- Sci-Fi for Girls
How times have changed. Ask someone what their perception of a science fiction fan was 20 years ago and they would probably portray an anorak wearing, NHS spectacle, train spotting type character, probably aged about 30, sitting at home playing with their Star Wars toys, with little prospect of ever losing their virginity.
Admittedly some of them are still about - but they're into the real hardcore stuff that no-one else understands. However there were a lot of us as well that I would like to think would have been considered by most people to be reasonably normal. But as a subject of conversation it was strictly taboo. As a lifelong Doctor Who fan, I had to practically go into the closet during the 90s when the show had been cancelled due to basically becoming a laughing stock. Even the mention of the show to a potential sexual partner was enough to instantly rule out the possibility of ever getting between the sheets with them. I might as well have just said I had herpes. (I haven't by the way).
But slowly, things began to change. Female friendly films and books brought the genre to a whole new audience. "Sliding Doors" and "The Time Traveller's Wife" showed you could make a sci-fi chick flick.
Then Doctor Who came back. My, was I nervous about that one. It could so horribly have gone wrong. But they got it spot on. And talk about making it sexy. John Barrowman and David Tennant had women going weak at the knees. And then there was Ashes to Ashes, Torchwood, Lost and more.
Now I know that some people may not consider all of these shows "Science Fiction". Well, it depends on your point of view. I like my sci-fi to have at least a grounding in the real world. Futuristic fantasy worlds, different planets aren't really my thing. Though admittedly I do like Star Trek.
The great thing about the aforementioned films and series is that they mixed sci-fi elements (time travel/ alternative reality) with other things people liked. And that's the key.
Now I have female friends who absolutely love Doctor Who, and many other of these shows. Being a major authority on Doctor Who is now something to be admired rather than ridiculed. My time has come at last.
What's my personal preference when it comes to sci-fi? Well the two things I mentioned, time travel and alternate realities. Both give a what if question that you could apply to your own lives. What would you do in the following scenarios.
1) Cast back in time 50 years. Go and see your grandparents? Ask for their help? Would anyone believe you? Personally I think they accept it rather too readily in most shows and films. Going around asking "what year is this" is probably enough to ensure you will be carted off by the men in white coats.
2) Cast forward in time 10 years, in an instant. You go home - but there's someone living in your house. You eventually track down your wife but she's married someone else. Everyone thought you were dead.
3) Cast into an alternate reality, but only you can see the change. You are doing a different job, married to someone else, everything's the same but subtly different. How do you deal with that one?
I often think about stuff like this and how I would cope. All pure fantasy of course, but where would we be without a bit of fantasy, eh? It doesn't all have to be sexual. Mind you I did once come up with an idea about all the men in the world dying out from some mysterious virus, and me being the only one left. Obviously it was only right I should rise to my duty to the remaining billions of women in order to re-populate the world. I was just starting to enjoy that one when the alarm clock went off.
But I digress. All it remains to do is to say thank-you writers and producers for making sci-fi female friendly. I can function as a normal member of society at last. And even talk to girls :-)
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- 8 Aug 2011
I'm sitting here watching coverage of the riots in London from BBC News 24.
I'm not a journalist. I'm not even a writer. A few letters in the Bicester Advertiser don't qualify me as such. I wish I was though.
Around 20 to 30 people read my blog each day. I think they enjoy it. Probably around 200,000 to 300,000 people read Giles Coren and Caitlin Moran in The Times every Saturday. But they have access to a wider audience.
Can I write? I don't even know. Are my scribblings here and elsewhere of any lesser or greater value than anyone else's? I don't know. I like to think I am a great talent just waiting to be discovered. That the call will come from some national paper or magazine who have been put on to my blog offering me a truely national forum for my views.
Or am I just deluding myself and this is just a load of crap? Well I'm full of self-doubt as you know, perhaps that's why I'm working as an entertainer. Look back at the greats of the past - the men who made millions laugh in public whilst they nursed their tortured hearts and souls in silence.
Tomorrow the papers will be full of opinions of professional journalists on the London riots. So here are mine. Doubtless not everyone will see my point of view - but hey, you can always delete me off facebook. Plenty of others have recently.
I'm old enough to remember the riots of the early 80's. Those people were desperate. Mass unemployment in deprived areas brought on by the destruction of manufacturing industries that were the heart of the areas concerned. With no real alternative or hope. If you did not live through those times it's hard to understand.
Police got a lot of stick back then for violence. But they had the power. Oh where's the Gene Genie now when we need him? (Gene Hunt in Ashes to Ashes for those who don't know). Why are the police not doing anything now - because they've lost all their power. Batter a looter breaking Debenhams window? Not if you don't want to risk a private lawsuit. Or inflaming the situation more.
There's no discipline in schools, a lot of homes or anywhere else. Now I think we are lucky in Bicester. It's hard parenting, but then we work hard at it. Our children live predominatly in middle class homes with stable families and responsible parenting. I am sure most of us would have every confidence they would never behave like this.
Less affluent areas? Feral youth, feckless lazy parents, drug culture. Gangster rap seducing young men into a fantasy bling and crime lifestyle. Total lack of respect, running rings around impotent teachers and police, not their fault, unable to act due to succesive governments removing their powers. This situation in London was just waiting to happen. And the youth seem clever and well organised. Of course they are - they've got facebook, twitter, they are clued up, they are in communication with each other and know what they are doing. OK, so not all of us at 41 are so past it we haven't embraced the new technology but what the % at this age? 30%? 50%. Believe me it's 100% among teenagers and they live and breathe it.
