Things I learnt today…

January 8th, 2009

1) Soviet Russia believed that the most sensible way to operate a string of unmanned lighthouses along its northern coast was by installing each of them with their own individual nuclear reactor.

2) It is impossible to utter the words ‘groin strain’ without sounding just a tiny bit like a pervert.

Techno Techno Technology.

September 16th, 2008

A question I was once genuinely asked:

“All the buttons on this computer keyboard are in capitals. How do I get lowercase letters?”

I was tempted to tell them they’d have to requisition a lowercase keyboard from the stationery department.

Then again, this was from the same person who, when I demonstrated cutting and pasting of text in Word, turned to me with eyes widened and jaw slackened to exclaim “That’s amazing!“, as if I’d pulled a live tuxedo-clad porcupine from my nose.

I didn’t even try to introduce them to the web, in case the culture shock caused them to lapse into a coma on the spot.

Music news.

September 11th, 2008

The Devil’s continued ownership of the best tunes appears unchallenged by the recent increase in popularity of file-sharing:

 

Idol.

September 8th, 2008

A deliciously creepy animation…

 

An exciting list of things I have been doing while I’ve been away…

September 7th, 2008

1) Buying a car

A brand new Toyota Yaris will be mine in but a few weeks. Expect news stories of terrorised pedestrians to emanate from across Essex for the next six months. It’s bright red, so I’m a little worried I’ll get it confused with my boss’s Ferrari.

Ahhh, red…cheapest of all the colours. I can use the saving to pay for approximately two teaspoonfuls of petrol at current prices.

2) Camping

With old friends in a small field in the Kentish townstead of Bearsted which, though it is spelt like an ursine’s cuddly toy, is pronounced like a drinks order to a man named Theodore. Too tenuous? Maybe, but I’m in that sort of mood.

Sunny day, rainy night – which was just about perfect really, giving us a whole day for chatting, reclining, frisbeeing and barbecueing followed by the restful patter of rain on ersatz canvas from about one in the morning.

3) Watching films

In Bruges
Brendan Gleason is a world-weary and affable hitman. Ralph Fiennes is a cockney and despicable hitman. Colin Farrell is channelling Dougal from Father Ted, if Dougal were to leave the priesthood and take up swearing, drinking, drugs and hitmanning. Brilliant, brilliant film - you can tell it comes from the pen of someone more used to writing for the stage, but its self-contained nature is all the better for it. Impressive performances from the cast, particularly Farrell who I’m not normally a fan of, and a subtle, cyclical structure.

Very much recommended, plus it makes the city of Bruges look absolutely amazing.

Doomsday
An absolute mess of ideas taken from a whole slew of post-apocalyptic movies - such as Mad Max, Escape From New York, 28 Days Later – and shoehorned into a Scottish setting (but actually filmed for the most part in South Africa). A modern day B-movie which makes no apologies, or indeed realistic justification, for mixing a sexy high-tech soldier with mounted knights and car chases. Fun though, in that same guilty way as eating a whole box of Jaffa Cakes in one sitting, then giving in and opening the second box too.

4) Failing to blog

Whoops. Must do better.

This time next year I’ll be a millionaire

August 12th, 2008

How about making bubble-wrap filled with helium, so that the more diligently you wrap your parcels, the lighter they become, and thus the cheaper they are to post…

You’d only need, say, fifty metres of bubble-wrap make the sending of a modestly sized cupcake to a long-distance birthday-endowed chum absolutely free.

I’ll take that million in Zimbabwean dollars please.

Why am I cursed…

August 11th, 2008

…so that every pair of shoes I buy ends up squeaking as if I am constantly followed by the mournful ghost of Beaker from the Muppets?

 

Hot, hot heat.

