Monday, December 22, 2008

Season's Greetings...

... to you all, and thank you for reading my intermittent posts this year. If I didn’t have this blog and the feedback from you all then I’d never have finished the half-formulated idea I had about ZZ Top’s lyrics, and Father Christmas would now just be filling the nation’s music/maths geeks’ stockings with coal.

I have been working hard promoting the book. This has included handing out spare Venn That Tune Christmas cards to commuters at Liverpool Street station. I used to work in the City, and was wondering if anyone I knew would see me and go back to their office and say, “Do you remember Salvadore? Thought he was better than all the rest of us and left to “become a writer”? Well I just saw him at the station handing out flyers.” I do hope so.

So, best wishes to you all, and if anyone still hasn’t done their Christmas shopping then I have a suggestion...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ad-venn-t Calendar 11

Venn That Tune charity Christmas cards are now available at Moo. They come in packs of 25 and feature 10 different festive designs, most of which are brand new and not in the book.

(Or, in these credit crunchy times, just email this one to your friends!) (Click to open.)

EDIT: Christmas cards taken down on Twelfth Night.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ad-venn-t Calendar 10

Venn That Tune charity Christmas cards are now available at Moo. They come in packs of 25 and feature 10 different festive designs, most of which are brand new and not in the book.

(Or, in these credit crunchy times, just email this one to your friends!) (Click to open.)

EDIT: Christmas cards taken down on Twelfth Night.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Venn a Child Is Born

Venn That Tune charity Christmas cards are now available at Moo. They come in packs of 25 and feature 10 different festive designs, most of which are brand new and not in the book.

(Or, in these credit crunchy times, just email these to your friends!) (Click for bigger.)

EDIT: Christmas cards taken down on Twelfth Night.

Monday, December 08, 2008

God Rest Ye Merry Venn-tlemen

Venn That Tune charity Christmas cards are now available at Moo. They come in packs of 25 and feature 10 different festive designs, most of which are brand new and not in the book.

(Or, in these credit crunchy times, just email these to your friends!) (Click for bigger.)

EDIT: Christmas cards taken down on Twelfth Night.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Good King Venn-ceslas

Venn That Tune charity Christmas cards are now available at Moo. They come in packs of 25 and feature 10 different festive designs, most of which are brand new and not in the book.

(Or, in these credit crunchy times, just email these to your friends!) (Click for bigger.)

EDIT: Christmas cards taken down on Twelfth Night.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Season's Graphings!

Venn That Tune charity Christmas cards are now available at Moo. They come in packs of 25 and feature 10 different festive designs, most of which are brand new and not in the book.

(Or, in these credit crunchy times, just email these to your friends!) (Click for bigger.)

EDIT: Christmas cards taken down on Twelfth Night.

Monday, December 01, 2008

My Two Dads

My LOVELY SON's intellectual capabilities continue to grow. As well as him recognising pictures of objects in books, we regularly show him photos of relatives he sees less often and explain who they are. He manages to identify them too, pointing to the correct cousin or grandparent when prompted.

So it was with some surprise that he pointed to this picture of England cricket captain Kevin Pietersen in a magazine yesterday and said, unmistakeably, "Dadda".

Putting all obvious paternity jokes aside I was still a bit concerned. What if my LOVELY SON isn't the genius that all other signs of his abilities (stacking five wooden blocks at a time, going headfirst down a slide, growling when he sees a picture of a lion) are pointing to? But, let's just take a closer look at those sculpted cheekbones, smouldering eyes and dimpled chin:

Yes, I can stop worrying because, when you think about it, confusing me with Kevin Pietersen is actually an easy mistake to make, even for the most gifted of the population. One of us is an extremely talented sportsman at the peak of his physical prowess, good enough to not only play internationally but to captain his national side, plus he's handsome and successful enough to be offered even more money to advertise expensive watches ...

... and so is Kevin Pietersen.

I read that supporting and praising your child is very important, so my reply of "Yes, that's me captaining England" isn't really a lie.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Venn Will I Be Famous?

Competition Update: the Seat Ibiza featured in days 26, 27, 30, 31, 32 and 36 of Bathmatwatch and was, of course, blue. The winner, chosen at random, was Thomas W from Belgium, who will receive a signed copy of Venn That Tune. Of course, as one of the conditions of winning he has now become my official Belgian rep and must now show it to every person in Belgium and persuade them to buy a copy each. Thanks, Thomas.

Thank you to everyone who is linking to Venn That Tune. I really appreciate it as this is literally going to be how we feed our LOVELY SON for a while. If I start blogging about how he's getting bored with caviar then you can take the links down, but in the meantime, thank you.

Venn I Fall in Love

Venn That Tune

Venn That Tune

There's still time to enter the competition to win a signed copy of Venn That Tune. Just send an email to "email me" on the right with the answer to the question "What colour was the Seat Ibiza?" (Don't try searching this blog for 'Seat' or 'Ibiza' - I am one step ahead of you, but to repeat the clue from Wednesday's comment box it was parked on something special. One entry per person. Closing date Friday 7th November 17:00 GMT. Winner to be drawn at random. My decision is final.)

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Venn the Going Gets Tough...

