Sunday, 16 May 2010

Fourteen Years of Mild Irritation.

Pets. What’s the fucking point, eh? The dog, for example. Fourteen years of mild irritation terminated by an ephemeral burst of sorrow. I mean, come on, you could simply gouge yourself on the thigh with a steak knife every day and get the same result without having to go out walking in the rain or clean liquid faeces from the sofa. And it’d be cheaper, too. Put it this way, if they ever re-make Ring of Bright Water, I’ll be the guy with the spade for only a minimal fee.

Because look what we spend on the buggers. We spend more pampering our pets than the combined GNPs of the world’s forty poorest countries (Figures from, correct at the time of going to press). Do we contribute to a charity that will provide a fresh, renewable supply of water for eighteen million fly-blown Africans, or do we pop down to Pets-R-Us for some hamster-bedding?

Again, what’s the point? Fuck it, they’re going to die in the end anyway. Pets, I mean, obviously.

But what is it about the little bastards that gets to us? A couple of summers ago my poor old cat went paws-up. I had fish-related experience in this area, having stood by the toilet on many occasions as my daughter flushed Pudge or Goldie off to the great U-bend in the sky as I pretended to wipe tears from my eyes and wondered what was for dinner. But how would a four-year-old girl react to a dead cat? My wife and I picked her up from nursery and sat her down across from us at the kitchen table. We set our expressions to solemn, steepled our fingers, and adopted the usual pose you take when you lie to your kids. My wife nudged me. I was to start the proceedings, then. I suppose that’s because I’m a writer, and fiction is just telling lies for fun and profit.
“Anyway,” I said, “Mummy was taking Mr Tubbs to the cat play-area, and they drove past a lovely farm, all run by little pussy cats. There were pussy-cats driving tractors and pussy-cats cutting hay, and Mr Tubbs said he wanted to go and live there, so…”
“Is he dead, Daddy?”
“Yes, sweetheart.”
“Can I get a kitten?”

Enter Vladimir. I held out for a year, which is pretty good going. He’s ginger. He’s so fucking ginger that if he was human it’d be a registered disability, and he’d get a Motability car and a flid badge, and he’d join a self-help group run by Rupert Grint and Bianca off of Eastenders and everything. He’s fallen off the ginger tree and hit every branch on the way down. He’s been for a makeover on Planet Hucknall. He’s a ginger minger, and I loathe the very litter he shits in. Well I did, until recently.

It was a lovely autumn day, and my wife had gone to work. I had been left in charge of the washing, which had been colour-coded for me before she’d left so I wouldn’t make any serious mistakes I’d need to be told off about afterwards. I flung the windows wide to let the air in, so that the scents of flowers and beautiful autumn breezes could have a chance to overpower the reek from the cat litter tray and the lingering odour of the dozens of “little accidents” the fucking animal had had since we’d got the fucking thing.
“Where’s Vlad?” my daughter asked an hour or so later, and I’m afraid I was unable to tell her. I didn’t have the facts at my fingertips regarding Vlad-location. So we had a look around, but we couldn’t see him. He was probably off impaling something smaller and cuter and furrier than himself.

Then I had a thought, a very bad thought indeed. The last load that had gone into the washing machine had been quite heavy. All the bedding, on which the little fucking ginger bastard liked to sleep. I considered it best not to mention this thought to my daughter, so I sauntered out of the sitting room, whistling, and wandered into the kitchen, giving the washing machine a sidelong glance. There was nothing obvious in the little porthole – no boiled cat, no torn-off legs, no scum of soapy ginger fur, no milky-eyed, bloated face pressed up against the perspex. None of the usual signs you come to expect when you boil the cat. It was just full of washing. I considered the possibilities. I could get a crowbar and force the door of the machine off, but it had been running on a hot programme for forty minutes, so it wasn’t as if there’d be a life to save, and I wasn’t sure if you could claim for this kind of damage on the household insurance. I could try and find the manual to see how to abort a programme, drain the machine and open the door. I could phone a helpline (“If you have locked your pet in the washing machine, press 4…”). But in the end, I just waited.

A hot wash takes a long time. My daughter went off to check the garden and the street. Nothing. I thought about the day after we got Vlad. I’d fallen asleep and he’d climbed up onto my chest and dozed off himself, lying there, about the same size and weight as a child’s slipper. I thought about the time he’d lain on his back under the dog, batting the tip of her tail and ignoring the threatening growls. I thought of him curled up asleep on my daughter’s pillow. Time ticked on. The washing machine began to spin at 1500 rpm. There would be no saving anything now, but at least he’d have a clean corpse that smelled of Lenor Alpine Freshness, and his fur would be all fluffy and nice, and my wife had just bought new shoes and we hadn’t thrown away the box yet. Finally the programme ended and the machine lock clicked off and I pulled the contents out and prepared to check them for ginger fur.

Extreme Horse Panic®

A philosophical Christmas parlour game for an unlimited number of humans and a horse.

How to play: the humans shut themselves into one room of a house and place the horse in one of the other rooms. Then they worry out loud about what it’s doing for a pre-determined period before going to check.
‘Oh, fuck, the sound system! The flatscreen TV and the computer, not to mention the living room carpet.’
‘Bastard’s going to eat the fruitbowl and shit on the kitchen floor.’
And so on…

Now, it’s a philosophical game, this. In existentialist terms, as long as you remain locked in your room, the horse is both alive and dead, there and not there, and its actions are both done and not-done until you check. The horse is a piece of substantive dualism. Substance dualism is a type of dualism most famously defended by Rene Descartes, who said that there are two fundamental kinds of substance: mental and material. According to his philosophy, Cartesian Dualism, the mental does not have extension in space, and the material cannot think, so if you think about your horse, it has no substance, and if it actually exists, it has no control over its mental processes. Its actions are then entirely random, so the beauty of this game is that you can worry about it doing absolutely anything, from eating your pot-plants to writing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. You don’t have to limit your fretting to horsey attributes. For all you know, the bloody animal could have developed opposing thumbs and hosed down the local population with a rapid-fire assault weapon.

The point is, of course, that Extreme Horse Panic® can actually be played without using a horse. You can eliminate the middle-horse by citing philosophical precedent. In his Essay on Phenomenological Ontology (1943), Jean-Paul Sartre states that the expectation of the horse is enough. If the horse is actually there, and has shat on the carpet or won Junior Masterchef, our expectations are fulfilled. If the horse is not there, a philosophical negation has occurred, but it doesn’t really matter, because in our minds, it’s dropped a great big turd onto the floor anyway. It’s a bit like Deal or No Deal in that respect, except with Sartre instead of Noel Edmonds. Your little red box contains £250,000 right up until the moment you open it and find it’s only ten quid and everybody points at you and laughs. So, here’s the real deal. Don’t ever open the box! Use it as a hypothetical deposit on a new house. Find a mortgage consultant with a degree in philosophy, tell him you have £250,000 that exists in a state of both being and nothingness and get yourself a nice little semi (warning: don’t try this with builders.) That’s how international banking has worked, right up to that moment a year or so back when some stupid fucking pragmatist said: ‘show me the money’, and brought the world tumbling down.

Anyway, back to the horse. Let’s look at it epiphenominologically, because Descartes has given us a duality that needs exploring. The history of epiphenomenology goes back to the post-Cartesian attempt to solve the riddle of Cartesian Dualism, of how the mental and the substantive might possibly interact. The idea that even if the horse were substantive and conscious, nothing could be added to the production of its behaviour, was first voiced by La Mettrie (1745), and then by Cabanis (1802), and was further explicated by Hodgson (1870) and Huxley(1874). So the shit it did on your carpet would be both done and not-done until the existence of the horse had been verified, and therefore, while the game’s participants remain in seclusion, the animal only needs to exist in the mind of the players. Which is why there’s no real need for an actual horse. You’re in the box because you’ve put yourself there, because you want to be there, and the horse may or may not be out in the universe, as a kind of reversal of the whole Schrodinger’s Cat thing. But if you have used a real horse, you’d better pop out and check on it before the French eat it.

So, welcome to the fun world of Extreme Horse Panic®, a seasonal game for all the family. Soon-to-be-released variations on the game include Slight Bunny Worry, for the under-eights, Vague Terrier Confusion, for the over-70s, and Mega Rhino Terror, for those gung-ho twats who enjoy bungee jumps and white-water rafting and being stung through the heart by fish.

And the great thing is that you don’t have to stop with horses, bunnies, or small yappy-type dogs. Those of you with imaginations can broaden the notion until it encompasses the whole glorious sweep of panic, guilt, delusion, cruelty and misery that defines the human condition. It’s basically a game of worry, and you can replace the horse with whatever you want! That’s the beauty of it. Extreme Postman Panic – what bills will come flopping through your letterbox this morning? Hide yourself away in your bedroom and you’ll never need to know. Profound Tax Concern – will this be the year they audit your books? Who cares! Shut yourself in the kitchen, put your thumb in your mouth and rock yourself gently to and fro as you stare into the middle distance humming Susan Boyle’s greatest hits for ever. Suspicious about what the missus is doing when you’re out there working your arse off to keep her in Thornton’s Continental Assortment? Then why not play Increasing Cuckoldry Suspicion, in which you lock your wife into a room with all the neighbours then pace the hall on your own for a designated period until you start to imagine you can hear rhythmic squeaking and a whole gamut of noises she never makes when she’s with you. Purists may argue against this, citing the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and the fact that playing the game from the horse’s perspective is like playing Russian Roulette and taking on the role of the bullet. You are tampering with the laws of causality, and this may have dangerous effects vis-à-vis your on-going state of existence. And remember to watch out for the neighbour or friend that slaps you on the back and says: “yeah, I’m up for a bit of that, mate”, with slightly too much eagerness as your wife runs off to slip into something less comfortable.

Oh, and if anyone asks you to do an impression over the festive period, simply grab a piece of traditional French headwear off the heads of one of those philosopher bastards and hurl it across the room. Voila! Chuck Berry. Enjoy your Christmas.

[Postscript: I am greatly indebted to fellow scribbler and online colleague Roland Denning. Roland is a former philosophy student, and he courteously pointed out to me that I was putting Descartes before the horse, something I hadn’t spotted, as my pretentiometer was set too high for the pun layer. Roland went on to tell me of a game from his own student days in which Schroedinger’s Cat was compared to Mrs Slocombe’s pussy, as they were both there and not there until substantiated, which wasn’t going to happen on a family show. Personally, I believe alcohol could have been involved at some level. By the way, Roland’s book, The Beach Beneath the Pavement, is very good indeed.]

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Monday, 22 March 2010

Two-Chord Plinky-Plonk.

