Monday, September 29, 2008

The Fruitcake in 510

Men just can't help acting on impulse...or so says the old TV commercial. As I was packing for the US on Friday evening, I impulsively grabbed a bottle of sun cream and threw it in my bag. I might need that I thought, even though I'm working and am only likely to see the sun between walking from the taxi to the office and vice versa but when in The Sunshine State one must always be prepared.

I arrived late on Saturday evening, unpacked my luggage and found the aforementioned bottle of sun cream had ruptured and disgorged its comments over most of my underwear (socks and undies), a brand new sweater (very lightweight and specially purchased in the unlikely evening of a less than balmy evening) and my lovely old (non digital) Nikon SLR camera.

Much cussing ensued as I picked through the creamy mess of my carefully packed baggage. I knew immediately I could not just put the soiled garments in a laundry bag and leave them to be collected by the hotel staff. Some poor unfortunate soul toiling in the bowels of the hotel would receive the bag, plunge their hand in to remove the garments and be greeted with a gooey mess. I suspect hotel cleaning staff are hardened individuals and have seen pretty much everything but I still didn't want them to extrapolate wildly and draw some bizarre but wholly wrong conclusions over the contents of my laundry.

First I tried to wipe off the excess cream with a few tissues I had also packed. Useless. I then resorted to large amounts of toilet paper which cleared up most of the excess but in the end I was simply left with a large amount of toilet paper covered with a slimy creamy substance and still had a lot of gooey clothing. Much toilet flushing ensued to dispose of the toilet paper as I couldn't really just leave this sort of suspicious looking material in the bin.

I still didn't feel able to stuff the clothes into a laundry bag as it was still pretty messy. I then tried washing off the remaining excess sun cream under the shower. A hopeless failure. As the sun cream was waterproof and I had no detergent, this now meant that not only was my clothing still slimy but it was now also soaking wet.

I wrung out the items as best I could, draped them over a few hangers on the shower rail in the bathroom and then tried to dry them off with the hair dryer. The hair dryer was bolted to the wall and didn't really reach as far as the shower so I had to hold up each item by hand and try to dry them one by one. I gave up after a while.

OK, the maid would be here the next morning. What would she make of the new hotel guest who had only arrived the night before and now had a large amount of wet clothing hanging in the bathroom with suspicious white slimy patches all over it? I might as well just kill myself now in embarrasment. The suicide would hopefully generate more column inches in the press than idle speculation about the state of the suicidee's clothing I thought to myself. I went to bed and had a sleepless night - quite impressive considering it was now 5am in my own personal body clock.

The Florida morning arrived, dazzlingly bright and I still had a bathroom full of ugly wet clothes. I went to breakfast and related the whole sorry tale to my colleague who chuckled politely at my dilemma. This was worse than the time I left bloodstains all over the hotel bedsheets in Romania (ask me about that sometime), he was kind enough to remind me.

After breakfast I returned to my room, still unable to decide how I would disguise my predicament and get my clothing into a fit state to hand over to the hotel to be washed. I turned the corner just in time to see the maid exiting my room and about to close the door behind her. She looked up to see me approaching. Our eyes met. At this point, fear and embarrassment almost overcame me and I considered launching myself over the parapet and plunging five floors down into the hotel atrium. I just about managed to resist the temptation and kept walking. She smiled sweetly at me, but we both knew, behind the smile she was mentally assessing just exactly what kind of a weirdo I was. But she was a real pro. She held the smile, paused and kept the door open for me. I went in. No words were exchanged. The door closed beind me.

She had taken all the clammy clothes down and rehung them much more tidily and in such as way as they would not drip onto the towel I had left on the floor to catch the excess drippage. She had perfectly remade the bed that the previous night I had tossed and turned in so restlessly. The rest of the room had also been tidied immaculately. Hotel staff really have seen everything and I suspect it takes a lot more than my little disaster to shock them. I would barely merit a mention to colleagues during her coffee break other than for her to advise them that there's a potential fruitcake in 510.

Friday, September 26, 2008

I'm Off

OK, I'm off to the US for two weeks on business. Don't all rush in and comment at once. if.

