Friday, January 30, 2009

It was acceptable ‘posh’ dessert for dinner guests in the 80s…

Last night we had Irony Boy and wife round for tea. They were trying to rehabilitate themselves after the ball-grabbing-throw-tea-everywhere incident that killed our remote controls, so they cooked tea for us. And for pudding we had a special treat…Viennetta.

You remember Viennetta? It’s an ice cream thing with a very thin chocolate partial chocolate coating. It was once incredibly popular, a bit like Arctic Roll, but considered much more fancy. Arctic Roll was Saturday tea time. Viennetta was Sunday lunch, for special dinners, to impress guests. After all, it came on its own ‘plate’ and everything and had an Italianish name, so it had to be posh, right? (I think it was the same thinking that came up with Dolmio as a name for cheapie pasta sauce.)

And because it was served when we had guests, it was always cut incredibly thinly to make it go round. My mum once served 14 people out of one Viennetta. I’m not saying she’s tight, but I could see the pattern on the plate through my slice…

But anyway, Viennettas are still there in the freezer cabinets. They cost £1 these days and are a budget pud. (I think they were more expensive in the 80s, like Cornettos used to be.) I don’t know if you can still get all the variations - I used to like the biscuit one, but they did mint, strawberry and chocolate ice cream varieties too. In fact, it was the chocolate version we had last night. Nostalgia never tasted so good.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

5 most annoying rip-offs

I’ve been thinking about how easily we get duped into paying for stuff we don’t need. Here are five of the things I think are the most annoying ways people try and rip you off.

1) Warranties. I recently went to buy a new TV remote from Argos, because Irony Boy had baptized our previous remote with his cup of tea after his wife unexpectedly grabbed his balls (long story), and the cashier offered me a 3-year warranty. On a £6 remote control.* What is the point of a warranty on a £6 remote? Especially as I’ve banned Irony Boy from having hot drinks in the living room any more.

2) Vitamin supplements. The best description of vitamin pills I’ve ever heard was on The Big Bang Theory when Sheldon described them as “the ingredients for very expensive urine”. It’s true. You literally pi$$ away your money.

3) Those stupid magazine part works. ‘Build a solar system’ by paying three quid a week for two years, by which time you’ll be heartily fed up with your solar system model and will probably have lost half the bits anyway. Seriously, who buys these? The best one I ever saw was ‘build your own medieval village’ - the first week you got two bricks and six roof tiles.

4) Consolidation loans. Thankfully, the adverts for these have virtually disappeared from TV. Three cheers for the credit crunch. But when they were on they gave me the urge to kill Carol Vorderman and end her patronisingly inane ‘maths’. Of course it’s ‘cheaper per month’ to pay a debt off over 15 years than six months. But is it cheaper overall, Carol? Is it? No.

5) Blu-ray or whatever the hell will come after Blu-ray. Yay - go out and buy all the films you own on yet another format. Baa, sheep, baa. The same applies to MP3s. I own it already - give me the new version free, you wallet-raping conmen.

*NB - this is probably my favourite juxtaposition of a long rambling sentence with a short ungrammatical sentence I’ve ever written.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Country Music Wisdom #1

You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em
Know when to walk away and know when to run
You never count your money when you’re sitting at the table
There’ll be time enough for counting when the dealing’s done

~ The Gambler, Kenny Rogers

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Mr Consistent Fan

The mighty Shrews took on Darlington yesterday. It was my third Town game of the season. It turned out to be the third time in a row I’ve seen Town win 1-0. For the third time they won a game they could easily have lost. And a new trend - this was the second game I’ve seen in a row that the opposition had a man sent off.

I’d already told a couple of people that I was expecting a 1-0 win because I was on a ‘run’. Shrewsbury scored after 4 minutes, then held on for 91 (86 + 5 minutes stoppage time) in a decidedly ropey game. The official stat is that Darlington had 58% of the possession. It certainly looked like it, and it almost paid off for the visitors. But for two fine saves by Luke Daniels and a last minute reprieve when the ball screwed across the Town 6-yard box in the penultimate minute, they could have easily lost this. Darlington were a physically stronger side and seemed to ghost through the Shrewsbury midfield with very little opposition.

