COLUMN: July 20, 2017

Game Of Thrones
This man isn’t in Game Of Thrones any more. Don’t ask me how I know this

WHEN I was undergoing the six-year process of changing from a boy into technically and legally a man, I owned a Sinclair ZX Spectrum computer.

It was not by current standards a powerful computer. It was not even by the standards of the time a powerful computer. It was the computer equivalent of me. But it was relatively cheap and easy to program and had so many games. Again, the computer equivalent of me.

Yes, it took eight minutes to load one of those games – and often the loading process would fail – but that was OK. I was 13, what else did I have to do but wait? Teenagers are famously patient.

But I was loyal to that computer. In those days, among my peers, there was a divide. On my side, Spectrum kids, on the other Commodore 64 divs. I suspect they did not refer to themselves in such terms, but that is because they were divs because they had Commodore 64s.

Yes, there were other computers available, like the BBC Micro, but they were for rich children whose parents could afford to spend £399 on a computer just because it had a nice keyboard.

Games for my computer were not always available for the Commodore 64, and vice versa. Normally, this was fine, because, ugh, who wants to play a Commodore 64 game?

But occasionally a game would appear on the Commodore 64 that I actually wanted to play. I would hear the Commobores in my class excitedly chatting about their game about llamas or Ghostbusters, and ache to join in. But I had made my choice. It was not to be.

I grew up – more accurately, older – and such emotions of frustration and exclusion were relegated to the 1980s, along with Black Watch check trousers, trimphones, and cartoons on BBC2.

But now it’s back. Because virtually everybody I know is watching Game Of Thrones, and I am not because I don’t have Posh Telly.

Actually, I do have Posh Telly, but I have the wrong sort of Posh Telly. There are three main types of Posh Telly – I won’t list them here because this is not an advertisement – and I have picked one of the ones which doesn’t have the Bosoms And Dragons programme.

Usually when I tell people this, they explain to me that I can very easily sign up to a package which will give me access to Swords And Nudity. And I have to tell them that I am not in a position to do that.

This time I am not sticking with my own type of Posh Telly out of loyalty, but because I can’t afford to have three types of Posh Telly. I have to draw the line somewhere. If I shelled out eight quid a month just to watch a show that only has 10 episodes a year, what would happen if a show I like appears on the remaining type of Posh Telly?

I’d have to pay for that too, and in the end I would be paying more per month to watch programmes that aren’t even on than I would be paying for food.

This logistical situation means that I have now effectively become a keen viewer of a television programme I do not watch.

I understand all the references. I know what the Red Wedding is. I know who John Snow is. In fact, when I hear somebody say the name “John Snow” I do not automatically assume they mean the Channel 4 News man.

I understand the joke when people say “Hodor”. I know what both Robson AND Jerome are doing these days. I am incredibly angry that Ed Sheeran was in the latest episode.

I feel like I did whenever I visited my late mother and she would tell me the ins and outs of the lives of people I had never met: utterly confused and yet fully briefed to A Level standard.

But this stuff is taking up too much valuable real estate in my brain considering I have never seen a second of the show, and I wonder which important information is being crowded out whenever I recognise the Iron Throne in a picture.

However, I am not going to let it bother me. And that is the proof that I have now grown into an actual man.

Mind you, I bet if I had been a Commodore 64 owner I’d still be whinging. They are the worst.

COLUMN: July 13, 2017

An amount of ice cream
I HAD accidentally worked for seven days in a row because I am both unlucky and stupid. I understand that that does not sound like a very long time, and that many workers in the NHS can work for 10 days at a time, but what you do not appreciate is that I am very lazy.

I am so lazy that sloths use me as a metaphor. “Hurry up,” they say to each other, “Sloth Tesco is going to close in four hours, you total Bainbridge.”

The point is that I was really looking forward to my single day off in 12. I was going to have a lie-in, maybe have a cup of tea in bed, take a walk to buy an ice cream. The sky really was the limit.

And, best of all, I was going to have a bus-free day. I do not get a lot of buses – maybe two a day tops, to and from work – but I do feel that I spend most of my life as a bus passenger. So this was going to be a proper day off – a busman’s holiday, if you will, which I very much hope you won’t.

I settled in bed with my cup of tea, half delighted to be drinking it, half annoyed that I had had to get out of bed to make it, and decided that this was the perfect time to catch up with my correspondence. I insulted a couple of people on Twitter, half-heartedly “liked” some posts on Facebook, and checked my email.

This column contains two lessons. This is the first: never check your email on a Sunday. I did it and immediately regretted it. For there was a reminder that two books I had borrowed were due back at the library the following day.

