Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Public Apology

I want to make a public apology to anybody shocked by my outburst on Bangor High Street this morning. I never intended to offend anybody and I promise to pay for any damage I did to the gentleman’s crutches.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t know what came over me. I’m normally a great advocate for disabled rights and I would never normally push a wheelchair out of my way. But when I get something in my head, it’s hard to stop me. Of course, if the guy hadn’t made a point of wheeling himself in front of me while I was rushing for the bus, I might not have acted the way I did. And he shouldn’t have threatened me with his crutch. And what kind of person needs a wheelchair and a crutch? I’m not saying he was playing the professional victim, though we know there are enough of those around these days, but he should take some responsibility for what happened. Isn’t it only right, in a society where we’re all equal, that I have the right to pick a fight with a guy in wheelchair. Can’t he also be in the wrong?

However, let’s say no more about it. If he wants to email me his details, I’ll sort out replacement crutch. And if any damage was done to his wheelchair, I’ll have that fixed too. As for any physical trauma, I’m afraid he’ll have to deal with that himself. There’s a limit to how much apologising I will do when I’m not totally in the wrong. It wasn’t as though I asked him to rip off my thong and parade it down the street on the end of his crutch. But the less said about that the better. I've had enough of apoligising.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Good Work If You Can Get It

In a desperate attempt to bring more money into the house, I did some work over the weekend that took me out of my familiar comfort zone of the Green Dragon Tavern and into… Well, it wasn’t the first time I’ve worked as a stripogram but it had to be one of the most uncomfortable.

My destination was a house that sits on the outskirts of Bangor but, other than this one detail, I can’t say too much about it. If you know the area, you’d immediately know where I’m talking about and you’d undoubtedly know the people involved.

The phone call from the agency came in a seven o’clock last night. It gave me the usual clear directions to the house and some further instructions as to the role I was to play. I had to get there at ten o’clock, wearing my policeman’s uniform, and having memorised a speech down to the specifics of a cat’s name.

At nine fifty three, I turned the car up the short drive leading to the house. Fearing that my arrival might be noticed, I parked in the shadow of a low willow that resembled a hunchbacked gardener sweeping the path. It gave me the cover I needed to get prepared and only when my helmet was sitting snuggly on my head, with my hair pushed tight down my collar, did I make my way up to the front door and ring the bell.

I should have realised that something was wrong the moment the chimes began to play ‘Morning Has Broken’ but I didn’t have time to think of much about anything other than trying to remember a cat’s name since the door opened almost immediately.

The woman standing there was dourness dressed in a plaid skirt and a light green blouse fastened at the neck with an old fashioned broach. She couldn’t have been older than forty but her shoes looked to have come through World War II with her. They were in black leather, block nosed, with a buckle on the side and utterly suited to the opaque stretch of thick nylon stockings that concealed her shapeless legs.

‘Yes?’ she asked.

‘Miss Primrose?’ I replied, a bit flustered at the time but not enough now to make me reveal the woman’s real name. I really should save her the embarrassment.

‘Yes, that’s me,’ she said, a tight voice fit for good breeding and manners.

‘Could I come inside? I need to talk to you about Mr. Marmaduke,’ I said, beginning to suspect I had the wrong address. ‘I believe he’s your cat?’

‘Oh, yes, yes, he is,’ she said, her hand straying to her neck in that nervous way that some women have. She ushered me inside. ‘What’s wrong with him. I’ve only this minute let him out of the kitchen...’

The hall led into a front room where I found four other women, all of the same age as Miss Primrose, and all of them of the same kind of slightly repressed spinster types.

‘My friends,’ she explained.

‘Ah, I’m sorry to interrupt a party,’ I said.

‘Oh, we’re just having a quiet drink,’ she explained. ‘It’s my last night as a single woman.’

‘I see,’ I said. ‘Well, I’m sorry to bother you when you have guests but I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. Won’t you sit down?’

‘No, no, tell me now,’ she said nervously but, nevertheless, sitting down. I smiled. It would make my job easier.

‘Yes,’ I continued, ‘you see, I have rather sad news about Mr. Marmaduke.’

‘Has something happened to him?’ she asked, tears coming quickly to her eyes.

‘Not at all,’ I said. ‘I’m here to investigate reports of neglect.’

‘Neglect?’ Her voice conveyed the right degree of outrage. ‘I don’t understand…’

‘I’ve had reports that Mr. Marmaduke has been neglecting your lovin’.’

It was corny, I know, but it’s what I’d been told to say.

‘I beg your pardon?’ asked Miss Primrose, suddenly flushed and looking quite confused. It was time, I thought, to clear up her confusion.

‘I’ll show you what I mean,’ I said and took out the small tape cassette player from my pocket, hit the play button, and set it down on a coffee table. The flat tinny strains of Tom Jones singing ‘Like a Woman’ radiated no further than the table as I began to unbutton my tunic.

Well she’s all you’d ever want,
She’s the kind I’d like to flaunt and take to dinner.
Well she always knows her place,
She’s got style, she’s got grace, she’s a winner.
She’s a lady, whow whow whow, she’s a lady…

It was all rather pitiful. Normally when I begin one of these strips, the women in the room are ready for it and it’s not long before the screaming begins and the music is drowned out by the excitement.

Only, in this case, there was nothing. Not a scream, not a groan, not even a shocked intake of breath. All I could hear was the ticking of an old grandfather clock in the corner of the room as five women looked at me with faces which began white and only got paler as I started sending my policeman’s uniform to all corners of the room.

I was down to my thong when Miss Primrose interrupted me.

‘I take it that you’re not with the local constabulary,’ she said.

I dropped my hands to my side, already feeling a bit warm from all the gyrations and hip thrusting. I looked down at my naked torso, glistening with sweat.

‘What gave it away? Was it the body glitter?’

She shrugged and pressed stop on the tape player. ‘I think we've had enough of dear old Tom. Why don’t you sit down and I’ll get you a cup of tea,’ she said. ‘You look exhausted.’

‘You don’t want me to finish?’

She looked around the room. ‘I’ll go and make the tea,’ she said. ‘And in the meantime, why don’t you find out which of my friends put you up to this.’

I slumped down into a chair, disconsolate at another professional failure.

‘Don’t worry,’ said a mousy little woman sitting on the end of the sofa. ‘You’ll get your money.’ She smiled and looked at her friends. ‘Don’t tell Sarah, but we all paid for this treat, only I think there’s been a mistake. You were meant to be a singing telegram. You were meant to sing “We have a friend in Jesus.”’

‘Sing? I can’t sing,’ I said. ‘And what kind of hen night is this? Asking a man to sing about Jesus?’

‘Hen night?’ the woman laughed. ‘This isn’t a hen night.’

‘But your friend said this is the last night she’ll be a single woman.’

‘That’s right. Tomorrow, Sarah’s taking the vow. She’s becoming a bride of Christ. She’s becoming a nun.’

Well, I’ve known plenty of nuns in my time but not one of them had been religious, unless, of course, lap dances have become sanctified by the Church. I was about to mention this when Miss Primrose came back in carrying a cup of teal in one hand and a small leather bound book in the other.

‘Now then, I want you to drink this while I read you something,’ she said.

‘You’re not going to save me, are you?’ I asked.

She smiled and patted the book. ‘I don’t save anybody. I leave that to a very good friend of mine. He can be very persuasive.’

That I didn’t doubt.

I sank back into my chair and gazed down at my thong as the woman began to speak. It might have been a trick of the light or something in the tea, but I swear I saw a bearded face looking back at me from the sequins.

And, thought I couldn’t be sure, I like to think that he was grimacing too.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Sandwich

The Chipster created a new sandwich today: one half white bread, the other brown, and wedged between the two a large fried egg wrapped in Bachelor’s super noodles. I call it the ‘Stripper’s Delight’, though it might more accurately be called ‘The Empty Cupboard’.

How I came to create such a stunning culinary treat isn’t as long a story as you might imagine or, indeed, hope. The doorbell rang at eight o’clock this morning and I heard Gabby answer it. She’s always up early to shoot the larks with her air rifle, which perhaps accounted for the laughter that soon followed. I heard some muttered conversation and then Gabby moving around the flat. I heard cupboard doors opening, more chatter, and then the front door close again. Only then did I settle back to sleep, the distant crack of air pellets reassuring me that my slightly sociopathic Romanian was watching over me.

