Friday, 24 February 2012

24/02/12 - Mobile phones

Mobile phones. They’re good, aren’t they? The JuicyPips of January 27th ended with the line ‘this weekend, why not switch your mobile off and go for an adventure?’, but perhaps that’s a little unfair on the modern mobile telecommunications device. They’re useful and clever, and provide plenty of scope for adventure. (I’m not one of those tedious phone bores who’ll get their mobile out in the pub and tell everyone how brilliant it is [well, sometimes I do that], but I appreciate them for the handy little chatterboxes they are.) I like them.

When I was a teenager, mobile phones were incredible things. Today’s teens have grown up around these devices, their ubiquity extracting and squashing any sense of intrigue, but back in the nineties they were bordering on magical. Up to the age of sixteen, none of my friends had mobile phones and it would have been considered outlandish and extravagant if they had. It just wasn’t done. Mobiles were chunky, brick-like things that people had in movies; if you saw someone using one in public they’d almost certainly be speaking in that Dom Joly-esque ‘look at me, aren’t I impressive?’ tone that shows everyone around that they have a mobile phone. These people would have belt-clipped holsters to proudly display their devices, and would cycle through their ringtones on the train or in the pub so that, again, everyone could see they had a phone. And it was usually a shit Rabbit phone anyway, that looked like a cheap walkie-talkie from Argos.
We just didn’t need them back then. If you wanted to call your mates, you’d do it from the landline. If you wanted to meet up, you’d agree a time and place and see them there; if they didn’t turn up you’d just do something else. No-one really wanted phones because, well, we’d never had them before; they were expensive and unnecessary and we’d got on alright without them so far. (Well, we did kind of want them, but in the same way you wanted your dad to buy a Porsche or a 42” TV – it just wasn’t realistic in the nineties.)

…and then 1999 happened. Two key factors meant that everyone very rapidly acquired phones – the fact that they were getting considerably cheaper, and the fact that we were all turning seventeen and getting driving licences. The general feeling among parents was that maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing for their kids to have mobiles – in case they ran over a lollipop man or, y’know, got carjacked or something. So, at the age of seventeen, I got my first mobile telephone: a Philips TCD308. It was large, heavy-ish, and could do little more than make calls. But, of course, it was a telephone, so I didn’t expect it to do anything else. In hindsight it was kind of rubbish, but I didn’t know any better at the time, so naturally it was a revolutionary and amazing thing: I could call my friends from the pub! I could ring them from the beach! I could call my sister at university and say ‘I’m on a National Express coach, I’m halfway down the M4’! I could talk to people while driving (which wasn’t recognised as being stupid then)! Halcyon days.
After a while I replaced it with a Philips TCD128, which was superior in two significant ways: it was much smaller (and thus not annoying to carry around in a trouser pocket), and it could send text messages. This was a whole other shade of awesome – instant(ish) communication using words and, occasionally, little smiley faces made out of punctuation marks. Modern. A machine for short emailish things, right there in your hand. How cool is that?
This was long before the days of attractive talk-n-text packages though, so every week or so you’d have to go down to the petrol station or WHSmiths and buy a £5 top-up card, because those texts were 10p each and you only got a small number of characters to use before the handset got all confused. You know what, though? They built phones to last back then – my mum still has my old TCD128, and uses it regularly. Seriously. Most of the numbers haven’t worn off the keys either.

The revolution came in 2000, in two fresh and exciting ways. Firstly, there was the advent of cameraphones. My friend Barrie was the first person in the whole school to get a cameraphone, and it was laughably shit. Not at the time, of course – back then it was a modern marvel and we were all very jealous. He had a Sony Ericsson with (*sharp intake of breath*) a colour screen, and after a few months the company released a camera module that would plug into it, allowing you to take small, lo-res snaps that looked like water-damaged Polaroids that had been faxed over a dodgy line. It was amazing, as we’d never seen anything like it. This was well before anyone had digital cameras. He had a thing in his pocket for taking electronic photos, that was also a phone – when would the excitement end?! It was almost too much to bear. He took rubbish photos of everything.
The other millennium revolution saw everybody else getting Nokia phones. They had logical menus, longer text message capacity, and you could play snake. An electronic game, in your pocket? Oh, stop, you spoil us. It’s like a Game Boy, but smaller. And it’s also a phone.

