Friday, November 29, 2013

The Great Flat Tyre Mystery

Riddle me this, oh great internet hive mind....

On my way to work yesterday morning, I drove past a car in a layby. It was jacked up on a monster sized jack of the sort you see in garages (not the weedy space-saving one you get with your motor), one of the wheels was off, and the boot was wide open.

Of driver and companions there was no trace.

OK, fair enough. Somebody's got a flat tyre and they've got to get help.

Except two miles down the road was exactly the same scene - car in the layby, up on a ridiculously huge industrial-sized jack, exactly the same wheel missing, boot open, no driver.


Is this a scam or trap of some sort?

If you stop to help, will some hairy-arsed robber come along and nick my car? (Not that they'd want to)

Or, is the unlocked boot an invitation to try to steal something, and a hairy-arsed copper's going to leap out of the undergrowth and nick me good?


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Al Murray and the Soviet War Machine

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I had fallen under the thrall of Mr Alastair (Can't spell Alistair) Murray and his book Watching War Films With My Dad.

(Mini review: Entertaining memoir with potted history of vital parts of the Second World War serving to illustrate how we look at history. Also, massively confusing for anybody expecting Pub Landlord blokeness)

It's a book that caught my interest because we're about the same age (he is a mere youngling, born two years later than I), and – it turns out – both our fathers have an interest in military history that they passed onto their sons, unwittingly or otherwise. In young Mr Murray's case, it was in the form of weekend afternoons in front of the television, disassembling war movies for the historical blunders and inaccurate kit.

In my case, it was a study wall stacked from floor to ceiling with books on every kind of warfare from ancient to modern, delivered a month at a time by the Military Book Society.

The Military Book Society was (until it was entirely killed to death by Amazon) one of those myriad book clubs that offered you five-for-a-pound each on the back of the Radio Times, before sending you a full-priced book every month until Hell froze over or you remembered to cancel your subscription. I gave The History Guild a bit of a go in its dying days, but it wasn't the same as the Big Daddy of them all: The Military and Aviation Book Society.

What actually killed off my membership was the opening of a discount book store in the centre of Reading that traded solely in the returns from the WH Smith book societies for about a quid each. Clearly the forerunner of The Works, which is a feature of every High Street now with its piles of remaindered stock from the big chains, you could pop into this scrappy little place up Smelly Alley and grab yourself the previous month's editor's choice at a knockdown price, as long as you didn't mind it looking like someone had kicked it from the floor of the warehouse into the back of the delivery van.
Oxford Histories: Missing in action
On the down side, you had to wade through shelf after shelf of utter pap that was offered by groups (and I'm going to have to riff on this) such as The Large Print Romantic Fiction Society, The Crap Autobiographies Of People You've Never Heard Of Club, and The Rip A Book In Half And Send It Back Guild, so you often had to spend hours at a time in there to pull out something decent. Over the months, I pulled out almost the entire set of the Oxford Histories of England series for a fraction of the cost. Last seen going into a loft space in Weymouth, heaven knows where they are now.

My dad's membership of the Military Book Society (he had pips on his shoulder as a Lieutenant Colonel in a Territorial Army medical unit) brought me a lifelong interest in the world of warfare. While the young Al Murray was brought up on World War Two, I allowed myself to be terrified by the Cold War. 

The old man was expected to be at the sharp end if and when the Cold War became hot. An avid reader of military analyses posted through our door every month by TMABS, I fully expected this to come at any time during the early to mid 1980s. In fact, as 12th September 1981 came and went – the day I confidently thought Armageddon would come – I felt thoroughly cheated. Every summer, he and his unit were carted off to somewhere in Germany for two weeks, where they were exercised in what to do when the Soviets came rolling over the border. Put bandages on everything, then try not to get killed, I suppose.

