Tuesday, May 31, 2005

World gone mad...Official

Ok, I heard something that made me laugh out loud today.

It involves a hydrogen bomb.

No, I've not gone insane and suddenly think weapons of mass destruction are funny. Let me explain.

The 'hydrogen bomb' I'm talking about is a simple science project. Basically, it's a high-tech watergun. You press a button, water flies out of the top. Simple.

I'll explain how it's made here, but if you're not interested you can skip ahead and get to the funny part.

Basically you get a plastic box and half fill it with water. Into that you put a 'sparker' from an electric lighter and 2 carbon rods attatched to a 9v battery. What happens is the electric current between the rods seperates the water into hydrogen and oxygen. Then you push the 'sparker' which makes a spark, instantly recombines the hydrogen and oxygen into steam...which bursts out of the top taking a lot of water with it.

You may remember doing an experiment like it in high school chemistry.

Well apparently, a student learned how to make one off the internet, and decided to make one for his highschool science fair.

Unfortunately, his principal heard him telling his friends that he was going to build a 'Hydrogen Bomb' for the science fair. The principal asked him if he was really making a hydrogen bomb, to which the student replied:

"I sure am, my parents are going to buy me the parts for it!"

So the Principal completely wigged out, and called the police. The child ended up going through an early morning police raid on his house as the police searched for 'bomb making materials', and the child has 'implied bomb threat' on his permanent record.

Talk about over-reacting.

Do you want to know the funniest part?

This was the principal of a high school. This is a guy responsible for teaching young children.

Somehow he thought a 12 year old had the engineering knowhow to make a weapon of mass destruction (The bomb that levelled Hiroshima was a hydrogen bomb), and that his parents where getting him the parts for it! Can you imagine that conversation?

"Hey Mom, I want to build a device of unspeakable destruction for my highschool science fair."

"That's nice dear. Anything you need?"

"Just some superconductors, lead shielding, the usual."

"Ok, are you sure you need superconductors?"

"MooOOOooom, you know without superconductors it'll only have a 10 megaton blast, I want one that will take out most of the west coast!"

"Ok dear, but only if you finish your spinach."

How this guy managed to keep his job, I'll never know. If a kid said he was building a bomb, and was going to blow up the school with it, I'd understand. It doesn't take much engineering knowhow to fill a piece of drainpipe with gunpowder and stick a fuse in it, and there are some seriously disturbed kids out there....but a kid saying he was building a hydrogen bomb for the school science fair...and his parents where buying the parts for him!" What the hell!?

To put this into perspective, the Hydrogen Bomb was a major scientific breakthrough, and took the nation's best minds years and millions of dollars to create one. According to this Principal, a 12 year old can knock one up in his basement using parts from radioshack! A kid saying he's bringing his dad's handgun to school, call the police. A child saying he's making a WMD...use your brain.

For your entertainment, here's a copy of the police report. (Incidentally, check out the site, there's some cool stuff on there):

COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT INCIDENT REPORT

Suspicious Circumstances: Possible Posession of a Destructive Device

B. Allen, Employee #434180

I contacted [the principal] regarding a suspicious circumstances call, tag 627.
[The principal] said about one week ago she heard [the student] talking to a group of students at Hoover Middle School. [The principal] said she heard [the student] say he was building a bomb.

On 02-27-02 [the principal] approached [the student] and asked him if he was really building a bomb. [The student] told her that he was building a hydrogen bomb and his parents were buying the materials to make it for him.

[The principal] said [the student] never threatened to bring the bomb to school or harm anyone with it.

With the help of assiting units I responded to [the boy's address] and searched the residence for any explosive device and materials for its manufacturing (see attached consent to search form authorized by [the student's] father [father's name]).

We were unable to locate any explosive device or manufacturing materials.
I contacted [the student] and asked him if he remembered telling anyone he was making a hydrogen bomb.

[The student] said he did tell people he was making a hydrogen bomb. He said he was making a hydrogen bomb toy from scitoys.com. The toy squirts water out of a hole when it's ignited via 9 volt battery.

[The student] printed out the details of the hydrogen bomb off scitoys.com. See attached 12 page printout.

After examining the scitoys.com printout I came to the conclusion the hydrogen bomb [the student] said he was making was in fact a toy.

Watch Commander, Lt. Stringham, notified of the above.

What really makes me laugh is how the Principal actually asked the kid if he was making a bomb. If he'd asked just one more question (IE It's not an actual bomb is it?) The whole thing would have been avoided. This pricipal guy must have freaked out completely and ran to his office to call the police just seconds after the kid said his parents where buying him the parts.

Did he think Mom and Dad were in on it?

"Who knew Mr. and Mrs Bin Laden could do such a thing?"

What's next? An 8 year old bringing a cruise missile to show and tell? A 10 year old designing and building a nuclear warhead for a sceince project? Here's what the owner of the site had to say about it when he was contected by the Student's Attorney:

I suggested...that it might be useful to look up "bomb calorimeter" in an encyclopedia or a high school chemistry or physics book (or on the Internet).

I also suggested that if I had called the device a "squirt gun" the student might still have been suspended for bringing a "gun" to school.

On the same web site I also show how to make a "cannon" from a film canister, which has been used on a number of occasions to win science fairs by my readers. Another very popular item for science fairs that is shown on my web site is the Gauss Rifle, which I am certain would also upset the person who suspended his client... It rolls marbles across a room.

Anyone else think this is the most ridiculous thing they ever heard. I'm looking forward to a student making an 'Ice Cream Bomb' (kinda like Baked Alaska) in cookery. Apparently, now it's not just a major offence to bring dangerous things to school, just talking about something that sounds dangerous, no matter how unbelieveable, justifies police involvement.

I'm sorry, I just can't get over this. A Principal thinks a 12 year old is capable of building a weapon capable of reducing a major city to dust...and the kid isn't thinking about world domination, he just wants to build a WMD to score big at the science fair!...and the Principal is so freaked out, rather than take a moment to clarify what the kid's talking about...he calls the police!

Science Fair H-Bomb... I still can't beleive it.

"On your left is the table-top volcano, a radio made from a drinks can, a home-made lava lamp... and on your right is little Billy's WMD.

Can you imagine if the judges asked him to demonstrate it?

"Well, we only really have your word that it's a Hydrogen Bomb, and it's pretty and everything...makes a neat humming noise... but it's not exactly proof is it? You couldn't set it off could you?.........I don't care if you don't think it's a good idea, if you want the credit, you'll have to blow it up.........yes, young man, I am aware of what a H-Bomb can do, I am a teacher you know.........Yes I am sure. Do as you're told or I'll fail you."

KAAABOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!!

"Oh dear, I appear to have been reduced to my constituent elements. Oh well, it certainly was an H-Bomb, A+ that boy!"

It's almost as bad as the kid who got suspended from school for drawing pictures of weapons. he was doodling between classes and drew a picture of a handgun. Let me get that straight, he didn't 'draw a weapon' as in 'pull out a weapon'...he drew a picture of a gun.

"Get down everyone! This scribble's loaded!"

Apparently a kid who draws guns and plays army with his friends at playtime is a dangerous subversive and future terrorist.

I'm all for security a vigilance, but come on...gimme a break!

Watch your kids people, if they've ever pointed a stick at someone and said RATATATATATA!!! call the police. They may just be building a nuclear device in their bedroom.

Be extra careful if anything in their school bag glows green and has a 'Warning Radioactive' sticker on it.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Quick! Stop Breathing!!!!

Ok, I’ve been late night channel surfing again. You’ve got to love those infomercials. They’re a sheer goldmine of information that you’d never guess otherwise. For example, take the following informational nuggets:

Exercise is good for you.
Eating healthy is good for you.
Hurting yourself is bad.
Smelling good is preferable to smelling bad.

I’m glad someone told me. I’ve been sitting on my backside 24/7, eating lard, stabbing myself in the thigh with a pencil while trying to work up a really good, world class stink.

Where would I be without infomercials?

Today’s nugget actually was important though. Apparently, the air inside your home can be up to ten times more polluted than the air outside! A very serious man in a white lab coat told me this.

I couldn’t help but be impressed.

Those lab coats are always a good tip off, anyone wearing a white lab coat is obviously very serious, clever and official…I mean, they couldn’t possibly be just some guy off the street who bought his lab coat at a surplus store.

Trust me, white lab coats are guaranteed, iron clad, irrefutable proof of authenticity.

Well this ‘doctor’ laid down some serious science. He had bar charts and everything. Computer animations! Get this; he had one of those pointer thingies. He even had a pocket protector and a little stand on his desk with his name on! How could anyone not take him seriously? Truly, he is a medical mastermind.

Well, I was sitting there, all impressed and completely mesmerized by his super authentic animated bar charts. (Each bar was even a different colour, truly we live in an advanced age.) But then he looked directly into the camera, and gave the grave news. Now brace yourself, this is world shattering:

“Breathing the air in your home is dangerous.”

Errrrr…

As opposed to what?

Not breathing? Should I start holding my breath now? I hate to interrupt, Dr. Labcoat, but don’t I need to breathe to live? Isn’t even polluted air preferable to none at all?

Well, you see, Dr. Labcoat’s solution to the air/no air debate was to buy a very expensive and fancy air purifier from him. Apparently, if I don’t buy this air purifier, I’m seriously endangering my health, my family’s health, and if I don’t buy this thing, I’m obviously a very unconcerned and downright evil husband, because I’m not protecting my wife’s life. Unless I buy his air purifier right now (5 easy payments of $179.99) she will get sick and probably die!

How could I let this happen? How could I have ignored the flatulence-soup like air in my home?

Maybe it’s the fact that the entire human race, myself included, have been breathing air for their entire existence and haven’t had any ill effects has thrown me off a little. In fact, we’re all under the misguided notion that breathing is a necessary part of life! Who knew I was slowly killing myself through breathing? Maybe I should stop my heart beating also. I must be causing awful wear and tear on those valuable muscles.

Well, obviously, I had to do something about this now. I stopped breathing. No more evil, shit laden air for me! No Sir!

