Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Preventing Accidents

Did you know that there's a Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents?

It's been going for over 80 years which means they've spent a lot of time thinking about accidents and how to prevent them. It also means that they must've covered all the good ones - getting runover, frayed electrical wires and rogue rakes in the garden – years ago so you've got to feel for the new people when they come in:


A group of ROSPA people sit at a large conference table looking officious. A young man enters. He's obviously nervous and an OHP sheet flutters in his hand.

CHIEF: Ahhh, Darren. Everyone, this is Darren. He's our brand new Ideas Man!

The rest of the table say hello.

CHIEF: So then, Darren, How's your first week been?

DARREN: Ah, er. It's been ... yes ... I've had a lot of ideas and ...

CHIEF: Speak up, boy.

DARREN: I've had a lot of ideas, but ... most of them, well they seem to have been prevented already.

CHIEF: Surely not. Darren, there are accidents every day. Hundreds of our good citizens are hurt in a way that Could Have Been Prevented. Take Steve, here. Steve came to us fresh out of university. He felt the same way as you when he first started. It took some hard work, but now he’s one of our top Accident Identifiers and has written paragraphs for our website on some of the most common accidents and how to prevent them. Haven’t you, Steve? Tell Darren some of your idenfitications.

STEVE: I bought paper cuts to the attention of office managers everywhere. I elevated the papercut to Accident Book status.

CHIEF: And Barbara here. Barbara: tell Darren what you have done.

BARBARA: I single-handedly campaigned for the burp-less hot water bottle. Words from my memo are imprinted in rubber around the mouth of all Boots water bottles.

CHIEF: Lydia?

LYDIA: If it weren’t for me, no-one would know what sawdust could do in school corridors. I prevented many skid-related accidents.

CHIEF: And I, myself, my most recent work as Chief of ROSPA was to add the warning label to nutmeg. Nutmeg can be a loose cannon, my boy. An accident waiting to happen for any wayward teen.

Darren smiles nervously.

CHIEF: So then. Let’s have a look at your first week of thoughts.

Darren switches on the OHP. The room fills with white light and the omnipotent whirr of the OHP fan. He slides the sheet onto the plate and scrawly black handwriting fills the far wall.

CHIEF (reading): One: “Fingers getting stuck in holes …” [sighs] Yes we’ve done that one … John championed the Finger Hole issue back in the 60s.

BARBARA: Wait, Chief! Carry on, I think he’s got something.

CHIEF: What? Okay. [reading] “Fingers getting stuck in holes on the TV control pad where the volume control button used to be but has subsequently fallen off.”


CHIEF: Darren, I think you’re onto something there…

LYDIA: It’s the perfect combination of stress, skin invasion and the threat of electrocution! It’s perfect!

CHIEF: [reading] “Stumbling at the bottom of the stairs when you think there’s one more step left but there isn’t.”

STEVE: It reminds me of when I started. All that youthful enthusiasm and wild imagination.

BARBARA: [reading] “Eating a too wide, too crusty French stick leaving cuts that make eating crisps awkward and increase the possibility of coldsores.” He gets it, Chief, he gets it!

Chief strides over to Darren.

CHIEF: Welcome to ROSPA, Darren. You’re going to go far!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

When you're feeling down ...

My God, I'm post-tastic today.

Anyway - I know that you should never laugh at those less fortunate than yourself, but... seriously. This website www.newauthors.org.uk is absolutely brilliant.

Open it up, go to General Fiction and then to The Trio Affair by Ellen Harkness.

I have been reading this story for over three years, now, and it STILL illicits huge bursts of hilarity. No, really, it does. For a start, one of the characters, Ruth, is dating a "marketing magnet called Olive". If you mistype anything, don't mistype a key character's name. Especially when he's called Clive. Or he's the studly lover of your enemy ("Ben, the Creek Cod"). Also, when describing your heroine's body, it's probably best not to use this phrase: "one big hair sprouting machine."

I know that it's cruel, but Ellen Harkness's The Trio Affair really does brighten up my day. Have a look when you're feeling down.

