Friday, December 31, 2004

Making Life Taste Sour

I receive a letter from Sainsbury's informing me that they are introducing a minimum spend of £25, excluding the delivery charge, for their online shopping service. As you would expect these days, this is "to ensure that we continue offering you the high levels of service you expect."
Well, Ms Claire Harper, Head of Marketing, it will ensure that your delivery men will never darken my door again because I will switch to one of your competitors.

At a time when Sainsbury's are getting their arse kicked all round the High Street by Tesco, which marketing genius came up with this idea? Possibly the same one who decided to give customers a one hour delivery slot that was very difficult to achieve and then pay them £10 if Sainsbury's were even one minute late. (We customers loved it, of course. I've had £30 out of them, without even setting up bogus traffic diversions).
I immediately emailed Tesco and I'm indebted to Sunil Kumar for promptly replying that Tesco has no minimum value spend for their service. I replied that they should stand by for a flood of Sainsbury's defectors.

It's particularly ungrateful of Sainsbury's since regular readers will know that I have given them valuable product placement in The Adventures of Carlo. You may recall that Carlo was wont to give Wayne, the delivery boy, a cup of coffee and make small talk about root vegetables. However, in real life Sainsbury's have recently been sending me gentlemen much older than myself who seemed to be graduates from the Victor Meldrew charm school and bore a striking facial resemblance to root vegetables themselves.

Here are a few reasons why Sainsbury's can stick their dubious cost-benefit analysis up Jamie Oliver's arse:
One third of British households are now single people. Their online shop will often be slightly less than £25. But for the elderly and people with disabilities, online shopping has been a godsend.
Sainsbury's have a wider social responsibility, not just to those people, but to the environment. The growth in online shopping has a significant effect in reducing car use and pollution.

And don't forget that there was already a delivery charge which meant that, if they delivered to ten people in my area at one time, they could pocket £50 on top of the profit on the groceries.
We all know capitalists are greedy bastards but do they have to be so fucking stupid as well?

Smoke Gets In Your Surplice

So the Vatican is to throw its weight behind the anti-smoking campaign. [Guardian Link]
A couple of small ironies in that. As an infant Catholic I was often almost asphyxiated by the clouds of incense that billowed around the church. It was even worse for the altar boys who must have staggered home feeling as though they'd smoked sixty Woodbines.

I didn't see so much smoke and people in funny clothes again until the eighties when nightclubs started pumping coloured smoke on to the dance floor. I remember Mo Mowlem once abandoning me in the middle of Tainted Love (the song, not the activity) while she interrogated the DJ about the technical details of the smoke generating process and whether he had some in strawberry flavour. The poor boy got in a terrible muddle with his playlist. He probably thought she was talking about condoms.

It doesn't happen so much in Catholic churches now (incense-tripping, not tainted love), except on special occasions or if the parish priest is of a theatrical bent. But the Vatican traditionally uses smoke signals to announce the progress of deliberations on choosing a new Pope, spewing fumes over Vatican City. Maybe now they'll install a hi-tech laser display instead.

On a more serious note, if I were a member of the anti-smoking lobby I'd be none too pleased to have the Catholic church on board. Young people aren't going to be impressed by anti-smoking edicts from an organisation that says condoms are sinful and has even promulgated phoney 'scientific' evidence that the HIV virus passes through microscopic holes in them.

I suppose that priests, who have often been heavy smokers, will now be expected to set an example to their flock. This seems a bit harsh on people who are already expected to be celibate and never able to savour a post-coital cigarette, only a non-coital cigarette. Speaking of which, will the guidelines for penances have to be re-written? Six Stations of the Cross for shagging your wife's sister plus ten Hail Marys if you had a cigarette afterwards?

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Who Let The Typos Out?

I've been reading Who Let the Blogs Out? by Biz Stone. Many of you will recognize the name as someone who has contributed several articles to Blogger Knowledge.
For some reason, I always thought Biz Stone was a woman but there's a picture on the book cover and he looks like a cross between a Blue Peter presenter and a porn star. Not that the two things are mutually exclusive. Look at my old friend Peter Duncan. He's now Chief Scout, for God's sake. (That's a shameless and misleading piece of namedropping: I only met him once at a function and he put his arm round me. I didn't think quickly enough to say 'Bob a Job?').

As Biz is always busy giving advice to the rest of us, let me give him some advice. Next time you write a book, darling, for heaven's sake get a decent proof reader. Typos may be acceptable in blogs where the content is free and the odd one slips through in most books but the number in your book suggests that either you or your publisher couldn't be arsed to check it. Next time, come and see your Uncle Willie and I'm sure we can come to some mutually satisfactory arrangement. And I love it when you talk HTML.

Having said that, it's one of the better books on the subject and I think both the novice and the old hands could get something out of it. If he has a fault it's that he should have reined in some of the metaphors, analogies and sweeping generalisations. For example: "Bloggers tend to be smarter than ordinary citizens." The whole point is that bloggers are ordinary citizens. The activity of blogging won't in itself make them much smarter. If they think shit, they'll write shit. Even the most limited random survey of blogs confirms this.

I also think that talking about the 'blogging community' is as far from reality as talking about the 'gay community'. From my limited experience in the blogosphere there are thousands of separate blogging communities among the millions of blogs in existence. Even if you spent 24 hours a day online, it would be impossible to interact with more than a small circle of fellow bloggers. And, just as in the physical world, we surround ourselves with a circle of bloggers based on shared interests/political views/sexuality/writing style, etc. The difference with the 'real' world of course is that we'd take an instant dislike to some of these people if we ever met them, but I've always thought that's one of the advantages of cyberspace over 'real' life. Appearances, body language, accents, etc, don't get in the way of conversation or developing a rapport at an intellectual level.

Biz Stone is a little too fond of building huge abstract entities on the back of discoveries from anthropology, zoology and neuroscience. At one point he says "Neuroscience explains how intelligence can emerge from the chaotic free-for-all of the neurons in our heads...." Actually, it doesn't. From the several books I've read on neuroscience, it's discovered a great deal but explained almost nothing and I doubt that any neuroscientist would disagree with that statement.

On a lighter note, there's a lot of fun to be had in the Glossary. I suspect he's invented some of the terms, such as 'Clog Blog: a blog written in Dutch.' GSOH, our Biz, as they say in personal ads. (For years I thought that stood for 'Good Salary, Own Home', so thank God I've never looked for love or sex down that road).
There's also 'Blurker', a silent reader of blogs who never leaves comments. Bit silly, that one, since it comes from 'Lurker' which is usually perjorative. Whereas I know that my hundreds of blurkers only remain silent because they can't improve on perfection.
What I'm doing now is 'Meta-blogging': blogging about blogging.
This is also a 'Progblog': a left-leaning blog. And it seems that, if I become a member of the 'Blogerati' (the intelligentsia of the blogosphere), then I'm also a citizen of 'Blogistan' (the sum total of political bloggers).
Best to keep quiet about Blogistan or George Bush will send troops there to bring freedom and democracy and Tony Blair will put it on the White List which means we won't accept asylum seekers.

Note to m'learned friends: when we implied that Mr Peter Duncan had appeared in a porn film we of course meant a piece of erotica of the highest artistic integrity.

Note to American readers: Blue Peter is a British children's television programme of mind-numbing worthiness. It does not describe the male organ suffering from hypothermia.

Beyond Our Ken

Yesterday I took a mild swipe at the Christians for not fessing up to their omnipotent God being responsible for the earthquake. Well, I still haven't heard a peep out of Murphy O'Bullshit or that Welsh bloke with the beard.
But today's Guardian has several letters on the subject and the Bishop of Lincoln has come to the rescue. He concludes: ".....people of faith look to a horizon beyond the limitations of scientific enquiry and secular morality. It is a horizon at the limits of time and space beyond which eternity provides a perspective which might yet make sense of what science can only explain."
Thanks Bish. I'm sure we'd all agree that's really cleared things up. Doesn't it read beautifully? Like Arthur C. Clarke put through a theological spin machine and spewed out on to the episcopal writing paper. Just don't ask what the fuck it means.

