Friday, 28 January 2011

We Have One Chance... To Get Everything Right

A story for you.

Breathless with the excitement that only elevenses can create, Timothy opened the jar, expecting it to be filled with warm, golden peanut butter. It was, up to a point, but as he dug in his knife it hit something that was decidedly un-peanut-like.

Timothy frowned with his face and scooped with his knife (for to frown with his knife and scoop with his face would have been an altogether silly way to react), revealing what could only be described as a very tiny bird, covered in peanut butter.

This was unexpected, and so Timothy jumped, inadvertently dropping his knife on the worktop with a metallic ‘spang’.

The tiny bird coughed crossly, and got to its feet.

Timothy watched in awe as the tiny bird hopped clumsily across the counter, heading in the general direction of the sink. Once there, it hurled itself into the empty basin with a ‘plop’, and looked up at him expectantly.

“Oh,” said Timothy, somewhat slow on the uptake as was his wont, “you want a wash?”

The bird rolled its eyes as if to say, “duh,” which was quite impressive for a bird, and inclined its tiny head in affirmation.

Very gently, Timothy turned the tap to the 'on' position.

Extremely gingerly, he squeezed a drop of washing up liquid onto his thumb, rubbing the teeny tiny bird’s head to create a washing up liquid / peanut butter lather.

Utterly softly, he attempted to rinse the soapy mixture from the tiny, delicate wings.

“TIMOTHY!” bellowed a voice from the doorway, “HELP ME BRING THE SHOPPING IN FROM THE CAR!”

Seriously slowly, Timothy looked down to his hands, which he had involuntarily clenched into fists at the shock of the sudden noise.

All he could see was a mess of soap and peanut butter. One solitary feather was the only evidence of the un-peanut-like visitor. And poor young Timothy, never saw anything magical again.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

"The Irony Made Even More Irony-y" - A Close Reading of Giles Coren on the Sky Sexism Row

Once again, Twitter has led me to read a contentious article from the Daily Mail that would probably never have entered my consciousness had it been written a couple of years ago.

This time it's by Giles Coren, a man largely famous for being the son of Alan Coren. This close familial relationship to someone famous for being good at satire, along with his friendship with the likes of the erudite and generally liberal seeming Sue Perkins, leads me hopefully in the direction that he's being ironic, or at the very least got bored and decided to write something deliberately controversial.

The premise of the piece is that it's OK for women to be sexist about men, but not the other way around - a double standard that does exist to a certain extent within the media and indeed life in general. However, his first piece of evidence is the continuing success of Loose Women vs. the sacking of Andy Gray for saying that women don't know the offside rule. I appreciate this is topical, but as arguments go it's a bit weak.

I don't know anyone in the world who likes Loose Women, male or female, alive or dead. According to the show's Wikipedia entry, everyone from Jan Moir to Karl Pilkington (and of course The Guardian) have spoken out against it. It's pointless drivel, much like all other daytime TV.

But lets explore that very point for a moment. Loose Women is only on during the day and is targeted, in a very calculated manner, at stay-at-home mums who want something trashy they don't have to think about whilst they have a break for lunch. The vast majority of people never have to see the thing. Football, on the other hand, tends to get a prime time slot on the tellybox, on account of being the country's national sport. When a big match is on, normal programming is shifted about to accommodate it. Doctor Who and Charlie Brooker would never be moved back a week in favour of Colleen Nolan carping on about her sex life, but the beautiful game is another matter.

Is there not an argument to be made, then, that football coverage ought to be accessible to everyone in the nation, irrespective of gender? Is it not potentially more important for pundits to watch what they say in front of millions, than for Kate Garroway to curb her outrageous man-hating (isn't it annoying when they leave the loo seat up girls? Not really Kate, no. Unless you don't have hands, I guess) in front of an audience of half asleep new parents, and students too hungover to move after Jeremy Kyle?

As I say, part of me hopes that this article was written to stir people up a bit, but certain passages did make me wonder if he's just an idiot. Frinstance, the part where he said:

"Here’s another of Jo Brand’s (excellent) gags. ‘What’s the way to a man’s heart? Straight through the chest with a kitchen knife!’ Again, not unfunny. But predicated on the idea that killing men is hilarious. Whereas killing women, as we all know, is a very serious affair and not to be joked about."

It seems clear that this joke is not at all predicated on the idea that killing men is hilarious, but is in fact a classic example of what Lee and Herring described in their 'lazy comedy slags' bit as "MY EXPECTATIONS WERE CONFOUNDED, AND FROM THENCE THE HUMOUR AROSE."

Jo Brand takes a well-known saying, the way to a man's heart is through his stomach (therefore you should cook him yummy food and he will never stray), and inverts it for comic effect. Technically, Coren is right in commenting that if a man tried to do the same joke it wouldn't work in the same way. This is because there's no proverb precedent - the set up in reverse, from a male point of view, would be something of a non sequitur. However, in the hands of Sean Lock or Jimmy Carr, both of whom do ironic sexism quite well, it might actually work OK. Oxford-educated Giles Coren, the son of a FAMOUS HUMORIST, must get that. Mustn't he?

"It’s not just Brand," he continues, "it’s all women." Is he exaggerating for comic effect, or bemoaning genuine male experience? If this were printed anywhere other than the Mail, I'd assume the former, but context plants a seed of doubt...

