Friday, 29 February 2008

Go ahead and jump

I always thought it was a quaint old tradition, the whole "women-can-propose-marriage" thing that surrounds leap-day, 29th February. In the dim, distant and less emancipated past I suppose it might have had a place, perhaps. After all, it must have been quite useful to be able to pop the question once every four years if Mr d'Arcy was holding back.

But in the 21st century? Surely, women and men are complete equals, even though you're all from Venus and we're mainly from Domino's Pizza. If a girl wants to ask the question, just get on with it - don't faff about waiting for Mr Right to make his mind up.

But when my desk-neighbour informed us all this morning that she had proposed - successfully - to Dave, her significant other, I was delighted. Not just for her personally (although I do know an expert cake-maker) but because I think it's remarkable that concepts like this can survive in the here and now.

She'd even asked his parents for his hand in marriage beforehand. That's classy.

Dave was somewhat nonplussed, however. Apparently she'd jumped the gun - he was going to ask her to marry him when they went on holiday later next month. "What can I do now instead?" he asked.

Take a hint from someone in the tenth year of marital blitz. Sort out the jewellery part of the deal, Dave. You can't fail.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008


You see, this is just weird.

I write a blog post entitled "A Nation in Shock". And then a day later, this happens.

Call it fate. Call it kismet. Call it synchronicity. Clearly I am a latter-day sage. Perhaps I should offer my services to the Nation.

And yes, we did feel the earthquake. I can't quite recall the finer details, but it went a little like this:

Me: "Bloody hell, did you feel that?"

Katie: "Urgh?" (Eyes closed).

Me: "I'm sure that was an earthquake. Either that, or your digestive issues are back again."

Katie: "Urgh." (Eyes still closed.)

Thrilling stuff. The rights to the TV movie are available, if anyone's interested.

Monday, 25 February 2008

A nation in shock

Our reporter writes:

News is coming in of an unexpected event in the South Birmingham area over the weekend.

Local residents have reported that fatboyfat and his long-suffering wife, Katie, arose from their slumbers and left their house on Sunday morning. Before mid-day.

No, really.

Fatboyfat - noted pie expert and wearer of a seemingly infinite range of brown t-shirts - has, along with his wife, been a finalist in the West Midlands Invitational Joint Lie-In Championship seven years running. It is said that the couple have never seen the 'AM' indicator on their alarm clock on a Sunday.

Neighbours were still coming to terms with the news today. "They'd been out the night before, too," said one. "We're not normally used to hearing them unlock the door until Monday morning when that happens. We fully remember seeing them come home from the last Pride weekend - that should be a spectator sport in its own right - and then losing a significant part of the following 48 hours."

There were unconfirmed sightings of the pair motoring through Gloucestershire, before returning after a very nice pub meal at Mappleborough Green. Normal service was resumed, by all accounts, with a lengthy nap in the afternoon.

We clearly need to get out more often.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Writer

"It was a dark and stormy night."

Henry sighed. He glanced at the screen for the second time; the seven words stared balefully back at him in return. The cursor, winking conspiratorially, attracted his attention for a moment. But no longer; scraping the chair legs back across the floorboards, Henry stood up and turned away.

A pace. Than another. Rattling the packet, he shook out a cigarette and tried to focus all his attention on the quick, fleeting flame. Silk Cut White - it had been Henry's last concession towards giving up altogether. He inhaled listlessly. He'd often pondered whether he could get more of a buzz from simply standing around outside the Trescothick Arms with his mouth open.

Had it always been this way? No. When he'd started, they hadn't been there, those words. He had no idea where they'd come from. But they were plaguing his waking moments.

Back, further back before the writing, things had been different. There was just the warehouse, then. The long hours, the fork-lift truck, the pallets. Simple concerns. Henry regarded his fingernails distractedly. Neat, clean. No manual worker, he.

The memories came back. His memories. The unexpected windfall that had allowed him to write. The courses. Practice, practice, practice. Finding his voice. The freebies he'd done to get his foot in the door. At first it had been a struggle, but over time the commissions began to come. Word slowly spread. Henry had a natural talent, he could turn his hand to most things.

You want an article on romance in the 21st century? Love to help.
A corporate brochure? Pleasure doing business with you.
Something for the kids? Child's play.

But now. But now. Three months it had been since those words started showing up at the front of his mind. Every time, he'd start, and "It was a dark and...." was there before he even knew about it. Any genre, any style.

He'd start a science-fiction screenplay, only to find out that the six-month nights on the outer moons of Saturn were unexpectedly filled with meteorological turbulence. The historic dramas all seemed to be set in the witching hour. And always raining.

He'd tried to avoid the clichés, but these days they were showing up like raisins in a fruit cake.


