Category Archives: Rants

Why does it have to be like this, Mr Fly?

It’s early, and I’m awake. Such unusual occurrences invariably have causes, and as I stare fuzzily around my room, the reason for my unhappy predicament slowly becomes clear to me. There is a faint buzzing noise coming from over there, somewhere by the curtain. An intruder, of the flying kind.

All thought of sleep is quickly forgotten. In a trice I’m on my feet. My family are prepared for these eventualities. We are in the possession of all manner of fly killing machinery (what honest household is not?) including several spray cans of RAID and a heavy duty fly swat for the more hands on assassin, but the equipment is all the way downstairs and I am not inclined to make the journey in my current state. In hindsight, of course, that would have been the sensible thing to do…

So I seize the book from my bedside table. It’s a big one, the kind with pictures. Perfect for the task at hand.

The intruder is wandering around the top of my bookshelf. I spot him lurking in between a couple of Enid Blyton books I can’t bring myself to throw away. My eyes narrow. It’s far too early for subtlety and so I hurl myself into the fray with reckless abandon, bearing down upon my foe and screaming with the thrill of battle.

My enemy takes to flight immediately. The chance for surprise lost, we become locked in a deadly struggle. For several minutes I pursue him violently about my room, swinging my book this way and that as I attempt to dislodge him from the air.

He dodges all of my flailings with contemptuous ease.  I tire of the conflict before he does. Mid-swipe, the book falls through my sweaty hands. My foe returns to his perch on my bookshelf, wherefrom he surveys me, naked and bested, with an unkind mixture of scorn and derision in his many eyes.

I crawl into my bed. Things are looking desperate. I know I haven’t got the stomach for another fight. But I can’t back down. Otherwise he will perform a victory dance intermittently on my back for as long as I remain in bed. I reason that man and beast must be able to strike some sort of accord, such as sometimes exists in war between worthy opponents. I am the first to set conditions. ‘Take my bedroom, it’s yours,’ I cry. ‘Only refrain from making your landings upon me.’

The winged tormentor does not care to bandy words with me. Territorial trivialities are of no concern to him. As he understands things, the skies of my room are his domain. And if I am too weak to defend myself, then that’s shame, to be sure, but he does not see it as a reason not to use me as a resting place in between his aerial forays. As if to prove his point, he buzzes over to me and brushes my arm. Instinctively I beat him away, but he’s already gone. He’s got what he came for.

Utterly defeated, I curl up into a ball, trying to expose as little of my vulnerable flesh as possible to the mischievous hunter. ‘Maybe he will take pity on me,’ I think.

He doesn’t. For the next hour we play a game, he and I. The rules are simple. First he waits for me to fall asleep, at which point he lands on me, so as to startle me awake, before retreating to survey his handy work. He repeats the same procedure over and over again until I get up and go downstairs.

Why? Because why not? That’s why.

Well played Mr Fly. You’ve won this round. Now I’m going to get my RAID. If I were you, I wouldn’t be here when I get back.

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Meet The Family & A Soldier’s Declaration

I think it’s time you met the family.

There are six of us Frasers. We are led by T.M. – which stands for ‘the mother’, not ‘the monster’ as people tend to presume. She is a stout and uncompromising lady with a firm sense of right and wrong.

Ever at her side is her devoted husband (my father), ‘Dadda’, a surgeon with a keen appetite for real ale and a lusty singing voice, whose out of doors antics have earned him the nickname ‘Randy’ – i.e. Stan’s father in Southpark – amongst my friends

The eldest of the children is your humble narrator about whom you already know enough.

There follows a procession of sisters, the first of which is called Lotti, or ‘Del’ to me. She is currently living her dream in Thailand.

Next there is Hannah, aka ‘Nurdy’. The Nurd is at university, plugging away admirably at a classics degree which will surely be of little to no service to her in the outside world.

And finally there is young Catherine,  ‘The Rin’, who is about to take those most taxing of exams, A-Levels, worry free in the knowledge that she can probably afford to spell her name incorrectly and still receive an A*. [Face it guys, children are not getting cleverer, exams are getting easier.]

As you can imagine, with 4 children all close in age, family dynamics could get a little tense at times when we were younger. In a bid to resolve certain issues, my parents came up with the wonderful idea of holding ‘Family Councils’ once a month. In order that you might have some insight into the process, I have provided below a letter of grievance, which I like to call ‘A Soldier’s Declaration’, that I submitted before the council on 11th January 2003.

Needless to say, I did not recieve a sympathetic hearing.

Note – the writing at the bottom refers to a drawer I broke in my burst of rage against the injustice of my situation.