He goes on to explain that women's neverending sexist jokes ("‘What do you call the useless flap of skin attached to a penis?’ they joke. ‘A man!’") are only OK because our mothers teach us to deride men from birth. Apparently my own mother, who has never taught me any such thing, is a revolutionary. I can't remember any point when she's told me that men are only after one thing, or tried to score points against my dad because she went through childbirth and he didn't. I would hazard a guess that this is because both of my parents are interesting people in their own right, rather than ridiculous gender caricatures of the type perpetuated by Daily Mail journalists and Loose Women presenters. Coren presumably saw something very different in the way his anesthetist mother brought up his poker champion sister.

"There is no question that women today have it all," he trundles on, "and it just isn’t fair that they are allowed to be so vile about us.

"I suppose, in a way, British men are like white people were in Nineties South Africa or young Germans after the Second World War."

Really, though? Sexism has gone so far the other way that it's like some kind of socially acceptable apartheid? Again, in any other context - a gig at The Stand, for example, or a Frankie Boyle style comment on a panel show - I'd automatically consider this exaggeration for effect; or a slightly crude example of shock comedy. But what of the target audience of the paper, generally perceived as people who lean to the right (and outraged Twitter users)? Even if it is a masterstroke of ironic genius, surely the bulk of the readers won't get it?

A few points for those who read the article straight, and perhaps even agree:

Andy Gray should not have been sacked purely on the basis of one worn out old joke made to a colleague when he thought his mic was off. But I don't think that was the reason he was sacked, it was a symptom. For a bit more information, see here.

Loose Women should not get away with how they treat male guests on their show. They tend to be crass and intimidating in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator, severely underestimating the intelligence of the average female viewer and willfully alienating the male viewer. Further to this, deliberately making your interviewee uncomfortable on the grounds of his gender is stupid, and I resent the implication that their approach is indicative of how all women perceive and talk about men. It isn't.

If Jo Brand should be taken to task for anything, it's not sexism, but the point many of her jokes are lazy and not very funny. Which happens with male comedians too.

The idea that "women have it all these days" should not mean that men are somehow losing out, which seems to be the implication of Coren's argument. Double standards in the workplace go both ways, in the media more than any other industry, so surely men and women ought to work as a team to dismantle this rather than fighting each other over who is better?

It is worth reading and debating articles of this kind, rather than dismissing them out of hand because they appear in a paper whose political views are traditionally opposed to mine. Whilst I could go through life reading only the Graun and going "oh yes, I totally agree," occasionally getting riled up by the odd typo or the latest ridiculous thing our PM has come out with, that would get boring very fast. And actually, it's quite interesting to know what other people think, or what other people think their target audience probably think.

Even if they're wrong.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Do You Take This Pie...

Those of you who use Facebook will probably be aware of its obsession with targetted advertising, which surely only has limited success. Basically all girls I know are so used to being told about various wedding services (tick tock ladies, if you don't marry soon it might never happen and then where'll you be?) that it doesn't really bother them anymore.

Today, though, FB caught my attention by insisting I have a look at Rubenesque Bridal, "Scotland's only dedicated bridal boutique for the curvaceous woman."

How does it know I'm a size 16+? (Which I'm not, of course, I'm like size... zero. Ahem.)

And, why did it decide as soon as I graduated from university that I'd be desperate to get married ASAP? For a supposedly modern means of communication it takes a very 1950s approach to gender roles.

Actually in fairness, that one might be because I've been 'engaged' to one of my mates on there for about five years, and the bots can't tell the difference between real and fake relationships. Yet. But still, when, where and if I tie the knot is not going to be determined by social networking.

There again, the other thing they keep throwing at me is a free screening of Trainspotting at the Royal Scottish Academy, so maybe they do know me quite well after all. *starts sketching centrepieces*

For other items written by me today, see here for chat about the poetical genius of Sisqo, and here for a mild response to an hysterical article about the British government's gay agenda. I've also conducted a couple of interviews for the Edinburgh Reporter which I am in the process of writing up, and tonight I'll do some more Caligula for 12 Books in 12 Months. Productive.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Slut Finite

To give you an idea of the economic situation in the town where I grew up - the pound shop is in the midst of closing down. So it is now in fact a 50p shop. If people don't even have the cash to buy fishing equipment, hen party paraphernalia, or lighters with the word 'knob' on for a quid a time, surely we're in trouble?

There again, it might just be that this particular pound shop is the crappiest of them all.

Friday, 21 January 2011

The Vanishing, and Other Stories

She reached into her apron pocket with a supercilious smile and vanished without so much as a puff of smoke.

I waited four hours for her return, before realizing she probably wasn’t coming back. Sadly I left the flat and headed for town. It was chippy Tuesday, after all.

My sister was confused when I rang to tell her.

“Wasn’t Poppy your imaginary friend when you were about six?”

Two glum looking police officers called round the next day. Apparently they didn’t think Poppy was imaginary. They reckoned I did something with her. Locked me up.

Eight years ago, now.

* * *

Harold was a goldfish who thought he was a dog.

His owner, Betty-Lou, encouraged the fantasy because she would really rather have had a dog than a fish. So she used to tie a lead around his bowl, place it on a skateboard, and walk him up and down the road.

The neighbours came round on several occasions to express assorted fish-dog concerns. Betty-Lou’s parents explained that she wanted a puppy, but they couldn’t afford to feed one.

Mrs Harrison ‘accidentally’ ran Harold over one day.

Betty-Lou ran away.

Finally, her parents bought a dog. They named him Harold.

* * * *

“Hoot hoot,” said Eric the owl.

“Shut the hell up,” replied Barry the tramp, shooting him with an air rifle stolen from a ten year old.

