Thursday, October 01, 2009

Crime Doesn't Try

I've been getting a lot of spam phishing e-mails recently, which is surprising given that I don't give the email addresses I actually use to anyone except friends. But this morning's email actually made me mad with its lack of effort:

From: UK LOTTERY <****>
Reply-to: <***claimsdepartment1@hotmail>
Date: Thursday, October 1, 2009 7:32 AM
To: undisclosed recipients

Subject: RE

You have just been awarded, £800.000.00 GBP in the uk Online Promo, send us yourNames.....Address...Country...Sex/Tel...



Now, come on. I realize that this was probably written by someone who doesn't use English as their first language. But really. "send us your Names... Address..." How lazy can you get? The "uk Online Promo"? And the reply address is a hotmail account? (and now I'm getting picky.)

What's next?


From: UK Prize company awards free money association
Subject: you won money

You win. give bank account number, social security and mother's maiden name and anything else you think i will need to irritate and steal from you.

And don't tell my mom

Big John... I mean, "Prize Dept." haha sucker! oh wait... oh shit, I pressed send...! But how can I have pressed send if I typed that? Ohhhh i need to lie down.


Please get more sophisticated in your efforts to steal from me. This was so inept, it wasn't even funny. I kinda like those ones with the story about how I am the only one to help out in stealing millions from some African rich type. That makes me feel important. This just made me feel you aren't taking me seriously.

Friday, September 11, 2009

All Work And No Play...

... doesn't give me much time to post anything but a selection of random thoughts.

* Is it wrong to wish Baby Peach in Wii Mario Kart a painful death whenever she knocks me off course in Rainbow Road?

* Fall arrived right on time. September 1, and the leaves started falling, the rain started and it dropped 30 degrees. How is it then that summer arrived only two effing weeks before that?

* Graham Crackers seem to make a fair substitute for McVities Digestives... until you have a McVities Digestive. Then Graham Crackers revert to what they actually are - crappy thin fragile things that don't deserve to be dunked in tea.

* While I am prepared to give the rookie parents, dropping off their kids at school for the first time, some kind of benefit of the doubt, that expires on Monday. Dropping off your kid at school means following a couple of very simple, clear rules and using some common sense. This morning I was held up, along with at least 10 cars behind me, by an ass of a parent who parked with a 12 foot gap in front of her, at an angle, then proceeded to have a conversation out of her passenger window with a friend of hers. Later, unbelievably, she was holding up any progress in the wet hallways at school pick-up having a conversation - with the same friend! I could (and should) have swept the leg.

* I hate making the bed. It's pointless. I'm just going to sleep in it again, and really, who else sees it but people who don't care how it looks so much as how much comfort it gives? By the same token, I'm getting more and more lethargic and things I should care about (like shaving) are becoming more and more like making the bed. I mean, I don't like shaving, and it just grows back. And who am I grooming for? Only myself, really. And I like being rugged.

* My social life would be NOTHING without my kids. All the women I know I know because of my kids. The guys too, I know through their wives who I know because of my kids. That said, I am digging the town I live more now school is back in session. I really know some great, generous, fun people who just want to help... then there's that stupid mare who doesn't know how to drop off her kid at school. But I digress.

* England's qualification for the world cup next year was marred only by the fact I didn't see it happen.

* My book's delay in moving to full distribution on was all my fault. It was supposed to take 6-8 weeks after it was completed, but I didn't click a certain I AGREE button. So I clicked it on Wednesday. And it will be on Amazon... in 6-8 weeks.

Longer posts to resume once the kids are actually in the swing of school for real next week.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Kelly Girl Keeble

I don't which made me laugh more. The check for 22 cents or the reminder that I was once a Kelly "girl."

The 22 cent check is probably easier to explain. I worked for Kelly for just a few months when the wife was home pregnant with our second child and there was a genuine danger we would have killed each other if we spent another minute in each other's company during that cold winter of 2005. Because I worked for them, I became a recipient of a settlement given to all Kelly employees over... something or other.

But why Kelly? And what the hell did I do for them when I did work there? Read on.

The wife encouraged me (though, as you read above, I didn't need much encouragement to get out of the house) to find some paying work while she was home waiting for the chillen to arrive. I went to the city to sign up with a temp agency there, which certainly had more appeal than temping around Northern NJ, but nothing came of it. I was up against hundreds of people just on the morning I spent being assessed and having my typing speed, etc. checked. When it was clear there wasn't going to be much chance of getting anything in NYC, I headed out to Kelly in NNJ to see what was what.

I worked three gigs while a Kelly employee in about two months. I was selective of the jobs I took, but not really. As you will see when I describe them to you. The meagre settlement check will verify I was hardly in the running for temp-of-the-year.

My first job was to supervise an exam at a tech company. Eight or nine people were taking some test or other and I had to be there to make sure they didn't cheat. I forget what the pay rate was (and Kelly took some of it, of course) but once the exam started - and it was an hour long - it occured to me I didn't bring a book or anything to pass the time. I just sat and watched and listened to the scratching of pencil on paper for an hour. For less than $20, certainly.

