Category Archives: Random musings

You Asda be kidding me!

Asda may have been first out of the gates with their Christmas advert but as far as their service and continuity is concerned they never even made it out of the stable.

Save money live better may be Asda’s mission statement but if only saving the money and living better was made a tad easier than the tale of woe below.

You could even say it’s almost driven me to drink, I say almost as that drink in question – £10 litre bottles of Baileys – has been so close yet oh so far away. Asda at Shoebury in Essex to be precise.

Checking that the offer was still on I looked at their website before heading on the 10 mile round trip, yep still £10. It would be 20 miles by day two.

Smash cut to store and they are listed as £18.50, I double checked at the till and they checked with a supervisor and was told the offer was not in store but was still online.

I checked again online to find three listings and different prices for 1 litre of Baileys, two listings at £10 and £12 and another ad for £18.50. To coin an old Asda slogan, that’s Asda price…yes but which one precisely?

I know the people on the customer services number will have the answer, right?

Er, no. They were perplexed as to why it was one price online and another instore and said I should go back in and argue this. I’d already done that at the store customer services and was told sometimes prices are different online.

I said to the woman on the phone that it was madness that I could order them online for click and collect from store, the store I was sat outside of yet was unable to buy them right now at that price. She thought this was a great idea, I thought it was slightly inconvenient and didn’t really answer the problem but was sort of happy as it meant I still got a great offer.

The perplexed customer service continued with a different person on Twitter who said they were going to look into it, they must still be looking into it as 24 hours later I was still awaiting a response, despite asking for someone to get back to me again earlier today. At least Asda are being consistent, even if it’s consistently being not very good.

Bottles ordered at £10 each and ready for collection from 8pm. Yippee! Or so I thought, I was there at click and collect and so were my bottles of Baileys, although now they had gone up to £18.50 each, that’s £55.50 in total.

The order was politely declined, something which the guys with the delivery totally understood. Now I know that it says online that you pay the price on the day the item is picked and clearly that has obviously gone back up in price online today but when I was advised I could still order it online from instore and again when it was mentioned on the phone at the customer service centre neither time was I told that offer would have expired by the time a click and collect slot was next available.

It’s a shame that it seems this particular supermarket doesn’t know its Arse-da from its elbow when it comes to knowing what their prices are and what they should be or even when they expire.

Speaking to the customer services centre on the phone again this evening (Wednesday night) I explained my dilemma at length and they offered me free delivery on my next order, what’s that a couple of quid? Not really the point as thanks but no thanks I said as I won’t be using Asda again.

Perhaps I’ll head to Sainsburys to save 25% on 6 bottles of wine or more, more I think don’t you?

The Radio Times IS Christmas

You can forget your John Lewis adverts, your X Factor and Strictly closing stages, even the Boots catalogue with its multitude of 3 for 2s, the sign that Christmas is almost upon us is simple – the double issue of the  Radio Times.

TV Quick and the free pullout in The Daily Mail are merely pretenders to the TV listings throne.

It’s the one issue of the year that I’m certain to buy, even in this scrolling, series linked day and age there is nothing quite like sitting down with the weighty issue, a cuppa and a highlighter.

When I was at Uni it always caused a bit I an issue as the regional variations – which always seemed to be far more significant than they are these days – were o no use whatsoever when I got back to my mum and dads. It never diminished the joy of circling or putting a line or question mark against programming though.

You know that you won’t end up recording or even watching most of the items that you strike off, but that almost isn’t the point, it’s just fun going through spotting old favourites and seeing what film big guns the channels are unleashing on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

We’ve probably all seen them umpteen times, or even own them, but  for some reason it matters not, seeing them introduced preceded by a spinning globe etc with those words “and now on BBC One…” just adds something special.

Of course ‘back in the day’ it used to mean buying both the Radio Times and TV Times and cross referencing everything, not to mention whether it was going to be recorded on the front or back of a video tape and did I have enough space on tapes before getting a new pack of E240s on Christmas morning?

