Friday 28 December 2012

Driving with your brakes on

I used to be under the impression that when 90% of British people got in their cars they switched off their brains as soon as they attached their seatbelts. However, now my opinions have shifted to a conclusion that they don’t have any fucking brains at all!
For six hours yesterday I had to endure the madness that is holiday season on the M6 for imbeciles whose only other driving experience is sitting in an urban traffic queue on their way into their sad little daily office lives. At 3 miles per hour it is acceptable to drive along and put your foot on the brake every 2 seconds – but not at 60!
If you are that person who stabs the break pedal every time you want to slow down from 60 to 59 mph, I hate you! 
If you are the twat who sees an overhead sign whilst near junction 12 at Stafford that states that there might be congestion at junction 15 in Cheshire and you stand on the breaks just in case, I hate you!
No, hang on, hate is a strong word.
I really really really absolutely HATE you!
It is because of idiots like you that the British motorway system doesn’t work. Because while you are panicking in Stafford by flashing your eye-level brake lights at 70 mph, the guy behind you just shat himself and stood on his middle pedal. Behind him – or her – ten thousand cars did the same until one distracted Mummy in Gloucester didn’t react fast enough and ploughed her Clio into the back of a Range-rover and wiped out her whole family. And it’s all your fault.
Strangely, through Birmingham, statistically the busiest stretch of motorway in Europe, they have overhead signs telling you to drive at 60. And you do. You have to, otherwise, if you slow down, the car behind blows it’s horn and if you speed up, David Cameron’s people will take your licence from you and charge you lots of money to get it back. You see the sign and obey it, because that is what you do in your everyday life. Someone gives you an order and you do it, without having to engage that miniscule organ that masquerades for intelligence. But take the instruction away and you panic like a chicken in a coop full of foxes. See a gap of 200 metres in front of you, put your foot down to fill it. Then, when you are 2 centimetres from the car bumper in front, put you foot on the brakes and create yet another backlash tailback as far as London.
Question. If you follow a lorry at 60 mph in the slow lane, how many times do you see its brake lights come on?
Answer. Well there are two answers here. The correct one is very rarely, because he drives at a constant speed and uses his engine to slow down. The other answer is that you have probably never followed a lorry because, in your BMW you are far too big-headed and clever to be held up by such a pleb?
Today I am writing to the government,
In my letter I will request that every car driver should have to take an annual motorway test – in a simulator, not actually on the slab where they are a danger to every one within a fifty mile radius – where they will be driving on a bank holiday.
In this scenario, if you get within a hundred yards of the car in front of you, you will FAIL. If during this test you brake unnecessarily you will FAIL.  When you fail, you will then be instructed on how to drive properly, possibly by a lorry driver. If you fail again, your driving licence will be put in the glove-box of your car which will be driven down to the nearest refuse dump and set on fire. Then, for the remainder of your sad life you will be demoted to being a passenger or to use public transport. Or maybe you could emigrate – to Greenland!
I will then write another letter to Jeremy Clarkson, the current Minister for car manufacturing, and suggest a few modifications to all new vehicles. These will include a sensor near the brake pedal that, when your foot goes near it, will flash a signal on your dashboard saying ‘ARE YOU REALLY SURE YOU NEED TO BRAKE RIGHT NOW AND KILL MRS DAVIES AND HER ENTIRE FAMILY?’ This will hopefully make you wake up from your slumber.
Then, if you do brake, a red halogen light with the power of a supernova will flash up on your dashboard, so that you have an idea of how this looks to the car behind you.
Finally, an electrode will be fitted to your seat which will induce a few thousand volts through you every 2 minutes, to ensure you are awake at all times.
The voltage will be trebled on Bank Holidays!
Then, after these improvements have been implemented, I will ban eye-level brake lights which are the invention of the God of Health and Safety, otherwise known as the Devil himself!

