Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Glamour of the Railways

Stafford: Twinned with Gomorrah
"The glamour of the railways," says bus fan Gary Bainbridge as he passes through Stafford on his way somewhere - presumably - less grim.

This, of course, means only one thing - a turf war to find out which town has the worst railway station in the country. A station where the toilets are locked, the buffet makes Scout Hut coffee taste great, and the platforms smell of tramps. I'm going to restrict this to stations I've actually visited, otherwise things could get out of hand.

So. Aldershot railway station, clearly one of the highlights of visiting Aldershot.

Aldershot: Gateway to Your Mum
Grim that Aldershot may be, it's got nothing on Pokesdown for Boscombe and Despair, which appears not to have been touched by builder, gardener or decorator since Brunel last passed through.

Pokesdown: Regular connecting services for somewhere nicer
 (There's a petition to improve Pokesdown station, as it's completely inaccessible to pushchairs and the disabled)

And just a couple of stations down the line, there's the pre-fab concrete hell of Poole, with a matching pre-fab railway station.

Poole: The next tallest building to the west of here is in New York
There's a special place in my heart of Poole railway station, having been trapped here for hours at a time, in the pissing rain coming straight off the sea not 100 yards away, waiting for the last train to Weymouth, sharing the platform with knuckle-dragging drunks waiting for the last train to Hamworthy, a walled-off area upon which the film Escape from New York is based.

And down in the south-west, I once accidentally found myself at Falmouth Town station.

Falmouth Town: Change here to be stared at by the locals
This picture says "Looking toward Truro", which is exactly where anybody with any sense would rather be.

I once went to Aberystwyth, you know.

Aberystwyth: There's a Wimpy in town (Information correct as of April 1983)
I had a Wimpy, and stayed in the worst bed and breakfast you could possibly imagine, even worse than the ones at the bottom of swamps run by mass-murderers.


Ash Vale: Prepare to be searched
Ash Vale. And they say Surrey's beautiful. This is all the evidence you need to the contrary.

As you can see from these pictures, there's a common theme in that there are no trains to be seen. This reflects the hours that seem to leak away into days, weeks and months as you wait for a service that takes you out of these places. Some never leave.

Coming soon*: A short series on shit motorway service stations.

* Probably not coming soon

Correction: The original version of this story suggested that Mr Gary Bainbridge is a "bun fan", when he is - in fact - a fan of busses. We apologise for any distress caused.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Search For Level Five

The Hart Shopping Centre: Empty units available at good prices
To the Hart Centre, Fleet's premier (and only) shopping destination to stock up on Scotch Egg and coconut chunks from the local Waitrose, the lunch of champions.

It is while I am there that I learn an important nugget.

"How often," I ask the cashier at the 'baskets only' checkout, stopping only to tut quietly at the woman at the next till down who has a trolley, "How often do people put their car park token in the green coin charity collection bin?"

The answer is unsurprising: "About a million times a day."

We laugh, and I almost nearly give my car park token (£8 fee if lost) to the local Multiple Sclerosis charity.

Come the apocalypse, this will be our currency
But that is not the point of this story.

It is as I wait for the lift that takes you from Waitrose to the car, that a gentleman and and his wife angle their way to the front of the queue. Some people almost nearly tut, but he looks almost exactly like Doc Brown from Back to the Future, and his wife looks like the kind of person who can brook no nonsense.

The lift arrives, we file in, and he looks querulously at the options available: Ground, Level one, Level two.

"This is stupid," he says to Mrs Brown. "Where's level five? We're on level five."

If there's one thing about the Hart Centre that everybody who brings their car to the the Hart Centre knows - and it's completely bloody obvious - is that the Hart Centre car park only has two levels, maximum headroom one metre and 96 centimetres. I point this fact out to him, and it's something he refuses to believe.

"No, I clearly remember parking on level five. We were right next to the sign."

