Friday, December 14, 2007

Wet Ninja

I’m off to my homeland on Monday for a few days, and so I’ve been checking the news sites to see what kind of appalling mayhem the inbred halfwits of Northern Ireland have been dishing out to each other over the last week or so. Nothing much, but...

A team of fire-fighters was attacked by a moron who hadn’t stopped to wonder if a samurai sword was a match for a fully-functional fire hose. It wasn’t, of course, so they just sluiced him into submission. Strangely satisfying, that story.

More later…

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The McWord

In a bid to change the public perception of employment prospects with the company, McDonald’s has collected almost 105,000 signatures on a petition, which has now been submitted to the publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary.

The fast-food giant has long been unhappy with the negative implications of the OED’s definition of “McJob” – the dictionary calls it “an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of the service sector.”

In an attempt to combat this, and to raise the morale of the nation’s burger-flippers, the company enlisted the support of the broadcaster Sir David Frost, 35 MPs and former Confederation of British Industry chairman Sir Digby - now Lord - Jones, in trying to persuade the OED and other UK dictionary houses “to change the current definition of McJob to better reflect the reality of service sector jobs.”

The OED has yet to comment. At the launch of the petition a spokeswoman for the dictionary said “We monitor changes in the language and reflect these in our definitions according to the evidence we find.”

McDonald’s may have a point. Caterer and Hotelkeeper magazine dubbed the Golden Arches “the best place to work in hospitality”, and on its website the company has
launched its own retaliatory “McProspects” campaign, with a list of benefits and the slogan “Not bad for a McJob”.

It could be argued that McDonald’s have only themselves to blame – the company first registered the term McJobs as a trademark in 1984 as the name and image for the training of handicapped people as restaurant employees. The trademark lapsed, but the word re-surfaced in The Washington Post in 1986 and entered common usage in the US following a mention as a description of a “low pay, low prestige, low benefit, no future” job in Donald Coupland’s 1991 novel Generation X.

McJob first appeared in the UK in the online version of the OED in 2001, but it was its appearance in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary – in 2003 – which seems to have first truly irked McDonalds.

The company considered legal action when the McWord first appeared in the US, but apparently was advised that it didn’t have a case. McDonald’s is notoriously lacking in a sense of humour and has an appetite for litigation when it comes to what it sees as slurs on its business.

Famously, in 1994, it sued two Greenpeace activists, who had distributed a pamphlet criticising the company, in what became the UK’s longest ever libel trial. The case was instantly and inevitably tagged “McLibel”, and went on for two and a half years, becoming the longest trial of any kind in British legal history.

Lasers In The Jungle Somewhere

From Flight magazine:

"Boeing moved closer earlier this month to realizing a seven-year goal to demonstrate a high-powered laser as a weapon aboard a Lockheed Martin C-130H.

“Next year, we will fire the laser at ground targets, demonstrating the military utility of this transformational directed energy weapon,” Scott Fancher, VP and general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems, said in a statement."

So that’s just marvellous. As if the US can’t do enough damage with conventional ordnance, by the middle of next year we’ll all be in Bond-villain fantasy-land. Brown people the world over will live in constant terror of the next death-ray strike, while Dubyah slouches around inside his hollowed-out volcano with that dopey coked-up smirk plastered across his little monkey face.

I know that having your family barbecued by a laser isn’t really any worse than having a bunch of high-explosive come down your chimney, but somehow it feels worse. Until the advent of that ultra-low-frequency-sound weapon they’ve been talking about for the past fifty years – the one that makes you poo your pants and then shatters your pelvis, ribcage and skull (in that order, so you get to enjoy it) – then I reckon the super-laser’s about as bad as it gets.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Southern Marsupial Mole (itjari-itjari)

Ok, it's been a long time, and under those circumstances I always seem to end up obsessing about animals...

Here’s a quote from a website:

“The marsupial mole is found in the central deserts of southern Northern Territory, northern and east-central Western Australia and western South Australia.”

So that’s clear, then.

In terms of their continued survival, man is not a real problem for the mole these days, although apparently there are some issues with “soil compaction caused by stock movement and vehicles”. In other words, they sometimes get trampled on or run over and squashed. It must be disheartening for the moles to realise that they’re going to end up as road kill even if they stay underground.

