Friday, December 28, 2012

So That Was Christmas

As we are all aware from copious adverts, blanket publicity and saccharine marketing campaigns from multinational corporations intent only on making us better people, christmas is a time for giving. There is nothing more noble and appreciated than giving, it would appear. I'm not totally sure about that because I gave someone a cold sore once and they were less than amused.

It's not just individuals who can give at christmas, but organisations as well. For instance, after sending my mobile phone back to my supplier because, as I told them, it had a faulty battery, they kindly gave it back to me still in situ only with a helpful label on it:

The new Samsung Faulty range was not a marketing success

Of course, it would have been more generous had they sent a working battery, but at nearly five quid that would have been far too generous for a tiny start up company like Virgin Media.

My own employer was also in a giving mood this festive period, and we had a new water dispenser installed in our ambulance station so we no longer have to lick condensation off the windows (which  was unnerving the firefighters in the adjacent station and putting them off their porn and fry ups).

Emblazoned in bold type on the front is the name of the water dispenser. Sure they could have gone for something corporately acceptable and expected  like 'AquaTech' or 'HydroSpurt' maybe, but no. The mind responsible for product nomenclature in this company, presumably ensconced somewhere on the right side of the autism spectrum that we all occupy to some degree, went for something much greater:

Behold, the Double Ay Double Three Double Zero Ex!

That, my friends, is the AA3300X.

An awe inspring name I think you'll agree, possibly more suited to a merciless robotic killing machine than a water cooler but that just adds to the impact. I insist on calling it by its full name whenever it comes up in conversation.
"Just going over to the AA3300X. Anyone want any AA3300X juice?"
"Are there any AA3300X cups?"
"Deploy the AA3300X!"

I'd like that trend to continue. Maybe bring out a new stapler called the PX-Buffalo or a Desk-Hawk Z9000 Tactical Hole Punch.

Anyway, this time last year I was in melancholy mood as I was at work, and blogged about it because that's what I do. I complained (a bit) about not getting into the christmas spirit which is understandable when one has to treat it like any other working day.

This year was a smidgen different though. I got given a new knife and a book on whittling, and also some booze because it's a classic combination, but I was also given a particularly valuable gift that would have been quite difficult to wrap.

I got gifted the gift of . . . *profound face* . . . time.

Obviously I don't mean someone gave me a watch, even if they are also difficult to wrap. No, this year I was one of the lucky few granted annual leave over the festive period, so didn't have to go to work and instead got to witness the full delights of my offspring opening their presents, open mouthed and agog at how prescient Santa must be to know exactly what they wanted, even though they've talked of nothing else since September.

Apart from the occasional thought about how much cheaper this time of year would be if I had naughty children, I really enjoyed myself and definitely did get into the spirit of things. I appreciated the food, the merriment, the indoor conifers, the stupid hats, the company and the giving. I suppose it seemed even more special because time off with my family . . . well, it's not a given.

I'm working over the new year, but I think I can manage that without undue grumpiness now.

Here's wishing you and yours a very happy one.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Scenic Route

Today I'm working out of a Cotswold ambulance station about fifteen miles from home. It's very picturesque round these parts. Very scenic.

Being a one car family means I usually travel on my motorbike when working a bit of a distance away, a faster, cheaper and usually more fun mode of transport than driving. I say faster but that doesn't include getting togged up at the beginning which takes ages especially if, like me, you've built up your riding kit piece by black leathery piece over the years and can't just slip on a nifty bright onesie and go straight out. It also doesn't include getting undressed at the other end which consists of jerking around like a man changing into a werewolf in a black and white film, only with a more startling transformation resulting.

Apart from that, much faster.

My trip to this ambulance station is usually cursed with discomfort though. Rain is often the order of the day, with lashings of horizontal wet lasers probing my seams with the sole intention, it appears, of getting my undercrackers wet, and not in a good way. The beautiful scenery that flashes by, green and wooded, gentle hills, fields bordered by ancient walls, the honey-coloured stone of Cotswold dwellings nestling in cute villages are completely unavailable to me as I try to clear my visor. Last "spring", I got caught in a blizzard riding home and was reduced to a crawl, stopping every few minutes to shake snow off my jacket and peel ice off my helmet. Cars meandered by unconcerned and it occurred to me for the first time ever that I might have to swap my trusty old Suzuki for the all-weather comfort of a second car.

No one would blame me. Cars are easier, warmer, and you can go out in your pyjamas if you want. They have hot and cold running music, comfy seats and you can scratch yourself wherever you want.You can even  indulge in a beverage or snack with relative ease. 

Currently however, the only option I have is the bike. Dutifully I donned armour, secured my work kit on the back with the help of overstretched bungees and growled off, fully expecting a sudden chilly, utterly unpredicted monsoon to plague me en route.

But no! The journey this morning was gorgeous. The temperature was admittedly low and the roads icy, so I was forced to take it easy, but the emerging sun made every verge a diamond carpet, the dark silhouettes of the hills just magnifying the aesthetic effect of a marmalade cloudscape. The nearly full moon was still out and I could even see the bright dot of Jupiter in the dawn sky to my right.

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I remember Robert Pirsig suggesting that one difference between riding and driving was that being on a bike moves you through the scenery, as a part of it, whereas being in a car you simply go past as a separate, insulated observer. Having been to too many incidences where a vicious tree has attacked a car and suddenly made both vehicle and occupants very much part of the scenery, I've never been particularly convinced by this.

Today though, I got it. I felt the freshness of the cold, heard the roar of the wind, could smell the air and feel the changing vibrations of tyre on road beneath me with an immediacy not duplicated in a car. My fingers were a bit numb because I hadn't put my inner gloves on underneath, I had to think about every corner, every icy patch of frozen flood water yet to drain away after our recent rains, even the slush of leaves in the car park as I arrived at work. On the way, my innards felt the surge of acceleration as I overtook a line of traffic, my inner ear enjoyed the long sinuous bends through the woods and I finally got it because this morning I really had to be there.

I still danced the undignified transmogrifying dance of the changing biker at the end, but it seems well worth it. I may change to a car in the future, but not for a while yet if I can help it and you can be damn sure that if I do there will be times I'll regret it.

Bet it pisses down on my way home though.


