Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Year in Review

Seriously? You want me to have to think about the last 12 fucking months, again?

2014 - largely shit.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Another in an Erratic Series of Football Posts

With apologies to 'regular readers' expecting rants about stuff and shit.

The Pochettino Effect


That's probably the best description of how I've felt about my beloved Tottenham Hotspur since the spring of 2012. I've ranted about Andre Villas Boas (AVB), felt ambivalence towards Tim Sherwood and a general distrust of everything Tottenham since Mauricio Pochettino's appointment. I wasn't impressed, but I'm a realist. We had been punching above our weight and circumstances meant the pack caught us rather than Spurs pulling away and becoming better than they had a right to be.

A raging toothache prevented my usual Wednesday night quiz date, so I settled down to watch a dodgy stream of the Chelsea match, totally in the knowledge that it would end badly. It never crossed my mind that we might win or even draw; they are quite simply better than Spurs. They were.

Walking the hounds this morning, I had something of a revelation; probably wrong, but it's something that I feel at ease with; something that if it were true, I would have no problem with unless it plunged the team into a relegation dog fight and the early evidence suggests that probably won't be the case. The reason I think MoPo might be the guy.

What epiphany have I had?

Many years ago, some French geezer called Jacques Santini took over as manager along with Martin Jol and Frank Arnesen; Santini lasted a handful of games - I've always believed the weight of expectation on his shoulders and the knowledge his squad was midtable mediocrity at best scared him off. But in an interview shortly after taking the job, Santini said he wanted to mould the club from the youth up - he would satisfy the fans and Martin Jol would bring the kids through the reserve team - utilise the facilities we have at our disposal (facilities that have improved further still) and build a team for the future. Brave and courageous words. That didn't really happen, although we did have a few academy successes, circumstances dictated Spurs relied too heavily on buying power.

Big leap - missing out some stuff that's now history. But none of it seemed to include looking inside the club for solutions.

I still struggle to see the logic in the period after Harry Redknapp and the first year of AVB's reign. It makes no sense, even if some of our best players gradually drifted away to bigger and better stages. The club had built its way to where it was through stability and familiarity - the squad played well together, covered for each others' weaknesses - not always, but enough. Improve on this and you could punch above your weight for longer. But, no. It was rebuild and almost from the bottom - style of play down to style of management. It might have worked, but the almost obsessive hatred of some sections of fans put a wedge in that just kept being tapped. Capitulations to top teams sealed AVB's fate, even if the jury is out to whether he walked or was pushed.

Let's by-pass Tim Sherwood because it seems only he didn't accept the truth.

Where were Spurs going? Nowhere. Where was the grand plan? Possibly in tatters. What do you do on limited resources? Take a risk; even if it seems like insanity taking a similar risk after two previous failures.

Pochettino has a philosophy; I'm not completely sure what it is, but I'm beginning to buy into it - not through results, but through the risks that people aren't acknowledging he's taking.

Spurs midfield squad cost about a zillion quid and frankly we sold people with more heart than we bought; but that can't be changed - the clock, for all the bleating is never going to be rewound again. We are not going to sign Defoe and Kaboul from Portsmouth; the future is already here.

With some exceptions, our imported midfield is average and over priced and this has been proved by the fact that Mason and Bentaleb are on the team sheet ahead of Paulinho, Capoue or Chadli. Home grown talent showing more desire to play for the shirt, working harder, impressing the manager or, as some would have you believe, being used by the manager to make a point - either way, they are improving all the time - their confidence in a team lacking it appears to be winning through. Is his seeming reluctance to play Harry Kane at first a sign he didn't trust him or a carefully timed bomb - look at this kid compared to your £40million strike duo? Is Fazio really the future or maybe a good role model for upcoming centre backs? The average age of the Spurs team that lost 3-0 last night was ridiculously low; something like 23. That's either foolhardy or clever and I'll opt for the latter. It's change by realisation using stealth, if I'm not just over dramatising it.

You don't win anything with kids, but you do create a stable team, a squad that fits together, slots in when others drop out; a team that plays and wins because they are a team and not dependent on a Bale or a Berbatov to save the bacon. Keep free of relegation, develop this nucleus of a team and add to it in places that need adding and you might just create a team fit for a new stadium.

Yes, this season has been awful. Mid table mediocrity in but two years, yet recently there has been an urgency about the team - when they play on the break and fast they look good. They lack width and it worries me that Pochettino prefers to play through the middle when our strength has always been playing down the flanks; but he's changing the ethos, for good or bad. He's needs options, which might be why he sometimes looks like he doesn't have a Plan B. How can you when so many of the players bought in are similar?

I expect a concerted tilt at the Europa League if Spurs are no lower than 10th and are not in danger of being dragged down - 20 points is half way to safety, we're not in any trouble, yet. I don't believe the team are good enough to get past the quarter finals, but it creates a positive atmosphere and Gods that's been missing for a couple of years. If Spurs can avoid banana skins in the FA Cup, they could keep the fans reasonably happy by making a show of things they aren't good enough to win, at the moment. Time can be your friend; ask a Hammers fan at the moment and if they'd like Sam Allardyce gone?

I'm of the opinion that the opportunity has been missed and we really do need to rebuild and stick with one man's idea for at least a couple of seasons; you can't judge business plan before it's had a chance to see if it works and that's usually two years. I like the idea of a Spurs in 2016 that consists of 50% home grown talent and 50% quality players who are seriously challenging for honours, through hard graft and team work, not just because the owner can dip into his pocket and buy a fix - lads playing for the badge. Whether Mauricio Pochettino is the man, I don't know. I kind of hope he is, the club has a reasonably dignified history with Argentinians. 

Spurs fans and Daniel Levy have to give him two seasons - minimum.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

A Very Long and Winding Road

Over the last few weeks, right up until today, the much-maligned British summer time (deceased) clung on for dear life. October was unusual in that it allowed me to do something that I tend to feel is limited to the months of May to September (but never guaranteed) - sit in the garden and do some work.

We find the media obsess over heavy rain, excessive snowfall and high winds and when conditions are right - drought. The fact that October 31st was the warmest day in the UK for that day's history ever, probably should have garnered more comment; it was, after all, nearly 4 degrees warmer than the record and it was the warmest day in October - right at the very end of it. Pretty much as bizarre a weather event I've seen for a long time. No crashing and banging or human interest, so it pretty much got breezed over in favour of some shite Farage was spouting, no doubt.

The year before I got married - 1986 - was a weird summer; it was reminiscent of 2012, in that it was crap and this was highlighted by the fact the hottest day of the year - 30.6 degrees - was registered on October 1st. I always thought that was a strange one, especially as it fell a couple of weeks after the autumnal equinox; but 24 degrees six weeks after the sun shifts in its equinox deserves putting to memory.

The month following my mum's death in 1998 was another one of those anomalies. February 1998 recorded some of the highest temperatures for that month ever, with five days in the middle of the month averaging 18 degrees and I remember walking the dogs at the time, wearing my old check shirt and no coat or jacket.

It's terribly anal that I remember shit like this, but I've always been a weather bore and I function so much better when the ambient temperature is higher than 15 degrees. I was miserable in the winter even before I heard about such things as SADS; it was something that bugged my old man and I suppose I 'caught' it from him.

The irony is that my 'condition', the COPD prefers the weather when it's cooler and there's more air circulating, which is why I seem to de-age about 10 years whenever I go to the seaside (and why this preamble has meandered around like a drunken Geordie in the Big Market). And that is one of the reasons for this bit of boring weather lore...

2014 hasn't been a good year for my family and friends - deaths, cancer, debt, unemployment and many other travails have been inflicted on my little sphere of people and, of course, there's been my own summer of physical upheaval.

It started so brightly too...

