Monthly Archives: January 2012

COD

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I’ve got to admit it. I’m addicted to the Call of Duty games. Most specifically Modern Warfare 3. There! I’ve said it. I feel much better now.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved all the “new” COD games since they changed things up with Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare. I like the characters, the story, and the game play. I just never bothered to play the multi-player part until recently.

What?? I hear you gasp. You never played the multi-player??  Are you crazy or what? Well, in my defence, I didn’t have the time before and on-line gaming was just something I couldn’t get my head around. Until Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.

Assassin’s Creed’s multi-player sounded very different from all the “Shoot and Kill” games out there. I thought I might as well “break-my-cherry” on something that wasn’t just S & K. Okay admittedly AC’s multi-player is still based on the S & K philosophy (albeit with a few modifications – stabbing with an assassins blade being just one), but it looked fun.  So I gave it a go. I had so much fun that I then decided to try playing COD on-line.

That first “battle”  and the total feeling of  ”wow, I can’t believe I haven’t done this before,” made me start looking at the COD multi-player with fresh eyes.  Of course, my first time playing on-line was abysmal to say the least. I died…a lot. I killed very few other players. I didn’t know what the best weapons were or what perks gave me the edge I needed to do well. I found that talking with guys at work helped sort those problems out and my game began to improve. I was in a kind of heaven.

My daughter thinks I am slightly nuts about the game. She also thinks I’m addicted to this franchise that banks on  it’s audience becoming so addicted to the game that they will continually pay out money for new DLC content. New DLC that is just new maps…of the same game! Guilty as charged.

I love mastering the weapons and getting better perks as my kill count goes up. I love listening to people from literally all over the world playing together. These COD players: talk, join up with mates – I play with a chum from work, gossip, argue, rant, scream, cry-out-in-anguish, and have temper tantrums. I mean really, who wouldn’t find that entertaining? But apart from all that entertainment, it is the game play itself that keeps luring me back.

I keep playing for the challenge. And for the chance to improve my game scores and performance. These can vary wildly. Today, for example, I played a Death Match with my mate from work. Not only did I have the game high-score, but, I also got the winning kill. Over the moon. Then right after that brilliant match, I joined another group and spent most of my time being killed. Instead of feeling over the moon, I felt ready to shoot anything that moved, this included fellow team members.

*On a side note, I just re-read the above paragraph and realised that it makes me sound very cold blooded and violent. I am, but only in the game verse of COD.

This game has frustrated me, enraged me, and exhilarated me. Sometimes all in the same match. When I do well, I get a sense of accomplishment that puts me on a high for hours. I also finish each session (these can go on for hours) with eyes that feel like they are bleeding and ears that ache and throb from the headphones. Despite these quite negative results from playing, I play as often as I can.

So, like I said, I’m addicted to COD and especially Modern Warfare 3. I would like to actually write some more about the game, but I really must go and play it again.

Smoking

its hard keeping this one on one hand and the ...

I don’t expect many people to read this post. Smoking has become the new “bad” of this millennium. In this new age of the “Nanny” culture, it has become very popular to sneer at smoking and smokers in general. Smokers have, in effect, become the new social lepers.

I won’t lie, I’ve had a love affair with smoking since I was twelve years old. A few of my friends and I “passed-the-hat” and pooled our pennies together to buy a pack of Winstons. It was love at first inhale. I never had the typical first bad reaction to smoking that most of my friends suffered. It was the beginning of a life long  addiction that I would quit again and again, but still come back to.

Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s bad for me. I also know that it makes my clothes smell…and my hair, skin, etc. But nothing can calm me down or satisfy me faster than that quick puff (or drag) on a cigarette, cigar or pipe. Nicotine patches, or gum, or mints just don’t have the same affect. Oh it cures the nicotine craving all right. It just doesn’t touch the inhale/exhale exercise that also makes smoking so addictive.

I’ve tried electronic cigarettes and they come close, but as the saying goes, no cigar. I’m sure that one day someone will develop one that works as well as a cigarette. But I’m not holding my breath.

