EDitorial ± 30-Mar-2006

Not A Game For Boys

Friend of mine recently passed me one of Robert Crampton's "Beta Male" pieces from The Times magazine, in which he wrote about taking advantage of his wife's absence by inviting his mates round to play ... ping-pong. There's talk of "smacking it around addictively until the small hours" and the "grace & beauty of the sublime ping and the superlative pong."

Good stuff, as ever, but for those of us who've played competitively for aeons, albeit in a local league, there is another side to The Game.

The real thing -- yer actual table tennis -- is all skill & sweat, snaking serves, and saying sorry (or at least holding up your hand) when you land an edge. These players are people putting their bosses, businesses and bad chests to the back of their mind. They wear an obligatory dark top and aren't afraid to show their legs, and sup squash out of mugs between ends. Unlikely individuals that you wouldn't recognise on the street: retired gents who are suddenly sprightly and can teach you a thing or three, coached kids who'll mercilessly thwack it past you, and anonymous fellas who can more than hold their own in (whisper it) The Premier.

Now virtually everyone's singing a popular song
But I still believe in the excellent joy of the Pong
— Frank Black, Whatever Happened To Pong?
Of course it requires reflexes and a degree of mobility, but that's only the physical side. What you really need is nerve. Say you're on matchpoint and you've got the service: fast & low into your opponent's body? Spinny and short? How about applying nothing at all to the ball? Only you can decide. Then, on the return, loop it or play safe? Chop, chop, chop, then bang as you pull the trigger. Sweet when it goes on; sweeter still when it doesn't come back.

Our antepenultimate game of the season tonight. Opposition just below us in the league. Basic format is three per team, nine singles and one doubles, ten points up for grabs. I'd looked up their recent results online and had set my sights on at least 2/3: instead I got a big fat zilch. Had five matchpoints against arguably their weakest player, and watched as they trickled through my fingers: oops, there goes another one. Bottled it bigtime. Still kicking myself (and missing). Took their best player to deuce in the final game, but his nerve held and mine, well, didn't. That's why he's on 86% and I'm in the low 60s.

Put one away and the deadly enemy on the other side of the net may even say something admiring. Compliments escalate as follows:
  • good
  • very good
  • well played
  • shot!
  • great shot!
  • or even, as happened once tonight, ninja!
Miss a sitter and feel free to curse yourself (donkey!), smile ruefully or slowly shake your head in disbelief. Completely fail to make contact and get ready for jibes of "whoosh!", "well left!" or "looked good."

Sure is a long way from having a knockabout on the dining room table using your dad's hard bat, a row of books as a net and an old shiny ball once bought from a big tub in the newsagents and now retrieved from the cat's playthings. Still, as Mr Crampton concludes, What Brilliant Fun.

EDitorial ± 28-Mar-2006

Mediocrity Is A Sin

Round Ranelagh Road recently, past the ever-growing car park of optimistic peeps bound for bingo and the Mercedes stroke Smart Car franchise (The Boy: "look at all those Minis"), chanced across this poster for the latest whizzy Alfa, the cryptically named 159. Any colour you like as long as it's black.

Such an ad wouldn't usually catch my eye -- I'm an A to B man, myself, except if C has a nice little tea shop selling homemade cakes -- but you live somewhere long enough and the name of your town leaps out and catches you in the capital I.

See how They, those cunning ad-men, have cunningly customised said billboard by adding the call-to-arms phrase IN IPSWICH MEDIOCRITY IS A SIN. You what? Think they've spent a lot of time here?

Now, you know what would be lovely? If anyone out there in Webland happens to see the same poster in their town, tailored to that particular place, send me a picture and we'll make our own online gallery.

EDitorial ± 26-Mar-2006

Portrait Of The EDitor

Eldest's bezzy mate -- let's call her May -- was round & about Broom Acres on Saturday morning. Luckily we were out of mini Mars Bars; she'd already cleaned us out of those during the previous week. Any road up, having admired a quick sketch that she'd dashed off, I asked her to do one of myself, and here's the result.

Now, this strikes me like a pre-production storyboard cell from Corpse Bride. Not so much McFly, more like McFlown. Sought a second opinion from the Lady of the House: that's very good, she said to May in an unpatronising fashion that I have yet to master. Apparently that is my likeness.