They know they can do this and there is very little chance of ever being brought to justice. This is characters from Shameless on a grand scale.
This is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.
Sounds so old fashioned to say "bring back national service", or give em a good "clip around the ear" but doesn't sound so dumb now, does it?
I so wish I was a writer on a national paper so I could put my views across to a wider audience. Instead I thank you, my faithful readers, all 29 of you, and if you just happen to bump into the editor of The Times at a dinner party any time soon, point him in my direction.
Gary said I should be Prime Minister. Mike said Mayor of Bicester. I'll settle for a forum where I can reach the general public and try and make the nation a little better - if not that then brighten their day and make them chuckle.
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- 8 Aug 2011
Busy old weekend coming up. First of all I am off over to the Prince Of Wales @ Steeple Claydon to run a karaoke night on Friday. This is a regular venue of mine, and usually a good night. Sounds like there was a bit of aggro there last weekend, but I am sure it will all be OK this week under my calming influence.
Then on Saturday I am off to a wedding. Now I attend several weddings a year in my capacity as a DJ, so I'm kind of quite au fait with what to expect at the different venues.
For example, a wedding reception held at Tythe Barn will likely be somewhat different to one held at the late great Rodney House.
This one is being held in Corpus Christi College and looks like being quite a posh do, by all accounts. It is the first wedding I have attended as a guest - as opposed to a DJ for a good couple of years.
I have made some enquiries as to the food and it sounds as if it will be OK. Apparently there is going to be a ham and a salmon there, so that's me sorted. Good thing really, my main worry about these kinds of affairs is that it will all be poncy canapes and no proper food - I have attended a number of such occasions. I think some people go over the top a bit. Personally I can't see what was wrong with the old cheese and pineapple on sticks. You never see that anymore. Consigned to the dustbin of culinary history along with Arctic Roll and Berni Inns. Seems people like a bit of sophistication these days.
Anyway looks like we'll be alright on Saturday. If the worse case scenario does happen, it's not far from McDonalds.
There's no driving into the middle of Oxford so it's going to be a bus or train job. This has led me to my second decision. We are not taking the children to the wedding. Had it been somewhere we could easily drive to with all the stuff we need in the car then I would have considered it. But lugging them all the way on the bus train then back in the evening and all the logistics involved have forced my hand - not to mention the behavioural problems. There is no way a 3 year old is going to sit still through a formal ceremony with hymns or a baby not poo it's nappy or start screaming. I'll be a nervous wreck by the end of the day - or some long lost relative I haven't sen for years will make some comment about "oh but you were just like that when you will little" - at which point I shall have to restrain myself from issuing a torrent of verbal abuse.
As anyone knows, the one thing guaranteed to get my back up is criticism of my parenting. Like the people on the aeroplane on the way back from Ibiza tutting because the baby was crying. Air rage? - I wasn't far off.
So mother-in-law is having them for the day, and we will come back in the early evening. Not sure if I want to be around when the DJ starts (if they have booked one) as I'll be self-consciously comparing myself to them. Perhaps it's not a DJ anyway, never thought to ask. I did mention Mike and Duncan to them after I had said I didn't want to do it, but never heard any more.
I'm having a lovely sugar rush right now - Lynda gave me a slice of Hermione's deliciously sweet coffee cake and I had it with my coffee this morning. Lots of energy now which is just as well as it's housework today. And there's lots to do - living in a house with 3 bathrooms has it's advantages, but three toilets to clean as opposed to one is not one of them. Joy of joys. See you later, blog fans.
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- 3 Aug 2011
This is the first summer since becoming a parent that I feel I am reaching the point where I really feel that I can actually start to do proper fun things with the kids.
When you first become a parent you tend to completely over-compensate in the early stages. First year with first baby and you're off to fun farms and various other kids themed days out. You are full of the glow of new parenthood and you go out to these places and you're thinking "Look at me - I'm a parent - I'm out doing mum and dad things!"
In fact your little baby is completely oblivious to what you are doing, you are doing it for yourself, for self-validation. While you are trying to get your 8 month old to look at some cute sheep or whatever, he's only thinking about his next bottle or filling his nappy.
So a couple of years go by and little junior's walking and off you go to some new places. But more disilluionment sets in as you are trying to get them to look at some exciting animal show, or something going on and all they are interested in is trying to rip up an old piece of paper they found on the floor.
Then baby #2 comes along and all attempts at fun go out of the window. You are just trying to survive from day to day. You dread social invitations because you just don't want to go - all you want to do is sleep or crash on the sofa of an evening.
This is the point at which I found myself increasingly alienated from my non-parent friends. I just could not longer appreciate how they so freely want to go out on the piss all the time. In return many of them just seemed to find I'd become boring.
So by last summer, new baby's here, Ollie hasn't started pre-school yet, so I do what I can, go to stay and play sessions etc, but it rarely goes to plan. The camera I took along to take pictures of the beaming faces stayed in the bag while the tears and tantums continued. I felt like no-one understood at times. Some people thinking I had an easy life didn't help, it's hard enough being a full time parent but I am trying to run a business as well.
Things got better. I made friends at the stay and play. Even as a man, still a handicap, maybe it's harder, but if you are honest about what you are doing the mums will accept you and trust you.