In the past things were different; there are records of thousands of mole pelts being traded between 1900 and 1920 in deals struck between Aboriginals and European cameleers which, no doubt, followed the traditional pattern of such deals - the Europeans got the moleskins and a few hundred thousand acres of ancestral lands and the Aboriginals in return each got two pairs of cheap calico trousers and smallpox.

As burrowers go, the moles are not particularly hard-core, tunnelling only 10cm below the surface and coming up to have a look around fairly frequently. Well, not a look around, exactly, as their eyes are vestigial and they have no optic nerves. Presumably they have just enough time to sniff the air for a split-second with their small, slit-like nostrils before being torn limb from limb by the foxes, dingos and cats which they don’t hear creeping up on them because of their lack of external ears.

A further dubious evolutionary development is that the marsupial mole’s pouch faces backwards, to prevent it scooping up sand and bringing the animal to a shuddering and undignified halt. Whether or not this rear-facing arrangement also results in the mole leaving a trail of little tiny pink mole babies, jettisoned and squealing, in its wake when at full throttle is anybody’s guess, but it would make perfect sense to me if it did. (It would explain the “endangered” sticker, that’s for sure.)

There are photographs of these things, and, trust me, they aren’t pretty. It’s always reassuring that creatures whose noses are “horny shields” and whose hands have become “scoops equipped with spade-like claws” tend to be on the small side, rather than there being the possibility that some hellish creature the size of a small rhinoceros is going to gouge its way up through the patio and join you in the hot tub.

Mutual Interests

It’s always interesting to return to my homeland, which regular visitors to this site might possibly remember I regard with a mixture of amusement, horror and disbelief. Ninety percent of the population are bad-tempered, slow-witted hicks and the other ten percent are Eastern European immigrants who failed to do their homework properly and are frantically trying to earn the money for a ticket out of the place.

Anyway, on a light-hearted note I thought you'd be interested to know that the Belfast Telegraph has a "lonely hearts" page which is divided into three sections: "Men Seeking Women", "Women Seeking Men", and "Mutual Interests", where gays have to mix it with pot-holers, model railway enthusiasts and socially inept men with beards who work in I.T. and want to get together at weekends to re-enact the Battle of Naseby.

However, as we're talking about Northern Ireland here I suppose we should just be grateful that there isn’t a section labelled "Homos".

On a more encouraging note, on a visit to the village where I grew up I noticed that someone had taken the time to alter the sign for LESSANS ROAD so that it read LESBIANS ROAD, so there might be some hot action going on out in the sticks.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Creating A Monster

Well, once again it’s been over a month since I posted anything on here, and I’m a little ashamed. Not abject, but a little disappointed with myself. In some ways it would be worse if my readership extended further than a cynical curmudgeon from Iowa, a pert-breasted nymphet trapped in the body of a portly Welsh accountant and a very small lady writer with a bad attitude, but they are loyal, if infrequent, visitors and I really should make more of an effort.

I’ve just spent a week in Ireland, trying to persuade my mother to allow a measure of helpful technology into her life. She’s eighty-seven, and physically a little frail, although she still lives alone and manages to do her own housework. On this visit I noticed there were a lot of cobwebs on the ceilings, but I reckon that’s bound to happen if you’re both short-sighted and four-foot ten in height. Mentally, she’s still in pretty good shape. She repeats herself a lot, and forgets things, but then I’ve been like that myself since I was thirty.

My mother is also becoming a bit deaf. “DO YOU KNOW, DAVID,” she bellows “I DON’T THINK MY HEARING’S AS GOOD AS IT WAS.”

“Well”, I say, “at your age you have to exp-“

“WHAT DO YOU THINK? DO YOU THINK MY HEARINGS NOT AS GOOD AS IT WAS?” she roars, not realising that I’ve said anything.


“Oh.” She says quietly, looking crestfallen, and I have a sudden surge of sadness at the ageing process and the way it will ultimately turn us all into creatures who are figures of fun at best, and, at worst, a bloody nuisance to our families. (Our friends, of course, will still love us as they’ll be just as deaf, daft, drugged and incontinent as we are, so make sure you keep in touch.)

