Positive discrimination for Suffolk

Southwold on a typical summer's day ©Dylan Hearn 2013

Southwold on a typical summer’s day ©Dylan Hearn 2013

According to the Guardian today, the comedian Dara O’Briain has “hit out” at a BBC ban on men-only panel shows. For those of you who are either a) not from the UK; or b) from the UK but have better things to do than worry about the make up of panel shows, a senior member of the BBC has put out an edict banning all men panel shows in an effort to rectify gender imbalance. The fact that such an imbalance exists should be no surprise to those of us who watch QI, Mock the Week and the like. The problem is, according to Dara O’Briain on Twitter, he has said no such thing. What he actually said was that it was wrong to make the edict public, because now talented performers who would have been chosen to be on the show through talent alone, will now be seen as the token woman. He has a point.

Sexiest ginger on the planet - Suffolk's Ed Sheeran (image source: banging-edsheeran.tumblr.com)

Sexiest ginger on the planet – Suffolk’s Ed Sheeran (image source: banging-edsheeran.tumblr.com)

This, though,  got me thinking. Because there is another, much more under-represented group that should be on TV: people from Suffolk. Now you may scoff but name me one person who originated from Suffolk that appears on a panel show. Stumped? Me too. In fact you will do well to name anyone from Suffolk on TV at all. This is a travesty. How could a county that produces talent the likes of Ed Sheeran and er… Bernie Ecclestone be subject to such discrimination? It’s not like the media have never heard of Suffolk, they own most of bloody Southwold after all.

And it’s not like other parts of East Anglia are under-represented. Norfolk, happy to look down on the people of suffolk due to our lack of city status, have their own regional television centre in Norwich, complete with it’s pro-Norwich City Football club version of Pravda – Look East. Norfolk is also the birthplace of Stephen Fry, the charming polymath; actor, comedian, and host of another allegedly mostly misogynistic all male panel show QI. Essex do even better. Because of it’s closeness to London, Essex often appears on television, usually in one of the summer holiday ‘let’s go to the seaside’ episodes of Eastenders where the whole cast end up in Clacton for the week. And of course, they have their very own TV series – The Only Way Is Essex, or TOWIE for those who struggle to remember a string of five words. Yet for Suffolk, other than the TV series Lovejoy – starring Ian ‘f*%$ing’ McShane of Deadwood fame – which finished 20 years ago, and Bill Treacher (Arthur Fowler) who left Eastenders 19 years ago, there is nothing.

Well I’ve had enough.

It’s about time us Suffolk-folk did something about it. To start with, I have a number of suggestions for TV shows based in our beautiful county that could showcase our creativity and talent. For example:

A stunning sea view - Sizewell B (image source: www.bbc.co.uk )

A stunning sea view – Sizewell B (image source: http://www.bbc.co.uk )

The Glowing: a paranormal mystery about strange glowing creatures set in Dunwich, just down from the Sizewell nuclear plant

Bury St Edmund: A gameshow where every week two teams fight it out for the opportunity to lay Noel Edmunds to rest – in Bury St Edmunds

The Pickwick Paperchase: A team of people run around Ipswich, who’s people and streets were the inspirations for Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, trying to find the person most like the round-faced and portly Samuel Pickwick

Lavenham - catnip for wattle & daub junkies (image source: www.britainexpress.com)

Lavenham – catnip for wattle & daub junkies (image source: http://www.britainexpress.com)

The American Tourist – Local people from Lavenham see who can tell the most outrageous tale as historical fact to American Tourists and be believed

You see, we have the talent, we have the ideas, we have the connections – usually blocking the bar at the Lord Nelson, Southwold; there is no reason that the people of Suffolk should carry on being discriminated in this way. If there is enough support, you can expect to see my petition on Change.org soon

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I’ve never been too good with names

big-bang-07

“I’ve never been too good with names but I remember faces” – It’s a shame about Ray – The Lemonheads

I went to a pub quiz last night. We started out as a team of three which became six by the time various waifs and strays arrived. I like pub quizzes. I’m one of those people that is able to keep hold of what, on the surface of things, appears to be useless information. I don’t know why this is, but I’ve been this way all my life. It’s both a blessing and a curse.