The transfer window hasn’t been kind to Shrewsbury. they’ve lost a couple of players and only one new player has arrived - Nick Chadwick, who came on in the second half and proceeded to not win a single header. He is apparently ex-Everton, with the emphasis on the ‘ex’.

One or two Town players stood out. Winger Chris Humphrey electrified the crowd with some good runs to the byline and deep into the box on one occasion. Richard Walker had a good game upfront but took some real punishment from Darlington’s bruiser centre-backs. Luke Daniels pulled off those saves mentioned above and looked pretty good with his clearing punches. But he’s only a loan player and will be headed back to West Brom soon. Paul Murray and Neil Ashton battled in midfield, but were too small to really compete. Kelvin Langmead and Graham Coughlan were pretty solid in defence. They had to have a good game, given how much pressure they came under.

Town are now sixth in the table and look good for a play-off place if they can keep winning. But, realistically, this team would get hammered frequently at a higher level. Promotion will mean a rebuild throughout the team from the goalkeeper onwards, and given the economic pressure on football clubs, it’s unlikely they can afford to do that.

Match Factoid: Marc Pugh came on for the l;ast 10 minutes and committed two fouls - the most of any Town player.

My record at the ProStar Stadium: Seen 8, W7, D0, L1

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ike or itch?

Having read one of his novellas in a sci-fi collection, I had a look through my John Wyndham books the other day and found one I don't remember reading: Trouble with Lichen.

My own 'trouble' with 'lichen' is that I don't know how to say it. Growing up, my dad always used to point it out on rocks as 'liken', with a long i and hard k. But I've met several people who call it 'litchen', with a short i and an English ch sound. And if you say it the wrong way to the wrong person they always correct you.

The online etymological dictionary says: "from L. lichen, from Gk. leichen, originally "what eats around itself," probably from leichein "to lick". That, frankly is no help, as the Greek word would have been written with a X(chi) which is pronounced like a Welsh/Scottish 'ch' (think loch, or Castell Coch). Lei would be a 'lie' sound in Greek, but I think li is shorter in Latin.

So, here we go - ike or itch? Cast your vote.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I'm preparing a study on this. And at the risk of being hunted down by sinister dudes, harrassed and sued and harangued by Tom Cruise, I'm forced to conclude that:

These people are nuts.

Monday, January 19, 2009

More guilty pleasures

Because ten aren’t enough…

TV Snooker. People say it’s boring; I say it’s soothing. Especially late at night, when you’ve had a busy day and you want to watch something, but your brain also wants to go to sleep. The same also applies to live cricket.

Baiting people. Drop the bait and wait for someone to get riled, annoyed, pedantic, or whatever. There are few pleasures more pleasurable than watching someone get on their hobby horse and charge angrily off into the middle distance. It works both ways: e.g. “One of the reasons rugby is superior to football is that you never get rugby hooligans…” or “The problem with rugby is very basic: it’s just crap to watch…”

Joining in the rude songs at football matches. Okay, they’re childish, but a song like “Who the ----ing hell are you?” offers you a chance to swear for the greater good. Football is the glue that holds communities together. You’re contributing to social cohesion as you chant “sheep, sheep, sheep shaggers” at the opposition fans.

Hot Tamales. I know they’re no good for me, despite the slogan on the box: “A low fat candy!” But, oh, I love the taste.

