Sunday, 30 November 2014

They're Reigning - Cats and Dogs

With a tenuous apology for re-working an old favourite, the following instruction guide never fails to amuse me - because it's just so very true....

How to Give a Pill to a Cat and to a Dog....

Starting with the ever-so slightly more difficult cat, you need to:

1. Pick up the cat and cradle it like a baby. Place your left forefinger and thumb either side of the cat's mouth and gently apply pressure while holding the pill in your right hand. As the cat opens its mouth, pop the pill inside. Allow the cat to close its mouth and swallow.

2. Retrieve the pill from the floor and the cat from behind the sofa. Cradle the cat in your opposite arm and repeat the process.

3. Retrieve the cat from the spare bedroom and throw away the soggy pill.

4. Take a new pill from its foil wrap, cradle the cat again but now holding the rear paws tightly with your left hand. Force its jaws open and push the pill to the back of its mouth with your forefinger. Hold its mouth shut for a count of twenty.

5. Retrieve pill from fish tank and cat from top of wardrobe. Call other half indoors from the garden.

6. Kneel on floor with cat firmly wedged between knees, holding front and rear paws. Ignore the tiger-impressions from the cat. Get other half to hold its head firmly with one hand while forcing a wooden ruler into its mouth. Drop the pill down the ruler and rub the cat's throat rapidly.

7. Retrieve cat from curtain rail and get another pill from its foil wrap.Make note to buy new ruler and curtains. Carefully sweep shattered porcelain figures from the fireplace and set aside for later gluing.

8. Wrap cat in large towel and get other half to lie on it with its head just visible from below their armpit. Put pill in end of drinking straw, force the cat's mouth open with pencil and blow down drinking straw.

9. Check the label to make sure pill not harmful to humans, drink several pints of water to remove taste. Apply band-aid to other half's forearm and remove blood from carpet with soap and cold water.

10. Retrieve cat from neighbour's shed and get another pill. Place cat in cupboard and close door onto neck to leave head showing. Force mouth open with dessert spoon. Flick pill down throat with elastic band.

11. Fetch screwdriver from toolbox and put door back on hinges. Apply cold compress to cheek and check medical records for date of last tetanus shot. Throw t-shirt away and fetch new one from bedroom.

12. Ring fire brigade to retrieve cat from across the road. Apologise to neighbour who crashed into your fence while swerving to avoid cat. Take last pill from foil wrap.

13 Tie cat's front paws to rear paws with garden twine and bind tightly to leg of dining table, find heavy-duty pruning gloves from shed, pry cat's mouth open with small spanner. Push pill into mouth followed by large piece of fillet steak. Hold head vertically and pour pint of water down throat to wash pill down.

14. Get other half to drive you to A&E, sit quietly while doctor stitches fingers and forearm and removes pill remnants from right eye. Call at furniture store on way home to order new table. Arrange for RSPCA to collect cat and ring local pet shop to see if they have any hamsters.

And for the dog -

1. Wrap it in bacon. Throw it in the air.

Sunday, 23 November 2014


There seems to be a growing trend in almost saying some things, not saying somethings and completely mis-saying somethings. If you get what I mean?

Take advertising where you find some great examples of not saying things. I mean how many products are apparently up to 100% effective? Well that tells us precisely nothing. Think about it - zero is the minimum, one hundred percent the max - so everything is 'up to' one hundred percent effective and some things can only be 100%...

Then there are (invariably 'Special') Limited Editions. It might help if they actually said what the limit was, because there are no such things as unlimited editions. And before anyone argues the point, even the number of grains of sand on all the beaches in the all world (or brain cells between Stephen Fry's ears) is a finite number - big, but not completely unlimited.

Adverts will quite happily tell us that something is so special that there is an availability limit - 'A maximum of one per person!' What, every person on the planet? Only a tad more than 7 billion then. There again it may boast that the starring product has been around since 1884 or since the year Joan Collins was born (very similar, I know) - but so what? Smallpox has been around for a lot longer.Not to mention Bruce Forsyth.

Or they will tell you that a particular discount furniture store has a sale on. Like you didn't know that already since they only day they didn't have a sale on in the last thirty years was on a 29th February when a copywriter forgot it was a Leap Year.

None of which actually say anything - and advertising isn't just responsible for making something out of nothing.

Take that baby milk preparation which opens with the line 'If you choose to move on from breastfeeding your baby...'. What it fails to say anything about is what if the mother in question chooses not to move on. And there was me wondering where Walliams and Lucas got some of their (brilliant) ideas from. Bitty, indeed.

Up until a couple of months ago the television advertising for one particular brand of mouthwash opened with a woman at a sink, brushing her teeth. She spits out the remains of the (probably limited edition, up to 100% effective) toothpaste and shock, horror! There is a trace of blood mixed in with the toothpaste waste. Then, get this, the female voice-over performer tells us all that 'if you regularly bled from any other part of your body you would be alarmed...'. Seriously? I've been out with more than one woman who became seriously alarmed when she didn't bleed from one part of her body at the end of a month...

