27 May 2008

Smack Addict...

Whenever you peel an orange in one piece, it’s tempting to do hilarious impersonations with the rind. There are two types of people in this world and two types of impersonations you can do with a one-piece orange peel – the impersonation you do indicates the kind of person you are. Some might argue (stupidly) there is actually another type of person – one who does both. This is untrue. People like that are simply one of the other two types trying to cover their indecisive arses.

For those of you lacking sufficient digital dexterity to peel an orange in one piece, pay attention. Peel a strip around the middle, leaving a little bit before the end, then lift the two dome-shaped halves off. The peel should end up looking like an elephant’s face or a man’s genitals. Granted, neither of these looks particularly convincing given that both are orange, the elephant is too small, and the genitals are too big.

Only two types? “What a generalisation,” you say in your annoying whiney voice. To which I reply, “Duh,” and smack you. I love to generalise, I do it all the time. I also love to smack annoying whiney people.

But I don’t smack my kids. I used to, but then a couple of things happened: I realised it wasn’t very effective, and I saw a documentary from Sweden where it’s now illegal to smack kids. I thought about the messages smacking sends to kids – violence is acceptable if your motives are justifiable; reason and logic are inferior to muscle and aggression, it’s easier to hit someone than relate to them – and it frightened me that I was buying in to all of that. And why? Because that’s how I was raised. My parents did it, so it must be a valid parenting technique, right?

But more than anything else, I struggled to reconcile my fiercely protective love of my kids with my conditioning to physically assault them for doing something “bad”. This was supposed to teach them how to be “good”, when all it did was make them angry and afraid of me.

Just as there are two types of orange-peel-impersonator-people, there are two types of smacking people: anti- and pro-. I’m not attempting to advocate smacking or non-smacking as a parenting tool, just voicing an opinion. Raising children is enough of a mine field without nosy busy-bodies trying to herd you on to their side of the barbed wire. Some people swear by smacking as a disciplinary measure, others as a last resort. Others will tell you there are more effective ways of disciplining children. It’s all about choice, and the non-smacking option was mine. I’m not inviting opinions or taking a poll – this is my hobby horse and I don’t want passengers.

For me, it’s a question of positive vs. negative reinforcement, and I’m happy with the choice I’ve made. In the end it won’t mean squat anyway. Regardless of my efforts they’ll still grow up to be surly teenagers who dress badly and
hate my guts....

PS. I’m a genitals type of person.

23 May 2008

Once you get down Lambeth way...Every evening, every day...You'll find yourself...Doin' the Lambeth walk...

Seeing as I'm now an official card-carrying comrade of the Castle climber cogniscenti so I decided to eschew the bowling-alley funk of the rental climbing shoes and acquire some footwear befitting my new-found status. Catch me on Monday nights getting my vertical freak on in a hotrod red pair of Hot Chillis which not only look super sexy and profesh but also have velcro straps. Velcro! Nothing takes me back to '85 like velcro straps...back when I was writin' ryhmes with Lee on my legs and Adidas on my feet and nary a shoelace was in sight. In addition I also picked up a rather sexy climbing harness which is basically a waist strap connected to two leg loops with some clips for hanging your carabiners (or 'biners as they're known in the bizz) off of. I picked up a 'biner and a Thingy (technical term for a belay device, the thing that you feed the rope into which acts as a brake for the descending climber and a veritable goldmine of purile puns like "belatio"). So now I look like either a) a complete professional or 2) a complete wanker, depending on your perspective. But regardless of which I still cut a sexy figure in all my sore-toed gonad-hugging glory.

Speaking of gonads, I picked up my new mountain bike this week, woo hoo! So there's plenty of testicle thrashing action on the cards as I get used to being on a bike again after all these years. I'd feel sorry for my poor balls if not for the fact they're purely ornamental. I love my new bike! I call her Sweaty Betty and she's soooo sexay and she'll treat me right, not like all those real girls. "It's ok, baby," Sweaty Betty purrs. "I'll treat you right...forget about those other girls, they don't love you like I love you. You can ride me anytime you want for as long as you want. You want to ride me for 5 minutes then have a nap? That's ok with me cos I luuurve you, baby." I luuurve you too, Sweaty Betty. "Shutup, baby...I know it."

