Category Archives: Getting back

Leave it out

When I was at school I didn’t know one boy in my class who didn’t want to be some kind of martial arts expert. A sort of a cross breed between Bruce Lee, the Karate Kid, and Hong Kong Fooey. There was always one kid who would start a playground fight by making long ululating noises and holding his flat palms out as if he was about to slap a midget in the face. Shortly before trying to kick them in the goolies and hiding in the toilets, that is. And he was usually quite short, as well.

Anyone – girls included – who says they never got into a fight during their school years is either a liar or someone who’s public school allowed them to have professional boxers fag for them during breaks. Running away was never an option as most children can run point to point between the furthest edges of their school in under a minute. You had to stand there, shout a lot, throw a few tentative punches / slaps / kicks and make sure that no matter how bad it was the opponent (or opponents) always got off worse.

As you get older though, you realise that this is not a productive way to conduct business. The biggest attendee swirling his fists in a windmill fashion while stating that all the other people’s mums’ smell of poo, resolves very few important executive meetings. So, unless you work in a kebab shop or are going out with Stan Collymore, as you grow up you tend to lose the ability to diffuse, avoid, and most importantly, WIN fights. And just as importantly, you forget how much it hurts when someone hits you with a fist.

This happened to me a couple of months ago when I was at my comedy club in Brighton and a member of the audience, totally unprovoked, walked up and smacked me in the face. And it wasn’t even as if I hadn’t been that funny on the night. What did I do? Well I’ll tell you what I did. I’LL TELL YOU WHAT I DID. Errrr… nothing. I stood there in shock. Eh? I hadn’t said anything, he had said next to nothing, and then he’d walked off. WALKED. I’m looking at him and I’m almost 6 inches taller than this bloke. Surely, he should have been running. Couldn’t he have even been the slightest bit worried that he’d get ‘a good kicking’ in retaliation and at least jog out? Especially as, in order to keep my ‘manliness’, I had to be seen to go after him. The bloke deserved it. But then it dawned on me that I certainly didn’t want to catch him up. After all, he was a nutter and had just hit someone – he could be dangerous. Maybe he had a knife and was too spontaneous to use it.

But joy and rapture! Just before I caught him up (by which time I was shuffling), two people who knew him stood in my way and told me it wasn’t worth it. They held me back. Thank God. I put up a bit of a struggle to make it look like I needed to chase after the bloke but I never struggled sufficiently to break free of their grasp, no matter how little effort they actually put in. Friends and onlookers gathered round my face (bleeding quite impressively for effect by now) and took it in turns to mouth off how much I didn’t deserve it and what a git this bloke was. And there we have it – a complete unmitigated success. A large bag of sympathy for being the victim of an unprovoked attack and kudos intact for the possible revenge punishment the guy may have experienced. I believe I started quite a few sentences with, “If I ever see that guy again…”. Of course, the full sentence was, “If I ever see that guy again… I’ll run like a horse and hide like a baby.” But no one ever got to hear that.

One quick trip to a friends for the weekend

A few years ago, when I owned one, I was very much in favour of fitting ballistic missiles to sports cars. Not you common or garden Fiesta S and such like, I’m talking about the likes of Ferrari’s, Porsches, Imprezza’s, Cosworths and the like.

You see, from behind the wheel of such a car, with a degree of go beneath your right foot, there are certain people who strive only to slow you down. Not just 80-year-old Sunday drivers, but many people in various vehicles. Of course, there are disadvantages to fitting nuclear hardware to the motor vehicle, one such problem is the changing of the power to weight ratio, the more weight your super car carries, the slower it will go. And naturally there is the carnage factor, if your create mass destruction in the name of going faster then the likelihood of getting blood and flesh on your pride and joy (road kill can be a swine to get out of alloy wheels…) and of course the scratch factor must be considered while debris could blemish the polished paintwork.

These days, I drive more sedate machinery (more a choice than fall from grace) and such ideas are not in my thinking. However, I mention the subject as it reared its head over my Bank Holiday weekend. Bank Holidays are synonymous with traffic queues, but usually I have my methods of avoiding them. This weekend though I’ve spent my time in South Wales, approximately 180 miles from Steak House (Nr Liverpool). Of those 180 miles, none are more stressful than those spent on the M6, through Birmingham. This is a nasty stretch of road. Being confident I set out at 12.30 on Friday for a three hour drive. An hour into the trip and I was stationary.

If I had hair long enough, it would have been forcibly removed.

