Thursday, September 28, 2006

There's nothing like the bond between a father and his daughter!

It wasn't until I was filling out a form this afternoon and had to write the date that I realised, "Oh, CRAP! It's my dad's birthday!"

I'd remembered at the weekend and half-heartedly thought that I should 1) text him and find out what he wants (Sidenote: He is impossible to buy for because he buys himself all the latest DVDs, CDs, gadgets and gizmos and we always end up getting him something totally lame) and 2) actually go and get him a card and a present early this week. But then what with everything that's going on in my life right now, and the problem with my leaky brain, it TOTALLY went out of my head until this afternoon.

I'm not close to my dad at all. I usually see him about once every couple of months I suppose. He's usually pretty good with our birthdays - better than he used to be anyway - but it's kind of a bit, out of sight, out of mind. He's really not a big presence in my or my brothers' lives, so it is kind of hard to remember things like this. One year we all forgot Father's Day and he didn't speak to us for about a month. Ironically, we didn't realise for about three weeks, because it isn't like he rings us all the time anyway. And in the end, after I'd asked my brothers a few times if they'd heard from him and they'd said no, I eventually rang him and found out he hadn't been talking to us.

Well, that clearly worked.

Anyway, when I realised it was 2pm and I hadn't wished him happy birthday yet, I sent a speedy text message saying I was pretty busy this week, but if he wanted to do something to celebrate to let me know and I'd see what I could do.

This is the text I got back:

Thanks for your message. Am out in Thailand
at the moment. Back in UK on Sunday.
Perhaps we can do something next week.

This is the second time I've texted him on his birthday only discover he's not even on the same continent as me! This just shows how close we are. Thanks for letting me know, Dad!

Monday, September 25, 2006


I am feeling much better. Still not so much with the sleeping, but not sick anymore, so that's a bonus.

Have you seen that website I Used To Believe? It's an amusing read. People submit the crazy things they used to believe when they were little, like believing you could grow potatoes in your ears if you didn't wash behind them properly. (Anyone else's parents tell them that? No? Just me then!)

There are lots of funny and crazy things kids believe. I think it's because when we're little, we're so much better at the whole suspension of disbelief thing. Once we get older we need proof, but before the age of, what, 11 or 12 we take most things totally at face value.

I will never forget the day the 'Smiley Gang' was spotted near my school. I must have been 9 or 10. It was just a regular day at school. My junior school was huge so each year group had their own playground. I must have been in Year 5, because I have clear memories of the discussion taking place in the Year 5 playground.

It was morning break and we were all doing our thing, as kids do. The boys were living up to the stereotypical "jumpers-for-goalposts" scenario, with the goalie playing monkey rush because there were only 3 or 4 on each team, and us girls were dotted around in twos or threes walking and talking hand in hand, or playing clapping games, feeding into another cliche. I was with my friend who for this purpose I shall call Hannah.

Hannah and I were walking the perimeter of the playground, trying to avoid the stray footballs that resulted from the boys' poor aim. The twins came up to us looking scared. We asked them what was wrong.

"Have you heard of the Smiley Gang?" Asked twin number one.

"No," Hannah and I whispered, desperate and yet deathly afraid to hear more. The nature of this particular gang suggested by their name was not backed up by the tone of twin number one's voice.

"They're this gang that drives around in this blue van," said twin number two. "They wait around for kids and then if they catch you they get a knife and make tiny little cuts in the corners of your mouth. Then they put acid on it."

"Acid? On the cuts?" I was horrified.

"Yeah, but that's not the worst of it," said twin number one, relishing the moment. "Then they punch you in the stomach and it makes your face rip right along the cuts. That's why they're called the Smiley Gang, 'cause they give you this big huge smile for the rest of your life."

Hannah and I were frozen to the spot at the very thought. "Why are you telling us about them?" Hannah whispered, dreading the response.

"Charlee saw a blue van on her way to school this morning," said twin number one. "That means they're around."

Hannah and I glanced around at the alleyway that ran adjacent to the playground on one side and the woodlands that sprawled for miles behind us. If you visit my old school now the woodlands is all fenced off, but in the early nineties the world was obviously still considered safe enough to allow children to play near the woods with minimal risk. We were not allowed to play in them, but of course we did, never straying far from the school, but daring each other to jump back and forth across the tiny stream that marked the boundary of the woods and the school.

