Dear Father Christmas

Dear Father Christmas,

Thankyou very much for all the wonderful gifts you brought me last year. I was particularly delighted to step on the scales in January to find I weighed the same as before I began inhaling festive chocolate. If you could repeat that trick for me this year, I would be most grateful.

I understand that I’m a little late with my letter to you this year. My tardiness, however, will not excuse an absence of glittery gifts beneath my Christmas tree. You are Father Christmas and Father Christmas is magic so none of your excuses about how the elves couldn’t make it in time, ok?

Once again I have been very good this year. I have reached things from high shelves for old people in the supermarket, I did my best to convert the Jehovah’s witnesses and I have only killed one squirrel.
When I have found it difficult to be nice, I have endeavoured to remove myself from the situation rather than tell people what I think. If this means not answering the telephone on a Sunday then so be it. In an extra effort to be nice, I even wrote a thank you letter to Cos when she sent me a necklace for my birthday. She is holding my Christmas present to ransom (or, more likely, she has not got me anything) until she comes over to visit us.

This year I would like Cos to stop buying me any presents at all. They are always cheap and nasty and hideously inappropriate. She didn’t bother to get me anything for the first 27 years of my life, it’s far to late to buy my affections now – although if she is asking you to help her buy my affections let the record show I may consider renting them in return for a 50mm Carl Zeiss Lens.
I would also like Strider to cop on. While I am pleased with all her work undermining the Welsh government from within, it would make Mammy very happy if Strider was able to think of people who are not herself a little more; particularly with regards to the state of her bathroom floor and how other people might feel when they go in there and see it. Let’s just say it’s a good job it’s the room with the toilet in it.

For a long time I have wondered if I want another cat. My old one doesn’t do much these days on account of having been dead for three and a half months. I know I eventually will get another one because otherwise my life plan of dying a crazy old cat lady will go unfulfilled, but every time I think of getting a new one it makes me cry.
With this in mind, I instead request an Alpaca. They are a bit like cats but you shear them and instead of chasing things and killing them, they protect them from all harm. They also do not wake you up in the middle of the night to let you know they still exist. If you bring me an alpaca, I promise to brush it and shine its hoofs and give it vitamin D supplements and name it Genghis. It will also be helpful should Mammy get some chickens.

Please be careful in the icy snow and driving winds. Alpacas get air sick very easily.

Lots of Love

Theo (Age 28)

Traditions

Ah, Christmas! How you do sneak up on a girl! One minute I am slapping the sun cream on and the next your festive twinkle has overtaken me.

This year, for a change, I am feeling rather organised. The cake managed to get made – this time without He Who Knows Everything braining himself on the garden furniture – and it smells rather lovely. When I say lovely, what I actually mean is Alcoholic. I have yet to perfect the trick of unwrapping it without needing to take a staggered step backwards at the fumes. Naked flames are banned for at least half an hour afterwards to let the vapours dispel.

What is particularly nice about Christmas is the rhythm of it. It pretty much follows the same pattern each year. Of course, nothing stays the same forever, but Christmas seems to assimilate new events into itself so they are swiftly lined up alongside the more traditional occupations of eating biscuits for breakfast and making fun of the Round Robin letters.

The newest tradition to enter into the Christmas pantheon of my household is for the hall ceiling to end up on the hall floor.

Regular readers may remember last years fiasco in which it was decided to decorate the hall, stairs and landing in the weeks preceding Christmas and in which a crowbar was taken to the hall ceiling for complicated reasons involving bureaucracy and which led to a longer than usual To Do list due to the necessity of rebuilding said ceiling before the builders holiday kicked in.
Happily, all the jobs got finished and a mostly merry Christmas was had by mostly everybody and we swore we would never undertake such a foolish enterprise so close to Christmas ever again. Then again, we had said that in previous years following a last minute decision to move house on the 23rd of December. We had found the experience to be a trifle incompatible with a peaceful holiday season.

This year, the hall ceiling has decided it wants to be included in the traditional festivities. Upon our return from Cardiff, we found it had colluded with the hot water tank and was sporting some new watermark tattoos and a pool of liquid beneath it.
Naturally, when He Who Knows Everything told me about this latest development, I sprang instantly into action.
“I shouldn’t worry about it.” I said. “It’s been doing that for the last week in our absence. It will have found equilibrium by morning. If that equilibrium is on the floor then I am good with it.”
HWKE considered my philosophy for a moment before agreeing and retiring to bed.

In more ordinary circumstances, I would doubtless have taken up anxious residence beneath the watery bulge, but these were no ordinary circumstances. Our ferry had been delayed for several hours while the heroic Captain Gerard donned his wetsuit to remove some wire from the propeller. By the time we staggered in through the front door, it was a full twelve hours after we had set out from Cardiff. The gallant captain had arranged a free carvery dinner for us, but all of that meat and gravy served only to make us full and less willing to do some midnight plumbing. If I came down in the morning to find my ceiling on the floor, I would place the blame squarely on the captain and his garlic roast potatoes.

In the end, the ceiling remained where it was. He Who Knows Everything got his spanners out and declared the fault to lie in some loose joints which had begun to leak in earnest after the lack of hot water flowing through them caused them to contract. He spent several days tightening them up and looking with puzzlement at the ceiling which still seemed to be leaking.
Eventually, he found the correct joint. He claims to have tightened it up and is busy with a roller and a spray restoring the ceiling to its original whiteness.

In other news: We have been debating about what size turkey to order for Christmas. Usually I request one as big as my head (because Christmas is the only time of year in which you get the chance to eat something the size of your head) but this year a slightly smaller one is being requested. Partly this is because Strider has declared she will return to Cardiff on the twenty seventh but mainly it is because of the absence of The Cat.
The Cat was always very keen on turkey. So keen in fact that one year, HWKE came into the kitchen to find she had managed to jump a six foot gap onto the kitchen counter top and was sitting next to a fang marked turkey with an innocent expression.
I’m really going to miss that kind of thing this year.

In Which He Who Knows Everything Learns Where Not To Park His Car

Depending on the amount of entertainment your life is filled with, you may not have noticed my recent absence. If you did not then I salute you heartily.
In a pleasant deviation from the usual, there were a number of reasons for the gap in recent blog entries. The first is that I was being quite lazy. I am often lazy. Luckily, my lazyness can be cunningly disguised through doing work and pretending to the world around me that it is the work I am supposed to be working on rather than the other work I have available to me. So it is that I am usually doing something but rarely what it is I am supposed to be doing. The number of blog entries I make are directly proportional to the urgency of the other things I have to get done.
The second is that it had been quite cold. Normally this wouldn’t prove much of an impediment to computer use but when it’s dark and the wind is howling around the chimney, the lure of the stove becomes rather too much of an evening.
The third is that we have all been Away.

As we are exciting folk, Mammy, He Who Knows Everything and I went to visit Strider in Cardiff. She was so thrilled at the prospect of our clogging up her sitting room and using her stuff all day while she was out at work subverting the Welsh Government from within, she even vacuumed. However, as this is Strider we are talking about, she was required to explain that while she had vacuumed, her vacuum seemed to be broken and that the more she vacuumed the dirtier the floor got.
The last time this happened, it was because she had vacuumed up three socks and not noticed. The time before it was because she didn’t know how to empty the dust from the container. She was swift to assure me this was not the cause this time around with, it must be said, more pride than the usual 31 year old displays at knowing how to clear fluff from a filter. After half an hour I’d removed four, three inch blockages from the various tubes of her cleaner and given her strict instructions not to let it happen again.

I have always maintained that Cardiff is one of the most underrated places in the UK. It is large enough to have really good shopping (including the brand new John Lewis which is the largest one outside London) but not so large you spend hours driving in and out of it like Manchester or Birmingham. The Millennium Stadium is one of the finest sporting grounds in the whole of the UK and because it is in the city centre, visitors get a chance to see Cardiff properly rather than being whisked from their park and ride to some outlying suburb.
What is also nice about Cardiff is that, to me at least, it always felt like a very safe city. I lived in Adamstown in a house I painted purple. On the insurance forms this was rated as the most crime ridden place in the city (Along with Roath, Splott and Cathays) but even so, it was only a level three insurance band. Strider studied in Manchester and lived in an area where it was cheaper to replace everything she owned than to buy insurance for it.
When I lived in Cardiff, I never felt afraid to be a lone female walking at night. That said, like any city it is important to keep your wits about you. There are drug problems and plenty of petty crime associated with them. It is also worth ensuring you know when Cardiff are playing Millwall and make a note to stay well away from anywhere any of the fans might end up but other than that (and the Llandaff flasher), I always found it to be really safe.

It is somewhat ironic then that Strider, who lives in a slightly better area than I did, has experienced much crime and annoyance during her time in the city. Since she moved to a first floor flat, she has been less troubled by young people stealing her laptop from through her bedroom window but she is always full of tales of the local kids causing a nuisance.
As we drank our welcoming cup of tea, she filled us in on their recent activities. Among other things, they had recently taken up breaking into cars and she advised us not to leave anything in ours.

About an hour later, a car alarm went off. I turned to HWKE.
“Isn’t that your car alarm?” I asked. I am finely tuned to the nuances of his car alarm. Until he was able to persuade the man at the garage to disconnect it, it had the habit of going off when the temperature on the dashboard reached 25 degrees. This caused much embarrassment in a variety of places, particularly when he couldn’t work out how to turn it off and Mammy and I stood at a distance shouting things which suggested to passers-by that he wasn’t the legal owner of the vehicle.
For a moment he looked uncertain. Then he shrugged and ate the plate of food which had been placed before him. Only when he was full of dinner did he go to check on his car.

Some time later he came back and asked Strider for some duck tape, some bin bags and a phone call to the Rozzers. Yoofs had broken his passenger window. They had also smashed the windows of four other cars parked on the street but not, I noticed, the one belonging to the Mazda coupe.
Strider sighed and rang the old bill. I begged her to ask them if they were going to catch the crims and lock them up in her community, but she failed to understand the reference.

