Friday, 29 January 2010

The cupboard under the stairs

At approximately half past seven on Wednesday night our lights went out. The washing machine stopped. The shower switched off. The news reader blinked into blackness on the television screen. It was Scotland Today and as I was watching it in my usual engrossed state it took me at least a few moments to register there was no longer an image on my screen. It wasn't all bad then. Fortunately the cooker hobs being electric continued to cook but only till the hobs cooled. The food was just about cooked with only a mild chance of poisoning, thusly edible, so we were not going to starve.
Raking through our cupboards we brought out the artillery. These were to last the night. Four tealight candles, one long dusty candle from a previous flat owner (which burnt down rather quickly - Wee Willie Winky would have had no chance!) and one big fancy, thick candle complete with vanilla scent and twig decor. This was no ordinary candle, however, as it was an M&S candle. A tenner M&S voucher from a Wedding present well spent. A stinky candle, it's wax embedded with twigs. I don't know - women...
Anyway, immediate thoughts had it all down to another pesky power cut but on going out into the close and inspecting the neighbours front windows I realised it was no power cut. Only our flat was out. Denying the fact that we had been cut off I immediately phoned ScottishPower and politely enquired as to who had turned out all the lights.
The ScottishPower lady on the other end of the phone hummed, and then hawed and then asked if I had flicked any switches in any of the power boxes. The answer was, of course, no. A very deliberate no. Why would I do this, I thought? And if I had done, would the shrieks from the bathroom and the sudden lack of light not spur me to hurriedly reflick the said switch?
It was during this call that I realised I had no idea where our fuse box is. Every household has one. Every household owner knows where it is. Except me. As I frowned down the phone at the call centre lady, trying to fathom up an image of the flat's fuse box in my head, trying to think where it could be she then asked the question that really made me feel stupid.
"Your Dad should know where it is. Is your Dad home?".
Sighing and rolling my eyes, I again gave her a negative response. The reason I have no idea where the fuse box is, is not down to youth but only stupidity and ignorance. I must have a young voice over the phone. I wasn't aware of this. I did not know whether to be flattered or insulted. The call centre then helpfully informed us a maintenance man would be round between eight and eleven, sounded almost as exasperated as I was.
As it turned out the fuse box is situated in a cupboard under the stairs out in the close. This cupboard was locked by the council many years ago and the key seemingly swallowed by the lock fitter that did it. The ScottishPower maintenance man arrived at ten to eleven, realised he couldn't get in and left me with a number for the Council, whose services we would need to call on. The Council emergency hotline was decidedly cool as we got a bloke, audibly shrugging. He did, however, send a joiner out to help us open the door. It just so happened that this joiner arrived as the Scottish Power man was leaving our street to go on to his next call so our little problem was swiftly sorted out by the Council joiner breaking the door open with a crowbar. Disappointingly there were no zombie like people under the stairs, cellars of gold or little boy wizards hiding out from ugly relatives. Only a large fuse box. So the Scottish Power maintenance man pulled on his giant rubber gloves and our power was back on by five to midnight.
Before this, whilst we were still in darkness, my Dad had phoned up asking how we were doing. He tried to help over the phone whilst watching the footie in his power lit house. He then asked if we had enough candles. We had blown out the M&S candle considering it too good to waste, (I think I was getting high on the vanilla goodness) so I told him we had four tealight candles to last the night. He seemed to pause, took a moment and then repeated.
"Fork handles? For-k handles?"
Yes, Dad. The old ones are the best.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The Tyne and place

