Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Fame Game

Those obsessed with statistics, meaningless or otherwise would be wise to read on. Courtesy of a blog entry in which I shamelessly name dropped Shhh... Ioan Gruffudd, I have been bombarded with stats-saturating hits from his hope-filled global fan base. The link, posted by a contributor on one of those weird message forums at Ioan online has been clicked in such volumes only the truly popular could understand.

Admittedly these forum message people would have had to speed-read, jump-ignore growl-grrr-huff their way to satisfaction: da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da Anglia Niiights...the... Warrrrrriors, scroll-roll, roll, roll: "shit; shit, shit-shit; shit!" "Aha!!" "Eureka!" "Ioan" "Mmmmmmmmmmm!! "Iuan!" "Mmmmmmmm!" You really do have to kiss a lot of frogs to get to your prince.

My Australian visitors stats are positively roof-bound, Canadian temp-friend numbers, stratospheric. I'm being quoted, referenced, and surely, soon to be feted. Read with the kind of adoration normally reserved for the likes of Ioan. I know the man who (sort of) met the man of my dreams scenario. Even the dusty old Grasmere has been linked in a kind of: "ohhh if only we knew to be there, right there, right then." Even the dear old Black Velvet debate has been deconstructed - it seems that Black Velvet in Canada is a whiskey rather than a beery, apply concoction. But who cares: " I'd be happy to discuss this with Ioan," even though Ioan did not proffer his opinion on this dubious amalgam right there, right then.

Update: As hits go, these are pretty worthless, numbers can indeed flatter to deceive.

And groan. It couldn't last. Name dropping does indeed have its price. I should have known not to criticise the response of the groupie. Messages from these forum obsessives are now taking an altogether more darker turn, and yours truly ain't coming out of it quite so well now. Not to worry, my spies have told me when our hero's next in the area and, in a surprising coincidence, I'll be there too, so I'll be able to update him.

Monday, November 28, 2005

One Man Sapping

I have enrolled, through the almost hysterical encouragement of colleagues and managerial grades, for a course of vocational learning leading towards examinations in the spring.

I'm far too idle for this kind of thing and doubt I'll last the course. It all feels just a little bit too late now, having swam through a sludge of apathy for the best part of twenty years. I have a certain status, some authority, plenty of respect and a decent wage and secure and generous pension. Do I really need this hassle. This time intensive, stress inducing, hassle.

Study is something I haven't done for years. The last exams I took meant the writing down of reams. Splurges of written work - finger aching, eye watering, head dizzying (a sincere promise of a world class migraine to come) bellyaching, writing. And now it all seems to be multiple choice. Tick the box. Tick the right box. Tick the right box and surge towards your dreams. Tick the wrong box and you might as well climb into it and hammer the lid down - you're going nowhere baby.

I Googled multiple choice. I always thought it was a poor mans examination system. Surely luck and little gut instinct would get you through. A nose for the answer, develop a feel for what is right and you're there. A chimpanzee could do it through random selection - even if it applied no logic, no rationale whatsoever. And let's face it, Bubbles isn't likely to. The logic and rationale thing I mean. And I'm at least Bubbles' equal if no-one elses.

But no. That never works. The one in five chance of getting it right decreases throughout the test to such an extent it's a wonder there's no chance of ending in minus territory. The scheme is brutal. Gone are the days of two silly options and two credible, one more credible than the other. Now we have nuances so fine, without an encyclopedic knowledge of the entire subject from which the question has been sourced, they are all right and all wrong, all likely and all ludicrous. Pick yourself a winner sucker and yowl at the moon all night for disregarding Bloom's Taxonomy and treating the whole thing like a quiz lifted from Titbits.

Blogging's getting rare. Rarer. Unless I bin the whole course thing and dedicate myself to blogging instead.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Picture This. Part The Second.

I'm hoping I'll never need to know too much about the Skoda. Despite its vast improvement since being taken over by Volkswagon, which bears the mark of the famous 'Vee Dubya' where both letters meet in a circular badge with the V of Volks (people's) resting on the W for wagon (car), the Skoda will always be considered a bit of a turkey. This point is almost reinforced as Skoda, rather obligingly, and in an act of stark self deprecation, seem to have chosen a green turkey as an emblem of speediness in its the badge.

A self-fulfilling prophecy perhaps? Actually, no. Closer inspection reveals that the figure in the badge is in fact a winged arrow. But just as it starts to occur that a nice irony has been missed, you realise that this winged arrow, far from looking quick and flash, looks a bit bent and its wings only amount to a single wing sticking clumsily upwards.

