Things I hate #19

Daniel O’Donnell. Do you know what the ‘O’ stands for? Daniel Ohfuckingnothim’Donnell. If you don’t know who he is, then picture yourself an Irish Cliff Richard. Only even more insincere and with even less ability. And what could be more annoying than that? Come on, think about it; imagine a night with an Irish Cliff Richard. I’ll underline it for you: AN IRISH CLIFF RICHARD. Fix that thought in your mind and put yourself in that front row for two hours at that show and tell me how it feels. Banal middle of the road tripe delivered with a poe-faced self-righteous depreciation of the man who quietly thinks he’s a fucking genius. You’d be killing yourself. You’d be slamming your head into the front apron of the stage just trying to get it all to stop.

 

O’Donnell turns out sentimental crap with the loving craft of a man singing along to a poor karaoke backing tape in an empty Working Mens’ Club somewhere in the rainy, post-industrial North on a Wednesday night. C’mon, let’s rip it up, lads… She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain when she comes… All delivered in a dead pan, cosy brogue. Ah, but what we be talkin’ in this cursed tongue for when we’ve got the Gaelic? I saw a documentary about him once and the voice over was banging on about how much he loved his fans and how approachable he was. That he was the Irish boy next door with the voice of an angel who had time for a craic with everybody. Grand it was. Cut to some shots of him posing awkwardly with his blue rinsed groupies all waiting in line for a five second audience and a quickly posed snap. I watched it, horribly fascinated by the towering falseness of it all. He comes across has having all the sincerity of a cold calling double glazing salesman. He reminds me of a Medieval Pope; all the right words but without any of the meaning behind them. And being Irish and ostensibly clean cut he is almost canonised, like Dana and Jimmy Cricket before him. ‘Thank y’darrrrrrrrrrlin” I don’t buy it. It was a sales pitch. What a twat. Speaking he didn’t even seem to be in the room. A slow voice and a faraway look in his glassy eyes. Like he was on fucking Tramadol or something. In conversation he reminds me of when I was loaded on Amitryptaline after an operation; every word being pushed out like it weighed a thousand tonnes and when I finally managed to tip it out of my mouth and saw it tumble down into a deep black space it wasn’t quite what I intended to say in the first place and I’d immediately forgotten what I’d just said anyway and the meaning was lost forever, and what was I saying…? Then again some of his fans are genuinely frightening. I think I’d be getting in a Zen like trance and imagining myself somewhere else as well if I were suddenly confronted by some of those worrying individuals. We are talking Kathy Bates in Misery x 1,000,000 to the power of ten. I shiver to think what some of them would do to the poor bastard if he ever fell into their hands. He’d be like a sexual rag doll. Just keep singing ‘The Rose of Tralee’ for me, Daniel, while I try to blow a tune out of this… Oh, dear, I’m not getting any sound from  it, but maybe it’s a bit like the recorder at school, maybe I need to keep this little hole covered at the same time… The pale moon was rising above the green mountaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaains!!!!! And I suppose, in fairness to him, I’d be a bit stand offish if I’d just been smacked in the face by an under-girdle with the gusset all sopping wet from incontinence after getting over excited on hearing his rendition – if it can be called that – of ‘Singing the blues’. Fuck my spats. Daniel with his fans, the cups of tea and the chirpy welcome from the Old Country; like a Furby that’s been indoctrinated by Gay Byrne dressed as a St Patrick’s Day Leprechaun drinking Guinness and eating Soda Bread in every Irish homily and stereotype possible, to be sure, top o’ the morning, begorra. It’s like a hooker offering the full on girlfriend experience. Some women like him in the same way that they like Cliff and Barry Manilow. He’s the bloke you can fancy without there being any danger of him doing anything about it unless you were in total control. He’s a submissive male sex symbol. You’d be taking the lead in that relationship; pull it off and you’d be riding him like Red Rum in the last furlong at Aintree with a sniff of a National win in your nostrils. And he wouldn’t dare complain. He’d just keep smiling while you got your jollies. Maybe sing you ‘I’m a believer’ while you guiltlessly violated him. His persona is a venal trade off to get the cash in the bank. He’s an easy listening whore dressed up as a school girl. I don’t believe in the illusion.

