Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Jed, in the United of States, has been busy. The boy done good research and has almost certainly taught me a new phrase. I am pleased that we can give something back to America because Jim Carrey has gone unpunished for far too long*

My own research has temporarily stalled for want of pickled beetroot. I will purchase today and maybe experiment later as I am sure pancakes will not sustain me until late evening.

*Apart from "The Mask". But not for him. Not no never.


I want you all to share in my triumph.

The day before yesterday I heard a yelp from the bathroom. Suspecting something was dreadfully awry I took the stairs in a brisker fashion than usual (only one at a time though; I have found that my knees are no longer able to fight against gravity and gradient in the manner they once did and I wanted my arrival to be more the majesterial one and less the "England fast bowler breaking down on pre-test warm-up gentle run-in" stylee). I arrived and pushed the door open expecting to see a despairing and semi-naked, ordure soaked partner in dire need of physical assistance. Instead she pointed at the bottom of the bath panel and wailed "Spider! I'm not moving until it does."

I have to admit here that when it comes to arachnids I am of the opinion that they all want to dead me bad via making me a jessie, big girl's blouse, fashion designer, tart and a wuss. However I am the only man in a house of women who are even bigger screeching lady-boys than I am when it comes to scuttling things so, I find that I have to bottle it and sweat and act like the joint tenant I really am.

The spider in question was one of those almost invisible ones of about an inch across that usually lurk in the corner of the bathroom ceiling for months deliberately dropping lacewing carcasses into the forest of shampoo and conditioner bottles directly below . It wasn't a harvester; the ones with the little round bodies that only have six legs so aren't really spiders, meaning that I can deal with them easily by picking them up in my cupped hand. Likewise it wasn't a cranefly; something else I have no trouble picking up for some reason. Although its hair-like legs and miniscule body meant it proved no tangible threat to me and probably couldn't make me dead, it still possessed the requisite eight legs and capacity for speed that are the usual reasons for my reticence. I was quickly realising that I would have to be decisive. Sensing that the bathroom was unusually bereft of suitable vessels with which to capture the creature I was forced to make a decision. I would have to pick it up. With my bare hands. A spider.

So I did. I gently cupped my hand over it and headed for the door. Then I did a girly thing because the bastard moved. In a moment of pure comedy reflex I jerked my hand and sent the unfortunate beast to the floor. "Uhhheerrr - what did you do that for?" "Shit, where is it?" "Get it out!" There it was, on the carpet, scuttling. I managed to repeat the routine, more efficiently this time, resisting the urge to flinch when I felt it move. I heroically transported it downstairs and ejected it onto the front path. I remounted the stairs to claim the gleeful thanks and inevitable promise of sexual favours that would undoubtedly be on offer after proving myself in such a dominant and unflinchingly masculine manner.

Not a word. Not a single bloody word of gratitude. What the hell has a man got to do?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

My Mate...update

I have partially completed the task I set myself a short while ago.

Made up market research contends that 50% of the population would willingly live on intravenous infusions of Marmite; the other 50% would happily encourage a fatwa on its makers. Where did my own research lead me?

Well I have to admit, I'm undecided and I would like to try again. For those new around here such as God-fearing teen and enemy of semantics, Andy, the challenge was to copy and eat the sandwich my mother, of whose conversion to the yeast slime I had hitherto been unaware, makes herself daily; to wit, a beetroot and Marmite one.

The longer I become involved with this, the more educational it becomes. My good friend from the United of States, Jed, on reading the first post, was forced to resort to Wikipedia in an attempt to discover what a beetroot was. It seems the Leaders of the Free World are unaware of the benefits the UK's top salad staple can bring to the table, especially when mixed with a premium condiment such as Heinz Salad Cream (a combination that should grace every wedding breakfast top-table). I will alert my old friends at DEFRA and they can subsidise the new export market forthwith. I'm not drifting off-topic, this is a deliberate tack to gently introduce those still reeling from their new discoveries (Jed. And Andy who is no doubt by now severely confused) to the concept of pickled beetroot.

This is the reason I am going to have to reattempt the evaluation, you see. I only had a vacuum packed boiled beet avaliable and not the far superior pickled version on which I was raised (I should say "nourished as a child" before someone asks me whether our house was constructed upon foundations of root veg). Although the top notes of the Marmite cut through the layers of beet, I feel they would combine better with the vinegar tang of the preserved variety. I fear this one will, as they say, run and run.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Making Mischief

Very few things in life offer as much satisfaction as the sight of bigots getting it in the chads. With that in mind I have been setting a couple of things in motion. Only small things, mind, but it will be interesting to see what happens. In the current climate of course, with lots of warbling about freedom of speech and expression, this could even take on a little life of its own.

Nationalism is a word that grates harshly. There's nothing wrong with countries; they were always going to happen because of linguistic and geographical divides and the need for people to belong to things other than gyms and floral art clubs. And somebody has to win the Ashes. We all know where it goes wrong though and I just want to make friends with people who speak differently and eat more savoury food than me.

Forgive me for not directly mentioning the name here of the organisation that vexes me so painfully. I've already written of them earlier in this blog and for some reason I seem to have the knack of getting well placed in searches, both in the blogosphere and the www as a whole. Mr Bravenet's notes revealed that at the time I mentioned them and their vile leader before, I was finding myself selected rather too often for my liking. Trivial though it ultimately is, I'd rather they didn't get wind of who was responsible for bothering them. Them being the "Bee Enn Pee".