I’m not quite sure what happened after that. Maybe I was a little too late in taking action. Apparently, blackouts and searing lung pain is a symptom of having already breathed bad air. All I know is that when I picked myself up off the floor, Dr. Labcoat was still talking. I sat back down and started to pick the Doritos out of my hair. Somehow they had mysteriously jumped from the table onto the floor, and the table was also on its side.

I’m pretty sure the crap in my air was responsible.

I continued watching, I wanted to hear everything that this white lab coat clad, God among men, medical professional had to say.

Continue he did. Dr. Labcoat took his special filter and mixed it with a glass of water, held the putrid stinking fluid at me and said: “Would you drink this? Because that’s what you’re breathing right now!”

“Well, yes!” I replied “I would certainly drink it, but then again, I am mentally subnormal.”

A thought struck me. At first I thought it was just a sharp piece of Dorito stabbing me in the head, but after a moments consideration, I decided that it was definitely a thought.

“Hey Dr. Labcoat!” I said. “Isn’t that a little contrived? Isn’t taking the impurities from a filter that’s probably been running for a week, that’s filtered a few hundred thousand liters of air, then condensing it into an 8oz glass a little unfair? I mean, isn’t that like the difference between farting in a car with the windows rolled up and farting on a mountain top?”

It appeared that Dr. Labcoat was far too busy to actually answer that question. I wasn’t worried though. He was obviously so important and clever, that there is obviously something about his experiment that I didn’t understand.

You see, it just appeared to me that his experiment was saying the same thing as saying that dropping a single grain of dirt into a glass of water and drinking it would have exactly the same negative health effects as eating an entire football pitch. I mean, the collected impurities from a few hundred thousand liters of air all put in one place must prove something.

The fact that I’d have to breathe over a hundred thousand liters of air to take in enough impurities to colour the water in an 8oz glass obviously mustn’t count

Clearly, I must have missed something. After all, he had a white lab coat…Oh, and he was wearing glasses as well! There’s authority for you.

The experiment is obviously so advanced, that it must be completely beyond my comprehension. Curse my feeble 140 IQ!

I must be so stupid. For example, if the air outside is only 1/10th as polluted as the air inside, like Dr. Labcoat said, I would have done something stupid like, say, open a window.

Instead, what I should do, is something really clever like spring $900 for an air filter. In fact, make that $5400, because apparently I need one in every room!

I can’t believe how stupid I’ve been…I breathe all the time! Who knew it was killing me?

Now I know you’re all terrified by now, but I’m going to go even further.

Another man in a white lab coat (and this one even had assistants, it showed them in his office and everything…and I thought the first Dr. Labcoat was impressive!) told me that not only is our air filthy, but our water is a big, disgusting health hazard as well.

He very valiantly offered to sell me a device to clean it for the low, low price of just 4 easy payments of $33.33. I think that’s reasonable for a life saving device of paramount importance. I mean, it’s not like he’s asking me to pay him $99.99 or anything!

Holy Shit! Not only is our air bad, we have to filter our water as well!

Hmm…

Not only should we not breathe, we should stop drinking water as well. I feel so stupid. I’ve been killing myself all my life!

(Just a thought, perhaps our water would be a bit cleaner is the first Dr. Labcoat would stop washing his air filter in it. I’ve seen him do it. He does it every night at 3am on the TV Guide channel. I know his message is one of importance, but does he have to show us over and over? He washed his filter 13 times last night…on the same show! Oh well, I obviously just don’t understand someone of his gargantuan intellect.)

It’s amazing that the human race has even managed to survive!

I mean, those idiots in the past just relied on cleaning, opening windows and their immune system protected them. They even believed the outmoded concept that coming into contact with diseases and things built up their immune system, making them less likely to get sick in the future.

No thanks! I think I’ll just stick with my hermetically sealed, completely disinfected, filtered air, filtered water, completely sterile home, to hell with my immune system…for all I care, it can whither and die!

It turns out Howard Hughes wasn’t a psychotic germophobe, he was just way ahead of his time!…Not sure where the storing your own piss in carefully labeled jars comes in though, but I think I’ve proven I just don’t understand geniuses.

Anyway, I have to go now. I don’t know how many people have touched this keyboard before me. I also have to ditch all my clothes and buy a complete wardrobe of disposable paper garments, complete with surgical gloves and masks.

(Oh, and in case you can’t tell… I’m being sarcastic).

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Maybe I Should Buy a Black Beret...

Here’s something you may not know about me. I’m a pretty hardcore gamer. (Or at least I was until my move the US relegated me to this steam-powered computer).

Anyone who saw any of the E3 coverage this year will know that gaming has, in the past few years, jumped from the domain of geeks and nerds, and has firmly planted itself in the mainstream world.

Computers are officially cool.

However, I read an article today that summed up the overall public attitude towards computer games. It was an interview with some up himself movie producer who, when asked what he thought of computer games coming into the mainstream, said, “Games are just games…movies are art.”

It annoyed me. It really did. Maybe this was true 15 years ago, but have you played any games lately? Look at the sheer production values on a game like ‘Halo’ or the ‘GTA’ series.

Halo, in particular, has all the looks, production values, special effects, audio and story of a blockbuster movie, yet to most people ‘it’s only a computer game.’ Just because it takes place on a computer, instead of on the silver screen or in the pages of a book…it’s simply dismissed. It’s ‘just a game’.

Now don’t get me wrong here, I do believe that some video games can be classed as art, but I’m not talking about Picasso or Da Vinci…not yet. But if TV and Movies are art, so are video games.

I think the main reason that computer games have problems being accepted, is that the people who don’t play them don’t understand them…at all.

What’s to understand? You move you little spaceship and it shoots the other little spaceships.

Maybe 15 years ago.

I think I truly understood how little non-gamers know about games the day I was playing ‘Knockout Kings’ against my brother. My Mother, who didn’t like that we had hijacked the big TV, started to ask questions of the ‘What do you see in this?’ variety. After explaining for 5 minutes she started to understand a little. Then she asked the question:

“Can the result change every time?”

That, right there, is the point that non-gamers miss. They think games are a simple matter of sitting in front of a screen and pushing a button and the game plays out. It’s just not like that. They don’t seem to understand interactivity.

For example, One so-called expert on TV said that he thinks that children are spending too much time ‘watching computer games’. That’s the problem; we’re not ‘playing’ computer games, apparently we’re ‘watching’ them.

That’s like saying you get into your car and ‘watch’ it drive you to work every morning. It’s like me watching you play football, and assuming everything is choreographed, the result is already predetermined, and you’re running around like a headless chicken for no reason.

Interactivity, reflexes, lateral thinking. That’s what games are about. When you play a game, you play to see what happens next. It’s like a movie, but you’re in control. What actually happens in the story depends on you. To me that’s much more rewarding that simply watching a movie. Why watch a WWII movie, when you can take part in one?

That’s the other thing non-gamers miss when it comes to games…the story.

Now stories in games can be a little sketchy. More than a few games have a story that is simply a quick explanation of why you have to blow all those heads off, or collect all those gems, or solve all those puzzles. In other words “Bad guy ‘a’ has done ‘b’, this is bad and you have to stop it. On the other hand, the same is also true of a lot of books and movies. Anyone who’s seen ‘Rambo’ can attest to that. Lots of explosions and shooting, but little in the way of story.

However, there really are some truly fantastic story-based games out there. Stories that actually get you emotionally involved. Unreal, Max Payne, Halo, Wing Commander V, Jedi Outcast. I could go on for days. If I’m playing ‘Halo’, I’m not playing for the joy of shooting people…I’m playing to see how the story plays out, to see the next twist, to uncover the next link in the chain that makes sense of what happened earlier.

Games are the difference between watching a mystery, and actually trying to solve a mystery. Instead of reading a whodunit book and trying to guess who did it, you conduct your investigation. The difference between watching a WWII movie and hoping the hero survives, and being the hero in a WWII movie, and trying to survive.

Non-gamers lump all games in the ‘twitch based’ style of games that where popular in the 1980s. You know, Pong, Space Invaders, Pac Man etc. While these are, in my opinion, great games, they don’t involve much in the way of thinking. Modern games do.

To the non-gamers, let me give you an example of a scenario that features in one of my favorite games. ‘System Shock 2.’

In this game you actually have to ‘train’ for skills. The more you complete the more ‘experience points’ you get. These points are then spent on which skills you choose to specialize in. This is an important part of the game. It closes and opens options in the game for you. The easiest way to explain it is in real life terms. IE, what you study in college and what interests you pursue, affects your life further down the road.

So say in the game you’re faced with a door that has a gun turret in front of it that you have to get past. You have a choice. You can go in ‘Rambo’ style and attempt to destroy the turret before it gets you. You can go and find a computer terminal, so you can try to hack the turret and turn it off. You can just leave and try to find an alternate route. You can trick an enemy into going to the door before you, and slip past while the turret attacks him. You can go and find something to use as a shield.

The options are endless, and every option has pros and cons. There are good and bad ways to tackle a problem, but there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do it. (Apart from one that gets you killed).

The complexity doesn’t stop there either. Remember those ‘experience points’? Whatever skills you decided to learn will seriously affect what you can do in the game. You may be able to find a terminal to hack the turret…but are you skillful enough to hack it? Or will you just set the alarms off? You can run in Rambo style, but are you good enough with that gun?

There’s your ‘mindless’ computer game. In fact, recent studies have shown that computer games are actually good for you. Not only do you get the benefit of hand-eye coordination and dexterity, it helps you develop lateral thinking, objective management, all sorts of things.

Don’t believe me? Well try ‘Sim City’. That’s a game where you have to…you guessed it, build and run a city. Do you have enough power? Coal powered generators are cheap, but they cause more pollution that the more expensive gas powered ones. Have you remembered to get water to all your houses? Is your transport system adequate? Are taxes to low or too high? Enacting that clean air ordinance will cut down on pollution, but will it drive away industry? Building that casino will mean more money, but will it attract crime? Taking the contract to build a high security jail will bring in cash, but who will want to live next door to it? Don’t forget, everything costs money, and annoy your population enough and they’ll riot.

In other words, you have to design and run a city…literally. How is that mindless?