Venn That Tune

Venn That Tune

Don't forget the competition to win a signed copy of Venn That Tune. Just send an email to "email me" on the right with the answer to the question "What colour was the Seat Ibiza?" (Don't try searching this blog for 'Seat' or 'Ibiza' - I am one step ahead of you, but to repeat the clue from yesterday's comment box it was parked on something special. One entry per person. Closing date Friday 7th November 17:00 GMT. Winner to be drawn at random. My decision is final.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Venn Will I See You Again?

Venn That Tune

As Smash Hits would have said, it’s back, back, back, back, back – yes, back! Venn That Tune: over 100 classic song titles drawn as Venn diagrams or graphs, now bringing the poetry of maths to the magic of pop in book form.

It’s published on Thursday November 13th and you can pre-order it from Amazon UK, Amazon USA or Amazon Canada, as well as at bookshops and online stores in many other countries.

There is a website at with more information and sample pages. You can become a Facebook fan and discuss your favourite diagrams and get the latest news and reviews, or buy greetings cards from Moo (what could be more romantic than saying "I'm saving all my love for you" with the aid of a pie chart?).

There is also a range of merchandise from Spreadshirt (Europe or USA/rest of world), such as Too Much Too Young kids' T-shirts (nothing says teenage rebellion quite like a graph), It Ain't What You Do It's the Way That You Do It boxer shorts and U Can't Touch This women's hotpants. And some mugs.

B3ta has already made it their Book of the Month, proclaiming “It’s great”.

And because the idea started here when I realised that I had nothing to write about one day, looked through an old notebook and saw a half-finished idea about ZZ Top lyrics, and then you all gave me such encouraging feedback, I’m going to have a competition where I give away a signed copy. (It doesn’t have to be signed if you don’t want it to be – it might be more difficult to regift it as a Christmas present if it is.)

To enter the competition, just send an email to the address on the right with the answer to this question: What colour was the Seat Ibiza? (There – that’ll sort out the loyal readers from the Johnny-come-latelies.)

The closing date is 17:00 GMT on Friday 7th November. The winner will be chosen at random and my decision is final. Only one entry per person.

The rest of you – it would make an ideal Christmas present for anyone who likes music and Venn diagrams. (Yes, my LOVELY SON needs new shoes...)

Here are a couple of diagrams – more to come.

Venn That Tune

Sunday, November 02, 2008

[Insert Nobbs Gag Here]

I am a big fan of the books of David Nobbs. He is most famous for Reggie Perrin, but also wrote A Bit of a Do, the Henry Pratt books and the wonderful Going Gently amongst others. If you liked the Reggie Perrin sitcom then I promise you that the books are even better. If I had one book on a desert island it would be a close tie between one of David Nobbs' and Getting Off Desert Islands for Dummies (Back to Civilisation Where You Can Read Any David Nobbs Book You Like). I urge you to read him.

But his first three novels have been out of print for years. I've looked on eBay and on the Amazon marketplace, but without success. Till I decided to try my local library where I could order two of them online and a couple of weeks later, after they had borrowed them from another library, collect them. It was like someone who had spent their lifetime studying a particular painter suddenly finding an unknown painting of theirs. It was fascinating to see how themes, settings and styles in his later books were first developed.

But my favourite part of the whole experience was when I opened A Piece of the Sky Is Missing (first published in 1969) and saw that the first date stamp was 1977. It had clearly gone into reserve stock at that point, coming out about once a year after 2002 which was presumably when this LASER system was introduced. (Perhaps a librarian can shed some more light on this - I have a feeling that there must be at least one amongst you.)

1977! I had a full-blown Proust meets Life On Mars experience as this prosaic method for documenting a book's lending and return, unchanged for decades, linked me directly to a time over 30 years earlier. The Silver Jubilee! Punk Rock! Going up to the juniors! Homemade ice lollies that were in fact just frozen orange squash!

I also loved the little cardboard wallet and typed index card, and vividly remember when my local library in the Midlands switched to these new-fangled "bar codes" to record a book's status (though admittedly the sort that you had to roll the pen-like reader across rather than just point it in the general direction of the book). It was perhaps the most exciting thing to happen there in the 1980s.

I particularly like the bit about infectious illness. What were they worried about in this blissful pre-Aids existence? Some kind of infection from falling off a spacehopper? A gastric bug from eating a bad Arctic Roll? (This was all anyone did in the 1970s. I have seen I Love the 1970s so I know this for a fact.) (Not that you can catch Aids off a book. Well, not unless you are particularly imaginative.)

Alas, it looks like this link to a foreign country (Strikes! Flares! Ford Cortinas! Anoraks with fur around the hoods!) will soon be gone as my date stamps are at the bottom of the last column. (Even though there are still some blank areas. They certainly aren't making as good use of this as I would. I could have kept it going till we were all swimming around and the only book anyone was interested in borrowing was Living in Searing Heat but Without Land for Dummies.)

So I wanted to preserve it here. If you are old enough, please put your 1977 Proustian rushes in the comments box.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I sat down to eat my lunch and turned the television on. But instead of a picture it displayed a screen that was blank except for the ominous message "Enter PIN: ****". I worked out quickly what was going on when I realised that the remote control, instead of being in its usual home high up on the furthest bookshelf, had been on the coffee table. Clearly, my LOVELY SON had got hold of it and somehow set the parental lock. Though, I realised flicking through the channels, apparently only on ITV1. Not that I was going to watch Loose Women, and anyone who says I was is lying.

