Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The Curse of Byard

I have, as some of you may know, recently returned from a business trip to Egypt. When I landed the country was a little on edge because of the unpleasantness on its northern border; by the time I left a week later the president had assumed dictatorial powers, Tahrir Square reeked of teargas and quite a lot of things were on fire.

This isn't the first time I have done this to an unsuspecting country. I visited Uzbekistan, and shortly afterwards Andijan erupted into large-scale unpleasantness. I visited the Caucasus and the Russians and Georgians marked my departure by kicking the crap out of each other.My visit to Bangladesh heralded a major mutiny of the country's border force, in their barracks just down the road from the office in which I had been working. When I left Thailand a few years ago, all hell broke loose on the street between red- and yellow-shirted partisans of assorted political factions.

The evidence is in - whenever I leave a country, chaos ensues. As yet, Gyppologists are unable to say whether this is the soul of a nation pining for me as I flit away, or whether the removal of a critical quantity of existential lucky heather tips the balance, but a causal link is now hard to deny.

I am now willing to offer governments and regional organisations two ways in which they can benefit from this unusual talent of mine:

1) Any country wishing to avoid unrest may pay me an annual retainer not to set foot in it. I suggest a graduated pay scale depending on population, say £1 per year per thousand inhabitants.

2) Any country wishing to stir up trouble in someone else's patch can give me a return first-class air ticket and an all-expenses paid fortnight in a five-star hotel in the capital of whichever nation they wish to destabilise, except in the case of the UK wishing to safeguard the Falkland Islands (or, for readers in Argentina, THE FALKLAND ISLANDS!) by messing up Argentina, in which case my patriotic sense of self-sacrifice will prompt me to lower the rate to business-class and one week in a four-star hotel).

Serious offers from cabinet-level ministers only please. Leave a private contact in the comments...

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Surrealism at home - 4

"What is it Guthlac?"
"I'm slipping down the stairs." (I can believe this. Moments earlier he had been lying full-length on them.)
"I'm sure you'll be alright. In any case, it'll have to wait until I've finished shaving."
"Look - I have to finish shaving. You're not in any real danger. If you were, for example, being pursued by a hammerhead shark armed with a crossbow, I would rush to your aid."
"Am I?"
"No. And here are three good reasons why not: Reason number 1 - Hammerhead sharks cannot breathe out of water. Reason number 2 - Hammerhead sharks haven't got hands and would therefore find picking up, aiming and shooting a crossbow difficult. Reason number 3 - Their eyes, being at the extremities of their eponymous heads, are ill-placed for aiming correctly.
"What's reason number 4?"
"Are the first three not enough?"
"OK, reason number 4 - to span the crossbow requires that one puts one's foot in the stirrup, another movement which hammerhead sharks find bafflingly difficult owing to a lack of feet."
"How about reason number 5?"
"Hammerhead sharks have delicate skin which would be terribly chafed by the taut string of a crossbow."
What's reason number 6?"
"I've finished shaving now."

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

My daily walk of shame

From Monday to Friday each week, I accompany Guthlac on his five-minute walk to school, where he is currently in 'Foundation 2' (or 'Reception' as it was until recently. Or 'infants' as it was back in my day.) I then depart for work.

Guthlac and his classmates are not allowed to bring toys into school. However, they all interpret this rule to mean that they can bring toys to the playground and then hand them over to their accompanying parent or carer when summoned inside.

Thus it is that from Monday to Friday each week, I am compelled to walk though the streets of my neighbourhood, a solitary middle-aged man dressed more-or-less respectably for work, trying to look normal while carrying in his hand a bizarre toy of some description. As many of those who will see me are similarly encumbered parents I know I have some degree of understanding. But there are always non-parents about who will notice and start constructing narratives inside their own heads as to how this state of affairs has come to pass. I imagine, in my more paranoid moments, that many of these narratives feature phrases like "care in the community" or "predatory".

I now have, in my head, an elaborate hieararchy of toys categorised by public shame coefficient, running something like this:

Category one: Small transformers, toy cars, superhero figurines: Fine for cold weather as they can be concealed inside a coat pocket. In warm weather, can be largely hidden with sleight of hand.

