I remember when all this was fields

Some delicious dead thing

There was a recent Twitter trend #MyMumisaMotherfuckingBadass.

My post on this trend was about how my mum, aged 67, and on a Zimmer frame after 25 years living with Parkinson’s disease, walked 3 miles to see a Radiohead gig in a tent.

And then the next night, she did it again. Badass.

Bear in mind this wasn’t even OK Computer-era Radiohead. I happen to think OK Computer is the best album ever made, but it seemed to send Thom Yorke a little bit insane, and he reacted to its success by deciding to fuck with every music lover on the planet.

It was, it has to be said, a bizarre couple of years for Radiohead fans. Imagine Radiohead are a chef, and they’d just served you the best burger you’d ever eaten. It made you weep, it was so astonishingly good. And not just you: everyone agreed, it was a truly wonderful burger, fit to stand in the pantheon of all-time great burgers. It was rich and satisfying and curious, and it lingered on the taste bugs for months without ever souring or getting old. You just wanted to go back for more and more, and savour the ever-deepening complexity and creativity of this truly wonderous burger.

Then, a year later, Chef Radiohead changed his menu, and we all rushed back to find out what fresh wonders he’d created. But this wasn’t normal food any more. Sure, the Kid A burger could still be described as a burger, of sorts. There were ingredients; some of them recognisable, but many belonged in no burger you’d ever want to eat, such as lemons, a herring, coal and some wire. And try as we might, none of us really wanted wire in our burgers. I chewed and chewed and chewed, convinced I’d find something to like if I stuck with it and my teeth didn’t shatter. But eventually I spat it out and went back to eating the much more satisfying Dark Side-Order of Chips by Chef Pink Floyd.

But none of this stopped my mum, because she’s fucking badass. She walked to see Radiohead on her wobbly old legs, sat in the middle of the confused, nonplussed crowd on a fold-out chair the bouncers found for her, and moved to what Thom Yorke insisted was still, technically, music. Or maybe she was just moving to the Parkinson’s disease. It’s genuinely difficult to tell.

You see, unlike me, she’s never got old. She’s a widow now, and her Parkinson’s is getting to the stage where she’s considering going into a home. But do you know what stops her from doing it: she’d never be allowed to play Green Day at 120dB in the Perry Como Home for the Ancient and Beige.

But I’m getting old. I don’t feel it physically, and I don’t think I look my age. My knees are still working, I have most of my teeth and still far too much hair. Sure, I’ve lost a kidney, but I don’t think I was really using it. And I can’t smell a thing, but I can still hear when my girlfriend shouts at me, which is all a man needs to do.

But I see signs of decrepitude, and the first one is music. I can’t like new music. It’s all terrible.

When I was 14, and still recovering from the terminal horror of being caught losing my virginity by my own mother, I realised the best way to avoid those endless accusatory stares was listening to The Smiths.

Very little could keep my parents out of my bedroom as much as Morrissey mournfully wailing about humdrummery and his issues with William and Newport Pagnell, while I reeled around the end of my empty bed, longing for gladioli and pondering the best way to get my mum to agree to my painting the bedroom black. As soon as I played The Smiths my parents went out into the garden for a conference about “what the hell is wrong with the boy”, and started worrying about paying the phone bill for all the Samaritans I was clearly going to need.

At the very moment I wanted to be alone, The Smiths helped me feel I wasn’t. But now I feel alone again, because apparently I’m the only person on the planet who thinks Daft Punk is boring crap.

The only people in the world I currently hate more than Daft Punk are the bastards who put up the dividing wall between me and my neighbour, who has played Get Lucky to me over a trillion times. A trillion. That’s literally the number.

Sophie Ellis Bextor
Here kitty. I’ve got some cream for you.

I guess if you’re 14 and don’t remember the last century, you may be persuaded that Daft Punk have created a spectacularly innovative noise. But it’s only spectacularly innovative if you didn’t hear exactly the same noise from Groovejet 13 years ago.

The only discernible difference is that Sophie Ellis Bextor looks like an erotic, airbrushed cat with its head stretched over an ironing board, and Daft Punk clearly don’t, or they’d remove those fucking stupid helmets.

(Incidentally, I remember a best of list from 2000 which placed If This Ain’t Love as the 3rd best single of all time, which tells you how useful best of lists are).

Almost anything by Chic sounds fresher, and more original and a whole lot more fun than Get Lucky. The only “lucky” thing about that song is that people buying it aren’t old enough to remember Nile Rogers.

But I guess it was ever thus. As a Smiths fan I never liked Rick Astley, clearly, but he didn’t offend me as much as he offended my mum. When she first heard Astley’s hollow, robotic version of When I Fall In Love my dear, wobbly old mum swore for three straight hours, and never repeated herself. Now that’s creativity, you Daft Punk helmets (and I mean that in the sense of shiny, salty male genitalia).

Maybe it’s my age, and I’m missing something thrilling about modern music. But where is the David Bowie of today? (Other than David Bowie, obviously). Between 1969 and 1982 he released 14 albums of stunningly original material, each one of which pushed back the boundaries of musical experience. And none of them sounded anything like the previous one.

What’s Daft Punk’s style? Copycat Groovejet pop dance with the pretty lady replaced by a pair of French twats in what look like Liberace’s space-suit.

And what’s Bowie’s style? Folk, pop, discord, rock, world, dystopian musical, metal, African, techno, ambient, funk, indie, soul, glam, country, showtune, drum’n’bass, dance, thrash, German neo-classical and freeform jazz. Usually all on one album. You can buy anything he recorded for over a decade and it will be brilliant, challenging, intelligent, original and compelling.

(You can then skip forward to 1992, when he released his only album since Scary Monsters that’s actual genius. OK, he’s not infallible, but he had a pretty good run!)

And it’s not just Bowie, who might be a one-off and possibly an alien. Where are The Smiths of today? Where’s the Talking Heads? Sure, there are hints of it in Arcade Fire, but are they off making edgy New York punk, followed by a joyous funkadelic assault on the senses, followed by a polyrhythmic odyssey around South America? No. They’re ploughing one indie furrow with diminishing returns.

And for The Smiths you might copy/paste Belle and Sebastian, except they seem to have decided to move away from literate, gentle, studenty songwriting genius, and become a feeble Beautiful South tribute band produced by the Buggles of Video Killed The Radio Star fame.

Most music I hear today is the same music I heard in the 80s, washed at a high temperature until it shrinks and hardens and all the texture is removed by technology. Vocoder that, Will.I.Am, you drab, self-obsessed, vacuous hairstyle! Even in the 80s that kind of music was pretty dismal stuff. Other than 14-year-old girls obsessed with blow-dries, who actually liked Duran Duran? Probably the same mums who now like Take That, but it’s not music. It isn’t. Really. It’s posters, chat shows, teeth-whitening, and a row of stools (and I mean that in the sense of a line-up of turds, steaming on a fancy stage).

I’m not saying we’re completely bereft of gems. It’s just that in between we’re being fed a vat of pap, processed to a bland, soggy mess and marketed to within an inch of its life. I’m a veggie, but even I’m starting to ask of modern music: where’s the meat?