English: Electronic cigarette charger
English: Electronic cigarette charger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am just amazed, and a little shocked, to see how socially acceptable it has become to vilify and castigate smokers. I even had a colleague tell me in no uncertain terms that I was going to die a horrible death because I smoked. Nice. I’ll try to return the favour the next time I see them eating red meat. And no I’m not a vegetarian.

I hate to break it to people, but smoking isn’t the only thing in the world that kills people.   LIFE kills people. Like Katherine Hepburn said, “Of course life is hard, it kills you.” We are all going to die…of something. The human body is not built to last indefinitely. We all just choose our own brand of poison to push it towards it’s expiry date. Look at the facts. Everything is pretty much bad for us. Booze, most foods (at least the ones everyone likes), sun; well you get the point, I’m sure.

I’m just surprised at how hostile folks have become to smokers in general and how phobic they are. Yes lab rats have shown that second hand smoke can kill – and now it seems third hand smoke as well, what ever that is – and that several really bad things occur to major organs and arteries from the same first, second and third smoke inhalation.

So yes I know it’s bad for me. I also know it’s bad for folks around me. I don’t blow my smoke on other people and have never smoked around anyone who is phobic about it or has health related issues. Okay?

So I will be quitting again. But not for any of the above mentioned reasons. I’ll be quitting because it’s become too costly to continue for much longer. The British government has taxed tobacco so much, it’s become the smoking equivalent of caviar. This is all in aid of getting folks to quit. Kind of like killing the golden goose in my opinion. Smokers, like drinkers, put lots of tax dough-ray-me into the coffers of the government. Making it too expensive is cutting off a huge source of revenue.

Still the most annoying thing about the new “smokers are nasty” spiel is how really un-PC it is. How politically correct is it to tell someone they smell. Or to make nasty comments about their personal habits. So don’t be surprised if the next time I’m in town and having a smoke in the open air where my “nasty habit” will not invade your pristine lungs, if you give me a nasty look or comment I might just flick an ash in your eye.

You have been warned.

smokin' the pipe
smokin’ the pipe (Photo credit: leff)

Money

Credit Card
Credit Card (Photo credit: 401K 2012)
Money seems to be a problem for everyone these days. The entire world is gripped by economic woes and it doesn’t seem to be easing up for anyone. There is a global tightening of the belt going on that is causing widespread discontent and most of this “belt-tightening” appears to be of the “knee-jerk” variety.

The cause of these economic woes all depends on who you talk to. Economists and financial “experts” all have differing opinions as to who or what is to blame. There is an awful lot of finger pointing going on, with too many suspects to choose from. I think that even Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot would have difficulty finding the guilty party.

I do know that economists have warned for years that the world has been heading for financial meltdown.  It is abundantly clear that they were right.

I personally feel that everyone is to blame. I can see you shaking your head now. “Oh, no.” You say. “I haven’t contributed one iota to this abysmal mess!” No? I beg to differ. I’ll explain.

When I was growing up, it was very important to “live within your means.” In a nutshell, that means living within your salary. There are and were exceptions to that “rule.” Buying a house, for example, put you firmly in debt. This was acceptable though as it was deemed a necessary part of living.

In those far off days of my youth it was a lot harder to get credit. If you wanted to buy an expensive item you put it on lay-a-way, or as the English call it, the HP. Folks had credit cards back then, but, they were a little bit wiser in how they used them.

Now it is a lot harder to “live within your means.” Mainly because of leisure time. We have more time for leisure activities than ever before in the history of man. Don’t think so? Well we do. We as a people work less hours per week than ever before. We also have more things to do in our off work time. That combined with the new “must-have” gadgets and toys make all this spare time an expensive deal.

We all “need” laptop computers (or home computers), games consoles, flat-screen High Definition (HD) or 3D televisions. DVD players to play these HD or 3D films. Every household has multiple cell or mobile phones with the expense that involves. Folks are relying more on their gaming consoles for exercising and inter-acting socially with their families. We use computers and their bastard cousin the internet to do a lot of things that used to be done the old fashioned way.

Everyone wants to buy new things.  The number of second hand shops has dwindled alarmingly. It is just too easy to get “fast” credit and purchase new things instead of used.  We all seem to have an inbred desire to buy bigger and better things. We’ve stopped just keeping up with the Joneses, we’re all now striving to outdo them.

