Some Half-Arsed Costume Ideas For Halloween

 
My favourite ever Halloween costume concept came from Christina Ricca’s Wednesday Addams – she’s at a Halloween party and is asked what she’s supposed to be.  She fixes the asker with that unsettling glower and says that she’s a homicidal maniac – they look just like everybody else.

That in mind, I have a Halloween party to go to and not much time to devote to a costume.  Here are the ideas* I’ve had thus far:

  •  The 200th anniversary of Kiss.  The issue with this one is that Gene Simmons seems like he might be litigious.  Plus who has the time to get the make-up right while also sourcing a cheap zimmerframe?
  •  Miley Cyrus – lipstick, a vest and underpants; spiky hair.  Maybe a hammer to fellate.
  •  Billy Ray Cyrus – double denim, soul patch, tears.
  •  Identity thief – dress like I normally do but use a different voice and claim that my real name is Steve but that I’m currently known as this guy I found on Facebook.
  •  Christopher Walken going to a Halloween party dressed as his Max Shreck character from Batman Returns.
  •  Chris De Burgh – jacket with rolled-up sleeves, guitar, massive eyebrows.  Done.  Optional blow-up doll in a red dress.  Obviously.
  •  The Easter Bunny – they’ve already got Christmas displays up in the shops, so you might as well do it and claim holiday confusion.
  • 1 Shade of Grey – but only if someone else does 50 Shades of Grey and goes dressed as a paint chart.  Wear a grey t-shirt with some jeans.  And ruin their night.

Feel free to borrow or steal these ideas and because I’m clearly struggling for ideas, comments are for sharing (I won’t give you any credit).

*I had lots more, actually quite funny ideas, but they were all so unbelievably offensive even the internet probably couldn’t cope with them.  

How To Write A Formal Letter Of Complaint

I recently moved in to a new flat, which is lovely thank you for asking.  The people seem, well not friendly because this is the south of England, but pleasant enough.  Unfortunately, at the last residents meeting it turned out that a vanishingly small number of residents have taken issue with parking spaces not being properly used by residents, or being used by non-residents.  As a result the powers that be have introduced a permit and ticketing scheme.

Having some past experience with such schemes I know that they’re usually a terrible idea, and I felt the need to express my misgivings.  Accordingly, I wrote the following letter of complaint (my first) to the management company.

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24 October 2013

Dear Sir or Madam

Parking Permits 

Some time ago I was dismayed to receive the minutes of the last residents meeting.  I was unable to attend the meeting myself, being on a plane at the time and all, but as I read the minutes my heart sank.  Shirley you cannot be serious, I thought (and I apologise for calling you Shirley), someone honestly, actually, wants you to build a fucking great wall to prevent non-residents (the horror!) from sitting in the plaza enjoying a quiet can or 25 of Strongbow?  Doubtless that’ll help shift those empty shop units, not to mention the restaurant space that remains resolutely barren.

But if that was mildly concerning at least it was also laughable.  Yes it can be irritating to walk past a gaggle of boorish drunks failing to rap freestyle – it’s called ‘rhythm’ and it’s actually quite important, chaps – or some of those hormonal teenagers they have these days grinding and slobbering over one another.  But a wall seems…what’s the word? Not disproportionate.  Oh yes, bloody stupid.

More worrying was the proposal to introduce a parking company to patrol the underground car park and dole out tickets to the undeserving.  Because that’s the sort of thing that might be taken seriously even if complaining about it in the first place seems, frankly, childish.  But I thought to myself oh-ho, common sense and sound reason will prevail: a profit-seeking business that raises its profits by dishing out fines is what one might call incentivised to dish out as many fines as it can get away with.

And besides, said car park is currently never ever ever more than half full.

In fact, by the time all the flats have been sold in a year or two and there might be some actual, y’know, reason for residents to be concerned about finding somewhere to park, the bays will all have been properly allocated.

