Monday, January 30, 2006

People Are People...

…proclaimed Depeche Mode back in 1984 in that chirpy, stating-the-feckin-obvious type way of theirs. Although to be fair, they went on to explain that if people are indeed people, then why should it be that you and I should get along so awfuleee.

And that’s kind of what I was trying to get to the heart of this week in the thing I sent to the newspaper yesterday. But man, was it hard work. A real grind, not helped by the fact I locked myself out of the house half way through the afternoon.

And today I have the pleasure of reliving the whole sequence of events once more. Back at the end of the week.

As one of the country’s foremost authorities in the field of amateur psychology, I thought it was about time this column turned its clinical, scientific eye onto the subject of human behaviour. To put it another way, it’s time to place the people under the journalistic microscope. Or, if you’ll excuse the Freudian overtones, humanity needs to finally stretch out and lay itself bare on my metaphorical leather couch.

Now before you start peeling off clothes and getting in touch with your masculine/feminine* (*delete as appropriate) side, you’re probably wondering what qualifications I possess to perform this examination. While it’s true that my walls aren’t exactly crammed with diplomas and academic testimonials (not counting my certificate for perfect attendance at Sunday school, season 1974/75), I do have an advanced doctorate in people-watching, honed to perfection during my two-year career break travelling round the world. My ten thousand word thesis on the subject explains it all in a bit more detail but essentially it boils down to this – people are weird.

Admittedly, my knowledge and skills in this area have grown a bit rusty since I returned to work but they were brought back into sharp focus again last week during a short, three-day business trip to the north west of England.

Things didn’t start well when I discovered my flight to Manchester was scheduled to leave at seven o’clock in the morning. I don’t know about you but being woken at 5.00am is only ever acceptable if instigated with a gentle nudge by the person lying next to you. Even then, the specific reasons for waking better not necessitate having to actually leave the bed. So by the time I shuffled into the business lounge at Edinburgh airport, scruffy and unshaven, I was not in the chirpiest of moods.

Slumped in the first available comfy chair, I couldn’t summon the energy to get up and fill my pockets with all the free stuff on offer. Even the coffee machine was out of reach a good ten yards away so I just sat and gazed around through half-shut eyelids.

It was then that I noticed the lounge was full of immaculately dressed people, all busy typing into laptops, talking into the strange robotic devices stapled to their heads and juggling all manner of electrical gadgets in their hands.

“Who ARE these weird people?” I wondered. “They look relaxed and awake and if my amateur psychologist’s eyes don’t deceive me, they appear to be in the midst of calmly plotting the overthrow of a small third world country.”

Sitting next to one of them on the plane, I soon found the opportunity to discover just how weird these people actually are. My neighbour had asked for a cup of tea from one of the cabin crew but to my horror, he didn’t seem to mind whether the milk went into the cup first or last.

I chuckled uncomfortably at his idiosyncratic behaviour and added, “Next you’ll be telling me that you don’t have your soup tins in alphabetical order or that your toilet roll hangs down the back instead of over the front.” He threw me a quizzical look and announced, “Em, to be honest, I’ve never really thought about it.”

I struggled to disguise the involuntary shaking this reply had induced and only just managed to ask my final, decisive question. “So who are you rooting for on Celebrity Big Brother then?” “Haven’t been watching it,” he replied with a shrug. “I’m usually too busy plotting the overthrow of small third world countries.”

Okay, so he didn’t utter that last sentence but I could tell he was definitely thinking it. Like I said, people are weird.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Just Count Me In, Count Me Out...

Gotta fly away on business later today (how Gordon Gekko does THAT sound?) so here’s the thing I sent to the newspaper this week, a whole day early. How lucky are YOU? How supercilious am I? How many questions can I fit into this paragraph? Who knows? Six, is it? Or seven? Back at the end of the week.

