Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Noughties end

I've composed a song. Let me prepare.

Ag! Ag! Ag!
Mee mee mee meeee!
And a one, and a two, and a . . .

*snaps fingers rhythmically, like putting castanets on someone having a seizure*

And now, the end is near,
And so I face, the final blog post.
Not of all time, just of this year.
I didn't mean, to raise up your hopes.

I've posted lots, maybe too much,
You've waded throooooooooooo,
My dodgy paragraphs.
But more, much more than this,
I did it for laughs.

Ol' Pink Eyes, 2009

Well, here it is. The end (almost) of 2009, and the arbitrary, subjective quantification of time via this particular calender demands some reminiss . . . some re-mincies . . . some remissin . . . some remembering of what has come to pass.
This is an original concept, and will not have been done before, but I expect other media to do a similar sort of "Year in Review" type thing when they see this, so remember you saw it here first.

2009 then.

We've had financial chaos, with various governments struggling to find a different, more upbeat term for "recession" and finally settling on "economic downturn".

We've had a few deaths including, well, millions of people actually, but also Bobby Robson, Mollie Sugden, Paddy Swayze, Mick Jackson, and someone called Lockerbie Bomber. Unfortunately I think this trend of dying will continue unabated until someone comes up with a cure.

We had the G20 summit which solved all the planet's problems and led to a better world for all. Huzzah!

We watched North Korea test out some nuclear powered fireworks for funsies.

We eyed pigs suspiciously as they passed on a particularly nasty flu to us, but didn't stop eating them because they are so very, very tasty. This is an example of yin and yang in action.

We noted Iran quietly and studiously building up it's international relations with intelligent diplomacy and public hangings.

We 'oohed' as NASA crashed a rocket into the moon, ostensibly to look for water in the resulting debris, but almost certainly really as part of an elaborate strike against an evil, organised and strangely well-funded super-villain.

We 'ahhed' as scientists discovered a huge great ginormous species of rat in Papua New Guinea that was strangely cuddly and more endearing than a pygmy marmoset in a slipper.

I think that about covers 2009. If I've missed anything, let me know by sending it to

Label your post "Red Mercury" and include a threat, so that I know it's not a spam-bot or something.

According to Wikimisleadia, 2009 was the year of both Astronomy and Natural Fibres, which explains the new Hubble Space Telescope Cosy knitted by the WI in tartan wool.

The biggest thing I'm going to miss is that, from now on, we're more likely to prefix "twenty" onto the year rather than say "two thousand and . . .".

So are you going to say twenty ten or two thousand and ten, or maybe just stick to Year of the Tiger to conform to our inevitable new Chinese overlords? It's a bit fiddly to write on a cheque but they're phasing those out soon anyway.

From a blog point of view, I've discovered that there's rarely nothing to post about. I'm not saying my posts are always riveting nuggets of untempered fascination*, but just that, as long as you have time, there's no reason you can't glean a spot of creativity out of just about anything.

And, if I am stuck for witterings, I shall take incentive from the author of this self published tome I photogratified on a local market book stall just before Christmas:

It seems strange that we've lasted so long without Benson, Mr C's treatise on the Relevance of Sofas. It was a work waiting to happen, and just required someone to get off their comfortably ensconced arse and do it.

And, inexorably, on we go to 2010. It will be the start of life for some, continuation of life for most, and the cessation of life for the rest, which is both heartening and depressing at the same time.

In our household, we finished off the year with a family trip to Birmingham's Sea Life Centre, where they continually demonstrate their grasp of the oxymoron by having a sea life centre in the middle of the country, by having freshwater fish in it, by having an otter colony on the third floor in the middle of a city, and by being staffed by articulate brummies.

Here, I took a pic that, to me, is a tidy metaphor for the human experience in this universe:

I am a dainty, bright, blue-flavoured jellyfish, swimming in the sea of experience, occasionally going upside down and sometimes stinging myself with my own ill-controlled tentacles.



Happy End Of Year Period!

*Although they totally are.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry . . . Friday

Regular readers of The Gravel Farm will be aware and probably impressed with both how chock full of great I am and my peerless stoic resilience when it comes to not wanting a fuss to be made.

After all, I keep a blog, which demonstrates exactly how I like to keep things under my hat.

But today is an exception.

Today is Christmas Day.

At the moment, my family are preparing a turkey and trimmings. They are opening presents. They are laughing. They might be arguing. They will have had bucks fizz for breakfast. My little boy is probably weeing himself with excitement about the presents (unless he's been unable to resist opening them, in which case he will, in time honoured tradition, be playing with the boxes and ignoring the toys).

Our pagan heritage is represented by a plastic tree with some lights on it. Our christian predecessors have left us with . . . er . . . Santa, I suppose. Our cultural influences have ensured we buy too much food and alcohol and indulge in some abysmal telly. Mostly though, it's about maybe having a bit of a laugh, chewing some fat, wagging the old chins, but above all getting together.


I'm at work.

*frowniest face evah*

This has never bothered me before. I usually work Christmas, and quite enjoy it to tell the truth.