Earlier I was researching something and went to their site to see if the Bee Enn Pee had a proper contact address rather than just a PO Box. I actually thought that because they've published "the cartoons" I could help some of the more truculent members of our society find another object for their splenetic ventings. After all, the other publishers all had public addresses so it was a public service sort of thing, not an incitement, perish the thought. Anyway, the homepage of their website features, alongside their logo, some pictures of supposedly iconic British images, culled from the four provinces. Giant's Causeway for Northern Ireland, some sweet young children wrapped in a cross of St George flag for England and, these are what intrigued me, the Millenium Stadium for Wales and the Forth Rail Bridge for Scotland.

Presumably the children are spawn of party members (what an exciting life they've got in front of them) and the Giant's Causeway is a geographical feature so no problem there. The other two are privately owned though and I wondered if the owners knew that images of their property had been appropriated and used to publicise this overt and offensive nationalism and whether they were happy with it. So I emailed the Millennium Stadium but have not yet had a response, I suspect because they're a touch busy at the moment with the League Cup Final this weekend (sorry sponsors, I can't remember). But Network Rail were very friendly. I telephoned their community affairs department and they were concerned enough to pass the matter on further up the line. I'll let you know what happens.

Ten things you may not know

Exhaustive search of the interweb has yielded these gemettes of astoundingly interesting trivia. Remember, you probably heard it here second.

After the wren, Golden Eagles are England’s most common bird. The huge colonies around the Norfolk Broads are a constant threat to pleasure boaters, as they often prey on moorhens and other small waterfowl attracted by bread thrown overboard by children.

Mad Mullah and Al Qaeda frontman Osama Bin Laden used to play the Scott Gorham figure in a Thin Lizzy tribute band while on a year-long study course in Geneva in the early 80s. He is said to still have his blond wig and to play “Whiskey in the Jar” continuously on his i-Pod.

Now 80 years old, Her Majesty the Queen still stands on her head for ten minutes every morning before breakfasting on a single, lightly boiled egg sent daily from her private siege of herons at Sandringham.

Infra-red remote control devices can cause certain houseplants, especially African Violets, to shed their leaves and hyacinths to change colour.

In 1985, Transport secretary Alistair Darling spent a year as a “Steve Martin” for a Dunfirmline-based look-a-like agency in order to raise funds for his successful 1987 election campaign.

The electrical field caused by securely taping a common or garden stainless steel teaspoon to the underside of a fuel tank can improve fuel efficiency in common rail diesel injection engines by at least 3%.

Due to an unintentional and long overlooked ambiguity in bye-laws drawn up by 19th century borough legislators anxious to curb prostitution in the vicinity of the town’s garrison, it is actually illegal to enjoy sexual congress in Colchester between the hours of 9pm and 1am.

Leave cheaper DVD-R or DVD+R discs in a bowl of warm water with a couple of used alkaline batteries for 15 minutes and they will become re-writeable.

When played backwards, the second verse of the hit single “Champagne Supernova” by staunch Manchester City supporters Oasis begins, “Colin Bell was gay, Eric Cantona is my hero, Man U, Man U.”

Eating an orange immediately after a glass of Pernod can produce a mild hallucinogenic effect not unlike consuming a whole bottle of absinthe, the drink Pernod was intended to be a substitute for.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Help, I'm a fallen man.

I am becoming increasingly worried about certain aspects of my behaviour. Well, one aspect. I did something today that I can honestly say I've never done before in my life. It was something of such staggering import that I don't know whether my life will ever be the same again. Over 44 years of resistance and I've finally succumbed although I haven't fully committed myself, the deed isn't fully complete as I still have the final, unthinkable and depraved act to perform. I'm girding myself; steadying myself for the crossover into uncharted territory and quite frankly, I'm worried.

I bought (jeez, I'm shaking just thinking about it) a pot (the very smallest one Mr Tesco's emporium sells as I must at this point stress because I don't want to get ahead of myself), a pot of...Marmite. Sorry. I have until now been of the opinion that not only is Marmite the favoured nourishment of the children of Beelzebub but that it was made from fermented monkey jism and wee. So what caused this change?

A couple of weeks ago I was at my Mum and Dad's and I opened a door to a cupboard, the contents of which have not changed much for 40 years or so. I went to put the salt and pepper pots back and there, lurking in the corner was a tiny yellow-lidded pot. I was shocked. When I was a child there used to be one there too but it had never been used as far as I know. I can vaguely remember Marmite soldiers but I can't ever remember eating them myself. I do recall asking my mother what it was and to this day (ha - how wierd, I've got the OU on telly and as I wrote "to this day" the same phrase was uttered on screen. Do I win something?) I was under the impression that the pot was a throwback to when my great-grandparents lived there. Or something. Either way, it was never used.

I asked her why she had Marmite? Was it for my little nephews she baby-sits during the week? This I couldn't believe because Luke only eats pasta and Adam although less fussy...no. Not possible.

"No, it's for my sandwiches."

"What sandwiches? You don't like Marmite!"

"I do. I have Marmite and beetroot sandwiches."

"Get out, woman. You're having me on!"

"No, really. Every day."

Now I'm stuck. You see, I love beetroot. I don't eat it a lot but it's a grand food and there's some in the fridge now. I'm also very curious.