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Sometimes It Pays To Take A Closer Look

It’s frustrating for us writers when a literary agency doesn’t bother to get back to us. Having guarded our work so jealously for so long, at last we send it out and wait with bated breath, only for it to be passed around a room and laughed at by a bunch of jokers, before being unceremoniously consigned to the dustbin of history. At least this is what happens as far as we know – because nobody bothers to tell us otherwise. If my work is not good enough, then it’s not good enough. I do not think I deserve to be published end of. But I do need to know if I am below standard, in order to improve. Telling me nothing is not helpful. Below you will find a short story  (500 words) that I wrote on this subject. It was written for a competition a few months ago… which I haven’t heard back from, of course. Anyway, I hope you enjoy.

Sometimes It Pays To Take A Closer Look

You should have taken that chance, shouldn’t you? Maybe then you wouldn’t be standing on the Strand outside McDonalds – nose pressed, breath misting against the glass, windowed away by poverty from the golden nuggets within.

“Carry on please sir.” An anxious employee, absurdly dressed in a khaki uniform, ushers you away. You continue to traipse along your lonely path. At least he was polite – plenty of them aren’t.

It hasn’t always been like this. Six months ago you were a top dog; a fat cat, to mix the metaphors. Even working for the most powerful literary agency in the country seemed beneath your talent. But a man’s got to earn a living, and the tips weren’t bad.

It was a Friday night; you remember it because it was somebody’s birthday. A girl’s – you didn’t know her name but you knew by the way she’d pressed her breasts together when giving you the invitation that it would be worth your while. You reached for the last file in your tray, humming Loick Essien’s ‘That’s just how we roll’, (although in your mind you’d replaced the first person plural with the singular).

The file was unusually thin; it was if the author expected his work to stand by its own merits. Laughable. The synopsis wasn’t awful, so you turned to the first chapter. That wasn’t bad either. Just as you were beginning to get really involved, Doug stuck his head into your office.

“It’s five mate, you coming?”

You looked up. “Yeah I’ll be there in a bit.”

Doug nodded to the file in your hand. “Onto something?”

“I don’t know. Probably not.”

“Who’s it by?”

You searched the covering letter for the name. You didn’t recognise it. “Never heard of him,” you said.

Doug grinned. “Then bin it. Lets go!”

“Just give us a sec. I’ll meet you there.”

Doug tapped his hands on the door, one after the other in quick succession. “In a bit then,” he said.

“In a bit.”

He left and you turned again to the file. But you couldn’t concentrate anymore. Doug was right – you should bin it.You’d never heard the name before; likelihood was you’d never hear it again. Besides by then it was ten past five. You got your coat and hastened to join the celebrations.

You should have taken that chance. Next month a new book topped the charts. It was written, they said, by a nobody. Your boss soon found out that you’d been the one to let it slip through your hands. It all turned sour from there.

That’s why when I pass you now, on the way to the signing of my second book, you’re ferreting around in the mud for scraps. Seeing you, I stop, and with a generosity you would never have shown me, I take a note from out of my bulging wallet and press it into your grubby, snatching hands. “Here you are sir,” I say, “go buy yourself a meal.”

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Round Robins

I know I promised to leave you alone until Friday but I couldn’t sit on this one. I just couldn’t. Yesterday morning, as I staggered downstairs at 10am, clutching the dressing gown I’ve worn since my youth tightly around my bosom, my reluctantly waking eyes were greeted with the unwelcome sight of five strangers looking up from an piece of paper on my kitchen table. The dreaded Round Robin. Unaware at that early hour of what vicious mayhem would ensue, I picked it up and gave it a read. How I wish I hadn’t. Ever since it has caused such an itch in my mind as cannot be satisfied, no matter how severe the scratching.

It was written, as you might expect from any advertisement, with scant regard to truth. The cliché was heavily employed as a literary devise and the arrogant tone of the piece bothered me so much that I felt compelled to bother you.

What are these horrible things all about? Since when has shameless self-congratulation been a part of Christmas? Christmas cards are about the other person – you are supposed to be hoping they had a good year, not rambling on about how great your family’s year was. Nobody cares.

In the spirit of the festive season I have decided not to deconstruct in this place the object in question, highlighting areas of particular notice and generally being a prick, which I would have with efficient brutality in any other mood. Instead I have written a Round Robin of my own along similar lines, together with a less flattering self-evaluation. You will find the original offending article at the bottom of this post. I have blurred the details, I don’t know why. Finally, I would like to apologise to any of my readers who send Round Robins of their own. I’m sure yours are of suitable quality.

Fantasy:

Ed, 23 has really gone from strength to strength this year. After graduating from King’s College London with a degree in Philosophy, he returned to his job at Barnham Broom in order to fund his expansive travelling plans. Having already been all over the world (or so it seems to his poor parents!) this time he went to Australia, Fiji, for the first time, and to New Zealand and Thailand again! It’s alright for some! Apart from travelling (and football!) Ed has decided that writing is the career for him. It’s a difficult path alright, but he seems to be taking it into his stride with his usual enthusiasm. Let’s face it, if anyone can do it, he can! He has already written one novel (for which he is represented) and eight shorter stories. He’s not Hemingway yet, but he’s halfway there! He is now in the midst of preparation for a Masters in British Modern History, which he hopes to begin in the summer. Watch this space! Did I mention how proud of him we are?

