Friday, January 28, 2005

go go gadget heart

I love gadgets. There's nothing like a gadget to inspire you to do something.

Every couple of years work gives me a health check... a sort of MOT where they check your blood, hearing, eyesight, breathing and, if you're lucky stick their hands up your bum whilst wearing marigolds. Well mine is due in a few months and if they did it tomorrow it wouldn't look good. I'm so unfit!

So I've decided to do something about it. I've been eating healthily, tons of fruit!! Each lunchtime this week I've taken my life in my hands and completed a brisk 2 mile walk around the scary new town where I work (not been menaced by crack-whores yet... it's only a matter of time). Today, I went for a run. A run!

What's that got to do with gadgets? Well I got myself a heart meter. It's Nike watch that comes with an extra sort of rubber strap with a transmitter in it. You put the strap round your chest and set off running, or cycling or whatever you do. Your watch then records your heartbeat as you exercise and prompts you to exercise harder/slow down, etc. First though you've got to 'train the watch' so that it understands what you're capable of, or not, as the case may be. You do this by setting a programme on the watch which tells you to exercise 'EASY' for five minutes, then do 5 minutes at 'MEDIUM' before 3 minutes 'HARD' and 2 minutes 'COOL DOWN'. It then plots your heartbeat for each of these 'zones' so you can then train in the appropriate zone in the future. Still here?

Well, 'EASY' is meant to be such a comfortable pace that you feel you could easily keep it up for an hour... so I set off for my first 5 minutes at what I felt was a plod. The second 5 minutes, 'MEDIUM' is meant to be at a pace that you could keep up for, say, 20 minutes. By the time I got to this point, I had decided that my 'EASY' pace was probably my 'MEDIUM' pace after all, but nevertheless I stepped up a gear as prompted by my beeping watch. By the time it came to beep me up to 'HARD'; I was seriously uncomfortable, I stepped up the pace again but after a minute of that I was knackered and stopped. I then dawdled home, disgruntled. I took off my watch but kept my strap on for a while.

I might try again tomorrow. Then again, I might drive to the chippy.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

welcome to the beautiful baps north

Someone once coined the perfect collective noun for salesmen… an ejaculate. An ejaculate of salesmen. It’s absolutely ideal. This morning a salesman called Kev came all over (to see) me from ITville UK (Slough). He was all cheese and smarmite. At my request he even brought Alison, the token pneumatic-pin-stripe-trouser-suited-blonde-eye-candy-foxtress-fit-but-my-gosh-don’t-you-know-it-hard-as-nails-bitch-but-you-would-wouldn’t-you account manager with him to sweeten the sale. Kev did all the talking but obviously didn’t get too much eye contact from me… I was too busy musing that I must pick some firm baps up on the way home.

I’d booked a soulless room in a soulless office in a soulless part of town, for us to have a soulless conversation about soulless services to be transacted by soulless organisations on the behalf of soulless clients. As a result, we might do some soulless work together, we might not. We’ll need another chat. At least I made Alison come. My aim is true.

Monday, January 24, 2005

in the village there's a dozen things i wanna say to you

I have a glowing orange pretzel on my dashboard which flashes annoyingly. Apparently, according to the book, I've got an engine management fault. OK then, I'll get right on with fixing that. Where's me spanner?

What is an engine management fault? As far as I can tell it's anything from the ashtrays being too full of chewing gum wrappers to a broken axle. I'm pleased they put such a helpful warning light on the dash. As errors messages go, it's right up there with Bill Gates' finest.

So, I can't get anyone to look at it until Friday. Between now and then I have approximately 480 miles to drive. Shall I? Or do you think that the doctor will give me a sicknote for an Engine Management Fault?

Sunday, January 23, 2005

white man in ladysmith black mambazo

It was twenty years ago today. Or thereabouts. It was the mid-80s anyway and I was working in the office of a small independent record company in Manchester. CDs were still pretty new and the world was still getting excited playing things like Suzanne Vega's Tom's Diner and going 'ohh you can actually hear the silence'. Paul Simon's Graceland was bothering the charts. Anyway, the label I worked for was just beginning to issue the first few of it's major releases on CD and they'd installed a CD player and speakers in the office so as to play them, along with thing's like Vivaldi's Four Seasons before it became muzak de jour.

This being a cool record label, they bought a little Sony Discman and little some powered bookshelf speakers. Sounds trivial now, but these was the smallest kit available. Anywhere. You could hardly see where the sound was coming from. It sounded brillant.

Well one day, I was in charge of changing tunes. I put a CD in and couldn't get it to play. There was a bloke that used to call into the office nearly every day. Little guy. Lived round the corner actually. Very pleasant and quietly spoken. Looked poorly and had some sort of digestive illness. He was in one of the bands on the label. In fact it was one of his CDs that wouldn't play. I told him.

