The Offside Rule

Being the father of four daughters I am usually loathed to make stereotypical comments but it seems to me that some generally held views are difficult to deny. I like to think that I have had a positive influence upon my girls and am comforted that they enjoy some of the music that has become important to me. I too have had my eyes opened, or should that be my ears, to music that they have discovered. I still insist on a Dad's right to mispronounce the names of younger bands ever so slightly. When it comes to football, however, I have failed miserably in getting them to appreciate the beauty of our national sport. I spent many hours, during their younger years, explaining the offside rule at the dining table. Ask any of the four girls and they will tell you that it is when there isn't a pepper pot between the ketchup bottle and the vinegar at the moment when sprout is passed (as long as it isn’t interfering with the dinner). No matter, they are just not interested and even when they try to comply with my requests for family involvement in viewing an important England match, they never sound convincing. 'Those blue shirts don’t go with that players eyes', or 'Why have they taken the good looking one off and replaced him with an ugly player'. It is all too much and I am left retreating to another room to watch the game with just John Motson's voice for company. I have to face up to the difference between me, as the only male in the house, and my wife and daughters. There are those who, in an attempt to win equality for the sexes, perhaps confuse being equal with being the same. My wife and I have brought our girls up to soar in all that they want to achieve. For us equality is a minimum standard that our society should expect. Having said that, I am totally convinced that women and men see the world in different ways. The whole nature verses nurture debate is redundant in one sentence; both are true. This was never more evident to me than an occasion a number of years ago when we were at a family event where all the cousins were present. Both boys and girls were united in the common games of 'tick' and 'fill your plate with more food than you can eat'. I had taken with me a small electronic box with flashing lights and interesting noises for our kids to play with.One by one each child came to look at this new toy. Each of the girls carefully picked up the item gave it a looking over and placed it back down carefully on the table. The boys had a different method of exploring. Each one ran to the table as if about to trip and smash their heads on the corner. Picking up the game the shook it, bit it and bashed it on to the highly varnished surface. The girls looked and were mildly interested the boys wanted to know how it worked when you shook it, what it tasted like and would it break. On this occasion one of the young nieces gathered all the other children together and suggested with wide, excited eyes, 'Let's go and piss the cat off'. There was a gasp as the adults looked at each other in horror. The shocked silence was broken when the crowd of youngsters ran towards the cat making Pssssssssssssss noises. Most of us laughed. One or two, who were still eating at the time, splutted half chewed food over the others. Once we had given an old Aunt the Heimlich manoeuvre and wiped mushroom vol-au-vent off our posh clothes we continued to chuckle at such a happening.When the young girls had finished chasing the cat they went back to dancing the locomotion whilst the young lads flew imaginary planes. All the children, however, were united in stamping every crisp and peanut they could find into the carpet. It seems that everyone is equal but some are more able to appreciate football more than others.

Senta Nooner

When it comes to humour I am a creature of habit. I just can’t help myself from responding to certain situations with the same jokes. When at a restaurant and my wife encourages me to give the waiter a tip, I feel an honour bound need to say 'don't polish your brown shoes with black shoe polish' or some other useful bit of advice. There are other times too when the spirit of Eric Morecombe takes over. We were on holiday with some friends and it was time to wash up. There was a certain amount of burn on some of the pans so my wife asked me if I had the scrapers. My reply? 'No, I always stand this way'. A suitable response for a variety of situations I have found. It is the same at home. When my good lady asks me to turn the dish washer on it seems only right to walk towards the machine and in a French accent say 'Hey, you sexy little dish washer, you'.

I say all this to illustrate my point that humour is a matter of opinion. You may well have groaned at what you have just read, but I would happily place money on some of you repeating these sayings when the occasion arises. I know that I am not the only one to feel compelled by such things.

My wife and I were invited by some friends to go to the cinema on the largest USA air force base in England. On arrival we found that we were the only non USA residents in attendance. After standing for the national anthem (the one with stars and stripes, not the one with God and the Queen), we sat down to watch the comedy. There were times during the next ninety minutes when the whole of the audience rolled about laughing whilst my wife and I just looked at each other in puzzlement. There were, of course, other times when the whole place was silent and just us two Brits laughed, watched by a few hundred American eyes. Much to my wife's embarrassment, there were also several times when I was the only one laughing.

Humour? What can you say? It is in the mind of the beholder. On most occasions when I tell a joke or offer a jape my wife laughs dutifully and encouragingly. My daughter's, however, tend to raise their eyes whilst making tutting noises, hoping to stave off further offerings. I am never deterred by this, partly because I just can’t help myself and partly because I am determined to make sure that we manage to see the funny side of what it means to be a human being.

I understand that not everyone thinks this way and through limited empirical research I have discovered a few categories of response to humour.

1) People who groan politely but don not wish to enter the arena of your humour.

2) People who pretend to laugh even though they don’t get the joke

3) People who never laugh at jokes because they are too clever to lower themselves. In my experience they are the first people to re-tell the joke later.

4) People who make a joke out of everything.

5) People who have a well rounded sense of humour.

6) People who have no sense of humour.

When our second daughter was about three and having a paddy about something that had upset her I told her to get a sense of humour in order to defuse the situation. With under developed speech she replied with a phrase that has been constantly repeated in the Molineaux house, 'I have got a senta nooner'.

There are times that you meet people who clearly have not got one; those who are so intense and serious about everything, including themselves. You wonder if they have ever laughed with tears running down their faces. I think not.

Some of the best humour is found in real life situations when funny things happy to normal people.

I need to go now to polish my shoes, turn the dish washer on and wiggle my glasses on my face. Give me sunshine! Get a senta nooner.

