This week was the first time I’ve failed to get my blog out on the appropriate day. Obviously, I’ve taken myself outside and given me a thorough thrashing for my ineptitude. In my defense, I can only say that there’s a lot to be done in preparation of the End of the World.
Earlier in the year I wrote a post entitled Where’s My Placard? all about people who believe in the alleged Mayan prophecy that the world will end on 21st Dec.
It turned out to be one of those topics that kept me amused for days so, to cut a long story short, I recently launched another blog called Apocalypse Mebbe with my Geek pal Mook le Mook where we are undertaking some very scientific research into the preparations and beliefs of those who are gearing up for the Mayan apocalypse. Our blog is interactive in that you can vote for the answer that best suits you or if our apocalypse studies have not covered your particular mind-set, then you can add your own. So far we’ve covered three very important questions:
Where is THE place to be during the Apocalypse?
How would you rate your survival skills?
How will the Apocalypse Manifest?
I hope you will join our very scientific study and cast your votes!
There’s a famous quote, of uncertain origin that says Britain and America are “two nations divided by a common language.” I was reminded of this after talking to my Uncle Simon who has recently returned from his first visit to the United States. We were swapping our impressions and our likes and dislikes. Like me, he really enjoyed the general positivity of Americans, compared to Europeans. who tend toward the more pessimistic end of the spectrum.
The first time I was in States it was for work purposes. One of the older men I was working with said to me during the course of a very casual conversation that he lived in Santa Monica. “Oh, I’d love to go to there” I said to which he replied, “If you came to Santa Monica to visit me and my family it would be dream come true for us.” I was just about to burst out laughing, slap him on the arm and call him a cheeky bastard when I noticed he had a look of complete sincerity on his face. It was at that moment I realised that between Americans and Brits, there lies a Great Bullshit Divide.
When you’re speaking to a nation who like to look on the bright side, bubble over with optimism at the slightest provocation, it’s really tricky to figure out where the sincerity ends and the bullshit begins.
There is just no way a person would say this to you in Britain after meeting you for a few days unless they were taking the piss. After the “dream come true” comment, I frantically looked about for a translator to no avail; I looked back at the American, my mouth opened and closed but no sound came out. All my sarcastic, cynical, down beat personalities had a confab but came up with no advice on how to proceed. I had no idea of how to respond to such unabashed enthusiasm. I had been lulled into a false sense of security, not realising that while we shared the same words, we definitely weren’t speaking the same language.
And if you have any of your own cultural observations based on huge sweeping generalisations, it would be a dream come true for me if you’d share them.
When I moved into my current home about three years ago, I figured one of the added bonuses to living in a street full of children would be I’d get a lot of guisers* at Halloween. I thought it would be fun to have a few kids trooping into the house to do a wee turn**. In fact, the number fluctuates wildly and I’m not sure why. However, I am sure that the standard of guising has dropped considerably since I was a kid and consequently it’s not half as much fun as I thought it’d be.
For a start, the kids all tend to have costumes bought from shops, I guess because they are relatively cheap now. I miss the sight of children staggering about in old sheets with a couple of holes cut out for eyes, or broomsticks made out of collected tree branches and twigs. These off the peg things make the whole thing a bit sanitized for my liking.
The worst development is the complete lack of care and attention paid to the performance part of the tradition, with some kids even trying that ‘trick or treat’ nonsense on me for which they get short shrift. “You’re not in America now,” I told them sternly “You’ll do a wee turn or get nothing!” Call me old-fashioned but ‘trick or treat’ is just a fancy name for begging if you ask me.
On the whole, the turns are really terrible. You’d think in the era of shows like The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, most kids would be up for a bit of performance, but you’d be wrong. Me and my friend Kay used to rehearse for hours in the lead up to Halloween; our finest hour was a spirited version of ‘Do Your Ears Hang Low’ complete with actions. Most of the children who came to my door told terrible jokes. It was a crushing disappointment.