So after a few years, I decided to go back and try that undercooked, highly disappointing wire-and-coal burger that Radiohead had served me in 2000. And do you know what? It’s rather delicious. It just took me a while to get hungry enough to want it.


George Michael at Christmas

A very messy Christmas to you all.

Yes, messy. It’s not a typo. It’s the same with orgies: the invitations should read “the more the messier“, not merrier. Messy is so much more fun. After all, who wants a clean orgy, or a clean Christmas? We may long for a white Christmas, but not a clean one – and we only want a white one so we can piss in the snow. I imagine some orgies end the same way.

I like my Christmas like I like my sex: we don’t have to get up too early in the morning, but as soon as we do let’s get on with the action: tear off the wrapping fast, get as messy as possible, laugh, shout, play with all the toys, and make sure the neighbours have reason to complain.

I probably won’t get that type of Christmas this year, because I’m suffering from Empty Nest Syndrome – and I don’t even have kids! I was hoping to spend Christmas drunkenly practicing the baby-making procedure in every room in my flat. Not too drunkenly, obviously. There’s a perfect amount of alcohol for sex: it should make you able to ignore the carpet burns for long enough to get the job done, but should not make Mr Happy become Mr Floppy. And it should definitely not make anybody accidentally sick into my mouth because they went on top.

That’s the amount of alcohol I had planned to consume – just the right amount to make everyone involved forget how they got those bruises the next day, but not enough to require a trip to hospital. And the moment I reached that perfect level of blood-alcohol, I was going to rip off my girlfriend’s knickers (because they’re really cutting into my hips) and make the beast with two backs.

Or at least the beast with one back and a front that’s bent over the kitchen table with a wooden spoon gritted between her teeth.

But it’s not going to happen because of somebody else’s empty nest syndrome, namely my wobbly old widow of a mother, who has inveigled her way into my flat for three days this Christmas, turning it from a sex den into a …. den. And I’m 42. What do I want with a den?

Actually, I very nearly made a den in the living room last week. The lady in my life has recently been pretty lifeless, and rather unladylike too. She’s had a cold, leading to a small tsunami of snot, a great deal of frustrated swearing, and some justifiable moping. And that’s just from me, cos I’ve had the horn and she’s been very much Out Of Bounds. The only way to make her feel her usual perky self has been to build a den out of the box my drums came in, or to put on a Harry Potter movie.

I did think about making a den, but the result would have been sitting in a small, warm box in my living room next to a plague carrier, waiting for her nose to explode all over me and make me sick during Christmas. So she can fuck off with her den: we’re watching Harry Potter.

I quite like Harry Potter. I’m far too old for it, but it served the same formative function in her adolescence that The Lord of the Rings and masturbation served in mine. You never get over that stuff, and to this day a quick wank over the mental image of Arwen and Galadriel lezzing up is enough to make me feel like a contented 12-year-old again. So although Harry Potter will never mean as much to me as it does to my girlfriend, I’m perfectly OK watching the last 6 movies. The first two… not so much. It says much that they’re amongst the worse things John Cleese has been in recently, and he was in the Liberal Democrats.

I even went with my girlfriend to the Harry Potter Studio Tour, which was jolly good fun and rather exciting for a movie buff like me. I wandered around it, amazed by two things:

  1. The level of craftsmanship and imagination involved in making a movie like that (I’d argue the design imagination is at least the equal of JK herself)
  2. Rupert Grint

The mere fact of Grint still amazes me. If he wasn’t famous and I told you I knew a ginger boy called Rupert Grint, you’d say “oh, the poor sod”. It’s like me telling you that the manager of my local MFI store was called Finlay Gentleman (he is – I saw it on a receipt once). You’d wince and laugh, and then wonder why his parents hated him so much. Grint’s name alone is enough to make him extraordinary and dismal. He’s the only person in the movies who has a real name more outlandish than his character.

But beyond his name there’s his face, and his hair, and his voice, and his… there’s no other word for it than this… his talent. You can determine the level of Grint’s talent by measuring it against what his two child-star friends have achieved.

Daniel Radcliffe has appeared naked in a challenging play on the London stage. He’s been rather good in a rather successful horror movie. He made a pretty good fist of being on QI, and has sung a complicated Tom Lehrer song about chemicals on live television. And he achieved all of this in spite of looking like a man who is learning facial expressions from a book. Have you seen him smile? I imagine that’s what Gordon Brown looked like before somebody released the bulldog clip that kept his face tight.

Gordon Brown, aged 19
Gordon Brown, aged 19

Gordon Brown
Daniel Radcliffe, aged 106

Emma Watson went to a top American university where she managed to avoid being killed by an American for 3 years, something few people can do. She then returned to the screen in a moderately good adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, in which she attempted a bold strategy for of shaking off her reputation for being every online pervert’s favourite teenager: she took off her sexy clothes off in a sexy dance while looking sexily at a sexy boy. And all of this despite being cursed with the vocal quality of a distressed and menstrual cookery teacher in the 1950s, and wild and irrational eyebrows that look like they’re attempting to escape her face and run amok across the moors of England.

Rupert Grint.
Milky Grint. Bad at snorting coke, or good at giving blowjobs? You tell me.

Rupert Grint, by contrast, is being paid to smile in an advert for Sky.

That’s all the Grint they want. Thank you. You can leave now.

He’s not invited to do any acting – God forbid! They just wanted to borrow his head for 3 seconds so they could use it to sell things, like a misshapen orange billboard. The Milk Marketing Board pulled the same trick a couple of years ago, leading to a spate of upchucking women as Grint-besmattered busses trundled by. To this day, the term “Milky Grint” can churn the stomach of the hardiest woman. Show your lady-friends this photo, and slowly whisper “Milky Grint” to them. I bet they shudder and make an expression. I bet they do. In fact, I’m off down to Ladbroke’s now to place that very bet.

Yet despite this, Grint’s net worth in 2012 is £24 million. You’d have to work for a thousand years to get that much money, and who has the time?

I’ll tell you who has the time: Grint has the time. After all, his diary is looking pretty empty. I suspect it always did, even during the Potter years…

Grint’s diary, from the set of “Harry Potter and the Ocelot of Disappointment”:

Tuesday: Said “Bloody hell, Harry”. Got paid £3 million. Did double maths. Hated self.

In truth, it’s a small miracle that any of them grew up to become even a moderate actor: they were between 9 and 11 years old when they began their movie careers, plucked from obscurity because they looked less gap-toothed than most of their contemporaries. Americans are, as we know, more terrified of gap-toothed people than they are of 200 million assault rifles, and the Potter movies would definitely have failed if the lead actors had standard British teeth.

But the kids had good teeth. It’s just the rest of Grint which was substandard. And when they started out they just looked like Cabbage Patch versions of themselves, which must be weird for them to look at now. You think it’s embarrassing when your mum shows your new partner photos of you aged 11? Imagine if you had a whole movie series, and every girl you ever meet thinks she knows exactly who you are, and what you can do with your “wand”. Engorgio!