Thursday 27 December 2012

The Leviathan Awakes

The human body is a triumphant machine, maginificently complex and scientifically programmed.
Until it goes off balance.
It’s been a few months ago since mine started to go wrong, listing my standard walking pattern to one side when that blasted Achiles heel wrenched itself out of its socket. Then the machine became a bit like driving a well oiled car – on three wheels. In a straight line it is manageable but the steering somewhat unreliable at best, with ‘incline’ mode causing major problems. As with a programmed machine, so it compensates by overloading the other supporting systems- eg my other leg - until that gives up too and my knee says no more.
‘Pull into the pits man! All this fast and furious stuff is getting us nowhere. I think we’re ginna crash.’
Take a seat, sir. Chill.
But then one of the other departments in the mechanism finds a slot in my slowing down schedule to throw in a new crisis.
Sitting dormant for a couple of generations, one of the old guard from the dental society decides to make an airing in time for Christmas, wise old thing that it is.
Wisdom tooth?
What’s so fucking wise about a heavy-duty piece of calcium sitting at the back of the mouth doing nothing but hide until it can pounce and cause pain?
Thirty years ago I went into hospital and had three of them removed by a psychopathic butcher with some pretty heavy duty implements that left me bruised all over for a month. At the time it was a bit traumatic, but I was young and able to endure all the swelling and hamster jokes that came my way.
At the time also, I wondered why someone as wise as myself only had three of the damn things, the other one being nowhere in sight! Most people have four?
Well here it is folks, awakening from its slumber like a leviathan from the depths and tunnelling its way right into my mouth at right angles. After a dramatic axe-through entrance like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, it now sits there with its razor sharp edges exposed, evilly waiting to snag anything that passes.
One never considers the tongue really. That piece of soft equipment that tirelessly works back and forth like a con-rod connecting all the senses together as it sends signals to the taste buds and shovels food down the hatch. Cleverly it translates brainwaves into coherent sounds that ears can interpret, some of them so rapid that it has to resist spontaneous combustion on an hourly basis. Fortunately it can be occasionally cooled by refreshing doses of alcohol.
Did you ever consider it doing all that work? No? I hadn’t either – until it no longer can.
Because now, due to the imposition of a craggy outcrop of calcium in its path, it has been snagged more times that a wetsuit in a coral reef until it all its sinews hang out behind it like a decapitated victim of trench warfare.
Oh so hard it tries to carry on its job, dragging its torso through the muddy quagmire of Christmas pudding or delivering jokes that it has heard several thousand times before.
Well, today, quite rightly, it has given up. ‘If you wont stop using me,’ it says, ‘I will swell up like a bouncy castle until there is no more room on the cave to move at all.’
These are but a few of the latest perils to endanger my lonely existence until those nice stone-masons at the National Health with some modern mining equipment can remove the bell-bottomed ice-berg that is in danger of taking us all down.
One hopes that the waiting list for such surgery is not as long as the queues for those Boxing Day sales at Argos which snaked past the emergency dentists in Kidderminster’s downtrodden town centre yesterday.

Friday 21 December 2012

Mayan mayhem

Wow, we’re still here?
Were you hiding under the bed at twenty past midnight last night? No?
No, nor was I.
But it seems that a lot of people were, as Mayan-mania swept the world in advance of that deathly hour of 20.12-20.12-2012. Well, when I say: THE WORLD, obviously we only talking about America here, as to them, the rest of us don’t really exist.
You see, the Yanks love stuff like this because they have no history or intelligence of their own.
So when some old guy from Mexico put the frighteners on us by saying we will all die in a freak astronomic accident on this specific date, they all go; ‘Oh yeah. That sounds likely. Gee thanks for the warning, Bud. I’ll go hide out in the basement.’
The fact that some other crackpot had said the same about the millennium year - that we would all perish by a similar apocalyptic fate - which never materialised, is by the by. Maybe that guy got it wrong, but those Mexicans, well they are such a trust-worthy bunch, ‘you gotta believe them.’
But now, there is nothing to look forward to anymore because we’re all still here, as the doom-mongers are once again proved wrong and have to park their sandwich boards back under the stairs for a while.
The End of the World is Nigh, they say?
Well just to satisfy you, yes, it probably is actually. When we run out of oil! Or perhaps when global warming fries us up like pork-scratchings after the very last tree has been put on the energy bonfire. Maybe we wont have to wait that long, if a stray meteorite hits us head on one night or we all contract bird-flu from the Chinese?
An even more likely possibility is that we all commit mass suicide after listening to yet another contrived Simon Cowel Christmas number one or maybe die of boredom when BBC rolls out yet another '50 Shittiest Christmas Groans' from the last five decades on TV instead of making some decent drama programmes with licence payer’s money?
The end of the word is nigh?
One thing for sure. Each and every one of us will see the end of our world during our own lifetime.
And if my voodoo classes workout, hopefully Debra Meadan, Louis Walsh and that bloke on the Go-compare advert will go before I do!

