Coming Up

Mrs M and I are committed telly watchers. We always have been but
especially so when our four daughters were younger and funds were limited.
Once the kids were fast asleep in bed we would hope and pray that there
would be something good to watch for the last hour of the evening before we
collapsed in to bed.

We are not just a family of TV ‘watchers’, we also try to be fully engaged
with the process; commenting on the storylines, arguing about which
contestant is our favourite, and occasionally shouting in the direction of
the screen if we find something to disagree with. This last one is usually
my practice and tends to annoy the other family members but at least I have
stopped throwing things at the TV these days.

Although we had the luxury of a video player back then most of our tapes
were either cartoons or compilations of home movies. Not like today when we
have so much technology available to aid us in our free time.

One of our most favourite of the new inventions is the ability to record
most of our favourite programmes using something called series link.

In addition to the fact that we very rarely miss episodes we are also able
to fast forward past the adverts. This has increasingly brought to our
attention the fact that an hour of TV only contains about forty minutes of
the actually programme.

If this is not bad enough there is the use of a phrase that I have come to
quite literally detest. It is employed in nearly every show and without any
sense of how it affects the viewer’s experience.

The phrase is ‘coming up’.

It is used just before the advert break and seems to suggest that TV
producers have very little confidence in either their product or their

They must assume that we will get distracted during the ad break and
forget what we were watching. So they try to tantalise us with snippets of
what is about to happen.

Well I would like to announce to these producers that I am not interested
in what is coming up until it arrives; so stop telling me what I am about
to see.

You might feel my annoyance coming through these words but don’t be too
concerned because my pain has been alleviated by the fact that we can now
fast forward past such nonsense.

Added to this ability to eliminate this TV chaff is the fact that I can
increase my engagement with programme by shouting at the screen ‘we are not
interested in what is coming up!’, before pressing the fast forward button
on the remote control.

Dedicated Follower of Fashion

I have just put my holiday hat away to hibernate for the winter. Using all
the skills of a Blue Peter presenter I stored it in a box at the back of my
wardrobe making sure that there was enough air circulation to ensure it
emerges undamaged next year ready for the baking heat of a British summer.

Whilst completing this important process I found a couple of items that
have managed to avoid Mrs M's regular clothes cull. She does one of these
quite regularly, spurred on by some charity or other that has kindly
dropped a bin liner through our door.

I often wonder whether it is our need to follow fashion rather than our
support for the concerned charity that drives such action.

Here, however, I had found some clothes that had avoided the cull.

Firstly there were my old jogging bottoms circa 1988. Made of shiny
material with two long stripes running up each leg, they included the
helpful feature of a small zip near each ankle so that you could take them
off without removing your footwear.

I have worn them very occasionally during the intervening years but I have
to confess they don’t offer the same comfort they did when I was in my

I tried them on and posed for my wife, holding in my stomach, and hoping
to look at least a little sportsman like. Mrs M seemed more amused than

‘It would work if you had a moustache and a curly perm’ she offered.

‘I think there is still a little life in them’ I replied. At this point my
bride’s laughter subsided to be replaced with a slight look of fear at the
thought that I might actually wear them outdoors.

‘Don’t worry’ I said hoping to offer comfort ‘I will wait until they come
back in fashion’

I said this in certain knowledge that, apart from the cod piece and the
Bay City Roller tartan trousers, everything else does seem to return to the
forefront again.

Just as I have managed to afford some small framed, branded reading
glasses, it seems that the old style large specs are making a come back;
think Deirdre Barlow and Richard Whitely.

We have seen a few celebrities wearing such items recently on TV and
commented how ridiculous they look.

Most people react like this when, in truth, it is not long before the
irresistible need to conform overtakes them and they start wearing what
they once ridiculed.

The second item I found during my holiday hat hibernation ritual was a
shirt on which the collar and cuffs are a different colour to the main

I tried to model this for my wife too but ended up feeling a little
depressed as I tried to fasten the buttons and failed.

‘If I had managed to fasten them’ I said pushing through my sadness ‘I
think I could have pulled it off’.

‘If you had managed to fasten them' commented Mrs M 'we would have had to
cut it off with the scissors’ Then she rolled her eyes in a way that has
never gone out of fashion.

Football Crazy

The football season has well and truly begun and I am feeling a great sense of excitement. This might not seem surprising if you were to know that I was a football fan. Given the disappointment of last year’s World Cup I had thought that I would devote less time to the Nation’s favourite sport.

Yet, as soon as the first whistle blew on the Community Shield Cup back in August my interest returned in spades.

