Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Fives Alive

Last night, I played my first "competitive" game of football in over a year, when I turned out for my employer's five-a-side team.

By competitive, I mean a match that wasn't played between groups of friends or fellow employees.

Our opponents last night were a team of men in their late teens, who it immediately became apparent have more opportunity to hone their fitness levels than we do. The average age of our side was probably somewhere in the 30s.

And it showed early on, as we trailed 4-1 at half time, and also suffered an injury to one of our players in the opening ten minutes, leaving us with only one substitute for the rest of the match.

Nonetheless, we showed an increased vigour in the opening spell of the second half, bringing the score back to a respectable 4-4. But fatigue took its toll. A final score of 11-6 doesn't really tell the whole story, as there was definitely not a five-goal gulf in class between the teams. In fact, on another day, with passes finding their intended targets and shots flying into the corners of the goal instead of hitting the posts, we'd have beaten them.

As for my performance, it wasn't absolutely dreadful, but it was far from magical. I'd forgotten the difference between a "friendly" kick around and competitive league match, even at five-a-side level. There is no respite from the action, no possibility of drifting out of the match for a few minutes as you attempt to regain your puff.

I hit a few shots wide, swiped wildly at a couple of balls, scored a couple of goals and missed a penalty. Which is probably a fairly accurate description of my contribution to football over the past 20 years or so.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Sumptuous Cinema

This weekend, Mrs Wife and I, having nothing better to do, went to the cinema twice.

In back-to-back showings, we saw Transformers and The Simpsons Movie, finishing a fairly lengthy run of kids' movies that we've seen lately. So, how did the summer's big blockbusters fare?

Transformers was, quite simply, awesome. I may be exaggerating ever so slightly, but not much. You see, for someone who was a five-year-old boy in 1985, it doesn't get much more exciting than seeing Optimus Prime and Bumblebee appear on the big screen and transform before your very eyes. The effects were incredible, and the violence was pretty good for a kids' film. My only disappointment was that Hot Rod wasn't in the movie - but maybe he'll make it into the sequels.

The Simpsons Movie was a bit of a disappointment. Which shouldn't really come as much of a surprise, as the show itself has been treading water for a long time. The general impression I got was that if you'd seen the trailers, you'd already seen most of the funniest jokes. It wasn't a complete turkey, because The Simpsons is still funnier than most other programmes kicking around at the moment. But when the asides and throw-away jokes are funnier than the main plot of the movie, something isn't right.

So this evening, when I have three hours to kill between work and a football match, I'm going to the cinema again. Unless Die Hard 4.0 or Goldfinger is on, I'll be going to see either Transformers or The Simpsons Movie again. Optimus Prime or Homer Simpson? More than 20 years later, there is no competition.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Lost Classics I: Elastica - The Menace

In what will probably be an occasional series on this far-flung outpost of the worldwide interweb, I've decided that there are some records out there that are deserving of more recognition than they've been given in the past.

Some of these records will truly be "lost classics". Others may simply be records that I like that have been much-maligned by others. And some will be records that, whilst they are no classics, show a new or interesting side to an otherwise popular band, or have a handful of great tunes hidden away amongst the dross.

Elastica's second album The Menace, released in 2000, fits into the latter category. Released five years after their barnstorming Britpop debut, the album was almost unanimously panned by critics. In fact, it proved so unpopular that I managed to pick up a second-hand copy for two pounds just a few months after it had been released.

And in truth, it's not a great album - not even a very good album. But amidst Justine Frischmann's half-baked tunes and Trio covers, there are two or three small hints at the songwriting smarts behind Connection, 2:1 and Line Up.

It's easy, more than ten years later, to forget that Frischmann was Britpop royalty in 1995 - a former member of Suede who was half of the scene's number one couple as Damon Albarn's squeeze. Liam Gallagher's promise that he would shag her was one of the many incidents that sparked the Blur v Oasis feud.

But there was a five year gap between albums, and Britpop had long since died a death by the time The Menace was released.

Nonetheless, opening track Mad Dog sounds like Blur's later work, with off-beat drums and yelping vocals. Miami Nice could almost be The Cooper Temple Clause, with sparse electronic percussion and throbbing bass, and penultimate track The Way I Like It successfully blends acoustic guitars with Frischmann's disinterested drawl.

