Wednesday, October 30, 2013

British Problems

Leaving a B&Q warehouse in the pouring rain. At what point can you claim "Every man for himself", run for the car and abandon your partner?* For this is exactly what happened recently outside Farnborough's number one DIY superstore, and I'm afraid I let the side down badly.

In a further act of "I'm alright, Jack" I was able to cover my head with a newly-purchased wooden shelf, while Jane had nothing to prevent her from a full-on soaking. I'm the worst person in the world.

Even Hitler would have given Eva Braun his hat AND taken the trolley back. But then, Hitler would have also parked in the special 'Dictators Only' space right by the door.

* I'm told that the correct answer is "When the AA man asks if you want to join"

Monday, October 28, 2013

So, why isn't there a huge statue of Wellington in London?

Fans of killing uppity French people to death are - in the main - satisfied with the monument to the life of Lord Horatio Nelson in the middle of London. In fact, he gets a whole city square, column, lions, fountain and the whole nine yards.

However, for fans of the Duke of Wellington, there's not very much at all. You can go and take a look at the Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner, providing the traffic doesn't get you first, or perhaps pay your money and go an see both Wellington and Nelson in the crypt at St Paul's.

So why doesn't Arthur Wellesley get a monstrous great ugly statue in the middle of the capital, paid for by a grateful people.

As a matter of fact there was, for perching on top of the Wellington Arch was a monstrous great ugly statue of this nation's greatest general, paid for by a grateful people, and hated by just about everybody who saw it. Not least Queen Victoria, because it spoiled her view from Buckingham Palace.

The trouble was, it being outside the Iron Duke's front door, they couldn't whip it away elsewhere until after he was dead and buried. So, a suitable time after his death, it was moved from Hyde Park Corner, and given to the military town of Aldershot, safe in the knowledge that the army would look after it.

So they stuck it on a big hill, and it eventually disappeared behind some trees, mainly because it still looks hideous. Even now, looked after by a friends committee, the trees have been cut back, but it still looks a sorry site perched on top of a muddy hill covered in bushes and empty drinks cans.

I took a trip up there to see it up close for myself, and considered its position on a bank overlooking a forlorn car park less than becoming for a man of his stature. Still, they got around the old "You can't do statues of men wearing trousers" conundrum by putting him in knee-length boots and hiding the rest of his legs behind a huge cape. Well played, there.

A far fitting monument to the great man is only about ten miles away, a beautiful column topped by a statue of Wellesley at his old estate at Stratfield Saye. At the end of an avenue (which forms part of my commute to work), it looks every inch the tribute when the sun sets behind it in the evening. This, in fact:

How about digging it up and moving it to London. Anyone got a lottery grant going spare?

Friday, October 25, 2013

In which 80s pop singers send the world spinning off its axis

The news that Susanna Hoffs out of 80s popular beat combo The Bangles has come clean over her choice of Funday has rocked me to my very core.

For twenty-seven years the world has lived under the illusion that Sundays were Ms Hoffs' Funday, but that once certain truth has been exposed to the sun, fed to monkeys, the monkeys forced to fight to the death against rabid badgers, and the whole bloody mess served up as a stew to the homeless. In a word: SICKENING.

So, we ask: Which 80s legend is going to be the next to break ranks and own up to the lie they have been living?

Midge Ure out of Ultravox: "As a matter of fact, I have very strong feelings about the capital of Austria."

Elvis Costello: "Yeah, it's a fair cop. I have been to Chelsea on a number of occasion of my own free will"

Freddie Mercury out of Queen: "There are other stations available apart from Radio Ga Ga, Radio Goo Goo and Radio Blah Blah"

Band Aid: "Creeping Western cultural values mean that they are fully aware that it is Christmas, it turns out"

You just can't trust these 80s stars any more

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


There's a classic episode of The Simpsons (the one with the "I was saying Boo-urns" line) where the Springfield Film Festival is won by the short film 'Man Hit In Groin By Football'.

