Dealing with the bigots

A question from an angry young(ish) man.

The Plashing Vole asks… 

“I have a question for Ben and Clare. Why does nobody ever sit next to me on buses and trains? I’m in Rotherham. Jesus what a dump. A”

Clare answers…

I’m a little confused. Does nobody ever sit next to you on buses and trains, ever? Or does nobody ever sit next to you on buses and trains purely in Rotherham? If it’s the latter, it could well be down to the way in which you happily go about slagging the place off; try easing up on the public outpourings of grief when travelling in South Yorkshire.

If it’s not place specific, have you considered any bad habits you might exhibit or irritating behaviour you may develop when riding on a bus or train? Swigging White Lightening from a two-litre bottle can be offputting to potential bi-seat cohabitants, for example, while barking loudly at every stop can have a similar effect. Another no-no is dousing yourself in Denim before a trip on the transportation system, as is the polar opposite of foregoing the morning deodorisation routine then layering up in manmade fibres. Alternatively, it may be your utilisation of modern technology that is the problem: gesturing along to that gangsta rap playing out of your tinny iPod speakers or shouting “Sell! Sell! Close the deal NOW dammit, you cockshaft” into your mobile phone isn’t always appropriate in polite company; you may need to learn how to read the situation more clearly. Finally, it could be that your body language or facial expression is the reason other passengers gravitate away from you: try sitting still and not stroking your crotch region while making eye contact and licking your lips.

Then again, why are you worried? I would think getting a couple of pews to yourself would be a good thing. Is this really a problem in your life, or are you just wasting my time and Ben’s (he’s very busy at the moment, you know, what with glittering awards ceremonies to attend and novels to write) so you can get a bit of attention? Hmmm. I’ll be watching you. 


Ben Answers…

Did you know that Rotherham Minster was described by Pevsner as “the best perpendicular church in the country”? No? Do you think that is because you were too busy making snap decisions about the place?

Did you know that the Catcliffe Glass Cone is the oldest surviving such structure in Western Europe? That Pulp played their first ever gig at Rotherham Arts Centre? That Sean Bean made his stage debut in Rotherham? The town may not be Oxford Mr Vole but it is, like most towns, trying its hardest.

The Chuckle Brothers live in Rotherham, Vole. Do you think you are better than the Chuckle Brothers? Do you? Do you?

I think Clare has hit the nail on the head by suggesting that you won’t make friends going around being rude about people’s homes. I can, from bitter experience, accept that you are equally rude about the town in which you live; but then I imagine you don’t get many people in Wolverhampton asking you if “that seat is taken” if you are staring out of the train window and lost in a cruel and violent monologue about the architecture of the West Midlands or how you can’t get decent foccacia in Tettenhall Wightwick.

You need to give to a town. You cannot just take.

Take Clare and me for example. While it may be an oversimplification to say that Manchester was a cultural wasteland before we started blogging about it, there is, as with all urban myths, an element of truth to the idea. We love Manchester, we help promote it, we get involved, and in return Manchester loves us. In short; people sit next to us on trains. We are liked.

When was the last time you did anything for Wolverhampton, let alone Rotherham? Manchester is only a better city than Wolverhampton (sorry Wolverhampton, but it is) because people have made it better. Make Wolverhampton better. Make Rotherham better if you want to. But do something. Actions speak louder than words and all that. Please, don’t expect to make friends with people by being nasty about where they live.

Oh dear. It seems that you have made us so cross that neither of us were prepared to play ‘good cop’. We don’t mean to upset you. We will send you some Party Rings in the post.

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Just out of courtesy I thought I would mention…

We had a question from Freebestmysex via our comments box. They ask…

Do you know acknowledge how to whatch best with me movies of porn videos
of very Hot Eve Ange Franchezca Valentina showing in xxx movies

Two quick points Freemybestsex

  1. No we do not, and though we are sure you would love to tell us, we don’t want to know.
  2. Where is the question mark at the end of your sentence? Do you see that? Do you see the question mark? Can you see how easy it is to punctuate?