I will, however, be fair here. Some games are just button mashing, purely ‘twitch based’, needing very little thought at all…but the same is true in any media. Think of it. You can have your important, mind expending media experiences, like watching a good play, reading a good book etc, or you can go and see ‘Charlie’s Angels’ or ‘Rambo’.

Now before anyone decides I’m a moron who ‘wastes my time’ playing computer games, who is desperate to validate his little hobby as meaningful, let me state I’m not a ‘Games good, books bad’ person. I have a degree in language and literature, and I absolutely adore reading. I’m not an idiot, I have a 140 IQ.

But that brings me to my next point. The usual comment from the annoyed parent is “Stop wasting you time with that computer game, go read a book!”

Let me say this right off. Books can be just as mindless and stupid as any computer game. Trust me, I’ve read a lot of them. However, the mainstream viewpoint is that if it’s written down, on paper and bound together in book form, it’s automatically worthwhile and intellectually stimulating.

This type of thinking goes so far that any electronic media, such as the internet, is considered a waste of time. Germaine Greer stated in an interview that ‘You can’t think on the internet’ and she’s considered an ‘intellectual’. An ‘intellectual’ who decided to dismiss the most important information service of all time out of hand.

In my opinion, that’s just a case of ‘I don’t understand it, so therefore I’ll call it stupid and dismiss it’.

As you know from some of my past posts, I have commented on the weird and pointless stuff out there on the Internet…but there’s lots of good stuff out there too.

However, for some reason, reading off a screen is a waste of time, but reading off paper is always a good thing…However, anyone who reads a lot will tell you that that just isn’t true. Try reading anything published by ‘Mills and Boon’. Throw in a man, a woman, a European city and about 15 euphemisms for penis, and you’ve got a Mills and Boon novel. Entertaining for some, of course…but is it art?

I mean I’ve read some awful stuff, I mean truly awful. The kind of book you read and wonder which moron read it and decided it was worth publishing.

It doesn’t end with books. Movies can be just as bad. Take ‘Pearl Harbor’ for instance. This is a film about one of the most important events in recent history. It should have been great. However, the movie consisted of one impressive, CGI heavy attack sequence that someone had tacked a little love story to. It also seemed to last about 18 hours. You get visions of someone making that attack sequence, showing it to a movie exec, and the exec saying: “I like it, get some good looking guy and a hot girl, throw a love triangle in there and we’ve got a hit. Screw the story…we’ll put a 5 minute glimpse of the attack sequence in the trailer, and let people know Ben Affleck is in it, and people will go and see it no matter how crappy it is!”

Yet movies and books automatically attain art status.

In fact, even ‘art’ sometimes isn’t art. Take the 2002 (I think) Booker prizewinner. What was her ‘art’?

An unmade bed.

I know that art means different things to different people, and one person’s trash is another person’s art, but that unmade bed struck me as a complete and total piss take. It’s a case of ‘Do some really off the wall shit, and no one will tell you its crap because they’ll be afraid that everyone else will like it and laugh at you for not ‘getting it’.

Apparently, if I sat naked on a mound of sand and flung my own poop at people while singing the theme from ‘Batman’ at the top of my voice…I’d be in contention for the Booker prize. If you call me an idiot, I just tell you that you’re the idiot for not getting ‘my art’.

This is the crux of the matter, the thing I don’t understand. ‘Pearl Harbor’ is art, a sheep cut in half and pickled in formaldehyde is art, putting saffron colored arches every 10 feet around the walkways of central park is art.

Computer games aren’t. Despite the fact that they can have stories that rival the Hollywood blockbusters. Despite the fact that the artwork and design can be staggering. Despite the fact that they actually put you in the story and let you affect the outcome. Despite the fact that computer games can make you emotionally involved with your character, make you laugh yourself silly, or scare the living crap out of you.

Computer Games are not art.

My question is:

Why?

Friday, May 27, 2005

Only Mad Dogs and Englishmen....

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my first year is South Carolina, it’s this:

Sun: Bad. Air-conditioning: Good.

Now many of you, especially those of you living in England will think I’m crazy for saying that. When you live in a country where you’re lucky to see the sun one day out of five, anywhere where the sun shines brightly seems like a paradise. However, when you where born in a cold country and move to a hot one, it’s one hell of an adjustment.

“Lies!” I hear you cry. Of course! You’ve been to Spain, Greece, France, all those countries…it’s hot there and you managed it. It’s easy, slap on the sun block, it’s easy street from then on, right?

Wrong.

You forget you spend most of your actual days on holiday in bed. Who can get up before noon when you’ve been up all night knocking back the sangria? If you are up during the day, you’re in the bar, in the restaurant, generally having a relaxing time.

When you actually live somewhere hot, it’s an entirely different story.

The funniest part of ‘Mad dogs and Englishmen’ is that it’s true. You go anywhere that has a hot climate, and I guarantee if you go for a walk between 11am and 2pm, you won’t see any locals on the street…they’re not that stupid.

To the locals in hot countries, the English are a sort of entertainment. They think we’re crazy. They take bets on which of us is going to pass out first.

Let me tell you a story.

On my first visit to the US, my wife and I decided to do a little yard work. I was pushing the mower, she was weeding the flowerbed. 30 minutes later, she gets up, and heads into the house.

‘Lazy!’ I think. She looks over her shoulder at me like I knew to follow her.
“You’d better come in, it’s getting hot out there.” She says.
“I’ll be in in a minute.” I reply.

So I carry on, not wearing a hat to keep the sun off my head, not wearing any sun block. All the while laughing at the American people. Wusses the lot of them! Can’t take a little bit of heat. We English are made of stronger stuff. Americans, ha! Afraid of a little bit of sun!

2 hours later I’m lying in the bath tub, fully clothed, under a cold shower, while gasping for breath. My head looks like it’s been dropped in a deep fat fryer, and even my eyelashes hurt. The wife (well at that time she was just my friend) stands over me.

“Told you.” She says.

It didn’t stop at sunburn, I had full blown heat-stroke. Dizziness, nausea and, for good measure, throwing up. It went on for days.

It’s still a story in my new family. ‘When Paulius worked outside at noon for 3 hours.” No one actually believes me that I didn’t know that it was a bad idea, in fact, very few English people do.

So why is this?

The answer is simple. In England, we’ve never had to deal with the heat. Rain, we can handle by the shed load. Snow? Easy! Sun? No frigging way!

In England we might as well call the sun ‘The Scareball’. We see the sun so little, that small children run in fear from it

“Mummy, mummy! What’s that big round thing in the sky?! What’s this strange tingling feeling I can feel on my face?”
“It’s called warmth, dear! Run for your life!”

I remember shortly after moving to South Carolina, I had a telephone conversation with my parents. They informed me that they were in the middle of a heat wave back in ‘ole Blighty. The temperature had risen to a scorching 74 degrees Fahrenheit. I particularly remember this telephone conversation because it had topped 100 degrees that day, and I answered the phone naked, lying on the tile bathroom floor while gasping for breath. When I told my in-laws about England’s heat wave, they laughed themselves silly. Over here, 74 degrees is downright chilly.

You see, in England, ‘hot’ means you get to take off your coat and maybe your sweatshirt. In South Carolina, ‘hot’ means the air is impossible to breathe, the soles of your shoes melt to the sidewalk, and you lose half your bodyweight to sweat every half hour.

For the first few months when I came to live here, I honestly thought I would die. It was 97 degrees, zero breeze and 140% humidity, which I didn’t even think was possible.

I remember standing outside my house, wearing a pair of shorts and factor 10,000 sun block, talking to my brother-in-law (Who was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt).

“Is England a warm country?”
“HA!” I reply.
“Yeah, it can get kinda warm over here.”
Get warm? GET warm? What in the blue hell is he talking about?
I whimper.
“It gets a bit uncomfortable, if you think this is hot, wait for a few months until we’re in the dead of summer.”

Let’s just say ‘dead’ of summer was right. By midsummer, the heat was unbearable. Let me just say it gave me an insight into how vampires must feel. I honestly began to fear the sun.

The absolute worst is when there’s a short rain shower. The first time that happened, I was happy. A nice light shower to cool you down and freshen the air.

What actually happened was the rain evaporated almost before it hit the sidewalk. The world around me suddenly turned into a 120 degree sauna of heat shimmer death, which had me running to the car and wrapping my mouth around the air vents with the Air conditioner running full blast.

If you are thinking of moving to a hot country, let me give you a little advice:

1) Do not venture outside between 11am and 2pm. Forget bravado and ‘A little heat won’t bother me’. It’s hard to act macho when you’re crying in the bathtub.
2) Do not lean on cars, unless you like the smell of freshly fried ass.
3) Do not sit in the freezer either, this results in funny looks…this is from personal experience.
4) Do not, under any circumstances, sunbathe. I fell asleep. My shadow is still burned onto my front lawn.
5) The fish do not appreciate it when to plunge your head into their tank. Don’t do it.
6) Brace yourself when opening the front door. With all your windows covered and the air conditioning on, you are lulled into believing that it is cool outside. It isn’t. Falling on your ass also gets you laughed at.
7) However hot it is outside, its nothing compared to the interior of your car. Check your seatbelt before you put it on. Nothing is more fun than a 3 inch wide strip of burning death across your shoulder…especially when the clip is to hot to release. Ditto steering wheel, that flesh takes a while to grow back.


Let’s just say that now I’ve learned my lesson.

Every winter, however, I get my revenge.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Bemused Flange

Sometimes the human race just scares me.

Picture the scene. I finish and publish my last post, do my usual quick check and then look at my stats.

Now usually I play around with the stats a bit, the service I use gives a lot of information. For example, I’ve discovered that in the past 2 weeks I’ve obtained quite a following in Malaysia… and I have no idea why.

Well yesterday was a momentous occasion for my site. I actually got a visitor that found this site through a search engine.

Finally, Google had found me.

So what’s the connection? How can this site finally being listed on Google cause me to fear the human race?

Well, I’ll tell you.

My stat service allows you to see what words your visitor put into the Google search bar that led him to your site.

Do you want to know what keywords got that guy here?

Brace yourself.

“Cindy Crawford is washing her face in milk.”

Oooooookaaay. Is anyone else strangely weirded out and scared by this?