Things You Might Like to Know

I'm currently reading Things I Didn't Know, a memoir by Robert Hughes. I first came across him when he made a TV series called Australia: Beyond the Fatal Shore. He came across as an educated, rather curmudgeonly type, perhaps a little irritated by the world in which he found himself; very perceptive, extremely dry, but always interesting. As a younger man he notoriously had fallen out of love with his home country of Australia and generally that makes for a bad documentary but this wasn't, and I like Australia so it wasn't that he was just confirming any previously held views I might have. Being very nearly killed in a massive car crash in Western Australia shortly after starting to make the series and then vindictively prosecuted by a malicious judicial service certainly wouldn't have encouraged him to mellow his views.

This lead me to find his book The Fatal Shore which is a book I've read probably three times now. It's pretty much agreed to be one, if not the, definitive book on the convict settlement of Australia. If that sounds like a bleak or dry subject, then I encourage you to nip down to your local bookstore, pick up a copy and read the first few paragraphs of any chapter and you'll walk out of the shop with it. It's visceral, gripping, and immaculately researched and written.

Strangely, for me anyway, is that what he's really known for is being an art critic. Now I can mooch around a gallery if the mood takes me but I'm certainly no follower of the art scene, nor could I name another art critic* and so the three pieces of work I've encountered of his are unrelated to what he's best known for.

Anyway, it was with particular pleasure that I stumbled across an opinion piece by him this week discussing the prices gained at auction for some works by the British shock/schlock artist Damien Hirst. He pretty much nails what the average person I suspect tends to think of modern art. Robert Hughes is considered old school in art criticism but I would guess it still hits home in the art community where an outsider's opinion might have been more easily dismissed. I particularly liked his comment about Charles Saatchi "...that untiring patron of the briefly new."

* I just thought of one - Brian Sewell.


After twenty five years of knowing I take a size 10 in footwear, yesterday I bought a pair of size 9's because the 10's felt too big.

Does this mean other parts of me are also shrinking?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Surf's Up!

I'm in Croyde in North Devon for a long weekend. It's fantastic. No time to blog.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

On Debate

I'm growing increasingly cynical at the quality of debate offered by the braodcast media. TV and radio now seem to think the best way to present a difference of opinion is to find two people whose views are at absolute extreme ends of the spectrum and set them up against each other. Of course all they do is rant uncontrollably at each other, neither individual remotely interested in conceding the other has anything the slightest bit valid to say and ultimately the debate achieves nothing. This is presented to us, the viewer, as serious debate.

Of course it is anything but that. At the extreme ends of any subject you only get the intractable minority who are not interested in the point of view of anybody but themself. There may be a huge and moderate middle ground of people who are interested in solving their particular problem, who might be interested in seeing the other side of the argument, and who might consider a bit of give and take is a worthwhile price to pay to achieve something. The problem is that whilst this may actually achieve something it usually doesn't make for good television and we all know that good television makes for good ratings.

Reality and daytime TV have of course been exploiting the above technique for what seems like ages. They love a good scrap. And when the fight starts they can step in and sanctimoniously announce that they never condone violence or abuse whilst in fact they've set the whole thing up and have achieved just what they wanted. It's a ratings winner!

Allowing this confrontational technique to debate real issues is a slippery slope. It devalues sensible debate that tries to achieve solutions and encourages the belief that all opinion has to polarised and extreme but ultimately achieves nothing.

Friday, September 12, 2008


I've always been, to say the least, unsympathetic to people with issues. We all know them - if it wasn't for some minor and probably non-existent parental slight they received twenty years ago their life would have been so much different. Or the ones who would be out there running marathons if it weren't for the debilitating physical or psychological condition that has blighted them for years yet the entire medical profession seems unable to diagnose. You just want to grab these people by the lapels - or somewhere rather more direct if they have no lapels - and tell them to bloody well just get on with it and stop moaning. If they invested as much time and effort into actually trying to achieve their goal as they invest in complaining about what holds them back they'd be surprised by what they could achieve. Of course I don't confront them. They're people I have to be cordial to such as work colleagues, or friends of friends, or people who are perhaps only passing acquaintances whom I may never see again, so frankly what's the point?