My contact with his TA unit was usually sitting bored outside the officers mess at either Chelsea Barracks or somewhere in Harrow, being brought an Indian Tonic Water to drink because "it's all they had". Boredom would then give way to a huge game of hide-and-seek around the Duke of York's barracks, usually until some massive sergeant shouted at us for arsing around in a military facility when the Russians were about to turn up and kill us all. As the offspring of an officer, we got away with an awful lot that's probably horribly illegal under some knee-jerk post 9/11 legislation. Hey - a little bit of politics, there...

So, part way through Mr Al Murray's description of Operation Market Garden, known to everybody else as A Bridge Too Far, he throws in a mention of one of the influential protagonists, (then) Brigadier John Hackett who (and I quote) "wrote a doom-laden book about the Third World War."

BLAM! General Sir John Hackett's so-called future history called The Third World War – written in 1978, but set in 1985 – did it's very best to scare the utter shit out of me. Hackett – a war hero who rose to become Deputy Chief of General Staff – can be safely assumed to know a thing or two about military and political strategy and how a conflict between east and west might pan out. With these credentials, he wrote a book mixed with realistic military and political manoeuvrings, mixed with diaries from those on the ground as the Soviets, in one final throw of the dice, hurled a nuclear device at Birmingham.

Now, there are people out there who would say the Sovs were doing us all a favour re the Birmingham unpleasantness, but in my teenage mind the realism of the situation and the fact it could (and very nearly did on several occasions) happen paralysed me throughout what were supposed to be my formative years.

A second book – The Soviet War Machine – helpfully expanded on Hackett's point by illustrating, in handy pie-chart form, exactly how large the Soviets' nuclear warheads were, and how many more of them they had than us, and – frankly – how keen they were to use them against we quivering lick-spittles of the American capitalist dogs.

The Soviet War Machine was published in 1976, and came with loads of big pictures of tanks (of which they had many, many more than us); big, fast spiky-looking jet aircraft (ditto); heavily-armed ships and submarines (ditto) and loads and loads of nuclear missiles with names like Scud, Satan, and Savage. We were – according to The Soviet War Machine – utterly fucked.

So, thanks to Murray's passing reference, I sought out The Third World War and The Soviet War Machine on Amazon and bought them both. Evenings are now spent half laughing at the puny backwards state of 1970s military technology, half terrified that when the Chinese invade, I'm going to be sliced into very small pieces by a third generation killer robot.

On the bright side, both books cost a penny each, plus a £2.80 delivery charge. In your face, bargain bookshop up Smelly Alley.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Hey everybody! Doctor Who is here!

This materialised in the Bummy Woods behind our house, and is posing a mystery for fellow dog walkers.

Is it a TARDIS? A TURDIS? Is there a dead body inside?

The door was wired shut, but I managed a look through a crack. It's shitter on the inside, and no dead bodies, the local constabulary will be pleased to learn.

So, it's surely the property of the 12th/13th Doctor (whichever method you're using to count) Peter Crapaldi.

And that's all my Doctor Poo toilet jokes exhausted.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


It's the TV talent show for the easily pleased that's sweeping the world! But did you know...

* According to the laws of music, if Louis Walsh tells a contestant that they've "made that song your own", all other versions immediately cease to exist. Bad news if you're Celine Dion.

* The programme was rocked by a scandal several years ago when a band turned up for the auditions with their own instruments and several songs they claim to have written themselves. After the crucifixions, the incident was never spoken of again

* Among previous X Factor winners entirely forgotten by the British public is the boy band Freshly Shaved And Oiled Hunks. They were last seen headlining a jumble sale in a church hall.

* The Dutch version of the programme is the all-nude XXX Factor, and make up your own punchline

* The X Factor is just a diversionary tactic by the shadowy Illuminati organisation to divert the public's attention away from the issues that are properly important. All the real action goes on in The Y Factor.

* Shocked at falling ratings, producers will probably drop the unpopular Al-Qaeda Week next year.

