Finally getting on with things…

For a long time, I’ve had this mental block which brings me to a creative halt when I have outstanding projects to finish. These can be small (like critiques on stories posted on the ERWA Storytime email list), or huge, like editing projects. Until I’d cleared the decks, I felt like I was writing furtively, or doing things that weren’t work. I might as well have held up a sign saying “Writer’s Block, come and settle here!”

I’m learning to dedicate time in the day for my own writing now, whatever may be going on in the background. Even if it’s half an hour when I’ve finished working, it’s still half an hour more than I’d achieve otherwise. I keep telling myself to just write and worry about editing later. I’ve also learned to write as scenes occur to me, and stop obsessing over linear perfection and cohesion. I need to make notes about the things that need to be adjusted further down the line for consistency, and just flipping well get on with things.

So, this is me getting on with things; the following excerpt is from “Biding his Time”, the third tale in the ‘Brotherhood of Bouncers’ series, which opened with the short story “Single Syllable Steve”. Colin features in SSS only off-screen as the bouncer whose paternity cover the eponymous Steve was covering when he met nightclub accountant Celeste.


Colin pulled across The Strand into William IV Street, struggling to keep track of the pedestrians swanning across the road from all angles while Leon reeled out an endless to-do list from the comfort of the passenger seat. His soft, Aruban accent was usually soothing, but it was becoming a dangerous distraction to the business of surviving West End traffic.

“The Hippodrome’s doing a costume night on the sixteenth, but it’s a pub-hours event only. We’ll want to soak up some of their after-party crowd, so you’ll need Aaron on the door to sift out the—WOAH!”

Colin slammed the brakes before hitting a hipster with headphones larger than Leia’s side buns and no sense of self-preservation. The guy glared at Colin and flipped him the bird.

“Christ, Col. Too close, man.”

“Well if you’d let me focus on the road—”

“It’s a long day ahead,” Leon said. “We need a head start.”

Colin took a deep breath, his hands still shaking. “I appreciate that, but it’s turning into a bit of a memory test. We’re two minutes from the club. Can’t it wait?”

Leon put his mobile away with a heavy sigh. “Fine, I’ll go through the whole thing for you all over again, even though life is short.”

“You’re all heart.”

“But we do need to discuss the Jemima situation before we arrive.”

Colin whined inwardly as he merged into the traffic at the Trafalgar end of Charing Cross Road. He’d vouched for Jem partly because of her four years’ experience managing club bars in Amsterdam and London, but mostly to get his brother-in-law off his back. One of Richard’s business school protegées, Jemima seemed to have absorbed some of her mentor’s megalomaniac tendencies. ‘Bossy mare’ and ‘uptight cow’ were just a couple of the names the barmen had bandied around on the quiet. It wasn’t entirely fair, but she didn’t make things easy for herself, either.

Leon slipped his mobile into his jacket pocket and sighed. “I don’t think she’s settling in well.”

“Right. Has she complained to you, or—?”

“Don’t play innocent, Col. She’s said nothing. As you’re well aware, she’s widely disliked. It’s hard not to notice her inability to blend in.”

Colin brought the Mercedes to a sharp halt at the junction with Shaftesbury Avenue as orange turned to red after a millisecond flash. Even the bloody traffic lights had it in for him this morning.

“Col, you know she’s a problem.”

“I know there’s a problem,” Colin conceded, “but it’s not exclusively with her.”

“Interesting. And you say this because…?”

“The lads started slagging her off at the exact moment she made it clear that she wasn’t just at work to be flirted with.”

“Ah.” Leon winced. “Difficult.”

“Just a bit.” At the green light, Colin let the car coast forward at a sluggish fifteen miles an hour, keeping pace with the battered Peugeot right in front.

Please change the subject.

He needed her to stay on the job a little longer, or at least crash and burn in a failure entirely of her own making. The thought of picking Barney up from Richard’s place for the weekend and having to tell his brother-in-law that his prize student hadn’t even lasted a month just didn’t bear thinking about. There would be endless digs about him sabotaging the poor girl, preventing her from thriving, and generally making a mockery of Richard’s legacy. At some point—and Colin feared this intensely—Richard would make one snide remark too many and earn himself a bloodied nose and a short, fast fall to the floor. How he’d managed to go so long without belting that pious fucker around the head was nothing short of a miracle.

