Friday, October 29, 2010

Just Looking

We all do this, right? Give someone the once over, the double take? You’re walking around town and you see someone who is a bit of alright and you do the ol’ double take; risk whiplash injury just to feast on a cat-like walk or breasts that appear to be full of helium or, if you are of the other persuasion, visually nail a pert bottom or a tight 6-pack to the mast of your imagination for the rest of the day.

There is no crime in looking. We all do it – both male and female. Neither my wife and I believe in thought crimes. An instinctive look at “a looker” is fine. It’s the acting on it that is morally reprehensible. But I’m not here to talk about extra-marital naughtiness (no, I’m saving that for my autobiography... Joke. It would a single page document, totally blank, ‘cos as Hall & Oates once memorably sang: I can’t go for that, no-o, no can do).

So I’m walking past a building that has just had some renovation work done on it. And the scaffolding team are all over it like the spiders on my bathroom wall taking down their magnificent erection of scaff poles and walk boards. And on the other side of the road a lovely leggy brunette walks by. She looks about 18. She has a canvas bag draped over her shoulder. I take one look at her and think grumpily to myself, “student,” which tells you where my headspace was on that day, and I carry on walking.

I can’t help noticing, however, the sudden very pregnant hiatus in the endeavours of the scaff team. It’s like some villain from Doctor Who has flicked a switch and the secret aliens they’ve been hosting inside their beer-ballooned bodies have suddenly become active and, as one, have taken over their minds. The Midwich Cuckolds are alive, well and drooling over the plaster crapped surface of their flatbed truck. One of them has a scaff pole down the front of his trousers so big it isn’t going to be taken down any time soon, I can tell you.

And I think to myself: poor girl. Because she knows she’s being eyeballed. There’s a sudden awkwardness to her gait that wasn’t there before. A nervous stiffness to her stride. She is shrivelling, red-faced, beneath the look these bozos are giving her en masse.

Because this is no Dusty Springfield Look Of Love... this is a Sir Les Patterson look of pure lust.

And I kind of got the idea that it didn’t matter that, really, truthfully, this girl was a bit of a plain Jane. She was OK but not a looker. Pretty – but normal pretty. The kind of girl who I hope will meet a guy who’ll fall in love with her properly and for herself and not just for her external prettiness. Not a supermodel whose looks ultimately will be her undoing as she ends up with some shallow third division footballer dickhead. An aesthetic benchmarking of her looks didn’t come into it. To the guys on their scaffold tower she was female. She was female and showing a bit of leg. She was sexual entertainment. She was fair game for a going over in the same way that the well bazooka’d lass on the 3rd page of their daily tabloid was there purely for their hormonal amusement. These guys must surely spend their days lurching from one instance of testicular quickening to the next.

But – and this is where I felt uncomfortable – is this how I appear when I take a gander at a lovely little lady walking by? Because, somewhere in the back of my tiny little mind, I assume I look at a passing vision of beauty in the same way I’d look at a vision of beauty in an art gallery. Yes, it is an objectifying look but in this instance isn’t that better than the overly personal leery looks that these builders were dishing out? Or is there no difference between our looks at all?

Because I have no idea what I look like when I look at someone. Do any of us?

Now I know I’m fastening onto the dirty male gaze here but, let’s be honest about this, women look too. And I have seen some women look at a man the same way these guys were looking at this poor girl. And it is just as ugly. The intent behind it is just wrong.

So now I’m wondering: is it always wrong to look? Or are some looks more wrong than others? What makes them more wrong? Are there, after all, thought crimes that some people should be duly admonished for?

What do you think?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Guest Blog Post: Lord Sugar Speaks

First off, right, I’m sick of all this mouthiness that is infecting my blogging boardroom at present. If I wanted that kind of earache I’d spend more time at home wiv my missus and my kids. It’s like a bloody East End market at present wiv everyone giving it the ol’ rabbit and making out that their stall is better than everybody else’s when nobody, from what I can see, is flogging anyfin worthwhile.

Well, I don’t need that kind of aggro, right? You lot need to get wiv the programme and start working as a team. Together. Cos I don’t care who done what to whom or who said what to whoever. Bovvered I ain’t, you got that? I got bigger fish to fry. If I spent as much time as you lot did arguing the toss abaht who bullied who or who slagged off which slag I’d never have enough time to keep me beard in the tip top trimmed condition that you lot see it in every bleeding Wednesday night on your tellys.

It ain’t how I do business, you capiche? You gotta prioritize. That’s the first lesson I learned when I was hawking me barrow around Chigwell market when I were a young nipper no bigger’n knee high to a grasshopper gor blimey gov. You puts your stuff in your shop-winda and you sells it. You saves the argy-bargy for private when you’re at home or dahn the boozer when you can glass the odd chav wivout the rozzers jumping onto you the minute the claret hits the pavement. Take a tip from me, have a good getaway driver lined up wiv a towel and bowl of soapy water cos you’re gonna need it. DNA has tripped up even the best of businessmen these days. CSI Bloggosphere is the next big fing I’m telling yer.

So what else can you do abaht it?

Well, if you wants to keep your ‘ands clean, you comes to me to sort it aht in my capacity as a peacekeeping troubleshooting mediator. And that’s what’s happened here, see. This bloke, Steve What’s-is-face has come to me cap in hand like a good little Jewish boy even though he’s bleeding C of E, moaning about all the back biting and the conflicts that are currently doing the round in the blogging world. He’s harping on about the bloody Clone Wars or somefing, I don’t know, all I know is he’s given me a nice little back hander and said he’ll endorse me latest Amstrad gadget the iSugar (a nice little app to sack lightweights from the comfort of your raspberry or whatever they’re bleedin’ well called). Anyway, this Steve fella knows how fings works, see? You get your back scratched and then you get your fingernails dirty wiv someone else’s skin. It’s how it bleedin’ works, right?

But what-bleedin-ever. The point is I’ve ‘ad me stalwart assistants, Nick ‘Hewn From Rock’ Hewer and Karren ‘The Brady Bunch’ Brady, keepin’ a close eye on the activities of the two blogging teams out there – the pink mumsy bloggers and the bluesy everybody elses and I ain’t liking what I’m seein’. There’s a lot of posturin’ and a lot of scratchin’ and bitin’. But what profits are you lot showing? There’s a lot of hot air but no-one’s balloon is being floated up to the highest height if you get my meaning. It’s like everyone’s intent on knifing Caesar but nobody knows who Caesar bleedin’ well is.