* Simon Cowell's absence from the show this year is being cited as a reason why fewer people are tuning in. However, he dare not set foot in the country after being indicted by the Hague War Crimes Tribunal for inflicting Jedward on the British people.

* The studio audience aren't screaming because they're excited by the occasion. They've been locked in the studio since the first show in 2004, and are appealing for somebody, anybody to come to their rescue.

* The North Korean version of the show is called The Kim Factor, and has been won by Kim Jong-un for the last three years, after all his rivals mysteriously died in separate and totally coincidental bear attacks.

* To spice up ratings next year, "Deadlock" is to be replaced with "One-on-one battle to the death with a bear".

Let's hear it for The X Factor!!!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Seventies Things That People Thought Were Normal

Chatham Street (on a good day)
My drive into work takes me through the concrete abyss that is Reading's Inner Distribution Road, a well-intentioned attempt at town centre management that turned out to be quite the ugliest scar on the landscape ever deposited on Planet Earth.

The fact that they ran out of money in the early 1970s and left it half-built for the best part of fifteen years just made it worse, the road ending abruptly with an unfinished flyover looming over the bus depot that became laughingly known to the people of Reading as the ski jump.

A huge crane looming over the deepest part of the roadway betrays the fact that time is catching up on it, and the hideous grey-slabbed buildings that the council saw fit to build along its length. Disappeared at last is the Chatham Street car park and shop complex, an awul example of architecture that went beyond "brutalist" and into the rolling vistas of "smacking you around the face with a cricket bat with a breeze block nailed to it".

It must have seemed a great idea at the time, but within months of its opening, the complex stunk of tramps' piss and everybody hated it. It is now an enormous block of executive flats, which everybody will hate within a year, if not already.

By the Chatham Street complex, already a dreadful seventies idea in itself, house something that could only - by anybody's standards - be classed as really quite bizarre. The Renault Weldale restaurant.

It was - in short - a gourmet restaurant in a Renault car showroom in Reading. A gourmet restaurant underneath a large multi-storey car park that eventually had to be demolished because the stench of tramps' piss became ingrained into the concrete. People would genuinely dress up, and go to a car showroom filled will decidedly average French cars (and I should know, because our family were their best customer) and have prawn cocktail and rump steak in a large room that smelled of car, and nobody thought it was unusual in the slightest.

The colour theme was 1970s orange, you sat in booths that looked like vintage cars, and that tells you everything you need to know.

Claims that the 1970s were the years that taste forgot is now more or less passed on the nod, and for pretty good reason. My childhood memories may be getting fuzzy around the edges, but they certainly remember that this is about the time when towns decided to give up on the traditional shopping street, demolish whole swathes of their town centres and building monstrous shopping centres in their place.

Reading built one, and called it the Butts. Realising that "butt" is a slang term for "arse", there was a frantic re-branding. The whole area is St Mary's Butts, and the Butts it remains to anyone but puzzled incomers who have no idea what you're sniggering about.

See that red column thing? I've been sick on that.
Of course, the operators of the Butts knew they couldn't have a proper shopping centre experience without the de rigeur luxurious addition: The Shopping Centre fountain. Every shopping centre had to have a fountain, and the Butts had three, which fired water about forty feet in the air up the mall's central hall.

I'm not entirely sure what happened to it. One day it was there, the next the basement pub was taken over by bikers, then closed, and the fountain got concreted over. These days, it's where they put Santa's grotto, so bear that in mind when you're unwrapping your pound shop colouring book set.

We once went to a shopping centre somewhere off the King's Road in London, and their water feature appeared to be based on the Trevi Fountain in Rome, only without the class, the wow factor or loved-up couples trying to recreate famous movie scenes. But it did have a Sainsbury's and multi-coloured underwater lamps, so up yours, Italy. No restaurant in a car showroom though, so up yours too, London.

