Friday, 12 August 2011

Room 101: The Cynic's Paradise

You've probably shared similar experiences of angst, though I hope one or two of these might not have entered your conscious pissed-offness until now!

By the way, they're in no particular order; just the order in which they pop into my head. It's a growing list, and suggestions or non-dickheadish comments are most welcome!

1. SLOW WALKERS: YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY PERSON IN THE WORLD! The sooner pavements have a special crawler lane for heavy traffic, the better for all of us.

2. The Simpsons has run out of ideas and is no longer funny. Newer episodes fill the minutes largely with unfunny songs that you find yourself waiting for to finish.

3. You can't open windows on trains, because the air conditioning is on, which is inappropriately set too cold (or doesn't work). JUST HAVE OPEN WINDOWS! Let passengers take control according to the temperamental British temperatures and don't waste your rip-off revenue on ineffective AC.

4. Crap city/town maps. They're everywhere (well, in urban places). Either they don't indicate where you currently are, or they're just plain wrong, or there is no scale at all, or there is a massive white blotch where a million grubby fingers have pointed saying 'Look Barry, it sez we're here!' and so you can't navigate yourself to any nearby landmark.
   *footnote: upon re-reading the above, there probably weren't a million people talking to someone called Barry, nor a million fingers talking to Barry. Still, a million isn't an exaggeration.

5. Opening devices on packaging that simply don't work. Those little 'tear here' ribbons of card on cardboard packages are pretty shit. It takes surgical precision, steadiness of hand and judgement of pressure to achieve what seems to be expected of you.

6. When people on British TV programmes talk about how hot the weather is somewhere, and switch to Fahrenheit so that they can use triple-figure numbers, and in doing so making most viewers actually clueless as to what that really means. "Today temperatures soared to 100 DEGREES (shock on viewer's faces) ... FAHRENHEIT (viewers wonder what the fuck that actually means) or ...ahem...37 degree celsius (viewers realise it's not that amazing)". Just tell us the temperature in celsius and we'll know if that's actually hot or not!

7. I don't mind this on casually scribbled signs, but using apostrophes before plural 's' on large signs which seem to have had some time spent on their creation is somewhere between surprising and depressing (and of course annoying, which is the whole point of this blog). I've seen service's printed on the side of a company van, pizzas' on chain-pubs' printed menus and even neon lights saying burger's.

*A little challenge for sign-makers: spot the possessive plural above! A years' supply of redundant apostrophes for the winner.

8. Christmas-related activities and marketing starting unnecessarily early - I was affronted one October morning on the train to work, when the tannoy announced "With only 60 days until Christmas, why not pop into Liverpool One near James Street Station to do some Christmas shopping?". Also being advertised at (not 'to') on a Merseyrail train wasn't very nice on a Monday morning!
   I don't mind Christmas, but with the commericial hype starting sometimes as early as September, by the time the 25th December has arrived, you're sick to the back teeth of anything remotely Christmassy, and all passion has been replaced with Scrooge-ness. And don't tell me to watch A Christmas Carol - bah humbugger off!

I don't care if you've managed to fill the petrol in your car to exactly £20.00-worth! Or if you've made a particularly well presented lasagne. There are, sadly, some individuals who don't feel like events in their life are actually real until they've been announced and 'liked' via Facebook. Passing a pseudo-emotional message to your wife/mum/friend telling them how much you love them - through a status update instead of telling them directly and personally - drastically cheapens the whole thing. It seems more and more people are doing this shit - and it's by no means limited to teenagers...

10. Reports or documentaries using dollars-a-week figures to make us understand how poor a person or nation is. It doesn't work and it's meaningless!! If a Thai girl earns the equivalent of $8 a week, how the frig do I know whether $8 in Thai baht will buy a Mars bar or a yacht?! I just make the assumption that $8 is very low, which is what I'd assume anyway, only I'd be a bit less irritated while doing so. Why not put it in context and say what he/she can actually afford to do in their hometown? None of this intelligence-insulting bullshit.