Much as I like to think of myself as a cultural know-it-all who can (legally) muster the socialising stamina of Kate Moss to swan around arts festivals and still party like its 1989, the reality these days is very different. After the events of last Saturday night, I am now reassessing my rash decision to purchase tickets for this year’s T in the Park concert. I mean, if I can’t stand in the same spot for two hours at an indoor gig amongst a sedate gathering of like-minded forty-somethings, how on earth will I endure two whole days of inclement weather and binge-drinking teenagers.

On paper, Saturday night’s itinerary seemed like the perfect recipe for a pleasant night out. For one thing, I’d secured a date for the evening; an old friend who was kind enough to succumb to my pitiful pleas for company and rearrange her busy life to attend. She even agreed to drive.

For another thing, we were going to see Scotland’s greatest living singer-songwriter, Roddy Frame, who was strutting his considerable stuff as part of Glasgow’s Celtic Connections music festival. Although the tickets made mention of a support act and a 9.30 start time, I calculated that with a bit of luck and a following wind, I might make it home in time to watch the last part of Match of the Day with a nice cup of cocoa.

Things began smoothly enough as we arrived at the venue around 9 o’clock and enjoyed a couple of pre-show drinks in the bar. As we sized up our fellow attendees, we took comfort from the fact that we weren’t alone in having selected middle-aged wardrobes and ill-fitting footwear that could hardly be described as “rock ‘n roll”.

Wandering through to the main hall in a fashionably-late manner at 9.45, the support duo had already commenced their set and were deep in the midst of a bunch of earnest, but forgettable songs, all delivered with the requisite amount of frowning and eyes-tightly-shut sincerity. As they departed just after 10 o’clock, our excitement grew in anticipation of the appearance, at last, of Sir Roddy. But what we hadn’t counted on was the sneakiness of the promoters in slotting in a second, unannounced support act; a female singer called Earth Mother or Willow Weed or some such thing.

All around us the crowd seemed restless with much checking of watches and conversations about whether or not babysitters would have to be paid overtime. Their mood wasn’t improved when Earth Mother insisted on revealing the innocuous background to each song in increasingly lengthy narratives. Inane stuff such as, “This is a song I wrote about going to the supermarket and discovering they’d run out of organic spinach. It’s called ‘Green No More My Love’.”

The last of her credibility disappeared for me when she explained that one song was written after a spell temping in an office and her boss wouldn’t give her a day off to attend an anti-Capitalist march.

“You ASKED PERMISSION to attend an anti-Capitalist march?” I yelled quietly to myself. “Viva La Revolution!”

By the time Sir Roddy took to the stage sometime after 11 o’clock, my date and I were holding each other up to ensure our newly-acquired varicose veins did not need emergency medical treatment. Thankfully, and unsurprisingly, the talent and performance of the great man was worth the wait and we emerged happy on to the deserted Glasgow streets, oblivious to the hardships we’d endured earlier in the evening.

But it still begs the question – does anyone want to buy two spare tickets for T in the Park this year?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Too Much Too Young

Work, Eat, Sleep…
Work, Eat, Dump, Sleep…
Work, Bath, Eat, Sleep…
Work, Eat, Blog, Sleep…
Work, Eat, Work, Sleep, Work…
Work, Eat, Binge-Drink, Sleep, Head off to England for two weeks where there may or may not be internet access…

See you in the Spring… maybes...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Is It Just Me...

… or is January shit? No energy, no sunshine, no very good grammer and no clever way of introducing the thing I sent to the newspaper this week so… here it is.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit it but it’s a fairly regular occurrence for me to conduct a conversation with a woman and not have the slightest clue as to what she’s talking about. Normally I’ll just nod and agree and throw in a little fake laugh now and again in the hope that I can eventually steer the discussion round to a topic with which I’m familiar. Like pizza for example. Or Angelina Jolie. Or the technical specifications of the Death Star.

