Friday, 9 December 2016

Children of Abraham I

Byron's invite stated quite clearly that he was expecting guests to make a bit of effort with their costumes this year, and he'd said more or less the same directly to Bess. Last year's Halloween party had been poorly attended due to torrential subtropical rain. I recall about eight of us showing up and I was wearing a sardonic t-shirt purchased from the local supermarket bearing the slogan this is my costume. I like to think that I was playfully questioning the medium of the Halloween party, obliging it to examine itself in a post-structuralist context, but I guess Byron didn't see it that way.

'Fuck it,' I said to myself whilst cycling to McAllister Park on the Wednesday morning. 'Why not?'

I don't really do fancy dress, or parties for that matter; and when I've made an exception I've historically regretted it, or at least spent most of the time wishing I were somewhere else. I once turned up to a costume party thrown by my friend Carl in work clothes. I was a postman at the time so I just wore the uniform, telling anyone who asked that I'd come as Sid James as seen in Carry On Postman, embellishing the conceit with an impersonation of Sid's distinctive laugh; and in case anyone feels inclined to check, no, regrettably there was never any such film as Carry On Postman.

On the other hand - so ran my train of thought on the aforementioned Wednesday morning - being fifty, I'd long since forgotten what the problem had been, so fuck it.

Cycling back from McAllister Park, I stopped to have a look around the local Goodwill, a charity shop large enough to house several fighter jets, should Randolph Air Force Base be having a spring clean. I figured I'd see something ridiculous which I could buy and wear, or which might at least provide inspiration. I saw a few decent looking suit jackets and a large cuddly tiger with such a winning smile that I found it really difficult to leave the store without buying him, but otherwise nothing seemed to suggest itself.

On the other side of the parking lot from HEB - the local supermarket to which I was ultimately headed - I noticed that an ordinarily vacant retail premises had once again been turned into a Halloween store. Once again because this is a yearly occurrence, the retail equivalent of tumbleweed or those fish suddenly born to puddles formed in the desert after rainfall, living just long enough to leave fertilised eggs drying in the mud, ready for next year's wet season. The Halloween store was full of costumes - Abraham Lincoln, Snooki from Jersey Shore, Spiderman; for just fifty dollars or thereabouts I might be instantly transformed into any of these through the magic of flimsy one-shot items of clothing and related accessories secured by elastic. I'd never been in this kind of store, so I found it weird and fascinating. I had no intention of purchasing one of these complete pre-packaged party identities. I was planning to improvise my costume, whatever it was. I just needed inspiration, some prop I could combine with whatever I already had at home.

The prop turned out to be a fake turban and a long grey false beard provided so as to effect transformation into a person of Indian or perhaps Arabic decent, a Muslim, you know - one of those people. Ignoring the obvious alarm bells, I decided I could combine these props with a kaftan and goatskin sandals brought back from Morocco and attend the party as Osama bin Laden. I made my purchase, then picked up a pack of party balloons in HEB along with the usual groceries.

Once home, I inflated one of the balloons and spent a day or two turning it into a bomb by means of papier mâché, acrylic paint, and a length of twine - specifically the kind of bomb wielded by villains in silent cinema or the Spy vs. Spy cartoons in Mad magazine, an ominous black sphere with a fuse and the word bomb painted across it in block capitals.

Next day I picked up an assault rifle from Walmart, a child's toy costing ten dollars. It was bright green and came as part of Kid Connection's Military Action Play Set recommended for ages five and upwards. I think it was supposed to light up and make a noise but the batteries were dead. I stood in the store reading the box.
Kid Connection toys are kid-approved and built for fun. Easy to understand with no complicated instructions, these durable toys keep you and your children happy. Day after day, smile after smile.

It's a fucking gun, I thought, which had obviously also occurred to the good people at Kid Connection:
Warning: This product may be mistaken for an actual firearm by law enforcement officers and others. Altering any state or federal required marking or coloration in order to make products appear more realistic and/or brandishing or displaying the product in public is dangerous and may be a crime.

To be honest, this bright green plastic toy was about as unrealistic a firearm as could be imagined without actually being the inflatable M16 I'd seen in the Halloween store marketed as Tony Montana's weapon of choice from Scarface; and in a country where Andre Burgess was shot by a federal agent whilst brandishing a gun which turned out to be the silver wrapper of a Three Musketeers candy bar, is it really going to make any difference?

The assault rifle came with a tiny plastic hand grenade and a similarly bright green handgun. It lacked any sort of carrying strap so I improvised one from velcro and the detachable strap of a holdall. Next day I noticed a far superior kiddie assault rifle in less lurid colours on sale in HEB for the same price. Aware of how seriously I was beginning to take this project, I didn't buy it.

I told my wife I was going to the party as Osama bin Laden, showing her the novelty turban and beard. She seemed initially shocked, then amused. 'Wouldn't you say that's a bit er...'

'I'm not going to black up, if that's where you think I'm headed.'

'Well, if you're sure.'

I'd considered all of this, wondering what distinguished me from minor royals dressed as Nazi stormtroopers on the cover of the Daily Mail. The point was shock and chuckles, I told myself just as Prince Gingerbollocks had doubtless told himself; but I've known many turbaned gentlemen, some of them Muslim, and I quite like Islam on the whole, in an admittedly wishy-washy liberal sense. I suppose I might potentially piss off the more redneck elements of the party, this being Texas and all - disgruntled fatties I imagined stumbling angrily towards me mumbling something about the twin towers and how I damn well better respect something or other. I suppose I liked this idea. Not to intellectualise a Halloween costume, but the problem with the political climate in the wake of the destruction of the World Trade Centre as I see it is that Osama bin Laden is remembered as a cackling mediaeval demon, a silent cinema caricature clutching a comedy bomb and twirling his moustache. He hated us and that's all we need to know. God forbid that we should ever try to understand the situation, or what drives those we term terrorists to do what they do, or that we should recognise a political landscape of any complexity greater than what you'll find in a Batman comic.

So that's what I told myself.

'I wasn't going to bother,' Bess said, 'but now I feel I have to make the effort.'

Saturday arrives and we attend the party as Osama bin Laden with his bomb and his bright green assault rifle, and Mrs. bin Laden by virtue of a burqa my wife has improvised from various scarves. I have my bright green handgun in a shoulder bag along with four bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale.

Junior wears his gas mask, a hooded cloak, and a novelty AC/DC t-shirt featuring not images of the Australian heavy rock band but Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. He tells us that he is Timeshare Man, which is something derived from his own private mythology. About a year ago he took to asking people if they would like to buy a timeshare, because he finds it hilarious for reasons which probably make sense when you're twelve.

