March 29, 2010

May 03, 2008

Is This England? Eject, Eject!

ANOTHER day another shitehole. Still reeling from last weekend’s jaunt to Coventry but no less in need of distraction, I decide to hit the next Big Smoke - Birmingham.
If anyone asks I tell ‘em I’m hunting for guitar strings but really I need much more than that. Anything at all in fact.
This ain’t the my first trip to Brum. The first time I came here was about eight years ago. Back then, it was on a clubbing campaign. My partner in crime shot town convinced that his dick was disappearing and I ended up terrified that Andy Pandy and a violent houseplant were out to kill us.
None of that was directly Birmingham’s fault but the experience was enough to keep me away for another seven and a half years.
My second Birmingham ‘trip’, about three months ago, was less deranged but revealed a similar to the city’s psyche.
Once again, I’m ostensibly looking for guitar strings. Some students in a second hand book shop had directed me to Professional Music Services on Curzon circular. It’s a great firm and one of Birmingham’s only redeeming features. I make myself known, buy the most expensive but beautiful-sounding guitar strings and leave. There’s a busy road outside so I stand at the side and wait for a gap in the traffic. No gap presents itself but an old Asian lady slows down and signals at me to cross the road so I cross. Pleasant enough, I thought, until the motorist behind Granny Singh stops, gets out and screams blue murder at me.
Perhaps, thinks I, he’s just venting his frustration at the broader socio-economic conditions that have shat his little corner of urban England spiralling into post-Thatcherite meltdown. Right in front of him, I reason, his neighbourhood has nosedived from a regional hub of home-grown industrial might to a piss-pocket characterised by nothing more than a good music shop, dual carriageways and courteous Pakistani grannies.
Whatever. While I’m mulling over this chap’s quandary he comes at me so I do the manly thing and run.
Surely, downtown’s gotta be better. Surely Major and Blair and Brown and countless Government agencies have devoted the same endless time and resources to stopping the rot and rust. I think of Manchester, Glasgow, Newcastle and Liverpool. Great British powerhouses hammered in the ‘80’s but reincarnated as vibrant regional destinations.
You’d think.
I pass a bar I remember from the Andy Pandy expedition. It’s burnt out and shows no sign of being rebuilt.
Closer to town I witness a grown man attack a ten-year-old girl. I don’t know if it was a racist attack but the girl and her father are clearly traditional Muslim Asians and the attacker is a white thug in his late teens or early twenties.
The two parties are walking towards each other when the Scally runs at a bin using it as a springboard from which to fly through the air and body slam the father and daughter, mainly the daughter, who falls down and starts crying. The father can’t do anything. He has to attend to his daughter but is helpless anyway faced with a gang of laughing lads who run off.
That was my second trip.
Three months later and I need new strings.
In Glasgow or London or any other British town, you expect to see policemen on the beat and Birmingham’s no different but you immediately notice that all the cops are busy.
A market trader tries to convince two officers that he’s selling genuine Versace. Round the corner a homeless man is having his bag rifled through by a WPC. Someone gets dragged out of McDonald’s for reason’s best known to him. All the cops seem too busy to do anything about two gangs of teenage girls fighting in, and possibly over, a bus stop.
These crazy fools are losing it. I dive into a record store for cover and make a few selections. The girl behind the counter is pretty and smiles as she scans The Killers. Kings of Leon. Still smiling. The Enemy. Still smiling. The Smiths. Smile turns to smirk. Deacon Blue. Lost her. Gotta go.
Back on the street another pretty girl stops me. I’m pretty hot at avoiding charity Chuggers having lived for a year on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow but this one’s incognito. She isn’t wearing a uniform or a badge and I hope for a moment that she may just want to introduce herself or complement my sartorial taste.
‘Have you ever had a stress test Sir.’
‘I tend to find visiting Birmingham to be a stressful test. Does that count?’
‘No. I mean a test to see how stressed you are.’
I’m intrigued. ‘I don’t think I have as it happens. Are you about to offer me one.’
‘Yes I am. We’re offering free stress tests today.’
She seems nice so I bite. Curiously, she leads me down a dark alley.
This is kind of weird. We enter an anonymous doorway an my eye catches a large blue sandwich board sign propped in the corridor.
‘Welcome to L Hubbard’s Church of Scientology.’
‘Shit. This actually is holy shit,’
I think.
‘Is this about scientology.’
‘Well yes it is but don’t worry. I’m not going to try and convert you. I just want to give you a stress test’
Holy shit. So this is how they do it. They kidnap people off the streets. I’ve heard about their weird machines. That must be how they got Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Just caught ‘em on their way out of Primark or Woolworths or something.
‘Honestly, I think that’s a lie and also, I’m already a monk so my spiritual needs are well and truly satisfied. I have to go.’
I half jog out the door and round the corner then pause and start kicking myself. Attempts to convert me to Scientology would have made great material for this blog.
I mentally prepare an apology for my rude behaviour then about turn and look for the girl. I wait for ages but it’s too late. She’s gone. Scientology will have to wait for now.
Two hundred yards down the road I’m stopped by a big black guy with a woolly hat who asks me if I want to support charity work in India. I’ve heard this one before and recognise him straightaway as a Hare Krishna monk. All the niche religions round here must carve up the streets like Big Issue sellers.
‘Are you Hare Krishna? ‘Coz if you are you should just come right out and say it’
‘I am my friend. Let me ask you. Are you stressed?’
‘Not in the slightest. To be honest, I‘m a bit of a monk myself. I’ve actually already got quite a lot of your books and tapes. Indeed, may I say just how much I enjoyed Gouranga Mosh Vol III.’
‘That’s good to hear brother.’
‘In fact, I’ve even spent a night at your headquarters. That farm down near Watford.’
‘Really. Brilliant. What were you doing there.
‘Well, I was on my travels, spreading the word, like you. It was late one night and I had nowhere to stay so I drove a little way down a track, pulled over and slept in my car. When I woke I was surrounded by rabbits, cows and bald people.’
‘Brother! You should have gone in for breakfast.’
‘They do breakfasts?’
‘The best.’
‘I wish I’d known. Lord knows you guys owe me enough breakfasts.’
My friend doubles over laughing and I leave him like that; unable to talk.
If there were more like him then maybe there would be more hope for Birmingham.
In the future, I decide, I'll get my guitar strings in Coventry.

April 13, 2008

I came, I saw, Ikea. (I'm back)