I had a long list of things to do, or rather to persuade my mother to do, but after a day or two I realised none of it was going to happen. Old people don’t like change, especially those, like my mother, who come from a background where money was always tight. They don’t like splashing out on luxury items like living-room windows which keep the draughts out, washing machines that work properly, and TV sets which don’t have to be slapped firmly on the right-hand-side every ten minutes to rid the screen of scrolling horizontal lines.

So I gave up on everything except for the mobile phone I’d bought her for Christmas, which my daughter had spent a full day teaching her to use, and which, inevitably, had been back in its box since December 28th.

It took five days. Five days of being shouted at and shouting back. I don’t know if you’ve ever had to try to explain something slowly, calmly and gently at the volume you’d use to stop a stray dog from crapping on your lawn, but let me tell you, it’s exhausting. Because mobiles look a little like TV remotes it took a full day to persuade my mother not to hold the phone out in front of her, pointed vaguely towards the corner of the room.


Actually it wasn’t that bad. Well, it was, but I didn’t swear and she didn’t cry. And it worked so well that while I was in the airport waiting for my flight home my mother used her mobile to call me four times. Once while I was checking in, once while I was having a pee, once while I was, at the insistence of the security staff, removing my belt and shoes, and once while I was sitting in the bar trying to relax. But that’s what always happens with mobiles, and I was proud of her.

But I think I may have created a monster.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Cook 'Em Slowly

According to the TV news, Dublin’s council estates are over-run by dangerous breeds of dog with irresponsible owners. Following ten dog attacks on people this year, Dublin City Council has issued a notice to its tenants, threatening them with eviction from their houses if they don’t get rid of their dogs.

Interviewed, the owners of these inbred hell-hounds claim that they love their dogs because of their sweet nature, which is about as accurate and honest as a gun nut claiming to love his Glock because of the colour.

“He’s so good with the children,” they bleat, gazing mistily at the slavering red-eyed wolverine frothing at their feet. Presumably what they mean is that the beast swallows toddlers in one gulp rather than messing the place up by leaving stray arms and ears all over the carpet.

“He’s like one of the family,” they whine, which is perfectly believable, as right now their children are outside in the street mutilating a tramp prior to setting him on fire and then eating him alive.

The dog lobby, and I have to say I'm slightly depressed that such a thing exists, puts forward the opinion that “it’s not the dogs, it’s the owners who are the problem.” Interesting, the parallel with the gun lobby. (“Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”)

Well, actually, bad, stupid, aggressive people with guns kill people, and people like that should no more be allowed to roam the streets armed with an irascible pit bull terrier than they should be allowed access to firearms.

They may be an argument for keeping big, tough dogs in certain circumstances, such as if you live in a remote cottage in a corner of Ireland under constant threat of attack by starving bears or rabid badgers or something. Keeping a brace or more of testosterone-fuelled rottweilers in a two-bedroom apartment on the seventh floor of a Dublin tower block is a liitle harder to justify.

I know it’s the owners who are the problem, but people are more difficult to get rid of than animals, even in Ireland. I also know that “it’s not the dogs’ fault”, which is somehow supposed to make you fell less stressed about the fact that your babies have just been dragged from their pram and eaten.

The Koreans have the right idea about dogs. Keep them in the pound for a while to let them soften up. They’ll still be a little tough, but, hell, cook ‘em slowly.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Creak Slam Yak Squeal Chortle Guffaw Bellow

One thing is certain about Irish hotels; they’re not havens of peace and quiet. Unless you’re prepared to do a lot of painstaking research and / or spend a lot of money I wouldn’t advise staying in any Irish hotel on a Friday or Saturday night unless you’re prepared to sit up drinking until two in the morning. That’s what everyone else will be doing, and there will be no concessions to the feeble lightweights who want to get to sleep by midnight.

If you should decide to stay somewhere like Dublin’s Temple Bar, which is the epicentre of the city’s tourist area, you’ve only yourself to blame if your sleep is disturbed by the sounds of merriment and projectile vomiting, but heading out into the sticks may not prove much better.