I finally got to sample some more decent Thai food. It's impossible to get into my favouite Thai place in Soho as there's always a line, but because it's London Restaurant week (which goes for a month...derr!) there's plenty of restaurants which offer super deals, so I managed to find another Thai place in Soho which I was initially dubious about as it was down a back street and was the size of a bread box but surprisingly the food was awesome. They had me at "complimentary appetiser" but we got three courses for £30 plus a bottle of house white (not a carafe, a bottle...I know!) and it was just a continual up up up and away on the culinary roller coaster with no sign of a downward plummet. Plus, there were two roudy tables then when we arrived but they left after about 10 mins so we had the place to ourselves. Talk about atmos...sprechen ze sexy! It's one of very few places in London where I'd can enthusiastically say I'd go back.

Speaking of food, my flatmate Sarah works for this food magazine, right? Well they have this readers panel where they get people to test drive recipes and write about it for their magazine and they're after more blokes to be part of it. She nominated me and they've accepted! They'll send me recipes every now and then and pay for the ingredients and I just have to cook it and write about the process and the end result. How awesome is that?

Last Sunday Staci took me back to the Stadium to watch her beloved Fulham play Portsmouth on the big screen. CUHM OHN YUUUU WOITES! There was a suprising number of people there in an unsurprising state of drunkeness. I thought last week was a do or die affair but because this was the last match of the year and the closeness of the three teams at the bottom of the table and the other two teams having won their matches, Fulham absolutely had to win or they would drop down into the next division. After feeling somewhat like a tourist the previous week, I was determined to learn at least one song. The one I liked most was to the tune of 'Volare' and is sung each time the owner of the team (Mohamed Al-Fayed...yes, Dodi's old man) is shown on the screen. It goes like this:


He wants to be a Brit (clap, clap)
And QPR is shit (clap, clap)

So after a sloppy yet nail-biting nil all affair for most of the game, Fulham bagged one in the 76th minute off the head of Danny Murphy (Oooooh Danny Boy! He plays he plays for Fuh-hul-am!) and the whole place erupted. Cheering, screaming, drinks thrown to the floor, drinks thrown into the air, people hugging and jumping around. It was unbelievable. You've never seen so many people get so excited about their team finishing fourth last. Grown men were weeping! The mighty Cottagers managed to hold on to win the match, at which point everyone repeated the going off dance accompanied by an ear-splitting chorus of "WE-ARE-STAYIN'-UP...WEARESTAYINUP!" I found out that there's a New Zealander in the team (Simon Elliott) and an Aussie (Adrian Leijer), so there's a spiritual connection for me now. I have also gained further respect for Billy the Badger when I learned that he was sent off during a game against Aston Villa for breakdancing in the corner of the pitch after the referee had commenced the game. He blamed his badger hearing and eyesight for the incident, and apologised to referee but personally I think he should have just bitten the dude on the torso. Stoopid ref...

I headed down to Portobello Road to the Craze Gallery to check out Paper Wars which was a bunch of life-size weapons made entirely out of paper. Seriously, they had a full size paper howitzer just sitting there surrounded by AK-47's and Uzi 9mm's and grenades and everything. It was SO cool! You could even buy the kits and make them yourself but I didn't cos, like, 20 quid? I'll just take pictures, thanks.

Much to my delight, The Cans Festival which I missed out on a couple of weeks back was still there in all its glory. It was curated by Banksy inside a disused railway tunnel in Lambeth with pieces by stencil artists from all over the world. There was even a section where you could bring your own stencil along and they'd give you paint to put your own piece up. Awesome! Almost every square centimetre of tile and stone was covered with spray paint and everywhere you looked elicited gasps of amazement and delight and "fuken cool!" whispered under the breath as some new visual gem or clever pun was discovered. No doubt it will slowly succumb to the ravages of the elements and the tagging of adolescent bmx hoodie gangs but somehow that seems a fitting denoumont for a semi-permanent art form; an apt testament to the temporary nature of the ouvre. The calibre of the work was astounding and, in some cases, breath-taking. Stencil artists are some of the most imaginative artists and trenchant social commentators in these post-modern times so it's remarkable to see what they can accomplish when they're given time to focus on their work instead of looking over their shoulder for the Filth. And apart from anything else, it's nice to finally see some imagination and humour from the English (although admitely a lot of them were Europeans). I took plenty of photos so just follow the link on the left-hand side. That one there. No, not there...THERE! Down a bit...too far! That's the one!

