Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year's Eve!

This time 10 years ago I was swimming naked and dancing on the beach at Byron Bay with me chap out.

Cop 1: 'Can you put some clothes on?'
Me: 'I'm not offending anyone!'
Cop 2: 'You're offending me!'

Ah mad weekend. Pulled that gorgeous girl from Inverness and then lost her after the 2nd bottle of whiskey. I must have done something terrible because when she turned up in Melbourne my name was mud. But then she got scabies, that'll learn her!

And I lost my shoes, and got dehydrated, and fell asleep on the nudist beach, and then lay moaning and dyhdrated on a mud path while everyone walked over me until a lovely Dutch couple rescued me. I've a lot of time for the Dutch.

Only time I have ever drunk two 700ml bottles of Jameson's one after the other.

I bought one for myself and this girl from Reading bought me another (whatever happened to her?)

I didn't really mean to start on the second one but I met this wabhead Aussie who started lecturing me on the Northern Ireland troubles with the conviction & arrogance someone who's only experienced the conflict at a distance of 8,000 miles through books & TV can manage...

He was fe&king me off so much I started taking big swigs from the Jameson's to calm me down. Always a good idea.

That's when I blacked out (but presumably finished the whiskey) and must have suggested something terrible to the girl...

Lord she was hawt. If I could hold her in my arms today.....

This year, to save me from tears, I'm going to get a dose of sexy and pull a cracker in Donegan's beer garden. Get her down the lough at midnight to hear the container ships toot their tooters at the stroke of 12. It'll be so romantic I'm bound to get my fingers & tops.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Rage against the Machine have reached number one. A nation rejoices.

It's good to see that in these commercialised times, people are remembering the true spirit of Christmas. There's something truly humbling & holy about 600,000 peole downloading a song they don't really like just to piss off a man they don't like. It's what the baby Jesus would have done.

Though I downloaded it too! Eff me I just did what they told me!

Part of me admires this tenacious, backs-to-the-wall, Blitz spirit effort to get RATM to number one. It was a triumph of good over evil, for sure. And I'm glad to have played my small part.

But wouldn't it be great if we could all club together to do something that wasn't totally fecking pointless? Shelter, the homeless charity, have made about £50,000 out of 600,000 downloads. If everyone had simply donated 29p to Shelter the world would be a better place today.

And I wouldn't have to hear that bloody song again, which was definitely NOT in my list of Great Songs of 1992. It brought a lot of long-haired moshers onto the dancefloor at the Limelite Club back then, and if the feckers didn't knock my pint over, they'd minesweep it as soon as my back was turned.

It's the Xmas musical equivalent of paying £70 to go to a premier league football match to shout abuse at the players, knowing that a fair whack of your £70 goes into their wageslip at the end of the week. And then in turn that gets spent on Bolivian ladyboys and useless racehorses. Dunno what Cowell spends his money on. He's probably going to buy his own Carribean nation, like St Lucia.

As far as Christmas songs go, I would like all DJs to play 'Rainy Night in Soho' by The Pogues instead of 'Fairytale of New York' and see how many people notice.

I'm astonished that it takes 600,000 sales to get the Xmas number one. I suppose that 29p downloads and one-click ordering make it such a painless process. I certainly wouldn't have gone traipsing down to Our Price to buy a 7" single of RATM at £1.99, pushing through a horde of whey-faced troglodytes to do so.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Thought for the day

Did anyone hear thought for the day on radio 4 today?

Some youthful sounding Muslamic bloke was telling us about how a scruffy beggar with a dog asked him for some spare change.

He looked down at him and began some internal hmmm-ing and ahhh-ing.

Would this bloke spend the money on alcohol?

Would he spend it on drugs?

Am I doing the right thing?

Without bothering to consult brer beggar, he reached into his wallet. He was about to draw out a low-denomination banknote when he remembered what Moh - blessedbehisname - ammed did.

Mohammed was confronted by a beggar, but instead of giving him money he took his hand and led him to the local hardware store. 'Here's an axe' said Mohammed. 'Take this ask and go into the woods and cut down the trees. Sell the firewood and you'll be set for life.'

And he was. Don't know what the contemprary prophet Georgis Al-Monbiot made of it, but when Mohammed strolled by a few weeks later our boy was choppin' and heavin' wood like the divil himself and keeping his family in chipolatas.

So back to the present. What did our thoughtful preacher do?
Did he give him the cash? Did he buy him an axe?


At this point he said a little prayer.
Something along the lines of 'Dear God, help the beggars and help everyone else at this time of year'

And that's it.

So everyone, before you make up, or even put on your wake up, say a little prayer for beggars, yeah?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


If anyone is still reading this most irregular of blogs, please note that I have been growing a moustache for the month of 'Movember' in aid of prostate cancer research. You may have noticed the Aussie and New Zealand rugby teams have been doing the same. I've managed to raise over £140 so far, out of over £13,000,000 worldwide.

After going back to the old handlebar moustache, I'm now sporting a trimmed model, as seen above. I'm starting to get attached to it. Hmm. It'll have to go on the 30th of November, though.

Feel free to donate here:

Credit cards, debit cards, Paypal, all accepted. Cheers in advance.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Smoove and Turrell Beggarman

I'm posting here for no other reason than I really, really love it.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Kate Walsh - The other night

I went to see lovely Sussex-via-Essex songstress Kate Walsh at Auntie Annie's on a typically wet Belfast evening last night, a fortnight ago. I've been quite a fan of Kate for at least a year. She's an acoustic singer-songwriter with a marvellous multi-octave voice that makes me go 'ahhhh!'

She was supported by a local called John D'Arcy who looks about 15 and also looks like Mr Tumnus. He sings semi-comic songs about characters in a local accent which I don't much care for; and then he stuck the guitar in an open tuning and sung some pleasant serious songs in a standard accent. A woman I assume was his mum was flogging his CDs at the back.

Then Kate came on. She introduced a song about fireworks called, er 'Fireworks' by saying that down the road from where she lives in Brighton, they have a huge fireworks display in a town called Lewes. And they take it very seriously, 'and even burn an effigy of the Pope!' That brought a few semi-serious hisses. I wonder what the reaction will be if she says that in Dublin tonight. It might bring on a few cheers.

At this point I must mention the GIG TALKERS. My companion RJG and I are always on the early lookout for talkers. Some Belfastians like to claim they are 'great audiences,' as if there was some worldwide competition to be the world's best listeners. Well, they aren't; or at least they are always let down by a small minority of GIG TALKERS. Sometimes, these are drunk, lairy young people who drink beforehand and act moronically throughout. In these case they were two women d'un certain âge who really should have known better. One looked like Celia Imrie and the other looked like a plasticine Pinnochio. They didn't shut up for the entire show. I suppose we should grow some balls and just order them a cool pint of Shut the Feck Up. But it's difficult to tell off adults when one is as gentile & middle-class as I.

I'm no Victor Meldrew but the rotting corpses of Gig Talkers should be manacled in chains outside the venue.

Anyway, back to the gig.

I was really looking forward to hearing 'Light and Dark,' Kate's song about leaving a good unsexy man who treats her well for a bad sexy man who treats her badly. Bit like me :) That description doesn't really do the composition justice. It is the best song of 2009. Ok, joint best with 'Little Lion Man' by Mumford and Sons. It's a wonderful goosebumply spinetingly sort of tune.

But it is a testament to the excellence of the show that it wasn't the standout. Shamefully, I can't tell what they were as I have only bought Kate's long players since the show.

I was most taken with 'Tonight,' the tune you can hear if you click the YouTube embed at the top of this post. Kate introduced it by saying that a woman had come up to her the night before and told her that she'd had the song played at her wedding. She didn't have the heart to tell her that it was actually about one night stands. RRRRRRRaunchy! I'll never be able to listen to it in the same way again.

I also recognized the ever-lovely 'Your Song' and an excellent wistful piano-based version of Erasure's 'Respect.' Kate played the piano herself on this one. I didn't realise she played the piano but then she's a graduate from a college of music so I suppose they teach you how to play more than one instrument there. It might even be a Binding Condition of Entry. She's probably a dab hand at the marimba and glockenspiel too.

On most of the songs she was accompanied by a bloke on keyboard and a girl on cello. There should be more cello at gigs.

