Thursday, December 22, 2005

Supermarket Rage

I don't get it. It happens every year at around this time. The supermarkets get mobbed.

Now, way back when I was knee-high to grass-hopper and spent my time staring at arses and groins (actually, some things haven't changed as I've gotten older) British stores generally shut down for the christmas break. You really could find yourself in the situation where after December 23 you wouldn't be able to buy much of anything until January 2.

Not so any more. The local store is open 24 hours a day right up until the end of Dec 24. In fact, the only days its closed are 25 December and 26 December and I'm pretty sure we can all go 2 days without needing to restock on turkey, beer or badly made christmas pudding.

So why was it mobbed today? Trolley-rage reigned supreme in the aisles as people replaced their festive spirit with a murderous desire to buy as many boxes of Paxo and tins of Quality Street as humanly possible. Old ladies were trampled and small children bounced from trolley to trolley like balls of wailing snot in a giant pinball machine.

Get the picture?

I'm pretty sure I only thought: "What the f**k are you people doing???" rather than yelling it at the writhing throng. I'm sure I only thought it. Really.

My own festive purchase was a box of washing powder and a can of something to stop my nasty old trainers running away by themselves. Very christmassy, yes?

In other news, top kudos to The Sun newspaper for the following headline celebrating the marriage of Elton John to his partner David Furnish: "Elton Takes David Up The Aisle". Attaboys.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

From the department of "Oh - My - God"

It seems there are some benefits of marriage to a blind man. The Ex continues to revel in the fact that the chap can't see anything. Unfortunately, sometimes she forgets that the rest of us can.

A couple of examples for you. One thats a bit "eww" and another that is even more so.

Example The First: "The Pebble-Dash"

The Ex: "May I use the bathroom?"
Me: "Sure"

The Ex was collecting First-Born. First-Born and I continued to play Snakes and Ladders; she cheating outrageously and me pretending not to notice. The Ex emerged and whisked First-Born off to wherever they go when they leave chez Newly.

As for the bathroom - it looked like The Ex had stood at the door and aimed. Obviously after a seriously hot curry the night before. Ew.

Example The Second: "Through The Keyhole"

The Ex: "May I use the bathroom?"
Me (warily): "Ok..."

First-Born was drawing a picture of herself and an impossibly thin stick-figure that I took to be me (she knows how to flatter, does that girl.) I remembered the events of the previous day and rushed from the lounge to shout "...and flush the toilet this time!" through the bathroom door... except that The Ex had failed to close the door. Ew. Ew. Ew. Ew.

First-Born glanced up from her work as I hurried back into the lounge making gagging noises. "Mummy left the door open again, huh?" she said, not looking up from her drawing.

Sometimes a bit of temporary blindness would work wonders.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Ice Ice Baby

"Navy SEAL? More like Navy Walrus..." was the comment from one of the chaps upon viewing Ice Cube's performance in the latest (and hopefully last) entry in the XXX film franchise.

Goodness me, the sight of a short, fat rapper kicking righteous bottom was something to warm the heart of all those with a slight weight problem. Although the decision to use stuntmen in considerably better physical shape than the star led to some slightly odd transitions: "Is that the same chap?"

Highlight of the film? Oh there were so many, but the tank chase in the bowels of an aircraft carrier is certainly top ten material. Especially when Ice (I hope he doesn't think thats too familiar of me) swung his tank around to dodge an oncoming shell. The boys could use some of those tanks in Iraq, you know.

Most signposted moment? As the star waddled through the corridors of the said aircraft carrier, he passed a door marked "Steam Catapult". Within half an hour he'd launched a tank across the deck of the carrier with the catapult in a kind of heavy-metal version of conkers.

Advice to the glittering stars of Hollywood: If Vin Diesel refuses to get involved in a film because someone read him the script and he thought it sounded a bit crap, its probably not the best vehicle on which to hitch your star.

Still, it was a gloriously bad film. Bad, but strangely hilarious. Unlike 'Doom', which was just bad. Really, really bad.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Going Underground

I sighed. Contrasting nicely with the general down-at-heel and overall griminess of the London Underground was a huge poster cheerfully advertising Canada's Whistler ski resort with the assistance of an impossibly attractive woman and man perched on a rock high up on a snowy mountain; a blameless blue sky sparkling behind them.

I did New Year at Whistler last year. This year my plan is to spend christmas somewhere snowy. I had hoped to get into the Ice Hotel for New Year, but it seems you need your parents to make a reservation for you some time before your conception if you want a New Year's eve for a cost at anything less than the price of a small French village.

And so it is that I shall be taking my erratic driving to a cottage in France, a mere hop, skip and a jump from a resort called Saint Lary Soulan. I don't know who Saint Lary is, but his name appeals.

But, in the meantime, I must spend my days on the London Underground. I wonder what the architects of the warren-like tunnels would make of the fact that in this age of air-travel and space-craft, we Brits still feel the need to cram ourselves like sardines into Victorian tin cans.

Probably with not a small amount of smugness.

Another week or so and I'll be back in the snow, terrorising snow-boarders with ski-poles that double as kebab sticks for anyone unfortunate to get in the way of my usual out-of-control weebling down the slope.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Trouble With S

My friend S has watched too many Kung-Fu movies. I know, I know - its hard to believe that such a thing is possible. I mean, when one is bored of Kung-Fu, one is surely bored of life. However, young S has reached the tipping point.

It happened just last week, as we were walking back from one of the many local curry houses to his car. Excessive beer consumption on my part meant that the Golf Of Doom wasn't an option. But I digress.

What happened was this: a group of kids (probably enjoying their first christmas of drinking) decided to give us some abuse. My approach in these matters is usually to laugh it off and walk on. S, on the other hand, took offence. The problem was that the kids were right - he does have a bit of a silly beard. One of those beards men grow to emphasise their jaw-lines. I, on the other hand, take great pride in my flab.

And thus it was that I found myself in the slightly comedy role of saying "Leave it, mate! They're not worth it!" as S balled his fists and adopted "the position."

All the way home, as we drove back, he muttered "I could have taken them all down. I'd have got 2 and the rest would have scattered. I didn't though - you looked a bit vulnerable and they might have gone for you. Next time though..."

Great. Thanks, mate. I prefer my "out-run the buggers" approach.

The Way Of The S indeed.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I Hear Dead People

This isn't a funny post... if you came here for laughs today, I suggest you check back tomorrow...

My day job involves working with trials of medicines before Joe Public is allowed to get his undeserving hands on them. As chief purveyor of bad taste, I often joke (when confronted by people who might instinctively think: "Medical Research = Torturing fluffy, media-friendly bunnies" before voting Dubya in for another term) that I kill humans, not animals.

The joke came home to roost last month (which is one of the reasons why I've been so busy.) A programmer introduced an error that could have killed someone. While recovering from that, the next week I got a call from a panicked helpdesk member that a doctor was trying to get medication for a chap currently in surgery, and couldn't access the system.

Neither incident turned out to be as bad as they first appeared. No-one got hurt.

But now I have nightmares.

Since I'm on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week I sleep with my mobile phone by my bed. Now, at least once a night I have the following dream.

I'm sleeping, and the phone goes off. Blearily I reach out, pick it up and answer it. All I hear on the other end of the line is people screaming. Screaming and screaming. And it goes on and on until I wake up with a start with that awful sick sensation that comes with not being sure if it all was a dream or not.

Career change, anyone?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Fear Of Flying

From Copenhagen to Switzerland...

"There is no way you're getting me on that thing" I insisted.
"Oh come on, its not going to hurt. It'll be fine" wheedled the boss.
"No! Look at it! It practically came out of the ark! Its looks marginally more knackered than my old Volvo and only slightly more airworthy."

At work, my fear of flying has become legendary. Its compounded by my encyclopeadic knowledge of air disasters and their causes, which is why I like flying on certain aeroplanes and certain airlines.

A cut-price outfit called Cimber-air, flying out of Copenhagen to Basel on ratty looking Brazillian built plans did not meet either the "reputable carrier" or "reliable aircraft" requirements.

"Nonsense," insisted the boss, "Its fine. Look the cabin crew are getting on. It must be ok."

As we watched through the window of the bus (Copenhagen airport had wisely not let the corroding hulk anywhere near the terminal building) all the lights in the plane flickered and died. They flickered on and then died again.

I gave the boss a "well?" look. "Its fine," he said, a little less sure, "They're just testing the lights."

After a few more abortive attempts, the lights went out with a finality made clear by a popping noise that even we in the bus could hear. The cabin crew and pilots emerged from the door, coughing and blinking at the runway lights like moles waking from a seriously good hibernate. A thin vapour of smoke followed them out.

"A slight electrical problem" explained the chap at the terminal, "We'll have it fixed in no time."

We flew to Basel on a nice shiny new jet courtesy of SAS. One nil to Newly, I think.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Copenhagen Cabana

No, I'm not dead - but thanks for asking. Its been an... interesting month.

Yes, I survived the flight back from Florida. Sadly, the food served on the plane made it all a bit touch and go towards the end. Unfortunately, my employer demanded his pound of flesh for my two weeks off. Much travelling, tugging forelocks to clients (an action which can result in the severing of several important anatomical components in some parts of the world) and general aggravation later, you find The Bear and I in "Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen".

I've been to Denmark before, on an ill-advised "cruise" across the North Sea. The relentlessness of the scenery was offset somewhat by the cheap beer onboard the boat and the joy of not getting sea-sick while all around you are looking greyer than the skyline: "Bacon sandwiches anyone? No? Just me then?"

The Bear and I partook of some Turkish food and peered at a "Gentlemen's Club" opposite. Why does the woman responsible for booking my hotel always (a) Put me in a hotel in the red-light district, and (b) Make sure my room is next door to the Shagging Couple? Is she trying to tell me something?