But Colin needed the miracle to sustain itself.

Colin crushed the steering wheel in his palm, begging his blood pressure to come back from the stratosphere and rejoin normal orbit. Four more months of sobriety, stability and good income, and he’d have earned the right to regain full custody of his son.

Nothing could get in the way of getting Barney back.

“I need you to talk to the barmen,” Leon announced suddenly. “If I address them, they will never respect Jemima. They’ll think she came running to me because she couldn’t cope with the ‘banter’.”

“How is it different if I rap them over the knuckles instead of you? They’ll still give her the side-eye.”

“You have a way with them.”

Colin grimaced. “I’m bigger and I’m good at looking proper fucked off. I’m not sure that’s the same as ‘having a way’ with them.”

“It’s up to you, Col. But if you don’t intervene and Jemima can’t form them into a team, then she’ll have to go.”

“Fine. I’ll deal with it.”

Swearing under his breath, Colin invested all his energy in navigating the narrow back streets that led to the little car park that Elysium shared with the Greek kebab joint next door. It was tempting to take his frustration out on the handbrake and the car door, but Leon would make him pay for any damage.

He stomped to the back door that led to the club’s top floor offices, trying not to let his temper get the better of him. It seemed so unfair—he’d just left the personality politics of managing the bar crew behind him with his move to head up the security team, and now he was plunged balls-deep into the business of watching Jem’s back.

“One last thing,” Leon called, just as Colin had his key in the lock.

Five, four, three, two… one. Colin forced a smile. Turned. “Yeah?”

“Tell that dopey fool Gareth that he can’t keep leaving his hot dog cart in Mr Christou’s reserved parking space. Andreas won’t be on holiday forever.”

“Gaz reports to Jemima now.”

“Perhaps, but he seems to respond to your particular guidance.”

“Fuck’s sake, Leon! What am I, the wazzock-whisperer?”

Leon chuckled darkly as Colin pulled open the door to let them in. “Don’t be angry, Colin. It’s a gift.”

 

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Goodbye Irritating and Bastard… welcome to the new aids!!

A major reason I drank as much as I did was the ongoing distress and insanity caused by having a single hearing aid with appalling levels of feedback. It screamed, whistled and squeaked right in my lug-hole for eighteen months, and I had no option but to try to ignore it.

Between the feedback situation, the constant ear infections, and the abominable behaviour of many deaf-hating audiologists and ENT consultants, I reached often for bottles of anything over 37% proof.

But this is a post of joy. Joy, I tell you!

On Tuesday, I was fitted with new aids in BOTH ears 🙂 It was the first time I had my own equivalent of ‘full hearing’ in over two years. They’re made by Siemens and they’re really flashy. They were an absolute shock to the system when first turned on.

When the settings were complete and the audiologist (lovely fella call Matt) diverted sound from laptop to aids, I shot vertically off my seat as if launched by NASA. It’s a damn good job I’m sober now because I dread to think how much of a heart attack I’d have had if hungover during the fitting.

He scraped his chair back and it was like someone dragging a drain cover across Tarmac. I stared at the chair, wondering how the ungovernable frig it could possibly make that much noise. But once I’d got used to the concept of actual VOLUME in my ears, I was cock-a-hoop. Matt warned me that a lot of stuff would come as a surprise over the next few days, and sent me off home with an app for my phone to change the aid settings.

Oh my word—the last two days have been an eye-opener.  The zip on my jeans sounds like a Lambourgini braking on gravel.

I’ve also discovered that we possibly possess the world’s noisiest fridge. I cringe to think of all the times I flatly denied sneaking a middle-of-night snack, now knowing that the opening of the door can probably be heard in Bristol, let alone upstairs in the bedroom. I don’t know whether to clip hubby round the ear for humouring me for four years, or whether to kiss him for his patience. Christ. The hinge went off like a bunch of competitive crypt doors, and the motor was like a million mosquitoes farting in a wind tunnel.

I’m getting used to things now. Although my world is temporarily RATHER STARTLING, it’s also more peaceful.

In terms of writing, I also stand a much better chance of writing convincing hearing characters, which I’ve always really struggled with. That’s going to be like a breath of fresh air! Though my favourite bouncer Steve is severely deaf, his life-long mate Colin isn’t. I’m feeling much more confident about writing his story now 🙂

A good use of energy?