My second job topped that. A conference at a hotel in Hackensack had been cancelled at short notice. I was the short notice. I went to the hotel lobby, and had to identify those people looking for a conference that wasn't listed for teachers, and tell them it was cancelled and that they could go home. Only one of the 20 people I sent home early did anything except say "great" and go home. She kicked up a stink wanting to speak to my boss (Kelly?) but she was very nice and was only trying to cover her back. She had me sign something to say she was there ready to attend, but was unable to. Another couple of hours doing something which someone had to do I suppose for less than $50.

The third one was magnificent. I was to assist at a conference at yet another hotel in Hackensack, this time with another employee. I forget his name, but he was a part-time Kelly temp, part-time store detective at a department store. The conference was for women, hosted by women, and was all about empowering women. And the first thing the attendees saw when they walked in to check their registration? Two men. A full day of temping netted a nice amount of cash, considering I didn't really do anything after checking everyone in and sell some materials to the women who got friendlier as the day went on. One of the lecturers got sick and cut things short, so even after helping her carry her stuff back to her car, I had worked a full day of gainful employment for the first time in two years. The highlight was eating a huge burger in the hotel restaurant at lunchtime, which probably accounted for a quarter of my pay check.

So, the 22 cent check will be deposited into the Disney saving fund and go towards a fraction of something fun, much as its source did in the cold, dark winter months and the last days when I only had one child. But the memories of being a Kelly temp will live on... until replaced by something else as surreal or story-worthy later in my life.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

My John Hughes and more (bumper post)

This is going to be a mammoth post. It's been too long since I posted anything, but I have three main things I want to talk about.

John Hughes had a profound effect on me. I guess I was the right age.

When I first saw 16 Candles I was much too young to understand it. I was probably 11, hanging out with my next-door neighbor (and big brother I never had - he was 4 years older) and his friends at the dawning of the VHS home video era. Girls, partying and teenage angst were many months away but it was still funny to see Long Dong saying: "Whasss happenin' hotstuff?" But even then, I was aware this was a different kind of movie. Sounds like bullshit, but why else would I remember watching a movie when I was 11? I remember every detail - where I was, the weather, who was there. Without sounding like too much of a wanker (I hope) it moved me.

But it was Ferris Bueller's Day Off that really spoke to me. I was working my way through high school when I discovered Ferris. Everything about him was so cool. He didn't play by the rules, but he wasn't out robbing banks or causing harm to anyone. He just realized that he was young, and it wasn't going to last forever. So he did something about it. Watching Ferris at work is a rollercoaster. When he shows his despair or joy directly to the camera, he breaks that wall. Ferris is your friend. I loved that feeling. I have talked before how the first real jealousy I remember feeling was towards the movie Dirty Dancing. It made the girls I hung around with all goo-goo eyed and obsessive. But, luckily for me, Ferris came along right around the same time and made me feel good about myself and, more importantly, that everything was going to be allllllll right.

The Breakfast Club... now there's a movie. I'm not sure how I managed this, but I suggested to my English teacher Mr. Tull that we should watch The Breakfast Club during one class. He agreed and also got the class next door to sit in with us. At the point we all sat there ready to watch (my own videotaped copy of the movie, recorded from BBC2), I had seen it at least six times. But there were people in the room who had never seen it before. We, all 60 or so of us, sat in silence at let it wash over us. Even more incredibly, Mr. Tull then said we could write an essay on the movie that would count towards our final GCSE result about what we imagined happened to the characters on Monday morning when they returned to school. I totally got an A. As a 15 year old, it was one of the pieces of writing I was most proud of. I wish I still had it. Maybe it's at my mum's house?

In the wake of my book I found it kind of funny that people would commiserate with me after John Hughes's death recently. It wasn't like I was obsessive about him. I was just a fan. Even though he was notorious for shying away from the public eye, I had no idea what he looked like. But - and this is a main point I make in the book - remembering how it felt watching Ferris on the verge of being caught or watching Bender sticking it to Mr. Vernon was so powerful and is still so very powerful to me 20 years on. And I have John Hughes to thank for that. But like I said at the start, I guess I was just the right age and I had very little to do with that.

Secondly, I just returned from a week away in Washington DC with the family. The weather wasn't always cooperative, but there were some truly cool moments from our vacation. The coolest without a doubt was our boat trip up the Potomac. We chugged along, pulling up at what looked like a remote dock and ended up walking in the back door of a fresh fish store. We snagged a great parking spot for our boat and landed some of the best shrimp I have ever tasted. They were as big as chicken drumsticks and so, so fresh. Another highlight was the Mall. I've seen the Lincoln Memorial before, but it was the first time for the kids. And it's still pretty spectacular. I had just read some article about how rough looking the reflecting pool is, partly due to the huge inauguration crowd, and it's looking pretty skanky when you get up close, but the WWII memorial was pristine and the sunny day made it even more of a sight to see. Then there were the many, many hours spent in the pool and at the waterpark watching the kids grow in confidence - starting out in their lifevests, hanging on to me, and then graduating up to negotiating the slides and sprinklers unassisted giving their parents some valuable R&R time.

