Loitering Within Tents

The Boghouse Ballad bangs out nightly from midnight till two in the morning as the doors to every plastic crapper on the campsite slam shut repeatedly, courtesy of the endless trail of the pee-or-bust incontinent, the ever-hopeful bunged-up and those sad stoics who know they will try, and fail, and try and fail again another day.

COW

Some of these people haven’t had a bowel movement since 1997. Welcome to The Festival.

 

Normal rules are suspended here. At Kings Cross, or Wembley Arena, or the Etihad Stadium, interaction in the toilet queue is strictly verboten. Check Twitter and shuffle forward till your turn comes, them’s the rules.

 

But at The Festival, it takes but a millisecond till you’re merrily chatting away exchanging travel tales, best venue tips and promises to meet for falafel in the Hessian Café if the line at the Temple of Tofu is too long.

 

Until the doors to two adjacent cubicles open, and you realise you’re about to splish, splash, parp, and – forgive me – plop, 20 centimetres from your new best friend.

 

So you both enter, wait an agonising but plausible ninety seconds doing nothing at all, exit, smile –  and walk off in opposite directions to join another queue.

 

Sanitation is a great leveller, but in tent city’s sleeping accommodation, society’s divisions are well drawn. Some curl up on an old baking tray and draw a tattered Lidl carrier bag over themselves. Others have fully-furnished residences, including a sideboard. Because without the sideboard, where would you put the chafing dish? And without the chafing dish, where would a man prepare his breakfast kidneys?

 

Furniture, since the demographic is much more Hendrix than Kendrick Lamar, is omnipresent: everyone carries a chair. The £9.99 Foldout Wingarm (With Integral Mesh Cupholder) is well represented, as is the Ground-Hugging Arse-Numbing Elasticated High Back.

 

Best of all, though, is the tiny three-legged stool, a device featuring less than one child’s handerkerchief of material which is inexplicably beloved of those who possess some of the most collossal arses on the planet. The view from the rear as one of these trembling tripods is slammed firmly down and pair of vast Hindenburg buttocks descends majestically for a controlled landing is at the same time awful and impossible to tear the eyes away from.

 

As an audience, we’re all expecting the same thing. A sharp rip, a small ‘shloop’ and an owner suddenly sitting flat on the grass with a wide-eyed look and a mouth like an ‘o’.

 

The overall atmosphere at The Festival is laid-back and there are few irritations.

 

Shrill-voiced parents rank highly among them, chastisement being frowned upon in the modern childcare world, and high-decibel reasoning much preferred. ‘Parabola! Let Arabesque pull the wagon then you can swap places. No, Mummy is not a massive silly, we’ve talked about this before with Be Nice To Each Other Clown.’

 

Gradually, the Hi-Visigoths, all fluorescent-green jerkins and Access All Areas laminates, cease to be humble, helpful stewards and become Grand Overlords of the gap in the hedge they’re guarding. Sternly, wordlessly, they raise an arm in the air to encourage the incoming punters to display their wristbands. Lemming-like, we lift one wrist aloft and pour through the gate like a saluting fascist horde, if a fascist horde can be mostly dressed by Millets and Blue Harbour from M&S.

 

(One announces, loudly and repeatedly, that ‘this venue has now achieved maximum capacity’. She means ‘the tent is full’ but, hey, she doesn’t get to tell anybody anything all the rest of the year.)

 

And there’s a special place on my hit-list reserved for the eager Carve-a-Spoon workshop graduate who chose to vigorously sand the newly-whittled wonder right behind me as I tried to listen to the world’s quietest guitar act.

 

But soon, The Festival is over and four days among 11,000 deodorant-shy strangers doing without mattresses, armchairs, proper plates and familiar food become just a memory.

 

Will I be back next year? Oh yes. Back at home, that is.

