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The older I get, the more cynical I get. It is not a fact I am proud of, but it is a fact. I disbelieve just about everything the establishment and the media tell us. I am convinced that we are manipulated into being the submissive, law-abiding robots that we have become. It grieves me greatly.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Conversational Dysentery

Why sit in peaceful silence on a train when you can ruin everyone's journey with one telephone call?  Short informative calls such as 'my train is late' or 'I've left the cat in the oven' are hardly worthy of the title 'telephone call'.  Nothing less than 10 minutes of self-centred, loud drivel will do.  

It is best to avoid making these calls during the morning commute.  There will be too much competition from city gits trying to pretend they have an important job by calling a colleague and spouting cliches interspersed with their industry's vernacular.  Your call will get lost and, when it comes to irritating your fellow passengers, it's hard to compete with acronyms.  

Pick a daytime or evening train for maximum impact.  Whether you want a less populated train or a crowded evening train is a matter of personal choice.  With less passengers, you will have a smaller audience, but your voice will carry more so everyone in the carriage will hear you.  On a more crowded train you do get a bigger audience, but there is a chance that not everyone will be hanging on your every word, and your voice won't carry so far.  More people around you does also increase the chance that you may be physically assaulted by a passenger who can no longer take the crime against intelligibility that you are undoubtedly committing.  The ability to enrage your fellow passengers also definitely improves with age.  It is almost as if travellers expect teenagers to indulge in puerile conversation, but they will be far less tolerant of middle-aged callers, so the older you are, the quicker you will annoy everyone around you. 

During the call your topics of conversation are unlimited.  There is no aspect of your dull, witless life that is too trivial to be shared with your audience.  The hour you spent choosing an outfit for a friend's party - share it, and don't shy out of sharing it in a real time replay.  The interrupted sleep your had because your child had a bad dream, followed up with the time you spent before work wondering whether you should send the child to school or keep them home, needs relaying at length.  The conversation you had with your sister-in-law when your brother was out of the room which shows what a cow she is and how he really doesn't see it, requires a verbatim account to really do it justice.  Your tale about how your best friend's other friend is now really your secret best friend because your first best friend is actually a real bitch (which probably means she now has a new boyfriend and less time to listen to the minutiae that makes up your life) is a tale that has to be told.  What you and your friend think of your football team's latest signing - conversational gold.  Where you went last night should only be shared if you also include all the places you were thinking of going and all the reasons why you didn't, followed by an account of every alcoholic drink you and all your friends had and the effects it had on you.  

If you are worried that you won't have enough to say during the call, you could try a novel activity which other people have found to be useful during telephone calls, listening.  To do this successfully, you let the other person talk for a short while until something they have said reminds you of another crap detail of your dreary existence, then you jump in, talk over them and get the conversation back to you.  If this takes you a while, which it might when you first start making long telephone calls from trains, you can acknowledge what the other person is saying by repeating the same word over and over again in different tones and with different inflections.  For example 'No! (loudy and excited) ....... nooooo (disbelieving) .... no (laughing) ....... no (completely incredulous'.  

Don't be concerned that a long conversation needs a lot of words.  Nobody will think any the less of you for using filler words, train talking was made for filler words.  The most common ones are 'like', 'basically', 'literally' and 'actually'.  Working all these into one short sentence is very effective and adds extra emphasis to everything you say.  You can further enhance your turgid gibberish with filler phrases.  Again there are many in common usage if you are not up to creating your own - and the less imaginative you are, the quicker you reach the goal of annoying all other passengers.  The most common are 'know what I mean', 'you know', 'I'm not being funny right' and the timeless classics 'at the end of the day' or 'end of'.  It doesn't work so well if you use more than one of these phrases.  Your listeners will get the most out of your imparted wisdom if you stick to one and repeat it with alarming frequency.  The world record is currently held by a commuter on the 17.52 out of Cannon Street who in just one call used 'know what I mean?' 37 times.  Don't be fooled into thinking that as you have used a question you must await an answer.  Of course nobody knows what you mean. How could they when you are talking complete bollocks.  Remember that you are only using these terms to extend call times.  

By the time you are a few minutes into the call, you can judge how well you are performing by the looks on the faces of your fellow passengers.  If it is anything less than extreme irritation, you need to improve your performance.  Remember, no aspect of your day or week is too insignificant to be shared.  In comparison to the activities you are describing in that one call, an evening of acapella karaoke with Trappist monks will seem enticing.  Once you really get into your stride, you can have your fellow passengers rocking in their seats, with ears bleeding in pain, shrieking 'shut the f*ck up' within minutes.

