Saturday, September 30, 2006

Looking for love?

As I'm a happily married man (or so Mrs Wife tells me) I've never been to an online dating site.

For those who are looking for love on the worldwide interweb, this handy guide will help you avoid an absolute munter.

Unless, of course, an absolute munter is what you're after. In which case, it should be viewed as a catalogue.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Working Nine to Five

Today is pay day for Groanin' Jock. Another month at the coalface has passed, and my bank account is temporarily swollen with cash.

The temporaray nature of this swelling is terribly depressing. Within the next two days, most of my monthly earnings will be siphoned off to other accounts, where they will be soaked up by the mortgage, council tax, various insurance policies and my credit card bill.

But, as the money is sitting in my account today, I decided to afford myself a little treat. In fact, no, treat is the wrong word.

I forked out twenty quid today on what is, frankly, a necessity - Football Manager 2007. This latest strain on my social life, eating habits, personal hygiene and, quite possibly, marriage, is as eagerly-awaited as any album by any of my favourite bands.

I've been hooked on SI Games' management simulators since 1996, when I was first introduced to Championship Manager 2. Since then, I've owned every incarnation of the game - through Championship Manager 97/98 to Championship Manager 3 to Championship Manager 2001/2002 to Championship Manager 4 to Championship Manager 2003/2004 and on to Football Manager 2005, Football Manager 2006 and now Football Manager 2007.

It would be frightening to think how many hours, days, weeks (years?) I have spent playing these games. My managerial career, in hours alone, probably outstrips those of Alex McLeish and Gordon Strachan.

I could wax lyrical about these games for hours on end. Quite simply, I am the consumate geek, a fact I alluded to briefly in an earlier post entitled Can You Manage?. I'm so excited by the prospect of this new game, which will drop through my letterbox on October 20, that I am considering purchasing a new laptop to play it on.

But that would SERIOUSLY screw up the finances.....

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Routine inspection

It may be true that when the cat's away, the mice will play, but when Mrs Wife is away, my life tends to lose a little of its normal structure.

As she is away to a training seminar of some variety over the next three days, I was left to my own devices last night.

When the other half is in residence at Groanin' Towers, there tends to be a routine to the evening. I'll get home from work at 5pm and spend an hour attempting to win the World Cup on Pro Evolution Soccer on the Playstation, then we'll start dinner when she gets home at 6pm.

From then on, Groanin' Towers takes its nightly journey from Hollyoaks to Eastenders via Emmerdale and Coronation Street, before the good TV starts. And we're usually in bed around 10pm.

But in the absence of the little lady, all semblence of routine is thoroughly disposed of. The lights were out, the lava lamps cast their eerie glows onto the walls, Football Manager 2006 was fired up on the laptop and Bob Dylan screeched from the stereo.

Dinner was blasted in the microwave for three minutes around 7.30pm and eaten in around the same amount of time. There were no stop-offs in Soapland but the Sky remote control was in heavy use as the early hours beckoned.

Digitial TV is a strange place when darkness falls. Inexplicably, I found myself perusing the shopping channels, where goons with bleached teeth attempted to sell me a kettle, iron and toaster package for the incredible price of just eight pounds plus another eight pounds postage and packaging.

Another channel was selling framed gold discs, including a signed Madonna Greatest Hits at 399 quid. A limited edition red vinyl Elvis single at 20 quid seemed like a more realistic purchase, but alas I couldn't reach the phone in time.

Now, Groanin' Towers is in serious need of a tidy. It's quite easy to chart my evening by the debris left in my wake - shirt and tie ditched near the door, shoes kicked off in the kitchen, junk mail thrown to within inches of the recycling bin, food plate on the sitting room floor, last night's clothes next to the bed.

I'd love to say that the same will happen again tonight, but that would be too much like getting into a routine.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Groanin' Jock is unwell

After my crowing earlier in the week that I haven't had a hangover in more than a year, I am now being made to suffer for my arrogance in the face of nature.

I have man flu. Though women commonly mistake this life-threatening condition for the common cold, the two are light years apart.

The following excerpt from Dr Jock's Home Medical Guide (Groanin' Publications, 2006) offers advice on the treatment of man flu:

"Man flu makes the sufferer feel so ill that they can only really be treated by a day of full-on pampering in bed. Drinks, both hot and cold, should be relayed to the patient as and when required, as should whatever food the patient craves at that time.

Pillows should be plumped up a minimum of once every hour, and the patient should be given a variety of stimulating magazines, books, computer games, TV programmes and other entertainment whenever requested.

As the condition is unique to men, there is no danger of a woman contracting man flu, and as a result, wives, girlfriends or mothers should be on hand at all times to see to all the patient's needs. Because the condition is not contagious to women, requests from the patient for 'snuggling' should be agreed to with a smile."

Unfortunately, Mrs Wife is in Aviemore for the next three nights at a training course. So I'll be living off Lemsip, toast and biscuits. Spare a thought for those who suffer....

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A fitting tribute

Today I heard that one of my younger brother's friends had been killed in a car crash over the weekend.

Although I didn't really know Eck, I remember him as a wee smiling blond boy in my brother's football team way back when they were just young teenage boys.

It's frightening to think that any of us could be gone at any point.

Within hours of Eck's death, tributes were pouring into his Bebo homepage from those who knew him well, and not so well.

People from across Scotland were given a place to join together to share their grief and their memories of a friend who will be sorely missed.

The internet is often cast as a villainous, faceless entity where man's darker side can flourish in the supposed anonymity.

But what is often forgotten is that it can also unite people, bring them together and overcome whatever hurdles life puts in their path.

Rest in Peace Eck

Monday, September 25, 2006

The King has entered the building

Don't know how many of you will have seen this advertisement for Radio Two, but I thought I'd share it with you. Proof, as if any were needed, that Elvis isn't dead.


I'm now back in deepest, darkest Argyll after a weekend spent in Scotland's fair capital. The wedding turned out to be a good night despite the fact that the only three people I knew beforehand were Mrs Wife, the bride and groom.

Initially, Mrs Wife and I were stuck at the table from hell, where those couples who didn't know anyone else were put. No-one spoke for the first hour, so Mrs Wife and I decamped to the bar, where we met some people who actually had tongues in their heads, and all was well again.

The band was great, and it is definitely the only wedding I've been to where one of the tracks played has been Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues. An odd choice to play at the start of someone's marriage....

Anyway, I awoke on Sunday morning after Saturday's heavy session on the ale with no hangover. And this started me thinking - I haven't had a hangover in almost 18 months.

Don't get me wrong, I've awoken after nights out feeling tired and thirsty. But in more than a year, I've never had a PROPER hangover, one where you could almost hear your internal organs shrivelling if you listened carefully, and if your brain wasn't hosting its own private Slipknot concert. One where you can easily drink six litres of Coke and still not need to pee, and where the comfiest resting place you can think of is a cool, steel mortuary table.

I don't know why I haven't had a real hangover in so long. The year that has passed has included two stag weekends, one of them my own, several birthday parties, Christmas nights out and a scattering of weddings, again including my own.

On my own stag weekend, I started drinking at noon on the Friday and barely stopped for the next 48 hours, yet never once did I have a genuine hangover.

Maybe alcohol has suddenly gotten more pure, and there are less toxins floating round my body waiting to be transformed into projectile vomit.

Maybe every drink I have had I the past 18 months has been watered down.

Or maybe, after more than a decade of drinking (we start young in Angus) I have developed a higher resistance to the demon drink.

Whatever the reason, I'm not complaining. Too many days have been spent shivering in bed through self-inflicted poisoning, and if I've seen the back of them, I'll happily celebrate - with a double vodka if anyone's buying?

Friday, September 22, 2006

We apologise for the interruption to this service

Groanin' Jock is heading back to Scotland's wonderful east coast this weekend for a wedding in Edinburgh, so there won't be any more posts until Monday.

Just say no

Good news on the football front this morning - the Scottish Football league teams have told the SPL where to stick their plans for SPL2.

From the minute I heard the plans, I didn't agree with them. The current SPL clubs, as well as a group of the bigger First Division clubs, have proposed the formation of an SPL 2, which would supposedly help promote full-time football in Scotland.

But the plans would come at the expense of a fair promotion and relegation system. While I'm all for SPL clubs having all-seater stadia with a minimum 6,000 seats, to insist that clubs in the next division down have all-seater stadia of at least 3,000 seats is frankly ridiculous, given the average attendances.

Whilst Livingston, St Johnstone, Airdrie, Dundee and the other full-time clubs in the SFL already meet the minimum requirements, where would the new rules leave the likes of Brechin City, Stranraer and their fellow part-timers?

If the proposed set-up were implemented, and a smaller club experienced a successful season, winning what is now Division Two, they would be barred from promotion due to their ground not meeting the minimum requirements. Smaller part-time clubs can't afford to build stadia with 3,000 seats, most of which would never be filled, just in the off-chance that they could reach SPL2 some day.

The proposal would create a division in Scottish Football that would be insurmountable to most, unless another Gretna comes along with money to burn.

Scottish football needs to be sorted out properly from the top down, with an emphasis on allowing clubs to progress as far as they can regardless of their financial muscle. The SFA has no problems with Rangers or Celtic visiting non-league grounds in the Scottish Cup, so why should there be a problem with St Johnstone playing at Glebe Park in the league?

In the interests of Scottish football, the league should be revamped to a 16-team top flight, with all teams playing each other twice in a 30-game league season. The League Cup should be brought forward in the season, with its final held in October or November, and the Scottish Cup would remain in its current format.

The 26 remaining clubs in the current SFL should be split into two divisions, one of 16 teams, one of 12, with the two additional places made up by the top sides from the Highland League and from the East of Scotland League. Two teams each season would be promoted from each of the two lower divisions, with two relegated from the Premier and the First Division each season.

A pyramid system connected to the Highland League and other junior leagues should also be instigated to give sides a chance to progress. Each season, the bottom two clubs from Division Two would be relegated to the most relevant junior league, with two coming up to replace them.

Under my proposals, the Scottish league system would look something like this:

Premier Division
Dundee Utd
St Mirren
Inverness CT
St Johnstone

First Division
Partick Thistle
Hamilton Accies
Ross County
Queen of the South
Airdrie Utd

Second Division
East Fife
Albion Rovers
Berwick Rangers
Queens Park
East Stirling

*Promoted from Highland League
** Promoted from East of Scotland League

The Premier Division's current rules on minimum stadium requirements would be retained, but clubs would be given two years' grace to install the seats, during which time they could ground share. There would be no minimum requirements for the other divisions.

This set-up would increase the level of competition in Scottish football, giving the SPL sides eight fewer league games in a season, which would provide less tired players for the national side. There would be more interest in the league, as the clubs wouldn't be playing each other up to six times a season. The clubs in the First Division would be given the chance to win automatic promotion every season, and the clubs in the bottom league would be given the chance to win promotion and challenge themselves against full-time clubs.

But will the powers that be see sense? No. They'll no doubt push on with plans for SPL2 and once again and money will be the deciding factor, sounding the death knell for Scottish football's smaller clubs.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Carnival of the Vanities

For a pretty good round up of what the weird and wonderful folk on the worldwide interweb have been prattling on about recently, check out the 209th Carnival of the Vanities at Lucy's Dilemma. The Carnival acts as a neat summary of what's been up for discussion in the blogosphere over the past week, including a wee link to my diatribe on the idiots who freed the halibut.

Whae's like us?

Proof, as if any were needed, that there is no race on Earth like the Scots came in an email I received a few days ago, entitled 'Great Scottish Put Downs'.

The pick of the bunch had to be 'She looks like she's been set on fire and then put out with a golf shoe'.

There is nothing I can possibly add to that....

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Vice-like grip

Mrs Wife and I went to see Miami Vice at the cinema last night. I must admit that, when I first saw the trailer for the movie, I thought it looked crap. But, having read one or two favourable reviews, I decided to give it a shot.

I should have stuck with my gut instinct.

The movie wasn't COMPLETELY rubbish, just largely rubbish. I'll summarise as follows:

Good points
  • Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx spent large portions of the movie riding around in an open top Ferrari.
  • There were lots of noisy machine guns.
  • Some of the close-ups of gun-inflicted injuries were disturbingly realistic.
  • The soundtrack was great.

Bad points

  • Colin Farrell may be a master swordsman, but he is terrible actor. His supposed Latino accent occasionally came dangerously close to slipping into his preferred Irish brogue, and his attempts at scenes where he is supposed to be 'troubled' just didn't work.
  • There were several appalling sex scenes. Not quite as bad as in Showgirls, but getting pretty close.
  • Gong Li isn't hot enough to play a leading lady.
  • Too many of the actors spent their time mumbling, mistaking poor diction for acting dangerous, suspicious or South American (or all three).

I wasn't expecting too much from Farrell, but Jamie Foxx's performance was disappointing. Still, at least their won't be a sequel.

Unlike the Mission Impossible franchise, which just keeps on going - apparently Brad Pitt is to replace Tom Cruise for the fourth instalment, becoming the highest-paid actor in Hollywood history.

I'm a big fan of Brad's films, especially Se7en, Fight Club, Twelve Monkeys and Snatch, so if anyone deserves to move to the top of the league, it's Mr Pitt. But I just don't know if he has it in him to pull off the all-action Hollywood blockbuster hero. I think his best work has been when he's been playing freaks, loners and outsiders, whether a pikey in Snatch or Tyler Durden in Fight Club. Still, I'm sure we'll see soon enough.

On the subject, why do studios continue to release poor remakes of cult 70s and 80s shows? So far, off the top of my head, I can recall Charlie's Angels, Starsky and Hutch, The Avengers, Thunderbirds, Miami Vice and Mission Impossible. A much-threatened A Team movie has yet to see the light of day.

But the one I'm waiting for is the chance to see The Hoff reprise his role as Michael Knight for a Knight Rider movie. Imagine Kitt with a 21st century Hollywood budget - now that would be worth seeing.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Indecision is a terrible thing - I think....

This morning, as I ventured south down the Kintyre peninsula, the rain was absolutely leathering down. I don't just mean a little downpour - I mean a solid wall of water.

Only twice in my life have I experienced rain like that - once in Vietnam and once in Singapore, both during monsoon season.

It is quite frightening to be hurtling down a narrow coastal road at 70 miles per hour, unable to see anything because the windscreen wipers on your little Peugeout van simply can't compete with the deluge. Thankfully, wheels remained on asphalt and I was able to continue onwards to Campbeltown.

And now, the sun is beating down, the sky is blue and the birds a'twittering all around. The great Argyll monsoon of 9am has passed without incident, and all is right again in this remote corner of Scotland.

I'm not averse to rain, especially heavy rain. Some of the most enjoyable games of football in which I have played have taken place in conditions so wet that flippers would have been more sensible footwear than boots. There is no feeling like performing a 10-yard sliding tackle through the puddles and sending your opposing number skidding through the mud on his face.

And I'm also quite partial to the sunshine - I love being able to wear shorts for months on end, the heat of the sun on my skin and having an excuse to eat ice cream several times a day. Playing football is also greatly enjoyable in the blazing sun, when the ball rolls and bounces as it should, not simply at the whim of the weather.

But both torrential rain and glorious sunshine on the same day - that's just wrong. A day should set out its stall as soon as the sun rises, so that you know what you're dealing with from beginning to end. I am now dressed in a dark, long-sleeved shirt for the remainder of today's hours at the coalface, which now makes me feel ludicrously over-dressed for the weather.

And no doubt, by the time I clock off, the sun will have dipped behind a hill or cloud, it will be raining and I won't get to eat any ice cream.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Save The Whale (and the halibut)

A frightening news story from Groanin' Jock's backyard came to light over the weekend, as suspected animal rights activists freed some farmed halibut from their cages near Oban.

These fish farm freedom fighters caused thousands of pounds' worth of damage to fish cages in their valiant attempt to 'free' the imprisoned halibut.

When I said that this story was scary, I didn't mean that I feared for my life. I meant that it is frightening that people so stupid exist.

What benefit do they think they are doing to anyone, or to the halibut, by damaging these cages and freeing the fish?

The cages are already in the sea, and are big enough to allow the fish to swim around quite contentedly. No experiments are being done on the fish, no-one is spraying them with deodorant or forcing shampoo into their eyes in the sake of cosmetic advancement.

In fact, all that was being done was the growing of fish from ickle baby fish into fish big enough for humans to eat.

The idiots who released the fish perhaps haven't realised that, in the open sea, the halibut will probably either be caught by a fisherman or eaten by something bigger, thus making their efforts to free the fish entirely pointless.

I have to admit that I tend to find animal rights activists in all their incarnations pretty irritating. A blinkered belief that any animal not in its natural habit is in need of emancipation is a frankly ridiculous notion. I am also generally sceptical of vegetarians who proclaim that man is not supposed to eat meat.

We are, that's why we have the physiques and attributes suited to hunting rather than grazing. It's also why our canine teeth are shaped the way they are - to rip through the carcass of whatever animal we've just killed.

I just look forward to the next attack by the group which struck at the Oban fish farm, whether that means freeing chickens from a farm or cows from a field. Or maybe they'll set their sights higher and release the giraffes, gorillas and tigers from Edinburgh Zoo. Now that WOULD be interesting.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Here we go, here we go, here we go

And after the storm comes the quiet. The trials and tribulations of working at the Mod are in the past, and all thoughts of toes and scalpels can be saved for nearer the time.

Today is football day. Chelsea face Liverpool and Manchester United play Arsenal in a mouth-watering day of Premiership action. Loathe though I am to admit it, English football is the most exciting in the world. Where else could you get two such massive clashes on the same day?

Spain may have the ultra-sexy Barcelona and Real Madrid, but the big two aside, none of the other clubs in the Primera League have the same draw as the top four English sides. Italy comes close, but with Juventus now slumming it in Serie B and the other sides tainted by the match-fixing scandal, the attraction of the world champions' league is not what it was. Porto, Bayern Munich and Ajax may be big clubs, but their leagues don't compare with the Premiership.

If only Scottish football were so strong. What we often forget north of the border is that there are only five million people in Scotland - fewer than live in the Greater London area. It stands to reason that our football league will pale in comparison to the Sassenachs', as we have less than a tenth of the potential fan base.

As much as I'd like to see Rangers, Celtic, Aberdeen, Hearts, Hibs and Dundee Utd challenging for European honours, it's not going to happen, unless some more Russian oil billionaires fancy splashing their cash in Scotland. Or I win that Euro Millions lottery.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Under the knife

Distressing news from Groanin' Towers today folks - Groanin' Jock is to go under the surgeon's knife for the first time in history.

Fear not though - the surgery is a minor out-patient's op to sort an in-growing toenail.

After years of playing football, sprinting, cross country running, long jump and other foot-mangling activities, I have feet that would probably make a Hobbit vomit.

My toes are gnarled like Gollum's, and years of ignoring problems has finally taken its toll. Even by my own gruesome standards, my feet are in a poor shape. When George Best finally departed for the great off-licence in the sky, I considered writing to his estate to ask whether I could have his famed feet for use in the world's first foot transplant (fair enough, I would suggest, considering that he was given a new set of internal organs to pickle).

And so, having consulted my doctor and been pumped full of drugs, but to no avail, I have agreed to have the offending nail sliced and pulled out, and the gaping wound left in its absence 'burned clean' (the doctor's words, not mine).

Having witnessed the pain experienced by friends who have previously had troublesome toenails removed, I was expecting to be told that my foot would be mummified in bandages for a period of weeks whilst it healed.

Not so, says the doctor. I'll get two injections in the toe, the 'operation' will take less than half an hour, and I'll go straight back to work. And apparently I'll be back playing football (or pretending to at least) within a week.

But, for all the doctor's assurances, I'm still not entirely overjoyed at the prospect of a man poking about at my left foot with a sharp knife. All it need is a sneeze from me and he could be looking for a needle and thread.....

Friday, September 15, 2006

All work and no play

As the sun is scorching today despite the fact that we are now midway into the Argyll autumn, you would be forgiven for thinking that I would be in a pleasant mood ahead of this weekend.

I am not. I have to work this weekend. My weekend, which could yet turn out to be the last glimpse of sunshine between now and next year, will be spent indoors. At a Mod.

For the uninitiated, a Mod is a festival of Gaelic music and song. I don't speak Gaelic. The music and songs always sound very sombre. I dislike the pageantary that is associated with the Mods, the matching tartan uniforms and arcane traditions.

And so, this weekend is not looked upon favourably by the Groanin' Jock. Where I would normally be working out how to maximise my time in the sun (lying in the garden reading the newspaper with a cold beer and some crisps would normally top the list), I am now to be subjected to almost eight hours of maudlin Gaelic whining.

How I miss the carefree days of my student years, when whole hours, nay WEEKS, were spent doing next to nothing, all in the name of getting an education. I may have been broke and forced to attend lectures at 9am, as well as working crappy jobs to finance the debauchery, but at least no-one made me listen to Gaelic music.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


How do Brazilian footballers get their names? How did Edson Arantes Do Nascimento become Pele? Why is Ronaldo called Ronaldo when he's in Spain but Ronaldinho when in Brazil?

If these questions have ever taxed your brain, tough luck. I don't have the answers. But I can help you find out what YOUR name would be if you were a Brazilian footballer.

Tired of plain old John Smith? Become Sminho. Fed up with Frank Brown? Congratulations, you are now Frildo. Visit the Brazilian name generator to find out what your sensational samba name would be.

My moniker, were I Brazilian and a competent footballer, instead of an overweight, out of shape "never was" would be Raeiro.

Just for interest's sake, the Scotland team which beat Lithuania last week would have lined up as follows if they'd had Brazilian names on their fancy new shirts:

1 Gordeiro (Craig Gordon)
2 Claudio Daito (Christian Dailly)
3 Weardo (David Weir)
4 Caldwundo Santos (Gary Caldwell)
5 Naysmezo (Gary Naysmith)
6 Presslio Peres (Steven Pressley)
7 Fletchimo (Darren Fletcher)
8 Nigson (Nigel Quashie)
9 Jama (James McFadden)
10 Hartlisco (Paul Hartley)
11 Millimo (Kenny Miller)

12 Alexandisco (Neil Alexander)
14 Andersinho (Russell Anderson)
15 Robbie Neilsio (Robbie Neilson)
16 Bão (Kris Boyd)
17 Grahinho (Graham Alexander)
18 Scaldo (Scott Severin)
19 Tealeca (Gary Teale)

My own personal favourite is the fact that David Weir, who captained the side in the absence of the injured Barry Ferguson (AKA Fergusa), would be called Weardo.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Great Scot!

At the moment, I am reading The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffeneger, a novel I would recommend to all you people out in the great wide world.

Without spoiling the plot for anyone who does intend to read the book, it follows the stories of a time traveler, Henry, and his wife, Claire, whom Henry first meets when he is in his forties and she is eight.

I've always been fascinated by the idea of time travel, ever since my head was filled with Star Wars, Masters of the Universe, Transformers and Thundercats (which I estimate to have been sometime last week).

Back To The Future easily makes my top five films of all time, and HG Wells' The Time Machine was a novel on the subject I discovered whilst at university. (By 'discovered' I mean 'was forced to read for a Cultural Studies module').

Anyway, I've always been intrigued by the possibility that we could jump backwards and forwards in time as the fancy took us, if only we had the technology.

But as I have grown older and , allegedly, wiser, one thought on the subject has come to dominate my thinking:

By its very nature, if time travel technology is ever to exist, then it already does.

The fact that at no point in history to date have we come across time travelers popping up to say hello suggests, to me, that it never will. I'm not suggesting that if NASA or some similar privately-owned entity managed to invent a time machine that it would necessarily broadcast the fact. But I'm sure that if time travel became possible at somepoint in the future, some idiot would have magically appeared with the dinosaurs, at the Battle of Hastings, at Kennedy's assassination or on the pitch at a World Cup final.

So, I am now resigned to the fact that I will never get the chance to stop myself smashing up my first car only a fortnight after passing my driving test, prevent my brother sticking his hand in a coal fire, or hang out with The Beatles at Abbey Road.

I guess it's time to stop wasting money attempting to build a flux capacitor....

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Phil Factor

Any of you with a spare minute or 10 to roam around the interweb could do worse than check out The Phil Factor, the only blog I am aware of that claims to be 'specially ribbed for your pleasure'. Just remember to come back for some groanin'....

The times they are a-changin'

Winter may be fast approaching, but the weekend's weather here in deepest darkest Argyll was positively summery.

Faither was over for a visit and, making the most of the sunshine on Saturday, we headed down the Kintyre peninsula to Campbeltown.

The trip marked my first ever journey in an open top car, which made the trip doubly enjoyable. The views over to Islay and Gigha were superb, and the warm sun more than compensated for the wind swirling around us in the car. Common sense eventually prevailed, however, when Mrs Wife appeared about to blow away out of the back seat.

Good weather extended into Sunday, which Faither and I decided to use by walking around the whole of Lochgilphead. The town may have an overwhelming lack of tourist attractions, but it was as worthwhile a way to spend an afternoon as any other, enjoying the sun, the fresh air and the exercise.

And now winter, angered by summer's insolence at encroaching on the colder part of the year, is blowing with a freezing fury. Even by mid morning yesterday, the sky was as black as night and a chilly mist hung at eye level. Even at the height of the Argyll summer, rain falls at depressingly regular intervals, so the onset of winter does not fill the Groanin' Jock with joy. Mountains of jumpers, warm jackets and waterproofs will have to dug out from their resting places at the backs of cupboards, the central heating will have to be cranked up and playing football will become a punishment rather than an enjoyable pastime.

Roll on spring....

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five years on

It's hard to believe that five years have passed from the most vivid day in modern history.

Mrs Wife (who at that time was just Miss Girlfriend) and I were backpacking around Europe in September 2001, and had arrived in Barcelona on September 10th. As we were preparing to leave our hotel for the afternoon on September 11th, the owner, in pidgin English, said there had been a bomb in New York. We didn't pay much attention, and set off for a day of exploring the Catalan capital.

It was only when we saw American tourists huddled together weeping that we realised something was amiss, and not until that evening that we saw the TV footage of the planes crashing into the towers.

There are few other dates in my life that I can recall with such clarity as September 11th 2001. I can remember the birthdays of members of my family, but none of those scores of days spent celebrating stands out with any clarity - they have all merged into hazy recollections of parties and of people opening presents.

I can remember the day that Princess Diana died, and her state funeral, but I don't remember the dates. I know where I was when I heard that US troops had captured Saddam Hussain, and I remember hearing that George Harrison had died, but again, I don't know when these events took place.

But I can remember the day that America, and the whole western world, came under attack on its own soil.

Miss Girlfriend and I continued our trip around Europe that September, visiting Nice, Monaco, Milan, Venice, Florence, Pisa and Rome. We enjoyed the experience, seeing Europe's history firsthand and travelling through the Mediterranean countryside. But each day began with the purchase of a British newspaper as we tried to piece together the where, when, how and, most of all, why, behind the attacks.

Though there was a feeling in the days and weeks immediately following the attacks that life would never be the same again, thankfully a sense of normality has been restored in the intervening years, although I cannot speak with any great authority on the subject, given that I was simply watching through a television screen thousands of miles away.

But I have visited New York since 9/11, and found it to be the exciting, bustling metropolis I expected and which is portrayed in movies made both before and since September 2001. Those who claimed that the fabric of society had been altered forever underestimated nature's most compelling objective - survival.

If life had not returned to normal, if America had become a country living in fear for its future, then the terrorists would have won. That normal people continue to live normal lives is testament to a spirit of survival much stronger than any terrorist's desire to cause misery.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

My musical taste

Clicking about in the dark depths of the interweb today, I stumbled blindly across She Who Will Be Obeyed's blog. (SWWBO is not to be confused with Mrs Wife, who is a completely different kettle of elephants entirely). Her blog encouraged me to categorise once and for all what the makeup of my musical taste is. The unsurprising results are listed below:

Your Taste in Music:

90's Alternative: Highest Influence
Alternative Rock: High Influence
90's Pop: Medium Influence
Adult Alternative: Medium Influence
Classic Rock: Medium Influence

Coupon busters

Everton beating Liverpool 3-0 to record their biggest derby win in 42 years and St Mirren recording a 1-0 over Hearts at Tynecastle - just as well I didn't place an accumulator bet this week....

Friday, September 08, 2006

The end of the road?

Tony Blair's announcement on Thursday that he will step down as Prime Minister within the next year is too little, too late.

Blair has been desperately hanging onto the reins of power for more than a year, and his controlling grasp on British politics has been loosening with each passing day.

Almost everyone in the country has had their say on when Tony's tenure as PM should end, but the man himself has been conspicuously reluctant to step down, or even to set a date for his departure.

But how many of us, when push came to shove, would REALLY be willing to step down from the most powerful position in the country?

One of Blair's forebears in the post, Margaret Thatcher, refused to believe that she was not indestructible, and was finally toppled by rebellion from within her own ranks. That Blair has yet to set a specific date for a handover of power may yet be his undoing, and the man hailed as the country's most popular post-war PM when first elected in 1997 could find a red-handled knife buried deep within his shoulder blades.

The desire to stay on in positions of power applies not only to those in politics, but to almost every walk of life. Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has long since been replaced as the country's premier football manager, his side now a poor imitation of the European Cup winning squad of 1999. Had Ferguson resigned as manager the day after lifting the trophy, his legacy would have been assured and his career would have climaxed with club football's highest high.

With each passing season he remains at the helm of Britain's biggest club, Fergie's previously untouchable reputation takes further knocks, whether through cack-handed transfer dealings or miserable performances at home and abroad.

The same rules apply in the music world, where supposed 'farewell' tours by rock gods from the past continue to highlight these bands' inability to know when to stop. The Rolling Stones, Eagles, Paul McCartney, Ozzy Osbourne and even Take That continue to dine out on their past glories, instead of retiring and leaving their reputations unsullied.

It may be a cliche, but perhaps the rock'n'roll code of "it's better to burn out that to fade away" is true.

Maybe Mr Blair should start playing with matches.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Hole-ier than thou

I received an odd recommendation by email the other day from my Australian friend Alex.

Alex's email from China encouraged me to visit Sex In Christ, a site offering sexual guidance to Christians struggling to balance their animal instincts with their spiritual leanings.

(Warning: It's probably best that you DON'T open this page if you're at work. There are no pictures, but the site does deliver advice on sexual matters as they relate to the Bible's teachings)

Quite how my devoutly atheist friend came across (if you'll pardon the expression) a site which manages to cross-reference Christianity, the love that dare not speak its name and fisting, I'll never know. I don't think he has any problems with the nefarious activities mentioned on the site - and apparently God doesn't either.

We're on the march with Walter's army

Two games played and Scotland sit proudly atop their Euro 2008 qualifying group. And, for those of you who haven't noticed, this is a group containing world champions Italy, World Cup runners-up France and quarter-finalist Ukraine.

Admittedly, opening the campaign with a home match against the Faroe Islands and an away encounter with Lithuania wasn't the hardest way to ease Walter Smith's side into competitive competition.

But those victories will have given the side a massive confidence boost ahead of the tougher ties against the big boys.

What is most enjoyable about Scotland's recent performances is their sheer contrast with the miserable efforts of the squad under Berti Vogts. Where once the side's collective heads would have dropped as they endured extended pressure, now we have a team bristling with confidence, eager to impress and desperate to win.

Last night's win over Lithuania, on a 'pitch' more akin to asphalt than to grass, saw determined performances from Paul Hartley, Kenny Miller and Christian Dailly drive the side forward for a deserved and hard-fought three points.

The squad may not be the most technically proficient in our wee country's history, but Walter has cobbled together a squad brimming with enthusiasm and passion, where the players are proud to pull on the jerseys once again.

Our humiliating days as whipping boys of almost every group in which we played are behind us, and I would imagine that France and Italy, if not exactly quaking in their boots, will be extremely wary of facing a fired-up Scotland.

Though there is little hope of us escaping alive from the group of death, at least we can enter fixtures in an optimistic frame of mind, rather than expecting defeat.

And if we do miraculously qualify for the finals, I'll be heading the queue of people clamouring to have Walter Smith knighted.

Straight White Guy

Less than week into my online groanin' and I've got a free plug from Straight White Guy. I heartily recommend everyone check out Eric's site for musings on life in Tennessee, his love of food, fear of zombies and anything else that grabs his fancy. He is also incredibly adept at writing extremely eloquently about nothing at all. Apparently I posted the 11,000th comment to Eric's site yesterday, which should tell you how popular it is.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Mercury rising

So Arctic Monkeys have won the Mercury Music Prize. I would normally have written "unsurprisingly" after that opening sentence, but the Mercury prize is rarely predictable.

Current media darlings they may be, but as the obvious favourites, the Arctic Monkeys were always on a hiding to nothing. The Mercury prize has often honoured more obtuse acts (Roni Size and Reprazent anyone?!), and the pre-award favourites have rarely won it.

I'm not usually too interested in the Mercury awards beforehand, but it's always interesting to hear which act the judges have chosen. I first became aware of Gomez when they won the Mercury, and a few years later, the awards introduced me to Ms Dynamite.

For new acts, the Mercury prize can add a few thousand sales to an album's performance - not to mention give them the added bonus of a twenty grand prize.

Which is why I think the award organisers should consider a change of format. Instead of adding bands who already have a massive profile to the list of nominees, they should limit nominations to acts which have just released their debut album.

Asides from that twenty grand cash prize, what could acts like Muse, currently touring the globe in support of their fourth studio album, gain from winning the award? Instead of giving multi-millionaires such as Thom Yorke a pat on the back, give the new guys a chance.

Many of the acts nominated for this year's award would still have made the shortlist under my changes - including the Arctic Monkeys. But new acts such as Devendra Banhart would surely benefit from the exposure far more than Radiohead's gargoyle-in-chief.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Can you manage?

As a fan of football management computer games (or as Mrs Wife would have it, a geek), I was heartened by a story which I recently discovered on the interweb.

It seems that a young chap called John Boileau decided that, with his 30th birthday looming, there were too many aspects of this game we call existence that he had yet to experience. As well as coming to grips with the rules of American Football and losing weight, John was also determined to apply for a Premiership or Championship management job.

Now, there have been countless sad nerds who, inspired by their 'success' at taking Acrington Stanley to consecutive Champions League victories in Championship Manager, have applied for real football management jobs.

But John's story is slightly different in that he sent supporting information with his application - and that he got a reply.

Having applied for the manager's post at Middlesbrough, recently vacated by current England boss Steve McLaren, John received a reply from chairman Steve Gibson thanking for his application.

The correspondence between the two can be seen at:

The best bit is undoubtedly where Gibson states that 'we were of the opinion that your tenure with us would have been shortlived, as your undoubted talent would result in one of the big European clubs seeking your services.'

At least John's site proves that football hasn't lost touch with its REAL investors - the common fan. It also shows that even some of those at the top, in control of clubs which are now businesses more than sports teams, still have a sense of humour.

Can anyone seriously imagine Vladimir Romanov, David Murray, Roman Abramovich or the Glazer family responding to a letter like John's with the same wit and ability to laugh at themselves?

I always said that if I won the massive Euro Millions lottery jackpot earlier this year, which was around £100 million, I would have bought Brechin City and transformed them into a footballing superpower. I like to think that, as well as having Ronaldinho running down the hedge side of Glebe Park, I'd have been able to run the club with the same respect for the fans, in a similar style to Brooks Mileson at Gretna, who bought ALL the Gretna allocation of tickets for the Scottish Cup semi-final and gave them to the fans for nothing.

And then I'd have bought Celtic and turned them into a feeder club....

Monday, September 04, 2006

Isn't she a beaut....

I awoke this morning to some tragic news - Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin has been killed by a stingray whilst diving at the Great Barrier Reef.

Until this morning, Steve was the greatest living Australian, a title now held by Rolf Harris. I first remember seeing him on TV in the mid 90s, when he would grab crocodiles by their tails with only scant regard for his own safety. He was brillaintly parodied in South Park and even launched a questionable movie career.

Mrs Wife and I actually saw the great man in the flesh whilst travelling around the world a couple of years ago. We took a day trip to Steve's Australia Zoo at Beerwah,Queensland, where we expected to see plenty of crocodiles, but not the world-famous Crocodile Hunter himself. After a morning wandering around the vast park, we heard a commotion from one of the nearby pools. Rounding the corner, we were treated to the site of Steve standing on the banks of the crocodile's pond, explaining that you should never get this close to a croc, and never get between a croc and her eggs. Then, fully clothed, he dived into the pool and proceeded to thrash around, getting between the croc and her eggs in the process. As expected, the croc went crazy, and made a beeline for the hastily departing Steve.

It's not entirely unexpected that Steve was killed by a dangerous animal, given that he has spent his entire life antogonising them. Though normal concepts suggest we should pray that he rests in peace, surely he'd much rather rest in chaos, getting chased by an angry black bear which he has just poked in the eye.

"And now, if I grab him by the tail, that'll make him go REALLY mad." Genius.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Scalded testicles

Preparing to watch Scotland's heroic victory over the Faroe Islands yesterday, I was perusing The Scotsman's preview of the match. Picking over the bones of Scotland's sorry draw with the puffin eaters in 2002, Allan Patullo conducted a 'Where Are They Now?' study of the squad that 'achieved' the 2-2 in Toftir.

Reaching erstwhile Sunderland striker Kevin Kyle, Pattullo writes: "Perhaps best known for his off-field dramas. Missed a match for Sunderland last season after scalding his testicles with boiling water while feeding his son."

What the hell? How does a fully-grown man manage to spill boiling water on his testicles whilst feeding his son? And why was he feeding his son boiling water? Footballers, generally, aren't the sharpest tools in the box, but surely that is quite an achievement.

And So It Begins....

After years of intending to start one, I have finally put pen to paper (or fingers to keys at least) to start my own blog.

I've always thought of blogs as a kind of vanity project, where the blogger presumes that his or her thoughts are somehow worth hearing. I don't for a second think that my opinions are more valuable than any of the billions of other people out here on the interweb, but it gives me something to do.

I'm not sure how I'll fill this page, or even how often. I guess the intention is to do a daily update, but that will depend on time, work and whether I can be arsed.

I don't know what I'll talk about - whatever grabs me at that moment I suppose. Which probably means football, music and crap jokes.