Thirdly, there will not be many times I will succeed at beating nature, particularly when a bloody huge tree is involved, but this morning, I fought Mother Nature and smacked her sweet nose.

I can't even remember when I first noticed one of the trees in our front yard had actually rotted away at the bottom and was leaning at a 20 degree angle, resting against another tree. I just assumed at some point it was harmlessly blow over and I would cut it up for firewood at some point. But it managed to survive a blustery fall and brutal winter and increased its angle of lean to about 45 degrees. This is how it stayed for months, surviving a blustery, stormy summer. On our return to NJ yesterday, I noticed the initial rotting had eaten all the way through the trunk at its base and a beautiful collecting of fungus was rapidly spreading up the bark. It was also not connected to its roots anymore and only the support of a very thin branch was preventing it from falling on to our neighbors yard. All I could think of last night was this tree falling down and smashing into my neighbors house. It didn't make for a good night's sleep. So, this morning I went out there poorly equipped with a pick axe and a saw meant only for sawing inch-thick branches from twee fruit trees, not tackling a thick trunk of a decades-old, 30 foot behemoth.

Turns out, I was better equipped than I thought. I lifted the whole thing from its soggy stump and dragged this heavy beast far enough that the treetop cleared the branch it was resting on and it came to a controlled rest entirely on my property. The weight off my mind is absolutely worth the probable poison ivy rash I picked up during what is the manliest thing I have done in years.

So, now you're all filled in and up to date. And if you want some firewood, I got plenty now. Yeah, that was typed all smug.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

This Summer Is Awesome Pt. 1

Inspired by the beautiful weather of late, and the latest Keeble Mix CD in the car, this summer is now right where it should be.

I love making mix-tapes/CDs/playlists and while I have been criticized for sacrificing the "flow" for the quality of track, I have managed to create a mix currently playing in the car that appeals to myself, my 6-year-old and my 4-year-old in equal measure. Some highlights include (and this list demonstrates the eclectic qualities of a Keeble Mix):

Kids: MGMT - appropriately enough, my kids love it. But what's not to love about it?

Blitzkrieg Bop: The Ramones - one of my son's favorites, but again, the sun is shining, the windows and down, who wouldn't want to sing "Hey, ho, let's go!"?

Tom Hark: The Piranhas - this song has been with me for many a year, partly as a song that makes you move your feet, partly as a football chant from the Motherland. But my son loves it. He even says: "'olideee" like you're supposed to.

Hot 'N' Cold: Katy Perry - my ringtone. And the kids haven't asked what PMS means, so I'm getting away with it.

Sixteen Tons: Tennessee Ernie Ford - the fingerclicking is the cherry on top.

That's Not My Name/Shut Up And Let Me Go: The Ting Tings - such singalong fun, but also because we are so damn cool.

Human: The Killers - are we human or we dancer? You tell us.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

This Summer Sucks - Part 107,081,407

Today, amid beautiful sunshine, I made the effort (cutting appointments short, making a portable lunch for a child that only eats three foods and I only had one of them on hand, as an alternative to clearing up the wreckage of the car-making/cardboard box butchering that currently litters the living room) to take my 4-year-old to the town lake to swim. No sooner were we settled and lapping up the rays when the skies darkened and thunder rolled in, followed by a huge downpour.

I was reliably informed that it rained in our area on 23 of June's 30 days this year. What a waste of a good month. The weather forecast on every day for at least five weeks has been "chance of thunderstorms."

Come on, man.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Thoughts On A Tuesday

* So, the book is out there. Very exciting. If you want to buy it, you can do so by clicking here. I hope to get my own copy today, as others have told me theirs have shown up. I am excited, sure, but to have a copy in my hand will be pretty great.

* Does anyone not see that the guy that announces what the NY Lottery jackpot is in the TV ads always covers his mouth when he says the amount so they can re-use the ad all the time? Probably not, but if they did... well, I guess I just spoiled it for them.

* My daughter has two loose teeth. Better pick up some change on my errands today. Set the bar low - a shiny quarter should do it, right Teetherbell the Fairy?

* How come I didn't see Transformers 2 yet?

* Soccer twice a week is going to hurt, but it's going to be great.

* Did I mention the book?

* July 4th being on a Saturday is a jip. That said, it will be fun, even if it rains.


Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.

* Don't think I'm wishing the summer away - heaven forbid - but I can't wait for football to start. Or, come to that, "football."

Friday, June 19, 2009


In honor of Father's Day, I wanted to write something about my dad, Brian. But where to start?

