Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Gonna Use My Arms, Gonna Use My Legs

It seems funny to think about it now, but there was a time when I used to spend Saturday nights alone at home, wrestling with the dilemma of whether to microwave a delicious ready meal of spaghetti bolognese or macaroni cheese. I’d then transport the chosen feast (now bubbling with a heat ten times the intensity of the sun) through to the room where the television resides (the ‘living’ room I believe it’s called) and spend the rest of the night surfing through channels looking for old episodes of Cheers or The X Files or Top Cat. But that was all such a long time ago and things have certainly changed since then. Nowadays, I just order in pizza.

And so it was on Saturday night that I found myself once again tackling the tricky combination of operating the remote control whilst picking pieces of pepperoni out of my beard. (Who said men can’t multi-task?) I’d just finished watching Scotland extend their domination of world sport (a rugby triumph over the English AND World Elephant Polo Champions!) and happened to stumble on to Channel 4’s trendy sibling, E4, where Graham Norton was beginning his colourful countdown of the 100 Greatest No. 1 singles of all time in the history of the world, ever!

Bill Haley (avec Comets) was in the midst of rock, rock, rockin’ till broad daylight so I delayed flicking over to the poker channel in order to find out what the next great no. 1 single would be. When it appeared, I became trapped on a thrilling rollercoaster of nostalgia and held on for dear life for the next four hours. There, at no. 94, were The Pretenders singing Brass In Pocket and the sight of Chrissie Hynde sashaying down the street in leather and lace transported me back to a time when buying singles was something akin to a religious experience.

The songs, of course, are a nostalgia trip in themselves, evocative enough to remind you of the sights and sounds, and even smells, of the era. (Hearing Blondie sing Heart of Glass will forever recall a time when I was constantly reeking of Blue Stratos - pretty frickin’ cool, eh?) The music and lyrics provide an indelible yardstick by which to measure the significant events of your life; the first kiss (When I Need You by Leo Sayer), the first job (Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl) and the first time I ever… ahem… never mind.

But as the programme revealed its treasure trove of musical wonderment, I realised that many of the great memories were cemented by the act of tracking the charts week by week and weighing up the myriad of options as to how best to spend our limited pocket money. 7” or 12”? Photo cover or plain white sleeve? Picture disc or coloured vinyl? Regular radio version or Japanese import with previously unreleased B-side?

This was difficult, but ultimately rewarding work. Not for us the easy option of downloading so-called music from that fancy internet thingy or marvelling at the latest Sugadolls/Pussycat Babes ringtone. Crazy as it may seem, we had to physically leave our homes and go to a store which sold music recordings, as in, “I’d like to purchase a record please.” Imagine that kids?

So hats off to Channel 4 and Graham Norton for the journey down memory lane. Pizza, beer and nostalgia are a heady combination at the best of times and for many complicated reasons, I was delighted to see The Police’s Every Breath You Take make it into the top five. If they decide to show the 100 Greatest X-Files episodes next Saturday, I may never leave the house ever again.

Other newspaper stuff here.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Honest, I Got It From All The Texting!

Last week, the British Chiropractic Association issued advice and a list of exercises to help the increasing number of Britons who suffer from text-related thumb injuries. The preventive measures include tapping each finger with the thumb of your text hand or pulling the text thumb firmly with the other hand five times. I’m not one to go against the advice of professionals and promote eccentric, alternative therapies but wouldn’t it just be simpler to recommend dialling the relevant telephone number and engaging in one of those old fashioned conversation thingys?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Was That So Hard To Say?

This week’s thing for the newspaper turned out completely different to what I expected. I had a really amusing incident about a stewardess at 15,000 feet and couldn’t find any way to shoehorn it in. So to speak. Don’t you just hate it when that happens? Anyway…

It’s not often this column turns its cultural hand to the fine art of book reviews, the blame for which I lay squarely on the doorsteps of publishers. Very few, it seems are releasing titles which incorporate the two essential characteristics I demand from my books, namely (1) big writing so I always feel like I’m getting somewhere and (2) colourful and amusing pictures. (If the pictures are of the ‘pop-up’ variety then all the better.)