Anyway, I got to meet Kate at the end of the gig. I bought a copy of her new album 'Light and Dark' and got her to sign it for me. She is tiny and sparkly and I like her new haircut. I didn't talk to her for too long in case I became gushing. She is much smaller in real life than on the stage, but not as small as John D'Arcy. I should have bought a copy of her first album 'Tim's House' too but I have since purchased it from the internet. I have been listening to both albums over and over. Great stuff.

In a final insult, Plasticine Pinnochio-faced woman came up and bought a CD from Kate and had a jolly chat to her. What a nerve! She didn't shut her long gob to pause for air throughout the whole night. I felt like taking the CD offa her and smashing it into her elbows.

RJG wanted to ask Kate where she comes from in Essex because his wife comes from Essex and he knows Essex but he hung back. Shyness is nice, but shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you'd like to. Oh-ho.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Rush hour, remembrance week

The cortege of boxy cars
White eyes misted through spray
Remembrance Week:
Where once this month
barely mourned the season's passing
Shocked us awake
Sudden flinty sharp dawns
Lawn hard as a parade ground
Now it sags beneath itself
Tubby clouds spill from seams
And bleed above the soil

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Anyway, I'm going to write you about Halloween when I was a kid.

Halloween has always been a big deal in these parts. If you go up to Derry in the North West you can take part in what is pretty much the biggest Halloween celebration in the world. Everyone dresses up, and acts mental. But that's by the by. I'll tell about here in Bangor.

Halloween started gearing up in mid October. Gangs of us kids would dress up in Halloween costumes and go round door knocking. This wasn't 'trick or treating' - we called it Halloween rhyming.

'Halloween is coming and the geese are getting fat
Will you please put a penny in the old man's hat
If you haven't got a penny, a hapenny will do
And if you haven't got a ha'penny, God Bless You!'

And then we'd proffer an old hat, or maybe a bag.

No-one bought costumes. We'd buy plastic masks at the shop, but the rest was home-made. Some cheapskates just pulled their duffle coat hoods over their heads. Nul points for effort. Some people dressed up like celebrities of the day, like Boy George. Once my mum ripped up an old wedding dress to turn me into a ghost. I thought I was quite convincing, but got dead embarrassed when many of the adults quipped 'When's the wedding?' and 'You make a lovely bridesmaid.' I was scundered.

We didn't want sweets, and got annoyed if were given them. It was cash we were after. Cold, hard cash. At the end of the night we'd divvy it up and use it to buy mini-fireworks at the corner shop. Sparklers, paper bangers, caps and Bengal matches. At some point we discovered home-made bangers. You threaded caps onto needle, concertina fashion, and then carefully removed them. Next you taped them to a Bengal match, struck the fuse and stood back; they exploded with a satisfying bang. Sometimes, the caps would ignite while you were threading them onto the needle, which could lead to a sore finger, like having it slammed in a door.

Another tradition, which we followed only some years, was a Halloween bonfire. This wasn't the grand affair of the 11th July bonfire; we didn't go door to door begging old furniture, and the young adults didn't get involved. It took place on the same patch as the 11th bonfire, in front of the school on the wasteground where the houses are now. It was built out of whatever scraps of wood we found about. It burnt down quickly to become a big campfire you could bake spuds in tinfoil or toast Princes marshmallows on.

No-one ever had pumpkins. I don't think we ever saw a pumpkin until fairly recently. Instead, we hollow out turnips on newspaper and cut a scary face inside - 2 triangles for eyes, another for a mouth and maybe 4 adjoining ones for a mouth. Then two holes in the side and a string through for a handle and you could carry them around. With a candle inside they would keep for ages, and the smell given off by the flame-scorched turnip was strangely appetizing.

We may have played some Halloween games such as bobbing for apples or 'the trying to bite the apple dangling on the string game,' I have vague memories of such. But the main game we played was hide and seek in the dark. Me and my two brothers, and sometimes neighbouring kids, would, er, hide in the dark. If it was in the house, we'd just switch off all the lights and secrete ourselves in dark corners. My older brother was excellent at contorting his body into narrow gaps, such as window ledges or the upper deck of the hotpress. He was devilish hard to find.

Halloween food was apples, nuts and grapes. The apples were toffeed or baked into a tart. My mum's ancient apple tart recipe was handed down by her mum, along with the occasional lucky coin baked into the pastry. My mum tells me that my granny kept a special pure silver sixpence for the purpose; unlike modern coins it didn't react to the baking process. In a chemical sense.

Nuts were in their shells. We split these on the hearth, sometimes with nutcrackers, but often with a heavy little fire shovel. The nuts would usally fly everywhere with the cracking but we picked out enough meat to feast. And there were loads of monkey nuts which didn't need cracking.

We turned the lights off and had indoor fireworks. Outdoor fireworks were banned because of the Troubles. Soldiers may have shot us if we let off a banger, as it could have been confused with a gun or bomb.And that would have spoiled Halloween. So we had indoor fireworks. The Fern. The Volcano. The worm. They all looked the same, like a chemistry lesson gone wrong. They burnt for a minute, and then went out. They were crap.

The climax to Halloween was always when everyone ganged up on local petty criminals and burnt them inside a giant wicker man. I can still smell the burning flesh. Good times.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Last Night's Dream

One of the service stations on the Old Belfast Road had closed down. Someone had invited me to look around the grounds so I cycled over. They were huge, far bigger than what was needed. They included a three storey house with an overgrown garden.

There was a large shed round the back. I could hear a circular saw buzzing from inside. Then I spotted two beautiful black bicycles leaning against a fence. They were brand new. They were modern, but created in an old fashioned style.

I compared them to my old worn bike and became determined to take one. It had a high seat and I felt uncomfortable at first but it was a lovely bike to cycle. It had three gears and a quality metal chain guard. I felt a bit guilty about taking a brand new bike as I'm not a thief outside of dreams. At least I had left my old bike behind.

A young blond haired man come out of the shed, looked quizzically at where the bike had been and then went back in the shed. I briefly considered returning the vehicle but then decided to cycle off.

Bangor turned into a strange suburb of Belfast, full of high rise flats. I cycled up towards the Holywood hills via a huge dual carriageway. One of the Harland and Wolff cranes had relocated up in the foothills, but it was maybe ten or twenty times bigger.

Then I woke up, which was a pity, because that crane was an awesome sight.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The dog warden

I had a big doberman-type dog running about my property and I rang the council again and again but they never arrived. I just kept getting an answer machine. Luckily, I work as a medical anaesthetist and I happen to be working from home at the moment. I tempted the doberman with chicken fajitas until I got him into my anaesthetic booth, whereupon I turned on the laughing gas.

The dog was laughing and laughing so much he couldn't bite me, every time he opened his mouth he'd guffaw like Muttley. So I got my helium canisters and quickly filled up about 300 balloons and tied them to his body. He floated up in the air and away over my property.

Just then, the dog warden arrived, and at the same moment the drugs wore off and I realised it wasn't a doberman at all, it was my kid brother Ray. He wasn't laughing, he was trying to call for help.

I knew I wouldn't be able to explain this to my mum and dad so I drugged the dog warden and tied helium balloons to him too and set him afloat. I did the same to my mum and dad, and anyone else who comes to my property, like postmen or canvassers.

It's been over 3 years now and I reckon I've set drugged about 40 people and set them off afloat into the skies.

The easiest one was a little kid about 10 who was selling chocolate for the scouts. He only took about 40 balloons.

The hardest one was Fraser Gehrig, he doesn't like fajitas and he wouldn't take the gas too well so I got him drunk and then gassed him. Took maybe 400 balloons.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


It's harvest time, and my house backs on to a big field. Every year at this time, the farmer cuts his crop and the mices flee and invade my loft.

I caught 13 mice in 13 days last year in traps. And they kept coming. I switched to poison in the end, as I couldn't keep up with the little ba$tards. The building became a mouse mausoleum

Sometimes the traps would break their spines, but the mice would keep going from the waist up, like rodent paraplegics. So I would give them to Stenchbreath to finish off. Cruel, I know, but I really hate mice.

My poor old Stenchbreath, completely blind from cataracts and mostly deaf. She's still full of life but when she can't see a tennis ball 2 inches from her nose, I fear her mouse catching days are over.