Monday, October 29, 2012

N.E.G.L.E.C.T. Find out what it means to me.

Oh gnash of teeth and wail of lament!

Oh damn you hours in the day for being so paltry in number!

Oh curse you sense of prioritisation and your . . . your . . . priorities!

Just doing one of those oft-heard blogger-with-no-time-to-blog posts. You know the type. Life is hectic (which it is) and external responsibilities are too demanding (which they are) and procrastination is too [*note, insert thing that procrastination is too much of here at some point*].

It could start to get you down, although blogging shouldn't be a chore. Unless you're doing it for a living or as some sort of punishment.

I wonder if there are any punishment blogs out there?

I don't mean *waggly eyebrows* dominatrix-led punishment, with all studded collars, flagellatory equipment, leather faces and that, because they're ten a penny. I imagine. No, I mean blogging instead of doing lines or paying a fine or something.

"Professor D'Espicable, you have been found guilty of wantonly hollowing out a mountain without planning permission, and so must either serve 60 hours of community service visiting the elderly or construct a blog post on the pitfalls of setting up a nefarious empire intent on taking over the world."
"Ah come on Your Honour! Can't I just be ejected into space and get it over with?"

No, for me blogging is just for fun, and like any fun thing one shouldn't get stressed about neglecting it. Although it might be frustrating when you don't get chance to bash one out (yeah, that's where I'm going), eventually you are going to be able to relieve the pressure at some point, and end up happily ejaculating your givings onto the receiving substrate.

So here I am.

Before any of you begin feeling extra sorry for me and start planning a concert to raise awareness for my plight, I should point out that I've been having a pretty pleasant time of it over the last few months. The summer was damp but not horrible, we went on holiday, we had some enjoyable get togethers and we took the children on various educational trips to expand their brains, broaden their horizons and fuss fluffy critters.

I was particularly excited by the promise of this sign outside a farm park which suggested we could feed baby felines to cows:

Kittens! Pound a sack! Gerrem while they're mewling!

As it turned out, the kitten sale and animal feeding were separate entities. I should have realised this because cows obviously don't eat kittens. If mad cow disease has taught us anything it's that cows eat other cows.

We drank occasional expensive coffeecinos in smart cafes, one of which had a literally correct description of it's cake:

Further reductions inside!

And, at a wedding, we all stayed in a posh hotel which had not only a kettle and a telly in it, but a panic alarm on the wall:

Panic? Alarm? Which is it? WHICH IS IT?
Never mind the children, you have no idea how much self-restraint I had to show not to push that bugger just  to see who might turn up. Maybe the Best Western chapter of the Guardian Angels, or Batman in a stolen hotel robe. I'm pretty sure it would actually have been a phone call to see whether it was panic or alarm I was experiencing. Press '1' for panic.Press '2' for alarm. Press '3' for alarmed panic.To listen to these options again, please scream repeatedly.

It's not all fun and frivolity though. Yesterday, as part of my parental responsibilities, I had to steal the kids home-made play dough, craft a scary halloween hand and then chase them and their visiting friends who'd come round to play:

Anyone got any E45 cream?
I was rewarded with satisfyingly high-pitched yelps of terrorised delight and one child wetting herself. If that's not a sign of success then I don't know what is.

And if this post has taught me anything, it's that blog posts really don't have to be about anything.



Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bert

Last week, at the venerable age of nearly nine, our house rabbit Bert passed away as we fussed him.

Not a bad way to go really, when you think about it. Warm, dry, having your ears stroked, with fresh hay, vegetables and bunny treats within easy reach. I wouldn't mind ending my own days like that. He was a good age and, although cataracts and a spot of arthritis had taken their toll, he was still relatively sprightly, meandering round the garden hunting grapes and the occasional dandelion:



We'd known he was on his way out for most of the day and so were a little way prepared for the inevitable, but feeling his tiny body come to a stop with a small tremor and a bit of a stretch was quite the emotional wrench.

If you're not one of the privileged few fortunate enough to have had a house rabbit as a tenant, then you might think I'm being daft, but there you go. Emotions happened. Occasional tears were shed.

But then we've had him through some tough times over the last eight and a half years so perhaps not that surprising after all. He's been a fluffy constant at home through some of the highest peaks we've had, as well as being there through dark times, through those minor tragedies inherent to all of of us during our lives unless we're very, very lucky. Small wonder we will cling to whatever tiny rock, whatever small solace we can. Bert was, I now recall, a living, breathing source of succour and comfort.

Or at the very least a sock-shagging distraction.

Try being depressed with a randy bunny clinging to your Totes Toasties.

When I hear someone is thinking of getting a bunny type critter, I now implore them into making it a  house rabbit. That way, instead of a savage isolated bitey thing in an oft-neglected pen in the garden, they get a socialised, confident, very entertaining companion running circles around you whilst making soft honking sounds, leaping on to the walls and pushing off like a chinchilla in The Martrix, running up and down stairs ten times in a row for no other reason than it seems like the thing to do, or nudging your feet with his nose until you agree to fuss him for forty solid minutes whilst watching the telly.

His official title once our children came along was Officer In Charge Of Animal Appreciation, a duty he carried out with aplomb, supplying many hours of stoic fortitude as our children fussed him the wrong way, tried to pick him up, stuffed his ears into their mouths or pushed him along the floor like a living brush. Never biting, the most he would do when the attention got a little too much was hop off, occasionally showing his displeasure with a loud foot thump.

Bert's final duty was, as with many pets, to be an introduction to death. My five year old son became more aware of the ephemerality of life, that nothing lasts forever and even about the practicalities of being dead. We held a little burial ceremony, gave Bert some of his favourite treats in case there's a bunny Valhalla, wrote his name on the box, said thank you for being such a wonderful pet before burying him next to the lawn he'd frequented on sunny days for most of his life.

Demonstrating his newly acquired grasp of solemnity and respect for dead loved ones, my son turned to me and, in hushed tones, said "Daddy, I've just done a massive farp."

It comes to us all, son. It comes to us all.

And so a week after Bert left us I wanted to look at some photos of him, including the one above which is the last I took. Not to mourn him particularly because he was, at the end of the day, an old rabbit, but maybe as a little reminder that, for most of his time with us he was a bounding, leaping dervish who really did seem to enjoy being alive, to go wherever he pleased, and who fully considered our bed his own:

Sorry, no room for you on here. My stuff's on it.

