Friday, 26 October 2012

26/10/12 - Student Loans

I received a letter from the Student Loans Company last week. It said ‘Important information – you’ve almost finished paying back your student loan!’
I wasn’t entirely convinced. I have a deep, contemptuous distrust of the Student Loans Company, and take any apparently good news from them – indeed, any communication whatsoever – with a hefty fistful of salt.
A phone call to the SLC revealed that ‘you’ve almost finished’ wasn’t entirely accurate; what they should have said was ‘you will have finished paying back your student loan in January 2014, which is fifteen months from now’.
The reason they were writing in such a chipper tone was that they wanted me to switch my payments to Direct Debit, rather than having them come straight out of my salary every month, which has been happening for as long as I can remember. Otherwise, in their words, I ‘will definitely overpay’. This isn’t something that’s my or my employer’s fault, but would occur because of the inherent shitness of the SLC’s accounting system: they send one letter a year, in October, telling you how much you still owed them back in April. That’s the full extent of anyone’s interaction with them. So they’re basically saying that I need to switch to a Direct Debit now, to stop them sending me a letter in October 2014 that says ‘oops, you’ve accidentally overpaid by hundreds and hundreds of pounds – you can have this back next April, or possibly next October’. Obviously any interest I felt like charging them for holding my money throughout this period would be ignored – the vast charges only work in one direction.

I’m very grumpy about paying back the student loan at all, to be honest. Yes, I did borrow it and spend it and it’s only fair that I give it back, but it all seems so ridiculous now. I wouldn’t have minded if the repayments had been slightly higher to begin with, and I wouldn’t have complained if they’d started taking it from me when I got my first post-uni full-time job (in a warehouse, with a £12k salary – my mum was proud) instead of waiting until I’d crossed their arbitrary income threshold when I was, effectively, still equally poor. Because at least I might have paid the bloody thing off by now. It’s a millstone. I graduated a decade ago. A decade! I can’t even remember what I bloody spent it on.

Actually, yes I can. I spent it on these things:

Obviously, I spent a lot of it on cars. But not buying loads of different cars, that didn’t start in earnest until after I graduated.
I’d sold my car - a metallic orange 1982 Ford Escort 1.3L five-door, resplendent in XR3i spoilers, rally spots and Orion pepperpots - shortly before going to university. This was on the advice of my uncle Alan, who said ‘you won’t need a car at university – you’ll always be too drunk to drive it. Sell it, and use the money to buy beer’. He’d never steered me wrong before, so I trusted him. But it turned out to be bollocks – cars are a) useful and b) ace. Having driven myself down to Portsmouth in my mum’s mkIV Escort estate with all my stuff in the back, it was a pain in the arse to then have to drive back to Kent, give her car back and then get the train down to uni. It was also really annoying to have to bring my groceries home on the bus every week, this being way before the days of friendly home grocery deliveries. Plus I just really like driving.
So the next term, when my mum had replaced her Escort with a Peugeot 309, I borrowed it to take to university… and just never gave it back. It was a 1990 309 1.6 GL (oooh, posh), and I didn’t hesitate to spend vast swathes of my student loan on GTI alloys, spoilers and bumpers, as well as blowing pretty much every penny I had on making it the lowest 309 in town. (This is actually relatively easy to achieve with Peugeots of this era – they have torsion bar suspension at the rear, so you just need to wind them down a few splines. [I wound it down all the way so that it was sitting on the bump stops; there effectively wasn’t any suspension at the back.] The expensive part was finding shocks and springs short enough to have it equally low at the front, so that it didn’t look like I was driving round with a bag of cement in the boot.) Then there was the stainless steel exhaust, the beefy stereo… loads of money poured into my mum’s car to ensure that she wouldn’t want to drive it. It worked. She signed the V5 over to me. That’s how you do it, kids. The way to get a free car is to, er, spend way more than the value of the car on monkeying around with someone else’s, until they find it too embarrassing to drive.

