COLUMN: March 23, 2011

I WISH people would stop changing things and making them worse. I appreciate that this is not the most profound statement and it would be difficult to imagine somebody taking the opposite view, but it does need saying.

As an example, I would like film studios to stop making 3D films and television manufacturers to stop making 3D televisions.

I wear glasses for a reason, namely that I have a lazy right eye. Lazy doesn’t actually begin to cover it. If my eye were a human being, it would never take out the rubbish and would watch QVC all day because it couldn’t be bothered to find the remote control, which would actually be just under the cushion the human-eye would be sitting on. It wouldn’t make toast, it would just put bread on the radiator to dry out.

Consequently, it is arguable that I do not have 3D vision in real life. It would certainly explain the lack of spatial and speed awareness which makes me such a liability on a football pitch or at a revolving door.

So why would I like to pay over the odds to see a simulation of somebody waving a bladder on a stick in my face, when I can’t even appreciate the effect of the simulation? I know that I can go to see the 2D version instead, but the content of these movies is geared up for 3D, so the bladder waving still goes on. 

This means not even a reduction in the ticket price for people who demonstrate an inability to see the 3D effect – in the same way as blind people get a rebate on their TV licences – would be enough to placate me.

Another example: on Saturday mornings, I take a youngster of my acquaintance to football training. He is understandably embarrassed to have me around, so I generally disappear off for an hour to the nearby university library, where I am an alumnus, and write this column, among other things. It is nice and quiet and there are no students around, it being a Saturday morning and students being students.

But I won’t be doing it any more. This week, when I entered the library I was told I now had to have a library card to use the facilities.

Fair enough, I thought. I’m quite shifty-looking. I could quite easily be a terrorist or small-scale book thief. Then I was told the library card would cost me £30 a year. I felt as if I’d walked into a clip joint. I was expecting a burly bouncer to sidle up behind me menacingly.

I know it’s only 30 quid, but it’s not the money, it’s the principle. And the money. An institution which I had previously subsidised, and continue to subsidise through my taxes, is now forced to make a few extra bob by fleecing honest members of the public who just want somewhere to sit down while already shelling out on football and parking fees which already go to the institution in question.

Also, I take a terrible passport photo and I don’t have any more room in my wallet for membership cards. I don’t want to have to remove the card which informs close relatives, in the event of my tragic and untimely death, that I do NOT want a tribute page to be set up in my name on Facebook.

I blame the current government, and the previous government, partly, but mostly the current government, which cannot see an institution acting for the public good without giving it a kicking and making it worse.

An incredible amount of damage is being done in the name of cutting the deficit. The state is being gleefully rolled back by an unholy alliance of Thatcherite vandals and right-wing Lib-Dems, while they tell us there is no alternative. And what we lose now in the public realm – the libraries, the swimming pools, the Sure Start centres – we will never get back, even in times of prosperity, because it is much easier to destroy than to build.

I can see that, even with my lazy eye.

COLUMN: March 16, 2011

I DON’T know if there is a word for that feeling of being almost certain that one is going to get away with something. It is not quite relief, but more a euphoric anticipation of relief. I think we will call it “prelief.”

The worst prelief comedown is the one on offer in family restaurants. When I enter one of these chain establishments en famille – and, really, in what other circumstances would one enter them? – my eyes dart about looking for balloons. Usually there are plenty of balloons and I just sit down, resigned to the fact of their existence.

But sometimes they hide them away and lull me into a false sense of prelief. And it is only near the end of the meal that the waitress, who up to that point was going to get a decent tip, brings across a bundle of helium-filled bags and asks the children which colour they would like. 

Nobody ever warns you that the worst thing about being a parent is having to deal with balloons.

If you allow me to take you through the stages of balloon ownership, perhaps you will understand…

Stage 1: Acceptance
The waitress brings the balloons to the table. If there are three children, there are three balloons. Each of the balloons is a different colour. Two of the children have the same favourite colour. There is only one balloon of that colour.

Stage 2: Negotiation
The balloons are distributed in accordance with the Iron Rule of Who Got Blue Last Time.

Stage 3: Docking
The balloons have been brought NEAR the end of the meal, not AT the end of the meal. Therefore, there is still some meal to be eaten. The balloons are taken away from the children and affixed to cruets, glasses, etc, but not too tightly, enabling later decoupling.