Suddenly the woods that held so many happy memories seemed full of danger, evil positively resonating from the very trees.

The whistle blew and we lined up for class, but how much work we actually got done, who can say? The classroom buzzed with talk of the Smiley Gang. Suddenly more sightings were coming out of the woodwork. Things that had seemed innocuous hours earlier suddenly reinforced Charlee's story. Someone had seen smiley face stickers stuck on trees and the fence all down one side of the alleyway. That was the Smiley Gang's symbol, their way of marking their territory - territory in which they would hunt little children in order to give them a permanent 'smile'.

Lunchtime came verging on hysteria. Suddenly kids were seeing clues everywhere. No one from any of the six Year 5 classes would pass an imaginary line that would place them too close to the woods. Hannah and I hung out as close to the woods as we could stand, whispering to each other, on the verge of tears from fear, but compelled to look out for clues or sightings.

Lunchtime passed without incident. No children were discovered hideously disfigured. After a few days the rumours died down and we got used to playing close to and even in the woods again. But it was a long time before I really believed that the whole incident was make believe, based on rumours and urban myths.

For children, the monster under the bed is real. The vampire outside the window exists. The sadistic gang of villains is truly parked a block away from their school.

Despite how scared I used to be of even getting out of bed in the middle of the night, part of me is nostalgic for that time, when my whole world was dependent on the heights and depths of my imagination.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The politics of friendship

My friends are nagging me to go out with them tomorrow night. Now, don't get me wrong, I love my friends and love spending time with them, but there are two major flaws in their plan.

First of all, I am broke. Seriously broke. They have offered to lend me money, but it's a bit dodgy borrowing from friends isn't it? Plus, I am a nightmare for impulse buying and spending beyond my means and it's about time I had a word with myself and only spent money I actually have. (It's gonna be tough, but I'm gonna try!)

Secondly, the are going to a town near me, that I wasn't going to name, until I realised that I've tagged my two nearest train stations at London Bloggers so my location is hardly a secret. Even less so now that I've just announced to the Internet where they can discover my nearest two if you'd want to anyway.

Okay, that was a bit of a crazy run on sentence wasn't it? I'll try to do better.

Anyway, so my friends are planning on going to Bromley. Ugh. Why? Why? Why? Would anyone want to go to Bromley on a Friday night? Bromley is the nearest town to us with anything vaguely resembling a club, although in this instance these premises are best referred to as "the fiery meat markets of Hell". The only reasonable alternative for a night out beyond sitting in a pub (which, by the way, I'm more than amenable to, pubs are good, if not too smoky!) is London, which, although it isn't far, does tend to cost the gross domestic product of a small country if you want a good night out.

Not improving much with the run on sentences. And I allege to be good at English. Pah!

So yeah, I love dancing. A good night out dancing is one of my favourite things. But I don't do it often because London is expensive and Bromley.....O Bromley, why must you be so wretched?

Maybe it's because I'm getting old now (or older at least), but Bromley on a Friday night just does not hold the appeal it used to. I don't know if I've changed or if it has. It's possibly a little bit of both. But these are some of the thrills you can look forward to on a night out in Bromley:
  • Being groped, fondled or otherwise inappropriately touched on several many occasions
  • Breathing air composed entirely of cigarette smoke and evaporated sweat
  • Being surrounded by 14 year old girls in boob tubes and skirts that show their buttocks
  • Being surrounded by chavs, as this is what the majority of the population of Bromley is comprised of
  • Having at least one person drunkenly fall on you
  • Wondering what would happen if someone committed a crime somewhere other than the High Street as the entire Metropolitan Police force of Bromley gathers to deal with the drunken fights.
  • Having overpriced, greasy kebab-shop wares flung at you for no reason (yes this actually happened to me once)

Understandably I really have no desire to go, but I don't want to offend my friends or have them think that I look down on their choice of venue. If they want to go, they are welcome to and I won't judge them for it. I just don't have the temperament to stand it without getting irritated. I hope they can appreciate my feelings and not think I'm weird for preferring to spend my Friday night alone in front of the telly, than amongst drunken idiots (other patrons, not my friends - haha).