So you can imagine my discomfort last week when an old friend sidled up to me and asked, “Have you googled yourself recently?” As the question hung in the air, the first hint of a smile started to form at the corner of her mouth as if she already knew what the answer would be. Still unsure as to what she meant, my mind started to contemplate the likelihood that she had broken into my house to install hidden cameras and was now armed with reels of video tape containing all manner of compromising activities.

As I played for time by inducing a phony coughing fit, she continued with her devious feminine wordplay by adding, “Because I googled you last weekend. And fascinating it was too.”

“That’s weird,” I thought, in between all the coughing and spluttering. “I avoided the binge drinking last weekend so I’m sure I would have remembered such a delicious-sounding interaction.”

Sensing my desperate attempts to divert the chat to the merits of the anchovy as a pizza ingredient, she eventually put me out of my misery by explaining that she had typed my name into Google, the internet search engine, to see if I existed anywhere on the World Wide Web. The next night, I carried out the same exercise and what a thoroughly depressing journey it turned out to be.

The search resulted in just over 1.9 million entries for ‘Neil Sutherland’ and all but a handful (estate agents mainly) seemed to be doing far more exciting and rewarding things with their lives than I.

Take, for example, Neil Sutherland the professional photographer who seems to account for almost a million of the internet references on his own, such has been his success in having his work displayed around the world and in an endless series of books available at

Then there was Neil Sutherland, the famous Australian composer who swept the board at the Screen Music awards in Melbourne last year. I wondered if he might be one of those annoying types who are good at everything they turn their hand to when I read that Neil Sutherland, the champion sailor and Neil Sutherland, the prize winning cyclist, also reside down under. At home too, Neil Sutherlands everywhere seemed to be showered with confetti-like plaudits for their work as award winning architects or highly respected designers of Highland homes.

As I ploughed through the success stories, I felt the urge to become a different Neil Sutherland and wallow in some of the fun and accolades that these other Neils seemed to be experiencing. Even the life of Neil Sutherland, Chairman of the Milton Keynes War Games Society (Meetings every Thursday, 7pm sharp - bring your own army!), seemed to be one full of daredevil risk and thrilling adventure. And at least my extensive knowledge of the Death Star would come in handy.

So be warned. Playing with the internet can be diverting and informative at times but googling yourself could lead to some serious identity envy and feelings of inadequacy. Especially if your name happens to be Angelina. Or Brad.

P.S. The original ending for this piece was much funnier (honest) as it included an alternative use for your time rather than googling yourself. Don’t think the paper would’ve printed it though.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Happy Birthday...

…to this blog.

One year ago today, this blog first saw the light of day and kicked off in explosive style with this insightful piece of writing HERE. Back then I was living (and definitely NOT working illegally) in Key West, Florida and knew nothing about technical stuff like the internet or websites or programming or URLs or how to switch on a video recorder. But things have certainly changed since then. Now I live in Scotland.

During its lifetime, this blog has swaggered its way through all manner of subjects, dispensing glib opinions and occasional bad fucking language without a thought for the reader or, indeed, the family of its owner. I’ve tried to pacify and rein it in of course, but it always seems to shrug its indignant shoulders at any suggestion of decency or common sense and then disappears to its room to get up to who knows what.

Tonight, it will be celebrating its birthday by wandering aimlessly round the streets in its new shell suit with its blog pals, swigging Buckfast and happy-slapping any weaker blogs that cross its path.

In its absence, it falls to me to thank everyone who’s visited over the past twelve months and I only hope it can stay out of jail long enough to see it through another year.

P.S. I’ve read “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” but I STILL don’t know when the word “its” should have an apostrophe or not. Anyone?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

2006... And All That

Thanks to all who sent in ideas for this week’s newspaper column. Your suggestions were so good that I included them all in my submission but alas, they didn’t make it past the merciless eye (and frantic red pen) of the sub editors. So I’m afraid I can’t provide you with any kind of financial recompense but the offer of sexual favours is still on the table. (NOT to my brothers! OBVIOUSLY!)

Like much of the trivia I write, it may not translate too well if you don’t live within 50 miles of me so I’ve added one of those ever popular glossary of terms at the end to try and make things a bit clearer/fill up a bit more space.

