Friday, 7 November 2008

Me And Joss

It's been a while so let me tell you where my inspiration to return to my blog comes from.

On an otherwise idle Friday night I was flicking through the TV channels when I came across one of those appalling list shows on BBC Three. In case anyone has had the good fortune to avoid these abberations of TV slot-filling slop let me elaborate. These shows feature minor celebrities, such as former Steps band members and no-mark comedians, desperate to get their mugs on the box commenting on all manner of things which have made the so-called Top 50 or 100 in their field as compiled by God Knows Who.

Tonight's subject matter was annoying songs. Mercifully I only caught the top 8, but became inspired and irritated in equal measure when the realisation hit me that I LIKE AT LEAST 6 of the top 8 alleged most annoying songs of all time. To give you an idea of the absurdity of the list, it featured Robbie Williams' 'Angels.' I have yet to meet anyone who does not like 'Angels', save for a few lifeless nihilists determined not to approve of anything from the pen and voice of a self-important coke-head sex pest from Stoke-On-Trent. No, not Phil Taylor, the other one.

All of which house-rounding ramblings brings me to my central point. There are, it seems, a whole society of people out there who want you to feel bad about what you like because it does not tally with their idea of 'cool'. I realise that this is all terribly stuffy of me but I'm no longer prepared to feel shame for my musical tastes. Especially since it is shame which is foisted upon me by the sort of Dickwads who downloaded the Crazy Frog's version of Axl F because some gobshite DJ somewhere gave it the seal of 'coolness'.

And so to the Joss of the title of this piece. Joss Stone. Five years ago Joss Stone was hailed by the Fascists Of Cool (FOC's) as the greatest soul singer of a generation. Comparisons with the great Aretha Franklin (what's that? You prefer Rihanna?) came easily as the then teenage star sold copies of her debut album at a rate normally reserved for Mr McDonald and his hugely over-rated hamburgers. Yet the acclaim didn't last, until now we have reached the point where Joss is little short of a pariah in the country of her birth. Her music is now described using quite meaningless words like 'cheesy', and is generally derided by all.

So what makes Joss a target for the FOC's? Apparently it is her accent. Despite her freakishly impressive voice, seemingly limitless talent and simply awesome beauty she is disliked in the UK because she has a rather confused Transatlantic accent. Now I am as firm a believer in keeping hold of one's original accent as the next FOC, but to disown the UK's brightest and most stunningly gorgeous musical talent that I know of is perhaps going too far. Could someone tell me why it is that the similarly afflicted Mark Ronson, a man who has never even attempted to sing a song much less inspire comparisons with soul legends, gets away with his muddled accent?

I fear for Mr Ronson. His time will come. Two, three or maybe four years down the line he is set to be vilified for almost everything he does by the FOC's. Consequently, his current fan base will suffer the awful indignity of having to feel feintly embarrassed that they ever listened to Amy Winhouse's version of 'Valerie'. It is a fate which has befallen not only Joss, but also James Blunt, Daniel Powter, Daniel Bedingfield and Dido to name but a few.

At times Joss does not help herself. Getting out of her face at the Brit Awards before presenting an award was perhaps a less than intellectual decision, while her rendition of God Save The Queen at the recent NFL Wembley clash between the San Diego Chargers and the New Orleans Saints served only to support the argument that she has been Americanised beyond all recognition. Yet none of this should detract from the fact that she IS the best soul singer of her generation. While no-talents like Rihanna continue to enjoy the plaudits despite destroying the concept of soul and R'n'B with their generic, listless wailing, the real gems like Joss are lost to an ignorant public desperate for style over substance.

But do you know what? Having said all of this I am glad. I don't want everyone else to suddenly decide that Joss is the best thing since chocolate. If there is one thing I detest more than the philistines it is bandwagon jumpers, always waiting to express their admiration once the media, press and 'in-crowd' (whoever the fuck they are) decide that it is acceptable to do so. If Joss's album sales in the UK were to truly reflect her brilliance then it would paradoxically indicate that she had gone downhill. Britain's Got Talent, but to celebrate it would be one of the most Un-British acts imaginable. It's little wonder that Joss might consider her British-ness to be something of a negative.

