My adventures in music: Part 1

The loudest drummer in the business

The loudest drummer in the business

I can remember the drive to the practice studios vividly. Mark, my housemate, had dragged me away from singing in my bedroom and convinced me to try out for his band. It is 1997 and I’m 26 years old, sitting next to Mark, cracking jokes and laughing a little too loudly as he drives me to Windsor. I was shitting myself.

I can’t remember a time when music hasn’t been part of my life. I started singing as soon as I could talk. My first memory of going on stage was at a Christmas Party when I was four years old. I’ve no idea what I sang, but I do remember the round of applause I received. I went on to perform at school concerts and like most children I would sing loudly along to the radio (it was the height of two-tone in the late 1970’s and my 8 year old self was hooked.)

Every Thursday I would watch Top of the Pops and stare in awe as these otherworldly acts performed in front of the awkwardly dancing audience. But at no point did I consider forming a band myself. You see, growing up in a village in the heart of Suffolk, it didn’t even occur to me that it was possible. Bands were what other people did. That was what I meant by otherworldly. I wasn’t talking about David Bowie in full Ziggy pomp, or the pansexual antics of Human League, Visage and the other New Romantics of my early teens; just that music was created and played by people different to those I knew and grew up with.

Half rhythm guitarist, half Duracell bunny

Half rhythm guitarist, half Duracell bunny

We arrived at Running Frog studios and I was hustled into the rehearsal studio. The rest of the band had arrived early and were setting up. Everyone seemed friendly enough but the thing that caught my eye was their equipment. They had Marshall stacks and Gibson Les Paul guitars. The snare was whip crack loud – Mark was the loudest drummer I ever had the pleasure to sing in front of, and responsible for the tinnitus I still have today – and the bass was, well, a bass. As they warmed up the sound was incredible; I couldn’t believe it, they sounded just like you heard on the record. I was blown away.

“What songs do you know?”

“Er, Oasis, Blur. Most things by Radiohead.”

“OK. Why don’t we start with High and Dry.”

The music started up and I sang. High and Dry is not the easiest of songs to sing, there’s a lot of falsetto, but difficulty never came into it as my nerves were so bad I was all over the place. When the song finished Mark gave me a grin and a thumbs up, but I knew I’d blown it. We played a couple more songs and then I went home, dejected.

A week or so later I was asked by the band to sing with them at an open mic night at a pub in West London. We went along and the place was packed. There were the odd punk band, a couple of acoustic singer-songwriters and us. We were one of the last ones on but seeing the other acts perform relaxed me. Nobody was brilliant, they were mostly trying out new material or using the event for a try out like us. When it was our turn, the band set up, adjusted the levels, and as I stood there looking out at the motley group of musicians who’d been on earlier, I thought to myself “Sod it,” and went for it.

I was told about a year later by Derek, part rhythm guitarist, part Duracell bunny, that the conversation the band had afterwards went along the lines of “Well, he’s no Dan (previous singer), but he’ll do.” I’d made it. Spudgun were about to take on the world.

The Good Companions is no longer with us, so here's a photo of the beautiful Elliman Avenue (source: geography.org.uk)

The Good Companions is no longer with us, so here’s a photo of the beautiful Elliman Avenue (source: geography.org.uk)

Our first gig took place at a pub called the Good Companions in Slough. Rarely has a pub so spectacularly failed to live up to its billing. It was a shithole, but it was a shithole that was two minutes walk from where we lived. Having met in the car park, we walked in on mass to be greeted by the landlord. He was over 6 foot, both tall and broad, covered in tattoos with a shaved head. And I thought I was nervous before the audition.

He showed us the playing area – a corner by the front window that had had it’s table and chairs removed – and we started setting up. At the other end of the pub were a group of very big, heavily tattooed men, knocking back pints with raucous abandon. I asked the landlord if it was someone’s birthday. “No,” he replied. “Someone’s just got out after a long stretch.”

I turned back to the rest of the band and found Damian, our lead guitarist, being shouted at by Elaine, my singing partner. He’d managed to take up half the ‘performance area’ with his array of pedals and she was having none of it. I could leave, I thought. Nobody would notice and Elaine could take up the slack. At that moment one of the ‘birthday’ group walked up to me.

“Are you in the band?”

“Er.. yeah.”

“What do you do?”

“I’m the singer”

“You better be good.”

The fact I’m alive to write this shows that we weren’t too bad.

This blog is dedicated to the memory of Mark Given. Still thinking of you, big man. All facts correct at time of writing. Any errors probably due to failing memory than malicious intent.

Ten more signs that you are approaching middle-age

Fancy a holiday?

Fancy a holiday?

Something strange happened to me last week. My blog exploded. I got more visits in one day than I normally get in a month (well three weeks to be exact.) After a bit of hunting I found out that my blogpost Ten signs that you are approaching middle-age was posted on The Afterword website by a nice person called Skirky. Thank you, Skirky and thank you to all who visited!

