BABY ON BOARD

…and another thing. Baby on Board signs. Who exactly are these people who put the Baby On Board stickers in the back windows of their cars?

I do a lot of driving and there’s loads of them out there. When I first saw one many years ago, it was in the back of a Volvo (need I say more?) and I couldn’t actually read it. It was a yellow diamond with words on it and it was clearly put in the back window for my benefit but I couldn’t read it. Perhaps it was really important. Who knows? So I drove up close and sat on his tail for a bit in order to read it. Oh I see – they’ve just had a baby. Then I saw the mother in the passenger seat leaning back towards me, waving and gesticulating wildly. So I waved back to her mouthing the word “Congratulations”.

Her reaction was less than friendly I felt. She clearly wanted me to know about her baby. Why else put up a sign? And now her hand gesture was suggesting that there might actually be two babies involved. Can you get a sign that says “Babies on Board“?  And what happens when she’s pregnant? Can you get a sign that says “Two Babies and a Foetus on Board!”?  No? OK – it is a niche market I grant you.

I’m told the reason for these Baby on Board signs is to act as a warning to other motorists to drive safely. Really? Does it work? In which case I want one that reads “Middle aged Man on Board who also doesn’t want to Die!”? Or perhaps it’s the man who’s just bragging? “See her in the back? I got her pregnant.” Or maybe it’s a warning to passing female drivers. “Drop back girls  – Sperm Bomb in Transit!” Or perhaps it was put there by the concerned new mummy. “Beware! Flying Nappies!”. Or “Close your window! That arc of water may not be my windscreen washer!”

More to the point, what on earth possessed them to buy the bloody thing in the first place? Did they see them in some tacky little nick-nack shop and say “Oh they’re nice, let’s get one of those as well as the smelly dangly traffic light thingy shall we?” I mean OK, so they’ve got a baby. It’s no big deal is it? It happens all the time. Far too often some people would say.  Some young mums should have a sign saying “No Father on Board”. Or maybe “Baby on Board – you bastard Colin.”

Look – all I’m saying is that there are millions of us who live in the traditional family unit and yet we don’t go around dangling stupid messages in the back of our cars saying so.

I’ve also been told that the real reason for these Baby On Board stickers is to help the emergency services in the event of a crash, so that the firemen will immediately know to look for a baby amongst the smoking wreckage? This all sounds plausible except for one obvious flaw. The signs are made of laminated plastic and will be reduced to smouldering yellow gloop before you can say “Oh good he’s hit the bridge?”

It also begs the question – is the baby actually there? What I mean is, do these oh so caring sharing “look at me” parents bother to take the Baby on Board sign out when there is in fact – no baby on board. They don’t. I know. I’ve checked. So if they do wrap themselves around a tree on a night out whilst Granny has the sprog, then the fire brigade and police will be then searching fruitlessly through the wreckage. Can we then charge the parents with wasting police time?

No – they’re waste of everybody’s time actually. Nobody drives any safer because of them. Nobody takes any notice. And if they do, it just makes them cross. I mean who cares you’ve got a baby? Who cares if it’s in the car? Who cares that you’ve put a ridiculous sign in the back? You may as well have a blue strip across the top of your windscreen saying Sharon & Dave……..oh…….right……you have.

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Bournemouth Beach Burka

….and another thing.

Last Saturday was, at last, warm and sunny and Bournemouth Beach was a joy. I live there and have a beach hut. And sitting there with food and drink and proper chairs that can be stored on leaving, makes life a pleasure. Also I can watch all human life go by often in the most gloriously inappropriate clothing – or lack of it.

But last Saturday there was  a sight that just saddened me. A Muslim family of three walked down the beach to the water’s edge. Mum was dressed head to foot in a black burka and hijab. The young child – maybe 4 or 5 – was dressed in normal Western clothes. The father wore a shirt slashed to the waist and trousers rolled up to the knees and barefoot was playing in the small waves with his son. Mum stood on the beach watching.