This would not normally be a problem, but I am working on a project at the moment, the hours of which mirror precisely the opening hours of the library, which meant that I would not be able to take the book back until the following weekend, which meant that the fine would start racking up, for both books…

“Argh!” I said, out loud, to nobody, save a pigeon that was perched outside my bedroom window. “I’ve got to get a flipping bus.”

Enraged, I got out of bed, did the things necessary for me to pass in the outside world, picked up the stupid books, and stormed out of the house.

It was rather sunny, and the rage soon passed. I reached the bus stop. My bus was not due for another five minutes. It was too sunny to stand at a bus stop, so I decided to walk to the next stop, about two minutes down the road.

Halfway between the stops, I was passed by my bus. You can do the mathematics. This was definitely not my fault even though my actions brought it about. My next bus was not for ages, so I trudged off to a stop half a mile away, where I would be able to get a bus which would come sooner.

I sat at the stop, and could see my new – and better – bus in the distance. “This is the bus life,” I thought. It was going to take a while to reach me because of traffic lights and physics.

I opened one of the books I was taking back, and began reading it. It was a book on Italian grammar. I am trying to learn a few foreign languages in time for Brexit, when I won’t be able to use them.

“Ah! Now I get it”, I thought, about a simple bit of grammar that I had not previously been able to grasp. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw my bus bearing down on me. I leapt to my feet and flung my arm out.

But it was too late. A second bus in 10 minutes flew past me. And this one was definitely my fault. I was too engrossed in Italian verbs – that old story.

And by the time the next bus came, and I got to the library, and came home again, the ice cream shop I was planning to visit was closed.

And so that is the second lesson I have to pass on to you: never try to improve yourself in any way – you will miss out on some ice cream.

COLUMN: July 6, 2017

A cooling glass of cider in a perfectly ordinary pub in London. Price: £47

I HAVE A naturally quiet voice. It is sometimes hard to tell whether I am whispering or shouting. It does not help that I make the same cupping gesture for both activities.

Part of this is because I have a lisp, which was cute when I was a small child, made me a target when I was a larger child, and is just annoying now I am an adult.

It means that I spend far too much of my life avoiding S sounds in conversation. There is no way, for instance, that I could ever romance a woman called Cecilia. I would have to call her Thingy all the time.

Similarly, I could never take up with a coastal-based marine fossils dealer, because I could never explain her job.

But mostly my quiet voice exists because I am polite. I do not think that anybody should be forced to listen to me when I am having a conversation. It would be nice to think that people engaged in conversation with me did not feel forced so to do, but they are not my concern.

My concern is that I am never considered That Man In The Pub. For there is nobody worse than That Man In The Pub.

You hear him before you see him, and then when you see him you immediately know that the voice you heard came from him even if, for that moment, he is not speaking, because his appearance is as loud as his voice.

There are two main types of That Man In The Pub. The first wears a suit and appears to be aged about 35. He may not actually be 35 – he might be in his twenties – but he has always wanted to look 35. He is probably an estate agent. He may not actually be an estate agent, but he has always wanted to look like an estate agent.

This man does not wear a tie, but he does have a pocket square. The pocket square is the most ridiculous piece of clothing since Adam and Eve donned fig leaves. (Incidentally, does anybody know how they managed to attach these fig leaves? Did they have Pritt Sticks in the Garden of Eden?) It is a handkerchief that you cannot actually use as a handkerchief. Its only use is as a signal to other people that you are a person to avoid.

The second type of That Man In The Pub wears a football shirt. It is a never-ending source of amusement to me that if I turned up at the pub dressed as Spider-Man I would be lambasted. Also I would have no idea how I would drink anything through the mask.

However it is perfectly acceptable for a man with a beer gut and an approach to personal hygiene and fitness rarely seen in the modern game to pretend to be John Terry.

But what the two types have in common is an overwhelming need for everybody in the pub to know that they are there. They have to be the loudest in their group. They think that banter is a good thing rather than a substitute for a sense of humour for people who cannot think of their own jokes.

I witnessed the first type this week. I was in London for a meeting and had an hour to kill before my train home.

I went to a pub, because there is only so much entertainment to be had in a station waiting room, ordered a drink, and sat in the corner trying to look as if I hadn’t been stood up.

In he came, wearing a pinstriped suit and shiny shoes, surrounded by his entourage of nodding pillocks. The party sat around me and started talking across me. I know I was going for a discreet effect, but I did not realise I was actually invisible.