Manfully, with the benefit of Hilton Park services, I struggled through to the sanctuary of junction 8 and the M5. It was raining hard at this point, but my spirits were buoyant, I had cleared the worst, although three junctions had taken me an hour and a half to navigate. I knew it was my day when I encountered roadwork’s on the M5, which backed me up further. These essential works dropped me like a stone to 50mph, amidst driving rain and 5 mobile speed cameras. 50 mph has never seemed so slow.

With Gatso out in force, progress was slow although by camera number 4, all my fellow journeymen had discovered they were dummies. So as a throng of vehicles encountered number 5, optimism and speed was up. Now, also, are the Governments funds and numerous insurance premiums, the bastard was real. Thankfully, the illumination of a builders van 30 yards ahead of me enabled me to tickle my newly installed brakes and evade the only points that don’t make prizes.

Following the road works came the ritual rubbernecking that follows a minor prang from people slamming their right foots down after the cameras and losing control of their shopping trolleys. By now, I’m in a nasty mood, but leg three of the trip goes without problem, until I’m 10 miles out from my destination.

One thing to know, Welsh drivers are absolute lunatics. Get in the way of one at your peril. I have discovered that there are only five slow drivers in South Wales, and all five got in my way on the approach to safe haven. They worked shifts, as one turned off, another appeared. It was at this most frustrating time that I harked back to the halcyon days of unmetered power under the right heel, and again considered the need for missile systems to be fitted to certain cars.

For the record, the return journey last night was free of traffic (but not rain) and took three hours.

Single Bilingual… So What?

I can’t even be arsed being depressed today, that is how depressed I actually am. As I stare out of the window and wonder if I could get away with setting fire to the office, my thoughts turn to my ‘life’. Eugh. Anyone who has ever thought about their ‘life’ before will back me up when I say that, unless you are a Spice Girl, an F1 driver or a bloody millionaire or something, thinking about your ‘life’ is a depressing act not recommended AT ALL. Nevertheless, I sit here and I wonder…

Apparently, I’m clever. People stopped telling me this quite a few years ago as they got sick of me going ‘Me? Really? Aw shurrup…’ and peppering the air with false modesty. I KNOW I’m clever. If I were stupid I wouldn’t know that my ‘life’ was a bit crap at the moment, would I? So, if I’m so clever, where’s the evidence. Despite my beaming school reports and homework with ‘Excellent!’ scrawled all over it in red pen, my intelligence has always been cold comfort to me. Admittedly I’m shallow and fickle, so lately I’ve been of the opinion that being clever gets you nowhere in this world. Again, look at the Spice Girls. To get anywhere in our ‘look at me’ society you need to be good-looking, with the right clothes and the right shoes. Well, I always wear nice shoes so I’m part of the way there, I guess.

I used to think that I’d get ‘discovered’. I don’t mean by some talent scout who would drag me over the counter of McDonald’s (I had a lot of ‘Escape from Shiteness’ fantasies when I worked there) and tell me they were going to make me a star (in what, for example?) but I just thought that maybe I’d get noticed and propelled to top-level management (not at McDonald’s) and be a boy wonder at 19 with an amazingly sexy girlfriend and convertibles and champagne coming out of the bath taps. This has yet to happen.

So I went to university to do a French degree. I’ve always been good at French. Like, really good. “I’ve always got that to fall back on,” I would think in my typical ‘everything-will-be-all right’ ridiculous teenage optimism. Looking back, I realise I was quite possibly the most naïve dunderhead to walk the Earth. Fall back on? Fall back on to do what, Justin? Not much call for la belle langue française when you’re working in a chippy is there? “Bonjour, luv, would you like salt and vinegar on yer pommes frites? Ta, chuck.” Also another curse of being ‘clever’ (or at least being told I was) was that I became complacent, in so far as I completely stopped studying and did as little work as I possibly could, instead escaping to the uni bar to drink vile cocktails, moving on to dodgy clubs and then on to screwing girls I didn’t even like… just because they were there.

I thought I could get way with this, as I did not pick up a single book during GCSEs and A-levels and still managed to pass them. Eventually, university turned round and said, “Goodbye, we’d like you to leave now.” I tried a half-hearted appeal and then realised it was futile (I think it really hit home when a tutor said to me, “Look, we’re just not letting you back in, no matter what you say.”) and so I skipped off happily to another university, determined to make it work this time.

Naturally studying was alien and of course I was resentful that my valuable partying and fun-having time was being eaten into by the very reason I was supposed to be there. It paid off of course and I left with a degree in something much more useful than just French (can I just say to my old university “Kiss my arse, ha ha ha!”) and full of hope for the future. Mmmmm…

So, I’m having one of those days where you get a pen and paper and psychoanalyse yourself and do your own head in completely. Why do I do this to myself? No good comes at the end of it and I end up feeling just more pissed off than I was before. As crap as it makes me feel, the old pros and cons system is the only way to make me feel better apart from going out and getting hammered.

