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Tuesday, October 31

Getting It Perfect

I know of various wise people who have stated that something is only complete when there's nothing left to take out. In other words, the natural process of refining something should include streamlining and removing redundancy. I agree with that. I don't necessarily follow that rule in everything I do, this blog being the prime example. Here I'm perfectly prepared to moan on about anything and everything without cause to re read and re edit any of it. However in all other things I write, I'm more meticulous, whether it be computer programs, songs, comedy stuff, or articles for publication. In some ways, the blog is my playground to improve my first draft skills and make writing other stuff a bit easier.

I think the fact that some entries are written on a mobile phone, like this one, helps. The medium of writing has an effect on the results. I prefer to write songs on paper for this very reason. Don't know why. However, the more different forms of writing I use, I reason, the better I will get at it in general.

I'd like to get my teeth into some sort of long term writing thing. Recent things I've listened to, including some of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, and some podcasts, including something about a victorian gentleman raised by nuns who thought they were gorillas, have inspired me. Quite what I'll do, now inspired, is anyone's guess.

Last night I finished a 400 word essay on my computer. It was about my computer and I used my computer to write it. So, read the first sentence of this paragraph twice and you'll get all the meaning of the rest of it so far. I remember when I used to have to write 400 word essays for English homework. I was lazy and it seemed like far too much hard work to have to write that much. As a result of this laziness, or perhaps a preoccupation with other things, I under performed. Now, I can write 400 words just to say hello. This brings a new problem. If I only have 400 words, then I have to do a lot of editing. The time is split equally between writing the original draft, and then reducing it until it has no waste and is small enough to fit. Sometimes I have to throw away little details, sometimes I throw away a big detail to make room to keep some little ones. Character is often more valuable than being terse and to the point.

Everybody in the House Say Weigh-oh

House hunting hasn't been incredibly good fun. Arranging a mortgage hasn't been a barrel of laughs. Surveys, where someone is paid to have a bit of a look around a house, haven't felt like incredibly good value for money (I've spent nearly a thousand pounds on them so far). Overall, I'm left with the feeling that I want this whole house buying process to be over. However, let's say I could snap my fingers and cause the house to be miraculously mine, and the money to be miraculously debited from my accounts to settle everything up. I'd be a few tens of thousand pounds less well off, I'd have a house with a mortgage to pay and a fair amount of work to do to bring it up to the standard it needs to be to be habitable and rentable, which is the plan. There's also the risk, as with any house, that something major might go wrong and need major building works to fix. Which is why you send in surveyors before you buy the place to make sure that anything predictably bust is accounted for.

My telephone call with the surveyor last night was exceedingly worrying. My independent buildings survey, though the more costly of the two, has revealed a number of potentially very expensive problems with the house. Even those problems which are only potential problems, have themselves a fairly high price tag to investigate and an even higher price tag to put right. Now, the numbers might prove worthwhile after all, or they may prove prohibitive. All I'm saying is that things don't look nearly as rosy as they were doing at the start of the process when I appeared to have easy access to funding and speedy response, all in aid of a house which appeared to be head and shoulders above anything else we'd looked at.

With a house market that's increasing prices all the time, and also reducing in breadth for the Christmas break, one might reason that there'll be nothing else available in the near future. However, that's no good reason to buy a house which needs a vast fortune spending on it just to keep it from falling down or whatever. This is not the ideal situation. However, the official surveyor's report, with the actual details of what needs spending, and what might need spending, isn't in. It might not be all that bad.

It might be worse.

I Have, Quite Literally, No Idea

Every so often, I find a genuine web page which makes no sense:

Click for enlargement

Answers on a postcard.

Monday, October 30

Free Willy

This has been a weekend of movies. Totally not included in the list of movies was the one about the whale. Incidentally, I think that not enough is made of the way that movie titles are translated into other languages. For instance, Jaws was translated into French as, literally, "The Great White Shark". Not as catchy. I have a theory that some movies are just translated literally, rather than given a neat title. For instance, The Sixth Sense is probably translated as "The small boy who sees a dead Bruce Willis", and Fight Club is probably "The insomniac has hallucinations about his split personality".

Anyway, movies seen this weekend include:
  • The Longest Yard - an american prison/american-football comedy... trying far too hard
  • The Island - a blockbuster with Ewan MacGregor with one or two too many holes in the plot - it was quite good fun, though.
  • Little Miss Sunshine - we managed to see this at a cinema in London, despite having missed its general release back in September. This was a corker of a movie - very funny indeed.
  • The Stepford Wives - a mediocre treatment of a classic story. I was occasionally vaguely amused. I missed the end and it didn't matter.
  • One Hour Photo - a curious psychological thriller without a massive denouement. Robin Williams played the pathos and tension reasonably well.

And that was a weekend of watching things.

I also contemplated free will vs determinism. If there's to be free will, then it suggests that the entity is making choices. In order to make a choice, there must be a conditioning of what is preferred. This conditioning comes from one's entire experience - learning what's right and wrong, what you like and don't like. Since we don't have the choice over everything we've experienced up until now, does that not mean that our response is, itself, not composed of our actual will, but, instead, of things external. In other words, just because I'm sitting here writing this doesn't mean that I ACTUALLY decided to do it as much as I BELIEVED it to be my choice, owing to the personality I've developed as a result of my entire life experience. Since I have only had a limited amount of influence over what's happened to me in my life, and since the influence I've chosen to exert was, itself, a product of how I felt at the time... well, surely I have never had free will?

In other words, what's the point!?

If reading this has just collapsed your concept reality, don't worry. It was meant to be.

Friday, October 27


I had kept the book Decipher for re-reading and lending to other people. I thought that it would make a good alternative to the Da Vinci Code, since it is filled full of comparative mythology and religious debunking. When I first read it, I remembered it as being quite a blockbuster with an explosive finale, set in the apparently real location of Atlantis.

I finished re-reading it last night. There are not altogether many books that I bother to read more than once. It wasn't worth the effort of re-reading. It probably was worth the effort of reading in the first place.

In fact, the only book I could heartily recommend re-reading is The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy trilogy in 5 parts. I read the last part of this again while on holiday - I'd accidentally re-read a Stephen King book, simply because I hadn't realised that I'd read it the first time around, and I intentionally re-read 1984, which I'd been a bit too young to appreciate the first time around. The Douglas Adams work still remains the most re-enjoyable of fictions I've had the pleasure to enjoy over the years.

At the moment, I'm using the radio series of this science-fiction-fantasy-comedy as company for the two long-ish car journeys I take each day. It's good company. I wish I could write something that good. Maybe I could. I haven't, though, so there's no point in worry about it.

Re: Reading
As regards Reading, there has been limited progress on the house this week. I'm still awaiting the final confirmation of everything from the mortgage lender and the surveyor who banked the cheque I delivered earlier in the week.

Once I know more, then I will be more informed than I am right now.

eMail Order Bride

What would you reply if you got this?

Date: 14:22 27th Oct 2006
From: "Nataly Morozova"
To: Ashley Frieze
Subject: New mail for you from Nataly from Russia

I am Nataly. To talk about my personal qualities I`l try to look at
myself from aside. So I`m a feminine, charming, romantic and sweet
girl. Yet as a person I am open-minded, easy-going, kind-hearted. From
the very beginning I try to behave naturally. I dislike lie and
hypocrisy. Kindness and decency are the qualities that are very
important for me and that`s why I value them in myself. I love my
parents very much as they have given much to me and I am grateful to
I have some questions for you if you want to get to know me closer:
1/ Are you interested in serious relations with Russian woman?
2/ Are you planning to visit Russia?
3/ Would you like to correspond or to talk by phone?
4/ Why are you interested in Russian lady?
5/ Have you ever been to Russia?
6/ What is important for you in relations and am I right for you?
I will be waiting for your reply to
Hope you will tell me about yourself,
kisses from Russia,

Actually, the best thing is not to reply. So here's what I didn't send:

Dear Nataly,

Whoa there. Who the hell are you? You're a bit forward aren't you? Some might say even pushy. Straight in with the talking about yourself. Yet you claim to be easy going and feminine. I don't know how things go where you're from, lady, but round here, we expect people to at least say hello before steaming in with the whole "me me me" thing.

Anyway, since you appear to be interested in me, I'll try to answer your questions:

1/ Are you interested in serious relations with Russian woman?

2/ Are you planning to visit Russia?
Not at the minute. If I do, will you be waiting to get me? If so, that would put me off.

3/ Would you like to correspond or to talk by phone?
In general, yes, but with you, no.

4/ Why are you interested in Russian lady?
I'm not. You emailed me, remember? Are you sure you've got the hang of this email thing?

5/ Have you ever been to Russia?
No. Have you ever been to England? On reflection, don't answer that - I don't want to give you any illusion that I'd be interested in your answer.

6/ What is important for you in relations and am I right for you?
Let's skip to the end. No. You're not right for me. I doubt you even exist.