While I’m naturally delighted by all the new visitors, the best part was to read so many other suggestions for signs that you are approaching middle-age. So rather than keep these to myself, I thought I’d share them with you. A number of the suggestions have come directly from the comments on The Afterword, others were sent to me via Facebook and Twitter. I’ve even thought of a few more myself. Many thanks to everybody for the suggestions. I’ve named the individuals concerned where appropriate. If you think of any more, please feel free to add them in the comments below. Enjoy!*

1 The oofHelena Handcart The oof is something familiar to all middle-aged people. It is the sound you make when you sit down on a sofa, or the sound you make when you get up from the sofa. Bending down to pick something up, or putting your shoes on elicits an oof; so does picking up heavy objects. It is a little known fact that the single biggest reason for people leaving the SAS is the oof. Not so good when you are creeping up on the enemy. If you make a funny sound when you sit down, it’s a sign you are approaching middle-age.

2 Falling asleep on the sofaOn the Fence I’m not talking about the 5 a.m crash after a hedonistic night out. The danger times for the middle-aged falling asleep on the sofa tend to be, but aren’t exclusive to, 2:00pm after a large Sunday lunch, or mid-week around 8:00pm. The key point about the middle-aged falling asleep on the sofa is that it catches you by surprise. If you find yourself opening your eyes and realising that the film you had started watching has finished, or the people you had been talking to have all disappeared, and you know that nobody could have spiked your drink with Rohypnol, then the chances are it’s a sign that you’re approaching middle-age.

3 When your broad mind and your narrow waist change placesTwang This really doesn’t need any further explanation. Lovely phrase.

4. Parker PensPencilsqueezer “If when those seductive adverts for life assurance flicker across ones consciousness and one finds oneself thinking “Ooo that nice Mr Parkinson wants to send me a free Parker pen, that would come in very handy for filling in the coffee break crosswords in Puzzle Monthly”. You are middle aged and can feel the chill hand of the Grim Reaper upon ones shoulder. It’s all Perry Como and slacks for you matey from now on.” – Thank you Pencilsqueezer, I couldn’t have put it any better

A fine figure of a sportsman

A fine figure of a sportsman

5. Golf Golf is the epitome of a middle-aged sport. For a start, you don’t require any athletic prowess. I saw a photograph of the winner of the open the other day and that man is not an athlete. In fact, looks more like somebody who’s been asked to take up a sport to get his cholesterol levels down. Then there is the fact it is based around going for a walk, a most middle-age pastime. Finally, and most damningly, there are the clothes. Slacks, a polo shirt and comfortable shoes. I rest my case.

6. You find yourself listening to Radio 2Emma For those of you not living in the UK, Radio 2 is the music station where youth presenters go when they get too old. It’s like the elephant graveyard of radio stations. Now I’ve been told many times by friends that I should give Radio 2 a go because “it’s much better than you think.” This isn’t true. Every time I’ve listened to Radio 2 the DJ has either been playing something by Andrew Lloyd Webber, or Keane. If you find yourself tuned into Radio 2 on a regular basis, it’s a sign you are approaching middle-age. As for me, I’ll stick to 6Music thank you very much (waits for the comments that 6Music is just another station for middle-aged music fans.)

After winning Le Tour, Chris Froome let's things go a little

After winning Le Tour, Chris Froome let’s things go a little

7. You take up a sport to keep fit Many of you used to play sport for fun as kids. As you got older, some of you may have continued to play, but many stop, filling your time with other interests like going to the pub, or sitting in front of the TV. Then, as you approach middle-age, you realise that if you want to live a long life it’s not a good thing to be out of breath after walking up a flight of stairs. So you decide to take up a sport to keep fit. Notice the difference there? Not to have fun, but to keep fit. So now our parks have become clogged with fat, balding men, red faced and sweating as they try to complete a circuit. Our streets are filled with lycra wearing cyclists with arses so large they look like they are sitting on a stick. Finally, kids are forced to use just half the pool to go bombing or petting, or any of the other things on the poster, because some overweight 40 somethings in speedos need to complete their lengths. Don’t try to kid yourself that the urge to exercise isn’t age related, not even if you combine all three and enter triathlons. It is a sign you are approaching middle-age.

8. The allure of the caravan As you plan your summer holiday, you think back to the fun camping holidays you had as a kid. You want to do that again, possibly with your own children, to take them to the places you went. Then the reality bites. Camping is uncomfortable. Camping can be cold, or hot, or very, very wet. It may sound fun cooking on a little gas stove and sleeping on an air-bed, but after two weeks of this you’re likely to be in hospital or in a mental institute. That’s when your mind wanders to the caravan***. What could be better? You have all the fun of the outdoors, but with the comfort of indoors. It’s so practical, and a cheap way to holiday. What could be better? If your thoughts are heading this way, it’s a sure sign you are approaching middle-age.

