Monday, December 29, 2014

End Of Year Arse-Wipe

Like my natural propensity for forgiveness, blogging hasn’t come easy this year. I’ve struggled. Not so much with ideas or subject matter – there is always some kind of fat that my mind is chewing over – but with inclination; the desire to write and by writing, sharing. “I can’t be bothered,” are the 4 most common (non)spoken words that the little voice inside my soul has thrown out at me this year. Can’t be bothered. And if I did write something who would be bothered to read it? Is it worth my time and effort? Will anybody miss it if I don’t write about it. Will anyone miss me if I overdose on Yorkie bars right now and drive my metaphorical 18 wheeler off the petty minded cliff edge of social media?

This is a bit of a turn around. When I first started writing this blog back in the heady days of 2006 my answer to most of the above questions would have been, “of course no one will miss it if I don’t write about it; of course they won’t miss me, mad fools that they are; and no, no-one really will be bothered to read anything at all that I write BUT I don’t care, I want to write it so I shall – if nothing else it will entertain me.”

And therein lies the problem, I fear. I am no longer entertaining myself. But like a starving tramp scouring the floor for dropped popcorn I still feel a duty to turn up at the theatre just in case I find a hot dog.

To be honest the last half of 2014 has been so unremittingly crap I haven’t wanted to write. I haven’t wanted to engage with the stuff that has been happening. Couple that with an estranged relative who has quite viciously taken against me and this here blog and feels I have no right to write about things that directly affect me if they also happen to affect her and has basically condemned my outpourings here as a feeble minded attempt to garner sycophantic approval from a bunch of faceless, equally needy and nerdy peers and you have the recipe for a perfect storm. Or at least a very wet weekend which makes you not want to get out of bed or do anything very exciting at all.

If I was in any way consistent I would stop writing. I would stop this blog and disappear.

But I can’t. I can’t quite give in. Instead I fudge and mither. I seek a halfway house. I try and instigate a cotton-wool rebellion. Softly softly not quite catchy monkey. I throw a hand grenade but make sure nobody is around to get hurt before I pull out the pin. This is not the spirit in which this blog was bathed at its inauguration.

But there you go. Older and wiser and all that. Certainly a darn sight more tired.

And a darn sight more underhand. For a very brief rundown of current events do visit here (most of you who are regular readers will find you have the correct access rights)… the general hoi polloi, however, will be unable to follow.

Sorry for the cloak and dagger stuff but some of it is quite sensitive and I really don’t want to be dealing with the inevitable fall-out from Estranged Relative (who is like the Argentinian Government to my blog’s quite innocent car registration number*).

Not sure if that makes me Jeremy Clarkson or Richard Hammond. Probably more likely to be James May.

So, going into 2015 there is some major booty that needs kicking (or otherwise dealing with). In the midst of all that though there might be the off-chance of acquiring a flattering girdle which may offer an attractive backdrop to some of life’s more sombre moments. But, like helium, so much of it is up in the air at the moment that it’s just not worth buying the balloon until things become more definite.

I will, however, try and reinvest this blog with a little more spirit and vigour in 2015. I will try and reclaim it for myself and go hang the dissenters. Because, maybe, just maybe, life it too short not to.

*Or possibly even the Mel B to my chirpy Micky Flanagan...

Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday

I rarely indulge in “reality shopping” these days – if I can call it that – preferring instead the one-click delights of the virtual shopping basket that allows me to specifically search for a desired item without being distracted by other items on the shelf and without having to immerse myself in the body odour zone of the other shoppers at the check-out till. In truth I’ve become so conditioned to armchair shopping that I have forgotten how to physically browse for goods. I doubt I could even orientate myself around an alphabetized DVD display these days so used am I to typing in the first four letters of a movie title and then choosing the correct one from a drop-down menu.

But at this time of year I break with my usual habits and find myself wandering aimlessly through shopping malls at lunchtime looking for that flash of inspiration that will transmogrify into the perfect present for Auntie Doreen or Uncle Engelbert – basically forcing myself to think outside the tick-box.

I’m happy to report that my fellow shoppers have been polite and courteous to the point of not obstructing me or fighting me for the goods. I’d go so far as to say they’ve largely ignored me, so engrossed are they in their own lives and their own retail forays. This is how it should be,

Today, of course, is Black Friday. Yet another American tradition that has crossed the Atlantic to infect these shores with its salacious money-grubbing ways. Apparently it has something to do with Thanksgiving*, something we Brits don’t as yet celebrate but let’s give our American brethren time (*and not a reference to the way the Ferguson Police Department celebrate the commencement of the weekend). The excuse, of course, is that we are all immersed in the global market these days so ‘special shopping days’ like Black Friday are no longer confined to their country of origin. Whatever. I must confess I have partaken of some Black Friday deals online but the thought of queuing up for real outside a store akin to a rehearsal for the Boxing Day Sales does not float my mercantile boat. I just don’t want to be jostled by a crowd. It’s never enjoyable. And it’s worse when you are fuelled with the stress of trying to beat your fellow shoppers to the last turkey in the butcher’s shop window.

Apparently the police have had to be called out today to various supermarkets up and down the UK to exercise calming measures on the ferociously competitive crowds and there have even been injuries and some arrests. People have been knocked to the floor and trampled for the sake of a Terry’s Chocolate Orange and others have been kneecapped for the prize of the last Frozen sing-a-long robotic doll. That’s not strictly true but although the details are fiction the overall picture is fact.

I can’t help feeling a sneering sense of despair that we – us normal, everyday, average consumers – can resort to such bestial behaviour for the sake of a few bargains. How quickly the thin veneer of social order is scraped away when someone waves a cheap box of mince pies our way. The pictures of the various online debacles resemble wildebeest fighting over the best place at the watering hole, not caring if their neighbour is spilled into the mouth of a patiently waiting crocodile.

It is appalling behaviour. But sadly not uncommon. I can recall a friend of mine once telling me of a furniture warehouse that was closing down in town. On the last day they gave away the remaining stock for free. A great opportunity, you’d think, for poorer families to benefit from some rare business largesse. Not so. The poor families were elbowed – literally – out of the way to enable entrepreneurs with vans to load up as many freebies as they could to resell at a later date at 100% profit. My friend was so disgusted by the behaviour of those around him he walked away empty handed by choice.

It’s the same kind of mind-set at play at these Black Friday riots. Screw thy neighbour in the manner you suspect he is going to screw you.

I’ve heard people theorize that shopping is a modern extension of the hunter / gatherer skills that are deeply imbedded within our psyche. I think this kind of behaviour disproves that theory. Hunter / gatherers were successful only because the activity was cooperative. Kicking an old lady to the floor for a tin of spam is uncooperative to the point of psychopathic behaviour.

At least when I shop on-line and buy the last item in stock I’m only being antisocial and unknowingly selfish.

Positive virtues by comparison.

Monday, October 20, 2014

In The Firing Line

As a rule I don’t do reality TV shows.

As a rule I don’t – if I have any choice about it – do reality though being a hyper-cautious moral wuss my flights of escapism are normally fuelled by books and cinema rather than Charlie or H. My highs might only be literary or cinematic but at least they don’t involve kidney failure or brain damage. That said I have got the Withnail & I boxed set on order and there’s always the possibility of playing the traditional 'Withnail & I drinking game' whilst watching it.

The only reality show I do do is The Apprentice. And paradoxically it probably appeals so much because it is so not real.

The premise is real. The tasks are real(ish). The prize is real (though I imagine it to be something of a poisoned chalice).

The applicants are not. They are without fail the biggest bunch of fakers and self-deluded charlatans ever to dissemble across the face of the earth. And they get more fake each year.

Overblown. Pompous. Constantly self-centredly orgasming over their own self-directed, egocentric hyperbole. Totally blind to the way they willingly sacrifice what little shred of dignity they may possess on the televised altar of their own mistaken self-belief that they are “the one”. I utterly loathe them.

But I utterly love loathing them.

And that’s why I watch.

In a real sense The Apprentice is educational. This is how you do not do business. This is how you do not succeed. The dinosaurs and the outmoded concepts that still abound in this grubby little mercantile world are both amazing and appalling. In the first week the leader of the girl’s team urged her female associates to wear heels and a short skirt as it would help them all sell more product. A woman. A woman said this to other women. And could not understand why they objected. I would have loved her to suggest a shorter skirt to Karen Brady. Actually, sod that, I would have loved her to suggest it to Nick Hewer.

