The perils of Christmas

Yes and here we are again. It’s nearing. Sniff up. Can you smell the pine? (Or turkey, depending on your personality type). The only time of year we can get away with kissing someone who actually remembers when chips were ‘fourpunce’ and blame the whole affair on a parasitic plant that grows on branches. The only time of year that we actually sacrifice a week’s worth of nights on the town so that we can make a mad dash to the shops and buy that articulate, hand crafted, ‘made in Northern Indonesia’, vase for your Gran. The only time of year that ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ can be played on the radio without you taking cover in the Outer Hebrides, or that Slade can be played and seen as fun.

Yes you quite easily guessed it. Christmas. A little too early you may say, but for some of us the saving process begins now (apart from the afore mentioned dash for vase). It’s the present buying that always gets me, I’m terrified of getting someone a present that they look at and think you’ve just taken a walk down to the nearest skip and hand picked it for them. A present they’ll show to mutual friend who will laugh and wonder if you inherited your taste from Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen.

Usually this can be solved by slotting some money into their card, but is it enough? Will they think you’re the cheapest person on earth? Or worst of all, what if you give them too much? They open the card, turn around in complete shock and say how you didn’t have to give them all that. Damn right I didn’t, you think, bloody give me some back then! Thing is even if you did win the title of buying them the present they least wanted on earth, you’d never know because everybody has that look that’s solely kept for Christmas, never used at any other time of year. The shock horror ‘wow this is the present I most wanted in the whole world since I saw it in a magazine when I was five’ accompanied with huge cheesy grin, sparkly eyes, and clasping onto said present as if the tooth fairies about to come and steal it off them. You know when you’re really not liked, as you receive the card with Mary and Joseph on under a star, you know, the crappest one out of the box of 40 that you save for the person you hate the most. Ah the stress…

So very soon, the shops will be putting their decorations up, (obviously that rule doesn’t count for supermarkets in which case Christmas starts mid-July) the lights will be out in the streets, and town will still be busy with shoppers at 8pm. Personally as much as Christmas can send your stress levels soaring above Mount Elbert, it’s my favourite time of year. Everybody gets along, and there’s this air of festivity. Plainly, I think it’s fabulous.

As Christmas’s go, last year was my worst. Not for any unbelievably distressing and emotional reason, nobody died, I didn’t sink into clinical depression, nobody bought me the hamster song, but for one reason. Last year was the year I realised Christmas just wasn’t the same anymore. That defining moment where you wake up at 5.30am and don’t run downstairs, marvel at the array of presents, then go jump on your dad’s head. You wake up, raise your head the required four degrees to see the clock, and lapse back into concussion again.

It’s very sad when the highlight of the day is no longer tearing the wrapping off the presents, taking an informed look at it for a couple of seconds before tearing into the next one. The highlight is going back to bed. Once the magic of Christmas is gone, it’s gone. But then it comes in other ways, after all those years of taking, you start to give and seeing your nieces face light up at her Steps doll, or your boyfriend’s grin at the discontinued album you managed to get hold of for him from somewhere out of space, they become the things that matter.

Just before I pack up and go buy some selection boxes from Safeways, always remember, as Sunshine Magazine said:

‘Whatever you want for Christmas, you’re not getting it’.

What a marvellous invention the calendar was!

What a marvellous invention the calendar was. With it we have a number of annual things to celebrate – Christmas, Birthdays, Bank Holidays, Valentines Days, FA Cup Finals, Visits to the Dentist, Camera’s up the **** (just don’t even get me started on that subject… yet), and Car Insurance. Hang on, I lost the plot a bit there didn’t I. Not all those things are welcomed.

I’ll spare you the ‘Nobody loves me’ routine, the ‘No Liverpool in the Cup Final again’, the ‘I’m afraid that tooth has to come out Mr Steak’ and the ‘This won’t hurt a bit’ stories as well. However, the Car Insurance tale of woe just has to be told.

Thanks to my little topic on fuel tax, and a previous rant on motorway driving, you get the idea that I like cars. Well, I used to love driving. Fast and a tad irresponsibly, if truth be told. However, I’m all growed up now, and a nice, considerate driver.

