Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Take the red pill

There's a saying, "It's the best thing since sliced bread." Makes sense. Easy to understand and to the point. Basically, slicing a loaf is tedious, tiresome, and easily fuck-upable. The slices end up slanted and uneven. If the bread's very fresh it squidges and squashes. If its older it tears and crumbles. The uneven surface is difficult to butter. Then some genius came up with that funky machine you see shaking and rattling on the back counter in Gregg's the Bakers. Et voila. Brilliant. Evenly sliced for the perfect sandwich. Portion control for toast. There is no down side to sliced bread. Almost all of us buy it without giving any thought to what it actually is. It's a labour saving food stuff. Quick sandwich? No problem.

So why don't we say "the best thing since bags of grated cheese"? I'm pretty sure this is a later development, and saves roughly as much labour. It has the added bonus of reducing incidences of accidental knuckle-grating leading to a pink cheese situation.

How about "the best thing since pre-washed salad"? Another newer labour saving food stuff. Remember the palaver we used to have back in the day, when salad for tea meant fishing the colander from under the sink, tearing leaves into it and rinsing it under the tap? Now all we need do is tear open a packet, rinse it under the tap (because none of us really believe it has been washed to our own standard) then hold it aloft, dripping water down our sleeves and searching frantically under the sink with the other hand for the colander. Piece of piss.

Yorkshire pudding mix, labour saving. Precooked Yorkshire puddings. The greatest batter based innovation since sliced deep fried Mars bars. Pot noodles, dirty and lazy but oh so tasty and easy. And if you are skilled enough to be able to slice two perfect slabs of bread, approximately 17mm deep, the perfect sandwich filler.

There seems, however, to be no end to the lengths some will go to in an attempt to make life easy for us, and they ask nothing in return except profit. I saw an advertisement earlier, on the television. It was for McCain Ready Baked Jackets. Ready baked? Why? It's claimed they are ready in just five minutes. The ingredients are potatoes and sunflower oil. They've had their skins pricked, and they've had heat applied. You no longer have to prick and heat your own jacket potato. Imagine a world where none of us have to miss a bit of the early evening news just because we've had to get off our arses and go and check the oven. Utopia.

It seems we'll buy anything. To paraphrase the whispering corn in field of dreams, "If they package it, some dick will buy it."

Long spoons to help you throw a ball for a dog. Treadmills. Step machines. T.V. remote controls. So now if you want to throw a ball for your dog, walk, climb stairs and turn your television off you can be a consumer and spend money. (And before you say "But the remote came with the TV, it was free", remember the batteries in your remote control aren't. You mug.)

When I was young I'd spend hours on the phone to whichever morally bankrupt and vacuous girlfriend I happened to have at the time. Sat on the stairs, as was she, and with long periods of silence from both of us. Parents would squeeze past to go and poo, occasionally loudly uttering a sarcastic comment intended for the ears of whoever was on the other end of the line. My dads favourite was "Are you talking to Michelle again?" knowing full well that I'd get asked "Who's Michelle?" and have to try and explain what a piss-taking bastard my father was. (This eventually led to me searching out a girlfriend called Michelle. Funnily enough, basing your choice of partner on how much potential there is for your father to take the piss really doesn't work.)

If you, like me, remember those halcyon days yourself, the knotted, coiled flex, the shivering in the hall and missing Blind Date, you'll remember the phone had one cable. This cable went in to a box on the wall. At some point someone thought "Wouldn't it be great if we could take the phone anywhere in the house with us, and lose it?" then went ahead and produced the cordless phone. How many cables does that have, and where is the new one plugged? It's plugged in to the power supply you're paying for. It is, admittedly, using a tiny bit of power most of the time, but how many of these things, as a nation, do we now have? How many consumers paying an extra few pounds a year for juice they wouldn't need if not for the fact they simply can't face having to get up and answer the phone. Are we really that busy? So, now the phone rings, and we pause the television. With our remote control. If you have a partner then at this point they can go and make you a lovely cup of tea. If you're lucky enough to live in an area where you can purchase sliced bread, maybe they'll make you some toast too.

Escalators. For fucks sake. Wherever there is an escalator, there is a lift. Just give us stairs. If we can't manage the stairs we'll use the lift.

 Motorised golf trolleys, priveliged bastards!

Travelators, that people annoyingly stand still on. Way to miss the fucking point. They're designed to get you there quicker, not get you there without burning a fucking calorie.

Automatic doors. Last week I stopped outside Subway and waited for the door to open. I actually walked to the next door before realising the original door wasn't broken, it simply required pushing. I am ashamed of myself.

