Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Eighties 

Following the announcement of next year's Royal wedding, there has been a lot of public comparisons between the 2010s and the 1980s. There are similarities, of course, but I don't feel like I've been thrown back 30 years. Thank goodness.

Back in 1980 I was a greasy-haired skinny 16-year-old with terrible skin and terminal shyness. Now I'm a bald fat 46-year-old gay bloke with slightly better skin and mild social avoidance issues.

In many senses, I grew up in the Eighties, as far as I could. I don't really feel like a grown-up even now but that decade saw me become vaguely human. A lot happened to me in that time which I might relate at another day but it all helped shape me. At least I left the decade with cleaner hair.

My memories are vague. I know what happened but none of it feels particularly "Eighties" if you know what I mean. I could tell you I started at Thames Poly in 1982 but none of my college memories have the stamp of that time or any other era on them.

My memories of the music of the time, however, definitely have a feel to them. It was the time when I really began to discover music and it was definitely of the Eighties.

I didn't actually like music much before 1979. I was vaguely embarrassed by it and couldn't see what my peers saw in it. It just didn't figure in my world. Music and fashion were things that happened to other people.

The end of the Seventies and beginning of the Eighties, however, brought me music in the form of promotional videos on Top of the Pops. Those videos, particularly ones using science fiction and fantasy themes, struck a chord in me.

Although a later massive Queen fan (just ask me how many times I've seen We Will Rock You!) I was completely underimpressed with their influential video for Bohemian Rhapsody in the seventies and yet completely captivated in '79 with the one for Hazel O'Connor's Eighth Day. It was part of a much longer film, of course, Breaking Glass, which I enjoyed many years later contrary to the tastes of the younger me. The video had the stage show that Kate (O'Connor's role in the film) performed at the peak, and end, of her career. It's a poignant moment in the film but taken out of context it's full of imagery and lyrics that would impress an impressionable 16-year-old. Glowing robotic woman? Check. Backing group with glowing eyes? Check. Pseudo-religious post-apocalyptic lyrics? Check.

Video Killed The Radio Star was similarly fascinating. Although I am gay now and probably was at the time as well, there was something about futuristically dressed women flying up and down clear plastic tubes in the middle of some laboratory had me buying the record.

The extract from the film Xanadu accompanying the titular single did nothing to distract me from the awfulness of the film (not seen until many years later by the way) but featured glowing flying Muses and flashing lights.

Other striking imagery caught me as well. I was desperate to buy anything by Adam and the Ants after I saw the video for Stand and Deliver and again later for Prince Charming, even though I thought the dance rather silly.

So, a pattern was set ... Any old bit of rubbish with good visuals. Nice video, shame about the song, as Not The Nine O'Clock News put it at the time. I knew it was crap but it looked good and sounded fun.

That said, by the time I was into Adam and the Ants, I was starting to listen to and appreciate the lyrics, many of which had a resonance with an introverted teen although a lot of them now make little sense. Just take a listen to Red Box sometime.

I even started liking other stuff for which I hadn't seen a video and probably, in hindsight, was still crap but appeared to my musical sensibilities at the time. That's how I ended up with Einstein-a-gogo and Japanese Boy, both of which I loved at the time and both are on my iPod although I wince a little when Japanese Boy is randomly selected and look around for the Political Correctness Police.

Throughout the decade there were many groups and singers that caught my attention - Human League, Eurythmics, Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin, Yazoo, OMD, Blancmange, Toyah, Matt Bianco ... I could go on forever.

There were other songs which didn't really impact on me at the time but formed part of the backdrop for the decade. I have largely forgotten until I hear them on one of the many compilation CDs and find them triggering some fond memory.

One such was actually a great favourite: The Mobiles and Drowning in Berlin. It turned up on a compilation CD which I had to buy. I loved being able to hear it again.

I played that CD in the car while I was giving some younger colleagues a lift to a course. Surprisingly they liked everything on that CD except that one track which they decided was "evil clown music".

I suppose my odd and eclectic tastes haven't changed all that much after all. The shy 16-year-old must still lurk somewhere in my head. At least he's washed his hair.
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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Soft corns 

This has been a hard blog to write. I’ve had to start this two or three times. That’s because I’m not planning a rant or trying to write something funny or just saying the first thing that pops into my mind.

This time, I’m trying to write something helpful and, for most of my regular readers, this will be completely irrelevant. If you’re looking for some of my usual stuff, stop reading now. Normal service will be resumed later.

I’m aiming this at anyone who has itchy feet and doesn’t know why.

And by that I don’t mean you have wanderlust and you want to move house, change your job or your relationship. I really do mean feet that itch. Specifically feet that itch for no visible reason.

I know there is very little to be found on the internet for this because I looked for it. I have had a couple of episodes of this problem myself. The first was a few years ago and the second right now. The internet was no help at all.

My feet look perfectly normal. There are no strange growths on my feet, no warts, no spots, no discoloration but there is an itch. Or rather, itches, and itches that don’t stay in the same place. There is nothing obvious to point to and say “aha, a verruca” before applying some suitable cream from the pharmacist.

Does that sound like you? Do you have feet that itch? Does the itch move around?

I know this isn’t a serious problem and there are much worse things in life to suffer. This is one of those things that you just put up with because there’s nothing to see and it is only an itch, after all. It’s an itch that strikes at you whenever you take pressure off your feet, an itch that won’t stop no matter what you scratch it with, an itch that tempts you to slip off your shoes whenever you think anyone is not looking and have a bloody good scratch.