We are not the only ones guilty of this financial “snow-balling” getting so far into debt that we’ll never climb out. It’s the governments as well. Governments go into enormous mountains of debt for things ranging from bigger and better bomb and space exploration, to funding silly research programs.

I’m not wagging my finger at anyone, mind you. I’m just stating the obvious as I see it. I’m just as guilty as the next person of living beyond my means. It happens sneakily, you know. One day you’re balancing everything nicely – if a bit manically – and the next thing you know, you’re buried in a huge amount of bills.

Because, let’s face it, we all like this new lifestyle we lead. And as parents we want little Billy or Suzy to have the latest gadgets and gizmo’s that are out there. Just as we or our governments do.

Money may not be the root of all evil, but it is definitely a close relation and one that is going to be a problem to everyone for a long time yet. I remember once in school a teacher stated that in the future it would be hard to keep everyone occupied when they weren’t working. His theory was that so many things would be automated that  people would have a lot more spare time.

He just never mentioned how much money we’d be spending on this new-found spare time. He also never mentioned that money would be in such scarce supply.

leisure world luton
leisure world luton (Photo credit: osde8info)

Housekeeping

housekeeping

One of the first things I noticed when I gained my new-found freedom was that keeping the house clean had taken on a whole new perspective. When I was married it was a sometimes joint affair that involved quibbling about the cleaning process.

This usually involved me helping the “ex” and being told that my cleaning skill were not up to scratch. Now my cleaning skills are all that keep the house from getting buried under a mountain of dust.

Oh, I have help from my “house-mate” – aka my daughter, but, the mainstay of the “heavy-duty” cleaning is mainly my responsibility. Why, you ask? Well, apparently I’m becoming a bit OCD in my dotage.

I’m not talking about the old wash-my-floor/hands-every-two-seconds OCD. I’m talking about almost obsessively worrying about the state of the house. Don’t get me wrong, my house is cleaner than most. It’s just that if it doesn’t sparkle and gleam, I worry.

On the bright side, I don’t obsess about the same things week in and week out. The last two weeks my nemesis has been the laundry. Mainly due to the all too typical English weather my laundry gets done in mammoth  laundry days. The weather combined with the fact that my washer/dryer doesn’t get hot when it’s drying tends to dictate this type of laundry day.

About the laundry. One huge bone of contention used to be my laundry “hanging” skills. Each and every time I helped to hang the laundry on the line I got a lecture about how I didn’t know how to hang laundry properly. Needless to say, this used to irritate the living hell out of me. I had been hanging laundry on the washing line at least seven years longer than my ex – she was seven years my junior – but that counted for nothing except the facetious remark that I had been doing so incorrectly for that time.

The one constant area of housekeeping that I do obsess about is dust and cobwebs. I’ve had a thing about these two thorns in my side. I loathe dust. It makes you sneeze, clogs your sinuses. and looks dreadful.  Cobwebs on the other hand make it look like either no one ever cleans in your house or you are getting in practise to be the neighbourhood Haunted House this year.

But…But. I have found a second thing about my new-found freedom. I take a inordinate amount of pride and feel very productive when I’ve gotten the second (or third, or fourth even) load of laundry done. Looking at the clothes on the line waving in the wind make me feels oddly content, especially when it’s all folded and put away and the dirty clothes hamper is empty, albeit temporarily.

I have also discovered that having a little dust is not a horrible thing. The last time I “Googled” it I didn’t find any records of anyone dying of dust overexposure – thankfully my dust is nowhere near that stage of inundation.  And cobwebs? Well, from apart from the ones in my head, I’ve noticed that everyone seems to have them. So I can relax a little…for now. I haven’t become OCD enough to require therapy just yet.

Still, the best part, I’ve discovered, is not having anyone look at my cleaning efforts and tell me that they are not up to scratch. I decide what days are cleaning days and when my house is dirty enough to be given the whirlwind clean it deserves.

In the area of housekeeping at least, I am the master of my own dynasty.

Westerns

When I lived with my parents, in the long ago days before video and DVD players, it was a family tradition to watch any westerns that came on the television. This usually occurred on the weekend, most specifically on a major TV network (NBC I think) on Saturday Night At The Movies.