Nick is great. His expression couldn't look more sour if he was sucking a Haribo’s Tangfastic that had been soaked in vinegar from Craig Revel Horwood’s left armpit.

Ultimately though the true draw of the show is Sir Alan Sugar. I won’t pretend to like him. But compared to the applicants he’s the lesser of two evils. My enemy’s enemy is my friend, etc. And Sir Alan is certainly no friend to the contestants.

They’ve introduced a new schtick into this current series. Nearly twice the number of combatants but the potential for multiple firings in each show. It sounds like something out of a hard-core porn movie - e.g. last week Sir Alan dispatched 2 twats in one go. One before he'd even made it to the final boardroom stand-off. It’s beautiful; seeing all these plastically confident god-complexes crumble with the sudden realization that Sir Alan could finger them all out of the running at any possible moment.

And it’s good for them too. It humanises them. It strips away their self-erected fa├žade of impervious eternally-ensured victory. Seeing them tramp away dejectedly with their Gucci luggage trolleys we finally get to see the disappointed (and disappointing) little children at heart that, without fail, they all secretly are.

But Sir Alan doesn’t go far enough. I want to see them tortured mercilessly with a constant weight of stress... I want to see them weeping snottily beneath a tonne-heavy sword of Damoclesiastic anxiety suspended by the merest spider’s web of Sir Alan's diminutive mercy... Psychologically waterboarded with the spectre of Sir Alan suddenly appearing at any given moment to kick them off the show with his career-ending fingerpoint of shame. When the telephone rings at the delegate's house at the start of the show to tell them where the next task is to take place I want Sir Alan to suddenly come onto the line and randomly fire whatever pole-greaser has got to the phone first to answer it. When they’re in the middle of Camden Town selling moody spuds from an Amstrad owned market stall I want Sir Alan to appear in the queue in a cloth cap and a Frank Spencer overcoat to hurl their Maris Piper’s back into their faces and tell them they’ve had their chips and the taxi is waiting in the gutter to take them back home to Crapchester. And most delicious of all, I want the boardroom showdown survivors to stagger back to the house at the end of the show, full of anecdotal PTSD and the lone survivor’s raconteur spirit only to have Sir Alan leap out of the wardrobe before they can get their hands on a conciliatory glass of Prosecco and say, ”Ha! Fooled you, worm! You have no right to your smarmy sense of relief! Get out – you’re fired! Fired just because I can do it and the all-sucking vacuum at the heart of my demonic and blackened soul is bigger and far mightier than yours!”

Boom. The ghost in the machine morphs into Frankenstein’s monster. Or a smaller, hairier, coconut headed Godzilla.

Now that, my friends, would be a show.

And true reality.

Because as we all know, that is how real life works.

It tests whether you’ve got balls. And then it kicks you in them.

Welcome to my world.

Now get out. You’re fired.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

The Long Kiss Hello

The last time Kate Bush performed a live concert was 1979. I was too young to go and anyway, record buying and gig going were something totally beyond my boyhood consciousness at the time. A few years later when I’d finally 'got my groove on' the chances of Kate Bush ever performing a live gig again were about as likely as Labour freeing the country from the interminable yolk of Maggie Thatcher. And then, subsequent to that event, as likely as Rolf Harris being imprisoned for sex crimes. 

I’d accepted that it was just never going to happen. Never. I would never (for)ever get to see her live. I accepted it with the same life-weary recognition that I would also never marry any of Charlie’s Angels, never be a crime-fighting superhero or be in any way, shape or form, cool and one of the in-crowd. Sometimes you don’t make your bed, you just accept you need to lie in the one that life has given you.

And then suddenly life presents you with a brand new bed - a four poster with satin sheets, vibrating pillows and gold thread in the tassels. In short, life throws you a miracle.

Earlier this year Kate Bush announced a series of live shows (my quest to acquire tickets is well documented elsewhere). For a Kate Bush fan such a happening is a life changer, a dream maker and a soul lifter of extraordinary proportions. Those tickets were the most desirable entities in the entire universe. I was damned lucky to get 2 of them – even if it meant paying through the nose for hospitality tickets. But really, as a fan, I would have done anything to guarantee my presence at one of her gigs. Eaten broken glass. Voted Conservative. Accepted the new U2 album on whatever device the-powers-that-be cared to hijack it onto.

It’s interesting to note here that rehearsals for the shows had been going on for 18 months… the whole thing must have been one of the best kept secrets in the music world for at least a year. God, but Kate Bush is a canny lady.

Last Saturday, after much waiting, after much imagining and speculation, Karen and I finally attended Before The Dawn at the Hammersmith Eventim (Apollo). Neither of us had been to a gig for at least a decade. Neither of us had been anywhere major without the kids for probably about the same length of time. In fact, being without the kids for a night was a source of considerable and most perplexing anxiety and I won’t bore you with our efforts to secure 2 ultra-trustworthy babysitters (who, as it happens, did amazing jobs to keep our boys happy and safe while mummy and daddy partied the night away). But before the gig we did end up (almost subconsciously) sitting in a park near a kiddie’s playground, almost as if we couldn’t quite function out in the real world without the shouts and calls of youngsters surrounding us.

Having obtained hospitality tickets, our first port of call was St. Mark’s Church, across the road from the Eventim where, at 5.30pm, we had a champagne reception and luxury hamper awaiting our arrival. Although for me this was a by-product of acquiring tickets it proved to be rather special in itself and it was nice to be amongst 200 other guests who were all feeling the specialness of the occasion as we were. It was also nice to have early access to a good selection of the official merchandise without having to fight our way through rampaging throngs eager to buy extra programmes that they could sell later on eBay. I must admit I stretched my credit card as far as it would go and bought a gig t-shirt, hoody, poster, keyring, a Hounds of Love mug and a Rescue Tin which had been compiled to compliment the first part of Kate’s set – a performance of The Ninth Wave (the concept piece from her Hounds Of Love album). It was expensive but I figured this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I didn’t want to leave with regrets or that feeling of “I should have done this and I should have done that…”

The food was superb but I confess I was much too excited to eat properly and, seriously, I would have been happy with a bag of chips – I was just glad to be there. The couple next to us had come all the way from Norway and the people we sat next to in the theatre itself sounded distinctly Australian. A reminder that out trek from Leamington Spa was but a small hop compared to the journeys that some of the other attendees had undertaken.

It was lovely to be able to eat and then wander back across the road to the Eventim in our own good time, enter through the VIP entrance without queuing and find out seats without having to panic about anything. In fact the whole trip had flowed smoothly – a good journey down and we even managed to get parked a mere 50 yards from the theatre entrance. It made us realise that we should and indeed ought to do this kind of thing far more often.

And the gig itself?

Amazing. Truly amazing. I'm having trouble holding back the hyperbole. I couldn’t quite believe I was actually there. In fact I spent the first half of the show trying to reign my thoughts in and focus on being present in the moment. The show was as full and as mind-blowing as all the reports had led us to believe. Best of all, Kate’s voice soared. My worry had been that after weeks of performing it would be showing signs of strain by the time my gig came around but I needn’t have worried. Kate seemed to combine power and delicacy in equal measure and for me that was the main triumph of the night. Her voice is incredible and has lost none of its potency.

Of course, she could have sung dressed in a bin bag and the audience would have lapped it up but it was lovely to be present at an event that was so worth the 30 year wait, that was everything a fan could have ever dreamt of. I won’t go through the set list as that will be available elsewhere online but highlights for me were Running Up That Hill, King Of The Mountain and, of course, the entire Ninth Wave movement. The sets were incredible and Kate managed to weave theatre, film and song into one cohesive, emotionally-full whole. Working the plaintive peep-peep of the lifebelt distress signal into And Dream Of Sheep was inspired and really worked (also reminding me of the click-click of the rifle used so effectively in Army Dreamers). It was wonderful to see The Ninth Wave performed so satisfyingly – I’ve spent years of my life letting my mind wander when listening to it; trying to imagine it turned into a visual spectacle. So gratifying that Kate’s own interpretation was not a disappointment but instead added even more depth and meaning. For me Watching You Without Me and Hello Earth are still the central masterpieces to this entire movement.

