No more manual toothbrush. It’s time to join the big people’s club

Readers of this blog will likely have come across the odd tooth-related post (such as this one here and this one here). And why not blog about this subject? When you consider the importance and significance of the tooth – or more accurately teeth – in our every day lives, it seems bizarre that everyone isn’t blogging about it/them.

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Sound advice from Dalai

I often wonder why human teeth exist at all. It is a conundrum. If Evolution is so progressive, then by now you’d have thought they’d be all joined-up together. I can’t stand the fact that so many other animals have undergone intense & impressive evolutionary transformations, losing arms and growing extra ears and getting rid of nobs, and yet, after many millions of years, we’re still stuck with loads of annoying teeth which require constant maintenance. Not the best when you have always favoured the manual toothbrush. It’s not because I’m a Luddite – although I probably am – and it’s not about being deliberately difficult as my dentist would surely insist (although I probably also am). It’s just me being me. I have never liked that weirdo-buzzing feeling of using an electric toothbrush. I don’t care that it’s meant to be easier and I couldn’t give a toss if everyone is doing it. I’ve just never liked the idea. I’ve always preferred my manual one.

In the past-past – by this I mean before the past, which is any time up until a few months ago – I have worried immensely about trips to the dentist’s and hygienist’s. Like anyone would if they never did what the dentist recommended. The days leading up to my appointment(s) comprised of me first pretending that I had done t least some of what I’d been asked to, then realising that lying about it wouldn’t work, again. The final stage was always one of resentment towards my rebellious inner-self. It was only me who had ever messed it up. If I’d have actually bothered, things would have been better. And I would not have got bollocked so much for having bad teeth.

In the most recent past, I wasn’t quite as concerned. I had made more of an effort leading-up to the appointment – I’d become obsessed with using mouthwash and those prohibitively expensive stick things you shove between your teeth, making your mouth bleed on purpose – and I had benefited. I was still a manual toothbrush Luddite, but at least I was changing, or willing to. I was definitely caring more, that much had to be true. So this time, when I arrived at my 6-monthly dentist’s appointment, I felt OK. Not brilliant, obviously, but I did feel like I had done half as much as I could have. This could only be interpreted as progress. It must have had something to do with reading all those Dalai Lama quotes on Facebook.

And the appointment went well. Very well. Alarmingly well, truth be told. At one point, she even said something about me having regularly used my electric toothbrush. My electric toothbrush! I had somehow managed to fool her! There she was, staring directly at my uselessly brushed teeth, and she couldn’t even tell I was a bloody Luddite! This was a shocking thing.

Then she said “Do you use your electric toothbrush once or twice a day?”

I said: “Er…”

It would have been very easy to lie. I should have lied, it would have saved me all kinds of hassle. But the poster on the wall to my right, the one depicting someone’s harrowing tooth-rot, someone like me, someone who’d done nothing to help their teeth for years, got to me. I ended up saying “I’ve actually only got a normal toothbrush. A manual one.”

“A manual one?”

This was a cry for help if ever there was one.

“Manual. No electricity.”

“Oh…I see.”

It could have got very awkward. Me pointing out how she really should have known. Her knowing she should have known and trying to hide it, badly. Yet it didn’t. Instead, almost as if she respected me for so capably pulling the wool over her clearly poor vision, we began a discourse on electric toothbrushes. Well, they began a discourse and I sort of just stood there and nodded. Why hadn’t I ever got into that whole scene? What was it about them that I didn’t like?

“How long have you got?” I said.

“No offense but about thirty seconds.”

“Oh.”

And it all came pouring out in those 30 seconds (once she’d finished calling her numbers out to the dental nurse, and I’d taken a swig of the nasty pink liquid and spat it out, streaming with blood). I decided to give it to her straight. There I stood, calmly explaining that I just had never liked the electric ones. So there, stick that up your bum, I thought but did not say.

Then began the pair of them talking in-depth about electric toothbrushes and all the different kinds there are. Sonic ones and oscillating ones (it is never a dull day when I get to use that word). Which ones they preferred. Ones which cost several hundred pounds (the wrong approach to take with me) and ones which don’t (the right). And all through it I found myself changing…thinking about what could be if I could just allow myself to entertain the idea.

I was to leave with a smile on my face. I’d done it. I wasn’t even out of the room yet and I had already moved beyond that horrible bit when you have to part with loads of money at the Reception desk, and I was now walking out of the surgery with my electric toothbrush. All in my mind. Thanks to my imagination.

Before I could change my mind, I thanked them, walked out of the room for real with the free little tubes of toothpaste which they’d kindly given me – nothing like it for making a person feel special – and picked up the first blue box on the display cabinet to my right. On it were the words Oral-B PROFESSIONAL CARE 1000. Beneath these words were several statements which made me feel instantly at ease. The first promised that it would remove up to twice as much plaque as a regular manual toothbrush. Good because plaque had always been my number 1 enemy. The second assured me that the 1000 was gentle on both teeth and gums. Good because both teeth and gums had been enemies for me at one time or another. Let’s just say they were all number 1.

At the bottom, with black writing on a yellow background, it said

PATIENT STARTER KIT

For dental professionals

And yes, I know what some of you will be thinking: why the hell didn’t you just buy it off ebay? Good question, but you needn’t be so modern about it. Not everything is about saving money, you know. Simple truth is that I wanted the Oral-B PC 1000 there and then. I didn’t want to wait and give my stupid logic a chance to derail what was happening. I wanted that money spent so that I had no choice but to join the new world. So there you have it. With that, so it was done.

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Because it’s better than Splash! and Take Me Out put together: The Undateables – Series 3, Episode 1

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This is supposed to be Mary from the show. Sorry Mary, it’s 00:47 am and I’m tired and I really need to go to bed. I’m not sure which part of your face/body I’ve done a crapper job of, but rest assured that you won’t be the last victim of my mouse-pad ventures. Best wishes, Chris. PS it’s now 00:50 am — I spent another couple of minutes on your chin. I hope it shows.