Wednesday 19 December 2012

The Last Post

Have you noticed lately that all the Little Chef restaurants are closed? Yes, that remnant of the fifties, with their picture menus and powdered omelettes have finally gone out of business. What was once an institution, now confined to the scrap-heap of things no longer required in a modern society, along with rickets and Terry Wogan.
 Quite rightly so.
So why is it that when I want to send a Christmas card overseas I have to enter that dinosaur cave that is the local Post Office?
Impatiently I have to stand in a queue that extends down to the by-pass behind ancient old ladies whose sole purpose for their visit is to have a gossip about bygone days and how shit everything is today.
And why is there such a queue?  Because postmaster or mistress, usually called Ron or Sheila, are themselves as ancient as the very traditions they are trying to uphold. When my turn eventually comes, sometime after dark, Ron eyes me suspiciously from over his half moon glasses because I want a stamp for France. You can see in his eyes that he still hasn’t forgiven the French for not paying him back after his part in the Normandy landings. Moving slower that a rush-hour traffic jam, he opens a large ledger to look up the price of a stamp and then eventually retrieves one from another ledger, blowing off the dust and coughing uncontrollably in the process.
Meanwhile, in the next booth, Sheila is having a long conversation with Mrs Edwards from number 26 about the price of vet’s bills for her Tibby, as the queue waits patiently for their turn to unload their own problems to this librarian-cum-agony aunt.
On busy days there are other staff too, but with the collective intelligence of a teapot, such is the miniscule pay that is on offer. No matter. As long as they all wear cheap Santa hats and incessantly chat with the customers about bugger-all.
How come this archaic institution is still in business I ask myself repeatedly under my breath?
Because the government pours money into it, that’s why.
But wouldn’t that money be better spent on gritting the roads in winter so that hundreds of people don’t needlessly die in traffic accidents on black-ice, or ten thousand folks per winter’s day get admitted to hospital with broken hips after slipping on icy pavements on the way to post a letter? Perhaps the savings could be reallocated to those hospitals so they can afford to employ humans instead of rude bastards with all the social skills of a hungry aligator?
Because I fail to understand what the Post Office can possibly offer that requires it to stay - apart from being a chat-room for octogenarians?
Want to post a letter? Why can’t I just insert it in a slot and get a machine to stamp it for me, for which I can pay with coins? Posting a parcel could be exactly the same. Surely some clever bearded designer can devise a cupboard that I can put my parcel into, close the door, let it weigh it and automatically stamp it. When it advises me the price, I can pay with a credit card. That’s how I get my petrol, isn’t it? And my shopping in Tescos.
Years ago a smiley man called Albert would fill my car up for me, while whistling a happy tune. Now he has been replaced by an automatic machine that will speak to me in a dozen languages while I do it myself.
The postal-machine wouldn’t need to be in a special building either - just stick them in the supermarket. Then old ladies could do their gossiping there instead. Or in the tea-rooms or soup kitchens, or the hair-dressers.
So what else does the PO offer?
Old people get their pension and the unemployed cash-in their gyro? Well use a cash machine like everyone else. Let the government pay it directly into their bank and then draw it out as you need it.
Don’t have a bank account? Well open one.
Don’t want one? Well go without.
Tax a car, How antiquated is that? Do it online and print off a slip to say you have done and stick it on your windscreen.
Don’t know how to go online? Well learn. If you can’t work a PC or Cash machine, maybe, just maybe, you’re too old or too stupid to drive a car at all?
Same with all the other forms that you can fill in and pay for with cash at that bullet-proof window while Ron’s grey face keeps one eye on the door for armed robbers. It is all so totally unnecessary.
There is NOTHING that is offered in a post office that couldn’t be done online anymore.
Oh. Here’s one I forgot.
Collecting your child benefit payment! I find it astonishing that this is still being handed out. Years ago a payment was introduced to encourage young mothers to have more children to help swell the population after the war.
But now the population is swelling faster than a heated pot noodle, until we will all soon be forced to live in bus-shelters. And still they keep churning them out.
In a smart thinking world, people who have kids and can’t afford them should be fined not rewarded. And if they can’t pay the fine, put them in jail.
Or better still, send them off to live in some eastern European country which is now empty because all its inhabitants have moved to Britain so they can stand in a queue to collect their gyro and child benefits!

