It was a dark, stormy night probably. Some man, peacock that he was, decided that brown was the new black. And so he wore a brown suit.
Now, in the world of suits, there are generally dark, neutral colours. Black, grey, maybe a deep blue. Brown dared to be different. Brown dared to be a few shades lighter. Brown suits were worn with brown shoes. (Occasionally black suits were worn with brown shoes also, but everybody mocked that). But the worst thing about brown suits was that nobody actually suited them.
Nonetheless people still wore them, and were immensely proud of them, despite the fact that their colleagues laughed at them behind their backs, and referred to both the wearers of these suits and the colour of the suits themselves as 'a sort of dull shit'. Because that was the view of men who wore brown suits. They thought that they were interesting because their suit made them interesting. Instead, they appeared in the same attention-grabber bracket as people who went on courses to learn their 'colour palette' so that they could mix and match their wardrobe.
[Disclaimer: This view is based on a very small but highly consistent sample.]
Many people foolishly believe that office fashion is largely a static thing. Men wear a suit and tie, and that's about it. Wrong.
There are an immense range of variations within this. Think of the pin stripe suit, the kipper tie, the great brown suit fiasco of the 1990s, and you have some idea of the range of flexibility that the suit and tie combo permits. And with anything that involves choice, there is an inevitable trend.
Shirts, for instance. Ten years ago, the choice was definitely predominantly white, with perhaps a narrow strip of colour. Any pattern would be confined to the tie. Over the nineties, this evolved, until more or less any colour of shirt was appropriate - provided it was a single colour. Ties could be used to tone, or to contrast. So a dark blue tie would be worn with a light blue shirt, or a dark blue shirt would be set with a yellow tie. This is the version still in use by those with taste.
But there are two oddities creeping in to office fashion at the moment. Neither is attractive at all. The first is the flaring of collars, to expose more of the knot of the tie. It's a look that can only really be successfully carried off if you have a narrow neck. And the second faux pas is the proliferation of checked shirts. Wide-checked shirts, that look like little more than graph paper. They don't look good on anyone. On a larger frame, they look particularly bad, clearly showing the deformation of the shirt's surface by the body underneath.
It sounds horrible. It is horrible. But twenty years ago people wore aer-tex.
He's looking, almost manically for somewhere to find a Cartier ring in Dublin. He wants two. Or at least, he wants to know how much they cost. He's not necessarily looking to buy them immediately, you understand. Or even at all. But he wants to know how much they cost because he's seriously thinking about it.
He's been putting obstacles in front of this for some time now. Financial obstacles. Wanting to get settled obstacles. Not actually seeing a ring he likes obstacles. But when he saw this one something clicked. It's not the same as the one that his partner wants, but that's cool. He likes things that don't match. He's starting to realise how serious he is.
Not a financial burden, really, but he does tend to use their house as something of a dumping ground for unwanted things. He has boxes upon boxes of - for want of a better word - junk, just sitting gathering dust in a space that his parents could be using to make their lives more comfortable. As he grows older, he accumulates more old toys in places where no old toys ought to be, and worries about his parents not being able to declutter their lives, while he edges towards a minimalist apartment himself.
And then he purchases a book called "The Life Laundry", ostensibly a joint purchase between himself and his mother. He skims through it, and leaves it in his mother's home. More junk.
Somehow, I manage to have four credit cards in three different currencies, seven bank accounts in four different currencies and three building society accounts. This is generally a complex state of affairs to be in. My goal is to cut out one of these countries, going back to five bank accounts and one credit card. Is this just silly?
The Lord Of The Rings is pants.
There, I've said it. It's not just pants, it's big pants. The most hideously over-rated book in the history of over-rating this sort of thing. And I used to love it.
