Notepad on Life

November 1, 2018

Buses and the new emasculation

Filed under: Motoring — - @ 12:16 pm
Tags: ,
bus cable car city downtown

Photo by Dom J on

For years, suggesting the merest hint of effeminacy was enough to light the alpha male’s blue touch-paper.

Poke fun at the amount of time he likes to spend in the kitchen, or the delight he seems to take in shopping trips with his wife, and you’d see smoke start to emerge from his ears. Cast doubt on his prowess in the bedroom department and you’d have to be sure you ran faster than he could.

Nowadays, however, culinary prowess and romantic empathy are the hallmarks of New Man, and gals just love any kind of vulnerability. Times change and so does the world. Leaving just one remaining affront to manhood that cannot be countenanced.

Being stuck behind a bus.

As a bus commuter, it’s the only explanation I can find for the number of astonishing suicide runs I witness daily, as yet another car owner plays Russian roulette with oncoming traffic in his desperation not to be stuck behind a bus.

It’s like Chicken for grown-ups: the bus, indicator blinking, can be clearly edging away from a stop and yet still they come; insistent, come what may, that they will not be at the back of the bus. As with NASCAR, the Big One is not a matter of if, but when.

What is this madness? Your penis contracts one half-inch for every quarter-mile you spend behind public transport; is that it? King of the Road is a song, you prat; not an entitlement.

I’m not one of life’s natural New Men. I visit the kitchen as often as I visit certain relatives and I’ve never felt entirely comfortable wearing pink, but I’m sensing an opportunity to make up lost ground.

A simple bumper sticker; I’m comfortable behind buses. Yeah, I’m down with that.


October 18, 2018

Slow burner – the next great small business idea

Filed under: Advertising,business,Consumer,Nostalgia,Tobacco — - @ 7:55 pm

WP_20181015_00_20_07_ProNotice anything unusual about the pipe tobacco I recently purchased?

Correct. All those in-your-face Smoking Kills stickers on the tin. Gone.

Call me anal, OCD, borderline autistic, whatever you want. Some folk eat a Mars bar from the outside in, nibbling away the chocolate layer before setting about its contents; I pick away at health warnings on tobacco packaging. Because I miss the pretty colours and because I object to being preached at.

I’m a university graduate. I’ve lived almost six decades. I don’t need it spelt out to me that smoking is harmful, as if I’ve just enrolled at infant school. I realised that 30 years ago, when I briefly dallied with cigarettes and more regularly with cigars and a pipe.

I could see the pleasure involved but I also recognised that over-indulgence was a bad idea. So I’ve never inhaled, quickly abandoned ciggies, and happily resigned myself to smoking solely outdoors, once we had children.

As a result, I might smoke a pipe a dozen times a year; a cigar twice a year if I’m lucky. Not only do I appreciate the experience so much more precisely because of that rarity, but it’s also as likely to kill me as a runaway bus. And ultimately, something has got to kill me.

Risk and reward, carefully weighed up, despite the most calculating artifice of the advertising industry pre-2003. It’s what intelligent people do.

So spare me your block capitals and your lung cancer photographs, Nanny State. Spare me those joyless grey metallic doors – metaphor for so much of the newly-sanitised British mindset – behind which tobacco must now be primly shuttered away in our shops, as if we are all prize buffoons who need protecting from ourselves by those unfailingly wise governments with which we’re blessed.

Though it could make your eyes throb after a day at a British Grand Prix meeting, I miss Marlboro’s fluorescent red, and the avant garde gold of Marlboro Lites. I miss the heraldic grandeur of Rothmans, the winged helmet of Gauloise or the dancing lady of Gitanes. Anyone who can make a playboy out of a camel deserves better than to have his art lost in the dark of a corner-shop cupboard.

And when I buy pipe tobacco, I want to be similarly wooed, in a gentler fashion, with enticing names and graceful fonts. What I don’t want are pictures of bleeding gums, or apocalyptic warnings about impotence, in 72-point lettering.

I don’t need you, Big Government. I’ve worked all the downside out for myself, what with having more than half a brain. Your concern is touching but your bombast is ugly and intrusive, and given the attack of the vapours you’d get, were we all to give up smoking and tobacco’s tax revenues vanished overnight, you can spare me the cant while you’re at it.

