Welcome to a monthly series of exclusive articles by Welsh Valleys Humour author David Jandrell. In it he explores frustrations with modern life, all recounted through his unique humour and Valleys dialiect...
September 2019: Literature's Overly-smart Writing
‘I woke with a jolt. My mind was in gear and I quickly reconstructed my itinerary for the day. I had been looking forward to this day – it had been planned well in advance and today was the day when it would all come to fruition. I made my way to the window and drew the curtains with trepidation. The only possible thing that could scupper my plans was a dreary, rainy day and I prayed that today, of all days, would be fine. The vista that greeted my eyes was glorious. The trees swaying majestically in the gentle morning breeze casting a brief shadow over the lush grass that scintillated in response to the light and dark as the sun glinted across it, each blade kissed by the morning dew…………………….’
Whoa! Hold it right there. Any need for that?
Descriptive writing they call it. Well, it is descriptive I’ll give you that and if you are describing something you need to write in a convoluted manner like that.
So, if you’re a marketing executive promoting a product or service, a witness producing a written statement regarding a crime or simply trying to make an item that you’re selling on Ebay more attractive to a buyer, then structure your sentences as such and pepper them with superlatives. Makes sense?
But, when you are producing prose where your intention is to report a series of every day actions, is there any need to slip into the kind of language as seen in the first paragraph? I don’t think so.
If that same scenario was presented as: ‘I woke suddenly. I had a lot on that day so I thought I’d better get up. I checked the weather. It was fine. Great! Now for breakfast and a coffee and let’s get going.’
Does the reader need to know about the majestic swaying of the trees and the grass being kissed by the morning dew? Does the second version of the same event lessen the impact or understanding of what is actually going on? I don’t think so.
I call the style used in the first paragraph ‘flowery writing’ and I can’t stand it.
I have been subjected to flowery writing in the past and it’s fair to say I’ve ruled it out of my life because of the way that it has frustrated me when trying to ‘see the wood from the trees’ as the writers’ pomposity in his her/choice of words actually clouds the direction in which the passage is taking. Well, it does for me anyway.
Sure, if you are trying to create tension or describe an ‘exciting bit’ in your book, then go for it, but, when every sentence is full of descriptive fillers, that gets a bit tedious.
Some authors actually take this technique to a higher level and I think when works like this are appraised, they become classed as ‘literature’ as opposed to the standard works that are classified as, Sci-Fi, Crime, Romance, etc., that we see signposted on the shelves of WH Smiths, Waterstones and the like.
Black is black and white is white. Grey areas exist in the realms of construction only, and can be seen on walls that have been coloured with coatings from the Dulux catalogue, ranging from the BS numbers 00A05 to 00A09, oh, and on the side of Royal Navy battleships. I’m afraid that’s where they end. In the same way 5 + 5 = 10 and 9.99 isn’t nearly right no matter how many people you can find who’ll agree with you.
The problem with literature and a great deal of poetry is that it has been produced by people who have deemed it necessary to be ‘smart’ with language. Or have they? Have I been too harsh? Maybe it’s just the way that the readership approach their efforts. Whichever way around, I have observed generations of people who believe they should be ‘smart’ with reading. This is where the ‘grey area’ that doesn’t actually exist, appears.
When I was studying to be a teacher I had to do ‘Professional English’, on the basis that ‘all teachers are teachers of English’. I had to attend English classes for two years and we studied a novel a term. At the end of each term there would be a choice of four essays that had to be done; three on the book and the other you could do without having actually read the book. That’s the one I always did. This is because I would never read the book.
‘Why is that, Dai?’ I hear you say.
I can remember sitting open-mouthed during the discussions relating to the first of the set books, where my peers were making reference to the text and plot by saying things like, “On page 34 Fred says blah, blah, blah, but if you go to page 87, he says blah, blah, blah. Now don’t you think that blah, blah, blah………..?”
Then some other person would interrupt with, “Yes, but on page 235, he says, “Blah, blah, blah…………” etc. The lecturer would then scratch his furrowed brow and say, “Hmmmm, yes, I see your point. It’s very interesting isn’t it, the way that the author has blah, blah, blah”
I could not get involved with this at all, mainly because I hadn’t bought the book by the time we had the first ‘discussion’ and had decided that from that point on that I wasn’t going to – or take part in any subsequent dissections of whichever novel the lecturer deemed suitable to ‘discuss’ for the duration of the course.
My view is that if the main character had asked his wife to “Pass the salt” on page 67 then he merely wanted to ‘spice up’ his chips, and it would have little bearing on the possible location of the murder weapon referred to on page 142, or a precursor to making a pass at his wife’s sister – which would eventually happen on page 235.
I often wondered whether authors ‘built in’ these little subliminal signs into every piece of dialogue and descriptive writing in order to enhance the plot, or whether it was a case of people over-exercising their ‘smart’ reading muscles. There were by far too many of these “But then if you go to page 56 …” references to make it possible for authors to construct at the time of writing, unless each book took about 900 years to pen.
I remember our English lecturer ‘bragged’ (and I use the term ‘bragged’ loosely here), in response to one of my outbursts when I queried the point made above, “When I was in University, we spend two terms on the first word of one novel, and at the end of the second term, our lecturer said, ‘look, we can talk forever about this, but we really must move on’.”
I have cracked open rocks to reveal fossil fish that have not seen the light of day for 165,000,000 years; I have rocks in my cabinet which are older than the earth; I have seen diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds in situ; I found a 40 foot marine reptile at Lyme Regis. I could tell anyone everything they wanted to know about those, and more, and would not take more than ten minutes on each. Two terms on the first word of a novel! I really think it’s about time we started to get things into perspective.
I find this type of thinking very pretentious and have very little patience with the nonsense that is talked about it. The number of ‘scenarios’ that are discussed are endless and are only limited by the amount of time that people set aside to waste and make them up.
When I worked in the museum, to get from Geology to the canteen I had to walk through the art department, and on several occasions I heard Brian Sewell talk-alikes uttering “Yes, I think I can see what the artist is trying to say here.” I’d have a glance at the same picture and conclude that the artist was saying that he thought he’d paint a picture of a bowl of fruit, and as I’d recognised it as such, he’d done a pretty good job of it. No more to be said.
So lets move on to the poets. Now these have tried to be even ‘smarter’ with language. They have done this by making the last words of their sentences rhyme with the previous ones. Must be really clever, I don’t think I could ever, as a scientist with no imagination be able to cause a sensation by using words and diction, to report works of fiction for people to recite with all their might and become a literary hero even though my experience is virtually zero.
Funnily enough, if I had pressed the return key at appropriate points in the above paragraph, although I didn’t know, I could be a poet.
The thing is, this bloke Blake wrote a poem about a Tiger and people have talked about it ever since. I always wanted to do something that would never be forgotten and talked about for ever and ever, and I managed it this year. I forgot to record Midsomer Murders for my missus.
Sadly, the Blake bloke has been so ‘smart’ with his poem, he has neglected to proofread his work. He can’t spell ‘tiger’ and he has used what I call an ‘optical rhyme’ to make his poem work! By this I mean: ‘What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry?’ It looks as if it should rhyme – but it doesn’t, does it? It’s a bit like this one:
As I was walking through
A little town called Slough
I bought a little trough
For my pig, who’s been rough
After eating stale dough
(I made that up by the way).
If fifty people analyse literature or poetry, from what I have witnessed, there could be up to fifty interpretations of it. These will all be perfectly valid to each interpreter. But which is correct? – the answer of course is none of them. The only person who knows what Tyger Tyger means is Mr Blake himself. Did he document somewhere else what he meant by it? No? Well, we’ll never know then.
I must add that the ‘best’ I’ve seen is from a Professor of English who wrote, “The rhythm of the poem is designed to reflect the stripes on the tiger.” I have scoured the OED and there isn’t a word in there that accurately reflects my thoughts on that little gem.
Personally, I think that if someone writes a piece of work and 500 years later people are still arguing about what the writer meant by it, it means that it was badly written in the first place.
Let’s write down what we mean and do away with ‘smart’ reading and writing. “A domesticated animal of the feline variety came to rest on a jute-based floor covering in a position that can only be described as sitting.” Is this what we want? Do we have to communicate in this way in order to command respect from the readership?
And to add to the mix, some people have actually written poems that don’t rhyme. So they haven’t had to be as smart as the others who have at least made to effort to be very choosy about the final words of each of their sentences – no they just write short sentences underneath each other. That’s not hard is it?
I’ll finish with one of my favourites- from Keats.
There was a young woman from Bude
Who went for a swim in the lake
A man in a punt
Stuck his pole in her ear
And said, “You can’t swim in there, it’s private.”
(That’s Ron Keats from the bar in the Cwmcarn Workman’s Club)
And that doesn’t rhyme either.
August 2019: Purple Haze in the Vestry
So there I was, just after 5am every day tramping round the streets of Cwmcarn with a bagful of papers over my shoulder, and, my role was to push these through doors until the bag was empty. I was about ten at the time.
There was never anyone else about at that time – anyone with any sense was still in bed. So to relieve the boredom I had nothing else to do but think about stuff.
It was normally random stuff and my thoughts reflected what was going on around me – things that I’d heard or observed during the times when all the other people had woken up and were out and about and interacting with others.
One particular thing that I thought about came around when it was coming up to Christmas and the whole of the school were rallying around the production of Cwmcarn Infants School’s blockbusting nativity play.
So, my thinking topic for that period was Christmas and everything that went with it. In particular, what excuse I could manufacture to exempt me from taking any part in the nativity play whatsoever. I wasn’t doing that well on that point, to be honest.
Another thought came into my mind though which, although I didn’t know it at the time, kind of guided me through life, and still does today.
This was all about the logistics of the paper-delivery process. Basically, this was:
- Lug a bag of papers that didn’t weigh less than my own body weight around
- Remove the ‘top’ paper from the bag
- Try to decipher my father’s handwritten street name and house number that was scrawled above the newspaper’s header
- Identify the house that the paper was destined for.
- Open the gate at the bottom of the 140 almost 900 gradient steps to climb.
- Open the gate at the top of the same flight of steps
- Fold the paper and insert into the letter box
- Walk through the gate and close it before descending the vertical steps
- Descend the vertical steps and close the gate at the bottom of them
- Repeat – (about 150 times)
The picture that slowly began to form in my mind was the task facing Father Christmas. Based on the things that I had to overcome, I started to have serious doubts about the feasibility of Father Christmas’s task every Christmas eve.
Using my paper-round as a benchmark, I scaled up the job to assess exactly how large Santa’s task was. My concept of the size of the world that I was living in was fairly limited at this time so I started with my round and added the four other paper-boy’s rounds to the whole. We each did about 4 streets and between is we delivered to the whole village.
I imagined having to deliver papers to the whole village on my own. It would take a day at least. I began to wonder how Father Christmas could manage to deliver presents to every house in the village, and, all in one night as well! As well as that, I just had to push papers through the letter-box – Father Christmas had to climb down the chimney! With a big sack-full of stuff!
One paper per house, that’s all it was for me. And, that paper had the address handwritten on the top for me. Father Christmas had to sort out all the presents for all the boys and girls, and parents as well, they had presents too you know! And make sure that all the presents went to the right people. And all down the chimney! Wow!
Then something struck me. The next village, Abercarn. Santa would have to go there as well surely, and then, there was Newbridge, Blackwood to the north. Going south there was Crosskeys, Risca, Newport – and what about Cardiff? Oh and Swansea as well and there’s Manchester, Liverpool, London.
I didn’t know the names of any other places in the UK at the time but I knew the UK was big, a lot bigger than Cwmcarn. And, If it would take a day to deliver one paper to every house in the village, how could Father Christmas deliver everybody’s presents to everywhere else all in one night? And down the chimney! Oh, and what about France, Germany, America, Africa – they had Father Christmas as well. This doesn’t make sense. There is no way that that is possible.
I think I pondered this dilemma for two consecutive days during my paper round before I reached my conclusion and was ready to share it. The next day in school, I got a few friends together and started off with: “Oi, boys, there cannot possibly be a Father Christmas.”
“What do you mean Dai?”
So, I explained myself and presented the evidence which was met with frowns and furrowed brows.
“So, where do our presents come from Dai?”
And this was the flaw in my theory. I hadn’t built a strategy into my well-reasoned theory to deal with a question like that. I didn’t have an answer for that one and I couldn’t formulate a reasonable explanation as to where the presents actually came from. Sure enough, the presents appeared overnight, but where did they come from? A mystery indeed.
My theory spread through the school like wildfire, and, well you know what the valleys grapevine is like, by the time it has been passed on half a dozen times, the ‘news’ had transmogrified into “Father Christmas has died!”
This resulted in many children going home in varying states of blubbing which led to a barrage of parents coming to the school to ask why a school could issue such a wicked statement to children of that age. The teachers, of course, had no knowledge of this and after a brief investigation they discovered that the person who had introduced this vile rumour was me!
I was dragged into the headmaster’s office where he and two other teachers grilled me as to how I had come to spread such a vicious statement. When I explained myself I was hauled over the coals for causing unnecessary anxiety throughout my peer group for starting a rumour that was obviously incorrect – that being, there’s no such thing as Father Christmas.
The ironic thing about this ‘dressing down’ was that three adults who surely were old enough to know the truth about Father Christmas actually disciplined a ten year old for being correct. Educational standards indeed!
By now, my fame surrounding the Truth v Santa debate had reached the older boys who were a few years ahead of me in school and one day I was approached by two of them. They had decided to share a secret with me:
“Dai, you’re right. There is no such thing as Father Christmas.”
“I knew it. But, where do the presents come from then?”
“It’s your Dad.”
“Wow! My Dad is Father Christmas!”