Woke up around eleven on Saturday morning, confused, with a Scotsman stuck to my face. With a newspaper headline printed backwards across my, not inconsiderable, forehead I realised we'd arrived and I had fallen asleep on the train to Newcastle over the table before me.
Ka and myself had got an early train to spend the weekend in Newcastle upon Tyne. We stayed in a rather posh hotel for the night, a Christmas gift from Ka's Mum and Dad, situated just behind the old Castle Keep. Upon arrival Ka and myself were greeted by a pleasant receptionist from which we obtained a map and ventured out towards the Tyne. There was no fog but plenty of cloud as we went out on to the Quayside. Unfortunately we never seen the latest addition to the river, Wilkinson Eyre's Gateshead Millenium Bridge, in rotating action but did have a wander over it to the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and the bulbous Sage Centre.
In the Baltic we jumped into the glass elevator and went up to check out Damian Hirst's 'Pharmacy', on loan from the Tate, where I'd seen it previously. Boring. Hirst collected loads of cabinets, bottles and prescription drugs and made a big chemist. Hmmm. My sister used to collect yoghurt pots and cereal boxes and made a shop once, and she was seven. We should have phoned Charles Saatchi?!
Afterwards we then checked out the new exhibition by award winning Korean artist, Kimsooja, upstairs. Kimsooja is mostly a video artist who, through her work, poses questions about human nature.
One of her pieces entitled 'A Needle Woman' was basically a giant black room with eight different films projected on to the walls. These displayed the artist with her back to the camera, standing, straight and motionless in the middle of busy streets in eight different world cities. The crowds milled around her, constantly moving, some people staring, some trying to talk to her and most paying little attention at all as they went about their daily lives in a blur of vibrant colour. A project about displaced self, anonymity and alienation that in some ways reminded me of the city shots from the film Koaanisqatsi, as it showed the frantic, crazy life of these eight different cities comparing them with the still, unmoving landscapes of nature, in Kimsooja's case, the artist herself.
Kimsooja's videos would have certainly been interesting if she'd stood in Newcastle's Newgate Street on a Saturday night.
After a great meal in the trendy Rosco's on the 45 degree hill outside the hotel, Ka and myself headed uptown to the Gate, the epicentre of Newcastle's nightlife.
Ka took me along to see the infamous dentist chair, which the then bride to be had discovered with her Hen troops last June. In a rather sleazy bar known as Sam Jacks a dentists chair sits on top of the bar where blokes, usually either pissed, stags or of questionable moral standards, sit up to be served shots by various bikinied girls who dance either over, or on, them whilst the chair vibrates frantically underneath.
Moving on from here we headed to Beyond where we annoyed a drunk dancer who spun around us all night because we had the audacity to sit at two empty chairs around her table. Waving her arms, singing loudly and performing the splits, all the while the majority of her company rolled their eyes behind her back. After doing the splits there was more than a few seconds of panic on the girls face in the split position. I suspect she'd found herself or her pants fastened to the sticky bar floor.
We also passed Craig David in the street on the walk home. Presumably he was looking for 'our kes' as there was no sign of any birds around him.
From only a few hours walking through the bars in the area it is easy to see where Newcastle gets its reputation for wild nightlife and as an ideal location for Hen and Stag nights.
It was a lot calmer the next morning, back down by the river. There was a quiet market closing up shop by the time we got down there and the only noise other than the circling gulls was emanating from a small, foreign looking man on the Gateshead bridge. He seemed to be yodelling in a loud, crackly voice which echoed up the river and as we got closer realised he was jumping out aggressively at passers by with his guitar. As we walked cautiously by we realised he was singing a very disjointed version of the Beatles 'Hey Jude'. Maybe he had taken a wrong turn somewhere and thought he was on the Mersey? When I say disjointed, I mean that the only words he knew were 'na, nananaanaaaaa' and the obligatory 'Hey joooooo-ed!'. He couldn't even get the na's right?!