Now at the age of 21, I had a turbo charged hot hatch which was reputedly the UK’s third most stolen car. Four years later I had a turbo-charged saloon that was the UK’s second most stolen car. The words car alarm, Thatcham and hefty premium were never far from my mind. Before the turbos I had a fuel-injected Cavalier which, in those days, was a quick motor. My point is for eight years I had high-risk cars, and all the time I was under 25 and classified a high-risk driver. Now I still drive a turbo, a turbo DIESEL. I’m two years off thirty (and death, if the reports are true) and I have a monstrous eight years no claims bonus. My car is fitted with a top class alarm and never sees more miles than 10k a year.

To insure this pristine example of economic motoring is more hassle than the bloody sports cars. At 24, with a 300bhp modified Cosworth I had people throwing themselves at my size nines to give me good policies. Not £3,000 a year either, the most I paid was £900. The last year I had the Cossie I paid £550. And that was fully comprehensive.

This year I have been quoted up to £615 for the diesel. A diesel for goodness sake, it isn’t powerful enough to pull an OAP out of bed. One phone quoter said to me it was a higher risk because it had a turbo – oh I see, bolt a hairdryer on and I can dump a Ferrari off the lights, can I?

Perhaps I’m classified with the 300 mph rocket-fuelled builders vans that menace XJ 220’s down the fast lane? Is it because I’m under 75? No, it’s purely because 24-year-olds driving Cosworths are having the odd prang, speeding fine and theft claims. That’s an excuse to sting everyone who owns an insurable vehicle.

I shopped around again this year, ringing 20 insurers and I can tell you I am pissed off at answering ‘lifestyle questions that may reduce your premium’. I want to insure my car, not my alcohol, cigarette or house buying addictions. My car is as dull as ditchwater, it has no spoilers, no fancy wheels or speed enhancing badges either. And I know my call is important, I’m sure the next available person will answer my call, and I’m pretty sure every effort is being made to get to me quickly, but it doesn’t stop me hating the bloody musical interludes thrust upon me. (Although one insurer plays 80s classics all day long – I know this because I spent hours in their calling queue).

At times like this, when my head is spinning and my wallet is lighter, I can almost appreciate the virtues of a Vespa. Well, almost.

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.

Welcome to the real world

I was a student once. I’m not one anymore (is this sounding obvious to anyone yet?), but at times I wish I was… and then sometimes I am glad I’m not… I’ll explain.

When I want to buy something from a shop where a student discount is offered, naturally I long for the days of lectures and assignments. However, when I finish work at 4 or 5 and have the rest of the evening to myself without worrying about something I needed to finish or lectures I really don’t want to be at, I thank my lucky stars.

It is a bit of a shock being a ‘civilian’ after being a student for so long. Gone are the days of popping into a pub on a Tuesday at 12.30 for a quick drink and then staggering out 12 hours later with a daffodil in each ear and a bar stool up your arse. Instead, it is a big fat hello to going to bed straight after the ‘11 O’clock Show’, living only for weekends and paying TAX!

At times I feel like a second-class citizen because I’m no longer a student type. Some clubs up here in Edinburgh get a bit shirty if you’re not a student. My argument always sounds the same, “But students smell terribly and wreck the place.” And although the bouncer never answers, I know the real reason it is a students’ only night. Students (for the first week of term at least) have a big, fat grant cheque, a big, sexy student loan, and they like to spend it as quickly as possible. I know – I’ve been there.

To be honest though, in my latter years as a student (I was one for five glorious years), I never considered myself to be a typical student, but in this day and age is there such a thing? Granted in my first year I probably did some very stereotypical student-y type things like shaving all my hair off, wearing clothes with questionable fashion credibility and drinking cider (yes, honestly! I know, I know…), but I soon changed my tune about that one.

In my second year I became the total opposite, wearing sort of preppie clothes and going to play (well watch, mostly) pool and going to house parties and getting drunk (but on vodka this year).

By the third year the dodgy clothes and Pulp Fiction obsessions were far, far behind me and I became obsessed with expensive clothes and the like. This has stayed with me (except now the clothes don’t have to be expensive… in fact, it’s better if they’re not, due to spending my entire wage on tuna sandwiches).

