Wednesday, December 17, 2003

My father died last November, although in this case it would be much more accurate to say, "I lost him." The feeling of loss seems to grow as time passes, hits me at the strangest moments and knocks all the breath out of me, leaving me for a few moments at least totally and absolutely bereft.

You didn't know my father. I'm not sure I did either. His was a world of actions not words. I only ever heard him tell my mother once that he loved her and he sure as hell never told me! And it's only now, looking back with a child of my own, that I can read his messages to me.

We never talked. Oh, we passed the time of day but we never had those father-son conversations you hear so much about or at which you suppress the urge to upchuck at the movies. But when I look back over my memories of him, I cannot think of one occasion where he failed to demonstrate how to 'do the right thing'.

We had absolutely nothing in common except our love of the Blades. He even christened my first Teddy Bear 'Jimmy Hagan' and never let the fact that I called it 'Fred' create any friction between us. He, with a stubborn streak I seem to have inherited, quite simply refused to acknowledge the fact. He, unlike me, left school at fourteen as his father could not afford the books necessary for him to go to the grammar school and needed the extra wage my father could earn. He started work as an apprentice pattern maker (and passed on to me his love and respect for a good tool and a sharp chisel) and eventually worked his way up to be the Managing Director of the specialist steels company he joined as a boy.

There are so many stories and there is so much to tell that I can't possibly include it all here but I would like to repeat the words I spoke at his funeral. More for my sake than yours...just so I have some record and reminder of what that stubborn old bugger meant to me.

"We never really know our parents, do we? Oh, we know them as Mum and Dad but never as Ivy and Ray, just two people finding their way through life as best they can...pretty much like their children.

I guess if we really want to know them, then we have to look at them through other people's eyes.

I remember when my parents came to visit me in Hungary for the first time and we took them to visit the family of a friend of mine at their small, family vineyard.

My friend's father was the same age as Dad, they were both born in 1920. He couldn't speak English and Dad couldn't speak Hungarian but after a few glasses of wine, it didn't seem to matter that much.

At the end of the evening, my friend's father came up to me and told me what a good man he thought my father was.

And I remember thinking that, despite the fact that they had no common language, despite the fact that my father was in a wheelchair and despite the fact that he had had several strokes and could not communicate very well, that part of my father was still visible...that basic, down to earth, honest goodness.

And I'd just like to repeat now what that old Hungarian said to me about my father that time...'Apa, te fasza gyerek vagy.' Thankyou."

So, what brought all this on? Well, I've just got off the phone to my mother. Up until about two years ago, she was doing everything for my wheelchair bound father. Then she fell and broke her hip while I was over in England for the summer and I had a strange reversal of roles, bathing and dressing my dad for a couple of months, doing everything for him in fact. It became apparent that mum couldn't continue taking care of dad even with health care workers three times a day at home and they had to go into a care home. I had no choice. I live and work in Hungary, I am under a contract I cannot break and I have a family to feed. And I think that was what finally did for my father. He loved his home and had worked so hard for it all his life and not being able to live there was too much. He just gave up. And now, I'm afraid that the same thing is going to happen to my mother. I wanted her to come over here and live with me but she needs care round the clock, cannot walk without assistance and both Zsuzsi and I work and cannot guarantee that at least one of us will be at home all the time.

She has just had a phone put in her room at the home and I was able to phone her today for the first time since I returned to Hungary at the end of August. Maybe it was the fact that she had been asleep for an hour when I phoned, maybe it was the sleeping pills but her already slightly slurred speech has become so bad that I could not understand a single word of what she was trying to tell me. I shall try again tomorrow morning and hopefully, she'll be less fuzzy.

So...back to the question, what is all this? Intimations of mortality? Maybe but not my own, that's for sure. I just do not know whether I'm up to facing this world without either of my parents there behind me. I'm 45 years old and yet I don't think I've ever really in the true sense of the word, grown up. I have always had somewhere to run to, a fixed point, an anchor. The thought of being cast adrift in such a hostile world is one I can well do without, thank you very much. Selfish bugger, aren't I?

Still, I don't remember this being on the curriculum at school...so much information and so little about life.

I miss you, dad.




Monday, December 15, 2003

Well, strap me to a tree and call me Brenda! Has it really been a whole week? What can I say? I could plead pressure of work, but I'd be guilty of a little fabrication...I could tell you I spent more time with my family but that too would have the whiff of pork about it. I guess I'd better come clean, admit to a complete absence of anything worthwhile to say, prostrate myself before you all, beg forgiveness and throw myself upon your tender mercies. A thoroughly over the top grovel, in other words.

Mmmmm. "...anything worthwhile to say." I can see you all reaching for the green ink already, turning to the letter P in the dictionary and preparing to vent your spleens over this one and you would have a point. Since when do I ever have anything worthwhile to say? This blogging lark could quite easily be seen as the absolute peak of arrogance, couldn't it? Just imagine, some ex-pat wastrel possessant of enough self-delusion to convince himself that there are people out there who might just be interested in anything he has to say. I wonder if newspaper columnists ever feel the same way?

I guess it's the nature of writing. Essentially a masturbatory exercise, at its best whenever you've got a load on and just have to get it out but also pleasurable if it's just to while away the odd moment here and there. What I mean is that I write because I enjoy it...to amuse and entertain myself but why I should then choose to publish the results is a question I have yet to really face. Yeah, I guess arrogance should just about cover it!

It's strange really, because in my other life as an amateur percussionist, I'm just the opposite. I don't mind people reading what I write but I hate them listening to the sounds I make when I hit things. Even though music is a shared experience, an interaction between the musicians themselves and also with their audience, I feel much more comfortable playing along to music in the comfort of my living room than I do playing live. My best gigs have been those which come closest to reproducing this experience in a live situation.

For instance, the owner of a disco here in town asked me if I would like to perform at his club and advertise it as a conga night. Maybe I was drunk but I agreed. On the night, I had a word with the DJ who reassured me that the only music he played was funky but who still looked a little doubtful that the experiment would work. We did a sound check...he played some choon and I played along. It was great to see the look of surprise on his face when he realised that this might just be successful!

Why it worked and why I enjoyed it so much was that it reproduced exactly what I do at home. Stick some music on and join in and drift out as the fancy takes me. If the rythmn is beyond my ken or inspiration fails to strike, there is no pressure on me whatsoever. I simply sit this one out and hope the next one resonates within me and inspires me to beat the skins as it were.

Now it so happened that last week a musician aquaintance of mine visited me and saw my congas for the first time. So taken was he by their vibrant colour and promise of latin rythmn that he asked me if I would like to sit in at a gig they had for the Saturday evening. I was not even the slightest bit inebriated but I consented immediately. I figured that his band plays traditional Irish music...okay, there'll be no samba rythmns but it should be straight 4/4, accent on the first so tone down the off-beats and everything'll be fine and dandy.

Was I ever wrong! It soon became apparent at the first rehearsal that they had become bored of playing 'Whiskey in the Jar" and other traditional ditties and reels of like ilk and had expanded their repertoire to include Iberian, arab influenced music as well. Now, I should make clear at this point that I am no professional musician, I have had no formal training whatsoever and my ability to read music is on a similar level to my competence in Sanskrit...ie. totally non-existent.

It was therefore with a feeling of doom and intense trepidation that I greeted his first words to me at the rehearsal. "Okay, this first one's in 7/8, switches to 6/8 for the middle eight and then goes back to 7/8 at the end." Yeah, right. "Er...you hum it, I'll play it." To make matters worse, as if counting bars and coming in and dropping out or changing the tempo on cue weren't catastrophic enough, their band consists of a cellist, a violinist, an acoustic guitarist, a flautist and two members whose versatility includes keyboards, banjo, bagpipes, penny whistles and recorders. The point being that there was no bassist nor drummer, the whole percussive input would have to come from yours truly. Blimey. Lawks oh Lordy.

Now any sensible person would of course at this point have requested a time out, headed for the bar and reconsidered the whole enterprise from a gently Stellad perspective. I just rolled a cigarette, told them to carry on as normal and I'd join in as and when I felt able.

I don't know if you know anything about playing congas so for the benefit of those amongst you who are in blissful ignorance I shall attempt to explain the unique problem they pose. With congas, rythmn is only a small part of the experience. Anyone can tap out a rythmn with a pen on a table. You can accent it every fourth beat or whatever but the point is that the sound of the pen hitting the table never varies. Hit a drum with a stick and you have the same basic sound every time. With congas, the rythmn comes from the wrists but the impact is through the hands and it is here that the unique character of congas shows itself. One conga can produce many sounds depending on both the point of impact and the shape of your hands at the time. The next time you hear someone play them, listen carefully and hear the tunes they play. The point is that even if you've got the rythmn down pat, the accents and the lilt are dependent on you knowing exactly what you are doing at all times with respect to hand shape and point of contact. That these patterns should follow and complement the music behind which they are playing goes without saying. My problem was not so much the strange rythmns, I soon picked those up but with finding the right patterns. Congas are Latin American and lend themselves to latin beats, samba, rumba, marenge and so on. Finding patterns to fit into Irish jigs is a horse of an entirely different colour.

Anyway, we had three rehearsals and out of the eight tunes they wanted me to play on, I had something down for about four of them in true conga style, another two just playing bodhran style on the biggest conga and nothing whatsoever for the other two, including the one in 7/8. Twas then I remembered I had two small North African clay drums and took them along to the pre-gig sound check. Just two sounds to bother about, just concentrate on the rythmn, job's a good 'un.

Onto the gig then...only about 100 people in a small intimate venue...so far so good...then I saw the TV cameras. At this juncture my mind clicked to blank. I'm looking at the set list, all those tunes I was to play on asterisked for my benefit and I can't remember any of 'em. Suffice it to say that during the very first number, I came in on the beat but played two bars of what should have been a straight 4/4 in something like 6/8 and had to bluff my way back into the groove as if I'd meant it all along. All week I'd been frantic about the 7/8 which proved a breeze and went down a storm and I cock up on the easiest one of the lot. Damn that Murphy! God knows when they're going to broadcast it but I sincerely hope no pirate videos find their way onto the market...it'd cost me far too much to buy up all available copies.