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

A window to the world

Gordon has taken his jacket off! All hell must be breaking loose if Gordon's taking his jacket off. He's a quiet guy and usually he'll sit to my left, at his computer, working his way through his day, eating crisps, drinking pop and then maybe some nuts. All the while one thing is for certain - he will never take his jacket off. Not unlike me and my ties (I always wear a tie to work, much to some peoples' amusement).
Today, on turning up for work, I strode in to find the office stiflingly hot. The air conditioning had, once again, broken down. For around three hours we sat and worked before Gordon turned to me and murmured, as if in warning, "I think I'm going to take my jackat off". He then proceeded to get up off his seat and actually remove his thin bomber style jacket. You could sense the tension, almost hear the office gasp, most people straining to kept their eyes on their screens, trying not to give in to the urge of turning and staring and this once in a lifetime occurence.
Unfortunately, while everyone sweats, I'm shivering with the cold. One of the office's four small window's lies directly on my right hand side and with the window lying open to enable fellow workers to breath, the icey winter winds are blowing in through the blinds. Sitting next to one of the few windows in the office can have it's advantages such as admiring the sunshine fight through the clouds, watching the birds sweep majestically by under a clear blue sky, being able to tell within an instant the kind of weather which will be meeting us on our way out the office and diving up to see what the hell is causing the loud bangs and horns ringing out from the car parks and roads below.
It also has it's downfalls such as the afore mentioned winter breezes for the greater good of the office. Another is sitting at my desk for some moments sensing a general unease before suddenly realising there is someone standing over my shoulder gaping out the window. These colleagues come over to view the weather conditions, taking some time as if giving the news their eyes are telling them, plenty of time to travel up through their optic nerves. They'll then use this information to stand and stare, gaping, dumbstruck by the sheer beauty of the world outside whilst they decide what they want for lunch, whether it'll be Greggs for a greasy sausage roll, the local Spar or somewhere further afield. This is then followed by the inevitable question of whether to take the car. All the while I'm trying to get on with my work as the humming and hawing presence lingers over my shoulder.
The past four weeks or so were especially bad for this. Folk would come over and stand and stare out the window, as if it had been the first time they'd seen this strange weather condition commonly known to the rest of the world as falling snow. The guys who bring the silly little sports cars to work were great at these stares of dread. (Why pay a fortune for a car that is not capable of driving properly in certain conditions? We live in scotland for gawd sake?!)
I understand, of course. People stand and stare merely because of the view of the world outside. This framed panel in the wall is a sanity check, reminding them that there is life outside this stuffy office. That, come the end of the day, we shall rejoice, leaping out into the streets, being glad of it, going out into the world after earning our pittance to spread the good news. There is a life outside the daily toil of work and this glass square in the wall is a reminder of that! There's more to life than the smell of newsprint, computer screens and clunking tea machines that give you swamp water for soup. This window, by my side, is our salvation!
Plus, you can see the road to Greggs.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Marmite and the current king of comedy

Ka is out for dinner tonight so when I eventually get out of the office I'll be going home to an empty house. Brilliant. I'll be able to watch some decent telly (what I consider decent anyway - I suppose everyone has their own ideas!). For instance, at the moment I'm making my way through seven series, (yep, count 'em, seven) of Curb Your Enthusiasm. I finally got round to starting to watch this series around October time last year and have been chipping away through the series ever since. I love it. Some people hate it. I think it's just another of these tv programmes that is like Marmite - you love it or you hate it.
Incidentally I hate Marmite, it tastes like the scrapings of an unwashed grill. All the congealed bits of cheese, fat, bread and oil with the occasional burnt oven chip from the bottom of the oven thrown in for good measure. At least that's what I imagine the scrapings of an unwashed grill to taste like. I can't say I've ever tried it myself. Maybe that's the smell I'm thinking of more than the taste...
Anyway, Larry David is my king of comedy at the moment. I'm now on the fourth series and Larry has been asked to star in Mel Brooks' stage production of 'The Producers' with Ben Stiller. The relationship that's developing between Stiller and Larry is turning out to be the main draw for series four and is hilairious. The latest escapade being an accidental tooth pick in Ben Stiller's eye and Larry making a blind man dump his girlfriend for being ugly.
It sounds strange but for some reason I see some similarites between myself and Larry David's character in the series. Larry is forever accidentally putting his foot in it, inadvertantly offending people and/or getting into the strangest situations which all seem to snowball out of control. I have done all of the above on more than one occasion and am guilty of the occasional snowballing, opening my mouth before the head thinks. I've proably even done it at some point on this blog. Thankfully only a handful of you actually pay any attention to any of this, so it should be pretty safe for me here.
Actually, some of the guys in work have just realised they are occasionally featured on this here blog. Creamy Chicken John and DVD Andy have seemingly only just sussed that it is in fact themselves that I am mentioning when going on about the crazy and the weird of a routine day in S&UN. Okay, maybe crazy and weird are exaggerations... or maybe not. Today I was threatened by Mary Doll with a trip to the stationery cupboard on Friday. Apparently she'll wear her red bra. Gulp. Do you think that flume will still be in there?