For my fourth year I was in Belgium on my placement year, so I was very un-student like (more of that some other time, perhaps). As for my final year, well I was so busy going out to trendy bars and the like, that I didn’t have time to be a stereotypical student.

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, the days of students wearing tie-dye, dreading their hair into makeshift Eiffel Towers and protesting about bombs are more or less over. Mind you, if you hang around a Students’ Union bar long enough you’re bound to see the odd throwback wearing a tablecloth and drinking Scrumpy Jack.

Students are a much more mainstream breed today. That is not to say that they are dull, far from it in fact. It is a taxpayer’s prerogative to hate students, but I don’t. Students can be exciting, and quite resourceful – I mean, I lived on fish fingers and canned plum tomatoes for I don’t know how long one hot summer. However, not every student in the land had to be so resourceful with the pennies. The average student at my university had a big car, loads of money, great clothes and a class A habit. If you look at it that way, I’m not really missing much. I am kidding myself here, aren’t I?

So there’s only one thing for it…pass me that post grad prospectus somebody, I feel another couple of years of government funding coming on. Mmm, how about a Masters in egg painting?

Health Kick Hell

I’ve been thinking about it for a while, really. I was sick of looking in the mirror and seeing the remnants of cigarettes and pints winding all over my face. I’m only 24 but am extremely paranoid about being old. I had fits when I became 20 and was no longer a teenager. The more that the shrouded figure of being grown up – looking older, less people wanting to sleep with me and the prospect of having ‘responsibilities’ – crept upon me, the less I liked it.

When I was a child I always thought that I would grow up to be tall, muscled and handsome just as a matter of course. I didn’t realise that I may have to do some ‘exercise’ or something. Ah well, none out of three ain’t bad. Oh hang on, yeah that is quite bad, isn’t it? I mean, how ridiculous is the prospect of exercise? Luckily I did not grow up to be a huge tubster despite my revolting eating habits at university. The staff at McDonald’s knew me by name and said hello to me when I saw them in pubs. Bad sign. Bad, baaaad sign. I had always eaten well when I was living at my mother’s house but apart from a few half-hearted attempts at hockey and playing shockingly bad tennis in the summer, my exercise was limited.

So I had a PLAN. I would eat healthily, join a gym (I really, really meant this at the time) and I would also stop smoking. I have to point out that when I decided all this I was of sound mind, but wrecked body. I had a horrendous cough and was sick of hacking up phlegm balls the size of a urinal every morning. Running was impossible…even the 3 yards to the bus stop had me clutching my chest and gasping like Old Father Steptoe.

Stage one of the plan was the exercise. I started off well by walking home from work every evening (about 3 miles across town, not TOO bad for a start), and my next step was to join a gym. I was expecting a little lump sum so I thought that would be me launched on to the exercise frenzy! Not to be. Well, gyms are just sooo expensive and I was terrified to be honest. Despite friends telling me that gyms were cool now and that everybody was friendly, I just had visions of the one my mum used to go to when I was a kid. During the holidays, I had to go with her as there was nobody to look after me. I would sit on the hot pink plastic sofas and scowl with a 12p cup of juice and watch my mother torture herself on huge machines, whilst body terrorists in stripy leotards, leg-warmers and ‘muscle’ tops (this is the 80s we’re talking about here boys and girls) sauntered about looking healthy. Also, I didn’t really have the money to join a gym so that was put on the back burner for a wee while.

I decided to do the fags and eating thing at the same time because when I was hungry but could never be arsed to cook I would smoke a couple of fags and have a can of Coke. So I trotted along to my local supermarket and managed to dig out a few healthy salads even though they are not really popular in Scotland. You see, health is not really that ‘in’ amongst the Edinburgh folk, judging by the grub they eat, but more of that another time….

I stopped smoking cigarettes at work completely, smoking only 2 or 3 at home, and ate very well and often to make up for it.

And how am I doing? Well, I’m sick of eating and I still miss the old cancer sticks. I have actually started to smoke the odd one at work now due to my ‘high-pressure’ job (yes, yes, cop out of the century). I still eat a salad every now and again, but with mammoth-size portions to make up for the ‘salad is rabbit food’ concept.