But recently I’ve managed to summon up the stamina to finish not one, but two picture less books and each left its own indelible mark. The first was described as a “very funny rant against consumer capitalism” and came recommended to me by a friend with comments such as “it’s perfect for a grumpy old man like you”. (I’m paraphrasing.) It had the charming title of “Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Sh#t?” and without any further ado, here is my review. If you only read one book this year, please make sure it is NOT this one. I won’t use the language the authors obviously adore so much but let’s just say that this book would not be out of place if it itself had been listed IN the book, if you see what I mean.

Moving swiftly on, I’m happy to report that the second book was much better. Written by Lynne Truss, it was called “Talk to the Hand” and was an examination of rudeness and unacceptable behaviour in the modern world. (Come to think of it, the first book could have been included here also.) Ms Truss covered many subject areas but principal among her arguments was the notion that the use of simple politeness words such as ‘please’ and thank you’ is in rapid and alarming decline. Not only that, but she also argues, quite rightly, that when we expect to hear these words - and don’t - our sense of outrage is sending blood pressures soaring to dangerously high levels.

This point was underlined to me in spectacular fashion last week during a journey to the airport. As usual, the traffic was crawling along the motorway but I’d given myself plenty of time to catch the flight so my relaxed demeanour was calmness personified. I’d almost got to the point of whistling “zippedy-do-da” when a large car roared up beside me and indicated its desire to merge into my lane.

“No problem sir,” I thought. “You’ve been considerate enough to use your indicators so go ahead and join our happy little traffic jam.” I slowed slightly and flashed my headlights to sanction his request and then sat back to wait for the acknowledgement of my selfless act. I waited. And then I waited some more, but nothing happened. No wave, not even the briefest flash of his hazard lights.

In an instant, my sunny disposition turned into a boiling rage and I unleashed a torrent of sarcastic fury to compensate for the affront. (I haven’t quite mastered the sarcastic hand gesture yet but I think I discovered one to fill the void meantime.)


I’m not one who usually spouts sweeping generalisations but is it just me or are all BMW drivers sh..? But I digress.

“Talk to the Hand” is a well written, thought provoking and, crucially, very funny book and I would recommend it as essential reading for all. If I can be so bold, I’d like to tell Ms Truss that I’m very much looking forward her next book but next time, please consider adding a few pop-up pictures.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Come Again?

Did anyone catch Desperate Housewives on E4 the other night? Was it just me or did Susan really yell, “NO! I DON’T WANT MY PIE FILLING!” whilst standing in the middle of Wisteria Lane in broad daylight? How the hell did that make it past Standards & Practices?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The IT Crowd

What should the collective noun for bloggers be, do you think? An army? A cluster? A constellation? A paragraph? A Tardis? A fistful? Or by their very solitary nature, do they not deserve to be termed with any kind of collective collectiveness?

The correct answer of course is “a pubful…”. This coming Saturday. The Jolly Judge public house in Edinburgh. Just off the Royal Mile. 2pm till God knows when. Be there and/or be square. More details here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Blink And You'll Miss It

Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d type…

My latest movie went on general release in cinemas last week.

I say “latest”, but if the truth be told, it’s actually the only movie in which I’ve ever starred. Mind you, “starred” is a slight exaggeration since my appearance was just a small but integral part in the film. And by “small but integral”, I mean, of course, that for four freakin’ freezing cold days during December 2004, I secured a job as an extra in the latest remake of Greyfriars Bobby.

[Quick aside: If you’re unfamiliar with the story, Greyfriars Bobby is a famous tale from the 19th century about a wee dog in Edinburgh called Bobby. After his master (a policeman) died, the dog lay on and kept watch over the grave located in the churchyard of Greyfriars Kirk. Bobby became something of a celebrity for his faithful loyalty and was a folk hero in the eyes of the poor people at the time, especially after he painted his face blue, strapped on his big sword and lead a rebellion against the greedy landlords and the English. We’re all very proud of him here in Scotland.]