PROS
1.You are single. This is good, really. Girlfriends just tie you down, restrict your ‘movement’, and force you to spend hundreds of pounds on unnecessary items…”But I don’t LIKE it…” “Just buy it, will you? I like it!”
2.You live in an exciting vibrant city. This is true. Edinburgh is great. Lots to do, lots to see etc. Blah di blah di blah.
3.You have a job. Again, this is true. I could be worse off. I think I would cut out my own eyes with a peashooter if I were unemployed. I’ve done the ‘dole thang’ before and it was soul-destroying.
4.You have qualifications. Right you are. It could be worse. At least I have had the opportunity to go on to do A-levels and then on to university. Being the poorest person made me ‘ard, it did.
5.You’ve got lovely hair. Sorry just thought I’d put that in. Hairdressers always say that to me.

CONS
1.You are single. Why are you still single? You’re not THAT bloody ugly! You’d better hurry up or you’ll end up alone at 80 with just an Alsatian and a bottle of Stongbow for company!
2.You live in Edinburgh. Which is miles away from civilisation, and miles away from the good wages. It is too expensive and the temptation to go out is too strong.
3.You have a job. Which you’re not fond of, really. You’re going nowhere, fast. Your wage is comedic and an untrained monkey could do your job standing on its head. WHAT are you doing here?
4.You have qualifications. Yes, meaning that half of the employers think I’m over-qualified. “Ooh, you’ve got a degree, eh? Why are you applying to join us here, then?” Er, because I want the money! Can you just give me the job now please? The other half of employers think that my degree is irrelevant. Why didn’t I pay more attention in computer studies? I could have been a dotcom squillionaire by now.
5.You’ve got lovely hair. Yeah, OK for you to say, you’re a bloody hairdresser, All you have to do is cut it, not bloody wear it.

So what to do? Well, the answer is simple isn’t it? I have to stop resting on my laurels, and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Trouble is, I’m sick of thinking about what I have to do to improve my ‘life’. It just makes me tired and I’m sick of people asking me ‘So what do you actually want to do?” and saying things like “But don’t you want to do a job which relates to your degree?”

I KNOW I have to get another job, I KNOW I have to move flats and make MORE friends as a diversion tactic. I KNOW all this. Just because I know what I have to do, does not unfortunately spur me on to do it. I think I actually sadistically enjoy moaning about how crap things are. But no more.

I am going to stop thinking about my ‘life’ and start LIVING it. It is time to stop feeling sorry for myself. I am NEVER going to be discovered in a supermarket by a captain of industry, I am NEVER going to win the lottery (nut I will still buy the tickets like every other hapless fool in this God-forsaken country), and I am NEVER going to get where I want to be unless I get off my whining Yorkshire arse and do something about it!

I WILL apply for that job that might be out of my league and I WILL find the balls to go into that interview and completely bull my way through it and I WILL bag that job and I WILL have that dream flat and that amazing girlfriend (no scrub that one actually), and I WILL, WILL, WILL have champagne coming out of my bath taps. Right, better pause for breath now. Think about what I’m doing? Nah, I’ll be too busy doing it.

Right let’s get started…Where did I put that packet of fags? I’ve got some thinking to do (oh, here we go again…..).

This man is kneeling between my legs

Session 3. Friday 18 February. 19:30. Kate’s house. I’ve been looking forward to my ‘session’ with Patrick all day, performing a couple of kicks and punches in the office for good measure. This is our third session, the second being last Saturday morning when Patrick had shown us some new moves – upper cuts, knee jabs (nice for targeting groins) and a third one where you swing one leg around and whack it into someone’s side. Nice.

Sessions have been relocated to Kate’s house due to the over-excitement of ‘Dottie the Rottie’ at the first session, and the fact that Kate’s front room is slightly larger than mine and furniture free. It also doesn’t have any carpet.

As usual, things begin with Patrick taping our hands. I say that it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to tape our mouths shut too as it might stop us moaning so much! Patrick doesn’t laugh. He tells us he’s had a bad day so we promise not to make it any worse by moaning. This lasts about three minutes. We begin the warm up with some mini circuits at the end of which we’re already knackered, and then it’s boxing gloves on. As I mentioned last week, boxing gloves are a huge handicap – you can’t pick up a glass of water, can’t wipe the sweat from the your face and you definitely can’t pick your knickers out of your bum. Which is where mine are. Rule number one, don’t wear a G-string when exercising. The string bit slides up your crack and gets wedged there. I’ve never understood how or why since my arse is huge, but it happens. And I’ve got big red gloves on, so there it stays. It’s torture.