What was so annoying about the whole thing was the wonton destruction of it. I wouldn’t have minded if they’d broken the window to steal something – HWKE certainly wouldn’t have minded if they’d stolen the whole car because bits fall off whenever he drives it further than 30 miles so he’s keen for a new one - breaking the window because they can is just amateurish.

The Rozzers came. They took HWKE’s name. They told us some bloke had seen the gang doing it and chased them in his car. It was all most dull.

So, Cardiff. Great City. Just not for parking your car in.

Tell me Everything You Know About Squirrels

For some reason, companies have got it into their heads that in order to find the best candidate to fill a position, rather than asking questions pertinent to the job on offer, it is better to ask questions which make no sense whatsoever. Thus it is that should you wish to get a job at Google (or Gwgl as I’m now calling it in the hope it will catch on and we’ll get a renaming on St David’s Day), you will need to answer such brainteasers as “How much would you charge to wash all of the windows in Seattle?” and “Why are manhole covers round?” For the record, my answers would have been “I charge by the hour” and “So they’ll fit in the manholes, obviously.”
Strider, who is currently decimating the Welsh government with her Probably-really-is-Swinflu-this-time-itus, tells me of a job interview she’s heard of in which the candidates’ chair is set to the kind of ridiculous angle reminiscent of a gynaecological exam and the successful candidate is whichever one puts the chair right without asking or making a fuss about it.

The original purveyors of stupid questions to determine worth were, of course, the Oxbridge Universities and a favourite of theirs, or so I’ve heard, is to lean forward and ask the nervous candidate to tell them everything they know about squirrels.
It is then, rather a shame I am not going to be experiencing any Oxbridge interviews as I could tell them quite a lot.

Squirrels are evil. Really evil. You have only to look at their fluffy, innocent tails to know you are staring at the backside of the most evil creature to stalk the realms of this earth. Even those red ones with the fluffy ears that everybody thinks are endangered are evil. The red squirrels live on the Isle of Wight for heavens sake; I’ve been to the Isle of Wight and I can confirm that nobody who wasn’t plotting something would bother to live there. You know who lives on the Isle of Wight? David Icke, that’s who.

To begin with, there were a pair of squirrels who would come and eat the bread from the bird table. They were quite sweet. One of them was clearly the Mammy squirrel because the other one would repeatedly attempt to suckle from her only to receive discouragement in the form of a swift blow to the head, often with the largest piece of bread Mammy squirrel had to hand.

Earlier this year, for reasons we were never able to work out, they took to appearing at the bird table and carrying away the quartered apples we had left out for the birds. Why we felt birds would enjoy apples, I’m not sure of either. In any case, it didn’t matter because the squirrels seemed to need them for something so the birds never got a look in. I theorised they were building a squirrel fortress deep in the woodland so they had somewhere proper to sit and plan their nefarious squirrel deeds. Either that or they have a cider press.
When we had run out of apples, the squirrels took to climbing onto the tubes of bird nuts and eating them instead. We were getting through a cylinder of nuts every couple of days. The problem became exacerbated by the Coal Tits who worked out they could extract whole peanuts through the holes left by the squirrels and who would fly off into the woodland with a peanut the size of their head.
The theory that the squirrels were extorting nuts with menaces was briefly floated but was swiftly discounted. The Coal Tits have struck a deal with the Chaffinches to form a gang large enough to take on the Greenfinches. Not even the squirrels are stupid enough to mess with the Chaffinch-Tit Mafioso.

Now that it is wintertime in this hemisphere, we have begun putting the nuts back out again and this has led to a return of the squirrels, only this time there are three of them. Or at least, there were three of them.
We tried knocking on the window to make them go away. This failed. We took to opening the door and clapping our hands loudly. This worked for a time until the squirrels decided they could safely ignore us. We took to walking outside with a menacing expression on our faces, a dangerous task given the wetness of the decking, which only worked for as long as it took the squirrels to realise we were hippies who weren’t going to do anything terrible to them. Now they just look at us carefully to see if we have any quartered apples for the woodland squirrel overlord.
Eventually, I decided the best way to get rid of the squirrels was to make a really, really loud noise. So I got a wooden spoon and a saucepan. This worked. This worked so well in fact, that one of the squirrels accelerated up the corner of my two story house until he reached the roof. He then fell back down onto the decking, regarded me and my pan with a surprised expression and ran across the lawn to the safety of the trees. I haven’t seen him since and feel massively guilty in case he’s lying in a pool of rotting apples somewhere in the forest.

The other two, meanwhile, continue to devour the nuts with impunity. They have also taken to looking through the kitchen windows at me in case I want to go outside and give them some more. When I tap a finger on the window to make them go away, they hopefully sniff at it through the glass in case there is a peanut attached.

In an effort to foil them, we hung the tube of nuts from the washing line where the bird would be able to reach it, but the squirrels would not.
To begin with, it worked very well and had the added bonus of providing He Who Knows Everything and I with squirrel based entertainment as we laughed at the fluffy wretches’ obvious confusion. For the best part of two hours they clambered over everything within a ten metre radius of the elusive nuts until finally managing the work out they could perform a death defying leap from the topmost branches of the bay tree and grab the nut tube on their way past. As I shouted to them through the window, if they could learn to put that much effort into finding a natural food source, everybody would be much happier and relaxed.
To foil further death defying leaps, we moved the nuts further along the line away from the tree until Mammy realised they were climbing all over her contorted hazel and breaking it, so we brought the nuts inside until a solution could be found.

I’m told that coating the nuts in chilli powder will prove a formidable deterrent which won’t bother the birds but I have to confess, I’m a little reluctant to try it. I already have one of their number on my conscience, I don’t want to be responsible for the other two staggering across the lawn looking as though they’ve been maced.
I’m also told that creating a squirrel feeder filled with delicious peanut butter and raisins will keep them away from the bird feeders. I’m not keen on this either. I’ve already had one of the little blighters climb in through an open window scouting for the missing bird feeder and leaving muddy squirrel footprints all over my hall and sunroom; can you imagine the siege I’d be under if I started giving them something they really enjoyed?

Pumpkin A-Go-Go

Although I may have complained at length about the children who saw fit to disturb my isolation the other night, this does not mean I am totally immune to the pleasures of the faux holiday that is Halloween. I do quite like creating a three sided pumpkin masterpiece for my windowsill.
I confess, I did cheat rather. The templates I have appropriated from http://www.familyfun.com (the pirate) http://www.jamminpumpkins.com (the gravedigger) and http://www.scissorcraft.com (A Gingerbread my and My Neighbour Totoro?). Thanks to the people across the interwebs who worked hard and created these free designs so I didn’t have to.

Pirate Pumkin copy

Pirate Pumkin copy from http://theohrm.vox.com/

Pumpkin Gravedigger copy

Pumpkin Gravedigger copy from http://theohrm.vox.com/

Gingerbread Pumpkin copy

Gingerbread Pumpkin copy from http://theohrm.vox.com/

Things that go *Ding-Dong* in the Early Evening Time

I am not, I will admit, a great one for Halloween. The pleasures of it elude me somewhat. For a start there is too much effort involved – first you need to find an outfit which is even worse than finding a blog template because your poor choice of dress will haunt you via friends’ photographs for the rest of eternity. What seemed like an ironic and droll Boney M tribute seems less so in the cold light of 30 years hence. I’m told we’re all going to live to be 120 years old from now on so it’s worth bearing in mind how much longer those youthful misdemeanours are now going to haunt you.

I’m also not keen on having to interact with other peoples’ children. Even with the ones I can personally manage to place a name to, social discourse is stilted and awkward. I’m always terrified I will say something hideously inappropriate which will scar them for life or, worse, be recounted by their Mammy to the other Mammys around the school gate who will laugh at me. I don’t know the Mammys around the school gate but this is a small community. I live in fear of the day a story is recounted to me by somebody I vaguely know and it turns out to be about me.

The main trouble is that I can’t help but feel this whole Halloween thing has become just another form of one-upmanship. A way for parents to show off to other parents that their child can have the best and most expensive costume. What ever happened to donning a couple of rolls of bandages and going as the Mummy?
I went into Tesco at the beginning of October only to find my way totally blocked by a Mammyjam in the seasonal aisle. There must have been twenty Mammys (and a couple of Daddys, equality fans), each with a trolley, all gushing over the nylon outfits newly made available that week. Mammys entering the store were parking their trolleys by the newspapers and making their way to the front of the crush on foot. It was utter chaos. By the time Halloween rolled around four weeks later, the entire collection was sold out.

In my youth, we didn’t do much for Halloween. It was always secondary to bonfire night. When we did, not a single one of my contemporaries would have bought an outfit to wear for Trick or Treating. Sure, you might have bought a moulded plastic witch’s hat or a mask or something to make it a bit clearer what you had come as, but the main crux of the costume would always be something fashioned at home from whatever you could raid from the dustbin or your Mammy’s wardrobe (this was the 80’s, there was a lot to choose from).
Kids today just don’t make stuff anymore. I’m not sure they know how. Even the lego kits of today have lost their way. In my youth I had about a kilogram of the stuff, all proper individual pieces that could be fitted together one of a hundred different ways. These days they are all pre-moulded pieces designed to make one thing only. Rubbish.
Can you imagine trying to persuade your average 8 year old that a really fun way to spend the afternoon is with a Pritt Stick, a pair of scissors and a piece of cardboard building a replica of the Globe Theatre or Darwin’s Beagle? Let alone garnering any enthusiasm for a carefully constructed Blue Peter Tracey Island model? They’d only complain it smelled of yoghurt. It’s little wonder they all turn out in logoed polyester rather than papier-mâché.

Over here, I was rather glad that I would not need to lay in a supply of candies for the little oiks of the neighbourhood as I did when I lived in Cardiff. When I say that I live in a field, I mean that literally. The nearest house is a good quarter of a mile away. Beyond that, it’s another quarter to the next one. If I want to go anywhere at all, it does have to be by car.
As children can’t drive, I assumed I would be safe from them. I was wrong.

