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

Thursday, 28 February 2013


Smart phone or dumb guy?

We were looking for a restaurant in an unfamiliar area of London and were lost. We’d gone round in circles and I was getting hungry. Then one or our friends fished out her smartphone, got a GPS fix and we found the place in sixty seconds.

For ten minutes I gushed. What a leap forward for humankind this was! No more getting lost. No more failed pub quizzes. All knowledge available at the press of a button (except the crucial info on which button to push).

Then came ordering time. As the waiter hovered our friend dived for her phone again and began picking at it like a woodpecker. “Calorie count” she muttered, “Warm Brie Salad 550, NO!, er, Plate of Charcuterie 800 NO NO NO!!!”  She took a breath, forced a smile and muttered “I’ll have the buckwheat noodles.”

Across the restaurant I could see women checking their phones. A guy on the next table was on his alcohol app. The bottle of Shiraz he fancied was 10.2 units. “Low alcohol lager please” he said, with all the enthusiasm of a schoolboy asked by teacher to read out his homework.

Other people mulled over their exercise app for next morning’s torture to work off the meal. Yet others were checking their bank balances before deciding to slip out and go to Macdonalds instead. Why don’t people turn these machines off? Because they’ve been told to expect a call from their partner. Or if they’re from a younger generation, from their mum.

That’s why I don’t have a smartphone. I like to enjoy my evenings out. If I want to find out where I am or how much I’m drinking, I order another bottle and these things cease to matter completely.
I never saw a phone as lovely as a bottle

But technology catches up with you in the end. Just this morning I finally woke up to the realisation that quill marks on parchment aren’t the best way to submit writing to editors. I took a breath and bought a typewriter. How did I get this stuff onto your screen? Easy – via my pigeon.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013


A nice cup of tea

1960s British food was disgusting. An over-fried egg perched on top of a pile of damp chips would be the weekly treat. Coffee was made from dried mud granules mixed with bark. It wasn’t as disgusting as it sounds. It was worse.

We didn’t rise up to hang the ruling class, or at least the TV chefs, because you could get a lovely cup of tea. The tea your mother made. The tea her mother made. Back in Neolithic days the cave-mums had a mantra: “Warm the pot. Pour freshly boiled water over the leaves. Brew for five minutes, put the milk in the cup first, then the tea. Be warmed and refreshed and go out and kill that mammoth.”

Yes, yes!

That’s what my Yorkshire aunt told me, although we didn’t have mammoths any more, which is a shame as they’d have varied our diets and given us a less reeky alternative to the Afghan coat.

London today is full of stylish cafes serving fine food and coffee by young people who are lovely in every respect but one.

Their tea is pee.

At a trendy West End coffee house this morning I asked the barista “Make me a cuppa.” I might as well have said, “Serve me a flagon of Hyperion’s noblest canary, wench,” so I rephrased the question. I forgave her fishing a teabag from a jar, as it’s easier to get a phoenix egg in London than fresh leaf tea. What she did next was to pour hot water from the urn into a mug. Next she splashed a couple of tablespoons of milk into the water.

Then before my eyes she dipped the bag into the cloudy liquid, which turned puce. At a nearby table I saw someone trying to pull their teabag out with the wooden stirrer, and sploshing it on the table. Someone else was drinking their tea with the bag still in the mug.

The Heavens rumbled. A deep voice rang out, “Depraved ones, face your punishment!” The pavement cracked. People screamed.

A mammoth plodded down the street so I rode it up to Yorkshire, where they still know how to make a good cuppa.  
No, no!

Thursday, 14 February 2013


A Baby Boomer’s Tough Childhood


I was conceived that night....

We had it tough when I was a boy. Television? We had to watch a match box with a 3 cm screen. Pictures weren’t in black and white. Just black. But we never complained.

The war had destroyed the food industry and all we had to eat was Cremola Foam. We got so weak that some days we couldn’t even crawl into school.

If we were lucky. At school Matron lined us up and force fed us cod liver oil. On a bad day she would dish out lethal injections. But we didn’t complain.

Mobile phones – you’ve got to be joking. We communicated by lighting beacons. It worked fine for news such as “Napoleon has been defeated” but wasn’t so good for messages like “Get home right now you little bastard, your mum’s having a fit!”

Our dress wasn’t fashionable or sexualised. In fact, under the heavy folds of grey flannel and the bulging satchels, you couldn’t tell the boys from the girls. Babies were created by leaving a scribbled request under the kitchen sink.

But we never complained.

When I was a boy we didn’t spend all day glued to our computer screens. We got our information by being crowded into pens in the snow and being forced to listen while teacher read out the Prayer Book in Latin.

At least it was outside, it was healthy. None of us were obese or had high cholesterol. We just died of pneumonia, a far more virile way to go. And it was alright by us.

These days, of course, the world is in a shocking state. It completely baffles us. And my god, do we complain.


Monday, 11 February 2013


My Obituary. By Me

“My aim in life is to be remembered.” Not my words – they were spoken to me by what’s his name on the other end of my block. They’re my sentiments too, though, so I’ve written out my all-too-often unsung life’s achievements for “The Times” obituary column when I go, which I hope won’t be for some time yet (my bookie feels the same way).

At the age of 13, Tony built the first cellular communication device. Sadly he was legally blocked by the Trade Descriptions Act when he tried to market the 40lb, 3’ by 2’ by 1’ product as a Mobile Phone.

His literary leanings took him to Oxford University. Elected President of the Union, he spoke in the famous debate “This house believes the British should get out of India”. The event happened twenty years beforehand, which did not detract from the truth of his arguments.

Tony Kirwood became a key figure in 1960s Swinging London. He introduced Keith Richards to the (literally) revolutionary reversed strings-next-the-body guitar technique. This was used in “Jumping Jack Flash” - the title referred to Keith’s electrocuted dance.

In the early 1990s Tim Berners-Lee contacted Kirwood in desperation, having hit a mental block trying to invent the World Wide Web. “I just can’t get it to work” said Tim. Tony looked behind the machine and said, “Try putting that plug in”. The rest is history.

Danny Boyle, stuck for ideas for the 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony, had no choice but to ring Kirwood up for advice.  Boyle’s original concept was for a brass band to play “Floral Dance” while the audience held up cigarette lighters. “It’ll take James Bond to rescue that idea,” said Kirwood.  Boyle replied “You’ve got it!”

Tony Kirwood leaves behind a wife, some baffled relatives and 37 unpaid bills.