CDs and videos
I’ve always been a music collector. It seems somehow frivolous and inauthentic to seasoned vinyl enthusiasts to position yourself as a CD collector, but that is what I am; while my schoolchums used to read Match, CVG or Loaded, I could generally be found leafing through Record Collector magazine, cross-referencing their listings with the latest Xeroxed price lists I’d had mailed from dealers like Esprit and SisterRay, sniffing out obscure Bluetones demos, Kula Shaker white-labels and Wildhearts bootlegs. And this all spiralled out of any sense of reason when I went to university. Every Monday morning I used to get up (it was actually the only day of the week where I would get up in the morning, if I remember rightly) and stroll into town to check out the new releases at HMV. I’d buy the latest albums by any band that I liked, plus a number that sounded like they might be good – usually somewhere between five and ten albums a week. In hindsight, this was a fucking expensive habit. It would have been significantly cheaper if I’d got into heroin. But, of course, I wouldn’t then have found myself at the age of thirty with a frickin’ shamazing CD collection. When I’ve paid off my student loan, I’ll still have that. Brilliant.
I bought a lot of movies on VHS as well. This didn’t turn out to be such a good idea. The years have not been kind to video-tape as a medium. Having gradually replaced them all with DVDs, I couldn’t even sell the videos when I tried a few years ago. I gave them all to a charity shop in Redhill. They’re probably still there.

Questionable clothes
Fashion is, I’m afraid, not my business. I usually just stick with a hoodie, jeans and skate shoes because I like baggy clothes and that makes me sort of anonymous. It’s become my signature look by default, just because I can’t be arsed to put any thought into what I wear. My favourite jacket is an Adidas track top I bought second-hand when I was seventeen – it still sees regular use. Looking cool or fashionable or trendy has never been something that’s occupied a great deal of my time, because I don’t really understand it.
…I had a go at it when I was a student, though. Picture me in a pair of the widest, most ostentatious flares you can imagine, paired with a green top with ‘suck my discotheque’ written on it in huge blue letters, and a pair of shimmering gold Nike Air Max. What a tit. A lot of that kind of thing went on.

Obviously, this is where the bulk of all student money goes. During Freshers Week I signed up for as many clubs and societies as I could in order to meet people and whatever, and didn’t actually get beyond Freshers Week with most of them. The Ultimate Frisbee Club, for example – I went out with them the night before my first ever lecture; there’s a dim recollection of lying on a bar with someone pouring a bottle of Smirnoff Blue Label into my mouth with a funnel, and then I woke up the next day in all my clothes with crisps in my shoes. I never actually went and played frisbee. But I can tell people that I began my university career by running out of my first lecture to be sick.
It was the Snakey B Challenge that really did it for the overdraft. The student union (which was just a weird old wooden building from the sixties in my first year, but was replaced by some ultra-futuristic multi-level ├╝ber-club for the second year) sold snakebite & black for £1.50 a pint. This, if you’ve not tried it, is half a pint of lager mixed with half a pint of cider, with a squirt of blackcurrant squash in it – some call it Snakey B, some call it Red Beer. Guaranteed fally-over juice. The rules of the Snakey B Challenge were simple: to drink ten pints of snakebite & black over the course of a night out without throwing up or passing out. It got easier over time, but the potential for sabotage was huge; the drunker an opponent was, the less likely they were to notice that you’d slipped a couple of shots of blackcurrant schnapps into their pint. And so our livers eroded.
We weren’t totally irresponsible though. We always had a keen eye on value. There was a club on the grandly-titled Winston Churchill Avenue that was called ‘Uropa’ – on a Tuesday night, you’d pay £7 entry with all drinks included all night. All-you-can-drink (or was it drink-as-much-as-you-can?) for seven pounds? No-one can argue with the logic of that.
You can imagine what sort of quality the drinks were. The next morning would be spent scraping the chunky fuzz off our teeth with screwdrivers. Although that may also have had something to do with the vast ropey pizzas we’d get from Ken’s Kebabs on the way home. A 15” pizza for £4.50? No, I don’t care if the “meat” is local cats…

Ah, good times. I guess it was all worth it. And there’s only another fifteen huge payments to go!

Babies eating lemons

Possibly slightly cruel, but totally worth it.