Eric the owl fell from his branch in a crumpled heap. ‘Flump,’ he went.

“That’s better,” said Barry the tramp, swigging from his bottle of methylated spirits and readjusting the layers of newspaper in his trousers.

Barry dreamt that night of an enormous owl in a Viking helmet, coming to kill him. He hated that dream, it always came before bad news.

The next day, his favourite bin exploded.

That’s karma for you.

Thursday, 20 January 2011


Just to keep you up to date with all my wheelings and dealings, here's a post about my average writing day over on 12 Books in 12 Months.

Also on Confessions of a Jobless Graduate I'm going to be blogging about song lyrics on a daily basis in honour of the Let's Get Lyrical campaign, an idea from UNESCO to get people talking about reading in 2011. So have a look, leave a comment, or don't.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The River City Blog #3

Today, I am watching River City as it goes out, on my parents' fancy HD TV. Usually I iPlayer it on my computer several days later. Will this make the experience more exciting? Probably not.

Dr Brodie can't sleep. He is wandering round in his dressing gown, sighing a lot and drinking milk straight from the bottle. What a sad parody of manhood. He needs to take some tips from the Old Spice guy. Meanwhile the reason for his stress, missing brother Leo, is suffering night terrors on hairdresser Hayley's living room floor just a few doors away. F'only they could be reunited. Or something.

On an unrelated note, Crazy Ruth is also up and about, scrubbing like a motherbitch to hide the fact she is pure raging about partner Andy's interview for a job in Dubai. Seems a bit premature - he might not even get it. But then she is called Crazy Ruth.

Over at Casa Del Mullen, Scarlett is dispensing wisdom re Big Boab's court summons, sporting grey leopard print jim jams with unmatching pink leopard print dressing goon. Does Montego Street have a secret Primark I don't know about? And in The Ship, the pointless subplot about Rrrraymond being annoyed with Eileen for sending him on errands all the time continues apace. Is there to be no comic relief tonight?!

Apparently not. Whilst Leo pops pain killers like a toddler with a tube of smarties, the Military Police roam the street(s?) searching for him, and his brothers bicker loudly about his welfare. Scarlett forces Boab to go outside, whilst Jimmy helpfully points out, "lawyers and doctors pick up prozzies all the time." Wee Boab and Theresa take him under their wings with similar insights - "I dinnae care aboot your urges, at least you didnae hurt anyone" - none of which seem to cheer him up. Mainly because he did hurt someone - poor fragrant Iona, the love of his life. Oh, for a family as sensitive as the Mullen-O'Hara brood.

Anyway, onwards and upwards. Her from Take the High Road points out that by keeping wee Eilidh prisoner in the flat instead of letting her go back to nursery, Crazy Ruth is behaving like a crazy person. But apparently everyone else ('everyone else' in this instance being Ruth's grandad and her pal Scott) thinks she should be given the benefit of the doubt. They're wrong, of course, but because HfTtHR - Liz, if you want to be pedantic - is such an interfering busybody 99% of the time, they ignore her. The consequences are due next week.

Over by the Delhi, Leo has somehow fallen down the stairs from Hayley's flat to exhort nephews Connor and Adeeb to help him steal sister-in-law Leila's car so he can go back to Afghanistan. Are you keeping up with this? Connor is well up for it, but the more observant Adeeb notices that if they allow him to do a runner he'll almost certainly die of septicemia. He therefore informs the nearest responsible adult. Good to know that not all kids are idiots.

By the way, can anyone tell me whether Leyla has had an affair with Leo at some point? Because she really hates him, and calls the military police on him whilst Dr B is off at the surgery locating drugs. This backfires slightly, however, when Leo gets off on the condition that he moves in with them till he gets better. What a plot device.

Somewhat dully, there's the little matter of why he went AWOL in the first place. Dr Brodie knows his little brother is hiding something, explaining,

"Ma IQ's above 150. I've had it checked."

Strong words, that cut right to the heart of the matter. It turns out Leo shot a ten year old civilian in Afghanistan thinking it was a sniper, and he can't live with the guilt. He ran away from military hospital so he can go back in a non-soldier capacity to atone by laying his own neck on the line. Cue some fairly unconvincing crying and a visit to the pub, during which he threatens Leyla with his eyes. They may be planning to draw this out for some time.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Flash Fiction Thoughts

Supposedly shorter fiction works much better in the first person. I'm not convinced, because I think it feels self important and gives a lot less room to play with language. This might just be because I'm crap at it - when I go first person I tend towards introspection and pretension. Here's a couple of examples.

Five years together and four weeks apart, he brings his replacement me to my beach and photographs her laughing and prancing across the sand. Blind to the possibility he might be on the rebound, I feel devalued – but from this moment sure I made the right choice. Except for a gin-fuelled relapse, over which a veil should and will be drawn. Still, I lack the confidence to try at love again for more than a year. When I do, I am rejected out of hand. I wonder briefly whether this would make him laugh.

I don’t think it would.

* * *

I look up suddenly from boxes of reduced-price mince, to see her gazing slyly through heavily mascaraed eyelashes. No sooner is eye contact made than she hurriedly breaks it, apparently transfixed by grubby markings on the floor. I think I see a trace of guilt beneath layers of foundation - perhaps a memory of books unreturned, or promises unkept. There were several of each. On the other hand, ever the martyr, it’s unlikely she'd acknowledge any sense of wrongdoing. People need to lighten up, in her honest opinion.

