Thursday, 27 May 2010

Twits of Telephony, or 'NO! I AM NOT ALEXANDER!!'

Today I have decided to change my landline number. I am moving to a new flat soon, and had been toying with the idea of trying to take my phone number with me so I wouldn't have to get used to a new one. I am now distinctly not toying with that idea. That idea is now been firmly locked in the toybox, with ten padlocks and a fat Rottweiler sitting on top. This is because I have recently received a deluge of answerphone messages from people clearly under the impression that they are leaving a message for someone who IS NOT HERE. Often, said messages are in interesting languages or accents, but are thus indecipherable and therefore simply require immediate deletion.

There was the mad old Irish lady who rambled on for a good five minutes about wanting to close her building society account (at least I think that's what she was saying; I'm pretty sure she was drunk, too). I felt quite sorry for her, as she'd obviously poured out everything she wanted to say to the building society in this message, and it was never going to be heard by them. To be honest, it wouldn't have been much use even if she had got through to their voicemail instead of mine, as she wittered on so much that she forgot to leave her name and number. It was like some sort of tragic romance of missed connections. 'The Old Drunk and the Building Society'. Very Mills & Boone.

Then there was the woman who was trying to call someone named Robert Ayre. I've had a few calls for this guy, so I assume he's either lived here at some point in the past, or he's gleefully handing out a fake number to people he doesn't want to talk to, and it just happens to be mine. Perhaps I was unwittingly employed as his own personal 'flirt divert'. Either way, this one woman called, asked for him, and politely apologised when I explained that she had the wrong number. She then instantly redialled the same number, and got me again. I explained her mistake again, and she apologised a little more impatiently, and hung up. At this point, most people would have realised that the number they had written down was not correct, and either given up or resorted to one of the many other avenues of communication that technology has granted us. But not this lady. She knew who she wanted to speak to, and she had written down this exact number, so she was going to keep calling it until Robert Ayre had the decency to drop by and answer it, goddamnit! I ended up explaining to her that, no matter how many times she called this number, Robert Ayre simply wasn't going to pick up. And politely asked her to stop trying, as it was buggering up my Michael Cera marathon. And nobody should EVER obstruct the watching of Michael Cera movies. The phone rang again two minutes later. I picked it up and immediately hung up again.

I'll never understand the tenacity of people who are convinced that your phone number belongs to someone else, with whom they need to get in touch. I used to get a very old woman calling me at around 3am, asking for Alexander. I don't know why she would repeatedly call Alexander at 3am, but I don't blame him for giving her a fake number if that's what she's likely to do with it! Even more than the antisocial hour, I was more pissed off by the fact that, after I answered, she'd always begin her call with 'Is that Alexander?'. Do I bloody well sound like an Alexander?? I know I don't exactly have a chipmunk voice, but I was a bit offended that she'd hear my voice and instantly think 'Ah yes, clearly a bloke'! I had to work hard to stave off the potential tranny-voice-complex that she could have sparked off there. Anyway, I explained on about six separate occasions that she had the wrong number, and ended up almost begging her to stop calling because I had to be up early in the mornings! After that, I just did my instant hang-up trick, and that seemed to finally get the message across.

Today's answerphone messages (the inspiration for this post) struck me as being particularly silly. I had two messages, presumably left while I was at work, from a woman who seemed to think I was an office of some kind. She was trying to speak to somebody named 'Ian'. Obviously she saw through my ruse of setting up an answerphone clearly stating YOU HAVE REACHED ELLEN GALLAGHER, PLEASE LEAVE A MESSAGE AND I'LL GET BACK TO YOU AS SOON AS I CAN, and realised that I am in fact a business office with an employee named Ian. That doesn't answer its phones during business hours and instead lets you go to answerphone. Twice. Dang, I hate when people see through my attempts to disguise my secret business as a private address!

**UPDATE** Part 2 of this insanity here

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Disney and Marvel - odd or fabulous?

Don't worry - no spoilers for Iron Man 2 here. I am just examining a tiny plot detail that does not give anything away!

I went to see Iron Man 2 yesterday evening, and thoroughly enjoyed it at least as much as I expected to. Not only was it fast-paced and witty, but the visual effects were stunning and (mostly) excellently crafted. And Robert Downey Jr isn't half yummy for an old bloke!

