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Cocktail bars are the leavings of busy metropolitan life. Generally situated down city side streets they are hidden and enigmatic. Inside, the occupants have worked hard in the day and are there to have fun. It’s a static catwalk. You’ve already been judged by the shoes that you walked in with and after glancing down at your brogues you look back up. You’re at the bar already. This is your chance to shine.

A sneaky, over-the-shoulder panoramic reveals several people are in close vicinity. The women are wearing dresses named specifically for the occasion, cocktail dresses. The men are wearing cocktail trousers and shirts because they exist.

“Serve me that lady drink in a different glass”

You probably shouldn’t give the barman an answer that’s too common like ‘Mojito’ because that will bore him and you’ll look terribly basic. Yet you want a cocktail that you might actually enjoy, not one that will blow your socks off and not one that flaunts a fluorescent colour, sparkler or piece of fruit.

It’s not too superficial of you to care what your cocktail looks like. Cocktails, like the clothes that you wear, hold a certain degree of material value to onlookers. They’ve been sitting in the clutches of literary and cinematic icons for years. Think Bond and Martini. Think Mafia and Manhattan. Think Hemingway and Daiquiri.

A pink Cosmopolitan might taste like a dream to you but holding one of those doesn’t make you look, what word should we use? ‘Cool’. That’s not to say that you’re uncomfortable with your masculinity either. You might be wearing a pink shirt or tie. And if you are uncomfortable with being a man you wouldn’t be reading a metrosexual article such as this – that’s unless you’re shielding your laptop from your wife and are going to erase all history before bed. You savage man.

The truth is I’m not going to suggest a cocktail that you should order. I haven’t got one. I adore Mojitos but there’s too many Bacardi Mojito ready mixes out there for me. It’s a risky world. The best thing to do is be spontaneous. React to the situation. If you feel like having a pink one then you go girl and if you feel like saying to the barman, ‘serve me that lady drink in a different glass’ then that’s fine. It’s up to you. Try new things.

My technique is asking every barman for a ‘manly cocktail’. Many look at me in anguish. In fact I’ve been given several cocktails which taste like turps (if you’re a man you should know what turps is, or so I was once told. Here you go, you non-man: turps ).

 

Yesterday I did my Christmas shopping. I was fast, fleeting and almost predatory in the process. If my shopping had been a football player, it would have been Thierry Henry. If it had been a film character, it would have been Jason Bourne. There was no mess, no frills and no last minute havoc. Here are four not so conventional tips on how to do it:

Make a list

Nani Power, contemporary author and writer of Crawling at Night once said, ‘Lists are life’. I don’t necessarily agree with her but they’re bloody important and Power’s quote emphasises that. Make a list in your head if you’re only buying for a few, write it down somewhere if you’re buying for a lot. We don’t want you forgetting anyone.

Don’t wear excess clothing

Don’t go marching around the shops in your thermals, jumper and coat. That’s stupid. You’ll get too hot, fed up and hate shopping. You’ll probably buy everyone rubbish presents. You should risk being cold for that trip to the car or train for comfort in the shops. That’s where it matters today. You must be in the zone. The shops are your zone.

Have breakfast

If it means missing your train and getting one in 15 minutes, nip into Costa or Starbucks or even better, a Pret. Get some nosh to set you for the day. There’ll be no meal stopping in the afternoon. You’ll probably be too busy and stressed.

Cards first presents second

Cards are your one of your only chances to add some personality to your Christmas present. Think long and hard about your card. Stand your ground in there too. People like to push and shove. But don’t forget your manners obviously.

Ever wondered how readable your incredible, superhuman writing is to an average human being? Well there is a formula which should leave you wondering no more.

The SMOG readability formula which was created by writer, journalist and psychologist Harry McLaughlin in 1969 (so it’s been around for some time) estimates a piece of writing’s readability level. There are many other readability formulas out there that are used by some advertising companies and other businesses, but the SMOG formula has been proven to be one of the most accurate. A more recent adaption of the SMOG formula goes like this:

Step 1: From your text, count 10 sentences in a row at the beginning, 10 sentences in the middle and 10 at the end. Yes that’s 30 sentences you superhuman writer.