We elected to return to our room - the Amsterdam Experience had ticked that particular box once and for all - and attempt to drown out the increasingly enthusiastic antics of the lucky girl and boy next door with something so unmusical it hurts. I'm sure one of these TV channels must have a Pop-Idol variant going. Hopefully in German.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Even At Seaworld...

...I can't escape The Ex. How was I to know she'd be performing in a giant saltwater tank in one of Orlando's most popular resorts under the stage name 'Shamu'?

Killer Whale - geddit?

I'm such a wag sometimes.

Goodness, Seaworld is a terribly worthy place though isn't it? Even worse than Animal Kingdom. I've never been a big fan of zoos, and thats what these places are no matter how they may preach about their environmental credentials.

Seaworld has taken this worthiness one step further with their 'Salute to the heroes' - namely the armed forces unfortunate enough to carry out Dubya and Blair's latest adventure. Evidentally everyday heroes like doctors, nurses, teachers, firemen, parents and so on don't count in Anheuser-Busch's world.

My cousin, a pilot in Iraq, finds all this sort of thing tiresome. Rather than this jingoistic fervour he wishes that the energies were better spent in applying pressure on the relevant world-leaders to sort out the mess they've got themselves into.

In fact, Seaworld is certainly waving the flag. Budweiser, it trumpetted, is the only major American-owned beer. Oddly, it was a little quiet about the other important fact regarding Budweiser: it has the colour and flavour of frog's urine.

I'm going home today.

Florida, I've had a great time. But I think I need another holiday to get over this one.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Meaning Of 'Bling'

After the transport experience to KSC (remember folks - 'Gator Tours' feature exceedingly nasty buses) I was somewhat leary about last night. A trip to 'Chef Mickey' at Disney's Contemporary Resort (the ugly Thunderbirdesque triangle-shaped building that the Epcot monorail goes through.)

I'd been assured that transport would be provided by a different company and so I was taken aback to see the biggest stretch limo I'd ever seen cautiously pull up in front of the hotel. A man who looked better suited to the football field rather than squeezed into a penguin suit unfolded himself from the driver's seat and opened the door. Waiting within were a bottle of champagne on ice and a selection of sodas for the kid.

"Wow!" said First-Born, "This is really bling!"

Quite a surreal thing to hear in the squeaky tones of an 8 year-old with an accent often posher than the Queen's.

Of course, she was right. Dahlings, its the only way to travel.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Blind Man's Buff

Ok, so whats with the brail on the signs for the Men's bathroom (or toilet, as we Europeans call 'em, owing to the fact that there's not a bath to be had, unless you're particularly small and brave) ?

It baffles me. Every restroom has had some brail beneath the symbol indicating the gender that may use the facilities.

How does this work? I mean, if you can see well enough to find the symbol on the wall or door, presumably your vision is good enough to understand it?

I have visions of some unfortunate soul, bent over, walking along a wall with one hand frantically moving up and down the paint in search of the brail while the other clutches at their groin in an act of desperation until they stumble across the symbol or set off a fire alarm (in which case the torrent of water from the ceiling will conceal any embarrassing seepages.)

The Ex's new husband is nearasdammit blind, so allow me a moment to enjoy that image before I start feeling guilty.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Tightening The Belt

I love it here.

I love the commercial radio. I've yet to find a BBC Radio 4 equivalent and so have been amusing myself listening to the commercials in between the mostly forgettable soft-metal medalies.

One particular ad was particularly strident:

"Looking for a good quality church in your area for you and your family?" (uh, no - I'm looking for one for my dog. Idiot.)

"Then your searching is over! Acme Super-Church is the Church for you!"

I waited in vain for the rider "Your soul may be at risk if you do not keep promises made in the Lord's name. Particulary that one after the Jagermeister incident" to be said in doubletime at the end of the ad.

I love it though. Advertising a church on radio. No mention of demonination, nothing at all. Just show up and get saved.

First-born is a devout girl and didn't understand why I was laughing. I had to explain why I found a "Bible Factory Outlet" store in the Mall hugely amusing too.

Ghost Town

Where is everybody? Seriously, this is really odd.

Day 8, and the only time I've had to queue was for an Epcot ride called "Soarin" (brilliant ride, by the way.)

It would appear that in a cost cutting exercise, Disney has excised 'g' from all words and replaced it with an apostrophe.

Universal, always the poor relation, is doubly wierd. I mean, the staff outnumbered the customers. Did I create that many road-blocks with my awful driving? Have I done to the Florida tourist industry what Wilma failed to do? Can but hope...

That said, I felt more at home in Universal than I did in the UK section of Epcot. Good, old fashioned officiousness abounded. First-born enjoyed one of the deserted rides so much that we went on it again. "Can we just stay on?" I asked the attendant.

"Naw sir, y'all have to go around the entrance again" she replied

We were the only people within a mile of the ride. Tumbleweeds blew through the empty turnstiles.

"You're joking, right?"
"Naw sir. Its fer saftey. Y'all gotta go round again."
"Safety? How is getting out and walking round safer than staying in it?"
"Them's the rules, sir."

There was an implicit threat of calling security if I carried on arguing, so First-Born and I trudged round the deserted queue. While we did so, the 'coaster did its thing. Completely empty. Twice.

Just like being home. It quite brought a tear to my eye.

Drivers tonight should avoid the International Drive area. First-Born and I are going shopping.

Back Down To Earth

I took a break from terrorising the Floridan highways and booked me and First-Born on a trip to Cape Canaveral/Kennedy Space Centre. Those who know me know that I'm a geek for this kind of thing and after 5 days of The House Of Mouse, I figured I'd earned a treat. First-Born brought along a ruck-sack stuffed full of books.

I should have driven. The tour company, an outfit called Gator Tours, rolled up in perhaps the rattiest bus I'd ever been in since I lived in Scotland. Seats were torn, a strong smell of diesel exhaust pervaded the interior and the whole thing felt... grubby.

My suspicions concerning the condition of the bus were confirmed after it dropped us back at the hotel in the evening and shed a hubcap as it rumbled away, only one tail-light glowing balefully in the darkness.

Shame there weren't showers at KSC. An hour in that vehicle, and I wanted a full body scrub.

I'd not been to the space centre for 15 years. The last time I went, the huge Saturn V moon rocket was outside, looking faintly sorry for itself. Now it was inside and scrubbed clean. However, the loss of the patina made it look brand new and somehow... fake.

Ex-astronaut Bill Pogue was present to answer questions, gritting his teeth as someone asked the immortal "How do you go to the bathroom in space?" question. I wanted to ask what mission control really said when his Skylab crew, the one that went on strike for a day, came back to earth. I didn't, firstly to avoid embarrassing an old man and secondly so First-Born wouldn't have the shame of the whole world knowing what a geek her father is.

I took a tour and listened to the desperately upbeat presentations on the shuttle and ISS programs (my translation: there's a good chance the shuttle won't fly again with funds diverted to pay for the doomed 'Dubya In Space' initiative and the flawed ISS will have to be abandoned without the shuttle to fly the bigger spare parts.)

I looked at the prone Saturn V rocket and the two spare lunar modules (one of which forms part of a show and another hangs from the ceiling like a hunter's trophy) and wondered at the mindset that would expend all the effort to go the mile to build these things and then not go the extra inch to fly them.

Yes, you could say that KSC made me sad. I strongly doubt the US will be in the manned spaceflight business in 10 years time...

Monday, October 31, 2005

Traffic Violations Part 2

Driving in the UK must be a terrifying experience for first-time American tourists. We Brits operate binary cars ('binary' as in 'on' - screaming along at the redline, or 'off' - stuck in a traffic jam.)

The experience here is surreal - wafting along in what the hire company calls a 'compact' (but would qualify as a substantial bit of car back home) at ludicrously low speeds. The only real challenge is working out what the current speed limit is (they seem to change pretty much randomly; I'm sure there's a pattern at play but have yet to find it.)

That said, it is a very relaxing and stress-free experience. Everything happens so slowly (at least, compared to what I'm used to) that there's plenty of time to veer across the carriageway after spotting the usual badly placed exit sign.

The one thing I've yet to grasp is the whole stop sign thing. Who has right of way at a four-way? Since I'm in the protective mantle of a hired Nissan, festooned with air-bags, I operate an attitude of 'He Who Dares, Wins'.

Possibly not the best course of action.

For those in the area - if you see a beige Nissan bearing down on you... I'm really, truly sorry.

Traffic Violations

So, this whole USA driving thing. Is it turn left on red or turn right on red?

I kept forgetting. Well, at least up until that truck last night screeched to a halt, tyres smoking and horn blaring as I screwed up yet another intersection.

At least First-Born is enjoying my attempts at navigation. She sees it as all part of a ride.

I got suckered into having our names and photo stuck onto the sculpture at the base of the Epcot giant golf ball thing. That should be a slightly longer lasting memento of our stay than the gouge down the side of my hired Nissan where I misjudged the position of the barrier in the car park.

If anyone asks, my name is John Smith from London, ok?

Culture Shocks

I blinked. Had the bouncy ride in Richard Branson's pensionable jumbo jet been just a bad dream? I fingered the marks on my palms where I'd clenched my hands as the aging plane had attempted to lurch into the air, bounced twice on the runway and finally lumbered toward the clouds. Still there. So I was clearly still in the US.

First-born broke the spell. "We don't look anything like this" she squeaked in outrage.

We were in the UK section of Epcot's World Showcase. Alongside Ye Olde National Stereotype (aka The Rose And Crown pub) stood a red phone box and a fish and chip shop.

I couldn't do much to sort out the authenticity of the fish and chip shop (too clean, no huge vats of month-old fat on display and lacking pickled eggs) but the phone box... Well, some urine, graffitti and an elbow through one or two of the glass panels would do wonders.

