Sunday, July 31, 2005

Holy Shit! It's A Bleedin' Miracle!

After several days of what can only be described as inclement Scottish summer weather, the sun returned for a while this afternoon and sent me rushing to the freezer for pineapple iced lollies. Imagine my surprise then when I peeled off the wrapper and found not one but two sticks shoved up the “arse” of the aforementioned lolly.

While this may not be on a par with a weeping Madonna or the face of God etched in a piece of toast, I believe it has truly miraculous qualities. Visualise, if you will, Jesus having missed his last three hairdressing appointments, standing with his back to you while he does his stand up routine with loaves and fishes and hey presto… here you have it!

I’m sure the Lazeruses among you out there would pay handsomely for this rare artifact so before I let the sinners on Ebay run amok in the temple, shall we start the bidding at, say £500?

Thursday, July 28, 2005

You're NOT The Weakest Link. Hello.

18th July 2005

Dear Neil

Thank you for attending the audition for ‘Weakest Link’ recently. We very much enjoyed meeting you.

This letter is let you know that you have been selected for our shortlist – so well done!

As we explained during your audition, although you are on the potential shortlist we cannot guarantee that you will be selected to be on the show. Also, please remember you may have to wait some time before hearing from us again regarding the possibility of appearing as a contestant.

If any of your contact details change (i.e. phone numbers, address etc., please let us know by writing to this address:

Contestant Team
Weakest Link
Room 3121
BBC TV Centre
Wood Lane
London W12 7RJ

Many congratulations on making the shortlist and we hope to be in touch again soon.

Kind Regards,


Weakest Link

P.S. On a personal note, can I just say how much I enjoyed your soulful rendition of the Billy Joel classic, “Just The Way You Are” during the audition. I had a lump in my throat throughout and it was all I could do to keep my tears from cascading to the ground. It’s hard to believe that a fit looking hunk like yourself is still on the market and if only I was 15 years older, I’d snap you up myself. Until then, you’ll be forever in my dreams.

Nat xxx

Okay, so she didn’t add the ‘P.S.’ but I could tell she was definitely thinking it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

You ARE The Weakest Link. Goodbye.

It’s the end of Day 2 of my new job and I don’t mind saying I’m absolutely shattered – I don’t mind saying it but I DO mind feeling it. Bad enough getting up at 7am on a Monday but then they expected me to go through the exact same rigmarole today. And tomorrow. And the next day. And so on.

So now it’s 8pm and I’m ready for my bed. Too tired to type something original so here’s a cut and paste job from today's Daily Record column. Night, night.

Many of the great fiascos, blunders and misadventures throughout history have been explained away with the same lamentable excuse.

Why did I want to make a fifth ‘Rocky’ film?” Sylvester Stallone might ponder. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

I have to admit that my own murky past is not without incidents where an initial flash of genius turned out to be less than inspirational. Like the time I decided to go to a Halloween party dressed in a toga. With no pockets to secure any bus money, I had to stagger down Edinburgh’s Lothian Road at 3am on a Sunday morning just as the nightclubs were ejecting their drunken clientele on to the streets. Unsurprisingly, I ran a gauntlet of abuse and ridicule for my attire, probably because I’d neglected to accessorise the ensemble properly with leather sandals and a headband of olive leaves.

But my litany of seemingly-good-ideas was complete recently when I found myself in an Edinburgh hotel room at 9.30 on a Wednesday morning singing to a bunch of people I’d never met before.

For a rational explanation of this scenario (although I’m not sure there is one) we have to rewind nine months to a time when I was “between jobs” and a sucker for daytime television. My sister and I were engrossed in an enthralling episode of “The Weakest Link” and at the end of the show the announcer said the BBC were looking for contestants for future programmes. My recollection of the exact conversation that followed may be jaded somewhat by the second bottle of red wine we were consuming at the time but I think I said something like

Hey tharra peesh a pish tha’ show. I could do tha’. And Anne whashername? She’s a total babe.” (Maybe it was the three bottles of wine.)

Sure enough, a telephone call from a chatty BBC researcher a few weeks ago confirmed I had, in fact, submitted an application and was now being invited along to a local audition with nine other hopefuls.

All the prospective contestants had to gather in the lobby of an Edinburgh hotel to await the start of proceedings. Conversation was polite but brief as everyone eyed up the competition like characters in an Agatha Christie novel, each wondering who harboured a dark secret or previous experience on “Countdown” or Blankety Blank”.

The audition began smoothly enough when our gorgeous researcher Natasha told us we had one minute to stand up and introduce ourselves. Hi, I’m Neil. I’m 41 and single. I like golf and.. eh.. music and did I mention I’m single?” Natasha stifled a yawn and continued shuffling her papers.