If you’re reading this, you may already have guessed that I’ve finally bought a computer. What you may not have guessed, however, is that today I had to go to Coventry to buy a suitable desk.
Coventry is my closest large town although to call it a town belies reality. It is actually a hideous sprawling shopping centre with a dedicated perimeter motorway situated slap bang in the heart of England.
Like Baghdad, it’s the sort of place best avoided unless you really, really have to go. Say, for example, if you need a computer desk.
The only other time I visited I was on my way to Spain which involved a short train ride from my place to the town centre followed by a cab ride to the airport. My taxi driver wasn’t even aware Coventry had an airport. It’s that kind of place. A completely forgettable smattering of portakabins and, I shit you not, a barn strewn around a lonely stretch of tarmac.
On Saturday, however, my mission was closer to home; a ‘quick’ jaunt to Ikea for a £15 desk I’d selected from the catalogue that morning.
Usually I quite like a leisurely perusal of budget Swedish design but not on Saturday. Ikea’s Coventry branch, however, is an exceptional piece of design in it’s own rite and almost worth visiting for it’s own sake.
Unlike most other branches it’s sited slap bang in the middle of the town centre thus forcing the architects to cleverly squeeze four acres of retail space into a gap the size of an average corner shop.
The exterior, predictably, is bold, angular, colourful and a pleasing departure from the depressing concrete shit heaps that surround it. One would even, at a stretch, expect the local cabbies to know where it is.
There, the compliments end. The queue to get in starts out on the motorway. You drive into the store and park on the second floor. Then you’re supposed find a lift up to the sixth floor. I recommend the stairs.
Outwardly, the cavernous elevators appear to have enough space for everyone but the Scandanavian designers could never have factored in the platoons of Brits who think nothing of spending family days out in soft furnishing stores. Nor could the have anticipated infuriatingly helpful kid who holds the lift door for their one-legged granny who’s hobbling across the car park a mile and a half away.
Things get worse when you hit level six. Pingers ping and I explode forth into the throng which is like getting off the train at Auschwitz. Only here, the inmates are irritating loved-up newly-weds pretending they’re not physically sick that the £200,000 two-bed semi for which they’ve just taken out a 100% fixed rate mortgage is now only worth £150,000.
‘HAHA. You may be in love but you’re gonna be stuck in that over-priced stack of bricks for the next ten years while all you’re neighbours move out and half of Romania moves in. Me? Jealous? Hell no! Serves you right for being so happy. Credit crunch that MoFo.’
Squealing kids run rings round arguing parents. There are no old people here. Thank God. They’re too wise and anyway, walking sticks could only compound misery in a hell like this.
I know exactly what I need. A 100x75x60 Vika-Curry desktop and four matching cream legs. Where to start though? I Consult a map and curse myself for leaving the GPS at home. It’s not looking good. I know that in strict geographical terms office furniture is less than 50 feet away but the suggested route, marked out by helpful little arrows on the floor, is several kilometres.
Those bastard Swedes are no better than drug pushers. It doesn’t matter what you came for, they assault all the senses forcing 20,000 bizarrely-named products down your throat from bottle openers to bathroom mats and everything in between. Forget GPS. What you need in here is blinkers and the unwavering single-mindedness to look at nothing but the floor and follow the arrows. I want to steal one of their display books but it’s in Swedish. They must do that deliberately.
‘Please Sven. All I want is a desk. If you just give me one small desk I’ll be on my way.’
‘Come now. Shurely a new lampshade vood be nice for your bathroom. Or maybe a 3x2 photographic print of Honk Kong Harbour. No?’
‘No man. Just a desk. Just one. I know where it is. Please.’
‘Vy don’t you shit down our nice new Kramfors leather shofa. Zey are very well designed and competitively priced.’
‘No, you swine, I see what you’re trying to do. You entice me here with the promise of a £15 desk then sink your barbs in with offers of well-designed competitively-priced settees. Well not this time Hagar and not this sucker. You and me both know where this will end up. There will be no going back. Today a drop-leaf table tomorrow a whole kitchen. Well I’m onto you, you sneaky Swede. This is one mug who can see through your sinister ploys and beyond your dirty wares.’
I bolt. This place has shortcuts. They don’t put ‘em on the maps but staff and old hands know that you can bypass suggested routes by sneaking through the various sets of anonymous swing doors dotted throughout the store.
Horror of horrors. From the proverbial frying pan I’ve escaped to the fire of the kids department. Pissed students fool around with cuddly stuffed snakes whilst oiks let kids with names like Tyson and Tamaya run riot. Colour and noise and movement churn and simmer and force my retreat. Maybe the snakes aren’t real. Maybe the laughter is innocent. Maybe this is only the kids department at Ikea but I might as well have stumbled through reception at the Ministry of Truth. I’m beaten and the Swedes have won. The shop is spread over six floors littered with escalators, travelators and elevators. You can’t cheat. You think you’ve found check-out when you’ve actually found the car park. There’s no point trying. If I persevere I could be here till Christmas. I return to kitchens and follow the arrows.
‘Vellcome back Vinston. How voz it through the doors? Not so good huh? You’re vay didn’t work did it? Did you honestly think you could cheat the system? I mean come on. Do you honestly think ve vill validate your parking when you are taking shortcuts all over the place? Zink about it. Ve make very safe cars and very dangerous fighter jets, not to mention flat-pack furniture. Outwitting an old dope head like you is not beyond us. Now follow the arrows.’
So I follow the arrows, trying to keep my head down but beaten souls surround me, wandering slowly, glazed eyes raised skywards admiring curtains and houseplants. I try to focus but bump into a women. My groin inadvertently touches her bum. I’m embarrassed but she barely notices. So I too start to look up. Slowly, I succumb.
All I wanted was a desk but what’s that? A rather fetching throw that would look nice on the end of my bed? A handy-looking swivel-based lamp. A spice rack?
I’m done and they’ve won.
My parking’s is validated for three hours so I decide to see what else Coventry has to offer. Nothing, it seems. Just Ikea.
Travelling through sleepy English towns I’ve often found that in the absence of anything better to do Cathedrals can be worth a visit.
Not here. Looks like Hitler shared my opinion of the place and bombed the shit out of it in 1940. Nobody thought to rebuild it properly. At least not until recently. The result is a new chapel building cleverly tucked inside the ruins of the old but it but it looks a bit, well, Ikea.
I’m beginning to see why being sent to Coventry is proverbially regarded as a punishment and get in my car - feeling somewhat violated yet strangely satisfied that I now have a desk at which I can sit and write my lines.
The Monk, it seems, is back.

January 23, 2008

Gone Fishin'

Will be back as soon as have saved up for my own computer...

September 27, 2007

Why Aye man! It's Art.

Everyone reading this will obviously be well informed about the Tyne and Wear arts scene and won’t need reminding that the police recently seized a photograph from an exhibition at the Baltic Art Gallery in Gateshead.
Apparently, the photograph in question, which is of a child, is being examined by detectives who have to decide whether the image is art or pornography.
Heaven help humanity when we have to the Boys in Blue: ‘Is this art?’
Why stop there. Why not introduce Art philosophy classes at Police Academy.
'Morning chaps and chapettes. Welcome to Police Academy. You may be surprised to learn that this, the first class on the first day, starts with a question rather than an answer. 'What is art?' Get used to it boys and girls. This is policing at the sharp end. Discuss amongst yourselves and get back to me WITH A DEFINITION by 12 noon.' Maybe.
I know people who have studied and produced art all their lives and still don’t have the answer. One thing’s for sure. I think we all know where NOT to find the answer and that is at the local nick.
Imagine, if you will, how this whole sorry and sordid sutuation arose:
‘Afficer Broon to base come in man. Over.’
‘Why aye Afficer Broon, this is base. Go ahead. Over.’
‘Arite base, am currently in situ at Baltic Gallery Gateshead. Am in possession of photograph of questionable decency. The gallery owner initially tried to pass it off as a Madeliene McCann poster but I saw right through him and have made arrest on suspicion of challenging the public perception of photography as an artform. Please advise appropriate course of action. Over.’
‘Base tae Afficer Broon. We’re nae quite sure if challenging public perceptions of art is an arrestable offence. Sarge says yer going to have to arrest the artist himself on suspicion of producing pornographic images of a child. Afficer Broon, can you give us a description so we can put out an APB? Over.’
‘Roger that base. Gallery owner says artist is male, white, around five foot ten inches, speaks French and is currently wearing quite flamboyant trousers. Over.’
‘How flamboyant are the trousers Afficer Broon?’
‘Roger that base. Gallery owner says that on a 1-10 flamboyancy scale these trousers would rank about nine. Over.’
‘Okay Broon, we’ll put out and APB. Stand by. Over.’
‘Broon to base! Broon to base! Cancel APB. Perpetrator possibly sighted approaching gallery. Will lie in wait then pounce like cunning fox. Request permission to use stun gun. Over.’
‘Permission granted Broon. Be careful.’
Several minutes lapse.
‘Broon to Base. Come in. Over.’
‘Base to Broon. Give us a sitrep. Over.’
‘Ah seem tae have electrocuted Eddie Izzard. Over.’
‘Base to Broon, please clarify. Who is Eddie Izzard? Over.’
‘Eddie Izzard is a French-speaking English stand-up comedian known for wearing flamboyant trousers. Unlikely to be perp. Over.’
‘Fook. Afficer Broon, did suspect look at all titillated? Over.’
‘Negative base, although he did make moderately humorous reference to farm animals and one quite funny bible joke. Can we arrest him for that? Please advise. Over.’
‘That's a definite Negative Broon. Stand by. Over.’
More minutes lapse.
‘Base tae Afficer Broon, come in.’
‘Broon here. What are we going to do? Over.’
‘Afficer Broon. The boss has devised a strategy which should exctricate all of us from this sorry mess. Basically, we're going to suspend you on triple pay indefinitely as long as you never breath a word of this to any living soul. How does that sound Broon?’
‘Broon tae base. That sounds fookin’ marvellous. What about Izzard? Over.’
‘We can’t help him.’

God bless their cotton socks ('n guns)

In the Catterick NAAFI the atmosphere brims with tension as the first ever ‘Meet The Plebs Q&A Session’ between high ranking Army officers and the ‘rankers’ - the soldiers who’s lives (the existence of) are quite literally affected by those taking the stand.
Unusually for the British Army, privates, corporals and sergeants have the opportunity to question their superiors without fear of reprimand. Your loyal correspondent has been invited to witness this most unique occurrence and never one to pass up such a rare chance to see military democracy in action, TheUrbanMonk had little choice but to attend.
Events get under way as Major General Rupert Lloyd-Arbuthnott enters, stage left, and takes up his position at the podium.
Evening chaps.’
The gathered troops, worn from their recent tour in Basra, mutter amongst themselves seemingly unreceptive but, perhaps, not quite trusting top brass’s assurances that they may express themselves freely.
Righto,’ says Lloyd-Arbuthnott, taking the lead. ‘As you all know, we’ve been brought together tonight mainly to talk honestly about some of the issues you’ve faced at home on your retuern from fighting abroad. Perhaps I should introduce myself first. I am Major General Rupert Lloyd-Arbuthnott and without further ado I think we should open to questions from the floor. First question?’
The first hand to shoot skywards belongs to Sergeant Jim Grant from the Royal Scots. Red-faced and burly, he doesn’t seem set for compromise:
‘Arite Boss. Sgt Grant speaking. Ah just want tae say, it disnae seem fair that when we come back fae Iraq naebody gies a shit. We’re oot there riskin’ oor necks an’ aw’ we get is shite when we get back.’
‘Quite. Quite,
’ respond the Major General. ‘Thought someone would mention that and you’ll be delighted to know, chaps, that the Army been working hard on a range of measures that demonstrate the nation’s gratitude for your sacrifice.’
‘Such as?’
asks Grant.
‘Well, you’ll be delighted to learn that your employer, the British Army, has arranged for all of you to receive a full 25% discount on your council tax.
‘Next Question.’
He points to a pale looking private.
‘Arite boss. Lance Corporal Tam McAfferty, Argyll and Sutherlands. Noo, Ah couldnae gie a flyin’ fuck aboot cooncil tax. Ah’ve never paid a penny in mah life and am nae aboot tae start noo. Dae ah look like a fuckin’ eejit? Naw. Mah Mum’s cousin Stevie’s in the United States Marine Corps and he sez they get a branch o’ Burger King anywhere in the world and tax-free Harley Davidson motorbikes. You gonnae sort that for us?’
Lloyd-Arbuthnott is admirably keeps it together: ‘Ah. Not quite. But we have arranged a token of appreciation from the nation, if you will.’
Lloyd-Arbuthnott: ‘Well, I thought you might ask so have a further announcement. I’m sorry to say Burger King were unwilling to open a branch in Basra, or indeed Catterick, but negotiations with Greggs Bakeries were successful and it gives me great pleasure to tell you that the first planned opening of a Gregg’s bakery in the Middle-East will take place in Basra this October. I should also like to take the opportunity to thank all those who made this greatest of achievements possible. Doubly so, given the offence that sausage rolls pose to Muslim sensibilities.’
McAfferty, a Glaswegian, seems vaguley satisfied but Sgt Grant, a canny Aberdonian, isn’t finished:
‘You fuckers never gie us anything. Fit’s the catch?’
‘Ah. Yes. Well, unfortunately, we’ve had to squeeze the bullet-proof vest budget chaps.’
‘Ah knew it,’
shouts Grant, ‘You bastards. Yer ay’s makin’ financial sacrifices wi’ oor lives.’
‘Ah. Not quite,’
says Lloyd-Artbuthnott. ‘You’ll be glad to know that the Army has secured an exclusive corporate deal with the vest manufacturers. You'll all be able to purchase them at cost price. Tax-free too. How's about that then.’
A brave and lonely voice, that of McAfferty, pipes up: ‘Ah’d rather a Bacon Double Cheeseburger and a tax-free Harley ya bass.’