Friday, 15 January 2010

He's killed the dog again

The game was afoot on Wednesday night as Chaz, Kenny and myself drove into town to see Sherlock Holmes, Guy Ritchie's latest movie, in Renfrew Street. After seeing the movie, I've since read a lot of mixed reviews but i have to say, I really liked it. I've always been a bit of a Sherlock Holmes nut anyway having read most of Conan Doyle's stories, watched the movies and the episodes of Jeremy Brett's television series - Brett being the best actor to have personified Holmes to date. With all this in mind the fact that Guy Ritchie had been making a Sherlock Holmes movie filled me with dread. I couldn't help but think that Ritchie would transform the Holmes world into a fast talking, abuse firing, violent city of crack smoking, snake breeding gangsters whose convoluted storylines all have impossibly outrageous crossing points. Thankfully I was pleasantly surprised. Okay the plot is slightly run of the mill but you can forgive that for the great characterisations and Ritchie's visual flairs, especially when it comes to the bare knuckle fight scenes and landscapes of London in the 1890s. The old world London was impressively detailed and great to see the characters roaming through or in some cases running through. At one (niggling) point Holmes runs from Big Ben to the top of Tower Bridge in what seems like three minutes - impressive.
Robert Downey Junior is great as Holmes with just the right amount of ham and eccentricity. Law was sufficeiently reliable as Watson but both were even better when together. If they hadn't got the Holmes - Watson relationship right the whole film would have probably fell flat. Rachel McAdams provides the 'love interest' Irene Adler, Holmes single love interest from the original tales, and Ritchie regular Mark Strong is suitably brooding as the big bad.
Without giving too much away (they didn't die) they have pretty much set up the sequel with heavy, subtle as a brick, hints of a shadowy Professor controlling things from the background. Online rumours suggest this shadowy figure is the notorious Moriarty (surprise) but played by none other than Brad Pitt (Brad Pitt?!). Lets hope he doesn't hit out with any of that pikey irish babble this time round.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Sales, biographies and diamond pattern waistcoats

With our streets still looking like our freezer in need of a severe defrosting we've had a quiet weekend only venturing out for a short trip to the local shopping centre yesterday and the gym today for our Sunday worship (body worship in this case). The trip to the shopping centre was the first time Ka and myself had plucked up the courage to face the shops since before Christmas and it turned out to be a marginally successful trip with an exchange being made and a few items being found in the sales and a few chance encounters with other friends battling through the mob. I managed to get a rather excellent suit jacket, reduced from £90 to £26 after hesitantly asking a reluctant sales assistant for a chest measurement. Asking her if she reckoned the jacket would fit I ended up having to talk her into throwing her measuring tape around me. As it happened the jacket was a perfect fit and will prove perfect for when the wife takes me out to dinner. In the same store I also got a spiffing navy jumper with a blue diamond design over it's front. Ben Sherman, reduced from £30 to £15. In fact, after purchasing it, I realised it reminded me a lot of a waistcoat that came with the suit I hired for my High School formal. The occasion when you all go out, at the end of your last, or second last, school year and hire a suit, dressing like move stars for a night. Most people getting the smart black tuxedos which I did indeed get but me, having to be different, decided for an additional diamond pattern coloured waistcoat. Maybe the jumper wasn't such a great buy after all - I seem to remember that waistcoat made me look like one of those comedy snooker players. All I needed was a large pair of square spectacles. It certainly did not have much of an effect on the night as I failed to get a dance for the duration of the formal but then I never got a dance at those High School functions anyway (violins please!). In retrospect maybe that's why I wore the waistcoat anyway, because I knew I had no chance. The only vague chance I had that night was with a bottle of MD 20/20, lime flavour, and that was shared between four of us.
Ka managed to buy a couple of pair of shoes in the sale too, surprise surprise. Soon we'll be needing a Carrie Bradshaw wardrobe for the amount of shoes she has. As I sit at my computer writing this blog the shoes are stacked in the open wardrobe above me, the large shelf trembling with the shoe strain. Ka will say the same about me though with books.
I've just finished 'The Moon's a Balloon' the late, great David Niven's autobiography, written around thirty eight years ago. My Dad lent me it to read just before Christmas as I had always been curious about this book which had lasted for so long at the top of my Mum and Dad's living room unit. Niven was an actor through the thirties, forties, fifties and sixties and played opposite many of the old greats including Humphrey Bogart and Errol Flynn and the like. One of the old school before I was even born. What a life Niven led. Now he did have plenty to write about. I wonder if he ever had the fashion sense to get a diamond pattern waistcoat?
There's always a slight influx of biographies and/or autobiographies at Christmas. This year Ka got me the Chris Evans book and Auntie Tricia got me the Jack Dee autobiography. Jack Dee I've always liked because of his great dry sense of humour and his fantastic smile. A few years back I would not have even considered reading a autobiography by Chris Evans but ever since he took on the evening job at Radio 2 he's got me through many a late night Tuesday shift with his banter. Of course that'll be no more now that he's taken Wogan's show on in the mornings so I'll just have to hope they'll have a half decent replacement for the evening shift. Either that or I switch on the old iPod.
My Chrimbo present from Ka this year was a belter. A beautiful deep purple iPod Nano. There's no Deep Purple on it yet but maybe I'll look into remedying that. It's both funky and functional with stunning graphics to help you navigate through your music library. The library I've just started to build up in the past week. Fantastic. I'm just off to put more tunes on it.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Coloured hexagons and dashings of ELO