Besides, being the only one who really 'Gets It' has a satisfaction all of it's own. It gives one a sense of originality, and makes it a Hell of a lot easier to get concert tickets too.

Which is good news for any Mark Ronson fans willing to stick by him when the FOC shit hits the fans.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Tales From A Bank Holiday Weekend

The Idiot Nation

On Thursday morning my girlfriend and I made the innocent mistake of trying to park the car in town.

More specifically we were trying to park in the disabled bays in between Tesco and Wetherspoons. The latter does a top fry-up until 12 noon. The problem was that there wasn't much space. It's unlikely that everyone was desperate to get to Wetherspoons for their egg, beans and sausage but whatever their business they were in town in their droves.

There were two cars on the road in front of us. The drivers of both could not find a space, so instead of driving through the one way system and going to look for another place to park they chose to sit in the middle of the road and wait. This left us with nowhere to go, and no choice but to become part of the problem by waiting in behind. Finally the dynamic duo in front gave up and we drove around teh one way system and started to look elsewhere.

Except that when we were on our way back in the other direction we noticed that a woman was arriving back at her car with some shopping;

"I'm not going." she said more than once. Almost triumphantly, as if she had taken some sort of sick pleasure in denying the genuinely disabled a parking space and what is more, extra eggs and tea and toast. Ok, so she's not going, but there was space between her car and the one directly in front, so I asked if she wouldn't mind moving forward to allow us to get in behind her;

"Ok love." she replied politely, having had her fun and at last seeming in co-operative mood. So what does she do? She moves BACKWARDS away from the car in front, so that instead of parking easily in behind we had to reverse park in between her and the car in front. Sometimes it is just the little things that get you, isn't it?


So Emma and I moved on to Blackpool on Friday night. We'd booked two nights at a place called The Ocean Hotel on the North Shore. On the first of those nights we were in a Wetherspoons (we should probably get some sort of commission) called the Litton Tree minding our own business, just chatting and having a few beverages.

At that point a young man came over and asked (or at least I thought he had) whether or not he could borrow a chair that was sitting unused at our table. Of course I agreed, only to find that in his own drunken and language-defying way he had actually asked if he could join us. We spent the next 30 minutes finding out that;

His name was Paul.
He was in the Army.
He was SAS, in fact.
He was hopeful of making MI5.
Potential MI5 candidates think wheelchair users don't have sex.
He could easily get away with shooting Gary Glitter and was considering it.
His mate used to be a good lad until he lost his legs.
There will be a World War within the next 10 years, and it will be caused by the Russians.

We made our excuses and left.

Soul Suite

If ever you find yourself on a night out in Blackpool then I heartily recommend you visit Soul Suite. It's a bar in the town centre which plays all the best Mowtown, soul and proper R & B music (in other words not Rihanna). Not only does this sort of music make for a better night out in my view, but it also means that you get less of the under-18 population in there. The media has succeeded in persuading young people that soul music is less cool than Gordon Brown, which is just fine as it leaves us oldies to enjoy a bit of quality in an atmosphere that does not resemble a Brewsters Fayre ball pool.


A place in Blackpool I would discourage you from visiting is The Counting House. In fact, I haven't been to the one in St.Helens yet but after the weekend's experience I don't think I'll bother. Emma and I had been there for a meal on Friday afternoon, and they had been quite happy to benefit from our custom, only to refuse Emma service on Saturday night. She was asked for ID.

Now, unless the laws of the land have changed you have to be 18 to legally buy alcohol in a public house. Emma will be 29 a week on Friday, yet was still suspected of being 17 by what she claims was the very same girl who had served her the previous day. When she was around 20, she was asked to prove that she was over 16 when she went to pay for my petrol at a station in Barnsley. If they genuinely believed that she was under 16 then I am worried about what that says about me and my sexual habits.

