Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Google Zeitgeist, and why we are doomed

Google recently released its so-called 'zeitgeist list' – the top ten search terms for 2013. Let's have a look at the results for the UK portion of the exercise and consider the implications:

  1. Facebook
  2. YouTube
  3. Google
  4. Hotmail
  5. Ebay
  6. BBC News
  7. Amazon
  8. Daily Mail
  9. Argos
  10. Yahoo
And the main implication is this: Society is doomed.

The top five results on this list can all be found simply by adding .com to the name. But it's clear that many, many people do not know this and get to their Facebook accounts by Googling for Facebook.

Saints preserve us, nearly as many people look for Google by Googling Google, a practise that risks an infinite causality loops that could actually bring about the end of the universe. And every now and then, the site they want isn't the top result. Which means the "I'm feeling lucky" crowd end up further away from their Farmville or Candy Crush than they thought, and all hell breaks loose.

Yes, I realise that some browsers now have a url bar that doubles up as a search engine input, but this only encourages stupidity and must be stamped out forthwith.

And yes,  also realise this post is nothing but a stream of techno-snobbism aimed at those who are less computer literate than I. Guilty as charged, and the sooner they bring back the written exam for the internet the better. 

And also yes, I realise I illustrated this with that Batman meme, which probably makes me the worst person on the planet.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


My name is Alistair Coleman. On first meeting, some people will immediately ask me the question "Any relation?"

If they're of an older generation, they're asking me if I'm related to the film actor Ronald Colman, who is without an 'e' and therefore a blasphemer.

Otherwise, I am being asked if I am related in any way to David Coleman, the sports broadcaster who died recently.

After a short period of denial, I decided to pick it up and run with it.

"Why, yes," I would reply, "David Coleman is my uncle."

The lie is only an off-shade of white. While my uncle is David Coleman, he just isn't THAT David Coleman. My uncle Dave worked in an oil refinery, was a damn fine artist and once rebuilt an old school house with his own hands, turned it into an art gallery, before selling it as a community art project. He's a damn fine man, just not the most highly esteemed sports commentator of our times.

Like most great lies, it would eventually come back to bite me on the backside.

Jesus Geoff, for example. He was called Geoff, and he had a friend in Jesus. he was one of my best friends when I worked at the Ministry of Cow Counting, despite the none-less-fashionable jacket/tank top/mullet combination. Unfortunately, once the David Coleman connection was made, he simply would not let it lie.

What didn't help was that David Coleman was pretty much a fixture on Spitting Image at that time, and the latex Coleman was often seen with a finger to his ear-piece letting forth with a Chris Barrie-voiced "Errrrrrr..... quite remarkable!"

You could hear it from a good fifty yards away. The Ministry of Cow Counting's offices were HUGE, and when I walked in through the doors by the lifts in the morning, Jesus Geoff would be nothing but a mulleted speck in the difference. But the "Errrrr....quite remarkable!" could be heard halfway to Edinburgh.

The "Errrrrr....quite remarkable!" would follow me everywhere. Even several years later, having fled the Ministry of Cow Counting for a life in public service broadcasting that didn't involve contact with our bovine chums, a trip to the local big hypermarket resulted in this exchange, at a range of about thirty yards:

"Errrrrr.... quite remarkable!"

"Oh, why don't you just f... Geoff! How you keeping?"

Geoff was fine, so was Mrs Geoff (for whom he converted to Jesusism in order to pursue her romantically), but his quite-remarkabling still left a lot to be desired.

However, top points to me for remembering not to call him Jesus Geoff to his face. No points for him for chasing me half way across Savacentre* doing a bad impression of someone doing an impression of David Coleman.

And now he is gone (Not Jesus Geoff - as far as I know, he's still with us), commentating on the great Olympic Games in the sky. Nelson Mandela's just won the shot putt final with a record heave. Errrr... quite remarkable!

* Nobody - but nobody - in Reading calls the big Sainsbury's in Calcot Sainsbury's. It was opened as 'Savacentre', and it will remain Savacentre long after the bulldozers move in. Ditto the so-called Broad Street Mall. It's The Butts, and will be called that forever, arse connection or no arse connection.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Scarytale of Blue Pork

To B&Q to spend an improbable amount on a new bathroom, my attention drawn away from the salesman by the low quality in- store music.