Man Hit In Groin By Football is a telling indictment on the state of modern US consumerist society, acting as a warning that you should never grow old and infirm, as you are nothing but junk fit for the scrapheap of a disposable society. It's also about a man getting hit in the groin with a football, which is never not funny.

Of course, you don't have to pay the best part of ten quid to go to the cinema to see a man getting hit in the groin with a football (hiding in the toilets after it has finished, so you can sneak into the next showing and watch him getting hit in the groin with a football again), because You've Been Framed exists, allowing you to watch many, many men being hit in the groin with many, many footballs, all in the comfort of your own home.

You've Been Framed has been on our screens for 23 years, and they still show the clips from the first series because those two men fall down the weir and the bloke getting covered in a fountain of manure will never get old. The only thing that changes are the presenters either through death (Beadle), or through death of your career (Wilkes, Riley).

Let's be charitable, and call the first three presenters and 14 years of the series a bit of trial and error as they built up to the pinnacle of television excellence that it is now. No farting about in a studio, just end-to-end clips of men getting hit in the groin with a football, and Harry Hill noticing that the victim looks a bit like David Cameron, ergo the kicker must logically be George Osborne.

This appeals to me, because my entire life has been spent laughing at people who look a bit by celebrities, only to be told in no uncertain terms that they do not and "Why don't you grow up?". Now I am re-married and YBF is prime-time, and everybody looks a bit like Kerry Katona getting thrown into a swimming pool by a Robbie Williams and it's the funniest thing in the world.

More of this kind of genius. The internet's full of lengthy "FAIL" collections, but without the Hill commentary, they are NOTHING. In fact, if ITV don't start a You've Been Framed channel showing nothing but 24-hour Man Being Hit In Groin With Football, then I'm going to have to nearly say something.

FACT: The £250 bounty has never changed in 23 years of broadcasting. If YBF! followed inflation, you should be getting £481 per clip now. Cheapskates.

Monday, October 21, 2013


How can you not be impressed by this raw, naked power?
So sang 1980s superstar Gary Numan. He wouldn't have sung that if he had the cars I've driven. I've had an Austin Allegro AND a Fiat Strada, for God's sake, which would have prompted Numan to have written a song called "Bollocks, I'll take the bus".

If I ever become world famous for writing this bollocks and end up in the interviewee's seat on Top Gear's Star in a Reasonably Priced Car, my own car history of Renault 4  - Allegro - Strada - Peugeot 205 - Renault 21 - Ford Escort - Renault Scenic - Nissan Micra would probably win me some sort of prize, or have me beaten up in the car park. If it comes to violence, I'm sure I can take Hammond and Clarkson, but May would be the one who fights dirty and it would end badly. You'll note three Renaults in that list, for which I blame the parents, and is all the evidence sociologists will ever need that nurture is more powerful than nature.

While Gary Numan has famously fallen out of the sky while flying around in planes, I bet he's never watched with amazement as he is overtaken by one of his own wheels while driving down the M4, and incident which was interesting to say the least.

That was before I developed the skills to service my own car. These alleged "skills" included the cannibalism of a lawn mower for vital parts that kept the Allegro on the road, and an emergency repair on the M6 near Birmingham that involved a lump of chewing gum. An emergency repair that was still holding good several years later when the car headed to the scrap heap.

The problem with modern cars is that they're deliberately engineered to prevent the curious from trying to fix them yourself. I drove a Renault for a few years, and once you open the bonnet there's a huge metal plate covering the entire engine with holes for water, oil and brake fluid, the message being "Get your filthy hands out of here, you English dog, this is a job for highly qualified, highly paid French engineers". One minor repair cost me over £150 pounds, nine-tenths of the labour being getting the metal plate off and back on again.