You see, I have a post on here that mentions Cindy Crawford and washing dishes. Google apparently saw the words ‘Cindy’, ‘Crawford’ and ‘Washing’ and directed the weirdo this way.

Can you imagine the mental picture that popped into my head when I saw that? It should have been a moment of triumph for me. Getting listed on the major search engines can do wonders for your traffic. It turns out my first step on the road to a worldwide audience was actually late night porn surfer with a strange milk fetish. I’ll never be able to look at a ‘Got Milk?’ billboard again without shuddering.

I feel dirty and used. Instead of arriving here and being impressed by my sparkling wit and edgy writing style, I was nothing but a minor annoyance and red herring in the path of this guy’s blurring wrist.

I’ll be showering for a week.

You see, one of the great things about the Internet is that it lets you see and come into contact with a huge cross-section of human life. Conversely the biggest problem with the Internet is that it shows you that you never want to actually meet most of that cross section.

Let’s face it, one of the things the internet has proven is that no matter how big a weirdo, no matter how much of a social deviant you are…there’s thousands of people out there that are just like you. The Internet is the only communications medium in the known universe where you can say “Show me pictures of Japanese dwarf amputees wearing tartan jackets having sex with rabbits” and it replies “10,000,000 results found, please specify type of rabbit.”

Now I’ve never really believed in ‘normal’. In my own experience, anyone who is completely normal comes across as just plain weird. Lets face it, when we’re alone, we all do weird things. You know…trying on a teacosy, pretending to ‘shoot’ bad guys with a drill…there are also very few men who haven’t pushed their wedding tackle between their legs and looked in the mirror to see what they’d look like if they where a woman.

However, if you ever feel that you’re truly weird, surf the Internet for a while. There are people and websites on there that would make even the most dedicated weirdo raise his eyebrows. For example, I recently discovered, through a name generator, that my punk band name is ‘The Bemused Flange’. This site had literally hundreds of thousands of hits. This is how we spend our time, folks…and what’s worse is that this is a very, very mild example of Internet weirdness.

There are websites dedicated to the strangest things. For example, ‘Cat buckaroo’ (see how many objects you can balance on a sleeping cat), Worlds best beards, ‘Manties’ (panties for men), the VCR clock (a page that just flashes 12:00 over and over). I could go on all night.

Again, these are mild examples, but there are plenty of websites that are downright, pant-wettingly weird. Take for example, http://www.cryingwhileeating.com/, which features…you guessed it, people crying while eating.

People have actually taken the time to film themselves eating and crying…then gone to the trouble of transferring it to their computer and uploading it. What a complete and utter waste of time, energy and technology! Who would actually bother to spend time and disk space in order to download a video like that?

“What are you doing today? I’m going to the ball game. Wanna come?”
“Nah, I’m going to spend a few hours watching a fat guy from Sweden cry while eating a chocolate ├ęclair.”

The list goes on, there are so many websites in the completely weird, completely useless and complete waste of time category, that I could literally spend the rest of my life finding and listing them…and not even scratch the surface.
Some truly weird sites are such classics as ‘The Condiment Museum’, ‘The Toilet Paper Museum’ and ‘How to Cook with Lava’. This is what world culture has come to.

Now I remember when the Internet didn’t exist. Hell, I remember when modems didn’t even exist. When the internet first came onto the scene, it was hailed as ‘The Information Super Highway’, it was going to revolutionize our lives.

It started in a very serious way. As any geek knows, the conception of the internet was the result of the need for a communications system that could survive a nuclear war. No matter how many nodes where taken out, you could still route a message through the remaining ones.

Of course, the sheer commercial appeal of the Internet was hard to miss, and it was quickly adapted for civilian use. It had the Universities drooling…imagine being able to share information from across the world instantaneously! The ability to send sound and video across the world for the price of a local phone call! What a revolution!

It made international borders meaningless, and for the first time in history, created a forum where the citizens of the world could share opinions and ideas freely. Truly, we entered a golden age of international communications and the free exchange of ideas! What a truly enlightened and noble undertaking!

However, what do we use this amazing revolutionary technology for?

Sharing pictures of gigantic turds. (Hey everyone, look at this basketball sized chocolate mud baby I made last night!). Arguing whether Captain Kirk is better than Jean-Luc Picard (Lots of Cheetos and Mountain Dew spilled over that one). Downloading pictures of Janet Jackson’s nipple at the Superbowl. Buying a home-made Yoda sock puppet on ebay…and the collectable Hitler Toby Jug might be worth a bid to!

…and of course, looking for pictures of Cindy Crawford washing her face in milk.

I despair of the human race…I really do.

Anyway, I have to go now and spend a few hours at the amazing babies with beards website.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Pearls of Wisdom

Ever had one of those boring days?

That’s what today was for me. It was like an entire days worth of the 7pm on a Sunday night when you have school the next day. All that was missing was the theme tune from ‘Last of the Summer Wine.’ You know…the long dark teatime of the soul.

In fact, it got so boring, I found myself flicking through a copy of the wife’s ‘Woman’s World’. You know the type of magazine I’m talking about. Recipes, romance fiction, pictures of kittens…

Well, one item in the contents piqued my interest. It was ‘Inspiration for Today’. I was so bored out of my tree reading Woman’s World; I realized that I could use a little inspiration, so I turned to the page. It was a one-word sentence. It read:

“When you face forwards, your shadows lie behind you.”

‘Hmm.’ I thought and put the magazine down. Still bored, I picked up the remote. Maybe I could catch 5 minutes on TV without Mr. Lego Hair telling me to send him money to save my soul, or even a couple of minutes without an over excited man with a strange mustache trying to sell me the latest gimmicky kitchen appliance.

I couldn’t concentrate. Something about that ‘inspirational quote’ was bugging me.

I opened the magazine and read it again… Finally it hit me.

That ‘quote’ was complete bollocks.

I mean complete bollocks. Meaningless drivel. A pure waste of good words. The metaphor didn’t actually work, and it gave really, really bad advice.

Let me explain.

First, the metaphor. It simply doesn’t work. I mean think of it. If it’s before noon and I’m heading west, I’m walking forwards, but the shadows will be in front of me. I know that may be a little nitpicky, metaphors are meant to be a flowery way of stating something…but aren’t they meant to make sense?

Ok, maybe I’m being a little facetious here, but the actual ‘advice’ makes no sense either. I could be wrong, but I interpreted it to mean: “If you look to the future, it puts your problems behind you.”

Ummm. Nice sentiment, but can you imagine living your life actually believing that?

“I should have paid my power bill last Tuesday, but forget about it, I’ll look to the future, that problem is behind me now.”

Of course, a few days later, your ‘shadows’ would be all around you…you’d be sitting in the dark, wishing you’d paid your power bill.

This started me on a crusade. I started looking through every issue I could find in the house, trying to find a single ‘inspirational quote’ that fitted the following criteria:

a) Made sense.
b) Was actually inspiring.
c) Meant something.

5 issues later, I had nothing.

Apparently either someone figured out that they could get paid for writing a sentence that means absolutely nothing, or decided they could sound really deep and insightful by either stating the obvious in a roundabout way, or by simply making some shit up off the top of their head.

Every single quote was the same. As little meaning as possible, written in the most flowery way.

My personal favourite was the deeply insightful “Ride a rainbow of your dreams all the way to the stars!”

Uh…What?

What does that actually mean? Think about it, either someone got paid to write that (I hope they did, it would be a very easy way to get paid), or someone thought that that was so meaningful and important…they just had to share it with the world! What’s next? ‘You can’t hug your children with nuclear arms’?

Let me try one…hmmm. “Let your dreams be the slingshot that fires your heart into the heavens!”

Can I have some money now?

I’d love it if life actually worked like that. I really would love it if I could be inspired and make my way to fame and fortune by reading bollocks in magazine. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work like that. Wishing and dreams get you squat unless you actually put the work in.

The ‘rainbow’ quote reminded me of some of the best advice I’ve ever heard, which actually came from a comic moment from a Discworld book. It went as follows.

“Now remember. If you follow your dreams, wish upon a star and truly believe…you’ll get overtaken by all the people who didn’t bother with wishing, got off their backsides and worked for what they want.”

I mean ‘ride a rainbow of your dreams all the way to the stars’…it’s meaningless, it’s not inspiring…it’s literary masturbation is what it is.

You see, it’s the same thing that causes people to believe they can only find enlightenment a long way off (No one goes 15 miles on a voyage of discovery, they always go to Tibet or somewhere). Apparently, nothing can actually be deeply insightful, or truly meaningful unless it’s wrapped up in the most gaudy package of metaphor and simile possible.

The worst thing is that the people who right these things appear to have mastered the form, but not the content. If it sounds a little confusing, and you don’t get it right away…but a few minutes thought gives you an ‘Ah-ha!’ moment…it must be meaningful, mustn’t it?

The saddest thing is, is that sometimes you’ll occasionally come across one of these things that almost makes some sort of sense, but the author changed it because it didn’t sound pretty enough if you kept the meaning. Almost like ripping every other page out of a book so it will fit on your shelf. It fits in with your decorating scheme, just doesn’t actually mean anything anymore.

The people who write these things are the same people who tell you that ‘Dog’ is ‘God’ spelled backwards, and then look at you like they’ve just imparted some great and important universal truth.

What I’d like to see is some ‘real’ wisdom and advice in the tabloids. It wouldn’t be pretty or new age…and people probably wouldn’t like it. It’s easy to ‘ride a rainbow’, or ‘wish upon a star’. Or, in other words, people much prefer things that are pretty and meaningless (but have the appearance of meaning), rather than things that make sense, but aren’t flowery at all…and rely on you doing something other than just reading it to get the benefit.

Can you imagine the following in Women’s World?

“Get a job and keep it, or you’re screwed.”
“If you’re not dying, get to eat every day and have a warm place to sleep…stop whining, you have no problems.”
“Not everyone is good looking, talented or charismatic, but there’s not a damn thing you can do about it, so deal with it, and get on with it.”

Now that’s inspirational.

Ok, by now you’ve probably worked out that I could be described as a ‘bit of a cynic’, but it’s a sad and dark time for the human race when we look for inspiration and a reason to live in the supermarket tabloids.