July 29th, 2008

Slight lull in posting, due to the heat-induced apathy as my brain melts like an afterburner-mounted Milkybar. Incidentally, that’s a confection which is apparently particularly suffering from the ban on television advertising of sweets to children, since adults aren’t exactly a target market. A Cadbury’s Flake can be pushed by a slow-motion naked babe in a bath; all the Milkybar can rely on is a speccy kid acting out cowboy fantasies before using the sweet as a bribe to make friends. Besides, Milkybars are just wrong - they’re the chocolate equivalent of the white dog poo you used to see around.

One of my regular haunts is Photoshop Disasters which documents catastrophic examples of inept image editing. This recent post is one of my favourites – either the housing crisis in America has meant people are moving into doll’s houses, or Godzilla has let his pet dog out to play.

I’ve seen my fair share of badly edited property photos, typically when someone’s added a lovely blue sky but forgotten to fill in the gaps where it shows through the branches of trees resulting in a horrible white halo like a severe case of arboreal dandruff.

The worst I’ve personally seen far transcends that though. Some years ago a client advertising in the magazine I work for sent through a scan of a photo that they’d obviously decided needed a little touching up. And by touching up, I mean cutting – with scissors and the trembling hands of a long-term alcohol abuser – a giant picture of a deer from another photo, and physically sellotaping it to the lawn in front of the house.

Imagine a collage made by an excessively hyperactive five-year-old in remedial class; a massive stag looming over a puny farmhouse, held back from the brink of a destructive rampage only by the wodge of tape clearly sticking it to the picture.

I don’t think the property sold - giant deer phobia is more common than you’d think.

Mirror, signal, manoeuvre.

July 20th, 2008

The time has come for me to start growing my own little carbon footprint to add to the stampede of tracks conspiring to turn our bundle of rock, water and gas into a sweaty armpit of a planet.

I need to buy a car.

We’ve run out of space in the office where I work, to the point that we could only squeeze more people in if we divided a floor horizontally in two and solely employed dwarves. So it looks like a move is in order, and it’s unlikely to be within the 15-minute walk I currently enjoy.

Plus, while I’ve managed to get away without a car up till now, I’m now playing badminton twice a week at halls a fair distance from my home, and it’s also probably time I stopped relying on friends to taxi me around the country.

The thing is, though, since I passed my test over ten years ago, I haven’t driven at all. Unless you count Grand Theft Auto, but I’m pretty sure that mounting the kerb at 93mph, scattering pedestrians like bowling pins and then somersaulting into a taxi hasn’t yet been added to the Highway Code.

Unfortunately, since life doesn’t have save-game points to cater for bad driving, this means that all the money I saved in the past by not owning a car is now being used to pay for refresher lessons. And I now feel like I’m seventeen again, which in normal circumstances would be pleasant but in this case serves only to remind me how much about driving I’ve forgotten. My first session demonstrated that my driving is as rusty as I imagine the car in which I first learned is now. That mirror, signal, manoeuvre mantra is now repeating itself in my sleep.

Once all this is over, I’ll be in the enviable position of being to sink a significant proportion of my earnings into a tin box with wheels for the main purpose of transporting me to the place where I earn that very money. It’s all a bit cyclical really.

Binge punning.

July 15th, 2008

For a variety of reasons, I can’t really explain on a public web page the full origins of the epic list that follows. It’s the collected efforts of myself and a couple of friends from work inspired by a certain former workmate and that’s about as much as I can say. The truth is stranger than any fiction I could concoct.

So in the meantime, imagine if every film director in the world was an inveterate alcoholic, plagued with visions of the demon drink wherever he or she went. I’d like to think that it would result in the following great canon of movies. And yes, we did get a bit carried away.