Opening a pack of football stickers. Or any trading cards, really. It’s the frisson of the unknown, combined with happy memories of collecting stickers as a kid.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

She hangs her head in shame

My friend Clare is a major film fanatic (97 films in the cinema last year). So I was a bit surprised when she emailed me for help in identifying film posters, especially as one of the film posters she was stuck on was this:

I replied "Seriously?" One of the most iconic film posters of all time? Didn't the fact that that's Darth Vader's head in the background give it away? She was suitably embarrassed when I pointed it out.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Ten guilty pleasures

I caught that TV show 'Guilty Pleasures' on a digital channel the other night. Now before you think it's something very dodgy, possibly involving naked people and soft focus camera work, it's a show where various celebrities list the things they like, but feel they shouldn't. So, for example, Stephen Fry revealed his love for Abba, and Georgette Heyer novels.

It got me thinking, if I had to list my guilty pleasures, what would they be. Here are ten.

1) Country music. I don't know if it's the twang of the gee-tarr, or the cowboy hats, but I really like country music. Today I bought The Best Country Album...Ever! in the Zavvi clear out, and I'm amazed how many of the songs I know. Now I own them. I'm so happy.

2) Potatoes. I don't care how they come. Baked, mashed, chipped, fried, roasted, in potato salad, as crisps, whatever. I love potatoes. I would like to reincarnate as a potato weevil and just eat potatoes all day. (I'm sure not coming back as a human, with my karma.)

3) Blogging in work time. Not that I ever do this, ever! But if I did, I know I'd love it...

4) Games Workshop. One day, when I've made a mint and I have enough time to properly learn how to paint models, I'm going to buy the mother of all 40K armies and create beautiful mayhem. I'm thinking of going Tau.

5) Failblog. I shouldn't laugh at the failures of others, and yet I do. Frequently. The same is true of Cake Wrecks. The writing on the CW site is comedy of the highest order.

6) Playing Guitar Hero... alone. I'm too cool to rock out properly when other people are watching. But when I'm alone I swing that axe as if I was a rock god.

7) Verbal doodling. I've written a game-by-game history of an imaginary football team covering the last 25 years. And it's all for me. I know it's nerdy and unproductive, but hey, it's my time and I can waste it if I want.

8) Cherry tomatoes. Sure, they're healthy, but in the summer I was buying them in 5kg boxes from the organic veg providers at the end of my street. And we ate them all.

9) Other people cancelling. You know when you've got something on which you don't really want to go to, but you feel you ought to, and then someone cancels and you're suddenly free and it's not your fault. Best feeling ever. Closely followed by when someone asks you to do something then tells you that you don't have to do it after all. That's about as close as I get to job satisfaction.

10) Trips to the toy shop. I love wondering round toy shops, looking at all the lovely things, maybe buying some....Yeah, I play with my Star Wars figures. Why else would I have so many?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire and a few other films

This is the much-touted new film from Danny Boyle, which won some Golden Globes last week and is up for loads of Baftas too. We went to see it as a team outing in appreciation of all our hard work before Christmas.

I honestly thought it couldn't live up to the hype, and yet somehow it did. The cinematography is fantastic. The storyline is a bit twee, but well-written. There's tension and drama and a happy ending which is nice. It manages to convey the sense of India as a place where extremes of wealth and poverty exist, where opportunity and cruel exploitation both occur.

But even though it all works out in the end, it doesn't glamourise the poverty of the slums, or how hard it is to escape. I thought the saddest part of the film was when the hero Jamal meets a boy he knew from the begging ring he used to belong to. This other lad was deliberately blinded because blind beggars earn more money. "You were saved," he tells Jamal, "and that's the difference between us..."

Jongudmund's rating: 9/10 Go and watch it

Some other films

Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Hmmm, they've changed the opening Star Wars music. Bad sign. It's about Anakin and his young 'spunky' sidekick. Uh oh. Jabba the Hutt has a son who's been kidnapped and looks like a cutesy slug... what is going on here?
Jongudmund's rating: 2.5/10 One for hard core fans only, and even then...

