Well fancy seeing you here...

Hello and welcome to the rambling rollercoaster of useless ponderings, strung together in what the internet calls a "blog," and the voices call a waste of everyone elses time.

Please check your sanity at the door (along with your dignity, logic, principles, good taste and prejudices against daftness.)

"I am here to seduce you into a love of life; to help you to become a little more poetic; to help you die to the mundane and to the ordinary so that the extraordinary explodes in your life." -Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

Monday, 22 December 2008

Tiny Tim's Trust Fund

It’s almost five in the morning and I have just finished wrapping parcels to be sent off to people with Xboxes and Nintendo Wii’s. Upon completion I decided to check my email and then go to bed, as at 10:05am tomorrow (well, today now) Radio 2 are airing the first play of Morrissey’s new single and I’ve set an alarm so I might wake up and listen to it. The fact that I will most probably just go right back to sleep again afterwards doesn’t lessen the understanding that I should at least aim to sleep for a few hours before I am due to be alerted of the track’s imminent airtime by a shrilly beeping mobile phone.

Today I was just about to delete another spam message trying to con money out of me by pretending to award me some, when I noticed in the little preview window how disgracefully it was worded. Now, I know I should be offended that there are unscrupulous Scroogeish sorts trying to extricate cash from the already-impoverished, but I am equally – if not a teensy bit more-so – affronted by the fact that I was contacted by such ignorant unprincipled crooks.

I decided to reply. Here are both the original email and my response, copy/pasted as-is:

Original Message

From: "Lady Maggie Stephenson"
To: "undisclosed-recipients:"
Sent: Monday, December 22, 2008 3:14 AM
Subject: Hello

My name is Lady Maggie Stephenson, a widow that was dignosed of having

I was recently informed by my Doctor that i have a few weeks to live.

I have decide to donate the Twenty Million Pounds that i inherited from my
husband to you for charity purpose.

All response to this email should be sent to my Lawyer (Solicitor)
Barrister Herbert Smith of Herbert Smith LLP, through email for further
instructions: barrister_herbertsmith@administrativos.com

Your's Sincerely
Lady Maggie Stephenson.
Manchester, United Kingdom.


From: K S L
To: barrister_herbertsmith@administrativos.com
Sent: Monday, December 22, 2008 4:34 AM
Subject: Re: Hello

I am sorry to hear of your plight - but I am most pained that your condition has so sorely affected your spelling and grammar.

There is a variety of spell-check software available on the internet, but under the circumstances I am pleased to inform you that I can offer you the most effective and up to date personal editing services for a nominal sum. The introductory trial version lasts 28days, which appears to be the package best tailored to suit your needs as you'll be dead after that.

If you are interested in hiring me as an editor for your final weeks - to help you with writing all those goodbye letters and suchlike - then please send £5,000 to my PayPal account (or mail the equivalent value in scratch-cards care of my local post office).

Another option for your genteel consideration is this: if you decide to face death head-on in a Swiss clinic then you may wish to upgrade to our premium service, which includes word.doc templates that will guide you through the step-by-step process of writing a touching, thoughtful suicide note to your dearly beloved friends and family.

For more information please contact me via my company email fuckoffyouilliterateconartisttosser@OED.com

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! (If you make it that far.)

Yours Faithfully,

Now, while I appreciate that the majority of these scams originate outside of the UK, and therefore often come from countries where English may not be a first language, it doesn’t take five minutes for even a meagrely educated woman like myself to compose a convincingly deceitful letter, so I expect them to put a little more thought into their duplicity when they claim to be descended from some obscure Mancunian nobility. It is after all their business, and the least they should do is take a little pride in their work.

If a little old lady reallymade it her dying wish to bequest me a couple of dozen million in family silver, then I’d expect solicitors to turn up at the house accompanied by the woman herself in a blacked-out Mayback; forced to step around the canine excrement left on the pavement by someone’s flea-ridden pit-bull or doberman, as she totters into my home wearing moderate courts and trailing furs. Her people would enlighten me of her offer while she remained perched on an armchair, ever-faithful to her breeding in the deliberate effort not to notice the cat dribbling on her minks. She might then interject in an effort to explain her reason for choosing me to inherit her wealth - and persuade me that her intentions were genuinely altruistic.

I would not anticipate such an offer to come as an impersonal email from said doddery old dear, with such little care taken in penning the correspondence that it would make my eyes strike upon being subjected to the reading of it.

I’m aware that I probably shouldn’t have replied and will now incur the wrath of every computer virus known to mankind, and that neither Norton or McAfee will forgive me for putting them through their paces in ridding my computer of the worms, Trojans and any other dubiously-named electronic bacterium that will seek to make its home in my computer. I do, however, also happen to be in a slightly irritated mood due to the time and knowledge that I only have a few hours before I will be awoken – by a slightly nobler Mancunian than the fictional one who has so occupied my thoughts tonight.

If they reply I intend to set these villains challenges. I saw it done on television once. They had the people prove they were who they claimed to be by asking them to pose with ridiculous items. I might begin requesting they verify that their offer is not felonious by photographing themselves with a current newspaper, then will move on to things like a fresh trout, a unicycle, or a life-size cardboard cut-out of Anne Widdecombe.

Just in case, I might leave a note with Tracy in the post-office, asking her to forward any suspicious-looking packages. Though as it’s Christmas she’d be doing that anyway: my Auntie Margaret is renowned for sending parcels that require bomb-disposal-squad training to unwrap.

It almost makes me hope to hear back from them instead of Aunt Madge.


Tuesday, 9 December 2008

It's A Wrap For The Clangers


I've spent most of the last two weeks wrapping parcels to help my father become the next eBay/GAME. Of course, it's not quite like the blokes who invented Wikipedia from a laptop in somebody's shed, as both eBay and GAME already exist, and that lack of original concept is always going to be a hindrance to a business. Still, he seems to be implementing a rather sneaky practice that works on a local level; he's buying every single computer game in the South of England, so that people have no choice but to order them from him. Quite clever really, though as with every one-man bid to take over the world: he has two women helping him. (And with all the traipsing about buying games that Sam has done, if she doesn't get a foot spa for Christmas then he may just be in trouble.)

He's not the only one that may be in trouble. All this exposure to sellotape can't be doing me any good. A report was recently published in science journal 'Nature', that said scientists (well it wouldn't be clowns would it) have discovered that sellotape emits enough radiation to take an x-ray.

"The technical term for the X-Ray phenomenon is something called triboluminescence. As the sticky tape unrolls, the adhesive becomes positively charged, while the plastic tape takes a negative charge.

In a vacuum, this causes an electric field to be generated and 100 milliwatts of X-Rays to be released in a pulse lasting a billionth of a second."

This is vaguely worrying, because in Spiderman Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider and inherits arachnid characteristics. Now, I'm not concerned about becoming a superhuman roll of sellotape – that'd be stupid – but I find it really difficult to sleep if there's too much light in a room, so don't think it'd help my insomnia if I was to glow in the dark. (Don't tell me radiation doesn't glow, either, because I've seen the trailer to The Simpsons - and on there it does - which is good enough for me.) The only benefit to being a superhuman anything would be the Catwoman-esque leather catsuit. Not that there's much opportunity to wear one unless a person is either a hells angel or a Dominatrix, and I can't drive. (And I'd be a shit dominatrix; I feel guilty ordering the dog to do as she's told.)

X-Rays from Sellotape

The main reason we have all been so frantically wrapping parcels is that the month is hurtling unstoppably towards Christmas. I haven't done a single bit of my shopping yet, have no decorations up, and haven't made a Christmas card list yet – let alone started writing any. I have begun panicking over what to buy people though. I am atrocious at buying presents people will like. I tend to have wildly grandiose ideas of what I want to buy them when I first try and think of something, then due to the constraints of time, money, charm, influence, logic and importation law have to settle for something far less magnificent. Trouble is by then anything else seems unfortunately tawdry in comparison to the "ideal present," and I find myself on Christmas Eve doubting every single thing I bought, and generally feeling as if I have spectacularly failed to get anyone anything they might actually like – which is why I end up apologising profusely as I hand over the gift on Christmas day. The worst bit is being there when people unwrap their present. Ideally I'd put them in a room with a one way mirror, so I can see them feign delight while trying to work out what the object actually is, but they can't see me cringing into myself at the embarrassment of being the madwoman who always gives people crap stuff. If one is going to do that really, then they need to have no self-awareness whatsoever, like my Auntie Margaret, or my Nana Tess. They both give really random and bonkers presents: so bonkers that the opening of their gifts is an event in itself, albeit one that always ends in bemuslement and derision.

Another, slightly more entertaining tradition is sitting down to watch TV on Christmas day once all the presents have been unwrapped, all the food has been eaten, and all the Christmas-cheer has been supped dry. So I was sad to hear this morning of the death of Oliver Postgate – creator of The Clangers, Bagpuss and Ivor The Engine. Now, saddened as I was in a nostalgic momentary-"awww"-then-carry-on-with-life sort of a way, I heard a radio 1 news reporter describe his death as "untimely." At this juncture I should mention that the man was 83, so whilst his death was unfortunate, it can hardly be described as 'untimely.'

Watching old episodes of the clangers I came across this one, which shows the day the Clangers went political. This episode hasn't been shown since the first time it was broadcast, as it has been deemed too controversial to be aired since. Mr Postgate was the grandson of a Labour MP, and this episode was written to coincide with election night in October 1974.

Vote For Froglet!
Clangers episode

In other news, a Chinese woman has gone deaf after getting a little over-amorous with her boyfriend. According to a news website:

"A Chinese woman has partially lost her hearing after her boyfriend ruptured her eardrum during an excessively passionate kiss, reports Reuters.

The woman, who is in her 20s and hails from Zhuhai in southern China’s Guangdong province, went to hospital after completely losing her hearing in her left ear following the overly amorous embrace.