9. You sneer at lists like this in the belief that they don’t apply to you because you are still too cool for school, but they do, maybe not every point, but somewhere deep inside it twists like a knife that you know you are approaching middle -aged conformity and there is little you can do about it

10. You overreact to criticism This may have something to do with point 9.

*Disclaimer: This list is not a comprehensive list of signs that you are approaching middle-age. If you are looking for a more comprehensive, evidence based** list of factors, I suggest you try the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, by the American Psychiatric Association. Issue 5 has just been released. It’s a blast.

** This in itself is highly contentious. For more information read Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test. Fantastic book.

*** This includes trailer tents.

In memory of Charlotte Lund Andersen

I woke up this morning to hear of the rail crash in northwest Spain. As I write this (on Thursday) the numbers of dead and injured are large and rising. It is a terrible tragedy. I can’t imagine how the families of those affected must be feeling, but I have an idea of the friends. You see, whenever I hear of a tragedy like this, especially a train crash, I’m immediately taken back to the beginning of October 1999.

It is the 6th October, me and my girlfriend (soon to be wife) are on a flight back from holiday. As we board the plane we are offered a selection of newspapers. On the front of each paper is a photograph of train carriages scattered across a busy rail junction, some ripped apart, others still smoking from the fire that had raged through them. I take one and read that the day before, on the 5th October at 8:09 am, the shuttle service to Bedwyn leaving London Paddington railway station crashed head on with the Cheltenham to Paddington intercity train. I turned to my girlfriend and said “Oh Christ! That’s the train Charlotte takes.”

Charlotte Lund Andersen had moved to my company’s Slough office from the US and we’d hit it off immediately. A proud Danish American (she would often go to visit family in Denmark and tell us all about it), tall, slightly gawky as if she had never become used to how much her limbs had grown (watching Lindsay Davenport at Wimbledon years later reminded me so much Charlotte) – Charlotte was both fiercely intelligent and very, very funny. It took her a few months to get used to the British sense of humour (she was coordinated enough to pack a hefty punch to the shoulder if she had thought you had gone too far) but before long she became a surrogate big sister to me and I became her unofficial cultural ambassador to those weird Brits. She had thrown herself into her new life in London and despite the danger of becoming anonymous in such a large city, had formed a good group of friends, both in the Danish ex-pat community and, more surprisingly, at a salsa class.

I called my manager as soon as I arrived home, even though I wasn’t due in until the next day.
“I’ve read about the crash in the Newspapers. Is Charlotte OK?”
There was a moment’s silence. “I was hoping we’d have this conversation face to face. Charlotte left home yesterday morning and never made it into work. We’ve tried contacting her but there is no answer. She’s officially missing at the moment but it’s not looking good.”

It took a few days before the worst was confirmed. Charlotte was in the front carriage of the shuttle train, which bore the brunt of the impact before being engulfed in flames. She was eventually identified by her jewellery and some items of clothing. My memories of that time are pretty vague, a cycle of shock and grief. The one thing that I do remember clearly was being taken to an office on my first day back to be updated on what had happened and what was known, though not much had changed from the day before. Afterwards I went back to my desk and sat staring at my computer, wondering what to do. I eventually realised I couldn’t do anything other than wait, so to pass the time I decided to catch up with my work that had built up after my holiday. The red, blinking light from my voicemail caught my eye so I picked up the phone.
“Hi Dylan, I know you’re on holiday but I’d really like to speak to you as soon as you’re back. Something has come up and I’d like you to hear from me before anyone else. Hope you had a great time!”
It was Charlotte’s voice. I can still feel the echoes of the shock I’d felt then, the confusion as at first I thought she was OK, followed by the slow realisation that it had been left days before. I found out later that Charlotte had been told she was being made redundant, part of a cost rationalisation following our takeover by another corporation. I never deleted that message.

A memorial service was held and a number of people spoke about Charlotte and what she meant to them. To my regret, I didn’t speak. I don’t know why, though I was probably still trying to hide from what had happened. It didn’t work. I cried through the whole service and I can still feel the tears pressuring my eyes, looking to well up again as I think back to it now.

In the weeks following the accident, those of us that knew Charlotte dealt with our grief in different ways. I chose to suppress it, to avoid thinking about it, to hide away. Charlotte’s then manager, Simon Walters, was the complete opposite. He not only took it on himself to find out what had happened, but worked as the family liaison to Charlotte’s parents and sister, both before and after they arrived from the US. He had always been my friend, but I have nothing but respect and admiration for what Simon did, off his own back and in his own time, to help support Charlotte’s parents and sister in what was a horrendous time.