September 2010 and Ollie starts at pre-school. Now I get myself sorted. He is there 3 hours every morning and like clockwork I fall into a routine of getting my chores done at that time. Claire is on maternity leave until January so it's not too difficult at first. Later it gets more difficult.
But I manage because I've got a routine. But then the school holidays come and I see everyone going off on exciting trips and here I am still at home scrubbing out the shower tray, clearing up sick and nappies.
My children are still little. But my experience from two holidays this year has given me the confidence that Ollie is now at the stage where I can properly take him to things and he will be able to enjoy them. Now it's me that needs to change. I have got to get out of my regimented routines - essential while they were so young, and develop two distinct mentalities. The term time mentality - and the school holiday mentality.
I realised this past week that you can't go on through the holidays in the same way that you did in the term. So - shock horror - I am going to let the housework slide a bit during August and I am not going to take in any additional bookings to what I already have (7 nights work in the diary).
I have been absolutely inspired in all this by two of my closest friends, both of whom have 3 children of primary school age. They are just a few years further along the ladder than me, and I can see how their lives have opened up again as the kids have grown older. I've no doubt a few years back in a sea of nappies they struggled just as I have but they have come through. These two ladies have been an enormous source of inspiration to me in recent months, and I've no need to say their names here, I know they read my blog and they know who they are.
They are wonderful mums and I would trust them 100% any time with my children. Hint: you can borrow them any time :-)
I can't thank the two of you enough for the friendship you have extended to me, you've been just absolutely wonderful. Hard to believe that two years ago I hadn't even met you both.
So as I stated, I am going to get into a summer holiday mentality. If Ollie wants to go to the park I am not going to use "I need to do a washload" as an excuse not to bother. If someone suggests an outing I'm not going to be negative and think "oh but will I be back in time to cook tea". I am going to try and go with the flow.
Today we went to the Teddy Bears picnic and Garth Park. We had a great time. Yes, Ollie got a bit tired and irritable towards the end, but no matter. He joined in, he had fun, he talked to people - other parents and children and I really felt he had been part of the day and it was worth going. So many times in the past I've come back fed up and miserable feeling why did I bother? Well now I am going to bother. Yes, Ollie needs discipline and it won't always go well, but I will try.
Teaming up with other parents also seems a good idea to me. Two families going out together makes more fun for all. The kids help occupy each other and it gives the mums and dads a bit more freedom to if there's more people to supervise. I have fancied taking the kids to Hinksey pool where there is a lot of stuff Ollie would love apparently but with baby Jamie in tow too, going with another family at the same time would make it easier for all.
I also find that I get on with my friends children too. Cerys, one of my friends children gave me a present today that she made for me at the park in the little creative area. I was touched :-) Ollie repaid the favour by spraying her mother in water. But who would mind, on such a hot day?
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- 2 Aug 2011
Here are 3 more letters I wrote to crisp manufacturers. None of them received a reply. I wonder why?
Normal blogging may resume towards the end of the week - but I have lots of fun days out with the kids lined up (fun if they behave anyway) so this will have to do for now.
June 2nd 2010
Thank-you for your recent letter. Whilst I am obviously disappointed at your decision not to bring back Toasted Cheese Flavour Walkers, something extremely exciting has occurred in the meantime which I must tell you about.
The other day, I purchased a packet of your excellent "really cheesy" wotsits when I made an amazing discovery. Instead of the usual maize baked snack coated in flavouring that I have come to expect, there was in fact no maize in the packet at all. Every wotsit consisted purely of solid flavouring!
When I put one in my mouth the flavour hit was immense! Far superior to the normal wotsits. I eagerly deveoured the lot and bought another packet, sadly this one was just a normal pack.
I felt on a real high afterwards, if somewhat thirsty. The BP monitor that I must wear at all times due to a lifetime of excessive salty snack consumption also began bleeping. However, I attribute this to a particularly stressful shopping trip to Iceland that morning.
I am not sure if this unique packet of wotsits was down to a manufacturing fault, or perhaps a shortage of maize brought on by the late spring frosts this year. In any case, I've clearly stumbled across a winner here. Throughout history there have been a history of inventions caused by happy accidents e.g. Ian Fleming carelessly leaving that mouldy cheese sandwich in his lab to create penicillin. Could this be the next example?
Some years ago I had a similar experience with a Rowntree's Chunky Kit Kat which had no wafer in it – it was solid chocolate! I wrote a similar letter to them but as yet have received no reply, I imagine they are very busy though thinking up new flavours for their "limited edition" Kit Kats.
As a suggestion for the new flavour name, how about Wotsits "really really really really really really really really really really" cheesy flavour?
June 4th 2010
Dear KP Snacks,
I am writing to inform you that you may have a problem with one of your machines at your factory in Ashby-de-la-Zouch. In particular the one that produces Worcester Sauce flavour Wheat Crunchies.
I think the blade that slices the Wheat Crunchies may be loose as it is no longer slicing them neatly, but at an angle of around 20 degrees.
Unfortunately this has occurred at the worst possible time. Last week saw the climax of the North Oxon & West Bucks Snack Product Olympics. This event which takes place every four years is the biggest event in the calendar for us, the equivalent if you like of the football world cup.
Anyway, the problem came to light when we came to hold the highlight of the event, Wheat Crunchie 10 pin bowling. This works just like normal 10 pin bowling but using Wheat Crunchies as the pins and a hula hoop as the ball. Unfortunately when we came to set up the alley we found that we could not get any of the Wheat Crunchies to stand up due to the above mentioned problem. We went to Tesco's to buy some more, unfortunately they were on buy one get one free that week, and had run out. With no other suitable extruded potato or corn snack on the market, sadly the event had to be cancelled.