May, still around, somehow missed lunch, and mentioned this to me & Eldest later that afternoon when we'd biked into town. She felt a bit better after one extra large hot dog with ketchup, one pack of Softmints (blue), half a choccy muffin from Costa Coffee and 500ml of Orangina.

Meanwhile, for those anxiously following The Boy's weekly spelling test results, last week was practice, practice, practice. He dashed off JUMP, he reeled off HOUSE, he knocked off DON'T: dee-oh-en-flick-tee. I was confident that he'd score at least 6/10.

Home on Friday evening: Dad, I got 2 out of 10. Two? TWO? Transpired that we'd been learning completely the wrong set of words. D'oh!

EDitorial ± 23-Mar-2006

Unprofessional And Immature

Two items that made me laugh: here they are in reverse order.

Item 1: big briefing in the big meeting room from the big bosses who are, I hasten to add, mostly plain-speaking. The more senior fella does his bit -- reasonably short & sweet - then hands over to the ever so slightly less senior fella.

All is well until he starts talking about the Intranet and uses the phrase "single truth", whereupon there isn't just tittering in the room but outright laughter, causing him to stop mid-sentence. What's so funny?, he enquires.

See, most of our office had experienced the buzzword brilliance of the "valuable one-truth front door" a week or so back, esp. after an employee who cannot be named printed out the phrase on an A3 sheet and stuck it on the wall. It was hastily removed a few days later after word got back to the originator at the other office.

One of the laughing crew, perhaps unwisely, attempted to explain the reason for his outburst: when you're in a hole, stop digging. Much merriment for us drones.

Item 2: later that day, watching a South Bank Show show on the implausibly named Armando Ianucci, him what did On The Hour, Alan Partridge, etc. A clip from his own self-presented show had a man leaving his house:

Alec is 42 this morning and therefore has nothing further to contribute to society. So today's the day Alec goes into a home for middle-aged men.

Cut to the home itself, and the men, slumped in easy chairs, are being addressed by a matronly figure:

From now on more and more of what you do in your life will be a waste of time. [pause] The past is a distant yacht. [pause] What you haven't done now, you'll never get done. [pause] Possibility is a private party to which you are no longer invited. [pause] There is not now a single man in this room who will ever be an astronaut.

In seven weeks, I will be 40.

EDitorial ± 20-Mar-2006

White Lines Do It

Downtown Ipswich moves with the times and expects high performance. Which is why They -- I guess the mighty Borough Council, praise be -- have just allocated little ol' me my very own cycle lane.

Lines were still being inked in at 8:30am on the two-wheeled journey to work, and in fact I had to pull out to overtake the official Man With A Van halfway up Valley Road hill.

Nine hours later, on the flipside, I was luxuriating in the freedom and maxi-width of my lovely Lois Lane. On what was previously a generously girthed road, the motor vehicles have been squeezed into the Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, if you catch my drift. Nice.

Meanwhile, in the very town where the great George Formby is buried, be sure to check out Warrington Cycle Campaign's Facility Of The Month pages. I can particularly recommend:

Hats off to Pete Owens and the gang.

EDitorial ± 19-Mar-2006

The Polisher

Easy like Saturday morning in the West Wing of Broom Acres (call me Martin) and the little woman that does, aka Er Indoors, is doing. Middler is helping too, so The Boy decides to show his Solidarity by grabbing a duster. Somehow -- the details are a haze -- he finds himself in possession of the spray can of polish.

Next thing I hear is, er, nothing. It's quiet: too quiet, at least from my leafy glade at the dining table. Then, as if Russell Crowe had commanded it, hell is unleashed. GLW has gone ballistic and is barking at youngest: What have you done with the spray? You've used it all up, you silly boy! There follows an untranscribable noise indicating level 11 annoyance and the empty can is hurled into the bin, slam dunk.

I stay out of the admonitions -- none of my beeswax -- but head upstairs like a SoCO to The Boy's room. The ether is heavy with scent, Lodz of it, and his duster is sodden. I lower the sash: straightaway the fresh air begins to permeate his bedroom; unfortunately the atmosphere remains black as your hat in the remainder of the household, esp. around GLW.

They call him The Polisher.