When I started seeing the TV adverts for Series 3 of The Undateables – the Channel 4 show which arguably can claim to be the first of its kind – it actually took me somewhat by surprise. Given the show’s popularity, which exploded all over Twitter and made everyone an instant expert on who should and should not be allowed to enter the perilous world of dating, I shouldn’t have been surprised, yet there it was. Concerned was another thing I was feeling. As the adverts grew less mysterious about the show’s new cast, and those classic moments-to-come began to reveal themselves, I wondered: can Series 3 give us anything we haven’t already seen? Anyone who has visited this blog before will know I’ve always been a big fan of the show, but irrelevant of this, 3 series is starting to push it. However good you are, you’re always going to have to bring something new. Not an easy thing to do – particularly when the format is one which works so well and doesn’t require changing.

Then again, perhaps that’s being unfair. The very reason why I rated the show so much to begin with was the fact that it went places that TV previously had never dared to before. Maybe 3 series isn’t actually that much for a show about dating and disabilities? I began to think. Not to mention the fact that there exists many different kinds of disabilities and really, we’ve barely even scratched the surface.

So, I was decided: in truth, The Undateables has infinite appeal. Especially when you consider that despite the previous series’ success, of these things, there is so much more to be said.

Predictably, as today’s first episode of the series grew near, I started to get excited about it all over again. I remembered how touching the first 2 series had been, and recalled the many conversations – both online and off (also known as real life, of course) – I’d had with people who’d watched the show. Smiling and wondering exactly what was in store, I careered down the M11 at speed earlier today, even once taking our Renault Clio 1.3 into the fast lane, where it has no right to be. Half-an-hour later there I was, sat in front of the TV eating the remains of the Thorntons white-chocolate snowman that my lovely girlfriend had bought me for Christmas. I had my hot chocolate and had, obviously, ensured that anyone in the house knew not to disturb me for the next hour or so. Then the show started, the introduction began to play, and…well, the first thing I noted was the updated music. This panicked me for a second – if they’ve messed with the music, what else have they messed with? – but I soon calmed down. I was more than ready.

Daniel was first up. All 6 foot 4 of Daniel, with some outgoing eyebrows and a love of song-writing. We heard that Daniel was from East Sussex – causing me to say out-loud “I bet anything he’s from Brighton” – and that he was one of those people who buys DVDs at every opportunity. Autism was Daniel’s issue, and mum Carol explained it as only a mother could do when she likened her son’s condition to someone inside his head, cutting up random words from a newspaper and splurging them forward randomly at every opportunity. I liked Carol immediately. Clearly she was going to do whatever it took to help her son. Romantic and sweet, Daniel signed up with a dating agency. The man was ready to hit the streets and had two great role models to inspire him: his parents. Sometimes it seems like every older couple I know have been married at least 33 years and it’s no big deal, but still, you have to admit, it’s a bloody long time.

44-year-old Mary, from London, appeared next on the screen. Single for 4-and-a-half years, Mary’s love life had been made difficult by her genetically acquired Achondroplasia – a kind of dwarfism that affects about 1 in 25,000 births across all races and genders. Much as that was true, I couldn’t help but struggle with seeing why she had never been able to find love. Really? Mary came across as sweet, funny, interesting and entertaining. Saying that, if you’re going to be brutally honest about disability then jokes will be inevitable also. I could already see Mary’s 4 gold medals at the World Dwarf Games being a source of much amusement that would surely go viral. Then again, I could also see a thousand people retaliating and saying Stick It Up Your Arse, so I wasn’t too bothered.

Before it was 29-year-old Hayley’s turn to appear on-screen, there was some fantastic news for Daniel: Stars in the Sky dating agency had found a match for him, and it was the by now recognisable Lydia who gave him the good news. Holly was the girl who was interested, and Daniel went ape-shit with excitement, which made for great TV. And who could blame him? If you know someone with autism, you’ll be aware of how difficult it can be for those with the condition to read other people’s emotions and feelings. Daniel’s parents were overjoyed too. The show was once again coming into its own. I mean, I’d nearly eaten my chocolate snowman and had barely even noticed.

Back to Hayley. A nursery nurse from rural Herefordshire, Hayley rode on to the screen a-top one of those big scary horse creatures (I can’t see me ever not feeling this way about these). Within just a handful of seconds we learned a couple of important things. The first was that Hayley has Apert Syndrome – a genetic condition which causes distinctive features attributed to bone-growth, and something which Wikipedia beats me hands-down in a game of how-much-do-you-know. The second was that she had, amazingly, managed to get through the entire Fifty Shades trilogy. Of which I have precisely no comment (other than Like I can say anything…I’ve just gone and read all The Hunger Games books and I am 33!).

Hearing that Hayley used to go out wearing headphones so she couldn’t hear the cruel comments being said about her made me die a little death inside, it’s true. I soon put that right though. In my head I walked down the street next to Hayley eating lots of raw garlic, breathing the horrendous fumes into the path of these cruel silly muppets. That showed ’em, I can tell you.

“Not all the male population are nasty, Hayley,” I said to the TV. Then I regained my focus.

You had to admire Hayley. Or, if you’re a silly billy who’s yet to watch The Undateables on 4OD – should you really be reading my blog?! – you have to admire her. I mean, imagine growing up with a younger sister who beats you to every single bloody milestone there is in life, including starting a family? As gracious and kind and thoughtful as Amanda was about her sister’s dating issues on-camera, that’s got to be difficult. Yet Hayley was only ever very positive. A wonderful character trait indeed. If there is any justice in the world, Hayley has to find some love.

Back with Mary, she was dreaming of the day when she’d be with her new man, who doesn’t give a toss about what people say. Mary had, by now, joined Flame Introductions, who’d come round to take her photo and get it up online. A keen footballer and lover of keeping fit, Mary was after a bloke with a bit of confidence about him, who also likes a bit of sport every now and again. Luckily for Mary, good things were about to happen.