The Man with the Iron Flask
Miller’s Crossing
Lush Hour
Special Brewster’s Millions
Finding Wino
Air Budweiser
The House of Flying Lagers
Summer Alcoholiday
Summer of Sambuca
James and the Giant Peach Schnappes
Hot Fizz
Bar Trek
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Firewater
Glenmorangie Glen Ross
The Thin Red Wine
Rosemary’s Babycham
Blackthorn Down
Rum Lola Rum
Dr Pernod
Meths in Venice
Snakebite on a Plane
Mr & Mrs John Smiths
The Thomas Corona Affair
The Secret Hoegaarden
Blame it on the Bells Boy
Becks, Lies & Videotape
Bacaardi to the Future
Eternal Moonshine of the Spotless Mind
Whisky Business 
Schindler’s Pissed
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Cobra
Liver Let Die
Educating Margarita
Turner & Hooch
Driving Pissed Daisy
Dude, Where’s My Carling?
The Silence of the Lambruscos
Hock, Stock and Two Empty Barrels
Falling Down
Midnight Rum
21 Drams
The Bourbon Supremacy
There’s Something About Sherry
Mead in Manhattan
Divorcing Jack Daniels
The Buckfast Club
Cognac Air
American History 4X
Tequila Mocking Bird
Days of Thunderbird
The Bottle Collector
Top Gin

Feel free to contribute additions to this eminently pointless list…

WikiMcPedia.

July 9th, 2008

I can’t be the first to think of this, but in the nothing-is-sacred world of commerce – this Bible brought to you by McDonald’s and why not try our new Happy Clappy Meal including two loaves, a filet-o-fish and regular fries – Wikipedia should surely be open season for the insidious and brightly coloured tentacles of marketeers. The whole site’s just begging for some serious product placement. Who cares about paying a million for Will Smith to wear your trainers as he fires hot lead into the faces of a thousand baddies when you could get a picture of your sweatshop’s finest output in front of everyone who searches for the history of footwear on the world’s favourite made-up internet encyclopedia.

You’d have to be a bit subtle though, which is not always the advertising industry’s strong point. I’m not talking about slapping a big can of Stella in the lager entry; that’s so obvious it’d be ripped down by the community in the time it takes to drink twelve of the aforementioned cans, start a fight, and copiously vomit kebab-meat down your shirt. I’m not even talking about a history professor sneakily adding his own book into the ‘Further reading’ appendix on the Battle of Agincourt.

For example, take a look at the ‘Battery‘ entry. That’s just itching for a good quality cutaway diagram of a domestic battery. Now, there wouldn’t be any suggestion of a logo or a brand name but, should the battery in that drawing just happen to be coloured black at the bottom and copper at the top like a certain well-known make, there’s arguably at the very least a low-level psychological tweak going to happen.

Some products are easier than others - Guinness and St Patrick’s Day are already intertwined so it’s easy to get away with mentioning the black stuff in the relevant entry. But did you know that in Japan, Kentucky Fried Chicken is associated with Christmas, to the extent that some families apparently make advance reservations to guarantee their bucket of miscellaneous bird bits? I’m sure there’s someone at chicken-central with the responsibility to ensure that particular nugget of information doesn’t get removed from KFC’s Wikipedia entry.

Sport is an easy one - have a look at how detailed the equipment lists are for the top tennis players. I’d be surprised if those weren’t carefully massaged by marketing departments. But they’re missing a trick on the generic sport pages; an artfully not-too-professional-looking photo of an attractive sportsperson clad in Nike might well slip through the net to influence those looking up their chosen activity.

There’s opportunity for some carefully orchestrated and underhand counter-marketing too. Car manufacturers - is your competitor’s well-built but ugly car selling rather more than you’d hoped? How about uploading a picture of that car on their entry, making sure that your own better-looking smug-wagon is clearly visible in the background for comparison. Fashion labels could dig out photos of their rivals’ occasional disastrous mistakes to sabotage the relevant pages. It’d be like the effect Jeremy Clarkson had on the sales of denim.

Eventually the situation will degenerate into a cold war of marketing, as PR firms retain a host of scattered agents to perform surgical strikes of secretly inserted information which conspire to promote ally companies and undermine the opposition. Or maybe that hidden conflict is already upon us and there’s a reason why Wikipedia’s Renault page is stuffed full of terrible pictures of ugly cars or that the handbag/purse entry is headed up by Burberry.