'Would you like to know where the timeshare came from?' he asked us one day in tones promising a rare glimpse into the mind of a comedy genius.

'Yes,' we said. 'Please tell us.'

He described his hiding behind some door at school, then asking the next person to open the door whether or not they would like to buy a timeshare. I started to explain that this was simply an account of the first instance of his cracking the supposed joke and as such provided little insight into either its origination or why he considered it funny, but I gave up, recognising my enquiry as pointless. Junior does what he does unburdened by either disingenuous humility or an excess of self-awareness, and it's just how he is. It's not uncommon for his jokes to be supplemented with spoken appendices regarding how funny they were and how well he told them.

I really liked it when I said that.

Byron has as usual gone to obsessional lengths to decorate his house with the trappings of Halloween, and no rubbish either. The front room is a clutter of animated skulls, tiny haunted houses dispensing ghoulish noises, portrait paintings which become skeletal at a specific angle. Junior's contribution is the question would you like to buy a timeshare? painted on the door to the bathroom, and now here he is to complete the picture in his gas mask and his cloak and his hood, making hilarious sense mainly to himself. I'd suggest he's come as the general concept of trying too hard, but I don't wish to seem uncharitable given how much pleasure this bewildering timeshare schtick obviously brings him.

It turns out that Roger has come as a pimp - purple suit with zebra pattern trimmings and a huge floppy hat. There's something which makes me feel vaguely uncomfortable about the only black man at the party having dressed as an ethnic stereotype, but maybe that's what he was going for. He mentions something about Huggy Bear from Starsky & Hutch but it's okay. I get it, and I appreciate that it somehow takes the heat off me. No-one is going to expect either of us to explain ourselves, because it's a Halloween party not a thread on a self-important internet bulletin board.

It's only just gone six, still light, and not many people here, so we make our way out onto the decking and talk to Byron's parents and his brother. Byron's parents, for the sake of reference, may represent the closest I've come to meeting real life Ewings - as seen on the television show Dallas during the days of Ron and Nancy. Their fortune is founded on oil somewhere back in the depths of time, but there the resemblance more or less ends. They're sharp, quick-witted but personable, and despite that they might legitimately regard me as some sort of cuckoo rather than a mere stepfather, they seem to think I'm great. Jay, the brother, has been living in Austin whilst studying for what I understand to be a position in the Episcopalian Church. I ask him how it's been going. His answer seems to take the form of a protest, although I'm not sure against what because I don't quite follow what he's telling me beyond that no, he's not yet doing whatever vicars do full-time.

Bruce and Lori turn up as respectively a demon and an angel, personifying a moral balance which Lori probably jeopardises whilst allowing me to cadge a ciggie. Time has passed and it's dark and we're all gathered under the trellises Byron has built in the rear part of the garden. He's growing grape vines up the supports. He's going to make wine, and in keeping with the ambience I'm on my second bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale. It's going to my head because I don't ordinarily drink so much, or even at all. I don't smoke either, but I ask Lori if she can spare one because the moment seems right. I spend a second wondering what the acceptable American for gi's a fag might be, knowing it almost certainly won't be that. I'm unable to recall any scene of Humphrey Bogart helpfully scrounging snouts, so I try could you spare a cigarette, which is a bit like buddy, can you spare a dime?

It works, and thankfully I don't enjoy smoking it anything like as much as I thought I would, which at least means that this isn't me relapsing.

Bruce has turned himself into a demon simply by affixing two small horns to his forehead with adhesive. The horns really suit him, which is weird, although it's probably fitting that he's now telling us about some home brewed alcoholic concoction known by the delightful name of Thunderfuck.

'What's Everclear?' I ask, recognising the brand name from somewhere. 'Is that pure alcohol?'

Turner, who seems to know about these things, nods. My guess came from the context in that we seem to be talking about moonshine, or something like it, relating anecdotal instances of its distillation by agency of Everclear. I assume it's like the bottle of pure alcohol I nicked from the college chemistry department so I could clean the workings of my tape recorder, but it's alcohol brewed from corn and sold for human consumption in all but the nine states which have banned it.

Bruce made a batch of something called Thunderfuck at some point of his college years, and everyone else sat at the table beneath the trellis has a similar story.

I make it through a third Newcastle Brown and realise I'm drunk, or at least more light headed than I've been in years. It's quite a nice feeling, but it also means I'm done for the evening. Thankfully my wife is similarly partied out so we gather up Timeshare Man and head home. The hour, which we anticipate as being around ten or eleven in the evening, is half past eight. I've spent just two-and-a-half hours as Osama bin Laden, and it was a lot of fun.

Friday, 2 December 2016


My marriage came with a free child, which wasn't a problem, but was not a scenario I'd foreseen. I'd just have to do my best and play it by ear, I decided.

It hasn't all been easy, although to be fair neither has it been anything like so difficult as I might have anticipated had I given it more thought. He was seven when Bess and I got married and is now thirteen. Sometimes he's a pain in the arse, other times he's fine - as you might expect, so you just have to get on with it.

Possibly more aggravating was the distant susurrus of expectation from newly acquired relatives for whom Junior was our precious boy. Even before I'd crossed the Atlantic, one opined that I might be a paedophile eager to get my clammy hands on the child; because were I some sort of kiddy-fiddler, that's obviously what I would do - marry an unsuspecting American so I can bag me one of those green cards and get my Jimmy Savile on in the land of the free. Another newly acquired relative took demonstrative issue when I failed to show at some screeching kid-filled event at the local country club, a birthday with our precious boy in attendance. I'd been in America for a week. I was about to get married and I had left behind everything I had known since birth. I was knocked sideways by the intense Texas heat, felt ill and still shell-shocked, and I didn't feel like hanging out with small, screaming children on that one particular occasion so I stayed home.

That man had better get his priorities straightened out, the relative testily informed my wife, apparently so as to showcase the extent of her devotion to our precious boy. These days I get on fine with the woman, but I haven't forgotten. People tend to reveal their true colours before they know you.

I always imagined one major difficulty with being a stepfather would be my apparently replacing an existing father, which I haven't attempted on the grounds that his dad is still very much around, in the picture, and we all get on just fine. The scene where the child slams the door and screams you're not even my real dad is yet to happen. Strangest of all, he seems to think I'm great, which is partially because I'm exotic - coming from England and all that - and because I know about Doctor Who - although I'm doing my best to discourage him on that score - and he appreciates the sense of security I apparently bring. I qualify all of this as strange, because the information derives from conversations with his mother as she brings him back from school. It's taken him a couple of years to get into the habit of communicating directly with me, not because he's rude so much as that he is burdened with a combination of shyness and extraordinarily narrow focus. Bess has pointed out how I'm the one person in his life who doesn't dote upon him, or regard him as our precious boy by sheer dint of familial genetics, or necessarily at all. My favour therefore has some currency and he knows it. When he's rude or he screws up, I'm generally quite happy to tell him so in as much detail as seems necessary, addressing him as I would an adult because I don't do baby-talk; and on some level he responds to this.

