Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Electric Righter

Electric Writer: Electric RighterI respectfully submit a copy of a letter I dispatched via my computer’s electronic mail system to the Official Nintendo Magazine:

Dear Sir or Madam

I am a writer from London who is currently experiencing an extended period of writer’s block.

In many ways, I suppose I should feel thankful that you have unwittingly given me an excuse to knuckle down and do some actual writing, albeit just a simple letter. As I point out to many aspiring writers, ‘writing’ can be in any shape or form as long as you dedicate at least half an hour a day towards it. But I digress…

After a long period of ‘gamer’s block’ (do you see what I did there?) since last playing my trusty Sinclair ZX81, I felt it was high time I returned to the ‘scene’ and bought my first ever console (yes, I've really never had one before). Unlike many other people in the UK, being a writer gives me a perfectly valid excuse for being an unfit fat porker, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to lose weight! So the natural choice of videogame console was the
Wii, after a large carrot was dangled in front of my nose in the shape of the Wii Fit balance board in Hamleys.

And so a magazine was needed to accompany my new console and fitness regime with the
Official Nintendo Magazine (aka ONM) being my first choice because I think anything with the word ‘official’ in the title suggests prestige, high standards and general overall quality.

So it is a shame that I was let down!

As I'm sure you are aware, literacy, like fitness, in the UK generally leaves a lot to be desired. Sadly, your magazine is no exception. Whilst reading the latest issue (37, Christmas 2008) I noticed in the sidebar of page 11 that the
Wii is still the ‘sort-after’ gift around. This should actually read ‘sought-after’ – ‘sought’ being the past and past participle of ‘seek’, and a homophone with ‘sort’.

And so, thanks to
Official Nintendo Magazine, I became inspired to devise a sequel to Wii Fit to improve the educational standard of the nation even further. It's called Wii Spell. Of course balance board functionality is the issue here, but, if I can crack it, I'm sure the possibilities are endless, and hopefully it'll lead to a 100% error-free Official Nintendo Magazine!

I look forward to receiving your comments, and my Nintendo DS Lite ‘Star Letter’ prize, and I’d be pleased if you’d be so kind to forward my proposal to the Commissioning Editor at
Nintendo.

Best regards,
Matt Cruse (aka Electric Writer) (Mr.)

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

His Master's Voice

Writing is a very lonely profession, especially when one is suffering from seemingly permanent writer’s block and spending endless days in front of a blank computer screen. In situations such as this, I often find that classical music plays a very important role and can induce a calming influence on an otherwise stressful experience.

July brings a favourite event of mine: the annual BBC Proms festival of classical music. As well as assisting with one’s inspiration, it is also a useful opportunity to stock up on one’s CD collection. So, after consulting my trusty Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music, I headed to London’s West End to find a specific recording of Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony.

I am a firm believer that anyone doing a job should have some degree of interest, even pride, in what they do. Unfortunately, there are times when one meets with certain individuals who fall well and truly outside this category. On this particular day there was only one sales assistant working in the classical music department, a Jay-Z lookalike who was idly shifting bunches of Edward Elgar CDs from one shelf to another and then back again for no explicable reason.

The only recording of Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony on the shelves that I could see was not the ‘definitive’ one I was looking for. So I approached the sales assistant and gave him the details and label number, asking if it was in stock.

This is where I get confused about sales assistants. However much you tell them you can’t find the thing you are looking for on the shelf, it’s the first place they take you as though they have some kind of super-power in seeing things that customers cannot. The sales assistant handed me a copy of the Shostakovich CD on the shelf before I clarified that it was not the one I was looking for, so he took me to his computer to try and find it on the system.

I decided to make polite conversation and asked if he was looking forward to the Proms. He looked at me sternly and asked if ‘looking forward to the Proms’ was meant in a general classical music sense, or the fact that it would result in an inevitable increase in sales for a three month period. I said that I meant the former, to which he replied ‘no’ as he did not care much for classical music and was into reggae. He then ‘apologised’ that my recording was not in stock, but there’d be no point in ordering it as I could probably find it in another music store.