Some people suggest humane traps. What is the point? I could release the mice in the countryside, but they'll just run straight back into the nearest house. I'd just be creating a problem for someone else.

Mice are a$$holes, they are your enemy. Don't be crying over them.

Maybe I could trap them and take them to my local snake or owl sanctuary.

I can hear them scrambling about in the loft now. Noisy little feckers. I bet they are fecking and breeding.

The worst mices I ever saw when I was fruit picking in Murchison/Tatura in Northern Victoria. You never seen mices like orchard mice. Balls of steel. As soon as the lights went out in the TV room they were running up and down my legs and over my arms. No fear. There were too many to trap so they bred like,well, rabbits. I killed a few with a shoe.

I hate mice.

And don't say get a cat.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Belfast Walk

I decided to go for a walk up Black Mountain and Divis today. The morning was damp but the afternoon was bright.

But when I got the entrance on the Upper Springfield Road, it was full of young fellas drinking and sniffing glue. There were about twenty of them up above me in the foothills, eyeing me warily. They didn't look too friendly.

So I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and retreated. It’s a bit lonesome up in the hills by yourself. You're right at the very edge of town, amidst old farms and country lanes. In that space, no-one can hear you scream. Plus as a protestant boy, I still have that old feeling that I've got a Union jack tattooed on my head in such areas. I felt more than a bit paranoid, maybe a bit paranoid.

I walked all the way all the way back into the city instead, through Whiterock and onto the Falls, past Divis and right into the heart of Belfast along Castle Street. That would have made me pretty paranoid too a few years ago, but not now. West Belfast is full of tourists, and I felt like one myself, eyeing the murals commemorating the fading dead and the bilingual, or sometimes monolingual signs. The area is supposed to be one of the largest Gaeltachts in Ireland, and it cetainly feels that way. I don't how much the language gets used day to day, but I passed the búistéir and dochtúir and lots of siopa. Nearly every shop sign is in both Irish and English, or sometimes just Irish alone, so I had to peer in through the window to discover what they were selling.

I didn't take photos of the murals. There's loads of them on google anyway. I was saddened by the loss of life depicted up there on the walls. I wish Bobby Sands had lived longer, not because of his politics, but because he was a great songwriter and his death was so pointless. As well as the great 'Back home in Derry' a song of transportation played by every folkie pub band on these shores and beyond, he wrote the even better 'McElhatton.' It's a fantastic song about a legendary poteen maker and his magical brew.

Then there's Pat Finucane, looking serious and businesslike with a phone on his ear, talking to one of his clients. Some people say he was a bad man, and in it up to his eyeballs. But he has such a determined and pleasant demeanour up there on the gable wall. If I was in court I'd want him defending me.

Oh, g'wan then here's a pic, not mine.

There's also a newly minted mural regarding the harassment of the Roma people in South Belfast. It's quite effective:

I did take one or two photos myself. I didn't fancy walking through the City cemetery, as it also had quite a few young fellas drinking carryouts in plastic bags; there were a couple of charming young fellas swigging in the branches of a tree with a pit bull-like animal playing about below. So rather than walk through it, I stuck my camera over the wall and took some pics of the Jewish cemetery at the boundary:

There used to be a small Jewish community, based in north Belfast. Most of them were
merchants based around the shipping and weaving industries. They've all left now. My granny worked as a housekeeper at one of their houses for a while. I think that's why she liked reading books by Isaac Bashevis Singer.

The graves above used to be covered by a small Tahara, or synagogue, but this was sadly destroyed by vandals in the 1970s.

The only other photo I took was this:

Barbering and football, strange bedfellows.

Click on the pics to view them properly, though you're not missing much as they are :)

Gym Junkies

I've been putting on weight again via the pushing of heavy weights, round about 2kg in a month. I might get that down again. I've done a straw poll of my female friends and their abhorrence of muscle-bound numpties has made me realise that isn 't the way to go.

Not that I'm one of them, but I am a gym junkie, and you have to careful not to get too obsessed. One minute you're spending half an hour light exercise on a variety of machines; next you're injecting steroids into your groin, walking round like 'The Terminator' with your eyeballs popping out and making horrible grunting noises while pressing massive big feck-off barbells.

It's not a good look. Luckily I'm tall, over six foot, so I don't have to over-compensate like some of those wee men in the gym.

There's one tiny fella, under 5 ft, who comes in. He spends all his time arranging business deals via a Bluetooth headset he shouts into while straining at the weights. He's got a beer belly and biceps as big as his head. He should have taken part in the dwarf games. I'm guessing he's in the UDA.

The smaller the man, the bigger the muscles. It's a sweeping generalisation but I stand by it.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Hooky newsagents

I see that the cops have finally raided the hooky 'newsagents' at the bottom of High Street.

How he survived for so long is beyond me. Surely a 24hr newsagents pitched right in front of the nightclubs & regular police patrols, but with barely any actual stock on display, might arouse suspicion?

All the goodies were hidden under the counter or out the back - litre bottles of dodgy vodka, Canary islands cuthroat ciggies, and Jebus knows what else.

I gave up cigs a few years back but am still partial to the odd cigar, especally when sitting on the step outside Betty Black's at 1.30am chewin' the fat with my homies. He's the only shop at that hour of the morning & I used to go over and try and buy cigars off him. I always got the same response:

Me: Can I have a packet of Hamlet?
Shopkeep: Sorry, we don't have any this week.
Me: What sort of newsagents doesn't sell cigars???
Shopkeep: I can't afford them, here try some of these instead...

So I end up buying a packet of Canaries fags for a couple of quid, smoking half of one and stubbing it out in disgust.
I brought the packet into work yesterday & couldn't give them away.

He was still open last night but i'll miss our late night cigar badinage if he goes. It became part of my post-pub routine, something of a running joke shared between us.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Swine Flu Helpline Part 2

Work was like Central Station at rush hour today. Huge lines of eager young Herberts and Herbertesses were escorted through the building to the Swine Flu Floor. The Swine Flu Floor used to be full of shouty types doing telesales, flogging death policies to bank customers to be exact. Now they've been displaced to make way for the Swine Flu Helpline. There's some sort of grim irony there, perhaps, but I'm no Alanis Morissette.

I got chatting to a young lady (q. attractive, though dressed like the herbology teacher from Harry Potter) while on my teabreak. She'd just completed her swine flu training and I picked her brains as to what her new job would involve. It seems to be something like this:

Caller: Hello, I think I've got swine flu
Swine Flu Helpliner: What are the symptoms?
Caller: Runny snout, achy limbs, sneezey, coughy, loss of appetite. cloven feet....
Swine Flu Helpliner: Yes, sounds like swine flu alright. Write down this code: 5RHG6678
Caller: Ok, what do I with that?
Swine Flu Helpliner: Well first, you need to find a 'flu friend' (makes rabbit ears motion with fingers)....
Caller: A whatknow?
Swine Flu Helpliner: A 'flu friend' someone who probably doesn't have swine flu. Ring up them up and give them that 5RHG6678 code. They can take it to a pharmacist and collect you some Tamiflu. Get them to drop this through your letterbox, avoiding all contact with you.
Caller: For this relief much thanks

So there you have it. In one fell swoop the decades-old supremacy of the British Medical Association has been bypassed. Now phone monkeys with three hours training can legally dispense medicines. Have we come to this already? It's positively post-apocalyptic, like something from 'Threads' or 'The Event.' One little dose of flu and we start throwing medicines at each other.

With so many elderly, single people around, I wonder how many will find trouble finding a 'Flu Friend?' I nominate Andy Burnham as my flu friend, and demand that he personally delivers my Tamiflu when the illness strikes.

Actually, I've never had the flu, ever. Unless some of those bad colds I had in my youth were the flu in disguise.

It's a pity they didn't have similar helplines in the 17Th Century:

Caller: Hello, I've got big black lumps all over me groin and an uncontrollable thirst....
Black Death Helpliner: Sounds like the Black Death alright. What's your address?
Caller: 1 Gropewhore Lane
Black Death Helpliner: Right, we'll send a man round to board up your house. Stay put. He'll walk up and down for a bit with an orange studded with cloves on a rope, don't be alarmed. Also, if you smell smoke, that'll be just him burning a load of twigs to drive away the miasma. Do you have any dead bodies in the house?
Caller: One or two, yes
Black Death Helpliner: Can you find a 'Black Death Friend' with a wheelbarrow? They could cart them away for and drop you them in a big pit.
Caller: Shouldn't be a problem. Thanks then.
Black Death Helpliner: No problem. Oh before you go, do you have any dogs or cats?
Caller: Yes, a labrador
Black Death Helpliner: Strangle it. Goodbye.