I am hoping that you will be able to resolve the problem in time for the 2014 event, as we have had not had a lot of luck in recent years. Inl 2006 we used a peanut as the ball as opposed to a hula hoop. Unfortunately that event also had to be cancelled when one of our members had to be rushed to hospital with a previously undiagnosed peanut allergy.
If you could look into this for me I would be most grateful, also what would really make my day would be if you could consider bringing back donor kebab wheat crunchies by way of consolation.
June 15th 2010
I have recently been contacted by a lady who works for the "Beef Marketing Board". Apparently there is great distress at said organisation over the disappearing flavours of beef related crisps from your range in recent years.
She cites three cases in particular, these being 1) The removal of BBQ Beef Flavour Wotsits, 2) the disappearance of Beef & Onion Walkers and finally 3) the loss of Beef Flavour Squares.
It is clear that there is some discrimination going on here. We believe this may be due to the bad press over mad cow disease a few years ago, and the temporary suspension of certain products. However, I can assure you that having spoken to a number of ladies around here who like their beef on the bone, that all such restrictions were long ago removed.
Perhaps it may be that the flavours in question have simply fallen out of fashion, in the same way for example that coffee crèmes, once a mainstay of 70s boxes of chocolates have also been victims of the changing times. With this in mind, I canvassed a few friends down the pub to come up with some new ideas.
The winning entry, as proposed by my mate Daryl, whose favourite crisps are "Scampi Flavour Fries" was "Beef Curtains". How about it?
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- 2 Aug 2011
Today's blog is a bit of a cheat. It's "old material", I guess the equivalent of a repeat on the BBC, but I've got a lot of letters and stuff lying about you may not have seen, and I have not got time to write a new blog today.
One of my hobbies in the past was writing letters to crisp manufacturers. I did in fact set up a facebook group on the subject, shortly to be archived. So I thought perhaps I could reproduce some of the content here.
So here we go:
21st May 2010
Consumer Services Department
Walkers Snack Foods Limited
PO Box 23
Walkers Crisps Toasted Cheese Flavour
Dear Sir or Madam,
I am writing to you on behalf of our organisation, the catchily named TCTBBOFOC. We were formed back in the 1990's to campaign for the great lost flavours of crisps that are no longer with us.
Since the failure of our campaign to prevent the replacement of Walkers Beef & Onion with Steak & Onion a few years ago, we have been relatively inactive. However the restoration in full glory of Roast Beef Monster Munch has given us fresh hope.
The subject of my letter today, is that great forgotten classic flavour, "Toasted Cheese". Launched during the late 1980's, it played out a glorious backdrop to my college years, being ever present as we danced the night away to "Ride On Time" and "Pump Up The Jam". But sadly, just as great 80's British institutions such as Margaret Thatcher, Jive Bunny and Howards' Way disappeared with the onset of the 1990's, so indeed did Toasted Cheese.
20 years ago things were very different in the manufacturing world, and Walkers only produced a limited range of flavours. A glorious 15 new flavour promotion such as the current one to co-incide with the World Cup would have been as unthinkable back then. We could as little imagine such a richness of flavours back at Italia '90 as envisage the advent of HDTV big screens as we all hunched around our little 15" portables in the pub watching a little stick man called Waddle miss that penalty.
But now things are different. We long to taste once again that beautiful taste of Toasted Cheese Walkers and re-live that summer of love of 1989. Can the powers that be not find it in their hearts to give us one final chance to savour that glorious flavour in the autumn of our years?
Our chairman, Mr Gerald Mincen, had hoped to deliver this letter in person, unfortunately he is unavailable, so I am sending by first class post. He had a breakdown in the mid 90's after Bacon Flavour Wotsits were replaced in the multipacks by Prawn Cocktail. He had just about recovered from this after some years when the shock of BBQ Beef being replaced by Flamin' Hot proved too much for him, and he has since been unable to leave the house.
I trust this letter finds you in good spirit, and we can once again look forward to seeing Toasted Cheese on our shelves. One final thought – perhaps you could produce this as a special edition to celebrate a national cheese event, e.g. the annual Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake, which takes place near Gloucester every Spring.
The Campaign to Bring Back Old Flavours Of Crisps We did in fact receive a reply to this letter but it was rather disappointing "Thank-you for your letter blah blah blah, but we have no plans to re-introduce Toasted Cheese flavour at this time".
Here is another letter which met with somewhat more success - lots of free bags of crisps winged their way across to Nielsen with this one. It seems KP have somewhat more of a sense of humour than Walkers.
19th March 2004
Dear Sir/ Madam,
We are big fans of Wheat Crunchies here in our office. In fact due to the boredom of working here I take approximately 8 trips per day to the vending machine in order to relieve the monotony with consumption of your delicious snacks.
Such is the drudgery of life here that I have no option other than to go out drinking every night and have a donor kebab on the way home from the pub.
Imagine my delight therefore, when I heard that KP were launching a Donor Kebab flavour of Wheat Crunchies. Two of my favourite things combined – this would be awesome! That very lunchtime myself and my fellow workmates here in the Foodservice department set out to procure for ourselves some of these tasty snacks.