12 May 2008

Back in '77...When everything was so tall ...I used to watch that tv show...That I now can't recall...

I miss the days before Google where you actually had to use your brain to remember stuff. For some reason I can never remember the name of the cat in the Banana Splits, and it bugs the shit out of me cos I know I could Google it but that somehow seems like cheating. Try as I might to remember it I just can't. Not even singing the song helps: "Fleagle, Something, Drooper and Snork...La la-lah la-la-la-lah, la la-la, la-la-la-laaaaaaah!" Gggrrr! I loved the Banana Splits show when I was a kid. Danger Island was always my favourite: "Uh oh, Chaaangooo!" All those cheesy fight scenes, skimpy boat shorts and scary pirates…awesome! Plus, who doesn't love a scrappy retarded protagonist with a speech impediment? You just don't see that kind of depth in TV characters anymore. I bought a Banana Splits compliation DVD a few years ago but, like most cherished childhood memories, it didn't hold up well over time.

Oh, and I can also never remember the name of the fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse for that matter: Famine, Death, Pestilence...and Annoying? Pustulent? Barry? Yes, I could easily put myself out of my misery and Google it, which I know most of you are doing right now so you can email me and be all like, "Eeewww look at me I can rely on the brain power of others to remember trivial crap and concentrate on destroying the unused parts of my own brain with sweet sweet liquour." But I refuse to take the easy way out. If you don't use your brain then eventually evolution will step in and take it off you. Look what happened to the appendix, people!

Memory is fascinating. They say that once something gets into your brain it's there forever so theoretically you should be able to remember everything you ever learned or thought or experienced. But the brain can be a stubborn and mysterious bastard so it's not always easy to recall stuff from your dim dark past, particularly when you haven't thought about it in a really long time and have been a regular binge drinker since you were weaned off the sippy cup. There's a school of thought (awesome pun not intended) that suggests if you can't remember something, the more you think about it the harder it will be to remember, so you should forget all about and it will eventually come to you. The problem is, when you're desperately trying to remember something the hardest thing to do is not think about it. But I invented a clever technique which helps me do precisely that called The Memory Guy: The Memory Guy is a little old dude in a stripey blue and white apron, half-moon glasses on a little chain around his neck, a bushy grey moe and a green-tinted visor. He works in a dusty little office down by the docks and sits in a creaky old leather chair behind a big desk with a bell like they used to have at hotel receptions. I imagine myself going up to the front desk and write what I want to remember on a slip of paper and hand it to the Memory Guy. He then takes it out the back through a door into an unbelievably fucking ginormous warehouse piled to the rafters with teetering stacks of paper upon which are written all my thoughts and experiences. He closes the door and starts searching through everything to find what I asked for. I can then forget about what I was trying to remember and go on about my business safe in the knowledge that my top man is on the case. I simply wait for the sound of the bell to signal he's returned with the info and go back to the office to sign for the package. Sometimes he comes back really quickly (What's the second verse of the Love Boat theme? "Looooove...life's sweetest reward...let it flow...it flows back to youuuuu!" Thanks, Memory Guy!), and sometimes he takes ages and ages and ages (still waiting to hear back about the name of my pre-school teacher with the hairy armpits who went away to Africa to "help the starving black people"...her words, not mine). More often than not Memory Guy shows up at, like, 3am which is a little inconvenient, but I can't complain because he always comes up with the goods and doesn't charge much, so swings and roundabouts, yeah?