EDitorial ± 15-Mar-2006

Deep In The Heart Of Me

I dunno: a luxurious rock-solid eight hours sleep last night -- dishwashered, CSI-ed and emptied kids' lunchboxes all by 10pm -- and yet my eczema patches are still with me today. Does it seriously take more than that? May well have to invest in a family bucket of Omega-3 fatty acid fish oil tabs or think about relocating from Boston.

Good ebay pick-up and purchase yesterday: one Kelly's directory of Ipswich, 1967. There's my Dad on the north side of Coral Drive. There's my Grandad at 80 Hatfield Road, still awaiting the blue plaque saying "EFB born here 1966". And there's Mr Victor Neeve on the south-east side of Broom Hill Road, the chap from whom mother-in-law purchased Broom Acres. Fascinating.

Pasta puttanesca tonight while grilling The Boy on his latest set of spellings. Not sure how he did it -- earpiece? series of mirrors? photographic memory? -- but he scored 9 out of 10. Not easy, either: some of these words had as many as four letters including a silent "e".

Later, about to head out for irregular 10pm bad mint on, thought I heard GLW on the phone. Popped head round the front-room door, no handset in sight. She'd been talking to the telly during the boardroom finale of The Apprentice. It's a worry.

EDitorial ± 12-Mar-2006

Yes, It's Very Safe

Picture me in July 2003: a sunny late afternoon, and I've just opened my latest Amazon order, some spanking new graphics software. No time to set it up now -- kids will be back shortly -- so put it away somewhere safe.

Week or so later and I've found some time to install it. Box isn't on the desk, and doesn't leap out at me from any of the drawers. Not fallen down the back, not on the stereo, not anywhere. Keep checking and rechecking, no sign of that white and yellow box. This. Is. Infuriating.

This situation becomes one of those itches that can't be scratched. It's an image manipulation mystery wrapped inside an enigma. This physical item, my £46.99 package, has vanished.

Moving on: what with assorted purchases of, how you say, stuff, from the likes of ebay, Play and Tesco, I don't go short of a Jiffy bag. It would be very wrong to chuck one away when surely they're designed to be reused. Green to the core, me.

I know there's aleady a bag full of the blighters under the stairs, plus misc. odd ones in another cupboard, and one of the desk drawers simply won't take any more. So much so that it refused to properly close last week.

Saturday afteroon, having excavated around a baker's dozen of the fellas, I was able to slip my hand to the back of the drawer. Quite a few of The Baggies had escaped over the edge into a no-man's land underneath. At full stretch, my fingers detected other items: a toy car, and a glossy cardboard box. I knew what it was going to be in about three nanoseconds.

EDitorial ± 10-Mar-2006

Live At The Uni

Friday night is music night, as they used to say on Radio 2, and off to "one of the finest early Nonconformist churches in the country", says my newly acquired Wharncliffe Companion to Ipswich. For all my time in the town, I'd never been inside the Unitarian Meeting House, one of the dozen-or-so Grade I listed buildings we have.

Event was "Music For A Spring Evening" -- blinking cold out, actually -- put on by the Ipswich Building Preservation Trust and attended by both (a) the Great and (b) the Good. Headline act, indeed the only one on the bill, was Musicology, a lively local singing group, featuring my ex-trumpet teacher's younger sister on the keyboard, wouldn't you know.

Best bits, at least for me, were the various Noel Coward numbers: Mad Dogs and Englishmen ("they foam at the mouth and run"), Don't Put Your Daughter On The Stage ("she has nice hands"), and esp. I Went To A Marvellous Party. Quite the wit, that Mr Coward.

And a rousing finish with the top tune from a recent Guinness ad. Nope, not Leftfield's Phat Planet, but a rather good The Rhythm Of Life. Did you know that Dickens, apparently, was a Unitarian? Must check that out.

EDitorial ± 9-Mar-2006

I Hear What You Say

Got an unbelievable email earlier this week, one of the most content-free communiques it's been my fortune to receive. Three paragraphs of the finest business speak in the state of Albion, inc:

  • blah blah high quality automated facilities blah blah
  • blah blah organisational models blah blah
  • blah blah unacceptable overheads blah blah

But without question, the bestest phrase was this:

... a valuable one-truth front door ...