Dad skimmed stones and son tried valiantly to do the same. Dad splashed about in the water. The son did the same. Mum still stood on the beach. I am sure she would be smiling as she watched her son having fun. But no one would know.

Eventually she pulled out her mobile phone and checked some things. Then she called to the boy and he stood in the shallows while she put the camera up to the eye slit and took his photo. She then checked the picture and bent to show it to the boy. He looked then rushed back to join Dad having fun in the sea.

A bit later Dad came out of the water and gave his mobile to his wife still standing on the beach. He posed by the breakwater and she took a photo of him. They both stood together and checked the results. He was pleased. I could see him laughing. I can only assume that she was laughing too. He then went back to the sea to play with his son. She waited on the sand looking at her mobile.

What should have been a vision of a family having fun on the beach was now for me tinged with a sadness. I knew and she knew that she was the only person in that family not to be snapped on the beach on this glorious and sunny Bournemouth afternoon. The only family members with photographs of themselves enjoying the day were father and son – the boys.

I found myself wondering what their family holiday album back at home must look like. So many pictures of everyone but not her. What would be the point of capturing forever someone covered head to foot in a burka? For the mother there would be no sharing of holiday snaps with family and friends with the classic cry of “Here’s one of me on the beach!” “Here’s one of me up the Eiffel Tower.” In a burka who would know? To take photographs of her would be pointless.

So many places the family will visit and yet there’ll be no photographic memories for the wife. On holiday mum does not exist. I watched this family then join their friends on a bench on the promenade. There too the man was in Western clothes – shirt open to get the sun and trousers rolled to the knees. And a second woman. She was head to foot in a black burka with spectacles over the eye slit.

I cannot speak for these women on the beach, They may be perfectly happy with the arrangements. I don’t know. I can’t know. I shall never know. But I just cannot reconcile myself with idea that the men could enjoy all the freedoms of their religion, all the freedoms of the West, all the freedoms of the sunshine and all the freedoms of exercise when the women cannot.

And this is serious stuff. Studies by the Saudis have shown that despite Saudi Arabia being one of the sunniest places on the planet, women in burkas get no real sunlight at all and so suffer chronic Vitamin D deficiency which leads to osteoporosis and other degenerative bone conditions. Low levels of Vitamin D have been linked to a whole host of devastating disorders including cardiovascular diseases, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. The burka also denies women the opportunity of many forms of exercise and so obesity rates are high. Women, may well choose to wear the burka for religious reasons, be obedient to their culture and so continue the tradition but there is clearly a serious medical downside.

But for me on that Bournemouth beach last Saturday it was the ordinary day to day stuff of family life that saddened me. Both the men were enjoying their photos in the sun. They were still checking themselves on the mobiles as they stretched out on towels to eat their picnic. The women sat upright and handed out burgers. The men and the son tucked in heartily while the women negotiated the burger round up and under the veil towards the mouth.

They’d be used to this sort of eating of course, I know. But I couldn’t help thinking, what happens when they want a Mr Whippy. That’s tricky to eat. Could be quite embarrassing.  But then again if you were a messy eater in Burka, who would know? And no one’s going to take a photo to prove it are they?

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TOILET ROLLS

And another thing…..

Toilet rolls. Yes toilet rolls. What is it with toilet rolls? They shouldn’t be a problem should they? A toilet roll is a long strip of occasionally perforated paper wrapped around  some cardboard . I mean it’s not exactly up there with the iPod or Penicillin is it? So why don’t they work properly then?

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Oh I hear you say “it’s all about the quality. You must buy quality.” Well yes….and no. Obviously the cheapo one ply roll is not a good idea. Anything that thin near a toilet is a danger to us all. To prevent an unfortunate wiping accident these single gossamer wing tissue sheets must be doubled nay quadrupled to create something more… substantial.