I work for the ambulance service, primarily on a car on my own rather than a double-personned vehicle, because too many of my colleagues complained about the wandering hands and halitosis. And the roadkill collection. And coming to work in my pyjamas.

On Christmas day, people are generally in a good mood. Most of my calls are not particularly serious (usually slips, trips and chest pain after eating half a turkey) and, if someone needs a paramedic, they're surprisingly pleased to see me, which makes me feel all appreciated.

Even if they only want me for my morphine.

So far I have had . . . a chap who slipped on ice and appears to have fractured his tibia and fibula, a lady who slipped on ice and has fractured her humerus, and a lady who slipped on ice and has hurt her back.

There's a theme developing here, but I can't quite put my finger on it. Hopefully, all of them will be pain free and patched up relatively quickly, with cheerful Yuletide messages scrawled on their plaster casts.

Normally, this is enough for me, and I'm happy to be out and about.

This year, however, things seems a bit more melancholy. Much as I enjoy my job, it occurs to me that I would prefer to be at home.

Working on your own can be a tad lonesome. Last year, I was so desperate for company I drove down a very snowy lane so that people would have to come and dig me out and I could talk at them:

It's more fun on the full size ambulances. You can bring in treats and wear Santa hats which you have to remember to take off before attending a serious car crash for health and safety reasons. Full size ambulances (we don't call them vans because . . . er . . . we just don't, all right) are intrinsically more impressive as well. When showing my little boy the inner workings of ambulances, it wasn't the car he wanted to look at:

He's two now, so he really needs this sort of work experience. It took him a couple of goes to hit the 8-minute response time, but he was good at carrying the bags up the stairs so I'm going to go easy on him for his annual performance review we rigorously have every three or four years.

Still, I finish work at 18.15 hours, Greenwich Meany Time, give or take a late job, so it won't be long before I'm back in the bosom of my family and drinking advocat, whilst wondering why I'm drinking advocat when there's whisky and beer available, so I can't complain.

Well, I can complain. Volubly, in fact. But I won't, because of the aforementioned stoicism I so impressed everyone with earlier.

Instead, as it's Christmas, I shall put up a gratuitous shot of an ambulance on a job. This isn't an ambulancy related blog, because there are better, specific ones out there and I don't need to retread old ground, but forgive me the odd lapse into blue light territory.

I took this one a few months ago at a roll over RTC* while we were waiting for a very excited local farmer to turn the car the right way up with his fork lift and unblock the road:

See that on the car near the rear wheel? That's totally blood that is.

Mine actually. I had a nosebleed.

Anyway, I'd like to wish all of you a very happy, healthy, family and friend filled day,

In fact, I hope you all have a very happy, healthy, family and friend filled year.

After all, Christmas is only one day.

*RTC stands for Road Traffic Collision, the new term for Road Traffic Accident, because apparently there's no such thing as an accident. This car had rolled over but not actually collided with anything, and I don't think the driver meant to do it, so I still think RTA is more appropriate. Still, what do I know?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Stating the Oblivious

I like to think I'm fairly observant.

I mean, not in the spotting-flowers-on-an-otherwise-empty-table sort of way because I'm a man and we are genetically prone to having to ask a passing female for stuff like that.

And the girls moan, don't they?

"It's right HERE." they squeak, whacking you across the head with the item you've been struggling to see for the last five minutes. they don't look at it from our perspective.

It's a bit of bother see, when you need something out of a cupboard and you know it's there, but you just can't find it. You look harder. Your head starts to resemble a nodding dog on the back of a dodgem car, you suck your teeth or purse your lips to one side of your mouth, which is a sure fire way of increasing your observational abilities, and yet still nothing. Finding things is hard.

The lady, if she's not tutting in a smugly superior way, might tell you that you're looking too
hard, which explains everything really. From now on, I will look softer. Or maybe easier.

I understand the frustration of girls though, as we can unwittingly contradict ourselves.

"How can you spot a glow-worm at twenty paces, in a hedge, in the daytime, yet have trouble seeing milk in a fridge?" is how the current Mrs The Jules put it.

It's a good point.

There is an evolutionary theory that purports to explain why lasses are better at spotting details like this than chaps. In pre-historic days (goes the idea) before the invention of . . . well, anything really, women would provide the bulk of the family diet through foraging, and thus developed keen senses of observational skills, which would've been vital for spotting certain types of edible plants amongst inedible ones, or where certain nutritious comestibles were hiding in confusingly tangled undergrowth.

Men, however (according to the theory) were on more of a stalkin', runnin', huntin' and killin' bent, and so developed slightly better senses of navigation and fun spatial awareness.

I believe it's called the "Where's My Bloody Keys?" theory of evolutionary development, and makes a certain kind of sense if one accepts the stereotypical archetypes of manly and womanly differences.

Personally, I think it's all about outdoors versus indoors. I'm fine at locating stuff if it's outside. There's only so many places a thing can be,which narrows the search criteria by a huge margin. Mostly, stuff outside is going to be on the ground. Occasionally in a tree. Sometimes in a stream. Three places really.