China Daily, citing a report in a local newspaper, quoted a doctor surnamed Li who explained that the kiss had reduced pressure in the woman’s mouth, pulled the eardrum out of place and caused the breakdown of her ear.

The doctor added that the woman’s hearing was likely to return after around two months.

The incident prompted several Chinese newspapers to dispense kissing safety advice. While kissing is normally very safe, doctors urge people to proceed with caution, the China Daily reported."

Health and Safety officers will think their Christmas has come early (okay, not by much.) They'll probably outlaw mistletoe now, on the grounds that it encourages people to indulge in potentially reckless behaviour. Christmas kiss-o-grams will be arrested on suspicion of assault (and not just an assault on good taste.) Katie Perry will probably have to provide police with the name of the girl she kissed, so they can check that she did indeed like it, and still has her full range of auditory senses.

The only slightly reckless thing I've done recently (which I liked a lot, but didn’t involve any snogging on this occasion,) was buy Morrissey tickets for his 2009 50th Birthday tour. It's a little daft because I have no idea whether or not I'll actually be in a position to go -- but I have every intention of being bloody-minded enough to make it happen, so am not too worried. If you think you're sick of me talking about this now, then just wait ‘til next year when his Years of Refusal album is launched and the birthday celebrations begin in earnest. I will be truly unbearable company by then, but will naturally assume that you have all had fair warning and that I may be as ridiculously overexcited as I like. So, just to warn you, Anna and I will (hopefully) be going to see Steven Patrick Morrissey on his 50th birthday 22nd May 2009 at the Manchester Apollo.

If only he didn't look quite so much like a paedophile on the new album cover. At least I won't be tempted to lay out any cash on a t-shirt. (Though the new stylistic font on the logo will doubtless grace many a tattooed Mancunian die-hard fan's bodyart in the coming year - as it's all nice and swirly.)

Saturday, 29 November 2008

A Cruel and Unusual Punishment

This week it was on the news that some teenagers in America have been punished for their noise violations by being sentenced to listen to Barry Manilow songs. I think this is a bit harsh, but it reminded me that I have had several conversations about noses lately. (Four and a half, actually. How one can have a conversation about half a nose, or half a conversation about a whole one is rather complex and long winded, and it’s probably best you don’t ask.) However, I have disliked my nose for years – most especially since it went a bit weird after being broken. I am not certain that ‘bulbousness’ is a word, but regardless of semantics, it is for its unfortunate bulbousness that I am less than enamoured with my nose.

I'm not the only one of my acquaintances that feels this way (about their nose – if they all felt that way about my nose I'd not admit it here, I’d just sneak off to have it shrunk a bit. Fortunately the generalised olfactory paranoia relates to individual body-image issues, and isn't all focused in my direction.) It seems that disliking one's nose is common to my circle of friends, and this had me wondering why. Do people with issues surrounding their distinctly Roman profile instantly share some subconscious bond, triggered by subtly insecure body language signals? Or is it that people with freakish nasal landscapes naturally congregate together, like all the fat kids at school who sit at one table, whilst all the gingers sit in another (shadier) corner?

Of course, it could just be that I have noticed that body-image issues are commonplace in society in general, and that my micro-study serves to do nothing more than back up the statistics that rhinoplasty is the most often performed elective/cosmetic surgery. (I prefer still to think it's because people who hate their noses send out secret nose-twitching signs; recognised only by other members of the elite, in a clandestine crossover between the Masons and 'Bewitched'.)

The other songs played to the troublesome-teenagers in America are performed by childhood favourite Barney the Dinosaur. I used to think he was alright in a "will never be as good as Sesame Street" sort of a way; but then my sister went overboard in her fanatic appreciation of him, and there are only so many times one can hear those songs without wanting to rip the stuffing out of that big purple dinosaur and let an untidy gerbil nest in it. It is because of the trauma associated with my memories of Barney that I sympathise with the kids who are being forced to listen to him. My other gripe with Barney is that it’s because of him that I came to watch what must surely be classed as The Most Disturbing Film In The World, Ever.

That film is called Death To Smoochy. I actually shuddered when I typed that. Properly shuddered! That would have been brilliantly timed for dramatic effect if this was a video and not a written blog. I'm glad it's not being filmed though, as I washed my hair half an hour ago and it's still a bit damp, so I look like a drowned rat. …Come to think of it, that's probably why I am shivering. It's not repressed terror, I'm just a bit cold.

I was subjected to this film a few years ago when having a DVD marathon with my friend Tom, and after mentioning my phobia of Barney the Dinosaur he thought I'd like to watch a movie about the twisted backstage goings-on behind the scenes of a show like Barney. Now, there is technically nothing wrong with the film. It has Ed Norton and Robin Williams in it, and is directed by Danny DeVito. But it remains - for me - The Most Disturbing Film In The World, Ever. It's just too weird. I have tried to block a lot of it out, most especially the fuchsia-coloured rhinoceros "Smoochy," played by the aforementioned Eddie N.

I quite enjoyed the film in some respects, but only in the way people on I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here say they "enjoy" the bush tucker trials where they have to crawl through slime, and then roll in ants and let spiders crawl into their anus whilst they are doused in brandy and set on fire like some icky invertebrate-ridden Christmas pudding, (which not a single one of you will now eat this year. Good. Less chance of me setting anything else on fire when carrying a burning cake then.)

I just found the film very uncomfortable to watch (though I admit that having spiders scrabble into my arse would be worse.) Robin Williams' character "Rainbow Randolph" was a spiteful, bitter, bastard – which is not what I have come to expect from the man who brought the Genie to life with such aplomb in Aladdin – and Ed Norton's was naïve, embarrassing, and well, just a bit mental to be honest. The whole film was a bit mental! I think people who liked the surreal madness of Fight Club might like Death To Smoochy, as it did similar things to my already fragile sanity. I blame movies like that for a lot of the bonkers-randomness that goes on in my head actually.

Here’s a short, funny scene from the film (this doesn't showcase its nightmarish, insanity-provoking potential but I couldn't bring myself to watch other clips of the movie when sat here on my own with no chance of them not just running round and round my head like an evil version of the Moomins, (who I found a bit weird in their non-satanic format; so can only imagine the psychological scarring that could be caused by a malicious remake.)

Death To Smoochy: Get You Off've That Smack:

imdb blurbs for Death To Smoochy:

"Fired in disgrace, kids show host Randolph Smiley finds himself out on the street, while his replacement Sheldon Mopes, finds himself on the fast track to success with a new hit show as the proud purple rhino Smoochy. But things take a turn for the worst when Sheldon finds out that some of the people that he works with, and some he doesn't know he's working for, are all in it for the money. Meanwhile, Randolph is slowly turning insane with his only thoughts focusing on killing Smoochy and getting back to his life of luxury."

Link To Trailer

"In the cutthroat world of children's television, Rainbow Randolph, the corrupt, costumed star of a popular children's TV show, is fired over a bribery scandal and replaced by squeaky-clean Smoochy, a puffy fascia rhinoceros. As Smoochy catapults to fame - scoring hit ratings and the affections of a jaded network executive Randolph makes the unsuspecting rhino the target of his numerous outrageous attempts to exact revenge and reclaim his status as America's sweetheart."

After other – unrelated – events this week, I also blame my confuzzledness on my father. I'm not crazy; I have just inherited some of his talent for saying the most inappropriate and incredibly stupid thing possible, in any given situation. This week for example, he went to order Nan's new washing machine with his partner Sam (for the sake of clarity I could have said 'girlfriend' there, but I like the fact that some of you will have assumed the words "Dad," "partner," and "Sam," mean some kind of Biblical slash-fiction scenario.) Anyway, they went into the shop (which for the sake of argument we will say was Curry's, though I have no idea which electronics store they actually purchased the appliance from,) and after selecting a couple they liked, decided to take advantage of a sales promotion on an Indesit model. This would have been fine, had the sales clerk not queried the offer, protesting its very existence and denying all knowledge of the promotion. It was at this point that my Dad totally eclipsed all of my own recent ramblings, to commit a faux-par that left him cringing with the same depth of visceral dread that might accompany a viewing of Death To Smoochy, or an hour's exposure to Barry Mannilow.

Now, Dad – who really needs to get his eyes tested, but is too recalcitrant to do so (another trait I intend to henceforth blame on my DNA) – was pretty frazzled after a day working at a very busy time of year, countered the sales clerk's claims that the offer was not valid until the following day by pointing out a large sign on the other side of the shop and exclaiming "It says it is over there. Even I can see that!" to which the clerk replied; "I can't... I'm partially sighted."

It was then – somewhat too late – that Dad and Sam noticed the man's name badge also bore the words 'Please be patient, I am visually impaired.'

That spectacularly surpasses the only stupid thing I said today, and my stupid thing is only considered to be so by other people. I think it makes perfect sense. Well... It makes slightly imperfect sense, but that's sensible enough that I don't feel the need to change. The 'thing' currently the point of reference is that I have left the clock on my DVD player running an hour fast. This sounds a little odd, but I only made it worse when trying to explain to someone why I do so.

The thing is, if I have somewhere to be at a specific time, I need constantly jogging along to keep the motivation I need to not be lazy, and actually make the effort to ensure my life is moving at the correct pace, and in the right direction, to get me where I need to be. I often don't really experience the surge of determination needed until it appears that I am running out of time. Having the clock an hour fast means that I get that little panicked prompt 'not to be late,' early enough that I stand a chance of being on time. This is apparently a little unconventional, but it prevents me from succumbing to lethargy and constant tardiness.

As I typed that I noticed that my DVD Player thinks it is 5:30am. 5:30AM!!! I now want to get offline and go to sleep, despite having checked the alarm-clock and the one on my computer to reassure myself that I have an hour before it reaches that time. It's good motivation to unwind. Honest…

Don't look at me like that. It works. And if you really think it's weird, then from now on don’t blame medication or occasional bouts of misanthropic seclusion for my behaviour: know it is the fault of my paternal genetics and the influence of The Most Disturbing Film In The World, Ever.