For about an hour I pondered this and, for a short time within that hour, I even held the belief that my Dad had been Father Christmas all the time and although it was right there in front of me, somehow I seemed to have missed it.
It wasn’t very long though before I realised that my father wasn’t Father Christmas because he was always there when I went to bed on Christmas Eve and still there when I got up on Christmas morning. And then the hour of pondering was over.
I am now old enough to know that my suspicions were correct – there is no such thing as Father Christmas. The tooth fairy told me.
There was another thing going on during this period of my life – and this began even before my paper-round experiences. This was my enforced attendance at church. I was too young to remember my debut in this establishment – I was probably wrapped in swaddling clothes, carried there and held by my mother for the duration. And throughout my development into a small child and eventually into a young boy, I had grown enough to fit into the smallest cassock and surplice that they had in stock in the church vestry.
Yes, my mother and father were big church-goers, and so was I. They sat in the congregation and I sat in the choir stalls looking as angelic as I could in full view of my parents and all the other characters that frequented the place. And when I say ‘sat’, that’s what I did. Just sat. Well I stood up when everybody else did and then sat down again when they did.
Choir? No chance. Never sang a word in any service from the first day of my incarceration until my release, many years later. And, it wasn’t a release for good behaviour either!
In my early days in the choir stall, I couldn’t read so I had an excuse for not joining in even though I held a hymn book in front of me as if I could decipher the words that it contained. The only reason that I scoured the hymnbook so diligently was because I could follow the progress of the hymn because the verses were laid out in a format that I could tell how long the hymn was. How I longed for the last verse to come along, after which we could all sit down again.
The Sabbath was an onslaught for me. After getting up before 5am Mondays to Saturdays, I had a lie-in on Sundays – ‘til 7am, when I was washed and dressed in my Sunday best ready for the 8:30am service. I was probably the most hated person in the village from 8am onwards ‘cos I was the one who tolled the bell to remind the church-goers that a service was about to start - and cause consternation amongst the other 99% of the village who were trying to sleep off the previous night’s weekend celebratory booze-ups in the local hostelries.
After the 8:30am service. There was another one at 11am. This was called matins. Then at 2pm there was Sunday school – my parents didn’t go to that. Finally, there was Evensong which started at 6pm and seemed to go on forever.
In my early days, before I could read the hymns in the hymn book and before I had acquired a vocabulary of about 100 words, I really had no clue about where I was and what was going on. I just stood up and sat down as I described before, basically went through the motions.
The whole caboodle was a bit like a low key, primitive performance of the present day popular dance troupe, ‘Diversity’ who made a lot of money for being able to sit down, stand up, turn around and jump up in the air at the same time. A bit like us lot in church, apart from the turning around bit. We didn’t turn round. Or jump up in the air. Just stood up and sat down. Well, it’s a start isn’t it?
As I got older and my vocabulary grew; I began to get a feel for why I was there and what was going on. I didn’t engage with it though, I just maintained my usual stance of sitting there and looking as angelic as I could alongside all the other children who had been plonked in the choir stalls by their parents. We were all in the same boat. And our heads were sinking fast.
My initial ambivalent persona slowly altered into one of resentment as I pictured my friends, whose parents did not go to church and had a marvellous time on Sundays – up the mountain catching snakes, playing football, cricket, building dens, watching ‘Lost in Space’, etc. And there was I. Then, something strange happened and my demeanour suddenly changed.
We had been in school on a Friday and all of the pupils were called into the hall for a lecture from the headmaster. One of my friends had been caught pinching apples and we were made aware of the consequences of this action – he had been suspended from school (hardly a punishment) and we were told what a wicked boy he was. The headmaster told us that he wouldn’t have got away with the theft even if he hadn’t been caught by the gardener because Jesus had been there and had seen it all!
Then, on the Sunday, the vicar gave thanks to God for looking after my aunt who was in hospital and making a good recovery following a fall. Apparently, she was very lucky as the fall could have been much worse than it was, but, luckily, Jesus was with her at the time and as a result, the fall was minor rather than major! Phew!
Now I happened to know that the theft of the apples and my aunt’s fall had taken place at exactly the same time – and Jesus had been present at both incidents. That didn’t make sense so I decided to check this out with the vicar after the service. I wasn’t quite prepared for his answer.
“You see David, God is watching over us all, all the time. He is with us now, he is with your aunt in hospital. He is with all the poor little children who are starving in Africa. He is with everyone, all the time.”
I adopted my ‘talking to the vicar' pose. This was, sickly angelic smile, wide-eyed whilst nodding in agreement. That was my outward persona – my head, on the other hand was saying: “I’m not having a bar of that matey. You must think I was born under a banana boat.”
I wasn’t very good at metaphors in those days, if ‘metaphor’ is the correct word for that kind of saying.
I didn’t query this with him – I was still smarting over the dressing down I’d had over the Father Christmas incident, but my opinion was the same on this one as it was on the Father Christmas episode. It didn’t make sense. My feeling mirrored the previous one – and I wasn’t falling for that again.
I was pretty sure that, like before, the churchy equivalent of the ‘older boys’ who told me that I had been right about Father Christmas would sidle up to me and say, “You’re right about this one too.” But nobody did.
I suppose many people will be shocked to see me bracket Jesus and Father Christmas into the same peer group, but, for me, a child of that age with a pragmatic outlook, the concept of both characters being able to do the things that people claimed they could just didn’t make sense.
If I were to comment on my own spirituality gleaned from those days when I frequented the church I would say that the overarching message was that everyone should live decent lives, be nice to people, love your fellow man, respect nature and learn to share the planet that we live on with everything else that reside here at the same time as us.
In that respect I would adhere to the values that they taught, and I still do. I don’t think that I needed to go to church 4 times every Sunday to maintain that ethic. I can do that on my own.
Because of being born and brought up where I was, we were only made aware of Jesus Christ. It wasn’t until I got older that I found out that there were other Gods as well, all worshipped by millions of people and I began to wonder- if there was an ultimate being, who was it?
It seemed to me that worship was geographical and that people were trained to follow the teachings of the ‘local Gods’ and had no knowledge of any of the others! They were never told about the existence of other Gods. We certainly weren’t. I imagined the Archbishop of Canterbury dying and going to heaven to find Vishnu sitting on the throne. “Well, Archbishop it’s fair to say that you were a thoroughly decent chap when you were on Earth, but, unfortunately you opted to worship someone else – so, it’s down to the other place for you. Off you go now.”
And when I got even older I began to realise that all the people who worshipped their own Gods were so convinced that they were right and the other worshippers were wrong that they were prepared to fight and even kill those who followed a different creed.
I was also aware that people who worshipped the same Gods split themselves into factions and sub-factions where they fought each other! Yes, worshipped the same Gods.
In the UK we have seen the strife between the Catholics and the Protestants (same God) and judging by the plethora of people who want to preach to me on my doorstep every other day when I’m trying to watch Eggheads, new factions are springing up all the time!
So, if any good came out of my time in church, it would have been the way that it led to me taking the stance that I did on religion, and I still distance myself from that philosophy to this day.
Which brings me to my release from my own enforced worship, well relegation from the choir stalls anyway, but it was a start. The way that I managed to survive the onslaught that was, Evensong (the service that started at 6pm and lasted for months), was by smuggling my pocket radio into the service.
The method was to put the radio into my trouser pocket with the earphone (on a long lead) plugged into it ready. This bypassed the radio’s speaker so that the sound only came out of the earphone. Then, feed the earphone lead up under my shirt until it popped out over the collar. Then put on the cassock and surplice, and we’re ready to go. If you hadn’t got it right before the cassock and surplice went on you basically had to undress to make any adjustments because those robes didn’t allow any access to the trouser pocket at all.
I sat in the choir stall at right angles to the way that the congregation was facing, and, as soon as the service started it was a simple case of slipping the earpiece (that was sitting on my collar) into my left ear – the one on the blind-side of the congregation and listen to Fluff Freeman’s Pick of the Pops. My friend Paul, another token chorister, sat to my left and from time to time, when a record came on that I wasn’t particularly fond of, I’d let him listen by slipping the earpiece into his right ear. We did this every Sunday and never got caught.
It was 1967, I was twelve and the only record in the charts worth listening to was Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’. We sat in expectation as Fluff played the top twenty. Every now and again, Paul would say: “Is he on yet?”
I’d shake my head and pass him the earphone. Then after a few minutes I’d gesture for him to slip the earphone into my left ear. Then at last, Purple Haze started. I gave him a wink and a thumbs up. He whispered, “Gimme a listen.”
I shook my head and hogged the earphone. He whispered again, “Come on mun, give us a listen.” I shook my head, so he grabbed the earphone and yanked it out of my ear. Unfortunately, he pulled the lead so hard that it came out of the output socket in my pocket and the whole of the church got a full blast rendition of the classic song. And, I couldn’t get at it to turn it off!
The only thing I could do was to make a dash for the vestry to remove the ceremonial robes, so I made a break for it. The trouble was, it was during the vicar’s sermon, a particularly quiet bit. And, just in case there was any chance that nobody had noticed my exit, I realised that I was being closely followed by Paul, who for some reason, was still clutching the lead!
Thankfully, I was chucked out of the choir for that. And, even more thankfully, my parents realised that church wasn’t really the place for me and I was given the option to go to church or do something else.
Apart from a few weddings and even fewer funerals, I have never darkened those doors since I was given the option.
It’s funny how those twists of fate went such a long way in shaping my life and I often wonder what would have happened if Harry Belafonte had been singing “Mary’s Boy Child” when Paul pulled the lead out my radio! Instead of being persecuted for being involved in that ‘Hendrix Incident’ and branded, ‘Evil’ I may have been lauded as a child saint and ended up as the Archbishop of Canterbury – being sent ‘downstairs’ by Vishnu after my demise.
July 2019: Work Characters
I started work in 1965(ish). I reckon I was about 10 when I started so that would make it 1965. My father was the newsagent in the village we lived in and there was a shortage of paperboys.
One of my earliest memories was standing in the middle of the shop with my father plonking a bagful of newspapers over my shoulder to see if I could stand.
I think that this procedure may have started much earlier because there were many times that I did collapse which indicated to my father that I was ‘not ready yet’
If I’d had my wits about me I would still have been collapsing at the age of 15 in an attempt to fool my dad into thinking that I was still ‘not ready’.
But, as I was not that savvy in those days, I finally managed to stand up when fully loaded, at about 5:15am and at the age of 10, and my father deemed I was ‘ready’ and I was introduced to the world of work by tramping around the village in monsoon conditions. I did point out that I could barely walk with a full bag but he fed me a line that every time I delivered a paper, the bag got lighter. I suppose he was right but I didn’t really notice the weight difference after every delivery at the time. I was also unaware the 140 near vertical steps that I had to climb to get to every house, open the gate at the top, remember the special instructions for that house, deliver the paper, shut the gate and then negotiate the descent whilst wrestling with a bagful of papers that probably weighed more than me.
‘Special instructions?’ I hear you say.
Yes, this involved the actual penetration of the door with the paper. Some people wanted their paper pushed right through, others wanted the paper pushed halfway through (presumably so that they wouldn’t have to bend to pick the paper up from the ‘welcome mat’). But, on days when it was raining, about 30% of the people who wanted their papers pushed halfway through wanted them pushed all the way through (in case half of it got wet). I had to remember all these!
I could come a cropper on this one though – on certain occasions, it would start to rain after I had delivered and before the people who wanted their papers pushed halfway through had done so – and the paper got wet. And it was my fault! And they would complain too – Aaarrrggghhhh!
Then, when I was about 15, I landed the most coveted job in the village – peeling the spuds in the chip shop. They paid a fiver a week, for five evenings from about 5pm to 7pm. Marvellous! My paper round (which I was still doing) paid 15 shillings a week – (75p) so, I was making £5.75 a week, which was a king’s ransom in those days.
Despite having been tramping the streets before 6am every day and being up to my elbows in potato peelings and starch five evenings a week, I still managed to utilise the time that I had in school to gain good enough results to go to University.
I entered that period of my life already fully geared up in the work ethic mentality – effectively I had eight years of working to deadlines behind me, and mostly before I had my National Insurance number when, at that stage, I could have theoretically, worked officially and paid tax and NI, for the first time.
I worked in the evenings when at University (bar work etc) and during the summer holidays I worked on building sites where I wiled away the time carrying bricks, mixing cement, sweeping up, going to the chip shop for 40+ people at a time and going to builders’ supplier to ask for things like; bubbles for spirit levels, skirting ladders, striped paint, sky hooks, sparks for the grinder, left handed hammers and long weights.
When my University days came to and end and I was ‘educated beyond my intelligence’ as my missus refers to my academic upbringing, I was ready to enter the job market proper.
I am now in my 45th year in ‘proper’ work. And, now, as I have a great career behind me I like to look back and recall, mainly with a shudder at all the highlights of those previous 44 horrendous years.
From those years I have had stints working in, Cardiff Museum, scientific research, local government, Civil Service, private industry, steel, furniture, education (secondary and higher), youth work, construction, statistics and numerous voluntary position to select highlights from.
Well, no highlights to speak of- I mean it was work wasn’t it. You just do it and come home. That’s what I thought anyway.
The overarching thing that struck me about my ‘proper’ work experience was the people that I had to share my working day with. Prior to my first proper job, I was basically a free agent – worked on my own and to my own work ethic, but, when I encountered my first ‘workmates’ I couldn’t fully engage with them, well, apart from a very small few.
I wondered how these people’s minds worked – did they adopt a ‘work persona’ that took over their whole outlook which took them over as they drove into the car park in the morning? Surely they did, I mean they couldn’t be like that all the time could they? If they were, I would be the in the minority – and, I must be on the wrong planet.
