A voyage of discovery (and recovery)

Glen Garry, Scotland
Some of Scotland. Not much of it. Just a bit.

At the bottom of my soul is a little hole, and jammed in that hole is a small, hard, wrinkled, dried pea.

Every day I go to work, my soul gets soaked in the hot piss that pours from clients into my ear from 9 to 5, day in, day out. As anyone who has soaked dried peas in hot piss (and we all have) will tell you, they tend to go a bit soft after a while, and as a result bits of my soul keep leaking out through the hole, trickling down my leg and vanishing into the drains. It’s most disheartening, and over the course of a year I find myself feeling increasingly hollow and dismal. I need to refill my soul, and the best method I know is to head to Scotland and attempt to build a TARDIS.

I won’t attempt to be cool about this: I love Scotland. It’s like England without all those fucking awful English people. Where Manchester has gangs of pikeys getting fingered by the bins behind Halfords, Scotland has gloaming and heather and vast empty spaces that leak into your heart and make you feel human again. And by “human” I mean “animal”. They make you reconnect with that part of yourself that hides in the corner so you can focus on staring at a screen all day, or cope with the A6 at rush hour. A couple of days in Scotland and you realise how much of you belongs in nature, and how for the first 300,000 years of human existence, all we had was places like this. Only bigger, and with a sign that says “Feral Goats”. I’m not making that up.

Scotland
Outside, where you belong. Go there you damn fool.

And this is where the TARDIS comes in, because like a Time Lord, I somehow believe that I can cram all of that vastness into a small box with a telephoto lens, take it home with me, and by looking at it can be transported back to that better time and that better place. And I can’t. All I see is 2% of what I could see from that spot, and all I feel is gutted that I’m back at a desk in my pants. From this spot I could drive for 25 minutes in any direction without seeing more than a single house. And there’s something about being in that emptiness that lets you remember what it meant to be a person.

Oh yeah: I could also see my girlfriend taking a piss in a bush.

Because one of the other things I discovered in Scotland is that my girlfriend has a bladder the size of a kidney bean. We couldn’t travel more than 10 miles without a pit-stop, although in her defence these are Scottish miles, which seem to be a bit more generous. But when we drove up from Manchester on the Saturday we had to stop at literally every service station en route. By the time we got to Loch Lomond (thus doubling the number of vegetarians in Scotland) we’d both stopped laughing about her inability to go 5 minutes without a piddle, and were determined to plough on to Fort William without a break. By this point Lorna still wasn’t feeling the essential Scottishness I’d led her to expect, mainly because we’d only just left Glasgow.

Sign as you leave Glasgow: You are now leaving Glasgow. Please take us with you.

But just around the corner from Loch Lomond it starts to get properly massive and windswept, and everybody is called Hamish, Fergus or Morag. This is the Scotland we all want.

Don’t be fooled into thinking Scotland is just one big place. I mean, it is one place, and it is quite big. I certainly wouldn’t volunteer to carpet it, for instance. But it’s got several geographical characters, and you need to go there at once and explore them all. In the borders region it could easily be leafy Hampshire, but as you head up into the highlands you seem to leap all over the place. The moors near Glencoe (that’s Sebastian’s brother) look like Iceland. Glen Garry looks like all of the postcard Scotland you’ve ever seen, all lined up across the front of your fridge like the best cut-and-paste panorama you can imagine. The Cairngorms look like Austria and will kill you if you fuck around. And if you’re bonkers enough to drive all the way to Thurso you’ll find a landscape that looks like the Urals.

Sign as you enter Thurso: Welcome to Thurso, twinned with The Moon.

Actually that’s not fair to Thurso. It’s not twinned with The Moon. It’s more of a suicide pact.

We tried to watch Looper the night we arrived, but it was too complex, Bruce Willis was too scowly, we were too tired and drunk. Plus we’d spent all our energy on driving, pissing, and doing lots of naughty sex the moment we got into the flat. Don’t blame me: we got a free sex toy because we’d spent so much on… erm… sex toys. OK, blame me a bit. But if you’re given a free sex toy, you have to try it out as soon as you can lock all the doors. And without giving too much away, it’s the best sex toy in history, so I’m apologising for nothing, except for this: we later realised the landlord lived upstairs and could probably hear it all. So can I just take a moment to say sorry for how noisy we were, and for that thing I loudly called Lorna in the heat of the moment. She isn’t one of those. She’s never charged me a penny.