Now, I've written about B&Q's music before, specifically how they take medium sized hits and album tracks and throw them to a covers band to make almost-but-not-quite soundalike versions which are inflicted on the general public. The result is a cross between "Hey - I know this song. But that's not The Verve, is it?  Is it?"

"The Verve? More like 'The Bloody Nerve'. Am I right? Eh? EH?"

So, as the chap was trying to find the second cheapest bath taps on the computer system, the immortal opening line came from the speaker system: "It was Christmas Eve babe, in the drunk tank...

Jane: "That's not actually The Pogues, is it?"

Me: "Can't be. He doesn't sound like he's been gargling with gravel and vodka"

Jane: "That's not Kirsty MacColl either. More like WORSTY MacColl" 

Poor, dead Kirsty.

Then came a version of Merry Christmas (War is Over) that made you want to start a war.

Never change your music, B&Q, it's a conversation starter.

Thursday, December 19, 2013


The march of progress waits for no man, and after ten years it is nearing the time to say goodbye to The Haunted Brick.

You see in the picture above my MP3 player, a 40GB Creative Zen Touch, bought after several weeks of comparing-and-contrasting, having discounted the cheaper (and better) iPod on the first day of deliberations on the grounds that iTunes was evil. It probably was - and still is - evil, but the truth of the matter is that The Haunted Brick with its disc drive containing actual moving parts was pretty much obsolete the minute it came out of the box, what with the entire industry going off in the direction of flash memory the second I hit the 'order' button on Amazon.

However, The Haunted Brick has served me well down the years, being the home to the best part of 5,000 tunes. But now is the time to knock it on the head like an unwanted Christmas puppy and leave it stinking the place up like so much carrion.

Its downfall was not down to any mechanical failure, unless you count that of my previous laptop which killed itself completely to death rather than be used by me a few weeks ago. Sadly for The Haunted Brick, the new machine runs on Windows 8 and the two devices talk to each other much like the way I tried to ask a taxi driver to drive me to the American Embassy on a visit to South Korea (nice Kimchi restaurant round the back. Nothing dodgy going on). We both used the same words, but somehow I made no sense at all.

The whole episode of buying The Haunted Brick is one that has been repeated at regular intervals throughout my life. In a world of consumerism, I see something that I want to buy, carefully weigh the options, the features and the value. Then I buy the worst one on the market. It's not necessarily the cheapest one - I spent weeks reading camera reviews, eliminating the best candidates through a Robot Wars process of style, control, damage and aggression, before buying one with the battery life of a damsel fly and a refusal to stay in focus. It's still in a box, under my bed, sulking.

Ill-advised purchases? Tell me about them...

Before the MP3 came the portable CD players (one with an encoding system that NO OTHER model ever used), the cars (Fiat Strada, anybody?), the camera tripod that wobbles in a light breeze, and the not-Sony Walkmen which went back to Argos the next day because the door fell off. And so did the door on the replacement, making one believe that the door-off thing was actually a product feature of Argos own-brand door-optional Walkman-a-likes.

So, what this lifelong decade journey has told me is that it doesn't pay to compromise, you tight-fisted moron. Even the football team I support under-achieves, so I suppose it's something engraved on my psyche. I also drive a Nissan Micra.

[An aside. Actual phone call when I was getting it insured recently:

Salesman: Does it come with an immobiliser?

Me: It's a 1997 Nissan Micra. I can leave the keys in the ignition in the centre circle at Wembley on Cup Final day, and nobody's going to touch it.

Salesman: Fair point]

So, my mind is made up. I'm getting an iPod, ten years after everybody else.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas in Fleet

To the local Co-Op for a pint of milk and a quick scan of the "Reduced to Kill" shelf, and the glow on the horizon as I approach resolves itself into the house opposite the shopping parade:

I'm pretty certain you can see this tastefully-decorated abode from space, and residents know when they switch them on when all the lights in the rest of the town dim.

