‘Can You Make This Thing Go Faster? ‘ by Jeremy Clarkson

(***** Five out of five stars.)

I’m no petrolhead; cars do nothing for me and the only way I can be moved by them is by sitting inside one. Consequently, TV shows such as Top Gear and Grand Tour in which Jeremy Clarkson featured / features, leave me pretty cold. As do his books in which he discusses the virtues, and lack of, relative to cars that in the main I’ve never even heard of. It’s all just a list of incoherent numbers and letters to me.

Jeremy’s books however, those that comprise his rants and musings on life and situations in general really tickle my cynical and sarcastic funny bone.

As with the other nine I have in my collection, ‘Can You Make This Thing Go Faster?’ is a collection of his weekly articles for The Sunday Times. These ones cover the period between, 7th January 2018 and 29th December 2019.

Spread over three hundred and eight pages, each section runs to only three and a half pages, around one thousand to eleven hundred words. This makes it perfect for us with short attention spans and poor memory! If you’re looking for a quick hit of acerbic wit to brighten your day, this is it.

Jeremy Clarkson’s sense of humour may not be to everyone’s taste these days, but as a tight-arsed, grumpy Scotsman with short arms and long pockets, I firmly believe everyone should be able to laugh at themselves above and before anything else. He may not be ‘politically correct’ in his attitudes,but I love it!

‘Equal Rites’ by Terrry Pratchett

(**** Four out of Five Stars.)


Terry Pratchett books are my favourite! They are always a good read.

This was just the third in Pratchett’s Discworld series, so it’s maybe no real surprise it feels a little rough around the edges. I got the impression it was perhaps written in two parts, with a bit of time passing between them. For two thirds of the tale, I felt the story-line developing and with the scenes changing, it moved at a great pace. However, the last third, when all the ‘magic’ was happening, it felt a bit like it was written while on a psychedelic trip.

All that Demons and Wizards sort of stuff just dragged a little for me, and so unusually, I have awarded only four stars.

I would still highly recommended it though.

…and I’m back in the room – with a publishing agreement!

You’d have thought with all those months of Covid related lockdown, I’d have got myself sorted and completed the long awaited, humorous fantasy I’ve been promising for so many years.

Nope!

I think I have the attention span of a bluebottle.

I spent so much time reconnecting with friends from school I had neither seen nor spoken to for up to forty-five years, that I ended up starting a ’70s themed blog. Together with a pal from Primary school, we founded Once Upon a Time in The ’70s where contributors are invited to recount tales of growing up in the late ’60s and through the ’70s.

It’s doing alright, thank you very much.

Just prior to that, I had begun writing a themed series of short stories, but the ’70s blog somewhat took over through 2021. (Technically, I don’t suppose I can call half a story a ‘series’ anyway, but the intention’s there at least.)

However, the enthusiasm and determination has been given a welcome boost by rather unexpectedly signing a publishing agreement with Victor Publishing. In their words, they are at the moment, still classed by Amazon and one of the ‘little guys,’ but I was pleasantly surprised to see I actually have three of their books on my bookshelf.

Us ‘little guys’ need to stick together, you know!

The immediate result is that my 2015, self-published book, ‘Damp Dogs & Rabbit Wee,’ which had just been sitting on Amazon’s virtual shelf gathering virtual dust for the past five years, has been re-published.

The book cover now displays the slightly amended title of: ‘Damp Dogs & Rabbit Wee – The life and smells of a Pet Professional’ and is available across all Amazon platforms. The hope is it will also eventually be stocked by certain High Street stores.

That’d be pretty cool!

‘If You’d Just Let Me Finish …’ by Jeremy Clarkson.

This is the eighth book (I think) of Jeremy Clarkson’s that I have read. So, you could say I’m a bit of a fan.

Not so much of his other books that focus on the performance of various cars whose names consist of seemingly random letters and numbers, but these reproductions of his weekly articles for the Sunday Times.

The first thing to like, is the short, punchy, delivery, each chapter coming in around the one thousand word mark. For readers like me with only short windows of time to read, or indeed those with a short attention span, this is ideal. No need to continuously backtrack to pick up on any plot / character details. Just read; put down; pick up and repeat..

