Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Old Fatboyfat's Almanac

It's the time of year when people make colossal pillocks of themselves by forecasting the events of the twelve months heading towards us with all the inevitability and menace of a buff-coloured window envelope.

I mean, really. How predictable.As if we're interested in the semi-formed guesses of self-ordained experts.

What's that you say? I haven't posted anything in days? Oh, go on then.

Well, first of all we must, I suppose, discuss the fashion scene. Those people who have encountered the force of nature that is my wardrobe will tell you that I'm no slouch in matters sartorial. In a throwback to the early 80s, I can see the return of pastels. Waists will be pinched, shoulders will be wide. Plastics will be involved. Think Miami Vice meets Tron.

I really have no idea, do I? Let's move on.

The world of celebrities will continue to amuse and amaze. Lady Gaga, for long a woman uncannily resembling a child's drawing of Madonna, will shock everyone when she's pictured wearing sensible slacks, a Fair Isle sweater and comfortable shoes.  In other news, Elton John's partner David Furnish will spend a lot of 2011 dealing with tantrums and applying baby powder.

You're making your own punchlines now, folks.

Stephen Fry will continue to dominate Twitter, his followers reaching such a volume in numbers that he is able to declare war on Belgium. The Jolly Reasonable War of August 2011 is concluded without bloodshed although a number of infinitives are split irreparably.

Closer to home, at some point in the year the UK will suffer an extreme weather event for which it is massively unprepared. This will be the 28th straight year in which This Has Never Happened Before.

New potato crisp flavours for the New Year delight snack-lovers as Walkers introduce us to Fisherman's Friend, Special Brew and Salt 'n' Desperation varieties.

In June, the Government will issue a ruling making it illegal to use the word 'webinar'.

Seriously, I'm hopeless at this (although I quite like the webinar thing). Let me try some personal predictions instead.

I will get my Number of Mountains Climbed Rating into real, whole numbers, instead of the 0.60 it is at the moment.

The short film I wrote, which with my friends Mike and Phil was committed to tape (disc? chip?) in 2009 will finally see the light of day. Then we'll plan another. Look out for this next one shortly before our sun goes supernova.

I will double the sales of my eBook. That'll be another eight sold, then. Currently ranked at #17,284 in the Amazon rankings, I will finally crack that vital top 17,250 chart.

Another hundred or so posts will appear on this blog. And hopefully you'll be here to read them too. Thanks for stopping by this year. See you once again in the next one.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

If this doesn't move you then you're technically dead

It's Christmas, time for cynicism and acid indigestion. And while I can't do anything about the latter, short of sending you Gaviscon through the medium of the Internet, I would like to help you out with the cynicism.

One of the blogs I read regularly is The Bloggess (caution - she is sometimes not quite safe for work). Jenny is nothing short of outrageous and reading her stuff tends to put keyboards and monitors at risk from recently-imbibed liquids. But in December she's been a little busy.

She sold a whole batch of Christmas cards with her own designs and ended up with some unexpected money. So she decided to offer 20 gift certificates at $30 each to strangers leaving comments on her blog who needed help over Christmas.

So far, so good. But what happened next was remarkable.

The comments started to come in; a litany of hard-luck stories. Mothers who couldn't get presents for the kids, others struggling with medical treatment, some who were worried about the rent. But what happened when the 21st comment came in?

Another complete stranger posted a comment. "I'll send a gift card to the next person." Then another. Then another. Then another.

A trickle turned into a stream, turned into a torrent. Every time someone would leave a comment asking for help, another would leave one to keep it going. At last count over $42,000 had been distributed from one group of complete strangers to another.

I'm sorry I can't do the same. I don't have enough readers for starters (and not enough of you seem to know how to use the Comment link down there, ahem) but I thought this was something worth sharing with those of you that do visit.

After all, it's Christmas, isn't it? Time for miracles.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Arctic Struggles Under British Weather Conditions

The North Pole was experiencing chaos this weekend as it struggled to cope under unseasonably British weather.

Wave after wave of nondescript meteorological conditions are battering the region, from Baffin Bay to Finland. "We're not entirely sure what's causing it," said Bernard Derriere, a leading Canadian climatologist, "but it's weird. I've never seen drizzle like it before."

There are concerns that the native indigenous population might be adversely affected. "Yes, it is true that my people have sixty-three words for snow," commented Albert Grimes, an Inuit elder. "However, up until now we hadn't really needed any terms for endless monotonous grey sky. What's that all about?"

At least the people can adapt. "This is pissing me off something chronic," muttered Colin, 12, a Polar Bear. "I'm stuck on this ice flow, every time I sit down to have something to eat a mild breeze kicks up and it gets a little-nippy-but-not-quite-so-nippy-for-a-coat. And to cap it all, my family have naffed off somewhere else."

"I'm pretty sure Mom's gone to Iceland."

Explorers are having  to change their plans, it is rumoured, with the traditional thermal fleeces and snow boots being ditched in favour of sensible tweed jackets and wellies. Lord Montague Knee, noted Arctic specialist, commented: "Huskies don't operate very well in light mist. We're currently training up whippets, but it's just not the same."

Perhaps our final word should come from another member of the animal kingdom. "You think you've got problems," said Jeremy, a clearly distressed Emperor Penguin. "This has thrown me right out. I think I might be a little lost."

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Walking in an urban wonderland

Yesterday's original plan would have seen us Blakesley Hall, a local Tudor manor house dating from 1590, to experience an afternoon of general Christmas-iness. There were going to be carolers a-caroling. We might have wassailed, providing someone could expressly tell us what was involved and whether special equipment was needed. There was to be mulled wine and cider.

I was particularly excited about this last bit.

But it was not to be. From first light the heavens chucked inch after inch of snow at us, and by early afternoon it was strangling most attempts at travel. Blakesley Hall's Christmas event was cancelled due to snow.

Welcome to Britain, where even the weather has a well-developed sense of irony.

Instead we retired to the house of Chris and Karen. There was no wassailing. However there was wine (mulled and non-mulled), beer, chilli and cheese-based snacking opportunities. Throughout the afternoon we would, in ones and twos, wander up to the window to watch the flakes continue to drift downwards in the way snowflakes tend to do. The realisation dawned on us that our eventual return home was going to be a bit tricky, given that all taxis had probably disappeared into a black cab black hole. So we did something really unusual.

We walked home.

I know. Weird isn't it? But apparently, these appendages at the lower extremes of our bodies - the ones we normally use to press down accelerator pedals - can be used for another form of forward motion.

And you know what? It was great.

Freed from the usual five-minute Toyota Carina-bound bubble, we went at our own pace - literally - scrunching through the snow in our sensible clumpy boots.  Double-lined coats, gloves and sensible headwear insulated us from the cold. We could see the city - well, a little bit of it - in a whole new way.

As we walked along Church Road to the Swan Island, the streetlights played games with the colours. I stopped for a moment to think about Swan Island, named after a pub that was 'redeveloped' (razed to the ground) some 20 years ago, removing a focal point on which to, um, focus.

We crossed the underpass, the main Coventry Road quieter than I'd seen in years.

"This is quieter than I've seen in years," I said to Katie.

"Don't repeat yourself," replied Katie. "Look! There's a snowman outside the Chinese takeaway."

We trudged on, feeling suitably lifted. The odd car passed us, drivers edgily making their way home. Then we saw a sight to warm the cockles.

"Now that looks quite inviting, actually. Never really noticed it before now. Fancy a portion? My treat."

"You know how to show a girl a good time. I'm full of Karen's chilli, otherwise I'd be in like Flint. Coo, look at that."

The car dealership was selling featureless shapes, arrayed in row after row like a frosty army. We moved on.

"Nearly home now. It's only taken us 30 minutes or so. You know, we should do this more often."

SPLAT! A snowball thudded into the back of my head. I turned to see Katie, an evil gleam in her eyes.

"You're 7 years old all over again, aren't you?"

Sometimes you need things to be obscured before you see them as they really are.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Pa rum pum pum pum

I was standing in a queue when I realised it. As is the English way, I do a lot of queuing. And I do a lot of realising when in queues. Quite a bit of my best thinking, in fact.

This morning I went, bright and early, to Touchwood. For those of you who don't know it, Touchwood is a local shopping centre. (An American friend mentioned today that it sounded to him more like a male strip club. Thank you Tom - I can never think of the place in the same way ever again.)

I've digressed again, haven't I? Sorry.

Anyway, I was waiting in a queue in Marks & Spencer which was moving with all the alacrity of continental drift. And I was thinking. What would Christmas be without M&S?


I've done it again. Must do better. Apologies all round.

The store's tannoy was playing various Christmassy tunes, songs we've all heard a million times. As I had nothing better for my mind to do, I let it wander as the strains of Little Drummer Boy wafted among the merrily shopping folks. And it was at that moment that I had a blinding realisation.

Little Drummer Boy is a phenomenally odd song, isn't it?