In Ireland, country hotels are often hubs of the local entertainment scene (there’s nowhere else to go, for a start.) They’re always open to non-residents, and make most of their money from people using the bars and restaurant and attending weddings and discos – the wellbeing of those trying to get some sleep upstairs is not a priority.

The Old Inn at Crawfordsburn has a few notions of grandeur, making much of its 1614 origins – the brochure hints coyly at those who have stayed there. (“Highwaymen and presidents, Russian tsars and rock stars…” Yeah, yeah, very clever, I see what you did there.)

After a couple of disturbed nights I re-checked the publicity handout in the room, and to give them their due, at no point does the brochure use the word “quiet”, which is fortunate, because if the material had even hinted at tranquility I would have rolled up the leaflet very tightly and inserted it in the manager.

The brochure does mention “the picturesque village of Crawfordsburn”, and the place is attractive enough, I suppose. What they don’t mention is that the inn itself is right on the village’s main street, an after-hours rat-run which links the seaside resort of Bangor with the A2, which leads to Belfast. The traffic is constant, and even at three a.m. on Sunday morning there were still cars revving past our bedroom window at the rate of two or three a minute.

Our room turned out not to be, thankfully, directly over the bar or the function room where a wedding reception was taking place, but it was above the lobby and front door of the hotel. So, when the bar closed at around two a.m. the bunch of drunks moved first to the lobby (yak yak squeal chortle bellow), then out of the front door to the street right outside our window. (Creak. Slam. Creak. Slam. Creak slam creak slam creak slam creak slam creak slam. Yak yak squeal squeal chortle guffaw bellow.)

Much more yakking and squealing ensued, until the taxis arrived. (Vroom vroom slam squeal etc, etc.) Cabs continued to pull up, slam their doors and roar off for at least an hour. Then it went quiet. For five minutes.

Then the people staying in the hotel who’d been partying in Bangor or Belfast came back. By cab. (Vroom slam. Yak yak squeal guffaw. Creak. Slam.) They stumbled around the hotel for a while, trying their keys in at least twenty-five of the hotel’s thirty-two rooms before finding the right ones. They were, thank God, too drunk to have noisily enthusiastic sex, which would, I think, have been the last straw.

At around three thirty the remaining members of the hotel staff, waiting for their taxis home, moved to the lobby to have a boisterous and good-humoured discussion about their day. (Yak guffaw etc.)

At this point I finally lost my temper, put on a shirt, jeans, inserted one contact lens in the interest of speed and economy and padded, barefoot and enraged, down the stairs to the lobby. Due to exhaustion I was actually quite polite, but the staff members reacted with shock and contrition, and I was somewhat mollified, although I somehow felt that you shouldn’t have to have it explained to you that shouting at each other in a hotel lobby at four a.m. is not a civilised way to behave.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


I've been on holiday in Ireland, of which more later. Maybe. In the meantime there's one thing I've learnt which I will pass on to you. Fifty-four is the wrong age to try surfing for the first time. Ow. OW.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

LOTR - Goblins On Stilts

Lord Of The Rings, Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, June 26th

Critical opinion seems divided on whether this is a hugely expensive piece of poo or just good fun. I'm not a big Tolkien fan so I went along without too many reservations apart from worrying about having enough legroom and whether I'd be able to get enough drink during the interval to cope with another ninety minutes of goblins on stilts.

As it turns out I'd put it in the "good fun" category. The sets are incredible, although as I'm of a nervous disposition the rising / falling / rotating stage made me a bit uneasy. Mark my words, that thing'll have sombody's leg off before the end of the run. Or hop.

There are lots of interesting lighting effects and clever trompe l'oeil stuff going on all the way through, and the Orcs are pretty scary, especially when they run up and down the aisles growling at everybody.

The cast is solid enough, with only the actor playing the Elvish king delivering a performance made of old ham sliced thick, and if there aren't any really memorable songs, by the same token there aren't any moments that had me thinking of faking a seizure so that I could be stretchered out.

Judging by the availability of cut-price tickets (I paid a fiver for a seat in the third row of the stalls) the public aren't exactly rushing to see the show, so you should be able to get a bargain. At that price it's a good night out, although two glasses of wine cost £10.40, a bit of a shock if, like me, you know that if you’re prepared to haggle in Urdu you can get five bottles of wine for that kind of money at the Vidhi Convenience Store on the Brighton Road.