Then we were back with Daniel, who was undergoing the borderline questionable activity of practising dating with his very own mother Carol (sorry, Carol). Not that there was anything questionable about Carol’s standards and knowledge of etiquette. Carol was determined to show her son how a woman ought to be treated, and considering how tough he was finding it, I thought Daniel was doing pretty damn well.

I could go on forever about the rest of the show, and if you scroll down the page you’ll see that I more or less do. But still, there’s so much to bang on about. That bit when Mary’s eyes lit-up as Jet appeared on the screen…the five-foot-eleven personal trainer who seemed to have been created directly from Mary’s imagination. Of course, from that moment on all I could think about was the hit TV show Gladiators, but I didn’t mind one bit (I really loved that show. Wolf was my idol!).

And what about when Daniel agreed to go on a date with Holly, without seeing her photo first? That was mighty impressive (at this point we were also told Daniel came from Brighton, and I said “I knew it all along!”).

What wasn’t good was when Daniel and Holly really really struggled to make conversation in the café. That wasn’t good at all – ah, it was cringe! Until it was good, of course, and conversation started to flow and things rapidly improved. Fortunately for Daniel, coming from Brighton very much saved the day. Daniel even blew Holly a kiss and Holly gladly accepted it. For the first time, I could see romance in the air.

One month on for Hayley, I had the feeling that, intentionally or otherwise, she was being a little bit left out of the show. Then the phone only went and rang, didn’t it! The agency had a match and his name was the best name ever – Chris. Coffee was soon to be on the horizon…seeing Hayley thrilled may me feel thrilled too. It was like the first time I saw Gladiators, only without me being told off for swearing when Wolf appeared. My God I wanted to be that man.

What can I say about Mary’s date that a million other people haven’t already thought? Having seen this Jet personal trainer character on the screen and everything he was supposed to be, I’d thought of him as the male equivalent of one of those Spam email Russian brides I see in my Inbox once a year (sorry Mary!). Yet in reality, the man was alright. Better than alright, actually. Oh, go on then, he was good! Crap at ice skating mind you, but otherwise a decent fella. Seeing Jet all nervous as he waited for Mary to arrive was a nice turn of events. It couldn’t compare to the moment when Mary made absolutely no secret of checking out Jet’s crotch live on TV, of course, but it was still good.

Anyway, you know and I know that if Jet entered an ice skating competition, bad things would be said. Unless it was in a parallel dimension where being on your arse is considered a good thing. If it exists, I hope to one day go there.

Who gives a shit, though? Fact was, Mary and Jet had serious chemistry together. Laughing and joking, Mary said she couldn’t have asked for a better date. Well done Jet.

One week on from When Daniel Met Holly, Holly was almost like a brand-new person. Holly talked about watching films in bed endlessly, and her love of eating breakfast in bed. She talked a lot about bed really, which can surely only be promising. Daniel was the gentleman the entire time, and although he was quite hurt when Holly refused to have any kind of physical contact at the end of their date – how exactly does a person reject a hug from the ever loveable Daniel? – things were to soon turn around.

It was the day of Hayley’s date, and Hayley, well, she had the big-time nerves.

Chris turns up, and within mere seconds the two are locked in intense competition…in a bowling alley,of all places. All I kept thinking about as I watched this was how I’d once seen a couple arguing like fuck in a bowling alley. I mean really going for it – people holding them both back like wild dogs, that kind of thing. If I remember rightly, it ended with the guy being ejected and some kind of scrap which made for really fun rumours at school the next day. Granted, there was a good chance that they’d carried their relationship difficulties into the alley, and that bowling wasn’t the sole catalyst for the girl’s awful screaming, but still, bowling could do bizarre and sinister things to people. I just hoped these Undateables people knew what on Earth they were doing…

Turned out they did. There was to be no violence or mud-slinging, as you know, and afterwards they sat down to have a good old-fashioned chat together. This chat included one of the World’s greatest awkward silences, but I needn’t have worried. It all turned around in the end, and soon Chris and Hayley were laughing. It even made me think a bit differently about English bowling alleys. Not to mention Chris said he’d had a cheeseburger with Eddie The Eagle Edwards, and Hayley said she’d met not only Princess Diana, but Tony Blair too (personally I thought Chris trumped it when he said he’d spoken to Boycie from Only Fools and Horses, but that’s just me).

Chris said they should see about doing it again, and my big soppy heart melted, it did.

A week after Mary and Jet’s first hot date, things were considerably hotter. Hot like when you burn yourself on the oven and you have to hold your hand under cold water for a full 2 minutes or else you get a nasty burn. Yes. That kind of hot. Not only did Jet confess to having texted Mary every day, but they’d been speaking too. Holy shit! I love this show.

It wasn’t all over with Holly and Daniel either. They might not have set the world on fire like Mary and Jet, but they were hanging out at least. Holly even had some big wellies on and was smiling loads. Great news for Daniel, who’d always seemed like a really nice bloke.

As we saw an exclusive preview of next week’s episode, I thought again, for what felt like the millionth time: If they’re OK with all this, why shouldn’t we be?

 

 

 

Christmas. And stuff

del boyPersonally speaking, it’s been quite a strange and difficult couple of weeks – an intense couple of months, even. A very unique year – that’s certainly true. A dear relative was lost, various other important and pivotal once-in-a-life-time things have happened in not just my own life, but the lives of several of my family and friends, and, all in all, a time for celebration it has felt like not (that’s putting it mildly, actually. For a good few months, the idea of celebrating has made me feel sick, and I’ve even occasionally not felt like writing, which is very unusual indeed).

