Friday, 26 February 2010

Slapping the Gift Horse in the Mouth (or How The World and His Dog Will Eventually Have His Day)

I am currently sitting in Belfast International Airport waiting for my flight to Edinburgh. From the moment this weekend away was suggested to me I just knew it could only end in disaster – only time will tell how disastrous.

It all goes back to Christmas. Despite the World and his Dog being against us we manage to fight our way through the snowy motorways on Christmas Eve to my mum’s house on the north side of Edinburgh. It was like driving through a montage of picturesque Christmas card scenes with children walking up the snow drenched hills pulling sledges behind them, families of fern trees huddled together glistening proudly in their new white winter coats, emergency service vehicles pulling battered people carriers out of roadside hedges (okay the last one you probably won’t find on a Christmas card).

Despite the warnings on the radio to not drive unless you had to (who listens to them anyway – certainly not the family now in the hedge) we arrived late on Christmas Eve. The following morning arrived with an excitement level I hadn’t experienced for many years – mainly thanks to my 2 year old son, who for weeks had been singing Santa Claus is coming to town to now realise his singing dreams had come true (it was also his birthday – a fact he isn’t so aware of at the moment but I’m sure in the years to come he will hate with every feigned smile as he accepts another present that is “for your Christmas AND Birthday”)

Anyway, during our usual exchange of gifts my brother presented me with a card. I had been forewarned that this gift was an ‘experience’ rather than a traditional physical gift. The vagueness of it all added to the excitement. As I began to force open the envelope I could feel the eyes of everyone in the room fix on me. Out the corner of my eye I even saw a faint smile appear in the corner of my brothers lips. I pulled out the card and everyone leaned in close to capture the joyous moment as the details of this mystifying gift were revealed.

My first indication that something was wrong was that the card had a Manchester United badge on the front. Having been an Arsenal fan for most of my adult life I gave out a little chuckle and thought This is just my brother playing one of his little practical jokes. I read the inside of the card and it said I’d be going to watch Manchester United play West Ham at Old Trafford. Well at this point I KNEW it was a practical joke.

I was aware that my brother was talking at me but I didn’t hear what he was saying. My entire brain function was trying to work out what the actual present could be – were there hidden clues within the text. Eventually, deciding that my brother wasn’t clever enough for that game, I looked up. The expression cast upon the gathered crowd was one of total confusion; to which my mother responded “Look, he’s speechless!!!”

I appreciate now that the first words you say after receiving a present are fairly important. Popular responses have included the classic lines: “Wow, that’s brilliant. You shouldn’t have” or “Wow, how did you know I’ve always wanted one of those” or even the simplistic chic of the timeless and at times much underated “Thank you!”

After much consideration I realise now that my dead-pan “Is this a joke?” response was never going to win any awards. I didn't want to seem ungrateful but I just couldn’t see what the present was. It’s Manchester United for crying out loud!!! One of the teams I despise most in the world (Second in fact, right behind Hibs).

Once the initial shock of the gift and my subsequent response had passed I was able to find out that yes we were going to the match but we’d be sitting with the player’s wives and injured players, we’d get to go into the player’s lounge maybe even down on to the pitch. Even I had to admit that it would be a pretty cool day out.

Anyway since that moment nothing has gone right. United managed to get into the Carling Cup Final meaning our match would be postponed. With the flights already booked my brother suggested watching Hearts take on Aberdeen in the Granite City instead (which excited me more than watching United, Hearts actually being my first footballing love). Now with 2 days to go before the match Northern Scotland receives a severe battering of snow grinding Aberdeenshire to a halt (I knew it was bad when the first thing I heard on the radio this morning was that 30 Schools in Aberdeenshire would be closed today). So it’s looking more and more likely that the game will be called off. At least I’d still get to spend the weekend with my family I foolishly thought to myself unaware that the World and his Dog I’d so sneakily avoided on Christmas Eve would be conspiring with even greater menace this weekend.

I’ve been at the airport for over an hour now (hence the longer than usual blog), and the notice board is still flashing those hateful words ’DELAYED - RELAX AND SHOP’ almost mockingly.

I should just call it quits, turn around and go home but why miss out on the ever-exciting adventure that is travelling with Easyjet! What else could possibly go wrong!