We didn't start out on the best of terms. I was born during an England v Scotland soccer international. Even worse, Scotland won. But I was soon forgiven. In fact, my dad has never mentioned it.

My dad has always been a giant. He left high school and became a builder. His calloused hands and huge muscles, with shaved blond head saw him mistaken for a German - especially when on vacation in the Med with his blond-haired, blue eyed children. But he is a gentle giant, with a rare wit, and a creature of habit and simple pleasures.

My mother was a night nurse, so every morning my dad would wake me with a cup of milky tea and take me to the neighbors (until I was about 7 - then I would stay home and head off to school myself) before heading off to work himself at about 6:30am. I asked him when I was about 19 why the tea he made always tasted better than my mom's. His reply: "I always put three sugars in it." That will do it. When he got home, 12 hours later, he would always ALWAYS greet me with a playful smack over the head with his rolled-up copy of The Sun.

(In a side note here, my son told me he doesn't want to grow up because then I wouldn't be able to give him playful smacks on the head. I wasn't even aware that I had been doing so.)

Being a builder meant his body was old before its time. I regret not being interested in football (soccer) until he was too beat up to go have a kick-around with me. When I was at my physical prime, his back was shot and both his knees were a mess. He was still 15 years from retirement.

His pleasure - still now - comes from sitting back and watching TV, particularly football/soccer. He will watch any game at any time. He also likes action movies ("silly films" he calls them.) One of my favorite stories is the time I came back from the pub to find him watching Robocop... in German (our satellite picked up European stations.) The following conversation went something like this:

Me: What's this?
Dad: Robocop.
Me: It's in German.
Dad: Yeah... bloody good film though.
Me: But it's in German.
Dad: ... it's Robocop.

When my passion for football/soccer (I'm going to stop that now and call it football) reached his and exceeded it, at a time in my life when the majority of my salary and vacation time was spent on following my team up and down the country, I would call him on the way home from a game. It went something like this:

Me: Great game today, Dad.
Dad: Yeah... I watched it on the telly. I'm home now with a cup of tea.
Me: It was great being there seeing it live...
Dad: But it's over now, and I'm home. See you in two hours.
Me: Hmmm...

Again, as a creature of habit he would make hamburgers for lunch every Saturday and we would eat them watching the wrestling on telly. Then, every Saturday night (and I'm sure this still happens now) he would make chips. Proper chips. Peeling the potatoes and cutting them up. I would stumble home from a game on a Saturday night to find him asleep in front of the TV, and he would wake up, throw my pan of chips on and then we would sit and watch Match Of The Day (or Robocop in German.)

He has very few vices. He likes full-strength Coke ("I don't like that diet shit. It's bloody awful.") and sometimes puts a scotch in it. In a pint glass with lots of ice. He likes a beer, usually mixed with 7Up (a shandy for those who didn't know.) He goes to the betting shop, but only ever bets pennies. He taught me how to read form and work out how many bets was in a Super Heinz as a 10-year-old.

And he couldn't do enough for us. He would come home from working on the site all day, six-and-a-half days a week and spend Sunday building a vegetable garden or a flower bed or a brick BBQ. He would spend his rare, rare days off taking me into central London, to Hamleys or some other crazy toy shop, to find elusive Star Wars figures or, later, Transformers. He enjoyed doing it, just like I enjoy doing stuff like that for my kids. Like him, there's not much I would rather do. The day he walked in with a pirated version of Return Of The Jedi, I was so scared for his obvious imminent arrest (that would never come, of course)... but I watched it months before it would appear in the cinemas.

When I see my dad now, I see the same man I have always seen. Yes, he's older, and I'm taller than him now, but he's strong as an ox and sharp as a tack. I wish I could see him more often, but there's an ocean between us. We talk on the phone once a week or so, still talking about football and silly films. Like with the best of friends, we pick up right where we left off, even if we see each other less than once a year.

Part of the reason for that is because I hear him in me. When I talk to the kids, singing stupid songs or giving them little nicknames (I was "Pinky" for the longest time, because when I was born I was the size of his little finger) I hear him doing to the same things to me. I get frustrated by little things, as he did, but enjoy the good times just as he did. I don't need Disneyland to have fun with my kids. And I'm certainly as proud of my kids as he was of me.

When I was 19 I was earning more money than him in my job as a video game reviewer. He wasn't mad, or sad, or melancholy. He was proud. Genuinely proud. The fact I didn't have to wash my hands after work, like he and his four brothers and most of my cousins all had to do, was a sign that I was doing well. That said, he still didn't understand what I was being paid for. "What is it you do?" he would ask. "I sit in an office, play games, and write about them." "OK... but what do you do?" Even when I announced I was moving to the United States from London, he wasn't sad and mad - at least, not overtly. He was proud: "You're doing the right thing," he said, even if it meant going from seeing me every day to seeing me once every 14 months or so.