I got up, two hours later, refreshed and feeling good with the world. Gabby was doing her yoga in the middle of the living room and, not watching to disturb her while she was ‘greeting the sun’, I made my way into the kitchen to make my breakfast.

That’s when I discovered that all the cupboards were empty.

‘Where’s my Alpen?’ I cried, staring at the spot where the box use to stand beside the cornflakes. ‘And where are the cornflakes? There was a new box there, last night, and I was looking forward to opening it.’

I walked into the living room. ‘Where’s all the food?’ I repeated, realising that, with her head wedged between her thighs, Gabby might not have heard my previous outburst.

‘Sudan,’ said Gabby as her back gave a crack.

‘Sudan what?’

‘The Sudan,’ she expanded. ‘Man come from charity. He say we give food for Sudan.’

‘And you gave them everything? Couldn’t you have just given them the jar of cheese dip we’re never going to eat?’

‘I only give them good we not open,’ she said. ‘You can buy more.’

‘And what are the Sudanese going to do with my Alpen?’ I asked. ‘Is it even possible to eat it with goat’s milk?’

‘Stop complaining,’ snapped Gabby. ‘Always complaining. Gabby do good. Feed people. Feed the world!’

I muttered something vague Bob Geldof-like as I returned to the kitchen feeling less than charitable. Picking my way through empty cupboards, I eventually improvised the meal I described earlier.

And isn’t this the unseen face of charity? For every well dug in a out-of-the-way village, there are men going hungry elsewhere in the world but usually somewhere in Wales. For every man walking around Angola wearing a hand-me-down golf sweater, there’s a man walking a golf course exposed to the cold. Charity is not always a good thing and neither was my egg and noodle sandwich.

I’m now off out to the local cafe. If you want me, you know where to find me. I’ll be the man you see wearing a thong hanging limply from his shrivelled waist.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Seed Pods from Outer Space

Alien pods. Or at least, that’s what Gabby thinks they are.

They began to appear two days ago but only really came to my notice when I took off my thong last night and found dozens of the things hidden deep inside the pouch. It was as if they’d gone there for the warmth and humidity. Gabby went pale when I showed them to her.

‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers,’ was all that she would say and shook her head slowly.

I had hoped for more of a reassuring explanation from a woman who spends most of her days down by the allotments.

Today there are hundreds more of them. They are literally floating through my window and, even as I type, the odd one will settle on my keyboard. Are they seeds? Are they insect? Are they even of this world. I don’t know what they are and I need help. There aren’t many trees in the area and we’re at the top of a three story building. Yet these little things keep dropping from the sky, as though making the final stage in some interplanetary trip.

Before I wake up to find that everybody in Bangor has been replaced by an unthinking zombie, could somebody at least alert the authorities.

The invasion has started, I tell you. They are here among us!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Jack Nicholson

I think Gabby's going to crack if I ask her to take another picture of me. but for Reading The Signs, here is my Jack Nicholson impression using only my pair of sponge eyebrows.

Sponge Eyebrows

Now let this be an end of the matter. I have more important things to be doing over the next few days than bothering Gabby to take a picture of me wearing my sponge eyebrows.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

For Those Who Doubted...

Yes, it's me without eyebrows...

When Reciprocal Linking Becomes Hard

You know me. I’ll link to anybody. I've no shame. Not that I get many people wanting to link to me. My buttocks seem to turn most readers away. Today, however, I’m stuck with a real dilemma. I’ve been linked to and kind words have been said. But how does a man go about linking to a picture of an over-excited Gary Busey? It could possibly be Gordon Ramsay but I really don't want to picture that without a stiff drink. I should also perhaps begin to choose my words more carefully.

Anyway, don’t click on the link to Fruit Loops in my sidebar and certainly don't click here if you’re easily offended.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Grooming Tips of the Bored and Restless

I found myself at a bit of a loose end last night. I’d finished watching the final episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm’s second series. Gabby was at a meeting of the local amateur dramatic society who had offered her the lead role in their upcoming musical version of The Importance of Being Ernest. It meant that I was left alone, sitting watching Sky News and the same headlines cycle around for the third or fourth time. I was also doing so much sighing and general moping that I really don’t know how I came to have an electric razor in my hand. I do know I was soon running it over my arms, my chest, my legs… All pretty futile and a measure of how bored I’d become.

Years of waxings and electrolysis mean that there’s less hair on my body than on a lizard’s belly. But being bored, I carried on and even shaved the tops of my toes for the first time in my life. That’s when I began to get a bit wistful, making raspberry noises with my lips, and singing ‘hair free’ to the tune of 'Born Free'. It was when I became distracted watching the lovely Anna Jones on Sky News that I began to run the shaver over my chin, across my upper lip, and then up the side of my jaw. And before I knew what I was doing, I had shaved off my right eyebrow.

I think I'd intended to trim a few of the longer hairs which I could see out of the corner of my eye. Only the blades had grabbed hold and the whole hairy mess went gzzzzzrrrrrrrrr and I felt my eyebrow vanish.

At first I panicked, cursing Sky News and Anna Jones for taking my mind off the eyebrow at hand. I rushed to the bathroom mirror to see the damage. Nine tenths of the eyebrow had gone, with only a bit remaining in tact on the right. It made me look like something from Chinese opera, so I had no choice. I shaved that bit off.

What could I do? I decided to be bold and not to hesitate. It was clear that I looked ridiculous with just one eyebrow so I acted with the kind of firm decision that we’re lacking in these sad days: I shaved my other eyebrow off too.

So now I’m typing without eyebrows. It’s an odd sensation. I’ve already discovered that without eyebrows, sweat hardly stops dripping into my eyes. I couldn't exercise this afternoon until I’d sellotapes two pieces of sponge where my eyebrows once sat. I’m also finding it quite difficult to express surprise or to otherwise frown, though the sponges also help here too.

But enough of all this: does anybody know how long it takes for eyebrows to grow back?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Finding My Level In the Flood Waters

At what point does a turd become a fun activity for all the family?

This thought struck me yesterday as I watched Sky News report on the floods.

Dressed in all the most expensive gear bought straight from the North Face via Millets, their reporter was stood up to his hips in the flood waters and remarking on how everybody was trying to remain in good spirits despite the disaster that had befallen their town. Behind him, some fun loving guy could be seen swimming down the high street and having a splashing good time. The fact that he was swimming in rainwater mixed with untreated human sewage didn’t seem to bother him in the least. And he wasn’t the only one. In the last 24 hours, I’ve watched countless children riding their bikes through the brown waters or enjoying the fun of wading through slurry. I’ve also watched adventure seekers paddling canoes down waters infested with feces.

Perhaps I just don’t understand the difference.

Should I ever come across an unflushed public toilet, I’m overcome by great hulking waves of nausea like I’ve licked Gordon Brown’s armpit. Yet, should I come across the same thing ten minutes later floating past Woolworths, am I meant to look on it differently? Does it become like a frisbee or one of those inflatable balls people play with at the beach? Or are people so divorced from the reality of how their waste leaves their house that they don’t actually consider the possibility that, in the case of a flood, it might come floating through their living room window?

That notion is, of course, totally absurd. Almost as absurd as the idea that a flood plain might occasionally flood.

The Ubiquitous Quick Monday Morning Harry Potter Review


There are moments in 'Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows' when I began to worry that J.K. Rowling had been spending too many late nights with Malory’s ‘Le Morte d'Arthur’, Grimms ‘Fairy Tales’, or even Sir James Frazer’s ‘The Golden Bough’. A deer running through a forest leading to the discovery of a magical sword that needs to be plucked from a lake; arcane symbols etched into old books of Germanic fairy tales; the hero who sacrifices himself to save others only to find that he surprisingly survives death: in the things that it borrows, the story of the last Harry Potter is surprisingly old fashioned and you needn’t even think about the archetypes of literature to find resonances. Luke Skywalker’s ghostly supporters mirrors the friends and family that gather around Harry as he goes into his final battle. Indiana Jones made a similar leap of faith at the end of ‘The Lost Crusade’ in order to save his father. Even in its big set piece battle, you can’t help but think it will look great, up on the screen, borrowing as it does, so much from the stock of CGI special effects and the legacy of Ray Harryhausen.

Yet to think this is another reason to hate Harry Potter is also to forget why it’s so popular in the first place.