Exasperation, however, can be the mother of invention. I’m envisaging a niche business that familiarises itself with the illustrations and colours found on old-school tobacco packaging, and re-creates them in the form of adhesive labels that can be peeled from a backing strip and applied to modern tins or boxes of tobacco products, neatly covering up all those ghastly health warnings. The private citizen buys a favourite brand, decides he’d rather look at pleasing graphic design than the strident manifestations of statism, when he beholds his cigar box or fag packet, and sends off to our fledgling business for a strip of brand-appropriate labels.

Downside? If such a business isn’t already illegal it may well become so. As the vaping debate has shown us, the anti-smoking lobby doesn’t like being out-smarted. Once any form of sanctimony gets the bit between its teeth, it takes most of the Royal Engineers to extricate it, so if you like the sound of my suggestion, you’d also better like a fight.

But that and copyright issues aside (and as we’re making their packets look nicer, how much pushback should we expect on the latter?) don’t be surprised if the potential market is bigger than you might think. Pretty colours and a little vive la resistance is an alluring combination.

October 16, 2018

Fake news – theory and practice

Filed under: Journalism — - @ 12:30 pm
Tags: , ,
girl reading a newspaper

Photo by Kaboompics .com on

Did anyone at Press Gazette notice the irony, I wonder, when they published a plea to combat fake news virtually side by side with a remarkable story on how Woman’s Own magazine goes about its business?

On the one hand, there is the BBC Director-General, Lord Tony Hall, delivering a lecture on how the media must assert itself as being above fake news.

Mentioning the “F-word” – “fake news” – Lord Hall called on journalists to do everything they can “to combat the suggestion that we peddle fake news”, including double-checking sources.

He said: “Every publisher and every journalist has made mistakes but, in an age when any mistake is portrayed as evidence of an intention to mislead, we must re-double our efforts to get it right first time – and be open and generous about it if we get things wrong.”

And then there is Woman’s Own, getting the festive season under way particularly early by reportedly handing actor Denise Welch a libel suit on a silver platter.

Luckily for them, it seems not to have come to that, with the title’s idea of ‘best practice’ revealed after Welch complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, prompting a humiliating apology from the publication.

Contrary to their claims, following a tip-off from a source, Welch had made no unreasonable or ‘Diva’ type demands regarding a return to Loose Women, the magazine conceded. Nor had she made any demands regarding contracts, increased payments, other celebrity guests, airtime or studio lighting. Any suggestion that the Loose Women producers did not want her back was also incorrect.

But they spelt her name right; which was nice.

Compounding the magazine’s woefulness was a quite astounding confession about their idea of journalism’s ‘hard yards’…

“The publication added that it had not considered it necessary to contact Welch given that the source had been reliable in the past.”

Are you kidding me? I don’t care if your source consists of stone tablets handed down at Mount Sinai; every fresh allegation against someone requires the absolute minimum of you trying to get hold of that person for his or her side of the story. If you can’t reach them, then your article says so. On a Journalism 101 checklist, this comes just below which end of a pen you should hold.

From the magazine’s amazing arrogance in resisting suggestions that its apology should be referenced on the cover (it’s okay for them to interfere with people’s reputations, apparently, but not for the victims of their untruths to interfere with Woman’s Own‘s precious front page) we can probably assume that it simply regards this episode as an occupational hazard, rather than a sizeable clue that some people could use a career change.

Press standards organisations, sadly, won’t change that. Irate celebrities won’t change that. Women who pause to consider how much empty fiction they are prepared to pay good money for each week, on the other hand: they could change that. If enough of them really wanted to.

September 28, 2018

To university freshers everywhere (or, ‘We Must Have Done Something Right’)

Filed under: Education,Family — - @ 12:30 pm
Tags: , ,

people-woman-coffee-meeting.jpgSometimes, Older Son makes my wife and me tear our hair out. On other occasions, his wisdom and sensitivity make us wonder what the hell he’s thinking about all those other times.

Found recently on his Facebook page…

“I don’t know much about the world, I do have a bit of advice for you uni hopefuls, though. From a little personal experience:

University is not the be-all and end-all of life. There are both amazing and harrowing experiences to be had in every aspect of it; the outcomes of which are often not up to you. It can lead you on to great things, of course. It can also wear you down and create the most intimidating stressful situations that leave you sick with worry.