Here I am, 35 years old and a few days before my sixth father's day and I will accept I am, in many ways, becoming my dad. And I'm very proud of that. Just as proud as he was and is of me.

Thanks, Brian.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

2009: The Year The Weather Was Shite

This time last year it was, apparently, sweltering. This time this year I am being left horrifically underwhelmed by the year so far, regarding the climate.

This time yesterday, I was sitting in the park chatting it up with the moms in glorious sunshine. Last night there was a wicked thunderstorm that spawn a shorter-but-just-as-violent sibling at 8am this morning. The rest of the day has been soggy and cloudy. And it's MID-JUNE. First winter didn't want to stop, now summer doesn't want to get going.

I've been spending a lot of time indoors, either at home or at the gym. Next week I get a vacation of sorts when I get a kid-free four days, making up for the last three weeks when I've had at least one child asking me for food/help/when mommy will be home all day, every day.

Other things:

* The book should be done any day. I am supposed to be receiving a copy in the mail, which is fun. Then it goes on sale on Amazon after that.

* Going to the gym and getting in shape is paying off. I feel so much faster when I run and I know my soccer game has improved from "bloody awful" to "bloody awful, but scoring goals regularly." All my clothes are loose, which makes a nice change from Christmas when even my big pants struggled to keep it together. Literally.

* The movie "Up" punches you in the emotion gland for nearly two hours. The last shot of the movie punctures it.

* Karma is real. When something really shitty happens, that makes you lose all faith in your fellow man, something beyond coincidence happens to redress the balance and make you think "there is no way that should have happened, but I'm mighty glad it did."

Friday, May 15, 2009

My Son's Inappropriate Ode To Popcorn

(to be sung while wiggling ones backside)

Poppy Poppy Poppy Corn!
Porny, Porny, Porny Porn!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


I could have written a very different title to this post, but it would have been so expletive-ridden and filled with such venom it would have tainted what I have to write now.

Truth is, I am actually kind of over it now. Over what? Let me explain.

10 days ago, we took the car to a mechanic to fix the problem with it stalling mid-drive. They couldn't fix it. Scratch that, they made it worse (incredibly, I diagnosed they had knocked a hose off so it wouldn't idle at all - I was right.) So, we had little choice but to take it to a dealer.

Sure, they could fix it, but they mistook us for people who could afford to pay to replace everything that was broken with genuine manufacturer parts. Their first quote? Three grand.

That went up to three-and-a-half after a water pump and a timing belt and some other shit.

Then, the coup de grace. Some bolts had sheered off inside the engine... so... a new short block. Or, as I call it, another nearly two grand.

Given this news, on the back of using our tax rebate to get our finances way the hell in order, I went through the five stages of grief with clinical precision:

Denial – I can’t believe this is happening

Anger – Those crooks are ripping us off

Bargaining – It would have been OK if this new charge hadn’t totally screwed us

Depression – we are never going to have money for anything fun ever

Acceptance – but it’s only money, so... Let’s move on.

And really, if we had known the car was in such a mess, and been putting off getting in repaired until we could afford it, we would probably be happy at this point. There's no cosmic force picking on me. It's a car and it needs fixing. That happens to cars sometimes. That's how I'm looking at it. Please don't try and convince me otherwise. I might believe you and go postal on those crook mechanics.

... deep breath....

In other news (as the Yankees continue to battle hard to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the 12th inning and a thunderstorm on the way) my latest manuscript is ready for the self-publishing factory.

Yes, you read that right. In a few months, I will have a book available on Amazon because I will be putting it there with the help of I am looking forward to it just as much as I was 18 months ago when someone else was going to pay to have my book published. We know how that ended up, but I think this move toward self-publishing will actually help me let go of the disaster that was the first book deal falling through.

I will publish updates and will soon have a brand new in place. I deleted the old one today with all its references to the old book.

I am so happy to be playing tennis tonight, given the therapy hitting things provides. I will also get home late enough that the rest of the house will be asleep, freeing me up to play Star Wars: Battlefront II or watch The Wire for a couple of hours.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Love all

I have rediscovered one of the fine sports I grew up playing, and it might just save my sanity.

A few weeks ago, I was unexpectedly called upon to play tennis on a Sunday night to help fill out a doubles game. Having not played in more than 10 years, it was the most fun I had enjoyed in many a month. On the back of this, we hastily assemble a four to play regularly starting next week, and the cherry on top was being called upon again to help out last night.

My love affair with tennis was unavoidable. If I ever get back to the house I grew up in, I will take the time to measure in paces the number of steps it takes from me to get from my old front door to the tennis courts across the street in the park opposite. My estimate would be about 25.

From the first dry day of the year (sometime in April) and all summer long, I would play tennis. It's the rare sport that allows you to work up a sweat but never really be exhausted, even in the many set marathons we would partake in as teenagers. Sunday mornings when I was maybe 10 or 11, I would play mixed doubles with my mum or dad too, although unlike in the games when they weren't around, when the park-keeper came along to collect the payment, my parents would pay him. When it was just us kids, we would run away and hide when we saw him coming, and then when he came back, we would run off again.

