‘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.

_______________

Bring back queues. Please.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Social media has come a long way in recent years.

Remember the time you’d receive, through the post, a quaint little invitation, hand-written on rose-bordered notepaper bought from the ‘three for two’ bucket in WH Smith.? It would request the pleasure of your company at a friend’s fondue party, organised as an excuse to show off the new eighteen inch, colour television set.  

Oh dear God! The sheer terror! Your mind would immediately click into excuse mode, but you were fresh out of dead grannies and if the kids were sick any more, you’d be reported to the Children’s Panel.

Nowadays though, it’s possible to ‘virtually’ attend such a party from the comfort of your own armchair. No longer need you fret over being polite to the host when they ask you to comment on their newly wood-chip and emulsion decorated home.

Of no concern either, is that irritating know-it-all who’s experienced everything you have, only longer, better or in the case of ill health, worse.

And, while the host is able to give you a flavour of the party as they Face-Time you around selected guests, what they are entirely unable to do, is  pressure you into sampling the culinary non-delights of salmon and cucumber on a rye crispbread.

Of course, social media messages are prone to hacking from time to time – something that was unlikely in the days when communication was principally done by lighting a bonfire on top of a prominent hill.
“Look yonder! A third, bonfire has been lit. This can only mean bad news.”
“You’re damned right. That’s no bonfire – that’s your house. You’ve been hacked.”

But for all the obvious benefits the various interactional platforms bring, they also encourage another modern day phenomenon. One with a terrible, sinister underbelly that gives voice to those previously considered quiet, mouse-like, introverted people. A virtual power that amplifies the booming opinions of those already with an overspill of self-importance.

Communal Anguished Hand Wringing.

In a bygone era, we’d laugh and the whole world would laugh with us. Indeed, the advent of social media most definitely helps in this regard. But Ella Wheeler Wilcox, a poet of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries also mentioned ‘weep, and you weep alone.’ This, though, is most definitely no longer the case.

It takes just one post on the platform of choice regarding a missed bin uplift; a patch of ice in the carpark; an overgrown bush on the school-route or a dog turd on the pavement and the breast-beating and wailing can be heard for miles.

See – everyone likes to be morally outraged these days. Everyone feels a need to empathise with a soul affronted. It’s their basic human right to do so, of course.

But why?

I reckon it’s all down to the fact we no longer have to queue for things. We Brits, loved queues. For all we moaned about them, it’s what we did. We’d do it voluntarily: at the post office, we’d happily wait in line for the dubious pleasure of being growled at by a caffeine-loaded, middle-aged counter-assistant with a grudge against mankind; at the bank, we’d queue to be mis-sold some over-priced, over-hyped, underperforming insurance product by a brow-beaten or brainwashed teller. And in the pub, we’d check with the punter stood next to us to ensure we hadn’t jumped their place.

I recently read that during the riots in England back in 2011, looters even formed an orderly, disorderly queue to enter and ransack stores in a burning London.

As a nation, we spent shed-loads of money in developing queuing systems. Manufacturers of retractable ropes and customer-routing paraphernalia were laughing all the way to the bank. Where they’d have to queue to lodge their money, and be mis-sold some over-priced, over-hyped, underperforming insurance product by a brow-beaten or brainwashed teller.

But we no longer queue. Everything is instant. Almost. Nobody sends letters so there’s no need for stamps. Social media has seen to that. Parcels arrive on your doorstep, if you’re lucky, from a warehouse the size of a planet via some harassed and underpaid courier in their white van. In short, nobody goes to the Post Office.

Banks are the playground of the devil, and continue to scare the pants off a public who still harbour trust issues. Nobody visits any more, and hence the increasing number of branch closures and the downward spiral to the potential armageddon of banking in thin air. And pubs? There are more expensive, ponsey-named craft beers on tap than punters these days. Badger’s Tadger, anyone?

Research conducted several years ago showed that British people will on average spend one year, two weeks and one day in queues for shops and the like. Well, not any more.

Gone now is the sense of community fostered by a good queue. The feeling of togetherness, the enjoyment of bumping our gums in communal complaint has been eroded. No longer can we share chagrin. Vanished forever is that odd sense of sharing in person that mutual enjoyment of outrage and, at the same time, blind acceptance.

Conversation in queues used to be civil. Other than complain of the wait itself, idle chat would revolve around the weather and last night’s television programmes.

Social media, though, now encourages the self-righteous. It provides a soap-box on which the easily affronted can stand. And the more gushing empathy they receive, the bolder they become.

Face to face conversation promotes mental forethought, for fear of being considered a right pratt. But the relative anonymity of social media emboldens and encourages a certain type of people to vent their righteous indignation and set up base camp just below the moral high ground.

So, bring back queues, I say. Flush the morally outraged into the open.

In fact, bring back fondue parties – ‘Generation Snowflake’ should experience the pangs of real anguish.

‘Strictly’ – not Physical Education.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

‘Physical Education,’ it was called, back in the day. Football; hockey; netball; cross-country running, and in my time, to a lesser extent, rugby. It was an eagerly awaited break from the mind-crushing monotony of Mr Methven’s Physics class. (I’m still bitter he chucked myself and Tony Everett out of his Higher class – can you tell? Presumably that was to ensure his teaching reflected a better pass rate.)

‘Physical Education,’ in the month of December, however, was none of the above. Not because the ground was dangerously frozen – old Boot would have us out playing in the January snow, while I might add, he slurped his coffee in the store room. No. Some sadist considered it would be more character building, and stand us all in good future stead, to teach us the dark art of country dancing.

In the weeks leading up to ‘The Dance,’ boys and girls of each class in their Year, would be told to line up opposite each other in one of the gyms, backs to the wall-bars, and await the dreaded instruction:
“Gentlemen – take your partners for the Saint Bernard’s Waltz.”