Does anybody ever feel like putting the quality control back into singer-songwriters? God, they don’t half whinge on. They’ve obviously mistaken me for someone who gives a rat’s arse about their stupid, pointless lives. Oh, my aching heart? Still never mind, here’s a few more million quid and the prospect of a life spent porking supermodels and snorting nose-candy out of Kate Moss’s cleavage and doing exactly what you want to for a living instead of stacking shelves in Tesco with “Hi! My name’s Newton Faulkner. Ask me how I can help you!” written in biro on a temporary nametag on your fucking overalls, which is what you fucking deserve, you irritating, whiny CUNT. These days the women are much better at it anyway, now that Alanis Morrisette has finally shut the fuck up (unless the rumour started by Thom Yorke is true and she’s actually restructured herself as Alan Morris.)

So whose fault is it that the air is polluted with the outpourings of neurotic, rich pretty-boys? Let’s travel back through time. Where did all this singer-songwriter shit start? Mediaeval bards, I suppose, who mutated into traditional folk singers. Those seventeenth-century twats who put a finger in their ear, assumed a constipated expression and warbled tunelessly about spying young maidens out walking one morning in May. Well, here is the news: THEY’RE DEAD, THANK FUCK. And if anyone tries to sing me a ninety-six-verse song about Sir Patrick fucking Spens, they’ll be fucking dead too. Fucking middle-aged wooden-music enthusiasts with beards but no moustaches. Fuck off and die. Or get modern. “As I was in my limo one morning in May, I spied a dead groupie in Simon Cowell’s parking bay.” It’s a step in the right direction.

Maybe the blame lies with the old blues players. Who is this mysterious first person narrator? Who is the “I” who “woke up this morning”? Why should I invest my care in this person? Would I mind very much if they didn’t wake up this morning, but instead were found dead in bed in their little one-room country shack over on the wrong side of the tracks in the suburbs of Dogpiss, Mississippi? Would the needle on my own little personal give-a-shitometer twitch if they were found hanging from a burning cross one day, surrounded by men of limited intelligence wearing pointy bedsheets? No, not really. Unless of course I knew more about them. Where’s OK magazine when I need it? We get the true story behind Robert Johnson’s crossroads! Did he sell his soul to the devil? Exclusive pictures of the Johnson home! Our interior design teams give the shack a makeover! Chitlins and grits, cornbread, peas and black molasses! We explore the new southern diet fad! Sonny Boy Williamson shows off his great new six-pack!

It’s all in a name, anyway. People’s surnames often reflect what their parents did for a living, which is fine if you’re a Smith or a Turner, but probably goes some way to explaining why John Lee Hooker had the blues (unless his Dad played rugby, of course).

But the real blame lies with hippies. How can you exercise any quality control when you’re permanently off your tits? Thank fuck Simon Cowell’s in charge now. So if you want to see where it all went wrong for singer-songwriters, ignore Jameses Blunt and Morrison, go back, back to about 1970. Stephen King got it right. He once wrote that he heard side one of the first Crosby Stills and Nash LP, took it off the turntable, broke it in half across his knee and put the Stones back on. There. There’s your blame; thank you, Mr King. It doesn’t lie with Dylan or Lenny “Chuckles” Cohen, nor with the Stevens Brothers (Cat and Shakin’) nor even with all the Taylors that weren’t James. It’s pre-Neil Young Crosby Stills and Nash’s fault. No, hang on a minute. Crosby was OK. He did a solo album once and I still listen to it. And Stills had a bit of anger left after he got rejected when he auditioned for the Monkees and they gave his part to Peter Tork instead. The man could hold a tune, and he was quite good in Buffalo Springfield, although at the end of Four and Twenty, when he says “I find myself just wishing that my life would simply cease” I find myself agreeing. So what are we left with? Yes, that’s it, there he is, the worst singer-songwriter of all time, step forward and take a bow, Graham Nash.

“Sit yourself down at the piano
Put all your fingers on the black notes
Sing along, write a song
And understand that you can play.”

Gosh, there’s a thought. What philosophy! What profundity! We’re all going to be stars! Works for novel-writing too (see peer-review websites for examples.)

Or how about this…

“Can’t you see I’m riding on the Marrakesh Express-ly taking me to Marrakesh?”

- see what he did there? Golly, the benefits of a British grammar school education. The train is taking him to Marrakesh, and it’s doing it on purpose! The man’s a genius at wordplay, no? OK, time to jettison the sarcasm. If you haven’t ever heard Chicago, go to YouTube if you have a strong stomach. If not, try to imagine a plinky-plonky two-chord singalong piano refrain with lyrics delivered in an accent that wouldn’t be out of place on Coronation Street:

“Though you brother’s bound and gagged
And they’ve chained him to a chair
Won’t you please come to Chicago just to sing?”

Right, you ignorant, vapid, banal, tedious, shallow, talentless twat; you foolish, pointless, puerile, risible, politically naive ignoramus who gives Gary Barlow a false sense of comparative depth, just FUCK RIGHT OFF. Crosby, Stills and Trash, more like. For trash get Nash.

Great harmony vocalist, though. But remember, when the backing singer says “can we do one of my songs?” the only possible response is enough double-ought buckshot to turn their face into the equivalent of an unravelled Big Mac. Unless the backing singer in question is female and pretty, in which case some kind of accommodation might possibly be reached (yes, Donald Fagen and Rosie Vela, holding hands at the back, it’s you I’m speaking of. It was a Steely Dan album with tits instead of Walter Becker, wasn’t it? And it wasn’t very fucking good, either, was it? Eh? EH?) Too many fucking drugs, that’s the trouble. And too much artistic freedom. So, next time you strangle your children in exasperation or stamp repeatedly on the kitten when you hear Paolo pissing Nutini wittering on about bloody new shoes, or James fucking Blunt’s fucking falsetto cracking with faux-emotion, remember who lowered the bar in the first place. I’ve been seething with fury since 1973, when I went to see Frisbee, Pills, Hash and Dung at Wembley Stadium and I had to sit through the Graham Nash bits in order to get to the Neil Young songs.

And remember, CSN&Y might have wowed them at Woodstock, but they also played at Altamont at about the same time that Dennis Wilson was trying to get Charles “Charlie Don’t Surf” Manson into the Beach Boys. And they were a bunch of po-faced, politically correct wankers who called their bassist “Fuzzy” because he was a black man with curly hair. Gosh, what a hoot they were. They were just Neil Young in his slumming-it phase. And Graham Nash was the worst of the lot.

There. That’s better.

Jack the Dripper.

Imagine if you will, two surgical consultants at leisure on the golf course…
‘I say, old chap, you’ll never guess who I had on the table the other day.’
‘Olly Murs?’
‘Wally Morse? No, but you’re surprisingly close. Think of a name that would be perfect for rectal surgery.’
‘Oh, that writer fellow, Perry Iles. Lives in Marbella with Girls Aloud, doesn’t he?’
‘Got it, old chap. P Iles. We all had such fun. I had to rein the nurses in. They were pointing at the poor fellow and laughing. I swear the man was nearly in tears.’

That’s how I’ve spent the last few weeks. Do a Google image search for Pilonidal Sinus, and you’ll have some idea of the fun I’ve been having. Do it on an empty stomach, mind. Too late? Oh well, not to worry. And of course it went wrong. There I was, pure of arse and mind, now my farts have gone from alto-sax to tuba, and whenever I fart in the bath my arse obituarises Edward Woodward. It’s really quite unpleasant now that the MRSA and the flesh-eating bugs have set in.

So look, I’ll give you something better to think about: Jordan’s tits. There you go. Feel free to Google them, gents, I’ll just hang on here with the ladies while you pop off for ten minutes’ quality me-time. Actually, I’d better be politically correct and more inclusive here, hadn’t I? Ladies, those of you who are wearing comfortable shoes and thinking about booking Wimbledon tickets in between hiking holidays can also think about Jordan’s tits. Other ladies can think about Captain Jack out of Pirates of the Caribbean, and those gentlemen who are still left can think about Captain Jack out of Torchwood. There, have I got everyone?

Dum de-dum. Dum, dum. [FX: Lift music…]

OK, everybody back with me? Good. Zipper up at the back, please. Thank you. So, I’m trying to imagine Katie Price’s bedroom. It would be decorated in the height of good taste. I can picture zebra-striped wallpaper and an oval bed done out in bubblegum-pink satin. And hanging on the wall by the bed there’s a perfectly exquisite ice-pick, crafted by Versace in gold, bearing pink rubies in a cloverleaf pattern. This is positioned next to a transparent screen, with “In case of emergency, please break glass,” written on it, covering a recess inside which is a bicycle pump and a puncture repair kit. Now that Peter Andre has fucked off, Jordan will be at the mercy of less experienced suitors. Imagine her flying about the room, deflating rapidly like a balloon that’s escaped when you were trying to blow it up, her flattened Essex Girl vowels dopplering and gaining as she passes over your head.

‘I told you to be careful. Why do you think they call it a prick, you fucking idiot?’

So the poor man (who was only trying to give her a pearl necklace in return for a sausage in a bun, which seems like a bargain to me) grabs her, repairs her and pumps her up, but doesn’t know when to stop. Now imagine Jordan’s dressed in a peasant blouse with laces through the front. A bodice, I suppose, like on the front cover of the sort of books people like us don’t read. That bodice is now under extreme stress (a bit like this metaphor) as her tits are pumped up beyond even their usual 32ZZ size. Listen, you can hear the laces creaking as they take on the sort of poundage normally experienced by the suspension cables on the Forth Road Bridge.

Right, start thinking about my arse again. The stitches they put into my arse-cleavage are under similar pressures as the infection that’s taken hold causes my buttocks to swell and expand like a huge great big pair of hairy ginger tits. Behind the stitches, the broken, festering skin is holding in something that resembles five litres of putrid custard shot with lime jelly and raspberry jam. If the stitches break, whatever is within ten feet of my ringpiece will shortly resemble a Jackson Pollock painting.

Meanwhile, I’m on the sort of painkillers junkies will sell their firstborn for, coupled with double-strength antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, diazepam and hash cookies for the stress, Zopiclone for the insomnia and Jack Daniel’s because it’s there. So it’s a race. Will the antibiotics stop the swelling before the stitches give up under the increasing pressure and drench the surrounding area like the exploding Mr Creosote in that Monty Python film? Will I infect everything? My wife called me to a sweet family vignette yesterday morning. The dog was licking my sleeping daughter’s face, waking her up, laughing, to welcome the day. I pointed out that ten seconds earlier I had chased it from the bathroom where I’d discovered it eating yesterday’s discarded arse-dressing out of the bin. My daughter’s face is now rotting off, my wife has leprosy and I’m going to sue the NHS for all the funds they think they’ve allocated to kidney machines and childhood leukaemia. And next time I sit down there’s going to be a fucking great big bang and I’ll find myself up to my waist in pus, on a sofa that suddenly needs re-upholstering.

On the whole, I’ve had better times than these. But thank you for sharing them.