However, 2 hours later, after scouring every convenience store, petrol station and supermarket in the Headington/ Cowley area we returned to the office empty-handed. I was so depressed I locked myself in the toilet for the afternoon and refused to come out. Even a trip the following day to Booker's using our illegal cash and carry card proved fruitless.
I am therefore writing to you out of desperation to say, please please can you help and advise us as to where we can obtain these delicacies as myself and my colleagues cannot sleep at night due to the excitement.
Client Manager – Managed Pub Operators.
ACNielsen – Foodservice
If you enjoyed these - I have a few more I can post tomorrow.
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- 31 Jul 2011
The wheel has fallen off the pushchair again. It's never really recovered from that time I used it to get 3 boxes of Strongbow home in a Tesco 3 for £20 deal. No matter - make do and mend.
The title of my blog today is not a riddle. Read on and you shall find out more.
Many years ago I had a friend who had a sporting analogy for everything. Usually football related. For example if half way through the evening his dismal attempts to chat up women had resulted in utter failure - never mind, "it was a game of two halves". Invariably the second half would also finish goalless and as this was in the pre G's and Litten Tree late nights there would be no "extra time".
I too am a fan of applying sporting analogies to everyday events, but in my case it would involve a more calculating gambling approach. So in the above scenario, my friend would be taking a straightforward "chance to score here" tactic. Meanwhile I would be thinking more along the lines of if I make a cheeky and risque comment to this woman there is probably a 6/1 chance of a snog, a 33/1 chance of a shag, but a kick in the nuts is the more likely outcome at 2/1 favourite. So probably best not to get involved.
I think that DJ'ing can be compared to betting on the horses. Now I know that gambling is a subject guaranteed to make most people's eyes glaze over with boredom (apart from Daryl and Aidan) so I shall not go into too much detail. Only a rudimentary knowledge of the subject is needed so bear with me and see if you can catch my drift.
Some people (mainly people who have never been a DJ) think that to be a good DJ, all you have to do is turn up somewhere with all your gear and play the same tried and trusted formula that's guaranteed to get everyone on the floor. In fact, nothing could be further than the truth. Just as a gambler in the bookies is only as good as his last winner you are only as good as your last record. Every day's selection of horse races is different and so is every disco you DJ at.
Some nights are more difficult than others. If you are playing a familiar venue with many familiar faces in tow then naturally you'll have some experience of the situation, and "you know the form" to use more horse racing parlance.
The one scenario guaranteed to strike fear into my heart though is when I take a massive leap into the unknown.
These are the gigs, invariably private parties, where I travel out of town to a venue I have never been to before full of people I have never met before. In such scenarios I try to get as much information as possible from whoever has hired me beforehand which helps to some extent, but what about the other 80 people in the room? You really don't know before you get there.
I quote a lot of money for these types of jobs now because I find them very hard, and frequently spent half of Saturday afternoon feeling stressed, trying to take a siesta to chill and feeling incredibly nervous.
I always get there as early as possible to be ready before the guests arrive and go armed with a rough playlist of what I would play if I was in a "standard scenario" if such a thing exists. That normally goes straight out of the window. You just don't know what to expect. Sometimes there are loads of little kids running about. Other times you are poked away miles from the bar, or even in another room and everyone that arrives is outside in the sunshine and just not interested in you at all until it gets dark. Then there is the age range. There's a lot of people in their 50s so they probably like 70s music. But what 70s music? Play some motown? But they might hate that and be glam rock fans.
So you tinker about and try different things, and feel frustrated and bored during that first hour or two because no-one is taking any notice of you whatsoever. And why would they when they have just come up from London for the party and bumped into some mates they haven't seen for two years? So I try not to beat myself up about it too much and just bide time.
Anyway eventually everyone's eaten, there's a couple of hours to go and you get a few people up dancing. Now is the critical point. You don't know these people from Adam, how do you keep them? It gets easier as the night goes on and the drink flows, but even so - you are only as good as your last song.
In a four hour gig I would term the third hour the most important. This is make or break time. If you can get it right now, it doesn't matter if the first two hours were crap. People only remember the last hour or two of a party anyway, if they were drunk and happy then, anything before is irrelevant.
My most particular nightmare is when I hit on a good couple of songs and suddenly I've got everyone on the floor. This is the most fraught time and this is where my gambling analogy comes in.
In the world of horse racing you get horses with very strong credentials that start races as very hot favourites and attract some very big bets. Then everyone is shocked when these "good things" run inexplicably poorly and lose. Now I believe these hot favourites exist in the DJ'ing world too! It's an absolute shocker when you play one of these absolute bankers that you've had floors going crazy to in the past, and everyone leaves the floor. Why? When this happens you feel like the blood literally drains from your body. In case you are wondering what songs I am talking about well I can remember this happening to me with "Livin' On A Prayer", "Sex On Fire" and "Summer of '69" other the past few months with no obvious explanation. These songs have got big solid form figures in the book but for whatever reason on the night in question - they failed.
You've just got to recover and quickly. A dancefloor with 30 people reduced to zero in one foul swoop can be recovered from but you got to keep your cool. Just like a pro gambler after a bad hit or bad beat at Poker, you must not chase your losses. Keep calm, collected, the gambler wins back the money - and like him, I must win back the dancefloor.
