Friday, December 28, 2012

On The Second Day Of Christmas I Was Given The Greatest Nosh In All The World...

It was perhaps the most sensual experience of my existence so far.

A singular gift that most dream of but are seldom rewarded with receiving. An act that sends shivers down your spine and grants you the type of sensory satisfaction that you normally only find in works of fiction. Fifty Shades Of Grey doesn't even come close.

To some just the thought of it is repulsive. Dirty. Degrading. Even though, given the specialness of the time of year, there is justification for suggesting it to your loved one / partner.

I know. I know. Despite years of apparent intimacy, such requests - often coming out of the blue - can seem like a bridge too far. It can push boundaries to breaking point.

It is, I will admit, not everyone's bag. Some just can't handle the taste - slightly peppery, slightly salty - and can't close off the gag reflex.

Some switch off their taste buds and just go for it - functional, perfunctory - not really enjoying it; just going along to please and gratify.

This does not work for me. It does not float my boat.

I'd much rather an out-and-out no than a sighing agreement to suffer in silence.


I want the peak moment to be shared. To be indulged by all participants.

The hedonist in me is just built that way.

And so it was that, this Christmas, I girded my loins and propositioned my wife.

"Please", I said.

"It is only once a year. It is a special time. Why don't we, you know... do it? Do the deed we rarely speak of?"

She gave a maidenly blush (special and rare in itself, believe me) and, blinking away her sudden coquettishness, replied, "You mean... you want me to..."

I nodded down to the small, firm, round objects cupped seductively in the palm of my hands.

"Yes," I said. "I want you to make bubble and squeak. After all," I winked slyly, "We did buy in an extra big portion of sprouts especially."

And with that, she took those dreamy green nuggets of deliciousness out of my hand and mashed them up with boiled potatoes, coated them in flour and paprika and fried them up into saucily green burgers of vegetable delight.

Bubble and squeak might not be the food of the gods but in my house, at this time of year, it is the one thing guaranteed to pop my cork.

And blow me to ecstasy and back if my wife didn't enjoy gobbling it all up just as much as I did.

You can't beat a good bit of nosh at Christmas time, you really can't.

Happy Season's greetings to you all.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

I Believed In Father Christmas

I can’t remember the exact age I was when I stopped believing in Father Christmas. About 6 or 7 maybe. By modern standards that’s possibly a good innings.

I do know that nobody told me. Nobody let the cat out of the bag or suddenly decided that I needed to “man up” about Christmas.

I worked it out. A slow dawning realization that the logistics, the physics... they just didn’t add up. My parents didn’t help by declaring certain cupboards off limits during the run up to Christmas. That aroused my suspicions. Plus relatives got sloppy about bringing presents to the house. They did it in full view of us. When you’re a kid you remember even the smallest glimpse of wrapping paper. When Christmas morning arrived and that same paper appeared again... well, 2 add 2 inevitably makes 4.

I remember feeling gutted. An excoriating disappointment that left me completely deflated and flat. The world seemed greyer, drabber and smaller once the truth was upon me. No magic. No flying sleigh. No Father Christmas coming down the chimney. No toy factory at the North Pole with a happy workforce of elves making toys.

Just mum and dad. Just Nan and Bampap. Just Auntie Edie and Uncle Harry. Auntie Maude. Auntie June and Uncle Bill. And all the rest.

It is only now that I can look back and see that there was magic in the truth after all. All those aunts and uncles. My grandparents. All those jolly smiles – the jollier I suspect for having lived through WWII and thereafter counting their blessings for being alive every single day.

Mum and dad thankfully excepted, all those names that meant so much to me are now all gone from the world. Dead. Vanished. I have memories of their voices that I cannot pass onto my own kids.

Instead, we have Father Christmas still. And though my 11 year old sussed it out some years ago we persist in the ruse for the sake of my 5 year old. I think that small temporary belief in magic is the most precious gift of all. It creates, if nothing else, a capacity to find and cherish the real magic of life when you’re older... for all you have to battle through that initial disappointment. Sometimes lies and sham merely disguise other truths.

I do remember one year though, when I was about 25. It was Christmas Eve and I’d come back home late from a mate’s house. I hadn’t drunk too much; just enough to be warm and merry. I tucked myself into bed – it had gone midnight so technically was already Christmas Day. I remember wishing the world a very Merry Christmas as I settled down to go to sleep.

And I heard – just once – the sound of sleigh bells. Very distinctive. Very clear. Somewhere close in the crisp midnight air.

I know, I know. Some drunk marlarkying about on his way home. Or some parent going the extra mile for his/her kids.

A logical explanation is out there somewhere, I am sure, and probably not very hard to find.

But just for a second... I did wonder.

And every year since... just for a second... I still do.

Funny thing, magic.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

No More Merlin, No, No, No!

So the BBC’s Merlin closes its doors on Camelot for the last and final time on Christmas Eve.

After 5 series that have been smash hits all over the globe the Beeb now feels it is has “teased out all it can” from the Arthurian legend and it is finally time to knock the myths and magic bandwagon completely on the head.

No more Colin Morgan and his magic jumbo ears.

No more Bradley James and his pouty swordsmanship and swishy nipples.

No more Angel Coulby cinched so tight into improbably tight dresses that her kidneys grind up against her back teeth.

And worst of all no more Katie McGrath spilling her gloriously pale and fulsome décolletage out of impossibly black dresses as she icily stares wanton evilness over all who dare to cross her gaze.

I find the BBC’s decision unfathomable and unpalatable.

Even without the enticing lure of Katie McGrath’s curvy cleavage of evil bouncing across Camelot’s ferociously defended borders and causing fruity mayhem and musky spillages among the goody-two-shoe knights the BBC can’t fail to have noticed that Merlin has been rather good for their revenue stream.

In these days of financial hardship and the tightening of belts I find it inconceivable that any kind of corporation would willingly cut off a single cash supply. Oh I’m sure Merlin costs millions to make – the sets, the locations, the lingerie, the tight security around Katie’s Winnebago that repulsed my siege engines of love countless times... but I bet you it recoups twice that in international TV rights and DVD sales without breaking a bank manager’s sweat.

“Teased the legend out as far as we can?”

What rot.

There’s loads more they could have done. Loads. I mean, Christ, I could write them a few episodes by next week – provided they were willing to overlook the incongruity of Katie McGrath shod in leather and fishnet stockings sitting astride a vibrating waterbed.

She’s a high priestess of the old religion, for Heaven’s sake, there’s bound to be perks.

Seriously though I find it very sad. Merlin started off a bit too whimsical and kiddie-friendly but then magically matured into a glorious sword and sorcerific drama that restored my faith in the BBC after its appalling run with Robin Hood a year or so earlier.

And now some mealy-mouthed TV exec has drawn up the portcullis on one of the most popular shows of the last 5 years without batting an eyelid or even newting a toad. Or something.


On the bright side though it does mean that when I part with my cash for the Merlin boxed set I know I’ll be getting the complete and entire production output. Unless, of course, they run with my idea for a Christmas special next year (but that all depends on Katie learning to pole dance by then)...


Saturday nights just won’t be the same.

You’ve given me one hell of a sword, BBC, but taken away the stone I liked to fantasise driving it into.

Curse you!

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Hobbit

I haven’t read any of the critic’s reviews. This isn’t an especial stance that I’ve taken just for Peter Jackson’s latest outing to Middle Earth; I’ve just never been bothered enough with some “expert’s” opinion to take it as gospel in place of my own. If I want to see a film I’ll go and see it and make my own mind up.

Which isn’t to say I’ve been unaware of some of the more miserly reviews regarding The Hobbit.

Overlong. Too bloated. Not enough story. Christ, some even slag off Peter Jackson’s decision to film it in 48 frames a minute – a complaint I find unfathomable in this world of HD TV and Blu-Ray crystal clear clarity.

Peter Jackson himself isn’t chasing an Oscar in this film. He’s said so in interview.

So you’d think maybe he didn’t try hard enough then, didn’t give the film his all.

That would be a misconception.

The Hobbit is Peter Jackson’s gift, if you like, to all those of us who fell in love with his cinematic version of Middle Earth in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. It is a luxurious, indulgent, joyous return to that world. It pulls us in and wraps us up warm and invites us to stay for as long as we like.

Yes the film is long. 3 hours and 2 more films to come. But it is not overlong. I could have stayed for far longer. I’m one of those fans of LOTR who choose the extended versions over the cinematic releases every time anyway. Hell, if Pete J has an extended version of The Hobbit up his sleeve then I’m all for it. Bring it on.