The final track on the album is a cover of Trio's Da Da Da, as unexpected as it is unnecessary. But strangely, amongst the irritating electronic bleeps and Damon Albarn's keyboards (Albarn was credited on the album under the pseudonym Norman Balda) what emerges is the track on the album that sounds most like the Elastica of old - spiky punk-inspired Britpop melodies that sound like a band enjoying themselves.

Elastica are long since a footnote in rock'n'roll history, consigned to the Britpop scrapheap alongside Sleeper, Menswe@r and countless other indie chancers. Oasis and Supergrass may continue to fly the flag for the class of 1995, with Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon ploughing their own post-Blur furrows and the reformed Shed Seven and Dodgy attempting to recapture former glories.

But, with the benefit of hindsight, Elastica's debut album deserves to be recognised as one of the hallmark records of that brief time when Camden seemed to be the centre of the rock'n'roll world. The Menace falls a long way short of that standard, but at times it acts as a small reminder of what Elastica were capable of. We should mourn the fact that, unlike Jarvis Cocker and the rest of the 1990s indie gliterrati, Justine Frischmann is no longer recording.

And The Living's Easy

I'm almost loath to write this, but (whisper it) it seems that summer may finally be here.

So far, July has been an almost complete washout here in Angus. By my reckoning, there have been two days of sunshine so far this month, with the remaining 25 days marred by heavy rain, howling winds and towering black clouds.

But this morning I awoke to glorious sunshine, a cool and gentle breeze and blue skies as far as the eye could see, dotted only occasionally by fluffy white clouds.

By acknowledging that summer has begun, I've probably gone and jinxed it, and my planned lunch hour in Duthie Park will instead turn into me seeking refuge in the car as hailstones batter down on northeast Scotland.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

American (Steak) Pie

Those of you familiar with Eric's writings will be aware of his love of food.

And it seems that the Straight White Chef is now turning his hand to steak pie, as revered by all true Scots as being amongst the king of foods.

Ever since I can remember, steak pie has been amongst my favourite dishes. There may not be many Michelin-rated restaurants with steak pie on their menus, but it really is the ultimate in simple, hearty, filling fare.

My maternal grandmother made the best steak pie I've ever tasted, always served with perfectly-roasted potatoes and vegetables. She may not be a professional chef, but I'd have taken her steak pie over any meal in any restaurant in the world. Ideally, her steak pie would be followed by a tray of her rock cakes and some of her home-made toffee as well.

I've yet to hear whether Eric's filo-topped effort was a dish fit for a king or a dish fit for the bin. But throwing mushrooms into the gravy? That's just WRONG.....

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Buy A Babymop

Kids nowadays don't know what a hard day's work is. Our culture of computer games, lounging in front of the television and instant gratification through ever-increasing debt means that children at the dawn of the 21st century have no idea that they need to work for their keep.

So I'm all for this Japanese invention that teaches children to graft from day one. Bizarrely, I found this photograph a while back whilst searching on the worldwide interweb for "dog mop slippers". A colleague who owns a dog was complaining that her pooch's pawprints were always muddying her floor. It was then that I remembered (or thought I remembered) seeing a photograph somewhere of a dog wearing "mop slippers", which cleaned the floor as the dog wandered around the kitchen.

I never did find any reference on the worldwide interweb to mop slippers for a dog, which makes me think that I either imagined it or dreamt it. In which case, I have seriously strange dreams.

Anyway, if in the future I am blessed with a Jockling or two, I will most certainly be investing in a Babymop. If I'm going to spend 18 or more years looking after kids, they can at least look after the laminate flooring at Dungroanin'.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Good Advice

Tish over at The Kat House has tagged me with this meme, started by Neonscent.

This time it's all about imparting some wisdom to you strange people who wander around the worldwide interweb. I've been asked to give one helpful hint to fellow bloggers, to keep them on the righteous path and make sure that their blogs are suitable places for their fellow man to visit.

Well, I'm no expert - I've only been groanin' online since September, and I don't think for a second that my thoughts are any more worthwhile than anyone else's. And I certainly don't think that I'm in a position to offer advice - whatever your reasons for blogging, do it for yourself, not for anyone else. I can no more offer advice on how to blog than I can on how to think or speak.

