Friday, December 29, 2006

Lawnmower Story

I've got just over fifty minutes before I have to be doing something else. I could count to three thousand, but that might take too long.

It would be okay to start with. One, two, three, four, five, six, they don't take very long to say. But when you get to two thousand seven hundred and seventy seven it might start to take too long. Too many syllables you see. Too much time.

Time. It's on your side and it flies when you're having fun.

I remember when I used to have double French at school with Monsieur Trim. He used to teach German as well but the Herr Trim jokes had worn a bit thin by the fourth year.

"Time", I used to say to myself, "is on my side. The lesson has to end, at some point the buzzer will go, I will pack my bag, and be on the coach home".

Even though I knew this there was still the nagging doubt. That time would stand still and I would be forced to spend eternity in double French. Although if you think about it, if the lesson was to last for eternity the concept of it being a double lesson couldn't exist, since eternity is infinite and infinity is not divisible by two.

I knew my maths lessons would come in handy one day.

What then am I to do with the thirty five minutes that now remain? What do other people do with their time? I'll tell you what they do, they go around fondling lawnmowers. I know they do because I saw it on television once. There was a man on television wearing a blindfold and fondling lawnmowers. He identified ten different lawnmowers without the use of his eyes. I don't mean lawnmowers as in your Flymo Super Hover with detachable grass harness, I mean antique lawnmowers. It was truly a sight to behold. A grown man, in a blindfold, running his fingers over blades, handles and cogs, then standing up and saying, with some degree of pride, "Yes, I think that one is a Smith and Chambers Ten Inch Greenback, 1935".

Yet despite the fact that during every single second of this 'feat' I was repeating the phrase "You fucking sad bastard" in my head, I couldn't help but be in awe of this man. He had used his time. Granted he had used it to stumble around in the dark touching up lawnmowers, but he had found a purpose, a niche.

The television programme was called YOU BET!, the rules of which are as difficult to understand as the rules of skittles. Somebody somewhere had devised it. They had sat down, perhaps with others, and invented it, and pitched it. No-one had asked them to. It wasn't necessary. The world would have merrily continued spinning on its axis without YOU BET!.

And if your faith in the future of the human race isn't completely wiped out by the fact that someone had invented it, it must be completely fucked by the fact that someone thought it would be a good idea to broadcast it on prime-time television. "Could anything in the entire universe be more unnecessary?" I had to ask myself. The answer I didn't want to hear was that a new series of "Last Of The Summer Wine" would soon be starting.

And they say that British TV is the best in the world.

Someone once said that twenty-four hours is a long time in politics. The truth is that twenty-four hours is the same time anywhere. It all depends on what order you want to take them in and whether or not you put them to good use.


Deal or No Deal

How in the fucking name of fuckity fuck did this sorry excuse for entertainment ever make it onto our television screens?

The premise that one person randomly choosing numbers somehow constitutes anything even remotely approaching excitement is utterly absurd.

The "Christmas Special" was on. The whole thing lasted an hour. People watched it on TV. There were people in the audience. They were getting excited about people opening boxes. The people opening the boxes were saying things like "I'll do my best for you", and offering 'tactical advice'.


So this is it, there's no grey area. You're either a moron, and you like DOND, or you're momentarily not a cunt and you think DOND is the sorriest heap of shit ever to disgrace television.

John Logie Baird must be turning in his grave.

Televisual sputum.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Walking Gingerly: A Guide

Icy pavements and snowy sidewalks abound as the Winter Weather Wagon crawls over the brow of Christmas Hill. There's nothing quite like the smell of freshly gritted tarmac to put the spring in your step, and whilst iffy alliteration can't splinter your coccyx, be warned. Pride may come before a fall, but what comes after?

Whether it's torn trousers, a bruised bottom, or just plain hospitalisation, this Christmas you'll be going absolutely nowhere without my Guide To Walking Gingerly. Follow the guide carefully and Christmas rambling will be as easy as falling off a yule log.

1 Shoe Selection

The importance of shoe selection cannot be emphasised enough as far as walking gingerly is concerned. What you're after in this sort of weather is a boot/shoe with a sturdy grip and strong ankle support. Don't be afraid to customise old wellies with sequins, buttons, or screwed up Penguin wrappers.

2 Centre Of Gravity

Poise and balance are the order of the day if you're going to get from A to C without involving your B. To ensure that your centre of gravity is going to maximise velocity and friction, while at the same time minimising embarrassment, use the following equation:

Divide your weight in newtons by your height in fathoms, multiply by a factor of two, or your mean stride length in feet over a distance of one furlong - whichever is the greater. Find the cube root of this amount and the resultant figure is the weight, in pounds, of fresh fruit which you should put into any available pocket.