Nobody really wants to go to work, but seeing as it is a necessity my philosophy has always been to turn up, do what is required and make the whole experience as pleasurable as possible. Looking at my ex-colleagues it seems that I am in the minority in this area as well.
As time went on, I began to notice traits in my peers and they prompted me to categorise them in order to slot my workmates into different groups which I used as a benchmark for the way that I put up with and dealt with their horrendous personalities and characteristics.
Here they are.
Empire builders – usually the most inefficient workers, but a very successful strategy inasmuch as they usually manage to ‘fool’ their line managers into thinking they are hardworking and an asset to their dept. They create a ‘busy’ environment by monopolising their time by getting involved with things that are not their concern. The thinking behind this is, I think, “If I’m continually sorting out problems, I’m not sitting at my desk ‘getting on’ with the mundane paperwork side of the job.” – which is part of their remit.
Of course, a lot of this time will be spent liaising with their boss, just to make sure that he/she is aware of the empire builder’s whereabouts at every minute of the day and compounds the myth that he/she is completely tied up with something ‘over and above’ their duties. These can then be used as a ‘lever’ when they are so behind with their own work that they claim to be slogging away at home until 11pm, just to keep their heads above water. Empire builders are not backward in coming forwards when quoting the number of hours they do at home and mention this frequently every day. The answer to that is “If you can’t do the job in 8 hours, you shouldn’t be doing it. That suggests to me that you are incompetent so we should look at giving you a less demanding role.” I always got into trouble when I said that.
Another philosophy they may hold is the ‘I do everything in this office, the place wouldn’t survive without me. They can never get rid of me.’
They do this by ‘snagging’ all the ‘meaty’ duties, that are those noticed by those ‘in charge’ and farming out all the parts of those jobs that they don’t like to other people. This is where systems fall down because one person is not taking responsibility for the completion of a task, and gives the empire builder carte blanche to blame the ‘others’ when something, which is part of their remit, goes ‘pear shaped’.
Bored admin worker – These are generally quiet and never appear to be participating in large bouts of inactivity. They know what is expected of them and just do that, quietly and unobtrusively. If they come in one morning and they have 2,394 items which have to be filed, they will do it by home-time. If they come in the next day, and they have 16 items to be filed, they will do it – but it will still take them until home-time.
They also have developed a remarkable ‘knack’ of positioning their monitor in such a position that nobody else in the room can see that they are continually on Ebay, Candy Crush Saga, Fortnite (with sound muted), Facebook and other web based entertainment sites.
The last thing they want is to attract attention to themselves and they never do – however they will spend long periods of time complaining about their role – “I can do better than this! I’ve got 2 GCSEs you know. Can’t wait to get out of this hole!”
Smoothers – these are people who don’t like confrontation and will do anything to avoid such. Usually, they are in positions of authority. Smoothers are probably the worst people to go to if you have issues or problems. The smoother’s philosophy is to ‘smooth over’ issues and get complainants out of his/her office as quickly as possible. They do this by trying to make people ‘feel good’ and take a light hearted view of the problems. They appear to show a great deal of empathy when listening and will try to say what the complainant wants to hear. His/her aim is to reach a point whereby the complainant leaves his/her office with a smile on his/her face, usually accompanied by a wink and a slap on the back. He/she will reinforce the feeling of well-being by cracking a joke as the complainant leaves. Once the door closes, the smoother will be overcome with a feeling of ‘sorted that one out’ and do nothing to get to the root of the problem.
Of course this problem will arise again and the smoother will go through the motions again.
If the problem continues to recur, he/she will issue a ‘blanket lecture’ in a staff meeting and infer that every member of staff is guilty instead of taking the guilty party aside and addressing the problem head-on with that person.
The effect of this is that those who are not guilty will be thinking, “Did he/she mean me?” and unfortunately, those who are guilty will also be thinking, “Did he/she mean me?” as well. The more astute members of staff will be offended by the dressing down and tackle the manager afterwards – which will be met with another ‘smoothing off’ exercise by saying something like, “Obviously. I wasn’t referring to you.” Unfortunately, the smoother will also say this to the guilty person who suspects that he/she was the person that the smoother was referring to in the dressing down.
Long stayers – these are people who have worked in the same place since they left school and are now middle-aged or older. They are normally extremely average in ability but have put the time in. They are basically getting paid for attendance and have reached the dizzy heights of whatever position they have reached within the company because of longevity rather than contribution and achieved their own level of incompetence during their first week. They generally have a meaningless title alongside a disproportionately large salary and is most commonly observed in companies where nepotism is rife. They seem to be able to come in late every morning, spend longer at lunch than is allowed and have to leave early. Nothing is ever said to them. This is because they grew up with the boss, who has achieved his/her high status through graft and ability but remained loyal to their inadequate long-term mates by creating positions for them and although their contribution is minimal, in fact, some would say, a negative value they are kept on. I called this, ‘being promoted out of harms way.’
Usually despised by other members of staff whose daily routine can be interrupted by their apparent sporadic attendance and the inefficient way in which they conduct themselves on the odd occasions that they frequent the workplace.
Much of their working day is spent in meetings, or socialising with customers/suppliers or people from outside the organisation.
Managers (a few here)
Busy busy bees – always too busy to deal with staff. Never follow up leads and feedback on reports.
- “Haven’t had time to look at it yet.”
- “Sorry, completely went out of my mind.”
- “I’m just about to go into a meeting.”
- “Something more important came up.”
Answers to above that are rarely used (although I did…)
- It would be a different matter if I hadn’t produced the report by the time you asked for it.
- What would have happened if producing the report went completely out of my mind?
- How do you know it was more important when I hadn’t told you what I was going to say to you?
Whizz-kid – The fast mover who has worked his way ‘up the ladder’ – usually by treading on his/her peers on the way up.
When new members of staff are being shown around on their first day, after they have been introduced to the whizz-kid, the established member of staff, usually adds, when the whizz-kid is out of earshot;
“He/she used to be great him, till he/she got promoted. You know, one of the lads/girls. He/she is a right tyrant now since he’s/she’s the boss. Hate him/her. Started the same day as me he/she did. Now look at him/her. If that’s what being a boss is I’m happy as I am.”
Low esteem & insecure managers – These come across as aloof and abrupt - A smokescreen to cover up their complete unsuitability as a man-manager.
They do not have the mentality to handle the authority and believe that, to be able to be authoritative they have to be rude. This is probably in an attempt to emulate their previous boss’s attitude as they would be likely to be totally unsuitable as mangers as well. “Well I’m the boss now- better start behaving like a tyrant, like my boss did.”
Far from generating respect, this pompous acquired persona doesn’t enhance the managers’ authority, it merely makes staff members wary of them and be less than co-operative – and when managers don’t have the support of their staff …
When the inevitable happens, these will not delegate. They will try to do everything themselves for fear of being let down by demotivated staff (of their creation) until they grind themselves into the ground.
At this point, they will not sort the staff out themselves, but go bleating to their own boss in order to pre-empt backlashes as a result of severe shortcomings in day to day tasks, which are a direct result of the shortcomings of the manager.
Hip manager – probably the most irritating. He /she adopts the full management psyche and bolsters this by using all the hip management spiel.
“Have the guys got a ball-park figure for me yet? I know it’s a big ask but we need to be on it 24/7. We’re all standing at the bottom of a very greasy pole but we must touch base and make sure we’re singing from the same hymn-sheet, you know, making sure we have all our ducks in a row.”
You have probably realised by now that I was not impressed by any of these characters and whilst I had the misfortune of spending eight hours a day cooped up with them and subjected to their foibles, I managed to keep myself sane by maintaining very low-key relationships with them and communicated with them on an even lower level which was pitched solely on business related stuff and did not deviate one iota into personal or social topics.
Unless they asked, of course. That was where the trouble started – when they asked.
The thing is if something is on my mind or needs to be said, then I have to say it. Over the course of my working life, my colleagues realised that if they asked, then I would tell them – and this usually meant that people wouldn’t ask any more because they didn’t want to hear the answer. Some people even stopped speaking to me at all, which, I guess was their way of inflicting some sort of punishment on me because of my bluntness, but, in reality, I preferred it that way.
I have a few examples.
“Dai, I noticed that you have not put your name down for the staff Christmas party.”
“Are you aware of it?”
“Shall I add you?”
“Oh. Er …. you haven’t been to any staff do’s since you’ve been here.”
“Any reason for that?”
“Yes. I don’t want to go.”
“Well why not? Everybody’ll be there.”
“That’s why I don’t want to go.”
“I have nothing in common with these people.”
“What do you mean?”
“As my line manager, you choose who I spend eight hours a day with, I choose who I socialise with in my spare time.”
“What about the people in the Midlands office, or the people in the North office, you speak to them twenty times a day and you’ve never met them!”
“I have no more desire to meet those people than I have to meet my maker.”
“I think we’d better wrap this up here.”
“I think that would be a good idea too.”
Soon after that, we had a team building day, where I did (unfortunately), meet those people. During the ‘post team-building exercise chat’, in response to the question:
“What did you learn from today’s exercise?” my response was:
“I learnt to not attend any more team building exercises.”
This prompted a scoff from one of my colleagues which forced me to add:
“Eddie, I have spoken to you thousands of times since I joined this company and I always suspected that you were an insufferable bore. Now, after having met you and spent a day with you, I know you are.”
And the last one- Innovation Day.
A visiting facilitator came in to talk to us about Innovation. He was a professional speaker and one of the most irritating people I have ever encountered. He began his spiel:
“Good morning peeps. Today I am going to talk to you about Innovation. This is going to be very informal and easy-going and it’s going to be led by you. So, if at any time you get bored or if I start getting on your nerves, just get up and go.” (Pause for laughter).
I got up and went.
I still made it to the buffet though!
So, if you have read this have you spotted anyone you know that would fit into any of my workplace categories?
Or, are you one of these? Go on, be honest……
June 2019: Microwave Televisual Tips
This is a concept that may be new to many people but has been in operation in my house for a number of years.
It is based on the microwave ethic, whereby, you can prepare hot food in a fraction of the time that you can do using conventional methods. Using this same technique, you can cut down the amount of time that you spend watching the barrage of unadulterated drivel that the TV companies deem acceptable to pump into our living rooms 24 hours day.
They already believe that all the British public want to see is; people cooking, people dancing (on floors and ice), people participating in talent contests (judged by people who are not qualified to assess talent) and people rummaging through their attics, charity shops and car boot sales to see if they can sell the junk that they've bought for a profit. That lot probably takes up 60% of the available air time, so I'll deal with the rest here.
How microwave TV works: Look for these signs when viewing to gauge when it is safe to turn off and still not miss anything.
TV Cop drama format
TV cop plots are easy to decipher very soon after the programme starts. The first is:
• US cop show where a rookie cop is placed with an established cop (both cops different gender) as their partner. The rookie and established cops’ gender can be interchangeable, but for this example I will nominate the established cop as being male and the rookie, female.
The established cop’s historic partner has been killed during a drugs bust and is assigned an attractive female replacement. He is still grieving over his partner and has little time for his new partner and shows her no respect and has not confidence in her ability as a cop. They hate each other.
The outcome – she will save his life and solve the crime because of her innovative and non-conventional detective skills. They will fall in love and live happily ever after.
‘Safe to turn off time’ will be when they have their first row and she is seen entering her apartment in tears while her partner goes to a bar to get drunk – usually 7 to 10 minutes into the show.
• Midsomer Murders. A body is found in a field and Barnaby and his sidekick arrive in a sleepy village to investigate. An eccentric and haughty toff lady arrives on a horse and says something like; “I say old chap, you can’t jolly well leave that police car there! It’s a public right of way don’t you know. I am on the parochial church council and a close friend of the Archdeacon so you’re going to have to move it I’m afraid. Damned oiks!”
The outcome – She’s the killer. Or, if not, it’ll be her equally eccentric and insular husband who breeds cabbage white butterflies and makes gooseberry jam.
‘Safe to turn off time’ will be when she rides off into the heart of the village leaving Barnaby and sidekick looking bewildered. Again, 7 to 10 minutes in.
• Diagnosis Murder. US cop/medic drama starring Dick van Dyke. Dick is a senior doctor in a hospital and his son in the show (and in real life) is the police chief. There are two other ever present characters, a young male doctor and a young female doctor. This quartet is in every programme.
Each episode will have two other characters which are both dedicated to that episode alone. Basically, each show will revolve around these six characters.
The outcome; One of the ‘new pair’ of characters gets murdered and the murderer will be the other one.
‘Safe to turn off time’ will be when we find out which of the ‘new pair’ has been murdered- usually 4 to 5 minutes after the start.
And, while we are on the subject of medical dramas:
After the statutory build up to the accident which led to the patient being admitted to the hospital in the first place, he or she is taken to resus, saved and moved to a ward. The camera will zoom in, several times, to the furrowed brow of the doctor or nurse who is treating the patient. He/she suspects that ‘something is up!’ A further 17 close-ups of the suspecting medic’s body language and facial expressions instils the feeling that ‘something sinister’ is going on with the viewer.
The outcome: the patient has signed himself/herself out of the hospital against the advice of the medics. The doctor/nurse, who suspects that ‘something is up’ goes round the patient’s house and finds the place filthy, mal-nourished children coughing and spluttering, dogs’ poo in the kitchen and a rather bedraggled parrot sitting in a filthy cage. The medic immediately refers the family to social services, then, cleans up the mess in the kitchen, orders a takeaway meal for eight via Deliveroo and diagnoses Psittacosis as the cause of the kids’ coughing (then cures it) and arranges for the parrot to be collected by the RSPB for rehabilitation.
MEDICS DO NOT DO THIS. Also, they do not follow people around hospital car parks to liaise with family members who have had a rumpus with their hospitalised partners or family members on the ward!