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Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Adam and Evil

If the Citroen Picasso had actually been inspired by Pablo the Painter, it would have both its headlights on one side and its radiator grille on the roof. Who decides what cars are called? Is it done by the boys in the advertising section, in a blizzard of cocaine? Let’s follow it up with the Citroen Dali, a five-wheeled elephant on long spindly legs disguised as a fish, with internal sprinklers inside so it rains onto the back seat passengers like the Cadillac in his museum in Figueras. Or the Dodge Warhol, which looks like a soup can with Marilyn Monroe driving it and has all its safety features removed so it can feature in spectacular accidents and you can silk-screen the mangled school-run photos mauve. But no, there’s no imagination at all. We’ll have the Renault Ennui, the Volkswagen Smegma or the Nissan Insipid instead. Or one of those eco-cars like the Toyota Supercilious, whose onboard computer prevents it from starting until you’ve set the programme to Cute so that its exhaust system shits out a small bowl of peonies and a little fluffy kitten every second month. Park it in your driveway and its air-conditioning system will cause it to produce a mini rain forest overnight, complete with chimps who will pelt next door’s Range Rover with rotten mangoes every morning and masturbate onto its windscreen when the neighbours are trying to take Jemima and Tristan to their ballet lessons.

Look at this little ball spinning silently in space. Isn’t it pretty? If you were an intergalactic tourist, you’d want to stop here for a picnic, wouldn’t you? Look, there’s blue bits and green bits and a white bit at the top and bottom, and all these lovely little clouds spinning about. The kids in the back seat of the spacecraft want to play. Let’s get a bit closer…

Gosh, mountains! Big patches of forest! Lovely sea! Closer, dad! I want to see it! But hang on, what’s all these patches of grey? What’s all these scurrying things? Oh, shit, there’s six billion of them. What a shame. It looked so nice from a distance, too, shame about the skin-disease. Can we get rid of it? Let’s see if there are any organisations down here that could help us get rid of all this shit so we can have a picnic in peace. Ah! Friends of the Earth. That sounds promising.

So really, Friends of the Earth is an international terrorist organisation, isn’t it? They want to kill us all. They’re Friends of the Earth, not friends of its dose of crabs. And what happens when there’s no people left? When the cities are grass again, when the Rio Tinto Zinc Mines have reverted to rain forest and clinging vines grow across the big red and yellow arches of our diners and all the sails on the windfarms are spinning uncontrollably in the nuclear wind, feeding electricity into a void? Of course, there’ll be one person left – the head of Friends of the Earth, and it’ll probably be a man, a new man of course, the sort who in the days before the great eradication would have done the shopping and accompanied his wife to the ante-natal classes. Imagine the conversation:

“There you go, I’ve done it. It’s just you and me now, and I was wondering if…you know…in the circumstances and everything… we could…maybe be a bit more than just friends. I’ve always wanted to be a lover of the earth. I mean, I’ve always respected you as a planet, and you’re really pretty – not that I’d like you any less if you weren’t, of course, because that’s what they taught me at the women’s collective before I killed all the women. But I really like what you’ve done with your hurricanes tonight.”

“Oh, that’s sweet, I was worried my equator might look big in this.”

“So, do want to come in for coffee? Just coffee. I mean, you could stay the night but we wouldn’t have to do anything, and I’d still like you in the morning.’

“Well, you’d better, because I’ve seen the way you’ve been looking at Saturn, with all those fancy rings and moons. And you’d better not tell anyone, because I don’t want to wind up with the sort of reputation Venus has got.’

“Reputation? Well, I don’t think that’s really important, because women should be free to express themselves in any way, including sexually. Mind you, she’s got a thing with Mars now, and they’re kind of suited. Right pair of hot little planets. I’m sure they had a threesome with Mercury last week. The way they took advantage of that last eclipse had the whole solar system shaking.”

“Except Pluto. He’s got a learning disability and he was too far away anyway.”

“Pluto’s a retard. What did they expect, naming him after a dog. Poor little thing.”

“A dog? I thought they named him after that guy Popeye doesn’t like.”

“Can the chat and come here, big boy. I’m getting all swampy in the Amazonia. Hey! What’s that? What the fuck do expect me to do with that? If you want me, you’ve got to be hung like Florida. Piss off! Go play ring-ding with doughnuts. Go take a flying fuck at the moon.”

That’s the trouble with Earthly relationships. They’re just not to scale. The women always make us feel small. And when they finally build the motorway between Betelgeuse and Alpha Centauri, they’ll turn the Earth into a Happy Eater Service Station.

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Saturday, 13 February 2010

Music that sounds like a Train Crash

Normally, I like music that sounds like a train crash. I like Tom Waits at his most shambolic, hitting anvils, playing saws, singing as if he’s been gargling a mixture of Drano and cat litter and sounding for all the world as if his band’s collective wheels are about to fall off like a police car in a Keystone Cops movie. I like Sonic Youth, a band for whom the phrase “shimmering cathedrals of feedback” was invented. I remember Quicksilver Messenger Service, back in the sixties, ending their gigs by propping their guitars face-in against the stacks and then walking off until roadies braved the screaming noise or the speakers exploded. I like the Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, who played at such volumes that the feedback was uncontrollable. So it always surprises me when I get out my old copy of the Beach Boys’ Surf’s Up and listen to Disney Girls and fetch up weeping uncontrollably with all the hair on the back of my neck standing on end. And it worries me a little at Christmas, when I play Frank Sinatra’s Greatest Hits in my shop instead of Metallica, and Moon River and Summer Wind stop me in my tracks. And when my kid watches The Wizard of Oz and Judy Garland sings Somewhere Over the Rainbow I have to remind myself that I’m a married man with no gay subtext that I’m aware of.

I’m not supposed to like shit like that, am I? I’m not supposed to tap my feet when Robbie Williams sings Beyond the Sea over the closing credits of Finding Nemo. I’m supposed to enjoy Terrible Canyons of Static by Godspeed You! Black Emperor; I’m supposed to love Too Drunk to Fuck, by the Dead Kennedys. The way Sonic Youth close Daydream Nation with Eliminator Jr. is meant to fill me with awe. And usually it does. Melody? Fuck off. Tunes are for girls. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, isn’t it? When Jeff Buckley holds that note for about five minutes in Hallelujah, he’s just doing some kind of Freudian musical one-upmanship thing as far as his dad is concerned. Take the fucker off and give me People=Shit by Slipknot instead, for God’s sake, I’m supposed to say. But I don’t.

I guess we all like a tune we can hum to sometimes. There, that’s my credibility fucked forever.

So let’s fuck with it a bit more. The X-Factor is high art, and I love it. And Simon Cowell has done more to manipulate British musical taste than anyone since the glory days of John Peel (in an antichrist sort of way, of course.) Don’t get me wrong; I mean, I don’t like that silly girl’s version of Hallelujah, nor do I own any Hear’say records (although I’d slip Myleene Klass one out of pity, I suppose. God, the possibilities. Me, her and Crack Whore Bronti. Although Jane Austen’s hitting back next week with a revised version of Scents and Sensimilla, a hydroponic love story for Generation X). And I’m always wary that some contestant or other will offend my ears with a version of Whitney Houston’s I will Always Love You, and I’ll have to hit the mute button until they take her outside and shoot her. But the programme itself is a hoot from start to finish.

But it might be slightly better if they abandoned all pretence that it isn’t the Arena and we’re not the new Romans. They could have lions eat the rejects (especially Benny Dictus and Benny D Carter, the hymn-rapping duo who have beards but no moustaches and are there because the Lord told them to do it), or soldiers could machine-gun the wheelchair-bound grandmothers the contestants have dragged out of the Autumn Days Nursing Home for the day to tug on our collective heartstrings. They could have slow motion replays, like a Peckinpah western. It’s a no from me, says Louis. Fire! Budda-budda-budda, go the rapid-fire armalites, and we watch as Ethel Gumption is lifted from her mobile life support system by a fusillade of shots, and sails gracefully across the stage as her blood spatters the white curtains before her twisted, shredded, wrinkly old corpse comes to rest in front of Dannii Minogue, like a perfectly posed heap of rags in front of a glorious living monument to silicone. (“Hey, Dannii, look at her! This is what time will do to you! You can’t escape its evil clutches, no matter how stupidly you spell your name, no matter how much botox you pump into yourself. Let’s have a War Against Time! Because you’re worth it.”) They could practice decimation in the queue for the auditions to save a few hours, and at the same time they could teach newsreaders and journalists the correct meaning of the word, which is to kill one in every ten. (“Hurricane LaToya has decimated Cuba.” What? One in every ten Cubas has been killed by weather? Astonishing.)

Anyway, That’s my Saturday night sorted. Buy the lottery tickets, get a Chinese takeaway and a few bottles of Wifebeater, go home, check the football results on Teletext, empty the dog and tell the kid to go play in the traffic while I watch telly, eat spare ribs and wipe my greasy fingers on the sofa cushions. Life is such a wonderful, inspiring gift sometimes.

The X-Factor is a reality show that bears no relation to reality whatsoever. We know that the kids with white teeth and perfect haircuts come from stage schools, and that they will win. We know the salad-dodgers from Droitwich who want to be Britney Spears will never achieve their ambition because they look like hippos in tutus and have the sort of dentistry that would allow them to eat an apple through a tennis racquet, so we shoot their grandmother as a belated punishment for polluting the human race with such talentless ugliness. Perfect. But it’s not reality. If The X-Factor was a watch, it would be folded in half over the branch of a tree growing in front of a fireplace with a train coming out of it, and we wouldn’t be able to see it anyway because they’d have put an apple wearing a bowler hat in the way. As such, it’s high art. I rest my case.

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Saturday, 6 February 2010


Mountains. Lovely things, but what’s the fucking point of them? I guess they help the jigsaw-puzzle industry, and they’re useful for chocolate box lids, but really, they’re just lumps of rock that encourage a certain sort of male response because they look a bit like enormous breasts. A particular type of man will see a mountain and immediately respond with a visible flare of testosterone like a hormone-fart that makes it imperative for him to climb the fucking thing “because it’s there.” Men are pretty stupid that way. Reminds me of an old Goon Show episode, in which Colonel Bloodnock and Neddy Seagoon wanted to climb a mountain higher than Everest. They decided to build one in Regent’s Park, but had to give up after thirteen thousand feet because they discovered they didn’t have planning permission. So they went out to India and turned Mount Everest onto its side because it was taller that way. Spike Milligan was a fucking genius, but I’m straying from my point.