My son is obviously a child prodigy, as even with the manual I couldn't work out how he'd done it. Perhaps he's doing one channel at a time until all that's left is CBeebies.

At 13 months his understanding is really coming on. He's great on "Where's the car?" and "Where's your nose?", but "What's the Pin number?" was met with a blank shrug. At the very least he could have said, "For goodness' sake, Father, the 'N' in Pin already stands for 'number'. 'Pin number' is a tautology along the lines of 'safe haven' or 'free gift'". But no, his burgeoning genius only goes so far.

It's a bit annoying as I do sometimes watch programmes on ITV1, like, er, um... Well I guess in 2010 they might be showing some of the World Cup matches, so I hope he's learned to talk by then.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Light in Your Head and Dead On Your Feet

The first thing I noticed was that he was a pretty good guitarist. The second was his dark sunglasses - on the Tube in October it's just posers and blind people who wear them, and going by the rest of his outfit he was definitely in the second category.

He was playing Baker Street, one of those wonderful, wonderful songs that always makes me want to turn the radio up. It's a song with a lot of stories attached to it, not least the one that the saxophonist was told to just play anything and ended up writing one of popular music's most memorable riffs for no more than a session fee. (Not true - Gerry Rafferty wrote the solo, but wasn't sure which instrument should play it.)

My favourite Baker Street story is, of course, the urban legend that Bob Holness played the saxophone solo. Whoever started the rumour (Stuart Maconie is often credited), Holness was the perfect candidate - so unlikely that surely it had to be true. After all, he did play James Bond before Moore, Connery or even Niven. I did my best to fuel the myth by writing a part for Bob Holness in a TV animation where he would voice a quizmaster who, in one particular scene, asked "Who played the saxophone solo on Baker Street?" Alas the part ended up on the cutting room floor and my contribution to the nation's collective false memory was lost forever.

The third thing that I noticed that day was that we weren't at Baker Street, we were at Green Park, two stops further down the line. Had he made a mistake and got off at the wrong station, unaware because he couldn't see? I was tempted to check if he knew where he was, but couldn't find an inoffensive way to phrase it. So I just dropped 20p in his case and wandered off with a dream about buying some land.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Rhyme and Reason

I found this unfinished Guardian quick crossword on a train last month. At least two different people had already had a go at it, but by far my favourite part is that the first person's first answer for 17ac (Water Tortoise (8)) was PORPOISE.

Brilliant! As though the whole of biological taxonomy worked on the basis of rhyme alone. It's a wonder that Darwin bothered going to the Galapagos Islands, he could just have sat at home going "Bat, cat, rat..."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

One Year Down, 17 to Go

Yesterday was my LOVELY SON’s first birthday. It was ace – we bought him some Duplo, so I have spent many happy hours building houses with it. Sometimes even when he is with me.

The past year has been a blur. His birth did coincide with a sudden increase in my workload, and it wasn’t until three weeks ago that I finally said to my girlfriend “You know, for the first time in 11 months I actually feel on top of things.”

Since then:

  • My PC died necessitating a costly, disruptive and time-consuming repair,
  • I had a nasty bout of tonsillitis and lost several more days’ work time, including missing a meeting that would have paid me just for turning up, cracking jokes and eating biscuits,
  • The washing machine died, necessitating a costly, disruptive and time-consuming search for a replacement.

I am now back behind schedule, about £800 worse off, and will never again make predictions about anything going well.

It is true that having a baby introduces you to a different circle of people. Including the Man Who Thought It Would Be OK to Take His Dog Into the Children’s Play Area. It wasn’t mauling anybody or anything, but it was running around without a lead worrying some toddlers and causing a great deal of middle-class muttering amongst the parents at the swings. Dark looks were cast around as we tried to work out whose dog it was, then, once identified, to try to get him to leave without having to actually confront him. Because no one wanted to star in the “Playground Stabbing Horror” headline.

It was like the Aesop fable Who Will Bell the Cat, where a cat was terrorising a community of mice, and they all agreed that the solution would be to tie a bell around its neck, so that they could hear it coming. But none of the mice wanted to be the one who had to perform this dangerous task, so although they would all have been better off as a result, it didn’t get done and the cat ended up still eating them.

But I wasn’t going to let that happen here. With the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller ringing in my ears I strode over to where the man was sitting on a bench (sitting on the upright part with his feet on the seat!) and smoking (smoking!), and spoke my piece. The effect that I was going for was Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, though on reflection I think I may have come across more as Jeffrey Fairbrother in Hi-De-Hi.

I knew that I was in the right (there was a sign on the gate with a diagram of a dog in a red circle with a red line through it for flip’s sake), but he was determined to play the dog owner’s card of “My dog wouldn’t harm anyone”. It also didn’t help that he had sunglasses on so I couldn’t make eye contact, and that he was on his mobile phone the whole time, giving a running commentary about what the “white guy” was telling him off for.

At one point I tried to up my threat level, but again on reflection I think I was less Terminator and more Rory from series three of The Apprentice shouting “I Am Your Boss!”