(You also have to be prepared for your teeth to go black, but so far that’s always worn off after a while, as has the blindness.)

Anyway, back to the show. If you're a real Tolkien buff you'll probably hate it. If not, then it's an experience worth having.
But take a hip flask.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Ego Failure

So, Paris Hilton is once again at large, and the world can breathe more easily now that the young lady has managed to get through her prison ordeal without succumbing to the tantalisingly unspecific “health problem” which, according to Sheriff Lee Baca, had played a part in her early release.

In extreme circumstances, such as when deprived of access to their handbags, sunglasses, shoes, recreational drugs and, most importantly, their retinue of sycophants, some “celebrities” can begin to suffer what has come to be described as “ego failure”, a disease which is, shockingly, almost entirely confined to those who have acquired fame and wealth despite a complete absence of discernible ability of any kind.

Those most lacking in talent are, tragically, the most vulnerable. Deprived of the constant gush of squealing approval from their coterie of arse-kissers they may well begin to dwell on the emptiness and pointlessness of their lives, and who can blame them? Hilton, as one of the most chronically tedious people currently in the public eye, would be particularly vulnerable to the condition, said a Hollywood doctor who specialises in Diseases of the Rich*.

“It’s widely accepted in the medical community that the severity of the condition depends on the pointlessness of the celebrity.” He said. “And I would judge Ms. Hilton to have significantly raised the bar when it comes to being pointless. In some ways it’s quite an achievement. But that doesn’t stop her being really, really pointless.”

Sheriff Baca hinted that he feared a suicide attempt, perhaps surprisingly talking about it as if it would be a bad thing, whereas to most of us a world with one less “multi-millionaire socialite” in it would be quite all right, thanks very much.

*With thanks to the late Tom Lehrer

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Undercover Cameron

The strangely moist and thoroughly unlikeable David Cameron, leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition and potentially the next elected Prime Minister, went undercover in Birmingham last week. Old-Etonian Cameron, who occasionally tries to disguise himself as a member of the lower orders by removing his tie and asking to be called “Dave”, spent a few days living with an “ordinary family”, Abdullah and Shahida Rehman. While he was in Brum Daveyboy also had a crack at being a teaching assistant at a local school.

It’s quite romantic, really, and not unlike the old folk tales where the King puts on a peasant smock, has a quick roll in the dung-heap and sets off to travel amongst his subjects disguised as a beggar. Those stories (at least the ones that get turned into folk songs) tend to follow a predictable pattern.

The undercover king, prince, pope, bishop, colonel, (or whatever), lustily plights his troth with a blushing maiden who steadfastly refuses to Do It with him because she is too pure, and also because he has no money. In Olden Times it seems, a maidenhead was rarely jettisoned without huge lumps of cash changing hands. How unlike the present day, when the phrase “there’s no such thing as an ugly rich man” is never used under any circumstances.

Desperate for a shag, the beggar flings off his smock to reveal his doublet, hose, fine stockings, and, most importantly, a bulging, throbbing purse of gold coins. At which point the maiden suddenly realises that she truly loves him and they rush to the hay-loft where they couple like maddened badgers.

They then either run off together and marry, or he dumps her and heads back to the castle leaving her to bear an illegitimate child, live for twenty years in poverty and then die horribly from smallpox.

And actually we don’t care what happens to them, because by this point the ballad, sung by a middle-aged Aspergic woman with dirty hair in a centre parting and a voice like two asthmatic piglets fighting in a bag, has reached the eighty-second verse and we have broken out in a slight sweat and abandoned all hope.

Not that Dave got up to any of that stuff. He came back having had “an experience which has strengthened my conviction about the right way to build a more cohesive Britain.”

Which is good, probably, but it’s not the kind of thing you’d want to write a song about.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Here's Your Pig's Bladder

Chubby humourist Bll Bryson’s on an anti-litter campaign here in the U.K. at the moment. Seemingly irritated by an American daring to point out to them that they’re a bunch of slobs, a few people on the news opinion forums I frequent have been quite disparaging about Bill.