Well, take it from me, I’m the only Caesar around ‘ere and no-one is sticking a Stanley knife between my unwaxed shoulder blades anytime soon.

So put up, shut up and get on wiv your business. Now bugger off back to the house.

Right. That’s that sorted then. Karren, get me a mug o’tea darlin’, one sugar please. Geddit? Did you see what I did there, Karren, luv? No? Well, you’re bleedin’ well fired then. Get aht!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Return Of The Blogging Jedi

So last week I felt a tremor in the Force; you know that weird mystical energy that binds all blogs together, that flows through and around them? It’s called the internet or something...

Anyway, it gave me bad dreams, nightmares, a strange prescience of the blogging world that is to come. My master told me to quieten my mind and accept what I saw, to let go of my blogging attachments. “The Future it is that you see in your mind. Your fears let go of you must. In the Force trust you may.”

I told him to go and get stuffed. I don’t know about you but I don’t take orders or advice from someone who looks like a talking sprout and talks like a Norwegian exchange student.

It was possibly the worst move I ever made. I can see that now.

I was wholly unprepared for what happened next.

Out of the technological darkness came a dark shape. All in black. A cape. A mask. That anonymous heavy breathing that I normally only hear on the phone at 4am in the morning. We fought. Our light sabers clashing and humming like vibrators at a Hugh Hefner private video party.

I confess, I got cocky. I thought I was already a Jedi and could do anything, that I was unassailable. But I slipped. I fell. I found myself on my butt, on a gantry suspended thousands of feet above a man-made electronic chasm.

A black gloved hand reached out to me.

“Steve, Steve, the blogging Force is strong in you. Join with me and we can overthrow the rulers of the bloggosphere.”

“No!” I cried. “I’ll never join you!” I tried to raise my vibrator saber again but the battery was flat.

The mask spoke again. “Obi Wan never told you the truth about the blogging world...”

“He told me enough!” I snarled. “He said that you corrupted all the mummy bloggers! That you destroyed them all!”

“No, Steve.” The mask shook its head and thrust its gloved hand towards me one more time. “I am your mummy blogger. Join me, we can rule the internet mummy blogger and... er... daddy blogger.”


What could I do? What was left to do?

I hurled myself screaming and nauseous from the gantry and after a fall of what seemed like aeons I found myself back in the garbage dump where I’d originally started – surrounded by all the usual stuff I write about: crap times at work, poor finances, all the women I fancy off the telly and all the drunks and oddballs of Leamington Spa.

And a cat in hell’s chance of ever being offered the chance to endorse the latest Nestle breast pump or Palitoy home liposuction kit.

God it’s good to be back.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Black Day For Blogging

It’s a black day for blogging, folks.

It’s a black day when one blogger can accuse another of bullying and yet use the tactics of the bully to try and silence them.

It’s a black day when everyman’s right to free dialogue and to express their own opinion is gagged.

It’s a black day when, here in England, freedom of speech is denied.

It’s a black day for blogger’s everywhere when one blogger seeks to dictate what another blogger can write about on their own blog and threatens both Police and legal action should they ignore this dictat.

Where to begin?

I don’t intend to rake over the entire debacle here – and believe me it is a debacle. It all started on Wednesday when Heather posted a witty and cutting post about some horrid Shhblogger site that was seeking to stir up trouble. I didn’t read this blog myself as I couldn’t be bothered and now it has been judiciously removed.

Heather’s post stirred up a lot of commenters and one of these caught my eye with the amount of punishment they were dishing out, rightly or wrongly (who knows?) to other bloggers. You can follow the link and read it all. I am not going to paraphrase other people’s words for fear of casting my own bias upon them. In the interests of free speech and individual opinion it’s important you make your own mind up if you have a care to dig deeper.

Anyway, this commenter went by the name of 20somethingmum (I’m not going to link to her as I don’t think she’d thank me and I see little point in not naming her; follow the link and you’ll soon identify her for yourself) and in one of her comments proudly proclaimed she was a chav from the chav motherland. Ill advisedly – I admit – this tickled me and I responded with something along the lines of (yes I’m quite happy and legally entitled to paraphrase myself): interesting name but you do realize all them beer and fags will make you look like a 50something mum?

Yes, I admit it was childish. Ill thought out and, in retrospect, better left unsaid. But you know, sometimes you are fed a line and the innate stand-up comedian in you has to come back with something. Unlike 20somethingmum I’m happy to be open and honest about all this and take whatever brickbats or laurels you, my blogging peers, care to thrown at me.

More words were said. I was accused of being a bully. An accusation I thought a little unfair. A pisstaker yes – but a bully? Am I really? I then made the point to ‘20sm’ that her own comments on this post were full of far more invective towards other people than my comment had been to her. I thought that might be the end of it. A little mid-week diversion. One of those curious little spats that sometimes erupt in the blogging world.

I got on with my day.

Later in the evening I was warned that 20sm was having a go at me on Twitter and demanding my email address! Presumably so she could write to me and give me a damned good telling off! Now, I don’t know about you, but giving my email address out to all and sundry is a big no-no. Private and personal data and all that. If someone wants to have a go at me there is my blog sitting quite happily on-line for people to avail themselves of (and believe me they do). I was dismayed at the sheer number of Tweets this person was generating towards me. I – again, ill advisedly – decided to reply; to stick up for myself rather than leaving it to my friends to do so. So I sent some Tweets back along the lines of ‘aren’t we making this bigger than it ought to be’ and ‘isn’t it about time we all moved on, I was sorry they were upset it was just meant to be a mild pisstake’. I’m sure my Tweets are still online for those of you that want to read them. Again, I’m happy to make this whole process transparent and take your censure on the chin.

I thought that this then, finally, would be the end of it.

Not so. 20sm has published a post about the whole thing on her blog today. As she has a perfect right to do. I wouldn’t dare challenge her right to put her own view across to her readers. It is her blog, this is a free country and she may say what the hell she likes. I might not agree with it but she has the right to her views and the right to express them.

Again, I’m sorry, but I daren’t link to the post as I fear legal action might be taken against me – instead you’ll have to do your own digging to find the post should you want to read it. It’s not difficult to find if you know what you’re doing. Again, although my name has not been mentioned, I’ve been accused of bullying and various – quite nasty – slanders have been made against Heather and her blog. It also transpires that 20sm blocked my Tweets and reported me to Twitter for bullying!

I am aghast! It’s perfectly acceptable for someone to generate countless Tweets slagging me off and demanding that my email address be made public but when I try and enter into a discourse with this person I am both silenced and reported to the authorities for being the author of it all!

