12 August 2009

Charity Shop Challenge - The Competitors

Yesterday my colleagues and I started the Charity Shop Challenge. Using an initial £1 investment we ventured out to make use of our small town's oddly large charitable retail sector - listing our purchases on eBay. The money gets reinvested in the charity shops until a ceiling is reached and whoever made the most of the charity pot - is declared the victor.

All of the items have been chosen and listed and here they are. My own, fine quality antique, is a 1973 Princess Anne Wedding Commemorative Mug. A veritable delight rendered in the highest quality enamel - which despite its 36 years of age - has not lost its sparkle, gleam and almost friendly glow. I will stop there as am in danger of hamming it up more than a pork butcher... You could be the proud owner of this piece of history - Buy 1973 Royal Wedding Heirloom

The only item to generate any interest (and a bid) is my brother's CD of 'More Dirty Dancing'. This is a collection of the songs not deemed good enough for the actual Dirty Dancing Soundtrack. Included are such gems as 'Trot the Fox' by 'Micheal Lloyd and Le Disc'. I can only hope the person buying the item intends to use it as a coaster. Should you have been recently released from an institution and wish to put in a new bid, feel free - Buy Dismal Music CD For Saddo's

The item selected by Leo can surely only be purchased by the most determined of anorak map collectors. He has asked me to point out that it is not an Ordnance Survey Map of Strathdon from 1985 as I suggested yesterday. Oh no, it is from 1976. So that is a whole nine years more useless and out of date than I thought. The listing describes it as having been 'inexpertly folded', which is actually its main selling point. If you want to buy this utterly useless item, perhaps as kindling, you can - Buy Out of Date Map of Obscure Scottish Location

I've even reserved the worst until last. Described in the listing as 'an exceptional studio pottery handmade stoneware goblet', it is in fact a grotesque horror of a lopsided pot. Quite when such items were in vogue is a mystery to me. This too can be secured a special place in your bin - Buy Two-tone Mushroom and Dung Coloured Goblet

All in all, despite their minute price tags, it is clearly only the mug that comes out with any credit. Even if the money is for charity, apart from that special royal wedding memory - I suggest you keep your cash in your pocket.

11 August 2009

Charity Shop Challenge

I have hijacked the blog today to enlist people's help in winning my Charity Shop Challenge. I spend considerable time working with out web developers in Brampton, Cumbria - and have joined their competition to turn a profit (for charity) from the shelves of the town's inexplicably large number of charity shops. The idea is that you start with a pound, search through the assorted goods in the shops and sell them on eBay for a profit. This gets reinvested in more items until a ceiling is reached - at this point the winner is declared.
I feel I made a good start with my purchase in that it only cost 40p. And here it is....

Yes, of course... It's that must have item for any household. A 1973 Royal Wedding Mug commemorating the marriage Princess Anne and Mark Phillips. Clearly this challenge is going to be well.... a challenge.

If you, like any right-minded person, long to be the owner of this exceptionally finely crafted Staffordshire ceramic delight* - please feel free to join the hordes of excited bidders on eBay - http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=280383995696

I may have a difficult task in turning a profit, but I may still win this round when I view the competition. An unmarked earthenware chalice that is either the holy grail or a mass produced, mushroom coloured monstrosity. That famous classic CD - 'More Dirty Dancing', and an ordnance survey map of the area east of Balmoral castle from about 1986.

*In truth, it's not so much of a ceramic delight... it's tat. But for less than a pound what can you do!

22 July 2009

Parkie Life - My Days as a Park Warden

I’m not sure what it was but something triggered my memory recently of my summer, ten years ago, working as a Park Warden in Carlisle. Having left university in Leeds, I came back to Cumbria and wondered what to do next. Not the obvious step, but one borne out of financial necessity, I took a job as a Parkie. It was an interesting few months stationed in a small park in a deprived part of the city.

The first alarm bells started to ring when I learned, on my first day, of the fate of my previous incumbent. My predecessor was a trainee Vicar who was awaiting a posting in a parish, and was working in the park to keep himself going until then. The vicar had decided on a zero tolerance policy to antisocial behaviour from the local youths in the park. Consequently they felt he’d pushed them too far and pursued him to his Parkie’s Hut and, having barricading him inside, preceded to set fire to it. Not the news I wanted to hear on day one….

And so I settled into my varied and unusual tasks. First job was to get the thick rubber gloves out and check the kiddies playpark for needles, nice. Then, off to feed broken biscuits from the McVities factory to the swans (those that had escaped a recent shooting incident). I’d then patrol the park several times a day, trying to make sure if there was any trouble – I’d be on the completely opposite side.

My attitude to the chav element was completely different to the man of the cloth. My philosophy was born out my being a complete physical coward. So as much as I could, I made friends with them. This approach had seen me avoid any ‘Parkie Burnings’ for quite some time when the laxness of my discipline really hit home…

One normal summer morning I emerged from my hut having heard screeching tyres and an engine doing a lot of work. To my surprise, an old car was being driven about on the grass at high speed, doing handbreak turns and the like. I got on the radio and got my boss to call the police and headed over to the vehicle (not without a whimper!). The car had stopped in the car park and when I arrived, the local teenagers were sitting in it. It transpired they’d clubbed together and bought the motor at a scrap yard.

‘Fancy a spin Parkie?’ one shouted. Several more cajoling cries came as I was encouraged to take my own joyride. Clearly, I was not the fear-inspiring Park Keeper my superiors would have wanted in the post! ‘No I can’t’ I replied. ‘One of the miserable gits in the houses next to the park have called the police, I’ve just been told on the radio’. As they readied themselves to escape, they all politely said ‘thanks Parkie!’ And off they went.

I’m not proud of this approach, but I stayed alive and nobody got set on fire on my watch. I wasn’t about to risk life and limb for £3.50 an hour. I knew the police would be coming and I knew I’d get the ‘blame’ for it, so I made it clear it wasn’t me (when it was) and let them get away with it. I had several more weeks to go and wanted to get out the other side. A poor show though really, when all is considered.

After a few weeks the season was coming to a close and I was moved to the city’s central, much more pleasant park. I was to work with the Vicar, who had been moved to this location after the ‘pyro-parkie’ incident. I also worked with Tony, a stocky man who would inspire fear in the Taliban, never mind any park-dwelling undesirables. This seemed a much more agreeable place of work, as I stepped in to sell ice-cream from the kiosk when it got busy and strolled around the manicured flower beds for the rest of the day. That was until Tony gave me a new assignment.

It appeared that a public toilet between the park and the athletics track was a frequent haunt of men who liked to meet up to engage in sexual activity with each other. While I am liberal sort of man, this really shouldn’t be going on on weekday afternoons next to a sporting facility used by children. (Incidentally, the athletics track was – appropriately for Cumbria – called The Sheepmount). Tony required my daily assistance in an operation he called ‘flushing’.

