Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Did I mention I'd had a book published?

The package came to me at work. In itself that was nothing unusual; I often get packages delivered to me there. Relying on the postman for anything larger than sinister window envelopes is pretty much an exercise in futility, involving "we-couldn't-be-bothered-to-deliver-this" cards and interminable waits at a small postal depot with all the charm of an above-ground nuclear shelter.

The package? Oh, nothing really. Just a copy of a book that I've had published.

I know, I tried being nonchalant when my colleagues watched me open it. "Oh, it's just that book that I wrote," but I think they could tell I was anything but relaxed about the whole thing.

I even left it casually on my desk, so that anyone passing would see it, and on their enquiry I could say "Oh that thing? It's just a book I've had published."

To understand this story we need to go back in time.

Born the third son of a dispossessed nobleman, I was cast out of the family home at the tender age of nine for a crime involving flock wallpaper, chutney and a small rodent.

Hang on, not that far back. Let's skip a few years.

Some months ago I put a collection of my short stories together as an eBook, available for download from all major retailers that are named after major South American rivers. I considered that there would be considerable scope for people who weren't that keen on reading a blog but were technically savvy enough to read eBooks.

Yes, I know. Stop looking at me like that. That's not a Venn diagram - that's two circles on different sides of the paper. So I looked into getting the book published as a paperback. There are, essentially, three ways of doing this:
  1. Be the one lucky sod that gets their book published out of a gazillion manuscripts submitted to the mainstream publishers every day. I may be waiting a while for this to happen.
  2. Go to a vanity publisher, which typically means paying £800 and ending up with a garage full of slowly rotting books that I can't give away. As I don't have a garage (or, for that matter, £800), this is not viable.
  3. Go to a self-publishing 'print-on-demand' publisher like Lulu.com, where through the joys of digital technology, your rough-looking Word document gets turned into a proper, printed, bound book. They only print one when someone orders it, so no costs upfront and no stock needed. Genius. When someone orders one from the site, they print it and post it out to their willing, hungry letterbox.
The book even has an ISBN and barcode so retailers could stock it. If they were having a brainfart, of course. If I say so myself, it looks vaguely professional. I am a little proud of it, I suppose. I can call myself a published author, in an intensely tenuous way. My mom will be happy. Well, until she reads it.

It would make a perfect present. When is it Father's Day? Thanksgiving? Christmas?

Now, you might say that this entire post is nothing but a thinly-veiled advertisement for my book. That I've used every opportunity to drive you to Lulu's website where you can pick up a copy for the bargain price of £2.99 (or whatever that is in your local currency).

As if I would engage in such obvious and shameful self-publicity!

Oh. OK, then. You got me on that one.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Buyer's regret

My body is a temple, I tell people. However, in recent years it has become more like a cathedral. Flying buttresses are a distinct possibility in the years to come. It’s with this in mind that I regularly consider exercise.

The word ‘consider’ is doing all of the heavy lifting in that previous sentence, isn’t it?

But it’s with these considerations in mind that I regard the cross-trainer in the conservatory. Whenever I go near it, I can sense it. It’s almost as if it’s looking at me. It’s not mocking. I think it feels pity, if anything covered in dust and cobwebs can display such an emotion.

It started several years ago. I took a phone call from Katie.

“Cross trainer?” she asked.

“I’m not sure I express any emotions during exercise,” I said. “I’m normally too knackered.”

“You know, you’re not in the slightest bit funny. What would you say to a new cross trainer? And, by the way, ‘Hello new cross trainer’ is not an acceptable response. Unless you fancy sleeping on the sofa tonight.”

It turned out that she’d stumbled across a place selling professional gym equipment at discount prices. Perhaps ‘stumbled’ is the wrong word – she’d gone in there, debit card at the ready. She was smitten by their cross trainers – these exercise machines that require you to adopt the look of a Nordic skier and move your arms and legs in perfect harmony.

“It’s a great idea,” she’d said. “For the amount this costs, you’d normally have to go to the gym for months. Now we can exercise any time we want.”

“Well that’s just fine. Because I never actually want to exercise. How does that work?”

She replied with two words. I’m not entirely sure I understood the first one.

