Saturday, November 17, 2012


You are so strong. They will not catch you.

In my earpiece, I could hear Bjarne's calm voice, urging me on.
You are destroying the Tour de France.
Tyler, Tyler, Tyler, you are so strong.
They will not catch you.
You can talk all you want about the BBs [blood bags] and the Edgar [EPO]; you can call me a cheater and a doper until the cows come home.  But the fact remains that in a race where everybody had equal opportunity, I played the game and I played it well.  I took a chance and I pushed myself as hard as I could, and when the day was over, I finished first.  As I approached the line, I slowed so Bjarne could pull up next to me and we linked hands in victory.  The press called it the longest and most courageous breakaway in Tour history.

from The Secret Race


I think we could all do with Bjarne Riis in our earpiece every now and then.  The incessant doping and squalid back-street blood transfusions I could do without, mind you.

I read The Secret Race in my local Waterstones over the last few evenings.  The shop has all the things I don't have at home right now: books, warmth and light.  It's an engrossing read - but that was definitely the best bit.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012


The Tower of Owls

And the Earl had said: 'This is my hour, Flay. You must go from here, Mr Flay. You must go away. This is the hour of my reincarnation. I must be alone with him. That you killed him is your glory. That I can take him to them is mine. Good-bye, for my life is beginning. Good-bye ... good-bye.' from Titus Groan

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Sunday, November 11, 2012


Edgar Allan Postal

Lance Armstrong, the man who strong- armed cycling, gives up fight
The most important lesson of the Lance Armstrong story, though, is the hardest to prepare for and guard against: our own gullibility and willing complicity.

In choosing pub quiz team names, we tend to go for what's topical.  A couple of weeks ago, when the matter of whether or not Lance Armstrong took drugs (he did) was put to bed, we went with 'Edgar Allan Postal' as our team name.  The drug EPO was referred to by Armstrong and his US Postal Service teammates as 'Edgar' or 'Poe'.

"It's not just that he enjoyed taking drugs: he really, really enjoyed talking about taking drugs," observed my brother over a pint, while we frowned at the picture round.  Certainly, apart from all the training and winning races and stuff that drugs enabled Armstrong to do, there seems to have been a teenager-ish culture of enjoyment and bonding around the team's drug use.  I devoted an idle morning to watching Tyler Hamilton interviews on YouTube, where he gave account of Armstrong popping drugs into teammate's mouths like candy.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and banned him from cycling for life.  Thankfully, there's no need to go through all the administrative headache of reassigning them to other riders, compensating people for lost prize money and whatnot as everyone else who was riding at the time was cheating too.

Further ignominy was shat upon the hapless Armstrong when he was burnt in Effigy at the Edenbridge Bonfire Society display in Kent, beating a shortlist of potential effigies which included Jimmy Savile (pub team name: Jammy Seville - if anyone challenged us about the poor taste, we were going to tell them it was about football).

Armstrong also lost his sponsorship from Nike and others, costing him a considerable fortune.  "Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any manner," said the company in a statement.  Perhaps, in light of that fact, they ought to include a Meat Loaf-style caveat in their 'Just Do It' advertising.

Further reading

"The title of Lance’s ghosted book It’s Not About the Bike was a dark joke that the judges should have understood. It was actually about the needles. Lots of them, in his arm, up his arse."

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Monday, September 10, 2012


The score

"God, seriously, I can't take him.  He's just like, what's the score with this then?  What's the score with that then?
"It's called life, mate: you live it."

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Sunday, August 19, 2012


Levelling the playing field

Thank you for contacting me regarding the issue of same sex marriage.
The Scottish Government is giving careful consideration to all of the points that have been raised and the Government will set out the way forward very soon.
Thank you for contacting me.
                 , MSP 

In all the excitement of being me and, against all the odds, still being at liberty, I'd quite forgotten that I'd taken the time to vent my spleen at the Scottish Government over inequality in marriage rights.

In fact, I'd rather been put up to it by a circular petition with a pro-forma letter attached. I had at least taken the time to personalise the letter, as you may judge for yourself:

Dear                  MSP,  
I am writing to you in your role as a member of the Scottish Government because the Cabinet is currently discussing whether to allow same-sex marriage in Scotland.  
The current ban on same-sex marriage is discriminatory, and goes against Scotland's values of equality, fairness and social justice. It is wrong to deny lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people equal rights.  
Therefore, I think it's only fair that you also abolish opposite-sex marriage forthwith. That way, everyone's in the same boat. Plus, people will no longer be able to claim family tax benefits, so you'll generate a lot more revenue.  
Sincerely yrs, &c
Daniel McKeown

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The first bickering

But what actually will happen when he presents this evidence to the world?  Firstly he will come up against the jealousy and infighting which goes on endlessly amongst all researchers in both the conventional sciences and the para-sciences; his method will be questioned and his honesty brought into doubt.  Even if he is part of a ten-man time, all of whom are in total agreement about the evidence, this is how it will be.  In fact in all likelihood the first bickering will take place amongst those ten.