My job was to drive the council van to the toilets, after which Tony would leap out, run in and shout very loudly some not very nice words. Usually several characters would then scurry out of the door looking abashed and headed to their cars in haste. Tony would then come back to the van and deposit a range of reading material that these gentlemen seemed to like. ‘Big Boys in Boots’ was one title if I recall correctly.

Shortly after one of these trips, we all gathered to give our best wishes to the Vicar who was off to a small village in Surrey, having finally been given his parish. As we waved him off Tony revealed the ‘joke’ he had played on him. Having borrowed his car keys, Tony had stashed a selection of the previously mentioned magazines under the spare tyre in the Vicar’s boot. I truly hope they were discovered by the Vicar himself – but can’t help worrying that a mechanic in a rural Surrey village garage came across them a few weeks later when doing an MoT. Imagine the scandal.

7 July 2009

Twitter Support is Not Very Good (Putting it Lightly...)

I like Twitter, I really do. I have a little bug at the moment, which while not major - is causing me a small problem. Unfortunately, Twitter's support service is not very supportive. I started off being very nice, but in my last message to them I started to let my irritation show a little. Here it is: -

Case numbers 417819, 415342 and 416867. They are not resolved. I tell you the problem, you close the issue down with no action. There seems to be a pattern here. So... what happens is, here is a new request, which you will doubtless close down without any action.

I cannot permanently save changes to my profile because my link text is not in hex format. I cannot access the design area to change this.

I have to keep repeating this and my requests just get closed. I'm just going to keep sending them so wouldn't it be more sensible to actually fix the problem (or at least tell me it can't be done?). Your own text says multiple requests slow things down, but I currently have no alternative. The information says I can reopen an old request, but that doesn't work - unless some sprightly support operative is employed solely to monitor your inbox and immediately close a support ticket as soon as the button is pressed?

Please could you urgently ignore my fourth request to do something about this. I shall be hanging on tenterhooks just waiting for the next time you can 'resolve' my issue by just pretending I never asked.

I'm aware Twitter is a free service and I'm very grateful for that. I wouldn't mind if I got a response saying 'can't be done at this time', or, 'we're aware and we're working on it, but it may take a while'. To be quite honest, just a reply saying 'stop bothering us you sarcastic turd' would be a step forward.

My profile currently says I'm horrified at being 31. All I want to do is change that as I've no turned 32. I fully expect to still be waiting when I'm 33.

I doubt whether this will have any effect, but I can only hope....

17 June 2009

The Game of Why

I am carrying my daughter on my shoulders on the way to wherever. This arrangement, known as 'the giraffe', is her current favourite mode of transport. For her, unrivalled views. For me, backache coupled with a certain fatherly pleasure.

My daughter is nearly four, an age where she is no longer three but 'nearly four', as she will respond if asked her age. On this giraffe-day I ask why she has to occupy every second of the trip with a game of some sort. This can be the game where she jerkily crouches on my shoulders at the last second to avoid low branches, while shouting 'Doh!'. There's the one where she trails her hand through hedges and cries 'Ow, that prickles!'. And then of course the all time number one. Providing me with a form of Indian head massage to transfer to my scalp whatever it is that has made her hands sticky that day.

I have made the mistake of mentioning the word 'why', a child's favourite word. This prompts a host of reciprical questions, all of which when answered will draw another 'why' response from her.

I try and put an end to this barrage, adding all the weight of my 31 years, work experience and education. I ask why she always has to know everything works - literally from the birds to the bees. I ask her why she has to know the reason it isn't wrong to swat a fly, but it is to swat a butterfly (with a 'swyflotter').

Before she has chance to answer I unleash a fresh wave of attacks in this playful battle. I ask her what it is that makes her want to explore and investigate the smallest and largest things. I go so far as to ask 'why are you a girl who seeks answers to the metaphysical connundra that have plagued mankind since time began?'.

After this onslaught she pauses. 'Do you mean why am I a girl who asks why a lot?'. It is exactly what I mean, and I am beaten again!

16 June 2009

Is it me? (No)

I haven’t blogged for a little while because I’ve had a bit of a bad run at it. I haven’t felt in the mood and instead I’ve found solace in a whisky or two and a beer or three. I have of course found some time to twitter with my newly assembled rag-tag of a family, who never fail to raise a smile. Although the reference to the little girl on BGT - ‘she was crying like she had just met Garry glitter in a shower’ was pretty near the knuckle.

I'm sure like me - you‘ve been here too. Down on your luck with the world against you. Fighting an inner turmoil to contain your soul-destroying disillusionment with life’s twists and turns. A sickening debilitating bolt that electrifies the butterflies in the stomach and heats the mind to a pressure cooker on the point of combustion. And an ensuing sleep deprivation which hoards any semblance of the bodies mandatory equilibrium requirement.

Intense I know but it hasn’t been one of my better months, a May-day ground-hog but I’m not on the Tyne Bridge just yet. Here lies the beauty of blogging. An opportunity to vent angst - and I wonder why it’s taken me so long.

You see, my real issue here lies with other people - the ones who fate has decreed I tread the same path. People with a ‘Me’ agenda , so consumed by self justification and self importance that they discard the very rudiments of civility. Why?

Is it so impossible to work for the common good and help each other when
you’ve walked along the same path many, many years. Failure to attempt it is surely bad enough, yet to deliberately embark on a destructive programme and galvanise others to do the same is something I find hard to comprehend. It is something I hope I would never subscribe to.

Surely these people can see that such strategy breeds only contempt and a severing of relations, prohibitive to everyone and everything. There seems to be so many people I don’t like at the moment, I have had to ask myself if it’s me that’s the problem? I’ve thought about that and concluded NO.

(Editor's note - this article is by Espiritoart-Andy, I have to upload them for him and used my login not his! Matt).

20 May 2009

50 More Moans, Whines & Whinges

If anyone has seen this before they may have read a previous article where I got 50 things that irritated me off my chest. I swore that once I'd purged myself of these, I'd turn to a life with a positive outlook. I lied.

If you want to read the original 50 - click here.

51) I wonder if the hair product company assignment is a real taboo in the world of advertising executives – meaning only those who have fallen upon hard times would ever consider creating TV commercials for them. From ‘Here come the science bit’ onwards, they are truly the graveyard of advertising creativity.

52) The European Union. Go in it properly or not at all. At present we appear to reap none of the rewards of membership and none of the advantages of independence from it. The fence-sitting position adopted by the United Kingdom gives the worst of both worlds.

53) I saw a feature on TV recently about the BNP, where people were interviewed on the streets of Carlisle, where I grew up. One angry punter declared ‘I’ll vote for them as we’re overrun by illegal immigrants!’ This in a city where the ethnic origin of over 95% of residents is white-British.

54) No matter how hard I try, unlike Tory MP Douglas Hogg– I can’t get anyone to pick up the tab to clean my moat. In fact, it is now so overcrowded with weeds that some are threatening to spread as far as my portcullis.