Don’t have nightmares…

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Mutant Moggies and The (Very) Early Spring Clean.

Today I have been on an epic mission to de-clutter my living environ by reorganising my quarters to better embrace the principles of feng shui, and delight Laurence Llewellyn Bowen. It has been a long, arduous journey that began at the birth of day, and continued 'til it was, well, about primary-school age. (Okay, so I cleaned out the cupboard under the sink and it took up several morning-hours and one or two afternoon ones.) I also shuffled round stuff that my grandparents – who have lived in this house for 50 years – had stuffed in the back of drawers and forgotten in the deepest, darkest recesses of the pantry.

My grandmother is notorious for not throwing away food that she thinks may still be edible. She also has what she calls a "healthy suspicion of expiry dates." She sees them more as guidelines. In fact she sees the guidelines, and then chooses to pretend they are merely scurrilous rumours about when the food might go off, and by accepting them she would be pandering to gossip. My late grandfather and I used to pick out tins from the back of a stack and challenge each other to guess how many years out of date they were, before throwing them away while she was out. She claims it's because she was born in 1939, during WW2 and because rationing continued into the 50's she was hardwired to never waste ye olde vittles.

Today when clearing out the cupboards, I discovered she had bottles of children's cough syrup that expired in 1992, and some medicated ear drops with my name on which had a warning printed on the prescription label that read; "Discard one month after opening." She'd only kept them a little while longer than recommended. If you can call fourteen bloody years a "little while!" There was also a large can of Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup that was bowed and bulging as all sorts of nasty chemical-y things happened inside of it. It looked about ready to explode, so of course I delicately wrapped it in newspaper and placed it in the wheelie bin gently, didn't I? Well... No. I peered at it warily before removing it from the cupboard rather gingerly – grasping it as one might a grizzly, flailing toddler covered in drool – and then dropped it unceremoniously into a bin liner, right onto a dusty jam-jar with a desiccated daddy-long-legs in it, where it burst open and filled the sack with fermenting tomato crème.

I also discovered this brand new saucepan which was still in its box and was sporting what I thought was "cool retro packaging." It's not: it just really has been sat on the shelf in its box since the 60's when Nan was still working for a local hardware shop called "Light's." I questioned the logic of remembering purchasing a saucepan but never remembering that it was in the cupboard when she needed to use one, and was told to "go and make a cup of tea."

60's Saucepan:

After removing all the tins that were past their sell by date (including a jar of frankfurters that contained enough bacteria to have successfully invaded Poland,) and re-discarding half the tins Nan rescued as "perfectly edible," I had cleared about half the kitchen. I have so far discovered several packets of tea-light candles, nine large boxes of "these will come in handy if there's a power-cut" candles, three soap dishes, seven large bottles of fairy washing up liquid, four and a half china teapots and three stainless steel ones; including one designed to make twenty cups of tea which was last used at a street party for the Queen Elizabeth's jubilee. It had so much dust on it that I'd not like to guess which jubilee – or even which Queen Elizabeth. I suggested giving it to the charity shop, but Nan wanted to keep it "in case we have a family party." I added up all the people in our immediate family, and even including their kids and spouses there's no way we'd need to make 20 cups of tea. Besides which, full up it'd be bloody heavy. Whoever was making the tea in that would e inevitably scald themselves and need rushing to the burns unit. (Which in itself would mean there were two less people who'd be having a brew; further proving my point that we don't need that huge teapot.)

I chucked out about 40 cans of food that were past their expiration dates, and a dead mouse (though I don't know when that expired. I have been watching the first and second series of Bones this week and did poke it with a party cocktail stick to see if I had learned anything about forensic science that might help me determine when the mouse had met its end, but not wanting to get too close in case it stank, and not really knowing enough about rodent pathology to determine if it had rigor mortis, my Quincy Jones moment was scuppered when the cat tried to eat it and nearly set the other mousetrap off.)

Tuppence "helping" me to sort the cupboards:

I also found a box of kids’ toys that had been packed away for years, and which had been favourites of mine when I was very little. There was a little yellow rabbit in the collection which I have seen photographs of myself with in the pram when I was only about the same size as the cat. I also discovered one of a trio of puppets that were given to my sister and I when we were very young and my grandparents dog died. We were too little to understand, and so the powers that be (who in that Orwellian kindergarten-era were pretty much just ‘Nan and Grandad’) decided that we should be fed the "she's gone to live on a farm" tale so many kids are presented with when a parent wishes not to corrupt their children’s innocence with mammalian bereavement. Only in this case, they were well aware that if they told me that the dog had gone to live on a farm I'd want to visit, so they paid me off with Sooty, Sue and Sweep puppets – which were supposedly leaving presents from the dog, but which I suspect were indeed not bought by her at all. That she purchased toys to soften the blow of her departure would be leap enough, but would also involve my believing her to have foretold her own death: and a psychic dog is a little far-fetched even for me.

Rabbit, and 'Sue' puppet in the background to the right:

All in all it was a reasonably productive day, though I still have half of the kitchen to sort and will undoubtedly encounter lots more things that either need dusting down, throwing away, or re-lubricating with a few well aimed squirts of Mr Muscle.

I did take a moment out of my busy cleansing ritual to discuss this weeks’ oddest news items; which comprised of a lingerie model who has not got a navel and finds herself constantly refuting claims she is an alien, and a kitten with two faces. By that I do not mean that it was duplicitous; telling its owner how much it loves the new jingly-ball toy and then slagging off their paltry attempts at entertainment every time it had a check up with the vet – no, I mean it was some sort of freaky conjoined twin-thing, or chimera, and had two distinct faces attached to the one head and body. Because it is a kitten (or would that be because "they are kittens?") it was still cute though, even though its face was mental. It will probably be an ugly cat though.

Double-Headed Kitten:

(Note to anyone who comments to bring me bad news of this kitten's fate: I am aware that mutant animals don't usually live very long, but I am not going to Google it to see if it has gone to live on a farm somewhere, and particularly do not wish for you anti-agriculturalists to tell me there is no farm, and that it's a lie perpetuated by the Vatican to make people more receptive to the panic buying of carrots.)

YouTube link to freaky-cat:

If the kitten hires Max Clifford as its agent, it could probably use its story of a tragic childhood to launch a perfume and take over the Iceland adverts job from Kerry Katona. She was in Atomic Kitten, so they are obviously a company willing to employ increasingly ugly-looking ageing felines of no discernable talent but much publicised personal misfortune.

Oooh, “meow.”

Monday, 3 November 2008

Hope for Tomorrow

Tomorrow – or today for most of you reading this – is the day of the US Presidential Election. God that's narcissistic; there will be all that going on tomorrow – papers full of it and coverage on every single news channel – and I still anticipate that you will have taken time to read the witterings of a slightly-bonkers-but-officially-not-mad woman. If any of you are reading this on November 4th 2008 then for goodness' sake go and put BBC News 24, Sky News or CNN on or something! Not Fox News though. If you watch Fox News then you shouldn't be reading this bloggy-thing at all, because you'll believe every damned thing I say – however preposterous. You probably even believe John McCain's camp when they tell you that Barack Obama is a "muslim terrorist baby-killer," and you will also have (on at least one occasion) fantasised about the homicidal-librarian-alike Sarah Palin spanking you with a novelty gun-club bookmark. If you answered yes to any of those questions then go and read the Daily Mail or something and delete this site from your browser favourites. (More of the old narcissism I see. I don't presume you clicked a link – which I probably sent you anyway – I assume you have it saved and are notified by a fanfare of emails whenever I update this page.)

Anyway, I am not voting for Barack Obama because I can't. There’s some stupid law about British people not being allowed to vote for American politicians. I think it's the same law which states that all our politicians have to be ugly bullshitting bastards that we don't particularly want to vote for – and sometimes don't even get the chance to vote for! …Yes Gordon, I mean you. (I know what you're thinking, but hinting that the PM reads this is not narcissism, it’s fact.) If I could vote for Obama however, then I most definitely would. I have been seduced by his charisma, and the glitz and glamour he has brought to proceedings with his campaign. "Oooh, they could have their first black president! Lets get rid of the retarded cowboy and let this charming mixed-race chap have a go. I'm not entirely clear on his policies but he's a damn fine looking guy and has a profile that will look marvellous on collectable coinage in the future. But for gawd's sake someone board up the White House cat-flap so Monica Lewinski can't get back in."

Barack Obama

You will by now know who won the election, whether you're reading this the day of – or the year after – the event. (Modesty, see it? The "year after." I have obviously grown as a person in the space of two paragraphs. Okay... only a little bit, but progress is progress.) I'll not bore you with political musings, as I'd only make a fool of myself. The other day I completely forgot about Al Gore because when I watched that election I was focused so intently on being annoyed at losing Bill Clinton from the political stage that I paid very little attention to the pair vying to succeed him. Actually, I think that's how George Bush got in. (Again, somebody make sure that bloody cat flap is secure, will you?)

As I was exhausted today and plan to stay up all night tomorrow to watch the coverage of the election, I stayed offline most of this evening planning to rest. So, in place of prowling the internet making a prat of myself as I usually do, I watched a host of shamelessly romantic and saccharine films instead. They're so utterly without cinematic merit that they're even considered tawdry examples of that much maligned genre the 'chick-flick'. So why do I watch them? And moreover, why do I continue to enjoy them (even if it is accompanied by a large helping of self-loathing for having such pedestrian – not to mention oestrogen-friendly -- tastes in movies.)?

I have been asking myself that question and really don't think it's as straightforward as being a daft-and-romantic girly. I've never protested my daftness, but I do often find myself having to justify myself as an 'unromantic.' In a woman that's not generally expected, and people often think I eschew it because of feminist ideals (and I'm pretty sure my mother still occasionally wonders if I am a lesbian, purely and simply because I didn't cry at Dirty Dancing and can't quote it from beginning to end.)

