Wednesday, 16 September 2009

I am one of the noticeable ones - notice me

I met Simon Cowell in Brighton the other day. He was serving at the checkout of a shop where I had bought some kitchen roll (extra absorbent) and bin bags (extra large, for my next trip to Cradle Hill Recycling Centre). Alright, so he had the words ‘alley rats’ tattooed on his neck, and he was wearing a badge bearing the name ‘Kevin’. But these contra-indications didn’t fool me for a moment. I had noticed that it was Mr. Cowell, and Mr. Cowell, in turn, noticed that I had noticed. Neither of us said anything, unless you count his saying ‘That’ll be two pounds, please’, and my saying, ‘There you are. Thank you.’

I suppose it’s only to be expected that I cracked Mr. Cowell’s little game. After all, thirty years in law enforcement does help you notice things. Things like the dirty great boot mark in the centre of the flower bed at a burglary scene; the fridge lobbed over the balcony of a block of flats, intended to cause a few minor scratches to the ‘company car’; the look on someone’s face when you catch them in the act of doing something illegal. But these skills pale into insignificance when you compare them with the observational skills of Mrs. H.

Mrs. H would have made an excellent police officer. Or, if not a police officer, the Head of Surveillance for MI6. She has this almost supernatural ability to ‘notice’ things. I’ve recently been painting the boy’s bedroom. I was pretty proud of the fact that I’d made a reasonable job of it. But then Mrs. H ‘noticed’ that I’d missed some bits, so I gave the room a second coat of paint. And guess what? Yep. Mrs. H ‘noticed’ that a couple of the walls still looked patchy. Coat number three here we come…

If I wash up, she notices the glass I’ve missed; if I hoover or dust, it’s the minute specks I have totally failed to see. When watering the garden, I generally manage to miss at least one pot plant completely. But even this does not escape Mrs H’s notice and I’m soon back out with the watering can.

At first, these incidents were the source of mild amusement.’ Silly me,’ I would exclaim as I once more reached for the duster or dish mop. But after a while I grew concerned. What if my failure to notice things is but the first symptom on a rocky road to forgetfulness, absent-mindedness, or something worse? Did I really not notice that bit of fluff under the sideboard, or did my subconscious urge me simply to ignore it in order to provide Mrs. H with some more target practice because, deep down, I am a masochist? Or conversely, does Mrs. H simply have too much time on her hands, and has decided to become a professional Noticer of Things by way of diversion? I worry that one morning I will find her in the breakfast room, white gloves on and clipboard on standby, ready to carry out the sort of inspection that would make a barrack-room sergeant major look positively idle and sloppy. Heaven help me if she found dust on top of the mirror. The kind of dreadful punishment she might mete out to me doesn't bear thinking about. Whitewashing our supply of firewood, perhaps? Or maybe I'd have to run up Seaford Head with a fifty pound pack? I'd better quieten down. She might read this and I've already given her a couple of ideas...

I’ve started to wonder whether I should attempt to boost my own ‘noticing’ skills. I could start with simple stuff. I could, for example, notice whether a light is on or off, whether we need a fresh carton of milk, whether I’m wearing the grey socks or the black ones. But I fear my efforts would be doomed to failure, and that I would soon be back to my old self - the one who doesn’t know what day it is half the time; the one you, dear bloggy friends, are familiar with. Part of the problem lies in my gender. As a man, my head is constantly full of stuff that has absolutely no bearing on everyday life. Whilst Mrs. H scans the brochures for paint colours for the living room, I imagine what it would be like to be a Red Bull Air Race pilot. Whilst she sensibly tries to choose bedroom furniture, I concoct puns and comedy haikus. Here's one I prepared earlier:

Mum went to Brighton
And all she brought me back was
This lousy T-shirt

So, dear reader, I shall be content to be a bumbling Watson to Mrs H’s Holmes, constantly astonished by her visual acuity; or perhaps a fifty-something Mr. Magoo to her Hawkeye. And I shall, like the frog footman in Alice in Wonderland, 'sit here on and off, for days and days' until I hear those immortal words once more: ‘Chris…I’ve just noticed…’