Some have even called into question whether or not he’s funny. Well, he is. I mean, I’ve never wept with mirth or had to lie down because my sides were aching after reading Bill’s stuff, but he’s an accurate observer and on the basis of an “evening with” he did at a local theatre a few months back, he’s also a genuinely nice bloke. He also manages to be funny without ever being truly unkind, which is harder than it looks.

I also have a soft spot for him because someone once suggested that I could be “the next Bill Bryson.” That’s flattering, but to tell you truth I’d rather be the first Bill Bryson, because then not only would I already be immensely wealthy but I’d also have a pretty good head of hair for a man in his fifties. (Although he should wash it more often, if his last breakfast T.V. appearance was anything to go by.)

On the downside, of course, the first Bill lives in Norfolk, a county which consistently fills me with dread, both because of the eye-watering flatness of the landscape and because for many of the inhabitants the job of village idiot is seen as the pinnacle of an aspirational and challenging career path. “Welcome on board, Jethro. Here's your pig’s bladder.”

A few hundred years ago people from Norfolk enthusiastically colonised many of the parts of North America which now feature in Stephen King novels and teen slasher movies. Many East Anglian traditions, such as folk dancing, incest, murder and cannibalism, often all with the same person and in quick succession, are still carried out by their descendents to this very day.

Bill claims to be happy in Norfolk, but I bet he keeps a gun under the pillow.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

May Flash Fiction (1)

The train pulls out of Euston on time, dead on four o’clock.

An hour into the journey and already it seems we’ve run out of things to say. We’ve had a brief discussion about the conference ahead. We’ve asked and answered a few questions about each other’s home life and after a very short while realised we really don’t care much about each other’s partners, children, pets, friends, if the truth were told.

For the last five minutes she’s been gazing out of the carriage window as the backs of houses fly past. Her jaw-line is tautened by the turn of her head. In the pallid spring sunlight I notice for the first time that her cheek is covered with the finest golden down. For a moment, unexpectedly, I wonder how it would feel against my lips.

Suddenly she turns to look at me. “I’m looking forward to this conference,” she says, “it’s been a long time coming.”

The phrase hangs in the air, and for a second our eyes lock, and then, coward that I am, mine skid away. When I find the courage to look back she’s smiling. “I’m a bit like that myself, sometimes.” she says, and turns her face to look out of the window once more.

The houses turn to woodland, then to fields and distant hills dappled with shadow and glowing in the westering sun. I pick up my newspaper, pretend to read, and dare to wonder what the next few days might bring.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Have Your Say

I occasionally try to have my comments published on the BBC News "Have Your Say" website. I am rarely successful...

Elections 2007: Will you be voting?
We have many burning local issues in this part of Surrey, but I'll willingly vote for whichever candidate can guarantee that I will never again be doorstepped by Edwina Currie. Terrifying.
COMMENT STATUS:Awaiting moderation

Has the government the right green policies?
Interesting that those who believe global warming to be a fantasy created by Blair, "Greens" and "Lefties" seem also to be unable to spell, punctuate or construct a coherent sentence. It could be argued that this strongly suggests them to be morons, but I've heard there's some evidence to the contrary. So that's all right then.

How should society tackle gun crime?
Call me old-fashioned, but surely we could give these disaffected youths a few guns and their own island where they could savage each other to their hearts' content. It could be filmed as a "reality" T.V. show and the profits given to their victims.

Are young people too hung up on body image?
"Are young people too hung up on body image?" Yes, probably, but then young people tend to be hung up just about everything that doesn't matter, and most of them will grow out of it. Let's stop pretending this is important.

Is the Anglican Church right to issue gay ultimatum?
The sight of this bunch of delusional bigots slapping feebly at each other is not totally without entertainment value, but I fear it will soon become tiresome. As a suggestion for those torturing themselves on points of dogma, I would paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut's simple creed. "Believe whatever harmless lies you like, as long as they make you happy, healthy, brave and kind." Works for me...

Should all UK imports and exports of poultry be halted?
Yet another piece of misdirection - what will this ideologically and morally discredited government try to slide by unnoticed while this nonsense holds our attention? Incidentally, on the radio this morning someone referred to the national poultry "herd". Thank God we at least avoided a stampede. Yeehah.

