Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The BBC's subjective blatherings in the name of "news"

Sipping my pint (a Brakspear bitter if you're interested), and mercilessly beating my wife at backgammon, I was inwardly fuming. It wasn't my pint, which was delicious, and it wasn't the taste of winning, which was as sweet as ever. It was the BBC and their reporting of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that made me fume.

The BBC's report on the conflict consisted of lamenting the loss of Palestinian lives, which was over 300, interviewing a tearful Palestinian mother who had lost two children, and lambasting Israel for their use of force. Their report, in essence, was basically saying that Israel is the big bully with guns who, consumed with blood lust, is needlessly and mindlessly blowing up Palestinian civilians for no apparent reason, apart from perhaps a bad mood and a warped desire to destroy.

I too lament the loss of Palestinian AND Israeli lives. I too am sympathetic with the Palestinian mother who lost two children. And I don't deny that the situation is dire, complex and difficult. But I'm furious with the BBC for flushing objective reporting down the toilet in such shameless idiocy, and instead going for a blatant pro-Palestine report, which will no doubt drive up anti-Israel and pro-Palestine feeling in viewers.

And listen, I am pro-Israel and pro-Palestine. But I'm also in favour of news reporting to be as objective as possible. Sure, nothing reported is truly objective, but I'd like the BBC to at least try, rather than spewing out content akin to the puerile wining of a spoilt three-year-old.

The BBC failed miserably to mention that Hamas and Israel had been observing a six-month ceasefire brokered by the Egyptians. Israel was prepared to resume trade with Gaza if the violence ceased, which it didn't. Even at the quietest period 15 to 20 rockets were still raining down on Israel each month.

The BBC failed to mention that Hamas ended the ceasefire, firing 70 rockets on Israel.

The BBC also failed to mention that Hamas deliberately embeds its fighters and weapons amongst the civilian population, hence the high Palestinian death toll. In fact, one of its own rockets misfired and killed two Palestinian schoolgirls. I didn't hear the BBC mention that in the report.

To be fair on the BBC, maybe the above were covered in other reports which I did not see. But that's the point I suppose, each report should have some objectivity, just a smidgen if you please. Is that too much to ask?

Monday, 29 December 2008

The Owl God

The Christmas service was very English. It oozed that Englishness that makes me proud, set in the most beautiful old Norman ever crafted by man. OK, I'm biased, it is our town's church, and I don't even know if it is truly Norman. I could ask my wife, who is a fountain of all knowledge and knows all about these sorts of things, but she's on the phone to her mum, so I'm just going to guess. But hey, if you're bothered - maybe you're a church historian or some geek with a book on Norman architecture - then feel free to examine the picture.

There weren't many people, which was both sad and surprising. Actually, I wasn't that unsurprised, given our nation's slide towards a culturally vegetative state, but it was sad, and I had hoped that families would have put the turkey on, and then headed to this beautiful old church to thank God for a short hour - come on, it was just an hour folks - but never mind.

We sat at the back, partly because neither of us are Church of England - or for that matter know anything about Church of England - and it was all a bit unfamiliar, and partly because little baby R was due a change and feed, and more importantly, 10am is her poo time. Without fail, between 10 and 10:30am the little one roots, gurts and poos, thrashing her little legs about with the freedom of baby that has no understanding of propriety, extorting the most incredible expressions.

The last thing we wanted was to be on the front row, reading the wrong liturgy and struggling with a gurting, pooing, thrashing little rooter. So we found a spot on the back row.

The vicar - or would he have been a curate, clergyman or priest? - was a gentle, kind, bumbling old man. He had one of those bumbling, rambling, almost unintelligible posh accents where his r's are almost w's, a kind of speech impediment that is merely the result of upper-class breeding. Hilarious to listen to. I don't think I took a single word in, I was too busy enjoying his bumbling, Boris Johnson-esk, and trying to pinpoint his accent. Canterbury perhaps.

He had a great hooked nose - I found myself imagining a caricature where his nose nearly reached his feet - and with all his robes, hood, and small round glasses he had the appearance of a benevolent eagle-god. Or an owl-god. I nearly wrote that he reminded me of an owl-god, but as I haven't ever met (or worshipped) an owl-god that would be untruthful.

We were all equipped with a hymnal and a little red book, which contained liturgy, readings, prayers and had the most infuriating page-numbering system known to man, animal or alien. At the bottom right of each page was the "real" page number, i.e. standard sequential numbering. At the bottom center of the page was another number. This was seemingly arbitrary, but teasingly sequential. For example, the real page numbers went from 1 to 55, the other numbers spanned from between 107 and 348. Those numbers are from memory, so if you challenge them, please don't be cross with me, just my memory, which at a tender age of 26 is deteriorating alarmingly.

Bizarrely, the owl-god was driving from the arbitrary numbering and not once did I find the right page. I did find the right page once, but only in time for the "Amen". Before you question my incompetence, let me defend it. Frequently we were asked to turn to, say, page 111, but I didn't have a page 111 in either numbering system, so after thumbing forwards and backwards through the book I gave up.

Maybe I had an old copy.

There were lots of nuns in the congregation, some in blue robes, some in black. This distracted me, would that have been personal preference or a simple matter of orders, or classes? I like the idea of classes, you know, when you reach a certain level of nunhood you get a blue robe. In fact, I like classes generally. Not in a discriminatory sense, though in the true sense of the word it does help you differentiate between people groups, but rather for clarity's sake. I do like clarity. It settles my stomach and makes my heart sing. Our trains have first class seas (which generally are empty because none of us can afford first class season tickets), and standard class, which are overcrowded. I'd like them to bring back cattle-class, carriages with just a couple of benches and lots of dung. Tickets would only cost a few quid and I would be there, amongst the cattle.

The choir was motley crew, apparently much depleted by winter colds, and consisting of a few children, a couple of grannies and an aging rocker. Ah yes, the aging rocker, no choir, band or group of people - no matter what the function - is complete without one.

Little R timed her morning poo to perfection. She timed everything to perfection. Quiet during the hymns, shrill wails during poignant moments of prayer and readings. I think babies know exactly what they are doing.

Anyway, it made me proud to be English.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

James Bond's Alpha Romeo

The two women were wasting my time. I've always felt very protective of my time, I don't have much of it, and I have no allowance in my schedule for that kind of tomfoolery. Or any kind of tomfoolery.

When I write, it is pretty much always in my lunch break. My precious, inestimable, invaluable hour-long slot that rapidly disappears as imbeciles steal my time from right under my nose, twisting it, beating it and flushing down the toilet.

I'm an off-the-cuff writer (like most of my friends here), meaning my endless, mindless, brainless drivel just splurges out in one hit, and then lunch is over, so I post it. Not that I'm particularly proud of that, as the resulting flood of grammatical errors is enough to make a grown man cry.

Note, I use the word "writer" loosely here. When I say writer, in my head I just hear "blah blah kerfuffle blah".

So in order to make the most of my hour, I shoot straight out of work and straight to the same old same old pub, which has cheap coffee, cheap beer, free wifi and (best of all) hardly any customers.

So today that was where I headed, ready to utilize my hour with the sort of efficiency that makes me a good programmer, but destines me to be a bad listener (I try, I really do).

Bringing about my demise, two women single-handedly (or quad-handedly?!) whittled away at my hour as they dithered, faffed and fuddled their order. In the time they took to klutze their way through the simple task of buying two burgers and two drinks I could have carved an Alfa Romeo GTV6 out of a single tree trunk using nothing but nail-clippers and a teaspoon. For the sake of flippancy and continuing the recent hamster theme, I could also have carved an entire colony of hamster joy-riders. Fully seat-belted in.

For the sake of expediency, and for the sake of my diminished lunch break, here's a quick questionnaire for you.

Q) Did the two women have any idea what they wanted to eat or drink before they attempted to order?

Q) Did the two women state they were paying together using a two-for-one deal before they ordered, or did they wait until after the order had been put through the till? Or did they try to pay cash, before discovering that they did not have the correct change? Or did they try to pay separately by card, but discover that individually their costs were below the "minimum card limit"? Or did they somehow, with mindbogglingly imbecility, manage to combine the above three options into one huge mammoth-sized fuddle?

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Disentangling Hybridized Spaniels

A friend has given me a lovely old book for Christmas. The Art of Growing Old, by John Cowper Powys. The book is brilliant. A magical combination of complete tosh interwoven with nuggets of truth and gorgeous prose. Seriously, this guy was a writer of real quality. I keep finding words that I am unfamiliar with, feeling like General Melchett in Blackadder when he declares that he likes the word gobbledygook and wants to "use it more often in conversation".

I thought I would share with you some of the little gems in this book. Rather unfairly, I'm focusing on the tosh. Quotes are in italics.

Now in many respects it would be true to say that just as the United States is the paradise of young women, so Great Britain, and especially England, is the paradise of old men.

Is the USA really the paradise of young women? Perhaps my American readers can shed some light on this. England certainly is not the paradise of old men. Or of young men. In fact, England is the paradise for nothing and no-one, except bad drivers, stupid cyclists, badly trained yappy dogs and Gordon Brown and his crazy tax system.