We start the proper work-out with pyramid punching: seven jabs, seven curls and seven upper-cuts, then eight of each, then nine, then ten. Patrick’s bad day is becoming apparent – he pushes us to the extreme. I notice that he’s watching me in a slightly mystified way. He asks if I’ve been practising, as not only has my technique improved but I’m hitting much harder as well. No practising, I say, but it could be down to the fact that with every punch I imagine I’m hitting people I don’t like. That’s for not buying me a Valentine’s card. That’s for blowing me out last Friday. That’s for not reading the report I spend hours on. And that’s just because I feel like it (woman’s prerogative). A scary thought pops into my head – if I can be this aggressive when normal, what am I going to be like with PMT?

We’re stomping around Kate’s front room, kicking, punching, and jumping. We’re making a right racket. We wonder what the neighbours think, feel guilty for about a second, and then just carry on.

We finish the boxing and do some press ups (girlie ones, obviously) and sit-ups. As we’re lying on the floor, Kate notices a corner of the ceiling that she clearly forgot to paint. She’s embarrassed. I obviously take the Mickey. Well, what are best friends for?

We’re almost at the end of the session. Patrick suggests some deep stretches. This involves me lying on my back, left leg flat on the floor, right leg resting on Patrick’s left shoulder. Yes, the man is kneeling between my legs. I’ve worked up such a sweat during the work out that I’m convinced I must stink like a rotting cod, and the thought of spreading my legs doesn’t appeal, but he won’t take ‘No’ for an answer.

He gets me to push down on his shoulder with my right leg, alternating between 40% and 80% effort. It’s painful at 40%, so 80% is unbearable. But this is nothing compared to the pain when he tries to put my leg behind my neck. And nowhere near as agonising as the second stretch. This sees me still lying on my back, knees bent, soles of my feet together (can you picture it?) and Patrick trying to push my knees down so they touch the floor, something they’re not designed to do. It is more excruciating than anything I have ever experienced; yet it isn’t my main concern. No. All I can think about is whether the Coronation chicken sandwich I ate at lunchtime is building up in my stomach and likely to escape in an almighty fart. Right in Patrick’s face.

Patrick finally leaves and we arrange to see him again next week.

I can barely move, yet I am exhilarated. Kickboxing, I feel, is definitely something I was born to do. Call it fate. Call it destiny if you like. But either way, call me a cab – there’s no way I can walk home.

Anyone for Cricket?

The other night I watched with disgust as a man on the television cooked up some unpalatable gourmet creations for his dinner guests. Cricket on a stick, fried scorpions obviously without the sting in the tail – and various other little creatures who would normally be swished at with a large stick if they came anywhere near a dinner plate.

If reincarnation is reality which I believe it to be it seemed strange to me that the people who were consuming these doomed arachnids, and insects looked like human versions of these creatures. Obviously they the humans were wearing fair-isle jumpers, and had spectacles on, but it was just something about their body language, the way that they sat with their elbows tucked into their sides nibbling said food held in their pincers (sorry hands).

What I find even more bizarre than the fact that anyone would want to eat insects is the fact that they commented that they tasted of chicken. My immediate response why don’t you just eat chicken then? Why pay extortionate amounts of money to have grasshoppers captured, frozen, and shipped halfway across the world if they taste like a chicken that you could buy at your local supermarket for a lot less money, and a lot more meat.

Whilst I digested this thought, another one occurred to me, which was if people are always saying of various gastronomic delicacies that they taste like chicken, how did the first person describe the taste of chicken?

Speaking of chicken a rather unusual topic of discussion for a vegetarian ‘s I want to share with you what I believe to be rather disturbing behaviour. A good friend of mine came back recently from down south England and laughed about how a woman that she had befriended kept chickens. Nothing strange there. This woman also named her chickens. A touch eccentric, but not eccentric enough to be incarcerated deep in the bowels of some lunatic asylum.

I’ll freely admit to being on the squeamish side just thinking about this woman breaking these chickens necks, plucking them, and generally readying them for her plate. But I can cope with that. What I find beyond strange is the fact that she labels the carcasses so that she knows who is coq au vin, and who is kiev. I’m thinking KFC meets Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

I don’t want anyone to think that I am a full-on hob-nail-booted vegetarian, but I think this is the height of cruelty. Naming chickens gives them the impression that they have been welcomed into the family unit that they have a place within society other than that of staple diet of people who wish to forego crunching their way through a southern fried grasshopper. If you’re going to name your chicken you should be prevented from killing them. I’m seriously considering writing to my local MP about this one, and also seeking help for my obvious overwhelming compassion for chickens.

