If you’re ever anywhere near New York State…

…make sure you visit the U.S. National Museum of Play, and in particular their gobsmacking collection of early/classic era arcade games and pinball machines.

I mean, there are other things to do: the amazing countryside, Niagara Falls, head into the city and see the Statue of Liberty blah blah blah, but these people have got original Asteroids machines, and Donkey Kong, and Frogger, and Galaga, and Centipede, and Defender, and Zaxxon, and scores upon scores of others – did I mention Galaga? That one’s the best. And you play them at what are essentially classic era prices. (10p a go).

As you do the pinball machines, which fill a whole separate room.

Vintage pacman machine

I visited in a slightly professional capacity, to do with other writing stuff that I do (it was a tough job, but somebody… etc). It’s fair to say that I hadn’t *quite* explained the concept to the rest of the family in a great amount of detail, which led to a certain amount of pursed-lips ‘so, we’re at the Museum of Play for the childrens’ benefit, you say?’ but to be fair they caught on quick and were also very, very happy with the more kids-based exhibits and activities downstairs.

It was good because I could then educate and entertain them with the history of and my opinions of the sociological and technical development of those classic-era arcade machines during the subsequent nine-hour drive to Quebec City. I am the best dad in the world like that, like when I took the family to the Official Dukes of Hazzard Museum, or made a two-day round trip for a romantic meal at the original Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant.

The only slight disappointment was that the collection is missing a Carnival machine (which was my favourite for ages), and their Gunfight/Boot Hill was out of commission somewhere. So if you have either of these historic artefacts in your garage somewhere, I encourage you to donate them to a good home.

I receive an email from the Slovenian Graham Norton.

The best thing about having a moderately successful blog covering major issues of world-wide concern (keeping chickens, playing bowls etc.) is that it does tend to prompt a trickle of quirky and interesting things to happen. The trickle is a little more trickley than it was during the mad days of ‘OMG! OMG! People having blogs is the next big thing!’ but just when you think life has settled down into some sort of normality, an email pops up from the host of Slovenia TV’s Eurovision Song Contest coverage.

So, my new friend Klemen Slakonja (which is Slovenian for ‘Graham Norton’) thought he’d liven up the Slovenian domestic Eurovision auditions show by using the nation’s entire annual TV production budget to create an all-singing, all-dancing video parody of Vladimir Putin, president of Evil Russia. The fact that this exists means that Slovenia is my new favourite country – for reasons less about Mr Putin himself than a simple what a magnificently bloodymindedly mad thing to decide to do. It has already gone viral (as I understand it) on the YouTube, with all sorts of cheery comments below the line along the lines of ‘I am from Russia and you should be afraid’ and ‘we are so going to nuke your country.’

I would like us to be a country that would undertake this sort of lunacy, during a prime-time light-entertainment broadcast put together to somehow represent the nation. But I can’t really see it happening.

Rather than do the sensible thing, which would be to remove the video, change his name, stock up on anti-polonium cream and go and hide in a cupboard, Klemen is approaching Western powers (like me) to try to get more people to watch it, along with his other stuff, some of which is in English and some of which is in Slovenian. I found the stuff in Slovenian to be doubly enjoyable, as I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but it gave me the impression that somebody was being annoyed, somewhere. I’m currently looking for Slovenian evening classes, but there appears to be a gap in the market here in Norfolk.

 

Now I’m 64

I wrote this sort of free-form poem/lyric thing a while ago; I don’t particularly know why. Then a couple of days ago there was a little article in the Guardian about how ‘When I’m 64’ had been branded a song that portrayed ageing in a negative way, which brought it back to mind. Then George Martin’s death was announced, and I thought I might write something about George Martin, but as usual it’s all been said already, apart from a little point I made on Twitter about how he had a rare open mind amongst his contemporaries.

Anyway. Negative? I’ll give you negative. Here’s my ever-so cheerful with-apologies-to-Paul thing, that should probably be read in a morose and flat Liverpudlian accent.

So now I’m 64.

Losing the fight against bitterness.

Bald by my forties; didn’t see that one coming.

Here on my own.

.

I’m sorry things didn’t work out.