So why now? Why write this blog now when the events took place nearly 14 years ago? Part of it is anger; anger with the news broadcasters that whenever there is a disaster they depersonalise the event by concentrating on statistics. I know that in these cases it is impossible to show the full cost to every individual affected, but reducing the story to numbers and images of people crying – or even worse jumping with glee on increasing death tolls as if desiring to see the numbers increase so that it will be a bigger story – is both a betrayal of those affected and a betrayal of those watching. Those who have died and their families and friends deserve more. Much more. Part of it is through guilt; guilt that I didn’t do more for my friend’s family at the time, that I never said anything at her memorial service, that I shut myself away.
Mostly, though, it is to right the wrong that this beautiful, wonderful, awkward, hilarious, and above all compassionate soul, with her quirky lopsided smile and a handy punch to the shoulder, had an online memorial, talking about who Charlotte Lund Andersen was as a person, at least from this friend’s point of view, so that if you google her name you will find more of her than just a footnote on a list of those killed on the 5th October.

We’ll never know what would have happened if Charlotte hadn’t have died that day. Given that she was going back to the US, we could have lost contact as our lives took us in different directions. I like to think that we would have stayed in touch, though. As it is, I’m 42 years old now, ten years older than Charlotte was when she died and not the callow 28 year old I was then. While I don’t think of Charlotte daily like I used to, I still think of her often. I’d agreed with my wife that if we’d had a baby girl, to name them Charlotte after my friend, and one day tell them about their namesake. Instead we had two beautiful boys, though I wouldn’t change that for the world. I just wish they could have known her.

So this is it, my memorial to Charlotte, which will be here on the internet as long as the internet exists.

Order of service for Charlotte Lund Andersen

Order of service from Charlotte’s memorial

Ten signs that you are approaching middle-age

Dad, is that you? (source: now.msn.com)

Dad, is that you? (source: now.msn.com)

There is no official start date to middle-age, so how do you know when it hits you. I’m in my early forties but I don’t think of myself as middle-aged, yet recently I’ve realised, how should I put it, that I’m displaying characteristics one could, possibly, associate with middle-age. It got me thinking. Maybe we should produce a checklist to help those of us to realise we aren’t young any more. Here is my first attempt at this list. If you have any others, please feel free to comment below.

1. You correct people’s grammar

You are walking down the street when you hear somebody say “I didn’t do nothing.” If the first thought that came into your head wasn’t “I wonder what they’ve done,” or “What’s going on here,” but “I didn’t do anything. If you didn’t do nothing you did, in fact, do something. It’s a double negative,” you are on the road to middle-age.

2. You don’t know who is in the charts

When I was younger I used to follow the charts avidly. Even though I hated most pop music, I knew who all the bands were and what the latest songs in their latest releases. I remember being thrilled seeing Nirvana on Top of the Pops as it was a sign that I wasn’t the only one who liked this type of music. Moving on to today, I was at a school fayre the other day (a middle-aged activity if ever there was one) which had a DJ to entertain the kids. At one point my wife came up to me and said “Did you know this is One Direction?” I hadn’t a clue. I’ve heard of One Direction and know they are big in the US, but I couldn’t have told you what they sounded like, which is a sure sign that I’m approaching middle-age.

What do you mean, this is inappropriate for my age? (source: webpronews.com)

What do you mean, this is inappropriate for my age? (source: webpronews.com)

3. You start to shop at clothing stores your parents shopped at

It starts off innocently enough. You need some new socks and you just want some that will last. Instead of going to one of the high street fashion stores, you find yourself in a department store, or even worse, Marks and Spencers. As you walk through the clothes section a shirt catches your eye. It’s just the type you like, in the colour you like and similar to one you already own. You then see another shirt, then another. Suddenly you realise that unlike the shop you used to shop in, you don’t need to filter out three-quarters of the clothes because you’d look like mutton dressed as lamb. No, in this shop the clothes don’t make you stand out, they make you blend in, and this feels good.

4. You’ve had the same haircut for at least ten years now

Short at the back and the sides, a little longer on top. I’ve said these twelve words in every hairdresser’s I’ve visited since I was in my mid-twenties. Now there may be a little less hair at the top to keep long, and the colour may have changed slightly, but my haircut is the same one I’ve been happy with for over ten years. The only time I don’t say those words are when the hairdresser says “Your usual?” That’s if they need to ask anymore.

5. You enjoy gardening

I’m not talking about the young tyro’s who have been brought up with dirt between their fingernails. If you’ve always loved gardening this isn’t for you. If, however, you’ve suddenly discovered the pleasure of mowing a lawn, maybe even with stripes, or you find yourself pulling the odd weed from your decorative border when in the past you used to strim down the waist high grass only when you wanted a barbecue, then it’s another sign you are approaching middle-age. If you have rented an allotment however, there is no doubt.