Too bloated? No. It is rich. It is full. But it is not heavy on the stomach. It has a gloriously British cast who each in their own way hold the screen and support each other without vying for attention. Peter Jackson has a deft touch. It is great to see Ken Stott and James Nesbitt on the big screen... even if Nesbitt does look like a weird cross between a Cossack and a dwarf.

Best of all though is Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield. Brooding, dark and yet somehow deservingly sympathetic. It took me until the very end of the film before I could place him. The eyes, the voice, I knew them but where from? Gisbourne in the BBC’s Robin Hood and more recently as Lucas North in Spooks. He fills Thorin’s boots effortlessly and is possibly the most attractive Dwarf in the world (if you like your Dwarves to have singing voices like Barry White).

Weirdly it is very easy to overlook Martin Freeman’s role in the film. Not because it is inconsequential – as Bilbo it would hardly be that – but because there is just an expectation that he is naturally going to be good. And he is. He blends into Ian Holm’s portrayal and manages to make it his own all at the same time and rather selfishly we take his faultless performance entirely for granted. But then that mirrors Bilbo’s beguiling humility in the story.

The best scene by far is the riddle scene between Bilbo and Gollum. It is pitch perfect. I cannot fault it. It is the lynch pin of all the films so it damn well had to be. The actors step up to the plate and hit a home run. Spot on.

There are so many other notables in the film – Ian McKellan, Christopher Lee, Sylvester McCoy, Kate Blanchett – I could easily make this post 3 hours long in itself and spoil the entire film for you.

But that isn’t my intention.

My intention is to get you to the cinema to enjoy it for yourself.

After all, I’m just another non-expert critic. Don’t take my word for it.

Go and make your own mind up.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Distributed Production... And Sex

The future’s so bright I gotta print my own shades.

Yep. It’s coming folks.

The death of the High Street shop. The death even of the internet mail order vendor.

At some point in the near future, when we find that our Breville sandwich toaster has gone on the fritz, we won’t bother heading out to Curry’s or surfing our way to Amazon to buy a new one. We’ll merely download a set of instructions from the internet and print a new one off in the comfort of our very own home.

The technology behind 3D printing is becoming more and more commonplace. Less of a freaky Tomorrow’s World prediction for AD2450 and more of a marketing forecast for AD2018. Google can already present you with hundreds of images of items fresh off the 3D printing production line.

What is amazing about them is their sheer diversity and complexity.

Our children are going to grow up in a world where people print their own cars, print their own tools and print their own kitchen appliances. And that’s just for starters.

On the face of it the technology of “distributed production” is awe inspiring. The command of science and physics involved in the process is incredible. The fact our species is making it all so commonplace and open to the general consumer is even more phenomenal.

But, of course, there is a disturbing dark side to this huge leap of technology.

It’s bad enough people downloading bomb making instructions without them being able to print off a real bomb directly from the internet. Not to mention grenades, knives, AK-47s and tanks. OK. Maybe tanks is a bit farfetched but the technology will reach that point one day. The MoD won’t bother with manufacturing plants; it’ll just have a warehouse with a huge eff-off printer that will print off whatever military hardware it currently needs. And you can bet your freshly 3D printed bottom dollar that there will be shady organizations all around the world with enough money to purchase such an eff-off printer for themselves... and suddenly, hey presto, as Prince, memorably sang a couple of decades ago, “mommy, why does everybody have a bomb?”

Rules and regulations will need to be put into place and they will need to be constantly monitored and policed. Kind of the way they are now to stop people pirating music, images and films off the internet.

OK. Maybe that’s not such a good example...

On the lighter side of it all though the technology should enable us to not only print something from a supplied design but also allow us to customize it to our own – to make it truly bespoke. I mean, who wouldn’t want a personalized Breville toaster with wings and built in Wi-Fi?

And why stop at kitchen appliances? What about bedroom appliances?

3D printing will revolutionize the porn industry.

No more plain brown paper parcels (batteries not included) from Sweden. No more avoiding eye contact with the postman or the FedEx courier when he drops off your latest blow-up sheep from Germany.

Soon you’ll be able to design and print off your own to your own personalized specifications. You’ll be able to tweak every fold and crevice.

Just make sure you always have a good supply of “ink” to hand.

Nothing will be more galling than running out just as you reach the good bits...

Friday, December 07, 2012

To DVD or Not DVD

Normally I’d be deriding the shameless consumerism of Christmas.

The special editions, the special offers, the special prices, the special gifts to make loved ones feel special because it is unheard of to do that at any other time of the year...

But this year I am mystified by the sheer bad planning of DVD vendors during the seasonal period.

DVDs make great presents. They make easy presents. But easy in a good way; not lazy. A great movie can be a family treat or just a treat for an individual that they can enjoy again and again. A good movie can be an immersive experience, a flight of escapism. A good movie can uplift and enlighten.

It can also keep the kids occupied and out of your hair for up to 2 hours.

Movies are great.

I had a list of DVDs that I knew would make great presents for people this year.  I’m not going to list them; just take it from me that they were all great, I have superb taste and I would have got you all something wonderful (because, yeah, I was going to send you all presents this Christmas but the vendors have foiled my plans).

I ploughed through my list online, tapping into my usual stockists and suppliers.

About 70% of the DVDs on my list aren’t being released until the New Year. That’s right. A frustratingly whopping 70%.

DVD after DVD crossed off my potential gift list.

DVD after DVD which I am now not going to buy.

To me it seems idiotic. The film industry is being hit by the recession like every other industry. Surely their marketeers must know that Christmas is the prime selling point of the year? The time when their wares fly of the shelves like chestnuts from an open fire proffered by an old bearded man in a stovepipe hat and fingerless mittens?

This is an immense lack of foresight and forward planning. Idiocy on a fathomless scale. It’s like Quality Street not selling their Christmas selection tin until March.

Now I know this is just a small gripe in the bigger scheme of things. Worse things happen at sea. Or even at the BBC. I know this. I’m not getting angina because of it.

I’m just saying, if you’re wondering why you haven’t received a Christmas present from me this year it’s because Debbie Does Derby isn’t being released until mid April.

And that’s it. There's nothing I can do about it. The DVD vendors plainly don’t believe in Father Christmas.


It looks like you’re stuck with Harry Hill’s Festive Burp on the telly.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Waiting For The Bailiffs

It’s the knock at the door we all fear.

That and the Jehovah Witnesses.

The three men in three quarter-length coats and porkpie hats come to help themselves to whatever they fancy of your stuff with the government’s full permission in recompense for an unpaid debt.

My wife and I have received 2 warning letters now. The last one was a red one. Unpaid traffic fines. Just under £500. What’s that in Guy Ritchie-speak? A monkey? 5 ton? Whatever, if they gain access to the house that’s the TV and X-Box gone. Or maybe they’ll be kind and just take our sofa?

I live in fear for my Lego collection. They can take my kids but my mid eighties classic space collection is definitely off limits.

I wouldn’t mind but the debt isn’t even ours.

A previous occupant of our house – please bear in mind that my wife have been living here since 2003 and have a mortgage and everything – has been running up some mid-range debtage and not updating her address with the creditors involved. Normally when we receive post for this ex-inhabitant I sling it back into the post with “return to sender (address unknown, no such number, no such zone)” scrawled all over it. Occasionally, when a particular company has been particularly persistent, I have opened the mail, read it and written a reply along the lines of: “Carrie doesn’t live here anymore, Carrie used to room on the second floor, I’m sorry but she left no forwarding address that is known to me...” but best of luck tracking down the dirty little welcher anyway.

We haven’t received anything for “our Carrie” for a while now. Until a letter last week from a company that shall remain nameless chasing down £450+ in unpaid traffic fines, that is. We had 2 weeks to cough up or the bailiffs would have leave to unburden my household of some choice goods and chattels to the aforesaid value aforementioned – they kindly pointed out that we didn’t need to be present for due process to take its course. A polite threat if ever I read one.

I rang them up. Annoyingly the automated message-bot tried its best to chicane me to its automated payment department and I had to cling on for dear life just to speak to a flesh and (cold) blood operator. “Oh yes,” they intoned, “You’re ringing about debt reference blah blah blah, aren’t you? Is that correct?”

I told them it was half correct. And then pointed out that their debtee was unknown to me and hadn’t lived in my house since 2002 at the earliest as my wife, two kids and mortgage lender would gladly testify if given the opportunity. The operator then deferred to a higher authority and I suffered piped Christmas tunes until she returned, suddenly a little warmer, a little more humane, and explained that her supervisor had given her permission to insert more up-to-date address details on this particular account and we wouldn’t now be bothered again; we could ignore the letter and put it all behind us. How kind.