The etiquette of how you address the person you are calling was set down years ago in the 'Manual for the Mindless'.  You are allowed to use the person's name only at the beginning of the call, after that you must use a cliched term of endearment.  It cannot be a nickname or a shortened version of the person's own name.  Common terms are 'bruv', 'babe' and 'hon'.  Again, don't fall into the trap of bringing anything idiosyncratic or unique to the call.  It's attraction is in its complete mind-numbing tedium.  

Ending the call is an art form.  If you take anything under three minutes to wind up the call, you've let yourself down, you've let the inventor of the mobile phone down, you've let the dull and the unimaginative down.  Start off by posting a teaser such as 'I'll call you later' or 'I've got to go now' to tease your audience.  When you feel that sufficient numbers of your fellow passengers have breathed sighs of desperately grateful relief, that is when you bring them crashing down with another thirty seconds of blathering, before your next 'ending the call' teaser.  Once you have done this at least four times, you may then say goodbye in a multitude of ways for at least thirty seconds before actually ending the call.   You will add an extra nuance to the irritation factor if you finish by saying 'see you in a bit' emphasising that you have just drilled your voice into your fellow passengers brains whilst calling someone you live with.  

It is very important that you plan your call according to your journey so that you are not cut off by a long tunnel or a stretch of low mobile phone coverage.  You are not going for mere verbal diarrhoea, nothing less than conversational dysentery will suffice.  If you find yourself still a long way from your destination with time and battery to spare, feel free to make another call to someone else.  The nearer it is in content to the first call, the better the impact.  

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Radio days

Last week Ipsos Mori asked me if I would keep a radio diary for a week.  I agreed readily as I love listening to the radio. 

Even agreeing to do the survey made me realise how much less I now listen to the radio.  I had bought a DAB radio, but it has proved to be a complete waste of money because it completely failed to find most radio stations.  The reception on my stereo is also poor, so I have ended up listening to radio only via the telly or in the car.  I used to listen to morning radio a lot via my phone when I had a Sony Ericsson phone, but have found reception and sound not as good on newer android phones.  There is also the issue of needing headphones to have the radio on, and I seem to lose them or break all headphone sets with alacrity. 

It was tempting to immediately go back to my old habits for the purposes of the survey, but I didn't.  Being naturally paranoid, I am worried that such a survey is being carried out by the BBC or the government as part of a move to justify cutting out many of its radio stations, so I was tempted to skew the survey by spending the week listening to as many BBC stations as possible.  However it was easier and more honest to just do what I would normally do and record that.  It has made me realise how few stations I now listen to and how I can go entire days without listening to the radio.  

I used to listen to the radio every morning.  I cannot cope with breakfast television, so much noise and primary colour that early in the day makes me feel a bit light-headed.  Breakfast television is like coffee, everyone else does it, I just don't understand why; give me radio and a cup of tea.  When I gave up on the useless DAB radio, I listened on my phone via wi-fi, or a radio app but the sound was poor and searching around every morning for a pair of headphones to plug in for the app to work drove me mad.  Yes a tidy, organised person would know exactly where the headphones were, but then I would not be me would I.  

Eventually I just gave up.  After a week of filling in the radio survey, however, I realised how much I was missing out on.  Since I was a small child, the radio had been part of my daily routine and yet at some point in the past few years, it has become a weekend luxury.

Before my brother and I got our own radios, mum was in charge of our radio listening, so we had Terry Wogan and Jimmy Young on in the day and Ed 'Stewpot' Stewart at weekends.  No Sunday was complete without the radio on whilst mum roasted a joint of meat and boiled the life, vitamins and taste out of a pan of brussell sprouts.  

When I had a transistor radio of my own, I listened to Radio 1 every evening.  No teenager today could even begin to understand the importance of the new singles chart, or the annoyance of trying to record your favourite songs on a clunky cassette player without the DJ talking over the record.  A friend used to sneak a transistor into school so we could listen to the new charts on a Tuesday lunchtime.  We actually thought sneaking a transistor radio in was a small act of rebellion.  How innocent we were!  I thought I was so trendy when I started listening to Capital Radio in the mornings.  When I was in the armed forces, we listened to BFBS and the truly world class BBC World Service.  I can remember being in the Falklands in 1991 and feeling quite emotional at the World Service announcement that Terry Waite had been released after nearly five years of being held hostage in Beirut.   