Then of course there’s the humour.

I know Jeremy Clarkson has his namby pamby detractors – but I find it difficult to believe that those who condemn him for being bullish and arrogant or whatever, do not privately think the same way in many situations. Oh, please God, I hope so – what a terribly boring world we would live in if everyone was so easily offended / outraged.

Personally, I find Jeremy Clarkson’s humour spot-on. He is one of a very few writers who can actually make me laugh out loud.

As this book did – frequently.

Fall in New England (versus) Autumn in West of Scotland.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

I’ve never witnessed it first hand, but I believe New England is absolutely glorious in the Fall. It would certainly be hard to argue otherwise, given the images we here in Scotland see via television movies and the like.

Glasgow is some 13 degrees further north than Boston. It sits on roughly the same latitude as Novosibirsk Oblast (Russia) so perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised by the contrasting perceptions of the year’s third season.

But it doesn’t stop me feeling a tad jealous.

Here’s how I see it:

New England - Fall - bridgeNew England: couples walk romantically hand in hand through the woods. They scatter the dry, brightly coloured leaves as they walk, kicking them into the air for the gentle autumnal breeze to cushion their fall back to earth.

West of Scotland: couples walk hand in hand through the woods. The word ‘romantically’ is omitted, for they are merely providing ballast to prevent the other from slipping on the soggy, rain-soaked leaves.

New England: on a bright, sunny day, a happy, smiling middle-aged man contentedly blows the brittle leaves into neat, uniform piles on his manicured, picket fence surrounded lawn. He then effortlessly lifts them into the appropriate refuse bin, which he places on the sidewalk for collection by the local  waste collection agency.

Houston - Autumn - drabWest of Scotland: on a dreicht, overcast and damp day, a miserable, brow-beaten middle-aged man loses the coin toss / argument / will to live and his wife sends him into the overgrown garden. He accidentally bends the leaf-rake on the second sweep of the heavy, sodden leaves. For the next hour he pushes the leaves into little manageable bundles with his feet, which he then stoops to lift into the appropriate refuse bin. He finally risks a hernia by dragging to the pavement for (eventual) collection by the local council.

New England: little mammals take advantage of the new, insulated and warm sanctuary created by the recent fall of leaves. They are pictured in various wildlife journals all cute, curled up and comfortable.

West of Scotland: little hedgehogs and other small mammals form an orderly queue at the local housing offices, citing the damp, cold and drab conditions they are expected to live in. They are pictured in various daily newspapers brandishing placards and threatening legal action.

FireworksNew England: having served notices of eviction to the adorable little mammalian tenants, happy and excited families from the street gather round the residual piles on Bonfire Night. A match is placed under the leaves. They ignite almost instantly, spreading a cozy glow across the garden that warms the feet of those attending the fireworks display, and now busy toasting marshmallows in the fire’s periphery.

Bonfire smokeWest of Scotland: a boxful of spent matches lie strewn on the ground beside the slimy, wet pile of leaves. That brow-beaten, middle-aged man again loses the the coin toss / argument / will to live, and is supervised by his impatient, irksome neighbour as he siphons a litre of petrol from his car into an empty bottle. Having splashed this over the sodden leaves, he flicks the flame of a disposable lighter onto the musty mound. It ignites. Eventually. But there is no immediate, spreading warmth.

There is smoke. Lots of smoke. It brings tears to the eyes of those trying to quickly retrieve their still cold potatoes from the base of the supposed fire, before the litre of ‘unleaded’ permeates the skin.

The  kids from the street have lost interest and are now indoors playing Xbox. The wives are now in the kitchen and on their third bottle of red. One of the husbands has gone home to check on the dog. Another excuses himself on the feeble excuse of having office work he should be doing.

The brow-beaten husband waits with the irksome neighbour for the smoking stack to extinguish. There is silence in the garden. A heavy, damp silence.

 

And the winner is …………

The Second Lord of Procrastination and Broken Promises.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

That’s me, that is: The Second Lord of Procrastination and Broken Promises.
(The First Lord met an untimely end when, on the eventual realization that Time waits for no man, he tried to catch up with it by removing the batteries from his clock. He consequently failed to notice the time of High Tide was fast approaching and rather sadly, he drowned.)

