Friday, 30 September 2011

Hurried and harassed

Christmas. 85 days away, apparently, and it has managed to be one of the biggest conversations/debates in the office for the past few days. Other conversations in the past week have ranged from the debate of whether Creamy Chicken John is, in fact, Bible John, old television adverts, who the woman with the stockings was, whether Andrea will get hit by a bus as she crosses Cadzow Road, the vast amount of people Craig believes are w**kers and what age Lorna is.
It was her birthday today and she brought us all in a treat to celebrate. A rather tasty dumpling, and today it tasted even better, simply because it was Friday.
I’d been feeling a bit down in the dumps of late but today, even though I only managed a mere four hours sleep last night, I strode up to work feeling a little better. Maybe it was just something to do with the fact that as of this afternoon, I have a week off. Time to relax, chill out, look after Ka and perhaps even get some more painting done.
The bright sun shining down over Scotland probably helped cheer me up too.
The Indian summer has started, the news is saying. If Scotland sees much more than one day, I’m Santa Claus.
After the past few stormy weeks of wind and rain going out at lunchtime was like walking out into a foreign country. The Hamilton shops surrounding the office were busy with summer shoppers as Lorna and myself took a stroll up to the local Marks and Spencers to take advantage of their latest Meal Deal for the weekend. The Marks and Spencers Dine in for Two Meal Deal is always popular and pretty good value for a tenner. The main problem is usually getting your hands on any of it. You get a main, a side dish, a dessert and a bottle of wine, but, unfortunately, not always of your choice.
Fortunately Lorna and myself had headed up the street just a little earlier than noon, hoping to beat the lunchtime crowds, so we had a good selection of meals to choose from. It was getting to them that was the problem.
We walked in and before we could wonder where we were headed, we seen the small crowds, straight ahead, gathered at the busy shelves at the end of the middle three aisles.
Little old ladies everywhere. The majority of the crowds were anyway, the rest were rather pi**ed off looking older men, probably waiting on their wives making a decision.
Patiently, I waited on a space to open and then took my chance to weave myself into the crowd.
As I stood deliberating on what to buy for dinner, I spoke to Ka on the phone, asking if she'd prefer haddock or beef roulades. Just as I was reaching for the beef roulades, to try and work out what their green filling was, the corner of a metal hand basket was jammed into my side. Looking down towards the pain, I yelped as a grim looking old woman looked up at me aggressively from my side whilst I recovered from the sharp, sudden pain in the side of my ribs and the abrupt interruption to my conversation with Ka. Two other women were closing in to my left, elbowing my subtly and a large bloke reared up behind, reaching over my shoulder to get to one of the roulades.
I'm not sure I like being surrounded by aggressive old women and I'm definitely not sure I like large blokes rearing up from behind, especially when they're apparently in urgent need of a bit of beef.
Sensing a disturbance in the call, Ka asked me what was up to which I told her.
“I’m surrounded by housewives and mad old women!” I said, perhaps a little too loudly, into my mobile. Shocked utterances and angry comments were made around me, which spurred me on into making a hurried, and rather harassed decision. I grabbed the haddock and ran for the tills, (run for your lives!), swiping a bottle of white plonk from the Meal Deal shelf as I ran.
Never before has Marks and Spencers felt so threatening. I'd obviously caused a little upset by standing before the Meal Deal shelves, undecided on what to purchase whereas they're all allowed to meander around the shops in their slippers, with their sticks and electric wheelchairs, for as long as they like.
After getting out of Marks in, just about, one piece, my gold tie looking a little bedraggled, I popped into the Hamilton Shopping Arcade's O2 shop to ask about the strange symbols that have started appearing on my phone.
Last week I'd visited the shop to get a new Sim card as my phone had taken a liking to switching itself off and complaining about an “INACTIVE SIM”.
The guy that sat me down at his desk last week to take my phone apart, scoffed at my sim card as he plucked it from the back of my mobile. He shook his head his head and looking at me disdainfully explained I had a mere 2G Sim, which were fazed out months ago, and I should have a 3G. Shrugging, I asked him to sort it out for me and since my new 3G sim card has become active it has successfully tripled all the contacts in my address book and been flashing strange new logos at me on the phone's screen.