A little bit of bedtime reading. I know what you're thinking.I have a cold.
That's why I'm pleased to take a step back and drive an older car with none of that computerised engine management guff that tells you to go for a service every ten minutes, driving you direct to the nearest main dealer and sucking your bank account dry before you even get there. The Micra is from another age, of oil down the front of your second-best jeans and "You're not touching anything in this house until you wash your hands". In a house full of book, the only one that counts is Haynes Manual No.3254 - Nissan Micra K11 Series (1993-1999). It was green to start with, now it is mostly grey.

In fact - and take note JK Rowling - such is the power of the Haynes Manual ALL books should end with the words "Refitting is the reverse of the removal procedure", because that's the kind of happy ending where everything is how it was on page one, only with a handful of nuts and washers left over and a grubby hand-print on the sofa.

Like all good fiction involving a boy wizard, there are lessons to be learned from servicing your own car., and I am happy to leave you with three of the most important.

Lesson one is simple, and it's this: "The high tension cables leading to the spark plugs are live and filled with millions of electricity. Don't try to grab them while the engine is running."

A lesson well learned, which was also the day I discovered that the easiest way to do a Donald Duck impression is to run several thousand volts through your body by grabbing high tension cables. It's an impression that is unlikely to get you a job at Disney World because the only words that comes out are "F-ING HELL! F-ING HELL THAT HURTS!", which Donald never says, even when stoved in the face with an anvil by Huey, Dewey or Lewie, the ASBO triplets.

Lesson two: No matter how long you spend servicing your car, and how much money you've saved, it's still an Austin Allegro, and you've lost at life.

Lesson three: Refitting is the reverse of the removal procedure. And they all lived happily ever after, until a wheel fell off on the M4.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

On the romance of Mills and Boon

I swear this is the last post I'll write about our recent wedding, but I really need to show you one of our wedding presents, so bear with me*.

Both Jane and I love books. We've got a book room and heaving great shelves of books all over the flat. So much so that our wedding invitation was sent out in the form of a hackneyed Mills and Boon romance.

So, it came as no enormous surprise that one of Jane's excellent work friends - as part of an already generous series of presents - should give us a Mills and Boon romance carefully chosen as the only one in the canon with a brunette, curly-haired heroine.

This one, in fact, a classic title from the 1980s, where the heroines were spunky and rich old men were the kind of person you wouldn't like to meet on a dark night.

And Jane, being the book person that she is, spent a couple of days reading it, exclaiming at regular intervals how incredibly awful it was. Even by Mills and Boons standards, it both sucked AND blowed in its frankly creepy plot-line.

And the tale of the curly-haired brunette heroine (described, I am told, as "ginger spunk") forced into an unwilling relationship with her much older uncle reached its tumultuous climax with this knee-trembling paragraph of what might be called prose.

For those of you who can't see the image, it says: "I want you," he muttered blindly, "I want you so much, I've even been thinking about rape."

Yep, the old charmer loved her so much, he wanted to rape her, and they lived happily ever after. A tale of messed-up morality if ever I saw one.

And Neil Gaiman says there's no such thing as a bad book for children. I beg to differ, sir. I think the kiddiewinks need to be spared this one.

(The author is one of M & B's most prolific, it turns out, with over 100 titles to her name. I'll be charitable and say that we caught her on an off day)

* No, there really is a bear with me and AAAAAAAARGH

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Triumph of the Cake

Before: The Great Wall of Cake
After: Anybody want cake?
So, the wedding came and went and everybody had a jolly good time, thank you very much.

We don't mind saying that we spent an inordinate amount of money on cake. An eye-watering amount of money. In fact, a couple of weeks before the event, we had a discussion over the extraordinary sum we were about to spend on cake and asked ourselves: "Should we cut back the cake order?"

After literally seconds of contemplation, we decided in the negative, and thought - heck it - that the eye-watering sums we were about to spend on cake would be worth it, if only so we could be The Wedding With All The Cake.