Children need boundaries, as they say.

Over the years we've had rough patches, mainly characterised by uneaten food left to go off in his room, toilets full of poo either unflushed, or flushed by a method entailing operation of the handle followed by running away as quickly as possible without checking whether the disturbingly verdant ten-inch floater has held its ground. Other misdemeanours mostly come down to basic manners and continued failure to do something which he has been asked to do over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

'Look, it's not even like we ask you to mow the lawn or take out the trash, or even to do anything at all,' I'll begin in preface to the usual speech about full glasses of tea left perched precariously above electrical sockets. He will stare at me as I state my case, usually with the look of a rabbit caught in headlights, and even as I speak I wonder whether he's taking any of it in or whether it's more like a dog reacting to a harsh tone of voice when it's been caught taking a dump on the rug.

As the years have passed, it seems he has begun to take at least some of it in, and his communication has developed sufficiently for me to be able to tell that he at least doesn't mean to piss me off; which is nice because I like to be able to think well of him, and I don't enjoy pointing out that he's screwed up any more than he enjoys it. These days, we can almost have something that sounds a bit like a conversation, even laughing at each other's jokes, or some of them; and while I doubt I'll ever regard him as our precious boy because I'm just not that much of a walking Hallmark card, I feel protective towards him and I want him to be happy.

Now it's the weekend and Bess and I are taking him to the cinema to see Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. He's read the books and has been gagging to see the big screen adaptation. It's a Tim Burton film, but stepfatherhood is sometimes about making sacrifices, about meeting others half way. Junior has a reputation of talking through films. It's worse when they're on television because he gets to move around, jumping up and down, describing what we've all just seen on the screen with our own eyes.

'It's like,' he yelps, completing the sentence with dramatic gestures so as to illustrate Loki fighting the Incredible Hulk, and we know that this is exactly what it's like because we're still trying to watch the fucking film.

'If you're going to talk through this,' I tell him as we enter the cinema, 'and explain everything that's about to happen or has just happened, could you sit on the other side of your mother and do it quietly?' I ask him.

'Sure,' he says, then barely utters a word for the next couple of hours; and surprisingly I find myself enjoying the film even though it's by Tim Burton.

The boy lets loose in the car on the way home, going into ludicrous and slightly sniffy detail regarding all the changes which have been made during transition from page to screen. He obviously enjoyed the film, but it was different to the books. Much of his communication takes the form of lists prefaced with let me see, then whatever he wants to share reeled off with the verbal equivalent of bullet points, and he's really going to town this time.

I find myself feeling strangely proud, which is almost a first, because not only has he recognised a book as the more authoritative form of a story but, as I realise, he has actually read the thing and taken it in. This has been a bone of minor contention, specifically how much I hear about the kid's supposed love of reading contrasting with my own experience, which is mostly him in his room laying on his back tapping the screen of his iPad with a finger all evening, occasionally calling out to have a bowl of chips conveyed to him. His supposed reading - I have noted with some suspicion - always seems to occur off-screen; but now I'm at last hearing him talk about a book, and in the sort of detail which suggests it's something he actively enjoys rather than being just a chore.

He's been with his father for most of the weekend, during which time I've made a six-foot bookcase with seven shelves for his room. We picked him up from his father's house and took him straight to the cinema, so the bookcase is a surprise.

His mother has asked me to make him a bookcase on and off for the last couple of years, but I've never quite got around to it, partially wanting first to see some evidence that he's capable of putting stuff on a shelf rather than just dropping things on the floor then stepping over them for the next two years; but I've eventually caved in because carpentry is good exercise and what harm can it do? Bess and I have collected what we can from the rubbish tip that is his room, set it all on the shelving, and now we can see the floor.

Junior sits on the bed staring at the book case.

'One thing,' I say.

'Yes?' He sounds nervous.

'It's your room and it's your bookcase, but if for whatever reason I see bits of wood carved out of it because you were bored, I will become unhappy.'


This is a karaoke version of an exchange from about a year ago. Large plastic cereal containers, which should never have found their way into his room in the first place, had sections of the red plastic tab by which one removes the lid snipped off for no reason at all. Even as vandalism it seemed so weird and pointless that I felt ridiculous having to bring it up.

'Do you think he likes the bookcase?' I ask my wife, because I can't tell. Sometimes the boy is too inscrutable for his own good.

'Oh yes,' she tells me. 'He's very pleased with it.'

It feels like we've turned a corner.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

SA Law

Many years ago, when the possibility of living in the United States was initially presented to me, my first action was to stroll up the road to Dulwich library and have a look in their travel section. They had a copy of either the Rough Guide to America, or possibly the Lonely Planet version, and on the first page I read that Americans are a naturally litigious people, in more or less those words so far as I am able to recall. The information was offered just as guides to other countries might helpfully point out folky affectations like the Chinese love of tradition or the German disdain for littering. Americans very much enjoy taking you to court, was the implication. They will sue you if the coffee you have just served them is too hot, or if they should slip and fall in a puddle of your urine, or if the shape of your head has caused them to recall some long-forgotten childhood trauma. They can't help it. It's just how they are.

Despite having lived here for five years, I haven't yet been sued by anyone, and nor have I myself yet had cause to take anyone to court. Nevertheless, I could hardly have failed to miss the cultural emphasis on legal matters. Had I required the services of a lawyer in England, I would have had to look in the phone directory in order to find one, but here they're everywhere - adverts screaming at you from both television and billboard. At last I understand why almost every imported American television show of my childhood was about either cops, detectives, or mystery-fixated teenagers investigating the legitimacy of property rights claimed upon an assortment of abandoned fairgrounds and disused mines.