Sunday, 6 September 2009

You'd laugh to see a pudding roll...apparently

Are you a Lollard? Of course, I don’t mean, ‘Are you a follower of John Wycliffe, a critic of traditional religious beliefs in the 14th century?’ I mean ‘do you LOL when you Tweet, or Face Book (if I’m allowed to use FaceBook as a verb) or whatever it is you do?’ Because it seems to me that LOL (or Laughing Out Loud to the uninitiated) is fast becoming one of the most overused expressions in cyberspace. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a miserable old git. I probably find at least one thing every day that makes me laugh out loud. Why, only last week I saw a gentleman in London whose greying hair resembled nothing less than a Davy Crockett hat. This would have caused me to laugh out loud, had I not been sitting in a restaurant, surrounded by other diners who would undoubtedly have thought I was a couple of clicks away from full sanity. But I’d be worried if I was tempted to laugh out loud at some of the things I read on the internet.

My preferred social networking site is Twitter. I find its 140 character limit per message (or ‘Tweet’) encourages me to marshal my thoughts more carefully before I commit them to the screen. It’s no place for a rambler, which is curious, when you look at the way I tend to ramble within the environs of this Humble Blog. I’m beginning to wonder if I suffer from some kind of computational bipolarity, wittering on one minute and being succinct the next…but I digress. I have begun to worry about the things my fellow Twitterati find is worthy of a LOL. And fear not; I haven't had a punctuation bypass; I reproduce these Tweets exactly as they appear on Twitter:

Busy day ahead. Need an extra strong cup of coffee LOL.

Manchester. Yay. LOL.

Waiting for my Avon delivery. Fun stuff, its like christmas every 2 weeks! LOL

Having my hair done. LOL.

LOL what day is it?

There’s a whole lot of LOL-ing going on. Perhaps some of these individuals would, to coin the phrase oft used by my grandmother, laugh to see a pudding roll. In the space of the two minutes it took me to type a couple of sentences, LOL was used on Twitter no less than 1004 times. And the above examples are a fairly good indication of the things folks are LOL-ing about. Now, read them aloud, then laugh out loud at the designated time. Does it make you feel slightly unhinged? It does me. This is why I have never used LOL, either in my blog, or on Twitter. If I read something I think is amusing, I will send a message to its writer saying, ‘I think what you have just said is very amusing.’ Which probably makes me sound like some ludicrous caricature of an Englishman as featured in the Anglo-American sitcom, Pardon My Jaguar. Oh well…

I’d like to propose that we kick LOL into the long grass where it belongs or, if there isn‘t any long grass, into that gravelly area up against the house wall adjacent to the outside water tap. But some folk are so devoted to it that I fear the absence of a LOL-fix is likely to drive them half mad. So I have come up with a few new acronyms that might be used to more accurately reflect the writer’s feelings at the time. You will note that they follow a progression of intensity of emotion:

BRAS - Barely Raises A Smile
SQUITS - Smiles Quietly To Self
MALT - Mildly Amused - Little Titter
GLAG - Giggling Like A Girl (with thanks to Cordy Williams for this one!)
SIDOS - Sides In Danger Of Splitting
BLOIP - Big Laugh Occasioning Incontinence Pad
SOFISM - So Funny I Shat Myself

Of course, these new expressions will take a bit of time to get used to. I can’t expect LOL-ers to break their pernicious habit immediately. It’d probably be as dangerous as alcohol withdrawal. Each culprit (sorry, I mean victim; we live in a society where the idea of someone being guilty of something is anathema) will be allowed one LOL a week, its appropriateness to be determined by a new Quango, the ICOTOCAA - the International Council To Combat Acronym Abuse. If any ‘victim’ is found to have LOL-ed inappropriately, they will be issued with a LOLBO - a Laugh Out Loud Banning Order - and taken for re-training to ensure they have a proper sense of what is, or isn’t, funny. The first session will involve a slide show of criminally bad hairstyles (including aforesaid gent with Davy Crockett hair), selected highlights from You've Been Maimed, and the pilot episode of Pardon My Jaguar.

I hope you’ll not take my comments amiss. I’m sure there are no Lollards amongst my undoubtedly intelligent fellow-bloggers. But if there are, there is hope for you. Call my LOL helpline now on 0898 244 8487 for confidential help and advice. Calls charged at £1 per minute; minimum call length thirty seven minutes. And I guarantee you'll find nothing to LOL about when the phone bill arrives...

Stop press. If you find LOL a serious irritation then you can join BLOT - Ban LOL On Twitter. You know it makes sense!