A friend of mine quoted (perhaps inevitably) from Watership Down, suggesting Bert had been called by Frith and gone to dance with the black rabbit, which was poetry and sympathy in one fell swoop (thanks Jon). In the book, the black rabbit is an allegory for death as the rabbit's constant companion, and I like to think we protected Bert from that. I also feel he was a bit of an agnostic and so prefer the idea of him enjoying frith in the original sense of the word, where it means peacefulness and freedom from molestation.

He won't have his ears tugged by the children again, or have his apple stolen off him by a human toddler, or have his wood shavings piled up on top of him to "keep him warm". He won't be chased around the garden with a toy watering can, won't have a hat put on him and won't be taken to school for Show Your Pet Off day. I'll always admire his fortitude in staying serene in the face of children.

Of course, as a grown up medical professional, I felt that one should let a rabbit BE a rabbit, and would never stoop to such games solely for my entertainment.




Well, almost never.

Good night Bert.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Ant another thing . . .

Some of you may be aware that once, in days of innocence and honest living, I was a pest controller, which is one of those jobs that no-one wants to do but everyone wants to hear about.

I loved it.

So far, we've covered 'roaches, rats and Bonzo, as well as more rats and thermos flasks, but today, allow me to relate a tale of hymenopteran struggle, of the war between human technology and insectoid foe, indomitable creatures of the swarm versus a man in a Ford van. Today, it is the turn of . . .

The Ants!

Sit back dear friends, unless you can't see your monitor so well, in which case sit forward a bit. Not that far forward. You're too close now. Back a bit. A little more. Tilt the screen a bit, out of the sun. Yeah, like that. Now sit in that exact position, and I shall type you a tale.

Jeremy was a boarding student at a college for people with mental health problems. He was about the same age as me, and his psychological make up included having to deal with autism, learning difficulties and a shoddy memory. He was very interested in people, and would bombard the visiting contractor with questions, finally culminating in his succinct interpretation of your place in the universe.

To me, after half an hour of relentless interrogation whilst I worked my way through the entire site checking rodent monitoring boxes, insect execution machines and almost completely pointless wasp traps, he nodded sagely and concluded "God made you with big hands."

I took it as the compliment I think it was meant to be, and the questions moved on to another topic. That of my job.

Jeremy decided he liked it and immediately promoted himself to Assistant On-Site Pest Control Technician, which involved following me around the college site, taking great interest in the equipment, asking lots (and lots, and lots) of questions before completely failing to store many of the answers in his slightly faulty memory. Still, he was enjoyable company and I would let him carry the more innocuous of my equipment after discovering from his Mum that he had a penchant for eating new things.

Eating your stock isn't necessarily a hindrance to the modern professional, if you're a baker or prostitute maybe, but not great for a mammalian pest controller carrying stuff designed to kill mammals.

One Summer, back in '95 I think, the college became a recruiting ground for ants. Ooh, black as the ace of spades they were. Ruthless, cunning, and utterly intent on achieving their own aims and objectives. In desperation (and perhaps because their contract included ant treatments) the staff at the college put the call out, and I arrived, tooled up, bag in hand and sprayer on back, to have a ganzy.

They were everywhere.

A combination of weather, poor hygiene and  presumably some sort of tactical genius Ant general had allowed them to inundate the kitchens, the common rooms, the dormitories and patio areas. Jeremy appeared, utterly excited and overjoyed by the challenge, pointing at every ant on every surface and telling me what species it was.

"Ant!"

"Ant!"

"Ant!"

Once more unto the breach, I thought wearily (as it was nearly lunch time and I hadn't eaten since ten) and primed my spray tank with the customary hilarious wrist action.

Jeremy offered his services, and I accepted. An ally would be helpful, and he had a box of Quality Street I was willing for him to share. I explained that the ants were probably being attracted to sweet food at this time of the year, and that they would be particularly interested in sugar. Recalling Jeremy's less that perfect memory, I reiterated that sugar was the key issue here as spillages were common at the college. This was the nineties when everyone took sugar in their tea.

Everyone.

We used hygiene, poisons, even proofing. We lifted many slabs adjacent to the buildings and waged terrible war against the ants. The carnage was considerable. So . . . many . . . deaths. The silent screams, the twitching legs and startled compound eyes, the collateral woodlice. It was shock and awe, to a limited value of shocking awesomeness.

You might laugh, but  you weren't there man!

You weren't there.

And then, suddenly, after a few visits, peace broke out. We had won.

But at what price?

Bare ant trails in the gardens. Morsels of food abandoned twixt kitchen and mound. Silent, echoing chambers 'neath patios where once a multitude of inhabitants crawled.

The peacefulness . . . of DEATH!

That's right. Of DEATH!

But that's what I was paid nine grand a year for. The ants competed with us for resources and we competed back, a natural, brutal dance that echoed down the millennia. For the moment,we were winning, although I was well aware that this was just a battle, not the war. The ants were smart, in their own way, and had achieved increasing levels of immunity by cleverly dying in such large numbers that only the resistant ones were left to breed.

Cunning bastards.

I left a report, with advice on preventing a resurgence, and indicated I'd be back in a month to follow up but wasn't expecting anything too exacting. I shook hands with Jeremy and away I went, chewing on one of the long yellow toffees that he wouldn't have eaten anyway, congratulating myself on a job well undertaken.

Oh, how prideful the pride that comes before the fall. How eggy the facial egg. How unpalatable the words that must be eaten. Also, the hat. For, a few short weeks later, on my follow up visit, they were back.

If OMG had been invented, I would totally have said it.

The trails were alive once again. The kitchens re-infested, the morsels of food scavenged and fed to the next generation underground. I'm sure there were even tiny celebratory mariachi bands and raucous pool parties, but my memory of this is a little hazy. It could've just been miniature piñatas.

"But . . . how . . .?" I stammered, thinking of all the work we'd put in. I walked in a daze into the kitchen, barely stopping to put my white trilby on, and immediately, the cause became apparent.

There was grit under my feet.

I knelt, drew my finger over the tiles, and brought it to my eye, to my nose, then to my tongue. My head snapped up as I spat out the residue.