The upshot was that he and his dog stayed in the children’s play area and we left, and I just spent the rest of the afternoon wondering whether to phone the police and tell them that he was a paedo.

As I put my son to bed I realised that discipline isn’t going to be my strong point as a parent. But I make great Duplo houses.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Thoughts from My Sickbed

  • This 100 Things to Do Before You Die thing - surely the "before you die" is implicit? Who is going white-water rafting with rigor mortis? A good editor would have pointed out that he could have just called it 100 Things to Do.
  • Why is it OK to run after a small child shouting that you're going to eat them, but if you do the same thing and say that you're going to kill them it's then suddenly not OK and other adults look at you? Surely the eating implicitly involves killing them first, or worse, that they will die whilst you are eating them?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Bad Reputation

I was talking to a writer last week who had once written something for Chris Langham. This radio series, along with the brilliant People Like Us, Help and the first series of The Thick of It is now destined never to be repeated. I said that he was therefore just as much a victim as anyone else in this whole sorry saga - those radio repeat fees can sometimes add up to several whole pounds.

I was joking, of course, but with other events this week it did remind me of this song by the brilliant Luke Haines. Enjoy.

If you liked that, check out more of his work - he was also in The Auteurs, Baader Meinhof and Black Box Recorder.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

You Are What You Eat

Our LOVELY BABY has been eating lots of interesting things recently. Not just coins, batteries and carpet fluff, but stuff recommended in baby books as well. As a result I have been sent to Tesco to buy tofu.

Being a lifelong omnivore (apart from a few weeks in my teens when I was trying to impress a vegetarian girl, but it turned out that there were other, more fundamental things putting her off from going out with me) I had no idea which supermarket aisle I would find tofu in. My local Tesco is one of the largest in the country, so I thought I had better ask for help.

As well as being massive, this branch of Tesco is in the most ethnically diverse part of the most ethnically diverse city in the country. What I am saying is that the staff look like the cast of Mind Your Language. This is absolutely fine with me - if I wanted to live entirely surrounded by white English people I would go back to the village I was brought up in, with its pure Anglo-Saxon language, albino-white skin and particularly choosy females. (Why wouldn't she go out with me? Why?)

So I asked a West Indian shelf-stacker where I might find tofu. He didn't know, but went to ask a Middle Eastern man on the deli counter. He didn't know either, but asked a passing South-East Asian colleague. She didn't know either, and the game of Chinese Whispers continued. Literally in her case. Then it became a game of Indian Whispers, then Hispanic Whispers until that employee asked an Eastern European man with a particularly thick accent who was pushing a large trolley of empty cardboard boxes.

"Tofu?" he replied, like a young spaniel who had just been asked if he'd be at all interested in chasing a stick. "Yes! Aisle seven!" He quickly set off, motioning that I should follow him.

I liked this last man immediately. It is perhaps a patronising cliche to say that all Eastern Europeans are hard-working and polite and respectable, but I knew instinctively that this man had come over with his wife and children to London NW10, where the streets are paved with fried chicken wrappers, but that he loved it here, and that he loved to work and that his heart was overflowing with pride and joy at being able to help someone on what was almost certainly his very first day in the job.

I followed him down an aisle that I had never been down before, full of strange, exotic items.

"There!", he beamed, proudly pointing at a shelf. "Tofu!"

I looked at the bags of Winalot and the tins of Pal and tried to pinpoint the exact link at which communications had broken down. We were looking not at tofu, but at dog food.

I scrutinised the Eastern European man's face. It was full of expectation, desperately hoping that I would validate his reason for emigrating here. Would he be able to go home to his wife and children and proudly say, "Today, I help man"?

"That's great, thank you", I mumbled. "He'll love this." I picked up a couple of tins of Pedigree Chum with the intention of leaving them at the checkout. Though I expect they're tastier than tofu.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Hello, Hello, It's Good to Be Back

I know, it has been a while. I have been busy with a number of writing projects that I have not wanted to turn down. Also, I don't know whether I have mentioned that I HAVE A LOVELY BABY!

But here are some highlights of the past few weeks:

  • I took a taxi and for the first time in my life I had a taxi driver tell me whom he’d had in the back of his cab recently. Even more exciting was the fact that it was Nadine Velazquez (Catalina from My Name Is Earl). But I didn’t pretend to drop my wallet and use it as an excuse to bend down and sniff the seat, and anyone who says I did is lying.

  • I found that I have a Forgettable Face when twice in the space of a week people who I had met before claimed not to have met me.

  • I realised that the Oxford Road Show was a show from Oxford Road, not a roadshow from Oxford.

  • I saw a heart in a tree:

  • And I saw an abandoned book on Feng Shui:

    I like the way it doesn't quite line up straight with the wall.

  • And I saw a man asleep on a train:

  • And I went to the Edinburgh Museum of Childhood and saw a stencil kit from the 1960s:

    Look! It is a swastika! Perfect for doing a nice border in a room that you might have a Nazi-themed orgy in.