And then there are the dream bets, the 25/1 outsiders that no-one else backed but for whatever reason, you found, and cheered past the winning post while everyone else was tearing up their tickets. Just occasionally you can play a gamble as a DJ and pull off a spectacular coup. I was doing a little 80s set last night and had played a bit of Wham! and Culture Club, but then blew it with Come On Eileen which emptied the floor. I took a chance and played "Don't You Want Me" by the Human League - a song which I have never had much success with in the past. Last night it was my 25/1 winner. They came flooding back to the floor. I had survived the difficult third hour and I kept them there more or less until the end. Hubby of the wife who's 40th birthday it was came over and asked me if I'd come back and do his 40th in December.
I will - and it will be a lot easier next time.
I don't know how long I will be able to keep it up though (fnaar fnaar). I could quite happily go on running karaoke nights until I'm too decrepit to carry the equipment (a good couple of years left then). Karaoke is by far the favourite part of my job, and I find it comes so much easier to me. As for discos, I do question whether the stress and worry that goes into them is worth it. At the end of the day it is still a job - and one I want to do well. If I wasn't stressing and worrying then I probably would not be doing my job properly. It is all very well making jokes about lazing about at Nielsen drinking coffee and playing Legend Of Zelda on the gameboy in the toilets but when you work for yourself it's a different kettle of fish. I don't want to do anything unless I can do it well.
But until the next opportunity comes along, a DJ I shall be. DJ'ing like my writing, was something that began as a hobby, doing bits and pieces here and there for decades. Then karma brought me the opportunity in the shape of Spider being too drunk to run the karaoke properly at G's one night and I seized my opportunity and stepped into the breach.
I've never made any secret of the fact that I would like to be a writer. I don't mean books, probably more likely articles, comedy sketches (anyone still remember those plays I used to write?) or this sort of thing. If it's meant to be then an opportunity may just present itself. A weekly column in a national newspaper? Why not? It's a more achievable ambition than my F1 driver dream job which let's face it, even the most optimistic of people "you can do anything if you put your mind to it", would have to conclude is not going to happen.
Until then - I've a karaoke to run! See you at the White Hart tonight, blog fans.
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- 29 Jul 2011
By the summer of 2003, with a new team in place, our little department "Foodservice" was established. Rob had left, though was frequently still referred to in legendary tones as "The Great One". I had somehow managed to launch Pubtrack and we were now looking at developing it further. With Dave on board for me to foist all the boring work onto, things looked rosy.
When I once asked one of my girlfriends what I did for a job, she remarked "sounds like you spend all your days poncing around at breweries". This wasn't in fact a million miles from the truth. Back in the retail days I had looked after 3 brewers - Hall & Woodhouse, Shepherd Neame and Fuller Smith & Turner.
The set up at these breweries could not have been more different to Nielsen. Housed in ancient buildings, and family run by several generations they were steeped in tradition, and the owners paid scant attention to modern business practices. For example, at Fullers, "Young Mr Fuller" as he was referred to used to bring his dog to work. At Shephard Neame one day we were having lunch with the clients in the pub next to the brewery. Suddenly Jonathan Neame (the MD) entered the pub and everyone stood up - as if the Headmaster had entered the room.
Running Pubtrack gave me about 16 pub groups to look after which meant travelling all around the country. I also had access to all sorts of interesting data coming in, and it was quite interesting looking at Greene King's till roll tapes to see how many pints of Cider the White Horse had sold that week and such like. I picked up more small brewers e.g. Charles Wells in Bedford which seemed to have about one computer in the building and a Mr Wells who did not know what Excel was. And also some big brewers as well such as Spirit Group (Punch Taverns) and Mitchells & Butlers.
There were 8 of us in the Foodservice team. On the pub side we had myself and Dave who looked after the managed chains, and Gricey who looked after the tenanted pubs. Then there was the legendary Pagey. He had worked in the industry for years and was approaching retirement. Pagey knew everyone and everything in the pub industry. His main hobby was drinking and normal procedure after a meeting was for him to say something like "going to be rush hour soon. Let's pop into that pub for a couple of pints". About 6 pints later we'd be prising him out. Eventually the inevitable happened and he got done for drunk driving which meant we had to ferry him about. Pagey was old school in every way - his way of greeting a female client was to kiss her hand. He also had an obession with real ale and every presentation would manipulate the figures to make it look as if lager was doing badly and real ale was making a comeback. This was usually accompanied with one or two stock phrases such as "There are real signs of green shoots of recovery in the real ale market". In fact Pagey had so many catchphrases we made up a bingo board with them all on so we could tick them off during one of his horrendously boring 3 hour meetings.
Gricey sat next to me in the office (when he could be bothered to drive down from Birmingham) and we spent the day quoting lines from Blackadder to each other. One day the whole team went on an outing to Bury St Edmunds and a brewery tour of Greene King which included a small museum section about the history of brewing beer. Imagine my delight to discover a little hut with some models of monks dressed up in it. I sneaked in, removed the robes, put them on, grabbed the scythe, and sneaked up behind Gricey and gave him the shock of his life by bellowing out "I AM THE BABY EATING BISHOP OF BATH AND WELLS!". A classic moment.
Gricey could get a little stressed, and one day when Helen Farnworth (known as Farthworth) was winding him up in the office, he lost the plot and shouted out "SHUT UP YOU C*NT". The whole floor was stunned into silence. Fartworth didn't seem that bothered but Gricey spent the rest of the day profusely red-faced and apologising. And being wound up by me and Dave of course.