Step forward a week and a bit to when Beloved is in hospital. The trolly comes round for afternoon tea during visiting and she asks whether I want one. I fancy and order a Bovril. I like Bovril. It's a comforting drink, very tasty and a bit of an occasional treat. Now I've always been under the impression that Bovril was made from melted cow parts, like a very thick gravy hence the "Bov" bit of the name. But no, it's yeast extract, just like Marmite and bugger of all buggers, I like it. Suddenly, Mum's sandwiches are looking ever more intriguing.

Not only did I buy a pot of marmite today, I got Bovril too. I removed the lids of both and took a deep draught of the vapours from each. Identical. There was no longer any excuse. The threat of a mighty attack of heartburn from my hiatus hernia this evening has postponed the experiment until tomorrow, but try it I will. There's no way back. Doomed, doomed, I tell you. This is the end. I'll let you know.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Normal service is being resumed

Close watchers of my world will be overjoyed to learn of beloved's return from her unexpected free holidays care of the NHS. Her specialist scratched her head a few times, decided there wasn't much they could do there and said she might as well go home and get on with it herself. Fair dos to her specialist though, who despite being German is a very very nice person and extremely thorough (as, of course, one might expect). She's also one of the few NHS doctors I would trust implicitly as in the 3 years we've known her she's not yet put so much as a fingernail wrong or disappointed in any way.

This goes for the nursing staff in her unit, the Intestinal Failure Unit, Ward B4 at Salford's Hope Hospital. Apologies if I've mentioned them before; it's not my intention to bore but these people are our heroes. Not just for the standard of care but for the style with which it's dispensed and the sense of community they foster. They are dedicated beyond belief with at least 75% still on the unit 3 years since Sharon was last there and if the NHS was run to the same high standards it would save the taxpayer millions. What's more, and this is so bloody important, they believe what their patients tell them without turning it round to make the patient feel like an arse for questioning their professional knowledge. Respect counts for much while in rehabilition, you see, and they're experts at building it. Any medical pros out there, please don't dismiss out of hand why a patient says something - there is a reason why they feel they do even if it doesn't matter medically. Make them feel important by listening; it's called bedside manner. It isn't glamorous medicine because it's all bottom end stuff but they're the best in the world at what they do and it's about time the world knew it.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Things I didn't realise Pt 1

I have been watching the BAFTAs. I wasn't going to but my brain's numb at the moment and I do like watching Americans struggle to understand Stephen Fry. They've just done the quiet, reverential bit during which they pay brief tribute to the luvvies who have been permanently unavoidably detained and I spotted the name of John Brabourne. He died in September last year and I didn't realise.

Probably only known to none bar the most efficient pub quiz team (name the film producer who survived being blown up by the same IRA bomb that killed Earl Mountbatten), he was nonetheless a semi-permanent fixture of my late adolescence.

I lived the first 18 years of my life in Ashford in Kent and John Brabourne's family, the Knatchbulls, have been linked with the town for 400 years or so. My old school was named after one of his ancestors when it turned comprehensive in 1973 and John was a very active chairman of the governors. Occasionally he would turn up and give the only decent assembly of the year by regaling us with jolly film producer japes, none of which I can remember but as he produced those 70's Agatha Christie star vehicles such as Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express, they probably featured Peter Ustinov or Ingrid Bergman. Reading his biography on IMDB I note he was also responsible for Up the Junction, Sink the Bismarck! and Othello, which is other stuff I didn't realise. Despite being very well known and all that, his community spirit was strong and he was chairman of Ashford Hospital Broadcasting Service, with whom I enjoyed a year and a bit long tenure as Saturday Night Rock Show host in the late 70s (you see, I'm quite used to preaching to audiences in single figures so this blogging stuff doesn't phase me one byte). He was "honoured" (if that is the right word) with a This is Your Life a decade or so ago and while I didn't see it, I was told that Wingnut, my old headmaster, made a typically embarrassing appearance in a determined effort to discredit the school.

Unlike say, the Dukes of Norfolk, who live in Sussex and the Devonshires who live in Derbyshire, Lord Brabourne actually lived very near to Brabourne, a village a few miles outside of Ashford, at a place called Mersham le Hatch and I do believe some of my antecedents may have been in service there aeons ago. My mother's paternal side are very much locals and also lived in Brabourne between the wars. The grounds were a favourite local venue for charity events such as sponsored walks and also (I have this on good authority not, I hasten to add, my own experience if you're reading this, mother. But yes, you were right, I did have some 'funny' friends), a very productive source of the psilocybin mushroom. I would wager that Her Maj the Q, a frequent visitor to Hatch Park, is unaware this popular naturally occurring medicinal restorative is so immediately available. Had Lord Brabourne partaken of enough of this homegrown fungal bounty to send him on a particularly murderous spree he may well have ascended the throne as he was 460th or so in line. He would however have had to waste not only his wife (daughter of Earl Mountbatten) but also the three reigning Scandinavian monarchs in the process and I think that may have got him noticed.

But yes, before I delve even further into the land of Wikipedia, it is a somewhat poignant loss. He was a decent cove.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Health Warning

Triple humour by-pass alert. Our local hospital made the news about a year and a half ago when a nurse was put away for a five stretch after being found guilty of deliberately killing some old people. Since then there have been several attempts by the local press to find evidence of further malpractice, either clinical or commercial. Apart from the constant letters about them wanting to rip absolutely everybody off with car parking charges, including disabled patients and staff, the best efforts of Her Majesty's Regional Press have yielded nothing bar unsubstantiated rumour. Then in January the findings of an independent inquiry into healthcare of the elderly at the hospital were published. The Trust says they have already started remedial work to eradicate this problem. Bollocks they have.