Why I hate Keiths

The Keith conspiracy, I think you will find, began in the early 1980s. It was during this time that Keith Waterhouse introduced two fictitious shop assistants to his newspaper column and called them Sharon and Tracy. This might not mean anything to you but to all of us adolescent Shazs and Traces, it made life pretty unbearable for a while. He was not the only Keith doing his best to blight the lives of paranoid, pubescent Fourth Formers at the time.

The late Lord Joseph, the then Minister for Education, pulled a blinder with the three years of teachers’ strikes during which time I had no English teacher (others were missing Maths teachers, French teachers, History teachers or Biology teachers; none of us was exempt). Actually, to be fair, it might not have been entirely his fault: it may have been because he was under the Iron Lady’s thumb at the time, but I dont care. I hate Keiths and hate is blind.

Despite having missed certain basic grounding in the rudiments of English (commas, colons, verbs – that sort of thing – nothing serious), I then proceeded to try my hand at writing, starting with a few letters to newspapers… only to find that a certain Keith Flett of Tottenham has the monopoly on Letters to Editors. Which is just like a Keith.

The whole thing about the derogatory neologism Sharon and Tracy was that it was impersonal – it was used as a catch-all phrase to imply any number of things. However, in attempting to paint a picture of the definitive Keith, it’s time to get personal: it’s time to name those Keiths! The next that springs to mind is Keith Floyd, the eponymous presenter of Floyd on Fish(who bears an uncanny resemblance to a tipsy turbot himself on occasions).

Other Keiths who fall into the Keith category include: a clutch of cricketers (Keiths: Piper, Miller, Arthurton, Savage and Fletcher), a game so tedious they had to invent the One Day Test; a monotony of MPs (Keiths: Hill, Langford, Bradley, Vaz, Hampson, Speed, and Best); a rill of Rugby players (Keiths: Rowlands, Richardson and Wood); and a mutiny of music murderers.

Two of the music murderers are jazz musicians (Keiths: Jarrett and Tippett); the latter of whom plays that idiosyncratic style known as ‘free jazz’ in a band called Mujcian. Other music murderers include Keith ‘Firestarter’ Flint of The Prodigy, Keith Harris and that awful Orville (duck-a-la-vert) and Keith Haymer. Keith who? I hear you ask. Keith Haymer from Derby – you know the one – he liked the music that accompanies TV test card transmissions so much… he started a fan club.

Which is just the sort of things Keiths do. Or collect stamps. Or spot trains. Or play Trivial Pursuit at competitive level and bore even the pub quiz team with their relentless parade of useless facts and figures. Is it any wonder that the media tycoon Keith Murdoch prefers to be known by his middle name, Rupert?

Of course there are individuals called Sharon and Trac(e)y who do not conform to type, as there are many worthy and respectable Keiths but if we are going to be nameist, then there is little purpose in examining them – it would defeat the whole object of the exercise. As Keith Waterhouse himself said, when I asked him if he received many letters from Sharons and Tracys: ‘I always point out it could be worse – they could have a boyfriend called Keith’. Quite.

Anyone fancy writing a sitcom? I understand Keith Chegwin is available…

The Fox does The Graduate

Ever since I started doing this column I have stereotyped myself somewhat as a bit of an Edinburgh fanatic. I breathe, eat, sleep and shag in this wonderful city, and, as daft as it may seem, sometimes girls cannot even compare to she that is Edinburgh. When the Festival was on I found myself getting fidgety, wishing that the tourists would leave my city alone. They raped her, using her for what she could give them and not appreciating her in the same way that I do. Nobody will ever love Edinburgh as much as me. Not even the Scots who have lived here all of their lives. I cannot help but watch them with narrowed eyes as they wander the streets with their fucked up accents and idiotic kilts. They are ruining my town. And I feel I must protect her. Because nobody else I know will.

Now while I may seem slightly more obsessive than normal over she that is my life, I had this realisation that it was only I, in the whole of Great Britain, who loved Edinburgh as much as me the other night. Fucked off my face as usual, I approached two girls on Princes Street, who looked as though they were appreciating the fine curves and beautiful form of the architecture in the road. ‘At last!’ I thought with glee, as I sauntered over to them with a cigarette in one hand and a wrap in the other. ‘Two women who may understand why I love this great city as much as I do!’ My heart does a jump as I realise that I am magnetically drawn to the brunette who is now scouring the pavement with shy grey eyes while her friend looks high into the sky. Has this girl been alarmed by the beauty of Edinburgh like me and is now shy in her presence? Has she been overwhelmed by her character, her charm, and her slight ironic wit and is now considering her desire for this town? At the time I felt as though nothing could stop me and I had found my one true soulmate. I approached her. I knew we would have a bond.