The second half of the show was based around the second half of the Ariel album and though quieter and calmer than The Ninth Wave was nevertheless not without its shockwaves – the puppet boy killing the gull, tree trunks dropping down from on high and smashing through Kate’s piano – but the overriding sense of joy that these tracks evoke was what stayed most in my mind. A definite highlight for me was the pulsing throb of the opening of Prologue which is so perfectly redolent of the whirring of bird’s wings in flight. The biggest highlight of the night though was the encore. Just Kate alone at the piano performing Among Angels without any other accompaniment and reminding everybody that as great as all the stage effects and stage direction were, the most perfect, unassailably wondrous thing of all is Kate and her voice and her piano composition. Among Angels is such a delicate stirring piece it really didn’t need anything else at all. For anyone doubting if Kate Bush still had it, they had their resounding answer. A rousing rendition of Cloudbusting finished off the night and was surmounted by Kate yet again thanking us all for being such a brilliant audience (as she had done throughout the evening), thanking us for coming and just thanking us all for being. So many thank you’s from the one person in the theatre who everybody else there wanted to thank with all their hearts. No, Kate, thank you!

It was an uplifting, euphoric evening. I was glad to be even the smallest, tiniest part of it. Number one item on the very top of my secret bucket list totally ticked off.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Calling All Game Developers

It seems to me that the more the world goes to pot – WWIII threatening in Ukraine, another holocaust threatening in Iraq, Cloud storage going up in smoke – the more the masses are going to want to escape from the unending media misery by diving into digital worlds of their own making. And being an opportunist kind of chap I figure I could make a fast buck or two and thus escape the impending Western Armageddon for real by cashing in on this virtual life-hacking industry by coming up with my own digital games.

Having little or no hard programming skills I see myself more as the conceptual engine behind the venture and will be looking for a few code monkeys to actually copy and paste all the binary gubbins into a working software platform. Or whatever it is these Visual Basic nerds do when they’re not checking their emails on their Androids.

I’ve already come up with some amazing games concepts which I am convinced will effortlessly fly off the shelves at Steam or Game. Or even Argos.

Moancraft – people are randomly spawned into a world where they have to dig for the resources to survive by moaning and complaining themselves into ever deepening holes and pits of despair. The more they moan about their lives the deeper they drop until they either reach the Epiphany Layer or plough on through the bedrock of misery and drop completely out of the world to the sounds of cheers from the other inhabitants.

Grand Theft Otto – this is a World War II simulation game. Sort of. You play Otto, a blond despot who goes on a violent retail spree across Europe and much of the world (kind of shopping with menaces) and accrues as many of the world’s treasures and artefacts as possible. This is a sandbox game where you can drive the vehicle of your choice (a tank is a good option) and do pretty much whatever the hell you like, destroy what you like and kill whom you like. Imagine a pre-United Nations world unfettered by any kind of global moral compass. Or if you can’t imagine that read the newspapers and imagine it’s the real post-United Nations world. There is very little difference. On the bright side your tank is very shiny. With the blood of countless innocents. And you can give your avatar a very severe moustache. Older version of the game may also be available: Grand Theft Ottoman.

Skyeram – set on a sprawling but illogically tiny Scottish island you play a male sheep who battles dragons, runs around through vast underground burial cairns fighting the undead and who frequently dies by jumping off massive cliffs whose height you have totally miscalculated. You can either join the Blue Coat faction and fight for independence or join the Old Empire and fight to keep the masses under the unthinking yolk of traditional oppression. Or you could just kill everybody and mess up every quest contained within the game as you say no to life both real and virtual and submit yourself to solipsistic armchair autocracy.

Other games currently in mental development are:

Assassin’s Crud – an assassin with OCD cleans all his weapons daily and collects all the resultant smeg, blood and gristle and stores it in a jar that he keeps on permanent show on top of his highly desirable Venetian sideboard.

BO Shock – a man who hasn’t bathed for 17 years shuts down a chemical weapons plant by wandering through the front doors by accident and rubbing himself off against an air conditioning vent.

Unreal Tourniquet – you have to invent the most unlikely and useless bandages possible. The player with the most resultant deaths (frags) wins. Ingredients will include Blue-tack, a fax machine, a nude photo of Jennifer Lawrence and a Muller Crunch Corner.

Super Mario Bros (Real Life Edition) – 2 normal plumbers come round to your house, overcharge you for fixing your blocked pipes and then freak out when you show them your pet terrapin.

Now don’t worry guys, there’s plenty more where they came from – I’ve hit a rich seam – there’s more than enough to go round. If anyone is interested in coding these up just PM me on Facebook. Or Pinterest. Or Twitter. Or some other social networking platform that I am currently not allowing to connect me to the outside world.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Urological Graffiti

It’s possible that my youngest picked up some American slang from some TV show or other, or possibly one of the computer games he plays and made the connection with John and toilet.

I’m theorizing wildly in the hope of justifying my part in an act of gross geological vandalism.

We’d gone to the Peak District at the beginning of our summer holiday and despite the weather being surprisingly good we’d elected to spend part of our trip underground away from the benevolence of the British sun investigating one of the many cave systems that honeycomb the area.

We were spoilt for choice but in the end Treak Cliff Cavern lured us in with reports of it being the last working Blue John mine in the world. It was suitably impressive and we had the usual local-lad-come-good-vacationing-Uni-student tour guide to see to our geological interpretative needs as we were sashayed past stalactites, stalagmites and amorphous rock formations that resembled everything from a witch on a broomstick to a huge melted breast. In fact melted breasts appeared everywhere to my mind but I’m working through that with the help of a counsellor and a colourful set of Rorschach test cards.

About half way round I was assailed by my youngest who, by way of Brian Blessed whispered tones that shattered the sonic receptors of any bats in a 5 mile radius, announced that he needed the toilet. Urgently. Urgently to the point where a sudden deluge was imminent and the chances of reaching either the entrance or the exit were posited as nil. This was further emphasized by the mini River Dance that he then enacted out to the backdrop of a million years of ball-achingly slow phantasmagorical rock formation.

I admit, I thought I’d pulled a flanker. I thought I’d got away with it. I guessed / hoped that the tour guide had not picked up on the urinary distress calls and when he moved the group on to the next interesting lump of ever moistening rock I kept me and my youngest back. Once it was sufficiently dark and quiet I bade him let loose with his little cup that forever runneth over and kept enough distance to avoid splash-back but remained sufficiently close to ensure he didn’t disappear body and anorak down a hidden pot hole.

Shoes shaken adequately dry we then re-joined the tour group further into the cave system whistling a tuneless song of complete innocence.

Nobody was none the wiser.

Or so I thought.

My wife later told me that while we were busy with business elsewhere the tour guide had alluded to our absence in almost dramatic tones along the lines of “oh gosh, we seem to be missing a couple of people, I do wonder if they’ll be along soon… cough, cough…”

I’m just thankful that my boy managed to spread his jet relatively quietly and the group weren’t treated to the sounds of a sudden waterfall thundering out of nowhere in the neighbouring cave. That would have been much harder to deny.

As it is, if you are a visitor to Treak Cliff Cavern in about 2000 years’ time and one of the stalactites has a distinct yellowish cast to it… I hereby apologize profusely for vandalizing in 30 seconds what nature took eons to create.

But jewellers take note: it’ll make somebody a smashing wee pendant.

Monday, August 25, 2014

End Of Holiday Disbelief

The best part of a holiday is the few days right before it all begins. When you feel invincible at work. When you feel shielded from the vagaries of life and the arsedom of other people because, you know, in a few day's time they are not going to matter. Because you will have removed yourself completely from their mundane sphere of influence and you will be in a country far cleaner, freer and greener. And life will be full of possibility again and the business of living. As life should be.

Which isn't to say that the holiday itself isn't magnificent. The gadding about, the sightseeing, the being somewhere new with other people who are also only passing through. All of us unwitting but good natured passengers on each other's journeys. Most of us will only pass this way but once. And that makes it more special.