Some authors have learnt well from this little parable. But not all. Like me, for example. Right now, I feel I should be editing the first ten chapters of ‘Evhen & Uurth,’ (w/t) and not procrastinating until I’ve written some half-baked blog post.

Or should I?

What’s more important? Writing a potential best-seller  or, letting prospective readers know that you’re writing a potential best seller?

I’ve been pretty slow to the social media table, but five years after the release of my first (ok – only) book, I’m becoming more convinced of its value.

See, I figure that just about anyone who writes a book, writes a ‘potential’ bestseller. Take the ‘Fifty Shades’ series by E.L. James. The first of these, and I presume the others, was widely acknowledged as being, well, for want of a better description … crap.

Tell you what – I wish I could write books as crap as them! And indeed, I probably can. You probably can. We all can. The difference between our crap books not selling and Ms James’s making her a very rich and successful woman, is social media. The hype, and even in this case the negative comments, that surrounded the initial ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ book piqued the curiosity of a certain demographic who just had to see what all the fuss was about.

It’s really a case of establishing a market-place for your book and unashamedly promoting it. But in the right manner.

From my experience, there’s no point in spamming the book-buying public. Scattergun Tweets to a following of possibly thousands is unlikely to generate much in the way of sales, if any at all. And cold-calling messages sent on Facebook are about as effective as a telephone call from a PPI claims team. What’s required, is genuine interaction with people interested in the subject matter of your book – be that flying saucers, trolls, cozy romance or in my case, psychopathic rabbits.

Over the past couple of years, I have read some really excellent books by authors I greatly admire, especially so regards the other members of the Goodreads CLOG group. (I distinguish them simply because their humorous writing is more the style I aspire to.) These books, regardless of how many have been sold, deserve to be read by many, many more people. Some, and I’ll spare the blushes of those to whom I refer, should in my opinion, have prominent display positions in national book stores.

The fact that they don’t, is down to a lack of self promotion. I know this to be true in the majority of cases to which I refer.

It doesn’t come easy. Most people, authors or not, worry about being perceived as boastful; being considered arrogant. As a Scot, it’s just not in my nature, for example, to tell anyone that I’m any good at anything. Self-deprecation is viewed as a valuable safety net up here:

“Ah – it’s just something I knocked up on a few rainy Tuesday afternoons. It was either that or clean out the cupboard under the stairs. Its not a serious effort to become an ‘author’ as such. If it sells a few copies, I’ll be happy.”

That’s the way do it. Glass half-empty. If the book sells well, then that’s a bonus. If it bombs, then we were prepared for it.

But with that attitude, which is the more likely?

I’ve learnt that with ‘Damp Dogs & Rabbit Wee,’ if I go quiet on it, and don’t undertake some targeted campaign or other, then it may sell the odd one or two copies a month. It will perhaps be read a couple more times on Kindle Unlimited.

But if I do some work on it, tell dog / pet lovers about what a darned good read it is, then sales can be increased ten fold. And this is two years down the line from publication.

So, my point is this: not all procrastination of a work in progress is bad. Proactive and targeted use of social media is just as valuable a use of time as writing that book.

Getting your name known through interaction with potential readers of your particular genre is key.

Right, there you go. That should just about do it.

Now, let me just check the time of the next high tide.

___________________

A Goan Adventure?

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

THIS WAS WRITTEN ON RETURN FROM HOLIDAY IN JANUARY 2018.

So, another adventure in Goa, India draws  to a close.

‘Adventure?’ Perhaps that’s an exaggeration. The word prompts thoughts of conquering the unknown; of searching out new experiences, or even perhaps legging it with an ancient relic tucked under your sweaty armpit whilst evading a multitude of jaggy-edged booby- traps, set by the Guardians of the Dead to a previously unknown civilisation.

In actual fact, the most exciting and adventurous thing I did, was bare my arse to a hitherto unknown Indian chap who promptly thrust an anti-biotic laden needle into the muscle mass of my glutes.

Being unwell on holiday is … well, a complete bummer.