There are two misconceptions you are probably assuming at this point:

1) That I am good at tennis. The truth is, I suck. Like every other thing I do, I never bother with the fundamentals and just jump in. So, my backhand is awesome... maybe once in every four swings. I can really put back spin and top spin on the ball... apart from the majority of the time, when I will catch the ball on the metal frame of my racket, or skid the ball harmlessly into the net AGAIN. I have this one move when I will return a volley at the net with my back to the ball and it's pretty much unreturnable... on a ratio of 1:16, the 16 being the times it either hits the net, or drops to the opposing player for a lay-up smash winner.

2) That tennis is a game for rich types who are physically fit and like the straight-laced nature and tradition of the game. Not the way I play it. There wasn't any white on display when we took the court yesterday. I was wearing the same shorts I had played soccer in that morning and a grey football t-shirt, for example. Also, as with every other game I play in, the trash-talking is what made it so enjoyable, and that is a constant that goes back to my games as a teen. Some examples:

"Don't feel bad - nobody could have returned that..."

"Careful! That ball is probably still hot from the ace I just put past you."

"It's OK, I'll only need one ball [as opposed to two to serve with, implying an ace is coming]."

And so on. I'm glad I've been reunited with tennis. With some many memories from my younger years so far away, playing now with a new bunch of friends after a 10-year break genuinely feels like picking up right where I left off with nothing changed.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Son: (playing on DS) "How many points does Mario have?"
Daughter: (stretched over three syllables) Ze-eer-oh.
Son: "Yeah, THAT's what I'm talkin' about!"

I'm OK with the talk being better than the talent. That's being a Keeble right there.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I Need A Haircut

I also need to clear my head. The evidence:

* I am back to waking up at 4am now my insomnia has adjusted to the time change. I am going out late this Friday and maybe that will help put things back in order for a while. Some warm weather wouldn't hurt either, which brings me to...

* What is with this spring? Last year once the cold snap snapped, it was glorious. This year I have counted at least three "ah! Spring!" moments which have actually ended up being "Holy heck! Where did I put my big coat?" moments. 65 degree weekends followed by 28 degree Mondays. What is that?

* While some things on my mind seem to have eased up over time and now are almost funny where they were once concerns that had me unable to sleep, I now have fresh anxieties to bother me. The one most pressing right now is the fact I have the old country song "Blanket On The Ground" ringing in my head and I have no idea where it came from. It wasn't part of, or even relevent to, one of my two epic, easy to remember and interpret dreams (no details, sorry... other than to say neither featured Billy Jo Spears.) I feel like, if you will excuse my Battlestar tendencies for a minute, when the Cylons found themselves hearing "All Along The Watchtower" in their heads. Why this song?

* Since scoring a bunch of goals in January, and now having been working out at the gym for a month and appreciating the difference it has made to the bag of wet sand I call a torso, I have been playing like crap. Goals? Not even close. Confidence on the field? I'm confident I remember where the field is, but once arriving I'm somewhat lacking. I even staried seeing things when I thought I saw someone in the bleachers laughing at me on Sunday. I mean, someone was in the bleachers laughing at something - maybe me - but I thought it was someone I knew. Right before I chased a ball, turned, cut back and fired so inaccurately I'm not sure the ball was ever recovered.

* My writing has not been good of late. I've just pitched a bunch of stories and have things to do that will pay (always good) but creatively, this blog entry is probably the best thing I've written in weeks (not including a funny exchange with a friend on Facebook about Liverpool FC - extremely R-rated harking back to the days when he and I insulted everything and everyone, even things we liked, like one very attractive girl we nicknamed "button mushrooms" and you aren't seeing that.)

OK, it's now 5am and I've been awake for half-an-hour. The familiar pattern will continue tomorrow unless, by some miracle, I can come back to the living room after putting whichever kid I am responsible for putting to sleep to sleep and put on one of the movies sitting by the TV to take me beyond 10pm.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

It's been a while...

You might be surprised, considering everything that has happened in the last month, that I haven't posted anything here. Well, it's because a lot of things have been going on and I haven't had the inclination. Sorry. I would promise I will improve, but I don't want to break a promise.

* There is no book news to report. I have been sending pitches that have been vanishing into the abyss. In fact, of all the pitches I have sent, only one bothered to reply with a "sorry, but..." and that was too bad, because I looked the look of them.

* We replaced Heinz Ketchup with Hunt's Ketchup and can now be considered converts. I have taken the concept one step further and now consider Thousand Island Dressing my condiment of choice.

* After a blistering start to the soccer season with a shedload of goals, in the last two weeks I would have struggled to hit the broadside of a barn with a bulldozer. Last week was particularly rubbish.