Unwrapping new VHS tapes was also a joy, not only did they have an almost impenetrable outer layer but then each tape was also individually wrapped – it was one extreme to another though so was either that or you’d try taping on a tape that had its tab removed (shock horror, quick somebody find some Sellotape!)

If you’ve still got any old VHS knocking about then invariably you’ll have the tail end of the previous programme, listings for the rest if the evening/following day (“and with Jim Davidson’s Big Break at 615, that’s your Saturday night entertainment on BBC One”) or John Ketley giving you a late weather update.

Back to the Radio Times, it hasn’t changed that much and there’s still the traditional how many pages of holidays are there remark annoyingly smack bang in the middle of the listings for Christmas Day.

Like any good and regularly leafed through edition its cover will perish and become detached well before the fortnight is out from being thrown across the room, shoved down the side of the sofa and having numerous drink tested and splashed over it…but most of all it will be loved as much this year as it was the last.

The ghost of Christmas Radio Times past

Walking through the doors of Tesco ,there it was, the Christmas double edition of the Radio Times.

My heart momentarily skipped a beat, it’s like my annual willy wonka golden ticket. I approached it like Indiana Jones does with the golden idol at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark…although there was no boulder (which reminds me if that old Chocolate Orange advert) or Paul Freeman waiting outside the store to swipe it from my grasp.

Santa has made a welcome return to the cover this year, pleasingly along with the Snowdog. And we all love the Snowdog.

Once the cover is opened it the usual regime of a quick flick through and annoyance at the hefty holiday section smack bang in the middle of the films section (this year it sits right in the middle of Christmas Day).

Then after that initial reconasence it’s out with the highlighters and pens ticking off everything that looks interesting…worrying about clashes later (back in the day it was of course timing issues with setting up the video recorder – one year I even remember biking it up to my Nana’s to set the tape going for something.

Film wise, there’s usually the film noir season or the Hitchcock season at ungodly hours, this year it seems to be the turn of some Hammer horror films.

Of course it all used to be so different, we’d probably not seen the big Christmas Day film and a movie premiere back then really meant something, after all we’d not already bought it or seen it on Sky etc.

If memory serves ITV premiered The Empire Strikes Back one year with the BBC headlining Back To The Future, we taped one and watched the other on the ‘portable’ (it weighed a ton) upstairs.

Of course the other thing that is different now is that you used to have to buy both the festive edition of the Radio Times and the TV Times, which would mean me being splayed out on the floor comparing and contrasting the two publications taking careful note of the dreaded programmes overlapping one another…crucial if you were setting it going a few minutes before.

This is what makes looking back at old VHS recordings such a thrill, it’s like a time warp and means that the interesting thing isn’t necerarly the original programme you tape but the end of the weather with Michael Fish et al you’ve just caught or the really dated sales/holiday adverts ITV.

Having said that you don’t miss the dash to open the plastic of a new video tape…only to find another layer to open, as I race against the spinning globe of BBC 1 and the continuity announcer as he introduces the TV programme or film I was looking at taping.

Still, this year much of the fun is in the reminiscent marking of the Radio Times as we probably won’t get time to catch up on half of what we have marked up for recording. No matter, the fun is still there in creating that initial televisual wish list.

20131224-160132.jpg

Barry’s very bad day: bye, bye Blockbusters

blockbusterAnd so it was finally fade to black, eject, roll credits for Blockbuster UK which closed its return boxes for the final time ever last weekend.

You Only Live Twice

It had seen more back from the dead endings than Freddy Krueger and its final gasp was almost as drawn out as the end to Lord of the Rings: Return of the King as it had gone into receivership twice this year alone.

I’d had two stints working for Blockbuster, once in around 2001 – 2004 over in Kent and then again in Essex in 2012-2013. It was a store that had changed in some minor ways, but at the same time it hadn’t in most, which is probably what saw it hurtle toward its final destination.