Yet I still find myself smiling, thinking about how utterly fortunate I am – for my lovely girlfriend and spectacular friends and family – knowing that it could easily be plenty worse. That when I was born, there was far more chance that I wouldn’t have the life I have than how it turned out in the end (I don’t mean to say that the family I was born into was a bit of a nightmare, because that’s not true. Not at all. I just mean it in a general, geographical sense). I prefer to say fortunate rather than lucky – when I think about luck I inevitably think of both good luck and bad luck, whereas when fortune comes to mind, I think only about the over-riding positive things which are there no matter what comes and goes through the years. The freedom to walk down the street, the choice to decide when I go out and who my friends are. Twix or Mars bar, that kind of thing (Twix. Definitely Twix. Two-for-one – how can you argue with that logic? Well, that’s if they haven’t got Wispa…). How I don’t get hassled going about my business, unlike many perfectly legal immigrants who are trying to make an honest living in this country and constantly find themselves coming up against enormous difficulties – police harassment, cultural and racial issues – which most of us simply wouldn’t be able to cope with. Using toilet paper which leaves me feeling content, even (if UK bought economy toilet paper is bad news for your bum-hole, then how bad is it in a city where supplies are seriously limited? Not good news for run-ragged anal fissures, acquired from diarrhoea triggered by poorly sanitized water, surely). Basic things which rarely seem like true privileges, yet can only be viewed in this manner when set against the contrasting realities of those living in numerous other countries out there.

Now stop imagining and wondering about anal fissures. I wish I’d never mentioned it. But do feel privileged.

My brother, sister and I have always had the option to ask for what we’d like as Christmas presents (that’s got to be a good way to get us off the subject of those pesky anal fissures, hasn’t it?). Something that’s certainly not unique and something that takes the piss, when you stop and think about it. That’s got to be another massive Western privilege, am I right? This year, I didn’t ask for anything in particular, and I have to say that it felt slightly strange. It wasn’t that I couldn’t think of anything I really wanted – I can always think of plenty of things I’d really like – and it wasn’t that this was the way I deliberately planned it, either. In truth, the events I mentioned at the start of this blog post distracted me from being a self-indulgent gift-seeking bastard, and selfishly imagining what I might like didn’t feel like much of a priority – but don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll be back to my usual self next year. It was probably a good thing, I am now fairly sure, even if not asking for specific things eventually reveals itself to be one almighty downfall. Being able to select exactly what you want for Christmas every year seems pretty gruesome and wrong and monstrous when you write it down, I have just discovered. I think this year, I’ll be happy with surprises. Even though it feels like I’ve had far too many already. But still.

I also haven’t seen Home Alone once in the last week, which is more than a little unsettling. I mean, I’ve always loved watching Home Alone at Christmas time. A bit of Macauley Culkin? Go on then (what the fuck are the TV people playing at, really? Where has Home Alone been? Or did I just miss it? I hope not). The weather, too, has let both children and adults down. Stupid weather! Instead of a white Christmas, or even the vague threat of a white Christmas – almost as good, it has to be said, because half the fun is waiting for the snow to arrive, and adults who drive cars prefer the threat much more than the actual delivery – we’re presently enduring a storm which is making thousands of UK homes without power. One of those dull storms which doesn’t do a lot other than be miserable. No internet, no phone lines, no TV – at least in certain places. The only people who are winning are those with battery-powered Gameboys – they’re all powered by batteries, by the way, I just said that to emphasise my point – and, I hate to say it, those American freaks on US TV channels who are constantly preparing for the end of the world (I always knew they were on to something). There couldn’t be a worse time for this to happen, could there? (The only thing worse than missing Home Alone at Christmas time in the UK is having the ability to watch it at all entirely taken away from you). Then again, in our country, the phone lines get fixed reasonably quickly and internet is never down for long. Home Alone, too, is often repeated numerous times, even when you think you’ve missed it. And once it all gets fixed, we know we’ll be OK for a while. No rebels are going to come along any time soon with machine guns and wipe out any of our people, after all. So maybe we should just think ourselves very lucky.

And now this blog post is in danger of becoming one big preaching session. Bollocks. That’s frustrating. Frustrational – there, I invented that just then, and I like that better. I hate the idea of people out there thinking that, almost as much as I love the idea of Frustrational catching on as a new word attributed to me. Still, we are lucky to have choices and families and the option to be able to engineer how happy we are through the Christmas period. The option to Google anal fissures – don’t – and buy the kind of luxurious toilet paper that costs as much as a whole African village’s supply of monthly food. We’re lucky to have a Christmas period at all. Because some of us can be pretty fucking pathetic, starting with me. Just the other day, for example, I walked into the living room and started complaining about how it was cold. It wasn’t cold, not really. I was just being a stupid arsehole. With my Breaking Bad box-set less than fifteen-feet away and a week of freedom from work approaching, I felt like slapping myself, and would have done, if I’d have thought it might have any effect. But I just couldn’t help myself, could I? Less than ten Western minutes later I was moaning once again, if only inside my own consciousness where nobody else could witness its feebleness. This time it was about our internet connection, which was making life difficult by being really slow. The pages were taking as long as 3 seconds to appear in full right there on my screen. And now my consciousness no longer feels like the isolated void of freedom that it once did.

Another thing: I hate this whole Christmas is shit thing that some people have going on, I really do. Lighten-up. It’s not shit. It really isn’t. Even if you think it’s shit because you hate how commercial it’s all become, how trapped we all are in this one particular way, it’s good to have a few days off work and be able to ruthlessly self-indulge. It’s good, so enjoy it. Force yourself, if you have to. Even if you did leave it too late to order your Christmas presents. But then, there’s always the sales…

Turkey? Loads of booze? Sugary things, laughter, family and crap TV? Del Boy, falling through the bar, forever and ever, so we can’t forget it. I miss my Nan and I don’t really feel like celebrating and it doesn’t feel right to not have freezing-cold weather, but still, it’s Christmas, and I plan to bloody well enjoy myself, and force everybody else to, if it comes down to it. To notice and embrace the small things. My small moment on this planet. I’ll even wear my Christmas hat, even though my head is always too big for it.

Haircut Story December 2013

As of December 17th, 2013, 3:45pm

Just been to the hairdresser’s. Hated every moment of it, as ever. Just like I knew I would.