55) People who complain about wind farms being located in their area on the grounds that they will spoil the landscape. What will the landscape be like if the ice caps melt? Or the oil ran out and the ensuing chaos that would ensue?

56) Wafers. I can’t stand these little dry segments of wood chippings and cardboard that infiltrate your ice cream. A hot day, a refreshing ice cream is consumed and then you eat the cone and need another one because it dried your mouth out as if you’d guzzled a bucket of sand.

57) What possesses the manufacturers of clothes to place an itchy, synthetic label on their garment solely to make the back of your neck itch. Is that really the best system they could come up with.

58) I don’t understand the fuss about David Tennant. As an actor seems a bit hammy to me. And as an object of lust by huge numbers of people? When was weedy oddball elected as a good look?

59) I’ve started to order Shandy.

60) A number of times in North Wales, in shops and public places people have switched their language from English to Welsh when I walked in. Not very welcoming for a visitor.

61) People who, in public, choose to finish a bag of crisps by opening their mouth and tilting back their heads, before draining the remaining crumbs into their maw.

62) In many commercial art galleries you can see Jackson-Pollock inspired abstract paintings. Being the 10,000th person to ape this style is so far from original it’s untrue. But there they hang.

63) In England, if you have an interest in football you will constantly hear the call that ‘foreigners are stifling English talent’. There are more foreign players as a percentage in Italy, but they are world champions. Why don’t our young players move abroad to get games like people in every other nation.

64) Blackpool is seedy, filthy and full of drunken undesirables. Yet it is the second most visited tourist destination in Europe. After the Vatican. Not only that, but I inexplicably like it.

65) Whatever Jonathan Ross’s other qualities, he is always unerringly generous towards his guests. He never fails to ‘love’ the actor’s latest film or artist’s new album. Even if that means praising Scooby Doo 2.

66) Britain is well blessed with counters. Enter a bank or post office and you’ll see a wealth of shiny glass and little signs saying ‘position closed’ in all but two of the windows. Note – it is in all but one of the windows at lunchtimes when you actually need to use it.

67) I can’t stand dirty newsprint. I don’t mean the articles in the Daily Sport but newspapers like the Newcastle Evening Chronicle. This leaves your hands jet black, perhaps to remind residents of the northeast of their coalmining heritage.

68) Do you remember Neil Kinnock’s incredibly embarrassing ‘We’re Aaaaalright!’ speech at the Sheffield Rally in 1992? If you don’t you are lucky and will have saved yourself some cringing.

69) Why are trainspotters so vilified? I’ll clarify that I’m not one and never have been. But it’s a shame that happyslapping is not more taboo than ticking off which trains you’ve seen.

70) I recently read some graffiti which said ‘If you can read this you’re gay’. So the author is clearly in admiration of people who are both straight and illiterate.

71) Why does my spam filter allow ’77 Hot Lovemaking Tips' through, but quarantines an e-mail from the gallery we’re exhibiting in providing feedback on visitor numbers.

72 ) For 13 months in a row, my virus checking programme has performed a full system scan. In each of these 13 months it has found 1 item that needs attention. Never 0 or 2, but always 1. I wonder if this is pre-programmed to occur in order to encourage me to continue my subscription.

73) Something very specific to the area I’m from and consequently of little interest to anyone else. I’m from part of Cumbria that falls into the 66% of the county that isn’t within the Lake District. Cumbria Tourism’s official website? Golakes.co.uk. Nice to see a holistic view of the county’s needs from the authorities.

74) There is something seriously wrong with food labelling. I saw a poster for coco pops which advertised it having ‘no artificial colours’. This suggests it is healthy, yet it’s packed with sugar and probably preservatives and sweeteners too. What next? Arsenic coming in a bottle with ‘less than 5% fat’?

75) When I worked in an office, I had to come in when I was ill as we were so busy. If I happened to sneeze inadvertently I would get ‘manflu’ jibes. In that same office, some of the women would ring in sick every time they had a sniffle. But it was me who got the stick.

76) William Hague earns a fortune from after dinner speaking. I have no issue with the money. But, if he spoke to me about the secret of eternal life I still think I’d have to smack him and shut him up before he revealed the answer.

77) There are a great many fashions I don’t understand, but most of these pass me by without a second thought. But that isn’t the case with Ugg boots. Why do people want to walk round with footwear than makes them look like an elf from Lord of the Rings.

78) Alcohol is a clever poison. The damage it causes to the brain removes the memory of how you felt the last time you had a hangover and swore ‘never again’.

79) When I went to Leeds to go to university, it should have been a sexual awakening and permanent party. However, for the first year I insisted on sporting lank long hair and a Mexican poncho. Unsurprisingly it didn’t quite work out as planned.

80) Is it the pace of modern life that won’t allow my brain to relax for a second. Even when I recently tried to relax by having a walk along the beach I created a ‘World stone-skimming championships’, allocating different countries to each throw and keeping score.

81) I worked for a bank, a failed one. I was once asked by a colleague how many zeroes there were in 90,000. I was made redundant and she remains there to this day.

82) Stephen Mulhern, host of Britain’s Got More Talent and The Planet’s Funniest Animals. This man takes smugness to levels only previously seen in Care Bears.

83) DVD extras annoy me. They provide a long list including such gems as ‘the original trailer’ and a ‘still photo archive’. Great, so an advert for the film I’ve just bought and a series of pics I could have seen anyway if I just used the pause button.

84) I tried to grow a beard at the age of 18 and failed miserably. I only discovered I could grow a proper one after trying again ten years on. It will always be a regret of mine, thinking how many unnecessarily beardless years I went through.

85) It amazes me just how angry people can get at individual representatives of companies. I worked as a Complaints Manager and had death threats and suggestions that I should hang because of the bank’s actions. That sort of rage requires therapy.

86) There is a lot of moaning about ‘The PC Brigade’, but much of this mythical legion’s initiatives have been vital in educating people about minorities of all kinds. However, they went too far with claiming people who suffer from epilepsy would be offended by the word ‘brainstorm’. Try as I might I am unable to use ‘thought shower’ as an alternative.

87) When my daughter was ill recently I went to the chemist with her prescription for Penicillin. I had to wait for an hour, returned and was told they didn’t have any. My annoyance that the substance that was the foundation of modern medicine was lacking didn’t go down well. Neither did my indignant claim that I would go home and get my own by leaving some bread to go mouldy.

88) We expect young people to have an idea of what they want to do with their lives at the age of 15 when they choose their A levels. I still don’t know now. But the options I took, all sciences, led to three miserable years studying Pharmacology at University.

89) Following on from the previous moan, during that course I was invited by the lab technician to witness how they prepared the Guinea Pigs for experimentation (well bits of them anyway). I expected some miniature gas mask or at worst an injection. Instead, with undisguised zeal, the woman tickled the creature under the chin and then clobbered it against the side of a desk. That put me off for good.