Some days later I was to be found at home – studiously not exercising - when there was an overly-confident knock at the door. I opened it to be presented with Gym Equipment Lady. Gym Equipment Lady was a perfect advertisement for her wares. There were abdominal muscles off which you could confidently bounce a cricket ball. She was wearing gym shorts above legs reminiscent of Redwood pines.

She flashed me a dazzling smile. “Cross trainer?”

“I’m not sure I express any emotion during exercise,” I started, before noticing her eyebrow starting to rise. Even this looked muscle-bound, so I decided not to be a smartarse.

“Um, yes, it needs to go round the back,” I said.

“No problem,” she said, leaping back into the cap of her pick-up and reversing it into the driveway.

“Do you need any help? “ I asked, some semblance of masculinity still in effect.

It was clear only seconds later that I’d asked the most redundant question in history. Her biceps moving like two Volkswagens attempting to parallel-park, she shifted the cross-trainer in one graceful movement from the flatbed to the ground.

“No need,” she said, “just clear a path for me.”

And with that, cross-trainer and Gym Equipment Lady moved in perfect harmony through my garden. It was a sight to behold. The cross-trainer was installed and then she disappeared in a cloud of diesel and Chanel.

And that was the problem. Having seen the Gym Equipment Lady in operation I was convinced there was something in this exercise concept. Who knew, after only a few months, I too could be a perfect specimen?

Alas, it was not to be. It doesn’t matter how good the equipment, you still need to put a degree of physical effort into the whole endeavour. Before too long, the cross-trainer was relegated to impromptu clothes-hanger. It now sits, humbled, its pistons and drive belts cruelly silenced.

For sale, one cross trainer. The perfect present for the Amazon in your life. Buyer must collect.

Friday, 20 May 2011

It's the end of the world as we know it

I thought 'Rapture' was just one of Blondie's weaker songs until quite recently. But it turns out that it's a little more serious than that. According to American preacher Harold Camping, the Rapture happens tomorrow from 6pm, when all the righteous will be swept up to heaven while the remaining 95% of us are left behind to wait for Armageddon.

Well. That puts my plans for the weekend in jeopardy. Mind you, at least it means I don't have to watch Birmingham City getting relegated from the Premiership on Sunday. Silver linings and all that.

By all accounts, according to Camping, this all starts happening at 6pm local time wherever you are, too, so it'll start in New Zealand, moving westwards as the earth spins. I reckon those of us in England will get a few hour's notice. However, as normal, the Germans will have got there first and no doubt their righteous ones will reserve the best places in heaven with a massive beach towel.

It has made me wonder: "What if this was the beginning of the end? What would I do if the world was ending tomorrow?" They say you should try everything at least once before you die. But I still can't get too enthusiastic about Morris Dancing, though.

Mind you, if you were a Christian with a sense of humour, you could play a great trick on your friends and neighbours. Simply wait until 6.00pm tomorrow, then go and hide. Bound to cause some consternation, I'd have thought.

It seems, however, that Camping isn't the first preacher to tell us the end is nigh. It happened before, notably in the 18th century - a Baptist minister in New York confidently predicted the end of the world would happen in 1843. It didn't happen. (It occurs to me - that last sentence is the most redundant sentence in history). Then he predicted it would take place in 1844, when, once again, it failed to happen. His followers referred to the world's stubborn refusal to end as 'The Great Disappointment', which tells you all you need to know about fundamentalists, I suppose.

For once, I wish that the people coming up with forecasts like this were a little more circumspect. On Sunday, Camping's followers will more than likely wake up and find themselves still here. (Carry on Camping, anyone?) Perhaps they need to be a little less shouty, a little more meek. After all, if they have to stay on earth, they might as well try inheriting it.

But in the meantime:

Sunday, 15 May 2011

A whole world of wrong

The other day I received an email. I read it. Then I read it again. I think I might even have had one of those comic 'shaking my head and blinking' moments as I let it sink in. If I'd have had a bottle of something strong next to me I might even have looked at it quizzically.

For this is what it said:

From: (name withheld to protect the stupid)
To: fatboyfat

Re: Sponsored posts


I am working on behalf of a sports supplements and fitness website, I am trying to raise their on-line profile.

