Sunday, April 29, 2007

sleb sunday

Sitting with my celebrity friend who shall remain nameless for the moment, I was intrigued to see her wave to the slightly grubby looking driver of an even grubbier white(ish) van from our vantage point outside Cafe Rouge on Hampstead High St.
Hampstead High St is generally the runway for new ferraris and porsches, not grubby white vans. But she smiled and waved and he waved back, mouthing the words "have a nice day off".. Who's that? I says, "A pap" she says, with a rictus grin spread over her face now. "I have to be nice to them" "If I'm not it's me that pays". The van drove off and she pointed to his rear window, which had a black drape where one of the panes of glass should be. "That's where he stakes out houses and shoots when you come out" she said, speaking from experience. "How do you know him, and why do you speak to him?" It was an obvious question, I know, but I'm not that good at celebrities.
"Well they do you a kind of service by keeping you in the public eye. It's just that they're shits."

Now, I'm not going to go all soft and soppy, feeling sorry for slebs in their permanent war with the paparazzi, Hugh Grant and his baked beans are perfectly capable of looking after themelves, but my friend has had more than her fair share of doorstep vigils, kiss and tell exposes from ex partners, and described what it was like to be stalked. "The first time you're driving home in the dark, and you see a car following you, you can't help but be scared. But you get to know them, you smile and be nice, even if you're pissed, in a flaming temper, and just had a row."

"There was one, though" she says, "I'd never seen him before, he followed me home in the middle of the night from a party, I didn't recognise the car or anything and outside my house he parked and crossed the road towards me, half running. He had something in his jacket (presumeably a camera) and I was spooked. So as he came towards me, I ran at him, lamped him, and knocked him to the ground. I kicked him a few times and screamed at the top of my voice that I was being attacked and raped, and I just kept kicking him, really hard. I laid in to him and he must have been really shocked. I just kept kicking him, right back across the road. He couldn't even get a picture. He just managed to get back on his feet and ran off, limping and moaning. I tried to jump on his back and whacked him over the head as he got back in his car. I think I even kicked his car as he drove off. Never saw him again"

Slebs 1. Paps 0.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Is there anything else I can help you with today?

I was once standing in a small, godforsaken hellhole of a town on the phone to the carhire company whose local office had closed early, and where I was supposed to be picking up the hire car, having been dropped off from the weekly bloody stagecoach, and the woman in the call centre in Dallas or somewhere thousands of miles away, having listened to me patiently, argued with me, felt my pain, but yes, was going to leave me stranded without a car, ended the conversation with the words "Is there anything else I can help you with today?"

When my bank callcentre, in India, was explaining to me, at a payphone in the Mojave Desert, that yes, they were having software problems with their pin number technology, but that they were willing to cancel my card there and then so that when I got home three weeks later there would be a nice shiny new card waiting for me, in the meantime I was to use, um, water presumeably, or sand, to survive on I found myself shouting down the phone "Don't you dare cancel my card!" at a level of decibels that could be heard in Mumbai without the use of said payphone.

As Henry Miller once said "Call Centres. Fuck 'em" and I wholeheartedly agree.

"Hello, yes, I've been waiting and paying for this call for fifteen minutes, yes fifteen minutes, yes thankyou for your apology and yes you can help me with the water main repair people you said were coming at 8am to coincide with the gas main people but the reason I'm calling you back yet again, and yes I know you have no record whatsoever of my previous ten calls, is that the gas people have finished over an hour ago and are now, as required in their job description, going to fill in the hole and then probably your people are going to turn up and dig it all up again. Yes thankyou, that's what the other ten people said, but is there no way at all, and I know you think I'm a complete stranger, no way at all of just, you know, speeding this up a little?" And yes I will give you all my details again despite having punched them into the keypad several minutes ago while I was waiting on you to pick up the phone.

"Hello? Yes I just thought I'd let you know that an hour after the gas people left here, having filled in the hole and repaved it perfectly, your people have now turned up and are digging up the self same hole again and apparently I have to call the Gas callcentre to get their people back again pronto in case of emergency. What's that? You want my name and ....."

Have you ever been in a call centre? They're fascinating, if you regard living nightmares of interest. Bleary eyed teams grouped around desks in a grey warehouse with bright names in bright colours to identify where they are on the floorplan, and allow them to find their way back from the toilet in the dark, above them LED displays with the number of calls waiting, their priority, signs like "Terminating Account" which have to be answered pronto, or "Just Wants a Moan" where you hang on forever. The ColdCall Centres are different, and I don't mean the ones in Aberdeen, the ones where they call you to sell you telecoms generally and are usually calling from India, they have a system whereby as soon as an employee puts the phone down (ie his 999th client has just hung up and told him to fuck off) your number rings and when you answer they start talking as if they know you (your name is flashed up on his screen). The super sophisticated call centres are even more different, they're not even call centres, just people in their own homes attached to the telephone on a digital exchange which calls them when you're calling to sort a problem.