Automatic soap dispensers. Oh you fucking idiots. What do your kids do after safely and hygienically getting soap on their hands? Don't they turn on/off a tap? And if you've got some posh, contactless, h2o delivery system don't they turn the door knob? And if you've an automatic door on your loo, you're a bit of a prick. Also, kids eat stuff, off the floor sometimes. They play with worms, clamber up bacteria infested climbing frames and quite possibly masturbate. Just buy soap.

Febreeze. Wash your things. Clean your sofa. When people see you buy Febreeze you can rest assured they're thinking "Scruffy bastard."

Those key rings containing a disc the exact dimensions of a one pound coin, so that you can get a shopping trolley without putting a pound in. You get the pound back, you spent 99p on your stupid fucking key ring. If you still can't figure out why it's a ridiculous notion then just give me your email address (and bank details, for security purposes. Please include your mother's maiden name and the last three numbers on the back of your card.) and I'll explain more fully.

The way we're going there will be no resistance movement when the machines rise up and take over. We'll all be queuing to get a decent pod and be hooked up to the Matrix.


Saturday, 26 October 2013

Careering off the track.

I regularly get asked, on Twitter of course, what exactly it is I do for a living. It's not a question I can easily answer, since I do anything someone will pay me to do. I am, I suppose, a "white van man". Some might say I'm a market trader. Some think I'm a designer. In truth I'd say I was a Jack of all trades and the master of a few. I gave up trying to find a boss I could respect a long time ago and decided the only way to be happy was to have no one in your life you had to refer to as your superior. I have many superiors in many fields, but not a single one of them is my boss.

When I left school, in the mid eighties, with a shitload of o'levels and a natural affinity for computers, I was taken on by a small computer shop on what was known as a Y.T.S. A cynical way of massaging school leaver unemployment figures which paid me £27.00 per week, rising to £35.00 a week one year later. During the eighteen months I worked there, (Leigh Computer Systems in Sale, Greater Manchester.) I had the opportunity to play with pretty much any computer on the market at the time. A time when a 40MB (Not gigabyte, MEGAbyte.) hard drive was the cutting edge, and you could get both green screen AND RGB monitors. Just before I left there I also moved out of my parents home, which was a pub in Salford, and into a high rise flat on Salford precinct. It was a horrible place to live and I didn't have sufficient funds to escape, so I applied, never thinking I'd get it, to be a mainframe operator for a big company. I got it. I'd made it!

In those days if you said you were a computer operator it was akin to saying you were a brain surgeon or rocket scientist. And so it was that, aged just eighteen, I bought a house, car and motorbike, sat back and thought "This'll do".

I worked there until I was twenty years old. At the time I was a typical young man living in that most wonderful era of debauchery and drug abuse, the Madchester years. With an insane amount of money in my back pocket I lived the Madchester scene and immersed myself fully in the "culture" of the time. My weekend began at 4pm every Friday and finished at 6am every Monday, and if I'm pressed to tell you what I got up to on any one of those weekends I'd not be able to. I remember lights, music, people telling me they loved me, dancing, smiling, eating burgers from a van and waking up in stranger's houses. Then, 7am Monday, I'd be back to the grindstone. Shirt and tie, official looking and self important as I passed through the airlock and into the computer. It was an IBM 4381 and you literally worked inside it, dashing around, real time processing and looking uncannily like you were on the bridge of the starship Enterprise.

I drove a Ford Capri at this time. A classic car now, a fanny magnet then. Sitting in the canteen one lunch time just before I turned 20 I had an epiphany. I looked around me at the two older, more senior, computer operators I was working alongside. One, Pete, was a ridiculously tall and bespectacled bald man, only in his late 20s but looking 40, and Jim, a ridiculously short and bespectacled bald man in his mid 20s but looking 40. The conversation between the two of these chaps went as follows.

"So you're getting a new car Jim?"
"I am, This weekend."
"What are you thinking of going for?
(Jim was at this point driving a Ford Fiesta, 1.0L.)
"A Fiesta again. I'm going for the 1100 this time though, I just want a bit more "oomph"."
(Jim made a fist-pump action as he said "oomph".)

I looked at these two, very successful, men. Their thick glasses, cheap suits and male pattern baldness. I wondered how someone could describe a car like that as having "oomph", and I realised I would never fit in that world. Would never genuinely like or be interested in my co-workers.

I left my lunch, went to the bosses office and handed in my four weeks notice. I sold everything I had, bought a tent and backpack and a National Express ticket to Nice, and fucked off.

When I returned, I was determined never to work in a job like that again. Since then I've worked in bars, ran pubs, been a waiter, an aircraft handler, a funeral director. A chauffeur, a damp-proofer. I ran a demolition team after the IRA bombed Manchester. I was a stacker driver, a meter reader, a labourer. I spent time as a plasterer, as a cellar man at Pontins and as a lumberjack, I've even wiped tables in a food court, and many more menial and not so menial jobs that for the moment escape me. I settled at nothing, getting bored too easily.