The highlight of the evening? Well, apart from my solo in 12/8, the presentation afterwards to my good self of a bottle of Tullamore Dew as a reward for my endeavours. Nice work if you can get it.

So, hie all the equipment back home after the gig and log on to find United have only managed a 2-2 draw with 20th placed Watford despite their having their first choice goalkeeper sent off and being down to 10 men. Just what is it with the Blades these days? OK, we are still 3rd in the league but have yet to hit anything like form and that along with the injuries we have suffered seems to have affected the team's self belief. Think, "Oh, well. Bugger it!" call up a taxi and head back to town for alcoholic refreshment with the rest of the band. I enjoyed myself immensely...it's always rewarding to make other people laugh in a language not your own and I was on good form! Added to that the fact that I managed to stay the right side of absolutely blattered made for a very good evening all in all.

And so on to Sunday and the capture of the 'Beast of Baghdad'. As good an excuse for a bit of statesmanship as any, I would have thought but the 'Ladies and Gentlemen.........we've got him!' soon put paid to any illusions I might have had on that subject. Still, I guess it's not too late to be able to make good use of this opportunity...if handled right, it could be the start of something good in Iraq but, if handled badly (and the first signs are not good), it could make a tricky situation even more insolubly messy.

Oh well. A one, a two, a one two three four five six seven...

Monday, December 08, 2003

Now regular readers of this blog will be well aware of the almost conversational nature of its relationship with the woman with one red shoe and how occasionally, Jess will let something slip which I fall upon like Tongey on a free pint.

Well, something she wrote the other day has had my mind all of a tizwas ever since. The mind mangling, brain boiling discovery that Maryland has criminalised the act of oyster abuse has since occupied me for most of my waking hours and become something of an idee fixe with me.

Yet, try as I might, I cannot order my thoughts on the matter under advisement into any logical sequence whatsoever and therefore I have no choice but to present them before you as they occur to me at this, the moment of typing.

Notwithstanding the fact that my alimentary canal is as far as oysters are concerned entirely virginal, I was of the impression that for the true connoisseur, oysters are best when freshly harvested, prised open with an instrument designed for the sole purpose and slipped over the enamel with little delay. Thuswise the oyster in question has been removed from its natural environment, exposed to a blinding light, set free from its moorings and sluiced into a melange of highly corrosive stomach acids in less time than it takes to describe the process. In which case, I wonder what constitutes abuse. Chewing?

Now it so happened that I was in my car the other day listening to Marianne Faithful's Broken English album, the track "Why d'ya do it?" and as the line 'betray my little oyster for such a low bitch' impinged itself upon my consciousness, my thoughts veered off in another direction entirely. And here's where it might get very random indeed.

I wonder what the female equivalent of phallic is?

Are oysters that prevalent in Maryland that they have become as a sheep to the Welsh, a goat to the arabs and a wife to the unhappily married?

And if they have, how many would one need? Is penetration involved or is it more a question of providing a lubricated sheath twixt hand and rampant flesh?

Are they eaten afterwards or simply discarded, left to float like used condoms or be picked up off the beach the following morning by the used oyster squad?

Do the endorphin junkies leave the shell on?

And by dint of what evidence are cases brought to trial? As the ersatz version shares several characteristics with the original, I would imagine olfactory evidence to be inadmissible. DNA may suffice but no doubt a clever lawyer would suggest that their slippery nature had led to their sliding off the shell and down the front of their client's trousers before he was even aware of it. So one rather tends towards the idea that photographic evidence may be the only conclusive variety obtainable. Granted that only the most inveterate and depraved oyster lover would fish one out of the ocean, drop his kecks and have his evil way with it there and then on the shoreline, one imagines that there would be little to be gained by having members of the vice squad hide amongst the sand dunes of Maryland armed with telephoto lenses in the hope of catching any perpetrators in flagrante as it were. Maybe information is passed on in seafood restaurants or tapas bars or wherever it is these people hang out to be amongst those of like persuasion.

Is there an oyster lovers anonymous?

It also set me to contemplating the various and wonderful euphemisms for the female sexual organ. To Richard Condon, we owe 'the vertical smile', to Tom Robbins, 'mama's Tibetan peach pie' and to Sheridan, a very fondly remembered university colleague of mine, 'cod mornay'. Almost always food related I note. Yum yum, slurp slurp. "Oh, Timmy, you're so licky!" Reference...10 points.

It reminded me of a case in England where some guy had broken into an aquarium and attempted carnal knowledge of a dolphin. I forget quite how it panned out but I would imagine a case could have been made for it being, unlike cases involving oysters, entirely consensual.

And quite how one guy could have been charged for doing to a single dolphin what the entire human race has been doing to the whole species for years is quite beyond my ability to fathom.

Anyway, if you have been, wash your hands afterwards.

Hey ho!


Thursday, December 04, 2003

I don't know what it is. Maybe I'm paranoid, maybe I think I'm too lucky, maybe I'm in some way aware of a debt incurred in a previous life and I'm waiting for it to be called in. Whatever it is, I suffer from imposter syndrome. The feeling that I'm somehow living somebody else's life and that one day the Truth will out. "I'm terribly sorry, sir but we meant Mr James...can't think how it could possibly have happened...heads will roll sir, I assure you but in the meantime, if you would be so kind as to assume your rightful place in the queue for the soup kitchen."

What I do know however, is that it has even invaded my dreams. The fear of being somehow 'found out' is the theme of the only recurring dream I have. Interesting how those dreams you would really love to re-occur, those involving several nubiles and various and sundry comestibles, never seem to fall into this category, do they?

So, to the dream. It always, unerringly, without fail involves my having killed someone and struggling to come to terms with the imminent discovery of the body. I never get to find out the who or the why but no matter how diligently I have disposed of the body, something will always happen to make its coming to light inevitable and my guilt all too apparent. So far, not so bad, I hear you considering. But wait, there's more.

You know how you can sometimes, when dreaming, convince yourself that it's only a dream and thus can your character in the dream start to enjoy himself a little? Well, in this sleepscape of mine, my character in the dream also has a recurring nightmare that he has killed someone and that...etc...etc...etc. This has the effect, on waking, of making me for a few moments at least, decidedly apprehensive about my immediate future.

Now what livened up last night's dream was the fact that in my fugitive scenario, my flight from justice as it were, I was accompanied by Mary and Joseph. By reason of the purest logic, these roles were played as an archetypical Jewish couple by Maureen Lipman and John Bluthal. Mary was your typical stoic yiddisher mama, bearing the weight of the whole world and its errant sons on her shoulders and Joseph a lightweight, ineffectual yet eternally optimistic dreamer.

Anyway, inbetween spoon feeding me chicken soup and reminding me that I should have gone to Med School, Mary was schlepping me around town from pillar to post in an orgasm of anxiety, Joseph all the while playing down the problem in hand. "The boy has chutzpah, he'll get over it." being the full extent of his advice to us both. Chutzpah? Well, if you define balls as pissing through the letterbox of your least favourite neighbour, chutzpah is then ringing the doorbell and enquiring how far it went. Quite how this scenario would have played out, I never got to find out as I was awakened at this point by a straining in the groin area informing me that that there was a load on its way that may best be shed in the bathroom.

So, what does it all mean? Bugger all I hope but it would appear that this fear of being found out goes deep in me. Have I some deep, dark secret in my past which, if revealed, would destroy my life? Well, maybe I have and maybe I haven't. I'm much more inclined to think it's a subconscious ploy to dodge responsibility or at least to aid in taking whatever responsibilities I do have in as light a fashion as is possible. After all, if it really is someone else's life I'm living, then how could it possibly be my fault if I fuck it up?

Oh well, and a "Hey nonny no" to all.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Just what I needed. Tripe in the papers to kick me off on one. Yes, I do get the English newspapers here, a bit late they may be but they can usually be relied upon to provide some kind of grist to my mill. Lately however, they have been rather devoid of any content that may, even in the slightest way, be termed contentious and it is this, alongside the fact that I have had a hair-tearingly boring and uneventful few days, that is responsible for my recent limited output.

Today though, The Independent has provided me with a couple of gems. The fact that the first was written by James Lawton, a journalist I admire enormously for his erudition, passion and common sense regarding the subject of sport, did cause me a little concern. That the second should have come from the mouth of Richard Caborn, our soi-disant Minister for Sport, should come as no surprise to anybody.

They both concern the recent Rugby Union World Cup in Australia. Lawton bestows his praise upon the team and recognises their accomplishment with genuine enjoyment. Caborn, I suspect, doesn't give a flying one either way but can spot an opportunity for reflected glory and making political capital from a great distance, even were he to be blindfolded in a dark cellar and outside the best part of half a bottle of Scotland's finest. It's a knack. All successful politicians have it. The others share the fate of Mr. Thing. Or that of William (14 pints, my arse) Hague although I must admit that he was at least successful enough to have left us his name behind.

Anyway, to the nub, grist or kernel of this little bloglet. Lawton also stated in his piece that the rugby players provided an example to their football counterparts regarding behaviour and accepting the decisions of the referee in good spirit and saw no reason why football players should not follow this. He talked about pressures being equal...blah...blah...blah.

Well, James. Sorry old chap but that is pure unadulterated bollocks. It's a class thing you see. While all those rugby wallahs were learning respect and bonding with their fellows at single sex public schools...which can roughly be translated as being thrashed by sadistic, latent homosexual masters and tossing each other off in the showers after games, most working class kids were already graduates of the 'twat him one' school of thought which pertains to this day wherever working class kids of a certain age (from two and a half upwards) congregate and socialise.