This grudge isn’t mine to bear, but I do it anyway.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Bon Voyage

We have a tradition in my house, which is that every so often, we watch all the Lord of the Rings films and play a drinking game at the same time. The 'we' in this scenario is me, my sister and our best mate. Other people have come and gone since the first one in 2003, but we are the staple members of this mature and responsible group. Yesterday, we did it to bid farewell to my sister, who is going travelling for a couple of months. I recorded it for posterity.

16.03 - Drink to elven superiority and kingly politics! Come on guys, Bee's going to Paraguay! She's going to be the richest person there!

- Bee: "did they even consider anyone else for Gandalf?" / Ceri: "Christopher Lee wanted to do it but he's too far typecast."

16.30 - how many things from these films do you say on an almost daily basis?
- "Keep it secret, keep it safe!"
- "Fool of a Took!"
- "You shall not pass!"
- "... But it is not this day!"

16.35 - Gandalf: A LITTLE LATE TO BE TRIMMING A VERGE ISN'T IT? / Bee: Well, I'm drinking to that.

16.44 - this would have been a very different film if Ray Liotta was king of the Nazgul. Lord of the Rings meets Wild Hogs...

17.00 - OMG, Frodo, what an idiot. The ringwraiths are out in force and he just gets out the thing they're looking for and holds it up in the air! / Ceri: Sam would never do that. He'd swallow it. Shit it out when they get to Mordor.

17.14 - Bee: I want my house to look like Rivendell.

17.20 - STILL SHARPE!!!!

17.25 - Long conversation about hotness of Boromir and Faramir. Ceri: "I would ruin Gondor."

17.34 - if you put the ring on a sausage, would it go invisible?

17.43- Aragorn: "make for the gap of Rohan." / Rose: "Who's she?" Fnar.

18.04 - Gandalf: "I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor." / Ceri: "father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife... / Gandalf: YOU SHALL NOT PASS!

18.22 - "Well, the funniest armpit hair I've ever seen..." This is going to be a good story.

18.35 - As Boromir lies dying, Rose: Aw you're fine! Man up! / Bee: Don't you ever say that to Boromir.

18.49 - Two Towers time, woo hoo!

19.02 - drink for "man flesh"!

19.21 - Rose: "When I try to put 'McDonalds' into my phone, predictive text changes it to 'madnockers'... Ooh, trees! My dad looks like that tree. When he has a beard."

19.34 - Ceri: "It [the mountain Gandalf fought the Balrog on] looks like trifle. I hate trifle."

20.09 - Ceri: "I can't get through Helm's Deep without a Bumrod." (affectionate nickname for local takeaway)

21.04 - Takeaway time, woo!

21.25 - Shot for the ents fighting back!

21.26 - Troop discovers she has been drinking 9% wine - she has been wasting her time! If it's less than 12 there's no point..

21.34 - Ceri: "We'll need to have a drink for Shelob. Even though I don't... approve. Mainly because she's a spider."


22.30 - Captain Tact is watching MOTD on his computer on silent. Poor.

22.38 - In-depth conversation re the derivation of phrase "how d'you like them apples?"

22.39 - is the Boston accent nice?

22.41 - Michael suggests Faramir is better than Boromir. Debate ensues.

22.55 - Michael confuses Stuart Townsend with Stuart Cosgrove.

23.19 - Michael: "but Sean Bean is troubled - women don't like that, do they?"

23.21 - Rose: "it's the big spider... Sheila!" / Captain Tact/Bee: "For ladies who insure their cars, Shelob's wheels are superstars.."

23.42 - Denethor just got roundhouse kicked by a horse! Shot!


23.59 - The Rolling Stones are alright, but not amazing..

00.06 - Michael: "British trampolines for British people! Coming over here, taking our bounces. [pause] that wee bit of ironic racism's taken it out of me. I don't know how real racists keep it up."

00.21 - The ring is melting!

00.23 - As the tower of Barad-Dur collapses, Ceri: "THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENS IN POLTERGEIST!"

00.29 - Gimli! Let's drink to Gimli!

00.31 - no more things to drink to.. BUT SO MUCH MORE FILM!

00.31 - Ceri: "Aragorn, that hat makes you look like a silver knob." / Bee: "that's a crown."

00.37 - Frodo is so jealous of Rosie. She should watch her back.


00.46 - Ceri: "IT'S LIKE STAND BY ME!" / Bee: "Cause river Phoenix dies?" / Ceri: "yes! Then the other two fade into obscurity and it's sad."

00.47 - Ending number six... Ceri: "Oh Rosie. That's an ugly baby. [pause] And I don't think it's right to have that much greenery."

Have a lovely time in Paraguay and Canada, Bee!

Friday, 14 January 2011

Changing The World One Cake At A Time

So you're all doubtless aware of the most exciting celebrity gossip of the week. I do not refer to Justin Bieber's allergic reaction to something or other (which excitingly saw him rushed to the children's ward after filming an episode of CSI); nor the fact that Mr Darcy is getting a star on Hollywood's walk of fame because he made a film about a monarch swearing his tits off.

No, I'm on about a story revolving around the so-famous-it's-almost-as-if-nobody-knows-who-he-is Kenneth Tong, who went to summer camp with the Triads and was once on Celebrity Big Brother for a whole five days. He is controversial mainly because he endorses fun things like anorexia and getting away with sexual assault, then claims he was only joking.

Well, who hasn't been there...?