BBC goes OTT

BBC Executives were this week left licking their paws, so to speak, after protests surrounding the Blue Peter ‘Cookiegate’ debacle erupted into full-blown violence.
As tensions subside, sketchy details of the weekend’s events have begun to emerge. These paint an alarming picture of the circumstances which ultimately led to the untimely death, some say execution, of ‘Socks’ the cat.
Protestors were angry that the winning entry of a viewers’ contest to name the cat was changed from ‘Cookie’ to ‘Socks’ as Cookie could be misinterpreted as a slang name for female genitalia. Wry commentators immediately pointed out that socks were often made for cocks but allusions to cookies and fannies were harder to find in mainstream discourse.
Whatever. Initial police reports suggest Sunday’s protest at Television Centre was orchestrated by an extreme fringe group of Daily Mail readers although insiders claim orders ‘came from the top’.
Witness testimonies also suggest that normally liberal-minded Radio 4 Stalwarts Eddie Mair and John Humphries led protestors. Neither police or BBC officials have confirmed this but it is well-known that both journalists were indignant at repeatedly having to ‘plug’ Blue Peter on their respective PM and Today current affairs programmes whilst Blue Peter had offered it’s viewers no such plug for Radio 4.
Sunday morning was quiet as usual at the BBC save for the presence of a small band of semi-retired ‘middle-class types’ who had travelled from Tunbridge Wells to voice their discontent at the obviously Communist conspiracy behind the naming scandal.
It is unclear how this routine Sunday morning descended into an afternoon of mob violence but many present told your correspondent that Top Gear presenters Jeremy Clarkson and James Mey were spotted with an air rifle laughing and taking pot-shots at the mob from a fifth-floor window around four o’clock. Anger soon spread and events escalated.
One anonymous participant told TheUrbanMonk:
‘It was all very civilised at first – proper spirit-of-the-blitz stuff. My wife had made egg sandwiches and someone else had a radio so we didn’t miss Test Match Special. There had been some raised voices and general discontent at the TV licence throughout the day but nothing else.
‘That all changed though. The second we saw that bastard Clarkson leaning out the canteen window with an air rifle all hell broke loose.
‘Eddie and John led the charge. We bowled right past security and made straight for the Blue Peter garden.
‘All those bloody homosexual presenters were there looking all smug and BBC-like. We were nice at first but then it all boiled over. One of ‘em was trying to hide the cat. He seemed to think he could take us on but he had another thing coming. I mean, after 10 years of Labour government one shirt-lifter and a pussycat’s no match for us is it?’

Exactly what happened next remains unclear but what is known is that ‘Socks’ was found floating, dead, in a tightly tied black bin bag.
Another participant, also anonymous, told TheUrbanMonk: ‘After we’d got rid of the cat it all quietened down a bit. We were just trying to make a point to the liberals, you know?
‘To be honest, I think people knew it had got out of hand and just wanted to get home in time for the Antiques Roadshow.’
Life may have returned to mind-numbing suburban normality for the protestors but, for producers and management at the BBC, tough questions remain unanswered.

Frankly Darling...

Dear Sweet,
As parting shots go, ‘You have my email address, right?’ won’t go down in history as the most dramatic or heart-breaking. It doesn’t really rank with the timeless classics. ‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn’ would have had more impact and if you had said that I would have appreciated your honesty.
You were right though. I do have your email address. You also have my email address, not to mention my street address and phone number, but you so rarely used any of them while we were going out that I can’t imagine in a million years that you would start using them now.
No matter. I have your email address and this letter has been swimming around in my head since the last time I saw you so I’m going to write it. Whether I send it or not is another thing altogether.
Our cultures collided in a dark crowded room way back in April yet I still find myself wondering: ‘What were the chances?’ Had we left our respective flats five seconds earlier or later that night we would never have bumped in to each other. We did though. I don’t believe in fate but I do keep wondering how often this kind of thing happens and whether or not it’s likely to happen again - although not, obviously, with you.
One thing's for sure, I really feel for the next guy that bumps into you in a dark crowded room.
For some reason you always made a point of highlighting the 'differences' between our cultures and I always resisted because it was always negative. I found it divisive. One always had to trump the other and lets be honest babe, it’s not like you come from some Amazonian tree tribe. You’re a white, Catholic English-speaker who values family and likes fish. Just like me. You could be from the Highlands just like me. We’re not from different planets. You just made it seem that way.
One real difference stood out though and I think it's what’s been bugging me for the past few weeks. I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing or just you but in this country, we care about manners.
You could dismiss manners as an out-dated anachronism; a symptom of Britain’s stereotypical stiff upper lip but to do so is to confuse them with etiquette - a different thing altogether.
Passing port to the left, for example, is an unnecessary anachronism but manners, on the other hand, serve a purpose. They’re about respect and consideration.
Now, I’m the first to admit that my manners could use polishing but you, darling, need a beginners’ class.
Suppose, for example, you arranged to meet a friend but later realised you couldn’t make it as a more-valued friend had shown up. What would you do?:
1)Tell the original friend to beat it.
2)Ignore the original friend
3) Apologise to the original friend for changing or abandoning the arrangement, give an explanation then offer, if possible, an alternative ie: ‘Let’s meet up next Wednesday.’
Someone completely lacking in manners (you) may respond with ‘1’ or ‘2’ but in British culture, the only acceptable response is ‘3’.
You might think it’s okay, even funny, to be tactless and inconsiderate towards individuals who don’t really matter to you but this, again, is all wrong.
Manners are timeless, selfless and universal. That means paying respect to everyone; from the checkout girls to whom you are exceptionally rude to casual Summer lovers you’re trying to discard.
Applying good manners also involves not lying to friends/colleagues/family to avoid seeing them. There can be something in this new approach for you too. Appropriate application of good manners could have helped you avoid having to fake a limp for a week after you invented an imaginary leg injury to get out of a meeting.

See, I wasn’t especially hurt that we finished, just pissed off with the way you ended it. I’m not being bitter or making this up. Honestly. All this stuff is written down in our country. Sometimes it’s even taught in schools and occasionally in the family home during childhood.
I have an excellent book on the subject called The Done Thing by Simon Fanshawe. Look it up. I considered lending it to you but figured you’d never give it back and, in any case, you never gave me anything except a sore head.
Which brings me neatly to another aspect of manners. Reciprocation. When someone gives you, say, chocolates, dope, flowers, festival tickets, etc, THE DONE THING is to reciprocate in some way.
Come to think of it, for someone who always said they hated taking, you were remarkably good at it. In fact, you were really quite hypocritical in a lot of ways. You told me that actions speak stronger than words yet your words, like when you said: ‘Thanks for everything,’ the last time you walked out of my flat, often rang hollow and any kind of generous action was non-existent.
You did teach me a few valuable lessons though. Principally, that I am a poor judge of character. Also, that I should be more careful around laptops; that sometimes when women say ‘yes’ they mean ‘no’ and (I should have known this already) that falling for non-UK passport holders can only cause problems.
By leaving the way you did though, you also reminded me of something important. You reminded me that I too have dreams and ambitions and that I’m the only one that can make them happen. Despite everything, I can’t hold that against you. Good luck with yours.
So long.

PS: I originally intended to send this directly and exclusively to you but my blog’s been lying idle for a while and the last entry could use an appropriate epilogue. Anyway, I figure you’ll show it to half, or indeed all, of Malta.
Take it easy.