There's another school of thought that says memory is finite, and when you reach the limit the only way you can learn something new is to forget something you already know. This places quite a premium on the acquisition of new memories so how do you know whether the new memory is better than the old one? And there's no way to pick what you're going to forget. What if, instead of forgetting about the time I had a "See How Long You Can Go Without Peeing" competition with my friend Lachlan (technically I won cos he cheated and went during the confusing period between end of lunch and start of class but I still ended up peeing my pants in maths class), what if I instead forget the name of the first girl I ever kissed? (Susan Neal, Susan Neal, Susan Neal, I asked her to go with me to the Year 4 social and when she said Yes I kissed her on the cheek and ran away in a delicious turgid fugue of arousal and embarrassment. Thanks, Memory Guy!) So I invented another useful technique to assess the relative worth of new knowledge before I acquire it. It's called the Caveman Test and basically what you do is you imagine yourself as a caveman and ask whether this new piece of information will assist you in gathering food, procreating, or escaping from predators (not the "If it bleeds, we can kill it" kind of predator, the "eat you for breakfast and crap out your bones" kind). If it satifies one or more of those criteria then you can go ahead and commit it to memory. If not, then you have to make a decision about whether being the go-to guy for pub quizzes is sufficient compensation for living out your life waiting to end up the meat cart in a sabre-tooth tiger buffet.

6 May 2008

If you're looking for a cheap sort...Set in false anticipation...I'll be waiting in the photo booth...At the underground station...

So it looks like I'm going Boston for my Birthday (which totally sounds like something you'd say to a prostitute, as Paul and I discovered. "Hey, baby...wha'choo want?" "Err...umm...I'd like to go to Boston...for my birthday?" Just don't ask her to show you her Boston Browns). Staci's brother is having an engagement party and she has to go back for the week for work so I figured I'd treat myself and hold my Amazing Birthday Festival in her home town. It'll only be for, like, 4 days or something but after my Chicagoan Culinary Calamity I'm guessing 4 days of American food is about all anyone can handle.

The weather this long weekend was amazing. I don't think there's been 3 consecutive nice days since I've been here, and these were spectacular. Needless to say, we made the most of it and slept in until about 12pm every day. Friday night we went to the Lobster Festival at The Big Easy B-B-Q House and Crabshack (yes, a B-B-Q house AND a crabshack...I didn't think it was possible either!) Sadly, the festival doesn't run on Fridays but we were lucky enough to get a table thanks to someone else not showing up. I flagrantly flaunted the festival bylaws and had myself a big-arse lobster anyway, cos screw you, fictitious festival organisers! I don't need your rules, you're not the boss of me!

On Saturday we slept in till midday and had brunch in Fulham and went to see the mighty Fulham Cottagers (yay!) play Birmingham City (boo!). They're called The Cottagers because there's a cottage in the stadium and their mascot is, of course, a badger called Billy. It was a particularly tense game because Fulham are fighting relegation and this was a must-win confrontation. Needless to say the tension was as thick as the BO in a comic shop and the atmosphere as electric as that avenue in Brixton that Eddie Grant entreated us all to rock down to before suggesting we elevate it to the next level. We had awesome seats right next to the pitch which lent an intimate feel to the whole affair and, because the action roamed over the entire field and involved frequent corners, you got to see the players right up close. Which, of course, made it even more effective when slagging off the opposition and cracking wise about their mammas. It was difficult to believe you could fit so many people into such a seemingly small arena and the crowd acted and reacted almost like a single organism: the sighs, the groans, the cheers, the jeers. It was quite formidable and I'm buggered how they all knew the songs as, even though the tunes were easily recognisable, it was nigh impossible to make out what anyone was saying. I'm notorious for my indifference to sporting fixtures but I have to say there's a real atmosphere at a live event that you just don't get watching it on tv at home or even in a bar. It's always thrilling to see talented people doing something they're good at and even die-hard dissenters like myself can't help but get caught up in the mass hysteria. Of course it helps to have a excitable Bostonian dynamo sitting next to you clutching your arm and leaping in the air every 5 seconds screaming "Come on, Jimmy!" and "Get in the game, Tall Guy!" Happily for everyone, (except Birmingham...heh heh) Fulham managed to pull off a belting 2-nil victory, thereby saving themselves from dropping down into the lower division and ensuring that a certain flinty-hearted jerk-off got some sweet sweet victory lovin' that night...