Yesterday on the train home an old man stole another man's seat when he went to the toilet. There was no room for misunderstanding. The victim's bag was on the floor, his coat hanging on the hook, and the bloke sitting in the neighbouring seat told this old gent in no uncertain terms that the seat was taken.

"There's someone in this seat," he said.

"Yeah, me." retorted the old man.

When the victim returned an argument erupted. The victim said that he was brought up to respect his elders, and that therefore he was happy to let the old man keep the seat. But he wanted to know how the old man was brought up, and whether his parents had encouraged him to steal other people's seats. The old man wasn't best pleased.

Has an aristocratic old age any special advantages, beyond the choice of wines from a superior cellar or the glow of exercising primogenital power over less fortunate relatives?

Tell you what, those sound like excellent advantages. I can't wait to be old.

Now why is it that men are able to enter more fully into the consciousness of women than women into the consciousness of men? Isn't it because men are by nature so detached from Nature that in their wise folly they flout the great Mother-Harlot and float away from her actual-factual wash-tub upon Aristophanic soap-bubbles of immemorial amusement?

Um, to be perfectly honest I have no idea. Reading that sentence makes me feel like my grey matter has been put in ancient Athenian's blender before drifting away distributed amongst bubbles blown by an ancient Athenian baby.

Good thing is, he (cough cough) helps us all out with his next paragraph.

And yet, just because these airy bubbles of a man's contemplations are, after all, made of the soap she has been using, they carry a nearer guess as to a woman's feelings than, immersed in that soapy tub, she can form about a man's.

You what?

Why are old women so much happier and so much less pathetic than old men?...The circumference of their pleasurable contemplation is twenty times larger than that of men!

I wonder what my friend Bat Canary has to say about the spacial aspects of this statement. I can a Da Vinciesk picture of a woman's pleasurable contemplation, encapsulated in a giant circle, next to a teeny weeny circle representing a man's. The thing is, I think the circumference of my own pleasurable contemplation can be pretty large sometimes, especially when fuelled by a freshly ground coffee, fine wine or a pint of creamy Yorkshire bitter.

In the pursuance of any sempiternal caprice, whether it be the breeding of spaniels, or the hybridizing of roses, or the disentangling of the convolutions of a lost syntax, an old gentleman can at once be actively selfish and the passive recipient of celestial overtones.

Tell you what, when I'm old I certainly won't be receiving celestial overtones through syntactical disentanglement. More likely, I'll still be blathering inanely on whatever digital medium is the norm, or yelling at Simon Cowell, who prances around on TV as if he had celestial overtones, but really just has a bad hair do and an overblown ego.

Having said that, disentangling hybridized spaniels sounds fun, although not particularly celestial.

Better to be a pedantic prig enjoying yourself than an unconscious simpleton tormenting yourself.

Worst of all would be to be a pedantic prig tormenting yourself.

When they [women] do abandon themselves to Nature it is, I fancy, in one or other of four ways. They can, to put it briefly and crudely, give themselves to the elements, first as possessive and maternal Envelopers; second as Narcissistic Self-Lovers; third as virginal-athletic Dianas; fourth as Men-Cozeners, or Dryads playing up their mates.

So, my dear female readers, which of these are you? A possessive and maternal Enveloper, a Narcissistic Self-Lover, a virginal-athletic Diana or a Men-Cozener?

Monday, 15 December 2008

A Response To Morag

After Morag's response to my last article, posted here (a good read, seriously check it out), I had to respond. In case you are intriqued by the comments about fish, come back and read Mickey's article.

Dear Morag,

Please accept my humble apologies. I certainly didn't intend to hurt your feelings. But in my defence, I didn't know about the sad memories, the war, the grit, the eye or the briefs. Come to think of it, I never said "all expenses paid" either.

Sorry to hear that stations are such a mournful place for you. They are for me too, especially after today's cancelled trains.

If I uproot my family to Norway, and if I become an Associated Content billionaire, then at least I could fly you around in a Learjet, although I'd expect you to pay towards some of the fuel costs...

Unless you don't like flying. I hate flying, always get grit in my eyes. Maybe I should wear goggles.

But you have to admit that while Norway may be cold, it has to beat this shoddy little country hands down.

Take today, for instance.

Morning train cancelled, so half an hour late to work and standing room only. Nearly knocked over on my lunch break by some gimp-grandchild twit of a man who was cycling through a crowded pedestrian street. Call me a darned old traditionalist, or just a grumpy old man, but isn't that illegal and doesn't he deserve a life sentence for being a menace to society?

And then I had to wait 10 minutes at an ATM while some witless droids faffed and dithered as they were seemingly thwarted by the simplest user interface known to man.

Changed your mind? With the pound devaluing by the second we may find ourselves penniless, with our Associated Content billions reduced to nothing. On the off chance that we're out of food but in possession of a dead fish then it would be helpful to have Mickey around to resurrect it. Although it would be helpful to know - when Mickey resurrects a fish is its freshness restored? Or will it just taste like a fish that has been dead for a few days?



Sunday, 14 December 2008

Pubescent Fury

Snubbed by Morag, scorned by Maria, it looks like the emigration to Norway (based entirely on the premise that their trains are better than ours) might be off.

On the up side, at least the daily drama on our trains more than makes up for it.

The three chavs were loitering on the platform opposite, scowling like monkeys. Chavs always scowl like monkeys. In fact, the only time I've seen a chav smile is when leering over page 3 of The Sun.

The chav that is. I wouldn't be seen dead with The Sun - unless I had been beaten to death with one rolled up and used as a club.

The Sun, that is. I don't intend to ever be rolled up and used as a club.

In case "chav" is lost in translation, I think the American equivalent is "white trash". I'm going to try and start pre-empting any translation issues. See some excellent definitions from the online urban dictionary.

As they swaggered about gobbing between every breath, they were smoking, and looking pretty pleased with themselves - smoking is banned at stations.

When I say they were smoking, I mean smoking collectively as one, sharing a cigarette.

Ugh! I imagine (not being a smoker) that sharing a cigarette is acceptable amongst couples, but when three grubby salivating teenagers are sharing one it is pretty gross - akin to sharing gum or a boiled sweet, or even (dare I say it) toilet paper.

Swaggering, loitering, gobbing, puffing, and all the while looking like they thought they were Kiefer Sutherland. Or three Kiefers I suppose.

When their train pulled in they seemed unfazed. Nonchalant in fact, continuing to puff and gob as if they couldn't care less. Then the doors shut and they panicked, banging on the doors and cursing the train driver. The train pulled away leaving them marooned on a cold, icy platform.

As for the rest of us on the safety of our own platform, we just laughed.

And then there was the time when our train pulled into a station that was lit up with fiery pubescent passion. A chav was on the platform snogging his girlfriend. I use the word "snogging" reluctantly, it's not a nice word, but it is the only one appropriate.

He got onto the train, then lept back out to give his girlfriend a final kiss. The doors shut, leaving him behind cursing in a stroppy fit of pubescent fury.

As the train pulled away I pointed and smiled. I felt it was appropriate to "let him know".

Saturday, 13 December 2008

I have a gift

I've always known I have a gift. Throughout my life things have just worked. In my presence babies stop crying, kitchens clean themselves and hamsters produce Oscar-winning performances.

I jest.

My wife S had a very difficult day with little baby R yesterday, who griped, pooed and wailed to her little heart's content for the whole day, for no apparent reason.

I normally do the night feed, but S asked that she could do the night feed on the condition that I looked after little R for the morning, allowing her to have a bit of space and to (cough cough) sort the flat out. For some reason the kitchen hadn't cleaned itself, neither had the bathroom. I was worried my powers were waning.

So S did the night feed, and I had a beautiful full night's sleep, my first in months.

This morning little R woke at 8:30 (pretty good for a baby, huh?), so I fed and changed her. We (me and R) spent a happy hour dozing and then I spent the rest of the morning "baby sitting" tucked up in bed with coffee, laptop and The Spectator, while little R snuggled and slept.

I clearly have a gift.

Friday, 12 December 2008

A tribute to the Friday Joker

Today my post is simply to recommend The Friday Joker.

Check his blog out, the man is a genius and it is one of my favourites!

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Welcome To Britain

I'm slowly freezing to death on an icy platform, ruefully nursing my lip. I've managed to bite my tongue twice, and my lip twice, all within 24 hours. What are the chances? If I survive this I'll probably continue to munch on my lip until it is the size of a beach ball.

Good job it is not the season for beach activities, otherwise I would be in huge trouble.

A little bit of ice on a tiny section of the train line and pretty much every train in Britain is delayed or cancelled. On the other hand, the only thing that would delay a train in Norway would be a thawed woolly mammoth, brought back to life by MickeysBigMouth as he develops his healing powers above and beyond fish.

The first train cancelled, the second train delayed and carrying everyone from the first train, the connecting train cancelled, and here I am, freezing to death while slowly becoming engulfed by my lip.

Of course, this is despite the fact that our rail fares have increased above the rate of inflation every year, and this year will increase by 6-8%. There's nothing like paying more for less.