Your site has some brilliant health content and I wondered if it is possible for me to do a guest post on your website.

Alternatively, if you do not offer guest posting opportunities, if you could let me know if you offer any forms of advertising.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind Regards,

(Name withheld yet again. Although it's tempting.)

I'm just going to pause for one moment here, for those of you who actually know me in real life to wipe the tears from your eyes. I know, it's a belter, isn't it?

Effectively, the company 'Name Withheld' works for carries out online marketing. They find blogs that are relevant to their clients' needs and get them to write about product X in glowing terms, in exchange for payment and/or goods.

I know. It surprises people when they realise the world works this way. You'll never look at another blog in quite the same light again, will you?

This could be the moment when I say that I will not compromise my editorial purity. That there are things that are more important than the mighty dollar. I will not prostitute myself at the altar of commerce.

I am bigger than this. Quite a bit bigger, you might say.

But really, the fact of the matter is this. What a cack-handed approach! That annoys me more than any arbitrary discussion about morals. Name Withheld is going down, people.

Here was my reply:

To: (Name Withheld)

From: fatboyfat

Re: sponsored posts

Dear (Name With..oh you get the point)

Thank you very much for your recent email, which has caused no small amount of excitement here at Make Lard History Towers. It was so perceptive of you to notice that a blog written by someone calling themselves Fatboyfat would in fact be a seasoned writer on all things health-related.

This blog does have readers. Literally tens over the course of a typical month. And they all come here for the latest of health-related information. I do have an unusual style though - I tend to hide the real meaning in the subtext. What was it that gave me away?

Was it the post where I ate a five-course meal? Or maybe the one involving a bottle of single malt whisky? Perhaps the one where I had the Hangover from Hades

Maybe it's the constant references to extensive exercise? Like my attempting the Three Peaks Challenge and  inadvertently renaming it the 0.6 of a Peak Challenge?

Or perhaps you spotted the hidden health-related messages in my more random posts, like the one about hitching hamsters up to electricity generators or having an argument with a fish

Yes, I see it now. You really do read these blogs closely before you send out your allluring emails. It's such a good job you do, otherwise you'd look pretty stupid, wouldn't you?

As it happens I can't accept your invitation, as I'm currently waiting to hear from the Melton Mowbray Pie Federation. Let them down at your peril, otherwise you get pastried-up all over the place. It's not pretty, I hear.

Best regards in a completely non-ironic way.


Friday, 13 May 2011

About bloody time

A long time ago I mentioned that I was writing the screenplay to a short film. By 'long time ago' I mean something like three years, which in internet terms is practically centuries.

I wrote the screenplay. With the help of some sickeningly talented people we filmed it.  More sickening talent was then employed in editing it. Which, by the way, is a nail-bitingly-head-bangingly long process. Well, it is if you only devote a couple of hours a week to it.

But that was the thing, you see. Those of us involved in the process had our normal lives to live. Jobs, families, drinking habits. The stuff that gets in the way when you try to make plans.

Between us, we faced up to losing people close to us, including the lead actor in the film. The world threw distractions at us and finishing off a silly, amateur seven-minute short film didn't really seem like a priority.

But time moves on. You can see where this is going, can't you?

Be nice. It might be short. But it had a very, very long birth.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The wheels on the bus go round and round

Pretty much every large city on the planet is doomed. That's my view after travelling into my nearest one over two days last week.

There was a conference in the city centre and the people who pay me sent me along to it. I could have driven, but thought it better to take the bus instead. And this is what gave me the rather gloomy outlook above.

I'm sorry, but public transport is a punishing experience in pretty much every way imaginable. Let me explain how.

I did not go into this with my glass half-empty. I was rather looking into it with a degree of anticipation. My current commute involves walking ten steps to my car, driving 25 miles to another city, parking up and walking into a building. It's not exactly a taxing process, but neither is it one to fill the heart with joy. Seriously, the A45 to Coventry is not something to stir up the emotions. Unless dyspepsia is an emotion, I suppose.