6. You start to desire a simpler life

When you were younger, every evening used to be full, whether it was playing a sport, going out drinking with friends, clubbing, weekends away; there was never a dull moment. Nowadays you could at home watching a re-run of Magnum when a text comes through asking if you fancy going to the pub. If you have to think twice because getting your arse off the sofa and putting some shoes on is too much bother, you’re approaching middle-age.

All ready for a nice walk? (source: belfasttelegraph.co.uk)

All ready for a nice walk? (source: belfasttelegraph.co.uk)

7. You go for a walk for the sheer pleasure of it

Walking used to be a means to an end. The only time you used to walk is if you wanted to get somewhere. That was it. Now, however, you could find yourself looking outside after a good lunch and realising that it’s such a nice day that it would be great to go for a walk. Not to anywhere, but because it seems a nice thing to do. You may even have a regular walk you go on whenever the desire hits you. This is not a young person’s thoughts. You are approaching middle-age.

8. Clubbing is something that happens to the young or arctic seals

Have you had the pleasure of going to a club recently and ended up wondering why you used to think it was fun to stand in a converted warehouse space where young women walked around in semi-naked groups to protect themselves from the meerkat-like packs of young men, desperation in their eyes, hunting for mates in a room where the music is so loud you have to shout in the ear of the person next to you to be heard, and you pay three to four times as much for a drink than the pub next door. Then you realise that most of the clubbers are avoiding you in case you report what they were doing to their parents. If this has been your experience then it’s time to admit that clubbing is a young person’s game, or for Canadians*.

9. Hangovers last three days

There was a reason I was sober in the nightclub. When I was younger I used to drink all weekend, have about four hours sleep, then turn up for work the following week fully fit and able to function. About four months ago I decided to stop drinking alcohol because even one beer would give me a hangover, and a few would leave me suffering for days. If this has recently happened to you, you’re approaching middle-age.

10. You look in the mirror and see one of your parents staring back at you

For the past few years you have only looked in the mirror to check an aspect of your appearance; is your hair OK, or have you got spinach between your teeth? Then, one day, you have a proper look at your face for the first time and to your horror you see one of your parents staring back at you. Unless you are the natural son or daughter of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, this is going to be a bit of a shock.

* Before you shout, yes, I know seal culling takes place in Norway, Greenland, Russia and other arctic states, it’s just most of us associate it with Canada. Sorry. It’s nothing personal. If you want somebody to blame, blame PeTA

Well, there goes summer

Its back to thick stockings for you (source: guardian.co.uk)

Its back to thick stockings for you (source: guardian.co.uk)

I know I may be being a bit premature, but with a thundery last hurrah (or just thunder to you and me), our lovely British summer is coming to an end. Wait, I hear you say. It’s not even August yet. How can you be so sure that the British summer is finished for this year? Well there are a few pointers.

Don't forget to stop using that hosepipe (source: the sun.co.uk)

Don’t forget to stop using that hosepipe (source: the sun.co.uk)

Let me take you back to April 2012. The south of England was parched. There had been no winter rains for the previous two or three years and as is traditionally the case, the water companies decided to enforce a hosepipe ban. That will work, they thought, and it did, because they had forgotten about the special English summer weather magic and tragically imposed a hosepipe ban on the same day the cricket season started, and even worse, the day I bought a brand new barbecue. Thus, on the very first day of the hosepipe ban, it started raining and didn’t stop (except for a couple of weeks in July for the Olympics) until December, when the rain changed to snow. 2012 is officially the second wettest English year on record.

Now let’s move forward to June this year. After what seemed the longest winter in living memory more rain set in. The average temperature in June was around 15 Celsius and letters were sent to newspapers bemoaning the lost balmy summers of our youth (otherwise known as a figment of the imagination.) Then, just as all hope was lost, some long term weather forecasters claimed that Britain would suffer from wet and cold summers for the next 10 years. The English summer magic stirred into action once more and a heatwave enveloped the nation. Cue panic.

A light, summer meal? (source:Telegraph.co.uk)

A light, summer meal? (source:Telegraph.co.uk)

You see, the British aren’t built for hot weather. We don’t eat the right foods for a start. Roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, vegetables and gravy are not a summer food, and as I’ve said before, we aren’t that great at barbecues. We sunburn very easily, usually in those hard to reach places that never see the sun for 48 weeks of the year, e.g. the backs of your knees, and our homes are insulated to withstand the damp of winter. Air conditioning is for supermarkets and office spaces. After a few days the newspaper headlines screamed that the heatwave was deadly, demonstrating just how deadly with pictures of ladies in bikinis in parks and on beaches around the country. With temperatures reaching heights only seen in places like France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Greece, the USA, Mexico, Russia, Turkey, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, China, India, Thailand, Australia and so on, Britain’s infrastructure started to crack. The M25, the busiest road in Europe, melted and train tracks into London buckled. Even the crowd levels at one of golf’s most prestigious events were lower than expected because of the hot weather. It didn’t take long for the moaning to start.