I'd made my mind up long before I started to attend the COPD clinic that I was going to get myself fitter this year; that meant more exercise, more walking and ensuring that core muscles were toned to enable me to breath and function better. Last winter's lack of breath-taking (literally) cold days meant that I went into 2014 having not suffered a winter of bad colds and chest infections; yeah, I had bad days, but what are bad days when it's all about adjusting to new ways of living? Plus, my condition might kill me, there are people all around me fighting tougher battles. Some perspective and humility is the order of the day.

I abandoned the COPD clinic not because I was already considerably healthier than the octogenarians all attending, but because on July 1st I thought I'd dislocated my shoulder and the three weeks or so I figured it would take to heal meant the clinic would have run its course. The shoulder was the tip of an iceberg of shit that seemed to descend throughout the summer - some things make even nice weather immaterial.

With friends and family faltering around me, the wife really struggling to cope and so August was effectively a shut-down month for me - if my battered body could have got into a foetal position it would have, I'm sure. My business suffered; my personal life was in the toilet and I started smoking again... It was short-lived, but it was still a few weeks off the wagon and instead of the wife hating me for it, she took her ire out on others.

Sunshine is my God. It doesn't really matter if its freezing cold, if I can feel the sun on the back of my neck it tends to bring a smile to my face and October was good in that respect, because as long as the sun shone I got things done.

I finally decided at the start of October to go and see the doctor about my shoulder; it was three months and it was getting much worse; almost to the levels it was prior to my operation in 2009. It surely couldn't still be the after effects of the presumed dislocation. The doc didn't need an x-ray machine or MRI to know that the 'pop' we heard in the vet's wasn't my shoulder dislocating but a ruptured tendon (why is it called ruptured when it means detached?) and the upshot there was lots of physiotherapy until they decide that it isn't going to miraculously reattach and then I'll have an operation to sort it. In the current NHS climate I might get this done before I die.

Even with this hindrance, me and the wife managed to get lots of things done during October that made her feel better and no longer dreading Christmas as much as she was. It's still no where near perfect with uncertainty surrounding my brother's illness, my inability to identify appropriate Chinese printers and just everyone I know sitting around seemingly waiting for the next wave of shit to hit.

I was driving to the Leamington Spa comics convention on October 18 - a day that would have been memorable for its summer like temperatures had it not been consigned to just a mild day by Halloween's unusual heat - talking to Colin, my oldest friend and helper for the day. It was on this trip I told him about our plans, still very embryonic, but what we're aiming to achieve in the next THREE years.

During our week's holiday in Dumfries & Galloway at the start of September, we both realised that us and the rat race were coming to a head. I'd been sold on the idea of moving to Scotland 20 years ago, but we shelved the idea when we realised that the only way we'd be able to do it it was when we were old and would we really want to be in a more isolated place when our need for emergency services grew each extra year we lived?

Plus the idea originally seeded itself when I worked in comics and it seemed the ideal way of escaping. When we ventured back to D&G in 2012 (because it was free holiday accommodation and we needed a break), I never expected it to to have transformed as much as it had, but we were holidaying in a different part...

The wife and I, Roger and Barbara did west Dumfries in 1998 - the year mum died and we all agreed that even if the shadow of grief hadn't been hanging over us at times, it still would have been one of the worst holidays we'd ever had. we'd done west Wales in a monsoon; North-west Scotland at the start of its winter and Cornwall at its worst; all of these holidays urinated from a great height on our week in Ballantrae. The accommodation was grotty, the 'town' of Ballantrae was a bit like Corby's Kingsholme Estate-by-the-sea and, seriously, Robert Louis Stevenson must have seen the name on the map and thought it would make a good name for a smugglers' tale, because if he's gone there the story would have been called The Master of Someplace Else...

We vowed never to return and to be fair we've been back to D&G twice now and never gone anywhere near the desolation and despair that greets anyone venturing within 10 miles of Stranraer - a sink hole town and as salubrious as a bucket of cold sick (or at least that's what it was like 16 years ago, it might be the Cosmopolis of Southern Scotland now for all I know). We soon realised that everywhere has its own shit holes and we avoid them most of the time, so we can avoid them even easier when we're on holiday.

We both fell in love with this part of the country and our holiday in 2012 - a fantastic week when the rest of the country was wading around in wellies watching the Olympics - was made more intriguing when we met a woman from the East end who came up to Kirkcudbright (pronounced Ker-koo-bree) on holiday 30 years ago and never went back; she kind of inspired us.

We got back to Northampton and for two weeks we dreamt of moving there; but it was vague and general dreams, nothing specific. The rat race returned and the idea, like so many dreams, went on the back burner.

We went back this year and I was filled with trepidation; I don't know why because the week we had was possibly the best week the wife and I have had for a couple of years; but you know what they say about looking forward to things? The dread I felt was because I so desperately wanted to have a great week; as I wrote back in September, I wasn't disappointed in the slightest.

The subject of moving there was always close to the surface and Shortie was now looking in estate agent windows as much as she was looking at tourist knick-knacks and shortbread. On our last day, we went to our favourite pub, ate some great food and drank some excellent beer; we sat in the garden - rain had been forecast but it was warm and sunny; the barmaid said they pay as much attention to the weather forecast as they do Westminster politicians. We struck up a conversation with a couple from Newcastle who had up sticks and moved to a place called Bar Hill - literally the one jewel in our 1998 holiday - and bought a two bedroom cottage for £40k. Yes, your eyes didn't deceive you - forty grand.

Then we came home and I decided that as I know my wife extremely well the easiest thing to do would be to let her have all the ideas. Let her take the initiative - if this was her idea she'd be up for it.

We worked it out that at the current rate, if we sold our house for its market value we'd have something in the region of £100k in equity and for that kind of money you could buy something akin to a posh house; for £40k or £50k you could buy something that gave you a safety net.

Before you start pooh-poohing the idea, the wife spent a week looking up houses and the amount under £80k that you could literally move into tomorrow was astounding; the property market there is dead - houses are selling for £60k that sold for £80k in 2008. You don't buy property here for investment reasons, not unless you're brain dead. Because there is no 'real' work or careers up there, no one can afford to buy houses - unless they have some money behind them. Yet, there's load of jobs, if you want to work part time or seasonal and if you haven't got a mortgage...

There's a lot to be done and one of those things is me getting a part time job in the New Year. For Borderline Press to work and possibly be viable enough to move to a cottage in Scotland, it needs to make money, generate money and produce the 2015 schedule without the hiccups we had in 2014; that can be achieved better by me taking myself out of the equation and doing it part time; I mean it's not like it's a full time job even at the busiest of periods and some intelligent holiday booking will enable me to dodge any bullets.

The house we live in is in good nick, but needs cosmetic work doing to it to realise its potential and that needs money we haven't got, and I'm going to have to have another op on my shoulder - I'm a realist, that could take a lot longer now we have an NHS being primed for privatisation. Perhaps having it done in Scotland might end up being the best solution. We're not ready yet, but we have a goal now.

Unfortunately, because all my silver clouds tend to come with fully-formed black linings, I did my back in at the start of the week. The first cold day, I stood up wrong (I'm presuming) and twang my back went. Down the left hand side, which suggests the inactivity because of my shoulder has affected the rest of my back. A mate of mine said 'Well, you are a wreck generally', and I can't argue with him... I'm thinking that living down here has a detrimental effect on my health at the best of times and I kind of think if I need to be crocked, I'd rather be crocked in a picturesque place, near the sea and on the doorstep of a mycological cornucopia.