I am now pondering whether to feed the greasy hacks the details of the extremely true and shocking events witnessed by 5 inmates of ward 12 last Tuesday night, because my faith in the professionalism of the care staff has been sorely tested. As my regular reader may be aware, the beloved has been a resident of the Leighton house of pain these last few days, until yesterday when she was transferred to another one several leagues from here. She couldn't wait, largely because she has specialist medical requirements that can't be met locally and she was terrified that she was sooner or later going to get into a serious tiff with someone who knew nothing about her condition or her care regime.

The perky old lady in the bed opposite to Sharon suffered from very severe angina and apparently needed a device through which a constant supply of medication was delivered on demand. I didn't see this apparatus but I gather it's like some kind of inhaler. Now this wasn't some helpless old biddy flat out on her back in a morphine induced delirium, she was, given her condition, an alert and very normal pensioner who knew exactly what her condition entailed and what medication was required, because, exactly like Sharon does, she looked after herself at home and self-medicated. On Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning the night sister demanded she put her equipment away, saying she didn't need it and that oxygen would be enough. She then locked the thing away in the bedside cabinet. The old lady (I'm sorry, I can't remember her name) protested saying she would have a heart attack if she didn't get regular hits of her drug but these protests were just brushed aside.

I'm pretty certain you can guess what happened next. Within minutes, the poor woman started to have a heart attack and was clearly in distress and calling for help. The lady in the next bed got up and went round to remonstrate with the nurse, demanding that she help immediately. She was basically told that the old lady was over-reacting to which hero patient over-reacted herself and yelled at her to get a doctor at once. Sharon was trying to calm the woman but her condition was worsening by the second. Eventually a doctor came and confirmed she had indeed had a heart attack. The last we heard was that she was in the coronary care ward and quite ill.

Why the hell don't medical staff believe patients? This may seem a bit sweeping but I've seen it so many times now. We once had a GP who, even after she'd spent two nights in A & E and could barely walk, with blue feet and violent sickness, told Sharon her general signs were improving. Two weeks later she was having her bowel removed. Later he refused her an angiogram; her consultant insisted and it was found that she has barely 30% circulation in her legs and is now registered disabled. We later found out from a local pharmacist that the GP was in charge of the practice budget. During Sharon's stay I had a set-to with another sister regarding her treatment because everyone else was being fed yet Sharon, who can only take fluids intravenously, had not been administered fluid for 26 hours, despite having been canulated for several hours. I was told saline had to be prescribed by a doctor to which I replied I would go home and get one of the 20 1 litre bags sitting on top of my fridge at home and administer it myself, as it was her right to be able to drink. I went down to the shop for something and when I got back 5 minutes later she was on a drip. The sister then had the audacity to come round and tell us that her blood test had shown she wasn't dehydrated as I'd asserted. I could only re-iterate that she ought to try going without a drink for 26 hours herself and see how she felt and that Sharon was the best judge of whether she was thirsty or not. Then I'm made to feel that I'm in the wrong for over-reacting because this is something we deal with constantly and easily at home. I am vexed for this isn't the NHS as I know it - shit scared to move for fear of ambulance chasers (an export of the United of States that surely does justify some kind of violent payback) and patients being treated ever more like product on a line. Another blog...

Patients are indeed the best monitors of their condition. Being admitted to hospital doesn't involve a total lobotomy the moment you walk through the doors. The NHS are putting aside a billion pound fund to cater for malpractice suits. Looks like it could get used up in South Cheshire.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Teenager Etiquette (part number the 2)

This isn't so much instructional as anecdotal. Although for inexperienced adults and teenagers alike, there is practical advice herein and as such it should be treasured.

LM, teenage step-daughter is going shopping all day in Manchester today and thereafter to a musical frivolity with her student homies. She was up earlier than me and when I surfaced I found potential trouble. Unable to find suitable footwear, she had rescued her mud-caked leather pumps from the hall. These have been languishing, unloved and filthy in the hall for the best part of two months under a multi coloured pile of Converse trainers. Had she asked I would have gladly cleaned them as I relish a challenge, however asking questions for practical advice does not form part of the teenage communications armoury unless it's for a lift or for a furtherence of their financial well-being. I would have done it well, being of a generation gleefully taught by a national service serving father and also a cub scout of some 35 years vintage. It would have taken 5 minutes.

I came down to find the shoes submerged in a bucket of cold water. I have removed them and cleaned them, they are now currently drying away from artificial sources of heat although I fear that without constant attention, they will take on the appearance of something dug up by Baldrick on Time Team. LM has just reappeared and I queried when she wanted to wear the shoes. "Today" came the reply.

Indeed. The hopeless optimism of youth.

Bang Bang

Being a very small prey, when I go hunting for quail I leave my sporting pieces back in the lodge and avail myself of one of those children's toys that fire discs of neoprene foam. The quail will eventually buckle and tire after dodging the viciously spinning pastel tinted projectiles and drop exhausted from the sky to be retrieved by my faithful heron, Prescott. He returns them, still stunned, to Raworth, my ghillie who despatches them expertly with his quail spoon. Unbruised, they make fine eating. Birds I wing live to fight another day.