The subject matter chosen by That Man In The Pub was wide and varied. It concerned the ugliness of his companions, the likelihood that they might be homosexual, the likelihood that various female tennis players might be homosexual, and the physical attributes of the female bar staff. And all of it was delivered in his outdoor voice.

I tried to hide my distaste, finished my drink, and left them to it, glad that I am able to say I am not like That Man In The Pub.

But even if I did, you wouldn’t be able to hear me.

COLUMN: June 29, 2017

A number of changing cubicles

I AM not hugely keen on buying clothes. Do not get me wrong, I like clothes. I like how they stop people seeing what I really look like and how they keep me slightly less cold in winter.

I also like how many items of clothes have pockets, so I can store things like receipts and pens that have run out of ink. I particularly like this feature in jackets, when I get a hole in the pocket lining, and items fall through into the space between the lining and the rest of the material, turning the entire garment into a sort of super-pocket.

So clothes are OK in my book, but buying clothes is not OK, because buying clothes is a faff. Buying clothes involves going to a place and looking for things that are both your own size and age appropriate.

And then when you find the – oh, let’s pluck an example out of the air – pair of trousers of the correct waist and inside leg measurement you have to try them on in a cubicle that is at the same time too narrow for a normal-sized man with elbows and too wide to prevent a normal-sized man, temporarily standing on one leg for the purposes of removing a pair of trousers, from falling over and crashing into the side of the cubicle.

“Are you all right in there?” asks the woman at the entrance, who checks how many items of clothing you have taken from the store.

“Yes,” you lie.

And then, when you finally struggle into the trousers, you are displeased. This is because you have picked up what the shop has described as “black skinny jeans”, and you know that you are a 45-year-old man and this screams “mid-life crisis, but you can’t afford a Ferrari” and this can only end badly.

But the only reason you have picked them up is because the “regular fit” jeans looked as if you could fit both of your legs inside one of their legs, and there isn’t a style between regular and skinny.

However, now you have put them on, you realise that you look like a half-emptied icing bag, as if all of the flesh in your body has been pushed up above your waist. You are a lollipop in human form and you are not sure if you will ever breathe again.

Somehow you undo the button and peel the trousers off, taking your socks with them because of physics. And it is at that point that you realise that, although the hanger quite clearly says 34in waist/32in inside leg, the label on the trousers themselves says 30in waist/34in inside leg.

You have somehow managed to wear for a few painful moments the trousers of a man who has been extruded through some sort of giant pasta machine. It is a wonder that you have not had to have something amputated. In a way it is an achievement.

So you dress yourself again and take the Trousers of Doom back past the knowing look of the Guardian of the Cubicles. And then you search through the labels rather than looking at the hangers, because the hangers are liars, until you find the correctly sized trousers.

And then you walk back past the Guardian of the Cubicles, who gives you her special “Really, mate? Haven’t you learnt your lesson yet? You can’t wear them. You’re 45 years old, mate. You still call them Opal Fruits” look.

And then you repeat the bashing your elbows and falling against the side of the cubicle exercise, before looking in the mirror, and thinking, “Yes, you know? This is still an achievement. You are still able to wear the trousers of a much younger man. Yes, this is a much younger man who doesn’t get a lot of exercise, but still…”

It is at this point you think, “Why is there no transition between clothes for 25-year-old men and clothes for 65-year-old men?

“Why do I have to go straight from skinny jeans to grey flannels with elasticated waists for comfort? Why is there nothing for a 45-year-old man who wants to look like a 45-year-old man who is comfortable in his own skin and, ideally, his own trousers?”

And then you take the trousers to the cashier, and she is a teenage girl, and she looks first at you and then at the trousers and then back at you.

And you say, “They’re for my son.”

COLUMN: June 22, 2017

A picture from the film Airplane. I am too hot to think of an amusing caption

OCCASIONALLY it is good that you get to see behind the curtain. These columns do not just write themselves, you know? First, I have to get myself into a ridiculous situation, or become enraged by something petty. And then they write themselves.

But this week I have become angry about too many things. The lack of Cheshire cheese in smaller supermarkets, for instance, is getting my dander up. Smaller supermarkets used to have a decent selection of cheese, but now they have 14 different types of cheddar and a wedge of Parmesan.

I have also become angry about light blue shirts. I bought a light blue shirt this week, and there were five different pieces of plastic keeping it folded flat, along with the plastic wrapping, and four different pieces of cardboard.

Additionally, they do not work when the weather is warm. I wore it and within minutes it looked as if I had been lifted off a playground swing by a giant with wet hands.