 

It wouldn’t be so bad if he could sing. He can’t. His voice has the power and range of an asthmatic fart from a sickly, invalid mouse’s arse. There’s nothing there. And if the Germans had won World War 2 I can quite easily see Hitler being a big fan. Tapping his foot to O’Donnell’s middle of the road spaff. It has that sterile healthiness to it that the Nazis and all true spuriously sentimental hypocrites love in their art. There’s even loads of accordion in the mix – which is a dead giveaway. It’s a scene from a Clinton’s Christmas card with smiling one-legged orphans or virginal milk maids who will bear heroes for the Nation set to music.

 

Hitler: ‘He’s really nailed ‘Peggy Sue’.

 

Goering [nodding, starting a tentative hand jive]: Better than the decadent American’s original. I like that steady um-pah-pah beat. And he’s smiling!

 

It’s music that’s fundamentally hypocritical. It apes the form without having anything of the substance. It’s crap. Yeah but his melodies are harmless and even if it is false at least it’s all nice and cosy. You might think. But it’s not harmless, it’s invidious propaganda for a sinister parallel universe where we all smile even though we feel crippled inside but we’re too scared to say anything. He brings pleasure to millions, I hear you object. Yep. And so did Opium smoking but we banned that fucking shit, didn’t we? So why is this twat being allowed to roam around loose pissing on the memory of Buddy Holly? I warn you, if O’Donnell keeps going on like this, before you realize what’s happened you will be standing in line in Wembley Stadium, clapping your hands and singing along to St. Daniel as he wheezes out ‘King of the road’ and then listening to a five hour speech about moral standards and genetic cleanliness from some bloke with a tash in uniform. It’s only a matter of time.

 

Post script. There was a moment reading back through this when I felt that I was being unfair to O’Donnell. That it’s not him specifically as a person that I despise but rather the carefully crafted persona that he presents in the media and his middle of the road music. After all he seems to love his mother and perhaps the world does need another version of ‘Please release me’. And my Auntie Joan loves him. So he can’t be all bad, surely, I thought. And then I saw this. And I thought, no I’m not wrong. He’s a twat.


The Elephant Stone

UK

I was driving up the A1 between Newark and Doncaster the other day and was struck by a feeling that I’ve experienced before. And not just that the Little Chef is a rip off; standing at the side of the road like a little, fat modern day Dick Turpin. But why is it that when you travel North you feel like you’re going uphill? Well that’s the impression I get, anyway. I always undergo the same sensation whether it be the M6 skirting the edge of the Lake District up through Penrith making towards Hadrian’s Wall, with the big muscley curves that would have made Brunel nod his head with satisfaction, or The Great North Road along the rough Northumbria coast past the modern castle of Torness Power Station heading towards Edinburgh, or en route home to Yorkshire from the cosy time warp of the Isle of Wight – making each of these journeys from North to South gives me a sense of climbing a slope. And visa versa. At the back of my head I even get to believing that I use more fuel clawing myself up the rising tarmac on the Northbound journey say from Edinburgh to Dundee than I do when cruising South heading to London down the M1 when I feel to have the gradient pushing me onwards and gravity is my friend. Travelling East to West or West to East – say on the M62 over the Pennines that separate me up above Halifax from my destination in Manchester or Liverpool as obstacles –  and the sensation is different. Then I get the feeling that I’m not really travelling either uphill or downhill from A to an ultimate B but simply moving sideways. Going over Saddleworth Moor to a height of 1221 metres above sea level is just a hurdle to clear whichever direction I’m going in. It’s not the same as travelling South to North/North to South.

 

So why do I think this? Is North really going uphill or is it simply that my brain is so heavily preconditioned with how maps traditionally represent North and South running from top to bottom? An orientation implemented by Ptolemy way back in the second century AD. That somehow because of that habitual custom (continued from Ptolemy and firmly established by Western cartographers like Mercator who helped Europeans claim the globe as their own for the next millennia) I associate say Newcastle with up and Portsmouth with down, and my journey through this physical landscape with the orientation of the map in a book or pinned to a wall?