On the whole I feel healthy, my skin is à la baby’s ass, but if I don’t get my hands on a quarter-pounder burger soon I’m just going to jump into a field and devour a live cow…

City Slacker

I have tried and tried and tried to appreciate the countryside. I have walked through fields, looked at cows, trod in cowpats and caused a farmer to go into histrionics by (accidentally) leaving some gate open or something. It is just that it is so darn quiet…

I’ve done the country thing before…living in Scotland it is a bit hard not to, you see. I mean, it is ALL country with the exception of the odd random city here and there. You’ll be driving along this road and all of a sudden the city stops – it’s gone. You are in the middle of nowhere. Now, my father has always appreciated the countryside, and he has always tried to get me round to his way of thinking. “Now look at that,” he would say to me when I was a child, “isn’t that beautiful?” Invariably he’d be pointing at some hill or a stream full of algae and dead fish. I would reply, “I would build a Sainsbury’s on top of it” so often that not he wouldn’t pursue the issue.

My Dad used to live in a small village not far from London. My, how excellent, one would think… Just a stone’s throw from the capital but retaining that unique charm blah blah blah and other such estate agents bilge. When I first saw how remote the village was I began to panic and when I realised the nearest branded fast food outlet was about 7 miles away, I had an allergic reaction. I went into what I can only describe as mild hysteria when informed that the nearest pub was a ‘mere’ three-mile walk up a huge hill which, just for extra fun-factor, was a single track with no streetlights whatsoever. “That’s ‘cos it ain’t a street, mate”, was all some countryphile could say on that subject.

The city however has lights everywhere; garish streetlights shining constantly to remind us stupid city people where we are going, green and red lights to tell us when to walk across roads, lest we should have the inability to distinguish whether traffic is bearing down on us or not.

City slickers are also fortunate to have barriers everywhere to stop us accidentally falling under wagons, and of course the saviour of every city: shops. If you’re bored in the country what do you do? Ride a horse? Go for a walk and look at some ‘wildlife’? Talk to your family?!? Are you mad? In the city when boredom creeps in, just hit the shops, money or no money. Have fun irritating the all-American looking shop assistants in Gap by unfolding all the jumpers. Annoy school-leavers that work in McDonald’s by asking why they haven’t got any stars yet. Ah yes, the fun to be had of being in a city. I have tried, tried, tried to get excited about trees and cows and ‘air’ but it fails to impress.

I have nothing against those who LIVE in the countryside… I just don’t know HOW they can do it. I mean, I could never possibly purchase a property without first checking how far the nearest McDonald’s/ pub/ brothel is. Country folk have to be subjected to driving Range Rovers and avoiding sheep (or not as the case may be). City folk on the other hand can leap onto buses or take leisurely strolls down to the corner shop, and apart from at the City Farm, I have seen no sheep around here.

Countrysiders would argue, of course, that the city is dirty, smelly, cramped and dangerous. Mmm…yep, sure is and that is why I love it. I just can’t relax if I go outside and don’t get choked by pollution. And there’s no way I can sleep without double deckers going at 75mph on the bypass behind my flat.

I like the city because it features so many different types of people. Edinburgh has its own set of ‘characters’ which could be described as universal, but living in Edinburgh gives them a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ to say the very least. I like the fact that Edinburgh people will bump into you in the street, slam shop doors in your face and still not apologise. That shows ‘character’ of course. I like it that you can NEVER get a cab after 8.30pm. After all, walking is good for you.

I feel much safer in the city. Granted, you could get stabbed by a strung-out junkie or kicked repeatedly in the face by a hard-core alcoholic, but there are always so many people hanging about I’m sure you’d be rescued before losing too much blood. The city has a certain vibe about it (albeit one of danger) and I’m not sure if I could swap that for chats over the farm gate with Mrs Miggins. I have tried the country life once and once only and it didn’t work for me.

Maybe when I’m older and have finally had enough of bus fumes and burglary, I will learn to appreciate the countryside, but until then…well, I’ll just jump on a bus and head for the bright lights if it’s all the same to you.