More soon...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Life Through a Lens

It is time to say goodbye to an old friend that I have known for four years. It is the Post-it note that is stuck inside the bathroom cabinet where I make a note of whether I have replaced my contact lenses each month. I should only wear each pair for a month, so it is important not to forget to change them, but it is also important not to forget that I have already changed them and waste a pair. Life can be tricky without a system such as this to keep it in check.

Looking back, I have often wished that I had kept a diary, but apart from a few brief, horribly introspective months in 1988 I never have. I therefore have to rely on my memories of certain events, such as the time I walked to the north pole, or the time I went out with Cindy Crawford. But this is a kind of diary if you just look hard enough.

Look back at my innocent handwriting in July 2004. How could I have known what the world would be like four years later? My girlfriend hadn’t moved in with me, babies were just an abstract thought and ... I am much happier now. Much happier. Much happier. Much happier.

Is it even possible to gain an insight into my state of mind? Look at my handwriting in December '04 and early '05 – what kind of crazy drugs was I on then? I was out of my head! Though obviously not so out of my head that I was neglecting my ocular hygiene and forgetting to change my contact lenses on a regular basis.

One of the reasons that the Hitler diaries were exposed as fakes was that Hitler’s handwriting showed no change when his arm was injured in an assassination attempt. I suffered no such injury in the last 48 months (unless I was so out of my head from Dec '05 to Jun '05 that I have forgotten about it), so unfortunately it is not possible to validate this Post-it note in that way. You will just have to take my word for it that this is an accurate record of when I changed my contact lenses.

I remember making a decision in July 2005 that I was going to get four years out of this Post-it note and deliberately narrowed my writing. I could have easily just gone for three columns, but it is this kind of forward planning that will save me a whole Post-it note every 12 years. Yes, I have done the maths. It is the kind of thing that I like to do as I am rubbing my contact lenses clean each night. (Don’t bother telling me to switch to daily disposables, these are special extended wear ones that you can wear for longer hours.)

I am also pleased to report that this Post-it note has still got its stick. Perhaps 3M (the manufacturers of Post-it notes) will send me some free Post-it notes for this ringing endorsement. Though at an average usage rate of less than three per decade I don't really need any more, so they probably shouldn't bother.

What can we say about the ratio of pen to pencil usage? Well, pencil is clearly more popular (I am writing on a vertical surface, and sometimes pens don't work well like this), but in 2007 pens had their most popular year with five months out of 12. Still not a majority, but perhaps I had a pen last year that was quite good at writing on vertical surfaces. I can't recall. I should also mention that my handwriting isn't usually quite this bad - please remember that I am writing on a vertical surface. And of course my vision is still a bit blurry each time as I've only just put my contact lenses in.

I had thought about folding the Post-it note over and continuing on the back, but then it wouldn't be as high as it would be folded over, and I wouldn't get the neatness of having one year per column. Aha, but then I realised that this Post-it note is square (please note that 3M do make them in other shapes and sizes - perhaps I'd like some free samples after all), so I could rotate it by 90 degrees and still get three columns out of it, even with part of it folded back on itself. But when I tried this, it flapped around a bit in an unsatisfactory manner, even when I ran my thumbnail along the crease. So it is definitely time for a new Post-it note.

For the next Post-it note I have designed a better version that does away with the redundancy of repeatedly writing the month and year every time. I am going to have a grid with the months down the left-hand side, and the years across the top, and I will just enter a tick in the relevant box each month. I reckon I could make this new Post-it note last eight years. Maybe even 10. Who knows? Though of course the first half of the first column will go unused as we are already six months into 2008, which is a bit of a waste. But maybe no system is perfect, and this is certainly an advance on the previous method. And I am sure that by the time I need bifocals I will have cracked it!

Expect an update on this story in June 2018. Who knows what will have happened in the world by then? Expect to see my tick style change as I get excited by the Olympics getting ever closer, the purchase of my first jet-pack, or getting out of my head on even harder drugs that still let me remember when to change my contact lenses etc.

Watch this space.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I Have in My Hand a Piece of Paper ...

... from a local estate agent. Even in these days of credit crunches and plummeting house prices we still get regular missives from different companies saying how they've just sold or let a neighbouring flat and if we are considering doing the same to call them. I was just about to throw it in the bin with all the others when I noticed something unusual about the address they had sent it to:

Apparently there was a coup overnight and I AM NOW LIVING IN NW2!!!

I guess it's OK to be fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, but in territorial disputes closer to home Gordon Brown has appeased the fascists of Cricklewood.

We have recently had some Eastern European workmen in decorating our communal hallway. This must be the Polish Corridor they were after.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wine of the Times

We have both been quite tired recently. It isn't anything that any other parent hasn't experienced, and last week I met someone who had triplets which shut me up a bit, but our lovely son is now mobile and intent on vomiting on everything in the flat.

The icing on the cake is when I tip his bubbly bath water from his baby bath away into the big bath only to see a massive turd heading straight for the plughole which then needs extricating from/just pushing down through the complicated plug mechanism.

We finally get him to sleep and open a bottle of wine. I collapse on to the sofa and realise that my trousers are still encrusted with rancid orange juice from when I took the recycling to the supermarket and a not-quite-empty carton leaked all down my leg so I had to go around Tesco looking like I'd wet myself but didn't really care at all. I then realise that this was actually the day before, so these trousers have already been taken off and put back on again in preference to any others, mainly because all my other clothes have been vomited on and all our drying space is full of damp baby-gros.