Right, so apart from desperately trying to get some work done over the last couple of weeks, I’ve also been busy exercising and note-taking for my various writing projects. I’ve also been trying to help a friend find a picture of a sexy bloke for the cover of her novel. This hasn’t been a joyful activity. Her parameters for ‘sexy’ are quite tight, and it seems that where ‘Getty Images’ is concerned, you need to be careful of what you wish for. Searching for ‘hot man’ produced this, for example…

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Yes, quite.

Happily she found the name of a model she liked and found a bunch of pictures all by herself, thus relieving me of my supportive duties. That gave me back some time for my next non-working task… exercise.

The exercise has been an ongoing endurance test since I woke up on 13th October and decided I was never going to drink again. Because I’m as skint as a flint with an over-extended overdraft, running has become my thing. It’s a bit too dark to run at the times I’m most inclined to want a drink (5pm onwards), but I’m definitely benefitting from opening the day with some decent exercise. I’ve dusted off my FitBit and started tracking everything again.

The key benefit of the FitBit is that it gives me something else to obsess over. And oh boy… it’s so easy to obsess over reaching daily goals. Here are mine:

Floors climbed (8)
Steps achieved (6k min)
Calories expended (2100)
Exercise completed (10 mins a day min)

Each little icon lights up a pleasingly cheery shade of green when you’ve hit your goal for the day. If you’ve done really well and hit all your goals, you get a sort of green waterfall of celebration sweeping across your screen. It’s very satisfying. Who wouldn’t want to put their energy into that?

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Only issue is… FitBit can be a little glitchy. Sometimes it refuses to acknowledge the exercise you’ve just done. You could be standing in a puddle of your own sweat, syncing your phone app like a loonie to make it catch up with your watch, but sometimes the app just doesn’t want to know.

As a case in point (pic below) FitBitch was quite happy to admit that I’d done 24 consecutive minutes of painful jogging, but why oh WHY does that not show up in the ‘tracking exercise’ window? (For FitBit newbies, that’s the one with the little bloke running in the pentagram).

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You can arrange the settings so that you get a rewarding little ‘ping’ for each hour that you move more than 250 steps, but FitBitch has been known to stiff me of the occasional hour. Usually the last hour of five, when I’ve had an otherwise impeccable run of success.

Conversely, I’m sometimes rewarded for trudging around the supermarket at a not particularly impressive pace. Where’s the justice? Where’s the consistency?

But overall, the FitBitch and I get on absolutely fine. Even while I sit here, calling it rude names and ranting about its occasional shortcomings, it’s a lot better for me than what I would otherwise be doing right now on a Sunday night…

… drinking, and trying to write.

They don’t happen together, I find. I might occasionally (accidentally) hit upon a witticism, but drinking to get my imagination going wasn’t working. Since I’ve stopped, I’ve poured my entire capacity for linear working (ie writing scenes as they appear on my outline) into my paid work. This has left me with very little capacity for doing the same with my own writing under my own name.

However, the good news is that scenes are starting to write themselves in my head again. I can jot down notes quickly about arguments my characters have, and they make sense later (which is a blessed relief.) I’ve started making notes on motivations, bits of conversation, bits of backstory, and ideas for how subplots evolve and feed back into the main story. As I start to balance work, fitness and time to write in a more effective way, I hope to get moving on actual writing again.

I look forward to that – I’ve missed it.

Seeking brilliance, not brain-ache

 

blocked nose

My sinuses are blazing like they’re mustering the energy to launch a rocket into space, my eyes are watering, and I ache EVERYWHERE. I look like a vampire who’s been caught out by the clocks going forward.

But it’s okay, I can cope. I might feel like physical s**t, but I’m still feeling reasonably cheerful because…

It’s not a hangover!

Still sober, and currently on day 16, I’m delighted to report.

But yeah, my brain hurts like the vodka vixen grabbed me by the heels last night and swung me around her head a few times in a room full of small but painful ornaments. I’ve made some lovely vertical-spoon soup, which has helped, and in a minute I’m going for a walk to blow some cobwebs off, and then it’s back to work.