But, from a personal point of view, I think my way of thinking is that pissing about on the blogosphere is just that - pissing about. Nobody's paying me for this nonsense, so I'm under no obligation to take it too seriously. Just think of it as the contents of my head popping up as a series of 1s and 0s.

If you think you can change the world by blogging (you poor misguided fool), be my guest, but my one piece of advice is "don't take it all too seriously".

Here's the meme in full for those who want to give it a shot - I'm supposed to tag 10 more people to play along, but I'll let others decide for themselves if they want to add to the Ten Commandments.

(Meme Starts)

It’s very simple. When this is passed on to you, copy the whole thing, skim the list and put a * star beside those that you like. (Check out especially the * starred ones.)

Add the next number (1. 2. 3. 4. 5., etc.) and write your own blogging tip for other bloggers. Try to make your tip general.

After that, tag 10 other people. Link love some friends!

Just think– if 10 people start this, the 10 people pass it onto another 10 people, you have 100 links already!

1. Look, read, and learn. **-http://www.neonscent.com/

2. Be, EXCELLENT to each other. **-http://www.bushmackel.com/

3. Don’t let money change ya! **-http://www.therandomforest.info/

4. Always reply to your comments.-http://chattiekat.com/

5. Don't take it all too seriously. - http://groaninjock.blogspot.com/

(Meme Ends)

Monday, July 23, 2007


I've been living in a world of silence for the past two days.

It's been hard to bear, but I think I'm starting to see the light now.

The cause of these silent days is that Mrs Wife left me for another man.

Not just any man, but a younger man, practically a boy, but one who is apparently far more exciting than I could ever be.

Despite the fact that she is 27, Mrs Wife spent the hours between 6.30pm on Saturday and 10.30pm on Sunday reading Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows.

And now she's finished it. She's refusing to tell me whether the boy wizard dies. I don't really care, I was only making conversation. And trying to find out so that I can spoil the ending for small children.

But as Mrs Wife can't read when there's music on in the background, I spent most of Sunday watching The Open from Carnoustie with the sound off.

Nonetheless, it is a tad disconcerting when an otherwise rational WOMAN spends two days reading a kids' book.

I've only read the first Harry Potter book, and I only read it because I'd run out of more worthwhile literature whilst touring southern Europe in 2001. It was enjoyable enough I suppose, but it didn't strike me that I just HAD to devour the sequels immediately.

As kids' books go, I think that the Harry Potter series pales in comparison to the works of Roald Dahl. In fact, in some instances, I think that JK Rowling borrowed heavily from Dahl's work, especially the surreal works of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, The BFG and Matilda. She also obviously drew inspiration from Tolkien and from Tom Brown's School Days.

I'll probably get around to reading the books when I have kids myself, but not before. There are just far too many great books written for adults that I haven't gotten round to yet.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Quick-beaked Thief

It seems my good friend The Tomahawk Kid is ahead of the game.

Yesterday, he reported that he was witness to a robbery at a newsagent in Aberdeen city centre.

A daring seagull has become adept at sneaking into a branch of RS McColl's and pinching packets of crisps straight off the shelves.

Today, the story is featured in The Daily Record and on the BBC News website.

I hate seagulls. I've got a phobia of birds, but I especially hate birds that aren't afraid of humans, and who associate them with food, such as seagulls, pigeons and chickens.

Seagulls really are awful. Montrose is plagued by them, swooping down to steal food practically from people's hands and raking through bins in the search for food.

It strikes me that a seagull's life can't be overly fulfilling. Wake up at 5am, make a hell of a racket, rummage through some bins, try not to get hit by cars.

I think I dislike seagulls more than pigeons because they seem to have a bit of cunning about them, whereas pigeons just look and act dopey.

But if we're now at the stage where seagulls are stealing from shops, I think we should be worried. Maybe Alfred Hitchcock was right after all....

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Buying A Bitsashitty From Japanese Robbers

In yesterday's post, one of the eight fascinating facts I offered up to you strange people of the worldwide interweb was that I had visited seven of the eight Australian States and Territories, and that I missed out on the Northern Territory because of an exploding car engine.