3 Luck

If at this stage you're still falling over the chances are that you're either clumsy, or extremely unlucky. But, as in all aspects of life, you make your own luck and take it where you find it. To increase your 'luck ratio' simply stay indoors, avoid ice altogether (except in drinks), and have a happy and bruise-free Christmas.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Twelve Days Of Christmas

I saw my two daughters in their first Nativity Play this week. It was a heart-warming and surreal affair. Singing donkeys playing xylophones and stuff, you know how it is. It reminded me of the unswerving and overwhelming love I have for my children, and it reminded me of Christmas. And when I thought about love and about Christmas it brought to mind the song The Twelve Days of Christmas, a song I don't think I've ever heard sung properly.

I mean I've heard it attempted. Everyone at least gets it right up until five gold rings. In fact the whole song revolves around five gold rings. If you've forgotten how many pipers are piping, or lords are a-leaping you can rest assured that on the fifth day it was DEFINITELY five gold rings that my true love gave to me. And if you sing it with enough gusto the rest of the song hardly matters. Everything between five gold rings and a partridge in a pear tree is sung as the longest word that has ever appeared in a song.

"Fourcallingbirdsthreefrenchhenstwoturtledoves, AND A PARTRIDGE IN A PEAR TREEEEEE."

Anyway. The thing is, I'm reckoning that this "true love" person was one hell of a rich mother-fucker, and obviously I'm having to make a few assumptions.

Firstly there's the packaging issue. Most of the stuff is alive, so we're not in bubble-wrap territory. And what's the deal with all the live creatures anyway? What is the method behind the madness? Why a pear tree? Was it just the alliteration?


I'm not particularly concerned with the events leading up to the twelve days of Christmas, and I'm not overly worried about understanding the psyche behind the purchases. I'm more interested in using as much hapless rhetoric and assumptive absurdity as possible. I'm thinking the deliveries were made in person, by the "True Love". Most of the information I have on prices is going to have to be pretty sketchy. I'm figuring that the whole lot is going to be pretty expensive, so in the absence of fact there'll be a bit of educated guesswork along the way.

For the purposes of this exercise, "My True Love" is a he/him/boyfriend, and "Me" is a she/her/girlfriend. And if you've got a problem with that, stop reading now.



Ok. So. Day one. The first day of Christmas. A partridge in a pear tree.

Now a pear tree, depending on the type of pear, is going to set you back about £17. The thing is, where the cost of this whole twelve days of Christmas thing starts to mount up, is the fact that each of the gifts is duplicated on each of the remaining days. So a partridge in a pear tree is given on the first day and each of the remaining eleven days.

Yes, I know, it's complicated.

Partridge meat costs about £7 per kilogram and the average weight of a partridge is about 500 grams, so that's about £3.50 per partridge. But how do you compare the cost of a dead partridge to a live one? I could compare the price of a pig to the price of bacon and work out some sort of dead:alive cost ratio index but, to be honest, I don't think there's a lot of point comparing a pig to a partridge. Turkey seems more festive, and more apt. I don't know if turkey prices go up at Christmas, necessarily. It's been a while since I studied supply and demand and now I'm looking into this, it's apparent that I may have bitten off more than I can chew.

Ok, major assumptions. You're going to have to run with me on this.

You can pick up a box of 10 dead partridge(s) for £47. Call it a fiver per partridge. Now, thinking out loud here, but thinking slowly... a... live... partridge... must... cost... less... than... a... dead... one. Right?

I mean, if you're going to sell ten dead partridge in a box, there has to be some sort of mark-up, unless you've raised them since they were eggs, or whatever. I can't imagine that you'd get a lot of waste product from a dead partridge. Do they use their feathers on shuttlecocks or anything? Not sure. Then there are economies of scale. If you buy in bulk the price per partridge has to be less than buying individual partridge. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that a live partridge is probably going to cost about three quid. This will fall nicely in line with the £17 pear tree and make things easier to work out when the time comes.

There's no point in making it more complicated than it has to be, yeah?

Moving on. Turtle doves.

Day one was sweet. Granted that perfume might have been a more suitable choice, but the partridge and pear tree were a lovely thought. It probably would have been a bit of a surprise to get another partridge and another pear tree on day two, but the two turtle doves would have been a pleasant distraction. Fluttering away. Being turtle doves.

Now my basic knowledge of turtle doves is pretty slim as, coincidentally, is my knowledge of turtles and, indeed, doves. I'm more of a "know a little about a lot" kind of bloke. That's me.

