Saturday, 29 January 2011

Dear Alec - the doctor advises

Of course, I'm not a proper doctor, only in the 'Dr' Gillian McKeith 'holistic nutritionist' sense, but it's all on the internet anyway, so what the hell.

Dear Dr Alec, what's all this with the economy and that? I mean, why's it gone all crap all of a sudden with pints mostly more than £3, 20% VAT, students getting arsey and stuff? Is it right the snow was to blame, or Labour, or the bankers or something? I can't make sense of it, but you seem like a sensible bloke. What do you reckon?  A P, Keynsham, England

Well, A, I'm not a proper economist either, but I can remember the old days. It's gone crap because for years we were seduced into believing that we wanted  - and the economy demanded  - enormous brightly lit spaces stuffed to the gunwhales with food from all over the world. We got used to roaming these places dressed to the nines and ringing our partners on our smartphones to check what we were there for in the first place. Then we would put it all in our shiny vehicle which we pretended the bank didn't own and returned to a house to which the same applied. It wasn't sustainable. So, no it wasn't the snow. It wasn't Labour either, except that they were in it too. Was it the bankers? Yes partly it was. They like us waving our various credit cards about. Really though it was just us being greedy.

Hi Doc! Is it true that the famously unapologetic boss at Barclay's bank is called Bob Diamond, or is that the name of a cartoon villain with too much bling? Please settle this for me and my pals once and for all. Ms V McC, Aberdeen, Scotland.

Hi V. You couldn't make it up, could you? He really is Diamond. He really thinks the banks have nothing to apologise for too. I don't know if he sports much bling. A Swiss watch from Davos maybe.

Dear Dr Turer (may I call you 'Dr'?), how could I become more British in my consumption of non-alcoholic beverages. Since that magnificent display in the Ashes series, I would like to tap into my roots. Mr T E, Adelaide, Australia

By all means call me Dr, Mr. In truth, there's more than one regime. The easiest and most down-with-the-proletariat is to drink (fairtrade) teabag steeped at least four minutes, with milk and sugar to taste, at all times of day. The regime followed at Turer Towers is a little more elaborate, but you could build towards it gradually. On rising drink two cups of leaf Assam, made in a proper teapot, with a little skimmed milk and no sugar. At eleven, drink one cup of freshly ground Java coffee made in one of those screw-down Italian pots you put on the stove. After lunch drink one more of the same. At four o'clock (no earlier), as the fog comes down (or it rains if it's summer) make a pot of China tea such as Oolong. Drink without milk or sugar. Bear in mind too that these rituals vary from region to region and take a lifetime of study. Awfully bad luck over the Ashes, by the way, but quite well done over the less important one-day series. Tootlepip.

Dear Alec, what's the difference between the Control Orders that the Lib Dems swore to abolish and the new TPIMs? Ms N B, Aberystwyth, Wales

Dear N. Search me.

Dear Alec, My girlfriend wants me to rub her all over with coconut oil but I fear this is not sanctioned in the Bible. Could you advise? Mr Z D, Tucson, Arizona, USA

Dear Z, I fear you may have strayed into the wrong forum, as I don't usually advise on spiritual matters. However, I have scoured both Old and New Testaments, and good news! I can find absolutely nothing whatever that forbids rubbing coconut oil into another person. I say therefore, go blamelessly to it. I would only add that it would be a good idea for several reasons to gently warm the coconut oil. Also, as it's likely to go everywhere, it would also be a sensible precaution to remove your own clothing too.

Dear Alec, what is the cure? Anon, Erewhon

Dear Anon, to heal the heart. Return soon for another teaspoon of wisdom.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