What is the world coming to when a classical music department is manned by a gangsta-rapper who probably doesn’t know one end of a conductor’s baton from the other? Maybe Shakespeare would’ve felt the same way about modern-day writers using keyboards instead of feathers.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

The Innit Crowd

As has been previously documented in my electric columns, I am no expert when it comes to fashion. But it doesn’t take an Albert Einstein to recognise that the correct way to wear a pair of trousers is to keep the waist at a suitable height so that the wearer’s undergarments are not openly visible to the naked eye.

There is a fashion epidemic within today’s ‘yoof’ society which appears to have caused an adverse chemical reaction in the brains of young people. As a result, anyone under the age of 18 seems to be compelled to go out in public with their trousers hanging around their ankles, flashing imitation designer underwear, and usually tripping over themselves within seconds of closing their mum’s front door.

Then there are those who choose to wear trousers where a ludicrous amount of room has been tailored around the genitals and inner thigh areas, with the leg section not starting until well below the knee. Most people refer to these trousers as ‘baggy’. My late grandfather referred to them as ‘shit-stoppers.’ Observing the general state of the ‘yoofs’ who wear them, one is inclined to agree with him.

Then, of course, there are those ‘yoofs’ who try to combine styles and wear shit-stoppers hanging around their ankles. But all this really does is make them question whether it would’ve been easier to cut a couple of extra holes in a potato sack and wear that instead.

One fears that the days of Great Britain’s younger citizens wearing smart-looking casual clothes are long gone. It is now a national fancy-dress party, except there is nothing particularly fancy about the bizarre costumes that ‘yoofs’ seem happy to be dressed in.

And one is doubly confused as to why ‘yoofs’ born and bred in London speak in a Jamaican accent. Perhaps I’m unaware of some funky Caribbean digital TV channel which focuses on how everyone there wears sensible trousers and speaks like a cockney.

Of course, as a writer (or, at least, a struggling one), one has to be down with the kids and stay fat with the gen. One must avoid one’s face being beefed, and adverse comments should be directed at one’s hand as one’s face will not be listening. This is because I am bad. I am a bad writer, innit. (I have to be careful who I direct my latter comment to in case they do not wear shit-stoppers and take its literal meaning. More often than not, they would be right!)

But, however depressing the state of Britain’s ‘yoof’ culture is, I am proud of the fact that many people tend to think I look much younger than my actual years. Well, it’s the Jamaican accent and potato sack which does it. Word!

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Off the Rails

Anyone travelling on parts of London’s rail transport system at the moment cannot fail to notice the recent deluge of posters featuring irritatingly happy people with the slogan Building a Better Railway plastered above their heads.

Many would interpret this as an advertisement confirming that London has a perfect transport system – the stuff that fairytales are made of. Or, at the very least, it is an attempt to convince us into believing such a thing, as though we are a population of pre-programmed Stepford Citizens.

The truth of the matter is that these annoying posters are informing us that London will eventually have a more reliable service, probably not perfect, and certainly not until 2014 at the earliest. Until then, it’s misery all the way with continuous signal failures, engineering works and line closures while the ‘system is upgraded’ – presumably, to something which it should’ve been decades ago.

Thus, one is not really sure what these smiling poster people have to smile about, and this is yet another contributing factor towards why Londoners walk around looking generally miserable. They’ve just had an appalling journey to work and, on leaving the station, have seen a big smiling person telling them that they’ll have even more appalling journeys to work for at least another six years. And most of those journeys are likely to become increasingly worse.

The irony of all this is that there is another set of posters featuring equally irritating people telling us to Get Out More by using the very transport system which is currently making our lives complete hell. They, too, have beaming smiles on their faces, and I venture to argue that this is possibly because they are so far unaware of the other posters prophesising travel doom and gloom for the foreseeable future.

At the bottom of these posters is an invitation to Get Out More and become an irritating smiling face. I thought it would be amusing to take up the offer, so I contacted the relevant department by traditional telephone.