Barry, and his bad day, just in case anyone is wondering, is the name of a training video infamous with employees as it was that old, had generally poor acting and was laughably bad. Barry of the title role was played by the bloke in charge o the market on EastEnders and onetime voice of the CoCo Pops Monkey! Yes, we’ll we’d rather have had a bowl of said turning milk choclatey cereal as well…thankfully there wasn’t a sequel!

I’d only ever worked part-time at Blockbuster so I always found it a fun way for some extra money, you got seven free rentals a week and money off games and films to buy…as a film buff what wasn’t there to like! As a (still) budding screenwriter the video store worker leap by Tarantino to script doctor and film director wasn’t entirely lost on me either.

My first interview for Blockbuster was also probably the most fun I ever had at an interview, having to explain why Jaws was my favourite film.

There were distinct side effects to working at Blockbuster though and you got spot the signs of an employee a mile off! Mine manifested itself as lacking the inability to open a VHS, DVD or Bluray if someone hands me one (outside of blue uniform) to check if it is there/the correct one, and ordering my DVD collection in genres – I didn’t quite go as far as having a top ten!

Ah, the top ten, if you just didn’t know what you wanted you would look at the top ten, well you did in my first stint but by my return they had done away with it – fools! There was also blocking, nothing to do with The Karate Kid, but more on that later.

Star Wars

Sometimes my first stint at Blockbuster could by fairly surreal as we had several famous people come and use it. I remember serving former javelin thrower Steve Backley (no he didn’t chuck his rentals at me) and Craig Fairbrass AKA Dan from EastEnders as he was at the time ( also see London’s Burning, Cliffhanger – we had it on our shelves but he never rented it I checked – White Noise 2 and The Sarah Conner Chronicles).

I even remember having to say to him once that he had an unpaid fine on his account (gulp) and I half expected the duff duffs to kick in when I’d made the announcement.

Of course they weren’t the only celebs to use Blockbuster. It wasn’t my store but famously in 1999 (I’m sure it was then) when Tom Cruise was filming Eyes Wide Shut he tried to rent a film from Blockbuster only to be asked for his ID or membership, of course he didn’t have any, apart from the countless films lining the shelves…not deemed sufficient proof he was denied rental and left bored on the 4th of July (perhaps). A true Mission: Impossible for the A-lister but far from being in a daze of thunder he seemed to take it all in good humour. Cue smile.

Be Kind, Rewind

Oddly at my first store they also trialled selling wine and beer, a hit with us in store but it didn’t seem to last very long or make its way across all stores.

That first store was also very much VHS, sure DVD was on the shelves but the tape was still the dominant species, which meant sore hands from pulling out and whacking in the yellow plastic sticks that tried to thwart thieves. And we had to rewind the bastards each time someone never rewound a tape back…I’ll never get that time back as I stand between two tape machines as they insistently scream back in fast rewind – it always sounded like the speeding simulator that Roger Moore gets trapped in Moonraker to me.

Lost in Translation

And because we had VHS (boo hiss pan and scan full screen at that) that meant that when we got films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon we got them in both the subtitled and dubbed version and not only did people not know it was a foreign language film (really?) but we had to double-check that they knew when renting at which point people look repulsed. Okay, so the title is in English but the German Das Experiment (the clue is in the title) had exactly the same problem…it’s not about a fricking washing powder! And despite it having a German flag on the back and the blurb, language from country of origin, didn’t seem to matter one jot! I didn’t know what the German flag looked like was the common reply…of course with DVD you often have language and dubbing options.

My personal fave has to be the Jean Reno films, which are made in French but he even re dubs himself!

So, the video may have well and truly vanished when I started my second spell at Blockbuster but I still have a soft spot, more of a fond memory , of big box video. Of course by then it was both DVD and Bluray and although you always had tracking or sound issues with the odd VHS, DVDs could often be found to be scratched to buggery as if people have worn it on the bottom of their shoes performing a tap routine on their way back to the store…or perhaps cos it isn’t theirs, people don’t look after it.

Certainly one of the few perks on buying ex rental DVD as an employee was that you were able to tell how many times something had been rented and compare and contrast the 20 or so copies that may have gone to ex-rental.