It's not as if the lyrical adaptation of a drum beat isn't peculiar enough. Even Stevie Wonder (for it was he on this occasion) was struggling to maintain his infinite cool as he pa rum-pum-pum-pum'ed his way through it. But it's the basic premise of the song that I find really hard to get my head around.

Let's break this down, shall we?

You're the Virgin Mary. (I realise that's a bit of a stretch for some of you - just bear with me.) You've just given birth in what can only be called unusual circumstances. You've had to bed down in a stable as all the hotels were booked. (Mind you, what did you expect? It is Christmas after all.) You don't mind the lambs so much, but the oxen are really trying your patience. You've already been joined by three shepherds. Your cousin Valerie had a home birth last year and none of this happened to her.

The three wise men were quite nice. Gold's always good to have, and frankincense helps to mitigate the general ox-based atmosphere that appears to be prevalent right now. You're not certain about myrrh, though. Is it some type of antelope? Never mind.

But then this kid comes in and tells you he has no present to give. Can he play you a tune instead? You're tired, you're not thinking straight and you nod wearily. Then he pulls out a snare drum and sticks.

This cannot end well. Even with the ox and lamb keeping time.

I've got a six-month-old niece and I'm not convinced I would be welcome round at my brother's house if I attempted to give my interpretation of In the Air Tonight. I think general crankiness might be involved.

All in all, I think Silent Night had much the better idea.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The Mysterious Airborne Article

It was, in some ways, like a giant Mint Imperial. In particular it had the Imperial shape. However, it didn’t have the Imperial colour, being a flat, matt silver.

I didn’t check whether it had the Imperial flavour, but I suspect it would have been somewhat lacking in the mintyness department. Its size – a distinctly non-Imperial 30 feet in diameter - made up for it, I suppose. That, and the fact that it was floating through the sky in broad daylight.

The good people of Area 51 and its surroundings are probably unsurprised at weird shapes taking to the skies. Whether they’re from long-distant worlds or underground laboratories, arcane flying vehicles hardly raise a Nevadan eyebrow these days.

But this was not Area 51. It was Kings Heath. Area B14, if you like.

I was eight years old and sitting at the dinner table in the front room. That means it was a Sunday. It was my father who noticed it first.

“What on Earth’s that?” he said, staring out of the window, a forkful of roast beef mid-way on its terminal ascent from plate to mouth.

We turned to see the afore-mentioned not-very-minty-Imperial device sailing serenely through the suburban seventies sky. All of us saw it; me, my two brothers, even my mother. Brother number 1 ran out to the front step. In the manner of little brothers the world over, I followed half a pace behind.

In seconds the object had moved out of view, but we'd definitely all seen it. No mass hysteria here. Ours was not a family given to such unnecessary emotion. And then, as if to underline the point, came my mother’s voice, booming through the wall.

“Get back in here now, or else there’ll be no Queen of Puddings for you two!”

When we do eventually make first contact with higher intelligence, my mother will be easy to spot. She’ll be the one who’s brought scones.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

I like bacon. I like cupcakes. But which is better? There's only one way to find out...

Make Lard History's Massachusetts correspondent (oh, alright then, my cousin-in-law from Salem) has provided me with some very disturbing news. Steel yourselves, ladies and gentlemen, for this is a biggie. Hold onto your emotions and, where necessary, undergarments. I don't know how life can ever be the same again.

According to the Serious Eats people (and you know what you're getting with a website labouring under such a name), bacon has for the first time been overtaken by cupcakes in terms of searches on Google.

I know. For many years the opposing camps have fought bitterly. We remember the Great Frosting Campaign of 2006. We watched in growing astonishment as the Apple Smoked Fightback rumbled on throughout the latter part of the decade. However it seems to have been one desperate rearguard action too late. For now it seems as if the porky product movement has finally succumbed to disciples of the Magnolia Bakery.

For shame.

Of course, in this house we're no strangers to both. Indeed, we have our somewhat pudgy feet in both calorific camps. She Who Must Be Obeyed has made the odd cupcake in the past. And it's fair to say that we are ardent followers of pretty much anything that can be done with cooked pig flesh. We have a bag of pork scratchings on the kitchen worktop at the moment, for instance. They look for all the world like a giant's toenail clippings. There's a warning on the pack: "Do not attempt to eat contents unless you have strong teeth."

I realise I'm not exactly selling this to you, but I offer no apologies.

So can't we put our differences to one side? Can't we all come together - sweet and savoury - in this, the season of conspicuous over-consumption?

Oh. Wait a minute.

I am really behind the curve on this one.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Ten more questions science must answer

I know, it's only December 2. I've finished my month of daily posts, I don't really need to come back and do another one right now. I'm showing off, like one of those blokes who runs a marathon then jogs home.

But I was reading this today - ten questions science must answer. And it's OK, I suppose. I mean, knowing how the universe expands and understanding the concept of consciousness is all well and good. But I was struck that the ten questions weren't the ones I wanted answering.

So, science, have a crack at these instead:
  1. Where's my hoverboard? I know Back to the Future was fictional, but it's been twenty-odd years and you'd have thought someone would have got to grips with the whole 'standing on a piece of plastic with no visible means of support' malarkey. And don't try to soften me up with Segways.
  2. Astronomers believe that 90% of the universe's matter cannot be seen or measured. Is that what's behind my sofa?
  3. Vacuum flasks keep hot things hot and cold things cold. How do they know?
  4. James Corden appears on TV on a semi-regular basis. Why?
  5. What insane branch of mathematics is employed by minicab drivers when calculating fares? "How much do you normally pay, mate?" I don't know, pal. It's different every time. You're all Toyota-bound random number generators as far as I can tell.
  6. Seriously. My hoverboard. I'm not mucking about. Where is it?
  7. And don't even mention personal jetpacks. 
  8. Has anyone ever sold worms in cans? They must have, otherwise where do we get the phrase from? And what on earth were they thinking at the time?
  9. Do living badgers actually exist? Because I've only ever seen ex-badgers at the side of the road. I'm not convinced they're real animals. Does someone put fake corpses out overnight?
  10. Why is it always so tricky to put a list of ten items together?

    Tuesday, 30 November 2010


    Most people come with a hinterland. That mixture of achievement, experience and other backstory that comes as a surprise when you find out about it.  That's if you ever do, of course. More often than not, it remains hidden. Perhaps it's modesty, perhaps it's protection, maybe it's something in-between. But we can never know everything about everyone.

    This was brought home to me when I read a newspaper article about a friend following their sudden death last month. The article itself was a surprise - I didn't think I knew anyone whose passing would prompt newsprint. But on reading the piece, it became apparent that there was a lot I didn't know about G.

    I knew that he was an entertaining character. Any occasion would be made complete by G's involvement. His waspish - often outrageous - sense of humour and speed of thought made conversations a delight. I knew that he was passionate about theatre. In fact, that's how I first met him, many years ago when he was directing me and others as we attempted to avoid murdering Hobson's Choice.

    What I didn't know was that his parents had lined the young G up for the priesthood, but he'd decided against it at the age of 12. I didn't know that he'd trained as a Samaritan and then gone on to train countless other volunteers. I was unaware that he'd worked for a number of years to help people struggling with alcohol abuse, actually setting up two local bodies. He'd made a massive difference to the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of others. But it was not in G's nature to boast.

    So as a result, I knew G as a warm and witty man. But there was a huge backstory and it's perhaps to my regret that I never knew any of this until now.

    Take a look at the people around you. Do they have a hinterland, do you think?


    And with that, it's the end of NaBloPoMo 2010 - one month of writing and posting once per day. It's the fourth year I've managed it. I hope you've enjoyed the rather random things you've read here this month. 

    Outside of November, I normally try to put something up here a couple of times a week, so please come back for more (or less) of the same. I'll probably take a break for a day or so now but I'll be back before we all know it.

    This year for the first time, a lot more people who know me in what is apparently called 'The Real World' have started reading this blog.

    Hello. Now you've seen a little of my hinterland, I suppose.

    Monday, 29 November 2010

    This may not end well

    You're probably wondering, as you read this and note the time I posted it, whether I have particularly obliging employers, given that it's slap bang in the middle of the working day.

    Last time I checked, "maintaining your own personal blog" wasn't accepted as an in-work activity.

    But fear not, for today (and tomorrow) I am away from work. Tonight my sainted wife is taking me to see a Really Great Guitarist Who Was Quite Famous in the Seventies. She's even offering to drive us back home from the gig, which will allow me to indulge in my twin passions of obscure progressive rock and beer.

    Prog rock and real ale. How did I ever persuade a real flesh-and-blood woman to spend any time with me?

    In response, I am going to be responsible for preparing us both a delicious and nutritional evening meal, ready for her return from work. You're thinking that sounds perfectly reasonable. And you'd be right, were it not for the fact that I am colossally hopeless at things like this.

    I've written about this before. Anything that goes beyond microwaving is not just pushing the envelope, as far as I'm concerned it's moving the envelope to a whole new dimension, a universe where mere stationery has never even existed before now.