The Potter books live in the popular imagination because they are immediately familiar. They are not too far removed from the world of St. Trinians, old Ealing comedies, or even those politically incorrect Enid Blyton books we all read as children but have now been forced out of school libraries in favour of Jacqueline Wilson’s latest epics on divorce and child abuse. Familiarity has always been the popular strength and the critical failing of the Potter series. We return to them because we know what we’re going to get. They follow a pattern that we’ve come to anticipate like the first hit of a sherbet fountain. The early chapters always detail Harry’s unhappy summer holiday spent living with the Dudleys. Then we get to the journey to Hogwarts where we meet the new staff and students. Then it’s the school term, the first signs of dark business going on inside the school, Harry’s loneliness at Christmas… We also expect Harry to spend a good portion of the book reflecting on his orphaned condition, his link to Voldemort, and (in the later books) some unwelcome coming-of-age stuff that got in the way of the wizarding. If anything, the familiarity became too familiar and the longer books got a too self-perpetuating – a sign of a book going from a few hundred pages to brick sized.

Yet even at their most repetitive, the previous Potter books were never boring. They may have lacked Terry Prachett’s wit and humour, but they had far more imagination, story, and heart. They’re less like Tolkien and much closer to T.H. White’s ‘The Once and Future King’, though, unlike Rowling, White wrote his Arthurian tales with a clear social aim which perhaps got in the way of the story. As a conscientious objector, White wrote a book that demystified heroism, mocking its ceremonies and the ultimate pointlessness of war. White was also a better writer of English prose than either Prachett or Rowling.

Potter-haters usually make it a point to mention that Rowling is not one of the best English stylists. But, then, neither are the critics. It could be argued that her unflamboyant style makes her a better writer than many who strive for clever effects. Rarely does it jar on the ear or get in the way of the story. She might not dwell on the deep psychologies of her characters but who really wants that from a writer who has made her name with such a free roaming imagination? Harry Potter’s world is one of almost limitless possibilities, where any problem can be solved with a wave of a wizard’s wand. And this is one of the great pleasures of reading Rowling. She shares with Roald Dahl that love of the British eccentricity, of cobbled together technologies, and garden-shed innovation.

It’s also guilt free writing. There’s very little there to suggest that the Potter novels have any social conscience beyond a very broad message about the fascism of ‘pure bloods’. The note in the flyleaf mentioning that the book is printed on ’100% Ancient Forest friendly’ paper is really as far as that social conscience really gets. Rowling is soon having too much fun pulling down the world she’s created over the previous six books. The story has hardly begun before we’re faced with the deaths of two quite key figures. At one point, after a series a particularly unexpected deaths, the phrase ‘scorched earth policy’ came to my mind.

At six hundred pages, it’s barely more than perhaps a dozen key incidents, held together with plenty of introspection as Harry retreads the same old ground. The plot tries to pull together the earlier books into one coherent explanation that will leave some wondering if it really stands up to scrutiny. If, as Rowling claims, all seven novels had been outlined before a word had been written of book one, then the fact that she’s kept to the plan is more impressive than the often convoluted explanation at the book's conclusion would suggest.

The biggest surprise is the ending. Given the time spent in the novel discussing heroes welcoming death, it feels a bit of a let down. As did the epilogue. Unable to kill Harry, Rowling seems to have found a compromise, allowing Harry a happy ending while also ensuring that this really is the last in the series. She condemns Harry to a different kind of death: becoming middle aged, middle class, and almost muggle-like. It was sad that she didn't allow Harry the heroic end found by others in the novel. It was an ending which suggested, as Dumbledore had earlier explained, that ‘there are far, far worse things in the living world than dying’.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


I did it! My PC is fixed!

With the perseverance that only a well oiled man can muster, I finally fixed the problems that plagued me last week. I've lost months of old files, emails, and all the things you collect when using a PC, but at least I can work.. I'll be back to blogging tomorrow and hope to quickly forget what has been a rough seven days.

(And I'm 100 pages from finishing Potter...)

Chip Dale's A Tart

Okay, I’m going to be a tart again and have a good moan. But does my bloody bad luck never end?

This horrible cold is finally settling into congestion and sinus headaches and has taught me never to have coffee with an old friend who works in an infant school. I swear those teachers are immune to the germs that just leap for the first man that they see wearing a thong. It’s my second bad cold of the year and, despite what you’ve probably heard, there’s nothing attractive about the sight of a wheezing Chipster dripping with mucus as he straddles a bridesmaid on a hen night.

Being ill has, however,allowed me to read and enjoyed 300 pages of the new Harry Potter. Only, Amazon displayed their usual brilliance by sending me another damaged copy, no doubt packed my some ungrateful 15 year old, having their first experience of a job in the big bad world. Last time, my edition was missing 100 pages and I had to rush to the shops to get myself a second. This time, the cover was folded back and ripped.

As to the book itself: it’s more of the same and I won’t spoil it for you. It just reminds me that effortless story telling makes you feel like the thing writes itself. Potter just feels effortless and it just goes to show what memorable (though two dimensional) characters do to a story. It also reminds me how much I enjoy reading and have made a promise to myself to go through my book shelves and fill in all the gaps in my learning.

That’s if I don’t quit my life as a stripper and go and get myself a proper day job…

You see, the problems with my PC continue to get bigger by the day.

This is an appeal to anybody who understands this stuff: I just can’t install Windows XP on my PC. It has three SATA drives, which means that the XP installer won’t recognise them without preloading the right drivers from floppy disk. After days spent searching for a floppy disk that still works (I haven’t used them in years) I managed to load the drivers, only for the PC to tell me that it still can’t see my hard drives.

It’s getting insufferable and I know my work will begin to suffer on Monday. I rarely blog from my laptop and do most of my writing at the PC. The laptop is for revising, where I can be more relaxed and hidden away from the distractions of all Romanians. But I guess I’ll have to get used rewriting to the sounds of chickens being plucked and peasant songs being sung. The alternative is to go out and spend £200 on a copy of Windows Vista. Only, I don’t have £200 to spend on Vista, which itself, makes me wonder what kind of man devotes himself to the noble art of the strip whilst remaining so broke?

Depressing thoughts.

Before I start appealing for anybody who knows any good jobs going in the Bangor area, I’m going to finish the Harry Potter. It might make me change my mind. And I’m also hoping it will cheer me up with a suitably happy ending…

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Pottering About Again

I'm back on my feet. Unsteady, slightly weak, but feeling much better.

A really bad week ended yesterday with my going down with my second heavy cold of the year. At what point does a cold become flu? Gabby says her cold became flu the moment I caught it. Is it really that simple? Do women really catch colds and men get flu?

I spent the day in bed, sniffling, sneezing, aching and sweating, and in my more lucid moments, trying to figure out how to restore a dead computer. (If anybody knows an easy was of installing Windows XP onto a machine with SATA drives, I'd be so grateful)...

Today, I'm going to continue to recuperate by reading a book. It might well be something by Nabokov or Greene. Or it might just be the new Harry Potter. And I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Embiggening The Enbiggen

It’s hard to criticise The Simpsons. Call me a simple-minded man in a thong if you insist, but the show is to our age what Michelangelo’s David was to the cause of all men with marble genitalia during the Italian renaissance. Yet however much I'm a fan, I have to draw a line at the word ‘embiggen’ (sometimes spelt 'enbiggen'). It isn’t the case that the joke has gone on too long. It’s that people seem to have missed the joke in the first place.

Three times this week I've heard the word used in everyday conversation. The first time, I was prodding courgettes in Tesco's vegetable section when I heard a shelf stacker explain to her friend how she planned to 'embiggen' her breasts with implants. I then heard the word used on the news last night and then I saw it again, today, written in a comment on a blog. Not that there’s anything wrong with English adopting new words. It’s one of the great qualities of our language. Only, ‘embiggen’ is the linguistic equivalent of a wart. It’s a joke word. It was first used by a man who had the verbal dexterity of a tongue tied anteater. It's only through good luck that I've not been handling a sharp object when I've heard it used. I could easily have damaged myself.

The man who first coined the word 'embiggen' was that phony hero, Jebediah Springfield. He uses it in his memorable aphorism, ‘travel enbiggens the smallest of men’. Only, the line itself is memorable precisely because it’s so ungainly. It’s as fraudulent as the founder of Springfield himself. A man could rupture his spleen trying to make a line like that sound good and it is ugly precisely because ‘embiggen’ is a lexical monstrosity. Why use 'embiggen' when we can choose ‘enhances’ or ‘improves’?