Welcome to Britain. Don't come here. I'm thinking of taking the family to Norway. Morag, you're welcome to join us.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

The UK at a glance

I don't often comment on the news, but with today's papers containing all sorts of juicy material it would have been a crime not too.

Having said that, I spent most of the commute listening to three teenage girls moan about their dads, one of whom spends too long in the bath. But anyway, back to the news.

Drug-addicted or alcoholic thieves will escape jail from next month if they can prove their crimes are driven by their need for a fix. Aside from the fact that this will become the shoplifter's charter, I think it is a great idea. In fact, I think they should escape jail if they were merely in a bad mood.

A cat Frankie has been stealing cuddly toys from the neighbouring households. So if you can't find your favourite teddybear, maybe Frankie has him. The good news is that Frankie is a friendly cat, so your teddybear will be in good care, albeit a little shaken.

Christian campaigners have lost their legal challenge against scientists being allowed to create human-animal embryos for research. Phew, that means my dream of having a duck's wings and a bull's head could still be realised.

Horses, donkeys and ponies were left to starve and die at a farmyard. The defendants deny all the charges. Presumably they overslept, or were repeatedly distracted by daytime TV. Of course, they could always claim it was due to their drug or alcohol addiction.

Chemists will be making the Pill available over the counter without a prescription, this despite evidence that it will have no affect on unplanned pregnancies, with one study suggesting that it will lead to more STD infections. Moral arguments aside, I always like to see evidence ignored. Evidence shmevidence, that's what I say.

A lollipop man has been banned from putting Christmas tinsel on his stick, and even burst into tears. Given the number of times I've tripped over tinsel hanging off a lollipop stick I'm not in the slightest bit sympathetic. Good riddance.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has spent considerable time and effort ruling that "feck" is not an expletive. I'm hoping that they will now rule that "banana" is an expletive, as I think it is a heinous swear. In the meantime, I'm off to the local FCUK store to exploit the VAT cut.

A reveller who killed a stranger for looking like Wayne Rooney is denying manslaughter. I imagine his defence would be "Your honour, Rooney is not a man, he's a boy."

Irish beef is at the centre of a health scare after cattle tested positive for illegally high level of dioxins (hey, I don't know what they are either). The meat will not be recalled because apparently there is only a risk if there is long-term exposure to the meat. This is particularly harrowing for those of us on an Irish-steak-a-night diet.

A ban on a pornographic Wikipedia image of a young girl was lifted by the Internet Watch Foundation yesterday. The image was on the Scorpion's album Virgin Killer. It warms my heart to see the IWF living up to its responsibilities. I may have to buy the album though, it sounds like lovely dinner music.

Cigarettes will soon be off display and under the counter. Hopefully cheap scratchcards will also follow suit, meaning I'm no longer stuck behind lotto junkies at the counter.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

How to direct a hamster nativity play

I have read a number of articles recently on making Christmas decorations and scenes, so I've decided to lay out how to direct a nativity play casted by hamsters.

I ought to let you know that this venture is not for the fainthearted or the frugal. Directing a cast of hamsters can be exhausting, and the little critters aren't cheap either. I mean, even when playing a minor role a hamster will expect you to pay through your nose.

The Cast (all hamsters are assumed to be Syrian)

Mary : One heavily pregnant hamster. You want her to be roughly 16 days pregnant on the day of the big production.

Joseph : A male hamster.

Baby Jesus(es) : Played by one of (or all of) the babies in the mother hamster's womb. There are some complications which need to be considered, but I'll cover this below.

The Three Kings : Three male hamsters. For diversity's sake, one should be black, one brown and one white.

The Shepherds : Three male hamsters.

Flock of sheep : 30 white baby hamsters.

The Donkey : A large male hamster.

The Production

The play should move very fast, as hamsters are very restless creatures. It starts with Mary and Joseph arriving at the stable. Mary should be riding on the donkey. From experience, I should warn you that the donkey typically does not like this, and Joseph and the donkey often end up fighting over Mary.

Upon arriving in the stable, you want Mary to give birth to the baby Jesus(es). Timing is everything. A Syrian hamster will give birth any time after 16 days, so you will want to delay the production until she is just about ready.

Note, while a Syrian hamsters' litter sizes average 6-8 pups, they can be as large as 20. You have two options. Either have one baby Jesus, and sneak the rest of the babies out the back, or have multiple baby Jesuses, which is historically inaccurate. If you go with the latter, bear in mind that the stable could get pretty chaotic.

It is important to have an extra pair of hands available to keep the baby Jesus(es) from being eaten by Joseph or the donkey.

Now it is the time for the shepherds to arrive with their flock of sheep. You will need another pair of hands to prevent the shepherds from eating the sheep. Actually, make that several pairs of hands. The shepherds should be wearing tiny little headscarves, which can be made cheaply from an old tea towel.

It is wise to place the set on a thick plastic sheet, as the flock of sheep tend to wee everywhere, which is extremely unprofessional, and smelly to say the least. Whatever you do, don't place the stage on your parent's new carpet, or your grandma's antique cabinet. Hamster wee is very acidic.

The time has come for the three kings to arrive. They should be wearing little pointed hats, which are easy to make from paper. Little pointy booties are also an option, although hamsters find these difficult to walk in. If you go down this route, be wary that the three kings can become quite aggressive if they keep tripping up on stupid pointy boots.

At this point you want the cast to prepare for the final bow. This is extremely difficult to orchestrate, and the stable will be chaotic and full of "activity". If you are not vigilant, the kings, shepherds, Joseph and the donkey will end up fighting furiously. Watch out for any escaping sheep.

I should add that a consent form should be filled out by every member of the cast, excluding the baby Jesus(es), who will be covered by their mother's signature.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Latex bifurcation

The old man cyclist was tapping his feet on the platform with the ferocity of a tap-dancing piglet. It was bad enough that my train was cancelled. But then to be driven splenetic by an irritating old man. What could be worse?

Well, for that matter, a ferocious tap-dancing piglet would be worse. On the up side, at least my tedious rigmarole of a commute was interrupted.

Yeah, right.

I have no tolerance for people that violate protocol. Especially when it involves tapping.

Rule number one. Don't tap your feet on the platform.

Rule number two. Don't tap your finger nails on the table.

Rule number three. Don't tap your pen against your laptop.

To make matters worse, he was wearing the type of cycling shorts that no self-respecting man should wear, let alone any self-respecting old man. Or, for that matter, any self-respecting tap-dancing piglet. Latex bifurcation. Nice.

I was torn between stomping along the platform in the miserable stoop of nihilistic despair, or sowing my eyes and ears shut with dental floss. Fortunately I was out of floss.

Instead, I sat there simpering like an old dog that had just been crushed by a Christmas tree. 'tis the season to be jolly.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Anger Management (alternative treatment)

So here's the question. Would I rather be stuck behind some nitwit doing 25 in a 40 zone, or have a family of frogs stuffed down my pants?

I'd go with the frogs, every single time. It's a non-argument really, especially as being stuck behind a nitwit doing 25 in a 40 zone makes me feel like I have a family of frogs stuffed down my pants.

Not that I have an anger management problem. My wife would tell me I should give them (the nitwit, not the frogs) the benefit of the doubt. As would my Mum, the most gracious person I've ever known.

But I do. I have to assume that they had their brain sucked out through a straw by a Zombie, who had the grace to replace it with a soggy battered cod. Presumably blown back through the straw. Although you would have to question the Zombie's sanity, wasting good fish like that.

Here's another question. Would I rather wait 15 minutes at the "Can I help?" queue in Barclays while the assistant painstakingly explains interest rates to a customer, or have someone stand behind me and repeatedly flick my ears? It's a tough one, but I think I would go with the ear-flicking.

I walked to the front of the queue, handed her my thumb-worn copy of "Interest Rates For Dummies", and told her in no uncertain terms to "Google it".

Actually, that's what I did in my mind. I did have 15 minutes to kill after all.

It's not as if I get cross when I have to wait for the green man for more than 5 seconds , muttering under my breath that I'm going to move to Holland where they build cities designed for the pedestrian, while vowing to write scathing letters to the council complaining that I'm the "green" one and things have to change - or they'll have their backs to the wall when the revolution comes...

And it's not as if I glare at every buffoon that cycles over the FOOT bridge, wishing on them a sequence of irreparable punctures ending with them spilling yogurt on their suit on the way to work.

Maybe I should reduce my caffeine intake.

Or maybe I should sign myself in for an alternative anger management course involving slimy amphibians, fish, ear-flicking and rubber bands.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

The Art Of Humiliating Yourself

When it comes to humiliation in the public arena, I like to avoid it. Not that I don't humiliate myself, far from it, but I steer clear of humiliation in the same way that I steer clear of dog poo on the pavement, grannies in buggies, daytime television, stinging nettles, cleaning sieves and post offices on Thursdays.