    It's not as if I'm going to be doing anything challenging. It's just chili con carne. The accompanying rice is of the boil-in-the-bag species.  Although I'm sure to burn it somehow.

    But I will attempt, without Katie's supervision, to provide for us. And I won't do that thing that most non-cooking blokes do when asked to do something vaguely culinary, which is to bang on and on about it. About how they've managed the herculean task of applying controlled heat to organic matter. About how they've slaved over a hot something-or-other for, ooh, minutes at a time. How it's delicious, the most fantastic slightly warmed-up plate of unidentifiable ingredients you've had in months.

    Nope, I won't mention it all. Not me. Not here

    Oh bugger.

    (P.s. If he plays this tonight, I will not be held responsible for my actions):

    Sunday, 28 November 2010

    Nicely chilled

    I think I can say, without fear of contradiction, that it's cold. Really, really cold. It takes the breath away and replaces it with a wheezing, rasping thing instead.

    In short, it's sodding freezing.

    I'm surprised at how surprised everyone's acting, though. We live in a small island surrounded by cold water, quite a long way away from the Equator. It's late November. So, yes, folks it's going to be a bit on the chilly side. Being bewildered about is either (a) taking the mick, or (b) suggesting that you have medium term memory issues.

    As I was walking into the venue for the Christmas Ball last night, there were some people leaving from another event. I don't know how long they'd been there - months, perhaps - because they were without coats. And as they walked out they all reacted as one.

    "Golly gosh," they chorused, "it's a bit parky, and no mistake."

    Or words to that effect.

    Katie and me, we've just got on with it. There's the daily scraping of the car windscreen, or in my case the squirting of industrial-strength chemicals and hoping for the best. We have finally found Setting Number Five on our boiler, the level we thought was there for a joke, or for the Scandinavian markets, when we first moved in all those years ago. The cat goes out to do what cats do when they go out, only to come back very quickly with a thoughtful expression on his face.

    I think he's now storing things up until March. Enjoy your lunch, by the way.

    As I sit here, lap being gently warmed by one of Acer's finest overheating CPUs, I'm aware that our friends are out, doing wintry things. Some of them went out for a walk this morning. I'm sure it was exhilarating. Strolling through the frosty Warwickshire countryside on a fresh, sharp November morning is one of those life-affirming experiences you look back on with fondness. And frostbite, probably.

    I'll finish with this - a real conversation we've just had.

    Katie: My feet are getting nice and toasty.
    Me: That'll be those slippers you've got.
    Katie: Mmm yes. You know what? It's a pity you can't get slippers for your hands.
    Me: Allow me to introduce you to the novel concept of gloves.

    (P.s. - for those of you who'd come back for StainWatch 2010, I'm pleased to report that I did not spill anything down myself last night. I did, however, manage to put one shirt cuff down on some red wine, which left a lovely pink blob. Really, I shouldn't be let out on my own).

    Saturday, 27 November 2010

    Silk purses and sows' ears

    "Black tie," said the invitation. I think other words were suggested, too, like "debonair" and "swagger".

    Honestly, it's all I can do simply to keep my dinner off myself. I think debonair and swagger might be pushing it a little bit.

    Nevertheless, here I am, preparing myself for a Christmas Ball tonight. Perfection takes time to achieve; in my case, basic decency is the objective. I should have started earlier.

    The first thing I had to do was replace my dress shirt. After the incident that will, forever more, be referred to as MustardGate, the previous one was no longer fit for service. Leaving a shirt coated with English mustard in the laundry basket for four months doesn't do it any favours. Who knew?

    So I ordered a new one, this time without a wing collar. I've come to the conclusion that wearing a wing collar with a tuxedo makes me look like a rather timid nightclub bouncer from one of the less successful Eastern European countries. I've gone for a classic collar instead.

    The website I ordered it from specialises in Mess Dress for the British military. I did toy with the idea of going the whole hog and going for the full Parachute Regiment Officer's Mess Dress, but decided that would be a little too much.

    Also I have no head for heights.

    I'm off now to transform myself from ugly ducking to lardy bloke in a black suit. I imagine I'll spend at least 30 minutes (with instructions printed from the Internet) reminding myself how to tie a bow tie. James Bond should have my problems.

    It will be to little avail. I might, for a few minutes, look halfway respectable. But you and I know that by the end of the evening I will have drunk rather too much Worthingtons and be seen pogoing on the dancefloor. Not debonair at all.

    Check in tomorrow to see what foodstuffs I manage to end up wearing.

    Friday, 26 November 2010

    On the shelf

    “Oh, here we go again,” muttered the Stephen King bestseller as another book was slid into position. Its neighbour, a rather battered anthology of short stories, flexed its spine and tutted disapprovingly.

    “Hmm, that’s the latest Patricia Cornwell she got last week. Un-put-down-able, by all accounts.”

    “Each to their own. A little obvious, I would have thought, though.”

    “I can hear you both, you know,” said the newer novel. “How about some courtesy for a newcomer? I’ve just been read for the first time and I’m exhausted.”

    “My apologies, madam,” purred the anthology. “I remember my first time as if it was yesterday. It was a pleasure. It is, after all, what we books are for, isn’t it?”

    The other inhabitants of the bookcase rippled approvingly. There was some harrumphing from the hardcovers on the lower shelves.

    “Oh, pay no attention to those,” said the Stephen King. “The hardbacks are blowhards. They need to get the dust off their jackets from time to time.”

    “I heard that,” boomed an atlas, its voice redolent of distant lands. “At least I know my place.”

    “Sorry, old chap. I didn’t mean you.”

    The Patricia Cornwell settled back into position. “It was quite something, being read. Passing on all those words to my reader, you know, dialogue, plot, location and characters. I have a very good ending, apparently. It was thrilling. I suppose I’ll get used to this, yes?”

    “Well,” started an autobiography from the shelf below, “best not to be too forward-thinking, eh?”

    “What do you mean? I’m only just out of the best-seller list. I have so much to give!”

    The other books shuffled nervously. The embarrassed silence was broken by the anthology.

    “You see, most books don’t tend to get a repeat reading. Especially not the, um, populist titles, you see.”

    “It’s easy for you to say that,” the Stephen King interrupted. “At least you get read again and again.”

    “Yes, but look at what it’s done to me! My cover’s all battered and several of my pages are all bent at the corner. I do wish more people would use bookmarks.”

    At the mention of the word there was an outpouring of satisfied noises from across the shelf.

    “Ooh I do like a reader who knows how to use a bookmark...”

    “I wish more of them did,” said the anthology. “But at least I haven’t had one of those folding-type readers.”

    “Folding-type?” asked the Cornwell.

    “Yes, the ones that open you all the way round when reading. It’s not nice. See that Rowling over there? Turns out its reader didn’t want others in the office knowing he was reading Harry Potter, so he folded him all the way, front cover to back cover. His spine’s a right old mess.”

    “Ooh, sounds awful,” replied the Cornwell. “I don’t like the sound of that at all.”

    “Could be worse. I heard that there are some people who even burn books.”
    There was a frightened muttering from the rest of the volumes.

    “Steady on,” said a Penguin Classic at the end of the shelf, “you know full well that’s one of those stories they tell to young pamphlets. It’s just a fairy tale.”

    “Look at my cover,” said the anthology sharply. “See those words, ‘Brothers Grimm’? I think I know a fairy tale when I see one.”

    “But I will get read again, won’t I?” the Cornwell asked, a note of sadness detectable through its gold block-lettered cover.

    “Difficult to say, my dear. Of course, you might get shared to your reader’s friends and family.” He brightened up. “You might get to go on holiday with someone. Although the sand does tend to get everywhere.”

    “Think yourself lucky,” muttered a Hemingway, “I got bought by someone trying to impress a girl. He read my first chapter. He got bored. He gave up. I could use a drink.”

    “Don’t worry too much,” said the King. “We all perform a role. Some of us are there to make people think. Others make them laugh, or cry. I most like to give my readers a fright, to be honest. And in between, we sit here on the shelf. We all have stories to tell. It’s what we’re best at, after all.”

    “Here we go again,” said the anthology as a young hand reached up and pulled down a weary-looking copy of Lord of the Rings. “Good luck, old thing!”

    “Huh,” came a fading voice from the thick volume. “If I get taken halfway I’ll be lucky. See you next week when he gets bored again and puts the DVD on.”

    “It’s not a glamorous existence on the shelf,” reflected the anthology. “But you get used to it after a while.”

    And the new novel settled back once more. It didn’t know when it would tell its story again. But it knew with certainty that the time would arise once more. Until then, the sleep of closed covers, to dream of chapters unread and plotlines undiscovered.

    Thursday, 25 November 2010

    A devastating work of literary genius

    Actually this is a little exciting. Here's me being all Mr Cool about it, but no, it's a bit of a thrill.

    I have something for sale on Amazon. And I'm not talking about those unwanted PlayStation games that I've put up on Marketplace. Oh no.