A solution in want of a problem in other words.  And the only people who genuinely complain about problems that quite clearly don’t exist are petty venal wankers, whereas my fellow residents all seem like genuine grown-ups with functioning reasoning skills.

So I duly filled out my objection on the slip provided, dropped it in a post box and thought nothing more of it (I hoped against hope that the whole thing was anyway a token gesture designed to placate the disgusted-of-Tunbridge-Wells types who’d complained to you in the first place).

But if the enduring popularity of climate change denial, certain tabloid newspapers and various political figures teaches us anything it’s that this country is full of wankers.  And the wankers usually win.

I have a parking bay, which is currently unoccupied.  Nevertheless, I have the right to use it more or less as I see fit.  It’s no business of any other occupier of this building whether I choose to let a visitor park in my space, park my own car in it or leave it empty.  It has no impact on them whatsoever.  Likewise, I’m not bothered by how others use their bays.  If a non-resident smuggles themselves in and parks somewhere I appreciate that that might piss someone off.  For maybe 30 seconds.  But again, if that someone can park their car in what remains a half empty car park, then it’s really not a big deal.

What is likely to be a problem, however, is someone employed specifically to patrol around doing his or her utmost to leverage as much money as possible.  And I’ve yet to come across a parking company that doesn’t in fact require its workforce to do that, despite whatever trite assurances they might have given you before you contracted with them.

I note that they’ll be charging £5 for the privilege of reprinting a paper permit.  Doesn’t exactly bode well.

The wankers usually win, because they complain louder and for longer than the normals.  But they’re usually wrong, because they’re self-entitled or short-sighted or something else involving a hyphen.  I urge you to reconsider this decision, it’s unnecessary, it’s disproportionate and it’ll probably end up costing individual residents a fair whack of money for no better reason than to try to dissuade outsiders with their peculiar ways from using otherwise empty spaces.

Don’t let the wankers win.

Yours faithfully

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I emailed it to a friend for feedback before posting:

(Him:) I’m bound to ask: is this a joke letter? I mean did you write it just to amuse yourself or are you actually hoping that it will be engaged with (in which case it is genuinely the most ill-conceived letter I have ever read)?

(Me:) Am sorely tempted to post it and be damned.

Please do tell me how it is genuinely the most ill-conceived letter you have ever read.

(Him:) Come on, you know what I’m going to say for God’s sake.

  • It’s a page too long
  • the fact that you’re making Shirley puns in the first paragraph implies that you don’t really care about the issue (this is how they’ll see it)
  • the fact that you’re insulting (implicitly or otherwise) the people you’re trying to persuade every five seconds means they’re probably going to stop reading after said first paragraph.
  • the people who sit on this committee are probably the sort of people who consider profanity synonymous with idiocy and who will seize your first use of the word “fuck” as an excuse to stop reading.
  • these people are not going to be bothered to wade through the insults and anecdotes about arrhythmic rappers and stuff to get to your actual point. So they’ll stop reading.
  • if, on the off chance they are intelligent enough to find the anecdotes amusing and the swearing appropriate, they’re also likely to be intelligent enough to realise that the letter is just you tossing off. And, yep, they’ll stop reading.

Just stage a protest or something. Get everyone to stage a carpark sit-in drinking endless cans of Strongbow.

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So I did.  Just me in the end, sitting in my underpants because it was unusually warm down there.  And I don’t like cider myself, so I drank a chocolate milkshake.  And then it got cold so I went back upstairs to finish my milkshake (it brings all the boys to the yard).  But I think they got the message.

Friday’s Motoring Mental Exercise

Motor skills – not just about playing with your Hot Wheels and Micro Machines even though your mum says that by 28 you should have long since grown out of all that and won’t you please try and get a job and/or a girlfriend or at least trim your nails?

To improve your motor skills, try clicking on this link HERE, which is about minor publishing disasters.

It’s damn funny and well worth it.

I promise.

PS: I think we should all take a moment to thank whichever crazy bastard was genius enough to find and upload all this stuff to the internet.