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The Unkindest Cut of All

When it comes to the question of who cut through the security light cable when they should have been trimming the ivy, I feel that ‘blame’ is too strong a word. ‘Fault’ too has uneccessary connotations of negativity. And ‘boss-eyed, sausage-fingered, brain-dead, cack-handed moron’ is not calculated to bolster feelings of self-worth in the individual responsible for this entirely understandable, everyday, hardly-worth-mentioning mishap.

Which was me, obviously.

I had taken on the task in the traditional manly manner. Refusal to change into appropriate clothing: check. Use of tool not specific to the job but deemed to be good enough because the sharp secateurs are too far away: check. Flat denial of the need for ladders, even though job is at sufficient height to make not using ladders potentially suicidal: check. Realisation thirty seconds into task that task cannot possibly be satisfactorily completed but deciding to carry on regardless in hopes of getting away with it: check.

And get away with it I did. Because, according to every comic I ever read, on rudely interrupting the flow of the mighty amps and volts and whatnot, I should have instantly assumed a spread-eagled pose in mid-air, surrounded by jagged lines, while my skeleton throbbed visibly, my hair stood on end and everything around me went bang flash sizzle.

But I wasn’t shocked, I wasn’t stunned, I wasn’t a smoking loin of longpig left, twitching, on the ground.

I was that most dangerous of things: oblivious.

So later that night, when the bit outside the back door, which is usually floodlit so we can watch the slugs eat everything we’ve planted while their body language flicks the Vs in our general direction, remained stubbornly pitch-black, I wasn’t in any way prepared for the silky voice which murmured, guilelessly:

‘Is it possible that you might have cut the cable?’.

I immediately considered the three traditional response modes. 1. Feign deafness. 2. Jerk to attention, wild-eyed, and whisper ‘did you hear someone upstairs?’. 3. Book flight to Ecuador.

But it was, alas, too late. I knew, and she knew that I knew, and I knew that she knew that I knew that I was as guilty as sin.

Of course, I’d never have been in this position if good old-fashioned blood and guts electricity was still powering down the lines, veins throbbing, tattoos wobbling, can of premium lager in each hand, looking for anyone who might ‘want some’. But it appears that what flows along the wires these days is some sort of child-safe, low-fat, soya-based, quinoa-enriched, gluten-free power-lite.

So that’s who I blame. NPower.

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Minutes Of The Meeting

DATE: 28th December 2013

TIME: 8pm

PLACE: The 20:00 Edinburgh-Newcastle train

PRESENT: Eight members of the Geordie Branch of the North East League for Intellectual Advancement and Cultural Exchange

EXTRACTS FROM THE MINUTES

(AS RECORDED BY AN ONLOOKER)

20.01 Member A announced to the group that, in his view, here they went, here they went, here they went.

20.02 Several members chorused their assent that, indeed, here they went here they went here they we-ent.

20.05 Member B posited a situation where there were ten green bottles hanging on a wall.

20.10 The guard interrupted the meeting to state that, fair enough, it was Christmas, like, and we’d all had a drink, obviously, but if everyone would pipe down a bit there wouldn’t be any trouble. In response, the meeting invited the guard to haddaway and shite. The guard haddawayed with alacrity; shiting status not ascertained.

20.30 Member C tabled a motion whereby he could foresee a situation where he would be engaging in coitus with member D before the evening’s activities came to a close, no bother. Member D stated that such an event would be unlikely to occur as long as she, Member D, had a hole in her arse and, furthermore, that member C was so challenged in the genital department as to make any claim of coitus difficult to verify.

20.32 Members were quick to agree that Member C was in fact hung like, among others, a dwarf, a pygmy, a pygmy dwarf, a mole, a guinea pig, a gerbil and Keith Chegwin.

Note: some of the following minutes were subject to excessive noise over the points at Berwick-Upon-Tweed and may not be 100% accurate.