Two new members joined the team. A girl called Charlotte brought in as "sales" who 2 days after arriving announced she was 6 months pregnant and promptly disappeared on maternity leave for a year. And the legendary Roger Suddaby - soon to acquire the nickname Dogger, as he began to regale us with tales of his swinging lifestyle. Poor old Dogger never seemed to get any luck with women in real life and spent the whole bus ride back to Bicester after a night out moaning that I had got a snog off Nuala and he hadn't. Still his various other exploits which seemed to involve dressing up in various costumes and shagging other men's wives while they watched must have made up for it.
Another member of our team was "Graham Northfield", known as Southmeadow. He looked after Cash & Carry's and could get into any one. When we heard a rumour that Wheat Crunchies were introducing a donor kebab flavour we got him reluctantly to drive us around all the local cash & carry's to see if we could find any. Without luck. When we got back I spent the afternoon crafting a masterpiece of a letter to KP asking where we could find them. A few days later a big parcel of Donor Kebab Wheat Crunchies arrived from KP, and we had a good old munch.
To foster a bit of team spirit we decided to start having lunch out together every Friday. This started off quite well with pleasant trips to pubs in Stanton St John & others. Then one fateful Friday we decided to go to the Harvester at Wheatley. All went well until it was almost time to leave. Then I decided to go and take a leak. When I arrived in the toilet I was greeted by a horrendous smell.
The cubicle door was locked. However someone had bored a small hole in it about 2 feet up, about the size of a football. I decided to investigate further. I know that peering through holes in toilet doors isn't normally recommended, but curiosity got the better of me. Just on the floor on the other side of the hole was the largest turd I have ever seen in my life. The only way it could have got there was if someone had backed it out through the hole in the door. Absolutely disgusting. I went back to the table and told everyone, but they didn't believe me. Eventually Southmeadow agreed to go and look. Returning to the table ashen-faced and shaking, he did indeed corroborate my story.
Some years later apparently there was a similar "dirty protest" in the ladies toilets on the ground floor at Nielsen. I know because Dogger forwarded me the (most amusing) email from HR about it. Dogger seemed to think I was somehow responsible but that would have been some mean feat, a year after I had left.
In the Autumn of 2003 I was in hospital and away from work for a few weeks. On my return I started taking things easy - that is, even easier than before. Attempting to get the next phase of pubtrack launched was getting nowhere anyway. Every time I went to a planning meeting full of new ideas, business plans etc, full of enthusiasm I came away utterly deflated. Any ideas I had were met with at best apathy, and at worst derision. So I concentrated my effort into other areas. Due to my health problems I had to lose weight (I was a lot heavier then than I am now). So I decided to do this with a mixture of lunchtime swimming at Temple Cowley and walks up to Shotover behind us.
The swimming went well, I was regularly doing about 30 lengths but it used to make me hungry so I normally used to stop off at McDonads at the Headington roundabout for a light snack afterwards. There was also a betting shop next door so during the winter when it was cold this seemed the ideal place to pop in and watch a couple of races for a bit of entertainment. Progressively my lunch times got longer and longer, and this was noticed by the team who started running spread bets on how long I would be. On other days I would do my walk. This involved walking up to shotover and frequently resulted in me returning with incredibly muddy shoes that I would then have to wash in the toilet behind the canteen. However quite a lot of the mud came off on the carpet. I therefore planned my route to the toilets to pass the office of the evil witch who had blocked my promotion and couldn't resist having a good wipe one day. Childish I know, but I guess that's the nearest I ever came to a real "dirty protest".
One day when I was up on shotover I stumbled across two women leaning against a tree snogging. Sadly, they did not ask me to join in (the stuff fantasies are made of) and I never saw them again. I did however relate the tale to the team back in the office. From then onwards, they were of the opinion I was going up there looking for some action, but if anyone was likely to be getting up to anything up on Shotover it would have been Dogger, as it's a notorious dogging spot.
I wanted to leave but the option wasn't there. But then I spotted an opportunity. Having been there over 10 years I was entitled to a 3 month unpaid sabbatical. I had acquired a fair amount of funds shall we say, and could afford to do it. So I went off round the world, America, New Zealand, Australia and more. When I came back they had managed perfectly well without me and decided that they only needed 2 in the team instead of 3, so we'd all have to re-apply for our jobs or take a very generous redundancy package. I persuaded Dave and Pagey that they should definitely stay, grabbed it with both hands and left.
For my leaving present they gave me the two things I had always wanted. A decent watch and a 48 pack box of Walkers Beef & Onion crisps.
Dave and Southmeadow even wrote me a farewell song, the legendary "Aero's 12 days of Christmas" which involved various things associated with me e.g. Strongbow, crisps, pork pies, cakes etc.
January 2005 - and I made my escape. What would I do next? - I had absolutely no idea.
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- 28 Jul 2011
I thought I'd take a little trip down memory lane today, back to the Nielsen years 1990-2005.
If you've met me since then, you won't know about any of this. And, if like Dave and Dogger you enjoy regular reminiscences (which normally means them taking the piss out of me) then you will certainly enjoy it.
I could write a whole book about Nielsen and might do one day. As this is a blog entry I am going to be brief and focus on a theme - basically, why I decided that the life I had wasn't the one I wanted, and how this came about.
Now I am sure you will see from the banter on facebook there is this perception of me being rather workshy, however, this was not always the case. Dave and Dogger came on the scene only in the last year or so by which time I had long lost all heart for it.