In the months before I left the RAF, I went to the Ministry of Defence for a couple of short detachments with our trade desk.  They seemed to quite like having me around and were very excited about being allowed an extra biscuit with their afternoon tea - there's not a lot to laugh about at the MoD.  We had a small radio in the office, permanently tuned to BBC Radio 4.  One day when all four of the officers were out at meetings, I very daringly decided to retune it to Capital.  When the three Wing Commanders returned, there were raised eyebrows and a few amused comments, but they let the dial stay where it was.  The Group Captain, however, nearly had a coronary when he walked through the main door and the needle was back to Radio 4 before he'd cross the room to his office.  I am not even sure he knew before that moment that there were alternative radio stations.  

I took my preference for BBC Radio 2 and Radio 4 over Radio 1 as yet another sign of middle age.  I have long abandoned Radio 1 completely except for very occasionally listening to Annie Nightingale on a weekend.  I sleep much better on weekends, so my insomnia and I unfortunately miss out on the legendary Ms Nightingale.  When I first started commuting to Brighton for work in 2008, I listened to Radio 4 in the mornings and Chris Evans Drive Time on BBC Radio 2 or the Radio 4 comedy shows on the way home.  If ever you are stuck in an evening traffic jam, I cannot recommend them highly enough.  It completely distracts you from the teeth-clenching agony that is the M25 during the rush hour.  When Chris Evans took over the BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show in 2010, I tuned in just to listen to the fabulous Moira Stuart read the news.  I had greatly missed the gravitas of such newsreaders. 

If I am working from home or just having a lazy weekend I listen to the radio all day, via digital television.  I hop around throughout the day, I can't be doing with the Archers or Jeremy Vine, but I still enjoy the Steve Wright show and the plays and books for the week on Radio 4.  If I am driving anywhere I I have the radio on all the time in the car.  For long journeys I also have BBC Radio 4's Clare in the Community on CDs, for when radio is not accessible or just starts to give me a headache.  Even when driving in France, I listen to the radio and try to improve my poor French by repeating everything the presenters say.  

I wish we had more female radio presenters in the day, particularly mornings and early evenings. I think Liza Tarbuck should have a daily slot, rather than just Saturday evenings.  I once wrote to Heart radio and complained that rather than promoting or training a young female radio presenter, they gifted a job to an ex 'Spice Girl'.  They didn't reply, unsurprisingly.  As much as I enjoyed listening to Radcliffe and Maconie in the evenings, I am pleased I was too lazy to search for their new slot on Radio 6 because otherwise I wouldn't have found out how good Jo Whiley was.  

Yesterday, I finally solved the problem of searching around every morning for headphones; I bought a small AM/FM radio for the bedroom.  It doesn't have a clock (I can't stand digital clocks in bedrooms, I hate the weird glow they cast, even if it is dimmed), nor an alarm.  You change channels and the volume by turning the dials.  Not only did I start listening to it when I woke up early this morning, but I have been carrying it round the house with me.  I can now have radio in the kitchen, the bathroom and bedroom.  To avoid replacing the morning headphone search with a hunt for the radio, I can see at least one more AM/FM radio being an essential.  Right now, with perfect timing, Terry Wogan is on the radio, playing Dolly Parton's 'Here you come again'.  My waist and dark-brown hair may be an unobtainable and long relinquished part of my past, but I won't be giving up my radio again. 

Monday, 7 September 2015

Not what I want to hear

Don't tell me about dead babies
It's not what I want to hear
I feel so sorry for that poor little mite
But they shouldn't be coming over here.

I worked hard for what I've got
No handouts for me or my kid
Owner of my own home now
Sold my council house, made a few quid

My neighbour feels just the same
Works hard, doesn't take from anyone
He's lived here for decades
In the house left to him by his mum

And there's Tim, the city banker
He is of the same mindset
Don't tell us to let more in, he says
Why should we take on more debt?

We read the right papers
The Daily Mail, The Sun and The Times
We know they get everything paid for
We know they commit all the crimes

The schools are full, the country's full
So don't tell me we can do our share
Just look at how many there are
What if there are terrorists in there?

Our health system bursts at the seams
But they can all jump the queue
Neighbour's a contractor for the NHS
So I know for a fact this is true

They've got no intention of working
The benefits system they will deceive
And I know someone who knows someone
Who knows how much immigrants receive

I do loads for charity 
Don't just look out for my own
But they can't be that hard up can they
Some even had a mobile phone

So don't tell me about dead toddlers
When there will still be thousands more
It's not what I want to hear
'Cos we just can't take any more