Now I come to cast my mind back, there were two 1970s town centre shopping centres in Reading. The second - where I worked for a time collecting trolleys for a dreadful discount supermarket - is now used as a zombie shoot-out venue, where you blast at the undead and bewildered former Presto customers with paintball guns to your heart's content. A fitting end, but then it didn't have a fountain.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The relentless search for a better rectal thermometer

I go to publishing industry trade fairs every now and then, and every time I'm drawn like a magnet to the stand run by the British Medical Journal, the nation's number one publication aimed at doctors, medical researchers and the kind of person paid to stick a camera up your bottom.

I'm not a doctor, I don't work in the medical profession, and I've got no real interest in stealing their promotional pens and drink coasters, but it's a fanboy's instinct that drags be endlessly toward them, because – dammit – I heart the BMJ.

With both my parents working in medicine – my father as a doctor, retiring as a professor; my mother as a State Registered Nurse in the days when it was actually about the patients and not hitting performance targets – every week brought something new through the door.

Mum subscribed to Nursing Times, a weekly magazine filled with hideous skin complaints and there caring thereof. Dad got The Lancet ("the world's leading general medical journal") and the good old BMJ. The front cover of the BMJ invariably had a photograph of something hideous, which doctors were urged to identify as some sort of Nauseating Disease Of The Month Quiz answered on the following pages.

Comedian Al Murray's recent memoir "Watching War Films With My Dad" tells of how he gained his obsession with wartime history from his father's influence. Much the same, I'm into military history – particularly Cold War – thanks to my old man's membership of the Military Book Society and an impressive bookshelf of tomes about interesting ways of killing people. I could tell what make and variant ANY plane is - whether NATO, WarPac or otherwise - when it's the size of a fly on a ceiling; and I'm fully versed in tanks, ships, submarines and how to make a nuclear weapon. I once won a trophy for aircraft spotting without really trying, which was the smuggest moment in my life. Thanks, Dad.

But also, it's the medical stuff that's grabbed me for life in the same manner. Which is weird, because I had absolutely no intention of following my parents into the medical profession, hate the sight of blood (anybody's, but especially my own), and will insist on being out cold if I am to be the victim of any medical procedure.

The fact, then, that the so-called sedation for my recent colonoscopy left me fully conscious came as a bit of a shock, for I have no curiosity to see my insides, especially not on a 42-inch widescreen television just feet away from my face. The only thought going through my mind as my bumhole hove into view in glorious high definition was this: "What if they're piping this across the entire hospital, just for a laugh?"

"Are you piping this across the entire hospital just for a laugh?" I asked Dr Singh as the rusty sheriff's badge assumed frightening proportions on the screen in front of me.

"No, but we'll be selling DVDs in the cafeteria later. This won't hurt."

He was wrong. It did hurt, the biggest injury being to my dignity. I never want to see my arse, and especially not the inside of my arse, on the television ever again.

What it boils down to is this: I've got an interest in medicine, its research and its application, just as long as it doesn't apply to my no-longer bullet proof body. And, damnation, I thoroughly dislike it when people are wrong.

That's why I'm obsessed with the quackery that is increasingly influential these days. Expertise is a much-maligned thing these days, so I am a huge fan of science-based medicine with no patience and very little tolerance for the type of anti-vaxxers who – despite the overwhelming landslide of evidence to the contrary – still think that the MMR vaccination causes autism (It doesn't, you twats, and I won't even engage you in discussion if you think differently).

I've also got no tolerance for people who go for faith-healing (it doesn't work), homeopathy (it doesn't work), reiki (it doesn't work), remote reiki (it doesn't work, no matter how far away you are), and remote reiki for pets (because you're taking the piss now). 

But back to the trade fairs.

"I think you're really great. Can I have a biro?"

"That's not a biro. It's a promotional rectal thermometer."


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Miley Cyrus FACTS

She's the new face of the global market in vapid pop music and shameless marketing who is adored by millions of easily-pleased, slack-jawed, tight-trousered morons. But did you know...?