Sorry about that, but good luck with your quest to find someone who can't see through the thinly veiled guise of your spam.


Thursday, October 26

The Scales Fell From My Eyes

I started that title off with the intention of making a vague pun on the word "scale" as I'm about to make some comment about weightloss. However, having brought it up, I realised that I've no idea what the expression literally means. I think, figuratively, it relates to someone discovering that their vision is no longer obscured by something - in this case scales. However, there's a neat discussion on the subject which I found online and answers that one.

So, stuff falling from me.

Well, yesterday I got a bit of a bout of a stomach complaint. As a result, my weight dropped between an morning and an evening weigh in. Though in the evening, I was also wearing no clothes and in the morning, I was fully dressed, including my jacket, I still was quite impressed to see my weight drop by approximately 5 pounds between weigh-ins.

If I actually weigh what the scales suggested I do, then I think I'd be about two pounds more than I remember my lowest-weight reaching when I last lost weight. However, all this random weighing at random times of the day is totally unscientific. Plus, I know that I've still "got a problem with the food", which I guess is a euphemism of some sort.

I read the blog of a stand-up comedian, whom I know from when I lived in Newcastle. He's currently going through the post-relationship weightloss programme - I'm fairly certain it's a standard pattern. He's got all the pleasure of improved self-esteem and body image with the confusion of trying to work out what to wear when you're not really used to clothing the sort of body you've got - combined with the additional confusion of trying to work out who you are, post relationship.

There's a rule of thumb. If you take the length of the relationship in years and add one, you've got the number of months you might expect to have to take to adjust to life outside of that relationship. In truth, I think that provides you with an underestimate. There's a lot of adjusting to do to get comfortable in your skin if you think that you've been rejected in some way by someone close to you. In some ways reading the blog of this guy, as he goes through this process, reminds me of my similar experiences.

My own road to recovery involved me taking control of my life and bringing various activities into it which were there as self-defence mechanisms against reverting back to the rejectable individual I was when things ended. Of course life moves on with its own pace and its own sense of change. The hardest thing for someone to do is keep abreast of the changes in their life and do the right thing persistently. A best effort is all you can hope for.

Presently, I'm far enough into my residency down south to be very very keen to set down roots and stop feeling like things are temporary or make-shift until the next change. I need an anchor. I think this is one of several after-shocks I would naturally expect to feel after jumping ship from the more deeply rooted existence I had in Newcastle.

If I could write down where I would like to live and how I would like to spend my time, how much of it would correlate with what I do right now? And how much would it take to move towards those things? And should I?

Lunchtime Futility

I went for a haircut this lunchtime. I don't know why I bother. I don't have a lot of hair and when it's removed, I look only marginally different. I think I must just like the attention, even if it is from the more amateur of the two ladies who work in the shop - the other is now far too concerned with being a boss than being a hairdresser.

The cost of my all-over shave and head wash is £10.50. As I was leaving the office I decided that my thirst and levels of dehydration warranted getting a drink from the coffee shop, using my last pound coin. I had no other change. I only had a £10 note in my wallet, so I needed to get some cash in order to be able to pay for the full cost of my hair cut.

I parked around the corner from the shop and went to the Co-op, which has a cash machine outside of it. That cash machine, like so many times before it, was not in operation - down for routine maintenance apparently. Given that Farnborough is basically a shit-hole of a backwater, and North Camp is its backwater, I couldn't expect to find another cash-machine within a couple of paces, as you might on a regular high street. However, there is a Lloyds-TSB around the block - exactly the opposite end from where I would be getting my hair done. It's not a long walk, but it was a barrier to the single-mindedness I usually apply to simple tasks like getting a hair-cut. I decided to walk, since I'm far too lazy.

I walked to the bank and their cash machine was also down for maintenance. Of course. It's lunchtime, let's put the slowest member of staff onto the very important task of changing the till roll in the machine - that won't cause any problems with one cashier on duty inside. Oh yes... sorry... it's supremely stupid, but they didn't need me to tell them that. I kept quiet. Instead, I queued. There were two people in front of me in the queue. The guy at the front was being served. I was there with my cashpoint card in my hand and there was a big-boned (I'd say fat, but that would give the impression that she was a big wobbly hefter, when, in fact, she was just a bit on the chunky side) woman in front of me. Wearing yellow.

When the first guy had finished, the ugly duckling in front of me waddled slowly to the cashier and pronounced deliberately that she would like to withdraw £10 from her account. No shit! Someone's pissing about with the cash machine, you'd have to go inside to get money. Then she proceeded to take about a minute and a half to locate her cashpoint card from within her handbag. Now, she'd had the entire duration of the previous person's transaction to get her shit together, and did she? No! What did she think she was doing in the queue? Was she there to admire the scenery? Was she meant to keep very still and hold down her section of the carpet? What could possibly have been so all-importantly-occupying that she failed to prepare herself for the task ahead by locating the cashpoint card. Perhaps she thought it was more easily at hand... but quite frankly that's a ludicrous excuse. She was clearly a very deliberate person who didn't have the intellect to operate a handbag. And she was in my way. In a situation where there's once person serving, life slows down to the rate of the slowest person in front of you. Duckling girl!

Following her production of the card and when she'd received her cash, did she get out of my sodding way? Well, ultimately yes, or I'd still be there, the slamming down of my cashpoint card on the counter becoming a regular heartbeat leading me ever closer to my frustrated demise, rather than a singular event, which I used to purge my soul of the built up irritation borne of two cash machines failing and the low-specification intellectual capacity of the bulging imbecile in front of me. However, before she got the hell out of my way, she proclaimed that she thought it was marvellous to receive two £5 notes, rather than a single £10 as the cash machine might otherwise have given her.

I'm so happy for her.

I asked for my £20, which I received as two £10's - as if that were important to anyone - signed my receipt and got the hell out of there. It wasn't difficult, though it was a few steps away from my original intention of parking, getting money and getting a haircut. I now had a walk around the rest of the block to get myself back on track.

At the hairdresser's, though the boss was in the back, there was a single person being haircutted and I was put into a queue of one. Fair enough. I thumbed through a tabloid newspaper, sickened, as usual, by the style of writing, the attitude in the editorial style, the whole image of British subculture it represents and the fact that I was bothering to put myself through coming into contact with it. Eventually it was my turn.

I am not in a talkative mood at the moment. I just want an easy life. As usual, it's the trivial things which annoy me the most. However, I was given a reasonable haircut and headwash. At the end, I presented my original £10 note and one of the ones I'd expended a great deal of personal stress to get hold of. The hairdresser told me she didn't have change - could I pay the extra 50p next time.

Could I...

...I would never have dreamed of going for a haircut without the requisite money, but now 20 frustrating minutes of my life seemed to be totally in vain.


My neck hurts.

Should 'a' bin a wiki

There has been some further development of Burberry and Broccoli, a wordplay based warble about how not to run a software team. The best in-road to this rubbish is the Agilistaist Glossary which reads a bit like a Devil's Dictionary.

All in all, the site would have been better laid out as a wiki, rather than as a blog. It sort of changed purpose part way through. Where at first, it seemed like a bunch of Agile-mentalist essays, it soon became a fount of all knowledge Agile, which needs richer cross links. Wikis are much better for this, you only have to look at Wikipedia or Lostpedia to see that.

Wednesday, October 25


Some things are easily cancelled - a quick email and it's as if it never happened. Some things are not so easy.

Attracted To Me

Sometimes I am genuinely puzzled why odd people seem to gravitate towards me. Sometimes it's guite obvious. This website attracts more than my fair share of attention through its reasonable rankings on Google and the ridiculous array of unconnected things I choose to write about. With around half a million words on here, there's bound to be something to bring a nutter into contact with me.

According to my best information, the November 2nd issue of Micro Mart will feature one such random story. Best read than paraphrased here.

Over the weekend I had another strange request. There's no doubt that I had something in common with the requester, who wanted to talk about motorway bridges. Now I've gone on record and stated that I'm a fan of a particular bridge over the M1. Actually, I think it more counts as the M1/M62 link road, but you get the idea. I was also amused by a painting on a bridge over the M25 which reads 'Tracy I love you, marry me. Ed'. Great. These attributes of mine made me the sort of person who would react when someone got in touch asking for my help with a motorway bridge related idea.

To be honest, though, while bridges are amusing and have long made me wonder whether I might not be advised to talk about them in stand-up, I'm not that keen on the idea of actually going out and vandalising them for a laugh.

I declined the offer to be involved in a large scale bridge graffiti scheme.

Tuesday, October 24


While I was on holiday I got a text from Orange asking me to call one of their free service call numbers in order to discuss my billing details. I pay by direct debit and therefore owe them nothing, so I didn't consider it an urgency. Eventually, though, I gave them a call and was told that there was no longer a problem, indeed there may not even have been one in the first place. This happened on Tuesday of last week.

A couple of days later I received a different text asking me to call a different Orange telephone number. Again I called them and this time they wanted to do a satisfaction survey on the call I'd had with the service centre on the previous occasion. This is where it got weird.