June 16, 2007

No Glove, No Love

One of the practical problems with having sex, especially regular sex, is that you have to buy condoms. As a retail experience, it's on a par with buying porn or visiting Ikea. Girls; when your man starts whinging about loss of sensation or latex allergies, don't buy it. He's just terrified at the thought of having to present one of those tidy checkout girls with a box of Durex knowing fine well that whether she likes it or not she is going to have a mental image of him trying to fiddle a sloppy cock sock over his manhood. And they are always tidy checkout girls. Either that or, worse, old like your granny. For this reason, I have always taken the wimps way out and hung about in pub toilets until noone's about then hastily thrown a couple of coins in the machine, twisted the knob, so to speak, grabbed the goods and made a hasty exit.
Sex just now, however, is regular and if I use the rapid-withdrawal-from-the-pub method of contraception then I'm gonna spend more time in grubby toilets than in bed with my lovely lady. Today, therefore, I decided to visit the pharmacist. Anyway, this is the 21st century so I shouldn't feel embarrassed about taking responsibility for my end of the sexual bargain. After all, as the ancient Chinese used to say, 'before you spank her cover your wanker'.So I head to Boots.
I'm about to enter, so to speak, when I realise I've got no cash. I do have the Switch card but if I use Switch then I'm going to have to hang around the checkout for at least half a minute longer than is absoloutely necessary so I turn about and head to Sainsburys to use the ATM.
Now I've got cash I can go back to Boots but the place is crawling with attractive women. It always is. There is absoloutely no way I can stroll up to the Johnny section, grab a multi pack of ultra sensitive then stand in line holding on to nothing but half a dozen willy warmers and my rapidly disappearing dignity. There's nothing for it. I have to buy tons of shit then sneak the condoms into the pile so noone will notice - except, inevitably, the tidy checkout chick.
I go for all the two-for-one deals I can lay my hands on to make my pile of shopping bigger and the condoms more inconspicuous then casually stroll through the family planning section.
I wish there was was only one kind of condom. There isn't. There's hundreds. Who'd have thought there was so many different ways to dress up a little rubber willy warmer. We may have a genuine latex allergy issue so I opt for a six pack of hypo allergenic Durex. Then, and this is where it started to go wrong, I optimistically figure: 'What the hey. I'm gonna be a busy boy. Lets get two packs.'
I make for the checkout.
The queue's long but the johnnies are well concealed. So far so good.
It's my turn. My pile of personal hygiene products tumbles on to the counter. The checkout girl is swift and professional. The it dawns on me. I've bought so much shit that the cash I've just withdrawn now proves to be insufficient. Beads of sweat form on my temples. I feel like a doomed gazelle trapped between a rocky outcrop and a hungry lioness. Don't panic. The checkout girl smiles. Don't run Monk. You can do this. She starts scanning the products. They're almost through. We're nearly clear. Only one more to go. It's the second pack of hypoallergenics. Beep...beep again. Oh shit. What's going on?..please God don't let me be the millionth customer...I'll rediscover my Catholic roots...I'll go to church and never buy another condom in my life...I swear...Just don't draw any more attention to me please...
The smiling checkout girl picks up the condoms and holds them aloft for all the world to see.
'You know these are on our three for two deal?'

Curse the three for two deal. Everything's backfiring and the sweat's flowing freely. She may not want to but in her head she can see me shagging and we both fucking know it. Worst of all, so can all the grannies in the queue
'Aye. You can get another packet for free.'
'Well', says I, 'That seems like rather a good deal. Perhaps[s I'll grab another pack on the way out.'
'Naw. Ye have to go and get them right now so I can scan them or else the alarm'll go off when you leave.'

My head says: 'Well perhaps I'd prefer to be tackled by your Nigerian security guard rather than take a walk of shame all the way across the store while you and all the old ladies fantasise about me going at it like a rabid Tunisian stray dog. Fuck you. Just give me the dozen now and we'll talk about the other six later.' Instead I say 'OK,' and take the walk of shame all the way across the store while the girl and the old ladies fantasise about me going at it like a rabid Tunisian stray dog.
The only thing that could make this worse is if my card is declined. It isn't. I run. Traumatic stuff all in all but, as the ancient Chinese used to say: 'Don't be silly, wrap up your willy.' On the plus side, I now have a dozen and a half johnnies. Still, next weekend I'm gonna stick to Ikea and cornershops.

March 06, 2007

Luddites disband - technology's cool now

Further to my recent whinge about phones nae working, I think I,ve cracked it. I am actually writing this on my mobile phone in the scummiest fucking caravan I've ever had the misfortune to set foot in which is in a truckyard outside Middlesborough. How cool is that? (the phone, not the caravan). I hope like shit this works.
Also, I've even managed to locate not one, not two, but SEVEN US Government spy satellites (although they call them GPS or satnav or something).
Only downsides are:
I) Nae pictures - I'm sure I'll figure it out in good time.
II) Very, very sore thumbs.The keyboard, although a full qwerty version, is absoloutely tiny - approximately two inches by three - and the buttons are very stiff so I'm gonna stop round about here because this is only really an experimental entry.
Happy camping, digital kids.
Nanoo, nanoo!

March 03, 2007

He had no halo

An angel visited me the other night. I think it was Ogri but can't be too sure. He was definitely a wise old biker. Dreams normally pass me by but this one has lodged itself firmly in a fried old crack in my mind. It was a bit like when Jim Morrison visited Wayne in Wayne's World II. I think he appeared to me because I've been thinking about ditching the bike in my parents' garage until the weather looks up. Here goes:
"Shivering Monk, I am a wise biker and I am here to stop you ditching your bike at your Mum and Dad's for the Winter."
"Go away. I'd rather be dreaming about fit women."
"Shut up Shivering Monk, this will only take a minute. I have a mission and it is to make sure you ride all year round."
"But it always pisses down. At first I thought it was bad luck but I'm beginning to think it's me. Take this morning for example. I got up just to wash my bike not ride it. The Sun was shining right up until I touched the bike then it started pissing down. I finished washing the bike, went back inside and the Sun came out. This happens all the time. Some bastard's playing a cruel game with me. I swear I'm cursed. It happens on holidays too. When I go away I deliberately seek places where it doesn't rain. Take the Mojave Desert for example. It hadn't rained there for years until I visited. Pissed down mate."
"Stop whinging. You are the numpty who, afterall, bought a motorbike in Scotland in January. Anyway, you are from Fort William. Rain follows you."
"I knew it."
"But look on the bright side Shivering Monk, for although riding in the Winter can have a long-term detrimental effect on your machine, mainly corrosion, there are also benefits."
"Such as."
"There are no bugs at this time of year. Honestly. Stop moaning for a minute and look at your visor."
"It's in the shed."
"Well when you get a chance, have a look. Clean as a whistle I'll bet. For all the bugs stay in bed during Winter.
"Also, young warrior, there are no German caravans driving down the wrong side of the road at this time of year for German caravans also stay in bed for the Winter."
"But the road's slippy enough with or without German caravans."
"Just remember your basics Shivering Monk. When the vanishing point gets closer you must ease off but when it recedes put the power on.
"Dominate the road by occupying a right-of-centre road position but use the whole road for cornering.
"Remember, 50/50 braking in the wet and don't be scared of the back brake, young warrior, for you have ABS.
"Keep your light on all the time and put yourself in car drivers' mirrors because 'sorry mate, didn't see you' won't matter a toss when you are in traction with 16 broken bones.
"Blind-spot, blind-spot, blind-spot. Check it all the time.
"Most importantly, Shivering Monk, think about car drivers. Remember that they are not as clever as us. Treat a car driver like you would a child or a lover - always letting them know you are there. For them the journey is all about the destination rather than how they got there. This means they don't think about the road like we do. They will be listening to music or that annoying prick Humphreys on Radio 4. They will be doing their make-up and chatting to friends on their mobile phones. You, young warrior, must always be aware of this and keep a safe distance for the biggest danger a biker faces is not his bike but other people.
"You must be like a Gazelle at the watering hole. The Gazelle knows there are crocodiles in the watering hole but he is thirsty and must drink. You are thirsty and must ride.
"Finally, watch out for man-hole covers for they are slippy as fuck in Winter."
"It'll still be fucking freezing."
"Just remember what the great prophet Billy Connelly once said: 'There is no such thing as bad weather; only bad clothes."
"Any questions?"
"Go on."
"Is it wrong that I was dreaming about Take That before you turned up?"
"Very wrong. Good night."

February 27, 2007

Luddites Unite

Why don't things just work? I'm loaded up on new gadgets and every last one is useless.
Some may have noticed that I like to write from time to time but, being a long distance lorry driver, don't get the chance as often as I'd like. With this in mind I got myself a Nokia E61 mobile phone. More powerful, I'm told, than NASA's entire computing capacity at the time of the moon landings. More powerful than the bomber pilot training simulator I had a shot on when I was a sprightly young air cadet. Our guide, a trainee pilot, was quite proud of the fact that a large part of the RAF's training infrastructure for it's late cold-war ground attack capability was run by an old 386 PC. I vaguely remember being sworn to secrecy as well but that's another story.
Anyway, back to the Nokia. It arrived in several boxes a few days ago. Enough time, you'd think, to figure out how to work it. It's supposed to send emails, browse the internet and pinpoint my location anywhere in the world to within a few metres courtesy of a trick network of spy satellites owned by the US government. It has no fewer than 49 buttons, one joystick, two memory cards, an auxilliary GPS receiver, umpteen cables and connectors and a dinky little cradle for sticking it to your windscreen.
Three days in and I've just learnt how to make a phone call.
I give up. I quit. Take your 'Pop3', mobile LAN, SatNav and all the rest of it and stick it where the sun don't shine. And while you're at it, stick me in a place where the sun does shine. Where the roads are long, dry and empty except for me and my bike. Some place where there's no signal.