So, start watching Casualty if you are ever taken to A&E following a minor scrape and at 1am the doctor who treated earlier in the day calls at your house on his way home after a 139 hour shift just to see if you are OK. While he is there, he cures your gas fire of spilling Carbon Monoxide, changes the battery in your smoke alarm and organises a visit from the fire service to inspect the fire hazards in your home that he has concerns over. If you ever experience this, you are an extra in Casualty, you are dreaming or totally out of touch with reality.
Sci-fi Generic formats
TV Sci-fi has followed the same clichéd plot line for generations; aliens either visiting Earth to conquer and occupy because their own planet has become uninhabitable, or aliens visit to warn us that our planet is heading the same way as theirs if we don’t sort ourselves out. Then they try to conquer us anyway.
The outcome: The military will be depicted as being inadequate and fail at every attempt to defeat the aliens. The aliens will finally be defeated by a suburban family – the parents are estranged and the kids (a boy and girl) will be trying to get them to sort out their differences. They will have an extremely cute mongrel puppy who will go missing following the aliens’ arrival, very early into the film.
When the aliens have been ousted from by the family, the parents will fall in love with each other again and the little dog will reappear from under a pile of rubble not 3 feet away from the cwtching family. Final shot will show the dog joining the cwtch as the kids cry with joy. Roll credits.
‘Safe to turn off time’ will be when the wife spots a light in the night sky and phones her estranged husband to say that she is concerned about the safety of the kids. He tells her to ‘sod off’ and stop over-reacting. About 5 to 6 minutes in.
Dr Who was half tidy to be fair. Years ago anyway. Good storylines, good acting and well structured. Each story would be serialised over 4 weeks so that there was plenty of time to build characters, explore the plot and the viewer was 100% au fait with the way that the story was developing.
Now, they do all that in 40 minutes (less if you include the opening and closing titles).
SO, they have to introduce the characters, what motivates them, why they are doing whatever they are doing and how the Doctor works all this out and defeats them.
Wow! It’s as if we’re in a rush – and if you can follow the plot, take a bow.
And, living where I do, I find that I am familiar with all the locations that they use. I find it very difficult to engage with characters who, whilst very expertly made up, and supposedly slime monsters from Metabelus 3, live on the waste ground behind the bus stop next to Cwmcarn chip shop!
‘Safe to turn off time’ is straight after the opening theme (‘cos that’s still great) or as soon as the doctor produces a sonic screwdriver to use for something other than putting some shelves up. About 2-3 minutes after the theme stops, if you get that far.
Again, another show that has gone downhill (at a rate of Warp Factor 9). Since the original series, the programme makers seem to have concentrated on the highly techno effects (which are great, to be fair), but they don’t appear to have any money left over to visit any planets any more. So, when watching ‘The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager etc., all the action has to take place entirely aboard the ship. They also seem to have not budgeted for lighting because the shows are all very dark and gloomy. Turn the lights on mun! Can’t see what’s going on!
The first time I saw ‘The Original Series, I thought I could see a pattern forming. The first character I saw was Mr Scott, who was Scottish and spoke with a Scottish accent. I was wondering if all the characters' names had a connection to where they were from or what they did. Then my theory went out of the window when, in the next scene, I noticed that Dr. McCoy wasn’t a crisp.
In the original series, OK the polystyrene scenery wobbled and the transporter was always broken down, but Kirk and Spock used to beam down to planets and have fist fights with aliens and 80% of the time, Kirk used to have an illicit affair with the most attractive of the alien women who resided there. Worth watching just for conversations like this:
Kirk: “Scotty, get this transporter working, we’ve got one minute and 23 seconds to beam aboard and save the universe!”
Spock: “That’s one minute 22.0982394832978478 seconds, to be precise captain.”
Very refreshing and so different from the ‘norm’ of televised Sci-fi. ‘Safe to turn off time’ is when the programme starts and anything other than the words ‘The Original Series’ appears after ‘STAR TREK’ on the screen.
Not Dove, Knight’s Castille, Carbolic etc., the other sort. Hollyoaks, Eastenders, Emmerdale Farm, Coronation Street, Pobol y Cwm – you know who they are.
‘Safe to turn off time’ is in the gap between when the continuity announcer says:
“And now (insert soap name here)
and before the opening music comes on.
If you can’t find the remote and the theme song is coming to an end and there’s still no sign of the remote. Put your foot through the telly.
May 2019: Cause of Death
Murder is a funny thing isn’t it? Not comical- strange. Very popular these days as well. Just watch the news. I am not going to explore ‘murder’ here as if I have some morbid fascination for it, but I am going to discuss the way that it is reported in the news and on cop shows.
I have been intrigued by some of the ‘stories’ that I have read or heard regarding suspicious deaths and I will share them with you here. Perhaps you can offer some rational explanations to some of the theories offered by the authorities as to the causes of death or some of the detection techniques that are used.
One of the most used methods of establishing ‘time of death’ is to look at the victim’s watch. Almost in every episode of Midsomer Murders, the pathologist says to Tom Barnarby:
“Time of death was 3:45pm, because that’s what time his watch stopped.”
Jack Frost’s pathologist says it as well.
In reality, there’s some huge assumptions going on here:
- Did the method of killing the victim cause the watch to stop, or was he killed last week and it stopped because it hadn’t been wound for a few days?
- Was the victim’s watch showing the correct time when it stopped? – I just glanced at my watch and it’s three minutes fast!
- Had the battery run out?
- Was the watch working at all? Even a stopped watch shows the correct time twice in a 24 hour period?
If I was a policeman, I’d need a little more substantial evidence than the time showing on a deceased’s watch to build my case on.
And what if they find a body and the watch is still going? What does that mean?
Another one that has puzzled me is the one where they can’t identify a body, so they resort to dental records. If they don’t know who has been killed, how on earth do they know who his dentist is?
I’d love to know how this works – if anybody out there knows, please get in touch.
I have this picture in my mind of a young bobby going round all the dentists in the town with a plaster cast of a set of teeth in his pocket and asking:
It’s a nice picture, but I don’t for one minute think it’s a true one.
One of the most intriguing ones I saw was on my internet home page news section.
The headline said: HEADLESS CORPSE FOUND. It was accompanied by a picture of a police car with copious quantities of the blue and white striped sellotape they use to cordon off areas, draped over the bonnet. You know the one I mean.
So, I clicked on the link and the story ‘opened up’.
Apparently, the headless body of a man had been found amongst some boxes and other wrapping materials near a market somewhere in London!
Here’s the interesting bit. According to a police autopsy report, they were unable to establish the cause of death.
Now I’m not Hercule Poirot, but I think that maybe the answer was so obvious that they may have missed it. If they examined the rest of the body and found no obvious causes of death in or on it – poisoning, drug overdose, bullet holes, stab wounds, Ebola, then they must be looking at the head … and there wasn’t one.
Neither am I a medical historian, but I am quite sure that it has not been recorded anywhere that a head or body had ever survived after having become detached from one another. If you know of an instance, please get in touch.
I don’t think that it is unreasonable to assume, after all other possible causes had been ruled out, that the lack of head was a pretty strong contender for ‘most likely culprit’.
Further down the article, they tackled the issue of ‘why’ the head had been removed and concluded that it may have been an attempt by the killers to conceal the victim’s identity – and within the same paragraph, went on to say that they had managed to identify the victim from the credit cards in his wallet which was found in his jacket pocket.
Let’s be fair, if you are going to kill someone and then become involved in one of the most extreme ‘hiding the identity of your victim’ exercises I can think of – removing the head, then perhaps you’d take the extra precaution of checking his pockets to make sure they didn’t contain a plethora of identity giveaways such as a chequebook, utility bills, passport, driving licence or checked the back of his collar to make sure his mother hadn’t sewn a name tag into it like my mother used to do to mine when I was in school to make sure that I came home wearing the same clothes that I left the house with on days when we had PE.
I think that is the longest sentence that has appeared in any of my ‘thoughts’ so far.
And what about Dennis Nilsen? You know, the civil servant who used to ‘kill for company’. When he was approached by the law, he openly admitted his crimes without any prompting from the officers involved. So you’d think the trial would last about 5 minutes wouldn’t you:
“Are you guilty of these crimes.”
“Right, take him down and chuck the key away.”
Wrong! The trial went on for weeks. Why? Because the legal wranglers were trying to establish whether Nilsen was sane or not!
On yet another hand, people have questioned my sanity on the grounds that: I don’t like Christmas, parties, weddings, have 33 guitars, 29,000 albums, eat After Eights at half past seven, have the audacity to go out with a shirt and tie that don’t match, own a rabbit called Malcolm and a cockatiel called Blin, get annoyed when people ask me if I ‘understand what they mean’ three times in every sentence, hate soap, don’t like the Beatles, started to write unbelievably long sentences, miss appointments as a result of having a vocabulary good enough to understand what the term ‘next Friday’ means and being able to spell palaeontologist.
So if I’m insane and Nilsen is sane, then pass me a straightjacket and I’ll gladly wear it.
Er … what colour tie would go with that?
April 2019: Matching Shirt and Tie
Years ago the nature of my job meant that I had to wear a shirt and tie. This caused massive problems for a number of people– me being one of them.
By far, the most difficult thing I did on any working day was put a shirt on. This was due solely to my fingernails. They are very long- well on my right hand anyway. Rose, my partner calls them ‘talons’. I use them for playing my guitar.
Some people have asked me why I don’t use a plectrum – this is because I grow my own and I very rarely lose them. I was always losing plectra when I used them – usually by dropping them in the sound-hole in acoustic guitars. Have you ever tried getting a plectrum out of an acoustic guitar? Or even worse – a Gibson 335!
I also find it impossible to pick coins up from flat surfaces for the same reason – but that’s another story.
Anyway, back to shirts. The problem is doing the buttons up. I reckon I could have an extra hour in bed in the mornings if I didn’t have to put a shirt on. And the worst shirts are those that have buttons on the ‘point’ of the collar. A nightmare!
So I’ve got the shirt on, fully buttoned. I add the tie. Job done. Problem solved for me. This is where the problems for the other people started.
These problems are all about colours and patterns. I don’t understand anything about colours and patterns- not when it comes to shirts and ties anyway.
The technique I use when selecting my shirt was to grab one from the wardrobe – usually when I am looking somewhere else, maybe to locate my shoes or at the clock to see exactly how much time I had to get ready. My ‘tie selection’ was remarkably similar – a random ‘grab’ from the tie rack.
It is this ‘hit and miss’ selection method that caused the problems for the other people.
The trouble is they very rarely ‘matched’. These people were never shy in coming forward with their comments on my ‘colour scheme’ of the day. My reactions to these outbursts are pretty much the same.
In July 1986, I bought a box of Tic-Tacs (mint flavour). When I was getting near the end of the box, I poured some into the palm of my hand to eat and realised that the box was now empty, so I decided to put one back to eat later on. I ate the remaining Tic-Tacs safe in the knowledge that I had one left.
When ‘later-on’ finally arrived, I decided to eat my last Tic-Tac, and I discovered that something had happened when I put the last one back into the box. I don’t know what had actually happened, but I know that I hadn’t put it back in the box as it was empty. Maybe I dropped it. Maybe it had slipped through my fingers and was lurking somewhere in the lining of my pocket. Whatever had happened, the true fate of my last Tic-Tac was going to be a mystery for ever.
Quite frankly, I have worried more about that Tic-Tac than I have ever or ever will worry about my shirt/tie colour scheme!
Nevertheless, despite my attempts to explain to my critics how little this meant to me I still got barracked as soon as I arrived at work.
“Get dressed in the dark this morning Dai?”
This is the most common greeting. Of course, I needed an explanation and we had a little conversation. It went like this:
“Problem with my colour scheme?”
“That tie doesn’t go with that shirt!”
“Because they clash!”
Let’s analyse that. When I ask my critics the exact nature of the complaint, I am told that the colours don’t ‘go’! When I ask why, I am told that they ‘clash’.
Neither of my questions had been answered.
When I ask ‘why’ the colours don’t go together, ‘because they clash’ is not an answer. It’s merely saying that they don’t go together in a different way. I want to know why they clash. There must be a reason.
I think that the main reason is because people believe what they hear without ever thinking it through. They have been told that these colours ‘don’t go’ and they stick with that for the rest of their lives.
If someone can give me a rational explanation as to why they clashed and I can understand that there is a physical reason why I should not wear a striped shirt with a paisley tie, I would be a little more selective about my attire. Until then, I would continue to dress in the way that I did.
Some of the more articulate of my critics, tried to explain my lack of fashion sense by quoting a little poem. It went like this:
“Blue and green should never be seen,
Unless there’s another colour in between.”
Well, if this is true, what about bluebells? If they feel strongly about this little poem and they want to take it up seriously, then they should be prepared to cross swords with God! I mean, you can’t criticise his or her fashion sense can you?
I reckon my shirt and tie combination is the new black anyway.
March 2019: Eating Out
We eat out a lot. Every Saturday we eat out- we have no option.
Because we both work Monday to Friday, we have to do our shopping on a Saturday and this involves going out. As a result, we eat out. This is a part of the shopping process and it generally means eating in the restaurant part of whichever superstore we’re in or a pub or café in whichever town we find ourselves in when we are doing our shopping.
The thing is, there are those that say that we don’t ‘eat out’ at all. There’s ‘eating out’ and ‘eating out’ and in their eyes, we don’t ‘eat out’.
Let’s examine that last statement and try to work out exactly what it means – at first it may not make sense, but it’s really quite simple.
We are eating out because we are out of the house and we’re eating, that’s ‘eating out’. I may have mentioned my vocabulary before- I know what the words mean. The other form of ‘eating out’ is the ‘going out for a meal’ philosophy when the reason for going out is for the meal. That’s considered ‘proper eating out’, not the way we do it.