They asked me the purpose of my call. I said I didn't know. They asked whether my enquiry was resolved. I said that I didn't have one. Then why did I ring? Because I was told to. So what was the problem? I didn't have a problem and was just ringing to be told that I was ringing for no reason. At about this point they reckoned my answers were getting harder to score on their survey and they, very wisely, gave up.

I think that there may be a bit of code somewhere in the call centre management software which looks for when the call centre is getting a bit quiet, and then sends out some hoax texts to keep everyone busy. Brilliant!

Monday, October 23

Bloody Marketing

Akin to the feelings of annoyance at the wankers I noticed in July, I'm feeling annoyed about marketing types again.

Marketing can do easily be born of a superficial, impractical, shallow-mindedness, that the world becomes increasingly full of unimportant imagery, described by New-Speak and of no consequence, except to further the personal wealth of everyone except its intended recipients.

Friday, October 20

The Times They Are A Changin'

I had a weird feeling throughout yesterday. I know what that feeling is. It's change. The result of the decision to buy and develop a house for rental is starting to make itself feel altogether more real in my life. In order to make things happen I will have to make some changes. I think it will ultimately result in change for the better, though I think things will have to get a lot more difficult before we reach the end of the process. In some ways, buying this house, which I really like (and will be disappointed not to live in), is only a stepping stone towards owning a house that I'll live in long-term, but it will, at least, give me some sense of autonomy. I'm not suited to living in a large shared household... I mean, I'm sure my own children (who don't yet exist) would be welcome to share with me, but sharing a house in general isn't really me.

I need space.

However, something has to give, and it seems that the best solution is to push the pause button on the gigging for a bit. I don't know from when - the completion date on the house seems like a good idea, but we don't know when that is. However, if there's work to be done, then hanging around and not doing it is not the best of ideas. So, I will, at some point soon, be clearing my diary for a few months. I like gigging, and I'm frightened of the results of life without it, but I'm not quitting, just pausing.

Now I've written this, it will have to be true.

So, it was with mixed feelings that I went to last night's gig. I felt down at the fact that I'll miss gigging, and I felt more appreciative of the opportunity to perform to an audience. As a result, I dragged out a few items from "the vault" and had a good time. I even performed the song I never perform, simply because some people had come especially to hear it. Damn their requests... and damn my eagerness to please.

Last night was my 373rd gig. A friend of mine, who'd witnessed my 85th, came along and saw it. Thankfully she noticed quite a difference between the two. It was good to catch up. That's another of the good things about gigging, I suppose - it takes me around the country and makes me likely to run into random people, whom I've met through the myriad other random activities I'm involved in.

I met this friend through Crisis, with whom I'm spending this weekend doing training. There's a link.

Last night I was in Birmingham which is where a computer magazine, for whom I write, is based (or was based). I'm not sure. I do know that I spoke to the editor of that magazine today, and I'm fairly certain he's based in Birmingham. Following recent events and my write-up of them, they're fast tracking the article to print. It should be on paper and on sale in two weeks (or three at the most), which isn't bad at all, considering I only submitted the final draft a couple of days ago, and it has already been through the lawyers.

Very pleasing indeed.

And my weight was looking quite low last night, but I weigh myself too often, so it's hard to decide whether I was just fluctuating.

Thursday, October 19

The Trials

There used to be a Tv programme called The Trials Of Life. It was about survival of wild animals up against the forces of nature. With that in mind, my relatively cushy existence is probably not worth complaining about, but if I didn't complain, I'd have nothing to write!

Last night's journey home proved to be quite a nuisance. I was rushing back to help out with some Diy, and I also needed a new hard disk for a computer I was going to reinstall with software. None of this should have been difficult.

The drive home was marred by a diversion. The sat nav got me out of that one, I'm pleased to say. There had just been an accident, so there was just a road closure, no diversion signs. Tricky, but not the end of the world. I fought through some traffic at the other end to get me to the retail park where Maplin and Pc World, spit, both reside. I wanted some cable tidies from Maplin, so I went there first. I asked one of the staff where to find hard drives, thinking that I may as well check them out while I was there. He told me to go to the other end of the store as he was leaving. He made it clear that I was in the wrong for talking to him. How dare I talk to a member of staff when he's on his way somewhere. I didn't know he was going, and he still works there.

When I'm in a rush I get quite single minded and much less patient. Still, I went to where I was sent and asked again. I was told to read through the catalogue. So I did. I found nothing of use, so I bought my cable ties and headed to Pc World, spit.

Hard drives that go inside the computer are not on the main shelves. After some vain searching, I looked for a member of staff. Two were dealing with an irate customer on the shop floor. One, the younger lad, appeared to be just standing and nodding, rather than involved. Running out of patience, I interrupted and apologised and asked for directions to the hard drives. I was sent to a locked cabinet with drives in, not a full list of price tags and nobody serving. I then went to the desk adjacent to this cabinet to wait for the person at that desk to complete what she was on and help me.

To put this into context, all I wanted was any sort of standard hard drive. The smallest in capacity and cheapest they did. That was it. It should cost maybe 25 quid, though I expected to pay more. Eventually, when my patience had reached its lowest ebb, after minutes of frustration, watching nothing happening in the store while my life ticked away, the young lad from earlier approached the desk and offered to serve me. I told him I wanted his cheapest hard drive. He opened the cabinet. He asked which I wanted. I said the cheapest. He asked which that was. I said I didn't know. He worked there, perhaps he could tell me. He picked up a drive with 360 gigs capacity: thats more than the sum of all the drives on every computer I use. I said that that was unlikely to be the cheapest. He got shirty with me. I asked him to look it up on his system. He wasn't impressed. I wasn't impressed. It was turning into a row. I stopped a moment. I asked if we could start again and we did. He found me the smallest drive. It was cheap enough and I bought it. He apologised for his attitude. We shrugged off the incident. Bad day all round, I guess.

Then home for some Ikea assembly. Things went well until a drawer got stuck mid assembly. It's a one use design. You attach the runners, slide the drawer in onto them, they grip and it's for life. If they grip the wrong way and jam. . . It could be game over. We managed to undo it. It was my fault.

The computer installation proved to be totally painless. That was far too easy. Still, it made up for the rest of the fuss.

Veils, Muslim or Otherwise

There's a lot of fuss on the news about Muslim women wearing veils and whether it should be allowed. I think that our Labour government has managed to give the country one single and simple demonstration of their socialist heritage, in a way that a more right-wing government wouldn't. Socialists just don't get religion and cultural identity. There, I've said it. I'm surprised to see that even the PM himself has ended up commenting in favour of removing the veils, making a judgement prejudicial to a court case surrounding a muslim teaching assistant who has been suspended for continuing to wear the veil in class.

The whole veil thing is, for me, not just about the right of a person to wear what they see fit to wear, but is about identity and freedom of expression. It's also about tolerance and understanding what is or isn't normal. Before I try to explain why I would back the right of any person to dress as they wish (no matter how stupid it makes them look), I would first like to bring up a few ideas on when it is not appropriate to dress as you wish.

The Uniform
I think it's perfectly reasonable for an employer to design a uniform that their staff should wear. I think it's also reasonable for that uniform to convey a certain look and feel. It would be a shame for such a uniform to exclude people from wearing religious apparel - crucifixes, head-wear or whatever - but if the uniform cannot stretch to that extent, and if the employer feels they have a good reason for that, then it's fair enough.

I think that uniform regulations can be challenged, but if I go to McDonalds to work, I think I have to expect not to get special treatment on any grounds. There's a uniform. Take it or leave it. In time, perhaps the regulations, with enough people appealing, and with a clientele who are smart enough to tolerate variety, might stretch to accommodating religious needs, but it's not a racial matter to stick to a uniform.

The Dress Code
Some employers don't provide an exact uniform, but do require certain dress codes. There was a case where a male employee was suspended for wearing women's clothes and he complained bitterly, yet the dress code for his employer, again, stated that he was in the wrong. While, perhaps, it's not important if someone decides to dress in opposite gender clothes, I can see the employer's point. Dress codes are, again, born out of a desire to make a certain impression or cater for a certain requirement or expectation. Given that women can wear trousers without it being non-feminine, I wouldn't see why a man would object to wearing trousers, even if he were a cross-dresser. And if what you wear is so important to you, then a job and its associated dress code must surely be dispensible.

Inappropriate Circumstances
The reason that there's a veil-wearer in the news at the moment is due to her teaching. They reckon the kids can't hear her through her veil. I think that's probably baloney. However, if a veil-wearer were to work in a school for the deaf... I think you have to balance the way you appear with the circumstances.

I think it's fine that some women choose to dress provocatively on nights out. Bless their young taut flesh for that. However, in the workplace, it would be inappropriate. In a hospital it would be unhygienic.

You get the idea. There's a time and a place for certain dress codes.