11. When bars/pubs not constructed for dancing in play music so loud that you cannot really chat to anyone unless they're speaking close enough to also billow still-moist breath down your ear-hole. It's a lose-lose situation: nowhere to dance (if, for some weird reason, you are inclined to do so) and nowhere to speak. You just spend the time struggling to hear each other or, as I often do, pretending you heard by giving an essentially meaningless movement of the head and eyebrows. The drinks are usually shit in the those places too (where the best/only 'bitter' they pour is John fucking Smiths - see annoyance 13).

12. A sponsored event, where a huge chunk of what you paid goes towards the cost of doing something not supporting the cause; that bit should come out of the person's pocket! I want 100% of my donation actually helping the charity! And the idea that a crazy, big event such as parachuting will pull in more donations might be true, but that doesn't excuse the idea of the first £300 of donations going to a private parachuting company (no offence to them). It's the CAUSE, not the EVENT which should make you want to donate more. I'd donate say £20 for a charity helping rehome mistreated animals, regardless of whether the 'event' is someone jumping with Felix Baumgartner or spending a whole day with their finger up their nose. Equally, I'd pay a mere £1 for a comparatively trivial charity, for the same two events. In fact, the more expensive and boisterous the event, the less I'm likely to donate.

13. Shit bitter masquerading as real ale, or, more to the point, the kind of old blokes that drink them with an air of "oh this is a dignified, hearty beverage - look at me, I'm drink real British ale!" I'm not one for over-glorifying my own country (see point 17), but Britain really has got a great thriving culture of real ale brewing, with endless choice if you go to the right kind of pub/shop. If you do like your drinks slightly warmer, darker and less fizzy than lager, why would you drink that bland dishwater?!

14. The term 'full-time mum'.

15. The unnecessary, pretentious use of borrowed foreign expressions (e.g. je ne sais quoi) for ideas that have a perfectly functional English equivalent; the only difference in doing so is that it makes you think either a) wow, they're smart/intellectual/deep and interesting, or b) what a complete tosser, why did they need to say it like that? Example: Will Self on Room 101, using the expression homme du monde while chatting to Paul Merton, followed immediately by translating and saying 'man of the world', thereby making the French bit a waste of time and patronising the audience as well. Twat.

(note: there's nothing wrong with using foreign phrases when there's no fitting English expression, provided that the other person's going to understand - none of these fancy obscure terms like that German word used to describe the sense of pleasure derived from crossing things off lists...)

16. Having news correspondents report from 'location', where all you can see in the background is a non-descript building or a few bushes - they might as well just be stood in their own back garden or round the back of the BBC Television Centre! Even this morning there was someone reporting from somewhere affected by the floods...not only was your sense of 'location' provided solely by a long privet hedge, but you could hardly hear the twat speak for the morning traffic of the road he was stood by! Save some frigging expenses and just stick up a photo of the place; I don't give a toss if some reporter is in the place of events. I am capable of understanding the story just as well without watching him/her enjoy their 'day out of the office'.

17. Empty phrases that are used to 'define' an aspect of Britain against some unknown alternative. "What I love about British is our green hills" - what, you mean like those in Romania? "You could only get chips like these in Britain" - some of the best I've eaten is where they were invented, Belgium. "The British really know how to make a guest feel welcome" - funny that, 'cos so do Yurt-dwellers in Kazakhstan. Yes, there are some features of Britishness that you can identify them by (cough-orange chubby-faced girls with butterfly eyelashes-cough), but just use your fucking head before you attempt a self-affirming comment please. Your ignorance is oh-so very British.

18. Lighting shops when closed at night - but with everything switched on for all to see! Endless varieties of lamp, all fecking switched on right through the night (one can only assume their target customers are drunk post-nightclub folk, well-known for having intense cravings for kebabs and touch-operated reading lamps after a pissup). What a grotesque waste of energy.