The same guy was there today but too busy laughing scornfully at some other ignorant mobile user at the time. Another tall, rather gloomy looking fellow strode up and asked if he could help. This rather depressing looking O2 sales character took the phone off me and looked down at it's screen. As I started explaining about the phone and how, up until last Friday, I'd had a 2G Sim card, the O2 man's eyes started welling up. He quickly rubbed his eyes, trying to act natural as he flicked pages on my phone with shaky hands. My explanation faltering a little, I continued, unsure where to look, before real tears started gathering in his eyes. Quietly, and under my breath, I asked if there was a problem. The guy seemed genuinely upset. The other guy had found it hilarious to the levels of smugness but this guy was obviously the opposite and felt nothing but pity for me. Surely having a 2G Sim card wasn't that distressing.
The guy eventually murmured something about hayfever through his tears as he continued to shake his head and rub his eyes over my phone, making me wonder how my mobile and I could have possibly caused such an outbreak of the allergic reaction. As I considered the dusty old ladies in Marks and Spencers as probable cause, the crying O2 man murmured the phone symbols away as temporary problems to do with internet connections. Hurrying the phone from his hands I quickly said my thanks and left the store before I caused the guy any more upset.
Thankfully, I didn’t upset anyone else for the rest of the day, with the exception of Linda, in Advertising, who wanted a visual done half an hour before the end of my shift.
She had no chance.
I was going home for my haddock.
Which was delicious.
Well worth upsetting the old ladies for.

Friday, 23 September 2011


I picked up the phone on Wednesday night to noise. People were shouting. People were having rather frantic conversations. Sudden rattling noises raced past the other end of the phone. And then Mum spoke.
“Hello?” she enquired, rather than greeted.
“Hello?” I enquired back, almost shouting over the noise in the background.
“Hold on” Mum said. “Michael?”
“Yes, it’s me, Mum, where are you?” I asked as the noise around my Mum on the other end of line seemed to grow loud again and then, once more, lessen back down into various conversations in the background, phone’s ringing in the room behind her.
“Where are you Mum?” I asked, almost impatiently, before I heard the noise.
An ambulance rang out in the background. A brief, short scream of a few seconds. Enough to make me panic.
“Where are you Mum?” I almost shouted, near panic, the worst of situations running through my mind. It had only been three weeks since my Dad’s heart attack. You’d often hear of people having mild heart attacks before a big one later on, further on down the line.
“What was Archie’s second name?” Mum asked.
“What?” I frowned down the phone at her, as the frantic conversations carried on behind her.
“Archie’s second name, what was it?” Mum asked, referring to a previous boss I’d had, an ancient old fella that ran the Auldhouse Arms, an old pub where I used to work behind the bar, in my art school days.
“Where are you?”, I asked again in frustration. “Where’s Dad?”.
“He’s in the conservatory talking to one of the guys from his work” Mum replied.
The conservatory?
Once more, frowning down the phone, I asked perplexed, “what’s all that noise in the background?”
“The noise?” Mum replied and then seemed to cotton on to the noise going on around her. “Oh, I’m watching ER”
“ER?” I huffed as my shoulders relaxed around my neck.
“Yeah, it’s on Sky” she replied.
“That finished ages ago!” I sighed exasperatedly after a few moments of pulling myself together again. Has she not had enough hospital dramas recently, I thought? And even if she hasn’t surely she could be watching a little more current hospital dramas such as Greys Anatomy, House, Holby City or Casualty even?
Mum still struggles with that giant, HD, television they’ve got. One day she spent a whole morning simply trying to turn it on before giving up and phoning Kenny, interrupting him at work.
The other day I received an emergency phonecall from Ka in work. The Virgin tv service had crashed again. I’m still not sure, to this day, what I was supposed to have done to our television from my desk at work but I done my utmost best. I told Ka to phone Virgin. Only this morning I was sitting eating my weetabix, looking forward to watching some gypsies, sorry, travellers getting chucked off some illegally pilfered land, when the tv went black.
The virgin service had went capoot once more. Being at home this time, I went straight to the phone and voiced a hearty complaint to the Indian women on the 150 number. She apologised and booked a repairman for Sunday.