Except it all left me mystified. They plainly had Carrie’s new address elsewhere in their company; they certainly didn’t ask me for it (I don’t have it anyway; besides which Carrie made me promise not to squeal) so why didn’t they just update their records as a matter of course in the first place? Why chase me for Carrie’s debt, eh? How does that work as an effective business plan?


And then I received the second letter from them – the red one – on Saturday.

The bailiff’s will be donning their lippy and their sling-backs and gearing up for a home visit unless the money is paid ASAP blah-de-blah-de-blah.

So you see, all this being the case it makes me think that, despite phone-lady’s warm assurances, the bailiffs are still coming. It makes me think they think I am actually Carrie - only I’ve had a sex change op in the interim and I’m trying to pull the wool over their eyes with some sick tale of fake domesticity.

Wife and two kids? Yeah right. Mortgage? A bloody fairy story.

They’re coming for my PlayStation! They’re coming for my set-top box with series 2 of Fresh Meat indelibly ensconced within its electronic innards! They’re coming for my wife’s Kindle Fire HD still unopened in the box (it’s OK, she already knows, it’s not a surprise).

Well, they’re not touching anything of mine! Not without a fight.

I’m defending my kid’s (and my) Christmas presents here! If I have to ventilate the lot of them then that’s precisely what I’ll do. And if a few Jehovah’s Witnesses get taken down in the confusion, well, just consider it a seasonal bonus from me to you.

A Christmas gratuity.

A yuletide freebie.

Totally debt free...

Friday, November 23, 2012

Releasing Your Inner Vile

Just as parents in olden times warned their children not so stray from the forest path or to accept sweets from strangers or to go into a strange man’s house to look at some puppies so the modern parent must burden its offspring with some more up-to-date caveats. Cautionary notes based around imminent celebrity – because there are so many 15 minutes of fame flying around these days a kid has to be pretty abnormal not to have an agent or a regular day time interview slot on some plebeian television “magazine” show.

These celeb rules can be condensed into:

Never get involved with Radio One DJ’s, especially those that do a lot of charity fun runs.

Never be part of a kiddie band if you harbour any pretension of being taken at all seriously as a musician when you are grown up.

And lastly but not least, do not ever sign yourself up to be Alan Sugar’s next young apprentice.

I quite enjoy the adult version of The Apprentice. Mainly because the contestants are akin to the painted wooden ducks on a fairground shoot ‘em up. They are dislikeable in the extreme. They are hate fodder. Pretentious, loudmouthed, arrogant, over-reaching, self-deluded arseholes to a man and to a woman. It is OK to hate them. Hell, they don’t even care. Their goal is earn so much money the negative opinions of us lesser mortals becomes merely a source of amusement to them.

But I don’t feel comfortable hating the kids on Young Apprentice. And yet I do. I do truly, truly hate them. For all the same reasons listed above in their adult counterparts. How shocking to realize that the traits of arseholedom can be seen to flourish at such young and tender ages.

All the arrogance, bile and contempt for every human being around you except for the one who’s got something you want is there, written large in their mannerisms and the way they conduct themselves... combined and augmented by the patronizing, callowness of those too young to fully grasp the way the world works but old enough to grasp the mistaken belief that they do in fact understand everything and understand it better than anybody else on the entire planet, so get out of my way and let me do what I want to do, you nobcheese, all you are required to do is to tell me that I am eternally, megalomaniacally right... now buy me a new Angry Bird themed iPad and shut the fuck up.

What kind of parent allows their kid to be a combatant on a show that makes the boys in Lord Of The Flies look like Rupert The Bear and Friends?

These kids are fearfully adept in their vileness. I sometimes wonder if they are kids at all. Surely they are adults masquerading as kids? No kid can surely be that callous and Machiavellian in their manoeuvring?

I certainly wasn’t at their age.

But I figure it all comes down to this: self belief.

To be truly vile, to be truly poisonous to your fellow man you need an above average sense of self belief. To be a King Bastard or a Queen Bitch you gotta believe in yourself worse than the kids from Fame. Because if you have any sense of self doubt, any inkling that actually, maybe you’re not half so great as you tell people you are, you just cannot stamp all over other people and walk away from it unscathed. Self belief cancels out conscience. Conviction tramples the little voice of reason in your head into oblivion.

Self doubt makes you a better person. It might make you a crap businessman but it makes you a decent member of the human race.

And for that reason alone I hope my kids never have enough self belief that they’ll ever want to be Alan Sugar’s next investment monkey.

And as for Jim’ll Fix It, well, that’s been off the cards for a long while.

Friday, November 16, 2012


I spat the dummy and now I'm sucking it back up again.

I had a hissy-fit, I was hasty, I erred in anger.

Or something like that.

Giving up Bloggertropolis has been harder than I thought it would be. It's been like having an arteficial limb that has seen me compete in the paralympics suddenly ripped off and denied me.

Plus my wife has pointed out that (a) Bloggertropolis is a weird kind of family annal that we and the kids can look back on when Karen and I are old and grey and the kids have booked us into the Tombstone Express Nursing Home and remember the good old bad old days and (b) I am advertizing myself as a writer - flaunting my novels and poetry - and it rather undoes all that good marketing if visitors to this blog then find I'm "no longer writing" anymore.

So with apologies I am kind of back.

My other writing projects will continue (Lord knows I have another novel to write even as I continue to push The Great Escapes of Danny Houdini onto unreceptive agents) but alongside them will be Bloggertropolis. Probably not as it was before. The posts may be a little more infrequent and out of the blue. But continue they shall.

And it feels right.

I am going to have my cake and eat it.

And if that's a hissy fit, well, I love it.

I'm getting all diva on yo' ass and there ain't  a thing you can do about it.

Except, er, maybe not read my posts...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Blogs. I wrote a few. But then again, too few to mention...

Well. That’s not factually true.

Since I began this on-line journey into the egotistical sublime back in the heady days of 2006 I’ve managed to rack up a mind-numbing 920 posts. I’ve been pretty darn consistent too. 3 posts a week for much of it, covering a wealth of subjects that have ranged from TV shows, politics, news events, social issues, home life and whatever doe-eyed beauty off the telly that I happened to fancy in any given moment.

But most of you won’t have failed to have noticed a gradual tailing off of productive output. A creative brewer’s droop. A distinct lessening of literal vitality.

My Bloggertropolis mojo is all but spent.

It’s time to draw a line beneath, put an end to and snuff out the guttering candle that is Bloggertropolis.

Oh hush your wailing. The end has been nigh for months now and the writing has been on the wall for longer than that.

The rot for me began when my blog was outed and touted by those who know me in real life (as opposed to just virtually). Without going over old wounds it caused upset and strife and made life difficult. Mostly for me (and I have to say my life is the one that I’m most concerned about). Certain subjects became taboo. Certain emotional chakras were suddenly blocked. Despite my best efforts I found myself gelded and my teeth pulled and a whacking great gag shoved into my mouth. Sure I kept going. Kept the writing production line rolling. Desperately tried to search out loopholes and ways round the restrictions... but euphemism and metaphor can only express so much.

Suddenly I woke up and found that Bloggertropolis had lost its bite, its bile and its balls (though thankfully not its alliteration).

I had become the blogging eunuch.

As much as it has tickled me to be a thorn in the side of so many for so long I have to admit to myself that the pale reflection this blog has become is now more of a thorn in my side than anybody else’s. Simply because it is not doing what I want it to do nor allowing me to express myself in the way that I would wish.

So, my old muckers, mateys and fellamelads, ‘tis time to say goodbye. Time to sign off and let the blogging underwriters evaluate my creative credit. I have other projects planned. Some of them not involving world domination or getting into Professor Alice Robert’s handsomely scientific knickers. Some lucky few of you will receive an email from me soon describing ways in which we might stay in touch.

The unlucky few can kiss my blogging ass.

This is how my blog ends.

Not with a bang (alas). But with you whimpering.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Blackheads Revisited

Secondary school is a world unto itself.

Inhabited by creatures whose brains are being rewired to such an extent that they no longer resemble other human beings on the planet. Fizzing human bombs (© Danielle Dax) whose hormone levels explode like weapons grade plutonium within the space of a few months and then pulse with a seedy half life that lasts for the next 30 years (if they’re lucky).

I remember it as a callous no-man’s land that delighted in alienating the weak or the different or (rarest of all) those who retained a modicum of human compassion. I felt alone and “outside” for most of my secondary school career. Hey. Why pull the punch? I felt dis-included for ALL of my secondary school career.