We live in a time where we all want easy answers. We all want happiness, riches and a great life, but we don’t actually want to work for them. I wish there really where a few all-purpose inspirational phrases that put it all in perspective and made life easier, but life doesn’t work that way.

Confucius spent his entire life meditating on the human condition; I don’t think Mary T. from Nowheresville CA is quite qualified for the position of wisdom imparter.

Rather than actually look for meaning in our lives, we take the easy route. Why question, examine and think when we can look at our horoscope, or read “Enlightenment in 15 minutes or your money back!”

Horoscopes are a particular favorite of mine. A single daily paragraph that supposedly accurately tells my future and what I need to look out for. I went to college with a girl that took her horoscope so seriously; she actually once missed a week of tutorials, right before exam time, because her horoscope warned her of accidents.

She was willing to risk failing her finals…rather than take a chance that her horoscope might not be 100% accurate.

Considering each ‘prediction’ applies to 1/12 of the entire population of the planet, at every age bracket, I doubt they’re that accurate or reliable. I’m pretty sure a week old baby is not going to get in trouble at work or meet an old flame. I’m also pretty sure that a convict serving life for murder doesn’t have much travel in his future.

I’ll believe in horoscopes when 1/12 of the population all die in a freak accident involving carrots, and were forewarned by the National Enquirer.

Let me tell you, people, the meaning of life cannot be found in the pages of a magazine.

The only way to discover the meaning of life is to actually live it.


(Please note, the above ‘meaning of life’ ending is written for the purpose of irony. Please do not email me to inform me I finished an attack on inspirational quotes with an inspirational quote. I know. I meant to do it. It’s meant to be clever.)

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Surviving Marriage - The Final Chapter

Ok, As you know, I've just about beat the Man vs Woman topic to death recently. However, I couldn't bring this topic to a close without dealing with one very important thing:

The Wedding.

All I can say is, be prepared for disagreements, arguments and bare-knuckle fighting.

You see, for a man, the big moment is when you propose. That's where you put yourself 'out-there', this is where the actual commitment is made. The moment we give up our free and easy bachelordom, and commit to a life long relationship.

In comparision to the world-changing, earth-shattering decision we made to propose, the wedding just doesn't compare.

Men invariably see the actual wedding as the three P's, "Paperwork, Party and Pissup."

It's like buying a car or a house. You've already made the decision, which is the hard part. The wedding is simply going to the dealership and signing the paperwork to make it official.

We've already made the commitment, gone through all the planning and gut wrenching horror of the proposal. The wedding is just gravy. After all, you just exchange vows and have a party, don't you?...Don't you?

Women, however, see the wedding as the most important event in their life. The proposal is all but forgotten (Even if you've done something outrageous like watched the Red Arrows write out your proposal in smoke, which you view from a heart shaped hot-air balloon filled with her favourite chocolate.)

To women, the proposal is just watching the commercial. If they like what they see, they'll buy the product. Your dramatic proposal is forgotten as soon as the planning begins. All that matters now is what colour the flowers are going to be.

Guys, prepare to deal with your woman at her most stressed ever.

This is mostly due to the Mother-Daughter vicious cycle. Let me try to explain.

Anyone who is married will agree. The wedding is not for you or your fiance. The wedding is for other people. Face it, you're essentially spending thousands and thousands to speak to a preacher, sign a paper and have a party. You could have a similar experience, with all the frills removed, for about $500. Given that the average wedding costs around $10,000 for a small ceremony, you can see the discrepancy. Most men would be happy to go to the courthouse, sign a wedding licence, and then go out on the town for a celebration. This is mostly due to the fact that halfway through planning, you realise you're spending enough money for a new car for an event that you're only actively involved in for 15 minutes. Forgetting the actual money involved, that 15 minutes participation takes months of planning.

You have to pick the food, (but have an alternative because Aunt Marge is allergic), the seating plan, (You can't put Aunt Fifi there, she's close to Uncle Jeff and she's still mad about what he said about our Doreen at their Ken's wedding). The list goes on and on. Planning a wedding is a simple case of trying to satisfy everyone, while pleasing no-one.

At weddings, everyone has an axe to grind.

So, what is the Mother-Daughter vicious cycle?

Well, because so much is taken out of the bride's hands at the planning of her wedding, no bride gets exactly the wedding she wants. In fact, it's rare for the bride to get more than 2 elements that she wants. Her wedding invariably gets hijacked. Everything and I mean everything gets compromised. In fact, I've personal experience of couples who literally had nothing the way they wanted it on their wedding day, from the venue, choice of music, wedding dress, type of cake...everything. The reason?

Mother dearest gets involved.

Or more precisely, mother dearest gets involved, and completely takes over.

So what is a Bride to do?

Answer: There's nothing she can do...yet.

However, in order to understand the Mother-Daughter vicious cycle, you have to look at the big picture:

The bride gets married, has children, raises children...and, whadaya know? Before too long, it's time for their daughter to get married.

BINGO!

The Mother, who had her wedding hijacked by her own mother, sees an opportunity. Her daughter's marriage is the perfect chance to plan the Perfect Wedding. She pulls out her notebook and starts scribbling.

Of course, every time it's the bride's turn to be a mother, she completely forgets that her 'Perfect Wedding' may be completely different to her daughter's idea of the 'Perfect Wedding. Unfortunately, it's usually the brides family that pay for everything, so it''s a case of 'my way or the highway.' In other words, the bride eventually gets her perfect wedding...although it isn't her own.

Result? Another pissed off, angry and homicidal bride. (Who, when she has a daughter, will completely forget what it's like to have someone hijack your wedding, and plan her own daughter's 'perfect wedding' with a manic grin on her face.)

That is the Mother- Daughter vicious cycle.

Note -This doesn't happen with the Father - Son relationship. The only cycle there is the son goes through the trauma of planning of a wedding, and when he becomes a father, gets to pay for the next one.

So how does this effect you and me? This is obviously between the mother and daughter, how can it effect us, the prospective grooms?

Sigh, have you not listened to a word I've said?

You fiance is as mad as a lorry. An 18-wheeler on drugs. Who do you think she's going to take all that out on? She's powerless against the glowing zeal and fanaticism of her mother. Who can she use to reassert her authority over this wedding?

Go look in the mirror.

You get the enviable opportunity to be asked about a hundred thousand questions, to which you don't know the answers (or actually care what those answers are), by a homicidal woman, who will kill you if you answer wrongly.

Bet you never thought your life could hang in the balance when someone asks you "Lilys, tulips or roses?"

So, in order for you to survive this dark time, I offer you two multi-purpose phrases:

Bear in mind, I'm helping you survive this time, not escape unscathed.

"Let's play a game, I'll pick my favourite, and which one I think is yours. Then we'll see if I'm right. Your favourite is (whatever). Oh no! I'm wrong? What was your favourite? Really? That was mine too!!!"

"Let's have a chocolate cake."

I won't lie to you here, you're in for a long, hard slog. The trick is to appear interested and appear to make an input...without actually making an input.

Planning a wedding with your fiance is the equivalent of a 6 month game of: "Does this dress make me look fat?" Your fiance knows what she wants, and she's in constant battle with her mother, who apparently knows what her daughter wants, even if her daughter doesn't know she wants it yet. If you actually help, you're just throwing another spanner in the works.

However, under no circumstances, no matter how stressed or upset your wife gets, should you do any of the following:

1) Insult or say anything bad about your wife's mother. No matter how much your wife complains about her mother, she will be all over you like a group of hill-billies at a free buffet if you say anything less than complimentary about her mother. She's a 5"6 fountain of rage looking for a lightning rod. Trust me, you do not want to be that rod.

2) Do not side with her mother. You must be strictly neutral, and offer sympathy to both parties, without ever declaring an allegiance to either.

3) Do not suggest, under any circumstances, That you sidestep the stress and have a simple, civil ceremony. Your wife may be fighting tooth and nail, and not getting her way, but she wants a big wedding, dammit!

4) Don't lose your temper, or say anything along the lines of "It's just flowers/decorations/music!" When your fiance is sobbing because her mother went ahead and ordered the lilys, when she wanted the tulips. You're trivialising something important. As an example, imagine fighting off a horde of chainsaw wielding zombies, armed only with a small cardboard tube. Then imagine your wife saying "That's nice dear, did you remember to weed the garden?" When you told her about it.

The best advice I can give you is simply: Keep your Head Down.

Just be there, offer the occasional opinion about the most trivial undecided part of the wedding you can. Pretend to read wedding magazines and agree with everything she says.

Planning a wedding is the third most stressful thing the average person can do. The first two are moving house and childbirth.

Guess what other two things you get to do in the near future?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Yes, Dear...

Well it’s official, I have now been married for a year. Well just over a year actually, but if I’d so much as looked at the computer on our anniversary, my wife would have killed me…literally.

My wife and I have been lucky. Our first year of marriage has been relatively problem free. We’ve had mostly good times, and as for the bad, the doctor has said the vision in my left eye will return, the wife’s knuckle prints on my forehead will eventually fade, and the nervous twitch I get at the words: “We need to talk,” can be cured through just a few years therapy.

You see, the biggest problem with marriage is that it doesn’t come with an instruction manual. For example, no one tells you that you need to invest in a concrete, lead lined bunker, in which you’ll spend up to a week of every month. (If you don’t have that sort of budget, I’ve found a suit of armor, a slingshot and a supply of chocolate mixed with period medication does the job almost as well…you do need to be a good shot with the slingshot though, a Pamprin laced Hershey’s kiss bouncing off her forehead instead of landing in her mouth can make the situation 1000 times worse.)

Well, I’m a practical type of guy, and seeing as no-one gave me a manual to marriage doesn’t mean everyone else has to go without one.

So guys, I give you “The Married Man’s Guide to Marriage.” A 10 step program which should help you sidestep the worst problems married life has to offer:

Golden Rule #1. Honesty is not always the best policy.

Now everyone will tell you that a good marriage is based on honesty. This is true. However, there are situations where a fib saves everyone’s feelings, makes life easier and saves thousands in hospital bills. For Example:

“Does this dress make me look fat?”

