Tuesday, March 28, 2006

T.I.T.S.© Inc.

Do you ever have the urge to adopt the whole Jim-Carrey-Liar-Liar approach and just tell people how it is directly to their faces?

“Hey, nice tits”
“Shit haircut”
“Ugly baby”
“Fishy breath”
“YES, I’ve noticed your iPod”
“Selfish, stupid, disgusting, arrogant, stigmatised, anti-social smoker who has to stand out in the rain because of Scotland’s smoking ban. Na, na, na-na, na.”

No, me neither... just thought I’d ask. And now for something completely different…

I’ve always admired people who give up secure jobs to follow their dreams and start their own businesses. The drive and hunger to be the next Alan Sugar or Richard Branson gives them a frenetic demeanour not unlike that found on the face of someone about to attempt their first bungee jump. If the analogy is accurate, I can promise you they’re also experiencing some activity of the frenetic kind in their underpants.

Last December, my pal Bruce took just such a leap to start his own training consultancy business. At the time, I shook his hand and wished him well and underlined the fact that if he ever needed financial support of any kind, well that’s what banks are for. Since then, he’s been assembling his plans and last week he got it in touch to tell me about the New Start Scotland exhibition in Glasgow, designed specifically for people like him. (Entrepreneurs that is, not ageing, baldy bampots.)

“You should come with me on Saturday,” he chirped excitedly. “It’ll be fun and it might help launch that freelance writing career you’re always taking about.”

“Fun? Really?” I replied with a groan. “I’ve actually got some fairly firm plans in place to watch paint dry this Saturday so, another time perhaps?”

“Pick you up at 9.00,” he declared, hanging up the phone.

Sure enough, he and his wife Linda turned up at my door early on Saturday and as we headed to the SECC, I dozed in the back of the car listening to them discuss potential business names for his new consultancy.

“How about ‘Top International Training Solutions’?” I offered at one point with a snigger. “Think of all the fun you’d have handing out your business cards.” Linda’s steely glare rendered me silent for the rest of the journey.

The SECC was buzzing with people when we arrived and most appeared to be heading for a Spring Fair exhibition where, judging by the glorious cooking aromas wafting through from the hall, free food sampling was on offer. Just as I was about to slip away and stuff my face, I discovered that the strength of Linda’s grip easily matched that of her stare and I was dragged back to the serious matters at hand.

Upon entering our exhibition, I was handed a plastic bag full of brochures and invited to enter all manner of free draws for iPods, champagne, massages, accountancy services and yet more iPods.

“Oh and here’s a free pen sir with our compliments.”

Two hours later, I had more shopping bags than Carrie Bradshaw in the January sales and enough free pens to start my own stationery business.

As I trawled the stands for information to assist Bruce, the majority of exhibitors were polite and enquiring and eager to help. However, one in particular had clearly watched too many episodes of The Apprentice and began his pitch with, “Good morning sir. Here today to unleash your potential?”

“Nope,” I sighed with a resigned shrug. “I tried unleashing it a few years ago but it just ran away and never came back. It’s still out there somewhere roaming the streets with its hoodie-wearing buddies, swigging Buckie and picking on weaker potential at every opportunity. What a waste.”

Mr. Apprentice threw me a bemused look and obviously decided I didn’t have what he was looking for. “Nice talking to you anyway sir. Here’s a free pen.”

All in all, the exhibition was interesting and informative and the range of help and support for new businesses in Scotland is certainly impressive. Bruce managed to do his fair share of networking and I’m now poised to launch that freelance writing career I’m always talking about. If only I had something to write with.

More newspaper stuff here.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

George Is Pure Dead Gallus, So He Is

It’s not unusual to see White House aides with heads in hands as their esteemed boss opens his mouth to speak – “Families is where our nation finds hope, where our wings take dream” – but fair play to George W when he used the old Scots Gaelic word “kerfuffle” recently in its correct context. The fact that he was describing the fallout from an illegal government phone-tapping episode was another matter altogether. Next week, in a speech to Congress, he’s expected to describe the war in Iraq as “a bit of a stooshie”.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Boy Done F*cking Awful

Scottish football said goodbye to one of its all time greats last week when Jimmy Johnstone passed away after a long battle against illness. I saw him play a few times in the early 70s and although past his best, he was still electrifying to watch. I also attended his testimonial match against Manchester United in 1976 but typical tight-fisted Celtic – they made him share a bloody testimonial with another player, Bobby Lennox.