From The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits
by John and Anne Spencer

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Friday, July 20, 2012


How to best your pests

A mouse lived in a windmill in old Amsterdam
A windmill with a mouse in and he wasn't grousin'
He sang every morning, "How lucky I am,
Living in a windmill in old Amsterdam!"

I saw a mouse! (Where?)
There on the stair!
(Where on the stair?)
Right there!
A little mouse with clogs on
(Well I declare!)
Going clip-clippety-clop on the stair


I was on duty Friday and Monday, the caretaking gig. The building is a former halls of residence. I also happen to live there. When the usual guy's away, I merely have to be out of bed by nine o'clock, let anyone relevant in and make sure the place doesn't get worked over. My previous stint on the clock included asbestos removal, giant rodents and a police manhunt. There are many ways to make a living, this is one.

Things promised to be much quieter this time round, although Dave (the usual guy) told me he'd been having some mouse problems in his kitchen. With little else to do (other than watch Wimbledon being rained off on the telly) I resolved to see if I couldn't lighten his load a little by catching one or two of the blighters.

To this end, I erected a comedy 'propped up box' trap in the kitchen, with a succession of shoelaces tied together to pull the prop out as I couldn't find a long enough piece of string. I settled down and played the waiting game. Occasionally, I'd hear promising scuffling noises, which I took to come from the kitchen skirting board, a renowned hotspot of mouse activity, but nothing emerged. After about 45 minutes of false alarms, I decided the mouse (or mice) was just messing me about. I was also getting peckish and quite fancied eating the piece of toast that I'd been using as bait.

Turning around (chewing on my piece of floor toast), what should I see in the corridor but a mouse, gaily running in circles? Well I declare, I thought, he was out there all the while. I swiftly threw a towel over him and grabbed a box to stuff him into. I picked up the balled-up towel and shook it out into the box.

No dice. Or, rather, no mice.

The only place he could have gone from under the towel was under the door of the communal room and I found this tough to believe as the gap under the door didn't look as if it would have given an ant easy passage. However, I opened the door just in time to see the mouse vanish under the sofa. I pulled out the sofa and he ran under the armchair. I pulled this out and he squeezed back out under the door, which I'd had the partial foresight to close.

I dashed back into the kitchen and watched as the mouse vanished under the refrigerator. This time, I was determined there would be no errors. I cleared away all the furniture around the fridge for ease of movement and armed myself with a mop, with which to obstruct the errant mouse's escape or, as a last resort, to bash his head in.

Just as I was about to pull the fridge out from the wall, something caught my eye: it was a mouse in the garden, scurrying away from the glass kitchen door, having apparently got out from behind the fridge via some unknown crack in the wall. Son of a gun, I thought. It was a bit like the dream I had where I was holding Paul Daniels prisoner and he ended up making a complete arse of me.

I pulled out the fridge to have a look at the crack in the wall. There wasn't one but the mouse, sensing his opportunity, bolted out from behind the fridge and made the safety of the gap in the skitchen skirting board while it was still dawning on me that the mouse in the garden had, in fact, been a different mouse.

At this point, I threw in the towel. The mouse had made me look like a complete oaf and it was nearly five o'clock. I spent the weekend away, camping in the Lake District and getting drunk, leaving the cocky rodent free to enjoy the run of the halls.

Then, on Monday, the mouse got over confident: he decided to run right past me in the corridor while I was just standing there composing a text message. Either that or he thought I was such an easy mark he could tie my shoelaces together or some other such cartoonish rodent villainy. Having despaired of the 'kid gloves' approach, I unceremoniously kicked him against the wall. The mouse tried to get away, so I gave him another boot. He rolled on his back and made piteous squeaks of protest but I was implacable: I grabbed a plastic packing crate that was lying in the corridor and forced him into it. Having achieved all this, I relented a little and gave him some peanut butter on toast and a couple of bogroll tubes to keep him entertained while I saw out the clock on the rest of the working day.

Despite my best efforts to make Irvine* feel at home, he wasn't at all happy. He kept trying to jump out of his plastic prison, with about as much success as I might expect if I tried to leap out of Warwick Castle from the courtyard.

I couldn't help but feel a bit depressed that this feeble-minded rodent had been outwitting me with such ease on Friday. I was evidently having a bad day.