How to survive redundancy and enjoy it

To start with, don't take my advice. You'll soon see what I mean.
  1. On Tuesday morning before ten (or Wednesday if you've left it a bit late), have a look in the mirror, then have a shave and a shower. Maybe put clothes on, over your pyjamas if need be
  2. Facebook and Twitter are not actual jobs, even if Stephen Fry makes the latter seem almost as if it could be, and even if the people you're chatting to are former or precariously current employees of Hardacre Subsidiaries
  3. Create a miniature version of your former workplace, dividing its various functions among the household, and make Fruitcake the cat chief executive, and marvel at the parallels that emerge 
  4. Give yourself reasons to get out of the house - for example your partner suggests you go and get a vegetable while she gets on with some work
  5. If you go out to post some of your schemes for world domination (and also to get a little exercise, and a vegetable), remember to take the letters with you, particularly if you have already told yourself what kind of fool might forget 
  6. If you see bicycle man quite by chance, as ever coming northwards up the A666 all hot and yellow, give him a wave and hope that it being just after lunch doesn't mean he's lost his job too
  7. Remember you can spend a whole morning waiting to see if there's a wren in the hedge, and you can spend all day making a curry out of the vegetable you got yesterday (cauliflower, aubergine, and pea and potato are the current top three)
  8. When you walk through the storm, hold your head up high, and don't be afraid of the dark - even if Liverpool FC are having a hard time
  9. Bear in mind that David Cameron's cabinet were born knowing precisely how it is we should be standing on our own two feet, and how to make damn sure that's what we do, and they were reminded of this fact all through their privileged education. This qualifies them absolutely to tell you what must be done in that oily patronising manner that is so effortlessly right in so many ways. So, try not to spend too much time listening to the news
  10. Bear in mind too that your former employers may be from a similar mould but as miniature versions
  11. Try to relax about money. One day there will be a knock at the door (or an email) from someone who was very impressed with one of the schemes for world domination that you had forgotten you had even posted
Breaking news (sorry, this bit should scroll across your screen): Some work may just have come in. Half a day is better than no organic wholemeal.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Cheers then bicycle man

On the walk to my former employment at Hardacre Collage, the spelling mistake where I taught ESOL, there were many adventures over twenty years. For instance I had a stalker in a van, whose peskiness ended with such a satisfying crunch, as you can see in the last two posts. Saying hello to bicycle man was less spectacular, but it was very British, and even heart-warming. Bicycle man was the very opposite of van man.

I don't know when I first saw him. Eventually he was always there, as I was too probably. I would be walking north wearing a blue hooded jacket in the winter, a jacket and tie in warmer months, and just a shirt and tie if it was hot. Naturally there would be trousers and so forth. I always had a bag, mostly with my lunch in it and the sort of anxieties teachers always carry disguised as books and a diary. Bicycle man would of course be on a bicycle, coming south towards me. In winter he wore yellow waterproofs and looked hot, especially if he was cycling standing up. In warmer months he wore lycra and looked hot. But it was cheery hot, not angry hot. He and I would cross paths anywhere on the twenty-five-minute walk between the shops at the top of my road to the big gloomy metallic buildings that acccidentally comprise the physical structure of Hardacre Collage. Where we crossed paths exactly depended on whether it was nearer ten to eight or twenty past, and on how each of us was going for time, and maybe on the phases of the moon.

The British part in all this was how long it took to get to a conversational exchange. At some point I must have gone "Here comes bicycle man," just as he must have gone "Here comes walking man." This phase certainly lasted many months and possibly took years. Phase two was transitional: not ignoring became faint smile  - a delicate stage this, especially in bad weather or heavy traffic. Once we got to nodding, the dam burst and the first word in all our many conversations was exchanged. "Morning." Notice no exclamation mark yet. That followed later. Then we were away, with full-blown waving, thumbs up, the works. As night follows day, there came the second word. "Alright?" There is no answer to that question especially passing at a combined speed, I estimate, of at least twelve miles an hour.  So there we were, in a two-word matehood:

Perhaps, sometime in July he said to himself "Where's walking man?" He may have then gone "Ah-ha, summer holidays - happened last year." At the end of August he may have gone "'Expect I'll see walking man soon."

Dear bicycle man, sorry to disappoint. And before you ask, no, I haven't retired.  It was the cuts - funding, that kind of thing. Yes, very true. Bastards! At the moment? Oh, you know, this and that. How are things with you and wherever it is you cycle to?  Oh well, hang on in there. There's a lot of it about.

And here they are, words three and four: "Cheers then!"

Friday, 21 January 2011

Walking to work 2 Bicycle man

If you were here for the previous post you will recall we had arrived at the denoument in the tale of the stalker on the walk to work.  Our hero (that is, myself) was being bellowed at from a van on a regular basis. Although I displayed remarkable nonchalance in ignoring this hairy overweight lunatic, it had been going on for eighteen months and had gone past boring.