My mothers ludicrous misconceptions aside, there is still the question of why – if I am as unromantic as I claim to be – do I watch films made entirely for those whose hearts sit desperately close to their sleeves? I think the answer lies in my previous description of these movies as being "saccharine." If romance is sugar, then idealism is artificial sweetener; both have the same effect, but whilst one is notoriously bad for you, the other likes to consider itself to be the more virtuous option.

I know I am an idealist, and whilst my belief in god is vague, and my faith in humanity often tested; the thing I believe in above all else is hope. Hope that things will get better, or hope that they will not get worse. For me, these sorts of films buy right into that set of values. A romantic sees the protagonist stroll off into the sunset with their one true love and bathes in the afterglow of a happy ending. An idealist such as myself witnesses that same scene, and is more comforted by the message of hope: the idea that whatever may be around the corner for the loved-up pair heading out toward the dimming golden light, they hope that their lives will improve now that they have found each other. That is, I feel, always the underlying sentiment I am left with when watching this genre of movie. Whatever the set of circumstances on which the credits roll, they always end with the characters feeling they now have a little more hope for a better tomorrow.

I also think it has a little bit to do with overcoming obstacles. That is a predominant theme in many movies, not merely the 'chick-flicks' of which I speak tonight. There is always some endeavour; something or someone standing between the man and his true love; the woman and her dream job (yes, I did deliberately have the man be the one looking for love and the woman as the career driven one. It may only be an example but that doesn’t mean it has to conform to traditional stereotypes.) Back to the point: a lot of my own life has been given over to "beating the odds" and whilst there are lots of genres of film where the protagonist has trials to succeed in if they are to meet their ultimate goal, in many they chart the story of little people doing very big things. The scale is often far too grand for someone like myself to feel I can identify with, whereas in a 'chick flick' the triumph over adversity tends to come in the form of ordinary people fighting toward an aim that is shared by many other ordinary folk. Whether portrayed as family, friends, career, or soulmate – the pursuit of love is the underlying theme of all this type of film – and that to me represents something far less hopeless, and far more attainable: the extraordinary achievement of a commonplace desire.

(...That said, I still wouldn't recommend 'The Lake House.')

After typing that, I went downstairs and made a cup of tea and while passing through the living room (on the most direct route there is to the kettle without jumping out of the back bedroom window,) and I heard a muffled swishing noise coming from behind the redundant gas fire, which probably means it will all need to be unscrewed tomorrow because a bird has fallen down the chimney again. This occurrence is not nearly as frequent now as when our neighbour bred racing pigeons; as when it was the season for all his young birds to fledge, they seemed suicidally drawn to dive-bomb our chimney like little fluffy kamikaze pilots.

Just for once I'd like to go into the kitchen at night and not be accosted by a cat, a dog, a tortoise, a mouse, a pigeon or a bloody great big spider with 86 million legs and a murderous gleam in its eyes.

When other people complain about living in an "Orwellian State" they usually mean Big Brother, so why did I get Animal Farm?

(Yes, I am aware that Animal Farm is a bit darker and more intellectual than 'the bit in Snow White where the sparrows help to do the washing up' - but this bloggy thing isn't ironically called 'Meretricious Nonsense' you know.)

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

There's A Rat In Me Kitchen, What Am I Gonna Do?

Today my head has been full of that Ali G song from a few years ago. Actually, that wasn’t the song: it was just what he was singing at the start of the video for another song I think. I’d better not look it up, or I’ll have two songs competing for the limelight in my brain, and it’s hard enough to concentrate on living life with half a dozen Jamaican rats scampering about, without wondering which of them is called Julie.

I’m not mental, there’s good reason for there to be rats in my brain - just like I’m sure they had good reason to be in Ali’s kitchen. Thing is – they’ve moved out of his cuisine and into mine. Only they probably aren’t the same ones (because they’d be used to a celebrity lifestyle after all those years with Sasha Baron Cohen – especially after the success of Borat – and would never downsize to a Pompey terrace,) and they’re not rats. They, or rather ‘it,’ is a mouse.

The first sign that there was a “rat in me kitchen” was when we came downstairs one morning to find lots of bits of silver foil in the carpet. We couldn’t work out where they’d come from, but they appeared ‘nibbled’ - rather than torn or chewed by the dog. Later that day I grabbed a packet of crisps from the cupboard and soon realised there weren’t actually any crisps in it. In fact, the dominant feature of the packet was no longer the “foil sealed freshness” but the ‘mouse nibbled emptiness.’ It certainly solved the puzzle about where the foil bits had come from. They were Ready Salted flavour, if you're interested. (I know, I thought they'd go for Cheese & Onion too, but I don't like them either.)

It’s probably quite a good advert for the crisps, that the mouse ate all of them, because they say animals won’t eat anything that’s ‘off.’ My first cat – Fluffy – saved me from eating mouldy chicken once when my mother tried to poison me. (Well, it may not have been that deliberate, but apathetic neglect puts you on the same path to food-poisoning as intent to sicken would.) Neglect might be a bit strong too, she just couldn’t be bothered to cook so said the chicken that smelled funny would be fine. I took the skin off (being all fussy) and it was mouldy. Mum said it would be fine, but I knew animals have better noses than people so I said I’d only eat it if the cat would. Fluffy refused to go near it, and actually looked quite disgusted at the prospect. So the fact that the mouse actually made the effort to chew through the packet to get to the crisps suggests they must be a quality foodstuff. Even so, I don’t think that’s a slogan that will help Gary Linneaker sell many.

Alternatively, I think the mouse may have had post-intoxication munchies, in which case crisps would be an obvious choice. You see, whenever we have mice, they go after foil. Our previous mouse got caught when it ate an oxo cube and left the foil shards strewn about the kitchen, and the one before that ate some tin-foil, which was how we discovered its presence. This leads me to the obvious conclusion that the mice are not after the food in this house at all; they’re after the foil. The only people who have a sustained use for sneaking foil in the middle of the night are drug users, so I am beginning to suspect that my kitchen might be some kind of rodent crack-den.

We tried putting some traps down, though think we made a mistake in putting cheese on them and not silver foil, as that’s what they are really after. I’m not sure why we bothered with traps – they have eaten so much foil that they are probably magnetic by now. If we put a powerful magnet on a string and dangled it behind the worktop it’s probably come back up choc-full of smack-mice.

This was actually filmed in my kitchen: Mouse Party

As the traps didn’t work (which, as I say, I wasn’t surprised about) we put down some bright blue poison. Today we checked to see if it had been eaten and it had. In another bit of the kitchen in a corner there were some mouse droppings, which prove the critter is still alive because they were the colour of the poison. That’s not what the poison is supposed to do. It’s supposed to kill the mouse not just turn its shit turquoise. Maybe we bought joke-shop mouse poison.

Dad has a mouse in his kitchen too, though it may just be the same one bringing its laundry here like all his other lodgers while their washing machine is broken. Or it’s our mouse’s dealer. That would make more sense. Why would a mouse do its washing in a crack-den? He has a more novel way of catching his mouse. He suggested ambushing it in the night with darts. I’ll know if dad’s mouse ever comes down here to skin up with our mouse, because his will look like some sort of miniature commercialised porcupine; covered in Union Jacks and adverts for Guinness, and whatever other dart-flights he’s got now.

I don’t know why we’re fussing over ousting these rodents. I think we should have just given them some old chicken. That’d poison them. They probably wouldn’t have eaten it though; mice aren’t as daft as me mother.

On a less infested sort of a note, it’s eight years since I had my operation this week, and I received an invite to a Christmas lunch with the IA – the organisation I have done some writing for. Now, the IA are all tied up with the rather unpleasant business of IBS – and the associated effects and accoutrements – so I can’t imagine that going to a Christmas lunch with a room full of people suffering in that way would be much fun. Though I suppose everyone in the room would have a legitimate excuse to avoid the sprouts for once. Even so, it’s not really the way I’d like to mark all this ‘being incredibly difficult’ that I’ve been perfecting for more than three-quarters of a decade. I was hoping for a letter from the Queen, or notification of getting onto the Christmas Honours List or something. There’s a bit of me that would like to turn down an MBE. It’s more rock and roll, and the daft hierarchy of the honours system annoys me. I like the royals as a tourist attraction, and because the pomp and ceremony is traditional and amusing. It all contributes to maintaining a British identity. If actually given an opportunity to meet the Queen though, I’d be there like a shot. My ego couldn’t live with turning it down. I’d want to go just for the anecdote.

That is possibly my most dangerous trait. There are lots of things I’d do “just for the anecdote,” because I sometimes get bored when telling people stories of the life I’ve lived, and could use a few things to liven it up a bit. I know other people think it’s interesting, but I think that if I’d had lunch with Her Majesty - or woken up in a field with Kate Moss, Johnny Depp, a tin of Ambrosia custard and 50yds of bubble-wrap or something - then I’d not find my narcissistic self-promotion so repetitive.

And I probably wouldn’t get so obsessed with why there are mice smoking heroin in my kitchen.

...I did look that song up, it was bugging me too much. Here’s the video:

Friday, 29 August 2008

How Much Is That Katie In The Window?

It seems that "being tired" is of interest to certain members of the medical profession. Now, I don't mean they spend years studying yawns until they can decipher their hidden meaning like those people who think they can understand cats' meows, or read bottoms. That would be ridiculous. There are, however, those who choose to specialise in what (as far as I can see) amounts to little more than 'watching me get more and more sleepy/bonkers while asking me questions that require me to not be sleepy/bonkers if I stand any hope of answering them correctly.'

This sleep-science epiphany occurred some time between arriving at the Chronic Fatigue Services Centre, and leaving it. I can't be any more specific than that, because the actual appointment is a little blurred. There's a good reason why they call the generalised befuddlement that accompanies M.E/CFS "brain fog" - it obscures anything that's just out of reach, cannot be easily cleared, and descends quickly. I get confuzzled very easily at the moment, and I'm not sure the specialist (who calls herself Julie, but looks like a Cynthia so I think she is probably lying. Possibly in witness protection or hiding from the FBI. Though I don't think you could really do her for any more than possession of wheatgrass and too many hippie skirts.)

