Imagine your eight year old son proudly telling you that the murderer was the Reverend with the Cloroform in the loft extension. It would make life so much more entertaining. I’m all for this idea; who is with me? Together we can bring the big companies down and create Tomorr-opoly or Not Got a Fucking Clue-do. Happy days.

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Which is best? The hearty head or the heady heart?

Should I follow my head or my heart?

For every question, there are two answers: the sensible and the fantastical. I have always been a dreamer and wanted my life to lead it’s own extraordinary path; the reality that I have a bog standard office job with a bog standard life at the end of it, is just a little too harsh to think about. Away from the strip lighting of the office, I can consider that I am a creative, trapped by the societal norm. That is obviously total rubbish, but it’s nice to think that there is more to life than, well, this.

It may come as a surprise to some of you, but I can be a little bit geeky over material possessions; I completely understand Stephen Fry and his fellow Apple admirers because although Apple doesn’t float my boat, I am the same. When it came to renewing my phone this year, I could have continued to pay £20 a month and for that, I would get a brand new, fully functioning, perfectly adequate phone. Or I could go up to £30 a month and get a phone that does exactly the same, with a ludicrously short battery life, but it is extremely shiny and pretty. Of course, I went for the pretty HTC Desire and have to charge my phone every day. The things we do for love.

Ever since I have moved on to a permanent contract at work, I have known that I need to replace my car. Now, in my dream world, I would love to buy a Mazda 2 or an Alfa, but we have to be realistic. My funds, both for the initial purchase and for insurance, are incredibly limited, so I turn back to the trusty Hyundai. My little Getz has done 90,000 miles and is still going strong and you get a 5 year warranty with the Hyundai, which is not to be sniffed at. I quite like their new range of i20s and i30s. With all my money scraped together and a little bit of generosity afforded to my Getz, I can just about afford a reasonably new i20. So, there is one for sale at the Wycombe dealership for £7795, which is a steel grey, 1.2, 09 plate with 9000 miles on the clock. Or there is a 1.2, electric green, 59 plate with 200 miles for £7995 in Chatham.

Now I have heard all of the arguments for not buying a ridiculous bright green car; my head tells me that it is cheaper, eighty miles nearer and a far, far easier colour to sell, but I love the colour of the green one. In reality, I would like to own a car that says something about me and as I can’t afford that, the mad colour will have to compensate it. It is my attempt at being wild, whilst being sensible. I like to think of it as a tongue in cheek way of going with my head.

I have to be honest now; I wrote the first half of this blog before the weekend and unfortunately, I just cannot afford to go with my heart this time. The dealer in High Wycombe gave me a far, far better price for my car and knocked some off the new one, whereas the dealers in Snodland (yes really, Snodland) offered me about £500 less for my car and would not budge on the price. It’s sad to admit it, but I’ve had to come to terms with going with my head. In a really pathetic way of trying to jazz it up, I have talked them into getting some pink and purple flower stickers on it for me. Yes, I’m aware it’s not so much wacky as chav, but it makes me feel a tiny bit better.

I am very poor at making sensible decisions and tend to do the first thing that flies into my head, so this will be a real experience for me. To be honest, I’m not too disappointed because at the end of the day I’m getting a new car and the grey one is still very nice. Plus, it has a 5 year warranty on it. How can I complain? I will obviously keep you updated when I pick it up next week and see it’s pretty flowers for the first time. I think that at the crux of every decision that is made by the head and not the heart, you will see a person bored with their mundane life and daring themselves to be wild. I’ll never be wild, but at least I’ll sell my sensible car for a sensible price to a sensible driver five or six years down the line.

Beautiful Britain?

“Huh, Beautiful Britain” we scoff as we think of the grey rain falling from the grey skies, running down the grey buildings, landing on the grey roads and splashing off the grey cars onto the grey faces of the passers-by. Perhaps this is an exaggeration, but when it rains, that is how Britain feels. Grey. Unable to escape from that cloud of depression and darkness, but we forget that when the sun does break through, sparkling onto the leaves, it illuminates everything leaving it looking fresh and somehow brand new.

I sometimes wonder if we fail to appreciate the beauty of our own country. We dash off full of excitement and exuberance to the airport to get to any old faraway country, but is it just me that is a tad disappointed when we land at the other end? Flying into Heathrow is so exciting; it doesn’t matter how much I fly, I will never grow tired of the view coming in to land there. I turn into small child, nose pressed against the window, trying to spot recognizable landmarks and, of course, my house. (There has to be some advantage to living within spitting distance of Heathrow airport.)