Music therapy.

July 5th, 2008

It’s late on Friday and I’m in a foul mood.

I’ve been in a limbo of waiting all evening, standing by to hear a time and place to meet up with friends in town, only to finally find out the details so late in the evening it’d be pointless for me to head out. I hate waiting for anything, times ten when that waiting is for nothing.

Thus, foul mood.

I look to counter this by turning to something that makes me happy: music. I’m going to be unrepentantly unoriginal here and use the old blogger’s trick of setting my iPod to shuffle and writing some drivel about the first five songs that come up. I get to look clever and cultural while boring you with my musical tastes.

And yet the moment I try to do this, my little white box of music defies me - out of 4061 individual songs stored in a miracle of magnetic alignment, three out of the first five random choices are not only by the same artist, but from the same album. Evidently the universe is against me in a multitude of tiny ways.

Let’s try this again. I just wish there was a legal way I could link to mp3’s of these tracks.

1) Tightly Wound by The Pineapple Thief - from the album Tightly Unwound

An incredible and little-known band, The Pineapple Thief have grown on me hugely over the course of their albums. They seem to have been loosely categorised as prog-rock, the dread term that has mainstream music critics racing to make stupid jokes and dismiss the genre because that’s what they think their readers want to hear. Quite aside from the critics being wrong, so is the claim that the Thief are prog. There’s bits of early Radiohead in the mix, and an initial impression of simplicity that turns out to be much more complex than you expect. I find listening to the Thief to be intensely calming.

My copy of this has been signed by the whole band. I don’t know why a scribbled name on something makes it feel more important as an item but it does.

2) I’m Yours If You Want Me by Chris Thile - from the album How To Grow A Woman From The Ground

This is the man who made me buy a bluegrass mandolin - his playing is astounding in both his solo work and as part of Nickel Creek (not to be confused with the world’s most arse-clenchingly generic rock band, Nickelback). Even if you think you don’t like country/bluegrass it’s worth giving some Thile a try. Here a single voice and mandolin conspire to send shivers down your spine before a double bass and harmony vocals surface briefly from the depths halfway through the song. I’ve got Jools Holland to thank for introducing me to Thile when Nickel Creek appeared on Later… Despite having many years of experience playing the guitar, my skills haven’t transferred to the mandolin enough to even attempt the sort of things Chris does.

3) Too Sick To Pray by Alabama 3 - from the album La Peste

Another band I first saw on Jools Holland - playing this particular song, as it happens – Alabama 3 are probably best known for the title song of The Sopranos. They seem to just randomly incorporate musical styles from every neck of the woods, making them a country-rock-dance-gospel-electronic-rap-pop smorgasbord that somehow avoids the perils of aural indigestion. La Peste is their most downbeat album, showing a little less of the humour they’re known for, but retaining their unique style. Despite the name, Alabama 3 are from Brixton, but you’d never guess it.

Honey in the Rock, another song by the band, has possibly my favourite female vocal in any song, period.

4) Suicide Lover by Paul Gilbert - from the album Burning Organ

Any song that starts with the couplet She was the first girl I ever kissed / How was I to know she was a terrorist can’t be all bad. Paul Gilbert is a serious guitar god who manages to funnel his playing into some incredibly catchy, compact, and often funny rock songs. Only a couple of weeks ago I saw him live at the London International Music Show where just he and a frequently misfiring CD player managed to blow away the performances of most of the other performers.

5) First Breath After Coma by Explosions In The Sky - from the album The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place

I listen to a lot of purely instrumental music, much of which is post-rockiness like Mogwai, Mono and Sigur Rós. For many people it’s an acquired taste - the pleasure is far from immediate. I’ve heard Explosions In The Sky described as U2 without the vocals and stretched out to triple the length; with their chiming guitars and prominent rhythms it’s a pretty fair analogy. The joy comes from the slow build-up to a musical climax. When I saw them live, at the culmination of their set a guitar amplifier burst into flames and a puff of smoke drifted across the room - a fine way to end given the band’s name.