Reality:

Ed, 23 is in his fifth year at Barnham Broom, and still on minimum wage. You might have expected him to have been promoted by now, but we can’t all excel now can we? He narrowly missed out on a 1st from King’s College London last year, graduating with a 2:1… the same degree as everybody else. In a desperate bid to forget his troubles, he launched himself across the other side of the world, and came back, gaunt and starey, several thousand pounds worse off than he’d been before. He’s got the memories, though. We hear they last a lifetime – unfortunately it looks as though the same is going to be true of his student debt! Ed decided some years back that writing was the career for him. We all thought he was joking, but in spite our most anxious advice to the contrary, he has tried to ‘live the dream’ (as he would say on a good day) and has plugged away admirably for the better part of a year without success. In the absence of any real alternatives, he has now began preparations for a Masters in British Modern History, having found himself soundly wanting in the outside world. Did I mention he lives at home?

The Real Round Robin:

My family's well too, thanks for asking.

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Adverts Again

Love Christmas, hate Christmas adverts and you’ll get far in life. At least that’s what I’m told…

My position on this matter should not come as a surprise to you, even those of you drifting off at the very back, seeing as I loathe almost all adverts of any kind and have publicised this fact in three posts to date (see related articles for more information). Today I decided that Christmas adverts merit a post all to themselves. This is because if your average advert is irritating, then there is a sense that your Christmas advert is on a level unto itself.

There are so many awful examples to chose from – the Boots adverts are a particular bone of contention for me, as I struggle to unearth the supposedly apparent comedy from behind the startlingly unfunny ‘here come the girls’ campaign – but I do think the Toys-R-Us adverts compel particular notice.

So here we go:

First things first – the tune is not catchy, so don’t you dare say it is.

Moving on, if you weren’t content with the windowed version and pursued the video to Youtube itself for the ‘real experience’ the first thing you might have noticed (other than how crap the advert is) is that comments have been disabled. This is a worrying sign. As I noted in earlier posts it at once displays an awareness on the part of the uploader – this time Mr. Toys-R-Us himself – with regard to how the video could be received and an astonishing willingness to upload in any case. One might go as far as to say that, as Mr. T sees it, Toys-R-Us will get noticed, by Hook or by Crook (for origin see here).

Shameful acts of self-publising aside there is an important point here. Or at least there was… I’ve lost it now, so I’ll settle for this – wasn’t it a bit unnerving that the song was sung by a grown woman, or at least what sounded like a grown woman? I mean, if the ambition  is to appeal to a new generation of Toys-R-Us kids (the old generation, of which I was once an avid member, now being all but halfway to middle-age) why on earth wasn’t it sung by a child, if it had to be sung at all? You don’t get adults modelling children clothing, or singing about them for that matter.

You might say that the above is a clumsy analogy (and you’d be quite right) but I think that it works on a deeper level, by virtue of the fact that its very incompetence is itself analogous to how dreadful the Toys-R-Us campaign really is.

Perhaps, after all, it is supposed to be a child singing the song. That would make sense, given the content of the lyrics, because who else would sing a song about not wanting to grow up other than a child who doesn’t want to grow up? However the water is muddied at this point by the fact that the song contains the lyric ‘ooh baby’.

What we have ourselves here is a diachotomy. If, on the one hand, the singer is a child, then who on earth could they be identifying as a ‘baby’. Have things really progressed that much since I was a lad? Do the more adventurous four year olds now meet by the sand box to exchange a shy glance or two and  drool on each others’ clothing (a much more satisfactory ending to a date than many I have attended, it must be said)?

On the other hand, if the singer is not a child one wonders why they are singing the song in the first place, and, more pertinently, why they are singing it to their girlfriend/boyfriend. Quite frankly they should be ashamed of themselves. Some things aren’t meant for sharing; that you want to remain a Toys-R-Us kid is one of them. We can’t play with our lego forever friend, however much we want to. 😦

Either way you look at things – whichever path you take – the advert does not make any sense at all. I was once a Toys-R-Us kid; I am a Toys-R-Us kid no more. And this has as much to do with this advert as it does with long decaying passage of time.

Related Articles:

The Halifax Adverts

Am I The Only One Who Finds It Embarrassing When Adverts For My Bank Come On The Television

Are You Listening Halifax? This Is How You Make An Advert

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Steve Jobs and a swipe at the cynics

I am not a computer geek. I wish I was, incidentally – I feel as though I must have been in another life. Oh wait, that can’t have happened, can it? Because I’ve been told that Christianity is right, not Buddhism. Or was it, Islam? I can never remember which one I am supposed to follow.