* The fact I almost never get time to myself is frustrating. Less frustrating is spending quality time with friends, including newer friends I am still getting to know. One particular memory that will stay for a long while was when four of us got together to play tennis, taking the court time from some of our wives. We laughed loud and hearty.

* "There Will Be Blood" - can someone explain how a movie so long and so critically acclaimed can be such crap, and with such a confusing ending. The end of TWBB made the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey seem like the end of Ocean's 11 (that is, where everything was explained clearly and left the viewer feeling satisfied.)

* "Watchmen" on the other hand is amazing. As good a film as I have ever seen.

* I abuse my library often in the quest to find a book that is accessible and suits my frame of mind. The ratio of hits to misses is about 1:4. I am really, really enjoying Eat It by Kenny Shopsin and I liked the new Charlie Huston, although that was a pretty safe bet. Some of the other stuff, even friend's recommendations, just haven't done it for me.

OK, that's all I have. I'm leaving stuff out because it's half-finished and I'd rather write a story that had an end. See you in a month (but hopefully less.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Gym'll Fix It

After doing zero exercise for six weeks straight (seriously, the most exertion I managed was walking around the Pathmark and forgetting I needed bananas when I was all the way over by the milk) I am back on track again thanks to a change in the weather and a gym membership.

The weather had conspired to freeze my "church" - the outdoor turf field where I spend my Sunday mornings playing soccer. I managed one game on the first Sunday in January when a good part of the field was still covered in ice and one poor player slipped and tore his MCL (which needed surgery, crutches, a cast, the whole nine yards.) From then until just this last week the field was either totally covered in snow and ice or I was out of town. I played this Sunday and the creaks and steam-hisses coming from all the players' joints was palpable. Still, it felt great to be out there.

A few weeks too late, we took up an offer of a free month at a local gym. I have known I've been out of shape for some time, but always believed it was fixable - just... you know, I'll fix it later. The gym has opened my eyes and got my excited about dropping some baggage and getting ready for summer.

The first trip back after several years of skipping the treadmill was a little painful and intimidating, but this gym is pretty great. Most people are normal there, give or take one or two women who are perma-tanned, boob-jobbed and hold court with four of their friends as they lift six ounce weights and sip their fat-free lattes. There's also a lot of people I know that go there, but none I hang out with other than when we find ourselves in the same place. This is a good thing.

Those of you that follow my facebook antics will know this, but an exchange took place yesterday which left my very confused. As I walked between two women working out on weight machines, one said to the other: "Do you watch Desperate Housewives?" and nodded at me. What was she trying to say? Here are some of my initial thoughts?

Q. "Do you watch Desperate Housewives? "

... because he clearly does.
... because he looks like he would get a lot out of it.
... but before you answer, let's wait until that guy walks away because it's a secret.
... because I think I look like Teri Hatcher, but I don't want that guy to hear me say that (she didn't. Not even close.)
... hey! I'm talking to you! DO YOU WATCH DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES? Ah, he's walked off.

The best situation I can come up with is that I look a very, very, very little bit like one of the male (I hasten to add) characters. But if I hadn't gone to the gym, I wouldn't have found that out. The gym just keeps on giving! I'm going back right now to learn some more and work on the guns!

Monday, February 02, 2009

Glory, Glory Aston Villa

I had wanted to write a blog entry about Aston Villa for a few days now. A few minutes ago, I heard about the death of Paul Birch, a member of the Villa squad that I first fell in love with in 1989, so it seemed more relevant now than ever.

Growing up, my dad's family got together at my grandparents house every other Sunday afternoon. My dad is one of five brothers, and they would bring their families for an afternoon of poker (the dads) or knitting (the mums.) From the early days to when I was about 10 or 11, I would play with cars or Star Wars figures or whatever. From 12-14, I would do my homework or goof around with my younger cousins (much younger - they were just 3 or 4.) But when I was 15, I would either play poker with money from my paper round, or watch TV (or not come at all and stay home.) One such fateful afternoon in 1989, I was sat watching the football on the telly. Until that point, I was pretty indifferent to football. I liked to play it, and liked Liverpool to the extent that everyone liked one team or another and they were still seen as a mighty force. I even had a HITACHI sponsored shirt for a while, but my fanship was more to do with the fact my next door neighbor and best friend Chris was a BIG Liverpool fan, and I looked up to him like a big brother for many years.

Anyway, back to my nan's house. Aston Villa were playing Everton in the big Sunday afternoon game, and I'm watching, thinking how cool the Villa players looked. Beyond the claret and blue shirts, white shorts, they had some really fun players to watch. David Platt was on the verge of the England team. Tony Daley was lightning fast on the wings. Paul McGrath was so solid in defense and made it look so easy. Paul Birch probably played that day, running around like a crazy person on the opposite wing to Daley.