January 12, 2007

Oi! Pack it in.

They don't tell you when you stop smoking that certain changes take place. Of course they tell you that you'll live longer, feel more energetic and breathe more easily but they do not tell you that you might not shit for a fortnight.
I packed 'em in on Monday. I call it Effort #4.
The first attempt was when I was about 19 and lasted three months. It came to an abrupt end when I was offered a celebratory cigar at a family event. Next morning I was back on 20 a day.
Effort #2 was during second year at Uni so I must have been 21 or 22. Hear me now. Don't ever try and give up smoking when you have near limitless access to good cannabis. I kidded myself on for three months that I had kicked the habit but was smoking pot morning, day and night. I had to get back on the fags to save my sanity.
The third attempt was actually a pretty good shot but brutally ironic in it's collapse. It was January 2006 and about three months before the public places smoking ban in Scotland. I'd woken up one morning feeling like I had spent the previous evening drinking dog shit cocktails. As the habit dictates, I popped a stick in me lips and put the kettle on. It made me feel so shit I vowed there and then that I wouldn't smoke again and, miraculously, I didn't smoke again for three months. Pride and annoying smugness overwhelmed me as a realised that after March 25, 2006 I wouldn't be one of those muppets who has to stand outside pubs smoking in the rain. Then, on March 25, the last night you were legally allowed to smoke in a public place in Scotland, some bright spark decided it would be a good idea to have one last fag as a farewell salute to communal cancer and a welcoming gesture to a new era in public health. First hour of the ban and I'm back on 20 a day.
Which brings us to January 2007 and the hitherto-unknown constipatory effects of "packin' 'it in."
I was eight hours into Effort #4, driving along listening to Scott Mills on Radio 1 when Mills starts banging on about his co-presenter, Rachel. She has, like me, quit smoking but eight days earlier.
"Go sister," thinks I.
"Tell 'em when you last had a poo Rach," commanded Mills.
"Go on. Tell 'em. If you don't, I will."
"Eight days ago."
My sphincter tightens.
"That's right. Eight days ago listeners."
Mills then opens a national sweepstake encouraging people to guess when Rachel will successfully have a dump. My favourite was "during the opening ceremony of London 2012". The next day on the same programme she still hasn't been nor, more importantly, have I. They even invite Doctor Mark Somethingorother onto the show to talk about it and he says it can take TWO WEEKS.
Rachel's worried. I'm worried. She's worried that the poop will back right up to her mouth but Doctor Mark says that won't happen because your intestines are 24 feet long.I'm worried that when it does arrive its going to do so violently and I'll be in a lorry on a motorway at the time.
Fortunately for Rachel, it came the next day after a total of nine. I took nowhere near as long - five days - and I'm quite proud that it happened between Newcastle and Edinburgh aboard one of Richard Branson's fancy new, but hideously over-priced, Pendolino trains.
It is amazing how much your body can hold for a week. Doubly amazing when presented to you in the toilet of a Pendolino. The shitters on these trains don't have a pool of water in the pan like at home. They just have a kind of trapdoor so it's like shitting on a dinner plate until you push a button and the whole lot gets wheeched away. Nothing remains except enough eye-watering fart not only to embarass every passenger aboard but probably enough to flush out the entire Tora Bora cave system. Take this and your £40 ticket and stick it where the sun don't shine Rick.
If you smoke, please don't take all this as a reason not to quit. I do, in every respect, feel brilliant. I feel more alert and energetic. Money seems to last longer. I'm evenly cautiously warming to the fact that I might one day be a granddad rather than a photo. These are some but by no means all of the worthy and priceless outcomes of stopping smoking. You're not 'giving up', you're gaining tons.
What I am saying, however, is 'two weeks'. Be warned.

It lives

I don't usually just post funny emails but I thought this was quite funny.

After an exhaustive review of the research literature, here's the final word on nutrition and health:
1. Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
2. Mexicans eat a lot of fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
3. Chinese drink very little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
4. Italians drink excessive amounts of red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
5. Germans drink beer and eat lots of sausages and fats and suffer fewer heart attacks than us.
CONCLUSION: Eat and drink what you like. Speaking English is apparently what kills you.

October 29, 2006

That's some far-out road safety dude

"Research found that 1 in 10 people in Scotland, under the age of 40, have driven under the influence of illegal drugs. Cannabis was the most common drug used, with many believing it had little or no effect on their driving ability.
"UK statistics show that traces of illegal drugs were present in 18 per cent of road deaths. Applying this percentage to the number of people aged 16 and over killed in road accidents in Scotland in 1999 gives a figure of 50."*
When they published this about a year ago I read it briefly, thought to myself 'Aye, right' and forgot all about it. Hitchhiking around the country, however, has been a rare opportunity to conduct some small-scale unscientific research all of my very own.
Not so long ago I was stood on a roundabout outside Newcastle trying to thumb my way to Leeds. Within 30 seconds a blacked-out Range Rover screeched to a sharp halt. Wisps of thick blue smoke escaped as the passenger side window went down.
"Hey. I'm trying to get to Leeds. You headed that way?" asks I.
The driver looked like Jimmy Savile but younger. Sporting a shellsuit, fake tan and with a massive joint instead of Jimmy's usual Cuban, he replied (honestly): "Why Aye man."
I know the guy is pretty stoned but it's too late to turn down the lift. He might take offence and anyway, the next guy to stop could be an East European trucker with a compulsive masturbatory disorder (it happens) so I jump in the Range Rover.
The driver's clearly a drug dealer. He's too young to be driving a car like this legitimately and his girlfriend is too young and gorgeous to be going out with him for any reason other than he's loaded. Either that or his willy's massive. I ask what he does for a living: 'Ah, this and that.'
We proceed to Leeds at 100mph. The A1 is packed, as usual, which stresses the Geordie out even more. Every time he gets stuck behind a truck he opens the sun roof, erects a middle finger, swears loudly then sparks up another reefer. I decide not to tell him I drive trucks for a living.
Two days later I'm hitching again. This time on the A63 trying to get away from Hull as fast as humanly possible, which is the best way to leave Hull. I had to get to Preston, a good 100 miles away but the train is £30+ so I decide to thumb it. I figure if I can get to Leeds it'll be easier/cheaper to then thumb/train/bus to Preston.
Pretty soon a light truck stops. The guy's going to Leeds. Perfect. I jump in and start making the same old bullshit small talk. After a few miles the driver asks me if I smoke weed.
I start rambling: 'Well I've dabbled a little. Certainly in my younger days I smoked with alarming frequency although these day I tend to save it for weekends, special occasions, you know the kind of thing...'
'Can you skin up?'
'Skin up then.' He lifts an AtoZ to reveal hash, papers and tobacco.
Ever the grateful guest, I start to skin up. My host seems to be one of those smokers who needs it to be normal. It's probably a better idea to feed him than withold it or, worse, protest. Even if he is smoking that hard brown chemical Afghan shit - not like the Geordie who only smoked top-notch Dutch skunk. I agree to build the joint but confess that I'm useless at the final roll so pass it over for the penultimate manouvre.
(Sorry. Have to stop writing for a few minutes. John Martyn just came on the radio.)
We smoke. We laugh. We talk about places we don't like driving. London is mentioned.
'Ah run a woman over in London just last week affa Hyde Park Corner (a notoriously difficult junction),' says my driver. As the needle passes 70mph, he's steering with his elbows whilst triying to lick the joint. It's not funny but I laugh 'cos, well, I'm a bit stoned.
'Was she OK?'
'Naw. She was fooked mate. Rushed aff in an ambulance. Don't know if she made it or not. I should check really.'
We get to Leeds.
Turns out this guy is going all the way to my destnation, Preston. Bonus. All I've got to do is help him with a delivery or two and he'll take me all the way there. First up is an electrical supplier in Leeds. We diligently listen to the annoying American Satnav woman for about an hour and a half as she takes us on a guided tour of suburban Leeds. Eventually we stop outside a pretty terraced abode near the airport. It's nice but clearly not an electrical wholsesaler. My new mate jumps out, chaps the door and talks to the old lady who lives there. He jumps back in.
'What's up dude?'
'Fook, Bastard, Shite, Fook!!!'
'What's the problem man?'
''I moost 'ave stuck the wrong fookin' postcode in't Satnav when we was 'avin a smoke. We're in LS9, nae LS19. Fook!'
'What's the difference?'
'Af' o' fookin' Leeds is fooking difference. BASTARD! Sorry bud. We're gonna be an extra hour or two gettin to Preston.'
'Tell you what mate. Drop us here and I'll get in't train.'