How to describe the The Toyota symbol? It's actually quite difficult as it's rather like one of those gestalt visual perception images, what it is depends on what you see. This squashed circle incorporating two ellipses roughly in the shape of a rounded T is the best I can do. It could just as easily be a bulb or a glass bowl or a cowboy hat if your visual structural context takes you that way.

My spies tell me that in Japanese, 'Toyo' means an abundance of, and 'ta' is rice and that some Asian cultures believe that those blessed with an abundance of rice are blessed with great wealth. So the circularly T in your Toyota logo depicts that the car you own was manufactured by a company that believed that one day it would be able to buy as much rice as it wants. And now it can.

The Subaru is another car that has an egg shaped badge. This one is made up of one big four point star and five smaller four point stars which are contained inside the ovate badge. Subaru. The first Japanese car company to use a name derived from its own language. It refers to the group of six stars - also known by its original Japanese name of mutsuraboshi which are found in the constellation of Taurus.

The Mazda logo at first glance is just a stylised V inside a circular badge. But if you look at it another way - we're back into gestalt territory again - it could be the head of a tulip. But sadly, the prosaic letter V wins over the poetic imagery of the flower. That said, the logo developed by Rei Yoshimara, a world-renowned corporate image-maker, meant the 'V' to represent outstretched wings, which Mazda wanted to use to demonstrate the creativity, the sense of mission, the gentleness and the flexibility that is Mazda. And in so doing almost wins one back some of the poetry. But not quite.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Picture This. Part One

This will interest no-one but me. And only me since I'm tackling a little curve of learning without the aid of ice pick and crampons. There may be a few slips along the way.

As alluded to with great subtly in my last post, the least I can do is have a look at the emblems and logos of some of the cars that are around so that I'm not completely blind during my early searchings for something to replace my aging steed. Who knows I may even be able to differentiate between models once I have a hook in.

All Audis - vorsprung durk technique as the old commercial went, courtesy of the dead pan tones of Geoffrey Palmer if I recall correctly, display four interlinked rings reminiscent of the five rings of the Olympics, but with, er, one of them missing. The five rings of the Olympics represent the five major regions of the world, the four of Audi represent the four companies of the Auto-Union consortium of 1932 - DKW, Horch, Wanderer, and Audi. After the war the Audi name - which is Latin for "Hear!" - disappeared, but was revived in 1965, using the four rings as a logo.

The Citroen logo looks like something you might see on an American cartoon soldier - two inverted Vs. Andre Citroen - imagine one of those old black and white photographs with an ancient man in a white beard - started in the motor trade by building gear wheels before branching out into the motorcar, and the twin chevrons << are meant to represent gear teeth in honour of the old engineer's early fettlings.

The Renault can be identified quite early by its diamond logo. Starting out as a bonnet emblem, the diamond originally concealed the horn so I suppose it started off having a practical purpose. From 1922 the centre of the badge was cut out to allow the sound of the horn to escape - as presumable a muffled horn was rather like the car having no horn at all. Now all the modern plush Renaults display this diamond, this, automobile jewellery.

The Fiat depicts - when the word Fiat doesn't appear - a kind of shorthand version of the word FIAT by means of five backslash diagonal lines. The story, possible apocryphal, is that Fiat first used the five-bar logo on the Uno in 1982, after Fiat design chief Mario Maioli, driving past the Mirafiori factory at night after a power cut, had part eureka moment, part St Paul on the road to Damascus when he saw the giant FIAT logo on top of the plant, set against the fading light of the sky.

In an inspired Amperora si ora vedo una visione moment, before goldfishitis took hold of him, Mailoi jotted down the image of the five spaces he could see between the letters which resembled the five bars we see today. How thankful we are.

I think I might be a very sad man.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Car Trouble

It's car changing time again. And again I find myself worse than useless at deciding what I want. It would help if I could better identify what cars are out there so that when some well meaning soul says to me: The Toyota such and such is very economical, or that the BMW whatsitsface has great panache, or that the Skoda is no longer the ugly runted disaster it used to be, I have some idea what it is they are saying. Or at least some idea as to what to look out for to either confirm praise or justify denunciation.

I am shamefully useless at car recognition - I know men who can identify aircraft and tanks quicker and more accurately, despite having a limited interest in them. When asked, they seen to suggest it's part general knowledge part masculine instinct. Why do they care what a Vulcan bomber looks like, or what this year's must have refinements on the Challenger tank are if they're not modern warfare hobbyists? They're never going to buy one of these things, never going to brag about their latest whirlybird acquisition, never going to land their Sea king helicopters on the greens in between the wooden picnic tables of the Stunted Stoat, or rumble their Sherman tanks on a destructive school run, fighting for parking by means of flattening the opposition.