In retrospect, £24 million seems like reasonable compensation for what fate has done to Grint. He can stop being Weasley, but will always be Grint. He will always be awful and look like he knows it.

Mind you, for the first few movies none of them looked comfortable in their own skin. Who is, at the age of 13? Your skin is your enemy at exactly the moment you most need a friend, and fame and fortune are no protection against the ravages of youth. I watched Romeo + Juliet recently, and Leo’s face seems to be undergoing a meteor shower. I think he spent half his salary on concealer. He looks like he’s been coated in Polyfilla in a few scenes, which I’m sure pleases a lot of blokes who were negatively compared with DiCaprio in their teens. Every generation throws up a pretty boy for the girls to idolise, and all the boys hate whoever it is. Right now it’s Beiber. Before that it was DiCaprio. My own nemesis was George Micheal.

In 1986 boys my age were considered cool and attractive if they wore a cross in one ear, strutted around in white jeans and cowboy boots, displayed several days of beard growth, and had bouffant hair with blonde highlights. Hard to believe people assumed it was the dress sense of a heterosexual man, but that’s what Gorgeous George wore, and he was very definitely a heterosexual man in 1986. He said so in Smash Hits, so it must be true.

My teenaged attempts at looking like George Michael weren't very successful.
My teenaged attempts at looking like George Michael weren’t very successful.

I don’t give a fuck about being fashionable now, as anybody who knows me will definitely confirm. But I can remember how ostracised I felt back then for being unable to grow sufficient stubble or persuade my mum to let me get my ear pierced. I want to seek out Darren Gilmore, my college’s number one George Michael lookalike, show him a photo of Wham! and shout “I told you so” into his unrealistically handsome face. Except by now his face is probably like mine: gradually sliding down his skull like a slow-motion avalanche. I can’t really blame him for being fooled by Wham! I was as fooled as anybody else, I just had my ambitions stymied by my mum and some terrible NHS glasses.

More than quarter of a century later, and my mum is still pissing on my chips. My Christmas will be polite, with only moderate consumption of wine, absolutely no spanking paddles or handcuffs; and then bed before midnight on my second-best lumpy mattress.

Thank you Jesus, you absolute twat!

I thought Pentecost was bad (I received the Gift of the Holy Spirit, but I don’t have the receipt, so can’t take it back and swap it for a cardigan). But Christmas is going to be a wash-out. So Jesus, I’m sorry to break the news, but your parties are always shit and I’m not coming to any more of them. I’ve given up on a rowdy Christmas, and all I can say is: roll on New Year. Because believe me, I’m definitely going to roll on someone at New Year.

Brace yourself dear.

Internet dating, and that time I kidnapped a woman

I’m here to threaten you. Watch out!

There. I’ve done it. Scared? You should be.

You should primarily be scared of Sebastian Pritchard-Jones, not scared of me. Or scared of most men. Most of us are fine, it’s just that rogue 43% that give us a bad name.

Just to clear it up straight away: I am not Sebastian Pritchard-Jones. I only share one name with him. And a nationality. And a beard. And glasses.

Hmm, I’m now starting to wonder if I am Sebastian Pritchard-Jones.

Sebastian Prichard-Jones, playing a trumpet that’s as real as he is.

If you’re single and are thinking about dating somebody via that there interweb, I recommend you read the story of Seb, and then drink a gallon of bromide and join a convent. He’s a charmer.

But I’m a bit of a charmer too, and earlier this year I started dating somebody who is so much better than me that she might actually be a different species. She’s smart and funny and silly and annoying and violent, and has an alarming habit of loudly calling me a twat in the children’s section of Ikea. We get looks.

We get looks a lot of the time actually. We’ve been together now for long enough for me to largely forget the vast chasm between our sizes, ages, looks and talents. But it must still startle strangers, and we’ve both heard comments. Sometimes straight to our faces: a stranger at the next table at our local pub quiz asked me straight out if I was rich or fantastic in bed. I had to tell him the answer: no and no. I’m just relying on the fact that my girlfriend hasn’t worked it out yet.

It never occurred to him that we’re together because we make each other laugh and are very happy. It must be something close to prostitution, in his mind. She must be with me for my deep pockets or fat cock. I think this is a telling comment about your average bloke: in his tiny mind, the only reason to select a girl is for her looks, and the only thing girls like about men are their money and their penises; so fellas get freaked out when a pretty girl is seeing a guy who looks like a bloated corpse, hasn’t been paid for 2 months, and has a cock like a grain of rice.

Not that that’s me. My cock is at least twice the size of a grain of rice. Unless it’s chilly.

Self portrait.

But I can kinda understand why we seem an odd couple. I occasionally catch glimpses of us in shop windows as we walk hand in hand around the Trafford Centre, and I’m reminded of that song lyric “Pretty women are walking with gorillas down my street”. Except in my case, it’s not a gorilla: it’s a blobfish.

She’s also far too young for me, far too posh for me, far too pretty for me, and if she’s reading this she’s going to be far too smug for me too. She’s fucking unbearable.

We met online. I know, it’s horrible. But neither of us was on a dating site, so it’s slightly less tragic than you may assume. I was convinced I’d be single for frikking years, which didn’t bother me one iota. I was quite happy fighting off next door’s psychotic cat, rearranging my books, and performing my twice-weekly routine of masturbation, self-loathing, comfort-eating and weeping – the favourite pastimes of the eternally single. I genuinely hadn’t made any attempt to meet somebody, and I even managed not to join Plenty of Fish, which appears to make me unique. From what I understand, about 50% of all married people are on there too.

And she wasn’t looking for a fella because she was in the middle of her finals at uni, so needed to concentrate and get work done. And she owns a rabbit, so frankly, who needs a man?

Both of us were on Twitter, just doing Twittery things. And we bumped into each other, and that was it. I had no idea how old she was, what she looked like, or where she lived. But it didn’t matter. Sparks. Who can predict this shit?

So I didn’t have to make a ghastly dating profile, or retouch my photos to remove most of my chins, or pretend to be warm and sensitive, or in any way be a manipulative sociopath like whoever Sebastian Prichard-Jones turns out to be.

But even so, I did slightly… well…

OK, I kidnapped her. Happy now? Jesus.

I only kidnapped her briefly, and only because I was too busy chatting on our first date, and didn’t realise the entire road layout had changed since I’d last been in that vicinity. But still, I ploughed straight past our destination and took her into Wales.

Me? I laughed, because I knew I wasn’t going to bludgeon her and shove her in the boot. (I would do now, because I know her well enough to know she’s bloody well asking for it, but at the time we were both on our best behaviour). However she didn’t laugh at all. Apparently she was geniunely terrified, and starting to wonder if a “leap and roll” exit from the car was survivable at 70 mph (answer: no).

But this is at the core of the relationship between men and women. Men can be manipulative sociopaths, and tend to be twice the size of women, strong, aggressive, determined and horny. It’s not a good combination, guys. So think hard about how your actions are interpreted.