Effercio et Ineptias
  • It's all change at the Lithuanian house. For the last three months one of the two adults have had their parents living there - odd people, look totally out of place - anachronisms would be a good description. They disappeared at the weekend and have been replaced by the mother of the other - the infamous masturbating woman in the window - who disappeared about six months ago and is now back (and the phrase 'mutton dressed as lamb' is almost a compliment, because it's more like 'Old goat dressed as embryo' - women in their early 60s should not wear puffball skirts and low cut tops - there should be a law against it!). There is also a young couple staying there; where they are sleeping I have no idea, but there does seem to be a revolving door policy there (there is also a rumour circulating they are Albanians and not Lithuanians).
  • The road is being dug up (obliterated) by pipe layers and parking is at an absolute premium at the moment. I can see anger rising, especially as I am in a very unhelpful mood at the moment.
  • The new neighbours continue to be lovely, although Sam has been dicing with death by beating me at my one Internet game. As I explained to him, if he wants us to continue being friends and for me to be his Max safety net, he needs to ensure that he never beats me again. I was, of course, joking, but he's not been even close to beating me since. Good lad.
  • We're in for more changes; two families have moved out in the last week and have To Let signs up; but nothing - absolutely nothing - can beat this: Less than 8 months after Fishwife and Fat Lass moved out, the houses either side of their new place are up for sale. I mean, if you were looking at buying a house and the houses either side of one were both up for sale, you'd have to wonder if it was a coincidence or if perhaps the neighbours had grown tired of a constant 50 decibel commentary about poohing and chicken shit.
  • Fuckwit and The Purple Moose (her new nom de plume) continue to subvert the benefits system while living an increasingly curious existence. The wife reckons one of them might be working because they leave the house early every day. Me? I see far more sinister things - child slavery, goat porn, UKIP branch meetings, discount shopping...
  • ???
  • US TV worth watching: The Leftovers was great and bleak; it also had a scene in it I could not watch; I had to cover my eyes, it was that horrific!
    Resurrection is considerably better and weirder than you might expect and is one of those shows that you expect will end up being formulaic and dire and yet continually mucks about with your expectations. It is hard work at times though.
    The Walking Dead has been a revelation so far this season, with four top drawer episodes that have actually taken it to another level.
    Sleepy Hollow had a great first season, but with popularity has come some mediocrity - the main villain seems to have been de-creepified and the way the Headless Horseman has been 'developed' just adds unwanted baggage to what was a great show, but now is just average.
    There's also a load of rubbish that I have to admit to loving the first two episodes of... <scorpion>; It's a great show and I love it. It's the A Team meets Big Bang Theory, it's riddled with clich├ęs and stereotypes, is questionable in its source material and I just think it's great fun, even if no one else does.
  • The nectarine tree which almost died because of some late April frosts, now looks like it's been time-shifted from June to November or vice versa; everything else in the garden seems to have prepared for winter, yet odd fruit tree just sits there acting like its Spain. Weird.
  • The apricot is no longer. Bummer.
  • It's official - the UK has shite potatoes now and no one (except a dodgy company) sells decent spuds any more. It's all your fault for wanting uniform dullness in your shopping bags!
  • There are less than 8 weeks left of this year, therefore if you haven't let me down yet there's still time! There are a few people out there who as yet haven't; but there's also 8 weeks for repeat offenders to have another go.

    Saturday, October 04, 2014

    The Annual Mushroom Report

    This is a Charcoal Burner, a purple
    (but sometimes green or even brown) russula
    which is also quite edible. Avoid red and pink ones.
    It was forecast. This autumn would be exceptionally good for mushrooms. Experts, mycologists and foragers have been saying this since July and despite nearly 20 years a forager and amateur mycologist, I really don’t understand why. Apparently it’s all down to the weather and that’s what has confused me. My most bountiful forays have been following rain, in damp and mild slightly autumnal conditions. These have been as early as June and as late as the clocks going back. We’ve had a succession of dry autumns, stretching back to the late 1990s – September; mid-season really; has been more like August for more than 10 of the last 18 years.

    Wood mushrooms with dog in background.
    Years where we’ve had plenty of rain have yielded little; years when we’ve had a lot of dry weather have also been the same; in fact, my enthusiasm for mushroom hunting has waned over the last few years despite going to all the usual haunts. It had a going through the motions feel and four six of the last 10 years I have had nothing to dry out for the winter. This also coincided with my interest in collecting mushrooms via photography; all those fantastic shrooms that you can’t eat but look fabulous.

    Horse mushrooms will also grown
    near woods just to confuse the issue
    A perfect example of a Horse mushroom and how it can
    vary from places it grows; Notice how it has a yellow tinge?
    However, this doesn't stain yellow and smells of aniseed.
    This year, the first mushroom – a wood mushroom – appeared in August. Odd buggers, look just like their counterparts – the horse mushroom – but have a ring around the stalk and for some reason never taste anything like the horse, which is one of the prizes of the season, but has been conspicuous by its absence for a few years. Wood mushrooms are the poor relation of the agaricus family (the one most closely related to the shop staple) and grow in or near the Yellow Stainer – called so because if you run your thumb across it it stains a vivid – and I mean vivid – yellow; almost fake. These give you the shits and probably the vomits too. A caveat to this is the fact the wood mushroom is pretty much as white as snow and smells of aniseed; the horse mushroom can go a yellowish tint, but as part of its aging process rather than through marking it and the tint is more like a creamy yellow than a citrus one. Also the Stainer smells strongly of carbolic and kind of dissolves into a yellowish grey mush when you fry them.

    One of the largest fruiting bodies - the Dryad's Saddle
    That was really about it and despite reports in the paper confirming the forecast, my usual haunts were as dry as a bone and unlikely to yield much more than a grass fire. Brackets started appearing and in a big way. A monstrous Dryad’s Saddle was found up in a copse of woods near Moulton Park and I found Chicken of the Woods – fresh and new – for the first time in ages. This is pretty much the easiest mushroom in the world to identify. It grows on trunks of trees – chestnut, cherry, apple, oak, ash and a few others. It is bright yellow and looks either like someone has attempted to fill a hole in the tree up with bright yellow Styrofoam or like fans of bright yellow, possibly ornage, structures that can be as big as five feet. It’s a vegetarian’s dream mushroom. Young and fresh it is like a standard shroom, but with a bit more bite and a couple of days old and it looks and acts like a really healthy alternative to quorn chunks – it absorbs flavour, imparts its own and is as versatile as, well, chicken. It’s difficult to mistake.

    Chicken of the Woods - can be bright yellow
    As is the Beefsteak fungus, also grows on trees, looks like someone has pinned someone’s liver to a tree – seriously. It acts like a lump of offal, has a slightly metallic taste (if not cooked properly) and I haven’t seen one this year; but I’ve seen all manner of birch polypors, horse hoof fungus and a whole bunch of things I’ve never seen before.

    Shaggy parasols give some people wind
    Then Scotland came along; at the end of August and three days before we went there it had been raining. The night before we went into the Galloway Forest Park it also tipped it down. I was armed with my knife, but I expected little – my expectations have been lowered, as I hinted at above.

    A Parasol mushroom - pretty distinct
    and quite sublime to eat
    Once upon a time, for a few seconds, every so often, I would harbour the ambition of becoming a full-time professional wild mushroom picker; but research has led me to discover that this is a small and very closed shop and is unbelievably self-regulated. If you took a perfect specimen of a cep, or a morel, or a Piedmont Truffle (which apparently do grow here), a selection of the best eating and drying mushrooms you can find and showed this all to a top chef, he would salivate, he would agonise, he would look lovingly at the specimens, he might even want to buy them; but he doesn’t know you; he doesn’t know how regular you will be; how much you will scrutinise your pick, because even clever sods like me get fooled (and the lesson there is always ‘if in doubt, don’t.’) and unlike say blackberries or heritage apples, these babies can kill or poison you. Law suits would be bandied about like confetti.

    One of the real prizes - a cep or penny bun
    (photographed by me, this year, in Scotland)
    However, walking into this tiny fraction of forest near Newton Stewart, was like my first trip into a comicbook shop or a trip of dreams. You couldn’t look for seeing them; they were everywhere – edible ones, poisonous ones, ones I’d only ever seen in books in a landscape that was almost surreal. It was a place you could understand would make people uneasy – it was like Christmas for me. I couldn’t be all the places at once and I was aware I had a wife and four dogs with me, so I just walked along, snapping some, picking others; doing something I rarely do in Northants – becoming choosy about what I picked.