There was unexpected turn of events during the first year I had guisers coming to my house. There was a group of girls who looked to be aged around 11. I invited them in and two of them had stuffed padding up their fronts to make them appear heavily pregnant and they all also carried dolls over their arms. I was a bit puzzled by this and asked them what they were dressed up as and they informed me that they were ‘naughty schoolgirls’ which by their interpretation meant pregnant and already mothers to infants. My idea of naughty schoolgirls is something along the lines of plugging*** school or sticking chewing gum to the underside of my desk; the fact that the definition seemed to have changed so radically in the 21st century was quite horrifying to me. I guess the fact I was horrified was ‘job done’ as far as the spirit of Halloween was concerned though.
*Guisers – a Scots word given to children who dress up at Halloween and visit other people’s homes to do a wee turn and collect some nuts and sweets in return
**A wee turn – a small performance, usually a song or a poem
***plugging – playing truant, usually from school
I once met a Professor who had really long hair, a bushy beard and glasses. You’ve got to admire a person that embraces their stereotype. Actually, it’s pretty amazing to come across someone who fits a stereotype, despite the images we are fed in various forms of media. It’s kind of like meeting the one person which someone, somewhere has unilaterally decided personifies a particular type of person. Ironically, I think it takes a particular strength of character to stick with a look and/or behaviour even if it makes you a stereotype. Maybe this could develop into another lame activity that the British could become famous for, like train spotters*? Stereotype spotters could be out, lurking in various urban and rural settings, trying to spot librarians with glasses and buns, accountants in a pin-stripped suits and bowler hats, matrons with ample bosoms and jotting them down in notebooks to discuss later with on their online forum where debate rages about extremely boring details like whether someone can be considered a dumb blonde if their hair is, in fact, dyed.
Some years back I was working in Washington DC with some students for a few days, around the subject of what makes a culture. They were having a bit of a social on the Saturday night and asked if I would teach them some “Scottish dancing.” This was quite ironic as I usually avoid ceilidhs** like the plague. However, I agreed to teach them the Dashing White Sergeant. It just so happens I can do a slip-step like a near professional due to a misguided enthusiasm in my formative years. The Scottish dancing went down an absolute storm with the American students and appeared in most of their evaluation forms as their favourite thing about the weekend. You could tell they thought they were doing something authentically Scottish and were under the impression this was the sort of thing we did most evenings when we took a well-earned break from roamin’ in the gloamin’. I’ve got to admit, sometimes embracing my cultural stereotype is irresistible. Have you ever embraced yours?
* train spotting is undertaken by amateur enthusiasts of the railway system. This usually involves men standing at the end of railway platforms dressed in parkas for hours on end while writing down the numbers of the trains coming into the station. I believe this is an activity peculiar to the UK and why someone might find this a good way to spend the day is a mystery to me.
** ceilidh means social gathering, which usually involves traditional Scottish folk dancing and music (pronounced kay-lee)
I once led a 20-women skinny dip into the sea, off the coast of Italy. It was a proud moment, marred only slightly by the realisation that it turned out to be illegal in Italy. Ooops. Skinny dipping was on my bucket list; spending time in an Italian jail, or any jail, most definitely was not. We had all gone down to the beach for a midnight picnic, just near a café we had been to during the day. It turns out there was an elderly man who acted as night security guard at the café and it was he who ran down to the shore waving and shouting as 20 Scottish women shrieked with laughter as we bobbed about in the sea, wearing not a stitch. Even in the semi-darkness you could tell the guard was torn between enjoying the spectacle and panicking at the possible consequences. Fortunately, he didn’t call the police, but the next day word had obviously spread amongst the café staff as there was much nudging and sniggering when we arrived for lunch. I think I enjoyed our brief notoriety almost as much as the skinny-dipping.
When some of the skinny-dippers are together we sometimes reminisce about this incident if we’re feeling nostalgic. I should mention at this stage that they sat about for hours talking about it but never actually moving. So, while we’re reminiscing, you’d think I’d at least get credit for leading the charge? Do you think they mention I leapt up and stripped with abandon, calling them to arms? Do they remember that I kicked off my knickers then spent a few moments twirling them around my finger in true burlesque fashion while making a ‘this is how you get your kit off’ speech? No. All they remember is I crashed into a sun lounger as I broke into a run and nearly went arse over tit before I even reached the sea.