But all too soon you get to the last day. And work looms. And you wonder how 2 whole weeks can possibly have flown by so quickly. You even made an effort to savour every day. To grab hold and will time to slow. To be conscious of every passing hour. But you only keep that up for the first few days. When the novelty of being outside normal routine impinges itself upon you without any effort required on your part to embrace it. But even being free becomes a habit. And a few days in you let go of the time-brake and the holiday freewheels down the hill of your life and as it picks up speed you just laugh the louder, despite knowing that when it reaches the bottom of the hill you will grieve the fact the ride is over far too soon.

And then you reflect back to those days before the holiday and realise you were right. You were absolutely right. Those few days before the holiday were indeed the best. Because you had all this wonderfulness ahead of you. It was all waiting there. A gift you kind of knew you were going to get but you had no idea how big it was going to be or quite how it would affect you. Good memories are huge and affect you the longest.

The last 2 weeks have been brilliant. We have enjoyed a stay in the Peak District, visited good friends in Weston-Super-Mare and had a fantastic day in Legoland. We have eaten well and indulged a little. We have enjoyed ourselves as a family immensely. Perhaps more so because of the stress of the time leading up to it. Being happy and carefree on holiday seemed a distinct impossibility when the dark hours bit. But in life you take the good times when you can. It's a good survival technique.

I took a break from blogging too. It wasn't a conscious decision. It just happened. So plainly was the right thing to do.

But tomorrow I am back to work. And I am standing in front of that cliff looking up at it knowing that as soon as I start climbing it will be fine. Muscle memory will kick in and it will all seem effortless and right and even, to a degree, OK.

But right now I wish I was still in the middle of the green field at my back with the edges indistinct blurs at the very periphery of my vision.

I can't quite believe that the freewheeling is over for another summer.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Does It Have To Be Bad?

I’ve steered away from writing about the forthcoming vote for Scottish independence because (a) I don’t consider myself to be an overtly political animal and (b) despite strong Scottish family blood a-swirling in my veins from my dad’s side of the parental tree I don’t really see how a nurtured Sassenach who’s lived in the heart of England all his life has any right to say yea or nay on the question of whether Scotland should be independent or not.

But it seems everyone has an opinion these days, especially those English politicians who’ve done eff all for Scotland over the years and up to this point haven’t cared a stuff about how it has fared. Geez, even J.K. Rowling has thrown a good wodge of her own money behind support for keeping Scotland forever yoked to the millstone of fake tradition that is British unity.

And I guess that paragraph hints at where my true personal leanings lie though I admit my arguments are purely emotional, possibly romantic, and wilfully have nothing to do with fiscal systems or the complicated bureaucracy of devolved governments.

To me Scotland has always been another country; always been its own country with its own identity and personality. The people, the landscape, the atmosphere are foreign. And I mean that as a massive positive. I like the idea of Scotland being truly independent. If for no other reason than the rather shallow pleasure I will get from the inevitable exoticization that will occur.

But that’s not the real point of this post. For me the central question is this: independent or not, does it have to be bad? All I’ve heard is various bad tempered politicians griping about what Scotland / England will lose if the yays for independence swing the day. And then other infantile politicians spitting their dummies and threatening to take their ball away and not play anymore if Scotland wants to be in charge of supplying their own kit. All blatantly ridiculous. It seems someone has to suffer no matter which way the vote goes and there’s going to be a lot of sulking.

But really? Does it have to be that way? Can’t Scotland have its independence and England and Scotland still work together for the benefit of both? Does it have to be miserable? Why can’t it just be good for everybody? Because at the end of the day life and trade will still need to continue. There will still be movement from across both sides of the border (even if it’s only the Queen digging out her passport before she enters Balmoral). We can all still play and work together.

As in any kind of relationship, a sense of independence is healthy and usually good for both sides. England needs to be less clingy and less possessive. That kind of behaviour always drives a partner away or into the arms of another.

Monday, August 04, 2014

A Cat’s Palate

Now that our cats are approaching 2 years of age and are settled enough to humour us in our attempts to govern their behaviour I feel that I am at last getting to know them on an intimate level. And this knowledge is furnishing me with some incredible facts about what it is like to experience existence as a cat.

I’m not talking about their habit of gagging up fur balls at the bottom of the bed sheets or the way they insist on walking in exactly the same spatial corridor as me. I’m not even talking about the way they will sometimes stop what they’re doing and stare just beyond my shoulders as if to imply there is some kind of spectre unseen by human eyes just behind me just to freak me out.

This kind of cat behaviour is well documented and nothing new.

Instead I am at last beginning to formulate a league table of cat kills based entirely upon the pleasure response of the cat’s palate. In other words, I am beginning to suss out what a cat considers good to eat and what it considers bad. I am developing cat taste. Albeit solely hypothetically at this stage.

The league table is currently thus (with purry-yummy stuff at the top and ca-ca spitting horrible stuff at the bottom):

  • Mice
  • Birds
  • Butterflies
  • Moths
  • Dragonflies
  • Bees and wasps

Of course, were I to include all food stuffs in the list then pole position would be occupied by human food followed swiftly in second place by shop bought cat food. But for the purposes of this research I am confining myself to animals made unalive by the intervention of my cats obeying their natural instincts to assassinate anything that moves in a prey-sexy way… and by how much of the carcass they actually eat.

I need to point out here that cats do not kill to eat. Not anymore. My cats are well fed and their kill ratio has nothing at all to do with the gap between meal times. They are just as likely to down a gazelle after a full bowl of Iams as they are hours after the bowl has become empty.

Out of all cat kills, mice evidently taste the best. Mice get eaten nearly completely. Sometimes they will leave the head, or the tail and hindquarters, or sometimes just the feet. But a good portion of the mouse will be internalized by the cat. Mice are therefore 'cat yummy'.

Birds – when allowed to get away with killing one outright (because usually I stage a lightning rescue) follow the same pattern as mice above - it's just that their frequency on the menu is lessened by my intervention. I have often found a skull, claws and wings but nothing much else when waking in the morning and stumbling onto the latest bit of kitty carnage in the hallway.

Butterflies make them pull horrible faces. They clearly don’t taste too nice but must contain some sort of addictive drug because despite the gurning and tongue wiping the cats always go back for more.

Moths, however, are an eat once and then never again kind of buffet. Now the moths are just killed – pawed to exhaustion I suspect – and then left like furry crisps on the carpet ready to self adhese to the undersides of my feet.

The dragonfly was interesting. There’s only been one confirmed kill in my house so far. All the parts were there but the head was separate from the body. I deduced from this that it tasted foul but put up a fight. In fact it didn’t stop fighting until the cats disabled the central control unit, i.e. the head.

Bees and wasps they attack, sometimes chew but never ever swallow. Never. They probably feel like prickly vibrators with a burning acidic centre. My cats would probably rather eat broccoli.

I’m hoping to experiment with frogs, toads and lizards next but they seem to be in short supply around my area. I’d like to try them on horse too but it might mean taking the cats to Tesco and I don’t think they’d be up for that.

Anyhoo, I just need to pass my findings onto somebody. I’m sure there’s money to be made out of this. I mean, why have Whiskas never produced mouse flavoured cat food? It’s always puzzled me, that has. We offer them lamb and beef flavoured food but, really, the day I see my cats downing an Aberdeen Angus is the day I buy a dog.

To protect me from the cats.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

The Hard Road Still Takes You Somewhere Beautiful

Karen's mum's funeral took place in Amersham on Wednesday - a rather beautiful part of the UK and evidently affluent. It went as well as funeral's go. I think we did her proud. The general feeling from most people was that her death was a blessed relief. Her strength of spirit and ferocious will was acknowledged by all. Funerals are always a paradox. An acknowledgement of loss accompanied often by personal gains. I think Karen's gains are a slow reconnection with other members of her family who, for various reasons (all tied up with Karen's mother) have been distant up till now. We came away with about three invitations to come and stay with people in places that ranged from Shrewsbury to Skye. I hope we'll soon be a position to take advantage of those.

Of course, now the admin of the funeral is done and dusted the grief starts properly. It is a slow process, not always "in your face". Often it works quietly at the back of your mind and heart and rears its head at the smallest, often seemingly inconsequential moments. To say I feel protective of Karen and my boys is an understatement.