"Does this wine taste funny to you?" my girlfriend asks.

I sniff it, take a sip, swill it around my mouth and gurgle it across my taste buds like they showed us on the wine tasting day we went to in a previous life. Then I look at the label.

"This is mulled wine."


"Well, we've opened the bottle now. Cheers."

Our son wakes us at 2am; my mouth tastes of Christmas.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Points of View


SALVADORE'S GIRLFRIEND sits in the passenger seat waiting. She drums her fingers and rolls her eyes impatiently.

Finally, SALVADORE comes out of the petrol station. But then he stops to chat to an ATTRACTIVE YOUNG WOMAN who is wearing shorts and a bikini top.

Salvadore's Girlfriend looks annoyed.

Salvadore ostentatiously takes a £50 note out of his pocket and gives it to the Attractive Young Woman, who hugs him - a real tight bear hug.

Salvadore's Girlfriend stares in disbelief.

Salvadore strolls back to the car with a satisfied smile on his face.

Salvadore's Girlfriend looks grim - this is going to take some explaining, and it had better not be another of his ridiculous "And that, darling, is what really happened" stories.



Salvadore spots a £50 note on the floor.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

London Brawling

The NW2/NW10 turf war has obviously been going on for some time. Check out this "rebel song" from 1999 by Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros in which the ex-punk rocker clearly wants change "from Willesden to Cricklewood". The lyrics also contain the phrase "Come with me and be no good, be a mad man on the street", which is obviously a reference to taking a black felt tip pen and altering postcodes on street signs. I can think of no badder or madder way to behave on the street.

When will the government ban this sick filth like they did with the Pogues's Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six? Or at least have the lyrics sung by an actor not quite in lip sync with the original.

I am going to release a triple album in response - Willesdenista!

Monday, June 02, 2008

10 Into Two Will Go

The work of the Cricklewood Liberation Army continues in this Nagorno-Karabakh of north-west London. I am not sure if this was done at the same time as the sign around the corner, but it does look like the same handwriting and pen. So maybe instead of "Army" it is just "Lone Nutter".

If I hadn't seen the other sign first I would have dismissed this as a random tag, but a closer inspection reveals that the 10 has been crossed out and a 2 written beside it. It's admittedly even more hurried than the last effort, perhaps because this road is busier with passers-by, and so it's not great propaganda for the cause, what with it being totally indecipherable to anyone passing. Except of course I am now giving this/these terrorist(s)/insurgent(s)/freedom fighter(s) (delete according to your political persuasions) the very oxygen of publicity that he/she/they obviously crave. I can see why the Chinese are so keen to clamp down on bloggers - imagine how the CLA's cause could be advanced with the exposure to the half-dozens of readers of this post. Their ranks could be doubled in no time.

All this defacing is a bit like seeing signs for Londonderry in Northern Ireland. What next? Murals of Cricklewood heroes (eg Dennis Nilsen or Patsy Kensit) on gable ends? Hunger strikers? Willesdenites demanding the right to march in bowler hats up Cricklewood Broadway? A letter-bombing campaign? Though with this last one they would have to put the correct NW10 postcode on the envelopes as a defiant NW2 might result in the bombs being returned to sender, address unknown.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

You're Not Properly Addressed Without It

This is possibly my favourite piece of graffiti ever. It contains neither the territorial pissing of "Kilroy Was 'Ere" and its ilk, nor the angry sloganeering of "George Davis Is Innocent" (note to self - update graffiti references). No, this urban scribe has taken it upon themselves to correct a postcode from NW10 (Willesden) to NW2 (Cricklewood). How genteel is that? It is like the geo-locational wing of that organisation that goes around Tippexing out rogue apostrophes.

Except this road is definitely in NW10. The border is admittedly only a couple of streets away, and does veer wildly around as though the Royal Mail person drawing it were either drunk or looking to perform Anschluss with Kilburn. Given the quality of the postal service around here either is possible. But this road isn't even a Kaliningrad-esque exclave of NW2 with its own Passport to Pimlico-style customs posts on the North Circular - it's NW10 both sides from one end to the other.

Postcodes are clearly important to some people though. With insurance premiums often based on them there are many campaigns to have one's address associated with a less risky neighbourhood, or just a posher one in the case of Windsor residents who don't wish to be stamped with the SL of Slough. Why anyone would pick NW2 over NW10 is harder to answer though, with neither area likely to rank highly on any hot property guide. Perhaps the writer suffered from dyscalculia and meant to write NW3 (Hampstead), thus instantly transforming the road into an oasis of bohemian chic amongst the suburban semis and light industrial estates.

But for true upward mobility they would need to get their Tippex out:

(For anyone not au fait with London postcodes, W1 covers the priciest Monopoly squares of Mayfair and Park Lane.)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sugar Daddy

Like many other Apprentice-watchers I am somewhat mystified by the continued presence of Michael Sophocles. But on a recent visit to the BBC I found the following transcript from the final show, which I think reveals everything.


    Sir Alan, Nick and Margaret are on one side of the table. Michael Sophocles and [NAME DELETED] are on the other side.
        SIR ALAN
      Michael – why should I hire you?