But this, of course, was the joke. The Simpsons also coined another word to describe this kind of word. That word is ‘cromulent’, a far better word in that it sounds suitably unpleasant and is ‘used in an ironical sense to mean legitimate, and therefore, in reality, spurious and not at all legitimate’. You won’t find either word in the Compact OED and with any luck, they'll be forgotten by all Tesco shelf stackers, Newsnight reporters, and bloggers. After all, we don't want to make embiggen bigger than it already is...


Even a little time spent among their kind is enough to teach us that people who take pride in their intelligence usually have a monstrous capacity for stupidity. And I don’t even mean good stupidity; that rare breed of stupidity by which a normally sensible person does something foolish in order to amuse others. Good stupidity reveals one’s sense of the ridiculous and a confidence in one’s own abilities as a human being. It also displays a personal assurance about one’s sanity and is a credit to anyone brave enough to acknowledge it.

Bad stupidity is perhaps less rare and more sought after, though never by its proper name. Bad stupidity takes on many forms. It is intellectual snobbery, pretension, conceit, and arrogance. It is the vice that intelligent people display when they justify the reasons they act immorally or out of pure evil. It is there when people adhere to an ideology or choose the fetishism of ideas over the practical sense of moderation.

Yet of all the examples of stupidity that arouses interest, it is the fetishism of pedantry that I find the strangest of all. Pedantry, in its purest form, is a form of personal trespass. It’s the teacher’s hand over your shoulder when you least expect it. It is the note scribbled in the margin of your life, ignoring any sizable achievement in order to reveal your smallest failings to the world.

The true pedant is an intellectual vole; happily scratching away at your foundations, encouraging the rot of cynicism to weaken your enthusiasms. Pedants do no harm in the short term but bring down the biggest schemes by their incessant gnawing. The smallest mistake is enlarged and made to appear greater than they really are. The pedant has no interest in largeness of any kind. They value the point of fact, the detail of a word, a single mistake in a sentence. Demonstrating their mastery of a small domain, the pedant thereby overcomes their own insignificance in the cosmic order by ridiculing others. They are the worst kind of cynics, for whom eternal doubt is the only certainty they will ever acknowledge.

Intelligent writers are rarely pedants. To write intelligently is to write with an awareness of audience. The fundamental instinct of an intelligent writer is to communicate with a reader. Clarity is their ultimate goal. In contrast, as the saying goes, have you ever seen a pedant with a warm heart?

Bad intelligent writers crave something else. Clearly expressed ideas do not interest them. They dread the moment they are exposed as humans, with all the doubts humans typically feel about the world. Consequently, bad intelligent writers hide behind unwieldy lexicons and construct abstractions which they hope nobody will ever wish to test. Orwell called Joyce an ‘elephantine pedant’ but there are many less capable than Joyce who commit bigger sins. Bad writers ultimately write for themselves, proving that they are the lone and lonely masters of a subject they do not wish to share with others.

The English Language gives the ambitious writer great freedom. Its infinite complexities allows us to construct vastly complicated sentences. It accounts for the characteristic failing of many writers who overlook the elegance of the simple clause. They choose, instead, to write prose that struggles on beyond the point where sense would have drawn a breath. Complexity is usually a good thing, yet in written English, complexity is anathema to clarity. It often stands in the place of expression or even saying anything meaningful at all. As the space between good and bad intelligence is a thin divide, so too is the space between good and bad prose extremely small.

It is often as small and as simple as a full stop.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Stick Got Stuck

I must have run over a Mormon’s dog. Or, if not a Mormon, then one of that lot that believe in predestination and bad things happening to good people. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such a terrible run of bad luck. I do know that it’s been a hellish 48 hours.

The rain hasn’t stopped since Sunday afternoon and today the thunder has been rumbling since dawn. Not that I’ve had much chance to notice either. I slept surrounded by a dismantled computer with the Windows boot screen filling dreams that refused to fully load.

After Gabby kicked me out of the flat on Sunday, I spent a miserable night in a local hotel run by Mrs. Norris, a fifty two year old landlady with a taste for margaritas and lonely lodgers. My exile lasted until early Monday morning, when Gabby rang my mobile at nine thirty.

‘Chip, I forgive you,’ she said, as simply as that and without a degree of sympathy for the innocent man forced to spend an evening faking an asthma attack before barricading the door to his hotel room.

‘What do you mean, you forgive me?’ I asked, determined that my wrongful punishment should not pass without comment. ‘You threw me out of my own flat for no reason except an old friend decided to kiss me on the cheek!’

‘I know, I sorry,’ said she of the knee jerk reactions. ‘But I want you to come back. I miss you, Chippy.’

Half an hour later, leaving a tearful Mrs. Norris behind me, I dropped my bag in the hallway of the flat. Gabby hugged me in welcome but before I could say I was happy to be home, she was leading me into the office.

‘It stopped working when I turn it on this morning,’ she said.

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘Computer. The computer not work.’

I began to see why she had forgiven me so quickly.

‘Computer turn off and I can’t get it back on again. I know you can fix.’

And with that, she shut and locked the door to the office and left me to work my magic. It took me fifteen hours to get it to load but by then I’d ripped out the sound card, two graphic cards, three hard drives, a floppy drive, a DVD burner. Then I’d got down to the gut of the machine. I cleaned out the fans, tested all the power connections, tightened screws. Only at one o’clock this morning did I think of pulling out one of the memory modules.

And the machine finally came alive.

After a day searching, I discovered that one stick of memory had failed. Small blessing really. Eighty pounds might not seem much but it’s eighty pounds I don’t have. Only Gabby was neither impressed nor forgiving.

‘You want to go back to hotel?’ she screamed when I told her the bad news. ‘You get computer working and I forgive you. But, Chippy, if I see one blue screen. I kick you out again.’

So now I’m living by the moment. I have to find the money for the new memory and then I’ll be trusting that the engineers at Microsoft have written an operating system stable enough to protect me from a prolonged stay with Mrs. Norris.

Like I said: it’s been a hellish 48 hours. I now worry that the next 48 are going to be much much worse.

A Partridge In The House

I don't like to post this sort of thing but it made me smile. I'd like to think this guy doesn't know what he's doing. I really hope he doesn't know...

Monday, July 16, 2007

It Never Rains But It Pours...

Does anybody know how to fix a PC that won't boot up? Black screen, dead keyboard, no hard disc activity, but I can hear all the fans working. Monitor works on a different machine so I know it's not that.

Free thong for the person who knows the answer.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Hungarian Goat Knickers

The bad weather finally broke today and I made the most of an unseasonable dry spell by spending the afternoon walking around Bangor with Gabby. I now wish I’d stayed indoors.

It was Gabby’s suggestion that we go clothes shopping on a Sunday. I agreed but only to placate the poor girl. She’d been left feeling pretty low on account of her favourite rooster meeting an unfortunate end in the blades of the strimmer Gabby had been using to clear weeds around her allotment shed. She’d appeared at the flat, this morning, looking like a survivor from an explosion at a pillow factory. The were so many feathers and pieces of meat stuck to her I didn’t know whether to stuff a mattress or fire up the barbecue.

By the time we hit town, Gabby’s mood had turned the proverbial corner with a squeal of smoking tires. Spending money always seems to cheer her up. She became particularly excited once we hit Debenhams’ lingerie department.

‘Ha ha!’ she cried, emerging triumphant from a rack of super-elasticated garters. ‘Look here, Chip! Look at what Gabby find! Goat knickers!’

Gabby has been going on about buying herself a pair of Hungarian-style goat knickers for so long that I’d begun to believe my own argument that they simply didn’t exist. I didn’t want them to exist. They are a pariah among underwear, the antithesis to the thong. They were, in short, the anti-thong.

When Gabby started waving a pair above her head, I knew that all my fears would be realised.

For those of you uninformed about such things, they were the largest pair of knickers I’ve ever had the misfortune to see. They were a grey pair of heavily ribbed pants with a large beard of coarse white hair hanging from the crotch; hence the name, goat knickers. Apparently, they are popular in colder countries where women wear dresses but still like to keep something warm against their inner thighs.

‘Chippy promised if I ever find goat knickers, he buy them,’ she said, thrusting the pants into my hands. ‘So, you go buy. Go buy me goat knickers.’ And with that she disappeared into a wall of strapless bras.

At this point, a lesser man might have gone running from the shop. I could have had the locks to the apartment changed before Gabby got home. But you must know by now that the woman has more ways of breaking into an apartment than the SAS. My options were limited to queuing up at the counter and putting the knickers on my credit card.