I had just passed a zebra crossing and was going north up the pavement on the right-hand side of the road with the traffic coming towards me (we're in the UK here). Now you might think the other side of the road would have been better, but the side I was on at least meant that the driver would have to shout across the passenger seat at me instead of directly out of his window. And on this occasion he did have a passenger, for whom I came to have some sympathy.

The road was narrower at the crossing than further up, and not far beyond it a bus lane merged with the centre lane. I spotted the white van just as the passenger wound down the window, presumably under instructions. Van man leant across him, one hand still on the wheel, thus swinging into the bus lane, and began to roar with malevolent glee. Several things then happened at once. Tyres squealed and there was the smell of hot brake pads. There was a taxi, suddenly, on the bus lane, almost between me and the van. There was terror on the face of van man's passenger as he stared at what it meant to become a nasty sandwich filling. There was also a bang and a tooth-curling screech of metal on metal. Van man and I found ourselves eye to bulging eye across the chaos for a moment, before he accelerated away.

About ten minutes later, having perhaps enough brain to realise I had his registration number by heart, van man drove slowly back. He pulled up opposite the taxi where I too now sat in the cab. The taxi driver and I turned our heads. It was cinematic. It was bliss. Van man did a futile pantomime at the wheel of grief and supplication specially for me. The taxi driver and I got out of the cab -  he to cross the road, I to carry on exultant up the pavement.

The police were very pleased to get such a detailed report. The taxi driver and his insurers were similarly grateful. I have no idea what van man's passenger said. I have no idea what the court said. But I know that at the very least van man's insurance premium will still be stinging.

You could see karma in it all, you could just see being an arse. I promised you would meet bicycle man, though, the opposite of van man. There he goes! Hello bicycle man. Come back soon.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Walking to work 1 Stalker

January mid morning somewhere in England - but sunshine instead of grey. Birds who can't quite believe it have started to sing, and I'm walking towards a cup of coffee down the A666 instead of up it to Hardacre Collage, which is the spelling mistake I became redundant from last summer. Inevitably, as I walk,  I recall adventures I had between 7.50 and 8.20 a.m. over twenty years of going in the opposite direction.

It's a dead straight line to the college out of terraced housing with shops into modern industrial brick, steel, and roundabouts. The walk took twenty-five minutes, and it became so automatic that sometimes I would find myself threading my way through the knots of smokers on the lovely college tarmac wondering how I had got  there. For a drab journey with a stressful conclusion, it was not unpleasant though - until I encountered my stalker.

He nearly ran me over one day in his plain white Citroen Berlingo van as I crossed a side street  This was rare and hilarious entertainment for him and his mate, which unfortunately I added to as I swore and waved two fingers. From then on, every time he saw me, he would slow up, wind down the window and shout, before speeding off laughing hysterically. My strategy was to ignore him completely, which took some doing, because he kept it up for eighteen months off and on, and any white white van coming towards me made me twitch. I could clock his registration without turning my head. Wasn't there another route to work? Not really. Catch a bus then? It was quicker and cheaper to walk - anyway, bugger it, I wanted to walk. Why didn't I go to the police then? Well, I did, and it stopped for a while until he turned up in an identical white Berlingo with a different registration. 

You never quite knew where on the road he would be, and what he shouted changed over the months. It was "Yah!" to start with, bellowed long and loud. After some months of nil response it became "Hello Billy." On one occasion he waited on a side road completely hidden by a newspaper that quaked, I suppose, with suppressed delirium. On another occasion he stopped and shouted "I love you Billy!" Where did he get the energy at that time of day? Was he still drunk or high from the night before, or just a hyper-active bully?

I never found out, and before he got his just desserts I just plodded on planning lessons in my head, pondering notions like karma, and fantasising colourful retributions. How did van man finally get his come-uppance then? He was waylaid up a side road and remorselessly thumped with dictionaries by ESOL teachers? Sadly - no. The other basses in your choir ambushed him on motorbikes, and intoning Come On Baby Light My Fire, made him strip naked and set fire to his own clothes? Of course not - but nice. You acquired a catapault and put a marble through his windscreen causing him to crash and burst into flames? No, no flames at all. OK, you went boringly to the police again who had another word. No, noisier and more rewarding than that.