A three minute written general knowledge test followed and then it was time to play a round of the quiz itself. Natasha, now effortlessly adopting the persona of Anne Robinson, fired off the questions in rapid succession. As my turn approached I was primed and ready.

Neil. Who did Margaret Thatcher replace as… The rest of the question was a blur as my heartbeat went into overdrive and I squeaked out my answer in a voice I was sure only dogs could hear.


“No I’m sorry. It was James Callaghan.”

Shocked and deflated I spent the rest of the round willing the other contestants to screw up badly. Thankfully, we all ganged up and voted off a lovely woman called Barbara and then had to suffer “Anne’s” backlash.

“So Neil. It says in your application that you used to sing in a band. Would you like to give us all a wee song this morning?”

I can’t print my precise response (it rhymed with chuckin’ bell) but before I knew it I was staring at my shoes and warbling some old Billy Joel song in a key way beyond my limited range. When it was over, I shuffled out of the room cursing my sister and her infernal red wine collection and vowed never to have a good idea ever again.

And with news that “Rocky VI” and “Rambo IV” are currently in pre-production, I wish that Sly Stallone would feel exactly the same way.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Day 810

On November 1st 1971, I started school in Falkirk having had my childhood savagely uprooted and dragged to that town from the lovely west of Scotland suburb of Bishopbriggs.

On November 1st 1983, I started working for a major Scottish clearing bank having had my sparkling university career wrecked by a combination of failed exams and blatant apathy. (I think the two were connected.)

And on November 1st 2003 I boarded a plane in London bound for Hong Kong on the start of my round the world adventure.

All of which are completely unrelated to the fact that I jumped from the thrilling rollercoaster world of high finance earlier in 2003 and today, Sunday July 24th 2005, represents the 810th and final day of what was intended to be a short, six-month career break.

Tomorrow at around 8.30am (BST) I will join the hoards of commuters crowding the railway station in Linlithgow who are about to turn very ugly due to the fact that the 8.14am service to Edinburgh is late again.

I’m going back to work for my old company, albeit on a short term contract and amazing as this may sound, I’m really looking forward to it. What better time to return to work in Edinburgh than right before the start of the biggest arts festival in the world. Of course if it all turns sour and I end up bitching about it in these pages, then termination, humiliation and a hefty lawsuit are likely to follow swiftly.

So, back to year zero…

Friday, July 22, 2005

Tartan Shorts 11

Film Of The Week: “Festival” I was the only person in the cinema at noon on Monday (should I read something into that?) to see this amusing little film about an eclectic cast of characters and their equally eclectic adventures during the Edinburgh International Arts Festival. It was written and directed by Annie Griffin who penned weird Channel 4 drama, “The Book Group” a few years ago. As a fan of that I was expecting sharp dialogue, despicable characters, shocking language and gratuitous sex. I wasn’t disappointed.

Weird Internet Link Of The Week: I unashamedly stole this link from another website and wasn’t sure whether to gasp in horror or laugh uncontrollably at the sight of two kids listing the seven words you CAN’T say in kindergarten. Mental.

Book Of The Week: “Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince” The sixth volume in the series and very entertaining as always. Not so great as to make the midnight queuing and over-the-odds pricing worthwhile though. I won’t spoil the plot but it’s safe to say that Harry losing his virginity out in the woods was a bit of an eye opener. And to Ron! I didn't see THAT coming! No wonder the Pope’s dissin’ all the wizardry and stuff. And no wonder it's called the Forbidden Forest.

TV Programme Of The Week: “The Amazing Race” US reality show where couples race around the world, amazingly, to try and win the first prize of a million bucks. It sounds cheap and tacky but it’s really, REALLY addictive, especially when it’s shown daily rather than weekly and at 1pm which is right between my morning and afternoon naps. And the annoying couple from “Survivor” didn’t win. Ha, ha, ha!

Golfing Hero Of The Week: Not, as you might rightly assume, Tiger Woods for winning the Open Championship at a canter but instead, my Dad for (almost) single-handedly controlling the 200,000+ spectators who descended on St. Andrews to see the action. Here he is holding back the hoards at the most famous green on the most famous hole on the most famous golf course during the most famous tournament in the world. I think the other side of his sign says “No Cameras” which he very coolly ignored as I took out my camera and snapped this picture. Quickly.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Harry Potter & The Last Crusade To The Bookshop Of Doom

Every Tuesday I get up at the crack of noon and walk along to the local shop to buy the Daily Record. (I say “walk” but probably “amble” or “mosey” would be a better description of my shuffling movement.) I pay for the newspaper, exit the shop and then engage in a little game to see how far I can travel on my journey back without flinging open the pages to see if they’ve printed my weekly column. Ten paces is my record to date.