I suppose, despite the fact that I should be interested in cars because I own them and drive them, I'm not. A little bit of interest would, I think. go a long way.

The first thing I'm going to do to rectify this problem, this deficiency of understanding, is to undertake a short course of study into the emblems of cars so that I can at least recognise through pictures and diagrams, the difference between, I don't know, a Mondeo and an Audi. My knowledge is so limited I'm struggling for realistic examples. Years ago I was good at it. I could recognise all the old Morrises and Austins, the Triumphs, old Fords and Vauxhalls. They all looked so very different from each other. So particular. Now I'm wincing every time I try a little amateurish identification: that's a ...doh! At that's one of those...doh!!

Emblems. It starts soon.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Fight Cub

I obviously haven't changed much since I was a squit of 16. I'm gradually replacing many of my film obsessions involving warring gangs, with DVDs which, previously - ignoring the videotape blip - I used to express through dashing out and buying the vinyl film track album. The covers of these would be hugged tightly to my breast every night in homage to these god-like heroes, in the hope that some of their raw glamour would seep into my bones and make me be more like them. Fighting anthems would be dragged out of the revolving black disc by a fluffy stylus scratch-jumper and sent out of single speaker directly into my excited heart.

In real life I was terrified of gangs and gang warfare. Most decent lads were. But I couldn't resist the allure of reading about it. I consumed rubbishy books like Richard Allen's Skinhead in all its forms: Escapes, Sorts, Trouble for.. And its follow up Suedehead, and all those Hells Angel and their Chopper books by Hunter Thompson and H.R Kaye. I would down them as if they were literary oysters - cracking them open and tipping them down my throat, endlessly, until I felt sick. And that was before I started watching the films. More fear, more fascination.

Somewhere, tucked away in my loft, the most unfashionable room in the house, I have the above film sound track. A mere glance at the picture takes me right back to when I first watched the film. Mine has been gathering dust. The cover - its protective carcass, faded, corners softened, mashy. The flimsy sleeve, its own personal protector, torn, frail; barely capable of concealing its fragile charge inside. I need to find it, make it safe.

But now I have The Warriors on DVD. To add to my Clockwork Orange (another vinyl languishing somwhere) and The Wanderers. The supermarket two for tenner scheme. What better way to restock the sources of your warped dreams.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Rocks And Roles

The mistake that most of the commentators seem to be making when reviewing ITV's double drama: 'Walk Away And I Stumble,' a line from Macy Gray's 'I Try', is in confusing Stonehenge which doesn't feature, with Avebury Stone Circle where some of the drama is set.

Any Wiltshire schoolboy knows that Stonehenge, once a succession of circles, now consists of a ring of linear sarsen stones in a single circular structure, situated in a field just outside of Amesbury and visible from the A303, the old London Road. That it resembles the patient placing together of stones, as if a giant child had been attempting to construct a house of cards like challenge where one false move and the whole thing would tumble. Some have tumbled, though the basic shape is maintained and they continue, huddled together as if they had taken a single hit from the almighty's bar skittle ball.

More literate Wiltshire schoolboys will know that Hardy's Tess of the Durbervilles hid at the stones at Stonehenge while on the run for killing Alec d'Urberville before she was found, arrested, and made to become Hardy's 'twister in the wind' at a Dorchester gallows. Film buff schoolboys and red blooded men will remember Nastassja Kinski in Polanski's version.

The stones of Averbury look far more haphazard and are of irregular shape, sitting in relative isolation, jutting up to the sky like the remains of a family of ogre's game of splits. And although made up of three circles, two inside of one, now look random and disorganised at ground level, thanks to the road system, houses, and the delightful Red Lion Inn - the spookiest pub in all of England: whoooooo!!

And no Tess of the D filmed here. Only 'Children of the Stones' a 1970s scary do starring Iain Cuthbertson. And: ' Walk Away And I Stumble,' a formulaic piece of cliched crap with only the Avebury stones and the Wiltshire town of Wotton Bassett and its eccentric town hall perched on its fifteen pillar legs, to offer relief.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Brief Encounters

I was being served a pint of Guiness by a Latvian student in the bar of the Grasmere Hotel in Salisbury when Ioan Gruffudd joined me at my side and ordered a pint of a lager and a Hamlet cigar.