Come five o'clock I was off duty so I punched a couple of holes in the lid of a jar and went to scoop up my mouse. He fled inside one of the toilet roll holders. Conveniently enough, this fit perfectly into the mouth of the jar, so I stuck it in and did my best cocktail shake until the mouse was dislodged and fell in. I then screwed the lid on and rode off to Wormwood Scrubs with jar, mouse and all.

I released Irvine by the stables, into which he scurried without a backwards glance, leaving me feeling strangely bereft. All that effort on one mouse. Not that he appreciated it, the ungrateful vermin.


A note on the name I chose for my temporary pet:

A few years ago, around the time the first Hulk film came out, I saw a programme about how the character had been treated in the comics and on the TV show. Stan Lee, the character's creator, was very critical of the TV show changing the name of the Hulk's alter-ego from Bruce Banner to David Banner.

"That's like calling Mickey Mouse, Irvine Mouse," said Lee, a man with an admirable talent for explaining What The Problem Is.

Or he may have said Irving. I can't remember.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Triton of the minnows

I’ll fight with none but thee; for I do hate thee  
Worse than a promise-breaker.

I went along to Shakespeare's Globe on the South Bank this evening to see a Japanese language performance of Coriolanus.  It was my first time at the open-air theatre and the attendant irritations of mosquitoes and low-flying police helicopters drowning out the actors were more than offset by the price of a fiver for a standing ticket.

Coriolanus is my favourite of Shakespeare's plays for its action, its element of tragedy and - not least - its irascible hero and the stuff he shouts at other people:

SICINIUS: It is a mind
That shall remain a poison where it is,
Not poison any further.

CORIOLANUS: Shall remain!
Hear you this Triton of the minnows? mark you
His absolute 'shall'?


SICINIUS: Go, call the people:

[Exit AEdile]

in whose name myself
Attach thee as a traitorous innovator,
A foe to the public weal: obey, I charge thee,
And follow to thine answer.

CORIOLANUS: Hence, old goat!

Senators, &C: We'll surety him.

COMINIUS:                   Aged sir, hands off.

CORIOLANUS: Hence, rotten thing! or I shall shake thy bones
Out of thy garments.


The production was very Japanese in style and completely baffling at points, even though my Japanese isn't bad and I know the play inside and out.  I enjoyed it immensely though and it was very well received by the assembled audience of tourists, students and whoever else.

It was certainly a great deal better than the film version which came out last year.

My mum, despite being a renowned boffin on all things Shakespeare, was somehow surprised by how homoerotic parts of the film were.  ("It was just like a big pride march," she giggled.)  She wouldn't have it when I gave my opinion that Coriolanus is clearly the most homoerotic of Shakespeare's plays.

For example, this from Coriolanus' sworn enemy, Aufidius:

That I see thee here,
Thou noble thing! more dances my rapt heart
Than when I first my wedded mistress saw
Bestride my threshold.

That does seem a wee bit homoerotic, does it not?  The film nailed its flag firmly to the mast by having the 'This is Spartaaaargh!' bloke in it, but there are other obvious clues:

DAN: It's even got 'anus' in the title.

MUM: ...

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Friday, May 04, 2012


Greater Manchester Marathon

Last October, I ran the inaugural RunLiverpool Marathon, where I had a bit of a torrid time. I staggered the last six miles, tipping bottled water over my screamingly painful knees, telling myself I'd never, ever be so foolish as to run another marathon. Then, when I'd finished, I instantly decided that I'd actually really enjoyed myself and I'd sign up for another one in the spring.

I chose another first-time race, the Greater Manchester Marathon, figuring that some of my friends from the area might also fancy a crack at it. They told me where to go.

Around mid-March when we were enjoying some particularly clement weather, I began to fret that an end-of-April marathon might be a bit on the warm side. After all, this is what the last weekend of April was like last year:

Alright for bloody Frankel. Alright for me too actually, as I'd picked Dubawi Gold to come second.

However, the end of April this year was wet. Very wet. It had been peeing it down for weeks and weather forecasts were for a month's worth of rain on the Sunday (race day) with pretty robust wind. This meant that, of the projected 8,000 starters, a couple of thousand thought better of it. Not me though. I'm dead tough.

Look at that weather! Makes you glad to be alive

After training like a lunatic for the last couple of months, I was hoping to make it round the course in 3:10, which would make me 'good for my age' according to the criteria of the London Marathon website. I had a bit of a race plan, which involved going easy-ish for eight miles, picking up the speed until halfway, then hanging on until 20 miles, then really, really, really hanging on for the last six-and-a-bit. Of course, as soon as they let us go, I got over-excited and steamed off like a gibbering, wide-eyed mess. Not quite Frankel, but you get the idea.