Sugar!

Good shit too. Tate and Lyle.

But with this half answer, only more questions arose. I still had no idea why there was so much S around. The kitchen staff told me they were having to mop three times a day but it wasn't enough, simply dissolving to leave a crystalline layer of sucrose in the corners which the ants adored. You could tell by the minuscule guitars and fireworks.

"Ants!" came a familiar voice, from outside the kitchen. "Ants!"

"Jeremy?" I shouted, "Have you seen all this sug . . ." I stopped and stared as he walked in, a spring in his step and a grin on his fizzog.

In his left hand, a huge bag of sugar was open like a small paper sack containing many granules. I watched in dawning realisation and subsequently dawning horror as Jeremy's right hand dipped in, grabbed a handful and send it scattering across the floor in graceful, horizontal parabolas, a rain of goodness for the enemy, veritable manna from heaven.

"Jer . . ." I whispered, but my voice cracked like some sort of embryo-carrying device made of calcium dropped from a height, "Jeremy. What . . . have . . . you . . . done?"

He walked past me, pushing through the chain curtains of the kitchen door to go out into the garden patio. "I've been controlling them." He practically sang. "Like you told me. I've been controlling them. With sugar."

He strolled across the paving slabs of the patio, generously spreading ant-food over a wide area, a striding god providing for all. Tiny sombreros whizzed into the air, thrown by the ants in their unbridled joy. Possibly.

I fell to my knees in front of the herbaceous borders, and raised my clawed hands to the sky. "Why?" I implored the uncaring cosmos, "It's nearly lunchtime!"

Sighing, I got to my feet, gently prized the sugar away from Jeremy's grasp and went to get my sprayer, it's silver sides reflecting my own grim determination to do what had to be done.

"Ants!" Jeremy pointed out, following me.

"Yes mate." I agreed. "Ants."




Thursday, August 30, 2012

Snippet

Receptionist: "Hello, GP's surgery."
Me: "Hello, I was hoping to speak to Dr Nigel about my vasectomy results please."
Receptionist: "Sorry he's with an important patient at the moment, you'll have to call back."
Me: "I need to speak to him urgently. Can you tell him I have a blog?"
Receptionist: "Oh . . . sorry, sir, I didn't realise. One moment please"

Ten seconds later.

Dr: "Hello? Who is this? I have a VIP in here at the moment you know!"
Me: "Hi Dr Nigel, it's The Jules."
Dr: "The Jules? Oh. Oooohh! Right you are." Muffled voice "Sorry Your Highness, I have to take this call, be back in a moment."

Sounds of doors closing, and a doctor's bum sinking into a chair.

Dr: "Sorry about that. What can I do for you?"
Me: "Well, I was wondering if the results of my vasectomy have come through yet? It's been six months and I got told informally that one of them was okay by your secretary, but it'd be nice to have the official word as it were."
Dr (tapping on computer) : "Well, we're still waiting for you to provide a third sample . . ."
Me: "Third? But I was told you only needed two."
Dr: " Yes,but one of yours was still positive for little swimmers, so we need another to see if you're definitely a Jaffa."
Me: "Say what now?"
Dr: "One of your samples was positive. We need another like we told you in the letter we . . . ah, it appears we have neglected to send you the letter. Sorry about that."
Me (thinking about the lax attitude to contraception that may have been demonstrated round our gaff recently): "Hnnn!"
Dr: "But I presume you're still being sensible with the old . . . " sound of doctor's eyebrows waggling " . . . precautions, right?"
Me: "Weeell . . ."
Dr: "Because it would be daft to take any chances without written confirmation from your doctor, wouldn't it?"
Me: "But you mangled me! You cut 'em, sliced 'em and burnt the tubes with hot metal for three feet in both directions! How can there be a positive sample? It'd be like a throwing a grenade into a bucket of tadpoles and expecting frogs to jump out!"
Dr: "Well, they're notoriously tough, are the human nuts, you know. They can continue producing baby gravy after quite extreme trauma."
Me: "But . . . but . . ."
Dr (chuckling like Dr Hibbert off of The Simpsons): "They can even heal up after a time!"
Me: "But . . . but . . ."
Dr: "And maybe it's because you're a superman, genitally speaking?"
Me: "But . . . well, yes, that's a possibility I suppose."
Dr: "So send us another sample, and we'll see what the results say now. Could just be a blip."
Me (Sighing): "Okay. I'll do one as soon as I've found the La Redoute catalogue."
Dr: "Good. Good. Oh and The Jules?"
Me: "Yes?"
Dr: "Could we ask you to use a specimen jar this time? Don't just send us a sock."
Me: "I suppose. For fussy clinical reasons is it?"
Dr: That, and the fact they're difficult for the lab technicians to wring out."
Me (thinking about the possibility that Bonobo might not be the youngest in the near future, that overtime can only go so far, that savings must be made): Doctor Nigel?"
Dr: "Yes?"
Me: "Can I have my socks back?"


Monday, August 27, 2012

Away with ye!

Two years ago we holidayed in a caravan in Devon.

We came home a day early because the incessant rain was driving us madder than a sock full of sparrows. The children were getting cabin fever, staring at the walls and having grown wearisome of the few feeble indoor toys we'd brought along, and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. And the children were upset as well.  All three barbecues we managed to have were hasty, opportunistic races against incoming squalls before they efficiently doused the flames, forcing us inside to light the tiny oven if we didn't fancy playing listeria or salmonella roulette. In a futile attempt to defy nature, we went to the beach to build sandcastles, but they dissolved like my willpower before a cold beer making us retreat, shivering and gritty, back to the thin-shelled shelter of our temporary home. There, we quickly grew tired of using our fingers to draw shiny suns in the condensation on the windows and made the decision for a tactical withdrawal.

I grumpily packed up our gear and we drove the three and a half hours home, vowing that the following year we would go abroad.

Which we did.

Unfortunately, the return plane trip involved over two hours of our youngest screaming at the absolute top of her lungs, which made us very popular with the other passengers. We decided then that we wouldn't travel by magical air machine until she was older and less voluble.

This year, after finding out just how expensive a blinking trip to France is just to stay in a caravan for a family of four, we thought we'd risk another holiday in the UK, only this time we would hire a posh cottage so, if we did end up having to shelter from a torrential English summer, we would do so in relative luxury and not go too mentalist on one another.