This also covers all the other blood chilling questions that no man wants to hear. IE, ‘Do these shoes go with this dress?’ To which the ‘real’ answer is ‘Who the hell cares!?!? We’re already 8 hours late! They're exactly the same, woman!!!!”

However, the correct answer, that lets you keep your reproductive organs where they are, is whatever she wants to hear.

The fact is she’s already made up her mind, and just wants you to confirm her choice. In other words, if she thinks that dress looks great, and you say she looks fat, she’ll wear it anyway and you’ll be in the doghouse. If she doesn’t like the dress, and you say it’s great, she won’t wear it and will tell everyone how you have no fashion sense.

The best tip I ever heard is to pick and memorise a dress that you know she likes. That way, when she’s making you 5 hours late, or is asking the dreaded fat question, you have a get out of jail free card.

You say: “Why don’t you wear that little blue number you wore to Jeff and Tina’s wedding, you look great in that!”

Not only does this get you out of the door in record time, you earn brownie points for apparently taking notice of what she wears and what she looks good in.

Golden Rule #2. Exercise Tact At All Times.

In other words, your wife is always right, everything she does is perfect and she’s incapable of making a mistake.

For example, if she cooks something so inedible she might as well have served a block of concrete in dog urine sauce, you will like it. Do not mention anything that makes the food seem anything less than culinary genius, even such minor things as ‘it’s too hot.’ Do not be fooled by such statements as "I think I made a mistake, you don't like it do you? You don't have to eat it. You won't hurt my feelings."

The correct way to get out of eating that pulsating, vivid purple monstrosity on your plate is to do one of three things:

a) You aren’t hungry right now. Bear in mind this can mean you won’t be eating that day, unless you can sneak off to McDonalds.
b) Fein Sickness. Make sure to emphasize how upset you are that you can’t eat your wife’s delicious meal, and curse your upset stomach. Make sure to run to the bathroom a few times during the day. This has the added advantage of giving you a bit of peace and quiet as well.
c) Accidentally ruin it. In other words, drop it on the floor, ‘accidentally’ pour a whole shaker of salt on the top, put it on the floor while you ‘get a drink’ so the dog gets it (although some things even the dog won’t eat.) Bear in mind, this doesn't work if there's more in the kitchen.

Golden Rule #3. Be purely reactive.

For example, if your normally talkative wife is unusually silent, or even worse, silent and letting out long theatrical sighs (a sure warning sign.) Do not ask what is wrong. The answer, infallibly, is something that you’ve done. This brings up a 4 hour argument, with the added bonus of you getting in trouble for being so insensitive and not even realising what you did.

This is a classic rookie mistake. If things are quiet, enjoy it while it lasts (it usually doesn't), and don't...instigate...anything

If, for some unknown and stupid reason, you do ask ‘what’s wrong?” and your wife says ‘nothing.’ Take her at her word, do not press the issue. That way, you’ve been a good husband for taking an interest, and can now ignore her because she said she was fine. Being male, you can get away with this. We are notoriously uncomplicated.

In a troubled silence situation, act exactly as you would if you had just been pulled over by the police. Look directly ahead, use short yes and no answers until you find out what it is you’re being accused of. There’s no sense confessing to a crime she doesn’t know about.

Golden Rule #4. Your Wife is Always Right.

Sorry, but this is the way things have to be. Get used to it.

Every married man seeks the Holy Grail of Marriage: A few minutes silence.

Even if you know your wife is wrong, simply say “Yes Dear.” Otherwise, you argue for hours and hours (sometimes weeks), and end up apologizing and saying sorry anyway. It just makes sense and saves a lot of hassle to simply cut out the middleman.

Also, your wife has a secret weapon…crying. If she doesn’t grind you down through days of argument, she’ll turn on the waterworks and trust me…wife tears have the same effect on a husband as kryptonite has on Superman.

Trust me. ‘Yes Dear,’ is penicillin for marriage.

Golden Rule #5. Make your wife believe that you are completely incapable of at least one household task.

This has a two-fold payoff, but requires good acting skills, timing, finesse and patience.

First of all make a good show of making a total disaster of a simple household task. Take an hour to iron a single t-shirt, dye all the laundry red, spend 3 hours trying to remove the curtain you accidentally vacuumed up from the vacuum cleaner bag. You must make it look as if you are really trying, want to do the task, but are incapable. Your wife’s mothering instinct will kick in and she’ll take over.

Now for the payoff. First and most obviously, you’ll never have to do that task again. Secondly, when your wife leaves the house, do the job in 5 minutes, and act like it took all day when she comes back. She’ll think you gave up your day especially for her. Many, many brownie points.

This does have its risks, however, your wife may decide you just need ‘practice’ and force you to do the task anyway. Then you’re stuck either pretending to have problems, which will take up your time, or you get ‘good’ at it, which causes the task to become ‘your’ job. It’s high risk, it’s up to you to decide if the payoff is worth it.

Golden Rule #6. Anything she does wrong is inadmissible in an argument after 1 day. Your transgressions do not expire.

This one is self explanatory. Yes, it’s not fair, deal with it. For the consequences, see Rule #4

Golden Rule #7 Eyes forward at all times.

You do not like supermodels, porn stars, pop stars or actresses. You can admit that they’re attractive, but you must also mention one fatal flaw that makes them ‘not your type’. IE ‘Cindy Crawford, yeah, she’s good looking, but have you seen that mole? Eeeewwww. No thanks!"

Remember, No-one is more attractive than her.

Golden Rule #8. Keep an undated Birthday Card, Anniversary Card and Valentines Card hidden in the house at all times.

We forget these things all the time, it’s a gene that gets turned on the second you get married. This way you can ‘pretend’ to forget, and when she says: “You Bastard! I can’t believe you forgot my birthday!” You toddle off to the bedroom, and return with a triumphant ‘surprise’!

But what about the gift? Repeat after me. “I didn’t know what to buy, so I’m taking you shopping!” Works like magic!

Golden Rule #9. Listen to what your wife says, then do the opposite.

This rule applies so often, that you will get in less trouble for always doing the opposite of what she says, than you will for doing everything she says.

For example, do not be fooled by any of the following:

"I don't want a big deal made of my birthday/valentines day/our anniversary. Don't bother getting me anything."
"No, honestly, you go to the bar after work, I don't mind."
"I know you think she's attractive, I won't be mad or upset if you tell the truth."
"Of course you don't have to come grocery shopping with me, you can stay at home, I don't mind."
"Leave the dishes, I'll do them when I come home."

The fact that she told you not to bother with her birthday, or told you it was fine for you to go to the bar is not an adequate defense. Even if you have video evidence of her telling you that, you're still in for a shitstorm when you go ahead and do what she says.

Golden Rule #10. You're being tested 24/7

It doesn't matter if you've been married a month, a year of a half century. Women are devious. They will deliberately set you up, give you every opportunity to screw up, just to see if you will.

Unfortunately there is no defence for this, as you will never know what she wants you to do, or what answer she wants. The only advice I can give you is expect the unexpected, and maintain constant vigilance. No matter how clear cut and simple things seem, she's planning something. It's always calmest right before the storm.


So there you have it. 10 steps to marital bliss.

Of course, rule 11 is not to write all this down on a blog that your wife will see.

I also accept no responsibilty for any limbs lost if your wife discovers that you've read this.

If you don't hear from me in a couple of days...hunt my wife down and avenge my death.

But I'll warn you, she's wily.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

When your 'muse' is hung over.

Today I’m going to talk about something I hold very dear to my heart.

Being a writer.

That’s what I am, that’s my job, my calling…or at least I’d like it to be.

You see, unfortunately, thus far, I’ve been spectacularly unsuccessful. This blog, one or two poems and a short story published in the University Magazine is about as successful as I’ve been. As much as I adore writing, and as much as I actually write, until I get published, I can’t call myself a writer and keep a straight face. It’s like calling yourself an actor before you’ve actually acted.

Anyway, what I want to talk about today, however, is not so much writing, as writers.

You see, I’ve met a few successful writers. Some in person (Usually guest speaker day at University), some through email for research etc. But do you want to know the one thing that linked them all, be they poets, sci-fi authors, romance authors or reporters?

How normal they all where.

Just your every day average Joe’s.

What I’ve noticed, though, is that many amateur writers appear to think that all you need to call yourself a writer is an abnormal personality and a collection of funny hats. I’m talking, of course, of the amateur, tortured artist, know-it-all.

Before I begin today, many of you may wonder what qualifies me to cast aspersions on these people. Well I’ll tell you. Not a bloody thing. You see, although I see myself as a competent writer, I know I’m not a great writer, and by no means a genius.

In my defense I will tell you that I actually have a Bachelors Degree in English Language, Literature and Writing Studies, but I’ll be the first to admit that completing a degree highlights one thing more than anything else…How little you know, and how much more there is to learn.

Let me tell you a story.

Anyone who has ever studied writing will know what a writers group is…or at least what a writers group is meant to be. You meet up, read or pass around something you’re working on, and then the rest of the group criticizes it to the point of tearing it to shreds.

You have to have a thick skin, but any real writer will tell you, the critique is the most enlightening and helpful part of the process. You get first hand feedback from the most important thing in writing…your readers.

Most amateur writers miss the most basic, fundamental fact of writing. When you write, you’re writing for other people. It’s other people that are going to be reading your work, and hopefully parting with some of their hard earned cash for a copy of it. The sad truth is, it doesn’t really matter how much you like it. If you love it, and everyone you show it to hates it…it’s probably bad writing. Without criticism, your work can not, and will not improve.

Now back to my story.

My English tutor once said he’d never had a writing group like the one I was part of, and he’d probably never have one like it again. He wasn’t saying we were all particularly talented, he was pointing out the complete lack of ego we exhibited. We let fly with criticism, and also listened when we got criticized. There where no hurt feelings, and the upside was if someone said they liked what you had written, when you know they would tear it to shreds if they didn’t, you know they’re telling the truth. The result of all this was, quite simply, our work improved. When it comes to writing, honesty works. Sycophancy doesn’t

I went to one writers group meeting after University. Just one.

I was at the local library, and just through chance happened to arrive when a local writers group was meeting. I asked if I could sit in, and was invited to do so.

