Can you digit?

What the hell happened to digital watches? In my carefree boyhood (ah, more years ago now than I care to etc) digital watches were the dog’s knees, to kids and adults alike. They seemed to represent a tremendous leap forward in the world of personal time-telling. Some of them had a light, for God’s sake. A light! In a watch! We used to show them off to each other at school, prefacing the performance with ‘Say it’s the middle of the night, right, and you’re on a mission …’ But this technological tour de force was as nothing compared to the innovations that followed. I’ll never forget the first time I saw a watch with a calculator in it. Or more correctly, on it. I shook my head in silent awe, hearing the music from 2001 and wondering what could possibly be next. Even leaving aside these exciting add-ons, the simple phenomenon of timing things was magical. All right, you could time things with an analogue watch – ‘the crappy hands type’, as we called them – but it was no fun. A digital stop-watch made it compelling entertainment. We timed everything back then. These kids today never time a damn thing. But the real strength of the digital watch was the whiff of adventure that surrounded it. Those disjointed numbers spoke of villain’s time bombs and space ship control panels and The Future … Where did it all go wrong? If you’re going to wear a digital watch today, you might as well go the whole hog and start travelling about by space hopper. The Q-Branch marvel of my youth is a naff relic, worn only by toddlers, sport fanatics and the deeply ironic. Digital watches have run afoul of time itself. Wow, man. I’m, like, blowing my own mind here.


Doing it

If I see or hear one more advertisement in which people pretend to be talking about sex but it turns out, hilariously, that they’re talking about something else, I do believe I’m going to lose the thin sliver of reason left to me and have some sort of public blow-out, possibly involving fluorescent painted nudity and certainly involving screaming. The problem seems to be the verb ‘to do’. Now to you and me, it’s just a useful little linguistic tool, a trusted friend who’s always there to help us out when we need to describe some action. We’d be lost without it, in fact, and I don’t propose that we strike it from the language entirely (although I was feeling that way for a while this afternoon). To the advertising industry, however, the verb ‘to do’ is a bullet waiting for a gun. And the gun, it turns out, is the multi-talented pronoun ‘it’. If you have the creative courage and vision to put verb and pronoun together, you get – ah, you’re way ahead of me – you get ‘do it’. Which, if you look carefully, is a synonym for shagging. Hence, ‘I’m doing it with my boss,’ ‘Have you ever done it in public?’, and so on. Only they’re not really talking about sex! Seriously, they’re not! They’re talking about topping up their mobile phone or something! I know, I know. It’s difficult to keep a straight face. The ad men would tell you that this sort of thing is a clever play on people’s ambivalence about sexual matters. It isn’t. It’s a very stupid play on people’s patience and good will. There. I feel better now.


Why I hate X-Factor

Obviously, there are lots of reasons to hate X-Factor – the manufactured sentimentality, the cruel mocking of the mentally bewildered, the appalling taste in music, and so on (and on and on). But I have a particular reason of my own for finding it unwatchable. It’s this: if there had been such a thing as X-Factor when I was, say, nineteen and it had been for writers instead of singers, I can’t say with one hundred per cent certainty that I would not have applied. I would like to think that I would have seen through it, the way sensitive and tasteful young singers no doubt see through the  current debacle and stay put in their bedrooms when Louis and co. come to town – but I couldn’t swear to it. Maybe I would have been up there crying my lamps out and swearing that this was all I’d ever wanted since I was a child and begging some millionaire gobshite to please, please not take it away from me. I was, after all, an idiot when I was nineteen – and twenty, and twenty-one and, come to think of it, all the way up until a couple of weeks ago. So, yeah, I hate X-Factor. But it’s a There-but-for-the-grace-of-God type of hatred. That’s the good kind, right?


Headless fatties

Not a week goes by without the publication of a report telling us that we’re all getting fatter (well, duh). And every time it happens, TV news crews take to the streets in search of a sample endomorph whom they can secretly film as he goes about his business, oblivious. ‘The report’s authors say we’ll all be thirty stone by this time next year,’ intones the voice-over, just as your man makes another forlorn effort to drag his chinos up over his gut before heading into McDonalds. They’re always very careful to film below the neck, I notice, presumably to spare the blushes of their victim. But I very much doubt that it makes any difference. It can’t be any fun, can it, to be struggling with a weight problem and then to find your arse spread all over the TV as an example of how bad things are getting for the whole species? And it’s not just the weight issue. A woman nips out of the office for a fag, fails to spot the news crew in its blind across the street, and next thing she knows she’s providing the background image for ‘The report’s authors say we’re all morons who will be dead by this time next year.’ What’s next? Secret filming of the poorly-dressed? The stupid? The selfish? There are only two surefire ways of avoiding such public humiliation. You can either be perfect in every way, which isn’t as easy as it sounds, or you can carry a big stick and go all Jackie Chan on anyone who comes near you with a TV camera. Just make sure it is TV camera, though, and not a tourist’s camcorder. That can be unpleasant for all concerned. Don’t ask me how I know this. I just know, all right?