We love cake. We wanted loads of cake, and enough for people to take home with them. We never realised quite how much cake there would be.

Come the Friday, I went down to the cake person's place and picked up all the cake. It took several trips back to the car, and involved balancing the centre-piece Rainbow Cake (soon to be heading to a cake Rainbow Bridge) on top of everything else as we found every single pothole between Fleet and the wedding venue.

Rainbow Cake: Heading for the cake Rainbow Bridge
It became clear at around 5pm on the wedding day itself that some people were not taking their full ration of cake, and some other lucky people (for eg, the rest of us) would have to eat overtime to make up for this shortfall. NOM. Departing cake-loving guests had a variety of cake thrust upon them, and those of us staying in the hotel were encouraged - nay, instructed - to have midnight feasts. Much cake was demolished. Yet there was still cake. Lots of it.


In pouring rain the following day, we divvied up the remains of the cake in the hotel car park, before going our separate ways. Jane and I both took enormous quantities of cake into our respective works, and yet... yet... will still had cake in The Haunted Cake Tin That Is Always Full. And full it remained. Cake. For breakfast, lunch, dinner, tea and late-night snack. Cake. All the cake. CAKE.GOD THE CAKE WAS A TRIUMPH.

Three days later, and we still have cake left. I never want to see cake again in my life*.

*Lie. Send cake.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Bicycle Thieves

I've always had a tenuous relationship with criminal behaviour.

Twice I've been the victim of bicycle theft, both occasions leaving me stamping off home wishing death on the light-fingered ne'er-do-wells.

The first time was the racing bike I bought with one of my very first pay packets, which was taken from the racks at Twyford station by a criminal armed with a set of bolt-cutters, the universal key of bicycle thieves the world over. I stamped off home wishing death on those concerned, but did nothing of the sort. After several months borrowing my mother's Raleigh Shopper, I was shamed into buying myself a replacement, but the luggage box on the back was never as good.

My second occasion as a victim of crime was the cycle I used to get to and from the station on my long rail commute between Weymouth and Reading. Leaving it chained to a road sign, it didn't occur to me that thieves possessed the wit and the imagination to lift it fifteen feet up the pole and ride off with the thing. Not bolt-cutters, just an improbable feat of strength. Two weeks later, I saw baseball-capped villain who had done the deed, riding around Caversham on my bike. But the insurance had already paid out, and I already had a far better machine, and –by then – a car, making the rail commute a thing of the past.

While I am quick to condemn criminals and criminal behaviour, I remain haunted by my own past life as a thief. One incident weighs heavily on my mind, that being the day – as an impoverished student – I walked around and around WH Smith in Bracknell clutching a 35p packet of rub-down lettering, before walking out of the door "forgetting" they were still in my hand. Various attempts to pay back my ill-gotten gains have ended in naught, as till operators in Smiths get awfully confused when you say "keep the change", as it messes up their balances.

So, when crime rears its ugly head near me, I'm often torn on what to do. Yes, it's my duty to report it, do something about it; but on the other hand, I'm a renegade before the law myself, and who knows how things might end. In most cases, I will defer instead to the measured use of sarcasm, which I believe works very effectively in the field of crime prevention.

Our road, contrary to what our local police say, is a hotbed of very minor crime, for every now and then, somebody craps into a plastic bag and leaves it at the side of our street. This has got me so angry I've almost nearly done something about it, and I'm tempted to join those people who are photographed pointing at things in local newspapers because they think it does any good. All it does is gets you labelled as "that bloke from page nine of Thursday's paper, pointing at the bag of turds", and it's not a good name to have.

So, at 11pm the other night, as I was exercising the hound and looking out for the Phantom Crapper, I couldn't help noticing the car of youths pulling up by the entrance to the Bummy Woods. It was clearly obvious that they were between pub and nightclub, and looking for somewhere to take a few puffs of illegal substances. And knowing our one local nite spot, they'd need some sort of narcotic to dull the forthcoming terror.