Remember the Nokia 3310? Yeah, we all had those. That was when mobile phone manufacturers really cottoned on to the concept of phone-as-fashion-accessory, offering interchangeable covers and suchlike. It also had voice-dialling, which didn’t work at all, meaning you’d say ‘call Sam’ and it’d try to call itself and then switch itself off in the confusion, or something. These were the phones that we all took to university, after which point the various manufacturers became locked in a baffling and pointless arms race to see who could make the smallest phone (I think Nokia pipped it with the 8210, a handset so absurdly tiny that no-one with human adult thumbs could actually operate it), before they realised that quality was more important than size… and, with this thinking in mind, Motorola created the greatest mobile phone that the world had ever seen: the V3 RAZR. It was solid and steely, it flipped open like something from a sci-fi movie, and the keys were separated with Tron-like neon blue lights. It was awesome. If they built one of those now that had downloadable apps and a touchscreen, they’d own the smartphone market. I’d buy one.

I loved that thing. It was super-resilient and made me feel like a movie star. But, as has always been the case in the mobile phone market, development marched relentlessly on and it quickly became old hat. I needed a new fix. Something remarkable and extraordinary, something nobody else had.
The year was 2004, and I got myself one of the first videophones from 3; it was shiny and brainy, and you could watch actual telly on it (well, 30-second ITN news clips), and it was the cleverest phone I or any of my mates had ever seen. It was also massive, heavy, and shite for making phone calls with. And, in the excitement of acquiring it, it didn’t occur to me that there’s a fundamental flaw in being the first person to get a videophone: nobody else has one, so you can’t make video calls. What I had was a huge phone that I could tell people would make video calls, but actually just acted like the phone I had before. Except that 3 had really poor network coverage back then, so realistically it was much worse. And I was stuck with it for eighteen months.
I crossed over to Sony Ericssons after that – they were much smaller.

The second great mobile sea-change - remember, the first one was in 2000, keep up - came in 2007 with the launch of the iPhone. (The BlackBerry had been around for some time before, but I don’t care about that. Bloody fiddly little nonsense machine.) But, er, I missed the iPhone, it totally passed me by. In fact, I kind of hated people who had them; it annoyed me that way they’d always say ‘iPhone’ instead of just ‘phone’, the way they were always dicking about with them on the bus, the way they were always saying ‘oh my god, you’ve got to check out the new app from [brand x]’, the fact that they were just so damn smug about it. I hated them right up until the moment I got one in 2010, when I realised that actually, in fact, the iPhone is mankind’s greatest invention.

The genius of it is that (for people like me, at least, who don’t use their phones to actually call anyone that often) it’s primarily an internet device rather than a phone per se. While I’m lounging in my armchair of an evening, I can cycle through Facebook/Twitter/car forums/Instagram/Hotmail/Tumblr/Pinterest on an infinite loop without having to bother booting up my ageing, decrepit laptop. I can dream-shop for houses on RightMove and Zoopla or cars on Auto Trader and eBay, read the news, watch TV, throw birds at pigs, look through any traffic camera in the country in real-time, set my Sky box to record things, Streetview random addresses for the hell of it… oh, and it’s also a mobile telephone. If you’d told me back in 1999 that all of this was on the horizon, I’d have said you were a damn fool. And probably questioned why on Earth I’d want to do all that when I could be in the pub with my mates. Such is life.

Real Life Goldeneye 64

If you were as obsessed as I was with this game, you'll know that this is 100% accurate.

Out of Context Animation

A brilliant, brilliant concept: single frames of cartoons, taken out of context. JuicyPips' favourite Tumblr of the week, by miles. Click here.