Inside, it could be anywhere. There's three dimensions and hidden cubbyholes, there's extra floors and lofts. There's boxes and drawers, cupboards and shelves, baskets and domestic appliances.

There's down the back of the sofa. A terrifying place of Biro skeletons and out-of-circulation currency, where crumbs have collected in such numbers that you could peel them off and have a perfect mold of your furniture.

In such circumstances, it takes the bizarrely organised mind of a female to figure out where stuff is, although I know for a fact that women occasionally cheat by remembering where they put something, and then going to that place when they need it again and just retrieving it.

That's not proper searching, is it?

Anyway, whilst rambling along a canal in recent days, we came across something that was noticeable to all of the genders, and which I thought blogworthy:

A sunken river cruiser.

For some reason, out of all the methods of transport, the sunken boat is the only one that elicits something approaching sadness in me.

Imagine a car in the same position. That would be unusual, and interesting, but not sad. How about a lorry? That would actually be exciting. An aeroplane would make the news. A scooter would be downright funny.

Maybe a wheelchair.

Mostly, a sunken machine is going to make you go "ooh" rather than "awww".

Not when a boat is involved though. It was once claimed that boats had souls, and that's why seafarers gave them names. Mind you, sailors have never been especially noted for their rational, lucid interpretation of the world so maybe we shouldn't take to much notice of anything they say, unless it's about wind. Or tides. Or weevils.

They did mistake Dugongs for mermaids, after all, and I'd have to be mad, drunk or both to do that.


Still, not even the hilariously upright buoys can prevent a certain sense of melancholy creeping into one's perception of this picture.

I wonder if the owner knows about it yet, and whether it'll be a write-off, or are cruisers waterproof on the inside as well as the outside? Maybe it's not as bad as it seems, and is just like a spot of rising damp that a towel and dehumidifier will sort out.

Later, whilst driving around my home town, I decided to notice something else. This time, I noticed a thing that was as bad as it seemed:

Apparently, a stretched Humvie isn't tasteful or noticeable enough for the residents of this estate, so they have rectified it with an understated paint job.

I live in a country where the majority of minor roads still follow the old cattle and sheep trails of the middle ages, so this makes perfect sense for the corners. Still, it's not there for practical use, as it's primary function will be for the transportation of slappers.

Now, I wouldn't mind seeing that go haring into a river at full tilt, especially off of a right big ramp.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

How Time files

My goodladywife is very organised.

This is a good thing because I'm not. Relatively speaking.

I have spurts of organisation, where I clear out a load of crap, categorise stuff into appropriate subdivisions, and then bask in the glow of being able to find stuff in an instant for the fortnight that it takes until I mess it all up again.

For this reason, I am not in charge of storing the information on our finances, because I would probably think a badly stuffed suitcase with newer bank statements at the top, and older forms being compressed into some sort of dense, fossil-like strata that might one day be used as star ship fuel at the bottom is a perfectly acceptable form of hard copy storage.

Instead, we have a small metal storage cabinet (in case of fire) with space for payslips, bank stuff, insurance things, ID documents and wills etc etc etc. Makes sense, is easy to use, and there is absolutely no excuse or reason not to continue this practise.

I try and conform.

I really do.

I try and put my payslips in the appropriate receptacle at the end of the month, and I check I've been paid my overtime correctly because the system our employer uses to reimburse us is an elderly rhesus monkey who likes to make up random numbers on a calculator and then give that to us.


Occasionally, though, I leave a document for a while before I file it. Usually in the bottom of my bag, and then when I clean out the old orange peel and unidentifiably filled green sandwich, I come across it, file it away, and the missus is none the wiser.

This is practically standard operational procedure.

So it is a complete mystery to me why, when I leave my payslip in my pocket just prior to my trooz going into the laundry, no-one thought to make them washing machine proof:

Honestly, how am I going to file that?

Friday, December 4, 2009


Things I could've done instead:

- Put my child to bed.
- Watched telly.
- Read another chapter of Alan Carr's autobiography Darwin's On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection.
- Collected newts from a pond.
- Climbed some trees.
- Invented a cocktail and called it Long Hard Innuendo Rammed Right Into Your Digestive Tract.
- Change my name to Lord Champion of Awesomness
- Had me some sex.
- Written a poem.
- Done a blog entry.
- Learnt a new tune on the ukulele.
- Practised being lucky.
- Made some modern art with toenail clippings and a balloon, called it 'Edge of Uncertainty', and challenged the humanistic concept of an anthropocentric existence in light of the uncaring universe in a contemporary post-9-11 setting.
- Plucked my ear hairs.
- Looked at the moon through binoculars.
- Shaved a hedgehog.
- Eaten a curry.

Instead of what, I hear you cry.

It's all right. Don't cry. I'll tell you.

Watching 2012 at the cinema.

Crivens it was bad.

As we walked out of the cinema, the Goodladywife asked one of the attending oiks if we could have our money back please, as the wares that his employers had just sold us were so shoddy, but his mutating, semi-pubescent voice box would allow only a hoarse, nervous squeak about supervisors not being around so we let him scurry away to drain his face.

Over twelve quid, that film cost us.

