Friday, 21 February 2014

21/02/14 - Growing Up

Realising that you’ve become a grown-up without noticing is somewhat unnerving. When I look in the mirror, I still see the teenage me; admittedly, this reflection has become somewhat squidgier and crinklier in recent years, but I don’t see a sensible person. This is perhaps misguided, given the whole being married/having a baby/doing two jobs scenario, but hey, that’s real life for you. You know that scene in Peep Show where Jeremy is panicking about having the plumber round because ‘he might realise I’m not proper’? That’s pretty much my outlook on life – it’s one long stream of charlatan acts, with the Sword of Damocles hanging over me, waiting to strike down when somebody spots that I’m just pretending to be a grown-up. I actually have no idea what being an adult entails, and it seems like everybody else knows what they’re doing, so I just keep my head down. Shhh. It’s our secret.

Still, there are signs of adulthood here. Little things that creep into reality that, when you step back and take a broader view, you realise that you’ve been doing for some time. Things that your parents did when you were a kid, and you were convinced that you’d never have any interest in. For example:

Gin & tonic
I remember the first time I tasted a gin & tonic. We were on holiday in France, and I took a sip of my mum’s drink thinking it was my glass of lemonade. I was wrong. It was not. It was, in fact, an evil beverage of unfathomable bitterness. Why on earth would anybody choose to drink such a repulsive thing?
I was flabbergasted. I questioned the validity of a number of my mother’s decisions at that point. I mean, come on – if she’s unhinged enough to drink something as godawful as that for pleasure, what else could she have been wrong about?
No, obviously it was me who was wrong. Never question your mother, she’s almost certainly right.
My teen years saw a dawning realisation of the merits of gin, largely born of that teenage necessity to get drunk on whatever’s nearby, regardless of provenance. The more you drink gin, the more you grow to like it. I’m a big fan now. It was worth persevering with it.

(These won’t all be beverage-related, these are just the first things that come to mind.)
Much like with gin, I found it hard to understand why grown-ups should wish to drink something so tongue-curlingly bitter. Sure, coffee smells delicious, but it tastes awful and makes your breath stink. What’s the point?
They were my initial thoughts, at least. I drink coffee every day now. The increasing prevalence of high street coffee chains suggests I’m not alone in this. And the fact that my bus to work in the mornings is generally full of schoolkids who’ve picked up a McCoffee on the way tells me that today’s youth have leapfrogged the ‘urgh, it’s so bitter!’ step entirely, bless ’em.

Watching the evening news
Oh, boring. Who cares about that, when there’s a repeat of Whose Line Is It Anyway on Channel 4? Why are we watching this, dad? I’m eleven, I don’t care about the AIDS crisis or an embassy siege, I want to watch Greg Proops improvising with a suggestively-shaped piece of foam.
Actually, the ten o’clock news is pretty well-timed for me these days. I watch it before I go to bed, it neatly rounds off the evening. Yes, I’m 31 and I go to bed at 10:30 on weekdays. Shut up, I’ve got a toddler.

Grocery shopping
When you’re at school, you spend the whole week counting down the hours until it’s the weekend – a time of no obligations or commitments, when you can just do what the hell you want and enjoy being young and carefree. So when a parent informs you that you’re going to spend a whole hour of your weekend at the local supermarket, your heart sinks. No, not sinks, plummets. How incredibly, mind-numbingly tedious. There is literally no joy whatsoever to be derived from tramping around a slightly cold shop when you could be climbing trees, building model kits or watching cartoons. Even the momentary amusement of putting random grocery items in the trolley is quashed by the inevitability of said items being spotted and discarded. Yawn. Grump.
…but of course, as a grown-up, you have to buy food or you’ll die. Thankfully it’s the twenty-first century, so you don’t actually have to go out into the real world and interact with the public, you can just get Ocado to bring it to your door. So that actually doesn’t feel particularly grown up at all.

Buying things with no discernible element of fun
Light bulbs. Toothpaste. Fuses. Cling film. Being an adult means you have to spend your money on things that will bring you no tangible pleasure whatsoever. Sticky plasters? Smoke alarms? Contents insurance? Growing up sucks. You can’t play with any of those things.