It won’t have escaped your notice, I’m sure, but it’s now January and publications everywhere are full of people giving you their reviews of 2005 or an endless list of their resolutions for 2006, most of which they’ve already abandoned. As for me, I’m conquering my long term vices of overeating and smoking by (a) buying trousers in a bigger size and (b) deciding to move to France in March when the Holyrood* smoking ban comes into effect.

But I know many of you are looking ahead and wondering whether 2006 will be a memorable year full of peace and joy the world over. Well wonder no more because thanks to my brand new girlfriend Billie Piper* and her time-traveling phone box, I am writing this column on January 9th 2007 whilst sitting (and smoking) in a little Parisian café just off the Rue de Blahblah. (By the way, if you’re wondering how I secured the services of Billie Piper as my brand new girlfriend, let’s just say the method employed involved a great deal of creativity and imagination. Besides, if I told you, I’d have to exterminate* you.)

Time travel is a thrilling experience, not least because I now have 52 weeks worth of winning numbers for the National Lottery. If space allows, I’ll let you know the result of last week’s superdraw, worth 50 million Euros. But meantime, let’s dive straight into the review of 2006 and what a year it turned out to be.

It started with a bang, of course, with the stunning conclusion to Celebrity Big Brother*. Far from resigning because of “personal issues”, Charles Kennedy* had in fact signed a secret contract with Channel 4 to become a surprise, last week entrant into the Big Brother house. His full blooded fist fight with George Galloway* (now not-so-gorgeous) surrounding accusations as to who had stolen the secret stash of “fizzy drinks” made for riveting viewing. It was no surprise that the Channel 4 switchboard was swamped with complaints after producers cut away from the fight to show a fleeting shot of Jodie Marsh’s* nipples.

By early summer, all eyes turned to Germany for the World Cup. Despite their humiliating 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Trinidad & Tobago in the opening group games, England somehow scrambled their way to a thrilling final, edging out Brazil by the odd goal in nine. Their triumph was short lived however when DNA drug tests performed on Wayne Rooney* and Steven Gerrard revealed that they are in fact Scottish. Walter Smith* rejoiced in the news that the entire tournament will be replayed again during 2007.

Autumn saw the publication of the seventh and final book in the increasingly mature Harry Potter series - Harry Potter & Some Seriously Bad Acid. Children loved it of course but some critics found the injection of contemporary themes a little hard to swallow. Personally, I thought Harry and Ron’s close “friendship” and Hermione’s teen pregnancy were both handled with great skill and tenderness.

And as 2006 drew to a close there was finally some good news for fans of Rangers Football Club*. After all the humiliation and woes of last season, the club stood proudly at the top of the league over Christmas, twenty points ahead of their nearest rivals. Manager Gordon Ramsay was fulsome with his praise for the players as well as for the support he’d received from the Chairman and predicted that at their current pace, they would secure promotion back to the SPL* by the end of February.

So that was 2006 – a year to remember. Billie and I are off now to see how the 2007 World Cup turns out but before we go here are those superdraw lottery numbers. 8, 19, 25…

Glossary of Terms
– Geographical location of (and therefore local colloquialism for) the Scottish Parliament who, as far as I can see, only exist to ban things. Like smoking. And the selling of sweets in schools.
Billie Piper – Gorgeous female sidekick of Dr. Who, a tv sci-fi classic who flits about in a time travelling phone box but doesn’t seem to use the power of time travel to anticipate any of the disasters which befall the universe.
Exterminate – Snappy catchphrase of Billie’s arch enemy, the Daleks.
Celebrity Big Brother – Pointless reality tv show.
Charles Kennedy – Former leader of the Liberal Democratic Party who resigned last week after all his pals ganged up on him because he likes a drink or two.
George Galloway – Pointless politician who definitely DID NOT have any ties to Iraq.
Jodie Marsh – Pointless human being.
Wayne Rooney & Steven Gerrard – The two best footballers in the UK. Both English unfortunately.
Walter Smith – Manager of the Scottish national football team who I once met at a Bruce Springsteen concert, interestingly enough. Or not.
Rangers Football Club – Pointless football club from Glasgow currently underperforming to extraordinary degrees in all departments.
Gordon Ramsay – Celebrity chef who likes to f#cking swear A LOT and used to play for Rangers. Used in the context of this article to demonstrate how difficult it will be for Rangers to find a decent Manager at the end of this season after the current one is sacked.
SPL – Scottish Premier League