Twelve pounds, which is, according to some quick mental arithmetic, about twelve euros, twelve US dollars, or three hundred and ninety Australian dollars. Roughly.

And for that, we got some admittedly good special effects showing buildings falling down, some cars driving hither and thither as buildings fell down, some aeroplanes flying around as buildings fell down, and various unlikely geographical upheavals with lots of glowing larva, flying debris and buildings falling down.

We also got absolutely no good characters or dialogue though. We got about three scenes where a suddenly emotive parent phoned their grown up child to tell them how they loved them and shouldn't have been so distant all these years. We got Woody Harrelson being "crazy" with a capital Meh. We got John Cusack meandering through the film as though he's on a green screen or something. We got Danny Glover as the US president who looked like he'd died recently and been partially reanimated.

(Now there's a pitch for a movie. Black President? Female President? Gay president? What about . . . Zombie President? "Assassination is but a minor annoyance to him.")

There was more cheese in this film than you'd find in the finals of the cheesiest cheese competition held in Cheeseton, Cheeseshire, by the Institute of Cheesology. In the Democratic Republic of Cheese.

Awful, awful film. I wonder if I can write to the people who made it and ask for my money back? Seems the least they can do after promising entertainment and not delivering. There should be a clause under the trade descriptions act that states any film that says it's good should actually be good. If not, it should be relabelled appropriately, and the traditional deep, overly gravelly voiced chap should read a more accurate description:

"John Cusack appears in a film which would be better if they simply cut and pasted all the special effects scenes together for half and hour and left out all the actors and, for want of a better word, dialogue."

You may be getting the impression that I wasn't impressed with 2012, the fillum. At the end of it, you're rooting for the tsunami.

Additionally, the whole cinematic experience was rubbish. There are twenty minutes of adverts, and then no trailers, which are the only reason you're not too pissed off at watching the adverts in the first place. Instead, a chirpy announcer shouts "Passion!" at you, and then there's a quick montage of passionate bits from upcoming films. Then the announcers yells "Intrigue!" which is followed by some seizure inducing flickers of presumably intriguing bits you might see. Then someone hollers "Adventure!" and you get a few bits of people falling down, shooting and exploding. Then the announcer wails "Pornography!" and a man with a seventies moustache arrives to fix a naked lady's washing machine.

You can't get excited about any upcoming attractions from that sort of mess.

I know that this isn't the fault of this particular film, but 2012 didn't exactly improve the situation, what with being crap and all.

More importantly though, it stole two and a half hours of my life away which I can never get back.

Despite what some more esoteric physicists may tell you, we travel through our spatio-temporal dimensions in a linear fashion, taking a generally mono-directional route from birth to the depressingly close and unavoidable moment of carking it. Of bucket-kicking, farm-buying, toe-upturning, daisy-pushing, maker-meeting, dust-biting, chip-cashing deadness that awaits us all.

Euphemistically speaking.

We can't afford to waste time paying to be bored and unimpressed, as we've only got a finite amount of it as it is, which is why I'm so narked about it all.

Maybe I'm expecting too much. I love films, but a film is simply supposed to be a momentary diversion, perhaps to make you think a bit, maybe to amuse you, but I shouldn't use it to replace bits of my life. Perhaps I should only watch a film if I haven't got anything else to do, otherwise, I'll end up substituting reality for something made up, and if I'm going to do that I may as well just go to church.

Mind you, a life is a bit like a film, in that it is the intrinsic quality of the content that is required and not good special effects in order to ensure that it's a good one.

If you were thinking of going, and this review has rightly put you off, then don't despair. There are plenty of other things to look at, which are naturally pretty.

You've got everyday things like flowers:

Or in fact the whole world, or bits thereof:

The world is particularly good to look at because, amazingly, it pre-empts the latest technology in cinematics by already being in 3D!

You can practically touch it.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Adventures in Blogland

Just over a year ago I started bloggaging, taking my first tentative, shaky steps into the murky, surreal woodland that is the blogoshpere, like Bambi exploring Kenya. This is a woodland that would make Tolkien shudder with the ethereal strangeness that abounds. Where creatures of the night live side by side with rainbow-hued optimists, where hardcore nookie fanatics cross paths with knitting enthusiasts, where rampant daily contributors brush shoulders with occasional nibblers.

The world of the blog is varied. Hot and humid one moment, just a short few steps away and you're in a temperate zone utterly suited to your tastes, and then a quick reconnaissance in another direction and the temperature drops, leaving you unable to decide whether you should stay and explore or scurry back to more comfortable environs.

It was a strange experience in those early, embryonic days.

You make a little camp in that woodland with no maps, no native guide, no bushcraft skills other than your inherent foraging abilities which may or may not be up to the task. You choose a name for your blog. You take about five seconds because you have to put something on the sign, and it's not as though it's going to be a permanent fixture in your life for the foreseeable future is it? You'll probably be deleting it in a day or two anyway.

So, you've named your blog. Job done. You're now ready to get posting! Let the creative juices pour forth!

Er . . .