Anyway, she wanted a basic family history and life story - a tale I regaled her with rather reluctantly, after telling her to "wait for the book like everyone else" sank like one of the rose-quartz stones from her peace garden. I shouldn't really be so dismissive of her - she's very nice - and there's nothing wrong with hippie types either. I'm descended from them! When my blood is viewed under a microscope you can see little daisies printed into each cell, and I have made a life-long study of recreating John Lennon's 'Bed-In" protest. (I just haven't decided what I am protesting against yet, ok?!) It's just that the whole place smacks of duplicity. It is a hospital facility that is trying very hard not to be a hospital facility, but no amount of pan-pipe music and pastels can hide the fact that behind at least one of the multiple unmarked doors there is almost certainly someone colonising MRSA cultures on their heart chakra, or spraying TB all over the inoffensively bland stationery.

I don't do myself any favours once I have passed from articulate-and-lucid into rambling-and-detached. I managed to avoid talking about pigeons or sausages this time, but blathered on for longer than was reasonable about lamas and woodlice. Over the course of the previous evening I had nurtured an affinity with woodlice that peaked about 45mins into the consultation when I was asked how I feel about currently being nocturnal. I repeated the thoughts I'd had the night before: that it is fine to be nocturnal in the summer when the days are too hot and bright, but late afternoon/evening is perfect. I adore the freedom of the night-time, and when it's warm and I can have all the windows open and just relax I love the night. At this time of year it starts to be different, as the nights are simple dank, dark and cold. Living my life in the damp, dark and cold is what makes me feel less like an insomniac and more like a woodlouse. It was in trying to explain this that they diagnosed the "brain fog" symptom, though even if I had avoided likening myself to a 'chuggypig' they would have noticed my bemusled state of being soon enough, as I clumsily attempted to fill out the last questionnaire with liquid-eyeliner instead of a pen.

I did accomplish one of my goals from last week, which was to get a sneaky photo of the rather unfortunate sign blue-tacked to the entrance of the facility: (It made me laugh anyway.)

After getting home I remembered that I had to get passport-sized photo's done for my disabled parking badge (which I've never had before, but decided I would arrange when I got stuck having to trek across a bloody-great car-park in the pouring rain not so long ago. If there are papers that say I don't have to do anything so ridiculous as negotiate potentially Nessie-harbouring puddles whilst wearing stilettos that aren't exactly well designed for *walking* in - let alone swimming - then it's just about enough to persuade me to have a photo taken. Bearing in mine it takes a lot for me to agree to being snapped - by man or machine. But, it needed doing. The local firm that I've had my ID with since I was (briefly) a student have closed down and it's no longer valid, so I have had to send that off too. So I had to sit in that stupid little booth in the post-office, denied permission to smile, and with every flaw highlighted by a light so bright I think it may have actually neutralised any pigment in my skin. As well as having the light-bleach to contend with, it was that hideously white background - the consequence of which being that I blended right into it and ended up with four photographs of little more than floating lip-gloss.

I thought my last ID card was gormless, but it turns out that I was capable of looking even more like I had survived a botched lobotomy. It's because I hate it so much I think. I sit there grumbling and glowering and wanting to leave, and then right in the middle of my surly stream of "ihatethiswhythefuckamIherelet'sjustgetitoveranddonewith," the camera flashes and I look like something off a dodgy website for cheap Czech escorts. "Each girl come with own goat. Very good deal. Buy now."

Proof that the missing link was better suited for eastern-european sex-trafficking than sentient thought:

As far as anything else is concerned I have done little more than buy shoes - and avoid writing a proper pitch for a regular column in the medical journal because it requires actually going to the gym. My editor John knows I'm lazy, but as I have another appointment at the M.E clinic next Friday, I can still call it "research."

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Just A Firestarter, Crazy Fire Starter

I have neglected this blog somewhat because I've had several publishers of anthologies who want me to submit work, and can't write for fun when I need to channel all this nonsense into work. I have also been resting up because I have had lots of dull hospital-related things to attend to the last couple of weeks.

It started when I had to go for a pre-dietary-clinic-appointment blood test. They are always busy in the afternoons so I had to go during early AM hours. Well, early for me. Because I have been rather nocturnal of late I had to stay awake overnight and not sleep at all before the blood test at 9:30. I was fine until 6am when I'd usually start to think about sleep, so I began watching Ghost Whisperer to keep my mind occupied. It worked, but one of the episodes was set in a hospital, and Melinda (the medium) is approached by lots of dead patients - and another addressed the early days of exploring her gift when she still wasn't able to tell who was real and who was a spirit by just looking. I didn't have a problem with this until I got through the doors of the hospital and - feeling rather woozy and spaced out from sleep depravation by then - I convinced myself that not all the people I could see were real, and that I had better try and ignore the ones I considered to be suspect phantoms. Sat in the waiting room I was trying not to acknowledge an old woman in a purple bed-jacket, because she didn't look well and I thought that she might have been a candidate for 'walking dead.' (I realised I might be wrong about her when she took a ticket, but there was a middle-aged man with a strange moustache who I also tried to ignore.) If you make eye contact with people in those places they feel that a sort of shared-hospital-experience gives them the right to talk to you, and I didn't want to look mad by talking to an empty chair if he was really a ghost. I thought in the end that it was better not to talk to anyone, but kept thinking of the line from Sixth Sense: "I see dead people," and giggling for no apparent reason - trying to stifle it and just looking like I was having some kind of seizure.

When it was my turn to see the phlebotomist and have blood taken, I entered the little consulting room and immediately felt inadequate. She was a bronzed, blonde, incredibly pretty nurse in sexy naval uniform. It was like something out of a cruel Fedde le Grand music video - juxtaposed over some sort of awkward, ugly-duckling teen movie. I expected to trip over and end up in a humiliated little heap at her feet as I spilled a bag full of tampons and flashed mismatching underwear. Fortunately I made it to her chair without such a display of inelegance, but then made myself look like I had nefarious intentions when she routinely asked me to check my name and D.O.B before she drew blood. That would have been fine under normal circumstances when I have had enough sleep to remember that on my hospital records they use my 'official' name, but at 10:45am after having been awake all night, I just couldn't remember it. Eventually I blurted out the right combination of Kate/Katie-Sue/Katrina Lawrence, and stumbled over myself to try and explain that I am not thick - just have been called so many different things in my two-and-a-bit decades of life that I had forgotten which version was on her bit of paper. She accepted the story with the sort of understanding (yet simultaneously pitying) sigh that suggests she had recently done a psychiatric rotation, and proceeded to prepare for the blood test. She didn't need to prepare me - she needed to manoeuvre herself into position; which given how tight her uniform was meant a lot of wiggling and adjusting while she complained that the dresses must have been designed by a man, because they did not accommodate "real women with real breasts." She then went on to demonstrate exactly how little room she had in the garment; making me feel even more inadequate as she pointed out all the places where the fabric was straining.

So there I am: sleeve rolled up and tourniquet slowly turning my hand purple, gazing down the heaving clevage of a stunning south-african who thinks I am either a psycho or a terrorist, while trying to ignore the little boy clinging to his mothers legs in the other phlebotomists chair because I think he may not be real.

This is not THE nurse: but a jealous-brunette's approximation. (I am also not searching "sexy nurse" with Google Safe-Search off again. That is not what she did to me with the needle...)

On the way out Dad and I were squirted with alcohol-gel in an anti-MRSA drive - run I am sure by the women who spray you with perfume in John Lewis - and they were no less over-zealous in their efforts with the disinfectant moonshine than they are with Paris Hilton's latest fragrance (which probably smells just as much like paint stripper.) The fumes from the gel were bad enough, but dad decided to wipe the excess off his hands and onto my hat. That was tolerable until he decided to stand over me and light a cigarette. I don't appreciate nearly being set on fire by someone who looks like a cross between Jason Lee and a dip-dyed Jesus.

The week after that I had the now-infamous-and-immortalised-on-film Nutritionist appointment that told me the blood tests were fine. As ever, the Consultant was a bit odd. When he had done all the boring medical stuff he explained that he'd traded me with a psychologist colleague of his, in exchange for her services with another couple of patients. He said she'd heard about me because of the funding project I'd been part of 3months ago, and had taken a look at my notes. She wanted me to participate in some study she's running regarding body-image and self-esteem issues that occur in patients who experience illness and/or major surgery in their teenage years. She's interested in me because I am "slightly atypical." She has enough screwed up people, and is interested because I have never needed counselling, and don't appear to have too many major hang-ups. (Apart from being too short, too skinny, etc - but that's dissatisfaction with being plain, not medically related psychological problems.)

The nutritionists explained that they'd agreed to "lend me to her" in return for her letting two of their 'effed up patients onto her regular counselling list. He told me he didn't think I needed her help, but that it would be useful if I could let them know what I thought of her style, how she interacts with patients and generally review the service she provides - because she's an expensive shrink and they want to be sure she's worth the funding! The consultant was, as usual, his less than PC self - despite best efforts to the contrary. When explaining that I wasn't going to be a "patient" of the psychologists, he said: "You don't need to be under her care professionally because you're not, well, how do I say this... Bloody mad!" I said I think I am a little bit, and he told me that in his opinion I am "perfectly sane." I don't think that telling the room full of dieticians and nutritionists that I was disappointed and wanted a second opinion was the reaction they anticipated to a diagnosis of sanity.

Dad gave me a lift home, and we went to get a cup of tea in the canteen so I could tell him what they'd said. Now, I am not quite sure how it happened - because by then my brain had given up and I was pretty knackered - but I found myself sitting in the canteen of the Queen Alexandra half-finished-super-hospital, eating spotted dick and custard after having been to a clinic full of anorexics, chatting to my father about monkeys that had gotten hooked on sponge cake by David Attenborough. Somehow, it was generally accepted as being my fault.