Freedom and Cultural Identity
Anyone who thinks that veil-wearing is not normal, which is the real bugbear that's brought this to the fore, has a problem. Jack Straw cited that the wearing of veils emphasises the divisions in our society, but the truth is that there is no norm for people to deviate from. England is a big mish-mash of different cultures. The only true indigenous people are probably up in Scotland and across in Wales. The rest of this country is formed from people who invaded the place, who were invaded by the British Empire, or who have come to this country to work hard and make a life for themselves, the likes of which they would be denied elsewhere.

The national favourite food is curry. This food originated somewhere else.

People on the street dress as goths, chavs, americans (jeans/t-shirt), suits, and a whole other variety of things. It doesn't matter.

To be a melting pot culture, like america thinks it is, might require us to demand that everyone loses their cultural heritage and tends towards a bland norm. Who defines that norm? Probably the high street shops, who churn out bunches of identical items of inexpensive badly made clothing, which keeps the people who made them poor in whichever country happens to be the cheapest for labour at any given moment.

To accept that there is no norm, and that people can be who they want to be, provided they respect the rights of everyone else in this country to do the same, is to provide the freedom that everyone here is so frightened of losing. The fact that muslims appear to be vilified comes from the fact that a few extreme nutcases, who are using their religion as a rationale for their lunacy, want to impinge on people's freedom. Yet, ironically, our response to that is to try to control people's behaviour and make an oppressive regime for them, exactly the regime we're frightened of. Why would we do that?

Who wants to be normal anyway? Who wants a carbon copy life? I've seen the brand of normal which we have in this country, it's chain-smoking, pie-eating, sportswear-wearing imbecilic bigotry. I'm not keen.

So, speak up against this anti-veil move. For those people who feel that they wish to use the veil for reasons of religious or cultural modesty, for that's all it is, it's important enough that they choose to look the way they do. Even though others don't. To attempt to enforce the removal of such a thing in general public, and to require that we all converge to a single nationwide standard, is to rob us of our diversity. When will they come for you? When will your favourite shirt be seen as subversive?

Carbon Copies
One final thought. Is anyone else sick of the fact that you can go to pretty much any small town, walk along the high street, and go to exactly the same shops as the last small town you visited. Worse if they've got a mall. What's the point of having different towns if they're all the same!?

Better World Books

Better World Books is a charitable organisation that sells books and gives the profits to charities that fund world literacy. Given that I was quite moved by my recent exposure to the poverty surrounding us during our holiday to Kenya, and given that there are countries where things are much worse than I've seen, I can only applaud the efforts of someone turning people's general desire for reading material into a means of funding others' literacy.

These guys also sell on the internet, so their marketplace is huge. In fact, they sell via Amazon. A recent recommendation for a book to read (noted on another blog) led me to Amazon, to their used books marketplace and on to placing an order with Better World Books. In this respect, the internet is making the world a better place. My blog reading habits and my eager use of the credit card will have a positive impact on someone, if not me.

My only minor complaint comes from the price. My book cost £1.09. With a couple of quid for postage and packing, I'm in a quandary. As a buyer I can only be pleased with the ability to buy a hardback book in "good condition" for under £4. As a charitable person, hoping that little Johnny (or whoever) in Somewhereland will learn to read, I'm wondering how much the 59p, which will come out of this total price towards his pencils, will actually help him out.

I would probably have been willing to pay more for the book.


Last time I bought a house, in 1998 (at a fifth of the price I just offered for one in Reading), I wasn't blogging and didn't, therefore, keep any record of how the process went.

I'm not sure that there's much of interest to note, but here's what's happened so far:

Friday: Made offer that was accepted - appointed solicitor (well, asked for solicitor services)
Monday: Arranged mortgage
Tuesday: Paid for mortgage and valuation
Wednesday: Arranged independent survey on top of valuation (plus visited the house in the dead of night to see the SOLD sign)
Thursday: Writing this
Monday next week Valuation survey
Wednesday next week Buildings survey

Assuming all goes well with various surveys, then it's time to put the whole thing in the hands of the solicitor.

If all doesn't go well, then Houston...

Wednesday, October 18

Not Even My Gig

Last night I went to see a friend of mine perform his first acoustic gig in London. I think it was also the first time he'd really set out to perform his own material live and alone. "Live and Alone", now that's a good name for a live album. Anyway, though I know it can be better to break yourself in in some obscure venue with nobody you know in the audience, it can also be good to get a bit of moral support. Given that I've seen Chris performing under a variety of situations, some of them with me, and given that I've seen him performing songs he's not yet written, I don't think he had any worries that my opinion of his abilities might be in any way influenced by the events in the Dragon's Head pub in Croydon.

Journey man
After work, I plugged the coordinates into my sat nav, told it to avoid the M25 and headed off to Croydon. Despite the fact that I wasn't performing, I still had some of the stomach-tingling sensation of pre-gig anticipation. I think this was because, but for the fact that I wasn't going to appear on the stage, the journey to the gig was an identical experience to that of journeying to any gig. The destination was some random pub. I was in my car, alone. I had my sat nav showing me where to go, and I had my guitar in the boot (happenstance). I could just as easily have gotten onto the stage and done what I do, though the organisers might have been somewhat unimpressed.

During the journey I self-indulgently listened again to the gig I did last Friday. I wanted to hear it in the colder light of day and I also wanted to see how well I'd performed. I'm planning to send that recording to a friend to listen to, so I also wanted to check to see whether it was a good representative of what I do. And I am narcissistic. I know that. I'm pleased to say that I spotted various holes in my performance and commented out loud when I was starting to lose the audience. I rushed bits of it and it was largely down to the good nature of the audience that this didn't seem to matter in the end. Perhaps I was going with the flow and running with a rapid audience, or maybe they were just working to keep up. I don't know.

Anyway, after my own crap comedy, I switched over to Radio 4 for some more crap comedy. Normally, their 6.30 spot is very good. However, I'm not a huge fan of "The Party Line", a topical sit-com which is recorded on a Sunday evening, following a hectic couple of days' writing and rehearsing. It's trying to do for radio comedy what "Drop The Dead Donkey" did for channel 4 a few years ago. It's ok, but nothing special. I was not totally engrossed in it, which is probably for the best.

I swung off a roundabout and headed up the road I was on. This is my right as a driver. I believe it's called the "right of way". A long straight road off a roundabout, with no cars ahead, is definitely the right of way of the person on it and heading up it. There was a "keep clear" box on the road, whose purpose is not to be swerved around, but more to be not parked in when there's a queue of traffic. The reason for the keep clear box is to facilitate cars turning into or out of the side street on the big long road I was on. The oncoming traffic had a queue and was stopped around this keep clear box. I was looking up the road to my horizon. Then I noticed the car pulling out of the side street. The driver was looking at the queuing traffic and not at her oncoming traffic (me). She pulled out, across the keep clear box, and into my oncoming traffic. I, as her oncoming traffic, would have smashed into her. However, I had started to predict this incident from the moment I saw her head looking in the wrong direction as she moved. I slammed on the brakes and came to a stop, nearly inside, but not actually in the keep clear box (phew, it was clear!). As she decided that she wasn't going to hit the traffic in my oncoming lane her head turned towards me and she noticed that she'd just pulled into the path of an oncoming vehicle. She braked too, ending up about halfway inside the keep clear box. Naughty lady. She didn't keep clear.

We didn't just have a road accident. I'm rather pleased about that. I don't like head-on collisions, whether they're my fault or not (in this case, it wouldn't have been!). So, avoiding one was a triumph. When I had an accident back in January, I had a moment of anger at the accident, but, shock aside, managed to be quite pleasant about it all. In this case, I had more reason to be pleasant and I wasn't about to get all beastly with someone who had managed to avoid me, and whom I'd managed to avoid. I let her out into the traffic. Or, put differently, I stayed in my position, and didn't act angrily while she moved her car onwards and off into the sunset. I smiled slightly at her, as if to say "phew, we avoided that one, didn't we". She turned her face to me and gave me a murderous look.

You have to wonder what exactly went through her head. I had had the benefit of seeing the whole incident, since I'd been looking where I was going and knew that I was in my right of way, but that sometimes you have to deal with people's lapses of attention on the road. So, I'd stopped and didn't even screech my tyres. She, on the other hand, had been driving with such single-mindedness, that she'd not looked at the lane of traffic she needed to cross through before setting off. So, her first introduction to my presence, was the sight of me coming to a halt to avoid hitting her. She looked at me as though I'd done something wrong. What was she thinking? Here's my version:

"How dare you!? How dare you suddenly appear out of nowhere and not hit me. The very least you could do is crash into the side of my car. Maybe injur us both slightly. I've worked hard to be this incompetent behind the wheel and the least I deserve is a proper accident, not a near miss. Nobody's sympathetic about a near miss. You can't get compensation for not hitting someone. Jesus, you're so selfish."

That's what I think she meant when she gave me her murderous look.