“Sunday?”, I said. “Sunday?” A little louder, causing Ka to wake up in the bedroom. “This is ridiculous!”. Rather than be impressed that Virgin tv repairmen did not partake in the day of rest, I was rather annoyed that we’d have to spend the majority of our weekend without television. Nothing could be done though, and I had to go to work without my morning news, although, fortunately, I didn’t miss anything on the Dale farm front thanks to another Court ruling. The Virgin lady later called and informed us it was a regional fault and our television would be back by five o’clock in the evening, so we were able to watch QI and Big Brother tonight (two different ends of the television spectrum there!).
“Young” I sigh, my ears growing accustomed to the medical babble in the background. “His name was Young” I almost hang up on Mum with a roll of the eyes, once I finally relax.
Mum obviously still doesn’t know how to operate the volume control properly as the noises of the ambulances and doctors of ER fill the living room, while she fiddles over her jigsaw on the coffee table, the handset of their phone at her ear.
“Ah, that was it, Young” she nods over the phone. “You’re Dad wanted to know as Bill’s, (or whatever his name was), Mum knew him”.
“That’s good” I say. “How are you?”. Now that she had phoned and successfully disturbed me, I thought I may as well make polite conversation.
“Fine, fine” she replied, a little distant, her attention now obviously back to watching ER which is probably where it mostly remained until the end of the conversation.
Having answered my question and fulfilling my use, I let her get back to her hospital drama and I back to The Fades, on BBC three. A little less ordinary than ER but, on some levels, not as uncomfortable.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Halle's hot and Dahl's hut

So Halle Berry’s been in Glasgow over the weekend filming her latest flick. I was reading yesterday that there is someone employed on set, standing, waiting patiently behind camera who runs out as soon as the director shouts cut and rubs Halle’s hands. Her poor, wee cold hands. This same person also provides Halle with a nice hot water bottle at each scene’s break, helping her brave the freezing cold Scottish air.
It’s not even cold yet?!
Berry’s filming an adaptation of David Mitchell’s ‘Cloud Atlas’. And no, the author is not the same David Mitchell as the smarmy one with the hook nose and bulbous eyes with a penchant for making snippy comments whom I reckoned it was when I originally seen ‘Cloud Atlas’ in the book charts. This David Mitchell has been shortlisted for the booker prize and is now getting his books made into films starring big Hollywood names. The git.
I get very jealous of writers. People writing stories and getting paid for it. Especillay once they start getting made into big Hollywood movies. David Mitchell will be loaded now. Mega bucks for spending your days, sitting at home, writing, or in Edinburgh coffee shops if your J. K. ‘I was a poor, lonely, single Mum’, Rowling.
Can you sense the jealousy? (Not of being a single Mum...)
Every time I’ve tried to settle down in a coffee shop to write a book I’ve always been chucked out an hour or so after my first tea (I don’t drink coffee) or at the very least received growls from the folks behind the counter or had a wet mop flung over my shoes as a subtle hint.
How did J.K. ‘my ideas are all completely original’, Rowling get away with it? She must have spent a hell of a lot of her single parent benefits on posh coffee.
Or maybe it was a tea drinker vendetta. It was simply because she was a slurper of the coffee bean. Like I said, I’ve never drank coffee. Perhaps the coffee shops I was perched in were discriminating against me because I was a tea drinker. That would explain why tea is always p**s poor in those ridiculously overpriced coffee shops, because they simply do not cater for, and have no intention of catering for, tea drinkers. Especially ones that are trying to come up with the next multi million pound making fantasy series to envelop the whole childrens’ fiction reading market.
Roald Dahl, the genius and a favourite author of mine since I was a kid, who would have been 95 last week, made the headlines a few days ago, not only because of his birthday (even though it’s not really his birthday because he’s dead) but because his poor little garden hut is falling apart.
Yes, Dahl’s dilapidated, old hut at the bottom of his garden is apparently in imminent danger of falling apart and Dahl’s family have started a campaign to save, and move, his hut to the Roald Dahl museum in Buckinghamshire.
That’s a nice thought. Treasuring and perhaps partly restoring, what was the birthplace of so many classic and wonderful stories.
At least it was a nice thought until the family insisted they wanted half a million quid for their trouble.
Half a million quid? To save a garden hut?
Are the Dahl offspring having a laugh?
My Dad’s got two garden huts in his garden but I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t need half a million quid to give them a bit of a refurbishment, even if it did mean sticking them on the back of a lorry to shift them to a different location. He could probably even install a wee swimming pool in each of them and it wouldn’t cost him half a million quid. Perhaps a mini bar and an HD TV too?