Let me give you an example. A few years ago I moved to Germany and had to learn the language in order to do my then job. It was very hard work, not helped by my age or the complexities of German grammar (I mean, is it really necessary to have 12 variations of the word ‘the’?). But there were certain phrases that stuck in my mind straight away. It started when a German friend ordered a shandy (beer with lemonade) on a night out. I explained to him that in England, a shandy drinker was another term for somebody who wasn’t manly and asked if they had the equivalent in German. Yes her replied, and then told me about:

  • Weicheier – a soft egg (the traditional term)
  • Beckenrandschwimmer – the type of person who only swims in the shallow end
  • Warmduscher – The kind of person who has warm showers
  • Schattenparker – the kind of person who parks their car in the shade
  • Handyamguerteltraeger – the kind of person who wears their mobile phone on their belt
  • Charterflug Landungsklatscher – the kind of person who claps when the plane lands

It was these phrases, rather than terms that would have been more useful, that threatened to emerge during my German lessons from then on in. All from one conversation.

So, back at the quiz, I was in a positive mood. With my ability to regurgitate useless facts I would be in my element. The first round was film and television, another area of knowledge that I take pride in. This was going to be easy. We were going to win. Or so I thought.

Can you give the first name and surname (half a point for each) for the main characters in Big Bang Theory?

I could feel the blood drain from my face and the first flutter of panic. I love Big Bang Theory. It is one of my favourite TV shows. It consistently rides that fine line of both loving and taking the mickey out of it’s subject matter – science geeks – without denigrating them. Each of the main characters has their own distinct personality and is given time to grow in your affections. It is brilliant. Yet as soon as the question was read out my brain froze. Why? Because I have a terrible memory for names.

Not all names. I can recite the 2005 Ashes winning side to you, I could probably give you the names of the majority of the 1978 FA Cup winning Ipswich Town side, but most of the time I have real trouble remembering people’s names. It’s not like I walk around oblivious to people I know. I rarely forget a face, I just happen to have a lot of friends called ‘mate’.

I sat there, mouth open, desperately trying to dredge a name, any name, out from my mind, but only one came out.

“Penny!”

This probably also says a lot about me. I could see the characters, tell you jokes they had cracked, let you know who was the engineer, who the physicist, who the biologist who loves dissecting brains, and the number of belt buckles another of them owns, but not a single name came to mind. We had lost before the first round was even halfway through.

When it came time to mark the answers, it all came flooding back.  Sheldon Cooper and Leonard Hofstadter, the two physicists; Penny, a waitress and aspiring actress; Howard Wolowitz the engineer and Rajesh Koothrappali, the astrophysicist who becomes mute in front of beautiful women.

How could I have forgotten their names, especially Sheldon? Why was it that these names, like so many others, escaped me? Yes, we did manage to claw some pride back in getting the highest score in matching the fast food slogans to the company (have it your way – Burger King) but even that came with a loss of dignity as our poor dietary habits were exposed.

I’ve been told that forgetting somebody’s name is a sign of lack of interest, but in my case this isn’t true (at least, not for Big Bang Theory). It’s a weakness, one of my a chillies’ heels (although given the number I have, a chillies should have been a millipede). Still, it could have been worse. I could have been friend who turned up late, halfway through the quiz. By this point we were close to the lead, but enough points back that the leading team needed to fail badly for us to have had a chance (they didn’t). When my friend was asked if he knew the names of the characters in the Big Bang Theory he reeled them off, one after another.

So he got the blame.

Me and my embarrassing mouth

Did I really just say that (image source: kotaku.com)

Did I really just say that (image source: kotaku.com)

The thing about karma is that it revels in pulling people off their high horse and giving them a good spanking. Only last week I blogged about how annoyed I was in the way I was spoken to on a health visit with my son. Well this week karma decided some payback was in order.

It happened on the way home from collecting my boys from school and pre-school. We needed a few items for dinner that night and had popped into the local supermarket. Now my two year-old only needs to hear a name once to remember it. It’s a great skill to have. I think he’ll grow up to be a politician; with his memory for names to go with the usual self-centred and slightly sociopathic tendencies of all toddlers he’ll be perfect.

Anyway, he was very tired this day so I was chattering away to him, using distraction so he would forget the tantrum he’d just had on hearing we had to go shopping. I asked who he thought we’d see at the shop and he immediately said John,* a young guy who usually works at the deli counter who always makes a fuss of my youngest.

As we walked down each aisle I would ask my youngest if he could see John. It was a great game which meant we completed the shop without further tears. Then, as we got to the checkout, my youngest started shouting “John” at the top of his voice, and a slightly embarrassed young man waved back from behind the till. So far, so normal.