* Miley plans to place a camera between her buttocks (pointing outwards) and create a unique TV documentary on the effects of twerking

* Miley also plans to place a video camera between her buttocks (pointing inwards) and create a unique TV documentary on the state of pop music

* In France, due to European legislation on the standardisation of units of measurement, Miley is known as 1.603-Kilometry Cyrus

* Miley invented twerking trying to dislodge a piece of toilet paper that got jammed up there after a particularly vigorous wipe whilst simultaneously searching for a lost contact lens

* Born completely mute, she was only able to talk after pioneering surgery gave her a tongue that once belonged to a giraffe

* Despite her massive global fame, Miley hasn't given up her day job working as a sports mascot. Here she is at a recent game:
* Miley's identical twin Hannah Montana is now locked in a Colorado correctional facility after being declared an enemy of the state

* Miley's current fame comes as a result of a family bet to "Go on, I dare you to make something worse than Achy Breaky Heart", which she won

* Nelson Mandela refused a recent request to be twerked by Miley because of "ill health" and "who the shitting hell are you anyway?" Instead, publicity hungry spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has stepped up to the plate

* Miley's huge international hit "Wrecking Ball" is about a dream she had where she kicked Adolf Hitler in the nut

* Miley understands what's going on in Homeland
Let's hear it for Miley Cyrus!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Bleedin' Obvious

The Beatles: Were quite cool in their day

We are indebted to value-price clothing retailer Primark for publishing a handy, content-free guide to the bands that appear on the retro T-shirts in their stores.

Now, in case you had never heard of The Beatles, you'll learn that "They’re the best selling band of all time in the US. How cool is that!"; and that Fleetwood Mac are sometimes called (by nobody, ever) "The Macs".

Thanks for that, Primark.

Hopefully, they'll now follow that up with a further series of breathless posts on other stuff that their customers really ought to know, but don't.

Born: Christmas!
The look: Hippy chic, socks and sandals
Fun Fact: Died, but came back to life! Coolio!!

The look: Jumpsuits, dead on the toilet
Fun Fact: Known as the King of Rock'n'Roll, even though he wasn't an ACTUAL King!!

How to do it: In... out... easy now... in... out...
Fun Fact: If you stop breathing, you'll die! Deffo NOT cool!!!
Discovered by: Albert Einstein
The look: Big hair
Fun Fact: Measurements of various quantities are relative to the velocities of observers, meaning space and time can dilate, particularly around strong gravity fields. However, the speed of light remains nonetheless invariant, the same for all observers.WOWSERS!!!

I'm more of a TK Maxx person these days.

Friday, November 08, 2013


My arch-nemesis: We meet again, only this time I am prepared for your lies
I still remember where I was when I realised I was a gambling addict. It wasn't - as members of my family suspect - at the age of 11 when I spunked my entire two-week holiday savings in an amusement arcade on the end on Cromer Pier. I was addicted then for sure, but I didn't know it then.

Cromer Pier, you see, is just about the most boring place on the planet, and combine it watching my dad fishing off the end of said pier, a hobby which I have only ever shown the most grudging of enthusiasm - an eleven year old realises very quickly there are only so many times he can tour the lifeboat station in one day. Turn that one day into an entire week, and you might realise why the flashing lights and the cunka-chunka-chunka of coins coming out of fruit machines lured me in.

My gambling was not a reaction to the needless death of fish. It was a reaction to having money and an illogical need to get rid of it as quickly as possible.

When I'm at my meetings, I sometimes tell the rest of the group the story of my worst ever bet, and the realisation that I might have something going on that was out of the ordinary. I was fifteen, and on my first ever holiday that didn't involve parents or siblings - two weeks playing golf with my grandparents in Northern Ireland. I had somehow failed to appreciate the measures that people had taken to get me there in the first place - I was flown out there, on my own, via the special don't-be-a-terrorist lounge at Heathrow Airport, and given special golf club membership at the local links for the duration of my stay.