At the risk of sounding like Concerned of Tunbridge Wells, what kind of person allows their children to harass strangers for sugar?
I saw the brake lights flash and moments later was greeted with a wild banging on my door by a number of breathless children demanding sustenance. They were each clutching a carrier bag and were clearly making an opportunistic tour of the neighbourhood.
It was only later that I realised that I did vaguely know them. They were the children of the man who seeded my lawn over 18 months ago. I haven’t seen him since I paid him and I haven’t seen his kids since they mysteriously pitched up at my door in an identical situation 12 months previously. On that occasion, Mammy gave them some rotten apples from her fruit trees (she thought they were fresh ones) and I gave them some leftover Harribo I had laid in for the children of my friend in the hope that plying her kids with e-numbers would discourage her from bringing them to see me.

Mammy tells me I am a grouch. She is right, of course, yet I’m still put out that I have to put up with these brats because their parent lacks the will, or the possibly just the manners, to tell their offspring that it’s not okay to call on people you don’t really know, who don’t have any pumpkins out the front, who haven’t seen you since you demanded additives this time last year and to whom you are as welcome as a soloist performing Silent Night in a Synagogue.

Anyway. Mammy has suggested that next year we put some Garda Crime Scene – Do Not Cross tape across the gateposts to try and keep them out. I’m not convinced it will work but I’m happy to give it a try. Leaving all the lights on will probably make it look more convincing.

If you have had your kids out trick or treating, it would be really nice if you could be a little more circumspect about where you take them. Calling on the people you don’t know is irritating and, to be honest, a little rude. Kids today need to learn you don’t get sweets for mere existence. It’s up to you to teach them.

The New Sofa and the Gap where it No Longer is

It is not an easy task to buy something in Ireland. In other countries all you need to do is proffer the correct amount of the local currency and remember to carry your goods away with you. In Ireland, the first stage of any transaction involves the sales person trying to talk you out of buying whatever it is you are trying to purchase.

When He Who Knows Everything bought some motor oil, the lady at the garage did her best to convince him to get the low quality stuff because it was cheaper. The bloke at the plumbers’ merchant tried to get me to “save” €60 by buying a less powerful shower pump. He remained unable to accept my certainty regarding the amounts of kilowatts I need in the morning. Even now I expect he thinks of me from time to time, regretting he didn’t try that little bit harder to dissuade me.

Buy something costing more than several hundred euro and it becomes an entirely different story. For a start, anything costing more than several hundred euro will have had several hundred more euro added on to the price to reassure you that you must be very special indeed to be able to afford such a piece of tat. The price of furniture, in particular, is outrageous.
There is also no prospect of bargaining. In the UK, if you are spending a large amount of money, there is usually some room for negotiation either in price or benefit terms. In Ireland, asking what can be done on the price invites the type of look usually reserved for what you scrape off your shoes.
After much thought, I have come to the conclusion it is to do with self esteem. The Irish enjoy paying a premium for badly made, veneered chipboard furniture because it shows everybody else that they are rich enough to afford it. Here I am regarded as scum because I stop about covered in mud and wearing a Barbour wax jacket which has belonged to three people previous to myself; were I in the UK it would be recognised for the badge of distinction it is.

Anyway. Some time ago it was decided to remove the fireplace in the sitting room on account of how, whenever the wind had a direction, plumes of smoke would fountain into the room and cover everything in soot. A stove was duly chosen and a crowbar taken to the existing marble edifice. Apart from a slightly sticky moment during the dismantlement when HWKE and I realised what we had thought to be a mantelpiece in three parts was, in fact, a mantelpiece in four parts and the noise we were hearing was the separation of silicon prior to the fourth part falling onto our toes, it went very well. The new stove is great.
Now that the sofas were no longer consigned to a dusting of black most evenings, or to getting covered in Cat hair, it was decided it might be nice to get some new ones and redecorate the whole room. What we failed to realise was quite how high the premium on a sofa bought in Ireland was.

I don’t mind paying a lot of money for furniture, but if I’m paying a thousand euro for a three seat sofa, I expect the sofa to be worth that amount. Over here, they just aren’t.

After much debate, Mammy and I chose a sofa from a local shop and arranged for it to be delivered at the distant point in the future when the stove had been installed. Once the stove was installed, the sofa was delivered.
Helping the bloke to carry it in (he didn’t have a mate with him) I didn’t notice anything wrong and once he had gone, I got back to whatever triviality I was occupied with. It was only later when I walked through the hall that I noticed it; the smell.
It was dusty and damp smelling. It was an old people smell. It pervaded the whole of the downstairs. It was not good.

Valuing fairness, we gave it 24 hours to dissipate, but it got worse. We rang the shop who spoke to the man in charge of these things. He told us it was the smell of the fireproof spray the manufacturers put on it and instructed us to give it a week in the presence of baking soda. I had always understood it was required to use fireproof fabrics rather that applying a spray afterwards but who am I to doubt the word of the Warehouse Manager?
While the smell did get better, whenever the fabric became warm it could be smelled in the room. For a long time we debated because they were very comfy, but eventually we called the shop and requested that they be taken away again.

It’s hugely annoying and incredibly typical of the shopping experience in Ireland. These sofas were made in China, shipped over and stored in the warehouse for who knows how long. Instead of being properly upholstered, the fabric covering was affixed with Velcro. For this, in the sale I might add, I was expected to pay fifteen hundred euro for a three and a two seater sofa. This was a good deal.
In the UK, you can go in a shop, order a sofa in a size and fabric of your choice and have it delivered direct to your home from factory in which it was made in six to eight weeks. The sofas are made in the UK yet they don’t cost anything like the amount the sofas cost here. It’s ridiculous.

It’s no wonder the Irish economy is in its current crisis. For years, the Irish have delighted in spending more than a product’s worth – the traders have yet to cop on that those times have passed.
I like to spend my money in Ireland and with local businesses if I can but to be honest, I don’t really want to give my money to a company who remain unable to provide good service, reliable products and a competitive pricing structure.
Sorry Ireland, I’ll be sticking with what I’ve got until I can import from the UK.

Welcome To The Blog

After months of attempting to make a decision on this matter, I have finally given the blog a cosmetic overhaul and applied a shiny new template to it. If you are looking at your screen now, you will be able to see it. Nice, eh?

The main reason it has taken such a long time to knuckle down and get this done was due to my innate indecisiveness. Some days I can be rendered unable to decide if I want a cup of tea or not; choosing a blog template from the millions available on the interweb was always going to take some time.

Of course, it was never as simple as going out and choosing a template, if such a thing can be said to be simple. I have a long list of things I demand from a template I am receiving for free. Firstly, it was vital that the new design represented the philosophy of the blog through colour, layout and number of columns.
Therein lay the first hurdle.

A hundred years ago or more, when I created this blog, I gave much thought to the title. I didn’t have any particular theme I wanted to write about, I just wanted to give a faintly humorous account of whatever I was doing or thinking about that day. Secretly, I wanted it to read like a columnist in the G2 section of the Guardian.
So I gave it the name you see at the top: A Trivial Blog For Serious People. It has served me well. It perfectly encapsulates what the blog is about. It is a sly dig in the ribs to those who get the reference but doesn’t alienate those who don’t - it is a play on the subtitle of Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Ernest.
That, really, is how I wanted to blog to be. I wanted people to be able to read it and follow it without any prior knowledge, but I also wanted to get in layers and references that others would enjoy. I don’t mind that I am probably the only person here who notices a Noel Coward reference. One day, somebody who is not me will notice when I do that. I am sure of it.

Something I didn’t consider when I came up with the title was whether or not it would fit in the header space of a blog template.

The second thing I felt necessary for the blog was space for the explanatory introduction. One of the great challenges in communicating through text is ensuring people understand when your tongue is in your cheek. Anybody arriving here blind might take a single look at the title and assume there to be gravity where I have not sought to have any. Clearly either the explanatory note, in a revised form, needed to stay or the template would need to have the necessary whimsy.

Even with a vague idea of my requirements, it was hard to find something suitable. I must have looked at well over a thousand and while I found plenty I liked, it was difficult to find one which was right. The biggest problem I had was finding one which was sufficiently gender neutral. There are a lot of really pink ones out there.
For a while, the way forward seemed to lie in one of the “Messy Desk” templates. I have a messy desk. At the moment it contains binoculars, the instruction leaflet for my new angle grinder, a DVD of Gregory’s Girl, a leprechaun pen which doubles as a bubble blower and a pot of Vanish Oxi Action Multi. Unfortunately, as many of the “Messy Desk” templates contain more conventional things like iphones and notepaper with coffee rings, I didn’t really feel they were suitable.
Eventually, I did find one I liked. Mainly I liked it because it was called “Hello Sailor”. It had a very nice illustration of a red haired young lady showing rather too much leg. It could have been an illustration of me if I had a bottle of hair dye and laid off the cake for a few years. For a while I thought that would be the one I would go for but eventually decided against it. Not quite what I wanted, you see. I prefer to show off cleavage in public.

So I came back to it, whittled my choice down to a mere 14 and tried them all out until I decided on this one. It’s clean and professional and provides links to the forthcoming About, Contact and FAQ pages (I’ll let you know when I get that one up).
I got this template from http://www.btemplates.com although it is available from a number of websites. Btemplates seems to have the most comprehensive list of what is out there.

There’s some tweaking to do with widgets and links but for now, Welcome to the New Layout.

The Racism Problem

It is a thankless task to be the BBC. You provide people with a myriad of television, radio and website goodness and all they can do is complain about the price of the licence fee and offer statistics regarding how many repeats you show.