Things looked promising, weather wise. The temperature rose enough before we went for us to repeatedly have to peel Bonobo from the freezer where she'd been licking the icy drawers in an attempt to cool down:

"Ooh, Bosche flavour, yum."

This boded well for our hols.

Not believing the weather, though, is a typical Englishman's prerogative and so I packed jumpers, wellies and DVDs for the inevitable downpours I knew we would get. Waterproof clothing took up about eighty per cent of the car boot, but I was be-damned if we were going to get caught out again.

And we were off. 

As it turned out we had the sunniest week of the summer, with only one day of rain. I even got sunburn. Luxury!

Anyway, the traffic all the way there ensured we got to appreciate the scenery, parking up on the motorway for long periods before mooching along at a speed that meant we could just about keep ahead of plate tectonics. It did allow me to think about possible diversions we might avail ourselves of whilst on holiday, such as visits to the Eden Project or the Lost Gardens of Heligan, various boat trips and towns, crab fishing and beach days. Helpfully, we passed a truck towing a tableau advertising the delights of Wookey Hole, which sounds like a pornographic version of Star Wars but is actually a popular cave system in Somerset:

Show me your hole, Wookey.

A wooden cage with a dinosaur, pirate and witch in it being towed at 40 mph would make anyone think seriously about stopping off for a visit, especially with the added advertised activities of a fairy garden, cave museum and hand made paper! In the end, I was concerned my heart might not be able to take too much hand made paper so we carried on to our destination, reaching it within an estimated journey time of one hundred years.

The cottage was posh, no doubt about it, and one of a set that were more commonly used by hoitier and indeed toitier sorts than what we am. The private car park had plants in it!  I parked the stained Parentmobile next to a brand new Jaguar and across from a four wheel drive Lexus so large you could hold religious services in it, opening the doors so all could hear the glorious tones of Burl Ives singing Big Rock Candy Mountain because, if I'd had to listen to it eleven times on the way down, then shouldn't everybody else?

Yes they should.

As soon as we entered, we knew we were somewhere special, that we had paid that bit extra for the VIP treatment, because when we opened the fridge the company had left us not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven, but eight, count 'em eight!, cartons of almost-milk and nearly-cream for our tea:

Behold! No need to go to the shops!

Arranged just so in order to accentuate their generosity.

We unpacked and proceeded to have a bloody good week, mind.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

In Which, Not Having Posted For A While, Our Hero Grabs Whatever Odd Crap He Can Off Of His Phone And Adds Some Words In The Vague Hope That Something Profound Or At Least Moderately Entertaining Will Emerge, As Will The Inspiration For A Pithy And Succinct Title To Encapsulate it.


My 2 year-old daughter, Bonobo, enjoys colouring in.

Well, I say colouring in, but really it's scrawling random marks across any flat surface with anything that might feasibly make a mark. Crayon, ink, paint, snot, poo, blood, you name it, she seems to be able to incorporate it into her art, and will brook no criticisms, constructive or otherwise, about whether it is "good" or "insightful" or "talented" or "naughty".  Just this morning, I found her outside making a delightful print on the patio with the juice from a disgruntled snail.

Dear Jebus let that be chocolate spread.

She's like Gilbert & George only, you know, she occasionally does stuff I like.

Obviously, I want to encourage the artistic aspects of her character, but preferably whilst discouraging the accompanying random acts of vandalism to the sofa or fridge door. This involves the purchase of vast reams of paper and imperial gallons of colouring books for her to waste utilise.

I don't normally bother looking at them, other than giving the occasional finished piece a quick glance, saying "well done Sweetheart, I shall treasure it forever" before placing it carefully out of view in the recycling box, but I did flick through this cheap one she got as a gift in a party bag:


This will end in tears.

It's pretty standard fare, really. A selection of motifs and tableaux of no particular ilk or order, ready for children to completely not keep within the lines on. It got me wondering how much thought and endeavour go into the creation of such tomes.

They're basically doodles, which are then printed out in book form and sold. A starving artist whacks out a toad underneath a toadstool whilst some sort of large insect, possibly of the order Odonata wearing a bowler hat, sits on top trying to remember where it lost it's other pair of legs:

Smuggest toad in Amphibiville.

Opposite, a fairy shows an old sock to a deer with oddly long front legs, perhaps hoping the fawn will be able to track the owner, lost in the woods these past forty-eight hours and causing concern as temperatures are dropping, what with the sun playing hide and seek behind the cloud there.

Sticking with the toadstool theme, the next page had turned the whole concept on it's head by having the toad on top of the fungus, literally as a stool for the toad. Madness. It appears to be being addressed by a bizarre anthropomorphic rodent which sends chills through my spine in a way that Mickey never did:

"Go on, let me lick you."

The chameleon on the opposing page was relatively lifelike, if one discounts the expression on it's face which suggests it has narrowly missed being caught doing something both immoral and illegal. Presumably with it's tongue.

After expending vast amounts of efforts on the previous mouse, not only giving it a face but a set of clothes as well, the artist then runs out of time and, almost certainly, inclination for the next mouse-based piece. Here, they are sadly two-dimensional and lacking even a rudimentary mandible, sailing forlornly in some sort of leaf-boat 'neath a bright, croissant-lit sky:

In the kingdom of the deaf, the one-eared mice are kings.

As if realising the obvious lack of talent demonstrated by the boat-mice, the artist ups his or her game and does a reasonable job on the flowers and butterfly opposite.

On a roll now, the artist illustrates a good facsimile of a gnu, looking as if it is about to charge any child considering colouring it in pink. Other than that, though, things take a downward turn. The artist has now run out of animals to draw, and is reduced to portraying some sort of wallaby/teddy/dog hybrid about to be grabbed by a six-fingered, thumbless hand, presumably for the crime of simply existing.

"What am I? WHAT AM I?"

Towards the end of the book, impetus seems to be dwindling, and rather than draw another toad or existing creature, the artists wazzes off another example of whatever the hell that thing is, only this time the freak is attempting to hide it's shame behind an oversize flower. Good thing too:

Don't look at me, I beg of you. Look at the whale.