The thing is, I had money. Lots of it. Okay, twenty pounds, which was a bloody fortune to a teenager with his bed and board paid. I went straight out and made - simultaneously - my best and worst ever record purchases from a shop in Bangor. New Life by Depeche Mode, along with Wunderbar by Tenpole Tudor. The shopkeep must have thought me mental. But that marked just the start of my self destructive attempts to spend as much as I could in one go.

Tenpole Tudor: What the hell was I thinking?
Down on the sea-front was an amusement arcade. For some reason or another (but being Northern Ireland, a furious unforgiving God was probably not far away from the decision-making process), gambling for money was not allowed, but fruit machines were, as long as they were fixed so they would never pay out. You could put money in, but all you could win was more credit, which would sooner or later become exhausted. And play I did, gambling on a game which was biased toward the house by exactly 100%. It was as I repeatedly stabbed the "Spin" button, that I glanced across at the woman at the next machine along, doing exactly the same thing, with a wild look in her eyes. I assume I looked much the same, only fifteen years old, a terrible haircut (95p at Maurice the Mangler of Henley-on-Thames), and with no fashion sense.

Spending all your money on gambling in one sitting is known in the fellowship as "Doing your bollocks", and I done my bollocks that day, and on many occasions since. Doing my bollocks was not just confined to gambling, as I had a bollocks-doing habit that extended to shopping, not least to music and books, which were often never listened to, or never read.

I might point out that as far as I know, nobody else in my family exhibits this self-destructive behaviour. I'm the only person among us who liked to give all their money to fruit machines, Amazon and eBay, and when I didn't have any money, I'd get my ammo from credit cards with impressive-looking credit limits.

Ah. The credit cards. Wish I hadn't done that. You haven't experienced stress until you've tried to balance four maxed-out credit cards, and learning when and where to intercept the postman so that statements never arrived at the house. And working 110 miles from home, that was a feat of organisation of which any sane person would have been proud. Shame I was utterly bonkers, then.

Normal people know when to stop. Normal people know that when you run out of money, that's the end of your money. People with addictions don't have this switch, and you plough straight on through without regard for the damage you're doing, or how you're going to pay for it. You don't just pull yourself together like normal people pull themselves together. You think you're the greatest liar in the world. In fact, you're about as good a liar as you are a gambler.

It took me until 30th August 2007 to stop. It took me five figures of debt and a threat to go to the police. It took irreparable damage to my marriage. Gamblers Anonymous, then, came as a bit of an education.

I had never been one to make friends, or even make contact with other people. All of a sudden, I learned that blokes shook hands with other blokes, and showed them respect in what can only be called a blokey manner. GA involves a lot of shaking of hands and a lot of respect. The average GA meeting might mean you shaking hands at least 30 times, more than the Queen on an average day. Brought up in a not-blokey culture, it taught me a lot about things, the most important of these being the right time and place to unleash the Cockney accent.

Actually, there's a lot of good that comes from our GA meeting. First, there's free tea and biscuits and sometimes cake. Second, it's held in a church, so there's a never-ending supply of hilarious leaflets from obscure religious groups ("Bringing God's word to Britain's motorway service stations") to keep the atheists amused. And third, everybody else in the room has spent as long as you have - if not longer - royally messing up their lives, so you get some sort of camaraderie from being amongst fellow bell-ends. Between us, we have centuries of experience in being the most awful liars and shits. Having been brave enough to admit this, we should be running the country.

Also, it stops you gambling. It stops you being a dick and turns you into a normal people who can carry cash in their wallet without wanting to spend it on no-win fruit machines. And what they call "therapies" I call ten minutes of decent stand-up and a captive audience. The only trouble is everything you say stays in the room, so my reviews are terrible.

I never thought I was any good at gambling, and the compulsive spending never seemed to offer me any sort of fulfilment. It was, in the end, just something I did, and just something I couldn't stop myself from doing.