The next day we went to the local supermarket, which was showing off because they had a pineapple and a coconut in stock. People had travelled all the way from the deliciously named “Rest And Be Thankful” to see them, and some of the Fergus’s were queuing up to see the local witch doctor to have their shots before being introduced to such radical fruit. So we did the usual thing you do when visiting a strange supermarket – bought a “paint your own meerkat” kit – and then left. To fill up the rest of the day we went 10 miles outside Fort William to a place which isn’t quite the middle of nowhere, but if you stand on a chair you can see the middle of nowhere from there: it’s called Glen Etive, and is such as good-looking collection of nothingness that they used it for this bit of Skyfall.

Glen Etive/
Glen Etive. This is Scotland showing off.

It might sound like “middle of nowhere” is an insult. Not so. It’s fucking beautiful. No special effects, just 22 miles of that, petering out into even more nothing at all. And because it’s the winter there’s snow and waterfalls, and a hell of a lot of deer wandering around the place, keeping warm near the bottom of the valleys. OK, it was -7, but it’s still warmer than up in the hills. Deer are gnarly, and we took dozens of photos of them standing not 10 feet from us, being wild and cool and just a little bit amazing.

Deer are certainly gnarlier than His Popeness, who decided to jack it all in because he thinks the church needs someone else at the top. Well, not the top, obviously, because presumably that’s God, and it’s hard to replace something which doesn’t exist. But old Ratzinger finally had enough foresight to realise you can be too old to do a job. Sorry, did I say foresight? I meant Forsyth. Anyway, his announcement said he’d realised his “age means he hasn’t the strength to do his job”. Which is weird, because everyone else gets even better at talking nonsensical bollocks once they’re over 85, and that, surely is the Pope’s job.

Later, he did a follow-up announcement that he’s giving up Poping so he can dedicate his life to prayer. Being Pope isn’t religious enough for some people. Fucking nutbag.

The next day we decided to head up to the highland zoo, which is (as you’d expect) entirely populated by animals that die if they get above freezing, like yaks and polar bears and people called Fergus. Lorna, quelle surprise, was treating her miniscule bladder to rare trip to the ladies, and I was looking at a map of the zoo so I get my bearings (my marbles having vanished some time before). So I looked left to see how far away the enclosure was, and lo and behold, there was a red panda. Not in a cage, just standing on the path 10 feet from me, staring back.

An escaped Red Panda at the Highland Zoo
An escaped Red Panda at the Highland Zoo

I thought it must be one of those places where they let the tamer animals wander around freely, like Ford Open Prison, so when Lorna’s bladder was eventually persuaded to exit the toilet she joined me and we took photos as the panda ambled around in front of us. A Fergus and his Morag joined us to take snaps. It was very pleasant, but after a few minutes we all started to feel strange about it. Surely a red panda would have run off by now – there was no fence to keep it in the zoo, it could just walk to Drumnadrochit if it felt the need, although frankly, why would it want to?

So we wandered back into the gift-shop to ask an Angus if it was their policy to allow red pandas to walk around freely. I’ve never seen an Angus move so fast. In 30 seconds the zoo was in lock-down, and everyone was ordered back into the gift shop (presumably in the hope we’d spend enough money to allow the zoo to buy another padlock or two). At this point I overheard the first Fergus saying he’d already sold his photo of the escaped wild animal to a Scottish tabloid for £200. It probably ended up as a hysterically terrifying story of rampant animal fury, but the reality is that the red panda is as large and terrifying as a spaniel on prozac, and in any case it wandered back to its enclosure on its own.

Even so, the lax attention to minor details like locks and fences made me slightly nervous around the polar bears, especially as they appears to be held behind chicken wire and were fucking gigantic. And brown, oddly. I suspect the zoo was cheating, as they clearly were about their beaver display – there wasn’t anything sexy about that.

Afterwards we pressed on up to Aviemore and the amazing ski slops and unutterable beauty up there. Heaven, except that it killed 4 people while we were there, and did terrible things to my hair. I’m not a preening twat, and generally don’t care about my hair at all. But hats are essential in Aviemore, and hats do bad things to any head, even one as massive and impenetrable as my own. So I finally understand why people who live in the coldest, most exposed and windblown part of Britain all have shorn heads like an warm sheep or Frankie Boyle. It’s so they don’t get hat-hair. This was a revelation to me, and probably the only time I used my brain all week.