Cassetteboy vs The News

Exactly as wonderful as you'd expect.

'This Is My Home'

An unusual and fascinating old man in Manhattan; this isn't a shop, just a collection of stuff he's accrued throughout his life. He doesn't mind if you browse.

Cat Fight

This apparently took three months to make. It was worth it.

[citation needed]

There's a lot of spurious shit on Wikipedia. Quite a lot of it is archived here...





Henry & Aaron: Central Institute of Technology

Quite simply, the greatest ad of the year so far.

Hors Cycles - tomfoolery on three wheels

Paddy Power -- Chav Tranquilizer

Lovely work.

A history of British homes

The Royal Institute of British Architects have a new exhibition entitled 'A Place to Call Home: Where We Live and Why', looking at the changes in British housing over the past 250 years. Click the image below to see an introduction from Sarah Beeny.

Facebook Parenting

With 30m views, this already the viral of 2012, and you've probably seen it already. But if not, give it a whirl.

Friday, 17 February 2012

17/02/12 - Recycled articles

As a slap in the face for regular JuicyPips readers, I couldn’t be arsed to think of anything new and interesting to say this week. Just plain couldn’t be arsed. So instead, here’s a few of the articles I’ve written for Retro Cars magazine over the last year or so. Why not go to the shops and buy it? There’s a small picture of my face in this month’s issue…

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There was a time, as the old cliché goes, when sex was safe and motorsport was dangerous; when harnesses and full-face helmets were for nancies and survival rates came second to the pure, adrenalised thrill of racing. The heroes of the age where prolific drinkers, smokers and shaggers who also happened to be racers. I mean, look at Stirling Moss – has any man ever had more of an eye for the ladies? And James Hunt... his libido made the Cerne Abbas Giant blush.

Today’s racing drivers are sanitised and corporate. They have to be. The almighty sponsorship dollar is the language of motorsport, and drivers need to toe the line. Lewis Hamilton, as gifted a driver and all-round nice bloke as he may be, seems to be just as interested in the geometric precision of his facial hair as he is in jockeying a race-car around a circuit. Jason Plato wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in the BTCC in the seventies, with all the complaining he does. Back then, if you blamed the team or the car you’d get a thick ear. If you criticised your rivals’ racecraft, you’d get punched square in the face. It’s as if he hates motorsport and wants to see it suffer by constantly moaning about whose fault his misfortunes might be. Jackie Stewart never gave us any of that business. He raced because he loved driving fast cars; the fact that he got to make a living out of it was a happy by-product of his primal need to propel himself from point A to point B as fast as internal combustion and cross-ply tyres would allow.

Yes, it always puts race fans on edge a little nowadays when you see the legendary likes of Jack Sears or Win Percy being interviewed about the state of modern racing, as the old guard will invariably make an ill-advised comment at some point about how modern racing is ‘too safe’, but the underlying point is valid: motorsport should provide a visceral thrill – it’s man and machine, working in frantic, high-octane harmony, acting on the basest possible instincts to defeat all rivals.

A clear way to illustrate this point is to watch the astonishing Senna movie. Sure, motorsport today is glorious, diverse, compelling, exciting, heart-in-the-mouth stuff. Of course it is. Talented people driving cars quickly? What’s not to like? The problem today is that we don’t have any heroes, not like we used to. Ken Block is a cheerful caricature, Matt Neal is a robot programmed by Honda, Jenson Button is Chris Martin (isn’t he?)... for all their talent, charm, charisma and the aspirational nature of their star-studded lifestyles, there’s probably no chance that you’ll bump into any of them in your local pub on a Friday night, puffing away on Golden Virginia and discussing Dell’Orto flow rates with the barman. Ayrton Senna was created by Hollywood scriptwriters to build a legacy of intrigue that will resonate through the ages. That’s adrenaline. That’s passion. That’s motorsport.