You can read an interview with him here in which journalist Johann Hari inadvertently sparks off the whole 'it was only a joke' thing by bluntly informing him that he is very probably a prosecutable sociopath; or alternatively a slightly shorter comment piece by Alexis Petridis in the graun that highlights, a touch ironically, the fact that drawing attention to this man only encourages him.

It's all quite interesting, in a deeply depressing kind of way. At least now I know how to get 22, 962 twitter followers - develop a weight loss pill and market it to impressionable younglings; maybe the odd supermodel. Although telling them to "get thin or die trying" probably won't sound too convincing coming from me.

To expand on what Petridis says, the problem with Twitter's explosive reaction is that it could well be giving Tong exactly what he was aiming for - fame. Remember when Jade Goody was a racist? She said something 'controversial', everyone hated her, she apologised and was given a documentary off the back of the whole thing. Don't be surprised if you see Tong presenting his insights on the darker side of anorexia before the year is out.

Meanwhile, Simon Cowell telling the internet that Tong is disgusting doesn't detract from the fact that all the women on his record label are size zero or thereabouts - excluding SuBo who, bless her, is mainly there to fill every conceivable 'exception to prove the rule' possibility.

Mostly everyone has heard the 'anorexia is bad' argument, but those who suffer from it clearly need more information to drive the message home. Perhaps the beautiful slebs (and Cowell) should consider being more proactive in raising awareness - why not dedicate a five minute slot on X-Factor to explaining exactly what it does to your insides, frinstance? Show devastating images of girls in the final stages of emaciation? It would shock people, it would make them pay attention, and it would be mentioned by aaaall the talking heads on '2011 TV highlights' shows, including the ones you've heard of.

Just a thought.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

The River City Blog #2

This week, Jimmy buys a new car and promptly sends Big Boab off in it to do the shopping without so much as a list. Typical men, and other generalisations. Boab then proceeds to sit in it and moan about his virginity to Charlie, instead of getting something in for tea.

"You're a kind, funny, talented man, with a full time job and a full head of hair," Charlie shrieks unsympathetically, unable to process the fact that people might lack sexual confidence if they are forty, a virgin, and about thirty stone. "She willnae gie a flying fuck!" OK, he doesn't quite go that far, but it's implied.

And it turns out to be correct, because at this very moment Boab's sort-of-girlfriend Iona is trying to get the flat to herself so she can have him round for sexy times. In order to achieve this, however, she must make a pact with Annie, who wants to have a party - ON A TUESDAY NIGHT. What madness is this? It'd never happen in Morningside. And we're only six minutes in!

Meanwhile, angsty hairdresser Hayley is angsty because she has to go to work with her ex boyfriend Jack, also a hairdresser, who recently had an affair with a woman twice her age (Gina, not a hairdresser). As big gay hairdresser Robbie would - and did - say, awkward! Oh, also she is nursing some kind of secret.

Later on, Dr Brodie and family have a scene in which they appear to be a normal family normalling about the place - teenage son makes mess, teenage daughter tries to get her dad to let her go out later to 'study', he responds with the totally normal phrase, "do you think my head buttons up the back, young lady?" - all so that they can be utterly destroyed by a visit from the world's most enigmatic military police. Where is Uncle Leo?

Well, in the park chatting to Hayley, since you asked. A magnificent way to go AWOL.

"What does that mean, exactly?" Hayley - apparently not the brightest sandwich in the picnic basket - asks him, arms folded in perplexion. It's not a word, but Hayley would probably say it.

"It means I've ran away fae the army," Leo elaborates, presumably confused she didn't get that from 'absent without leave'.

"Does that mean people are looking for you?"

"Uh huh."

"Well who," she probes, undoubtedly feeling like she's pulling hen's teeth, "the police?"

"The military police," he concedes.

Shocked Hayley is shocked, and quite pissed off when he explains the only reason he didn't go to one of his brothers is cause that's the first place they'd look. Turns out this isn't so romantic when you say it out loud. Bet she wishes she was at Annie's party, where her colleagues have proceeded to get nicely toasted before having a fight about who is the slaggiest. For it seems that wherever Boab may roam, he is destined to hear tales of other people's promiscuity. Poor Boab. But it's OK, he gets proactive and devises a cunning plan to get rid of the virginity issue.

No, it is not taking Iona to bed.

That's right, he decides to get off with a prostitute. Except being Boab, he manages to find himself an undercover polis prostitute, who promptly arrests him. This somehow ends up on the front cover of the next morning's free paper, so that nobody in Sheildinch can escape the news. And somehow, in spite of Jimmy's advice - lifted from Rocky - that he just needs to pick himself back up again and it'll be fine, things keep getting worse! Funny, that.

First, Isabel from Take The High Road (she's not called that in this, but she'll never be Liz to me!) demands he be sacked from his job at the community centre, but he sort of beats her to it by quitting. Then he meets his mother, who skelps him and squeaks that everyone she plays bingo with will see, before calming down enough to say, "if I'd known you were in such a fankle I'd have paid for one for you masel." Thanks, mum.

Stella though, is less forgiving. Her role over the past couple of weeks has been mainly to be very disappointed with people without hearing their side of the story - first Deek, now Boab. Which is a bit rich given her own character's story (she was rescued from a life of alcoholism, prostitution and being judged, by Deek who chose not to judge her...), but there you are. Far more importantly for Boab, however, is that even when he explains himself, Iona can't get over it. He is like, uber dumped to the max.

Which just goes to show that a fat person and a thin person can never find love. People: know your limits.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

True Romance

Oi, Hotmail spam filter! What do you mean by junking this? She could be my one true love!