Thinking up a few hundred words or so a week is a lot more challenging than I thought it’d be even though I’m writing mainly frivolous, observational pieces on anything and everything. Last week, when I told my pal Donald that the column was about a visit to the hairdresser’s, he rolled his eyes and mumbled something about “scraping” and “bottom” and “barrel”.

Anyway, today marks the sixth consecutive week they’ve printed what I submitted (woo hoo!) but it’s also the third week in a row that they haven’t updated their website with the articles. So if you’re housebound or a Guardian reader or overseas or trapped under something heavy (but can reach a laptop obviously), the main article from today’s column is posted below. In funky coloured type. Oh, and if you've already bought the Daily Record and are reading this for a second time, apologies for the lack of originality.

Regular readers of this blog (and you know who you are – although I don’t) will recognise the blatant plagiarism of previous posts. Although, is it plagiarism if you steal from yourself? And what would happen if you caught yourself stealing from yourself? Either a disastrous rip in the space time continuum would occur or you’d get trapped in the loop of an Austin Powers-type moment of madness. “Allow myself to introduce… eh… myself.”

I can’t tell you how much I loathed the first Harry Potter film. Well I could, but I’ve only got 600 words to play with here so I’d only be scratching the surface. From the precocious kids to the ludicrous ending when the magic stone thingy turned up in Harry’s pocket “as if by magic”, I detested the whole schmaltzy, overacted affair. Not even the rousing bit in the middle on broomsticks could get me excited, primarily because I was fast asleep at the time.

After listening to my scathing review, over eager family members would say things like “oh but you really must read the books” or “just use your imagination” but I remained indignant and unmoved.

“I don’t care what you say Dad,” I’d yell as I made a dramatic exit. “Harry Potter’s just rubbish and that’s that.”

I was only forced to re-examine my perfectly reasonable point of view when, earlier this year, I worked in America as a childminder helping a friend look after her two young sons. From day one the little tykes were full of questions about which Harry Potter story was my favourite and wanted to know what J K Rowling was like in person since I only lived 20 miles from her house. Radical action was called for so reluctantly I picked up the first book and started my essential childcare research.

For the next few weeks the kids went unfed and unsupervised while I was locked away in the captivating world of witchcraft and wizardry. Requests to play with matches and perform surgery on the family cat were approved with barely a nod as my nose remained buried deep in the pages of the books.

All of which led me to a local bookstore late last Friday night when I joined a few hundred other lost souls queuing for the midnight release of the latest Harry Potter adventure. The throng was made up predominantly of doting parents and hyperactive children as well as a few drunks who believed a new night club was about to open.

As the witching hour approached, squeals and yelps reached eardrum splitting levels and when the doors opened I was almost trampled to death in the forward rush. Luckily the bookstore staff, clearly ecstatic at having to work so late, maneuvered the mob calmly but ingeniously past every book in the store before we reached the tills.

With no air conditioning and painfully slow progress, the novelty of the occasion quickly wore off. At one stage I found myself stranded in the “self help” section for almost twenty minutes and seriously considered chewing “The Little Book of Calm” for light relief. Things didn’t improve when I reached the tills and paid for my purchase. Despite having pre-ordered the book I was refused one of the special edition souvenir carrier bags on the basis that I appeared to be over the age of 12.

“But it’s for my nephew,” I lied with a pitiful plea.

“Sorry sir. NEXT!”

So now I’m ready to embark on the new adventure but first, I need to finish the previous one. I’ve just got to the point where Harry has a Valentine’s Day date in a coffee shop with his first proper girlfriend, a girl in his year called Cho. Utterly confusing him with some devious feminine wordplay, she ends up running out of the shop in tears. I can barely bring myself to read any further, secure in the knowledge that Cho has realised she prefers older boys and will leave Harry’s feelings trampled and crushed.

Stick with the simple, single life is my advice to the lad. And do all your book purchasing on-line.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Ho Hum...

...another Monday. Weather's turned cool. Chance of a shower. Been away in St. Andrews. Thought Monty was gonna win the Open. Glad I didn't bet on him. Got loads to do this week. Well, not really but it's my last free week before work starts. F#CK! Must try and communicate in sentences coherent more. Writers block I have. Type like Yoda I do. All my powers gone after recent drastic haircut. Gonna stop typing now. After the next sentence. Yes, this one.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Random Stream Of Semi-Consciousness

So all in all, it’s been a bit of a lean week for humourous new stories. Unless you count the tale of the woman in Utah who had the address of a gambling website tattooed on her forehead to help pay for her kid’s college education. Amusing AND admirable in equal measure.

Surfing around random blogs over the last few days almost everyone has had something to say about the bombings in London last Thursday. Some are long essays about who’s to blame and others are very short messages expressing shock and sending messages of goodwill. I didn’t particularly want to add this downbeat litany, not because I was paralysed from the shock of it all but because I really wasn’t shocked ENOUGH.