And another thing, why the hell can’t the Dahl offspring pay for the refurbishment and transportation of their famous author patriarch’s garden hut themselves? Surely they can afford it with the royalties they’re earning off the back of his hut originated creative genius?
That Sophie Dahl could cut back on the old chocolate cake and put a few quid in the bank for a start, not to mention, lose a couple of pounds. Talk about the everlasting gobstopper…
It was a simple garden hut made out of brick and polystyrene with a mouldy old chair, a rotten old sleeping bag and a crumbling old suitcase inside. Dahl must have been freezing in the winter months. I bet he could have done with one of Halle Berry’s hot water bottles in those days.
How much would that hut cost to ship? I reckon that Dahl lot have been selling on ebay. One of these sellers that inflates their price by grossly overestimating the old postage and packaging.
‘Yes, this item is well worth a look at. This item has been previously used, and probably abused. A great little garden retreat. Brilliant for hiding yourself away in to get away from the wife or the grandweans that are screaming for chocolate. A little worn on the inside, and out. Brick crumbling. Polystyrene mouldy. Plenty of bugs and parasites. Perhaps the occasional fox.
Worth around £5. Postage? Half a million quid’.
Sophie Dahl described it as a place of ‘palpable magic and limitless imagination’.
After her grandfather’s lifetime of fantastic writings and creative genius I’m sure her bank account could be described as something similar.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Over iced and overpriced

Ka and myself were back in Glasgow, late on Saturday afternoon. With the intention of dinner and drinks we headed for the Merchant Square in Candleriggs. It felt like we hadn’t been out for ages, as we’ve had a few quiet weekends recently, and now that George Square was free of zombies, crowds running amok screaming and breaking their arms and detoured Number 20 bus routes, we thought it would be a pleasant change and get us out the house.
The city’s old fruit market and surrounds, in which much of Glasgow’s old Victorian architecture still proudly stand in cobbled streets, has been a bit of a favourite for Ka and myself when it comes to going for a wee tipple at the weekend. Although a little pricey, the atmosphere is always relaxed, comfortable and enjoyable as you can sit in one of the Square’s bars inside the roofed courtyard with it’s high ceiling of curving, twinkling lights which shine down over the cobbles of the people filled square below.
On Saturday the Merchant Square’s Craft and Design Fair was taking place. It turns out that it’s more of a permanent fixture these days, and there were various traders attempting to sell the product of their various hobbies and pastimes.
Paintings, drawings, photographs and jewellery were all on sale around the various stalls in the Square along with two stalls selling fairy cakes… sorry, cup cakes.
Ridiculously overpriced and ridiculously over iced cup cakes sold by large grinning ladies in silk scarves. These small sponge creations sit there on the silver plates, innocently looking up at you with their colourful d├ęcor, probably containing enough icing on top to easily feed you double the amount of your daily sugar allowance by just eating one. Enough to send you off in a wild eyed buzz to buy a horrendously overpriced print of a photograph at one of the surrounding stalls before going off into one of the bars and ordering yourself ten Mae West cocktails.
Don’t get me wrong some of the photographs at the fair’s stalls are great. There are some really nice shots of various Glasgow locations and beyond. But selling small A5 prints straight from the computer’s inkjet computer, in small card frames bought in large packs from stationery websites and charging silly amounts of money for them, is a bit much.
The painters, illustrators and jewellery makers are the one’s that really interested Ka and myself.
The work of Glaswegian artist and designer, Adrian B. McMurchie, for instance, really grabbed my attention, with his fantastic architectural line drawings and watercolours. In fact, my own style of sketchbook and watercolour work is very much like McMurchie’s, only a lot less detailed and not half as good. His eye for catching the details, perspectives and structure of his chosen, architectural subjects is brilliant and well worth a look.
Another stall that took Ka’s eye was the jewellery of Moon on the Loch. This is the work of Scottish jewellery designer, and fellow East Kilbridian, Stephen Dickie. Dickie works with silver, gold, copper and glass to create fantastic and stylish jewellery in elegant, often simple, smooth, minimal shapes. Using nature and reflection as inspiration, Dickie creates ear rings, necklaces, bangles and cufflinks all to a beautiful, polished finish.