Actually I do have two other points to make…

  1. Piss off. Piss right off.
  2. Hasn’t that lady got an incredibly long name?

Actually one more point…

  1. If you are “very hot” then turn the heating down. I would suggest taking your jumper off but it would only give you ideas. Or have a cup of tea. I know a hot drink on a hot day sounds like a silly idea but it works. Though you might want to wear more than a peephole bra if you are handling hot liquids.

Sorry, one more thing…

  1. You will find a weak Darjeeling, a green tea, or perhaps a chamomile more refreshing than your PG Tips with milk and two sugars.

Last thing…

  1. I don’t know why it cools you down. It might be those anti-oxidant thingies. I can never remember what they are supposed to do. I’ll ask Clare…
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Getting All Deep and Meaningful

As an illustration of how no question is too big (or too vague) for the intellectual powerhouse that is Ask Ben & Clare, we tackle one man’s impotent rage at the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

Matthew Bionic asks…

Why? WHY? WHYYYY?!?!?!?

Clare answers… 

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. What we have here, Mr Bionic, is a classic case of existentialist angst, so common among superheroes (which I can only presume you are with such a moniker as your own). Bruce “Batman” Wayne famously suffered a dark period while he took time out from keeping safe the good people of Gotham City to bemoan unrequited love and the true meaning of existence and his purpose in the great scheme of things. For a while there, Bruce was living fast and loose, writing off a few of his favourite boys’ toys and even overseeing the destruction by fire of his family mansion. Now, none of us wants a repeat of that little episode, do we? Spider-Man, too, looked too deep inside his Peter Parker psyche, almost losing it all (his morals; his mind; his missus) as he focused purely on his own problems during a pathetic stint of ego-maniacal power-tripping. And let’s not get started on Clark “Superman” Kent (after all, despite appearances, he could have us all in a fight).

So, Mr Bionic, don’t be getting yourself all worked up trying to find answers to the great unsolved questions like: why are we here? Why does the toast always land butter side down? Why doesn’t someone pay Clare pots of cash for writing this stuff? Instead, enjoy not having to use binoculars when bird-watching, enter a couple of prize-winning running races, don’t forget to book a service for that arm of yours, and everything will be bostin, Steve Austin.

Ben Answers…

I wish I was bionic.

God you people make me sick with your “questions.” You come to our planet, taking our super-jobs, stealing our super-women, defeating our super-villains, but when it all comes down to the ultimate questions you are just as clueless as the rest of us. Why are you asking me questions about the universe? You are the one who can breathe without an atmosphere. Go and have a look you lazy bastard. Sheese! Bloody super heroes and their Nietzschean brooding on post-religious concepts of humanity! Get a room!

Here, Bionic Britches, contemplate this: Some of us have to work for a bloody living. We don’t all have world leaders buying us secret bases in Antarctica and helicopters shaped like pumas. The rest of us do our saving the planet (recycling champagne bottles, buying calendars with pictures of polar bears on, only using the air conditioning in our Range Rovers when it is like really hot, etc) in our spare time. We don’t expect the government to pick up the bill. It’s self, self, self with you lot isn’t it.

So, “Why? Why? Why?” Mr Bionic. Because. That’s why. Get used to it or bugger of back to the planet Xanziaxa or wherever you flew in from. And you can take that bloody Dr Cacophony and his bloody Army of the Eternal Darkness with you too. I’m super ticked off with the bloody lot of you!

Matthew Bionic gave no autobiographical details. He is, and will remain, an international man of mystery.

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All of a quiver (you know, quiver…arrows…cupid, oh come on, I shouldn’t have to explain these to you)

Ewar asks…

Hello Ben and Clare!