Other good ones include The Fabulous Feline Philosophies of Agatha J. Hunt for the premise alone, and The Kitchen Fairy by Lucy Owen for intense pretention.

I will probably rot in Writers Hell for this but, hell ...

New Authors Dot Org. We salute you.

Annoyed, Streatham

You know, it's really starting to bug me this thing that scientists and commentators and doctors keep going on about: women are putting their health at risk by choosing to have babies later. You've read the headlines and the smug, patronising text. You've observed the soft focus picture of a woman cradling a bean-like baby in her pink arms placed hard next to the life-style shot of the be-spectacled woman in her Reiss suit, streaking through some crowded city street looking harassed and bleak.

All over the country, middle-England is clicking their tongues at us unmarried, unbabied 30-somethings and saying: oh ho, and you thought a career would give you what you wanted, did you? before dipping a hand into little Molly’s nest of curls and reminding themselves of how simply amazing having children is.

Well, smug, smug, smug smugger. Stop it.

These articles read as though we're all lying in bed with our beloveds, Persona stick in one hand, Extra Safe in the other, coated from head to toe in spermicidal jelly and sternly reciting the rules to the Rhythm Method. Good grief, a baby? Perish the thought. Babies don't come in twenty different colourways in leather, nubuck or faux-beaver. How are you expected to drink cocktails until dawn at the Electric if you’ve got a mewling cabbage to return to? Hah! And what about my career?

Which is stupid.

Thinking that all these 30-somethings feel like that is like reading Lassie Come Home and thinking that every other collie you meet has the ability to communicate effectively through barks and will win a Victoria Cross for valour.

Because we’re not all like that. Of course there are some who are putting it off for the reasons middle-England claim, especially those who work in male dominated environments where maternity leave is seen as a weakness. These women are perfectly right to do so because it’s their choice.

But there are a huge number of women who are not ‘putting off’ having a baby until later. They simply haven’t got the choice.

And this is the bit that riles me.

Most of my friends, had they settled into a satisfying, equal, healthy relationship in their early twenties would be spawning by now. But they didn’t. Only a handful have found that ‘special someone’ and the vast majority of that handful only found them in the last few years. Men and women are as cautious as each other when it comes to having a kid. It’s not like years ago when you met your husband at 20, courted for a year and then got married in your local church and went on honeymoon to Broadstairs. We’re reminded all the time of the destruction wrought upon children of broken homes – why would we want to add to the statistics by making a rash, time-related decision?

And what about my single friends who are in their 30s, wanting children but meeting useless men who need more care and tolerance than your average toddler? Who can call these women selfish? Surely you’re not happy to scare these women so much that they go down the popsicle route if the right man doesn’t seem to be appearing as fast as 34 is looming?

Add into that the fact that we have so much more freedom when it comes to our jobs. We can swap around, try jobs out, see what’s going down in the world of work. It’s not that we don’t want to have a baby now, it’s that we haven’t been in the job long enough for us to get the right maternity benefits. Or we’re freelancing – try explaining to yourself that you won’t be in the office for the next three months and perhaps you should get a temp in.

If I’d had it my way, I would’ve had babies years ago. I’ve always wanted them. At 14 I had my life plan written down: married at 21, first baby on the eve of the Millennium. Then another two years later: April and Chloe. (Note the distinct lack of any career plan there. How very 50s!) Anyway, by the time I was 21 I was engaged. By the time I was 23 I wasn’t. Then single and a little too free in my attempts to find love in all the corners of West London until I met my current beau of two and a half years – off and on, I know, it surprises me too – when I was 27. But despite the eternity we’ve been together, neither of us is in any position to breed. We’re just not ready yet.

So will you please stop telling me how selfish and medically dumb I am and, instead, applaud me for considering my future children’s welfare and not pumping them out to appease the scaremongerers who just don’t understand?

This isn’t choice, it’s circumstance and if I'm dealing with it, so should you.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Urgent Appeal on behalf of the Children of Inner City London

This is an urgent appeal on behalf of the children of Inner City London.