 Step 2: From your 30 sentences, count how many words there are with 3 or more syllables. These words are called polysyllables. If you haven’t got 30 sentences, count the polysyllables in 10 sentences and multiply by 3.

 Step 3: Calculators out (we’re writers, not mathematicians), find the square root of this number.

 Step 4: Add 8 and you’re done. You have your readability level.

 A readability of less than 10 would be understood by most people.

 

Whilst the SMOG formula may not account for other factors that might affect your text’s readability such as the size and type of font, text layout and the reader’s previous knowledge of the subject, it still remains a useful tool. It probably works best when comparing two pieces of writing.

For example:

I compared the readability levels of a speech transcript from Barack Obama and a speech transcript from David Cameron who both addressed their nations not so long ago on a similar subject. Obama’s speech readability level was far higher at nearly 14 whereas Cameron’s was around 10.5. That’s not to say that our Prime Minister lacks on the vocabulary front. Some might say Obama used complex lexis to portray himself as a highly educated gentleman to his nation. Some might suggest otherwise. It’s all about language and power. Interesting.

If you’re not so enthralled by the subject of language and power, you could use the SMOG formula to tell your arch nemesis the readability level of their work. Simply comment below one of their blogs, ‘Your readability level is __’ as if to suggest that their work is simply not adequate enough for your omnipotent eyes. That’ll show them.

Be lazy and use this SMOG calculator for your writing: http://www.niace.org.uk/misc/SMOG-calculator/smogcalc.php

Robert x

When I was on Brick Lane, London shopping last weekend, I saw this in a shop window. I think it’s brilliant.

A detailed, hand crafted, miniature cardboard city sprinkled with white paper tweets.

Twitter Snow!

There were little printing machines dropping down snowflakes through holes in the ceiling. Ingenious!

Upon watching a recent television series on Channel 4 called ‘Alone in the Wild’, I decided that what we really like watching on TV is sometimes quite shocking. Just like generations before us who have freely watched notoriously vulgar entertainment such as public hangings and bear baiting, we instead are allowed to watch the suffering of fellow human beings in the comfort of our own homes.

‘Alone in the Wild’: A program where a man is left for dead in what reviewers called ‘bear land’ (obviously a pleasant destination) for 12 weeks with only the clothes on his back and a rucksack full of things that would help him live if he was nearly dead, no larger than the one that I will be taking to Glastonbury Festival this year.

When watching ‘Alone in the Wild’ the adverts arrived and then followed a period of boredom where I decided to shout, as part of an experiment, to my girlfriend who was in the next room:

‘A bear has got him!’

At this point my girlfriend came running in with the expectancy and hope to see a man being ripped to shreds by a bear. Unfortunately I had tricked her but proved that what we like to sit and watch at night is humans getting as close to dying as is physically possible.

The same is the case with the ‘Bear Grylls’ series. This kind of program is one of the few programs that will appeal to both ends of the audience spectrum. The intellectually capable who admire the skill it takes to ascend down a mountain whilst still wounded from being stung by a poisonous animal. And the not so capable who like the way the guy on their screens flirts with death frequently until yet again – he nearly gets killed. Fantastic.

These series though, however crude they may be are very clever. They have a balance between a program which people see as interesting and educational and a program which people see as fun. This is the kind of balance that may even deem the program acceptable to let your kids stay up that little later for, because of course they may need how to make a tree trap one day if they were to fall out of a plane into a forest full of predators.

Perhaps Ray Mears should add a bit of excitement into his books or series. Maybe he could get chased, he could get nearly stung in the head or eaten by a tiger…But then again I can’t help myself believing that the adrenaline rush would get to that poor, peaceful man’s head and he would just simply run off the end of a cliff. His ‘old man’s beard’* or edible berries wouldn’t save him then would they.

*’Old man’s beard’ – a material that is produced by a tree that Ray Mears refers to in almost every program he makes. It helps with fire lighting and looks like wool or white hair, hence the name.

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