The slight dilemma I have at the moment is that my brain has chosen the worst time to get all energetic with plot and scene ideas for two projects at the same time. After I’m done with my day job, I do like to figure out what’s next for my novel-writing schemes. My priority is, and should be, the continuation of “A Brotherhood of Bouncers” (ABB).  However, my muse is clearly still on the sauce (even if I’m not) and she’s pelting me with ideas for silly scenes for the sequel to ABB! Maddening stuff!

Advice please, people! How do you lot cope when someone’s opened the door of the plot bunny hutch and let all the little buggers rampage around the place? As an editor, I’ve got nearly 15 years’ experience. As a writer under my own name? Not a great deal!

Confessions, Concessions and Fresh Starts…

Confessions

Okay – this isn’t easy for me to admit, so I’m going to come straight out with it: I’ve stopped drinking.

That’s not really a confession, is it? Right. I’ll try that again.

Confession—I was having serious trouble controlling my drinking and knew I had to stop. I’d completely lost my ability to moderate.

Phew. That was hard.

Realising that I had to stop didn’t arise from any specific crisis or melt-down, I’m relieved to say. I hadn’t had a huge row with my other half, or disgraced myself at work. I hadn’t failed to do something I was supposed to do because I was too hungover to move, and nor had I said something horrid to my son in an emotional wine-fuelled temper. I was still able to put hand on heart and say that I wasn’t working (editing or ghostwriting) under the influence.

However, I was beginning to panic. Although I wasn’t drinking every day, I was certainly drinking up to five days a week, and I found that once I’d started, I literally couldn’t stop. If I didn’t have that first G&T of the evening, I’d be fine. But once I’d had that first, then I had to get drunk.

I’d tried moderating before, but that just slowed down the addiction. I went alcohol-free for a time, hoping it would reset my body’s relationship with alcohol, but—guess what—my heavy patterns not only returned, but got worse.

In short, I was still at the point where I’d have felt like a fraud if I’d walked into an AA meeting (though I’m sure I’d be made welcome), but I absolutely knew I had to get some help because my situation was only going to head downhill.

On recommendation from a friend, I looked up ‘The Sober Diaries’ (by Clare Pooley) and read it from cover to cover in three days. I didn’t drink while I was reading, and I haven’t had an alcoholic drink since. I’ve also found a wonderful Facebook group: ‘Club Soda Together’. I have absolutely no doubt that I’d have caved in and headed for the off-licence at least three times in the first week if I hadn’t been busy replying to posts and commenting for a couple of hours on end.

Long may it continue. As far as my family and long-term friends are concerned, I’m doing Sober October (for now). I’m sure they will be supportive when I do get around to admitting that I’d stopped drinking out of fear rather than out of the passion for better health, but I’m not quite ready for that in-depth conversation yet. I just want to focus on the monumental lifestyle change ahead of me.

 

Concessions

I did have one major achievement this year; being part of the editorial team to critique, select, polish and assemble stories for my online writer’s group “Storytime”, which is the writing workshop of the Erotica Readers and Writers’ Association. It’s been nine months in the making, but I’m delighted to announce the release of “Twisted Sheets: Tales of Sizzling Menage.” for the fab promo price of a mere 99p, or $1.30.  That is less than the cost of the orange juice that goes into a mocktail. Bargain.

It’s already in the top 5 rankings for its category on Amazon. Wippeee! Here’s the link! It should open in the Amazon Store in the country where you live. Ideally.

https://amzn.to/2yoyzbe

I was really proud to be part of bringing this anthology together. Many a SOBER hour was invested in helping the authors to get their stories into the best possible shape, and it was a great project to be involved in.

 

And Fresh Starts…

One thing that has happened since I’ve stopped drinking is that my imagination seems to be coming back to life. I’ve been telling myself to get ON WITH MY BLOODY NOVEL for about six months now, and finally some productive note-making is taking place.

I wrote ‘Single Syllable Steve’ back in 2015 as a short story (pre Kindle Unlimited, when standalone, longish short stories were more fashionable) and I’m embarrassed not to have followed it up yet with the longer sequel suggested in the reviews.

My plan now is to create together a series: “A Brotherhood of Bouncers”, following the adventures of Steve (a uniquely vast but deaf bouncer) and all the other lads who he connects with by setting up the WhatsApp social group ‘West-End Ladz’ for doormen and floormen. The first full novel is Steve’s, then that of his best mate Colin, and so on and so forth. I do like creating a universe, and I’m a sucker for cross-over characters and details 😊

Please wish me well for a more prolific future.