Well, the good news is that all this is about to end. For a start it’s the beginning of the school holidays. Nothing is guaranteed to stir the weather gods than the desire of children to burn of energy by playing outside. It is no coincidence that the storms started today. Then there is the cricket, a sport so sensitive to the weather that like vampires in sunlight, umpires have been known to combust at the first sign of rain. England have a chance to whitewash the Aussies 5-0, so at least one, if not the next three games will be rained off.

Another, more personal reason, is that we have decided to holiday in the UK this year. If you live anywhere near the north of Wales, start filling your sandbags and readying your flood defences, as we will be visiting mid-August.

Finally there are the weather forecasters, who all agree that the coming storms indicate an end to the heatwave and back to more changeable weather.

I’d better start bulk buying the sun cream now.

10 Top tips on how to improve the Australian cricket team – from a Pom

Taken by me at the WACA in Perth the day that ...

Happy days could be here again (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Watching the current Australian cricket team has been an uncomfortable experience. Yes, I’ve enjoyed the results, but as an England cricket fan since the early 1990’s I’ve been having flashbacks to those dismal times. You see, unlike some England fans I don’t like seeing Australia be humiliated, in the same way as most people who have been waterboarded wouldn’t want it to be inflicted on anyone else. I’ve been there and it is just of painful. So in a spirit of solidarity I’ve come up with a few top tips that could help Australia turn the corner. If you’re reading this, Boof, feel free to use any with my compliments.

1 Give each player a stopwatch showing how many days, hours and minutes play are left
The game lasts five days. I know you are playing in England, but this is not a normal English summer; rain is unlikely to stop play (well, you’re in Manchester and Durham for the next two tests so I may be speaking too soon). You don’t have the openers with the skill to force the pace against this English bowling unit, so bat patiently and hope they blow themselves out.

2 Reverse the batting order
I don’t have the stats, but I’m sure the lower order have either out scored or come close to out scoring the top six. Why not let them open? It may sound a little strange, but you could encourage Shane Watson to increase his conversion rate by bringing him in at no.11, point out Agar, and tell him if he fancies that young squirt’s world record score.

3 Clone Ryan Harris
He’s the one bowler that has the English batsman worried and isn’t a vegetarian. You need a few more of him. Just remember to add extra calcium to strengthen those bones.

4 Treat the Umpires to laser eye surgery
A lot of people have moaned about DRS, or about Stuart Broad not walking, but the real problem has been the umpire team’s myopia. Us England fans felt the sting early on but there have been some howlers that have gone against you guys over the past few days. Why not treat the umps to laser eye surgery. Apparently it only costs £600 per eye – according to spam mail. It would be £5000 well spent.

5 Bring in some South Africans
It worked for us and as far as I know, your new citizenship laws are practically begging you to do so (while at the same time basically writing off the next generation of home grown talent – but what’s a disenfranchised generation compared to a chance of winning.)

6 Spike Jimmy Anderson’s and Graeme Swann‘s drinks
It’s desperate, but you can’t tell me that all those players who come down with Dehli belly on a tour of India are by accident. Admittedly we still have Onions, Tremlett and an angry Finn waiting for a chance and that Joe Root is a bit handy, but it could work.

7 Write off this Ashes and start training camps back home
It looks like this Ashes series is beyond rescuing, but you could have revenge within a few months. All you need to do is put all the toughest, spunkiest young players in a camp, feed them raw steaks coated in Vegemite, and play them tapes of ex-pro commentators who never got close to winning and Ashes series looking smug and basking in the reflected glory of their modern counterparts. Do that for six months and it could be carnage.

8 Tell Shane Watson to place his front leg so his bat can come around it
How many times is Shan Watson going to play beautifully only to be out LBW in his mid-twenties. Maybe you could wire up his box so that every time the coaching staff catch him planting his foot straight in front of the stumps to an in swinger, they could give him a little shock as a reminder to never do it again.

9 Know any Indian bookmakers?
It’s worth a try

And if all else fails

An Australian Ashes winner?

An Australian Ashes winner?

10 Remind the poms who taught them reverse swing in the first place
Yes, if none of this works, you can always remind them that if it wasn’t for Troy Cooley and David Saker, the poms would still be crying into their warm beer at yet another Ashes series lost. Just because they forgot to pass the word around back home, it doesn’t mean they aren’t responsible for England’s success. Yes, at the end of the day, Australia will still win the Ashes.

Well, an Australian.

Petty Domestic Disputes No. 6: Bed linen

English: Thermostat FLZ 541 Русский: Термостат...

There’s something wrong with the wiring (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t know what happened when my wife and I were born; we both come from the same part of the country which means we should have similar genes (not too similar before you all start smirking), and we grew up at roughly the same time, yet by some genetic quirk our bodies have very different thermostats.