Guardian Truncation Team

This is a work of utter brilliance: a collection of Guardian headlines that are amusingly truncated on the mobile app to turn them into Day Today-esque comedy gold. Click here.

Eton Style

You've seen Gangnam Style. Well, this is how shit goes down in Windsor.

Hipster TTOI

An inspired concept, this - quotes from The Thick Of It, laid over entirely inappropriate backdrops. Click here.

Lego Stratos

007: cost to taxpayer

How much is it costing us to keep James Bond up to his Seamaster in Martinis and loose women? Click here to see...

Powers of Ten

Star Wars, the Sex Pistols, the death of Elvis... what did 1977 mean to you? To IBM, it meant this: fucking with your head with SCIENCE.

Ikea - Playin' With My Friends

Every second of this ad is dripping with cuteness.

Hate Mail

Twelve-odd minutes, but well worth your time.

Mr Bingo from Glug Events on Vimeo.

007 in 70 seconds

Clearly all faked, but very entertaining nonetheless.

Friday, 12 October 2012

12/10/12 - Blank Canvas

If you gave me a set of comprehensive instructions, all of the correct component parts and the equipment necessary to carry out the task, I still don’t think there’s any way I’d be able to make a functioning human kidney. So it astonishes me that my wife managed to perform such a task from scratch, using little more than her warm, accommodating mid-section and a liberal dusting from my gentleman’s dandelion clock. And not just a sole kidney, but an entire person – knees, corneas, fingernails, alveoli, the works. It’s incredible. What’s more, she’s able to make delicious, nourishing food for the little scamp which just squirts out of her knockers, a set of cushiony delights hitherto merely enjoyed for their aesthetic qualities that have suddenly found a new life as an on-demand dairy bar. Amazing.
She’s a thorough and methodical soul, my wife, and dashed pretty to boot, so when our nipper popped out, I was most pleased to discover that the enormous drag factor of my own ham-fisted cretinousness and gargoylish features hadn’t carried through in too obvious a manner. Indeed, we were both gobsmacked to discover that we’d created something so perfect, so flawless. Still are. We’d never made a person before; we’d made Ikea shelves and cheesecakes and holiday plans, but never a functioning creature. Incredibly, we nailed it on the first attempt.

Being a dad is ace. I really like it, and maintain that the project was a Good Idea. (Just as well really – after seven months or thereabouts, she’s got a bit too big to push back in.)
The interesting thing about babies is that they don’t know anything. They’re not stupid, they just aren’t aware of such useful things as context or precedent. This is still taking me some time to wrap my head around. Every now and then while we’re hanging out together on the living room floor, as I babble on to her about nothing in particular – she’s pretty much the first person not to tell me to shut up, meaning we’re now firm friends – I’ll catch myself making some cultural reference which needs explaining, and every one of them ends up in an encyclopaedic knowledge spiral. Let’s say, for example, that I point out that one of her toys looks like Bart Simpson’s head. She’s never seen The Simpsons, so I have to explain who Bart is and what shape his head is, then give some context of the family and the show overall, then explain that it’s a cartoon and try to illustrate what a cartoon is, then move on to what television is (its history, its place in society, its place in the corner of our living room), until I discover – after quite some time – that I’m going into tedious detail about something entirely inconsequential and unrelated, and the poor little lamb is borderline comatose. Or, more likely, clawing at my eyes and bashing me in the face with a small plastic train in a desperate attempt to stop the irritating droning noise. 