When I turned forty I decided to do something useful for a change. I became a support worker for adults, and later children, with learning disabilities. This, my friends, is the BEST job in the world. Being a large bloke I was put with the more challenging male service users. Daily violence, being spat at, screamed at, cleaning a grown mans bottom and trying to make a difference to their lives was my life. I loved every single minute of every single shift. Even the shift that resulted in me being kicked in the nuts hard enough to turn one testicle upside down and forcing the other into my pelvic cavity for an hour or two. Paid less than any job I'd ever done before, I was richer than I'd ever been.

Unfortunately, although myself and many of my co-workers were doing the job for the right reasons and put our hearts and souls into it, the company I worked for, Creative Support, spoiled it for me. Can you be done for libel if it's true? I'll take a chance... in my opinion, if you have a loved one that needs support, get the support from anywhere rather than from Creative Support. I witnessed the most appalling treatment of terribly disabled people all in the name of making money. Some were forced to live in squalor, because "if we buy them anything nice they destroy it." Fair enough you might say, except it would be the service user's money, not that of the charity, and to refuse to let a man replace a television he managed to get shit into (don't ask.) out of his own savings is abuse.

I stuck it out with them for a couple of years, then could no longer. After an episode where a man accused of punching a service user with no vocal abilities was placed with another service user who could talk (The rationale being that he could tell us whether or not the bastard had punched him, so the bastard might not punch him just in case.) rather than being suspended and reported to the authorities, I'd had enough. I bought a van, quit the job I loved and will never work for a company like that again. I've carried on as a support worker, part time for private clients, and now work only with children. If you want to be happy and to feel good about yourself I urge you to try it for yourself. Low paid, but so rewarding.

I have a massively varied life now, living hand to mouth and scratching around for money. No two days are ever the same, and at some point in every day I will laugh heartily and make a few people smile. Who cares what job we do? In a hundred years time, unless we've invented a cure for cancer or painted the ceiling of a chapel. no one will know or care what you had to do to pay for your food and shelter. Make people happy and they'll remember you for longer than they'll remember their bosses. Enjoy the little things.


Thursday, 24 October 2013

Innocent until reported.

Twitter. I love Twitter. Whatever you call it, I love Twittering, Tweeting and Twatting. Before Twitter all the crazy shit, mad rants and self-depracation stayed inside my skull. That cannot have been healthy.

I've had my Twitter account, @JohnnyBastard, for more than six years now. Initially I used it very infrequently. For the first year or so I couldn't understand the attraction. I struggled to follow what was occurring on my own timeline, got not response to anything I tweeted and seldom received a mention. Then, a couple of years ago, I got hooked. I followed any one that crossed my path, whether I agreed, disagreed, loved or despised their opinions. And guess what? Twitter became a fun place to be. And as my "following" count rose, so did my "follower" count. (I wish they'd not refer to it as "followers", it makes you sound so pretentious when you refer to "my followers". They're not mine, any more than I'm theirs.)

As my count began to surpass those of some minor celebrities I rejoiced. Then, celebrities started following me. The wonderful Mr. @StephenFry being the first. I'm under no illusions though. He didn't follow because he thought I was witty, clever, handsome or erudite. If you follow the logic of Occams Razor then I would say the most likely reason was his accidentally touching the follow button on his iPhone. That aside, I'm still pretty damn chuffed whenever I realise a national treasure of his standing is following.

A few months back I was "FF"'d (To those non-Twits out there, it stands for "follow Friday" and is a way of recommending people to your own followers.) by @REALKathyLloyd. Kathy Lloyd was, when I was younger, a page three model and, without exception, by far my favourite. She took over from Linda Lusardi in my eyes after I had to stop fancying her for being Liverpudlian. A while later I discovered Kathy herself to be Liverpudlian. This led to my stopping disliking my Scouse cousins simply because, well, have you SEEN Kathy Lloyd?

These two events were both massive ego boosts and cemented my love of Twitter. But greater than those, the friends I've met on Twitter and the concern shown by complete strangers during the darker periods of my existence, along with the crazy, slutty or just plain giddy miscreants I encounter whenever I open my Twitter app.

I am a massive advocate of freedom of speech in all things. In my opinion there is no subject, nor is there any opinion, that is taboo or that shouldn't be heard. If we ignore the vile opinions of the few we miss out on putting our opinions to them. If we close down debate we are much poorer for it and vile attitudes based on incomplete data will fester, grow, spread unchallenged and destroy.