Stubbing out the last half-inch of cigarette, Henry reached for the blinds and looked out at the street below. Dim pools of light under the sodium flare of the street-lamps. Dust, litter and leaves skittering along the pavement, in time with the rhythm of the rain, blown against his window.

"Oh bloody hell."

Friday, 22 February 2008

I have the power

Sometimes you just wonder if people read stuff back to themselves before publishing it.

On the BBC website today there's a story about how Ofgem, the regulator in charge of utility gas and electricity companies, is looking into potential market abuses.

And the following gem is part of the story:

The group has also questioned whether companies that supply energy, as well as producing it, have too much power.
Surely that's the whole point?

Monday, 18 February 2008

Give it away, give it away, give it away now

I knew I'd meant to do something about this:

Proposals to overhaul organ donations and boost the number of transplants in the UK by 1,200 a year have been backed by the government.
I've always been in favour of the whole idea of organ donation. Obviously, I'd like them to make sure I have indeed shuffled off the mortal coil, rung down the curtain and gone to join the choir invisibule before getting the Black & Decker out. I mean, my just having a bit of a lie down shouldn't be enough of a signal for an impromptu filleting.

I'm fussy that way.

But on the whole, I'm pro-donating. In fact, I think it's a terrible shame that they generally only get to have the unseen, funny-looking innards. I think I have so much more to offer.

I've always been quite keen on my ankles. Hardly ever used, one careful owner. They do come attached to my feet, which I suspect is par for the course. And Katie's never liked my feet - apparently they remind her of the vampires in The Lost Boys.

It freaks her out when I shout out, "Michael! Michael!" at random intervals.

My shins, they're quite respectable. For reasons I can't quite fathom, they have patches where no leg hair grows. Odd, but it opens up the opportunities for cross-gender recipients, I suppose. You've received someone else's shins, but at least you can go easy on the Immac. Always look on the bright side, I say.

My kidneys and liver? Well, they've had a pretty good work-out so far, so people might want to tread with caution. In fact, I'm almost certain that 'treading' would be counter-productive. My bile gland must be fairly under-used though, as I tend only to watch TV when under the influence of the afore-hinted alcohol.

I've got simply smashing elbows, even if I say so myself. The skin's a little wrinkly, but apparently that can be put to good use in other places. Should the need arise. Use your imagination.

And as for my larynx - people tell me I have a good telephone voice. A little Brummie, I suppose, but that never held Ozzy Osbourne back.

On second thoughts....

Sunday, 17 February 2008


One of the few work-related things I do at the weekend involves reading a newspaper. There is a little more to it than that, to be honest. There's a small team of us in the office, each assigned a different weekend publication, and we check through them to see whether:

(a) anything relevant to our line of business gets covered (given that most papers have a specific section on our industry, this is pretty much a given), or
(b) our own organisation gets a mention (this happens less often).

Our first job on Monday is to meet up and decide whether any of the coverage under (a) is something we need to do something about. And if there's anything under (b), is it a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

I bitched like mad after volunteering to do this, as I duly got assigned the Sunday Express. Yes, its politics are slightly to the right of Genghis Khan, but I knew this in advance and could apply the common sense filter to it all. It's a source of amusement, if anything. If you told Express readers that teenage hoodie-wearing gangs were the natural predators of asylum seekers, they'd implode in a cloud of logic.

No, my main disappointment was the shallowness of its reporting. A typical Sunday Express headline will feature the following elements at least once per month; house prices, Princess Diana, asylum seekers and hoodies. It's mob mentality made newsprint.

After about a month of my Monday morning moaning, they relented and gave me the Independent on Saturday instead. This is better. And yesterday I was rewarded when I looked at the Travel section, which had a feature on the countries of the Arabian peninsular headlined:

Oman For All Seasons

I love puns. This sort of thing makes my day. I love the thought that there was a sub-editor there going, "Shall I? Shall I? Can I get away with this?"

Last year I read Stuart Maconie's autobiography. Maconie is better known as a radio presenter, but he's also an accomplished writer who cut his teeth on the legendary NME. And he likes a pun. The book's called "Cider with Roadies" which is a good start, pun-wise. In it he tells a great story about Friday afternoons at the NME, when the writers would get together to come up with captions and headlines for the next week's stories.

A colleague was struggling. Bruce Springsteen had, after a long hiatus, launched two albums pretty much simultaneously. What could they use as a headline for the review? Maconie paused. Then came up with:

You Wait All Day For The Boss, Then Two Come Along At Once.


Thursday, 14 February 2008

OK, so I bought into it

And we were going to be so cynical and 21st century about the whole St. Valentine's Day thing. After all, we don't need to swell the profits at Hallmark cards to express our feelings, do we?