Sometimes it can be a little hard to remember, but we live in such a cool place. I live somewhere that is urban enough that I have full mobile phone signal and I can walk or crawl to both a supermarket and a pub. I am a five/ten minute drive from the M40, the M4, the M25 and the M1.Yet, 200 yards from my house is 8 acres of woodland and fields, which I am lucky enough to be allowed to keep my horses in.

Once you go down to the stables, you are in a different world. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty and my butchered attempts at poeticism would never do it justice. I live at one of the highest points of the Chilterns and our field is on the edge of the valley, so looking across, you can see the river sitting at the bottom, where on a sunny day, it is filled to bursting with people sailing and boating up and down the Thames. Then looking off to the left hand side, on a clear day you can see Windsor. When the Castle burnt down, we could see the flames from our field. Then straight across, you can see Winter Hill, which quite aptly boasts some of the best sledging around. Over to the right, you can see Henley and the Hambleden estate.

It is such a quiet, restful place that it seems impossible not to feel at one with yourself there. Then, you can hope on a train and be in central London in just 30 minutes. It seems so utterly bizarre that you can be somewhere as quiet and nice and yet be so close to the buzzing capital. I might be biased about where I live, after all, I know no different. But wherever we are in the UK, we are close to some amazing things. In August, I am taking a train from home to Perth, in the centre of Scotland. This 5 hour train journey is setting me back a measly £45 (and that’s to get home as well!) I cannot believe that I can pay so little and go somewhere so magical. Killiecrankie is one of the prettiest places that I have had the pleasure of staying; the steep hills and dramatic valleys are only accentuated by the craggy rocks jutting from the rushing water. I would pay a fortune to fly half way across the world to see something half as good.

Another of my favourite places is North Devon and Somerset. It is another very hilly place and I think that hills, mountains and other dramatic features are musts for me. Maybe it’s because I’m a hill dweller by nature, I am always most disappointed by the flatness of other countries. I go to Holland and it is flat and bland as far as the eye can see. Craggy hills with water cutting its path, dashing through the valleys make me happy. I could sit by the running water all day long, just marveling at the magnitude of the surrounding hills.

For fear of sounding like an insular home lover, I don’t understand what is wrong with exploring the beauty of our own country. After all, for the last few weekends, we have had weather in the 30s, which is enough to rival the rest of Europe. We are home to some of the most stunning and exciting areas in the world, whether you like cities, market towns or rural idylls, we have it all here and within a stones throw of one another.

I realise that I’m beginning to sound like I’m being paid off by the Tourist Board (and I’m not, they couldn’t afford me.) It’s just that once I get on my soapbox, it takes more than a kindly hand to get me off. (Oh please, don’t be filthy.) Don’t get me wrong, I love going abroad. I have travelled around the Middle East (before it turned into a glitzy Butlins) and I loved the month I spent in India. Again, the trekking from Ladakh through the Himalayas was hilly, and there were streams. I was as happy as a pig in muck. Albeit a slightly asthmatic pig in a high altitude muck. I really enjoyed it and the scenery was outstanding, but for a lot less money, you can get some equally amazing stuff close to home.

If I take my rose-tinted glasses off for a minute, I can see that there are some aspects of our country that aren’t so great; the celebrity obsessed culture, the kids hanging round the shops drinking cider, the idiot boys who pushed their way right to the front of the queue in the petrol station yesterday, new flats and houses springing up where beautiful properties used to be and graffiti over the road signs, just to name a few. But whatever country you are in, you will come across bored kids looking for an outlet, materialistic tabloids and magazines feeding the greed and capitalist heartless builders exploiting the public want. Essentially in the western world, the majority of countries have the same issues. 

We might have our problems; you might disagree with the government du jour, but in Britain, you have the right and are allowed to stand up for yourself and make your point heard. Nine years ago I went into London on the Countryside March (yes, the one to stop the ban on fox-hunting) and it was amazing. Despite going on the march, I am not an avid hunter and contrary to many of my friends beliefs, I think that taking the ban away would be disastrous. I went on the march because I believed that people should have the right to do as they please, as long as they are not causing damage or upset to others. To that end, fox-hunting manages the fox population in a sensible manner. However, now that is has been banned, the antis and hunt sabs who can be really wicked (pulling innocent children from their ponies and attacking hunt followers) are generally kept at bay, whilst the rural community carries on hunting as before.