The finale of the book, which in my opinion you might expect to be one of the better pieces of work to leave the audience with, is of a stunted whale, gaping mouth half full of vomit, spurting juice out of it's head-hole like some sort of cetacean money-shot.

Sadly, I do not foresee see many worthwhile accolades coming to this artist. Tracey Emin could have done it.

From today's reading, many lessons emerge. I have learnt that I know two more animals than the artist responsible for this colouring book (camel and dog. I'm not showing off, just saying).

I have learnt that  it doesn't really matter what you put on a page as long as children get to destroy it in the name of creativity.

Most importantly of all I have learnt that a snail can indeed look disgruntled.

Sometimes, the level of profundity I achieve through writing this blog staggers even me.

Ooh, snail!

That's three.







Thursday, May 31, 2012

Carrying a torch




I have spent recent night shifts grumbling and stumbling around in the dark after losing my trusty old silver Maglight LED torch. Finally coming to terms with the grim fact that I'm unlikely to get it back because paramedics are like magpies when it comes to finding useful pieces of kit, the shinier the better, I concluded that I needed a replacement.

The type of torch that is currently der riggur for front line emergency personnel is called a tactical flashlight. I've no idea why they're tactical, because they're pretty titchy. In my books, a tactical flashlight would be four feet long with built in crossbow and grenade functions. I also don't know why they are called flashlights instead of torches. Maybe two syllables sounds like you're getting more for your money. In that case they should give them an even longer name like Photon Throwing Devices or Visible Spectrum Electromagnetic Radiation Emission Implements.

Catchy.

Dutifully, I researched current torch trends and was amazed at how much you can spend on the damn things. Hundreds of Great British quids in some cases! If I spent two hundred pounds on a torch I would expect not only light but a stream of Bollinger and caviar vol-au-vents as well.

In the end, I settled for a compromise. One that was not too expensive (although still the priciest torch I've ever bought) yet still had a good reputation. In fact I noted a lot of my colleagues already had the same sort. I placed my order and, a few days later, received my new Lenser P7 Photon Throwing Device through the post.

It's aesthetically pleasing, small enough to fit into the hand and feels quite rugged.There's a sort of air of competence about it, but I couldn't really get away from the fact that the bit at the front, the bit the light comes out of, seemed quite . . . well . . . small.

And then I switched it on.

Blimey.

It has something called a Cree LED in it, which is similar to the traditional torch LED but instead of a light emitting diode the manufacturers appear to have opened up a small wormhole into the fiery heart of the sun.

Honestly, you press the on button at the base and, after the briefest roar, photons spill out of the end like a funnelled nuclear explosion.

It is so bright that, even at twelve noon on the hottest day of the year, light levels across the country went up three hundred percent.

Moles, four feet underground, moved deeper.

Clouds shifted in turmoil, like Jupiter's bands after a comet strike when I pointed it at the sky.

The ambulance broke down, but rather than wait for the tow truck I simply shone the torch out of the window, pointing it backwards, and the sheer power of it's beam thrust us forward, occasionally reaching speeds of two hundred miles per hour.

It is a Jedi light club.

It’s like that red-eyed feller off of X-Men who shines red beams of red light out of his red eyes when he takes his red sunglasses off, only brighter. And less red.

It’s like staring into the back end of a Delta V Heavy Lift Rocket as it takes off..

I’m worried about crossing the beams with another one.

Now, I am one hundred and ten percent against exaggeration, and incredibly amazingly against hyperbole but I want to give you an idea of just what this torch is capable of.  For this reason I took some before, during and after shots of me turning the torch on and shining it at my works Zafira: 


My office








A quick flash

The unadulterated result


















It’s quite bright, is what I’m getting at.

Illuminating, isn’t it?


.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Cradle Snatcher to Grave

I was in our local town a couple of days ago, eating a sausage roll in the graveyard (not a euphemism) and noticed an interesting gravestone.

Actually, re-reading that, it sounds a bit wrong. I should say that I was actually eating a sausage roll in a graveyard.

Nope, can't get away from it. I was just eating a sausage roll in a graveyard. There's no way of making that look like anything other than what it was. I had a sausage roll, and I was in a graveyard. Eating it.

The point is that while there I was idly perusing the data inscribed upon the stones because my 3G signal was low, when I saw the following grave:

Stop pushing, there's room for everyone.

It's the final resting place of a chap called Samuel Aldridge, who shuffled off his mortal bucket in 1800 aged 81, and his wife Sarah who died 28 years later, aged 48.

Now, apart from their being something potentially disrespectful and possibly unholy about eating a Gregg's pork cylinder on a grave (Dancing? Yes. Frolicking? Fine. Turning widdershins whilst chanting excerpts from the Necronomicon? Not a problem. Eating a Greggs? Ooh, you've crossed a line there, pervert), there was something about those dates that intrigued me.

If Sam died in 1800 aged 81, that means he was born in 1719. His wife, dying in 1828 aged 48 was therefore born in 1780. That's a sixty-one year age gap.

Now, I am a modern liberal and in no way judgemental about the choices of life partner another person makes, as long as they are happy and both get something out of it. In this case, however, considering it was before the advent of many medications used to treat the afflictions of old age (and indeed Viagra), one thought did occur to me.

Way to go Sammy boy!

I’m just surprised he lasted till 1800.

I had other things to do in town apart from desecrate crypts with take-away snacks and so, after brushing my crumbs off on a cherub (also not a euphemism), I continued my sojourn, making a mental note to post that picture on the Gravel Farm for your perusal, for it brings to mind questions of mortality, history, spirituality, love and boffing the elderly to death.

I needed some rabbit treats for our elderly but still voracious bunny, Bert, who might be blind in one eye and unable to clean his nether regions but he can still get it on with your foot if you're wearing fluffy socks. For this reason I made my way into our local pet shop.

The regular reader might recall that this is the shop where I was once very excited to be offered the chance to purchase a squeaky rubber winking lady with a cat's head dressed in bondage gear.* In the end I declined to buy it because I'm not really that into bondage. Or bestiality. Or dog chew toys.

Although the winking lady with a cat's head dressed in bondage gear did apparently sell, the shop owner started to think she'd been catering to too specific a target market and was probably getting fed up with men in stained brown trench coats turning up at night asking if she'd got any new stock in. Upon my visit this time, she'd moved on to providing more mainstream figurines which will appeal to everyone.