It could not be changed. It had to be borne. It had to be endured. And it was a horrifically lonely journey.

My eldest boy has suddenly found himself immersed in that same world. Curriculums might change. Teaching methods might be revolutionized. But the world of the geeky teenager remains essentially the same. The rites of passage that you largely walk alone.

He doesn’t make friends easily. He has trouble “getting” other people. He doesn’t connect well. He swings from ultra negative to overpowering positive without touching the middle ground in an instant; switches from totally controlling teen-god one minute to uber-victim the next who is unable to take responsibility for anyone or anything and thus finds himself always hopelessly disempowered.

Karen and I are at a loss as to how to help him beyond giving advice, helpful practical hints and trying to keep home life as secure as possible.

Because the simple truth is, unless you are one of the lucky ones, secondary school life starts off being diabolically damaging and only gets marginally better with each passing year. End of story.

How do you deal with the sniping comments of others? How do you deal with the bullying tactics of the playground – both overt and secretly snide? How do you deal with people who you once thought of as friends but now decide to ostracise you and leave you out in the cold at every opportunity?

What possible advice can I give to an 11 year old to combat all these issues when they are problems that, 28 years after leaving secondary school and now in full time employment, I still come up against and struggle with every week if not every day?

Because the sad fact is, although Secondary school is a world unto itself that isn’t meant to last forever, for some people (both good and ill), it bloody does.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Saville Row

The worst thing for me about the whole Jimmy Saville debacle isn’t the frenzied media circus that has suddenly vomited into being.

It isn’t the appallingly lazy round of jokes that, in one way or another, make pedestrian reference to any one of his ridiculous catch-phrases.

It isn’t the disapprovingly pious TV shows that show clips of Jimmy Saville from years ago when he made slyly inappropriate gags and comments to camera which the presenters of today then shake their heads and sigh censoriously about.

It’s the simple fact that, during my childhood, a time when I had no idea that such horrible things could happen, all this was allowed to happen. It was known. Known by adults from all professions and walks of life. Known by many. Suspected by many more. And no one did anything. No one did anything at the time when it would have made a difference. When it could have saved someone. It was covered up. It was brushed under the carpet because Jimmy did so much good work for charity and was a massive personality.

It was tolerated. It was, if not morally then certainly by the inaction of society, approved of. It was somehow the norm. It was the era of the lecherous uncle. The dodgy pervert at the end of the street. Mr Flasher who lived alone in the bungalow at the end of the road who’d get you if you were naughty.

And people wilfully turned a blind eye.

Well all those blind eyes as good as signed a huge permission slip for Mr Saville to do whatever the hell he liked, with who he liked and for as long as he liked.

The worst thing is all the time and money and energy currently being spent on someone who is dead and completely beyond our condemnation. All those head shakes and tuts and sneers. All those “I always felt there was something unsavoury about him” epiphanies that only serve to glorify the TV presenter spouting the sentiment. All those newspaper headlines from newspapers that chose not to run with the story back when he was alive and here on this planet and could have been brought to justice. All that violence directed at smashing a lump of inanimate, unfeeling, uncaring gravestone to make a point that Mr Saville will never get.

All this energy would be better spent being channelled into helping not just Jimmy’s victims but also the victims of all those Jimmys that are at large and still active right now. All those kids being abused outside our own little spheres of existence that we pass by in the street and keep ourselves wilfully in ignorance of when we walk to work or to the shops. It would be better spent identifying and stopping all those Jimmy Saville’s that are alive and well in every town and every city in this country of ours; better spent smashing the paedophile rings that flourish beneath the dark shadows of our middle class “not nice to talk about” ignorance rather than a dead bastard's gravestone.

A grave and a gravestone can’t hurt anybody.

You need to stop these people before they get put into the ground. Or just don’t bother.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Devey For Vendetta

For those of you who don’t have access to UK terrestrial TV (terrestrial? Is that even a proper term that can be applied to the HD digital extravaganza that composes most TV channels these days?) Hilary Devey is the multimillionaire business woman with shoulders pads like two US aircraft carriers playing tug-of-war and a voice like Darth Vader smoking stinging nettles through an Alaskan oil pipe who co-fronts the British version of Dragon’s Den.

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the format of Dragon’s Den. Five fat cat business moguls laugh and sneer at the pathetic attempts of various bedsit scientists to come up with “the next big thing” and prise 100K out of their greedily mercantile little paws.

Well, Hilary is one of them. She’s a dragon. She’s the weird mumsy-esque dragon who dresses like an extra from classic mid-eighties Dynasty and talks like Phyllis Pearce from Coronation Street.

She also has a face whose resemblance to someone else has for years been on the edge of my consciousness but has never quite broken through. Until now...

The likeness is uncanny. And I quite like the idea of Hilary practising knife-throwing skills around old London town whilst alliterating huge monologues around the letter V as she blows up the Houses of Parliament to the aural backdrop of the 1812 Overture. This was surely a casting exercise that the film makers of V For Vendetta are now kicking themselves for missing. They needn’t have bothered producing all those masks. Just give her a moustache and a smartly clipped imperial and she’s practically there. I bet she’s even got the hat somewhere in her own wardrobe already.

But for all I’m taking the urine out of this strangely Punchinello cheeked lady I can’t help but quite like her.

There’s something frail and human about her for all she expectorates Piedmont gravel every time she opens her mouth. I quite admire the fact she has made it in the male dominated world of business and made it without emulating (or even emasculating) not only the men but also the other women. Hilary is very much “out there” on her own. She is what people commonly call “a character”. A “personality”. She’s practically her own archetype. The anima of some weird medieval carnival god hand-carved by drunken monks on Lindisfarne as Viking raiders attempted to gain forced entry to their vellum lined inner sanctums. Oo-er.

Hilary appears to emanate her own completely localised biosphere. A Hilary Zone through which we – the denizens of the outside world – are filtered and interpreted before her formidable commerce-based intellect can fully ingest and process us. And if we are lucky, offer us 100K and her worldly-wise business acumen to ensure our new fangled, patent pending self-cleaning pooperscoop gets pride of place at Pets R Us.

Hilary is one of us. Slightly weird, slightly unhinged, more leftfield than Grayson Perry and with the bad dress sense and wardrobe to match. But she don’t care. Hilary is her own woman and does her own thing. She has cut herself adrift from fashion, taste and public opinion. The only thing that keep her moored to the plane of existence that we all share is her uncanny ability to make money. And, I sincerely hope, her unerring ability to throw razor-sharp knives at bent politicos.

Hilary, I salute you.

Long may you reign vainglorious and victorious at the vulpine vanguard of vicarious visual verisimilitude.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The Biology Of Evil

Some cultures believe that illnesses and disease are caused by evil spirits. Djinns.

Which is not to say that a sprite from the underworld suddenly appears in the steam from your freshly made mochaccino and curses you with gonorrhoea and a dowager’s hump.

(Trivia lovers among you might be delighted to learn that Microsoft Spellchecker’s suggestion for gonorrhoea was Gomorra – is God talking to me via Windows 7?)

It’s more that the disease itself has a personality. The disease has a presence on the same spiritual plane as us. 

Ooh get back in yer coffin Derek Acorah!

It sounds farfetched (hey, welcome to my blog!) but I can concur with this belief through my own experiences.

When I was about 9 I came down with a full-blown case of measles. I was delirious for about 4 days. I had constant nightmares and fever dreams. Measles is not a nice disease. Frankly I’m amazed that some parents avoid the MMR jab thinking that the risk of measles is somehow less of a concern. It’s not. Measles can blind. Measles can kill. Measles is truly horrible.

But that’s a separate topic.

On the last night of the fever, just before it broke I sleepwalked for the first and only time in my life. All I can recall of this incident is the feeling of slowly becoming conscious again as I walked in front of the mirror in my bedroom. It was recognizing myself that actually woke me up. Not that I was technically unconscious. My eyes were open. I was talking to myself. In a language that definitely wasn’t English. And the personality that was doing the talking definitely wasn’t mine. It wasn’t me who had been running the show up to this point.

Most of all though, the thing I remember most, is how evil I felt. Pure, pure, almost orgiastic evil.
When I made eye contact with myself in the mirror the other personality vanished. It just went. The fever broke and I collapsed onto the floor to be carried back into my bed by my parents who must have been disturbed by the noise I had been making. After that the recovery began and I slowly got better.

Now, years later as an adult, I think about this experience often. And it makes me wonder. Occasionally I’ve considered going to a hypnotherapist to see if I can be regressed back to that night to see what can be discovered.