In trying not to make it obvious, they were probably the most obvious drug takers I'd ever seen. They might as well have parked in the special drug-takers' parking bay, holding up a sign saying, "Hey! We're taking drugs, us!" while posting an update on Facebook saying "In the Bummy Woods, having a bit of puff".

They staggered into the dark, where fireflies of dodgy cigarettes could be seen bobbing about. From the safety of many yards away, I called out "Don't make it too, obvious, eh?" because sarcasm always works on this kind of person (for eg, those many yards away). However, any reply was drowned out by one of their number calling out "O God! I've sat in shit!", that being a religious calling clearly not in the scriptures. Not wishing to find out more, I took Falstaff's advice about discretion and valour, and left the scene.

The next morning revealed that the Phantom Crapper had indeed struck that evening, sneaking in and out like the Banksy of faeces, and it took one committed dope-head to uncover his latest work. I was so cross I didn't even do anything.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

In which we remember the man who wrote the songs

Sad to hear that Phil Chevron, one-time guitarist from The Pogues has died. He was the man behind some of their most beautiful, haunting songs, including this one which is among my personal favourites:

The Pogues - Lorelei

And for those of you who are into happy/sad music:

The Pogues - Thousands Are Sailing

Thanks, chap.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

A Study of 'Nature vs Nurture' In The Context of Health Service Receptionists

If you want a haircut or an endless supply of second-hand clothes, then my home town is the place for you. The only shops that seem to do any business are never-ending rows of charity shops nestling up against hairdressers and barber shops. As a community, we have the best hair in the south of England, but we're clad in outfits ripped from the backs of dead people.

It was as I was browsing for books in one of the few charity shops in the business that routinely fill their shelves according to the Dewey Decimal System that I saw the woman who has recently emerged as my current arch-nemesis. She was complaining over the price of an unnecessarily gaudy china tea pot, clearly priced to deter anyone from ever buying it. I didn't blame her in the slightest, for two pounds for a used paperback is rather pushing the boat out, as is a fiver for the worst teapot in humanity. If it hadn't been five quid, I would have bought it myself, taken it round the back and given it the shoeing it deserved to save anybody else the bother. Perhaps, in retrospect, this was her plan as well, and I under-estimate her.

However, I didn't have the luxury of this post-teapot analysis, my immediate observation being that she was just as furious about overpriced ugly china as she was in her usual surrounds, that being behind the reception desk at our doctors' surgery, where her disdain and fury at the patients whose shadows darken her realm has become a thing of legend.

I've become a regular user of the National Health Service over the last twelve months, and Angry Receptionist Woman, the gatekeeper at our local surgery, has become my first point of contact and my enemy when it comes to dealing with the teeming mess that makes up my insides. I'm torn as to whether her job as made her angry, or whether she was furious in the first place. If it's the former, then I must inevitably take a percentage of the blame as one of her major customers; if the latter, I can only imagine how the interview process went.

"So, what makes you think you are suitable for the role as our receptionist?"

"There are no other applicants."

"Oh. I'm sure we invited several others to see us this morning."

"Look in your waiting room. There are no other applicants."

Even if she had been a ball of raging fury before she took the job, the rules to which she is bound probably don't help much. For example, the only appointments she is allowed to give out for any given day become available at precisely 8am, meaning that if you are ill, you have to be on the phone at 7.59 and hitting redial over and over until the engaged tone gives way to a cheerless "Yes?"

If you get to 8.15 without success, then you are doomed to having to ring back the next day, taking a non-emergency slot in two weeks' time, or dying.

I expect that these fifteen minutes first thing set her up nicely for a day of lost urine samples, people who don't know how to use the electronic booking-in system, and exasperated explanations as to why you can't see a doctor this month as "it's your own fault for disemboweling yourself with spoon, isn't it?"