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I am the lizard queen! *

* First person to correctly identify the quote in the title wins a year's supply of Cillit Bang. Why Cillit Bang? Because it is funny. At least, it is funny to me in my sleep deprived delirium.

It is possible, perhaps, that I am a little off the planet, having amassed an impressive 1 and a half hours sleep last night (or really it should be this morning as I drifted off around 9). Actually, it may be 2 hours if you include the half hour I snoozed the alarm. Which I don't. Because really, sleep that only lasts 10 minutes without interruption is really not worth counting.

So I got up at around 10:50 this morning. Mostly because I had a training meeting to get to this afternoon, but also because this whole being awake all night thing? Yeah, it's wearing a little thin.

So I crawled out of bed, bleary eyed and requiring vast amounts of caffeine and managed to make myself look semi-presentable (if you ignored the suitcases under my eyes that concealer just would not, like, conceal!). I walked down the road to the bus stop because due to complicated travel arrangements I had to meet a friend of mine in the next town, where she would have her car and then she would drive me, and others to and from the meeting, dropping me home afterwards.

I hate the bus. The bus sucks. But at least I got to chill out with my iPod and try not to fall asleep to the gentle roaring of the engine (which I decided to sit above, smart move). The worst thing about the bus, though, is the old people, who get on in their droves and then proceed to give me the dirtiest looks ever because I haven't given up my seat for them, even though there are like, 5 other empty seats all around!! At one point I looked up and they all seemed to be really scowling at me and I was all like What, my iPod is NOT that loud! But afterwards I looked at my phone and saw I had a missed call and realised that was probably what the evil eye was all about. At least when my friend calls me my phone plays 'Get Happy', which they should appreciate, it being an oldie and all, and not some crazy techno hiphop concoction that exists solely of swearing and sexual references, like the phones of most teenagers seem to these days.

(OMG I'm getting old!)

More disturbing than the assortment of moody old biddies on the bus, however, was the old guy jogging down the road. He wore nothing but a pair of fetching blue shorts, ensuring all who saw him got a perfect view of his saggy, jiggling man boobs. I think I just threw up a little in my mouth.

The training meeting was good. It's training for a charity I sometimes work for as a volunteer, who do assemblies and RE lessons in Primary schools. We were discussing the things that influence today's children - good and bad - and how this affects our work within schools. It was a fascinating discussion that brought up some interesting points of view, but the highlight for me was my friend's story about her little boy.

We were talking about the pressure children have to face these days that wasn't so prevalent before the National Curriculum, such as the fact that 7-year-olds have to take SATs. Her son has just gone into Year 2 (the first SATs year) and his teacher sounds like a bit of an ogre who is convinced she can make her whole class achieve level 3s (what the average 9-year-old achieves). A lot of the children in Dan's class have felt the pressure and there have been a lot of tears by the school gates in the morning. Apparently Dan was praying the other night, before he went to bed and said, "Dear God, Please give me a sore throat so I don't have to go to school tomorrow."

My friend said she was so shocked by his ability to think this through that she just went, "Errrr, amen!"

Kids say the funniest things!

Well, I'm off to wallow in my sleep-deprived delirium some more. Hopefully I will actually sleep tonight!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Oh that's so much Beta

Conversation between me and a 13-year-old girl:

Her: Have you got that new MSN Beta?
Me: No. And it's pronounced BAY-TAH.
Her: Oh, I thought it was 'better' like when you text and you're like, "r u feelin beta now".
Me: No, it's not better it's beta. It's the second letter of the Greek alphabet.
Her: Oh right. I thought it was called Beta cos it's, like, better.

It was an amusing discussion at the time. And now, woooo, I've upgraded to Blogger Beta. Note to self: Beta DOES NOT mean 'better'. ARGH!!!

Does anyone actually understand XLS or whatever. I tried to put HTML tags in there and it was all "Erm, excuse me, but what do you think you are doing, sullying our beautiful XLS with your cheap and basic HTML."

So I was all like, "But I don't understand XLS. *sob* My knowledge of HTML is basic enough, dating back to when I made that David Duchovny fan site (that totally rocked) when I was 16. That was like, 9 YEARS AGO, people."

"Well your rudimentary HTML is not welcome here, please use our drag and drop layout editor instead. Even you can use that without too much trouble."