Spotters badge!

The day was grey and wet, but there was a lot of support and encouragement around the course. At one stage we passed through a country park which had been turned into a bog by the weather conditions, so unlucky to anyone who fancied finishing with clean trainers. Towards the end of the course, we also got sent through a subway, then up some steps, which really isn't what your legs want after 25 miles of continuous pounding.

The country park in good weather

Most of the way, I felt ok. When I started to feel tired, I'd slow down a bit and try to work out Japanese verbs and their opposites in my head, which proved sufficiently distracting. After a heroic last 10k (I improved about 80 places, although I suspect this was more down to other people being in tremendous physical distress than any olympian burst of speed on my part) I waddled over the line in 3:09:49, making me officially good for my age. In fact, as age 33 is the equivalent of a scratch handicap, my time makes me officially just good, albeit by a rather more slender margin than I would have liked.

What wasn't good was the baggage reclaim fiasco that followed. Everyone's identical 'Greater Manchester Marathon' bags were in a disorganised heap in a tent with no means of being sorted or searched. I ended up waiting about ninety minutes in my piss-wet running gear with a piece of tin foil to keep me warm and I think a fair few people ended up needing medical attention. At one point, I found myself stuck in line next to a guy who'd finished more than an hour behind me.

"When I finally get my bag back, I'm probably going to cry," I told him. "Especially if my wallet's been stolen."

Happily, I did eventually locate my bag, thanks largely to the fact that my tracksuit bottoms were sticking conspicuously out of the top. The lack of organisation and co-ordination at the baggage tent though had caused a completely avoidable emergency and, had I read in the following morning's paper that someone had died of hypothemia, exposure, or simply old age waiting to get their bag back, I should not have been surprised.

The Greater Manchester Marathon is currently scoring about 50% approval on the feedback section of the Runners World UK website (to put that in some kind of context, most events have to do quite badly to get less than 80%) and the organisers have issued an apology online for nearly killing everyone.

A couple of other marathons were taking place on the same day: Milton Keynes ended up being a bit longer than planned as the course had to be altered at the last minute to avoid a flooded area, while the Shakespeare Marathon became the Shakespeare Half Marathon at very short notice after some parts of the course were deemed unsafe. Apparently some of the runners didn't realise this had happened and were a bit taken aback to find out at 10 miles in that they were nearly finished.

Since the weekend, I've been walking like a womble with his shoelaces tied together and getting back on the beer after a month's abstinence. I also need a new pair of trainers, if not a new pastime.

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Thursday, April 19, 2012


Rattus rattus

Frank Costello: Fucking rats. It's wearing me thin.


I had to be up early the other day to let the asbestos removal people in. We're having asbestos removed from the building at the moment - just one of those things that needs doing, I suppose.

Our building is situated on a little close off a side street and doesn't attract much foot traffic, other than wrong turns. Therefore, I was a bit surprised to see a young couple, a boy and a girl, come running up our close and dive into the hedge at the end. I was even more surprised when a police car pulled into the close, made a quick three-pointer and left.

There's somewhat in't, I thought.

A minute or two later, the asbestos guys arrived, full of the story of a failed mugging they'd just seen out on the high street. According to their story, a young couple had been attempting to waylay 'a big African' (disclaimer: he was probably one of those Africans from Jamaica) who, finding himself unable to escape their attentions, had filled the lad in. The couple had then fled, the lad bleeding rather a lot from his nose apparently.

Having heard all this, I decided I would go and investigate the hedge at the end of the close. Pocketing my phone, I headed to the front door to find two policemen outside.

"Hello there, sir. Is it all flats in here?" asked policeman #1 airily, as if it were the most natural thing in the world for the filth to roll up on your doorstep first thing in the morning and conduct an impromptu housing survey.

"Ye-es," I replied levelly. "But if you happen to be looking for two fugitives, I should tell you they ran down there and jumped into that hedge." (Here, I indicated the direction and foliage accordingly.)

The policemen thanked me and went and investigated the hedge. No sign. They then called in a dog squad and a chopper, made a bunch of noise and then suddenly departed. Either they'd flushed their rabbits out of one of the neighbouring gardens and caught them on the street or, as seems more probable, they'd just decided to go for an early lunch.

Quite a bit of excitement for one day, I thought, putting my feet up in the living room and listening to the sounds of asbestos being ripped none-too-delicately out of the walls. At this point, the biggest, greyest rat I've ever seen scuttled into the room, had a quick look at me, turned around and scuttled back out.

I don't think he was any more pleased to see me than I was to see him.

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