Anyone that has followed my Twitter account and actually taken the time to read it properly (Thank you, those that did or do, I appreciate it.) will testify to the fact that I never take offence. People ask me vile questions designed to upset me or enrage me. People attack my attitudes, lifestyle and appearance daily. And, in all those instances, not one shit is given by me. I don't think these people are wrong, stupid or offensive. For the most part I pity them, sat alone in their squalor, only able to feel better about themselves if they can make someone else feel worse. Their actions have caused such misery to some, dare I say it, weaker individuals. Words hurt, I agree, but surely that shouldn't apply to little boxes of up to 140 characters sent anonymously. Twitter is fun, Twitter is Twitter, trolls should be laughed at, not with, or pitied.

Today I awoke and, as ever, stretched my arm across my sleeping partners face to reach my iPhone so I could check my Twitter. I Tweeted some good mornings, read some news and slowly fought off Morpheus' clumsy advances. Then, disaster. My Twitter account has been suspended, and this time (Yes, it's not the first time.) I have absolutely no idea why. Someone, I know not who, has taken offence at something, I know not what, and reported me. Now, I understand that abuse should be reported and that Twitter have a responsibility to be seen to be acting. I understand this. And I hate it. Why? Why are people allowed to complain about something that they CHOSE to become involved in? Twitter is a place to vent, to laugh, to campaign, even to advertise or self-promote. I do all those things and much more. What I have never done, nor ever would do, is trawl the timelines of others to find something to complain about. I see lots on Twitter worthy of complaint. Lots. I even see some stuff worthy of prosecution. But prosecution in real life, not on a bloody social network. It strikes me that one day all justice will be dealt with via the medium, with daily sentencing announced live on the Jeremy Kyle show. A jury of twleve replaced by a jury of millions, "favourite" for guilty, "retweet" for innocent. (Off at a tangent here, but I'd like to take a moment to urge anyone that hasn't already done so to read "Blind Faith" by Mr Ben Elton. A relatively recent publication that seems a little too prophetic for comfort.)

So, here I sit. Bored and awaiting a faceless automaton to decide whether or not I deserve to be able to Tweet about my bowel movements, dog's behaviour and general nonsense to the 27000+ people that have chosen, of their own volition, to follow me, or whether I should have to piss off back to Facebook and look at how cute peoples "lil men" or "princesses" are or "like" something puerile to prove I don't hate children and loved my dead dad, on the behest of an anonymous individual or individuals.

I have a back up account, cleverly named "@johnnybastard2", which I'm forced to use at times like this. It's not the same. In a similar way to the way you see a spider weave a half arsed web to replace the splendid and beautiful piece of work you brushed away yesterday, I just can't be bothered. But this is the problem with Twitter, or at least the anti-free speech zealots that populate certain corners of Twitter. If I was spreading vile hatred, kiddie porn or racism then every time an account was compromised I'd start another and begin upsetting all those that had, quite rightly, blocked and ignored me on the suspended account. The best way to deal with a troll, in my experience, is to playful mock their obvious flaws then move on. I don't even block them, and in many cases I follow them. But I completely disregard any of the shite I see them spout. Give your attention to those that deserve it, bollocks to the rest.

This has been a pointless blog entry. No funny bits, nothing you couldn't have lived without reading. Similar to my Twitter feed. But I've enjoyed wasting my time writing it. Enjoy the little things. S'very important.


Monday, 21 October 2013

The key.

This being my first "toe in the water" where blogging is concerned, I'm afraid I'm flying by the seat of my pants. Infuriatingly, I'm finding it hard to expand beyond the 140 character limit to which I've become accustomed. Also, the design. If any of you fancy giving me some positive, or even not so positive, criticism I'd be most grateful.

Okay, so, where to begin? The Bitch Queen is currently in the bath, the dogs are snoozing and the beautiful clock I've recently finished (I rescue and renew old furniture as a bit of a sideline.) is tick-tocking away reassuringly in the corner of the room, where its propped against a pile of vintage suitcases and right besides my golden, Pulp Fiction themed piano. That's right, GOLDEN piano! My lounge is beginning to resemble a cross between Steptoe's parlour and Liberace's lavatory.

Times are hard in our house. We laugh a lot but, like most these days, we've not a lot to laugh about. Enjoy the little things, that's the secret. Oh, and dogs. Dogs were designed to make you smile. Not cats though. Vile creatures. If a cat looked like what it actually was, you'd never have it in your house.

She's out of the bath now. Cue one hour forty minutes of hair straightening and pouting at herself in the mirror, before she finishes the de-uglyfication process by setting the make-up canon to "slag" and turning it on herself. As ever in these moments I find solace in taking the dogs for a good, long walk. See, dogs. Dogs are the key to any happy home. Take care peeps, and enjoy the little things.