Bearing this in mind, I am at a loss to understand why Dick Cheney should opt for the overkill of using powerful firearms against such an insignificant creature. The quail, although miniscule, is a pot bird and following an encounter with a 12 bore cartridge I am certain there would not be much left to cook. I am presuming that it is after repeatedly hitting the unfortunate birds but with little meat to show for his efforts, he decided to turn his weapon on his friend, Mr Whittington. It transpires that Mr Whittington was a very decent lawyer who, although a republican, campaigned on many causes in opposition to the government; not least sparing mentally ill criminals the death penalty in Texas.

I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day

It wasn't the best of Valentine's Days. My beloved is languishing in a hospital bed being flushed out with clot busters and costing the tax-payer a fortune through her frivolous use of tobacco all those years ago (more of that soon when I've become fully vexed and especially in the light of vote last night and the wailing and gnashing of libertarian teeth).

Many months ago, beloved's daughter, LM, had booked to see popular US beat combo, "Simple (checks website for remainder of name as not that popular among 40 somethings) Plan" in Nottingham with Daft Laura from Bleuuuerghh in Anglesey. She booked it for Nottingham because the more proximate Manchester date clashed with the holiday we had planned. This has now been cancelled due to said hospitalisation. The centre of Nottingham is the most difficult place in the world to get to from Crewe, as it involves negotiating the roads through two of our largest cities and skirting a third. The AA reckoned 1 hour 40 minutes for 68 miles.

Sharon was also due to be transferred to another hospital today. But I got the inevitable call to say she was now staying put for a while because the vacating occupant of her destinatory bed decided to have a turn and didn't go home. So I arranged a hurried visit this afternoon because it is Valentine's Day and I want a kiss. LM says, can we get to Nottingham for 7? I said I'll try but it's the worst road in the world. We'll leave at 4.45. Make that 4.55 as I have to return for the AA printout I left on top of the laptop. This isn't boding well. We are also putting up Daft Laura from Bleuuurghh tonight because there aren't any trains back to Bangor at stupid o'clock in the morning (Anyone remember Fiddler's Dram and "Day Trip to Bangor?" I had their PA system in my living room once when I was a student. Don't ask. I did "a very studenty thing" and connected it all together and played a chord on a Gibson SG through it and almost blew the front window out. Folk rock, eh?).

Anyway, it took us an hour to get through Stoke. An auspicious start. Stoke is the devil's hairy arse of a town. It's a giant roadwork and the layout is only comprehensible to those who live there. Stoke itself is a pound shop off a roundabout. It's so insignificant that it's signed with a brown sign; the kind they use for lizard sanctuaries in Devon. Stoke city centre, on the other hand, is in Hanley, 3 miles from Stoke. Then there's Longton, Etruria, Burslem, Trentham and, befitting for a town without a town so to speak, a football team named after a non-existent place, Port Vale . Plus, it always rains when I go there. Without fail. The place terrifies may, midoock. Eventually we make it out onto the A50 and the first telephone call arrives from Daft Laura, who is already stationed outside Rock City. Where are you? Uttoxeter. That's a big help. An hour.

An hour later and we're edging into Nottingham, frantically ticking off the stages on the AA printout. Daft Laura is ringing every 5 minutes. The night before, a policewoman was shot in Nottingham and every two minutes a jumpy Ford Focus careers down the bus lane on blues and twos; Nottingham is Britain's gun city and I've only ever been there once before very briefly. I am pretty nervous myself as I don't want to be shot by gangstas and that's never happened before plus I haven't a clue where I'm going. Nottingham is solid and it's a crawl. The 7pm deadline passses. Towards 7.25 we are within a dodgy t-shirt seller's yell of the door and I eject LM onto the street. It takes me another half an hour to guess the geography of the town and I aim for what I think is the multi-story car park opposite the venue but whose entrance is tucked away on the other side of the block. I am wrong because I end up in a different multi-story, several hundred yards away. I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that Stoke may not be that bad after all.

I decide to work out the route on foot to and from the concert so I don't get lost later. On the way I see an Indian buffet, all you can eat for £9.90 which seems a fair deal as I'm famished. I decide to check that one out on the way back. It doesn't make up for the fact that Sharon and I were meant to be having a Valentine's Day Chinese in Beeston while we were waiting. While waiting to cross a road I hear the sound of running water. I turn around to see an elegantly dressed, but plainly somewhat vague, young gentleman waving his front member about in an abandoned manner and excusing himself. He walks up to a litter bin, the kind with a lid and a "mouth" and inserts said member therein until finished. Extraordinary; in Crewe this is an act reserved until the nether hours and then, only performed behind a tree. I repair to the Indian, partake of a fine repast and leave around 9.45 stuffed to the gills. To kill time I've even brought some "work" with me and make some frantic notes in the margins thereby looking very clever and important to the other punters. Not having a clue about the time the gig's due to finish I stroll leisurely back to the club.

While waiting outside the palace of modern-day varieties (the Rock City has an adjoining club, with a large hoarding denoting the fact that it was voted Kerrranggg! magazine's top club of 1999. Have they not "moved on" in 7 years? Isn't that like your local bingo hall saying they used to be "The Odeon, Kidderminster's Top Attraction, 1957, 58 & 59"?) I am struck by the vast number of people and traffic milling about. Somebody throws a champagne bottle out of a car and it rolls across the road to me. I pick it up and place it behind something. Lanson should be proud, their bottle survived being ejected from a car at speed and it only lost part of its neck. I hope this is the nearest I get to being caught in a drive-by. A gentleman checks with the bouncer and says it'll be another hour and he offers me a seat in his car to kill the time. It turns out he lived not far from my parents in Kent for several years and has come from Lincoln for the event. To kill time he took his wife for their first ever visit to Ikea. What joy!