After a series of questions involving my type of work, place of work, where I have lunch, and how often I use the transport system during rush hour, I was told that, regretfully, I did not qualify for the current poster campaign. However, I was thanked for taking the time to contact them and my details would be kept on file should a future advertising campaign fall into my ‘profile bracket.’

So when I look at these smiling faces, I conclude that another reason they are probably smiling is that none of them are struggling writers who do not fall into the ‘profile bracket’ of a Stepford Citizen. But then I amuse myself with the consolation that at least struggling writers do not have to endure the ‘joys’ of travelling on London’s transport system during the peak time rush hour.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

On the Game

It struck me the other day how certain phrases in the English language can mean two entirely different things and potentially lead to horrendously embarrassing situations.

I got talking to a woman I met in a bar recently who one could describe as, for want of a better word, ‘glamorous’. She asked me what sort of things I am into and I replied that I still enjoyed a bit of role-playing which I’d dabbled with quite frequently at school, but didn’t have much time for these days.

I noticed her face light up at this point, and she seemed intrigued to know more about my starting so young and how I’d found my first time. I told her that the first character I ever played was an heroic monk with a magical staff, and that I outlasted all my acquaintances who all perished at the hands of the gamesmaster. When she asked if my parents approved, I told her that they would’ve preferred me to spend more time on my exam revision rather than shooting along dark tunnels waving my staff at anything that moved.

She was curious to find out why there had been no girls in my group. I told her that it was mainly because I’d had an all-boy private education and, at the time, girls to me were about as fantastical as the treasure we were all seeking in the depths of the gamesmaster’s dungeon. The woman took a sip of her drink and, leaning towards me sensuously, asked if I’d like to cast a spell on her with my magic staff because she had some treasure worth finding, and called me ‘big boy’.

I said that I hadn’t realised she was also into Dungeons & Dragons, and it was only when I noticed her confused expression that I suddenly realised she was touting for business and had been referring to role-playing games of a very different kind. I felt my face go white and apologised profusely, explaining that I was talking about the tabletop kind of role-playing. She just shrugged and said that, in her experience, it didn’t matter where you did it as it all amounted to the same thing.

I left the bar pronto, and on my way back to the station found myself recalling another tabletop game we all used to play called Wargames which involves fighting imaginary battles using a set of rules and metal soldiers. A boy in my House came up to me one day and asked if I’d be interested in joining the school’s Wargames Society. I’d never heard of it at the time, and when I asked him what it was he said that a bunch of them would get together in a classroom every Tuesday afternoon and ‘beat the shit out of each other.’

Naturally, I declined the offer.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Spaced Out

I have always been puzzled at why humans seemingly have an obsession with sitting in the most inconvenient of places when one is trying to work, especially when there are plenty of other more suitable places available. It can be anywhere – a quiet café, a library with thousands of study tables, or a deserted hotel lounge bar on a Sunday.

I recently took advantage of some downtime at the nearby ExCeL exhibition centre and headed for the bar at the Novotel hotel which I hoped would be free of exhibition goers. I was pleased to find that it was completely deserted, offering a perfect writing environment with none of the usual distractions. I ordered my food at the bar and settled onto a sofa next to the window with its panoramic views over the Royal Victoria Dock.

As I was about to start writing, I heard a commotion from the nearby reception area. Soon enough, a group of middle-aged people appeared at the bar, dressed as though they were on their way to an international golf tournament in the customary vibrant sporting attire.

After recalling that no sport events had been scheduled at ExCeL, I realised that they were, in fact, a group of American tourists. As they looked around for somewhere to sit, completely spoilt for choice, I noticed to my horror that they had targeted the area where I was sitting, with its inviting (and empty!) sofa and armchairs. I hoped they might take a detour at the last moment. But no. Of all the sofas that were in the bar, they had to sit opposite mine – apparently because it was a “cool position” with a “rad view of the lake”.