I’d love to tell you that I landed the plum role of ‘New Towner no. 4’ after a fierce audition battle with Ewan McGregor who happened to be home for Christmas and was looking for a little filler work. However, it’s probably more accurate to say that my agent at the time – lovely Linda from the Job Centre – alerted me to the fact that the producers in Stirling were casting for extras and would probably be able to accommodate “an unshaven, long-haired lout like yourself.”

Being an extra – or as we say in the show business world, a ‘supporting actor’ – is the least glamorous job I’ve ever done in my life, but one for which I found myself supremely qualified. My talents for sitting around all day reading the paper, drinking tea and wondering when I’d next be fed were given full scope to express themselves during the long hours of the shoot. When called to action on the set though, I got into character immediately, ready to deliver the nonchalant nods with brooding intensity.

My first big action scene involved walking across camera from left to right and then up a few steps into a building. As the 3rd assistant director outlined the crafted performance he was looking for – “walk from here to here” – I pondered the motivation my character would require to undertake such a journey. Am I late for an important meeting at my wine club? Should I carry my briefcase under my arm or not? Do I suffer from a 19th century malady that requires the merest hint of a limp?

When the director finally shouted ‘cut’, I knew I’d nailed the scene in one take with a walk of incredible authenticity, the stride of my left foot almost always following one by my right. The production team staring into their monitors obviously agreed because they didn’t come over to tell me any different. The film’s editors however, didn’t appreciate the subtlety of the performance and mercilessly dispatched it to the cutting room floor. Bastards.

No matter, because I still had a shot at an Oscar nomination with my turn in the dramatic courtroom showdown which concludes the film. In the scene, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, played by Christopher Lee, arrives just in time to save the heroic wee dog from execution by granting him the freedom of the city. As the camera pans round to capture the crowd reaction, the look on my face is a mixture of genuine awe and harrowing anguish. I don’t remember for certain but I think I might have been bursting for a pee at the time.

Greyfriars Bobby is now showing in all good cinemas (and some rubbish ones) across the country and is one of those movies that the whole family can enjoy, mainly because of the cute wee dog. Rumours that I also make an appearance in the adults-only version “Greyfriars Boabie” have been greatly exaggerated.

Now where was I? Oh yeah. “I have so many people to thank for this wonderful honour. The Academy voters of course, my agent Linda, my mum and dad…”

Other stuff for the newspaper here.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

I'm Listening

I received this very considerate, hand-written ‘thank you’ note from my youngest nephew Fraser the other day. He’s going to be two later this month so he’s obviously angling for a birthday present akin to the one he received from his favourite uncle for Christmas. Reading between the lines though, I don’t think everything’s hunky dory at home. It said…

Dear Uncle Neil

Thank you for my brilliant Quarry Tunnel. It is magic. Daddy said that Joe
(his teenage brother) was pissed the other night. What does that mean and should I be worried? Why does Daddy laugh about it?

Love, Fraser xx

I replied…

Dear Fraser,

Thank you for your ‘thank you’ note. It was very considerate of you and you can be assured that a gift of equal magnitude will be winging its way to you very soon for your birthday.

Now I appreciate you’re still quite young but you know fine well you should really start a new paragraph within a letter whenever you change the subject. (“Daddy said…”) Like I did just there. Please make sure that all future correspondence complies with the language and grammar rules we discussed during our advanced ‘hothouse’ sessions last December.

As for Joe (see how I made another new paragraph?) he is currently going through some “changes” and the hormones in his body cause him to do all manner of strange things. I was going to cover this later in the year during our summer science classes but you can get in some pre-course reading with the ten volumes I left at Christmas.

Being “pissed” (or “pished” to use the common vernacular of your Scottish brethren) is nothing for you to be concerned about. It is a perfectly natural stage in the growing-up process and Joe is still some ten years ahead of your father in that respect.

Your Daddy’s hysterical laughing is a mystery to us all in the family but again, there’s no need to for you to be worried. Later this year, you’re going to meet another sibling, a younger one this time, and we’ll see whether Daddy’s still laughing in the middle of the night when that happens.