Good job I didn't tell Paul the SAS man that story.

Monday, 18 August 2008

The Do Experience

There's been a lot of this about recently.

Last Saturday I attended my sixth 'do' in the space of three months. By 'do', I mean a party organised by a family member or friend to celebrate whatever happened to be worth celebrating that week. Prior to this period (which in my dotage I shall probably look back on as a Golden Age in my social life as I struggle to find the energy and motivation to go out of my front door) I had not been required to attend this type of function in as long as I can remember.

These things are pretty formulaic to begin with, but there is still an unnerving sameness developing in the detail. Arriving between 8.00 and 8.30 in a doomed attempt to be fashionably late, you roll up to the bar and order a half. Or maybe even a soft drink to start with. This is a family do, and you're absolutely not here to get ratted in the manner which you might do if you are suddenly left alone in Wobbley Bobs at 1.30 on a Sunday morning.

But it never lasts. And here's why. Whichever relative you are here to celebrate with has hired the same DJ who banged out the tunes at the last one. Worse still, he's a karaoke DJ. Over the last few years you have developed an unstoppable if slightly turgid taste for karaoke, and I'm not talking about just listening. You're in it. Up for it. A racing certainty to spend at least some part of your evening grasping the mic, belting out tunes for no other reason than because you can do so adequately at best. And because your mum/sister/cousin/friends/cat/debt collector keeps asking you to 'do that song you do'.

Ok. But I'll have to have a few drinks first. So you hurriedly finish your soft drink and set about the task of getting innebriated enough to get up and prove that you have the drunken wrecks factor. And I have it in great big, man-eating, blood curdling, eye-popping spades. I do a pitiful five or six songs in my entire repertoire, but mercifully my tough audience is restricted to only two or three at the most. I'm not the only one lubing themselves up on a mission to inflict their vocal venom on their unsuspecting nearest and dearest. Besides, if I do five or six songs that would be three more than Jason Donovan did when my girlfriend went to see him at Chicago Rock a few years ago. No, I don't know what she was thinking either.

They're all at it anyway. And one or two have a songbook which far outweighs my own and are not afraid to prove it. A considerable number of them are better than me too. Or should that be less crap? Mostly I step aside and let them get on with it until someone asks me to sing. Not through modesty or a misguided notion of dignity, but because I know fine well that a room full of rotten drunk aunties, uncles, cousins and friends are bound to ask me sooner or later. If I wait I can blame it on them, and maybe people won't groan inwardly while thinking 'oh bloody hell, here comes Uncle Frigging Kracker again' when I begin my wankered warble. Some hope.

In between the first alcoholic drink and the wankered warble, there is always at least one instance of meeting someone you don't remember but who knows you by name. In my case, they often seem to know what I have had for breakfast, and could tell you my top ten favourite books, albums and films. This happened to me twice on Saturday and I am still none the wiser about who I was talking to. Grimly I tried to avoid embarrassment by sticking to the three basic principles of surviving this kind of ordeal;

1. Never address the person by name
2. Keep the conversation in the present. Do not try to reminisce in any way.
3. Keep it brief. Any conversation longer than two sentences must be abbreviated by a sudden desire to urinate.

This plan of action avoided what could otherwise have been a hugely embarrassing episode, which you don't need considering that you are already planning to belt out the greatest hits of Ronan Keating and his mates in four lagers' time. In any case, these long-forgotten souls have an unfair advantage. If they are at an Orford/Carey do and they see a bloke in a wheelchair, they are not going to need to be that ginger guy from CSI to confirm my identity. All of which is enough to make me long for the days when I used to drink heavily with other wheelchair using friends while watching the more ignorant members of the St.Helens public try to work out how one wheelchair user could have multiplied into two, three or even four since last Friday night.