With the move to Bluray, this I largely found was not a problem. The only problem was that if you weren’t careful you could have quite easily spent half of your wages on items in store as it was a little bit like being a kid in a sweet shop. A bit like when major incidents have taken place in earth’s history and paleontologists can tell just by looking at layers of soil when there was an ice age or a great flood, the same can be said with my film collection which probably features more films from the #Blockbuster periods’ than any other.

The Box

The constant enemy of any Blockbuster employee was the drop box, a fiendishly simple device that acted as a post box for returned films…unless it was taped over…I say constant enemy as on nights through the weekend and after the weekend, especially if it was three for three nights or three for £10, there would be a river of films to scan in.

There was only so many you could humanly carry at once, cue tower of films crashing to the floor when being a tad over ambitious, but I always found it worse when it had been raining and the boxes were wet and ended up practically sticking together.

Um, talking of things sticking together, first time round at the store Blockbuster merrily stocked soft core porn, but porn nonetheless. This always seemed a little odd to me with its strong links to children’s charities but certainly second time round that sort of thing wasn’t on the shelves.

I can’t imagine that it really rented that well as it all looked bloody awful, not that I’m an expert or anything, in fact I think we only rented them to two or three people, but then with titles like Lord of the G Strings and Illegally Buxom Blonde I don’t think the main film studios had anything to be concerned about.

On a final note before I lock up the store, quick now before the smokescreen system goes off and fills it completely like something out of a James Bond film – funnily enough this happened the first night upon my return to Blockbuster, with the smoke billowing out of the store anyone would have thought that the store was on fire!

I’m sure all Blockbuster employees have encountered the following…

  • A customer will always ask to rent the latest film…that has just been released at the cinema/isn’t even out at the cinema yet!
  • Even though you are closed, it clearly states what time you are open until, people will still try and return items/rent something because your lights are on. Note, cashing up is much harder in the dark, although I wasn’t much better at it lights or no lights.
  • Blocking – the term given to the task of correctly laying out how the boxes are displayed and that they are done neatly so and in the correct order. Whenever visiting your store when you aren’t working, another store or just any shop with a similar setup you will inexplicably be drawn to blocking like you have really bad OCD. Sorry HMV!

And so that’s it, another familiar name vanished from the high street. The reasons for that are a whole new article, that wasn’t the aim of this, the aim of this was to merely celebrate of sorts the life and times of Blockbuster employee.

Is is a shame though that you now can’t pop in and rent a film of your choice in person, I know you can do that on demand etc, but it just doesn’t feel the same for me, plus I like to read the box when vowing the film. Ho hum. I guess the follow up question now is just how long can HMV hold on for?

End of Days

As Buggles famously sang, video may have killed the video star but several factors killed the video store…of course it all really boils down to what killed Woolworths really, it was an outdated model and couldn’t really compete with online prices or, in the case of Blockbuster, postal rental services – it had one as well – but especially download services. People weren’t bothered about a physical DVD or Bluray (I am, I still love the extras and commentaries) nevermind a physical store.

I don’t know what has become of my first store but the one in Essex is now a cafe and my local rental stall now simply stands empty. I drive past it most days to work and its said to see it empty of people and all those dreams, now only memories remain.

My three year old daughter even liked running round the store and picking a Scooby-Doo, Pixar or Blue Sky title off the shelves. Growing up my local independent video store was Video Magic, back in those days we had Betamax, and I used to love browsing the titles on the giant video boxes, the artwork (it was practically an art gallery for me and although I didn’t see them until much later the artwork on the likes of Fright Night were ingrained in my memory, which may go some way to explaining my collecting of classic movie posters) and the cardboard standees.

Isabelle will never have that experience and that is exactly what it felt like, an experience, it was a real thrill to have to go to the video store and not know just what you were going to come back with, or ask the person who was working there ‘which is best?’ or ‘Have you seen?’. Nothing gave me greater pleasure than introducing someone to a film that they had never heard of that was brilliant, or perfect for a fan of this or that genre or averting a rental disaster when they go to rent a film that was terrible. People got to know you and trusted your valued opinion or knowledge, even if it was for only 90 mins we had helped improve someone’s day.