Ka’s eyes lit up when we looked over the jewellery laid out over the ‘Moon of the Loch’ stall but with just under 100 days to go, I simply took a business card and moved onwards to Arisaig for lunch, after which we spent the rest of the evening on the big, black, comfortable cushions of Bar Square.
Bar Square’s Vodka based Mae West cocktail was particularly good. That was our pudding. The Cup Cake stalls had closed by then.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Unexpected items

Ka has been needing a bit of tlc recently. The mental trials of the last half a year have been tough on Ka, me, not to mention the rest of the family, I suppose. Dad’s heart attack last week also gave us a scare, and it’s all left me rather numb and depressed.
In a vague effort to cheer Ka up, just a little, I left work yesterday to buy her some flowers at the supermarket on my way home.
Now that the newspaper production centre is based in Hamilton we have the joys and inconvenience of being just around the corner from the local Asda. Inconvenience because I now have little excuse when it comes to popping by the shops on the way home to get some cheese or milk missing from the fridge. So nipping into Asda on the way home last night I bought Ka two bunches of flowers, a new set of pyjamas and a new clothes horse.
Okay, a clothes horse is not the most romantic of items or the first thing to go for to cheer your lady up, but, as I'm sure you can guess, I didn't specifically buy it for Ka alone to accompany her colourful bouquet. You certainly wouldn't woo many a woman by buying them a clothes horse (why do they call it a clothes horse anyway? It's nothing like a horse - where's the saddle?). Saying that, would you woo many a woman by buying them pyjamas? Cuddly, cosey pyjamas with Eeyore on the front?
Well, it's better than a clothes horse anyway.
I did suspect coming home with a bunch of flowers together with a folding concertina clothes rack was a risk and could possibly end up with me being concerina’d myself but was confident that the pyjamas would soften the blow.
A new clothes airer, or horse, is something we've been meaning to buy for at least three months now anyway and they were all reduced in the homeware sale, so it was a bargain and would successfully replace the old one, which is now a bloody nuisance.
For the past few months we have had to build the clothes horse with awkward, krypton factor like, precision, involving balancing broken parts against other broken parts and hoping that nobody accidentally hit it on their way by in the hallway, otherwise the thing would shake down into a pile of damp clothing and metal poles with jagged ends. A quick journey through our small hallway, in the past months, has often ended up like a strange version of jenga, involving metallic poles and wet pants instead of the traditional wooden blocks.
It was the ironing board that did it. The ironing board is kept in the same tight corner of the kitchen and at some point in the past year has caused a few breakages to various intersections in the airer's joinings making it the quivering wreck it is today.
Luckily for me, after making it home, the old clothes horse did not end up smashed down over me. Ka liked the flowers and pyjamas and all the hassle at the Asda self service check out was worth it.
No matter how many times I attempt to use those self service checkouts it always takes double the time it should.
After finally getting the scanners to recognise some barcodes I beeped the flowers through and placed them down into a carrier bag, just as the overly patronising animation instructed you to on the monitor, only to be told I had an 'unexpected item in the baggage area'.
I looked round for this mysterious unexpected item to see only the two bunches of flowers sitting there. That couldn't have been right, I thought, as I had scanned both over the glass panels and the machine had beeped it's approval, allowing them passage to the afore mentioned baggage area, so, to my mind, this would make them wholly expected.
Absolutely expected.
Exactly what the machine should have expected.
There was nothing remotely 'unexpected' about them!
Was the baggage area unprepared for such a hefty weight of blossoms?
Was I supposed to keep the flowers in hand as I swept the rest of my items over the scanner?
So, just as all the other times, I had to wait on a 'supervisor' to come over. A young guy, around the age of seven, in an Asda fleece, eventually sauntered over and flashed his badge at the scanner and then pressed the monitor once before giving an abrupt nod and walked off to be useful somewhere else. Perhaps to hold the giant pointing green hand that’s used to tell people which direction to head in once they reach the normal, humanly staffed, checkouts.
Something obviously had to be verified, I thought, as I tried to scan the clotheshorse’s barcode.
Perhaps buying flowers now has an age restriction?
I wondered if I had not moved my item to the baggage area with the correct degree of efficiency?
A clotheshorse through the self service monitor would have been a far worthier contender for an ‘unexpected item’.