I was offered training for the Swine Flu Helpline but I have to do it in my own time. Anyway, the tempting carrot of £7.50 p/h is only offered for this weekend, after that the wage will be £5.80 p/h, same as what I get. I'll pass. My passport fiends need me.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Swine Flu Helpline

Our work has announced we've won the Swine Flu Helpline contract. 2,000 new jobs with 200 of them on our site.

My firm pays minimum wage to part-time single mums; callow youths who failed their GCSEs and are planning their escape; over-educated layabouts like me too uncoordinated to get a real job; uni students on holiday; builders and joiners affected by the economic downturn. All lovely people, of course, but some of them couldn't spell influenza let alone tell you what it is.

Every other week there are mass sackings as bored and listless workers take too much time off on the sick, turn up late or just hang up on customers. And then a new set of drones is wheeled in through the door. It's a people factory.

Today I watched two of my colleagues take a discarded top off a food package and skim it back and fro like a Frisbee. For 8 and a half hours. Including while they were on the phone talking to customers. At times it distracted me from my involved reading of 'The Human Stain' by friend Roth.

This is who will advising you about swine flu, scaredy cats. The government knows you are stupid, and is treating like children. It's all you deserve, anyway.

God only knows what the training will be like.

I discovered that my boss keeps a daily formula which works out how much £££ I earn the company per day. They take the electricity I consume, and amount of time I spend idle, the time spent talking, spent shitting and pissing and doing feck all, minus my wages, and feed it into a computer. I earn the company about £25 a day. That's a bit more than what I earn. My company is French owned. Le plaisir est tout l'à moi, actionnaires français.

My boss told me I used to display negative body language towards him, but now I don't. Good news.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


You may remember that earlier on this year, meteorologists predicted that we were in for a good summer. The papers were all over it, revelling in pictorial fantasies of long, hot days, cricket and skimpily dressed ladiez.

After a little research, I discovered that their predictions were entirely based on simple probability. Apparently, the chances of having three bad summers in a row are so slim that the weather forecasters simply gambled that we wouldn't get another. No fancy satellite readings or oceanography analysis; just simple probability.

Well, May and June were fine; but then April and May were fine the year before. And now we're having another damp July, and the short range forecast doesn't show any improvement.

The clouds are low, heavy and lead to sudden intense downpours, though, rather than constant rain. I can live with that. The rain can be quite spectacular, as long as you don't get stuck out in it. After it's finished, the air seems fresher. It's good for cycling in, as the bike travels slickly along the damp road and I don't get too sticky.

So is this going to be our weather from now on? A fine end to spring, followed by a humid mini 'rainy season' and a mild autumn and winter? The recession has rather pushed the climate change agenda, so fashionable two years ago, off the news pages. The clarion call to go green has muted.

Among the sceptics are some folks who say that while climate change is inevitable, it isn't man-made, so we might as well keep burning that carbon. This is a strange argument; if the climate is changing, why hasten its adjustment by added more & more gas to the greenhouse?

With that in mind, I will switch off this power hungry little laptop and go and read a book.

ADDENDUM: My dear old mum pointed out that the weather the last few weeks has followed the same pattern: a bright cool start, incresing cloud, intense afternoon downburts and finally a calm but cloudy evening. It's mostly true, and today's weather was definitely just like that. It's a mini-monsoon season, I reckon.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Argos Card Services

I’m currently in dispute with Argos Card Services. When you receive a monthly statement from them, the only payment methods offered are as follows:

“You can pay by using one of the following payment options: 1. By Direct Debit. If you would like to set this up, please call the Call Centre on: 0845 640 0700 . 2. Send a cheque attached to the giro slip, to the following address: Home Retail Group Card Services Limited, Royal Avenue, Widnes, WA88 1AP. Please allow 5 days for the payment to reach your account. To avoid delays, please write your address, postcode and account number on the back of the cheque. 3. By cash or cheque at any bank using the giro slip on the bottom of your statement. There should be no handling fee at your own bank or at any branch of Lloyds/TSB bank. Please allow 5 days for the payment to reach your account. 4. If your bank offers a direct bill payment service, just call them or visit their website. Quote our direct payment account number: 9050 5498 plus the sort code 20-91-79. Your customer reference number is your Argos Card number without the first 6 - so it starts with a 3354”

Now, none of these payments were suitable for me, except for paying by cheque. I don’t like direct debits as your bank slaps a big fee on you if the money isn’t in your account. I work in an industrial estate on the edge of town & don’t have a car so can’t easily get to a bank. My bank doesn’t offer an online bill paying service. So I pay by cheque.

Now, on the month before last I ran out of cheques. Foolishly, I forgot to ring Argos to let them know. My bad. BUT my debt was only for about £13, and Argos Card Services have slapped a £12 late payment fee on my account!

Now, naturally that annoyed me. But what has annoyed me even more is that now I am in debt, it turns out that the company can take payment by debit card over the phone! If you ring 0845 64 00703 you can pay using a Switch/Maestro card on an automated touch tone system.

This phone line is not advertised or mentioned anywhere on the Argos Card Services website, or the monthly statement.

I complained about this to one of the many agents who have phoned me demanding payment. One offered to forward my complaints to a manager who would look at them. But no manager has contacted me, just a load of agents hooked up to a bloody autodialler. They usually ring me every 9.00am on Saturday and Sunday.

I’ve now been hit with a further £12 pounds of fees, making £24 in total for a £13 debt. I’ve just made a payment of £13.67 – this covers the interest charges for the last two months and clears the original debt. But there’s no way I’m paying the £24 late fees. What should I do? I only bought a battery charger and an electric hair clipper.