October 11, 2006

Da power of da vest

Hmm. Two months and no post. Well it's tough to type and drive folks. Pretty sure ther'e a law against it. Same as there's a law against smoking and driving (although only in Scotland and only if you're being paid). Smoking, it seems, is much more damaging to the health of Scottish motorists who have jobs than it is for any other road user. So far around 50 truck drivers have been fined £50 for smoking in their cabs. Interestingly, 47 of them were caught by one force - Dumfries and Galloway Police. The bastards are obviously hiding behind the 'Welcome to Scotland' sign armed with wee notebooks and beady-eyed council officials with baldspots and even bigger notebooks.
They must be a scary bunch. I was hitching near Dumfries not so long ago. When I hitch I normally wear a yella vest so I'm easier to spot. As the light left me a local truck screetched to a halt. I hauled me ass into the cab and told the driver I was headed for Dumfries.
He said: "Fuck sake I thought you were a bloody cop jumping out with a speed gun."
To which I said: "Are you going to Dumfries or no?"
"Well, um, I don't normally pick up hitchhikers."
"Are you going to tonight?"
"Aye alright then." And off we went.
Yella vests are amazing things.
So that all the rich people who read this know what I'm talking about, I would have uploaded a picture of a yella vest. However, for technical reasons related to me writing this in a backpackers' hostel in Manchester, I can't.
So I'll describe them:
Yella vests are the fluorescent yellow, super-duper reflective tops that unimportant people wear either to make themselves feel important or when people from the council are about. Kieran calls them "Looking-down-holes vests". I think that's a perfect description.
In the previous entry, I wrote about a guy who, upon hearing that I had started driving trucks, said: "Welcome to the world of Dafties". I think what he really meant was welcome to the world of people who wear yella vests.
Do not underestimate the power of a yella vest. It's kinda like when Eric eats a banana. You become a hero.
Wear one in a city centre and people will ask for directions. Wear one in a railway station and old ladies will ask you to carry their bags. Wear one at the side of a road and shit-scared lorry drivers with nine points on their licence will stop thinking you are a traffic officer. Wear one at a gig and you won't have to pay. Rush out and buy one now. "Where?," you cry. I'd tell you, but you have to join the daftie club first.
PS: Normally when I write this shit I think it out, write it, proof it, spell check it, sleep on it for a few days, re-read it, edit it, proof it again then publish it with an appropriate photo.
Due to this being done on the proverbial hoof in an internet cafe, none of the above steps were really practical so my apologies for the disjointed nature, duff grammar and poor spelling (actually it was all like that before wasn't it?) Anyway, the next toy I'm saving up for is a PDA with a fold-out keyboard so I should be posting more regularly fairly soon.
In the mean time,
Monk out.

August 19, 2006

The World of Dafties

In the movie American Pie (or maybe it was Road Trip) one of the characters, possibly Stifler, claimed that cheating on your partner doesn't count if it takes place in a different zipcode. This is exactly the way I feel about road traffic accidents. Every time I phone up for an insurance quote I proudly exclaim, without a hint of guilt or irony, that I have never been involved in a car accident. If they were to delve deeper, and thank fuck they don't, what they'd find out I really meant is that I've never crashed in this country, in a car that belongs to me or crashed whilst the bearer of an EU driving license.
I do, however, know what it feels like to be at the wheel (or handlebars) during collision with another vehicle. Indeed, although I've never technically crashed, I also know what if feels like to lose control at high speed and what the consequences of such a high speed loss of control feels like.
On this basis, I felt qualified to sympathize with my new colleague Terry the other day.
Terry looks, smells and sound like a 15-year-old Yorkshire Terrier but I didn't know this the first time I saw him because at that moment he was driving the above pictured truck the wrong way down a residential street in a sleepy Home Counties village in green and pleasant England.
Driving any lorry the wrong way down a public carriageway is dangerous enough but to appreciate the hazards involved with these particular bastards, take a look at the picture and see if you can spot the Land Rover.
Terry had arrived at the MOD depot just ahead of me to help shift a bunch of unspecified Army vehicles just back from action in the Gulf. We stopped ahead of the depot entrance to give Terry plenty of space to pull out but nowhere near enough space. He exited the yard well in excess of 30mph, veered wildly to the left, ripped a gaping hole down two doors and the front nearside wing of a ford Fiesta driven by a little old lady in a flowery dress then slammed into a Renault Clio occupied by a pretty young girl also wearing a flowery dress.
Terry eventually stopped in a flower bed, climbed down from the cab and limped over to retrieve the old woman's wing mirror from the flower bed. Without uttering a word, he handed it back to her along with a company business card displaying our insurance details then hobbled back in and fucked off leaving two generations of the fairer sex quivering on a Berkshire roadside along with a Ghurka Corporal screaming blue murder after him.
I flatly refused to drive one of the brutes so my boss said: "Fine. I'll take one and you follow me in the car," which is what I did.
We caught up with Terry at a service station and went over to introduce ourselves and take the piss out of him for trashing the customer's vehicle.
Not a scratch.
One Ford Fiesta and one Renault Clio written off and not a scratch on Her Majesty's paintwork.
Almost makes you proud of British engineering although it's pretty likely that the engine was German, the chassis Polish, the suspension Japanese, the body work Italian and the failed breaks Spanish.
"Terry," says I,: "Had you ever driven anything like this before?"
"Ave I fook, mate."
"Weren't you shitting yourself man?"
"Naw lad. I ain't shat meself since some fookin' Arab shot me in the foot in Yemen in 1962."
"So the truck had a better time in the desert than you did mate."
And I was worried that driving trucks would be boring.
As a family friend said to me the other day: "Welcome to the World of Dafties."

June 29, 2006

B.B.C (Bye Bye Capita)

"All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind." -- Aristotle, Greek critic, philosopher, physicist, & zoologist (384 BC - 322 BC)

"No, no, no, Lisa. If adults don't like their jobs, they don't go on strike. They just go in every day and do it really half-assed." -- Homer Simpson, Legend (1990-present)

Not long now till my 23rd P45, in a working life of eight short years, hits the doormat with a familiar thud. I know 24 jobs sounds like a lot for a 24-year-old but you have to bear in mind that some (like the double-glazing call centre) lasted for as little as two hours. In fact, two hours was a personal best (or worst. Depends on your viewpoint). Some lasted weeks, some months, but only BBC Information and the world-famous Oban Times, lasted more than a year.
Onwards and upwards though. Now I'm gonna be a trucker. Not any old trucker either. My initial fantasies about driving for the Stones or some F1 team went out the window the second I found the above picture. I've got a new life aspiration - piloting rocket trucks.
In the mean-time, however, I'll have to settle for trade-plating up and down the UK, and occasionally into Europe, until I get 'spotted'. Hopefully, my constant itch to be on the move might make me quite good at my new job. Who knows? I might even last more than a year.
Not sure what I'm going to miss most about the old job though.
Perhaps, scurrying back from a fag break so as not to bust the 10-second rule. Or the sense of futile rebellion derived from timing all my breaks to exactly 15 minutes and nine seconds. The Devil makes make work for idle minds.
I've got particularly warm memories about the helpful Health and Safety notices such as "Warning. Kettle may be hot." Or an old favourite of mine: "Although this bin could hold much more, Annie's only five foot four."
What about error codes? I'll definitely miss those because there's no error codes when you screw up in lorry world - just the ear-splitting scream of metal on metal and blood-stained tarmac. Best be careful.
I think I'll also miss the opportunities for brutal honesty (and outright lies) afforded by late slips:
"Sorry I'm late old chap. Got held up in six-way talks over the North Korean nuclear deadlock."
Or: "Sorry I'm late. Got lost in a really good book on the underground and missed my stop. It was 1984 by George Orwell; about a world where workers have to account for every second of every day to a machine and the slightest deviance results in reprimand. You should read it."
I'm gonna miss the regulars too. Without mentioning names (coz that's bound to violate data protection regulations), I'd like you, my former colleagues, to relay the following farewells to some of our repeats who I haven't had the chance to talk to over the past few days. You'll need to figure out who gets what message yourselves:
"Sorry. I never did tell it to the regions but I'm sure your message will get through eventually you wily old fox. By the way, you're not Scottish and I'm not Irish. Honk Honk!"
(high piched) "Noone gives a shit about Palestine, much less your opinions you mad cow. Now piss off and drink some bleach."
"Slough deserves everything Ricky Gervias can throw at it - then some. Get off the gin you psychotic old tart."
"Awfully sorry darling, but Steve's kids never got their Christmas presents. In fact, Steve doesn't have kids. He's gay."
"The reason we don't have isobars on the weather forecasts is because you're the only person in the country who know what an isobar is and we delight in pissing you off you foul and obnoxious old prick."
"If you hate the Daily Mail so much, why don't you phone them for a change instead of implanting me with a life-time aversion to Geordies."
"The fact that you believe Princess Diana amputated your brother's legs before trying to escape in a cable car up Ben Nevis would be seriously funny if I didn't know that you live quite close to me."
"The East York-Shire Lawn-Mower Racing League may well be four-wheel motorsport but, to be honest, is about as entertaining as dropping a cheese grater down your pants then going for a 10k run. Now quit whingeing and watch the motorbikes."
"Andy. Rest in Peace dude."
Seriously, it's been an okay place to work and my colleagues have been a fine bunch. Hell, I might even miss some of you.
Take it easy, one and all.
Mike. 21/07/2006


Have a look at this guy's website. I'll say no more.

June 16, 2006

Trains with faces! Whatever next?