On this evidence, she's not evil. Sample-losing, technology-averse, cutlery-abusing people like me made her this way.

I like to think I know how a doctors' surgery works, a claim essentially drawn from watching my mother work as a practice nurse at least three-and-a-half decades ago. Utterly incapable of fending for myself at home, I instead hung around after school waiting for her to finish her shift. In a move which would probably give any self-respecting NHS lawyer kittens, I sometimes helped her as she syringed out old people's ears, changed dressings, and did unspeakable things to equally unspeakable feet in a back room of the mobile home that passed for the village surgery.

Even then, in a relatively bureaucracy-free NHS, the receptionist appeared to be the bad-tempered front line against village lunacy. Helping out with the filing one evening, I once heard an exchange that ended "I'm pretty sure you'll be needing a priest and not a doctor, Mrs Watson. We don't do exorcisms" ...pause while voices were raised at the other end... "You'll have to go private, then. Goodbye."

Now, in my forties, and the recipient of cunningly-worded letters inviting me to have expensive cameras pushed into various orifices, I'm a regular at the surgery, if only to haggle over the timing and quantity of repeat prescriptions. There, I wait in the queue while those in front of me are treated with various levels of impatience, until I reach the front, where I am instantly recognised by Angry Receptionist Woman.

"Ah, Mr Coleman, how are we today?" she smiled.

I fled.

Monday, October 07, 2013

On weddings, flowers and cake - WIN FREE STUFF

Here we go, Jane and I are getting married this Saturday and it will be EXCELLENT.

There will be a party, there will be drinking, and most of all, there will be cake. I dare say there may also be flowers.

And because I'm nice, and because some very nice people at Serenata Flowers got in touch asking if I'd promote their website on these pages, you're going to get some flowers too.


They also do plants, hampers, wine and chocolate by post.


So. You want free flowers by post from Serenata Flowers? Then answer a simple question and we will make it so.

At our wedding, we will be having all the cake. ALL THE CAKE. But riddle me this: 

What is the best cake?

Use you skill and judgement and let me know in the comments and/or email

Best answer by the end of today gets FREE STUFF from Serenata Flowers. Simple as that.

Note to colonials: FREE STUFF offer only open to UK addresses.

Friday, October 04, 2013

In which I demand of a defenceless old man how he likes those apples

Every day for the last six months, I've walked Wilson the dog up to the Bummy Woods morning and evening. And virtually every day I've run into an old chap who lives around the corner, who goes to the woods for his evening (and morning) constitutional.

Every time I meet him, I wish him a good day, and every time he has completely blanked me. Six months, and not a peep out of him.

I'll admit that this has become and obsession, and I have now made a point of offering him a hearty "Good morning", "Good evening" or "Quite the weather we're having, eh?" every time our paths cross.

And every time he blanks me.

Until yesterday.

Up the Bummy Woods with Wilson, and there he is. He approaches, and - a miracle - he is the first with the greeting, a meek yet Earth-shattering "Hello".

So I blanked the old fart.

I blanked him, and walked away with a glow of triumph.
And I turn, and from the safety of several hundred yards, I ask of him:

"How do you like them apples, eh? HOW DO YOU LIKE THEM APPLES?"

I am the worst person in the world.

The battle continues.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

My Last Ever Post On The Rainbow Bridge (Honest)

Hey everybody! I've finally found the Rainbow Bridge!

As any lunatic knows, when your pet dies and goes to heaven, it ends up here and waits for you. In return, you get bad poetry sent to you by idiots.

And here it is. 

It's in Pyongyang.

It's in Pyongyang and stretches over to Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

I think the message is absolutely clear: When your pet dies, it becomes a COMMUNIST.

Do you want your dead pet to be part of a Stalinist-Kimilsungist Communist plot to take over the world? I thought not. Then shut up about the Rainbow Bridge.

(Pic by Shan Lu from her incredible collection of images from the N Korean Arirang Games)