But then this came into my life:

A quick note of explanation is probably necessary for Americans and all other forrin-types. Marmite is, by appearance, a by-product from the road-building industry. It's a thick, dark brown, almost black, goo; a yeast extract you could use for waterproofing your coracle, if you were that way inclined. And had a coracle.

It's rich, salty, tangy and hearty. And, to use the vernacular popular in certain places, it totally rocks. Gosh. I'm actually watering at the mouth ever so slightly. As a child it was one of the few things I'd touch, so between the ages of 4 and 12 I consumed enough to float a frigate.

This is a special limited-edition version of Marmite for St. Valentine's Day, with a tiny bit of champagne added to the recipe for no justifiable reason whatsoever. I like it just for that.

I haven't yet opened the jar. As far as Katie is concerned, when I brought this home last night I may as well have smuggled Polonium-210 into the house. She doesn't just dislike Marmite - I think she feels a little uncomfortable at the thought of it being within 50 feet. In fact, I had to distract her with Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and some Gordon Ramsay chocs.

Katie isn't alone in feeling like this. You see, Marmite polarises opinion like nothing else. People do not "like" Marmite. They evangelise about it. Other people do not just feel ambivalent. They strike it out as the food substance of the Devil. The word "Marmite" has now been taken to refer to anything that divides opinion.

I suppose when you think about it I can see the Marmite-haters' point. It doesn't look at all appetising. The smell is overpowering and the taste is all-or-nothing. It's actually quite easy to despise. But despite that, there are some people (me included) who love it with a passion.

Is that the point? Faults aside, can everyone find someone who loves them?

Maybe that's what today is all about.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Packets of four

I must remember to thank Rebecca for tagging me for this "Four Things" thing. Here goes.

Four jobs I've held:
  1. Record shop assistant (a Saturday job as a teenager. God, I loved that job).
  2. Door-to-door book club salesman (for all of one day).
  3. Filing clerk (or "that temp who lost all the files in '88").
  4. Message wrangler and corporate Jiminy Cricket.
Four movies I've watched over and over again:
  1. Blues Brothers (the original one, if you don't mind).
  2. The Italian Job (ditto).
  3. The Empire Strikes Back (I have an AT-AT fixation).
  4. Grease (although not through choice. An old girlfriend used to play it over and over again. I shudder to think of it now).
Four places I've been:
  1. Scaër, France
  2. New York, USA (a few times, and I have the credit card bills to show for it).
  3. Marsaskala, Malta
  4. Pastida, Rhodes
Four places I've lived:
  1. One bit of Birmingham
  2. Another bit of Birmingham
  3. A third bit of Birmingham a few minutes away from (2).
  4. The current bit of Birmingham.
Wow. How I've lived.

Four TV shows I watch:
  1. Ashes to Ashes (for the plot of course. The presence of Keeley Hawes in no way influences this decision).
  2. QI
  3. Top Gear
  4. The A Daily Show With Jon Stewart
Four radio shows I listen to:
  1. I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue
  2. Wake Up With Wogan, interspersed with....
  3. Today on Radio 4
  4. Jonathan Ross on R2 (if I'm around/awake/sentient on a Saturday morning).
Four things I look forward to:
  1. Payday
  2. A tidy house. (It's never going to happen).
  3. Two weeks in Brittany, eating crepes and drinking cider.
  4. Katie getting better from her current poorliness.
Four favourite foods:
  1. Steak, medium rare.
  2. Indian, especially curries like keema.
  3. Stilton cheese.
  4. Tiramisu, if we're after a dessert.
Four places I'd rather be:
  1. The Cornelia Street Cafe, Greenwich Village, New York City.
  2. Anywhere in Solva.
  3. Chilling on Richmond Green on a sunny afternoon, drinking real ale, watching the cricket and checking out the planes on their final approach to Heathrow.
  4. Sitting in La Petite Peche in Brittany, eating foie de boeuf and discussing Hawkwind with Stuart, the co-owner until the early hours of the morning.
Four people I e-mail regularly:
  1. Brother no.1
  2. Brother no. 2
  3. Mike
  4. Myself, to test my email account hasn't gone west yet again. Damn you, VirginMedia!
Four people I've tagged:
  1. Le Laquet
  2. City Girl
  3. Kate
  4. Dean
Thank you, Wembley Stadium, and goodnight...

Monday, 11 February 2008

Random thoughts - Sunday night, Monday morning

My timeclock is shot. We should have got up earlier today.

I'm going to struggle to get to sleep now.

What way should I be lying?

Ringing in my ears. Go away. Go away.

Who comes up with the names for blues singers? Big Bill Broonzy. Howlin' Wolf. Blind Lemon Jefferson. Anaemic Jeff Coburg. I wonder if there's a register somewhere?