It’s not the first time I’ve terrified a woman with threats of a remote, grisly death. My mate Jason and I worked together 20 years ago; and following our company’s Christmas do I was driving Jason home (having drawn the short, sober straw). I also offered a lift to a colleague, Usma, who lived along our route. As we got into the car, 2/3 of us pissed up and drunk on booze, and all of us giggly, I jokingly said to Jason: “Right – straight up to the moors for a bit of a murder”.

I know. It’s not funny at all. But Jason was hammered and I always laugh at my own awful gags, so we were far too busy laughing to notice Usma was quietly running for safety. I hadn’t noticed she wasn’t in the car until I’d gone half a mile. It took me until Easter before she’d forgive me.

So even without trying, men can be pretty terrifying to women. We tend not to think about the potential threat we pose; or at least, nice guys who pose no threat tend not to think about it. Not until later. It’s the ones who know perfectly well what threat they pose that you have to watch out for.

The problem is, nobody can tell which is which until it’s too late. I could be one. I probably am. This type of “hey, I’m nice really” blog is exactly the type of thing a manipulative sociopath would write, only maybe with fewer admissions of threatinging to kidnap and murder people. Or maybe not, who knows? Maybe this sounds enough like Sebastian to fool people who know him. Or who don’t know him. Whatever.

My girlfriend’s family are not happy with her going off on a date in the car of a strange old man who briefly kidnapped her. Not happy at all. And to be honest, I don’t blame them, even though I’d rather die than hurt her (I only wish she had the same policy – Jesus, the beatings she’s given me!).

However, my point is: be careful. I know, you’re all smart people, and it won’t happen to you. But it can. The Sebastian Pritchard-Jones’s of this world make it a dangerous place.

So watch out!

I’m only threatening you because I don’t want somebody else to do it.

Marble penises and good government

This morning 51% of America awoke in a modern, moderate, sensible, educated, peaceful and healthy democracy.

So did the other 49%, except they hated it.

I’ve spent a long time wondering what causes such hatred, and I think it comes down to a combination of marble and penises.

I realise that’s an odd statement, so I’ll explain.

When I was a kid I lived in a bizarre household. I actually think most households are bizarre when you look at them close-up, but I was discouraged from staring at strangers ever since my older brother saw his first ever black man on a bus, and asked my mum, in a loud, clear voice: “why is that man so dirty?”.

It was the 70s, but still.

Fortunately my brother was only 2 years old, so the man just grinned and laughed it off, and there was no long-term damage other than my mother refusing to go on busses from that day onwards. But that story has been drummed into me since I was old enough to be drummed upon. Those lovingly applied, highly rhythmic beatings quickly taught me to stop staring at strangers, let alone make comments; and the rhythmic beatings also made me appreciative of the 7-4 time signature (but not enough to ever want to be in Sting’s band: he’s a cock).

So instead of looking at other people I just looked at my family, and came to some conclusions: they were fucking weird. Believe me folks, I know. I’ve done the research. These are findings.

One of the strange things about them is their ongoing experiment with milk. In ye olden days most people had milk delivered by a man (who is now unemployed because people find it more convenient to drive 1.5 miles to a supermarket to hear other people’s children being yelled at in the next aisle, then queue for 45 minutes to use a “serve yourself” machine that works at best 1 in every 450 times. Are you sure just collecting it from your doorstep and giving that man a job is less convenient?)

But for my whole life my parents had a couple of pints delivered each morning. And for that entire 42 years they’ve left the milk on the warm doorstep until at least 3pm, when they’ve decided to bring it indoors and store it in the most logical place: on the window-sill, in a beam of sunlight. I was 14 before I saw a cup of tea I didn’t have to chew on. It’s a miracle my dad made it to 77: he was playing fast-and-loose with food-poisoning for as long as I can remember.

Deliberately placing your milk in the best location for it to poison you is a strange decision, although I wouldn’t blame my mum for attempting to murder any one of us. We were bastards to her, and are responsible for 2 of her 3 nervous breakdowns. I’d like to say it was an accident, but nobody accidentally leaves a snake-skin on their mum’s ironing board or steals her car when she parks it outside Tesco.

We also:

  • Waited until she was on holiday, then wrote “hello mum” on approximately 5,000 small slips of paper and hid them all over the house – inside pans, under mattresses, in shoes, and even, imaginatively, peeling back a bit of wallpaper, sliding a note behind it, and pasting it back – she didn’t find that one until she redecorated 5 years later.
  • Recorded 5 minutes of silence on a cassette tape (it was the 70s, but still), followed by an official-sounding voice saying THIS CAR WILL SELF-DESTRUCT IN TEN SECONDS. We then placed this in the car stereo, pressed play, and turned off the engine. When she turned the engine on it started playing silence… until she was half-way home, when it suddenly made its announcement. She nearly died.
  • Made her one of those “pass the ring along the bendy wire” games that you need a steady hand to play. You know the type: you sometimes see them at school science days. She has Parkinson’s disease. How we laughed as she chased us around the house in slow-motion, trying to kick the shit out of us.
  • Built an earwig farm in our bedroom. An earwig farm is just what it sounds like: we kept dozens of earwigs. Slight construction problem: the farm was made from Lego, and the earwigs escaped en masse every single night. Didn’t stop us, we just went out and found some more.

But the oddest thing my parents did was to put carpet on the bathroom floor.

It was the 70s, but still.

When I think back to it now, I realise that having a carpet in your bathroom is, quite frankly, the biggest snub to basic hygiene that I can imagine. Because my household included three males, and at every moment of the last 40 years at least one of those males was either drunk or potty training.

Even stone-cold sober I have my doubts about my ability to piss straight. Every man reading this will agree, and every woman reading this will agree and be furious about it. But I have to defend myself: my penis is a stupendously poor instrument for urinating through. Or for anything else, for that matter.

“It’s not impossible. I used to bullseye womp rats in my T-16 back home”

Women, a group of people who are never wrong, often complain about men’s inability to hit a 3 square foot bowl, right between their feet, only 9 inches away.

But to be honest, that’s a bit unfair, because women have it easy. They don’t have to piss via this strange, gently squirming object that looks like the chestburster putting a sweater on. When liquid comes out of a lady, it doesn’t have to negotiate a ring of skin that could be in any position, and is designed purely to bounce your stream of fluid off so you end up pissing like a watering can.

And women are, let’s face it, damn near in the bowl to start with.

If you leave the foreskin hanging in the stream, it causes… let’s call it “turbulence”. Every drop goes in a different direction, it varies wildly in speed and flow, and it’s impossible to prevent dribbling. If you pull back the foreskin the head of the penis is tightened, your tinkle-hole is pulled into unpredictable shapes, and your piss comes out at the speed of light and in a strange, star-shaped stream that starts as narrow as a pin-head, but is over a mile wide by the time it gets to the bowl.

Either way you have startlingly little control. The penis is designed to direct piss away from the body, not to direct piss into a toilet. Frankly the penis doesn’t care where it ends up. It’s a bit like the baggage handlers at Manchester Airport, but less smelly.