Well yah boo sucks to you Blogger Beta. You are annoying. And I will find a techie XLS-knowledgeable friend to help me too. Until then, my header will look a bit crap. Sorry people.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Commercial Breakdown

Since childhood I’ve always loved adverts. I would demonstrate a wider knowledge of TV commercials than the programmes they dissected. My grandad was in the industry, owning his own advertising partnership, so maybe this influenced my televison viewing, but I never nurtured an interest in entering the industry myself. I don't think I really have the creativity for it anyway. I am creative, but not in that way.

I like ads – good ads anyway. I like the way they can influence our thinking and persuade us of things we might never have thought.

On holiday a few weeks ago I was complaining about the current Skechers advert, a ‘Real World’ type set up where one housemate steals another’s Skechers and then accidentally damages them by leaving them too close to the water’s edge whilst making out with his girlfriend on the beach. It’s simply irritating – badly acted and pointless. A friend of mine questioned my complaint. “But you remember it though?”

“Yes, but it’s annoying.”

“But if you remember it, then it achieved its purpose.”

But I disagree. I may remember the advert, and personally, I am a fan of Skechers anyway, but even though I remember it, it DOES NOT make me want to buy a pair. It makes me want to poke toothpicks under the fingernails of the ‘actors’ in order to teach them a lesson about the pain their bad acting causes the general public.

The best adverts are not only memorable, but memorably GOOD. I can still recall with warmth the Milky Way advert that featured the cartoon and the little song about how “the red car and the blue car had a race.” And how old was I then? 10? But wasn't it great? I remain convinced that Milky Ways are far superior as an in-between-meals-snack choice than all that scrap metal the red car ate!

There are some abysmal adverts out now, such as the aforementioned Skechers one, but there are also some that I really love. Good adverts can be like mini-treats between TV shows, as interesting, exciting or amusing as any full-length programme. At the moment I’m loving the Quinn’s advert. Funnily enough, I’m not too bothered about sampling the product itself, but let’s face it, at the end of the day it is just another alco-pop. But the commercial itself is a pleasure to watch, particularly the longer version you get at the cinema. The poem and the graphics of the plants coming alive are beautifully Lewis Carroll-like, which I love, by the way, and the gravelly-voiced American woman who reads the words is an absolute pleasure to listen to – her voice has the kind of timbre that sends shivers down the spine. I could watch it over and over again, captured by the fairy-world hidden deep in the undergrowth where this product ‘grows’.

Another fantastic advert right now is the Mint credit card one. The Mint adverts have always been good, but the current ones are brilliant. Apparently for every clever thing that happens in the world, a very stupid one must happen to balance it out. So on one side of the world we see a man opening an envelope containing his new Mint card, offering 0% on purchases blah blah blah. So conversely, on the other side of the world, a woman is cleaning her patio doors and she walks up to the next window, leans forward to wipe it and falls through the open door. The first time I saw it I laughed out loud.

I'm wary of credit cards because I have one and it's mostly maxed out although I try to save it for emergencies (emergencies being, OMG I need that pair of shoes from that website and they don't accept Maestro), but if I was getting a credit card, I'd so get a Mint one. Or an Egg one 'cause those guinea pigs? Hilarious!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Water palaver

I am now in the last few weeks before I get the first installment of my student loan for this school year, so I'm sure you can imagine the current state of my finances. That's right, they are redder than Ronald McDonald's hair.

So imagine my dismay when I discover Thames Water have upped my monthly water bill from £17 to £47. Honestly, forty-seven pounds! So I rang them up to query this insane amount of inflation and was informed that as they bill from an estimate, it appears they underestimated my water usage from last year and so are billing me to make up the difference. But that increase seems ridiculously high. The woman I was speaking to asked me how many people live at my residence and I informed her, "Uh, just me."

Even she was shocked that one person could apparently use £47 worth of water every month. I swear I don't know how they could have come up with that estimate. I'm rubbish with washing and I always leave it festering in the laundry basket for AGES before seriously overloading my poor washing machine.

Well, she agreed to lower it to £30 a month for me (thanks so much!) and basically if at the end of the year when they actually check the meter I've paid way too much, they'll knock it off my monthly bills from next year. Great!

Until then I have to fork out £30 each month when I'm a poor, penniless student. This whole grown-up, independent, financial responsibility malarkey sucks!