'My Dearest,

I am very happy for your reply to my mail despite your busy schedules.'

I didn't email you, but OK.

'How was your night over there in your country,i believe you had a nice night rest and that the atmosphere over there in your country is very nice today? Mine was a little bit warm over here in Dakar Senegal.'

Cold. It's winter in Edinburgh.

'My name is Bella Garang,'

Nice to meet you, I suppose.

'23 years old but age doesn't matter in a real relationship,so i am comfortable with your age,'

Oi! I'm 25!

'My hobbies are Reading,traveling Listening to good jokes also my likes are obedient,Honest,sincerity,truth and my dislikes are lie,dishonest,envy,and betrayal.'

Huh. My dislikes are people not bothering to proof read what they're written.

'I am from Southern Region of Sudan,5.7ft tall,dark in complexion single,(never married ) and presently, i am residing here in Dakar as a result of the civil war that was fought in my country some years ago.'

Hey, I'm 5'7" and never been married! Maybe we should be buds! Oh, but I don't have much civil war chat though. Could always give you stuff about the act of union...

'My late father Dr John Garang was the greatest Sudanese politician in history. A Christian and a southern Sudanese from the Dinka tribe, and also the First vice president of Southern Sudan in Northeastern Africa in July 9, 2005.'

As the greatest Sudanese politician in history I guess he didn't need to be punctual. Arf. But in all seriousness, he's a real guy. Apparently survived by a widow, also a Sudanese politician, and six children.

'He was involved in the Helicopter Crash on July 30 2005 that resulted his Death due to the pilot error'

Seems to be true, according to Wikipedia. Do you use Wikipedia, Bella?

'and My late Mother died in the civil war. During the death of my father, there is civil war going on radically that resulted my relocating to save my soul with the help of red Cross'

OK... sounds harrowing. So your mother wasn't Dr Garang's wife, then? Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior? Cause as discussed, she is still alive.

'It was only me that is alive now and I managed to make my way to a near by country Senegal where i am leaving now as a refugee under a Reverend father's care and i am using the computer in his office to send these messages to you.'

Wow. Cheers for thinking of me, Bella, you complete stranger you. Why not go to one of your six half-brothers or sisters, though?

'My dear, I came in the site to search for love and care which I have not gotten for a very long time since I lost my family members.'

What site? Hotmail?

'I hereby believe that in time to come you will be my side and I will show you unreserved love and respect through out my time .'

Thanks very much.

'Dear, I want to know more about you, your real name, Your real country, your age, your hobbies and what you are doing presently.'

Pretty sure you could get all of that through my hotmail profile, hen. Except for what I am doing right now, which is a little bit creepy sounding if you don't mind my saying. Anyway, someone has not done their research.

'I have attached my pictures here for you to know me very well. In my next mail I will tell you more about myself. I wait your reply with impatience.
Yours Bella'

Can't believe I nearly missed my opportunity with this lovely girl by not checking my junk mail folder. I have of course emailed her with pictures of myself, my full home address, bank details, information about 12 books in 12 months, etc. Captain Tact will be a bit put out, but he'll get over it eventually. This is a case of the true love, after all.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

100 Word Story On... Zombies!

Chomp. Crunch. Thhhrrrpppptt.

The undead monster cracks into the dizzy blonde's skull, as expected. The audience erupts into shrieks of laughter, applauding the dodgy FX.

At the back of the auditorium stands the director, arms folded, shaking her head and muttering.

Later at home she scans old notebooks, full of promising ideas - some even have artistic merit.

'Have I sold out,' she wonders, not for the first time.

Chck chck chck.

At the door, a zombie-costumed man. Another fan taking things too far.


"How did you get my address?"

He says nothing, at first.

Then merely:

Chomp. Crunch. Thhhrrrpppptt.

Monday, 10 January 2011

A Bastion Club Novel Review

In between researching the life of Caligula and watching various box sets, since Christmas I have sporadically engaged myself in the task of reading a fairly terrible historical romance by biochemist turned author Stephanie Laurens.

It's called Captain Jack's Woman, and if you're thinking of reading it at any point I suggest you stop reading this post now because there are going to be spoilers.

The story is simple enough. It is 1811, Norfolk, Engerland. A beautiful but headstrong girl returns to her childhood home, having failed to ensnare a husband in London. She disguises herself as a boy and becomes leader of a gang of smugglers. She meets the leader of a rival smuggling gang who happens to be the Lord next door. She doesn't know that, because he too is in disguise. So he can catch some French spies, since you asked. Their gangs join forces. He finds out she is a woman, although he doesn't know she is of his class, and she finds out he is a man, which mightn't be as bad as she previously thought. They fall madly in lust, have sex on a table, and eventually discover that they are the same class and can get married. Hooray!

But wait! There's still about a third of the book to go. For whilst they are married, they still do not fully understand one another. Yawn. So, they have some misunderstandings and some more sex, and eventually he realises she is not merely his wife - she is his friend. Meanwhile she comes to understand that he doesn't involve her in smuggling type activities not because he wants to control her, but because he doesn't want her to die. Which was fairly obvious, given she got herself shot almost immediately after he discovered her true identity.

My problems with this book are twofold. The first issue is that it is overlong - Laurens has got to the point where she's quite a well established romance author so they no longer edit her as stringently as they should. If you've ever wondered how many times is too many for a horse to be rubbed down in one chapter, I am here to confirm that four is right out.