    I've written a book of sorts, one that people can actually buy. I suppose you could say I'm a published author.

    If you're in the UK, go here. And if you're on the other side of the Atlantic (and probably busily digesting a lot of turkey right now), go here instead.  Yes, that's me.

    It's a short collection of short stories - 16 in total. None of them are more than 1,200 words in length, so they're great for a quick chortle while waiting for the bus to boil or the kettle to arrive. All for a bargain price! To be honest, charging any more for 35-odd pages would be taking the mickey, I think. And as I haven't signed any US taxation forms, a big chunk of any money paid goes to US Internal Revenue anyway. I'm like a one-man trickle-down economic policy, aren't I?

    Yes, it's an eBook. So my market is restricted to people happy to read on one of those eBook readers, or on their PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, yada yada yada. Those who are comfortable with technology.

    Yes, some of the stories have appeared on this very blog over the last three years. So my market is restricted to those people who aren't happy to read blogs. Those who aren't comfortable with technology.

    Hmm. There's probably a Venn diagram for this, and it's not looking encouraging.

    Anyway. Christmas is coming, Katie needs shoes, you have friends with eBook readers who like a laugh but don't read blogs. It's a winning combination!

    Wednesday, 24 November 2010

    The doctor will see you now

    A doctor's waiting-room. Our hero is waiting in it. Which is generally the purpose of waiting-rooms. The clue's in the name.

    He is nervous. Is the question going to come up?

    There are a few distractions. There is the TV playing infomercials about how to have a better relationship with ones colon. The leaflets: 'Chlamydia and You', 'Thumbs up for Your Prostate Test', 'Ear Wax for Beginners'. The newspapers and magazines with all the news that was fit to print in 2005.

    He remains nervous. The question - it's going to be asked, isn't he?

    He glances idly around the room, decorated in National Health Service magnolia. He regards the other occupants. That man with the Cough that deserves to have a capital letter. The old couple in the corner - serial visitors, at a guess - with a prescription list as long as your arm. The young mother with the hyperactive child that appears to be channelling Tigger.

    It doesn't do anything to reduce his nerves. The doctor's bound to ask the question, he's sure.

    Then it's "The doctor will see you now," and he is through to the inner sanctum. The doctor is ebullient yet avuncular. And some other words, probably.

    "Ah, it's good to see you. We don't see you here very often. What appears to be the problem?"

    That wasn't the question. Our hero kind of expected that one. So far, so good.

    "It's a little odd, doctor. You see - I can only breathe through one nostril. I'm sure that's not right. It's making sleeping a little difficult, amongst other things."

    "Hmm. I see. You're right, that's not normal." We can see that the eight years of Medical School weren't wasted on him. And he hasn't asked the question yet, at least. "Let's have a look."

    And with that he is peering up our hero's nose with that pointy, angled torchy-type instrument that almost certainly has a more impressive name than 'pointy, angled torchy-type instrument.'

    This was unexpected. But at least he hasn't asked the question.

    "Oh, yes, I see the problem. You have polyps up there. It's just your nasal wall growing a little too much. It's nothing too serious and we can get you sorted with a little minor surgery. I'll get you referred - In the meantime here's a scrip for some spray."

    So that's it, our hero thinks. This niggling problem that has been bothering him for months can be sorted and he'll be able to breathe properly. Which is a good thing. and, best of all, he's been able to avoid having to answer the question. He stands and gets ready to leave.

    "One more thing," asks the doctor. If he wore glasses, he'd be peering over them. "I thought we were going to be doing something about our weight?"  The use of the word 'our' is interesting, our hero thinks.

    Bugger. The question, in all its glory.

    "Yes, doctor, it is reducing." A pathetic response, but it's the best our hero can manage.

    "Really?" Eyebrows are being raised over non-existent spectacles. "The pace is glacial from where I'm sitting. Work on it a little harder if you can, there's a good chap."

    "Thank you doctor."

    Our hero exits, the weight of the world on his shoulders.

    Tuesday, 23 November 2010

    Uncle Buck had nothing on me

    I'm fairly sure that parenthood isn't for me.

    It's OK, my mother doesn't read this. I can get away with saying that.

    It's not the sleepless nights, the expense, the emotional investment that worries me. It's the mind games you have to play.

    This was brought home to me in full effect when I visited a toyshop at the weekend. It's the big shed-like one you find in most cities, the one with the letter 'R' inexplicably the wrong way round. The one my sainted mother refers to as 'Taurus' for reasons best known to herself.

    Me? A toyshop? A month before Christmas? What? And, indeed, why?

    Well, I did become an uncle this year and so I was dispatched post-haste to pick up part of our Christmas present for our niece. It was my duty. I had to go and collect something pink and plastic, with flashing lights and noise-making devices. I will apologise to brother #1 and sister-in-law forthwith.

    I can honestly say it was a revelation. There was an aisle devoted to items for the female child. Or essentially, what we can now refer to as 'the pink zone'. I don't think I've ever been in a retail environment that has involved quite so much pink plastic.

    Well, maybe the once. That was a different type of store altogether.

    As I queued at the till, box containing pink-plastic-flashing-noise-thing under my arm, I overheard a conversation between mother and child behind me.

    "No, Jake, you can't play with that yet."
    "But mom, I want to!" The word 'mom' had three syllables. Parents will know what I mean.

    I turned round to find mother and child in protracted negotiations. Jake was standing in a shopping trolley, in which there was just one small-ish box, containing something rather exciting, probably with wheels. Mom was coping as well as could be expected, miraculously so as she was heavily pregnant and looked very much as if child number two was imminent.

    "We have to give it to Santa so he can give it back to you on Christmas," she said wearily.

    And it occurred to me that it must be tricky once kids get to a certain age. Not old enough to leave on their own while you pop out to the shops, not young enough for you to get away with buying them stuff without them realising. 

    "Your mom's right," I said to Jake with a grin. "You can't have presents until Santa's checked them out first."  I thought it was worth a try. His mother flashed me a grateful smile as Jake settled down with a thoughtful look on his face.

    So on this occasion the score ended up Adults 1 - 0 Children. But I don't think I'm creative enough to make things up 24 hours a day. Over to you, parents.

    Monday, 22 November 2010

    You snooze, you lose

    If you're reading this today it means that I'm not dead. I haven't plunged sleepily off the side of the motorway on the way home, neither have I dozed my way under the merciless wheels of a Latvian 18-wheeler.*

    Which is nice. Because I have plans for this evening, and none of them involve any form of plunging or, for that matter, getting acquainted with the mucky bits of passing heavy goods vehicles. Merciless or otherwise.

    However, it was touch and go earlier today. It was one of those days spent struggling through a fog. I was tired, I was fatigued, I was, not to put too fine a point on it, knackered. I have not been fully functional today.

    It's not good when you get out of bed more sleepy than you were when on the way in, but that was me this morning.After an eventful night spent asking myself some of the more deep questions - "Why can't I sleep? Will I sleep if I lie on this side? How about this one? Why did we never see anyone going to the toilet on the Starship Enterprise?" - I emerged from bed with a sense of foreboding. A whole day stretched ahead of me with all the promise of an accompanied walk to the gallows.

    "I'm breathing from memory," I said to myself. "How will I get through a whole day?"

    This afternoon I really started to lag. I was reading a discussion paper on financial protection arrangements in the EU countries and, I know this sounds hard to believe, my eyelids were drooping. Normally I can't put down the sections about equalising treatment across member states and the accepted protocol for single customer view - I can't wait for the film - but today they were doing nothing for me.

    My bed was calling. However it was 25 miles and quite a few hours away. I was losing the will to live, and there was a distinct possibility of that statement becoming gruesomely accurate somewhere around Corley Services on the way. How to bridge the gap?

    I'd never had one of these before. I'd had its bigger brother many a time, but thought to myself that a short sharp shock was the only way on this occasion. I tried not to look at the ingredients; oh, yes, there was caffeine-a-plenty, but I didn't dare think what else I was plugging into my system.

    Needs must when the devil vomits in your kettle, as they say.

    Timing was everything - I ripped the cap off and necked its contents in one go while waiting at the lights before hitting the M6 North.

    I'm not sure the buzzing in my ears was quite what I expected. Come to think of it, Warwickshire was a lot less purple the last time I looked at it that closely. But at least I was alert for the drive home.

    Which is where we are now. And, if you don't mind, I need to finish right now. Before the bats get me.

    *(ps - it occurs to me that if I ever do die a horrible plunging or truck-crushing-related death, people will look back on this paragraph and go "Whoa".)

    (pps, it also occurs to me that if people read that first ps, they'll really freak out.  "Whoa. He predicted it, too.")

    Sunday, 21 November 2010

    Ready for my close-up, Mr DeMille

    I'm not often mistaken for Will Smith. He's a little taller then me, for starters.

    One other difference is the way we approach our appearance at movie premieres. The afore-mentioned Mr Smith probably doesn't get taken to his in a 1999 Toyota Previa containing the western hemisphere's collection of Magic Trees.