When it was our turn to pay, John served us, but my little one kept pointing to the next server, a man also called John, saying “Two Johns, two Johns.”
“Oh,” I said in a sing-song voice. “You’re right. There are two Johns. How funny. I wonder how people tell them apart? Do you think they have nick-names or something?”

Costume for my next shopping trip (image source: www.todevice.com)

Costume for my next shopping trip (image source: http://www.todevice.com)

It was one of those occasions where I clearly wasn’t thinking, just talking to keep my son occupied, because as soon as the words had come out of my mouth a feeling of dread hit me. You see, one John was white, the other black.

I looked up to see “white” John give me an odd look, as if to say “was that a racist joke?” I stood there for a moment, my sense of discomfort increasing exponentially as I failed to think of a get out, my silence compounding the perceived crime. Meanwhile, “black” John looked across as if to say “did I hear you right?” I could have died.

The good news is that I didn’t compound the error by trying to talk my way out of it. Instead, I continued as if nothing was amiss, despite my scarlet face, and the moment was broken (at least I hope it was). Still, it got me thinking. Could the nurse from last week have been thinking the same thing? We can all be so quick to judge people, yet with one unthinking, innocent comment I could have understandably been mistaken as a rabid racist. I think I may owe that nurse an apology, or at the very least the benefit of the doubt.

Karma can be a complete bastard sometimes.

*Name has been changed to protect the innocent

And they say that humans are the most intelligent animals

I am your master (source: permatreat.com)

I am your master (source: permatreat.com)

Our village has been under attack. A swarm of houseflies has descended upon our little hamlet, leaving a trail of destruction as tea cups, picture frames and Royal Doulton figurines became collateral damage in the battle between fly and swat. The only people happy with the invasion are the owners of our local hardware store, who have been doing a roaring trade in fly swats, fly paper and – for the landed gentry – the ultra-violet electric bug zapper.

In our household the preferred weapon of choice was a rolled up newspaper (and they said print news is dead). It’s cheap, practical and you can tear off a page if the squished dead fly residue leaves splat marks on your walls. Plus there is something about wielding a rolled up newspaper that takes most men back to their childhood. In our heads we stop being a middle-aged man with a newspaper and become a knight on a quest, a pirate fighting for treasure or, most likely, Luke Skywalker on the Millennium Falcon, blindfolded, using the force to defend himself from lasers. Or maybe that’s just me.

You have learnt well, apprentice (source: sodahead.com)

You have learnt well, apprentice (source: sodahead.com)

Anyway, soon I became the scourge of the house fly. With my Mr Myagi trained ninja reflexes (if you don’t believe me, ask my two boys) I set to work defending my home from the invaders. As always, the slow, stupid and plain were the first casualties. I became the grim reaper of flies, exterminating with a well placed flick of the wrist. I learnt that the best place to aim was just behind the fly, because when flies jump they jump backwards. Nothing could escape sting, as I had named my trusty swat.

Before long our house had been cleansed. We were safe to prepare food, drink a drink or read a book without being pestered. Well, nearly safe, because despite my best efforts, one fly remained. My nemesis.

This Lord of the Flies was clever, refusing to land on white surfaces like so many of its brethren. It was sneaky, waiting until I had settled in my chair, cup of tea in hand, knowing I was helpless before buzzing maliciously beside my ear. We could go for hours without hearing anything and suddenly there it was, walking all over Leonardo Di Caprio‘s face as it sought to disrupt our evening film. It taunted me, showing me up in front of my children with its superiority of speed and movement.

Even the nights were not safe, the fly waiting until I had taken my glasses off and turned out the light before gleefully buzzing around our bedroom, within earshot but out of reach. Every few minutes the buzzing would stop and I’d slowly drift onto the cusp of sleep before away it went again, the sound of its flight reverberating like a chainsaw through my head. I would turn the light on but the fly would disappear, only to start buzzing as soon as the light went off again. It got to the point that I didn’t trust my own senses, believing the buzzing sound was in my head and that the fly never really existed. It was winning the psychological battle. If I didn’t act soon, the fly would drive me insane.