Never-the-less, if you are going to be ravaged by a mucus-soaked chest infection, Goa is the place to be. You may well feel like shit, but you certainly won’t feel out of place since it seems every taxi driver you hire is partial to the odd roar of gargling phlegm.

And, on the plus side, should you fall victim to ill health, appropriate medication is easily had in the local village at the the rather decrepit looking pharmacy. And for a mere fraction of the price you’d pay in England, too.

Of course, with free prescriptions in Scotland, us Scots are outraged at having to pay 325/- (@ £4.22) for enough amoxicillin, levobalt, paracetamol, & cough syrup to undercut a chain-smoking Venezuelan drugs baron.

But needs must.

Most Goans speak English as well as their native Konkan, but the most effective means of conveying your illness to the dispenser, is to demonstrate your ailments. A simple cough, protruding your tongue or tearing slices of dead skin from you sunburnt forehead usually results in the grumpy, wizened old pharmacist scampering up an unstable ladder to reach the outer limits of his stock.

I will never fathom how he knows where to find a specific unbranded white box of drugs, incidentally each of whose name comprises a minimum sixteen letters and sounds like a Polish shot putter’s under arm deodorant . But he does, & that’s all that matters.

A word of caution though: active demonstration of Delhi Belly is to be discouraged. It’s considered rude and unnecessary in these parts, and rather than meds, you are only likely to be handed a shovel.

BUT THAT’S ALL BY THE BY.

Goa is a colourful and magical place. The Heritage Village Club at Arossim, its staff and guests, even more so. Nothing is too much trouble, and even though I effectively lost over half my fortnight holiday through feeling unwell, it was heartening to see how concerned and attentive the staff ( & fellow guests) were.

I thank you all. It’s been a pleasure spending the past two weeks with you. I will, of course, completely understand you not reciprocating the sentiment if come Tuesday, your wheezing lungs are similarly filled with green, sticky stuff.

So that’s it – I’m home in Scotland now. And still coughing.

Right now, though, I’m going to get some shut-eye. For tomorrow morning means an early start as I’ll be straight off down to Boots the Chemist, dropping my kecks and demanding a free jag in the bum.

Wish me luck.

 

_________________

Game For A Laugh.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

There are many things in this life I don’t understand: trigonometry and calculus for starters; the combustion engine; how somebody, sometime, managed to convince the world that blue is blue, and not in fact, say, yellow;  and why people feel compelled to display photographs of their breakfast on Facebook. 

I’m not a complete philistine, though. I do try. As I’ve grown older, I can grudgingly appreciate why The Beatles were so popular. And probably still are.

Now that I’ve reached the more mellow years of my life, I feel I should have even a basic understanding of cricket, and I’d like to develop at least a tolerance of ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ TV programme. Goodness knows, I have to suffer it often enough.

And it’s television that has today piqued my ire. Even allowing for the twin, in-built safety valves of incredulity and moaning, my grumpiness levels rose to a dangerous high when flicking through the sports channels, and landing on one screening some ‘eSports’ competition.

eSports? That’s what we used to rather quaintly call ‘video games.’ On a sports channel!

The Oxford English dictionary defines the word ‘sports’ as being:’ an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.’

Note, if you will, the use of the words ‘physical exertion.’ It’s all relative, I know, but even the most unfit specimen would struggle to justify twiddling the knobs on a games-controller as too much of an effort. Maybe if using both hands?

Nah. This is no more a ‘sport,’ than big game hunting. Although – give the elephant / lion / meerkat an AK47 or Uzi, then I might be a bit more receptive to the competitive aspect of that one.

This particular televised match-up was between two teams battling with their dragons and elf-type beings to … to … you know, I really have no idea. It must have been pretty important and exciting though, as the commentator sounded like he needed a change of underwear.

Not only was there a commentator, there was a panel of experts, offering analysis and dissecting the strategies being displayed. I struggle with the relevance of this even during a proper, live game of football, for goodness sake.

At the conclusion, the two teams of misshapen geeks lined up to shake hands in true sporting fashion. The vanquished, with their petted lips and teary eyes, looked like they’d been sent to their rooms without any tea.

A few weeks ago, I also noticed the live screening, ‘streaming’ I think the word is nowadays, of a football computer game. I didn’t hang about. But I now know this was the FIFA eWorld Cup tournament!