I laughed very hard as I drove away from the non-incident. I laughed to purge myself of the adrenaline-injection my body had just given me as something reasonably dangerous unfolded. The car is a dangerous machine when thumped into something. Perhaps my own single-mindedness sometimes leads me into moments of near-peril, and maybe every driver in this country needs to review their attitude to the vehicle. If we used our cars and roads less selfishly, there would be fewer accidents and less congestion. Still, I believe that any journey you can walk away from is a good one.

Thank goodness I was actually paying attention. There are so many gadgets and flashing lights at my disposal in the car that I could easily not have been...

I only wish I had access to a blog like this, but written by the woman I'm writing about here. I'd love to know what she really thought.

Arriving at the venue, my own tunnel vision set in, and I had to get some change for the parking meter. Nothing else mattered. I even interrupted my friend's soundcheck to see if I could beg some coins from him. I think I was still a bit shaken up by the events of the journey. I was acting a bit of an arse. Eventually, I got coins, put money in the machine for an evening ticket and got into the bar for some pre-gig relaxing.

Fourth on
My friend was the fourth on the bill of 5. Each performer had about 30 minutes in which to do their thing. This is a long time. Maybe for music it's not that long, but as a comedian, my early spots (and even a few too many recent ones) were 5 or 10 minutes in length. 30 minutes is an age on stage. Well, it's about 7 songs! Especially when it's the sort of 30 minutes that really 25 with changeover time thrown in.

I recorded my friend's performance after we'd first sat through a bunch of other performances. Some of these were good, some of these were not so good. There were three other performers:
  • Small girl who could sing passionately and play in the key of G only (and she had trouble with the B minor chord)
  • The Scottish guy whose songs and performance were good, whose inter song banter was amusing and charming, but who lost commitment in the song a split second before it ended. He was good, though
  • The girl who did finger picking for every song and sang in a semi-operatic, but non-vibrato open voice. With her almost raucous tones, she was impressive of finger, but I had to excuse myself when she sang in long notes "I live in a forest" - it was go to the toilet or piss myself laughing.
My friend gave a good account of himself, and suffered a little from being late on the bill as people, mainly other performers, were thinking about leaving - it was late in the evening and I guess it can be hard to keep these performing types away from their bed.

I did some audience watching and they generally liked what they saw.

Gannin' Heem
Once my friend had been on, I pretty much packed up and headed home. Via the gift of sat nav, I avoided the M25 and came back via plenty of London places... I'm not sure that was ideal!

Investor Relations

I'm getting a lot of spam at the moment which is trying to recommend stock market investments in the US. Since these adverts don't include contact details of a stock broker, my guess is that they're sent by people who maybe invest $1000 in a random stock, send out a few gajillion spam emails saying that that company is going to do really well, thus conning a few 100 people into investing, thus upping the price, and then the stock is sold to make the original spammer a few extra quid.

That's my guess.

Here's an example of a simple social engineering email. The idea is to make the recipient think they've received something they oughtn't, and that that "something" contains a stock trading tip:

From: "Brendan Rodgers"
To: [my email address]

hi Brendan i hope this is your e-mail.
I was glad to meet you the other day. I expect you are really had like the New
So much so much happening all the time, lots of great opportunities.
And speaking of opportunities, the deal I was speaking you about yesterday
embraces a company
named Tex-Homa (TXHE).
It's already heading up, but the big information isn't even
out yet, so there's still time. I have got this shares already and made
2000. I recommend you to do the same today.

Hope this helps you out. I'll see you this weekend.
Yours Brendan Rodgers

The small problem with this mail is that it looks like the sender has sent it to himself. That's a bit weird! Who would believe in such a thing? What sort of idiots do they think they're sending this mail to? Surely, those people who trade in stocks and shares in the US must have some brains...

Then there are emails like this:

From: Youre Mutual"
To: [my email]

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produce sails Lloyd in important event sailing.
Liberty campaign cup three
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Task Chapter will am explain air utilized wish emphasize although basic.
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There Stay Party night Plasma in tv Plus low issue is hooked or Toss indash Pioneer Avicd Navigation Heating

Again, you have to wonder who would look at the above bunch of nonsense (and this is nonsense from a random word generator, or, more specifically, a random quoter) and decide that this is enough influence on them to help them make an important decision about their savings.

The answer must be that it's Americans they're aiming at... and these schemes must work, or they would have stopped long ago. I'm not being anti-American. In America people play the stock market. In this country much less so.

It just looks like the players are, themselves, being played.

Tuesday, October 17

I Thought I'd Lost This

I told someone I'd no longer got a copy of this. It turns out I was wrong. You can click on it to download a copy if you're really bothered.

An Assortment

A few things rattling around my head:

I had a frustrating trouser-trying-on session last night. The reason is simple. On the face of things, despite having shed over 3 stone since May, my trouser size doesn't appear to have changed. Of course my body has changed shape quite radically, as has my overall level of fitness and posture. However, the problem is due to the way that trousers work and sizes are determined. When I was at the larger size, I could squeeze myself into a pair of trousers whose label probably lied by a couple of inches, and which would stretch to accommodate me. Now those same trousers are significantly looser and, thus, not stretching. They're not falling off me completely, but I feel a bit like I'm wearing clown pants. More importantly, I feel like it's time that I officially declared myself a trouser size down.

I was able to get a pair of trousers to fit me in a lower size last night. They're not tight. They're not loose either. Other pairs would probably have fit better in the higher size, but I am not interested in the higher size. In my opinion, the waist is planned to decrease in size, so getting trousers that fit ok in a lower size makes more sense than ones which fit ok in a higher size. Slightly tighter trousers in a size I'm heading into should surely be better than slightly looser trousers in a size i'm heading away from... right?

Well, probably not. You should buy trousers that fit you, rather than looking at the label. A measurement of my waist on a tape measure confirms that it's at the higher waist size... but in myself I want to feel like I've achieved something physical with the weightloss. So this is nothing to do with trousers. It's just about body image and self-esteem issues.

So, maybe I should be doing something proactive to change my body shape. Just dropping weight won't necessarily guarantee me the shape I want. I should be walking or cycling... or something.

I think I'm hoping to use the opportunity of having to work on a house as a way of getting healthier. Life will certainly involve more effort once the house is bought. We'll see.

Yesterday I chose the mortgage, confirmed the solicitor I'll be using (thanks to all concerned) and got things moving. Today I have applied for the mortgage I want and I'm currently awaiting the decision. I don't anticipate any problems with the mortgage decision. Having written this, I've probably jinxed it, but there you go. Once the application starts moving, there are surveys to organise and then things should get going quite well. I have to show the buyer that I'm not hanging about, so I will try to pass lots of information about progress through when I have it.

The practicalities of a house are such that my mind is a awash with trivial plans - like how to protect a carpet against boxes of stuff, or whether to buy a wardrobe or build one out of MDF... I like that sort of thing.

Lost - The Connections
Buying a Lost DVD box set is a fairly large time commitment. There are 24 episodes in a series, each of which has a running time of about 43/44 minutes (actually, there were 23, as the last was a double episode). So, in total, that's a watching time of about 1044 minutes or 17.4 hours. This can be achieved within a week's evening viewing. Sadly, these things are written well enough to keep you hooked for all 17.4 of those hours. Damn them!

At the end of the voyage through the jungle romp that is Lost, you wonder what could possibly be on the bonus disc. Actually, there were some fun things on there, including a montage of all the one-liners from Sawyer, the character who gives people amusing nicknames. One of the more thought-provoking features was something which showed how a number of the characters were linked outside of the events on the island. This is a game the writers have played. To give the programme a sense of mythology and interrelatedness, they have the characters unwittingly interract with each other in the past. For example, Sawyer, who was once served in a cafe by Kate's mother, once slept with the lottery announcer who announced the lottery numbers (the numbers in fact) when Hurley won, something which was playing on the screen in the background when Jin was intimidating someone in Korea. Have you heard of these people? If so, then you'll appreciate it in a fan sort of a way. If not, then it sounds a bit like a crap soap opera... which, were it not for the budgets and the mysteries, it would be.

Still, the Six Degrees of Separation concept, which is what they illustrate on Lost in their bloody-writer's-mind-games is quite a fascinating concept. Last night I tried to work out how I might be linked to my girlfriend if we'd not met where we met and have never dated. It wasn't difficult. My sister's husband does work for the local football ground in Reading and my girlfriend's sister knows someone who works there too. Though we'd perhaps have to work hard to name all the links in betweeen, they're undoubtedly possible.

I would recommend having a go at this. Can you establish a non-obvious route of friend-of-a-friends or whatever to someone you know? Or perhaps you could establish a mutual acquaintance chain with a complete stranger. It's easier than you think. There are various wild cards. Places where lots of people interact - football grounds, supermarkets, whatever, are bound to help. I think I'm a wild card. I travel up and down the country and have friends all over the place. Edinburgh is an incredibly useful nest of links too.