What to put on it? You try and recall what they taught you about blogging when you were at school in the eighties, but the lessons on blogs must have been boring because you can't remember anything. It's like home economics where you vaguely recall coming home with a chocolate refrigerator cake that one time, but have no actual memory of the lesson. Or the teacher. Or the classroom.

You need ideas.

You sneak through the woodland and peer at other peoples set-ups through the (sometimes quite literal) bushes. What are they like? Are they interesting? Have they got any advice? Would they share it with you? Some sites are actually designed to help you with blogging, which is lucky. You creep up to them and, when no-one is around, snatch a few nuggets of information and then scurry back into the undergrowth to unpeel the nutty loot you've nicked.

You discover that the subjects covered by blogs can be encompassed in just one simple word, which should make things easy.

Unfortunately that word is 'everything'.

You search some professional sites for more info and they obligingly give it up for your perusal.

You need a topic, apparently. You need to sell stuff. You must categorise your blog, so people know what to expect, so like-minded explorers can find you amongst the chaotic ecosystem that is the blogland. It's all about planning what you do, then doing what you plan. It's dynamic. It's proactive. It's about taking incentivisation out of the box so you can action it to the next level. Their blogs are all stainless steel and black marble and healthy looking plastic plants.

You have no idea what they are talking about, and slink back to your little blog camp, which is made from metaphorical driftwood, some randomly placed moss and a shell.

You come to the conclusion that, to be a successful blogger, you must be incredibly organised with an innate sense of direction and a iron-clad self image.


You search a bit more and, happily, discover that there is a sub-division of blogs which appeals to you.

You shall class yourself as "miscellaneous"!

Now you've got an idea, you set out your stall and hang up some of your wares for other people wandering the trails to have a look at. You try and keep them as fresh as you can, and see what comes blundering past. You smile coquettishly and bat your eyelids in a 'come hither' fashion.

The blogging begins.

Flash forward one year with wavy cinematographic time-travel lines and sound effects that go "scuddly doo scuddly doo scuddly doo!".

Name of blog: Still the same.
Category of blog: Still miscellaneous.
Stuff in blog: Still just your witterings.
Plans for the future: Er . . . carry on regardless.

The other critters in the woodland have turned out to be, not only approachable, but outright friendly and supportive, and there exists, depsite huge variations in form and function, more uniting similarities than differences. I'm not saying there aren't bloggers out there who are beyond liking or even understanding, but if you come in and look around, maybe make a bit of an effort, you will without doubt find someone who shares your interests, or your sense of humour, or your hatred of ginger and fingerless gloves. Or bobble hats. Or the French.

So, here I am, still at it. I was thinking of getting an ID card with "BLOGGER" written on it so that, when I inevitably get caught taking a photo in a public convenience I've got a vague excuse legitimate reason.

Bloggers tell it like it is. Or at least like they think it is, and because history is written by humans and doesn't depend at all on nebulous concepts like "facts" and "truth", this amounts to the same thing.

As Socrates said when he wrote Spiderman, with this great power comes great responsibility. Blogging has an effect on society, very much like walking through a crowded shopping mall whilst wind-milling full nappies at arms length and shouting "LISTEN TO ME!" at the top of your shrill, shrill voice.

It gets noticed.

With this in mind, I manfully shoulder the burden of the blog, and bring important issues to the fore. Things the ordinary man in the basement might not notice.

For instance, I was in Sainsbury's recently and saw that the cafe had one of those wooden shields given out as prizes displayed proudly for all to see. I approached, expecting some sort of Jamie Oliver prize for best carrot and coriander soup, or an award for mopping up aisle three in record time. I snapped a pic:

Turns out it was for the Most Improved Department.

Is it just me or does that simply make you wonder what they were like before they improved? Especially when they seem simply average now?

All the little shields on it were blank as well, and even the fake silver scroll in the middle is bereft of congratulatory wordage, which begs the question of whether or not the shield is simply passed around the various departments in the supermarket in an attempt to boost morale, like giving everyone an "Employee of the Month" certificate at some point regardless of their abilities, even if their productivity is on a par with navel lint and they spell 'customer' with three Zs.

Or maybe it was simply stolen by the cafe supervisor to throw the Environmental Health Officers off the scent.

"Cockroaches? Well, that's impossible because we're the Most Improved Department I'll have you know. Got a shield and everything look. Now, do you want legs in your mulligatawny?"

This post is a
celebration of my one percent of a century of blogging, and reflects on the sorts of things I like to incorporate into this digital tome. Such blue-sky thinking is useful because it allows me to non-sequitur another picture I took into it.

One of my favourite topics is the out-of-context drawing from childrens books, which I am subjected to on a regular basis and so must amuse myself in other ways, as they tend to lack plot twists and surprises.

I've done it before, and I'll do it again. From a recent sojourn to our local library with my sprog:

Splat indeed.

You see? Bringing the important issues to life is the essence of the kernel at the heart of blogging.

No need to thank me. It's what I do.

I'm a blogger.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Wet and not so wild

You may remember a post I did recently about cheering myself up with yellow things.

Yellow is good. Yellow is bright. Yellow is happy.