    It's your loss, Fresh Prince.

    So there we were last night, being shepherded into the Custard Factory to see the latest fruits to be harvested from the minds of our friends Chris and Steve. Do you harvest fruit? Doesn't matter.

    It's worth mentioning to those of you from out of town that the Custard Factory is not actively involved in the production of culinary preparations based on milk and egg yolk. Or at least, it wasn't last night. That would have been weird, although I suppose it would have sorted out those of us intolerant to lactose.

    Amongst other things, the Factory has a 100-seater cinema into which we all trooped, each to be handed a glass of bubbly and some 3D glasses.

    "Bloody hell, Chris, 3D? You've pushed the boat out a bit this time, haven't you?"
    "All will be revealed. Now shut your face and sit down."

    How Chris is not an international diplomat by now I'll never know.

    This year's film is a collection of shorts, a sort of video version of those trashy magazines with real-life stories about ordinary people. Like failed would-be serial killers, conjoined twins in love triangles, confused vegetarians and slightly camp Liverpudlian spiritualists who are in no way supposed to be likened to real people. Seriously.

    No, really.

    What's really great about this process is that Chris and Steve take the view that it's necessary to have fun while putting these films together. In many ways, that's more important than the finished article, although over the years the quality has improved. I bought a DVD of the film so I could hoot along like a deranged person at the bloopers.

    At a point in the film we were instructed to put on our 3D glasses, so we did. Only to be presented with the on-screen message "The End". Followed by "You All Look Ridiculous".

    OK, so it's never going to be mentioned in the same vein as Truffaut. But I don't think Truffaut ever went in for willy gags, to be honest. It's his loss.

    After the premiere we decamped to a local pub that, we're told, has been there since 1368, to drink Marstons English Pale Ale and eat Scampi Fries.

    And I guess that's another distinction between me and Will Smith. I reckon he's more of a Budweiser man.

    Saturday, 20 November 2010

    It's oh so quiet....

    Shhh. Be very, very quiet. Unless you're Elmer Fudd, in which case you have my permission to be vewwy vewwy quiet.

    There are some absolutes in life. Night follows day, the tides do whatever the heck it is that tides do, seasons progress around the calendar and bank balances march inexorably to zero at least a fortnight before payday.  And to this list of definites we can add: 'we go to the German Market and Katie spends a significant part of the following day wallowing in bed'.

    In fairness, it's not just Katie - I'm feeling somewhat subdued myself. I can't quite understand why, I mean it's not as if we had a late night. In fact, I think we were back home by, erm, around about, um, I think it was...

    Oh look, this is silly. Let's have a look at the camera for clues.

    Right, some early establishing shots of Victoria Square and the Council House:

    Yes, it's all coming back to me. The sights, the smells. The stalls selling Christmas fripperies. What is a frippery, by the way? Can you point to something and say it has frippery tendencies?

    Ahh. The Ibuprofen appears to be working now. Right, what else is there on the memory card?

    Oh. I think I see where this is going. The fact that this shot is slightly out-of-focus is somewhat worrying. This can only mean one thing. Somewhere there will be a picture of me looking vagule demented while holding a pint.

    There we go.

    If I remember correctly the beer hut started to get a little busy. It must be hell working in the centre of town, with all this between you and the bus home every evening. Go home for spaghetti hoops, or stay for a quick stein or two?

    Wowser. Looks like spaghetti hoops lost out last night. Who would have thought that the English would have gotten into drinking beer in such a big way? Oh, actually, that's quite a silly question.

    If I remember correctly, we left the market to go to a small, quiet, intimate bar off a side-street.

    Or perhaps not. That'll be the Old Joint Stock then, scene of many a happy evening and cause of many a distressing morning thereafter. This is where they do the chili nacho sharing plate, covered in jalapenos. That might explain why Katie's spent a considerable amount of time in the smallest room of the house this morning.

    "But they're so tasty! Maybe I can build up a resistance to them over time..."

    Well, looking through these pictures, there's nothing too bad. At least we didn't do that classic 'holding the camera with one hand and pointing it back at your face while you do a cheesy grin' thing, did we?

    Oh dear.

    Friday, 19 November 2010

    Danke Schoen

    I'm not sure how to type an umlaut, perhaps those of you from the right neck of the woods can help. Or failing that, any heavy metal fans out there?

    The reason I need this extra help is because I'm trying to be a little more Teutonic today. We've both taken a day of work to go to Birmingham's German Christmas Market.

    I think it's very important that we get to sample other cultures. We should take every opportunity to understand the way of life in other countries, to realise how people live their lives. Were we not once enemies, the German and the British? But now, he's not Hanoverian, he's my brother. We can build a bridge, everybody. Between your heart and mi...

    Oh, OK then.  It's just an excuse to stand around drinking stupidly-large glasses of beer and eat pork-based products in the streets. Silly hats might be involved, too.

    So that's why this post is shorter than normal, as we're busy preparing ourselves. OK, we're putting on our drinking trousers. See you all tomorrow.  Or, if you prefer, auf wiedersehen.

    Thursday, 18 November 2010

    The one-woman consumer boom

    Well, this has never happened before. It's unprecedented, unheard of, a unique event.

    I mean, on a scale of one to ten, where, one is 'this happens all the time' and ten is 'this never happens,' this is...oh, you get the idea.

    Normally Katie and I treat Christmas as athletes treat the 100 metre sprint. No, I realise that's not a good analogy, given that we both get out of breath merely rising from the sofa, but bear with me. When it comes to Christmas, we tend to leave everything until the last minute, waiting until an imaginary starting pistol is sounded on or around December 15th each year. And we rush around like our pants are on fire, stretching for the finishing line at 23:58 on Christmas Eve.

    There are female friends and relatives who have very nearly received ties as presents in past years.

    Up until yesterday it looked very much as if we were going to follow this pattern once more. Our home was gift-less, our lists unticked. The stress level was beginning to build, boosted by every seasonal advert on the telly.

    Especially that Iceland one with Jason Donovan. It's wrong on an impressive number of levels.

    Yesterday and today Katie created her very own consumer boom. Online and in-person, she shopped. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you a wonder of the moderns age: my wife with a shopping list and a debit card. If shopping was the Coliseum, Katie would be a gladiator. She took the present list by the scruff of the neck and gave it a damn good hiding.

    We are complete. Presents bought, paper bought, turkey the size of an Airbus booked. We have no room in the house, but at least I can look Jason in the eye from now on.

    I'm not entirely sure what we'll do with ourselves in December. There is nothing more to do. This circle is unbroken, we are complete, finished, 100%.

    What's that, you say? Have I bought Katie's present?

    Oh bugger.

    Wednesday, 17 November 2010

    Give us this day our Daily Hate

    Some of the scariest news I've read in a long time is that the Daily Mail's website is the most popular news site in the UK, and only second-placed worldwide.

    Christ on a bike. We're doomed.

    I've had a love/hate relationship with the Daily Mail for some time. No, actually, scratch the 'love' bit out, if you don't mind. Seriously, reading the paper is like spending 20 minutes in a home for the mentally ill. You emerge from it feeling exhausted, paranoid and bewildered.

    And I think that's the intention. They have their target market and they'll keep blowing that dog whistle every day:
    PEEP! There are these people, we hear, who might be getting something you're not. They don't look like you and me. Be angry!
    PEEP! Kids these days? All animals. Be scared!
    PEEP! That substance might be giving you cancer. Run away!
    PEEP! That substance might be a cure for cancer. Panic buy!
    PEEP! Scientists? What do they know?
    PEEP! House prices, the BBC, wheelie bins, public servants. We have no actual messages here but want you to feel some low-grade hate, folks. Don't let us down!
    Anyway. This is a not-too-subtle way of assaulting your senses for a poem I wrote and performed earlier this month. Don't say I didn't warn you:
    I have my opinions, I like what I know
    I believe I’m correct. You can’t tell me so
    I’m a Daily Mail reader, day in and day out
    I take what they tell me, with no room for doubt

    I really enjoy my own half-hour of hate
    It seeks to increase my indignant heart-rate
    I’ll tut and I’ll moan and I’ll ask myself “Why?”
    It helps me to make the mornings go by

    The columnists say where the world’s going wrong
    In items of hatred, four hundred words long
    If it’s not bloody socialists, it’s those others we see
    Whose problem is that they don’t look quite like me

    I’m so very happy with my own little truth
    I’ll swallow it wholesale with no need for proof
    My dad read the Mail, his father did too
    I guess we’re all idiots, but what can you do?

    Tuesday, 16 November 2010

    Royal Wedding 2.0

    Surely I'm not the only one who answered the announcement of Prince William and Kate Middleton's impending nuptials today with just one simple, heartfelt question?
    "Does this mean we get an extra Bank Holiday next year?"
    However, I can remember his parent's wedding, back in 1981. Hang on a minute....

    Royal weddings in the news. Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet are releasing records again. Financial crises. Riots in the streets. All we need is Argentina to have another pop at the Falklands and the whole world will have turned into a massive 1980s tribute act.