Sleep. Sleep. Get some sleep. I'll be no use in the morning.

We really should get the gutters cleared out. I think the Forest of Dean is growing in that downpipe.

If I breathe in through my nose, out through my mouth, does that help?


This is ridiculous. I've been doing this sleeping thing for nearly 38 years - surely I know which way to lie by now?

Oof. Looks like Katie's trapped wind problem is sorting itself out. Well, the "trapped" bit, anyway.

Must sleep. I've got work in a few hours. Surely there are rules about operating heavy spreadsheets whilst sleep-deprived?

Listen to her. Snoring away. She'll claim a sleepless night in the morning, all the time she's here making a noise like someone chainsawing their way through a herd of donkeys.


That's better.

What's that horrific rasping noise coming from the foot of the bed?

It's OK, it's the cat, licking himself somewhere inappropriate. Give it a rest, Bodie, you'll go blind and bald.

Didn't Marilyn Manson have a vertebra removed so he could...

Holy crap! Does the central heating really make a noise like that when it's starting up, or is the Millennium Falcon attempting the jump to lightspeed in our airing cupboard?

Now each radiator is pinging. Bloody hell. Ping. Ping. Ping. It's like being surrounded by U-Boats.

Blimey. Doug's early this week. It's twenty to six.

Stop sitting on my head, Bodie. It's not feeding time yet. And I don't want to know where your nose has been.

I could drift off now. Can I operate on thirty minutes sleep?


Oh bugger.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

In it to win it

I don't normally go in for the EuroMillions Lottery, to be honest. This isn't going to be one of those rather unpleasant, sneering posts where some middle class commentator bangs on about lotteries being "a tax on the poor/stupid" and how ticket purchasers are kidding themselves.

Here's a thought - every single lottery jackpot winner was, at some point, one of those poor delusional ticket buyers. As they tuck into their truffles for breakfast, washed down with a nice Petrus '67, I'm sure they really struggle with self-image problems.

Anyway. This week there were 95 million reasons to buy a EuroMillions ticket. That might put a dent in the credit card bill, so last night found me waiting with the great and the good to throw my £1.50 into the hat.

The queue was moving slower than normal; I observed that the lady at its head was having some difficulty. In between shouting at her young daughter, who was busy applying Fanta to every horizontal surface, she was barking down her mobile to her significant other.

"Darren? Darren? Help me out. Can you give me some numbers between 1 and 50? No, I...PUT THAT DOWN CHARLEY-JANE!!....I'm at the outdoor and I need you to give me some numbers."

Now then. The whole point of the lottery is that it's random. There's no skill involved in it whatsoever. Just pick some numbers. The protagonist in this touching domestic scene could just have done it with a pin, with exactly the same chance of success. And certainly without pissing off a whole bunch of huffing-and-puffing punters on a Friday night.

"26.......7.......18.......CHARLEY-JANE I WON'T TELL YOU AGAIN.......47......."

The saintly Darren was clearly hard of thinking. The gaps between each number were little islands of silence. I could imagine him, sitting at home, his brow furrowing as he sought to overcome the mental strain of thinking up a string of random numbers.

Even though most of us accept that the chances of winning are minimal, you do get to to think. What would you do if you won that sort of money? How would it change your life?

"What about the begging letters?" Katie asked me.

Hmm. I'd probably carry on writing them.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Get lent

It's Lent. And I'd forgotten about it. I'll have to ask my mother to light an additional candle for me, otherwise I'll get another sharply-worded note from the Pope. (And this current one's a stickler - by all accounts you don't want to get on the wrong side of Benny 16).

So I'd better list a few things I'll be giving up for the next few weeks.

Shouting at the TV. In fairness, I don't do this too often. For instance, when Dr Gillian McKeith comes on screen I normally leave the room. But those Halifax Bank adverts are great for shouting at. This might be quite a toughy.

Speaking in Portuguese. It's an ancient, noble language. But abstinence is what Lent is all about, so I'll have to give it a miss until Easter. The fact that I don't actually know any Portuguese means that technically this isn't really much of a sacrifice, but one has to start somewhere. Pesaroso decepcioná-lo!

Saying "have a conversation with" when "talk" will suffice. No, really. It's beginning to irritate me. "We'll need to have a conversation with them about that." "I was having a conversation with Rachel about that project." No. No. NO. I don't know where it's come from. But it must stop right now.

Reading Daily Mail online news stories to laugh at other people's opinions. I swear, it's like a human zoo sometimes. It's a guilty pleasure of mine - some of the correspondents would be out of their depth in a puddle.

Eating broccoli. See "Speaking in Portuguese" to get the general gist of this none.