I got drawn in deeper when Brian Moore, the commentator on the day said: "Cowans is through, he's got Platt alongside him... IT'S A GOAL! A brilliant goal by Gordon Cowans!" The final score was Aston Villa 6 Everton 2. I was hooked. On the drive home, I asked my dad where Aston Villa played their home games. Unlike the majority of teams in the country, they are not just known by their home town name - Liverpool, Manchester United, Newcastle. They are more like a London-based team - Tottenham, Leyton Orient, Millwall - named after a smaller region within a greater city's suburbs. Turns out they were from Birmingham in the West Midlands, about 100 miles or so from where I lived.

It didn't matter. On Monday morning at school, I announced I was a Villa fan. It was cool with everyone, even though the closest league team to me was Watford, the closest top-division team was Queens Park Rangers, and the fact my dad was a Spurs supporter.

That season, Villa finished second in the title race to Liverpool. In the summer of 1990, England went to Italy for the World Cup Finals. David Platt ended up in the midfield and scored a particularly memorable goal against Belgium to take England through to the quarter finals (they would eventually lose to Germany on penalties.)

That fall I started college, and thus began a period I call my "lost years." I wore a lot of black, topped with a black leather jacket over a Villa shirt. I had stopped taking my education seriously.

By 1993, I was working as a journalist and using all the cash I had to follow Aston Villa up and down the country (despite a "home" game for me being two hours on a train. "away" games in London just meant a short trip on the underground.)

For the next few years, until 1996, I hardly missed a game. I belonged to a hardcore band of fans in London and we travelled to games together. I made some great friends, experienced some amazing times and some truly spectacular matches (including two Cup Final wins at Wembley.) I was even the head usher at a wedding between two friends of mine, Phil and Julie, (who met because of their mutual love of Villa) at Villa Park.

Then, in 1999, I moved over here. Following Villa was obviously a little harder, what with there now being 2,000 miles and a huge expanse of water between Villa Park and myself. Nobody else I worked with was going out of their way to watch games on TV at Irish pubs at 10am like I was. I can't say my passion faded, but it was harder to keep it up without constant reminders.

Paul Birch's sad death, coupled with the fresh memory of the Villa game that was live on TV this Saturday was a refreshing reminder of how much the team means to me. When the crowd chants went up, I remembered being in the middle of it, arms aloft, cheering on the team. When I was at my peak of following the team, the best chant was to one of the best Villa players I ever saw (sung to the tune of New York, New York funnily enough.)

"Start spreading the news,
He's playing today,
I want to see him score again:
Dwight Yorke, Dwight Yorke.
If he can score from there
He'll score from
It's up to you, Dwight Yorke, Dwight Yorke!
De-der-der-der-der, de-der-der-der-der."

On Saturday, I got a shiver when I heard the fans singing on the return of my current favorite player, John Carew (to the tune of Que Sera, Sera:)

"John Carew, Carew,
He's bigger than me or you,
He's going to score one or two,
John Carew, Carew."

He didn't, but it didn't matter. It was a beautiful sound and took me back to the days when I would have been there, part of something that's taken place for more than 100 years and will be there when my son is my age. Yes, football is just a game, but I love it and I love Aston Villa because for all I have given to it, it has given so much back. Thank you too, Birchy.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Adventures At The Dollar Store

Dollar stores serve a purpose in life. If you can get over the smell that prevails in all of them, a musty stink of bargain and old people, there are pure gems to be discovered. Photo frames for a buck? Me likey. Food and toothpaste? Not so much.

And then there's stuff like this:

I took the photo with my phone, so I apologize for the quality. However, I make no apology for the quality of the product it depicts. It appears to have once been an army commando, that would be wound up and then crawl across the carpet brandishing its rifle.

But now it has become Bat Superman, a cross between two of the world's greatest super heroes... that is wound up and then crawls across the carpet brandishing its rifle.

The Batman it depicts on the packaging is from long before actor Christian Bale took up the cowl. This Batman is the 1995 version played by Val Kilmer in Batman Forever. And consider this product is being billed as a hybrid, where is the reference to Superman (other than in the product name?) Is there a big "S" anywhere on the toy? Or a red cape? Nope, just gold flames up the thighs, a gold variation of the Batman symbol, and an M-16 machine gun (something that neither Batman or Superman would never, ever consider wielding.)

Also, consider the slogan: "COME ON! ENJOY THE PLEASURE TOGETHER!" Does said wind-up toy double as a marital aid? Perhaps just the slogan doubles as a slogan on a dollar store marital aid (that frankly would be right up there with food and toothpaste as something I would rather pay full price for, thanks) ? I'm just glad it comes with a spare machine gun, because it wouldn't be the same if the first one got lost.

Of all the things I actually did buy at the Dollar Store (gift wrap - it just gets torn up anyway, but I had to be careful to avoid the 2007 Graduation gift wrap) and two coloring books (that just get torn up eventually after they've been scribbled in), I feel the real pleasure was finding this hanging on the rack.

So, you know, I thought I would share it so we could ENJOY THE PLEASURE TOGETHER!