But then I always think to myself: maybe it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie. Some boxes just shouldn’t be opened.


Was it demonic possession? Does measles have a spiritual presence and a personality that can be interacted with? It could be argued that the capacity to be evil is in all of us even without a disease but I ask you: how much evil can a 9 year old boy contain? And when I say evil I’m not talking about naughtiness or wrong doing; I am talking proper, full-on, Biblical style, pure evil.

Interesting questions, eh?

Next time you have a cold or a case of the flu... and you’re “not feeling yourself” for a few days... well, maybe there’s a damned good reason for that.

Sleep tight.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Home From The Park Too Soon

There is something incredibly bittersweet about walking your child home from school.

It struck me this morning as I made my way into work and my journey overlapped part of the route that me and Tom take every afternoon. For a second I saw myself transplanted 10 or 15 years hence looking back on our old walks home from school at a time when they’d be long behind us. And it occurred to me that this time, this experience, is very much only in the now. It isn’t going to last forever. The very nature of it – the route we take and the conversations we have – will change with each passing year until he gets too old to want to undertake the journey with me.

At the moment our route takes in the sweet shop (provided he has been a good boy at school). I buy him a little treat. Sometimes he insists that I get myself a little treat too (but only if I have been good). Sometimes we cut through the park. I ask him what he has learnt at school. Last week he told me very confidently that he had learnt how to be an artist. The felt-tip stains on his hands were testament to the truth of this.

In a few years time it won’t be sweets he’ll be after but computer game magazines. And if he answers my questions at all it will be a begrudging “long division” or “the 12 times table.”

This time we have now where everything is new and he is indefatigably enthusiastic will pass. We will find ourselves home from the park all too soon and perhaps going our separate ways.

I wonder if he will look back on these times as I undoubtedly will and find that he misses them.

Or maybe he won’t think of them at all until, like me, he has his own children to collect from school. Because, in truth, it is only now that I find myself thinking back to my own childhood journeys home from school. When my mum would collect me and my sister and we’d run out to find her waiting outside the school gates. Back in the days when we had proper winters with proper snow and we’d snowball fight and lob “accidental” snowballs at my mum’s umbrella as we trailed home behind her. When, if we had been good, we were allowed a quick trip to the sweetshop too.

Looking back on them now, those days seem to have gone by so quickly. So frighteningly quickly.

But I guess that’s the trouble when you’re a kid; you’re always home from the park too soon.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Private Dick

I’ve been feeling a little glum of late. A little uninspired. Every week I’ve got to the point where I’ve thought: this is it, old boy, your mojo has gone; it’s time to hang up the blogging hat and call it a day. I’m not feeling the love like I used to.

I haven’t written about it and I’m not going to go into it here. To write a post about how I’m finding it hard to write posts seems horribly, embarrassingly self indulgent. And although that would be totally in character I have to draw the line somewhere.

There are many reasons for my glumness:

Change in home life – the eldest son started at secondary school, the youngest starting school for the first time, Karen back in full time work and me changing my work shift completely so that I can be finished in time to pick the youngling up from the school gates. We’re all tired and frantic and not yet settled into the new work/life routine.

My novel is getting nowhere and I have temporarily lost the will to send out postal submissions or bum-lick my way up into the higher colonic echelons of Authonomy.

I also applied for a dream job and didn’t even make it through the initial paper-sift.

Police Community Support Officer.

It fairly rolls off the tongue doesn’t it?

Everyone I spoke to said I was made for the job. Even my boss. Ideal candidate material.

I spent more time on this particular application form than I have on any other. It was a work of art. I cogitated. I mulled. I thought about what I wanted to say and made sure what I said matched the job profile.

I had high hopes.

It sounded the perfect job. Not precisely a proper policeman but as near as damn it and without the responsibility of nicking / coshing / handcuffing / rubber-bulleting some ne’erdowell through the hallowed doors of justice. I would have been a bobby on the beat. A big friendly policeman (PC McGarry number 542). Dixon of Dock Green. H-evening all, madam, may I h-assist you in carrying your shopping home?

Walking about, outdoors, meeting people, in uniform. Who knows where it could have led?

But as always it led nowhere. I didn’t make the grade for interview. I wasn’t good enough to be not a proper policeman.

I feel properly gutted.

The only option I have open to me now is the one that all ex not proper policemen have before them... that of becoming a private dick.

Some of you will no doubt say that I am already halfway there...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Strange Vegetables

Black magic is afoot.

Something old and ancient and of the deepest, darkest soil.

As I have performed my daily security checks around Grindstone Towers I have encountered weird totems left out for me. Strange vegetables left in odd but prominent places.

I’m not talking peas or legumes. I am talking root vegetables. Turnips. Swedes. Mangelwurzels.

Mangelwurzels especially.

I have found no less than four of these left on pillar bases, at the tops of stairs and placed strategically in doorways so that they are hard to avoid.

It is hard not to take these portents personally though the cryptic message they contain could be meant for anybody I suppose, not necessarily me.

Wikipedia tells me that as far as mangelwurzels are concerned their “contemporary use is primarily for cattle, pig and other stock feed” though they can be fed to humans when the root is young.

What is a young root? A rootlet? Isn’t that a quickie in Australian slang?

Plainly someone feels that I am of bovine persuasion. It is hard not to interpret that as some kind of negative feedback.

Or course, I could be misreading the situation. Maybe a regular has seen me scoffing my face with chocolate and feels that I should be eating more healthily and has taken to leaving me various food items that I could take home and incorporate into a nice stew. Sort of a low level piecemeal Red Cross food parcel service.

I admit I have been surveying the visitors to the Library contained within Grindstone Towers trying to identify the potential reader of the large print version of “Fifty Shades Of Gravy” but all to no avail. They are keeping their identity well hidden. It could be absolutely anybody.

Should I, of course, ever find a mangelwurzel in my bed I will know that the truth is I have offended the countryside mafia in some way and that my time on this good green earth is now at an end and I am about to be harvested forthwith (and not, alas, for my succulence). For as it is written: all flesh is like grass, and all of man's glory like the flower in the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls...

But all I have at the moment is guess work. Guess work, speculation and conjecture. The truth is I don’t know what is happening only that it is strange and disturbing and nebulously sexual and I would welcome input from anybody at all on this matter.

Please carve all ideas and theorems into the back of a parsnip and send them to the usual address please.

Or alternatively just leave them out in the street for me to find in the morning.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Spare The Rod

My youngest son, Tom, started school for the very first time on Monday afternoon and our two walks home along the canal over the last 2 days when I have collected him from his afternoon sessions have possibly been the most educational part of the experience.

Sadly not in a positive way.

On Monday we encountered someone who could invariably be described as a street urchin / little ruffian / miniature yobbo / future politician mouthing off to another child in the middle of the path. His choice of language would have made a rugby player blush if not burst into tears.

I really don’t want my 4 year old hearing language like that so early in life (I’d much rather he waited until next week when he is at school full time and can gain bona fide playground experience) so I asked the little thug to stop.

In retrospect this was a bad move. In retrospect telling him to “learn some manners” probably sounded hopelessly archaic and so far outside his normal lexicon he could inevitably only respond by telling me to “eff off”. And then repeating this singularly choice phrase until we were well out of earshot.

I wasn’t impressed but hoped it was a one-off. Tom just thought the boy was “a meanie”.

Sadly we had another run-in with the same kid yesterday afternoon. This time he was thrashing an expensive looking fishing rod into the filmy soup of the canal. Any hope of walking by unmolested was blown when one of his compadres remarked “there’s that man again.” Without provocation the airways were split by another round of expletives. This time God could be heard sighing expressively from somewhere within the lofty heavens as hellish epithets were once more rained down upon the good green earth.

I’d had enough by then. Lord knows it doesn’t take much to get my goat. My goat has been got and got on so many times I’m thinking of renaming her Marianne Faithless.

I made a point of reading the name of the school that was emblazoned on the lad’s jumper. When he demanded to know what I was looking at I told him I was making a note of his school so I could ring up his headmaster and talk to him. He responded with, “you’ll have an effing job ‘cos I don’t have an effing headmaster” by which, with superior intelligence and Sherlock Holmesian mental agility, I deduced that he had a headmistress.

I also got the fishing rod waved in my face which, though it made me feel a little affronted, was also largely comical. I do hope he got my size right when he told his parents about the one that got away.

Anyway, Dr Google soon furnished me information about the school and a little humility. It proved to be a school for kids with behavioural problems and social issues. It took much of the sting out of the situation. Plainly this very angry young man has many things to be angry about.