Singing "doo dooo, dee doo doo" whenever someone uses the word "phenomenon". This might be quite tricky.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Law of the wild

Perky yet strident background music. The lighting falls onto a busy office interior. Ranks of operatives are taking calls on headsets.

A vaguely familiar man with greying temples is walking into shot, at an oblique angle. He seems a little concerned about something, and fixes the camera with a stare.

"Herbivores! Grazers of the veldt! Are you in search of justice? Do you think it's about time the tables were turned?"

A winning smile plays across his features.

"We at MacGilliver & Uhuru are here to fight your corner. We have a high success rate and operate a no-win-no-fee service. Trust us to give your dependants the security they need in the event of your untimely consumption by most predatory aggressors."

A selection of images fade across the screen. Cheetahs in full chase, a pride of lions consuming a zebra flank, hyenas poking through the entrails of an ex-antelope.

Our spokesperson looks stern again.

"Have you ever thought how the rest of your herd would cope in the event of your untimely demise? Our highly-trained squad of crack paralegals are available 24-7 during the feeding season. With our help, we can seek redress. But don't take our word for it..."

The camera falls on a wildebeest family, a mother and three calves. The mother is nervously sweeping her forelock out of her eyes.

"When the lions took my husband, I wondered how I'd ever support my three children - Ajamba, Maleenah and Trevor. But thanks to MacGilliver & Uhuru I was able to take out an action against the pride in question. And six months later I received a cheque for 10,000 Rand. Thanks to their no-win-no-fee arrangement I didn't even have to put my hoof into whatever it is we wildebeest use as pockets. "

Back to the spokesman. He's now stood behind one of the operatives. She is winsomely pretty and has probably never worked in any job that's needed a headset before, but let's not get bogged down with detail.

"Call us on 0-800-FRESHMEAT right now for a no-obligation consultation. Our experienced agents are waiting for your call...."

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Great Interview Experiment - Kristen interviews me

The second part of the Great Interview Experiment is below. Kristen got to ask me some questions. They were good ones, too. And I got to give some answers. Whether they were as good - I'll let you decide.

1. What made you decide to join the fray and start blogging?

I wanted to do something to raise a little money for charity last year, and being incapable of running a marathon and unwilling to throw myself out of perfectly serviceable aircraft, I decided to undertake a sponsored weight-loss programme instead. People would pledge to pay me so much for each pound I lost over a three-month period. I wanted to journal my progress so that my sponsors could see what I was doing, plus it gave me some added focus. Hence the blog title, a rather poor take on "Make Poverty History".

Shortly after starting I came to the non-too-startling realisation that endless shots of my bathroom scales weren't exactly going to bring the readers thronging in, so I broadened its scope and now write about all sorts of things. As a frustrated writer it's a good outlet for me.

2. The tag line of your blog is "Inside every overweight man there's a thin one. And a lot of gravy." How's the weight situation going for you lately? Is blogging helping or hurting your cause?

As I treated this as a long-term lifestyle change as opposed to a strict diet regime, I've kept most of it off. It crept up a little over the Christmas period, but I'm chipping away at it again. Now the numbers aren't so critical I'm more interested in how I'm feeling; how easy it is to run up stairs, how clothes fit me, the reactions I get from people who haven't seen me for a while, etc.

I guess blogging may well be helping my cause. While I'm sat here tapping away at the laptop I'm much less likely to be stuffing my face with pies.

3. When English people say they've lost a "stone" of weight, what exactly does that mean? How many stones have you lost since you started blogging?

A stone is equivalent to 14 pounds. It's one of a multitude of ancient measurement units that are pretty much unique to the British, and despite attempts at metrification is still widely in use. I love the fact that the wikipedia entry for "stone" classes it as being an agricultural unit. So now I can be listed alongside lifestock.

I eventually lost two stone. (For some reason, the plural of stone is, er, "stone". I know. We're funny that way.) But more importantly, I raised over £1,000 for RNIB, the Royal National Institute of Blind people.

4. Some of the parts of speech you use on your blog are very colorful. I really like the following, where you describe joining a veggie-by-mail club:

"I know this might sound a little odd. But I have taken to saying things like, "That apple tasted apple-y, " with an expression that is rapidly approaching awe. And as a result of their approach to stock control (if it's not in season you're not getting it), I have experienced more new things in the last fortnight than a stag party in Amsterdam."

I could use some vegetable recipes, so I'll resist asking about stag parties and go for the more innocent question: which of the new vegetables is your favorite, and what's the best way to prepare it?

Yes, it's probably best that we leave any Amsterdam stories untold. What happens on the road, stays on the road, and all that.

In terms of vegetables, kohlrabi was a revelation to me. Now there's a sentence you won't read every day. Thinly slice, sautee with sliced leeks and butter for a few minutes, then add some veg stock (you can use chicken stock if you prefer) and simmer for about 15 minutes. Grate a little parmesan on it. Enjoy. In my case this would be as a side dish to something meaty, but whatever floats your boat.