Mrs Doc Brown agreed with him, and took the argument to the several other occupants of the lift who were also keen to point out the essential duality of car parking at the Hart Centre: For eg: level one and level two.

"What kind of stupid shopping centre makes you walk up three levels to get to the car park?" she posed, the answer being "one with only two levels", a view to which she had no truck whatsoever.

I got out at level one, and still the argument raged as the doors shut behind me, the level five deniers being told - forcefully - the error of their ways because we are parked on level five. That's FIVE, and I'll be complaining to the management.

"Don't play silly buggers with me. If I say it's on level five, it's on level five"
It was as I paid for my parking at the machine on level one of two levels, that I was struck with a theory: What if Doc Brown genuinely was a time traveller from the future, a time where the Hart Centre had expanded and had another three levels of parking added? It is entirely possible that a fictional character could travel back in time to the year 2015 and find himself confused by a car park with only two levels. Makes perfect sense, in fact.

It was as I was theorising about the infinite possibilities of quantum mechanics, that the lift door opened again, to reveal a sheepish-looking Doc and and a furious Mrs Doc Brown emerge, and walk straight to their car, which had somehow changed from being a DeLorean into a Toyota Avensis.

It was parked right under a 5mph speed limit sign.

"Great Scott!" nobody said.

Mrs Doc Brown looked positively livid, the Doc looked very small, and my laughter echoed all the way down the helter-skelter exit ramp and I nearly crashed into the barrier at the bottom, where I found myself to still be in possession of a green Waitrose coin.

What a time to be alive.

Here's your punchline. Have a nice day, now.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Who needs this 'Google' rubbish anyway?

In the year 1997, the internet emerged, blinking, from a cave with the launch of one service that revolutionised its use: Google. There had been other search engines before (RIP Altavista), but Google was different in that it actually found you the stuff you were looking for, instead of driving you down long, dark avenues of indexed content.

But that particular internet revolution was not good enough for some people. That's why, in 2002, this was published:

A book for people who can't be bothered with all that entire-sum-of-human-knowledge-at-my-fingertips mullarkey, all nicely laid out,two-to-a-page in good old-fashioned paper.

Jane (who is an equal partner in this madness and not some kind of comedy stooge) had just spent £1.50 on it from the British Heart Foundation shop, and the lady behind the counter looked at us with a mixture of "Who are these weirds?" and "YES! Somebody's bought it AT LAST!"

So, let's see what the World's Best Websites of 2002 were? (For the record, I won Best British Blogger that year, so that's the very low mark on the wall to which we will be comparing things).

Opening the book at random, the first website we find is How Stuff Works, which is still going strong. Yeah, I'm disappointed as well.

The second attempt brings out first dead end. I dearly wanted to read When Toilets Go Bad, but gone, like a brown trout down the U-bend. All that remains is this tantalising bit of text:


Happily (and thanks to me learned colleague Neil), the Wayback Machine comes to the rescue. No comment on the 9/11 memorial graphic, for those were crazy, crazy dark days.

It's the same sad story on the gone-and-totally-forgotten Slumber Party, but that's what happens when you host on equally gone and equally forgotten Geocities. One day you're one of the top 500 websites in the world (New Revised Content!) and the next you're dust in the wind, dude. And the even greater insult is that your laptop's built-in dictionary draws a red squiggly line under Geocities. When you're gone, you're gone.


Then you get the websites that aren't so much dead, as morphed into something terrible. The book urged me to find out if I was a 'Preppy Dresser or Surfer Dude?'...


But all I got was the sinister front page of what teenvoice.com has morphed into... opinion pollsters YouGov.


What I'm really after is a website in the top 500, preserved in aspic in its full 2002 glory. Can I find one?


Oh, Dancing Paul ("Watch 'Cool Paul' dance to a selection of top disco tracks. You can even change the scenery in the background!"). Never change.