20.34 Member C informed the meeting that they were all crunks. Member E replied that, on the contrary, it was Member C who was the crunk, and was in fact a flumping crunk, a fat flumping crunk, a flumping useless fat flumping crunk and, in summary, a flumping ugly flumping useless fat flumping crunk.

20.45 Member B hypothesised that one green bottle might accidentally fall.

21.09 Member F asked someone in the viewing gallery what they thought they were looking at. He also enquired if they wanted some, because if they did want some, he, Member F, would be happy to provide some. Since some was not observed to have been handed across, let the minutes show that the offer was declined.

21.35 Member B concluded that, given the circumstances previously presented, there would be nine green bottles hanging on the wall.

21.40 Member G declared that she had pissed herself, and wondered if that would mean an end to the evening’s proceedings. Member H reassured her that it was only a bit of piss, and therefore a matter hardly even worthy of a mention, and that it would in any event have all have dried off in the taxi to a hostelry to enjoy a small libation once the meeting had ended.

22.58 Member H, having stared out of the window for some time, enquired as to where the flump they were at that moment, to which Member F gave the rejoinder that they were ‘on a train’. The meeting was suspended for several minutes while the members lost the power of speech and rolled around in mirth at this, one of the snappiest retorts the gathering had ever witnessed. It was universally agreed that Member F could show all those overpaid crunks on Live At The flumping Apollo how the job was done properly. Member G confirmed that she was now even damper still.

22.13 The membership prepared to leave the train, several of them concluding proceedings by informing the public in the viewing gallery that they would without question lead significantly better lives if they a) downed a few every now and then, b) got a life, and c) didn’t have a broom handle stuck up their arse(s).

22.20 Meeting was adjourned.

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The Bushes Of Giving

I don’t know where you get your Jagermeister, but I get mine dropped off overnight in the rose bushes opposite our front door.

The garden’s cared for by the Council, but occasionally a sort of ad hoc Ocado comes into play, operating in a spirit of serendipity, and the bushes reveal a surprise.

Recently, for example, there was a can of Strongbow nestling among the petals. (Pear flavour. We’re nothing if not cosmopolitan round our way, none of your common or garden apple-based muck for the likes of us.)

Both items were shiny-new, sealed and ready to slurp. Which raises the question: what on earth were they doing there?

Because neither of these gifts from the gods of glugging is a drink selected for its delicate citrus notes and ability to accompany salmon en croute perfectly. They’re chosen more for their stripping-electrical-wiring-down-to-the-metal properties by people who are achieving long-term weight loss one brain cell at a time.

And if there’s one thing drinkers of this calibre have at the forefront of their hit-and-miss motor functions, it’s the ability to keep their claws wrapped firmly around the source of their temporary happiness until either every last drop is gone or oblivion arrives and they go bye-byes.

So they’d no more abandon good kidney-killer than turn down a Special Brew on the grounds that it tastes like it’s been squeezed from the bladder of a poorly horse.

That leaves only one explanation: winos on the march.

It’s a long way from the bandstand (where those who devotedly lay their livers on the line congregate in the morning to discuss matters of moment which have arisen overnight in the world of international politics) to the benches near the ring road (where they are to be found of a summer’s evening squabbling over White Lightning and shouting at the lorries).

And our house is en route.

My supposition is that, in a freak moment of clarity, one of the seekers of cirrhosis has thought ahead and left supplies for the long trek. A kind of boozers’ base camp on the climb to the summit of insobriety.

That would at least clarify the recent rose-bed revelations.

But it does nothing to explain why, yesterday morning, perched proudly midst the bushes, I found a pristine tin of SMA formula baby milk…

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Self-written Websites

Every day, in businesses all over the UK, someone who doesn’t want the job is asked to write the company website. If you’re that poor unfortunate, I offer this handy guide to doing it just like all the others in your position do.

1. You only remember two rules from school English lessons. Never start a sentence with ‘and’. And never start a sentence with ‘but’. But as long as you enforce those rules rigorously, the rest of the, like, grammar won’t matter as much. Innit.

