I'm not a grumpy old man, just an out of synch hippy

Saturday, 30 June 2012


Hey diddly dee

                                                       Wherefore art thou, Romeo?

Another commercial audition on Wednesday. This time it was for milk. I was up for the part of, wait for it, a milkman. It’s nice to know the old trades aren’t disappearing, at least not in adland. And good news, I got a recall. It must have been my delivery.
It was my first milkman. I’ve played vicars, mad scientists, monks, dyspeptic men (Rennies), school janitors and Spanish magicians. I’ve been up for farmers, postmen, flute players, referees, shop assistants, sneezing men, coughing men and the chemists who give them prescriptions. But I’ve never been considered for Romeo or King Lear, and although I spend a lot of time muttering to myself, I’ve never been called to play Hamlet. Mind you, how well would Hamlet do in a commercial casting?
That’s the great thing about acting. My eyesight’s probably too dodgy to retrain as a surgeon, my reflexes too creaky to step in as an airline pilot, but I can still do the necessaries in a commercial audition.  That is, give your name and agent to the camera, (OK, that can be tricky after a couple of pints the night before), and turn both ways to give your profiles. I’m not boasting when I say that the gracefulness and speed of my turns are Olympic class.
And in a hundred years’ time, even though they may be filming onto omega rays transmitted directly to the underside of peoples’ eyelids, acting will still be the same. People will play people. And if the part is someone like me, then you’re not going to ask George Clooney or Ben Whishaw, you’re going to use me.
So let’s get into practice. How many pints do we want today, Mrs Jones?
Except they almost certainly won’t be using milkmen in a hundred years.


Sunday, 24 June 2012


Don’t ask me nothin’ about nothin’, I might even give you the truth

Market Research questionnaires - the end of the world as we know it...


Cold showers at the swimming pool today again. It was built five years ago and, for most of that time, showering’s been like being sprayed by hailstones. Then, as I was leaving, a woman waved a questionnaire under my nose. Just to add to the misery.
“We value your opinions,” she said. “It’ll only take three minutes.” “That means ten,” I grumped.  “Noooooo,” she purred, being careful not to say what she really meant: “You stupid old bastard.” I was about so say “So you don’t value my opinions, then,” when I remembered the showers. Here was my chance to air my voice. “OK then,” I muttered.
I was manhandled into a chair as she thrust some A4 sheets and a pen into my hands. The paper was covered with 8 point type from edge to edge. One blink and I was already in need of an aspirin. I turned the page over, afraid. The worst happened. It was double-sided.
I was invited to give my thoughts on the toilets, the courtesy of the staff, the efficiency of the staff, the cleanliness of the foyer, the cleanliness of the poolside area, the ease of use, the quality of the food, the value for money of the food, the value for money of the pool, the courtesy of the food, the value for money of the courtesy, the edibility of the equipment, the supervisor’s tattoos, the inpenetrability of the attendants rap slang...
…all on a scale of one to five, where one means ecstatically brilliant and five means incitement to murder.
 And on the second sheet, I was invited to mark the importance to me of all the above on a scale of one to five where one means…. I think you’ve got the picture.
Five days later I got to the end. There was not one question on the showers. “My main comment,” I told my inquisitor, “is that the showers are freezing and have been for five years.”
“That’s terrible” she purred.
“But that’s the only point I want to make,” I grunted, “the rest is bullshit.”
“Sorry,” she said, arranging her face into the sympathetic look policeman are trained to give when they have to tell someone their dog’s been run over, “it’s not on the questionnaire.”
That’s ten minutes – sorry, five days - of my life I won’t get back.




Thursday, 21 June 2012


In PC World no one can hear you scream

I bought a new monitor today. It’s lying on my bed still in the box. I only fit new hardware early in the day: I’m terrified of clicking a wrong button or something and putting all of London’s lights out.
As soon as I get into PC World, though, my technophobia turns into slavering. It’s a bit like a puritan stumbling across a very raunchy porn site. Like most men, gleaming black surfaces and glowing moving images bring out something deep within me. Maybe it’s some kind of prehistoric DNA memory of spotting the shiny tusks of mammoths striding through the tundra. I spend minutes drooling over and caressing smooth rectangular objects whose function is beyond me.
I’m pathetically eager not to seem a technoprat to the young assistants. This makes me ask questions which must make them think I’ve escaped from an institute for the semi-criminally insane. Pointing to a prospective monitor I found myself blabbering stuff like “How many RAM does it have?” or “Does it have a Blu Ray port?” when what I really want to ask is “Is that thing the On Switch?”
I’ve been trying to restrain myself from loading up with irresistible gadgets ever since I came home with what I thought was a tablet but was in fact a photo frame. I try to restrict impulse buys to the cheap stuff. I’ve a drawer full of mouse mats, two or three unused laptop bags and loads of books on Linux. I haven’t a clue what a Linux is, what it looks like or even whether I’ve got one. If you can advise, could you let me know?
I’m not giving out my email, though. If there’s a power cut across London tomorrow, I don’t want you getting on to me.








Sunday, 17 June 2012


Go on – get me started…

Pina Bausch. Great choreographer, but you try getting a drink out of her.

Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s the general crapness of things. But I’m increasingly turning from Polyanna to Rosa Klebs faster than a poisoned blade springing from a toecap.