Now, rugby union was an amateur code until recently which meant that most players were university educated and members of the professions. In other words, middle class through and through. Arguing with the ref or otherwise making an exhibition of oneself had been drilled out of these guys by the time they left short trousers. It is just not part of their culture. It is alien to them. They ARE the establishment. Rugby was a hobby and an excuse for a bit of a jolly up from time to time. Hardly life or death.

And even now that higher echelon rugby has embraced the professional ethic, I would hazard a guess that, up until the World Cup victory, the earnings potential of those at the very top would possibly equate with that of a career in the professions...doctor, solicitor etc. Add to this the facts that they are largely left alone by the press and play in front of crowds of a few thousand week in week out for their clubs and we can see that the so called pressure doesn't add up to squat.

Now football, in Britain anyway, is a working class sport. Most professional footballers share the intellectual capacity of say, Ian Rush who, when asked for his observations on life in Italy after his transfer to Juventus, replied "It's just like being in a foreign country." Yes, quite. These lads had their backs to the wall from an early age and were more used to fighting the establishment than interested in becoming a part of it. Most left school at 16 with few, if any, qualifications. The only options for attaining the good life were crime, football or rock music. Really well prepared in fact, for earning over a million a year by their eighteenth birthday, wouldn't you say? Okay, so not all footballers have the talent or the application to reach such dizzying heights, but they all aspire to it and there is the key. To them, it's a whole lot more important than just a game or a hobby. Know any well balanced rock stars? Anyway, stick these uneducated, impressionable and mostly not very worldly wise guys in the first team on say, 10,000 quid a week, let them perform in front of crowds of up to 68,000, have their every move both professional and private followed by the press and then we can talk about pressure, James.

Caborn went even further to include the behaviour of the fans in his paean to the rugby code in that there were thousands of pissed Englishmen in Australia and nary a glass was broken. He has written to the Football Association pointing this out and he expects them to act on it. Just what the hell does he expect them to do? Fuckwit.

I guess if he were a director of SUFC he could simply re-open G and H blocks and wire their turnstiles to the National Grid. Job's a good 'un.

Oh well, yours as ever. If you have been, give him one from me.

Monday, December 01, 2003

So, it's December the 1st and already it's revving up. If you're already teed off by all the TV ads, fairy lights and forced jollity and feeling yourself rising on the curmudgenous scale, you could always take comfort here.

Or maybe you should take a moment to reflect on the fate of one guy who didn't believe in Santa Claus.

Perhaps you're of the volunteering kind. In which case you might like to be Santa's Little Helper to while away those empty hours and days pre - last minute shopping.

If you're waiting for divine instruction, then this may be what you've been waiting for.

And for you little pixies with a sense of adventure...here's Adventure Elf. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Just popped in as I thought you might like to see this.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Well, well. Not a bad day at all. A fine 2-0 win for the Blades and Roger the roving researcher came up with this little gem for me.

The Stella Liebeck Awards

It's once again time to review the winners of the annual Stella awards.

The Stellas are named after 81 year old Stella Liebeck who spilled coffee on herself and successfully sued McDonalds. That case inspired the Stella Awards for the most frivolous but successful lawsuits in the United States.

Unfortunately the most recent lawsuit implicating McDonalds, the teens who allege that eating at McDonalds has made them fat, was filed after the 2002 award voting was closed.

This suit will top the 2003 awards list without question.

5th place (Tied)

Kathleen Robertson of Austin, Texas was awarded $780,000 by a jury of her peers after breaking her ankle tripping over a toddler who was running inside a furniture store. The owners of the store were understandably surprised at the verdict, considering the misbehaving toddler was Ms. Robertson's son.

5th place (Tied)

19 year old Carl Truman of Los Angeles won $74,000 and medical expenses when his neighbor ran over his hand with a Honda Accord. Mr. Truman apparently did not notice there was someone at the wheel of the car when he was trying to steal the hubcaps.

5th place (Tied)

Terrence Dickson of Bristol, Pennsylvania was leaving a house he had just finished robbing by way of the garage door. He was not able to get the garage door to go up since the automatic door opener was malfunctioning. He could not re-enter the house because the door connecting the house and garage locked when he pulled it shut. The family were on vacation and Mr. Dickson found himself locked in the garage for 8 days. He subsisted on a case of Pepsi he found and a large bag of dry dog food.

He sued the homeowner's insurance claiming the situation had caused him undue mental anguish.

The jury agreed to the tune of $500,000.

4th place

Jerry Williams of Little Rock, Arkansas was awarded $14,500 and medical expenses after being bitten on the buttocks by his next door neighbor's beagle dog. The beagle was on a chain in its owner's fenced yard.

The award was less than sought because the jury felt the dog might have been a little provoked at the time as Mr. Williams, who had climbed over the fence into the yard, was shooting it repeatedly with a pellet gun.

3rd place

A Philadelphia restaurant was ordered to pay Amber Carson of Lancaster, Pennsylvania $113,500 after she slipped on a soft drink and broke her coccyx (tailbone) The beverage was on the floor because Ms. Carson had thrown it at her boyfriend 30 seconds earlier during an argument.

2nd place

Kara Walton of Claymont, Delaware sued the owner of a night club in a neighboring city when she fell from the bathroom window to the floor and knocked out two of her front teeth. This occurred whilst Ms. Walton was
trying to crawl through the window in the Ladies Room to avoid paying the $3.50 cover charge. She was awarded $12,000 and dental expenses.

1st place

This year's runaway winner was Mr. Merv Grazinski of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Mr. Grazinski purchased a brand new Winnebago Motor Home. On his trip home from an OU football game, having driven onto the freeway, he set the cruise control at 70 mph and calmly left the drivers seat to go into the back and make himself a cup of coffee. Not surprisingly the RV left the freeway, crashed and overturned. Mr. Razinski sued Winnebago for not advising him in the owner's manual that he should not actually do this. The jury awarded him $1,750,000 plus a new Winnebago Motor Home.

The company actually changed their manuals on the basis of this suit just in case there were any other complete morons buying their recreation vehicles.

Hi-ho, silver lining...

Well, for some anyway. Bad news I'm afraid. Some bugger's won the Hungarian Lottery and as my phone isn't exactly ringing itself off the hook, it seems I'll be off to work on Tuesday after all.

Pish and ptui!

Friday, November 28, 2003

Not me guv'nor, honest...part 2.

Just when I thought I'd got it all out of my system another bottom-smackingly blatant bit of blame shifting, with more than a hint of cant and hypocrisy thrown in for good measure, impinges itself upon my consciousness as a result of reading reports concerning the Bush/Blair love in that recently took place at Brenda's behest.

And quite what gives that particular vowel mangling inbred the right to invite half the security apparatus of the good old U.S. of A. over to England at tax payers' expense is a subject I could all too easily go off on one about, so I shall snip this particular tangent forthwith.

No, what has really lodged in my craw today is reading that the two bees have come over all Oprah. It would appear that they are seeking closure. Apparently it is time for us to move on and forget our past differences as any other response will harm "the Iraqi people" and not aid in dealing with the "difficult situation" we "all" face.

Now, one has to be impressed by this. The balls! The sheer brazen effrontery of it quite takes the breath away.

Move on, they say. Well, they would, wouldn't they? Let's move on and forget that the rush to war was based on a huge lie. Let's forget WMD. Let's forget that Osama despised Saddam and had absolutely no contact with him whatsoever. Let's continue to ignore the fact that almost all the terrorists of 9/11 were Saudis. Let's pretend we didn't notice the closure of U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia and the relocation of troops to Iraq immediately following the invasion. Let's not remind ourselves that the only Ministry deemed worthy of protection was the one for oil. Sexed up intelligence dossiers? What of 'em? Let's not mention that we went blindly into war without even the remotest shadow of an idea of what we were going to do when it was all over.

Move on. And just who is this aimed at? Maybe they think they can con Joe Blow into going for this shit, and with re-election a priority that may indeed be the target audience, but they are also directing this at those governments and organisations who were kind enough to attempt to warn them of their folly and its probable consequences.

Sorry guys but this difficult situation is one you created yourselves and who can blame the "surrender monkeys" for telling Bush to fuck off now he comes crawling to them to help bail him out?

All of a sudden the United Nations has a major responsibility and a role to play in helping Iraq. Excuse me? Is that the same United Nations who were not given the time they asked for to confirm the non-existence of WMD? Who were lost in their own irrelevance? Who are still owed God knows how much in unpaid dues from the States? Good grief.

No, guys. You were warned. Loudly yet with rationality and reason. You dug the hole, now get yourselves out of it.

The problem with this is that they have not just royally screwed it up for themselves but for all Americans, Britons, Turks and Australians everywhere whom they have turned into legitimate targets for every fundamentalist would be martyr from Bradford to Baghdad. Thanks, bud.

"But hold on," I hear you say, "why not give them the benefit of the doubt?"

Okay then, let's look at Dubya's record of moving on, shall we? He moved the fuck right on out of Afghanistan, didn't he? The Afganistan that is now under the control of those lovely warlord chaps of the Northern Alliance, where women are still repressed, whose major export is once again the opium poppy and whose plight has dropped completely off the radar of western media. Good record there, then.

Let's consider the U.S.A. response to the plight of any subjugated peoples, shall we? Having allowed the Hungarians to believe they would be supported in the 1956 uprising, they sat back and watched the Russian tanks roll in. Having done the same with the Kurds and Northern Iraqis at the end of the gulf war, they again sat back and watched the gassings. And so it goes throughout history. Rwanda, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Korea, Palestine, Uganda, Chile, the Phillipines. They create these monsters, sign massive arms deals with them and convince themselves that at least they're "our" monsters and then, when they have outlived their usefulness, deny all knowledge or responsibility and beg others to help them out of the situations they have made for themselves.

And let's look at the hypocrisy, shall we?

Dropping laser guided missiles, from several miles up in the lower atmosphere, which may or may not hit their targets is an act of bravery on the part of our courageous pilots. Hijacking a plane and flying it oneself into a building is an act of cowardice.