He quickly opended the Discman. Saw that I'd got two CDS stuck in it. Removed one and it played perefctly. I felt stupid. But that's not the point. I remeber what he told me.

He said 'in twenty years CDs will be old hat and they'll be playing music on tiny chips with no moving parts at all'. I remember thinking about what he said and imagining such a future.

Anyway, his music sounds beautiful whatever the format. He's playing the Manchester Tsunami gig. If you can't get there, download some of his work onto this. It's important.

Thursday, January 20, 2005


I've had ages off work and am now facing the creeping dread of having to dive back in to the turmoil of office life. Stupidly, I just made a quick call to check how things are going to discover that another one of the team has handed his notice in and and a couple more have gone off sick. Great. I should have left the calls and waited until Monday to get depressed all over again. Ah well!

Actually, I think I have the start of repetitive strain injury but it could be something else. I should stress test it though.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

snow big deal

Isn't working from home brilliant? Here's me and Snicket and some kid in a red coat.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

january... sick and tired you keep hanging on me.

My tax return is due in by 31st January. I leave it to the last minute every year and then spend most of January stressing about it despite the fact that it normally only takes a couple of hours to do. Nevertheless, I'll typically do anything other than knuckle down and get the bloody thing out of the way. Cars get cleaned. Offices get cleaned ('office' is actually a bit grand a word for the smallest bedroom piled high with books CDs and computer gubbins but then so is 'study').

Now I really love the idea of getting fit, but can I be arsed? Well, yesterday Mrs Backroads and I took Boo for wander through several nearby muddy fields but I wouldn't call it high impact. Don't get me wrong, walking's meant to be one of the best forms of exercise but it's not as easy when you're at work. Sure I could walk around the streets near work but, frankly, it's a bit rough and I'm not sure that I fancy being menaced for crack money by the local povs.

Trail magazine reckons that the best way to keep fit for hill running during the winter months is to run up and down stairs at home for twenty five minutes each day. Now there's a couple of things to say about that:

Firstly, having a subscription to Trail magazine is the nearest I'll ever get to being a hill runner/mountain climber, but I find that browsing articles about 'Munro Bagging' , 'Wild Camping' and what a curmudgeon that Wainwright was, is almost as exciting as doing the real thing... plus there's loads of good gadgets in it... I find that a GPS unit is nigh on essential kit for circumnavigating Meadowhall on a Saturday afternoon (Full Semi Circle with Backroads).

Secondly, have you ever run up and downstairs for any length of time? It opens up an enter new dimension. You discover a breach in the space/time continuum. Oh yes, sure you can sit on your arse eating fig rolls and watching Des and Mel and Blam! - there's half an hour gone in the blink of an eye. Start running up and down stairs and time begins to stretch out before you. You can feel your beard growing! Put your iPod on and put on a really short track, say 5,6,7,8 by Steps, and it feels like a space opera.

So there it is. January. I have pile of great books to read, a tax return to put off doing, many pounds to lose, a small child who needs a new nappy every ten minutes and Celebrity Big Brother Live to watch. It's all good babe.

Friday, January 14, 2005

they've been

This has appeared in the field behind Backroads Manor. It's not a crop circle. It's a crap circle. I've been over the wall to investigate. Several mounds of cow-flop have been neatly arranged in this circular pattern. What do you think it all means? I'm tempted to ask the farmer if he knows anything about it but am a bit scared that he'll blame me. Last time he caught someone on his land he shot them. No really. So if he get's wind of this it doesn't look good for the little green cows or whatever they are.

So I'm on a nightly vigil because this crap circle is getting bigger each day. Weird.

In the meantime:


Tuesday, January 11, 2005

what not to wear

I'm off to punch the air now. It's a motivational company conference tomorrow and I'm travelling down tonight. I just love corporate shindigs don't you? Worse still, it's 'casual dress'. Does that mean smart casual (usually epitomised by chinos and a polo shirt in a sort of psuedo dot come stylee), business casual ('slacks' and a shirt but no jacket and tie), or just plain casual ( a 'who not to fuck?' t-shirt some frayed jeans and trainers). Damn it! It's so much easier to wear a suit.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

the admirable adaptation

Well. Who'da thunk it? The Lemony Snicket film is actually very good indeed. It's quite dark, as are the books, but not in a gloomy Tim Burton way.. there's humour in there and the casting is by and large spot on. The three orphans are fortunately played by American children so they can actually act without causing the audience to involuntarily flinch and squirm. It's the perfect role for Carrey and, due to various strong disguises, you could almost forget it's him.

