Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Why I am the world's worst estate agent.

Hello, I am the world's worst estate agent. I have a housing problem. I have need of an uncomplicated flatmate that doesn't annoy me. At a pinch, a flat 'mate' that does annoy me would do. So long as they pay some money. And don't own a donkey that they insist on bathing at 6am. My standards are sinking. Ok, ok. You can bathe your donkey but I'm not having that goat in my room. Can you put it on a lead? It's eating my bed linen. Bah. Oh, and by the way, you did say your four brothers were only staying for a couple of days, they've been here a week now.

Hmmm. There's nothing like a spot of pessimism about the future. But i've had the advert up on a well known website: 'Housemate needed for cheap hovel must enjoy the sound of drumming neighbour' - and in truth I've had a quite good response. If a quite good response is people emailing & phoning up, coming round with smiles on their faces & leaving 10 minutes later with smiles still stuck to their faces, telling me they'll let me know.

Some do, some don't. But I already know.

I'm starting to miss my previous housemate. We lived like twin serial killers (as they always say, "Oh he was very quiet. Kept himself to himself. He was an ideal neighbour really. Though I did wonder what that smell was from the drains.") We got on with our lives, almost living in parallel time zones. He got up at 6am at the latest. I go to bed at 4am at the latest. We would occasionally meet at meal times or to discuss leaks and other issues. There were happy conversations, but then we moved on. He had a busy life. I had ... well I had ‘things to do’. The internet doesn't read itself, y'know. Someone's gotta slavishly check every page.

And then he moved out. To move in with his workmates, which he says he regrets a bit, but at least they are awake at more compatible hours. I hope to move out myself, but in the meantime... The process of 'showing' the house.

Look people. First up. It's cheap. There are photos on the Gumtree advert. The photos don't lie. The kitchen is painted the same shade of yellow as a banana milkshake. And okay, I didn't photograph the bit where there was a leak. But really - if you can believe me - that is okay now. The leak has been fixed. The only problem was that the day after the builders fixed the plaster - I decided to paint over the plaster "to make it look nice." The paint didn't really 'stick'. Then two days later it started to peel off. I phoned the builders to complain and they laughed at me. They said I needed to leave it to dry for 3 more months. I wasn’t told. So now there’s a big ugly patch & there's not much I can do. But come on, it's superficial. Have you seen how low the rent is? Obviously not.

Mary was first round. And I had an instant feeling of dread. It wasn't that she looked like someone I had recently had a bit of a weird time with; it was just that she was a similar type. Oh no.... I had a sudden realisation that this is how prejudice starts. One hippy looking person treats you bad, you get a bad feeling about the next hippy looking person. Luckily I'm mature and sensible so I still managed to continue my tour of the house with a plastic fixed grin on my mouth.
"And this is the room."
"Yes, it's a good size," she says. There's hope still. "Can I see the bathroom?”
I say, “We haven't got a bathroom.”
“Oh. Ok.”
“We just go in the back garden.”
“Oh right.”
.................. Pause
“No I'm joking, it's through here.” The custard yellow bathroom – well there was banana paint left over from the kitchen.

We moved on to the kitchen. She wanted to take control of the entire freezer. She likes to cook in advance. For an army. I ummmed, I ahhhed. She wrote things in a notebook. The chemistry was not good and yet still we continued our smiling pretence.

No. It was never going to work. I'm the world's worst estate agent.

Mungo was next. He’d just split up with his wife. In fact I know a lot about Mungo’s recent life. I tried to be interested in Mungo. I thought there was chance. I turned the heating up to 28C. I filled the house with lavender. I was tempted to bake bread. But thought that might seem a bit fake. Mungo seemed interested. He never called back. Tosser. I made no bathroom-based jokes with Mungo.