Because that's the only reason you call. To sort a problem. Fix something. Not call for a bloody chat, or an argument, but to get something done. And that's where I start to lose it, because the whole point of call centres is to put a barrier between you and the people who are going to solve the problem. That's what call centres are for. They can only ever pass on your request/complaint/rant(unlikely)/constructive comments. They are not there to resolve the issue. Somebody else does that. They just take your call.

When it goes wrong, and you have to call back again, insert your details again, tell the operator those same details again, start all over, with the same story, exactly the same story, but with just a little higher level of frustration in your voice, don't expect anything to happen. Don't bother to say "please note this down for future reference" because they won't.

Now, is there anything else I can do for you today?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Happy Birthday Jack

So Jack Nicholson is 70. Wow. He's the daddy, an absolute hero in just about every respect, a man of devillish performances both on and off screen. His characters have touched me many times and once, I nearly touched him.

When he was doing Batman, which was filmed in England, a large part was shot in the St Pancras Hotel, now being refurbed as urban lofts to adjoin the new Eurostar terminal. He stole the film as The Joker and one day was swanking about the set, smiling and looking for fun. He wandered into the extras room, where the guys who earn downwards of $100 a day were playing cards. Jack swaggered in, his broad grin fixed in place, and flopped down onto one of the chairs.

As he swung his legs up onto the desk and crossed them, talking to no-one in particular but addressing the entire room, he attempted a little camaraderie.
"Ah well" he began, "Another day. Another Fifty thousand dollars".

He was wearing The Joker's costume - a double breasted purply lilac number - which was knocked up for the wardrobe department by the late great Tommy Nutter, Savile Row's rock and roll tailor who at the time was also kitting me out in more sober attire. As an act of generosity Tommy let me touch the suit one day. Thankfully Mr Nicholson wasn't wearing it at the time, otherwise life might have suddenly taken a very different course, but as a piece of fandom it always struck me as worthwhile. Although having seen him a couple of times in Los Angeles restaurants since I've never felt the need to go up and say "Hey Jack! I touched your pants one day!" Doesn't quite do it for me that line.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

going crazy over matt damon

What's wrong with going crazy over Matt Damon? He's a brilliant actor, he's very handsome, he's in town! He's outside my front door! He's acting!
Anyway, it wasn't me who went crazy, it was my Heat-reading daughter, normally quite cool in the presence of slebs. .....

I don't know about you but I LURVED the Bourne Identity and LURVED even more the Bourne Supremacy and not only raced to see each one on release but have now watched them at least four times on TV. Matt Damon is totally cool in them , like a blank canvas waiting to be filled. Ten out of ten for casting. No side, brilliant peformance, great storyline to follow.
Getting Paul Greengrass to direct the second, and now the third, was a masterstroke. What was cinema missing? The touch of a rough, tough ex World in Action Current Affairs man who can tell a big story. Film meets Docs.

The Bourne Ultimatum is number three and they've been filming it in London for the past wee while which I discovered t'other day when I virtually fell over Matt Damon who was standing in the middle of this vast crew doing what actors do for most of their lives. Standing listening to his director, Paul Greengrass on this occasion. Then he stood on his own, waiting, then did some standing with some other standing waiting people. He looks like, well, Matt Damon, except smaller, so I got closer, like some weird stalker person and next thing you know, all the standing waiting people beside me all begin to move. They're extras and there's a column of people with photo ID's around their necks, ushering us into a line to walk past Matt Damon while he still stands, waiting, although actually he's now whispering to some other actor. He's acting! They're doing a take! So I too walk past him in line and resist the temptation to (a) touch him, (b) say hi and how I loved his work (c) whip out the old camerphone for a bit of User Generated Content as its now called. I just walk past, like a proper professional actor. Then I stand in the queue and wait to walk past again, which I do, this time with the back of my head to the cameras (you'll recognise me) but notice that all the other people are dressed in winter coats, scarves and hats, despite the heat. Oh, it's meant to be winter. I try to look cold but fear it's too late. I can hear the editor now: "Who's THAT not looking cold? Get him onto the cutting room floor now!" thus strangling the Nationwide/Matt Damon partnership at birth. And also possibly getting the Extras Agency fired for sending along a bloke not in winter clothing. Very Ricky Gervais