It begs the question of how close do the bad things in the world need to get to you to enable you to feel something, ANYTHING of substance. Because frankly (and the use of the word ‘frankly’ should indicate a lack of jokey punchlines in the next few paragraphs) if you’ve never had the remotest connection to tragic loss and you’re still feeling upset about last week’s events then I believe that says more about how you view the own inadequacies of your life than it does about anything else.

I’ve been lucky. I’ve never had the remotest connection to tragic loss.

I live on an island where terrorist bombings have been a regular occurrence since as early as I can remember.

I live 70 miles away from a town where a plane was blown up and decimated a community.

I live 20 miles away from a town where a mad gunman walked into a primary school and slaughtered innocent children.

On the evening of September 10th 2001 I boarded a plane in Detroit and landed in Scotland the next day at the exact time the first plane hit the twin towers.

And on Thursday evening I kept a drinking appointment with old friends in Edinburgh while half a mile up the street police where carrying out controlled explosions on suspicious packages left on two separate buses. At one point the pub doors were closed and we were instructed to stay inside and keep drinking. We didn’t need to be told twice.

The point then (and I’m sure I had one when I started this diatribe) is that life goes on despite the bad things in the world. That’s easy to say when you live in a beautiful, (relatively) peaceful country like Scotland but because its easy to say, then it should be said at every opportunity. It is NOT disrespectful to others who’ve suffered. It is NOT a blinkered and ignorant response to the problems of the world. It is EXACTLY the thing to do combat terrorism. Terrorism is not about winning an armed struggle. It is about SPREADING TERROR.

Be aware, be vigilant but don’t live in fear. Be touched and moved by stories of heroism and survival. Be thoughtful and helpful to those less fortunate. But for Christ’s sake do not wallow in self pity when you’ve nothing personally to wallow about.

On further reflection, the use of the phrase “for Christ’s sake” is the least appropriate in this, or any other age. Do it for YOUR sake or someone else’s sake but please, not in the name of ANY “organised” religion; a contradiction in terms if ever I heard one.

Rigorous beliefs and faith, blind or otherwise, in any one doctrine immediately preclude the acceptance of someone else’s point of view and before you know it you’ve got crucifixions, inquisitions, invasions, crusades, empire building, holy wars, Old Firm riots and The Da Vinci Code topping the bestseller lists for a millennium.

Anyway, it’s Monday, it’s 80+ degrees outside and I’ve still got a million and one things to do. I have a lunchtime meeting with the financial henchmen behind and if I agree to have the address tattooed across my forehead, I can cast off all thoughts of a return to the world of “proper” jobs. Forever. Woo Hoo!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Scotland Ablaze With Terror Shocker!

The eyes of the world are trained hard on Scotland this week and on Monday it all kicked off big style. If I hadn’t seen it with my own sensitive eyes, I don’t think I would’ve believed it.

Innocent women and children running for their lives, paralysed with fear as dark forces roamed the streets wielding weapons of awesome power. The police and security services seemingly helpless as the marauders from other lands marched on relentlessly. Once gorgeous parks and landscapes forever scarred by the wanton destruction that cut a merciless swathe through it all.

But then, when all seemed utterly lost and hopeless, Tom Cruise pointed out that birds were now able to settle on the tripods indicating that their shields were down and the soldiers let loose with a terrifying volley of rockets, bazookas and cannon fire.

“Eat THAT shit nasty alien dudes,” he would have screamed had the screenplay been written by Bill or Ted or Wayne.

Visit Edinburgh for the G8 demonstrations? I’d rather spend a pleasant Monday wandering around the loch in Linlithgow, drinking coffee and eating scones waiting for my car to get fixed and then wiling away the afternoon at the movies.

If we all did a bit more of that there would be less hate and misery in the world… and we’d all get totally clued up about how to kick some serious alien ass when the real invaders come a-calling.

Friday, July 01, 2005

There Can Be Only One

Tomorrow, all roads lead to Scotland for the most important global event in a generation. Some might go so far as to say it’s the most important global event EVER while others might just snort indignantly and poo poo the whole shebang. What is certain is that very few will get a restful sleep tonight and as the dawn breaks, heartbeats will accelerate and bowel movements will accelerate also.

It is, of course, the 16th annual Bank of Scotland Training Centre (RIP) Open Golf Championship to be contested on the fine links of Kinross Golf Club (Red Course). But why read (or indeed, write) about it here when there’s a whole galaxy full of coverage to be had at the website below. Player interviews, past champions, dodgy outfits, on-line betting and more. If this is the kind of thing you like, then this'll be the kind of thing you like. Enjoy.