I, for one, love the BBC. If the BBC were in renal failure, I would happily offer them my kidney. Television is an expensive medium and I am happy for auntie to show endless repeats at unsociable and daytime hours rather than creating something original for eleven o’clock on a Wednesday morning when I’m not watching the telly.
It is all very well for people to draw up numbers and claim that however much of the output are repeats; I spend less than 15% of my week in front of the telly – less than 5% actually watching something properly. The Beeb could announce a suspension of programming between the hours of eleven pm and seven pm the following day and I probably wouldn’t even notice. If you feel the need to complain that a third of the programs shown across the four channels are repeats, maybe you should address whatever issue it is which keeps you in front of your television for 66% of your week instead.

The main trouble the BBC has is that because it is paid for by the public, they tend to like input on the BBC decision making process.
Many complain about the yearly £142 compulsory fee. It may sound rather steep but when it is considered what the BBC provides for this amount, it is very reasonable. In Ireland the fee is €160 (about £150) and for that we receive 2 channels (both with adverts), three radio stations (one of which is in Gaelic, another of which I prefer to refer to as Dorsexburyshire FM) and a rubbish website. The only things they show on the telly are films made in the last 10 years and CSI. When I first moved over here, Judging Amy was the prime time offering. They still roll out Father Ted repeats every few months and the star of that has been dead a decade. I only had RTE for a fortnight and it was the closest to brain death I have ever been.

Over the last week, the main complaint has been double standards over a racist comment made by Anton Du Beke. He is a professional ballroom dancer and partner to one of the celebrities on the current series of Strictly Come Dancing (known in America as Dancing with the Stars, it basically takes people you’ve vaguely heard of and requires them to do ballroom dancing before getting praised/insulted by people who know about that sort of thing). You see, earlier in the year, the BBC sacked Carol “Daughter of Margaret” Thatcher for referring to a tennis player as looking like a golliwog. People are wondering why Du Beke is allowed to stay after telling his dancing partner, Laila Rouass, she looked like a “Paki” following a spray tan. Ms Rouass is of Indian and Moroccan descent. Both incidents happened off camera.

The trouble with racism is that sometimes we don’t realise we are being racist. I remember golliwogs from my childhood; you collected the tokens on the side of the jam pot and you could send off for a badge. It was only when I was older that I learned the cultural origins of the figure. It’s not a connection that ever occurs to me.
However, Ms Thatcher referring to somebody as a golliwog was intended. She was aware of the term and, having had it pointed out to her, defended her use of it claiming that she didn’t mean any harm by it.
Mr Du Beke, by contrast, has apologised to anybody who stands still long enough to listen. He appreciates that it is not okay to use such terms and you don’t get the feeling he is complaining behind closed doors about the outcry. Ms Rouass fully accepted his apology and is happy to continue working with him. At best, it was an unfunny joke which should never have been made.

I think we need to begin thinking more about the language we use. It’s easy to decry political correctness gone mad but sometimes, we do need think about how we use a language and what we say with it.
I’m sure nobody here would make bad taste jokes about Pakistanis, Indians, Black people or whoever. I’m also sure that the world is filled with people who are not racist people but who would think nothing of leaving me a message to the effect of “You can’t help that you’re Welsh,” yet some have. Would that sentence still be okay if you inserted the word “Paki” into it?

As it happens, I don’t mind people saying such things to me. They are free to do so, just as I am free to consider them knobheads. I can’t help but find it a little objectionable that if I were to point out their racist attitude to them, they would fail to get my point and tell me I needed to get a sense of humour (as Bruce Forsyth told Talk Radio).
If having a sense of humour involves finding the punch lines of moronic seventies sitcoms amusing, I’d be glad not to have one. We need to remember that it doesn’t matter if there was no racist intent, it is how a comment is received that matters. We should never trivialise anybodies feelings on any matter.
Respect the people you are speaking with, whatever their race, whatever their circumstances.

So, to help people re-address their attitudes towards these things, I have helpfully designed a short exercise designed to help understand what can, and cannot be considered casually racist.

Before you speak, ask yourself this: If I said this to the Welsh Rugby team, would I get away with my kneecaps intact?

Scaring the religious

He Who Knows Everything recommends that you should never ask anybody a question you don’t already know the answer to. It helps to avoid the kind of situations which prevent him from drinking tea and playing with his dead relatives. So, when he asks Mammy what she wants for dinner, he only does so because he already knows that the answer is pasta. He doesn’t ask why she emptied coke all over the bath, sink and toilet because he already knows there is no answer he wants to hear.

The trouble with questions is that very often you think you know the answer only to find a crazy haired individual giving unexpected ones. So it was that the Jehovah’s Witnesses came to call.

Although a protestant atheist (the worst kind, surely), I am happy to oblige other people and their belief systems providing it doesn’t put me out. It’s the way my Mammy raised me. She taught me that when the religious people knock on the door, you should smile and accept the proffered pamphlet. In the UK the system worked marvellously; it took about a minute and everybody went away happy. Over here, they begin by asking if I have read the Bible and take a staggered step back when I tell them I have.
It’s very bizarre. Ireland is still a very religious country. Even people who don’t attend mass are keen for the kids to get confirmed. The majority of the schools are associated with one or other of the religious orders and you can see the girls’ uniforms were obviously designed by nuns. I can’t be the only person who has bothered to read the holy text but the reaction of the Jehovah’s Witnesses would suggest otherwise.

It began badly.
“Hello, I was here before…” He says, “I spoke to your… Mother?”
“Could have done.” I replied cheerfully.
“…Or… your… Grandmother?”
“Could have done.” I replied cheerfully.
“Oh. I’m Tom* and this is,” *pause and turns to silent companion* “I’m sorry, I don’t know your name,” *turns back to me* “Have you read the Bible?”
“Yes I have. I’ve also read Richard Dawkins. I agree with him that religion is a scientifically untenable belief system”
“Right. Well, you know science has found that lots of what is said in the Bible is true. The order of creation for instance.”
“Oh yes, I know. The Bible is fascinating as an anthropological document. So much of what is in there has clear parallels with other cultures. The flood myth exists in many mythologies. The Chinese goddess Guan Yin bears striking similarities to the Virgin Mary.”
“Oh?”
“I just find it difficult to accept any document which has been decided by committee as a holy writ.”
“Committee?”
“Well yes. The protestant Bible has different books to the Catholic bible. There are also many other gospels in existence which are not included in the official table of what is and is not the holy word of God. After all, it was only several hundred years after his death that Jesus was declared to be holy and divine.”
“I… don’t know about that.”
“There are also many discrepancies and contradictions within the text.”
“Ah! Lots of people say that but when you ask them what discrepancies they can’t tell you any.”
“Check Dawkins. He’s got a list. I lent my copy to Strider otherwise I’d get it now and show you.”
“The Prophets of the Bible are true though. They knew the earth was round long before we did. If you read the prophesies you’ll see the prophets could predict the future.”
“Like Derren Brown and the lottery?”
“No. Not like Derren Brown and the lottery. That was a trick.”
“It might not have been. Anyway, the problem with prophesies is they have a get out clause. Any which aren’t true are just not true yet.”
“Hmmm. Do you know about the kingdom of god?”
“If I remember correctly, the kingdom of god is what we create for ourselves. It is in our relationship with God. We each create our own kingdom of god. It is in the world around us and in the way we treat ourselves and other people.”

As it turns out, my hippy protestant Jerry Springer influenced definition of things was entirely wrong. The kingdom of God is involves judgement and flames.

I’ve never been entirely clear what the core beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are. My mental index card for them reads “Operates on a pyramid scheme. Believes in finite number of places in heaven therefore not really interested in converting you.” After some further dredging I can come up with “Doesn’t like blood transfusions”. Having had a nice chat to Tom and his unnamed friend, I’ve been away and found out that one of their principle beliefs is that the end time is approaching and that we are all living in the last days.

While I appreciate the warning, I’m not going to be taking his advice on this matter. As I told them, ultimately I’m not a person who can follow the rules laid down for me by somebody I don’t believe exists. Even if I did believe in their existence, I will always end up doing what I personally believe to be right. It’s who I am.

It seems rather unfair that Jehovah’s Witnesses think we critics are unable to point to any discrepancies in the Bible. After all, they knew they were coming and had a chance to revise for our conversation. I was concentrating on understanding the Lisbon Treaty. If I’d been given notice I would have prepared a crib sheet with all of the things I forgot to mention.
For instance: The genealogical line listed from David to Jesus has different names (and a different number of them). It also gets drawn to Joseph. I always understood the point was rather that Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ father.

To answer my queries, Tom very kindly left me a pamphlet entitled “How We Know The Bible Is True” which addresses this very issue of discrepancies and contradictions. Who Cain married is one of the perennial ones, as in the bible there are no people other than the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. It explains the problem thusly:
“Cain married his sister, or maybe a niece.”

Nice.


*Not his actual name. I can’t remember what his name actually was.

Look Into My Eyes

Any list of people I admire is, I admit, going to be an eclectic one. It will include such luminaries as Kit Williams (for be both interesting and brilliant), Kazuo Ishiguro (for being an outstanding and eminently readable writer) and Kirsty Allsopp (for making people cry). Even locally I find people upon whom to heap my admiration; Declan the Post knows the location of every house in the area and the name of the people within it. At first I assumed he had a piece of paper to remind him but if I drive past him, we’ve got into the habit of holding up the traffic so he can give me my post there and then. Mind you, I think he likes me because when I was putting the post box up, I put it so he could drive up next to it rather than having to get out of the van.

The person who heads up my personal list of “People who are that great I will offer them my kidney or firstborn child” is the immortal Derren Brown. Should you be foreign, as I know some of you insist on being, you will have no idea who I am talking about. You in particular should pay close attention as I don’t rule out asking questions later.

Derren Brown is usually described as a magician. He isn’t. He is a performer who uses magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship. Anybody can gain the necessary skills to do what he does although not many people would use those skills to rig a photo booth so it hypnotised an unsuspecting young man and then put him on a flight so that when he woke up he was in Morocco.
Derren Brown is an altogether marvellous bloke, a rather nifty painter and he once made me faint (although that wasn’t deliberate, I was watching his show and I’m a bit of a wuss sometimes).