This is the first and probably the last recipe I'll ever post online. I am to cooking what Gordon Ramsay is to tact and diplomacy.

5. What's your proudest moment as a blogger?

I think I'm proudest when I get positive feedback on something I've written. For example, I did a post called "In Memoriam" on Remembrance Day, November 11th last year. A friend of mine told me she was going to take her grandfather to a local Remembrance Day service. He's an army veteran, but of course I only know him as he is now. I felt incredibly moved to think of this elderly and physically frail man having witnessed the horrors of war, and I wrote the post as a result - one of the few "serious" subjects I've tackled so far. My friend's reaction was lovely - she printed off a copy to give to him. That was a high point.

So whenever someone reacts to something I've written - whether I've made them laugh or otherwise - that's a proud moment for me.

6. How would you describe your readers?

They seem to come from all over. From the guy next-door, to New Zealand, literally the other side of the planet. I can't imagine what keeps them coming back but I'm very glad they do. I try not to spend too much time worrying about what they might want to see, to be honest. That's not meant in an arrogant way, but I post what pleases or interest me and it's a bonus if other people get something from it. It's constantly amazing (and a little humbling) when they do. If I had my time again I'd have liked to have considered writing professionally. I don't think I'm up to that standard now.

7. You're from the U.K. What are some of the differences you may have noticed between American and U.K. bloggers?

Well, there seems to be a lot more of them in America, for starters! Many of the American bloggers I read seem to be a lot less inhibited when it comes to writing about personal subjects in an emotional way. One I'm subscribed to called "Can't Remember Diddly" is written by an Iowa-based blogger. She wrote about the recent death of a family member and the impact it had on her in a beautiful and sensitive way.

The UK bloggers I read seem to be a little less likely to cover this sort of thing. Either they write about specific subjects such as politics or culture, or there's a degree of emotional detachment when it comes to personal issues.

It does sound like a stereotype, doesn't it? Brits not capable of emoting - who'd have thought it?

8. Why is it that English (and Welsh, and Scottish) people are so witty and wry?

Bless you. The cheque's in the post. Or the check's in the mail - you decide.

There are 60 million of us in a space smaller than Kansas. It rains all the flipping time. Seriously, when the sun comes out you get people dropping to their knees in shock. So perhaps being witty is the one thing that keeps us going. It isn't all Noel Coward and Monty Python, though - there are a fair few Brits I really wouldn't want to be trapped in a lift with. Or elevator. Sorry about that.

9. In your recent, very funny critique of CSI: New York, you said you couldn't wait for the debut of CSI: Abergavenny. What kinds of crimes would the CSIs be solving there?

Abergavenny is a very nice market town not far over the border in Wales. If you've ever seen the film "Hot Fuzz" you'll know how unlikely such a setting could be for a crime drama. Having said that, should they ever film CSI there and Carmine Giovinazzo makes an appearance, then my wife will probably be arrested for stalking.

10. Now that I've been introduced to your very funny blog, I'm definitely subscribing to your feed. Can you direct me toward your top 3 favorite old posts in the Archives?

Bless you once again. I'm going to have to sign that cheque now, aren't I?

Apart from the afore-mentioned "In Memoriam", I would recommend the following:

"One out, all out" - this was the first of the "overactive imagination" posts. I love the idea of coming up with something on the far side of feasible, then riffing with it. Since then I've gone on to write about such things as race rows in Star Wars and synchronised swimming teams made up from squirrels.

"I was never going to be that big in Nagasaki" - I don't very often do serious issues and have no idea where this came from, but it was fun to run through the arguments.

"Brighton Life" - just a great record of a wonderful weekend.

I realise I've kind of recommended four posts there. Sorry about that.

Great Interview Experiment - fatboyfat interviews Robin

Robin from Montanamoonshine went and got herself interviewed by me as part of the Great Interview Experiment. I asked the questions. She gave me the answers. Here we go:

1: The first sentence you wrote on your blog was "So we want to start a distillery." That's something guaranteed to get your audience interested! What made you decide to do go into this line of business?

It happened as a bright idea a few years ago when my husband, W, was working in another part of the world in the heat, and this had been his third consecutive Christmas that he had been away from me. He called me up one day and said that we should make moonshine because it was a lot easier than what he was doing, and guaranteed to make just as much money (He’s from the South where moonshining is rampant and he grew up drinking it and watching it being made). I laughed about it for about three seconds, and then realized it was a pretty dang good idea. Since I am a law abiding citizen, I looked into the laws in Montana and found that distilling liquor is very legal here. So legal that they had just passed a bill that previous summer giving tax breaks to anyone who wanted to open a small-batch distillery. To date, there is still no one producing anything because, I assume, it is time consuming, expensive, and difficult to get started.