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Nigella's squigy bites

I know we’re not meant to take her seriously, but I really have to question how the lovely Nigella gets away with her TV show. Or Nigellissima as she now calls herself.
To start with, she can’t really cook.
Well, I suppose that is a matter of comparison. I mean, she can cook better than Little Chef, or your average Glaswegian council tenant – or my Mum. But it’s not really cooking, is it?
Buy a loaf of bread, break it up into crumbs and add some pistachio nuts and a bottle of sherry, put it in the oven and go and have a bath! Then when you get out, smother it suggestively with whipped cream, and all the boys are drooling.
This week she did an Italian Christmas dinner which, by her own admission, wasn’t Italian at all.
That’s like having a Turkish kebab instead of a turkey. Where’s the relevance in that?
But it doesn’t matter does it? As long as she uses words that would make your granny blush.
'Mmmmm...' *licks spoon suggestively* 'Let’s take out our cake with its whipped cream and cut it into voluptuous slices.'
That word alone just woke up granddad with stirrings from within his incontinence pants. Since when did such a word describe anything other than a barmaid in full-frontal?
Not that I’m counting, but three times in one show she uses it!
Then we get the word squigy. Where does that come from? And why use it in every third sentence?
When I speak, it is the words of a farmer. When I write, it is the words of enforced literary correction, albeit they are often in the wrong order. But would I really get away with using made-up words and continuous innuendo if I presented a TV show?
Could I really stand there with a straight face and suggestively talk about squigy breasts and hairy chestnuts – and get away with it?
No, because I don’t have a double-D-cup and a seductive smile.
But then, compared to the cocky-cockney with his mega-funky, harmonious, scummy, proper-rustic dollops of bullshit, at least it’s entertainment!

Thursday 13 December 2012

Whatever happened to the nineteen forties?

        Well, I’ll tell you where they went. Right into my parents’ house, that’s where. John Wayne, Glenn Ford, Audrey Hepburn, they’re all right here on DVD, video, Betamax and cine film. Not only in the rack either, but on vintage TV stations that screen ancient westerns every afternoon in dreary black and white starring a cast of oldies with about as much acting skills as my dog.
I know, I know, we will all be old one day but what is it with old people who get to a certain age and then go backwards in time.
Last night my Old Man was so insistent that we all sat and watched his favourite film, some John Wayne affair about the wild-west that I was forced to go to the pub. In it we get rolled-down paper scenery, a few token cattle and some bimbo with a phoney Texas accent swanning about in an immaculate ball-gown which miraculously doesn’t show up the dirt.
The thing is, it is probably a great story. But it's just over glamorised for those poor down-trodden gullible general public from that era who were trying desperately to cling on to a dream that, somewhere out there, everything isn’t really shit!
Yes, the old forties Hollywood films were great in their day but things have moved on. 
My mother doesn’t like modern films, as they contain too much violence.
Oh, and cowboys shooting each other and falling off buildings don’t? Well, no that isn’t really violence is it? Because it looks about as real as David Cameron's smile. Less so, in fact.
Let’s watch the 39 Steps, instead?
OK. I find it from the rack to see it is the original version, from 1938! Jeez. They made 3 remakes since then Ma, and I quite like the one with Robert Powel because it is actually filmed on the Scottish moors instead of in a papier-mache railway carriage with pretend scenery going by in the background. Not only that, but in the newer ones they all talk with proper accents instead of sounding like Mr Chumley-Warner with a handful of marbles in his gob!
Is it inherent that when you reach a certain age you can no longer face anything new? When/if I reach seventy will I suddenly start hating anything made after the year 2000? Do you reckon I will revert to lusting after Felicity Kendal and watching reruns of The Good Life on Dave? I sincerely hope not.
Will Halle Berry or Jessica Alba in a swimsuit be the very last TV stars that might give me a stiffy?
And anyone born after 1972 be considered as talentless violent rapists?
They say that we all turn into our parent. It is unavoidable, apparently.
Oh what joy I have in store!