My body thermostat is normal. I get cold in winter and hot in summer (or wet, as is the case for most English summers). It’s my wife that has the problem. Her thermostat seems to be set permanently on cold. Not freezing – it’s not like she’s blue in the mouth and shivering all the time – no, the difference between us is that it doesn’t matter what the weather, she always seems to need at least one more layer of clothing than me.

Water retention sufferers on the beach

Water retention sufferers on the beach

It’s not as if we are so different physically. We are both quite slim (although I’m a lot broader as discussed here), and don’t suffer from’water retention like a large and growing percentage of the population, so it’s not as if I’m carrying around extra lagging around the torso. We just appear to be wired up differently. So what’s the problem? I hear you ask. None, most of the time, it’s just…..

If there is one thing I hate, it is being too hot in bed. I, like most other people who like to retain their sanity, spend a third of my life in bed, yet ever since I’ve been married (OK, maybe for longer than that) I wake up each morning feeling like I’ve spent 7 hours at a Turkish bath. It’s not that I’m having nightmares, and I rarely suffer from a fever. No, the problems that I am forced to endure an inappropriately warm duvet.

Take our winter duvet. Its filling seems to be made from polar bear fur and hairs from the devil’s armpit. Even this winter, when the outside temperature was down below -20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit), within moments of climbing into bed my pores would be shooting out sweat like old faithful on speed. My wife, on the other hand, was complaining about how cold it was and asking for an extra blanket on top.

The answer, to me, is obvious. My wife should wear pyjamas in bed. As I have explained (begged) in the past, it’s easier for her to wear something extra than for me to peel off a layer of skin. This, though, is not an option. The only way forward is for me to gently simmer in a bath of my own sweat.

Things came to a head the other night. We are having an unusually warm spell in the UK at the moment. Daytime temperatures have exceed 34 Celsius (93.2 Fahrenheit) and as usual the majority of the UK population is complaining. Earlier in the month I had finally managed to persuade my wife to swap our winter duvet to our summer duvet (filling: brown bear pelts with added mink) but on this night, despite the windows being open, it remained incredibly warm. In fact it was so warm I could even see a slight flush on my wife’s cheeks. I quickly realised that this could be the opportunity I had been looking for.

“Why don’t we take the duvet out and just use the cover?” I said with an innocent tone.
“OK,” she replied. She must have been baking.

Can we change the duvet, please? (source:www.healthtap.com)

Can we change the duvet, please? (source:www.healthtap.com)

Once removed, I lay under the thin cotton sheets of the cover. My wife, in the mean time, put on some pyjamas. It was heaven. For once I lay the without the familiar itch of sweat trickling down my neck before nestling in the hollow of my throat. Unused to such levels of comfort, I was soon fast asleep.

At 3:00 am I woke up freezing. A night mist had come in from the coast, cooling the air to a more Spring-like temperature. I turned to look at my wife but she was sound asleep, though I swore I could see a slight smile on her face. What should I do? I couldn’t get the duvet. That would have been tantamount to surrender. No, the was only one thing for it. For the rest of the night I watched the digital clock slowly tick off the minutes to dawn whilst shivering gently on the thin sliver of bed I call my own.

The next morning my wife had to go away for a couple of days for work, so I quietly put the summer duvet back in the duvet cover. Since she’s returned she hasn’t said a word. I’m hoping she hasn’t noticed.

Previous blogs in this series:

Who changes the nappy

Houseplants

Food

The 6 a.m. watershed

Bedspace

Blocked by Akismet – update 2

I’ve waited a few days before posting this, just to be sure, but it seems my ability to post comments and not be recognised as spam has been restored. Yay!

Interestingly, it appears I may have been doing Akismet a disservice. They claim that the issue was nothing to do with them and that I was never on their blocked list. I’ve heard rumours that it may have been something to do with a couple of Internet Service Providers in the UK, Sky & BT. Whatever the reason, what I can say is that the follow up from Akismet was very good, regardless of whether they were to blame or not, so thank you for that.

For those of you who have contacted me with the same issue, I hope you are all now OK. If not, I believe the end is in sight, but don’t hesitate to contact Akismet if you haven’t yet, because I don’t believe my issue would have been solved without them.

Previous posts
Blocked by Akismet – update
Blocked by Akismet

Brainwashing children

You will support my football team

You will support my football team

It sounds a bit harsh, doesn’t it, brainwashing children. It’s like something out of a horror story; evil parents turn their kids from pleasant, everyday children into killer zombie monsters; but I’m of the opinion that brainwashing has a bad press. You see, all parents either brainwash their children, have done in the past, or will do so in the future, and the children turn out fine. Mostly.*

Nose-picking in progress.