It's a go see, although what you'd make of it if you hadn't read the books I don't know. Alley enjoyed it and she's ten. I was concerned that the dark nature of the film might leave her feeling down, so I cheered her up afterwards by pointing out the 'kids who hang around cinemas all day' and promising her that in only a few years time she'll be able to smoke fags and freebase cider with mates just like them. Cheered her up no end. She nearly dropped her Ben and Jerry's.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

the terrible translation

Taking Snicket for his weekly swimming lesson should be more fun than it is. It's basically half an hour of going 'Bend. Round, Together' and being completely ignored. He only gets energised when we all get to do Dingle Dangle Scarecrow and then he can jump in a few times. Anyway, at least the journey to the pool was quite exciting as we swerved in and out of fallen trees which had been unable to cope with last night's storm.

Tomorrow I'm taking Alley to see the Lemony Snicket film. This is just the sort of Jim Carrey garbage I try to avoid (The Grinch... oh... my... God..). However, having read all of the Series Of Unfortunate Events books to Alley over the years I feel it's my duty to endure the disappointment of a failed translation onto the silver screen.

BTW, I normally avoid reality shows but am finding Bez far too addictive on Celebrity Big Brother. Car crash TV.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

the secret life of, er, whale music cds

Alley went back to school today so we took Snicket and Boo to the 'garden centre'. Oh we know how to treat them. Now, when I say 'garden centre' I use the phrase in its loosest sense. In the last two years it has transformed itself into a sort of lifestyle emporium masquerading as a garden centre. It used to sell house plants.. all sorts of house plants including those great venus fly traps which you can drop bits of crisps into. Now, guess how many plants there are in the new extended store? None. Zero. None at all. It's a garden centre. Of course this doesn't include the artificial sprays of flowers that you can get and the dried place settings that are all over the place for a small fortune. Alright, outside there are a few shrubs and one or two terracotta pots. Inside, however, it's a completely different story.

I say it's a lifestyle emporium... but it's a strange type of lifestyle. Don't get me wrong, everything is really dear. But they don't sell the sort of lifestyle that you can get from, say, Selfridges or Harvey Nics. Instead you get expensive wellies and wax jackets and those funny green quilted sleeveless numbers. Plus there's a rack of panpipe, whale music and other relaxing CD muzak. They have funny pre-packed quarters of sweets that are neither 'ye olde' or modern. They have the sort of cookery, travel and kids books that you can pick up for 75p in Booksale, except here they are £11.99 each.

They have some fish and a few hamsters. They have a new upmarket cafe. It cost £8 for a pot of tea for two, a scone with jam (no cream mind) and a piece of choccy cake. They have all sorts of linen baskets, leather placemats and, my favourite, LP size sheets of plastic with false pebbles stuck to them... so they look like a neat square of pebbles, except that you can pick them up and move them around en mass. Why? Don't know. £10.99 each.

What does it all mean? Who makes up the flashmobs that descend on these places every weekend and make the owners rich. Why don't they sell plants any more?

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

silence is golden

OK I admit it. I've been sneaking out of the house at all hours. I have been seeking, erm, professional assistance. I have been going for a massage. Oh yes! But...

It's different... Honestly... My wife doesn't understand me... Instead of the usual crawling around the dodgy suburbs of some grimy northern town in a Datsun Sunny with false number plates trying to attract the attentions of some greasy haired seventeen year old crack-head who's bending over under an orange street-light smoking a fag and wearing a PVC micro-skirt and a pair of white plastic fuck-me-boots, I've been driving to a genteel unisex establishment in a Yorkshire mill complex.

Once there, and in exchange for several English pounds, I have been coaxed into removing my shoes, and only my shoes, and climbing into the contraption you see above. It's a bit like a massive George Formby grill. You lie there face down and the lid comes down on top of you until fat drips out into a little tray underneath put on some headphones and start watching a DVD showing tropical fish or peaceful looking North American scenery filmed just outside manically inbred and violent mid-western hick towns. As your watching, and for no apparent reason, a little machine squirts minty smells at you every few minutes too. Nice.

How is that a massage you ask? Well, here's the science. You'll all have had the pleasure of wearing a full-length rubber macintosh whilst being forcibly urinated upon won't you? No? Oh. Well anyway, it's a bit like that. As the lid comes down on your back a thin silk membrane is automatically draped across you. Then, once Chantal or Peaches or whoever's on duty has set the controls for the heart of the sun, the machine starts pumping hot jets of water up and down your body in rhythmically pulsating patterns for twenty minutes. It's great. Now I don't know how it compares to a real massage and there's absolutely no chance of extras unless you count the additional footage of two deadly lion-fish mid-coitus on the DVD, but hey... I can recommend it.

What's more, you can get you nails done afterwards. If you want.

Monday, January 03, 2005

(sh)it happens

The strangest thing. Some old friends of ours called yesterday to have a drink, wish us Happy New Year and say hello to Boo. Today we get a text saying they're splitting up. Something we said do you reckon?