We have stairs in our houses, for fucking hell’s sake. Use them. Look at the statistics. If you live in a house with an upstairs bit, it’s probably about ten feet higher than the downstairs bit, yes? Now look how many times you go upstairs every day. “Oooh, I need the lavvy!” “Gosh, I’ve left my reading glasses on the bedside table/my book in the bathroom/the dog shut in the bedroom.” How many times do you climb the stairs on a daily basis? Bet it’s about ten. So over the course of a year, you climb the stairs 3650 times, or about 36500 vertical feet, and that doesn’t count the coming down again bits! And Mount Everest is only 30,000 feet high, give or take a few feet for erosion, isostasy, and the complex interaction of various geo-physical processes. Congratulations, you’re a mountaineer! Everest conquered every ten months in the comfort of your own home, even if you’re old and wretched and have to use a Stannah Stairlift to do it. And there’s no need for support teams, large injections of cash from the British Geographical Society or boring documentaries on BBC Four about how you survived getting to the landing by eating your dead friends’ corpses on the way up. You aren’t going to need to hang a bivouac off the banisters when you’re stuck in a blizzard on the ninth stair, and you aren’t going to need expensive rescuing unless your kid’s left a roller skate at the top or your stairlift throws a cog halfway up. On the way up, you can hum a little tune, or stroke the cat that’s lying across the tenth step like a potential python in a snakes and ladders game. You don’t have to worry about avalanches or snowstorms in the bedroom, or the sudden thaw caused by the Föhn Effect. And when you get to the top, you can have a little lie down, or you can take a cup of tea and a biscuit up with you, or a partner for even further bending and stretching exercises in the bedroom. So if you climb the equivalent of Mount Everest on a yearly basis, you’re a better man than Sir Edmund Hillary or that Tenzing fellow, or any of those Ranulph Fiennes types, who probably live in bungalows anyway because they’re fed up with climbing stuff.

There; after a few days ripping the piss out of women, that’s the male imperative sorted, too. So, ladies, don’t marry a man with a bungalow, because they get all sorts of uncontrollable urges. A man with a staircase is much more straightforward. He’ll beat his chest and ululate like Tarzan every time he gets to the landing: “Hey, I conquered the stairs again, love! What a man I am! Do you like chicken? Well suck this, it’s foul. Hurrr-hurrr-hurrr.” They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. It’s not. Generally speaking it’s straight through the ribcage, but if you don’t want to spend a few years in Holloway, just encourage him to run up and down the stairs until a heart-piston comes thudding through his chest wall. Then you can cash the insurance policy and spend the rest of your life eating Terry’s All Gold and watching The Jeremy Kyle Show and Sex and the City or a recurring video clip of a revolving shoe while you tap your cigarettes into his cremation urn so that the poor fat bastard can carry on piling on the pounds even after he’s dead.

Fuck You, I Won’t Do What You Tell Me.

Schools. Don’t they just get right on your tit end? It’s autumn now. It must be, because my kid went back to school last week for the autumn term. So, after a summer spent running about and laughing and staying up till one o’clock in the morning watching Spongebob and eating popcorn, my seven-year-old daughter is glum and serious again. We went to Matalan and got her lots of dark clothes, because that’s what they insist she wears at school, because they want to take hold of any intimations of originality and character and imagination and batter it the fuck out of her. And all her friends. We got a note home in her schoolbag yesterday. “School photographs will be taken on the 10th of September. Please ensure your child is dressed in appropriate uniform so that he/she is clothed according to school requirements for the group photo.” Translation: make sure your kid doesn’t stand out in any way whatsoever.

FUCK RIGHT OFF! I want to reply. I want to send her in bubblegum pink. I want to let her wear her earrings and dye her hair green. She had her ears pierced in the summer (at her request), and dyed hair and earrings are of course against the school rules. I’m sure that by the time she’s fifteen she’ll want to wear black as a matter of choice, but right now she doesn’t, and I really don’t see why she should. I’d sooner see a picture of a group of kids expressing themselves than I would a bunch of unsmiling children, all dressed alike and lined up in neat little rows like soldiers on the way to the Somme.

So, school is getting on my nerves just now. Some aspects of the educational system haven’t changed a bit since I was there forty years or so back. Why do they want a bunch of soulless drones, obediently obeying every piece of crap they try to shove into their little heads? I remember the girls’ school up the road when I was a teenager. They banned mini-skirts, but then maxi-skirts became fashionable (it was a long time ago), so they banned them too. Then midi-length skirts became the latest thing, and the school fretted itself into a lather of indecision because fashion was suddenly dictating that girls should obey the school’s skirt-length rule, and the school couldn’t do a thing about it. It was a kind of accidental anarchy. So they changed focus and banned calf-length boots instead, insisting that girls wore ordinary shoes throughout the winter so their legs could stay cold.

Why? For fuck’s sake, why? Is there any sense to this? Not from where I’m standing. My poor kid. All the other poor kids. Poor future generations, going to their fate like aircraft passengers watching the Twin Towers get closer and closer. But then I wonder if the twats that are concocting the rules now are the same people who rebelled against them as children. People who are, well, my age really, I guess. Where do our memories go when we get old? Why do we become such a bunch of spineless hypocrites as soon as middle-age sets in? Sometimes I despair, I really do.

But then we live in a democracy, which is a political state in which you’re free to do as you’re told, and they start them off young. So where does it begin? School? And who’s going to be the first schoolkid to say no, I won’t get on Zebedee’s magic merry-go-round? Who’s going to say fuck debt, fuck banks, fuck council tax and mortgage providers, fuck the media-endorsed celebrity culture that encourages fruitless aspiration for its own sake, fuck the government that encourages us to shop benefit cheats while our elected representatives rob us blind? Fuck the fucking lot of it. I don’t care what sort of car you drive or how much your house is worth or what all the Z-list celebrities are up to or how well-adjusted your child is. Well-adjusted to what, exactly? To the rules of a government that encourages inequality, avarice, aggression, invasion, corporate robbery, unhappiness and the strangling at birth of any form of free thought, creativity or originality? To a system that encourages teenagers to go and die in some godforsaken foreign field for a cause that basically comes down to money or dubious politics?

Go and look at your kids, or your grandkids, nieces and nephews or whatever. No, I mean really look at them. Don’t just peek over the top of your newspaper or scowl at them when they interrupt whatever you’re watching. Stop reading this shit now, and go look at them. Look at their trusting little faces; look at their perfect skin, the way they get their fingers to do clever things like writing and drawing. Little everyday miracles, so they are. You shove toast and jam or Big Macs and Coke and pizza in one end, they shit out the bits they don’t need and the rest gets turned into human being, and their sweet little DNA systems put everything in its right place. Everything grows perfectly – fingernails, toes and hair, eyes, ears and noses. They’re such prosaic, quotidian little earthly miracles that we take them for granted on a moment-by-moment basis. They’ll grow and leave and do silly things and sensible things. They’ll become Mother Teresa or Fred West or whatever, but until they do they’re ours, not the school’s, not the government’s, so for fuck’s sake stop letting this putrefied society of ours condition their little minds.

Shit, I’ve been reading the Beano Book of Political Ideology again, can’t you just tell?

Throttling a Yorkie

I was thinking about explorers, what with all this stair-mountaineering. I was wondering what happens if, when they’re hanging from a bivouac tent five thousand feet up the north face of the Eiger, all nicely tucked up in a sleeping bag, they suddenly want to go to the lavatory. And what happens if you’re walking across the Antarctic ice-cap, and it’s 200 degrees below zero, you’re dressed in eighteen layers of thermal clothing and you feel the turtle’s head? “Ooh, I need to choke a Mars Bar!” you cry, but what can you do? And in space, there you are, floating in a tin can like Major Tom, when you suddenly get the overwhelming urge to give birth to Meatloaf’s daughter. But you’re encased in a spacesuit, in which even a fart would have to live with you for a few days.
What do you do? Are there, somewhere discreetly hidden away in the back of explorer shops, little shelves filled with grown-up nappies? When Buzz Aldrin stepped upon the surface of the moon and talked about taking a giant leap for mankind, was he wearing man-sized Pampers? It deflates the myth a little, doesn’t it? Did his Mom have to clean him up and change him when he got home? When Richard Branson was ballooning around the world, did he just hang his arse out and throttle his Yorkie over the edge of the basket? Did Titus Oates actually go for a short walk, or was he ejected from the tent by Captain Scott because he’d made a mess on his babygro? (Let’s face it, he didn’t go for a short walk at all. They ate him.)

Maybe these explorer types have something in common. Perhaps, instead of spending all this money boldly going where no man has gone to before, they should be staying home with their computers, logged on to
“Ooh, Buzz, hazzums messed your ickle spacesuit then?”
“Yes, mommy. I’ve been a dirty little spaceboy. Change me! Change me!”
“Come here little sweetums. Let’s make it all better.”

Cleanliness is next to Godliness, so they say, which must make all these explorers heathen scum, judging by the smell that must have come out of Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit when they finally unscrewed the faceplate after a fortnight or so of being hermetically sealed in with his own effluvia. And that particular cliché has some basis in truth too. Imagine Jesus, hanging on the cross…
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” he cries, and this time, God replies:
“Well, have you seen the state of yourself? You’re not coming up here looking like that. You’ve got blood running down your face, a hole in your side and all those modern body-piercings that quite honestly make you look silly. And if I’m not mistaken, that loincloth needs changing, and there’s a television crew over there. You’re supposed to be starting a new religion, not hanging about feeling sorry for yourself. Are you going to spend the whole of the Easter Holidays looking like that? I’ll be glad when school starts and we can get you back into uniform. Frankly, son, you’re just making a public spectacle of yourself. They aren’t laughing with you, Jeeze, they’re laughing at you. I don’t know what your mother would say. Fuck off and get resurrected. Come back in three days when Mary Magdalene’s cleaned you up a bit.”

So Jesus wasn’t so much grounded, more kind of earthed. For thirty-three years. Puts Josef Fritzl to shame, really.
“Dad, I don’t wanna go down there! Dad, please!”
“There. That’ll teach you to move in mysterious ways, won’t it? I told you, no more dancing. And for My sake, get yourself a girlfriend. That Magdalene woman’s nice. Bit of a foot-fetishist, but give me a couple of thousand years to invent nylons and the internet and there’ll be a place for her. All this wandering around the desert with twelve blokes. The neighbours are starting to talk, you know, and you’ll be as famous as John Lennon one day.” (Beatles fans in South Carolina are demanding apologies from the Church for this remark, and spontaneous outbreaks of bible-burning have been reported from Alabama.)

The Osama Bin Laden Fun Hour

Terrorism is just politics with the gloves off, really. One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist; one man’s mate is another man’s person, and so forth, and terrorists are just men behaving stupidly. So why not be nice about it? Stop demanding the release of people who are just going to carry on doing silly things. Stop breaking stuff. Stop trying to bring religion into it. If terrorists started being polite and pleasant, and made their demands a bit more realistic, they might win a few more popularity contests, too.

“Hello. It’s Mrs Bin Laden. We’ve kidnapped Gordon Brown and we’ll send him back in pieces unless you get the council to trim the hedges on Hampstead Heath a bit more. Please, I should add. Only my Osama got stung by a wasp in his hideout last week, and the pathways are an absolute disgrace. I was up there taking him his sandwiches the other day, and I saw a dear little old lady fall and break her poor hip because she tripped on a root. Anyway, I do go on, don’t I? So if you want that nice Mr Brown back, get the bushes tidied please. You know I mean it, I’ve got a history with Bushes. Thanks ever so much.”