I was third in the queue, wondering how I was going to explain to the assistant what a thong-wearing man would want with goat knickers, when I heard a voice I recognised.

‘Chip Dale? Is that you?’

I turned around and found myself looking at one of my old girlfriends.


Sha smiled and embraced me a hug before stepping back.

‘You’re looking well,’ I said, admiring the figure that has captivated many a man. She was indeed stunning, wearing a figure-hugging vest over a tight pair of black jeans. High black boots and bandana completed the look and set off the stunning flame of her red bobbed hair.

‘What are you doing here, Chip?’ she asked.

‘Shopping for clothes,’ I said, a bit naive but true nevertheless.

She looked at the goat knickers in my hands.

‘Hungarian goat knickers,’ I explained. ‘Very good for chilly weather.’

‘I see you’ve not changed,’ she smiled. ‘Heck, Chip! I can’t believe it. And you’re looking so good.’ And again, she came to embrace me, only this time planting a kiss of my cheek.

I was about to do the same in return but there was a sudden rustling from a pile of discounted girdles nearby. Before I could react, something shot out, snatched Sha from my arms, and went sliding across the floor in a tangled mess of arms and flailing lacy support bras.

Sha screamed and Gabby whooped in victory.

‘Stop it Gabby!’ I cried, trying to drag her off my friend. ‘It’s okay.’

‘Chip have affair. Chip kissing woman!’ shouted Gabby, using a padded coat hanger to keep me back.

‘She didn’t mean anything by it,’ I tried to explain. ‘It’s nothing like that.’

‘Who is she?’ screamed Sha, trying vainly to pull her arms from beneath Gabby’s knees.

‘Don’t worry, she’s just confused. This is Gabby. She’d my girlfriend. She’s had a traumatic day. She killed her favourite chicken with a garden strimmer.’

I don’t know why but this bit of news only seemed to make matters worse.

‘Get her off me. Please get her off me,’ whimpered Sha, now sounding very frightened.

‘I get off you,’ said Gabby and jumped up to face me. ‘But you, Chippy Dale, you've done it now! Gabby go home and you don’t come with me!’

‘What do you mean? You don’t really think I…’

‘I think you bad man,’ snapped my Romanian harbinger of vengeance. ‘I think you have away with this woman. You make kissing and cuddling in shop while Gabby away. You think I don’t see.’

‘That’s a lie,’ I cried but Gabby had gone, disappearing behind a display of elasticated stockings.

It’s now two hours later and I’m sitting writing this in the local Costa coffee shop. A pair of goat knickers sit beside me and a hot cup of steaming brew of freshly ground stands next to the laptop I found dumped outside the door to my apartment. I’d gone there hoping to talk some sense into Gabby but she’s not answering the door and the loud braying of the Romanian national anthem drowned out my appeals. Sha offered to let me stay at her place but I think that would only make matters worse. When I’ve finished this coffee, I’ll go and try to find a hotel room for the night.

And in case you might be wondering: it’s raining again.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Blue Sky Thinking

I'm out for the day...

Friday, July 13, 2007

Bond is Back!

So, I acted like a tart. And not for the first time. I blamed the weather. I blamed my lack of emails. I blamed work. The reality was that it had all been Gabby’s fault.

‘Look at this,’ she’d said over breakfast yesterday. She had her finger on an article in her copy of The Telegraph. It was about Sebastian Faulkes writing a new James Bond novel.

I skimmed the beginning of the piece, not particularly interested because – I’ll be quite honest – writing a new Bond novel was always something I’d wanted to do myself. I love the books in a way that I’ve ever really loved the films. When I’d heard that the Fleming estate had asked a ‘significant modern writer’ to pen a new adventure last year, I had expected it to be somebody in the tradition of Fleming. Freddie Forsyth would have been my number one choice, though I doubted if he could really catch the Fleming prose. That’s why I really hoped it might be John le Carre. The choice of Faulkes had come as a huge disappointment to me. I couldn’t think of a writer less suited to the honour.

I was about to make this point when Gabby jabbed her finger onto the page, pointing to a paragraph lower down:

Faulks, who finished the book in six weeks, said he was surprised to be picked for the task but was happy to follow the Bond style with exotic locations, glamorous women and larger-than-life villains.

‘Six weeks,’ she said. ‘Six weeks! If he can write book in six weeks, why, Chippy do you always take so long? It sometimes takes you months!’

What could I say? What answer could I give to satisfy my little Romanian slave driver? The question bothered me all day and accounted for my gloom.

Today, I’m feeling better. And why, I hear you ask, do you feel better, oh Chip Dale, our favourite Thonglateer? Well, I feel much chirpier because of the following picture.

The man on the left is the creator of James Bond. The man on the right. Well… He has a perm.

And that, when it comes down to it, is something we should all remember when talking about writers. Some of us are born to the thong, so to speak, and the rest of you struggle to fit into a pair of large sized underpants. In other words: try as much as you like but you’ll never be what you’re not.

The fact that Faulkes finished his novel in six weeks will have no bearing on my review of the book. I will judge it on its merits. But the fact that he felt compelled to reveal this little fact suggests that he appears to lack the due reverence for Fleming’s books. Perhaps he doesn’t see them as real literature. They are a bit of work to be brushed off as the indulgence of six weeks. Yet perhaps he is also admitting that he’s not Ian Fleming and never could be. He's playing a part, acting out a role, enjoying it as a game to be enjoyed before getting back to his 'proper' writing.

As everybody know, Fleming had been in Naval intelligence during the war. He wrote about a world he knew and finished the Bond books in hot exotic Jamaica, sitting at his desk, sipping martinis, and wearing nothing but a thong.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

I've Gone Again...

Yes, I've gone quiet again. I’m suffering one of my occasional periods when I begin to feel utterly fed up. Even thongs bring me no joy of days like this. It’s not helped by being a rainy day here in Bangor. My email inbox was full of nothing but SPAM. The government is messing around with education again. Little Britain hits the US (talentless ****s). Yves Saint Laurent in hospital. Somebody wants to kill a sacred cow. And some idiot has complained about the Tintin books and wants them banned from our shops.

Also adding to my generally under-the-clouds/down-in-the-dumps feeling is one of absolute inadequacy in that I’ve spent two days writing a test 3000 words of a new novel idea. It’s written in the third person, will need plenty of historical research, and will have multiple viewpoints. Is it good? It could well be. Ambitious? For me, it is. Will it succeed? Probably not. But writing something different, exercised a different part of my brain. It makes me feel better but still not enough to cheered me up.

If only it wasn't so dark...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Toothbrush

So I happened to need a new toothbrush, but what type of toothbrush do I buy? The cheapest in the shop, one size fits all, three brushes for a pound and a lifetime guarantee straight from the heart of China? Or do I buy something by Crest, Colgate, or Aquafresh after booking a holiday to give me time to decide?

I mean do I need a large head or medium head? And what if I want a small head? Do I buy kiddy sized? Only they all look like they’d fit in my mouth. What happens if I buy the wrong one? Won’t they do the job or will they damage my teeth? Are they like shoes? Will they rub my molars the wrong way? Will I develop oral bunions? Will they give me a limp or a lisp?

Big decisions. So, before I match the head to my mouth, I perhaps need to think about the neck. Do I buy one with an angled head, a flexible head, or a three way head? A neck that goes click when I press too hard? Or one for hard-to-reach places? But what exactly is a hard-to-reach place? How far down my throat do I want to scrub? At what point does brushing my teeth become a colonic?

Perhaps I shouldn’t think about the neck until I’ve decided on the bristles. Bristles? What’s difficult about bristles? Well, do I want criss-cross bristles? Rounded bristles? Interdental bristles? Bristles with paddles? Gum massaging bristles or outer angled bristles? Do I want a single big rubber bristle on the tip or do I want bristles that fade to tell me when I need to buy a new brush? Should pay extra for ‘vibrating micropulse bristles’? But what is a micropulse? Do I want something micropulsing away in my mouth? Do I need a toothbrush with a soft gum stimulator or polishing cups? What are polishing cups? And what happens if I do decide to stimulate my gums? Is there a danger I might over-stimulate them? Could my gums embarrass me in public? They know all my secrets.