Anyway, I really didn’t want to pull at that thread, all I was trying to say was that I loved the way everyone stood up for what  they believed in. Even better, it was allowed (and in parts, supported) by the constitution. I met William Hague that day and he was a lovely bloke. He was not afraid to march with us and be photographed making a stand. Tony Blair said that he loved seeing people protesting outside the House of Commons because it gave him a sense of moral marker; he was trying to work for the nation. Of course, by the end his want for greed and world domination overpowered this, but no one is perfect.

Really, that is the point I am trying to make, no one and nowhere is perfect. Britain might be a bit scruffy, but it’s mine. It’s what I’m used to. I love it for its little flaws and anyone that tells you that you would be better off emigrating to Spain, New Zealand, Dubai Australia or anywhere else, is talking rubbish. You see, Britain is our own little spot of paradise and don’t let anyone tell you any different. If you see ex-pat communities, they are invariably filled with all the people you didn’t like bumping into at Tesco, only now, they are orange, wrinkly and paying over the odds for their HP sauce.

God made everyone right handed. Only the truly gifted can overcome it.

Picture the scene; it is a cold, frosty early nineties December morning and you are looking at a small suburban primary school. Moving in closer, you can see the six and seven year olds sitting around the miniature tables and flecks of tissue paper sitting in pools of glue where they are attempting the gargantuan task of creating snowflakes, paper chains and other Christmas decorations. All of which, incidentally, invokes every adult to coo appropriately just before throwing them immediately in the bin. In the midst of the children sits a little girl, whose glitter and glue coated hands are clasped uselessly around some now grubby paper and a pair of safety scissors. The paper has now stuck itself to the little girl’s hands and is now torn and bereft of its decorative beauty. But this doesn’t matter because no matter how hard she tries, she cannot cut that clean, sharp line through the paper, slicing it in neatly in half. She holds the scissors in her left hand, but alas the blade is set upside down this way. She must either get someone else to cut it for her or she will have to suffice with an inferior creation. She cannot join in.

A few days later, the class is learning to write and this little girl is struggling no end. She is trying to follow the teachers’ instructions, but she cannot work out how to replicate the letters. She tries turning the paper sideways, which allows her more space to curve her pencil round and craft the letters, but then the teacher comes along, straightens the paper and tells her that she must make her work neater. She looks at the letters earnestly, bites her bottom lip and tries again. This will keep happening to her as she goes through her school life; teachers try desperately to get them to tidy up their writing, but not really knowing how to help. As she moves from the pencil (whose lead is so oft snapped from the heavy pressing from the little girl’s left hand) to the pen, she encounters a whole new set of problems; as she writes, the palm of her hand covers the freshly penned ink. It would take a good few weeks for her to work out how to write without getting ink coated hands and her life’s work illegibly smudged. Eventually, the little girl will establish a writing style and work out how to write in a legible way, but it will take her a great deal more time than the other “normal” boys and girls.

As the little girl grows older and she moves to secondary school, she finds herself having to take sports lessons and it is here that she finds more prejudice. She will always have to stand at the far end of the line when throwing the javelin or discus in order to prevent any untimely accidents. Equally, she will have to wait until the end of the lesson before she is allowed to practice a lay-up in basketball as all of the cones have to be changed to the alternate direction.

It is tales such as these and many others, which begin to show you how difficult it can be to be different. Most kids would have adapted and given up trying to survive as a leftie in a right-handed world, but this little girl didn’t know how. She wears her watch on her right wrist, plays tennis with her left hand, always has the element of surprise in a game of rounders and her writing is like that of a doctor. She has learnt to cope and has overcome adversity in a way that no right hander has managed – they do not realise the struggles inherent in opening a can of baked beans, of being taught sports and musical instruments by a right handed person or of trying to write a cheque in a normal chequebook.

The left handed people of the world have had a lot of stick over the years with many modern languages translating the words wrong or evil as a synonym of left. (I bet David Cameron loved that!) Modern day slang for being left handed is “cack handed”, which sounds fine until you remember that cack basically means shit. They believed that left handedness could cause stuttering, dyslexia and schizophrenia. Some doctors still believe this stuff today; the modern quacks think that we are more likely to get breast cancer and allergies.

For years, children were beaten and made to sit on their left hand at school so as to change them to a conventional and “normal” child. It seems strange that people felt so strongly that people should be right handed that they beat it out of our left handed forefathers (and mothers.) So why did they feel so strongly? Were they threatened by us? Damned right they were; people of the left handed persuasion are said to use the artistic side of our brain far more than the rest of you. Not only do we have more access to our creativity, but we are also natural leaders and strive for independence. Only 10% of the population is left handed, yet 4 out of the 5 Apple Mac designers were left handed and 66% of the American Presidents of the past 30 years have been lefties.