It has, to be honest, been a right old shitty waste of time. My advice to anybody who is considering a lifetime as a compulsive gambler, is not to be a compulsive gambler. 

(If you've been affected by any of the issues in this post, dial 0800 I AM A TWAT)

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

In which an out-of-town hick journalist gets to visit headquarters

 Headquarters being Broadcasting House in London.

 Correction: Headquarters being New Broadcasting House in London.

 This is All Souls Church in Langham Place, not long after I was trampled underfoot by screaming fans of Taiwan's Number One Boy Band.

 When it got dark, I made my excuses and headed back to the sticks. But did I get to see the Doctor Who stuff?

 Damn right I did, puny earthlings.

And so, my lift home arrives

Monday, November 04, 2013

Things To Do In Your Local Retail Park If You're Bored

Bored? Why not take yourself down to your local DIY warehouse, ask loads of pointed questions about the relative strengths of different makes of plastic sheeting and negotiate trade prices for several sacks of quick lime.

Then leave your shopping list lying around on the counter.

Escape before the distant sound of sirens gets louder...

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Weekend Video: Manic Street Preachers - Anthem For A Lost Cause

I'm calling this now - the Manics are one of our most important bands, and this video set around the 80s miners' strike that destroyed much of their native South Wales is evidence enough. From their latest album Rewind the Film.

If you don't feel at least a little bit choked up inside watching this, then you have no soul whatsoever.

Friday, November 01, 2013

To All In Tents And Purposes

Thirty years after rivers of mud and piss dampened any enthusiasm I might have had for camping holidays, I find myself spending weekends under canvas and driving around in a camper van brewing tea and sleeping in fields. Let this be a warning to you: anybody could end up camping. You could be perfectly happy living under a roof, and all of a sudden, somebody has a bright idea and you've got a tent and a large collection of fold-away cooking equipment. And enjoying it.

Despite parental attempts to get me to enjoy the experience through signing me up to the Cub Scouts, I never really was a camping sort of person. So I'm not exactly sure how it started. One year we weren't having family holidays, then one year we were, every year.

Until I was nine, our holiday always consisted of me, my brother and my sister spending a couple of weeks in summer at our grandparents' house in Essex, while my parents did whatever it was that parents did once they got rid of three pre-teen children for a fortnight. Sleep, presumably. One year, we spent some time at Green Granny's house, but that was the exception. Summers were - as a rule - two weeks at Other Granny's and the seaside delights that entailed.

Important lesson in Coleman family history: Green Granny-Stroke-Grandfather were my mother's parents. They lived in a small village on the North Down coast of Northern Ireland. Green Grandfather was a former senior engineer at Belfast's Harland and Woolf shipyard, had overseen the installation of the power plant into some of our country's great WWII craft, and was industrially deaf as a result. Now their lives revolved around Helen's Bay Golf Club, nine holes of beauty where, as a teenager, a spoiled any chance I had with a local girl by laying out her father with a golf ball on the second green. Until ball rebounded off his head noggin with the distant sound of two halves of a coconut shell being knocked together, it was the greatest golf shot of my entire young life.

Other Grandfather was a former RAF man turned postman who lived cheerfully on the outskirts of the pre-fabricated concrete monstrosity that is Basildon in Essex. Even when we stayed there in the early seventies the pebble-dashed boxes on the nearby estate were on the verge of collapse, but Other Grandfather lived in a nice semi-detached with prize-winning gardens that were the awe of Laindon Horticultural Society. He had the cups and trophies to prove it, which I once sicked all over, mainly thanks to his home-made pea-pod wine. But mostly due to my inability to stop drinking it. I was ten.

In the tenth year of my life, the great change happened. We still got the two weeks in Laindon, with trips to the fleshpots of Southend, Clacton and Frinton-on-Sea, but our parents decided that we should spent a couple of weeks on holiday. On Holiday As A Family, All Capital Letters.