His latest series, The Events, is half way through its four week run on Channel Four and has caused a veritable explosion of conspiracy theories in every corner of the interweb. For his debut show, Derren Brown correctly predicted the Wednesday night lottery draw.
Of course, the trouble is that, having predicted the lottery, Mr Brown promised to reveal his method assuring his audience that they would be able use it themselves to predict the numbers. Following his Friday night revelation on the matter, the interweb has opined that the method Mr Brown gave is a load of gubbins and doesn’t work. There is, rather perplexingly, much anger in many quarters.

One of the joys, and indeed the difficulties, of watching Derren Brown perform is that sometimes, the trick he tells you he is performing is not the trick at all. On a couple of occasions, it hasn’t even been a trick, merely accurate data presented in such a way as to play into your misconceptions; when he tossed a coin to get 10 heads in a row, for instance. It wasn’t a trick. It was the result of standing in front of a camera for nine hours tossing a coin until the required result was achieved.

So, on Wednesday night, rather than going to a marvellous party, Derren Brown broadcast himself watching the lottery draw, live, before turning his set of balls around to reveal (GASP!) the same six numbers as had just been drawn.
On Friday night, he revealed the mysterious Wisdom Of Crowds method of prediction. This was discovered, we were told, by a scientist at the turn of the century, who asked attendants at an agricultural fair to look at a cow and predict its weight. He totted up all of the answers and found that the mean average of them was the exact weight of the cow.
This, Derren Brown claimed, was how he predicted the lottery. Get 24 people, give them some team building exercises, then ask them to choose 6 numbers each and average the result.

As the interweb was quick to point out, this does not work. I’m very grateful the interweb did this. I was about to ring my 23 closest acquaintances and offer them a thrilling day in a field with some office furniture. Imagine how red my face would have been!
Personally, I have no idea if the Wisdom of Crowds is a real theory. It may well be. The most likely attendants of an agricultural fair are farmers. Farmers know how much a cow weighs. It’s not a massive discovery. If the scientist in question had repeated the trick at the Ideal Home show, then I might be impressed.

So. If the Wisdom Of Crowds isn’t real, how did Mr Brown predict the results? The simple answer is, he didn’t. You cannot predict the lottery. It is a random result with one of 14 million different combinations.

As Derren Brown is Bad, having delivered his Wisdom of Crowds spiel, he went on to tell everybody that he had certainly not rigged the result and that he certainly hadn’t done it with weighted balls, that there was nobody on the inside helping him, that he definitely hadn’t hypnotised the security guards to forget they had seen him make the switch with the real balls.

So, did he rig the draw? No. Of course not. For a start that would be an absolute legal minefield both for himself and Camelot (the company who run the lottery). It would also be a really rubbish trick.

In that case, how did he do it? A quick perusal of the ever so reliable interweb gives dozens of weary bloggers explaining that it was all down to a split screen. One enterprising young man has created a Youtube video, complete with fake camera shake for added authenticity. Somebody else insists that if you squint really hard, the ball furthest on the left appears to grow by a millimeter where the assistant didn’t replace it properly after writing the numbers on the balls.
In my opinion, this is not the answer either. Sure, it’s certainly possible to do it this way but really, why would you? As the enterprising young man has shown, anybody can do it that way. Name me one trick, by anybody at all, which rests on the edit suite.
That odd program with the misogynistic voice over claims there are some tricks which are done with a crafty camera angle (the Bentley into a Porsche trick) but many of the methods shown on that program are not the methods used by the big name performers. Paul Daniels never used a camera angle in his life. The lovely Debbie McGee would never have stood for it. David Copperfield could easily have used the edit suite to vanish Lady Liberty or escape from Alcatraz but he didn’t. At least I hope he didn’t. My childhood memories will be ruined if I ever find out he lied to me on this matter.

So, if it wasn’t rigged, “The Wisdom of Crowds”, or a split screen edit, what was it? Well, I don’t know. I’m not Derren Brown.
What I do know is that Derren Brown is a great challenger of wooly thinking. He made people think it was possible to predict the lottery, this is why there are so many angry and disappointed bloggers and commentators at work. What he illustrated is that even when we know something to be fundamentally true, we are genuinely prepared to believe the system can be beaten.
Personally speaking, I wonder if the trick isn’t anything to do with the lottery. The theme of the first show was, after all, predictability in human behavior. The theme of the second show (in which he promised to stick us all to our sofas, bless him) was suggestibility and perception. Both were structured around what we believe, how we can be made to believe it and the effect it then has.

I’m certain Derren Brown did not predict the lottery in advance. This is not possible to do, even by somebody as debonair as him.
I’m fairly certain it wasn’t done with a split screen. While it could be done that way, I don’t give much credence to the “growing ball”, I feel it would be a very risky way of doing it (one wrong move from the camera man and the trick is exposed). Also, how do you ensure that the pictures overlap correctly when you fade out the split screen? Certainly possible to do but sounds rather complicated to me.
I am totally certain the draw wasn’t rigged. As I said above, aside from anything else, it would be a legal minefield for everybody involved.
Sleight of hand to replace the balls? I don’t see an opportunity for that to happen. Laser pens? Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility?
There is talk on the interweb of a film shown to the audience which discounts the split screen theory. It didn’t make it onto the show. Maybe it is being preserved for a later edition and for that reason, I shall say no more about it here.

I have no idea how Derren Brown appeared to predict the lottery but nevertheless, it was a great trick.

Theo Gets On After Depressing Events

As might have been expected, since the death of my cat, I have been rather depressed. There is a hole in my life. As she was a rather demanding creature, that hole is quite large.
Even now, almost two weeks later, odd things make me well up. When I had a piece of steak for dinner, there was too much meat because I didn’t have to slice the end off and give it to the cat. The same thing happened with the roast chicken. All of a sudden I can have chicken sandwiches for lunch because there is no mobile grey shadow standing ready to hoover up the dark meat. I’ve never wept over a surplus of meat before.

I no longer have to drug her before I go to bed. When I come down in the morning, I can immediately make a cup of tea because I don’t have to feed and let her out for her morning ablutions. I can sit on the sofa to eat mackerel pate because there won’t be a sneaky paw attempting to steal toast from my plate. If I have a newspaper on the table before me, I no longer have to try and read around the sprawling mass of fur which has decided that is the only place in the entire house it wants to sit. To be honest, I feel like a bad breakup song.

It does get easier though. For the first couple of days it was hard. The Sunday she died especially. It was always going to feel like a long day and that we were up at six didn’t help. Neither did the unending rain which confined us indoors and instilled claustrophobia.
Monday was much the same. More rain. More claustrophobia. This time, though, there was the added pressure of practical concerns - How do you dig a grave in the rain swollen swamp that is my lawn? Although cold for the time of year, the time of year was nevertheless August and we were keen to get on for realistic motives as well as psychological.
As it turned out, although my lawn is a rain swollen swamp, an inch below the surface and it is no wetter than the clay you use to make pots with so that was good.

He Who Knows Everything built her a coffin. I’d already wrapped her in a shroud - an old bath towel - and we put in all of the collars we’d bought from Accessorize over the years, along with her comb just in case when the resurrection happens there happens to be a door code.
I anticipate that she is going to cause a heck of a lot of confusion for the archaeologists of the future. Somebody, somewhere, will one day earn a doctorate writing about the cult of Bast prevalent in County Wexford after the turn of the millennium. I am certain of it.

Personally speaking, I would have preferred not to bury her. I’m not used to it. Every family member I know who has died has been cremated. When Mammy and HWKE go, they are getting the same treatment (although I believe my actual words on the subject were “If you think I’m wasting my inheritance on a plot, coffin and headstone let alone visiting it every year with a big wreath, you’ve got another thing coming!”).
Having her buried makes it feel… permanent. When I leave this house, I’ll be leaving her behind and I won’t be able to come back. On the Wednesday, I was driving to Wexford in even more rain and weeping slightly at the thought of leaving my precious beastie in the cold earth in that kind of weather even though logically, I know better than to think like that because it isn’t true. Anyway, she had a nice warm towel to snuggle up in.

The trouble with bereavement is you run into it unexpectedly. So much of it gets you in the first few days as you try and get on with a normal routine. It’s the first time you do something you would have included your lost one in. The first time I went to bed and didn’t have a cat to drug was a punch. The first vacuum was hard because I got the clothes brush out to clean the sofas properly free of cat hair so now they look properly clean. I’d forgotten they were beige. When Strider was here and we played scrabble, the box was full of fur where she used to sit in it (on top of the pieces, naturally).
Getting used to the silence was a big one. I spent a long time listening for the click, click of her claws across the hardwood floors but it never came. Tragic, isn’t it?

Like most things, you think you are getting there and something comes out of left field to hit you. There will be other moments I’m sure but yesterday, when I got in from being out all day and she wasn’t there to meet me, demanding to know where I’d been and why I’d been off having a good time without her, that was the moment I missed more than anything. She would always be at the door wanting a hug if I had left her alone all day. The dribble would be everywhere and she would be purring like, well, like a cat who has cruelly abandoned and left alone all day.

Like anything else, it has been one day at a time. One day it will all be a long time ago. I’ve just been trying to stick to a routine and get things done in my own time. It’s the only thing I know how to do.
Yes, it does hurt, but it gets better all the time.

The Cat

When I left you last time it was with the news that the Cat was to be taken to see Four Under Nine, the Vet, for a last ditch steroid injection in the hope that the end stage renal failure she was in could be delayed. As a family we were particularly keen that this should work as Strider was coming over at the end of the week and she dotes on the Cat as much as I do, albeit in a wusy “That Cat Food Smells Disgusting and I’m Not Coming Back Into This Kitchen Until The Back Door Has Been Open Half An Hour” kind of way.
Sadly, the cat did not respond to the treatment and died at home on Sunday morning.

One of the most difficult things from our perspective was knowing when the time had arrived to take her up to Four Under Nine for euthanasia. Right up until Saturday night it seemed as though it could have gone either way, she was responsive and interested in everything. She hadn’t gone to hide in a cupboard or behind the curtains; instead she remained on her doormat chirruping at anybody who gave her a stroke on their way past. We went to bed on Saturday night eighty percent sure we would be calling on Brian the Vet the following day, but in the end it wasn’t needed.