The real heart of this post though is this: the last few weeks have been difficult and traumatic. Karen, the boys and I have had to gad about quite a bit, trying to sort things out and jump through all the correct legal hoops that death, without ever meaning to, throws up. Society likes its forms to be filled in and good form to be followed. On the surface it's been stressful. But underneath I cannot deny that I have enjoyed being with Karen and my boys. Maybe it's the sense of adversity, the way a shared grief bonds people but I can almost see myself in years to come looking back on the adventure of the last few weeks with a curious sense of joy. Almost a sense of stolen holiday. Does that sound wrong?

We were together. We doing stuff that was out of the ordinary. And even through all the heart heavy sorrow and stress there were most definitely good times and good moments.

Almost as if in the midst of death life was determined to be loudly affirmed.

It is a strange, almost guilty, comfort.

Saturday, July 19, 2014


The last week has been a blur. Karen and I are still only just starting to make sense of it all. To cut a long story short Karen's mum died last week, late on the night of the 11th. We knew it was going to happen but the speed of it took us all by surprise. However, she had stayed fiercely determined to exercise her will to the very end and had refused all water as well as food. Hence, the speed of her decline. She also requested that nobody visit her in her final hours, preferring instead to be left in peace. As with so many elements of her life her control over her own death was absolute.

For the last 6 days Karen and I, accompanied by our boys, have made numerous forays into Berkshire to meet with doctors, solicitors, registrars and the like to ensure all the paperwork is tickety-boo and that the myriad hoops of death administration have been leapt through at the right speed and the precise angle. Hopefully the gods of bureaucracy are satisfied with our efforts.

We now have the funeral and the wake to arrange, people to contact, an empty house to sort out - not to mention the small matter of dealing with quite a big family death and all its attendant emotional strains. Karen's mother was not an easy woman. Even those who considered her a friend describe her as being "difficult". The grief will not be easy too.

There is, however, good news. The solicitor spoke to us on Friday and, despite being convinced otherwise due to previous wills, it seems Karen and the boys have been made beneficiaries. It would be distasteful to go into detail here and besides which we only know the theory for sure rather than the exact practicalities - the solicitors need to do their thing and press buttons on their calculators, remembering to deduct their own fees naturally - but on the face of it (though I am afraid to say it out loud in case I curse it) it looks like things might get a lot easier for us in the future. Bizarrely we are more shocked and disbelieving of the good news than we were previously instantly believing of the (potential) bad.

But on some level despite the all pervading glumness that abounds in such matters there is light and, dare I say it, relief. We are all numb. But also hopeful.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Fledging The Nest

We all know it has to happen sooner or later.

They grow up. They leave. They want to head off into the big wide world and leave behind the familiar safe comforts of home. The nest is suddenly too small to house their enthusiastic ambition. They say their goodbyes and head off into the brave new world.

I have been like a father to my student neighbours this year.

I have watched over them, my head shaking, as they have dumped enough beer cans and bottles on their front lawn to fill a landfill site the size of Wales.

I have laughed scornfully at their appalling dress sense, their idiotic facial hair furniture (ignoring my own) and the bizarre sound-bite posters they put on show in their bedroom windows.

I have gnashed my teeth and seethed through sleepless nights when the vibrations and noise from their industrial strength subwoofer has threatened to frack my entire street into Roman mosaic sized rubble. I have not understood their music. I have bewailed the tunelessness of it, the lyric ridiculousness; I have compared the endless beat and twisted synth moans to the meaningless noise emitted by a hippopotamus farting into a vuvuzela. It’s not proper music. Not like the music I used to listen to when I was their age; music that had a proper melody and lyrics that meant something that my dad nevertheless dismissed as meaningless noise.

I have shuddered every time they have slammed the front door, stomped up and down the stairs at all hours of the night and conducted loud and ebullient conversations about “how much beer, yeah, they can drink, yeah, in one sesh at the pub and still have room for a kebab, yeah, you get me?” at 4 effing a.m. in the morning.

Lord knows I’ve loved them. Lord knows I want the best for them given the amount of time, money and effort I have invested into their upbringing and education. But now that they are going, God forgive me, I can’t help but think “thank Christ, thank God it’s over”.

I wish them well. Of course I do. I wish them every success in whatever hare-brained pursuit they decide to follow.

But I consider my job to be done. I’m cutting the apron strings. I don’t want to see them back. Not ever. I’ll change the locks if I have to.

Go forth. Be men, my sons.

Go get some student kids of your own.

And then suffer as I have suffered, you little shits.

God bless.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

The D Word

Not a great week.

Certainly not conducive to producing posts of scintillating literary value. So finally I have an excuse for not doing so.

First off, my best friend's mother died suddenly last Sunday. I don't have all the details yet as Dave is understandably maintaining radio silence but I can imagine the immense emotional run-a-round he and his family are currently going through. Dave's mum played quite a major role in my life in my twenties and early thirties. I was at her house most Saturday evening's visiting Dave and have fond memories of firework's nights that seemed to last forever and watching cable TV before it was quite so commonplace. I was geeky and awkward when I was younger (much more so than I am now) but Dave's mum had an easy laugh and a constantly sunny disposition. To meet someone who laughs at all your feeble jokes at a time when you are desperate to build up your confidence is a real boon. I was made to feel part of the family and was ribbed as such - but in a way that made me feel safe and included. That she is gone now seems unnatural and impossible. She always seemed larger than life and irrepressibly vibrant. My thoughts are with Dave and his family for their huge loss.

Second, Karen and I seem to be heading into the above territory for ourselves. Karen's mother, a long time sufferer of Lupus, after strokes and other debilitating side-effects, announced on Wednesday that she's finally had enough and "cut her peg". Basically, after living the last couple of years taking only liquid food by tube, being unable to walk and talk, she has now decided - quite understandably - that enough is enough. She is refusing all medication, all food and as much water as she can comfortably do without. She's made up her mind that this is the end and there is little anyone can do about it. I believe she has been psychiatrically assessed though don't think the results have been announced yet. However, having seen her yesterday it is evident she is very clear about what she is doing. She is after all a qualified doctor herself and very intelligent. She is aware more than anyone around her of the direct consequences of this course of action.

The visit was hard going. Karen's relationship with her mother is difficult to say the least and not my place to detail here. Her mother is frustrated by her inability to communicate as fluently as she'd like, she's uncomfortable, in pain, tired and not entirely satisfied with the nursing home they moved her into on Friday - but she's aware that, after her shock announcement, remaining at home was going to be an impossibility.

Anyway, the visit went better than Karen and I had thought it would - she was in better condition than we imagined but, of course, this will deteriorate as the lack of food and medication begin to bite. Nobody likes to ask "how long" but that is the question that is never far away. We took the boys and they coped admirably with, what must be to them, quite a scary sight: a very old human being who looks both human and not, who frequently groans out loud, not from pain, but from anger and frustration and who is unable to reassure them about what she is going through. It is a scary situation for anybody - and I worked 10 years in a nursing home for the elderly so am reasonably used to it. We said our goodbyes - unsure if they were final or not; unsure of how many more we could reasonably expect - and then tried to make the best of the trip down to Cookham by taking the kids for a walk along the Thames before getting fish and chips and heading home. Karen and I will try and head back down in the week unless events demand a more immediate response.

So that was the week that was but that I wish was wasn't. And why I haven't been so alacritous with updating this blog. Bear with me, people, this is a bumpy ride.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Nice Bit Of Chaucer

Like most of my countrymen I have a long established love affair with swearing.

Despite Irish Navvies possibly protesting the claim, I believe that nobody on this planet swears quite like your average Englishman. Possibly at one time, your choice of cuss was influenced by class and proclaimed the same but these days a Peer of the Realm is just as likely to drop the C word as some habitual fly-tipping dole-ite on Benefits Street and your average tramp on the street sometimes has more breeding than your average bank manager.

When I was at Secondary school I swore every day. It was de rigueur. It was part of the atomic make-up of the rarefied atmosphere of “hormonal teen”. More than that. If teenagehood was a nightclub then swearing was the stamp they put on the back of your hand to prove you’d paid to get in. And that you were probably too immature to be there.