Buying cheap clothes, even though you don’t have to
Clothes seem pretty important when you’re a child. Part of this is down to our school uniform culture. When you have a non-uniform day, it’s like a fashion parade.
As an aside, here’s a story. Until the age of eight, I attended a tiny little primary school in Greatham, Hampshire where my dad was the headmaster. It was a fun place with a strong community spirit, and a couple of times a year we’d have something called ‘silly clothes day’, where instead of wearing your uniform (which was pretty cool in itself – the jumpers said ‘Greatham is Great’ in big red letters) you’d come to school in as silly an outfit as possible.
We moved to Herne Bay in 1990, and my new primary school was rather grittier. The first non-uniform day they had, I turned up in the silliest outfit I could cobble together. Everyone else was flaunting their Air Max and their Adidas shellsuits. I was a laughing stock. But hey, I’m largely over it now.
The point is, I grew into a bit of a trainer geek in my teenage years and, being a basketball fan, always coveted the latest Air Jordans. I knew that I’d be able to buy them one day; I kept pointlessly asking for a pair, always expecting the answer to be ‘no’, in the knowledge that when I was an adult I’d be able to buy all the Air Jordans I wanted.
I’ve still never owned any. What’s the point of paying £130 for a pair of trainers? That can pay the Sky bill for two months and still leave enough for a takeaway.

Choosing cheese over dessert

This, to a child, seems utterly barmy. You’re in a restaurant, poring over the dessert menu, torn between the banoffee pie and the chocolate fudge sundae, trying to figure out some kind of bargaining tactic so that you can get both. Your saliva glands are going into overdrive at the prospect of that sweet, sugary mass of goop that will soon be gumming your lips together and filling your belly like a sucrose football.
…and then your dad opts for the cheeseboard. Er, what the fuck? You want to eat cheese instead of having a pudding? What’s wrong with you? I’m starting to question your choices too now, dad.
Kids are dumb, aren’t they? Cheese is amazing.

Christ, it seems I really am a grown-up. That enchanted portrait in the attic is doing fuck all.

Zoomable old maps of London

Like maps? Like London? Like zooming in on streetmaps and then comparing them to maps from other centuries? Click here to roll those quite specific likes into one glorious reality.

Some goats dicking about

Action Park

Ever heard of Action Park? I hadn't. It sounds terrifying! Click here for an interesting read.

Cubestormer 3

Lego machine solves a Rubik’s cube in seconds. Staggering.

In the Dollhouse

The bleak reality of Barbie & Ken. Clicky.

Achy Breaky 2

Seriously, what the FUCK is this all about...?

Flappy Bird MMO

Like playing that annoying bird thing, and want to do it with loads of other people online? Here you go.

Climbing the Shanghai Tower

This makes my toes tingle.

1932 Winter Olympics

I'd have watched more of Sochi if it had been this dangerous.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

13/02/14 - Last-minute Valentine

Ah, Valentine’s Day. That annual shot-in-the-arm for the chocolate industry that adds a healthy pink glow to the high street. Some of you will be planning romantic weekends away. Some will have booked a table at the restaurant you took your partner to on your first date, or will have rented your favourite movie, or sorted out something more bedroom-related.
…but some of you will be reading this in a state of hair-on-fire panic, having realised that Valentine’s Day has once again crept up on you while you were busy with other things. Your loved one is at risk of feeling a little less loved when they realise that you don’t seem to give one single solitary shit about that lobe of their brain that processes romance. You heartless oaf. Do you honestly think that a bunch of cheap flowers from the petrol station will save you?