Category two: Scooter or bicycle. Awkward to carry and impossible to conceal about one's person, but obviously the burden of a school run and therefore no cause for public shame.

Category three: Marvel comics. Hard to conceal other than during overcoat weather, and open to non-school run interpretations from passers-by including sad geek's reading material and child-molestor's conversation starter.

Category four: Light-sabres, game consoles etc. Too large to conceal, too embarrassing to carry openly, these are the stuff of overly self-conscious adult nightmares. Only this morning, a request to take one of these and the inevitable response led to a toddler-like temper tantrum, with screams, flailing fists and hot salty tears. But after a while I calmed down and took Guthlac to school anyway.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Weightloss - a dull, self-obsessed post for fellow losers

Having promised, a post or two ago, never to comment on the subject again I find that a commenter (somebody who reads this blog, and must therefore have petals strewn at her feet and have every whim catered for) has asked for more. So Melissa (on the assumption anyone else will have bailed out by now) - a few random and slightly more positive thoughts about weightloss:

1) Knowing your BMI is brilliant, because it shocked me into action in the first place and gives useful waymarks as to how one is doing, plus a wise and reasonable target weight at which you can level out. Trust me, I was fat for years and made every excuse in the book (including "I'm big-boned" and "muscle weighs more than fat" and "I'm a bit plump but not actually obese" and "I don't really eat that much"). All of these are untrue for *any* overweight person, btw. I finally worked out my BMI in the expectation it would come out as "pleasantly cuddly but nothing to worry about" and found I was clinically obese at a health-threatening level. I then made targets out of each full point of BMI I dropped (from well over 30 to 24, where I am now). This was helpful as it kept giving me small victories rather than having me chase a seemingly unobtainable big target.

2) Diets don't work. I dropped 4 stone (56 lbs if you're American, 27 kg if you live in the metric world) without going on "a diet", or giving anything up. Habit-changing was what worked for me. For example, I used to drink too much coffee, and every cup I had contained about 3-4 tsp of sugar. One day I actually put my daily intake of sugar from coffee along into a bowl and looked at it. It horrified me. I retrained my tastebuds to like black coffee without sugar and also cut down the number of cups per day I was drinking, and in a negligible amount of time had cut several hundred calories a day out of my regular intake without really noticing. If you are overweight, there will be 'savings' like that in your in your daily intake you can make. I did similar things with chocolate, snacks and meat (meat especially is key - be a vegetarian at least 6 days a week and you'll be amazed by the difference it makes). Replacing cakes, biscuits and chocolate with dried fruit or seeds is great as well.

 3) More exercise is good. When you are overweight it's gruelling and painful on the joints and tires you out. When you get down to the right weight it energises you. And you don't feel nearly so self-conscious at the swimming pool or out jogging.

 4) When you reach your target weight, buy new clothes and send the tents to charity shops. You look better, feel better and don't have the option of your weight going back up again. Hope this is of some interest. Please feel free to share your experiences knowing that I will take an intelligent interest...

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

A symposium

A lunchtime stroll to take in some fresh air and sunshine today took me past The Tethered Goat, outside which No Good Boyo and his confederates were sitting around an upended packing crate which had once contained a steam-powered personal grooming device sipping their lunches of Champion's Abdication Special (except for Dazza, who was drinking lady's white wine from a lady's glass) and engaging in the sparkling, erudite conversation for which they are famed.

As I hove into earshot, Dazza was explaining in the loud, ponderous tones of one well advanced on his lunch that "Social media, right, is like an animal with a huge tail which BASHES itself over the head." He accompanied this hypothesis with arm-flailing gestures which had his companions swiftly move their pints out of the way for safety.

Unwisely - for I was sober - I allowed myself to be drawn into a discussion of whether there are, in fact, any animals capable of this feat of self-flagellation. Kangaroos were proposed and then rejected on the grounds that their tails - being a balance-weight for their heads - would, if swung around into the vicinity of their heads, cause them to fall over amusingly.