In the end what saves family dos from complete carnage is the mercy thrust upon us by the management. Last orders for this one was as early as 11.00, allowing the majority of us to slope away from the older generation without having to be so rude as to leave early. But where do a group of thirtysomething brothers, sisters and cousins head to try to release the strain of having to tone down behaviour slightly for the benefit of the elders?

Well, another karaoke of course.

By Stephen Orford

18 August 2008

Monday, 28 July 2008

The Interview Experience Part 2

As I alluded to last week I had to back to see the NPS (National Probation Service) for a second interview for their clerical officer's job.

The timing of this could have been better. It was the morning of July 24, the very same day I was due to travel up to Gretna for my sister's wedding. With an interview in Waterloo at 9.30am and a desire to get to Gretna before the late afternoon traffic rush I was on a tight schedule. It didn't help then that the interview was scheduled to last 45 minutes, nor that in the event it went on for over an hour.

You could look at the duration of the interview as a positive or a negative. Well you could if you are a glass half empty merchant masquerading as a realist. Which I am. On the one hand you could say that I lasted so long because I gave full and interesting answers to the eight questions I was asked about my previous experience in administration. On the other you could suppose that I am a rambling imbecile and that the interview panel will have gone away from my visit with an aching desire to shove cutlery into their eyeballs.

In an amusing, ironic or even quite unfortunate twist it turns out that the two ladies on the interview panel are people that my other half knows quite well. Rather like my hour-long monologue, I get the feeling that this could go for or against me, depending on the nature of the relationship between all parties. I felt it better not to seek too much information on the subject. As far as I am concerned Jan and Liz remain strangers for now.

Just as an aside Burlington House in Waterloo is one of the hottest places in Europe. For the entirity of my interview I was gasping for liquid, a thirst satisfied only by a small glass of water placed on the table inbetween me and my interrogators. By the time I got out I was in grave danger of spontenously combusting, so spent another ten minutes in the reception area drinking large glasses of water poured from an ice-filled jug that lay on the table.

While there I exchanged pleasantries with the next candidate, a middle-aged, quite posh-looking woman who looked a little less than confident. But they're always the dangerous ones aren't they? 'Don't worry' I said, 'It's easy in there'. What was I talking about? I don't know. I am in no position to suppose that it was 'easy in there' and it would be a poke in the eye for my smugness if I was not selected for a role after all. I was trying to reassure this woman, but who on Earth would do that when in reality she is not a nice, middle-aged, quite posh-looking lady, but rather a rival for a job I am particularly desperate for. My actions defy logic.

Agonisingly, interviews are carrying on all of this week, and so I won't know my fate until August 4. In between times I have discovered that I have an August 11 interview at Liverpool JMU to fall back on, but it is not unrealistic to suppose that my surly mood this Monday has something to do with my impatience on the matter.

Aswell as my post-interview alcoholism at my sister's wedding.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

The Interview Experience

Yesterday I went for an interview for a job with the NPS (National Probation Service). It was the fourth or fifth interview I have had over the last few months, and it might just be that I'm starting to get better at them.

Not to say that I'm going to get the job (though God knows I need to), but if I don't it will be because someone else has come along with bags of experience and who performed well at their interview. It won't be because I buggered it up like it might have been in the past.

Yet the fact remains that no matter how good I get at interviews I will always hate them. They present you with an entirely false situation, and as such are no good indicator whatsoever of whether a person is suitable for a particular job. I was asked four simple questions about the NPS (living with someone already employed there certainly helped), but most of my answers came as a result of a little internet research. As long as it could read and was good with a mouse you could have trained a chimp to learn what I needed to know.