When the Valentines petered out, I knew.

Then just the dutiful birthday cards.

This morning, an empty letterbox.

.

So that bottle of wine turned into two; three…

And you started locking me out, both metaphorically and literally

You said you didn’t need me staggering in at quarter to three

expecting dinner on the table.

.

You’ll be no spring chicken yourself now.

If you’d just pick up the phone?

.

I lost my confidence.

‘Get a man in!’ you barked, as I fumbled with the electrics.

Long silent evenings staring into the electric fire.

Morose car journeys to the garden centre.

.

So I started to spend more and more time out of the house

Hacking away my disappointments with spade and secateurs

While you chatted to your friends on that ‘Facebook’

And the microwave went ping.

.

You said I was tight.

But I thought we liked it there.

Familiar beaches, the same faces in the café.

And what’s wrong with the Isle of Wight anyway?

.

Perhaps if the kids hadn’t gone.

I got a photo the other day.

Chuck and Dave, in the paddling pool in Brisbane.

They’ll be big lads when they grow up.

.

Just pick up the phone, love.

Let me know where I stand.

But I think I know the answer.

Now I’m sixty-four.

.

Ho.

So anyway, I started meditating…

If I’d have been writing a few years ago, this whole post would be based around the moment when the LTLP walked in through the front door and barked ‘what the hell are you doing?!?’ having fallen over me, lying with my eyes closed on the kitchen floor.

As it is, I’m writing here in 2016, and I know she hates being called that, so I won’t do it any more.

What sort of happened is that I bought her a book for Christmas, because she has a stressful job and stuff. You’d think living with me would counterbalance this – you can browse through the old archives to remind yourselves what a relaxing and idyllic home life I have made for her over the years – but having picked up on a few subtle signals, I leapt into action. Conveniently, this got me out of the whole pre-Christmas ‘oh God I have no idea what to get her for Christmas’ funk I was in at the time, so it was a winner all round.

Anyway, Christmas came and went, then January came and went, and it lay sad and unread on the bedside table. So I offered to read it for her, go through the exercises, and basically summarise the salient points, to save her time. She gave me a sort of assentive snort, which brings us back to the headline. So anyway, I started meditating.

I had to get over two major mental hurdles, once I started reading. Firstly, I am invariably compelled to reach for a tin of lighter fluid and set ablaze any book of the psychological variety that periodically uses the word ‘wisdom.’ And secondly, it is written by a serious scientist in conjunction with a journalist – which is a fairly common thing – but the joins are often quite delightful in their lack of guile. So you’ll get a sentence that probably – in the first draft – went something like:

‘Take a deep breath, until the air fills your lungs’

That has been rendered in the finished book as:

‘Take a deep breath, until the air fills your lungs like sweet water in a millpond on a tranquil summer’s day.’

I find this too comical to be irritating, and it’s fun as a writer (who sometimes gets his words mucked around with) to envisage the process behind it, and whether the co-authors ever ended up in a fight.

Anyway, apart from that, I’ve found the whole meditation stuff to be quite good, in that I’ve felt quite positive about things in general since I started, although whether this is a coincidence or not I can’t really say. It’s only the end of week three; I am determined to see through the full eight.

I solve the Rubiks Cube!!!

There’s probably something incorrect going on with a missing apostrophe in that headline. I prefer it without, and it’s my blog so I shall headline it as I wish. And at least, as all readers know, it has the correct three-exclamation-mark structure.

I am currently No.1 Mr. Cool Dad with my daughter for solving her Rubiks Cube. This is mainly because, after solving her Rubiks Cube, I hid my ‘How to Solve The Rubiks Cube’ book that I’d dug out from the loft. She doesn’t need to know about it yet, and I would prefer that crushing ‘oh – my dad’s not actually the best in the world at everything’ moment that all kids must one day experience to come a little later in life. (If you do not count me walking into the glass doors whilst carrying her out of the delivery room).

Anyway, I am glad that the Rubiks Cube is coming back into fashion as it has a particular place in my childhood, viz that I was known as the best and fastest person in the school at completing the puzzle during its 1980’s heyday. Being the best at something is important when you’re a kid. I was a pretty good programmer on the Sinclair Spectrum, but one of a few; I was in the top set for most things, but so were lots of others. But I was the best and fastest at the Rubiks Cube.