90) Management speak is not only irritating, it creeps into your vocabulary without you having any control over it. Yes, I too have ‘reinvented the wheel’.

91) When you use social networking sites and read people’s biographies, half will say ‘goat herder, florist, ukulele monster and shoe polisher – but not necessarily in that order’. Well, not the first bits but the part about the order. It doesn’t annoy me in itself – I just wonder how this became the staple statement for millions of people.

92) I feel no admiration for manufacturers of crisps when they say their products use sunflower oil and now contain far less fat than they used to. It irritates me that for so long they were happy to use worse fats for so many years just because they saved 10 pence per million litres they purchased over the healthier version.

93) I can’t manage gyms. I love exercising but only if there’s a ball involved. I need to go really, but I feel like I’m one of a number of hamsters in their wheels.

94) Since they brought the smoking ban in, you realise just how horrible the average nightclub smells. The smoking ban has had no effect on improving the sticky carpets though.

95) I never know what all these ROFLMAO and PMSL things are and have to frequent a dictionary site for people like me who are clearly behind the times.

96) I am annoyed that Bill Bryson wrote ‘Notes from a Small Island’. He has a similar (but better) writing style and has written the book I wanted to.

97) I sometimes finish off a night out with a chicken kebab, purely for the red cabbage. I’ll go those extremes for a raw red cabbage but have never bought one in the supermarket.

98) Why should we feel and fear shame when getting on a bus if we have the temerity to try and pay the fare with a note.

99) It’s not an issue that preys on my mind too often but why on earth did circumcision catch on? Just who decided to give it a try and why weren’t they instantly locked away.

100) I await the day with trepidation when I cease to find farting funny.

You're welcome to add your own below!

14 May 2009

A Naïve View of the MP's Expenses Row

Switch on the television or open a newspaper anywhere in the UK at the moment and you will be unable to avoid the ongoing scandal about Members of Parliament making false, excessive or frivolous claims on expenses at the public's cost. No party appears to be immune, although those not in power are still managing to make some political capital out of the situation - by criticising Gordon Brown for allowing a system so open to abuse to exist.

Anyone not calling this the biggest scandal of our times is denounced by the press as being naïve. I am just not that bothered, so call me naïve too.

In the letters pages of those newspapers and radio phone-ins, there does seem to be a general anger about these issues. I wonder whether this does reflect the mood of the nation, or these are just the minority who are bothered enough to write or ring in? Certainly I can't describe my own emotions as approaching anger. I have a form of self-satisfaction that my rampant cynicism in our political system appears to be justified. Of course that isn't constructive in any way. I take my place alongside the millions of others happy to have a pop while not offering any alternative view or participating myself.

Another thing I've derived from the events is amusement. While there was plenty of skulduggery from Labour and Liberal MPs, who cannot be absolved, it fell to the Conservatives to make the story genuinely entertaining. Michael Ancram, Stewart Jackson and James Arbuthnot all claimed expenses to clean or repair their swimming pools. David Davis for work on his paddocks. Michael Spicer for gardening at his Manor House (I'll forgive him the expenses for his helipad - safety can't be compromised!). Michael Gove bought lots of furnishings from David Cameron's mother in law. Best of all Douglas Hogg, who claimed to have his moat cleaned! His moat!

It hasn't escaped me that all of these exotic claims came from representatives of a party that not long ago made huge calls for a change in political culture in Downing Street. Not without merit but perhaps there is a need to get their own house in order. (And by that I don't mean by claiming for housekeepers...). All the same, I'm not angry. It needs to be sorted out, I agree. But I think there are so many more important things that need the air-time this endless debate is taking up.

Actor and writer Stephen Fry has come under fire for suggesting that the expenses debate is not that important. It appears that he was unhappy that the press concentrated on the issue so much, when journalists are famous for expenses claim ingenuity. This has not been a popular viewpoint with the press, surprise surprise! I agree to an extent, not because of any hypocrisy on the part of journalists but simply because the amounts of money concerned are trifling compared to spending in other areas.

£20 billion on American built nuclear submarines. You could clear 100,000 moats with that.

6 May 2009

Au Revoir Chelsea

Unusually with this blog, I am on the button, on the pulse. I am writing an article on a subject at the time it happens, rather than the usual wait to digest the news over a period of several days. Possibly the only subject in my repertoire I am able to do this with, is football.

Tonight I have witnessed an appalling performance by a Norwegian referee in the UEFA Champions League semi final. The result was that Chelsea were eliminated from the competition at the hands of Barcelona. It is easy after a football match to be reactionary, particularly when one key decision swings a game. But what compels me to put finger to keyboard in this case is that four key decisions turned the game against the English club. Four penalty decisions dismissed.

Yes, Chelsea should have won by putting away their chances or making more of their 1 man advantage after the sending off of Barcelona's Abidal. But some form of investigation should be carried out into the performance of the referee. The problem being, that investigation would have to be carried out by UEFA. And if any bias was given against the English side, this would have been placed on his shoulders by that very body.

Michel Platini, a legendary French superstar is the president of UEFA and could not nailed his flag more firmly to the anti-English club mast. He sang along with Barcelona fans in the first leg. He stated that English clubs were cheating because of their debt levels (Real Madrid are hugely in debt, but English clubs are cheating?). He said that Euro 2008 was better off without England. He has criticised Manchester City for making a huge offer for a player but encouraged Cristiano Ronaldo to move to Real Madrid for another huge transfer. He has criticised the competitiveness of the English Premiership, while ignoring the fact that Lyon have won the title 7 years in a row.

I will just point out that I don't support Chelsea. In fact, although I support English clubs in Europe, I have no affinity for them whatsoever. I support my home town club, Carlisle United (you may now snigger). My rant is nothing to do with the club itself.
Suggesting a conspiracy is ridiculous. But what else is there?

Twenty10 Election Turmoil

I’ll apologise to myself later and to you now but I’m afraid Gordon’s stumbling month has led me to stray in to the murky world of politics. What a performance from the big man! Refusing to say sorry for his trusted aide's devilish attempt to discredit some Tories with naughty playground rumours. Refusing to recognise his very own hand on the wheel which slammed our economy so hard against the rocks - we’re taking on more water than the titanic and we all know what happened there. Refusing to recognise the sacrifices Gurkhas have made in the name of our country. Refusing to address his ‘embattled’ home secretaries' inadequacies and of course refusing to sort out MP’s expenses as an entire population demanded.

There’s a common theme here. He doesn’t seem to do very much apart from bumble his way from crisis to crisis, perhaps working on the premise that if ‘we F*** something else up, then people will forget about this one’. All of this leaves me with a problem as big as his. Who to vote for next year? You see I’ve never adopted a colour, I’m what’s known as a ‘floater’- someone who’ll come ashore which ever way the wind is blowing strongest (as long as I‘m not aboard the good ship Gordon, in which case my inability to swim will likely be the death of me). If I am voting - I’ll vote for two main reasons:-

1) the party offering the most policies and vision I agree with.