It was on Saturday nights that I sat with my folks, and later my bother as well, watching The Duke,Gary Cooper, and Robert Mitchum.  In fact, all the old actors who had moved into the genre when they got too old to play romantic leads any more.  We popped lots of popcorn and then rushed in to watch The Sons of Katie Elder, Rio Bravo  or some other John Wayne “Americana” western. Or indeed whatever western happened to be on.  If we didn’t watch westerns on the television, we saw them at the Drive-In.

It was at the Drive-In that I first saw Sergio Leone‘s “Spaghetti Westerns.” Specifically the “Man With No Name trilogy. I was enraptured and captivated by this anti-hero. I was so enthralled by this character that I lost the tendency to emulate The Duke and began to squint a lot and speak softly through gritted teeth. This was at the ripe old age of ten. Oh I never fell out of love with the John Wayne westerns  or old Duke’s characters.  I could still do the swagger and do the “Well, Pilgrim” drawl like a trooper.

I remember staying over  at a cousin’s house and horse riding for hours, wearing the standard western uniform of cowboy boots and hat, riding for about three days straight from sun-up to sun-down. We were both so saddle sore it was hard to sit in a chair let alone walk. But every minute spent in the saddle was a minute spent recreating our favourite scenes from westerns of the day. I believe we were both about twelve.

I remember at the ripe old age of seventeen, playing “Spaghetti Western” with my younger (and only) brother. We would strap on toy guns in the fashion of Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef to do battle as “Blondie” – The Good –  and “Angel Eyes” – The Bad –  oddly neither of us had the urge to portray Tuco (the Ugly); even though Tuco was the more “overblown” and fun character to emulate. I mean really, who doesn’t admire actor Eli Wallach’s  portrayal of “Bandito’s?”

It wasn’t just “film” westerns I was infatuated  with either. I also devoured every book I could read by the authors Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. Zane Grey was my fathers perennial favourite. I liked old Zane, but, didn’t care for his colloquial dialogue that he insisted on using. All his characters said words like pahdnuh and  mistuh just to name a couple. They were all spelt just like that, it could drive you to distraction after a while. L’Amour’s characters talked in the archaic language of the cowboy without the colloquialism’s.

Unfortunately Hollywood stopped making decent westerns just after the bumper crop year of 1969.  1969 saw great westerns like The Wild Bunch, True Grit, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to name but three out of the many that were released that year. Then “The Dream Machine” started making psychological westerns instead of  traditional or spaghetti westerns. These were a complete waste of celluloid. One such film did not have one gun in it. What kind of western is that?

I knew though, that if I waited long enough that Hollywood would start making  decent westerns again. I was right. My old Man-With-No-Name hero came out with the odd gem now and then.The Outlaw Josey Wales, High Plains Drifter  and Pale Rider (really just a re-working of Drifter, but still good) and then…Unforgiven.

Unforgiven showed that not only did old Clint still have the chops as a “western” actor, but that he was still one hell of a director as well. I still feel that Unforgiven was the “last hoorah” of the genre. I know I still like the cross genre westerns and some of the “modern” westerns (No Country For Old Men being the best thus far) and I even enjoyed the True Grit re-make that came outin 2010. But I do miss the old fashioned westerns as well as the “anti-hero” ones that came out in the late 60’s.

Now  I watch my old favourites via the DVD player and remember how much I loved them the first time I saw them. Watching them makes me feel simultaneously young and old. They also make me feel like strapping on my guns and looking for my brother to see if he remembers our gun battles and also feels young enough to have a go again. I think I might even want to play Tuco.

Sam

When I was a lad I had the best friend in the world. He was short, a little hairy, and had a banana addiction. He was also a snappy dresser, if a little incomplete.  He wore plaid trousers with little red braces with metal buckles, but no shirt or shoes. He went everywhere with me. When our family went on vacation he was there. When we went to the store or to visit relatives, my friend was always there to keep me company. He even slept with me.

I know that your best friend sleeping with you might sound a little strange, but really it’s okay. My best friend was a stuffed monkey. He held a plastic banana in his right hand and his mouth was frozen in a half open smile. His name was Sam. We were inseparable for years.