2: I imagine opening a distillery isn't the easiest thing to do. Where are you with that at the moment?

We need to sell our house in Stevensville first so we can free up some money (want to buy it? I’ll cut you a great deal). Also, it takes almost a year to be approved by the ATF and almost as long to get your distiller’s bond. And we need a shit ton of money. I’m working on that part right now by researching and writing grants and applying for financing. I don’t talk about it much because everyone expects me to say something enlightening about it, and I’ve got nothing. Sorry everyone. Boring business stuff going on right now. That’s it. You’ll all know when something more exciting happens than learning the difference between an SCorp and and LLC.

3: Last year you took a long break from posting. I can imagine why, considering everything that was probably happening at the time. But what was it that made you want to start again after such a gap?

Ah, the break in posts where I lost about 90% of my readership. Right. Thanks for the poke in the ribs. In order to answer that, I need to tell you why I quit in the first place. I quit because I couldn’t find the energy to put into writing everything that was happening over that period of time. I have to say that I was challenged more emotionally than I ever really have been in my life (I’ve had a pretty good life, so don’t read too much into it – I’ve had it fairly easy). I guess I was challenged not in that it was difficult, but in that it was unstable. I don’t do well with instability. I started again because I found that I needed an outlet for everything happening in my life. I started with a post about things that made me happy, so it was easier to get back into without having a nervous breakdown. Although I try to not get too personal, it seems to be just enough for me to maintain a healthy mental state. I’ve always been a journaler, but took long breaks from it – years at a time sometimes. I have never needed to accountable to my journaling, and this has been a good way to be accountable on my own time. Besides, it’s cheaper than therapy.

4: I like the way you wrote a couple of "retrospective" posts, talking about things that had happened twelve months previously. Might you consider continuing this, to cover the rest of the period you hadn't journalled at the time?

Yes, I’m planning to keep doing this. I was surprised to find just which memories bubbled to the surface and my feelings surrounding them. I’ve always put on a brave face and never really talked about ‘feelings’ because I’m not really a touchy-feely sort of person. I had a hard time with those first two retrospective posts because of everything they encompassed about my personal life. Writing about that time in my life sort of freaked me out and I’m just getting up the courage to do it again. Watch for one soon.

5: Are there any subjects you wouldn't write about on your blog?

I don’t really like to talk about my personal life in depth very much. The surface things are easier – petty conflicts over washing the dishes, what I did over the weekend, or whatever. I don’t think I’ll ever talk about the state of my marriage in a negative way (no need to really, it’s pretty solid); I don’t believe in airing my dirty laundry. And I won’t give my endorsement on a political candidate. And I won’t talk about work much – not because I’ll get fired, but because Ennis is really, really small and it wouldn’t be hard to use some information against us.

6: Many bloggers treat their blogging as a bit of a guilty secret. Do your nearest and dearest read your blog, and if they do, what do they think of it?

W, one of my sisters and a few close friends know about it, but since I do talk about personal things, I rather like the anonymity of it. It’s not exactly a secret – I’d tell someone if they asked, and it’s not a big deal if those I know tell others who might know me, but I won’t announce it from the rooftops. I don’t know what they think of it. I guess the fact that I’m linked to in a few places tells me they want others to know it’s worth a read, so that’s good.

7: Describe a typical day in the life of Robin.

6:45 roll my tired worthless ass out of bed
7:00 go to the gym when W gets back from it
8:15 get back home and start getting myself and the girls ready for the day (W feeds them and changes diapers, etc while I’m at the gym)
9:00 drop off rug rats and go to work
4:00 come home and play with the kids/check email/get the mail/walk the dog
8:00 put the girls to bed
8:01 crack open a cold cold beer and take a long draw
8:02 smile in marked satisfaction
10:30 crash in bed

Some days I skip the gym. Some days I skip work and keep the kids home. Those days are pretty lazy and very unproductive. But fun. On the weekends, move the gym to 8:00 or 9:00 or sometimes 10:00 and everything else is a free-for-all (except that important bedtime). We go for long drives sometimes and very often in the summer will go for long hikes or go fishing.

In the middle are some good conversations, paying bills, a little bit of cleaning, phone calls, cookie baking, TV watching, book reading, and so forth. Pretty boring, really, but it’s pretty good all the same.

8: I'd like some recommendations. What have you read recently - blogs, books, whatever - that you really enjoyed?