So, ‘going out for a meal’ is an entirely different kettle of fish and doesn’t mean the same as ‘eating out’ the way we do it. ‘Going out for a meal’ has become a social occasion in itself, and involves a large degree of snobbery to boot.
I find eating a chore, it’s a necessity. We have to do it or we’ll die. Eating interrupts my daily routine. I have to stop what I’m doing to eat, and as a result, I make the ‘eating’ process as quick and painless as possible. One of the things that I associate with ‘going out for a meal’ is that it takes a long time – a helluva long time and is by no means a ‘social occasion’.
Only once have my partner and I been ‘out for a meal’ – this was an onslaught! We sat down at noon and we were still awaiting the sweet at 4:20pm! I guess you could call that a once in a lifetime experience because when we left the premises, we both looked at each other and said in unison, “Never again.”
So it’s fair to say that meals are not social occasions for us and although we do eat out, this is as a consequence of being out and not why we go out.
I mentioned the word ‘snobbery’ earlier on. “Why did you use the word, ‘snobbery’ Dai?” I hear you say. Well ‘snobbery’ is the best way to describe the way in which the meal is reported.
I am absolutely astounded by the sheer small mindedness of people, who for some reason, think that I may be interested in what they had to eat the previous night. So, despite being told, they still bore me out of all proportion with a 25 minute barrage of drivel when they relate what they had for starters, main course, sweet, cheese and biscuits, coffee and liqueurs etc. I hate that.
Of course this is just a prequel to the real reason why they are telling you this. This is a big build up to the punch-line. And the reason is - to tell you how much it cost.
“Oh yes, it was marvellous, and you know what, it only came to £450. Mind you, we did have two bottles of wine as well.”
Oh, well that makes it an absolute bargain then doesn’t it…
My partner and I went to Cornwall a few years ago and stumbled across a place called Padstow. Whilst wandering around this quaint little village we encountered a large queue which went two thirds of the way around a building. We didn’t join the queue, but we did walk alongside it until we got to the front and saw why these people were queuing. They were queuing to get into Rick Stein’s restaurant. I managed to catch one comment from one of the punters as we passed, “Oh yes, we always eat at Rick’s when we come to Cornwall”. I wouldn’t like to be in his office in the morning to have to listen to his commentary on the meal at Rick’s, and the price. Oh, and the price!
Just out of interest, I looked at the price list in the window. I only saw the first item on the Starters menu and stopped reading. It said:
Tomato Soup - £10
What can you do to tomato soup to make it worth £10? I’d insist on seeing Rick opening the tin himself – with his teeth before I’d pay £10 for a bowl of tomato soup.
No, I take that back. I wouldn’t pay £10 for a bowl of tomato soup under any circumstances. Tomato soup is not worth £10. Well it is if you have 15 gallons of the stuff, but you don’t get 15 gallons of soup in posh restaurants do you – more like, you’d be lucky to get enough soup to cover a slice of bread with an evenly-spread 25 micron thick coating.
Going back, for a moment, to the infamous once in a lifetime meal that I spoke of earlier – the starter came to me on a saucer. A saucer! Yes, this is not a typo, it was a saucer. Not only did it come to me on a saucer, the only part of the receptacle that contained any food was the little circular depression in the middle that the cup rests on!
And it looked like a piece of art. I didn’t know whether to eat it or hang it in Tate Modern. But at least it had a drizzle of olive oil.
According to the menu, this starter was worth £17.50!
Restaurateurs have been taking the mick out of restaurant-goers for years. It’s a licence to print money! The portions are tiny and the prices are extortionate. And people will flock to eat in these restaurants and pay the prices because they think that if they do it ‘says something about them’. I won’t put here what I say about them – I have said it to them though.
And another thing. The more horrible something is, the more expensive it is.
I have had the misfortune of eating Beluga caviar. Google tells me that currently it costs £225 for 50g. It is absolutely vile. It is beyond my comprehension that anyone with fully functioning taste buds can put their hand on their heart and honestly say that it is nice. But the Brownie points you score when you add that you’ve spooned a few portions of that down your crop during your latest sojourn to the local bistro is absolutely staggering.
One last mention of the once in a lifetime meal – on the way home we stopped off at the chippy and had pasty and chips because we were starving. People who have just had a five course meal shouldn’t really be doing that, but that sums up the ‘going out for a meal’ ethic for me.
I think that my response to the waiter to his question:
“How did you find your steak sir?”
“I just moved a pea and there it was.”
was perfectly justified, even though it was not graciously received.
Incidentally, pasty and chips twice, cost less than one starter – it’s absurd.
So, we don’t go out for meals, and I’m glad.
When we do eat out, as opposed to ‘going out for a meal’, I object very strongly to the token ‘enjoy your meal’ throwaway comment that waiters/waitresses make as they dump your brunch on the table in front of you. It sounds like an instruction! I hope that this phrase will be taken out of the ‘table waiting training manual’ very soon because if anything is going to make me not enjoy my meal is the thought that it is compulsory and I can get myself into some sort of trouble if I don’t.
Next Saturday I’m going to Lidl to buy a bottle of olive oil and I’m going to carry it around with me at all times. Why? I hear you say.
So I can give the head of next person who decides to tell me what they’ve had to eat the night before a severe drizzle.
I bet Rick would be proud of me.
February 2019: The Safe Humour of modern TV Comedy
Well, what can I say? TV comedy ….dear, dear, dear. It’s a shame really because there are some really funny people out there. The problem is that they’ve all followed a very similar pattern when producing their shows – they’re very popular, but aren’t they pulling a really big scam? Am I the only person to have noticed? I hope not.
Let me explain.
Back in the 1960s, there was a chap called Dick Emery. He did sketch shows and he had lots of characters. I want to concentrate on two characters in particular – one was a very flamboyant middle-aged woman, I guess modelled on Diana Dors, and the other was a very camp chap who minced around in very bright colours!
The scenario was that a ‘street interviewer’ approached one or t’other of these characters to ask a topical question. At some point during the ‘interview’ the interviewer would ask a question that would be a double entendre. Naturally, the Emery character would assume that the interviewer was being smutty and punch him on the shoulder and follow it with the line:
“Oooh you are awful …………………..but I like you.”
And that was the end of the sketch.
I suppose it was moderately funny at the time, or perhaps the first time, but it happened show after show, series after series.
What was actually happening here was Emery had created a successful character, penned a funny sketch, and then decided to bombard his audience with it every week. He actually took away the audience’s right to laugh until the “Oooh you are awful.” bit had come.
They waited for him to say it, then laughed. They knew it was coming, but they sat through it until the “Oooh you are awful.” cue came, and …….they laughed.
Turn the TV on now, and we have the same thing. Since the mid-eighties we have watched blockbuster comedy, awarding winning comedy – and we’ve been watching the same show over and over again.
Here’s my advice – watch the first-ever episode of a new comedy show, and go out and play pool or something for the rest, and all subsequent series and repeats – ‘cos if you’ve seen the first, you’ve seen ‘em all.
Safe humour that’s what it is – they know it’ll be a hit, so they give the audience what they want. They don’t want to have to analyse the ‘joke’ or work on complicated plots, they want it on a plate.
Write a cracking first episode, set your stall out, develop the characters and let the punters know what’s going to happen, then give them the same episode, only tweaked a little, for the rest of their lives.
I mean if you are a producer of a comedy programme, you wouldn’t want to do that would you? I mean, I really don’t think you meant to do that did you?
But if it suits the audience, well, it suits you sir, and you sir and it suits you as well madam. The trouble is, if people don’t want this, they have to be vocal about it. Because if they don’t, the writers will think that’s what you want. And if that’s what you want mate, that’s what you’ll get, I said that’s what you’ll get mate.
And you’ll get two old codgers sitting in big chairs saying things like:
“See that heap of garbage over there, that’s our act that is.”
So, let’s do a little survey:
A chap is pushing a wheelchair down the street. The wheelchair is occupied by his friend. The ‘pusher’ notices that one of the wheels has a puncture, so he puts the brake on the chair and tells his friend he’s going to the shop to buy a pump.
During the time that the ‘pusher’ is away buying the pump, does the wheelchair occupier:
- Sit patiently for his friend to return?
- Chat politely to passers by?
- Read a newspaper?
- Go hang-gliding?
An old woman is sitting in a front room with her grandson. A visitor calls round with some home made cake and some flowers for the old woman – a nice gesture. The old woman is moved to tears and tells the visitor how thoughtful she is and how much she appreciates the gifts. The visitor says she has to go. The old woman sees her to the door. When the visitor has left, the old woman:
- Makes a nice cup of tea
- Watches Eastenders
- Puts the flowers in a vase
- Swears uncontrollably and subjects her grandson to a tirade of abuse aimed at the visitor suggesting that she is not nice. (Severely watered down description).
A bland looking corner shop. Very little stock in sight. A customer comes in and asks for something really obscure – like a saddle for a five humped camel.
The shop owner shuffles backwards until he is near an open door which leads to the living quarters. He turns his head towards the door and;
- Informs the customer that they don’t sell five humped camel saddles
- Shouts “MARGARET!!!!!”
People come into work the morning after a broadcast and re-enact one of the ‘sketches’ from last night’s show. You know, two people who sit face to face across a desk and spend the morning saying:
- “Am I bovvered?”
- “Am I bovvered – look at my face, am I BOVVERED.”
Enough of scenarios - I mean, yeah but no but, the thing is I was meant to go down the shop for an Argus, like, and I seen Josh and Katie, right, and he reckon I was with Casey last night, and I wasn’t, I was down the tunnel wi’ Rob and Mercedes and ‘er baby and anyway, Casey stayed in, I know ‘cos her mam wouldn’t let her out ‘cos of what ‘appened Friday. Then the Police come and said I’d trashed Mrs Jenkins’ garden an I said yeah but no but ……. Yes this is what we laugh at!
Anyway, if you answered 4 to scenario one, 4 to scenario two, 2 to scenario three and scenario four made you feel sick, you now have no reason to watch any more new series of TV comedy. Why? Because you’ve already seen ‘em. Even the ones that haven’t been written …. sorry, modified yet.
Let’s go back to the sixties and imagine an alternative Monty Python ‘setlist’
- Dead Parrot Sketch
- Spam Sketch
- Lumberjack Song
- Ministry of Silly Walks
- Cheese Shop
- Climbing the two peaks of Kilimanjaro
- Dead Panamanian tree frog sketch
- Plumrose chopped ham with pork sketch
- Steeplejack Song
- Ministry of Speech Impediments
- Fruit Shop
- Climbing the four peaks of Mt Fuji
- Dead Staffordshire bull terrier sketch
- Corned Beef Sketch
- Civil Engineer Song
- Ministry of Arm Defects
- Grocers Shop
- Climbing the eight peaks of Ben Nevis
It wouldn’t happen – these guys had imagination. They wrote show after show of completely unique material. And they were all ‘something completely different’.
The TV companies don’t seem to want this any more. Nowadays they want to insult the viewers’ intelligence by pre-programming them so that they laugh ‘on cue’. The audience know the gags before they see the show and wait for the punch-line before laughing. That is what I call ‘safe humour’ in the extreme.
And am I bovvered ……………….. not arf! (sorry Fluff)
January 2019: The over-use of science terms
It would have been the mid to late 1970s when I heard it first. It may have happened before that- I just noticed it then. By the mid 1970s, my vocabulary had increased exponentially since the last time I mentioned it – and I could spell palaeontologist!
Most of the words that I had added to my vocabulary were scientific ones as I have become a scientist by this time – which is probably why I noticed it.
“What did you notice, Dai?” I hear you say.
I noticed that advertisers had started to use scientific words and terms in their spiel.
I suspect that this was because advertisers thought that introducing these terms into their ‘jingles’ added credibility to the products they were hawking. I guess it worked because adverts today are peppered with ‘scientific words’ that give the consumer very little information about the product, yet make it sound good.
Probably the most used at the time, and still in use is the word ‘aerobic’.
People did everything aerobically – they went to work aerobically, climbed the stairs aerobically, exercised aerobically. They even had classes where people danced around to music. This was called aerobics.
Aerobics classes were, basically, a disco in the day without booze and no scrap in the car park. And someone led the dancing. You didn’t get that in proper night-time discos.
At the moment I am actually writing this in an aerobic environment – I’m not Hercule Poirot but I am 100% certain that you are reading this in an aerobic environment as well. Unless you are currently residing in a vacuum.
The thing is you see, aerobic used to mean ‘in the presence of air’. Well, it still does. The only thing is it now means lots of other things as well.
I have never been in a vacuum so I can state categorically that everything I have done so far (and I’m 63) has been done aerobically. I guess you are the same.
One of my favourites is polyunsaturates. What a fantastic word! What a word to ‘chuck’ into advertising spiel – genius! Who knows what it means?
But, there it was, right in the middle of a margarine commercial. Suddenly everyone ‘knew’ that if something didn’t have polyunsaturates in it, it wasn’t worth eating and people spent hours scouring the small print on the packaging to weed out the products that didn’t have polyunsaturates in them.
“I only have stuff these days that have so many polyunsaturates in that you need to be Tyson Fury to push lid on.”
Personally I prefer monosaturates, but I’m a bit funny like that. And these ‘free radicals’ that everyone talks about – I’ve always had to pay for mine!
So the scientific boom took off and advertisers clambered over themselves in order to find a more complicated sounding word. And then suddenly ... they found it ...
Monosodium Glutamate – Wow! What a corker! Where can I get some from?
Shoppers now had a new word to discuss at checkouts. If you were really lucky you could find ‘stuff’ that was packed with polyunsaturates and had monosodium glutamate in it as well. Once you had identified products containing both, you rang all your friends and you bought only those until the next word came along.