And that was all part and parcel of the fun of it all, no matter which side of the counter I was standing…

Goodbye, Mr Vazson

a pair of adidas predator football boots hanging on a pegWhether you were a fan of PE or not you knew and you had the greatest of respect for Mr Vazson, not because he commanded it but because he earnt it through the respect of you as an individual. He may have been small in stature but was large in personality and passion for his job.

Which is why, with the news of his sad passing, there’s been an overwhelming outpouring of shock and surprise from people who haven’t set foot in ‘the Comp’ – or whatever it may be called these days – for 20 years or more.

Such is the feeling that there are now plans to hold a Mr Vazson football tournament in his memory, and its testament to how beloved he was with students of all ages that such a suggestion has gained such momentum and such universal appeal so quickly.

My first meeting with Mr Vazson was one of chance and came on a summer holiday in Norfolk, it just so happened to be the last summer before I went into my first year at the Dukeries Community College. We were staying on a caravan site and so was he and he and my dad struck up conversation.

Even then he cut that same unmistakable figure with the largest calf muscles known to man and yes had the trademark short shorts that he seemed to wear rain, shine or sleet. If he had an action figure that is what it would look like.

The only vital things he was missing were his accessories, a whistle round his neck, a football under his arm and a ruddy great set of keys!

I was never in the school footy team but John Vazson always had time for you, appreciated that not everyone could kick a ball straight but helped you find your strengths. Turns out mine was cross country, I even ended up running for the County once and came 13th.

He was one of those teachers you just welcomed seeing.

Everyone leaving comments regarding Mr Vazson may not have played on the footy team, I’m sure a lot did mind, and those teams and students must span many years but they are all united as one to remember a down to earth teacher of great warmth and humour. A man who has probably inspired more than one person to teach, a man that most would not have seen for many years but all have never forgot.

A man that together we all metaphorically wear black armbands for as we remember him and the time that we were privileged to be in lessons with him, have him as our tutor, be driven by him in the bright yellow mini-buses, be coached by him, or congratulated by him.

We’ll all have our own memories and moments that we recall of Mr V. As an older student venturing on school camp in 1992 I remember going on a long walk with a handful of students and a small group of teachers, John Vazson being one of them.

It was moments like that, where you were able to chat and talk that you saw that he wasn’t just a great teacher, he was a great bloke and to echo the chorus of former students, he’ll be greatly missed.

Goodbye, Mr Vazson.

In parent and child parking spaces no one can hear you scream…

There are some people who have to park the closest they possibly can to the front doors of their supermarket, no matter what. It’s never been top of my priority list I have to say as it’s only ever been a short hop, skip and a jump to the store. Having young children, especially if you are shopping on your own with them, can change all that.

The battle to and from the store is often as big as the one round the supermarket – wanting to be in the trolley, out the trolley and the tantrums in the cheese aisle that make you look like the worlds worst parent. Ah, thank goodness for parent and child parking bays then. They are nice and close to the store and are generally wider bays or have extra space between the bays, perfect for those cumbersome buggies and getting kids and car seats etc safely out of cars. No more having to squeeze down cars and face certain death like the James Franco character in the Danny Boyle film 127 Hours as you crush your ribs trying to inch pass the car that is parked ridiculously close to yours.

Not so…turns out the typically buggy painted parking spots are being snapped up. The people nabbing them might be parents but their kids are older than me! I have to say that the sports car featured is for illustrative purposes only and wasn’t driven by any of the folks I’ve come into contact with. Whoever it is ‘he’ is certainly parked like an utter cock!!

Most of the time, and this is only from my own experience, the culprits are Jurassic parkers, aged 70 plus. Thing is if we parked in their spaces (with child) they’d be shouting blue murder but it seems to be perfectly fine for them to park their cars in parent and child spaces. I believe the clue is in the title.