20sm went on to accuse her tormentors (me, I suppose) of acting out of jealousy towards her because her blog is so successful and is furthering her aspirations to become a published writer. She ended her post on the moral high note that it was a shame that so many people have taken to behaving like children this week.

I left a comment on the blog. Come on, now, you didn’t expect me not to, surely? Here it is below for your judgment:

I don't suppose you will publish this as (unbeknownst to me) you blocked my replies to your accusations on Twitter - I didn't harass you I was replying to the astounding number of Tweets you were generating with my name on them. Before this point I had never sent you a single message. Seems freedom of speech is only a right afforded to the chosen few. I'm glad you have linked to the blog where all this began as it will give others a chance to make their mind up about the whole thing rather than having their mind made up by others. You were not bullied. I made a single - if ill advised - joke centred around the non de plume you use. As insults go it was so mild I doubt a vicar would have felt his eyebrow ruffled. Your comments to other people on the other hand were nasty and childish. Ironic given the pay off of this post. Most of my comments to you on Twitter were along the lines of "let's not make a big thing of something that is tiny and let's all move on". I had. Shame you haven't. And, lastly, as for being motivated by jealousy, I have never heard of you or your blog before Wednesday and knew nothing of your literary aims or successes until directed to read your blog today by a friend. Jealousy did not come into it. A simple exercise in humour and a play on words did. I have saved a copy of this comment and will publish it on my own blog as an "open letter" if you haven't got the decency to publish it on yours. You have made a molehill into a mountain. Still, if it creates a buzz for your blog - and mine I suppose - then both our literary aspirations have been well met, haven't they? I wish you luck with your writing career. I doubt very much our paths will cross again. Perhaps a good thing, eh?

It didn’t get published. In fact another paragraph was added to the original post along the lines of none of my comments or the comments of any of my supporters will get published on her blog. Fair enough. It’s her blog and she may moderate as she sees fit. We bloggers, every one of us, all have that right. Fair enough, good for her. However, she then added that were I or any of my friends to publish our own posts relating to these events and in any way identifying her (though she herself has quite happily linked to Heather's original post where she is quite easily identified) then she would seek legal and police action against us as is her right!


Nobody, but nobody, has the right to tell me what I can and can’t write about on my blog! And to have this injunction put in place by someone who professes to be a fellow writer thoroughly astounds me. This is not Central America. This is not China. This is England. Free speech, Goddamnit!

So not only am I not allowed a fair and open dialogue with this person but I cannot even write about it on my own blog for fear the police and cyber bailiffs come round to close me down! Well, if my blog disappears sometime soon you will know what has happened. The thought police have done their job and I am languishing in a cell somewhere, being waterboarded with Milton Fluid and formula baby milk.

How can all this have got so out of hand? I am appalled. I am amazed. I am (certainly) ashamed of my part in it. But mostly I am furious that one single blogger feels they have this much power over the rest of us. The same blogger who also used the argument that I was a guy and she a girl and therefore what I did was totally out of order because as you know, you poor little women are weak and woolly and cannot possibly hope to defend yourselves against big butch comments from big butch males like me.

Excuse me? Most of the blogs I read are by women and there isn’t a single one of them who strikes me as weak or helpless. My God, if I ever got into a fight, I’d want you all alongside me.

Oh, yes. Quite right. I have got into a fight.

So what to do? Well, no point pretending to ruminate, I’ve done it. This is MY blog. I’ll write what I like. And anyone – yes anyone – may comment. I’ll not gag or silence anyone. Neither will I seek to get them thrown off Twitter or Blogger or dragged through the courts by the family solicitor. Because (a) this whole tawdry affair isn’t worth the time, effort or money and (b) as a writer and an Englishman I believe passionately in freedom of speech.

And if I’m to be hanged for it I’ll go down talking as loudly as I can.


Manners Maketh

None of you will be aware of this because I haven’t seen fit to tell you (don’t be offended, we all have our little secrets) but I started a British Sign Language course four weeks ago. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and, to cut a long story short, I’m doing it now because (by a weird confluence of events) my current novel features a Deaf character and my employers thought it would be jolly useful to have a member of staff trained in sign language and are thus paying for me to do it.

None of this is important (well, it is and I may blog about it all separately later). What is important is that the class runs from 7 – 9pm on a Tuesday. I simply don’t have time to eat a meal before the class so I’m usually famished when I come out.

And this is why, on the long walk home, I find myself frequenting the type of fast food establishment that normally in the cold light of day I wouldn’t touch with an 8ft baguette.

We’re talking greasy joes, truck driver cafes and kebaberies whose window lit meat racks seem to house the carcasses of household pets and the odd horse nicked from a Home County show ground.

I am ill at ease in these places. I’m used to fine wining and dining. Or at least a free plastic toy with my meal.

Take last Tuesday. It was a cold night and I felt like a short sharp unhealthy hit of cholesterol. So I nipped into one of Leamington’s more infamous chip-joints. The Sakarya (pronounced by the hoodies as Zachariah).

I ordered something suitable “street” and “down with the kids”. Cheesy chips.

Yes, I know. Not exactly overflowing with Nigella-esque nutrition or red blooded Gordon Ramsay protein. But, you know, it’s fuel for the fire. A naughty treat.

I order and I wait. The Turkish looking guy behind the counter is monosyllabic and seems to singularize absolutely everything. Cheesy chips becomes cheesy chip. This amuses me greatly but I don’t let this show on my face as his Turkish colleague, shaving great strips of flesh off the kebab spit, is giving me the evil eye. Actually, I say Turkish looking merely because of the kebab. In actual fact I could have easily said Greek looking, Portuguese looking or Eastern bloc looking. The typical unthinking Englishman’s casual racism. I haven’t a clue where they were from.

Could have been Peckham for all I know.

The guy who got served before me has his burger carton open on the counter in front of him and is troughing down his food with one hand and waving the other around as he demands more mayonnaise. Demands, mind, not asks. He makes to hold the mayonnaise bottle himself but the burly Turk / Greek / Yorkshire man behind the counter refuses to relinquish it. He squeezes the mayonnaise out until the chomping pig tells him to stop. “That’s enough, mate.” And off he trots into the cold night air.

When it’s my turn to get served I get offered all the usual relishes – salt, vinegar, ketchup and the ubiquitous mayonnaise. I answer to each “yes, please” or “no, thanks” as I see fit. Stavros hands my food over. I take it and offer one last thank you to the grease filled air.