On the way out, after being accosted by the germ-crusaders (whom we were this time far more ready for,) there was a tramp in the car-park who saw dad light up and asked for a cigarette. Dad offered him one of his menthols and the guy turned it down, because he said he didn't like them. He's a tramp! He had blood on his t-shirt and he was wearing a coat with so many tears in that it was more like a 'hole occasionally interrupted by coat.' No one with that much oil and mud on themselves should be in a position to be that choosy over his path to lung cancer.

I've pretty much been asleep since then, but I did look out of the window when I woke up today to see a woman leaving the bingo hall with a goldfish. (Not accompanied by a giant goldfish, just carrying one in a water-filled bag - like you used to get at the fair before the RSPCA complained.)

It's comforting to know that however unusual the circumstances I find myself in actually are - it's the rest of the world who are mad. I am officially not.

Monday, 30 June 2008


I have concluded that M.E is the most boring 'disability' of the bunch.

I mean - at least only having one leg has the potential to be amusing. ...Though having said that, Heather Mills seldom looks happy. Conversely, Jake the Peg always looked incredibly cheery. Huh. Maybe Rod Stewart had the right idea in marrying Amazonian limbed Penny Lancaster: legs really are the key to happiness. Okay, so maybe they were a bad example. But there are lots of other disabilities that must be more entertaining than the general sloth-sickness that is my constant slumbering.

I only get frustrated with it when "normal" people begin expecting me to do "normal" things. My particular problem is with planning things more than a few hours in advance. That doesn't mean I am exciting and spontaneous - I wish it did - it means that I am irritating and flaky. Because M.E is indiscriminate of favour, it doesn't matter how much I may wish to participate in a planned activity: if my body decides that it will not grant me the energy to achieve my goal then there is nothing I can do about that. I got used to coping with pain years ago, and actually preferred it to the M.E sometimes, because pain is treatable - either with ridiculous amounts of head-trippy opiates or by being a stubborn cow who would rather almost kill herself than give in. M.E isn't like that - it's not really something I can fight in the same way, because it robs me of both the energy and the inclination to protest the symptoms.

I think the apathy is the most anti-social part, because whilst I feel a little bad about letting people down at the last minute, I will stop caring about the change of plan a long time before the other disillusioned parties. I wouldn't handle it nearly so well without the apathetic side-affect though. When the M.E was milder I used to get incredibly frustrated with myself for not being on top form, but now my inadequacies just roll over me these days.

I think the only time I get particularly frustrated now is when I am too tired to be creative - because I can't bear for my writing and sketching to be inhibited - and when I realise how much time has passed without my achieving anything particularly grand. Of my two closest friends during my adolescence, one is studying in New York, where I would adore a visit to, and the other has just gotten married.

What you have to understand is that they were two of the loveliest - but silliest - young women in all creation (perhaps best illustrated by their long-time tolerance of me.) That the first is studying medicine in NYC, and the other is settled with a mortgage and a job in a bank is as appalling as it is surprising. Surprising because once-upon-a-time I was the sensible one people expected things from, and appalling because their lives are so pedestrian - and make me obstinately glad to be unusual, but also feel as if I am doing very little of any import. Publishing a few poems and trying to turn myself into some sort of human gemmological dictionary so I might better understand the jewellery trade is a reasonable attempt given my uncommon situation, but it’s hardly contributing much to society.

I sometimes wonder if I'll do anything of merit. Then of course my ego rears its head and reminds me that "of course I will." Arguing my future employment opportunities with my own narcissism is perhaps not a productive expenditure of limited energy resources. I'd be useless if I was lost in the desert with only one canteen of water. I'd never make it last. I can't restrict myself to necessary use of scarce supplies, be they of life-enhancing energy or life-saving water. I'd also be REALLY fed up that I couldn't have a cup of tea if I was stuck in the desert. I'd be so hacked off that it might motivate me to find civilisation. (I think that of all people, I am the one likely to escape boiling to death in the Sahara purely because my tantrum was forceful enough to overthrow fate.) I think that it would also put me at an advantage in deciphering a mirage from a genuine oasis, because if I suddenly saw a Victorian teashop in the desert I'd know it was in my imagination. The only potential confusion might arise if I saw/thought I saw a Starbucks. Because they get everywhere, and finding one in the middle of the desert wouldn't be impossible.

The M.E would also make it tough being stranded in the desert - not simply because of the strenuous effort involved in trudging over sand and battling heatstroke, but because the light-sensitivity would be difficult to negotiate with the sun both beating down and bouncing back off the sand. (If I was blinded by a migraine I wouldn’t be able to see the spiders. That would be a problem.)

I don't think there will ever be a point where I would even consider wandering into the desert - unless I was hypnotised by Derren Brown and transported there before being brought out of it, all grouchy and tea-deprived.

I sometimes wonder if hypnosis would affect the M.E actually. Is it powerful enough to override some of the fatigue, or is M.E more physical than psychological? Yes, there are lots of physical symptoms, but there are still those who feel it is also impacted by depression/stress/anxiety and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is still a big part of the treatment plan for many sufferers. (Not me, as I have said before I see psychologists as a challenge, and generally see it as my job to 'defeat' them. If I do fool them then I immediately lose all respect for their professional capabilities and the appointment is pointless.)

So, today I have decided that whilst M.E is incredibly tedious, it is better than having either one or three legs, being married to Rod Stewart, or being lost in the desert searching for a Costa Coffee (or equivalent.)

Who needs Open University, when I have the internet and a vivid imagination?

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Shrek and the Spider's From Mars

This morning - before I had even had a moment of sleep - I was accosted by a humungous spider that moved so fast that I think it actually rivalled the speed of light. Had I not managed to (valiantly) fight for my life and swatted, then it would have careened through the double-glazing and buried itself in my garden... Like an eight-legged Donald Campbell in Bluebird, or a turf-gouging arachnid version of Richard Hammond.

I'd had the window open all night because despite today’s slight chill, we've had surprisingly clement weather the last week (it shouldn't be surprising to have sun in June, but recent cold summers have instilled the tradition.) Because I am currently unfortunately nocturnal, I was faffing around with the curtains - trying vainly to block out all the morning light so I might sleep - when I caught sight of la araignee (only a blur, obviously, because it moved so fast.) My response to noticing the spider was to do that sort of girlie-panicky-swatting thing whilst cursing like a navvy and generally being ridiculous. By some miraculous fear-induced insect-homicide tourettes-spasm I managed to kill it. I should feel bad, but I don't. Someone once justified their killing spiders as being no different to someone who was afraid of tigers shooting one that was bearing down upon them . Now, I understand that a tiger is more likely to kill you than a spider (though you wouldn't be so sure of that if you'd seen the size of this one. It had more battle-scars than 50Cent.)

Anyway, I would find it far more difficult to shoot a tiger that was about to rip my throat out, than I find it to squish a spider that is about to induce a coronary. I do know that's stupid, but tigers are pretty. I couldn't harm a man-eating beastie that can purr.

The trouble with spiders is that - even when they have been dispatched - my biggest problem comes from my recalcitrant brain. Just when I stop feeling like I am going to shiver, and have checked every inch of the room and sprayed the window frame with insect repellent, I can't relax. As the paranoia subsides, and I think I can stop thinking about spiders, my brain will begin to torment me. It will start to picture horrible things: spiders crawling everywhere, getting in my mouth, being in the bed or in my hair.... Horrible things that I don't want to be thinking. I end up having an argument with my mind, telling the disgusting, creepy bit to stop sending pictures to the wimpy, high-maintenance bit. The disobedient part seldom complies with my pleading, and takes a schoolboy-ish glee in tormenting me - like a kid brother putting a frog down my party dress.

I'm not sure other people argue with their own imagination. It surprises me that it's not a common phenomenon, and surprises me even more that some people can control their dreams. I can't control the images generated by my mind when I am awake, let alone when I am unconscious.

Dreams are unusual things at the best of times, though. Lots of women dream about having a big wedding - and Coleen McLoughlin and Wayne Rooney have apparently realised that aspiration in the most extravagant manner. They have married in Portofino, Italy, and reportedly spent five million poundson the day. Hello! OK! magazines were covering half of the cost for exclusive rights to the photographs, and the bride and groom requested guests send donations to an appointed charity instead of giving them wedding presents, but I still find the total cost obscene.

It has been the topic of much discussion in the four days since the ceremony, and everyone has a slightly different opinion on the matter. Some think that as they have the money available, they may as well spend it. Others share my view that 'percentage of income' isn't the point - it's the hideously warped principle of spending that much money on a single day of entertainment for a few people, when there are so many imbalances that money could redress. I don't expect everyone with money to give it all away - that would be impractical and unpopular - but I can't understand how anyone can justify that sort of personal expenditure to themselves. On a house maybe... Or on the preservation of a great work of art for generations to come... But not on a single day of frippery and extravagant showboating in the name of everlasting ardour.

Their everyday lives are extraordinary and exceptionally luxurious - and so it follows that they would have to make a tremendous effort to eclipse that and make their 'Big Day' as momentous as it is expected to be. I just find it all so unnecessary. It turns the event into a circus. They weren't 'happier' because they spent £5m than they would have been had they spent £2m. A wedding is a couple expressing their commitment by bowing to tradition. Marriage is a ceremony dedicated to preserving traditional rules and boundaries of society, and has little to do with sentiment. Love may be the catalyst, but legality is the reason. The bigger the gesture, the more resoundingly its emptiness seems to echo.

Admittedly, I have never really categorised myself as the "marrying type" - possibly because I have seen too many divorces to consider it worthwhile, and also because I am quite fiercely independent and don't like to be categorised in any way whatsoever. (Having no distinct "first choice" career is a good example of that.) I dislike the notion created by the Bridget Jones generation that there is something pitiable in an unmarried woman. The idea that all women who have been with a partner for a year or-so (or are over 30) are dying to marry is an abominable one. It's appalling that we are still expected to enter into a religion-blessed union, and that we are perceived as being either ashamed of our partner, or in some way hard-done-by if we choose not to have a ludicrously expensive white wedding in front of as many simpering relations and sycophantic friends as one can cram into a church, or crumbling gothic castle.

