Saturday, September 20, 2014

Attack of the invisible mutant blood-sucking insects

"Don't pick at your insect bites or they'll go scabby."

So I picked at my insect bites and they went scabby. And that is the story of this holiday (apart from the amazing hotel, the sea views, the enormous sunsets and all the kebabs a man can eat).

And there's no stopping these fiendish Greek mosquitos, who find their way through any defence known to man: Layers of clothes, wreaths of garlic, a foul-smelling concoction in a bottle called "Bugger Off".

The worst thing is that I have not seen a single one of the dozens of these little bastards that have sucked at my blood. They're invisible, indestructible, and - given enough time - deadly.  People who have booked the 14 day holiday are so anaemic as to be entirely see through when you hold them up to a light. 

Serves us right booking a holiday next door to Dr Doom's Invisible Blood-Sucking Insect Lab (Days since last escape of invisible blood-sucking insects: One).

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Man alive, I love holiday tat shops, especially at the end of the season when all that's left is the unsellable items which have been sitting, fading on the shelf since about 2005, hoping that somebody will pass looking to complete their Beyblade collection, or are after a doll with poor standards of spelling. 

Then there's this monstrosity:

Flashback to the Guangdong Lucky Toy and Rocket Fuel Concern, eight years ago. The production line is at a halt and a panicked supervisor explains all to the boss...

"We've got a shitload of dolls' bodies but no heads, boss. Damn head supplier's let us down again."

"What else have we got?"

"There's 20,000 assorted dogs' heads but I don't think ..."

"Do it"

"But the kiddiewinks - they'll have nightmares. It's like something from The Island of Doctor Moreau. We can 't possibly..."


"Don't come running to me when somebody takes the piss out of them on the internet."

"DO. IT."

Monday, September 15, 2014


So, I was in this hotel the other night and found a Gideons Bible. 

Seemed only fair to give the next reader a little helping hand. 

Other options: Autographing the fly-sheet "Best wishes, God", but vandalism is a bad thing, m'kay?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The accordion, and its use as a tool of oppression by totalitarian governments

Must-watch television: The 14th National Singing Competition of the Working People 
FACT: North Korea has its own version of the X Factor, a grim parade of hand-picked hopefuls singing revolutionary standards in front of a rictus-grinning audience of hand-picked sycophants, and a panel of judges who all look like Louis Walsh.

It's actually called "The 14th National Singing Competition of the Working People" and it is compulsory Monday night viewing for party members in Pyongyang, if they remember to keep the electricity turned on long enough.

Unfortunately, like any televised concert in a totalitarian state, the entire affair is dominated by that scourge of musical taste: The accordion.

No act takes to the stage with fewer than two accordion players, murdering the propaganda department's finely-tuned marshal classic "Mighty apple harvest of the foothills of Mount Paektu", before getting the nod from one of the Louis Walshes and heading for Forced Labour Boot Camp.

"You owned that song," says Louis, "Which is bad news for you because all property is theft."

Pyongyang not likely to suffer an accordion shortage any time soon
In my long experience watching television from states encumbered with the world's worst governments, the accordion appears again and again. It's clearly used as a tool of oppression against the poor citizens, having any vestige of individuality pulverised out of them by musical mediocrity backed up by stern-faced men with big guns.

The accordion should be declared an instrument of torture under the Geneva Conventions, and it's not difficult to see why.

No good has ever come out of the accordion, and of western cultures, only France and Germany use it with any vigour, and they can't even be arsed with the Eurovision Song Contest these days, which goes to show how far they've fallen since the glory days of 99 Red Balloons and Johnny Halliday.

It's an alleged instrument that is so difficult and time-consuming to play that citizens living under dictatorships are forced to learn the accordion - at gunpoint if necessary -  in order to prevent them from having the time to realise how shit their lives are and rise up against their corrupt factory managers, the party and the state.