I have also become annoyed by people who are unaccountably smug after not winning an election. Yes, I thought Jeremy Corbyn would lose seats for Labour, based on every single piece of evidence before the launch of the Tories’ “we’re going to take your house off you and cut your pension” manifesto, while your belief that the sainted Jezza would sweep to victory was based on blind faith.

But guess what? We were both wrong. Nevertheless, I was like a meteorologist who said it would rain all day based on weather patterns, while you were like somebody who said it would be sunny all day because you’d done a sun dance so it wouldn’t rain at the garden fete. And in the end it started raining at half past six in the evening.

The point is, you don’t get to be smug about being less comprehensively defeated than you thought you would be. A 6-5 loss is not a victory.

Out of all of these three, I am most angry about the supermarket cheese debacle. But I am not going to write about any of them, because it’s too damn hot and getting properly angry about anything requires far too much effort and will make me perspire like a Brexit campaigner taking a polygraph test.

Part of the trouble of writing columns for newspapers is that they have to be written a little in advance. And while it is hot as Hades as I write, there is a risk that by the time you read this we will all be talking about the Freak June Blizzards of 2017, especially if my Corbyn predictions are anything to go by.

But life is about taking risks. If it weren’t for risks, we would still be living in caves, which are cool in the summer, and warm in the winter, and I appreciate I am in danger of losing my own argument.

And so I am going to give you a number of tips on how to keep cool during a heatwave. The first tip is to live somewhere other than the United Kingdom. Countries which are used to the heat have developed coping mechanisms. Homes are built to keep out the worst of the heat, shutters are placed outside windows, air conditioning is installed, nets are hung around beds to stop mosquitoes.

British homes, however, are not built for days of deep blue skies and sun so hot it makes the air shimmer. British homes are built for drizzle. British homes say, “Come on in! There’s loads to eat in here,” to insects.

The second tip is to remember to buy a fan six months ago, when fans were available, rather than now, when the shelves are bare. Some people might think that a fan is worse than useless when the air is as stiflingly hot as it is now, and that it just moves warm air from one place to another, and that you might as well use a hairdryer, and I am not sure they are wrong.

The third tip is to try not to be annoyed with people who are surprised it is warm in June. These are the same people who draw attention to the drawing in of the nights in the autumn as if it is some sort of sign of The Great Darkness instead of something that happens every year.

Other than that, I have no advice. All I have is unfocused rage and three-shower days. Please send rain. And keep that curtain closed.

COLUMN: June 15, 2017

The Jacksons – responsible for much of today’s blame culture
THE best thing about this time of year is the light nights. Never mind the sunshine; you cannot count on that. Summers in this country are so useless that if the Jacksons were born here the sunshine would not even have made it into the list of suspects alongside the boogie.

There is something entirely life-affirming about being able to leave your house in the evening and go for a walk without arousing suspicion or risking stepping in something.

But the worst thing about this time of year is the light mornings. You see, I have blinds in my bedroom which, when it comes to blocking out the light, are about as effective as cling film. I could trace a pencil drawing through them.

This means that the sun, while not in any way responsible for the fact that my baby’s always dancing, is entirely to blame for waking me at a quarter to six in the morning, which is not ideal for a person who mostly works nights.

And so, at the moment, I am mostly wandering about in a daze. My reflexes are shot – I beg you not to throw a satsuma at me, even if you think I would like one, as it would no doubt injure me – and my normally sketchy memory is even more unreliable.

All of this is to explain that what happened was not my fault, and I would be well within my rights to sue you if you suggested it were.

I realised I needed apple juice at 9pm. Most people would not consider this a pressing issue, but I am not most people. While I am not lactose intolerant, I refuse to tolerate lactose. Basically, I don’t like milk.

And so this leaves me with three options: 1) eat my morning muesli dry, as a hamster might; 2) moisten it with tap water, as, I don’t know, Theresa May might if she were feeling a little bit racy; or 3) soak it in fruit juice. I go for the third option every time, and needed to buy apple juice to avoid options 1 and 2 the following day, seeing as I could not just put a note out for the apple juice man.

I picked up some money and my house key, and headed out into the late evening sunshine. I might even have been whistling – it was that sort of atmosphere. In any case, I wandered to the shop feeling for all the world like one of those continentals for whom we are destroying our economy so we don’t have to associate with them any more.

I entered the shop, which was cooled by a bank of chiller cabinets, and went into my usual disorganised shopping mode. “Ooh, some peaches!” I thought. “I’ll have those. Oh, and I’m running low on teabags. And eggs. Some spinach. I like a bit of spinach…”

By this point I realised I would need a basket, so I went back to the entrance and set off the alarm, because of course I would. But it was resolved quickly, and I resumed my shambolic shopping, buying the things I had forgotten to buy the last time I went to the same shop.