I also enjoyed Mike Dixon, a parish priest in Northumberland, who decided attack was the best form of defence (the Donald Rumsfeld school of theology, no doubt). He speaks of "the emptiness of humanist atheism [as opposed to what? theist atheism?].......attacking someone else's faith system." But then he does a bit of one-upmanship himself by concluding: "at least as Christians we can go away quietly and try to light a candle rather than curse the darkness." Wow. That's really put us non-believers in our place.
As it happens, we had a power cut here just before Christmas. And you know, Mike, I didn't have to 'try' very hard to light a candle. A lighted match held against the wick did the trick. And instead of cursing the darkness I phoned the electricity supplier (after I'd cursed them) and they told me what had caused it and what they were doing to put it right. I think there's a small parable there about acting rationally. Following the earthquake disaster, anyone who starts lighting candles (or, for that matter, cursing) is just being bloody stupid. Fortunately, millions of people around the world are giving money and practical help. And yes, that includes many Christians and people of other faiths and none.
How many boxes of candles are stacked in church vestries across Britain? Stop lighting the bloody things and send them to the earthquake zones where people are without power.

The reason some of us attack Christian beliefs rather than, say, followers of the Wicca belief, is that Christians are always in our face. They're spouting on the radio, sitting as of right in the House of Lords voting on legislation, pontificating in Downing Street and the White House and trying to impose their values on other people's private lives. They also, of course, try to recruit new members by claiming that their religion is simultaneously a question of 'faith' and perfectly rational. Yet when, at a time like this, we ask a reasonable question we either get rebuked or stuff like this (this one from Rev. Macpherson in Twickenham): "Religious believers see the totality of experience as part of a greater narrative moving towards an as yet unimaginable goal."

The Art Editor writes: to brighten these dark winter days we are illustrating the blog with photographs of the Lupin Towers gardens in midsummer. They'll usually have bugger all to do with the subject matter, although today's picture is an Angel's Trumpet which we thought was pretty neat. Unlike most images on these pages, these are our own copyright. Our blogger friends are welcome to appropriate them but if we ever see them on a greetings card we'll sue the arse off you.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Tsunami: Now For Some Questions

As we try to come to terms with the scale of the tsunami tragedy it may be inappropriate to make political points. But I will anyway.
Firstly, we learn that the governments of the region decided not to spend money on an early warning system because these events were quite rare. Had they done so, up to two thirds of the fatalities could have been avoided. How many members of these governments lost their lives in this tragedy I wonder? And were the people at risk and whom they represent ever given a vote on whether they wanted the protection of a warning system?

Secondly, there have been heart-warming stories about the help offered to British tourists returning to Gatwick, some of whom had lost all their possessions. Clothing was bought, or donated, from the airport shops. Medical and counselling services were on hand and free accommodation was available at hotels. Wonderful. But a bit of a contrast to the reception this country gives to foreign nationals fleeing persecution and death. I thought again of the Iranian man sentenced to death for being gay whom the Home Office were determined to deport to be sliced in two with a sword. They didn't because he commited suicide in a British benefits office by self-immolation when all his appeals had failed.

Finally, we're hearing an awful lot about Mother Earth and the fearsome power of nature. What's going on? Have we suddenly reverted to pagan times? Silly me. I forgot that God only showers us with blessings and miracles. God doesn't 'do' the bad stuff. The Christians will take care to wipe his fingerprints off this one and make sure he has a good alibi. They can't play the old 'free will' card for this one so, if cornered, expect them to fall back on 'working in mysterious ways'. That usually works a treat on people who've had a full frontal lobotomy.

Phrases In Their Twilight Years

When I went into the kitchen after my Christmas Lunch I heard myself mutter "It looks like the Wreck of the Hesperus." It was an expression I hadn't used for donkey's years but something my mother always said. It's the title of a poem by Longfellow.
This started me thinking about other expressions which my generation got from our parents and grandparents and which will probably soon be extinct. I also wondered where on earth some of them came from.
When my mother or grandmother came home with lots of shopping they often said "Here comes Mrs Brown and her luggage."
It turns out that this was a popular 19th century song sung by, among others, Mr J. Francis of the Mohawk Minstrels. Another expression of my grandmother's which came from the pre-electric age was "My blood ran to lamp oil."
A tea lady at one of my first workplaces used to say "It's Casey's Court in this place." I used to think this came from a children's comic but I now find that 'Casey's Court' (a place with lots of frantic coming and going) was the name of an early 20th century music hall touring act that included lots of children.
Looking like 'The Wild Man of Borneo' was a common expression for anyone who looked dishevelled. It's a name given to the Orang Utans who live in the Borneo rainforest, but has also been used by several stage acts and musicians over the years. It was also the title of a 1941 film with Phil Silvers (Bilko), which may have popularised the phrase with my parents' generation.
Finally, I always liked my aunt's phrase to describe a strong wind: "Enough to blow the feathers off a goose."

The Adventures of Carlo Episode 31

When I went into the drawing room the following morning I was surprised to see both Lee and Carlo on the floor wrapped in my Persian rug. I tapped Carlo on the shoulder and as he turned the rug unfurled and they rolled away from each other as though emerging from a giant Christmas cracker. Carlo muttered something about Lee being cold from his escapade on the moat and I tactfully left to make some coffee.
When I returned, Lee and Carlo had gone but Sandy was leaning against the fireplace swigging from a bottle of Fernet Branca.
"Shall I ring Mrs Skidmore and cancel your talk?", I said.
"No, no. Piece of piss, Willie. This stuff will do the trick. Maria Callas used to swear by it."
"I don't recall Maria Callas ever being at lock-ins at the Rod and Mullet. Nor, for that matter, singing hits from the sixties from the middle of the moat."
"So sorry, old boy. That Leo's a nice chap but he can't hold his drink."
"It's Lee."
"Whatever", said Sandy, showing both that instant grasp of the native vernacular and the ability to blame someone else that had advanced his career in the Foreign Office.


Lee took the television and video player to the village hall in the garage truck, on the pretext of being called out to a flat battery. I followed on foot, feeling I should be there for moral support.
"Are you sure you're well enough to do this?", I said to Sandy as we had a last cigarette outside the hall.
"For Christ sake, Willie, it's only the Women's fucking Institute."
"Never underestimate that monstrous regiment of women", I said. "Look what happened to Tony Blair at the W.I. He got the slow handclap."
"But Tony Blair's a wanker."
"Exactly. That's what worries me."
I sat at the back of the hall with Lee, which was probably a mistake. I heard one old crone with a moustache like Freddie Mercury say "Is that another boy he's got living with him?", in a tone full of malicious innuendo.
Before his talk, Sandy was asked to draw the raffle. The third ticket he drew was his own which he'd paid for with a 20 Piso note, having spent all his sterling currency in the Rod and Mullet.
"No, no, I couldn't possibly", he said, which probably had less to do with honour than the sight of the packet of Mr Kipling mince pies that Mrs Skidmore was pressing into his hand.
"Before I tell you about my work in the Philippines, I'm going to show you a short video about daily life there", Sandy began. "Carlo, roll the VT, as they in television!" Sandy laughed. Nobody else did.
Carlo inserted the cassette and pressed Play. A small jungle clearing appeared on the screen with people sitting round a camp fire. There followed a disjointed sequence of clips of Brian Harvey - washing in the stream, eating fly-covered pies and farting at Janet Street-Porter. Carlo had brought the wrong tape. It was his recording of 'I'm A Celebrity.....' The ladies looked baffled. Then Ant and Dec appeared and there was a murmur of approval.
"Have you met Ant and Dec?" shouted one lady to Sandy.
"Dickhead", shouted Lee at Carlo.
"Bit of a cock up on the video front", said Sandy. "So sorry, ladies. I'll just have to paint a picture for you in words. Close your eyes and you could almost be there."
I groaned. As I knew from personal experience, these ladies needed no encouragement to close their eyes. Two of them in the second row had nodded off halfway through the raffle. Another ten minutes and it would turn into a geriatric sleepover.
I got up to go and have a cigarette. As I was leaving the hall, a small, obese woman approached me. She was wearing a pale pink sweater and black slacks. Actually, there was nothing slack about her trousers. They clung to her legs like clingfilm. Even before she spoke, I somehow knew that this was Lee's mother.
"Mr Lupin, is Lee in there?" she said, "I saw the truck outside. He could pick my shopping up from the Co-op."
Before I could reply, Arthur from the garage came running in.
"Is Lee in there?" he said but didn't wait for an answer. He stormed straight into the hall where Lee was lying across two wooden chairs.
"Get your arse back in that garage, you lazy little shit", he shouted.
Those members of the audience who were still awake and who had sufficient mobility to make 190 degree turns, swivelled round to face the back of the hall.
Sandy, like an old comic playing a midweek matinee at the Glasgow Empire, gritted his teeth and ploughed on: "Ferdinand Marcos was forced into exile in 1986......"
"Don't you swear at my son", said Lee's mother.
"He was just helping Sandy set up his equipment", I said.
"Sandy?" said Lee's mother. "Sandy!" and she ran down the aisle towards the stage. "You should be ashamed of yourself! Getting a young boy rat-arsed."
"Leave it, Mum. Stop showing me up", said Lee.
"With the greatest respect", said Sandy, "I think your justifiable anger would be better directed at public houses who serve drinks after hours. And a hefty Christmas bonus will always be a temptation to a young chap like Leo."
"Christmas bonus, my arse. That was our fucking turkey money."
The audience leaned towards the side aisle. There was a multi-tonal whistling sound, like the Dagenham Girl Pipers tuning up, as hearing aids were adjusted.
Lee's mother turned towards me. "I've no argument with you, Mr Lupin. You've always been very good to our Lee. He looks up to you like a father."
She returned to the back of the hall and said to Arthur "Can we give you a lift back to the garage? We're going that way to pick up our shopping."
I thought Arthur was going to explode.
Back on the stage, Mrs Skidmore was saying "I'm sure we'd all like to thank Mr Mannington-Preen for a lovely afternoon. It's been...........unforgettable."
I heard someone say: "Disgraceful! Ant and Dec would never say arse."
Then the old bat with the facial hair turned round and said to me "You're a dark horse. I never knew you were Lee's father."
Before I could disabuse her of this shocking idea, Mrs Skidmore's daughter Jonquil launched a full-scale attack on the ancient piano.
As we sang Jerusalem, Carlo came and stood next to me and whispered "I'm sorry."
I will not cease from mental fight
Nor shall my sword sleep in hand
'Til we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.
As Blake's words ended, I turned and wiped a tear from my eye. I saw Lee standing behind us.
"That sucks", he said.
The Adventures of Carlo will continue in the New Year