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It’s far too easy to buy cars these days. In pre-internet times, the way to choose a car was to menace the Auto Trader with a pair of scissors. My father and I used to divide the job; he’d hand me the colour section – tantalising my young mind with brightly-hued and unattainable sports cars – while he’d get realistic with the black & white ‘under £1000’ pages, snipping out appropriate suggestions within the allotted budget and pooling them together, then Pritt-Sticking them to a big board to winkle out the duds and highlight the winners. Once a shortlist was drawn up, it was time to settle in for a good hour or so of telephone enquiries, to discover that everything suitable had, in fact, sold. So it was back to square one, being a little more liberal with the criteria; ‘yes, we can cope with a bit of rust in the arches’, ‘OK, we could probably live with a GL; maybe we can find the Ghia bits at the scrappie’.

When a strong candidate had been pinpointed that was actually still available, it was an essential part of the process to go and poke around it, then take it for a test drive. This may sound screamingly obvious, but it’s not always considered vital today. In the analogue days of press clippings and landline calls, it was the only way to do it.
Nowadays, this is not the case. I’m always keen to evangelise to friends who are buying cars about how you’d have to be some kind of cretin to buy one you’d never seen, but I’m wholly guilty of doing just that on more than one occasion. And it’s all down to eBay.

You see, the auction site creates an aura of trust. If a listing is well-written and offers photos of a reasonable quality, you can kind of assume that the seller’s on the level. But more significant (and perhaps more dangerous) is the heady, adrenalised thrill of the final few seconds of an auction. If you’ve convinced yourself that you want the automobile in question, a surreal Absinthe-esque fug clouds your judgment, working your defenceless mind into a competitive frenzy; if you’re being bid against, YOU MUST WIN AT ALL COSTS!

…sometimes this works out for the best, and sometimes it doesn’t. The day I won a freshly restored 2.8i Capri with a blueprinted stage 2 engine for a frankly absurd £1500 still ranks as one of the greatest achievements of my life. Bidding sight unseen on a 205 GTi minus MOT turned out to be rather less satisfactory, transpiring to have what my mechanic described as a ‘death rattle’. Swings and roundabouts.

The solution? Stop idly browsing eBay. It’s a wrench, I know, as it offers more choice than you ever dreamed imaginable, but it’s just too easy to end up with a driveway full of unexpectedly knackered cars and an apoplectic bank manager. Instead, take a stroll to the newsagent… it is, after all, the retro way to buy.

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One man’s passion is another’s turn-off. I love retro cars because they’re characterful, quirky and uncomplicated, but these are the very reasons why some folk aren’t quite so keen; the absence of electric windows, traction control or posh little tweeters that rise up from the dash is anathema to people who view keeping a bottle of ‘just in case’ water in the boot to be a bad thing.

So why do we drive what we drive? I suspect that, for many retro enthusiasts, it’s because of what our fathers drove. Nostalgia influences our ineffable enthusiasm for driving rattly old motors, and the feel and smell of an aged car can make us ten years old again. My dad always had something interesting casually glooping oil onto the driveway; Citroën CX, Alfa 33, Saab 900 Turbo, Austin Princess… he could never afford a new car, but I doubt he’d have wanted one. New cars didn’t come with elephant cord upholstery, for starters, and banging a hydropneumatic suspension sphere with a chunky spanner is much easier than tweaking a misbehaving ECU. It’s no coincidence that my lottery wishlist, among the retro supercars and Group B rally weapons, is also populated by pretty much every car I was ferried around in as a nipper. Today, I’d happily swap my daily driver for a 1980 Cavalier 2000GLS in tobacco brown, all chrome and Rostyles and oversized bonnet Griffin. Every journey would be evocative of cruising the Kentish countryside in velour splendour, and trips through the Pyrenees with sections of mischievous exhaust wedged haphazardly across the rear bench (‘don’t touch it kids, it’s hot!’).

There’s a subconscious yearning for the halcyon days of youth being lived out through our retro way of life, then. And these are memories that span generations; it’s not unusual to hear a Morris Minor driver say that they’d always wanted one because, in the first flushes of puberty, they had a thing for the district nurse, or to find someone up to their elbows in a mkI Escort because their dad wanted to be Barry Lee and ran cut slicks on the family runabout.