I of course, have no issues. I am baggage free, completely attuned to my own strengths and limitations. Whatever's wrong in my life might have been caused by somebody else, or may be an inevitability of my genes, or might even, perish the thought, be something I've brought upon myself, but there's no point in labouring over it. Adversaries are unlikely to come back and undo their wrongs. My genes aren't going to fix themselves and magically undo the few petty ailments that irritate me. And if I've screwed things up myself, then I've only got myself to blame.

Of course, none of that's true. We all carry around a head chock-full of self-doubt. It's what defines us. The best we can hope to do is mitigate its day-to-day effects, try not to burden others with our problems and get on with the matter in hand. Except of course, we don't. In our self-indulgent, self-regarding society we're all encouraged to articulate our problems. We're all expected to be in touch with our emotions and foibles. Confront your inner demons they say, and you will find enlightenment and ultimate peace.

But I have something. Something I still can't cope with and haven't been able to cope with for the past twenty years. I think of it daily, maybe even hourly. It makes me cringe with embarrassment at times. It stops me attending certain social events where I think it may be too conspicuous to nonchalantly imagine people aren't slack-jawed in horror at it. It makes me act ridiculously in certain company. And you know what it is? I'll tell you......I'm bald. "Oh for chrissakes grow up!" I hear you cry. Well it's just not that easy.

I've just never come to terms with it. It makes me feel prematurely old. I simply do not believe women who occasionally tell me it's actually quite sexy. How could it be? It's horrible. I feel I always stand out in a crowd because of it. My bald head is a point of reference, like a roundabout. I imagine people saying to each other in the pub"Yeah mate, the loos are over there on the left, just behind that bald bloke." I hate people standing behind me because I'm convinced they're staring at my bald pate and my silly hairline. Even those 'guess your age' games you occasionally end up in; I'm usually guessed as being at least five years younger than I really am, but I know the score, you always guess someone's age and then deduct five years to avoid offence so that's no comfort. I'm convinced people pity me - much more so when I was a younger man definitely, but now they just consider I'm unfortunate. If I'm on a first date, even if the conversation is flowing, I'm sure the woman is thinking to herself "Can I really date a baldy? What will my friends think?" I'm sure people think I'm genetically below par because of it.

Sure it has its upsides. I can wash (what's left of) my hair every day and it's dry and perfectly positioned five seconds after I exit the shower. I never have to worry about how it's styled - there is only one style. I wake up in the morning and my hair is exactly how I left it the night before. I never have to scratch around in the plughole and drag out those horrible congealed lumps of hair and other crap that accumulates. I never have to discuss with my barber how this week I'd like to look like George Clooney, and a few months later, well this time I'll have a Johnny Depp. I never need to be worried about the job he does - he always does exactly the same job, every two weeks, in five minutes flat - and even then he's taking his time. But all that is to do with ease of maintenance and has nothing to do with aesthetics.

So what to do? As soon as I know it was going, I started cutting it short lest anyone suspect I was in the slightest way bothered by its disappearance. First rule - NEVER try to disguise it. That would be the worst thing to do. Combover? No thanks, you're fooling no-one with that. Wig? Oh don't be ridiculous. Transplants? And end up looking like Elton John? Gimme a break. Hats? Well they have a practical use - they keep my bleedin' head warm don't they! That's why I don't wear them in the Summer or indoors. So yes, I have one hat, which I use when it's cold and only when absolutely required - it's not a disguise!

This has been quite cathartic. I think I've just come to terms with my condition....well, maybe just for the next hour or so.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Seasick Steve

Well if you're painfully cool and up to speed with things then you'll know all about Seasick Steve. If you're like me and just stumble across stuff then he's probably, so far, passed you by. He's just won a breakthrough artist of the year award - he's alleged to be in his seventies

This particular clip is him and his three string guitar* and the Mississippi drum machine**. There is so much sound in this from just one bloke, a bust up old guitar and a big boot.

He's playing the Albert Hall, London in October, a bloody big venue. Apparently it sold out in a trice. I can only console myself I won't be able to go because I'll be in the US. Check out some of his other clips in YouTube - they're all just as good.

* called Trance Wonder
** an old cigar box with a bit of carpet on it.

Monday, September 01, 2008

How Geek Am I?

Only 46%? I guess that's cos I don't watch a lot of sci-fi TV and don't use a Mac.

46% Geek

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