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Cocks, Cannibalism and C***s with Tubas

Today's illustration is by my niece 'Vivi', soon to graduate in textile design. It was actually a tactile Christmas card, the red pattern being flock. I thought it was flocking brilliant. We made a lot of those flocking jokes. Oh dear. What a sad family we are. Or maybe we'd just had too much wine.
Discovered that my sister has sprinkled this URL around like confetti amongst her friends and the people in her village. So when I said I was considering a request to describe Carlo and Lee's relationship in more explicit detail (the sub-text to become super text, or however literary critics put it), the blood drained from her face and she had to be revived with liberal quantities of Cotes du Rhone.

Yet this is the woman who only two weeks ago sent me an email saying her husband had prepared a nice cock for me. It was only after I picked myself up off the floor and read further that I discovered it was a cock pheasant. I thanked her and said it was a long time since I'd had one. And it was a long time since I'd eaten pheasant too. Oh, come on. It is the pantomime season.

Does God read my blog?
The other day I wrote a piece called Let It Snow. And lo, it came to pass that we had a white Christmas! Except that we didn't here. Not one sodding snowflake. The only white stuff I've seen was on the Coronation Street Christmas Special. And that came out of a special effects company's machine. Company motto: There's No Business Like Snow Business. Like I said, boys and girls, it is the panto season.

Lots of goodies to be deleted now from my Amazon wish-list, including the New York production of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, one of my favourite musicals (Thanks, Jonathan). So yesterday I was preparing the Christmas Dinner while listening to A Little Priest, a song about cannibalism with a strong socialist sub-text. Chacun son Noel, you might say. Well, only if you had the misfortune to be French.

The silver band did their traditional oomp-pah-pahing round the village early on Christmas morning. There was something of a breakthrough here. For the first time in fifteen years they didn't knock on my door, having finally realised (they're a bit slow in the country) that I'm the miserable bastard who never opens the door to give them money. If I did open the door it would be to stick that tuba where the sun doesn't shine.

Finally, a cracker of a post yesterday from Peter at Naked Blog, nobly bashing the keyboard on the one day we would have forgiven his silence and featuring a brilliant contribution from Chav Gav. Give that man a medal on a Burberry ribbon and a voucher for the Argos jewellery counter.

The Adventures of Carlo Episode 30

Carlo and I waited up until midnight, poor Carlo still waiting to see the video message from his family. At midnight, with no sign of Sandy, we left some sandwiches in the drawing room and went to bed.
At 1.30 I was woken by distant sounds of singing and shouting. I quickly put on my shirt and trousers and ran down to the hall. Carlo was already there, wearing only his underpants and his MICHAEL IS INNOCENT T-shirt. He was arming himself with a selection of ancient and cobwebbed walking sticks which had stood in the hall for decades. We went outside.
It was freezing cold and a ground mist lay across the grass and the moat. As our eyes adjusted to the darkness we saw two figures out on the moat in the old rowing boat which hadn't been used since my father's day. As we moved closer, we saw Lee at one end of the boat swigging beer from one of the Rod and Mullet's carry-out flagons. Sitting opposite him was a dishevelled Sandy, loudly singing Ferry Across The Mersey.
As we stared at this surreal scene we heard shouting from down by the gates to our right and saw George Skidmore standing there in his pyjamas and dressing gown. "Keep calm, I'll call the coastguard", he shouted. This wasn't the most helpful course of action, Lupin Towers being seventy miles from the sea.
At this point, Lee reached down into the boat and then hurled a Budweiser bottle at Mr Skidmore. We watched it travel in a spinning parabola and miss his head by inches.
"Bastards!", George said. It was the first time I'd heard him swear.
Suddenly aware of an audience, Sandy stood up in the boat and sang more loudly: "Ferry cross the Mersey, cos this land's the place I love, and here I'll stay." Not if I have anything to do with it, I thought. The boat was now rocking violently and Lee fell forward and was sick over Sandy's shoes.
I sent Carlo to fetch some rope from the garage and shouted to George to go home as everything was under control. "I hope the little bastard drowns", he said.
We managed to lassoo the prow of the boat and slowly pull it ashore. It would have been quicker but Carlo kept stopping to spit on his hands. This wasn't, as I first thought, to get a better grip but to try and erase the grass stains from his Michael Jackson T-shirt.
Lee staggered ashore and fell on top of Carlo, knocking him to the ground. Carlo mistook this for a spontaneous act of affection, put his arms round him and shouted "Mahal kita!"
Sandy was lying on his back with his eyes closed, whether asleep or unconscious was hard to tell. I told Carlo to get some brandy and a blanket. Instead he returned with the tiny bottle that I'd found in the fridge after he and Lee had gone clubbing. He pressed the bottle into each of Sandy's nostrils alternately. Sandy opened his eyes. Then, amazingly, he got to his feet and began to dance, slowly at first, then with increasing vigour. He unbuttoned his shirt and threw it to the ground.
Carlo started giggling. "Boss man very hairy", he said. "Boss man's a piss artist", I replied.
Sandy began to slow and stagger again. Carlo offered him the bottle of miracle elixir but I pushed him away and we somehow managed to get him into the house and on to his bed. We put Lee in the drawing room where once again my Persian rug could be pressed into service as the world's most expensive duvet.
Carlo looked down at Lee and smiled. Then he grabbed my hand. "Lee is here. Sandy is here. We are all together for Christmas! Maligayang Pasko! Happy Christmas!"
"Fuck off", I said.

In Part Three: will Sandy recover in time for his Women's Institute lecture?

Friday, December 24, 2004

Happy whatever..........

HAPPY CHRISTMAS...... all readers of my blog.
There have been more of you than a new kid on the block ever expected. As the year ends, it's nudging into the thousands rather than the hundreds. (Before any cyber-pedants question me, this refers to hits and is the seasonally-adjusted figure, verified by OFBLOG).
Greetings and thanks to all the fellow bloggers who have entertained me and given me glimpses of their diverse lives. It's been good to discover that among all the bastards in this world there are also people of sound views (i.e., the same as mine). And amongst all the crap blogs there are people who can actually write and entertain.
I'll try to expand my blogroll next year - I read many more than are currently listed and there are some to whom I owe a return link.

With such a dismal TV schedule, I suspect a lot of people may be writing and reading blogs over the coming week. We've already had the Shameless Christmas Special. The critics were lukewarm but I enjoyed it. Maybe it was just the joy of seeing the characters again. You wanted to give each of them a big hug. Christ, am I becoming sentimental in my old age?
E4 are showing the first series of Phoenix Nights, but if you're a fan you'll already have the video or DVD and have watched it dozens of times. By the way, it was revealed this week that The Simpsons team are fans, so how is it that some of our own countrymen didn't get it?

Good to see that Cardinal Murphy O'Connor is attacking the Iraq war in his Christmas sermon. But how odd that he's focusing on the monetary cost of the war rather than the human cost. Still, I haven't seen the full text yet so I better wait before giving him a good going over.