Ladies and gentleman, I give you . . . Chicktoria Peckham:

"Does my parson's nose look big in this?"
I still didn't buy her though. I prefer a bit of meat on my birds.

After spending twenty minutes trying to come up with a pun involving the word "plucking", I had Chicktoria prized from my hands and was asked to leave.

Making my way to a budget shop which provides a select range of anything, I encountered the absolute pièce de résistance when it comes to today's theme of death and target markets.


          "I'll cook your heart!"
Leaving aside the fact that the model is actually rather pasty and looks like he'd be happy to serve you a sausage roll to eat on a gravestone, the wording makes it quite clear that this wig is intended only for a very select few.

I thought about buying it, but I don't know any sinister black children.


*Now there's a link that's hard to resist.

Friday, April 27, 2012

What The Luck?



Currently under a rainy deluge of biblical proportions, the UK has shown amazing reserves of contrariness by maintaining a hosepipe ban. Presumably this is not, as the media and water authorities are telling us, in order to conserve a diminished resource, but really because they’re worried about people going all prune-like and wrinkly from sheer exposure, leading to national shortages of towels, anti-wrinkle cream and Keith Richards headbands which would bring the economy to even more of a stop than the stop it’s presently at.

Never one to let such a small thing as the weather get in the way of a trip to the seaside (also a typically British attitude, it would seem), I dragged my children to the car, bundled them into their respective constraints and drove the drive to welsh Wales.

Happily, the enthusiastically named Welsh god Illtyd (which apparently translates as “Lord of Everything”) was so pleased we were making the effort to visit that he smiled beneficently on us, providing not only a free car parking space next to the pier in Penarth, but also a good few hours of rainlessness and some flavoured frozen dairy products in a carbohydrate-based cone for the reasonable price of about a quid and an ice-cream headache.

It was nice enough for me to take an impromptu picture without worrying that my phone would instantly dissolve under the sheer weight of precipitation.  This proves that, at one point, somewhere in the United Kingdom, it wasn’t raining:

Buoys day out.

So, after lunch in a Tafarn where I had a decent pint of cwrw, we refuelled our car at the gwasanaethau and then went home via the traffordd.

Tidy.

As if on cue, after our day was done, the heavens opened and some water rained down like a shower of combined hydrogen and oxygen. The traffic slowed and we sloshed our way home, appreciating that timing was on our side and feeling particularly lucky we had had a good day and missed the really bad weather. I was glad of the day out because, I thought, we deserved a break.

This got me thinking about the appearance of luck in our lives and our reaction to it.

Being the rationalist that I am, I don’t really believe in luck. I feel it is nothing more than a subjective interpretation of events in contextual relationship with other events that might be construed as being either “better” or “worse”. If you’re in a bad car smash, you are unlucky. But if you only break your leg you are lucky. If the ambulance crew saws your hand off trying to get you out of the car, then you’re unlucky again. If the hand was subsequently found to have life threatening gangrene that would have killed you within hours had it not been sawn off, you’re back to lucky. If the car was your pride and joy, then you’ll feel unlucky to have lost it. If it was a Citroen, then happy days, your driving torment is finally over.

It’s pointless trying to stack the odds in favour of being fortunate. No one deserves the things that happen to them.  Good or bad, they just happen. But we can fool ourselves that this isn’t the case. In fact, what goes around really does come around. If you’re a good person, then good things will happen to you. But also bad things. If you’re a bad person, bad things will definitely happen to you, as well as good things. If you’re an indifferent, morally ambiguous person, then get ready for a selection of good and bad things happening to you throughout your life.

Brace yourselves for the bad times. And the good ones.

Mind you, when I got home, I took out some ham to make the children a butty and received a vision that challenged my certainty, that threw my reductionist musings into the cold, confusing ambiguity of spiritual discombobulation.

It was a sign. A sign that, perhaps there IS an ebb and flow to the universe when it comes to positive and negative, that there IS a demarcation between good and evil, and it is not just a personal spectrum, and that people WILL receive their rewards or comeuppances according to their character and their actions.

You might be amazed that I, of all people, would resort to the supernatural for explanations of such things, but you weren’t there man! You didn’t see what I saw. You were not witness to the compelling evidence that is . . .  Yin and Yang Ham:

Hogging the picture

Seeing that could change the views of the most analytically secular of atheists. All hail the Taoist pig meat of fortune!

Anyway, unluckily for the pig,  it tasted divine.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Ducking it out

At our local Water Bird Sanctuary As Long As They're Not Seagulls Centre, I made a startling discovery.

I found a Higgs boson under a rock!

Ha. No I didn't. I was messin' with ya. That would be silly. Bosons are found on merchant ships, obviously. I don't know why Higgs needs his own though. I didn't even know he was a merchant seaman.

No, the discovery I made was of a filmographic nature, involving a piece of British cinematic history.

I discovered that the terrorifying electromagnetic pulse weapon thingy in Bond James Bond's Goldeneye was named after a duck!

It's true, look:


It's a duck. With a goldeneye, golden, goldeneye,
with a goldeneye, goldeneye.
Now it turns out, you don't need much of an imagination to think up names for your weapons of imaginative destruction and your evil villains. You just need to visit a duck zoo. See:


Signs; good or bad? I'm on the fence.
 
"Mr Bond, I've been expecting you! I am General Smew, and this is my henchmutant. Get him Canvasback!"

There's tonnes of others.

"Widgeon, bring our guest a martini."
"Activate the groin laser, Pintail!"
"Hit him with a spade, Shoveler!"