Really, you couldn't make this stuff up. Next week I'll be prioritising my development objectives on a matching one-truth porch. And if key sufficient resources are available to me, I'll add storm doors.

EDitorial ± 8-Mar-2006

Distances May Vary In The Wet

They say that time appears to accelerate as we get older due to routine: same old same old, day in day out, with little to differentiate each day. So now and then we all need a short, sharp shock -- boo! -- to wake us up.

Breaks run cold and breaks run hot
Some folks got 'em and some have not
But these are the breaks
— Kurtis Blow, The Breaks
Mechanically inept as I am, I dropped the bike into the friendly repair shop this morning (I'd link to his website but it's ghastly and I've stopped pointing this out to him) and asked him to make the brakes better: give me new pads, blocks, discs, chunks of rubber, I said, mano a mano. He nodded.

Picked it up after work, handing over the last of my ready money, and set off past the bowling alley in a light drizzle. Up and over the pedestrian bridge, the ground distinctly shiny under my wheels. Whizzing down the other side, applied my brakes at the usual time at the usual place and very nearly flew off my saddle. It's 5:30pm and suddenly I'm wide awake.

EDitorial ± 5-Mar-2006


Another sunny Dimanche, and off to the supermarche that's closest to The Boy's pirate party -- same friend, now one year older -- so drop him off in his barely-trying skull T-shirt and past the decrepit doughnut factory to Asda (always in the singular).

Struck by the clothing that seems to intrude ever further into a foyer that's already crammed with hot cross buns, flowers and 6-for-4 rolls of Bounty. Into the non-food area, where the margins are higher, and into the trolley goes a Blue Admiral, size 5, made in Pakistan, guaranteed hand sewn, natch. Buying a £2.74 (!) football for the weekly Tuesday lunchtime kickabout; last week's bladder got booted skywards, bounced on the sports hall roof, then got stuck in the gutter.

Advancing left, dairy items: a single Healthy Options yoghurt, made by Gerd Muller himself, is 38p. Current offer: five for a quid, making it cheaper to buy a fistful than four or even three. Compare a bottle of tonic water, 32p on its lonesome, or three for 90p. Wildly uneven savings to be had, appealing to my head-for-numbers.

Curious too that other specials aren't shouted on the rooftops, like the very low-key Heinz Beanz multipack of four for a pound (I nabbed two), or full size bottles of Shloer for only 88p.

Thus envisaged scoring couple of brownie points once home, not only for my thriftiness but for purchasing the right kind of free range eggs, smoked streaky, et cetera. I should have realised that on such a trip, marks can only be deducted for inappropriate items. You bought boned chicken thighs? Those bagels look a bit dry. Why so big a bag of spuds? This mince isn't organic. You get the picture.

Every little helps: no, that's the other one.

EDitorial ± 1-Mar-2006

Dolmio, Feb 2006

First of a new month and cue the first in a regular as Bran Flakes series named Dolmio, standing for Doings Of Last Month Innoparticular Order.

In other words, an attempt to capture past(a) events before they slip... my... mind. So, February 2006 was spent:

  • applying Locoid ointment to eczema patches exacerbated by too many late nights
  • listening to the Randy Newman Songbook, a Thomas Dolby interview at Shingle Street, the Arctic Monkeys' A Certain Romance, and podcasts from They Might Be Giants
  • coaching The Boy for his Friday spelling test after he scored 1/10
  • consuming homemade Danish pastries and lemon & poppy muffins from the station buffet
  • weeping, very nearly, after spilling an entire cuppa coffee from the same station buffet
  • tutting at the Grange Farm library vandals who took the handles
  • illuminating bike front wheel with my wondrous Tirefly reflector
  • fitting a Bales catch on the back door, myself, successfully
  • imbibing Lemsip Max for temporary relief from streaming nose
  • watching The Princess Bride ("inconceivable!"), Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, Classic Albums on Night At The Opera and DSOTM, House with that bloke from Office Space, and the lovely My Name Is Earl
  • enjoying business jargon such as "sustained market traction"
  • searching for a baseball jacket as worn by Michael J Fox in Spin City
  • lambasting Andrew Collins for his blog's fishwife language
  • figuring out how to obtain a new tin of spearmint Altoids

And that was February.