Teenagers start disgorging from the club. They all look identical, long lank hair and dressed in black. Some are limping. I get out of the car and stand next to a lady and say that it's come full circle, us doing what our parents used to. She has come from Walsall, about the same distance as me. Seemingly nobody here from Nottingham. She also offers reasons why Nottingham is packed to the gunwhales. Apart from it being full of gushing romantics for the evening, Oasis were playing at the Ice stadium; County were at home and to cap it all, Little Britain were on at the Theatre down the road. Now if I'd known that...

I start trying to phone LM as she's not yet appeared. I finally get through at 11.20 and she says she's lost Daft Laura. Ten minutes later I text and I get a reply about Daft Laura having done something...daft. I meet up in the entrance to be told Daft Laura had given her phone to someone to look after. Not LM, who she's known for two years, somebody "she travelled down with." This wasn't a person she'd known for any sensible length of time, or even somebody who had travelled down from Bangor with her, it was somebody who got on the train at Sheffield, about half an hour from Nottingham. Maybe that's considered commitment in Bleuuuerghh. What's more, she's turned the bloody thing off so any calls go straight to her voicemail. It is now raining heavily. The tail end of the American storm has hit the country and I'm getting tired, wet and impatient so as we're now the last people around I insist we go and hope that Daft Laura's "friends" have the presence of mind to eventually switch the phone on and read the texts waiting for them. I am cold and wet and want to go home. We do the 68 miles back in 75 minutes. I want to go to bed but I'm too buzzed to sleep and end up collapsing into bed at 3.15

I tell Daft Laura on the way back that I will phone her mother the next day to say that she is on the train home but apparently this is taboo as her mother too has had enough of her daftness and has demanded she seek alternative accommodation. Last year, DL accompanied us on holiday to Weymouth. She managed to get heroically inebriated one evening and heaved up over the caravan floor by way of thanks. She also managed to badly infect a piercing in her hand but instead of heeding our advice to seek professional help at the local hospital, she left it to go a dangerous looking heliotrope. She has since had the offending piercing replaced and several others rather alarmingly inserted. I don't think I'm alone in thinking that 17 year olds with scrap metal hanging from their lips and other bits of face and body are rather unattractive but apparently this is quite normal nowadays.

I am awoken by crashing doors and flushing toilets at 6.45 am. I deposit DL at the station at 7.45 and wait for LM in the short stay, maximum wait 20 mins, car park for the next 35 mins. DL's train delayed. I stop off at the Co-op on the way back and when I return to the car I see it's got a flat. Ah...maybe the swerving on the A50 wasn't the wind after all. And the sodding NCP car park in Nottingham cost me £8 for 4 hours! Never again.

Bugger. I'm going back to bed.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Take That!

Right, that title's got me millions of hits. This SEO stuff's a breeze, eh? It's current and it concerns a revival, although the one I mean isn't the one concerning the 90s popsters. Although again, like said band, this lot have discarded the member who is still the major talking point among the populace at large and still holds a huge affection among the fans.

For the last few months the UK's Liberal Democrats have been in a particularly self-destructive mode. The leader, Charlie Kennedy, who had steered them to their biggest election gains in 80 odd years finally succumbed to the rumours about his liking for the odd snifter or six while the sun was still well below the yard arm and quit. Then began a leadership campaign that bore more resemblance to a treatment for a 70s sit com than a political process. One member, Mark Oaten, declared his intention to stand then immediately remembered that the bit of a romp he had with a rent boy a few years back would be better off in the public domain, even though nobody had had a clue he was carting that particular skeleton around with him, and he promptly er... pulled out. Then another leadership contender, Simon Hughes, thought he ought to confirm what everyone has been saying about him for years, that he too has had a confirmed batchelor phase (although I would imagine not quite so confirmed as Mark Oaten's). A third contender, Chris Huhne has only been an MP for less than a year. Sir Menzies Campbell, is way too old at 64 and is widely believed to have been part of the machinery that shafted, sorry ousted, Charles Kennedy.

So what happened in the Dunfirmline and West Fife by-election on Thursday? This is the seat where due to a boundary change, Labour Party leader in waiting, Gordon Brown, lives so all the requisite big guns were wheeled out. The late incumbent Labour MP had had a majority in excess of 11,500 and it should have been a shoe-in for the new candidate as well as a pretty hefty boot in the groin of the Lib Dems for even having the temerity to bother turning up. Well, either the electorate stuck two huge fingers up at Murdoch and his fellow toilet bowl lickers saying "enough is enough, we don't give a toss as long as they're not child murderers" or that they finally went with their core beliefs, spurred on by the Spanish practices and shabby treatment surrounding Charlie. Either way, it wasn't a sympathy vote. The Lib Dem candidate, Willie Rennie, overturned the labour majority and added a thousand or so on top of it. It was as unexpected as the Asian tsunami and potentially as devastating to Labour. It should prove to the Tone that when the country feels like it, it really can make a point. Expect sales of the Independent to...no, don't, that's too far-fetched.