    But there are some things that happen at normal weddings that I just don't think we'll be seeing at Will & Kate's do:

    Hat wars - it's normally considered bad form to outshine the bride's mother's headgear at the ceremony, so I've been told. But given that the granny on the groom's side has a nifty hat with the Star of India in it, I'm not entirely sure Mrs Middleton will be able to rock up wearing some number from Debenhams.

    The evening buffet - swan sandwich, anyone?

    The mobile disco - it's not going to happen. Mind you, we're all looking forward to the Band of The Coldstream Guards attempting their seminal version of Madness's 'Baggy Trousers'.

    Dodgy speeches by the Best Man - there may well be lots of stories from William's past that are bursting to be told.  Remember though, his family are crack shots and they're normally tooled up. Best to keep it whimsical, chum.

    An elderly relative making off-colour remarks about the waiting staff - oh, actually, I think we will have this one.  Well, it's nice to keep some traditions, isn't it?

    Monday, 15 November 2010

    And so it begins

    I'm due my annual cold. Must be, it's November after all. Every year I have one at about this time, if anything it was slightly overdue.

    Yesterday afternoon, despite the application of a Weapons Grade Sunday Roast Lunch (or Dinner), I started going through the motions of a cold. My afternoon was spent gathering together a nice collection of shivers, shot through with coughing fits.

    Hold yourselves back ladies, it gets better.

    I could only breathe through one nostril. This was not normal, surely? Being able to sniff around corners might be a neat party trick, but it's not exactly a sustainable long-term position. Something quite distressing was falling from the other nostril.

    Look, I'm sorry but I did warn you.

    After a splendid night spent lying on my non-breathing side staring at my bedside table from a range of three inches, my respiratory system making a wondrous range of noises, I got out of bed this morning.  Mainly for the variety, if anything. Annoyingly, I'm not at the 'rather good voice' stage of my cold.

    Katie emailed me during the day to inform me that she felt like she was coming down with the same thing. Normally she's all for sharing, but apparently this was an exception. Pardon me for not knowing the rules.

    I came home this evening to find out that she'd been to Boots and stocked up. We are going out to the German Market on Friday and a cold is not in her plans. Eating inappropriate sausage-based products and drinking unfeasibly large glasses of beer do feature quite heavily, colds don't. So she showed me what she'd bought to stave off the symptoms.

    Oh boy, Mr Cold, welcome to the poo-fight. Are those white trousers you're wearing?

    There was Night Nurse. There were sprays. Vitamin-type things that promised something quite positive for the immune system. The European Tissue Mountain. And a hellish amount of Echinacea tablets.

    "Those were a little expensive. £13 for the pack. Mind you, we're now OK for Echinacea for the winter."
    "I'm sorry, I'm having to process some new concepts quite rapidly. Up until a few seconds ago I was unaware that I had a defined and measurable need for Echinacea."

    By all accounts I was being unreasonable. I blame the virus.

    Sunday, 14 November 2010

    In praise of...Sunday afternoons

    As you read this, I am drowning.  Buried alive, even.  A willing victim of gravy and roast potatoes, beef joint and cauliflower cheese.

    If the Russians had ever wanted to invade, they couldn't have chosen a better time than 3.30pm on a Sunday.  There would be little resistance; most of the country would by then be semi-comatose, apart from those who'd promised to do the washing-up.  And there's not much you can do against MiGs in your marigolds.

    It's not overstating things to say that Sunday lunch (or dinner, depending on which particular social class holds your aspirations) is one of the finest achievements of human culture.  I'd put it right up there with the moon landings, penicillin, Beethoven's Fifth and the 2002-03 Birmingham City Football Club squad.

    Sunday afternoons are, perhaps as a direct result of lunch/dinner, a time for gentle reflection on the manner of things.  I've carried out extensive investigations and can report that this is introspection best done from a supine position, preferably with the Sunday papers over ones face.

    The Sunday papers would seem to be a challenge at first.  I have sitting next to me the Sunday Times, edition 9,715, weighing in at a good couple of pounds.  It has a reassuring heft to it; a surfeit of supplements, a multitude of magazines, a panoply of pull-outs.  It is a schoolboy error to assume you have to digest it all - in attempting to do so you would probably read more than many people manage in a lifetime.  You are supposed to graze.  Snooze and graze, graze and snooze.

    As we move towards what the late Douglas Adams referred to as 'the long dark teatime of the soul', we might arise from our slumbers to see what televisual delights await us.  Sunday evening TV, at least in this country, used to be deliberately beige, all the better to prevent stirring up unnecessary emotion.  When we had three channels, you'd get things like Antiques Roadshow (old people being gently disappointed), Highway (Sir Harry Secombe wearing a surprising selection of coats while singing 'How Great Thou Art' in front of a mountain) and Last of the Summer Wine (three old blokes rolling down a Yorkshire hillside in a tin bath).

    You have the stresses and strains of a working week ahead of you.  You might spend your working days wrangling spreadsheets instead of sheet metal.  But there's still no reason to make a fuss.

    Now if you don't mind, I need to follow the instructions of Mr Steve Marriott and his colleagues.  Close my eyes and drift away....

    Saturday, 13 November 2010

    Blogging for fun and profit. Well, for fun, anyway.

    Occasionally, this blog generates comments from the hardy bunch of readers who struggle manfully, or indeed womanfully, through the convoluted prose.  (This is a subtle hint; there's a 'Comments' link at the bottom of each post.  Knock yourselves out.)

    Very, very occasionally, I receive emails from people about the blog.  Today was a case in point.  As it's such a rare event (and in no way because I have to write a post every day and I'm running out of material), I thought I would share this latest missive with the faithful.  And it goes like this:

    "Dear fatboyfat."  For some reason, random words in the email were presented in a different font.  The more cynical of you might suggest the vile influence of a mail merge programme somewhere, but I prefer to think that the sender just wanted to emphasise certain aspects for my benefit.

    "I've been reading your blog Make Lard History and I'm a big fan."  I am seriously considering getting t-shirts printed up.  Anyone?

    "I represent some businesses local to you in the Birmingham area and was wondering if you would like to consider a business opportunity."  I'm all ears.  Well, actually I'm 60% water, with an increasing contingent of pastry and bitterness, but we'll let that pass.

    "How can you benefit?"  Well, I was beginning to wonder.  Get to the meat, sunshine, I'm a busy man.  This cup of tea isn't going to drink itself now, is it?

    "By simply mentioning the following Birmingham-based restaurants in your blog, for instance, we believe we can form a mutually beneficial relationship."  There then followed a list of eateries, none of whom I've ever visited, several of which I never knew existed.  Who knew we had a Guatemalan BBQ place in our fine city?

    In passing, can I mention that this is probably the first time in 40 years I've ever used the word "eateries"?  Thank you.  I am quite pleased with myself.

    "We feel that the readership of Make Lard History will fit into the demographic that these businesses seek to attract."  Who would have known that the 2010 winner of the 'Most Random Blog About Nothing in Particular' award would be so highly followed?

    And that award does exist if I say it does.  This is the Internet, after all.

    "If you think that our Birmingham-based clients can work together with your highly-acclaimed blog, do please get in touch.  All of us at (named online marketing agency) are excited about the prospect of working with Make Lard History."

    Well, what can I say?  At last, my due rewards are coming.  Fame and, more importantly, fortune will certainly be mine.  Now, does anyone know the Mayan for "Waiter, can I have the bill, please?"

    Friday, 12 November 2010

    Service with a scowl

    My phone rings and it's Jez on the other end.  I've never met Jez, never had the opportunity to ask him face-to-face whether Jeremy would be more fitting for someone in his position.  I suspect the question would not get a positive response.  Jesus is never going to want Jez as a sunbeam.

    In fact, I've only ever spoken to Jez on the phone, when booking the car in for its service at the garage that employs him as their Service Manager.  Well, I'm sure it says "Service Manager" on the sign on his desk.  Probably because "Automative Judge, Jury and Executioner" wouldn't fit.

    This is why I know it's Jez ringing.  I can sense the grief through the telephone line even before I pick up.  He tells me the car is ready.  I thank him.  And then I wait.  For this game has hardly begun.