Anyway I took a snap on the phone, rather a good one as it happens, and tried to send it to the teenage daughter since she's the one who meets all the slebs these days. Didn't send but when I told her she got all animated, demanding that I send it again by any means possible. Turns out that if you send your mobile phone snaps of slebs into Heat magazine you can get £200 which she kindly offered to go 50/50 with me since, as she quickly put it "If it wasn't for me you wouldn't know about this deal" revealing a hitherto unknown side for business acumen. Not sure which parental gene is responsible for this but suspect me rather than saintly mother. So we negotiate and I beat her down to 80/20 which is fine until she reveals that she doesn't do percentages and didn't understand the change, thus starting all over again, using the word "daddy" this time so suspect haggling/dealmaking is influenced by mother's famous ability to get way.

Try to send picture again. Fail. Daughter sighing at other end of phone, disbelieving that someone, a relative even, could be so dumb as to not be able to send pictures of slebs by phone. Calls and tells me what buttons to press. Fail again.
Try second tactic, using bluetooth to send to pal D's phone, who's sitting beside me in media hangout with his teenage nephew, and manage that but then he can't send it either. Teenage nephew laughs at Uncle Inept, and Uncle Inept's Inepter friend. Try other people's phones since mobile has now connected with 27 other active bluetooth devices in bar. Daughter getting frantic, having clearly already called her pals and mentally spent £200 on clothes (forgetting my share, natch).

And so we continue into the night, pressing the send button, learning a little more about technology as we go, learning even more about daughter's propensity for saying "jeez" and forgetting momentarily that I could have been the new Ben Affleck.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

stinky ski-ing in hokkaido

You can probably ski. I can't, but who cares? It's nearly summer and by the time global warming is done with you, you'll be too tanned, hiding from the storms to scared to care . The first time I ever set off down the snowy slopes , (this is leaving aside the tin trays and bikes of my youth, I was Snowploughing!) I crashed into a fellow Scout who had just broken his leg and was inconveniently lying motionless and in my way. I had to walk off the hill carrying both his sticks and skis and mine as penance while he, the lucky bastard, was carried off pretending to be in pain. As I stumbled down the hill trying to control an impossible array of unruly lengths of wood, he even had the temerity to scream. Trying to impress the girls no doubt. I was even made to visit him for several weeks after, while he skived off school with a large plastered legcast which all the girls seemed to sign when I wasn't there.

I always thought ski-ing was about freezing your nuts off, being permanently wet, sniffling and sipping hot toddies every night to ward off the world's worst chill. This is because I learnt at Aviemore and Glenshee in Scotland, the winterperson's winterplace. I'm not saying it wasn't fun, it certainly was at the time, how we laughed at the permanent closure of the road connecting Cockbridge to Tomintoul, but some years later it came as something of a surprise to discover that you could ski in sunshine, surrounded by elegant smiling people who appeared to be wearing teeshirts rather than cagoules, with suntans rather than pinched, cold, wet blue noses (and I don't mean that in a religious way). From the Alps to the Rockies: warmth, comfort, and apres ski which didn't involve sprinting through cold, freezing rain.

But a little hardship does you good, so the frozen cold of Hokkaido in Northern Japan wasn't too daunting, I just didn't expect to stink so much.....

Before he died at the tender age of 101 Keizo Muira owned the Muira Ski School at Teine, outside Sapporo City in Hokkaido which was where I met him, flying down the hill at speed, looking for all the world like a man half his age. British centenerians generally explain that they have reached the Queens telegram with a diet of fried lard, 100 fags a day and a port and lemon for breakfast. Mr Muira, made of slightly sterner stuff enjoyed, among other things, brown rice. I think he ran the place since the Olympics were held there thirty odd years previously but the last I heard, after he'd ski-d down Mont Blanc at 99, he was celebrating his 100th by ski-ing down someplace in Utah. Gawd rest 'is soul, 'e was as fine a specimen of the species as you're ever likely to meet. Although to be honest, brown rice makes me puke.