Anyway, as to the aforementioned lawyers, here are my favourites:

Jim Adler, the Texas Hammer. The hammer epithet serves to suggest that when it comes to law, this guy doesn't fuck about, whilst cannily circumnavigating problems which might arise were he to advertise himself as Jim Adler, the Guy Who Doesn't Fuck About - easily offended persons suing him for public usage of the word fuck, for example. Adler's promotional strategy serves to illustrate how some things just don't directly translate in cultural terms - an English lawyer advertising himself as, for example, Derek Fitzgibbons, the Gloucestershire Hobnail Boot would simply come across as weird and cranky and by association potentially ineffective in a courtroom scenario. Jim Adler's television commercial features the man himself, shouting at the viewer whilst stood on top of the cab of a huge truck, and specifically shouting about how much money he may be able to get for you should your car be involved in a wreck involving a huge truck. The most impressive thing is that Jim does not seem a particularly young man, but the fact of his being stood shouting his lungs out on top of a huge truck really helps to convey the idea that you probably wouldn't like him when he's angry.

Thomas J. Henry. I don't know much about Thomas J. Henry, but he seems to have offices everywhere so I guess he must be good at his job. Most of his television advertising seems to show him - a smart suited gent of stern demeanour and possibly in his late-fifties - walking towards the camera in slow motion with a slight frown. He may be walking through dry ice, or possibly a darkened hall with a lot of marble surfaces, and I have a feeling that Die Liebe by Laibach was on the soundtrack somewhere, although I could be wrong about that. Anyway, Thomas J. Henry walks frowning towards the camera and then executes a half-turn so as to stand in profile facing the viewer, like we're watching the trailer for The Avengers vs. Thomas J. Henry. Sometimes I wonder, if I went around to Thomas J. Henry's house to see if he wanted to come out for a game of football, would he walk down the hall in slow motion before executing a dramatic half-turn upon reaching the front door?

David Komie, the Attorney that Rocks. My wife and I passed a billboard advertising this guy's services as we were visiting the People's Republic of Austin. Presumably he represents those undergoing prosecution for violation of puff-puff-pass statutes or else found accused of harshing the plaintiff's mellow. His name came up during a conversation on facebook not too long ago, compelling some other person from Austin to opine I remember that guy when he was just some clean cut ambulance chaser in a shitty suit, or words to that effect, allegedly. I supposes this constitutes a lesson regarding what can happen if you live in Austin too long.

Tessmer Law Firm. They're probably very good, but I've personally found their billboards weird and off-putting. Most of them seem to show a businessy looking woman, presumably Heather Tessmer herself, smouldering into the camera as bold type asks ever had an argument with a woman? The question seems reliant on an understanding of women as being more or less as described by male comedians from the north of England during the 1970s, namely talkative and devious, bordering on evil. The question might almost be ever had an argument with my mother-in-law? Additionally, given that Heather Tessmer is notably easy on the eye, the advertising seems to suggest - at least to me - an additional promise which I won't specifically identify because I'm writing about a member of the legal profession and I'm not a complete fucking idiot.

Bryan Wilson, Texas Law Hawk. Bryan Wilson is based in Fort Worth and only came to my attention as I was googling for the identity of a San Antonio lawyer advertised by means of a billboard where a blown-up image of the guy is augmented by a giant three-dimensional fibreglass hand looming out of the poster as we drive past on our way to eat Mexican food. I was unable to deduce the identity of the man with the huge three-dimensional hand, but I found this guy instead. He begins his television commercial by running towards the camera whilst holding the national flag proudly aloft, followed by a slightly puzzling collage of images as our man roars that he is hungry for justice, then settling into an imagineered scenario in which four patently innocent men are busted by a cop during a game of - and I'm not making this up - Hungry Hippos. If this has ever happened to you, then it would seem that Bryan Wilson is your boy. I don't know much about the law, or anything at all about Bryan Wilson, but having watched his commercial I already like the guy.

Wayne Wright. I don't know much about Wayne Wright either, but he always comes across as being about fifty times more trustworthy than any politician you care to name whenever he's on the telly, which I suppose isn't that much of an achievement but seemed worth mentioning anyway. He wears a stetson and seems to know what he's talking about. Someone called Albert, writing on the company website says after I called Wayne Wright, he told the insurance company there was a new sheriff in town, which probably tells you more or less where the guy is coming from.

DISCLAIMER: This essay is intended for entertainment purposes only. No responsibility can be accepted by either author or publishers for occurrences arising from misuse of the above text towards any ends other than entertainment related. The author does not represent any of the individuals or organisations named above and makes no claim as to reflecting their interests or indeed having anything either useful or legally binding to say about them. The author has no money and isn't worth suing.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Buying the House

I never imagined I would buy a house. The timing of my birth led me to anticipate an adult life of smart suits, cheap rented accommodation, and meeting girls in coffee shops with Ricky Nelson on the juke box, something in the approximate tradition of Joe Meek, Billy Liar, Hancock and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. The promise of living in a socialist country seemed to be that I need not worry about having somewhere to live.

For American readers who don't actually know what socialism is, or who think they know what socialism is but don't - like my idiot neighbour with his lawn sign proposing we choose freedom not socialism - for those people, here's the short version.

If you're reading this, you almost certainly live in a civilised society by some definition, and a civilised society with an infrastructure provided for the benefit of everyone. Your willingness to contribute to the infrastructure is implicit in your choosing to remain in civilised society. Your contribution will usually take the form of taxes by which roads, healthcare, and public works are financed. If you don't wish to contribute - keeping in mind that you also benefit from this system - then nothing is stopping you pissing off into the wilderness and living in a cave on nuts, berries, and whatever you can catch. Living in a civilised society doesn't mean you get to decide the worth of the infrastructure based on what you're getting out of it, what you've decided you should be getting out of it, or what you think other people are getting out of it but shouldn't. If your main concern is what's in it for me? then you don't belong in civilised society, or at least are yet to achieve adult status therein.

Unfortunately socialism was on the wane by the time I left home. Rents were going up, wages were going up but not at quite the same rate, and the possibility of buying your own council home meant that those who, like myself, had never really seen the appeal of buying a house were increasingly obliged to rent accommodation from private landlords or letting agencies with rates dictated by the almighty market. In 1984 I rented a room in a shared house for ten pounds a week. In 2009 I was renting a tiny single room flat in Camberwell for ₤750 a month. It was the cheapest place I'd been able to find and it cost roughly two thirds of my monthly wage. By the time I came to understand the desirability of buying a house, I knew I would never be able to afford one.

The problem was eventually resolved when I came to get married and moved to Texas. My wife, who was at the time just my girlfriend in another country, lived in a first floor apartment in San Antonio. The apartment was a decent size, but too small for us as a family with myself added to the equation. She began looking at larger places to which we could relocate, preferably somewhere with a garden for the sake of the kid. Then about a month before I was due to fly, she sent me an email with the attached floor plan of a house.

What do you think? she asked.

It looks fine, I told her.