The what?!

This is 1971 for goodness sake. The year of T.Rex, Rod Stewart and Atomic Rooster. And we have to dance to a  … what’s it called?

(See these old folk? See what they’re doing? THIS is what we were expected to learn as thirteen / fourteen year olds!)

Usually, two classes were amalgamated and twenty, sweaty-palmed lads would look up and down the line, watching to see who’d make the first move. Of course, there was always that one kid who was officially ‘going out’ with one of the girls stood across the games hall. His move towards the other side would instantly be mirrored by his ‘burd,’ (it’s ok – you could say these things back in the day) and the two would meet in the centre circle of the basketball court.

The pressure is now on.

Decision time. Move quickly before somebody else asks the girl you fancy. Or – actually, do you even ask her at all? What if she says “no thanks.” Or words to that effect. But she might be happy to ‘St Bernard’s Waltz’ with you. Wouldn’t that be brilliant? That would surely mean she likes you, wouldn’t it? Look – she’s whispering and giggling with her friends. Go on. Don’t be such a chicken.

But the fear of rejection is debilitating.

Aaaaargh! Too damn slow! She accepted that offer far too quickly. And she’s smiling. She must fancy ….

Very quickly, your options dwindle and everyone else starts pairing up – reluctantly or otherwise. So you make your move. The approach does not impress, however, as your path deviates when a pal overtakes you for the hand of your intended. Sheepishly, you are forced to ask your now third choice. Fully expecting a sharp rebuke, you ask the question.

Boot and Mrs McLeod (Horsey) who obviously frequent the world of Jane Austen, had dictated the correct manner of asking a young lady to dance is to politely say:
“May I have the pleasure of this dance?” But, partly because you’re a rebel and nobody tells you what to do, though mainly because your nervous brain has gone to mush, you grudgingly mumble the words:
“You wanna dance?”

Realising by now that it’s a straight choice between the short-arse stood in front of her; the weird introvert, or the kid with a plague of plooks and halitosis – the short arse wins. You – ok, I – have a partner.

Boot would then crank up the dansette and drop the needle on track one, side one of Jimmy Shand and His Band, Greatest Hits (Volume 1) and quickly retreat to the arms of Horsey. A short demonstration was followed by carnage and mayhem, the like of which had never been seen on the hockey or football pitches.

Of course, the rumours would fly for the next few weeks leading up to the Christmas Dance as to who fancied who – all based upon the rather random selection process of the practice sessions.

Then came the big night. The night when all the skills learned from Boot and Horsey would be displayed. Or not.

See, back then, there was no plush limousine; no pre-dance celebration meal; no hired photographers. Nope. Instead, groups of lads would rush out their homes an hour or so before the scheduled start time, meet up at the pre-determined ‘secret’ rendezvous point (for us, it was ‘The Woods,’ for others, ‘Hungry Hill’) and unearth the illicit booze that had somehow been procured earlier. The tipple of choice for my group was El Dorado and Lanliq fortified wine and a couple cans of Carlsberg Special Brew or Newcastle Brown Ale.

Timing now became critical, and being so young and inexperienced, it was pretty much down to trial and error … error frequently winning out.

The challenge was to get to the festively adorned Assembly Hall and, standing up straight whilst holding your breath, hand over your ticket to the poor teacher who would much rather have been spending the evening with a good book. Those pupils who still had to perfect the art of timing and sported puke stains down the front of their paisley-patterned kipper ties, were instantly rejected, being sent to the ‘sick room’ to await collection by their affronted parents.

Once in, you could relax. But not too much. It was best to keep moving. Dancing. Any period of inactivity would invariably induce a deep sleep on the spartan chairs that lined the Hall. Game over. Sick room and a phone call to your parents coupled by an instant grounding over Christmas would be the resultant consequence.

So, dance you did. And it wasn’t too bad, as it happened. And even if it was Dutch courage, you did ask the girl you fancied to dance. And maybe she was happy that you did.

Everyone was happy. Even the kid with the plague of plooks and halitosis.

It was Christmas, after all.

Generation Me.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

We’re stuck in a grim, Dystopian scene,
The streets are all quiet where people had been,
‘Cause they’re queued at stores with only one goal:
Grab ten family packs of budget loo roll.

It’s “Me, Me, Me” – that’s all that matters,
The flag of unity lies shredded in tatters;
Ripped at the seam by the selfish and greedy,
Causing no end of anguish to others more needy.

“Myyyy …. Preciousss!” The Gollums of Asda can’t spell guilt,
Tins of beans and spaghetti, trolleys filled to the hilt.
What?! If they eat all of that, to me it would seem
The least of their worries will be Covid-19.

But I now understand why they covet bog roll,
It’s for when Heinz 57 wreaks its terrible toll.
You self-centred bastard! Just have it – it’s fine,
‘Cause your need will soon be far greater than mine.

Mind – there;s less cars on the roads, and the air’s getting better,
Seems the only one happy is wee Swedish Greta.
Is this what she wanted? Her Masterplan?
Vengeful retribution upon the common Man.

OK – Perhaps not. I’m being most unfair.
She didn’t create this total nightmare.
We all know the truth, that sun, wind and tide
Are all more important than some dickhead’s backside.

(Sorry, I digress.)

So the shelves have been emptied and there’s nothing to buy,
It made a hardworking nurse break down and cry.
But her tears have watered this hard land of ours:
From infertile Shame, Hope blossoms and flowers.

For while we distance ourselves from family and friends,
Compassion and Community have become the new trends.
So, forget all the morons, stay safe and reach out –
TOGETHER WE’RE STRONGER, OF THAT THERE’S NO DOUBT.