My dilemma is an age-old classic one, but that doesn’t make it any less painful. Both of your thoughts are appreciated, but I fancy Clare’s (if Clare even exists, I never know with you Ben) answer will be more helpful.

So I go to university, and to get to uni I take the train. Once I get off the train at my designated station stop, I encounter a cafeteria on the way out of the station. Working in said cafe (sometimes) is a very cute girl.

Shes like well mint, you dig? The problem is, how do I ask her out?

1) I know she’s at my uni, but I don’t know what subjects she does or in which building she has lectures. This means “hanging around” at uni isn’t really an option.

2) There’s no way I’m asking her out in a busy cafe with people sitting nearby (enjoying their excellent but expensive sustenance) and people behind me in the queue. I would rather die than that.

3) I don’t really like the idea of watching her leave work, and then following her down the streets and asking her out then. As you can imagine, that wouldn’t look very good. Besides, I don’t know what hours/days she works.

So what do I do guys?! There’s another problem in that she’s far too attractive for me, but I don’t wish to over bear you with tales about my pathetic life.


PS. I’ve taken this all too seriously, haven’t I? Gah.

Clare answers…

Ewar, honeypie, yes, I do exist and I hope my advice as a representative of the opposite sex will live up your expectations. First things first: stop beating yourself up so much; your life I’m sure is no more pathetic than the next man’s. Next, you need to knock this attractiveness anxiety on the head right this minute. For all I know, you might have been hit several times with the ugly stick before the wind changed while you were on a particularly scary rollercoaster, but looks are only skin deep, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, etc etc. I already know from the missive you winged our way that you are sensitive, compassionate, intelligent, polite and funny, and these attributes are worth much more and last a whole lot longer than a polished cheekbone and a natty swagger.

So on to the main problem: asking this fine young lady on a date. My motto has always been: nothing ventured, nothing gained. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. The worst that can happen  is that you ask her out and she says no. Seriously. And you’ve mentally braced yourself for complete and utter public humiliation, so stop worrying; you’re more than prepared.

Now, actually doing it. Any kind of “hanging about” is to be avoided at all costs; you will look like a stalker. You know where she works and it’s possible to talk to her there using the pretext of making a purchase, so do that. Don’t panic: nobody will be able to hear you, and, even if they can, you’re just going to be having a nice friendly chat, so it won’t matter. Order something simple to take away: a cup of coffee, perhaps. Strike up a conversation. Mention that you’ve seen her around campus; ask if she’s been to that new bar yet, you know the one, Such And Such. Say you’ve not had the chance; would she like to go with you some time after lectures? See how she replies and respond appropriately, then make your exit (don’t forget your coffee). Remember to breathe, and for god’s sake don’t faint when she says yes. Easy, non?

Ben answers…

Well, well, well, eh? Well, well, well.

So you think I wouldn’t give the best advice eh? A man who has spent a large proportion of his life dating women who are “out of his league”, culminating the whole process by marrying a beautiful, funny, very lovely, woman; he cannot give you advice?

My advice on this subject is worth more to you than the air you breath.

But I’m not telling you now. Because you have hurt my feelings.

OK. I’ll tell you. But only because I like your blog and I owe you a millennium falcon.

I know something you don’t know: people fancy you. Not everyone. You aren’t David Beckham. But people do. Fancy you. Not me. You aren’t David Beckham my wife. But they do. People. Fancy you.

I know something else you don’t know: If you “be yourself” then the people you fancy will very often be the people who fancy you. It just sort of works out that way. Don’t ask me why.

I’ll tell you something else you don’t know: Charles’s law states that: At constant pressure, the volume of a given mass of an ideal gas increases or decreases by the same factor as its temperature on the absolute temperature scale.

You learn somethin’ new every day huh?

Ewar writes the excellent blog The Rise and Rise of Tim Lovejoy. Single ladies can contact him on twitter at @ewarwoowar86

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Our First Assignment

Dave Hartley asks…

Hi guys, I was talking to some friends the other day about this and we could not reach a conclusion. Perhaps, as the new Masters of the Universe, you guys could help.