So perhaps I should just go for normal bristles. But is that multi-height bristles or extra-long bristles? What about bristles that can clean my tongue? They can also clean my gums. They can even clean my cheeks while they clean my gums. Only then do they clean my teeth. But what about the top of my mouth? There’s a toothbrush for that too? So how about a toothbrush that cleans the house before it cleans my teeth, my cheeks, my tongue, my gums, the top of my mouth? I’d pay extra for a brush that could that.

I still have to decide…

Before I decide on bristles and select a neck to go with the right head, I should perhaps consider the toothbrush that flashes until I’m supposed to stop brushing. But what happens if I don’t stop? What happens if I can’t see it flashing in my mouth? Would it work for the blind? Can’t I buy one with some kind of air horn? And do I really need one with a laser sight to help me find my mouth or to keep my elbows level?

So is it a narrow head with a power tip or a cushioned head with soft-grip handle? But is the handle that important? Is it likely to fly out of my hand while I’m brushing? So do I buy a control grip or a stabilized handle? I like comfort so do I buy a comfort grip? But what about a toothbrush that pivots and pulses? What if it pivots too much and pulses right out of my hand? Can’t I buy one that I can strap to my wrist?

I was standing in Boots for nearly an hour. I still couldn’t decide. Even the shop assistant didn’t have any answers.

I was about to leave without buying my new toothbrush when she leapt out from behind the counter and blocked the exit. She reminded me that dentists recommend that we buy a new toothbrush every thee months. I told her that is was going to take me three months to choose the bloody thing.

That’s when she suggested I buy an electric toothbrush.

‘What do you recommend?’ I asked wearily.

‘Well,’ she said, pulling me across to a vast stand of electric enamel polishers. ‘How about a rechargeable professional pulsar plaque control floss action dual clean microsonic brush with a pack of six replacement rotating 3D heads?’

‘Will it clean my teeth?’ I asked.

She smiled at me, her teeth glistening with a white malevolence.

‘They absolutely guarantee it!’

The Curse of 32 Inches

I was quiet yesterday because I’ve ruined my back. Actually, it’s a muscle in my right shoulder and it happened when I was watching ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ on Sunday night. I might have been laughing too hard when Larry David joined a children’s game of ‘Chinese Whispers’ and corrupted the minds of many innocents. I prefer to think it was the result of my moving a 32 inch TV set earlier in the day.

The old TV had been sitting in the flat for weeks. Since Gabby bought herself a new 40 inch flat Sony Bravia, she’s been telling me to throw the old TV away. I’ve been putting it off, the weight making my blood run cold at the very thought of trying to lift it.

Ten minutes before the men’s final at Wimbledon was due to start, I tripped over the TV for the dozenth time and finally decided that it had to go. Foolish of me, I know, but I dragged it out of the flat all by myself. And I’m sure I tore a muscle in the process. I turned to pick up a book today and collapsed on the floor in agony. I’ve barely moved all day.

Which gave me plenty of time to think about Roger Federer.

The media seem to make so little of the things which in seem to mean so much to me in my life. When these tennis players get sprains, are they really as painful as my back? You’d never think so. The media like to portray stars in a different reality to the rest of us and Roger Federer seems to live in a stranger world than most. For instance, I’ve found myself obsessing over his crest.

Most big sportsmen and women personalise their equipment. Beckham has the names of his sons on his boots. Tiger Woods has furry tiger covers to his golf clubs. Federer has logos on his bags indicating how many times he’s won Wimbledon. Only, the current men’s champion doesn’t stop there. He also has his own crest.

When he won, on Sunday, Federer put on a pair of long white trousers and a jacket, emblazoned with his moniker. It’s actually not much of a crest, just his initials and the flag of Switzerland. Some praise the look for a return to traditional Wimbledon fashion. I can’t accept it as simply as that. It makes him look like some minor prince from a minor European royal family; the Crown Prince of the Grass Court, perhaps. It appears utterly gauche to me and I can’t help but think of Omar Shariff in those films of the 1970s where he usually drives around Monaco and the ladies swoon. I can’t see Federer getting the same reactions. Or perhaps he does and I don’t understand Monaco.

‘Who is that handsome devil?’

‘Why it’s Prince Federer of the Grass Court. The ladies go crazy for his sliced backhand.’

‘He looks so dashing. Is that his crest he wears so magnificently on his chest?’

‘I hear he also has a tattoo…’

‘Oh, do tell…’

I find it astonishing. What possesses a grown man, with such talent, to demean his success in such a cheap way?

Gabby told me to calm down and that he deserves to flaunt his success. And Wikipedia seems to agree with her. Of Roger Federer it says: ‘‘Many experts and many of his own tennis peers believe Federer may be the greatest player in the history of the game.’ Only I don’t remember Björn Borg being so pleased with himself that he had a suit made to celebrate his victories. Perhaps he should. Wikipedia also says that Borg is ‘regarded by some observers and tennis players as the greatest player in the sport's history’.

Ali proclaimed that he was the ‘greatest’ and many sports fans would agree. But with Ali, the showmanship was always cleverer than that. By calling himself the ‘Greatest’ he was also mocking the notion of greatness, playing the role of the champion at the same time as he was also lampooning it. By mocking it, Ali somehow made a greater claim to the truth that he was the Greatest.

Federer’s crest is something else. There is nothing that hints of lampooning success. It doesn’t prove that he’s the greatest. Quite the contrary. By lacking humility, it also lacks something else. Certainty. Belief. It smacks of bravado. It only reminds me that some day he will no longer be champion.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Last Piece of Paper On The Roll

Of all the poor girl’s faults, Gabby’s greatest failings are possibly her bathroom habits. Many is the time I visit the smallest room and find a single sheet of paper clutching precariously onto the roll.

‘You really have to stop this, Gabby!’ I told her this morning when I found a single layer of double-ply about to drift to the floor.

‘Pffft,’ she said and waved me away with the Driving section of The Sunday Times.

‘I won’t pffft,’ I said. ‘Is this what it’s like in Romania? Does everybody wipe their rum ends with a single sheet of Andrex? Or is it just part of your devious plan to avoid travelling all the way over to the other side of the bathroom, to get a new roll from the cupboard?’

‘You know where paper is,’ she replied. ‘So… it not problem.’

But it is a problem. And it’s a problem with this world of ours. Nobody cares a fig about who follows them into the bathroom or onto the planet. And nobody cares about a man with a thong around his ankles.

Take Live Earth. It was supposed to be the seminal moment when we all woke up to the damage we’ve been doing to Mother Earth. Not that the event was really about the planet, science, evidence, solutions, or even common sense. It was more Gayner than Gaia; more about wiggling our hips, having a good time and remembering to buy Madonna’s back catalogue. In my case, it was also about grinning and bearing it because Gabby loved every minute.

Her delight astonished me. Whichever way you swing in the environment debate, I would have thought that any reasonable person would have detested Al Gore’s latest attempt to prove he’s really the ‘People’s President’. Winning via the fawning media what he failed to win at the ballot box, Gore had assembled the Democratic Party’s celebrity militia to invade our homes for another crass evening of hang-wringing, tub-thumbing, and heartfelt excess.

A few years ago, Red was the colour when the stars came together and solved the problem of Aids. Before that, white was the colour when the stars came together and solved the problem of famine in Africa. This year’s colour is green. Somehow it seems sickly appropriate.

The only people who might have woken up to the green issue would have been the world’s morons, though even this is to be doubted judging from some of the comments from the crowd.

‘Gotta save the planet, man!’

‘This is the only Earth we got so we should look after it…’

You’d be excused for believing that stating the bleeding obvious was the message of the day.

Watching the faces of the massed numbskulls who attend these events is an entertainment in itself. Monied imbeciles nearly every one, they were the well muscled young men with sun glasses angled on the top of their shaved domes full of nothing but incredulous banality. Then there was the unending supply of enthusiastic Notting Hill debs waving their hands to James Blunt’s strangled warblings. Few knew much about anything except this was the next ‘big event’ and they just had to be there.

Only the presence of Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, and Michael McKean did anything to save this from being the usual line up of in-crowd regulars. Tap were Tap and I was just glad to see the midgets dancing around the mini-Stonehenge. Beyond that, the show was relentlessly bad. My distain for Ricky Gervais grows every time his parks his substantial cheeks on a TV sofa. His self-parody no longer distracts me long enough to forget that the man has become a walking rash that has infected everything that once had class. He’s left a scar on The Simpsons, got his infected face into the usual ensemble cast in ‘For Your Consideration’, and last night, had to be the one to introduce Spinal Tap. I wait nervously for the moment that John Cleese relents and allows the BBC’s CGI department to work on ‘Fawlty Towers’ and replace Polly with darling their Ricky.