The next day I set to work. I went through the house, ensuring each room was clear before shutting the doors, sealing them off. I herded the fly to the kitchen, where I had set fly traps, tasty tidbits of food out in the open, giving me a perfect line of sight. I then stood still as a statue and waited. Before long I heard the familiar buzzing sound from the other side of the room. I slowly rose my trusty newspaper, ready to strike. A flash of movement caught the corner of my eye and the fly flew past, scouting the area. I waited, knowing that any premature move would scare it away. The fly circled the room twice before swooping down towards my trap. Come on, come on, I thought, waiting for it to land, waiting for it to meet its fate. Then, just as it approached my trap, it veered away.

And landed on my rolled up newspaper.

I stood there, eye to eyes with my tormentor, unsure of what to do. It remained motionless, mouthparts grinning, knowing it had the better of me. With a sigh, I very slowly moved the swat out of the open window, then shook it. The fly flew into the garden and away, off to torment some other poor soul. I stood for a moment before saluting the worthy enemy in the Zulu tradition before shutting the window.  It was then I heard the buzzing.

Storms over Suffolk

We had some amazing storms over Suffolk today. Well the storms themselves were pretty standard but I’ve never seen cloud formations like these before. Enjoy!

All photographs were taken on my iPhone and then enhanced using the Snapseed app to reflect what my eyes were seeing.

Storm clouds over Suffolk (©Dylan Hearn 2013)

Storm clouds over Suffolk (©Dylan Hearn 2013)

More storm clouds over Suffolk (©Dylan Hearn 2013)

More storm clouds over Suffolk (©Dylan Hearn 2013)

People who don’t say hello

Even I can be neighbourly, in the right circumstances

Even I can be neighbourly, in the right circumstances

I love where I live. It was a big change moving to a village from living in the centre of a major city. I was lucky, though and didn’t suffer the culture shock that many city dwellers do (What? You don’t have a persian deli? Where can I get some Tabrizi bread?) I had been raised in village and it felt like moving home. The one thing I had forgotten, though, was that nearly everybody you meet says hello. Now, I know there are villages where people don’t say hello, villages where two types of people live: locals and soon-to-move-out outsiders. Our village isn’t like that. Even on the damp freezing day of our first visit, strangers said hello to my wife and I as they walked by. We fell in love immediately.

Of course, the hello ritual has its pitfalls. For a start, you need to know the time. I don’t know how many times I’ve said “Good Morning” to somebody, only to curse myself as soon as the words are out of my mouth because it’s past noon. You can see it written all over their faces.” Good morning? Can’t he see the position of the sun?” The shame can be unbearable.

There is also the issue of not knowing a person’s name. I’m terrible with names. Another reason I fell in love with the village was that the first three people I got to know were called Steve. It was bliss. Then I met a Dave and a Lee and the whole thing fell apart. Don’t even get me started on Dan. There are people in the village with whom I’ve had long, frequent conversations and I still can’t remember their name. It’s nothing personal, the name just fails to sink in. Yet when I see them out and they say “Hello Dylan,” I squirm with embarrassment, groping around in my memory looking for any sort of prompt that could help me greet them by name in return.

But even in a village as friendly as ours, there are  people who don’t say hello. I tend to break them down into four main groups:

  • The preoccupied – by far the most common group. They are not snubbing you, they are concentrating on something else, like chasing after their child who happens to be skipping towards an onrushing combine harvester. Nine times out of ten the preoccupied will say hello, just not today.
  • The shy – always a good group to say hello to. It’s not often you can get a physical reaction from somebody by saying one word to them (swear words not included.)
  • People who don’t know you – this group really have no excuse. You may not have seen me before but that’s no excuse for not returning a hello. There are people in the village who have never said anything but hello to me, or I to them, in over two years, yet we feel as if we know each other. Shame on you.
  • Then there is my favourite group – The Antisocial. These are people who know about the hello social convention but choose not to play. Everybody knows them. If you live in my village I bet you know who I’m talking about. If you don’t, then you’re probably one of them. They are the type of person who sees you walking towards them, smile on face, mouth opening to speak, and their eyes slip to the side, or down; anywhere but where you are standing. It’s an effect  Harry Potter would be familiar with when he wore his invisibility cloak. Then, head bowed, the antisocial person rushes past, desperate to be away in case your show of neighbourliness brings them out in hives.

The thing is, most ‘helloers,’ as I like to call us, ignore the antisocial. They believe that if a person doesn’t want to say hello then that’s their prerogative. I’m a little different. I’m more of an evangelical helloer. I want to bring them to the light. Rather than ignore these people I try to convert them, deliberately targeting the antisocial until I get a greeting in return. I see it as my calling.