A heavy-set man called Mark (according to his name-badge) eyed me suspiciously. Urination would have to wait for another day I guess.

Its interesting to see the Main Street formula (namely, a nostalgic Americana that never really existed) being applied internationally.

Something else about this place; its awash with alcohol. I last came 10 or 12 years ago, and it was only Mexico-world, Germany-world or Ye-Olde-English-world where beer could be purchased. Now there are stalls on the paths dolling out the stuff. I like a beer as much as the next man (although since I'm alone with First-Born for this fornight, its obviously a dry period for me) but more than once I've had one of those electric fatty-mobiles bearing down on me with 200 kilos of lard more concerned with drinking his beer than steering the thing straight.

Tomorrow - Magic Kingdom.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Normal Service Will Be Resumed Shortly

Seems the internet has yet to reach this corner of Florida (also known as the Disney All-Star resort). With luck, Universal (where First-Born and I are off to next week) will be a little less backward.

"Use dial up"... Tch - dahlings, that's just so last century...

Monday, October 24, 2005

Where Is Ecverybody?

First Born and I landed in bright sunshine. A cool breeze was refreshing after 9 hours in one of Mr Bransons old and grubby 747s.

The question is - where is everyone? The roads were empty, the tolls deserted and the hotel deserted.

Did someone warn Florida about how bad my driving is?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Morning After/The Day Before

Darlings, I'm so rock and roll. How many others would be updating their journals while quaffing Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin champagne from the bottle?

Admittedly, the only reason I have this bottle is that it was beside my bed when I woke up this morning, sans hang-over but avec large chunks of missing memories.

You could say the wedding went well. I'm fairly sure the speech went well (lets face it, the audience were so well lubricated with alcohol that I could have just said the word "arse" and got a laugh. In fact, I have a feeling that I did.)

Naturally, I liberated some left-overs on my way out. Some champagne, it would appear, and also the remains of the barrel of bitter into whatever recepticle was available.

Somehow a bottle of Tesco Blue Stripe water containing something that looks like a sample from a sewage outfall is a little less glamorous than a bottle of the fizzy stuff. Make you own minds up.

But I digress. It may the day after the wedding, but its the day before First-Born and I make the 9 hour flight to Orlando (hurricanes permitting.) This means the next update will contain observations on the airport, the driving abilities of Americans (yes, after 15 years of US business trips, this will be the first time I hire a car) and Disney's All-Star hotel.

First-Born is bursting with excitement. Me? Less so, to put it charitably.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Big Day

So this is it. Today my father is marrying my mother's sister. I've been prodding my mind to see how I feel about this; The Ex was aghast when they got together a year or so after my mother died and very bitter when my father announced he'd be changing his will to include my aunt and her offspring (my cousins.)

Me? I'm overjoyed about the whole thing and always have been. It was probably one of the things that really annoyed The Ex - I was genuinely very happy; I love my Aunt and grew up so close to my cousins that I know them as well as, if not better, than my own brother. Ah well, it isn't The Ex's problem any more...

And so it is that I'm best man at my father's wedding. In two hours time I'll be funbling for a ring that I belatedly realise is still sitting in the flat. 3 hours later I'll be standing up to conquer my terror of public speaking. I've timed the speech at 3 minutes, 28 seconds. Amazing that I'm so worried about something that takes little more time than the average act of intercourse (excluding the pizza beforehand and the apologising afterwards.)

And then I get to hit the champagne.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Serenely Snoring

I'm turning into my father. I've been aware of this process for a while, but this week it really hit home.

I went to see a film last night. Something called Serenity.

Well, it left me relatively serene. I have a feeling that I may have missed the good bit. I must have done because the critics all seem to like it, but the sphincter-clenchingly awful dialogue left me cold and looking forward to the next exploding spaceship rather than trying to follow a story that Joss Whedon clearly lifted off his "not good enough for Buffy The Vampire Slayer" script pile.

Why was I serene? I'd dozed off for a good 30 minutes during the film, such was the ability of the script to grip the viewer.

And why am I turning into my father? He snored through much of the middle act of Return Of The Jedi. Having watched it again recently, I can see why...

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Deja Vu?

I've a vague feeling this has happened before. It happened again tonight. First-Born and I were enjoying supper having been to the local cinema to see the new Wallace And Gromit film (excellent, by the way. Although the homage-ometer was going into overdrive by the end of it.)

The phone rang. The CallerID was 'witheld' Expecting another Ex rant or psychotic stalker 'brief encounter' date, I gingerly answered it.

Caller: "Hello sir! I hope you don't mind me calling you this evening, but I wanted to tell you about a fantastic deal we have on home improvements!"

Me: "Uh huh?"

Caller: "Yes, we're looking for properties in your area to be show homes for our range of stylish, yet affordable conservatories"

I decided to play along. The caller could barely believe his luck as I signed up for a site visit, a site survey and explained that my property could certainly use the extra space an extension would provide.

Keith (for that was his name) eventually got around to asking me for my address. Doubtless he was calculating his commission.

I began: "Flat 7..."

Keith interrupted: "Sir, you live in a flat?"

Me: "Yes, the top floor. Will that be a problem?"

Keith hung up.

Oh Mr Darwin...

I met the world's unluckiest squirrel today. It dropped out of a tree as I was bowling through the country lanes to my workplace.

Unlike most of the creatures unfortunate enough to stray onto the same road as the The Black Golf Of Rodent Extermination, this one didn't make it to the tarmac.

No, it smacked into my windscreen and hung there for a while. Spreadeagled, with a surprised expression that mirrored my own before rattling over the roof and bouncing down the road behind me.

And before anyone says "Aw, but its a cute ickle squirrel - you're so cruel" - they are RATS WITH FLUFFY TAILS.

And lets face it, a squirrel that falls out of a tree is ripe for unnatural selection anyway...

Monday, October 17, 2005

I Am A Bad Person (Part 433)

A rail trip to London to indulge my space-fetish. I was off to see the IMAX presentation of Magnificent Desolation. Newly's review: don't bother, aside from watching astronauts falling over its pretty poor. Unless you get your kicks from watching American kids swinging from nauseatingly sugar-sweetness to breathtaking ignorance.

But I digress. As is my way, I paid a visit to the trailer-of-lard conveniently located on the platform (run by Russians, I think. The chap who made my bacon sandwich bore a startling resemblance the Russian billionaire that owns Chelsea Football Club.)

I pottered through the tunnel (holding my breath to avoid the compulsory smell of urine that accompanies all covered areas in British stations) to platform 2 and looked for a place to sit. A woman in a white denim jacket sat one end of a bench. Her luggage was spread out over the rest of it.

"Do you mind if I sit here?" I asked. She rolled her eyes, tutted, and moved a small bag to the ground. I perched on the sliver of clear bench at the end and proceeded to discreetly make my way through my East European bacon sandwich. Having removed excess brown sauce from my hands, I placed the soiled napkin on the bench, weighted down by my mobile phone while I hunted for the can of coke I'd selected to wash down the feast.

I looked up. The napkin had contrived to be picked up by a gust of wind and be swept along the length of the bench. It was affixed, sticky side down, to the back of the woman's white denim jacket.

I had a choice to make.

"Excuse me..." I volunteered.

She turned to face me and snapped: "What? I can't put these suitcases on the floor too, you know. The dirt on the ground will make them messy!"

"...oh, I'm sorry." I finished.

I watched her board the train with napkin affixed to her back. I also watched her disembark at Gatwick Airport, napkin doggedly clinging on. I hope it enjoys its adventure.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

PC or not PC? That is the question...

My father is getting married next week. In my role of Best Man it fell to me to organise a stag do and keep some of his more unruly friends under control (Dad is a very quiet chap and simply wanted some drinks and a nice meal with close friends and family... some of the close friends were determined that as least one stripper be involved. I had to wield The Big Club Of Understanding to ensure Dad had his way.)

It was a good day. A brewery tour (which I was terrified about, for fear of falling victim to the "couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery" line), followed by a pub crawl and terminating in a gastro-pub conveniently located 30 seconds walk/crawl from my apartment.

But, of course, there is still the speech to do. This worries me somewhat - those who know me know I'm not really public speaking material. And of course, how does one draw the line in what one should say or not say?

Using material from the stag do is, I think, acceptable

Mentioning the time my Dad owned a caravan with bunk beds against a window. One night, while very young, I rolled out of bed and out of the window in my sleep. They didn't realise I had gone until morning...

Or there's the time when Dad (who drives his Golf diesel around at a resolute 50pmh to get intergalactic miles per gallon) was loaned a Saab Turbo while his horrid old Fiat was being serviced. It wasn't until I was 15 that I realised motorways had speed limits.

Those, I think, are ok. However, making light of the fact that Dad is marrying my dead mother's sister... hmmm... some things, I think, should stay unsaid.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

From The Department Of 'Say What?'

Bizarre conversation with The Boyfriend (now The Replacement Husband)

The Ex and I have an arrangement concerning First-Born. I get her (First-Born, not The Ex. That would be weird) for two nights a week. We tend to alternate between weekday nights and weekend nights since it wouldn't be fair if I hogged all the weekends.

Since I'm whisking the girl off to Florida for a fortnight to meet the Proper Mickey Mouse (and, with luck, Spongebob Squarepants) next week, I've stuck to weekday nights to let The Ex have the lion's share of the weekends.

However, the problem with this is the whole work thing. Since The Ex works next door to First Born's school she swings by in the morning to collect her en-route and then I can set off for work.

Thing is, she's late. Every Single Morning. Which makes First-Born late for school and me late for work. After a few months of this, some raised eyebrows from HR at work and multiple requests that The Ex perhaps leave the house a little earlier I did the ultimatum thing. Either turn up on time, or I stick to weekend nights.