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Lent: Cadburys vs the Xbox (or How the Melton Mowbury Pork Pie can Change Your Life)

“Oh, time is on my side, yes it is” – The Rolling Stones
Time may be on the side of the Rolling Stones but I can tell you it most certainly is not on my side!

I start my Monday mornings off by wishing it was Friday already and yet every Friday that comes around I wonder where the week has gone.

I’m often complaining about the lack of time I have. So I figured it was the right moment to sit down and assess where I’m spending most time and where I can maybe save a few minutes.

There are obviously certain areas of my life which are considered non-negotiable. For example work – I can’t work less hours, they’d have to pay me less and I have bills to pay and a family to provide for. Okay I can work less hours and not tell them I’m working less and just hope that no one notices. If anyone is familiar with my work you’ll know I might just get away with that for a while but certainly not forever – even my bosses aren’t that stupid (I’m so tempted to say something smart here but I’ll just leave it blank and let you come up with your own comment about the intelligence of your own employers...............................) .

I could easily shave several minutes off my daily routine if only I were willing to compromise on my personal hygiene. Brush my teeth every other day; don’t wash my hands after going to the toilet; take a shower only when people refuse to get in a lift with me! Simple
Here’s another idea, why not only eat food that doesn’t require cooked! Think of the hours you could save each week by only eating Melton Mowbray Pork Pies and Quavers!

Any way this week is the start of Lent. There were the usual discussions at work about what people were giving up. The usual suspects lined up, the unholy trinity: Cigarettes, Chocolate and Alcohol. Lent is traditionally a time for believers to prepare themselves through prayer, penitence, almsgiving and self-denial for Easter and the commemoration and celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ (thanks Wikipedia). But in our office it is just about giving up stuff. I had briefly contemplated giving up chocolate but I realised that my motives behind that would actually be to lose weight and I really wanted it to be about more than just a challenge. Was there something I could do to encourage my prayer life or time studying God’s word? Then out of the blue a colleague challenged me to give up playing my Xbox for Lent. I laughed at first and then realised what a brilliant idea that was. Okay I don’t play it that much - usually just at the weekends and occasionally during the week when the wife goes to bed early, and sometimes when I come home from work...okay I play it a fair bit.
So hopefully this will help ease my time problems. I hope to get through a few books (or as my mate said at least a shed load of pamphlets), pray more and spend some time in the quiet just listening. Who knows what I’ll hear.

p.s. instead of playing Xbox after work today I made Chocolate Chip Muffins!!! ROCK! Oh and yes I did shower today.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Reasons I Feel I’m Getting Old Part 1 (or How Being Showered With Beer is Losing Its Appeal)

This week I attended a gig at Mandela Hall in Belfast. It has been a long time since I’ve gone to a gig. My recent musical excursions have all been concerts. What’s the difference between a gig and a concert I hear you say? Well, concerts tend to be at seated venues with crowds whose main purpose for being there is to listen to music. Gigs take place in venues with sticky floors and poorly lit smelly rooms where the people come to drink lots of beer and generally stand tightly packed or jump around and scream the lyrics back at the artist.

The event on Tuesday was definitely a gig. The venue was Queens University Student Union, the artist – Jamie T. There were about 800 people packed into this little space - The majority of the people younger than me. I assumed my usual position in front of the sound desk (for two reasons the first is it’s usually the best sound and second, there’s a barrier to rest against). Doors opened at 7pm and I turned up about 9pm. I wasn’t interested in getting to the front of the stage or listening to the support act. I usually like watching the support act but as this week is so busy I decided to put my wee boy to bed before heading to the gig - it wasn’t a tough choice really : get a hug and kiss good night from my son or spend 2 hours listening to music I don’t know while all around me students get gradually more drunk and more stupid.

My favourite part of the gig is the minute right before the band come on stage – the lights are dipped and the crowd start to cheer in anticipation. I like to try and guess what song they’re going to start off with. Bands usually choose something familiar and crowd pleasing. If an artist gets the first song right they can do whatever they like for the next 3/4 songs. If they get it wrong it can take 3/4 songs to get the crowd back on side (a prime example of this was the last time I saw Counting Crows they started with the song Speedway which is a great song but a terrible opening song). Jamie T kicked off with The Man’s Machine – perfect start. The crowd went mental.