19. Litterbugs. Or as I sometimes call them, litterpricks. Can't stand 'em. Especially when there is a bin about 5 metres away from them. Seeing fag butts flying out of passing cars, older-and-should-know-better blokes chucking their recently finished can of Irn Bru into a bush, smokers ripping into a new packet while carelessly letting the small flecks of paper fall in a trail of petty destruction behind them...the list goes on. The idea that someone might have to pick that up, otherwise they'd be knee-deep in crap, just doesn't remotely enter their small brain. A simple but quite telling sign of self-centredness.

20. The British Museum - give stuff that belongs to other countries back to them, you nobs! So many people travelling in most countries of the world must have reached a place of special cultural interest, only to hear that the painting, sculpture or other artefact is X miles away in the British Museum. It's all very well for London (a place that clearly struggles for tourists...) having everything in one place, but it's not all very well for the countless places across the globe that have been robbed of their own cultural treasure. The Empire's long dead, times have moved on quite a bit, so give the fucking things back.

21. Fishing in pre-stocked fisheries. 'Shooting fish in a barrel' is only partially a metaphor for this one. I can't imagine any satisfaction in catching a fish that has been specifically put there for you to catch, and then throw it back and carry on. God, there are plenty of real rivers, lakes and seas where there's the sport-defining uncertainty of catching a fish while it naturally does what fish do. Yes, you may come away having caught nothing (trust me, I know), but if you do, then the fun of that will equal 100 days of fishery time. And why do they always look a bit like a lesser-known corner of Tellytubby Land?

22. People who go to small comedy clubs expecting the same experience as watching a Peter Kay DVD at home - in other words, without responding to the comedian and joining in the fun with him/her. I watched a comedian recently, a good one too, who 'died on stage' because of this. The 15 or so people watching him were so silent and non-responsive to the ice-breaker/joke ammunition questions about their occupation etc, that the atmosphere was shit and the comedian evidently didn't get into his stride. Stand-up comedy is a two-way process, needing laughs (even forced at the beginning just to give a bit of feedback and kick-start the natural spontaneity of good comedians) and some kind of willingness to join in the game. If you don't like that idea, and just prefer a court-jester-style act, then try YouTube instead.

UK Trains and associated shenanigans...

Trains are generally alright in the UK (I do wish they were the ones with compartments though, much more fun and cosy for long journeys with a few friends). I'm still amazed that you can drink alcohol on most trains - probably the transport minister hasn't noticed yet, so SAY NOWT, KEEP MOVING!

As for certain shortcomings...well obviously there are famous things like 'the wrong kind of snow' and 'leaves on the track' as being ridiculous excuses for delays, high costs and all the rest of it,  here's one that I've not heard echoed:

Windows which you cannot open when hot, replaced by overly strong air conditioning which actually makes you cold enough to want to put a jacket on. Energy put to excellent use. Apparently the air-con has only one setting, so you either sweat your balls off or freeze your tits off when the weather is colder or warmer than the usual mid-range 'meh' temperature.

Oh and also for that minority unfortunate enough to have experienced delays (cough cough), the bloody departures board which says 'Expected Time'. It is BOLLOCKS. Firstly, the expected departure time is often adjusted to precisely 30 seconds from time of reading, without a glimmer of a train's light on the horizon - is it really gonna be here in time to have boarded/spat out and left again in 30 seconds?! Hmm....
Then the next trick is to add a few minutes, toying with the frustrated sods stood on the platform. A late 20-something lad (usually someone like myself) turns up to the platform sweating, yet pleased that the train is late and he'll make it. Whoever is controlling the digital board joyously adds another 3 minutes to the time, chuckling while sat in the privileged knowledge that in reality the train is caught behind a rogue blade of grass stuck indelibly to a section of rail 30 miles back.
By the time the train makes it through the arduous journey to the station, 35 minutes have passed. Had the said controller person sourced his cynical fix from something else - perhaps typing a ranting blog about shitty buses - and actually told would-be passengers a realistic departure time, then we could have all gone for a pint at that ominous-looking yet conveniently located pub over the road for a pint of some generic beer....

I really shouldn't pad out my rants with so much other stuff, but y'know, this is the chaos that my mind goes through at such times.