So why is it so pants-y? Let's start with the plotting. It starts off quite well - slowly, but well. It moves along at a fair pace for a couple of dozen chapters, through a cycle of bad place - good place - bad place - good place, like a mystical travelogue. So far so good. That's "The Fellowship of the Ring" over. And then we get to "The Two Towers" and it all goes horribly wrong. The narrative gets fragmented and we're stuck with eleven chapters of the boring characters that we didn't really care much about in the first place. By the time we get back to the good guys, and the main plot, we've been faced with a whole load of characters that we're not really bothered about. And then we get back to the good stuff. "The Return of the King" is more of the same. Disjointed, and the King returning is really nothing to write home about. Then the main plot runs out and we're faced with an over-extended coda, where you know that the climax is past and all that remains is a descent into... well, sleep actually.
The writing. It's very patchy. It oscillates wildly between pseudo-medieval begatment and a style that's almost children's story or fairly tale. Some of the descriptions are woefully sparse, and every so often, just when you think you're getting into the stride of things, there will be a random song. A really, really bad random song. You read four lines and then skip forward three pages to the end, by which time Elbereth has Gilthonieled so much that you're sure that anyone listening to the Tolkien song would be gnawing off their legs, or listening to Leonard Nimoy on their walkman.
So why on earth do people like the thing? Why did I read it four times before the age of ten, with irritating regularity?
It's a curate's egg. The first two books are quite good, really - quite well focussed with a narrative thread that runs throughout. It's clear what's going on, and the chapters set in Moria and Lothlorien are inspired. Few of the characters in the fellowship are weak, with the obvious weakest link being Boromir.
I suspect that many people have not actually read Books three and five, so have no idea who Eomer, Eowyn, Faramir and characters of that ilk are. You can skip those books quite easily and just read the hero's journey plot, which is much more interesting and satisfying. And read chapter five of book three.
The book is frequently voted the best book of all time by "the public". It's never a critic's choice, and doesn't deserve to be. One suspects that people vote for it because it's the biggest book that they ever read, and because they blank out some of the bad bits and just focus on the good stuff. And there's plenty of good stuff in there.
Once upon a time, I attended a series of lectures by Stephen Hawking. They were, by far, the best attended lectures of my time at University, in a far larger lecture hall. More people attended these lectures than any other lectures on my course. And these lectures were definitely on my course. Honest.
The series of (I think) six lectures were distinguished by being given in two parts - there was a brief pause after about twenty-five minutes as Hawking re-loaded the next half of the lecture. In practiuce, he was using himself as little more than a glorified tape recorder. This had the side effect of allowing him to print off word-perfect lecture notes - a great boon to those of us who got completely lost five minutes in to the hour.
These lectures, with some reworking, form the basis for this book. It's a lot easier to understand when you can read it at your own pace. Mind you, if Horizon is to be believed, most of Hawking's theories are out of date by now. But I don't think that bothers him.
The death of a loved one is a fundamentally odd thing. It's stressful. It's tearful. It's full of people trying to be strong for each other. It's different every time. There are different family dynamics, different people to care for, different needs to satisfy in the days following the bereavement. But there are definite positive aspects to it. I've met - and got to know and like - a lot of Mr Twinky's family in circumstances that didn't focus on our relationship. I've become closer to Mr Twinky's sister, his aunt, his mum. The most important relationship that has been strengthened is mine and Mr Twinky's. That's the intensely crazy wonderful and above all, odd thing that has come out of this. I'm so incredibly proud of him.
Sometimes, words are not enough. Sometimes they can't pull into focus the feelings, the sensations, the enormity of life. Sometimes you fill up with thoughts of such importance that you can't begin to understand them, that they just lose focus completely and leave you obsessing, guiltily, on the trivial.
I can't find words that adequately express how I feel about Mr Twinky's father passing away, any more than I can find words that adequately describe the passing of my grandmother or my step-grandfather.
I loved him. Maybe that's all that I can say, for now.
My stalwart effort to avoid Valentine's day this year was rewarded by a card before breakfast. I will reciprocate with overpriced flowers before the day is over. I love the gesture, but I hate the commerciality of a day that should be about love.
The fact is, though, I always associate February 14th with the disappointment of growing up valentine-less. And these days I associate pretty much every day with love. I don't feel the need to commemorate it. I don't feel the need to stick my tongue out at the valentine's days of the past, where I taught myself over many years to harden my heart to the disappointment of rejection - not by individuals, but by everybody.