The Lib Dems do have a habit of taking by-elections in spectacular fashion because usually only their hard-core supporters can be bothered to turn up. No-one though, after the two weeks prior to this one, would have given them a hope in hell of finishing second let alone winning. Maybe the electorate is beginning to see some sense at last - faced with two parties that are rapidly becoming identical, they opted for the alternative. It certainly proves there's no such thing as bad publicity. Although it has to be said, times have changed hugely; the old Liberal party never survived the "Jeremy Thorpe shagged me and shot my dog" accusations made by Norman Scott that brightened up my paper round in the late 70s.

So, expect Gordon Brown to start blowing kisses at John Prescott and David Cameron finally admitting he ran a crack house at Eaton about a month before the next general election. You have been warned.

I want the truth and I want it...whenever.

There's something odd happening. Roger the Cat, please reveal yourself! Confused readers should avail themselves of the comment under the previous entry, signed by said masculine feline.

Now, this is the real Roger the Cat. I prefer to call him Roger the Negative Cat because as you can see he's rather fetchingly marked but in a kind of "not quite how it should be" manner. The camouflage has gone wrong, making him probably a touch more conspicuous than he appreciates and possibly explaining why his hunting expeditions usually incorporated jumping onto my windowsill and banging on the glass for scraps. Sound judgement. Roger, you see, used to accompany me on my kindling foraging expeditions in France as he owned the house next door and likes paté. He also liked the remnants of the very spicy beef sausage casserole I threw out into the ditch opposite for the foxes and badgers. I do hope that like the very nice people he owns, he's not a vegetarian. I think that, for the time being at least, Roger the Negative Cat is my favourite cat in the whole world.

What I like about cats is that it's "OK". Bend down and stroke a cat and like Roger, it will roll around for a bit, get happy and then get up and walk away under the hedge and kill something. So no guilt on the human's part if you want to do the same (except we don't often need to indulge our blood lust quite so often). There was the odd look from Roger as you walked away indicating that he maybe hadn't quite finished being stroked, but that he'd be back later anyway. Our dog, on the other hand, is a totally different kettle of chefs. Look at her for a fleeting second and she's immediately in your face wondering whether she's going to be fed, watered, walked or petted. Go out to fetch something from the car and you get the "guilt eye, why aren't I going?" treatment and then she greets you as if you've just come back from a three month world cruise. Likewise, the postman comes every day at the same time yet never once has he killed anyone in this house, rendering her somewhat over-protective reactions a trifle unwarranted.

Whatever, I digressed as it's in my nature to do sometimes. Roger, thank you for your kind comment. Who the bloody hell are you?

The first time

Just watched a great programme on the making of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of The Moon. Right at the end, David Gilmour said that he would have loved to have been somebody putting headphones on, sitting back and listening to the album for the first time because as creator, it was a luxury he would never ever experience. It got me thinking.

That's the bane of everyone creative; you never get to experience the thing you create in the way it was meant to be seen, heard or read so what the hell drives us? (I have to include myself because that's all I do now, create stuff. There isn't much out there with my name on at the moment but wait a while and keep your fingers crossed). Is it ego or is there an inherent talent or intuition there for knowing "how it should be"? For me I have to admit to little rushes of pleasure whenever somebody is complimentary about anything I've done as it makes the dreariness of the creative process worthwhile, especially when you know you're not going to witness the surprise involved in an unveiling.

Back in the 70s I had an art teacher, Miss Gorwyn. Her mantra was never visualise the end product. I have to admit, I've always held that advice dear. It works on many levels: you're free to meander around a subject and make changes without being beholden to nothing more than an idea, for a start. At the very least it's an excuse as to why you've not finished yet. It can also help to replace the missing element of surprise as the satisfaction gained when something works unexpectedly because you've gone off on a tangent can be immense.

Outside the artistic environment that advice should be turned on its head. Those who formulate any kind of policy or strategy are also so closely involved that they'll never experience the finished article free of the prejudices of the creator. They'll never feel the full effect of their conceptualising and theorising in quite the way the public will. It's foresight and it's practically non-existent and it's costing the taxpayer a fortune.

A pretty good example of this are the posters currently decorating virtually every wall of our local hospital in Crewe and I dare say those of every hospital nationwide. They exhort the general public to report members of staff for breaching hygiene rules by quoting the odd statistic about the spread of infection. What the designers of this campaign have singularly failed to appreciate is that the general public as a whole will not question a professional in this manner. Even I, who knows the potential effects of bad hygiene more than most because I live with someone who has to practise a strict hygiene regime, find it difficult to confront a doctor and tell them their job. Earlier in this blog I mentioned the recycling bins we've had delivered and which we can't store. No consultation or thought, just given out and presumably then collected from all those terraced houses unable to keep them safely at vast public expense. I've decided to save them the bother and leave mine out front and wait for it to be stolen by a builder wanting a mobile water butt.

I'm heartily fed up with highly paid so-called professionals lacking either this foresight or any kind of intuition as to what's going to work. So many times I've offered my professional services as a fed-up consumer or bloke in the pub, ready to advise them where they're likely to fall foul of common sense but I'm continuously being ignored. Just because it looks good on paper doesn't guarantee it'll work.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

I'm back. Why?

So, what's been happening while I've been stuck away in my little hidey-hole in Calvados listening to Radio 4 while being smoked to death by a misbehaving log-fire?