Dear Mrs Ban Loden,
Thank you for your voicemail message. Of course we agree to your demands. We have sent cleanup squads to Hampstead Heath, and if you’d like to send personnel from Al Quaida’s Health and Safety Executive to the area, I’m sure you’ll agree that we’ve done an excellent job. By the way, I never realised that was your son up there. I thought he was an eccentric hippie hermit left over from the sixties. We have arranged to take him into care and have given him food and drink, and our fostering and support services are standing ready to assist you in any way you wish. He may need specialist care teams, because he’s been quite a naughty little boy, I gather. In the meantime, I would advise you to contact Social Services in order to check his entitlement to government benefits. On a tangential matter, I have some Americans in reception who would like a little chat with him when he has a free moment. If you wish to avoid any unpleasantness from our rather over-zealous allies, my advice to you is to get him to say he’s feeling a little poorly so we can release him on compassionate grounds. Maybe he could chip a fingernail, then we could send him to Libya. Now, can we have our Mr Brown back at your earliest convenience, please? In one piece, if you’d be so kind.
Yours sincerely,
Boris Johnson.

See? Wouldn’t the world be a nicer place? Actually, if all terrorist organisations were made to have Health and Safety sections, most acts of international terror would be swamped in paperwork and frustration, and thus thwarted at board-meeting level.
“So, Mr Bin Laden, four planes, yes? Do you realise that under Section 42 of the Hostages (Comfort) Directive 2008, each hostage must be given nourishment every three and a half hours. And you must ensure that their seat belts remain fastened until impact, although the need for nature-breaks must be respected at all times. So if even just one of them is out of his or her seat, you’ll just have to circle New York and line up again until they’re all sitting down. Do the hostages have baby-changing facilities? And what are you planning to do with the crew? Oh, really, Mr Bin Laden. Have all your operatives been on the half-day Stanley Knife (Basic Instructions for Use) Course? Have they been issued with protective handwear? No? How disappointing. Right, postpone the entire operation until you’ve complied with the relevant coursework. Let’s re-schedule this meeting for, let’s say, September the twelfth.”


Men are psychologically suspect creatures. All this pent-up aggression and testosterone. Then they refer to each other as “mate,” as in “Fancy a pint, mate?” or “You’re my best mate.” Are they secretly trying to get in touch with their feminine side? Your mate is someone you mate with. You share your life, bed and occasional bodily fluids with them. And then there’s goatees, the trendy, modern facial fashion accessory favoured by bikers, heavy metal musicians and those sorts of chaps who ooze masculinity in all respects other than tidying their beards into something resembling a vagina hanging beneath their noses. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, or a reminder of the male sexual imperative, like a carrot dangled in front of a donkey. I guess that’s the level male psychology works on, but it’s weird and disquieting. Put it this way: when I watch thrice-copied, blurry porn, the last thing I want in my head is a mental image of Rolf Harris eating a banana.

So why do so many gay men have goatees? Yes, George Michael, I’m talking to you. Is it the height of gay perversion, or what? Once every few weeks, when the feeling overwhelms you, do you and Boy George stuff your goateed mouths with smoked salmon, assume the 69 position and give each other a fish-job, just so you both realise you aren’t really missing anything?

I read a life-changing statistic when I was about twenty-two. Clean-shaven men, I was informed, spend a cumulative period of approximately three months of their lives shaving. Fuck that for a game of soldiers, I thought, and I’ve had a beard ever since. It’s doubly useful, because for most of my adult life I’ve had more chins than the Beijing Yellow Pages, so my beard acts as device of concealment, like Demis Roussos’s kaftan used to. But the thing with beards is that they’re essentially labour-saving devices as far as I’m concerned. I don’t have to fanny about with all this shaving business (if you’ll pardon the Freudian slip there), and it saves me time and effort. I own one of those Remington combined anal hair and pile trimmers, and once every couple of months I go over my entire head with it, taking care that my ears don’t wind up like Vincent Van Gogh’s or something out of Reservoir Dogs. Basically I strim myself from the neck up. Takes about five minutes, makes me look downright lovely, apart from the odd flesh-wound. And I reckon I’ve saved about two months of shaving time already, most of which I haven’t noticed because I’ve spent them asleep, setting my alarm for a minute later every day since 1977.

So what’s the point of beards that take more effort to maintain than shaving would? I’m referring to those daft pieces of sculpted face-furniture favoured by male RnB singers. Those stupid little strips of chin-minge that look as if they’ve been drawn on with a magic marker. One slip of the hand, one slightly quivery hangover and you’re fucked. Maybe it’s a status symbol. Maybe what it tries to say is “I’ve had someone else do this. I go to the barber every morning and say ‘make me look as stupid as possible, please. Make my face look like a Brazilian supermodel’s growler.’”

But the worst mistake of all is made by men who have beards but shave their moustaches off. Why? Do they have learning disabilities? Are they software engineers? Did God tell them to do it? Is it a Christian code, or just bad judgement? Do they actually want to go around looking like Plymouth Brethren or those guys from Amishland who still eat with pitchforks and fuck horses? If God wants to mark his chosen ones out for special notice, he should make them wear lemon popsicles round their necks or something, so we’d know to avoid them, but in the meantime, the beard-but-no-moustache combination makes me run very fast in the opposite direction before their owners start asking me if I’ve given my life to Jesus yet. It’s the facial equivalent of those fish symbols you see on the back of the vicar’s Skoda Fellatio.

I’ll close with an apology to all the red-blooded men sitting out there. The wife’s gone round to her mother’s for the evening, the kids have grown up and left home at last, and there you are, looking forward to half an hour spent battering the maggot in front of left handed websites before you go down the pub. But for some reason all you can think about is Frank Zappa eating saveloys. Sorry about that.

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Saturday, 30 January 2010

Does My Bomb Look Big in This?

I’m sitting here, cosy and warm in my wife’s shop, surrounded by outer expressions of girlie beauty (and the odd book), and my mind is leaning towards the history of female emancipation, for some unaccountable reason. In my head, I travel back forty years or so, to a world of black and white, and to a Miss World competition. The announcer on the BBC, in the clipped tones of Mr Cholmondley-Warner, telling us “And naow, laive from Elexandra Pelace, it’s Miss Weld nineteen-sixty-ate.” Or whenever it was. I was about fourteen, trying to decide which one of them would feature in my night-time fantasies whilst I exercised my right forearm to Popeye dimensions. It got to the interval, the boring bit where all the girls run off to change out of their evening dress so they can let us see what they look like in swimsuits. Bob Hope was onstage, doing some tired old shtick that was supposed to be humorous. Then some lesbian militants with leg-stubble and armpit-minge started throwing bags of flour from the cheap seats. I can imagine Ethel Gumption’s thought-processes: “Oh, heavens! Was that plain or self-raising? Bertie loves a sponge-cake and he always beats me if it doesn’t rise. And I’ll deserve it, too, because it’ll all be my fault! Gosh, was that an egg? I could have made a nice omelette. And who’s going to clear up this mess?” Anyway, Bob Hope ran offstage like a frightened rabbit, proving that he was the biggest girl present that night, and the BBC commentator fulminated for a few minutes about the Women’s Liberation Movement. Order was restored, and some scared-looking girls eventually came on in swimsuits. Somebody won. I can’t remember who, nor can I remember what she did to me in my dreams that night. But I can remember that it wasn’t Bob Hope in either respect.

Feminism’s come a long way since then. All the way to the bad science of L’Oreal adverts. Let’s make up some words: Pro-retinol B! Nutra-ceramides! Lovely. “The seven signs of ageing? Oh, no! There were only six yesterday! Drugs? Terror? Can we declare a War Against the Signs of Ageing instead, because I need the drugs to combat the terror. Gosh, pro-retinol B! There must have been a pro-retinol A, and now they’ve made it even better! Where can I get this magic formula anti-wrinkle cream, enriched with nourishing marrow-bone jelly? Oh look! Famous film star Andie MacDowell says it’s lovely! It must be good for her to volunteer to say nice things about it. £49.99 for a little pot. Wonderful! I’ll take six!” And of course, it costs L’Oreal about 15p to make it, and then they laugh all the way to the bank. Their advertising section earns millions. Because they’re worth it.

So maybe I’m feeling bitter and twisted today. It makes a change from vinegary bordering on liverish, I suppose. I’m feeling bitter and twisted because it’s a rainy afternoon, and my shop is entirely unpopulated by middle-aged MILF looking to spend hundreds of pounds on hubby’s card. Bitches. I bet they’re getting weapons of wrinkle-destruction from the Iraqis instead. Maybe I should start selling burkas in retaliation. The Katie Price mini-burka - now available in bubblegum pink! Fitted mini-burkas, the new fashion must-have. Clings to the contours of the body. Makes it harder to for suicide bombers to conceal explosive devices too. Does my bomb look big in this? You wouldn’t be able to hide the equivalent of eighty-seven Trebor Sherbet Fountains gaffer-taped to your midriff under there, would you, girls? Do the soldiers out in Iraqiganistan a power of good, too, defusing tension and all that. “Phwoar, is that a nipple or a detonator cap?” “Wanna visit Allah, big boy? Come over here and press this and you’ll get there, one way or the other.”

I blame Millie Tant and her radical conscience. Zipless fucks, my arse. Ouch.

Advertising: a necessary evil. Discuss.

Simple. Go back to the days before ponytails, red braces and cocaine habits and have a look at the way products used to be advertised before all this psychological and subliminal messaging business came in. “Phillosan fortifies the over-forties!” “You wonder where that yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent!” Right. It’s bollocks, isn’t it? Even back in nineteen-canteen, a woman would never go into a chemist and ask for stuff like that, because the chemist would think “Eww! She’s over forty and her teeth are yellow! God, to think I once wanted to shag her.” Go back even further, and consider the mistakes of the more distant past, a past where there was no such thing as television and we all had to watch liver sliding down the wall instead…
“I’ve invented a new beer. What shall we call it so that people will want to drink it?”
“How about ‘Bitter’?”
“Perfect! And I’ve invented a nice perfume to make ladies smell lovely. What shall we call it?”
“Toilet water.”
“And what shall I name this new town, to encourage tourists?”
“We should do something about this wall. What were you saying? Oh, Liverpool, I dunno.”
See what I mean? And look at Vimto. Would you want to drink anything that was an anagram of vomit? Thought not. It’s never going to be up there with Coca Cola, originally named after the precious Coca leaves that were once part of the ingredients and had the magical effect of keeping you alert and increasing your confidence whilst allowing you to talk utter bollocks for hours.