Ole Blue The Heretic asked me to expand on this story, so I'm publishing an email sent to friends and family on February 1st 2004, shortly after the incident occurred:

Hello everybody, hope you are all well and not dying of hypothermia in the Arctic wastelands of northern Europe. Perth is almost unbearably hot during the day now, and we haven’t seen anything you could properly call rain since we were in Singapore six weeks ago (although Melbourne and Brisbane have been battered by huge storms which have caused floods big enough to submerge cars – thankfully that is 5000 miles away!)

The fact that we’re in Perth at all is due to a series of events which has given me the impression that we’re doomed to stay here forever more. Initially we arrived here just before Xmas, with the intention of finding jobs for a couple of months. The only problem with that plan was that there weren’t many jobs worth doing that were available to travelers (we’re only allowed to work in one job for three months at a time). So after a month or so of generally fruitless searching, albeit with a combined total of six days work between us for the month to show for our endeavours, we decided that our best option would be to buy a car and head south for some fruit picking work.

We purchased a decent-looking Mitsubishi Station Wagon from a Japanese couple, after test driving it and making sure that it wasn’t a battered old heap. After collecting the car on the Friday, we decided to spend the weekend visiting the Pinnacles desert 400km north of Perth, to see the standing stones and the stromatolites (the oldest life on Earth).

Two hours into our four-hour journey, the car began to lose power, eventually dying by the side of a near-deserted stretch of highway. For anyone picturing a small country road in the middle of nowhere, please take into account the fact that Western Australia is a state one-and-a-half times the size of the UK and Ireland put together, and that only 2.5 million people live in this huge expanse of nothing, 1.5 million of them in Perth. We are talking SERIOUSLY deserted stretches of road.

Looking under the bonnet of the car, smoke was rising from puddles of oil which had spurted from some mysterious fissure in the engine, which, despite an almost complete lack of mechanical knowledge, I deduced was not a good sign.

Fortunately, we had trundled to a halt near a small farmhouse, and I walked across to ask for the use of a phone. As this farmhouse was also running a small business selling watermelons and grapefruit, we also hoped for some refreshments while we awaited the arrival of our knight in shining tow truck.

As I approached the porch of the house, a woman emerged, eying me with a look of disdain as if I were about to deposit a decomposing skunk upon her doorstep. Explaining that our car had just broken down, I asked if I could call a local mechanic, to which this cheerful businesswoman replied “No” and walked off, possibly to torture small children in an outhouse somewhere. Completely unprepared for this event, I could only gaze open-mouthed before heading back to the car.

Now our only option was to use my British mobile phone to call the RAC in Australia. So for the next 20 minutes I patiently tried to explain to the monkey on the other end of the line that no, I wasn’t a member, and that yes, I would like to have somebody rescue our car, preferably before we had to resort to cannibalism to survive. Twenty pounds worth of exasperated conversation later, with the added treat of the $158 membership fee on top, we were promised that the mechanic would be with us in an hour.

Sure enough, he arrived at the allotted time, tried the engine a couple of times and declared that there was nothing he could do. Our options then were to get the car towed to the nearest town, Gin Gin, for free or anywhere else for $1 per kilometer. As Gin Gin is over 2hrs from Perth, we weren’t especially keen to take the car there, so we began the journey back to Perth. About an hour into the journey, Patrick (the mechanic) reminded us that we would have to pay $1 per km to Perth AND BACK, which would have cost us another $200+. So we decided instead to leave the car outside a garage in the town of Wannerroo, an hour from Perth by bus.

Which is where it still is two weeks later, having a replacement engine fitted. I think the only suitable name for the car now is Titanic, collapsing as she did on her maiden voyage. The car originally cost us $2500, a sum which has now inflated to $5200, money which has taken us exactly nowhere.

As a result, we are now back in Perth, in the same flat, with no realistic chance of moving in the near future. We’ve both found jobs in a British theme pub round the corner from the flat, [Miss Girlfriend] behind the bar, me collecting glasses, which is at least letting us pay the rent and feed ourselves on pasta. The pub is called the Elephant and Wheelbarrow, part of a chain across Australia, so if we can ever get to Melbourne or Sydney, we might be able to transfer across there. Although the 10pm-5am shifts are a bit of a weekend killer, the house band on a Friday is a pretty good Beatles tribute band, followed on Saturdays by a 70s and 80s cover band (the only band I’ve ever heard follow a Cyndi Lauper cover with Ram Jam’s Black Betty), which means it’s definitely not the worst job I’ve ever had.