Valentine's day may be a conspiracy to make single people feel inadequate. So, for anyone who is single today, and is being forced to feel inadequate, remember that I love you, and that I have plenty of love to go around.
For the last few days, I've been getting up at seven, rather than half past. This has seemed fair enough to me - the sky is light enough for me to be walking to work in the light, I can tell what colour of shirt I'm pulling out of the wardrobe without turning on the light, and other such useful things. But I've been getting a lot more tired than I did last week. Perhaps it is because getting up early is stressful.
Analysis of the saliva from the half who woke earlier - before 7.21am - showed they had higher levels of cortisol, the body's main stress hormone, than those who woke later.
So tomorrow I will get up at 7.22am.
This fell out of my mind.
I was dreaming like a texan girl; Thursday afternoon and proud. I signed a name across the sky, then oh so softly spoke aloud. And this is what I said in truth, so plain and honest, sad yet sweet. "I wonder if her majesty can pick the toenails from her feet."
No sooner had I said these words than joy came dropping ever slow from people standing on the earth and yet above the earth below. The joy was rich and deepest red, and gave me warmth within my breast and I could not afford to think that I was better than your best.
And so whenever evening falls and songs slip softly from your hands and father time and sister moon transport me into other lands, I think upon the fateful day beneath the sky so rich and green, and ponder on what happened then, and still forget what might have been.
I used to write poems. I called them poems, although verse would probably be a better description; they rhymed and scanned and made vague sense if you knew what I was writing about.
Some of them were better than others. Some of them were very short. Most of them were hugely derivative. Basically, they were written quickly, often in bars as entertainment for my friends. I've not written anything along those lines for a while. I think it's due to a lack of subject matter.
Well. I should have written about this on Friday, but for some reason I decided to lounge around on the sofa and eat green curry instead. In fact, I've now almost forgotten about it, which says something.
I came out to a work colleague on Friday.
Now, that's not a big deal in itself, really. A few know already. Principally people who it was important to tell, or people like my former tenant, who is gay himself. And I told my HR department a couple of weeks ago, and bless their cotton socks, they didn't bat an eyelid. I know that these people have told some other people, with my permission. But Friday was the first time I used the words 'well, actually...' to someone I work with. Face to face. In a pub. She was slightly drunk, I was completely sober.
And - no surprises - it went very well. She was hugely apologetic, and worried that she'd made me feel awkward at any point in the past, and then she got most of the history of my love life out of me. Hopefully she'll spread gossip, because it takes a lot of effort to get up the nerve to come out to anyone who has presumed you're straight - no matter how confident you are of their reactions.
But when I walked home, I walked on air.
The picture on the left is of a young man who has no taste in sweaters. Nonetheless, he has overcome this potentially debilitating social stigma to win the chance to make huge amounts of money for a record company. And I was glued to the television for most of it.
Pop Idol had almost everything a gay man could look for in entertainment - tears, comedy, eye candy, and it was a musical! And it had a surprise ending, when the odds-on favourite narrowly lost to the young man with no taste in sweaters. But there will be more than one musical career arising out of that programme, that's for sure.
And now I have my Saturday nights free again. How will I cope?
In my search for the internet equivalent of the society papers, I have recently stumbled across the fountain of junk that is Ananova. This has only fuelled my strange desire for news about Pop Idol and Hear'Say (or 'the Uglies' as they're known in Pumpkin Villas). And today, I am shocked to discover that they've asked Victoria Beckham for her views on Pop Idol - surely some mistake? So she'd like Will to win. He seems like a nice guy... well, he certainly seems like a nice guy from where I'm sitting, but what does that have to do with anything?
She adds a comment that whoever wins might face problems in the future as Hear'Say have done. With a single winner, how can one go solo? Kind of ironic coming from a Spice Girl, really. In related news, she reveals that her husband David is trying to grow his hair back. I can just picture him, sitting with his fists clenched, WILLING it to grow back. But I think I'm just babbling now.