I say the penis is “designed”, but of course the penis isn’t designed at all, and I think this, combined with marble tiles, is what makes Republicans so angry (sorry, I may have drifted away from my point a bit).

My only explanation for the existence of a carpet in my parents’ bathroom is that it hid the rogue splashes, whereas they just linger on the tiles, forming small pools of ammonia where earwigs can easily die. I’m moderately confident that in my parents’ youth, carpets in bathrooms were the norm, and all those carpets soaked up the urine into a dark, gnarly ring around the toilet plinth. So back then Republican men wouldn’t be confronted with facts. Just unzip, stare at the wall (and NOT at your cock, in case it turns you gay – I never said they were rational, did I). Then piddle wildly on the rug without any consequence, and zip up and walk away. Nobody’s beliefs need to be challenged by that. Nobody has to think about the inadequacy of God’s perfect design.

But fast forward to the 80s, and we see the beginnings of the domination of the marble bathroom floor, which coincides neatly with the rise of religious fervour in the USA, and with the crisis of capitalism.

Tiled bathrooms mean the carpet no longer soaks up the piddle – it’s now splashed back onto your white, wealthy ankles, or left in standing pools around your bathroom. So you have to look down, take a bit of control, and be confronted with the evidence. It’s there in your own hand, and, if you’re not careful, trickling down your leg a bit: errant micturition and stinky puddles of piss! It’s just too much evidence for feeble minds to take. You can’t avoid the conclusion that… deep breath… there is no God!

Let’s face it, what kind of supreme being could design a penis? The whole male genital area is a farce, and it drives Republicans insane to know their beliefs are utter poppycock. Excuse the pun.

So what do they do when confronted with this problem?

  1. shout louder and louder about how ace God is in the hope that noise and enthusiasm will make it all true
  2. get mad at gay people because they hate having to look at their own penis, and don’t understand anybody who actually does that for fun
  3. get a Colombian immigrant to clean up the tiles and wash their trousers
  4. become very jealous of how good ladies are at piddling

This explains everything you need to know about the modern Republican party:

  1. they’re so religious and anti-science that if you exchange the word “God” for the word “Allah”, you could mistake them for the Taliban
  2. they dispise and fear homosexuality in equal measure
  3. they hold the poor and minorities in contempt, except as people who can be called upon to clean up their mess
  4. they have a dysfunctional relationship with vaginas.

Ah, vaginas. How I’ve missed talking about you.

There’s been a lot of talk in recent weeks about vaginas and breasts. Being British, we’ve been obsessed with breasts, because, well, they’re funnier and there are twice as many of them (four times if you include John McCririck). But in America it’s different: vaginas have performed a very important role in the non-election of Mitt Romney.

We’ll come back to cunts later, but first…

Titter ye not.

Britain: the land where breasts are unavoidable. It turns out that in the UK, norks form an integral part of the news gathering and dissemination industry. Several of our most popular newspapers are simply unable to tell us about Quantitive Easing unless they accompany the discussion with topless photos of Stacy from Gravesend, who has strong views on the EU, a fine set of heaving funbags, and a pout that looks like it was sliced from the corpse of Frankie Howerd.

This, apparently, is essential. I’m sure we’ve all seen those woodcuts of tarts with big tits adorning Shakespeare’s First Folio. Nobody would take him seriously unless they could turn the page and have a quick wank. What light from yonder window breaks? It’s your mum, coming in to catch you spaffing on your tummy.

Some of those feminist types, concerned that this constant bombardment of facile bints in our daily news might be having a deleterious effect on our national psyche, have demanded No more page 3. But what would our nation be without the right to demean women and detract from real issues?

Better. That’s what our nation would be.

On the other side of the Atlantic they’ve been much more obsessed with vaginas. A startling number of so-called “social conservative” Republicans have got into a rare old tizzy over women’s dew-speckled love-caverns. They (the Republicans, not the cunts… I know, they’re interchangeable terms) include the lovely Todd Aiken, a man who prides himself in a 100% record of never colliding with facts, and who believes that women’s wombs somehow “shut down” when a “legitimate rape” is committed.

And then there’s Richard Mourdock, a man so vile even Rupert refuses to share a spelling with him. Mourdock delights in the belief that God intends rape to happen. It happens, and everything that happens is God’s will, so God must want rape. Presumably God also intended Richard Mourdock to be kicked out of office, because thankfully, that happened too.

Not content with pardoning violent criminals who help themselves to your womb, a significant number of Republicans also want to force women to be prodded and poked on an industrial basis, employing the very doctors they don’t want to be available to the poor, to do “trans-vaginal” testing of pregnant women. To you and me, that’s shoving a pipe up you for absolutely no medical advantage. Just because they can. Just because they’re men and you’re not. Just to show you who’s in charge.

And these people rant about small government… apart from when it helps them to demean and control women, blacks, Hispanics, gays, lesbians, the disabled, the poor, the mentally ill, the unarmed, the uninsured, leftists, centrists, socialists, Atheists, Muslims, Sikhs, nations who need relieving of their stock of oil or, frankly, anybody who just looks a bit funny.

I’m a bit of a lefty, in a thoughtful, sensible “steady-on-now, let’s not go too far” kinda way. I’m unapologetic about it, at least as far as any Englishman can be anything without apologising slightly: if you punched me in the face I’d bumble that I’m sorry for all the inconvenience I’d caused your fist.

But I don’t hate government, not even the current British government of right-wing ideologs and spineless toadying fuckwits. I don’t hate them, any more than I hate vaginas or tiles. In my opinion this idiotic cabal of Etonian gobshites are a dismal failure who had one economic idea (cutting our way to growth), which has been tried literally 176 times worldwide since 1980 and never worked. But I don’t hate them. I just think they’re idiots.

Likewise I don’t hate their supporters. I find it confusing, that’s all: confusing that anybody could vote for a party which is hell-bent on dismantling the NHS which we own and have paid for; and who can’t recognise that private companies are often utter scoundrels who pillage our national assets then fuck off to Belize with the takings. But I don’t hate people for voting that way. I’m sure Belize is very nice, if you need a warm, sunny place to hide your £300 million.

But the idea that you can hold such visceral, groundless and – let’s face it – reckless hatred for your government… well, it baffles me. Especially as the government is, in every sense, the nation. Obama is one man, and maybe you like him and maybe you don’t. But underneath him are about 40 million anonymous Americans, some of them Democrats and some Republicans, some with vaginas, some with penises… probably a few with both (let’s hope they don’t live in Alabama!). Possibly a few of those people still have carpets in their bathrooms, and I hope its preserving their faith as much as its dismantling their immune system.

But all of them are simply working to keep the nation on the rails. Do you hate all of those people? All those firemen and teachers and soldiers and social workers? Of course not. So how can you hate your government.

So that’s it: my theory, which I hope you enjoyed. It’s a theory about penises and marble tiles. And if you didn’t like it, try this theory: Republicans have, at some point piddled on their tiles, slipped in the dribblings, and banged all the logic and compassion out of their heads. I simply hope that they do it again sometime soon, and invent a Flux Capacitor so they can all go back to 1955, and feel right at home.