My goodness, it's gone coffee time! I've got a CV to polish, contacts to tug, work to beg! Come back soon to learn how van man gets it. Also, meet bicycle man, the opposite of van man.

Monday, 17 January 2011

the time and space train of our lives

I am a time traveller, like you. Our mode of time travel is a train called the present which goes in just one direction and, practically speaking, only stops once. All the same, I've been travelling this way for fifty-odd years, and right now you are in the same carriage. I don't know when you got on, but that's usually what happens; looking out of the window listening to your MP3 player of choice, you happen to turn your head and there in front of you is another passenger. You might talk, you might not. If you're unlucky the other person wants to talk about how precisely  Liverpool managed a 2:2 draw with Everton, or about how David Cameron has no choice but to make the people of Britain hurt a lot. If you're lucky though, the passenger opposite is an experienced time traveller.

Now, I know you may be thinking it was just as well for Kenny Dalglish that Liverpool drew, but actually more interesting is just how long this train is. Also, all your living relatives are on board, if not in this carriage then in others behind or in front. Obviously all your dead ones have got off at their station, perhaps unexpectedly or even forcibly. Some people claim the dead can be contacted by mobile or on Skype, or something akin, but as you know, mobile coverage isn't great on Exmoor, so I suspect it's nonexistent in the Valley of Death, whatever Orange or the Archbishop of Canterbury may say. I'm afraid this means that my observations are more reliable than a ouija board - or indeed, dare I say it, than Holy Writ.

The other thing is just how fast this train goes. For instance, many passengers remember when this train was pulled by steam. Now we're burning the ghosts of primordial trees, which is much more advanced, but actually no faster. And if now doesn't feel particularly fast in any case, I'm reliably informed that it will come as a surprise when they announce your station. Another thing that happened only a moment ago was the IT and telecoms we mentioned earlier. You may already live your life entirely via Facebook and Twitter, but many of us are still texting 'are you coming good'' instead of 'are you coming home'. This is not surprising as only a short distance back down the track a phone was something attached to a wall in a building. You made it ring from a distance to see if anyone was going past. Sometimes you had to enter a box like the Tardis to do this. Unlike the Tardis (I assume) it smelt of wee, and as I discovered when I tried to sleep in one in the vicinity of Carmarthen, there were fleas. The only alternatives were to send a piece of paper you had written on, or to send a photocopy of some writing by phone to a printer the size of a breeze block. You needed a similar breeze block your end for this.

Advice? You want advice on travelling on the time and space train! OK, but I don't know any more than you do. I think it's a good idea to look out of the window a) to enjoy the landscape, b) so you have some idea of where you're going. At the same time it's well worth listening to your fellow passengers and befriending them as much as possible. But don't give people credit for knowing things you don't just because they have a big beard and/or funny clothes, or they're in the government. Other than that, I suppose it's eat plenty of fruit and veg and climb trees or go skate-boarding or play football or somesuch, where possible. Another very important thing is right there in the MP3 player of your choice, or on the fold-down table in front of you: music, books, art. Oh, and flowers and birds and stuff. You may also find, sooner or later in the journey, that you have to invest in haemorrhoid cream.

As for what powers it all, now you're really asking. I don't really know, but I suspect it may be music. Next we'll be into 'What happens when the driver gets to their own station?' and 'Are we going to make our connection?' Again, I don't know. But what about you? Would you agree that Led Zepplin are the finest rock band there has ever been?

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Jimi Hendrix Dizzee Rascal mash up - or bring back 'far out'

I'm thinking of becoming a hippy again, because being redundant is in some ways a bit like it was back then. In those days I didn't really want to work, whereas now at least I want to earn some dosh, but here I am all the same in the front room at nearly midday listening to Jimi Hendrix . We had a Conservative prime minister then, Edward Heath, whose fight with the unions led to the three-day-week. Now, we've got another one, even if he is propped up by the Liberal Democrats (who didn't exist until 1988). It gets weirder. Back then grandad vests were popular - and today my ensemble includes a grandad vest.