Turtle doves are, essentially, free. They "occur" naturally. Although so do partridges and pear trees, and that didn't stop me putting a price on them. By my reckoning turtle doves are posh doves, and doves are posh pigeons. And racing pigeons are also posh pigeons. So by that rationale I'm thinking that a turtle dove would cost about the same as a posh racing pigeon. Which is about fifty quid. Two ponies. A tenth of a monkey.

On day three the alarm bells will have started ringing. They might be barely audible, like someone breaking into a butcher's around the corner from your house, but they're definitely there. Another partridge in a pear tree - the novelty is beginning to wear a bit thin. Two more turtle doves - blimey, they must have set you back about £100. And now three French hens.

It's a double whammy. The bird fixation, and the arithmetic progression. I'm guessing that if you call a hen French, that makes it a French hen. It won't cluck with an accent and it's not likely to get up when the La Marseillaise starts playing any more than a jar of French mustard would. On this basis a hen costs about a fiver.

At this point she asks him how long this is all going to last. And he tells her.

Day four. The alarm bell is next door. She's already made space in the garden for the fourth pear tree and the partridge have never looked so at home. They're roosting with the turtle doves.


Three French hens become six French hens, like some sort of hackneyed meiosis, and fuck me if it's not more fucking birds. Four calling birds or, to be more accurate, four collie birds.

Don't panic though. In the same way as turtle doves ARE NOT some sort of crazy seaweed sprig carrying ocean-dwellers of peace, collie birds have nothing to do with sheepdogs. The word collie or "colly" actually comes from an old word meaning coal or "coal". Thus a collie bird, now more familiarly referred to as a calling bird, is actually a blackbird. And if you've done the maths already, you're right. At the end of the twelfth day there will be enough to make one and a half dainty dishes to set before the king.

I'm not sure how much blackbirds cost, and neither does the internet, so the blackbirds didn't cost anything, okay? He caught them. At the park or somewhere. And put them into cages. Until the pear trees were available.

You'd be forgiven, if you were her, for thinking that enough was enough. By the end of day four she's looking at four pear trees populated by four partridges, eight turtle doves, and four calling birds. And she's had to build a coop for the six French hens. There's already enough room for eight more pear trees, so the fifth one isnt a problem.

The rest of the birds are unloaded from the van (which is the same van as the previous day) and he shuts the doors and walks towards her - she's standing in the porch. There are no obvious signs of other life shoved up or down his sweater. No twittering, chirping, squawking, or tweeting eminates from his slacks. He's got five of something, she's certain, but five of what? What will she have to house forty of in the not too distant future? He reaches into his pocket. His pocket Mind! And takes out five gold rings.

Argos. Ten pound a pop. Sorted.

The phew from her lips could be heard within a ten mile radius. The gasp the following day, twelve. Buttered up by a day's worth of jewellery, he saw a window of opportunity and, after arriving before dawn broke, in a slightly larger van, began unloading his feather orientated cargo.

Six geese-a-laying enter the fray.

Now at this point she's clearly upset, she's having nightmares about being ravaged by a dozen dodos in half a dozen days time, and is about to tell him that enough is enough. So he makes a promise. No more birds after tomorrow. And he'd stop sooner but they're on order. And look, you've got ten gold rings. So she says okay, as he's promised, and wonders if five gold rings on each finger will still allow her to knit.

A decent goose is going to set you back about £120, whether it's a-laying or not. The a-laying bit is something of a red herring. You could probably get a deal by buying them in bulk. Say six for £600. That's if you knew someone who sold geese in bulk.

You could haggle for a gaggle.

That's pure gold.

So she knew they were coming and that they'd have feathers. She knew there would be seven of them. Shit. That meant within a week there would be forty-two of them. Fuck. Whilst his avian MO would have stopped, that would still leave her having to look after 184 birds, and that's not counting any hatched geese (a-laying my arse). But she was ready for anything, pretty much, or she thought she was.

Her suspicions were aroused when he insisted on having a pond landscaped into her back garden (he called in a favour). It was a big pond, you could probably fit... oooooooh... forty-two swans in that (£300 each). To be honest, having swans swimming in a pond in your back garden would be pretty cool and, for a split second, she almost regretted enforcing his bird-gift embargo. But only for a split second. He had the opportunity to redeem himself over the next few days and she had the opportunity to develop Dove Fancier's Lung.