Actually it looked about four times the size of anywhere I'd ever anticipated living, which was nice. I wasn't overly bothered about where we ended up so long as it wasn't too shit and wasn't actually smaller than my Camberwell rabbit hutch had been.

A month or so later we were shown around the place by some relative of the owners with a view to renting. I'd never even considered renting an entire house, but it worked out at about half the monthly cost of what I'd been paying for my south London broom cupboard. The place wasn't perfect. The owners hadn't bothered cleaning it or fixing anything before showing us around. It could have done with a lick of paint and a couple of the air conditioning units had seen better days. The yard was a barren football pitch of sand and dead plant matter. A few of the doors didn't quite close or wouldn't stay closed, and a hole had been punched in the kitchen wall for some reason. Best of all was the knackered metal frame of a large glass-topped table rusting away in the garden, the sort you can buy at Walmart for about twenty dollars, but with no glass in it.

'You could have a circle of glass specially cut for that,' our man suggested optimistically, because that shitty rusting frame of a cheap piece of crap from Walmart was - you know - such a lovely piece.

In spite of everything, I loved the place. It seemed huge to me, and owing to the way San Antonio sprawls across our corner of Texas, it didn't even feel like it was in the city. We said yes, moved in, and got married.

Over the next five years I transformed the yard back into a garden. We made little improvements here and there, rolled the skeletal Walmart table around the side of the house along with the corpse of a propane grill so as to present an impression of having nothing worth burgling. We acquired cats and paid rent.

Eventually, once we noticed how settled we'd become, my wife suggested that we might like to see if we can buy the place from the owner, reasoning that it wouldn't be significantly more expensive than renting, and it would mean we could make our own improvements. This seemed desirable because getting our landlady to fix anything - like what a landlady is supposed to do - was never easy, and it was getting ridiculous.

Her name was Mrs. Species, which is as close to her actual surname as is practical for the purposes of this essay.

Our kitchen sink developed a drip which eventually turned into a steady trickle, and the pipes beneath the sink had seemingly fused solid meaning that repairs were beyond my admittedly limited powers. My wife phoned Mrs. Species, who seemed mainly concerned about the terrible expense of getting a tap fixed, apparently missing the point that this was her job regardless of how much it cost. When a couple of blokes finally came to effect repairs, an undertaking which took all of five minutes, I noticed that the plumbing company was actually owned by Mr. and Mrs. Species with their name on the side of the truck and everything, which really begs the question of why all the whining over expense. Mr. and Mrs. Species weren't the worst of landlords, but they were nevertheless pretty crap, and her phone manner suggested that she seemed to believe we were living in a mansion for which we should be eternally grateful, the sort of dwelling in which one might reasonably expect to encounter Trump or Liberace or Puff Daddy.

The gold-plated taps were fixed, but we knew the air conditioning units weren't going to heal of their own accord, and so my wife made Mrs. Species an offer based on other houses of similar size and repair in our neighbourhood: ninety-thousand dollars.

Mrs. Species said no.

One year later, my wife tried again.

This time it turned out that Mr. and Mrs. Species had indeed been thinking of seeing whether we might be interested in buying the palace from them. They couldn't possibly accept ninety-thousand dollars, but we'd work something out. So the wheels were at last in motion, and they took us to the figure of one-hundred and twenty thousand. We didn't bother replying, it being thirty thousand more than the place was worth; and then came a reminder pointing out that they had always intended to sell the house, and would be selling it soon, and it would be nice if we could buy it seeing as we were already living in it, and maybe we might like to think about getting around to accepting their generous offer before the place was sold to some other lucky couple - no pressure or anything.

My wife paid an independent appraiser to take a look at the house. The independent appraiser valued it at ninety thousand dollars.

Mr. and Mrs. Species couldn't possibly accept ninety-thousand dollars, but we'd work something out. So they paid for a second independent appraiser to come around and take a proper look at the place. By amazing and happy coincidence, this one valued the house at one-hundred and twenty thousand, the very sum which Mr. and Mrs. Species had been hoping for. The first appraiser must have been mistaken or something, but to be out by thirty-thousand dollars - gosh! What a silly goose!

We went along to where Mrs. Species worked as some sort of guidance counselor. Mr. Species turned up, and we all spent a couple of hours signing forms. We had the usual conversation about my being from England, and how they once went to London.

A month later we signed another load of forms, failed to get the thousand dollar deposit returned as our rental period ended, and  became owners of the house. I looked up Mr. Species on the internet and learned that he was a high court judge of some description and considerable reputation, recently retired to sit on the board of some massive company. He's buddies with the governor of Texas and all sorts of important people.

One way of looking at it is that we were seriously ripped off, and that the massive coincidence of the sum produced by that second appraiser doesn't say much for the legal system here in America, nor the worth of your average high court judge. My wife reasoned that whilst ninety-thousand dollars might have been a fair price, we might reasonably have expected to pay another ten on top of that, and we've saved the expense of having to move, and we're also paying for never have to deal with Mr. and Mrs. Species ever again; so that's the way we've chosen to look at it for the sake of a quiet life.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

The Annoying Orange

My wife stayed up to watch the election results. When she came to bed she told me that the Annoying Orange had pretty much won. Neither of us slept well. I drifted off around four, sinking into a dream in which we were living in an unfamiliar two-storey house. We'd just moved in. I came down stairs and found Bess recruited into a girls night out around the kitchen table with Jana, Beverley Goldberg from the ABC situation comedy named after her autobiographical family, and six or seven other women. I went back upstairs to fiddle with a succession of mobile phones, attempting to text my wife to explain that I was freaking out. None of the phones worked, and I opened a few up to see if I could fix them. Certain keys produced the wrong characters, rendering my messages illegible. I woke before seven to the news that the Annoying Orange had won.

I couldn't believe it. I still can't.

It's been a concern for however many years this whole campaign has been dragging on, but polls seemed to suggest that he didn't stand a chance so naturally I took comfort from that and because I like to believe the best of people. I took comfort from the notion that he might be a moving target set in motion so as to draw fire and make even Hillary Clinton seem electable. I dislike conspiracy theories, generally speaking, but the idea that America might have become a one-party state run for corporate interests by corporate interests has come to seem plausible over recent years. The idea seemed to explain at least George W. Bush and why Al Gore didn't appear overly fussed about losing in 2000. Maybe, I thought, they no longer require a genuine opposition candidate, just a fall guy who looks like he might win so as to preserve the illusion of choice. The Annoying Orange fitted this bill very well in that he didn't appear to be a politician so much as a set of abrasive opinions associated with a big pile of money. The potential for his presidency didn't feel like part of the established script.