Anyway, in that spooky way that fate sometimes has of throwing up seemingly unconnected events and colliding them together like perfectly matched Velcro strips with a little bit of superglue thrown in for good measure, comes the following. Just as one footballing fable fades fast and forlornly into the historic background of history, so another footballing fable rises phoenix-like from the ashes of mediocrity only to get mercilessly clipped with a silver bullet from the gun of the custodian of all that is just and good about the game.

Eat your heart out Hugh McIlvanney.

Looking back on it all now, I guess the first mistake I made was deciding to clean the house. My mother was due to pay a visit and despite having had 40 odd years to get used to my quirky ways, she doesn’t seem to get as much pleasure from drawing funny pictures in dust-covered furniture as I do. As she pulled into the drive, I was still running around in a panic so decided to stuff two weeks worth of ironing and assorted magazines into the back of a wardrobe.

And that’s when I saw it. There, hanging between my Frankie Says t-shirt and a wrinkled Miami Vice suit, was an old football strip; a sacred garment I once wore every week to play 5-a-sides. In an instant, the happy memories came flooding back and I allowed myself to dream.

The second mistake I made was not punching a friend in the face. I was minding my own business in the office canteen last week when I was suddenly aware of a presence standing over me. It was on old golfing buddy who, for the purposes of this story, we’ll call Terence.

“Hey Neil,” he chirped, in that slightly effeminate way of his. “Do you fancy a game of footie on Friday after work? Rumour has it you were a bit of a player back in the day.”

My fist clenched at the mention of my advancing years but was immediately tempered by the complimentary words and the thought of pulling on my old strip again. I didn’t think it worth pointing out that being “a bit of a player” extended only to the fact that I owned a pair of football boots. Nor did I admit that I was the one who had started the rumour.

“Okay Dave, eh sorry, I mean Terence,” I spluttered. “Count me in.”

The pre-game rituals of changing room banter and the liberal application of wintergreen were much as I remembered them and I managed a thorough warm up whilst attempting to squeeze in to my old strip. Although the rest of the players looked rather youthful I was confident that my ball-does-all-the-work philosophy would stamp its authority on the beautiful game early doors.

As the first pass of the evening arrived at my feet, I looked up ready to skip past a couple of the young tykes and deliver a gorgeous, inch-perfect pass to Terence to open the scoring. And I would have done so too had a crunching tackle from a bionic 20-something not left me flat on my back counting stars.

The next 59 minutes were a blur as I watched the game being played at a speed I hadn’t thought possible. My competitive pride tried to keep up but I knew I was in trouble when Terence turned into a maniac and started barking orders.

“Neil! Who the f*ck are you marking?
Get back here!
Get up there!
Pass the f*cking ball!

I tried to counter by giving him a piece of my mind but I was having some trouble breathing at the time having just coughed up a lung. By the time the whistle blew, the only things that didn’t hurt were my eyelashes.

Since Friday night, my entire body has shut down due to the pain* and I’m typing this now using some gentle head movements to operate the pencil in my mouth. I don’t even have the energy to lift my hands and draw cruel effigies of Terence on the dust-covered computer screen. Which reminds me, note to self - no more maternal visits till Christmas.

*I once knew a guy who told me a story about a chance meeting he had with the manager of his favourite football club. The manager in question was at the side of the road with the bonnet of his car raised, staring blankly at the engine.

“Got some trouble there Jimmy?” shouted my pal as he stopped to help.

The articulate response he received would have perfectly summed up my physical condition over the weekend.

“Aye son. The f*cking f*cker’s f*cking f*cked.”

More newspaper stuff here.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Bored At Home?

Can’t wait till Sunday night for David Attenborough’s magnificent ‘Planet Earth’?