I did not have a girlfriend.

My top Rubiks Cube-related memory is set in the bar at the local cricket club. I am probably eleven or twelve years old, cubing furiously on my own at the table, possibly with a coke and a packet of crisps beside me. The scene goes like this:

ME: Finished!

MAN FROM OPPOSITION TEAM ON NEXT TABLE (BIT PISSED): That kid’s just done the Rubiks Cube.

ME (BASHFUL): It’s easy.

OPPOSITION MAN (BIT PISSED): If you can do it again in less than five minutes, my mate here will give you a fiver.

HIS MATE (BIT PISSED): What…?!?

ME (STAR STRUCK): Okay then.

[PAUSE WHILST TWO BIT-PISSED MEN MESS UP CUBE.]

FX: DOING-CUBE TYPE NOISES

[THREE MINUTES AND FOURTEEN SECONDS LATER]

OPPOSITION MAN (BIT PISSED): Wow!

HIS MATE (BIT PISSED): Wow!

ENTIRE OPPOSITION TEAM CHANTING IN UNISON (BIT PISSED): Fiver! Fiver! Give the boy a fiver!

HIS MATE GRUDGINGLY HANDS OVER A FIVER, WHICH WAS WORTH £8000 IN THEM DAYS

ME: Wow! [SCUTTLES TO OTHER TABLE] Dad! Dad! Look!

MY DAD (BIT PISSED): Son. There is something that you need to know. In situations such as this, it is the proper, manly, thing, to take the money graciously and then to go to the bar to buy those fellows a jug of beer. I shall come with you.

ME: Oh.

BARMAN (BIT PISSED. THEY ALL WERE): Here is your jug of beer. And a small amount of change.

ME: Oh.

This memory has stuck with me. It taught me so much about life.

 

Fire in Babylon

I’ve just finished my favourite Christmas present: Fire in Babylon: How the West Indies Cricket Team Brought a People to its Feet. It’s a book about the rise and triumph of Clive Lloyd’s astonishing team, and I can’t recommend it enough (especially if you like cricket, or social history, or both).

I received a copy complete with a signed dedication, as it transpires that my mother-in-law once used to work at the council with author Simon Lister’s aunt. That’s the sort of exclusive secret-handshake closed little world that we top writers live in. The nice thing is that my mother-in-law had no idea that it was a notable work, shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year, brilliant reviews everywhere etc. etc.; she’d just heard in passing that this young man had written a book about cricket and gave it to me rather anxiously in an oh-dear-I-hope-it’s-all-right type fashion.

I retired from organising the bowls a couple of years back, but was subsequently installed as manager of the village snooker team, objectively measured as the worst snooker team in Great Britain. I’m not sure that I can draw a great many parallels with the challenges that Clive Lloyd faced down, although I’m sure he struggled also to get a volunteer driver for key away fixtures. (Personally, I’d have asked Andy Roberts, as it transpires that he didn’t drink alcohol). Anyway, I’ve been writing stupid little one-line match/league updates on the Sex and Bowls and Rock & Roll Facebook page, although I am starting to run out of ways to describe ‘a loss.’

<!– WGCCxxx –>

David Bowie and his Mates: a unique appreciation, via Telex

Anyway, so I had a quick look round the internet and nobody’s written much about David Bowie’s death so I thought you’d be interested in my unique angle, which is – umm, well, ah, blimey it was shocking and sad and – oh, somebody’s said that already – um – well he was a major artist who… oh, that’s been done as well. Etc.

As someone who built a monstrous internet persona around the fact that I had nothing bloody better to do with my time, the following might sound a bit odd coming from me. ‘The following’ being that the web’s so chock-full now of people for whom rapid-reaction writing is a professional or semi-professional part of their world – not just journalists, but comedians, public figures, cultural commentators – basically anybody for whom setting aside other tasks in order to write can be justified as something more than a pleasant personal indulgence – that it makes the thought of following on even a few hours later with one’s similar thoughts a little unrewarding. That’s me speaking as one of the gentlemen amateurs (i.e. I write for a living, but not particularly here).