Frankly, Back to the Future might just as well have been their election slogan….

About luck

I was 40 when I got cancer.

I didn’t smoke, didn’t drink excessively, was reasonably healthy, but still managed to end up with a malignant lump on my kidney that was as heavy as your hand-luggage allowance. I’m fine – I was lucky to have a good surgeon and lucky the cancer hadn’t spread, and lucky that I’m having wonderful care in a first-world country with a marvellous health system.

It was just luck.

Of course, getting a massive, rare cancer is also quite bad luck. I’ll give you that. Granted.

But all of this plays into my thesis: luck is an incredibly important factor in life, and we tend to underestimate it. We especially underestimate good luck, or at least we ignore it and assume we deserve good things that happen to us: it’s down to some attribute of ours which others simply don’t have.

If you’re a generous spirit, you might say, “hey everyone, this wonderful thing happened to me, so it can happen to you”. But that’s disingenuous, and the same kind of lie the National Lottery uses each time it says “it could be you”. Yes, it could. There’s a 1 in 14 million chance, and you’re 5,000x more likely to be murdered by your wife. But it could be you.

But most people aren’t that generous or well-intentioned, and tend to start acting like twats as soon as they get a bit of cash. They are better human beings than you, and you’re all layabout scum who need to have their benefits scrapped and their children pushed up chimneys.

The sheer, enormous, gallumping good luck of being born in Chipping Norton to a stockbroker father who sent them to Eton doesn’t occur to the fortunate: they got there by the sweat of their smooth, egg-like brow.

But it’s not just the rich. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for class-war, especially as the rich have been winning the class war for a generation, and it’s about time we fought back a bit, rather than voting against our interests because we’re idiotic enough to believe we have a chance of being let into the exclusive club at the top. But this isn’t a dig at the entitled, landed gentry. This is a dig at those who attribute their success to skill, rather than chance.

My brother is an example of misattributed good luck. We work in the same industry (web stuff) but he’s so rich he spends his evenings making paper-aeroplanes out of £50 notes, and throwing them into one of his many solid gold fireplaces. Whereas I earn the average salary, rarely get paid on time, and spend most evenings scraping burned cheese off a baking tray so I can have some sustenance to gnaw on as I warm my fingers around a guttering candle. It’s positively Dickensian round here.

Yes, he’s worked hard, but so have I, and so have you – but he’s managed to be lucky too, and that makes all the difference. He is, at best, moderately good at programming and fairly smart – although we shared the same teachers, and every one of them said I was the smart one, and my brother was the future accountant. I’m not boasting, I’m just trying to place my brother in context.

(But I am dead smart though.)

He wanted to work with computers, but he dropped out of university after 6 weeks, and took a job at the nearest place to home: he was lazy and didn’t want to travel. Luckily that company, which only employed 3 people at the time, grew over the coming years, and he remained senior because he was there early. He didn’t make it grow. He was just a functionary. It just grew under him.

So dumb luck ends up pushing him into being a director, because all of the first intake of staff were made directors. As a director-by-politeness he wasn’t really trusted to have responsibility, and didn’t have a department to run or any great strategic role. But it worked out OK for him anyway: he was on £75k, and when the company was bought out by a larger organisation he took home a cheque for an additional £128,000. And because he was a director of the small company, he remained a “director without portfolio” at the larger company, got a 50% pay increase and 7 weeks holiday per year.

That’s how it is for directors – no lack of money up at the top, folks!

After a few years of this he was head-hunted, because he was a director of a big company, so must be good, right? Well, not really – he’s kind of average, but the fact that he’s been lucky means he’s in a position that appears to demonstrate some kind of skill. It’s why Keira Knightley still gets acting jobs – she’s absolutely awful, but she was in that thing that made money in spite of her presence, just because she was lucky to be born to a casting director (there’s that luck again!). So people think she’s a safer bet than… well, practically anybody else. And as a result, she keeps being given roles that the hedge in my garden would be more convincing in.

It’s not skill. It’s luck. I just don’t have a lucky hedge.

So my brother was head-hunted, and is now a director (again), this time of a very large company. I won’t tell you their name, but they trade autos. Trading autos is what they do. They are, you could say, auto traders.

Does he have to work hard or be inventive or do anything to earn his position there? No. They don’t invent new things, they don’t employ a million people, they don’t help with Britain’s balance of trade. They’re what’s called an “agency business”, which takes a slice for putting customers in contact with suppliers. He doesn’t make cars, that’s done by a proper economy in Germany (where they don’t leave every damn thing to the market, they go out and try to make the market function for the good of all, so everyone is benefiting and feels they belong).

As a director of this massive business, my brother doesn’t even need to go out and find new customers, or even run a good website (just look at it – it’s gruesome). He is, entirely by chance, sitting at the top table in a business which dominates about 95% of car buying in this country.

But ask him, and he’ll tell you he earned all of that. He, alone, was able to achieve those things, and deserves £160k (plus bonus) for sitting in an office while you buy cars he doesn’t make and doesn’t even sell. It had nothing to do with just happening to live close to a company which needed a cheap junior programmer, it was just skill and dedication and a hidden, secret knowledge which the rest of us have no access to.

I like the guy. But he’s a real cunt.

Businesses rely on serendipity just as much as people do. When a company employs a guy, it takes a risk that he’ll be good at his job. Most are competent, some terrible, but occasionally you’ll get lucky: you’ll employ somebody who has connections, and they’ll land you more work. It’s not your skill, or his skill – it’s luck that he’s connected to the right people, and those people are also lucky (often by birth, race, sex or location) to have strings they can pull.

As a lucky company, which felicitously employed somebody who, by good fortune of birth, has those connections and can land new contracts, you will be able to make money. And sometimes you will make enough money to let you start crushing rivals. In time you’ll dominate to the extend that luck stops playing a part.

Luck is a throw of the dice, but if you dominate 95% of the market you own the dice and the table, and are guaranteed to win. That’s what globalisation has brought us: a dozen lucky fuckers who now own the casino, and appear to own governments too. Every party must be “business-friendly” as though being helpful and sympathetic to normal people is a sin, but being friendly to blank-eyed, environment-destroying, soulless money-making machines is a cardinal virtue.

And that’s why the neoConservative, Tory, Republican view of the world is bullshit: they want to be “business friendly”, and reduce taxes for those who are successful in the belief that it will encourage more success. But most success is dumb luck, and you can’t legislate for luck. So all they’re really doing is ensuring those who are born into that club (which, let’s face it, is most of the members) are well rewarded for being incredibly fortunate that they fell out of a wealthy womb.

Dirty weekend

This could be my very last blog, because it appears I’m about to die.

I know this because my girlfriend just called up to call me a slagbag and drop some hints about my impending doom. It was only a matter of time. Most people want me dead, or at least don’t give a Bernard Matthews Turkey Twizzler if I’m alive.

This is normal, by the way. I’m not suddenly depressed, even though I did see myself in a mirror earlier today. Most people won’t be very mourned. We’re all the stars of our own little lives, but of the 6,973,738,433 alive today, 6,973,738,400 won’t know you’re gone.