But it doing so you immediately negate the only point of buying one ply toilet roll – it’s dead cheap. Let’s face it, a roll of one ply toilet paper may cost you bugger all but you’re going to get through it faster than a teenage girl on fizzy drinks at a disco.

Now I know about teenage girls because my old school friend asked if his daughter could come to stay with us for the weekend. No problem obviously. But she brought along two girl friends. They got through – or rather I had to pay for – another 6 pack of toilet rolls. In just one weekend. What were they doing with it? Hand washing cars for pocket money?

No, it was all down to what I now call The Oven Glove Technique. In order to complete their ablutions successfully, teenage girls I was told, will wrap yards and yards of toilet paper round and round their hand creating a monster mitt for drying purposes.  Whole rainforests are being wiped out so that teenage girls can wipe! Justin Bieber fans are destroying the planet people!

But I digress. The cheapo one ply roll is an economic contradiction and totally useless so obviously you end up buying the expensive quilted rolls which are soft and deep and beautifully fluted like a Guinness on St Patrick’s Day. Using quilted toilet paper is like wiping your bum with a swan’s neck. Connoisseurs will know that this particular cleansing method is always attributed to Royalty but although not actually proven. But then again all swans are the property of the Queen, so maybe?….who knows? I merely ask the questions.

But it is the efficiency factor of manufacture that bother’s me most – cheap or expensive. Let’s start at the beginning. You open a new pack of loo roll and before you can use it you must liberate the opening few sheets. Amongst all the problems facing humankind on any given day, unpicking one layer of tissue paper should not be a major problem. But it is.

There is a bonded seam holding the roll intact and it needs to be broken. It is meant to tear straight across allowing the first sheets to float free. But it never does! Why not? It’s only a bonded seam after all. It is not welded steel. You should be able to tear away the bonded bit and bingo – you have paper – you can wipe.

But it won’t.  It won’t tear in a straight line at all but skews off sideways right round the roll till it meets up back at the bonded seam again. So now you must pick at it a second time. All that needed to happen was to simply tear across the roll from one side to the other, a distance of what? Five inches? But it won’t will it? It mocks you and your picking finger by shooting off round the roll again.  The bonding process has clearly been too severe at factory level.

The machine has welded so deep that too many layers of loo roll are now glued together resulting in triple ply, quadruple ply – or in worst case scenarios Teenage Girl Oven Glove Dead Rainforest Ply. You end up peeling off sheets of toilet tissue so thick you could carpet the lounge.

And that’s if you’re lucky. More often than not, the opening attempt to tear across the roll never gets to opposite edge at all. Nor does it rip sideways round and round the roll as discussed but it stops an inch short of the opposite edge and then rips round and round the roll. This hapless failure in manufacture results in the swift delivery of three quarter width sheets. The residual inch wide ribbon always staying attached to the roll as you tear, creating an ever thickening tyre of useless paper that is never ever released.

It has to go!  It’s in the way! It must be ripped off in a fury of tissue paper ribbons falling and floating feather like – till your toilet resembles a New York ticker tape reception rather than the banal prologue of a man wanting to wipe his arse.

But the final indignity is when the two ply roll separates into wispy translucent one ply sheets. As we all know, trying to lay them back together again is just pointless and embarrassing. No man or woman can successfully reconstruct a two ply roll while hovering over a toilet. The best you will achieve is a handful of lumpen tissue like someone just sneezed in it. It is an ugly origami  flowering rose of hopelessness. A fitting floral tribute to the failures of toilet roll manufacture throughout the land.

It is time that toilet paper manufacturers faced up to their failures. It is time they did better. We are all socially useful and recycle our waste paper and that waste paper is then recycled into socially useful toilet roll. All we ask is that these toilet rolls are properly made. So – let us start again and get it right. Let us wipe the slate clean so that we can successfully do the same to our bottoms.

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Just me then?

….and another thing.