Last night I went with my wife to see Pina Bausch. Not her personally – she’d dead – but her dance company. I’m not really a ballet kind of guy. Women wearing tutus should be put to work cleaning chimneys. People who inflict jetes and plies on the public should be whacked with an ASBO. But Pina appeals to the old hippy in me. Her choreography is wacky: her dancers go into twitchy spasms a bit like me at Glastonbury in 1973 except they’re on the beat. And they don’t wear tutus. 

But I went straight from laidback flower child to Disgusted of Tonbridge Wells when the barman said he wasn’t sure I couldn’t preorder an interval drink.  “I’ve never heard anything like it. What’s the world coming to? If you think I’m sitting through three hours of dance without a drink then ….”

He made a phone call to the manager, okayed the order and we were pals.

Next the girl at the doors tried to charge me £8 for a programme. “If you think I’m paying £8 for a programme you’ve got another think coming. Who do you think…”

“It’s for the whole season” she stammered.

“But I don’t want to see the whole season, I just want this show. How the hell am I supposed to know what’s happening without a programme?”

Actually in a Pina Bausch show nothing really happens, unless you count a woman punching a talking pillow, a waltzing couple twining toy snakes round their heads and bits of white paper falling down as stuff actually happening.

Other things which make me spit venom: people who put their feet up on train seats; people who end simple affirmative sentences with “yeah?”; people in front of you in the supermarket queue who hold you up as they dash back for forgotten items; people who text during performances…

The woman in front was fiddling with her glowing phone as the lights dimmed. I was getting ready to go into Rosa mode. Then she turned it off and settled back to watch the show. Inconsiderate bloody bitch.

Thursday, 14 June 2012


If you don’t want a heart attack then stop jumping up and down

I was talking the other day to my friend James. He mentioned he was taking statin pills for his cholesterol.  “I’ve got to bring down my count,” he said. “It’s 5.3. Doctor’s orders.”  “Aren’t they supposed to make you feel woozy?” I said. “Yes, but it’s better than keeling over at the bus stop.” “Serve you right for running “ I quipped but he’d gone on to talking about his heart rate and there was no stopping him.
I was building up a joke along the lines that bringing down the count sounds more like a job for garlic and a crucifix when something else occurred to me.
“I heard you can’t drink with statins.”
“Ah hah!” said James, tapping his nose, “If you’re planning a drink, you just don’t take the statin”
Plan a drink? I imagined my To Do list. “Phone agent. Start work on accounts. Sink triple Jamiesons.” Actually, that’s the way it really happens, especially after doing my accounts. But though I may be thinking of the triple Jamiesons all afternoon, when I actually drink it, it’s spontaneous. 
I mentioned James’s conversation with another pal, Dermot. I expected warm approval of my point of view, but Dermot said, statin-wise, “I’m on them too. My count’s 5.8. I’m lucky I’m still here, basically.”
Men of our generation never talked much about football. At one time we went on about sex (after all, we invented it) but that’s dropped off the conversation radar. These days, to get a man over 55 really going, ask him about his health. Cholesterol counts have taken the place of global warming as top bogie topic. We wait in dread for it to go over a certain level; a bit like the arctic seas.
I blame doctors. We’re healthier and need them less, and they’re sick as parrots. Revenge? Easy. Stop their red meat. Cut back their cheese. Ban their drink. Stuff them full of statins.  
Sod it, not me. I’m not listening. I’m not obsessed with my cholesterol count.
It’s 5.1, seeing you asked.

Friday, 1 June 2012


Nothing beats a good twiddle

Whatever happened to knobs?
Time was, if you wanted to turn up the telly, you’d amble over to the friendly box in the corner, fiddle with the dial and hey presto, you could hear what Bob Harris was saying. Ditto with the oven timer, though even technomoron me knew this wasn’t the best way to tune into “The Old Grey Whistle Test”.
But these days I have to fiddle with pointy sticks, glowing lights, tiny and icons the size of pinheads.  Knobs are solid. Turn one, you get more of something. Turn it the other way, you get less. That’s something I can understand. But press a remote button, you get a glow which leads to a beep which lights a screen which shows a notice saying “System error please refer to your service provider, whoever that is, not to us, because we haven’t a clue what’s gone wrong and frankly don’t give a f***”.
Last night it was warm in the comedy class I teach. I started to open the window. “Try the aircon” said an American student. “We haven’t got any” I replied. She gave me a look which said “Next you’ll be saying you don’t have running water” and pointed to the door.
Beside it was a small flat thing about the size of my brain after a couple of pints of ESB. For four weeks I hadn’t noticed it. It wasn’t something I could relate to in any way. It wasn’t a knob.
I said “Yeah, yeah” and strolled over to it with a casual gait which I hoped signified that all this was tediously elementary. The thing consisted of a display of lights and a row of buttons with icons of some type. I’d have been better off trying to decode the Rosetta Stone.
After about ten minutes of my silent struggle Ms America came over and pressed something or other. With a “whoosh!” the room went from sauna to icebox. “Wheey” she whooped and returned to her chair. Her look now said “Now you dare criticise my homework.”
Half an hour after the class finished I finally succeeded in turning the thing off. I don’t know how I did it. The forecast is for things to get a lot cooler. Frankly, I’m relieved.

                                             An ancient artefact. But what exactly was it for?