Apparently twenty million gamers entered, hoping to make it to the Finals. In the real world, Scotland haven’t been able to qualify from a group of four, since 1998, so it’s unlikely my country was represented.

But what truly amazed me is that there were apparently twenty-nine million views across three-days of competition on its online platforms. Nineteen national broadcasters also provided coverage.

And the superstars of the gaming world (yup, there are such people) can make thousands, hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, apparently.

Hindsight is a great thing. Foresight, even better.

Had I a glimpse of the future as a youth, back in the Seventies, I wouldn’t have squandered my time on athletics and football training. I’d have applied myself more diligently to the study and practice of the Galaxian video game at The Peel public house in Drumchapel, Glasgow.

Perhaps by now, I could have been a contender.

_______________

Dead Men Walking.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

The path was well worn, for they came in numbers.

To many, the journey had taken the form of almost religious homage. But for the majority, the subjugated, it was a feared and tortuous trek into the unknown.

Penance or penalty – who could tell? It mattered not.

Even those forced to accompany their masters on frequent trips were fearful of stumbling upon unexpected terrors. For this was an unforgiving land – a strange, soulless wood land, fraught with dread and trepidation around every turn. A land inhabited by a species of beings, shy by nature, who would gather in small groups but scamper into the darkened recesses when approached by outsiders. For it would seem they too were tormented by the unknown.

Colin had been here before, of course. Most of the village’s menfolk had.

But this particular command to saddle up the iron horse and prepare for a new venture into the living, breathing nightmare took him by surprise. Surely his master had laid sufficient sacrifices at the altar of Ingvar to last until the year end at least? Had their dues not been fully satisfied? What more could be required of them?

Colin’s hands were visibly shaking as he prepared for the journey. A survival pack was hastily replenished with revitalising fluids, spectacles, a mobile communicator and most importantly, cash. The god, Ingvar rewarded the offering of cash. This Colin knew only too well.

The short trip to the edge of the mysterious wood land passed quietly and the iron horse was securely stored in a place that would later become as difficult to find as the end of a rainbow.

Colin’s master led the way towards, and through the rotating gates to the place of nightmares. Colin took a deep breath and closed his eyes as, from somewhere deep within, he found the courage to follow.

Instantly, his heart sank. His knees trembled. His head felt as if it were being squeezed by a contracting band of steel. Experience, however, reassured him.

“Focus on the positive. Always the positive,” he told himself. If his master was in benevolent mood, there may be a reward at the end of the trek. Assuming he made it through unscathed, that was.

Trailing a discreet distance behind his master, Colin joined the sluggard masses. Eye contact with the other subjugates proved difficult, but when by chance glances were exchanged, he could see into the very souls of the others. They were neither dead, nor undead. They were caught in a twilight world where all emotion had been thwarted. Until they made it to the other side (if they made it to the other side) their minds belonged to their masters. Only the naïve or plain stupid would offer up opinions of negativity. Even those who opined what they considered a neutral indecisiveness would be ruthlessly smote down in a volley of retribution.

As they wandered deeper and deeper into the petrifying forest, their masters would casually pick up items for brief inspection, pat them, then cast them aside once again. Colin and the other subjugates, however, would become disorientated and nauseous. Their very existence lay in the hands of the masters. So long as they remained no more than a few steps behind, and didn’t let them slip out of sight, they knew it would all have to end. Eventually.

Focus. Envisage the end. How good will it feel when it’s all over?

And then it was.

Suddenly, the trail opened up. No longer was it a random path meandering throughout the heavily wooded area. It was now a straight, direct walkway through a deep valley, dwarfed on both sides by mountainous blocks erected in temple-like fashion – a place for final worship before leaving the kingdom of Ingvar.

The mood of Colin and the numerous other subjugates visibly brightened. Their pace increased. Their gait lightened. They were nearly home. All that remained was to wade through the wide, but traversable rapids.

It had been done before. This was do-able.

And there, in the near distance, the reward. Colin’s master gave that look. Simply translated, it meant: ‘Yes. Ok. You’ve been good. Go on.’

