Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Is my house haunted?

Mrs Pouncer raised the interesting question, in response to blood-soaked tales of minor accidents involving myself and the occupants of the semi-detached house attached to ours, as to whether the ground upon which they are built is haunted. I think not; but perhaps the house in which I grew up was. This would explain many enlightening incidents of first aid provision to my dear father during my formative years. He was - and remains, as far as I'm aware, although I haven't spoken to him since yesterday - a left-handed engineer. If any of you have ever encountered a left-handed engineer you will probably already be forming a mental picture of the chaos and destruction in his wake. He is actually quite a fine craftsman in some areas, it must be said: The rocking horse he made for my nephew is a thing of great beauty, though it was made - and I stress the point - with moving parts supplied in kit form.

When he himself encounters things with moving parts, common sense flies from the window along with spatial awareness and self-preservation. The best of his accidents have a classic elegance to them. There was, for instance, the time when he opened the loft hatch from the wrong side, causing it to swing freely into his own face and knocking him backwards into a door.

Then there was the time when he designed and built an inspection trolley for use under the car, which was basically a 3/4 length bed on castors on which one could scoot oneself under a jacked-up vehicle rather than wriggle like a caterpillar. A fine idea, you might think. And had he used it on a level surface rather than a sloping drive at the top of a hill, it would have worked beautifully. I caught up with him 150 feet down the road and rapidly approaching a traffic roundabout, while my mother was still leaning on the front door, incapacitated with laughter.

But the one that sticks out in my mind was the time in the early 80s when we bought our first video recorder and were duly sent by my mother to buy a flat-pack cabinet in which to put it (and on top of which to put the telly, if you follow me). We arrived at the shop to find a variety of such items, graded according to size. I asked him whether he had measured the video recorder before setting off. "No son; this is the one we want!" and so saying he selected one at random. We duly got it home, and I suggested it might be provident to measure the video recorder to confirm that this was the right-sized cabinet. "Less of your lip, son" he admonished me; "Let's just press on and build it."

"Let's just press on" was a favourite phrase of my dad's, deeply worrying to hear; it usually meant "I have just encountered a major snag but am determined to continue on a dangerous and ultimately catastrophic course".

Anyway, we assembled the thing and put the video recorder in it. Lo and behold, it protruded a good three inches, preventing the glass doors from closing. Rather than admit the problem, dismantle it and get a refund, my dad hit upon the brilliant solution of getting a saw and cutting a slot in the back of it, so that the video recorder could be pushed through and the doors thus allowed to close. My parents still have it...

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Removing one's own goolies - a brief guide

The following narrative is, alas, entirely true. It happened some weeks ago but has been too traumatic to relate up until now.

The other week I repaired late one night to the bathroom, during a bout of minor digestive inconvenience. Struggling away on the toilet - as one does - I managed to faint. I came round on all fours looking upside-down at a copious pool of blood, which for a brief moment I failed to recognise as my own. On investigating further, I found blood pouring from the base of my male member, which had evidently got stuck inside the rim of the said toilet as I crashed to the floor and been partially torn off. Of all the places from which to find one's blood pouring, I think all males will agree that that is one of the least pleasant to behold. Oddly, it was completely unaccompanied by any sensation of pain.

My inarticulate cries of dismay brought my wife rushing to the scene. Unable to leave the baby or bring it with her to A&E, she called on our neighbour to drive me to the local hospital, clutching a towel to my groin and walking somewhat oddly.

As I suspected, the most traumatic part of the experience was trying to explain the nature of my injury to a cynical and jaded receptionist at 1 a.m. "So. shall I put it down as a 'personal problem' then?" she said with a quizically raised eyebrow. "No dashitall" I yearned to reply - but didn't - "Put it down as a fall from fainting!"; but I could see that the more I protested the more she would be convinced of misadventure involving a domestic appliance, so I sat and waited.

And yes, of course the doctor who eventually saw me was female, and yes of course the solution involved hypodermic needles of local anaesthetic in deeply personal places and stitches. But since it led to full recovery I shall not complain in the slightest of the embarrasment. Better that than go for the Earnest Hemingway option...

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Back to the real world, alas.

My pleasant two-week sojourn in the backwaters of British education is over for another year. Every year about this time schools up and down the land discover that they have basically finished the syllabus and have more reports to write than can comfortably be managed while managing a class of screaming, hyperactive monkeys, making it an ideal juncture to bring in an outside tutor to run some workshops. And so it is that I am invited in to introduce said hyperactive monkeys to the delights of Javanese gamelan.

Although a standing bet with No Good Boyo compels me to refer to them as monkeys, I do have to say - to the chagrin of Daily Mail readers everywhere - that the vast majority of today's yoof are in fact pleasant, well-mannered (if talkative) young people who show a a keen and intelligent interest in things. You just have to know how to talk to them. Or failing that, pick a subject such as gamelan which means that whenever you go into a school you have a large array of hammers immediately to hand.

The exception is Year 9, or what in old money was called 'third formers'. These are 13-14 year olds, wallowing in the first wash of strange hormones and convinced that street-cred involves sniggering, refusing to answer questions and being sulky. "Attichood" is everything, and can be accurately gauged at a glance by the amount of time spent on the haircut. The more gel, dye, sticky-up bits and razored designs involved, the less cooperative will be the tiny brain rattling about inside. Girls with long plaits or boys with tousled fringes are never a problem, for some reason.

I propose that this should be used as the basis of a new stop-and-search initiative by the police. Better still, march all the hairdressers off to re-education camps to be taught more useful skills. Sheep-shearing, perhaps. Although doubtless a few months down the line there will be the first reports of delinquent sheep with gel in their wool terrorising old-age pensioners. You read it here first. I think I need to go and take one of the blue tablets now. No wonder teachers are all so twitchy...

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Does everyone have conversation like this? - 2

"Daddy, what's your favourite musical?"
"I like the Rodgers and Hammerstein show about the Canadian vet who has to investigate a sudden outbreak of vomiting among wild hoofed mammals."
"Is that a real musical?"
"Yes darling! It's called 'The Sound of Moose-Sick'."

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Mussolini is alive and well and running Italy

An Italian court has ruled that proactive prejudice on the basis of crude racial stereotypes is legally defensible.

Italy's highest appeal court has ruled that it is acceptable to discriminate against Roma on the grounds that they are thieves.
The judgment, made public yesterday, comes amid a nationwide clampdown on the Roma community by Silvio Berlusconi's government. Last week his interior minister, Roberto Maroni, announced plans to fingerprint all of Italy's Roma, including children.

So that got me thinking - it must now be fine to go to Italy and punch someone. 'Cos after all, I could get away with it seeing that all Italians are cowards. And it would be justified by the fact that they all attempt to misbehave with the womenfolk.

First they came for the Jews...

It doesn't matter whether you are Roma or not; this ruling brings shame on Italy for resurrecting some of the worst elements of fascism - legally enshrined racism and collective punishment on the basis of suspicion without evidence to name but two. When this happens, we all need to don the yellow star.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Does everyone have conversations like this?

"Daddy, what's your favourite Beatles' song?"
"Ooh - depends. Which album are we talking about?"
"This one."
['Help' is indeed playing at the time]
"I like the one about the lady getting the Isle of Wight ferry."
"Which one's that?"
"She's got a ticket to Ryde."
[Sighs deeply, rolls eyes]
"How about on Rubber Soul?"
"I like the one about the chap who makes the costumes for Japanese classical theatre."
"Is there such a song?"
"Yes. Noh-wear Man!"
[Groans, exits sideways looking worried]