 

Socks and the city.

June 29th, 2008

How difficult is it, exactly, to make a pair of socks?

Obviously, as a man of manly manliness I don’t – and probably never will – have much experience of knitting, at least until you can easily get patterns for racing cars, spaceships and full scale models of Keira Knightley. But I’d wager that making a pair of socks is simpler than constructing, say, a flatscreen television. Or one of those cheese toastie machines that you buy, use constantly for a month until your insides have turned to butter, and then hide away in the back of a cupboard where it will stay unloved and unused for the next twenty-five years, awaiting the inevitable machine intelligence uprising when it’ll come back and toast your face off.

In fact, I suspect that socks are probably easier to make than most other items of clothing, barring possibly the g-string. They are tubes of wool (or selected synthetic alternatives), sealed at one end and with a bend in it. It’s not difficult. I’ve had many fine relationships with some nicely crafted socks that do the job perfectly well, fitting comfortably, keeping your feet warm and preventing your skin from being ground to a moist and bloody powder by the insides of your shoes.

Someone needs to show BHS how to make socks. Because the last pack that I bought seem to fail utterly at achieving the very basic requirements of sockiness.

First off, I’ve got size 11 feet. Not massive - I don’t have to wear clown shoes or anything - but not small either. You’ll struggle to push me over; like a Weeble, I’ll wobble but I won’t fall down. So naturally, I bought the socks marked ‘Sizes 9-12′. Stupid, stupid me. Because these socks are so tight they push all the blood out of my feet, making my eyeballs swell slightly every time I put them on. I end up looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall when he gets thrown out into the Mars atmosphere.

I have a friend who once tore a muscle in her shoulder when she was taking off a pair of boots - having tried to put these socks on I now know how she felt. You could sell them to the military - they’d form part of the G-suits that fighter pilots have to wear. 

They’d need a bit of work first, mind you, since there’s another major sock failure that they suffer from. The moment you try and wear them, they fall apart. If you wash them, they fall apart. I fear that were you to shout at them in despair and disappointment, they’d start explosively shedding bits of thread like a poodle with bubonic mange. The leggy bit (technical term) separates almost entirely from the heel leaving your ankle exposed in a way that would cause uproar in Victorian times. 

I think these socks must be the equivalent of the velcro quick-release trousers that male strippers wear. And I really don’t think there’s a huge market out there for male foot-fetish striptease artistes.

Tick tock.

June 24th, 2008

This is very sobering. Go and have a look before reading any further.

It’s difficult to think of a more stark way to demonstrate one side of the costs of the Iraq war/occupation/screw-up. If you’ve got sound on your computer, you’ll hear the gentle clicks that signify each death, like a manual typewriter putting a full-stop on the end of a person’s life. I’m a little disturbed that what this most reminds me of is the game Defcon, where similar points and expanding circles on a stylized map signify the impact of nuclear missiles.

Can you imagine, however, what this map would be like if it also included the deaths of Iraqi people? We’re talking estimates of between 600,000 and over a million so far. A proportion of these are ‘indirect’ (but no less important) deaths - if a hospital is destroyed, someone who might have lived will not now be able to get the necessary treatment, or if fresh water supplies are disrupted then diseases become prevalent.

Include these on the map, and that irregular tick of each death would become a cacophony: the sound of a swarm of insidious locusts. If you’ve ever seen time-lapse film of mould spores growing, I imagine that’s what the dots on the map would become like, growing and spreading until all the major cities and villages became clearly defined by the human cost of this war.