There are of course some important differences. Hair is an obvious one. Now, frankly, the skinhead look would be easier (though way the wrong message), and it's going to be tough to reproduce the classic embellished-afghan-hound look. Also, back then I had more than 30 years of teaching English language in front of me, and I only thought I knew what a verb was (and if, by the way, you are going to say it's  'a doing word', then what about 'being'? Which brings us right back to the hippies). Back then we did talk a lot - or 'rap' as we called it - about ley lines, macrobiotics, the significance of the comet Kahoutek, the Zodiac, reincarnation and so on and so on. No doubt people still talk stoned nonsense, but I wouldn't know where to get the drugs now. This may be the biggest impediment to being a hippy again: it will have to be without drugs. They would just make me cough, and set my asthma off.

Imagine me down in a certain part of town in the January rain, in my waterproof hooded walking jacket, my skull ring, and my corduroy peaked cap, trying to recall the lingo and possibly update it a bit. "Excuse me, man. Have you got any charge, by any chance? You know - shit, like red leb and that? It's cool, incidentally, I'm not fuzz." The youngster on the corner with a mobile would probably confidently agree with me about one thing though. I isn't police.

How young people speak has changed, but I'll bet they don't like oldies trying to copy them any more than we did, and the media style pundits are still on about them supposedly debasing the English language. There's nothing like ill-informed ridicule for keeping the young in their place. In our case, what we thought of as our own language was just standard English with a light dressing of black American slang, but it was hugely derided as degenerate by 'straights.' In fact, it was the straights that called us 'hippies'. We called ourselves 'heads,' or 'freaks.' As some do today, we called each other 'man,' sometimes 'brother' or  'sister' as applicable, though you had to be fairly committed for that one. Also, as today, we used 'cool', but slightly differently. "That's cool," meant "that's acceptable," rather than "that's great, neat, brill, or mint." Similarly, a cool person was one unlikely to attract unwanted attention to themselves and thus get into a hassle with the fuzz. One of ours that is still current, and was British in origin, was 'to suss something/someone out,' meaning 'to work something out, to deduce it, or come to understand a person's motives.'

My favourite though - also British I think -  has disappeared, which is a bummer. It was 'far out'. This was used adjectivally (attributively and predicatively), and as an exclamatory adjective sentence to express enthusiasm: "This is far out blow!" "The Pink Fairies are far out, man!" (remember them, playing outside the festival, on a flatbed lorry?), and just "Wow, far out!"  I can't do the hair. I don't want to do the drugs. But I'm still into (there's another one) Hendrix, and I think we should start a campaign to bring back 'far out.'

"And so castles made of sand fall in the sea, eventually." (Jimi Hendrix, Castles Made of Sand, Axis: Bold as Love, 1967)
 "Yeah my attitude's mingin, but I don't really give a friggin rasclar." (Dizzee Rascal,  Money Money, Tongue N Cheek, 2009)

"That Dizzee Hendrix is far out though." (Alec Turer, Castles Made of Money, Tongue N Groove, 2011)

Monday, 10 January 2011

A lack of principles in modern politics

As the Director of Finance held hands with the Principal and snuggled up to Estates Management for the senior management team meeting, she remarked what a grey and dismal start to the week it was. Who knows whether the Prinicipal thought so too, he's much too Zen, and in any case he's a cat. I agreed though, not just because I am married to the Director of Finance (and thus among others, the Head of Animal Care and the Multi-Faith-and-none Chaplain), but also because there it was outside the bedroom window - greyitude and dismalocity.

Fruitcake Miniature College SMT sipped their assam tea. Eight o'clock but still in bed. Still, the day had been mapped out, reponsibilities apportioned, and the approach to tomorrow's meeting with the financial advisor (a real person, probably with pictures of his first child's first Christmas on his iPhone) had been agreed: we're going to cash in all the pension and everything the teaching staff have got while we seek to redeploy him. The trouble is, it's that time of year - January - and that much vaunted gold-plating on public sector pensions only applies much higher up the scale, where thank goodness they've still got their jobs.