However, it’s not right that my 4 year old should have to endure such behaviour on his walk home every night when he is right at the very start of his school career. So I rang the headmistress and explained the situation. She easily identified the boy and said she would deal with it forthwith. She explained that the school takes an active approach in engaging with their pupil’s behaviour both in and out of the classroom and she wanted to be kept informed if there was any repeat performance though she hoped her talk with him in the morning would knock it all on the head. I admitted I’d all but made up my mind to take an alternative route home with my boy anyway. We agreed that I shouldn’t have to but we could both see that constant encounters with this boy are only going to inflame the situation and make it worse. It is unfair to expect him to show a forbearance that is plainly beyond him at this current stage of his development.

So Tom and I will take a slightly longer walk home tonight. It feels unfair but I can’t help but wonder how much more unfair life is for that very angry little street urchin...

After all, his chances of finding a live fish in that canal are absolutely zero.

And somehow that feels like a damning metaphor.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Blessed Are Those Whose Anger Flowers Early

I believe the Italians have a saying: beware the anger of a patient man.

The reason being, I am sure, that the anger of someone with a short fuse who is prone to ignite at the merest whiff of a spark tends to be short-lived. It tends to be all noise and no fire. The damage radius remain relatively local.

I’m sure there are exceptions and I am at pains to point out that this is by no means an empirically proven thesis.

The corollary, however, is certainly true. The anger of a man who remains for years, if not decades, patient, calm, tolerant and tranquil must be devastating when it finally blows. We are talking thousand mega-tonne detonation. Something that wipes out half a continent. The collateral damage must be catastrophic.

I much regret being so tolerant, calm and level-headed. I regret being a patient man. Especially in the face of certain situations and circumstances over the years that when viewed logically and with perspective plainly call for someone to be given am almighty slap. I am, of course, talking metaphorically. I abhor all kinds of physical violence. (Unless it is done to my enemies).

Much better, much healthier to open the bottle a little every day and let out a small fizzing demon every now and then, as the need arises. The pressure is relieved. The beast has its moment in the sun and tires itself out. It retires and the bottle is resealed. All is made safe.

When this is not done, however, the beastie grows. It grows inside the bottle. It grows and grows. The bottle begins to chafe. The ever tightening constraints of the bottle then adds to the beasts anger. The pressure builds.

Until it get to the point where it is not ever safe to open it. The beast inside will run riot. The beast inside will tower over everything and level the entire city. It is much too strong now to be loosed upon the world. So the bottle top is tightened. You try to forget the demon is there but, of course, as is the way of things, the beast grows most quickly in the dark, most voluminously when it is ignored.

But the bottle cannot hold it forever.

The bottle is becoming more and more brittle with age. The will to keep the stopper held in place is become weaker, becoming compromised.

The effect is a nuclear countdown that cannot be deactivated.

You can cut the red wire, the blue wire or even the yellow but it will make no difference. If anything you will only speed up the clock.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Whatever Happened To My Ergonomic Butt?

Some people might put it down to my being thin. I’m one of Pharaoh’s lean kind, as my Nan would have said. I’ve always been slim. No excess fat. No padding. No upholstery.

The package is the product.

But by all the gods of DFS I cannot sit on a park bench for more than 30 seconds before my butt starts killing me.

I mean, real got-to-scoot-about-a-bit-right-now-before-my-buttocks-implode agonizing pain.

Is this normal? Is it just me? Because I am very aware that there other people – kids, young mums, oldsters, etc – who all hang around the park and seem able to deposit their derrieres onto the benches for upwards of an hour at a time and sit there smiling and laughing as if they have just immersed their assorted buns into a giant vat of soothingly cool Nivea skin cream.

They don’t fidget or grimace or wish they’d brought some kind of floatation device.

So there must be a marked difference between their butts and mine. It doesn’t come down to trunk size or the firmness of the pillows... ‘cos some of those old folks are so skeletal they’re in danger of falling between the slats.

Somehow my buttocks are missing the comfort chromosome; the rest-easy gene.

Park benches must obey some kind of ergonomic design plan but I seem to be the exception to that particular rule. My butt is outside their design envelope. My pert cheeks are in ergonomic exile.

I am plainly not meant to take a comfort break in a park or ever, ever be seated in one.


It’s really not fair.

And the police wonder why I hide in the bushes...

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The War Against Plants

There are plans afoot to remove all greenery from my household.

Shrubbery, foliage and photosynthesis have been designated public enemy status.

There are those – the powers who have come to be – who are working hard to turn the green and pleasant land of my living room into a desert. The windowsills, once a tropical paradise courtesy of B&Q, are already denuded. Deforestation is occurring at such an alarming rate I am thinking of launching a campaign on Facebook and asking Bono to perform a charity gig.

Yes. It’s that bad.

Our kittens – now at the feline teenager stage – have taken it upon themselves to munch, push, kick, pounce, harass, eat and slash every single plant organism we own to the point of death. Their favourite tactic is to turn themselves into a feline ballista. They launch themselves at the curtains, climb up and then, when they have reached optimum height and can guarantee that, with the help of gravity they can reach terminal velocity, they re-sheath their claws and freefall onto whatever hapless spider plant is basking innocently beneath them.

Should the triffids ever attack their nemesis is right here.

Were I to let Missy and Kiah loose in Brazil I fear the loggers would soon be out of a job and the rain forests would be out of existence. They would see Kew Gardens as a bit of light lunch.

Nothing we can do seems to stop them. Our carpets have had so much soil deposited onto them I could throw down seed potatoes and grow a decent crop for Christmas.

We’ve tried shouting, tapping their little nosey-wosies gently, even removing them bodily from the room.

They laugh in our faces. Or rather they stare at us without blinking, ears back and then carry on their carnage like we don’t exist. This, as you all know, is the cat equivalent of laughing.

So we are down to mechanical warfare.

Weapons of war. Something with a trigger.

A weapon of mass inundation.

We have accepted that it is now necessary to spray our cats with water whenever they do something naughty.

I feel a bit uneasy about it. It feels too much like water-boarding but really the only other option is the electric chair... and despite their destructive mischievousness we love them both to bits and don’t want to stamp down too hard on their feline rights.

And who knows?

Should a jet of cold water to the mush work without too much psychological damage we may even try it on the kids...

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Midday Express

I went for a lunch time meal with mates the other day.

We tried the new Wagamama’s that had opened in town a month or two ago.

My experience of noodles up to this point had been constrained to the dry stuff that you buy in supermarkets and boil for about 10 minutes or the occasional visit to a Thai restaurant. I figured Wagamama’s fell somewhere between the two with its noodles being cooked by professional chefs but cooked in a kitchen belonging to a restaurant chain as opposed to a little Thai family who emigrated here in the 80’s and opened up a family run restaurant in a shoebox.

I was quite impressed by the Wagamama experience. There was an energy about the place that you don’t normally find in restaurants. The waiters and waitresses were visibly busy. As opposed to being invisibly busy where you cannot see them but charitably suppose them to be about the business of another diner.

The food was good but as this is not a sponsored post I am not going to wax lyrical about their fresh spring onions or the tenderness of their chicken breasts. Instead I am going to focus on the tables.

Wagamama’s in Leamington has long trestle tables that span the entire width of the eating environment. Down the centre of this table glides a metal dividing pole with a small strip light installed into the top of it so that one side of the trestle table is divided from the other by close quarter lighting from above.

Maybe to those of you who “do lunch” regularly this is old hat. Those of you who are more cosmopolitan possibly eat from loveseats suspended 8ft above lotus flower strewn water and consider the novelty of long benches and tables to me as being rather twee. To me, however, it was new. And unfortunately my diseased mind could only conjure up one reference point with which to normalize the experience.

Midnight Express.

The bit where Billy Hayes has been locked up but gets a last visit from his girlfriend and attempts to connect his slobbering, sobbing lips with her pert breasts through about two inches of bullet proof, knife proof, definitely penis proof glass.

Mentioning this out loud probably explains why the conversation between me and my two female colleagues stalled momentarily.

This aside I was impressed by the amount of young kids that were about the place merrily tucking into steaming bowls of eastern-esque cuisine.

Haven’t us proles come a long way since I was a kid?

Back when I were a lad (by ‘eck) it were a big thing to eat out at a Berni Inn let alone somewhere that sold sushi and noodles and expected you to mop the lot up with a pair of chopsticks.

Such marlarky was for rich toffs – those who holidayed in places other than Weston-super-Mare and Scunthorpe and instead pushed the envelope out to the continent and ate at an El Berni Posada in Spain.