Connecting to server...
You're now chatting with a random stranger. Say hi!
You: Hi citizen
Stranger: hi
You: Papers please
Stranger: passport please
You: Snap
You: Do you own a dog?
Stranger: can you read it out for me?
Stranger: no, no dogs
Stranger: no pets
You: No animals of any kind?
Stranger: none
You: Prove it
Stranger: my web cam is not working at the moment
You: I'm sure I can smell dog
You: Is that not dog hair on the couch?
Stranger: your sense of smell is screwed up
Stranger: you can't see very well -- it is night here
You: It definitely has the odour of wet dog around here
You: Maybe you have a dog but you just forgot?
Stranger: now you know why i don't have a dog
You: I'm starting to become more convinced by these denials that you own at least one dog
Stranger: heck, my last 3 girlfriends broke up with me b/c i did not want babies b/c i did not want to deal with baby shit
You: You're protesting too much
Stranger: why the hell would i deal with dog shit and dog urine?
Stranger: that's b/c you are such a pin head interrogator
You: What sort of dog is it? A great dane, jack russell, just tell me
You: You can confide in me
You: What do you feed it on?
Stranger: i live in a glass house
Stranger: nothing to confide
Stranger: even your very insinuation bothers me
You: Can we just pretend that you have a dog? To help the conversation along?
Stranger: no
Stranger: i am sorry
You: Come on
Stranger: i live in korea
You: Ok
Stranger: we are civilized here
Stranger: unlke the rest of the world which gives dogs a very high status
You: I refuse to be drawn into any obvious canine meat conversations
Stranger: why?
Stranger: what did you have for your last dinner?
You: Pizza with kebab meat. Say you had a tricycle/rickshaw
You: A tricycle rickshaw pulled by dogs
You: That would be so cool!
You: I will supply this to you
Stranger: i guess your kebab was goat
You: If you did have a dog what would you call it?
Stranger: you mean for dinner?
You: No! As a pet
Stranger: to me all animals are same
You: Let's get you an imaginary dog called Joe Brolly
Stranger: i refuse to practice racism with dogs/cows/goats etc
Stranger: they are all equal
Stranger: i eat chicken twice a year then i have to eat twice a year
You: I have a league table 1.) Tiger 2.) Snake 3.) Dog etc
You: Do the dogs that get eaten have names?
Stranger: great, now you are getting it
Stranger: why not?
You: I don't want to eat anything that has a name
Stranger: see -- you should widen your horizons there
Stranger: like your kebab pizza
Stranger: pizza from italy
You: I just want to warn you that if you ask me anything about the Osmonds in this chat window I am disconnecting
Stranger: kebab from morcco
You: Also, birthdays and Christmas are not topics for conversation
Stranger: you are too controlling
Stranger: easen up a bit
You: I am a Jehova's witness
You: We don't believe in birthdays, christmas or The Osmonds
Stranger: all right
Stranger: i have tried everything
Stranger: i think i will allow you to imagine i have a dog
Stranger: what next?
You: Cool
You: What breed/size?
Stranger: rotweiler
You: Poor choice in my book, but OK
Stranger: about a metre high
You: Is he/she fierce?
Stranger: no
Stranger: i have brought him up on vegan diet
Stranger: you see i am vegan
You: Cool
Stranger: not a dog eater as i told you
You: I think you'll have to supplement his diet
Stranger: no
Stranger: have you had a look at the elephant?
Stranger: does the elephant in the wild eat according to FDA's recommendations?
You: Let's pretend I am your neighbour and I secetely throw bones over the fence; would you be annoyed?
Stranger: definitely
You: I may move then
You: I may bring the dog too
Stranger: there is nothing available for rental around here
You: He will follow me naturally & willingly, because he senses you secretely despise him
Stranger: no, for as a vegan i despise nothing
You: I can easily charm your neighbours into letting me sleep at their property
Stranger: everything in nature is naturally drawn towards me
Stranger: try as hard as you may, my dog will not eat unless he has double checked all the ingredients
You: This fantasy dog is proving both troublesome and unrealistic
Stranger: all fantasies are like that -- a bubble getting bigger and bigger
You: NO you need to ground the fantasy in some reality, to create a literally illusion
You: literary even
Stranger: but anyway..
Stranger: what is it with dogs you had at the beginning of the show
Stranger: before it went haywire
You: I never mentioned dogs, you did
You: You said you could smell dog
Stranger: if you dial 911, would they take you to an asylum?
You: Can you do it?
You: Tell them to bring the straps
You: Last time they forgot and I gained control of the vehicle
Stranger: forget 911. just tell me where you live. I will come with those "jolt pads"
Stranger: here i have already started
Stranger: this is for your own good
You: I live near Strabane
Stranger: Street address
Stranger: please
Stranger: please i need your street address
Stranger: don't hang up on me
You: 45-47 Abercorn Square,Strabane, BT82 8AQ
Stranger: i am a mere six thousand miles away
You: Lets leave this for now
You: I am beginning to despise you
You have disconnected.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

New blog

I've created a new blog to keep everyone up-to-date with the latest travels & engagements of the British royal family. You can view it here:


Wednesday, May 27, 2009


So the male blackbird, which so proudly sung on my rooftop with its arsetail pointed to the heaven, is now no more than a mass of scattered feathers. It made a perfect target for brer sparrowhawk up there. RIP you noisy musical bastard. Presumably a female blackbird has been left to rear the chicks alone.

There are a helluva lot of blackbirds and thrushes around my way. Presumably, the warm, wet conditions are ideal for slugs and snails and worms, a blackbird's favourite meal. Well, I say that, but I've never asked them what they prefer to eat. I know they love a bit of dogfood and rotten apple. There was one blackbird - maybe the fellow lately pecked to death - who was so enticed by the smell of dogfood in our kitchen that he'd hop right up to the closed back door in search of it. Right into the porch.

So with the explosion in numbers, the male blackbirds have been singing and hopping around on rooftops very vigorously. They're marking out their territory and trying to find some love interest. I've seen them trying to shoo away prowling cats too, although the starling is better at this.

Though once I got up early one morning to watch my long dead cat(then alive) climb the apple tree. A bunch of starlings kept hopping onto branches just above her, tauntingly out of reach. As they screeched derisively at her, a sparrowhawk suddenly hurled itself javelin-like toward the rising sun and took the toppermost starling clean off the tree. It made the most horrific, startled anguished screeching as the hawk carried it down to the field. Last I saw of it was a mass of feathers tossed into the air as the hunter stripped down its feast.

But while I have no love for starlings I like blackbirds. RIP.

Thursday, May 07, 2009


I went to an auction last week. As previously reported, I've been having a lot of problems with my bike. The aged rear wheel finally broke, so purchased a cut price new one at £10. Two weeks later, this collapsed too under my vast weight; this time I dropped the vehicle into a cycle shop for repairs. The owners persuaded me to let them fit both new wheel and front and rear brakes. They then charged £10 for service and £38 for parts. Robdogs. So having spent £58 on a bike which only cost £110 new, I decided to buy a new one, or at least a second hand one.

My friend Jo had told me that Bangor auctions was the place to go for bicycle auctions. She's a regular there. My mum's a huge fan of shows like Bargain Hunt and Flog it! So she came along too.

When the taxi arrived at the address in the industrial estate, the car park was teeming with all human life. A burger van had pulled up outside and was doing a brisk trade. It turns out that the auction is very popular. Entering the large warehouse premises, the place was jam packed and very hot. It was difficult to view the items due to the crush. A good proportion of the attendees seem to go there as a form of spectator sport. Loaded up with paper wrappers full of steaming chips, they lounge around on the sofas and chairs for sale, eyeing the auctioneer and the bidders.

I eyed up a number of bikes and noted the auction numbers. Many of the people around me had catalogues, so went to the front to get one. The auctioneer quoted me a price of £1. Since the catalogued consisted of six sheets of photocopied A4 paper, I declined. However, when the auction started it soon became apparent that to bid for anything you needed an auction number, and to get an auction number you needed a catalogue. A catch 22 then, and a nice little earner for the company.

Most of the stuff for sale looked pretty ordinary to me. It wouldn't have been out of place in church jumble sale or charity shop. There were really old, rusted golf clubs, which sold for three quid; a dirty old petrol lawnmower the seller hadn't bothered clearing the grass from; boxes stuffed full of assorted crockery and cutlery, impossible to sort through; old toys; fridges, freezers and even a speedboat, amongst much, much else. There were six hundred lots and the auction was scheduled to run from 6pm until 10pm.

I found it boring as hell to sit through the first hour of auctions waiting for the bikes to come up at 7.30pm. I think I may have left if they had been at the end. Half the time I had no idea what was being bid on, the items came thick and fast, and were sold in a few seconds of bidding. Most goods sold for a few quid, if they sold at all, but every now and then a prized item appeared. Then there would be frenzied bidding between unseen bidders. Some plumbers went crazy for a pipe bending tool. A box of scented candles went for over £40. Then a big American-style fridge freezer, which looked brand new, went right up to over £300.

My mum decided to liven things up by buying a big vegetable steamer for £10; I doubt she'll ever use it. Then she decided on a pair of binoculars. I got excited about these, as they'll be useful for birdwatching; in our eagerness to win we started bidding against each other. Another bidder entered the market and things got very confusing, but eventually one of us won for £8.

When the bikes came round I was hot, bothered and fed up. My mood didn't improve when the main bike I had my eye on went for £55, far too much since it had two bald and flat tyres which needed replacing. So I bid on a second bike, one I wasn't too sure about as it seemed a bit small and rusty. With few counter bidders, I won with a bid of £28. Add on the 15% commission and the VAT, and that comes to £32.83. A man came came up and shook and man and told me I'd got a bargain, but I wasn't so sure.

When I got the vehicle outside for a spin round the car park, I found that the gears didn't work, the rear brake rubbed on the rim, the seat was ridiculously low for my long legs, and the tyres were part deflated. Hmm. This was a problem as I intended to cycle the thing the five miles home. A passing tradesman helpfully informed that I just needed to tighten the gear cables to make them work, but he nor I had any tools.

I went back into the auction in a grumpy mood. I didn't really want to stay but there was an acoustic guitar I fancied bidding on. Jo turned up, she was in a grumpy mood too because she had sent her dad ahead to bid on a double bed while she was at work, but he hadn't bothered. The bed went for £4. While waiting for the guitar, I had to sit through the 'fancy' ceramics and paste jewellery auction. This provoked a scrum of mostly grey haired folk to mill around the auctioneer to get a close eye on the goods. Amidst the Royal Doulton and cheap trinkets were the following catalogue items:

Cider Bird - not an alcoholic duck, but a clay woodpecker advertising, well, Woodpecker Cider. A discontinued brand, I believe. Went for a fiver.