Meantime, keep up with your studies and I can promise you some exciting new topics later in the year including Star Wars, golf, proper toilet roll etiquette and girls. Not necessarily in that order.

Much love.

Your favourite Uncle Neil x

Friday, February 10, 2006

If You Only Read One Book This Year...

…please make sure it’s NOT the one I’ve just finished. It was called “Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Shit?: The Encyclopedia Of Modern Life” and was heralded as a “very funny, well-informed, belligerent rant of a book that adds up to an excoriating broadside against consumer capitalism…”

Two points of note for the authors:

1) If you set out to write a “very funny” book, it would make sense to check whether you have a sense of humour. You do not.

2) Given point 1, you could have saved some face by including your book IN your book, if you see what I mean. You don’t? Really? Let me spell it out then. Your book was shit. So much so that I’m too embarrassed to give it away to a charity shop to help with their fundraising.

Who says I couldn’t work in the arts section of a classy newspaper swigging red wine and spouting insightful opinions? Which reminds me. I just read an article on the dangers of drinking. Scared the shit out of me! So that’s it - after today, no more fucking reading.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Nice Chassis, Lovely Big Bumpers

“Do you ever think you’ll run out of things to write about for the newspaper?” asked my Dad last week in a moment of parental concern for my mental wellbeing after noticing I was talking to myself again.

Overlooking the fact he’d rudely interrupted a furious debate about moisturising products, I shrugged my smug shoulders and replied, “Not while there are still innocuous little moments waiting to be spun into something magical.”

And one day soon I’ll definitely give that a try. Meantime, the single life breaks out its shovel again this week and digs out a new low as we start finding inanimate objects attractive.

There are some landmark moments in a relationship that just can’t wait till Valentine’s Day to be celebrated. The first time you go off on a special outing together for one thing. The momentous decision to share a home in unison for another. For Dana and me, last week yielded just such a moment during a pleasant excursion through the Kingdom of Fife. As we were approaching the outskirts of St. Andrews, her curvy little mileometer slowly rolled over to show that we had reached the 100,000 mile mark in our glorious union. As I choked back a tear of happiness, my mind drifted back through our golden years and all the happy times we’d shared.

The first time I set eyes on Dana Corolla Scully, I knew she was the girl for me. Although gleaming red, she didn’t flaunt her beauty in an obvious way with extra make-up and flashy accessories like some girls do. In fact she was very demure at first and responded sensitively to my touch. I found out later that she had just emerged from a bad relationship where, after some heavy-handed treatment, she had been unceremoniously dumped for a younger model.

Those early miles together were unadulterated joy, both of us giddy at the prospect of a long and happy coupling. Once our mutual coyness had subsided, we indulged completely in the full range of talents that each brought to the relationship. Believe it or not, there were times when we would go three or four hours without stopping.

One of the many delights about Dana is that she’s very low maintenance. Only occasionally has she complained about a “headache” and even then the ailment was quickly resolved by taking on some extra fluids, or “lathering up” as we like to call it. I can’t pretend to understand all the complex things that go on under her skin but she’s never once insisted on spending endless hours shopping for matching wheel trims and roof racks. She doesn’t even complain about my habit of leaving the seat in an upright position. Best of all, she is a fantastic listener and has taught me to open up and vent my feelings whenever I feel like it. Lord only knows how she puts up with my tantrums and shocking language whenever I think someone is trying to do her harm.

Of course, there have been one or two bumps in the road during our long journey together. I still remember the forlorn look on her face when I left her in the hands of another during my many months out of the country. And she was more than a little frosty when I returned, having heard the rumour that I’d indulged in a two-week whirl with a rental model in New Zealand.

“Look Dana, it didn’t mean a thing,” I pleaded during an unsavoury public fallout at a service station. “I was thinking about you the whole time. Honest! Besides, it’s not as if you’ve been home alone pining for me. Do I need to mention those stolen weekends away in the Highlands with what’s his name?”

We made up in the end and now our communal bond is more solid and unconditional than ever. We celebrated our landmark at the weekend in fine style as I filled her up with her favourite tipple (the premium variety) and gave her one of those indulgent rubdowns she enjoys so much.