A further reason for driving retro cars is that the lifestyle harks back to a simpler, more innocent age. In times of political unrest, financial instability, relentless natural disasters and spiralling oil prices, isn’t it pleasant to inhabit a little pocket of the past? Sure, a new car will insulate you from the perils of our clogged and potholed roads, but sitting behind the wheel of something retro will transform your humdrum commute into a sepia-toned adventure. Pack your tartan blanket, Bowie tapes and flask of dandelion & burdock, you can turn that M25 gridlock into a cheery little picnic.

The main reason we drive retro cars, of course, is that they’re just so damned cool. These days, my dad’s driving around rural France in a ’74 Citroën DS with his ‘n’ hers straw hats on the rear shelf. Everybody smiles, everybody waves. You don’t get that in a Korean hatchback.

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I wrote recently about how modern motorsport lacks heroes and, by extension, is becoming increasingly watered-down and less human. ‘Today’s racing drivers are sanitised and corporate,’ I said, and ‘there’s probably no chance that you’ll bump into any of them in your local pub on a Friday night’. I stand by this, but perhaps I was being a little simplistic. You see, we’re incredibly fortunate to be living in such a connected and information-saturated age; never before have motorsport fans found themselves closer to the action, and with such breadth and depth of knowledge.

The digital revolution allows us not only to follow closely our motoring swashbucklers, but to enter into easy dialogue with them. Take Twitter, for example – we can enjoy the banter between Jenson Button and Mark Webber as if we were in the room with them; we can even join in. OK, in the sixties you may have bumped into Graham Hill in the pub and had a chat about his latest race, but you wouldn’t have been primed with the minutiae of everything he’d done in the build-up to it, unless you were some kind of demented stalker. Social media lets us into their world, draws us warmly into the embrace of the sport, rather than leaving us starkly as un-interactive spectators beside the Armco or in the armchair.

And it’s not just Twitter that’s constantly drip-feeding us with facts. Myriad car shows, blogs, forums, television programmes, Facebook groups and magazines such as this very one you hold in your hands feed into the rich kaleidoscope of motorsport colour, receiving stimulus from all angles, refracting it through your mind’s prism and bleeding out into a billion high-octane rainbows. Television viewing figures for, say, the World Rally Championship used to be far higher in the late seventies and early eighties (largely, possibly, because there weren’t that many TV channels), but today’s lower figures don’t tell the full story: fans are sharing information online, discussing performance, liveries, heritage, dirt, smoke, passion... it’s unprecedented and incredible, the extent to which we can allow our love of watching cars drive around really fast pervade every corner of our existence. The excitement never left us. And we’ve never been closer to the action.

So we don’t have heroes in the sense that, for example, Vettel is no Senna, but perhaps that doesn’t necessarily matter. The fact that we can be chatty and matey with these superstar helmsmen gives the whole sporting arena an entirely different context. It’s almost as if we’re willing a particular driver to win because we feel we know them on a personal level, like you would if one of your old school chums suddenly popped up on the grid in the Ginetta GT Supercup or the Bathurst 1000. The fact that today’s drivers are accessible and fallible as well as being lauded as ethereal supermen means that we can connect with them as equals. Maybe we don’t need heroes – we’ve got humans. Friends, even.

Iron Sky

Nazis from the moon? WHY WEREN'T WE WARNED?!

Fancy some Wu Tang Clams?

...or how about a little Ol' Dirty Custard? Click the image for a world of rap-themed eats.

The Island of Misnamed Toys

Bless.

Lady Mailman

lol, etc.

Valentine's Day Google Doodle

The basic moral being that girls can be bitches, but if you copy them, they'll jump you. Or something.

STFU, Parents

I wonder if I will soon become one of these insufferable people? Click here.



Self-levelling pool table

If you didn't know that this was on a cruise ship, this would be an enormously confusing video.