The Earth is at a tipping point, or so Terence Stamp told me last night. It’s time for us to wake up and act. Then they doused the non-essential lights at Wembley to make a point.

I wish they’d doused the whole non-event.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Proofreading Hell

Here's the reason for my silence yesterday. I was alseep after a marathon proofreading session that lasted all of Thursday, and took me well past midnight. I still only got to page 200 of 400. I hate to say it but proofreading is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. It's not a matter of reading -- which is easy -- but concentrating on every word. The eye so easily passes over mistakes that it's actually frightening how easily we're deceived. It's as though the mind is telling you what you're seeing, rather than actually showing you what's on the the page.

Did you see what I did their? Two 'the's is the killer, especially if they move over the
the line break. Harder to spot than a worn seam on a high tensile sports thong...

Did you spot my deliberate use of 'their' and not 'there'?

Today (well, actually, in a few minutes), I hope to post my second piece over at Ms. Baroque's blog. It's good to see that she's feeling better and I think she'll be quite relieved when it comes time to cancel my access to her blog. I'm determined to post a naked picture of myself before she locks me out

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Dull Thursday

It has been a strange, quiet, rather lonely day. The rain has barely stopped and the news is nothing but waves, tides, floodwaters, stories about drains, and the death of a great jazz man going out in a blaze of colour against the seascapes, washed out piers and shopping centres.

Meanwhile, the Chipster writes on. Sitting in my small room with 400 pages of manuscript at my side, a laptop on my knees, I gaze vaguely between the two of them, tying so desperately not to touch what’s written unless I can see a huge improvement.

I’ve also finished writing a piece for my second stint over at Ms. Baroque’s blog. It’s a piece of self-indulgence in which a successful stripper explains what he’s discovered about writing a novel. I’ll post it in the morning.

The rain doesn't stop. My proofreading goes on…

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The End

I’m finished. I’m done. I’ve reached the point of completion. I’m at an end.

It’s taken me far too long to finish it but a draft of my novel is now sitting finished on my desk in its gloriously unpolished state. Perhaps I’ll post a photograph of it. Perhaps I won’t. There are more problems with it than with an inbred child, more fatal flaws than a Shakespearean hero. In the end, once I’d cut away all the unused chapters that always drop to the end of the big unwieldy document, discarded paragraphs that have never worked, humanely put to sleep jokes that never stood a chance of living, the book weighs in at a rather measly 82694 words. Perhaps I’ll rewrite some of the end and get it up to 90,000… There are more jokes in it than pages, but whether there are more laughs is a different matter. All I do know is that The Chipster needs a rest. Half of it was scribbled too quickly and the rest drawn out of me with the speed of a sadistic dentist pulling a tooth. It took me a month to write the first 50,000 words and five months to write the next 30,000.

I now feel a bit numb yet I’m already thinking about what I’d like to write next…

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Knife Games and Flaming Kittens

The reporter from The Times didn’t seem to understand my point.

‘I beg your pardon,’ I told the woman who sat poised over her notebook like some vulture with a ball point, ‘but it’s got nothing to do with stripping.’

‘Hasn’t it?’ she asked. ‘But the title…’

‘The title was a joke. You know… A funny acronym. T.E.S.T.I.C.L.E… It’s crude yet witty.’

She pursed her lips. ‘Are acronyms witty? I think our readers might disagree.’

‘Not in this case!’ I snapped and quickly sank my teeth into my knuckles before I could do some real verbal damage. ‘Look. It’s simple. You need to just go and ask Mr. Appleyard about his problem with Blogger. He’ll tell you all you need to know and then you can keep me out of it.’

‘But didn’t you say you’d be protesting? You said there would be clowns burning kittens. My editor only told me to come here because of the kittens.’

‘Yes, well, the kittens are out,’ I said sourly. ‘I had emails from animals rights activists. We had a frank exchange of opinions.’ Actually, they had also taken grave offense at my remarks about monkeys and beagles, though to be fair to them, they had a point about a man juggling live kittens doused in petrol. Promises I'd made to Internet Ronin about flaming fur had probably been a novelty too far.

‘I see,’ said the reporter, noting something down in shorthand.

I felt uncomfortable. The interview wasn’t going at all well, and I felt a bit relieved when Gabby came in with a tray. My heart skipped a beat when I noticed that a bottle of potato gin and a bread knife were alongside the plate of custard creams, the cup of tea, and my own freshly brewed coffee.

‘Are we happy?’ smiled Gabby.

‘We soon will be,’ I muttered, looking at the bottle of gin.

‘Oh, how wonderful,’ said the reporter. ‘You make you own wine.’

Gabby beamed. I frowned. The reporter looked puzzled.

Half an hour later, I was still frowning only I was now speaking on the telephone.

‘She’s out on the ledge,’ I said.

‘But is it a matter of life or death, sir?’ asked the emergency services operator. ‘If not, then you shouldn’t be calling 999.’

‘Somebody might die,’ I promised him. ‘I have a reporter from a national newspaper standing seventy feet above a courtyard and threatening to jump when a story still needs writing about the technical difficulties plaguing one of the country’s top blogs.’

‘I still don’t see what that has to do with the fire brigade,’ said the man. ‘What’s your blog called?’

‘Chip Dale’s Diary,’ I said.

‘And what’s it about?’

‘It’s about me. Chip Dale. It’s my diary.’

‘I see. And you have a problem with it?’

‘No, not at all,’ I answered. ‘In fact, it’s looking pretty damn good. I’ve just it redesigned with a picture of my be-thonged rear.’

The line went dead.

Gabby climbed back in from the ledge. ‘She still says she won’t come in,’ she said and brushed hair from her eyes. The blood had stopped pumping from the back of her hand.

‘Why did you have to get her drunk?’ I asked. ‘Couldn’t you see she liked the stuff too much?’

‘So, she like wine. I like wine too.’

‘Potato gin is hardly wine,’ I reminded her. ‘And I still don’t see why you had to start playing a knife game with her.’

A scream cut across the conversation and I ran to the window.

The reporter was staring wide eyed at the forecourt below. It was an improvement. Moments earlier she’d been in a trance and convinced that losing the knife game with Gabby meant she had to jump.

‘What am I doing up here?’ she asked, her face a mask of fear.

‘I think she’s sobering up,’ I told Gabby. ‘Don’t worry,’ I shouted to the reporter. ‘Just ease yourself this way and I’ll grab you.’

Surprisingly, she followed my instructions. The last of the gin in her system appeared to give her a little confidence.

‘There you go,’ I said as our hands locked together and I eased the poor woman back into the flat. ‘Now, that’s not so bad is it?’

‘Who am I?’ she asked, disorientated and looking around the room. I was not surprised. Mild amnesia is a common symptom of drinking Gabby’s spirits. But at least the woman’s face was returning to its natural shade of pink and she appeared to be making a quick recovery from her ordeal.

‘You’re a reporter from The Times,’ I said.

She nodded and smiled.

‘I think I remember,’ she answered. ‘And where am I?’

‘You’re in Wales.’

The woman just went white. I handed her the bottle.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Chip Dale's Thought Experiments: The Campaign

I've decided to do something about a travesty that has befallen one of our own. Bryan Appleyard’s Thought Experiments hasn’t updated in days and Bryan is now struggling to get Blogger’s support staff to recognize his problem . I feel his pain. Last week, I too fell victim to Blogger's victimization of the brightest and best and the injustice brings tears to all three of my eyes like I'm wearing a salt and vinegar flavoured thong.

The situation has clearly got out of hand and it's time for The Chipster to pull some strings. I've decided to launch a campaign to free Thought Experiments and Big Frank had produced a rather tasteful logo, which I ask you all to wear on your blogs until Bryan is released from his virtual cell.

Blogger must learn that when they silence one of us, they silence us all. This is about personal liberties, the freedom of the press, and about the virtues of having a stable backend. With your help, I hope to make 'Thought Experiments Saved Through Individuals Campaigning Loudly Enough' the big issue of the coming week and I want T.E.S.T.I.C.L.E. to grow enormously in size. To get the ball rolling, I want 10,000 angry and determined bloggers ready to march on Whitehall on Friday where I hope stage a mass strip involving cats dressed as clowns. Gabby has already taken it upon herself to write the campaign’s song.