Being January, what green shoots there may be are buffeted by the wind. At the same time, this is a good time for pruning, though you can take analogies too far. So it was, I found myself, along with a temporary Estates assistant still home from Christmas, trundling a barrow of vegetable peelings and a ladder towards the allotment. Analogies notwithstanding, the padlock was stiff, but the compost bins were active so there was room for all that Merry Xmas vegetable matter and a neighbour's rabbit's bedding. A robin sang on the bramble patch at the back of the plots, and there were still bird-pecked apples on the tree we had come to prune. The tree was pruned of one big branch and a few smaller ones but there were still plenty of frosted apples left after, (that really is enough analogy). and a pair of bluetits took advantage as soon as we had finished.

The hard work is making the prunings into stacks of logs, sticks and twigs, and in the process I quizzed the temporary Estates assistant on the possibility of the current furore over tuition fees energising young people into political activity, perhaps alongside trade unions. Because, why saddle the young with debt, potentially for much of their working lives before they even think about buying a house (or paying rent for that matter) - unless there's a hidden agenda of social control perhaps? The answer was interesting and the stacks of prunings grew. My assistant's solution was for everyone to refuse en masse to go to university until Parliament came up with a better idea than the present one. The difficulty there, though, is that there is no organisation engaged and committed enough to organise it. Not the National Union of Students? No, their practical support for recent protest has been rubbish. They are mostly all pragmatists who want top jobs, maybe in politics and it doesn't much matter which party. They certainly don't want smashing a bank window on their CV, because like the politicians they aspire to follow, they have ambition but no principals. In short, the young are thoroughly disenchanted with all their representatives while being disproportionatey effected by the current cuts. This state of affairs arises from a lack of any principles in modern politics. And is this a little dangerous? Yes, it is.

So, there we were at the start of the year stacking firewood for next winter, with greyitude and dismalocity all about us. But we had got it done before it started raining, so perhaps the embargo on analogy can be lifted just this once more.

PS green shoots in sport: Australia all out for 97 runs.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

30% off at January sales

How in the name of the sweet Baby Jesus did I end up at the January sales? Partly, I suppose, the old navy blue anorak was no longer keeping the wet out like it did, and I needed a new coat. I also needed to get out of the house. So I put on all my bling and my flat cap and sauntered to the bus stop picturing a leisurely coffee and lunch somewhere quaint while taking in the outdoor clothing store. 

The snow having retreated, my mostly elderly fellow passengers were looking either at nothing or out at a scene the colour of washing up water. The prerequisite noisy family in baggy pink velour were shouting cheerfully and colourfully at each other, pausing only for random corporal punishments. This should have been the first clue, but I got off the bus in the slightly euphoric state that unashamed idleness sometimes induces

I don't get out a lot - not in daylight anyhow - and when I got to the shopping centre I enjoyed listening to the man with a bible who said that shopping would not bring salvation. I now realise that his words should have been another clue, but I headed for the new precinct all the same. I soon found myself in another universe. I was surrounded by glass and steel, but somehow I wasn't indoors. Also the escalators did a weird thing that put me in mind of the work of Max Escher, in that the next level was always somehow the one before. No-one else seemed the least bothered. Eyes alight with purpose, they dived expertly in and out of shops, while I stood there wondering why places were all called Zizzi, or Zippy, or something else suggestive of the Mediterranean in an electrical storm. I recognised 'House of Frazer'.

When I emerged from there, probably on another level, I had picked out two shirts and put them back, and had also decided against an almost perfect leather jacket. My problem is that I am extremely medium. If I say I've got a 40" chest or a size 16 collar, I'm told that that's between medium and large, but there isn't a size called merge. Really I need platform  eleven and three-quarters. The other problem is I like clothes with no bits or words. The jacket was simple, lovely leather, and ideal but for a blemish resembling a man on a horse playing polo. It was Ralph Lauren and reduced to £300. 

Fleeing to the cheaper end of the centre where the bible man had been, the way was strewn with chuggers. These are young people who try to extract promises from passersby to suppport a charity. They are on commission, it's the best they could get after graduating, it's a horrible job - but they are a menace. They girate and wobble, do wacky stuff to impress each other, and pretend to have found you at last if you should dare look in their direction. For some reason they don't usually stop me. Perhaps it's the hood on the navy anorak. One young man, also in a hood, did manage to stop me though. He gave me an oddly restrained  bit of copy in black and white on a single slip of paper. It offered 'cream supplies' and a mobile number. "In an hour," he said. I explained that I had my coffee almost black, with skimmed milk at that, and I needed one in less than five minutes. His look suggested that it was I who was from another universe. On reflection I believe he was talking about a chemical stimulant, but then so was I.