We are not conducting a war against Islam. The attack on the WTC was an attack against all our Judaeo-Christian values.

We are fighting for democracy and Human Rights. Guatanamo bay, anyone? Homeland security? Identity cards? Anti-terrorism legislation?

And they care so much about the fate of the Iraqi people that they're not even keeping a body count of all the Iraqi civilians killed in this present conflict.

I'm well aware that this could be, and probably is being, written about in a much more coherent, erudite, better organised and well written fashion than I have managed here, but the fire is in me and I could not stop myself.

To return to my opening. A plea. Please treat us with a bit of respect and allow that we are intelligent, rational, thinking beings. Be honest enough to rephrase your pleas. Tell us that we should move on and forget our past differences as any other response would harm your re-election prospects and not aid in covering up, or diverting attention from, the complete fuck-up you have both, entirely alone and with malice aforethought, lumbered the whole damned world with.

Anyway, if you have been, you have my deepest sympathy.

Oh, almost forgot. Thanks to Roger for reminding me that Tesco mineral water used to be labelled 'suitable for vegetarians'. Well, I never!

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Sometimes, you just want to scream, don't you? You don't? Okay, I shall ignore you and concentrate on those readers with a pulse.

As I sit here writing this, not a foot away from my left hand there stands a can of Zippo lighter fluid. On its reverse is written, admittedly in small letters...

Highly flammable. No! You don't say! Flammable lighter fluid...whatever next.

Harmful if swallowed. Phew! That was a close run thing, I was just considering whether or not it might make a novel mixer for the Bols Vodka someone so very kindly gave me today.

Do not use near fire or flame. This for those of us who don't understand flammable, I suppose.

Anyway, that's an aside. What really switched me to rant mode today was a little item on Hungarian radio this wet and dingy morning. They aired a warning for anyone with coronary complications that there was a warm front on its way and that the subsequent change in pressure could bring on all sorts of pulmonary problems.

Now, just take the trouble to read that again. Please.

The facts are indisputable. Cases of cardiac arrest, coronary infarct and the like do indeed rise on such occasions but to broadcast that? I mean, what!

Maybe I'm missing something here. Perhaps it was a reminder not to fail to take advantage of one of the many ambulances provided on such occasions to run the front as it were, pedal to the metal in an attempt to outrun or outflank the thing.

Or perhaps it was an alarm. Sorry guys, weather control satellite just got bumped by a massive dose of solar radiation and instead of diverting warm fronts to plague the cardiacally chronic of Romania, is ushering them your way at warp speed.

Just what was the point of it? Other than to alarm those who may be affected? What are they going to do? Or maybe everybody has a decompression chamber these days. My guess is that the government has run out of things to slap a health warning on and would quite like it if our paranoia were extended to a fear of the weather.

We can't be trusted you know. Not even with our own kids. We have to be told on the quite transparent packaging that something contains small parts and is not suitable for children under three. Four year olds apparently, can go hang.

The leaflet I received along with a toaster I purchased recently warned me against trying to prise loose any recalcitrant slices with a knife or other metal object without first disconnecting it from the mains.

And my chainsaw. Do not operate when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Oh, right. As one who was once stopped by the police at four in the morning on a deserted highway riding my motorbike home with a three quarters empty bottle of vodka stuffed inside my leathers, I can vouch for the fact that drunks don't think, never mind read labels.

I'm also really grateful to all the food processing companies for including the phrase 'serving suggestion' alongside pictures of their foodstuffs. I was always intensely disappointed when after adding the requisite amount of boiling water, a place mat, three slices of wholemeal bread, a generous garnish of fresh parsley and a glass of red wine would quite inexplicably fail to materialise alongside my mulligatawny.

So, have we really become so stultifyingly stupid as to need all this? Or is it that we have become so used to nothing ever being our fault that the companies have to treat us this way to avoid being sued? Either way, it still makes me want to scream, projectile vomit or at the very least aim several kicks at the nearest inanimate object.

Which reminds me of a story I read somewhere. A woman had run out of petrol on a motorway and ended up trying to sue the police for being late in arriving to assist her and being impolite when they eventually arrived.

Now, on the phone to the police in the first place she had admitted that the petrol guage in her car was in the red and showing empty. But you see, it was a new car and in her old car that always meant she had a few gallons left....

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but would not a more honest reaction be "I fucked up. If I had a brain, I'd be dangerous. If the police demonstrate some slight resentment at being dragged out to help such a complete tit as myself, then it is no more than I deserve."? But no, somebody else is to blame. It's never my fault.

I forget exactly who it was who said, "I know exactly what's wrong with the world today. It's me."

He was quite right, you know.

Anyway, if you have been, my solicitors will be in touch.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Deep joy. What a wonderful Wednesday it's been so far. So good in fact, that I might just be able to locate within myself a slight smidgen of an iota of sympathy for those of you who have been less fortunate.

Waking up to discover that all last night's results went in the Blades' favour took at least 50mg off the morning caffeine requirements and also meant that I could face the bus into work with a less intense trepidation than is usual.

One hour's work later and it becomes apparent that none of my scheduled students for the day are going to be able to make it and it is therefore, with a profound sense of sadness and disappointment that I wend my way to the bus stop all the while pondering the clause in my contract which guarantees a minimum daily payment equivalent to 8 hours' work.

Arrive home. Fend off attentions of excited, exuberant and yet decidedly damp Alsatian. Change clothes. Make coffee. Open e-mail. Am reliably informed by accountant that my company's tax bill for 2002/2003 will be less than half of what I was expecting. And I was so looking forward to helping subsidise Tony's next foreign policy adventure.

So, having been thuswise rescued from the grip of penury, I call my mechanic and invite him to tootle over at his leisure, remove carcass of car and please to return it ASAP in tip-top, roadworthy condition. Only too pleased...etc...etc... Yip, yaroo.

And just when I was getting the hang of this bus business, too. Amazing what you can learn in such a short time.

1. Old people have absolutely no priority whatsoever and should be elbowed out of the way as and when the opportunity arises.

2. Four doors...one driver...pay on the door...yeah, right.

3. "Youse is infringing upon me territorial imperative, chum" is best expressed by the application of metal briefcase to area immediately behind transgressor's kneecap.

4. In standing room only situations, the lurching of the bus is solely to provide an excuse for brushing against attractive members of the opposite sex.

5. Seating is only provided for those of the population who are either swift enough or aggressive enough to avail themselves of it. All Twirlies* must either dangle off the straps, wedge themselves firmly in the aisle or end up in a heap on the floor. There is no exception to this rule.

6. Speaking is only permitted if it occurs at sufficient volume to enable all present to be included in the conversation. There is no limit to the subject matter but the function of any oral output should be limited to complaints only.

Easy really, once you get the hang of it.

Point 6 doesn't really bother me. It's one of the advantages of the ex-pat lifestyle that it is easy to reduce conversations in a foreign language to mere background noise. You have to concentrate more to actively follow such a conversation you see, so the solution is simple. Don't. It's the first thing I notice whenever I return to England and it really does my head in. I understand what everybody is saying and I cannot, for at least a week, tune it out. One's senses are fried by such conversational gems as...

"...then she turns round and says.........."

"Ooooh, she didn't!"

"She did, you know. So I turns round and says....."

And I'm left with a strange vision of people spinning around on their axes before every pathetic little utterance and sticking my fingers in my ears rather than face the consequences of a probable charge of assault and battery. With intent. And malice aforethought.

I'm sure there must be other advantages to living abroad. I've never really sat down and considered it before. Let me see.

I guess a lot of it depends on where you expatriate to. I can only speak from my experience here in Hungary where what ex-pat community there is exists only in Budapest and is still, even there, to a large extent, avoidable. Which should tell you into which of the two groups of ex-pat I could reasonably be placed. Certainly, I hope, not the one that consists of people who congregate together, speak only English (only much louder) and spend most of their time complaining how unlike home it all is, all the while disparaging their hosts and making knowing, snide remarks about their quaint little customs and traditions. Bitter and unhappy individuals, the lot of 'em. I mean, there they all are, thrown together solely by reason of their Englishness and having to socialise with people they would cross the street to avoid back in Blighty. Not ideal.

The other group, and the one I feel the closest affinity to, contains those who learn the language and throw themselves whole heartedly into the experience.

One advantage to such a life is that you are always treated as something special, which does wonders for the ego but needs recognising for what it is. Realising that you have done little to deserve such treatment must always be at the forefront of your mind.

Relocating to a cheaper country and having a contract paid in sterling may also lead to earning more in a month than a lot of people do in a year. This also needs careful handling. 'If you've got it, flaunt it' is not the best course of action. Which does not, of course, mean to say that you shouldn't enjoy the lifestyle, just don't rub it in is all. I bought my first car here, I designed and built my own house, I never have to look at the price of anything in the supermarkets and I don't owe any money to anyone, no how. I could never, repeat, never have done this had I remained in England. The start to every day for me, is looking in the mirror and reciting "You lucky bastard" over and over again until such time as it wins out over the "Yeah, but I've worked bloody hard for it an' all" counter argument. And it's true. I invested a lot of time, money and effort in getting here but I'd be in deep do-do if I failed to recognise that, compared to the majority of the population here, my good fortune borders on the obscene.

What I find the greatest advantage of all is being able to look back on one's own country with an objectivity that would otherwise be impossible. Now I know that I'm on dangerous ground here (are you listening, Big Mart?!) but the realisation that there may be positive aspects of other countries, peoples and traditions and that these have just as much validity and worth as those of your own is one well worth making. Anything which leads to you overcoming your prejudices and stereotypes and to your reaching the conclusion that your own country is not per se the best in the world can only be a good thing. The people I find myself warming to, seeking the company of and wanting to spend time with, are increasingly those who have travelled, those who have spent some time in another culture and have therefore a better perspective on their own. To take a crass example, the average American rarely leaves his or her home State and most of the tourists I have met from there have been only too delighted to conform to my stereotypical conception of the American abroad. American travellers however, are entirely different. They are educated in a way that is not taught within the education system. I got to know the family of an American boss at a company in town and it was a delight to watch the change in them as they spent more time here. He was very easy going and his children were of such an age as to be infinitely adaptable but his wife, a generous, friendly and gregarious lady, had problems adjusting. Everything was compared to back home and found wanting. She couldn't seem to understand why Hungary wasn't just like Texas but with a foreign accent and why Hungarians didn't behave like your typical Texan.