The eighth day and a new dawn, ushered in with the sort of racket you might associate with the sound that nearly seventy birds make. And hark? Is that the sound of cow-bells coming from the large truck that has pulled into the driveway? Forming not so much a queue of presents, more the failed auditions from some sort of demented Noah film, the possibly soon-to-be ex-boyfriend proudly parades the next stage in his attempted woo.

Eight maids-a-milking.

On the plus side she now had eight people who could help her gather eggs, scatter seed, and clean the bird shit off her windows. There would be an endless supply of milk, which could domino into cheese, butter, and pear yogurt production. And they downside? IN FOUR DAYS TIME THERE WOULD BE FORTY COWS IN HER FUCKING GARDEN.

At this point a wry smile crawls across his face. Although because it's only a joke that he's aware of, and because she is about to stove his skull in with a pail, it quickly crawls off again. He explains that seven of the cows are going back, and she'll only be left with one cow, and the maids will have to take it in turns a-milking it. Her face defines the antithesis of sidesplitting.

Anyhow, cows cost a grand, exactly. And maids cost...


Here's the possible flaw in my interpretation of The Twelve Days Of Christmas. I'm wanting to go down the Human Ownership route. Not so much because I have a penchant for slavery, but more that I've gone so far down this absurd road, it would be a shame to have to turn back. But where can you buy human life on the internet?

You have to love rhetoric.

It won't work though. I've got to consider pipers piping and drummers drumming. Ladies dancing I can change to something more noughties, like lapdancing (£20/dance). And everyone knows that Lords are a snip at £2,000, or at least that's how much they think people can be bought for. I'm going to have to tar maids, pipers and drummers with the same metaphorical minimum wage brush, and base their cost on a 35 hour working week. It would mean an ongoing wage-bill after The Twelve Days Of Christmas were over... but that could always be offset by selling goose eggs and dairy produce... although with only one cow and 40 maids to pay... except their wages wouldn't be her problem... maybe he'd have to draw up some sort of pre-nuptial agreement... I'm rambling.

In any case, who cares what happened after?

Because I'm feeling generous the maids get five pounds an hour for a seven hour day. End of.

Thus eight maids-a-milking begets nine-ladies dancing begets ten lords-a-leaping begets eleven pipers piping begets twelve drummers drumming.

This is how you end an incredibly tedious story.

By the end of the twelfth day of Christmas her garden comprises 12 pear trees and 12 partridges, 22 turtle doves, 30 French hens, 36 calling birds, 42 geese, and 42 swans. That's 184 birds plus sundry goslings, and one cow. 140 people variously milk, dance, leap, pipe and drum at her house every day, and despite the fact that she is also the owner of 40 gold rings, her life is actually a living hell.

And the value of these gifts? Well, if my calculations are correct, the total value of the gifts, as at the end of the twelfth day of Christmas, is £87,265.

The Twelve Days of Christmas actually start on Boxing day and finish on Epiphany. If you want to you can treat this as ironic. My guess is he forgot to buy her something for Christmas and was trying to make it up to her. I wonder who had the epiphany?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Christmas Present

When I was about sixteen I wanted a guitar.

I'd wanted a guitar for quite a few months. I wanted a guitar more than I wanted anything else. Christmas was coming. So I asked for a guitar. I would have been happy with a guitar and nothing else. But no guitar shapes appeared under the Christmas tree in the lead up to Christmas Day.

Christmas Morning I went to church with my family. I think I might have prayed for a guitar. Then, after mass, we went back home for breakfast. And, after breakfast, we all sat in the lounge, waiting to begin the present opening. I was already pretty gutted at this point. Still no guitar-shaped presents under the tree. Not even the hint of one (whatever that actually means). But despite this, despite my palpable sadness, there was the merest hint of tangible excitement. Like a joke that was only being played on me. So when it came to handing out the presents it seemed both odd and strangely appropriate that I should be handed the first one.

It was about eight inches long and four inches across. But not rectangular. It was weirdly shaped. And a bit nobbly in places. No audible moving parts - a shake confirmed this. I was perplexed. My face must have been a creative combination of sadness, excitement, and puzzlement.


I opened it.

I opened it, and inside the wrapping paper, there, in my hands, my trembling hands, was a guitar. A plastic guitar. It was yellow, and had a red back. With rubber bands for strings. Three rubber bands forming six strings. I strummed it in my sorrow, fighting back tears. Every twang accompanied by my laughing family.

"Look on the back," my Dad said. So I did. And there. There sellotaped on the back of the plastic guitar was a yellow square of paper. Blue ink. LOOK UNDER YOUR BED.

I looked up at them first. Saw their beaming faces. And ran upstairs. And saw My Guitar. And cried.