Conclusion: Typing out long URLs from a book is damn hard work and I got sick of it for too quickly. Use Google, you arseholes.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Guilty pleasures: Watching people getting hit in the fork by projectile objects


I'll admit it. I'm addicted to FAIL videos. I like nothing better than wasting my time in front of collections of people falling off things, driving into things and getting hit in the fork by projectile objects.

In fact, my ideal television channel would be ITV You've Been Framed People Getting Hit In The Fork With Projectile Objects, played on a loop, forever. For some people - right-thinking people - this would be Hell on Earth. But these people do not appreciate the sheer naked schadenfreude of seeing people being hit in the fork by projectile objects, because it is never not funny. Unless you're the person being hit in etc etc etc.

By way of proof:


Homer Simpson is correct. This is the funniest thing in the world. Humour at its purest. Everybody else might as well give up now. Especially you, Jim Davidson.

Friday, March 20, 2015

In which your author takes the battle to Phil Collins

An exercise. What's the one thing you hate the most in your life?

Now, I dislike a great many things. From racists and homophobes and bigots to Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, my shit list is long and – as I get older and more keep-off-my-lawn-you-whippersnappers- getting longer.

But after several hours of deliberation, my teeth grinding and knuckles white against the steering wheel, one thing has emerged as my top hate figure. And it is this:

Philip Baily and Phil Collins – Easy Lover

KNOW YOUR ENEMY
I'm not a Phil Collins fan, but I own a couple of Collins-era Genesis albums (Abacab, Invisible Touch), and I grudgingly admit that despite his far-too-chirpy exterior, Genesis' second-best lead singer does have a way with a tune.

But a tedious series of evenings on a school French Exchange, where the only music available appeared to be his spectacularly successful snooze-fest Face Value, turned me off Collins, and turned me off for life.

But come 1985, I was at college and my best friend at the time was Andy, whose family owned a string of fish-and-chip shops around East Berkshire and North Hampshire, making him some sort of Volkswagen Golf-driving kingpin. I was a bit of a New Rom, and Andy wasn't. He loved Phil Collins. I think you can see where this is heading.

It was when Easy Lover came out in the UK in the spring of that year and lodged itself at No.1 for a month, that Andy found he could fit it on a C90 cassette tape 18 times. So he did. Everywhere we went was to the never-ending accompaniment of Phil and Philip. I knew all the words. I still know all the words. It invaded my every thought, haunting my dreams and my waking hours, and I would gladly make ownership of this song punishable by painful death and/or a musical re-education under my brutal dictatorship.

Let this be a warning to you
(In fact, despite being an evil mass murdering human-rights-denying scumbag, Kim Jong Un has the right idea by banning all western pop music from North Korea, in case Easy Lover gets through the net. Cruel but fair, in my book.)

It came to a head as we pulled out of a petrol station one lunch time, and another car ploughed into Andy's prized VW. Nobody was allowed to leave until the police had been and gone, and a pick-up truck had taken the Golf off somewhere expensive to be fixed. Two-and-a-half hours of nothing but Andy complaining that the North Hampshire Emperor of Chip Shops (his dad) was going to kill him, and Easy Lover.

I had to do something.

When the car came back from the garage several weeks later, Easy Lover had surrendered the Number One spot to We Are The World, perhaps an even greater crime against music, and – shock – The Easy Lover cassette was missing from the in-car stereo.

"It was like this when I got here, honest"
Of course it was. Just before the VW was towed away, I had surreptitiously hit 'Eject', snaffled the Tape of Evil, and dropped it down the drain. Take THAT, Phil Collins.

I didn't care. I was saving Andy from himself. And I would do the same for anybody else. In this none-more-close General Election that's looming, I will vote for any party that promises sanctions against Easy Lover owners. Over to you Dave, Ed, Nick and Nigel.