Anyone else noticed the BBC's news kids cartoon called Underground Ernie based on the 'lives' of a group of London Underground trains with human faces and personalities?
Trains? With faces?
Hmm. Sounds familiar. Haven't cartoons about talking trains come a long way since the Rev Wilbert Awdry created Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends more than 50 years ago.*
I bet Thomas never had to deal with the grief and horror of disillusioned Jihadist youths packing ammonium nitrate onto Bertie the Bus's back bench and sending the whole lot to Paradise though. Immigration rules, afterall, were probably quite tight on the Island of Sodor - an altogether more pleasant paradise where locals sipped warm beer at the cricket grounds on long Summer evenings.
Awdry, however, was ahead of his time in at least one respect. The Sodor Railway Co had four black engines which is four more than Auntie Beeb's Underground Ernie. Granted, they weren't called Jamal or Tyrone, rather Donald, Douglas, Mavis and Diesel, but their presence puts to shame the broadcaster's professed policy of ensuring ethnic representation across it's range of programming.
So far the only non-Anglo-European characters are Osaka, who has a rising sun on his forehead and goes super-duper fast. Then there's Moscow who, you guessed it, hails from Russia. Presumably he is descended from post-war displaced Jewish trains as he has something strapped to his forehead which can only be described as a Star of David.
Given the conspicuous lack of ethnic minority trains, 16-year-old single-mum trains and right-wing BNP trains, the cast seem only to represent an idealised British middle-class as interpreted by coke-snorting media whores at the Beeb. Having said that, even though none of the trains are openly gay, I have my suspicions about Hammersmith and City.
I could wax lyrical for days about how socially representative (or not) the show really is but many important aspects, like attention to detail, are dazzling. The main characters, for example, are all filthy and covered in graffiti. Honestly. Just like Ken Livingsone's tube trains and ours, here in Glasgow.
Anyway, to save you the hassle and pain of actually watching the programme, I'll describe the cast for you.**
Here goes (the first three are the underground's human staff):
  • Ernie - Underground Supervisor. Used to be a policeman but got kicked off the force for downloading kiddie-porn on a work computer.
  • Millie - IT Expert. Pretty - in a Jessica Rabbit kind of way. Blatant attempt to spark little girls' interest in scientific subjects at school. More likely to spark little boys' interests under the duvet.
  • Mr Rails - Janitor. Village idiot. Only allowed to hang around because noone has the heart to tell him to fuck off.
  • Bakerloo - (pictured left) Flat-cap wearing Northern train who must have come down to London to find work after Thatcher crushed the miners.
  • Circle - Annoying middle-class college drop-out. Outwardly chirpy but probably quite depressed when home alone. One suspects she owns a cat.
  • Hammersmith and City - Both immaculate with trendy specs and fancy hair-dos. One in ten. You decide.
  • Jubilee - (pictured right) Broad grin and dilated pupils are clear indication of heavy recreational drug use.
  • Victoria - (pictured centre) Matriarchal figure now confined to a local authority old trains home. Was forced to sell the council siding she bought off Margaret Thatcher in the 80's to pay for her own care.
  • Brooklyn - Annoying American exchange train. Probably fancies Circle. Won't carry Arabs so it's just as well that in Ernie's London, there are none. "Hell, freedom ain't free folks."
  • Paris - Cheese-eating surrender monkey train. Nuff said.
  • Sydney - Blond Australian backpacker train. Claims to go 'non-stop to the beach'. Other trains wish she would shut the fuck up and go 'non-stop back to Australia', preferrably via Iraq.

June 15, 2006

My New Habit - Part Deux

Anyone who read the entry (My New Habit - Part I), where I stole a duffle coat from a nightclub, will be delighted to read that I found a suitable junkie to give it to ala Robin Hood.
Oddly, the lucky recipient, sporting a wet t-shirt and missing a shoe, made no move to thank your hero despite me specifically asking him if he wanted a coat then going all the way up one flight of steps to my centrally-heated IKEA showroom to fetch it for him. I trust his cardboard box is now comfortably furnished with a duffle coat because he certainly wasn't wearing it the last time I saw him. The cheek. Last time any drifter gets goodwill on my doorstep. Guilty conscience allayed? That'll be the Daewoo.
The word 'habit' is intended to refer to the garment. You know, a monk's cloak. I've just noticed, however, that due to the accompanying picture it could also be misinterpreted as a reference to injecting heroin. It's really a reference to the poor guy I gave my 'habit' to but I'm going to leave it up there unchanged anyway, kind of like a cyber-pun.

Mr Honky Tonk lives...HIP HIP HOORAY!

Months are funny things. They seem to fly right by before you've had a chance to put your pants on and fetch your gun. Some seem to take longer than others. August, for example, should take a leaf out of January's book and hang around a few weeks longer then perhaps January could fuck off to Eastern Russia where I hear they like it cold and boring (the weather, not coitus [although who am I to say]).
Alternatively I could always head back to the Southern Hemisphere where they have quite the opposite problem.
Which reminds me, (and allows me to go off on a wild tangent and ain't wild 'uns the best 'uns?), has anyone heard of the Aymara Amerindian tribesmen from Northern Chile's Andean Mountains? Nope? Didn't think so. Neither had I until I clapped eyes on this gem at (not that I read the Guardian for I am no yellow-belly):
"Time, as Einstein showed, is a tricky concept to nail down, and all languages resort to metaphor to express it. In fact, with staggering monotony, they all resort to the same metaphor: space."
What he means is that we think of ourselves as being close to (or far from) any given point in time. Your birthday, for example, is behind you even though it can't be. If you turn round, I promise you it won't be there. In fact, birthdays only exist in our heads and they don't even exist at all in my head (Sorry Dad. I've set the alarm for next year). Confused? Pity the poor Aymarans then, who presumably get younger the older they get.
"Rafael Núñez, however, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, San Diego, who is interested in how we develop abstract ideas like time, now believes that he has definitive evidence that the Aymara have a sense of the passage of time that is the mirror image of his own: the past is in front of them, the future behind."*
I could bang on at length about the mind-fucking implication's of Nunez's research or just leave it with you, which is what I'm going to do because the whole thing is, as previously stated, a wild tangent.
All this babble about time comes not from my blisteringly-hot talent for wasting it, but because I started writing about the concept of 'month'. The term 'month' is significant for two reasons:
  • I) A 'month' is about how long it's been since I last updated this blog. Shameful, I know.
  • II) A 'month' is almost exactly how long it's been since our persistent friend Mr Honky Tonk phoned me in my capacity as a serf in the complaints department of a well-known broadcaster.
It is with jubilation and relief, therefore, that I am hereby able to update you with his latest mad rant:
"Hello. How can I help?"
"Hello, is that the regions?"
"Yes, yes, this is the regions! Is that you Mr Honky Tonk? How are you? I thought something had happened."
"Well, I've been in hospital for a bit but never mind that. Are you Irish?"
"No, I'm Scottish, as you well know."
"Well, you never can tell with those Irish. Don't trust 'em one bit . The Scots though, they're a different story. All that whisky and porridge. You like whisky and porridge don't you? Or are you Irish."
"I've dabbled."
"AHA! But do you like whisky-porridge or even...porridge-whisky?"
"Sure. I like 'em both."
"Thought so. Bloody Scots. Anyway. Down to business. This fellow who got bitten by a snake. I take it you've heard."
"Umm. I'm not sure if I have."
"Of course you have. The one in the city. You know."
"Which city?"
"Bristol you nicompoop! What other city could I be talking about? Glasgow? HAHA HAHA!"
"Of course, of course. The reptile keeper who got bitten by his own Cobra and nearly died."
"That's the very one. I noticed the keeper had a special instrument to hold the reptile down and I want you to tell the regions that I too have a beautiful thing with a trigger in my house."
"What? God man! You can't be serious. Look I've only ever joked about guns."
"Yes. It has a trigger and little jaws so I can pick up my keys if I drop them. Nothing bigger though. It wouldn't work if I dropped, say, a dog or something like that. A cat maybe. You have to be discreet about these things though. At least I do, coming from a medical family and all that. Now you pass that on to Fatso and Big Ears [Charles Clarke and Tony Blair].
Toodle-pip. Honk Honk."
Line goes dead.