I don't really have any alternatives to the interview process as it stands, but let's kick a few ideas around anyway. Perhaps they could film candidates carrying out tasks related to the job and broadcast it on Channel Four. When everyone's examination has been viewed you could get the moron population who are hooked on reality television to vote for who they think should get the job. Or else they could bring in some Alan Sugar-esque administrative Big Shit to judge the hopefuls on their clerical skills. One by one he could fire those who failed to cut the yellow stuff leaving the remaining, successful candidate to become his administrative apprentice. They could film that aswell. The idiot masses would be glued to it.

There was a practical side to all of this. I was asked to complete a short data entry test aswell as a little examination of my copy-typing skills. If I fail that I'm in serious trouble. I didn't go to University for three years to get a degree in journalism to fail a tin-pot copy-typing test. The copy was littered with mistakes which the sub-editor in me felt compelled to correct. Now I'm worried that they'll penalise me for not typing the thing out exactly as it was on the paper. Still, if they want a workforce who dutifully copy everything robotically regardless of whether it is grammatically accurate then I guess it is not the job for me.

All of this was done using a headset for instructions. That was the best bit about it. At the end I thought for a second of emulating Ron Atkinson, roughly removing my headphones at the end of the task and chucking them haughtily at the nearest cameraman. We're on Channel Four or BBC2, remember? By the time I post this blog I might actually find out whether I have got through to stage two of the interview process. That's a 45-minute interview aimed at finding out how I would deal with specific scenarios. Badly, I hear you cry.

On the way home I saw a transsexual on the train. Wearing a short skirt, covered in fake tan and enough make-up to transform Anne Widdecombe into Helen of Troy, she(he?) was nevertheless clearly an ex-man. With a voice as deep as the Indian Ocean and clearly visible facial hair, I was left feeling sympathy with her for the botch-up of her surgical transformation. It was about as convincing as Hugh Laurie's American accent.

You hear so many stories about men incandescent with rage having been fooled by sexual partners who turn out to be not quite what they seem. No danger of that with this one. If the voice or the beard didn't give her away, then surely the Adam's Apple would. Of course, I say this having crossed her path in a state of sobriety. Had I been plied with lager at the time I might have taken a different view.

Time to get the drinks in.

Friday, 11 July 2008

My name is Stephen and I am a social networker

My name is Stephen and I am a social networker. There, I've admitted it so I am half way there.

It seems that nowadays you're nobody if you're not social networking. Everyone's at it, and what's more we are doing it with people with whom we have the most tenuous connections. All of which makes it sound like some kind of sordid method of experiencing casual encounters. The only difference is that nobody out there seems to mind who they encounter, nor even which gender they pick up.

Collecting Facebook or Myspace contacts is the modern equivalent of going everywhere with a pencil and a little black book, and asking everyone you see to volunteer their telephone number. It's impossibly intrusive, yet I have come across very few people who have been unwilling to add me to their list of 'friends'. Except they're not friends. Not really. I have a ludicrous 136 people on my list of friends. Of those I interact regularly with around eight, and have had one or two conversations with two or three more. That leaves around 125 people lurking on my friends list with whom I have had no online interaction. I can foresee precious little prospect of that changing in the near future.

So who are these nameless, increasingly faceless majority? Some are old friends from my student and school days (they are the ones I keep in touch with the most), others are people I have met down the pub. Indeed, I speak to these people far more often in the more civilised environment of the local battle cruiser than I do online. Yet more are people I met while playing basketball (something I no longer do at present). As for the rest, the awful truth is that they are just friends of friends of friends of friends. People I might speak to if I were to cross their path, but whom equally there is every chance of never laying eyes on again.

The depth of pointlessness of Facebook goes further still. Some of my contacts are family and my closest friends. People I have absolutely no need to speak to via the gift of technology when I could just as easily pick up the phone or pop round for a brew. To illustrate the point, the woman with whom I share my home is another of my Facebook friends. Absurd.

