And Alex Said: Ho Ho Ho!

6 December 2002

Column 9: Ho Ho Ho!, 6th December 2002

Christmas is a-coming and I’ll be getting even fatter. I’ve dispensed with the usual rubbish chocolate advent calendar this year and built my own. Behind every window is a sausage roll, a mince pie, a small bottle of whisky and a selection of crisps.

You see, Christmas is a time for gorging yourself into a stupor, and the normal little chocolates wouldn’t be enough to stretch my stomach enough for Christmas dinner. In the Middle Ages, Britons used to consume so much food on Christmas Day that their sleep after lunch would last until March, thereby omitting those crappy months at the start of the year, and handily in time to stock up on Easter Eggs.

These days Christmas isn’t half as much fun. The trouble starts with Christmas Shopping. The shops have had festive stuff in them since July – last year. So many people take to Oxford Street that the heat generated is enough to form its own micro-climate, which is probably why it’s always pissing with rain whenever I go. The reason there’s a McDonalds every 200 yards is because, by the time you’ve pushed your way through 200 yards of people, it’s time for your next meal.

It’s a hellish experience just moving about, but then you’ve got to try and find some presents. I’d love to be able to buy my dad that perfect gift, but I haven’t got enough money to buy Nicole Kidman, so he’ll have to make do with another pair of Homer Simpson socks. It’s the thought that counts.

If you’re sensible, you’ll have got all your shopping out of the way by the end of October, which means all you have to do is look forward to the big day. One thing you won’t be looking forward to, though, is having relatives coming to stay. We only narrowly avoided having our elderly Aunty Mabel stay last year, but the day before she was due to come she ended up in hospital after dropping the bumper Christmas Radio Times on her foot, completely flattening it, and so I was spared receiving yet another garish knitted jumper and putting up with her funny smell.

Aunty Sue likes to think of herself as sensible. She likes to save money by buying all her presents in the January sales, and then hiding them for the whole year in her kitchen cupboards. Whenever we visit her, it is a family tradition to take a peek and try to guess who’ll get what – whoever gets the 2002 Cutesy Bunny Wabbits calendar should find it serves them well for the whole six days of 2002 which remain after December 25th, but I pity whoever gets the chocolate Santa as it’s probably going to be past its best.

Hopefully this Christmas will be quieter for our family. In previous years, the Twatt family next door have irritated the whole street with over-enthusiastic carol singing at all hours of day and night, and the illuminations in their front garden consisting of ten thousand flashing lights. They were so bright I actually found it much easier to sleep during the day, but fortunately last year our prayers were answered when a Boeing 747 landed on top of their house.

It’s now the time to get your Christmas tree sorted, but as a student you’re not going to be able to afford one to rival the one in Trafalgar Square. Just use your imagination. Last year in my room, I cut the largest piece of green fungus from some old bread I’d been cultivating, and decorated it with leftover meatballs and an assortment of dead insects. It certainly brought a bit of festive cheer to all who saw it, even if it did smell like a corpse.

So, that’s the preparations sorted. If you’ve managed to survive the build-up, brace yourself for Christmas morning. Last year, at about 3am, I heard footsteps downstairs, so I went down to see what was going on. I found an old man with a white beard, drinking sherry and eating mince pies. I do wish Uncle Pete wouldn’t get up so early and eat all the bloody food. “I’m so excited I can’t sleep!” he said, as I wafted a chloroform-soaked rag under his nose. I carried him back up to his bed, and, twelve months later, he’s not woken up yet.

Everybody loves opening their presents on Christmas morning, except for my brother – he’s always disappointed because he makes such a colossal Christmas list. When he was six years old, my mother tried explaining to him that Santa couldn’t possibly bring a Formula 1 racing car, a horse and an Apache helicopter down the chimney. At the age of 27, you’d really think he’d have learned by now.

By mid-November we’ve usually just about finished off last year’s leftover turkey, so it’s good to look forward to Christmas dinner. In our house we keep everything left over from Christmas dinner until it’s eaten – we’ve still got some Brussels sprouts from Christmas 1984, but hopefully they’ll be off to university soon and the Christmas pudding from 1987 can move into their bedroom.

After dinner, you can regale your family with the same tired double-entendres about “pulling crackers”. Well, anything to take the pain away from the feeble Christmas crackers themselves I suppose. After exploding with a noise about as loud as a mosquito’s heartbeat, out pops a feeble hat, a deformed plastic frog and a joke which has been badly translated from the original Japanese, with all the wit of Bobby Davro. “What do you call an Imperial College rector on a bicycle? Sir Richard Bikes!!”

After dinner, you can spend the rest of Christmas Day watching television. It’s hard to tell the repeats from the new shows usually – this year BBC1 is offering us yet another new episode of Only Fools and Horses. In this episode Del Boy flogs a dead horse.

Then it’s time for bed, and it will be all over for another year.