The fact that she’s never seen The Simpsons is, in itself, a bit of a mindblower. We grow up communicating with our peers about the new things we’re discovering which, at school age, is a bit of an arms race – if you haven’t heard the latest single by [insert contemporary reference] then you’re shunned by your classmates; by the time you’ve reached adulthood you have many years of ingrained cultural references to call upon. Starting from scratch with a whole new person is, frankly, a bloody daunting task. Where do you start? I mean, everyone’s seen The Simpsons, it’s always on. But, of course, my teeny-tiny daughter is a blank canvas. She’s never watched The Simpsons. She’s never seen Goodfellas or Back to the Future either. She’s never heard of Justin Bieber or Arthur Scargill or Amelia Earhart or Madonna or Jesse Owens. She’s never eaten a hot dog, seen the Eiffel Tower, attempted to operate a skateboard, wound the tape back into a cassette with a pencil, got Blu-Tack under her fingernail, put tinsel on a Christmas tree, tried to wash biro ink off her hand, played Tetris, scratched the soft wood of a beer garden table with her thumb, torn a sheet of paper (deliberately), popped a balloon, jumped on a trampoline, iced a cake, fallen in the snow, hidden in a cupboard, peeled the paper from a Black Jack, scraped burnt rice from a saucepan, operated a petrol pump, spun a coin, thrown a tennis ball at a wall, or even said ‘hello’. All of these things are a total mystery. So with this yawning vacuum of knowledge and experience, where do you start? How can you impart wisdom when everything has to be explained by something else, which has to be explained by a further thing, which… we’re back to the knowledge spiral again. It’s a life’s work.

But anyway, back to the living room floor. As I’m babbling away merrily to her about everything and nothing, it may as well be white noise. Without language, all of my explanations are basically meaningless, because until she learns to process these sounds as individual nuggets of reason and logic, it’s just clusters of sounds. And I think that’s my favourite thing of all right now – the sounds that she gives back. She hears us bigger people making noises at each other and assumes that this is how people communicate, by simply making noise. ‘Waawaweewoahwoahwoah,’ she’ll say, ‘ha! Woahwoahwoahwaaa’. It’s enormously cute, and immediately disarming. And all I can do is stop banging on about carburettors or Kevin Spacey or whatever subject I’ve ambled into, and just echo the sounds back at her. Which is, of course, far more fun. Yes, her first words will be momentous, thrilling and spectacular, and will represent a massive step-change in perception and cognition, but for now I’m happy with the random noises. And the day she realises that her toys aren’t also sentient beings that may respond to the ‘woahwoahwaawoah’-ing will be a sad one indeed.

I love that she doesn’t know anything. I’m really going to enjoy helping her figure it all out. What a brilliantly weird project.

Wake The Fuck Up


This is a lovely idea- image searching by colour. Click here.

First World Problems

...are not problems.

27b/6 Appraisals

More wonderful bile from that disgruntled man. Click here.

In your face, IE9

Pedestrian Penalty Cards

Handy, these. Click here.

The Stand Up Kid

How many teachers does it take to change a lightbulb?

Some old computers an' that

It's Party Time, Chumps

Friday, 5 October 2012

05/10/12 - Five Green Day albums you should know about

I’m a die-hard, dyed-in-the-wool Green Day fan. Like a lot of people my age, it was their third album, Dookie, that got me into them – that was released in 1994, when I was twelve years old. Around the same time came Offspring’s Smash album, and those are probably the two LPs I know better than any others, having listened to them relentlessly on repeat throughout my teenage years. I still regularly listen to both. They’ve aged well.
Dookie, of course, was a controversial album (unbeknownst to my prepubescent self), given that it was Green Day’s first after signing to a major label, Reprise. Having formed in 1987 amongst the blossoming punk scene of Berkeley, California, their second album Kerplunk sold 50,000 copies on the Lookout! label and encouraged the big guns to start sniffing around; major label signings are anathema to the grass-roots spit-n-sawdust punk fan, and many abandoned them as ‘sell outs’. But fuck them – Dookie was a kickass album that sold sixteen million copies and won a Grammy, and it’s packed with spectacular tunes.
In recent years Green Day have proved themselves to be an experimental and eclectic group, with American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown being dramatic, intricate concept albums. But in 2012 they’ve returned to their stripped-back early-nineties punk sound with their ninth studio album, ¡Uno!, which Billie Joe Armstrong describes as ‘power pop – somewhere between AC/DC and early Beatles’. And it’s awesome – genuinely the best new album I’ve heard in ages. If you haven’t heard it, go and buy it now. Seriously.
(Excitingly, it’s only the first part of a three part series, with ¡Dos! coming in a couple of months and ¡Tre! due for release in January…)