I can appreciate the commitment of an engagement, because it is symbolic - one is retiring their single self and is both accepting and announcing the stable longevity of a partnership. It's an internationally recognised promise to remain faithful and committed to one person. Marriage legalises the bond but seldom strengthens it. I think I am too jaded. I would be much more secure knowing that my fiancée were returning to me through choice, than I would had I a husband who felt he had no choice but to come home. I don't feel any security in suspecting ones partner is trapped into remaining in a relationship. I've never once planned my dream wedding - not even as a child. I haven't imagined myself getting married, or ever dreamt of it. I've joked about it - such moments usually involve Johnny Depp and a diamond ring large enough to have been awarded its own postcode and head-of-state (a bit like that spider) - but I have never seriously considered it. I've had occasion too, but even when I should have given it the courtesy of contemplation, I could do no more than laugh. I don't rule it out, but neither do I have an unquestioning faith in the enevitability of the prospect. It would take a lot for me to consider it with any sincerity, but I think that's a far healthier way to view the whole affair than as a foregone conclusion.

I think it is this matrimonial apathy and general cynicism that makes it even harder for me to comprehend the spending of such large amounts of money as have been frittered away on the Rooney/McLaughlin wedding. After all the cash siphoned into their 'Wedding Fund,' it still rained.

I would give £5,000,000 to the person who can invent something that keeps spiders 100yds from me at all times, however. That is of infinitely more practical value than Mrs Soccer-Shrek splashing the cash on 'symbolic' pigeons and boxes of butterflies.

(...I hear one of the butterflies had an illicit liaison with David Beckham round the back of the marquee. Don't tell Posh. She doesn't mind his affairs - but she'd die if she knew there were beautiful creatures skinnier than her.)

Monday, 9 June 2008

Poetic Ponderings

I was reading some poetry recently by a semi-professional author (in a pre-publication workshop for her anthology) and there was one piece which has been very well received in the literary community, and had mostly glowing praise from some particularly respected writers. Almost everyone who had read the piece was being very complimentary, but I didn't feel it worthy of nearly the same reaction.

It was a human rights piece - and so had a strong message - and I think that was one of the reasons why others had been so eager to support the work. I have found that it is often the case that people will review literature far better if they think they need to be seen empathising with the traumatic scene laid out in the piece. A young girl dies, it's very sad, it's a true story, and therefore people fail to be as harsh as they would if the same level of skill or technique were applied to a less 'worthy' subject.

For me, poetry isn't just about having a strong voice, valid message, and correct literary style. It is often necessary for a good poem to conform to certain rules of meter and/or rhyme - and it must have a deliberate, crafted rhythm - but far more importantly, it must have an inner timbre. Virginia Woolf said "Language is like wine upon the lips," and she was absolutely right - but poetry should also be a liqueur for the mind. Some poems bubble and splash like the sound of wine being poured into a glass. Others are rich and velvety, burning your throat, and warming your soul as you imbibe them. More still should knot your stomach with that urgent clawing-at-slowed-time as you watch a dropped crystal wineglass plummet to the floor.

That extra, indefinable something was missing from the piece I read today. I was at a loss to explain myself to the author, and she'd had so many compliments on the piece that my criticism was dismissed as the opinion of a lone voice - the whitterings of an uneducated, inexperienced girl who fails to realise the works' humanitarian validity.

That I recognise all this makes it harder to be a writer of poetry myself, as I often doubt the motives of my readers’ reactions to my work. Are their positive reviews because they agree with my sentiments - not because they are seduced by my style? Did they react negatively to other poems because they found the subject matter uncomfortable, and not because the standard was poor?

Every poem should mean something to author and reader, and it's for this reason that I am most unhappy with my latest foray into that fickle talent. I haven't had a single damning response to it (unusually) but conversely, this has made me even less pleased with - or indeed proud of - the work than I have been about my more divisive pieces. It is a poem revealing why we write poetry, and why sharing the skill is significant. Those writers of my acquaintance connect with the piece, and feel it tackles the subject well. For this reason they identify with the work, and I feel that they are reluctant to rate it badly because they fear it will appear as if they are not as dedicated to the art as others who purport to have really felt a kinship with the message. Those non-writers who have experienced the piece believe it allows them a glimpse into the fascinating-but-unattainable world of the author, and I think they have been so uncritical because they like to convince themselves that they understand it, that they "get" what I am trying to say, however obscure the meaning is at times.

Poetry is subjective - and as such it does not always have to give definitive answers to every line. It is one of few mediums that invite interpretation, but people forget this because they assume there must be a right and wrong meaning to everything. Instead it is more like classical music - it must be judged on how it feels to experience. Music shares a similar need for that same 'je ne sais quois' that poetry must posses: for even if every single note is perfectly placed, the harmonies exemplary, and the story evocative, it is possible for the piece to leave you feeling nothing unless it has that special something.

Anyone can write poetry, but good poetry is much more of an elusive skill. I hope it is one I will learn - but considering just how subjective the genre is, am not certain I will ever know if I have reached the heady heights of poetic proficiency.

In place of the personally crafted work I feel is still unfit to share, I present you with those works of others: both those long retired from the art and of those still to write their signature piece. They are a small selection of poems I enjoy reading, and are all by well known authors, though some are more widely feted than the rest. (There are of course many, many more wonderful pieces, but these are a few I have re-read recently.)

The Hug by Thom Gunn.

It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
Half of the night with our old friend
Who'd showed us in the end
To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
Already I lay snug,
And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.

I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug,
Suddenly, from behind,
In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed:
Your instep to my heel,
My shoulder-blades against your chest.
It was not sex, but I could feel
The whole strength of your body set,
Or braced, to mine,
And locking me to you
As if we were still twenty-two
When our grand passion had not yet
Become familial.
My quick sleep had deleted all
Of intervening time and place.
I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.


THE HARLOT'S HOUSE by Oscar Wilde.

We caught the tread of dancing feet,
We loitered down the moonlit street,
And stopped beneath the harlot's house.

Inside, above the din and fray,
We heard the loud musicians play
The "Treues Liebes Herz" of Strauss.

Like strange mechanical grotesques,
Making fantastic arabesques,
The shadows raced across the blind.

We watched the ghostly dancers spin
To sound of horn and violin,
Like black leaves wheeling in the wind.

Like wire-pulled automatons,
Slim silhouetted skeletons
Went sidling through the slow quadrille.

The took each other by the hand,
And danced a stately saraband;
Their laughter echoed thin and shrill.

Sometimes a clockwork puppet pressed
A phantom lover to her breast,
Sometimes they seemed to try to sing.

Sometimes a horrible marionette
Came out, and smoked its cigarette
Upon the steps like a live thing.

Then, turning to my love, I said,
"The dead are dancing with the dead,
The dust is whirling with the dust."

But she--she heard the violin,
And left my side, and entered in:
Love passed into the house of lust.

Then suddenly the tune went false,
The dancers wearied of the waltz,
The shadows ceased to wheel and whirl.

And down the long and silent street,
The dawn, with silver-sandalled feet,
Crept like a frightened girl.


Do not go gentle by Dylan Thomas.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because there words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


Warming Her Pearls by Carol Anne Duffy.

Next to my own skin, her pearls. My mistress
bids me wear them, warm them, until evening
when I'll brush her hair. At six, I place them
round her cool, white throat. All day I think of her,

resting in the Yellow room, contemplating silk
or taffeta, which gown tonight? She fans herself
whilst I work willingly, my slow heat entering
each pearl. Slack on my neck, her rope.

She's beautiful. I dream about her
in my attic bed; picture her dancing
with tall men, puzzled by my faint persistent scent
beneath her French perfume, her milky stones.

I dust her shoulders with a rabbit's foot,
watch the soft blush seep through her skin
like an indolent sigh. In her looking-glass
my red lips part as though I want to speak.

Full moon. Her carriage brings her home. I see
her every movement in my head ... Undressing,
taking off her jewels, her slim hand reaching
for the case, slipping naked into bed, the way

she always does ... And I lie here awake,
knowing the pearls are cooling even now
in the room where my mistress sleeps. All night
I feel their absence and I burn.


MADONNA MIA by Oscar Wilde.

A LILY-GIRL, not made for this world's pain,
With brown, soft hair close braided by her ears,
And longing eyes half veiled by slumberous tears
Like bluest water seen through mists of rain:
Pale cheeks whereon no love hath left its stain,
Red underlip drawn in for fear of love,
And white throat, whiter than the silvered dove,
Through whose wan marble creeps one purple vein.
Yet, though my lips shall praise her without cease,
Even to kiss her feet I am not bold,
Being o'ershadowed by the wings of awe,
Like Dante, when he stood with Beatrice
Beneath the flaming Lion's breast, and saw
The seventh Crystal, and the Stair of Gold.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Splintering A Rocky Marriage

My computer refused to let me onto the Internet for several hours today, and after the initial frustration came both blind panic and a feeling of devastating isolation. Admittedly I am not the worlds most people-friendly person, but the idea of being wholly disconnected from outside stimulus was an awful predicament to face so unexpectedly.

I don't always have either the energy or the inclination to involve myself in other people's lives - particularly when it requires being in the same room as them, because it makes them far trickier to switch off. Having the freedom and distraction of the World Wide Web is an acceptable compromise: and one that presents my mind with the opportunities my body is otherwise so fatigued by. To have that connection severed serves as a reminder of how addicted to online entertainment I actually am, and how limited I would be if I were without it for long. I'd either have to interact with the real world more than I like to, or closet myself away like an embittered hermit-luddite. I'd hate either option, and as the M.E often affords me an unfortunate propensity for apathy, I think I would probably begin with the former choice, but soon descend into the isolated second option.