But! Inside the shop we go, and find out that the Christmas edition of this red-top scandal magazine is not a fake that's been doing the rounds on Twitter as I thought:

A Happy Christmas of murder, death, doom, destruction and horror. But the good news is that you get a £5 turkey feast. It's probably a live turkey that comes round your house and pecks your face off.

No, you can't have it. Get your own copy.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Hey! It's Geoff Vader!

So, a few weeks ago, there was a loud pop and my old laptop decided that it was - in the words of the late replicant Roy Batty, time to die.

Well, I was having none of that, bought myself a disc caddy and spent a weekend on the long, laborious task of changing file permissions and transferring the content over to my new machine, which is as evil as the Windows 8 system on which it runs.

Among the files that I found was this thing I made of the boy Adam's 16th last year, which I may or may not have posted on here before.

Obviously, I'm insanely proud of this and my l33t photoshop sk1llz.

I'm open to commissions. Graphic design? Piece of piss.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A new hierarchy for chocolate selection tins

Lack of Quality Street, more like
A trip into the heaving metropolis that is Basingstoke for Christmas shopping, and I suddenly become aware of the hierarchy surrounding that essential purchase: The Christmas chocolate selection tin, one per family member.

And it appears from the pricing that certain supermarkets are also aware of the fact that some brands are more desirable than others, millions of tins of Quality Street (the chocolate selection box for your granny and the tell-tale sign of a last-minute present purchase), clearly priced to clear at a I'm-still-not-buying-that £3.50.

If there was a league table of chocolate selection tins, it would be the Johnny-come-lately Manchester City-types leading the way, with the old brands threatened with the drop


1. Celebrations
2. Heroes
3. Roses


4. Quality Street
Get you act together, Quality Street, or you'll find yourself in the second division with the supermarket-own brands and the Matchmakers.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


TL;DR version: Jane says that this makes me look like she's married a former Blackshirt. I say that I wasn't that bad, and I grew up, eventually.

The death of Nelson Mandela last week got me looking back at what one might like to call my political awakenings. My story is no epic tale of struggle against oppression and injustice, more of one young man's struggle against being an appalling twat with dubious political views.

For example, in my teens, I held what can only be seen as furiously offensive right-wing views, going as far as voting for Margaret Thatcher at the first opportunity I got (worse, my MP at the time was John Redwood, so I was getting two for the price of one), and being chummy with one of the instructors at our Air Cadets who held rather forthright views about the situation in South Africa. 

As a journalist, Jon covered defence issues, and in particular South Africa's intervention in Angola, in which they essentially sent large quantities of exploding things to kill communists and people who rather disliked the apartheid regime. His colourful descriptions of air raids sent to kill "gooks" rather appealed to me, and fitted my world view at the time that military might was good, and people to the left of Margaret only had themselves to blame when the bombs started dropping.

I never said I was a pleasant person. I wore a combat jacket, all the time. I read The Sun and agreed with its plain-talking editorials (but was repressed enough to be embarrassed about looking at page three on public transport). I agreed with Norman Tebbit that all newspapers should be like the Daily Express. Yes, I was an utter lunatic. Incurable, too.

But on the bright side, I learned to hit a target the size of a gnat's left bollock at 300 yards with a target rifle, a skill I still have to this day. I can also identify any military aircraft, ship or vehicle when it's the size of said gnat's right bollock in the distance, a skill that I actually get paid to use on occasion.

When I was much younger than that - just after we had moved out of London - we used to drive down the M4, across the capital and out the other side on a regular basis to get to my grandad's house in Essex. On a bridge just short of the Chiswick flyover somebody had painted the words NO BOKS in paint five feet high.

The NO BOKS sign intrigued me. Nobody ever made the effort to paint over it, and I looked out for it every time we drove past, my mum's lead right foot to the floor, our Renault 12 just nudging light speed. One day, I just had to say something.

"They can't like school that much. They can't even spell NO BOOKS."

Mum tried to explain it to me in terms a seven year old can understand, by the intricacies of apartheid, sporting boycotts and the 1970 Springboks tour were rather too complex. But some people came over to play rugby, some other people didn't want them to play rugby, and they painted NO BOKS on the bridge. Stupid rugby. It was all lost on me before long - as we drove through the East End, GEORGE DAVIES IS INNOCENT was painted over just about everything.