Why is the north fatter than the south?
Surely the simplest way round this problem is to adopt the approach used so many times before in areas as wide-ranging as education, measuring inflation, unemployment and so on. If we were to move the goal-posts redefine obesity as "over forty stone" then most people in the U.K., North and South would comfortably fall into the "normal" category again. Problem solved.

How can we tackle childhood obesity?
Surely we could solve the problem by providing fat children with an exercise wheel like those used by hamsters. Connected to the National Grid these devices could go a long way towards solving Britain's energy problems without resorting to nuclear power or unsightly wind turbines.

How should Britain prepare for Bird Flu?
I'm greatly encouraged by the news that the 'flu has been contracted by a domestic cat - perhaps I can now look forward to H5N1 wiping out the bands of marauding squirrels which spend each summer enthusiastically violating my wife's hanging baskets. Come to think of it I won't shed any tears over next door's Jack Russell either. Bring it on.

Friday, April 27, 2007

I'll Use Paypal

You probably think that on-line shopping is a breeze. If you're an old person, as I am, you might remember when, if you wanted to buy something, you had to actually leave the house and go to a shop. Not a "virtual store", or an "on-line mart", but a real shop, with a window at the front with wasps in it and a counter inside and an old gentleman wearing one of those special brown coats with a six-inch ruler and three pens in the top pocket.

Sometimes you had to go to two shops, or even more, to find the thing you wanted. And then you had to write a cheque. And bring the the thing you'd bought home on the bus, more than likely. And there'd probably be a light drizzle falling, and you'd get a bit wet and have to have a cup of tea when you got back.


Now, considering that millions of people on the planet have to walk miles each day just to collect clean drinking water, I tend to think that even the old style of shopping was pretty fucking easy. And shopping on-line is so phenomenally slothful it actually makes me feel guilty. Let's face it, there are no arguments, it's a piece of piss.

Paypal doesn't agree.

Their current advertising campaign invites you to compare the preferred option of "I'll use Paypal" with the following scene of drudgery and sheer exhaustion:

"I'll spend the next few minutes hunting around for my credit card so I can type out that number (yes, the really long one) across the middle, and that 3 digit thingy on the back. And, of course my expiry date. Oh go on then, and my billing address too."

God, that sounds completely ghastly. Positively inhumane. You might have to type in your credit card number! Well, fuck me. I wouldn't be surprised if the non-Paypal version of on-line shopping is ultimately subject to the same universal opprobrium as child slave labour or the use of landmines.

What next? As far as I know the smart money is on the development of a microchip implanted just behind your ear which will monitor your buying patterns over a period of time and then forecast what you want to buy before you even know you want to buy it, contact the website and your bank and sort it all out while you're asleep. You won't even have the stress of wondering when your stuff's going to arrive because you won't know you've bought it until the parcel arrives. Surprise! And it's just what you wanted!

The only time you won't get what you want is when it's clothing and the chip knows your arse is going to look huge. Then you'll probably just get a nice handbag.

Now that's the kind of technology that makes life easy. "I'll use Paypal" indeed. You're having a laugh.

Another True Story

Now that I’m free to wander the earth having adventures like Caine from Kung Fu things are starting to happen to me. Last night I was rehearsing with some musician friends. One of the songs we worked on was “Short People” by Randy Newman. In case you’re not familiar with Mr. Newman’s oeuvre, the song contains the following lyrics:

They got little hands
And little eyes
And they walk around
Tellin' great big lies
They got little noses
And tiny little teeth
They wear platform shoes
On their nasty little feet

At the time of the song's release, when he toured those parts of the United States where a sense of humour is a rarity but proof of a permanent sense of outrage has, by law, to be produced at a police station every twenty-eight days, Randy received death threats in the mail. It was never proven that the vertically diverse were responsible, although the fact that teeny-weeny little ladders were sometimes found propped against Randy’s mailbox was thought to be significant.

Anyway, that's the song we rehearsed last night. This morning, as I walked into Redhill town centre I was stopped in the street by a midget who asked for directions to the road where I live. She didn't actually ask for directions to my house, so it might have been a coincidence, but to tell you the truth it spooked me.