Sunday, despite the glorious weather, was one disappointment after another. After a lack-lustre brunch at the Troubador in South Ken, I had hoped to get along to The Can Festival, an outdoor graffitti exhibition curated by Banksy in an old Eurostar tunnel in Lambeth but, predictably, two-thirds of London had the same idea and by the time we got there the place was choked with the drooling proletariat masses. We then decided to take the ferry to Greenwich Markets but, of course, the last ferry left at 4pm and was absolutely chockers, so we took the Tube up to Greenwich where we managed to arrive at the markets about 10 mins before they closed. The only bright point in the day was catching up with Staci's friend Stewie, a laconic Irish rogue, for dinner at a quaint little pub where he introduced us to his very exotic friend Nadia who has a lot of passports and was almost recruited to be a spy for MI6.

Monday started in predictable fashion with a sleep in until 12:15pm and then a leisurely brunch at Smiths of Smithfield. Having repeatedly lamented over the woeful state of London cuisine this place was a breath of fresh air. Housed in an old warehouse in the former meatpacking district, it spreads over three levels of increasingly casual dining, culminating with soft leather couches on the ground floor and a separate menu comprisingly solely of hangover cures. I'm not a fan of the Full English but, having endured a billious eggs benedict the previous day, I was inclined for something a little more substantial. Whilst I would dearly love to give a hearty and glowing recommendation, the best I can say is I've had worse but in London I've not had better. And for this town that's pretty fulsome praise.

So, fortified with bellies full of protein, caffeine and carbs, we trekked to Highgate Cemetery in search of obscure dead historical figures. Karl Marx is buried here as are George Eliot and Emanuel Kant. Less notable are the dood who invented Chubb locks (Mr C. Chubb), the founder of the Krufts dog show (Mr C.Krufts), and the dood who introduced motorised cabs to London (Mr. D. Motorisedcabs). There's two cemeteries - East and West - but you can only get into the West one if you pay for the tour. We took the mooch option and paid £3 for the East side (bloods) which is where all the cool dead people are, anyway. Karl Marx was pretty easy to find given that there's this huge bust of his head looming right on top of it. I felt a bit sorry for the dude who was in the grave next to his (literally in his shadow, grammar fans) because no one bothers to pay him any respects and the grave is so neglected you can't even see who it is. So I took a photo in rememberance of all the anonymous dead doodz overlooked and overshadowed by philisophical communist giants.

It's quite a lovely cemetery, actually, nothing like any other cemetery I've ever been in. It's lush and overgrown and rambling and chaotic and everything you'd expect a celebration of life and death to be. It's not sterile and ordered and tidy like other cemeteries; trees and ivy and brambles and flowers grow wild and rampant, snaking around, over and even through the graves and gravestones. There's graves from the Victorian era right up until today all in various states of decrepitude and disrepair. But far from being a sad place, it's a wonderful testament to entropy and ageing and the temporary nature of human existence. What better way to celebrate your life than to return to the soil from whence you sprang, your nutritous essence fuelling and lubricating the fecund gears of that wonderous machine of new life, your soul becoming one with that of the very earth itself. It'd be totally awesome to have a shag there!

There's a lot of posh houses on all sides of the cemetery so the mind boggles as to how many little kiddies have been dared to sneak in after dark as an initiation into some secret neighbourhood club or other. I imagine the place takes on a much more spooky air after dark. Right before closing time a dood comes around with a bell to warn you to get out lest you become the latest hapless footsoldier in the zombie apocalypse for, let's face it, when the shizz comes down this place is Zombie Ground Zero.

I should get my bike in a couple of weeks so there's plenty of crazy, wacky (dare I say zany?) cross-country and downhill biking action planned with Dr Phil "Chuck Slavakia" Well'ard, who's champing at the bit to purchase ever more elaborate and expensive and ridiculous pieces of outdoor adventure gear. Not that I'm questioning his sexuality or anything but let's just say there's a peculiar preponderance of padded crotches. I'm just saying...Plus, now that I'm a card-carrying climber at the Castle, it's a mere 20 minute ride from my house and I can get my vertical freak on any time I like. Well, except Xmas and New Years when they're closed but any other time.