Jewish Religion - I asked the auctioneer if I could see 'Jewish religion' but he just directed me to a glass cabinet. I couldn't find it. Turns out it is a tiny, roughly carved piece of wood that looks like a shoehorn, with triangular lines scraped on it. Went for three quid. My ma said you hang it over your door, like a charm.

Unfortunately, the guitar already had a starting bid of £30, and soon went up to £60. I think that's overpriced for a basic Yamaha acoustic, especially one that isn't in perfect condition.

So I left my mum to fend for herself with her steamer and binoculars, after phoning her a taxi, and set off home on my bike. I released the rear brakes completely and pedalled along the pavement of the dual carriageway. With the low seat, it felt like my knees were around my ears when I sat down, like a clown's bike. It was stuck in the lowest gear so I had to peddle furiously, especially when going uphill. But I made it home, soaked by the incessant rain, and fed up.

My mood lightened considerably when I fixed the seat and brakes in a matter of minutes. But I still haven't fixed the gears. The bike has been lying in the garage while I ponder this problem. Any ideas?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Stenchbreath vs The Cat

An eager cat attempts to befriend Stenchbreath

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Happy Birthday Roger and random thoughts

Roger said he'l leave a comment on my blog if I wish him a happy birthday. He was annoyed that I didn't mention this on my blog. Roger, my blog is not for wishing happy birthdays. That's why God gave us text messaging and Facebook. But happy birthday.

Happy birthday to Wandering Photographer too. We must have a belated birthday drink soon.

I hurt my shoulder pushing weights. So I've started swimming instead. I swim 20 or 30 lengths per session. That's between 500 and 750 metres. It doesn't seem much when you write it down. But it feels a lot. I love it. Maybe I will knock the gym on the head. Swimmers have better figures than gymaholics anyway.

I broke my bike again. The rear axle snapped. So I bought a new one. But when I fitted it, it ground against the wheel. So I took it to the bike shop where I bought it. They persuaded me to fit new brake blocks and a new rear wheel, then charged me £50 for parts and service. Robdogs. I might go to the auction and buy a new one. I might cycle to Belfast soon. But not up Cavehill. Maybe someday, when I have a trustworthy bike.

I'm still working at the call centre. I'm getting good at my job, but I'm very busy. Sometimes I take aroung 90 calls a day. My tongue gets tired and my brain gets fuzzy.

I've been off the drink for a few weeks. It feels good. I'm saving a lot of money too.

On the other hand, I've discovered the joys of ebay and have bought lots of unnecessary items.

I bought a battery charger and heavy batteries today. So hopefully I will be able to take more photos before my camera packs up.

I cut my own hair and made the back all lopsided. The nape, is that what the back edge of your hair is called?

I've become addicted to 'The Wire' on BBC2, but have to wait two weeks until the next series due to the snooker.

I've been getting up at 5am to watch my beloved Western Bulldogs play Aussie Rules via illegal live streming websites. But I think the sites have been closed down. Boo. There is still live streaming radio.

When I say I'm off the drink, I did have a pint with Roger yesterday, and a pint the week before with some random strangers. I only drank one pint of ale each time, so it doesn't count. Both times I smoked half a cigar. Now that the summer nights are here, I may have more, in the beer garden. It's my guilty pleasure.

Teeth Part 2

Following on from......

Halfway through the treatment, many thanks to Dr George and his carbamide peroxide!

Oh me of little faith!

£8.99 on ebay, a bargain

Monday, April 13, 2009

Country Walk

I took advantage of the mild spring weather and the bank holiday to take my first walk over the back roads to Portavoe for a while. I could have got some good pictures but as usual my power-hungry camera decided to run out of batteries as soon as I turned it on. I think it must have a fault. I must look into getting a replacement in the unlikely event of having some money any time soon.

Anyway, just like this time last year a mild, dry spring means you can tramp over the fields and byways without wading boots. Summer might be a different matter, so enjoy it while it lasts. The predominant colour in the hedgerows is yellow; the gorse above is a golden riot, while the dandelions dominate below. It's too still early for the white and pink flowers, such as hawthorn or wild garlic. Gorse is a traditional Easter flower; when I was a kid you found a few people collecting the flowers to boil up with hens' eggs. It dyes them an attractive golden colour for rolling down the hills. Does anyone still do that? You can make wine out of them too, if you're brave enough.

I walked over the old lane and up the backroads, along a road I haven't used for years. There were wild geese overhead and pheasants hooting in the trees. I was keeping an eye out for the local buzzards. This magnificent bird of prey was until recently a scarce sight, having been hunted close to extinction. These days, you can't fail to spot them; they seem to have overtaken the kestrel as our most common raptor and are visible circling the skies all over the north east countryside. I usually see two or three wheeling around, but this time one flew low over a field before alighting on a low tree about fifty metres behind me. Bloody lack of camera, it would have made a good picture.

I just hope the pheasant shooters and gamekeepers keep their guns away from it. I'm sure they take a few pheasants, although they mostly feed on dead carrion. Speaking of which, I found a big old dead rat squished on the road. I didn't know rats grew that big. It was rabbit sized. It'll make a tasty meal for a buzzard or carrion crow.

As I was passing the entrance to the reservoir, a man called to me about a much larger piece of carrion. He was examining something under a blackberry bush.

'Someone's dumped a dead dog here' he said.

I didn't know quite what to say. Was he asking for help?

'Oh, lovely' I replied. 'Who would you call about that? The water service?'

He didn't reply. I think he just wanted to share his discovery. He rootled around under the bush a bit more and said 'It looks like one of those Staffordshire wait it's one of those illegal ones......"

'An American pitbull?' I offered.

'Yeah, one of those.' he agreed. I asked if it had a collar but it didn't. I decided against going over for a look, so with a 'Some people huh' shrug I continued on.

People use the hedgerows as a dumping ground. It's usually just bottles and cans, but shortly after the dead dog incident I discovered another disgusting sight. Someone had left two ten litre cans of rancid cooking oil by the side of the road. They looked like they came from a fast food restaurant. They were full of dead flies. Beside them was a clear plastic bag full of something grey, squishy and indefinable. Behind the hedge, spring lambs bleated at me.

Why do people drive out to the middle of nowhere to dump their rubbish? The bottle bank is free to use, and surely there is a recycling facility somewhere for old oil. Ferals.

I passed the newly ploughed fields, still full of wood pigeon, pecking the sown grain. I can't believe the farmer doesn't cull them. Judging by the contestants on Masterchef et al, wood pigeon is a fashionable and expensive food. I should try and snaffle some. I will google 'trap wood pigeon' after I write this.

I cut over the fields and back home. The potato field was full of rotting spuds. I knew I should have picked some up a few weeks back, when the farmer was gathering them. They've gone to waste now.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Yellow teeth

After attending a wedding last week and viewing the subsequent photos, I was shocked at how yellow my teeth have become. Indeed, some of them are turning a distictly unpleasantly brown. It isn't the dread nicotine that is doing this; I gave up smoking over two years ago, except for a very occasional cigar.

I presume the main culprit must be the 10 cups of strong tea I drink every day. I love tea. At work, I'm restricted to snatched cups of 20p brew from the vending machine, and I'm not allowed to drink at my desk. As my tea drinking break is only 15 minutes long, and the tea is very hot, I sometimes mix it with cold water so I can drink it faster. This means I can drink two or three cups in the allotted teaspace.

When at home, I am unrestricted. I have a special pint mug for my tea. I use two bags in this and mash the brew for 3- 4 minutes. Some days, I can drink ten of these. Ten pints of tea a day is bound to have a deleterious effect on my once pearly, Hollywood smile.

So, being as vain as the next dapper metrosexual, I have decided to do something about this. I asked a friend at work with a dazzling smile how she keeps her teeth so white, despite her smoking. 'Laser treatment, £250,' came the reply. I can't afford that kind of denistry, as tempting as it may be. So I searched for tooth whitening products on dearest Google and friend Ebay. After reading numerous product reviews, I settled on Dr Georges Teeth Whitening System. It's the number one home tooth whitening kit in America so it must be good. I trust the Americans on such matters. Look at the teeth on 'The OC' and 'American Idol' and '90210.' I bet those boys and girls are all big fans of the Dr George.