You see them on all forms of public transport: on buses and tubes struggling because the every day thing that you and I take for granted is something these children can only dream about. That's right. I'm talking about headphones.

Many people are unaware of the crippling shortage of headphones for mobile phone mp3 players that's affecting youngsters all over the capital. And it's spreading.

This is Stephen.

Stephen takes the bus every morning from his home in south-west London to school. It's a journey of two miles which can take up to thirty minutes. That's a long time to go without music when you're 17 and learning the words to Nas's latest single. Because of a tragic act of injustice, Stephen can't listen to his music like you or me.

Stephen doesn't have headphones so he cannot plug a pair - like you or I would do - into his mobile phone and listen quietly to himself.

Stephen is just one more child hit by the desperate headphone shortage.

Stephen is forced to listen to his music directly from his mobile phone. Stephen must sit in shame at the back of the top deck with his music cruelly distorted as he plays it at full volume through the tiny speakers just so that he can hear it properly. Stephen must do so despite there being twenty people on the top deck of the bus who can hear his every sound and may, at any moment, ridicule him for his misfortune.

Help us to help children like Stephen.

For just £1 a week, you can hire Stephen a pair of headphones from our second-hand selection. For £2 a week, you can hire him a pair of headphones plus aid his learning by adding on two hours in our internet cafe where he can download the lyrics to any of the songs he's listening to. For £5 you can buy Stephen a pair of headphones ... for life.

Please help us to help a child without headphones.

Before someone gets up and kills one of them.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Feeling the Fear

Whoever invented Most Haunted really is an absolute genius.

See, I am sitting here, watching it even though:

1. It's a Sunday night and it's 12.30am. How unprepared is that.
2. It really REALLY scares me and I live on my own.
3. It's actually shit which kind of should negate point 2. but doesn't. I spent a week sleeping with the lights on after the Sixth Sense.
4. I've had a long, hot bath, am all pink and cozy and on my bed next door are fresh, ironed bedsheets.
5. It's a Sunday night and it's 12.30am. I know I've already said that but, really. It's whack, man.

But I'm sitting here, watching it, feeling quite sick with anxiety as lights go on and off and alarm clocks flash because they've been turned off.

And it's because:

1. It's fucking brilliant in its shitness. I mean, come ON. Who can resist Liverpuddlian Derek calling on his spirit guide, Sam. A strong, firm, erect forefinger underlining that "yes, yes, thanks Sam, I've got a first name. It's William. Yes. William. William says all his family were slaughtered by a ... yes, thanks Sam ... by a French man in here. In ... thanks Sam ... 1796 " While underneath a tag line reads: there is no record of this actually having happened. GENIUS!
2. The crew are brilliant. While all the mediums are bumbling on about energies and asking for someone to make a sound, the night-vision camera always catches the sound guy or the runner with their eyes glowing green looking absolutely fucking terrified.
3. Yvette Fielding. She is a woman on the edge! She spends the entire episode looking as though someone's just rammed a poker up her arse and swearing like a navvy. I'm not so sure Blue Peter'd have her now. And the best thing is that because she's forever walking into doors and beds and tables she's always swearing because she thinks it's an entity trying to swallow her soul or something. Oh, and she's afraid of the dark. Seriously, the perfect host. But, she has balls of steel and, I tell you, I wouldn't do half the stuff she does.
4. I love the way they ask all the time for these spirits to let them know they're there but when there's a bang or a knock or something, they all scream and peg it. And Yvette swears.

The ultimate brilliance in Most Haunted is that it reminds you what a drug child-like fear is. We're all so lucky to live in this society now that we don't experience it very often. But there's a need for us to feel it. Which does feel wrong when there are people in the world who deal with real fear every day and would switch to a life of Most Haunted and rollercoasters in a second.

Which does put a bit of dampner on it.

But Yvette's just walked into a door and my shower just dripped and, quite frankly, I almost wet myself.

I feel ALIVE!