Travel Sick

Travelling. Hate it. Not the round the world sort, but the sitting-in-a-sardine-tin for hours sort. Be it by car, train or – god forbid – coach, you can count on it that I’ll be sulking because it takes too long. I reckon even when they’ve got space rockets whizzing from Edinburgh to London in 3 minutes, I’ll still gripe about it.

Living in Edinburgh is fabulous apart from one thing; it is miles away from everywhere. There is nothing else in a decent radius except for Glasgow, and even that journey takes 45 minutes on the ‘fast’ train. Yes, contrary to what English people may think it is not possible to drive the entirety of Scotland in half an hour. So, to get around in this country, you have to get on trains (eek), cars (boo) or even coaches (hell no, I haven’t got anything to WEAR in that sort of transport).

My usual trick for getting around is by train. I’ve got a couple of months left on my Young Person’s Railcard so I’m managing to pay student-type fares just now. This cannot last. The rather un-lovely age of 25 is just six and a half months away (I can’t POSSIBLY be that old! I haven’t even gone through my good-looking stage yet… Perhaps it has been and gone and I was asleep at the time. Life is cruel!), so after that I’ll be paying full bloody whack so I had BETTER have a decent job by then or I’ll be ripping heads off.

I prefer the train for many reasons, including; if you speak in a posh voice and complain about getting cramped you can get an upgrade to First Class no probs. It is always fun to watch the small man with the ‘buffet’ trolley get stuck in doors/ fall over/ spill tea in someone’s lap or face. You can meet some interesting people (OK, well… once I met an interesting person) but of course, there are down sides to travelling by train. What sort of column would this be if I didn’t bitch about something?

More often than not I choose to sit in the smoking carriage for my trips back to Leeds, ‘forgetting’ how much it stinks and how bizarre the people can be in there. Once I got on the early train from Edinburgh to Leeds and counted three drunks in the smoking carriage…at 8.30 in the morning! Where had these people been? I don’t know… but, ‘luckily’, they decided not to torture my head for the journey but pick on some rather unassuming student types instead. Saying that, the smoking carriage is always ripe for a bit of excitement (just yesterday I witnessed a Scottish couple hitting each other over the head with Bacardi bottles) whereas in the non-smoking sections… Well, what is it with these people?

On a recent journey I noticed that the dolt on the other end of the phone when I was booking my ticket had put me in non-Marlboro accommodation when I had clearly requested the opposite (I think his brain cells may have been on a tea break). “Not a prob,” thought I. “I can just nip through to the smoking bit every hour or so for a quick fag”. Oh really? Not if the anal retention team in non-smoking had anything to do with it. First of all I looked for my reserved seat only to find a Geordie in it. When I said it was OK he could sit there as I could see another seat further on with some more attractive people in the vicinity, he started to bellow down the carriage that I could “take the f**king seat if I wanted it.” I did not respond. I simply sat down and pretended to look for something in my bag. Unfortunately, as it had been some time since I dared enter the holy land of non-smoking seating, I was not prepared for the tutting and looks of disdain as, every 45 minutes or so, I made my way back to the carriages of sin where all the smokers sat and caned fags and got rat-arsed on cheap vodka and brandy miniatures.

The smokers eyed me suspiciously as I sat down gasping on a cigarette. I could almost hear them calling me ‘part-timer’ as they argued loudly, discussed people they didn’t even know, farted, and sang. Back I would creep towards the no-fun zone, where everyone was silent and looked at you as if they wanted to blowtorch your eyes out if you stood on their toes.

It was after this experience that I resolved never again to be parted from my special club. Even though I would arrive at my destination stinking of fags and probably drunk, it was worth it just to have a decent journey instead of travelling shoulder to shoulder with the Stepford Wives. Smoking may be bad for your health, but on a 3-hour train journey, it’s the only thing that’s going to save your sanity!

Kitchen Sink Drama

As soon as I come in from work, it is there. As I watch EastEnders, it is there. As I ‘cook’ my dinner (usually just slinging a frozen monstrosity in the oven), it is there. What is there, I hear you cry, unless you’ve already got bored and gone to read something else. What is there? Well, I’ll tell you…other people’s bloody washing up, that’s what. I seem to have this knack that no matter where I live and whom I live with, they will invariably have an allergic reaction to Fairy Liquid, and will therefore never wash up.