"Mum? What did George Davies do?"

The South African struggle, then, was something that happened to people a long way away, for them I cared not. In my late teenage years, and in an effort to impress an unspeakably posh girl I knew at college and wanted to see with very few clothes on (preferably none at all if I'm going to be honest about it), I accompanied her on an organised coach trip up to London for a political demo outside South Africa House in London.

Oh, yes, I can hear you say - a political awakening at last. Yeah, about that. I was with the Young Conservatives, who were effectively going up there to Jail Nelson Mandela. As things took a turn for an ugly, I took a step to one side and struck up conversation with another combat jacket-clad nerk who was just as terrified as I was.

While not a Road to Damascus conversion, a leaflet pressed into my hands make me question for the first time that - perhaps - the Sainted Margaret might have actually been wrong about South African sanctions, and one or two other things I had held dear up to that time.

Also, Eleanor never spoke to me again, which might have pushed me back from the abyss.

There was no sudden change, no sudden desire to vote for Neil Kinnock or even consider a different political opinion. I still thought the miners' strike was the worst thing ever and I was into my twenties before I even noticed a slight drift to the centre, and I've voted for just about everybody between the end of the eighties to the present day. Because I have learned (and the political machine is yet to embrace the fact) that you are allowed to change your mind. And it helps if changing your mind makes you a better person rather than deciding to hate somebody.

What really changed me was getting a job. A year working at the Dole Office at the back end of the eighties, and being told by the ministry to fiddle the count figures so they'd look better in the papers really does concentrate a young mind toward human suffering and the callousness of the ruling classes.

It's a difficult thing to admit when your current job relies on you being neutral, so neutral I remain on many things. But it's hard to believe that the boy in the 1980s would support equal marriage; hate racism, sexism, homophobia, religious extremism, and discrimination in all its forms. My job gave me a world view, and my world view is that - all things told - it's far better to be kind to people than to blow them up. My knowledge of war, weapons, the mechanics of tactics and violence, the politics of extremism is encyclopaedic, but know that blowing people up is A Bad Thing.

You still have hate, but you need to aim it at injustice turn it into something useful. No, I'm not perfect. Never was, never will be. But as Mandela said: "I'm not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying". Also: "I once ate 27 doughnuts in one sitting."

Nobody ever checks quotes.

Monday, December 09, 2013


"Paint me Jack. Paint me like one of your French dogs"
And while we're here:

Friday, December 06, 2013

The Wisdom of Spock

Undefeated Galactic Champion in the game 'Spock, Paper Scissors'
One cannot fail to be impressed by Spock, the Vulcan character in various versions of the Star Trek franchise, and his other-worldly words of wisdom.

For was it not he who told us the famous Vulcan idiom: "Only Nixon could go to China"?

But that is not the end of Spock's erudite turn of phrase. Other sayings which have been heard throughout the series include:

"Only a Romulan breaks wind in a revolving door"

"A bird in the hand in worth two in the reverse-polarity plasma phase array"

"A Klingon's honour isn't worth a second-hand snot rag"

"Logic dictates that one of us in this room is a liar, am I'm not wearing frilly panties"*

"Your mum's so fat, she's in orbit around Ceti Alpha IV"


Wise words, indeed.

* Saying does not work if you are wearing frilly panties.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013


Samuel Cody: Went up in planes. Died.
When I live in any particular area, I like to find out - almost as a courtesy - a bit about the local history. Because it's nice to know about where you live.

That's why I found out, when I lived in Caversham, that Paul McCartney and John Lennon played a couple of pre-Beatles gigs in my local pub in 1960, and quite coincidentally the chip shop next door is called Wings.

When I lived in Weymouth, I was utterly fascinated by the Civil War battle for the town, in which locals took one side, while residents of the Isle of Portland took the other, resulting in a lot of nastiness, and the unfortunate bombardment of what is now a public toilet.