The world has very quickly got a lot smaller.

Though, of course, this could entirely be down to an optical illusion caused by the size of the tables...

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Kissin’ Don’t Last, Cookin’ Do

I have lots of memories of my Nan’s kitchen from when I was a child. Despite the utility furniture it always seems a luxurious kind of place. Mostly because my Nan would allow my sister and I to help ourselves to the sugar bowl, to lick the icing spoon and, if we had been particularly good, she would allow us to stir the hot milk into the Bird’s custard. This was an especial duty indeed and always led to low level rivalry between my sister and I as to who’s turn it was that week.

The kitchen, of course, is a dangerous place for a small child but my Nan always managed to keep us out of danger without raising a sweat. The only real fear she ever expressed was on wash days when the old mangle would be in use to squeeze the water out of the clothes. She would always extol us not to put our fingers into the mangle and there would be something in her eyes other than a mere warning to use our good sense.

I have no idea if she’d ever witnessed a real mangle based accident; she never said. And now whenever I hear talk of mangles all that really comes to mind for me is Dudley Moore singing snidely of “not laughing so hard since Aunty Mabel got her left tit caught in the mangle”. Thankfully such incidents were a world away from my Nan’s kitchen.

What  sticks in my mind most about my Nan’s kitchen is the little mounted egg timer she always kept hung on the wall above the work surface. Engraved into the top of it were the words: Kissin’ Don’t Last, Cookin’ Do. I’m sure she said it used to belong to her own mother but I can’t swear to the veracity of that now. She never used it to time anything that I know of – her cooking was like that; instinctive, nothing written down, no reference to cook books. Ingredients and timings were all in her head.

She was a great cook. I know this because I was an incredibly fussy eater as a child but there was no food cooked by my Nan that I would not eat. Her stew was to die for and her Yorkshire Puddings were incredible. It is to my eternal chagrin that I never asked her for the recipes and instructions of how to make them. Lord knows I have tried and Karen has tried. But we can never manage to get them quite right. Never the way my Nan used to do it. I fear that all those childhood smells and tastes are lost to me forever.

Not that my Nan was always an expert in the kitchen. She was fond of telling us that in the first week of being married to my granddad every meal she attempted to cook on their new Rangemaster stove came out wrong. By the seventh day she told him that if today’s meal didn’t turn out right she’d be off for good.

She’d pause as the sense of shock sank into my sister and I and washed over our faces.

And then she’d smile and say, “But I’m still here so it must have turned out alright.”

I have the egg timer now. It was one of the things I rescued from my grandparents house before it was sold a few years ago after the death of them both.

I keep it safe in an archive box with other stuff from the house. It is much too fragile to hang back on a wall. Too old and delicate and far too precious to measure out petty three minute intervals of time.

The sands have stopped and are forever still, exactly as they were after the last grain ran through. Despite their immobility they measure years of time that are far more significant now.

Even cookin’ don’t last forever.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


There can be no more debilitating combination of words in the English language than “third party subcontractor”.

Its dictionary definition must surely read: “pronoun, common insult, ‘yee-har, move ‘em up, ride ‘em out, raw hide’, about as much use as football boots on a jellyfish”.

To my mind – and I am probably being wildly unfair – despite all the shenanigans with work permits and legal contracts that undoubtedly bind the sub contractor to the contracting agent they are still one step down from tinkers and gypo’s... and only slightly better than those gangs of swarthy, neckerchiefed ruffians who tarmac your drive without your permission and then forcibly present you with an invoice that has been date stamped by the knuckledusters of their accounts clerk who also happens to moonlight as an all-in wrestler down by the docks on a Friday night to earn enough money for his mother’s sex change operation.

When I know work is being carried out by a third party subcontractor I know in my heart of hearts that the work would be more effectively carried out by a team of onanistic chimpanzees.

Clearly the top level contractor tends to agree with me as that is who invariably turns up to perform the work.

The pavements along our street were resurfaced last week. Coldmacked. Some sort of cheapo tarmacadam is thinly applied to the pavement like swirling a teaspoon of soup around the interior of a bain-marie – the object being to acquire a thin but even coating all round that dries in the fraction of the time.

Notice for this kind of work – especially when it stands between you and your own front door – is usually given with enough consideration that you can make alternative arrangements; i.e. either arriving home earlier or later or bunking up with a friend.

Our goodly subcontractor last week gave my street a mean hour’s notice. Most of us – my wife and I included – were at work. The first my wife knew of the resurfacing was when she drove over it to reach our front drive. Meanwhile, when I arrived home two hours later I had to perform the long-jump to get from the grass verge to my own hallowed garden path. The result is that we have two dynamic tyre marks making it look as if my wife constantly skids the car into the front garden and my back heel is forever immortalized to be one day dug up and cooed over by a futuristic Tony Robinson.

The stuff – the “cold mac” – was meant to take a measly hour to dry. Imagine our surprise then when we exited the family domicile the next morning and found the car left further tyre marks in the still soft tarmac when we pulled out of the drive.

The letter of advice slung through our door at the eleventh hour warned us not to step onto the tarmac for an hour after it had been applied lest we disfigure the appearance of the pavement and get tarmac onto our carpets which, the letter writer was at pains to add, would be very difficult to remove.

Plainly we were meant to camp out in the street all night with the kids until sometime the next day. Maybe even stay in a hotel. Or just construct a trebuchet with which we could have launched the kids into their beds through the closed bedroom window.


Cowboys employed by idiots contracted by pen pushing accounts clerks who spent the 57 pence they saved buying a novelty Tippex-mouse.

I can smell the lucky heather from here.

Can’t you?

Friday, August 24, 2012

When You Have A Pussy You Never Pee Alone

A sure-fire way to overcome shy bladder syndrome is to have a very young boy in the household who needs to be taught correct man pee etiquette.

But there is only so much that can be taught via words alone, especially when your shared vocabulary reference points centre around Raa-Raa The Noisy Lion or The Cat In The Hat.

You have to give practical demonstrations which cover stance, distance from the bowl, water pressure and the inevitable final shake-off.

These are life skills that take a number of months for any pre-schooler to master sufficiently well enough that they can choreograph the perfect pee without getting their water on the floor, on their feet or, indeed, the gusset of their pants.

By the end of it though you should have a boy who can shoot the bum hairs off a gnat and a dad who finds he can now relax so well that he could pee live on stage at the London Palladium in front of Her Majesty the Queen and (unlike Prince Philip) manage a constant and smooth flow with no kangaroo-hopping at all.

And indeed that was the case with me.

Until the introduction of a couple of inquisitive kittens into the family dynamic a few months ago.

Curiosity might not always kill the cat but it is guaranteed to get its head wet...

Our kittens are much taken with our toilet.

They run from the sound of the flush but then return immediately to have a good nose around the bowl. At first, this was restricted to the lowering of tentative whiskers into the opening. It soon progressed, however, to walking on all fours around the rim.

Our attempts to discourage this behaviour have singularly failed.

And it has led to a disturbing new development.

I now find I cannot “water the trouser snake” without having a pair of pointy kitten ears and the back of a kitten head protruding from between my legs at about knee height.

Even more disconcerting though, on occasion, I now find a pair of glowing kitten eyes looking straight up at me and making insistent and hungry eye contact from somewhere deep beneath my trigger finger.

I’m finding that my flow is not as strong as it once was...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Public Death, Private Murder

One of the places we visited during our recent stay in deepest Gloucestershire was Slad. It was very much an off-the-cuff visit that we made at the end of the holiday on our return journey home as we knew beforehand that it was a tiny little village which sported no more than a church, a few houses and a pub. Hardly a tourist hotspot and not really worth an entire day out.

However, it was the birthplace and final resting place of Laurie Lee, one of Karen’s favourite authors. Most of you, I’m sure, will be familiar with the title Cider With Rosie even if you have never read the book.

I wasn’t expecting much from Slad to be honest.

But to be even more honest it was one of the most beautiful, peaceful places I have ever visited. There was a gentle calmness about the place which soothed the soul.

We found Laurie Lee’s grave with ease, pottered about the village – barely more than a single street – and then settled down for an ice cream at The Woolpack.

I was a little nervy of the pub if the truth be told. Karen had told me about one of the memories Lee had recounted in his book which centred around one of the village lads meeting an unfortunate end after a night of drinking in this very pub. Having travelled to New Zealand and returned much wealthier, said local boy was rather full of himself and, much to the chagrin of the those he’d left behind who’d never travelled much further than Pitchcombe, he proceeded to spend the entire night boasting and I daresay belittling the relative parochial mentality of his old childhood chums.