Tough on Easy Lover, tough on the causes of Easy Lover.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Claude Board: A Coleman family tradition


A well-known example of a Claude (Makalele)
This week, I have a meeting with a gentleman called Claude. In a decades old Coleman family tradition, I shall be taking my darts with me, and hope to have a game of Claude Board.

I know what you're thinking, and you'd be right. Coleman's gone bonkers again. But there's a valid story behind this, a story that needs us to travel back in time to the mid 1970s.

*Waves hands in front of face* WoooOOOOooOOOOOooo

It was a time of flared trousers, economic collapse and kiddy-fiddlers at the top of the pop charts. My mother, a State Registered Nurse, had gone back to work and found employ as a district nurse, racing around the Berkshire countryside in a Mini, knocking old people into ditches.

One of these old people was Claude, one of her patients, and a nicer sort you couldn't expect to meet. He would potter around the local villages on his bone-shaker, wearing a long, black coat, no matter the weather.

How did I know this? There comes a time of year as a district nurse that you have to work during the school holidays, and you have three children would would absolutely 100% burn down the house and scratch each other to death if left alone long enough. God know we tried. So, there were morninf when we too were loaded into the Mini and driven around Twyford and Hurst dropping in at elderly people's houses for possibly the only company they'd be getting that day.

Some of them would ply we kids with sherry, so my mum's lead-footed driving was worth the risk.

Claude Debussy escaped the ravages of Claude Board by cunningly dying in 1918
That's where we ran into Claude. Or rather, didn't run into him. He was gliding along in front of us down a country lane, and we were asking (politely) if he wouldn't mind getting out of our way please.

So we came up with Claude Board.

The rules were simple: You threw darts at Claude's back while he was trying to escape. End of rules.

We never actually got to play Claude Board, because throwing darts at people is A Bad Thing, and a new patient with multiple puncture wounds was the last thing my mother wanted.

The closest we actually came was a cardboard cutout of a cyclist with "Claude" written on it for target practice. A Claude Board Board, if you will, but Board Claude Board never caught on. However, Claude Board remained a Coleman family tradition, right up to the moment more shiny things took over. ABBA, I believe, because we were so achingly hip.

But Friday comes my chance. Can Claude escape? If he does, I've still got my Swiss Army Axe, just in case.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Smug People in Local Newspapers

I don't know what blog to put this one on

You might know that I run Angry People in Local Newspapers and Dull News in Local newspapers. Unfortunately, I do not run a blog called Smug People in Local Newspapers, which is where this story belongs. So that's why it's here.

London Evening Standard: Boy leaves his phone on the bus, smugness ensues

The headline just doesn't do any justice to the levels of smugness involved. Just click through and read the whole article. As [NAME-DROPPER ALERT] Danny Wallace [CLANG!] says: "Every paragraph is worse than the last", and he's not wrong.

Pure smug gold, of the type you'll only ever see in Chelsea if you look hard enough.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The boot-in-the-groin of destiny



It was as his boot connected with my groin that I considered the poor life choices I had made leading up to this point in my short existence on this planet.

"I'm not your boss," my boss Mr Newton once told me, lying through his teeth, "All the customers are, and you should treat them as such."

That's all very well coming from the manager of a down-at-heel supermarket situated next door to a piss-scented multi-storey car park, but when you're the teenage trolley-boy asking a down-and-out if he wouldn't mind removing his worldly possessions so Prestos could get its trolley back, it was hard to look on him as management material.

"Fugg off you little squirt," he growled at me, and I made the mistake of pressing the point further, pointing out that I – as God's representative of the Presto Supermarket chain in this piss-scented multi-storey car park, my word was law, and I'd quite like our trolley back please, if you don't mind.

It was as his boot connected with my groin... that I realised I should have taken that job selling cane furniture, even if they pay was lousy. I should have kept that weekend post at Asda, where there was a corner of the warehouse where the managers never went, and I could have risen to the rank of chief cardboard collector by now.