Eilean Donan castle.
Eilean Donan castle.
By this time we’d done Eilean Donan castle and many of the best views, so we felt we had no option but to go to Loch Ness. If you ever go to Scotland and feel like Loch Ness should be part of the itinerary, take my advice: burn your itinerary. Loch Ness is pointless. Don’t get me wrong: if it was in England it would be the prettiest place for 500 miles, and would be swarming with bikers and hikers every minute of every day. But in the highlands of Scotland it’s just the background, and you drive past it with barely a glance.

And after Eilean Donan, the dismal Castle Urquhart is, frankly, garbage. It’s a broken-down wall by a pond, for which you pay £27 entrance fee. There’s a sign outside Castle Urquhart which says: Welcome to Castle Urquhart. At least we didn’t put it in a bag, set fire to it, and leave it on your doorstep.

Much better by far is the nearby town of Drumnadrochit, which is such a bustling metropolis that they advertised their traffic-calming measures from 2 miles away: it was a single traffic island on an empty street. We went to the pub, which said “Closed until mid-March”. We wandered into a courtyard because it said there was a tea-shop and a pet-shop. The tea-shop was also closed until “mid-March”, and the pet-shop was closed, had no pets, but did have a sign in the window saying somebody had found a lost cat. In Glasgow. Which is 120 miles away.

The welcoming face of Drumnadrochit
The welcoming face of Drumnadrochit

We had fits of giggles and fits of panic, because the general ambience was similar the start of a horror movie – naive townies wander into desolate village and end up bent over a desk being abused with something mechanical. But it wasn’t quite that bad: we just found a cafe which was open, and which prominently displayed the signature of James Bond’s favourite torturer, Mads Mikkelsen. He was a regular, it seems. So that made us feel much less vulnerable to a violent death.

There’s a sign outside Drumnadrochit that says: Welcome to Drumnadrochit . This is why Herbie went bananas.

We made our excuses and left. Actually, we had to get going: it was Valentine’s day, although I think I’ll avoid telling you too much about that because it wasn’t part of the Scottish plan: just an accident which happened while we were up there. All I’ll say is that it wasn’t like yours. We don’t do romance. The card I gave to her had “With sympathy” on the front, and a photo of lilies. I wrote a rude poem in it. Not sexy-rude, just abusive. She got me a card that said she more or less loved me, with some caveats that weren’t fully explained, but I can guess. We had a meal at a local restaurant that that was pretty nonsescript to be honest, but I suspect it’s hard to find a great chef in a town with 19 permanent inhabitants. After that went home, not in the most romantic of moods, and had some sex. The sex wasn’t anything to write home about, either (which is a pity, because my mum used to really enjoy those letters).

And so, sadly, to our last day in Scotland, and the only occasion in my working-class life when I’ve needed skiing clothes. We went to a rock-and-ice-climbing centre, and I needed to wear something that is – or perhaps are – called “Salopettes”. It says much about the limitations of my class background that I still have no idea whether a salopette is plural or singular, but it matters not a jot because mine lasted about 3 minutes. Salopettes don’t react well when you drag razor-sharp crampons down them as soon as you start to scramble up a wall, and I had to be held together with duct-tape as I attempted a 25-foot ice-cliff. Although to be honest, by the time I got to the ice I was already knackered. The rock-climbing did me in, and I realised (not for the first time) that the results of my cancer surgery are pretty much permanent. I don’t have much strength left in my stomach muscles these days, at least not compared with old me. And I found it very hard to bend myself into the shapes necessary for scaling a wall.

I also discovered that I’m pretty bad at heights. Embarrassing, especially when you find out about this only when you get to the top of the 50-foot high rope-walk. I was the very definition of “chicken out”, and swiftly abseiled down, feeling light-headed and delighted to be back on terra firma. Just watching Lorna skipping around up there made me feel wobbly. Hey, where in this blog does it say I’m a real man?!

And so that’s it: my soul is refreshed and filled up with Scottishness for another year, and here I am, back at my desk, being slowly emptied again. I can’t wait to go back and do it all again.

Fetch the butt-plug Mr Cunterblast

WordPress just told me that I missed our anniversary. That means I’m even disappointing software now.

The 15th of January marked a year since I started writing this bullshit, and tradition dictates that I should have gone out and, in a fit of irony that would even trouble the descriptive powers of Alanis Morissette, bought some paper for my blog service.

Remember paper? Crikey, it all seems so long ago.

So in an effort to make WordPress forgive me, tonight I took my blog out for the evening instead. First I took it my ripped-off copy of Wurd to see how many words I’ve typed; and then off to a word-cloud generator to see what it’s been about. I now know that my blog is twice as long as the novel The Life of Pi, and that I’ve spent an unfeasibly long time talking about cancer, sex and Simon Cowell.