    The Beechwood Sickener - it's not edible!
    A couple of weeks ago, someone asked me if I had any idea of what the percentage of edible mushrooms to poisonous ones was. That would be impossible to answer even at the end of a season, because you simply have no idea. I heard a mycologist suggest that less than 1% of all mushrooms are seen by humans; but equally, I’ve always been told that mushrooms tend to grow along paths – human or animal – and not in the deepest and darkest depths as you might imagine. On the evidence given by this patch of Galloway forest, mushrooms grow everywhere.

    Poisonous or hallucinogenic? Fly agaric - the reindeer's fave 
    As for specifics: boletes, aminitas, lecinum, suillus, lactarius, russulas, there literally was everything; well, almost everything that would grow in these conditions. You’re just as likely to find boletes growing out in meadows and under oak trees, but you’re unlikely to find something like a chanterelle or hedgehog fungus anywhere other than northerly forests and I saw evidence of the former, but nothing worth keeping. It should be noted that humans are not the only animal to eat mushrooms, but we are the most susceptible to the poisons. A slug will happily munch its way through most of the poisonous aminitas (death cap, fly agaric), as will squirrels, deer, badgers, foxes – anything omnivorous or vegetarian will have a nibble on a shroom.

    In one part of Glentrool, we found an area the size of several parking spaces, just covered in fly agaric – that red mushroom with the white flecks on the cap; the ones that Laplanders feed to their reindeer…

    Cortinarius purpurescans - edible,
    but, you know, so is dog shit...
    This is an aminita - it's probably 'The Blusher' one of the
    few edible varieties, but like the cortinarius above,
    there's a lot of 'edible' things...
    I estimated that there was maybe £3000 worth of prize edible mushrooms in the tiny bit of forest we visited; the problem is mushrooms and their growing isn’t anything like a fine art. The top mycologists and hunters will not and cannot tell you when something will grow until there’s evidence of it growing. In many ways it isn’t an exact science and it also varies from different parts of the country. Scotland was awash with them, but 300 miles south, with bone dry soul and warm temperatures and the pickings have been slim. A couple of my usual haunts had evidence of Saffron Milk Cap, the only edible and easily identifiable of the mainly unpleasant lactarius family and cortinarius – not at all common – especially the purpurescens, which is reported to be edible as well as bright purple. I’ve never fancied it. 

    One of many 'jelly fungus'
    grows in dark woods and glades
    In Northants there is very much evidence of mushrooms, but there is also evidence of how you can never tell when they might appear. The decaying Saffron Milk Caps probably appeared within a day or two of my last visit to their location; they are a long lasting mushroom and can be a fruiting body for up to a week before they start to break down. Plus, if something is ready to ‘bloom’ I don’t think it matters what the weather conditions are like – it might help improve the overall quality or size, but if it needs out, it will out.
    This is a Silver Birch Bolete -
    it is edible, but so is snot

    In the two weeks or so since returning from Scotland, I’ve seen nothing to suggest a bumper season; in fact, there’s nothing but the remains of what was possibly a short-lived burst around the end of August. 

    Not a great example, but if you ever see a shroom
    that is yellow and plum coloured, it's called,
    colloquially 'plums & custard' - it gives you the shits.
    Two things this autumn has seen – the appearance of rarities and the disappearance of the usual suspects. On the bright side, there have hardly been any lepiotas (parasols) so far (so I remain optimistic about that) and any hopes for a burst of agaricus activity before long is down to how long before the first serious frost and we probably need some rain. The problem now is the rain is on the way, but the season is almost over and the first serious frosts will kill most of the late summer, early autumn mushrooms off. The forecast is for some wet and then cooler weather; there might be a twist in the end of this summer's mushroom season, or there might be another damp squib. We shall see.

    Monday, September 29, 2014

    Album Review - the new North Atlantic Oscillation album

    The Third Day by North Atlantic Oscillation (Kscope)

    The arrival of The Fog Electric elevated NAO up there with my favourite bands. Grappling Hooks was a good debut, but it only hinted at the brilliance to come. The final track on the debut album, Ritual, became one of my favourite songs of all time and whet my appetite for future recordings; I must have liked the album, I bought it.

    The follow-up, also with a slightly nautical theme, was a delicate blend of ambience, rock and harmonies likened to Grandaddy and the Flaming Lips, but I saw them as an eloquent purveyor of their influences – Beach Boys merged effortlessly with Sugar, but with so much more than just a band to label by its inspirations. Each song was a thing of beauty, understated and poignant. The Fog Electric became one of my favourite albums of all time and Mirador joined Ritual on a growing list of great songs.

    My biggest complaint with both albums was that they were too short. I wanted more and unlike some of their contemporaries, these guys were not going to pump stuff out for the sake of it. That’s why I like to think of NAO albums as bespoke pieces of work, designed to be an entire thing and not just a collection of songs – hence why they have many ‘bridging’ tracks. Sounds to savour and songs to last a long time – my label, not theirs. And that’s why I like this band; time and trend isn’t a factor with them; they do what they think is right and by God have they got it right!

    Then came Sand – Sam Healy’s solo project; except, you know, he’s the voice of NAO, so his solo album was drenched in sumptuous vocals, twisting songs and bags of influences you do and don’t see on his band’s stuff. Sand is possibly the best album I’ve heard in the 21st century. I’ve said this since it came out and some albums wane with the passage of time, but after purposefully not playing the album for a couple of months, I dug it out to again whet my appetite for The Third Day. Sand has stood the test of a short time at least; it still has me acting like it’s the first time I’ve heard it.

    NAO have done some cover versions; their first being I Only Have Eyes For You is a song from 1934 by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, it was made famous in the last 30 years by the Art Garfunkle cover, which I think, without checking, came from his Bright Eyes album, which made him more money than anything else he did after Paul Simon went solo. You can see in Healy’s voice that there are similarities with Garfunkel’s velvet tones, but with One Good Reason, a cover of a Bob Mould solo track, you can see why Mould has been a huge influence on NAO. They can do silky smooth and gutsy neo-grunge and it’s all got an ethereal quality.

    The latest cover is Sisters of Mercy, the give away for people who pre-ordered The Third Day. It came with August, the single from the new album. August sets the scene brilliantly; from the moment I heard its on-rushing opening and the 60s merged with the 2010s I knew my wait was almost over. But Sisters of Mercy, a gentle song, which perfectly shows that this band have no convention; they don’t play by the rules; they do things their way and their way is a thing of beauty – Sisters of Mercy warrants a place on the album.

    So, The Third Day...

    I hated it. I put the advanced stream on ( the moment it went live and was worried. Where was the immediacy? Where were the heavenly tunes? Why did the first track sound like Phil Collins?

    Except... As the album crept out of the speakers, I started to hear things. I was listening for familiarity; I was searching for NAO. They warned this would be different; I expected something different from what I got. Then it started to click. Oh, did it start.

    Ten plays later...

    There are stand-out tracks; like all their albums, solo or as a band, there are songs that immediately hook you in; if prog had a band that understood the sensibilities of a good pop song, this is them. Yet, it’s a track drenched in Scott Walker and again that Garfunkle fellow, A Nice Little Place that is the first song to grab you and make your knees go wobbly and that shiver down your spine. It’s just a thing of haunting beauty and falls halfway through the album. Then other tracks started to shine; I started to notice all manner of odd things, orchestras possibly, a distinct lack of anything like a heavy bass, subtlety is something these guys have many shares in. A gentle swing met with whirling crescendos – a moment of quiet met by an onrushing storm. The sea is in their bones and you can’t help wondering if they sit and watch the rhythm of the ocean, to get inspiration, to craft the way some of their sounds, like the tide, catch you unawares.