Now I'm in North East Hampshire, and while Fleet itself appears to have a dearth of local history, we live on the border with Church Crookham and it's long association with the Gurkha Rifles. The town itself can claim to be an Olympic venue, as it's a little-known fact the the rather run-down Tweseldown race course on the outskirts of Fleet was the venue for the equestrian events in 1948.

The only thing that Fleet's actually known for these days is Fleet Services on the M3, to such an extent that it's the first gag that visiting comedians crack at Fleet comedy club. It's getting to the point that I'm suggesting a QI-style klaxon for any mention of the services on a comedy night, because we've heard it, a lot. Or an old-fashioned tarring-and-feathering, it being the only language these curs understand.

In fact, unless they work there, Fleet Services is the one place in Fleet people from Fleet never go. I mean, what's the point? We have shops and greasy spoon cafes without having to nip down to the next motorway junction and pay extra at our own services. There's rumours that you can get onto and off the motorway through a secret locals-only road through the services, but why would you want to? Now that I've even mentioned that it exists is probably enough to have me declared an enemy of the town.

But Farnborough next door is where it's at. We live under the flight path for Farnborough Airfield, used mostly by Middle Eastern royal families, Tony Blair and rich business types to park their executive jets. Every two years the place becomes one of the word's largest arms fairs, but since the RAE gave way to Qinetiq, there's rarely any pointy planes roaring overhead with big bombs attached. Just the frankly massive Vulcan that nearly took our roof off last year, that's all.

You see, the place is steeped in aviation history. In the last years of the 19th Century, an American showman called Samuel Cody came to these shores, having assumed the same surname as his idol Buffalo Bill, and doing rather well out of the subsequent confusion. On thing led to another, and in 1908, he achieved the first powered flight in Britain at Farnborough, not a couple of miles away from where I'm typing this.

Whittle Jet Engine: Just a little something a bloke knocked up in his garage near here
Like many in the early days of aviation, powered flight would be the death of Cody, and so it proved in 1913, when a prototype broke up at 500ft, killing him and his passenger, the cricketer William Evans. Over 100,000 turned out for his funeral in Aldershot, and to this day, large parts of the Farnborough area have the name Cody in his honour. There's also a statue, and a replica of his first aircraft in the aviation museum, well worth the visit.

Then you've got the Frank Whittle connection, the development of the jet engine, the 1952 Farnborough Airshow disaster, and roundabouts with FRICKIN' CAR PARKS IN THE MIDDLE. Also, any town with an area called the Invincible Industrial Estate is doing it right when it comes to naming things. All Fleet's got is Hampshire's largest freshwater lake, which probably powers Farnborough's toilets.

Oh, and Johnny Depp was once seen in a pub in Hartley Wintney. That's historic enough for most people these days.

Monday, December 02, 2013

My EXCELLENT James Bond idea

With the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special now behind us, with a climax that featured all twelve thirteen Doctors, I'm certain that other entertainment franchises could take heed and try out this idea for themselves.

To this end, I've written to Eon Productions with my spunker of an idea:
Dear Eon,

Please be like Doctor Who and make a James Bond film featuring all six regenerations of 007. That would be totally awesome.
With the world under threat from an unstoppable Robo-Blofeld, 007 needs to recruit all five of his previous incarnations to bring SPECTRE's ruthless plan to destroy the global economy to its knees. In an adventure across space and time, helped and hindered by both M and Q, he teams up with half a dozen Pussy Galore clones to track down Robo-Blofeld to an undersea base or something. Before blowing it up, or something. You can do the details.

Only Q knows Bond's dreadful secret – the secret agent is a clone dragged out of deep-freeze as each incarnation is "retired" and supposedly destroyed. But why are all six Bonds still on active service? And am I the only Q?

Of course, nothing can possibly stand in the way of Connery, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan, Craig and the other one, victory is assured and the merch sales go through the roof.

A win-win for everybody, I think you'll agree.

I am not mad.

Your pal,

Albert O'Balsam (Licence to Kill)

PS To reflect the current reality within the security services, the final 45 minutes will comprise nothing but Daniel Craig Bond doing paperwork and filing his travel expenses.

This is going to be the cinematic event of the century, mark my words.