When it first struck me, I became rather desperate and tried several solutions before doing the obvious thing and going to a podiatrist. I did feel silly though. After all there was nothing to see.

It took a bit of investigation with him peering at my feet with very powerful magnifying glasses but it eventually turned out I had soft corns under the skin on the soles of my feet. They were just large enough to cause a itch but not large enough to be visible or be felt. The podiatrist, Toby, was able to remove them all within a few visits and give me pointers to help me prevent them returning.

They were probably caused by my feet rubbing against my slightly ill-fitting shoes. Toby gave me some insoles and later I managed to find shoes that fit me better.

I was free of them for years and then, all of a sudden they were back, itching away like anything and driving me barmy. I would find myself rubbing my feet on the sharp edges of the coffee table as I watched TV or slipping my socks off at work for a bloody good scratch. I had forgotten that I had recently had to say goodbye to a lovely pair of very comfortable shoes which obviously had kept the corns at bay.

So I made a return visit to see Toby and he removed the corns again. Most of them. He can’t get them all at once and I can feel there’s at least one left behind.

He mentioned that he’d had one other patient with the same problem since he last saw me and that, as soon as she mentioned that she had an invisible itch on her feet, he remembered me and was able to treat her quickly and easily.

That’s why I decided to write this. I was sort of indirectly able to help this woman. There is bound to be someone else trying to find a solution to the same problem.

Go to a podiatrist or a chiropodist, tell them about your itchy feet and mention soft corns.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

What a rubbish day 

I was in such an unbelievably foul mood last night that I actually caught myself snarling at people getting in my way on the concourse and I really didn't care if I bashed into anyone.

I had become one of those people I shake my head at. Had I been dressed in Burberry I could have been a chav.

I was still simmering with rage as I was sitting on the train. Actually, it took me a few hours to calm down.

Nothing justifies such a dramatic change in character of course and I don't like myself in that mood. I feel madly dangerous and expect to find myself on the front page of the newspapers the following day and not for a good reason.

I think I had been pushed a little too far.

I had spent all day tracking down solutions to two problems for a major customer. That customer had been sending snotty emails demanding updates when it turned out that one of the problems had been their fault and the other had been solved the day before.

My day had been completely wasted. The really urgent work I wanted to be doing had to be sidelined yet again.

I hate my time being wasted. I hate support. I hate stupid users. I am a developer for a reason.

My job is deeply annoying at the moment.

I say job, singular, but it isn't. I seem to have at least four and splitting my time between them just isn't working. I am supposed to be a developer, a project manager, a team leader and support.

Also I am on the Entertainments Committee tasked with organising "lively" events for people who couldn't give a toss.

I have dozens of half-started jobs on the go that I have to put to one side because something more urgent comes along. I don't work well like that. I have no time to get anything finished. I don't seem to have enough time to get anything started.

On top of that, Transport for London have taken £1904 for my annual Travelcard, forced me to use the tube (which I hate) so the Travelcard could be loaded onto my Oyster card at Charing Cross and failed to deliver.

I was told to try again tomorrow. At the other Charing Cross tube station. How bloody ridiculous.

I don't normally go on the tube. My travelcard is for trains and buses. The tube is hot and filled with people who don't know their arses from their elbows and who stand in the way because they are too gormless to have any awareness of their surroundings.

No wonder I was growling.

I'm in a much better frame of mind this morning but I have decided I need to speak to someone at work. I really shouldn't be doing support. I shouldn't be working with people at all.
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Friday, November 05, 2010


Just recently I have been cycling around London. After not cycling at all since I was 10, I have had a lesson, bought a bike hire key from Transport for London and subscribed to a year’s access to the nice blue Boris Bikes dotted around London.

And largely I have enjoyed myself cycling to and from work. It has been great fun and I will continue to do it.

There are a few problems with the scheme, of course. If you don’t time it well, you will arrive at one of the docking stations and there will be no useable bikes. Or, alternatively, you can be riding a bike and there will be nowhere to dock it at the other end.

Those are only minor niggles. I can usually find another bike somewhere close by or a spare docking station and, now that the novelty has worn off, bikes and slots are more readily available. I also have a nice little app on my new phone that tells me what’s available.

I think my major problem with cycling has been the other people on the roads.

It’s not what you might expect, however. Buses, taxis and cars have all been, so far, absolutely fine.

The biggest problems have come from pedestrians and other cyclists.

Cyclists, by and large, do not seem to follow the Highway Code. They will jump red lights. They will overtake on the inside. They will overtake on the outside. They will overtake on both sides at once. That has happened to me while on a bike. Scared me silly.

Pedestrians are worse, however. They will look directly at you and continue to walk into the road. One woman looked at me and I moved to avoid her. She moved further out. So did I. I ended up on the other side of the road. What did she expect me to do? Stop? Get off the bike and dust the road for her?

Isn’t going to stop me though.


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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Men are the weaker sex 

Yet again there’s an article about poor health in men: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-11674950

And yet again, the implication is raised that men are responsible for this by not going to their GPs when they are ill as well as, of course, eating badly, drinking too much, smoking too much and not exercising enough.

It is a rather more balanced article than ones I have read in the past but still doesn’t address the issue that a man going to their GP with concerns will be made to feel like they shouldn’t be there.

It’s all very well to advise us to visit our doctors but rather pointless when they don’t want to see us when we get there.

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