As I got older swearing, for me at least, was no longer about expressing anger but expressing humour. Peter Cook might have been swearing like a trooper in the 60s but for me it was the alternative comedy scene in the 80s that awoke the realization that a fuck placed strategically into a sentence could be the source of much mirth. Suddenly expletives – not denying their inherent shock value – became a tool of comedy and humour.

And that emotional response is pretty much where I have stayed. Which isn’t to say I don’t wince when I catch my eldest boy befouling the air with an age appropriate / environment inappropriate F bomb. Or sneer when I overhear some yob in the street linking every second word he utters with a mispronounced “fock”. This is quite possibly hypocrisy but, well, what can I say but fuck you? Swearing is open to everybody but as an art form few master it properly.

Swearing is on my mind today because I have just finished writing a new Kindle book. It’s a joke autobiography and is scurrilous, blatantly un-PC, cartoon pornographic and deeply puerile and will be published under an assumed name. I had enormous fun writing it and it made me laugh out loud. My wife has now read it and it has made her laugh too. She also complimented me with the remark that it is very well written but just like my (proper) novel, The Great Escapes Of Danny Houdini, I have peppered it (or even soaked it) with the kind of language that will probably drive away a good portion of the book buying public.

The ones that say “breadbin” instead of “bastard” or “bum” instead of “arse”. The nice ones who suffer bouts of apoplexy when someone let’s rip with a “the pope be damned!”

She’s not the first person to say that. A colleague who is currently reading Danny Houdini has also admitted to me that she found the frequent bad language shocking and hard to take. She’s enjoying the story so is “persevering” but she made it sound like she was having to wade through the sewers of Calcutta to reach a promised Eden. More, she couldn’t conceive how a polite, well-spoken individual like myself could produce dialogue of such excoriating depravity. My words not hers. Because I’m bigging myself up as I took it as a compliment.

But. It does niggle me a bit.

For me, swearing is a reality. It is all around us and, really, there are far more important things to be offended by than mere language and phonetics. In literature generally, but especially in the books that I write, I like the dialogue to be real. People swear. They say the wrong thing. They say silly things. They are offensive deliberately for a laugh. They lack the education to express themselves well so swear. Or they are well educated but like to swear for the effect it has. For some, swearing is its own subculture and, like teenage swearing, is evidence of their membership to it.

But I worry that perhaps I am deliberately sabotaging myself. The gist of my wife’s remarks to me this morning are that I come up with great stories and then render them inaccessible to 50% of the population. If that is true it’s hardly a winning marketing strategy.

You see, I suspect that just as half of me yearns for artistic success, the other half of me is scared of it.

Fucking scared?


Or maybe I’m just sticking to my comedy bollockycunty guns.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Encyclopaedic Knowledge

Lord knows I like to think of myself as relatively intelligent though, of course, defining relative to whom or to what makes all the difference, relatively speaking. Relative to an egg box? Relative to an amoeba?

Relative to your average footballer I must be the brain of Britain though a friend I had a Facebook argument with on Saturday assures me that some footballers these days actually have degrees.

I’m assuming he didn’t mean as in third degree murder. Which is a pity given how I feel about football.


The wife and I have been struggling of late to answer the cornucopia of questions that our youngest son has begun to throw at us.

The “reality science” ones are bad enough:

  • How big in metres is the world?
  • How far away is the furthest star?
  • How old is the universe?

But the ones that are really frying my brain are these:

  • How many yesterdays were there before tomorrow?
  • What do you get if you add a frog and water to an explosion?
  • What does [and I quote] lightning add house make?

Home life at the moment is akin to being a permanent contestant on University Challenge with a very impatient Jeremy Paxman demanding constant and immediate satisfaction. Incidentally, I muse on the pros and cons of Jeremy’s bedroom manner in my new Kindle book *cough cough* “Sex With…” which you can currently buy from Amazon. Please do.

In the end, when our young brainiac came up with the worst question of all: “Well, why don’t you know everything, daddy?” I finally admitted defeat and went out and bought a children’s encyclopaedia from WHSmiths.  On the whole it’s been a good buy and has put a stop to about 50% of the questions.

For the remaining 50%, it seems that even the best minds in the world stumble to a halt when trying to work out how many yesterdays there were before tomorrow.

My answer of “all of them” failed to impress.

One thing I do know though is how to make Professor Brian Cox have a nervous breakdown.

Lock him in a room for an hour with my son.

(And a copy of my “Sex With…” book which, funnily enough, for those of you who are interested, also features an enlightening piece about what Professor Brian might be like in the sack.)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Paying For Sex

It’s not an easy thing to admit to.

Most people, I believe, think about doing it at some point in their lives though most, of course, will never admit to it. Of those, only a fraction will have the immoral fortitude and sufficient appetite to see it through. To realize the desire.

It’s the stigma, you see?

And possibly the cost.

Or maybe just the psychological damage.

But I figured I was strong enough. That my previous good character could not only take it but also immure me against whatever brickbats and public crucifixion might follow. I’ve never been afraid of censure.

Not where cheap laughs are concerned anyway.

So. I finally did it.

I have self-published a new book – full of brand new, unseen before material – about having sex with various celebs and famous people and you can all download it from Amazon right now and read of these incredible psyche-shattering sexploits (is it worth copyrighting that word or have others beaten me to it?) and have your erotic world-view forever widened and enlarged. Possibly even engorged.

The blurb which I have also written clearly states:

"Ever wondered what it would be like to have sex with Nigella Lawson? To doubleteam both George R.R. Martin and J.R.R. Tolkien? To have your wicked way with Miley Cyrus, Bella Swan, George Lucas, Barack Obama, Darth Vader and Kurt Cobain? To maybe engage in a little post-coital badinage with Scooby-Doo, Simon Cowell and Well now's your chance to experience the gory intimate details without having to remove a single item of your own clothing, invest in a bottle of rophipnol or risk unwanted pregnancy, crabs or cooties.

"Simply purchase this handy Kindle guide and the virtual experience of sex with your favourite star will be all yours. Not to mention the experience of sex with people you'd possibly not want to touch with a disinfected barge pole (Adolf Hitler, Jimmy Saville and Jeremy Clarkson to name but a few) but feel free to skip over those.

"Purchase, lie back, read and let me hit your e-spot with the celebrity lover of your choice.

And if you are still not sold on the idea then how about this… Rather than paying for it, if you download my book within the next 5 days you can do so for absolutely nothing! That’s right; I am offering you sex with the stars for absolutely free! Zero pounds and zero pence. Utterly gratis.

You just have to leave a review.

Just a tiny review on Amazon.

And some stars. 5 would be great.

It’ll take 10 minutes of your time and possibly help make me a household name. Like Jif or Mr Muscle.

I mean, come on, guys, this is pretty much all I ever ask for. It’s not like I’m fleecing you for tonnes of cash of anything. 9 times out of 10 times on this blog I throw you a freaking freebie* and I ask for so little in return.

Just look into my big [Dan] brown hound-dog eyes and buy the bloody book will you?

Right. Done. This marketing shit is piss-easy.


*I don't do frisbees. Ever.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


There’s going to be a lot of hyperbole written about Rik Mayall over the next few days. Some of it will be ball-achingly official, most of it will be deeply personal. This will fall into the latter camp.

To oafishly paraphrase Shakespeare: "Alas poor [Yo]Rik… Where be your gibes now?"

The answer is everywhere: all over the internet; all over YouTube; in boxed sets in every entertainment store up and down the country and, most important and most relevant of all, on the lips and in the minds of everybody who ever loved “Bottom”, “Blackadder”, “Man Down” or any of the other amazing raft of comedy adventures that Rik Mayall indulged in.

My good friend Dave and I have been indulging in “Bottom quote tennis” since we first learnt of his death yesterday. And we’re still going strong. An endless rally where every return is still somehow an ace.

For anyone who loved “Bottom” these quotes are pregnant (oo-er) with meaning:

“My, that’s  a smashing blouse you’re wearing.”

“That’s £1.20 you owe me – I bought you that drink in good faith!”

"I'll just pop upstairs and scrape off the sheets..."

“And I promise Lord that I will come to church every day… you do still do that thing with the wine and biscuits, don’t you?”

“They’re all doing it and doing it and then sitting back and having a fag and then doing it some more… oh Eddie why won’t anybody ever have sex with me?”