Family arriving soon, probably bearing the contents of my Amazon Wish List. If so, then Christmas isn't all bad.
The next episodes of The Adventures of Carlo Christmas Special will appear during the holiday period, subject to negotiations with the unions on overtime rates.
In the meantime, Carlo says: Maligayang Pasko!

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Minutes of Christmas Working Party

I set up a small working party to consider this blog's Christmas opening hours. It was so small - only me - that I had to both chair it and take the minutes.
I reported that no guidance was available from the Blogger help section. Therefore it must be assumed that they would leave their servers switched on over Christmas, although they hadn't always done so in the previous few months. OFBLOG had not replied to our emails, either because they were having their staff party or were too busy considering how to incorporate Naked Blog's 'Peter Postulate' into their guidelines. (This postulates "an inverse relation between look and quality of blogs. The more glamorous the initial "hit", the less the person has to say. And vice versa.")
Based on my previous experience of deciding Christmas opening hours for a public service enterprise, I initially proposed that the blog remain open throughout the Christmas period. I was immediately shouted down and I called myself a bastard. I then said that, in a spirit of compromise, I would agree to closing on Christmas Day.
Detecting a crack in my armour, the suggestion was made that closure be extended to Boxing Day, with an early finish on Christmas Eve. Boxing Day was conceded, as it was always intended to be, but I pointed out that Christmas Eve was a normal working day. The traditional objection was made that it might be snowing heavily on Christmas Eve and early closing would ensure that staff could safely travel home to their excited and expectant children. I replied that the staff of this blog worked from home anyway and had no children but that as it was the season of goodwill I would adjourn to the Smoking Room to give the matter further consideration and reconvene the meeting in the morning. Instructions were given to book the living room for 9am tomorrow and order coffee and biscuits for one.
When the final decision had been made, a public notice would be posted on the blog that would associate closure with a passionate commitment to customer service together with something along the lines of 'we're closed, you're fucked, but Happy Christmas anyway.'


The Adventures Of Carlo Episode 29
It was early evening when Sandy and I entered the Rod and Mullet. Sandy smiled and nodded at the handful of men and youths in the bar. They glared back at him but nobody said 'who are you smiling at?' which passed as an effusive welcome of Filipino proportions in the Rod and Mullet. "How are you, Mr Lupin?", said the landlord, "when are we going to see you and Carlo on Come Dancing?"
"You and Carlo been Tango-ing, Willie?" said Sandy.
"It's a long tale of misunderstandings involving Abba and Mrs Skidmore which I have no wish to revisit."
"We should have brought Carlo tonight", Sandy said. "That Moonwalk he did at the Embassy staff party would certainly liven up this shithole."
"I beg your pardon?", said the landlord.
"Excuse my friend, he's in the Diplomatic Service", I said.
"I'd better put the radio on then and see whether fucking war's broken out."
Sandy roared with laughter. It was the sound Sid James would have made if he'd been educated at Harrow and Brasenose. "He's quite a character, this new landlord", he said to me. "I reckon we'll be all right for a late session tonight."
It was at this point that a dark corner of the bar suddenly came into focus and I saw Lee sitting alone and building a pyramid with some beer mats. Before I could look away he caught my eye and came loping over, bringing his drink with him.
"This is Mr Mannington-Preen, Carlo's former employer from Manila", I was obliged to say. "Lee is an acquaintance of Carlo, Sandy."
"Hey, Boss Man!" said Lee.
Sandy looked bemused while Lee frowned and pressed his fist against his forehead in a histrionic display of concentration before saying: "Kumusta po kayo?"
"I'm very well, thank you", said an amazed Sandy, " so Carlo's been giving you lessons,eh?"
"Hang on", said Lee and went into the trying-to-remember-something mime again before saying "Ang ganda mo!"
"I say, steady on!", said Sandy, "do you say that to all the boys?" Seeing my puzzled look, he whispered in my ear "It means "you're so beautiful".
But Lee hadn't quite finished.
"Sipsipin mo ang titi ko", he said.
Sandy choked on his beer. His face went the same shade of red as the stripes on his Turnball and Asser shirt.
I leaned forward for the whispered translation.
"You don't want to go there", he said.
"Oh, but I do", I replied.
"Let's just say there's an element of onomatopoeia in the phrase."
"He wants to sip your beer?" I suggested.
"His tastes seem rather more adventurous than that", Sandy whispered to me before asking Lee if he knew what it meant.
"Not sure, mate", said Lee, "it's something Carlo says sometimes."
"I need another drink", said Sandy.
"I'll get them", said Lee, patting the pocket of his Parka. "Christmas bonus today. Pint of lager, Roger, and whatever my mates are having and a Peperoni."
"You want to sign Lee up for your lot", Roger said to Sandy. "He'd scare the shit out of Bin Laden's mob. Fight terror with terror. The fuckers would run a mile if you put young Lee on the Arab street."
"Yeah, I'm the man", said Lee, looking delighted and adding elliptically "Sorted. End of."
For the next hour I tried to have a sensible conversation with Sandy while an increasingly incoherent Lee chewed his way through three Peperonis and repeatedly told Sandy that any friend of Carlo was a friend of his. But Sandy refused to freeze him out of the conversation and kept putting a paternalistic arm on his shoulder and buying him more lager. Even worse, he spurned my suggestion that we leave and told me to go on home on my own and he'd join me later for a nightcap and a cheese and pickle sandwich. I walked home with a powerful sense of foreboding.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Heavy Metal

We already have self-cleaning oven panels. But when is someone going to invent the self-cleaning oven rack?
This has become a pressing issue for me recently. Now that I have to fit the writing of this blog into my busy schedule of sleeping and watching Coronation Street, I'm consuming larger quantities of oven-ready pizza. And these pizzas - the new Staff of Life for poor white trash couch potatoes - drip glutinous deposits of melted cheese and E numbers onto the oven shelves.
Until science comes to the rescue, here is this month's Good Housekeeping Tip. Because of the size of most modern cookers, the oven shelves are too large to fit in the average kitchen sink. So soak them in a hot bath for a couple of hours with a generous quantity of Fairy Liquid.
Those of an environmental bent may wish to save energy by getting into the bath with them. However be very careful not to become entangled with the metal racks. If the neighbours see you setting off for A. & E. with an oven rack attached to your penis they may conclude that you have taken your penchant for genital jewellery a step too far.

The Adventures Of Carlo Episode 28

A phone call from the nearest railway station just after lunch informed us that my old friend Sandy Mannington-Preen would be with us within the hour. Carlo rushed out to buy some flowers to put in the bedroom, which I thought was rather excessive.
Then, as we heard the taxi pull into the drive, we formed a welcoming party in the hall. Throwing down two enormous suitcases and several Harrods bags, Sandy shouted "Carlo!" and hugged him. You really would think that someone from Sandy's background would know better than to commit the solecism of greeting the domestic staff before his host.
After that, we adjourned to the drawing room where Carlo served us a pot of my finest Assam and some cucumber sandwiches.
Sandy said he had brought a video he had made in Manila which included some messages from Carlo's family. At least this would be less boring than those interminable slide shows he gave us in days gone by. On one memorable occasion the projector had caught fire and we sat and watched an image of the Saudi embassy melting in the dark like MacArthur Park. "Every cloud has a silver lining", my late father had said as he unplugged the projector and sprayed it with a soda siphon.
Our conversation was interrupted by the doorbell. It was Mrs Skidmore who handed me a Christmas card. I told her she had already sent one and she laughed and said her memory was going. I knew perfectly well that the card was a pretext to discover who had been in the taxi.
Unfortunately, Sandy came into the hall to take his cases upstairs so I had to introduce them. In a matter of seconds Mrs Skidmore was inviting Sandy to give a talk to a meeting of the Women's Institute the following afternoon. I was desperately mouthing 'No' behind her back but to no avail. "It will be a pleasure", he said, placing her arthritic hand between his, "and, indeed, an honour".
Back in the drawing room, Sandy said it was a splendid idea of mine to take him to the Rod and Mullet that evening, although I had said no such thing. "Does Roger still have those lock-ins?", he said. "Roger has left", I replied, "but judging by the quantities of vomit deposited at my gates I assume the tradition continues."
"Splendid!", said Sandy.