In that post I gave some examples of yellow things that are positive. Bananas, jaundice, Mr Custard.

Actually, not jaundice, unless you're positive for hepatitis. But definitely Mr Custard, the American Bullfrog at Slimbridge wildlife and wetland trust:

And yes, there may have been some labelling that Mr Custard might have drunk like a fish, hence his hue, but it was generally accepted that his yellowness was as a result of albinism, which isn't really his fault, no matter how you look at it.

We were there yesterday, and my son was relatively excited about seeing Mr Custard, saying "Want to see lellow prog!" three hundred and eleven times until we started to suspect that he might want to see the yellow frog.

Dutifully, we trudged towards the amphibian ghetto.

Imagine our distress when we were greeted by this sign:

Mr Custard had croaked.

And "retention of fluids"?

Looks like I was right about the . . . er . . . *makes drinky-drinky motion with hand*

My son was a little confused, but I think that, at two, he's ready for the "death talk".

It was going to happen soon anyway, what with my driving and the suicidal pheasants that abound round these parts, so I explained to him, in terms he could understand, that Mr Custard was no longer with us, and had gone to a better place. Possibly a heron's colon.

He got the message, and walked out with a new appreciation of life and it's adherent ephemerality.

"Lellow prog dead!" he announced as he strode past some other children, breaking them in easily for the sad news.

Luckily, Slimbridge has some other new American imports, which are proving to be a big attraction.


These are North American otters, and although we do have a British version (the Eurasian otter), Slimbridge has these for a couple of reasons. The main one is that they needed a home, and they had one going spare. The other is that the American species is bigger, brasher, louder, more boisterous, likes showing off and doesn't mind being watched by an audience:

Typical yanks.

Despite being brown, the second saddest colour* otters are the embodiment of joi de vivre, and just the tonic for getting over the sad demise of Mr Custard. And the two, apart from both being American, are closer ecologically than one might at first suspect.

Apparently, otters eat frogs on a regular basis, so it all demonstrated the great, crunchy, chewy wonder that is the cycle of life.

* the first being puce, because nothing good is ever puce.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Travel Ugh.

London! Home of Londoners! Birthplace of cockney chicken penang* and Her Majesty the Pearly Queen.

I like London. It's different to the rest of the country, almost like a city state on it's own, surrounded by the moat of the M25 to keep invaders out by making them queue until they lose interest. London has so much going for it that a trip there justifies an entire blog post. Quite a long post at that, because one must bring these out of the way places to the attention of the general populace.

Feel free to skip through to the end, because there's a picture of a cockroach.

The goodladywife and I booked a four star hotel near to Hyde Park via an internet agency that specialises in last minute bookings. Can't remember it's name. It was pleasant enough, but I've never stayed in a hotel in London, and you don't get a huge amount for your money. Basically, a clean small room with an en suite and a kettle. Sort of the absolute basic you'd expect from any hotel really, but apparently this was construed to be worthy of four stars, which does make you wonder what you get in a three or two star establishment. Bed-bugs possibly.

It was perfectly acceptable for our needs though, and we settled in with a cup of tea, supped from a cup that all hotels everywhere seem to have, specially designed so you can't get your fingers through the handle, and end up pinching the cup between thumb and forefinger like an errant child's ear. This adds excitement to your beverage as you're fully aware, at any moment, the whole cup might rotate through 90 degrees and deposit scalding liquid onto your genitals.

Then, we went out.


Shining jewel of the South East. A beacon of civilisation in a turbulent world. A monument to ancient and modern urban accomplishment. Shops!

Two things let a man know that he is, for sure, in that city of cities. The first is the sudden barrage of different languages, from the melting pot that is London's cultural milieu. Every other person seems to speak a different lingo or has an exotic accent, and far from this being a Daily Mail reader's realised nightmare of uncontrolled immigration, in reality simply demonstrates what a world-spanning magnet the city is. I liked it.

The second sign is grey bogies.

A spot of nasal excavation will reveal that, after but 24 hours in London, one's nose goblins have gone from the usually healthy mix of oyster-like verdantness to a monochromatic rubbery sludge. This is a cause for concern because the grey bogey is very similar in concept to the green crisp, in that you're never sure whether it's safe to eat.


But I'm not here to write about boogers. I shall save that for another post. This one is all about our trip to the capital. The Capital of Eng-er-land.

Firstly, we indulged in a Thames-side walk, from Tower Bridge to the London Eye, a nice genteel stroll which was easy on the legs. I was quite surprised by just how pleasant it was. We took a number of detours to examine places we'd never bothered with before. St Katherine's Docks, for example, was a collection of expensive, yet slightly aging yachts suggesting that it was once a sort of inner city Monaco, where rich folks parked their gin-palaces for the fifty-one weeks of the year they weren't at sea. It was so close to the thronging crowds of Tower Bridge yet we only saw a couple of other people in the whole area:

Along the Thames are some great alleyways, mudflats, even hidden beaches with fishing cormorants and small yellow wagtails bobbing along the shoreline which came as a surprise. Not sure what I was expecting, but not pretty wildlife. Maybe a river ecosystem consisting of hairless cats and some sort of sub-human monkeys descended from feral chimbley sweeps.