    Drums, organs and synths, noodling guitars mixed with a understated thrashing – this borders more on post rock pop than anything else. I’m of the opinion that calling this band prog is totally wrong; progressive yes, but you can never pigeonhole this band with some of the dross currently masquerading as ‘prog’.

    Anyhow, more gushing. The album opens with Great Plains II and as I said my first impression was they were channelling Phil Collins during his Hugh Padgham-produced days, but the song is more than just its opening notes, as Elsewhere proves conclusively; it’s not so much a song as a bunch of pieces of music strung together – it follows no convention and yet it works totally.

    The tracks do tend to merge into each other for the first part and Do Something Useful slides into view very quietly and then bounces into a drums and synth hook that has you smiling and then the harmonies... oh the harmonies. I judge music by the amount of shivers it gives me and the shiver quota I get from NAO product is exponentially higher than any other band I can remember. The thing about Do Something Useful is it’s probably the most prog song on the album; odd time signatures, and a drum pattern that actually sounds like it belongs to another song, but fits in; and then it becomes the Velvet Underground...

    If I had a weak track to choose (at the moment), it would probably be Wires, but saying that, it’s probably the best song on the album to drive to and it reminds me a little of Porcupine Tree, more in the way its constructed. Healy’s vocal are both ethereal and gruff, showing that he has a good range. It’s a strange track, because it feels almost on the wrong album, which is probably why I think of it as weak, but it leads into A Nice Little Place and that, with its gothic 1920s build up and mesmerising lyrics. The moment Sam sings, ‘It reminds me of a broken sun dial’ you can’t help but fall in love with this song, clarinets and all. It’s possibly the most brilliantly constructed piece of music this band has ever done. This is worth the admission price alone and it’s less than 3 minutes long.

    Penrose is a jaunty little instrumental. It starts off with a simple drum-machine beat, is then joined by a snare and then a bippy-boppy keyboard. It’s actually quite a slight song and it builds up into something of a marching song, new instruments being added to the wall of sound and is a great little bit of music. Nice little twists – the kind of music you could see being used in an advert or film.

    One thing I noticed about the Sand album was the great ending it had – the final three tracks really make that album into something more than just great. The Third Day does the same and perhaps the reason for Penrose is to wrong-foot you, because Pines of Eden, Dust and When to Stop combine to create a finale to perfectly compliment the 7 songs that come before them.

    Pines of Eden is a monster; no crashing or banging; a simple song, constructed like a mini-opus that does the shivers down the spine thing again in spades, especially during all the little mini-crescendos. The thing is, the songs aren’t simple – they are wonderful art installations. Yes, the melodies are simple, but they’re combined in such a unique way that I’m of the opinion that NAO are as important to 21st Century music as Talk Talk was to the creation of Post Rock in the late 1980s. There is nothing quite like NAO out there, for all the comparisons and Pines of Eden is the perfect example.

    Dust is a intricate construction song; it starts with a deep rhythm and Healy’s haunting voice and just builds and builds, like a snowball on a slope and then takes itself in a completely different direction while keeping the same melody. It darts about like a demented dog, yet never loses its focus. 7½ minutes of very clever song and one to get the prog fans chin stroking.

    When To Stop is the appropriately titled final track and it’s essentially the title track. You’d imagine they’d go for something bombastic and big, because they’re a rock band, but this is almost folky in its structure and for the first couple of minutes you’re actually fooled into thinking this is going to be a nice pleasant and soft ending. Then something happens. From about 2 minutes the song becomes Phil Spector meets whale song with Brian Wilson on harmonies. The way the key changes come into play actually gives me an emotional response; it’s pretty much the most unexpected and perfect ending to an album I’ve heard in decades

    Apparently this band is better live than they are on CD; I had the chance to find that out a few years ago and opted for beer instead. In October I’ll get the chance to see if their songs can be done better; as for The Third Day; my gut instinct tells me this is it, this is the best thing this band has ever done and if they continue to grow at the rate they have I can die a happy man, because I’ll know there’s more to come.


    Monday, September 08, 2014

    That There Scotland

    Evidence that I pick up dog shit, even on a beach

    During my week in Scotland, I kept a diary...

    Day 1:

    A lot of the summer has been spent trying to get my head around my mental state. Many things have happened, that I could talk about but haven't and won't (friends and family understand why) that have impacted on other areas of life; with the most obvious being the almost seemingly endless delay to my good friend Terry Wiley's graphic novel over in my professional capacity as 'go-getting new publisher'... As hinted at, it's been family and friends rather than anything else that has intruded upon normal shit.

    I've been in Scotland about 30 hours and I already feel like I'm home, again. I was almost restless today because I was eager to go and do nothing in different places. I wanted to revisit places where I'd done nothing two years ago, except sit and stare into the beautiful oblivion... doing nothing.

    Jesus, I needed a holiday and if it had only been today I wouldn't have picked a much better day for it. Two years ago, we met an 'ex-pat' from the East End, she said in 30 years she'd lived there the weather forecast had been right about 10% of the time and it tended to be more like the south coast of England than the south coast of Scotland. Today was a perfect example of that; 20 degrees might not sound much, but out of the wind, on a deserted beach, it's just about perfect. Monreith, or specifically Back Bay, is pretty much my idea of heaven on a perfect late summer's day like August 31st was.

    I am convinced that this part of the country is one of the best kept secrets in the UK and frankly I've said enough about this obviously shit place that looks like Wisbech on a stagnant canal with dead badgers and 400 million cubic tons of plastic waste, littered with nuclear power plants, radioactive deer and psychopathic children with chainsaws, to know a dodgy place when I see one. Shit, this place is so dangerous I'm not sure I'll make it home with all my limbs in place, there are locals counting my teeth as I type this. Therefore, you, your friends, their friends and their friends' friends should avoid this place like it is a zombie apocalypse site - which, to be fair, it is.

    While dodging the undead, I paddled in the sea and. Got. Swept. Away...

    Day 2:

    Did I capture a planet?
    The night we got here the sky was full of stars. I mean, unbelievably full of stars - you could see the Milky Way (or Mulky Wee as it is known here) as clearly as you can see Katie Price has had boob enhancements. Today saw the mycological equivalent of the stars - a forest so strewn with a cornucopia of mushrooms and thus enhancing my holiday so much I'm surprised I'm not in a permanent state of priapic discomfort.

    Newton Stewart is the closest town to Blackcraig - not a West Indian of Glaswegian descent but a forest that heralds the start of the Galloway Forest Park. Mother of gods it is one of the most beautiful places you will ever see...
    Or maybe it was a comet?

    The rain that fell over night seemed to give everything a fresher feel and as a result just about every photo I took, every direction I looked, every step I took - there were mushrooms. It awakened ideas in me that I haven't had for many years. I estimated in one hour, I found enough edible boletus (ceps and bay boletes) to get top quality restaurants salivating over the contents of my basket. I reckon I saw nearly £1000 worth of fungal gold up there in one section of woods alone and that section of woods represented less than 1% of the entire Galloway Forest Park!

    The skies in Scotland ignited my desire to
    learn how to take this kind of photography
    But, of course, the woodland is running alive with decaying zombie corpses and mutant children running amok on the landscape, you must all be glad you're not me (more than usually).

    Day 3:

    I think today was one of those 'plans go awry' days, but, fortunately, not in such a bad way. We headed down to Back Bay - the best and most deserted (radioactive) beach in the world, spent two hours there searching caves and coves and meeting a woman from Cumbernauld who had been to where our afternoon soiree was to be. "Och, it's full of sheep and you have to walk along the edge of the cliffs..." Therefore the dogs and the wife were unlikely to be unleashed on this small excursion and I would not get an unexpected revisit to the Steam Packet Inn.

    So we decided to head to Newton Stewart and discovered road closures and roadworks everywhere making our plans go further awry. In many respects today was the day we needed to chill on and circumstances made it so.