Q: Cleaning Sieves?
A: Sieves are kitchens' most despicable affront to human sanity. There is nothing worse than battling with thousands of tiny pieces of rice lodged in a sieve's holes. It drives me so berserk that all sorts of puerile thoughts enter my head. I end up secretly wishing the inventor of the sieve has a freak accident, slipping on a tiny piece of rice and jamming a teaspoon deep into his cerebellum. My wife and I have reached a mutual agreement. I keep the kitchen clean and tidy, but she cleans the sieve.

When I do humiliate myself it tends to be fairly minor. Like tripping on raised paving stones. You know when you just catch one, stumble for a few steps and then carry on walking pretending no-one noticed, but knowing that someone behind did notice, and knowing that that someone is smiling like an ape that has just been given a peanut.

There have been other incidents, like the time on my crowded London commute when a pair of boxes in my sports bag inexplicably leapt out of the bag into the aisle. These things are always inexplicable. I fantasise about recreating the scene with a miniature carriage full of mice. One mouse has a sports bag on the luggage rack. I then spend thousands of hours pushing the carriage along to see if the mouse's boxes leap out of the sports bag...

Or the time at work when I spat some gum binwards, and it sailed gracefully over the bin and rolled right up to a standing colleague.

But on the whole, I don't humiliate myself.

Let me tell you about Stephen. Stephen (pseudonym) is a friend of mine. Stephen and Humiliation are old friends. Stephen and Humiliation go way back. In fact, I imagine that Stephen and Humiliation frequently hang out at family reunions.

One day Stephen was walking through Warwick Arts Centre on his way to the bus stop. As he approached the exit he heard someone call his name. The Art Centre's exit splits into two, with one half a wheelchair ramp and the other half a flight of steps. They are separated by a metal railing.

As Stephen turned towards the caller he wrote himself a mental note. Ramp and steps are approaching, it said. Watch out for the railing, it said. Otherwise things could be painful, it warned ruefully.

Some friends were sitting in a cafe a few metres away. Stephen engaged in some small talk while continuing walking. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the railing approaching. Stephen wrote himself another mental note. End this conversation quickly, it said, its tone a little more urgent.

Not that I actually read these mental notes. That would be really weird.

Stephen's nether regions collided with the railing head on, but at enough of an angle to send him over head first. He caught hold of it just in time to prevent him crashing down the stairs. Hauling himself up, and turned to face his laughing friends.

As he raised his arms in a "what can I say?" gesture, his bus pass (inexplicably) flew out of his hand and glided through the air like, well, like a gliding bus pass, hitting the ground and sliding several metres across the floor.

Stephen had to walk the long walk of shame over to the bus pass, and then the even longer walk of shame back to the exit.

On another occasion Stephen was cycling home from a lecture. He took the usual short cut out of the university. The one that took you up a curb, over a grass bank and down into the sports centre car park.

On the descent down the grass bank he was taken cleanly off his bike by a suspiciously low branch. All in front of a class of school girls waiting to enter the sports center.

If there is anything worse than cleaning a sieve, it is being knocked off your bike by a tree branch in front of a class of teenage school girls.

Well, I suppose having a teaspoon jammed deep inside your cerebellum is worse.

I imagine that Stephen's mental note consisted of a scrap of paper featuring a crayon drawing of a stick man falling off his bike in front of a laughing school girl, with the word "disaster" in bold red scrawl.

Stephen got back on his bike, and rode off with his head held high. His dignity was left somewhere on the grass bank.

My wife trumped all of these incidents when she took a tampon out of her handbag instead of her credit card and handed it to a cashier.

I don't know how the cashier reacted, but I know what he should have said.

"Sorry Ma'am, but we don't take tampon."

Thursday, 20 November 2008

20 Minutes

20 Minutes. There's a lot of things I can do in 20 minutes. Burp a baby. Kill a mockingbird. Let the dogs out. Drink a pint. Tie my shoelace 40 times. Count to 1200 (one elephant, two elephant, three elephant...). On this occasion I had 20 minute wait at Gatwick Airport for my train. No prizes for guessing what I chose to do.

I had barely got to "ten elephant" when I decided to buy myself a healthy chocolate snack, so I stopped counting and headed off to WHSmith. The store is roughly one minute away from the platform, so that would still give me 18 minutes spare. With a bit of luck I would have time to point Percy at the porcelain on the way back, and maybe even drop off the kids.

To my dismay I was thwarted by the joint efforts of a lotto-junkie and a trainee cashier. A deadly combination. The two were locked in some sort of bitter dispute. The lotto-junkie seemed to be purchasing every scratchcard available. Titles included "Monkey Money" and "Money For Ewe".

The latter must be the lowest form of scratchcard available. "Money For Ewe" has a huge background image of a ewe, and each little scratch item is a ewe. Talk about bottom-of-the-barrel.

I waited patiently as these gibbonoids fought it out. I can't remember what they were fighting about, I was too busy working out how many years of mental gymnastics I would require before I bought a "Money For Ewe" scratchcard. It came to 16 million. The heated shop floor was making me sweat like a badger, and I started to panic as I realised that the chances of making my train were as narrow as a stick insect's waist.

I made my train, but only just, and I arrived perspiring like a mad horse and busting for a wee. 20 minutes. Time flies so fast when you're having fun. Next time I'll stick with the counting.

Strictly Come Prancing

Three cheers to John Sergeant, who quit the show Strictly Come Dancing this week, saying that his performance had been "a joke to far".

Not that I watch, or have ever watched, the show. It's not really my cup of tea. Or even my pint of beer, glass of Rioja or tub of ice cream for that matter. As my wife's granddad would say in his broad Yorkshire accent, "Wot's t' point of watchin' a bunch of am-a-t's when you c'n watch t' real thing instead." (My source of information is the Metro.)

I just don't think this kind of show is the bee's knees, or the wasp's nipples (as the great Douglas Adams would say) or even the crayfishes' tinsy winsy toes.

In short, Sergeant's abysmal attempts to dance each week were slated by the judges, but his humour and popularity won him a legion of fans who kept him in week after week.

His hilarious moves included dragging his partner (Kristina Rihanoff) around like a sack of potatoes, stopping mid-dance to re-introduce himself to his partner, pretending to read a newspaper and stomping around like he was squashing grapes.

Apparently his next dance, Murder On the Dance-floor, was going to feature him shooting at the judges. However he feared that people would have found that too much to handle and resigned instead.

Too much to handle? What a shame. I for one would have climbed into the barrel, scraped through the bottom, dug to the centre of the earth, and actually watched the show.

I say it again. Three cheers for John Sergeant.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

The Squeezebox Boom (an audiophile's dream)

(and getting Squeezecenter up and running on Fedora 9)

I'm afraid that if you're popping by for some of my usual witty observational drivel you'll be disappointed. For once, I'm writing on something technical. It you are a technophobe then I would leave now. On the other hand, if you are an audiophile, or simply love cool things that just work, then read on.

The Squeezebox Boom is a gorgeous all-in-one network music player with an integrated amplifier. A mere thirteen inches long and five inches high, this baby will rock your joint, look and sound awesome, and make you smile like one of the goons in the Listerine advert.

It hooks in to your home network, over wireless or Ethernet, and allows you to access your digital music collection via a cute little LCD interface. Best of all, it plays virtually any digital music format, including MP3, FLAC, WMA, WMA Lossless, Ogg Vorbis, AAC, Apple Lossless, WAV, and AIFF.

This is a big win for me, as all my music is in Ogg Vorbis (I can hear you technophobes starting to wail, but I did warn you not to read on), which generally offers better quality sound at similar file sizes to, say, MP3.

The software required is called SqueezeCenter, which is open source and available for Windows, Mac and Linux, which is a joy for someone like myself who refuses to run Windows or Mac.

Setting it all up is a breeze. Download and install SqueezeCenter (instructions online), and point it at your music collection.

Turn on your Squeezebox Boom. It will gracefully lead you through connecting to your network (wireless or Ethernet) and finding your SqueezeCenter. Then you can browse and play your music to your little heart's content. The sound quality really is fantastic.

I can't speak for other distros, but I set up SqueezeCenter on Fedora 9, Fedora being one of the loves of my life (somewhere behind God, my lovely wife and my little baby girl). Installation was a painless as eating a Jelly Baby, and just as juicy.

On Fedora, simply do the following as root:

rpm -Uvh

then do:

yum install squeezecenter

to install SqueezeCenter.

You then need to open the following ports in the Fedora firewall:


Note, if your music is (sensibly) on an external hard drive then you will want to auto-mount this using fstab. Otherwise SqueezeCenter will start before your drive mounts (How are you technophobes doing?). You probably want to make sure that it is only mounted read-only for most users, but as a starting point a root do:

mkdir /

vi /etc/fstab

And add an entry

/ vfat auto,defaults,umask=000 0 0

After rebooting this will auto-mount ready for SqueezeCenter.

Reboot, and SqueezeCenter will be up and running. Browse to http://:9000 to access SqueezeCenter. It will lead you through the setup, pointing at your music collection etc. etc.

A delight.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Memoirs Of A Rubber Duck

I write this from a cardboard box destined for a charity shop. The usual crap. Full of rejected items including a tea-stained tablecloth, some old computer speakers, a teach-yourself-Spanish book and a grubby teddy bear. I've not had an easy life, that's for sure. I hope we're going to Oxfam (I'm partial to the adverts).