And, these words came along – too many to mention here. That’s because I have to concentrate on the best, most profitable scientific term to be exploited to date.
I doubt whether they’ll ever beat organic as a misleading licence to print money.
Everything you can eat is organic. If it wasn’t, you couldn’t eat it.
There are things that are organic that you can’t eat, but you can’t eat anything that isn’t. At least, I can’t think of any at the moment.
The word organic simply means that suppliers can stick an extra fiver a pound onto something that they ‘claim’ is organic – even though the product is organic anyway!
“Can I have a pound of carrots please?”
“Certainly madam, would you like these organic ones?”
“No, I think I’ll try the stainless steel ones over there …..oh and I’ll have two pounds of granite tomatoes while I’m at it. Didn’t like the garnet mica-schist ones I had last week, they were a bit gritty.”
“Anything else madam.”
“Yes please anything that has polyunsaturates, monosodium glutamate and pro-V vitamins in it. Gotta be careful these days innit. Global warming see. Oh aye!”
Where will it end?
“Don’t miss Ed Sheeran’s new album. It’s marvellous. Lots of great songs, great flute, singing, harp and packed full of trioxydiphenolpolysynthacetyldistratalamine!”
And monosodium glutamate.
It’s organic ‘an all.
December 2018: Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly
'Tis the season to be jolly
Tra-la-la-la-la, la-la-la- whoa!
No, no, no!
“Oh surely not Christmas, Dai?” I hear you say.
Christmas is a time of great ambivalence in the vicinity of ‘me’. Can’t really decide which way the needle on the swingometer would go on this one.
On the one hand, I get time off work. Which is good.
On the other hand, the rest of it is bad. Very bad.
I work ‘office hours’ which means that everything is closed when I leave to go to work, and closed when I come home. That means that if I want to go to the bank, the dentist, the post office, ring the tax office, renew my TV licence etc., I have to book a day off. Quite a lot of these things I can do on a Saturday, so Saturdays are written off trudging around all the places that I can’t visit through the week. Even then, there are things that I can only do on weekdays, so they don’t get done unless I use valuable annual leave days in order to do them.
So, when Christmas comes, I find I have weekdays off – marvellous. And then I find everywhere is closed …….. because it’s Christmas.
That’s not the worst thing about Christmas. There are lots of worse things about Christmas- the trouble is I can’t decide which of the worse things is the worst.
Perhaps it’s the relentless barrage of back-to-back ‘family films’ where American children save the world over and over again. Plot: their parents will be separated at the start of the film and they will have a little dog that goes missing after five minutes.
An hour and a half later, just after they've saved the world, their parents will fall in love again and as the ‘lovey-dovey’ strings come in to herald the start of the end titles, the dog suddenly appears from a manhole, safe and sound. “Aw, there’s lovely”.
Just time for a quick break dominated by Ker-Plunk, Mousetrap and My Little Pony ads, before another remarkably similar ‘American children save the world again’ film starts. These are interjected occasionally by British films such as The Great Escape and the Wizard of Oz – sorry that’s about an American child saving something. And there’s a dog in it.
So it’s just one British film then. But it’s always those two.
Perhaps it’s the Slade song. Everywhere you go it’s blasting through tannoys and piped into lifts and public toilets- it normally comes as a package with classics such as the Wizzard song, and the plethora of other Christmas ditties that are supposed to ‘get us in the mood’. Gets me in a mood!
Perhaps it’s the droves of frantic shoppers who swarm into Newport and Cardiff like herds of stampeding buffalo so that they can buy ……….. anything. And they’ll be yelling into mobile phones:
“Where are you now? I’m in Smiths, I’ve got the ‘X Station Play Box from Hell’ and the DVD and the 139 inch flat screen, the entire Simpsons episodes box set, the Wii, the Fender Stratocaster, the iPod and the MP3 player for Jamie. Shall I get Amy’s Wii here? They’ve got two left? Oh you’ve got one. Great. Did you get her laptop and the digi-cam? And the new mobile with the video and built-in DVD player, you know the one that cooks your tea for you when you get home? Good. I’ll just pop over the jewellers for their main presents, then all we have to do is get something for their stockings. Oh, and they haven’t got the Ed Sheeran CD, perhaps we can nip over to Bristol, they’re bound to have it over there. Yeah, see you back at the car.”
Or perhaps it’s the woman who can see that the shop she wants to enter is crammed solid to the front door with people. The aisles are full, people are queuing to get out, it’s worse than the Black Hole of Calcutta – and she is trying to force her way in, with a pushchair! She will probably have three squealing kids hanging off each arm as well. She will be ‘empathising’ with their obvious distress by saying something like;
“If you don’t shut up, you can stay at nannies tonight, and you won’t have no Christmas dinner neither!”
If I decided to walk into an empty shop with a wheelbarrow full of pigeon droppings, they’d probably ask me to leave. Why? I’d cause less fewer problems and wouldn’t smell as bad.
If there’s anyone out there who can explain the mentality of someone who does that, please get in touch. By that I mean ‘try to get into an already crowded shop with a pushchair’ – not a barrow full of pigeon droppings, although both actions throw serious doubts on the perpetrators’ sanity.
Maybe it’s the parties – I won’t dwell much on this topic as I have mentioned these before, but it’s ‘party time plus VAT’ at Christmas!
The first, and for many the last over the Christmas period, is the works ‘do’. This is where a whole conglomeration of people, who have nothing whatsoever in common apart from the fact that they work together, are thrown together for a ‘social event’. So you’ll have seasoned drinkers and people who rarely bother, guzzling beer together as if it’s going out of fashion.
The end result – the whole payroll are howling drunk, usually before the meal is served, and the garbled conversations throughout will be about work – because that’s the only thing they know about each other.
This is an ideal opportunity for drunken members of staff to tell their line managers what they really think of them, and for the ‘aggression gene’ to be triggered into action – owned those who think that they turn into Mike Tyson after three and a half pints of lager, and attack the first person who they think are ‘looking at them funny!’
It will also be an opportunity for the office lothario to use the office ‘do’ as a hunting ground to ‘add a few notches’ to his well hacked bedpost – usually on the photocopier. And of course, it’s easy to press the ‘start’ button to record the event for posterior. Sorry, posterity.
On the other hand, it might be the daft things people say – one of my favourites is:
“Oh we love Christmas morning, watching the kids opening their presents.”
Watching the kids opening their presents! What on earth does that mean?
Well I actually do know what it means, (my vocabulary has increased exponentially and as such I can now spell micropalaeontologist), I just can’t understand the fascination of it.
I haven’t got kids myself but I don’t think I could see how much of a big deal this is. Perhaps someone who has kids may like to invite me round to their house on a Christmas morning to watch their children opening their presents and maybe I can see if there’s anything in it. And what’s the protocol? – would I return the invitation by asking them to pop round my house to watch me opening my mail, or maybe observe me putting our shopping away when we come back from Morrisons?
According to most parents, kids have more fun out of the boxes that these presents came in that they ever did from their contents!
Or perhaps it’s the carol singers. These are really irritating. Nobody does it properly – they think they can arrive on your doorstep, sing three quarters of the first line of a well known carol and then you are obliged to shower them with money and platefuls of hot mince-pies covered in clotted cream.
They do it backwards these days, and that really annoys me – they knock the door and start singing when you answer it, and never a great rendition either:
“Good King Wencelas looked out
Dum de doo de da da” …………………………gradually fizzles out, accompanied by a ‘give us some money’ gesture.
Perhaps it’s the 14-17 year old hoodies who don’t even bother to learn the first line of the carols they ‘hum’ when you answer the door – they are too busy trying to hold themselves up whilst trying to get you to fund their next flagon of White Lightning or whatever is the most popular ‘yoof’ tipple of the day, nowadays.
Another really irritating thing about it all is the way that the media controls people. Christmas is a prime example.
Poor old Joe Public, apart from having to find the cash to pay for the mortgage, gas, electricity, car, water, TV, insurances, food and everything else his family use throughout the year, has two BIG things to set his sights on. Woes betide him if he fails on either of these, well, on any of the others as well, but these are the ones everyone notices, the main ones. They’re the summer holidays and Christmas.
So, he’s been saving hand over fist for (revisit paragraph recounting the person in Smith’s on the mobile), to ensure that he has ‘met his requirements’ for the occasion and earned his Christmas dinner. He’s done it. All the family are happy, he’s had his dinner – found a 10p in the pudding! The queen’s speech has finished …and ....the first advert after the Queen's speech is …….for Thomson holidays!
Poor old Joe gets about 18 seconds of respite before the media give him just a little nudge, as if to say:
“Well Christmas is gone now mate and if you haven’t got everything by now it’s too late. Put it behind you – hey, don’t forget your holidays, that’s the next thing you have to strive for. Christmas has been a success, now don’t let them down – make sure they have a goodun this summer!”
Yes, I think it would be fair to say that I’m not a huge fan of Christmas.
November 2018: Communication Problems
I’m very good at answering questions, as they are put. I can give someone an instant answer to their question, and my answer will be logical, well thought out and accurate. The trouble is, very often when I have responded, I am aware that I may be slightly ‘out of sync’ with the questioner - it becomes clear when these responses are met with frowns and furrowed brows.
I play guitar and I am right handed. I don’t like to use plectrums because they are awkward fiddly little things and I am forever dropping them. I find it difficult enough to play guitars as it is without concentrating on having to hold on to those blinkin’ things as well! The worst bit is when you drop them inside the sound-hole of a guitar. Try getting it out! And if you drop one into a Gibson 335 through one of the ‘f’ holes you can forget it. I have a rattley 335 that I’ve had since 1978 and it’ll still be rattling when it is featured on the Antiques Roadshow in the year 2089 – if the programme is still running, of course.
To overcome my plectorial issues I have long nails on my right hand (to pluck the strings) and short nails on my left (so that I can place my fingers in the fret-board). A very common ‘communication problem’ that I experience here is when people spot my hands and say:
“Why do you grow your nails on your right hand?”, as if they think I nurture them like someone who grows tomatoes.
I don’t ‘grow’ them, they grow automatically. I have no control over their growth whatsoever. The only thing I make a conscious decision about when it comes to nail length is: when it comes to cutting or biting them, I opt out. Apart from my left hand, that is. So, when I explain to my inquisitors that I am not ‘growing’ my nails, I am simply ‘not cutting’ them, they look at me as if I am from Mars and the topic of conversation, after a pregnant pause, swiftly moves onto something else.
Another common ‘communication problem that I experience is when the term; “See you next Friday”, crops up. It doesn’t have to be Friday, it could be Sunday, Wednesday or any other day, but I will use Friday for this example.
When I agree to meet someone next Friday, about 50% of the time one of us fails to turn up. For some reason, the term next Friday means different things to different people. I know what the word ‘next’ means. I am not sure that I am in the majority of the population’s understanding of the definition of ‘next’.
The last of many 'next' incidents was when I was speaking to my boss about a problem. It was a Monday afternoon. He said, “Come and see me at 11am next Friday and we’ll discuss it fully.”
At 11am on the dot on the following Friday I’m knocking on his door. I did not expect his greeting:
“Hi Dai, what can I do for you?”
“Er, we spoke on Monday and you said to pop to see you at 11am on Friday. Did you forget?”
“Oh, erm. Actually I was expecting you next Friday.”
“Well, because next Friday is next Friday.” (In a patronising tone).
“But when you said that to me on Monday, ‘next Friday’ is today in my book.”
“Well it’s the first Friday we’ve encountered since Monday, that’s what ‘next’ means. After Monday when you said it, this is the first Friday that’s come along. That’s why I’m here now, because it is the next Friday to arrive after your invitation.”
“Ah, I can see where the confusion is now. No, today is ‘this Friday’, when I said ‘next Friday’ I meant the Friday of next week, a week today, if you’d prefer.”
“So, if we were both on a bus stop and I asked you which bus I had to catch to take me to Cardiff and you told me to catch the ‘next bus’, would you expect me to ignore the next bus to arrive at the bus stop and catch the one after that?”
“You do have some concept of the meaning of ‘next’ then?”
“So what’s the difference between Fridays and buses then? You’re spot on with buses but all over the shop when it comes to Fridays.”
“Er … well, actually I’ve got some time now, shall we, erm, do it now instead of next Friday?”
“Well, seeing as it’s next Friday now, let’s do it now then.”
I have thought long and hard about this common misnomer which has caused me great distress and inconvenience over the years and analysed, fully, the ways in which Fridays can be used and identified, correctly, in the English language:
‘Today’ – Used if you are referring to that day and on that day it is a Friday when you are doing the referring .
‘Tomorrow’ – Used on a Thursday you are referring to the following day – which will be a Friday.
‘Yesterday’ – Used on a Saturday when referring to things that happened on the previous day.
‘Last Friday’ – Used to refer to the previous Friday that occurred prior to the day that you are referring to it.
‘Next Friday’ – Used to refer to the next Friday that is due to arrive after the day that you are actually doing the referring.
And that’s it.
NB: No mention of ‘this Friday’ at all. ‘This Friday’ doesn’t exist. It is a red herring that people chuck into conversations to deliberately disrupt my social calendar. There is no ‘this Friday’. And that’s my final word on the matter.
Another ‘communication problem.’ I remember mentioning to a friend that I had been given a pirate copy of the latest Hollywood blockbuster movie that was still in the cinema and hadn’t been released on DVD yet. He asked me if it was a good copy.
When I replied; “Dunno, I haven’t seen the original”, he looked at me as if I’d grown another head! He seemed to think that I could give him a judgement on the quality of the copy without having seen the original. I didn’t. Apparently his query was all about whether the copy was watchable or not, my answer was to the question as it was put - about whether the ‘copy’ was an accurate representation of the original. Isn’t that what a copy is?