But as the air gushed from my lungs like a whoopee cushion under an opera singer, I realised I could never leave Presto. The piss-scented car park was in my blood, and I would miss the low-grade canteen banter and getting stuck in the goods lift behind three-quarters of a ton of granulated sugar and fishing filthy trolleys out of the canal.

Also, where else would you get paid a whole two quid an hour to stand on the roof of the piss-scented car park on a Friday evening, watching the guy in the office block over the road having sex across his desk with the cleaner?

Life choices are important. I would never leave Presto. Not until the girl who I fancied on the deli counter cut her finger off, anyway.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A British Race for British Space


With The Race For Space, the latest long-player from popular beat combo Public Service Broadcasting currently riding high in the charts, we ask 'whither the British space industry?'

And we're sad to say this is whither the British Space Industry is: On its arse.

While the Russians lead the way in space launcher technology; while the Americans put a man on the moon and have a robot mooching about on Mars; while even India is sending probes to other planets, we're still stuck here trying to find a milk bottle big enough to put the stick.

Unfortunately, budget cuts and government ambivalence toward the conquest of space has left us plucky Brits miles behind, to the point that our astronauts have to pretend to be Americans in order to get a ride in a spaceship. Well, that won't do.

If the government won't get us into space, then it's up to us civilians. And here's the plan, devised by a panel comprised of 12-year-old schoolboys:

  1. Bribe the people who name planets to call an asteroid Yourmum
  2. Be the first civilised people to land on Yourmum

Nothing to it, and with a bit of good-old British spunk and ingenuity, we could achieve this goal within two years if we start today. We've got the materials, we've got the people, and as a nation we've done irredeemably stupid things before, and - by Jiminy - we'll do them again.

I spent my teenage years investigating rocketry, and still have the scars to prove it. While those Russians and Americans swear by kerosene and liquid oxygen-based fuels that have a nasty habit of blowing up all over the place, my own experiments in the 1980s found that you could construct a decent rocket motor from little more than scraped-off match heads stuffed in a Parker pen squished flat at the sharp end. Unfortunately, they've bollocksed up the recipe for weed-killer, so that particular secondary fuel has fallen by the wayside, so matches it will have to be.

This being the situation we are forced to deal with, now is the time to scale this operation up and set the unemployed the task of scraping the heads off enough Swan Vestas to get this thing - quite literally off the ground. Now, old fire extinguishers and oxygen cylinders aren't going to be big enough to give this project the oomph it needs, so this is where we've got to think big.

Enter the National Lift Tower in Northampton. At 415 feet tall, imagine the thrust we'd get if we filled that beauty with the entire UK output of Swan Vesta matches, a shuddering roar that would send some foolhardy lunatic brave British astronaut for his (or her) date with destiny on Yourmum.

Either that, or we will lay waste to a town of 212,000 souls in the English Midlands, which would probably be seen by many right-thinking people as A Bad Thing. But I - for one - think that a vast, smoking crater would be an ample monument to British adventurism and a preparedness to take risks, however fatal they may be for people you have never met.

Britain: LET'S DO THIS THING.

I am not mad.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

VOTE! VOTE! VOTE!

One thing's led to another, and I've ended up on the shortlist for the UK's Funniest Blogger award again. Regular readers of this nonsense will remember this is the prize I won in 2012 for this site, and in 2014 for Angry People In Local Newspapers, so I'm pleased that my decision to go for quality* rather than keep trying to blog every day appears to have paid off.

So, while I've already cast my vote for the bloody brilliant and slightly sinister Scarfolk Council blog, you can go here and vote how the hell you like. No pressure, but £100 gets 83.333 cups of coffee in the staff canteen round here (slightly more if I bring my own receptacle), and that's not something to be sniffed at.

The good news is that if I don't win, I'm automatically in the running for this award, for which I am considered a shoe-in.


Still here? Get voting.

*Pfffffffft

Turds. You know it makes sense.