Aside from this rather lengthy tale of misery, there’s not much else to tell. We’ve visited Rottnest Island, about 20 miles from Perth in the Indian Ocean. It’s the only place in the world where you can see wild Quokkas. A Quokka is a cat-sized marsupial with a long rat-like tail, and they are in over-abundant supply on Rottnest. The only real way to see the island is by bike, so we spent a day cycling round, and every time we stopped we were approached by groups of Quokkas looking for food and attention. We’ve got loads of photographs of them, should anybody want to see exactly what I’m talking about.

The only other event of any note was Australia Day last Monday, a nationwide celebration of all things Oz. [Miss Girlfriend], myself and our flatmate Leah spent most of the day on the bank of the Swan River, watching air shows, water displays and other entertainments, which culminated in a spectacular fireworks display from boats in the middle of the river and from the tops of the Perth CBD skyscrapers. There was also a fairly decent concert televised from Canberra, on a day which is as much an excuse for alcoholic over-indulgence as anything else.

Well, this episode of our adventures over, I am going to finish here. Keep in touch folks (thank you all my Celtic-supporting acquaintances, I am now well aware of the famous Glasgow Rangers’ capitulation in the Old Firm match, and of the gap at the top of the SPL, you may cease the reminders at any time).

Our address, should anyone wish to send cans of Irn Bru or UN-style food parcels is [address deleted to protect the current residents from the strange folk of the worldwide interweb].

And that is the sorry tale of the exploding Australian Mitsubishi. We did eventually get the car back, and managed to drive it all the way across Australia from Perth to Melbourne, eating and sleeping in it along the way. We made some good friends in Perth as well, so having to spend four months there wasn't so bad after all.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Eight Things About Me

As seen over at Blog d'Elisson and at Blissful Bedlam - Eight Random Facts About Me.

The useless knowledge is listed below, but first we'd better keep things proper by explaining the rools:

Write a post enumerating eight facts/habits about yourself. Include the rules at the beginning of the post.

Tag eight people, posting their names and links to their sites. (I'm not going to do that - if anyone wants to play, feel free. If you don't, don't.)

Leave comments at the sites you’ve tagged, letting them know that they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

So here we go - eight things you didn't need (or want) to know about me:

1. I've never had an operation under general anaesthetic. In fact, I can count my hospital visits on the fingers of one hand: the first was to get a piece of grit removed from my eye as a teenager, the second was to see how badly I'd damaged my ankle playing football (it turned out to be a strained ligament), the third was to see whether I'd broken my nose playing football (notice a theme here? I hadn't, just burst it open quite spectacularly), the fourth was to see if I'd broken my ribs playing football (I hadn't, they were just bruised) and the fifth was when I had my toenail removed by a doctor who gave me a single local anaesthetic injection. Please note that I was touching wood and crossing my fingers whilst I wrote that answer.

2. The longest I've lived in one house is seven years, when my parents and I (and for three of those years Baby Brother) lived in a small cottage in the countryside near Montrose. I took a drive down there on the way home from work a couple of weeks ago and it hasn't changed at all in the intervening 20 years.

3. The most keepie-uppies I have ever done with a football without it bouncing on the ground is 120. At the end of the session, my legs were exhausted and I'd moved about 10 metres in the time it took, which was probably about five minutes. So I can't begin to fathom how Martinho Eduardo Orige managed to keep a ball in the air for 19-and-a-half hours.

4. I've visited seven of the eight Australian States and Territories, including the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania. Mrs Wife (then known as Miss Girlfriend) and I didn't make it to the Northern Territory because of an unfortunate incident with an exploding car engine that cost us $2,500 to fix.

5. I can lick my nose and wiggle my ears. But not at the same time.

6. Whilst at university I worked as a security guard, a kitchen porter and as a journalist for a Premier League football team.

7. My favourite alcoholic drink is Cointreau, lime and lemonade. Which is probably the least masculine drink that one can order at any bar in Scotland.

8. I'm allergic to cats and have a phobia of birds. Apart from that, I like animals.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Wonderful Weather and Woeful Weather

The weather over the weekend was magnificent, and gave the people of Montrose their first glimpse of a real summer.

On Saturday, when my friend came to visit the town for the first time, we walked into town and along the seafront, but the heat and the humidity made it a tough trip.