His speeches, what I heard of them, were incoherent - rabble rousing observations calculated to appeal to our worst, most xenophobic tendencies, potshots taken at whichever target would get the reaction he was after. To paraphrase some of his supporters, he was just saying what we were all thinking but weren't allowed to say because of political correctness - Mexicans flooding over the border taking our jobs and raping our women, Muslims in our midst itching to blow us all sky high, the tyranny of women's rights, gay rights, gay marriage, liberal agenda blah blah blah...

He countered accusations of stirring up racial hostility by pointing out that he was actually a great friend of the blacks, not black people but the blacks - that great homogenous group of predatory outsiders in our midst. Nevertheless, despite this noble Martin Luther King-style call for racial harmony, he somehow managed to avoid alienating his white supremacist supporters.

He'll shake up the establishment protested his fans, the poor and terminally disenfranchised with some justification for having lost faith in the system. I can understand this much in that I can understand why someone might not wish to vote for Hillary Clinton, a women epitomising the fact of American politics having become a dynastic institution much like the monarchist hierarchies to which America was once supposed to be a fairer alternative; and I can understand it when the pro-Hillary argument mostly seems to have rested upon the fact of her not being the Annoying Orange, with a lesser helping of because she's a woman and she's brilliant, which I personally never found convincing.

What I haven't been able to understand is the logic of I've been poor and shat upon for most of my life so I'm going to vote for a millionaire who got where he is today by shitting upon people. It may as well be hey, I'm a shithead, so dammit I'm going to vote for a shithead. What this boils down to is when you find yourself on the same side of the fence as men who think Hitler wasn't so bad, why wouldn't you take a long, hard look at yourself and what you're doing with your life, unless you really are a shithead of some description?

I had faith in the Latino vote ensuring everything would be okay, or okay in so far as Hillary Clinton might be deemed the lesser of two evils. Latino voters seemed to have responded poorly to having been described as rapists, and were registering to vote in record numbers. Possibly I failed to account for naturalised Latino citizens who regard those crossing the border as fucking wetbacks who spoil it for the rest of us, and those who will vote for anyone on an anti-abortion ticket regardless of whether or not that person happens to be Adolf Hitler.

So he won and facebook has caught fire at least a couple of times this morning. I appreciate that not everyone who voted for the Annoying Orange is necessarily a raging xenophobe getting misty-eyed over a return to segregation; but as with arguments flaring up in the wake of Brexit, I'm tired of righties whining about our mentioning those with whom they stood shoulder to shoulder in the voting booth on the grounds that it's upsetting when we call them hurtful names, particularly when those names directly correlate to what they actually voted for. I'm tired of a political discourse which is only able to elevate itself by pushing down on the most vulnerable members of our society whether it be those coming over here taking jobs we don't actually want, alleged welfare millionaires, black people getting uppity just because a cop shot them in good faith, or anyone else who isn't in the right gang.

All I can take from this is that hopefully Congress will stem his more ludicrous proposals, given how even some of the screwier Republicans didn't want us voting for him; and that maybe he really will shake things up in some way which ultimately leads to a better outcome than the one he's promised; and that I suppose at least all those boring fuckers whining about the government taking away our guns might shut up for five minutes; and I suppose it's nice to know that the whole thing obviously wasn't rigged after all - although I still don't understand how the candidate with 206,576 more votes lost. Other than this, I'm worried for the future of the planet and the future of this country being that it was hardly a bed of political roses in the first place. I'm worried about our civil liberties and my continued freedom to even express such dissent, and I really hope I'm as wrong about this as I was about the prospect of the Annoying Orange losing to Hillary Clinton.

I actually like this country, warts and all.

Following the morning's usual chores and visit to the store I went and bought tobacco. I don't smoke except in times of unusual stress. The last occasion was when David Bowie died.

'You aren't from around here,' the girl in the store observed.

'I'm from England,' I told her, then added, 'it seemed like a good day to take up smoking again.'

She laughed, but it wasn't a happy laugh.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

The Second Gun

We're in Fredericksberg, a town founded by German settlers in 1846 and built with local limestone. Owing to the parallel time and material, the place bears a disconcerting resemblance to Moreton and Stow, English market towns in the Cotswolds just down the road from where I grew up; and Fredericksberg is likewise given over to gift shops, the sort of labyrinthine indoor mazes which would be termed arcades if it didn't lower the tone.

They sell objects of the kind which you pick up, examine, will probably describe as neat if asked, and then set down again - some quite nice in their way, some pretty crappy, and all with the same folksy handcrafted quality. We browse key-rings, polished rocks containing fossils, ceramic farm animals, slightly bewildering paintings showing assembled presidents Kennedy through to George W. enjoying whisky and cigars together, even rusty old horseshoes presumably dug up from around the surrounding country and signifying the old west. Punchlines to old jokes or corny observations made as guests depart were once limited to spoken media and other features of the moment, but one can now find such phraseology painted, stamped, scored, printed, embossed, and even branded onto tidily stressed rectangles of wood suitable for hanging around the family home: don't let the door hit ya where the good lord split ya, or everyone is entitled to my opinion, or always kiss me goodnight - which someone other than myself gave Bess one Christmas. We considered the thing as it emerged from its wrapping, exchanged a shrug, then left it to gather dust on top of the display case in which my wife's running trophies are roughly assembled if not actually displayed, and there it has remained ever since as a monument to good intentions, poor judgement, and the guilt generated by tacky presents.

On the other hand, my dad very much seemed to enjoy the rusty horseshoe I gave him a few Christmases back, presumably through having grown up with tales of the old west as the most commonly available form of entertainment. With this in mind, here we are back in Fredericksberg with just a couple of months to go to Christmas - time enough to have something packaged and sent off.

The woman behind the counter is called Brandy, going by her name tag. 'Well, I can tell where you're from,' she chuckles, taking my purchase and hunting for the price sticker.

As usual, I'm wearing a stetson because the sun in Texas is hot and I burn easily - should an explanation be necessary. I'm also wearing the shirt I bought from Victoria's Thrift Mart on the Blanco Road - short sleeves, red, white and blue with the lone star of the state flag. It's one of my favourite shirts. They had a job lot of them when I bought mine, and my guess is they originated either with some steak joint or a gas station that went out of business.

'I'm not really from Texas,' I confess, feeling suddenly as though I've been caught trying to pull a fast one. 'I'm from England. I'm just trying to blend in.'

Brandy seems delighted and amazed. 'Where are you from in England?' My wife later tells me that she added we get a lot of Australians in here, but apparently I missed this particular footnote.