Jeez. I have only really read children’s’ books for the last three years. I finished the Harry Potter series, all books in succession in just a couple of months. I have a little crush on Daniel Radcliffe which started after I saw some of his interviews about his stage performances. Which is a little creepy because I’m 15 years or so his senior. Anyway, the endless reading nearly drove W crazy. It killed him. “Hush, I’m reading.” “Not now, I’m reading.” “What? I didn’t hear what you said for the last thirty minutes, I was reading.” Since then I haven’t picked up a book with words longer or more complex than “caterpillar.” He’s a hungry one, that dastardly caterpillar.

All the blogs that I really enjoy (including yours, by the way) I link to.

We have cable and since we’ve had kids we haven’t been to the movies very often. Probably three times in the past three years. So I enjoy a good Showtime movie. Blood Diamonds has been on lately, and so has Showgirls (I think that’s the name – the one with Jennifer Hudson?). Those were pretty good movies. We watched Charlie Wilson’s War over Christmas because my mom volunteered to watch the kids we dumped my kids on my folks for a few hours. That was pretty good. And I’m a little obsessed with Top Model. Oh wait, that’s not reading. Never mind on that. I read the paper every day. Always start with the opinion page. There are some pretty crazy f***ers living in Montana. Pretty good reading there.

No. Sorry. No good recommendations for normal people. I could tell you my favorite books to date, but that would take a while. I used to read a book every couple of days when I didn’t have kids and didn’t own a TV. I was a lot smarter then.

9: In your recent post "Soapbox" you make reference to the current US election preliminaries. They're getting quite a bit of coverage over here, so I can only imagine what it's like in the States. Does there come a point where you want to say "Enough, already"?

Oy. Election primaries kill me. I wish we could just vote already and be done with it. I also don’t understand why the primaries are a full 9 months or more before the general. That means just more polar opinions rolling around the television for a longer time. I don’t watch TV much during election time except for the debates. There have been some pretty good ones lately. Actually, the primary election coverage is nothing compared to the couple of months leading up to the generals. That’s the worst. If you’re getting it over there, just give up on your TV in six or seven months.

10: I'll continue to read your blog after the interview experiment is over. Without giving too much away, what can I look forward to seeing?

Thanks for your faithful readership pledge. Expect more retrospective posts, definitely. And more drink recipes. I don’t like to post drink recipes unless I’ve tried them. And since I’m not a heavy drinker it might take me a while to get around to recipes that folks have emailed to me. I’m lying. I’m drunk right now. I kid!

I actually wrote New Year’s resolutions this year (which is a pretty new thing to me because I usually start my new year on my birthday) because 2007 wasn’t the best year for me mentally and financially. I’m thinking of it as a fresh start. So I might post on those a little. I don’t like resolutions that are cliché (lose a thousand pounds, become a millionaire, keep my house clean), but I did resolve to make more money. Which shouldn’t be hard. I try to be as vague as I can with myself so I can get away with more.

11: You're preparing for the ultimate dinner party. Who is invited, and what's on the menu?

Uh… Emeril, Oprah, Larry King… I kid!

This was the hardest question for me. I love to throw parties, and I like to invite people who are enough like each other so there is some good conversation, but different enough so everyone learns something new. That said, I do love a good party with everyone in the neighborhood invited. I wish I could honestly say that I would want Jesus Christ or Buddha or someone equally as historically incredible at my party, but really, I’d just like some nice light conversation and good food and drinks. I like potlucks. They’re not fussy or snobby or anything like that. I like to prepare the main dish, usually a meat dish of some sort, and I really love to grill steaks.

One of my favorite parties was when a bunch of random people showed up, split up and went to the store to grab food; we threw some burgers on the grill, drank some beer, laughed, and stayed up until all hours of the night. I’m not so much a fancy dinner party type person as I am a having fun with good company type of person. Any food is good food if your guests are fun. Sort of a lame answer, but it’s the truth.

Thanks for the answers, Robin. I look forward to reading on...

Friday, 1 February 2008

This might be interesting

You've got to admit, as ideas go, it's a stroke of genius.

Neil at Citizen of the Month was thinking. About how there are all these millions of people all around the world, conscientiously adding to their blogs day after day. About how they may not get recognition, but they keep on going. And about how, when we see someone being interviewed on TV, that person - and what they have to say - suddenly seems more important.

And then he had his idea, the Great Interview Experiment. A list of bloggers would apply, each one agreeing to be interviewed by the one before, and to interview the one following. You go and study the blog of your interviewee, come up with some pertinent questions, pose them and they expose their innermost feelings to you. Then they put the whole thing up on their blog. And at the same time, someone does the same to you and you put the end results up on yours.

So as a result, Kristen from LA gets to interview me. Good, it's about time we saw some decent writing on here. And I get to interview Robin from Montana. My apologies in advance, Robin.

Quite what either of them will make of some bloke from Birmingham is anyone's guess.


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