Ahh, and then we had Miguel & the gang. 2 Spanish students wanted to move in. Or said they did. I gave them extensive instructions. I filled the oven with herbs to infuse the kitchen with scent and distract from the disastrous damp patch. 3 people came round, Miguel + Conchita & Spud. I learnt at the end that Miguel was just their fixer. It was Conchita & Spud that were looking for somewhere. But at the time I assumed it was Miguel I had to convince. So I concentrated on him and Conchita. Ignored random bloke in the background, Spud.

I showed them up to the room. “Is nice,” said Conchita. “Is good, is nice.”

Miguel asked to use the toilet. I pointed out that it was next to the room. Then stood in the room with Conchita & Spud while they asked no further questions and understood nothing I asked. I started to worry that Miguel would start doing a plopsydaisy in the toilet and we would be able to hear – as the toilet was next door. That’s a sure fire way to make sure that someone doesn’t move in. “As you can hear, the toilet is very conveniently located next to your room…”

So we rushed downstairs. Did the tour sans Miguel. Conchita even liked the damp patch, “Is good, is nice.” So that was encouraging, right? Spud said nothing. I sense he was the strong silent Spanish speaking type.

So now I’m paying more money. I’m living on my own as the part-time other housemate is flouncing about in New York. So. If there are any serial killers reading and need a quiet residence… I’ll ask no questions, just so long as you keep yourself to yourself and pay your bills on time. Please apply to the usual address…

Monday, March 09, 2009

Why everyone should buy the new album by Law Enforcement in Nicaragua

Seriously you should.

It's really amazing. It's one of those albums that you've never heard before but have always been waiting for. 5*****s. No, it's even better than 5Star. Although it doesn't make you want to dance or throw up quite so much.  I'd highly recommend it. I really would.

Were it not some made-up joke. Yes, it's this clever thing:


And it has amused me no end. For 20 minutes of stupid playing about. My band are a slightly earnest, serious environmentally conscious low-fi group of bearded men and flute playing women from Arkansas. They frown a lot and worry about the world. And yet play quite jaunty, mournful folk tinged odes about first girlfriends and lonely farmers.

Hit the Wikipedia random page for the band name.

Hit the Wikipedia random quote for the title. Oh, but read the rules if you're at all interested. Flickr provides the image.

Obviously, I need to get out more or do something useful, but in the meantime. Buy this album. It's great. And better than yours. By far.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Why somehow wanting to write about students sitting in a circle ended up being more about getting a good thrashing.

The Panopticon defined by Wiki as: a type of prison building designed by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in 1785. The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) prisoners without the prisoners being able to tell whether they are being watched, thereby conveying what one architect has called the "sentiment of an invisible omniscience." Hmm, I thought - I could use that. Perhaps I've been watching too many episodes of Lost. But it was a late night thought I had. Teaching too many students. Too many students that like using mobile phones and engaging in random chitterchat. I often dream of prison systems. Of teaching in a Total Institution.

Well okay, I jest, just slightly, but an owl-like revolving head and cctv cameras in my elbows might be a good idea. But then, I'm not sure I really want to know. Sometimes it's best to just let a few things slide. Hmmm. I'll never be like my maths teacher at school. He never did anything other than look at us. And yet he had the reputation as the scariest, most dangerously fearsome teacher in the school. I always had my homework in on time and rarely spoke in his lessons so that's probably why I don't know quite how scary he was. I remember him standing in the doorway and people chitterchattering. And suddenly the room going quiet as quickly as if a light had gone on. One kid with his back to the door, suddenly realising that he was the only one standing up and talking. Freezing. Dying inside. Realising all too late. 500 lines.

It clearly wasn't just the lines though. He had scary charisma. And a drole sense of humour that occasionally popped out - but I was neither bright enough to appreciate it or able to control my bladder and facial muscles enough in his presence to let myself ever think about anything other than quadratic equations. Fear. An all boys school - not a public school but one of the still existing Grammar Schools in Northern England.