Stage 4: Retrieval
One of the balloons slips its not-too-tight mooring and races to the ceiling. The ribbon is not long enough. A grown man in his late thirties has to stand on a chair in full view of other diners and reach up, exposing his midriff. Several diners push their plates away in disgust.

Stage 5: Exodus 1
The balloons are attached to the pushchair as the family leave the restaurant. They are trapped inside the restaurant as the door closes.

Stage 6: Exodus 2
The balloons are reattached to the pushchair at face height. As the grown man in his late thirties pushes the chair through crowded shops, he is constantly smacked in the face and has his vision impaired.

Stage 7: Reunion
At the car, the balloons are handed back to the children. They are told to keep the balloons down so that a grown man in his late thirties can see out of the rear windscreen.

Stage 8: Crisis 
The balloons are not kept down. The grown man warns the children that the balloons will be popped if they don’t bloody keep them down. The balloons are not kept down. The grown man takes the balloons from the children. This puts the cry into crisis.

Stage 9: Prelief 
The grown man puts the balloons in the boot, carefully ensuring they do not fly away or there will be blue murder. Calm, he sits back in the driving seat and drives home. He puts all thoughts of balloons out of his mind.

Stage 10: Prelief Comedown 
The car arrives home. The grown man, all thoughts of balloons out of his mind, retrieves the shopping from the boot. The three balloons sail past his head and pathetically flailing hands. The youngest child notices. There is a reckoning.

If you are going to open a family restaurant and you have a sign in your window of a balloon inside a red circle with a red line through it, I will be your customer forever.

COLUMN: March 9, 2011

ARE you familiar with the film Finding Nemo? Let’s assume you are not, otherwise this column will be very short and I will have to fill up the space at the bottom with a cartoon.

It is about a pair of clown fish, father and son. The latter, Nemo, is captured by a collector of tropical fish. The rest of the film depicts his father’s attempts to find him – I believe this is the very action to which the title refers – and Nemo’s attempts to escape from the tank in which his captor, a Sydney dentist, has placed him.

This second thread amusingly uses the tropes of the prison movie to express the isolation and sense of imprisonment of the fish trapped in the aquarium. If the film has any sort of message, it is this: “Basically, fish don’t like being in tanks. It’s not nice for them. Stop it.”

So, I was surprised, when visiting a pet shop at the weekend, to discover that it sold an official Disney-licensed Finding Nemo fish tank, complete with a cheerful plastic Nemo figure. I know it is aimed at children, but the gap between the intent of the movie and the purpose of the licensed product is so wide James Corden and John Prescott could tandem parachute jump through it.

It’s not the first time I’ve experienced this disconnect. A much-missed auntie loved the music of John Lennon and wanted Imagine to be played at her Catholic funeral. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the resigned look on the face of the priest as the words “Imagine there’s no heaven . . . No hell below us. Above us only sky” rang around his church.

And, even in more recent times, our own dear Prime Minister, Dave “Dave” Cameron, has expressed appreciation of The Jam classic, Eton Rifles, presumably on the grounds that he is an Old Etonian and likes game shooting. “Sup up your beer and collect your fags” would have a different resonance, I suspect, to a man steeped in Slough Grammar mores.

Nevertheless, I wonder how this licence was given the green light. And here I am, wondering . . . 


What’s next, Ted?

You’ll have a good laugh at this one, VP. Right, listen. It’s a fish tank, yeah, and they want to license Finding Nemo! Ha, ha, ha!

Yes, that’s absolutely fine. Next?

Hang on, VP. The whole film is saying fish tanks are bad. It’s saying fish would rather take their chances with barracuda than div about in a glass box with a tiny scuba diver and treasure chest.

But they’re going to pay us a shedload of money?

Jeez, VP. We are so thorough we actually specify the size and shape of Mickey Mouse’s ears when companies license his image, but we’re going to let this one through?

Well, it’s not like they’re real fish.

They ARE real fish!

What, Nemo’s a real fish?

No! Hell’s teeth. This is just like the time they tried to slip that Toy Story 3 Melty-Toys Kiddie Furnace past us.

I still don’t see what was wrong with that, people will always need to incinerate toys. Anyway, the fish tank is approved. What’s next?

The Snow White Poison-Your-Apple Kit . . . Never mind, I’ll just rubber-stamp it.

I imagine that is exactly how it happened, unless Disney’s lawyers are reading, in which case I imagine that is not how it happened and that it was all perfectly sensible and above board.