LoveFilm Valentine

Simple, brilliant, must have taken ages.

Notes to neighbours

A hilarious maelstrom of rage - click here.









Friday, 10 February 2012

10/02/12 - Snowpocalypse

SNOWPOCALYPSE! DON’T LEAVE YOUR HOMES!
Woah, did you get a load of that blizzard last weekend? Staggering, wasn’t it? South-west London received, ooh, an inch or two of snow on Saturday night, making the roads a little bit slippery and, er, then it all turned to harmless slush. Scary!

As a nation, we’re shit at dealing with snow. It arrives around the same time every year; sometimes there’s a reasonable amount of it and it lasts a few days, sometimes it comes and goes, but the effect is always the same. Everything stops.
On Sunday morning there were reports of people having been stranded overnight on the M25. There was repeated footage on the news of scantily-clad young ladies who’d gone for a night on the piss and couldn’t make it home in their teetering high-heels. These people are all idiots. The forecasts had been warning of snow all week, it wasn’t as if it was a bloody surprise. My wife and I drove from Wandsworth up to Milton Keynes and back on Saturday and managed to pull it off without experiencing any kind of peril. We didn’t have to sleep on the M25, we just went home. It worked out perfectly for us on Sunday too; while the news networks were hysterically yelping about snowmageddon and urging people not to go outside, we were able to take a leisurely trip down to Ikea in Croydon on empty roads, to find the car park deserted and the shop blissfully uncrowded. Nobody died. We managed to avoid totalling the car or falling into a river. Then we drove home again. And that was also fine.

It’s just as well that the news broadcasters were telling everyone to stay at home, of course – if there’s one thing the British public are worse at than reacting to snow, it’s driving in snow.
Driving your car in the snow is not difficult. The thing that flusters people is that they’re usually used to the act of driving being an unthinking, reflexive one; when the parameters outside the car shift (a bit of rain, for example, or fog), they suddenly have to concentrate on all of the separate, co-ordinated actions they’re carrying out rather than just gliding along on auto-pilot. Snow totally throws people because the car’s not doing the things they expect it to, it slithers and squirms and misbehaves.
All you have to remember is ‘high gear, low revs’. Give yourself more time to do things, and more distance to stop. Don’t do anything sudden. Remember that you’ll have less traction when pulling away (particularly if you have a rear-wheel drive car) – if you need to, ride the clutch a bit to stop yourself wheelspinning; starting off in second gear might help. Going a long way? Pack a few emergency bits and bobs into the car in case you need them; something to eat and drink, a blanket or sleeping bag, a shovel. Don’t have all of the electrics (lights, heater, stereo, wipers, window heater etc) on at once for too long, if you can help it. Don’t be freaked out if your brake pedal goes all crunchy, that’ll just be your ABS kicking in. Oh, and don’t just remove the snow from your windows before you set off, but scrape it off the roof too – that way it won’t fly into the eyeline of the person behind you later on.
See? Easy. It baffles me how so many people go to pieces and crash into each other in half a centimetre of slush.
(Last winter, we had to be rescued by the AA for an entirely un-snow-related reason [shock absorber collapsed over a Clapham Common speedbump]. The patrolman was telling us all about the Range Rover-driving cretins he had to rescue from the snow because they couldn’t drive up hills or get off their driveways. Honestly, if you can’t work out how to operate a Range Rover in the snow, of all things, then you shouldn’t be allowed to have one.)

But it’s not just crapness on an individual level. Britain is shit in snow, full stop. Did you see that the airports cancelled thousands of flights? The rail network was crippled? The burst water mains, the power cuts, the gridlocked motorways? This was all for one day of light snow. We should be thoroughly ashamed of ourselves. OK, we don’t have the cold weather infrastructure of, say, Norway, where it snows rather a lot and their gritting process actually, y’know, works, but it’s not like we don’t expect this. If it suddenly snowed without warning in Costa Rica or the Turks & Caicos Islands, you’d forgive them for being caught on the back foot, but this happens to us every year. And we forecast it happening. Why are we so rubbish?