‘You love this city, don’t you?’ I asked her, as her friend jumped into a car and sped off towards the grottier end of town. ‘You see what I see, don’t you? You feel what I feel. You love this city more than anything’. She spoke. She too was English. And I was glad, because Edinburgh secretly hates the Scots. ‘Do you fancy a walk?’ she asked me, with a slight northern accent that added an edge to her soft features and almost nervous demeanour. I jumped at the chance. Finally I had found someone with whom I could speak freely about the city with. ‘How long have you been here?’ I warbled quietly to her, as I swayed down the road and she tripped along, in her heels that had mud stains around the bottom. ‘Half an hour’ she whispered, as she took my hand, and led me towards a tourist bus. ‘I was waiting for you’. As we climbed the stairs towards the top of the double decker I felt myself become aroused. I blushed ashamedly. Was I finally about to cheat on my one true love of Edinburgh with someone who loved her also? Or did the feelings that we shared for the city mean that it wasn’t so much of a coupling but a threesome, where we rejoiced in Edinburgh’s amazingness and developed our love for her between us? I looked into the brunette’s eyes and sat down at the front of the bus. She placed her hand in my lap. Time disintegrated as she rode me whilst reciting names of all of Edinburgh’s streets and shops. I have never been so turned on. The girl wasn’t bad, either. I had found Edinburgh incarnate as a woman!

‘Seventy quid mate’, my brunette whispered into my ear, as I hugged her for dear life while keeping one eye on the Scott Monument. I turned to her aghast. ‘You’re charging me?’ I cried, desperately trying to remember if and when I had entered into such an agreement. ‘Seventy quid ain’t that steep’ she growled, closing the street map of the city that she had placed on the seat behind us as she fucked me senseless. ‘You should be grateful I didn’t charge more – fucking shittest fuck of my life – never met anyone who got turned on my streetnames before. I was aghast. Some girl, some vindictive, nasty, money-grabbing whore had taken advantage of me, my city, and all that Edinburgh entails for a few quid and a laugh at my expense. I was outraged. But I managed to flop my cock away and throw a few Scottish notes at her without bursting into tears. And then I walked away.

How could I have been so stupid? I often end up pulling prostitutes my mistake and don’t begrudge them their wages once that have bought me to climax, but I have never been so disgusted with myself. I honestly thought that I had found someone who believed in the city as much as I do, someone who loves it and cherishes it with the same deep desire that drives me and my existence. I was wrong. And I had been too easily led. As I slowly dragged myself home I found myself being consoled by the very city that had distracted me during my encounter with the prostitute. And I began to get turned on. ‘Oh Edinburgh, Edinburgh, why do you haunt me so?’ I cried out at the top of my voice, disturbing the sleeping pigeons high in the trees. I rushed back to the Scott Monument and pulled down my trousers. I was hard again. I would wank in front of the monument as an apology for screwing a girl when I should have been making love to Edinburgh, my fine city and one true love. My hands began to move.

It’s a cruel, cruel summer

August. The height of summer. A time when the sun beats down, people are generally nicer to each other, drinkies outside in the street, all that caper. Lovely. Tanned bodies saunter along the fair streets of Edinburgh, as Festival performers liven things up with interesting plays, dancing and other diversions. Fabulous. Except, of course, none of the above is actually happening.

For the past few days (or is it weeks?) it has pissed it down most of the time, breaking only for an hour or two at about 8.30 in the evening when the sun just about makes it from behind a cloud and then goes down. Pubs still sling the odd table and chair outside in the hope that somebody will be stupid enough to want to sit outside in the clammy air and give the place a feeling of being ‘on the continent’. Oh yes, it is like being on the continent all right, just not too sure which one.

As for the Festival performers… well yes there’s plenty of good stuff going on, but I’ve also seen Morris dancers outside the train station, the obligatory bagpipe bloke (doesn’t he have a home to go to?), and over 400 people watching a man tap dance to Michael Jackson songs on a big stage in Princes Street gardens. City of culture? Are you sure?

But, just for a change, it isn’t Edinburgh that is bugging me, at least not this week. It isn’t the scary number of tourists, nor the mad English people with painted faces and purple flares telling me that their show got “five stars in Metro”. (“Big deal,” I retorted, “Metro would give five stars to a McChicken Sandwich.” Obviously not strictly true.) No, what is it then that ails me? Well, I shall tell you. It is the fact I have not had a holiday this year. Again.