A slut will sleep with anyone. A slut will go out looking for sex, and find it, regardless of what self-degradation is involved. A fanny magnet will go out with their mates, looking for a good time, and will find that potential sexual partners are drawn to them. I'm pretty sure that's the distinction. A fanny magnet is therefore a much more salubrious character, and the sort of person that you're still willing to talk to despite the fact that they're getting more sex than you are - they retain some kind of aloofness from the underlying goal of shagging around.
In this case, obviously, fanny is used to refer to the female genitalia, rather than the buttock region. This may cause confusion to international people.
Another possible confusion is the the X'hibi tradition (pronounced with a glottal click, for those who care) of grafting small magnets into the genitalia of unfaithful women, so that their husbands can stick them to the fridge to ensure fidelity.
However, if I was an Englishwoman and I was on the verge of having dinner with a man who I find attractive, and with whom I have flirted on a number of occasions, I would currently be starting to get slightly fluttery round about now. Mind you, I would also be checking that I was adequately prepared for more than dinner.
Which gets me thinking. If you go on a first date, how do you know if it's worth going on a second date? Is winding up in the back of a taxi at four o'clock in the morning, fumbling ineptly with unfamiliar zippers a good sign? Or does it just mark you out as a trouser-hound, fanny-magnet, or whatever semi-derogatory, semi-jealous phrase you care to adopt? How do you know? Generally speaking, swapping phone numbers is a better sign than saying 'see you around', and getting each other's names is a definite plus.
Sex rears its rather attractive head at this point. If you don't sleep together, does it mean that you want to get to know each other better first, so that sex is a sign of definite commitment, or does it mean you don't find each other physically attractive? If you do sleep together, does it mean that all the mystery has gone, and you'll never hear from each other again? Certainly, bad sex on a first date can kill a relationship before you're too heavily emotionally invested, but what happens if the sex only seems bad to one of the two (or more, let's not be presumptious here) participants.
I used to think that I knew the answers to these questions. It turns out that I didn't have a clue, despite the fact that I knew myself pretty well. Then I had a year or so when I definitely knew what the answers were for me, and I could live confidently with my own sex vs dating agenda (a friend of mine described me as 'not a slut, more whatever the gay equivalent is for 'fanny-magnet'), and now I have no idea what I would do in a similar scenario, because I am a happily settled snuggle-bunny.
So my advice to any Englishwomen (or potential Englishwomen) is this. Ignore me. I don't have a clue what I'm talking about.
The clash of the titans. It's been called the biggest media event since Chas and Dave got married in 1981. It's bigger than Big Brother, sweatier than Temptation Island, and not a million miles removed from Opportunity Knocks. It's two days until the final of Pop Idol.
I'm not hugely ashamed to say that I watch this program with the sort of wicked fervour that its creators hoped to engender. Britain's biggest talent show to date, running for five months (although it seems longer), running through four formats and winding up on Saturday night. It's a foregone conclusion who will win, and that the attractive and charismatic hosts will bleat endlessly about how many people have phoned in to vote. But there's still a slim chance that the outsider will win, and that will be enough to keep people watching.
I'm gripped, I tell you, gripped.
Mono's Formica Blues was released a shade over four years ago. Its spiritual home is somewhere between the tag end of the 1960s and that bit of the early 1970s where waif-like girls pointed at balloons in an effort to advertise bread that made you thinner. And they were going to be the next next thing - at least in the mind of myself and the guy I was dating at the time.
And then it turns out that everyone had heard it and thought it was great. And it is absolutely sublime. Deceptively simple, and at times threatening to veer towards lounge music, and yet retaining just enough edge to make me think "Wow, haven't heard this for a while" when I heard it in the coffee shop on the way to work.
Somewhere in the last couple of years, Disney snuck out The Emperor's New Groove. They were kind of embarrassed by it, because at one point in its history it was going to be a huge sweeping drama of Aztec times called Kingdom of the Sun. There were going to be hordes of Llama sweeping majestically across the Andes, or something. And instead we have a film about a spoiled prince that turns into a llama.