(Although don’t make the same mistake I did if you decide to try the seal. After the inclement weather this week, it seemed like such a good idea to go shuffling around in the snow until I remembered that the local branch of the Canadian ‘Fishermen’ Society hold their meetings just down the road.)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Article What I Writed

The article I sent to the newspaper this week was partly inspired by/shamelessly ‘borrowed’ from Lesley and a piece she wrote here a while back. Coincidentally, when I was searching for it on Sunday, I stumbled across the fact that today is her birthday. So many happy returns, thanks for the idea and please don’t sue me.

Like many people who work in offices, large proportions of my day can be spent in front of a computer screen, working productively and definitely NOT ‘spanking my penguin’ or testing the limits of the company’s policy on accessing inappropriate websites. Occasionally, if the work goes through a mundane or repetitive spell, I’ll look for ways to inject a bit of light-hearted banter into proceedings to cheer up my esteemed co-workers. (Unfortunately I’ve had to cease the practice of signing off emails with the hilarious “may the force be with you” after my boss was detained for a speeding violation and had trouble seeing the funny side.)

Last week, I was looking to spice up the ending of a report with an inspirational quotation or two and felt quite pleased with myself as I plumped for Captain Kirk’s finest hour by typing “to boldly go where no company has gone before”.

Now, I realise that many of you have just gasped in horror, clutched your cheeks and screamed, “Sweet Jesus Neil! Surely you know that splitting the infinitive “to go” with the cumbersome adverb “boldly” is a heinous crime against the English language, punishable by detention, 500 lines and a damn good thrashing?” Reading over the sentence I’d typed, my initial reaction was similar, brought on, no doubt, by the graphic memory of a belt-wielding English teacher with a passion for conjugation. Of verbs.

But I liked the way the phrase sounded so I decided to undertake some research to establish the extent of my grammatical crime. A fascinating website called askoxford.com confirmed that not only was my sentence acceptable in the eyes of grammar gurus everywhere, the English language itself is a hilarious minefield designed by some joker with the express intent of tripping us up at every turn.

For example, who among us hasn’t been embroiled in intense dinner party conversations and agonised over whether to say “the person was laid on the table” or “the person was lain on the table”. Similarly, all manner of social embarrassment might ensue after the meal when one is debating whether to ask, “would you like to go to a hotel” or “would you like to go to an hotel”. And if you overheard your partner describing your hotel ‘performance’ to her best friend on the phone, which of these two linguistic offerings would make you cringe more – “the whole thing took less than five minutes” or “the whole thing took fewer than five minutes”.

My research instilled a new found respect for those who learn English as a second language especially when it comes to irregular verbs. Who decided, for example, that the rule for ‘ring – rang’ and ‘sing – sang’ should not be extended to the word ‘bring’. How much richer would our language be, I wonder, if we allowed kids to make proud statements such as, “I brang my potty through to the living room to let granny see what I done.”

Of course many of the changes in our use of English have come (camed?) about because of our American cousins and their quaint invent-our-own-language custom. One of my favourites is the word “winningest” which is widely used in sports reporting in the States. Thankfully, I think it’ll be a while yet before we hear Chick Young say something like “Alex McLeish is the winningest Scottish football manager in Champions League history”, not least because winning only one game in eight hardly constitutes success.

I could go on and on about comedy adjectives but if you’re still not convinced that the English language was created by someone with a wicked sense of humour, ask yourself this. Who decided it would be a good idea to put an ‘s’ in the world ‘lisp’?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Good Night, And Good Luck

Type… check… count… delete… edit… *sigh*… smoke… type… count… type… count… *SWEAR*… smoke… coffee… count… scratch head… scratch arse… smoke… type… count… save… close… open… read… *sigh*… smoke… type… count… save… close… submit… smoke… nap!

Can you tell I can’t really be arsed with this writing lark at the moment? Thing is, there’re about five other blogs I read regularly and EVERYONE seems to be feeling the same apathy. It must be something in the water… as they like to say on increasingly-crap-tv-drama, ‘Invasion’!