The Earth is a naturally tropical planet, it’s only the fact that we’re in an ice age at the moment that means we have polar ice caps and snow and suchlike. Perhaps us Brits, eschewing the chilly Norse blood of our invaders, are closely attuned to the rhythms of the planet, and naturally reject the notion of snow as un-Earthly.

Maybe we’re just a bit thick.

Student vs. teacher rap battle

This is just brilliant - seventeen year old's teacher totally takes him to school.

Europe: extremely cold

Think it's chilly in Britain at the moment? Look how frickin' cold it is in the rest of Europe!











What's in Spock's Scanner? Episode 3

More silent brooding and sly digs from the bridge of the Enterprise.

Paper planes

Like throwing paper aeroplanes at people? The good folk at RAF Hornchurch have created a load of templates for you - just print 'em out and fold 'em up! Click here.

Beautiful bookstores

Click here for a variety of interesting bookstores from around the world.





Rick Santorum: BLR

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum invites obvious 'sanitorium' gags with a load of baffle-talk.
(More from Bad Lip Reading here.)

Stenderz

Missed EastEnders this week? Don't worry, Super Massive Raver's got you covered... click here for more.

Abandoned Ireland

One intrepid man's mission to document all of Ireland's abandoned mansions, castles, stations, farms and so forth. Click here to see - it's not just photographs, but snapshot histories of each building too. Fascinating.







Dubstep Flowers

This Valentines Day, why not give your loved one some weird bleepy noises...?

Friday, 3 February 2012

03/02/12 - Explosive bowel movements

So… baby due in t-minus 34 days (give or take), and the one phrase that’s whirling around and around in my head is ‘explosive bowel movement’.
If you read any baby book you’ll see those three magical words repeated endlessly. I’ve been searching eBay for World War II gas masks and lead aprons to protect myself from the pooey fallout; words like ‘overflow’, ‘splashback’, ‘squirting’ and ‘sticky’ don’t help either. Newborns require up to a dozen nappy changes a day – this isn’t always poo, but a lot of it is – and they don’t crap out conveniently disposable pellets either, it’s a mile-wide brown tide of gooey, milky ickyness. The textbooks say that baby poo doesn’t really smell that much to begin with, so at least you get eased in, but Jesus – twelve times a day, with most requiring some degree of advanced wiping, and some a full costume change and below-the-waist bath. Explosive bowel movement explosive bowel movement explosive bowel movement explosive bowel movement.

Perhaps I’m focusing too much on the poo? I believe there are further benefits to the creation of human life besides wiping faeces off your bathroom wall/television/face. There’s the eradication of all that pesky sleep you’ve been troubling yourself with for all these years. That money you’ve been irritating yourself by earning need bother you no more, as you kit your home out in expensive, chewable baby paraphernalia. (And then, in a year or so’s time, you’ll get to take a second job to pay for the childcare that will cost more than your rent [or just give up working entirely, on the grounds that if it’s going to cost more than you get paid to send your child to nursery, you might as well just stay at home]).

These are concerns that a lot of new parents have; I know because I’ve been reading the books. I’m not actually that worried about it all. I imagine that you fall into a routine quickly enough; if not, it can’t be that hard anyway, can it? People have been having babies for ages. The human race thrives. I’m sure we won’t cock it up too embarrassingly.
The oddest book I’ve read is by Gina Ford. Heard of her? I picture her as being a sort of cross between Mary Poppins and Gillian McKeith – read one of her books and you’ll feel as if you’ve been thoroughly told off. Her Wikipedia entry rather scathingly describes her as ‘a writer on parenting methods and a former maternity nurse, without formal qualifications, who claims to have cared for over 300 babies during her career’. She’s a polarising figure – lots of people hate her routine-based methods, saying that it’s like training animals – but the idea of routines does make a lot of sense, and I’ve spoken to a number of people who’ve used her ideas and have nothing but good things to say. (The general consensus seems to be ‘pay attention to bits of it, but don’t do it religiously because you’ll go mental and your baby will hate you. Do your own thing, but with her routine concept mixed in where you can’.) Also, I have a deep respect for her simply because she tried to take down Mumsnet in 2007 – Mumsnet, of course, being the right-wing arm of British parenting, acting as a mouthpiece for the sort of women who like to be angry about things indiscriminately, who use the thin veil of having kids and therefore having something in common to be all militant about life in general. So, Gina Ford’s books are alright in my, er, book. Even if they do make me feel like a naughty schoolboy.