Doesn't sound too inspiring, does it? I've watched it twice in three days. Why? Because it is pure, unmitigated fun. From beginning to end, with only the briefest pause for a moral in there that isn't too heavily laid on. The cast of characters are engaging, Eartha Kitt is fantastic. It's best compared to the anarchic humour of some of Warner Brothers classics, which is saying something really. Hard to believe that this is the same company that brought us the preachy Hercules, or the slightly forgettable Tarzan.
I'm buying a new computer. Top of the range. It's going to rock. It'll arrive in about a week, hopefully, and then I will get my hands on it and break it, oh yes I will.
It's only the second time I've actually bought a new computer, and I'm not sure if I'm comfortable with some of the things that I need to do. Do I still need to partition a large hard disk - and what's the best way to go about doing that? How do I best transfer all of my settings from my current hard drives to the new one? I suspect that I need... advice...
So, I will be sending out e-mails to my various support centres around the world, hoping for guidance. I expect to receive flippant comments in reply.
I have, in my hand as I type this, three coins from three different countries. They're all Euro. For those who don't know, the Euro coinage is identified by the following features.
Background filled in, moving right along.
So, as I say, Irish coins have a harp and the legend 'Eire 2002'. The Spanish coin has a picture of 'some chappie in a jacket and tie' who undoubtedly means something to the Spanish, and the caption 'Espana 2000'. Now this is slightly concerning, since the Euro wasn't around as coinage in 2000. The French have gone one better. Apart from the fact that they credit the artist for their coins in lettering that only ants can read, they don't have the name of the country on their coins. They have a woman's face, and a stylised insignia 'RF' in some font that looks like the woman on the coin is having a bad hair day. I guess that the RF stands for 'Republic de France' or quelquechose comme ca.
And the year on the French coin? 1999. A full three years before the coins entered circulation.
Next: the discovery of the first Euro, the Italian Euro dating back to 1948. Irish experts believe this may be a hoax...
I've lifted this from a comment (below) to give it the prominence it merits.
OK picture this: A certain female schoolteacher in "a Surrey comprehensive" which cannot be named for legal reasons (although I know because I work there) is currently being tried for sexual impropriety with a number of 14 and 15 year-old pupils (if you want to catch up on the story, it's all on the BBC website).
What bothers me in this story (continues puzzled of Surrey) is not the sordid little details about the way the teenagers in my classes behave out of school. No, what bothers me is that some of the little shits have managed to sell their stories to the papers for the equivalent of one half of my yearly salary. Obviously, being well underage, they are unable to sign a contract, which leaves their parents in the interesting position of effectively pimping for their kids, whilst at the same time rewarding their offsprings' drinking and casual sex. This strikes me as rather in opposition to the messages which we are all supposed to be transmitting.
What do you think? Am a right to be annoyed about this, and right to be incensed about the over-familiar and disrespectful way in which some pupils feel they may now speak to any female member of staff???
It's horrific. Absolutely appalling. On a few levels. I mean, it's not as bad as sending people nail bombs, but it highlights flaws in the British press, the British education system, and in British family values. (If you want, substitute English in the sentence preceding this).
Effectively the parents are pimping for the children. In some ways they're not doing it any more than anyone who sends their child to a stage school, or into private education, or even enters them in a 'prettiest baby' competition. But they're still pimping them. The sums of money involved are crazy. So crazy as to reduce the chances of the truth ever being told, in favour of a more sensationalist newspaper-selling headline-grabbing fiction.
Turning now to the way that some pupils feel that they may speak to any female member of staff... Firstly, it's not just female members of staff. And secondly, schoolchildren, even at the later ages, are still children. They've not been exposed to any of life's harsh realities, except at school really. They don't really understand how the world works. There will always be rebellious elements, challenging authority, pushing it as far as it can be pushed. The current trend of legislation and practice is probably acting to undermine that authority. Teachers are limited in what they can do to discipline their charges, and the children are more or less allowed to roam free, in huge packs, sweeping majestically over the plains.
But I could be wrong. It's a long time since I've been in a school in any capacity.