Cyber Names

I was at a training event recently and had to give a brief talk on the subject of identity. Sounds easy enough until you realise that so much of our understanding of identity is tied to context. At work I might be known by my formal name and job title whilst to my daughters I am mostly known as a taxi. In other areas I am known for my hobbies and passions (for the record: guitars, dobros and football) whilst my wife knows me as her eye candy. Even names are to be seen in a context; most people know me as 'Al' even though my mother will only call me 'Alan' or 'Alan John' if I she wants to get my attention.

Perhaps one of the best ways of understanding how people see themselves is to look at the names they give themselves on the internet.

My daughters have had a variety of associations including loopy, salad, fathead and Mexico - non of them having any bearing on who I know them to be.
Internet names give you the chance, without challenge, to make up any identity no matter how bizarre. I was in a meeting recently when one of those present actually called himself the 'zenmaster' and went on to show that this was his email address name too. The fact that he spoke about himself in the third person added extra weight to my concern.

Not to be outdone I decided that I needed something a little more universally important as my cyber name. I asked my wife what I should be called and she just muttered something about as she walked off. Not sure I liked the tone. My youngest daughter thought I should be called St Paul. Flushed with pride that she should see me in such a positive light I foolishly pushed further for explanation as to her meaning. 'When you lie on the settee your stomach looks like St Paul’s Cathedral' she offered.

'What about Stringmaster' I declared to my wife and our two youngest girls, trying to express my conviction that I am a guitar plucking, dobro playing legend (in my own mind at least). 'It makes you sound like someone who collects twine' my wife replied. 'You could be the stringvest master, that would be about right' interrupted daughter number three. In then end they all agreed that my name should include the phrase 'too much time to think'. The whole conversation took a downward turn after that so I decided not to include them in my quest for a suitable cyber name.

It is probably quite good therapy to have a cyber name that has a certain amount of fantasy in it. It is probably more of a problem when this spills over in to real life. Having Zenmaster as an email address is fine but calling yourself by it in the third person, at work, crosses a certain line.

If you did want to go further with this fantasy you can actually change your official name on the net for just thirty four pounds. I only know this because, following an evening of consumption, my nephew changed his name to 'Daniel Bombastic Fantastic'. This all seemed a good idea until he sobered up and found it to be an official change. Needless to say his parents failed to see the amusing side of it and his Dad, who has the dry, sardonic sense of humour of a suffering Manchester City fan, said he was going to change his name to 'Barry I Have No Son'.

So my advice, for what it is worth, is to enjoy a fantasy moment with your Cyber name but keep hold of your Sunday name just in case your mother wants to contact you. Still not to be deterred by my family’s lack of enthusiasm, I have registered an email address as It has a certain ring to it and I await your emails about collections of twine and stories of other unusual cyber names. If the zenmaster is reading the world wide web is big enough for the both of us. Kind regards the stringmaster.

Paperless Office

Back in the seventies, when I was but a teen, I recall watching an episode of Tomorrow’s World concerned with ‘The Paperless Office’. It predicted, in confident tones, a day when computers would be so much a part of our lives that we would no longer have the need for printed documents. Like an episode of Space 1999 it showed healthy, modern people using personal computers, faxes and mobile phones whilst inhabiting a white sanitised world.

It all seemed a world away from the forest killing, ozone depleting period that I grew up in; if they had added a jetpack and a Sunday dinner in the form of a pill it would have seemed like the complete sci-fi deal.

Here I sit three decades later, my desk full of paper and my most used computer function the print button, wondering what happened to the promised paperless world. In theory it could be a reality today but I fear that the TW producers forgot to consider one ingredient when they made their prediction. Namely: the human inability to truly trust anything.

Think about it. I receive an email from a dear friend in the USA. He tells me all about their latest offspring and I receive this news merely seconds after his fingers have danced over the keyboard. I now have two choices, I either call my wife to come from the lounge and get her to read the missal on the screen, thereby saving a twig in a rain forest south of the equator, or I print it out and let her read the hard copy. I choose to print so that it frees up the screen to show how much I can buy several reams of A4 paper for on-line.

Similarly at work I have a need to print whatever I see on the screen just to double check what it looks like when I hold it in my hands. Perhaps that is part of the problem; we have grown so used to the idea that we use our eyes AND our hands in the reading process that to merely sit and look at a screen feels like second best.

I am sure, however, that there is a deeper reason for my failure to resist the print option. I have become so accustomed to my computer crashing that I am compelled to make a hard copy and keep it in a file in my desk, just in case. I wonder how many acres of vegetation have been lost due to our 'just in case' moments. The ‘techy’ guys and gals in the depth our building don’t offer any comfort. They are all top quality people but their confidence in using computer jargon to deflect awkward questions dissolves into apoplexy whenever they are faced with a printer fault.

They seem to adopt the adage 'if in doubt, give it a clout' like the rest of us when reading error messages on the full colour, 3 function machine. My logic is simple; if they are not believers, then neither am I. I am therefore left to print every document just in case.

When I arrive at the printer I am greeted by a queue of weary office travellers who have all come in search of the comfort of hard copy documentation. Some gaze at the printer with once hopeful eyes. Others press buttons and peer at the display screen hoping that their job is the next to be fulfilled. Some, however, who printed but then got distracted before they could retrieve their work, search through that pile of paperwork that sits next to every machine in the land. You presume that at some point these were all wanted by someone but now they sit like puppies in a dog shelter waiting for someone to consider them as important.

With the advances in technology the promise of a paperless office is now back in vogue. Infrared, Bluetooth and wireless technology mean that our laptops, PC’s, mobile phones and palm tops can all communicate with each other without any help from us mere humans. I may well continue having this urge to print but perhaps the future is more likely to be a ‘peopleless office’.