    Plus the forecast wall-to-wall sunshine didn't materialise until nearly 4pm.

    In 2012, there were at least three
    accessible caves at Back Bay. Two
    years later and there is only one
    and gaining access is a chore... 
    One thing did 'happen' which was a wee bit odd. Two years ago, I took a lot of photos of the interior of a cave on Back Bay's wall of impressive rocks. It isn't there anymore...

    Don't get me wrong, today has been a good day. However I have had my opinions, the first one was our ignorance towards cultural and religious peculiarities. Highlighted this week by the Ashya King business and the CPS and various others butting their noses in where they weren't required. Eventually, I hope the family can sue as many people as they can  (and I think JWs are a scourge).

    The other thing is the invasion of the cloud and the stealing of rude pictures. Can I say 'storm in a D cup'? Probably not, but the point is and I'll argue with whoever fancies it (Hadley fucking rubbish writer Freeman in the Guardian for starters) DON'T KEEP PICTURES YOU DON'T WANT THE WORLD TO SEE IN A PLACE THAT CAN BE HACKED OR STOLEN! Or as the guy on Richard Bacon's show said, "Use Polaroids, keep them in your house," which was met by universal derision by everyone on Bacon's show who was under 50.

    Jennifer Lawrence claims she will never appear topless in a film; well, she's done some pretty pornographic selfies that leads the prude in me to ask ... why?

    I don't a shit about all the benefits of the Cloud, if it can be hacked or hijacked then don't keep anything there you might regret. Simple really.

    Day 4:

    The big day out. Well... more of a day out than had been had so far. We did the Kirkcudbright area - possibly one of the most picturesque parts of this 'radioactive wasteland of Picts and demons...

    Kirkcudbright or Kur-Koo-Bree as the locals call it, is the Beverly Hills of the Solway Firth. House prices are more expensive here (ish) and the area is surrounded by coves, beaches, woods, hills and ex-pats. From there we went all Rastrick... Brighouse Bay is long and thin - oo-er missus - and sandy and almost completely deserted - like most other beaches. Do the Scots have an aversion to seawater?

    The pub was closed. Borgue (pronounced, presumably, Borg) did not assimilate us in any way; nice place, seemed to shut on September 1st, almost a month before anyone else.

    As there are no usable roads in Scotland, everyone
    travels on beaches in horse-drawn buggies
    The Gatehouse of Fleet is another one of those ... ahem... 7 stages of hell places; it's vile, nasty and full of pubs run by mad Spaniards, shit-filled walks, insipid ice cream and uzi-wielding local grannies and if there was a decent house here I'd only consider buying it if I was convinced I'd convinced all of you of how horrid this entire country is. Give Scotland their independence I say, then cut it off and tow it out into the Atlantic.

    Five days into this holiday and I feel great. I had an asthma attack last night that lasted seconds rather than minutes and while my legs ache (from all the walking) and my back (from all the shagging and poor beds) is screaming at me there's nout much else to complain about; oh and gods, my feet are in good nick again - all that seawater and sand.

    And I met a man in a churchyard with a bag of limes; he was eating one...

    Day 5:

    The penultimate day and a day of revisiting things and searching out the house that the wife has fallen in love with... Except, the best laid plans and all that. We decided to go back to Back Bay as I wanted to find the missing cave and the wife wanted to take the wee hoonds down to the sea for the last time this week.

    The tide was in. Well, in reality it was going out, but it goes out at the rate of about 1 foot every minute and as the place I wanted to go to was about 300 feet away ...

    Instead we ended up spending a lot of time talking to the hordes of tourists that were there - a couple from Alnwick and the mid-wife lady from Cumbernauld and her hubby. All the dogs - 8 of them - got on well and the sun came out, the wind died down and by 11am the temperature was up to 20 again. We all agreed that independence might be a disaster and the two Englishmen agreed it would be interesting from a politically anthropological POV; Scots hubby, I think, wasn't that deeply into it.

    The Isle of Whithorn - glows green at night when
    the night creatures come out and steal all the fish...
    From there we went back to Isle of Whithorn to a disgusting pub in a smelly location and not at all extraordinary except in its awfulness and mutated fisherman-banshee hybrids. Drank more locally brewed ale, chatted to people and met a miserable Englishman on holiday who was disappointed that the place wasn't in the slightest bit 21st century. Hey, it's a bit like how I imagine 1950 (with 2014 prices) would be.

    From there we went to Whithorn. Past memories were not wrong and seriously, if you want to experience everything that is ... ... good about this part of Scotland, book a week's holiday there and then allow your car to be stolen. No, honestly, Whithorn is the turd in the peninsula's massive jewel of wonderfulness. It's a grubby, grey and dead looking place and up to this point the least salubrious place we've been through was Kirkinner and that was because the pub looked like it belonged in Glasgee, but this village is still considerably nicer than Whithorn. Architecturally, the 'town' is quite remarkable and the road layout is worth seeing, but the quicker you get out the less time the three-headed sabretooth children have to ... no, no, no. Honest, Whithorn is worth missing.

    Then back home to base; the wife went book shopping and checked out the local church, I cooked a curry and planned our final day. Tomorrow is return to the best day we had two years ago. House O' the Hill is a wonderful pub on the outskirts of Bargrennan and on the road to Glentrool. There is rain forecast tomorrow, so the woods will be interesting and I hope to find more mushrooms - but, you know, if I don't it won't be the end of the world. Then after lunch at the pub, we're heading back to the Wood of Cree for an hour there in the woods and waterfalls.

    Day 6:

    Our final day was pretty much everything we hoped for. Superb food at the pub - House O' Hill in Bargrennan, which also had good local beer. The woods and loch was as spectacular and this time we found a magnificent house that we were less than 100 feet away from last time we came here and didn't see.

    vegetable croquets with a goat cheese sprinkled salad,
    with a pint of IPA from an Ayr brewer, at the House O' Hill
    on the Glen Trool road near Bargrennan - the best pub I have
    found in Scotland, bar none.
    We stopped off at the otter pool on the way back to Newton Stewart; I found a couple of monster boletus and fell in love with the entire area all over again...

    The journey home was pretty much uneventful. It took a tad over 5½ hours and that included a 15 minute stop at Teebay services in the Lake District.

    And then home and grinding of teeth and gnashing of jaws at fuckwit drivers, impatient arseholes and a growing desire to find a home and a job in this god-forsaken hell-hole. Apparently there is a demand for social care workers in Dumfries and should I decide to call an end to this publishing lark then that's where I'll lay my hat. I also think I'll increase my life expectancy by five years, even if I get eaten alive by sabre-tooth midges...

    Now, before I get back to the bump and grind, a final word from the happiest animal on the face of the planet last week...

    I promised her we'd move there before she couldn't appreciate it anymore...

    Sunday, August 10, 2014

    General Summer Musings

    Roger and I sat in the pub a few weeks ago and discussed doing a sports blog about the aftermath of the World Cup; sadly, outside of creating two new FIFA initiatives: The Best Dressed Goalkeeper Award and the World Challenge Trophy (not Cup, trophies aren't as prestigious) we didn't come up with much. 

    This new WCT would be a competition entirely for the 16 teams that get eliminated at the group stage of the World Cup. They will go into a new competition where they are split into four groups of four and play each other once until the winners and runners up of these groups qualify for the first knock-out stage. The 8 teams left then are joined by the 8 losing teams from the 1st Knock-out stage of the actual proper World Cup, who then split into a further four groups of four and the winners and runners up of those then enter a draw with the losing Quarter, Semi and Finalists from the actual World Cup, plus one Wild Card entry (probably Barcelona) in a knock-out competition. 

    The winner of this Trophy (remember trophies are not as good as cups) will then play yer actual World Cup winners, in Qatar, during June, at midday. However, even if the winners of the World Challenge Trophy win this play-off, they won’t be classed as better than the winners of yer actual World Cup; who then go onto play the winners of the Universe Cup… which as we all know is usually played between all planets that aren't gaseous giants. 