A small example, but telling nonetheless. When Hungarian women would introduce themselves to her as Mrs Whatsername, she would announce that she hated that and why couldn't they use their first names? The fact that they either wanted to be polite or to maintain an appropriate distance never even occured to her. It took a good few years for her to come to terms with it all but at the end of five years, when she returned home, she was genuinely sorry to have to leave and went back to Texas, in my view, a much better person for the experience.

Now this doesn't apply to only Americans although the differences are highlighted by the facts that America is a long, long way away from any other culture and that it is such a mind-bogglingly big and relatively homogenous country. I have known Englishmen whose arrogance abroad is second to none. "Do you speak English? No? Then fetch me someone who does" might sum up their worst characteristics.

So, what do we see then, looking back with this splendid objectivity? All the faults unfortunately.

A public transport system hopelessly out-dated, inefficient to the point of hilarity and ruinously expensive. If a country like Hungary can get it right, then why the hell can't we?

An education system that fails to educate. That spends more time worrying over the latest politically correct fads and crackpot ideas than it does on teaching our kids to think and preparing them for a life that despite non-competitive, no-loser games at school is a tad more cut-throat than that. A system in which creativity is prized above the ability to become proficient in one's own language. Where teachers are unaccountable and students are failed. I hear they are considering lengthening degree courses by a year because universities are having to make good the deficiencies of their students during the first year. A system that leads the Minister of State for Education to enrol her children in a private school rather than have them involved in a system of which she is in charge. And the fact that she thinks she can get away with it is another sad commentary on our country.

I have yet to see among young people of any country I have visited or lived in the same pride in ignorance demonstrated by your typical yoof in England. Only back home could I imagine the most intelligent members of a class being mercilessly ribbed for their abilities. Made to feel ashamed somehow that they actually want to learn something and maybe have a chance in life. I mean, what?

And in no other country have I seen the newspapers doing their best to continue this fine tradition of ignorance. It's not enough to say that people can make up ther own minds about what they read in the papers. They first need to be taught at school how to read with a critical eye, to examine motives and research background but as long as there are uneducated people, it seems that the papers will continue their exploitation of them.

I see middle/little England's complete inability to get over the second world war. It's over, done with, move on, get a life. Have a zap through all your satellite channels one day and see how many programmes you can find which are wholly or in some way related to the second world war. How we can hope to take our place in Europe or indeed the World when all this programming passes on to a new generation the wartime stereotypes of aggressive square-headed Krauts, surrender monkey Frogs, Johnny-come-lately Yanks and reverse gear Eyeties is, quite frankly, beyond my ability to imagine. And why do our newspapers constantly pander to this mentality, reinforcing the stereotypes at every opportunity?

I see a country divided. Divided by any which way imaginable. Economically, politically, racially, socially, geographically, any way you could possibly think of dividing and subdividing a population has been developed to a fine art in our British Isles.

Economically the gap between the richest and the poorest is widening at a rate faster than ever before creating an underclass of welfare dependant, uneducated people with absolutely no aspirations whatsoever to a better life.

Politically our culture is also divisive. The confrontational nature of the House of Commons itself and the politics it engenders leave no room for governing by discussion, debate or consent. Our first past the post, majority system of government means that Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair et al can govern unhindered and ignore the 55% of the population who didn't vote for them. What happened to discussion, compromise and good old fashioned agreement?

Racially, well, we like to think that we are well ahead of the Americans on this one. Oh, yeah? But as I can't think of any country that's got this pikey little problem sorted out, I think I'll leave it out of this little diatribe. But let's be honest about it, eh? Bloody foreigners, coming over 'ere, takin' our jobs etc...etc...etc

Socially, nobody does it better. If there is one thing at which England leads the world it is social discrimination. "Oh, he's a lovely chap but not quite one of us, is he?" runs all the way through society from the barking royals right down to the lowest rung. Each of us can, or the admen can do it for us, place ourselves with pinpoint accuracy on a social scale which allows for such descriptors as upper-lower-middle working class (with aspirations). And you just can't win. I was unfortunate enough to be born in Sheffield and not develop a Sheffield accent. Oh, I can put one on wi t'best on 'em but whenever I opened my mouth, people would assume I thought I was in some way better than them, that I was snobbish and superior. George Bernard Shaw got it right when he said that it was impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without another Englishman despising him.

Geographically, the north-south divide is becoming more pronounced year by year. The influence of the south, both economically and politically is also widening at an ever increasing rate and is yet another possible source of trouble and ferment in the future.

I don't see this division here. Maybe the fact that the family is still extended and that there may be people within it ranging from doctors to factory workers makes a difference. Maybe it just comes from a shared history, one less diverse than our own. But when I listen to the Hungarian National Anthem being played on all TV and radio stations at midnight on New Year's Eve, I know that all Hungarians are at that moment standing up, stock still and united in their common Hungarian-ness. I've been here for 12 years now and it still makes me cry. Why? Well, it's a beautiful tune for one, the most mournful and heartrending non-triumphant anthem you will ever hope to hear...about humility and love of country and not about hoping to be reigned over for even longer by some genetically challenged half-wit whose subject I must, under law, remain. But mostly I think, because we have lost any common ground in England. Any sense of shared community has gone and, I very much fear, will never return.

Now, I hope you won't misunderstand me. Please remove yourselves as far as possible from the position of not understanding me. I do not cavil and complain because I hate my country. Au contraire, it is precisely because I love it so much that it pains me to see just how we are viewed by the rest of the world. Love should never be blind and turning a blind eye to the faults of one you love is to do them a disservice. To pretend that everything is hunky-dory is to live in neverland and the only inhabitant I know of that place is hardly the best example for the rest of us. Patriotism is to love your country, nationalism is to hate everybody else's.

So, what do I love about England?

The landscape most of all. I have never seen another country which contains within itself all possible landscapes with the exception of desert, frozen tundra and tropical rainforest. And the green...they don't do green like we do anywhere. Not at all. Nowhere.

The cheery optimism..."mustn't grumble"...the likelihood of being engaged in pleasant banter at the most unlikely locations. At the checkout in a supermarket for example, at a bus stop, anywhere.

The humour. Long have I travelled and far have I roamed but nowhere have I laughed as much as I do whenever I am home. Nowhere does humour play such a large part in everyday life as it does in the north of England. No opportunity is ever missed for a wisecrack and usually, no offence is ever taken. If you ever need your deficiencies pointed out to you in colourful language then head north, young man.

The irony. Absolutely wasted on these foreign types. Too damned literal, the lot of 'em!

And, as far as I'm concerned, it's still the best country in the world in which to go for a walk, watch a football match, pop out for a drink, eat out, go to a gig, go shopping, get through a whole day without meeting someone you would just like to dissolve and in which to spend a lazy sunday afternoon in front of the telly.

Well, bugadifino where all that lot came from. Too much time on my hands, obviously. Normal service will be resumed but until then...if you have been, the doctor will see you now.

Yoicks! And away!


*Twirly (n) English female owner of old age pensioner's bus pass. Said pass only valid after 9.00 am. Result...hordes of senior citizens alighting buses at 8.59 or thereabouts and inquiring of the driver, "Am I too early?" or in dialect, "Am a twirly?" Has become generalised in use to mean any female senior citizen.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Monday, November 24, 2003

Oh me, oh my. Still absolutely oodles of the folding to be won in the Hungarian State lottery which was again unclaimed this week, so I shall be putting my little exes in the boxes once more in the hope that should I win, these will still be on the market.

Which would of course be followed by a modest little investment in one of these.

And a little something for the weekend.

I've always dreamt of owning a small remote island as well.

I could, at last, fulfill a childhood ambition.

I would finally be able to afford a maid. And if you click on the middle picture and look at the right hand side of the page, who wouldn't like to see it mounted?

Oh, before I forget, there's a bit of real estate I've had my eye on for a while. I mean, even multi-millionaires need a hobby, don't they?

And if I, allegedly had enough alleged money and could allegedly hire an alleged 'mechanic', then this alleged guy might allegedly be the number one target.

I mustn't forget a little something for Uncy.

And just maybe I'd bankroll Jessica for a Saturday morning in here.

Lampiao would of course get one of these.

And for Ally.

Oh well, until such time as my boat comes in, I'm just going to have to continue taking a lucky dip.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

I rather thought I'd set you a little challenge today and see whether you can decipher the hidden message in today's offering.

Having listened to the match on the net today, I am obviously not in the best of moods right now.

And, notwithstanding the fact that we lost , we have dropped down the table to fourth.

The fact that it would appear that the result had more to do with the ineptitude of the referee than any lack of form on our part is scant consolation.

Even now, hours after the event, I am still muttering and cursing the name Fletcher under my breath.

Fletcher...obviously a living embodiment of Jessica's word of the day, cockalorum - a self important little man.

Until next time then. Move on. Put it behind you. Remember the 7-0 thrashing in 70/71. That should put a smile back on your face.

Cockalorum. Mmmm. I can't quite see how it might be assimilated into a terrace chant. The referee's a cockalorum doesn't quite scan, somehow.

Kind as it was of everybody in the chat room to look on the bright side, after all it is not as if we are out of touch with the leaders yet, I fear that the sour taste will linger well into next week.

It shames me to admit it but I could have paraphrased Eric Cantona...I am not far from thinking that we are a bag of shite.

Notwithstanding Michael Brown's seeming return to fitness there are precious few positives I can take from this match.