I’m a devotee of a series on TV called ‘The Great British Bake Off’ at the moment. It involves a group of amateur bakers making any number of mouth-watering cakes, torts, scones etc. and being judged on who is the best. As a major sugar junkie, this is basic masochism on my part.
I’ve known I’m a sugar junkie since I was a child but it took me a good twenty years plus to actually address the problem. Now I manage it better and come off it completely for four weeks, once or twice a year, depending how out of control I am. The first time I ever did this was the worst. I had terrible cravings, my skin broke out in a rash, experienced constant headaches and I was so incredibly crabbit* I was lucky I had any friends left by the end of it. What’s worse was I had very vivid dreams that involved bowls of unidentifiable gloop. In the dream, I’d know the gloop was sweet and delicious but that I wasn’t allowed to have any. Waking up with cravings is no way to start your day.
The problem with being a sugar junkie is it’s so accessible and other people just refuse to take it seriously; people think nothing of giving me chocolate as presents or talking me into eating desserts. My world is full of unashamed drug pushers. I can’t imagine them bringing me wine if I was an alcoholic. On the upside, it could be worse and I could be addicted to crack cocaine which I’m led to understand is quite expensive, illegal and can lead to all kinds of ‘life spiralling out of control’ scenarios. If processed sugar was made illegal I’d definitely be one of those people meeting my dealer up a dark alleyway, or taking to the main road with a short skirt and a luminous hand-bag in order to make some money to fund my next bar of chocolate.
*crabbit is a Scottish word meaning bad-tempered
I’ve mentioned before in this blog the problems of being extremely literal in life. It’s disappointing to find myself this way as I’m a big reader and you’d think I’d have picked up a thing or two to overcome the literal problem, but sadly not. Any book weighed heavy with metaphor or symbolism flies right over my head and I’m left a totally bewildered.
The same goes for double entendres and suggestive comments; unless someone actually says “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” then I’ll answer some innuendo completely straight, usually much to the confusion of the other person. On at least one occasion I have also spectacularly failed to spot a pervert because of this condition.
Years ago when I was learning to drive, my driving instructor suggested that I wore high heels to the lessons as it would ‘help me swivel from pedal to pedal’ while driving. I was about 18 at the time and he looked near to retirement, so I didn’t for one minute think he was giving me anything but serious driving advice. I duly ignored the advice however but, undeterred, a few lessons later he suggested I invest in a underskirt which would allow me to ‘turn around in my seat easier when reversing around the corner.’ At this point I thought his advice was getting a little ridiculous but, again, I didn’t pick up any alternative hint or suggestion in it. I told him I couldn’t afford new clothes as I was unemployed (my mother was paying for my lessons). He must have got pretty desperate by then because after that he finally suggested I took the money for an underskirt out of what he was being paid for a lesson. Finally, the penny dropped and even I could see that offering to pay for an under garment was beyond the remit of most driving instructors.
Needless to say, I stopped booking lessons with him but I find it incredible and embarrassing how slow on the uptake I am about these matters. I wonder how many other comments he made that completely passed me by? Maybe he was getting so desperate that he was on the verge of suggesting getting naked and covered in baby oil would do wonders for my driving skills.
For all I know, my entire life has been strewn with perverts but I’ve just failed to notice them. Probably I’ve missed a plethora of perverts. What is the collective noun for perverts anyway?
I’ve had to feign interest in sport recently as part of my job involved managing a fund that gave financial assistance to some Games Makers (Olympic volunteers). Why someone would spend their life trying to run 0.001 of a second faster than someone else is a complete mystery to me. I can remember the first time we did the 100 metres at school and after the P.E. teacher explained the rules the first question that popped into my head was ‘why?’
Anyway, the Games Makers are coming back and putting their expenses claims in which sometimes involves me answering telephone queries. It only seems polite to ask them how they got on but it’s hard to stop their gushing enthusiasm once they get going. I feel ill-equipped to ask informed questions so my end is mostly a string of nondescript responses and the occasional ‘really?’ or ‘how fantastic.’