Hence the telephone call. Lots of blustering and then "Well, you're often late picking up First-Born in the evenings - you say 6ish but don't turn up until ten past. How can we plan our evening out to the pub when *you* aren't on time?"

Say what? Is that really an apples for apples comparison of getting a warning from work and being 10 minutes late to the pub?

Friday, October 14, 2005

Things That Go Moist In The Night

Get your mind out of the gutter.

I have a man in the apartment at the moment, dismantling my kitchen and bathroom in the search for a leak.

A nice young lady is moving in downstairs and while unpacking, opened one of her kitchen cupboards to discover a relatively advanced civilisation that had evolved over the last 6 months from the damp running down the wall from my flat above.

Or it might have been a hideously disgusting growth of slime/fungus. The shriek was heard all over the building.

So she's refused to go near the place until the landlord sorts it out (these apartments being new and still under warranty - which is proving to be very cool.)

I, of course, don't care. I selected the top flat in the hope I might be able to ruin someone's day below me. And lets face it, as introductions goes, it beats the usual "Hi, I'm Newly, what do you do?"

Saying "Hi, I'm Newly. The funny smell in your kitchen? That was me..." is far more memorable, don't you think?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


...Yes, the joy of the GBH is best summed up by this unfortunate green lady, normally garbed in an appropriately sinister black robe but now condemned to rotate on a pole above the Ghost Train, attached to her broomstick with only a scrappy piece of material and a slightly surprised expression to cover her modesty.

Its all a bit rubbish.

And if you think I have somewhat of a downer on the British funfair (particularly in its semi-permanent incarnation as seen on Brighton's Palace Pier), well, you'd be right. The idea of hurtling around at the end of a 100 year old wooden structure in contraptions assembled by individuals that were most likely thrown out of the gene pool for wearing their swimming costumes on their heads is not one I like to entertain without the help of Ms Vodka and her naughty friend, Miss Tequila.

Which is why, in a week and a half's time, First-Born and I shall be stepping aboard one of Mr Branson's finest for two weeks of hurricane dodging in Florida, USA.

Which won't be tacky at all. Oh no.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Ah, the Great British Holiday (also Grevious Bodily Harm, if you're legally minded)

Can't be beaten.

Aside from being hung upside down with your head in a bucket of donkey poo. That generally gives a more rounded experience than many of my trips around Britain.

The Seaside Holiday is another British favourite. I was spared this owing to the fact that I spent much of my childhood within spitting distance of the coast, and a town called Brighton (a little like a UK version of San Francisco, just a bit grubbier.)

I like the sea, and so often pop back for a stroll along the pebble beach (barefoot not recommended owing to razor-sharp stones and a slightly careless drug-using beach community.) The other weekend I ventured onto the Pier.

Its a tacky place and not something I'd recommend for anyone seeking cultural enlightenment (one of the mad Prince Regent's palaces lies at the centre of town and is a much better bet in that regard.) A 12 foot Elvis Presley impersonator (I suspect stilts may have been involved) dribbled out ballads to entertain those caught between the entrance and the end of the Victorian structure. At the gates another Elvis (this time depicting Elvis in his little known 'fat bloke from Wales' phase) bellowed some funkier numbers.

I glanced at a sign on the seaward railing. "Please Do Not Feed The Birds" it said. Judging by some of the chip-eating tourists waddling towards the funfair at the end, the sign was too little, too late.

Tomorrow - the mystery of the naked green woman.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Guess Who's Back, Back Again...

Ok, so I'm not the real Slim Shady. Even the most charitable parent would hesitate before describing me as 'slim' and the word 'shady' only applies if I'm standing in front of you, blocking the sun and causing a kind of beer and curry fuelled eclipse.

But I digress. 18 hour days still rule, but stuff is still happening.

Stuff can wait until tomorrow. First I want to share a date story from a while back. Its only now, some 10 months later, that the horror has ebbed enough to allow me to relate it...

Picture the scene... date 2, and things are going well. Impressively well. Its back to her place for some coffee and what 1950s teenage fiction would call 'heavy petting'

Nature takes its inevitable course.

We're at the point of no return. I reach down in a fumbling effort to find my jeans and the back pocket that contains the protection that is oh so essential. She says "Wait! Hold on a moment! I've got something here..."

I'm suitably impressed by this organisation. She leans over to the bedside table and produces...

...and produces...

...a tape measure and a digital camera.

"For my collection" she says

You've never seen a chap get dressed so fast. God help anyone who asks to see that person's family album.

Friday, September 23, 2005

From The Department Of Unbearable Cuteness

And so the 18 hour days continue. Poor First-Born is catching the worst of it (well, her and my poor, neglected journal.)

Last night she and I were watching Dick Van Dyke's hysterically bad cockney accent in the film Mary Poppins. I'm ashamed to say that I quietly dozed off. I suspect that I may even have been snoring.

I awoke before the end of film, and discovered that First-Born had found a blanket, tucked me into it, and surrounded me with a collection of cuddly toys.

"You looked cold" was her explanation.


Saturday, September 17, 2005

Altered Priorities Ahead

The comedian couldn't believe his luck. This material would last him for months.

"The biggest news in Dorking", he repeated carefully, "in the last three months, was that the wheelie bins were a bit smelly during the summer?"

The audience shifted in their seats and, as one, nodded.

I live in the county of Surrey in a town called Dorking (something that amuses my Canadian and American friends no end.) Dorking is about as pathologically English as you can get without having major surgery. I live behind a street that consists almost entirely of Antique shops and pubs housed in buildings older than several major countries.

Dorking is populated by that breed of English pseudo-intellectual that pays lip-service to liberalism but is conservative with a small c at thier core. Recently, the Arts Centre had a 100-strong band of Romanian Gypsy musicians playing. This event was publicised by a leaflet distributed to all the local households, advertising the troupe with the words "The only time you'll be pleased to see a bunch of gypsies turn up on your doorstep". I kid you not.

This was all manna from heaven for the comic. Being insufferably English, we're also far too polite to heckle. The only intake of breath came when the chap, while elaborating on his hatred for ducks, suggested swapping ducklings for tennis balls, thus confusing the mother duck and making for an intriguing game of mixed doubles.

Yes, in Dorking we're ok with the police gunning down an innocent man - but don't mess with our animals.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


Things you can do when your hair has been reduced to stubble:

a) Stare at people on trains
b) Dye the tufts left sticking to your scalp red in order to worry your parents
c) Be mistaken for Tom Cruise

As I am tragically not a closetted gay midget, the last option isn't open to me. I have a fourth option too - fielding questions about the mysterious scars.

I have two mysterious scars that are now clearly visible through the fuzz. Their causes vary from a crash in motorcycle racing, or sustained while attempting to rescue an adorable kitten from a tree depending on the audience.

The actual cause was far more mundane. I was about 6 and tanking down the road on my bicycle. I turned to talk to a friend following behind and turned back just in time to hit the truck that had inconveniently parked by the side of the road with my face. I broke the poor chap's brake lights with my head.

And then, 2 weeks later, I did it again. Same truck, same brake light.

As a small child, I took great delight in my injury. I attended the school fashion show, garbed in 70's psychadelic Scooby Doo pyjamas and a white bandage around my head which these days would attract more attention from the trigger-happy elements of the Metropolitan police force more than anyone else.

Far more satisfying was when the stitches were removed. The thoughtful nurse let me keep them as a souvenir, obviously having not had much experience in the unpleasantness of little boys. I took great delight in showing the bits of thread replete with scabby bits of decaying flesh to anyone unfortunate to be nearby or, better still, eating lunch.

A charming child.

My mother took the awful things away (obviously) and I came across them the other day while perusing the family albums for material for the speech I have to give at my Dad's wedding next month.

Keeping baby's hair, I understand. But old stitches? That, my friends, is just wierd...

Monday, September 12, 2005

Scurvy Dogs

I had a haircut today.

In keeping with the self-absorbed nature of 99.9% of all on-line journals I felt I had to share that.

Its actually quite impressive - since 18 hour days are making my working life seem more like a prison, I figured that I might as well have sport some appropriate topiary on my head.

And with all the pizza I'm eating, I'm a little worried that I might be developing scurvy. Is it possible to be overweight and malnourished at the same time? Well, I guess 100 million Americans (or whatever today's scary health statistic is) can't be wrong...

That said, I've yet to work out how the lardiest country on earth manages to churn out the world's worst chocolate. The Boss's latest US trip yielded some American confectionary, which has yet to be disturbed from the communal biscuit table.

I got stuff about weddings, christenings and getting thrown out of eateries. But first I have to work... back later...

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Good Heavens Doctor Freud!

This is a bit icky. Got a weak stomach or (like me) just eaten a really, really nasty pizza that tastes like the delivery boy ran out of space on his Moped Of Doom and so wedged it between his buttocks instead?

If so, skip on.

As you probably are aware, we Brits are enjoying somewhat unusual weather. Its all a bit hot and sticky. Because we don't really do air-conditioning as such (ok, we do, but unlike the American variety that turns an office into a passable version of the South Pole at the expensive of the real South Pole, the British version serves as a way of sending the same warm and stale air round and round the building) everywhere is a bit unpleasant.

Take the office pub. The boss frequently conducts meetings here while he plies us with alcohol to hear what we really think.

The gents toilets in the office pub is not a nice place to be. To compensate for the pools of dubious liquids festering on the floor in the heat (the result of ancient plumbing giving up and going home), the landlord has thoughtfully introduced ventilation. This takes the form of a chair propping the door open, giving those in the bar area a prime view of the goings on within.