Any writing aspirations I had for the afternoon totally dispersed as I was now completely surrounded by this multi-coloured group. The American sitting next to me in a purple astronaut outfit asked how I was doing. I lied and said that I was doing very well thank you. He then saw the laptop and asked me what it was for. I lied again and said that I was writing a Hollywood blockbuster. This caused a whole raft of excitable reactions from the astronaut’s friends, and he asked me if I’d ever heard of a writer called William Shakespeare.

To return a certain degree of courtesy, I asked the Americans where their golf tournament was being held. They said they had come to England on a “culture vacation” where they planned to visit William Shakespeare’s house in Stratford, and did I know where they could catch the Jubilee Line.

I debated whether to inform them that they were 120 miles off course and the Stratford they were looking for was on the banks of the Avon in Warwickshire and not in East London. But I thought it would be more productive for them (and amusing for me) to discover the wonders of the Olympic Park building site instead.

I didn’t feel guilty. For all I know they could be coming to the London Olympics in 2012 – so I’ll have done them a favour by giving them directions four years earlier.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Scone to Dust

To some, the invention of the microwave is a blessing. To others, like myself, it can be, and very often is, one of the worst inventions in recent history. There is a trend in modern-day society to zap everything, whether it be a processed ready-meal from cold, or one’s hot coffee which has gone cold (usually because one is trying to work out how to zap one’s ready-meal in the microwave).

It is a bad habit which has extended far beyond the boundaries of the domestic abode and is now running rife in the ever-expanding café culture of Britain where no food item is safe.

Last weekend, I awoke with an unusual urge to write. As many of you know, writing at home is now a fairly impossible task for me, so I took the Docklands Light Railway into the City and eventually found a quiet café (with an available window seat!) somewhere down The Strand.

Feeling rather peckish, I decided to accompany my iced latte with a scone and jam. Not the best thing to consume when one is on a diet, but it was an improvement over my usual choice of chocolate fudge cake, crisps and a shortbread biscuit. I indicated the best-looking scone I could see behind the glass to the barista, a European girl with limited language skills, and she placed it out of view behind the counter whilst she crushed the ice for my latte.

It was only when I sat at my table that I realised exactly why she had place my beloved fruity scone out of view. As I picked it up, I noticed it was warm and soggy! There is nothing worse than a warm and soggy scone, and when I cut into it with my knife it completely disintegrated into a pile of soggy crumbs (the scone, not the knife). Naturally, I went back to complain. The barista looked at me strangely, but took my soggy crumbs and went to get me a new, fully intact scone.

It was at this point that I was distracted by a call on my mobile phone from Pink who was wondering why I’d left her at home and was convinced that I cared “more about that bloody laptop” than I did her. This was a bad thing to happen because when I returned to my seat and cut into my new scone it disintegrated just like the first one, having also been zapped by the trigger-happy barista whilst I was reassuring Pink that I was not having an affair with a dual-core processor.

By now I had lost any incentive to write. So I just sat in my seat making funny pictures out of the remnants of my soggy scone, ignoring the strange looks from other customers who were all tucking into soggy paninis.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Style Trial

One prides oneself in the knowledge that one has a certain sense of fashion. To be slightly more accurate, one has no sense of fashion whatsoever. The only sense of fashion one has is watching episodes of Project Catwalk (and its American sister Project Runway) in the vain hope of an education, but this only seems to make the problem ten times worse.

I do not understand why someone would wear a dress made out of chocolate bar wrappers. Nor do I understand why it is necessary for a fashion guru to recreate the Eiffel Tower on somebody’s head in order to inspire people to buy a pair of designer gloves which do not actually feature in the fashion show itself or have anything to do with France. But I digress.

As a writer – struggling or otherwise – it is important to look the part. Recently, I concluded that if I look like a proper writer then I shall surely feel like a proper writer and actually get round to doing some proper writing. Thus, I decided to buy some new jeans. I have yet to acknowledge Pink’s advice on numerous occasions that I must never, ever go clothes shopping alone (this is for my own good, apparently). So, as a compromise, I pre-arranged with myself that I would take fashion advice from the nearest sales assistant in the Marble Arch branch of Next.