How To Win Or At Least End An Argument Part 1: Some Simple Techniques

In honour of the conclusion to the latest twists and turns in the soap opera we used to call American politics, it’s worth brushing up on your own powers of argument and persuasion.  In the coming weeks, this lecture series will demonstrate the methods for winning or at least ending arguments using science.

In this series we will avoid jargon like ‘straw man’ or ‘ad hominem logical fallacy’ except where we don’t, because such language doesn’t get you laid.

We’ll start things off lightly with some simple techniques appropriate for any occasion, be it pub, children’s party or board meeting.

Understand Your Opponent’s Jargon

Debating jargon like ‘cognitive dissonance’ et al should be avoided at all costs because you have some self-respect.  Likewise anything that looks, smells or tastes like Latin, such as ‘et al’.  But you need to understand jargon so that you can properly call your opponent a pompous douchebag when they use it.

There are many formal and informal logical fallacies, but here are some of the more common ones:

Ad hominem: if he or she calls you a twat, that’s ad hominem – it’s not about the merits or otherwise of your argument(s), but all about you personally. Example: ‘Obama was born in Kenya.’

Straw man: an argument that is misrepresented by your opponent as superficially similar to the one you actually made, but which crucially is indefensible.  Example: “it’s necessary to balance civil rights and the state’s powers of intrusion.”  “So what you’re saying is that you want the terrorists to win.”

False dichotomy: an apparent choice between two options, that actually isn’t.  A common example would be freedom of the individual vs security of the people, but we’ve already used that one.  Example: you have a choice between a burger or a pie.  But the menu says that you can have a pie filled with burgers.  Or lasagne.

Confirmation bias: we actually all do this so it’s good to be aware of it.  Your brain retains things that reinforce your bias and edits out contradictory evidence.  Example: I think that people who call themselves ‘spiritual but not religious’ are wankers – every time I meet a wanker who calls him-or-herself spiritual, that impression is reinforced.  There are many otherwise lovely people who also describe themselves in such terms, but I can’t recall ever having met a single one, even if I have lived with one or two of them over the years.

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That’s enough of all that.  Let’s get on with winning.

Use Jargon To Your Advantage

At some point one of you will become even more pretentious than I am.  If your opponent reaches this point first, say something like ‘I’ll see your straw man and raise you an ad hominem: you’re a dickhead.’

This is an exception to the ‘no jargon’ rule because technically you’re being funny, which good-natured liars claim makes you attractive.

Use Your Words

At some point in the argument you will experience a sinking feeling, a gut realisation that your opponent is more clued-up on the subject at hand, be it who was a better space captain: Kirk or Picard, or why you should do the washing up more often.

You will find that the tide is turning against you.  But at this point it is important to keep your head and use your words.  It doesn’t matter that he or she can reel off statistics that prove that actually the Eurozone isn’t the UK’s biggest political and economic concern; or that he or she has taken the bins out every week for the past seven months and it’s your turn.

All you have to do is say the following:

“Ah, well now you’re talking semantics.”

Because no one actually quite knows what that word means or even if it’s a bad thing to do. Crucially, they won’t want you to know that they don’t know that a word you’re pretending to know is not in fact a word that either of you knows.  Win.

Use Your Words Part 2

But say that your opponent has deployed the ‘semantics’ argument.  You’re not sure how to react.  Here’s what you say:

“No I’m not.”

Ball. Back. In. Your. Face.  Loser.

Win.

Introduce A New Element

Men who’ve been married for a long time will know that this comes instinctively to wives.

You think you’re fighting about whose responsibility it was to buy more fabric softener, and out of nowhere she sucker-punches you with ‘well I still can’t believe that you said what you did to my aunt Sheila, you know how sensitive she is. And while we’re on the subject, would it kill you to put the toilet seat down once in a while?’  And boom, instant fluster.