It's true. The barmaid really was a Latvian student whose boyfriend, a Slovakian, had returned to Bratislava to attend the funeral of his father. And the rest of the hotel staff, as seems increasingly common these days, resembled a cross section from a 'Russian Brides for Sale 'catalogue: two Poles - one a slavic-cheeked blonde beauty, and another who could have been a librarian; a taciturn Czech; a madly coiffured daughter of a Latvian shipyard worker from Riga, a friendly Hungarian and an elegant Belarussian.

The cleaner, in keeping with the cosmopolitan flavour of the hotel, hailed from Portugal but did not share the cultural aspirations and language learning of the Eastern Europeans with their obsessions with London and Stratford and Edinburgh, and could only manage a self conscious: "gud maw neening" each bom dia, as I routinely tripped over her vacuum cleaner hose before careening into her towel and sheet trolly.

How strange to find such an array of nationalities in a creaky, tired, old fashioned Wiltshire holtel; its only really claim to fame being its proximity to Salisbury cathedral and its famous spire.

But what of Ioan? Surely that is where this blog was heading. How strange to bump into him in such an unfashionable place.

Apparently, there is a drama based on the life of William Wilberforce being filmed in Salisbury at the moment, with Ioan cast in the eponymous role and he and some of the production crew and cast were also staying at the Grasmere. I know this because my Welsh speaking chum was getting himself bogged down in a little drama all of his own.

This drama involved his loudly expounded theories on what the drink 'black velvet' actually is - taking issue with what turned out to be a couple of WW bit-part players sat nearby - that a poor man's black velvet replaced cider with champagne in the Guiness, but that it was still a 'black velvet', and Ioan, in mid lager and hamlet order, picked up on his obvious Welsh lilt.

And there's nothing Welsh speakers like better in the world, than speaking Welsh - even Hollywood film stars. That's why they cannot be within spitting distance of each other without uttering the obligatory question: "do you speak Welsh?" And, once this point had been established here in the Grasmere, there followed a yickity-yack, yada-yada fest about why each other was there. I was reduced to my very own bit part in this scene and played the quiet background beer slurper, conspiratorially rolling my eyes in the direction of the two hams sharing an ignorance we hardly cared about.

I didn't speak to Ioan. Then again I'd never heard of him until that night.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Feeling Yucky

I shall be amongst the Moonrakers in deepest Wiltshire for part of next week as I have a three day skills development course which, if I'm honest, I'm dreading.

It's going to be one of those courses that force you into situations that you would avoid at all costs if you had any choice. I have no choice. It's one of those tick in boxes type courses that you have to do if you're to continue to be at the top of your game. I'm not at the top of my game with or without it at the moment as I feel absolutely awful.

My head feels hot and aches. I feel weak and tentative. My brain feels as if it has been extracted from my head while I slept last night and tenderised into a grey pizza by a ghoulish insomniac. Isn't it typical of the mind and body to show fragilities at a time when it's going to be next to impossible to ride with them comfortably.

At work it would be head down, quietly, getting on with it. No global fires started, no wit of the week awards. Just coping with feeling like shit until it passes.

Next week there is no hiding place. Chucking a sicky isn't really an option - unless tomorrow I feel like I really am at death's seductive door.

So it's dosed to the smarting eyeballs for me tonight, and a forlorn hope that I feel a little better when I wake up. If I do.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Six Of The Best

This is such a shameful indulgence. I won't be hurt if this entertains no-one. I had fun doing it.

Miss Spangler: Six feet tall, strident, twin-set and pearled, frizzy-haired, ex nun. Arch disciplinarian deputy head and scourge of the girls, (the boys didn't seem to interest her much.) She would march the corridors purposefully in search of prim, well behaved girls but would only find clusters of boy crazy strumpets with the dress sense of street floozies and the morals of trollops.

One of her tricks, once bawling out any of these little slatterns for wearing make up or displaying tawdry jewellery, was to get them to bend over, sometimes in full view of the boys, to establish whether they were wearing regulation chunky serge knickers or flouting the rules by going frilly or lacy. Those too scantily clad were sent home in disgrace. None of the boys dreamed of seeing Miss Spangler scantily clad.

Miss Shatcoot: Bespectacled and shrewish. Hair tied into a severe - don't fuck with me - bun. Taught art, bad temperedly. Seemed to consider all boys to be hormonally challenged, sex-crazed, toilet-humour obsessives. Never one for the social niceties of gentle persuasion and sympathetic understanding, Miss Shatcoot was once seen to side swipe a rowdy mischief-boy so hard across the neck, a palpable silence and a hundred bladder urges descended within a radius of fifty feet. Soon after, rumours of her madness rippled through the school.