Everything was going according to plan until I entered the shop and found the jeans, and realised how something once so simple is now more like rocket science. I was faced with hundreds of pairs of jeans, all labelled with peculiar names such as straight cut, boot cut, biker fit, guest fit or tapered leg. By process of elimination, I decided that I did not want biker fit as I was not a Hell’s Angel, boot cut as I never wear boots or guest fit because I did not want to share my jeans with anyone.

So that left me with straight cut or tapered leg. The tapered leg seemed to suit me, even if it did take me half an hour to pull them on, and I decided to go the whole way and try on a new, rather masculine jacket as well, and some trendy shoes. I looked at myself in the mirror and felt that I could be looking at Jack Bauer out of 24. I was so proud of myself. But I remembered the personal policy I’d made and, strictly as a formality, found a young sales assistant for an opinion.

I put on my best model pose and with a big grin, raised eyebrow, and one hand on my hip asked him what he thought. He looked me up and down for quite a long time and rubbed his chin in that way plumbers do when they’re about to rip you off. “It doesn’t really work,” he said. “Which bit?” I asked, ready to launch into a constructive conversation about fashionable combinations. The sales assistant paused, looked me up and down again, and then said, “All of it.”

The smile on my face dropped and I asked him if I’d look better with the Eiffel Tower on my head, but he just looked at me blankly. Project Catwalk has a lot to answer for!

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Queue Tip

Why do people queue-jump? More significantly, why do people queue-jump when I happen to be in the queue they are jumping into? Even worse, why does the person in front of me leave the queue in order to get something they’ve forgotten, then automatically assume that I’m happy to let them back in? This is a serious problem we face in modern day society, but is entirely academic unless one has actually succeeded in joining a queue in the first place.

Such was the dilemma the other day in W.H. Smith’s where I was picking up this month’s copy of The Oldie. Ironically, it was because of an oldie that I was prevented from joining the queue for the till. She was a very wide woman with an even wider suitcase which, together, caused a major blockage in the magazine aisle. Mrs. Oldie kept yelling at her oldie husband – who was blocking the other end of the aisle – to ask whether she should join the queue whilst he read a magazine he’d found. But neither of them could make up their mind so stalemate ensued, with me stuck in the middle eying the other customers enviously who all had a clear passage to a selection of enticing queues.

It occurred to me recently that there is something seriously wrong with the whole etiquette of queuing. Someone once said that it is easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich writer to enter the kingdom of God. This also applies to joining queues. I find it unfair that one can be queuing at a till for several minutes, only for the customer behind to suddenly jump sideways into a parallel queue at the very moment another till becomes free. There should be a rule dictating that, regardless of the number of operational tills at any one time, a single master-queue must be formed where everyone waits to be served by the next available sales assistant.

I have attempted on a number of occasions to introduce this policy into society by strategically positioning myself at the centre-most point between occupied checkouts in order to entice other customers to form one big happy queue behind me. Unfortunately, I generally find myself being completely ignored by such customers who proceed to form their own queues at any till which takes their fancy. Subsequently, this results in me standing in the middle of the shop making strange groaning sounds whilst flapping my magazine at people erratically like someone on day release from the local mental mansion.

Opinions from Electric People on potential solutions to the current queue crisis are gladly welcomed, as well as ways on how to apply a bit of polite etiquette without looking like an escaped lunatic.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Porn in the Game

Electric Writer: Porn in the GamePink decided recently that our relationship needed some “excitement” injected into it after the fiasco of the chocolate egg situation last Easter which apparently suggested I had a “lethargic” attitude towards her weight. She ordered me to arrange something and so I took it upon myself to find somewhere near the sea.

Being near water is very important for Cancerians, such as myself, as it creates a sense of calm and wellbeing in an otherwise insane universe. After considering the embarrassing episode on the Isle of Wight ferry a couple of years ago, I decided to play it safe and stay on the mainland this time.