The package was waiting for me last night and I eagerly set to work. First up are the patented "E-Z Trays," two clear rubber gum shields with a tab on the edge that acts as a handle. After reading the instructions, I boiled a pan of water and let it simmer before I dipped the shields in to make them plaible. I shoved them in my gub and with fingers and tongue I pressed them and pulled them and sucked them as per Dr George's instructions until they fitted snugly. I ran them under the cold tap to make them hard and moulded.

I got out the 5.2 oz bottle of 16% Carbamide Peroxide Gel and syringe from the package. I was supposed to suck out a bit of the liquid and apply it too the gumshield thingies but due to my clumsiness and the viscous nature of the gel I got it all over my fingers and the syringe. But I eventually got a bit on the gumshields and stuck them in my mouth.

The literature promises that " Due to the snug fit and thick gel, the gel stays within the tray, even on the lower teeth. You can even speak while you whiten! " I can report that "no it bloody doesn't!" The gel soon floods from the gumshield, mixes with your saliva and soon you have a mouth full of gel. If you are thinking that 16% Carbamide Peroxide sounds a bit like bleach, you'd be right. It feels like gargling with Domestos. Indeed, the instructions warn "DO NOT MIX WITH HOUSEHOLD CLEANSER FOR STRONGER RESULTS." Not that I was tempted to do this, but you'd see how some daft folk might be tempted by the taste of the stuff.

I was supposed to keep the shields in there for 20-30 minutes, but because I kept having to spit out bleachy saliva I bailed out after 15 minutes.

I tried again an hour later after hatching an ingenious plan. I stuffed my mouth with kitchen roll, paying especial attention to the under-tongue region. This wasn't very pleasant but stopped my mouth filling with spit. So I watched the last half hour of 'The Wire' with two plastic gumshields full of bleach and a mouth full of kitchen roll. That's livin alright!

Friday, April 03, 2009


No, if your daughter's lost her effing passport she can't have another one tomorrow. It doesn't matter how posh and patronising you are. You can't speak to my team leader and putting the phone down and ringing my colleagues won't work either. Ha Ha. What sort of effwit goes out drinking and using her passport as ID at every effing boozer in Sittingbourne (probably) until she loses it? When she's got to fly to Canada in 2 days? eff away off and dry your eyes.

And no, you don't need a passport to travel to the Isle of Wight. If it was an April fool's joke on me I wasn't in the mood. If your mates were playing an April fool on you, you fell for it. And you're a effwit.

And how the eff am I supposed to know how your sister is going to get a French passport to go on a school trip by Saturday? A french passport? And axeing me how old you can be on a French parental passport before you get your own? Look up 'UK' in your effing encyclopedia.

And 'how do I register for the machine at Terminal 5 that reads your eyes so I don't have to queue up with the other plebs' ?????? What am I , the effing Bladerunner helpline or something????

And can you PLEASE take the effing crying baby away from the mouthpiece or call back when she's not crying? I know it's hard being stuck at home with a bunch of kids but it hurts my ear, it really effing does, and I can't hear what you're saying.

And if you're Turkish and your daughter is British but lives in Turkey and you live in the UK but you're daughter lives in Turkey with your sister-in-law and the child's mother ran off and disappeared and you want to apply for a UK passport - effing slow down a bit. You're a nice bloke and this is all very exciting for you but if you talk at 1,000,000 miles an hour I'll just have to get you effing repeat everything 1,000,000 times.

And very rich people - stop phoning me from effing private planes to get your effing passport renewed tomorrow. It's a very bad line and the noise from the effing plane engine drowns you out.

Sponsored by the Mumbai Telecommunications Organization

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Spud Picking

The local farmer is finally picking last year's spuds. I took this photo from my bedroom window just now. He left them in the ground over the winter. Maybe it's easier to pull them up in the spring and he gets a better price for them at this time of year. As with most farming these days, it's mostly done by machine, though he's got a couple of farmhands riding on the back of the tractor. There's also a great big Alsatian dog sprinting up and down the rows of spuds, having the time of its life.
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Monday, March 16, 2009

Call Centre, week two

So I have finished my second week in the new job. I am working on a top secret 'campaign.' For security reasons I cannot tell you what this is. But I can give you some clues. I provide customer service for people enquiring about a very important travel document. It comes in a little burgundy book. It has a photograph in it, that you probably hate. This object begins with 'p' and ends with 't' and has an 'ass' in the middle. And a 'port.'

I only work a thirty hour week, spread over three weekdays and one day at the weekend. I had to work on Saturday, meaning that I thought I wouldn't be able to watch the Scotland - Ireland rugby game. I rang the Scottish Rugby Union to ask if they wouldn't mind moving the game to Sunday, but they said they couldn't do anything at such short notice. Luckily, my company has a contract with Setanta Sports, meaning that there are TVs on the call floor tuned to Setanta Sports News 24/7. But someone disloyally turned the channel over to BBC1 so we could watch the game, albeit at a distance of 40 foot away & with the sound turned down.

I have not had many difficult calls to deal with so far. Mostly I just book people in for interviews or help them fill out an application form. A Scotsman got very upset with me because he was flying the next day and had put his passport in the wash and ruined it. He seemed to think this was somehow my fault, and was unhappy that he would have to wait a week to get a new one.

Then I was helping a father complete an online application for his 15 year old daughter.

At the end of the call he says 'Will this passport enable her to travel abroad without her parents?'

'Oh aye' says I, thinking she's off on a youthful school trip

'Only she's going abroad with her 19 year old boyfriend and he's arranged it all' says Mr Dad.

Now, when I say it's a thirty hour week that's not quite true. I don't get paid for my lunch and teabreaks. That's a new experience for me - even when I worked for some big American companies in Australia I got paid for my breaks. Never lunchbreaks but always playbreaks. I didn't know that was legal. So I work a 34 hour week but get paid for 30.

Furthermore, the company times how often you go to the toilet, or just generally move away from your desk. You are only allowed 12 minutes per day. You have to be back at your seat right on time or your in trouble. We've already been ticked off about this. And all for less than £10,000 a year. One colleague got ticked off for eating a plum at her desk yesterday.

Reading this makes me wonder if there is any point being a Labour supporter. We've had 12 years of a 'left-wing' government for this? Apparently, union officials aren't even allowed on
site. I was told that the local rep got into a shouting match with an employee in the canteen and was barred. It wouldn't surprise me if this argument wasn't engineered by the company. I've been told that the union rep sometimes comes and stands at the front gate and hands out piss-taking leaflets. I'll have to look out for him and have a chat, maybe they'll put my name on a blacklist.

Anyway, people vote with their feet and rarely stay long in the job. There's a massive turnover of staff and I've even been offered a £200 bonus for every worker I can find for them who stays in the job a few weeks. It makes me wonder why they don't treat their workers better. I've read somewhere that staff retention, or lack of it, is one of the most expensive outlays for many businesses. What's the point of spending so much on neverending advertising, recruitment & training just to treat your staff like cretins?

They even draw up a productivity formula for each worker, based on electricity costs, heating costs, breaks we take, work we do, time idle, time at the toilet, time on holiday and calculate it to the nearest penny. My own productivity formula, like a big old battery hen.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Stenchbreath doing her party trick in a fancy headcscarf. She's quite the local celebrity. Sorry about the sound quality.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Trained by a fantasist

I have a job now. You'll be morbidly jealous when you find out what I'm doing. Get this - I'm working in a CALL CENTRE! For MINIMUM WAGE! And I even have to pay £30 to hire my own headset. I get the £30 back when I leave the job if I return the headset 'in good condition.' When I was told this, I felt a little self-pitying at how low I have debased myself. It's the 21st century equivalent of going down t' pit. With less death and blood and disease and hard work, obviously.

I have to wear a tie and smart shirt too. Why?

As my musings on this blog are fed directly on my Facebook page I have changed my security settings on the latter. Only friends and family can view me know. As I may write about my employment , I don't want Them reading about it. Maybe I should take my picture off this site too.