I don’t know what should be done about the situation in Iraq. I’m horrified by how people were mislead and lied to by the government as to the reasons for the war - that whole mess over the WMD claims. But the invasion cannot now be taken back. The Western world can’t just swoop in, oust a dictator and dismantle a corrupt government, and then disappear off again into the sunset expecting everything to revert to a happy ending - those are the actions of a superhero in a cheap child’s comic. Instead, this is something that is going to take years, decades, or more to resolve, whatever happens. And that map is going to keep on ticking away until that special consensual hallucination we call ’stability’ begins to develop.

 

Destructo!

June 16th, 2008

There is a certain joy to be found in watching something be utterly destroyed.

Which I admit makes me sound worryingly like a Bond villain.

From here, which has many, many more.

 

Cloverfield of dreams.

June 13th, 2008

So, watched Cloverfield last night the way I usually watch films: darkened room, cocooned in my bed and the isolation of a good pair of headphones.

It’d be easy to be glib and make cheap analogies - Godzilla in the style of The Blair Witch Project perhaps. But that would be a grave injustice. It’s a genuinely unsettling monster movie filmed Handicam-style from a first person perspective, presented as a real-time documentary of events as they happen; it feels like found footage rather than an orchestrated and directed Hollywood blockbuster. As a stylistic conceit it’s nothing new, but the careful handling of the format is a joy - flashbacks occur because the events being filmed are being recorded over a previously used tape, a perfectly natural way to inject human emotion into what is effectively a disaster film.

And it’s a hell of a disaster. The lo-fi, in-the-thick-of-it style is matched by some of the most impressive special effects I’ve seen, creating a level of reality that, at times, left me rattled. Inspiration (if you can call it that) has come from the citizen journalism and aftermath of 9/11 and other events - streets coated in dust and ash, the human impact and reactions. The internet has become filled with shaky videos of extraordinary and horrific happenings, a phenomenon that Cloverfield taps into. Children of Men’s kinetic camerawork is another touchstone, the dropping of cinematic gloss in favour of raw effect.

I’m gushing like a ten-year-old with a thesaurus, obviously. Cloverfield has really impressed me. I’m not sure if you could even call the film exciting in a conventional way - the level of true tension pushes it out of that realm, and the total lack of any tongue-in-cheekness that you’d typically find in this genre of movie solidifies the realism. It’s certainly not particularly gory either, sidestepping that pitfall in favour of more human but no less visceral fears. I don’t really want to talk about what actually happens in the film - the experience has to be enjoyed in its entirety.

My only worry is the inevitably inferior sequels that it will spawn. There’s no way they’ll be able to maintain the fresh style of the original; that feeling of watching something inherently new and different can’t be replicated. I’d be happy to be proven wrong though.

There’s a hole in my bouquet.

June 10th, 2008

Were I the sort of person who bought vases to display the flowers plucked along the way as I skipped through the fields, I would buy this.

It reminds me somewhat of this lamp too – I like the idea that the top of a table can change from solid to an imaginary surface of water.

Hundreds and thousands and millions and billions.

June 5th, 2008

“Millionaire” is a pretty generic idiom in the UK for a rich person, since a million quid will get you a pretty wide range of happiness substitutes. But I’ve often wondered what are the equivalent terms in other countries with different currencies.

A million yen works out at about £4,800 at present, so in Japan millionaires are ten a penny, if you’ll excuse the mixed monetary metaphor. And the winner of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire in Somali shillings would come out with the grand total of £380. From a purely linguistic point of view I’d be interested to know some of the international jargon referring to the rich - it presumably isn’t as blunt and numerically specific as “millionaire”.

Plus, even in the UK a million smackers doesn’t buy nearly as much as it used to – a modest country house in the less desirable of the home counties, or a wee-stained closet in central London. We’re going to need some kind of replacement word since becoming a millionaire will soon be unremarkable.