To illustrate, I was given a copy of a DVD of a concert that was shot from the audience on someone’s mobile phone – it was absolutely awful! A friend asked me if I could copy it for him, and I did. This ‘copy’ was equally as unwatchable as the original but it was an excellent copy. That’s what the word copy means, innit?
Here are some more:
When asked to check by my partner ‘how many potatoes’ we had, I was met with a severely furrowed brow, when I replied: “Seventeen”.
I made the mistake of thinking that any question that started with the words:
“How many ……?”, must contain a number in the answer.
According to my partner, what she wanted to know was ‘if we had enough’.
Enough for what? The rest of our lives? The street? ………….apparently it was if we had enough for dinner. Well the answer to that is, if we are going to eat anything under or up to seventeen we’re OK, anything over that and we’ve had it.
And to answer the question that everybody asks- how did I know there were seventeen in the ‘spud tray’- I counted them. This is why I was able to give such a precise answer to a very flimsy question.
One of my favourites was the day my partner decided to involve me in the pre-shopping ritual of preparing a shopping list. The conversation went like this:
“Dai, make a list of the things we want.”
“I don’t know what we want.”
“Then look in the cupboard and see what we haven’t got.”
“Looking in the cupboard is going to tell me nothing."
“What do you mean?”
“Well, if I look in the cupboard the only information I can glean from that is what we have got – what we haven’t got won’t be in there!”
Another one that tripped me up surrounded the wrong usage of the word ‘get’. This anecdote is authentic and is reported here as it happened, but, I must be honest when it happens now I just act thick and do something similar because it is a very new and annoying misnomer that is creeping into the language.
A friend called round. I said: “Fancy a cuppa?”
“Yeah, thanks. Can I get a coffee, white no sugar?”
I put the kettle on, made myself a cup of tea and came back into the room, sat down and started chatting to him. He must’ve changed his mind because he didn’t go into the kitchen and get a coffee, white with no sugar – he just sat and chatted to me with a furrowed brow.
Another area that causes communication problems for me is trying to converse with people who use a method of responding to questions that I call, “The answer any question apart from the one that has been asked technique and leave Dai to try to guess the information he requires.” (I have never guessed right).
Some examples below. In all examples, I am the questioner.
“Nice guitar. Where did you get it from?”
“Oh, I’ve had it for ages.”
“Are you enjoying this film?”
“I’ve seen it before”
“How long are you going to be?”
“I’m just putting my boots on.”
“How far is it from here to Newport?”
“About half an hour.”
(Since when has distance been measured in hours? And time taken to reach a destination surely depends on which way you go and how fast you drive, doesn’t it?)
“When was the last time you saw Derek?”
“Oh, I haven’t been out for ages, mate.”
“How long have you been a veggie?”
“Ever since we came back from Tenerife.”
To recap, I’d like to revisit that marvellous phrase from the text and marvel in it one more time. I am referring to a phrase that Shakespeare at his best could not match. Of course, I’m thinking about:
“Then look in the cupboard and see what we haven’t got.”
Just savour that for a few moments.
And, I’m writing this on a Thursday night. If at any time today, any of you asked me to give you a ring next Friday, then expect a call from me tomorrow.
October 2018: I Hate A Good Party
I love a good party ……… sorry, I’ll start again. I hate a good party. I also hate bad parties, mediocre parties and anything else in between. The word ‘party’ makes me shudder, especially if preceded with the term, ‘Will you come to my?’
Apart from driving cars, parties cause me more stress than anything else. “But you are supposed to enjoy parties!” I hear you say. Well, I guess people do enjoy themselves at parties, but it’s not compulsory. I think people ‘enjoy’ themselves at parties because they think it is compulsory.
They go into ‘enjoyment mode’ as soon as they arrive at the venue – ‘enforced glee’ if you like. “Yippee, here we are! So nice to see you! Let’s start enjoying ourselves!”. And they don a paper hat and bounce off into the ‘crowd’ making strange whooping sounds whilst firing party poppers at anything that moves.
I can’t seem to be able to start ‘enjoying’ myself to order – unlike most. “Right lads, enjoying yourselves, on the count of three. One ….. two …… wait for it …. wait for it, …..too soon Atkins, get to the back of the queue. Three!! Begin……. now!!”
I have spent hours staring aghast at groups of people doing the ‘Birdie Song’, ‘Agadoo’ and that one where they all sit on the floor rowing to the Hawaii 5-0 tune. Fascinating!
And then suddenly one of them will spot me and come over. “Don’t sit there on your own Dai, come over here with us and enjoy yourself.”
The sheer arrogance of it. The whole concept that I would enjoy myself if I ‘came over there with them’ is absurd. “This is a party Dai, you need to enjoy yourself. The trouble with you is you don’t know how to enjoy yourself and we’re the people to show you how.”
I’m 63 now and I’ve enjoyed myself thousands of times. The trouble is, none of those times have been at a party.
I don’t like the people who force themselves onto me in order to ‘aide’ my enjoyment. They try to drag me physically onto the dance-floor when it’s obvious I don’t want to. I object to that.
I also object to the fact that when they are trying to do it, they are so drunk that their eyeballs look as if they’re about to change places with each other at any moment whilst they’re blowing those hooter things, you know – they look like a Swiss-roll that uncurls when you blow into it. Usually has feather on the end.
Now, let’s get on to weddings. Obviously a big day for those getting wed, but for me it’s an utter nightmare.
A typical wedding itinerary is:
- Arrive at the church, hang about and exchange pleasantries with other people who are also hanging about.
- Go inside the church and hang about until the bride arrives (late by tradition)
- Participate in the service (half an hour of real activity, although contains 10 minutes of hanging about while they sign the book)
- Go outside the church and hang about while photos are taken and aunties kiss the couple.
- Go to the reception venue and hang about until the bride and groom arrive.
- Hang around inside the venue with the bride and groom, until dinner is ready.
- Participate in the reception (this is the second real activity of the day – but is interjected with several periods of hanging about, between courses, speeches etc)
- Largest period of hanging about yet – clearing away the dinner stuff and setting up the disco.
- The Party! Agadoo, Birdie Song, Hawaii 5-0 thing et al. Stopped half way through for the buffet.
- Disco continues after buffet. Scrap starts. Scrap normally heralds the end of the festivities.
A lot of hanging about. I don’t like hanging about either.
I like looking at the factions at the wedding reception. You have;
- The bride’s family - top tablers
- The groom’s family - top tablers
- The bride’s friends - all on one table
- The groom’s friends - all on one table
- The people who the bride works with - all on one table
- The people who the groom works with - all on one table
- The ‘others’ - all on one table
The others? There always seems to be a group of people at weddings that don’t fall into any of the categories 1-6 in the list above. These are the ‘nobody knows who the hell they are’ faction. They are at every wedding and don’t get involved with any of the others. In reality, the occupants of the other tables don’t mix either. They conduct their own festivities within the confines of their own table. They’re like satellites orbiting the ‘top table’. The merging of the tables’ occupants only comes when the disco starts and they venture onto the floor to jiggle around to whatever drivel the DJ decides to bombard his audience with.
All participants in this exercise must be made aware of a major Health & Safety hazard here – the children, formerly employed as page boys and bridesmaids, will be holding hands running around uncontrollably and weaving themselves around all obstacles – furniture and people alike, in some sort of ‘time’ with the music, like a great big snake, only more deadly than any encountered by the likes of Irwin and Attenborough.
It is the period after the buffet when the disco gets going for the second time that ‘bonding’ of the factions takes place with earnest. This is more generally known as ‘the scrap’ and these, previously autonomous groups merge into one and really ‘get close’ to each other. By this time, of course, the feral children will have discarded their shoes and are now sliding around the floor independently of each other. They will have realised that you can slide farther if you are not connected as a snake and will pursue their newly found skill until they are either stopped by a parent or collide with an object, such as an item of furniture or another human being.
Anyway, enough of that.
On the whole, I am always likely to decline an invitation to a party because I dislike them so much. The trouble is, when you decline an invitation there follows an inquest as to why you won’t go. I think that if people are kind enough to invite me, they should then be gracious enough to accept my ‘thanks but no thanks’ response.
So, although I am not obliged to explain my reason why, it’s never good enough.
For some reason the term “I don’t like parties.” becomes either misunderstood or misconstrued to mean something else.
Misunderstood? – perhaps by the time the term leaves my mouth and before it reaches the ears of the person I’m speaking to, it has mysteriously been translated into Latin or Klingon or something, because it is normally countered with;
“What do you mean, you don’t like parties?”
Misconstrued? – He didn’t mean that, there’s obviously some sinister reason why he won’t go and he doesn’t like to say. Perhaps he doesn’t like me!
It seems that it is acceptable to refuse some requests but unacceptable for others:
It is OK no answer ‘no’ to some of these questions. Which are they?
“Would you like to come to my house and hang from the ceiling by your toenails?”
“Could you look after my cobra while I pop down the Spar for some cornflour?”
“Can I take a few snaps of your missus in the nude to show the lads in work?”
“Do you want to come to my party?”
The first three.
D’ya know what I mean?
September 2018: Buzzwords and Youth Language- A Grumpy Old Valleys Man Rebels
Whatever happened to the language that I learned as a kid? I sat exams in those days and one of the ones I passed was a thing called an O Level which confirmed that I had learned English to a level that when I used it I could understand and be understood by those who used it alongside me.
All went well until I got a job doing admin in an office. I was introduced to the boss on my first morning, who said: “So, you must be David. Welcome aboard.”
I thought, “Welcome aboard? I wasn’t aware that I’d just joined the Navy!”
Since then I’ve taken part in ‘thought showers’ where everyone ‘touched base’ to ‘make sure we were all singing from the same hymn-sheet’ before shinning up the proverbial ‘greasy pole’. You know, ‘making sure we had all our ducks in a row’.
I thought I’d better become fluent in this language ‘PDQ’ to be honest; didn’t want to make a fool of myself in front of the ‘fat man in the canoe’ did I? This involved two strategies, ‘blue sky thinking’ and the sort that is done ‘outside the box’. If I was going to get ‘up to speed’ – it was a ‘big ask’ I know, but I was ‘on the case 24/7’.
Anyway, after I had ‘drilled down’ all the inappropriate standard terms, I was ‘going forward’ in my quest to avoid being the ‘Dilbert’ in the company. It nearly went ‘pear shaped’ a few times but I managed to ‘ramp up’ at the ‘eleventh hour’ It was a ‘low hanging fruit’ scenario and I thought it was time to ‘run it up the flagpole to see who saluted’.
Even though I had always been taught to avoid clichés like the plague, I had quite a ‘bumpy ride’ and when all said and done I ‘upscaled’ by listening to other speakers and I managed to ‘wash the face’ of my problem – it was a sort of ‘quid pro quo’ strategy that ‘put it to bed’ adequately.
When I thought I had the ‘bandwidth’ I decided to ‘run it by’ the ‘man in the chair’ by arranging some ‘face time’ – luckily enough he had a ‘window’ and he was able to see me. He’s a bit of a ‘crackberry’ but I decided to give it ‘my best shot’ – If my ‘arse was on the line, I didn’t want any cock-ups’.
Fortunately the ‘one-to-one’ was a success and I was able to converse with my colleagues in such a way that I was understood and my language didn’t become a ‘negative value driver’ to them. In the end, I became ‘head honcho’ of the ‘whole shebang’ and ‘wore the crown’ until the owners decided to ‘draw a line under it’ and the ‘whole caboodle’ went ‘down the pan’ as a result of ‘corporate downsizing’.
Working with young people introduced me to a whole new language which, after three decades in that environment, I am still not completely au fait with the things that my learners say to me.
Apparently, Greggs’ sausage rolls are ‘peng’ when they’re hot but ‘sick' when cold. You can imagine how upset I was when someone told me that my Gibson Les Paul was ‘sick’ but apparently, in that context, ‘sick’ becomes the highest compliment you can give. Strange.
One thing that annoys me a bit is a common response, made to any comment that the recipient is not happy with – it is the dismissive and throwaway: ‘whatever!’ “I’m sorry to have to tell you, but we’re going to have to amputate your legs.” “Whatever!”
This comment normally follows the adoption of a particular pose – arm outstretched, other hand on hip, a tapping of a foot and eyes raised to the heavens.
Another one is the equally annoying, what I call the, ‘gap after like’ method of conversing.
“And he walked in, right, and I was like ……………………… (long gap accompanied by a facial gesture supposed to convey what the person was ‘like’)
“And he was like ………………. (another gap, same as above)
“And the atmosphere, it was like ………… (ditto)
“I said to him, I said ‘great to see you again’ ……………. (long pause) ……….. Not!”
“And he was like ………………….. (etc).
This method of communication is split between verbal phrases coupled with visual facial gestures in order to convey the message as it is intended. So, you have to listen to the dialogue and observe the gestures to get the meaning of the message because half of it is unspoken. It must be said though, I have witnessed someone adopting this method whilst on the telephone!
The ‘like’ usage is now slowly taking over the language – it is now unusual to hear a sentence that is not peppered with this word.
“I was, like, really disappointed.”
“My dog is, like, really naughty.”
“Your new watch is like, cool.”
Someone told me last week: “My dad said he was going to get me a car for my birthday and he got me, like, a Corsa?”
Why didn’t he tell me what his dad had actually got for him? He got a car that was ‘like a Corsa’. I’ve been trying to think of cars that are like Corsas. Why not just say what you got rather than try to describe what you got was ‘like’?
And then, of course, everything that is said displays the Australian Question Intonation, which is Latin for the rising intonation towards the end of sentences so that every sentence sounds like a question. Grrrrr.
‘Going forward’. Everyone is going forward these days – so much so that it is now commonplace for ‘going forward’ to be tagged on to the end of almost every sentence because ………………… er ……. I don’t know. Can someone, like, let me know?