Every time I go to get my hair-cut at this one particular place, which I shall not name, I get told off – sometimes quite badly. It’s the same every single time, and over the years I have actually come to quite like the routine we have fallen into: I keep walking through their door with hair which is unacceptably long, and I just can’t get the fucking message. “You’ll need to go to a ladies salon next time,” I have been repeatedly warned by the owner, who is also the chief male stylist there and a somewhat stern individual (you may recognise that statement from an earlier blog post). But, like I said, the message – I can’t get it and I know I never will (I’m a busy man with a life to lead and frequent hairdressing appointments are hard to arrange and keep to, that’s just the way it is). And clearly I don’t much care, either. The nostalgia is more important to me. Every time I’ve had my hair cut, I do the same thing – nothing, letting my hair grow out of its style and into a mess – and the same scenario unfolds again the next time. The sad thing is that no matter how long my hair is when I turn up there, I am never, ever turned away.

Let that be a warning to you, hairdressers of the world: empty threats result in future horrors. Just say no. Otherwise, you’re asking for it.

(Shit. It’s just dawned on me that I must be that one customer who they absolutely despise. That one customer who every salon surely has. The one who they wish would get the message but never does. Still, it costs eleven-pounds…)

Anyway, this time, before I went to get my hair cut, I decided to have a go at it myself. A proper good go. Take some of the weight out of it – that phrase stuck in my head the last time I came for my twice-a-year bollocking – and make it more manageable for them, so there was nothing to complain about. Do them a big favour. Cutting my own hair was initially quite a daunting thing to do – I didn’t know where to start but all the places I started appeared to be wrong. It soon transpired, however, that cutting one’s own head of hair is actually quite simple. You just have to free yourself. Providing you don’t set your standards too high, and providing you accept that it’s something of a learning curve, it’s simple enough. If you see a long bit, hack it off. If you see a short bit, well, you’ve probably already done that bit. But it never hurts to make doubly sure. That’s the key thing.

It has to be a good thing that I didn’t decide to train as a hairdresser. Then again, maybe my cavalier approach would have been just what hairdressing needed. Either way, it’s too late to tell. Or is it…?

Yes, it is. Don’t worry, that was a joke.

Today, within just a second or two of coming through the door with my woolly hat on, I was disturbed to find myself sat in the hairdresser’s chair. For me, this has always been a bad omen. I like waiting in the leather chairs and pondering for a few minutes – waiting just feels like the right thing to do. Yet today, I was denied that basic human right. It should come as no surprise that things were to go downhill very fast…

So I sat there. Then, a craziness came over me, underscored by the feeling of impending fear. Now, what I’d seen as I entered the salon began to cross my mind: the lady hairdresser sat reading a paper at the desk, the fact that aside from me and her, the salon was entirely empty. The chief male stylist was nowhere to be seen and today, I was to have my hair styled and dressed by a woman who I had never seen before! As she appeared beside me, and I removed my hat, I sensed the atmosphere change (it was true, also, that I suddenly fancied some chips, but that had nothing to do with it. I don’t think. Although chips have been known to change atmosphere. Particularly when somebody suddenly decides to steal yours, but that’s another story).

Her: “can I ask you a question?”

Me: “yes.”

“Have you cut it yourself?” she said.

“Is it that obvious?” I said back.

“Yes,” she said, with no hesitation. “Were you trying to make it uneven?”

I smiled with purpose and looked right at her. Smiling, in this context, is my way of saying I’m joking, obviously. I tried again but it came out all wrong and she made a little sigh. For a moment, I wondered if she might put her hand on my shoulder and tap me gently, ask me when the mini-bus was coming to pick me up again.

“I was going for the recently mauled look,” I said, smiling again, when she didn’t look like she knew what to say. This time I was happy with the smile.

“…By?”

“Sorry?”

“Mauled by what, I mean.”

I paused. Whenever I’ve heard the word mauled, I’ve always thought of an animal doing the mauling. I can’t remember ever hearing about a human being mauling someone. Not on one occasion. Obviously human beings do, but that’s called GBH or assault, isn’t it?

So I said “non-specific. Nevermind.”

“Oh.”

For several seconds, the mirrored opposite versions of ourselves looked at one another, until she said “right. So what should I do with it? Obviously your options here are quite limited…”

This is why I hate going to the hairdresser’s. Surely, when a man turns up having cut his own head of hair and shows absolutely no sign of being concerned about having done so, the job is pretty simple: make it look less shit than it presently does, if at all possible.

“I’d like it to look better than this,” I said. “Please.”

“Well, I’m not a miracle worker but I’ll see what I can do.”

“Wicked.”

What followed was pretty humiliating, really. First she kept suppressing a laugh, and then whenever the laugh seemed about to break through, she’d make a very serious telling-off comment, while touching my hair to remind me what she was referring to. These comments ranged from the innocent – “it should grow out in about six weeks, so don’t worry too much” – to the downright rude – “next time you feel like cutting your hair yourself…don’t, please”.

Next came concerns about what I might say after leaving the salon. That I might tell everyone she had done a terrible job. We had a brief debate because she wanted to do a comb-back 1980s Cotton Trader catalogue style hair-cut, but I didn’t, because I was absolutely certain it would look like utter shit. It got pretty heated, actually – and it was made all the worse, at least for me, by the black cape which I felt trapped by at all times. At one point, she seemed to be on the verge of winning the argument. Until I reminded her that it was more important that I was happy with the hair-cut I was wearing. Surely, I thought, if you cut my hair how I want it, I am less likely to tell everyone you did a crap job?

The hair-cut dragged on. For as long as five minutes, I was instructed that if I ever wanted to have my hair cut in the future, I should not attempt to do it myself, and that if I absolutely had to cut it myself, I should first buy a special type of scissors designed to not remove large chunks, but fine pieces of hair, thus creating an even-uneven look. I had, by now, given up on telling her that me cutting my own head of hair again and coming to this salon was quite unlikely. There was hope and the hair-cut had reached its final phase. The less I said, the quicker this episode would be over and done with.