2) the figurehead of that party - it has to be someone if not who you can put your faith in, then who you feel at least won’t embarrass us and will only let us down a lot, not completely.

This ideology provides me with a very real problem come next year. I didn’t vote last time round and felt a guilty irresponsibility because of it.…… I would have voted labour again as Howard was simply unelectable, a Kinnock of our times. I didn’t because principally I disagreed so strongly with the Iraq war. If any other country, say Russia or Iran had waged war against the international community's wishes - I’d speculate that the ramifications would have seen them fighting two wars not one. The fact that we know now there was no justification whatsoever - hardly helps the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis and coalition soldiers, or the millions of lives left shattered.

Back to the now and I think we’ve all had enough of this labouring ramshackle government, or at least the man at the helm. But the viable blue alternative serves up a policyless (new word???) goldfish of a man who is weaker than a Tetley teabag in a bath. He’ll denounce whatever the current hot-topic labour is inevitably struggling with and take the populist opposite without ever formulating a genuine policy of his own. Have I mentioned Kinnock ???? He’s certainly not a man to lead our country or go toe to toe with the mighty Obama now is he!

As I sign-off, I’ve allowed myself to chuckle again at those attempts to make discrediting rumours up. I mean come on, from educated grown men -it’s ridiculous. I was talking about it with my friend the other day and whilst we laughed - he did in general tend to agree with my current take on things. Interestingly, he also told me he had heard Gordon decided against sacking Jacqui in case she exposed the phone call he had made to her husband to get the number for that channel.

30 April 2009

50 Moans, Whines and Whinges of the Modern Englishman

The more I've written in this blog, the more I've moaned about things. In fact, it has almost become therapeutic to voice the series of minor things that appear to irritate me immensely. If there is one thing English people are good at, it is moaning. We are famous for it the world over. Americans might call us whinging limeys, and Australians moaning poms. Our reputation as complainers is well earned, although for such an obese nation, perhaps the fruit references are a bit outdated in those particular insults.

All of my moaning has got me thinking that perhaps a change of outlook is required. Less cynicism and more sunshine. (As a cynic, that last sentence has just made me cringe). Its something that I want to try anyway. But not before I get this lot off my chest.....

1) Hangovers. They just get worse as you get older. Once upon a time you could drink a huge amount, be sick on your white jeans and be up in time for breakfast (ok, the white jeans were a mistake). Once you get to 30, you're stuck with a hangover for two days, with an unhealthy dose of paranoia thrown in.

2) The insistence of everyone involved in business on the web to create unique terminology for absolutely everything they do annoys me immensely. Every day, a new term is created and people like me have to look them up. Well, I've got news for you, tech-speak creators. I know what WYSIWYG is now, and saying 'wizzywig' just makes you sound like idiots.

3) Is it necessary that every car driver has to drive the same roads they do every day at half speed every time it rains. The road is a bit wet, that's all. In a 30 mile an hour zone, even if the road is wet you aren't going to spin off the road if you approach the speed limit.

4) Search Engine Optimisation specialists. There are so many of you and plenty haven't got a clue. Until you find some way to distinguish yourself as one of the 'good ones', you will never get any business from me.

5) I understand the purpose of nasal hair. But when you get to a certain age, is there any need for it to grow at such a rate. If you don't watch out you could be waiting 20 minutes for a bus, and by the time it arrives you trip over it. (Yes, the nose hair, not the bus).

6) I wish the BBC would note that if they do a news article from Newcastle Upon Tyne, it is not necessary to play 'Fog on the Tyne' in a patronising fashion.

7) Changing the bedsheets is the only activity that requires more energy than climbing Everest. There must be a way to do it that doesn't leave my arms aching in agony when I attempt the duvet cover.

8) Spammers should note that inviting me to a 'webinar' will never, ever, ever be successful. The very word induces nausea.

9) UK Planning Departments have no plan in 99% of cases. Manchester's skyline has buildings in every architectural style ever devised by humans for example.

10) Every day a new foodstuff, drink or activity is declared as being damaging to your health. There is nothing left for anyone to eat! If it continues and everyone follows the advice, cancer will be eradicated but everyone will starve to death.

11) If psychics had the powers they claimed to, surely they would be able to contribute to society more than a small advert for a premium rate phone number in the back of a magazine.

12) Ghurkas, Nepalese soldiers who fight in the British Services cannot settle in the UK after their service. What annoys me more than anything is that the Labour party could have made a decision that would have been universally popular (their first for a long time), and they take the opposite view.

13) If you drive a Volvo like me you can't switch the headlights off. As a consequence you have to replace the bulbs every six weeks.

14) The only epidemic we are likely to have is Swine Flu Fever. This infects people who have a cold and recently ate burritos in a Mexican restaurant chain. There is no need for people to be wearing masks. Unless visiting Middlesborough. Face it, the only really at-risk group are Danish perverts (obscure joke there).

15) People on the internet who list themselves as 'Web Evangalists'. Tossers.

16) Hardly a unique moan, but driving a huge 4x4 in the city is stupid. It costs more, is more difficult to drive and pollutes more. Not rocket science.

17) If you get on a train and sit at a table in the UK, you will be joined by three people who talk loudly, eat smelly foods, drink booze, use their mobile phones all the time or simply smell. It is the law. Only one person per carriage is allowed to just sit quietly or read a book.

18) Internet people again. There is no such word as 'Mompreneur'.

19) Footballers being interviewed are so predictable and boring they may as well just record one at the beginning of the season and repeat it after each match. Days of any personality are over. You'll not get Ron Atkinson's great quote again - 'I never criticise referees and I'm not going to make an exception for that prat'.

20) Is there any need for the Glade air freshener advert where the irritating little boy shouts 'Muuuuuum, I need to do a poo!', over and over.

21) The conservative party are about to be elected by default, without explaining a single policy.

22) As a supporter of Carlisle United, away supporters singing '...just a small town in Scotland' is very boring, you all do it. And as for 'sheep, sheep, sheepshaggers', yes we know. We invented it.

23) My local supermarket doesn't stock the guardian, but does sell the weekly newspaper entitled, 'Cage and Aviary Bird News'.

24) The national lottery has not afforded me a single £10 win in 12 years. That is not good value.

25) At school it used to irritate when a fellow pupil would ask what was in my sandwiches and say 'Uuuuurrgh, tomato', or whatever was in it. But people, grown up people, still do it! Have you nothing better to do than criticise my choice of sandwich filling?

26) I cannot deal with people with no sense of humour, they totally disarm me and leave me gibbering and trying to crack jokes. This person is usually your boss.

27) Famous people who say 'I could never work a 9 to 5 job'. Insensitive idiots. It is called making a living for the majority, there isn't really a choice.

28) Web people (who feature a lot!). Don't describe yourself as 'ideas energisers'.

