A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery

This is a personal message for Mr Pedantic Rod Up His Backside With No Ability for Nuance Whatsoever. Yes, you! You middle aged, Ralph Lauren Polo shirt wearing idiot. If you can’t remember me, let me refresh your memory. 


You came in to my bookshop yesterday and decided to buy a book for a family member/friend/colleague, which you obviously wanted wrapped before you gave it to them.  I know this because when you brought your book up to the counter to pay for it, you asked me if we provided a gift wrapping service. I answered, quite correctly, no, we don’t. You then began to protest. 


“The sign says you do”


Confused and a little apprehensive, I responded:


“What sign?”


You pointed to one of our posters, sitting above a shelf end of stock, targeted to women. The sign said “Gifts for Her All Wrapped Up.”


I paused, in disbelief. I’m still in awe of your magnificent stupidity now. How could you, a seemingly educated middle aged man, who is presumably able to read competently, actually manage to construe that sign as advertising gift wrapping? HOW?!!? I have decided not to record the rest of our conversation, as it was banal in nature and exasperating in tone, and consisted of many protestations of “It’s false advertising” from you and “It’s just our advertising slogan” from me. 


Perhaps I can refer you to a good dictionary of English Idioms? Or perhaps just a dictionary of English, if you are so thick that you don’t know what an idiom is? Have you heard of a little thing called metaphor? Are you so literal about everything that you take cover when someone says “It’s raining cats and dogs”? It must be confusing for you when you watch the news, if you do at all, wondering why all the anchors are talking in a mysterious code about non-existent campaign trails or spotlights. 


If you had had english as a second language, I would have understood. English is a strange language which really doesn’t make sense if you think about it literally. But you were Joe Blogs, Number-8-Wire-Kiwi-Bloke who probably went to Auckland Boys’ Grammar and studied law at Otago, now working very hard at getting millionaires off fraud charges. So the only conclusion I can then draw is that you were intentionally trying to be annoying, to wind me up, to make my day suck a little bit more than it already was. 


You sir, are an infuriating, idiotic, horrible little mountebank, a pompous ass, a fool, and a philistine. One day, you will die alone and without anyone in the world to mop your fevered brow or hear your dying words. I firmly believe this will happen to anyone like you who takes out their insecurities on poor, unsuspecting, innocent shop assistants. 


Beware and be afraid. The mysterious power of karma is, as Winston Churchill said about the USSR, “A riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in an enigma.”



It’s Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas. Christ.

Okay, so we’ve all got to steel ourselves for the inevitable. The decorations are already up in the malls, there are christmas cards lining the walls of shops and apparently some shops are already playing christmas carols. Since july, there have been people buying christmas presents (the lazy ones that is, the organised people buy their christmas presents in the january sales) and people have been sending presents and cards to their relatives since september. We’ve been getting christmas cracker requests since august and there are still 35 days until the big day. 


All of this is a preamble to the soul destroying conclusion that it’s beginning to look a lot like christmas. Soul destroying you ask? Why? Surely christmas is a time of happiness, of presents and peace and goodwill to all on earth.


Yeah, except people who work in shops.


This will be my fourth christmas working in a shop and it gets worse every year. It’s hot and stuffy all day, people are grumpy because it turns out that it isn’t such a great idea to leave your shopping till 5.50pm on christmas eve, and maybe an even worse idea to be rude to the people who may or may not stay open five minutes longer so that you can find the perfect vacuous card to buy for sweetums. 


Also the long line of people going all the way down to the back of the shop probably IS a queue, they’re probably not just standing there looking pissed off and sweaty holding mountain loads of plastic crap for their own amusement. My point being, don’t get shirty with me when I tell you that there’s a line. 


And yes I know it’s annoying that you’re one cracker off the number you need and we’ve sold out of the kind you’ve already bought, but I didn’t make people buy the rest of them on purpose. Be a good host and go without.


If you want to make my christmas better, try to obey the basic rules of retail, which state that we’re not going to refund you any money if you don’t have a receipt, and certainly not if you have the receipt but left the product on the bus. Also we can tell when the disc of a dvd has been mauled by a pet or a child and we know you didn’t buy it like that. 


If you complain about a lack of christmas music three weeks out from christmas, we will hate you for the rest of our lives and believe me we will outlive you, just so we can dance on your grave. 


This may sound like a whole lot of bitching which is a staggering overreaction to annoying customers. But at christmas time the gloves are off. It’s personal. Christmas is like hell on earth for shop workers. The music, the noise, the endless stock shipments, the scrappy customers, the queue wars, the whole hellish despicable business. If you’re rude to a shop worker at christmas, it’s ten times worse than usual. So just don’t. Please. It’s christmas.


Peace and goodwill to all men and women of retail.





The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus

Just got back from seeing The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus, possibly the weirdest film in the history of film. It was directed by Terry Gilliam, of Monty Python fame and it does have a slight Python-esque feel to it, but it’s much weirder than Python. It follows a travelling ‘magic’ show around London, lead by Dr Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) with his daughter Valentina (Lily Cole) and some others. I don’t actually remember their names, which sets the tone for the rest of this review. They come across Heath Ledger’s character hanging by the neck under a bridge across the Thames and then some weird shit happens. 