At one point on the walk all that water took a toll on my physiology and I became the proud owner of a full bladder, so began to look around for a public loo. London suddenly became the Land That Bogs Forgot, which was a tad uncivilised. I considered giving the Golden Hinde a bit of a golden shower, but despite the absence of people making such an action possible, I could see lots of cameras keeping an eye on us for our own safety. With such omnipotent powers of observation being apparent, I declined to go au naturale, because the todger police would certainly have arrested me for possession before you could say urine retention.

Instead, we finally opted for a pub called the Mudlark, named after the street urchins who would comb the thameside barefoot with primitive metal detectors for a living, in the days before Crocs and child labour laws. About 1983 I think. If they could have seen into the future the urchins would no doubt have been pleased that, in their honour, I could have a decent local pint from a proper glass with a handle on it and everything, whilst mulling over what a rough life they had.

We went past a big tower in London, I forget what it was called, but it was essentially part of an enormous fortress that has been used as a safe house for royal types, a mint and a prison. Putting aside the initial considerations of housing the nation's wealth next to convicted felons, the place was very atmospheric, and that was just from the outside. I would have paid to go in but I'm extremely mean.

Traitor's Gate was particularly resonant with the clinging fug of unpleasant history:

I'm not sure why anyone would use Traitor's Gate. I mean, if you go in by that entrance, you're just giving yourself away really. Even if I was an actual traitor, I would've played it safe and used another door.

We ended up at the London Eye, a big ol' ferris wheel erected by some well-off carnies, presumably, and I had planned to go on it. In the end, I decided not to, for a number of reasons. The first was that it had gone dark in that selfish autumnal way that November has about it. The second was that there was still a big queue, and the third was that the damn thing didn't go very fast or even upside down. Disappointing.

An evening visit to Soho to sample an Indian restaurant called The Masala Zone was next on the itinerary, and that was just excellent. I've always liked Soho, but it seems to have changed since I was last here many years ago. A meander through shows that it's a lot less seedy than I remembered. Possibly a lot less interesting too. Presumably the internet has allowed men perverts to look at porn for free in the comfort of their own basements, so the dodgy cinemas have gone. There were lots of variations of trendy Anne Summers type shops, although I noted one was called "Trashy Lingerie" which got The Jules Seal Of Approval for Honest Advertising.

There was also one called "British Sex Shop" which was doing a brisk business in hessian condoms and posters showing both sexual positions**.

A final visit to a pub for lasties involved a live band and local ales, which was a pleasant end to the day.

The next morning we had a choice. Breakfast in the hotel for sixteen quid each, or a local cafe for a full English at £5.50. We opted for the latter, and were glad we did, because other than the strange lack of a possessive 's' on the sign, it was all good:

Sheila's had pictures of famous folk on the wall, like Woody Allen sitting on the steps reading (maybe a script? Or a hotel bill? Or the wife's school report?). You know a place is good when it's full of local workmen eating there and asking for tea and "free shaggers", which I was quite excited about until my phrase book translated this as three sugars.

We took a walk around the diamond district, which involved, well, some shops selling diamonds. Yep. Shops with all diamonds in them. Fascinating stuff. If you like glittery stones. I was more interested in the fact that, on the same road, was this innocuous building:

This was, apparently, where the Maxim machine gun was invented. It was conceived by Sir Hiram (and Fire 'em) Maxim who, according to my imagination, got fed up with his colleagues stealing his biscuits, and decided to exact efficient revenge.

Nearby we found a lovely old church on Ely Place, which is a small area owned by the crown and not subject to the everyday laws of the UK, let alone London, and officially even the police must get permission from the commissionaire to go in.

I discovered that the reason for such secrecy and security is to be found in the church. Like the Da Vinci Code, I found proof of a conspiracy about Jesus that predates not only the bible, or written history, but even the very existence of humanity itself.

You will almost certainly be aware from theology classes at school of the theory that God's chosen people were, in fact dinosaurs:

Obviously, if this were to be true, the Church would be in dire trouble, as it would undermine blah blah blah blah blah.

Well, anyway, I found evidence in an old stained glass window that it IS true. Beneath an image of Jesus is his original moniker:

Jesus was a goddamn C. rex!

I'm hoping Tom Hanks will play me in the unavoidably boring film that will ensue. Or maybe Jim Carrey.

After yet another great pint in a cool little pub in Clerkenwell Green, we aimed to have a look at the St John's crypt, but it was closed for refurbishment, which was a shame because it features in the aforementioned religion-shattering tome The Da Vinci Yarn, and I would no doubt have found more evidence for dinosaurs as the chosen people of the Lord.

It's a conspiracy I tells ya. The Illuminati are closing down tourist attractions to prevent me from finding out the devastating truth which might plunge the ancient secret organisations into a turmoil of blah blah blah blah blah.

I would fight them all the way but I can't be bothered.

Instead, we headed through Exchange Square and I took a pic of Liverpool Street Station, because I could:

After a tour of Spitalfield market, we headed back to the hotel for a rest and a shower before an evening meal in Covent garden.