Compare that to the physics teacher that threw things. Board rubbers, chalk, and weirdly a collection of plimsolls he kept behind his big physics desk at the front of the class. Although not so weirdly as he used the rubber soled plimsoll to smack people with. Yeah, they still did the caning, strapping, smacking thing when I was at school. I think by then it was a bit more regulated - well it was supposed to be. But Physics teacher didn't give a feck. Mess him about - stay behind. Get "the whack". I think he favoured the bottom. But he was known to do the hand as well.

It seems weird that I'm not a thousand years old. Although, perhaps I am. But the idea of spanking 15 year old boys on the botty nowadays seems as wrong as wrong can be. Well from my perspective as an adult. Although I really don't think there was anything mucky about the whole thing. From the physics teachers perspective anyway. He was a big angry fellow with chalk stained trousers and felt that he needed total discipline. If you looked out of the window. Chalk or the board rubber would come flinging your way. I got hit on the head a few times.

It could, obviously have taken someone's eye out. *Health & Safety Issues*. It really does feel like another era. I really can't imagine a parent complaining - unless of course someone had lost an eye. Then there might have been the odd quiet voice raised. But then my mum would have been too accepting. She would have said it was one of those things, you had to put up with it. She was taught by nuns so any flying board rubbers were pretty much nothing to worry about. Her brother wanted to be left-handed and got daily beatings by the monks at school. He was very good at art but probably dyslexic. Except that hadn't been invented yet. And in those sort of schools it probably still hasn't. I think dyslexia is rated somewhere to the left of homosexuality on the list of *Things That Make No Sense And Are Not To Be Mentioned.*

No one was mentioning my 'learning issues' when I was getting 1/20 in spelling tests. (The lad next to me saw me copying after the first question - so did that elbow coving his answers thing to stop me copying any more). But never mind, I went on to fail my English O level. I was just not very good at spelling and needed to learn the words better. Ahhh, those happy days of detention and the strap.

The geography teacher was a *funny* one. He was reputed to wear a toupee, and it was also reputed that he had a 'winter wig' and a 'summer wig'. People said his hair could grow overnight. Someone claimed to have seen his wig when on a geography field trip, but given the teacher's very flirtatious, joking manner, and allegedly gayness - no story could ever be really believed. Like the gayness it was part of his myth. As was his proclivity for giving boys the strap. In private. I don't know if that ever happened. He seemed very laidback. But there were all sorts of stories. A boy's dad was reported to have complained and had a fight with him. But that might have resulted more from anti-gay paranoia 'get your hands off my boy' than any reality. I don't know.

Discipline and where to draw the line. It's difficult. Even more so with adults because they are making the choice to be there - and they can also make the choice to go, "You know what? Forget it. You're an idiot. How dare you tell me what to do." And leave in a hail of swearwords. And Lord knows colleges don't like to lose students. Students = funding = part of your job performance as teacher.

So the obviously scary fellows were alright. They could do what they wanted. Although it may already have been on the edges of the 'rules' back then.

Certainly when it was my turn to get the strap in the 5th form - age 15 - the Head Teacher asked me if I wanted it to be 'official' which would involve the Deputy Head being present and it going down on my school record or if I wanted him to do it unofficially. "I know you're not a bad boy," he said as I gulped and shuddered and sweated. How I had enjoyed that 15 minute wait outside the headmaster's study. And the look on the faces of the two boys that went in before me and came out in tears. Lovely.

I agreed to him giving me the strap 'unofficially'. 6 of the best. Lovely. What a glorious phrase!!!

Six of the best. The strap being a belt basically. Worse than the cane by those that knew from experience. As the strap would wrap around your bot. Slap it rather than whack it. And just to make it even more lovely - the strap had a slit down the middle for its final 5 inches so that the two pieces of leather would separate and separately slap you.