      Sir Alan, I’m a good Jewish boy.

        SIR ALAN
      Are you?!

      Well, half-Jewish. I never knew my gentile father though. My mother said that he was driven to suicide in the 1980s when his range of cheap personal computers was ruthlessly undercut by Amstrad. Amstrads had crappy 3” disk drives for fuck’s sake, yet everyone bought them instead. You killed my father. Well now you’re “fired”.
    Sophocles points a gun at Sir Alan.

    Margaret looks shocked.
        SIR ALAN
      You’re not half-Jewish.

      I am! I am! I’m half-Jewish!

        SIR ALAN
      You’re not half-Jewish. You’re 100% Jewish.

      You killed my father!

        SIR ALAN
      No Michael. I am your father.
    Margaret looks shocked.
        SIR ALAN
      That’s right – you’re sired. Sired by me.

      COME ON!
    Sophocles bangs the table then vaults over it and embraces Sir Alan.

    Margaret looks shocked.
        [NAME DELETED]
      Um, is it even worth mentioning that I won this task? No? OK, I'll just fire myself. Frances - could you call me a cab please?

    Thursday, May 15, 2008

    Song Prequels #2

    Girlfriend With a Head Injury

    Annie, Sit Down, I’ve Got Something to Tell You

    23:18 to Georgia

    Where’s the Radio, Kenneth?

    The Penultimate Countdown

    Grandma’s Identical Twin’s Condition Worsens

    Papa’s Lost His Bag

    I’d Do Anything for Love

    If You Tolerate This Your Children Have One More Chance

    You Can Hurry Sex

    (Like these? Try these and these.)

    Tuesday, May 13, 2008

    The Tipping Point

    I make the two hundred and thirty-seventh trip to load up the car, then take a look around the hotel room that has been home for the last four days and nights and our first family holiday. There is food sprayed on the wall, vomit stains on the bedspread and excrement smeared on the towels. It looks like Mötley Crüe have stayed here circa 1987, only if instead of being addicted to class A drugs they were hooked on Hipp organic baby food.

    I realise that I have entered the phase in my life where it is necessary to leave tips everywhere we go.

    Tuesday, April 08, 2008

    Stages of Parenthood #1: Clearing Up Baby Sick from a Sofa

    1. Completely strip covers from all cushions, scatter cushions and main part of sofa and wash them all, because if you just wash the cushion that he was sick on then that cushion will fade slightly and not match the rest of the sofa.

    2. Just wash the cushion that he was sick on. You no longer care about the sofa matching.

    3. Give the cushion a wipe and turn it over, hoping not to find anything on the other side.

    Monday, March 10, 2008

    Things Abandoned on the Pavement Within 100 Yards of My Home That I Have Taken a Photograph of #6

    There's a story here, isn't there? Either:

    1. Elderly relative now too ill/dead to walk at all, even with Zimmer frame. Unneeded possessions left out on street. (I will keep a lookout for feeding tubes/iron lungs as the weeks progress.)

    2. Elderly relative can miraculously walk unaided again. Unneeded possessions left out on street. Though in this case or the previous one, surely anyone who needs a Zimmer frame and would find this one useful is unlikely to be strolling breezily past, and more likely to be lying in a heap somewhere else. The chances of someone needing a Zimmer frame right here, right now are quite small.

    3. Tree suffering from Dutch Elm disease.

    Monday, February 04, 2008

    It Might As Well Rain Until September

    My girlfriend and I have been feeling very smug. Not only is our baby LOVELY, but he is a September baby. September babies, as any parent will tell you, have an advantage throughout school by being the oldest in their year. On average they will always be more advanced than their peers academically and emotionally, and there is a strong correlation between sporting success and birth month (the theory being that the oldest kids in each year will tend to be the biggest and best at sport, so will like it more and be encouraged to play it more). Of course, our baby is already showing great sporting prowess, and with my footballing genes he will be playing at Wembley in no time.

    We have just found a slight flaw in this plan though: we’re going to have to pay for an extra twelve months’ childcare than if my girlfriend had managed to pop him out three weeks earlier. OK, he might have had to go into a premature baby unit, but we are talking thousands of pounds here.

    From smug to mugs in one fell swoop.

    I actually made an Excel spreadsheet of our childcare options – they’re quite complicated and involve a subsidised crèche that only takes kids from the age of two, a childminder, a nursery at three days a week all year, a nursery every day but only in the term time, and emotionally blackmailing our mums into spending more time with their grandson.

    We then talked about if and when we might possibly have (if we were able to) another baby. I very nearly cried when I then saw cell E15 – the cost of each year that they would both be in full-time childcare.

    “The next one’s going to be an August baby”, I told my girlfriend. “Sod the fact that all his mates will be on holiday when it’s his birthday, and that he’ll be the runty kid in the class who is crap at sport, wears glasses, plays the violin and is only good at maths.”

    My girlfriend looked at me a bit funnily.

    “I just made that mental image out of nowhere”, I said. “As a hypothetical example of a child born near the end of the academic year. He is nothing like me. I wear contact lenses now for a start.”