Not a lot, really. A long dead story about some cartoons was dragged up on a slow news day and the whole world's gone mental. Denmark! Of all places, that's what I can't get my head around. I've been to Denmark many times and I love the place. The populace are a bit insular, they don't really like lots of strangers in their little country but they're not nasty about it. Well, they never used to be in my experience. A bit naive maybe, just like Britain was when The West Indians arrived but nothing more sinister than curiosity among the population at large. In fact, Denmark used to be like dropping through a wormhole into a Britain of 20-30 years previously, such was their enthusiasm for change. Yet these evil devils must now be beheaded on sight. And now they've dragged Norway in, too. OK, they may have a had a Nazi leader in the last war but...OK, I get it; when they constituted themselves as a country at the end of the 19th century they didn't have a native Royal Family so borrowed a bit of the Danish one. That's it then. Burn them!!

Unlike the Nazi (because that's all they are) flag burners and zealots dominating the news, to my knowledge, the Danes haven't actually embarked on an orgy of destruction for the best part of 1100 years when they worked it out of their system on the Anglo-Saxons. And even then, for a large part they needed to get on with the locals and integrated pretty well with only the barest rape and pillage necessary. I dare say the Vikings wouldn't have tolerated the racist nonsense being trotted out by the so-called men of religion. You could count the Normans as being Viking invaders I suppose but I've just been to Normandy and yes, they like a good argument but the last thing they want to do is start smacking around other races. William the C was only getting what he'd been promised, after all. Coincidentally, the village in Normandy I was staying nearby to, Balleroy, is twinned with the ancient Viking capital of Ribe in Jutland. Go to Ribe and climb the cathedral spire. It's a grand view.

So what have we got? An explosion of Islamaphobia? No. There's a distinct dissatisfaction with a faith being forced upon a reluctant west through fear, though . That's terrorism. Do as we say or you're an infidel and must be killed. That's not religion. That's not the faith of Islam as I understood it to be or the one glorified by some of the most beautiful architecture to grace this planet. These cartoons (and I've not seen them, either, so I have that in comon with the millions of protesters) aren't mocking Mohammed, they're expressing disgust at anyone who uses religion as the basis for hate. I've known Muslims for years and none of them hated anyone. I worked in a multi ethnic drawing office in the early 80s and the Muslims joined in the jokes along with the Jews and the Hindus, even joking about the privations of Ramadan. But there was respect on all sides and nobody got hurt.

And the fear is working. We have councils all over Britain calling Christmas by all sorts of ridiculous names and banning depictions of the nativity in case somebody gets upset and blows up the centre of Builth Wells. Maybe these new laws on religious hatred should also have clauses on provoking fear. Moreover, this country has bent further over backwards than any other in trying to make our laws non-sectarian and all embracing in order to accomodate religious sensitivity. We do all this to protect minorities from the occasional home-grown tosser who thinks that violence is the answer and apparently it's all for nothing. They've enough tossers of their own.

Sadly, the west doesn't understand that there's no reasoning with zealots who would rather die for their faith than listen to well meaning do-gooders. Well, if they're that fond of martyrdom, clear the streets next time and give them a dose of what Private Eye's Cab Driver No 94 used to call, "The only language they seem to understand." Sounds cruel, I know but nobody loses. Personally, I'd rather take my chances in this life than take the risk of there being a field full of scantily-clad spectral temptresses wielding warm bottles of Timothy Taylor's Landlord IPA waiting for me in the afterlife. The guy who rather inadvisedly turned up wearing a mock suicide bomber's vest must have known he was damn lucky not to have ended up full of holes. By the way, for a religion that largely frowns on artifical stimuli, that guy was a convicted drug dealer. Nice. Is that allowed under Sharia law? Kill my children with crack but don't even think of questioning the prophet? Where's the trade-off? Do they actually understand what religion's meant to be about?

To accommodate suicide bombers or those others to whom the promise of paradise and an endless supply of virgins is enough to make martyrdom a viable lifestyle choice, the government should make available one of those islands used for germ warfare tests in the last war and a large pile of one of Norway's premium exports, dynamite. Then they could blow themselves up legitimately, without hindrance or arousing any kind of hatred. I'd even admire them. It's a rather extreme form of immolation admittedly but they seem quite willing to do it on tube trains so why not in the open air where we can all watch and applaud. From a distance, naturally.

I'm no bigot though. I just don' t like religion for precisely this reason. Anything that can inspire hatred of this kind is bad. There was no concept of good and evil until religion defined it; you offended and you paid for it presumably but now we have thousands of theologians re-defining what's good and what's not all over the world. For the benefit of...?

Now a bit about Nick Griffin. If anybody heard the final programme of The Now show on Radio 4 last week they would have heard Marcus Brigstock's neat little piece on the BNP child-molesting (freedom of speech - I heard it from someone, just the same way he heard rumours and recycled them as the truth. I'm waiting for him to sue me. He hasn't yet. Anyway, with those little chubby legs and too-close-together piggy eyes he must be. Stands to reason, eh? ) leader, Nick Griffin. If you didn't, here's the gist: Griffin isn't a racist. It's official, the court says so. That must be a tremendous disappointment to the tens of people who joined the BNP thinking that it was indeed a party founded on purely racist grounds by John Tyndall and still believe it to be. What a singular failure! Has anyone pointed out to the membership yet that the BNP isn't racist and that they can get their money back? Griffin, you don't kid anyone and if you or your little orcs turn up on my doorstep spouting their bile, they'll end up in the recycling bin.

I just want to live in peace. I don't care who alongside, I want to be able to shake their hand and not be scared.