But by Sunday, the humidity was gone and the sun blazed down on the Montrose Donkey Derby. Despite several attempts, I was unable to pick a winner in any of the races, and also failed to kick a football through a hole in a wooden board. Regardless of these shortcomings, a fine time was had by all, and we returned to Dungroanin' for an impromptu barbecue.

So, when we went to bed last night, I expected that today would dawn in glorious sunshine, as July finally remembered that it is supposed to be the height of summer.

But it's not. It is freezing cold and pishing with rain once again.

So summer lasted two days. Wonderful.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Free Fun

As there is still a fortnight to go until the next pay day, but my bank account is already looking bare and my credit card is hollering for attention after a period of sustained abuse, Mrs Wife and I will be living on the cheap until the end of the month.

Thankfully, a combination of free tickets to the Cirque Surreal circus at Queen's Links in Aberdeen and our cinema passes means that we won't be short of entertainment this evening.

In fact, combined with a gala day in Montrose tomorrow, a visit from a friend I haven't seen in a long while tomorrow evening and a donkey derby on Sunday, it seems that this next two weeks will be jam-packed with excitement, none of it costing a penny.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Terrifying Tunes

I always have a song battering around inside my head. During every waking moment of every day, my subconscious will be merrily singing its own private tune, generally one that I've listened to or inadvertently heard in the preceding hours or days.

Usually, the tune in my head at any given moment will be one that I like, from my own vast library of music. I'll tend to repeat one riff or line over and over in my head, although this often branches out into whistling or singing.

In recent weeks, the songs that have been playing on my own mental jukebox have included Kate Nash's Foundations, the piano riff from The Beatles' Hey Bulldog and Thin Lizzy's Dancing In The Moonlight. All of these are perfectly fine, and I'm happy to have them on shuffle as I go about my daily business.

But for the past few days, I've woken up with a horrific medley of ABBA's Waterloo and Madonna's La Isla Bonita playing in my head. Nothing I can do can shift this combination from my mind. I've tried listening to some of my favourite catchy tunes in the car, or whistling something else to take my mind of the horrors of 70s disco and 80s pop.

And for a short time, these tactics work. But too often, the polished vapidity of Sweden's finest will come creeping up again, sledgehammering its way in between my silent renditions of Kings Of Leon and The Stone Roses.

I blame Live Earth - Madonna's "Romany Gypsy" rendition of La Isla Bonita with Gogol Bordello would have been enough to make me claw out my own ear drums, had I not been driving when it came on the radio. It was pure car crash radio (not in the real sense of the term - I didn't actually crash) - who in the world REALLY thought that what Madge's work really needed was a gypsy remix?

Anyway, I digress. How can I banish the horrors of my mind's inner gay bar forever, and replace them with good old-fashioned rock'n'roll? Help me, please.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Write Here, Write Now

As seen over at the Adelaide Green Porridge Cafe, some magnificent writing from high school students, the like of which I have never seen before:

1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a ThighMaster.

2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. Coli, and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.

5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

7. He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.

8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.

9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.

10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

11. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

13. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

14. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

15. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan’s teeth.

16. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

17. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant, and she was the East River.

18. Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long it had rusted shut.

19. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.

20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

21. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.

22. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

23. The ballerina rose gracefully en Pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

24. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.

25. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

John Smeaton: A Tribute

Courtesy of Sho, I thought it was only right to share this reworking of "Flower of Scotland", penned in tribute to John Smeaton:

O John of Smeaton
When will we see your like again
That fought and panned in
Two Al Qaeda men
And set about them
Osama's army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again

The airport's bare now
And cherokees lie burnt and still
O'er land that is saved now
Which brave Sir Smeato held
And set about them
Osama's army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again

Those days are passed now
And in the past they must remain
But we can still rise now
And be a nation again
That set about them
Osama's army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Country Living

Along with Alasdair Gray, Bill Bryson is one of my favourite authors - I've yet to read one of his books that hasn't left me in stitches.

Perusing The Guardian website this morning, I was delighted to read Bryson's views on what makes the British countryside so special.

I agree with his statement that we seem to take our countryside and heritage for granted. I remember when Mrs Wife and I visited Tasmania, we were shown "the oldest bridge in Australia", built in 1823.

In my home town of Brechin, the Brechin Bridge is so old that no-one seems to know for certain how old it is. All that we seem to know for is that up until the 1780s it was the only bridge across the River South Esk. Which means that, in all likelihood, it is more than 100 years older than Australia's oldest bridge. And no-one knows or cares enough to bother even finding out when it was built.

I agree wholheartedly with Bryson's view that we should fight to protect our countryside and to preserve it from haphazard development. By all means, we should enable this country to grow, and we should be looking to build affordable homes, but not at the expense of our countryside.

All Around The World

I would consider myself fairly well travelled - I've seen a good bit of Europe and spent a year travelling around the world before real life got in the way.

But, having ticked a few boxes on the Travbuddy website, it seems I've not seen as much of our home planet as I had imagined.

In fact, I've only been to 10% of the countries. Which isn't all that many really.

It's maybe a bit strange that I haven't been to Wales - but, in my defence, it is full of Welsh people and is basically just a smaller, crap version of Scotland, but with even worse football teams and a horrific accent.

And Mrs Wife and I missed out on the Northern Territory when we were in Australia, because it's largely just a desert and we were a bit too strapped for cash to travel 5,000 miles to look at a lot of sand and a big rock. But we'll go back at some point.

Meanwhile, there are places on this Earth that deserve to be listed simply through virtue of being unlike anywhere else on Earth - if we're going to include the Vatican City (essentially just a luxurious bit of Rome behind big walls), we should really include Scotland's islands, each of which has its own distinctive character.

And we most certainly should include The People's Republic of Tarbert, an insane north Kintyre village inhabited by insane villagers from the north of Kintyre - when you've been to Tarbert, you never forget it.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Time Of The (Close) Season

Many football fans despise the close season - the six week gap between the cup finals and the start of pre-season friendlies.

But it's a part of the footballing calendar that I've always enjoyed, ever since I was a wee boy first becoming interested in the Beautiful Game. (As an aside, Pele obviously never sat through the Hibernian v Dundee Utd match that I reported on in 2002, which could never have been described as beautiful. In fact, there have been occasions in my life where I have been more entertained by examining the contents of my navel.)

To me, the close season, with its daily transfer rumours, new signings and players leaving in the hope of greener grass elsewhere, is as exciting as the seasons that precede and follow it. Every new signing gives fans the hope of exciting times ahead, hope that for many is dashed almost immediately once balls are kicked in earnest.

I remember as a teenager hearing that Rangers had signed Basile Boli and Brian Laudrup. Boli, a European Cup-winning centre back, seemed like the kind of exciting and exotic signing that Rangers needed to take them to European glory. Sadly, he wasn't, but for those brief weeks between his signing and his first slip-shod appearances in Royal Blue, the propsect of seeing him in action kept my appetite whetted.

Rangers' close season signings may no longer be defenders with such rich pedigrees (Kirk Broadfoot and Alan Gow are unlikely ever to hold the Champions League trophy aloft) but the close season is still a time to revel in the world of football, where essentially meaningless activity is laden with the hopes and dreams of millions.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Public Transport Problems

Public transport in Scotland is useless.

This weekend, Mrs Wife and I are visiting her parents in Oban. Our visit will also include a spot of dog sitting, which begins for Mrs Wife tonight. Therefore, she is driving through to Oban after work this afternoon.

Meanwhile, I am working tomorrow. Rather than take two cars to Oban, and then have to bring both of them back to Angus, I thought I could get a train or bus.

But I can't. There is no way I can make it from Aberdeen to Glasgow in time to catch the last train to Oban on Friday night, as it leaves Queen Street Station at 6pm. Even supposing I could work through my lunch hour and leave an hour early (at 3:30pm), I still couldn't get to Glasgow by train in two and a half hours.

The only other option would be a bus - but in a remarkable stroke of genius, the last bus from Glasgow to Oban also leaves at 6pm. There is a bus from Dundee, but it leaves at 4.15pm, so I'd be struggling to make that, even if I left Aberdeen at 3:30pm.

If the government is really serious about tackling climate change and reducing congestion on our roads, public transportation in this country needs to be drastically improved. How can it take longer to travel by train from Aberdeen to Glasgow than it takes to drive the same route? And why, if you work normal hours, are you unable to finish work and then take public transport to Oban, one of the country's favourite holiday destinations?

As for the cost of travelling by public transport: it is cheaper for me to drive to work every day than it is to get the train, even with a year-long railcard.

I have travelled through some supposed third world countries that have better, cheaper and more efficient public transport systems than Britain. In the 21st century, that amounts to a hilariously unfunny joke.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Smeatonmania - "We'll set about ye"

Things have gone a bit crazy here at Groanin' Jock over the past 24 hours - with more than 200 visitors dropping by to read about John Smeaton's heroics.

So I thought that it was only right to share the video of the great man giving his TV interview.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Modern Day Hero

Scotland has a long and proud history of folk heroes. Great military leaders and kings like William Wallace, Rob Roy MacGregor and Robert The Bruce are immortalised in our nation's history.

In the modern age, our heroes have tended to come from the realms of science, politics and football. Amongst the inventions created by Scotsmen are the television, telephone, penicillin, radar and the pneumatic tyre.

But since Saturday, when Islamic fundamentalists brought their war of wonky ideologies to Scottish soil for the first time, Scotland has a new hero.

John Smeaton, a baggage handler at Glasgow Airport, is fast becoming a legendary figure not only here in Scotland, but around the world.

Spotting one of the would-be terrorists running towards police officers whilst on fire, John reportedly sprinted towards the man and felled him with a kick.

Interviewed afterwards by an American news crew, John said: “Me and other folk were just tryin’ tae get the boot in and some other guy banjoed him.”

John's bravery can only be commended. I am quite sure that if I saw a burning Pakistani running through an airport terminal, I would not be running towards him.

The people behind the John Smeaton tribute site have begun a campaign to reward the man himself with drink (as we do in Scotland). So far, they have received enough pledges to buy our own have a go hero more than 600 pints at the Holiday Inn at Glasgow Airport.

I urge you all to recognise the heroism of John Smeaton and to raise a glass in his honour.

(Thanks also to Silversprite and Big Rab for publicising John's heroics.)

Monday, July 02, 2007

Of Bowling, BBQs and Bombs

The weekend - where to begin?

As I explained previously, on Friday the company we work for paid for all employees in its Aberdeen office to spend the afternoon playing Pirate Island Adventure Golf, spinning about the on the dodgems, eating too much, playing pool and bowling.

Four minutes on the dodgems wasn't enough to demonstrate my Lewis Hamilton-esque driving, my golf was inhibited by poor approach work (though my putting was immense) and my pool playing was a bit rusty. I did finish a creditable joint third in the bowling though, missing out on the five pound prize after a play-off decided by means of one game of pool. (I came from seven balls down to lose it on the black - so close.)

And then Mrs Wife and I rose on Saturday morning to find Montrose basking in glorious sunshine. In fact, had we started our housewarming barbecue at 9.30am, the weather would have been perfect. But by 1.30pm, clouds were scattering across the sky, and by 3pm drops of rain could be felt cooling my sunburt neck. And by 6.30pm we had a full-on Montrose monsoon. But by then most people were fed and, if not drunk, merry enough not to care that they were crammed into Dungroanin' like giant sardines in a standard-sized phone box.

It was whilst we were partying indoors that news came in of the terrorist attack at Glasgow Airport. For so long, terrorism in the UK, whether that perpetrated by the IRA or by Islamic extremists, has focussed on London. But to find out that this unholy war has moved north of the border was a shock.

I would imagine that every single person in the room when the news came through has been to Glasgow Airport at some point in their lives, whether as a passenger or there to collect a relative. To see mobile phone video footage of the burning jeep at the airport brought home the fact that this was happening just over 100 miles from my front door, almost live as we saw it.

Apparently this is the first bombing in Scotland since the Luftwaffe crossed the English Channel. Whether that's true or not, I don't know. But if we thought that those who claim to be acting in Allah's name were going to concentrate their efforts on New York, Washington and London, we were obviously wrong.

Should we be afraid? No, we should be angry. We can't live in a state of fear - for then these ideological cretins, who would kill anyone unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, would have won.

It remains the case that you're far more likely to die in a car accident or from a heart attack than as a result of a terrorist attack. And our emergency services and military are amongst the best in the world - Glasgow airport was fully functional less than a day after the failed attack.

The greatest show of strength we can put on is to continue life as normal, to show that no matter what evil these people can summon, we will always overcome.