I also greatly appreciated the scenes featuring footage of Tony Stark's father, Howard Stark. These seemed to be a direct homage to the televised speeches of the futuristically-minded Walt Disney, right down to the model 'city of the future' that was so clearly modelled on Walt's plans for EPCOT. For non-Disneyphiles, EPCOT is an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Much like Stark senior, Disney firmly believed that technological advances and a new take on city structure would lead to an amazing and bright future of ease, comfort and peace. Although EPCOT is now a theme park with interestingly eclectic (but rather bizarre) selection of zones. Among these, one can explore an 'Innoventions' pavilion, which is focused on the future and latest, or next, technological advances. Or a short stroll away, it is possible to wander through eleven different (miniature) countries in a single afternoon. However, Walt Disney's plan for the land was to install a real town, where people could live and work, and take advantage of the latest technology in public transport and domestic convenience. He planned to lease out the living quarters, and then kit them out with cutting-edge appliances. In order to do this he hoped to partner with the manufacturing companies. They would use his model town as a sort of large-scale showhome, where their products could be demonstrated and admired in action. They would then come in and replace the items for the tenants as soon as something new and better came onto the market, and so the inhabitants would live in a permanent, idealistic state of futuristic comfort and ease. Whether this would have worked cannot be seen, as Walt died before his plans could be put into action, and his successors decided that an odd but interesting theme park would be a better use of the hub-and-spoke based layout. If you're interested in Disney theme park history, or just want to know what happened to rides that are no longer there, I strongly recommend that you visit Yesterland.

Click here to see Walt warmly discussing his vision of the future; if you've seen Iron Man 2 you'll know what I mean. Right down to the colour saturation in the film, and Howard Stark's groomed, neatly mustachioed appearance; this is a subtle but excellently executed reference. I assume that it is intended as an homage rather than anything more subversive, as Disney recently completed their acquisition of Marvel Entertainment (read the official announcement here). This means that they hold the license to all of Marvel's characters, including Iron Man, of course. The deal took at least the best part of a year to complete, and so it is logical to assume that Iron Man 2 was made with this in mind. The Disney logo appears before the film in the movie theatre, and Disney stores have begun to market Iron Man merchandise. While some would see this nod to Disney's vision as a despicable bit of branding, I was actually quite touched by it. A reference point considered widely recognisable (although most would relate to it subconsciously) in popular culture was used to convey a sense of history and familiarity. Even if the movie-going public do not instantly make the connection (as many Disney nerds surely did!), the image and cadence of 'Uncle Walt's television appearances have been so omnipresent since the middle of the last century, I believe that one cannot help but feel nostalgic during these scenes. Although Howard Stark is portrayed as a driven and serious businessman, his vision of the future is just as safe and pleasant as Walt's.

Of course, there the analogy begins to break down, as Walt then went and ruined his lovely image (to a modern observer, at least) by shopping several innocent animators to the House Un-American Activities Committee of Congress because they were involved in unions that got in his way. He also went a bit mental and claimed that the Screen Actors' Guild was a communist organisation. I think it's safe to say his lovely future vision did not include communism then...

Monday, 17 May 2010

The Independence of Woman, otherwise known as 'Shut Up Whinging and Make Me a Sandwich!'

Right, I feel it's time that I briefly discuss what it means to be an independent woman in today's world. No, shut up, I mean it. I've just listened to some Aretha Franklin, and am a proud owner of no Y chromasomes, so I feel at least partially qualified to wax lyrical on this subject. I bought all my own hair, and am capable of building a damn fine shoe-rack unassisted. I can bake a cake, and yet also wire a plug. And yet, despite all of this, I think some schools of feminist thought are swiftly becoming unhelpful and irrelevant. Of course, there are many parts of the world where women are still downtrodden and marginalized, and I feel especially fortunate to have escaped such a life by mere virtue of my birth location and upbringing. I also think that the gender pay gap is unfair and archaic (although it is thought to be gradually narrowing).

However, I have often witnessed women in my own society whinging on about the lack of chivalry in this world while simultaneously holding the belief that women should be treated equally to men. WHAT?! Seriously, ladies. You can't demand equality in one breath and superiority in the next without seriously undermining both of your arguments. That's like wearing massive baggy y-fronts under a micro-miniskirt - it's all convenience and comfort until somebody inevitably notices and calls you a moron. I personally like to hold doors open for people because THEY ARE PEOPLE and cannot walk through a closed door without banging their noses. It's polite. Therefore, the only reason you'll find me getting annoyed at a bloke, or indeed a woman, for letting a door slam in my face is because it is RUDE, regardless of my own gender or theirs. Larger and more serious gender arguments aside (which I'll leave to those more learned and eloquent than myself), I think many women concentrate on the wrong things when they think of women's rights. They focus on what would be slightly more convenient to them rather than what is important. Of course we should have the right to vote, to wear trousers as we please and get paid the same amount for the same work as a man. We have the right to be indignant if a man lunges at us in a bar with no invitation. But conversely, we do not have the right to get all pissy if we randomly lunge at a man in a bar and he isn't particularly thrilled. Oh no, the word 'lunge' has now got an image of Richard Simmons in my head...