Is modern pop-indie music actually shit? Or am I just getting old and grumpy? Was the music I listened to when I was 17/18 also shit despite the fact that I still believe it was much better than modern indie music? Is it all relative? Are Scouting For Girls really as turd-awful as I think they are?

I know there are a lot of questions there. Please, take your time.

Thanks, Dave Hartley

Clare answers…

Many thanks for your query, Mr Hartley, and your kind patience. I do believe that just like the lunar cycle, a pattern exists in the production of the popular ilk of music you call indie. Regular as clockwork, once every decade, there is a sudden burst of energy that builds up into a movement (say Britpop in the mid-90s; Strokes/White Stripes/Scissor Sisters/other American bands beginning with ‘s’ sparking off some new alt rock shenanigans around 2005) then, five years later, this supernova dwindles into a mere ember as the brightest stars focus their talents on infighting and plagiarism and spin downwards in evermore stylistically challenged circles.

At this point, Coldplay-style piffle and jingling washes in to fill the void, or else ageing rockers sporting ludicrous hairdos and too-tight trousers begin elbowing their way back to the front of the moshpit (example: Manic Street Preachers; Paul bloody Weller). All I can advise is that during this interval you switch off your radio for a spell and listen instead to some old-skool vinyl. Hopefully a gang of young blokes in a bedroom will use the creative hiatus as a call to action and the phase will pass. Hopefully.

(And yes, Scouting For Girls are turd-awful, but you probably don’t remember Marion or Menswear.)

Ben answers…

I quite liked Menswear actually. At the time. Looking back I can see that they were pretty ropey…

And there is your nub. Right there. Almost everything ages badly, including, I’m afraid, you and I Mr Hartley, including you and I. So yes, indie music is rubbish now, and yes you are a grumpy old carbuncle, but it was rubbish then too, mostly, it just sounded good at the time. And you were probably just as grumpy then too, just younger is all.

When I was a young whippersnapper there was a big rumbling debate about Stock, Aitken & Waterman. You see, technically, everything they produced was ‘indie’ because it was sold through an independent record label. Young gentlemen in long-sleeved t-shirts would tear out there split ends screaming “what does indie even mean anymore?” and “whither 4AD” and the like. Then, in 1992, a conference was called and it was decided that ‘indie’ would mean any band that played guitars in which the lead singer didn’t have a particularly strong voice and at least two fifths of the musicians had long hair. A genre was born, or at least tamed.

The upside of this decision was that people could now sum up their musical taste in a snappy sentence, the downside was Ocean Colour Scene. It is dangerous to play silly buggers with nomenclature. Someone always gets hurt.

I think I’ve been enormously helpful here. Let’s celebrate with one of the all-time great indie songs (from 1991, this would never have been allowed to be called ‘indie’ after the great conference of ’92)

As for Scouting For Girls, I see them as more of a Del Amitri or Deacon Blue for the 21st Century. Not so much indie as just wet.

Dave Hartley writes the blog Do A Barrel Roll and writes rather good fiction which can be found, amongst other places, in the latest edition of Bewilderbliss magazine. He describes himself as: rabbit-watcher, hair-grower, sleep-dreamer, film-watching story-writer with a enraged hatred of cigarettes, mugs and car horns.

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Welcome (part four of four)

We conclude our introductory phase with one last question from ourselves before we throw the floor open to yourselves. Ooh that’s an ugly sentence isn’t it? Oh well. Clare will tidy it up sooner or later…

Clare Asks…

I need more conspiracy theories to distract me – what do you recommend?

Ben Answers…

What don’t I recommend would be a more pertinent question. You cannot beat a good conspiracy theory.