Next time: a Titanic disaster

Monday, December 20, 2004

Crystal Bollocks

Curiosity got the better of me last night and I dipped in to 'Cilla Live' on Living TV to see what the artist formerly known as The Queen of Television, also known as The Fag Hag From Hell, was getting up to. It was a terrible mish-mash of all the things she used to do quite well but are now done so much better by people like Graham Norton.
But it did contain one of the television highlights of the year. I missed Cilla's introduction but I'm sure the man was described as "a leading international clairvoyant", because they always are; their trade union insists upon it. What followed was the funniest thing since the Phoenix Nights episode with the incompetent psychic Clinton Baptiste. People in the audience looked baffled as unknown family members called Jack or John tried to communicate with them. At one point, Cilla, realising he was dying the death so to speak, said wasn't he good ladies and gentlemen and there followed a smattering of applause like a light drizzle falling on a perspex roof.
The highlight was when he asked a lady if she knew someone called 'Ann' who was anxious to speak to her. "Yes!" said the lady. But just as the poor man was about to relay Ann's messages from the other side, the lady said "But Ann's still alive!"
Oh, what bliss!
There were also the usual 'Surprise, surprise' reunitings and I rather wish I'd requested one myself. Back in the sixties, when Cilla was topping the charts with her unique brand of Nasal Pop, the school bus was sometimes overcrowded and I had to sit on the lap of a boy in the year above me. In fact, he always insisted I did so - sometimes, mysteriously, when the bus wasn't even full. As I bounced up and down on his bony knees he would look into my eyes and sing "You're My World", which was Cilla's Number One at the time. Maybe he was going through one of those phases one hears about.
You're my world, you're every breath I take
You're my world, you're every move I make
Other eyes see stars up in the skies
But for me they shine within your eyes
he would sing, putting his hands on my shoulders to keep me upright as we went round corners.
On a good day he sang it loudly enough to drown out the boy behind us who, by popular request, would sing about twenty verses of a song that began:
Good morning, Mr Robertson
God Bless your heart and soul
I tried to shag your daughter
But I couldn't find the hole
Ah, those far off days when childhood still retained the innocence that has been so sadly lost today.

The Adventures of Carlo Episode 27

When I went into the library after breakfast I found a letter to the vicar on the Davenport. I must have written it late the previous evening.

Dear Vicar

I trust you will accept that I did not 'instruct' Carlo to use the expression which has so distressed you. I must have muttered the phrase to myself when you rang the bell. You had, unwittingly, called at an inopportune time as I had just cut my finger on a tin of anchovies and Carlo was helping me staunch the flow of blood. Furthermore, we have recently been plagued by what might be called bogus carol singers, mostly children from the council houses in Springer Road. When I have chased them away, their language has, I assure you, been much worse than anything you heard from Carlo.

I very much hope that your account of your reprimand to Carl Higgins was an abridged version. If not, it has some worrying implications. I trust you pointed out that the phrase 'Paki bastard' was offensive on more grounds than its factual inaccuracy. And I trust you made clear that the noun was as inaccurate as the adjective. Also, I fail to see the relevance of the Phillipines being a Christian country. I hope young Carl was not left with the impression that it is acceptable to abuse people from non-Christian countries such as the Indian sub-continent.

Perhaps in future you would be kind enough to give me advance notice of your intention to sing carols and solicit money at my front door. I can then ensure that your cubs, beavers, etc, will not be exposed to the kind of language that they undoubtedly use every day of their lives.
I should also be interested to know what value of donation on my part would ensure that the church bells remain unrestored and forever silent. With all due respect to your well-known love of campanology, I have to say that the past two years have given me the Peace That Passeth All Understanding (Phil.4:7, but I suppose you know that).

With best wishes for a happy Winter Solstice,

William Lupin

I tore the letter up and put it in the bin. The last time I had a feud with the vicar and cast aspersions on his beliefs he had prayed for me at Evensong and I had received several Get Well cards. Instead, I would make a carefully worded non-apology next time I bumped into him in the Co-op biscuit aisle.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Let It Snow

I can't dredge up any lingering childhood excitement or enthusiasm for Christmas. It hasn't been the same since my dog died.
I had a dog who would be in a frenzy of excitement on Christmas morning and would snatch her presents from our hands, parade them round the room like trophies and then rip them open like a five year old child. My dog also loved firework displays but I had to suffer accusations of cruelty from people wedded to doggist stereotypes whenever I took her to them.
Above all, she loved snow. It was because, in the words of Louis MacNiece (see below), she loved "the drunkenness of things being various." She took an almost sensual pleasure in snow, rubbing her nose in it, eating it, tossing it in the air, dancing in it. We would go out in the street and have snowball fights. Well all right, she couldn't throw them back but she would catch them and eat them.
Snow remains the one childlike source of pleasure that has never forsaken me. I can still sit for hours at the window watching the snow falling, just as I did when I was ten. Except that, with our mild winters, snow is becoming a rare event. There was a chance we would get some last night but it didn't happen. I feel very sorry for today's children who, particularly in the south of England, are mostly denied this pleasure, which in my day often involved schools being closed as an added bonus.
I took the photo above in the famous winter of 1962, the year I was able to build an igloo in my back garden.
As an early Christmas present to readers of this blog, I reproduce Louis MacNiece's poem 'Snow'. MacNiece was one of our most intellectual poets but this poem proves there is no antithesis between rationality and emotion. It always moves me and makes me feel better about life and is the perfect antidote to all the ersatz sentiment that sprays over us like noxious slush at Christmas time.

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes -
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one's hands -
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

Louis MacNiece

The Adventures of Carlo Episode 26

When I went to see if the newspaper had arrived, I found a note from the vicar pushed through the letterbox. It read:

Dear Mr Lupin

Yesterday evening I was leading a group of carol singers who called at your house. It saddens me that I should have to complain to someone who is a respected member of our community that we were subjected to the most disgraceful abuse by a member of your household.
It was particularly shocking that this dreadful language was directed at a group that included members of the Cubs, Brownies and Beavers.

I would have been prepared to make some allowance for the fact that English is not Carlo's first language and that he may not have appreciated the full force of what he said. However, when I protested he said he had been instructed to say this by yourself. Frankly, I am amazed that you would not only teach Carlo this kind of profanity but instruct him to direct it at a group of Christian folk who were spreading the Good News about the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I feel an apology is due, not just to myself but to the youngsters who had given up their evening to raise money for the Church Bells Restoration Fund.

I do have a small apology to make myself and which I would ask you to convey to Carlo. It was wholly inappropriate for Carl Higgins, who has just joined the 4th Beaver Pack, to respond in a like manner and call Carlo a Paki bastard. I have explained to Carl the importance of turning the other cheek and that Carlo hails from the Phillipines which is a far more Christian country than our own benighted islands.

God bless and Happy Christmas,

Peter Dudley-Pratt (Rev.)

I went to the kitchen to discuss the matter with Carlo but he had just handed a mug of coffee to the Sainsburys delivery boy and was brandishing a parsnip and asking him how to cook it. Spotting me, the Sainsburys boy said "Oi, mate, what do you do with this? Is it a fruit or a vegetable?"
"Root vegetable. Cut into strips and roast in the oven with a little butter and salt and pepper and Taste The Difference, Wayne."
If I was his 'mate' it seemed not unreasonable to respond to the implicit invitation of his badge and be on first name terms with him. Moreover, I was not only serving him coffee but running staff training courses as well.
"So, is it, like, ethnic food then?" said Wayne, "how come you didn't know that, Carlo?"
"All food is ethnic", I said, "and parsnips are part of your own rich, ethnic gastronomic heritage, Wayne. Have you never heard the saying 'Fine words butter no parsnips'? That expression itself dates back to the seventeenth century although Wycherley used it in relation to cabbage rather than parsnips and if my memory serves me Thackeray makes an ironic reference to the expression in Vanity Fair."
"What's he on about? Does he always talk like that?", Wayne said to Carlo.
"All day long", said Carlo, "he teaches me everything."
Wayne squeezed Carlo's shoulder in what appeared to be a gesture of sympathy and said to me: "Oi, Mastermind, do you want to sign for this stuff?"
Internet shopping had promised to insulate me from Wayne and his world but instead it had brought them into my own home. Carlo's New Year resolutions must now include, in addition to not saying 'Fuck off' to the vicar, not allowing the Sainsburys boy beyond the side gate.