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Clowns Hysterectomy, Jokers to the right… (the joy of getting the song lyrics wrong)

All of us have, at some point, seen things that we can’t unsee, however hard we try.

I’ve found over the years that it’s almost as impossible to un-hear something. The worst offenders for things that get stuck in your head (after earworm) are misheard song lyrics. A short time ago, a friend of mine shared the meme below, which brought back some memories:

Ken doll

I first heard this as “Sandal in the bin’, and even once I’d read the entire set of lyrics on the CD single insert, I couldn’t get my brain to accept the true version of the song. It was as if the wrongness had imprinted itself in my mind and nothing could overwrite it.

I had similar problems with Rod Stewart’s “Fart Like a Tiger”.

Madonna was shocking for poor diction. I suppose it didn’t help that I was really young when ‘La Isla Bonita’ was released, and therefore not really au fait with currencies around the world, but once I’d heard “young girl with eyes like potatoes”, I couldn’t make “pesetas” work. And as for “Like a Virgin”, I was convinced she’d been touched for the thirty-first time… which struck me as less than virginal, even at the tender age of about nine. It was all very possible, of course. If said virgin was applying the ‘suck it and see’ approach to dating, then it’s perfectly possible that she’d clocked up 31+ fumbles before doing the deed. Just not particularly likely.

It wasn’t always my weird imagination at work. You listen to “Me Israelite” and tell me you don’t hear “me ears ‘re alight.” I was always convinced that Fats Domino found his drill on Blueberry Hill (he wasn’t a fan of pronouncing his ‘th’, that man), and that the Beatles sung “I wanna hold your gland.”

It’s not me honest, guv – it’s all these people who can’t enunciate their consonants.

Now that I can’t hear music much at all anymore, I’m rather vulnerable to dastardly friends fitting new lyrics to well-known songs, and over-writing my memory of how the song sounds. I was at work once when my colleagues were bickering about opera and how dreadful/wonderful it is with equal force. Opera’s advocate, Cookie, said you can put anything in an opera and it will sound good. Challenged to sing operatically about curry, he launched into “Nessun Korma**”, and that is now the version I have stuck in my memory bank. Thanks Cookie!

I need to point accusingly at Tony J Fyler, too, for re-penning that Pink Floyd Classic “Another Prick with a Wall” to the extent that I can’t hear the original version in my head anymore. Cheers Tony!

So… which song lyrics haunt you? I think most people have heard Bon Jovi belting out “It doesn’t matter if we’re naked or not” during Livin’ on a Prayer, so that doesn’t count. C’mon… hit me with your misheard lyrics 🙂

Tig xxxx

Nessun Korma
Nessun Korma
Nihili Naan bread
fuck-all pakora….

How to give odd advice and alienate people

Last month, Network Rail posted an awareness video on Facebook and Twitter to draw attention to the dangers of not being fully alert at level/railroad crossings (pick the term suitable to where you’re from.)

Here is the video in question:

https://www.facebook.com/networkrail/videos/1944181585605896/

An alternative link is here:

http://limpingchicken.com/2018/06/29/controversy-over-network-rail-safety-advert-showing-deaf-couple-being-hit-at-level-crossing/

On the off-chance that Network Rail are shamed into removing this advert before you have a chance to look at it, here’s the upshot, in bullet form:

  • Deaf signing couple walking down the street, signing.
  • They pass beneath an open gate to a railway crossing, with no lights flashing.
  • The female of the couple realises that she’s lost something and frantically pats herself down while her partner looks on, concerned.
  • The gates come down and the lights start flashing.
  • The girl looks down the tracks in a sudden panic and the screen goes black.
  • A warning flashes up on the screen, which reads:

    “Lives can change in a split second. Look, listen and live. #Bossingthecrossing.”

There is no question that this is a controversial advert. I spent a few hours thinking about this after seeing it (I couldn’t stop thinking about it!) but after some considerable mind-chewing, I’m still falling on the side of the fence which says, “Network Rail, you’re an abominable set of ignorant, patronising nerks.”