Absurd, yes, but far from the most absurd facet of social networking. Thankfully I am yet to be caught in it's grip but there are plenty of people out there (and you know who you are) who indulge in the practise of sending virtual items to their online chums. Fancy a pint? Don't be going down the local in the pissing rain, just whack over a virtual beverage to Dave from down the road. Before you know it he will have returned the favour and sent that same pint to at least 243 people that he never actually speaks to either. I wouldn't want to be left to wash that glass.

Yet for all it's peculiarities Facebook is strangely addictive. Despite myself, I log on at least two or three times a day to find out who has joined the latest 'group' (a collection of individuals who have something in common, for example loathing Cristiano Ronaldo or loving pies) to which I belong. From these groups my list of friends only ever seems to expand, as I trawl through needlessly to add yet more people I will never speak to online.

I'm also incredibly keen to see who is online when I am, or whether anyone has placed a message in my inbox. Then there is something called a Funwall, on which people write the same things over and over, or place the same hardly amusing videos or smug mottos which they have found on the back of a fag packet. Funwalls are nothing but a breeding ground for wannabe Oscar Wildes, or a playground for lazy bog humour or low quality pornography. And yet a day hasn't gone by for weeks without a thorough inspection of my Funwall. It's become a bit like picking my nose. It's a disgusting, pointless habit which benefits nobody but somehow I find myself unable to stop at times when otherwise boredom may set in.

I'm constantly being warned that Facebook may have to shut down owing to some legal wrangle or other. Every time I read the warning I shudder slightly, terrified of losing my futile network of anonymous online comrades. And then I'm reliably informed that people are always scaremongering about the prospect of the site's closure. At which point I breathe again safe in the knowledge that I will still be able to find out who is Hot or Not, who owns me (you what?), or who wrote what on which wall.

My name is Stephen and I am a social networker.

Stalked By The Overly Helpful

I shouldn't really be doing this. I'm 32 years old. Conventional wisdom suggests that I should already have a steady job, be married with two children, own a Vauxhall Vectra and a St.Bernard called Cunningham. But I'm not and I don't.

I don't want to make excuses for not conforming to society's tedious values. But I will. The trouble is that when you have a disability, and are therefore entitled to Disability Living Allowance and Income Support, there is precious little incentive to go out to work. It was only when I moved in with my other half, thus losing my entitlement to Income Support that I decided that I really needed to get out among the workforce. Actually, she might have had some input in that decision if I'm recalling it correctly.

It's not all that easy to get a job when you are in your early thirties and have precious little experience in the workplace. That's why I took a 12-month contract at Liverpool Community College. They hinted at interview that they would probably take me on permanently but that turned out to be something of a smoking gun. Despite the fact that the HR department is desperate for someone to do my job, I find myself on the scrapheap once more. Shoving a further turd up my drainpipe is the fact that I am not entitled to Jobseekers Allowance because I have only worked for one year, rather than the two you need to have been paying National Insurance contributions. It's enough to make a bloke vote Lib-Dem. Nearly.

So anyway I've been updating my CV. I got a call from a Scottish man called Russ (or Ross) asking me to visit Starting Point to carry out this update. Why? Why can I not just update my own CV? Why do they have to continue to poke their noses in? Dutifully I turned up and met Sarah, an incredibly helpful woman but who nevertheless made a contribution which was quite unnecessary. She asked all of the usual questions; Are you looking here? (I was looking at her cleavage actually) Have you tried there? What about this? What about that?

What about it? I learned more about how to go about getting a job in 12 months in HR than I would do if I spent every waking hour for the rest of my life at Starting Point. They're just that, a Starting Point, so why do they insist on staying so closely in touch? They're like a holiday romance that has suddenly turned a bit sinister. By Christmas they will no doubt develop slightly psychotic tendencies. I'm relieved that I don't have a rabbit for them to boil.

The best thing about finally getting a permanent job (I have an interview next week) will not be the money, nor the opportunity to get away from this keyboard or daytime television. It will be the fact that I will be able to email Russ (or Ross) or Sarah and tell them that I won't be needing their input any more. Or their cleavage.