Anyway, as I was saying, I am not a computer geek, yet I profoundly felt that the world had lost a genius the day Steve Jobs stopped drawing breath. Yes I know that a company like Apple is not birthed out of one man’s endeavour alone, but doesn’t it show all the more what a special person he was, that he was able to retain indisputable artistic rights over his creation?

But further to mourning the intellectual loss of a giant, I also found myself mourning the passing of a fellow man and, amongst the tributes that poured in from all around the globe, I was disappointed to find that, in some sections of the media, voices whose opinions I typically respect were airing rather less sensitive views.

Barney Ronay, from the guardian tweeted:

Seem to be missing something. This a day of global mourning – because the man who sold you a phone has died.

There was something oh so self-congratulatory about the tone of the message. And there were others. I’m sure Mr. Ronay is a legend, I usually love to read what he has to say, and it is not so much him that I have the problem with. Rather there seems to be a prevalent – and I think destructive – feeling that, unless you are a cynic, you must be stupid.

I am all for cynicism, if appropriate, and, lets face it, it often is. But cynicism should not be confused for intelligence. Just because everybody thinks x, does not in itself mean that you should think y, or that you would be clever to do so. Of course I understand where he is coming from – it is a strange phenomenon that people can be moved to tears about a person where the intimacy of the relationship does not extend beyond the supplying of electrical appliances – no matter how good those appliances are (very).

Then again, we live in strange times. Like most people, I never met Steve Jobs. But what does that have to do with anything anymore? Call it a paradox, but the internet has almost completely removed the barriers that once existed between personal communication. It is now possible to know almost everything about somebody who otherwise might have been a complete stranger. Steve Jobs spent his life trying to enhance this experience, by providing – to borrow the familiar cliche – what his consumers wanted before they knew it themselves. I think the flood of tributes speaks overwhelming volumes of his success in this particular gambit.

So put your cynicism to one side, Mr. Ronay and others, if only for a moment, and pay your respects to a man who has changed the face of the modern world as much as any other. And, perhaps more importantly, remember too that you are talking about a human being, who has left behind loved ones who miss him, no matter whether or not you feel that they should.

Click the link for Fry on Jobs: http://crave.cnet.co.uk/gadgets/stephen-fry-waxes-lyrical-on-steve-jobs-50004884/

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Are you listening Halifax? This is how you make an advert

I am not a salesman; this post is not concerned with how the advert functions as a sales tool, but rather how it stands as a piece of art. I suspect that the two are closely related.

To my mind, there are several ways to make an advert count ascetically. Here are just a few of them.

1. Make it epic.

Epic adverts – to my mind – are the best. I just love to get all involved, and frequently can’t stop myself getting worked up about things for which I normally wouldn’t give a fig.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVM0OCPZEyA (All Blacks vs. British & Irish Lions promo – made ahead of the much anticipated tour to NZ, 2005. What a pity the tour didn’t add up to all the hype).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rF09DTclzc (RBS Six Nations 2010 Promo).

http://www.youtube.com/user/FlyBritishAirways?v=a4JdQi60an0&feature=pyv&ad=7178323097&kw=british%20airways%20to%20fly%20to%20serve (British Airways – To Fly, To Serve).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epruuLVqhPg (Guinness – Some Are Made of More, made for the Rugby World Cup, NZ, 2011).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_suyZb5mDk (Hovis – Go On Lad).

2. Make it humorous.

So often the Achilles’ Heel of the enthusiastic advert. You can never go wrong with a bit of banter, and usually it can be achieved simply and even without singing (!), which is what Halifax fail so abysmally to realise.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMj5smdaHeA&feature=relmfu (Phones 4U – Samsung Wave).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHcT7hoYj8U (Tango – Diver’s Helmet, just one part of a hilarious campaign).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fojrw_vU0k8 (Skittles – Touch The Rainbow).

3. Make it beautiful.

It could be a lovely piece of music, good camera work or just a novel concept; beautiful adverts, along with epic adverts, are the one’s I watch repeatedly through crimson eyes when drunk.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZ-MdCIy94M (Sony Bravia – Superstar Dreams).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQ3D4CqHbJM (Philips – Carousel).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=id-biRhgiVw&feature=related (ITV – Rugby World Cup 2011).

4. Make it moving.

A technique less used than the others, but it can be employed to fantastic effect.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=opOQlA0LVqo (Pantene – Chrysalis).

5. Make it memorable.

There are some adverts that are worthy of distinctive especial mention. They do what all the good ones do… Only for some reason they are better.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcdDg30VBgo (Guinness – Horse Surfer).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhsWzJo2sN4 (Apple – ‘1984’ advert, made for the Superbowl 1984).

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