(I also know that I’m likely to get arrested by Microsoft for having a ripped off copy of Word, but I spelled it Wurd, which is bound to baffle even the greatest lawyer. And in my defence, practically everyone else on the planet has a ripped off copy of Word too).

As a result of my research into my own blog, I’ve come up with some findings, and have decided to adapt The Naked Mole Rat into a $100 million 3D Bollywood epic, in which I’m stuck in a boat with a CGI version of Simon Cowell and have to decide whether to have kinky sex with him, or give him an aggressive and painful cancer.

It’s a real conundrum.

Actually, it’s not much of a conundrum. Simon’s getting no sweet, sexy lurve from me, which leaves him with the choice of death or death. A nation grieves. But the reason he’s not getting sweet, sexy lurve from me is because at least one of us (OK, let’s face it, it’s exactly one of us) is a raging heterosexual. And because all my romance is being directed to the lady in my life, who repays it by manipulating my head, as can be seen in this graphic depiction of our relationship.

She's so manipulative.
She’s so manipulative.

I rarely speak about my private life in detail, but for once I’m going to spill my beans and tell you that our relationship is about to go to new places. Specifically, Scotland.

I’m very fond of Scotland, and of all the people from there who I’ve met. I can’t say it’s been a representative sample, or that they’ve liked me very much. But I liked them.

It’s unrepresentative because I tend to meet Stots when, in exchange for a stuffed sheep’s stomach and a night in their bothy, I give them with enough money to buy a small island up there (approximately £78). And that kind of transaction always brings out the best in people.

And it’s hard to say if they liked me because it’s often hard to understand a bloody word they’re saying.

But I still like them. I like their attitude. On a drive up in the highlands once, I stopped at one of the tiny all-purpose stores you often find in deeply remote areas. It was a post office, off license, petrol station, butcher, fishing supplies depot, lumber-merchant and record shop. (Not a greengrocer. It is Scotland after all, and if you want to eat greens they’ll contemptibly direct you to a tuft of thistle by the roadside). The shop had the obligatory wall dedicated to tartan and shortbread, and an entirely startling wall dedicated to Native American Dreamcatchers, which seemed unusual until you realise how many Americans visit Scotland, and how gullible they are.

The shop was miles from the nearest plumbing, and the only member of staff was a short, incomprehensible object of indeterminate sex, radioactively ginger, and with webbed fingers and an advanced case of athlete’s head. So I didn’t hold out much hope when I asked to use the bathroom. It was in a lean-to against the side of the shop, and I expected a wet hole in the floor, at best. But in fact it was a fully fitted bathroom and shower, with soaps and shampoos and fresh towels laid out for anybody who needed them, and, wonderfully, a small pile of socks beneath a sign saying “help yourself”.

The climate up there puts pressures on anyone daring enough to be caught outdoors, and a shower and warm, dry socks can turn a walker’s life around. I’m taking the piss out of Scots because I take the piss out of everybody: but the shower, towels and socks were provided with generosity, and I honestly have no expectation of anything less from people in the top half of the British Isles.

I hate to say it but that open, welcoming, selfless approach to life becomes more common the further north from Westminster you get. Actually, I didn’t hate to say it at all: I like it. I like the fact that true human nature emerges if you simply leave people alone to be people, rather than forcing them to be greedy brutes in a greedy, brutal capital city. Whereas in the wilds of Scotland they have a different attitude: if you don’t hang together you’ll probably hang separately. So be nice.

I’ve expressed this opinion to people in the South of England, and been told that I’m a mad socialist fuckwit who is living in the 70s, and that the Scots are all violent thugs and a drain on the poverty-stricken folks of Surrey. And I’ve reported those conversations to people in bars in Scotland, and been told that the Scots don’t actually hate the English: they just hate the southern English.

Not that I’m any more romantic about Scots than I am about my anniversary with WordPress or my forthcoming week up there with my girlfriend. We’re going to be there on Valentine’s Day, but that’s just an embarrassing scheduling error. We’d both forgotten Saint Valentine existed (because he didn’t – even the Pope who canonised him recognised that “nothing is known about his life”).

Anyway, this 14th Feb there will be no violins or flowers, and I’m not just saying that cos she’ll read this blog, and I want to lay a false trail. The best she can hope for is that I won’t tie the ropes too tight, and will clean the ball-gag before it’s applied. And the best I can hope for is that she’ll apply plenty of lube before she does that thing to me with the object that’s slightly bigger than it looked on LoveHoney.