I found this nice period hotel in Bournemouth called The Norfolk Royale. Four stars, 50 quid a night with breakfast and dinner included. Pink was especially pleased as it had a spa and sauna. Such places are not my cup of tea primarily because of the funny looks I get, the reasons for which remain a mystery to me. So I was glad to discover that the hotel also provided Sky satellite television along with a movies-on-demand service which one could order by simply pressing a button a remote control.

Whilst Pink pampered herself downstairs by the indoor pool, I decided to search for one of these movies-on-demand. On finding the remote control, my search turned into a megascale hunt for the actual television itself, which I eventually found hidden in a secret cupboard next to the tea-making facilities.

Technology has never really been my forte, and I eventually found myself engaged in a battle of wits with the super-intelligent television which seemed to be some kind of bastard offspring from The Forbin Project. Each time I tried to select a menu in the “on screen hotel information guide”, the television went somewhere completely different of its own choosing, and seemed more interested in offering me a range in its “exclusive adult entertainment” section.

I also noticed that it continued to scan through the digital information on its own, even when I wasn’t touching the remote control, as though it was collating data with other like-minded televisual life forms. In the end, I gave up and switched off the set altogether and just read my book instead.

When the time came to check out, I was shocked to find that the telebeing had added a day’s worth of “adult entertainment” to the bill. I tried to convince the receptionist that I’d had nothing to do with this, but she just rolled her eyes, nodded and charged me anyway. Pink remained silent throughout the entire episode and didn’t say a word to me for the entire journey home.

Next time, not only will I look for somewhere on the mainland to avoid embarrassing ferry moments, I’ll also look for somewhere with no movies-on-demand facility. Or preferably no television at all.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Reel Bore

Electric WriterAs I’m sure the few of you who read this blog can appreciate, writer’s block is a rather distressing thing. It can become even more distressing when the blog one has specifically set up to comment on such issues actually becomes the victim of the very subject matter it is discussing. Hence, forgiveness is sought most humbly for the rather large gap between entries (as the novelist said to the vicar).

However, I must point out that part of this gap is due to my media industry roots where I find myself in the fortunate position of receiving delegate status at the annual London Film Festival. As such, I recently spent a rather enjoyable five weeks doing nothing but watching new films, primarily from the ‘world cinema’ sector.

The advantage of being a delegate is that you have the opportunity to attend press and industry screenings, which means that you can enjoy a film in peace without having to mix with the general public and all the irritations they bring with them. Unfortunately, one does find that, on the odd occasion, it becomes necessary to attend a public festival screening.

Latecomers are the worst irritation one can face in the cinema, and audibly apologetic latecomers are even worse. The worst case was some woman who turned up 20 minutes after the film had started and shuffled her way past me whilst continuously whispering her apologies. Fifteen minutes later she got bored, got up, and shuffled past me again whispering more apologies as she left.

You can always guarantee, though, that the worst case of ‘audience participation’ will occur during a foreign-language film where subtitles are required. Sitting in front of me in one particular subtitled screening this year were Mr. and Mrs. Short. As the lights came down, Mr. Tall arrived and sat directly in front of them, so Mr. and Mrs. Short spent the first ten minutes of the film whispering complaints to each other about how they couldn’t read the subtitles properly. They then spent the entire duration of the film swaying to the left and right as each subtitle appeared.

With Mr. Tall being so tall, one also found it necessary to sway back and forth in synchronisation with Mr. and Mrs. Short. I subsequently noticed that, for some reason, all of this had set off a bizarre chain reaction in the rows behind, and there was now a string of audience members all pointlessly swaying from side to side in perfect unison with each other.

By now I was so amused at what was happening that I’d lost interest in the film altogether. Even more amusing was when a particularly long subtitle appeared on the screen. Somehow, due to lack of concentration, Mr. and Mrs. Short completely lost synchronisation, swayed in opposing directions, and ended up headbutting each other.

That’ll teach the general public to be interested in foreign-language films. Leave it to the experienced luvvies who really know how to read a subtitle – just like me.