The second issue I have is that heroine Kit is perceived as a scandalously headstrong character by everyone - herself, her husband, family, servants, friends and acquaintances - yet when she goes to tell him something, he only needs to kiss her and she forgets how to speak. I mean literally, cannot form words anymore. Which is mimsy as fuck, frankly. She doesn't once invoke the literary precedent of her red hair and give him a slap for behaving inappropriately, she merely claims to be seething inwardly - then forgets as soon as he forces his tongue between her teeth in a disconcertingly rapey manner.

I will concede that romantic heroines aren't famous for their feminist principles. But this woman's inner monologue is completely at odds with her behaviour, which made her character development feel disjointed and at times clunky. Captain Jack is reassuringly misogynistic and mostly does what you'd expect, so at least he fits into the action more easily.

There are some pretty torrid sex scenes in there, though, which are good for a laugh. Although I'm not convinced that "empurpled" is a proper word. And amusing though these passages are, they don't help my anxiety about April, when I am supposed to be writing a romance for 12 Books in 12 Months. I can't shake the feeling that if I end up needing to write a sex scene, I'll want to put jokes in. I'll probably end up with a satirical indictment of the fact that true romance does not exist in reality and several oblique references to social networking.

Maybe I should email Stephanie for help.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Yarn Thief

A fellow writer brought a short story competition to my attention via her blog, so now rather than writing Caligula's Blog for the 12 Books in 12 Months project (which you can now 'like' on facebook, by the way), I have turned my attention to idly bashing out nonsensical flash fiction. I've written three 100 word stories in the past half hour. Not the plan I had, but it might be good in terms of updating here...

“LOVE KNITTING?!” The Facebook sidebar silently screams. “SHOW IT OFF WITH T-SHIRTS, STICKERS AND MUGS!”

Surely the best way to showcase my passion is to be seen about town, needles and wool in hand?

I journey forth, lugging a bag of odds and ends I intend to fashion into a scarf. A ball of dusky orange falls from the pile and rolls slowly down the hill, stopping at the feet of an OAP. She picks it up, waves her thanks, and disappears.

Barely discernable from this distance, her t-shirt reads, “I HEART KNITTING.”

Can’t believe it. Bitch stole my yarn.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Blardy Stewdarnts

I was interviewed by STV journalist Cara Sulieman about my 12 Books in 12 Months project yesterday, and her report is here. Whilst looking at that, however, my eye was caught by the arguably far more interesting headline story on the Edinburgh and East page, namely "Pie thrown at Scotland's only Conservative MP."

The headline alone is brilliant. But how Scottish is the sentiment?! We don't fling rotting fruit and veg at our hate figures, oh no. We throw PIES. This one was probably bought at the end of a night out, deep fried in batter... discarded when the owner realised they weren't that drunk, and picked up in the morning as a hangover cure on the way to the protest.

Or perhaps not. To my utter delight, the article went on to say that this incident took place in ye olde university town of St Andrews. Ancient, organic, so-posh-nobody-local-can-afford-to-live-within-a-ten-mile-radius St Andrews! Home to some very Conservative people, certainly within the student population (who account for a third of residents). Presumably they were over at Fife Park* harassing poor people and were unable to come to Mr Mundell's aid on this occasion. Tellingly the piece continues, "It is not known who threw the pastry."

That's the St Andrews I lived in for four years. They don't throw pies, they throw pastries. OooOOooOOoo, hark at them.

Damn, I miss the cut and thrust of student debate. Although to my eternal regret, nobody threw baked goods at any MPs when I was there.

*Fife Park is one of the only two student halls of residence that falls somewhere near the line of affordable housing provided by The University of St Andrews. The walls are made of paper and it always smells of supernoodles. But it's OK, they're knocking it down and replacing it with the most expensive flats in creation, to encourage more princes to live there.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Kid Canaveral's Christmas Baubles

I wrote a guest post for the Guardian - a review of Kid Canaveral's Christmas Baubles. In lieu of anything new here today, you should read it, here.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011


This year, to ensure I update this blog at least once a week, I will be providing a blow-by-blow account of the accidentally hilarious and occasionally very well acted River City, a soap overlooked by most people because it’s set in Glasgow and only on telly once a week.

This week, Stuart Baggs-like entrepreneur/spoilt child-man Fraser decides to build a factory next to Gabriel’s shop. When this fails to impress his rival, he shrieks in irritation, “AND we’re going to tartan week!” Strangely enough, this doesn’t have the desired effect. About five minutes later he loses the land anyway. To a church-run play park! Supported by his ain dad!

Meanwhile, an awkward line of exposition in the shop confirms my worst fears – Rosin moved back up North when I wasn’t looking. Gutted. But never mind, because in the wake of mum Scarlett’s cancer, Wee Boab has stepped up to the mark with some wide eyed, gurning acting to try and keep our minds off it. AND he gets to add some comical not-quite-homophobia to the mix, because Robbie the big gay hairdresser is moving in with him and Deek.

Big Boab is distracting himself from Scarlett’s condition by scaring the crap out of Iona with declarations of eternal love worthy of a teenage blog. On the first date. That goes about as well as you might expect. Fortunately, Scarlett is on hand with sage advice.

“That’s the hing aboot chances,” she tells him. “Sometimes you git mair than wan.”

“D’ye hink?” he asks, somewhat insensitively given her medical condition.

“Well here’s hopin’,” was the wry reply.