    "We needed to replace your brake pads."
    "Oh, I see."  I resist the temptation to tell him how surprised I am, given that I prefer not to use the brakes if I can avoid it.
    "And the brake discs. We've had to replace those, too. And the fluid. You might want to watch how you go with the brakes for a while, to let it all bed in."
    "I see," I mutter.  I think I'm getting a telling-off.
    "We also had to sort out your washer jets."
    "Oh?" I begin to believe I can sense what he's thinking with each sentence.
    "Yes, they really weren't spraying very well."  How?  How in the name of all things holy did you not notice these weren't working, you idiot?
    "Well, that's just as well," I say, "given all the crap on the roads this time of year."
    "Ye-ess." Had you actually cleaned your car in the last six months, you lazy git?  We could have ploughed it.
    "Anything else?" I ask.
    "Your radiator grill needed re-setting.  It seemed as if it had been pushed slightly out of place."  Honestly, I don't know what the world is coming to.  The people that they allow to drive our cars these days...
    "Blimey, I don't know how that happened."
    "Then there are your tyres. The rears are down to 2 millimetres of tread.  And your fronts aren't much better either." Although if you were to skid off the road at high speed and make contact with something concrete that wouldn't be a major loss to humanity. "We would recommend you get those replaced sooner rather than later, sir." 
    "Wow, er, OK, thanks, Jez, I'll get them seen to straight away." 
    "That would be wise, sir, what with winter coming in." Seriously. No major loss.
    "Is there anything else."
    "No, I'm arranging for the car to be delivered back to you now." And if you can manage to keep it in one piece for the next 15,000 miles, that would be peachy.

    If it wasn't for the unavoidable fact that he has a point, I might be insulted.

    Thursday, 11 November 2010

    In memoriam 2010

    Here's a thought.

    If you were born in Britain at the end of World War 2, you'll have reached retirement age this year.  Sixty-five years, through infancy, childhood, adolescence and adulthood.  Hopefully it's been a productive, enjoyable life.  And you might think to yourself that you had been immensely lucky.  Because if you study human history, such a long period of time with no war is almost unprecedented. 

    But of course, you'd be wrong.  Since you were born, soldiers, sailors and airmen have been on active duty.  Time and time again, they've been called upon to put into practice the training they probably hoped they'd never have to use.  Some of them have paid an awful price.  Many of them are still in the line of fire as you read this.

    You might not agree with this situation.  You might say that it is wrong for military personnel to be posted to certain places.  It's not done in your name.  And that's fine.  A lot of people might say you had a point.

    You might also say that Remembrance Day is not for you.  In recent years, there seems to have been a lot more focus on the wearing of the poppy and you're not comfortable with the compulsion.  No-one should force you into feeling a particular way,  you say.  And that's fine, too. 

    But if you can spend a couple of minutes just thinking about the people, that might make a difference.  Not the brass, the generals and admirals.  Think about the ordinary men and women who joined up but came back changed for life - or didn't come back at all.  From the decreasing cohorts of old men with their smart medal ribbons, to the teenage amputees.  And not forgetting the rows of crisp, white headstones with their inscriptions.

    I'm not going to force you though.  It's largely a free world.  And that's really the point, isn't it?

    Wednesday, 10 November 2010

    C30, C60, C90 Go!

    It's a mystery to me how I'm able to hear anything these days, given that I spent approximately 70% of my waking hours between 1985 and 1992 with headphones strapped on.

    This thought was brought back to me the other day when I learnt that Sony was to stop production of the original cassette Walkman.  To be honest, I was surprised at the news, surprised that they were still making them.  I thought that cassettes had already gone the way of all flesh at some point in the last decade.

    I've been merrily listening to a series of ones and zeroes emanating from a small box with a picture of some fruit on it for any number of years.  I almost couldn't remember what it was like to use cassettes.  So I had a good try.

    In my early teens I started going to a school that was a good hour or so away.  Later on I ended up going out with a girl who lived on the other side of the city.  Obviously, this was some time before I passed my driving test and inflicted myself on the Queen's Highway, so it was public transport all the way.  And I don't know, but you can only sit staring at an advert for Travel West Midlands Travelcards for a few months before it starts to get a little old.

    So I got a Walkman.  Actually, that's not quite true.  I suspect the first one, which I probably inherited from an older brother, was not a Sony.  It had the all the weight of a night storage heater - more Limpman than Walkman, to be frank.  But it meant I could at last have music with me at all times.  I no longer had to listen to the listless tutting of my fellow passengers on the number 50 bus as it limped along Kings Heath High Street.

    I was at the cutting edge of technology.  I could press a button for chrome cassettes.  I had a beltclip. 

    Apparently home taping was killing music.  I hoped the authorities were looking the other way as I transferred every LP that came into my possession onto a seemingly never-ending succession of TDK 90-minute tapes, with the track details carefully transcribed to the inlay cards. 

    Leaving the house would be a major event requiring D-Day levels of planning.  Where am I going?  What mood am I in?  What tapes do I take with me?  And how are my batteries for charge?

    Batteries were a permanent issue.  I don't think I ever heard the final tracks on many of these albums at anything like their correct speed.  Given that I was listening to a lot of Frank Zappa at the time, I don't think I actually noticed until many years later.

    But I look back on those days fondly.  I can remember what was going on in my life from the music that was being piped into my ears.  Walking home along the Outer Circle having missed the last bus?  Rush - Moving Pictures.  Looking through racks of dodgy trousers at Oasis on Corporation Street?  Squeeze - 45s and Under.  Waiting in line at McDonalds on the ramp?  Genesis - Selling England by the Pound.  Freaking out everyone within a ten metre radius?  Brand X - Product.

    Kids these days.  Don't know they're born.  Repeat to fade.

    Tuesday, 9 November 2010

    One has been poked

    Yesterday we were treated to the news that the Queen was getting her very own Facebook page.  And there was me thinking that Her Maj couldn't tell her Esc from her Ctrl.  I wasn't going to have a look, but thought I'd better.  I'm supposed to be a loyal servant and didn't want to risk getting a sharply-worded note from the nobility.

    Seriously.  Those dudes know how to use firearms.

    So this is what I saw when I pointed my browser, with all due deference, monarch-wards.

    Elizabeth joined Facebook.

    Elizabeth set her Hometown as London.

    Elizabeth set her Hometown as Windsor.

    Elizabeth set her Hometown as Balmoral.

    Elizabeth set her Hometown as Sandringham.

    Elizabeth found 578 friends on Family Tree.

    Elizabeth is watching Philip talking to the servants.

    Elizabeth has a sense of foreboding.

    Elizabeth's Relationship Status is 'It's Complicated'.

    Elizabeth likes Crowns.

    Elizabeth wrote on Edward Windsor's Wall,"What was the name of that television programme you were so fond of, dear?"

    Elizabeth likes Glee.

    Elizabeth joined the Group "Corgi Breeders Like It Lower Down".

    Elizabeth is the new Mayor of Great Britain on FourSquare.

    Elizabeth is now friends with Stephen Fry.

    Elizabeth completed 430 locations on Cities I've Visited.

    Elizabeth is building a 17th Century Mansion on Farmville.

    Meh.  Some people are so predictable.

    Monday, 8 November 2010

    Destroy it yourself

    Recent reports allege that modern men are becoming increasingly useless.  Not only are we less likely to carry out running maintenance, we're not even pitching-in when it comes to domestic repairs.

    I have some sympathy with this view, as I remember when things were different.  Growing up in the seventies, everything was in black and white - apart from the brown polyester trousers my mom made me wear to school.   On any given Saturday, you could have wandered along the street where we lived and seen the bonnets up on at least one in four cars.  Chaps would be merrily servicing their steeds or simply fettling them for the week ahead.  Whether this was down to the general unreliability of cars of the day or not, I can't say.  In the case of our next-door-neighbour, proud owner of a swimming-pool-blue Ford Cortina, we suspected it was because he was tired from constantly arguing with his wife - a woman who could be heard through several timezones, never mind our party wall - and considered the weekly fiddling with his carburettors to be less of a hassle.

    It was the same indoors.  Dad avoided the weekly car-care by being the first on our street to own a Japanese car, which didn't break down, giving him more time for extensive house remodelling.  I remember him rebuilding the family bathroom over the course of a weekend with a pine tongue-and-groove effect on one side and tiles on the other, all combined with an avocado coloured suite. I know - I could only provide you with a more typical seventies image if I described Tony Manero riding past on a Raleigh Chopper.

    But these days it's all different.  On the odd occasion I need to lift the bonnet of my car, the contents therein scream at me: "You're out of your depth here, sunshine."  And I had to get a man in when replacing my kitchen and bathroom.  Which is probably just as well.

    I have had the odd success, though.  The other week the WC started emitting an awful noise when refilling after flushing.  It's not unusual for worrying sounds to come from this area of the house, but normally one tends to hear them somewhat earlier in the toilet-using cycle.  But this time the loud juddering moan was coming out even when neither of us were in position, so to speak.

    Eventually I traced it down to an unlubricated ballcock, which is the most Carry On type of domestic mishap I think it's possible to have; the equivalent of a 'worn big end' in a car.  Fnarr fnarr.  But I had the measure of this one.  I knew what to do.  I girded my loins and strode manfully to do with battle with this non-functioning nubbin.  A quick squirt of WD-40 and things were going up and down nice and smoothly once more.

    I'm sorry.  I can't stop myself when I get going.

    But, these minimal successes aside, I am not particularly handy around the house.  So are these reports of the demise of homo domesticus to be believed?  Well, perhaps not.  Because although we're not building retaining walls, pipe clenched firmly between manly teeth, some of us at least do attempt to pull our weight in other areas.