In these days of fickle taste and easy divorce, it’s not common to find many couples going the distance like Dana and I. Here’s to the next 100,000 miles and the road yet to travel.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Stuff I Did In England

I’ve spent a fair bit of time “down south” (as we say here in the north) over the last couple of weeks and had a good time working with some lovely people in a nice environment in the middle of a quaint-but-not-at-all-twee town called Chester. Here’s just a select few of the many wacky and outrageous things I got up to/observed.

(i) I went to see ‘Brokeback Mountain’ at the movies last week and quite enjoyed it despite the fact that it took me ages to get to grips with the accents and the incoherent dialogue. In fact, I think the only line I understood in the first 45 minutes was “Am sicka beans!” Those cowboys should really be told it’s rude to speak with your mouth full.

(ii) I went out for dinner (alone) most nights but didn’t quite appreciate the sad nature of this until someone laughed out loud when I told them that one of my restaurant choices had been a tapas bar.

“So who did you share the dishes with?” came the question, in between all the laughing.

“Share? Food?” came my snappy reply. At which point, of course, it was my turn to laugh.

(iii) Chester has the best Starbucks in England. Hands down. My tolerance levels for caffeine are heading off the chart though ‘cause my drink of choice is now a grandé caramel macchiato with four – count ‘em – FOUR shots of espresso.

(iv) Two different women asked me if I was related to Kiefer Sutherland. I knew that if I said yes they would have countered with “Well can you get me his number then fatty?” so I just lied and said no.

(v) This week I went to see ‘Munich’ at the movies. It was interesting but not particularly moving. “That’s terrorist no.2 blown up. Who’s next?” The best thing about it was the fact that I totally believed I was back in the 1970s, dodgy fashion choices and all. Kudos to the production designers if, indeed, that is what production designers do.

(vi) The windows in a non-smoking hotel bedroom only open a quarter of an inch. Whit’s THAT aw aboot? It’s barely enough space to blow out the smoke, never mind flick away the finished butt. I would imagine.

(vii) I watched a programme last Monday on BBC2 called ‘Balderdash & Piffle’ where they examine the origin of English language words. On Monday, they were showcasing words beginning with the letter ‘C’ so gorgeous Jerry Hall was in New Orleans trying to find the origin of ‘cocktail’ and hip, jazz saxophonist Courtney Pine was in New York trying to find the origin of the word ‘cool’. Germaine Greer, unsurprisingly, was just banging on about her c**t!!!

(viii) The water in England is different. And not in a good way. My hair just didn’t have its usual bounce and shine and my skin was left feeling very dry. I was almost on the point of buying some moisturiser (for men) when I remembered that I could probably hold off and borrow some from my pal Poochie. Which reminds me Dave, have you been to see ‘Brokeback Mountain’ yet?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

More Cowbell

I returned home from Engerland late last night and found the following letter lying behind my front door. It was from “Scotland’s top concert venue”, the S.E.C.C. (Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre) which is something of a bare faced lie since it’s not even the top concert venue within a 500 yard radius of itself. It said,

Dear Mr Sutherland (promising start)

(10 days away. Trouble with ticket sales?)

After a whole year off from UK gig appearances, the most glamorous rockers in the entire universe return to Scotland… and what a show it promises to be…

2004’s sell out shows caught Justin Hawkins flying through the air on a giant white Bengal tiger above the crowd…
(Is there a shortage of periods/full stops in Glasgow?) Twice the glitter and three times the madness, the forthcoming show on 12 February at the SECC will see Justin riding high on a giant boob-shaped chariot as he takes to the stage for opening number ‘knockers’!

Justin says, “We don’t want to ruin all the surprises but I’m particularly proud of this creation. We’ve really gone to town with the stage set.”

Complete with blow-the-budget pyrotechnics, lights and sound, this show will be one of the most talked about shows of 2006… and it’s only February!!! WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR???

Not wishing to appear rude, I wrote “HELL TO FREEZE OVER” on the bottom and posted it back.