2. It’s crunch time at the big Old Bailey trial and you’re the copper in the witness box. You don’t ‘walk down the street’ you ‘proceed along the highway’. Not ‘towards the chip shop’ but ‘in a southerly direction’. And you didn’t ‘see a van’ you ‘observed a vehicle’. That’s the kind of language your website’s crying out for. You don’t want to get too friendly with the punters.

3. Use longer words. Much longer words. Longer words used wherever possible can’t help but convey increased intelligencabilityfulnesserosity. Fact.

4. Short words. Dead short. Use all time. Make site sound more good. You like. Me like. All like.

5. Pretend you’re Jane Austen for the day. Eschew the awful apostrophe and insist, henceforward, upon saying ‘cannot’ and ‘will not’ and ‘we will’ and ‘they shall’. This will make you come across as, I don’t know, more serious and everything. Will it not?

6. Put in some bullet points. Be generous: statistics prove that bullet points make everything 119% more business-like.

  • Just
  • See
  • How
  • Professional
  • This
  • Bit
  • Looks

7. There are only four permissible opening sentences on a self-written company website, and they are these:

We here at (company name)

In the world of (company sector)

If you’re looking for (your product)

When it comes to (activity your product covers)

Don’t try anything different. They’ll come looking for you…

8. Say ‘passion’ a lot. An awful lot. ‘Dedicated’ is another good one. ‘Passionately dedicated’ is like a Scrabble triple-word score: a winner.

9. And finally, as a bonus, a word about pictures for your website. You know Alan? In Goods (Inward)? He’s got an iPhone. Not the latest one, but it takes super snaps. Bob’s your uncle.

And there we have it. Tips for producing the kind of sites you can see all over the web any day of the week. The kind which makes it blindingly obvious that for some companies, ‘that’ll do’ will do just fine.

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A Suspector Calls

I didn’t remember ordering a plump lady with a tabard.

But I must have done. There was one in the hall.

Admittedly, there’d been a brief knock and a cry of ‘Only me!’, but it was still more than a mild surprise to see a complete stranger on the premises, shrugging off her anorak with a determined, sleeves-rolled-up, let’s-get-some-stuff-done here air.

We looked at each other. There was an awkward pause. One of us, her rapidly- narrowing eyes seemed to say, was in the wrong house; but which?

Now, I haven’t had a great deal of legal training, but I felt fairly sure justice was on my side. My brand of toothpaste was in the bathroom, the Sky box had my kind of programmes on it (American Pawn Shop Owners Do Up Cars Owned By Sharks) and, if challenged, I could identify the kitchen cupboard with the mugs in without even a momentary hesitation; these are the three immutable indicators of long-term residence, as decided at the Old Bailey and ratified by the European Parliament.

The gimlet gaze of the lady in the hall didn’t waver. She flexed a not-inconsiderable bicep. It became clear that Something Needed To Be Done.

So I defaulted into right-thinking Englishman mode and took the only possible course of action. I apologised.

‘I’m sorry’, I said, ‘but I think you might be at the wrong address’. (Note the think’ and the ‘might’. Even through my near cast-iron confidence, I was allowing the possibility that I’d actually moved house, but forgotten. These things happen.)

Stasi-like, she peppered me with questions until, at long last, we established that I had committed, with malice aforethought, the crime of living in a street with a name not dissimilar to another street. Blame allotted, and dishonour all mine, the lady went on her way to ‘Only me!’ herself elsewhere.

To do what? I never found out. And that, I feel, can only be a good thing.

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Oh Google, what have you done?

Down in the bowels of the Google acne factory, where the lenses in the spectacles are as thick as the piles of dandruff growing on the hunched shoulders of the adenoidal data monkeys, something has gone seriously awry.

If you are familiar with Gmail, you’ll be aware that due to a combination of spy satellites, clever algorithms and tiny secret cameras implanted in our foreheads while we’re asleep, They Always Know What You Are Doing.