Give a man a guitar and he can sing his way to a revolution. Give them an accordion, and they're still trying to figure out which button does what six months later, their factory work quotas unfulfilled and their place on the next shock-work rice planting punishment brigade assured, three months up to their knees in a shit-fertilised paddy. With compulsory accordion concerts and self-criticism sessions every evening.

Russia: The Second Cold War will be accompanied by the sound of light dance classics

Do what you like, Ivan. We've got an army of Morris Men waiting to shit you up
As a means of pacifying the population, the accordion - for both players and audiences alike - are a soul-crushing means of wiping out dissent and dangerous thoughts.

In North Korea, this is easily summed up by an official Workers' Party slogan: "Let's learn to play the accordion instead of having our fingers stamped on by the commissar!"

It's worth noting that the accordion is prevalent in countries where senior army officials wear huge hats. Not just North Korea, but Russia, Uzbekistan, China, and - if Alex Salmond gets his way - Scotland.

If Scotland votes yes, the Supreme Leader Salmond and the SNP with have the citizenry on the accordion before you know it, and the Scottish navy will be wearing Russ Abbott sized tam o'shanters to boot.

With wall-to-wall accordion- and bagpipe-based talent shows on the new Edinburgh-based SBC television, don't say I didn't warn you.

Meanwhile, in China

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Scouting For Boys: Baden-Powell vs The One-Eyed Trouser Snake

In 1908, Robert Baden-Powell published his classic boook of advice for young men called "Scouting For Boys", the handbook for his fledgling Scout movement.

At the last minute, his publisher got cold feet and urged him to remove a passage on "self-abuse", advice which B-P grudgingly took. Luckily for us, the passge was not entirely lost, and was restored in a 2004 reprint.

So, what did Baden-Powell think of masturbation? (Hint: He's not a fan)

Click to embiggen
Click to embiggen
Click to embiggen
So. Leave it alone, or if you can't go speak to your Scout Master, and he'll sort it out for you. Wise words, indeed.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Ten books that have stayed with me – A slightly sexist list of my favourite reads

In response to an internet meme (and because I've not been asked), here's a list of ten books or book series that have stuck with me throughout my life.

OK, so it's eleven.

The first thing to note is that all the authors are men, and I am well aware of this lack of diversity, not to mention the misogyny of the central character in one of my choices. Yes, there are many fine female writers (Hello, Joanne Harris), but none have managed to get into my off-the-top-of-my-head top ten, mainly because I read mostly male-dominated SF and comedy in my formative years. To put a female author in for tokenism's sake (as I nearly did with To Kill A Mockingbird) would have been lying to both you and myself.

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett - Good Omens --- What's not to like about this acknowledged comedy classic? Two of our best writers at their very peak, and one I can read again and again

Spike Milligan – Adolf Hitler (My Part in his Downfall) --- Truly one of the funniest books ever written, and the follow-ups were just as good. The later books became a little maudlin, but let's not forget the tears of laughter running down your cheeks as you read the book for the lost-count-how-many times

Harry Harrison – The Stainless Steel Rat Saves The World --- The first science fiction book I was ever given, and completely hooked me on the genre. I was no older than ten or eleven at the time, and I thought books don't get any better than this. I later learned it wasn't even the first in the series, but it truly reeled me in and bears repeat readings. Later books in the series became formulaic, which seemed a shame for a writer of Harrison's talents.

Isaac Asimov - The End of Eternity --- Then I was given this one, which introduced my young mind to the difficulties of time travel, from meeting yourself, to changing your destiny, to time travellers leaving messages in newspapers. Knowing Asimov it was probably the first of its kind, and I still love it.

Aldous Huxley – Brave New World --- As a piece of prophecy, it's pretty much spot on. Get the edition with Brave New World Revisited to properly scare yourself about the way the world is going now.

John Steinbeck – The Grapes of Wrath --- I went through a period of buying "worthy" novels that I felt I should have been reading. By and large, most I thought utterly over-written bollocks (I'm looking at you, Rushdie), but The Grapes of Wrath stuck with me with sheer power and despair that works at so many levels.