If you work hard and enjoy the good times, you have every potential to do well. If you feel in your heart that you don’t belong there, it’s not the end of the world. No amount of pressure from others should keep you there if, like me, it’s doing more harm to you than good.

Some of the worlds funniest, most intelligent, interesting and inspirational people flunked or quit. Don’t be afraid to do what’s right for you, rather than what pushy relatives or unrealistic social expectations demand – as long as you work hard either way.

I still work in a pub though, so take this with a pinch of salt.”

September 26, 2018

Can we please stop humanising cancer?

Filed under: Health — - @ 12:24 pm
Tags: ,
adult biology chemical chemist

Photo by Pixabay on

I waited a while with this one, for obvious reasons, but now that almost two months have elapsed since the sad death of golfer Jarrod Lyle, there was one jarring note to its aftermath.

You may share my view that so touching a final Tweet from his wife, referring to her husband and their daughters, deserved a better ending than “#fuckcancer” but it’s the thinking behind the profanity that intrigues me.

I’m sure few of us in the 21st century would waste time howling at the moon during periods of adversity, so why formalise invective towards cancer? Do we hope to shame it into desisting from its nefarious deeds or simply to shock it so much with our abruptness that it stops in its tracks?

I only ask because, hard on the heels of recent ad campaigns, assuring us that it’s payback time and we’re coming to get you, the latest step in our battle against this dreadful illness seems to be to present cancer as the ‘baddie’; a malevolent thug whose time is up.

In which case we must pray that those seeking a cure aren’t losing the fight the way their bankrollers seem to be losing the plot.

Cancer is not an enemy agent. It has no soul, no conscience, no persona. It is simply malfunctioning cells. You might as well say #fuckmywobblytable for all the good it will do.

I find it remarkable that the same Society that frequently considers itself too smart to believe in God, is trying to get its head around cancer by turning it into a pantomime villain.

September 25, 2018

You know your company’s feeling the pinch when…

Filed under: business,Celebration — - @ 12:30 pm
Tags: ,

…what was once a swanky awards night at a high-end hotel has become a three-man team doling out spot-prizes during the working day – one of them handing over the trophy and a balloon, the second firing a glitter gun at the recipient, while the third plays Congratulations on an iPad.

Now, where did I put my cv again…?

September 18, 2018

Overheard on the bus – men’s men, 2018-style

Filed under: Culture,Men — - @ 12:00 pm
Tags: ,
adult chill computer connection

Photo by on

They board at the stop after mine, in the business park. Both are in their late twenties, early thirties. Both have established beards to the point where one of them could pass for an Amish on a gap year.

When one starts talking to the other, I instinctively assume he is referring to their employer’s mainframe or telephone system.

“They’ve overhauled the entire system,” he explains, “should you wish to swing through New York City as Spiderman, you can now do so effortlessly and with complete pizzazz…”

He retains a straight face for the entire sentence.

My relief at having no daughters who could one day bring home men such as these, is profound.

September 11, 2018

Harvest moonshine at the Church of England

Filed under: Church — - @ 12:00 pm
agriculture basket beets bokeh

Photo by Pixabay on

We did something remarkable at our church on Sunday. Had a harvest festival with no harvest. No loaves, no fruit; not so much as a tin of beans on a window ledge.

It seems our clergy have been having a re-think. One of them spent his entire sermon trying to sell it to us.

Now, advancing years be damned – I can accept evolution. The harvest isn’t the landmark occasion it was 150 years ago. Mechanisation lulls all of us into thinking that this stuff just happens and food arrives on our table by magic. Gone are the days when I expect to walk into church one September morning and see wheat sheaves piled up everywhere.

All it needed on Sunday was a single table, visible to all as we approached the altar for communion, piled up with food, tinned and fresh, all of it designated for the food bank or other good home once the service was over.

A simple visual prod that would see most of us through for another year, as it always has. No, this does not appear by magic. Yes, we are luckier than we know. So no, we will not waste food in the coming 12 months. We will clear our plates. We will count our blessings.