Part of the fun is the regular conversation I have with some of my closest friends; most of whom support different teams than me.

I was speaking with once such friend, who is a Liverpool fan, just a few days ago. After I reminded him that his team play in an orangey-red and therefore must be inferior to United, I asked him where they were in the league at the moment.

His answer made me laugh because it displayed the full partisan feeling experienced by most fans. ‘They are joint sixth’ he said with a decent sense of pride having seen them sitting just above the relegation zone only a few weeks earlier.

‘Don’t you mean ninth?’ I enquired seeing through his plan to spin the situation like a good politician. ‘It depends how you look at it’ he replied.

He confessed that had Everton been in the same position he would have definitely called it ninth place.

Another of my long time friends is a Newcastle fan with whom I have spent many happy hours talking about every aspect of football over the years. Several months ago I found out that he had sadly past on after battling several of the complications that life often throws at some of the world’s loveliest people.

When talking about Mark’s favourite team I would often quote to him a phrase from the funeral service ‘we sorrow but not as those without hope’.

He would usually reply with some humorous comment whilst acknowledging that being a Magpie fan was often a difficult experience. The humour was useful in deflecting from many of the other struggles he faced and I am glad to say that before he died he learned that his beloved team had beaten Arsenal away from home.

For Mark and me, football became our touch point, so that in the midst of the pain we could find some enjoyment talking about our common passion.

In years gone by we would often watch a match on TV; me in bold red and him in black and white stripes, to ensure that our rivalry, although friendly, would be apparent.

He used to regularly remind me that I couldn’t be a true Man United fan because I didn’t have a southern accent. I would respond by asking him whether the till beeped when he walked though the supermarket looking like a bar code.

In addition to this passion for football Mark also had a belief that there was a future after this life was over. He would tell me that this gave him a lot of strength to deal with his difficulties.

As I think of him now I remember my oft quoted phrase ‘we sorrow but not as those without hope’ and am hoping it might be helpful for the whole of life and not just for football.

Whistle Me Up Scotty

Whilst in the doctor’s surgery last week I was arrested by a strange noise
that evoked memories of my youth. Another patient was waiting for his turn
to be treated (an odd word for an experience that seems to be far from
anything resembling a treat).

Rather than spend the time reading tired copies of Readers Digest he
amused himself by whistling. This in itself might not seem an unusual
occurrence. However this musician, for that is what his skill obviously
made him, was purposefully producing a melody.

Indeed he seemed to be working his way through a selection of Glen Miller

If it were not for the modern surroundings of the newly built health
centre I could have sworn that I had been transported back to my late
sixties childhood.

The rise of the MP3 player and mobile phone seems to have all but put an
end to the long lost art of whistling.

When I was a kid every tradesman worth his salt could belt out a
recognisable tune as he climbed ladders, hammered in nails, or painted
window frames.

Today people have music available in any and every situation and so there
no need to amuse oneself and others making melody through pursed lips

A couple of younger folk in the surgery looked across at our waiting room
musician as if he was a little odd.

This seemed rather strange to me if not a little sad.

Today it is not unusual to see someone walking through a town centre,
plugged into a mobile phone, in full conversation.

For a split second I am convinced that they must be talking to themselves.
In the days of my youth the only people who did this were those of a more
delicate disposition.

What a change in a mere four decades. It is now acceptable behaviour to
walk around having disconnected conversations yet if you whistle you look
like a mad man.

I was walking through Leeds Railway station looking for my connecting
train when a young lady appeared from the steps declaring 'it's the wrong
way and if you don't change you will be late'.

The fact that she was looking directly at me seemed to indicate that her
comments were aimed at me. Not so! She was engaged in a mobile conversation
with someone from her office. She happened to look at me because my
eighteen stone frame happened to be directly in her path at this very

For a split second I prepared to answer her but fortunately realised the
situation in time to spare my blushes.

Such mobile conversations would have seemed futuristic when I was a lad,
confined to the likes of Star Trek.

Matter Transmitters, Phasers, Warp Drive, and tiny electronic
communication devices were all the stuff that fed a young boys imagination.

Most of these technologies haven't been invented yet but one out four
ain't bad.

Nobody has yet found a way of separating the component parts of flesh in
order to reconstitute it again; unless you count chicken nuggets.

Warp speed would be a complete waste of time given the near gridlock we
experience at rush hour.

The nearest thing we have to Phasers are the police use of tasers; even
then the sight of a long wire shooting out of a gun is hardly space age.

I should have seen these changes coming, after all you never saw Captain
Kirk whistling on Star Trek.