Well, actually, it might. In fact, for the less well-ordered person who wishes to make a genuine gesture but lacks the organisational skills to get something significant in the bag, your local petrol station offers many viable options. Behold:

A bunch of flowers
The sorry bunch of petrol station flowers has long been a symbol of the uncommitted. But when you think about it, does that actually matter? Your loved one will be glad to receive a bunch of flowers regardless of provenance, surely? Just make sure you peel off the Shell label, weed out the brown bits, and stick it all in a nice vase. Flowers are flowers, and it’s all in the presentation.
The thought, as they say, is what counts. OK, you didn’t put a lot of thought into it, but it’s a thought…

Some petrol
This makes perfect sense. If you’re going to the petrol station anyway, why not borrow his or her car and fill the tank up for them? It’s a reasonably expensive gift, and it’s something they’ll actually use. You’re effectively giving them the gift of mobility.
Alright, they won’t sound especially impressive to their colleagues when that annoying display of one-upmanship rears its head on Monday morning – ‘What did Dave get you for Valentine’s Day?’ ‘Er, twenty-two litres of super unleaded…’ – but it’s a damn sight better than an expensive dinner that they’ll just end up processing into faeces with their fickle, indiscriminatory bowels, right?

Some food
If your loved one is determined to use their gastric monkeyshines to process any romantic gesture that you choose to bestow upon them into brown waste matter, then you can easily indulge them. Your local rock oil emporium has got you covered.
Fortunately for you, it’s 2014. This means that any fuel outlet you visit is likely to feature what Alan Partridge would describe as ‘a mini-mart – scaled-down supermarket, fits inside a petrol station’. On any other day of the year, this is a total pain in the arse – it takes forever to pay for your fuel because there’s always some dickhead who’s decided that the Monday morning rush hour is the ideal time to do the weekly shop - but on Valentine’s Day, this food/fuel fusion will work in your favour. Begin with a bag of Haribo – everyone loves Tangfastics, and maybe you could jostle them in a bowl with some Starmix for variety? Excellent starter. Then rummage around in the fridges and see what they have in the way of Ginsters products; if you’re lucky, they’ll sell those weird objects that are a kind of pork sausage thingy coated in breadcrumbs, stuffed with coleslaw. It’s called a ‘Buffet Bar’. That’s all of the ingredients for a diverse main course rolled up in one bite-size package. And for pudding? Why, a Chocolate Orange, of course! You can make sexy chit-chat around the subject of those annoying adverts that featured Dawn French saying ‘it’s not Terry’s, it’s mine’ as the pair of you slip in and out of consciousness from a surfeit of blood sugar.

Questionable wine
You’re never going to buy a quality bottle of wine in a petrol station, that’s a given. But, perhaps surprisingly, you will almost certainly be able to get some kind of wine in there. It won’t be that expensive either.
The most important part of this, as you might imagine, is to never let your partner see the bottle. Pour the wine into a glass somewhere out of sight, then hand it to them. To mask the taste and horrible acidity, be sure to give them a strongly flavoured hors d’oeuvre first (a bag of the petrol station’s finest onion ring crisps will sort you out here, while some sour cream dip will neutralise those aggressive throat-burning acids), and then just keep changing the subject if the wine is making them grimace. Don’t worry, once they’re a few glasses in they’ll stop noticing.

‘Ironic’ magazines
A risky play, this, but worth a squirt. Grab a handful of those appalling lifestyle magazines whose covers are always emblazoned with headlines like ‘I killed my brother with a biro so that I could sleep with my aunt, who owns a pen factory’ or ‘my vagina is haunted by the ghost of my boss – and he’s still alive!’. Hand them over with a wry grin and say ‘ha ha, imagine if I was the sort of person who’d actually give you this shit for Valentine’s Day! Your real present is coming soon, you’ll see…’
That should buy you a few days. You can do something proper next week.

The till
Fuck it, if desperation really takes hold, just tell the cashier you’ve got a gun. Take all the money home and lie to your loved one about how you’ve been saving up for a holiday or something. They’ll like that.

Lego takeover

This is a wonderful promo for the Lego movie - they took over a whole ad break during Dancing on Ice, remaking all of the ads in Lego. Inspired. Look:

Floppy Music - Tainted Love

The very definition of electronic music.

Sochi firehose

This is cool - a live stream of photos from Sochi. Clicky.

Two improbable but real things

Firstly, Zombeavers. Strewth.

...and secondly, Goat Simulator. Crikey.

Guillermo del Toro’s Couch Gag

Just in case you missed this last year...


Videogames really are beautiful these days, aren't they? Click here for a gallery of astonishing digital game art.


This is infinitely scarier without the music.