The answer is simple. Translate the words into French or Italian, because they’ll sound better and make you appear more sophisticated. Toilet water? No, eau de toilette. Sounds much more attractive in French. Same with anything in Italian. Guiseppe Verdi sounds better than Joe Green, and Giovanni Casanova sounds better than Johnny Newhouse. And if Mary Whitehouse had been born Maria Casablanca she’d have had her own internet site and adult magazine, and we’d have spent the last forty years banging each other senseless instead of being uptight and British and doing everything the Americans told us to. And that’s another thing about America. The Mafia. Fills you with dread, doesn’t it? Well, hey, somewhere back in the Reagan/Thatcher days, they won! The numbers game became the national lottery, the call girls and whores turned into the internet and loan-sharking turned into the international banking industry. But the Mafia came from Sicily, where everything is Italian. La Cosa Nostra. Sounds menacing, until you translate it. The Our Things. Not so scary now, eh? In England, they’d still be supervising hoodies knocking off packets of digestives from Mr Patel’s corner shop. Don Darren of Walthamstow, il capo di tutti capi.
“So, tell me, why do you come here, to me, on this day of all days? It is the day of my daughter’s wedding, and the saints themselves are bowing down in heaven at her feet. Give me a good reason, or tonight you sleep with the fishes.”
“Yeah, well, Don, my mate’s nicked this Ford Focus GTi and it’s got blackout windows and lowered suspension and an exhaust like a fuckin’ coal scuttle, and I thought she might want it as a wedding car.”

The War Against Rinkles

I’m running with the ball on the subject of the War Against Wrinkles today. If the Americans started it, they’d be powerful enough to control spelling, and they could take the “W” off “Wrinkles” to make the acronym snappier and easier for women to remember. But think about the good it would do, especially as far as America’s position on the international stage is concerned. The Bush administration was about as popular as a pork pie at a bar-mitzvah, but if that nice Mr Obama declared a war on rinkles, he’d have half the world’s population on his side immediately. And the men would be happy too, because all the girls would have something to get excited about, so we’d stop having to put up with all the usual nonsense about “Where have you been?” “Why are you late?” and “You never look after my emotional needs.” Even the cheese-eating surrender-monkeys of Europe would love America. President Sarkozy would let Barack have a go on his wife and everything!

And the stars of Hollywood could get involved, for the sake of some propaganda and a bit of free publicity. I’m sure Brad Pitt is fed up to the back teeth of waking up next to something that looks like ET sitting on the Elephant Man’s face before Angelina shovels the nutra-ceramides on and resumes her normal appearance with an audible pop. And over here, Girls Aloud would probably look like four Mother Teresas without the benefits of Clinique. So get involved, stars! Front a charity campaign for donations of Plenitude to third world countries and boob-jobs for the starving. We could send emergency mobile cosmetic surgery centres to the Sudan. For God’s sake, if they’re going to go around half naked, we could at least stop them having tits like spaniels’ ears, couldn’t we? I mean, come on, you never see Mariah Carey looking like Clement Freud’s bloodhound, do you? And she was once famous for saying “Gee, I’d love to be that thin. Except for all the flies and death and stuff.” If you’re going to be a size zero, you might as well try to look good. “Hey, and I’ve had eight children, too! Look, there’s one left over there!”

And we’d get terrorist videos from Germaine Greer’s hideout in Afghanistan every so often, just to keep the hate perking. And the Daily Mail could rage against the idea that taxpayers money was being spent re-educating feminists at Swiss finishing schools. And think about the television possibilities…

“That was the Jo Brand Fashion and Etiquette Hour. And now here is the news, with Kylie Minogue.”
“G’day. The headlines today: An eighth sign of ageing has been discovered in the region between the temple and the smiley eye-crinkles. A government spokesman describes it as a major setback in the War Against Rinkles, and the Americans want to bomb it. Meanwhile, scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say they are no further forward in the search for Pro-Retinol C, despite diverting funds from Cancer research and Alzheimer charities.
“Other news: A British political aide has been forced to resign after strong criticism from his American counterparts when he was overheard commenting on the potential international ramifications that might occur when they got to Pro-Retinol Z and the Americans tried to pronounce it ‘Zee’. ‘Zee is the noise Americans make when they’re trying to say Zed,’ was the offending comment. A spokesman for the US Military Intelligence [©2009, Oxymorons-R-Us], General Stormin’ Norman Scheisskopf, responded: ‘You limeys might think all this is funny, but we’ve spent zillions trajectorising projectiles at rinkle centres on the Asian subcontinent, and this is not a subject for humorously responsular reactionations.’ Over here, the Prime Minister has issued a personal apology for the incident, calling it a regrettable consequence of offstage microphones picking up a comment accidentally.
“Meanwhile, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are mounting a joint campaign to pour seventy million gallons of nutra-ceramides over the Alps and the Himalayas. A spokesgirlie for the campaign said: ‘Mountains are just the Earth’s problem rinkle-areas. Mother Earth is a gaia-resource which should be thought of as a living, breathing entity, and as such the planet has feelings too. If we can flatten Switzerland and Nepal, the possibilities for the Antarctic are optimistic and encouraging, once we can burn off the protective ice-cap. So if everyone out there bought a Range Rover and a Ferrari and caught the plane to work instead of walking, it would be a step in the right direction. We’re trying to encourage the government to subsidise multi-vehicle ownership, and we’re hoping for good results once sea-levels begin to rise, although we would encourage the inhabitants of Bangladesh and Venice to start running for high ground now.’”

What a wonderful world it would be; what a glorious time to be free, as Donald Fagen once said. Maybe if we calmed Mother Earth down a bit, she’d stop spitting out all these earthquakes and volcanoes and tsunamis and start acting like a rational woman (©2009, Oxymorons-R-Us).

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Monday, 25 January 2010

The wonders of Vistaprint

Today my family took delivery of our free, self-designed pens from Vistaprint. We got them as perks for ordering some Book Month promotional material. My wife’s pen says “Heather Iles, proprietor, Chambers Gallery, Annandale.” Mine says “Perry Iles, writer. Bulbous, also tapered.” My daughter’s says “Matilda Iles. I’m a horse’s butt.” As a family, our collective grip upon sanity begins to weaken.

Mega-Dolphin vs Giant Porpoise

I have it on good authority that dolphins are in fact complete bastards. A few years ago, marine experts discovered that the bodies of porpoises were being washed up on an almost daily basis along the coastline of the Solway Firth in Scotland. Studies revealed that dolphins were playing tennis with them – flipping them up out of the water and then whacking them with their tails to see how far they’d go. When the fishologists discovered the porpoises’ corpoises, most of the bones were broken. So next time you try listening to a dolphin, listen more closely.

“Prpppp, tk tk tk chirrrr, pt pt pt pt crk,” they go, and we think they’re saying “Skippy says the kids have fallen down the well!” when what they’re really saying is “Flipper’s got an ASBO. An’ that’s like, really shit, cos we’re off to Ibiza for the summer. Gonna get twatted and trash the reef. Do over some fuckin porps. Wankers. They’ve like, really cracked down since we contracted the stingray to whack that Aussie. It’s fuckin mental, man.”

So that’s dolphins for you. Neds of the ocean, hoodies of the waves, assholes of the deep. Today’s post was sponsored by the John West campaign for guilt-free tuna. Kill the fuckers. The whales are complaining about the noise, anyway.

Carry On Being Puerile.

A puerile musing on rude place-names, suggested by the newspaper headlines from the other day. Britain’s full of them, hidden within innocent-sounding little places that even your auntie could say. Huddersfield, Arsenal, Wastwater, Clitheroe, Cockermouth and my own favourites, the Hampshire parish of Wilsford-cum-Lake and of course Scunthorpe.

When travelling through Europe a couple of years ago, I discovered the Belgian town of Ave-et-Auffe. No, I really did. If they ever stage a revival Carry-On film festival, they’d have to have it there, with the ghosts of Sid James and Kenneth Williams presiding over the event while Barbara Windsor lets the twins out once more for old-times sake. (That may be a bit disappointing, nowadays. Carry On Camping was forty years or so back, after all. Maybe they could get a stand-in. Jordan’s at a bit of a loose end now that Peter Andre’s fucked off, and she’d flip her chebs out like a dead-heat in a zeppelin race at the opening of an envelope).

I also discovered the Austrian village of Fucking, the English translation of whose website reads “Welcome to Fucking Austria.” And perhaps those who prefer to gain their sexual gratification via the tradesman’s entrance could suggest that the Italian village of Arsoli be twinned with the Derbyshire town of Peniston.

There must be places like that in America, too. I’d love to be a travel writer. Hang on, I already am one. So for my next trick I should write a book in which I travelled to places with risqué names. So maybe I could have a US list, just so I can go there. I know there’s an Intercourse in Pennsylvania (they could twin it with Fucking, Austria, or the slightly less wanton German settlement of Petting if the Moral Majority got its panties in a bunch), but there probably isn’t a Dogdick, Delaware, is there? There’s the Grand Teton Mountains, I suppose, which I believe is French for big tits. That’s good enough for me, I’ll start packing.

Hey, here’s an idea! The other day I was talking about the Scottish village of Ae. Is there anywhere in the US called Zed, or Zee? I could go from Ae to Zed, travelling through rude-sounding places as I went. There. Next book sorted. God, this writing lark is such fun sometimes.


So, to the new football season, sponsored by the Campaign for Real Sport. After a summer of industrial-grade boredom watching grown-ups playing ping-pong and rich men driving cars in circles without managing to kill themselves spectacularly, we now have something to get excited about. And with it comes the dark humour of football chants, which I felt strangely attracted to from the nineties onwards, after watching twenty thousand opposition fans at Manchester United yelling “Posh Spice takes it up the arse” to the tune of the Pet Shop Boys’ Go West every time David Beckham took possession of the ball.

And up here, north of the border in Scotlandshire, we ask ourselves the age-old question. Who will win the Premiership out of Celtic and Rangers? Scotland likes to think that as a country, it’s an international player in the world of football, but apart from Celtic and Rangers we don’t have a lot, other than the glorious Hibees. So, in defence of its national weaknesses, Scottish fans try to bring their chants up to an international level of offence by citing sectarian differences between the Catholic and Protestant sections of the community. It’s laughable really, the idea that believing in fairies in different ways could command such hatred, but then the Scots have spent the last few centuries fighting amongst themselves, so there is a precedent. They do like a pagger, which is why the Rangers fans express the desire to be up to their knees in Fenian blood, and why, to the tune of She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain, they still sing “Could ye go a chicken supper, Bobby Sands?” at the Celtic fans every time there’s an Old Firm derby.

But one my favourite chants comes from England, from the grounds of Tottenham Hotspur, a London club with strong Jewish affiliations. Casting against type, Spurs bought Jurgen Klinsmann from Bayern Munich a few years back, and the Spurs fans on the terraces, digging out their encyclopaedic knowledge of Mary Poppins, sang:

Chim-chimminy, chim-chimminy
Chim-chim, cheroo
Jurgen was German
But now he’s a Jew.

Then, en masse, they’d drop their trousers and wave their circumcised dicks at the Chelsea fans on the opposition terraces, who responded by resurrecting the sixties golden oldie of “Two world wars and one World Cup, doo-dah, doo-dah” to the tune of Camptown Races. Right back atcha, Jurgen.

Football, One; political correctness, Nil. The beautiful game.

Anne Robinson; Don't You Just Love Her?