Now you have to be careful. Being an evangelical helloer can be quite risky. A balance needs to be made. Saying hello too loud and you come across as arrogant, even slightly deranged. Being too soft and you will end up ignored. It’s important to maintain eye contact and a smile at all times; it doesn’t feel neighbourly to have ‘hello’ bellowed in your face by an angry looking loon. You also need to choose your targets carefully. As a middle aged man, I wouldn’t recommend trying to get a hello out of teenage girls; the following police interviews can be uncomfortable.

Occasionally, though, something happens that makes the whole thing worthwhile. There was an old lady who I used to meet every morning on the school run. Now old ladies are the founders of the helloer movement; they are the helloer fundamentalists. Old ladies greet everybody they meet as if they were long lost family, with a beaming smile accentuated by their paper soft cheeks. However, this old lady was different. While most old ladies break out into a smile as easy as breathing, this old lady was of a type more likely to offer you a poisoned apple. Here was a worthy challenge. Every day I would pass this old lady and every day she would ignore my greeting.

Every day, five times a week, for over a year.

I was getting close to giving up until one day as I was returning from the school run with my two boys, I pushed our pushchair  through the biggest pile of dog shit you could imagine. As I stood there swearing about thoughtless dog owners, the old lady approached with a big smile lighting up her face. “Good afternoon dear,” she said, laughter in her voice. That day I was on the side of the antisocial.

The cat that shits in my garden

There’s a cat that shits in my garden. There may be more than one cat – I don’t know as I’ve never seen it – but there is at least one that shits on my lawn. I hate that cat.

cat

Are you the cat? (Photo credit: Kenny Teo (zoompict))

I have dreams about that cat and what I’d like to do to it if I caught it in the act. But the cat is sneaky, as cats often are, and it shits while I’m sleeping, taking revenge on my dreams of revenge. Sometimes it waits until it sees that my car is gone, other times it waits until the cricket starts on TV. It now knows my routine well enough that it sometimes shits while I’m writing; in fact it could be shitting there now. I’d better check.

I first spotted the cat shit whilst mowing. When I say spotted, I mean smelt, because the cat had kindly hidden its shit under some moss. Gagging whilst cleaning out the grass collector, and a lifetimes enmity was born.

I wouldn’t mind so much if the cat shat under a bush or the large conifer at the front but no, it continues to shit right in the middle of the lawn. Well, I call it a lawn but it is mostly moss, or at least used to be mostly moss. I had a suspicion that the cat liked the softness of the moss and that was why it chose to shit on my lawn, so I  used weed and feed to kill the moss and resurrect the lawn. That will teach it, I thought. Now the  the cat shits on the large bare patches of earth between the few remaining tufts of grass that make up what I used to call my front lawn.

I blame cat owners. They know how cats turn evil once they are out of the house. In fact, I’m sure most cat owners love it when their cat shits in someone else’s garden. These would be the same people who growl with disgust when they see dog poo on the path, swearing about selfish dog owners who refuse to pick up. I hate selfish dog owners too, but dogs don’t shit on my garden.

If cat owners had any sense of responsibility they would make their cats wear nappies. That’s what considerate people would do. Maybe the scratch marks received whilst fighting a cat into a nappy would make them think twice about owning one of these devious creatures. I mean, what’s the attraction of a cat? They come and go as they please, look down their noses at you; they make the house stink and cause my wife’s eyes to stream whenever she goes anywhere near them. The only good thing about owning a cat is that it shits in someone else’s garden, usually mine.

Nerf War: Gun

Anti-cat shit device (Photo credit: Jake Sutton)

I waited up one night, looking out of the spare room window with Nerf gun in hand, hoping to catch a glimpse of my nemesis. I didn’t want to hurt it (what do you think I am, some kind of sadist?) but I hope the screech of the dart would scare it away, never to return. The coward never showed and I ended up with a stiff neck from the cold night air. I hate that cat.

I think people love cats because they have a knowing air about them. It’s the slight smile on their face as they listen to you speak, looking for all the world that they understand and empathise that the woman at the supermarket spoke rudely to you. I had a friend who used to smile like that at work during meetings. He didn’t say much, but everybody thought he was really clever. He wasn’t, but he was clever enough to know that an enigmatic smile and silence can take you a long way in life. Cats are like this, cats aren’t intelligent, cats are stupid, yet this cat has the better of me. I hate that cat.