Few people realise we rubber ducks have a soul, let alone the higher consciousness that we all have. Massive minds trapped in small rubber bodies, you wouldn't believe the strain that puts us under. Sworn to secrecy, those that have spoken out have been swiftly removed. Who by? Well, the Illuminati are the prime suspects. The Pope has made incriminating comments off the record, but publicly the Catholic Church denies everything.

I just can't bare to face another charity shop. The rejection, the under-valuation, the stuffy shop floor full of dust and bustling old ladies, it is all too much for an old duck like me. So I'm speaking out for the rest of us. If you don't hear from me again then you should fear the worst.

A low self-esteem is part and parcel of being a rubber duck. Destined to a life of bathroom (or charity shop) living, with the damp, the mould and the unlawful assembly of tacky bath toys. The things we witness. Some are too disgusting or inappropriate to relate.

Encased in a rubber body, typically isolated from other rubber ducks, our conjugal rights are non-existent. Subjected to viewing the basest scenes and foulest smells that humans can produce. A truly clean bathroom is a rarity. The damp, mould, mildew and ubiquitous pubes give us Monday blues every day, constant colds and chest infections. I knew a duck that died of pneumonia.

Children's bath times are the worst. The chaos, the wee, the clutter. Shampoo in our eyes, splitting headaches caused by the constant screaming, having to put up with low-life plastic bath toys.

Of course, there have been a few pleasant moments. The day I was put in a jug of Pimm's. An alcoholic disaster. The last thing I remember was drifting peacefully into oblivion. I woke up in a net with all the usual bathroom paraphernalia with a pounding migraine. Did I get any aspirin? Yeah right.

Our lives are so full of people, no personal space whatsoever. Oh for an uninterrupted life. Completely unemployable too, it's not as if we have any career prospects. Unless you are a blue rubber duck. They sometimes get to go on mass trips down the Thames. But nothing for a common yellow like myself.

I hope I don't sound contemptuous, I just feel used, downtrodden, destined to a life of misery and 50p price tags. Conventional economics I guess. If this ever makes it into public circulation I just hope something is done. If rubber ducks aren't oppressed, I don't know who is. Estimating conservatively, over one trillion rubber ducks have been produced. Where are they now? Landfill? I've got off relatively lightly.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Kickass Christmas Ideas For Men

I was looking around for Christmas gift ideas for my brother, dad, brothers-in-law and father-in-law. As I thumbed through some gadget magazines I found so much cool stuff I had to write my own Xmas list. It reminds me of one of Calvin's (of Calvin and Hobbes), a massive cross-indexed volume.

If Father Christmas - or is it Santa these days? - disappoints me this year I will definitely be very disappointed.

While I'm still working on my first draft - you can't be too careful with Christmas lists - I'll let slip a few ideas.

Solar Backpack
These things are becoming more common, and aren't that expensive. You can get one for 50 quid or less now, packaged with an abundance of adaptors to charge pretty much anything. See for an example.

Multi-Purpose Solar Charger
Hey, I know it's on the same vein as above, but just as cool. And if Santa feels a solar backpack or radio-controlled helicopter is out of his price range, or if you've just been a bad boy, then this could be a compromise. You can get these babies anywhere, just Google it.

Radio-controlled Helicopter
You can get some great little toys for under 30 quid. See This is the kind of present we (us men that is) dreamed of as kids, but those days they were too flimsy and far too expensive. You can never get too old for something like this, and it sure as hell beats getting underwear.

A nice pen with a built-in laser pointer
OK, with all the hoo-hah about silly twits trying to blind airplane pilots, make sure you don't buy one of these for the black sheep of the family. But for a sensible law-abiding chap like myself it would do just fine. Not sure what we would really use the laser for - what am I, an architect? - but never mind about that.

Miniature Tabletop Football
Don't laugh, you can't grow out of this. The problem with table football in the past was that the dumb things were just too big, a nuisance to get out, and not the kind of thing you would want in a modern apartment - destroying the aesthetics and making your beautiful home look tacky, which is not want the sophisticated modern man wants at all. Especially if he lives in a cool brickwork-exposed renovated warehouse apartment like they all do in the movies. These little ones are just perfect. See for a nice one.

Loo Stickers
Stickers that you can aim for when going to the toilet, increasing your accuracy rates by 80% (apparently) - also at You get them in different sizes to improve your skills. Who says these are just for kids?

USB Coffee Warmer
Not sure what the green lobby has to say about this. Geoge Monbiot will probably hate this kind of thing. I mean, surely you should just drink your coffee when the temperature is just right? Loads of people sell these now. I may decide to hold out for the USB toasty maker.

Hope these help. I just hope Santa doesn't disappoint me.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Wozzagate : Appreciate The Drama and Irony

Television and newspapers have been getting boring of late, with everyone pandering on about financial woes and Amy Winehouse's slush puppy machine, so it's nice to have a bit of drama for a change.

I'm flicking through London's papers on the way home from work. It's nice to see the Jonathan Ross/Russel Brand saga unfolds in such spectacular fashion. Nice? What kind of person am I, getting pleasure out of this? Some real drama for a change, no-one cares about the credit crunch any more. Or about Gorden Brown. Or about McCain, Obama or Sarah Palin. A scandal is what we all like.

I sit back and appreciate the carnage. The phone calls to Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs were pretty pathetic. I concede that. The whole thing was prerecorded, and was (as Ross put it) extremely "juvenile".

So, as a result of their phone call, Russel Brand has resigned from his Radio 2 show, and Jonathan Ross has been given a three month unpaid suspension. Given his £6 million quid a year deal, he can clearly afford it. The Metro put it beautifully in a cartoon,

"Jonathan Ross sentenced to three months off over Christmas".

For anyone who has somehow missed what happened, either because they slept through the last few weeks or because they live on their own little island, these two comedians played on air a prerecorded series of phone calls made to actor Andrew Sachs, which included lewd comments about his granddaughter, Georgina Baillie.

As the drama unfolds, we now discover from the papers that Miss Baillie, who had publicly slammed the comedians for their "lewd" comments, is allegedly a "£110-an-hour dominatrix" or a "Mistress Voluptua" as one "alleged client" put it. Now that's a gorgeous piece of irony for you. Of course, this "alleged client" could just be playing the tabloids for cash.

Her spokesman, the mighty and ubiquitous Max Clifford, is quoted as saying "It sounds as though she's been a very naughty girl."

Apparently over 35,000 people have complained to the BBC. The irony here is that the rentals of Brand's stand up DVDs have risen by 133 per cent, and Faulty Towers back catalogue by over 26 per cent. Brand's "apology" video with picture of Stalin in the background reveals his own attitude to the whole thing.

They will both almost certainly gain from the controversy and their renewed notoriety. However with fresh attacks on Mock The Week's Frankie Boyle, and on Graham Norton for an incident involving Ricky Gervais, I'm not sure how British comedy will fare from all this. Time will tell.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Smoke? You won't be allowed to foster children

One of London's councils is planning to implement some new rules on fostering. Redbridge council will be voting on a new smoking policy next week, the intention is to ban smokers from fostering children. The goal, it is said, is to limit children's exposure to passive second-hand smoke. The director of tobacco studies at Cancer Research, Professor Robert West, has condoned the ban.

Given my recent predilection for spoof news articles, I just need to clarify - this is not a spoof article.

Before I continue, let me at least state that I think smoking in enclosed areas (i.e. your house) around children is inherently selfish, and worthy of anger, finger pointing, maybe even a little name-calling and (dare I say it) eyebrow-raising. But for crying out loud, what will it be next?

My issue with this proposal is this. Sure, it is commonly accepted that second-hand exposure to smoke has a detrimental effect on health. But they are being bizarrely narrow minded here, in a way that is pretty much barefaced discrimination, and certainly inconsistent. If they are going through with this, they need to be consistent.

In case the council are short of ideas, I'll provide them with a few.

People who eat fast food, ready meals, processed meat, frozen vegetables, bagged salad, juice "from concentrate", sweets, or anything that isn't given a flippin' five star health rating should also be banned from fostering. Clearly these scumbags will adversely affect the health of their children in the long run. Just as second-hand smoke can adversely affect children's health, so will a bad diet. In fact, a bad diet in the home could arguably be worse, as it could set in stone bad dietary habits that could last a lifetime.

What else is linked to cancer? Diet drinks, anti-perspirant, too much sunshine, smoked fish, EastEnders, all sorts. Surely anyone who encourages the use or enjoyment of these should also be banned?

What about people who drink (and would allow foster children to drink) Diet Coke, surely they should be banned, as the children will be more likely to also drink Diet Coke, and therefore be t a higher risk of cancer, or obesity for that matter, which can also lead to heart problems.

What about carpets? They can be terribly unhealthy if they are not cleaned, with a build up of dust, germs and dead skin, and have sometimes been linked (or so I have read) with asthma. So why not ban people from fostering if they have carpets in their home, just to be sure?