What has happened to Thought Experiments?
Oh, what has evil Blogger gone and done?
You weren’t like animal experiments,
Smoking beagles, monkeys with makeup on.

She says it will be better when she’s had a couple more days to work on it…

Some of you might be wondering why I’ve decided to lead this fight. You know how busy I've been lately. But I was persuaded to act when Gabby roused me from my mid-afternoon nap.

Before I was woken, I had been dreaming about Cameron Diaz and a jar of chocolate flavoured mustard so you can no doubt imagine my reluctance to open my eyes. I can normally sleep through one of Gabby’s heckles, only this one had something hard attached to it and resonated as it bounced off my head.

‘Chippy Dale!’ she snapped or more accurately barked from the armchair across the room. ‘Are you awake?’

I raised my eyelids and found myself looking at a slightly dented tin of Cornish shortcrust biscuits lying on my chest.

'Are you even listening to me?' asked the voice full of Romanian impatience.

‘O, speak again, bright angel,’ I said, ‘for thou art as glorious to this night, being o’er my head, as is a winged messenger...

I didn’t get chance to finish. The bright angel sent a permanent marker pen fizzing my way. It was more than enough to stop a man misusing Shakespeare for sarcastic purposes.

‘You are a bad man,’ she said, sitting with my laptop on her knee. ‘You let people down.’

‘Me?’ I protested. ‘Who have I let down?’

Didn’t she know the lengths I go to in order to help people? I wanted to tell her about the last week, about the two thousand word piece on Wallace Stevens I’d written for Ms. Baroque, the trouble I went to attending the Blog Power Awards, and the free show I gave everybody when I whipped off my clothes as I picked up my award. I wanted to mention previous months and all the charity work I’ve done, the time I took attending the British Thong Society. I felt like reminding her of my visit to the old folks home…

She held up hands as if to stop me before I could begin to recount my charity work.

‘You not reply to people who email you,’ she said.

I shuddered at the thought that she’d been reading my mail.

‘Who didn’t I email?’ I asked, suddenly feeling a little exposed lying there naked on the sofa.

‘Mr. Blister,’ she said. ‘He email you this week and you never answer.’

Blood through my heart ran cold. She was right. Dear old Montague Blister had emailed me last week but I’d received the message as I'd been heading out the door. I’d forgotten all about replying to the poor man.

Gabby just tutted with the arrogance of one who is rarely wrong. She tapped away at the keyboard.

‘Lots and lots of emails,’ she said. ‘And you not answer every one.’

I made a resolution that I would email Mr. Blister as soon as I got my laptop back.

‘If you want to be good person like me,' said Gabby, 'you must be good friend to people. You must learn to be selfless, Chippy. Good people do good things.’

‘Like threatening to make sausage meat out of the newspaper boy’s liver?’

‘He noisy,’ she replied. ‘But warning good. Gabby not have him waking neighbours.’

‘I suppose,’ I said, rubbing my head where my own sleep had been interrupted.

She slammed the laptop lid down. ‘You do okay, Chippy. No messages Gabby not like but you must be more considerate to people.’

‘Thank you,’ I replied calmly.

‘No, Chippy. You do very well. No other women. No naked pictures on laptop. No. You do very very good.’

‘I just have to learn to be a better person,’ I agreed.

Gabby just smiled. She had clearly made her point.

I’ll get plenty of chances to be a better person later this week. I have something else to write for Ms. Baroque’s blog, which I’ll get done as soon as I’ve finished groveling to Blister and asking for his forgiveness. For the moment, I just need to thank Ian Grey for the fleshy gift he gave me at the Blog Power awards, though this might need some explaining...

You have to picture the scene. I’d gone up to pick up my award for ‘Most Articulate Wordsmith’ when I decided that I’d give everybody an extra treat my whipping off my thong. A couple of clicks of my mouse and I'd disabled the 'clothes' option and I was standing there, surrounded by dozens of virtual visitors, in my virtual birthday suit. There were, of course, a few gasps and virtual gasps, which I naturally acknowledged with my usual humility. Until, that is, somebody pointed out that I didn’t have any genitals.

The room fell silent.

It was true. I was like an Action Man figure below the waist. I didn't know what to say. I was ready to blame my computer for lacking the processing power to render my genitalia when, thankfully, Ian stepped in and presented me with some genitals from his own collection. So relieved, I foolishly tried them on, without giving any thought as to how they were meant to be worn. I was stunned to discover that they attached themselves to my elbow. It was not a pretty sight and there were some screams in the room. I also attribute the genitals on my elbow with my computer choosing that moment to crash and to dump me back to my desktop.

And that's when I decided that I'd fight the evils of technical glitches. It's why I've decided to head T.E.S.T.I.C.L.E. and it's also why I'm so sure we'll win.

After all, when was the last time you knew a man with a large penis attached to his elbow to be wrong?

If Only Larry David Wore A Thong

I’ve just finished watching the fourth series of Curb Your Enthusiasm. I began with five episodes on Friday and finished them off last night. It was meant to cheer me up after days of writing the novel. It left me in awe of Larry David’s genius compared with The Chipster's meagre thong skills.

Larry, as I like to call him, is a man after my own heart. He’s too honest for his own good and doesn’t play by the rules as laid down by the great unwashed. He’s the sort of person who would, for example, question the sense in attending a virtual meeting of bloggers on a muggy afternoon in July but he would go and be a fantastic success if by success we judge him by his ability to insult every person in the room. His will be a hard act to follow but I’ll give it a try this afternoon when I drop into the Blogpower awards in Second Life dressed only in my thong. I’m sure it’s something Larry would appreciate.

‘He a prig,’ said Gabby as I turned off the TV tonight and told her my plans to emulate my hero. She’d come in halfway through the final hour-long episode in which Larry gets to star in The Producers on Broadway. It didn’t take me long to realise that the whole thing was beyond the Romanian sensibility.

‘If he back home and complain like that,’ she said and then drew a finger across her throat. ‘Men like that… Complain, complain, complain… Not good. Somebody take them into barn and…’ Again, she was with the throat gesture.

‘Can you stop doing that?’ I said. ‘It’s very disconcerting.’

‘You mean this?’ she asked and stroked herself in another mortal gesture.

‘You see where we differ?’ I replied. ‘The man has an eye to foibles. He understands human nature like no other comedian before him. I could learn a few things by watching him.’

‘Pah,’ said Gabby and grabbed the remote control from my hands. She sat herself on the sofa and began to flick through the channels but only after wiping the control on the leg of her trousers.

‘What you do that for?’ I asked.

‘Do what?’

‘Why did you wipe the remote control?’

‘Did I?’

‘You did. I saw you. You wiped the remote control on your trousers before you used it.’

She shrugged and paused a moment in her flicking to watch an alligator grab a bison by its throat.

‘You paused, wiped, then used. You think I have some kind of allergy or something? You afraid a bit of my sweat might get on your fingers?’

‘I wipe control? So what? You do odd things and I never say.’

‘Such as what? You name me one thing I do like that?’

‘You scratch yourself.’

‘I what?’

‘Scratch, scratch, scratch. Chippy never stops scratching himself down there.’

‘It’s razor burn,’ I replied. ‘It’s not like I can put aftershave on.’

‘But you still scratch.’

‘Yes, well, it’s not like wiping the remote. That’s an insult to another person. My scratching is something else entirely.’

‘It more like hobby,’ she said with a cruel smile. ‘A spectator sport but not one for families.’

Is there anything worse than being out-mocked by somebody whose second language is English? It’s like having two insults in one.

‘You still didn’t answer my question,’ I said. ‘Did you wipe the remote control because I’ve been using it?’

‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘Yes, Chippy, I did. I wipe remote because you been using it.’

‘Right. Well at least you’re being honest about it,’ I told her but couldn’t let it rest there. ‘And why did you wipe it?’

‘I not say.’

That answer, I couldn’t accept. I was in the mood for the truth.

‘Come on, Gabby. Tell me the reason. I want to know what you clearly find so abhorrent about me. Spare me no shame. Give me the full explanation. Why did you wipe the remote control?’

‘Well,’ she sighed. ‘If you really must know. I think it horrible how you keep the remote control down your thong. It’s not clean. It not healthy. And remote gets covered in oil and hairs.’

‘But at least I know where it is…’ I replied but I knew the poor girl had a point. Which is precisely the kind of weakness that separates me from my hero, Larry.