The Welsh, according to the Scots, are living proof that the English fuck badgers. You’d have thought that the Scots would effect some kind of affinity there, what with the celtic connections and the common English enemy, but as I’ve said before, the Scots are always looking for someone else to fight, and the Welsh spill their metaphorical pint on a regular basis. Especially where rugby is concerned, which to me is just a stupid game played by men with odd-shaped balls. Coachloads full of Welsh supporters pass through Annandale every time there’s a Six Nations Tournament, or whatever you call it when rugby players get together for a mutual bout of eye-gouging and handbags. Most of the locals refer to rugby as “a poof’s game” and taunt any visiting leek-munching cheese-on-toast-eaters by walking effeminately down the street with one arm cocked on the hip and the other held in a limp-wristed Hitler salute. Then they try and make them eat Haggis, which the Welsh consider to be a cooked sheep’s bladder stuffed with those parts of the animal that even the English won’t eat.

I’ve been to Wales. It’s something I feel the need to experience every so often to see if it’s as bad as it was the last time, like Kentucky Fried Chicken. And usually it’s just as bad, especially in the north. Their hotels are overpriced, their attitudes avaricious, and their countryside isn’t as pretty as they like to think it is because they’ve got slate mines all over it. And everyone over forty has Welsh Face, an affliction that strikes in middle age when all the teeth have rotted away, the jaw shrinks and the nose strives to make contact with the chin, like an old Punch cartoon.

Then one day I went to South Wales. This is where my wife comes from, the small village of Pant-y-Gyrdl, down in the valleys. There, they sell houses for the price of a family saloon. Go to Kensington, and you’ll see estate agents’ notices advertising bijou mews flats for £1.2 million. Then go to South Wales, where houses are advertised, with the prices on, on bits of hardboard in the front garden. “House, £5,999. Free garage, innit?” But when I got to South Wales, everybody was lovely. People in my wife’s old street remembered Jenkins-the-post from forty years back. “Here, I knew him. He murdered my brother. And his family. Brutally, mind. No, hang on, that was Evans-the-axe, wasn’t it? So, what’s occurring?” And they’d shake your hand and laugh at the shared memory. And there were sheep everywhere. Not just in the fields, but in the towns and the gardens and the alleys. They’re cheaper than lawn-mowers, apparently, and you can eat them afterwards. When you stop the car on any road in south Wales, the sheep run towards you, not away, and jump up like friendly dogs to eat your sandwiches. I bought lamb and mint sauce butties deliberately, so I could watch them all eat their children. Feral sheep, only available in Wales. Lovely country, lovely people, except in the north, where they switch languages and turn their backs on you every time you walk into a pub because they’re a bunch of ignorant savages whose idea of an entertainment centre is a ewe tied to a lamp post.

Brontes Redux

Today’s missive is sponsored by Mattel Toys, and comes with your free Charlotte Bronte Doll! Pull the string; she says “Hi, Heathcliff, I’m Cathy! Will you be my friend?” Three to collect! Get the whole series!

I was in Yorkshire the other day. Don’t ask me why; I didn’t want to go there. Something about picking up a kitten, I think. Dear old Yorkshire, famous for its Dales, Pudding and Ripper. In the course of my travels, I drove past the Bronte Parsonage in the village of Haworth and was filled with the habitual sense of catatonic boredom that always overwhelms me whenever I have to think about Victorian chicklit. I was dragged round the Parsonage once, long ago, by a woman who no longer features in my life. Fuck, it was tedious. Here’s a dress just like Charlotte might have been wearing when she thought up the plot of Middlemarch! Here’s a reproduction of the writing desk Emily wrote The Mill on the Floss at! Yes, dear, it’s lovely dear. I’m hungry, can we go now? It was worse than shopping.

And as far as the Bronte sisters go, they could do with a bit of a makeover, couldn’t they? I mean, looking at brother Bramwell’s portrait of them, I’d slip Emily a charity shag, but Charlotte looks like a bulldog chewing a wasp and I swear Anne’s got Welsh Face. Uptight vicar’s daughters? No. Let’s re-invent them. There were three sisters and a brother, so they were a bit like the Corrs in that respect. There was Posh Bronte, Even Posher Bronte and Lezzer Bronte. Not good enough. Let them be Britney Bronte, LaToya Bronte and Barbie Bronte, the naughty sister that never amounted to much. Daughters of a televangelist. And the name won’t do; all this pretentious umlaut nonsense. Let’s change it to Bronty, or better still Bronti, because the “I” gives them a certain girlie cuteness, like Bambi. Hey, that’s it! Bambi Bronti! Now let’s re-write the books. Wuthering Heights? What’s a wuther? Is it a verb? I wuther; you wuther; he, she or it wuthers? Do heights wuther? Fuck that. Change it to Heights of Passion or something, and pretend it was written in the eighties, based on that old Kate Bush song (you know, the one that goes: “Out on the wily, windy moors we’d roll and roll in brie. You had a temper, like my cheddar cheese; so hot so greasy.”)

So, the film versions: Heights of Passion by Bambi Bronti, starring Renee Rottweiler and Colin Firth’s arse. And the sequel, Jane Eyre’s Shoe Dilemma Diary, with Hugh Grant’s chin and Sarah Jessica Parker’s nipples (which make her look like she’s smuggling peanuts on the opening credits of SATC). Ker-fucking-ching, go the tills across this sceptred isle. That’s put that fucking Austen bitch back in her place, hasn’t it? Although they could stage an Austen/Bronti rivalry, like they did with Blur and Oasis or Nirvana and Pearl Jam. There you go: Britlit, a whole new genre. Where’s Cecelia Aherne now, eh? In your face, you daft chicklit-by-numbers Irish brood-mare! Come on, there’s a whole career for the taking here! And they could get bad sister Crack Whore Bronti to fall out of limos outside nightclubs with a coke-spoon down her cleavage and pose topless for Nuts magazine (This week only! Get yer mitts round the Bronti Baps!), just to keep the publicity machine rolling. And the brother could stop being an artist and get a career as a papparazum instead, or whatever the singular is.

What is the singular of all these Italian words, anyway? What do you say in an Italian restaurant? “Darling, can I try just one raviola from your plate? I’ll let you have a scampus in return.” “Sweetheart, you’ve dropped a spaghetto into your lap.” What do you call that singular piece of pennum that falls onto the stove and causes that terrible burning smell? Or those big penne that make up a cannelona? Fucking Italian food. At least you don’t get that problem with Rosbif a l’Inglese. With Yorkshire Pudding.

So that’s Mattel revitalised the Brontes. Next week: Adolf and Eva, the untold love story of our times, sponsored by Treblinka Soap Products: “It’s Concentrated!!®”

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Saturday, 23 January 2010


The small, furry feline quadrupeds, not the irritating Anthony Lloyd-Grossman musical.

I’ve never really liked the little buggers, yet I always seem to have one somewhere about the place. Until recently I had three. Two miserable old sods whose sole purpose in life was to sit at the bottom of the stairs yowling at 5am until I stumbled down and filled their bowls with Whiskas so they could look at it and yowl some more, and a dear, sweet-natured old tomcat called Cuiheallin whose name I could never pronounce and probably still can’t spell. Never mind, nor could he. I called him Corky anyway, and he didn’t seem to mind. In the winter he’d crawl up under my jumper and fart. He was a nice old cat, but he’s dead now. So I was left with the two miserable old sods. One was Mr Tubbs, who used to sleep on my keyboard when I was trying to write. He was big, orange and stupid, and he died last year on his birthday, thereby removing the flimsiest excuse for writers’ block I’ve ever come up with. So now I’m left with just an eighteen-year-old called Noakes who stubbornly refuses to follow his colleagues into the great maybe, no matter how much weedkiller I spray onto his kibbles.

Anyway, the other day a friend’s cat had kittens, and of course my friend emailed the pictures directly to my wife and daughter, neatly body-swerving the middle-man and nutmegging the opposition. It’s ginger, and its name will be Vlad, Charlie, Marmaduke, Chairman Meow or Beelzebub the Dark Prince, Destroyer of Souls. In a week or so he will be ours. Oh, the joy. I’m so happy I could just shit. And somewhere in the back of my mind lurks the thought that the little fucker might outlive me.

As far as my wife and daughter are concerned, there are only two rules:
1. It’s not my fucking cat.
2. There are no more rules.

Although I have a deeply submerged suspicion that the dear little thing will rouse me from my current mental state, which my wife describes as “vinegary, bordering on liverish”. Which sounds like part of the Shipping Forecast: “Great Dogger Munch: forty gusting sixty, variable, poor to good, vinegary bordering on liverish. Outlook: plague-rats, blight.”


I’m not very good at flowers. I’ve lived in flats a lot, and while I’ve often benefited from the effects of some of the herbs produced by indoor hydroponics, I’ve always considered it too much of a faff to get involved in horticulture. Then last year I got a house with a garden. So far I’ve grown some potatoes that turn to mush when you try to cook them and some strawberries which were eaten by passing children no matter how much I tried to frighten them off by standing in the garden dressed as Gary Glitter and hurling live fireworks stuffed into dead kittens randomly about. And I could have sworn the packet said Hyacinths, but I appear to have grown onions in my hanging baskets. Whatever they are, they smell like crap and haven’t produced any flowers. And the sunflowers that should be seven feet high by now haven’t sprouted at all. Maybe this is due to late frosts, combined with the fact that this is Scotland, not France, and I’m not Vincent Van fucking Gogh, although my wife tells me I have his ear for music.

Say it with flowers, they tell me. Bloodwort; fuchsia; heliotrope, I reply.

An ode to Johnny Vee

(who sent me a recipe for Key Lime Pie, which proved delicious.)

Your key lime pie
Was easy on the eye
But tasted slightly tart
So I made one with oranges
With which nothing rhymes
And it kind of fell apart.

Apart from a hill in Wales called Blorenge, apparently. But knowing the Welsh as I do – I married one – the word “Blorenge” is probably pronounced “Pthwylllthwpp.”

There was a young lady from Pthwylllthwpp
Who liked to be thrashed with a bullwhip
She would sit up on Blorenge
Eating bananas
Because she was awkward that way.

Life occasionally raises a middle finger at potentially poetic happenstance, as in the case of that young Scottish lass from Dundee, who was stung on the neck by a wasp.

An unfortunate side effect, however is that the smell of the key lime pie is exactly the same as the odour you get from Tesco Citrus-Fresh Anti-Bacterial Multi-Purpose Wipes (before you use them). But there must be something about limes that sets the mixture, because it didn’t work with oranges. So we froze it instead, and it’s the best orange ice cream I’ve ever eaten. Sets off the kitten and hyacinth stew a treat.

On the subject of kittens, the shop will remain closed on Tuesday, August 18th. My family is going to our local cat showroom to take collection of a brand new model. Lord, how I wish there was a typo in that last sentence.

T S Eliot

Looking back a day or so, I remember reading that the musical Cats was based upon the poetry of TS Eliot. I bet he didn’t consider West End musicals as a career option back in the days when he was busy committing his missus into the somersault factory and getting Ezra Pound to write his lyrics for him (with his backing band, the Hollow Men, straight from a season supporting Ken Dodd at the Liverpool Hippodrome – “we are the Hollow Men, We are the Stuffed Men, Leaning together, headpiece filled with ever-so-tickly straw! Wheee-heee-heee, how tickled we are!”).