Both Mr Turk and henchman Turk give me long evil stares.

I leave the building and continue walking home wondering what the hell I’ve done to offend them.

And then it hits me. I was polite. I was quite possibly too polite. In an industry where these guys must see the worst scum of the earth pass through their doors at all hours of the night in various states of advanced inebriation, to have someone – out of the blue and with no apparent reason – say please and thank you must seem like the biggest piss-take the world has ever seen.

They thought I was being sarcastic. They thought I was being patronizing. They thought I was taking the Michael.

Good grief. Is this what the world is coming too?

Well it was either that or the fact I told them that their fathers like to do goats up the arse in sign language... but I doubt it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Here’s That Recipe For Hot Buns That I Was Telling You About...

It’s been a while since I’ve been tagged (police cut-backs, etc) but suddenly out of the blue, the US of A’s most superlative blogger, EmmaK, selected me from out of the many adoring dogs palpitating at her feet and hit me with a very large lipstick coated meme. Not content with co-writing the book that is currently taking Australia by storm – Cocktails At Naptime – Emma challenged me to list the top ten ingredients that would go together to comprise my ultimate Mrs Right. Or even my Mr Right if I ever fell out of love with breasts and instead found my libido ignited by a well-oiled six-pack and a Graham Norton boxed set.

Obviously, being married, I need to tread very carefully here. I’ve already forewarned my wife of the nature of this meme and she laughed that laugh that women laugh so well: outwardly lighthearted but with a hard nugget of explosive steel at the centre and ‘joked’: “so this is where you come home tonight and ask for a divorce when you’ve listed your top ten ingredients and realized that I don’t possess any of them... ha ha ha!” Which I heard as “if there is one ingredient on that list that isn’t already within my genetic make-up then you’ll be sleeping in the shed until Christmas.”

So without further ado (about nothing) here is my top ten ingredients that would, if Dr Frankenstein were alive today (or indeed, ever alive), enable him to create my dream femme fatale. Keeley Hawes, Alice Roberts, Katie McGrath, Lucy Griffiths, Nigella Lawson and Uma Thurman please take note: my wife already has all of these in spades. (Happy now, dear?)

1) Must find astigmatism sexy. I’ve worn glasses since I was 5 and will do so until the day I die (unless of course my death is caused by me not wearing them). Oh I’ve dallied with the idea of contact lenses but something in me is highly resistant to the idea. I’m a spectacle wearer and proud of it. It’s part of my identity. If the thought of gently caressing my spectacles with your tongue is a turn off then you and me is just not meant to be together, baby, innit?

2) Must be brunette. I know, I know, there are millions of gorgeous blondes and red heads out there and every now and then one of these breeds will turn my head and indeed I have been out with blondes and gingers in my time but it is the fabulous brunette who truly floats my boat. The darker the brunetteness the better. Eye colour is unimportant. Breast size is unimportant. Dress size is unimportant. It’s all in the hair. Must be black or dark brown and of a length that I can run my hand through. As a teen I dreamed of Goth / Emo girls but never did manage to go out with one (I simply wasn’t suicidal enough)... maybe I am just working through a vestige of that time?

3) Must not only give me space and time to write but also must make time to read what I have written and critique it sensitively. I admit this is a big ask and is liable to be the only serious component on this list. Writing has been my bag since I was 7 or 8. I have to write. I have to. My wife will back me up on this, I am sure, but I become a foul tempered swine if I am unable to write for any length of time.

4) Chocolate. I love chocolate. This love must be reciprocated in my perfect partner. But not too much. Not to the point where they have the last slice of chocolate cake. That must default to me. I know they say that love knows no selfishness but poppycock to that. This is chocolate we’re talking about.

5) Sex. Let’s not beat about the bush here (oo-er), physical compatibility is a must. Appetites must be matched. To have it otherwise leads to stress and trouble and heartbreak and a visit to Miss Sasa’s massage parlour and then a painful stagger to the STD clinic where your giggle-stick is scoured with a red hot poker. It just ain’t worth it. Make the right choice and you get to eat a McLove burger every night – mess it up and it’s a clap pizza to go. Don’t get me wrong, personality and spiritual compatibility are just as important but don’t underestimate or downgrade the important of the horizontal folk dance out of mere embarrassment or an erroneous sense of decency. We all need the right person to be indecent with.

6) Healthy gene pool. Yes, this one took me by surprise too. I’m not for one minute trying to give off the vibe that I am a neo-Nazi looking to breed the next master race but when it came time to settle down and I was thinking about having kids I cannot deny that people with leprosy, congenital disorders and genetic diseases suddenly became less attractive. I found myself seeking a field with good healthy soil in which I could drive my plough. Strong legs and child bearing hips also had a bearing but I can’t work them into the field analogy.

7) A good sense of humour. Or for those of you that use dating agencies: GSOH. Almost a cliché but it is the most common element that we all look for in a prospective partner (or even in an existing partner). In fact, I’m amazed that dour, miserable, humourless people are ever able to breed. I don’t mean that the perfect she should be able to deliver a 40 minute Frankie Boyle-esque routine full of rapier-like wit and gut puncturing satire but to be able to laugh uproariously at the same jokes is an absolute must. Or just to be able to recognize when I have told a joke and laugh at it regardless of how unfunny it is would be a help. Us men find even nervous giggles attractive.

8) The ability to not talk during films or TV programmes that I happen to be concentrating on. This is a real bugbear. If I’m watching something or listening to something I hate being interrupted or otherwise disturbed. The house is burning down? Throw a wet tea-towel onto it. The kids are falling out of the bedroom window? Throw a cushion onto the patio. These are not valid reasons to interrupt my viewing of Mock The Week.

9) Christ. 10? Why does it have to be 10? Why can’t it be 8, eh, Emma? I’m struggling here. OK. What other fine traits does my wife possess? Oh yes. Must appreciate / grant permission to whatever childish hobby I like to indulge. All males have a childish, slightly geeky hobby though we ourselves would never describe it as childish. Childish is a word used by the outside world, in particular the women who are not our partners. Be it comics, cigarette cards or, in my case, Lego, Mrs Right should be supportive and become appropriately interested in this hobby in order to maintain the relationship and ensure its continued stability. This interest may be faked. We men don’t really care as long as you leave us alone to play with our toys and don’t laugh in our faces about it.