I mooted snakes as being able to coil themselves around in such a way. "But do snakes have tails?" inquired No Good Boyo. "Well yes," I opined with a Mediaeval bestiary-writer's logic "A snake is basically just a tail with a head attached." There is a brief pause for thought as eyes narrow and creaking brains whirr. "Actually" explained Boyo in the manner of a scholarly authority laying down the law "Snakes are disembodied knobs used by lesbian animals to pleasure themselves with."

The conversation moved on to the Welsh floods ("Welsh people live on hills. The ones swept away were English caravanners") and some ghastly pimple or other in the cramped Celtic landscape from which Owain Glyndwr once sent a letter to the King of France offering to send over the King of England in two ships for prolonged torture, a plan which failed because Glyndwr's allies the Percys were - and I quote - "Shite".

Dazza suddenly woke up at this point, thinking that we had mentioned The Persians being Shi'ite. We then digressed into a feasibility study of whether the Safavid navy could have made it as far as the English Channel at the turn of the 15th century.

A side discussion involving the K-man then brought us back to evolution, and how many willies barnacles have. I then really did need to get on and beat a hasty retreat, leaving them to come up with an answer.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Weightloss - what the health fascists don't tell you.

I am currently at the point in an ongoing diet where colleagues and acquaintances are coming up to me and saying "Gosh, you've lost a lot of weight", and worrying about my being too thin. I'm am not, needless to say, too thin - that would require at least another two stone of slimming to achieve, and I have no wish to go there. But I have come down from 15 st to 11 st, from what in Body Mass Index (BMI) terms is "obese" to "normal". So for anyone contemplating such a transformation and wondering what the downside is, let me explain:

1) It's colder. Actually, it's much the same but you feel the cold a lot more without your customary padding.

2) Sitting on hard chairs becomes agonising. Again, a dramatic loss of padding makes itself felt in uncomfortable ways. Frankly, I would quite happily have kept a degree of cushioning on the backside and rid myself of the manboobs and beergut first, but alas the limb insulation went first, leaving me looking for a while like an obese torso with manboobs and a beergut, out of which stuck matchstick arms and legs.

3) Stretchmarks. Honestly, from waist to rib I resemble a freakishly hairy mother of young twins. The doctor never mentioned this, curiously.

4) Becoming a diet bore. I shall gloss over exact BMI figures and diet tips, but I *could* talk about them nonstop for over an hour. Frends comment on how thin I'm looking, and then glaze over a mere 15 minutes or so into my reply.

I hereby promise I will never blog about this again. Honest.

Monday, 27 February 2012

The Great Indonesian Novel - 5

Stung into action by Boyo's resumption of Anti-Danube, we continue the ongoing series with This Earth of Badly-Raised Twilight - Chapter 5 - March 1920

William of Orange Polder Windmill Rotterdam Pancake Li staggered back to his dormitory yet again, the taunts and half-bricks of his red-faced, long-nosed bullying Dutch classmates ringing in his ears. And yet again he felt forced to ponder - for the benefit of the reader - the cruel contrast between the illusory, cultured Holland he had grown up to love and the cold, harsh reality as described so searingly by someone who had never actually been there. It didn't seem to matter how hard he tried to fit in, the Dutch would forever look down upon him as a native and despise him. William, tears in his eyes, ran out of his Amsterdam school, through the coconut grove and along by the rice paddies. He looked up at the distant volcano and swatted away a mosquito.

"Curse the Hollanders!" he spat. "If only my father knew what he was putting me through! My eyes have been duly opened to the iniquity of the white men, and there remains little for me to do here except seek an early return to my native land to work for eventual independence. That and drink large quantities of cheap gin in backstreet dives with Surinamese ladies of negotiable affection, of course. Actually, come to think of it, there's no reason for me to go home immediately..."


Far away in Soerabaja, Min - the simple village goat-carrier-turned-dokar-driver-turned-satay-seller turned vice-president of Goodyear Tyres (Southeast Asia) division with responsibility for marketing - who still nursed within him a hopeless passion for the lovely yet cruelly mistreated Royabot was driving past the batik market in his chauffeur-driven car when his eye was suddenly caught by the careworn yet beautiful face of the woman for whom he had, with notable inefficiency, been searching for many years. "Stop the car!" he blurted out, causing a minor traffic pile-up involving four bicycles, a handcart, an old woman carrying a medium-sized restaurant on her back and three bullocks. He flung open the car door, knocking a malnourished child into a storm-drain, and stumbled towards the face's owner.