It’s quite loud on that side of the fence, as clearly shown on Network Rail’s own FB page, which (at the time of writing) shows 28 angry faces, two likes, and one ‘wow’. And not one of the comments is complimentary, the general gist being, “we’re deaf! not stupid!”

This is a copy of the response given by Network Rail to one of the more vociferous complainers:

“Firstly, many thanks for taking the time to write this email.

Secondly, we apologise that you feel the advert is distasteful as this wasn’t our intention to be insensitive. This particular film is part of a larger safety campaign for a wide number of pedestrian level crossing users including cyclists, dog walkers, young people, parents, and people with sensory impairments. We wanted to be inclusive so we created these targeted films to relate to our varying audiences and increase engagement, not alienate them. In addition to this we engaged a profoundly deaf colleague, Paul, and he provided valuable input before signing off the storyboards and film. Paul said “this scenario could happen to anyone from any walk of life.” Furthermore we have been working with the following charities and organisations for them to support our safety message so we best reach our target audiences:

RAD (Royal Association for Deaf people); RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People); Ramblers Association; Scope; Mencap; Dogs Trust; Sustrans, and ROSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents).

Finally, the purpose of our campaign films is to raise awareness about level crossing safety – it has nothing to do with ethnicity, sensory impairment, religion, or sexuality. It’s really important for us to ensure that everyone is safe around level crossings and therefore we hope you might now look to support this campaign.”

I’m sure they mean it. I used to work for the Home Office, within the Honours system. I know how much time I spent making sure things were as fair as humanly possible, while having to listen to people sneering about how the whole system was an old boy’s club whenever I went to the pub. I have a great deal of sympathy for any underling or official who’s worked like a slave to get a number of ambassadorial bodies to comment positively on a borderline project.

I can also appreciate the following basic points:

  • The earlier adverts had shown people putting themselves at risk from sheer stupidity, and no doubt they wanted to make it clear that danger also occurred to the blamelessly vulnerable.
  • There are inattentive wazzocks across all walks of life. Deaf people are not immune.
  • Level crossings are not as safe as they look.
  • Trains move faster than we think.
  • Train drivers suffer lasting trauma from accidental human impacts.
  • The folks at Network Rail are human and simply do not want people to die on the railways.

All this, I get.

But even with this burst of philosophical support, the advert is still so wrong on a number of levels. Lemme break this down.

Procedural Reality

  1. Crossing gates come down earlier for non-stopping trains than for stopping trains.
  2. If NR are seriously trying to say that you will get splatted within seven seconds of being caught between the crossing gates, then they have global safety issues to reconsider. Surely, with such a short lead time between gates coming down and trains roaring through, there should be inward-facing flashing lights, not just ones directed towards oncoming traffic?
  3. ONE deaf person has been killed on a level crossing in 30 years. One. We don’t represent the vulnerable demographic of people likely to be slain by trains.

Deaf reality

  1. We can’t hear, so we tend to pay MORE attention to our surroundings for residual hazards, not less. But thanks, y’know, for the vote of confidence.
  2. We might not be able to hear. And indeed, we might have a moment of panic about the whereabouts of our vital possessions while crossing a level crossing, but… IF A TRAIN IS ONLY SEVEN SECONDS AWAY, WE WILL FEEL THE SODDING VIBRATIONS AND LEG IT.

Wider Perception of the deaf

  1. From the mildly deaf to the profound, we ALL spend more than enough of our lives hearing the phrase ‘are you deaf or something?’  This advert does not help, with its closing warning about looking, listening and living.  Deaf people can still listen. It’s hearing we can’t do.
  2. Signers have excellent peripheral awareness. They need it. The chances of them not spotting gates closing just feet away are really quite slim.
  3. Gate visibility aside, and referring back to part 1, deaf people are NOT stupid, and more likely to confine their mad, panicked hunts for missing valuables to one side of a level crossing as a matter of self-preservation.

I could rant about this all night, but I’m not going to. I think I’ve set out the key problems with this ad, and I sincerely believe that adverts like this set back public estimations of deaf people by twenty years all over again.

We have enough obstacles in being taken seriously as intelligent, contributing members of society without this nonsense.

If you’re not deaf, but annoyed by proxy, then please SHARE. Share on Twitter, Facebook, Blogs and casual conversation. Let’s drive this kind of thinking back into the ‘unapproved’ pile, where it belongs.

Please.