When I got home I checked in all the flower pots and behind the sofa and everything seemed to be in order, but then I've no idea how midgets operate, and it's obviously much easier for them to go under cover than for the rest of us.

Maybe I should look up their modus operandi on Google.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Making A Name

A genuine news story from my local paper...

"A Redhill man who suffers bouts of depression broke into a Salvation Army citadel near his home and defecated on the floor near the piano, a court heard. Ray Barnett, defending, said: "I asked him why he did it and he said he wanted to make a name for himself.""

If anybody had bothered to ask me I would have told them that the way to really make a name for yourself would be to defecate on the ceiling.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Spell Of Total Enlightenment

It's been a weird few weeks. On March 30th I left my job as corporate lickspittle to wander the earth and have adventures. I had been with the company for almost twenty years and I can honestly say that I hated pretty much all of my time there, except for the parts that were merely dull.

Anyway, they turned me loose with a warm but insincere handshake and a severance package which will allow me to sit around for a year or two with my thumb up my arse should I so wish. Then I'll have to either get a job or start selling body parts. (Somebody else's body parts, obviously.)

Sooz and I went on a week's holiday in Derbyshire to help with the transition, and did a lot of walking, eating, drinking and sleeping. On my return I went into my study on Monday morning, turned on the computer and Wondered What To Do Next. Then I Went A Bit Nuts.

The problem was, I think, that while I was at work I was gainfully but pointlessly employed in an environment which, although not in the same league as being an air traffic controller or neurosurgeon when it comes to stress levels, was still fraught enough to fill my head up with Work Stuff, so all the Other Stuff I should have been thinking about could be pushed to one side during the day. In the evening I had the excuse of having had a hard day making a living to allow me to avoid thinking about the Other Stuff then, too.

So, with no Work Stuff to worry about I was visited by The Spell Of Total Enlightenment, and I started trying to think about all the Other Stuff at once. On Monday I thought about: making a will, changing my mortgage to another lender, taking out life insurance, registering with the Job Centre, calling my pension company, setting up a meeting with a financial advisor, booking a service for my car, booking an MOT for my car, selling my car, contacting charity organisations to see if they wanted any volunteers, buying a new desk for my office, getting the parts to fix the shower door, booking a holiday in Durham, booking a flight to Ireland, checking out training courses and finding a new job.

And, of course, trying to read, research and do some writing, which was the point of leaving my job in the first place.

After an hour or so I wound up in the corner of the study with the wastepaper basket on my head, singing the chorus of "Don't Touch Me There" by The Tubes. Then I calmed down, and made a list.

Three weeks later, I've crossed a few things off the list and added a few more, and I'm pretty much back in control. My days seem extraordinarily full, and not as structured as I'd like, but I'm making progress of a kind.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Lot Of Dead Alpacas

The Ministry of Defence has released figures relating to compensation to claimants “affected” by low-flying aircraft during the year 2005-2006. The amount awarded was £4.1 million, a huge increase over the previous year, when the sum was a paltry £760000.

Many of the incidents relate to farm livestock. The M.O.D. tells us that it’s “very unlikely that stock is hit directly and killed”, which is reassuring to a degree but not all that surprising, unless you’re farming giraffes, in which case it’s
still unlikely but not impossible.

It's well known that at the onset of Spring giraffes tend to get a touch exuberant and do a lot of leaping and bounding. The effect of a giraffe being sucked into an air intake is not something that’s easy to reproduce convincingly under stringent test conditions, but one can hazard a guess that it’s likely to prove fairly unpleasant for animal and aircrew alike.

More likely are occurrences of “huddling”. Many farm animals, from
sheep to more exotic breeds such as llamas and alpacas, are just as
likely to crowd together for mutual reassurance in moments of
danger as to try to make a run for it. Under these circumstances
it’s quite possible that a single Chinook landing a little
over-enthusiastically could annihilate an entire flock.

However, although it’s not difficult to see how these tragic events
can come about, the amount of compensation still seems extremely

£4.1 million’s a lot of dead alpacas. Or giraffes.