'I'm from London,' I say, 'sort of - well, I lived there for twenty years.' Every time someone asks, I have to take a moment to work out where I'm from, and answers might legitimately include Coventry, Kent, London, or Stratford-upon-Avon depending on which seems least likely to invite further questions.

Meanwhile, the other cashier has finished giving a demonstration to a fellow customer. The other cashier is a little guy. He looks vaguely Latino and wears a device of moulded plastic across his knuckles. He squeezes his fist and tiny sparks dance around the metal strip along the front, repeating the demonstration.

'What is that?' I ask.

'It's a stun gun.'

'I could have done with something like that when I was a postman.'

Brandy is similarly impressed, and gets to talking about guns, how it might be safer to carry one of these things than a firearm, then turning back to me to offer something sounding like an apology. 'It must be kind of weird, I mean with the guns here—'

'It's no big deal,' I say.

'I mean you don't have them in England but, we—'

I've already heard the disclaimer, and I always recall the testimony of my friend Stuart from Scotland. He has relatives in Dallas and whenever he comes over to visit it seems they're queueing around the block to show him their assault rifles. I've a sneaking suspicion he may be paying for some offhand remark made many years ago expressing reservations about the NRA.

'I've been here five years,' I tell Brandy, 'and I've seen one openly carried gun in all that time.'

It was a guy I passed on the Tobin Trail. He was cycling along with a rifle of some description in one hand. I didn't find the encounter scary, just weird. I've seen cops with guns in holsters of course, but I'm not sure they count in the same way.

Stun gun boy raises the front of his top so we can both see the handgrip of a small pistol protruding from his pants.

'Well, now I've seen two,' I say.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

English Telly in Texas

Apparently the BBC and ITV continued to make and broadcast new shows after I left England back in 2011, meaning that when I summon Hulu or Netflix to my massive Texas-sized HD flatscreen gogglebox, looking under categories headed either British Television Shows or Because You Watched Fresh Fields, I find tons of shit that I've never heard of. I sort of imagined the British would stop making new shows once I'd left and probably just stick to either repeats or Only Fools & Horses reimagined with Ant and Dec in the lead roles or something, but no...

So here are the English shows which I've watched since I moved, shows which I've only seen whilst slouched across a Texan sofa, eating tacos, and plucking cactus thorns from my shins. English telly looks very different now that it comes from five-thousand miles away.

Auschwitz: The Nazis & the Final Solution - My wife has always been fascinated by Nazis - although not in the sense of simply exploring controversial ideas and images like the man out of Death in June. In fact, as a general fascination it may even run in the family. I bought her mother a book about psychiatry during the Third Reich for Christmas, a title she said she had wanted. 'Nazis and psychiatrists - my two favourite things,' she chuckled as she opened the present and saw what it was.

'You can't go wrong with Nazis or psychiatrists,' I opined.

'Oh for sure,' she confirmed happily. 'Sometimes I can't decide which I like more.'

Anyway, this one had dramatisations - which always strikes me as a bit Discovery Channel and is something I don't usually like in my documentaries - but for once it worked; and this was a great series, and humongously disturbing, which is as it should be. It's nice to know that the Beeb can still make stuff of this calibre when they put their collective mind to it, assuming it was the Beeb.

Coogan, Steve - I've lost track of what we've watched because my wife fancies him so we've watched everything, some of which has been new to me. The most recent one was Happyish, although admittedly it was an American production presumably resulting from a massive team of writers attempting to turn Coogan into the next Seinfeld without actually understanding what makes him funny. We managed about five episodes but the last of these was so monumentally shite that we've left it at that. Happyish is about an advertising tosspot experiencing a mid-life crisis whilst married to a whiny analyst-seeking woman, in case you're wondering. In one scene we experience his wife's near unendurable suffering as, looking forward to an afternoon's ceramic work in her private craft studio, she is waylaid by a very boring man who won't stop talking, thus keeping her from making a few pots. It really put all the complaining and grousing of those moaning minnies at Auschwitz in perspective.

Detectorists, The - The skinny one from The Office teams up with that lumpy looking bloke who turns up in all the films these days for a comedy about metal detecting, which is mostly funny.

Doctor Who - I think I've seen three of these since I moved and they were all shit. One of them was called The God Complex, which I watched because everyone said oh it's a pity you missed The God Complex because it was by far the best of the season, much better than the rest, but that was shit as well. Doctor Who is unique in this list in being a show I've seen prior to my moving to Texas, but I've made the exception in the hope of upsetting a few people, particularly those whose enjoyment of Doctor Who is somehow ruined just by the simple concept of there being people who regard it as a pile of wank.

Helm's Heavy Entertainment, Nick  - This seems to be an hour-long one-man variety show in which the host invades the personal space of various audience members to comic effect. I've only watched one, and I sort of found it funny, but there was something about the tone I didn't like and I can't quite put my finger on what that might be. It somehow has a touch of the Mumford & Sons about it. It's probably significant that I can't help but regard anyone under the age of forty with a full beard as a complete arsehole.

Impressionists, The - Sometimes one yearns for a more elevated discourse, such as what you get with the arts 'n' shit; and thusly did we watch this four part documentary presented by a man who was such a total cock he could almost have been Robert Elms. The historical and biographical detail of the artists under examination was all very interesting, not least concerning the mighty Camille Pissarro who painted a house to which I delivered mail when I was a postman some hundred years later; but the presenter resembled Cosmo Smallpiece as portrayed by Les Dawson, and he kept playing the ordinary workin' class geezer like what I am card despite clearly being nothing of the sort, and it was all this Monet was the Liam Gallagher of his day crap so as to avoid alienating anyone too stupid to understand unless handed some laddish contemporary comparison every five minutes. It was approximately watchable but our man was no Robert Hughes.

Inbetweeners, The - I see this slagged off left, right and centre, but personally I think it's great. It's a sitcom about four teenagers failing to have sex. It reminds me of the sort of shit people used to talk about at Royal Mail, and as such fills me with a warm glow of nostalgia.

IT Crowd, The - The IT Crowd derives from the same hand that penned Father Ted, and if not quite as good, it's a reasonably close second. I've a feeling this may have been aired whilst I was still living in England but indentured to Marian, which might explain why I wasn't able to watch it. Humour wasn't really her bag. I seriously doubt she would have appreciated The Inbetweeners either.

'Do you think it's a good idea to encourage young boys to rape women?' she probably would have asked me.