I once had a boss that used to hold monthly meetings to go over what we’d achieved during the month and what was expected of us in the upcoming month. He used the term so much that no-one actually listened to what he was saying – everybody’s attention was geared towards counting up the number of times he said ‘going forward’ to compare their totals with the other people who were in the same meeting.
In more recent years I notice that a lot of people keep telling me they’ll see me later. It’s a popular parting greeting, but they never do.
I was getting into the car the other night after work and someone who I didn’t really know but saw occasionally in the lift or in a corridor was getting into his car which was parked next to mine. I winked at him and he smiled and said, “See you later,” before getting into his car and driving off. I wondered if he was going to pop round the house that evening. He didn’t. I stayed in though in case he did.
I don’t know whether people think I’m a bit thick. I’m beginning to think they do. I don’t know why, but nowadays people seem to want to confirm that I’ve understood what they’ve just said by tagging on a “D’ya know what I mean?” to the end of every sentence.
“I don’t want another drink, I’ve got work in the morning, d’ya know what I mean?”
“They’re a good band, but I wouldn’t go to see them live, d’ya know what I mean?”
When I reply: “No I didn’t understand a word of that mate, can you say it again, only in not such complicated terms”, people look at me as if I’m from Mars!
Now if someone said: “The obliquity of the ecliptic is not a fixed quantity but changing over time” in mixed company, I think that a “D’ya know what I mean?” would be an appropriate tag on. This is a complicated term.
But there’s nothing intrinsically difficult about: “I watch Emmerdale, but I prefer Coronation Street, d’ya know what I mean?”
I know what this means, my vocabulary is such that I can grasp statements like that.
I can spell palaeontologist. Going forward.
August 2018: 70s Prog Rock in Wales
As I was saying, my classical upbringing meant that the pop tunes of the 60s didn’t really mean much to me. Neither did those of the 70s, 80s, 90s and noughties for that matter- I’d go as far as to say that I went out of my way to avoid listening to it.
Sometimes you couldn’t avoid listening to the pop that was current for the day. In the 70s and early 80s, when I frequented discos, you would be bombarded with whatever was in the charts at the time, so I was present when quite a lot of this was being played. Occasionally I’d hear something that was interesting and it would spur me into asking someone ‘in the know’ what the record was. That happened lots of times but, at the time of writing I can’t recall any bands from that time that warranted a mention. The interest must have surely been short lived.
The Beatles and the Stones were the two ‘big boys’ at that time. I didn’t particularly like either, but if someone held a gun to my head and asked me to choose I’d have gone for the Stones. I would listen to the Beach Boys out of choice though; my favourite single of all time is “Good Vibrations- fantastic! The variations, tempo changes, the theramin, the way it was constructed – a masterpiece!
Even so, I was pretty much disinterested with the music of the swingin’ sixties, I was mainly still in classical mode …until …
My first real interest in the non-classical music (known as underground) at the time was when I heard a band called The Nice. They played music for music’s sake and not as a matrix to house the pointless self-indulgent lyrics like:
“Oh my baby’s left me ooooh ooooh oooh
What I am I gonna doooh ooooh ooooh
I love you so much I can’t poooh ooooh ooooh
Ooooh ooooh ooooh ooooh ooooh!”
Yes, it’s number one – it’s Top of the Pops, as it ‘appens guys and gals eurghh eurghh eurghh now then, now then. It’s “I love you so much I can’t pooh” how’s about that then? Goodness gracious!
From there I quite easily made the transition to people like Egg, King Crimson, Van der Graaf Generator, ELP, Refugee, Genesis et al. I’m still listening to ‘prog rock’ as its known these days- full of big chords, crashing symbols, swirling synths, mellotrons ….. aahh bliss!
I’d go as far as to say that if someone brought out a CD and the only lyrics were ‘That Dai Jandrell is nothing but a great big fat slob’, as long as there was plenty of guitar and synthesiser in it and it lasted for about 40 minutes, I’d probably like it. In fact, thinking about it, I might even do it myself one day unless someone like Pendragon, Spock’s Beard or Porcupine Tree beat me to it.
Of course, you had to go to watch your heroes, and when they toured you all dashed off to the Cardiff Capitol or Bristol Colston Hall to revel in the overindulgences of the likes of Pink Floyd, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Genesis, YES, etc. We all had our mullets on show, scruffy Wranglers and starry multi-coloured T-shirts on to identify with the ‘prog-rock audience’ personas.
At the end of the show, we’d proudly wear the latest ‘tour T-shirt’ over the starry T-shirt to go home in. The starry T-shirt was just for ‘going’ in. The tour T-shirt was for ‘coming home’ in. This would also mean that at the next Emerson, Lake and Palmer show you would ‘go’ in the last Pink Floyd T-shirt so that all the audience would know you’d been to the last Floyd tour!
It’s fair to say that prog audiences were exclusively male – and they stared at their shoes throughout the shows in a way to convey to the others just how ’far out’ the music was. Girlfriends generally didn’t like prog shows because, as one said to me: “They played for two and a half hours and only did four songs!” I saw Tangerine Dream back in the seventies at Cardiff Uni and they started at midnight and were still playing at 5am when I left – and they hadn’t stopped!
Nowadays, the prog audiences are still the same, and the same people. I rarely go to a show these days where I don’t know the whole audience. We still wear our ‘Pink Floyd winter tour 74’ T-shirts to let everyone else know that we were there. These T-shirts are now contoured to accommodate our beer guts and man-boobs. For osteo-arthritic reasons, we tend to not stare at our shoes anymore.
They call these veteran progging bands and their audiences dinosaurs these days. Luckily enough, I am, and can now spell, palaeontologist.
The overall view that the artistes must get from the stage is that they are being watched by a ‘convention of retired Captain Birdseye actors’ on a reunion jolly. This is probably why my students call me Merlin, Gandalf and Dumbledore and why I always seem to get the handing out presents and leading the festivities gig at our end of term Christmas dos.
The one drawback of dragging one’s girlfriend to prog show is that you have to repay the debt by going to see non-prog acts when their preferred bands tour. This means that, over the decades, I have had to sit through the likes of Queen, Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, Chris Rea, Mungo Jerry, Michael Jackson etc. In my defence, I may add that I drew the line at UB40. When there is a line to be drawn, that line is well in front of UB40, and I stand firm on that.
July 2018: Music
I suppose it all started when I was about three – or when I was able to press downwards with enough pressure to depress the ivories on our piano keyboard, I’m not sure which came first. My grandmother was a piano teacher, and we had a piano; I guess it was inevitable.
I got to something like Grade 4 and the age of eleven before I managed to convince my parents that I hated playing the piano more than any of the words in my vocabulary could describe. I didn’t have that many words at the time, I mean, in those days I couldn’t even spell palaeontologist – and now I are one!
My attention had been grabbed by these things called guitars. I guess this would have been circa 1963 when I noticed these come to the front of the stage. Prior to that, I was aware of their existence – you saw them usually in the front row ‘stalls’ of ‘big bands’. They were always the very large cumbersome looking Gretch’s or Gibsons, you know, the ones with the ‘f’ holes in them.
Suddenly, on TV, you began to see three blokes standing there as bold as brass, strumming these things and singing with a drummer behind them. I believe in those days they were known as ‘popular beat combos’ and they were always in black and white.
They sang three minute ‘pop’ songs and I was never really into it much at that time. Whilst I was intrigued by my newly found instrument, I was still influenced by my classical training and my favourites in those days were the heavy Russians: Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Mahler and Bartok – even though Mahler and Bartok were neither Russian nor heavy at that time. They still aren’t.
I never really liked the twee, pointless little ditties they sang. It was always about somebody’s baby had left them and other crises which I couldn’t really care about, no matter how much I tried. I was interested in the music though – they way it way constructed and what each person was doing in order to produce the music.
I found lyrics a barrier to my quest to analyse what was going on and tried frantically to ‘blot’ out the singing in order to listen to the music. My opinion in those days, and these days, is that singing actually ruins a good song.
My parents had a similar problem with lyrics – they hated them as well, but for a different reason. They used to say: “Blinkin’ racket! All that screaming and shouting. That’s not singing! You can’t understand a word they’re singing!”
The thing that confused me about that was the fact that my parents blasted Gregorian chants and opera out of our radiogram during this period of my life – and they couldn’t understand a word of that either!
Anyway, getting back to guitars. I decided I wanted to play a guitar and that was it. My parents told me that I should carry on with the piano because; “If you can play the piano, you can play any instrument.” That is a very popular little saying – I've heard it loads of time. Doesn’t make any sense though. But when your parents tell you things, you believe them don’t you?
I often wondered what would happen if you gave Rick Wakeman a trombone and said: “Go on son, give us a rendition of ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ on that!”
So, I carried on with the piano. And then, and I guess I would have been about twelve by this time, I acquired my first guitar. I can’t remember where I got it from, but it was my first, and I loved it more than all the words in my vocabulary, at the time, could describe. My vocabulary was about the same as the last time I mentioned it, and I still couldn’t spell palaeontologist!
Whilst there was a plethora of piano teachers around at that time – teachers of other instruments were scarce – in fact there weren’t any. There was a paper and comb player who did impromptu sessions in Cwmcarn Club on Saturday nights, but these performances were booze related and he didn’t actively ‘teach’ people how to do it.
There was also a spoons player in the vicinity ………….er …………..that was it.
So, I had to teach myself.
I based my ‘learning plan’ on something I’d noticed when playing the piano. If you could find the first note, all you had to do was identify whether the next one was higher – in which case you’d move right on the keyboard, and if the note was lower, you’d go to the left. That was the essence of music for me – I mean if music didn’t do that, music would just be one note.
And this is the way I learned to play the guitar, by listening and moving up or down the fret-board according the individual notes that made up whatever tune I was trying to play.
And now, 53 years on I just seem to know where I have to put my fingers to enable me to produce the things I want to. People have asked me to teach them how to do it, but I can’t – not unless they have 50 years to spare.
So I guess I can play the guitar – to a fashion. The problems start when I start playing with other people. Well, initially things go very well. People say things like;
“That was good Dai, can you play that again?”
That’s my biggest nightmare, because generally I can’t! I can play something similar at a push, but the same? No chance. I’ve left bands because of this.
One band I played with gave me a tape which contained their favourite versions of the songs we did and asked me to learn the guitar solos because they wanted them played like they were on the tape every time we did them. I listened to the tape and we had a conversation. It went like this.
“Have you listened to the tape Dai?”
“What do you reckon?”
“I can’t play that!”
“What do you mean you can’t play that – it’s you playing it!”
“I know that, but I can’t play that note for note as I played it before.”
“But we want you to.”
“Well I’m not going to sit down and work out each solo as I originally played them, I’ll just do them off the cuff as I usually do.”
“But we want them to be them same every time we play.”
“Well if you want that, when we have a gig, why don’t we just send the tape to the venue and we can go to the pictures instead?”
I don’t think that’s what music is all about – what about you?
June 2018: Cold Caller
Phone rings; I pick it up.
“Is that David Jandrell?”
“Ah, hello David. I’m Nigel and I’m phoning from PCS. You used to have cover with us.”
“Can I inform you that conversations are recorded for training purposes? I was wondering if I can tell you about our new offers.”
“It’s just, we have some fantastic new …………..”
“Look, as you said, I ‘used’ to have cover with you. If I wanted to continue I’d still be with you.”
“Well, you may be interested in a new package. Can I have your date of birth?”
“What do you want that for?”
“To confirm that it is you I’m talking to.”
“Er …. you rang me! Who the Hell do you think you’re talking to?”
“Your opening line was, ‘Is that David Jandrell’, yes?”
“And I said, ‘yes’, did I not?”
“So I’ll ask the question again, who the Hell do you think you’re talking to?”
“Er ……. I have to ask ….er …….. for security purposes.”
“So, when you said ‘is that David Jandrell’, did I say ‘no’?
“Er…. no, you said ‘yes’.
“See, if I hadn’t been me when you asked me if I was David Jandrell, I’d have said ‘no’ wouldn’t I?”
“I suppose so.”
“So, who the hell do you think you’re talking to?”
“Well, for security reasons ………………..”
“You rang me!”
“You see, if I rang my bank or the HMRC or someone like that, I would have to prove to them that I was who I was claiming to be in case I was involved in some sort of scam. I can understand why that is necessary, you know, that’s if I ring someone.”
“Good, now we’re seeing eye to eye. This is the same thing.”
“No it isn’t. You rang me out of the blue and less than 30 seconds into our conversation you are asking me for personal details.”
“Well I can’t continue until you give them to me.”
“Yes. I don’t want to continue talking to you.”
“But ….. er ………”
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do for you. Seeing as you rang me, I’ll give you my date of birth if you confirm to me who you are first.”
“How do I know that you are who you are claiming to be?”
“Er ….. because I told you?”
“Well anyone can do that!”
“What do you mean?”
“Well if I rang your bank and said, ‘Hello, I’m Nigel from PCS’ and they asked me to confirm your identity by giving your date of birth and asking me some security question and my response was, ‘I told you who I was’, are they going to give me full access to your account?”
“Er …. no.”
“Right. So I cannot continue with this conversation until you have convinced me that you are who you say you are.”
“How am I going to do that?”
“Well it’s going to be difficult I know but I’m really looking forward to listening to hear you try.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well there's no point in giving me your date of birth because I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what your first pet’s name was or what your mother’s maiden name was, so, you’re going to have to come up with something else. Treat it as a test of initiative.”
“Well ……. er…..”
“You can’t can you?”
“Are you going to end this call or shall I continue to deliberately run your phone bill up?”
“I’ll end it.”
I’d love to be in their training session when they play the recording of that back to the trainees...