Thursday, 3 July 2014

Travelling at the speed of blight.

I am not ordinarily a commuter. Working from home means that I don't have to travel with the morning hordes of miserable looking worker drones on trains.

I did however, have to travel into London yesterday on an invite and the promise of some freelance shifts, which meant I had to travel by train, the only logical way of travelling into London for a delightful half day of breathing in car fumes and being bounced around by go getting London pedestrians in a hurry.

Having been robbed of my life savings at the ticket desk by a surly looking heavyweight wrestler type with all the charm of a particularly downbeat Kim Jong Un with a frown, I took my seat aboard the sleek looking train that pulled up to platform one.

I say my seat, half of it belonged to a man with a huge arse in the seat adjoining it, who was dozing fitfully. I plonked myself into the space that was left with a cheery 'Morning!' Which released a few more precious inches of bum space. The carriage began to fill and all the seats were now taken, meaning I had to sit uncomfortably close to another mans' trouser flies next to my right ear, and the view of a shoulder bag that blocked out any peripheral vision.

A mixture of morning coffee, shower gel, body spray and commuter seat resentment was interwoven with the smell of long term career disappointment. And to think people endure this, day after day after day.

I was by this time, reading a book by Gary Bainbridge who himself is no stranger to the complexities of commuter life and the crushing disappointment of having to deal with other people. That, and the inability to come to terms with revolving doors, self flooding hotel rooms, complicated vouchers and vending machines. The man truly is a calamity magnet. Smiling at the thought that Liverpool has a man that keeps calamity far away up North, I settled down.

It was at this point, half way to Waterloo that a passage from the book disturbed the quietness of the carriage. Now, letting out an ordinary 'Pah-Ha-Ha' would indeed cause a few close by people to look at you with disdain, but having let out my 'Pah-Ha-Ha,' I then followed it up with a snort of such magnitude on the return inhale that everyone, and I mean everyone, turned in my direction.

There were looks of alarm, pity, annoyance and sheer shock on the faces of my fellow passengers.

'Sorry' I said... 'The book, you see, he's just punched a bee in the face and...'

Slowly, the faces returned to their newspapers, phones and tablets. They must have been reading about business, fiscal indices and law, for not one of them had a smile on their face, a look of mischief or a dreamy, far away look of imagination and the punching of bees in one's garden.

So I thank you Gary, for lightening my mood during a slow and painful journey. However, I cannot travel on this route into London again. I'm sure Twitter was awash with tales of the incredible snorting man, I may even have had my picture taken for future reference, so will have to avoid train travel in future. I will though, be taking your books onto the next 'plane I go on and attempt to frighten the bejesus out of the cabin crew with a well timed guffaw and snort.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman and is still waiting on the invention of the hover board.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

A New York State Of Mind In Aldershot.

Having squandered a little time with my good lady wife in the shopping metropolis that is Aldershot in Hampshire, i felt that we needed a little down time from window shopping at Luis Vuitton, Cartier and Lidl. Knowing there was a newly built restaurant nearby, we decided to give ourselves a treat and eat our lunch New York bar and grill style.

Carefully dodging the cabs on Maddison and 4th, or Aldershot High Street, we made our way to the mall, sorry, 'Morrisons' next to the Police precinct where 'Aldershot's finest' do their business of cleaning up this dirty town. 

Ok, it was a Frankie and Bennys, but the idea of sitting in a leatherette booth, eating a burger and fries appealed to me. I also liked the idea of being watched over by hundreds of black and white photo's of 50's mobsters, baseball players and random, portly looking Italian American gentlemen who in days gone by would have made sure that if i showed any disrespect, i would be 'sleeping with da fishes,' not in New York harbour, but in the local municipal duck pond.

I needed to get myself into a New York state of mind. I needed to think 50's, i needed to think mobster. Sauntering inside, i imagined myself in the real New York, sorry, 'Noo Yoik,' ordering a 'Cwaaffee,' lighting a cigarette and chewing the fat with 'Little Tony' and 'Paulie knuckles' at the bar.

However, instead of seeing the Statue of Liberty out of the window, if i squinted really really hard, i could see the reflection of the Army surplus store in the windows of Morrisons. A Police cruisers' siren cut the air... Or was that an ice cream van? It was hard to tell in the cacophony of what is 'Downtown' Aldershot.

Instead of Tony and knuckles, i got Sandra from Basingstoke at the bar, a waiter who i shall call 'Spotty youth,' and leatherette booth's filled with Aldershot locals, keen to take advantage of the lunchtime specials between breakfast and the fish and chip shop.

I soon learned that to get between the locals and their afternoon fries in this part of town could result in unpleasantness that could start in what is known here as an 'Aldershot Minute.' You could end up getting 'whacked.'

As the voice of Johnny Burnette singing 'You're 16, you're beautiful and you're mine' filled the air, i looked over towards the open kitchen area where the short order chef cooked ribs in a curtain of flame. Disappointingly, Little Tony, knuckles and the rest of the East Side Mob were not sat there playing cards, discussing the 'rubbing out' of Don Giovanni from the West Side, in the increasingly violent turf wars in Aldershot over who controls the drugs, the gambling and VD Veronica who plies her trade near the War memorial in Central Park, next to the swings.

Ignoring the fact that Johnny Burnette was hankering after 16 year olds, i looked over to the more private booths in the far corner. Joe Pesci was nowhere to be seen, Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta had gone out shopping with the kids and Al Pacino had obviously said goodbye to his 'little friend' and retired to Eastbourne to shout 'HooHaah..!' at little old ladies.

Dean Martin started to warble about a moon hitting your eye like a big pizza pie....

I snapped out of thinking about the consequences of such a lunar and culinary disaster when 'Spotty Youth' asked to take our order.

"Pastrami on rye, tomayto, (not tomato) sour cream... Hold the mayo with pickle on the side..." Is what i wanted to say, but didn't. I also refrained from using 'BaddaBing,' at the end.

"Two cheese burgers and chips please." I replied in my Midland accented English. 'Spotty Youth' smiled at me as he asked if there was anything else. I looked at him. In my mind's eye, i could see myself saying, " What? Do you think i'm funny? funny how? Funny like a clown?" but resisted.

"No, nothing else thank you." I said. Returning my gaze to the window, i marvelled at the buildings opposite as they towered a full 3 stories into the damp, overcast sky. The town of Aldershot, known internationally as 'The Crab Apple' and the world over as 'The town that never sleeps' (Except between the hours of 11pm and 6am.) certainly had the vision in those days of building big, i thought idly to myself.

I looked around once more and decided that Aldershot, however hard Frankie and Bennys try, will never recreate that New York state of mind. My mind wandered and in it, a line from Scarface appeared...

Tony Montana: Me, I want what's coming to me.
Manny: Oh, well what's coming to you?
Tony Montana: Aldershot, chico, and everything in it. 


Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Friday, 30 May 2014

A Small Act Of Genteel Domestic Terrorism.

I recently found myself wandering the streets of Coventry once more in a vain attempt to pass the time. I avoided the cream cake emporium due to the unforseen circumstances i found myself in on my previous visit. I didn't think enough time had elapsed for my fuzzy CCTV photo to have been taken down from the 'Troublesome Customers' noticeboard, next to the 'Shoplifters / Vagabonds / Wanted' noticeboard in the staff room. Having had a shave and a haircut, returning me to my Tom Cruise good looks, i may have got away with it, but i didn't want to take the risk.

Since it wasn't Christmas and no family Birthdays were on the immediate horizon, i wandered the shop fronts in search of something, anything, to occupy my idle mind. Following a very agreeable coffee in a nice Italian coffee shop in the city centre that had no children in it, i was bored and as we all know, boredom leads to terrible, terrible acts... For i am now a wanted man.

I looked around. Clothes shops... No. Mobile Phone shops...No. I stared at the bland row upon row of shiny outlets owned by the Multi-National conglomerate corporation of  'Same Shit Different Logo Ltd,' with headquarters based in the tax free Virgin Islands and a CEO based in a £30m London town house in Belgravia with a holiday home in the Bahamas. I wondered just where it all went wrong for them... My inner Che Guevara surfaced and recoiled at the decadent west.

I wondered why the Inland Revenue and Her Majesties Customs and Excise negotiate tax agreements of a few millions, based on an income of Billions, whilst at the same time sending Bailiffs to recover small benefits over-payments to families who can't afford to repay. I wondered why we tolerate the fact that more and more food banks are required in this so called affluent nation. Day centres for the disabled and the vulnerable, the old and the poor, closing for the lack of funds.

A small act of domestic defiance and protest was in order. Nothing to trouble the Secret Service you understand, i don't want to end up in Guantanamo being force fed water through a blanket with a cattle prod up my jacksie, no thank you.

I hatched my dastardly plan. 'I am a domestic terrorist genius,' i thought to myself, but without the added heavy armaments, lethal attitude towards my fellow man, a balaclava or the actual terrorising of the general public, i'm not a lunatic.

I walked into a well known retail outlet that sells cheaply made items from poorly paid third world children and sells them at a massive mark-up price and then keeps the tax free profits. You know the type. My heart began to race, a trickle of sweat formed on my brow wondering if Kiefer Sutherland was about to jump from the trouser rack (waist sizes 32 to 38) and torture me using a biro, a CIA business card and a coat hanger, whilst simultaneously downloading the shop schematics to his PDA. (Keifer, they are called 'blueprints' you tit.)

I banished all thoughts from my mind... The time was now... Should i fail, i hoped my small cell of fellow urban Guerrillas would remember me for what i was about to do, until i remembered i haven't any fellow members. I was an army of one.

I deftly swapped the price tags from an expensive suit with that of a cheaper, logo'd pair of trousers... Not once, but twice.

My plan was a simple one. As far as i'm aware, UK law states that the marked price on an item is what it should be sold for, so i figure the next customer will bag a bargain and the store will lose around £16.38p. That's £16.38p back into the hands of the public where it belongs. Having set the trap, i left. As an added act of defiance against the state and it's greedy money masters, i left without calling the Police with a code-worded warning message. I'm sorry, but i'm trying to start a revolution here y'know.

Anyway, that'll teach 'em. With a few more acts such as this, i reckon i could deprive Mr Moneybags, CEO of the Same Shit Different Logo Company, of quite a few poolside gin and tonics. As such, with my new secret urban Guerrilla identity, my next post will come from my secret cave hidden in the Surrey hills, just outside of the M25 near Dorking.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter, and has just given away his identity... Bugger.

Magicians... A Bunch Of Chancers.

I've been watching the telly again. Yes, yes, I know. I'm always watching the telly or lurking in public places in search of more juicy blog posts about the foibles of being out and about with the unpredictable British public. I just can't help myself.

This time however, I was watching a magician turning tricks on a busy public road to passers by who had slack jaws and a penchant for going "No way man..!" when something surprising happens. In other words, easy prey.

A pack of cards, sleight of hand and a posing magician inevitably leads to the question "Is this your card..?" So let's just stop it there and ask yourself a question...

You're in a public street with a magician, a pack of cards and a film crew... What on earth did you think was going to happen..? Of course it's going to be your card. There's no way on this little Earth that it's not going to be your card. Magic is just a load of old bollocks for the feeble of mind... So here's an idea:

The next time a man in a top hat and cape, followed by a film crew stop you in the street and ask you to pick a card, any card, play along until the very end. ( I should point out that it is just as likely these days that the street magicians are dressed in baggy jeans, sneakers and a hoody... Do not be alarmed. ) Either way, when the card is revealed and the inevitable question is asked of you, stare blankly at the magician and say with considerable gusto...

"Well, you fucked that up didn't you..?" Smile, then be on your way without looking back to see the deflated, yet confused street magician going through his pockets to see where he went wrong... It'll be a hoot. You won't make it onto the telly, but it'll be a hoot, and you can go home with a warm fuzzy feeling inside.

Don't give these 'magician' chancers the oxygen of publicity, that's what I say. Oh, and if you're going to practice 'magic' get yourself a top hat and cape, because nobody trusts a hoodie and i'm just as likely to mistake you for a street thief and treat you to a display of the Queensbury Rules.

Chancers... And another thing, stick to the local variety theatre stage and stop doing magic on public pavements. People start to rubber neck and you block the way, stopping those of us shopping for spam and hobnobs from going about our lawful business.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Retail Therapy, Cream Cakes And Predictability.

It's become something of a tradition when i visit my Dad, that on a Sunday afternoon just after dinner, we dig into a box of cream cakes that i have bought in town earlier that morning.

Now what could be simpler than driving into town, having a coffee and a browse in the bookshop, followed by a short visit to the supermarket for a box of cream cakes..? In the normal course of events, nothing. This being me however, i found myself in an awkward situation that i had no idea how i got myself into before it was too late.

On arrival at the supermarket, i found that they had moved the aisles around and sorted the food out into different places in a smart and customer friendly strategic manner, as per the newest retail management practice manual, Page 62, entitled 'Regular Customer: Confusion and Mind Games.' The downside being for me, that i couldn't find the damn cream cakes.

Now i know the reason for moving stuff about in supermarkets is to confuse the customer and make us wander around the whole building in search of what we came for, and hope that we will pass the aisle with dustpans, plastic gizmo's and wet wipes, we will see them and exclaim, "Hey, you know what? My kitchen floor is filthy, i may need that dust pan and the wet wipes… i shall buy them forthwith." As if customers actually do that… Eh..? They seem to think we are utterly predictable, malleable and sheep like.**

Well i'm wise to them. Cream cakes is what i came for and cream cakes is what i am leaving with. Nothing more and nothing less.

I spied a loose gaggle of supermarket employees at the end of the aisle, helping those who have become stuck at the unmanned, self service checkout tills that needs a person to be there, in order for people to use them properly. I approached and without a second thought, tapped the nearest of the four employees on the shoulder and politely asked...

"Excuse me, i'm a little lost, but i expect YOU will know where the cream cakes are..?"

An innocuous question i think you will agree, but not when you have inadvertently picked out the largest of the large female employees and basically said that due to her size, she will obviously know where the cream cakes are.

I swear i didn't see her as that, It was not what i was thinking. As normal i was not thinking at all, i just picked the nearest employee of the group and that was it. A hello, followed by a question followed by disaster.

She glared at me. I swallowed hard. The situation was now dawning on me as to what i had just done, and however misconstrued my intent, i was now on the receiving end of a very hard eyeballing.

"Second refrigeration unit on the left, next to the milk and cheese." She said, foregoing the usual 'Sir' at the end. I let that go, now was not the time for impertinent questions and a lecture on the finer points of good customer service.

"Thanks… I… Errr… Thanks." I left hurriedly for the milk, cheese and cream cake aisle and could feel the daggers behind me. No matter, i made it unscathed and intact to the cream cakes and found what i wanted. There was no way i was going to retrace my steps to the self service checkouts though, so i made my way to the main checkouts.

Having wandered through the aisles, I approached the checkout with my cream cakes, two bottles of South African Pinotage, disinfectant for the toilet, a box of cereal and a plastic gizmo.

Hang on… I don't usually pass the red wine / disinfectant / cereals / gizmo aisles on the way out… Oh, the utter, utter bastards.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

** The author would like to point out that he is in no way predictable, malleable nor sheep like.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Alfresco Dining And The Plastic Sachet Of Doom.

Finding myself at a local hostelry with my good lady, i thought it would be remiss of me not to indulge in a flaggon of real ale or two, along with a fish and chip dinner in the afternoon sunshine. It is after all, what sunny afternoons in the UK were invented for.

The hostelry in question, one of the now ubiquitous pub chains along the lines of 'The hungry donkey,'  'Big plate,' or 'Gut buster pub,' that pervade our once independent village squares and town high streets, was a pleasant enough place. They did however, insist on antagonising me for no good reason.

Having ordered my fish, chips and mushy peas, i got down to the business of filtering the as yet unidentified flaky bits from the bottom of my glass of real ale through my teeth, a real British tradition i think you will agree. The waitress soon arrived with a small original 18th Century antique faux wooden bucket, containing our knife, fork, napkins and what can only be described as a slack handful of condiments sealed in small, plastic sachets. Oh, the ambience of fine dining, pub chain style.

Our food arrived suspiciously quickly, but looked and smelled as it should so i banished any thought of ready meals from my mind and looked for the salt. As it turned out, the salt was at the bottom of the 18th century original faux wooden bucket, just next to the 'Made in China' stamp. They were in teeny tiny paper sachets which when opened, deposited small amounts of salt into your lap and onto the floor.

The vinegar was a bastard. Sealed in tough, rubberised plastic sachets, they were a test worthy of the Crypton Factor, in that if you did manage to open them, any attempt at removing the contents therein resulted in an arc of vinegar over your shoulder and into the eyes of the person on the next table... A small child in my case. I think i got away with it.

"Is everything to your liking?" Said a waitress.

"Yes, yes... Everything is just fine thank you..." Said I, as my missus rolled her eyes as if to say... "Here we go."

Having opened 3 sachets of salt and two of vinegar to my taste, a small gust of wind disposed of the empty plastic and paper on my behalf, over to the far end of the beer garden.

Next up was the Tartare sauce... Three sachets should be enough. Placing the first sachet of plastic between my teeth i managed to split it in two and dribble the sauce over my fingers and leave a small piece of plastic wedged in the tight gap between my two front teeth, dangling a half empty sachet from my mouth.

"Is everthing to your liking?" Said a passing waitress for no other reason than she happened to be passing. I think they are trained to say this to any person who is eating.

"Yeth, yeth... Efferthink ith juth thine thank you..." Said I, with my stiff upper lip.

As i licked at my greasy fingers, my better half had deftly opened the remaining sachets with the aplomb that only women married to stupid men can do, and deposited the sauce in a neat splodge at the side of my regulation, oversized pub chain plate. She looked at me as if i should be sat in a kiddies high chair, wearing a bib.

"Is everything alright..?" Asked yet another passing waitress. Whether she was asking as a result of boot camp training or at the plight of a grown man with plastic stuck between his teeth and tartare sauce on his fingers, i did not know. Nor did i ask.

"Can I hath a thooth pick pleath..?"

"There should be some in your bucket..." Said the waitress.

There was indeed some toothpicks at the bottom of our faux wooden bucket. small plastic ones, sealed in a paper sachet.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.

Friday, 7 March 2014

An Unexpected Evening Of Light Entertainment From Glastonbury...

"Can you turn the amp down a bit on that Lute..?" Said William Shakespeare famously to one of the two gentlemen of Verona, during the battle scene in A Mid Summer Nights Dream... And I can sympathise with him.

I've often thought about the type of people who go to rock concerts, music festivals and the like. You see there I was, watching 'Murder She Wrote' on the telly with a cup of tea and a hobnob, when I inadvertently sat on the remote and turned over to some godforsaken teenage 'music' channel.

"Hellloooo Glastonbury..!!" Yelled an inappropriately dressed, tattooed young lady from the stage.

"Whhooooo..!!" Came the reply from thousands of youngsters who were quite obviously out well past time on a school night.

"Whhoooo..!" They shouted again, having lost the ability to say anything remotely coherent.

"Here's one you all know..." Shouted the scantily clad lady on stage, as she started to 'sing' in what only be described as 'not singing.'

"Whhoooo..!!" Screamed the crowd as they obviously recognised the 'tune' and started to sing along whilst bouncing their heads in time to the 'music.'

I began to think that the singer was being rather presumptuous about the song being one that we all knew. I had never heard of it before, and it certainly doesn't appear in my collection of vinyl LP's and singles. I know, I checked. I also checked my small collection of these new fangled CD's... Nothing. But then I stopped listening to popular music when 'The Jam' split up and the Army cut all my hair off, gave me a rifle and pointed me in the general direction of the Soviets... Just for fun.

Another "Whhoooo..!!" blasted out from the telly, bringing me out of my Cold War memories as the singer shouted out to nobody in particular... "Are you ready to rock..?"

I should say so. At probably a few hundred pounds a ticket, I would most certainly be 'ready to rock' but only if I could bring a deck chair, my own spam sandwiches and a flask of something warming against the chill. Oh, and a place at the back, near the car park next to the beer tent.

Bloody noise... And if those kids aren't back home by 10pm, they should all be grounded for a month. That'll learn 'em.

Paul Martin is @ukcameraman on Twitter.