29) Do you remember when CDs came out and we were told they were virtually indestructible. Obviously the scientists who made these claims must have omitted certain things from their tests. Like playing them, or picking them up.

30) I've worked out that if a man needs 2,500 calories a day, the amount of calories you burn in an hour of the gym would suggest you've only just exceeded the amount you'd have burned if you just sat down instead.

31) I've often heard Americans say of the British, 'we saved your ass in WWII'. Perhaps if an earlier entry into a conflict against the world's most evil regime had been effected, millions of people would not have died. Just a thought.

32) A Scottish National Party official recently said that Scotland had been dragged into a recession by England. RBS and HBOS bailed out. Guess what the 'S' stands for in both of those.

33) Domino's Pizza looks revolting, tastes revolting and costs more than a good meal in a restaurant. How is that business model successful?

34) People wouldn't illegally download movies if it didn't require a second mortgage to get into a cinema.

35) Could I be bald or not bald. Is it necessary for me to look at the same time like a monk and someone with a map of the Isle of Wight on their forehead.

36) When I worked for a bank, somebody once rang in sick saying they'd run so fast on the treadmill they'd worn all the skin off their feet.

37) On a half full Easyjet flight, people will still sprint to get on the plane first, despite there being enough room for everyone to have their own row of seats.

38) There is a reason most Chinese buffet restaurants are patronised by more English people than Chinese. The Chinese people all eat in restaurants where the food is edible.

39) People who say that football is just 11 men chasing a ball about. Surely there must be something more to the world's most popular sport. And anyway, technically it is 22 men chasing a ball about.

40) British society dictates that if you drink red wine, go for meals with another man or like clothes you are gay. Call me Graham Norton then.

41) Critics of the new tax rate for top earners say it will cause a talent drain from the financial sector, the UK's biggest earning industry. The second biggest is Higher Education and research. Maybe the talent will move into this sector, meaning they'll be creating knowledge, rather than their own profits.

42) Simon Cowell's trousers are not newsworthy enough to take up column inches in the newspapers with the largest circulation in the UK.

43) I was informed by a former colleague that HD television was 'better than your own eyes'. Is it wrong to want to attack such people?

44) Everyone, including charities refers to the credit crunch in their marketing. Why constantly remind people of the fact when most will be unaffected, while simultaneously trying to get them to give you money. Buy from us and beat the credit crunch? Nonsensical.

45) Food labelling is ridiculous. I wouldn't be surprised to see 'free from artificial flavourings' displayed on rat poison in the future.

46) I could buy the best album of all time and I would listen to it over and over until I ruin it because I have overdone it.

47) Being English, why do I still turn a crimson red of shame when recalling the most minor embarrassing social situations. Things that happened ten years ago or more that everyone else will have forgotten about?

48) You can put a man on the moon, but you can't create a cordless phone that doesn't have more interference than Garry Glitter at a school disco.

49) When writing a blog and creating a list, you choose a number of things that you are going to cover. In this case, 50. But by the time you get close, you can't think of anything. If I had called this the 1 moan, rather than the 50 moans, I'd have got writers block before I'd started.

50) In approximately 50% of pubs I've been in in my life, you have been able to smell the toilets while standing at the bar. That is just wrong.

That is it, I'm a new man. All my bitterness has gone. If you've got this far, please feel free to add your own in the comments below!

27 April 2009

Blame The Parents

Opening the paper a couple of weeks ago, I looked at the tale of the awful news from Edlington, South Yorkshire. The torture of two little boys, by two little boys was a harrowing read and is a story I have subsequently gone out of my way to avoid. Just what on earth can possess two children of 11 to even contemplate such sadistic thoughts, let alone get their hands on weapons and then carry out a shocking mutilation? If I was anything to go by - they should be stopping their bicycles at lampposts and waiting for an imaginary passenger to climb on board before speeding off humming engine noises.

Thankfully, such incidents are indeed rare and I’m by no means lamenting the end of an age of childhood innocence. Unfortunately though, robbery, violence and disorder in adults is not rare and it got me thinking why it’s ended up this way.

Sure society has always had its problems but it never used to be this bad, did it? Turn back half a century or so to the post-war 50’s and such serious crimes and anti-social behaviour were much rarer. That's not to say they didn’t happen. There were some horrific crimes in the decade prior to the civil rights movement and society was a grotesque racism-riddled world away from the multiculturalism we enjoy today.

So whilst we can thank the 1960’s adolescents for a freedom and liberalism and an acceptance of individuals as equals. To that generation we can perhaps attribute the blame for many of society’s problems that we now contend with. The undoubted slackening of peoples tolerances to unsociable behaviour coupled with a desire to be experimental. This brought drugs, alcohol, sex and crime in to the mainstream. What was unacceptable a decade previously could now be tolerated in a summer of love drug-in. A summer which was always only one bad trip away from turning to disaster as drugs manifested in and then bent people’s minds.

It was a decade for good and bad that literally did change our world for ever as much as any other. No longer would rock bands line up in suits like an early Beatles. No longer would rock stars have to lie about taking drugs when they could instead make them cool. No longer would songs be banished from radio for their drug references (which admittedly would be a travesty for those such as Lucy in the Sky with Diamond or the Byrds – 8 mile High). Nor indeed would it be considered anything but sociable to sit around drinking in fields all day listening to such music.

The youth wanted freedom and they made sure they got it. Suddenly with this seismic shift in the consciousnesses of society, the 60’s turned in to the 70’s and the new generation heralded in an era of punk that made violence cool. Violence cast an ever-reaching shadow over society, plaguing the simplest of pleasures from late night walks to going to football matches. Long gone were the days of leaving doors unlocked overnight or a society where each knew their neighbour, or where murders generally were headline news.

So for my 30-something generation - we can absolutely blame the parents. Mind you they did make cracking music which would have probably been un-experimental repetitive dirge, were it not for those blessed mind-bending drugs!

24 April 2009

5 Things That Are, Well... Things

There sometimes comes a time in this blog where I can't think of a subject weighty enough to fill an entry up on its own. That isn't to say many of my previous writings were on noble, worthy subjects that warranted my amateurish treatment; but at least they offered me the chance to get past a few sentences. Usually at these times my co-writer and business partner Andy takes up the slack with his own, often sweary blogs. And then there are times like these, when neither of us has a great deal to say. It then falls to me to resort to listing a number of minor points, in essence the first things that pop into my balding head.

I read somewhere it was a good idea to include lists in your blog, as these prove popular with visitors. Having no overriding theme to link together such a list, I have simply opted to talk about five things that are, er... things. And so, in particular order of interest or relevance: -

1) Druridge Bay, Northumberland

I've written the pre-amble above in one fluid motion. Your experience reading this will be seamless, unlike my efforts in writing it. A full 30 minutes have elapsed between the end of the introduction and the first point, not the best start. Already I'm thinking of changing the number of points from five to three... The one saving grace is that as I write I am sitting on several miles of golden sand on the Northumberland coast. Not all at once you understand, my arse isn't that big.