And Alex Said: TV

29 November 2002

Column 8: TV, 29th November 2002

You have to wonder about the quality of TV programmes these days. Looking at the channels on satellite or cable, it seems you can set up your own TV station for about fifty pence. With a few out-of-work actors, I gave it a go. Here’s what’s on today, peppered with adverts for Ocean Finance:

11.00am Teleshopping Could you possibly live without a device for steam-cleaning your pet rodent? Do you dream that one day you’ll own a telescopic whisky bottle holder? Do you yearn for something to take the stress out of opening packets of crisps? If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, you must be completely mad - in which case, you’ll definitely want to check out our Sensomatic - Guaranteed To Make You Sane Within 21 Days!® And if you’re not completely satisfied, you probably just forgot why the hell you bought it in the first place - so we’ll also send you, absolutely free, our Boost Your Memory Kit, consisting of notepad and pencil!

3.00pm Changing Tombs Historical gameshow in which two contestants redesign the last resting places of the Pharaohs of Egypt in order to give them a more modern feel.

4.00pm DOC WON NUT Letter-rearranging gameshow presented by RIDE WHIRLY CHEAT and CRAVE LARD, MORON.

4.30pm Little Silly Denzil Surreal children’s programme made in 1967. Supposedly the creators of this programme were high on drugs throughout making it, although today they deny all memory of ever working on the show. In this episode, Little Silly Denzil takes his dog Canine Abyss to see Dee l’Air about his problems growing the crop Cow Cane on his fields. But a large strawberry-flavoured platypus sprinkles a fine white powder over the little town of Pirtdica, making everybody really really hungry.

5.00pm Strange Hill Drama set in a tough inner-city comprehensive school that deals with the issues relevant to most children today. In this episode, Chubby and Fat Wanker get caught by Mrs Dappy having anal sex in the playground, Kris has her head blown off by a rocket, and Pete gets kneecapped.

5.30pm You’ve Been Maimed! Hilarious family video camera footage of all those home accidents! Quite why Shirley from Basildon was filming her husband using the chain saw to trim the hedge, we’ll never know, but at least the family will always be able to remember what he used to look like, and the side-splitting consequences of that slippery dog poo!

6.00pm Holiday: You Say Where Special version of the holiday programme where viewers tell presenters where to go. In this episode, Jamie Theakston visits a minefield in Afghanistan.

7.00pm The 1980s House The series that transports a modern family back in time continues. In this episode, teenager Becky is fed up of listening to Bros, while Stuart gets to grips with a BBC Micro. Meanwhile, Mary is having trouble with her shoulder pads.

8.00pm Nigella Sucks Cookery series featuring Nigella Lawson. In this episode Nigella makes a cheese sandwich.

And Alex Said: Machines

22 November 2002

Column 7: Machines, 22nd November 2002

It was 2.58pm and I was on my way to a Physics tutorial which started at 3pm. I pushed the button for a lift and then waited for 27 minutes until, finally, a lift came that was both heading in the right direction and wasn’t so full that I would likely suffocate.

Twenty minutes later and we’d made it as far as level 9, where everybody else got out, leaving me alone. The doors shut. Then there was a thud. Then a wallop, a bang and a clang, followed by a shudder. Then a kind of wibbly-wobbly boinging motion that doesn’t really have a good word to describe it. The doors opened, and I found myself on level 9½.

Finding all of this rather too odd for a Tuesday afternoon, and seeing as I’d missed my tutorial now anyway, I decided to go down again, but this time I thought it would be a good plan to take the stairs. Heading towards the Physics common room, I couldn’t help but think that things looked a little different to usual.

I’m not sure whether it was the old woman serving gruel from a large cauldron, or the stagecoaches passing outside, or the students sitting around writing with quills onto parchment, but things seemed to be a little more old-fashioned than normal, even for the Physics department.

I sat in the common room on an oak chair, near to some students wearing top hats. Somebody was fighting with what looked like a clockwork coffee machine.

“Please, sir, I want some more,” said the student.

“More what?” said the coffee machine, sounding very much like an old man with a cold.

“Cappuccino please.”

A sneezing sound came from the coffee machine. “That’ll be four guineas, six farthings, two crowns, three pounds, eight groats, five shillings, sixpence ha’penny please.”

The student handed a coin to the machine, which then gave him back his change in a wheelbarrow. Several whirrings could be heard and then an elderly hand reached out to give the student his coffee. He sat down near me.

“Why this coffee, I liken it to a foul broth of intestinal fluids,” he said.

“Pray yes, of that it doth remind me also,” said another student, with a large boil on his nose.

“Verily, for much displeasure hath this coffee brought upon insides”, I replied, which was odd because I don’t normally talk like that.

The student with the boil looked at his pocket watch. “I shall now depart for the typewriter suite, for I must send a letter to my lecturer via carrier pigeon. I have vainly tried to pit myself against a difficult problem sheet,” and he left.

“Away we to the union this fine eve, for a night of idle pleasures?” said a girl to the student with the coffee. He appeared to be itching to get into her corset – or was that just because of the fleas?

I left, to try to find a way back to the twenty-first century.

And Alex Said: Charity

15 November 2002

Column 6: Charity, 15th November 2002

“And now on BBC1, we interrupt all half-decent programming to bore you to death with this year’s… Children in Need.”