    This was one of the more lucid conversations we have.

    It seems we might be witnessing the death knell of one of our favourite haunts. We have been using Pooja, the vegetarian Indian restaurant in Wellingborough for well over 10 years and despite question marks over service, hygiene, illegal immigration statuses and language, the standard of the food has never really dropped. Yes, occasionally you’ll get not so good food, but even chefs have to have holidays. However, the last couple of times we've been there I haven’t been impressed with the food, the service or the general feel of the place – despite a lot of these things never having been that good to start with. We went there last week and I fear it may have been the last time. Everything was … not right. The food was adequate; the service inadequate and the level of understanding between us (seasoned Pooja aficionados) and the waiter was wholly inadequate – our starters arrived followed promptly by our mains - yes, all at the same time. Not good and likely to be the final nail in its coffin.

    I was tempted to have something with potatoes and went for a dosa - it was disappointing; i could have done better with the right tools. Speaking of right tools...

    My potato experiment yielded probably the same amount of spuds as my standard year would – not brilliant, but free and at least a month of divine chips and roasts. The quality of these potatoes is pretty fantastic and it makes me want to send a bunch of photographic, videoed and written testimonials to the ‘heritage potato specialists’ Carroll's, where we originally got the spuds from. Back at Christmas, we bought 25kg of Mayan Gold potatoes for our Christmas spud treat (yeah, I know, sad) and they were bloody awful and barely usable. I ended up dumping most of the box in the shed and by February they had pretty much turned into seed potatoes, so I planted most of them. I now feel as though I got my money’s worth. Oh and the chips really are to die for.

    What’s been happening in the road now that Fishwife has disappeared?

    I feel the new neighbours don’t deserve nicknames, although Sam is ‘funny man’ to me. This is because he’s actually a very funny bloke (honest), even with the comedy moustache… We've pretty much hit it off with them, but I can’t help feeling we've become something like surrogate ‘parents’ – looking after the dog, being invited round for food and generally acting with these neighbours in a way we've never really interacted with them before, but also imparting the kind of wisdom that has allowed us to be relatively comfortable in our home ownership. It’s also good to make new, young, friends, it makes me feel less old first thing in the morning when I look at myself in the mirror and think I'm looking like some old bit of weathered leather.

    However, this morning I woke up with a teenager’s spot on the end of my nose! How? I mean, I have a big hooter, but big yellow blobs surrounded by angry skin is something you see on a boy of 15 not a 52-year-old man. It’s gone, but it’s still … there and visible and I'm quite vain about that kind of thing…

    I am growing increasingly agitated by Fuckwit's deception of the DWP and as their neighbour I’m oddly privy to things that normally I wouldn't be; like for instance last week when he was charging around like a 20 year-old in the morning, came waltzing down their garden, while I was out here on the laptop, and was stopped and told by Fat Lady she was not alone in the garden – their personal gardener was doing some work – suddenly he’s walking like he needs a fucking zimmer frame and acting like the 30 foot journey had just about killed him. When the gardener was gone, he was back to normal and that is just lazy deception and it should be found out.

    The new people across the road appear to building an extra world and I've been reliably informed that the Lithuanian family, next to them, also have some kind of expansive summer house out back. The work going on at the two houses seems never ending – hot tubs, bricks, cement, fence panels. I also noticed that the woman formerly known vaguely as the Sexually-Explicit woman appear to have a job that involves her wearing expensive evening gowns, low-slung dresses and a general sexiness that loses its impact the closer you get to looking at her face in any detail; and she rolls back between 7 and 8:00am and pretty much disappears until the early afternoon. Casino worker? Hostess? On the game? I'm such a sexist…

    We've had about four new families move in around the vicinity in the last few months and I'm losing track of everything – the street is changing and becoming a young and energetic place with kids and stuff.

    Watched Godzilla tonight and was impressed with it to the point of ‘would watch again’. I'm probably influenced by the fact I think Monsters is the best film I've seen in the 21st century and that was directed by the same person.

    I discovered I had WiFi. All I had to do was switch it on. My phone bill appreciates it; the wife has started to use the laptop (mainly to enter competitions). I suggested to her that before long she'd have a Facebook account and would be posting cute animal pictures. She called me a cunt and tried to knife me...

    I realised recently why very old people actually like the sound of death.

    On October 18th it will be 25 years to the day since I opened Squonk!! It has been suggested that I do some kind of reunion or get together. However, I am actually working - at a comics convention - that day, so if some kind of Squonk party was planned it would have to be on another day. The thing is I've been looking at the number of people from those days that I have had some contact with in recent months (and the fact that others are regulars at the Northampton comic shop) and it would seem that this is an idea that appeals not just to me. So, if you were an ex-Squonk person and have had no reason really to get in contact; do it now - let's explore the possibility of a bunch of comics and ex-comics fans having a piss-up and talking about Mr Fantastic's bizarre sex life with the Invisible Woman - it makes hide the sausage something completely different!

    This has been written over the space of 19 days between July 22 and August 10.

    Friday, June 20, 2014


    I haven't had a bad year so far, but it could have been better...

    Compared to last year, this year has been a cake walk. However, in many respects it has been hell.

    Enigmatic to the point of contradiction; that's me.

    I talk about my health a lot, or I did when I wrote this blog like 'The Diary of a Curmudgeonly Hypochondriac'  and then Borderline Press came along and out went my ability to write myself into oblivion. I sometimes sit and think how did I manage to churn out two blogs a week on average?

    My health is an issue again at the moment. I had a moment about a week ago when I felt as good as I did during the summer of last year. Warm sunny weather has a habit of rejuvenating me to the point of an almost bi-polar scale. I was breathing okay; I had no real aches and pains (they have, as the doctor said, contrarily dissipated as I've gotten older, plus I don't think I have any more discs I can slip - he says frantically searching for a piece of wood to touch) and a 5km walk with the dogs was a piece of piss (not for Lexy however, but we'll get to her).

    I am enrolled in COPD Exercise Group. At 52, I am the youngest there by a decade and the bastards are making me work harder. It's odd; in many ways it might have contributed to my current malaise, because it's a bit like sitting in a room with 20 people who could all be my mother. The group do exercises to help prepare us to deal with our breathlessness in a better way. As the chief person running it said to me, "Ah, you're the fit one; we're going to work you harder." I'm doing it for educational reasons and to learn to breathe at the right times. It sounds stupid and it is, but I smoked for 30 odd years and for most of them without filters and with copious amounts of illegal things in them. I'm pretty sure I fucked up my brains as well as my body.

    I kind of wear my COPD as a badge - not overtly, but it sits there as an excuse for many things. It isn't the (general term) illness more the I have a chronic illness - LOOK! I also use it as a hairshirt.

    One of the symptoms of COPD they don't tell you about straight away is the propensity for depression. People become more vulnerable to it and I have had an unopened box of Citalopram sitting on the microwave oven for 9 months, because for the last 12 months I have been the COPD equivalent of bi-polar. Up and down like the Assyrian Empire, that's me. The reason it is unopened is because I feel as though I have it in me to beat it myself and the problem with this type of depression is it tends to be linked almost directly to how you feel on a specific day and how much the related symptoms are 'playing up'. I yawn a lot. Not because life bores me, but because I feel crappy and tired. This tends to be the trigger for me - incessant yawning. Then it goes away and I still feel ... worthless.

    One of the nurses at the COPD thing chatted to me about seeing a shrink (they do with everyone there), mainly because my issue appears to be complete and utter self-loathing. I fucking hate myself for being so fucking stupid for so fucking long and fucking up what could have been a better life (for me and the wife). My mini obsession with time has come full circle and now I don't think about the way life is drifting away, but all the months I've wasted.