Friday, December 17, 2004

More Christmas Cheer

The Law Lords' ruling that the indefinite detention without trial of people under the anti-terrorism legislation was illegal will have delighted everyone who believes in human rights, the rule of law and the values that should underpin any halfway democratic society. And don't forget that, as in all the best tyrannical regimes, neither the detainees nor their lawyers were allowed to know the evidence against them.
Unfortunately, it doesn't mean these people will be either released or brought to trial because the Government is digging its heels in. The problem is that we now have a constitutional mess in this country with the Government accusing the judiciary of usurping the will of Parliament and the judiciary trying to ensure that a powerful Government doesn't abuse the fundamental principles of the rule of law. Perhaps it's time we had a written constitution and defined precisely where sovereignty lies and what limits we should place on it. Some of us thought the Human Rights Act would begin to do the latter but we'd reckoned without Blair and Blunkett pissing all over their own legislation.

Spread some cheer yourself..........
On the subject of people detained without trial, Amnesty has an annual scheme to send Christmas cards to victims of human rights abuses throughout the world. In some cases you can send them to individuals in prison and in others to those campaigning on their behalf.
I must admit that I agonised a bit about this because I felt it was a small gesture that would have little effect and give more pleasure to the person sending the card than the recipient. But then I thought that if I were banged up without trial for my political beliefs or my sexual orientation I would probably be quite pleased to know that people in distant countries were thinking of me.
It's not to late to send a card. The scheme runs until the end of January. Full details here.

Before leaving this topic, here's a Polish saying that I recommend you say whenever you're feeling low or that life is treating you badly, or say it everyday when you get up. The English translation is a bit clumsy but it goes:

I look down at my shoe and - there's the lace!
This can't be gaol then, can it, in that case.
- Gyorgy Petri

The Adventures of Carlo Episode 25

As Carlo ironed my best Egyptian cotton sheets we were discussing Sandy's imminent visit. Carlo has developed a most irritating habit of saying "you get me?" at the end of sentences. After he had said this at least ten times in as many minutes I said that if he used the phrase again I would indeed get him - straight between the eyes with my shotgun.
"Bumbong!" said Carlo.
"I'll bumbong you in a minute", I said.
"No, for Sandy. Boss man likes bumbong."
We seemed to be straying into areas of intimacy that even I, who had known Sandy for over thirty years, regarded as off-limits, although I have to admit there had been some rather unpleasant rumours in the Foreign Office when Sandy was suddenly moved from Saudi.
It was with some relief that I discovered I had got the wrong end of the stick, or possibly the bumbong, this being rice steamed inside a bamboo tube and traditionally served at Christmas in Carlo's native land.
"How fortunate that bamboo is so plentiful in southern England in December", I said, rather unkindly, "but I suppose we could always get Lee to break into Giles Humphries' conservatory and purloin some of the exotic foliage he had specially imported."
"Lee would love bumbong", said Carlo.
"That's what I've always feared", I said before trying to explain yet again that what Sandy wanted was a traditional English Christmas with Kings College Choir on the radio, turkey and all the trimmings and Perry Como roasting on an open fire. He would also be expecting a lock-in at the Rod and Mullet.
These animadversions on Sandy's ideal Christmas were interrupted by the sound of raucous carol singing and repeated ringing of the doorbell.
"Cumbancheros!" shouted Carlo excitedly, slamming down the iron and opening the door to the hall.
"Tell them to fuck off", I said.
Carlo ran towards the front door.
"No, no, Carlo......I was only......." But it was too late.
Oh my God.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Another One Bites The Dust

..............or, not to pussyfoot around and prattle about 'deep personal tragedy', Thank God, The Bastard's Gone! From which you might deduce that I don't have a scintilla of sympathy for David Blunkett.
One of the better things this Government did was to incorporate the European Convention of Human Rights into British law but Blair then appointed a Home Secretary who held human rights in contempt and was regularly found to have acted illegally. More importantly, as the head of the Immigration Advisory Service said yesterday, he wrought misery on hundreds of thousands of people. It tells you a lot about Blunkett that today he is eulogised in The Sun and The Mail, even though it was the latter that played a part in his downfall. But we all know that the Mail's hypocrisy is, like the love of God, infinite.
We're hearing a lot about how Blunkett was admired by the working class. This is patronising bollocks of course. A lot of the working class hated his guts just as great chunks of the middle class thought he was the best Conservative Home Secretary we've had.

It's funny how Ministers expect to work to lower standards of probity than people in local government, the police or other public services. Any Chief Planning Officer in a local council who personally handed his lover's planning application to his staff would clearly have a death wish.

And it's odd that politicians have such selective memories. Because of their overweening egos they can quote verbatim speeches they made to party conference 10 years ago but recent incriminating conversations, phone calls and emails are conveniently wiped from their memories. You may recall that Peter Mandelson made a phone call to a Home Office minister about the Hinduja brothers' passport applications. But Mandy himself had no recollection of making this call although he didn't deny it was made. Or rather, he initially denied it but this wasn't a lie because he couldn't remember it. The defence of amnesia by ordinary mortals is only usually made in courts of law on the basis that people were pissed out their minds at the time, although this seldom cuts much ice with juries or judges.

While Blunkett was in office, reference to his blindness was rarely made, and rightly so. But now his supporters are shamelessly using it to try and elicit sympathy for him. In fairness to Blunkett, I don't suppose he welcomes this. But there was one area of his ministerial responsibilities where his blindness posed a problem. Consequently, responsibility for video classification was moved from the Home Office to the Lord Chancellor's Department. I suspect this was done to avoid the awkward situation where, in the case of a controversial classification decision, Sir Humphrey would have had to sit with the Minister and give a running commentary on the action:

"Well, Minister, in this scene the gentleman is unequivocally manifesting tumescence both in long shot and close up. The producers claim this is necessary for artistic integrity and realism, a claim somewhat undermined, one could argue, Minister, by the unlikelihood of such an attractive brunette engaging in sexual congress with an ugly looking cove with a beard...... oops, so sorry, Minister........"
"Is that my guide dog yelping, Humphrey? Give her a Bonio."
"No, Minister, it's on the soundtrack.......and speaking of Bonios..."
"Good Lord, what's he doing now?"
" shall I put it......he's doing to the young lady pretty much what, as some might say, Minister, you have been doing to asylum seekers."
"Excellent. Give it a certificate, Humphrey."
"Yes, Minister."


The Adventures of Carlo Episode 24

I decided to take Carlo with me to Mrs Skidmore's mince pie and sherry evening although he wasn't keen on coming. There has always been a certain froideur between Carlo and Mrs Skidmore because she used to do my cleaning until her arthritis got too bad and she considers it against the laws of nature for a male to be employed for housekeeping duties.
As we made the short walk to the Skidmores (their cottage is just outside the grounds of Lupin Towers) Carlo was very taciturn. It was only twenty-four hours since he awoke with a severe hangover and a garland of chilli sauce round his nipple and he had only just resumed eating solid foods. He had also been badly shaken when I questioned him about the mysterious bottle in the fridge. He had claimed it was a new flavouring for saffron rice but had been unable to look me in the eye when he said it.
Gathered in the Skidmore sitting room were several ladies from the Women's Institute, the vicar, and Mrs Skidmore's unmarried daughter Jonquil. It's difficult to describe Jonquil Skidmore without sounding unkind so I'll just say that nobody would ever describe her single status as surprising.
The gathering had all the spontaneous bonhomie of a dentist's waiting room but the silence was broken when George Skidmore entered with a tray of mince pies and a bottle of sweet sherry. There were a lot of "Mmm" noises as the ladies munched on the mince pies and cries of "You must give me the recipe." I decided this might be difficult because I found adhering to my pie a fragment of cardboard bearing the letters SAINS.
I was quite proud of Carlo, despite the embarrasment he caused when George offered him a glass of sherry. "Tio Pepe?" said Carlo. "No, SHE-RRY", said George loudly, adding "you'll soon be speaking our lingo like a native". Carlo took a swig and immediately spat it back into the glass, saying to me "bad sherry". There was some tutting from the WI ladies. George said to me "Would the little fellow like a glass of orange squash?" "Why don't you ask him?" I replied, rather more rudely than I intended.
I was making a silent prayer that Jonquil wouldn't play the piano when the vicar sidled up to me. It was the first time the vicar had ever interrupted me in prayer. Not for the first time I was struck by the resemblance between the vicar and Jonquil Skidmore. They both had the kind of prominent front teeth that made you uncertain whether you should offer them a lump of sugar or ride them in the 3.30 at Newmarket.
"I hear Carlo's taking dancing lessons" he said.
"No, we were just celebrating some good family news from Manila in the traditional Filipino way", I said, resolving to pull the blind should Carlo and I ever dance to Abba again in front of the kitchen window.
"And I hear Carlo's quite the budding photographer" said the vicar and had the audacity to nudge me with his elbow.
I took a gulp of the sickly sherry and wondered whether to make an announcement about the true provenance of Mrs Skidmore's mince pies. Revenge would be as sweet as Co-op own brand sherry.
I had no intention of telling the vicar about my blog so I said the photo was taken purely for medical purposes.
"You see, vicar, belly buttons are either inners or outers but mine is an unusual hybrid and was therefore of great interest to a navel research institute at Berkeley Medical School."
"Naval Institute, eh?" he said and winked.
"That's navel with an 'e'", I said, suppressing an urge to throw my sherry in his face.
"So, in the navel department, you're half in and half out, as it were," he said.
"Yes, as it were", I said and asked Carlo to fetch our coats.