I think of this when I’m damn near killing myself to please a client: if I actually went one step further and did kill myself to please a client, the result would be the following thought in the client’s mind:

  • Oh dear… who’s going to finish building my website?

So my philosophy of life is to laugh in the face of death, at least until death starts to laugh back. I’m going to live forever, or die in the attempt.

But it seems I’m going to be killed soon. I don’t yet know the full details, but my loving girlfriend clearly has plans: today she called me up to tell me she’s been speaking with an undertaker to find out if my 44 inch chest requires an extra-large coffin. I’ve checked all over my body, and can’t find an expiration date, but she’s definitely got one in mind.

In an odd way, it’s touching how much she cares: checking that I won’t be cramped in my box shows that at least she wants me to be comfortable when I’m a corpse. Although she’ll probably still steal most of my burial shroud, just like she steals most of the duvet every frikking night.

What, as stand up comedians often ask, is that all about?

Fortunately I like to operate a lot cooler than she does, which is why I haven’t yet died of frostbite in the night. (I can assure you, that’s the only cool thing about me).

As far as I’m concerned, I function at a normal temperature, but she disagrees. Every time she gets in my car she’s immediately struck by how cold it seems, and I’m immediately struck for letting it get that way.

Apparently the correct ambient temperature for the inside of a Ford Mondeo is just below the temperature at which my face melts. If she becomes cooler than that, steps must be taken: and that’s why she needs 97% of the duvet, and I only need something the size of a handkerchief.

She’ll definitely kill me now.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being dead. Some of the best people are dead, including, sadly, Neil Armstrong. He stood on the moon. Let’s just think about that: he stood on the fucking moon! You and I would think it’s a big deal to go to Spitzbergen, and we’d tell everyone about it for years. If we climbed Kilimanjaro we’d bore our relatives into a coma (I speak from experience, as the brother of a man who has climbed Kilimanjaro, and has bored me into a coma). But Armstrong didn’t just go to another country or stand on a tall rock. He went in a rocket to another celestial body, and looked down at the earth from 240,000 miles away, and didn’t once feel the urge to boast. In fact the most memorable thing he said since coming back from the moon is probably unknown to you all, but is rather ace:

As I sat on the launchpad, the thing that went through my mind was this: I’m sat on 3000 tons of explosive kerosene in an experimental rocket, every component of which was made by the lowest bidder.

What a guy.

So if/when my girlfriend does do me in at least I’ll be in good company. In fact, I reckon I’m well prepared for death: I learned a bit of Latin in school, and that’s a dead language, so, like a bilingual chicken, at least I’ll be able to communicate when I get to the other side.

And I’ve almost died a few times, which you could call being clumsy, or you could call unfortunate, but I call it practice:

  • Cancer √
  • Broken skull √
  • Hit by a car √
  • Falling onto railway lines √

And my brother once scribbled out those warnings they put on plastic bags, the ones about not putting it on your head, which I still maintain was an elaborate murder plot. I survived, which made him sad, but as I said at the time: being dead isn’t everything in life.

My brother belongs in that vast crowd of people who care not a jot for my life. He cares about only two things: making vasty heaps of money in his job as an evil capitalist stooge; and pretending to be blasé about climbing Kilimanjaro whilst actually being absolutely constipated with smugness about it.

But my girlfriend, in spite of her dastardly plan to kill me soon, actually cares. She must be nuts. I know she cares – or is nuts – because of the list.

You see, we’re going on a dirty weekend, and she sent me a list of things to take along. Now, I’m of the opinion that there is something wrong with women. All of them. I’m prepared to be shouted at by feminists for this outrageous slander, but bear with me.

You see, I go to Tesco with a vague idea of what I’ll want to eat next week. Sometimes, if I’m planning to cook something special, or try out a new recipe, I’ll jot down the things I need. But 99% of the time, I manage to walk around Tesco in a fairly efficient way, filling my basket with things I remember I need, or just think I fancy on the spot. The gentlemen in my readership will know that this is possible, because they will all have done it. And you know what: none of them have starved to death yet.

But ladies need a list. Most of them can’t go to the bathroom without making a note of the functions they’ll perform when they get there. And as they sit, ticking off “wee” “poo” and “small, squeaky fart that smells like kitten’s feet” on their special toilet-break list, they’ll probably write down how much loo roll is left, and whether they need more Veet.

It’s just how they are.

I’d like to say it’s just my girlfriend, but that would be a fib. It’s also my mum. And her friends. And my sister-in-law. And every woman on the planet. And if women had followed Armstrong to the moon, every woman off the planet too. They’d probably have taken a list with them too:

  • Go to moon
  • Bring back moon-rocks
  • Get talc

Lists, for men, are either a sign of obsessive planning, or of a demented propensity to worry, or of a big wet hole in the middle of your brain. But ladies make them all the time, and far be it from me to suggest women are obsessive, demented or have wet holes.

My mum has a special pad for making lists, which she keeps no more than 18 inches from her at all times, even though her Parkinson’s means she can rarely read what she just wrote. It honestly looks like she was making a list whilst tied to a pneumatic drill, standing on a washing machine, being driven at high speed across a carrugated roof, and having sex. But there’s always a list when I go round to do her shopping, and it’s always very comprehensive, if incomprehensible.

I’m starting to wonder if my girlfriend is the same. She’s listing badly captain! Not that I mind. I think it’s sweet, but it’s also slightly frightening. For example, as I mentioned, we’re going for a dirty weekend. You’d think by that phrase we’d need a list of lubricants and toys and ropes and goats and aubergines and marigold gloves and sink plungers.

But no: her list includes such fetishistic devices as:

  • Socks
  • Toothbrush
  • Shower gel
  • Hobnobs

And brilliantly

  • Savlon and plasters (just in case)

OK, maybe I misled you slightly for comic effect. The dirty weekend is actually a weekend getting dirty by scrambling up a waterfall in The Lakes, and all of the things she’s listed are practical, sensible and necessary. But still… socks? I’m 42. Do I really need to be reminded that I’ll need to wear socks?

Sadly, the truth of that is that I probably do. You see, 42 might not seem very old to you, but seems hysterically ancient to her. She’s quite convinced that at my age, my memory is going. What’s more, she’s quite convinced that at my age, my memory is going.

Mind you, if her plans for my forthcoming demise work out OK, I’ll soon be dead: and you don’t get older than that.

Olympic diary. Again

In 1997 my dad retired, and the whole family went to the Highlands of Scotland for a week.

If you’ve ever been to Scotland you’ll know how strange the following words are: the weather was beautiful.

In other parts of the world they have a climate, but here we have weather. A climate is (or was, before we broke it) pretty much predictable, and pretty much constant. But weather: not so much.

For example, in the Maldives they’ve got a climate. I’m sure the Maldivians have out-sourced their weather to the Germans, because it’s astonishingly well-organised. When it’s time for the rain, a small bell rings, and everybody moves to the bar for a drink. Two minutes and 11 seconds later the bell rings again, and everyone returns to their spot on the beach as though nothing had happened.