Supermarkets. It has been slowly dawning on me lately that I am alone. I don’t mean lonely I just mean alone.

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When faced with life’s daily absurdities I try to be a good citizen and complain about them. How else will things change?But far too often the staff are sulky and sullen and treat me with thinly disguised passive aggression. I try to elicit support from other customers. Nothing – I’m on my own again. I look at the surprised flat faces of those around me and all I hear is that old comedic refrain in my head, “OK – just me then”

Take supermarkets for example. Why do they continually shift their stock about so that you can never find stuff? I cannot be the only customer wanting to do a quick shop of the “usuals” only to be left stranded in the aisles muttering “Where the f**k have they put them now?” The Suits who run supermarkets have obviously just been on some sort of Course where they learn that to move the stuff around is not irritating at all but very good for business.

The Suits are rarely in store and so it’s the poor shelf stackers who cop it from customers “Oi! You’ve moved the bloody things? They’re usually here. Why do you do that? I mean why? WHY?”.  The logic seems to be so that as we search frantically for what we actually want to buy, we will bump into rows of new and exciting products we have never have seen before and buy lots of them. They’re wrong of course because once I know I’m being manipulated my usual reaction is one of quiet fury and resistance. No I don’t buy their exciting and new products. I will shop somewhere else.

And another thing – Winter? When exactly is Winter for retailers? For High Street clothing stores it was clearly last Autumn. When it got very cold recently, in fact when it got freezing cold recently, I wanted a new big winter coat. Did the High Street have one? No they did not.  In fact there was nothing for Winter on display at all and it was still January. Everywhere there were the bright Hawaiian colours and displays of summer. The huge hot air heaters were blasting full bore at the front doors but I was surrounded by gondolas of beach shirts and shorts and vests and bikinis and straw hats and thongs. Outside the Council was gritting the road but I had stepped into a Malibu advert.

And as the music of the South Seas wafted across the hum of the central heating, the young assistant was looking at me with complete disdain ““Thermal underwear in February sir? I don’t think so.”

Oh really? And why the hell not? It is Winter and you sell clothes, so sell me some Winter clothes. I asked if they had ever had any Winter clothing for sale. Apparently they did. The end of last Summer.

You go in during July to get stuff for your August holidays and the whole place is full of fleeces, jerseys and trekking boots. The only beach clothes available then were in a basket of remnants from the Summer Sale they had back in April. What the hell is going on here? Clearly the High Streets don’t observe the same seasons as the rest of us. I don’t see why. They come roughly in the same order every year despite the best efforts of global warming.

So I complain. I feel compelled to complain. But I am alone. The other customers sneer at me in bourgeois disgust. They peer at this dreadful man, shivering by the gondola of Hawaiian shirts, who foolishly did not do his winter shopping back in June last year when the shop was packed to the gills with Puffa Jackets and thermal socks.

“But it’s Winter now and I want Winter clothes now” The mob shakes it’s collective head and moves on to buy Flip Flops in February. I leave the store and stand by the council men shovelling snow.  I am cold. I am cold and alone. Just me then?….

But I have just bought some sunglasses. They’ll come in handy for snow glare I suppose.

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My First Blog

9pm on 29th January 2013

…and another thing!

I’ve been told I should blog. And so I am. Matt (a young person) has been here all morning setting it all up while I take notes in an old exercise book of what to do and when so that I don’t screw up too easily on the first few goes. So here we go! I’ve decided to call my blog The Zimmer of Love.

Zimmer of Love cd

It’s a title I like and in fact the title of my very new CD and that’s the front cover. I haven’t decided on the order of the tracks just yet but when I do be sure I shall email, tweet, facebook and blog about it!

Thanks to Matt (a young person) I am now linked to Twitter, Facebook and my own website. In fact I had to set up a Facebook fan page though I can’t remember why right now. (Didn’t write it down in the old exercise book you see.) And the first thing that had to happen apparently was for me to like my own fan page. This now means that the rather absurd message “Mervyn Stutter likes Mervyn Stutter” appears on the site. Not that anyone will know this until 30 people I know from Facebook say they ‘like’ me too, then this new fan page site thingy kicks into action for all the world to see….or maybe only for those who like me. I’m not sure.

I keep checking back to see how many people have “Liked” me so far. I need 30 they say. The stress of waiting for that amount of approval is unbearable. It’s a bit like waiting for a review to come out after an opening night. I chose well over 30 ‘friends’ obviously and I chose very carefully. But on reflection now, that seems even more dangerous. What if those 30 or so who I consider to be safe do not actually respond with Likes? That could be socially awkward the next time I see them!

It reminds of the time I first got one of those Answerphone machines. I went away for the weekend and when I got back there were no messages. First thought? No one likes me, it’s official! I immediately longed for the old days when if you went out, you had no idea who had phoned you or not and if anyone had you just assumed they would phone back if it was important enough. Not now of course. I text – you don’t reply – I hate you. Friendships are short and simple.

And now I blog my first blog. (You never forget your first time do you?) But then again, we all blog now don’t we? We’re all so blogging promiscuous – I blog, you blog, he she or it blogs. So easily declined but what should I actually blog about? Matt (the young person) said to check out other people’s blogs but that leads only to shallow and untruthful mimicry, I reckon. Far better to stick to what you know. For example, I tend to use Facebook to have a quick snarl and/or laugh at what’s happening in the world or around me.

Things like “Last night Kimberley Walsh sang live on TV. Well, I say sang….” or  “Strangely erotic BBC Economics Editor Stephanie Flanders dated both Ed Balls and Ed Miliband…… I’ll never trust her opinion again.” or more regularly on a Saturday night “What is the point of Alan Shearer? Anyone?”

The Zimmer of Love will also be the title of a new comedy series from me this year. I have been banging on for years about the lack of comedy for my generation, the Baby Boomers. Here we are the largest and most powerful social group in the country and we get ignored so regularly. We are the demograph most likely to vote in elections,  most likely to watch Television as scheduled and most likely to pay the BBC licence fee.

My son, like so many young people, watches TV on his laptop using iPlayer. It is provided free. So he watches TV when and where he chooses. He has no need of a TV Scheduler. In fact the TV Scheduler is probably the most useless job in the media at the moment. Even the older generations will tape/ record/whatever their desired programmes and watch them when they choose and not when the some anonymous scheduler chooses.

One of the great benefits of this is, not just taking control of TV, but also it allows you to speed through all the adverts and Bruce Forsyth making programmes so much more enjoyable. But suddenly – suddenly – it’s all change. Hollywood is gobsmacked at the huge amounts of dollars generated by Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It has now realized the huge amounts of money available from the Oldies if you give them what they want. Doh!!

So now we have Hope Springs, The Quartet, Song for Marion and on TV, Last Tango in Halifax and even the book Thursdays in the Park is a huge best seller because it concerns the staggering observation that old people fall in love…and have sex! Where have these commissioning editor people been all this while?….oh yes locked into the ludicrous notion that everyone wants to only see young people. Doh!!

Even the three series of my own radio comedy Getting Nowhere Fast have been repeated every year for the last 10 years on BBC Radio4 Extra. Why?  Listener demand I’m told. And yet no one can download it. Why? Why did no one notice it’s popularity? Surely they weren’t guilty of looking the other way, you know, towards youth?

But if anyone wishes to pursue ratings and money then the Over 60s is exactly where they should be looking. The clue is there in the title. The Baby Boom generation? There’s a f**k of a lot of us out there. Geddit? So sell us things – be successful!

But the new joy of 2013 is that it’s happening anyway, so hop on board guys. As the Saga Magazine observed recently, the older generation is now setting the cultural agenda. But then we always did. Irritating isn’t it!

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