His pride met with fist and blows at closing time and the locals, having sweetened their own worldly inadequacies with the gift of a good kicking, left the poor chap unconscious in the snow.

He froze to death and was found dead the next morning.

The police investigation drew only shrugs and silence and there the matter ended – except for those in the know, of course. I’m sure Lee must have ruffled quite a few nervous feathers by including the story in his memoirs.

Thankfully I have not (as yet) travelled to New Zealand and decided I would keep my past holidays to Egypt and America under wraps... just in case. After all the pub could well still be a local tavern for local people.

As it was we were met with good humoured friendliness and a kindly, non-curious acceptance given that it was plain we were complete strangers (there can be no more than 20 people living in the entire village).

I think we spent a couple of hours there. Doing not very much at all. Just enjoying and soaking up the atmosphere and dreaming.

For all there were telegraph poles, chip and pin machines and modern cars parked about the place, it felt as if Slad had somehow been loosed from the normal constraints of the passage of time. Change obviously comes slowly and by small increments to this tiny little village. Even the adverts on the pub waste bins were for R White’s Lemonade. I haven’t seen that advertised publically in years.

It was a good place. Life felt wholesome there. Honest. More simple.

Of course, these are all just first impressions made in the space of a single moment. For all I know there was a bondage club in the house next door and the woman at the end of the road regularly hosts parties where car keys are thrown into a fruit bowl where peaches of all nationalities have never rested but have instead been bounced off the walls and a rubber sheeted four-poster with the kind of passion that one only sees in French art house movies.

But somehow I don’t think so.

Laurie Lee sleeps peacefully in the church yard over the road and Slad is still very much his dream.

Monday, August 20, 2012


What I know about cars can be restricted to three spheres of knowledge:

1) How many wheels a car has.
2) What colour a particular car happens to be (provided I can see it, of course – I don’t do telepathy or foretelling).
3) What the purpose of the airbag and the seatbelt is.

Other than that, talk of engine size, fuel mix and torque ratios means absolutely nothing to me (oh Vienna). And I am not, in truth, interested in finding out. A car is a car is a car.

But today my wife and I have bought a new car. A new second. A Peugeot 206.

Our last car was a Peugeot 106 so I am assuming from this that our new car is 100% bigger and 100% faster but I might be wrong about this.

Our old car has served us well. It was 7 years old when we bought it and has lasted another 7 to this present moment in time. It has taken us to Wales and back numerous times. It has taken us to Legoland Windsor no less than 5 times. It brought Tom from the hospital to our home when he was a mere few days old.

It has taken me to work when I didn’t want to go. Picked me up in the rain when passing. Taken rubbish to the dump. Taken us to the cinema, shopping, friend’s houses and, all in all, assisted us in various errands.

But our recent holiday has killed it.

Barely half an hour into the outward journey the trim on the right side fell off. On the second day the hand-brake snapped and we had to call out the AA. On Friday 10th, in the depth of Cheddar Gorge, the exhaust – much loosened by a malicious branch a few days earlier – virtually fell off. We had to get it stapled back on by a kindly Cheddar mechanic (no cheesy jokes please) and avail ourselves of a Kwik-Fit fitter in Stroud on our homeward journey to get a new exhaust fitted.

A galling expense when the plan had always been to trade the old girl in for a new one in September anyway (or rather, sell her for scrap – but we never said that out loud lest we hurt her feelings).

So. We decided to listen to the omens. To obey them. September may be a month too far. The old girl might well expire before we get a chance to put a bullet through her crust.

And so in a whirlwind of activity that saw us purchase the current copy of Autotrader and thumb tenderly through its Top Gear-esque innards we had a new prospective car lined up in a matter of days.

We went. We saw. We test drove. We liked.

Today we paid up and drove home our new wheels leaving our old girl on the forecourt awaiting her last journey (to the knackers’ yard). We have opened every compartment, pulled up every seat. We have reclaimed lost Pok√©mon cards and bits of Lego that have probably not seen the light of day since Christmas 2006. The bits of crisp and mouldy tuna sandwiches will be our gifts to the scrap dealer and our fragrant offering to the god of cars.

I pray he takes our old girl to his bosom and gives her long and straight celestial roads to travel during her journey through the afterlife.

I don’t know much about cars...

...but I know we loved and appreciated our old 106 very much.

Goodbye, girl.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

I'll Give You A Klout Around The Ear

I haven't, if I'm honest, got Klout.

I haven't got it and I don't get it.

I have, at best, a tolerate / hate relationship with Facebook. When I think about it too much I feel my lips pull up into a sneer as I calculate the myriad ways that this whole particular social networking platform is spiritually and morally wrong. When I don't think about it at all I post funny pictures and status updates with comedic value.

Occasionally I'll let Twitter be my bitch. But I treat it mean and keep it locked up in the basement for most of the time. I'll cold-shoulder it for weeks on end before gracing it with a brief caress; before I brush a finger across its erogenous zone. And then, just as its about to come, I'll drop it.

Screw you, Twitter. You love it.

But Klout foxes me.

I keep getting Klout requests and notifications and I cannot for the life of me work out what I am supposed to do with them. I can't even work out if I'm meant to be pleased that someone has Klouted me. In common parlace I'd say probably not; I ought to be pissed off. But people are sending them to me in the same spirit as a poke on Facebook. And even I know that a good poke is good for the soul.

But what the fuck is Klout?

Can someone please tell me?

I click on the links when someone throws a Klout my way and, yes, a page opens in my browser that looks rather glossy and slick but I cannot see any direction at all as to what I am supposed to do next. Other than to shrug my shoulders and think to myself, "OK, that's several hundred nanoseconds of my life that I'll never be able to devote back to internet porn" and then I close down the window.

I'm guessing Klout is some kind of competition. A popularity contest. I'm guessing the idea is to build up some kind of influence on the internet and Klout gauges just how much clout one has accrued.

But it also seems transparent to me that other web sites don't give a shit what Klout says so having acres of clout on Klout is going to benefit me a fat load of diddly-squat.

Will it get me a table reservation at The Ivy for tomorrow lunchtime? No.

Will it get me onto the film set of Doctor Who and into the knickers of Alex Kingston? No.

Will it buy me credit enough with my bank manager than I can resign from my job with instant effect and never have to return next week to it when my holiday ends? No.

In that case I am not interested.

The only clout you're going to get from me, Klout, is the back of my hand.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Buy My Book!

Or at least "Like" it.

No comments necessary on this post as there is another favour I'd like to ask of you if you have the time and inclination. No exchange of monies necessary.

My first novel, The Book Of Ouroboros, is now out on Kindle for the knockdown price of £0.00 - though it may revert back to the bank breaking price of £0.99 at some point in the future.

This was my first foray into novel writing and is something of a curio for me as it is not at all representative of my usual style of writing. It is a horror. It is adult. It is explicit. And it goes to some rather dark and grim places.

Like any writer, the most recently completed novel tends to take the laurels - hence my second novel, The Great Escapes Of Danny Houdini, is taking the lion's share of my efforts to get published.

However, a lot of time and effort went into The Book Of Ouroboros (about 3 years) and it seems idiotic to leave it languishing on my hard drive when it could be out in the real world doing something useful. Something useful like being read or, Heaven forbid, earning me minimum royalties.

Hence I have thrown it to the dogs of Kindle.

Sorry. It occurs that I'm not really selling it to you. Try this:

Contains explicit sex.
Contains violence.
Contains bad language and themes of an adult nature.
May contain traces of nut.

Sold? If so you can head off via the links below and download to your heart's content.

For those of you who don't have your boats floated by nasty psychological horror stories then you can still do your bit by following the links below and clicking on the "Like" button. And then, to put the cherry on the cake, you can scroll slightly further down the page (underneath the Product details) and find the section entitled "Tags Customers Associate with This Product". Click the link in this section entitled "See all 15 tags..." and then, when the page refreshes, check all of the 15 check boxes.

Apparently this will give the profile of the book a real boost and augment my meagre marketing skills.

Amazon UK: The Book Of Ouroboros

Amazon US: The Book Of Ouroboros

You are all wonderful paragons of human virtue and I thank you all very muchly.

P.S. For those of you who'd like to support my second novel's slow climb up the ranking of Harper Collins' Authonomy web site you can log in and read The Great Escapes Of Danny Houdini by following this link:

If you're already on Authonomy, if you'd kindly add it to your "bookshelf" and "rate it" then I'd be eternally grateful. If you're not a member then I'd esteem it a great honour if you'd become one and follow the same instructions.