On Friday night when I was seeking out information about her condition, I came across an excellent website called Tanya’s Feline CRF Centre (www.felinecrf.org) which I would recommend without hesitation to anybody with an elderly cat. My cat was diagnosed with renal failure 5 years ago but apart from prising her from the ceiling to administer drugs on a nightly basis, she showed few effects up until the last few weeks. The CRF Centre website contains a wealth of information about diet and care in addition to detailed symptoms and their causes.
The page detailing the effects of the end stages of Chronic Renal Failure was incredibly helpful and the advice and personal stories regarding the time for euthanasia invaluable. It is because of this that I am now going to tell our story so that if you have stumbled here from a Google search for “Renal Failure in Cats”, you will have a clearer picture of what happens. We were supremely fortunate but if you are easily upset (or you are having a bad day), you might want to pause here and come back next time.

As I mentioned last time, we were aware something was seriously wrong when the cat stopped eating properly. We were encouraged that she was enormously keen on being fed Whiskers Cat Milk from a syringe on her Mammy’s lap and rather puzzled that she appeared to want food, she just didn’t want to eat it. The last thing she ate properly was teabag sized amount of turkey on Thursday night.
On Friday, He Who Knows Everything took her to the Vet who took a sample of blood for testing. On Friday evening he called us to let us know that her levels were off the chart.
On Saturday morning he gave her fluids and an anabolic steroid in the hope it would give her a boost but unfortunately, she did not respond to the treatment.

What was most distressing for us was her difficulty in walking. Her back legs didn’t want to work properly (which can be due to a number of different factors) and she had difficulty in lying down and became dependent on gravity to do the work for her. Despite this she was determined to go where she wanted to, including a final jaunt outside for a wee on Friday, even though she was so weak and wobbly the wind shunted her sideways on her way back into the house. What can I say? The cat wanted what she wanted.
In her final week, she was also drinking a fairly large amount. It was only in the last 6 months that she began to drink water from her bowl, prior to that she would have the occasional drink from a fresh puddle or, when we still lived in the UK, the stream in the back garden. On one occasion she managed to fall in and became slightly less keen on it after that.

Anyway, on Saturday, she was perky and tried to escape from the Hateful Box Of Horridness before we could put her in it. Then she tried to bite Four Under Nine when he gave her the injections. Then she tried to make a break for it from the examination table. When she got home, she returned to her doormat and had a nap, no doubt exhausted by all of the excitement of trying to bite people.
Throughout the day she frequently got up and sat down again, unable to find a fully comfortable position. This is common in CRF cats. She also felt the cold and began to make her way to the sunroom for a sunbathe. I lifted her most of the way as soon as I realised that was where she wanted to go and she spent an hour alternating between the rug in there and the patches of intermittent sunshine.

I was able to give her three more syringes of the cat milk which she enjoyed but by two o’clock, she no longer wanted any.
At five, having moved back into the main hall, she stood up and forcibly vomited a large amount of watery liquid which was followed immediately by a significant urination. She was able to stand up for this and I was on hand to lift her away from it as soon as she was done. Many CRF cats become unable to stand up and may urinate where they lie. This was the moment I knew that she would not get any better. Even so, she remained as perky as ever and was able to move more easily without a belly full of liquid.
At some point during the day her sight had deteriorated significantly. She was still able to see to some degree as she responded to movement and knew which of us was which, but her pupil was no longer contracting in light.

We put her to bed on her doormat that night knowing we would probably have to take her to see the Vet the following day. Sometime between midnight and six, she fell into a coma.
She had either vomited or urinated on the floor, moved away from it and lay down. While in the coma, she would defacate (although there was not much in her to come out) and drool copiously. We had cloths on hand to wipe as much of it up as we could, but she was damper than an ideal world would permit. That said, she was a very, very long way from what most CRF cats go through.
Although this sounds as though this would be awful, it wasn’t. She didn’t smell any more abominable than she had the day before (this is due to the toxins in the blood stream) and she was, in a very real sense, already dead. She just hadn’t bothered to stop breathing yet.

I know that she was in no pain and I am so thankful for that. A cat in pain will purr. Odd, but true. When she had her eye out, you had only to poke her and she would erupt like a lawnmower. My cat did not purr in her last days.

I had read about the fits and twitching CRF cats experience and I was concerned about what would happen if she had a fit. I’ve seen grand mal epileptic seizures first hand and they are enormously distressing things to watch. She did twitch during her coma but it was only slightly more violent than the movements she would make while dreaming.

When she died, her breathing slowed and stopped completely. Her body convulsed violently half a dozen times; the best way I can describe it is that it was the same as a retching motion. Her body then went into cardiac arrest. All of her muscles became tense so her back legs were stretched out behind her and her front legs in front of her and her body trembled very slightly.
I could see her heart beating highly rapidly for perhaps ten seconds before it stopped completely. I stroked her head with one finger as she died the way I did when she was sleeping and I didn’t want to disturb her with a proper head squadge.

Even after the heart and lungs have stopped, the body still moves. The muscles relax and any waste products are expelled (in less delicate terms, more defecation if there is anything left in there). This was something I found hard. As I have said above, I knew she was dead when I saw her in the coma. She didn’t look like my cat looked, if that makes sense. Heaven knows my cat could not be roused when she was deeply asleep – I could pick her head up and she wouldn’t wake up, she’d just start licking my hand in her sleep – but the coma was different.
What was difficult was knowing when it was “okay” to wrap her up and get on with the cleaning up. As it happens, getting up, getting a towel and coming back was how long it took. Not long at all.

I am so grateful for all of the care she received from our Veterinary Surgery. It made a huge difference knowing we could totally trust Brian with her welfare and knowing that he would not have allowed us to let her suffer just so that we could have a few more days. I always had total faith in him to make the right decisions for her, indeed total faith in every single member of the Veterinary Centre in Wexford. Brian, Richard (the rugby physiqued vet), Dan et al, I salute you now. Thank you for everything you did for her.

Although I am sad that she is gone, I’m also happy that she was able to go more easily than some do. She had a good life. She began as the runt in a dumped litter, rescued by the Cats Protection League and she ended surrounded by people who loved her. She is done now.
I miss her, but I’m glad I knew her.

So, how does she smell?

As you may know, I am the servant of a small, anarchic cat who costs me a fortune and generally attempts to add unhappiness and sleep deprivation to my life at every possible opportunity. My arms are covered with the marks of her displeasure. My bin is filled with the dinners she has refused to eat. She has spent her 19 years upon this earth firmly making a paw shaped dent in my forehead and I love her for it.

I don’t mind that she sits on the chair adjacent to mine at breakfast. Nor do I mind the insistent paw tapping me until she gets some butter to lick (but only from a finger, it doesn’t taste as good on a plate). I don’t mind her newly formed habit of sleeping on the doormat. I don’t even mind arriving home in the middle of a monsoon and spending ten minutes trying to wake her up through the glass so I can open the front door and get out of the wet. She is precious to me so I put up with these things.
It is somewhat troubling then, that over the last week she has gone from inhaling four packets of dinner a day to applying a cursory lick to whatever she is offered before wandering back to her doormat.

At first, we assumed she was being pernickety. Ever since she had her eyeball removed in the spring, she has developed a fondness for fish flavoured dinners; something she wouldn’t touch with a bargepole before. She became especially partial to the sardine Oh So Fishy meals which, being summer, we are all enormously grateful for, as you can imagine. Then, she began to refuse everything that wasn’t tuna fish, from a can, preferably covered in garlic mayonnaise even though garlic (and onions) can kill cats.
Such an all protein, fibre free diet is not good for a cat and He Who Knows Everything and I quickly became required to keep sheets of newspaper and some hygienic wipes handy every time she came in from outside. You’d have thought she would have been a little bit more grateful to have two people inspecting her rear end and making it smell of a spring meadow but there you go.
This unfortunate situation became rather more unfortunate when it became apparent that she was also suffering from impacted anal glands. While it is possible to evacuate them at home yourself, it was felt it would be best all around if she visited the Vets and had it done properly.

The Vets had a good look at her and decided that the dire-rear was not just caused by eating nothing but tuna for 24 hours but also by a bowel infection. Some antibiotics later and she was pernickety, but eating… for a short time.
A trip back to the Vets revealed nothing wrong so a steroid enlivening injection was administered and the advice to keep a close eye on her and bring her back a few days later. The injection got her eating a little more but still not much. Whenever she grew fond of a foodstuff, she would refuse to eat it the next day. I tempted her with meaty sticks, with Ocean Fish and King Prawn Flavour all of which garnered the same response; slight enthusiasm for a small moment before wandering back to her doormat.

It was when she showed no interest in butter that I began to twig what was wrong. If you showed her food, she was keen for it but between that moment and opening her mouth to eat some of it, something was going wrong. Some short experiments later revealed something intriguing; the reason she wasn’t eating was because she didn’t know there was any food there. The Cat had lost her sense of smell.
The interweb recommend waving an alcohol swab beneath a cat’s nose as a certain test but as I lack alcohol, I went for catnip instead. While not all cats respond to catnip, mine certainly does. One leaf is usually enough to make her go all soppy and vicious but at the moment, nothing.

Some research revealed that a cat can gradually lose their sense of smell as they grow older and that they may begin to prefer fish dinners due to their pungency. Hey, I thought, C’est Moi!