If your message contains the word ‘holiday’, for example, ads for Benidorm and Florida pop up. Mention ‘jelly’ or ‘blancmange’ and you get pictures of Nick Clegg. Type ‘One Direction’ and you’ll be offered counselling, treatments for the deaf and an awful lot of money off a sniper rifle.

But who knows what in the name of the holy Intel Dual Core processor I was talking about when they tried to tempt me with this rare object of desire:

The Dual Chamber Cow Waterbed.

A triple pig hot tub, yes. A quadruple sheep duvet, without question. A quintuple ocelot combination electric blanket and alarm clock – every home should have one.

But this? So, so many questions.

‘Dual chamber’ suggests double occupancy. But ‘waterbed’ has connotations of  black satin sheets, lava lamps, cheesy funk, a twinkly disco ball and at least a passing chance of chlamydia.

So is this a lurve chamber for moo-cows who swim in the lady lake? Wearers of sensible hooves? Cud munchers, if you will?

Or is it a wobbly aquatic mattress for the rarely-seen Dual Chamber Cow? A new genetic variation on the traditional four-stomached model, this one decants its digestive product into pair of handy receptacles: one for full fat milk and one for semi-skimmed, southerners for the use of. Look out for the up-and-coming Muller Lite breed which creates thin sugary yoghurt and not-quite-jam in equal proportion.

(Comes complete with a unique peel-back udder.)

I just don’t know because, quite frankly, I didn’t dare find out. There are, admittedly, things in my search history that would make Russell Brand blench (never go night-surfing on Aldi sherry and cheesy Wotsits) but even I draw the line somewhere.

Even so, I live in occasional fear that one day the bouncy bovine boudoir item will rear its watery head once again. And this time, will I be strong enough to resist its clicky lure?

Damn you, Google. Damn you to hell.

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Terminal fatality. With rice.

I like our local Chinese. They’re very welcoming, the food is lovely and, best of all, they allow me to make the kind of mess which would have any highchair-seated inmate at Mrs Tinkle’s Nursery For Gentle Tinies nail-gunned to the naughty step for life.

As the owner whisked away a black bean-bespattered tablecloth that, steeped for an hour, would have made a nutritious soup – or, framed and mounted a fair Jackson Pollock – I indicated my chopsticks, balanced military-style on top of my rice bowl in the 12 o’clock position, and asked if there was any cultural significance to such precise post-sizzling beef behaviour.

‘Oh that,’ she smiled. ‘That means death’.

Or, as a twitchier person might have heard it, ‘That means DEATH!’ (lights dim, a candle flickers, a crone cackles, a bell tolls, a wolf howls, one door creaks open, another slams shut, dogs bark, children scatter, shutters go up, the air chills, and a sulphurous yellow mist hiding who knows what coils into town).

Having apparently committed temporarily-delayed suicide by cutlery, I wondered how else I might have inadvertently called the gods of misfortune down on my head at the dining table.

For example, you know that foul green stuff that appears on top of restaurant food if you leave it for any length of time?

Parsley?

Well I’ve disdainfully flicked enough of the stuff to the side of the plate in my time to make several pairs of leafy mittens for the overly-chilblained vegetarian. Should I expect a plague of boils?

I’ve drunk white wine out of the red wine glass. Come to think of it, I’ve drunk red wine out of the white wine glass, lager from a soup ladle, brandy from a chipped saucer and Bailey’s from a rather roomy cruet, but does any of this mean my seventh child shall be a cloven-footed spawn of the depths?

You’ve got to be careful, because just asking for raita can mean being infected by cucumber, but am I risking death by a thousand cuts when I specify ‘more of the greeny minty stuff’ instead?

I’ve passed the port to the left. I’ve passed the port to the right. I’ve passed the port out of the window to a waiting accomplice, and Christmas at our house was much nicer that year, but in doing so have I condemned myself to an eternity of being French-kissed by a nightmare demon? And not a pretty one either?