“Oh, yes, shampoo. I need that because I have hair,” I reasoned. “Kitchen roll. I need that because I have a kitchen,” and so on and so forth, until my basket was so heavy I needed to use both hands.

Finally, I fetched up at the checkout. “Would you like a bag?” the checkout man asked me. “Hell, yeah,” I chuckled. “Hang the 5p expense.”

He started ringing up the purchase and bagging the produce, and it was at that point that I realised that, while I had certainly picked up enough money to buy two cartons of apple juice, I did not have enough cash for a heaving basket of groceries.

“Um, this is a bit embarrassing,” I said. I explained, and asked if he could keep the groceries behind the counter while I went home for my card. He looked pained, but agreed to my request.

Then I sprinted home, through the balmy evening, grabbed my wallet, and ran back to the shop, carrying all the perspiration such a feat implies, before lugging the groceries home.

And then I went back to the shop to buy the apple juice I had forgotten to pick up. I blame it on the sunshine. I certainly can’t blame it on the good times.

COLUMN: June 8, 2017

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in the excellent film of the same name, ie Wonder Woman (not Gal Gadot As Wonder Woman)

I WENT to see Wonder Woman at the cinema, because where else would I see her?

I settled in my seat with about £12 worth of fizzy pop, ie a medium-sized cup, and realised that by the time I was let out of the auditorium, following half an hour of adverts and trailers and a two-and-a-half-hour film, that I would regret this purchase for more than financial reasons.

As a result, I can tell you that Wonder Woman is an excellent film, and I would highly recommend it to people who like excellent films. It is a far better DC Comics film than the dismal Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad.

In fact, it was so good that it was worth having to listen to Ooh The Trailers Man.

If you do not go to the cinema very often – for example, if you are a person who still calls it “going to the pictures” and doesn’t think that Pearl & Dean are a jungle/drum & bass duo – then you will not know about Ooh The Trailers Man.

Ooh The Trailers Man is the most irritating innovation in cinema-going since they started making 3D versions of films and glasses that you have to wear over your actual glasses.

His voice pops up first before the adverts, when he tells the audience to shut up and be quiet and turn their phones off. Now I am 100% behind his message here.There is a difference between paying out half your monthly mortgage to appreciate a film properly and watching it in your living room with people who keep asking you what’s happening now and what he was in with thingy from that other one.

But he cannot just tell people to shut up and be quiet because that is not how we do things these days. Oh, no, Ooh The Trailers Man has to pretend to be your “mate”, like a trendy vicar.

And so he says things like, “Come on, now, let’s switch our phones off and finish our conversations. Yes, that’s right, I mean you in the middle row. You cheeky monkey. Come on, a joke’s a joke.”

And then, when the trailers are about to start, he says, “Ooh, the trailers” – hence his name – “This is the best bit. And they’re all suitable for this film’s certificate,” which is the point at which my rage reaches peak levels.

Firstly, who is really expecting a trailer for The Exorcist or Emmanuelle VIII: Women In Their Pants at a 12A certificate film? You don’t need to tell us things that we expect anyway. You don’t get Cadbury saying, “We’re proud to say that we don’t put cyanide or broken glass in Dairy Milk.”

Secondly, the contention that trailers are “the best bit”. What on earth is he talking about? Surely the best bit when you go to the cinema is the film. If a trailer for the latest Transformers rubbish is better than the film, I want my money back.

But thirdly, why on earth are you saying, “Ooh, the trailers?!” You are not in the cinema with me, Ooh The Trailers Man. I know that because I would hunt you down and empty £9-worth of brown fizzy beverage over your head. Don’t pretend to be excited about it, Ooh The Trailers Man. I know how recordings work, I used to have a hi-fi.

This matey nonsense is everywhere now. I only pick on Ooh The Trailers Man because you cannot avoid his bumptious rubbish if you go to the cinema. But usually it is written on the side of boxes or bottles or on building society leaflets.

I blame Innocent Smoothies. They are the ones who started this with their twee “1/2 of a lovely banana” in their list of ingredients. And then Dorset Cereals got in on the act. And now every brand out there wants to be your friend. Before too long, BAE Systems will be etching flowers and “Mmm, love a good bomb” on the side of their missiles.

Enough is enough, as the politicians say when even a bit is too much. We don’t buy products because we want to be their friends. I don’t want to go on a stag night with a jar of marmalade, I just want to know what’s in it before I spread it on my toast.

If you really want to make me feel better about your product, just make your product better. Just like DC Comics did with Wonder Woman.