I say that the apathy is "unfortunate" - but it has also been beneficial, in an odd sort of a way. Because I don't have the energy for grand emotion, I have managed to avoid too many extremes of temperament. I think that's why I have never been terribly depressed by the illness - it's because I can't care as much as I probably should. I accept it because anything else would require too much effort. Even with my recent technological troubles, I was frustrated and did have a few minor temper tantrums where I considered tossing the laptop out of the window: but to actually get terribly cross with it would require me to apply myself - show some dedication to the infuriation - and I surrender to apathy long before I reach such levels of temper.

Speaking of surrender, I may have to accept a little assistance with my mobility again for a while. Although I am healthier since my weight stabilized, the effort of recovery from last year has taken it's toll and this flare in severity of the M.E is proving somewhat stubborn. I'm accustomed to the joint pain and fortunate that it doesn't affect my mobility as it does some people (I've known others of my age with M.E who walk like pensioners crippled with arthritis. I've never had that problem.) My trouble is weakness when I'm exhausted, and of course the complications with my back (after the medication I was on as a child damaged my spine). Anyway, I think it may be necessary to call my old physiotherapy department and get a pair of crutches again to stabilise me a bit. Falling over because of my daft shoes would be embarrassing enough, but hitting the deck because I am just pathetic and knackered is unacceptable! If I must have crutches for a bit then it will be under one condition: that I may spray-paint them black and use a gold marker pen to detail them. I am undecided if I would decorate them with a sort of combination-animal-print, or if I will copy a designer logo such as the intertwined Fendi 'F' or the little symbols synonymous with Louis Vuitton.

Alternately, I have toyed with the idea of leaving them sprayed black - and only using the gold marker to detail the screws etc - and then attaching coloured voile scarves to them like rock stars do with their mic stands - a la Steven Tyler of Aerosmith.

Tyler and the veils:

Not convinced about that idea yet, as I would need to change them to match whatever I was wearing because I am obsessive compulsive about colour. It's either a side affect of being creative or just another sign that I am a little mad, but I even have to change my jewellery in the evening to match my nightwear. I'm so OCD about colours that if I am wearing bottle-green Russian Diopside pieces, and about to change into a lilac chemise, then I have to take the gems off before I change. Then, once I am redressed, I can then wear something complimentary such as a tanzanite ring. I think that's why I love my plain gold and diamond pieces - because they require less careful attention to insane detail!

I paint a terribly screwed up picture of myself, in a bonkers-and-broken way, but I really am neurotic about colour and style. It's because I have to be if I am to design with any flair. I must notice the shapes and tones of the world that others overlook if I am to create fine works myself. It's as much of a handicap as it has been an advantage though. I was taking my nail varnish off in the ridiculously early hours of this morning, because it didn't match my sleepwear and I couldn't ignore it any longer. I was testing myself, and I lasted three hours before it bugged me so much that I had to get rid of it.

I am aware of how incredibly stupid that all is, by the way. I'm not naive to my eccentricities, but as they are usually benign I am reasonably happy to ignore them. At least I'm not certifiably mental. While watching last weeks edition of Have I Got News For You - and trying not to shout at my computer again - I learned of the peculiar story of a Swedish woman who married the Berlin Wall. (Yes, really. She has MARRIED the BERLIN WALL. What's worse is that she's now cheating on it with a fence.)

No one I have told this story to believes me until they Google it, so I won't be offended when you do the same. Whilst Google is loading, allow me to explain. The woman in question - Eija-Riitta Berliner-Mauer, 54 - has revealed that she has been married to the Berlin Wall for 29years. She is purported to be suffering a medical condition called "Objectum Sexuality," which means she has an uncommon fondness for inanimate objects. The practical application of her madness was that she held a 'wedding' ceremony and 'married' the Berlin Wall in front of a small gathering of - I imagine very understanding - family and friends. She has anthropomorphised the wall to the extent that she refers to it as a "he" and calls him her "husband."

From The Times: Mrs Berliner-Mauer, who lives in Liden, northern Sweden, said: "I find long, slim things with horizontal lines very sexy. "The Great Wall of China's attractive, but he’s too thick – my husband is sexier."

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 - when she believes they "mutilated [her] husband" - she has switched her attentions to a garden fence. (One word: Splinters.)

She also says she is "a virgin with humans." No? Really? (I do suggest that the RSPCA not let her have a dog though. Noone who specifies that they "don't have sex with humans" should be allowed a pet.)

Herr und Frau Berliner-Mauer:

There's really not enough medication in the world to cure that, is there? I suppose living in blissful ignorance of her own insanity is the best option available to her now - as if she were to be cured of the affliction and confronted by how completely bonkers she is then she'd probably die of shame. (Contrary to any sensible medical opinion, it isactually possible to die from shame: I know because I came very close to it when I bought a Smurfs album for my Dad.)

At least my ever-so-slightly mad tendencies can be cured by giving myself a talking to and making a cup of tea. Actually, talking to myself and then indulging in my other OCD behaviour of tea-making is probably not the best treatment for being a bit mental, is it?

I'm quite possibly making it worse.

Maybe I should just concede and betrothe some trellis.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Eurovision: Should Have Gone To Specsavers

This week was Eurovision week!

That exclamation mark is ironic, by the way, as the event was anything but worthy of acclaim. The contest has always been ridiculous - and was celebrated as such - but now the European eccentricity has given way entirely to a calculated political parade. The astonishing blend of lunacy and national pride has been replaced by sly allegiances and an almost schoolyard-clique approach to voting for ones neighbours and allies. Any element of competition that may once have existed has now been tamed by greater political aspirations. I imagine the newer, less powerful EU countries dolling themselves up like the new-girl in the office, nervously dropping compliments to the longstanding players so they might have someone to sit with in the canteen. (Though if Bosnia Herzegovina gets drunk at the after-party and photocopies its arse, while Armenia and Sweden have a fumble in the toilets then the next EU summit G8, might need more than Bob Geldof taking a stroll to keep the peace. Thank God Columbia wasn't there; just look at the bad press Kate Moss got for their national hobby!)

Our act was mediocre: entertaining, inoffensive and non-threatening as many of our higher-placing entries have been in the past (think Cliff Richard singing 'Congratulations,' or Bucks Fizz, or Lulu.) The fate of Andy Abraham was decided in Parliament however, long before he stepped onto the Eurovision stage, and his joint-second-to-last ranking in the competition supported this unfortunate prediction.

The winning act was a Russian singer who sells out stadiums in his home nation, and so is a more accomplished performer with a larger base of supporting fans than former talent-show runner-up Abraham. Top-ten acts this year included the gloriously naff Latvian pirates - who represented a little of the old Eurovision - and were endearingly camp and ingenuously appalling. Other acts attempted to be subversive, ironic and mocking of the whole Eurovision tradition - which sullies the memory of the formerly good-natured bonkers-music-fest, where Europe could exhibit it's nutters on an international stage without upsetting Amnesty International.

Terry Wogan's commentary was humorously sardonic and derisive as always, and is really the only remaining reason to suffer three hours of sequinned circus showcasing. Whether he will return to the event next year is uncertain, as after 37yrs he is tiring of the change for the worse. This will also have been the first year where he could predict - purely politically - who would win. He was convinced that with the fuel and energy crises, and other political instabilities, a Baltic state would scoop first place and he was proven correct.

The complexities of modern media have seen me reaching back to entertainment from simpler times, and I have a renewed appreciation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I reference him occasionally because he had ties to Portsmouth, but have been reading a little about his life, and how the last few years of it were given over to an unfortunate regard for the supernatural, un-tempered by his previous scepticism.

I remember years and years ago first watching a documentary about the Cottingly Fairies (I think it might have been on those Arthur C Clarke video's, actually, which may be why I get the two Arthur C's confused.) The younger of the two girls involved - by then an elderly woman - was being interviewed, and said that they had traced images of dancing angels or cherubs from a prayer-book, and drawn wings on them before cutting them out and attaching them to hatpins - so that once placed in the ground thy would flutter realistically. They took five photographs, but I think only admitted to faking four of them, and insisted that they did initially see fairies. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was duped by their 'evidence,' along with much of the country, and referenced them in several publications - helping increase the fame of their fictional imps and gnomes.

The Cottingly Fairies

However, the most glorious piece of information that came to my attention regarding the author - and the thing for which I will love him forevermore - is the tale of a little prank he played.

The anecdote suggests that one day he sent a telegram reading: "Flee at once. All is discovered," to five of his friends - just to see what they would do. All of them were outwardly upstanding members of the community and gentlemen of merit, but one of them vanished, never to be heard from again! Conan Doyle has no idea why his friend disappeared, but surmised that even the best of men have secrets.

I adore things like that! It was mischievous of him, yes, but was a rather benign prank - made more out of curiosity than malice. Though his friends' guilty conscience complicated matters far more than predicted, it was his intrigue at human nature that lead him to write the note, and his disregard for everything right and proper that persuaded him to send it! Sir Arthur Conan Doyle achieved a lot, but I will remember him most fondly for that amusing little telegram, and for taking seriously Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths' photographs of 'fairies.'

The only other notable moment of this week was the discovery that I cannot spell Piranha's (see, I just had to look it up then, and then I made a cup of tea and had to look it up a second time because I had forgotten it again.) So I have renamed them "Snappy-Bitey-Fish." I have also decided that I hate Wikipedia, because well-meaning people edit all the nonsense out of it.

There is nothing as useless as fact.

Well... Except for Boris Johnson.

(...Or having midget shelf-stackers in Tesco's)

(..Or maybe a chocolate ironing board.)

Okay, so there are lots of things more useless than fact - but few less interesting things to find on an internet web-page about Pir-... Pira-... Pirhana-... Snappy-Bitey-Fish.

The End. And I didn't mention socks once (well, not more than the once that they have just been mentioned right there.) You'll not find this superior quality drivel anywhere else of the whole inter-web-netty-cyber-thing.