Kingdom - I can't remember if his name's supposed to be Dave Kingdom or something, but I expect it's along those lines - as with so many current television productions utilising a single enigmatic word for the title. Dave is played by Stephen Fry and is a crime-fighting lawyer who specialises in gentle, scenic crimes soundtracked by classical music and maybe just a pinch of Sting. There was possibly also a horsey woman in green wellies called either Jocelyn or Margaret. It's okay, I suppose - maybe a bit plummy, which is sort of what I expected.

Lee's Comedy Vehicle, Stewart  - I'm amazed that I'm able to watch this here in Texas given that it's probably tantamount to communism, and I'm really not sure quite how many of my neighbours will be reduced to tears by a relatively esoteric English comedian sneering at Asher D of So Solid Crew. Jeremy Clarkson is unfortunately popular over here, so maybe there's a backlash and Netflix or Hulu or whichever one it is are attempting to cash in. That said, I see Jimmy fucking Carr is also available for my viewing pleasure here in the States, so maybe they just license English stuff because it's English, regardless of quality.

Miranda - This is a show about a woman called Miranda as played by a woman called Miranda. It's a comedy about how she's awkward and is easily embarrassed in certain situations. It's not very funny. I think I saw her live once at some stand-up comedy event. Her routine was mostly focussed on how awkward and embarrassing it was being on stage, and how we probably weren't going to find any of it funny, and we didn't. One of my wife's co-workers thinks Miranda is one of the funniest shows ever made, although to be fair said co-worker isn't actually from Texas.

Misfits - I wish we could go back to writers making the effort to come up with proper titles for what they've written, and could draw a veil across this collective noun thing. Close Encounters of the Third Kind was definitely a better title than Flying Saucers, and Dinosaurs would have been a terrible name for Jurassic Park, and thank God Steinbeck went with Of Mice and Men rather than Thick Losers. Misfits is about a bunch of super-powered ASBO types, and there's a lot of swearing and self-conscious efforts to appear edgy and down with the kids on the street, yeah? I found it difficult to care about this show and only watched two of them.

Moone Boy - This is about a small, rural Irish child and his imaginary friend. It has the potential to be the most twee thing ever broadcast - late period Last of the Summer Wine looking at itself in a mirror - and yet somehow it gets the balance just right and is very, very funny. Amazingly it's written by the bloke who plays the imaginary friend. I had kind of forgotten that written and starring shows don't necessarily have to be shite by definition.

Only Way is Essex, The - I know I've watched at least five minutes of this but I can't remember anything about it. I have a hunch that it might not be Alan Moore's favourite show, although I can't even remember where I got that impression. I have a feeling The Only Way is Essex may even be the English equivalent of Jersey Shore, which means I should probably make the effort to have another look*. Jersey Shore is horrible and yet fascinating.

Peaky Blinders - I watched five minutes of this, waiting for someone to say something, but it was mostly just moody high contrast and high definition shots of nineteenth century squalor with music which sounded like Nick Cave. It was a bit like watching a Nine Inch Nails video, and after five minutes I decided to watch something else. On the other hand, Paul Mercer defriended me on facebook after I posted disparaging comments about this show, so the five minutes weren't entirely wasted.

Plebs - This is a cross between The Inbetweeners and Up Pompeii but missing the crucial ingredients which would have rendered it watchable, namely Frankie Howerd and jokes. I vaguely recall the single episode I watched revolving around misunderstandings relating to women's tits, or something of the sort. It wasn't very good.

Pramface - I think this was sort of like The Inbetweeners but with the humourous content replaced by wry, touching observations about school kids getting knocked up. All I can remember for sure is that it didn't make me laugh.

Primeval - Well, it's no I, Claudius but it has CGI dinosaurs and can be watched without my having to shout oh fuck off and throw things at the screen every few minutes, so that's good enough for me. I think the most recent series was made in conjunction with some sort of US-based nerd channel and was thus a complete waste of time, but then nothing lasts forever. I quite liked the one where they went into the future and encountered weirdly evolved monsters which looked like something from a harrowing Hungarian claymation.

Rev. - This is about a regular Church of England vicar living in Hackney and struggling with the fact of no-one giving a shit about going to church any more. Despite the not particularly promising premise, Rev. was fucking brilliant once it got going. Weirder still was watching this thing and recognising bits of London in the outside shots filmed around where my friend Andy once resided. In one episode there's a block of flats in the background and you can clearly see that it's Fellows Court which I used to visit regularly when Andy lived there. I even knew a bloke who went mad and tried to jump from the roof of Fellows Court whilst believing he could fly. The character of Mick also brought back some happy memories for me.

Spy - Crap dad inadvertently becomes a secret agent in an effort to impress his shit son, or so it is claimed, although I didn't watch enough of this to get to the part where he presumably phones MI5, or however it's supposed to happen. All BBC dramas now look like this one to me - same bit of suburbia with the granite effect work surface and the coffee machine and someone chopping up a kiwi fruit, same comically apologetic father figure taking his kid to football practice with the Arctic Monkeys playing in the background. He's played either by Martin Clunes, that bloke who looks like the blonde one from The Green Wing but isn't him, or the funny one from The Now Show, Outnumbered, and Mock the Week - funny being very much a relative term here, obviously.

Stella - Happily nothing to do with McCartney's jumper-designing kid, but instead a drama with jokes - as the format is known in the telly biz - concerning the trials and tribulations of Ruth Jones as a Welsh cleaning lady. It also features a bloke called Alan who strongly resembles my old boss, one of the few Royal Mail managers I didn't actually hate, so I find that somehow pleasing. I also find Ruth Jones both entertaining and very easy on the eye, so it's nice to discover that I have a whole five series of this thing to get through. Some of them get a bit drippy in places, and I could do without the turdy indie music, but otherwise it's mostly watchable.

Surf-Twat Disappoints Girlfriend's Father - Teenage girl brings digeridoo-playing knob-end back from a festival and her father accurately identifies him as a digeridoo-playing knob-end, with hilarious consequences, or probably just consequences. I think the father was Martin Clunes, but I don't remember what the show was called and there's no way of finding out. Perhaps we will never know.

Wrong Mans, The - This one featured James Cordon and some dude resembling Silvio's right-hand man from Lilyhammer, which was actually why I watched it - because I thought it was him, the ferrety looking chap with the baseball cap and the bumfluff. Anyway the two of them endure a series of improbable scrapes and chuckles derived from having been mistaken for other people. I've never hated James Cordon with quite the same venom as almost everyone else I know, although he can occasionally be irritating, but I thought he was okay in this. It was fairly funny, although the second series was stretching it a bit. It's hardly the greatest show ever broadcast, but it could have been worse, and Alison Steadman's always good.

*: I did and it was horrible.