 

Ordnance Survey maps indicate the height above sea level of the A1 at Newark to be approximately twenty metres. By the time I got to junction 37 outside Doncaster I’d climbed to about forty metres above sea level. A journey of something like thirty miles. Would I really feel that twenty metre difference in height over such a distance, even assuming that the climb was regular and constant? Perhaps. But continue travelling north past Donny and tour up to Berwick-upon-Tweed and the motorway – with ups and downs along the way – has barely risen at all and still hovers between forty and sixty metres, sometimes higher sometimes lower, by which time I’ve travelled another hundred and eighty or so miles. So why do I feel this sensation of going uphill when I travel North? Do we really travel up to Aberdeen and down to Plymouth?

 

At times I have a Teutonic cast to my brain that’s something of an Achilles Heel. I find myself operating with a mind occasionally made up of assumptive, absolute thoughts. Some of these are obviously and categorically right. Like ginger haired people have short tempers and Barnsley Boys do it better. But others are accepted too easily and without any reflection. I put this habit of thought down to the moral bearings I was given when growing up and my own unswerving personal exactitude. Honestly. Perhaps. But for whatever reason, I sometimes take things literally and without broader reflection. Black is black and white is white. North is up and South is down. It’s like many things in life, we take points of reference. So North now traditionally orientates us (as opposed to East, from where the phrase ‘orientation’ comes; from a time when East/The Orient was placed at the top of maps). But it’s like those pictures made up of two colours, where at first glance you see a woman’s face in profile and then you squint or shift your perspective and suddenly there’s an elephant there or a bloke on a bike coming out of the second colour. We rarely stop to think about the second image, being happy to accept the first. And there’s also the fact that I have an un-technical mind. There are two kinds of men in this world, my friend, there is the man who takes his understanding of his surroundings intuitively and the man who perceives the environment around him through science and technology. I am a hairy hunter gatherer. I don’t own a Sat Nav and never read the instructions to self-assembly products. My relationship with the world is symbiotic and my responses tuned to a primeval compass that beats inside me. In other words I am a tub thumping Neanderthal. Hit it with a rock and see what happens, that’s my way forward. Live and learn through trial and error. So I am quite willing to make an assumption that a thing is so until it proves to be otherwise. For example I am of the generations (perhaps the last) whose primary experience of recorded music was playing a slab of vinyl label side up on 7 inch singles or LPs. The needle would hit the groove and you’d get sound. I remember when I got my first CD player back in about 1988 and my mind made an assumption that never really left the box at the back of my head that the playing side was label up. I never thought about it, never questioned how the disc worked, I just accepted that it did and somehow made an association with it and the old vinyl records. North is up, South is down. The earth is flat and all the planets revolve around us. Given our familiarity with discs through CD-R and DVD-RW etc since Windows and the home computer shook up our lives, I now understand it because I use it differently. I take an active role in burning a mix CD or backing up my files. But it shows how easily we can come to accept convention simply by making an assumption unconsciously. It’s not that I couldn’t understand it but simply that I never bothered to think about it. Just like North is up and South is down. The convenience of conventional wisdom. It’s easy to look without thinking and never see the elephant.