Another day, another full English fry up at Sheila's, because we didn't want our blood to flow too easily through our arteries now, did we?

London in the week is surprisingly uncrowded. I was comparing my last visit here at the weekend when I took a pic of the Undertube, a sort of ride that goes through tunnels and stops every two hundred yards or or so. Then, it was like some sort of hellish dystopian nightmare of invaded personal space and scrunched up faces.

Now however, I was greeted with this:

I could watch the presumably deaf mice gambolling around the track in peace.

We decided we wanted some greenery, and headed up to Hampstead Heath for some fresh(ish) air. The open space was welcome, and the Heath proved amiable not just for cruising homosexuals getting on with what most men would like to do anyway, but for strolls, walks and bird spotting.

They had parakeets!


Okay, that photo is not going to get into National Geographic, but take my word for it. It was a wild ring-necked parakeet sitting in a tree. Since their successful bid for independence a few years ago, they have expanded into large numbers, called herds by people who don't know what a flock is. Although they're a common, noisy sight in various areas of the south east of England these days, I was quite chuffed to see them for myself.

We visited a pub in Hampstead that was very posh. Too posh to clean out it's beer pipes, judging by the vinegary tang of the ale, although this was the only bad pint I had in London out of over two hundred.***

The rest of the day went by with a quick visit to Camden to look at the market, a mecca for goths (if that's the right word) and just the place to go if you want to buy a sheepskin jacket for ten pounds made, judging by the quality, from some poor creature with five legs and terminal scabies.

Tattoo studios advertised their wares on signs carried by . . . er . . . well, people I suppose, using the term in it's loosest possible sense. Strange, multi-hued mullet-wearing pseudo-goths tried to persuade us to nip in for a quick tattoo, as if it might be something one should do on an impulse.

"Actually, you know you're right. Can I have a tattoo of Jesus cuddling a baby tyrannosaur across my abdomen please? Eight quid? Great."

Anyway, I like to be different, which is why I'm British but haven't got a tattoo.

Time to head for home. We had an hour to kill before our train and were hungry, so the time limit ruled out a relaxing meal in a proper restaurant. For this reason, we headed for the station and, en route, stopped for what might be called a meal at Burger King. Happily, when I checked the menu, I discovered they sold burgers, so I had one.

Whilst in the loo, I did a spot more wildlife spotting, and managed to get a nice shot of a German cockroach nymph, which was harder than it might seem as it was practising it's scurrying:

There were about ten of the buggers in there, which made me glad I'd eaten first, because if I'd seen them before my meal I wouldn't have had seconds. Possibly. The missus wasn't too pleased though, as I showed her this photo on my phone whilst she was halfway through her spicy beanburger.

I told the manager about them and, in grateful appreciation, he offered me his thanks by nodding and muttering "Cheers mate". Reward indeed.

Still, a happy ending ensued because I got to finish off the wife's beanburger.

The train was only a few minutes late, which in the UK is officially classed as early, and we wended our weary way back to bumpkin land.

My verdict on London?

We enjoyed it. Because we didn't have much in the way of money, we concentrated on walks with free things like history and architecture, which is what London is all about really. The people were friendly, which I wasn't expecting for some reason, but most of all, when all's said and done, at the end of the day and with hand on heart, the pubs were good.


* Rhyming slang

** (1) Man on top of lady. (2) Man wearing hat on top of lady.

*** C'mon, I was there for three days.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Just nipping out

The call of life and it's adherent duties leaves me with limited time to blog up.

Apparently, it's all about priorities, and context, where I must go to work, feed my family and interact with humans in the arguably "real" world.

There is also The Missus's rather good point that she would prefer me not to become a pasty blue wraith whose only colour comes from basking in the ethereal glow of the VDU.

In order to prevent me becoming like one of those transparent fish that lives in caves (a cruel irony of nature because they have no eyes and so can't see all the cool gubbins pulsating away under their skin there), we're going on a city break for a few days.

We've done some pretty decent cities in the past, from Reykjavik to Amsterdam, Prague to Paris, in the days when we actually had some of that stuff called unspent cash you get from being a dual income couple with no dependants.

Now, however, we must fool the bank and credit company into funding any such trip, which means we must be a little less ambitious, and stay closer to home.

There is a city on the the South East coast of England which we're going to nip to on the train. It's called London-On-Thames I believe, and has some decent shops and cafes and things, so we thought it would be worth a trip.

Also, a ukulele shop.

I'm obviously not going all the way to a vague town with a big stream just to go to a ukulele shop, because that would just be silly.

There's also a bookshop.

So, I'm off for a bit, and thought I'd post a quickie for the record, and I will shift my rear end out of neutral when I return and get back to reading stroke commenting stroke stroking on all your blogs.

You have been warned.

In the meantime, I shall wish you all good health by raising a glass of toxic liquid in salutation to you:

That was the last drop of pure, unadulterated wonderfulness from a bottle of Talisker Distiller's choice.

You see, that's how much I like you.

My last glass, and I wanted to share it with you.