Futurama: Bender's Game
I'm not really sure where these feature length movies are going. This one turned into a spoof of Lord of the Rings, but that's been copied/parodied so many times it seems a bit lame to try and send it up again. Although the cavern full of annoying Morks was quite funny. Na noo na noo.
Jongudmund's rating: 4/10 Another one for the afficionados and no one else really

Ella Enchanted
It might just be me but I felt the idea of a girl being enchanted/cursed to be obedient to whatever anyone said disturbing and creepy. Good thing she doesn't live in the real world or she'd wind up in some pretty horrible situations, especially if she was as pretty as Anne Hathaway. The fairy who cast the obedience spell on her never really got her comeuppance either, which annoyed me.
Jongudmund's rating: 4/10. Watch 'Enchanted' instead.

What happens in Vegas
1) I've been to Vegas and it's nothing like this. 2) You can't just get married on a whim in Vegas - that's a myth. You're thinking of Reno. 3) Does anyone out there actually think Cameron Diaz is hot any more?

Actually once you get past it's premise which can't happen, this is quite funny. Some bits of it made me laugh and some made me cringe inwardly, but in a good way. Oh, and if you have nuts and you know what it's like to be whacked in them, there's an eye-watering scene just before the credits. Watch out.
Jongudmund's rating: 6/10 reasonable DVD night in

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hier Kommt Alex

One of the unexpected side effects of playing Guitar Hero is that I've developed a liking for German punk metal. Well, one song - Hier Kommt Alex by Die Toten Hosen.

Looking up on Wikipedia, it's from their concept album dedicated to a Clockwork Orange (such a good book), which explains why they're using the popular-with-droogs phrase 'horror show'. And their name means 'the dead trousers', vernacular for impotent. Good old Wikipedia.

I quite like the band logo too. Might see if I can find it on a t-shirt.

Monday, January 12, 2009

You’re an Audi…

…constrained to drive at Mini-speeds, my manager said to me today. The prompt for this automotive comparison was the word on his word-a-day calendar:

Hebetude - meaning lethargy or dullness.
What caught his notice was the sentence it was used in: “The hebetude displayed by such bright students was just one sign that they were not being sufficiently challenged in their classes.” Hence the ‘you’re an Audi’ comment, because he sensed I’m not being challenged in my job (probably true), and as a result am lethargic (also probably true).

Staying sharp is a challenge as a copywriter. Occasional chances to stretch creatively help. But it was a word on the back which caught my eye - “hebetate”: “to make dull”. That is one of the primary functions of the committee sign off, as far as I see it - to commit vanillacide and blandify what we do so it’s so inoffensive it’s ineffective.

From now on I’m going to send copy for approval marked up ‘For you to hebetate’. No one will ever look up the definition.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


I'm reading a (dodgy liberal) theology book at the moment and found this definition of faith, which I quite like:

"Faith is reason turned courageous."

It's rational to believe in a God, but it takes courage to believe the things people say about God (or the things He says about Himself).

Friday, January 09, 2009

My cracker joke

Another groaner from life group. We'd had some leftover Christmas crackers and I was challenged to come up with a better joke than the ones people were reading out. Given that for some reason, the majority of jokes we'd had so far were about frogs, that was my theme. here's the joke:

"What do frogs watch on pay-per-view?"

"I don't know, what do frogs watch on pay-per-view?"

"Frog's porn." (Frogspawn, geddit?)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Like Bob (and, I guess, Ziggy)

Conversation at life group with a member who's going to Mali...

Kim: "I'm not sure what Malian culture is like..."

Me: "Lot's of reggae."

Kim: "Reggae?"

Me: "Yeah. Like Bob Mali."

Oh, how we laughed...

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Strange days

I've got to be a bit careful about what I say here and how I say it because some of the information is a bit sensitive. I also don't like gossip.

But, having said that, we're experiencing strange days in the organisation I work for, as aspects of a former member of staff's private life have been disclosed to all staff. Many people are in shock at said person's behaviour, which our Executive Director described as "incredibly deceitful" when we were all told the news on Monday morning. There is a huge amount of pain, disappointment and, being honest, anger. And a feeling of unreality; as if this is all a misunderstanding which will be cleared up sometime soon.