But in Scotland they don’t have a climate: they have weather, and plenty of it. I was once waiting for the ferry across to Stronian, a small headland just outside Fort William. The sky was clear, blue and bright; so nice, in fact, that as my fellow passengers and I waited for the ferry to arrive, several of us took our shirts off and sat on the rocky beach, tanning.

By the time we got to the other side of the crossing, 100 yards away, it was snowing. That’s what it’s like in Scotland: if you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes and there’ll be something different.

But in August of 1997 the weather seemed to have been imported from the Maldives, and we spent a marvellous week away from the real world, travelling through fabulous landscapes in a rented people carrier and consuming superhuman quantities of beef, salmon, broth and whiskey: all the things that people go to the Highlands for.

We’d rented a remote cottage for the week. Sometimes holiday properties are advertised as having “all mod cons”, but this had, at best, one mod con: a road that ran reasonably close to it. Not even a television, just beds, a coal fire, plenty of scenery, and a pile of jigsaws for when the hoolie blowing outside was too much for even the hardy souls who live up there.

When our week was over, the owners visited from the local village to collect the keys, and things started to turn strange. The woman was obviously very weepy, but trying hard to act normal. Her husband also looked on the verge of tears, and they kept hugging each other supportively, as though experiencing an unspeakable family tragedy. Being terribly British, we didn’t ask. Nobody said a word. We just shuffled around awkwardly and wished they’d go away and have their emotions in private.

The man, who was holding it together better than his wife, asked if we’d had a good time. Yes, terrific. Lovely. Couldn’t have been better.

And then he said something confusing. He said, “I’m just sorry it happened at a time like this. It really must have spoiled it for you”.

We had no idea, but it appears Diana the Princess of Wales had died the night we arrived, and we were leaving on the day of her funeral. We’d managed to miss the whole thing.

And then we drove back into civilisation, and found that Britain had gone insane. The word hysteria is from the Roman belief that women had a funny turn when their womb wandered around their body. Hysteria is from the same root as hysterectomy. For one week, everybody in the country had a wandering womb, and seemingly a brain which had gone out for a stroll too.

In England (world manufacturing centre for stiff upper lips, emotional repression and nihilistic cynicism) millions of formerly normal people were rending their hair and wailing in the streets.

Florists, who were having all of their Christmasses at once, had been so moved they’d only been able to increase their prices by 5000%, and in between bouts of hysteria and self-harming were congratulating themselves on their restraint.

The global news media had gone into “operation shit-fit”, and thrown every resource at repeating the same tiny, slightly sad little story over and over again until every important event had to be paused until the tragedy lifted.

The Daily Express still hasn’t recovered. The Daily Mail has moved on slightly, but only because they realised there’s more money to be made from showing scantily clad teenagers on their website, and then bitching about how scantily clad they are. But in the 10 years following Diana’s death, the Express had only 3 front pages which didn’t show her image or name.

Three. In ten years.

I’m sorry she died, but not that sorry. I didn’t know her, you see. And if I did, I suspect we wouldn’t have got on. She was a bit melodramatic and self-obsessed, and I don’t like either characteristic.

To me, she was a face on TV, and a face I tended to avoid reading about because she was, I’m sorry to say, unimportant to me or anybody I knew. She was important to her sons. She was important to her parents and siblings. She was important to the editor of the Daily Express. But to me she was a soap opera that I didn’t watch, and which got abruptly cancelled early one Sunday morning, making its viewers go fucking apeshit.

It’s true she was a pretty girl, but she was a pretty girl who had a few bits of plastic surgery – check out her miraculous shrinking nose – so clearly not the most beautiful creature ever. And it’s true she did some nice things to people who are poorly, but so does everyone. She was not Jesus. The chances are that not even Jesus was Jesus. Diana the Shagger certainly wasn’t.

The response to her death was nuts, and you know it was. If you joined in, I hope you’re embarrassed about it. You should be, it was mass-hysteria, and you should be better than that. Personally, I’m extremely glad I missed it all – being cut off in a shed in Scotland – because it would have made me vomit myself inside out, like a toad.

I’m sure there are a few people who probably still feel their reaction was normal, but I’m telling you: it wasn’t. It was nuts.

Perhaps it’s something about our national character. Perhaps we’re just so incapable of having normal emotions that when one does happen, we massively over-react and start screaming and gnashing our teeth and rending our clothes.

That level of hysteria seems to be building again, and all because Britain’s athletes had a moderately decent day of bike-riding and playing in boats; a bit like the Secret Seven, but with less blatant racism.

There is still a little bit of racism, obviously, because this is Britain and we’re all a bit uneasy about Johnny K Foreigner, especially if he’s French. I don’t blame anybody for it, as long as we can recognise our awfulness and laugh about it. After all, the French have been our enemies for a very long time, and it’s hard to just forget about that just because we’ve all grown up a bit and realised racism is pretty awful. But it’s still in us.

You think Israel and the Arab states are a bit squabbly? Amateurs! They’ve only been at it for 70 years, but us and the French have been actively hating each other for one and a half millenia.

You won’t be shocked to hear that this unpleasant national instinct is being stoked constantly by the Daily Mail, which claims British GB Team UK of England (sorry, I still haven’t learned the proper terminology) contains “61 plastic Brits”.

A plastic Brit is, according to the Mail, somebody who can’t trace their ancestry back to Richard the Lionheart, or at least to Oswald Moseley, whose cod-Nazi goons the Mail heroically supported in the 1930s, and whose son the Mail heroically smeared in its pages 80 years later. Arguing about whether Bradley Wiggins is sufficiently British seems a strange attitude from the Mail, when you consider how hard that august and noble organ lobbied for Zola Budd to be on the British team in the days of apartheid.

Perhaps the Mail wasn’t wholeheartedly against apartheid, which is why it was still referring to Mandela as a “terrorist” the day before he was released. Nice.

But I don’t honestly care if the British team is full of what the Mail think of as mudbloods. Few of us are totally British for a hundred generations. Think of Churchill, whose mother was American. There are few people more British than Stephen Fry, who is made of tweed and who’s beautiful heart is warmed by his own internal AGA, but who is only a generation away from being Hungarian. Bill Bryson, born and bred in Des Moines, Iowa, feels as British as a slab of cheddar or a stabbing in a pub; and that proud son of the valleys, Sir Anthony Hopkins, is actually an American citizen.

Does any of that stuff matter? What really matters is that the people who count in this country, the people, the citizens, the inhabitants, whatever you want to call them – those people are going fucking nuts again. I was caught off guard today by the incessant patriotic drivel and sporting passion visible on Twitter, even from people who I was convinced were as weary and wary of all this crap as I am.

Perhaps I’m just like nasty, old, flavorless chewing gum stuck the pavement, unsightly and unwanted: when everyone else is getting swept up, I remain unmoved.

I just can’t wait for the hysteria to be over, so we can go back to being sullen, familiar and British. Until then, has anybody got a hut in Scotland I can borrow?