“Well, it doesn’t look good in any way,” she said, showing me the back of my head with one of those special small round mirrors, “but it’s cut. So there.”

So there.

It is,” I said, and it was then when she asked me what I did. Ha! I thought. Now it’s my turn!

“I’m a writer,” I said.

“Oh. What kind of stuff?”

“You know, for the internet. For websites and things.” And blogs where I detail the crap experience I have recently had at the hairdressers. Then I went back to making mental notes about the experience so that I could recreate it in all its horrible beauty.

“I see. Right.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I think it looks better, so you’ve fulfilled your brief. You’ve done a half-decent job of it. It’s not even a bowl.”

“…Thanks.”

“Pleasure. I always end up with a bowl, so to not end up with a bowl for once is different. Great.”

I looked at myself in the mirror again. At the first hair-cut I’d had since my one in Vietnam earlier in the year when it actually went amazingly well and was even less bowl-like. In the mirror, now, it looked alright to me (take that statement as you like – clearly my standards were pretty low to begin with). Then I paid twelve-pounds – yes, a £1 tip for Christmas’s sake! – and walked out the door, wondering how different my life might be if I was a mean person who named and shamed companies on the internet on his blog, in that vicious way that clearly must be fun, because everyone who writes in The Guardian online’s comments seems to do it.

I’d never do that, I thought. To be fair, I did make her life bloody difficult today. I’m so happy I am not a hairdresser…

Father and son do manual labour

I hear a tapping noise nearby, turn my head and see Dad standing outside, behind the window, hunched slightly as he tries to see in. Through the glass, he shouts and asks me to help him with something in the back garden, and it comes through as the faintest whisper. That’s exactly how he refers to it: something. He’s standing in the rain with his waterproof hat and coat on, and the request comes with a half-grunt, half-frown before he walks away with no more said. There is something laboured about Dad’s body language that promises ominous things to come. And it isn’t just because of the endless rain.

I think Oh no, and for good reason. This feeling has nothing to do with the weather and the rain and the tormented sky which has crept in over our part of England in the last few days – in fact, I am looking forward to leaving the safe haven of my self-employed life for a few welcome minutes. It will make a nice change to go outside at this time, and one that I probably wouldn’t have made for myself voluntarily.

The uneasy feeling growing within me originates more from the context of all this: like many Dads out there, my Dad never asks for help outside unless it’s something he really can’t manage on his own. Something which has caught him entirely off-guard. Something big. As I put my jacket and walking boots on, I consider what in the world might have driven Dad into such a situation that he had no choice but to swallow his pride and admit defeat so openly like this. I can’t think of much, really – more to the point, I don’t want to think of much – other than that he has decided to dig one of the old trees up, as people in later life so often needlessly do when they have got bored of their garden and fancy a change, even though this change involves the mindless destruction of crucial habitats that have stood for many decades and provide a welcome refuge for life such as birds, etc. Like I said, I didn’t want to think about it.

Outside, I soon discover that Dad has got himself into a bit of a mess. Meeting him in the garden, I see a large, square, 6-foot-high concrete post sticking out of the ground at the far end, in the dirt. Its base is surrounded by a large pit that is several feet deep and dug-out haphazardly. How long he has spent digging this pit is anyone’s guess. I look at the post and I think Has that really been there all the time? And I realise it must have been. But still, it’s hard to place it, probably because of the pit, and the odd diagonal angle with which it is stood out of the ground. The more I look at all this, the more the rain falls, the more it feels like the post fell out of the sky, embedding itself deep into the ground.

“So…why are you doing this?” I ask Dad. The intergalactic vision has now gone. I have now re-imagined the concrete post in days, months and years previous. I see it standing there innocently, doing literally nothing at all when I am 7. It surprises me how little I have considered its purpose before. I get that Dad wants it gone because it serves no discernible purpose, but, similarly, I see no reason for the sudden mysterious compulsion to have it gone.

“We need to move it out of the way,” Dad says abruptly, as if the post is becoming an increasingly dangerous threat and standing here doing nothing is directly adding to the misery it might potentially cause. His urgency is compounded by the rain, always the rain, and so this transfers to me as I try to help him wangle the massive post thing out of the ground. Despite the ground being dark and sodden with moisture and the post rotating round in a circle, it seems stuck dead. It does not want to move, even when we use all our might.

For several minutes, I stand back and watch Dad trying desperately to free the post – he uses his arms in every conceivable way, then his legs, then various combinations which obviously don’t work but apparently seem like a good idea. I don’t do nothing out of malice, or laziness, although it is comical in a fucking-hell-get-me-out-of-here kind of a way. I do it because I have realised something that Dad clearly has not: that without a plan of action and some sort of actual logic, that post isn’t going anywhere. We will never beat the post. Unfortunately, Dad is in the moment and entirely at the mercy of his own animal instincts. Get the post out, somehow, anyhow, right now. I put this down to him being drawn into this bizarre, pointless drama over a period of unknowable hours and minutes. Nothing to shake him out of it. He hasn’t realised yet that it might make sense to stop and think and waste a few minutes, rather than trying as hard as possible for a very long time indeed.

“Are you going to help me, then?” Dad says. “That’s what I called you out here for.”

I say “it might be best to stop and think about what we’re doing first. It’s only a suggestion.”

Dad’s face shows he isn’t impressed with this irrational forward-thinking attitude, and he is not looking for suggestions either. I am one of the old-school, it says. We don’t stop to think, we just bloody do.

After another few seconds, I still can’t think of a way to lever the post out any time soon. This is ridiculous. At least not without rounding a few neighbours up or using a complicated harness system which would take some time to devise, let alone implement. One idea had been to tie it to something and drag it out that way. Our dog, Jojo, crosses my mind briefly in an insane but surprisingly effective scenario involving rope tied to her back legs.