That Samuel L. Jackson/Laurence Fishburne thing

Sony World Photography Awards 2014

Amazing stuff here. Be sure to click the 1280px option!

Uncle Drew

Not sure how I missed this Pepsi MAX viral. It's good though.

Friday, 7 February 2014

07/02/14 - National Anthem

My favourite part of any international football match is the singing of the national anthem at the start. Players fall into three distinct groups: firstly, there are the ones who know the words and sing heartily. There are usually only one or two doing this. David Beckham seems to know the words quite well - I expect Victoria told him to learn them in case it might lead to a knighthood. Secondly, there are the players who are too cool for school; they keep their mouths firmly shut, trying to look mean, or focused, or both. Wayne Rooney and Ashley Cole leap to mind. They’re most likely scanning the crowd for women to molest. Thirdly, there’s my favourite group – the ones who don’t know the words but assume no-one will notice if they just open and close their mouths like fish. Steven Gerrard and John Terry do this with gusto. Whether or not this ability to remember a simple sequence of words is emblematic of the players’ respective abilities on the pitch is probably something to be commented on by someone who knows what they’re talking about…

But the national anthem isn’t always used to unite and galvanise – sometimes it’s aggressively and oafishly shouted by people who clearly haven’t paid a lot of attention to the words. It’s interesting that, in just one generation, we’ve managed to hand our national anthem into the sweaty mitts of blinkered nationalists and football hooligans. (Not saying that all football fans are hooligans, or UKIP/BNP/EDL members, obviously. But you know what I mean.) That’s popular culture for you – the same goes for the Cross of St. George; in other countries it’s quite sweet to see a flag hanging in somebody’s window, in France or Italy, say, but in England you know that the people inside will be terrifying nutcases, probably with shaven heads, wifebeater vests and inexpertly-inked bulldog tattoos. National pride is sometimes hard to distinguish from nationalism, but at least we have a song to help us along the way – I guess you just have to sing it in the right way.
If you don’t know the lyrics to the national anthem, you probably don’t feel the urge to sing it that often; what this means is determined by your own views of what’s acceptable behaviour.

The anthem is an interesting concept. God Save the Queen (or ‘God Save the King’, depending on who’s on the throne at the time) is, of course, the British national anthem, and is also so for numerous other countries throughout the Commonwealth; Antigua & Barbuda, the Bahamas, Grenada, Belize, Jamaica, Barbados, St. Kitts & Nevis and Tuvalu all pay tribute to our Queen whenever they participate in international sporting tournaments, as well they should. She’s a nice lady. She looks like she enjoys a sing-song.
God Save the Queen was the first song to be used as a national anthem (although, if you want to be pedantic, Japan’s and the Netherlands’ purpose-written anthems are older, but weren’t made official until after ours, so we win), and it created a huge amount of jealousy among other nations. They wanted songs to reinforce their national identities too. Germany pinched the tune wholesale, as did Russia and Switzerland, although they’ve since displayed sufficient common sense to come up with a different tune so as not to embarrass themselves at the start of World Cup matches. Not so Lichtenstein, however, who have doggedly persevered with our tune with their own lyrics, much to the redfacedness of their soccer fans. Naturally, it just means that when they play England, they get to hear ‘God Save the Queen’ boisterously belted out twice.

There is genius in the lyrics - the second verse is a particular highlight: ‘Scatter her enemies and make them fall, confound their politics, frustrate their knavish tricks…’ - but many people are unclear as to why we need a national anthem at all. The answer is simple, and two-fold: it stops awkward silences and prevents violence. Think about when it’s sung – at sporting events, medal ceremonies, Remembrance Day services… times when otherwise people would be reduced to wringing their hands and glancing about, trying to establish if things were due to begin or end. And in the case of football matches, it gives people an excuse to band together in harmonious (well, ish) mass-taunting at a juncture which otherwise could well see them punching the shit out of the opposition. It sprinkles oil on the waters.