16 minutes in to the episode, Fraser decides that the only way to get the land for his factory is to dump a load of untraceable industrial waste on it. The church won’t be able to afford to clean it up, and he will step in to take it off their hands at a reduced rate. No, he did not try any other options first, and yes, for those interested, industrial waste looks like runny lemon curd. For some inexplicable reason, business partner Deek believes the stuff isn’t dangerous and helps out, acquiring a SUSPICIOUS BURN along the way which he can’t tell anyone about. Presumably he hasn’t had enough to angst about lately.

Next day, Gabriel sees Deek’s SUSPICIOUS BURN, as well as Fraser suspiciously advising him to man up about the agonizing pain rather than see a doctor. Gabriel wastes no time in making Deek reveal the oozing wound in front of half the pub. Why didn’t he just roll up the other sleeve to reveal the unburnt arm? Come on people, this isn’t some kind of farce.

Anyway, Fraser does the evil thing and pretends to be as shocked as everyone else, as if the good people of Sheildinch will believe a scrawny house elf could carry out such a diabolical plan unaided. But Murray (Fraser’s dad) is suspicious and does some investigatory journalism to uncover the terrible truth. Just in time for a rainy ending, where Fraser loses the land once more, as well as his business partner and relationship with his family. One hopes that girlfriend Amber will have the good sense to dump him too.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

The Tuesday Play

A modern day soap opera. I imagine this reflects the experience of a lot of other people.

13 Dec 2010 – I order a thing from the internet on the proviso it’ll get to Edinburgh for December 16th

15 Dec 2010 – get an email saying the thing has been picked up at the other end by HDNL 24 hour delivery

15 Dec 2010 – Tracker says “14:19 - the parcel has been collected.”

15 Dec 2010 – Tracker says “15:02 - the parcel has been despatched from depot”

16 Dec 2010 –Tracker says “00:01 - The parcel has been sorted at our hub”

17 Dec 2010 – Snowmageddon has hit England and Citylink has suspended deliveries to Scotland. Crap. Although I've not heard anything about HDNL, maybe they're still managing?

21 Dec 2010 – Tracker says “07:34 - The parcel has been received into depot”

23 Dec 2010 – Tracker says “12:49 - The parcel is in the Depot”

25 Dec 2010 – Christmas happens. My dad does not get his present.

29 Dec 2010 – Tracker says “06:35 - The parcel has been loaded on to the drivers van”

29 Dec 2010 – I stay home all day waiting for the parcel.

29 Dec 2010 – Tracker says “14:51 – the parcel is in the Depot.”

29 Dec 2010 – I try to ring HDNL around 16:00. The system demands I type in the handy fifty-digit code on the calling card they haven’t left me.

4 Jan 2011 – 11:30 I phone the people from whom I originally ordered the thing to see if they are allowed to talk to HDNL, since I still haven’t had a card.

4 Jan 2011 – 11:35 Whist waiting for the system to load, they mention that the snow was an issue.

4 Jan 2011 – 11:36 I mention that I’ve cut them almost a month’s slack because of the snow and the holidays, for something I was meant to get within 24 hours.

4 Jan 2011 – 11:40 She finally manages to get into the system, to tell me that they tried to deliver on the 29th but there was “no access to the property.”

4 Jan 2011 – 11:41 I am unimpressed, and tell her so, because I know what that means. Like all couriers, they've come along the road, seen someone else on the single yellow outside the flat, and fucked off. There are plenty places to stop, it's just they can't be arsed cause it'll involve walking / possible traffic warden chat. If I had my way, everyone would be forced to use the Royal Mail, who at least make it as far as the front door before failing to get the right buzzer.

4 Jan 2011 – 11:43 She says she will put a note through of the other places I have listed where they could park. This is sweet, but it won’t achieve anything.


5 Jan 2011 – 11:45 Tracker still on the message from the 29th ; parcel in Depot. Hate to say I told you so, etc. Sorry, Dad.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

And So This Is 2011

Rather brilliantly, Oor Wullie (cartoon strip about a spiky haired Dundonian lad who dispenses wisdom from atop an old bucket) has beat Twilight (moany girl tries to persuade skinny vampire to sex her up) to be the top-selling book of 2010. Well, the top seller for branches of Waterstone's in Scotland. But that's still pretty good.

There aren't many obvious similarities between the two. Wullie lives in a fictional Scottish town called Auchenshoogle (a cross between Glasgow and Dundee), Bella lives in a real town inexplicably named after some cutlery (Forks). He is poor but happy and funny, whilst she's a spoilt white girl who takes herself too seriously and is constantly miserable. When he is bored or something doesn't go his way, Wullie concocts a daft scheme and drafts in his pals to help, with hilarious consequences. When something doesn't go Bella's way, she sits in a chair and stares out of the window for THREE MONTHS.

On the other hand, they aren't completely dissimilar. Wullie has been 9 years old since 1937, whilst Bella longs to be vampired and remain her current age for a similarly eternal length of time. Both of them jabber away constantly in a manner totally incomprehensible to people outside their target audience. And both are surprisingly popular, lets be honest. Wullie is a national institution in Scotland, but how many people do you know who actually read the strips? None, that's what. They all wait for the annual, which only comes out every two years, and buy it for someone else. Meanwhile Twilight is almost totally unreadable, yet has somehow tapped into the psyche of millions of girls across the world who will cheerfully buy multiple copies of the same book because one has a poster of R-Pattz. Stephanie Meyer's bank balance does not lie.

Out of the two, I prefer the quaint traditionalism of Wullie to the emotional wallowing of Bella and I think it's fantastic he's outsold her. It points to a level of humour in Scotland that warms the cockles of my heart. But I wouldn't rush out to buy either of them. So there.