Music moguls everywhere and somewhere have voted Muse's 'The Resistence' album's sleeve artwork the best of its kind from 2009. Designed by London firm, La Boca, the cover depicts a sole figure standing on a bright platform leading straight to the planet Earth breaking through a strange landscape of coloured, interlocking hexagons suspended in space. A fantastic cover illustrating the weird and wonderful epic themes of the music on the album itself. The parents got me this album for Chrimbo and I've only had around three or four listens so far. Like U2 and Coldplay, to name but a few, Muse always get a bit of a slagging in the press for being pretentious with their lyrics and themes but Muse never fail to make a pulsing, energetic album this time with lots of dashings of dance and ELO and even a suspiciously similar version of the Doctor Who theme tune in the track 'Uprising'. Just in time for the new Doctor Matt Smith getting onboard the TARDIS.
Jenny Saville's fantastic painting on the Manic Street Preacher's 'Journal for Plague Lovers' came a close second in the vote with Fever Ray's artwork in third place. Fever Ray's artwork was designed by Martin (Mander) Ander who came from a graffiti art background as did Robert Del Naja (3D) of Massive Attack who also appears in the top ten for the design work on their latest EP album, 'Splitting the Atom'. 3D's work is always exciting, weird, challenging and crazy to look at, just as his band's music is to listen to.
LaRoux's cover also appeared in the list and immediately makes you think of classic photographic album covers such as David Bowie's 'Heroes'. Obviously La Roux ripped off Bowie's hairstyle from the same cover for her whole look and it's probably not the only thing 'ripped off' either.
It's nice to see that CD artwork still get's recognised with some respect in this downloading age and makes you realise just how great it would be if these works were still widely available as proper vinyl sized cases.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Tinsel no more, puddings no more...

It's a new year, it's a new day. Well, it is now the fourth day of the new decade. All is quiet. A world in white is underway, again. Unbelievably the snow is still here! This has to be the longest lasting snow in recent Scottish history! I've not been able to park in my own street now for at least two weeks. I'm parking in a small car park at the top of the hill at the moment and an old couple that obviously usually park there regard me with narrow eyed suspicion every time they pass whilst I am crunching through the snow into a vague parking space shape in the snow. They watch me as I leave the car as if accusing me of encroaching on their space. Just because I don't usually park there doesn't mean I cannot park there does it? I've considered building a big snowman in their empty car park space the next time they are out. On their return home they have to slam on the brakes as they move into their parking space, faced with a giant snowman grinning through their windscreen at them.
A lot of people dislike New Year with the whole back to normal routine but i say 'what's wrong with that?'. Christmas and New year are times when you eat too much, spend too much, drink too much and generally just have too much of most things that are bad for you. Why not get back to normal as soon as you can and be thankful for it? I'm sitting in work right now and personally grateful to be back. Maybe I'm just being cynical and/or miserable again but I'm glad to be back earning the honest wage with the smell of the ink, the whirring of the air conditioning, the rumble of the press downstairs, the banal chit chatter of fellow employees, drinking too much caffeine and skiving from work, writing on a blog (my own banal chit chat!). Don't get me wrong I had a great Christmas - one of the best in fact - but now it's time. I'll go home tonight and probably wrestle the Christmas tree back out the living room, tossing it outside, now unwanted and unloved, out into the snow. I always hate that bit as I love the whole tree buying element of Christmas and always feel sorry for the green fir after it's served it's purpose. I'll then be hanging from ceilings dismembering decorations and then packing them all away for another eleven months until the next time. The rooms looking bare and empty again without their trees, tinsel and baubles. No more Christmas parties, no more silly ties, no more friends and relations that you don't see enough of, no more presents, no more dancing at the bells, no more tv specials, no more buffets, no more family quizzes, no more advocaat, no more cakes and puddings.
It's all quite depressing really... how long till Christmas?