Money Scams
In a bit of synchronicity, I have recently noticed a link to an interesting 419 scam website. In this case, they've got stories from people who have baited the scammers. The story of "Ethel" is pretty funny, resulting in the scammer posting a ten Euro note to the "victim". See What's The Bloody Point.

Sunday, October 15

Another 419 Scam

I know that posting these has caused me some bother in the last week, but they're funny. Enjoy:

From: Lady Toreth Hughes []

From: Lady Toreth Hughes

52 Oxford Street,

Manchester M13 9L,


Here writes Lady Toreth Hughes, suffering from cancerous ailment. I am

married to Sir Richard Hughes an Englishman who is dead. My husband was

into private practice all his life before his death. Our life together

as man and wife lasted for three decades without child. My husband died

after a protracted illness. My husband and I made a vow to uplift the

down-trodden and the less-privileged individuals as he had passion for

persons who can not help themselves due to physical disability or

financial predicament. I can adduce this to the fact that he needed a


from this relationship, which never came.

When my late husband was alive he deposited the sum of 20 Million (20

Million Great Britain Pounds Sterling which were derived from his vast

estates and investment in capital market) with his bank here in UK.

Presently, this money is still with the Bank.

Recently, my Doctor told me that I have limited days to live due to the

cancerous problems I am suffering from. Though what bothers me most is

the stroke that I have in addition to the cancer. With this hard

reality that has befallen my family, and me I have decided to donate


fund to you and want you to use this gift which comes from my husbands

effort to fund the upkeep of widows, widowers, orphans, destitute, the

down-trodden, physically challenged children, barren-women and persons


prove to be genuinely handicapped financially.

I took this decision because I do not have any child that will inherit

this money and my husband relatives are bourgeois and very wealthy

persons and I do not want my husband\'s hard earned money to be misused


invested into ill perceived ventures. I do not want this money to be

misused hence the reason for taking this bold decision. I am not afraid


death hence I know where I am going. I do not need any telephone

communication in this regard due to my deteriorating health and because


the presence of my husband\'s relatives around me. I do not want them


know about this development.

As soon as I receive your reply I shall give you the contact of the

bank in UK. I will also issue you a Letter of Authority that will

empower you as the original beneficiary of this fund. My happiness is

that I lived a life worthy of emulation. Please assure me that you

will act just as I have stated herein. Hope to hear from you soon.

You can contact me through my personal email

Lady Toreth Hughes

Brilliant. Excellent use of language, Christianity, the gentry and poor layout.

Saturday, October 14

Musical Day

Today has been vaguely musically creative. We looked at a piece of work that could do with serious review. We also went into a music shop. I was inspired enough by this experience to write three tunes and learn someone else's finger twisting piano solo. All in the space of a few hours. I love music.

I think that I've hit the start of the sweet spot that usually happens in October. Summer has gone for good now and it's time to bed down for the winter. With the house to think about and a bunch of things to organise, this year should end in a busy manner!

Thank You Very Much And Goodnight

Every so often I have a gig which reminds me why I love doing comedy. Though tonight came with the requirement to be there at 6.30 to meet the sign language people, and though I stressed about the fact that I'd let my sat nav guide me through tons of London traffic, extending my journey to around the 4 hour mark, also known as 90 minutes after the deadline, I had a cracking gig. I had a joke for everything that arose, and even I found it all funny. That helps.

Friday, October 13


Offer accepted. Dealing with the aftermath.

Thrill Seeker

I chatted to the estate agent about the house I put an offer in (and had declined). I explained how I was still interested in the property, but didn't want to get into a bidding competition. I commented that it was "Like eBay, but with higher stakes.".

He wasn't that impressed.

So I upped my offer.

I await news of whether I've just made the house more expensive (without having my offer accepted), or whether I've just created an urgent need to arrange mortgage/survey/etc.

Though I usually feel quite dispassionate about money, doing this sort of buying does make me feel a bit excitable (not necessarily in a good way). To put things in context, my the offer I put in on my first house, bought back in October 1998, was for an amount which is exactly one fifth of the amount I have just offered on a Reading property in October 2006. Though a telephone offer for a house is not legally binding, and there is always the opportunity of a surveyor's report to demonstrate why I should run and feel lucky for doing so, I feel a bit like I just leapt down one of the "Hell Slides" at Lightwater Valley.

A "yes" or "no" at this stage would be equally big a deal.

The Importance Of Being Essayist

Now who is shoehorning titles together!?

Just a quick comment here on writing a journal or blog or diary. It's really worthwhile. Perhaps it's not worth the while of the reader who tries to make sense of one's ramblings, but it is useful to be able to look back on one's own history without the soft focus of nostalgia. Writing a little in the moment account of how I see my life allows me to understand it a bit better with the benefit of hindsight.

Last year I retrospectively wrote up a few months' worth. I also lost all of October. I noticed that again today when I tried to see what I'd written about my last gig in Salford, which was almost exactly a year ago. I don't like missing months.

Writing something on a nearly daily basis has never been easier. I was especially pleased that I kept up my blog while in Edinburgh. Being able to do it from a mobile phone made all the difference. Perhaps an Africa diary would have been good from my Kenya holiday, but you can't have everything.

Manchester Is Not Near

I haven't done a long-distance gig in quite some time and I'd forgotten exactly how much effort it is to drive around 500 miles in an evening, hoping to be at a gig on time at the start, and in bed before dawn at the end. Though I may be out of practice doing that sort of thing, most recent gigs having been significantly more local, I still managed to make the most of my largely car-bound experience.

On the way out to the gig, the traffic wasn't so good, but I had four episodes of the original Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy to keep my company. Then I listened to Radio 4, who were running their comedy programme - Genius - which is one of their better offerings. After that I amused myself with Tim Minchin's "Dark Side" recording, which was still playing when I arrived at the venue. It was about 4 hours between the office and the venue, though I'd managed to cram in a pit-stop (piss stop?) at Stafford services, and a call home to find out the news on the house that's currently sitting at number one in our hit parade. So far, nothing else has charted.

I'd arrived about 15 minutes before the show was due to start and so I cracked on with the sound check. I played this gig a year previously and their sound system was the same. Last time, it was luck that I happened to have a ton of useful equipment with me. This time, my bag of tricks was loaded up especially for the job, and we soon had my guitar sounding sweet. Probably better than last time.

Just as I was completing the sound check, I got a call from a fellow comedian. I didn't know who else was playing the gig, but it turned out that he was the headliner and he was in the building (ringing to find out where I was - clearly he'd not heard me playing my guitar really loudly in the next room to where he was sitting). My plans to leave the gig as soon as I was done evaporated. This guy had run a weekly gig in Newcastle, which I'd attended for about a year (on and off) and watched his material expand. I'd even given him a couple of jokes (not that he needed me as a writer - it's just that these things happened to suit him). I was really pleased to be doing a gig with someone whose path I hadn't crossed since my Newcastle days and whose stuff I always enjoyed.

Oh dear, I'm starting to sound all lovey. Still, I was pleased. Live with it.

As always happens when I rush to a gig, things kicked off later than planned. The audience were not ones for rushing. The MC was very good, but quite low-paced (on purpose) squeezing merriment out of the crowd without any hurry. If he hadn't been so effective at riffing and getting absorbing the audience's silences and replacing them with good humour and charm, I might have been unimpressed. As it was, I thought he did a cracking job, but I got onto the stage after what seemed like a long amorphous warm up. The crowd were not exceedingly easy (this was down to the sort of people and the size of the room, more than anything else) but I waded through my set with alacrity and balanced my insecurity about how well it was going against my genuine enjoyment of the opportunity to do what I do to an audience.

The reaction I got was odd. Sometimes they felt quite ambivalent, and sometimes I got applause breaks for the slightest of jokes - mid song once. I always feel that an applause at the end of a song is not worth being smug about. It's just convention. An applause break that includes whooping and is very long after a song, is possibly more earned. Applause that starts as the song is on its last note, is a genuine "we really want to applaud now, so we're just going for it" and an applause within a song is the best - it's like a damp apologetic puppy - "Sorry, I just couldn't wait".

As I said, they did some of the applause stuff, but then they also gave me the "a-hur" low laugh for some of my lines and also the completely-silent treatment to other bits. This was a very young audience of largely unworldly 18 year olds who wanted to have a good time, but were afraid to let go too much lest they look stupid. So, this sort of reaction is to be expected. As I remember, it was similarly difficult to keep momentum last time I did the gig, and the room was fuller last time. However, any worries I had about whether I'd given a good account of myself are irrelevant. As Rafiki from the Lion King might say "It's in the past". More importantly, though I know that I went into autopilot a couple of times, rather than doing bits of the set "for real", the recording of the gig I listened to on the way home shows a fairly well timed and paced set. It sounded better than it felt at the time.

The middle acts had their work cut out and fared in some ways well and in some ways not so well. That's for them to decide.

My ex-Newcastle-co-patriate did very well indeed. He went from planning to do a tight 20 minute set to playing out a solid 30. He has some newer material which is lovely and he's always good to watch. I foolishly didn't work out how get my mobile phone recording a bit of his material that my girlfriend likes and which we sometimes repeat among ourselves - I'm sure she'd have like that... but it didn't happen. Never mind. It's in the past!