The benefit of this is that while gingerly making use of the facilities, I was able to hear one of those wonderful one-sided conversations. A chap trying to talk to his girlfriend through the door to the ladies:

"Look, I'm really sorry"
(muffled voice)
"I know, it was dark in the club. Really"
(muffled voice)
"I was drunk. I won't do it again"
(muffled voice)
"I mean it this time. Yes, and that other thing too"
(muffled voice)
"Well how was I supposed to know she was your mother?"

Time, I think, to find a new pub.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum

Its a brave new world, now we Brits have people without Irish accents trying to blow us up. Where we would normally shrug off the latest atrocity by a minority of disturbed Irish individuals, an atrocity by a minority of disturbed Muslims appears to have induced a state of national paranoia.

Its felt even at the workplace of the Newly Single, where the only hazard to daily life is an occasional animal rights protestor who is too stupid to read our corporate literature. Unless they're protesting about the bunnies I've squished under my car over the years.

Yes, paranoia is rife. So much so that when a badly wrapped parcel arrived addressed for our Big Boss, HR got worried. The address was written in a scrawled hand and the brown paper had what looked like wires poking out.

Naturally, the Bomb Squad was called in.

The Bomb Squad peered at the lunchbox sized package that was now squatting on the HR Director's desk.

The Bomb Squad called for an x-ray machine.

An x-ray machine was brought from Gatwick Airport and installed.

Gingerly, the package was sent through the machine. Inside could be seen a block of something gelatinous, something that appeared to be machinery - maybe cogs - and wires.

(the whole building had been evacuated by this stage)

The Bomb Squad agonised over a controlled explosion, or opening the parcel. The latter option was selected.

And inside...


...was a piece of wedding cake, some ornaments from the cake (the cogs) and cake decoration (the wire.)

Sadly I have no formal record of what the Big Boss said, but I gather it involved naughty words. We enjoyed our half day though. Most of us elected to head for the pub. Freedom 1, Stuff Of Nightmares 0.

Monday, September 05, 2005


Humans are stupid, you know.

There's a great scene in Monty Python and The Holy Grail, which is a far better 'hunt for the Grail' story than Dan Brown's latest tediousness. Seriously, I finally got around to reading The Book Everyone Is Talking About while gently frying by the pool in Tuscany and I have to confess... its a bit rubbish.

Its one of those books where you really need to wear a plastic raincoat as you turn the pages to avoid being splashed by the author's semen. Every page has Mr Brown working himself into an orgasm of self congratulatory smugness: "Ooooh - look at me - look at all my research and cleverness - ooooh" Splurge.

And all this hides a tale more suited to the short story section of a Sunday magazine, with characters with motives so obvious that they resemble those East-European chaps you see on Oxford Street holding signs saying "Massive Golf Sale", except in this case the sign-post would have "Bad Guy" or "Good Guy" written in large letters.

Yes, I am marginally bitter about wasting a couple of days of my life on that book. Like the viewer of any recent Jude Law film, I want that portion of my life refunded. With every page I kept hoping it would improve and was always disappointed. Bit of a metaphor for life there.

Don't get me wrong, I like pulp fiction as much as the next person. What I really don't like is pulp fiction masquerading as serious writing.

But back to the that scene from Monty Python. Its the one where Michael Palin is defending his decision to build a castle on a marsh, in spite of the fact that it keeps sinking.

I suspect the same mentality makes humans build cities on swamps or skyscrapers on geological fault lines.

Me, I'm moving to the mountains. Thanks to global warming, there won't be enough snow for avalanches...

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

One Small **** For Man...

I love Black Grape, and I love Shaun Ryder. Seriously, anyone able to piss that much fame, fortune and talent down the drain so quickly is deserving of some sort of award. And if it takes the form of a track on the new Gorillaz album, then so be it.

First Born likes Shaun Ryder too. Not from a musical perspective - at 8 years old, her taste swings wildly from the Oompa Loompa song in the original Charlie and The Chocolate Factory film through the Kylie Minogue. Who, now I come to think about it, is about the size of an Oompa Loompa. No, First Born likes Shaun Ryder because it means she gets to ask me about naughty words.

Here is an actual conversation that happened in the car today:

Shaun Ryder (on CD): "Neil Armstrong, astronaut, he had balls bigger than King Kong..."
FB: "Dad? What does that mean?"
Me: "Erm, that Mr. Armstrong was an astronaut?"
FB: "No - the balls bit"
Me: (deep breath - FB knows lots of medical terms) "He's saying Neil Armstrong's testicles are bigger than those of a giant gorilla. Its a figure of speech - he means Armstrong is very brave"
FB: "Well that explains that then"
Me: "What?"
FB: "Why astronauts walk funny on the moon. It must hard for them to move around with such big testicles."

(I change the CD for something totally unintelligible by Bob Marley)

I'm sure she isn't making fun of me. I'm 99.9% sure she isn't making fun of me. But still...

Monday, August 29, 2005

Ignorance Is Scary

I sat in my favourite pub (I'm blessed - I live within vomitting distance of 4 pubs, and projectile vomitting distance of 8) and gazed at the Dalek which had thus far failed to show any signs of moving.

Every now and then it barked a threat of extermination and exhorted its place in the order of things in a voice that said more about the BBC's special effects budget than anything else.

The Bear was suitably impressed. At least I think she was. She can be a bit inscrutable at times.

By leaving an empty chair at the table I attracted the attention of the local drunk. Tonight was lecture night.

"Fuggin' muslims. I'd fuggin' send 'em all back. Bastards."

Ah. It was to be a socio-political discourse.

"Why?" I asked, stupidly. "We're all English. You'd punish a whole community for the actions of tiny minority?"
"Thats it!" he said, waving a finger. "Bastards. You can't talk to 'em. Little fuggers."

I had a whole range of witty replies ready for reasons why anyone, let alone a Muslim, would not want to talk to this individual. Self-preservation cut in and I said "You're entitled to your opinion" before attempting a subject switch: "Do you like cars/alcohol/women?"

My punishment for cowardly not engaging him in a debate on immigration and naturalisation was to hear about how his wife had left him 5 years previously (at least thats what I think he was talking about.)

Could I ever get this bitter and twisted? And quite so frighteningly intolerant? The scary thing is that we have major political parties in this country spewing the same vileness. Just without the stained t-shirt and whisky fumes.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Bear Meets Tower

Do you know what the problem with a flakey internet connection is?

No, its not having one's pornography supply cut off. Nor is it the lack of email offering everything from free viagra (got that already, thanks) through free money, to free companionship of a normally more negotiable nature.

Nope, its not knowing that Blogger has started ignoring one's attempts at writing. On the plus side, it means that I don't have to repost some of the more whiny entries...

But the photo. The photo is The Bear in Pisa. I felt rather proud as I stood amongst the tourists, festooned over the walls in front of the glorious failure that made Pisa famous. I was being Unique.

Unlike all the tourists, who stood in still-lifes that would make even the most ardent mime puzzled until he moved to a certain angle and realised that the individual was attempting to push over/hold up/simulate a sex act with the leaning tower, I was taking a photo that I'm pretty sure had never been taken with the tower in shot.

So, rather than the stereotypical shot of "Overweight Man In Shorts Slightly Misaligned With Tower" (I still can't believe people really take those photos) I give you my souvenir shop of Pisa. Bear And Tower.

I thankew.

Oh, and Pisa? Utter crap-hole. Allow exactly 30 minutes to get off the train, see the tower, get back on train and head on to Florence.

Tomorrow's post: when The Bear met The Dalek.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Ta Ra To Tuscany

As my time in Italy draws to a close I'm going to let you in on Italy's dirty little secret. No, it isn't the fact that they are the worst drivers in Europe bar none. Nor is it that most of the men prefer to dress and behave as though they were in a 70s porn film. No... Italy's secret is that, like the Germans and David Hasselhoff, they seem to be obsessed with Cindi Lauper

Seriously - everywhere I go, Ms Lauper's music is playing. Be it Girls Just Wanting To Have Fun at the Pizzeria or True Colours Shining Through from the knackered Binatone at the back of the bar.

So now you know.

There's just one thing left to do now. A bear and a leaning tower. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 05, 2005

We Like Ice Cream

Weather nice. Found a place that sells the best ice cream in the world ever. Pizza Porcini is horrible. Pizza Diavola is tops.

Thus concludes today's guide to Italy.

Instead I want to talk about a couple of films I saw recently with First-Born. The first came from the house of Shrek and was called Madagascar. This, my friends, is a terrible film. I can't work out if its just because of the bad story or the appalling voice acting (and I thought Ben Stiller was bad at live action; I was unprepared for the sheer woodeness of his delivery in this.) When the high point of the film are the bit-part comedy turns (the penguins and monkeys) you know you're in trouble.

Irritatingly, First-Born loved it. The child clearly has no taste.

And then we saw Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. If you've enjoyed the book, you'll love this film. Unlike the Gene Wilder aberration, this film looks like the director has flipped open my skull and taken a snapshot of my imagination (well, the bits that would get a PG certificate anyway.) Aside from a few liberties taken with the back-story of the chocolateer this is highly recommended.

And First-Born thought it was better than Madagascar. So there's hope for the girl yet.

And the scooter? It is actually a portable pump.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Lard In Translation

Whenever I go abroad, I like to try and learn a little of the local language. Just enough to stop the waiters from spitting in my food, that sort of thing.

Usually though, I make use of helpfully translated menus to ensure I know what I'm ordering rather than the hit-and-miss translation in the Lonely Planet phrasebook (which scores by having the Italian for "Fuck Off" helpfully provided phonetically.)

Last night's menu was a good one though. Those who know me well will appreciate this one: "Florence bread with tomato and a slice of lard" - Mmm, tasty. Or "Stale bread, Tuscan style, with lard and oil". Doesn't get much better than that.