I’ve been going to gigs since I could memorise a fake date-of-birth but I’ve noticed a recent trend that really annoys me. This may just be a Northern Ireland thing - this may have always happened but I just hadn’t noticed it before. The phenomenon is the throwing of your drinks over the crowd. Why would you spend £3 on a pint only to throw £1.50 of it into the crowd? I felt sorry for those people at the front of the stage who took the brunt of the beer barrage.
I caught myself looking disapprovingly at some young man beside me who with his back to the stage nonchalantly tossed his beer over his head – not too dissimilar to Begby in Trainspotting. When we made eye contact the scorn on my furrowed face abruptly put an end to his smug chortling. I was beginning to feel like a school teacher who had taken his troublesome class on a fieldtrip.

In one break between songs, after the keyboard player had been hit clean in the face by one expertly pitched half-pint, Jamie T addressed the crowd. “We remember” he stated “when we would go to gigs and throw pints at the band...” I thought to myself, Here we go, he’s about to tell everyone off. “...we didn’t do it out of malice; it was just part of going to see bands. It was a sign of how much we were enjoying ourselves...”. Arms crossed over my chest I was confident of the scolding that was to follow and I even allowed myself a little smirk as I looked down on the unruly youth around me. “...well we want to say that it’s okay to throw things – in fact during this next song throw everything you’ve got!”


What followed could only be described the joyful anarchy of youth as beer, clothes, people and even mobile phones were thrown towards the stage. I couldn’t help but watch and laugh as I rounded my shoulders and lowered my head in anticipation of a bombardment from the balcony above me.

I would never knowingly volunteer to be showered with beer but I can’t help thinking that if I were 15 years younger I might just have been at the front of the stage, topless, sticky and hoarse from shouting at the bass player to throw my mobile phone back!!!

Friday, 5 February 2010

Living under Brian Blessed's Wings (or How the Geek in me wants out)

I look at myself in the mirror sometimes and try to convince myself that I am cool. I tussle my hair, I spray myself with a fragrance that advertisers have convinced me makes me attractive to animal vegetable and mineral, I wear clothes that highlight my positive features and hide the bumps, all designed by companies who’s logos I wear proudly emblazoned on my chest and butt. But even after all this effort I realise that I’m just in denial.

It’s time to confess. Many of my friends may already have known this fact but were too polite to say anything to me. I think that I may be a bit of a geek. Not the cool skinny geeks you see on American teen dramas who all do extreme sports but the slightly overweight, sci-fi and computer loving geeks.

The light bulb was dramatically turned on when I realised that my son, who has only just turned 2, is already way cooler than me. He has developed this brilliant swagger (okay it may be because he can’t walk properly yet but it still looks like he should be followed by a gang).

I have tried to disguise the geek in me. One such attempt was my desire to become a rock star which, as previous blogs have explained, ended in failure. I have even tried my hand at sports. However with football, by far my favourite sport, I am at a push, pretty average. Despite my rugby build I was never a fan of the cauliflower ears and flat noses I assumed were a compulsory part of the game. I do have a couple of trophies from my sporting heyday (primary school) but they were for badminton which let’s face it is pretty much a sport for geeks. It’s hardly the rough and tumble contact sport that is rugby. Or the dangerous blood sport of boxing (although I did pull a hammy once over stretching!!).

I am coming to terms with Geekhood. However there are still several issues which have the Geek fraternity hesitant about welcoming me under their Hawkmen’s wing*.

1. I don’t really like Star Wars
2. I don’t know how to build a website or know how to hack into anyone else’s computer
3. I don’t own a miniature figurine of any superhero/action hero
4. And I have never bought a graphic novel (that’s a comic book for grownups!)
5. I have never played World of Warcraft or been tempted to go on Second Life
6. And possibly most damning is that I have never watched the original Star Trek with Shatner and Co or my inability to speak a word of Klingon.

So that leaves me out in the wilderness! So until I am claimed by one group or the other I shall just light up my Xbox and play another game of FIFA 10 dreaming of the day I’ll be able to play football like Fabregas. Live long and prosper – if you can be bothered!

*Hawkmen appeared in the film Flash Gordon - Brian Blessed with wings, genius!!!