Most of the best people in the world are left handed; Barack Obama, David Cameron, Rafael Nadal, Dan Aykroyd, Emma Thompson, Sue Perkins, Julian Clary, Jonathan Ross, John McEnroe and most famously, Maradona! As I say, it’s great to be left handed – there aren’t many of us, but most of them have made it to the top of their field. If you are left handed, don’t let the majority oppress you. Don’t let them stop the revolution that us lefties will bring; we are what they fear most and never forget that!

Reasons to be Cheerful

This week I have a brutal and honest confession to make; I could not think of a single thing to write about. I had a lovely long weekend camping in Porlock, where I ate and drank copious amounts whilst watching the world go by. It was bliss. Well, as blissful as going camping with 14 toddlers can be, but you get the idea. However, I have started to realise that happiness and satisfaction don’t, in general, provide the easiest blogs and entertaining stories. After a couple of hopeless appeals on twitter, I turned to a blog generator, which gave me some surprising results. The first few were a little serious; preventing global warming and animal rights were not topics I could even begin to think about in my weekly rant. Thankfully, the next proved a little more light hearted; reasons not to move in with someone.

Lately there have been a worrying amount of discussions about how it is “ok” that I am not married yet. Damned right it’s “ok”, I’m twenty three years old and God willing, I have a good few years left in me to find someone to marry. The most upsetting part of the subsequent conversation is that the joking element seems to have disappeared and in its place is now a tilted head and sympathetic nod. Calm down everyone, I haven’t stopped shaving and put in an application for a cattery just yet and it’s only on the odd occasion that I worry about being single. So, for the most part, I am happy as I am and this is why…

Let’s start with the material benefits; I don’t have a mortgage or a wedding to save up for, all my money is my own. I can spend my monthly morsels on anything I want to. A good portion of it disappears into the horses before I can blink. Once you’ve paid for the farrier, feed, hay, bedding and entry fees, that’s about half of my pay slip gone. Especially after the other bills have come out such as phone bills, the monthly Amazon shop, a couple of nights out at the store and I’m not left with that much. Quite frankly, I don’t think I could afford to live with or getting married to someone at this point.

This moves me nicely on to my next point; I spend all week doing the things that I enjoy. Why would I want to give that up? Going on past experience, boyfriends don’t really seem to understand that when you say you just want  to veg out in front of the tv, you mean without them. You just want a night off. Or perhaps that just shows my poor choice of blokes in the past? They get offended if you fancy a night in your pyjamas, eating junk food and watching your favourite trash tv. Who has tried to watch those tv programmes you never admit to watching with a partner? It’s just awful, they talk through it, you feel embarrassed and wonder why you started watching Waterloo Road in the first place. There are just some things you do on your own. Likewise, I spend my weekends competing, seeing comedy and catching up with my friends. I don’t have time to fit someone else in as well. Quite honestly, I’m far too selfish to have someone else to love and care for at the moment – they would get bored of me in five minutes flat.

Apart from those reasons, once I do manage to trap somebody into marrying me, I am going to have to live with them for a bloody long time, so I may as well enjoy my freedom. Having said that, I don’t want to sound like a man hater, I’d be quite happy for a handsome bloke to come and sweep me off my feet, but sadly, they always seem to have a bad back or some other ailment to stop this happening. Maybe I should have listened to the last one and married him like he seemed to think he wanted, but would I be happy? Hell no, I would have missed out on the best, most independent years of my life. And I’d still be trying to concoct a way of dumping him, but panicking that now we’d got a bit more serious, it was a teensy bit harder.

I’m a great believer of fate and these things will happen, when they do and that is no reason to stop me enjoying myself in the meantime. Of course, when I meet the man of my dreams, I’ll have to rein myself in a little, but I will because it will be for the man that I love, which is why I’m attempting to cram all my favourite things in now whilst I can. Don’t feel upset or sad about the position that you are in, instead remember that the grass is never greener. Think of your older brother, brother in law, uncle father, whoever and that may give you an insight into your future. Men leave the toilet seat up, they never replace the loo roll, they will put dirty plates into the clean dishwasher, put coloured socks into the white washing and generally remind you that even if we are not the more intelligent gender, we are certainly the most hardworking.