I couldn’t tell you now when I first got Sam or even how I got him. He might have been a Christmas gift or a birthday present. I can only really remember him being there from the age of about five. My age not his. I wonder why I can’t remember getting him. I still remember vividly the first special Christmas present I ever got. It was a tank that was “remote” controlled. Of course remote in those days meant a primitive  controller attached to the tank by a wire. It shot missiles and went forward, backward and could turn in circles. It also (I think) made a cool tank noise. I must have been about four or five years old. I also remember finally losing the last of the missiles when I was about six. I still think it classes as the best Christmas gift I ever received.

Sam however was the most lasting gift. I had him for years. Like I said, we were inseparable. Right up until he turned on me.

As I mentioned, Sam slept with me every night. I don’t mean “cuddled-up-together” sleeping. I mean Sam had his side of the bed and his own people sized pillow. Sam needed his own space you see. Because to me Sam was real. He had his own side of the car. His own chair at the dinner table. His own space on the sofa. And my mother, bless her, treated Sam as if he were real as well.

Every night, she would tuck us both into bed. We would each get a kiss – I’d get upset if Sam didn’t get his – and checking the see that the closet door was closed, leave my room and turn out the light. This ritual was repeated without fail until I was seven. That was when everything changed.

Literally seconds after Mom closed the door, Sam sat up in bed and growled at me. My reaction was instantaneous and final. I screamed bloody murder and knocked him out of bed. Mom came rushing back in to find me in a hysterical heap. With tears streaming I told what Sam had done and that I NEVER wanted to see him again. Sam was then relegated to the attic, where to the best of  my knowledge, he still resides.

Years later my mother told me that my sub-concious seven year old mind was just telling me that I had out-grown my childhood friend. That it was telling me I couldn’t have my imaginary best friend any more. It was time to move on

Now I don’t know what this whole episode from my childhood means. I know that I think it is a little odd that I had a stuffed monkey for an imaginary friend until I was seven. That is, I’m sure, way past the age of imaginary friends. I also don’t know if I was going through a stage of arrested development or if I was just lonely or if I was just over imaginative.

I do know one thing though. Sam really did set up in bed and growl at me. I just don’t know why. I wonder if I was “hogging” the covers?

Note: I have to thank Jordan Michael Lopez for jolting this memory from my ageing noggin. His stuffed toy story brought it rushing back. Thanks Jordan!

Looking Stupid


At work today I had a moment where I made myself look like a real bonehead. Someone had turned on an alarm light and I went to tell them off as it wasn’t to be turned on except in an emergency, which it wasn’t. I then forgot to turn it off as I left. I returned  about fifteen minutes later to find the light still on and then started to read the person who’d turned it on the riot act. I was about to go into overdrive when they pointed out, quite rightly, that I hadn’t turned it off when I was there before. Face palm. After a moment of silence, I laughed my butt off.

I’ve learned throughout my life that looking stupid isn’t fatal. Its not  even  really embarrassingIF you have a sense of humour.  Nobody likes to be laughed at. It’s human nature. But if you join in with the laughter you are laughing at yourself and that’s a good thing.
I’ve been guilty of some of the most boneheaded, excruciatingly embarrassing gaffes in the world.  I remember once when I was about twenty. I was in a hurry (I think I’ve previously mentioned that this was a bad habit of mine) and was rushing into a supermarket to buy some lunch. I ran up to the “automatic” door and stood on the pressure pad in front of the door and waited for it to open. The door stayed absolutely and resolutely still. I was perplexed. There were people in the store; tills were working and across the store I could see other folks coming in and going out using the exact same type door I stood in front of. I started getting impatient and irritated. I stepped off and back on the pad. Nothing. I then jumped on the pad and again nothing. Then like some demented rabbit I began jumping up and down on the pad. Still nothing. People on the other side of the door stood looking at me as if I were mad. As I looked back at them I then noticed that the door was the “out” door. Not only did I look stupid I felt stupid. I also fell about laughing at myself.
I used to tell my staff when I was a manager at an office supply store that they should never be afraid of looking stupid as it wouldn’t kill them. I’d been doing it all my life and I wasn’t dead yet. It always got the obligatory laugh and they would relax a little while they were trying something new.
I believe that the only time  looking stupid can be even remotely uncomfortable is when you don’t have a sense of humour, or worse, when you take yourself way too seriously. Sure looking like a real bonehead can be incredibly embarrassing, but I’ve never heard of anyone really dying of embarrassment. 
So relax, laugh at your gaffes and blunders. Scientist’s have proven that laughter is good for you and definitely not fatal.