I look back on my time in Hokkaido with a sense of wonder. Yes, we were there for the ice and snow sculpture show where the army press together many tons of hard packed white stuff to fashion life size jumbo jets and mickey mouse sculptures which the Japanese have loved for many centuries, and yes we toured the Sapporo Beer brewery in the freezing cold, determined to drink ourselves stupid in the alloted time you're given for "unlimited beer". And yes, we went for dinner one night to the Genghis Khan, a bar-b-q hall where lamb is cooked (by you) on top of moon shaped griddles at your table. The meat doesn't stick because you spoon the fat over the top, creating palls of smoke and acrid smells. Fine, who cares, ain't ya been to a barb-b-q before? Yes, I have, but not one where you check your coat in and rather than hang it up they put it inside a plastic bag and hand it back to you. It's the smell of the cooking you see. Repulsive. Lasts for days. (But at least your coat escapes). At the karaoke bar that night we were given the special corner table, well away from the hoi polloi, some of whom even moved further away in deference to the arrival of some elegant and finely turned out strangers.

The most beautiful thing I have seen in Japan, and that's saying something in a country of such intense beauty, was in Hokkaido. At a crossroads, where the snow had been ploughed aside to clear the sidewalk, each of the four corners was marked by a clear ice bollard, about three feet high. Inside each bollard was a fish, frozen as if swimming in midstream. (you can imagine, the Japanese being so up on animal and fish rights they no doubt gave Goldie a painless death. Yeah, right) Each fish was different (well obviously) and each, in the crystal clear ice, shimmered in the morning sun.

It was so beautiful I think I dreamt it. .

Rocky YouTube rocks

I like YouTube as much as anyone, and ever since I saw OK GO perform their one take video in the gym, my life has been enhanced immeasureably. In fact I love YouTube. You can find anything there. I found Rocky, a redundant old movie franchise which was recently resurrected to provide a pension for all concerned, especially Sly Stallone. Not only did the movie have healthy takings but the trailer - the trailer for God's sake! - actually became the world's most popular video thanks to You Tube! Well I never, I thought to myself. ......

I was faffing around on YouTube one day watching cute animals one minute and odd Japanese anime the next, when I noticed the most unusual activity on "popular videos". Lots of posters were saying things like "Yo, Go Rocky!" and "Rocky Rules OK" and stuff that just went on and on and on and on. Loads of them. Not a few dozen, but hundreds, and then the more I watched, thousands. And then over a period of 24 hours hundreds of thousands! A gazillion Rocky fans suddenly all come together on YouTube to declare their love for Rocky and make an old man's life complete. A declaration of love! We haven't seen you for years, Rocky, but we all love you! And despite the fact that YouTube is populated by the demographic that advertisers for such movies are desperately trying to capture, (teenagers) we, the true fans of Rocky, who are probably all about mid thirties to early fifties, have all just suddenly decided that we are going to sign up to this YouTube thing and declare our love for Rocky. We're gonna say things like "Go Rocky!" and "Rocky Go!" so many times it will make your eyes and ears bleed! It will be a declaration of love. For Sly. And Rocky.

And by coincidence, this almighty mass declaration of love, sudden and spontaneous that it is, will also have the result of making a mundane trailer for a mundane MGM film the number one video in the world for two days, thus securing a prominent place in the minds of teens worldwide just a week before the movie opens. A movie that probably most of them had never even heard of before, never mind been to see.

All thanks to a million genuine Rocky fans who suddenly decided to come together on YouTube to declare their love for Rocky in a spontaneous manner which had nothing to do with MGM's publicity department.

I love You Tube. A little.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

People Who Love Me (1)

My mobile phone company loves me. They tell me they love me. They send me things. They give me money. With my new shiny phone they gave me a whole new website, which is mine to use as I choose. They send me cards, which always begin with phrases like, "as a valued customer..." or "Dear nationwide, we really really love you a lot. More than you can possibly imagine**...." They sent me a series of texts yesterday, because I'm such a valued customer, asking me what I thought of them. They value my opinion. They wanted to know what I thought of the phone call I'd made to them the previous day. I felt wanted, so I told them....

First they asked if I'd recommend them to any friends, on a scale of zero to ten where 0 is bad and 10 is good. I said the chances of me recommending them to anyone alive on this planet were, oh, about minus 10,000 million. I couldn't really be bothered thinking up a lower number.

Then they asked me if I'd called "about this issue" before. I said that yes I had. Every time they cut me off without any warning - about once a month for the past six months, despite bein a customer for years now - I'd called. The calls generally take about half an hour. Ten minutes to get past the automated menu, where I have to key in a variety of numbers and information, then to the first operative to whom I have to give exactly the same information otherwise he or she won't speak to me, and then generally to a second operative to whom I have to give exactly the same information again before we can speak.Never a good start I'd say. They used to have a number you could call and get straight through, get a person who knew who you were, and talk. I think it was called "The Valued Customer Line" or something like that.