    I do all of the washing-up in chez fatboyfat.  It seems only fair.  I'm no stranger to laundry and do the majority of the ironing, too.  And I quite like doing the weekly shop, as well.  I don't mention this to show off - I know plenty of other blokes, chaps and gents who do the same, if not more.  Could any of us imagine our forefathers doing the same?  No. My dad would be more likely to be seen on the moon than near the kitchen sink.  My grandfather?  He engineered the Lancaster bombers used on the Dambuster raids.  Would you have asked him to sort out a pastels wash?

    In conclusion, we're not useless, we're just useful in a different way.  Now if you don't mind, I've got some pots and pans from last night that really need doing.

    Sunday, 7 November 2010

    In perfect harmony

    Last New Year's Eve I spent the evening sitting next to a woman who was carefully operating a breast pump.

    Thought that might get your attention.

    It was quite a novel way to see in the new year, I'll give you that.  With her free hand, the pumper (or should that be pumpee?) showed me her phone, on which she had been reading the very blog that you see before you.  Apparently, Make Lard History had helped her through many a sleepless night of baby feeds.

    I don't know about you, dear reader, but when having a conversation in such circumstances it's difficult to know where to look, even though she was being incredibly discrete.  (I was brought up in a cul-de-sac, for God's sake.  I was 17 before I saw another human nipple.)  And so I let my gaze drift to the other end of the room, where it was caught by some records.  Not CDs, but records.  Honest, 12 inch, vinyl records, and quite a lot of them.  The whole wall, from floor to ceiling, was taken with the record collection of Beck, the aforementioned pumpee (or pumper) and Matt, her then-fiance.

    Beck is a professional singing teacher and Matt is the Most Laid Back Man in the Western Hemisphere.  They are parents to Ben, who will, if I'm any judge, surely achieve world domination within the next 20 years or so.

    On that night and subsequent visits I've had my musical tastes gently expanded by their library of shiny black goodness.  Artists and bands I'd heard of, like Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Boards of Canada have received an airing.  Then there have been some that even with my fairly eclectic tastes were new to me; such names as Joan as Policewoman, Okkervil River and Shearwater getting a very welcome spin.

    By the way, if you have a moment, do yourselves a favour and find Rooks, by Shearwater. It's tremendous.

    It was Beck and Matt's wedding yesterday and a relaxed, musical thread ran through the whole event.  Let me paint you a picture.

    This was the groom's choice of footwear.  And, after the formal ceremony and pictures, the bride joined him and slipped into a pair of Converse Allstars under her dress.  All the better for throwing some shapes to the Black Keys later on.

    Beck was serenaded into the wedding venue by a choir made up of her students.  Wedding march?  Nope.  Trumpet Voluntary?  Not here.  It was an arrangement of Alanis Morissette's Head Over Feet.  Which is a pretty good state to be in, all things considered.

    For the wedding breakfast, guests had individual cupcakes as place-settings, with each table having a separate sweet-related theme.  As you can tell, our table was candy necklaces; others had sours, foam bananas, liquorice allsorts, chocolate Revels,  dolly mixtures, etc.  This prompted a vibrant trading community throughout the afternoon as kids travelled from table to table, politely making trades.

    And yes, the toast drinks were mojitos.  It was that kind of event.

    Later on that evening, after we'd had an afternoon including the playing of KerPlunk, the bride and groom took to the dancefloor to their chosen first dance song.  And it was this.  (Caution, this may be NSFW for some of you out there).

    I think if you're going to have a wedding, it's only right to have one that speaks volumes about the bride and groom.  Congratulations, both.

    Saturday, 6 November 2010

    Twelve proverbs for modern times

    Cut your coat according to the instructions of Gok Wan and you too can end up looking like someone with a ruined coat.

    All that glitters is not Gary.

    If you sup with the devil, use recipes that don’t involve nuts.  Remember, he has an allergy and you don’t want to have to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre on the Lord of Darkness for a second time.

    Out of the frying pan and into the bin.  Sod this for a lark, where’s the menu for Pizza Hut?

    It’s a wise child that knows how to change the automatic gearbox on a 1998 Ford Mondeo.  

    You can’t make a silk purse out of silk these days without annoying the hell out of those unionised silkworms.

    He who hesitates is going to find revolving doors a bit of a challenge.

    When the cat’s away the mice will knock the house down and build apartments for retired gerbils.

    Don’t count your chickens before they’re mechanically reconstituted by the McDonalds corporation into nuggets of pure evil.

    A rolling stone gathers no royalties, due to some fiendish contract signed when they were all whacked off their gourds on the Colombian Marching Powder in the early 70’s.

    Love me, love my rather unseemly collection of horse brasses.

    The longest journey begins with the thought: “Did I leave the gas on?”

    Friday, 5 November 2010

    Celebrating the failures

    Today is Guy Fawkes Day in the UK.  Elsewhere, I guess it's just Day.

    On 5th November we celebrate the discovery of a failed plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605.  If that seems like an odd thing to be doing, some 400-odd years after the event, then you really haven't got to grips with the peculiarities of British history.

    But it is a little unusual to be marking the anniversary of what was, essentially, a failed terrorist attack.  Especially as we use tons of high explosives for the purpose.  However, if we're relaxed about celebrating such events, perhaps we need to extend the franchise a little bit.  Because let's face it, if we don't want to be terrorised, we don't have to be.  Taking the piss is often the best option: 

    Belt Buckle Day

    In honour of airport security operatives the world over, on this day leave your belt buckles at home and shuffle along praying you don't suffer a wardrobe malfunction of the worst kind.  Watch the eyes of the kids light up as Grandma is subjected to a rough body-search by taciturn people in peaked caps.

    John Smeaton Night

    In remembrance of the 2007 Glasgow Airport attack, people up and down the country are to be smacked around the face by angry Scottish blokes.  Actually, that probably counts as a normal Saturday night in some town centres.

    The Burning Shoe Festival

    Set light to your footwear with gay abandon, folks.  Because nothing says, "Member of a shadowy organisation destined to bring terror to the travelling public" any better than the smell of a scorched pair of Nike Air High.

    Send a Printer Ink Cartridge to a Complete Stranger Week

    I think the clue's in the title with this one.

    Thursday, 4 November 2010

    Capital Punishment

    Well this won't do at all.

    Yesterday afternoon I went to London.  You know, London.  Big place on the Thames, daft prices for houses, you can't miss it.

    I was going with a work colleague because we'd won an award.  Well, strictly speaking, she'd won the award.  Mind you, I wrote the winning submission, so really I could say I was partly responsible for the award.

    Hang on, this isn't getting us anywhere.  Let's start again.

    Yesterday afternoon I went to London.  And, as is normally the case when I visit the capital, those good people of London Underground decided to take it upon themselves to go on strike.

    I have been here before.  In fact, it's almost as if the unions wait until I'm approaching, then decide to down tools.  Or whatever it is tube train drivers down when they're not working.  I should get Boris Johnson to pay me not to go.  I'm a Jonah.

    Having been warned yesterday afternoon that the city was gripped by a tube strike, I spent a little time thinking about alternatives.  I knew from past experience a strike of this magnitude meant that arriving at London Euston at peak time would lead to my joining a taxi queue containing most of the population of the western hemisphere, all waiting for precisely five taxis.

    I thought about maybe walking from Euston to our final destination in the insurance district, by that bulbous gherkin-y building.  Hmm.  About three miles.  Certainly possible, but not entirely comfortable in the November drizzle, in my sensible clumpy English shoes and woollen winter suit.  My colleague gently advised me that she Was Not Sodding Walking Three Bloody Miles In These Heels Thank You Very Much.  I asked if she had a pair of trainers to slip into, in the manner of Melanie Griffiths' character in the film Working Girl.  I remembered seeing the film in the cinema when it came out.

    Worst. Date. Movie. Ever.

    Anyway, we decided instead to head down to London on an earlier train, in the hope that this would give us more options before the 6pm awards ceremony.  We arrived at a bustling Euston not long after 4.  And as we wandered, a-bitching and a-mumbling, towards the burgeoning taxi queue, I thought I would just check with the London Underground employee on the station concourse patiently fielding customer queries and dispensing wisdom like Buddha.  Only with more polyester and a hi-vis tabard.

    "What's it looking like on the Northern Line to Bank Station?"
    "Oh, that one's fine sir, you'll be alright."

    He probably wondered why I looked slightly disappointed at this news.

    This is why I said, at the start of this post, that this would not do.  I mean, in narrative terms there is nothing good about, "I-went-to-London-and-used-a-remarkably-efficient-public-mass-transport-solution-and-it-was-actually-quite-cheap-don't-you-know," is there?  No, you want to know about our suffering, don't you?  How the forces ranged against us - weather, traffic, Londoners - as we went about our gargantuan task.  How we fought valiantly against the odds, straining every sinew in a determined effort to reach our destination. 

    Somehow, sitting down on a tube train for ten minutes with a copy of the Evening Standard to hand doesn't quite cut it, does it?


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