    It has manifested itself in a variety of ways. I almost scared off my new Commercial Manager because he seemed to be on the receiving end of my ire, frustration and lack of patience. I have neglected my Borderline Press duties, especially over the last few days while I have been very low...

    The other thing about me is, especially amongst those who know me personally, I rarely seem down in company. The 'life and soul' gene always manages to resurface and I can be Mr Happy at a pub quiz or out for a beer with Roger or One El. Meet me while I'm walking the dogs and you'd think I was on happy pills - but to be fair, walking the dogs is something I do enjoy and it does help enormously... Usually.

    Now, the miserable and downhearted missive above, on the surface, sounds like all kinds of things. I'm not looking for sympathy - Christ, that's the last thing a self-loather wants! I'm placing you in a place where you can see that, at times, I have felt everything is a load of shit...

    Yesterday, was bad. I sat in the garden with the laptop and stared at it for an hour. Young Sam from next door tried to engage me in conversation and I must have been feeling glum because I normally would have jumped at the chance of engaging the boy in some useful advice. I like mentoring people, I have a lot of success at it (not that my commercial manager would agree). But, you know, I was so wrapped up in hating myself that I didn't even want to talk. Gods, I must be ill!

    It got to about 1pm and I decided that I was just making myself feel ill. I'll take the dogs somewhere nice! I thought and then tried to talk myself out of it. Oh Jesus, why, oh why, didn't I listen to my hateful self, just this once?

    We went to the water skiing lake, near the Brackmills Industrial Estate; near the golf course and behind Delapre Abbey - for those in the know - it's a pretty safe place for dogs, well equipped with bins and not busy during the week, as the water skiing club tends to take over at weekends - whatever the weather. (I'd do a screen shot from Google Maps to show people who don't know the town what and where it is, but as they've fucked up Google Maps so it now looks like a fucking Super Mario game, I won't...)

    I usually do a circuit of the lake; it takes about 45 minutes and there's plenty of opportunity for the four dogs to have a swim, a drink or cool down. It's a brill place on a sunny day and it was just the tonic I needed. I decided to circumnavigate the lake, something we hardly ever do, because I had an idea we might be a bit adventurous. Once upon a time, there was going to be a road between St James (Jimmy's End) and the Bedford Road, by Avon Cosmetics HQ. It was going to alleviate traffic from the town centre, but for some reason, back in the 1970s, it was halted. There is evidence of the groundwork done back then even now and until yesterday I never knew you could walk from the end of Ransome Road (the Jimmy's End bit) all the way through to Avon.

    Now, most people know Avon Cosmetics - they make smellies - and when we got to a little footbridge over a very stagnant looking brook, we got hit with a waft of stink that I attributed to either the stagnation or possibly an open sewer. It was not the kind of smell you associate with Avon. Two cyclists went past and we exchanged hellos and I commented that that horrid smell wasn't the dogs; they laughed, we all laughed...

    We turned around because there was no where else to go without venturing into town and walked back down this path I never knew existed. All the time I could smell this vile stench of human effluence - or at least that's what it smelled like. We even saw a couple walking their dog and one of them commented that the sewers must be chucking up. And we all chortled. We walked all the way to the back end of the Abbey and then, as it was hot, we walked back to the lake, to let the dogs have one more paddle before going home. It was now 2.45 and we'd been walking for nearly 90 minutes.

    The dogs had another splash and we headed back to the car; all the time this stink was permeating the air. I even said to a grandmother and her charges that the smell wasn't the dogs.

    Now, when you associate my dogs with rolling in unwanted things; Marley is pretty much the main culprit. At least four times a year, this disgusting canine will find a dead bird, fox, pile of shit to roll in and leaving us with the job of hosing her down in the garden.
    Ness prefers extremely vile things - she'll roll in vomit if she finds it; she's not too keen on shit, for obvious reasons. we refer to her as 'pig pen' because of her resemblance to the Peanuts character at times. Ness has rolled in stuff about 5 times in 7 years.
    Murray is far too highly strung, snobbish and above being a dog to ever consider rolling in anything. He did it once, when he was about 15 weeks old, hated it and has never done it again.
    Lexy ... Oh my strange orange dog, who every week gets more and more like Gifford, not just in looks but also in habits. Lexy's shit rolling escapades are few and far between. She rolled in fox shit five days after we got her, I bellowed at her, she's never done it again. Until yesterday...

    We got back to the car and at times the smell disappeared. Marley had skulked off somewhere and when she came back she looked like all the world's guilt in medium sized dog form and she jumped straight into the car like she knew she was in trouble. The others got in, Lexy, as usual, at the rear. They had their biscuits and a drink; I shut the car up, got in and couldn't smell anything. It must have been something around the lake. We drove away, I opened the windows to let some air in and suddenly there was the smell again - almost confirming it was outside and not inside. The route home for a third of the journey takes you passed where we had just been, so the smell remaining still didn't register, until we started to get closer to home and there was still this horrid smell.

    Marley. It was Marley. I was convinced it was Marley and when we pulled up, I grabbed her, put her on her lead, dragged her out the back, growling at her and calling her all the miserable shitbags... and got the hose ready. I reluctantly checked to see where she'd smeared the shit all over herself and couldn't find anything. She smelled of ponds.

    Ness, police dog, was hassling Marley (because she was in trouble and Ness likes to bully) and I got a waft of it from her. Grabbed her, put her on the lead and found her neck had something unpleasant on it. Under the hose she went and I cleaned it all off. There wasn't much, and you know when you get that horrible feeling rising? I looked at Murray; he was as clean as he had been when we went out. He'd got his legs wet and that was about it. he can be so boring sometimes...

    That left only one other option.

    Now, one of Gifford's weirdest traits (and trust me he had a lot) was when he went for a swim, he'd get all twitchy and crazy afterwards; rubbing his paws on the carpet, rubbing his face against the bottom of the sofa, running around shaking. Oh and Gifford, never, ever, rolled in anything. Not once in 16 years did he have another mammal's faeces smeared on his face, in his ears or up his fucking nose...

    My day, that had started so badly, had descended into me feeling as bad as I have done for a long time, was now getting worse 10 fold. God (if any of them exist) has a fucking funny sense of humour...

    Shit. There was shit everywhere. The house stunk of it and there was Lexy, sprawled on the sofa, looking all smug and happy, having wiped her face all over everything! Now all that was going through my mind was Oh Christ, the wife is going to kill me!

    There was so much shit on Lexy, she needed two baths and because it was a nice piquant brown colour, pretty much the same colour as the fucking dog, I wouldn't have seen it during the walk - perfect camouflage shit!

    The sofa was stripped of its covers; cushion covers removed; it was on the carpet, skirting boards - for fuck's sake the house has been fumigated and I can still smell it! I was on my hands and knees with disinfected hot water scrubbing shit off of everything I could find. The wife got home and after the initial 20 minutes of abject horror and disgust mixed with a seething hatred for her 'favourite' dog, we started to talk about the walk and how I was telling everyone that the horrible smell wasn't my dogs when, of course, all the time it was.

    Ness had got it on her because in the car, she always stands next to Lexy - it's a dominance thing. We imagined the snob - Murray - saying 'Oh boy, you are in so much trouble' and Marley desperate to engage with Lexy so she could get some of that lovely smell on her, but Ness was in the way, so that was never going to happen and by 7pm last night, we were laughing like drains. The fucking dogs...

    This morning we were still laughing about it and I have to take the shitbags out again today and only last week we sat and watched a woman defecate in the bushes near where we walk sometimes. The wife is convinced the shit was human. If it was then whoever crapped it out must have been on a fox shit diet, because I think it was far too pungent to be human. Whatever it was, it was shit and if you could have been a fly on the wall watching me cleaning Lexy in the yard, you would have been highly amused.

    I'm not even phased by England's departure from the World Cup. I have dogs and shit to keep me entertained!