    Perhaps an adversarial start is character-building in the long run. Do any of those people who bullied me have an internet weblog that is read every week by literally half-dozens of people? No. And I know they don’t because I Google their names every week to see what they are doing. So who is the loser now, eh?

    So I went back to my spreadsheet and factored in the maximum lengths of maternity leave and pay, pro-rata part-time salaries, interest rates, housing market predictions, fertility rates and ovulation cycles. Intimate relations are next scheduled for November 14th 2009. Wish us luck. Though if it’s twins we'll need more than just a new spreadsheet.

    Wednesday, January 30, 2008

    Funny Things That I Have Said That Really Deserved a Wider Audience #3

    I scan the TV guide, my baby on my knee.

    "Ross Kemp in Afghanistan?" I say to him. "I don't think we'll be watching that. Well, not unless he's wearing an orange boiler suit."

    My baby blows a raspberry of appreciation.

    Monday, January 21, 2008

    Can I Kick It?

    I am pleased to report that my son's gross motor skills are developing well, and that last night he managed to kick a ball for the first time. Unable to even sit up on his own yet, it may be a while before Signor Capello picks him for England (though if he were a few months older I'm sure he could have got a place in one of McClaren's squads). He was a natural though, not needing a Kevin Keegan poster to tell him to keep his eye on the ball, keep his head over the ball and to strike cleanly through the centre of the ball.

    Sadly, the ball in question was inside my scrotum at the time. But may no longer be.

    I guess he's happy being an only child.

    Thursday, January 10, 2008

    Ink and Incapability

    I bought these pens the other day for writing on CDs and DVDs. I can attest that they are indeed permanent, quick drying, water resistant and have extra fine tips. But by far my favourite feature of them is something that I have only just noticed, and that is that as specified on the packet, the ink matches the cap.

    So that's the secret code. I had just been using them at random, and about a quarter of the time I would shout "Oh no, I wanted red ink, not black!" and about a quarter of the time I would shout "Oh no, I wanted black ink, not red!" and only about half the time would I shout "Hurrah - that is the colour of ink that I wanted!" If it was the wrong colour I was having to throw the disc away and burn another one (because, as stated, the ink is permanent, quick drying and water resistant). This was getting pretty expensive.

    I guess that what they say is right - you should always read the instructions.

    Monday, January 07, 2008

    Thursday, January 03, 2008

    All I Want for Christmas...

    Dear Santaclau

    This is easily the best thing that I got for Christmas. It's a discarded draft of a letter that I wrote to Father Christmas that my parents saved and found 27 years later. It looks like it was binned due to a spelling mistake in the first line, but, crucially for historians, it was then used as the backing sheet in the typewriter for the next (and presumably final) draft, so that the imprint of what I typed can still, with a bit of effort and holding it up to the light, be read. (I believe that the Guildford Four had their convictions quashed after analysis of their "confessions" using a similar technique, though it's not recorded what they asked Santa for - presumably to stop being hit in the face by the nasty policemen.)

    OK, so if I'd done it in Word in the first place I could have inserted a space between Santa and claus, and capped up that 'c', and it wouldn't have done that funny thing with the 'a', and I would have saved myself the bother of having to start again each time that I made a mistake. I still let quite a few typos through though - check out the quotation marks where I meant to put the '2' (to this day I still think of quotation marks as "number twos", as that's how my sister and I referred to them when we played with my Dad's typewriter), and also the capital 'I' instead of the lower case 'l' for the '1' (this typewriter didn't have a '1').

    But if I'd have done it in Word then this copy would never have existed, except perhaps as a deleted file sector somewhere on a hard disk, and I've never wanted people looking at my deleted file sectors in case they found out about the embarrassingly mild and ordinary pornography that I had looked at.

    Here's what I wrote:

    Dear Santa Claus,
    I hope you and Mrs. Claus are well. Are Rudolph and the other reindeer well? For Christmas please may I have a large size "Millennium Falcon". If you cannot get this please may I have an electronic detective game. Merry Christmas and happy New Year.

    P.S. On the hearth is a mince pie and a glass of sherry for you and a carrot and a saucer of sugar for your reindeer. MERRY CHRISTMAS again.

    I didn't get the Millennium Falcon (please note the correct spelling of Millennium - who knows how many drafts it took to get the right?), as I think that I only mentioned it to my parents about a week previously. I'd only seen The Empire Strikes Back that half term at some cousins', and hadn't seen the first film at all, so they had no idea that I would suddenly ask for this. My parents had actually bought me a fischertechnik construction kit, and I remember some not too subtle brainwashing that night about what I should expect Santa to bring.

    But what was this electronic detective game that I was asking for? I don't remember ever seeing such a thing on I Love 1980. Perhaps my Mum had said that I should suggest an alternative present to Father Christmas, and I had cleverly asked him for something that didn't actually exist to ensure that I then got my first choice (which was itself quite hard to source, regardless of the fact that they had already bought me my present).

    The only other question is what on earth was I doing writing to Father Christmas at the age of ten? That I was typing my letter should perhaps have been some kind of clue to the fact that I should have been growing out of that kind of thing.

    Alas, this was the only such missive that my parents found. I'd love to know what I'd asked for in other years. I expect the originals are all filed away in Lapland, but I won't disturb Santa now as he probably likes a rest at this time of year.