I found myself on more escalators, and in stores I didn't know I'd entered. At one point I was in M&S ladies' wear - the only man and panicking. In one place signs said "Go on pinch yourself  - it's true!" They meant their price reductions of course, but what is it about marketing copywriters that makes them blind to irony? Interestingly but unsurprisingly there was no reference whatever anywhere to yesterday's increase in VAT to 20% .

Nonetheless, when I got back on the bus I did have a purchase: a 30%-off waterproof hooded jacket the colour (in a good way) of a cow pat. A man was explaining to the young lady beside him that Aslan, the ruler of Narnia, was in fact God. Another man was dropping small change and making gestures of elaborate courtesy to any nearby women. A small child was kicking a panel just to see when we'd all start screaming. I looked out of the window instead as a man went past on a bicycle clearly talking to himself. I guess it was mostly the weird folk out at the January sales this wet Wednesday afternoon.

By the way, the loos are right up on the top level opposite TK Maxx. The music follows you in.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Old Fruitcake's 2011 Wiki Almanac

"May 2011 bring prosperity to all our readers - stuffing the bastards in the process." This is old Fruitcake's message to the world at the start of the year, and there is no prize for guessing who he might mean. He apologises that the staff have been off enjoying themselves but he's got them to work now reviewing last year and employing various arcane sciences to make astoundingly accurate predictions (fingers crossed) for the coming year.

Lessons from 2010
  • There is a particular kind of ambitious lunatic who hasn't got a clue but who people let start running things. They often have glittery eyes (e.g. Sarah Palin) and dangerous levels of self-belief
  • You can't negotiate with Mephistopheles (e.g Vince Cable)
  • Losing your job may not  always be the end of the world but it is a right hassle
  • Suddenly there may be snowdrifts or clouds of volcanic ash
  • Fruitcake Miniature College functions more efficiently, effectively, and humanely than Hardacre Collage
  • People expected too much of Barack Obama. It was inevitable.
  • A crisis can usefully be blamed on your predecessors - for a while
  • A global crisis in an unregulated banking sector can make a great excuse for dismantling public provision
  • Muslims are the new Jews. Terrorists are the new atheists and Jesuits
  • There's an awful lot we're only told by accident
Predictions for the UK in 2011
  • "We're all in this together," will come back to haunt David Cameron and his Cabinet of billionaires
  • The same gentleman will similarly be woken in the night by the phrase "The Big Society," which by then will clearly mean giving bossy people with time on their hands the chance to get in the way
  • Mephistopheles will turn up in Nick Clegg's bedroom looking at his watch and suggesting running shoes
  • The Labour Party - recognising how seriously it pissed people off with the Iraq war, and by trying to be the Conservatives, and wanting to watch me going shopping on CCTV, etc etc, will announce loudly and clearly that what it wants to do is help people look after each other on a basis of equality (this item courtesy of a phoenix)
  • Ed Milliband will at last start to feel the force strong within him (this item courtesy Obi-Wan Kanobi)
  • A Conservative Government - Sorry? Oh, yes - a Coalition Government led by the Conservative Party will increase the tax on pretty much everything in the world to 20% (honestly, it's called VAT and it's happening at midnight tonight)
  • Changes in the funding of education will create a new generation of politically active people - hopefully across social divides
Predictions for the world in 2011
  • Like the sun , a great emperor will arise in the east, and a great emperor will sink in the west (well, this sort of thing worked for Nostradamus)
  • Poor people will sell bits of their brains to rich people (What? They do already?)
  • We will wear curiously close fitting silver clothes as we manoeuvre our jet packs and glide about on moving pavements (because  it has to come true at last sometime - we were promised in the comics)
  • There will be snow storms and volcanoes (so to speak)
  • When the sun is in Taurus it will be time to start counting spoons (my voices tell me)
  • It will be time to start planting broad beans before we know it
  • A great leader with huge whiskers, a love of fish, and a loud voice will lead humanity into a true understanding of idleness
A new year, a new term - homework for leaders everywhere
Take off all your clothes and look in a full-length mirror a long long time.

Let's hope it works