Yes, some of the people who are parking in these spaces may well have fought in the last war for our freedom. They should know better then and stop invading parent and child spaces as if the spaces were Poland!

I brought the subject up, parking not Poland that is, with an elderly gent who was parking in a parent and child bay in my nearest Tesco. He announced it was fair game as it was a busy day, he was busy and there were no disabled bays as other people nicked them. So, basically it tough tits on my part. As tempting as it was to go all D-FENS, the Michael Douglas character in Falling Down, I felt it wasn’t worth inducing cardiac arrest in me or the old chap.

I did mention the continually poor situation with the security staff at Tesco but they said they could do nothing about it so we’d have to speak to the help desk. More very little helps than Every Little Helps.

It happened again today in Aldi, which has sparked this entry, an elderly woman this time. She didn’t nab our space but parked in the parent and child space next to us despite there being several clearly empty disabled bays. That noise you can hear, it’s the grinding of my teeth.

I’ll be contacting several stores to find out how they ‘police’ such spaces and what they do when such issues arise. I’d love to hear if any other parents have encountered such issues or confrontations or indeed what the solution is. Should they be combined disabled/parent and child bays for instance? 

The title of this blog entry played on the tagline for Alien, well now, rather neatly stealing its sequels tagline, this time it’s war!

James Herbert: The British King is Dead, long live the British King

domainBritish horror author, James Herbert, who has died at the age of 69, was often known as ‘the UK’s answer to Stephen King’. In actual fact the pair were fond friends and their careers began rather fittingly almost at the same moment, Herbert had his first novel, The Rats, published just a few months before King debuted with Carrie in 1974.

Over his 20-something books Herbert has sold over 50 million copies, a number only bettered in the horror genre by none other than King himself. But, Herbert was the undisputed number one British author of frightful fiction and he was certainly a big part of my growing up.

I tried getting into King, I really did, but his books just gathered dust on my shelf, Herbert was another matter entirely. Before you knew it you’d be half way through a book and half way through the night with dark circles under your eyes and a crick neck to boot.

I entered into Herbert’s vividly descriptive world, like most no doubt, through The Rats and its sequels Lair and arguably his magnum opus, Domain. The original’s locations were heavily inspired by Herbert’s childhood, and the latter, rather ironically seeing as it dealt with London after a nuclear attack, blew me away, the opening chapter with the melting policeman setting the tone of furry things to come.

james-herbert-48The Fog, no nothing to do with the John Carpenter film, was swiftly consumed after that, along with Jonah, The Survivor, Haunted, ’48, Portent and The Spear, a personal favourite which would make such a great film, all receiving well-worn spines and dog-eared covers. They were perfect for any teenager, full of glorious descriptions of death and full of just as glorious descriptions of sex, and as with most horror it didn’t generally end very well.  ’48 was a (then) rare purchase in hardback, I bought it when I was at University and it dealt with an alternate World War 2 reality, it was also written in the first person. I remember buying that hardback edition, probably my first. It almost seemed akin to Charlie buying his Wonka Bar.

Those early works, in particular, still hold an amazing sway and power, the imagery they produced (even when you close your eyes) still remain. They are just so raw and nasty, almost primeval and totally unputdownable. Talking of imagery I always liked the covers, which were apparently all designed by Herbert himself as he used to work in an ad agency. I’ll always remember his folded arm stance in that black leather jacket as well for his book photos.

James_Herbert-4I’ve a sneaking suspicion that The Rats and Company will be padding their way back down from the loft, as I am sure they will be with lots of other people. Expect some of his old favourites to make reappearances on best-selling lists and on tube trains, The Rats ‘infesting’ London just like they did back in 1974 when the 100,000 run sold out in just three weeks.

When talking about his work, perhaps Stephen King put it best when he said: “James Herbert comes at us with both hands, not willing to simply engage our attention, he seizes us by the lapels and begins to scream in our faces.”

Even over 25 years after picking up my first Herbert novel I can still hear the screaming…long may it continue.