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Mushroom Roulette

Today it’s goodbye you Frenchie’s with your garlic and cheap wine – hello Jockland with your whisky and neeps.
You see we are once again exchanging the few months of short but often sunny days of winter in France for some even shorter and far colder wetter ones by the sea near Edinburgh. Locals up there think we are completely barmy for doing this but at least there are some locals, which is why we go there.
Unlike here in France where all the ex-pats swan off to warmer climes and the locals barricade themselves indoors in case we get a millimetre of snow and they all turn into ice statues. The bars all close because, well, because they’re miserable and cold and nobody goes in them anyway. Basically, France in winter is as much a social no-no as mentioning anything to do with that dead blonde bloke in a shell-suit. There’s nothing much except damp silence and the constant dripping of cold rain on your head – and that’s just inside the house!
We have had a hectic time, gearing up for a few months away, though. All those jobs I have managed to avoid since last winter, such as mending a leaking pipe, plugging up a hole in an upstairs ceiling to stop the cat getting in, and killing a few sheep for the freezer, now have to be done, all in one week.
I mentioned last month that I had also embarked on National Novel Writing Month, which I completed quite satisfactorily in 21 days and since then I have nearly completed another book that I had started previously. So, 90,000 words later, my eyes look like a bloodhound and I can’t sleep for hearing continual twittering in my head. And now I desperately need a week’s rest before editing month begins.
What I don’t need is being up a ladder in the rain trying to fix roof tiles and managing to break more than I mend as they have all gone brittle after last years extreme temperatures. Talk about walking on egg-shells. Finally I think I have managed to keep the cats out of all the bedrooms, as well as the rain, because last year when we got back, they had invited all their mates round for sleepovers and the place was as crowded as an Amsterdam whorehouse. Jeremy Clarkson once described cats as being like footballer’s wives. Pretty and well groomed, but fundamentally they’re just after your money! With that, he’s spot on.
In fact this year we have had to employ a chap to come round and feed them, as well as keep an eye on the sheep. This I find rather galling, especially as I have had to spend upwards of twenty quid buying mouse poison to keep the vermin down because our felines are so useless. Needless to mention, the cats are Wendy’s passion, not mine.
No, the sheep are mine. In fact my latest literary offering is called IN BED WITH SHEEP, which is a somewhat risqué title I know. In it I chart some of the antics that I have got up to showing and working with sheep over the years and most of the tales are rather funny.
 We are also having lamb for dinner tonight which proves that I do enjoy them from all sides, so to speak.
In fact it’s not lamb we are having but mutton. A couple of male lambs that I kept from last year and are now – or were –up around 90kgs and generally being a nuisance. One even head-butted me in a last ditch attempt at freedom before making his final journey to the abattoir earlier this week. He didn’t do it on the return leg, that’s for sure. Not so easy when you no longer have a head, eh?
Cruel? No that’s not cruel. It’s justice! With rosemary and garlic!
And perhaps a few mushrooms.
But that in itself poses me a problem, because this time of year we have hundreds of mushrooms growing on the lawn, in the field, under the hedge, in the vegetable garden. There’s even a few growing out of the roof truss where the rain and cat has been leaking in. In a quest to become reasonably self sufficient, I would quite like to eat some of them.
Generally I am quite an adventurous chef, not frightened to have a go with some whimsical notion such as throwing lime cordial into my duck-gravy or brazing a pork loin in apricots, fresh ginger and figs. I would love to do the same with mushrooms but the problem with that is you could end up very dead. Because they all look the same - a sort of browny-greyey colour with pale fins - and no matter how many pictures I look up on the internet, I fail to tell the Cèpe from the Death Cap.
I just read a statistic that quotes ‘there are over 3000 varieties of mushrooms in France, but only a few of them are edible.’ Yes, but which ones?
Help me here.
The article does go on to assure me that only 35 people per year actually die from eating the wrong ones, so I suppose that’s quite comforting, but lots more have kidney infections and convulsions which may possibly kill you later, especially if you are behind the wheel when the latter happens.
It’s like playing Russian roulette with fungi. Only with far worse odds!
Can I call an expert to help me? Well, actually, yes I can. I can call the pharmacist. In fact, doing this before eating the things is a lot healthier than the other way round. Apparently, if I rock up at the local pharmacy with my wicker basket and dump them on the counter, the very nice lady will test a few, possibly by frying them up with some bacon and sausage, and let me know if my head will explode if I put them in a beef casserole. But she wont tell me the result for at least a week, presumably if she’s still alive, and by that time the sheep or ramblers will have trampled them all into pulp and I will have to select some new ones. At this rate I am more likely to die of old age than be poisoned.
As a last resort I have now bought some brown ones from the supermarket and am trying to compare them with those from our field in a sort of spot-the-difference competition. If you don’t see this column again you’ll know that I was unsuccessful!