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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