It hurt. And he said I was to go back to classes. And being a boy I was trying not to cry. The pain in my head as dreadful as the arching, aching pain from my botty. And ironically it was physics next. I walked in and apologised for being late. The teacher told me to hurry up and sit down. They all knew what was going on but no one said anything. They didn't want to get a board rubber on their bonce. And then I did start my weeping. Except I think it was accepted. No one was going to have a go.

And my crime, yes, my misdemeanour that caused me to get the strap on that day. I went to the chippy every day to get my healthy portion of chips, gravy, sausage and batter scrapings. Before coming back and playing football for the next 50 minutes. Except on this day the Headmaster had decided to have a crack down and parked his car near the chippy and did spot checks on who had a official pass to leave the school grounds at lunchtime. I didn't. Hence the beating.

I'd like to say it taught me a lesson, but being the contrary little b'stard I was. I went to the chippy or somewhere else every lunchtime after. Without a pass. I wanted him to catch me again. Just to show that I could take it. That is how you grow up to be a man, I guess. But it wouldn't stop me doing the 'crime'. I know there was a punk lad in the year above me who used to moan and make s3xy noises when he got the cane. I'm sure that was disconcerting for the Head. You don't expect those sort of noises from a boy. It may have lead to the punky lad's expulsion soon after. His hair was a bit of a disgrace on the school after all...

Now where was I. I got lost in a haze of indulgent memories. So really, all I want to do is be a little more listened to. Have a little bit more attention paid. But it's not like I didn't gaze out of the window "in my day" & have a board wiper lugged at me. I will have to rely on the power of words and a variety of different seating arrangements to keep everything under control. The circle worked very well. I think that was all I intended to say. Umm. I better go off and do 500 lines, "I must not whine self-indulgently about the olden days." Now that WAS a good teaching aid. Repeating lines lots and lots of times. It taught you to find a smaller bully-able boy to force to do the writing for you. Nowadays you'd press copy and paste a few times. I bet detention still works. I hated detention. It was so booooooooooooooring. A teenage hates nothing more than boredom.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Why "buckled but hot' may beat "beautiful but cold" when it comes to men

My intellectual boxing partner Lady X has recently been discussing with me the nature of attraction. And the notion of whether an ugly but interesting man is more attractive than - what I want to call - a 'pretty boy' - has come up. Now as a man that can probably make a better claim to being interesting** than pretty this is obviously an argument I like.

** If interesting means – “has an extensive knowledge of cricket and 80s pop music” – if not, I might be struggling.

But I can always get a scar or a face tattoo right? Lord Nelson is ‘interesting’ and he’s missing an arm and an eye. The pirate Long John Silver****** is interesting and his main claim to attractiveness is a gnarly voice, pet parrot and a hook. He’s like a sexy Abu Hamsa.

***** Please note, I rewrote the above and inserted the phrase ‘the pirate’ because the name ‘Long John Silver’ sounds uncomfortably like it might be the name of a popular star of adult movies… Hang on – just wait – i’ll go check… No it’s okay. But it is the name of America’s favourite fried fish restaurant.

Except that doesn’t advance the discussion, other than to prove that I still have some way to go before I can be accepted into the ‘interesting’ category…

So here is Lady X’s formulation on the following equation:

Ugly/sexy versus beautiful/snot

Beautiful but cold:
Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, David Beckham, Jude Law, Hugh Jackman

Buckled but hot:
Tommy Lee Jones, Andrew Marr, Bill Nighy, Benecio Del Toro, Jeremy Paxman
Personally I wonder if this is an argument that applies to women. It’s probably another discussion completely. But even I can think of males that are probably not picture perfect but are, ahem, sexy… James Gandolfini, Ray Winstone – patron saint of beergutted men everywhere. They're often growly grubby types. Punchers or verbal head biters. So why do they often win out over the prettier variety? Is this an argument even worth having? Is it worthy of sub-intellectual debate? Wouldn’t it be easier to just throw them into a cellar and make them fight? Yes, it’ll give us no firm conclusions but let’s have a big fighting tournament:

The Beautiful & the Buckled – fight fight fight fight fight

First round

  1. Pitt vs Lee Jones = Jones slaps Pitt in the hair - in a situation similar to Harvey Keitel & Nicole Kidman (see internet rumours about the making of the last Stanley Kubrick film – G00gle “harvey keitel nicole kidman rumour” but don’t say I didn’t warn you). In the meantime - Jones wins.
  2. Marr vs Depp: Johnny smiles, Marr looks ruefully until Depp emotes. Marr does not emote. Marr wins
  3. Becks vs Nighy (tie of the round). Nighy tries to be funny - Becks doesn't get it. Becks sleeps/Nighy dances around and gets tired,then gets drunk & falls asleep. Becks wakes up and wins.
  4. Del Toro vs Law. Don't be silly.
  5. Paxman vs Hugh Jackman. Paxman preens and acts clever. Jackman thumps him and does a dance. Paxman makes sneery remark. Pretty boy Jackman is hurt by criticism. This is turning into one hell of a battle. "Have you or have you not, Mr Jackman, ever starred in a decent film? Can you actually act?" Jackman punches Paxman slap in the face but refuses to continue. Goes to the gym to work off some excess energy. Leaves it to his agent to sue. An injured Paxman triumphs but that could have gone either way.

So it’s another 'tie of the round!'
  1. Big Tommy Lee vs big balls Beckham: Jones is asleep. Has to be replaced by sub: Paxman. Which is helpful as you can’t have 5 people in a semi-final.Becks shows Paxman his tattoos. It is almost like he can't hear Paxman's stunning volley of critical analysis. Paxman getting hoarse. Beckham does some keepy uppies. Paxman makes cutting remark about Posh Spice. Becks freaks out. Leaves temporarily. Has a word with his corner man Zinadene Zidane. Comes back and butts Paxo in the middle aged gut area. Paxo out for a count of 8. Gets up. But Becks is crying. Even though he appears to have won. He's too nice. It seems like a win to Paxo. Beckham puts out his hand to help Paxo up. Then stamps on Paxo's chest while the ref aint looking. Win to the pretty boy with the voice of a child trapped down a well.
  2. El Toro the bull vs Andrew 'vague accenty burr' Marr. Del Toro smokes a cigar. Marr thinks twice about saying anything. Less a Mexican stand-off than a particularly embarrassing moment in a lift. All sense and reason seems to have gone out of this competition. Time passes. Marr steels himself. Starts opining about modern britain. Del Toro stubs out his cigar. And leaves. The judges confer, was that a win for Del Toro, the act of the ultimate alpha male in ignoring his opponent? No. Tis a win for Marr.

Marr steps up. No fear this time. Stabbing words and jutting jaw, hair flopping majestically over his cranium as he weaves and creates magical tales of social and economic decline. Becks smiles and is photographed. Judges confer once more and suggest battle should commence or we should all go home. The latter option is favourite. Hands up who likes Becks? Becks wins. Marr speaks to the judges appeals. Becks smiles. Marr discovers technical problem with judges scoring process. Also the use of Zidane in the semi-final is questioned as Zidane is a man of charisma and weird ugliness. Whole competition pronounced a bogus sham. Paxman returns to take trophy but is punched in the face by Del Toro who wants trophy as ashtray for cigar smoke.


Pretty chaps aren't alpha male enough. In the jungle they would win the ladies but then grubby types would swing out of the trees and scare em off. Preferring the alpha grubbers suggests a return to jungle values & female grownupness. Note: teen girls have not discovered this set of values yet. And values can be upset by extreme beauty. Hence Becks win on this occasion (despite subsequent chaos). So there is the answer. Next time: the world economy – should be buy more gas fires to help the economy or wear an extra jumper to help the environment? The arguments will be decided by a series of bloody nosed fights between eminent economists and enviromental activists.