And there’s hundreds and hundreds more. I could fill the entire post with them.

I never liked “The Young Ones.” I freely admit that. I never watched it when it was first broadcast but a kid at my school, Richard Saul, was plainly an early devotee and would come into class the next day and basically re-enact the entire show, word for word, and add in his own especial brand of teenage obnoxiousness (I’m sure he matured into a truly lovely man). I confess it ruined it for me and I avoided the show like a plague afterwards. I finally caught up with it years later after being indoctrinated into the world of “Kevin Turvey”, “Filthy, Rich & Catflap” and “The Dangerous Brothers”. I thought I’d give it a go but “The Young Ones” just seemed…very amateurish and, worse, unfunny. I could see its anarchic approach was ground-breaking but the comedy was lazy and very hit or miss. For me it mostly missed.

But hey, everybody has to start somewhere.

“Bottom”, however, did it for me. Down-at-heel, tawdry, disgusting, puerile, childish and obsessed with body parts, body functions and sex. Everything I look for in a wife. Wife? I meant to say sit-com. Honest. “Bottom” came along at the right time of my life. I was a late teen. I had a filthy sense of humour but no appropriate outlet for it. And I was a virgin and likely to stay that way forever. Or so it seemed. To say I identified a little with Richard Richard is to under-egg the milky pudding immensely. The best thing about “Bottom” was that it was gloriously un-PC. I lapped it up. Oo-er again.

After that I was into everything Rik did. “The New Statesman”, “The Comic Strip” – especially the “Bad News” episodes – “Blackadder”.

Things went quiet for a long while. There was Rik’s horrible quad bike accident. The “Bottom” movie – “Guest House Paradiso” seemed a bit flat and the 3rd series of “Bottom” felt like it had been a struggle though the Halloween episode is still a classic.

And then last  year Rik resurfaced in “Man Down” as Greg Davies’ dad. It was a performance of utter genius. Pure Rik Mayall. Filthy, cheeky and full to the brim with blue-eyed, manic-smiled malevolence. The wife and I were desperately looking forward to the second series.

And now Rik is gone. Just like that. Out of the blue. It feels surreal. I’m shocked by how deeply it’s affected me. Rik Mayall was hardly “cuddly” and yet there was just something about him that was loveable. He was naughty. Very, very naughty. And ultimately, I think we all like a bit of naughtiness. We admire those who get away with it, those who push things a little too far and then say, “Oh tish” when some pinch-mouthed puritan inevitably gets their knickers in a twist over it.

Rik Mayall exuded comedy. Actually, that’s too passive. Given his high-octane, high-energy performances he projectile-vomited comedy all over the audience, all over his fellow actors and production teams and then hawked up a couple of big juicy lugies or two to act as comedy chasers. To watch Rik was to be utterly immersed in his performance. He was the ego sublime.

And now that he’s dead all I can think to say is, bollocks.

Utter, utter bollocks.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Step To It

It's not often I write about my sporting endeavours on this blog. And there's a very good reason for that. I tend not to undertake any.

When Prince Harry was slogging his way to the North Pole he did it without my help. Sure he asked me to come along but, you know, I only do white and ginger when it's Karen Gillan or Nicole Kidman so the thought of 3 weeks in the snow with the half-blood ginger Prince didn't do much for me. And really, the arctic circle is no place for strip billiards (balls tend to ice up when left outside the pockets for too long).

And the amount of times Ray Mears has telephoned or emailed me and asked me to be his wingman on some jaunt around the Amazon or the American Rockies... well, to employ the old saying, I haven't had as many hot dinners. And as tempting as it is to hunt Bear Grylls "Deliverance" style through the American back-country while he squeals like a pig it doesn't compare with killing Falmer in Skyrim from the comfort of my own office chair surrounded by the vast Lego world I have built around myself to protect me from the ravages of the real world outside.

And don't even get me started on the Olympics. I thought it only fair to give Mo Farah a fighting chance at a medal, OK? Such trinkets of idolatry mean absolutely nothing to me.

So it came as a complete surprise when I found myself lured into the competitive world of team walking. For the first time ever I have joined with some work mates from the corporate world that I inhabit in my daylight hours to undertake the GCC Get The World Moving Challenge.

Basically, for the next 100 days I will be living in one-sided symbiosis with a digital pedometer (not paedo-meter as my eldest son insists on pronouncing it) that will record my regular 24 hourly attempts to walk at least 10,000 steps a day in tandem with my team mates. Those steps are then input into the web site above and translated to miles that are plotted onto a satellite map. The goal is to virtually walk around the earth and, dependent on your competitive bent, thrash the Americans who are currently top of the leaderboard.

No donations from you are needed though your verbal support would be appreciated.

At the moment the pedometer is proving to be an almost hypnotic distraction. I find myself checking my step total so often I am beginning to walk like Riff Raff from the Rocky Horror Show. Possibly the hump on my back and my odd, stilted way of talking had already placed that image in people's minds but I like to think my penchant for singing the Time Warp is a new development in an already damaged psyche.

I'm also becoming more annoying and inane in my interactions with those around me than normal. For instance did you know that it takes me 100 steps to get up in the morning, get dressed and feed the cats? Or that an average bout of meal preparation in the kitchen takes me approximately 500? Next week I hope to be able to tell you how many steps it takes me to walk to work and how many I clock up stamping my feet in the office when Skyrim crashes on me.

10,000 steps a day?

Effing easy.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

47 Groanin’

Traditionally on this blog film reviews go down like Nick Griffin on Robert Mugabe, i.e. very awkwardly. The comments tend to dry up rather quickly as people take the excuse “I haven’t seen that film / don’t plan to see that film so I can’t leave a comment anyway so I won’t even bother to read the blog at all. Job done”.

However, I’m bloody minded enough not to care and arrogant enough to think that the power of my writing can overcome any wilful lethargy in my readership. But to show I’m not totally uncaring to your plight I will keep this short.

47 Ronin.

I had high hopes for this. I saw it trailered at the cinema – it looked rather good – but life circumnavigated my attempts to see it on the big screen. So I bought a copy on Blu-Ray for my wife and I to enjoy at our leisure.

We watched it over the weekend.

And now I want to kill Keanu Reeves.

Because having seen his performance I have been left in the emotional state of permanent WTF?

WTF was he doing in that film? Just WTF? And I mean that conceptually, metaphorically and professionally. What. Was. He. Doing. [Big question mark.]

The original story is based on an 18th Century Japanese legend. 47 Samurai avenge their murdered Lord knowing that their own code of ethics will ultimately demand their own deaths via seppuku. There’s a poignancy and sad beauty to this along with scope for lots of action and martial arts choreography. In cinematic terms the story should be a sure-fire winner.

And the supporting cast – mostly Japanese / Asian – were excellent. No big names (by Western standards – but really, what do we know?) but still they impressed me. They gave it their all. Pathos and sensitivity at war in a culture where emotion is not meant to be overly shown. I’d argue that their performances were poised and subtle and damned impressive.

And then there was Keanu. Shoehorned into the story as a “half breed” with special magical powers.


I’m betting there’s no sign of his character at all in the original legend. He was just inserted because the producers decided they needed a big name to sell the film to the box office. So we get this bolted-on element to the story. An add-on that the plot doesn’t really require and, as a result, is totally imbalanced by. Keanu is like a bogoff deal that you want to refuse. No really. I don’t want the extra bit. I don’t want the freebie. Please, please keep it.

Now, if I was Keanu I‘d be thinking: I’m extraneous to this story; I’m superfluous to the requirements of the emotional arc, therefore, I’d better pull my finger out and act like I’ve never acted before and earn my right to be on the screen.

But I am not Keanu. Keanu is Keanu.

And that is the problem. Because Keanu is Keanu all the way through the film. Sullen. Unresponsive. Flat. Incongruous.

He talks in the same gruff monotone whether he’s been being beaten (a criminally too short scene), offering comfort to a dying comrade or exchanging romantic pleasantries with his love interest. He talks like the Hollywood voiceover man from the 60s and 70s. The one who invites you to come see the next Warner Brother’s [or whatever] spectacular in that voice that makes it sound morally imperative that you come to the cinema right now and have your life changed by the experience. You know the type of voice I mean. Now imagine that voice reciting a fragile poem by e.e.cummings and utterly ruining it, utterly disembowelling it with the barbarism of its relentlessly galloping speech rhythm. Now you have Keanu telling his lady love that he will search for her through a thousand worlds, through 10 thousand lifetimes. He spits the poetry out like a half chewed hamburger. In his mouth it becomes pure American gristle and the gentle lotus flower breeze of the Japanese love-story curls up and dies in the blast from his meaty breath.