But I'm being petty. The food here is absolutely superb. And beer at 13p for a 60cl bottle can't be sniffed at. Lucky I picked up some paracetamol at the airport.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Caught In Cortona

Cortona - a beautiful walled city clinging to the side of a hill that looms over my farmhouse. The culture vulture in me obviously had to visit it.

After some faintly alarming hairpin turns and negotiating drivers clearly as confused as I was about the correct side of the road despite they being resident and me being a lowly tourist I made it to the gates. The Lancia was abandoned and I proceeded by foot, cheap flip-flops failing to make much of an impact in the "stop the cobbled streets hurting my feet" stakes.

Yes, it is a beautiful place. Yes, the guide book lied when it claimed the church at the top of the town is accessable via a short walk up a hill. It should say "There'll be a fuck of a steep mountainside to climb, and half way up you'll wish you were dead. Nice bar at the top though."

A bit like Mont Blanc, which also features a bar at the peak.

The landlady at the bar was in that meditteranean transition phase where lithe young women transform into wizened old ladies seemingly overnight. Usually as soon as the wedding ring goes on the finger - some sort of rip-cord gets pulled on the wedding night and the groom is in for a shock in the morning.

Nice beer though.

One thing did strike me as odd (well, aside from the giant watermelon slice in the photo above) was the content of the plethora of souvenir shops that festooned the town. Rather than the usual "Someone went to Cortona and all I got was this lousy t-shirt" type of thing there were Popeye t-shirts. Why would you go to Italy and come back with a Popeye t-shirt?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


So what is it? It squats outside my little house, showing no signs of purpose other than to be a thing to put flowers on.

I speculated that it might be an early prototype for those little scooters the Italians love to kill themselves on. Or maybe a Heath-Robinson-style olive press.

My host, Dimitry, gave a Tuscan shrug and concentrated on the more important task of preparing supper. A couple of glasses of wine from the vinyard next door took my mind off the prehistoric Vesper with little difficulty.

The tan is coming on a treat. But where does the phrase "brown as a berry" come from? Are there many brown berries in the world?

Ah, there's that pesky pool again. Its so demanding.

Ciao, baby.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Papa's Got A New Pool

You know, I may have to emigrate out here. It really is quite beautiful. The quality of life seems excellent. The Italians themselves are generally cheerfully incompetent in much the same vein as the Spanish (see posts passim) which after the surliness of the British and the arrogance of the French is a welcome change.

In truth, my two favourite countries in the world are Holland (which lacks the climate) and Canada (which is too far away from First-Born.) Italy will certainly do though...

The only fly in the ointment are the drivers. Firstly, the speed limits are so low (20km/h in places) that nobody pays any attention to them. Secondly, there is no hard and fast rule on which side of the road they drive. Thirdly, being a catholic country, most of these guys know that a fatal crash will be accompanied by a choir of angels and eternal paradise.

It probably explains why the bottom-of-the-range hire car I have is festooned with more airbags than even the most plastic Hollywood actress.

The car itself is cool. Its a titchy tiny Lancia. The interior is covered with velour. Even over the dashboard. Puts one in mind of being in a very plush padded cell...

...mmm, the pool's calling. Please excuse me for a second... later I shall reveal the earliest known scooter found in the area...

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Blue Skies

Day 1. Flying from London Stanstead, which has grown from a tent off the M11 motorway to a full-sized airport in the last 8 years. The last time I used it was on my first skiing trip (where I managed to go the whole holiday without injury, only to pop a tendon running for a flight at the airport.)

This airport is beloved by the budget airlines, since it can still be called "London" even though anyone unfortunate enough to arrive thinking they're near to the great city will find themselves some 50 miles away.

As it is the airport of choice by the budget airlines, it is naturally full of chavs and people too cheap to fly on a proper airline, like me. And so it was that I climbed aboard one of RyanAir's bargain buses and flew to Pisa airport. Though my snobby side hates to admit it, the flight was fine and the plane, though a little elderly, didn't give cause for concern.

Pisa airport was reassurringly Italian. Total chaos. Virtually no passport control or customs to speak of and full of people milling around in confusion. Wonderful. I love this country.

There is a saying in Europe - the perfect Europe is where the houses are British, the cooks are French, the lovers are Italian and it is all run by the Germans. European hell is where the cooks are British, the lovers German and it is all run by the Italians. Or something like that.

I found my farmhouse, after a 2 hour drive and something called a 'raccordo' which I decided was Italian for "really shitty bit of road". The bear approves of the view. Particulary since it was raining in England when we left...

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Bear Sez Ciao

The bear and I are off on our travels. Having spent the last two months averaging 20 hours a day at work, the boss has sent us off for a recharge.

I need it too. The country I live in is starting to resemble a tin-pot dictatorship; I've always been fiercely proud of the fact that the police aren't armed and are a respected organisation.

But now... now I listen to the radio and hear senior policemen cheerfully saying that anyone who looks a bit funny will be shot on sight. In the head too, in case they're carrying a bomb.

Now, the whole reason we don't have the death penalty here in the UK is the "what if we made a mistake" scenario. You can't very well say "Sorreeee" to a corpse. Unless your name is Romero and you've made another really bad zombie film.

And yet after a man whose only crime was to have an expired visa and to run when a copper shouts at him gets pinned down on the floor of a tube train and shot in the head/executed by the police, we have the chap who runs the police saying "Yep, and we'll do it again too"

I tell you this in truth, I'm now more frightened of the police than I am of nutters blowing themselves up.

So I need a holiday. Tomorrow morning, I'm going to Tuscany. To an isolated farmhouse. With a swimming pool. And a fridge full of beer.

Ciao, baby.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Quite Good?

I once saw a show where the star was given three wishes. One of his wishes was to have his own background music, which would change according to what he was doing.

I often wondered if the show had been post watershed we might have seen a sex scene backed by Captain Kirk's fight music. That tune was wasted in its role of drowning out the creaking of Bill Shatner's corset.

Anyhow, I was tempted by the guys in the office to play a video game the other night. One of those 'run around and shoot each other' games. The game itself I could take or leave, but what I really liked was the voice that said "Impressive!" in rich, dark tones whenever one did something 'cool' (shooting a number of avatars in a row, I believe.)

I would wish for that in real life. Whenever I do something even mildly good, I'd like that voice to say "Impressive". If I park the car first time, without the usual 18 attempts: "Impressive". If I select the fruit and salad rather than the All-Day-Breakfast-Lardfest-Baguette": "Impressive". Come up with a witty put-down to The Ex less than 20 minutes after the moment has passed: "Impressive".

Yeah, that would be good. Impressive, even.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Can You Hear Something Whistling?

Geeks that we are, we all gathered around the monitor to watch the Space Shuttle launch.

The boss, still flushed with success having found an American drink called "Spaz" on his recent US trip (thus earning kudos in the office) wandered over to see what we were up to.

"Oh God," he muttered, "You're not watching one of Newly's rockets, are you?"

(For the uninformed, I have an interest in spaceflight bordering on the obsessional - deep down I'm still the little boy who wanted to be a spaceman, but settled for being a computer programmer instead)

I was about to answer when a colleague piped up: "We're not watching a launch. We're watching 7 Americans getting strapped to half a million gallons of high explosive."

There were murmers of assent. I was a little disappointed with the cynicism of my co-workers; but I guess its the same reason why most people like watching motor racing. Its not the race, but the chance of a fatal accident.

Sadly for them, but happily for a starry eyed enthusiast like me, the launch was flawless. Right up until a chunk of foam the size of a small car appeared to break off of the big orange tank. Think it missed the orbiter though.

Listen carefully and you can actually hear the clenching of sphincters in Houston...

Monday, July 25, 2005

You. Will. Be. Served. A. Beer.

"Another beer, sir?" the Dalek asked, the red lights on its head flashing obsequiously.

I peered blearily at the glass. And then back at the inexpensive BBC special effect standing hopefully being the bar. Do Daleks stand, or do they merely 'be'?

"I think I've had enough." I replied, getting to my feet rather unsteadily.

Of course, this wasn't an alcohol fuelled hallucination. No, the landlord of my local had acquired one of the terrors of my youth as a prop for a party at the weekend.

I love Daleks. I love the way that while America devised ever more unpleasant and horrific creatures to terrify its television watching public, the cash-strapped BBC stuck doggedly to the formula of a dustbin with flashing lights on its head and a sink plunger as its major weapon.

And its testimony to the inherent silliness of the British (me included) that we regularly found ourselves watching the screen though hands over our eyes as the wheeled absurdities lurched around the screen; miraculously climbing stairs and negotiating rocky terrain, bellowing 'Exterminate' and knocking chunks of polystyrene off the scenery. Not noted for their stealth were the Daleks.

Alas, I didn't watch the new series of Doctor Who. But I am pleased to have made the acquaintance of a Dalek and, as gratitude for al the entertainment its brethren gave me during the 70s and early 80s, bought it a beer.

I hope it doesn't rust.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

You Couldn't Make It Up - Part 84

The Ex's ever-increasing bulk filled the doorway. She was somewhat pale.

"Have you heard the news?" she said
"Mmm?" I replied, peering round her to see if First-Born was trying to make her escape
"They're trying to track down 100 blood donors who might have New Variant CJD!" The Ex explained
"*I'm* a blood donor. Supposing its me?"
"Mmm," I mused, " 'Mad Cow Disease' - well, it would certainly explain a lot"

At that point First-Born squeezed past The Ex's bulk and headed for the car, thus saving me from a potentially difficult conversation.

I must stop with this Ex-baiting. Its potentially bad for my health.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Now I Am All Growed Up

Current favourite album: Dub Side Of The Moon by the Easy Star All-Stars.

Taking Pink Floyd's slighty trippy 70s album and giving it a reggae spin, while some way short of genius, is certainly a marvellous way to de-stress.