I'm just going to indulge in a bit of flippant drivel here. Health is not the only issue. The council shouldn't just be concerned with physical health, but also emotional and mental development. Right?

People who watch EastEnders, Big Brother, Hole In The Wall or any other bottom-of-the-barrel television should also be banned from fostering. Clearly these uncouth philistines should be kept as far away from children as possible. I mean, we can't have any children turning into uncultured, crass little uncivilised brats can we?

People who don't have respectable literary interests should certainly not be allowed to foster youngsters. If their reading material includes celebrity trash, football magazines, or rock star biographies then they should be immediately ruled out. We need to make sure that all fostered children will develop literary skills that the nation is proud of.

I could continue on and on, but seriously now, I'll get back on track. The article says that smoking rights groups have labelled the council "health fascists". I think fascist is too nice, it leaves room for the possibility of the accused embracing their ideology with intelligence or common sense, which this council clearly haven't. If there is one thing this breathtaking display of ineptitude has taught us, it is that Redbridge council are misguided and displaying the brainpower of amoebas.

In fact, the only thing this council have done is commit intellectual suicide and waste taxpayers' money. Oh, and insult the human race. Nearly forgot that one. Why isn't insulting the human race through brainless initiatives seen as a crime against humanity?

What they should really do is produce a thirty-seven page check-list with all sorts of arbitrary, thoughtless, pointless criteria. If any aspiring foster parent fails any one of the criteria they should not be allowed to foster.

Forget cancer and heart disease, they are relatively rare, whereas stunted emotional, intellectual development caused my lax parenting, such as watching a little bit too much TV, or failing to encourage the reading of Charles Dickens is far more widespread.

I mean, what they really need to do is ban anyone who has any failing of any sort, as this could quite possibly affect the fostered child in an adverse way. Makes total sense.

Watch an unbalanced amount of TV? Banned. Eat bagged salad? Banned. Interested in celebrity culture? Banned. Don't look after your teeth properly? Banned. Wear low-cut tops? Banned. Socks with sandals? Banned. Crack open the occasional beer after work? Banned. Dirty nails? Banned. Listen to pop music? Banned. Appreciate Amy Winehouse's music? Banned. Bad dress sense? Banned. Support a crappy football club like Norwich? Banned. Read The Sun? Banned.

Hell, why stop here? We want children to grow up with a passionate care for the environment, so if you don't recycle to an acceptable level, leave your TV on standby instead of turning it off, or waste water by over-filling the kettle, then you should not be allowed to foster children.

You know what really sucks about all this? While all this is going on, London is over two thousand carers short. So as Redbridge council scratch around picking fleas of each others' backs, over two thousand children in need of foster care are sitting around waiting. I don't know what they do while they "wait", but I imagine they would be rather be fostered than wait to be fostered. Or am I being dumb here?

I sincerely hope the council see sense and vote down the proposal. I hope I see human rights groups speaking out this week. I hope the Guardian speaks out in all its liberal glory. If they push through the proposal, it will only be downhill.

Or am I the only one bothered by all this? If so then I'll shut up. But let me finish with a short sketch. Mr and Mrs Jones are finding out if they will be able to foster a child.

"Well, Mr and Mrs Jones. Your test results are back, and you have passed them with flying colours. You are a nice, cultured couple who own a lovely home that would be perfect for fostering one of our children.

You are well-rounded individuals in your tastes, interests and style, striking that perfect balance between enjoying a little bit of television, but not too much, and indulging in cultured reading and cross-wording.

This would nurture the fostered child's intelligence and interests in just the way we like.

You eat the perfect healthy, organic, environment-preserving diet. Meaning the fostered child would develop health dietary habits, and lower their chances of diet-related health problems later on in life.

Nothing in your household is remotely carcinogenic, and your appearance is immaculate. Your clothes are ironed, your hair combed, your temperament is calm and endearing.

Your floors are laminate, dust free and beautifully cleaned. Your home is painted in lovely neutral colours, a perfect gentle environment for children.


I'm afraid to say that we are going to have to turn you down.

Firstly, Mrs Jones, I can see the tiniest bit of skank, what is it?, muesli perhaps?, stuck in your teeth. Lax dental care can lead to fillings, Mrs Jones. If you fail to care for your teeth, then anyone in your care could also enter into similar negligence, resulting in fillings and toothache. We can't tolerate this possibility.

Secondly, Mr Jones, the Thought Police told me that you contemplated a MacDonald's on the way home yesterday. This will not do at all. Merely considering a fast food burger means that we cannot trust you with one of our children. If you indulge, then they may develop an insatiable appetite for fast food, leading to health problems and a lower quality of life.

And finally, Mr Jones, we've been told that you enjoy a quiet solitary cigar every Christmas on the veranda. And that cannot, and will not, be tolerated by myself, or any of my colleagues, or the Thought Police.

Goodbye Mr and Mrs Jones."

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Supermarket Hell

Going to the supermarket is always a mistake. This time I was forced into it. I had to pick up some medicine, and Tesco's pharmacy was the only one open on a Sunday. I never expected it to be a pleasant experience, but my mistake was to expect it to be a manageable trip. I made other mistakes too, like thinking that I would remain calm, rather than stomping around like a furious Larry David.

I make that mistake every single time, somehow convincing myself that it won't be THAT bad. That I will "manage" the trip by drawing on my limitless patience with the human race. I do have limitless patience with the human race - you do know that, right? If I know in advance that the supermarket will be most peoples' idea of Hell on a bad hair day, then I can prepare myself. Right?

That little voice at the back of my consciousness was whispering its usual lies. No-one will be there midday on a Sunday, it said. They'll be home preparing for lunch, it said. It'll be easy to find a parking space, it said. There'll be no queue at the pharmacy, it said. There'll be no kids running round screaming, racing trolleys and knocking old ladies over while their parents do nothing, it said. The "basket only" queue will be under five people long and moving quickly, it said. You'll even enjoy the outing, it said.

I'm going to have to kick that little voice right where it hurts.

If I had known it was Incompetents' Day Out in the car park I would would not have gone. I would have spent hours driving around to find another pharmacy, or even resorted to brewing the drugs myself on our balcony.

There were the usual klutzes driving the wrong way round the car park in order to nab spaces. There were entire extended families capering about on the through ways. There were small yappy dogs scrapping, biting and molesting shoppers. All that was missing from the chaos was a troop of pre-schoolers playing Frère Jacques on tin whistles.

I had been presented with no choice, so I just went to Tesco. But the rest of the universe (and beyond) had chosen to go to Tesco right then. Why? mean seriously, why oh why head down Tesco at lunchtime on a Sunday?

The place was packed with the usual suspects. Grannies spilling change, small children running riot, and (I kid you not) elephantine families wheeling round fleets of overloaded shopping trolleys full of Fanta and biscuits. Not that that is wrong, I hasten to add before a brigade of Guardian readers and Liberal Democrats come beating down my door, lambasting me for thought crimes and for being inconsiderate. But it is funny.

Seriously, those Fanta kids must be so WIRED. You can imagine them coming down the stairs at night, a 2-litre bottle of Fanta in one hand, a packet of biscuits in the other, eyes as wide as Texas, half-crazed on a sugar high. "Mummy, Daddy, I can't sleep and I've got a splitting headache."

Of the one million under-fives present at Tesco, fifty percent were wearing Heelys. In case you've been blessed with blissful ignorance (in which case I envy you), Heelys are those trainers that are equipped with wheels in the heel. Heelys are the worst thing man has ever created. Just when we thought our race had run out of dumb, dangerous and despicable things to event some idiot created the Heely.

To be fair on him or her, it was a genius money-making move. I should have bought shares. However they have a lot to answer for. They deserve to be strapped to a giant Heely and rolled slowly down Oxford Street on Christmas Eve, pelted with tomatoes by the angry masses, to the joyful sound of Frère Jacques played on tin whistles by a troop of pre-schoolers. This the same fate deserved by the 70s city planners. And no, this isn't my soapbox. I've lost my soapbox.

There is nothing worse than a busy supermarket seething with little kids screaming round on Heelys. Actually, an episode of chronic diarrhea in a crowded, broken-down lift would be worse, but I won't dwell on that...

...for long, but there was that time when I was watching daytime TV with my good friend Ray. An advert came on from an anti-constipation drug. A sexy smiling blond was sitting on the arm of a leather sofa, short skirt, high heels and grinning inanely. "The last thing you want on a busy day is to be constipated," she said, smiling ecstatically, crossing and re-crossing her legs (why the advertisers thought that anti-constipation drugs should be sexed-up beats me).

Ray turned to me. "No Jon," he said. "The last thing YOU want on a busy day is to be hit by a sudden bout of explosive chronic diarrhea, while stuck in a crowded lift and surrounded by small yapping dogs and small children blowing tin whistles."

Pause for thought. Did the parents simply say, "What a great idea, why don't you wear your Heelys to the supermarket", or did they get the idea from "How To Turn a Supermarket into a Hellhole in Five Easy Steps"?