Your opponent thinks you’re arguing about the merits of expanding the permanent security council of the UN, suddenly BAM! ‘Yeah, well camembert is just shit brie’.

Whoa, I just totally changed your perspective and stuff.

Use Your Fists

Pretty self-explanatory, and afterwards they’ll have quite forgotten whatever rapier-like point they were about to use to pierce through your entire argument and leave you looking like a small-minded bigot.  Win.

The caveat here is that if your opponent is bigger than you, or looks like a biter, you’ll probably get beaten to a pulp.  On the plus side, this will mean that your opponent has lost his or her temper and therefore you’ve won by default.  Win.

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The rest of this series will go into a lot more detail about a variety of options, including the invention of fictional experts and studies and the advantage of getting your opponent very, very drunk.

Next time: the proper use of the filibuster.

Michelangelo And The Statue Of Frood

So one day Michelangelo is walking along the streets of Florence thinking idly about how much he hates anchovies on pizza when he comes across a bloody great lump of marble.

‘Cowabunga,’ he thinks to himself, ‘who would have thought that one teenage mutant ninja turtle  could come across two free large blocks of marble in one lifetime?’  Well last time this happened he’d hewn it down to recreate the Biblical David, of David and Goliath fame.  David was an informal symbol of Florence, part of its self-image as the plucky underdog against the greater size and weight of Milan and Venice.

Such was politics; Michelangelo had been charged by his patrons to glorify the city and by extension themselves.  But art and commerce make for uneasy bedfellows (like me and a woman, he thought to himself ruefully) and they’d told him that next time he found a random block of marble that he could do whatever he wanted with it as long as he did it in his free time and it didn’t interfere with his work.

And now here it is.  ‘I should have plenty of free time,’ he thinks, thoughtfully. ‘All I’ve got planned at the moment is a quick job down Rome sort of way to repaint some chapel ceiling.’

And as history records, Michelangelo set out to fashion in marble an image of his favourite blogger of blogs about random shit that most people couldn’t care less about.  But then history shuts its trap – no one knows what became of perhaps Michelangelo’s greatest art work, what it looked like or even whether it was ever finished.

Today the statue of Frood is one of the Renaissance world’s great lost treasures, like Botticelli’s dogs playing poker mural, which once proudly adorned the Palazzo Vecchio (or Palazzo della Signoria as it was called then) overlooking the Piazza della Signoria.

Scholars have argued for centuries about how it might have looked as the cartoons and sketches tell very different tales.  In one Frood is wrestling a sea otter, in another he is seen reading bedtime stories to a yeti.  In yet another he is seen heroically n’ stoically leading a pack of wolves to the promised land (Denver, Colorado).

I can’t comment myself, being far too modest.  But what I can say is this: if there’s a lesson to be learned (and there is), it’s that the finished product is not the be all and end all.  The journey counts; and the dream.

Cowabunga.

Future Noir: A Pitch For Fahrenheit 451

One of the reasons why the film is almost never as good as the book is that you create a film of the book in your head as you read it.  You picture the characters, give them their voices and fill in the blanks.  This is why good writing doesn’t give you everything, just what you need.

I’m a big fan of the clichés of noir – urban settings, darkness and rain, moody atmosphere and morally compromised players.

Also, I’ve been reading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

Guy Montag is a fireman – a person charged with finding and burning books (the ultimate source of unhappiness in mankind).  He’s assisted in this task by a monstrous mechanical hound armed with a hypodermic syringe.  But is there really any happiness in his life?  And is he maybe hiding books of his own…?

It’s a typically dystopian sci fi novel from the mid twentieth century, about a post-literate future in which people are isolated from real engagement with one another by earphones, tvs and constant sensory input.  In its way it’s oddly prescient, if very much a product of its time.

Anyway, combine the above, and here’s what I’ve got…

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Black screen.  Jesus In The Courtyard by King Dude plays.  The door opens (it wasn’t a black screen at all).  We’re opening with one of those showboating shots, the camera as point of view.