If you’re going to change all that, it has to involve metamorphosis into something better, more relevant, not just some U-turn up a cassocked rear end. Apparently, this year’s harvest festival, we were to regard as a ‘harvest of hearts’. Write three personal qualities for which we’re thankful and which we can use for the good of others, we were asked, on a paper heart, which was to be stuck to a naff cardboard wall as we headed for the altar.

I declined. This is my life from now on, I suspect: a series of small ‘up yours’ protests that might be noticeable only to me but which nevertheless make me feel rather better than the nonsense I’m protesting.

I could take the hard line and assume that someone’s vicar just couldn’t be bothered this year, but that would be harsh. He seems hard-working enough to be above that.

No, more likely is that weakness to which too many Anglican clergy are prone. Replace something tangible with an abstract nebula like ‘harvest of hearts’ and they just can’t resist. Something woolly and vague that they can talk about endlessly, from all sorts of tangents, because none of it’s real, so none of it really matters.

It might make them feel lovely inside but its capacity for putting bums on seats, I suspect, is rather more limited.

Related: An opportunity missed, Church of England

August 22, 2018

Idris Elba as Bond is a non-debate

Filed under: Cinema,race — - @ 12:00 pm
Tags: ,



Pic courtesy of Athena LeTrelle

Huff and puff all you like, Katie Hopkins: I’m as opposed to tokenism as you are but the suggestion that Idris Elba (pictured) as James Bond would be a social crowbar job just doesn’t stack up, for two reasons.

One. Bond is said to have been educated at Eton College and Fettes College. If you can prove that both institutions continue to host a purely caucasian student intake, you could have a case, but I suspect you may be struggling. And while Sandhurst was part of his creator’s life, Bond himself hailed from the Royal Naval Reserve.

Two. Still the greatest Bond in some eyes, I don’t recall Sean Connery projecting the air of an upper-class toff. Roger Moore, undoubtedly, but not Connery. The latter was an ‘everyman’ Bond, albeit one with – to borrow from another movie franchise – a very particular set of skills.

If you want to raise an eyebrow at black faces cropping up as mediaeval English peasants in recent TV portrayals of Robin Hood, or at Beverley Knight playing  Emmeline Pankhurst, you would at least have logic on your side. Personally, as British history is still predominantly white for the time being, I can understand an argument that we suspend reality a little – as we do with principal boys in pantomime – so as to give non-white actors a foothold in historical drama, but regarding Elba the argument doesn’t even get to that point.

Like any other film franchise, Bond evolves, partly to mirror changing times, and the suggestion that Society has evolved to the stage where a gifted non-white could emerge from the top end of Britain’s educational system is beyond contention.

The more I’ve seen of Elba, his poise and sheer presence, the bigger the words ‘Future Bond’ become in my head, and I take heart at news that the director’s post is up for grabs. Hopefully, they’ll hire Spike Lee and we can end this hollow and vaguely sinister debate once and for all.


August 20, 2018

Oscar right to split ‘Best Film’ vote

Filed under: Cinema — - @ 12:00 pm

I have mixed feelings about the Academy Awards’ decision to carve up the definition of ‘best’ when it comes to the Oscar for Best Picture, introducing a new Best Popular Film category.

On the one hand, you can catch the all-must-have-prizes whiff even from this side of the Atlantic. Studios presumably aren’t happy when their blockbuster cash cow loses out to something more ‘worthy’ or highbrow, so a little heat looks like it’s been applied, to get them an Oscar of their own. Seasoned followers of European football will recognise the signs.

But at the same time, I recognise the dichotomy prompting this tweak. ‘Best’ is indeed a multi-faceted word and it seems there’s a template for films that would be Best Picture – social justice, film-of-the-book, history, or high drama – that leaves one genre for dead.

That an out-and-out comedy won Best Picture three times in Oscar’s first 15 years, twice in the next 30 years and just twice more in the 45 years after that, may point to a Society that insists on taking itself more seriously than is warranted. We can all imagine a life without high drama or sociological anguish but try imagining one without laughter. The Best Picture imbalance is hardly reflective.

So upon further review, I’m all for the new category, if it means that comedy  of such inventiveness and nuance that it reveals something new no matter how often you watch it, finally stands a chance of being acknowledged at the highest level, and not merely in some dead-end current affairs blog.

For the Best Picture of 2003, by a country mile, was this one. And all you away-with-the-fairies Tolkeinistas can bite me…


Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: