Hand washing: master level

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There aren’t many things in this world about which I’m confident in my abilities. But, for all my many (many) flaws as a human being, I’ve always considered myself an excellent hand washer. 

Really next level. Maybe even world class.

You know the ‘sing happy birthday twice’ thing? Been doing it for years. Years. I can’t tell you how many public restrooms I’ve been thrown out of.

Soap? I’m a master spritzer – getting a bubbly lather to expel all the bacterial ne’er-do-wells that linger on my digits.

(Also, can we just take a second to think about how weird it is that the word ‘digital’ – the basis for damn near all technology – basically means ‘fingery’?)

I’ve had daydreams about bumping into a film crew for something like The One Show, asking people to demonstrate their hand-washing abilities. They’ll have some expert loitering in the background, ready to pounce and say “ah, not long enough” “you forgot under your wedding ring” or even “bit sparing with the soap, aren’t we?”

But not to me.

As I demonstrated my prowess, they’d stand dumbfounded. Slack-jawed. The cameraman would turn and say “Jesus Christ, Frank. Are you seeing this guy?” and there’d be nothing they could teach me. Nothing.

Word of my exploits would no doubt spread, but I wouldn’t want the fame. The glory. The hordes of eager fans waiting to greet me.

No, that’s not the life for me. For one simple reason.

They’d all want to shake hands.

 

The Wedding Speech

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Tim was well and truly stuck.

He took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose, like they did in the movies. It did nothing to help.

“I just can’t do it,” he said. “It’s impossible! How do you sum up love in a five minute speech?”

“Look, all grooms go through this,” said Gary. “You’re just overthinking it.”

“Well, how do I underthink it then?”

“I guess… how about we start at the beginning?”

“OK, I’ve got ‘Dear ladies and gentlemen…’”

“No no no, not the beginning of the speech. The beginning of your relationship. What was your first date like?”

“Well…”

***

Tim was pretty nervous.

He’d met a girl. Lizzie. She seemed just amazing.

And now he was meeting the girl. Properly. For a date. That meant smalltalk. Big risks.

OK, deep breath. He reminded himself that this girl was different. Special. The brief conversation they’d had when they first met had been easy.

He’d just need to cut down on the weird references. It’d be fine. He could do this. He would be like Luke, he’d have to trust the For- NO, STOP IT!

Then he saw her.

Wow.

She looked…

Wow.

“Hey you,” she said, a smile breaking across her face.

“Hey!” said Tim, returning the smile. He couldn’t help himself.

“How’s it going?” asked Lizzie.

“Good thanks. But the big question is ‘how are we going?’. Specifically ‘to get to our first date’?”

What was that? Tim thought to himself.

“Er, good point…” said a slightly-confused Lizzie.

“Well, at first I considered hiring a private limousine. Of course,” said Tim with a grand flourish (that looked anything but).

“Oh, of course.”

“But then I couldn’t spell ‘limousine’. Like, at all. Not even close enough for the spell-checker to pick it up and correct it. So I thought, sod it, bus it is.”

“Bus is fine”.

Is it fine though? Tim thought. Is it?

“Now, I’m sure a fancy girl like you has never had to take the bus before,” he said. “But if you go out with me, I like to set the right expectations. So we’re getting around like common people. If you want to live like common people, you’ve got to do whatever common people do.”

Shit. That was definitely the kind of dated reference I should avoid, thought TimAt least, until Lizzie smiled and replied.

“I’ve ridden the bus before. And trying to suggest otherwise would really just be a work of Pulp Fiction.”

Tim paused, jaw open.

“God you’re good…” he said.

***

“Ah, so it was her wit that you liked?” said Gary, nodding sagely.

“Oh god yes. You have to work to keep up with her,” said Tim, smiling at the memory. “But… I guess there’s more to it than that. See, the real thing was… OK, let me tell you what happened next. We got the bus, and we went bowling.“

***

“Wait, you’re left-handed? I’m on a date with a woman who’s left-handed?”

Tim let the faux-indignation wash over him. But it was really tough not to chuckle at the matching look of faux-indignation on Lizzie’s face.

“Yes. Is that a problem?”

“Very much so. I’m not even sure this date can continue.”

“Me neither. We’ve been bowling for twenty minutes and you’ve only just noticed the hand I was using? Not a great start for you.”

“What can I say, the view of you walking away each time left me kind of distracted…”.

“How rude! Do you talk like this to all the girls you take on dates?”

“Only the ones I like”.

“So you like me then?”

“Far too early to tell”.

“What?!”

“Oh I was a big fan, but now I learn you’re a lefty? I’m not so sure. You know that’s where the term sinister come from, right? As a dexterous right-hander with a winning smile and a heart of gold, it remains to be seen whether a left-hander can win my affections.”

***

“So what you’re saying,” interrupted Gary, “was that you were as much of a cocky bastard at 19 as you are now?”

“Well you’d think so but… no. See, that’s not how I normally was. It’s how I’d always wanted to be. How I dreamed of being. But normally I was too shy. Too anxious. Too worried that someone might actually take offence. There was something different in the way I was talking.”

“But it certainly sounds like you. Snarky. Confident. Sarcastic to the point of infuriating. I’m surprised she didn’t kick you in the crotch and be done with it. Would have saved herself a lifetime of putting up with you.”

“That might be who I am. But it’s not who I was. Not before her. You’ve only ever known me since I met her. And she makes me better. She makes me more, well… me.”

“Write that down.”

“Yeah, OK. But there’s more. So we finished bowling and I’d planned a romantic stroll through the castle grounds, just a couple of minutes away…”

***

To her credit, Lizzie kept her voice very non-judgemental as she said “We’ve been walking for 15 minutes. Do you normally take girls to dark, secluded areas on first dates?”

“Only the ones I-“

“Only the ones you like. Right. But… where are we going?”

“Well, OK, we’ve hit a slight problem. You see this gate? We need to be the other side of it”.

“But the gate’s locked…”

“That’s the slight problem,” sighed Tim. “This is the first time I’ve tried going through the park after dark and I didn’t realise it was closed at night. Apparently a castle can repel invading hordes, but needs to be safely tucked up for bed by eight o’clock on a Tuesday.”

“Well I’ve got to hand it to you. This is definitely the first date I’ve been on where we’ve tried invading a castle.”

“You’ve just never been with a man who treats you like a Queen. You wait until later when we oppress some serfs, conquer a fiefdom and eventually develop Consumption.”

“Sounds fun.”

“Definitely. And there’s only about a 40% chance of me finding a younger woman more likely to bear me a male heir, meaning a visit to the headsman for you.”

“Oh shush you,” said Lizzie, smiling.

“OK, 45% chance. You’d better be careful what you say.”

“Alright. So what are we going to do then?”

“There’s nothing for it. We’ll just have to wander around until we find a point of entry.”

“I hope you’re still talking about the park.”

“… 25%”.

***

“OK, but I’m not sure you should say that one in front of her dad,” said Gary.

“Fair point. I’m just setting the scene for you though. The important thing is we were stuck in the middle of nowhere. It was dark. We were lost. And it was all my fault.

“I could have been embarrassed, I could have been annoyed, kicking myself. But I wasn’t. I was… happy.”

Tim paused. Thought about it.

“No, happiness isn’t right. Of course I was happy, I was on a date with a gorgeous girl. It’s more I was… comfortable. It was like,” Tim paused again, trying to think up the right word “I felt like I was exactly where I should be. And I’d never felt like that before.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’d always felt like an outsider. I was different from most people I knew. I was the kind of guy who could be in a crowded room and still feel kinda lonely. Separate somehow. But I didn’t feel that way then. Not with her.”

“What made it different?”

“I didn’t know. I still don’t know. But that was it. The moment I knew she was the one.”

“Really?” said Gary. “You knew you’d marry her way back on your first date?”

“Well, I didn’t know… said Tim, with another thoughtful pause. “But I hoped.”

“Wow,” said Gary. “That’s… pretty huge. And incredibly sweet, I guess. That sounds like your speech, if you asked me.”

Tim nodded.

“But,” he said, “there’s more. See, on that dark street with no idea where I was, I did something that would normally have taken a huge amount of courage for a dweeby guy like me. But there, in that moment, it felt like the most natural thing in the world.”

“What was it?” asked Gary.

“I held her hand.”

Tim sat quietly for a moment. He looked thoughtful, and Gary didn’t want to interrupt him.

“And do you know what?” continued Tim. “That’s it. That’s the perfect metaphor for what I want my life to be. I know that it doesn’t matter how dark things get, or how lost I am. If Lizzie is there with me then I’m exactly where I should be. And none of it will matter, as long as she’s there, holding my hand.”

“That’s it,” said Gary, slapping Tim on the shoulder.

“That’s what?”

That’s the speech. You’ve got it!”

Tim looked slightly confused. Almost like he’d forgotten why they were there. Then a let out a long, contented sigh as the weight he’d been carrying for months lifted from his mind.

“So, I guess all that’s left is to deliver it,” said Gary. “Nervous?”

“Honestly? No,” said Tim.

“Really?” said Gary.

“Why would I be?” said Tim, with a smile, “I’ll be exactly where I’m meant to be. After all, whether left or right, I’ll be holding her hand.”

A Genuine Job Application

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I just found an old job application I wrote for a computer game company looking for a writer.

I never heard back from them.

The Letter

As we all know computers were first invented by aliens attempting to find the best fighter pilots in the galaxy. But since those times, games have come quite a long way. Now you can use them while you go to the toilet, which was very much frowned upon in the days of arcades. I’m interested in this role because once, just once, I’d like to be able to help someone in the bathroom without it being considered “a matter for HR”.

I’ve always loved computer games. From the earliest days of duck hunting, throwing fruit at karts and travelling through pipes, I thought “Gee, I’d much rather be at home playing computer games”. And then my parents got me a Nintendo. Sure it might be the reason I once came last in cross country out of my whole year, or lacked the upper-body strength to peel a banana, or even the reason why I struggled so talk to girls until embarrassingly late in my life. But it gave me something far more important.

Strong thumbs. Like, super strong.

And also the ability to see how stories work in the only really interactive medium. To see how exposition is given without interrupting the action, to see how a cut scene and loss of control can be powerful, rather than annoying. To tell stories in a way that for the vast majority of human history just hasn’t been possible.

But it’s mostly the thumb thing.

I have lots of writing experience. In fact, I won the judge’s award for UK’s Funniest Blogger 2015 for my blog www.ivorysoapbox.com. Which was even more impressive when it was still 2015. I’ve also written jokes for a Rose d’Or winning BBC radio show. And I’ve written “about” comedy for the most read comedy reference site in the UK. In fact, these very hands, the hands which thanks to the wonders of modern technology you can’t actually see, these hands wrote a diary of their time on the stand up comedy course widely considered the best outside North America, a summary which is now used by the course themselves to promote it. You can read this here. But if you get bitten by the comedy bug and develop the Lyme disease of seeking other people’s laughter to soothe your fragile ego, I am not to blame.

I also wrote a few bits for Time Out London’s comedy section, which doesn’t exist any more, BUT I WASN’T TO BLAME FOR THAT!

I write a lot in my spare time. Too much, some might say. Especially those I ask to read it all. Be it a book on the space/time-travel properties of non-Newtonian liquids, or blog posts about why Captain America is the best. And if any in your team have ever wanted to read an unproduced episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine with some pacing issues and a plot that’s perhaps a bit too much for a 20 minute show, then boy do I have something for them!

I also have a super-power for meeting celebrities. In my current job I organise comedy nights with some of the biggest talent in the UK, including Stewart Lee, Jo Brand and Arthur Smith. I also got Lee Mack to agree to become an ambassador for the charity. I convinced my favourite writer to meet me down the pub for a couple of pints one day. And I got one of the biggest bands in the UK to help me with a massive personal favour.

Now, I’m not saying that if you hire me I’ll bring a different celeb each day like I would a packed lunch… “Today? Well we’ve got jam sandwiches, a packet of Frazzles and…. 80’s teen heart-throb Rob Lowe”. I’m just saying, statistically it’s more likely if I’m actually allowed onto the property.

So that’s me in a nutshell. And it’s probably also a good reason for you to rethink your policy on “inventive” covering letters. So we’re both taking something away from it.

This job sounds really interesting. I remember my mum always told me to get off the computer. “You’ll never get a job making computer games, so do something productive. Besides, it’ll turn your eyes square!”

Well take THAT mum. With your crazy microwave-shaped head.

Any questions, just whisper my name into the wind. Or, if you’re after a reply, maybe drop me an email or something.

Thanks,

Craig

On the Enduring Power of You Know My Name

Bond-style Car
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It’s not often that a celeb death hits me, but seeing that Chris Cornell had passed away definitely qualified. I mean, he was only 52.

Fuck.

This is a piece I think about all the time, but had never really taken the time to write out. So here’s the story of why I think Chris Cornell wrote the greatest Bond theme of all time.

When they announced a new Bond movie back in 2005 I was pretty apathetic. Bond was out-dated, right? The last few films had been pretty lackluster. The only bright light in the Bond franchise was playing as Oddjob in the N64 Goldeneye, but now it was looking like game over.

They announced a new actor, (with a minor controversy over him being blond), but otherwise nothing noteworthy happened. He’d be Bond. He’d wear a suit and outsmart everyone before getting the girl (and maybe one or two other girls along the way). I’ve seen this story before. Nothing would make me excited to see this film.

And then I heard You Know My Name.

Taken as a stand-alone song, it’s brilliant. The slamming intro, the orchestral backing, and of course the inimitable tones of Chris Cornell.

But taken as a theme for Casino Royale? This was something else. This showed that they were serious about taking Bond and doing something with it. Something new. Something exciting.

It’s a song that shows an entirely new side of Bond. One wracked by guilt, struggling to hold on to his humanity in a world where that can only make him weaker.

“If you take a life a life, do you know what you give? Odds are you won’t like what it is.” This isn’t a Bond who rocks a tank and mows down henchmen with a song in his heart and a quip on his lips. This is a man who worries that with every kill something of him slips away.

“Try to hide your hand, forget how to feel”. This is a man who knows that, for all the good he aims to do, he might never been a good person.

Then throughout the whole song there’s the extended gambling metaphor. “The odds will betray you”, “I’ve seen diamonds cut through harder men”, “life is gone with just a spin of the wheel”. It’s obviously a perfect theme for a movie set in a casino, but it’s more than that. “You can’t deny the prize, it may never fulfil you. It longs to kill you. Are you ready to die?” This is a man gambling not only his life on his work, but his very soul.

But the most important part, the cherry on top an incredible song, is that this is Bond. The quote that most rolls off the tongue when imitating him is his name. This might be a different version, but it’s a man who needs no introduction.

You know his name.

There’s A Hole in My Bucket List

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Yesterday was London Marathon day. Thousands of people put themselves the ordeal of 26 miles and 385 yards of stubbornly putting one foot in front of the other. At the end they were left broken, bruised, be-blistered and, depending on their Vaseline-to-nipple ratio, bleeding. All for a medal.

Why do we do stuff like this to ourselves?

This got me thinking about bucket lists. And that reminded me that someone challenged me to write a piece about bucket lists months ago and I never got around to it. So here it is.

A bucket list is the name given to a set of life activities and achievements someone would like to achieve before they, well, kick the bucket. Before they’re brown bread. Before their take their terminal breath, depart this mortal coil and generally snuff it.

Are bucket lists a good thing? I think so.

It’s pretty easy to get bogged down by life. To wake up, go to work and be wishing you were at home, then get home and be lamenting that you’ll soon be back in work. You start to see time not at work as recovery time – it’s OK to sit around watching telly and snacking because, well, you work pretty hard. You didn’t “eat a family bag of chocolate buttons to yourself”, you fuelled the fire of your limitless potential. Fuel you then spent watching Netflix and calling people dicks on the internet.

A bucket list takes us outside of this. It reminds us that there’s more to life than work. That our jobs give us money, which unlocks everything life has to offer. They remind us that the one thing no amount of work can ever give us is more time.

But that said, the contents of the list is really important. I think so often the items on a healthy person’s list are more things that they want to have been seen to have done, rather than things they might actually want to do. Some might be to try and feel better than others “you haven’t been to every continent?” Others might be things we think will make us happy, but are foolish or misguided – “I want to be famous”. And others downright harmful, if not to ourselves, then society as a whole “I want to ride an elephant”.

I think a true bucket list, one written with the safe and secure knowledge that your passing will happen, and soon, forgoes all this. Instead you focus on what really matters. Which activities would you want to do, regardless of who knew? If someone came to you today and said they could make that dream a reality, but you could never tell anyone, would you still want it?

Suddenly a lot of the items drop away. It’s not so important to own a sports car, I can’t take it with me when I’m gone. If I’m honest with myself I don’t really care about shredding on the guitar, I just think I’d look bad-ass doing it. And, truth be told, I’m actually OK not eating fish that can kill me if it’s not prepared properly (especially since it’s not meant to taste all that special anyway).

Instead, we look inside, and find that which really matters to us. The activities which, if we left our camera at home, we’d still treasure even if people say “pictures or it didn’t happen”.

A bucket list is a great way to record those moments when we feel inspired by an activity or idea. When part of our soul sees something and says “me too”. Like seeing a friend cross the finish line of the London Marathon.

Which brings us back to the original point – why would someone put themselves through the London Marathon? It can’t be the desire to say to other people that you’ve done it. Not only could you lie (no one’s going to trawl through entry records of all the marathons ever to call you out on your after-dinner anecdote) but would strangers really care?

Instead, we think of the sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing. The knowledge you’d have, until your dying day, that you did this. You pushed yourself further than you thought you ever could. You saw the training through, stuck with it through the easy times and the tough. You achieved something that so few people have done. And that, we realise is its own reward. That knowledge is with you until your dying day, and may provide a light in darker times.

And that makes us think. We might need to put in some hours. It might take more than a little elbow grease (or, for a marathon, “knee-grease”. Actually no, that just sounds wrong).

But it gives us the real belief that we could do something pretty special too.

Movie Music Magic

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The topic chosen this week was movies with soundtracks that were better than the film itself.

OK. confession time. I’m not exactly sure I should admit this… I’ve spent years building a reputation. One of impeccable taste, class and sophistication. Not successfully, but I’ve tried. But… *sigh* OK, here it is.

The Spider-Man soundtrack is one of my favourite albums of all time. Not my favourite movie soundtrack. Favourite album. Of all the albums made. Ever.

Judge away. And I’ll wait until you’ve cleaned up the horrific spit-take from your anguished cry of “WHAT?!”. Your keyboard could probably use a clean anyway, I know the kinds of websites you visit. Dirty.

OK, back? Good.

So the Spider-Man soundtrack came out in 2002, which is around the time the movie was released, conveniently. I heard and loved some of the songs before the album was released. And this was prior to Janet Jackson’s boobs inadvertently invented YouTube, so I had to watch music channels on repeat to hear my favourite tracks.

Luckily this film lived up to its soundtrack. Some are not so lucky.

Sometimes a fairly mediocre film can become memorable thanks to a great song. I Will Always Love You ironically manages to save The Bodyguard. Bryan Adams said that (Everything I Do) I Do It For You, but apparently decided against getting Robin Hood to have an English accent for us. And I’d let Tom Cruise take me in the Danger Zone any day.

But I think the most interesting relationship between music and film is when the two manage to feed off each other and become inseparable. For me this is summed up best by my relationship with the film Stardust.

When this film came out, I was not a Take That fan. Spoiler alert: I’m still not. But I kind of thought the song Rule the World was alright. I guess.

Then I saw the trailer for Stardust, which it was the soundtrack for. I’d never heard of Neil Gaiman at that stage, so had no idea what it was. But the trailer looked… quite good, maybe?

These two emotions started to feed on each other, the trailer made me like the song more, which made me like the trailer even more. Then I saw the film, which I had really positive emotions going into, and the story made the song even better. And so the two fed off each other, growing. Like two snakes eating each other, or a double ouroboros. Or audiouroboros.

A great song can hit us on a more emotional, primal level than a film ever can – just look at the popularity of Let It Go from Frozen. But a song, no matter how good, can never save a terrible, terrible film. Even the awesome 80’s power of Starship can’t save Mannequin.

(Except Getting Away With Murder for the Chronicles of Riddick. Because fuck you, it’s awesome.)

How Stories Shaped Me

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As a kid I loved science. I used to carry a Dorling Kindersley encyclopaedia everywhere I went and read it obsessively.

Why? Because it showed me how the world worked. What is a shadow? Where does rain come from? Why is the sky blue, and not, like, red or green?

I liked other books too – I followed with interest the adventures of Billy Blue-hat and Roger Red-hat, had a fondness for Roald Dahl, and any tales that included dragons were always appreciated. But these were just for fun. They were silly stories, whereas my encyclopaedia… that contained the secrets of the universe.

I knew when I grew up I’d be a scientist. I’d wear a lab coat, and probably invent the hover-car just so I could get to the lab and science sooner.

This plan was definitely, definitely, definitely what I’d end up doing.

Until I discovered a guy called C.S. Lewis, and he ruined everything.

I would have been about nine when my teacher started reading The Magician’s Nephew to us and I found it wonderful. I was completely enthralled by it.

So much so that I went to the library to get out The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, because twenty minutes a day of reading time wasn’t enough. And I put the collection at the top of my Christmas list – after all there was an entire chronicle to get through.

For the first time in my life, I realised that these books contained information. Lessons I could learn. Not in the obvious way of my science book, but they explained other ideas. What is courage? How do we act if we want to be a good person? What is the real difference between right and wrong?

And from there my obsession grew. I read more. And more.

And the older I got, the more I started to realise something. You know the stuff in my science book? That’s all already been discovered!

I might not know how a car’s engine works, but someone does, so I don’t get any points for working it out.

But the less I learnt from science, the more I seemed to learn from fiction. Harry Potter would teach me to always determine whether authority really had my interests at heart. His Dark Materials would put form to my beliefs. The Wheel of Time would show me the burden of leadership.

A thousand other stories would shape me in a thousand different ways.

Even now as a “grown up” I learn more from make-believe than I ever could from reality.

I read The Man in the High Castle and get a glimpse into a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God world. I read Terry Pratchett and see language and ideas broken down, twisted and played with for comedy, or I read Neil Gaiman for a glimpse into magical worlds which let us truly see ourselves.

These aren’t made up stories. These are the truth told differently.

That science book formed a huge part of what I know. But the stories I’ve read form an integral part of who I am.

So Happy World Book Day everyone! And no matter how old you get, may you never be too grown up to have a silly story change your outlook entirely.