When it comes to clothing, I personally relish my femininity when it suits me, and yet also own a pair of massive, very manly boots. I'm not above wearing said boots with something pretty, just because I can. But I do not expect to be placed on a pedestal by society at large because of my propensity to own skirts and glitter. I know plenty of men who own skirts and glitter, and brandish both with aplomb, but face a brutishly unfair potential backlash for doing so. People who believe that men shouldn't do that make me think 'SHUT UP! A Christmas tree isn't generally thought of as female but you put flippin' jewellery all over that with glee!'

If we all just try our best to do the right thing by one another, no matter whether we are male, female or a bit of both, I think it's a bloody good first step toward equality. Which has got to be much better than a whiney-ass 'ME FIRST!' kinda world.

Monday, 10 May 2010

And so it begins...

Welcome to my new blog. It begins as a result of a friend's suggestion that I stop clogging up everyone's Facebook newsfeed with my lunacy and instead confine it to a more containable forum. Well, that's not how she put it, but then again she's a lawyer and we know how often they say what they're REALLY thinking...

I'm going to jump right in with a lovely story. It's called 'Oh For The Love of All That is Sacred, Please Shut Up'. It begins on the 207 to White City, on a Monday morning that was both bright and cheery (stop interrupting, yes it was). All was going well for the gentle commuters, as a soft breeze was playing through the open window and there were actually enough seats for everyone, for once. Some peacefully read books, others watched the world go by through the (fairly) clean windows. The pervading atmosphere was of calm and contemplation. Until the bus pulled into The Stop of Doom. Now, I'm not sure if it's just me that has noticed this stop as particularly portentous of calamity, but I will add the detail that it's VERY close to a very cheap off-licence. That opens weirdly early, it seems. Or they don't mind who they sell nail-varnish remover to outside of licensing hours. Either way, there is often some sort of interesting character waiting at this stop; part of me would like to believe that they lie in wait for my particular bus to pass by so that they may enliven my morning (the alternative is to accept that there are actually enough of them around for there to be one on every bus). Today was no exception. A woman the size of a generous futon lolloped aboard, greeting the startled passengers with a genial wordless bellow. She shoehorned herself into the nearest seat-and-a-half, much to the delight of the girl attempting to sit in the half a seat beside. Having taken a couple of stops to catch her breath, she began humming to herself loudly, and sort of shuffly-dancing with her feet. At this point, I began to wonder if she couldn't help her unusual bus-entering caper. However, at that point she yawned, and melted the eyelashes off all of us sitting within 10 meters of her. Ah, so this was 70 per cent proof, self-induced crazy then. As I was absorbing this fact, and trying to find a facial orifice out of which it was safe to breathe, she suddenly lunged forward and tapped the shoulder of the bloke in front of her. He was attempting to listen to some music, and so it took her a couple of seconds to get his attention, by which time she was quivering with excitement. 'Yes?' said our intrepid businessman, pulling an earbud to one side. 'ILIKEYOURSUIT' came the reply. 'Pardon?' 'ILIKEYOURSUIT, BUTYOURHAIRISGREASY!!!' The man looked blank and said 'Uh, thanks for that.' I inwardly applauded his succinct response.
The woman amused herself for the rest of the journey by reading a magazine and telling the air about her personal life. 'YOUDON'TWANTTOMEETMYBROTHER!! HE'STRYINGTOGETMARRIEDBUTHEHASATEMPER.' Then an article in the magazine would catch her eye 'CHEATING ON HIS WIFE??! FOR F**KING WHY?!!' I was quite touched at her indignation for the unknown wronged woman, until I noticed she was holding the magazine upside-down. Ah, so that was just the crazy talking, then. She also began an argument with a man who had sat beside her, and who had and become understandably irritated with her constantly nudging him in the side as she completed some sort of interpretive dance. The argument ended with her accusing him of being a child-abuser, at which point he quietly moved to a seat far away.

I left the bus during her rousing rendition of 'Everybody was Kung-Fu Fighting', complete with tuneless, high-pitched screech where the instrumental riff would usually be. And several racial slurs that certainly weren't in the radio edit.

Oh well, at least it wasn't a boring commute...