Thomas and his Amazing Technicolor Wasteland. I wonder how Eliot would survive on Britain’s Got Talent? With Simon Cowell, Dannii Minge and Ezra Pound on the judging panel…

Simon: Tom. Tom, Tom, Tommy. Can I just stop you for a minute? What was that? Ancient Greek? How do you expect today’s youth to pick up on your cultural references? Tiresias? Is she with Girls Aloud or the Jackson Four, or is it a brand of trainers? And what’s all this Shantih Shantih Shantih business? It’s a football chant from the Spurs terraces, yeah? Well that’s offended the Muslim section right off. Gotta say I like the image, though, and that accent’s from America, so we’ve got a huge marketing opportunity there. So it’s a yes from me. Dannii?
Dannii: He’s got a great look, Simon. A bit geeky and vulnerable; a bit, you know, black-and-white. It’s a kinda old-fashioned thing with the slicked hair, the starched collar, the suit and the national health specs. Reminds me of Robbie doing Sinatra. You carry it well, Tom, the girls are gonna love it. And you say you’re doing all this for your wife Vivian, who’s staying locked in a secure ward for the uncontrollably hormonal up at Rampton Squirrel Farm until you can divorce her for desertion? That’s really sweet. Rock on, Tommy! Let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky, because it’s a yes from me too! Let’s talk Michelangelo. Ezra?
Ezra: The look is great, but like Simon says, the words are a problem. But I can see you in the Surrealist Chart, up there with the melted watches and that Belgian guy with the bowler hats and apples and the Jean Cocteau Twins’ version of Oedipus. Gimme the lyric sheet, Tom, I’ll see what I can come up with before Boot Camp, because that’s three yesses. Congrats, sunshine, you’re through to the next round!

It’s up there with the great songwriting partnerships of all time, isn’t it? Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards, Pound and Eliot. “I was the Walrus! Ezra wasn’t the Walrus, I was just saying that to be nice!” Now I want to see Eliot going head to head with James Joyce on Total Wipeout. They’d beat the fuck out of Stephen Hawking, anyway (“Push him off the ramp, Amanda. OFF! OFF! OFF!” “He’s managed non-linear quantum mechanics, Richard. Now let’s see how he does on the bouncing balls!”).

Actually, Eliot is quite a good name for a cat. He could swish the hate of a thousand years with a beat of his lustrous tail, or whatever.

Half Measures

So, Annandale, a place where they do things by halves. We have the narrowest hotel in the world about ten yards from the shop. It’s in the Guinness Book of Records and everything. When you order sausage and chips, they have to serve them parallel. You don’t have double beds, you just have double-length single ones. From the first floor up, it’s all corridor. And you have to sidle up to the bar and order a pint of Wifebeater out of the side of your mouth. And, as the Bangles once said, you have to walk like an Egyptian in there.

My little town also boasts the shortest street in Scotland. It’s about fifteen feet long, and my wife’s old shop took up all of it. We were like Harrod’s in that respect, although I don’t employ pissed Frenchmen with death wishes and large Mercedeses to take my princess to school.

Ten miles away, we have the village with the shortest name in Britain. Ae. They probably imported a couple of left-overs from the Welsh vowel-mountain. It once turned up accidentally 43 times in a wordsearch grid of Scottish place names. But what’s really silly is that nobody from outside the area is sure how to pronounce it. Two letters, and it causes problems, reflecting the generic cussedness of the Scottish psyche (our national flower is the thistle, our national bird the midge). Is it a kind of diphthong, like in Julius Caesar, or is it more like the ‘ai’ in Kaiser Bill or ‘och aye the noo?’ (It’s Scotland after all). Or is it a kind of “Aieee” noise, as in “‘Aieee’, Bunter yelped as the drawing pin pierced the flesh of the Fat Owl’s ample buttocks”? Nope, none of the above. It’s Ae, like in the darling buds of May. Two letters, and one of them is silent. Stupid place. It has its own forest, which fills up with hippies in the summer, who come along to hug trees and smoke the rest of the vegetation. They play their music out of earshot, which is good because it consists of African drumming classes, which to me is not so much music, more just people hitting stuff.

And with The Pinewood Indoor Sports & Social club, Annandale has reclaimed the British national Stupid Acronym title now that the City University of Newcastle upon Tyne has been forced to close after its computers crashed following the overwhelming worldwide demand from students who wanted to study there so they could have BA(hons)CUNT on their graduation certificates, especially those who were planning to work hard enough to get a BA(hons)First Class.

And here’s another quote from the latest edition of the Annandale News. File under the heading of you-couldn’t-make-it-up. “The Southern regional finals of the Scottish national sheepdog trials were held last Saturday at Cocklicks Farm, Cummertrees.” I swear it’s true. God, I love this place sometimes. I haven’t laughed so much since the day when the first prize (poultry section) of the Annandale Agricultural Show was won by Farmer Waddle’s enormous cock.

So that’s dear old minimalist Annandale. Maybe I’ll sell half a book to someone tomorrow.

The Scottish Job

There was a bank raid in Annandale the other night. Eighty thousand quid stolen from the ATM at the Co-op. The townsfolk have reacted with a kind of “go on yerselves” form of reluctant admiration at this latest attempt to share the wealth. It’s probably the closest the Co-op has ever come to living up to its motto of ‘Ethical Banking’ (Copyright 2009, Oxymorons-R-Us). The local plod found a burnt-out car near the motorway. Reacting with astonishing quick-wittedness, a police spokesperson was quoted in the paper today as saying “We have reason to suspect a second vehicle may have been involved.” Keeping a straight face in adverse circumstances is part of the local reporter’s job-description, I believe.

Someone tried to trash the same ATM last summer by stealing a tractor and attempting to pull the entire thing out of the wall. This particular raid was thwarted by the quick-thinking of Effie McSporran, a local insomniac and busybody who saw the tractor passing her window at 5am and took it upon herself to phone the owner’s wife.
“Your Jimmy’s aboot awfy sharp this morning,” she said.
“Dinnae be sae daft, Effie, he’s in his bed beside me,” came the reply, prompting a call to the police, who rushed to the scene on bicycles expecting a low-speed tractor chase up the M74, only to see a couple of teenagers running away across the fields, leaving the abandoned tractor in the Co-op car park with a thick towing chain superglued to the bit that says “Insert Card Here”.

They must have thought it through a bit more thoroughly this time. Hope they get away with it.

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Thursday, 21 January 2010

Bovine Atrocities

There was a cow in the street today. I was minding my own business when I heard all this mooing going on. Nothing much unusual about that. It’s Scotland, after all; statistically, most conversations in this country consist of moos and baas. They just become a sort of unnoticeable background hum after a few years, and you can lump them together with the noises of teenagers vomiting up Blue Wicked and people threatening each other.

But this mooing was coming from just outside the shop’s front door, where it’s mostly concrete. You quite often get cows walking along the High Street, but this one had horns and only one tit. I don’t know where it came from, and for a while I wondered if it was going to come in and browse the books, perhaps affording us some kind of anal deposition by way of a critique. But then tourists started to yell a bit, and a police car came. I expect some hiker left a gate open somewhere, and this cow made a bolt for freedom. The butcher came out of his shop and with the help of the police he herded the cow down a sidestreet towards the river. I saw him run back to his shop and emerge a few seconds later wearing a soiled apron and an expression of avarice as he ran off down the lane wielding some sharp equipment and what looked to me like a weapon of bovine destruction. Later his assistant sped off in the same direction in a transit van.

They do fabulous steaks, our butchers. Great big sirloins. Grill them momentarily, then in a saucepan mix half a pint of single cream with some gorgonzola and a couple of twists of black pepper for a dressing. Pour the sauce over the steak and serve with a side salad. Voila. Ermintrude comes to dinner.

The California Diet

I’ve now lost 9lbs since last week. I must get that last pot of yogurt out of the dustbin and leave it in the August sun for a week while I start a bidding war between Fern Brittain and Vanessa Feltz. I’m getting better results from fucked yogurt than I ever did from my patented lager and amphetamines diet (disclaimer: for entertainment purposes only. Do not try this at home). I could make millions in California.

Thought for the day: you never see ET and Gail Platt out of Coronation Street in the same room, do you?

Your Dear, Sweet, White-Haired old Mum

Aren’t little old ladies lovely? Don’t you just adore them? Don’t they remind you of your own dear sweet old Mum? Kindly old spinsters who’ve led blameless lives and have known happiness and fulfilment before succumbing to the inevitable sorrows of lonely widowhood. Don’t you just want to give them a Mint Imperial and pat the tight little, white little perms that balance on top of their faces like cotton wool balls on withered apples?


Christ, they get on my tits. Annandale is full of them at this time of year. They come up by the coachload from whatever drabness they normally inhabit and stop in town for an hour so the coach driver can get away from their eternal carping and whining without fulfilling some Darwinian evolutionary process by driving them off a cliff. They block the pavements in great swathes of slow-moving beige polyester and fill the cafes, where they spend an hour drinking a cup of tea and looking for things to complain about before heading to the souvenir shops to buy a 99p box of fudge with a cartoon of the Loch Ness Monster wearing a Jimmy-hat on the lid, then they go back to the coach park to continue their Braveheart/Lochs and Glens/Bonnie Scotland ten-day budget tour.

And of course they come into my shop, where they ooh and aah about the clothes and jewellery and pick stuff up and put it back in the wrong place and hang around telling me what a lovely day it is for the twenty-seventh time today.

‘Ooh, Deirdre, if I was only fifty years younger,’ they say as they run their arthritic fingers through the fashions. And what I want Deirdre to reply is: ‘I knew you when you were fifty years younger, Ethel. I remember when you sucked off Bertie Gumption behind the bins outside the Stockport Majestic that night they had the Alan Ladd double feature. And then you let him do you because he’d made his own rubber-johnnie from an inner tube and some staples and had to ride twelve miles home afterwards on a flat tyre.’ But of course, what Deirdre really says is ‘Ooooh, yes, it’s lovely. Not for the likes of us, though.’
And I smile at them, and they smile back, and they look at their watches and realise there’s still twenty minutes before the coach goes and they might as well hang around the shop filling the air with banalities for a while.

So everyone’s nice to each other and says lots of fluffy, comfy things about the weather and young people today and what’s the world coming to and I know they’re all thinking ‘over-priced tourist trap’ and they know I’m thinking ‘why don’t you just go away and find a branch of Wretches R Us and buy something grey for £4.99’ and suddenly, suddenly, I know exactly why internet trolls exist, because I want to shout FUCK OFF YOU USELESS BUNCH OF COFFIN-DODGING OLD BOILERS! at them really, really loudly, just to watch their sweet, wrinkled faces crumple and see how fast they can still run, so I can stand by the front door listening out for the sweet crunch of hip on pavement.

God, that’s better.

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