Goalscoring seems to be a major problem for us. We enjoy good spells of domination over the opposition but cannot convert these into goals. The theory seems to be that we need a 20 goal a season striker.

I would beg to differ in that I am sure any of our myriad strikers would score more were they provided with a better service. Nuddy hasn't put in a cross all season and the amount of time Tonge spends on the left is less than that of the most rabid blue-rinse Tory.

Putting more emphasis on getting the ball out wide and whipping in a few inviting crosses would seem a more worthwhile between match activity than angling for an improved contract.

Surely, even the Chief would be capable of 20 or so goals were the service of a better quality.

Wendy fans on Praise or Grumble did their best to cheer me up though. What a miserable and pathetic bunch they were today. Mind you, if their comments on the performance of their team today were accurate, I'm not surprised they felt that way. At least we're still fourth and in with a shout of promotion. They'll be lucky to even avoid relegation.

I feel better already! The only advantage of sharing a city with a team like Wendy is that we can always, even in our moments of deepest despond, glance over at that shower in S6 and thank our lucky stars.

Cigarette, anyone? Slimline filters are back on the market and to roll one up for you would be the work of but a moment. No? Suit yourselves.

Having reached the end of this pointless little post, I am however, curious as to how many of you will fail to spot the message contained herein. Answers on a postcard to the usual address and if I am not deluged with correct answers, I will have to adjust my opinion concerning the intellectual capacity of my readers and reach the inescapable conclusion that you are all closet Wendyites. If you have been, I thank you.


Friday, November 21, 2003

An old link but one well worth repeating given the current political stuation. Wait for it to download totally before clicking play and the wait will be worthwhile. Honest.

Up until today, I have enjoyed the discipline of blogging, self imposed as it may be, but nevertheless a challenge worthy of my best efforts. Faced with a virgin page on this day however, I fear the challenge may be beyond me.

Maybe I expended all my creativity during the last lesson of the day, or had it sucked out of me...and yes, you know who you are! I only gave you the URL so I could wind you all up! Mind you, we did rather rush the question and answer session at the end, didn't we? Do I feel a slight tickle from my muse? Hardly the lusty strike I have come to expect but, in the absence of anything better, I could take this opportunity to fill you in on the details we didn't have time for. So, Q & A it is then.

What's the best meal you've ever had?

Anything I've ever eaten after eleventeen pints in a convivial hostelry. Next!

How would you describe the way you dance?

If I'm conscious of the fact that I'm actually dancing, then awkward, pathetic and bad are three adjectives that spring immediately to mind but whenever I succeed in transcending this knowledge (and to this end I find Stella exceedingly helpful), then freestyle, abandoned, wanton and reckless would only give you a very rough idea indeed. This might help.

When did you last laugh until you cried?

I mark homework. Enough said.

What are the three essential ingredients of love?

Place one Nastassia Kinski, one Jenny Agutter and one Sharon Stone on a king sized bed. Stir well, add aphrodisiac of choice, lashings of double cream and a drizzle of coconut oil and lead me to it. I think that just about covers it.

What TV show did you never miss as a child?

Noggin the Nog, The Magic Roundabout, Doctor Who (half missed as I was behind the settee for most of it), The Woodentops and Morecambe and Wise are entirely responsible for shaping the malleable child I was into the even bigger child I am today.

What does your favourite outfit look like?

Black, slinky, diaphanous and preferably sliding off the shoulders of any of the three ingredients of love.

What is your favourite meal of the day?

Hey, as long as it's liquid, who's fussy?

What's the worst haircut you've ever had?

The next one.

What's the worst thing about travelling by air?

Hungarian flight attendants saying "Coffee, please." and having to reply "Sorry, fresh out I'm afraid, but I can roll you a cigarette if you'd like."

In what ways are you like your mum or dad?

We have the same surname. I don't know. Ask my brother. He'll tell you.

How would you describe a perfect Friday evening?

See yesterday's post concerning leisurely bender.

What are you really good at?

Rolling cigarettes.

When did you last feel annoyed and why?

This afternoon, when alighting from the bus in the centre of town. Standard Hungarian procedure for waiting to board a bus goes something like this. Loiter at bus stop or anywhere within 10 metres thereof. On sighting bus, surge lustily towards roadside. Coagulate towards any one of four doors of bus. Express surprise that there are people that actually want to get off. Move exactly three centimetres in any direction to assist them in doing this.

How good are you at lying?

Not been reading this for very long, have you?

When did you last take a taxi and where were you going?

Too boring to even contemplate. Next!

What's the wierdest thing you've ever eaten?

Lung soup. I do not wish to expand on that.

How would you describe your favourite T-shirt?

Apart from threadbare, you mean? Okay, a phantasmagorical, multi-coloured extravaganza featuring Dougal from the Magic Roundabout doing his impression of a misunderstood artist. "No wonder van Gogh cut 'is ear off."

How do you relax?

By staying up later than the people I live with.

What are you most looking forward to this week?

Giving Ipswich a damned good thrashing tomorrow. The cask strength Laphroaig in about 15 minutes and the drawing of the Hungarian lottery tomorrow evening. It hasn't been won for about a year and the amount is staggeringly, mind-bendingly, trouser-bulgingly enormous. It just might be my lucky day.

What sort of music are you listening to these days?

As ever, the good stuff. Jeremy Isaacs, Boss Hog, Roberta Flack and my tune of the moment, Yamore by Salif Keita, which reminds me, I really must send that one to Jessica. If that doesn't get her vital fluids pumping, then I'm a sesquipidalian Baptist. Don't ask, I'm not too sure meself.

Toodle pip!




Thursday, November 20, 2003

As it has, so far, been a day of disillusionment and disappointment, I have chosen a FFC moment to reflect this. Enjoy. No.5.

And a candidate for second sexiest photo of all time is this one.

Here's one for the degenerates amongst you.

And this is just silly.

Whence the disillusionment? Well, although I understood the English education system to be in a bit of a tail-spin, I had always considered the Hungarian version to be superior in every respect. I was, today, disabused of this notion, at least with regard to the teaching of literary appreciation.

One of my students had produced an essay as part of a homework assignment and a jolly fine piece of work it was too. Pedant that I am however, I picked out one point with which I could not agree. He had included the line; "As Shakespeare said - Would not a rose by any other name..." Grammar, fine. Spelling, perfect. Punctuation a bit dodgy with the dash to introduce a quote, but we'll let that pass.

My problem was with the fact that Shakespeare never said anything of the sort. In all of his many and various works, the only things he actually said are to be found in the sonnets. Everything else, he put into the mouths of his characters and does not necessarily represent that which he himself might have had to say on any given subject. In the above example, it was the still pubescent Juliet who actually spoke the words in question and from her viewpoint at the time, I'm sure she felt that were Romeo in fact called Kevin or some such, It would have made no difference to her feelings for him.

In other words, putting words into the mouths of dramatis personae is a literary device. It provides an insight into their characters and also into their thought processes at the time. In no way does it necessarily reflect the views of the author. He didn't seem to get it and worse still, he was supported by most of the class.

Okay then, said I, consider this. Were Shakespeare around today, would he be of the opinion that "murdered civilians" could be called "collateral damage" without affecting at all our response to it? "Oh, yeah. But they didn't have stealth bombers in those days, did they?"

OK. Different tack. In one of his plays he has a French character refer to England as "perfidious Albion." Could he, as a patriotic Elizabethan have really considered this to be true? "Well, he must have done or he wouldn't have said it." I should have given up here but I inherited a stubborn streak from my father.

Right. He also had Polonius (I think) say, "Neither a borrower nor a lender be." Now, seeing as how Polonius had rather a tenuous grip on what we might call the nitty-gritty of everyday life and was therefore, probably the last person you would go to for advice, and as how Shakespeare availed himself of the moneylenders on numerous occasions, how can you possibly say that this represents his opinion on the matter? "Well, he didn't like borrowing money and thought it would be better not to." But...but...oh, sod it!

Maybe I should just be impressed by the fact that they know enough Shakespeare to be able to quote from it which, unfortunately, is more than the majority of English people seem capable of these days.

Mind you, they still use the same technique with the Bible though, don't they? (What is it with me and religion nowadays?) How many times have people prefixed what they obviously thought was going to be some pretty shit-hot advice with, "The Bible says..." Well, I've got news for you. The Bible doesn't say squat. It did not write itself and must therefore, be the recollections and opinions of those who did. "But the spirit of the Lord was with them and what they wrote is the word of God."

Hmmm. A few points here. One; why is his word so contradictory then? Is it an eye for an eye or is it turn the other cheek? Is it monogamy or may we, like Solomon, have several hundreds of wives? You would have thought that, were he so intent on guiding our lives in the right direction, he would have signposted the route a little more clearly. Two; the spirit of the Lord is with them could just as easily be interpreted as their having fasted for too long under the heat of the desert sun or being under the influence of psychotropic mushrooms. If people hear voices today, they are inevitably diagnosed as suffering from some mental abnormality and are hastily assisted into the long-sleeved shirt with no buttons down the front. That we should be so dismissive of our present day listeners to voices and remain so respectful of those in the past is puzzling to say the very least. And three; why are people always so selective in their choice of which parts of the word of God to follow? Surely, as a believer, if you believe that one part of the Bible is the word of God, you have to believe that all of it is. Now, my point here is that if I seriously believe that the 20% acrylic in my otherwise cotton socks is going to lead me into the fires of eternal damnation, then I would have no choice but to accept the other, admittedly more sensible, strictures as well. What I cannot find in any way logical is the apparent willingness of believers to accept the broad sweep of, say, the 10 Commandments and then to ignore all those other petty rules and laws which, to our modern sensibilities, seem a trifle ridiculous. In for a pound, in for a penny, say I.

Anyway, I hereby do solemnly swear that this blog shall henceforth and hereafter be declared a religion-free zone for the near and foreseeable. Honest.