Anyway, I don't know if you are aware of the tall tale telling character 'Aldridge Prior the Hopeless Liar' from Viz magazine. It appears he is training me. I am stuck in a room for the week learning the job from a man who regularly, even continously, interrupts his work to make claims such as:

1.) His dad was a major in the British army. He trained Nato forces all over the world and thus ole dog's mess claims to have lived in just about every country on the planet.

He eats a croissant very day because he lived in the south of France when he was 11 and ate one every on the way to school every day. Fresh from the bakery.

'Where did you live in France?' asked one of my new colleagues.

He uhmmed and ahhhd and rapped his knuckles on the table pretending to remember.

'Somewhere in the south' he eventually offered. He can speak 'a bit of French' too. Surprisingly, he didn't show it off.

His dad's work also took him to the USA for a few months, so our boy was awarded an American passport. But the Americans took it off him when they discovered he had a British passport. This greatly annoys him.

Later, we were discussing the countries of the Commonwealth, as this is relevant to the job. He reeled off Canada, South Africa and New Zealand............and then mused that Burgundy in France was part of the Commonwealth too. 'That's where the Normans who invaded England came from,' he solemnly informed us.

Yeah, the Normans from Burgundy. The Normburgundians?

2.) He keeps going on about his various mystery illnesses, many of which involve his rectum. He couldn't follow his dad's army career because he strained a muscle in his back and had to retire to bed for several months.

Then he told us that the company frowned if you took more than 12 mins toilet break per day (FFS!) . He used to get told off for running to the toilet all time himself, but now he has special dispensation because he has Crohn's disease. It used to affect him very badly but if he cuts out wheat, sugar and acidic foods he can control it.

"Aye, that's why you're drinking a bottle of Coke!" interjected the young lady to my right.

And sure enough, while he'd been telling us this he's been swigging away from a 500ml bottle of Coca Cola.

He ignored her and informed us that if he keeps running out the door it's because of his Crohn's. Which isn't very bad. His friend's Crohn's is much worse.

He hasn't run out the door once. And he stuffs himself with croissants, fries and sugary drinks.

I used to work with a guy who had to take a daily cocktail of drugs and was frequently hospitalised by his awful Crohn's disease. Funny, that.

3.) He has a criminal record. He broke into a house 14 years before he was born. How's that you ask? Well, someone with exactly the same name as him lived in his parents' home before they bought it. This fella was 14 years older than our trainer. And because he had a record for breaking and entering it was transferred to our bloke and he just can't get rid of it. Doesn't matter how often he complains. He went to police headquarters and everything. But he just can't get rid. His reputation is forever sullied.

4.) His uncle was in the navy and he and his mates got two days leave on an island so they went mad and got blind drunk for two days and suddenly they realised they had to get back to the ship so they stole a 2CV but the clutch broke so they fixed it with a shoelace but that burnt so the uncle climbed on the bonnet and moved the clutch by hand while they drove at 60 mph, then they crashed the car and stole a boat and got back to the ship but - get this! - the leave was for 3 DAYS not 2 DAYS! They hadn't realised they had an extra day! And all the sirens were screaming on the island as the authorities looked for the phantom car and boat thieves. Ha!

Later, the uncle was shot by pirates in the Suez. Blew his shoulder off, they found it on board behind a pillar. Pity, the uncle spoke 4 languages, all self-taught, he could have been a navy translator.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Kerry Blue and Primary School

The day started off in exciting fashion when young Matthew from across the road knocked the door and presented me with a curly haired terrier. 'Twas very likely a full bred Kerry Blue if I know my dogs. It was a lolloping, friendly, tonguey sort of a dog when presented with humans. However, as soon as it met Stenchbreath it jumped on top of her and got medieval on her neck. To quote the Kerry Blue wikipedia entry "they have always been loyal and affectionate towards their owners and very gentle towards children but were often considered downright mean toward other animals including other dogs." I concur on this limited evidence.

So I tied the animal to the fence with Stenchbreath's spare lead and phoned the Dog Warden. I got an answering machine and left a message. Then I rephoned the answering machine half an hour later. Next I rang the council switchboard and politely asked what I should do with the creature. They finally got a warden to contact me and said they'd send someone out.

With the situation in hand I went out for an afternoon stroll. I met a young girl coming down the road shouting what sounded like "Taxi! Taxi." When I got closer she asked me if I'd seen her dog Pepsi and after asking her for a description I reckoned the captured beast was hers. She set off with with barely a by-your-leave and soon child and animal were reunited to scenes of unbridled joy. Champagne corks were popped, the sky was black with tossed hats etc etc and the dog warden was turned around and set on his way via a quick phone call. Which was lucky for the wee girl, as I don't think brer pooch was licensed.

The second part of the day's exciting adventures was a trip to my old primary school. Built in about 1975, the old school building has come to the end of its lifespan and is being demolished in favour of gleaming new facilities on the same site. The 1970s seem to have been the era of the jerry-built school with their flat leaky asphalt roofs and flimsy corrugated plastic window fittings. Compare this to the many sturdy Victorian school buildings, built to last like the churches of the day & still in use.

I was a bit apprehensive about going because I didn't really enjoy primary school and thought it might evoke bad memories. But it was fine. Everything was amazingly familiar, even though I hadn't set foot in the place for well over 20 years. It wasn't like stepping back in time, it felt like I'd never been away. Maybe that's because I've worked as a primary school since.

The only person I talked to out of my year was a person I see regularly anyway. The only teacher
I talked to didn't remember me. But it was good to have a look around the old place. Everyone was enjoying themselves but we were unceremoniously chucked out at 9.00pm sharp. First time I've ever been forced to leave the school gates. And I didn't even claim my free styrofoam cup of boxed red wine.

The current pupils told me they are getting a week off while the building is demolished, but they're annoyed because they have to bring work home with them. It's a hard knock life.

Someone has put my P1 class photo on Facebook. I wish I got still grow my hair like that.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Credit Crunched

The credit crunch comes to Ballyholme. Not one of the houses on this street are worth less than half a million quid so I doubt if there's too much belt tightening going on here. Maybe that's part of the writer's message.

However, unemployment is rising steeply in North Down. The dole office are taking on extra staff and staggering sign on times.
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Sisyphus clears the sand at Ballyholme

Every month or so North Down Borough council sends a backhoe digger and a lad with a shovel down to Ballyholme Beach to clear the sand from the lower part of the promenade. They dump the sand in mounds, as seen to the left and below; these were much bigger a day ago but the tide has already eaten most of them away. Their Canute inspired efforts are completely pointless; within a few days the sand has already starting building up again.

When I were a lad there wasn't any sand on this part of the path. Is it a sign of global warming, with rising sea levels driving the sand onto shore? Perhaps the promenade has become eroded by the constant crashing of sea, sand and stone? Maybe.

However, the failure of the council to upkeep the groynes is the most likely culprit. The entire landscape at Ballyholme Beach was a magnificent piece of Victorian engineering, with its raised promenades, sea walls, sweeping grass banks, bridges and elevated roads above. Central to the enterprise are the aforementioned groynes. Recognizing that the tide sweeps along the bay from west to east, these sea defences were added at regular intervals to prevent the sand from building up at the Groomsport side of the beach.

Sadly the century-old groynes are succumbing to the elements & are in dire need of repair. I read in the local paper that this would cost £40,000. It doesn't seem a lot to save a genuine tourist amenity, particularly as the water service are currently installing new drains to (hopefully) solve the pollution problems.

Meanwhile, the council has just voted in an 8.1% increase in rates, the second largest rise in the province after Fermanagh. In order to save a little money, £14,0000 to be exact, our representatives voted that toilet blocks should no longer be opened during the evening. One councillor, who manages to combine his local duties with a well-paid MLA job at Stormont, claimed that families or tourists wouldn't use the facilities, only "late night revellers." Yes, on the long summer evenings in June & July everyone in this town goes to bed at 6pm leaving Bangor in the hands of crazed drunks hanging out at the bogs.

I have heard dark rumours that the monster, monstrously expensive new wind turbine at Balloo isn't fit for purpose. I'm all for renewable energy - as long as it works. Maybe our DUP members have installed a deliberate 'own goal' to fuel Sammy Wilson's righteous crusade for more carbon emissions.

Here's the path in question; two days after the clearance team have left the sand is already starting to build up on the left hand side.

Click on the photos and they become huge.
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