Next, in the soap that never troubles the ratings: we prepare for Sandy's visit

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Retreat of Reason

One of the better 'Tonight' programmes last night focused on 'Dr' Gillian McKeith, the dietary 'expert' who is making big bucks at the expense of the stupid and gullible.
In addition to her 'Love Bar' snack featured in the programme, I discovered she sells 'Love Bites' in a can "to nourish libido energy". I suppose love bites in a can could be useful when you get to my age and might have forgotten to leave your teeth in when you went to bed but of course there isn't a shred of evidence that any of these products have any effect on libido.
Ms McKeith really is a very bossy cow. Her website tells you that you must read her book "from cover to cover TWICE" and that you must then take it with you everywhere and always have it by your side - at the supermarket, at the pharmacy, at your GP's surgery. Actually, she didn't say the last one. Probably just an oversight.
It's always difficult to decide with these people whether they're bonkers or just clever at conning money out of people. It could be both of course.
The Guardian's Ben Goldacre, who has been writing about this woman for a long time, appeared on the programme. He is a real medical doctor and heroic exposer of New Age nonsense. The McGibberish website reinforces the erroneous impression that McNutter is a medical doctor when it says "Dr Gillian McKeith is not able to take on new patients at this time." Patients? Shouldn't that be 'clients' or possibly 'mugs'?
There are conflicting views over whether the State should seek to protect people from their own stupidity. But I would suggest two simple interventions. Firstly, there should be a prominent statement on all these products: These claims are not supported by any scientific evidence. Secondly, people with PhDs, even genuine ones, should be prohibited from using the prefix 'Dr'. Many of them don't anyway. My old friend Mo Mowlam was just 'Mo' to everyone at university, including the students. Indeed, if you'd called her 'Dr', which she was, she'd probably have told you to fuck off. Of course, it would mean that 'Dr' John Reid, the Health Minister, would become plain 'Mr'. But would we respect him any less? Could we respect him any less?

It sometimes feels as though the Enlightenment never happened and we are retreating into a medieval world of magic and superstition. A GP I once visited shocked me by picking up a directory of homeopathic remedies. This was someone who had spent years of scientific training at taxpayers' expense resorting to something that has been proven to be nonsense and if I'd wanted a placebo I'd have gone to Holland and Barrett not the NHS.
Francis Wheen has written an excellent book on all this Mumbo Jumbo which I stupidly forgot to put on my Amazon wish-list. But it's not too late to send me a copy. You could always send me a second present. Because I'm worth it.


Vaguely related to this topic, I do hope I live to see the removal of Thought For The Day from Radio 4's Today programme.
This morning, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks began by saying something in the news made him "weep for humanity". (I missed the rest because I switched on my electric toothbrush).
But I know how you feel, Jonathan. I used to weep for humanity every time you opposed equal rights for gay men and women. I wept the more when I recalled that gay men were marched into the Nazi gas chambers along with the Jews. So go away and think long and hard about the real lessons of the Holocaust and, in the meantime, spare me your sanctimonious witterings about suffering and humanity.

The Adventures of Carlo Episode 23

I woke up with a splitting headache and the tune of 'YMCA' going through my head. For a few confused moments I thought I had been to the club with Carlo and Lee. Then I remembered I had come home feeling angry and humiliated and had consumed half a bottle of Glenlivet while watching a nauseating programme about forensic etymology on the Discovery Channel.
When I went downstairs I heard music coming from the Pink Drawing Room. I found the television was still on but tuned to MTV. Then I noticed a body wrapped in one of my Persian rugs. Closer inspection revealed it to be Lee. His Rockport boots were sticking out one end and his gelled hair was stuck to the expensive fabric at the other. A small trickle of saliva ran from the corner of his mouth. Occasionally he emitted a faint groaning noise and writhed around like a snake trying to shed its skin.
At least he's still alive I thought, with decidedly mixed feelings.
I tiptoed out of the room. I don't know why I tiptoed. Madonna was yelling Papa Don't Preach from the television and Lee was still sleeping like a baby.
I decided to have some cornflakes but they were the ones that Carlo dried in the microwave after his water fight and it was like eating titanium-coated popcorn. When I put the milk back in the fridge I noticed a tiny and unfamiliar bottle labelled Liquid Gold. I unscrewed the cap and took a deep sniff. The kitchen began to revolve and I clung to the fridge door, almost pulling the fridge over on top of me. Then I was sick in the sink.
Then, with mounting panic, I thought: if Lee is in the drawing room, where is Carlo? I remembered one of the T shirt-clad teenage Amazons in the nightclub queue saying "the young one's dead cute". More worryingly, a youth with a ring through his eyebrow had spat at me as I walked away. Well, not at me exactly. It was precision expectoration that accurately landed a deposit of froth about two feet from my Oxford brogues. Had Carlo fallen into the clutches of one of those hormone-crazed harridans? Or had he been beaten senseless by lager-frenzied louts? I ran up the stairs two at a time shouting "Carlo!".
I found him lying on top of his bed, still fully clothed. There was a deep red stain on his white T shirt, just above his left nipple. I sat on the bed and gingerly put my hand on his chest. He was still breathing and when I pulled my hand away it was covered in chilli sauce.
Still trembling slightly, I returned to the kitchen and made a pot of strong coffee. I took a cup of coffee into the drawing room where Lee was now sitting up, having rolled my Persian rug into a support for his back. He took the cup of coffee silently as though he were accustomed to being given a cup of the best quality Breakfast Blend filter coffee after spending the night uninvited in someone's house.
I switched channels to Sky News. Lee was about to protest but then remembered he was an uninvited guest and instead produced a packet of cigarettes.
"Smoke?" he said.
I declined.
Then he took a book of matches from his pocket. On the cover was a logo.
It was a pink elephant.
I sat and stared at him.
"What?" he said.
"Nothing", I said.

After the break: the vicar upsets me at the Skidmores' Christmas party

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Utilitarianism and The X Factor

You'll be wanting to know how I voted in the X Factor Final. (That was a statement not a question, so please try to be civil).
Well, it was far more difficult than deciding how to vote in any General Election. I consistently thought that Steve (the winner) was very mediocre but every time he sang he won me over. And it was tempting to vote for him after Sharon Osbourne's vicious personal attack on him. I'm glad now that I called her a bitch in an earlier posting. I could almost forgive her if it was done to add some drama to the occasion but we later learned that she had hurled abuse at him when he was trying to rehearse.
In the end I voted for G4 for two main reasons. I 've never much liked 'Nessun Dorma' which has been done to death and I never liked those histrionic renditions by the Three Tenors. But to see four young English boys singing it with genuine emotion was like hearing it for the first time. That performance alone should have clinched it for them.
Secondly, I decided to be guided by the old Benthamite principle of the greatest happiness of the greatest number. If G4 won it would make four people very happy rather than just one. G4 also had a broader and more cross-generational appeal so that too would mean that their albums would add more to the sum of human happiness. So who says that philosophy has no relevance to everyday life?