And the disappointment? Oh, yeah! There are no slimline filter tips to be had for love nor money in all of Nagykanizsa at the present moment and rolling with the 8mm variety leads me to feel the resulting cigarette rather as I might a 12 bore between my lips. Pish and ptui!

As today is, in effect, my Friday (I only work 8 - 4 Tuesday through Thursday) and as I feel like sharing with you all, I shall outline the little programme I have been planning for myself all week.

Once all my familial duties are discharged and my daughter is knocking out the zees, I fully intend to seat myself in front of my monitor and do some serious surfing. This however, will be mere background noise, a soundtrack if you like, to the real business of the evening.

I shall begin, I think, with a cold Stella to reacquaint myself with the taste of alcohol after a long dry week and to prepare my palate for the delights to come. Then a slug of Ardnave, a specially selected for Tesco's Islay malt and one that will merely serve to heighten the pleasure I will have later when I come to sample the real thing. A bit of mouse manoeuvring and another Stella later, I shall pop the cork of a bottle of Bowmore, to my mind one of the smoothest and least aggressive of the Islay malts and treat myself to a thick finger or two. The blurb.

Bowmore

Age: 12 years
Strength: 43%
Colour: Warm amber
Nose: Lemon, pears, honey
Palate: Peat smoke, dark chocolate
Finish: Remarkably long and complex

Another Stella and I'll be into pre-orgasmic mode as I stretch out a hand for the Ardbeg. Several writers more knowledgeable than I about such matters have suggested that if such a thing as perfection on the palate exists, then this is it. To the blurb, then!

Ardbeg

Age: 10 years
Strength: 46%
Colour: Straw, amber
Nose: Exceptional balance and depth. At full strength the aroma is a beguiling mix of toffee and chocolate sweetness, cinnamon spice and medicinal phenols. Fresh citrus and floral notes of white wine are evident as are melon, pear drops, general creaminess, fresh phenolic aroma of seaspray (iodine) and smoked fish. Hickory and coffee emerge later as the most volatile top notes fade.
Palate: An initial moderate and clean sweetness is rapidly followed by a mouthful of deep peat notes, with tobacco smoke and strong espresso coffee, which then gives way to treacle sweetness and liquorice. The mouth feel is firstly lightly spiced (astringent), then chewing, mouthwatering and finally dry.
Finish: Long and smoky. A smoky sweetness is left on the palate, with a crushed peat and sweet malted cereal character.

But for me it lacks that...how can I put this? Analogy time, I'm afraid.

It's like being slapped about the face with a freshly caught trout. Refreshing but without the thrutch of a single blow with a prize salmon.

It's having a door held politely open for you instead of being propelled through it by a hefty kick up the rear.

It's having a pleasant evening's lovemaking with the wife as opposed to wild, abandoned, unprotected sex with a horny, low down and dirty nubile.

Masturbation rather than fornication.

I shall, nevertheless, linger over it. Such pleasure, foreplay as it may be, is best unhurried and will only serve to increase the ecstasy later.

So, a quick sluice of Stella and it'll be on to the main courses. After titillating all points north, south and peripheral, it will now be time to dip into the honeypot itself. Probably having to suppress a tremor or two in the trouser area, I shall now reach for the Laphroaig or, as I heard it referred to recently, the Leapfrog. Heretic! To the blurb is the cry!

Laphroaig

Age: 10 years
Strength: 43%
Colour: Full, refractive, gold
Nose: Phenolic, seaweedy, very peaty with a hint of sweetness
Body: Medium and oily
Palate: Richly smoky, fully peated with a hint of sweetness, salty
Finish: Lingering and unique

Now this stuff really does take no prisoners. On a taste intensity scale of 1 - 5, I would have to give this a 6. I only have the 10 year old version and this is full of adolescent energy, arrogance and braggadocio, its rough edges as yet unsmoothed by age and its spirit aggressive, rampant and unrestrained. A perfect storm of a malt in fact, and yet just a first wham-bam, thankyou ma'am compared to to the encounter still to come.

I shall postpone the Stella here as I savour the lingering after-taste of the Laphroaig and ponder on the skill of the distillers and the mystery of the middle cut.

And then, onwards ever onwards. A few glugs of Belgium's best and it will be time to retrieve the key to the tantulus from its secret abode and with no little ceremony, pour out a good two fingers of cask strength Laphroaig and in no time at all I'll be taking deep breaths and reaching for the cigarettes.

This stuff is the business, the absolute dog's bollocks. At 57.3% alcohol and with a taste even more concentrated than the 10 year old, you may wish to take the precaution of nailing on your socks before sampling it. This should neither be your first experience of an Islay malt nor the first drink of an evening, but as a climax to a leisurely bender, it cannot be surpassed. Suffice it to say that, although I am reasonably free when it comes to offering around my other malts, this one is strictly for my own personal pleasure.

Hopefully on my next malt run to England, I will have enough of the folding to fill in the gaps in my present stocks by purchasing some Lagavulin, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila, Port Ellen and Bruichladdich. I would also love to extend the range of ages of the ones I now have. I once sampled a limited Edition 1977 Ardbeg and well what can I say? You had to be there!

Bottoms up!

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Thought I'd come back and add a little link to the sexiest photo I have ever seen in my life. It's here and it's hot!

Post's a bit late today, isn't it? Well, apart from the pressures of work, I've been trying to figure out how to respond to those of you who have attributed all the problems I've been having with my car recently to divine retribution for my paean to paganism the other day.

I would hardly have called it an evangelical piece, my aim was not to convert, just to highlight the dangers of taking everything the Church says at face value was all.

Anyway, he goes through some peculiar phases, this God of yours, doesn't he? From the hellfire and brimstone role model for Ariel Sharon in the Old Testament (although I must admit old Ariel has improved on it of late with regard to the smiting), through coming over all of a lovey-dovey in the New and now I am expected to believe that he has fallen so low as to tinker with the mechanics of my car? Please.

As I said, the story of Jesus stands alone in all theologies as the sole example of a god who paid us the ultimate compliment of assuming human form, checking all his heavenly powers at the door, well...those not involving turning water into something eminently more drinkable and raising the dead to name but two...and finding out exactly how it feels to be human and suffer like the rest of us poor souls. Never would we again be able to wail, "But you just don't understand. You don't know what it's like."

Turning the other cheek and loving my neighbour? I'm all for it. Up to a point, beyond which a good slap upside the head is likely to be much more efficacious. Anyway, a good story and one well worth repeating. The fact that I just don't happen to believe it is neither here nor there. Nor do I believe one word of any of Shakespeare's historical plays but it doesn't stop me returning to them with a sense of awe and wonder from time to time.

I'm not entirely sure if the blasphemy laws remain on the statute in England but if they do, what say you to a cosy little bonfire around which we can all gather and discuss our differences? I'll agree to respect your religion as long as you agree to respect mine. And what is mine, you ask? A belief in free speech and tolerance, I guess. And could I ask your forgiveness in advance? In the same way as Christians occasionally slide from the path, otherwise they would have turned the confessional boxes into public toilets by now, so might I backslide a little from time to time as my tolerance is tested to its very limits by small dogs, most of the recent posts on BU and by the existence of said blasphemy laws in a supposedly democratic society. Why should only christians have special protection under the law is what I want to know.

I guess it's similar to these new 'hate-crime' laws I keep reading about. I mean, what? I can wholeheartedly agree that turning the head of someone of different race/creed/religion/sexual orientation into something resembling tomato puree should be punishable by quite a stretch in chokey. But should the head of my caucasian, heterosexual self meet a similar fate, quite why the punishment for such an act should be any the less is something I am finding it difficult to come to terms with.

I can just picture the interview at the crime scene now.

"Constable, could you just wipe some of that blood and cranial debris off his face so's I can determine racial orientation."

"Right, Sarge."

"Oh, dear. Not looking good, I'm afraid. Looks like he's married an' all. Sliced his ring finger off, dint they? Now Sir. Religion? Hedonist eh? Well, we'll put you down for C of E, shall we?"

"Sarge, maybe they just had it in for blokes with smug, supercilious expressions."

"Hang on a mo', then...let me see...er, Shirt Lifter, Sodomite, Taoist, Transvestite....naah, no Smug down here. Now then, Sir. 'Fraid there ain't much we can do for you. If you wouldn't mind movin' along now, Sir. We can't have you blocking the thoroughfare like this now, can we?"

Oh, well.

A short word about identity cards. No.

A long word about identity cards. Unconscionable. And if that isn't a word, it damn well should be!

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Right then. Life, linguistics and Laphroaig. Okay, life it is.

My car died yesterday. Well, I say died but that might be stretching things a bit. Let's say seriously wounded, shall we? Yes, that's much better.

There I was tootling along merrily when the temperature guage shot up to 115°C and steam started escaping from under the bonnet. Now not being in the least bit mechanically minded, I lifted the hood more in a spirit of curiosity than in the belief that I might be able to actually do anything about it but, even with my untrained eyes, the sight of water pumping out of one of the cooling hoses like blood from a ruptured aorta led me to diagnose the problem in an instant.

Five miles from the nearest settlement as I was at the time, the Bugadifino gland kicked in...you don't know the one? Then allow me to explain. Imagine if you will, a beautiful, deserted, tropical beach upon which you are reclining in the dead of night. Above you is a cloudless sky, peppered like buckshot with myriads of scintillating celestial bodies. As is your wont on such occasions, your mind turns to considering such ponderables as, "Why are we here?" and "What is it all about?" And, in the deep, dark recesses of your brain, a gland awakes and a familiar, friendly voice in your head says, "Bugadifino" which was exactly the reply I received yesterday when I posed the question, "What am I gonna do now?"

So, after standing around like a complete pillock for a few minutes and musing upon the fact that machinery wins hands down over Zen Buddhism when it comes to relieving one of one's ego, my brain finally made some very important connections.