I get drawn into it too. The rain is lashing us now, and Dad is getting increasingly more frantic – we’re both talking and not really listening to anything the other is saying. I have no gloves so trying to shift this fucking annoying post – I am near the base, now knee-deep in the pit – is not only difficult, but promises great pain and some bloodshed if I don’t grip it hard enough to stop its abrasive surface suddenly grating my hands. In the pit, there’s a hell of a lot to think about: my back, my hands, my legs – at least one of my femurs is going to get crushed if Dad lets go of the post suddenly. I think about Mum and what she’s going to say if Dad gets injured because he’s gone and done something stupid and I should have stopped him, because I was the only one who could.

Then the post gives a little. Not much, but enough to show that at the base of the post is a huge lump of old, heavy concrete. I look at Dad’s face. I see that the sight of the half-buried concrete has crushed the tiny morsel of optimism that had existed for the smallest second before. No wonder it wouldn’t move. Dad and I look at one another, both of us not knowing what to say. I find myself stepping out of the pit as we try and drag it, like a pair of stupid animals. Like we have some sort of plan.

As it is physically impossible to hold onto the post and support it whilst also stepping out of the pit and steadying myself, Dad is now holding the post all on his own. He’s a modern-day hero. His face is pure stress, anxiety, fear and regret (that deeply hidden old-school regret that desperately doesn’t want to be caught out in the open, yet is).

“I’m holding the post on my own!” Dad says, with all the breath and power he is able to spare. He looks like he may speak again, but then he doesn’t. He just frowns.

I say “yeah, you are, what would you like me to do about it?” and go on to point-out that taking into account the minimal room (the post has now been dragged just out of the pit, and Dad is backing into a bush with not much space around it for me to manoeuvre), if I now try and help, there’s a good chance that the post might crush me beneath it, or at least break one of my feet. Dad looks at me with simple naked horror, as it now finally dawns on him that this job he has taken on is a much bigger undertaking than he had ever previously thought about before (but more likely not).

Somehow, we manage to get the post into a resting position next to the fence without it maiming either of us. We are beaten. He’s pissed-off. The rain is still coming down, with no sign of stopping. I go in and make Dad a cup of tea as he stubbornly clears his things up outside, staring into the pit, thinking…well, anyone’s guess.

Important cultural musings: the legend of Heinz Beans & Pork Sausages inside a tin

All my life I have felt a deep and compelling connection with HEINZ BEANS baked beans with PORK SAUSAGES in a rich tomato sauce – one which obviously goes well beyond the rational reasoning of someone who knows, with certainty, that what he is eating is in fact absolute crap (I see little point in trying to hide my feelings here, as is clear. Even people who merely scan this blog post lightly will surely pick up on my unmistakeably pro-beans-and-sausages agenda, for which I can’t and won’t apologise).

What with so much going on in the world, and so many significant topics frequently needing addressing, it’s understandably not that often that writers have the vision and sense of pride to engage their readers with nostalgic musings concerning this much-loved tinned-thing. In this blog post which I hope at least some people do actually bother to read, I am going to attempt to put that right.

HEINZ BEANS baked beans with PORK SAUSAGES in a rich tomato sauce – not to be confused with other lesser brands of beans & pork sausages which lack the prerequisite 55% or 65% pork content, depending on which mysterious nutrition information label you read – are a conundrum, both from a health perspective and a free will perspective (do we in fact have free will to eat beans & sausages in a tin, or is their consumption entirely beyond our control and an inevitability? I’m going with the latter). Much as I love HEINZ BEANS baked beans with PORK SAUSAGES in a rich tomato sauce in a tin, even I will admit that on the surface – well, on any level, really – the idea seems at first freakish. Maybe even demented. The issue begins with the beans, of course. On one hand, it seems wrong to stick pork sausages in that tin beside them, around them, on top of them, beneath them – in the tin there is no escaping! – yet from another perspective, it also seems inspired and brave.

When citing how wrong HEINZ BEANS baked beans with PORK SAUSAGES in a rich tomato sauce and other brand beans & pork sausages in a tin really are, mini-sausage-haters will stoop to almost any level imaginable to get their sordid point across, often clinging to desperate illogical facts and using opinion disguised as fact, laced with years of well-practised bitterness on top.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the (alleged) reasons, shock tactics and downright outrageous lies which people have used on me over the years:

The sausages ruin the beans (if you say so).

The sausages aren’t even proper sausages (the audacity…).

The strange smooth consistency of the sausages is disgusting and ominous (!).

You shouldn’t be able to eat miniature sausages cold out of a tin/can (!!).

The shape of the sausages is inappropriate (I am still considering the meaning of this one).

You don’t even know what the sausages are made out of (I have to admit you have a point here – or at least you did until today).

But then again, are there any universal rules on what you can put with beans inside a tin? And even if there are – there aren’t, so don’t bloody start – didn’t someone somewhere say that rules are meant to be broken [within reason]? Didn’t everyone agree to that being a brilliant and memorable saying at the time, even though half those people were the exact same people saying that everyone had to follow their silly rules?

As for the sausages allegedly being not even proper sausages, this – along with the other points – I simply find offensive (particularly if directed at me as I eat HEINZ BEANS baked beans with PORK SAUSAGES in a rich tomato sauce). If you buy into the concept behind HEINZ BEANS baked beans with PORK SAUSAGES in a rich tomato sauce, you must also buy into the fact that what we’re dealing with here, undeniably, is mass produced endearing crap, with a luxurious middle-class twist which not even middle-class people can deny.

It won’t kill you (probably), so really, what’s the harm?

To these things, I smile. Because if ever a day does come when the world as I know it is falling apart around me, and all that is left are a significant number of tins of HEINZ BEANS baked beans with PORK SAUSAGES in a rich tomato sauce – hopefully I’ll be surrounded by people who have spent many years hating HEINZ BEANS baked beans with PORK SAUSAGES in a rich tomato sauce, as this will both make me feel better and also give me the best chance at surviving the longest out of everyone within that confined space – I will be the one who is laughing. Albeit intermittently.