George Orwell – 1984 --- They made us study Animal Farm at school and it was so over-analysed I just can't bring myself to like it. 1984, on the other hand, stands the test of time, and is still genuinely frightening.

Douglas Adams – The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy --- I've still got my autographed edition of the Trilogy in Four Parts, and you're not having it. As essential to English culture as 1984. So there.

George MacDonald Fraser – Flashman --- The decidedly politically incorrect adventures of the bully and anti-hero from Tom Brown's Schooldays. I've written about Flashy before, and like many fans, I'm sad that Fraser spent his final days writing one of the worst books in existence (The Reavers) instead of Flashman Book 13.

Patrick O'Brian  - Master & Commander --- By which I mean the entire 20-and-a-bit collection of Aubrey-Maturin novels. An incredible and detailed account of two friends at sea, which lost pace at times they were stranded on land. Sadly, O'Brian died as they set out for sea in the 21st book, so we'll never know how it finished.

Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace --- I read this in a two-week period while at a residential course with the BBC in the middle of nowhere in which my snooker game went from "complete novice" to "mostly harmless" in the same period. One of the few books I've read that had me immediately going out and reading the real life stories that the war of 1812 brought.

Books I've read which people said I should like, but hated:

The Hobbit
Catcher in the Rye
Crime and Punishment
Midnight's Children

 All over-rated tosh, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise.

Friday, September 05, 2014


So, I was mowing the lawn and shaving the moss down to an acceptable height, when I came across a tiny oak sapling that had taken root by the washing line.

Rather than run it over and shred it into a million tiny pieces, I dug it up, put it in a pot full of compost and stuck it at the end of the garden. It will presumably die slowly under a shower of dog piss, but for the moment, he's called Groot and is my pride and joy.

All I need now is a talking raccoon, Zoe Saldana and a roving space git, and my Guardians of the Galaxy team will be complete. Saldana's looking the tricky one.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Kim Jong Un FACT

FACT: There is a strong tradition of Fez-wearing in North Korea. This is because Tommy Cooper is the only western entertainer allowed on state TV.

As proof, here's a picture of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un giving it the old "Jus' like that" on a recent inspection visit to a spiral-bound notebook factory. Observers may wish to note that there is nothing up the sleeves.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Where I work (nice version) vs Where I work (not so nice version)

Two photographs, one subject. The first one makes my place of work look lovely, warm and inviting (WHICH IT IS).

The other makes my place of work look cold, dark, and like the Slytherin Common Room (WHICH IT IS NOT).

 To be honest, we're more Ravenclaw. Or Hufflepuff.

Saturday, August 30, 2014


My mid-life crisis has been cheaper that that of most people. I rejected a Harley or an inappropriate red convertible sports car for growing a beard, getting a pair of hipster glasses (vari-focals because I'm old) and buying loads of old band T-shirts.

I'm not one for keeping all my old band T-shirts in a drawer at home, so there I was in Millets buying a new rain coat when I struck up a conversation with a shop assistant of a similar vintage to myself. Having rejected a long green countryside number ("No thanks, it makes me look like I'm a member of UKIP"), I settled for the coat that had been discounted the most in the sale, mainly because it was cheap, didn't make me look like a tramp, and I had never knowingly seen Nigel Farage or flat-capped Britain First types wearing one.

"That's a great T-shirt," the shop assistant said, nodding towards my Joy Division Unknown Pleasures top.

"Oh, wow, thanks," I replied.

Nodding across to her hardly-even-out-of-his teens colleague: "Young Lance here wouldn't even know what it is."

"Hardly anyone round here does," I said, glad that I had - at last - found a kindred spirit, in the Fleet branch of the UK's third best camping and outdoor equipment store, no less.

"It's mountains isn't it?"


"It's Joy Division, that's what it is," said Lance, who until that moment had been trying to sell me shoes while I looked at coats.
"No, you idiot Lance, it's mountains. It's mountains, that's what it is."

Yep. Joy Division, and their famous unreleased album of yodelling and oompah music.

I paid, and fled.