Eventually though, she wouldn’t eat at all and we took to feeding her through a syringe. She was not keen. She liked having the special cat milk but watered down dinner was not as popular. As it smelled identical to vomit, I couldn’t really blame her. Instead, I came up with a plan. I would make it taste better by mixing it with something tasty like Iams.
So, I soaked the Iams in water in the mistaken belief they would dissolve. When they had dissolved as much as it became apparent they were going to, I threw them into a food processor along with some of the special high energy, extra pungent Vet dinner.
This done, it quickly became apparent to me that if I managed to suck any of the, frankly delicious looking, mix into a syringe, trying to feed it to the Cat would be like attempting to feed Strider with a spud gun. Luckily, I watch a lot of TV chefs, mainly because I enjoy shouting abuse at them, so I pressed the mix through a sieve until smooth. It now looked, and smelled, like the contents of a baby’s nappy. I just knew the Cat was going to love it.

She didn’t. With a lot of effort we got her to eat 5ml and a further 7.5ml of Cat milk. It is not enough. The Vets did a blood test which reveal her to have liver and kidney problems. Tomorrow she is being taken for a last ditch anabolic steroid injection. If this doesn’t get her going then this will be the end of the road.

A little further interweb research reveals that we have been, inadvertently, doing the right things. Apart from letting her eat garlic mayonnaise that is.
A cat that doesn’t eat can quickly develop liver toxicity. It’s complex and as this is already falling into the realms of Too Long I won’t go into it here. Basically, if this happens, You Must Make Your Cat Eat Something. It’s nice to know my arsing around with the sieve and sticking the entire kitchen out wasn’t entirely in vain even if we didn’t manage to get much into her. Loss of smell can also be associated with this and with renal failure.

She seems bright and responsive so one would hope she will respond but on the other hand she is 19. With the best will in the world, this is going to be weeks, not months.

That, really, is all there is to say.

Keep safe people.

A Trivial Blog For Serious People - Now in Animated Form!

Some time ago, I wrote a blog named "Conversation" in which I repeated verbatim a conversation I had with Mammy. Now, thanks to the power of a website called xtranormal, the blog exists in animated form! Now even people too lazy to read can experience the magic.

It should be noted that this is slightly less surreal than real life but other than that the accuracy is uncanny. Please feel free to share with everybody you know.

Everybody comfortable?


Something to be proud of

For reasons I’ve never quite managed to understand, the Government occasionally gets it into its collective hive mind that it is not enough for us all to merely be British, but that we should also be immensely proud of that small fact. To help us achieve this, they like to try and work out what traits make us British so that we can all direct our pride towards displaying these characteristics.
Of course, it is incredibly difficult to define the British national character. For a start, there is no such country as Britain. Britain is more a designation. It’s something to write on the international documents to help the rest of the world who are not entirely au fait with the ins and outs of the home nations. With so many Brits confused about how Britain functions, it seems a little unfair to expect Johnny Foreigner to be aware of our slightly odd way of doing things. As an example, hands up everybody south of Carlisle who fully understands the differences between English and Scottish bank notes. You see?

Sometimes these differences can be inadvertently helpful. The only reason there isn’t a diplomatic incident happening about the possible release of the Lockerbie bomber (on compassionate grounds) is because the decision lies in the hands of the Scots and America has no idea where Scotland is. Even as you read this there is a room of sweating foreign policy advisors frantically checking Wikipedia to find out.

Eventually, it is concluded by some wag that not being proud of being British is, in fact, our sole uniting characteristic. Flags are waved, orchestras launch into Pomp and Circumstance and Parliament comes back into session so we can all get back to occupying ourselves with proper news.

I’ve said before that the only time a Brit will consider themselves to be British is when the English, Scots and Welsh unite against a common irritant. Happily, last week we were given such an irritant and I have never seen a country so united. Thanks are due to the American Right.
As I don’t follow American home affairs as closely as some, my time being otherwise occupied by British politics, Irish politics, EU politics and Coronation Street, you shall have to go elsewhere for an explanation of what Mr Obama has planned for the American healthcare system. All I know is that, for some reason, the people who are not Mr Obama are rather unhappy about it and have been spouting forth lies about the NHS and implying we are all communists.

In the UK, when you are ill, you phone the doctor. If you are lucky you will get an appointment within the next three weeks. Your doctor will see you, sigh, imply you are wasting his time and tell you that if you stay at home and drink plenty of fluids your Ebola will clear up by itself. Grudgingly he will write you a prescription which you will take to the chemist where you will have to stand in line behind 19 OAPs who all want to tell the Pharmacist about their corns in a very loud voice. At the moment you feel most nauseous, one of them will hitch up their skirt to show the Pharmacist their varicose veins and dripping leg ulcer. If it is pension day and there are more than 19 of them in there, somebody else will step forwards with their hands on the hemline and the words “call that dripping…?” If you accidentally make eye contact with any of men at this point, they will offer to show you their shrapnel wounds from the war.
You may, by this point, be thinking that the American right has a point. It sounds terrible. Actually, it isn’t.

There are, admittedly, many areas in which the NHS must try harder. Breast cancer survival rates for instance (The figures the American Right has been spouting are amusingly wrong, the accurate figures are worse.). Mental health care and drug rehabilitation are others.

However. What the NHS does brilliantly is emergency care. If I get run over on a visit to Cardiff, when I get taken to the hospital I know I am going to receive the best care available. Nobody is going to be checking my credit history or insurance details to decide my treatment, I will receive what is necessary to save my life.
Some years ago I carelessly managed to break my spine in three places. My legs still work fine. Score one to the NHS.
When Mammy had unstable angina and was rushed to hospital, she was immediately referred to one of the country’s top surgeons. She was given the necessary operation at the soonest opportunity in the Royal Cromwell in London. It was a complex procedure and the consultant felt it would be better done there as the teams and equipment were ready if necessary. He now uses her as a teaching case for his students. Score two to the NHS.
When He Who Knows Everything split his head open on a chair last October, he shuffled into Wexford A&E, bleeding profusely, only to be met with a demand for €60 before he could be treated. Score 5 billion to the NHS for being free.

This, really, is the key. Free healthcare for everybody means I don’t need to be afraid of becoming ill. With NHS direct, I don’t even need to be afraid of wasting my GPs time. Sure, if I have something trivial, I will sit on a waiting list for months waiting to be seen. It’s irritating but I always have the option of paying for it myself if I am desperate to have it looked at sooner.
Here in Ireland, a private appointment can take 6 months to come through and, very often, you will still get treated in the public hospitals. Even when you have insurance, any medical procedure will cost you money because the hospital puts anything it thinks it can get away with onto the bill. When Mammy saw a specialist eye doctor, she was rather surprised to receive a bill from the insurance company requesting she pay the surplus for the cost of her hospital room, particularly as she hadn’t had a room. On enquiry, the result came back that one is charged for a room whether or not one actually physically has a room because it is assumed a room is had, otherwise, how would one get treated, eh? And anyway, if you don’t have a room, the room charge is put towards our cost of keeping the broken vending machines extra shiny.

The NHS is the best thing Britain has produced and I would say that even if it wasn’t created by a Welsh man. The idea that we have Death Panels or that “if Stephen Hawking had been born in the UK he would have been left to die” (which is my favourite lie of all of them, it’s untrue in so many ways), are ridiculous. Can you really take the word of people who are so ignorant they only refer to England and the English NHS (And not because they are aware of NHS Wales’s natural superiority)?
Yes, whenever a new drug is developed it will be subjected to a cost efficiency analysis before it is made available. Yes, there is a postcode lottery and not all treatment is available nationwide. Yes, discretion is applied in cases where the doctors judge there to be little potential improvement in quality of life, such as in the very old or the very premature. The NHS has limited funds. These decisions have to be made to ensure that when you are brought in from your road traffic accident, the funds were there to buy the emergency treatment you need.
When you look at the American system the right are so keen to defend, is it really that great? Would you still think so if you were one of the sick people who had their policies cancelled by the insurance company who was having a bad financial year?

Be proud of the NHS. It isn’t perfect, but it is ours and it is a site better than any alternative I’ve experienced.

The State of the Job Market

If you have been paying attention to the front pages of the broadsheet newspapers, and I have no reason to suspect that you haven’t, you may have noticed that gainful employment is becoming increasingly difficult to come by. Headline after headline reports the scaling back of graduate recruitment schemes and rising unemployment figures. What jobs there are have a lot of people after them.

Should you wish to get an interview for one of these rare and elusive jobs, it is essential to make yourself stand out from the hundreds of others who are vying for the same position. Now that Facebook and Google enable employers to unravel your Submitted Tissue of Lies (or as it used to be known, your CV), it has become somewhat necessary to make yourself seem like a more employable person through a gap year or, should you have opted not to spend a year taking drugs in Goa, charitable work.

It seems like sensible enough advice. Rather than sitting at home, collecting your dole, why not get out there and give back to society? It shows employers what a well rounded individual you are. It also has the added bonus of everybody else look slightly worse for neglecting to spend their spare time reading Chekhov to blind puppies as you have.
Like all pieces of advice glibly given by somebody who gets a regular wage paid into their bank account, it has a rather large flaw which remains unnoticed by the media and which renders it quite useless to anybody who is filling out job application forms.
In the UK, to be eligible for the dole, you must be actively seeking and available for work. Should you be performing any kind of charity or volunteer work, you will no longer be considered to be actively available for work and your benefits will be stopped.

A second piece of news you may or may not have paid any attention to is the report that the people in the more middle class jobs (journalists, lawyers, advertising executives etc) come from much more affluent backgrounds than they did some years ago.
It stands to reason. The graduates who manage to break into these areas are the ones who have a CV boasting stints digging wells in Africa and who spent their summer holidays showing inner city chavs which end of a cow milk comes from. The people who spent their summers as a checkout monkey to earn their tuition fees and who left university with a five figure debt cannot hope to compete.
They also cannot hope to get a foot in the door through internship. Unless you are part of the old boys’ network, your hopes of getting a place are slim to non-existent. If you do find somewhere which will give you the work experience, unless you have the (rather obnoxiously named) Bank of Mum and Dad to call upon, you will have to find a paid job to fit in around your unpaid 40 hour week.