Quite why, on a warm sunny day, I am one of about twenty people on a beach that stretches for several miles is a puzzle. And why, of these twenty, seven have chosen to set up camp right next to me and boot a football around inches from my head is also confusing. Over half a million people live within an hour of this beautiful coastline, yet it is all but deserted.

The Northumberland coast is undervisited, beautiful and accessible. With miles of sand, studded with coastal castles and small market towns, it truly is a gorgeous part of the world. But hang on, my beach companions have unleashed a crate of Stella Artois. This is England.

2) New World Wine

Being an Englishman it is my wont to drift into a diatribe of moaning. Whether I'm at a sun drenched beauty spot or not. My focus of this rant is the penchant in this country to embrace the wines of Australia and New Zealand with such passion. Call your new wine Kookaburra Ridge Mountain or Wombat Creek and you'll be guaranteed sales. But for the most part they are awful, and I've tried a lot. Perhaps there are a good deal of complex, light and fruity wines that hail from these countries. But they don't make it here.

I read once that in the UK, a survey was carried out which asked the public to sample and give a preference for several red wines. The unanimous winner was sweet white Liebfraumilch mixed with red food colouring. Obviously the tasters didn't know what they were drinking, but that was their favourite. Seemingly the wine producers of the new world seized on these statistics and produced a series of heavy, industrial strength wines with sweetness akin to blackcurrant cordial. Guaranteed to give you a bad head, these aberrations come from some of the most popular and most advertised wine houses. What the customers of these grape abusers would make of a real wine I have no idea.

France, the most famous producer of wine in the world, has stepped up its efforts and there are amazing bargains to be had, if only people would look. I asked a Frenchman once what he thought of Australian wine. 'Ca existe' was his reply, 'It exists'. Pompous yes, but the best way to describe it.

3) A Little Reward

There are constantly stories in the press about government initiatives to make us behave the way we should, particularly in regards to the environment. These measures could be made so much more successful if every one didn't involve a proposal to fine or charge people for not doing what they want. Imagine the take up for recycling if people received a small council tax rebate at Christmas for doing it. Or if drivers could leave their cars at home and use a clean, efficient public transport system. All we seem to know how to do is disincentivise and fine, giving the excuse to any knockers that these are just revenue generating measures. Which they probably are.

4) Accentuate the Positives

I am aware that I am giving off the impression that I am an irrepressible moaner. In many ways that is absolutely right. But I also have a capacity to feel pleased, indeed 'lucky', when things aren't quite as bad as they first seem. On a recent trip to Scotland, my expensive Sony camera decided not to work anymore. I had purchased it 11 months before for a hefty fee, and I now no longer had a receipt or knew where I bought it. Well, I got it at Stansted airport, but that wasn't going to get me very far.

On my return, I had a letter from Curry's explaining my warranty on the camera would soon expire and did I want to pay for an extended one. Instantly, where and when I bought it together with proof of purchase had dropped into my lap. I was left feeling very lucky, as my broken camera situation could be resolved with one trip to a grim, crowded retail part and a half hour discussion with a spotty teenage member of staff. A far better feeling than had it just not broken in the first place.

5) Total Policing?

The Police have recently undertaken a poster campaign across the country, with large messages displayed at many bus stops and advertising hoardings. I've seen these large fonts and forceful messages in Newcastle, Manchester and and Glasgow in the past fortnight and am still at a loss as to their purpose. One simply declares, 'ANYTHING YOU SAY MAY BE TAKEN IN EVIDENCE'. Anything? A conversation in my car or if I talk in my sleep?

Either the communications office of the police has never read 1984, or they regard Orwell's looming vision as some type of blueprint for law and order. I better not expand further, as anything I say is being taken in evidence. Of what, I don't know.

So there it is. And now I am off to relocate as my young beachside intruders have lit a barbeque and I am shrouded in choking smoke. The joys of the English countryside...

20 April 2009

Mountain Pass Series

You may have read bits and pieces of the series of blogs written by my business partner (blogger username Espiritoart - Andy). This is an epic tale of stupidity in which went clubbing in Milan with our laptops. Never the most sensible of things to do.

The mountain pass title stems from the ridiculous task of rebuilding our business after this ill judged escapade set us back a good 6 months...

This tale of two idiots is now complete, in 5 parts: -

1) Setting the Scene

2) Two Idiots in Milan

3) Clubbing with Suitcases

4) I Blame Matt

5) The Final Chapter of Stupidity

Mountain Pass #5 - The Final Chapter of Stupidity

We returned to Milan 2 days later as bonafide maniacs - intent on trackingthose daughters of whores down. However improbable it was.

After a steadying glass of red in the hotel, we headed back to the statzione in the darkness of late evening. We searched round a couple of streets looking for the vendors where we had met them and passed a gang of around 8 people outside an internet café. My heart skipped ten beats as I turned round for a proper look …… Matt - it’s them’. Matt turned and unbelievably, we found ourselves stood directly in front within touching distance. God, they were young and there was fear etched on the little plump one’s face. The taller smelly one (as Matt had remembered) seemed to be contemplating whether to have chips or a kebab, she had not a care in the world.

They retorted that they didn’t have the laptops when we demanded them back. ‘We’re not f*** stupid. We want them back’. (Really we’re not F*** stupid, honest). The rest of the gang - who worryingly were also within touching distance of us looked on. The girls bolted and we set off in pursuit across to the statzione. As we caught them they cleverly split, one going into the statzionne itself and the other turning completely, heading back down the street.

They problem was we couldn’t bring ourselves to touch them to attempt a restraint, they were after all just teenage girls. We followed the young plump one because she was slower on her feet. I noticed that we in turn were being followed by the gang the girls had been standing with. They were perilously close and there was some big looking lads. We were in danger of both being clobbered. So I made a sensible decision to run across the road out of harm’s way so they couldn’t strike out at us both. You see, this action meant they could only clobber Matt. ‘Matt’, I shouted. ‘There’s five of the F**** behind you. Watch Out!’ I added considerately.

Someone had to help us surely. 'Carabinieri, excusi, carabinieri!'. I found myself running across some tram tracks shouting at two respectable looking people. An older guy close to pensionable age ran towards Matt and flashed a badge at the girl. Thank F***. The gang moved back and the girl was shouting frantically at this old fellow who we can only assume was a civilian policeman. To our disbelief the fellow allowed the girl to walk off after a few minutes, shrugging his soldiers as we lambasted him. Was it that unlikely this little girl had actually robbed these two big Englishmen?

We set off in pursuit again and a street on, Matt stood to prevent the girl from walking further. I ran in to a hotel to call the police. The receptionist was disinterested and fobbed me off, saying she couldn’t understand me. An American guest finally came to my rescue and angrily told them that they knew exactly what I was saying. She finally rang the police but Matt and the girls had already disappeared off in to the night.