I was quickly paid, packed and headed for the car. It was, however, nearly 10 minutes before I left the car park. I had a car parked either side of mine and another was behind (perpendicular to mine and about a car's width away). In the end, one of the security people, seeing me backing and forwarding almost pointlessly in and out of my space, came and saw me out. I cannot just where the back of my car is. I usually get it wrong by about 18 inches (worth of air), and I didn't want to end up making holes in other cars as I tried to make a sharp exit from Salford (always advisable to leave Salford, by the way). With Security man's help, I was away.

The return journey, with the aid of my sat-nav, now seemingly recovered from its recent trip to completely-knackereds-ville, could be measured in miles, or time, but I measured it in listening pleasure. First I had the 20 minutes of my set. Then, I listened to the rest of Tim Minchin's Dark Side. This gave me a taste for Australian comedy, so I switched to Jim Jeffries, who was, quite simply, stunning. I've only seen him live a couple of times. The latter time was in Edinburgh this year and he was top notch. This CD was bought outside his show and is full of some classics. No matter the subject, he'll be surprisingly funny, obnoxious and charming all in one go. His "Steve Irwin/Alf Stewart Gay Sex" routine is as fitting a tribute to Steve Irwin as any of the other more saccharine affairs you might have seen over the last few weeks. I laughed hard.

Bill Bailey still remains one of my all-time favourite comedians, so his Part Troll recording was the final leg of my journey back home. I was impressed that the time passed so quickly, the fog wasn't too bad, the batteries of my MP3 player lasted and I got back home, after a refuelling stop, around about the same time as I'd fallen asleep, after watching Lost, the previous evening.

The cat tried to escape when I entered the house, but I blocked her exit. She later came to sit on my chest and purr. She's very forgiving.

Thursday, October 12

Try Not To Offend Anyone

Well, following from yesterday's blog backlash, I'll try not to offend anyone with this post. I'm currently working on exorcising my sense of indignation over the backlash in a more productive manner than adding to my problems doing it here.

Anyway. It appears that my weight is stabilising at its post holiday low, which means I'm really doing guite well. I have shed a fair old amount of mass since April and I really don't feel like I'm trying. Perhaps if I did some exercise, or stopped eating various unnecessary things I would seriously get towards my new target. I just thought of one. I remember weighing 17 and a half stone back in 1994. I'm significantly more than that at the moment. So perhaps there is a goal for me. Undo the last 12 years poor diet. Hey, maybe my hair will grow back too. I doubt it.

We went to view a house last night which proved to be highly unpleasant. I had had the house suggested to me by the estate agent. It sounded like it had a lot going for it and might even be open to a reasonable offer. I knew that the road in question lay in an area in which we were looking, so I agreed to a viewing that night. The result wasn't worth coming home early for. The road in question stretches into a fairly unpleasant part of town and guess where the property was. With its tiny kitchen and bathroom, this house's main advantage might have been its bedrooms and reception rooms. Sadly these were being let out and were mainly locked. I aborted the viewing. It was clearly not a property for us and I was annoyed to find myself viewing a property which was locked shut. What a waste of time. I told the estate agent, who was being apologetic about it, that I'd leave him to his embarrassment. I'm not a fan of estate agents.

I have a couple of gigs coming up. There's Salford university tonight, and then tomorrow I'm in Wellingborough. The headline act tomorrow is deaf and it would appear that they're bringing in sign language interpreters to open up access to the gig for deaf people. This is good, but as a musical act, I'm not sure what to expect. I've had to type up and send my song lyrics for them to help them learn how to sign me. This could be odd. Still it'll be good fun.

I also worked last night on an article for a computer magazine and on Season 2 of Lost. Disc two is now watched. I'd seen a lot of it before, but it now makes a lot more sense!

Note to self. Things need tidying and sorting out.

Wednesday, October 11

Apologies for the downtime

It would appear that was subject to a DDOS attack last night. This, in turn, would appear to have been caused by a person who contacted me regarding one of the posts on the site. They wished to have their company's name removed from my site. I pointed out that I felt within my rights to name their company, they pointed out that my site could be closed down. I suggested that they had no basis for a complaint against my site in law and that I'd even post their comments alongside my own for balance. At this stage, they claimed that they'd already shut my site down and that they would start spamming child pornography from all my domains (or at least appearing to come from all of my domains) if I didn't do as they asked and remove their name.

I assumed that they were bluffing about shutting down my site, since it appeared to be working, but I considered whether it was worse risking the child porn thing and decided that it wasn't worth the inconvenience of potentially being investigated.

This morning, I discovered that the hosting company who provide this site had in fact suffered a massive DDOS attack (this is where a few hundred computers from around the globe are directed to bombard their server with requests and other traffic non stop). To protect themselves, they had to temporarily close down my site. The timing of this attack was exactly when my correspondant had told me that my site was already shut down. The target of the attack was my site alone. In other words, there was no empty threat.

The child porn threat was also possible. Emails can be faked to come from anyone. Indeed, when I send an email, apparently from me, it goes through various servers, none of which are directly linked with my site. I could send an email from my email address using any server in the world. How do you know an email has genuinely come from me? You don't. So, someone deciding to send out a few hundred thousand child porn images, appearing to come from me, could easily make it look the same as if I'd really done it. Though the authorities would have to work hard to prove it really came from me, they'd at least investigate... police cell, perhaps? scanning my hard drives? watching all my DVDs and videos to be sure they're really musicals, Disney and Lost, rather than some well-hidden kiddie porn... quite frankly it's scary what a malicious person on the internet could cause to happen with only a few keystrokes.

I emailed the guy last night and told him I'd sort out my site today. He emailed to apologise for the inconvenience (!) and I guess I should expect no further problems. I've modified the blog entry as he requested (removing the name of the company he claims to come from) and my website is now back online.

My freedom of speech seems to come at the cost of a lot of inconvenience. Though I had done nothing wrong, the risk to my hosting company of hosting my site would have been too great had I not made the change. Another attack like this and they'll terminate my contract, though they've been very reasonable and pleasant with me about it (and efficient). In addition, though I have not done anything vaguely spam-like, let alone involving porn, the personal stress of being subject to investigation would be more than I think a facetious remark on a website is worth. So, I censored myself.

Welcome to the real world.

Tuesday, October 10

Six Word Stories

This may well be a meme, but the idea that you could write a story in six words has crossed my desk. Originally from here.

Here are some attempts:

Harry Potter nearly kills Voldemort, again.

He smiled graciously at her wedding.

The violent adversary defeated, they celebrated.

The Devil's In The Details

Yesterday was indeed a day full of details. Work had its moments and I made something. I wasn't especially impressed with the thing I made, but it proved a point. I don't know what point exactly, but that, in itself, is not the point. I did something. Hurrah.

However, the day also sat in the glow of the offer I made on a house at its start. Would the offer be accepted? Would I be heading into almost certain financial death? Would the vendor reject the offer? I didn't know. When the day grew older, I chased up the estate agent and was told that my offer had been declined. That's better than rejected, isn't it? That word should be used more often. I've had it happen with credit cards that were at their limit - "Oh sorry, sir, your credit card has been declined" - it's so much more polite than rejected, isn't it. Maybe that should be what single men do when their girlfriends run off with another fellow. "How do you feel?" "Well, she declined a future with me, but that's fine, I'll just try my debit card."

Anyway, the declination of my offer was not personal, it was just that the house was only just on the market, so the vendor wasn't going to even think about selling it until a few people have been round. Let them go. I'll make another offer a bit later on... maybe for less!

I received this news before I started my evening's shopping. I bought ingredients to make pizza. It came to £6.84, which so impressed the man behind me in the queue, since I had a good bag-full of shopping for my money, that when he paid over £36 for two printer cartridges he then gave me his vouchers-for-schools bounty to compensate for the fact that I'd not even earned one with my purchase. Nice chap.

Back at home, I made the pizzas and they were ok. The base wasn't up to my usual standard, but I had to sort of guess at the recipe a bit. The topping was good and we enjoyed them. Then, as a feather in the cap of an eventful day, I took my girlfriend to see a movie I knew she wanted to see The Devil Wears Prada. This film was ok. Anne Hathaway was especially big-eyed throughout. Meryl Streep was fine. It was... well, fine. I doubt it would win any awards for anything. It did seem to reveal the futile vanity of the fashion industry, vaguely attempt to justify it, give up, attempt to stab it in the back, and then walk away after a sort of a slash. I feel very ambivalent about this ambivalent film. I was less equanimous about the constant chatter around me in the cinema. There were only about 15 of us in there, but I didn't pay overinflated cinema prices to hear people explaining a fairly lightweight film to each other. Blah blah blah blah - that's all I heard in any of the longer sequences. Blah blah bloody blah.