This is something that hadn't happened since (I believe) the early part of 1972 when we were living in Canada. For reasons I am too young to remember, the plan was to skip over the border from Vancouver into Washington state, and take a look at the Rockies, Seattle and whatever the United States had to offer. Sadly, all I can remember from that trip was being made to wait - bored - at a border post while US Immigration did what it does best - pissing off foreigners. Then there was a trip to Seattle, which was closed, and a trip up a mountain, which turned out to be a volcano that subsequently exploded. America, everybody.

The decision-making process for our 1975 holiday went something like this: Dad commuted to London by train every day. It was not the done thing to talk to your fellow travellers, so over a period of weeks, he managed to arrange a camping trip to Dorset with the chap who sat opposite him on the 7.02 to Paddington, presumably by coded messages hidden in the Daily Telegraph crossword puzzle. Through a series of nods, winks, hand-signals, and - I am reliably informed - two spoken words ("Tom's Field"), tents were purchased, dates were arranged, and on a July Saturday morning, nine people and a dog piled into two cars and headed to Swanage.

Already used to extensive beach holidays at the hands of Other Granny, who arranged days out to Frinton with military precision (even down to the requisitioning of unused beach huts, for which we left a pound note in the unsuspecting victim's tea pot), we made sure we were on the beach all the time, and not - for example - wasting our time skulking around tatty souvenir shops. In fact, much of the holiday was spent finding beaches that had no tatty souvenir shops, such was family distaste at the very sight of a building decorated with buckets, spades and plastic windmills. Tea rooms were just about tolerated, as long as there was no plastic tat. We were the kind of person who would have been ideal for one of Basil Fawlty's gourmet nights, if he hadn't have been such awful riff-raff.

We liked Dorset to much, we went to Devon the next year. 1976 was so hot that my brother's catchphrase that year was "There's a water shortage, you know", but we cared not because we were up to our waists in the sea most of the time, or climbing up cliffs with nothing to break our fall but the small children climbing below us, and ultimately spiky, painful rocks. That year, hardly anybody got killed by spiky, painful rocks, nor swept away by ten-foot rollers on beaches far from the madding crowd that had no tat shops, tea rooms, or any kind of facilities whatsoever. I appear to be describing some sort of ten-year-old boy's idea of an idyllic family holiday, which it was. But never fear - for tension, fear and loathing is not far away.

The following year was when it all went wrong and afterwards we seemingly divorced from my dad's commuting companion, whose family subsequently went on their own holidays. They remained best of pals, but not in the holiday sense, and I suspect that this was probably because somebody had decided to go to Somerset.

I've got nothing against Somerset, but anybody who knows the Mendip Hills knows they are probably the wettest area in the United Kingdom. Even when there's a drought elsewhere, it's coming down in a long, soaking drizzle on the Mendips, sapping any joie de vivre out of anybody who is foolish enough to pitch their tent. Ours were those old seventies numbers that looked a bit like houses. The only problem is that houses don't usually come with rivers whenever it rains, and huge family squabbles about who it was who touched the side of the tent and let the water in, I'm never bringing you ungrateful little sods on holiday ever again you just mark my words, you see next year you're all staying at home bored.

The long, soaking drizzle lasted the entire two weeks, and even on day drips down holes in the ground - Cheddar Gorge, Wookey Hole - there was water finding its way through the seems of my pac-a-mac. Everybody had the grumps, and when I pointed my camera at dad's commuter friend, he let me know in no uncertain terms where exactly on my anatomy he was going to stick it. For example, my anus.

Even my mum, who we assumed over the three previous years enjoyed perching on her knees and cooking on a camping stove that took an age to heat up anything, appeared to find the endless rivers of ditch-water and piss getting her down. Who knew? It's not like she said, every single day.

As a result. Dad's friends didn't come with us the following year, and they missed a doozy. Because Cromer's where I didn't realise that I was a gambling addict.

Cromer Pier: More action than an Alan Partridge film
And if that's not a cliffhanger for a sequel, I don't know what is.