For a start we brainwash our children into behaving in certain ways. I know that some people would call this teaching or educating, or other such fancy terms, and it is true that brainwashing your children to suppress their natural animal instinct of beating someone smaller than themselves until they get what they want is a good thing, but there are other behavioural rules which we inflict on children that are purely designed to ensure they fit into societal norms; rules which seem ridiculous when put under scrutiny**. Take nose picking. I find nose picking unpleasant and tell my children to blow into a tissue as it more hygienic. In some parts of China, nose picking is the norm. It’s seen as a good way to clear the nose. To somebody from these areas, the thought of blowing snot onto paper which you then put into your pocket in case you need to blow your nose again is seen as disgusting.

Still, I’m not inhuman. I understand the need to brainwash children into behaving as well-rounded members of a community. There is another, more insidious form of brainwashing that is less easy to justify: brainwashing your children to like what you like. Sometimes this happens by accident. For example, I love cricket but I swore never to force my boys to play a sport unless they wanted to. Still, as they have watched cricket since they were born, have had the rules explained to them in detail, and (most importantly) have grown up in a time when the England Cricket team is quite good for once, it was only a matter of time before they started playing cricket in our garden each evening.

Other times, I have made a more conscious decision to brainwash my children. I am a fan of Ipswich Town Football Club, so as soon as my first son was born I bought him a replica shirt. He has had a replica shirt most years. He is now 6 years old and an Ipswich fan. His younger brother will also be an Ipswich fan, because I will brainwash him too. If I’m honest, none of this is for their benefit. In fact by making them Ipswich fans I will be opening them up to many years of hurt, psychologically scarring them to always expect the worst, to feel constantly disappointed and unfulfilled, but I did it anyway.

Then comes the brainwashing handed down by each generation. In the case of our family it is music. When I was a kid, my Dad played music from the Rolling Stones, The Who and a lot of Atlantic soul music. I don’t have many memories of singing nursery rhymes as a kid, but I do remember singing Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding. The favourite song of my two boys is Song 2 by Blur. This is by design. They also like LCD Soundsystem, The Flaming Lips and Madness, plus love the Beastie Boys (played with strategic coughing whenever they drop the F-bomb). I know this brainwashing is working because as we were out in the car one day, a clip of Sweet Child O’ Mine by Guns ‘n’ Roses was played on the radio. As soon as it was over, my two-year old shouted “that, more!” at the top of his voice, pointing to the radio. “Yes,” I thought, “my job here is done.”

But before you all pick up the phone to call social services, there is hope. My children won’t grow up as mini versions of me. I am so confident of this fact that I’m willing to lay money on it (but only in the state of Nevada for my American friends). Shall I tell you why? Because when I was 15 years old I discovered The Smiths. They were totally different from any music I’d ever heard before. Each song’s lyrics were filled with a witty cocktail of longing and despair which transported me away from my dark, dank bedroom and onto the dark, dank streets of late eighties Manchester. My Dad hated them, an act which cemented my love of the Smiths. Soon I discovered other music that also wound up my Dad, both changing my musical outlook forever and starting my transformation into an independent person. You see, no matter how hard most of us try, our children will eventually decide for themselves what they love and what they don’t. I just hope to god that my kids don’t end up loving Celine Dion.

Oh, and I have a confession to make. All through this blog are links to some great music. Whatever you do, don’t click on them as there is a danger that I’ll end up brainwashing you too…..

*As an aside, for those of you who have never blogged, us bloggers ‘tag’ each post with words that explain what the blog is about – it helps people find us via search engines. WordPress kindly offer suggested tags based on what you have written and at this point in the blog, they suggest Christianity, the Democratic Party and Shopping. I take it that Scientology isn’t on the list due to the Church of Scientology’s litigious nature (and their innocence, of course)***.

** This is my longest sentence to date. I’m very proud of it. Thank you for reading it all, you can take a breath now

*** Yes, I’m a coward

A typical car journey (thanks for this Ben!)

Blocked by Akismet – update

pulling hair out

Please fix it quick, it’s not like I had that much hair to begin with (Photo credit: wstera2)

Just a quick update to say – well how do I put this – I’m still unable to comment on other people’s blogs. Well, this isn’t strictly true. I have been commenting on people’s blogs but my comments have gone into spam purgatory. I wouldn’t mind so much but I’m very proud of some of those comments (and maybe ashamed by one or two as well).

So, if you are the owner of the following blogs, please check your spam folder, as hidden away amongst all the dross will be a little gem by me (of course, you can then ignore the comment, but I’d like you to at least have the chance to judge the comment’s worth for yourself).

do not get sick in the sink please

the sporting regard

Shumpty speaks (there my be a couple of comments waiting in purgatory and there are a few more I’ve wanted to make – loved your Ashes blogs)

Plus many, many more of whom I have forgotten.

hopefully it will be all over soon….

Update on the update

I should point out, the people at Akismet are working on this, as I know they are with a number of other bloggers, it’s just there is no resolution in sight.

My original post – Blocked by Akismet