Only yesterday I read a defence of unpaid internships which claimed it was a fair system because a graduate should look upon it as an investment against their future earnings. It was argued that at 16, a shop worker is earning the same amount as they will at 40 whereas a graduate’s wages increase year on year. Sadly, how one is supposed to pay the gas bill with future earnings wasn’t explained.
As it happens, a graduate does not earn more over a lifetime than a non-graduate. A teacher can expect to earn (according to the graduate careers service Prospects) up to thirty thousand pounds a year. A recruitment consultant earns an average of almost twenty four thousand pounds a year. It is only after 10 to 15 years experience that it becomes possible to earn the higher wages of forty to a hundred thousand a year. If you start on the checkouts at Tesco, you can work your way up to that wage in ten to fifteen years without a degree behind you.
The statistics produced showing that graduates will earn more over a lifetime get skewed by the 1% who earn the top wages. A degree is only as good as the career path it opens up to you. There is no point in doing a psychology degree unless you plan to do the other three years and become a qualified psychologist.

The upshot of all of this is a system which alienates itself from the population. There is no point in having an office full of boys from Eton or Winchester College. How are they going to come up with an effective campaign to sell fruit juice to single mothers on council estates in Birmingham? Why would I want to read a newspaper whose supplements are exclusively written by people who have au pairs and Le Creuset cookware? I bought my saucepans from BHS (they had a 20% day). What use is an MP who only knows what poverty looks like because they visited it once with a camera crew in tow?

I think the first step is to overhaul the Job Centre. It was rubbish when I graduated six years ago and my UK based unemployed friends assure me it is rubbish now. I’m told it has little to offer anybody who has already perfected the skills of reading and writing. Is a graduate careers advisor too much to ask for?
Then, allow claimants to perform voluntary work without jeopardising their benefits. When you’ve done that, enable people to claim a means tested allowance while on work experience. It will give more people the chance to develop the skills employers want and the contacts to be successful while opening up internships to those graduates are not in a position to work without pay.
The final step is to write to every single university in the land and tell them to specify the job (or self employed career) that each degree they offer qualifies a graduate to do. If it doesn’t directly qualify you for work, it really shouldn’t be a degree.
I’m looking at you, Women’s Studies.

In which Theo talks about the Stuckists

Although this blog is vaguely subtitled Arts, Opinion and Things Going Wrong, the amount of time I spend writing about Art is very small. The main reason for this is because the instant you write anything about Art, somebody comes along and tells you that you are quite wrong about everything. Much as I like a healthy debate (I’ll argue with myself if other people aren’t available), I’m far too lazy to look anything up and so cannot be certain that they will not be correct in their assertations of fact.
I am also aware that there are no right or wrong answers about Art. The first thing I was ever taught at art school is that a critique is never held subject to the artist’s original intentions. You may have painted the wall by the fireplace green because you thought it would add a nice bit of colour to the room, but we say you were making a statement about the destruction of personal identity and on some level, we can be right.

Of course, many people fail to understand this. I’ve lost count of the amount of journalistic hand wringing I’ve read over the years in which the absence of “proper” art is lamented and sly comment is passed about Michael Craig Martin or the YBA’s, let along the amount of people who take pride in not “getting” modern art. As far as I am concerned, they are on a slightly lower level as those who take pride in saying things like “Oh, I haven’t read a book since I left school!” If you prefer to spend your time on things other than literature, grand, but revelling in one’s ignorance is a good look for nobody.

Groups like the Stuckists, who abhor conceptual art and advocate a return to the figurative painting, are worse still and not just because of their particularly hateful website in which every option seems to open a new window. Maybe it’s some kind of statement about something which I’m failing to grasp due to my annoyance with it. It’s hard to be sure these days.
While it is all very well to rail against dead sharks and unmade beds and the emptiness and pretensions of postmodernism (although that actually is slightly the point), I’m rather underwhelmed by the work of many of the Stuckists themselves. To begin with, some of it just isn’t very good.
If artists who don’t paint aren’t artists (as specified by point 4 of the original Stuckist manifesto), surely it is necessary to have a level of understanding of why we are painting as oppose to, say, producing a photograph. The poster child of Stuckism, Charles Thomson’s “Sir Nicholas Serota Makes an Acquisitions Decision”, has many things to recommend it, but an example of a great painting it is not. For a start, it might as well be a print, or a computer graphic, or a collage; it would have the same impact. If a group is going to advocate painting as the only valid way of creating art, it would be nice if they could inspire with its possibilities as a medium.

Why painting should be held in higher regard than any other medium remains a mystery to me. I would quite like it if we could all just get along. After all, what is the difference between a readymade sculpture and a painting which has come from the studio assistant production line? Jeff Koons doesn’t paint all of his own work. Neither does Bridget Riley. This is how it has been for hundreds of years and how it will continue to be.

In order to have value as an artist, it is necessary to develop a brand. Some of this may depend on technical ability but that reputation takes a while to build up. Instead, it is easier to fast track a brand with media exposure. In order to get exposure, one needs a gimmick so we end up with things guaranteed to wind up The Daily Mail. It is just one of those sad facts of life that an exciting brush technique has a severely limited ability to generate column inches.

This is something else which narks me about the Stuckists. If painting is the One True Medium™ and you are the champions of all that is great about it, why are you better known for your publicity stunts than your paintings?
Who would have heard of S.P. Howarth if he had not been expelled from Camberwell for exhibiting paintings without any accompanying development of ideas? While I sympathise, because I am somebody who stopped keeping a sketchbook the second I stopped being marked for it, criteria marking is criteria marking. Either like it or else save yourself the tuition fees.

For me, any kind of art is at its best when there is dialogue, both with the viewer and for the viewer. A good piece of art should make you want to tell somebody about it. All I want to tell you about the Stuckists is that they do figurative painting a great discredit.

Stupidity Will Be Punished

It is always nice to keep up with trends so over the last week I, along with everybody else, have been suffering from ProbablyNotSwineFluistus. I had the cough, malaise and sore throat but lacked the fever, which I’m told is mandatory for Swine Flu sufferers. There is every chance it was Swine Flu, of course, but as I stay away from more or less everybody, I’m not sure where I could have caught it from.
Naturally, I am blaming Strider for my wasted days lying on the sofa with a mug of lemon and honey. She had MoreLikelyToBeSwineFluitus but as she doesn’t own a thermometer we cannot be sure. As she had the same cough and sore throat as myself, I suspect she gave me what was just a vicious summer cold along with my birthday card.

Anyway. From time to time I like to apply myself to the problem of how the world can be improved. That way, when I am declared Queen of Everything (as I one day shall be) I will be well prepared and able to put my diabolical schemes into effect more or less instantly.
For a start, I would send every member of the BNP to live somewhere like Nigeria for a while to see how much they enjoy it, only letting them back into the country if they can pass the citizenship test (You have to know what a quango is and “a great scrabble word” is not an option). That done, I would make any young man with a souped up car who thinks it is big and clever to bomb around the backroads at 100mph have a portrait of a My Little Pony tattooed on his forehead. Try and make that look cool and desirable, lads.

The third thing I would do is instigate a law to the effect of: If you are too stupid to have it, it shall be taken away from you until you can prove otherwise.

We all have stupid moments. Strider, for instance, cannot be relied upon to know what a Philips screwdriver is. He Who Knows Everything once drilled through a gas pipe and didn’t notice. Even I, who am extremely good looking and clever, realised after an embarrassingly large number of months of ownership, that my Sigma lens has a button on the side which turns it into a Macro lens. These are all small stupidities which can be forgiven.
What I cannot forgive are people who send thousands of pounds to con merchants.

We’ve all had the email asking us to help smuggle ten million US dollars out of Burkina Faso by just giving our bank details here. In recent times I have received a number of even more entertaining ones purporting to be from the director of the FBI, congratulating me on winning a lottery he had kindly entered me in (without my knowledge) and telling me that once I have sent a two hundred dollar handling fee to this address in Zimbabwe, my thirty million dollars will be dispatched at once. He Who Knows Everything was sent the one which Jack Straw’s office fell for, which claimed his email address was being cancelled unless he filled out the form they provided a link for.
My Myspace inbox is deluged by men telling me they don’t normally do this kind of thing but that they could see the goodness in my eyes and had to send me a note because they were convinced I was an angel. Their wife has usually died in a plane crash as well, so I feel a little mean ignoring them all but I’m sure they will get over it.

I had always assumed that everybody who received these notes laughed at them as much as I do, but astonishingly, they don’t. They believe them.
For the right amount of money, it is possible to procure a so called “Sucker List” of names and addresses of people (usually pensioners) who will send money in response to unsolicited mailings in the belief they have won millions. There was the case of one man who received something like 500 letters in three months and who sent an estimated total of £50,000 to the scammers. He is by no means the only one.
It isn’t just unsolicited mail either. I’ve heard dozens of accounts of modelling agencies who want £500 for the cost of putting you onto their books (and of dozens of people who have paid up) only to disappear into the night. I have a friend who went for an interview for what she had been led to believe was a sales and marketing position in an expanding company, only to find it was a commission only, cold calling job and everybody who physically turned up for interview was offered a position. The most shocking thing about it was that the 16 year old my friend was interviewed alongside was all ready to take the position, believing the OTE quotes of thirty five thousand a year to be true, until my friend quietly took her to her to one side and explained that it was a total scam.

It’s terrible that there are people who make their living deliberately exploiting people who are too desperate not to believe them. It is worse that there are people who would charge forty UK pounds to burn a candle claiming it will ensure the Voudou spirit guides will bring a person good luck. It is unbelievable that Derek Acorah gets paid to be on TV, communicating with rabbits, much less that it isn’t half as entertaining as it sounds.

The worst thing of all is that, when so many people are so desperate and have nothing, there are people who have plenty but who are too stupid to hang onto it.

What I propose is this; If you have money you are intending to send to somebody in an unstable African nation in the belief you will get millions of dollars in return, my people will come to your house, seize your assets and give you a very small amount of money to live on until you understand how stupid you are. Until that time, your assets will be invested and the profits used to help families living below the bread line and who are never going to have enough money to behave as thickly as you do.

Begin your applause… now.