10) Must not like Eamonn Holmes, Russell Brand, Cliff Richard, Sting, Timmy Mallet, the Conservative party, meatloaf, Meatloaf, rhubarb, runny fried eggs, gristly meat, country music, soap operas, documentaries about prolapsed orifices, The National Lottery Live, The X Factor et al, televised sport, football (especially the World Cup), Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Leonardo Di Craprio and anybody that dares to denigrate me.

I wasn’t going to tag anybody but then I thought sod being nice for a game of soldiers, I’ve put some considerable work into this why should you lot get off scot free? Hence, I hereby tag: Note From Lapland, Readily A Parent and Old Cheeser (let’s see if I can get you blogging again, OC)!

P.S. My wife has this evening pointed out that I have not adequately conveyed her utter saintliness and wishes me to make clear that she (mostly without complaint) puts up daily with my OCD about tidiness and health & safety. I wish to add at this juncture that any woman who finds herself affiliated to me can expect to live in a safe environment where she will never come to any harm and where everything will be tidied away for her. Sounds like a bloody good deal to me. Come and get me, girls!

Monday, October 18, 2010

These People Say They’re Your Friend

They say there is wisdom in keeping your friends close and your enemies closer but in the modern office environment you often have little choice in the matter. The trouble is often telling friend from foe. Here for your edification, then, is a handy little field guide to help you navigate the pitfalls and man-traps that lie in wait for you as you embark on the ultimate quest of the modern age: the hunt for the Holy Grail of commerce; the successful career.

The Snitch – nothing to do with Harry Potter’s Quidditch balls alas, the Snitch likes nothing better than to lie in silent wait in a dark corner of the office, usually behind the potted palms, waiting for you to fail. Big failures, small failures – it makes no difference to the Snitch. Once your foul-up has been clocked the Snitch will already be hotfooting it to the boss’s office so fast the carpet tiles will have ignited beneath his/her highly polished shoes. The Snitch’s usual opening gambit is: "I don’t want to cause problems but..." and frequently peppers his/her conversation with the boss with the words “Oh yes abso-lutely, I quite agree!” Danger rating: 3/5. Poisonous but the bad effects are mediated by the fact that nobody likes a Snitch and their antics are usually recognized for what they are – the mediocre machinations of a low level trouble-maker.

The Snipe – unlike the Snitch the Snipe isn’t interested in your failures. If you foul-up all to the good. The Snipe can stick his/her feet up on the desk and continue internet shopping without a care in the world. The trouble comes when you do good. When you excel. When the boss thanks you for a good job and – worse still – starts sharing jokes with you in a manner that suggests a camaraderie of near equals. Once the boss is displaying a caring / sharing interest in your home life your card will have been well and truly marked. The Snipe will then go out of her way to bring you down a peg or two. Did I say her? I meant to say his/her. Your success threatens the powerbase of the Snipe. It cannot be allowed to continue. The Snipe will now be on a mission to bring about your downfall. The slightest error on your part will now be blabbed to all and sundry and their shrugging so-what reactions will be translated to the boss as an imminent peasant’s revolt – the future of the company is at stake unless he stamps down on your tardiness! Danger rating: 5/5. Don’t underestimate the Snipe. Forget glass ceilings – this is a barrier of flesh and blood (usually shrivelled and cancerous) that, if not neutralized, will hold you back despite your best attempts to climb the career ladder.

The Skiver – an expert at camouflage, it’ll take you years to spot this one. Like a chameleon the Skiver can change their appearance within a second of the boss entering the office. To the outside eye they appear industrious and busy. But the giveaway here is that they look too busy. Their PC monitors will be ablaze with the glow of several hundred windows all open at once. Their PC CPU will be white hot trying to cope with the sheer number of applications that the Skiver has running at any one time. The trick here is to take a gander at what windows have suddenly been minimized. Beneath the reports and spreadsheets which haven’t actually been edited for days you will find internet explorer windows accessing the DVD section of Amazon and a number of dodgy YouTube videos which are only just on the right side of “safe for the office”. But get too close and the Skiver’s fingers will soon become a blur as they type furiously onto whatever document they are using to fudge their true activities. Danger Rating: 1/5. No real danger at all from this one – only the risk of heart burn caused by irritation that whilst you are working your butt off this person is on a permanent holiday. But you can always dob them in by becoming a Snitch.

The Black Widow – this creature has found themselves in the work environment purely because lack of personal funds has driven them into the alien world of “having to earn money by working”. They have no natural or useful skills and are not qualified to make a cup of tea let alone manage a team of people or control budgets worth thousands of pounds... and yet, inevitably, the Black Widow manages to rise to the top of any office food chain by the one skill they do possess: flirting. This skill is usually accompanied by a blondeness that is inevitably bottle enhanced. The Black Widow will usually have 3 or 4 husbands behind her (and when I say behind her, I actually mean 6 feet beneath her) and will have amassed and subsequently frittered away a personal fortune that would keep your average family in food and rent for 50 years. The Black Widow, having become used to a high maintenance life style, will turn to the work place to keep them financially buoyant when they have reached ‘that age’ when their flirting has suddenly become defective / scary / toe curlingly revolting or all three. Danger rating: 4/5 if you are of the opposite sex and loaded; 0/5 if you are poor. The Black Widow is incapable of opening their email client without outside assistance and they are a constant draw of everybody else’s energy and resources. When you are stressed and exhausted it is because you have been carrying a Black Widow on your back along with your own workload.

The Stresser – the most easily recognizable creature of the workplace, the Stresser usually gives their position away by shrieking and flapping and sobbing that the photocopier has run out of toner precisely when they need to print off a 150 page report that they should have done yesterday but they were having a nervous breakdown about a bottle of Tippex whose lid had become glued together just at the moment when they needed to white out an erroneous figure that they had entered into a budget report because they were having a panic attack about some work they’d delegated to someone else who just won’t do as good as job on it as them and now they’ll have to do it all over again themselves and really they just haven’t got the time with the massive workload that is constantly being dumped on them, why do they get all the crap jobs all the time, life just isn’t fair? Danger rating: 4/5. Stress is like flu. It can be transmitted through the air and via close contact. The Stresser, unless checked with a hearty slap around the chops, will infect everybody within a 50 metre radius and disrupt the entire office with their stress and I guarantee that nothing productive will ever get done. They should be shot on sight. Or just let them see the gun. Their subsequent panic and stress should bring on a fatal heart attack within minutes. Job done. Finally.

Dear reader, I consider this field guide to be a work in progress so if anybody would like to add any recognizable flora and fauna of their own please feel free to do so by leaving a comment in the appropriate place. Thank you all for your time. I do hope this field guide will be of use to you all.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Speak Of The Devil...