Fortunately, for all the negativity surrounding the legend of HEINZ BEANS baked beans with PORK SAUSAGES in a rich tomato sauce in a tin – I know I keep mentioning the entire name, but I assure you Heinz are not sponsoring this blog post – there is also a great deal of hope. After all, for something to be produced in such quantity, there has to be demand. Demand from people whose lives can be mapped and made sense of merely by a quick glance at how many tins of HEINZ BEANS baked beans with PORK SAUSAGES in a rich tomato sauce they have consumed (although you probably wouldn’t want to be the one actually doing the mapping…not unless the consumption was at such a high level that what came out was more or less what went in, in which case it might just about be bearable – probably best not to over-think this).

These people will sing the praises of HEINZ BEANS baked beans with PORK SAUSAGES in a rich tomato sauce in a tin. When you meet someone who truly understands this phenomenon, a special bond is formed which cannot be broken, even when they suddenly turn when under the influence of a heavy health-binge (if you stay in the game long enough, you’re bound to meet one of them).

I’m sure that lovers of HEINZ BEANS baked beans with PORK SAUSAGES in a rich tomato sauce will agree that this product is all of the following things.

Culturally important.

Progressive.

Wildly ambitious.

Exciting.

Unusual.

And that, really, is all there is to it. So shut up.

The great yet terrible grass snake hunt

ksksks

A hastily-drawn artist’s impression of what I probably would have looked like if I had actually discovered the snake and then dared to actually pick it up (I’m supposed to look shocked and in awe. I don’t think I would have dared to pick the grass snake up so you can consider this a rare and dramatic insight into how it would have been)

Up until today, I had never seen a grass snake in real life before. Never ever, and that was hard to believe. I am not at all ashamed to say that this was something which had deeply frustrated me at various times in my life – and frustrated others who I’d gone on and on about this to – seeing as every nature-loving person I knew and know of seems to have seen at least two of them (I have one friend who once accidentally saw one sunbathing nonchalantly in a bush. In a bush! He didn’t even like grass snakes – for him they seemed to be merely a source of amusement! In fact he seemed to resent grass snakes somewhat and I still have no idea why. Until I found this out I didn’t even know that resenting grass snakes was possible. Oh, what I’d have done to resent just one mere grass snake…).

Far from my reach, the grass snake was only to be found on Countryfile, Springwatch, or sometimes, in dreams where I believed I had finally found one, only for it to actually prove itself to be a twig (and a twig partially covered in dog-muck at that. I hated those dreams, I really did…).

For the following reasons, me going my whole entire 32-years without having seen one single grass snake makes absolutely no sense:

1: I’m one of those irritating people who loves nature so much that he can get absurd pleasure from the simplest of things, such as gazing at an inconsequential sunset while the entire world drives on by. I have always needed to see a grass snake, you see. In fact, I know it sounds ridiculous but I’ve always believed that this much passion for nature means I’ve always deserved to see a grass snake! But perhaps I am deluded.

2: In my time, I’ve taken excessive measures and gone well out of my way multiple times to locate grass snakes. I have traipsed fields and I have wandered many a nature reserve. I’ve even climbed over fences at various nature reserves in an attempt to get to the bits that the nature reserve owners don’t want people like me to see, because it holds much too much excitement. I HAVE GONE WHERE GRASS SNAKES MUST BE. Yet still my expeditions have proved fruitless. What do you actually have to do to find a bloody grass snake of your own these days? (Note: it doesn’t count if you’re so desperate and tragic that you have to hire a guide.)

3: 32 years of searching is a very long time indeed, whichever way you look at it. Obviously I didn’t start looking for grass snakes until I was about 8 or so, but still, more than two decades should be quite enough time.

When the grass snake did finally appear, it happened at both the best and worst time possible. The best because, at the time, I was on the phone to my girlfriend, thus enabling her to share in the wonder of the occasion, and the worst because, also at the time, my girlfriend’s mobile phone was running fast out of battery and set to expire at any minute. This put me in a serious quandary…do I only mention the grass snake’s appearance in passing, which doesn’t feel right at all considering just how special the moment was, or do I risk going into great detail about how the grass snake is sliding out from under the neighbour’s fence and slowly working its way into the dense undergrowth of our garden?

Obviously, being a grass-snake-maniac, I chose the latter. I had to take that risk. Even if I had wanted to, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything else.

“I’m going outside! I’m finding that snake!” I told Jen, as the grass snake vanished into the bushes. Out the back door at speed I went, hoping that there was enough time for me to get outside and locate the snake’s whereabouts and share all this before Jen’s phone died its death. I was optimistic.

“Can you see it yet?” Jen was saying, and I was saying “not yet, I’m just hunting for it now, I’m in the bushes, I’m deep in the bushes!” and then it happened. Jen’s phone went and died.

I’ll be honest: knowing that Jen’s phone was now probably unreachable, and that it had likely cut-off not due to my chin on the screen but due to the lack of battery — the old chin-on-the-screen thing haunts us all, does it not? — the first thing I did was stash the phone in my pocket and continue my great-grass-snake-hunt. After all, this was highly time-sensitive: there just wasn’t time to muck about.

I searched and I searched, but five minutes later, after looking as intensively as I could – the bushes in our garden are formidable – the search was over. Given the grass snake’s unbeatable manoeuvres, there was no other conclusion. I considered for a moment the other possibilities for tracking the wondrous creature down (taking into account that it could so easily have slid back under the fence, and that all this might be for nothing). One of them involved sending our greyhound Jojo in to the small, dark, impenetrable places where an inflexible grown man could not easily reach, but this idea had to be quickly abandoned. On a number of counts it just wasn’t practical. For one, it would be hard to communicate to Jojo that I wanted to locate the whereabouts of a grass snake, and for another, even if I had been able to do so, chances are that Jojo’s animal instincts would have taken over and, had she found the creature, she’d have ripped it to pieces rather than bring it out delicately into the open.

So I went inside and tried to call Jen but I couldn’t, because her phone was well and truly expired. Sad as I was that Jen hadn’t been able to revel in the moment with me, at least I had seen a grass snake finally!