Suddenly your eyelids are descending faster than your bank balance. Consciousness is fading quicker than the chances that you’ll stick to your resolution to do “a bit more work” this term. Your body collapses in a heap, just like the analogies in this paragraph.

Then you wake up to hear Toby Anstis say “And now we cross over to BBC Dullsby…”.

“This crazy man is sitting in a bath full of maggots!” shouts Gaby Roslin.

“They’re crawling up my nose. I think they’re biting me inside.” He’s a man sitting in a bath, as part of a line of men sitting in baths, and the baths are full of the typical “cray-zee” things that baths get full of at this time of year. You know: custard, gunge, mud, goo, gunk, jelly, acid, faeces, molten rock, water.

“And what about you, what’s this bath full of?”

“Razor blades” says a man, in a bath full of razor blades.

“Owch! You must be completely mad!”

“I was almost sectioned.”

“What’s your name?”

“I’m Sir Derek Roberts, Provost of UCL”

“And how much have you raised for Children in Need?”

“Children in Need?”

“Yes… the BBC charity entertainment phone-in extravaganza type thing.”

“Actually I’m raising money for Imperial College and UCL… Richard Sykes says we’ve got no money at all. He made me do this. The razor blades were his idea,” he says, glumly.

Standing to one side, there is a deep laugh. “Keep up the good work, Derek!” says Richard, with a cackle. “It’s this or the top-up fees, you see,” he says, turning to Gaby Roslin. “Surprisingly warm, under the glare of these lights,” he says, fanning himself with a large handful of fifty pound notes.

Back to the studio, and there’s Nicky Campbell from Watchdog. “Right, we’ve got Will Young and Ann Widdecombe in the studio, and as we said earlier, if we didn’t have four million pounds by now, Ann will be performing a striptease. And as if things couldn’t get any worse, Will will be singing. Let’s check the totals…”

A minute later and the hell is in full swing. Ann is in her underwear, while Will serenades her with “I want to take this moment, and make it last forever…” You wonder whether he really means it.

“Give us your money, give us your fucking money, now, please!” sobs Bob Geldof, eerily reminiscent of his famous Live Aid quote, although this time the anger is replaced by terror, and there are tears in his eyes. “The smell is appalling… people here are dying!” he says, as Ann’s bra comes flying in his direction.

Will’s song reaches a climax, Nicky Campbell wipes the sick off his chin and while Ann is dancing, her breasts knock out two cameramen. She moves a large fold of skin out of the way and reaches for her knickers, and then…

Give generously.

And Alex Said: Booze

8 November 2002

Column 5: Booze, 8th November 2002

I’m sure Imperial could sort out all its financial difficulties if it just replaced the optician’s on the walkway with an off-licence. Lack of spectacles and alcohol-induced bleariness might mean a small investment in replacing the library’s textbooks with large-print copies, but it would mean no top-up fees – and, regardless of background, students will all still have exactly the same opportunities to come to university. And get completely rat-arsed.

Probably because alcohol has destroyed my memory, I don’t remember what age I started drinking at, but it was probably quite young. Some people think targeting alcopops at children is morally wrong, but I disagree – the more kids we have lying unconscious in gutters, or in hospital beds undergoing liver transplants, the less of the little bastards we have taking up all the space in McDonalds. If they’re spending money on alcohol, they won’t be spending it in HMV, and perhaps that will mean the charts will be free of S-Club Juniors. So, we should be promoting alcohol more heavily to the under-16’s. There could be an advertising campaign like that badly dubbed Kinder Egg advert of several years ago…

The Scene: A Supermarket. A woman is standing in the drinks aisle with her three disgusting children.

Woman: Right, shut up, and I’ll buy you something.

Precocious Child 1: I’m hyperactive and thirsty – I want a drink full of artificial colourings!

Irritating Child 2: I’m too happy – I want a natural depressant!

Ugly Child 3: And I want a surprise!

Woman: Artificial colourings, a natural depressant… and a surprise… all in one… it’s not possible… it’s not possible…


Woman: What a good idea! There you go kids.

Children: Yay!

Ugly Child 3: But where’s the surprise?

Woman: The surprise is that I haven’t given you a good wallop for being so bloody impertinent.

Ugly Child 3: What a rubbish surprise.

Woman: OK then – you were adopted. Surprise!

Getting kids into drinking also means that they should be well prepared for university life. Students would come to Imperial with a greater alcohol tolerance, which can only mean more money into the college coffers. And perhaps we’d see less vomiting in the union.

What better way to finish a fun night out than with your arms around a toilet bowl, retching so hard you can almost see your own intestines? While feeding your new ceramic friend your previous meal, you can find yourself asking questions – like, was there ever a man called Armitage Shanks? What is the Ideal Standard? All that graffiti on the cubicle wall – just why did all these people take a pen into the toilet? Why isn’t Kimberley Clark among the 100 Greatest Britons?

Just think, if it wasn’t for our Kim, you’d have nothing to clean the sick off your jeans with, except perhaps for spare copies of Felix. Now, this column may be full of bile, but I don’t want to see bits of sweetcorn in it as well.

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