Wrinkles

 

I sometimes think I was born with wrinkles. I’ve had them around my eyes and on my forehead since I was at least a teenager.

I used to work for my father who had his own business building houses. Working for Dad had a bonus attached with it; a lot of outside work in the sun, all year long. I adored the sun, still do as a matter of fact.  I think this adoration, combined with smoking, laughing a lot, and squinting laid the foundation for my facial lines and creases.

About the squinting. I read a book about Clint Eastwood when I was roughly fifteen or sixteen years old.. The book revealed that when Clint was working on his first “Spaghetti Western,” A Fistful Of Dollars, he would set in the sun and squint into it between takes to give him that “laconic” look.

Cover of "A Fistful of Dollars (Special E...

I read this and had an instant epiphany. Laconic equalled older looking! Plus it gave my face “character.”  With my new found knowledge in place, I spent every spare moment of my break-times squinting into the sun.

It obviously worked. At the sprightly age of seventeen I could buy booze with out being “carded.” The drinking age was twenty-one in Arkansas back then. Similarly, I could also watch ‘R’ rated films with no one asking me for proof that I was at least eighteen years old.. This fact annoyed the hell out of some of my older friends, most of whom constantly got asked for proof of age at the cinema door.

Not everyone liked my “character” filled face. I remember wondering what was wrong with my Senior Yearbook picture. It just didn’t look right. I discovered, upon closer inspection, that the school photographer had air-brushed out my facial lines and creases.

Now that I’m older and my face is literally filled to the brim with character, I sort of wish I’d not emulated Clint’s sun worshipping habits in my youth. I was in such a hurry to look older. In my rush I never realised that I would get there soon enough, naturally, just by getting older. I also forgot that wrinkles get deeper and more defined as you get older. They don’t fade or get less wrinkly unless you get surgery.

Still I do have to admit that I like my wrinkles. They show that I like to laugh and that I’ve lived my life instead of just watched it go by. Even though they are a sign of age – something that is universally despised and avoided at all costs in this day and age of face creams and potions for men – I still think they give my face “character.”

New year

Well 2012 has started with a blast. I’ve been tweeting, facebooking and Google + ing about stopping the SOPA  bill that Congress is trying to pass. I was a bit shocked and dismayed to learn of this bill’s existence and the sickening ease that it was being passed through Congress. It looks like Orwell got the year a little wrong when he wrote 1984…perhaps on subsequent releases of the book they may have to re-title it 2012.

My daughter and I have been looking forward to 2012 as a year of re-birth. A new chance at the life that has been, thus far, elusively out of reach.  So far 2012 has been scarily like the previous few years. Another allergic reaction for Meg;  money problems for me. Oh well, I’ve always been told that pinning your hopes on a “new year” was asking for trouble.

I tried to start this particular  blog about two weeks ago. I then got mired down with the daily trials that make up our everyday life. I got started again today because my friend Bruce (sticklepix) left me a short finger wag on my facebook wall, “slacking off with the blog goddamit…” Yes, slacking I have been, but now I’m going to pick the reins back up.

It looks like the catchword for this new year is going to be…flexibility. I know, I know. Flexibility should always be the catchword. But life has a way of making us forget that. Our jobs, chores, and leisure activities  can make us all too complacent and more importantly un-flexible in our pursuit of what we are aiming for.

Still, if the Mayan’s were right, the world may very well end this year in December. Unfortunately we won’t know until the time arrives. There are no Mayan’s around to ask about their “prophesy” and even if there were they’d very very old. And as we all know very very old people have very very dodgy memories.

But until the world ends in December – or not – I think we’ll keep practising our flexibility. Who knows, we might need it in the next life, you know? The one beginning in the January after December 2012.