Now I’m no clean freak, I don’t spend my free time scrubbing at the toothbrush holder into the early hours chanting “must be clean, must be clean”, but I quite like living in a flat/ house that is not at risk from infestations, and does not smell like a dustbin. It seems that yet again I’ve struck unlucky when it comes to the washing-up question. Who says that incest and menstruation are the last taboos (I read it somewhere)? If you ask me, the thing that nobody wants to talk about is whose turn it is to do the washing up.

As I stare at the piles of plates, pans, dishcloths and egg cups, I cast my mind back to the other beautiful residences I have…er…resided in, and wonder what is the only thing each place had in common. Apart from squalor and extortionate rents, the washing up ‘aversion’ is the key factor.

At my Mum’s, it was always me who bitched about having to wash up, pulling my best Kevin-the-teenager face and moaning that I didn’t like getting my hands wet. Never did I guess that years later I would become obsessed to the point of schizophrenic about dirty dishes. I can cope with mess. You know, the odd magazine here and there, a few shoes flung about etc. etc. But mess is quite a different thing from dirt. I cringe when I come in from work and have to play ‘spot the spillage’ on my kitchen floor as my shoes stick rigidly to it. I am close to tears as I spend half an hour looking for a certain knife only to find it underneath a pile of burnt baking tins, charcoaled pans and lard-covered cutlery. Needless to say the afore-mentioned knife will be covered in a non-distinguishable substance which will take me a further half-hour to scrub off.

I’ve lived in worse places, though. I doubt if anything could compete with Year 3 of university life when I shared a house with 6 members of a rugby team and a hockey player. I would wake to find that they had bought the entire crockery department at Habitat…. and cooked chips with all of it, leaving it strewn about the kitchen, which looked like the remnants of a Greek wedding crossed with a Crimewatch reconstruction. But that was not all.

If any of you have lived with sporting uni types, you may be aware of their penchant for ‘acquiring’ things after a night up the uni bar kissing each others’ testes (bizarre initiation ceremony) and drinking dodgy cocktails, mainly composed of whisky, vodka, something green and the team captain’s pubic hair (I kid you not). By ‘acquiring’ things, I mean the art of bringing home road signs, park benches, hookers (not the rugby variety), and even a dog once. To top things off, most of them were unbelievable exhibitionists, constantly walking around with very little on, having sex with girls in the kitchen! Loudly! At 2.30 in the afternoon! With people watching! Another favourite activity of one of them (you know who you are) was to invite any female friends I had round for a cup of vodka, sorry tea, for a ‘shag in the shower’. He was deadly serious! Some of them even considered it! It was an exhilarating experience to say the very least but 4 months was all I could stand so I moved in with friends where we had a washing up rota that actually worked!

My final student house was a nightmare for washing up and once we found new life forms growing on a plate that we had previously thought was patterned. I could go on all week about the flatshare ‘mares’ I’ve experienced but I reckon I’ll leave that for some other time.

And as for the washing up? Well, I could try the old tradition of putting it in the offenders’ beds, but that tends to escalate into violence. I could maybe fling each dish out of the window until someone washes them, but some of them belong to me. Maybe I’ll just give in and do their washing up myself… I DON’T think so, do you? I think I’ll just sit down and have a fag and chill as I wait for the dishes to actually become so infested with fungus that they turn on the taps and wash themselves. If only…

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.

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.

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…..).

Eat to the beat

There are many things I just don’t understand…The attraction of cropped trousers for gentlemen, perms, what’s so good about 5ive (can anyone honestly say they know ALL their names?), why rich bitches get excited about pashminas etc. But the one thing I really really don’t get is why people feel compelled to eat huge amounts of crap when they’re pissed.