After an arduous task of trying to explain to the two carabinieri what had happened, I found myself in the backseat of a police car touring the murky Milan streets, looking for my good friend. ‘Quick back there’ The police car reversed back up the street. ‘Ah, No, No, Sorry. Sorry’. It was obviously going to be a fruitless search and the police soon got bored and dropped me off - so I could get a taxi back across town to my hotel!

My thoughts were with Matt. I had left him. Was he lying, bloodied and battered in a Milanese backstreet or worse? And more importantly, had he got those F*** laptops back. The hours ebbed away but the receptionist steadfastly refused to ring the police to report him missing. I had consumed the equivalent of a full bottle of red when and was slightly incoherent when he finally returned. He was alive but empty handed (he later told me that I had been unable todisguise my disappointment that he was indeed laptop-free).

It turned out Matt had had an adventure all of his own. The girl had screamed she was being attacked, some man had come down to look, she ran off and jumped on to a tram. Matt followed and just made the jump on to the tram as it pulled away and chased her up a packed carriage. They got off after a couple of stops, the girl finally buckled and matt accompanied her to an internet café where she rang for someone to bring the laptops. Matt asked the staff in the café to help but they ignored him, the girl set off again and Matt was forced to peruse her down a couple of backstreets. A guy appeared and said he would go get the laptops from a flat for 50 Euros. What? Surely Matt you didn‘t pay the thief to give you back your computer? No, no, no!! . The guy gleefully accepted the 50 Euros before telling Matt he hadn’t pinched them and it was nothing to do with him. Matt punched him in the face and retrieved his funds. Another guy appeared, and a big one according to Matt. Matt retreated and the girl seized her chance to make her final escape, disappearing off in the direction behind the big bloke from which Matt was fleeing.

Back upstairs in the hotel I lamented how stupid we had been to have miraculously found the girls and let them slip away. ‘We’re stupid. F**** stupid. Idiots!! Utter w**** we are’. ‘Matt, I know your way of dealing with something is to just try to shut it out and go to sleep, but me - Ineed to dissect it and persecute ourselves’. Even in all the turmoil I recognised our different mindsets, ignored his wishes and ploughed on, ‘honestly, we’re 30 this year f***** idiots’....

My incessant chastising of us through the early hours had left Matt bewildered, tired and beaten. My insistence to find the internet café he had been to the night before, call the police, check the CCTV and then goto the Milanese press pushed him too far. ‘RAARGGHH. I can’t deal with this bloody crusade any longer!’ he cried. The silence was only punctuated an eternity later when he had to borrow 5 Euros for a coffee.

To while away the hours until the return flight we did make it to the internet café and then to the police station. Unfortunately the ‘CCTV wasnot working last night’. We finally made it home later that day, disillusioned at our own stupidity and filled with recoiling anger at the seemingly endless injustice we had initiated.

On reflection now - the events in Milan were helpful. It taught us the hard way of the importance of: PLANNING / CONTINGENCIES / BACK-UPS and BACK-UPS. It also made us stake stock, improve the site, deliver a much better body of work and launch a year to the exact weekend later. So hopefully for anyone starting a business, there maybe something to draw on to avoid a near catastrophe - even if it is only not to go nightclubbing with your suitcase, laptop, passport and digital cameras...

Mountain Pass #4 - I Blame Matt

I returned from the toilet. Where are they? Where’s Matt? Deviant – Is he off dancing with the pair of them? I wandered round the dance floor.

It was dark, loud. Where are they? Ahh at last, here was one of the girls. Hi, where’s Matt? She looks concerned and gestured for me to hand over my phone to make a call. She’d lost them too. I passed the phone in to her hand. She looked at me and ………slipped it effortlessly in to her bag. Hang on???

I leaned forward with both hands. As I did, my wrists were grasped tightly by a small stocky guy to the side of me. The girl reached in to my other pocket and took my wallet. (I realised at this point that these were definitely not the nicest girls in the mundo!) What the F***? She removed the 100 or so Euros, calmly sifted though my cards, taking one, before putting the rest back and returning the wallet to my jeans pocket (A caring thief! There is a semblance of good in everybody - is there not?).

Suddenly my wrists were free but by the time I turned they had disappeared into the throng. The search was useless and so I switched to finding Matt which took a good half hour. He was dazed and slumped on a chair. ‘Where is everyone?’, his slurring voice asked. ‘They’ve gone, robbed us!’ I replied. To my increasing annoyance - he was struggling to comprehend the gravity of the situation, in fact he didn’t even known there was a situation.

We looked desperately round the club again, outside, back inside again. The crumb of comfort we found in seeing our suitcases, towering proudly over a small round table almost instantly receded when we realised the laptop bags were not in accompaniment.

Matt was still drunk and he slept most of the way on the train to Firenze, leaving me to contend with a conductor requesting 80 Euros - given that we had completely forgot to buy a ticket back in the early Milan dawn. He finally took pity on me as I explained the situation and did not charge us on the proviso we got off at the next stop, Piacenza. He also provided me with the useful advice to get on a train to Firenze - as the one we were on didn’t!!!

This gesture was tempered by my increasing fury at Matt. He was leaving me to deal with all the S*** yet he spoke the better Italian. I erupted.... MAAATT’. I shook him. ‘F**in hell, 6-months, working all hours on the business, and we’ve lost f**** everything!’. Matt was incredulous. He smiled smugly and casually told me there was nothing to worry about - everything was saved on backups back in Newcastle.

Arrggghh. I had reached my tipping point and screamed back at him, demanding he shared my pain. ‘Have we, have we. We’ve got the website, but the artworks, the F*** artworks. We haven’t got the F*** artworks saved.’ This for me was the best part of the entire trip. The forlorn, despairing look which enveloped his face, instantly banishing his conceitedness, did at least unload a miniscule part of my heavy burden. Haha you twat. We‘re both F***d!

We stood on the Piacenza platform in the biting cold, reflecting on what had happened. We had been done like kippers. The girls helped us to get drunk, and separated us while the other went to the toilet and made off with... Well, only 2 laptops, 2 digital cameras, 2 ipods, 2 mobile phones (Matt was just realising he didn’t have his) and 1 passport, (typically mine). We had kindly hand-packed all of that in to the laptop bags and trusted two girls who we had met on the street 1 hour earlier with them. Some might say naïve, others preposterously stupid.

6-months of intense hard-work had just disappeared. We may have still had a website but we had no product - you cannot print canvasses from small jpeg images and our only back-up of the real images was on each other’s laptops.

Our 2 days in Florence were taken in up in British consulates and police stations. We even tried to convince ourselves that a very expensive meal was beautiful, when all either of us could manage was a couple of mouthfuls of a steak that had already drowned in a rich dark chocolate textured sauce. ‘It might not be for us, but what a restaurant, you cantell it’s quality’ I salvaged. Matt agreed.