...and he's sure to appear and ask for your compost bin.

No, that wasn't what I was expecting either but it was what I got last night.

Regular readers of this blog will know of my love/hate relationship with our window cleaner, Wayne. Well. I'm not sure it's love/hate. Possibly hate/hate. Certainly irritation/relief that I don't have to clean my windows myself.

Anyway, none of this is important. What is important is that through sheer wussiness I find myself putting up with his monthly visits to collect his £7 for cleaning our windows simply because I haven't yet told him to go and sling his chamois round somebody else's sash window.

Wayne is weird you see. As expounded further in the link above he is a commie hater. Beneath his cheeky-chappy gor blimey guvnor smile is a festering Bible spouting end-timer who wants to see all the bankers of this world boiling in the devil's own hot sauce. I don't really want to get into a protracted conversation with him. I certainly don't want to have to risk his ire by laying him off and then find myself on the wrong end of a McCarthyist witch hunt. I literally just want him to wash and go.

But - jumping through time to last night - we hadn't seen anything of Wayne for weeks. He hadn't been round to collect his fee for last month. It had lain in the kitchen untouched (amazing given how brassic we are at the moment) awaiting its master's call. Wayne didn't even seem to have been round to smear up our windows this month. Normally he puts a calling card through. But there had been nothing.

I know I was foolish to do this but I chanced fate. I turned to my wife and posited aloud the theory that maybe we had seen the last of Wayne. Maybe he had gone out of business, fallen off his ladder or had embarked on a crusade to the Holy Land? Maybe I could be allowed to reclaim that £7 and place it back into the forlorn pocket of my wallet?

Now this is no word of a lie. I haven't messed with the timings here just to cobble a blog post together and inject it with some semblance of drama. There was literally a knock at our front door the second after I had stopped speaking. A smart business-like rap.

I turned to Karen; it couldn't possibly be...? She had turned white. She suggested it was a late delivery of something or other. Clutchable straws perhaps?

I girded my loins and opened the front door... and found myself staring into the crazy shotgun eyes of Wayne the window cleaner. "Hello Mr Blake..." he announced and his Max Wall hair seemed to lift in a breeze that stank mildly of brimstone.

Not only had he come to collect last month's money but he wanted this month's too 'cos he'd done our windows on Tuesday. He just hadn't put a card through. Gulp. But I only had money for last month and I'm totally skint until I get paid on the 19th. From deep below Wayne's feet I swear I heard screams as if a billion souls were being tortured by trillions of imps who all (for some reason) looked like miniature versions of Russell Brand. What would he demand as payment?

He looked me in the eye and said, "No worries, Mr Blake, just give it to me next month, it'll be fine... er, by the way, is that a compost bin in your trailer...?"

Er. I told him that yes it was. It was our old compost bin in fact. We'd bought a bigger one. Emptied the contents of the old onto our winter beds and were going to take the old compost bin down to the local recycling centre.

"Oooo," said Wayne (though it sounded quite demonic to my ears and not so effeminate as it appears in text), "I could do with one of those..."

"Please do take it," I offered/begged. "It's yours if you want it; we're only going to dump it anyway..."

"Cheers, Mr Blake, I'll be back in the morning with my truck." And off he stomped into the night.

Now, Karen bless her, being an accountant, pointed out that actually that old compost bin cost about £7 - the equivalent of a month's window cleaning. If I'd been canny I could have bartered the month I owed for the bin and completely wiped out my debt.

That's a fair point. But I'm just glad - though slightly unsettled - that when push came to shove and the ol' devil could have demanded my soul fair and square he instead sized me up and went for our mouldy old compost bin instead.

But what the hell does that say about me?

That I'm untouchably saved? Or just not worth wasting good hellfire on? Or I have a superlative taste in compost bins?

Answers on a trident to the usual address, please...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Brown Bread

The life of yours truly should have come to an abrupt end last Sunday at approximately 3.37 in the afternoon.

I was, as you might have guessed, doing a form of DIY (the single biggest killer of the average male in the UK after cancer, stress and marriage. I am, of course, joking regarding the latter – a woman doesn’t have to be married to a man to be able to kill him). I was doing the gardening.

For once it wasn’t a lawn mower based accident. With a little ‘un running around I’ve become very OCD about always unplugging the mower before I empty it or even leave it untended for the smallest amount of time.

On this occasion the agent of my destruction was the hedge trimmer. A nasty biting brute of a device that lays our front hedge low with the slightest of touch. I’d unwound the cable. I’d plugged it into the extension lead. All seemed good to go.

I pulled the trigger.

And if the world had been any different – if human technological advances hadn’t brought into being such things as fuses and trip switches – my life would have been over at this point. I’d’ve been a goner. I’d’ve been, to quote my old granddad, brown bread. And you wouldn’t be having to read this ‘ere blog post right now – a fact, I’m sure, which will have many of you lamenting the safety features on the average electrical plug.

The cable you see had, unbeknownst to me (because I was tired / daydreaming and didn’t check it properly), become interwoven in the moving teeth of the trimmer.

As soon as I turned it on the trimmer severed the source to its own power. A single spark – like a dud firework – leapt forward and fizzled out before it hit the pavement. This was the first I knew of my death. I say death because I’m sure that in a parallel universe somewhere funeral arrangements are even now being arranged for a full state burial and my wife is celebrating gymnastically with the milkman.

Bizarrely, this close encounter with t’other side didn’t hit home until much later. My first reaction was to run cap in hand to my wife and apologize for coking the trimmer at a time when we can’t afford a new dibbler let alone a hefty new electrical gardening gadget. I’d also tripped the main electricity supply to the house and my youngest son was complaining vociferously that Woody and Buzz Lightyear had rudely vacated their usual slot on the TV screen.

In the panic of trying to find the distribution board and right these myriad wrongs by restoring the appropriate switch my missed appointment with St Peter completely slipped my mind. Life went on as normal. Life indeed went on.

It is only now, days later, that I realize how lucky I had been. How lucky and how foolish.

How easily and unthinkingly we go about our daily business blasé and nonchalant to the many potential death traps that litter our modern world!

My humble thanks go to all those boffins who over the years have contributed to the safety mechanisms of the common-or-garden house plug. My thanks go also to whatever deity decided to give my miserable soul a second chance. And my biggest thanks go to you, dear reader, for the bouquets of flowers you would have undoubtedly sent, the donations to my favourite charities and the selfless acts of throwing your mini-skirted selves (and that includes the guys) down onto my coffin as it is lowered into the damp earth and your wails and protests that there simply wasn’t the time to ravish me one more time.