Best to ignore the whole mealtime minefield and, within the bounds of good manners of course, carry on regardless.

It’s either that or eat, drink and be wary.

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For Sale

Took a trip to Glasgow and came across a new advertising campaign, one I felt deserved a wider audience. As far as I know, it marks the first significant use of a brand new urban media space.

And when I say brand new urban media space, I mean the bit of wall above the Bank of Scotland cash machine, right opposite the Radisson Blu hotel – mere seconds from the railway station.

Some young, go-ahead guerrilla marketing whizz has identified the opportunity and surmounted the silvery ATM with the hand-written headline ‘Dougie’s sister loves sex’.

Genius.

I can imagine the agency pitch now. ‘Individually-targeted point of sale at purchase ground zero. One-on-one marketing in a commercially-orientated environment. Ground-breaking use of narrowcast media to a specific audience predefined to be consumer-activity-primed in the retail theatre at large. Going forward.’

But the ad-savvy among you will have noticed that one vital part of the campaign was missing: the call-to-action. The thing that says ‘visit this website’ or ‘call this number’ or ‘fill in and return this coupon (no stamp needed)’.

So it made perfect sense to me, as I glanced around, that this campaign had pushed the envelope still further and the young woman behind me was, in point of fact, Dougie’s sister herself.

It seemed to be the ultimate breaking down of the gap between product advertising and consumption of said product. Like placing a stack of glasses next to the cheap vodka in Lidl. Or a stack of buckets next to the cider.

So I approached Dougie’s sister for an informal chat with a view to interesting the mung-bean munchers who man (or wo-man) the Guardian’s Media section in this revolutionary new technique.

When I came back from the hospital – sadder, wiser and a little bit achy all down one side – I couldn’t help thinking that some extra work would have been nice to make the campaign clearer.

Maybe Dougie’s sister – the real one – could have some sort of signal making it obvious that a purchase could be made. A barcode tattooed on the upper thigh. A credit card reader dangling provocatively from the wrist. A sticker offering discounts for ‘5 minutes or less’. A pair of earrings with the Nectar card logo. A sign saying ‘Now Open’.

I left the city making a mental note to keep an eye on Dougie’s sister’s progress in business.

After all, Big Jessie and Big Tam are already aggressively promoting their services in this highly-crowded marketplace. If the graffiti in the McDonald’s toilet on Sauchiehall Street are to be believed.

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The Micturition Mambo

‘Hi Andy. I was wondering if you could give the new urine pics a once-over?’

It is the freelancer’s habit to take every phone call in a positive frame of mind. ‘Never say no too soon’ is our mantra. Along with ‘payment within 30 days please’. And ‘should have trained as an accountant’.

I’ve only once been in a position to turn down a job instantly, and that was when I was asked to write election poster copy for UKIP. And even then there was a pause because I could barely put the phone down for laughing.

But I have to confess that my mind went into a dizzy dance trying to work out what was actually wanted, so I could give a reasonable reply.

All this while every fibre of my being wanted to reply ‘are you taking the piss?’

Was I expected, for example, to comment on the quality of the photography? ‘Nice use of focal length, great how you managed to avoid the flash flaring on the porcelain, liking your toilet brush.’

Was I about to be asked to caption them, to create a kind of diuretic Dulux chart? ‘Like the jaded lemon of a three-day-old custard cream blended with the malevolent ochre eyeball of a jaundiced tramp. Brightens up any room.’

Or, heaven forfend, was some kind of medical diagnosis being called for? ‘Poor aim requires eyesight test. Colour indicates off-licence revenues soaring. Presence of maraschino cherry suggests surgical intervention.’

My reverie was interrupted.

‘Hello? Andy? I said I was just wondering if you could give the New Year In Pics a once-over?’

There’s a lesson there for us all.

But mostly for me.

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