Another word used by ED was "arrogance". And, to be honest, that was a word I would have associated with said person before all this news broke. I didn't get on with his particular management style. I felt it was authoritarian. Decisions were made without consultation. A few years ago I told my manager at the time that I felt this other person treated our workplace as his personal fiefdom, and behaved as if it was his to use as he wanted.

But I still felt he had integrity as a person. On one occasion he went out of his way to make sure I was OK when a random nutter was trying to make trouble for me. I remember receiving one appreciative email in particular, which praised my writing talent and really encouraged me at a time when I was at quite a low ebb. What made it even more special was that he had taken time out of his schedule while overseas to write and tell me I was doing a good job.

So what do you do? It's tempting to write off all the good things, but I do believe they were genuine expressions of goodness. The hard thing for me was seeing people who had known him for literally decades, and considered him a most trusted friend, so broken and hurt by his duplicity. When you see grown men who you respect, and care about, and to some extent love, struggling to hold back the tears as they try to assimilate what they're hearing, the sense of injustice and anger are magnified.

Personally, I think it's easier to forgive a slight against yourself - to say 'you wronged me, but I forgive you' than to forgive people who have hurt those you care about. A few years ago I felt rage - actual deep-seated pit-of-the-stomach murderous wrath - at the way my wife was being unjustly treated by a relation. If it was happening to me, it would have been easier to forgive. But when it's an attack on someone else, someone you hold dear, forgiveness isn't so easy.

And, a final thought, I think many of those who I care about who have been hurt the most were hurt precisely because they cared so deeply about the friend who betrayed them. In fact, I think that may have made it easier for him to betray them. When you have known someone that long, you see them as they were, not as they have become. As someone new(ish) to the organisation, I saw said person and thought 'he's a bit conceited'. But had he always been that way, or had he grown that way over time?

It's hard to see those gradual changes when you're so close the subject, like the parent who still sees their son as an adorable little boy, even those he's an asbo teen brat. It takes a radical shock to the system to allow you to see that person with fresh eyes, with a new appreciation of who they really are, instead of the image of them you've constructed in your head.

For many of the people I'm closest too, they've had that radical shock and the person they now see is not the person the thought they knew.

If you're the praying type, please pray for us.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

A tag line I wish I wrote

I try and keep an eye out for good copy, mainly so that if I'm stuck for ideas I have a repository of other people's good ideas to "inspire" me. I think it was Picasso who said "Bad artists copy; good artists steal."

In Asda last night I spotted a great tagline on a Vimto crate:

"Shlurple the purple"


Friday, January 02, 2009

Arrpy Noo Yerr they say round here.

We went to Amroth in West Wales yesterday to see them set a record for the number of Elvis lookalikes going for a dip in the sea on New Year's Day. They had 24.

Or, to put it another way, watch mental people risk hypothermia. It was cold enough on the beach to give me internal plumbing.

I'll put some photos up of our New Year's celebration sometime. On the Eve itself we went to an Alice in Wonderland themed party. We arrived to find the Queen of Hearts was demanding that all latecomers have their heads cut off. What a welcome.

IT's bizarre to think that it's 2009. I still remember the big celebrations for the millennium in 2000. Now we're almost a decade down in the 21st Century and it makes you wonder what exactly has changed, what we have learned as a race, what makes this century any different to the last.

Apart from the ubiquity of mobile phones and other personal computer devices, and the "War on Terror", I'd say not much. A black president in the US is big news I suppose. The circle is now complete in the Star Wars saga. The 1980s are back in fashion...

In fact that's probably an indicator of how depserate people are - that the decade of greed and bad electronic music is now being nostalgically recast as the decade of excitement and cultural change. Nobody seems to be trying to recreate the miner's strike, yuppiedom, gaybashing, or Thatcherite attitudes to the unemployed, do they. When people start committing suicide over the prospect of nuclear war/nuclear winter, then we'll know the 80s are back.