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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Monday, 18 January 2010

You’ll Never Get Well No More


Perry Iles

“He would do better if he concentrated more on his work and less on entertaining his classmates.”
– Headmaster’s comment, Perry’s school report, 1965.

“Fuck right off.”
– Perry Iles, 2009.

The Annandale Book Month (August 2009)

I could blame God if I believed in him, or fate if I thought I was important enough to merit its notice, but as it is I’ll blame Sod’s Law and circumstance. Three days before the event, I was struck down with food poisoning and spent forty-eight hours in bed, fretting and cursing and discharging bodily fluids in random directions. The doctor gave me Immodium, which set the contents of my stomach solid and made me feel like I’d eaten a breezeblock. I was still unwell when people started arriving, so unwell that I couldn’t eat, drink or smoke, and by my standards, that’s ill, believe me.

If it hadn’t been for the efforts of my wife, the event would have been cancelled. She managed all the organisation, preparation, food, drink, room decoration, publicity, posters, invites and everything whilst simultaneously looking after the kid and the dog and playing host to various friends who filled the house to such an extent that my daughter had to sleep outside in the back of a van.

And after all this, Annandale, responded to my invitations and publicity with its usual apathy. It’s a small town, set in its ways, run by the sort of people who have committee meetings about flowerpots. It’s the sort of town that’s still having problems coming to terms with the concept of garlic bread. If you took Annandale out to dinner, it would have prawn cocktail followed by a well done steak and a nice piece of black forest gateau. And of course it was absolutely arsing down with rain, because it’s Scotland, and that’s what it always does. So I will deal with Annandale mercilessly in fiction at some later date. Of course, when the local press comes calling, I shall say that the opening party was well-attended, well-supported and that we sold loads of lovely books.

But I’m afraid the public stayed away in droves. So we still have some wine left. Having said that, we had some authors come out to play, and it was interesting to see people in the flesh and find out if their online personalities reflected reality. We had a good time, although I was still a bit woozy. My daughter kept everyone entertained with glow-in-the-dark bangles which may yet prove radioactive, and we had a meet-the-whippet hour too. The dog finished the sausage rolls when no one was looking. I was in charge of the music, supervised by my wife’s occasional demand to “take that fucking noise off.” At some point in the proceedings I realised how much I liked Mogwai, and how the fundamental flimsiness of the Cocteau Twins has dated rather badly (other than the title track of Blue Bell Knoll).

It was, all in all, a rather lovely night, full of writers and writerly stuff like alcohol and huddles of people standing on the steps outside smoking and trying to keep dry. Thanks are due to those who came. Bedtime, exhausted, 2am.

When Shall We Three Meet Again?

So there I was, trying to get cleared up, still feeling under the weather, but with a slight edge of hangover too, when into the shop came a trio of Dumfries’s finest, up for a post-menopausal bus trip while their husbands vegetated in front of whatever televised sport was on or (if they were lucky) rested in pieces beneath the back-yard patio.
‘We’re not really open,’ I said, ‘I’m just clearing up after a party.’
‘Ye’ll huv a hangower then, sonny. NNEEEEEARGHH-HAH-HAH-HAH-HAH-HAAAAAARGHH’. Imagine Tom Waits speeded up to 78rpm. That’s what their laughs were like. They had faces like burst blisters and the kind of voices you could curdle milk with. I wondered if there was a cauldron that needed stirring out on some blasted heath somewhere. They wandered in with that particular Scottish aroma that’s half cheap perfume and half Embassy Regal.
‘Ye’re sellin books, then. I like a drama, so I do.’
‘Aye, Hettie, ye dae,’
‘Would that be the Prince of Denmark or Albert Square?’ I asked, suddenly feeling like that Irish guy out of Black Books.
‘Whit’s he oan aboot?’
‘Dinnae ken, Hettie, it’s the Queen Vic in Albert Square, no the Prince ay Denmark.’
‘Ah’ve got a vulture,’ the oldest one said. I wasn’t surprised, but thought it irrelevant.
‘Aye, she hus. She’s got a thingaby, ken? A gift vulture, like.’
‘Fae the shoap, see?’
I scratched my head for a little while. ‘Oh, a voucher,’ I finally managed, when the woman put a crumpled book token down on the counter.
A pissing book token.
What the fucking fuck? I mean, what the fuck am I supposed to do with a fucking book token? What does she fucking think this is, a fucking bookshop or something?


Anyway, I told her that the Author’s Book Council Guild had refused to grant us Book Token Availability Insurance due to our independent status following the personal intervention of JK Rowling who was worried about how badly we’d influence her sales figures. I advised her to contact her local branch of Waterstones, who would no doubt find her something with a bit of romance in it by a woman with three names. Then I locked the door and hid for half an hour until I was sure they’d left town.

Recently, on the peer-review website YouWriteOn, I took some flak for suggesting that 98% of the book-reading public were morons. I don’t know what the fuck I was on about. I should have said 99.5%. The other 0.5% are writers.

God help me, I’m not cut out for this.

Is it Safe?

Toothache is a bastard. I figured my immune system had been laid low by the effects of food poisoning, and I’d acquired an abscess. So, weeping a little, I went to the local dentist this morning, who told me to come back at four for a checkup. At the appointed time, I put the Back in Ten Minutes sign on the shop and wandered off. My normal dentist was on holiday, and I was ushered into the treatment room by a Polish man with tattoos who looked like he’d be at home on a road crew.
Yep, he was the dentist. Klinik Dentikal Warszawa, his card said. I thought that was track three off David Bowie’s Low. He sat me down and had a look. He rapped the end of his dentist’s prong thing against the tooth.
‘Ummmmmmfffffff!’ I wept some more.
‘I take out,’ he said.
Ok, I thought, I’ll make an appointment and try and scrounge a scrip for some more of those industrial-strength painkillers I like so much.
‘I take out now,’ he said.
Oh fuck.
It took him two hours. He shattered the tooth, drilled it out in pieces, tugging broken bits out, grunting with effort and swearing in Polish, and told me that I would feel my jawbone in the base of the socket for a few days.
Anyway, books. None sold today. Sorry. Far too self-absorbed.

Chucking the Yogurt.

It wasn’t God, fate, Sod’s Law or chance. It was yogurt. Three weeks ago I went shopping and got a cheap four-pack of Danone Activia from the Co-op. It was cheap because it was at its sell-by date. I put them with the other yogurts in the fridge, forgot they were there and ate one last Tuesday when it was ten days too old.
Bad move.
So, last night when the anaesthetic from the dentist wore off and I felt like I’d lost a fight with a group of fifteen-year-olds in baseball caps (you know, the sort who look like they’ve been raised by rats), I couldn’t eat much. I know what I’ll do, I thought, I’ll have a couple of those nice yogurts.
Even worse move.
Two hours later, I was back in the state I’d been in last week. The yogurts were now three weeks too old. Their adverts say the live pro-biotic bacteria improve digestive transit, which as far as these particular yogurts goes is a bit like saying Josef Fritzl grounded his daughter for a little while.
They went through me like castor oil through a short grandmother.
At some point I was awakened by my wife, brandishing the last yogurt under my nose.
‘Have you been eating these?’ she said.
I nodded.
‘You fucking idiot.’
So the shop stayed shut today, unlike my fucking sphincter.
I promise I’ll talk more about the books and less about my own self-pity soon. On the plus side, I’ve lost eight pounds in six days and my wife is pleased that I haven’t dared to fart in a week, so hey, every cloud…

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