I'm particularly impressed with the opening to 'Money', where the famous sound of coins being scooped out of a cash tray and a register rung is replaced by the sound of a lighter, the bubbles of a bong, an intake of breath and subsequent coughing.

Childish, but lets face it; thats what most of those students who got all intense about Pink Floyd were doing anyway.

Speaking of childish, I think I might be approaching maturity. I gave one of the team a crisp 5 pound note for the collection of lunch. He returned with a single shiny pound coin and a pile of lard.

I took the pound coin and gibbered: "Rich! Rich! I shall leave you all now and spend my new found wealth on fast cars, drugs and hookers!"

My colleague raised an eyebrow: "Where are you going to find a hooker for 1 pound?"

Now, ordinarily I would have quipped: "I hear your Mother'll go all the way for less..." but maturity intervened as I realised that this could be quite a rude thing to say. So I didn't.

Instead, I suggested his sister was a lady of negotiable affection. Better, yes?

Monday, July 18, 2005

Keeping The Noise Down

Precious, precious beer threatened to fizz through my nostrils as a colleague, K, explained the reasoning behind her decision not to change her name upon marriage.

"I've had 30 years with the name 'Pratt' and I've got used to it. I don't think I could stand another 30 with the name 'Cockhead'"

I had to agree. I too am possessed of a faintly silly name (more silly because I was always last to be picked for the football team and, if there was an odd number of players, would be given the task of timing the match or used as a handicap.)

Still - I don't really get the whole changing name thing on marriage (to be frank, I don't get the whole marriage thing full stop; but I am slightly biased in this regard) and I'm pleased that more women are sticking with what they've grown up with, or choose to change rather than it be expected.

But I digress. As K and I chatted at the bar it became quite clear that sex was on the agenda. In the last year I've become better at understanding the signals and, aside from a number of occasions where I figured the act would screw up (pardon the pun) a beautiful friendship, have generally let my groin do my thinking for me.

Not this time though. It wasn't the twinge of guilt that K had only been married a year. Nor was it the jetlag. Nope. It was the thought of the Lovely B.

I pondered this as I went back to the solitude of my hotel room and, despite BBC World turned right up, was still forced to listen to the man next door fucking a prostitute.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Is That A Trick Question?

America, Land Of The Paranoid, did not disappoint.

Having enjoyed a steak at Gallaghers at Newark Airport with a metal fork and plastic knife (evidentally the fact that broken glass can also make a lethal blade has escaped the authorities. I look forward to the day when one cannot board a plane unless swathed in a cotton wool to the extent one resembles a strait-jacketed cloud) I pottered to the boarding gate.

With my new found patience, I let the lemmings queue up. Guys - the seats are reserved. I can promise that you will be able to sit down. Unless you're one of those idiots that insist on carrying on a Volvo-sized bag and calling it 'hand luggage'. Eventually, and buoyed by the now compulsory anti-jetlag concoction of alcohol and industrial strength painkillers, I pottered through the gate and found myself confronted by 8 armed policemen posted at various points along the tunnel.

I mean - really. What do they think is going to happen? I might lunge at a stewardess with a plastic fork and napkin from Gallagher's?

One stopped me, and asked to see my passport (it was only the eightyfirst time a uniformed official had asked in the last three hours. Clearly I look shifty. I wondered if I'd left a towel on my head from my last shower or something.)

He asked the usual questions:

"Where are you headed?"
"Anyone meeting you?"

And so on. And then he threw in a new one:

"In the US we have Attornies and Lawyers. What do you call those people in the UK?"

Alcohol removed the barrier between brain and mouth and I answered:


For the first time, an armed and uniformed official laughed: "I was looking for solicitor or barrister. But I prefer your answer. Carry on, sir."

He was still chuckling as I boarded the aircraft. Perhaps there's hope for his kind after all.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Wanna Ride My Big Pink Bus?

"Welcome to America" I muttered to myself as I stomped off the aeroplane. Security was conspicuous; lots of short, fat policemen lounged against walls squinting at us passengers. There ought to be a law against arming short, fat men and giving them a badge allowing them to shoot anyone who looks at them funny.

Newark Liberty Airport excelled itself. It took an hour until I found myself fingerprinted by a pig-eyed immigration official. Another hour until my bag appeared on the luggage carousel. And a further hour until the customs officials admitted that their x-ray machine was broken. Lord alone knows why they wanted to x-ray my luggage again. Presumably in case an evil pixie had smuggled weapons into my bag mid-flight.

My colleagues had left a message for me. "The taxi is a big pink bus" they'd said. I'd assumed they meant a light red minivan. But no - it really was a big pink bus. And so I had the most surreal arrival at the US office on record.

Oh, and the bus had a couple of ice-boxes full of beer when I boarded. There was only ice when I left.

Monday, July 11, 2005


"Airline Of The Year 2004" I read aloud from the huge banner above the check-in desks. My, Continental does have a high opinion of itself. Possibly not shared by its victims/passengers.

And also not shared by those standing in the 2-hour long queue that snaked in front of the desks in a manner that would bring tears to even the most hardened theme-park manager, before heading up into the main terminal building and making a break for freedom.

In light of last week's events, security had been stepped up. Unfortunately, this 'stepping up' seemed to consist of more frankly bonkers security questions. In addition to the usual "Are you a terrorist?" or "Do you wear a towel on your head and answer to the name 'Ossie'?" the powers that be have devised a new one...

"Do you have anything with you that could be used as a weapon?"

Well now, lets see. This pen you've just given me could do some damage. And this finger on my hand - well, that could be used to poke you in the eye. And as for this hand luggage which you've just told me is 100 grams overweight, I could stick that right up your...

And as for what happened when I got to Newark Liberty Airport... that can wait for tomorrow. Because now I need to visit Damon's World Famous Bar And Grill and eat some of the unnaturally orange food it serves up.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Making Charity Concerts History

So, Live8.

I'm old enough to remember the original concert (was it really that long ago... whoah... thats the sort of thing to make a person feel elderly. That, and the fact the current crop of recruits in the office don't really remember the first Gulf War.)

Twenty years on, what did that concert truly achieve? Not a lot in global terms aside from a collective easing of conscience: "I gave Bob a couple of quid, that makes me a good person, right?"

And so here we are again. Again we have a concert but this time you don't even have to pay in order to ease the twinge in your conscience. No, you've just got to agree with Sir Bob and your job is done.

Thing is, what are you agreeing to? "Make Poverty History" Oh yeah. That was it. Tick the box and then go back to normal life. Carry on voting for the same individuals with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo (who ironically weren't performing - although the spectacle of ColdPlay attempting 'Rocking All Over The World' was something to behold. I never thought I'd find myself wishing for Francis Rossi and his little bald-man pony-tail.)

Ah well. The whole event smacked somewhat of Team America (World Police) as sundry musicians and actors got on stage to save the world with their Talent. "Get up there and perform your ass off!" If you looked carefully, you could even see the strings.

...good show though.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Best Laid Plans

I had a slew of posts planned this week. This being the week that the promised DSL was to be turned on (following a false alarm a few weeks back - premature connection is something that can happen to a guy, you know?)

I had a slighty cynical one about the Live8 concerts, a little poking of fun at the French over the Olympics and finally an observation about First-Born's award's ceremony at school.

Like the champagne for the 2012 bid, I've put them to one side. Just for a little while.

This post still has some First-Born content. She curled herself into a ball on the way home tonight and hid her head between her arms.

"I don't want to hear it" she said

I'd thoughtlessly left the radio on and the newsreader was detailing the ever increasing death toll and morbidly speculating how many more might be inside the remains of the carriages deep beneath ground. The voice of Charlotte Green (who could tie me to a chair and read me Keats any day) should not have to report on the difficulty the police are having with vermin disturbing the forensic 'materials'.

I shuddered and turned it off.

I've lived in London and, until a few years ago, used to regularly work there. Many of the locations shown on television screens in the last few days were regular haunts. Ordinarily, I tend to squeak with delight when I see a place I've been to appearing on the small screen. Not this time though.

But do you know the funny thing? I probed my psyche and didn't feel a thing - no terror, no fear. Just a faint sick feeling when I thought too hard about the final moments or minutes of the victims. I think it may have been because I lived in London while the IRA were regularly blowing stuff up. Fact of life. Move on or move to a Scottish hilltop. Does that sound cold?

It may be the politicians getting to me. I'm not sure who was the most despicable; the solitary Member of Parliament saying, within hours of the incident, "Well, we had it coming, we never should have gone to Iraq", or the scores of lemmings trotting out meaningless platitudes to the media.

I'll be funny again tomorrow. I promise. After all, there's a trip to Allentown next week, and I'll need a sense of humour to deal with ever more paranoid security.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Biometric Caller ID

With all the current kafuffle about biometric passports and ID cards going on at the moment (for non-UK readers, it appears that because some lunatics flew a couple of planes into a US landmark 4 years ago, UK citizens are going to have to give up their last shred of privacy with an ill thought-out ID card scheme) the powers that be have missed a trick in rolling out this technology.

Forget plugging it as a way of catching benefit cheats or thwarting anarchists. No - sell it to us as a way of screening loonies on the telephone. Like tonight.

I had a call, you see, from J. J was a date from January who failed to set off the 'insanity' alarm bells until it was, how shall I put it, 'too late'. This led to a succession of increasingly stalkerish calls which, after a final "please leave me alone" (or words to that effect) I started screening out.

It appears J has a new phone and thus it was that I found myself on the receiving end of a call from a screeching banshee demanding phone-sex.

Now, Biometric Caller ID would have solved all that, do you see? Think I can get the UK goverment interested in this as a way of marketing it to the masses? Aside from J, obviously...