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Bloggies 2006

Last March, I was in the fine city of Austin Texas for a family gathering of whisky drinking and jaw-dropping kilt displays. By sheer good fortune, the South by Southwest Festival was on at the time so my technical genius brother Stuart (who is STILL available for all manner of freelance internet work) and I shook off our hangovers and went along to attend the annual Bloggies Awards ceremony. And what a riot it was – you can read all about it HERE.

Anyways (as Texans would say in that sweet, honey-dewed drawl of theirs), nominations for this year’s awards are now being accepted and it’s fascinating to see this mentioned on so many blogs I’ve visited this week.

As someone who avoids shameless self promotion at all costs, I thought I’d provide you with a little step by step guide on how to nominate your favourite blog in order that you can rightly celebrate and promote all those people (not me of course) who have kept you entertained and informed in the past year.

1. Go to
2. Find the relevant category for the blog you want to nominate. There seems to be something in the region of 5,000+ categories but an example might be – just pulling a random example from the top of my head – “most humorous weblog”.
3. Enter the first name and surname of the person you want to nominate. An example of a first name might be “Neil” and a surname could be “Sutherland”. Hypothetically.
4. Enter the relevant URL. God only knows what “URL” stands for but I think its got something to do with web address thingys, full of slashes and dots, so it might look a bit like
5. You’re not restricted to nominating your favourite blogger in only one category so if you find other categories that are relevant, knock yourself out.
6. Type in your email address at the bottom of the page.
7. Click where it says “Submit your nominations”.

And there you have it. Seven simple steps to celebrate all that is worthy and righteous in an uncertain world and to avoid you having to re-read the submission rules ten times like I had to do.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

So You Wanna Be A Newspaper Columnist?

Funny thing. I spent a large part of Christmas Day writing this little story for the newspaper but for some reason or other it didn’t get published last Tuesday. Nobody seems to know why. On New Years’s Day, I started to write a different story for this week but then I thought, “Its New Year’s Day Goddamit! And I’ve got drinkin’ to do.” So I just tweaked last week’s story, resubmitted it and popped the cork on my first (but not last) bottle of red wine of the day. And today they printed it here.

Next Sunday I’ll continue trying to write the story I was going to write this week and since I’m such a magnanimous artist/lazy git, here’s your chance to get involved, earn money and free up some more red wine-sippin’ time for me.

Currently, the newspapers are full of writers giving their funny/candid/sombre/preachy reviews of 2005. But what would be funnier, I thought, would be to write a review of 2006 (not sure yet how I’ll explain the time travelling but it’ll probably involve Billie Piper) with a series of funny/candid/surreal/ridiculous observations of things that happened in the year ahead… if you see what I mean.

I’ve got a couple of ideas but any others you’d like to contribute will be gratefully received. They can be as ludicrous as you like (in fact the more ludicrous the better) and can cover any subject area – politics, celebrity weddings, bird flu, crap television, England winning the World Cup (ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!) etc. Any that I use/steal will be recompensed in hard cash with a direct proportion of my weekly fee or with sexual favours – the choice is yours.

Meantime, I need to catch up on my sleep because I’ve just spent what seemed like three days watching King Kong at the cinema. Good, but WAAAY too long… although I’ll never tire of looking at Naomi Watts.

Catch you later in the week when I wake up.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year... all. I can't say it any plainer than that.