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.