Then they asked me if my "query was resolved" this time. I said no, because it didn't seem to matter how many times I asked them to send me my bill, whereupon I could see it and then pay it, they never seemed to know what the problem was, but generally guessed that it was my fault. I explained that since I'd given up on their stupid computerised system which generally blocked access to read my own bill, and therefore resulted in me having to pay before reading it all I had asked they do was post the bill each month which they seem utterly incapable of doing. I didn't have the space on a text message to explain what I thought about the staff I'd spoken to, who couldn't give a shit where I'm standing when my phone gets cut off randomly, but then I didn't want to get all nasty with such a neat questionnaire from a company that loves me.

Then finally they asked me to rate my adviser in terms of expertise and knowledge. Of what? I thought for a moment. In how to wind people up mercilessly? In how to destroy customer relations with a tone of voice that says "I hate you too"? With an attitude that I could smell?
I tried to imagine the lowest number in the universe, then I multiplied it by the biggest number I could think of until my brain hurt. Then I just hung up and didn't bother texting. If they really, really do love me, they'll call me back.

** I made that bit up. They don't really love me at all, they only want me for my money.


The most overused phrase in the universe, well my universe actually, is "you'll never believe who I met last night!" which invariably turns out to be someone I once worked with who nobody else cares about. But sometimes not.

Now, Borough Market in London is superior to Portobello Road in a number of ways. It has more stalls selling Comte Cheese, Organic Sausage and Oysters, (which all cost a fortune), plus a handy old roof. But being just south of London Bridge, in other words miles away, I rarely go since I can spend my time in the Notting Hill market, buying metal scoops of fruit and veg for a quid (these used to be a bargain, but are now a brilliant way of not weighing anything) and too many of those delicious Portuguese custard tarts from Lisboa. What would be the point of hanging around with tourists gawping at Southwark Cathedral or The Clink? (And Vinopolis - what was that meant to be?)

However, it's so SuperCoolTrendy that on Day One of Spring you can lunch outside in any one of a dozen SuperCoolTrendy eateries, munching your way through rabbit food, tapas or more carniverous fare, while thanking the Lord that someone else is paying, (because you know what the bill's going to be). Menu stuff is "meat on a plank 19" which is a big flabby steak for nearly twenty quid. And if you overstay your welcome, stay all day, and stick to the House Red or White, (it ceases to matter after 4pm, especially if swallowing by the gallon) you won't get hangovermixusdrinksups.

Although I have to say that a little later, say 6pm, when you've found yourself in some adjacent former market trader's pub, you'll be valiantly ordering beer for your friends. You have to order because they can't. Any kind of beer. Just beer. In a glass. Yeah, that one. Brilliant. Cause frankly you can't take another drop of that stupid wine because your mouth is so puckered it's like a small cat's arse, inside and out.

And the people who've just popped in for a quick one after work have been in the office all day and do want to know where you lot have been as they try not to eye the semi-comatose colleague in the corner. But one of them is talking to you as if you've just left your office too - great! she doesn't know you're three sheets - so one politely asks which part of England one's from because one can't quite place the dialect under the RP.
"Frankfurt" she says - Jeeze - she's German and speaks perfect English and - bloody hell - where'd you learn English that fuggin good?

"Glasgow" she says, and you laugh out loud because - bugger me - this perfectly spoken German woman then describes every haunt, street, club, and dive in your favourite city and, what with her being German, and you not, and you feeling, well, a little woozy shall we say, although compared to your compatriots, one of whom appears to be still asleep, you're SCS (stone cold sober) this is very funny. And she can do a mean Scottish accent. Not one of those Krankie ones but a proper grown up growly one. Impressive, no? Buy her a drink too!

And the conversation wanders and meanders until we get to Shanghai, as you do, and she's not only been there, done that, got the tee, she's only visited the exact part of Shanghai you know (outside the centre) and - wait for it - been to exactly the same toilet as you, the very one you've dined out on for ages, the communal trench in the floor, on the 4th storey of the residential block, where men have to park their arses sideways and women squat legs akimbo above a dry, undrained, stinking to high heaven, filthiest in the world, most unhygenic ever, dumpathon of human excrement which a bloke has to shovel up and cart away every few weeks. The exact same one. And she too can demonstrate how to "go" in that isolated but communal Shanghai bog, to the fascination of all, even although it never was an especially funny subject before. Even Mr Asleep stirs to laugh/snuffle/sneeze . Glasgow to Shanghai in one go - shit! (literally)
So, do you know who I met last night? Do you?

No. Neither do I. I forgot to ask her name.