What these people were wearing should have tipped me off. Fedora’s, Ebony canes, flamboyant scarves. It turned out that I was in the middle of a group of retirees, who decided that in their spare time, they were going to become best selling authors. However, it turned out that these people where more interested in appearing ‘literary’ and intellectual, than actually learning to write.

The first gentleman stood up, resplendent in his huge, wide brimmed hat, numerous large silver rings and white silk scarf. He cleared his throat dramatically, and struck a pose.

(Time out here – yes, he did just that. This wasn’t a performance, he was reading some sort of novel he was working on, and he actually struck a pose!)

Remember English 101? When you where told to avoid repetition? Meaning not to write something like, ‘ the bright, shiny belt buckle laid on the bright, shiny table under the bright, shiny window.’ Apparently this guy had heard this rule. What he didn’t understand was that this rule doesn’t apply to words like ‘said’.

He read for 15 minutes, and never said ‘said’ twice. Resulting in his characters doing all kind of weird things during his dialogue.

“Jim?” David sniffed.
“Yes?” Jim coughed.
“Where are you?” David smirked
“Over by the bookcase.” Jim breathed.

I couldn’t get the image out of my head of these people twitching, sniffing, burping and having epileptic fits all over the room.

Things didn’t get much better. An hour later, we came to the “What do you think?” section. In a real writers group, this is spent about 2% of the time on what you like, 98% of the time on what you don’t. It’s just the way it works. Gushing doesn’t help, people saying things like. “The opening is weak, cut out this, and it’ll be much more hard hitting.” Lets you improve.

However, these people hadn’t got that memo.

“Wonderful!”
“Marvellous!”
“Sheer Genius!”
“A best seller, for sure!”

I was dumbfounded, and wondering what these people had been listening to. It really was some of the most boring, self-indulgent twaddle I’d ever heard. One author actually spent 3 pages, yes 3 pages, describing how someone’s front room was decorated, when it had nothing to do with the story…even down to what the skirting boards where made of. This happened with absolutely everything these people had written. One woman had even included a shopping trip in hers:

“She walked to aisle 3 and picked up 3 cans of beans, some toilet roll, and a bottle of ketchup. She then went to aisle 4 and picked up 2 dozen eggs, a gallon of milk and a low-fat yogurt.”

After 2 pages of this, she even went on to describe how much everything cost, how much she paid for it (including what denomination the money was), how much change she got…you get the picture.

This was met with such great applause that you’d have thought she had just written War and Peace.



That’s when it struck me. This wasn’t a writers group. This was a mutual appreciation society. Right back to pre-school, when you tell someone you think their work is excellent, just so they’ll tell you they think yours is great.

It got to my turn to give my thoughts on Mr Large Hat’s work. Here’s how it went:

Me: “I’m sorry, I didn’t like it.”

The room suddenly got deathly silent, this was uncharted territory.

Mr Big Hat “Oh?” smirk “And why is that, pray? That’s right, he actually said ‘pray’.

“Well, you where about 5 pages in before you got the hook in, you spent the first 4 pages describing your main character tending his garden, when you could have written ‘he tended his garden’, before the actual story started. You also seem to over use exotic metaphors,which doesn't fit in with the rest of your writing style and instead of writing ‘said’, you made it sound like your characters all had allergies.”

Mr Big Hat’s face went purple.

“Oh!” he shouted with a self important grin. “What do you know about it? What makes you an expert?”

“Well, I have a bachelors degree for a start.”

He was speechless for a few moments, then face went from purple to a vivid shade of puce.

“How dare you!” he said, arms waving. “This is your first time here, what gives you the right to say I can’t write?”

I sighed.

“I never said you couldn’t write, I just gave you some advice on how to make your writing more readable and effective. That’s what writer’s groups are for, to give and receive advice. If everyone just says how great everyone’s work is, how can you learn anything? Plus, I don't see how just because I'm new here makes my viewpoint any less valid.”

Mr. Big Hat exploded. For offering advice, I was an idiot, a plebian and obviously did not have a creative bone in my body, and didn’t understand his ‘art’.

I left halfway through his tirade.

You see that’s the problem with amateur writers, they set themselves up as tragically misunderstood tortured artists... It’s a great way to ignore reality and pump up that ego. If someone doesn’t like what you write, it’s not because it’s bad, it’s because they’re not clever enough to appreciate such ahead-of-its-time ‘art’ and you obviously just don’t ‘get it’.

I once read someone’s work on the internet, who seemed to think basic punctuation was optional. I wrote and told him I liked what he wrote, but he needed to work on the technical side.

I got a very rude email back telling me I didn’t know what I was talking about, that the way he wrote was his ‘style’, and “That ‘they’ have editors, you know!” I didn’t bother to write back and inform him that yes, there is a such thing as a literary editor, but putting in your capital letters, comma and periods/full stops is not their job. In fact, many agents will simply ignore a manuscript if it has obvious grammatical errors.

Sorry, people, the truth of the matter is, if more than 3 people tell you your work is crap…that’s just what it is…crap. Listen to what they say and adjust your work accordingly. If you want to fall into tried and true tortured artist’s territory and believe that everyone is wrong but you, that’s fine…just don’t actually expect anyone to publish you.

I think most people want to be writers in the same way people want to be rock stars. They want to be famous, go to book signings, see their name on the shelves, make appearances on TV.

They forget the actual writing, the long hours in front of a word processor…you know, the actual work part.

Sadly, a silly hat, cloak and jewelry does not a good writer make.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Man News Bulletin. Battle of the Sexes Finally Ends....We Lose.




Well, today I finally managed to make my way back to the hardware store. I’m turning into quite a celebrity up there, Every time I go through the door the manager’s eyes light up. Usually he runs into the office to tell his wife to pack their bags, they’re going to Hawaii for the summer.

I think I’m putting his kids through college.

Well, my regular readers will know what I went for. That’s right, the replacement bolt for the weed whacker. 12 cents a piece. This time, however, I actually managed to leave with just the things I needed. I resisted the new lawnmower, tractor and bizarrely the chrome cabinet hardware they tried to sell me…. It was hard, but I managed. (The manager was gutted, I’m not sure I’m welcome there anymore.)

Well, the result is, I finally managed to half tame the grass outside. Now instead of looking overgrown, it looks as though someone has chewed it and spat it back out again. Not quite the Garden of Eden I was hoping for, but maybe it’ll be that way once I get my hands on a lawnmower (and put the ER on standby).

Anyway, as I was destroying…I mean trimming…the grass, I started thinking. Not a good idea when I’m operating power tools, as I go together with power tools about as well as a horny dog at a Mrs. Lovely Legs competition.

Remember Hiroshima? That wasn’t actually a nuclear bomb… that was me trying to work an electric screwdriver. When people see me take out my toolbox, they start screaming and run for cover. People in my state can actually get “Paul using power tools” insurance, in case I accidentally cause an earthquake or flood when I do a little light re-modeling.

Anyway, I started thinking. There’s a strange sense of pleasure in doing ‘Man’s work’, no matter how badly you suck at it. It’s a macho, in the bone thing. It’s the same phenomenon that causes men to refuse to cook on a stove, but if you fire up the grill, your man reverts to the cavemanesque ‘Ug, me cook on heap big fire, ugg’ mentality. It’s that hunter-gatherer instinct that jumps up and down on your head and won’t go away.

But what exactly is man’s work? And how can there be such a thing as man’s work, when ‘women’s work’ doesn’t exist anymore?

Stay with me on this. Every male over the age of 16 knows what happens when you tell a female that something they’re doing is ‘Women’s work’. Whether it’s your mother, girlfriend, wife or sister, the result is the same. Pretty much what happens when I use power tools…

KABOOOOOM!

Devastation for miles and miles.

If you’re even more insane (or just plain suicidal), you can even suggest that they stop moaning, because they’re a wife/girlfriend/mother, and what they’re doing is their job!

KAAAAAABLLLOOOOOOOOOEY!

Millions dead, nation mourns, testicles no longer attached to body.

However, when a woman says you have to fix the car, because it’s ‘man’s work’, you just get a flush of pride.

“Ug, little woman need big heap strong man, to fix big machine, ug ug.”

It never occurs to us that a creature capable of withstanding childbirth, that has 10 times the metal aptitude of your average male, might be capable of working out how to change the oil in their car.

However, women are just plain sneaky. They know that they’re just as capable, if not more so, than any man. They just work on the principle: “Why do a dirty, messy, time consuming job when you can dupe your man into doing it for you?”

Since Women’s lib, women have been recognized as being just as capable as men at pretty much anything. The problem we fella’s have is that we just don’t realize how capable they are. Resulting in us getting manipulated into giving women anything they want, while giving up our own freedoms.

Let’s try an experiment.

Guys, I want you to ask your wife/girlfriend to do something that is considered typically male. Ask them to fix the kitchen sink, or check the brakes on the car. I give you my cast iron guarantee you’ll either get:

a) laughed at.
b) a funny look.
c) told to go screw yourself.

Why is this?

Well, I’ll tell you. Very few women will be caught dead doing ‘Man Work’, let’s face it, ‘Man’s work’ is what husbands and boyfriends are for.

If you ask your woman to do something that is traditionally male, not only is it dismissed out of hand as just plain crazy talk, you’re just plain nuts for suggesting it!

Then, when your woman inevitably tells everyone else that you asked her to check her own oil…everyone will agree with her, that you’re totally out of your gourd, including other men.

The saddest thing, however, is that the flip side isn’t true. If your wife asks you to do something traditionally female, and you refuse, you’ve committed a deadly sin. You haven’t got the ghost of a chance and from that second on you’re a male chauvinist pig who thinks women should be confined to the home, bare foot and pregnant. How could you even suggest such a thing, you unenlightened troglodyte?! Wait ‘til I tell your momma! .

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m all for sexual equality, but for some reason, sexual equality is not equal. Let’s examine the evidence:

1) Women say they want to be equal, but still expect you to give up your chair, open doors for them and pick up the check.
2) They complain when the toilet seat is left up, but fail to see the relevance that you don’t complain when the toilet seat is left down.
3) If a man mows the lawn, fixes the car, lays a new carpet and unblocks the drain, he’s just doing what men do and does not deserve credit.
4) If a woman does the laundry, washes the dishes, and cleans house, she’s superwoman, and if you don’t thank her for it, you’re back in Male Chauvinist country.