1. I have just been shopping.
2. There is a whole crate of mineral water in back.
3.

Well, there was no three, really. I didn't stop to consider whether the rate at which I could empty twenty, one and a half litre bottles of water into the reservoir would exceed that at which it was haemorrhaging out of the hose like the first piss of a night's heavy drinking, I just went for it.

I got home with two bottles to spare.

Anyhow, seeing as how I was supposed to be attending the first parents' council meeting at the nursery school my daughter goes to, I considered it to be evidence of the hand of fate. I simply was not meant to be there.

Nevertheless, said hand has been rather active of late with respect to my vehicular transport. Apart from the leak in the hose, the cooling system is buggered anyway, the ventilator has breathed its last, the window ratchet on my side has gone, the rear windscreen wiper will flip no more, the lock on the boot is inoperable and, as I drive, there is an ominous sound coming from beneath the car reminiscent of the opening minutes of "Apocalypse Now!" where the ceiling fan is doing its helicopter impression...thwop...thwop...thwop.

So, like Lamps yesterday, it was public transport for me today. Unlike the Sheffield experience however, buses in Hungary run frequently, on time and always stop where they are supposed to. So, why do I hate using them so? Having to get up at 6.30 in the morning to get to work for 8.00 might have some bearing on the matter. Or maybe it's the incurable snob in me rebelling against the necessity of boarding a bus and bringing myself into close physical proximity with entirely the wrong class of person. And just how do mothers balance a briefcase, three bags of shopping and a three year old, with only two hands and still succeed in proffering the correct change to the driver?

"Right!" I hear you cry, "That's enough of the life for one day. What about the linguistics?" Hmmm. A classroom anecdote may suffice. It was a Monday morning and me being as per, a little slow to hit high gear, I got a class talking about their weekend. One of them, a hunter, piped up "Last Saturday, I shat three rabbits." I mean, how priceless is that? I shall be forever in his debt as whenever I think of it, I still get a wonderful image of Elmer J Fudd, trousers round his ankles, buttocks to camera and with an obvious strain on, popping out three little bunnies.

Oh, and did you know that the verb 'to buttonhole' is a corruption of the verb 'to buttonhold'? No? Shame on you.

So...that leaves only Laphroaig. I'll have to loosely apply this one but I have found some lovely alcohol related stories in the news recently which I reproduce below for perusal at your leisure.

BONG!

Germany wins again. Germany has regained the European drink-driving record. A Worms man found comatose in his car later tested for a blood-alcohol level of 5.3%, 11 times the limit and well beyond the level at which death should set in.

BONG!

Mike Murphy, an officer with Springfield, Missouri, police, was a bit too much like Homer Simpson. Finding 70 beers seized by the underage drinking squad, he drank the lot. His lawyer said Murphy was following force policy by disposing of the beer. "And turning beer into urine is disposal," he insisted. Despite this novel defence, Murphy was fired.

BONG!

And finally. What about the Finnish bank robbers who were so drunk that the manager talked them into accepting a loan?

Fiddle-di-dee.



Monday, November 17, 2003

Well, hello and a happy Monday morning to one and all.

Being temporarily bereft of any inspiration whatsoever, I think it's time again to make use of that journalistic device known as reader feedback.

Now until such time as I upgrade this blog and avail myself of the rather nifty features such as the ability to include pictures, graphics and e-mail links, I have to rely on those readers who for one reason or another, are already in possession of the means to contact me. Rest assured that, should these prove insufficient, I shall rely solely on my powers of invention.

I must admit that it was rather a blow to my pride that so many of you saw fit to begin your critiques with the phrase, "If I could just work out what the fuck you're on about..." I will concede that my penchant for circumlocution can lead, on occasion, to sentences which are deucedly hard to follow, but it is simply a linguistician's delight in seeing just how far he can stretch the use of embedded structures and relative clauses in an utterance and have it remain essentially, albeit after careful study, decipherable. To apply the standards of the Campaign for Simple English to this blog would, for me, take all the fun out of it so...tough titty on that one, I'm afraid.

The green ink brigade has also been out in force and to the list of voiceless bi-labial plosives, I can now add the word 'preposterous' and what a little gem of a word it is too! Very old school and high Tory, wouldn't you say? My only reply to this is that if I have caused such characters to spray their monitors with an indignant shower of spittle, then I must be doing something right.

Most of the feedback concerned my attempt at allegory, Wed Nov 12 re. Bombing McDonald's.
More than a few of you were desirous of knowing just what it is I have against McDonald's. Well, apart from the obvious, very little in fact. The whole thing was an attempt to highlight the fact that, were I to follow the example of my elders and betters, in this case a certain Tony Blair and his forays into international relations, I could make an equally valid case for reducing the Nagykanizsa branch of McDonald's into its constituent parts. A lesson here, maybe. Attempts at allegory should be more thinly veiled. And perhaps I should mark any attempts at irony with an *. Relying so heavily as it does on intonation, irony in print can easily be taken at face value and lead to blogs such as this one showing up on a CIA watchlist.

Which reminds me of that wonderful story of the Scottish distillery receiving a phone call from a CIA operative informing it that one of its factory webcams was malfunctioning. After thanking the caller for the information, a gentle enquiry led to said operative completely blowing her cover in a splendid demonstration of that American spirit of openness and disclosing that she was, in fact, monitoring the distillery for the CIA as part of the War on Terrorism. It appeared that a simple tweak in the distillation process could result in the production of weapons of mass destruction. Well, I don't know about mass but Scottish distilleries have been responsible for my own near destruction on occasions too numerous to mention. And haven't fast food outlets allegedly been responsible for mass outbreaks of E-Coli from time to time? Oh well, onwards and upwards.

Several of you, very correctly in my view, scolded me for publishing a list of pet hates. You reminded me that it is all too easy to carp, cavil, complain and otherwise find fault and that my energy would be better served by listing those things which introduce a feeling of joy and contentment into an otherwise dreary day, in other words a list of pet likes.

Notwithstanding my initial reaction which was, I'm afraid to say, something along the lines of, "Bog off and go and listen to the Sound of Music if that's what you want", it did set me to meditating on the idea, and the more I reflected upon it, the more it became apparent that, as an exercise, it is remarkably more difficult than it would at first appear. I don't mean simply listing those objects towards which we have a particular fondness, my record collection for example, or those which our appetites and individual taste bud configuration lead us to crave such as, in my case, Islay malts and sausage, bacon and tomato sandwiches, but a list of those things which one encounters in everyday life and which oil the social machinery as it were. Damned difficult.

Not being one to shirk a challenge, well...not one which doesn't involve fisticuffs anyway, in which case my policy has always been one of amelioration and as a final resort, should braggadocio and trying to face down my opponent fail, of removing myself from the situation as expediently as possible, in other words, running away, I feel I should at least make a token effort to compile such a list. So, to that end, here goes.

Niceness.

A rather devalued word, I will concur, and one that has become unfashionable of late even to the extent that, as a quality, it seems to have dropped out of public life altogether. To witness the behaviour of our politicians, our interviewers, most of our journalists and, I am reliably informed, participants in reality TV shows, is to witness conduct totally devoid of this once prized attribute. Politeness, respect and tolerance in our dealings with others no matter what the occasion can only lead to society's wheels and gears running in a smooth and congenial fashion and induce a mood opposite to that engendered by the sneering, cynical, opinionated, insulting and, quite frankly, downright ignorant.

Having written that, and reflected upon it, it has become clear that almost everything I find uplifting about life in general can somehow fit into this category. Anything from polite and cheerful shop assistants, through a cheery "Good morning!" in a bus stop queue, to drivers acknowledging my actions on the road with a wave of the hand are all demonstrations of the fact that small acts of niceness can have a disproportionate effect on my general mood. They cheer me up, make me feel all warm inside and much better prepared to face the day. They put a smile on my face and renew my faith that most people are, at heart, thoroughly good eggs.

So, where does that leave me in regard to the list? Well, having to fall back on that which I promised to avoid to be honest. I will, however, make an attempt to avoid the concrete - Laphroaig, mature Cheddar etc. - and concentrate on the abstract.

Verbal sparring.

Should I, or anyone else come to that, toss a verbal high ball into the air, nothing gives me greater pleasure than to see it smashed back with glee, joyful abandon and total lack of malicious intent. I once admitted to a certain confusion in electronic conversation with my favourite Uncle and was asked whether the source of my confusion was Unicum or Stella. Not the most devastating of jibes maybe, but one that demonstrates that no opportunity should be missed to try and provoke a chuckle, in this case, successfully. The only condition I would impose on this activity is that those dishing it out should welcome, indeed invite, its being returned as indeed is the case with Uncy and Jessica both of whose steel it has often been my delight to taste.

The inventive insult.

Rather goes against the general thrust of my argument for niceness I know, but my love of language and verbal sparring makes it inevitable that I should have a soft spot for any creativity in the insult department. If imbued with enough humour and creativity, a well crafted insult should leave even its recipient with a trace of a grin on their face. My all time favourite in this category is an exchange which took place between Lady Astor and Sir Winston Churchill which went something along these lines.

Lady A: Winston, if you were my husband, I should flavour your coffee with poison.

Sir W: Madam, if I were your husband, I should drink it.

George Bernard Shaw once sent Churchill two tickets for the opening of his new play and asked him to "bring a friend...if you have one."

Churchill replied saying that he was otherwise engaged but requested tickets for the second performance..."if there is one."

And a classic from John Wilkes.

The Earl of Sandwich: Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox.
John Wilkes: That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress.

And one from a genius of the one liner.

Clare Boothe Luce (meeting Parker in a doorway): Age before beauty!
Dorothy Parker (gliding through the door): Pearls before swine!

Ouch!

And my favourite curse.

"May you be cursed with a chronic anxiety about the weather."

John Burroughs (1837-1921)

Well, that's all I can think of for now. It will have to remain, like the pet hates, an occasional series to be added to whenever inspiration strikes. Until then, if you have been, don't blame me.