Billionaire is too big a step – there’s only about a thousand of those in the world at the moment, and even with inflation it’s going to be unattainable by most for some time. Multi-millionaire is, well, a cop-out. It’s too dull and not nearly specific enough; you could have two million or a hundred million. We need an intermediate number to cater for the comfortably rich, rather than the mind-blowingly wealthy.

Of course, I speak as a former millionaire myself. Yes, I once had a million and splurged it all in an orgy of consumerism. Unfortunately, mine was more towards the Somali shilling end of the scale – these were Beenz, a kind of short-lived internet currency/loyalty point that emerged in the heady days of the dot-com boom when I was at university.

While friends monopolised the linguistics department computer rooms late at night, using multiple computers to continuously visit websites and earn a couple of points at a time, I took the easy route and won a competition with a prize of a million beenz. As the world’s first – and probably only – beenz millionaire, fame and fortune stretched out before me like a straightened helter-skelter. Which would make it a slide, I guess. I was interviewed in the Sunday Times, got my picture on the front cover (of the thrilling business section), and…that’s it really.

I blew all my not-so-hard-earned beenz on a load of entertainment kit to stuff into my tiny Uni bedroom: TV, minidisc, DVD player (when DVDs were brand new, and the players weren’t so cheap that you find them in boxes of cereal), and lots more. In all it came to about two and a half grand’s worth of power-hungry appliances - somewhat short of the million figure I started with, and a healthy lesson about exchange rates there.

Not long afterwards the whole Beenz system crashed and burnt in style. I’d like to hope that this was due to reasons other than a certain someone devaluing the currency by suddenly dumping a million of them on the market at once…

Animal alarm.

May 31st, 2008

Watching late night Pet Rescue as an excuse to avoid going to sleep, I was struck by the beginning moments of one episode.

They started off by releasing a couple of wild animals that had been rescued and brought back to the peak of fitness. The first animal was a common toad (Bufo bufo, for all you binomial nomenclature fans) of the type that are sadly often found in a rather flattened form on our roads.

However, what had this particular Mr Toad been rescued from? It had been attacked by a grass snake. Would it be churlish for me to suggest that this is because grass snakes have evolved to eat toads? That’s how animals work - they all need to eat something, apart possibly from supermodels (homo anorexus) who seem able to subsist on nitrogen alone. It’s nature, innit. I hope the people who found the toad are now going to assiduously chase after it to rescue any slugs and snails it may try to eat - after all, we can’t be speciesist here.

Furthermore, in the Top Trumps of conservation, grass snakes score rather more highly than toads. The common toad is, as its name may just suggest, pretty common. Grass snakes, on the other hand, are a protected species so the toad-fanciers have managed to deprive an endangered animal of its dinner.

Next week, perhaps they could nurse back to health a mouse saved from the claws of a barn owl by a member of the public who daringly managed to effect the rescue by smacking the bird with a shovel.

The second animal release was even more odd. It was a duck that had been found, and I quote, “completely covered in cooking oil.” 

Basically, they’d rescued someone’s Sunday lunch.

Meep meep.

May 25th, 2008

I’ve come to the conclusion that I live opposite the family of a true animated hero: the Road Runner. Who Framed Roger Rabbit was absolutely right - cartoons are real, and Wile E Coyote’s eternal nemesis lives happily in Essex, a welcome respite from racing along the dusty roads of the American southwest.

How do I know this?

Because every time someone leaves the house in one of their many and varied cars, they merrily toot their horn twice. Meep meep.

Every.

Single.

Time.

Meep meep.

So it must be a family of Road Runners, keeping the old traditions alive by sounding the warcry and remembering the old days when life was a good straight road and an obsessive canine with an unlimited credit account at Acme Corporation.

Because the only alternative is that the house is populated by the sort of cretinous morons who, having said good-bye to their fellow simpletons, feel the need to announce to the entire street the electrifying fact that they are departing from their driveway in a motorised vehicle. Every time that meep meep sounds, crowds of my neighbours rush to their windows to stare at the amazing spectacle of a magical horseless wagon passing by. Truly we are filled with gratitude that we might be afforded a chance to see this miracle.