Raden Roro Royabot looked up at him, to see the kindly face that had filled her many flashback-musings about the essential goodness of simple village folk over many chapters.

"Min? Oh - I see you have a car now. The goat-carrying business must be booming."

"I am no longer a goat-carrier. It's a long story, for which I refer you to the previous three chapters. But I hear that you have left your cruel and exploitative husband."


"And become a batik seller in the market."


"And that you could possibly do me a chicken coconut curry with lemon grass on white bread."

"I beg your pardon?"

"They tell me you do Siamese sandwiches for sailors."

Royabot lowered her beautiful, dark eyes in shame and confusion. "I have much to explain to you, clearly. Possibly with the aid of diagrams"


"But first, we must fish my sadly malnourished son, Hayamwuruk Gamelan Komodo-Dragon Hopeless-Dream-of-Independence Batik Li, out of that storm-drain at once."

"Ah, yes. Sorry about that..."

"And if only we could afford food and a proper education for him."

"Royabot" he said gently, putting his arm around her shoulder, "I am but a simple village goat-carrier-turned-dokar-driver-turned-satay-seller turned vice-president of Goodyear Tyres (Southeast Asia) division with responsibility for marketing and know but little of these things, but it seems to me that if you were to marry a kindly and now sufficiently wealthy man - a simple village goat-carrier-turned-dokar-driver-turned-satay-seller turned vice-president of Goodyear Tyres (Southeast Asia) division with responsibility for marketing, for example - he could afford to feed you and your son properly and pay for his education at a pesantren (or rural Islamic boarding school for those reading in translation) where his native Islamic education as a santri or Orthodox Muslim Scholar will contrast nicely with his brother's sojourn in Holland and allow for some descriptions of the Muslim nationalist movement over the coming decades."

"Wah, Min - of course I will marry you. For your cleverness, you deserve this."

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Revd Dr Giles Fraser. Twat.

Over the years this blog has been in existence - on and off - I have generally tried to keep my personal opinions of other people's idiocy out of things. Unsuccessfully, I'll grant you - especially as regards Esperantists, cyclists who wear lycra, Italian leaders and Simon Jenkins - but there has been some attempt at least.

And I freely admit that this is partly because explaining my admittedly unusual (yet entirely rational) position as a church-going agnostic positivist takes a lot of time and is prone to frequent interruption.

However, there are times when one has to deliver the bitch-slap, with however heavy a heart, and last week was one of those times. Radio 4 had invited vacuous trendy vicar The Revd Giles Fraser to confront laser-guided Professor Atheist Angrypants Dawkins himself on some pointless survey or other about how many of the population are Anglicans (I answer "yes and no" to this one, myself; a position of which the C of E heartily approves and frequently takes itself).

Dawkins pointed out that a large number of alleged Christians cannot name the first book of the New Testament. Fraser then countered with an undergraduate debating-society cheapshot by asking Dawkins whether he could recite the entire title of Darwin's 'Origin of Species'. Dawkins promptly marched into the heffalump trap by saying he could, and then failing to do so.

Here's what he should - with the benefit of hindsight - have said:

"It matters not a whit whether I, or indeed anyone alive today, can remember the title of Darwin's 1859 magnum opus, nor even whether we have read it. And this is because science is not a religion, Darwin was neither prophet nor evangelist, and Origin is not a holy book. If you ask me to explain how we know evolution to be true, I would not start with a reading from Darwin, nor would I ask you to accept everything he wrote on faith. We would instead look at evidence. That is how science works. And furthermore, the best evidence we can show today was unknown to Darwin in 1859. Our understanding of the genome lays clear things that Darwin glimpsed but through a glass darkly. Thousands of transitional fossils are available in museums across the world which were still in the ground in Darwin's time. Christians, however, need the Bible because Christianity necessarily relies on revelations and faith. Without the book, there is nothing. Without Darwin's book, we can still show overwhelming evidence for evolution. So fuck off."

Good news....

Hooray! I have regained control of my blog from the evil googlemonster!