Our man strolls down the corridor swinging a box that occasionally comes into view.  There’s a blaring TV screen and a hubbub of excitement, not unlike any group of men left unsupervised.  The vocals cut out as our POV man cranes his head round the corner of a door.  The box raises up (the framing’s slightly skewed like someone’s leaning at an angle) “Got a real mean bastard tonight, you coming?” to the room’s inhabitant.  He shakes his head, “not tonight.”

“Wife still won’t let you, huh?”

“Something like that…” an apologetic, conspiratorial half-smirk – wife calls the shots, what you gonna’ do?

The song picks up volume.  We wander down some stairs, passing men in uniform and exchanging greetings.  We pass a slightly scruffy logo, Fahrenheit 451; the noise gets louder with each step.

It gets a little darker, with more than one off-kilter light source.  We’re in a crowd of men, shouting and passing money round.  The box is lifted again, the door opened and the animal inside shook out…

And THEN the shot switches completely to the point of view of the animal –we see the man who’s been carrying the box.  He’s dark haired, in his mid-twenties in the same heavy-duty uniform worn by the others in the crowd.  The shot whirls around, panicked – it’s a circle of men, who look huge from this angle.  There’s a rat and someone’s dropped a chicken.  Then a metallic noise from the shadows, a single red beam of light and a huge beast bursts out grabbing the rat as the crowd goes wild.

Then it turns on our point of view, a menacing metal 8-legged freak that pounces and the screen goes black.

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Next scene is of the man who declined to be involved in the blood sport, Guy Montag (though we don’t know that yet).  He closes the door behind him – his shift is over.  As soon as the door closes, Generique by Miles Davis plays.  There’s a long shot down the street, in a quite conscious homage to old noir movies.  The scene is lit by moon and streetlight.  It’s late-ish autumn.  He turns his collar to the cold and starts to walk home.

On his way home tonight he’ll meet a young girl who’ll prove to be a catalyst to his unease.  When she first speaks the music stops (it won’t play whenever she’s around, and won’t stop when she’s not).

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Maybe I’m strange, but I like to adapt the stories I read like that, giving them a character and a palette not necessarily all that faithful to the book.  It’s why ‘my’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ is a lot meaner and bleaker than yours (and also less dated).

Do you do the same? Would you?  Is it sacrilegious to take such gratuitous liberties with the written word…?  As ever, comments below for venting.

Friday’s Mental Exercise

Audiobooks.  Like reading, but you can play videogames at the same time.

I swiped an idea for a fun game from here – creating your own soundtrack to the film of the book in your head.

But that’s too labour-intensive, so instead, the object here is to find the perfect actor’s voice to narrate the book and save yourself the effort of having to read the damn thing.

To get you started, here are some examples:

Wuthering Heights

One of the million-strong Bronte sisters’ classic novels, this intense love/revenge story is one of the cornerstones of English literature.  Obviously the audiobook would be read by Sylvester Stallone.  I for one would love to hear his take on the thick Yorkshire accent of that old servant Joe chap.

Fifty Shades of Grey

Dignified, elegant Kristen Scott-Thomas has an accent most Americans would consider to be quintessentially British.  Mellifluous if slightly stuck-up with a wry undertone like she’s none-too-subtly taking the piss out of you and yours.

Basically, I just want to hear her say:

“I don’t make love … I fuck … hard.”

À La Recherche du Temps Perdu

AKA A Remembrance of Things Past. One of the most respected* novels of the twentieth century, all seven (SEVEN?!) volumes of Marcel Proust’s magnum-sized opus are impenetrably dense.  Flashbacks, motifs, separation anxiety, homosexuality, getting jiggy in front of a portrait of daddy and more themes than you could possibly want or need.  And who could forget the involuntary memories?

There can be only one voice to sustain you through all that.

Adam West.

*To quote Evelyn Waugh “I am reading Proust for the first time…and am surprised to find him a mental defective”