Middle of the night when I’m trying to sleep, five in the morning, doesn’t matter - the meep meep endures. I’m sure that even if we were afflicted by some natural disaster forcing us to evacuate our homes - flooding, perhaps, or a many-tentacled horror from under the earth - the last thing I’d hear as I rushed panic-stricken from my home would be the imbecilic double toot from opposite as the subnormal neanderthals saluted their shortly-to-be-eaten house.

It’s time to open an account at Acme.

Meep meep.

Falling down.

May 21st, 2008

The topic of fainting goats came up at a party this weekend. I do find that the concept of swooning ungulates usually makes ideal small talk in an informal situation – it’s mentioned in all the top self-improvement books. Basically, they’re the Norman Wisdom of goats, a breed that stiffen up and topple over whenever they’re surprised. Not generally the best of predator defenses, particularly if you’re halfway up a mountain, as goats often tend to be.

Let me demonstrate (don’t worry, no involuntary sky-diving in this; it’s all in a lovely green pasture):

Look at the poor things - they’re like a novelty domino rally. If this occurred in the wild, lions wouldn’t roar; they’d shout ‘Boo!’, leaving a field full of finger food without any of that awkward chasing and jumping.

Breed it into humans and we’ll end wars forever. One gunshot and everyone falls over…

 

Feline groovy.

May 16th, 2008

NEWSFLASH! Office cat is back!

I wrote about the disappearance of my furriest co-worker back in January, by which time I’d come to the conclusion that her owners must have moved away.

But now, heading on for five months later, the cat is back, materializing outside the door today as though nothing had happened and meowing to be let in. The resultant wander around the office and insolent roll on the floor have restored normality once more, in as much as an office with a resident feline can be called normal.

Quite honestly, it has made my week.

Bad bard.

May 15th, 2008

I recently stumbled across an astounding discovery: the first drafts of four of the great Shakespeare’s plays. It is evident that he went through many stages of revision before ending up with the classic texts we know and love today, and these early versions give a fascinating insight into the creative process. I bring to you some exclusive previews before this gets picked up by the literary press and becomes international news.

The Taming of the Poo Comedy about a drunkard suffering from constant acute diarrhea. Well, perhaps not that cute. Like so many of the great bard’s works, it coined (and answered) a famous phrase when the hero exits some woods, pursued by a bear who is afflicted by the same problem.

A Midsummer Night’s Bream The original inspiration for Finding Nemo.

Hamlet Tragic tale of a tiny baby pig who just wants to herd sheep in Denmark. Ends badly in a bacon factory. With minor changes to cater for a younger audience, was also adapted into a film.

As You Like It, Not A Lot, But You Like It A farce of identity when a small bewigged magician named Paul and a wide range of supporting characters exchange disguises until he finds the love of his life, Deborah. Ends with a twist into horror as Paul saws his new wife in half.

 

The right stripes.

May 11th, 2008

Stripes are in this year.

In the bright sunshine of incipient summer the garden bench has been commandeered by a queen wasp (not a WASP or, thankfully, the various members of W.A.S.P.). Every ten minutes she helicopters in to pick up strips of wood, chewing industriously away before carrying off her spoils to her secret base. The bench is quickly becoming stippled with the marks of her labour.

I like to think that she’s building a host of tiny wasp-sized benches, ready for her future handmaidens to populate as they train to become fully fledged yellowjackets – a kind of insectoid convent school with a particularly lively uniform.

It gave me a chance to try a few close-up photographs, and the hankering for a proper macro lens on my camera in order to do an even better job. Unfortunately macro lenses are majorly expensive so it might be a wee while…

Smokestack lightning.

May 7th, 2008

The sort of special effects that you’d normally see only in Hollywood when a volcanic eruption and lightning intermingle here.