So I was looking forwards to my bus trip. I'm no stranger to buses; years ago I worked in Birmingham and it was the only way to travel. And I thought it would be the same last week. I imagined myself, leaping with gay abandon onto my allotted chariot, allowing it to convey me, a newly-born metropolitan sophisticate, to the great city. I would be free to do as I pleased once there, with no concerns about parking or the like.

I would be like one of those people in the adverts.Perhaps a skinny latte would be part of the deal? I'd have to find out exactly what a skinny latte was first (is it a type of pullover?) but I'd have this urban living malarkey nailed.

Waiting for the bus on Wednesday morning, most of this vision remained intact. I'd forgotten to factor in the 'walking to the bus-stop' phase of my journey into my timing, meaning a rather hurried walk had been made necessary. There are few things in life to which I attach the 'rather hurried' tag, and walking is evidently not one of them. I may have had a rather unpleasant glow about me by this point.

Never mind, I thought to myself, here comes my bus. I stepped on and dropped my £1.80 into the slot. Then, turning to face my fellow travellers, my heart sank.

Before I describe the scene that faced me, I should say that it is childish and wrong to judge people on their physical appearance. It is the mark of the shallow-minded. God knows I'm well aware of this myself, being on the receiving end of this treatment for much of what I laughingly call my adult life. I'm not proud of what I'm about to write.

It was like the cantina scene from Star Wars, only with a degree of forward motion added to the mix to further refine the horror. I had the distinct impression that they had all been enjoying a diverting conversation before my entry - perhaps about the latest flick-knives, or what's new in garroting - but they fell silent as they regarded me.

I was very conscious that I was wearing a suit. I had shiny shoes, a shirt and tie. It is not beyond doubt that some of the denizens of the bus were unfamiliar with this form of dress. Well, outside of court appearances, anyway. They looked upon me as if I had rocked up as an 18th century dandy, bewigged and carrying a nosegay.

I shuffled to a seat and gathered my thoughts. A man sniffed behind me.

"Not to worry," I said to myself. "At least you can look at the scenery. You can't do that if you're driving."

I regarded the boarded-up industrial units at the end of he road. A dog scratching its bum in the morning sunshine. And a scrawled message on the railway bridge that advised anyone interested that Kelly was, in fact, still a slag. I bring you this information free of charge.

The man sniffed once more.

Thirty seconds later we'd stopped again - people got on, people got off. I was made aware of really tinny music being played at the back of the bus. I don't know who it was who thought that selling very small speakers to teenagers with smartphones was a wise idea, but I would like to shake him warmly by the throat.

The man sniffed. In fact, the word 'sniff' doesn't do it justice. There was a lot going on with that sniff. It was portentous. It had depth. It spoke of medical conditions yet to be catalogued. And it was happening inches from my head.

From my left a young chap was having an increasingly animated conversation on his phone. I'm not one to overhear this sort of thing, but to be honest he wasn't giving an of us on the bus much of an option. I'm sure you'll be interested to know, as we were, that Imran didn't, in fact, go out last night, after some chicken that laid him low. And Ashraf can keep the money he's borrowed if he's going to say things like that. We don't know what Ashraf said, to be fair. Perhaps Imran needed some speakers on his phone, too.

The man sniffed. I was considering fashioning a copy of Metro into an impromptu rain hat.

Every thirty seconds we would stop and the passengers would be refreshed once more. As we approached schools along the route the aisle would fill up with youngsters, full of the swagger, the cheek and audacity of youth that makes others consider smothering as a viable option. An object lesson in language; by all accounts, the phrase "innit?" is to be used at the end of each sentence - even if it's not a question

Half an hour of this endured, the final stop was reached and I was disgorged, flapping and moist like a recently-landed carp, onto the pavement. I did not look or feel sophisticated. It occurred to me that if I worked in town this would be a daily occurrence for me. I shuddered at the thought and hoisted my wildly-heterosexual-manbag onto my shoulder.

And that's why I think cities are doomed. The bigger they get, the more public transport becomes a necessity. Before long, some of the poor souls who have to put up with it will snap. It's a good job we don't allow people over to carry guns, I suppose. The carnage would be biblical.

Right then, where are my car keys? Come to Daddy.


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