Let’s face it guys, the only reason women don’t overtly rule the world is because they think it’s funny. They derive great pleasure out of the fact that we think we’re in control.

Behind every man is a devious woman pulling the strings.

The way I have it figured is that women work on a points system. They award their man and themselves points for doing chores around the house. It works as follows:

Men:

When you do ‘man’ work, you get one point per chore completed. You only get a single point, because you’re a man, and ‘man’s work’ is your job. You don’t deserve credit for doing what you’re supposed to do. Suggesting your woman could do it also earns you –50,000 points for being a sexist bastard

When you do ‘Woman’ work, you actually get half a point, because it’s about time you lifted a finger around the house, you lazy bastard! Suggesting your woman does ‘woman work’ also earns you –50,000 points for still being in the stone age…you sexist, chauvinist, patriarchal loser.

Women:

When you do traditional ‘woman’ work, you get 1000 points for each chore completed, this is because ‘woman’ work is hard, and you never get any thanks or appreciation. Suggesting your man does it also earns you an extra 1000 points, for helping your man be ‘progressive’ and turning him away from his sexist leanings.

When you do ‘man’ work, you earn 500,000 points, because that’s your man’s job, which means you shouldn’t have to do it in the first place. This also earns your man –5,000,000 for not stopping you and doing it himself. However, he also earns –500,000 points if he actually stops you, because he’s being sexist by suggesting you’re not capable.

Also bear in mind that a man point is worth roughly 1/10th of a woman point.

So guys, you see the bind we’re in:

If we suggest a woman does traditional woman’s work, we’re wrong.
If we suggest a woman does traditional man work, we’re wrong, and obviously insane.
If we don’t do traditional woman work, we’re wrong and sexist.
If we don’t do traditional man work, we’re wrong, and probably a sissy boy

Also if we offer to help a woman do man work…we’re also wrong for suggesting they might not be capable..

So what does all this mean? Amd more importantly, what can we do about it?

The answer is simple...absolutely nothing. There's not a single bloody thing we can do about it.

Guys, the women have us exactly where they want us. When a woman sets her mind to it, she can get just about any man to do just about anything she wants. That is why women can get out of traffic tickets by simply batting her eyelashes... and if we tried the same thing with a female cop...we'd be in jail before you could say 'sexual harrasment'.

I beleive Helen of Troy once said: "The only reason men go to war is because they think women are watching."

The real truth, however, is men only go to war because the horrors of battle are absolutely nothing compared to our wives woman nonchalantly 'mentioning' the driveway could do with a touch of cement...then seeing our nice, relaxing weekend vanish in a puff of smoke.

I suggest we just give in now and do whatever women say, it’ll be less traumatic in the long run.

Disclaimer : None of the above applies to any females I know, know me, or may find out who I am. I like my testicles where they are.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Man DIY...Murphy's Law Rides Again

Do you ever have one of those days? One of those days when, not only do your plans go awry, the go wrong in the most annoying way possible. Or in other words, the smallest possible thing that can go wrong, goes wrong, but that tiny little imperfection brings your day to a grinding halt?

Are you sitting comfortably? Then let me begin.

Saturday was an important day, being the day before my first anniversary. This was made even more important by the fact that my wife has to go to work on Sunday. Therefore, we planned to celebrate our first anniversary the day before. (People assume that the important anniversaries are ones like your 50th, this is true...however, if you f**k your first one up, you're in deep ka ka for the rest of the marriage.)

The day actually got off to a good start. For the first time in as long as I remember, I actually managed to get out of bed early without feeling tired as a one-legged marathon runner, or as grumpy as a eunuch at a Playboy shoot.

The plan was (...and I think this is where I went wrong, never make plans in advance, they invariably go wrong.) To wake up and do a little gardening, followed by a walk around downtown, a little window shopping, followed by dinner at a nice restaurant. Not too much to ask, is it?

To be fair, let me explain what I mean by 'a little gardening.'

Many of you are probably picturing me planting some bulbs, or mowing my back yard. You know what I'm talking about, the husband on his knees pruning the roses, while his loving wife brings him freshly made lemonade.

Not so.

We actually live in the middle of about 14 acres, which is split up by a few members of the family. My Father-in-Law's area is immaculate, my Stepdaughter's area is tidy...

My area is so overgrown, you need a machete and a Sherpa guide to get you to the car in the morning. We're talking the kind of grass you could get captured by cannibals in. With enough time you could probably discover a cure for AIDS somewhere in the wilderness that is my lawn.

Not so much gardening, as going to war with nature.

Let me explain, however, how it got like that. I don't want any of you assuming I'm lazy.

First of all, I'm new to this country, and spent the first 23 years of my life as a suburbanite. I am not a country boy. I have no idea how to run a tractor, and gardening has never been my forte.

Also, in England, the grass doesn't grow during the winter, and has a little growth spurt in spring.

In South Carolina, the grass doesn't grow during the winter, but it seems to take the grand total of 45 seconds for winter to end and summer to appear. You look at your lawn, turn your back, andthen you hear a kind of 'Whoomph!' sound (imagine a spring loaded umberella unexpectedly opening on its own) and the grass is so high it blocks out the sun.

Okay, so my grass is so high that the lawnmower won't handle it. So I have a flash of inspiration and borrow a strimmer/weed whacker from the father in law to trim grass to where the lawnmower will manage the job.

Sounds simple?

Well, it should have been. However, what actually happened was this:

1) I attempt to start the Strimmer.

2) About 45 minutes later, I make the astounding discovery that garden strimmers do not run on good intentions but actually have to be filled with some sort of fuel.

3) Fill strimmer with gasoline.

4) Spend further 45 minutes pulling starter string...to no avail.

5) After making sure wife isn't watching, I slyly read the instructions on how to start it.

6) After 20 minutes, and a lot of cursing, finally get the damn thing started, however, I am so surprised at this that I drop it, causing it to cut out.

7) With strimmer finally running, Approach grass with the demeanour of The Terminator facing a group of inferior enemies. (Hey the thing looks a bit like a gatling gun, which I'd need if I ran into the cannibals.) So I start cutting. Hasta La Vista, Baby.

8) 5 minutes later dicover that the Gatling Gun, sorry, Strimmer will not cut the grass just by making a noise, it also needs a supply of cutting wire to actually cut the grass.

9) Explain to the wife that Of course I realised it needed cutting wire, I just needed to make sure the thing would run before I bothered going to the expense of buying any. She doesn't buy it, and I can tell from her eyes that she's laughing at me.

10) Go to hardware store

11) Leave hardware store with string (price $2.88)

12) Arrive home, explain to wife what I 'need' the other $35 worth of merchandise for...(God Damn Salesmen!)

13) Attempt to fit the cutting wire.

14) Realise, with sinking feeling, that I have absolutely no clue what I'm doing.

15) Attempt to covertly read instructions, discover that there aren't any.

16) Fit the string in the most complicated and contrived way possible. Assure wife I know exactly what I'm doing. Cutting wire looks like one of those chinese puzzles where you have to untie a really complicated knot.

17) Start strimmer (see steps 4-7)

18) Knowing that this time around those smart-ass, smug-bastard blades of grass are going to get their comeuppance, I begin cutting. I also laugh manically, Bond villain style.

19) Curse loudly as my botched job off fitting the string has caused the strimmer to not so much cut the grass, as homicidally tie itself to it.

20) Remove end of strimmer, clear tangle, notice with a 'duh!' moment, the correct way to fit cutting wire, which I do

21) Attempt to place end back on strimmer.

22) Notice tiny bolt that holds the cutting wire in place is no longer present.

23) Look downwards at long grass

24) Let fly with a string of expletives that literally turn the air blue. The cannibals that live in my grass relocate to somewhere safer.

25) Spend nearly 2 hours on my hands and knees, in 95 degree heat, alternating between cursing in pain at the sweat stinging my eyes and looking for the bolt.

26) Fail to find bolt. Curse at whosever idea it was to make lawns out of grass instad of concrete.

27) Sulk.

28) With flash of inspiration, head over to Father-in-law's junk pile. Find old car headlight with a bolt that may fit the strimmer.

29) Spend further 45 minutes with can of oil, wrench and hammer trying to remove a bolt that has rusted shut. Bolt suddenly turns, causing me to fall over...The cannibals consider moving to a whole new country.

30) Test fit new bolt, discover it has the right diameter, but is about 6 inches too long.

31) Unpack dremel, and attempt to cut bolt to size.

32) Forget basic laws of physics, such as: a) Metal is an excellent conductor of heat. b) Bringing a grinding disc spinning at 60,000rpm into contact with said metal will cause said metal to heat up...a lot. c) Having fingers in contact with aforementioned metal will result in pain.

32) Say "Owwww!!! You MOTHER&$$#^@!!! YOU ABSOLUTE!&%$&! Son of a @#!$#! MOTHER#$%@*!!!! ...The cannibals actually move to another country.

33) Hold bolt at other end, much further away from grinding site, finally get the damn thing cut.

34) Relax a little, marvel at my own genius at finding and resizing said bolt to perfect size.

35) Attempt to fit bolt.

36) Fumble bolt

37) ...Drop bolt in tall grass.

At that point, somewhere, in one of the 7 Circles of Hell, the devil himself paused in his activity of shoving a pineapple up Hitler's ass, turned his head and said: "Who is that potty mouth! I've never heard language like that in all my life!!!"...The cannibals change their names, swap their loincloths for suits, get jobs and spend the rest of their lives in therapy.

Needless to say the grass is still waist high.

To make a long story short, the rest of the day didn't go so well either. Our walk around Downtown felt like a death march in 100 degree heat, 150% humidity. The meal, it has to be said, was fantastic, but resulted in the worst stomach ache since Cletus the Slack Jawed Yokel drank battery acid.

Oh, and to top the day off, we came home, fell asleep, and the house got struck by lightning.

Every get the feeling that someone up there, doesn't like you?

Incidentally, Does anyone know where I can buy a glowing bolt that whistles when you drop it?

No, didn't think so...