The local god-botherers of all denominations put a card through my door today. 'Jesus Christ Is Born' it says, that present tense suggesting that they're only 2,000 years late in announcing this news. Unless there was a second coming while I was engrossed in the X Factor.
I've always thought the churches might have slighlty more success if they didn't use such odd language. There's all that stuff about 'bearing witness' and that baffling phrase about 'the redemptive power of the Holy Spirit'. I once asked a chap who had abandoned the priesthood for social work what that meant as we were sharing a post-coital cigarette. I suppose it was an odd thing to bring up at such a time. He said people were always asking him that but then changed the subject and asked me if I'd seen that fab new boy in Brookside and had I seen his socks anywhere because he had to be at a case conference by nine o'clock.
The card from the village churches informs me that the Methodists are having a 'Musical Carol Service', the adjective either meaning that people like me who can't sing a note in tune will not be welcome or that the carols will be sung to show tunes by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim.
The Catholics are having a 'Service of Reconciliation' which made me think they'd gone into the marriage guidance business. But then I noticed it said in brackets: (confession). I had no idea they'd started re-branding the sacraments. How very New Labour.
The Catholic confession is arguably one of the oddest things in Christianity and probably needed some fine-tuning if they are to stop the exodus of young people from the church. It always posed a problem for pubescent boys. Saying you'd been 'impure in thought' meant you'd done nothing more unnatural than think 'I'd like to give him or her one'. This wasn't too bad because it usually passed without priestly comment. But 'impure in deed' was the really tricky one. The silhouette of the priestly head that had appeared to be half asleep would often jerk into life at this phrase and you would be pressed for more details. Purely, of course, in order to fix the appropriate tariff for your penance. If you said it was on your own you'd still be home in time for tea but if you said it was with most of Form 3B you'd be on your knees for hours - and that might have been how you got into this mess to start with.
There was a scene in Mary O'Malley's stage comedy 'Once A Catholic' where a young girl tells the priest she gave her boyfriend a 'Metro-Goldwyn Mayer'. There's a long pause and then the elderly priest says "Are you sure it wasn't an 'Arthur J. Rank'?"


We have to make a correction to yesterday's correction to an earlier correction.
The correct name of the apparently litigious mass murderer is Dennis Nilsen. That's NILSEN. That's NILSEN with an E, not LIZA with a ZEE.
Our legal team have also advised us to say that Mr Nilsen has no equal in the annals of mass murder. He was a serial killer without peer. We fully understand what drove him to commit these so-called crimes. If we'd had a boring office job and sometimes went to the Golden Lion in Soho, we might well have done the same. Oh, shit. We did have a boring office job and sometimes went to the Golden Lion in Soho. Ah, but we didn't have the guts, you see. We sometimes passed the time of day with Soho rent boys but we never took them home and cut them into pieces and boiled their heads in saucepans. We might even have passed the time of day with you, Mr Nilsen, Sir. If so, can we apologise for not accepting any invitation you may have proffered to accompany you to Muswell Hill, thereby denying you the opportunity to put a noose round our neck, dismember our body, flush our remains down the sewer and keep our head in the fridge to smile at you every time you got the milk for your cornflakes. We assure you, nothing would have given us greater pleasure.
Hope that keeps the sick bastard happy. Psychotic little murdering creep.
That should be fine. But remember to delete the last two sentences - Legal Dept.

Carlo and I eventually found the entrance to the nightclub, sandwiched between a boarded-up amusement arcade and an Oxfam shop. There was a small line of scantily-clad girls outside, none of them - judging by appearances - any strangers to a family-size bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. But all of them, presumably, the girlfriends of garage mechanics.
Our flyer said we had 'guest-list admission' so we went to the front of the queue to shouts of "Oi Grandad, where do you think you're going?"
After a few minutes a large man in a dinner suit came out. "BRU-NO, BRU-NO, BRU-NO", the girls started chanting, and "Hurry up, it's fucking freezing out here."
Bruno told Carlo to raise his arms and started patting his torso. Carlo smiled and started patting the man back. "Are you taking the piss?" said the doorman. "It's an old Filipino custom", I said quickly. The man looked me up and down in a most unpleasant way and then said into a microphone under his chin "Frankie, camera two." After a brief pause, he said "Sorry, mate, but there's a dress code."
I couldn't believe his impertinence. I was wearing light brown chinos, brown Oxford brogues, an almost new brown corduroy jacket and a tie I'd bought at Tie Rack on Paddington Station. Admittedly, the tie was somewhat outré by my standards, brightly coloured yet still, in my opinion, tasteful.
I thrust the flyer under his nose, pointed at the single prohibition which was 'No Trainers' and wiggled my gleaming Oxford brogues at him. "Do you think I wear these to the gymnasium?" I said, "and, given the nature of the function, 'No Boiler Suits' might have been a more sensible sartorial injunction."
He frowned at me then folded his arms and stared into the middle distance while slowly chewing gum. At this point, a small man of Maltese appearance emerged from the door and put his arm on my shoulder. "It's not about age as such" he said "but we have shall I put it.....create an atmosphere in which everyone feels comfortable."
"He's with him, Frankie" said the doorman, pointing at Carlo.
"Yeah, he's top man", said Carlo, trying to be helpful.
Frankie looked at Carlo and then looked back at me. "Listen, my friend, The Pink Elephant has a late license and a drag act on a Friday. You and your little friend might be happier there."
Enraged, I thrust the flyer into Carlo's hand and told him to go in and wait for Lee and not to be too late home.
As I walked away with as much dignity as I could muster, the girls at the front of the queue started singing 'YMCA'.

Next time: the morning after

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Things I've Learned This Week.......

............all animals have the same lifespan if measured by the number of heartbeats rather than years - approximately one and a half billion heartbeats.
In case you can't be bothered to work it out, it's because the hearts of small animals with a short life in years beat at a much faster rate than those of large animals.
Quick, pass my beta-blockers.

............if readers of my age wonder why the name Wally Stott is familiar, here's a clue:
a tuba going Da da da da, da da....have you got it yet...........followed by a breathless H..h..h..h...
Yes, he wrote one of the most famous signature tunes in radio and TV history, for Hancock's Half Hour.
I discovered this week that the composer formerly known as Wally Stott is now Angela Morley and she is living happily in Arizona.
Tony Hancock dreamed of being the world's greatest comedy actor and, believing this had eluded him, committed suicide. Wally Stott's dream was, one might think, even more unrealisable, especially in the 1950s, yet eventually came true.

.............the playwright Terence Rattigan employed highly eccentric and sometimes rather camp butlers and other domestic servants.
Grande dames of the English theatre like Margaret Leighton and Edith Evans invited to dinner would find a volley of brussels sprouts and potatoes being hurled over their shoulders in the general direction of their plates followed by the comment "Munch it up, dear, you're all skin and bone."
Talking of butlers, one of the few I've encountered was the one who opened the door at the house of Robert Stigwood, the impressario. "Will you be staying, Sir?" he said to me. I didn't know this was butler-speak for 'Do you want to leave your coat?' and I replied "Only if I get lucky." Not even Jeeves himself could have given me a more withering and icy look.



Yesterday we printed a correction about calling Harry Nilsson 'Neilson', the name of the serial killer. We are now advised that the serial killer's surname is in fact 'Nilson'. Wish you'd told us before, Rex, because the original 'joke' would have worked much better. Once again we had made the stupid mistake of checking the name on Google, forgetting that there are always 10,000 websites that spell people's names incorrectly.
Rex also warns me that Dennis Nilson is very litigious. It's bad enough that I occasionally went in the pub where he selected his victims but the thought that he might be reading my blog is rather chilling. But I can't quite understand how one of the biggest mass murderers in British history could sue me for confusing his name with that of another less ambitious killer called Donald Neilson. I'll put my legal team on standby just in case.

With Lee earning money again he decided to take Carlo to a nightclub or discothèque, or whatever thay call those places, in the neighbouring town. I wasn't very happy about this. One hears so much about binge drinking, drugs and street fights these days. More importantly, Carlo was so busy choosing the right shirt and jeans that he only had time to cook me a hastily prepared Haddock Monte Carlo, the egg over-poached and rubbery.
Lee arrived at 8pm, saying that if they went before 9.30 with the flyers he had obtained they would get free admission, thus having enough money left to get totally rat-arsed. This infelicitous phrase reminded me of something in the paper this week about humans and rats sharing 88% of their genes. Looking at Lee, this wasn't difficult to believe.
Lee then made some sarcastic remarks about Carlo having ironed his jeans to within an inch of their life and called him a big girl's blouse. Before I could point out that Lee's jeans had clearly never been within spitting distance of a steam iron and seemed to be several sizes too big, his mobile phone rang. "Shit, not again!" we heard him saying.
Lee told us his younger brother had set fire to the Pupil Referral Unit and the police needed a 'responsible adult' to come and collect him.
"That lets you out then" I said.
Unfortunately it didn't. Lee said Carlo would have to make his own way to town and meet him in the club, throwing a multi-coloured flyer on to the table.
"Hang on, this is a flyer for the garage", I said.
"Nice one, bruv!", Lee replied "it's Garage night at the club on kill me, man.....catch you later."
I was left to ruminate on the strange idea that the nightclub held a social evening for local car mechanics but perhaps old Arthur and his wife Sheila would be there and could keep an eye on Carlo. I resolved to drive Carlo to town myself. I might even stop for a quick Dry Martini before returning home for Newsnight.

Coming up: I am humiliated by Bruno the Bouncer