We funded Games Makers undertaking all sorts of roles. My favourite was an Anti Doping Chaperone for the female athletes. This volunteer role involved escorting the female athletes when they were called to give a dope test. “Does that mean you will be spending the entire Olympics listening to women peeing into a cup?” I asked but frustratingly the volunteer refused to be drawn on the grisly details of her assignment.
My vote for the most disgusting volunteer role was one I heard about a while ago that takes place at boxing, or wrestling or maybe weightlifting. I can’t remember exactly and I don’t want to get all technical on you, but it was definitely one of those sports where a lot of grunting is involved. The role involves collecting spit and phlegm in a bucket from the athletes and emptying the bucket afterwards. I’m not making this up. This is a bona fide volunteer role for which some people apparently queue up for the honour to hold that bucket. They are doing this for free remember. You would have to pay me large wads of money to even consider such a thing. Just thinking about gives me the dry boak*.
Do you think I’m lacking in the Olympic spirit somewhat?
*dry boak is a Scottish expression that means gagging without vomitting.
Unlike many other people I wasn’t rejoicing when Barack Obama became the President of the United States of America who was black; I was rejoicing because it was the first time anything close to my family tree was represented in the higher echelons of public life. President Obama’s family is a right old mixture of Kansas and Kenya, his mother married twice, his father four times – his family tree is complex, filled with a menagerie of people from across the globe, festooned with half-sisters, half-brothers and other convoluted relationships. I have spent my whole life contending with comments about my ‘weird’ family just because it didn’t consist of a mother, father and 2.5 children.
To give you an idea, after the funeral of one of my grandmothers, some branches of my extended family we were all sitting around my Aunt Viki’s kitchen table where there was a general hub-bub of conversation and chat. At some point, one of those strange lulls in conversations happened and one of my cousins was heard to enquire loudly of my nephew ‘Who is your dad anyway?’ There was a brief stunned silence before laughter erupted. After the hilarity had died down, we ended up devising a game called ‘How Many Dads Have You Got?’ where we counted up mums, dads, step-mothers, step-fathers, step and half siblings etc. A point system was agreed on and there were winners for each category, as well as an overall champion. Occasional disputes broke out about things like whether you counted step-siblings if the marriage that ‘made you a step’ was no longer intact. A fun time was had by all.
The extended family is all the rage these days, in fact I read an article last year that said the ‘traditional family’ was no longer the ‘norm’ and extended families such as mine are. Finally! We’re normal! I knew it was only a matter of time. However, I think I can safely claim that we blazed the trail of extended family development going back generations. So, all you guys who come from maw, paw and the 2.5 *weans will need to adjust to being the ‘weird ones’ from now on. Enjoy.
And just out of scientific interest, how many dads have you got?
*weans is a Scottish word for children.
Over the last few years I’ve been tooling up on garden equipment on account of having a garden to call my own for the first time in my adult life. Other people tend to get a bit twitchy when I talk about going near mechanical equipment of any kind, due to the fact I’m enthusiastic but fundamentally incompetent. As my friend Keith put it “You just look all wrong with anything mechanical in your hands.” Charming. One time I phoned him up to ask how to switch a particular lawn mower on as I had to cut the grass before I moved out of rented accommodation. He immediately barked down the phone “What do you need to know that for?” I explained the situation to which he responded “Oh, no, I don’t think so.”I could practically hear his head shaking down the phone line. “What do you mean you don’t think so?” I said. “I’m not telling you how to switch it on. I’ll come down and do it for you.” “I’m sure I can manage to mow a wee bit of lawn,” I protested only to be interrupted with a vehement “You’ll probably hack a toe off, I’ll do it.” And that was the end of that conversation.
When I told my friend Will I’d bought a hedge-trimmer he spent quite a bit of time trying to talk me into investing in a trip switch, advice which I duly ignored as I ventured out with true pioneering spirit to do the back hedge. Twenty minutes later I discovered that it must have an in-built trip switch when I managed to cut through the cord without electrocuting myself – I’d only had it for one day! Fortunately, my next door neighbour is a retired electrician and he kindly fixed it for me. He handed it back with the fateful words “I’ll put a longer cord on it the next time you cut through the wire!” How’s that for a vote of confidence?
Now, where did I put that chainsaw?