I went to a club over the weekend (a good one, don’t worry, NOT a cheese palace) and was stunned to see how brown everybody was. Now, Edinburgh can get warm and sunny, but we’re talking tans of TROPICAL proportions here. ‘Must be sunbeds,’ thought I. But oh no, on getting talking to a few people, I discovered that half of Edinburgh has just got back from holiday, and the other half appears to be going next week. I, as usual, cannot afford a holiday this year, and so keep telling myself (and others, who invariably look stunned when I tell them that I won’t be jetting off to Benidorm this year) that I prefer to have a good summer in the lovely UK and save up for this new flat I’m supposed to be looking for. This is of course, a load of bull.

The truth is, I could never really see the point of holidays, much. I mean it is nice to get away from it all, but I’m not really a sun-worshipper so I don’t know if I see the point of frying on a beach until I turn red. Also, my face frees its freckles at the slightest hint of sun, and even though when I was a child I was told that freckles were a sign of beauty (mainly by other be-freckled adults who wouldn’t win any beauty contests), I’m not convinced. And all this getting rat-arsed and shagging people you don’t know very well… Well, you could do that here in Edinburgh, and it wouldn’t cost you £300 to get home. So you see, in the first instance, I’m anti-holiday. But then…

This all changes when my friends come back from holiday. The other week I came home after a night out, looking rough and feeling freezing at 4.30 a.m. to find my flatmates sitting in the lounge tanned and relaxed eating chips, having just that second returned from the Canaries. As I sat my pallid arse down and tried to ask them how their holiday was (couldn’t really speak at this point), I realised that I would LOVE to go on holiday. A friend came round to see me the other night fresh back from the Canaries (yes, again, very popular with Scots, apparently) and related a story about how someone shouted “Fake tan!” at her as she made her way to my house. She was mortified naturally, but it just goes to show people are so used to seeing lily-white skin round here that they can’t possibly imagine a tan being real. My friend was horrified that somebody thought she must have looked as if she couldn’t afford a holiday.

So, do I want to go on holiday or not? Thinking about it, I would say, at the moment, no. I’m going to stay in bonny Edinburgh and enjoy the Festival (well, I’ll try). I shall place my faith in the Scottish weather and pray that the sun does eventually put that bloody hat on and get his arse from round the clouds that cloak the castle like a fluffy shell suit. I shall eat, drink and be merry and go to the beach, and go clubbing, ignoring the fact that everybody is brown and beautiful and still pissed on Sangria. I shall wave to my friends as they jet off for their holidays and hand them tissues for their noses when they all get flu as soon as they come back. And all this without the remotest pang of jealousy.

Am I really that gutted about having no holiday this year? No, not really… There’s always next year, I suppose. Mind you, that’s a whole year away. And it is going to be a long, cold winter. Well, I suppose I could always head down to Blackpool for a weekend… And I’m going to Paris in November. November? No sun, no tans, no straw donkeys. OK, OK, I give in… pass me that Club 18-30 brochure…

When in Rome…

My flatmate Lisa once told me that it’s the things that go wrong that makes travelling so special – roach-infested hostels, having your bag nicked, taking a dodgy backstreet imagining you’re going to get stabbed in the vain attempt to work out where the hell you are etc…are all “adventures”. Needless to say, I was somewhat sceptical and decided to ignore the advice of this seasoned traveller when I recently went to see the Sistine Chapel. I thought, “How hard can it be? Put clothes in backpack, grab guidebook and go.” As traveller-virgins invariably do, I discovered I had a lot to learn.

Firstly, the art of packing. I stuffed clothes in that backpack like there was no tomorrow (mostly comprising strappy pink shoes, a DKNY jacket and several à la mode skirts). “I do need them,” I insisted. Ignoring the raised eyebrows and cutting Lisa off before she could even open her mouth, I headed for Heathrow.

“What do you mean I can’t take 15 kilos worth of hand luggage?… Just pretend I weigh more or something,” were my first words to the grim woman behind the checkout counter. Surprisingly they didn’t work, so I was in a less-than-good mood as I said goodbye, again refused Lisa’s attempts at advice and went through the slidy-Star-Trek-like doors.

After a very long wait during which time I was forced to listen to some whining child who wanted his daddy to buy him the Pokémon he’d seen in the duty free shop and having to buy a copy of 100 Crossword Favourites because the bitch in front of me bought the last Cosmo, I got on the plane.

My first question was why I’d had to spend so much money to be allocated this matchbox seat, when I could have stuffed myself into a child’s car seat for free? I don’t think I’m going too far when I say that even Kate Moss would struggle to get her skinny ass into one of those seats. Needless to say, not being a supermodel, it was a tight fit.