…but I know what you’re thinking. Lyrically-speaking, it’s not really relevant to modern British life. To crib a line from Eddie Izzard, ‘the Queen lives in a very big house, she has barbed wire outside, and people with guns in front of that. That's one saved fucking Queen’. The idea of ‘sending her victorious’ is, for the youth of today, confusing at best. So, the safest thing to do is just make up your own lyrics and sing them with gusto at the appropriate times. Don’t worry, everyone around you will be concentrating so hard on their own caterwauling that as long as you’re yelling something, no-one will notice. I won’t attempt to create a new, modern set of lyrics for the national anthem here, because it will undoubtedly be awful and something I’ll read back in a couple of years’ time and regret. But, for inspiration, let’s look across the Atlantic…
You’re probably familiar with punk jesters The Bloodhound Gang. With brilliant song titles like ‘I Wish I Was Queer So I Could Get Chicks’, ‘A Lapdance Is So Much Better When The Stripper Is Crying’ and ‘Foxtrot Uniform Charlie Kilo’, their lyrical credentials are strong. And their first attempt to musically represent a geographical area was a success. (The track ‘The Ten Coolest Things About New Jersey’ was just ten seconds of silence.)
So we can take a lesson from their idea to write the official state song for their home state, Pennsylvania. The song was called ‘Pennsylvania’. OK, the plan didn’t work, but it’s nice to think that at least some of the residents of the 2nd state have adopted it as their own – a celebration of things that are a bit disappointing. You might have to Google some of the references, but here’s how it goes:

We are Cop Rock, we are Screech, we are Z. Cavaricci
We are laser-removed Tasmanian devil tattoos

We are Third String, we are Puck, we are Special People's Club
We are the half-shirts with irreverent spring break top-ten lists

We are Munson, we are squat, we are flashing twelve o'clock
We are spread out butt-cheeks, pulled apart so just the air leaks

We are Ishtar, we are Tab, we are no right turn on red
We are the moustaches The Beatles grew when they dropped acid

You are the heart dotting ‘i’ in the word ‘apologise’
Scribbled drunk on a postcard, sent from somewhere volcanoes are
I am the heart with no name, airbrushed on the license plate
Of a Subaru that was registered in Pennsylvania

We are Zima, we are Barf, we are cinderblock yard art
We are Baldwin brothers, not the good one but the others

We are Amway, we are Shemp, we are Sir David of Brent
We are the queef after a porn star breaks the gangbang record

You are the heart dotting ‘i’ in the word ‘apologise’
Scribbled drunk on a postcard, sent from somewhere volcanoes are
I am the heart with no name, airbrushed on the license plate
Of a Subaru that was registered in Pennsylvania

Do you even know what a Wawa is?
Do you even know what a Wawa is?
I'm in a state of P fuckin' A

Something in that vein – but, y’know, more Britishy - would undoubtedly make Her Maj smile and help to contemporise the anthem for today’s youth.
The place to develop our new lyrics? Why, the terraces, of course. If there’s one thing football fans do better than anyone, it’s create inspired derision in song form. Perhaps that’s something our tattooed lager enthusiasts can get together before the World Cup kicks off…?

A Million Ways To Die In The West

So excited about this.

Google's Music Timeline

This really is very good - click here and see. It's all interactive an' that.

Cockslapping Putin's face

...figuratively. Nice work, Canada!

Filthy Valentines

Marvellous concept - comments taken from PornHub, placed on pretty Valentines cards. Clicky.

Apple Store prank

'You can send your dick pics...'

Deep Dark Fears

Some of these are more relatable than others. Clicky.

The Final Countdown + synchronised firearms

Unusual music choice. Very impressive choreography though!

AX BTG 9:55

If you're not into cars this might not mean a lot to you, but give it a whirl anyway.
This chap has lapped the Nordschleife in under ten minutes in a largely standard Citro├źn AX diesel. How? Practice and tenacity, really. Oh, and the small matter of seven years, 118 laps, 9 engines and 5 gearboxes. Blimey.

Animal impressions

Go on, see if you can identify all 52.

The Story

Did you know that The Simpsons is a semi-autobiographical concept? Here's a short film from the 1960s by Homer Groening, Matt Groening's dad, featuring Lisa and Maggie - ultimately, the inspiration that Matt took to create a group of characters based loosely on his family.