‘Cos on the bright side, folks, there still is.

See. All’s well that ends well.


Monday, October 11, 2010


If an English man’s home is his castle then his garden is surely his bailey.

Now, although Karen and I haven’t dunged ours about with watchtowers and weapons of war we have (at considerable expense) erected the kind of fence that even Daley Thompson would have trouble pole vaulting over.

So it was with some considerable shock that whilst going about our cosy family business in the dining room yesterday we spied a complete stranger running across our lawn towards our side gate and from thence to the street beyond.

Who this guy was we have no idea. We have never seen him before.

My wife’s only reaction was to drop her jaw. The guy saw this, waggled a finger to her as if to say, “no,” and carried on running. I didn’t get a good look at him but my wife did. He was, to quote her exactly, “chubby – in his twenties and plainly running from someone.”

Aside from the annoyance and sense of outrage this engendered in me (“Get orf moi laaaand!”) – not least because he left our garden gate wide open and we are constantly at pains to keep it secured lest our little ‘un wander out onto the street – he also aroused my curiosity.

Namely because my first reaction from my wife’s description of him was to surmise that he was merely trying to escape bullies or some yobs.

Why did my tiny mind jump to this conclusion? Because he was “chubby”. And that struck me as odd. (a) That my immediate conclusion to a fat person running across our lawn must be because he was trying to escape a mob of size zero Nazi’s with pitchforks and copies of the Atkins diet and (b) that I never considered that his slightly larger body shape might be disguising a thief, murderer, rapist or even a garden gnome defiler.

It just did not occur.

I mean, I’m annoyed he invaded the sanctity of my garden by making it his personal escape route to the chippy up the road but my first reaction wasn’t one of feeling threatened. His body shape somehow rendered him non-threatening. To the point where I wonder why the police don’t employ “big boned” people to act as hostage negotiators or anti siege personnel. I mean, if you were on a bridge about to commit suicide the one person bound to talk you down successfully would be Cbeebies chubber, Justin Fletcher, right?

OK. So that argument fell down at the first hurdle. Scrub that.

But it did make me think very seriously about how the media has trained us all to judge people purely on their body shape. What huge assumptions we all make based on waist size and body mass index.

I mean for all I know, My Chubby could have been running a marathon and had just got himself completely lost...

Friday, October 08, 2010

Party Animal

Time was I’d be invited out onto the town and I’d spend the intervening hours anticipating the good time I’d undoubtedly have. The wine. The women. The song. The dancing in a suspended cage with only a sparkly boob-tube between my nips and the strobe-lit elements.

*cue sound of a stylus being ripped across a record*

OK. OK. That’s not strictly true. I’d actually spend most of the time panicking about what to wear, what I’d say to people (especially if they were of a female persuasion) and how I’d cope with the inevitable sense of despair and failure when I went home yet again without having managed to get myself a snog / shag / girlfriend.

*cue the sound of a stylus being tearfully lowered onto any record at all by The Smiths*

But what I didn’t do is what I frequently do now:

Which is spend my time miserably calculating how many hours of sleep I’m going to lose and how much more tired I’m going to feel the next day and how many early nights it will now take subsequent to the night out for me to fully recover my (already flagging) joie de vivre.

‘Cos to be honest I’m dead on my feet by 9pm most nights and there has to be something really good on the telly for me to stay awake and engaged past 10.

These are the combined effects of middle age, parenthood and a tendency to be anti-social in the first place.

It’s tempting to say I have never been a party animal. But going out for a drink with friends last night (on a work night? How daring!) has proven to me that, in fact, I am a party animal. I’m just a party animal of a certain type.

The type that looks like a kicked to death hound-dog the next day. The type whose bloodshot eyes resemble those of a dancing bear who has been slagged off by Bruno Tonioli for messing up the bogo pogo. The type whose snake breath could strip the bullet proof coating from a Chieftain tank at 50 paces.

The type that is, to put it plainly, not a happy bunny.

So. Post-drinks lesson learnt: partying is for spring chickens and not for old goats.


Excuse me, people, I need to go back to my sty and wallow...

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

My Washing Machine Is Waiting To Stab Me In The Back

I know it is.

It’s biding its time. Maliciously smirking behind its spin cycle.

Up until a few years ago me and the washing machine were loved-up. Like we’d taken a couple of E’s together and everythin’ were groovy, man, and turning her big programmable dial were like having me melon well twisted – call the cops!

But then I read a few stories in the national press and the good times came to an end. Washing machines going on the rampage. Washing machines rebelling within the dangerous confines of their electrical circuitry while their owners were out at work. People came home to find their smalls hadn’t been eco-washed at 30 degrees and spun dry. Instead their entire homes had been burnt down to the ground.

Electricity and water, you see. Not a good mix. Few kitchen appliances are as potentially dangerous as the unattended washing machine.

So the wife and I made a pact that never again would we leave the washing machine on timer, never again would we programme it to wash my leather lederhosen while we were all out at work, or visiting friends or even while we were all sound asleep in bed at night. ‘Cos you just never know when the damn thing might decide to kick off.

I mean, years of E taking can engender paranoid schizophrenia. Some scientist said so on the telly.

But every now and then I get caught out. The washing machine has got me well trained you see. All the time I thought I was in control it was really playing me for a fool.

I use the damn thing without thinking. On autopilot. Load the drum, pour in the powder, set the dial – so it’s all ready for when my wife comes home with the kids at 3.30pm; all she has to do is press the Wash button and then the washing is all done and ready to be hung up when I come home at 5.30 (yes, ladies, I actually do that. I am a domestic god).

But that auto pilot thing is hard to shake off when you’re half asleep in the morning. Load the drum, pour in the powder, set the dial and... before I’ve stopped myself I’ve pressed the Wash button.

And now it’s too late. We all have to leave for work / school / nursery and the machine is engaged. It’ll now plod and grind through 2 hours of watery-electrical wash cycle while we’re not on hand to hit it with a fire extinguisher should it lob a rogue spark into the soap suds drawer. Yes, of course, we could hit Stop. But then it’ll sit there, with its belly full of water, waiting to vomit the lot out over the kitchen floor the moment the front door is closed.

And it’ll all be my fault! I was the one who pressed the button!

But it wasn’t my fault! The machine made me do it! It’s got its hooks into me. It’s messing with my head. I think I’m in control but I’m not.