Things I hate #17

Packaging. I spent five minutes wrestling with a sachet of pasta bake yesterday when I came in from work. In the end I stamped on it until it burst and ate the contents from the laminate. Licked it up off the floor like a dog. Not what the serving suggestion proposed, but I’d had it by then. Kicking the kitchen units and swearing at the top of my voice. Stabbing out madly with a carving knife. This is what laminated tin foil and thick paper and heat sealed plastic had reduced me to. The Gordian Knot represented less of a puzzle. Hercules on his twelve labours had it easy. The Golden Hind of Artemis? I’ve shit ‘em. Compare stealing the apples of the Hesperides with DVDs that arrive tight wrapped in cellophane that has no apparent seams. No contest. The DVDs are impregnable. Like Keira Knightly. There’s no purchase to cause a rip, there’s no edge to get a nail under, no room to make a cut without damaging the box underneath. Hercules would have been shambling back to Thera, tossing his copy of The Boat That Rocked to one side unopened, calling it a day and heading for the beach with a big jug of ice cold Mythos and a Tzatziki smothered kebab. Sod that! Want to keep a child busy for a couple of hours? Toss the little bugger a jar of Pesto and tell them there’s special green chocolate inside. And have you ever bought a new album on compact disc and tried to get the inner sleeve out of the CD jewel case without damaging it when the jewel case has little notches on the end? It’s like trying to crack the Enigma Code. Only trickier. And more time consuming. You’ve really got to be desperate to know who played bass on track 5 before starting to climb that bloody mountain. You might as well be doing a Rubik’s cube with one hand. A greasy hand with broken fingers. A greasy hand with broken fingers that’s been in a bucket of frozen water for five hours. The man who’s frantic to know the lyrics to Big Country’s ‘Big Country’ from the Crossing album could go fucking bonkers in this situation. Does Stuart Adamson sing ‘Go see Pharoahs in the desert’ or ‘Grow flowers in the desert’? Arrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If back in the day 30,000 years ago homo sapiens had been faced with this problem they would have turned it in and we would still be up in the trees dragging nourishment from twigs. It’s sobering to think that the inner sleeve to the deluxe edition of The Who’s Who’s Next – the one with all the previously unpublished photos of Keith Moon blowing stuff up and John Entwistle… erm… standing with his arms folded – may have meant a break down in evolution and we would all still resemble Liamgallagherman. Hirsute, grinning primates, swaggering through life with an over developed ego and a shocking lack of self-criticism. The Chimps would have taken over the earth and mankind would be well down the pecking order in the Planet of the Apes. We’d be on permanent nut cracking duty for the Gorillas. Wiping the Baboons’ chapped arses. Waiting for Noelgallagherman to come up with another tune and beating Robbiewilliamsman to death with a rock. For fun.

 

The trouble is that for the sake of cheapness and uniformity everything is packed by machines these days. Humans are dirty and sadly inadequate folders, tuckers and labellers. And they need food and toilet breaks and want paying. Bloody greedy, incontinent ingrates. Instead the products that we get are immaculately shrink wrapped, hygienically vacuum sealed, plastic moulded, seamlessly canned and charged with static electricity with such loving attention to regularity and corporate branding by a relentless machine that will run twenty four hours a day that would make Andy Warhol weep behind his Ray Bans; the sly, charlatan fuck. The modern product is truly a thing of beauty. Everything looks all nice and shiny because the packaging becomes an end in itself. It’s made to look pretty and desirable so that you buy it. Like the totally unnecessary hologram printed boxes on toothpaste. Why the hell do we need those? Are they really worth another few thousand acres of rainforest? Shiny shiny. Yes they are. Packaging is an art. Uniformity creates desire. Sod opening it. Just look at it and luxuriate in your own affluence. Or else it’s packed up to preserve it from interference or decay. A tin of baked beans has a longer shelf life that depleted uranium from Sizewell B. But that immaculate shrink wrapping, hygienic vacuum sealing, plastic moulding, seamless canning and the static electricity charge leaves apparently little or no thought as to how the packages will ever be opened again. And then there are so many little security touches and safety hurdles aimed at defeating the crank extortionists who tamper with food so that opening a jar of Piccalilly is like trying to crack the big lock at Fort Knox. With a stick of celery.

 

How the hell do old people go on with these things? How many deaths in the elderly have been caused by a stubborn tin of sardines when the key snapped or a microwave Shepherd’s pie with an un-peelable plastic lid where the material simply flaked off all around the edges? Cross and Blackwell brings out a new packet design and the wrinklies are dropping like flies. It’s like a Polar Bear suddenly being confronted with a coconut or a Giraffe finding the lush savannah replaced with a Tesco surrounded by a thousand square mile tarmac car park. Eh? The police must be forever breaking in to mouldy bungalows to find a pensioner gripping an unopened Pot Noodle covered in frenzied scratch marks. Some World War 2 hero, who saw off Hitler and the Third Reich, finished off by the screw top on a bottle of Chocolate milk. Poor old buggers. But maybe that’s how we’ll all go. Because packaging is getting worse. Maybe we’re going to be the authors of our own extinction. We will fall to our own weakness for cleanliness and beauty and the treachery of the machines we have created. Forget global warming and greenhouse gasses or inter-continental ballistic missile Armageddon. Forget the rumoured New Ice Age or a millennium long nuclear winter. The dinosaurs were wiped out by an asteroid from out of space. Mankind will be brought to an end by the unconquerable cellophane on a Marks & Spencer’s ready meal Chicken Korma.