May 08, 2006

Scotch, Custard, Apple, American, Mince or Porkie...Pies (Lies)

TheUrbanMonk offers a mix of opinion, journal and, to be (dis)honest the occasional outright whopper. The Brazilian Excursion, for example, is all true. In fact its a fairly watered-down account of a gonzo rampage up the Brazilian coast. Mr Honky Tonk and I, on the other hand, never really met French seagulls at the coast with machine guns. Mr Honky Tonk does exist though.
I'm levelling with you because I need to stress that this next bit is true: I just saw a Traffic Warden do something nice. Honestly. Standing on the street outside the office enjoying the glorious sunshine (which annoyingly disappeared on Friday afternoon and reappeared on Monday morning) I was pondering what next to write here when, as if directed by the almighty himself, a motorist in distress (female) got stuck behind a lorry and lo, a traffic warden came to her rescue.
I'm afraid that's the punchline. Whoppers, however, are much more fun. Like me telling Carolann the other day that Ziggy Stardust was a biblical character.
That was just for kicks but sometimes you really do have to think about whether or not to tell the truth. An early example of such a dilemma was the time my Dad confronted a 12-year-old me with empty beer cans he had found up the back garden. What to do? Lie and say "Yes. I drank them, I'm your man" or tell the truth; that I had destroyed them with a perilously-dangerous yet tremendously entertaining home-made blowtorch? I told the truth back then but I don't think it did me any good. I'm a raging alcoholic and my Dad still thinks I copied my final-year English essay off the internet (I got an A by the way. No copying).
Even so, I usually tell the truth nowadays. Here are a few examples, however, of times I didn't:
"I've owned this car for years sir, every one of them trouble free. This Vauxhall is a joy to drive and yours for £400."
Or: "Of course I'm 18. I've got stubble don't I? Look. Here, just under my nose."
Probably wasn't as serious as: "Perimeter checked Boss. The compound is safe and secure. I can categorically assure you that there are no hooligans presently relieving an articulated lorry of £25,000 worth of stock."
Which led me swiftly on to: "Asleep on the job Boss? Certainly not. I was lying in wait. There's been a lot of site burglaries round here recently. I was simply luring the perpetrators into a false sense of security in a daring effort to save the company thousands of pounds. The pillow? Part of my disguise."
And: "What do you mean I don't look or behave like a representative of Her Majesty's Foreign and Commonwealth Office? Can't you tell from my pasty white chest and Union Jack swimming trunks? I demand you call the embassy."

April 10, 2006

What're Youz Up Tae?

Apparently Glasgow is the best place in the country to go shopping. Lots of people say so, especially in Glasgow.*
I was sceptical until today. Today I found the Foam Store - a foam monger, if you like. This is a shop that sells nothing but foam; not the soapy kind but the spongy kind. You can have foam any size or shape you want. It's all they do. They don't even sell cushion covers. Just foam. Mountain of it. They've even got a bum-shaped bit of foam with a hole cut out to keep the pressure off your farmers** and a wee guy with glasses and a pencil behind his ear who will cut your foam any shape you want.
Not only does Glasgow have a shop that sells nothing but foam, it is probably the only city where you can have a conversation like this (it'll work better if you imagine it's sundown and whistle that wild-west tune like they do in the Cowboy movies):
Me "Say, I'm uh lookin' for some foam."
Foam Monger: "Well I guess you've come to the right place. What you got in mind kid?"
"I'm thinking maybe grey, about 120mm x 340mm x 60 mm."
"Well we got 600mm x 400mm x 65mm."
"I guess that could work."
"I got a cutting tool out back, I can cut to size. How you put for time?"
"That depends on how accurate's your tool?"
"Oh it's accurate alright."
"How accurate?"
"Well I could shave you off a clean 4mm before you could say jackrabbit and wouldn't leave a mark."
"Okay, I'll give it a go."
"Comin' right up."
*According to the 2003-2004 UK Shopping Index compiled by Management Horizons Europe (MHE), Glasgow remains the top retail centre in the UK, based on its range of shopping on offer. Glasgow’s main shopping thoroughfare, Buchanan Street, has been named as one of the world’s top retail destinations -
** Farmer Giles - piles. Geddit?

(not) Bang Up To Date

Donkey's Ears (right)

When I started this thing I planned to post every couple of days. Lately though, I've been flagging. I think the problem is that our office has taken on lots of new work but not lots of new staff. I don't seem have nearly as much time to burn as I used to. The upshot, as both of my regular readers have already realised, is that I haven't posted in a long time or, you might say, in Donkey's Ears (that's slang for years - check out the pic).
I did get halfway through a post a while back then didn't finish it. The reason for this is that I meant to give my coat to a homeless guy but never got round to it. That last sentence will make sense if you scroll down two or three entries and read My New Habit...

I Have a Dream

Not so long ago I saw a graph charting an individual's political leanings and dreams/aspirations (x axis) against age (y axis). At the time I vowed never to lose my dreams or, worse, to become conservative - big 'C' or otherwise. Three years on and it's amazing how accurate the graph seems to have been. Dreams do indeed fly out the window when you hit your mid-20's and aspirations slip surely down the pan. Kiddie-fiddlers, taxmen and teenagers, I now agree, should be strung up by the short 'n danglies. Ambition now stretches to having £20 in my pocket.
Or it did...until I saw the guy in the above picture. He's noone else's hero but mine. Every Sunday he tears across our TV screens and I'm the only who points and shouts: "Who is that nut and what the f**ck is he doing with that clock? I want his life. I want to live someplace that's got no highway code; where 2CVs career gaily down country lanes, their drivers raising two fingers to the laws of physics and the land."
Don't laugh. Clockman is cool. If he was Australian that would be a VW Beetle with a surfboard hanging out.
I want to be a peculiar British version of Aussie surf-board guy. I want to show those annoyingly good-looking antipodeans that we too can put impossible objects in ridiculous cars and go for a spin on warm Summer days. So what if we do it in the Dales with the Antiques Roadshow theme music blasting out of the 6x9's. I want to sing with the roof down. Something like this: "da DADADA dada, DADADA dada, doo-doo-doo de-doo-doo doo-de-doo!"
I'm gonna have two flappy-eared dogs hanging out the side windows lapping up the wind, their noses pointed home to a cottage somewhere full of clocks. That, I tell you, is ambition.

March 12, 2006

Oi Predict a Riot '06

When Borussia Dortmund came to Scotland to play Glasgow Celtic their hooligans came too. They were a funny bunch and not much how you'd expect skinheads to be. They effused that typical German apologetic politeness but simultaneously boasted 'a lineage of intellectual violence dating back to Nietzsche and Wagner,' according to the Times.
After the match a BBC Scotland news crew at Glasgow airport interviewed two such psychos heading home. It went like this:
"Excuse me gents, could we trouble you for a quick word for the telly?"
"Ja ja, Ve vood be only to happy."
"So, how have you enjoyed yer trip tae bonny Scotland?"
"Vell it has been lovely really. Sehr Schon. Der scenery vos beautiful, the sun shone and ve liked the visky, ja."
"You weren't involved in any scraps?"
"Unfortunately no. Ve ver actually quite disappointed with the lack of violent enthusiasm displayed by the Glasgow Celtic support."
"You mean you travelled all the way from Germany specifically to fight Celtic supporters?"
"Ja ja. Naturlich. For us, ze main attraction of travelling to this game was Glasgow's international reputation as a centre of football violence. To be honest though, ve feel a little bit let down."
"Do you think that disappointment can be attributed to the world-class policing skills of Strathclyde's finest?"
"(laughs) Nein nein nein. It just seemed that the Celtic fans ver not too much interested in violence. I mean, ve threw vun or two bottles and barstools around the streets just to try and get ze ball rolling, so to speak, but they wouldn't bite."
"Thank you gents. Have a safe trip. This is Archibald McArchibald at Glasgow Airport. Now back to the studio."
The point is not to expose Celtic fans as incapable bums but to highlight how seriously neo-Nazis view off-pitch violence.
Fast-forward to the present and Germany 2006 is almost upon us. Newspapers are full of horror stories about riots erupting between English and German hooligans and I gotta say, I'm worried too. Really worried. Not for the sanctity of law and order on German streets but for the physical well-being of the English fans. Don't laugh. This is serious.
I'm worried because British police have banned 3,500 known English hooligans from travelling to the tournament. A wise move, you'd think, but that's 3,500 of the hardest men in England. Now, only the wimps are getting to go and you can bet your bottom dollar that when they get there, Germany won't have booted out its thugs for the duration. It's like Churchill sending the Girl Guides to D-Day. Nobody would have thought that a sensible idea. Everyone knew then, and now, that the only solution was the total deployment of the American Military-Industrial Complex.
Left to rely on a bunch of pansies, however, your everyday Englishman is up the creek without a paddle - or a knuckleduster. Don't laugh, some of my best friends are English.
Again, don't laugh. Once you get past the arrogant self-assurance, misplaced sense of historical superiority, irrational national allegiance to an 80-year-old granny, an annoying devotion to the year 1966, their tendency to sing loudly and publicly in groups whilst drunk and a habit of calling Scottish people 'Jock', some of them are okay.
They need to think of something and they need to come up with the goods quick. Had it been the 'Jocks' going to Germany, we'd just have worn kilts and there wouldn't have been a problem. In any case, the Government would never have banned 3,500 of us from going. You see, men who wear skirts don't slag off other people's cultures so don't end up in fights. We don't feel we have a right to poke fun at others whilst looking so ridiculous.
Not the English though.
They don't wear kilts but they look just as ridiculous. German streets will be knee-deep in noisy dickheads with blistering foreheads, puke-stained England shirts and those silly St George wigs. They're gonna need body armour. You know it's all going to kick off when one pissed English prick sees a skinhead and shouts:
"Oi, Adolf. Who won the War mate? Oi Oi saveloy. Yer sausages are shite mate - suck on mine,' before he stuffs a piping hot bratwurst down his pants and has to be carted off by medics suffering third degree burns to the penis. As he's 'going home in a foockin' ambulance,' his mates, unable to defend themselves due the fact that they will be pussies, are going to get slaughtered.
Don't laugh.
All this sends the shits up me not because I truly give a toss about a load of mouthy Englishmen getting their heads kicked in but because I agreed to join them. A while back I promised Posh Dave that I would go to Germany, as an English supporter, if Scotland didn't make it to the finals. Possibly history's dumbest wager.
Thankfully Dave forgets pissed promises as quickly as I do.