 This post was brought to you by a man having photos on his phone and needing to do something with them.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Public Domain


I like pubs.
Mostly.
That’s not a hard club to get into really, pubs I like.
My favourite type is probably the older, more individual establishment rather than one owned by a large chain, but I’m not overly fussed if I’m forced to frequent a wine and ponce bar instead.  It’s like voting for your favourite Jolie boob or which is better, sausages with brown sauce or sausages with red onion marmalade.
So although I prefer something a bit old-fashioned, a little personal, with heavy black oak beams, straw carpets and ceilings you can concuss yourself on should alcohol not be doing the trick, the real appeal is . . .
Actually, that’s harder to pinpoint than I first thought.
The booze?
Well yes, because I, and I can’t stress this enough, like it.
A lot.
But I enjoy going to the pub even if I’m driving and thus forced to drink Orange Henrys and something I think is called Cloaca Cola, a brown fizzy concoction that doesn’t cause much cancer anymore after they took out the stuff that makes it taste nice. Tobacco, or benzene maybe.
So it’s not just the alcohol.
The atmosphere?
Also, part of the charm, but I’ve been known to have a good time in a plastic shell with lino on the floor, Chris Tarrant's voice asking questions from quiz machines and 60 inch flat screen TVs blaring out Formula 1 noises and Beyonce noises just metres from my aural canals.
The people?
You can’t beat meeting up with friends or colleagues for a relaxing bitch about people who haven’t turned up, but there’s something enjoyable about having a pint on your own with nothing to do except  peruse  the paper, read a book or throw some birds at green pigs on your phone.
The food?
Very few pubs can survive without offering food as standard these days, but for generations my ancestors have been perfectly happy with a bag of pork scratchings and a pickled egg.
Mmm, pork scratchings. Like pig toenails deep fried by a fat, greasy angel . . .
That's it my pretty, scratch away.
 Excuse me, just went into a little reverie there.
So, none of the above really. Or, more accurately, all of the above, in different  permutations depending on mood and opportunity. Sort of like social synergism.
On reflection, the biggest attraction for me is something personal, although probably common to many people in my position, and it’s the rarity of occurrence.
A visit to a pub, any sort of pub, is so bloody unusual these days that, for me, even the crappest establishment has the advantage of novelty.
And seeing as, when I went to the pub for a rare treat just eight weeks ago (and I can’t believe the last time I went to a pub was two months ago), I was surprised to find I hadn’t got enough cash on me  for more than a couple of pints, so it seems the pub visit will become, like a dodgy French burger, even rarer.
In addition, the government is considering establishing a minimum price per unit of alcohol in the UK, which they assure us will instantly reduce binge drinking and encourage a sense of responsibility around alcohol through enforced temperance, and absolutely definitely completely will not result in low socio-economic status alcoholics committing crimes to fund their suddenly expensive habit.
For my part, as an utterly sensible and extremely productive member of society, I’m starting to think seriously about a still.
Still. Drunk.
 Mine’s a pint of Old Blinder please, Shedkeep.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Life Irritating Art

Recently, I decided to have a spot of body modification done. Just a bit of work, not a lot. A nip here, maybe a tuck there, a stitch to hold things together. It's all the rage apparently, and lots of men have it done. Less women, for some reason.

I've had a vasectomy.

When I was in my twenties, I had a friend who was so adamant he didn't and never would want kids that he decided to get an 'ecotmy under his belt. He was a bit miffed that he had to undergo a few months of therapy and counselling to be certain he was one hundred percent sure, until the medical authorities responsible reluctantly agreed and allowed him the procedure.

This led to many years of hedonistic sex with a variety of interesting people, of which we as his peers were understandably envious. Ultimately, his newly acquired freedom resulted in a rather nasty dose of an STD that finally turned him into quite the advocate for condom use.

I wonder if the irony was a painful as the pustules.

So, as I approached my GP with my request, I had my arguments and rationale all sorted out in my head, rehearsed and prepared. The subsequent conversation went like this.

Me: "I'd like a vasectomy please."
GP: "Okay." Gets paper out of drawer. "Sign that consent form and I'll book you in."

Apparently, being forty with two kids does not elicit the concern warranted to younger testicles with more breeding potential.

So, last Friday, newly shaved and proud as a naked mole rat with a particularly good bean bag, I visited the surgery to be met by Nigel, a doctor I have spoken to at work on many occasions, who shook my hand and then fondled my nuts.

And this was just in the waiting room! Aha!

I went into the little side room where a nurse asked me to strip from the waist down, which I duly did. I also took off my socks, although I'm not sure why. Then Dr Nigel came in, talked me through everything and off we went.

And that was it. The initial injection smarted a bit, but after that it was simply a bit of tugging (not in the good way) and the very odd feeling of being able to watch bits of my own innards being exposed, cut and cauterised whilst I propped myself up on my elbows for a good view. It was all less traumatic than I thought it would be.

Nigel pointed out that I would be battered and bruised for a week or two, and to do absolutely nothing for the next couple of days. The nurse was very, very strict about this, lamenting the time she went to Tesco's after work and found a man who had had a vasectomy not two hours before doing his weekly shop.

Apparently, his whole lower body from the nipples down withered and died as a result, leaving him but a sad husk of a man, disconsolately wheeling his torso around on a skateboard muttering the word "plums" over and over again and being unable to satisfy his wife.

I suspect exaggeration, but I wasn't going to take any chances, setting myself up with baby sitters for a couple of days who were invaluable, allowing me do little else except watch films, look at Twitter and read blogs and words on my Kindle, which are a bit like books only made of electric.

I had also planned to do some blogging myself, but the combination of pain-killers and lethargy just isn't conducive to any sort of creative thinking or artistic endeavour, hence the dearth of posts over the last three weeks or so.

Four days later, and I took the single stitch out, realised the wound hadn't completely closed yet and glued it shut again. I've now got a bit of an ache and am still walking like I've lost my horse, but in general things seem okay, especially with the copious ingestion of over the counter analgesics.

So far, so good and, although the bruising is a bit disconcerting, I'm glad I've had it done. Seems only right that a chap take charge of his fertility after years of relying on prophylactics, female responsibility and brewer's droop to prevent babies. 

What's that? You want to know about the bruising?

Of course you do. Everyone does.

Well, I like to think of myself as a subtle writer, delicately weaving gentle strands of description, using misty metaphor and ephemeral prose to entice the reader into using their own imagination to get my message across. I feel this is a skill I can transfer to the pictorial realm, and I shall bring such an abstract photograph to you now to describe the results of my procedure:


Do not worry if you don't "get" it at first. Dali had similar problems, but if you mull it over a few times, maybe discuss it with an educated friend or intellectual colleague you will, in time, understand my allusion, and your appreciation of it will be all the greater for having had to work at it.

In conclusion, ball ache is such a ball ache.