That’s basically it. They hadn’t finished the movie when Heath Ledger died, so they do some cool stuff with a couple of other actors (Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell etc) to finish off the role. The acting is really good, especially, of course, from Christopher Plummer and surprisingly from Lily Cole, who it transpires is not just a pretty face. The effects are amazing, different from anything I’ve ever seen before, and this movie is worth seeing on the big screen just for that. The first half was good, not amazing, but good. The second half was just too weird. So weird to the point of being absolutely pointless. It was so weird that you just lost touch with what was happening. It all had to do with wagers with the devil, the whole faust thing, and the downfalls of immortality. Also the need to choose one’s path and the ramifications of those choices. 


It would have been better as a mini series I think, with a little more time to play around with and breaks between episodes, maybe six parts. It would have been an award winning, life-changing mini-series as well, like The Singing Detective, or Angels In America, a mind-blowing, fascinating journey of evil vs who knows, the epic sort of showdown of ancient foes, which I’ve only really come across in Darkwater Hall by Catherine Fisher when I was a young teenager. 


This movie could have been so good, but unfortunately it is just average. Cool effects, good acting, but very little substance. 

The Book I’m Reading

Finally the exams are over and I’m allowed to read books again. I now have a pretty amazing 3-month-long holiday and I’m planning to tackle some books which I’ve had for a while but haven’t had the time (or the courage in some cases) to read. This summer I’m hoping to get through Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (who is, of course, the spawn of satan and a total nutter, but boy could she write a thirty page monologue like no one else on earth) and perhaps something Victorian-ish, like Portrait of A Lady or something by Tolstoy. I also plan to first read Oryx and Crake, then the latest Margaret Atwood – The Year of the Flood – ’cause apparently they’re linked somehow. Also Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, which has been on my shelf since over a year ago. Hopefully I’ll have time for a Graham Greene and something Vonnegutesque, like Joseph Heller or Kerouac. 


But first, I’ve started the 2009 Booker Prize Winner, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, which is a novel based around the life of Thomas Cromwell (Thomas, not Oliver – my fourth form social studies teacher didn’t seem to know the difference, something which I pointed out to her several times). Cromwell was a friend and advisor of Cardinal Wolsey, who was in turn a friend and advisor to Henry VIII. So, it’s an Historical Fiction novel, set in Tudor England. I know, right. Blerg. Boring, bodice ripping romp, with terrible inaccuracies and awful characterisations? Emphatically NO. I generally avoid historical fiction as much as I can, but when I saw that this book had won the Booker Prize, I figured it must be at least halfway decent. I was wrong, it is in fact (and I’m only 148 pages in) the best work of historical fiction I’ve ever read. It makes Philippa Gregory look like a mills and boon writer.


I think the trick is, that the novel is not chronological but jumps around a la The Time Traveler’s Wife, or Cat’s Eye. Perhaps the comparison to Cat’s Eye is better, ’cause The Time Traveler’s Wife was a little confusing in parts, but in Wolf Hall it’s perfectly clear. Mantel has a wonderful style, in parts theatrical and otherwise almost like a record of the memories of Cromwell as he remembers them. This book is chock full of political intrigue and terrible tragedy, such as the loss of Cromwell’s wife from sweating sickness early on and of course the pending doom of two of Henry’s women – Katherine and Anne – which colours the story from the first page.


While up till now, my impression of Cromwell was mostly formed, adversely, based on this picture:

(not the nicest looking chappie)


I think after I’ve finished this book, I will have a completely different outlook regarding ol’ Thomas. I’m sure he’ll still be a Machiavellian jerk, but perhaps a more human one.


Read this book and you will be hooked on Tudor history – not the bodice ripping, palace intrigue type history, but one of the most politically volatile periods in English history. If you want to read more about the history of this time, Alison Weir’s Henry VIII: King and Court is good, also David Starkey’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Starkey also has a documentary history of Elizabeth I called Elizabeth, which you can probably get from Amazon.co.uk. 


Oh, by the way, The Tudors is crap. Utter soft-porn crap, which is nowhere near historically accurate. That being said, Jonathan Rhys Meyers is pretty cute really and the acting is okay. Just don’t base your history essay on it. 

Bookshop Music

Bookshops are meant to be intelligent places. That, at least, is the theory, one which Dan Brown and Marian Keyes have done their level best to disprove. A bookshop should be the sort of place in which people may converse intelligently about philosophy, politics, music and, well, books. It should be a place for thought, contemplation; for pondering, to borrow a phrase, life, the universe and everything. 


Perhaps my view of the world is idealised and old fashioned, perhaps I long for the days when composers and philosophers would sit around in cafes in Vienna and discuss intelligent things. But, quite frankly:


This is whack.


Who wants to listen to ABBA in a bookshop? Or the Village People? Why, when I am browsing for a book, would I want to listen to Little River Band whining at me? Surely something quiet and subdued would be more appropriate, like Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf, or some freakin Mozart. But no, my manager insists not only on playing total crap in the store, but also on turning the volume all the way up, so that when you stand under a speaker you feel like you’re at Christmas in the Park. In HELL. Because only there would Phil Collins, ABBA and Little River Band all play in the same concert.


Also, the one time I get to put Edith Piaf on, despite the fact that loads of people comment on how much they love it, I have to take it out, because some idiotic woman thinks that it’s unpatriotic. Cause apparently, not only are we living in Nazi Germany, or Texas or somewhere, but  we’re also still pissed at the French over the rainbow warrior. And apparently Edith Piaf was one of the agents who snuck onto the boat (despite the fact that she was dead long before the rainbow warrior). 


Okay. Rant over. But seriously, why even bother with music in a bookshop? It just makes the sales people cranky and the weird customers angry.