And Colin ran and Colin skipped over to the reward. Now – ice cream or hot dog? Or maybe some meatballs to take-away? Or some cinnamon rolls?

Decisions. Decisions.

Weekend visits to Ikea were sometimes worth the grief.

_______________________

Check Your Sock Drawer.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

I have to confess, I’m not a political animal. I generally try to stay clear of any political debate on the grounds of not knowing enough to present a convincing argument. My viewpoint is very simple: it doesn’t matter who you vote for, the government always gets in. And that will always create division. Animosity, even. And I’m a lover, not a hater. Anything for a quiet life.

But I was bored. I couldn’t think what the heck to write about for my blog this week, so was killing time on Facebook and trying to figure out how Twitter works. I know …

Anyway, probably because a news headline caught my attention, I  absently undertook a Google search using the words ‘government,’ finds,’ and ‘extra.’

Blimey! Regardless of the country or currency, it seems governments are very adept at this. The top three results on the search page reveal the Irish Government ‘found’ an extra three hundred million euros a year past Christmas. The Canadian Government discovered an additional four billion dollars in its coffers while the UK’s local government secretary managed to scrape up an unexpected hundred and sixty-six million pounds the year before last, to ease spending pressures in social care and rural areas.

What do they mean when they say they ‘found,’ all this dosh? And why were we not told they had lost it in the first place? I lapse into a cold sweat if I feel I’ve misplaced a fiver, for goodness sake! Mind, that’s perhaps down to my Scottish genealogy. Short arms, long pockets and all that.

Until some fateful day in October 2004, I was employed in the Branch Banking sector. That was the day the HBOS decided they could dispense with my twenty-eight years’ experience.

Ha ha! I still wet myself when I think about it. The Banking industry was even at that early stage bailing out a sinking ship with a hole- riddled bucket. Still – they knew best. The big ‘financial crash’ followed a few years later, and even a half-wit can see the two events were connected. Possibly.

Anyway, before the building society decided to play in the big boys’ field of Banking, us young whippersnapper tellers in Bank of Scotland would balance our cash till every night. To the penny. If it wasn’t balanced, we’d sometimes be hours trying to trace the mistake. Most times the error would be found, but if we ended with as little as a tenner discrepancy, it would be placed on record. And in absence of anything else, used as proven justification for redundancy some twenty years later.

At least the politicians do eventually ‘fess up – even if it is really just a means of ingratiating themselves to the voters. Not like my wife, and I suspect married women the world over who also have a knack of ‘finding’ things:

“I like your new dress,” I’ll say before we head out to a party.

“This? Oh no, it’s not new – I’ve had it for ages and just found it at the back of the wardrobe.”

Oh yeah, I’ll be thinking. That’ll be in dark recess of your closet, just this side of the portal to the universe, through which the dress fairy periodically slips with expensive, designer clothes.

“Ah, yes. I remember. It does look familiar, now you mention it,” I’ll lie.

Isn’t the human brain wonderful? In a flash, it can weigh up loss of face against potentially a fortnight of the silent treatment. Anything for a quiet life, as I said. Just not that quiet, perhaps.

Me? I find nothing. I’m more a loser than finder. I can lose time; lose face; lose patience; lose weight; lose tennis matches (I’m particularly good at that one) and lose money. In fact, I’ve been known to even throw it away.

A few weeks ago, while watching my football team, I bought the traditional cup of Bovril. It’s what you do in UK at football matches. Like having a chilli-dog at baseball. I handed over a five pound note for my one pound purchase. So I was given four, one pound coins as my change. These I placed in my left hand. With my right, I stirred the drink with spoon provided and then placed that between my lips so I could carry the cup in my right hand to the bin.  Still with me?

With a piping hot drink in my right hand, I pulled up the bin lid with my left, at the same time throwing away what I thought was the wooden spoon. There was an odd sound. Like metal on plastic. It prompted me to think what was still in my mouth. The spoon. So, what had I just thr …..

Aaaaargh!

The point of all this? There is no magical money-tree as has been alluded to by governments – only incompetent financial planning. There is no portal to the universe, though which the dress fairy periodically slips – only mail-order catalogues.

There are only stupid people who throw their money away. And sock drawers containing only socks.

_______________