Entering the supermarket my expression of weary anticipation was transformed into the sorrowful expression of a child that was expecting socks for Christmas and received a lump of earwax instead. The noise was terrifying. The aural equivalent of having your ear drum cleaned with an electric toothbrush to Slip Knot played backwards through a tinny mobile phone speaker. It was Hell.

As I narrowly avoided death-by-healy for the seventh time I decided the safest route to the pharmacy was through the clothes section. Biggest mistake I ever made. The clothes section was filled with a desultory group of shoppers with trolleys piled high, crashing into each other like a fleet of supertankers stuck in a duck pond. Displaying my limitless patience, and demonstrating our race's incredible capacity for survival, I stumbled my way through to the pharmacy. I heard one supertanker collide with another one behind me.

The queue at the pharmacy was, of course, monstrous. The pharmacy was, of course, manned by a single Trainee. Writhing like a Chinese New Year procession and full of the usual queue-jumpers, the queue was as bad as the one at the Ukrainian embassy. But that's another story. In case you're wondering, the word "queue" in Ukrainian translates roughly to "fight".

In the grand scheme of things, a busy supermarket on a Sunday lunchtime is as close to Hell on earth as you can possibly get.

But the day wasn't all bad. On the way home I saw a car flashed by a speed camera. That made my day. The sucker. As ol' Clint would say (note the politically correct "people" that I've sensitively substituted here), there are two kinds of people in this world. Those that see speed cameras as yet another tax tool, and those that relish them as vengeance on the wicked. I'm a stickler for rules and fall in the latter camp.

A stickler for rules with the exception for Digital Rights Management (DRM). Are you telling me that I can legally purchase music from amazingtunes or itunes and "can't" play them on my Squeezebox or mp3 player? Jeeze. I can and I will.

Dagnammit, I think I've found my soapbox.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Banks Ostracise Smokers and the Obese

With the Labour government gaining significant shareholdings in our major banks, there was always a fear that they would abuse this position, as all serious lefty governments should. However none of us expected them to act so soon, or so swiftly.

In a move that is likely to cause unprecedented controversy, a Banking Reform Bill has been put forward for immediate consideration. It seems that the government is willing to abuse its new influence, attacking what it sees as poor lifestyle choices, and using the banking system as a lever.

Labour MP James James James, author of the bill, spoke to the press about his proposals.

"This government cannot simply do nothing about individuals in this country who continue to make lifestyle choices that we do not approve of. Our sudden position of influence over the nation's banks has given us a remarkable opportunity to attack anti-social and detrimental behaviour, and to pressure individuals into changing their lifestyles.

We intend to force banks to give low savings interest rates, and high mortgage interest rates to anyone who is engaging in anti-social behaviour, embracing lifestyle choices that are detrimental to their health or others' health, or simply embracing arbitrary lifestyle choices that we do not approve of.

Ultimately, we intend to use the banking system to reform individuals. Our focus will initially be to target smokers, the obese, anyone who drives a vehicle of over 30MPG, people who live in a home without double glazing, middle-class couples who share a bottle of wine on a Friday night, owners of small yappy dogs, and any parent who has given their children silly names."

Mr James James James has denied accusations that he has a personal stake in the bill.

As we spoke to various individuals about this bill, it has become clear the public are furious. Sweetshop owner Tony, of "Tony's Tucker", made his opinions very clear.

"This is outrageous. I'm not even clinically obese, yet I face under-inflation savings rates, and massive mortgage interest rates, just for being slightly tubby. Hell, I'm only 13 stone. Statistically, one in four of us in Britain are categorised as obese. What will this mean for us all?"

Award-winning celebrity magazine "Bottom-Of-The-Barrel Celebrity Trash" has also spoken out in this week's issue.

"We're terribly worried about high-profile A-list smokers such as Lindsay Lohan, Amy Winehouse and Simon Cowell. Unless they are extremely shrewed they could lose vast amounts of their savings simply because they smoke. And what would that mean for the X Factor or American Idol? This isn't just an attack on lifestyle, this is an attack on quality television."

Dorothy Tailor, 95, was protesting outside number 10 Downing Street today. Propped up against her zimmer frame, and panting like crazy, she let herself go. "I cannot believe this. I've paid my taxes, fought in the war, and now they will be stealing my savings because I don't have double glazing. It's a council house for goodness sake. They were the ones that built it!"

Phil and Amy, early thirties, a middle-class couple from a middle-class suburb living typical middle-class lives, spoke out in defence of all middle-class couples that share a bottle of wine on a Friday night.

"It's ridiculous", said Phil, "we don't drink during the week, and on a Friday we will go through a bottle of red, but that's over the course of the whole evening, dinner, film, everything. We're entitled to do that, as are all middle-class couples."

"It's not as if we're giraffing around like Amy Winehouse or Pete Doherty", said Amy, a little flustered, "I don't know why they keep targeting us middle-class couples and moaning about this single bottle of wine."

Steve Jones, 75, voiced his concerns over the targeting of car owners. "30 MPG is flipping brilliant, if everyone drove a 30 MPG car we would probably beat Kyoto hands down, and yet they strike 90 percent of the nation in one foul eco-swoop. It's bizarre, why not continue to target the so-called "Chelsea Tractors", 4x4s and the stupid little scooters that chavs drive instead? Do they expect us all to ride bicycles round the M25?"

Former investment banker, Andrew Higgins, gave his views from the perspective of a jobless banker. "I just don't understand why they are doing this now, in this current financial crisis. As if the credit crunch wasn't bad enough. On the other hand, hitting owners of yappy dogs with bad savings rates is a great idea."

The Sensible Politics Alliance expressed its fury in the form of a live television interview. Unfortunately the interviewee had to be restrained and the content of his barrage cannot be published here. We can reveal that the phrases "intellectual suicide" and "incontinent twerp" were used, though not in the same sentence.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Taxi Drivers Are All Crazy

As we got into the taxi the driver was already speaking. "Phil and Babs were down this weekend for the BBQ, we had a lovely time", he said. He had a glint in his eye, as if expecting us to relish that juicy tit-bit of information. "Riiiight", I said in my favourite sarcastic tone, wearing my favourite "feigned interest" expression, and rolling my eyes in a way that would have made Jerry Seinfeld proud.

Phil and Babs, whoever they are, had been down for the BBQ. Apparently they brought their own crate of Carling, and Phil refused to take any money for it, which was remarkably nice and hospitable and much to the delight of our taxi driver.

"Most people just come and take take take", he said, "but Phil is a decent bloke". Without leaving us room to reply, or even to think, he continued with his irrelevant drivel for the entire journey. All we could do was grit our teeth and hope that we survived.

There is the other extreme, the type of silent, cold, emotionless taxi driver that scares the hell out of you. The type that makes you speculate that he is a serial killer in his day job. We got a taxi home from a wedding recently and the driver was one of these. The whole journey was an awkward silence. He was clearly not in the mood for talking, so we kept quiet. Every couple of minutes he would make a rhetorical comment, always in a cold emotionless voice. "Lovely day", he would say, before disappearing back into the void.

I experienced another taxi driver that was completely silent for the journey, with the exception of a few seconds during a song played on the radio. It was that terrible song Beautiful Girl by Sean Kingston with the refrain "suicidal, suicidal". This chap hadn't uttered a word, and then when the chorus played he sang along "suicidal, suicidal", before shutting up for the rest of the journey.

And then there was the door slamming incident. After getting into a taxi's passenger seat and shutting the door, the driver got out the car in a huff. He stormed round, opened my door and then slammed it shut. When I got out at my destination I made sure to slam the door shut. I certainly didn't want a repeat of the earlier incident.

"Oi!", he exclaimed, cursing violently, "Don't slam my door."

Crazy I tell you, they're all crazy.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

The Gov' : Ali-G eat your heart out

I spent a moment deliberating whether to go for lager or beer. The pub was warm and cosy, and after a hard day I needed the comfort of an ale. I ordered a pint of Old Speckled Hen. I found myself a table, and settled down to watch the football.

As my beer settled, I watched it lovingly with anticipation. Then I took my first sip. My gosh. The beer was off. It tasted rancid, bitter like vinegar and very, very off. I took it back to the bar, which was a pretty bold move for someone who spends most of his waking hours tiptoeing around trying not to upset anyone.

"I don't like to cause a fuss", I said apologetically, "but this beer is off."

The barman took a sip, and without the slightest inkling of a flinch said "That's Hen alright. It's not Stella y'know."

I did know. I was torn between employing sarcasm or smugness. Sarcasm is, as we all know, the highest form of wit and the language of royalty. Smugness, on the other hand, is incredibly satisfying, especially when it successfully portrays an attitude of "I don't care one bit you idiot". I opted for some light sarcasm.

"Isn't it?", I asked, eyebrows raised to the ceiling.

"If you're not happy with it, take it to the Gov'", he said, pointing across the room. Reclining at a table in the corner, surrounded by women, was the Gov', resplendent in all his glory. The Gov' was a giant of a man, clad in a huge white tracksuit, and wearing more bling than Ali-G on a Saturday night. He reminded me of a cross between Henry VIII and Ali-G.

As I embarked on the long, lonely journey across the room I was conscious of being watched. Conversations were put on hold, heads were turned, and the jukebox stopped playing (or did I imagine that?).