A few weeks ago I was in a horrendously cheesy nightclub. I didn’t want to go, the choice was taken away from me. The friends I was out with that night said they couldn’t be arsed doing the usual club thing, jostling for space with loads of shirtless fashion leaders and impossibly thin beauties in clothes that would cost a week’s wages. No siree, they wanted cheese. Plus, we could get in for free as we have friends who shag in high places…

So fair enough, we’ve had a few drinks, we get into this club, see some of Edinburgh’s ‘finest’ rocking to Dave Pearce’s latest throbbing charty-hearty horrific Techno-lite™. So far, so good. Then a few of the group announce, “Right, we’re away to get something to eat.”
“What?” cried the more sensible members of the group.
“Aye, there’s a diner over there, like.”
And off they trotted. Fascinated, I followed.

In this neon-encrusted black-carpeted nightmare was a large room with banquettes, fruit machines and a cash machine. Along one wall was a series of hotplates with a lacklustre kitchen behind, reminiscent of some dilapidated state school in Hackney. The proceedings were being watched over by a very bored-looking couple of recent school-leavers, along with a middle aged woman with a face that looked like she had just undergone 72 hours of agonising childbirth. It was an amazing scene.

Scores of drunks being propped up by ‘well-built’ girls fooling themselves in shiny size 10 dresses mingled with bored-looking young lads hoping that the extremely drunk and fleetingly pretty stick insect they were holding up wouldn’t sober up before he’d fed and fu… (whoops) slept with her. There was the occasional nasty drunk. “Hey, ya mingin’ bitch, ye, where’s my f***in’ burger like, ah’ve bin waiting ten bloody minutes, c’mon doll, dinnae take the pish…”

Idiot. You just knew that ‘doll’ would head straight for the kitchen and stick his chips up her arse before serving them. The childbirth crone merely surveyed the queue with eyes that told a thousand tales of drunks and their eating habits. It was obvious from her demeanour that such behaviour was nothing new. I could tell from every crag on her face that she had witnessed thousands of intoxicated youths in her time.

“Stop yer catcalling or none of ye’ll get served!” she eventually screamed, as a 13-year-old in a shiny boob tube fell over and was sick in her hair. I made my way, wobbling somewhat (either from drunkenness or revulsion at the situation…I don’t know), to a table and sat down to wait for my friends. They returned with a mass of grease, with a burger in there somewhere and some rancid fries and onion rings. I turned away in horror as they tucked in. I turned away in the same manner when 2 hours later they threw it up in the street.

So why this fascination with getting absolutely rat-arsed and then spending a fortune on dodgy food either on the way home, or as is now ‘en vogue’ in Edinburgh, whilst still in the club? When I’m clubbing, the LAST thing I want to do is eat. I remember at uni how I would moan and sulk at being dragged into the most disgusting kebab shop in Southampton (you know who you are), as my friends ordered chips with chilli sauce, mayonnaise, dog turd and other things you wouldn’t even think about eating if it wasn’t for the 26 pints of Stella you’d just had. The biggest mystery to me is why ANYONE would want to eat a kebab. Oh yes, I’d just love a big slice of horse leg with 10-day-old salad and sauce of dubious origin, ta very much.

More often than not these kebabs would be left to fester on the kitchen table until someone plucked up the courage to throw it away, or indeed in one case, heat it up the next morning and eat it. I would often chuckle to myself as I made my way to my dead-end weekend job and see all the half-eaten kebabs and pizzas strewn across the streets, occasionally with a little pile of vomit accompanying it. Mmmm…lean cuisine, I don’t think.

So keep your freaky diners with silver banquettes and teenage alcoholics. Take away your Environmental Health-condemned fast food vans parked outside grim neon clubs, where ‘burger ‘n’ fries – only £3.99!’ is served by spotty youths in filthy white coats (Hello Leeds). Be gone all you nightmare kebab shops which are just Crimewatch reconstructions waiting to happen (I lost count of the number of stabbing in our local). And don’t even get me started on the deep-fried pizzas and battered black pudding that Scots lap up…

No way, I’m just not playing*. I much prefer to stagger home and attempt to ‘cook’ whatever I find in the fridge/ freezer/ somebody else’s cupboard. Even if I do fall asleep/ pass out/ set the flat on fire, at least I saw myself cook it and don’t need to worry that a school-leaver might have been playing hockey with it in a grease-ridden kitchen. Oh, and slice of horse leg? Er…no thanks, I think I’d rather eat my own eyeballs first…