You know who Green Day are. They’re ubiquitous, everyone can hum at least one of their songs, even if they don’t know anything else about them. You’re probably aware of Dookie and American Idiot. So the theme for this week’s JuicyPips is: Five other Green Day albums you should know about

If you liked Dookie, you’ll love Insomniac. It’s about as flawless as a nineties punk album can be, with zero filler – every track is superb. Imagine the upbeat punk-pop of Dookie refracted through a darker, grimier filter.
Brain Stew, Geek Stink Breath and Bab’s Uvula Who? have killer riffs, Panic Song is epic in the true sense of the word, and Stuart and the Ave. is enormously catchy. Without a hint of exaggeration, I’d say this is one of my favourite albums ever, by anyone.

Foxboro Hot Tubs – Stop, Drop and Roll!!!
Released in 2008, this album came four years after American Idiot and was recorded at the same time as 21st Century Breakdown. While this was the era of Green Day writing massive, swooping rock operas, Stop, Drop and Roll!!! gave the band an outlet to record something a little less substantial and more fun; recording under the name ‘Foxboro Hot Tubs’, there’s no indication anywhere on the album that it’s got anything to do with Green Day. But it is them. Promise.
Think sixties-era rock ‘n’ roll pop songs, recorded on an eight-track. A hidden gem, worth digging out.

2000’s Warning is not most Green Day fans’ favourite album. Indeed, it’s the band’s worst-selling release. But give it a chance, it’s actually bloody good – just don’t expect it to sound anything like 1990s Green Day.
It was, in a sense, a vehicle for Billie Joe to extend his creative wings a little and experiment with a few different sounds and genres; you can see the beginnings of American Idiot in here, as they dabble with folk music, accordions and acoustic guitars. It’s worth buying just for Misery, a waltz-time track featuring mariachi brass, accordions and strings. It’s got some super-catchy tunes, too – Minority and Castaway will stick in your head all day.

The Network – Money Money 2020
Like the Foxboro Hot Tubs project, The Network is another uncredited Green Day thing. It’s a New Wave punk affair from 2003 and, again, there’s no mention anywhere on the sleeve of it being anything to do with Green Day, but despite their vehement denial of any connection, it definitely is them. Indeed, the rumour is that Money Money 2020 is very closely related to Green Day’s unreleased album Cigarettes & Valentines. (If you don’t know the story, Cigarettes & Valentines was the album that was supposed to follow Warning, but in 2003 the master tapes were stolen from the studio and never recovered; disheartened and disillusioned by the loss and not wanting to re-record the whole thing from scratch, they moved on and created American Idiot instead.)
The sound of The Network is very much 1980s New Wave; dancey, ska-influenced punk with electronica overtones. Brilliantly weird, and well worth a listen.

1,039 Smoothed Out Slappy Hours
This is generally referred to as Green Day’s first album, but in fact it’s technically a compilation. Their first album was actually 39/Smooth, released in 1990, which had ten tracks. It was then repackaged in 1991 to include the two EPs Slappy [1990] and 1,000 Hours [1989] along with an extra song, bringing the total up to 19 tracks for the awkwardly-named 1,039 Smoothed Out Slappy Hours.
You can see the genesis of Green Day’s signature punk sound in this album. 1,000 Hours was originally recorded in 1988 when the band were still called Sweet Children, and Slappy featured Paper Lanterns – one of my favourite Green Day songs. The whole of 1,039… has a stripped, bare-bones feel – remove the polish from Dookie and you’ll find this.

So there you go. A short, sharp JuicyPips. Very punk.

A Toy Train in Space

Pacman Propaganda

These are good - click here.

X Factor 2012

Two amusing X Factor vids. Firstly, this:

...and secondly, this (although it's not so much 'amusing' as 'disgusting, horrifying, extremely nauseating'):

Decor nightmare

This astonishing Liverpool house has been doing the rounds this week. Imagine dusting that.
Click here for details.

Knightmare parody

Fine work, this.

Animal Impressions

The future of rap

It's all about Twerton Youtez. These kids are phenomenal.