The best way to quell the rising tide of pre-baby fear is to take NCT classes. NCT stands for National Childbirth Trust, and is the UK’s biggest charity for parents. Their classes teach you all kinds of stuff about labour, breastfeeding and so forth, but also reassure you that no-one else has a bloody clue what they’re doing either. The golden rule is that ‘there are no stupid questions’. This was like a red rag to my inner bull, and I’m constantly having to bite my tongue to stop myself from asking things like:
- what happens if one of us gets scared and tries to push the baby back in?
- so, you can eat the placenta… what else can you eat?
- my wife’s gone nine months without wine or soft cheese – can she have some during labour, to calm her nerves a bit?
- what if the baby doesn’t like me?
(Actually, the last one isn’t that silly, and is a question I should probably ask.)
You also get to look at lots of amusing diagrams of labour positions, birth a doll through a plastic pelvis and eat biscuits. Pretty much like your average Thursday night, then, but with a load of strangers. (Oh, and we learnt about ‘lotus birth’, which is disgusting. Google it.)
You can do baby classes on the NHS but, without wanting to sound horribly snobby about it, I wanted my wife to be meeting the sort of people she’d like to hang out with while they’re on maternity leave; NCT classes are hideously expensive, but at least they’re populated with people of a similar age and lifestyle. Because that’s the point of it, really – while you’re there to learn about kids an’ that (all of which is useful), you’re really there to stop your missus going bonkers on mat leave by introducing her to other mums that live within easy walking distance, so they can get together every now and then for support and say things like ‘yes, my baby shits in my handbag too’.

Further important research is carried out through the medium of television. I spend most of my spare time watching telly anyway, so this barely feels like work at all.
Have you seen One Born Every Minute? It’s genuinely reassuring, once you get past all the screaming and growling. The protagonists fluctuate wildly between lovable happy folk and awful, awful morons, so you get to create your own picture of where your demands fit along the scale, and also, with the stupid people, you can see that even absolute wallies can procreate without too much carnage and gore. Yes, there’s a lot of stickiness and mess and the nipper will probably come out a weird shade of purple, but it’s not as gross as you might imagine. I’m interested to see what it’s like when ours plops out.
We haven’t been watching Call The Midwife (partly because it won’t be that helpful to see how babies were delivered in the 1950s, but largely because Miranda Hart is so very, very annoying), but we have been keenly following 15 Kids and Counting on Channel 4. It’s fascinating. These are women that are just hooked on being pregnant; their massive families get through a sack of spuds every night, their family cars are Transit minibuses. Some of them seem like genuinely nice people who just have a lot of love to share, but some – and I’m going to sound a little Daily Mail here, sorry – are having child after child that they can’t afford, relying on the state to fund it. One family the other week got allocated a six-bedroom council house because they had so many children. I don’t have a free six-bedroom house. I pay annoyingly high rent to live in a little flat above a shop. Should I just give up work and devote my time to procreating? Well, at least I wouldn’t have to pay for childcare…

Sorry, I went off on a bit of a tangent there.
Yes, I think we’re pretty much ready for Junior’s arrival. We don’t know the sex but we have two shortlists of names, one pink and one blue. We’ve got stuff for him/her to wear, somewhere to sleep, stimulating black & white things to look at, a fancy pushchair, a car seat… and, of course, a cupboard stuffed full of nappies. Hundreds upon hundreds of nappies. Because I can’t stop thinking about explosive bowel movements.

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