And he has but one facial expression. The bearded grimace. That is it. All the way through the film. He grimaces. From behind his inexplicably dirty looking beard.

Death: grrr! Sadness: grrr! Fighting: grrr! Male bonding: grrr! Standing still and not talking: grrr!

And then, at the end, he becomes an honorary Samurai and gets to kill himself – along with the other Samurai – with full, painfully tragic honour.

In that single moment Bushido becomes bullshit and the entire point of the film is utterly destroyed.

Because, in my view, Keanu has no honour. Keanu is not a Samurai.

Not by a long chalk.

But he has more chance of becoming a Samurai than becoming an actor.

In fact he has more chance of becoming Japanese.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Ban The Berk

I knew something was wrong the minute I got home.

My letterbox was grimacing. Like it had a horrible taste in its mouth.

Behind the door, laid out on the mat like cat vomit, was the item pictured below.

I felt sickened and shaky. I felt besmirched. Like my home had been violated. I had been on the receiving end of a BNP leafleting campaign. One of their hate-monkeys had actually walked up my path and touched my door. And then had slid something bilious and nasty into my inner sanctum.

My first reaction was to screw it up and bin it without looking at it. But then I thought, “No. Know your enemy.” So I read the leaflet. Every word. And my gut ran through a gamut of emotions. Everything from contempt, scorn and vituperative ridicule to the confirmed belief that these people are genuinely missing a chromosome; that the wiring in their brain is missing a couple of essential connectors, forever denying them the opportunity to reason and feel like normal, adult, articulate human beings.

What I hate most is the way this leaflet doesn’t pose any questions to the reader. It tells. It orders. It assumes. There is no facility here to interact mentally with this leaflet. It doesn’t care what you think. It doesn’t care what you feel. It doesn’t care for your life or the precious individuality of your particular existence. And that is nasty. That should be of concern to everyone who has any truck with this absurd political party.

And then there are the pictures, the images. The lazy buy-in to outdated, outmoded metaphors that only have meaning to idiots whose view of Britain is trapped in some fake, bromide stained stasis chamber of pre-war empire-fed glory full of working men wearing cloth caps, wives who stay at home to cook Beef Wellingtons and children who play solely with gender appropriate toys. And we all extol the Christian virtues of love thy neighbour as long as your neighbour is as British as you are. And don't worry of you have no idea of how to benchmark those Great British credentials because the BNP will do it for you.

Check out the picture of the Burka wearers:

They want to ban the burka because it is “offensive and threatening”. And to drive that singularly stupid and vapid point home they have pictured a couple of Burka wearers flicking their V’s at the camera – thus, in my opinion, totally proving their true blue British credentials forever. But that irony is lost on your average BNP member (and let’s be honest; they are all average). Is the picture mocked up? Is it real? Who cares. It’s like something out of Viz magazine. It is comic and laughable. But it is also tragic and lamentable because there will be some BNP mongrel somewhere, working himself up into an orgasmic fury of outraged indignation over this picture. It is akin to the fake Boer war footage that was played to English citizens centuries ago – shot in a London park but purporting to show Boer atrocities to galvanize the zeal of the average Englishman and give him fuel for the fight. It is nasty propaganda designed to spread hatred and xenophobia. And if that hatred and xenophobia already exist then it is designed to inflate it up into atomic mushroom cloud proportions.

And at the end of the day, is the Burka really, truly threatening and offensive?

Only if you are such a pussy you are scared of women’s clothing. It is no more threatening and offensive than a dog collar or a monk’s cassock and a good deal less threatening and offensive than a BNP rosette.

This entire leaflet does not seek to enlighten or educate. It does not seek to question. Because that would be dangerous and self-defeating. The BNP relies on the stupid misconceptions and inborn bigotry of its incestuous membership to continue its existence. The BNP more than any other party wants to halt upward mobility and free thinking and trap this country forever under a glass jar of anachronism and vile paranoia. This leaflet has but one purpose. To reaffirm the idiocy of those who are already tainted with stupidity and make them feel that they are right. Seductive. Comforting. And, sadly to some, a vote winner – those people whose innate cowardice prevent them from questioning and second-guessing their own assumptions and hatred of people who, if they got to know them despite their different languages and cultures, would be discovered to be just like them. More or less. Just without the silly haircuts. Possibly.

In all honesty, I would rather have had a urine stained tramp shove his cock through my letterbox than this leaflet. In fact, to piss Mr. Nick Griffin off even more I’d go as far as to say I would rather welcome a whole army of Polish / Arabic / Asian immigrants, each of them taking it in turns to make love to my door than to ever have one of these puerile leaflets land in my hallway ever again.

Ban the Burka?

No. Let’s keep Britain for the intelligent and the liberal and the fair minded and those with the guts and humanity to question and oppose hate-filled manifestoes and find a way forward that unites all cultures and all races.

Let’s ban the berk.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


I got my first credit card when I was 18.

And that was the beginning of the end. The end of living life my grandparent’s way. Their ethos was very much if you haven’t got the money, you go without. I don’t think my grandparents ever owned a credit card. Ever. They had a cheque book and if they wanted cash they got it over the counter at the bank. And if there wasn’t enough in the account they didn’t draw it out. And that was it. If the bank ever sent them credit cards when it became de rigueur to have a bit of plastic in your wallet I never saw them use one. Aside from their inevitable mortgage, they were deeply suspicious of virtual money and ATMs. Undoubtedly it was a generation thing.

And, of course, ironic. Banks have for centuries dealt with virtual money and the idea of a “promise to pay”. The countries of the West are built on this ethos. On spending money that they haven’t got. It is the basis of all speculation.

When I got my first credit card no real harm was done. I was single, living at home with parents who hardly fleeced me for housekeeping money and so I had more cash that I sensibly knew what to do with.

I frittered it away on books, movies and music – and later travel. And it was fine ‘cos when that bill landed on my doormat at the end of the month I had enough spare cash floating around to pay it all off immediately.

And that’s the ideal. That’s how using a credit card should be.

But later in life – much later – paying stuff off all in one go became impossible. It became the norm not to do it and those halcyon days of settling my account without a second thought became a novelty. The honeymoon period between my flexible friend and my salad days was well and truly over.

When real life kicks in – when you’re standing on your own two feet – it’s all too easy to fall into the credit trap; the overdraft pit; the snare of buy now pay later and then keep paying and paying for a very long time.

And if you are canny you do the credit card transfer dance for a while. Or “debt consolidation” as it is sometimes called. Lumping all your outstanding debts into one big sum that you bung on an interest free credit card deal in the vain hope you’ll get most of it paid off before the interest finally kicks in.

Of course, all you’re doing is “promising to pay” the vultures who are happy to sit and wait and let your meat tenderize itself as the pressure softens you up. And the longer they wait the juicier you’ll be.

It’s the law of the financial jungle.

This year, however, I made a decision – a resolution in fact – to get myself out of the credit trap. To consciously and conscientiously budget each month. To pay off debts without accruing more. To not dip into my overdraft but to stay in the black.

So far, 5 months in, I’ve managed it. My debts are being whittled down, bit by bit – they’ll be with me for a year or two but they’re shrinking, losing volume and threat. And my overdraft is a 5 month virgin, i.e. undipped into and I mean to keep her that way.

My credit cards are, by and large, becoming orphaned. More, they’re becoming strangers.

We used to be so close but now I can see it was always an abusive relationship. I’m only sorry it took me so long to realize that and do something positive about it.

Now that I’m away from the situation I do hope that one day they’ll learn to forgive me and move on.

I know the fault was mostly mine but I can’t help feeling that, in their very nature, they colluded in my weaknesses and led me on. And despite the protestations of the banking history of the world I can’t help thinking that my grandparents had the right idea.

Virtual money never leads to virtual riches. It only ever opens the door to very real debt.