Anyway, I survived the seat, the in-flight music and even the plane “food”, and eventually landed in Rome. Buena sera land of lasagne, Chianti and some of the most gorgeous men on the planet. (I knew that last bit was a generalisation, but I’ve got an Italian ex and had seen pictures of Sophia Loren’s sons) I was determined to sample some of the local delicacies and couldn’t wait to get started … until I tried to lift my pack (Lisa had carried it for me at Heathrow) I resisted the temptation to get a taxi – if everyone else could do this travelling thing, so could I.

I arrived at the hostel somewhat ruffled. I had passed a group of men old enough to remember the Queen Mum as a teenager and to my horror, one of them had pinched by bum. No one warned me that they might be old, but they’re wily and their grope-young-girl instinct was still in tact even if their hearing isn’t, especially when she’s struggling to drag a backpack down the street in a mini skirt. My high school Italian didn’t equip with the comment I was looking for so I quickly walked on, doing a fairly decent Bart Simpson-like shudder.

Arriving at the hostel at around 8pm, I discovered a queue. At the end of this queue was a “full” sign. Oh my god, I was in a foreign city full of dirty old men as darkness was setting in. “Ok,” I thought, “don’t panic. You’ve been in worse situations …” Too late. My screaming, foot stamping and seemingly endless stream of words not fit to publish here brought embarrassment and fear for the receptionist and the desired effect for me – apparently downstairs was a small hotel which was a little more expensive but very nice. Thanks darling.

I turned to head for the door and nearly collided with a rather nice example of Canadian manhood. Finding himself in the same situation as me and then that it was cheaper to share a room, we ended up sharing 5b .. and the following night his bed. He didn’t turn out to be the love of my life and we have of course broke the “keep in touch” promise but we had a great weekend together, he taught me a lot about travelling including how to bring myself to dump a few pairs of shoes and to carry my own pack …. oh, and I got to see the Chapel.

Birthday Bashed

I hate this time of year. It’s always about this week that the wind and rain come along to remind you of how grey this country will be from November to March. The eight-week orgy of frantic, despairing consumerism that is Christmas kicks off in earnest.

The importation of the moronic American ‘tradition’ of “trick or treat” leads to you having to continuously answer your door to the same fat greedy kids who in a few days time will be throwing incendiary devices at your granny and setting fire to her cat. You have to get up freezing cold in the pitch black middle of the night to go to work (where it’s spend your wages on Xmas raffle and office party tickets time again) and stare forlornly out of the window as it gets dark at about three in the afternoon. And it’s my birthday again soon.

I’ve never been one of those people who enjoy their own birthday. Some like nothing better than to throw a lavish party where everyone they know can come and worship at the fragile altar of their ageing ego. Others prefer to take the party to the people and play the birthday card for as many free drinks and drunken gropes as it will get them. I just can’t be doing with that kind of fuss of self-celebration. I mean, you’re a year older – so what? Is that something to be happy about? To me its like being told “Congratulations, you are now officially statistically even closer to you eventual oblivion!” Yeah, cheers.

Then there’s the social pressure. Everyone expects you to be having a good time and you must constantly give the outward appearance of happiness, even as you unwrap your eighth pair of socks. You also simultaneously feel responsible for everyone else’s enjoyment. If X isn’t having fun, are they going to remember your birthday party as boring and tell everyone so? What if they leave early? What if they don’t even come? You see – it’s a minefield for the self-esteem.

I think I’m moaning about it more than usual this year as well (it must be my age). I can no longer be considered as especially young. I have so far achieved nothing like what I have sought out to do. Have I got a great future behind me? When John Lennon and Paul McCartney were twenty-censored, they were recording Abbey Road, having already written among others Revolver, The White Album and Sergeant Pepper. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were laying down the sprawling genius of Exile On Main Street. John Lydon was sneering away semi-retired in LA having already fronted two of the greatest, most revolutionary bands of all time. Morrissey was shrilly, desperately and futilely begging Marr not to leave The Smiths. Noel Gallagher was at Knebworth playing Britain’s biggest-ever gig, with his lunatic younger brother stealing the show as usual. And what is Terry Stuart doing? Why, sitting alone shivering with his teeth chattering unmusically, trying to think of why he should bother braving the rain for a birthday drink of course!

Anyway, I’m sure you have umbrellas to buy, Christmas shopping to do and kids to clip round the ear, so I’ll say sorry to have inflicted all this on you, but there you go, I’m the birthday boy and I wanted to be indulged. After all it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.