I have been brain Washed and my home is at risk as a consequence.

Please, please, please, I’m begging you. If any of you have an old wash board, some marigolds and a mangle for sale; I’ll buy the lot off you. Any price. Anything at all to safeguard my hearth and home.

Please. You’re my only hope.

Monday, October 04, 2010

I Follow But Never To Catch

“Following” celebs is not cool. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

But we all do it, right?

I do. I admit that I do. Facebook... Twitter... Some of the people I follow are TV people. Slebs. Stars.

But I feel kind of... bad for doing it. Diminished. Dirty. There’s something sad about it.

But I do draw the line at trying to engage them in conversation. That for me is the ultimate no-no. But plainly other people have a lower shame-threshold than I do. Every day these celebrity Twitter users are bombarded with hundreds of comments and pleas for attention. Please notice me Stephen Fry! Please reply to my comment Kirstie Allsopp about how gorgeous I think you are!

Take Julia Bradbury (and believe me, I’d like to). She regularly posts on Twitter and links out to photos she’s taken while filming. Within ten minutes I can guarantee there’ll be at least 50 comments along the lines of “you look great!”, “You look wonderful, Julia!” and “I love your TV work, Jules!”

Whilst I agree with the sentiments I can feel my scorn-face blowing a biggy. Sad sacks the lot of them! Get a life! These comments smack of the worst kind of desperation and sycophantic fan-dom. Oh please look down and notice me from your vaunted high position in Tellyland! Hey guys! Stephen Fry replied to my comment! I finally have self esteem bestowed upon me! I’m finally a somebody!

No. You’re not. You’re a sad little star pandering git.

So why do I Follow these people then if I’m so sneering about other people who do the same? Well, as I said, I don’t myself try and engage them in conversation but I do like the insider’s eye it sometimes opens on the TV industry; I like getting tip-offs about new programmes that are in the pipeline and, yes, I love it when an honest opinion is offered on another celeb or TV programme. I guess it’s like a soundbite version of Heat magazine for people who are too snobby to actually buy Heat magazine (like me).

But does that make me any better than Jonathan from Norwich who has promised to buy Julia Bradbury a pint should she ever find herself filming “down his way”? (Yeah, right, as if, Jonathan.)

I mean, in one of my comments on my previous post I was rather smug about revealing that Stephen Fry Follows me back on Twitter. Is my ego really so reliant on celeb approval? I mean let’s be honest. Stephen Fry Following me back says more about Fry’s innate niceness than it does about me being somehow noteworthy.

And just mentioning it in the first place kind of makes me a sad sack too. Doesn’t it?

And yet Twitter is capitalizing on this trend. For some time now it has offered suggestions on stars it thinks we all might like to Follow. Every day more and more celebs are signing up – solely one suspects to get Followed. It’s a free self-publicity machine after all. Ah how Twitter must love Stephen Fry for popularizing this whole star Following thing in the first place.

Should we be colluding in this? Isn’t it all a bit incestuous and self absorbed? Herd instinct given an e-makeover?

For the few of you out there whose Facebook and Twitter friends are purely people that you actually know and interact with in the real world... Respect.

For the rest of you: please stop bombarding Julia Bradbury with your inane, nobby-no-mates, pathetic “I’m a lonely cyber geek” drivel; my overtures to her are being totally ignored as a consequence.

Julia, when you’re ready, please Follow me back (Stephen Fry thinks I’m OK)!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Better Than Marje Proops

Misssy M highlighted a delightful jape on her blog this week; seems some smartarse prankster wrote a letter to The Guardian’s resident agony aunt, Mariella Frostrup, that was basically the plotline to the film Little Children. Most amusing of all the cigarette-butt gargling Mariella didn’t pick up on it and replied in earnest.

Of course, being a caring sharing kind of blogging community ever waiting in the wings to pounce on someone’s gullibility to increase our own internet profile the idea was muted that as many blogger’s as possible write in to Mariella in a similar vein – choosing our own favourite films as source material – and thus stretching Mariella’s sandpaper voiced advice to the absolute limit.

Sounds far too cruel a prank to pass up. So here are a couple of humble offerings from me:

Dear Mariella,

I was raised by my aunt and uncle on a farm and never knew my father. They always told me he was dead and didn’t want to talk about him. Since their death a while ago I have been struggling to make my own way in the world. I thought I was doing OK but then the fates conspired to bring me into contact with a man who claimed to be my father! There are various proofs which seem to validate his claim. My life is now in turmoil as he has revealed I also have a twin sister. I have met her a couple of times now and if not for the family connection I’d think she was pretty hot. My dilemma is this: my father seems to be involved with a very bad organization indeed and I know they are doing a lot of bad things to a lot of people. He keeps asking me to join him and take over the company. He is very forceful in his argument. It is all I can do to resist him. We have fought about it a few times now and I have been lucky to escape relatively in one piece. He is now very angry with me and says if I won’t join his firm he will force my twin sister to do so in my stead. What should I do? I love him and want him to walk away from this organization but he just says it is too late for him. How can I save him and save my sister?

Yours in desperate need of help,
L. Skywalker.

Dear Mariella,

I’ve lived a very sheltered life and have long looked up to my very old uncle and his friend, G. They have been mainstays in my life for a long time. Last week my uncle announced he was leaving and with barely a goodbye he just disappeared from the community. I was very upset by this. He is very old and I worry I won’t ever see him again. As a parting present he left me a family heirloom – an old ring. It means a lot to me because I know how precious it was to my uncle. It is now, for obvious reasons, very precious to me. However, my uncle’s friend, G, who is a very clever fellow and knows lots of amazing things – he’s quite a wizard sort of guy – says he has discovered the ring really belongs to someone else, someone who is not very nice, and it’s rather dangerous me having it. He has suggested I take it a long way away and get rid of it. He doesn’t usually lie or make-up stories so I believe him. But the ring is very beautiful and makes me feel special. When I wear it I feel like I could do anything at all. It is also my last link with my dear old uncle and I don’t want to ever be without it. But I don’t want to upset G either (though sometimes I think he just wants the ring for himself). What should I do? Should I keep the ring or should I do as G suggests and get rid of it? He’s a very wise man and says the ring will bring me and my friends nothing but bad juju if I don’t get rid of it.

Please help.
F. Baggins.

P.S. I suffer quite badly with verrucas – can you suggest any industrial strength creams?

Hope you enjoyed them. Do feel free to join in and think up a few of your own. Remember: Mariella is here to help.