I arrived in 1990, a fresh faced 20 year old, running reports and writing programs. By the time I was 23 I had a company car, I was presenting to the board of Tesco and had my own office in their marketing department. On a daily basis I would be rubbing shoulders with Tim Mason, Terry Leahy and all the others, advising them on the business using the Nielsen sales data. I was there at the launch of clubcard and multibuy promotions. At Tesco I could do no wrong and they insisted on having me on site all day at least two days a week. At least in their eyes I was a high flyer.
And I was good - very good. I could analyse numbers and data like no-one else in my team. And I was so good with clients. They adored me. But sadly, the same can't be said of my colleagues.
Back then, disillusionment had started to set in. And for one very simple reason. The culture within Nielsen simply did not reward people on their merits. You had to "play the game" to get on. Be seen lunching with the right people. Wear the right clothes. Say the right things. Stay in the office until 8pm every night just to look dedicated (even if you had nothing to do).
I didn't - and my enemies (that's the only way to describe them) used this against me.
I hated this - and always have. I cannot stand false people. My number one rule in life is "be yourself" If you are my friend, then it's likely because you have the same values. Those who don't, quite simply I have eliminated them from my life. I have no place for them. And leaving Nielsen was one of the key moments of elimination.
But we have fast forwarded. My disillusionment grew, as less talented individuals were promoted over me, and then I started to run into a new problem. I had a succession of female bosses who seemed to have a problem with me. I became a victim of workplace bullying. And being bullied by a boss who if you decide to protest uses her gender against you "Do you have a problem with me because I am a woman?" was one line I remember you have no chance. Forget grievance procedures - HR won't help you. They ALWAYS take the side of the manager.
But I stuck it out and those people's sins eventually found them out and they fell by the wayside but I survived. Eventually I managed to get out of the retail department and into the manufacturing side. This was meant to be a big new start for me, and with a nice manager and nice team, it seemed I would finally be able to fulfill my potential.
Sadly it was not the case. The clients I was given were exceptionally uninspiring. If you can imagine standing in the boardroom of Rothmans attempting to make 0.1% share movements on a graph seem exciting perhaps you can appreciate this. Another "highlight" was taking on the Jeyes account and regular trips down to Thetford to present on the latest exciting developments in the world of bog cleaner. Even my jocular attempts to inject humour into the presentation "Look like sales of Harpic are going down the pan" seemed to fall on unappreciative ears.
A new MD, and suddenly yet another big "change initiative" buggered everything up for me. If you work in a big organisation you will be aware of these regular initiatives that come down from on high. As far as I can see they are primarily a way of senior management appearing to be doign something to justify their huge salaries. All they seem to do as far as I can see is bugger up everything for a year or two, until it quietly gets put back to the way it was. A graduate training scheme bringing in lots of "young blood" on higher salaries than me, investing fortunes in their training just so they can bugger off to another company after a year. After spending most of the year getting drunk and shagging each other on some sort of rota basis as if they were still at Uni (overweight 30+ has-beens i.e. me not invited).
A new manager was brought in for us, a South African guy who smiled a lot and wore expensive suits. Sadly that was all he did, and he was sacked after less than a year. By then I had gone. My very good friend Rob Adams (whose bacon I had basically saved some years earlier when he has also been a victim of bullying from the same boss as me), threw me a lifeline and offered me a job in marketing.
This was a dream come true. We even had our own office away from the open plan cattle, it did not even have a window. I foresaw a happy future of me and Rob working together and actually enjoyed coming to work. Rob was brilliant at getting peolpe on board, getting resource, and making things happen within Nielsen. But he couldn't do it himself - and I effectively became his engine room. In a couple of months, we finally got the Pubtrack service launched which Rob had been messing about with developing for some years.
But disaster struck. Rob suddenly announced he had a new job and left very quickly on the eve of the pubtrack launch. At the same time the dreaded "Surf Control" was introduced on the computer, banning all gambling, chat sites etc. So that was my day's entertainment scuppered. And worse of all, I was all in line to be given Rob's job - my boss practically said it was mine, but then an evil witch in a very high position who had not forgiven me for running out on my last job used her influence to block it.
The best they could offer me was the same job and bring someone else in to work with me. So along came Dave, another refugee from the horror that Client Service (our previous department had become). Because of what the evil witch had done, by that stage I just could not be bothered to try any more so immediately fobbed off the vast majority of work onto Dave. Despite the fact that there really wasn't that much to do.
I didn't have Rob's influence as a mover and a shaker so any attempt to further develop the Pubtrack service were scuppered. We were a small fish in a big pond, and there was invariably other more important things going on for them to invest any time in us.
October 2003 and I found myself lying in a hospital bed with a knackered heart and severe blood pressure problems. Years of stress, Little Chef's and all the rest of it had taken its toll. I was nearly 34, no family, nothing to show for my life really. And now I was nearly dead. BP 200/150 and they could not get it down. As I lay there I knew I had to change. Everything had to change. So I began to plan my escape. Early in 2005, I was gone, into an uncertain future, with unemployment and a relationship break up looming. What had I done? It seemed crazy, but somehow I just felt this is what I had to do.
After October 2003, once I had basically "given up", I actually began to enjoy myself, and the humour, and banter we had during that last year was quality. We still carry it on, on facebook now. In the whole 15 years I was there, that was probably my happiest time and my next blog entry shall be in a much more upbeat tone as I recall some of the highlights from that last year or two, and some of the things that went on. Tune in next time :-)
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