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Got My Ticket To Heaven And Everlasting Life

Tell me, what is scarier than White Van Man?

White Van Man that has discovered God, of course.

In place of the usual collection of soft-core porn tabloids and the inevitable confectionery wrappers there is a copy of The Catholic Herald and a well thumbed Bible on the dashboard.

So we now have a White Van Man who knows that if he dies, he's going straight to heaven where everyone has the latest Ford Transit and fuel prices are at an all time low.

I pity the chap's passengers and those in the car that see this vehicle looming in their rear-view mirror. Doubtless he rams anyone without one of those bloody fish stuck to the back of their cars in a crusade of conversion...

Friday, July 01, 2005

Unreconstructed Programmers

The Team is to be given equal opportunities training. I suspect that this stems from an individual who was fired a few months ago; the chap was a little aggrieved about this and so played the race card. He took exception to the fact that the programmers like to call themselves 'code monkeys' and in a display of spinelessness HR insisted that all monkey related parephenalia was removed from the work area.

I probably didn't help matters by being a little blunt in the exit interview. When he, in true Ali G style, said "Is it because I'm black?" I replied "No, its because you're bloody useless..." before listing examples of said uselessness.

Anyhow, this, and a number of other incidents around the company, has meant that the whole organisation is getting Equal Opportunities training. Looking at the boys (and 'boy' is the best word for them judging by some of the behaviour) in the team, I'm not sure HR realise what they're letting themselves in for:

(HR person spends three hours talking about race and gender equality)

HR: "Any questions?"
Bloke: "So, this is all because there'll be some girls working in the team, right?"
HR: "Yes..."
Bloke: "Oh, right. I've just got the one question then?"
HR: "Yes?"
Bloke: "Do we get one bird each or do we have to share?"

Even I, the most even-handed of people (I treat everyone with equal contempt) have to attend, but as a manager I get an extra hour on top of the three everyone else has to sit through. I guess this will be a kind of 'Directors Cut' of the course. The same as the normal course, but with a load of dull bits that should have remained on the cutting room floor spliced in.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Bear Aware

In case anyone was worried that I'd forgotten about the bear, have no fear. The bear and I have another adventure lined up. We're going to Italy next month. Specifically Tuscany. Expect a picture of the bear in a humourous position with Pisa's Tower.

First-Born is over tonight. She and I watched a SpongeBob Squarepants Episode (in French - apparently its funnier in French. The eponymous yellow block is certainly more intelligible.) First-Born turned to me and asked what the hamburgers in the show were made out of.

"Cows or pigs" I said
"Don't be silly," she replied, "You don't get animals like that under the sea. They'd drown"

A slightly camp, talking sponge is clearly perfectly normal.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Sports Day Redux

How quickly a year passes. Remember this?

Yup. That time of year again. First Born is a year older, a year wiser, and a year even worse at anything approaching physical activity. Again, she came an impressive last in all the races bar one. The thoughtful teaching staff placed her as the last baton carrier in a relay race. The other team members were the best runners in the school, and if the intention was to slow them down then I can safely say that the mission was a complete success. A comfortable first when First-Born picked up the baton. A close third when she finally made it to the finish line. I shrieked myself hoarse regardless.

Again, the child herself was supremely uninterested. She was, instead, looking forward to awards evening the following week where she would be presented with the English prize for a poem she wrote.

Thats my girl. I won the English prize too. However, I was 18 and ran off with the new English teacher (which caused many friends to speculate on what the prize was actually for) - hopefully First Born won't make the same mistake.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Back To The Playground

"Its the eternal dilemma" the boss said, with a thoughtful look on his face.

I waited for some clue as to the nature of the problem. How to fire someone without making them cry? How to avert one's gaze when the attractive receptionist is wearing a tight, black t-shirt with the word "Look" emblazoned in sequins over her chest? What?

He paused a little longer before asking the question:

"How do you tell someone they smell of piss?"

It is indeed a dilemma. I knew the chap to who he was referring and considered him a friend. And yet even I had thus far wussed out on bringing up the subject, hoping that my act of opening the windows in the car would be sufficient.

He: "Why are you opening the windows? Is the air-conditioning broken?"
Me: "No... I just felt that the car could use some fresh air, you know?"
He: "But its hot enough to fry an egg on the pavement out there!"
Me: "Yeah... I know..."

Didn't work.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Sorry To Father's Day

Dear Dad,
About 25 years ago, I think, I tried to make your Father's day special. You remember, don't you?

I made early morning coffee for you and Mum. That wasn't special in itself. No. The special thing was how I made the coffee. You see, I knew how you liked that funny frothy coffee they served in Italian restaurants and some of the trendier cafes. So I wanted to make some for you instead of the instant coffee you normally have.

The problem, of course, was the bubbles. How to make the bubbles?

The first thing I tried was to put about 10 large spoonfuls of instant coffee into the boiling water. This seemed to do the trick at first, but then the coffee went black again. Very, very black.

I struggled to think of another way of doing it. I thought and thought until, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a bottle of washing up liquid. Of course! That must be where the bubbles come from! So I squirted a goodly amount into the black liquid and stirred. Bubbles! Lots of bubbles!

Feeling everso proud, I took you my creation. I woke you up. I presented you with a handmade card and gave you your surprise. I then sat with delight beaming all over my face until you'd drained every last drop of your treat.

I'm confessing this because:

a) As I've got older, I've felt progressively guiltier about this and
b) Today, First-Born presented me with her gift to me. 10 Mars bars which she'd thoughtfully unwrapped and left in the back of the car. In 40 degrees centrigade heat. As I chewed manfully through the fluff and thought of what I was going to have to do to the back seat to get it clean while First-Born sat smiling at the cleverness of her gift, I wondered if you felt a disturbance in the paternal force and started laughing your arse off...

Your loving son,

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Faces Of Death

My grandmother has suddenly begun to look very old. She's 83.

Its frequently made joke in the family that she was 25 when she had my father, my father was 25 when I put in an appearance and I was 25 when First-Born turned up a week early. Possibly the only time the young lady has ever been early for anything. And I'm aware of the fact that if my family find this amusing, then it really needs to start looking for a list.

Anyhow. I paid a conscience visit (because I was a total bastard in my teenage years and still feel guilty now) with First-Born this weekend. Incidentally, she lives in a town called Newark, which is an anagram of the word I mentioned in the last post. Somewhat appropriate, considering the locals.

But I digress. She's always had this aura of industructability, but today she looked... old. Fiercely independant, she cooked lunch (the cooking process actually commenced during the previous month, judging by the consistancy of the vegetables) but let me clear up. A first.

On one hand, I'm worried about her. On the other hand, I may be able to offer to cook next time rather than endure another round of mystery meat and mush. My brother, of course, has no such qualms. "Of course I bring my own food. She's a crap cook."

Oh, and I'm really missing my DSL. 56k is so last century dahlings...

Friday, June 17, 2005

In Space, No-one Can Hear You Puke

I like the English language. I like the way words can have a variety of meanings. Take the word 'wanker'

This can mean 'one who masturbates' or 'a fool'. The latter meaning is generally the accepted one (although interestingly, the verb 'to wank' is only associated with masturbation.)

However, if a person is 'wankered' it means he is drunk or otherwise inebriated. It seems appropriate to connect a word relating to the influence of alcohol to one referring to idiocy.

Yes, I was totally wankered on Wednesday. Impressively so. The dire warnings of the doctor appear to be true - a few pints of beer and a bottle of wine and I was, quite literally, anybody's.

The following day I was equally impressively ill. I'd never thrown up blood before. Still, first time for everything, eh?

Naturally, I paid a visit to the doctor. I may be a wanker, but I'm not a stupid wanker. He sat, smugly.

"So you ignored my advice?"
"You're going to follow it this time?"

(I felt the same as I felt when I was 7 years old and called to meet the headmaster concerning a story I'd written about Father Christmas in which naughty words were used because he was too fat in the chimney.)

"Its probably just the start of an ulcer. Most likely stress-related." he said "I'll book you in for some really invasively unpleasant tests"

Ok, he didn't say the last part. He didn't need to. He then dispensed that piece of advice that Doctors always hand out:

"Exercise more and drink plenty of water."

What is it with Doctors and that sentence?

"Doctor - I'm feeling a bit ill"
"Exercise more and drink plenty of water."
"Doctor - I've broken my arm"
"Exercise more and drink plenty of water."
"But its hanging right off!"
"Exercise more and drink plenty of water."

They should send a Doctor to the Climate Change Conference.

"How can we cut emissions and slow down the runaway greenhouse effect without pissing off the US?"
"Exercise more and drink plenty of water."

Day 2 of healthy living. Its a bit dull.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Excessive Speed

The problem with The Black Golf Of Worthless Warranty is that it is just too easy to go fast in it. My previous modes of transport have been defined mainly by their age and the embarrassment caused to passengers (and I'm not talking about the British rail network.) Great swathes of friends simply refused to have anything to do with my succession of ancient Volvo 340s. My insistance that the fact that because they were the cheap 2-door versions and had rear wheel drive, they were actually the equivalent of a sports coupe seldom won anyone around.

So having a car that will cruise effortlessly at 3 figure speeds is a little odd.

Take the weekend. The speed just crept up until I was hurtling down deserted motorways at 130mph. At that point something odd happened to the car. The German computer under the bonnet decided that it must be back on the German Autobahns of its halcyon youth. The stereo began playing Wagner. The CDs in the auto-changer turned into a succession of David Hasselhof Greatest Hits albums. I'm sure someone was shouting "Ve vill crush ze ozzer traffik viz our fearsome German efficiency!" from the back seat.

I had to pull into a service station and be over-charged for some decidedly average food and buy extortionately priced petrol to convince the car that we really were in England.