This is mainly because they do it so well. I mean FIERCELY well, if you read some of the stuff out there – let’s stress that. And Bowie’s death’s a very bad example anyway, as he touched so many folk so deeply, that many people who fall outside that definition will have dropped everything to write something just for the joy of it. So yes – this is a shit example, unless it’s an example of why I don’t do journalism or cultural commentary. Ummm – he constantly reinvented himself just when you thought you knew him, you know? Wouldn’t catch me doing that.

What I’m probably saying is that a decade or so ago the trope was that people with blogs were sad people typing away in darkened rooms with nothing to do but snivel their pooterisms into the internet. I was doing a *cough* sabbatical at the time, and of course there were some stay-at-home parents, people without jobs, retirees, students etc. with time on their hands. But in the main those ‘nothing to do’ people had – well – jobs, and family lives and food shopping to do and stuff. So they fitted in writing as a hobby, around all of that. Which, in terms of today’s internet, is a dinosaur model; the telex bureau of the light-speed age of opinion, always destined to tag behind the curve. Five steps forward, one back. Which I slightly regret, as I regret the loss of the attended petrol pump and the apostrophe that precedes the word ’bus.

Anyway, my I-hope-it’s-almost-original observation about David Bowie was this. Actually, I have two observations. The lesser is that ‘Space Oddity’ was – and I have no reason to disbelieve that it still is – my father’s favourite pop song. I’m not sure anybody else has pointed this out yet. This is important, as it’s the only pop song that I’ve ever heard him venture an unprompted opinion about; he favours other genres. So it must be a great work, because he says so, and he’s not one to venture opinions unless they’re true. I’m guessing it’s something to do with the short story format, and the horror in that final ellipsis (‘There’s nothing I can do…’)

David Bowie managed to stun the world in the manner of his passing. One of the biggest, most famous, most bankable stars in the world, carrying this illness with all that it must have entailed. And his family, his mates, his medical people – they just quietly kept it to themselves, as he presumably wished. So my real observation is nothing to do with his music or cultural impact. It’s: what a great bunch of people he must have had around him in his life, eh?

Anyway. Carry on!

New Year’s Resolutions

First original observation of the new year: it would be better to live one’s life under a continual state of improvement than make once-per-year spectacular promises that are never likely to be kept.

There you go. I’m sure, nobody has ever thought about that before, ever.

New Years ResolutionsMy resolutions from 2013 have been stuck up on the fridge for three years now. You will note that I did so well with them that I neglected to make any resolutions at all in 2014, and that they were so well thought out that it didn’t seem worth doing anything other than reusing them for 2015.

I’m hoping that I can shame myself into action by reviewing these in retrospect, so:

  1. Tick. Done this. Finally. Will write more about it in due course.
  2. Cross. Abject fail. I started going for runs again, on about five separate occasions. To the hilarity of people in the Village Pub, Village Shop etc. as they watched me go past. But I’ve not been able to reach that point where it isn’t all hurty. And I have got to that sort of point where I walk the four hundred yards or so to the Village Shop and think ‘oh good, I have done my exercise for the day’. Which probably isn’t that healthy an attitude, especially when I walk out of there with a coffee and a big Pork Pie.
  3. Cautious tick with a cross through it. I have very much tried to be a better parent rather than my initial inspiration, Mr Von Trapp in the early bits of the film, with the whistle and stuff. My main problem has always been that I can’t quite get to grips with the fact that they’re young and stuff, so I will shout things like ‘well why didn’t you set the boiler to come on for a further hour if you were going to leave the tap running and use all the hot water?!?’ and my son will look at me with sad and confused five year-old eyes before booting up the Childline app on the iPad.
  4. Another sort of ticky cross. It is quite easy to become insular when you write for a living, which is one of the reasons that I spend less time writing for fun (or messing around on social media) these days. You need things that will get you out of the house and into the fresh air. I have been appointed captain of the snooker team!!! So that has helped.
  5. Cross. This needs to go on the 2016 list.