So, at the day's end, I was well fed, vaguely entertained, slightly irritated, and not especially poorer than when it started.

Monday, October 9

The Gospel Van

Down the end of our street, the Gospel Van proclaims the following to the world:

I have a reply thus:

Where do you stand with punctuation?
Yes, you need punctuation in your text!
So, where do you stand with punctuation?
"He have an appointment with you"
is totally incorrect grammar, loser.
"But" is no way to start a sentence.
So, where do you stand with grammar and punctuation?
The choice is yours, but I'd recommend getting some education.

Bricks and Drugs

We spent the weekend looking at houses. Not every second of the weekend, obviously. I had time to do other things like go to Tesco a couple of times, make a lasagne, and watch a lot of pointless telly. However in between all of this there was some house hunting. And I did some reading too.

On Saturday we started out with an old lady's house which was in poor condition and too small. Then we saw a massive 4 bed 3 storey house which was amazing. Then, in the afternoon, we saw a house which felt like a show home, but was too small again. It was also a bit weird, having had its soul replaced with Ikea. The last two houses we saw that day were weird. One had an odd kitchen going on, with something of a penthouse on its 3rd floor. The last was a 2+1 house, which meant that the main bedroom had a room coming off it. That's normal, but gaffer taping the door shut and installing an external staircase to a mid air door to this room is not normal. To hell with planning regulations and safety. This house was also too small, and was full of Jesus.

On Sunday, in the full spirit of "what the f***!?", we saw another oddly laid-out house which had rooms everywhere, many of which were small or damp or just plain wrong. I didn't really understand how anyone could bear to live there.

The market is rapid and tight. I put an offer in on one of the houses today. It was the second we saw. More news as and when it happens.

1300th post!

Saturday, October 7

Holiday Snaps

I haven't, as yet, sorted out the pictures taken on the main digital camera. Indeed, I didn't take many of them myself, leaving the job in the trusty hands of my girlfriend. However, I took a handful of photos on the old mobile phone, and I present these here as a mini tribute to modern photography.

A sweeping landscape with some Wildebeest

A sleeping lion - pretty close to the car

This rhino is close

We're on foot and these rhinos are very close now

Ah, a pretty landscape

An elephant, determined to prove that my mobile doesn't have optical zoom

Two elephants are better than one - especially without the zoom

A nice blue over-vivid shot of another elephant

A brooding African tree (it has an eagle in it, but you'd never know

Nandos - Kenyan style


Please do consult the Backlash section where there have been recent updates.

Friday, October 6

A Monster Offer


Hello Ashley Frieze,

We have found your resume at and we would like to offer you a job. It is a part-time job that consists of receiving payments from customers (through bank transfers) and then making further payments to our main office or to one of our regional affiliated departments, depending on the customer's location.

Your commission as an agent is 6% of each transaction. For example, if you receive 2000 GBP to your bank account, you will withdraw the money and keep 120 GBP for yourself. Your salary will be approximately 24000 GBP per year. The hours for this work are flexible and can be combined with any permanent or other part-time job, with an average workload of up to 10 hours a week. All additional money transfer and money transfer-related charges are covered and paid for by our company. Therefore you'll only be responsible for making the proper payments in time (i.e. within 48 hrs of successful receipt into your account). Each transaction will be transferred only after prior notification, which will sometimes be a notification by phone call.

Our company's principal business is based on a business model that heavily employs all the latest internet technologies. ****** is one of only a few companies that uses regional representatives in its business operations. This avoids high foreign taxation and cross-board acquisition fees. If you are interested in our offer, please feel free to ask for details of the general provisions of the contract. Our e-mail address is:

We look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,
Rita Ott
HR Department

Allow me to rephrase.

Dear Potential Mug,

Please help us with our scam/money laundering scheme.

Ah go on.

You know you're greedy.

Lots of love

Some Criminals

Lexically Challenged

Dear Reading Estate Agent,

Further to your description of two properties as being "deceptionally spacious", I would like to point out that there's no such word as "deceptionally". Do you mean "deceptively"?

Ashley Frieze

Dear Ashley,

We were trying to explain that it was both exceptionally spacious and deceptively so, so we merged the two words together to make "deceptionally".

Estate Agent


The Best of Backlash

I thought I'd list a few highlights of Backlash, the original outlet for ranting from which this whole site grew. Here are some articles that may or may not be worth reading (in no particular order):
  • Iceberg - an eBay purchase which quickly descended into a slanging match
  • Charver Parenthood - a satire on underclassy parenting skills
  • Well Wishing - the office whip round and why it disgusted me
  • Cross and Branston - how to improve a classic relish
  • Letter To Kwik Fit - not technically a "backlash", but it's in that style and gets a lot of hits
  • The Achilles Paradoxical credit card - how an old philosophical question abounds with your credit card company
  • Burro Crazy - a stab at mindless bureaucracy (which still abounds, and requires me to give a landline number on which I can't be contacted when I register for some estate agents)
  • Mini Trolleys - a big Google hit for me and a reason why I hated shopping at normal hours
  • Mmmm Kylie - a proposition she could refuse, but didn't even receive
  • Not 'arf - my stand against copyright infringements on eBay
  • Knock Knock - before I was a stand-up, I was a comedy book critic, apparently
That'll do, I think.

London London London

It should be relatively easy to do a gig in London. I live in Reading, which is about 30-40 miles away from the place. I work in Farnborough, which is not a great deal further away. Both Reading and Farnborough have railway stations that have regular trains directly into the capital (the Farnborough train stops a couple of times, and many of the Reading trains don't).

Comparing the effort to doing a gig in, say, Leeds, I would say that London is reasonably low stress. However, it's always more fuss than you'd think. The big problem is the fact that I have to get to work in Farnborough, but would rather arrive back home in Reading. So, either I have to get a lift into work and then take a train journey in and out of London with a different start and end, or I have to drive back to Reading and then take the train from Reading, return... or drive into London (which has never yet proved to be an easy option). Yesterday, I tried the bit where you return to Reading, get a lift to the station and take it from there. It wasn't hard, but it wasn't quick either. It feels like it should be easier.

However, a return ticket to London is a mere £12.50 from Reading station, and the 30 minute journey is an excellent opportunity to eat a 12" Subway sandwich and read Micro Mart, which has got increasingly superbly written content (I'm starting to feel increasingly inadequate as a result).

The result of yesterday's early evening travelling was that I found myself at Edgware Road Tube, a stop away from my train's destination of Paddington, at around 7.30. The gig was due to start at 8.30, with doors at 8. Perfect. Plenty of time to set up, relax, and prepare to be funny. I walked to the venue at a leisurely pace.

I arrived at the venue with my gig radar telling me that there wasn't much happening. In the room above the pub where the gig was supposed to be held, there was someone I knew, setting up the room. We had no sound system. This can simplify my setup, though I prefer to be plugged into a sound system and carry around much in the way of technical wizardry to make that possible. Still, plugging nothing in is always easier. However, I set about finding out whether we had sound, lights, backdrop etc. It turned out that we had a magic box of tricks in the cellar.

As we were carrying this stuff up from the cellar, with the landlord, he explained how the numbers for this new gig had been up and down, and the person who was running the gig on behalf of the promoter explained to him our threshold for whether the gig would go ahead. Six punters. It's not many, but it's more playable than 5. By explaining this up front we were preparing ourselves for the possibility of a pulled gig... the probability, in fact. However, I set about setting the room up anyway.

I got the sound set up, used my technical geekery to plug my guitar into it too and set a mini CD player on the bar playing a disc of "party hits" (lord save us from such things). The room was ready. We even had a mini spot light and a black cloth backdrop taped to the wall.

Other acts appeared. The original headliner was cancelled and I was appointed as his replacement. The rationale being that the original headliner need not bother with a gig that was so likely to be poorly attended, where I... had already turned up? or maybe was a lesser act, more apt for a lesser gig? I don't know. It didn't occur to me as insulting at the time.

Come 8pm, nobody came up, but I did a sweep of the bar downstairs and told people about it. Come 8.30 a handful of people came upstairs. Four people. That's two people less than our published threshold of six. We also had someone turn up who wanted a chance to go on stage as an act. We didn't know what to do. We couldn't go ahead under the circumstances. We considered doing a 30 minute free show, rather than take ticket money off the 4 people in the "audience". Then we considered not doing that. Then a couple more people turned up, but we'd announced that the show wouldn't go ahead, so it seemed too much of an effort to say that we'd changed our minds, just because two Norwegian students had arrived.

So we started packing away. We were about 2 minutes into unplugging and boxing things when another six people turned up, seriously hoping to see some comedy. By this stage, the wheels of pulling the gig were irrevocably in motion and the gig which might have transpired, had we reversed our decision, would have been one of those ones that you feel greedy for having snatched the opportunity to do. So, no regrets per se.

I found myself on a train headed back to Reading at about 9.30pm. At no stage did I consider whether my evening had been a total waste of time.

I knew it had been. There was no need to think about it. It was, however, easy.

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