Mr. Butterbaugh: Rasping-voiced, Harry Worth double. Looked more bank manager than geography teacher. Calm exterior belied a simmering rage. A rare though cruel exponent of the slipper to the rear end as a form of punishment. Not content with reducing miscreant boys to tears of pain with a slipper seared backside courtesy of a run up to contact method, if he felt the misbehaviour serious enough, he would apply a spiteful 'head under the table' technique which guaranteed a double whammy and soreness at both ends.

Mr. Brimblecombe: Deranged, boggle-eyed music maestro. Would glower from the seat of his beloved Kemble upright if hymns weren't sung passionately or glockenspiels tinkled with enough enthusiasm.

Brimbles had his own cherished hoard of warn and wrecked plimsolls which sat amid the sheet music and the tambourines of his music cupboard. The existence of these whacking shoes - some of which were accorded musically inspired names like Beethoven, Brahms and (Burt) Baccarat, forced us to feign at least some interest. When it waned in any of us, Mr. Brimblecombe would select whichever weapon represented the composer or musician that was occupying his long, dark, lonely bachelor nights at that particular time, and smash it against our rears with a strength, testament to a life time's double-bass hefting.

Mr. Snook: Diminutive, slyly tactile, badly wigged, failed stately-home head gardener. Taught rural science whilst wearing brown cords, green cardigans, checked shirts and rust brown knitted ties. Seemingly angry at his restrictive growth he would sometimes bully the boys who were taller than him whilst adopting a spooky chumminess to some of the less tall. Awkward around the girls, was never happier than when in the school garden demonstrating the 'trench' digging technique to the boys. Brutal slipper wielder when crossed; all that pent up frustration combined with an outdoorsman’s muscle tone made him a formidable adversary.

Mr. Squarebridges: Foul tempered, ancient looking, partly deaf, metalwork teacher. With his unruly white hair, calloused hands and stubborn attachment to his gas bottles, lump hammers and shrieking files, he could have been a panel-beater or factory welder. A battered tie and frayed collared shirt could sometimes be glimpsed behind his sulphur and burnt metal reeking overalls; half-hearted concessions to his teaching profession. Always to be found lurking in the Hades of the filthy metal workshop, Mr Squarebridges was never seen to leave his natural habitat, his comfort zone of forges, flames, filings and f words.

Not an exponent of the ubiquitous slipper or plimsol. Preferred the flexibility and convenience of the metal ruler to provide a whippy and stingy corrective. Failing that any mischief around the white hot forge - the only thing there hotter than his temper - would result in him throwing things, anything, whatever was at hand: screwdrivers, lumps of metal, anvils.

Names have been changed to protect the innocent. Though completely innocent they weren't

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Teachers Revisited

When Friends Reunited was first set up I was sufficiently curious to add my details and browse through the list of ex pupils at my schools to see if I could remember anyone.

Aside from a couple of names which seemed vaguely familiar, I soon started to realise that no-one I knew well had bothered to register with the site. Boredom threatened to take over me and I pledged not to return again. Ever. Then I noticed the teacher profiles.

This seemed a little more interesting. Ahh Mrs A, I remember her, oh, there's Mr C what have the ex pupils had to say about that old rogue, hope they lay into him. What we actually got were little grammatical disasters of affection and whimsy. " Mrs Hooper, She taught me french. i wish i Listened to her alot more. Bless!!" Or: "Mr Huddersfield. he taght drama I think. I liked him til he shouted at my sister." And so on.

Talk about missed opportunities. I set about putting together some no punches pulled profiles. I exaggerated the truth a little bit sometimes, but the essence of each of them, I felt were there. I must have made up about twenty of them. Up they went. Take that. A few old scores settled; and a little praise here and there just to keep the balance.

I sat back and waited to see what, if anything, would happen. Would I, in my own little way, unlock a great creative splurge from other contributors, other fellow sufferers, other beneficiaries. Would there be a chorus of: "yes, I remember him", and, "yes he was like that and he also did this, and do you remember that?"

Nothing changed. Except most of my teacher profiles were removed by the site as they had been considered offensive. And before long, where once my *coughs* incisive, and *cough-cough* witty, thumbnail sketches sat resplendent, the " Ahh Mrs Bell. We used to caller her dinger in sewinglessens" school of profiling returned.

Bloody cheek.

So in honour of those removed posts I shall reproduce some of the ones I can remember and post them around these here parts.

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