Last week, I relayed the sorry tale of how I spent Saturday night home alone watching the 100 Greatest No.1 singles with only a pepperoni pizza for company. Imagine my surprise then when this week I was flooded with offers to go out and do something more exciting at the weekend…. eh, hang on a minute – did I just type “was flooded”? Sorry, that should have read “almost universally ignored to the point of humiliating rejection”. However, I did receive one message from an old friend whose tender words seduced me into changing my normal Saturday routine.

“Right then you lazy git. I’ve had it up to here with all your whinging,” she texted with flowing prose worthy of Shakespeare. “Get yersel washed and dressed on Saturday ‘cause I’m taking you for a day out in Edinburgh.”

“Thanks very much. That sounds lovely,” I replied politely, all the time wondering why it was necessary to both wash AND dress on a non-work day.

Plans were put in place involving food, drink and a cinema visit and things began well enough with a lively round of dodge-the-mad-feckin’-shoppers-on-Princes-Street as we slalomed our way to the nearest trendy coffee shop. As luck would have it, I had recently re-mortgaged the house so could afford to purchase the two, large, exotic beverages (and muffins) and was a tad disappointed that the exorbitant price didn’t include diamond encrusted cups.

No matter, because next on the agenda was a bracing walk to the top of Calton Hill (that’s the one with the half-finished Greek temple at the top) to blow away the cobwebs and take in the panoramic views of the capital. This being March, I had plundered my spring wardrobe to dress in the classic combination of jeans, t-shirt and ridiculously thin jacket and as I wheezed my way to the top, I realised this ensemble was not going to be adequate to combat the Arctic winds sweeping the city. Indeed, had we stumbled across anyone requiring help with cutting glass, I was now perfectly equipped with the nipples to complete the job.

With time to kill before our film was due to start, I conjured up soothing images of pubs full of malt whiskys and roaring fires. My companion had other ideas though and knowing I was too cold to utter a protest announced, “I need to pick up a couple of things in John Lewis.” What she failed to clarify however was that for every 2 things that are ‘picked up’, there are 200 things that apparently need to be browsed, sampled, tried on, inspected, caressed, rejected and then tried on again. By the time I slumped into my cinema seat to watch George Clooney save the world (again), I was ready for a long nap.

The day was rounded off in a fine style though with a visit to one of those stylish tapas restaurants. Looking around, I noticed that the food was served in small dishes so I ordered enough to keep me going for the rest of the night. When it arrived, my dining partner, to my horror, thought nothing of casually reaching over with her fork and helping herself to a sample from one of my dishes.

“It’s traditional,” she explained without a hint of embarrassment. “Tapas dishes are designed for sharing.”

“SHARE? FOOD?” I bellowed through a mouthful of bread, spraying the neighbouring table with crumbs. “Don’t you know me AT ALL?”

Luckily, the 16 dishes I’d ordered seemed to be enough to compensate for the shock and I arrived home with a warm glow after a highly enjoyable day. Which just goes to show - I really should get washed AND dressed on a Saturday more often.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Hell, YEAH! Do It!

I buy the newspaper every day but to be honest, I don’t really read it. The words are a bit small and I’m usually too engrossed in the pictures. However on Tuesday, I happened to notice a letter (copied verbatim below) which had been sent to the resident agony aunt.

I know it’s not big or clever to laugh at other people’s problems but frankly, I thought this was feckin’ hilarious… especially if it’s true.

I am a 17-year-old student living away from home with my mates. I don’t have a lot of money and debts are crippling me. I went out last week, got drunk and ended up sleeping with what can only be described as a “big” woman. I admit I made a mistake.

After our session, I went to the kitchen for a drink and she asked me for a bag of crisps. My mates were in the flat and overheard her saying this. Now they won’t stop making fun of me.

They are offering to help pay off my debts if I sleep with her again. It’s very tempting so what should I do?

The “aunt’s” reply advised against it, citing the old chestnuts of ‘self respect’ and ‘so-called friends’, and ended up suggesting (somewhat churlishly I thought) “getting a part-time job for extra cash”. Duh-huh!