I do add a note of caution, mind you. A good conspiracy theory is a petty conspiracy theory. Now, obviously, everything must eventually be blamed on giant lizards which prey on our weakness for chocolate and our childish notions of ‘free will’ and ‘choice’, but it has to be a gradual process. Don’t run in with a:

 You know why we went to war in 1914 don’t you? Giant lizards. That’s why.

Instead start with a:

 You know why Special K is bobbly don’t you? It’s because they put fluoride in it. Keeps you quiet. Stops your brain thinking. That way you buy more oranges. And you know who wants the orange market soaring don’t you… (this is where you arch one eyebrow conspiratorially, with a hint of romantic suggestion hidden behind layers of world-weary angst and whisper, almost provocatively) … the giant lizards.

A good conspiracy theory doesn’t solve a problem, it just offers another, preferably semi-coherent thought to a planet full of gibberish. It claims something is the way it is because someone (usually giant lizards or their minions) need it to be that way. I suggest that for every five you read you make at least two up. It helps to keep things interesting.

Incidentally did you know that up to ninety per cent of conspiracy theories are started by giant lizards so that most people won’t believe in them? Clever fellows, these giant lizards.

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Welcome (part three of four)

So far we know what to do on a spare weekend and the truth about robots. How do our experts cope with the really big questions? Like fashion?

Ben asks…

I see a lot of people wearing check shirts lately. What’s that all about?

Clare answers…

It’s called fashion, Ben. It’s a concept invented by men to sucker women into shelling out lots of their husband’s (in the olden days) or their own (from Melanie Griffith in Working Girl era onwards) hard-earned readies. The suckering has recently been extended to include men, as you might have noticed by all those Identikit Studio Line coiffures and weird pointy lace-ups that the young professional man about town is sporting. Even Da Yoof, with their pseudo-ironic fluoro get-ups, arsecrack-revealing pants and white hi-tops are working a ‘look’. Apparently.

I believe you’re familiar with the 1980s? Well, that era has been making something of a comeback trend-wise, hence all this Studio Line and fluoro action, and hence, also, the explosion in checked (you say ‘check’; my Elle house style guide says ‘checked’) shirts. Now, as with the 80s, the design of check is important. They’re not all the same, you know, and they don’t all share the same connotations.

First off, there’s your plaid. This is also called tartan, but the latest styles are less Black Watch (think navy blue and bottle green) and more picnic blanket (ie with more threads of reds and yellows). Now, as a man in his thirties, you’ll have pondered on this one. It’s crossed your mind, right? OK, but you have to grow a beard first, and not some nice well-kept beard that you trim once a week. No, this beard has to be big, it has to be bold, it has to have birds living in it. Think you’re man enough?

Next up, we have gingham. I’ve noticed that heavy users of gingham are limited to a) me and b) gay men of a certain age. I pick blue, they pick pink; it’s like a rejection of all social conditioning. Our gingham love-in may or may not have something to do with an immense fondness for Dorothy Gale due to being forced to watch The Wizard of Oz every Christmas for a number of years before Betamax. There’s no hard proof either way, but perchance you might like to steer clear.

Third is the button-down collar small-checked shirts that are worn by people called Ben Sherman. Funny that name is so common, isn’t it? I’d also give this style a wide birth; it can tend towards being a bit of a uniform for men who flock in groups to places with a “no trainers, mate” door policy. While on a pub crawl, sorry, field trip for research recently, I noted that the gang of scary men with real short hair and a penchant for shouting were all in small-checked shirts. Each and every one of them. Not a good advert.

Finally (largely because you must be getting bored by now, right?), the bold check is definitely a blast from the 80s past. Back in the real 80s, these were a simple black and white number, but these days you can get red and black, blue and black, green and black – or is that something else? At first I was unconvinced, but as long as the sleeves are long and you keep the neck open, I think we could be on to something.


Ben went to Debenhams to see how he felt about it all but he remains unconvinced by the rise of the fashionable check. He may need a personal shopper.

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