"You alright?", the Gov' asked.

"My beer's off", I said, "the barman told me to bring it to you if I wasn't happy with it."

The Gov' smiled, reached for my pint and took a huge gulp. What followed was priceless. His formally smiling face was contorted beyond recognition. The Gov' slowly cricked his neck to one side, just like the policeman in Dumb & Dumber after drinking pee from a beer bottle.

"I'll go get the barrel changed for you", he said, lifting his huge frame off the chair. I went back to the bar. "I'll have a Stella instead."

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Best-before and Use-by Dates scrapped in favour of more comprehensive system

For years there have been rumours of a revision of the food expiry dating system, but now it is finally happening. Experts have long complained that dating concepts such as sell-by, use-by and best-before are useless.

Dr Henry Geoffreys, of the respected Institute for Politically Incorrect Culinary Studies, spoke to our correspondent.

"It is about time the dating system was revised. Everyone knows that some people chuck food out when the best-before date is reached, others chuck it out when they think it smells bad, and some people from, um, lower income backgrounds, eat it until it really really smells bad. And some people eat it when, um, it has already been thrown out and buried at the bottom of the bin for a few days.

We've devised a comprehensive indexing system so that the, um, different 'groups' of people can know exactly when the food has 'expired', in their own terms of course."

The liberal press were initially furious, but have been appeased by their own inclusion on the new indexing system.

The new system is simple. The old best-before and use-by dates are still included - as anchor points if you like - but these are padded out with a full range of dates for categories or groups of people, celebrities, politicians and occupations. The dates printed here are arbitrary, for illustrative purposes only.

Russian Oligarch : 01/01/2009
Banker (pre credit crunch) : 05/01/2009
The Beckhams : 08/01/2009
High-income Family : 10/01/2009
Premiership Footballer : 11/01/2009
Tory MP : 12/01/2009

Best-before : 13/01/2009

Middle-income Family : 14/01/2009
Working Professional : 15/01/2009
Labour MP : 16/01/2009

Use-by : 17/01/2009

University Student : 19/01/2009
Liberal Democrat : 20/01/2009
Lower-income Family : 21/01/2009
Freelance Journalist/AC Content Producer : 22/01/2009
Banker (post credit crunch) : 23/01/2009
Liberal Journalist/George Monbiot/Polly Toynbee : 25/01/2009
Bohemian : 29/01/2009
Amy Winehouse/Pete Doherty : 05/02/2009
Scavenger : 28/02/2009

With the index itself agreed on, all that remains is to figure out to fit the damn thing on anything smaller than a can of beans.

Monday, 13 October 2008

The Granny Disruption Conspiracy : An Exposé

As news stories break out covering the so-called "Granny Disruption Conspiracy", we bring you the first exclusive on this dark, dingy and dangerous organisation of pensioners. This sinister organisation has been causing public disruption in banks, post offices and supermarkets at an increasing rate.

Scotland Yard have been closing in on the organisation, known internally as the GDC, for the last two years. The net finally closed with yesterday's sting operation, catching the conspirators off-guard in a derelict warehouse in Wimbledon. A leaked report reveals that among the captured equipment were GPS devices, jamming equipment and two B-2 stealth bombers.

The GDC was started in 1967 by the Pilchard sisters, Dot and Maude. While they passed away many years ago, these gifted old ladies wrote much of the GDC's literature, which was released into the public domain just a few hours ago. The following exerts shed some light on their motivation.

"The idea for the GDC was born during a scrabble game in the Littlehampton Scrabble Club. Frankly, we were bored. Bored of scrabble, bored of sitting around all day watching television, bored of tea and cake. Ignored by the public, abandoned by our children, and fed up of seeing daytime television deteriorate before our very eyes."

"Disgruntled with life in every way, we believed that it was our human right to claim back recognition, even by illegal means. All we wanted was love, conversation, respect and recognition. And we couldn't believe the BBC license fee had just gone up again while the quality of daytime shows had grown even more dismal."

"Over that influential scrabble game our plan was hatched. A conspiracy on a national scale. We would disrupt the younger generations with stealth, cunning and wickedness, interspersed with games of scrabble and, of course, lots of tea and cake."

With its "sinister and secret" ambitions, the GDC mimicked the Freemasons in various ways. They introduced a secret handshake, which had all sorts of convolutions to cater for walking sticks, zimmer frames and electric buggies.

The GDC based its hierarchy on the Freemason's thirty-three degree (or level) system, with Dot and Maude initially at the top. Between each degree was an initiation ceremony in the form of a scrabble game, with the member in question having to achieve a minimum of N triple-word-scores, where N increased from degree to degree.

One area that the GDC chose to differ from the Freemasons is regarding the religious aspects, as the Pichard sisters explain in their paper "The Founding of the GDC".

"We have chosen to omit all the bizarre religious aspects of the Freemasons. This is because most of us are nice, prim old ladies who are Church Of England, organise church fetes and vote Conservative. We've had to stick with the God of the Bible I'm afraid."

Since the GDC has been exposed Robin Stevenson, PR Officer for the United Grand Lodge of England, has denied all knowledge of, or involvement with, the GDC.

"The Freemasons vehemently deny any knowledge of, or involvement with, the GDC.", he stated.

Off the record, he expressed admiration for how they had developed the handshake, especially regarding zimmer frames. "It just goes to show what a bright bunch of old ladies they are!", he exclaimed.

The GDC has grown in size astronomically over the past ten years, and now has approximately two million members in the UK alone. With the organisation exposed, members have been willingly speaking to the press.

"I'm just glad it is all over", said Anne Goddard, 85, from Milton Keynes. "They kept us so busy, you know, a compulsory game of scrabble three times a day just keep our minds sharp."

We were curious as to why so many pensioners had joined the organisation. Polly Pike, 90, from Windermere, explained why she joined. "I had been thinking about it for a while, a lot of my friends from the scrabble club had joined, as well as from my knitting group and bowling club too. The peer pressure was enormous. But it was the BBC license fee that did it. When it passed the hundred pound mark I joined straight away."

Thirtieth-degree GDC member Jane Sidcombe, 97, explained the principal modes of operation.

"The organisation has always kept its targets simple. We've always focused on banks, post offices and supermarkets. The aim has always been to disrupt the general public at the most inconvenient moments - inconvenient for the public of course - we have all the time in the world!

Just like the Freemasons, we have lodges in cities, towns, and even in some villages. Each lodge is responsible for causing disruption in its own jurisdiction. This is achieved primarily by identifying a hot spot, usually a bank, post office or supermarket, and dispatching an elite troop of pensioners at the most disrupting time.

To dispatch a troop of pensioners swiftly and efficiently, the organisation has increasingly depended on military vehicles and equipment."

Former GDC treasurer Gertrude Jones, 103, explained where the funding comes from.

"The organisation has obtained funds both legally and illegally. We have legitimate fronts in Bingo, Knitting Groups, Scrabble and Bowling clubs. With over two million members in the UK, all playing Bingo three times a week, you can imagine we generate quite a significant income. When funds have been short, we have also embezzled pension funds, which are not proud about, seeing as all of our members are pensioners themselves, but this has been unavoidable.

Our final source of funds is Al-Qaeda, who see our disruptive actions as key to bringing down The West. This has not been without controversy. The majority of our members are nice, prim, Church-Of-England-going, church-fete-participating types, who did not want to be associated with Islam."

We spoke to the Chief of Operations, General Betty Davies, 78, to get a better idea of some typical operations.

"I'll explain how a typical operation unfolds.", said General Davies, as she sipped her tea from a china cup.

"The operating lodge will identify, say, a high street bank. Identification can be at random, or it can be strategic, if we are focusing on bringing prolonged disruption to the town, for example. If the latter, we may hit a post office on the Monday, and then a bank on the Tuesday, and so on.

An elite troop of pensioners is then dispatched. This can be any number between five and fifty. Our communications and surveillance team have tapped in to the national CCTV network, so are able to judge the best sized attack squad.

We quickly found that due to our general lack of mobility - our average age is 84 - the only way to swiftly deploy attack squads was using stealth bombers and mini-buses.

Even with our vast income from Bingo, we were only able to purchase two B-2 stealth bombers, so most of the time we just use mini-buses."

"You're kidding me, right?", our correspondent exclaimed. "A stealth mini-bus will pull up outside a bank, and offload a troop of pensioners, and shoot off again, without being noticed?"

General Davies smiled. "That is exactly what happens. Our troops are trained to disrupt using a variety of techniques. Some pretend to be lost. Some deliberately drop change everywhere. Some simply pad out queues."

And as if to prove the legitimacy of her claims, Betty asked some loaded questions.

"Ever wonder why every time you go to the bank in your lunch break it is completely full of pensioners? Or what about those times the post office is so insanely busy you wondered if there was a conspiracy? You probably wondered why they all chose to go to the post office at lunch time. To deliberately disrupt commuters on their lunch break? Now you know."
As I have quite a few new readers since I became a "Jelly Biter" I've put this up here again. To understand the context you must read this post!