Other than that, it’ll be the usual mixture of visceral abuse about my hairy back, six-hour fights about how the duvet is shared out, and vain attempts to make her murder look like a tragic accident. I’ll be as cheeky as a 6-foot six-year-old can be, and she’ll respond with a torrent of abuse and profanity, and many, many slaps about the head and neck. I just hope I can persuade her to save her filthy mouth and spanking until we get indoors and naked, where her vocabulary is rich, varied, and remarkably inventive. I flatter myself that I have a wide lexicon and a seedy mind, but she still manages to startle me rigid. It’s a rigidity which comes in handy, when it works.

Damn being old!

I’m not old old, not like the mad racist who lives upstairs and must be avoided at all costs. We popped round to ask if he needed anything from the shops during the recent snow, but after 3 hours all we’d learned was that black people are ruining this country. I’m not there yet, and you have my permission to throw me down a well if I do. But I’ve reached the point at which my body starts to disintegrate, and indeed I got a head-start with the cancer that kicked off this blog a year ago. I’m grateful to the doctors, but have decided to never see one again after accidentally catching an episode of House.

Hugh Laurie, House
No wonder he’s grumpy: he’s wrong almost all the time.

This week, a man went to see House with hiccups, and after getting his diagnosis wrong five times the so-called “best diagnostician in America” finally worked out that the man’s marriage was doomed, along with his liver. He did this in much the same way as the people in CSI solve crimes, and the people in Church work out how the universe was created: random guesswork and a lot of mumbo-jumbo. This week’s patient thought he had hiccups, but apparently he had something which, from memory, had 3000 syllibals and ended in “itis”, and which every actor on set looked proud to have memorised.

I don’t know why anyone goes to see House anyway. He diagnoses patients without even seeing them, is wrong 9 times out of 10, and it’s pretty much always cancer. So House’s oncologist mate could solve the problem anyway, if he wasn’t too busy being slightly cross-eyed and wetter than a turbot’s handbag. And when the guest-star disease isn’t cancer, it’s something you’ve never heard of; so it’s a bit like reaching the end of The Usual Suspects and being told the villain is a Mr Ted Cunterblast, a total stranger who wasn’t mentioned during the previous 2 hours.

Ted Cunterblast is mentioned by Hugh Laurie though, in his previous career as a purveyor of amusing japes and elaborate swearing with Stephen Fry. (If you’ve never seen their terrific sketch show, imagine Armstrong and Miller, but with Armstrong and Miller being replaced by somebody who can be arsed doing a different sketch every week).

My girlfriend could learn a lot from Fry and Laurie, and I fully expect her to call me Ted Cunterblast upon our next meeting. Although part of me hopes she saves her filthy mouth until we’re on our own in a bothy in Scotland, so there isn’t a repeat of that time she loudly called me a twat in the children’s section of Ikea. I don’t think the Scots are ready for her vocabulary.

Of course, it’s perfectly possible the Scots have learned how to swear by now. I seem to remember Frankie Boyle using a bad word once, and Billy Connolly too. Not as bad as the word I used about him today, when I read this article in the Guardian, in which he was given a free £5,000 holiday and then proceeded to bitch and moan about the whole thing. Well don’t fucking go then! Give the money to some poor kids from Glasgow.

The acquisition of large amounts of money seems to turn even the best person into an utter bastard. Take Sean Connery, a man who bestrides Scotland like a colossus… from his home in tax haven of The Bahamas, where he pays not a penny in tax to support the nation for whose independence he vigorously campaigns. Why do so many nationalists have such a strong objection to spending any money at all on the country they claim to love? The Tories are the same, wrapping themselves in the Union Flag and bellowing at Johnny Foreigner for having the temerity to introduce laws to protect British jobs. But ask that noble, blue-rinsed defender of the UK to pay a single penny more tax to fund his own country, and he’ll let his wife out of the kitchen long enough to fetch his shotgun and let the dogs out on you.

I do find it galling to have the Tories “protecting” Scotland from independence at the same time they insist on “protecting” Scotland from the support of Europe. The EU seems to have funded 90% of the bridges north of the border, and if I were a Scot I’d kick England out, get married to Europe, and stay happy. If they do, I’m going to campaign for Manchester to be officially recognised as a district of Dundee, cos I don’t want to be trapped here with David Cameron.

So there you have it: my 91st blog, and the end of my first year as a blogger. Next year it’s the cotton anniversary and I’m going to get WordPress some knickers, but the year after that it’s the leather anniversary. Stick with me, cos then the filthy sex will really start to get interesting!

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?