After a fashion

I’ve been wearing clothes of one kind or another since the day I was born. You’d think I’d have got the hang of it by now. And yet I know as much about fashion as the average Kalahari bushman knows about networking computers. Indeed, said bushman would have your PCs talking happily to each other and might also have installed a communal printer long before I could even find a shirt and a pair of bags that didn’t make me look homeless. It’s a truism that some people look good no matter what they throw on while others could spend all day on Fifth Avenue with Bill Gates’s credit card and still go home looking like Bill Gates. But why should this be so? I mean – why? Is it to do with body shape? Facial features? Haircut? What? I demand to know. And don’t give me that line about some people having ‘style’. If it was true that some people are simply good at wearing clothes and some people aren’t, then it would make no difference if the two groups swapped duds. And it does. Brian Ferry in a shell suit is still Bryan Ferry, granted, but the shell suit’s still a shell suit and he won’t be topping any more polls if he keeps it on. A more likely explanation is that some people are good at choosing clothes. Here we seem to find a glimmer of hope. If being well-dressed is simply a matter of skill, then surely that skill can be acquired. Why not? If I can learn Italian from a tape, I can learn how to pick a jacket. Not that I have learned Italian from a tape, you understand, but the point stands. Where are the evening classes, the public lectures, the sun-tanned gurus? I want to open a folder one day and see the words ‘Module One: Trousers’. And the sooner the better. The needle of my personal fashionometer, after years of hovering almost permanently around ‘Scruffy’, has started making alarming jumps towards ‘Partially sighted’.


Pot luck

I had a brand new experience this week when I happened to catch the eye of a small cactus in my employ and realised that it needed to be repotted. Yes – repotted! Taken from its current pot and put into a bigger one! Because it’s doing so well! This is an extraordinary development. I’ve had dozens if not hundreds of house plants in my time and not one of them has lasted long enough to require relocation to a bigger gaff. The reason, no doubt, is that I have a tendency to plonk any new plant life on a shelf or window ledge and more or less leave it to its own devices. After a while – a few weeks, a month, two and a half years – I check on its progress and find it profoundly dead. At that point, I usually curse the thing for its lack of initiative (‘The tap’s only ten feet away, you know’) and bin it without further ceremony. I wouldn’t mind, but many of the fingers in my family are bright green. My late mother could make things grow by looking at them funny, whereas my previous best performance was the time I managed to cultivate some mold on a shower curtain. And that only survived because I didn’t have to consciously water it. Never mind. The slate has been wiped clean. I’m going shopping for a new cactus pot this very tomorrow. I’ll place it right next to the incumbent and, if I know anything about horticulture, my spiky friend will have grown into its spacious new house in no time at all.


Stanley Kubrick writes to a friend

Dear William,

My Dearest William,

To William,

To: William,

Hi William,


Hello there William,

Hello there, William,

Greetings William,

Greetings, William,


Dear Bill,

My Dearest Bill,

To Bill,

To: Bill,

Hi Bill,


Hello there Bill,

Hello there, Bill,

Greetings Bill,

Greetings, Bill,

Hey Bill

Hey, Bill,




Dear William,


The football

And so begins the football season. As is my custom, I have been trying to get excited about it and failing badly. Not a year has gone by in the last ten when I haven’t decided that this will be the season when I recover my former enthusiasm for all things kicked and headed and craftily handled. It never works out. I can get through September and most of October, but sometime around Hallowe’en, I begin to stop caring. By Christmas I have as much interest in who wins the Premiership as I have in who wins the annual Bolivian Ker-Plunk tournament (where veteran Arturo Castillo is aiming for a record fifth consecutive title – yawn). The problem, no doubt, is that I don’t support any particular team. I used to, mind, when I was a child. Like every other Irish schoolboy, I more or less tossed a coin that said Liverpool on one side and Manchester United on the other. Mine came up Manchester and that was that, like an arranged marriage. But somewhere along the way, I realised that – wait a minute – I had never been to Manchester or even met anyone from there. My devotion to one of its football teams was utterly random and sort of silly. So I drifted away. With the benefit of hindsight and powerful hallucinogens, however, I now see that randomness and silliness is the whole point. You just pick a team and get on with it. So this year, I’m making a special effort. I’m going to get a randomised list of all Premiership teams and I’m going to stick a pin in it. Repeatedly, until it hits Newcastle (I like their shirts).


Show Me You’re Whole

I’ve written a song! I haven’t got around to recording a demo yet but I’ve reproduced the lyrics below. It would be ideal for One Direction, I think, or maybe even (dare I hope?!) my heroes, Westlife.

Show Me You’re Whole

You say you want to try again
To give our love another go
But last time wasn’t romance
It was a Japanese game show

I don’t want to hurt your feelings
I know you have your talents
But you weren’t just hard to live with
You were mentally unbalanced

Are the pieces back together?
Have you fixed your mind and soul?
If I’m going to take this risk again
You have to show me that you’re whole

Show me you’re whole
Show me you’re whole
Oh won’t you show me you’re whole?

You say that you’re all better now
Not impulsive, loud and rude
But you said that last November
Then you got your face tattooed

I miss our time together
I want to give you one more chance
Just promise you won’t go shopping
In nothing but your pants

Show me you’re whole
Show me you’re whole
Oh won’t you show me you’re whole?

Repeat to fade

Doodles Pictures

Excellence in advertising

This sign is on display in a Dublin city centre car park. I love it. It’s like a little lost puppy that has so much wrong with it – bleary eyes, matted fur, hideous funk – that you want to take it home and fix it up. Just look at it. Quotation marks have been added, mysteriously, but the concluding question mark has been excised. This odd combination lends the whole thing the air of a Zen koan. But it’s the lack of a proper sales pitch that really tickles me. What if my answer is yes, now that you mention it, my car is filthy? What am I supposed to do? OK, I admit that the car cleaning service isn’t far from this location, but still. The effect is downright unsettling. I half suspect that if you peered very closely at the bottom of the sign you would see, in tiny letters, ‘DIRECTED BY DAVID LYNCH’.

Hauntingly beautiful.