Then there are things that maybe should have been thought a lot more about before anyone said anything. I mean, if you were in charge of attracting tourists to your little island and it was called Pen, would you have maybe thought a little more before naming your website '' - and even though I explained the background to that genuine website name, I would bet a lot of money that you didn't read said name as Pen Island dot net.

The web hosts so many similar instances and I defy anyone to guess the product or service at the first attempt for such edifying sites as '', '', '', '' or ''.

I blame txt speak, for want of anything more obvious to choose. After all, omg but isn't it so lazy? (omg does stand for 'oh my giddy aunt', doesn't it?). In fact computers and mobile phones may have been the stuff of 1960's boyhood fantasies when I was at infants' school (my 1970's ones were much more fun), but the convenience of these marvels of modern technology also brings laziness.

I might be old enough to have been on first name terms with a few dinosaurs (you had to keep in with the T.Rex family or they'd send Marc round to give you a lift...) (too soon?), but even as ancient as I am, I still follow the lazy modern practices when it comes to many things high-tech. For example, I would be lost without the spell-checker these days (which originally said 'I wuld be list withoot the spill chucker...'),

and even dear old Twitter limits us to a mere 140 characters per tweet. Can you even begin to imagine how difficult that is for an old windbag like me? And for the record, that last sentence was 147 characters - too long for Twitter. I suppose at least Twitter makes us edit our messages to make them a little more concise, although even I have resorted to the occasional 'gr8' to save two whole characters (which could have been a lot more if I was Tony the Tiger...)

Another modern utility is predictive texting (I bet you saw that coming) and while that might let us type a tad faster on the tiny keypads modern phones and the like seem to enjoy torturing us with, it is also makes it desperately easy to say the wrong things. Not two weeks ago, my own phone managed to 'confuse' the words well and willy. I have absolutely no idea how that came about but I will never, ever again send a message to a friend hoping that he 'gets well again very soon'.

All of the above means that every one of us should become far more adept at translating the words we see in front of us into what they really mean because you never truly know what the   is out there. And we should also learn to fill in any deliberate blanks we might see. They could be important.

Right now though, I'm going to get back to reading through my blog posts - which have had up to one million hits so far...

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Whatever happened to novelty singles?

The 'C' word is fast approaching (no, I mean 'Christmas') but something is lacking...

Once upon a time (he said, Grimm-ly) there would always be a novelty single to look forward to, but that trend seems to have died away. Even dubious cover versions have disappeared. Granted, Justin Bieber might well be reluctant to release a cover of I Shot the Sheriff on the grounds that plenty of folks in authority might believe him and have him arrested (now, there's a thought for your Santa wish-list) but that still doesn't explain the lack of silly songs.

Even though this used to be something of a seasonal event - the 1970's were welcomed by Benny Hill's Ernie, for instance - the further back in time you go, the more frequent the silly song appeared, threat of snow or not.

Two of my earliest musical memories - and before you say it, the record player had been invented then, and no, it was not still called a 'phonograph' - by many, anyway- were Bernard Cribbins singing about a Hole in the Ground and Right Said Fred a shade over fifty years ago. It wasn't just a quirky British phenomenon either - in 1963 the American Allen Sherman tanked (sorry) his way up the charts with Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah. Nor was it a genre only approached by comedic talent - Sophia Loren 'duetted' on Goodness Gracious Me with Peter Sellers even earlier. I won't dwell on Clinton Ford's Fanlight Fanny, though, for more reasons than I care to mention.

And people wonder why I have such an eclectic taste in music...

It used to be a case of novelty songs for their own sake. My teenage years, the seventies (nineteen, that is, thank you very much) saw a plethora of silliness. The Goodies had their Funky Gibbon not long after Chuck Berry was (hit) parading his Ding-a-Ling, the Barron Knights were still Live In Trouble and Judge Dread had a string of 'big' hits (Big Five, Big Six, Big... well, I'm sure you get the picture).

These were releases, as I say, for their own sake, but some songs were released in order to allow novelty 'B' sides some air time - Jasper Carrott 'sang' about his Funky Moped to bring a rather more risque Magic Roundabout to our ears and almost anything by Dr Hook & the Medicine Show displayed their B-sided comedic roots (The Millionaire, anyone?). Some were issued to blatantly advertise the singers' presences elsewhere - think 'The Wombles' and, if you're feeling suicidal, 'The Smurfs' - which was advertising by any other name and probably the only chance for such an activity on the BBC in the UK.

Then there were releases that were topical comedic takes on life as it was being lived back then. Ray Stevens sang about The Streak which in the weirdest way seemed to bring a certain level of 'okay-ness' to the act of getting your kit off and dashing about the streets, supermarkets or for the truly adventurous, televised sports events.

The Monster Mash brought laughter (and truly awful impressions) to the whole Halloween business and even marriage break-ups were made vaguely amusing by Billy Connolly's cover of D-I-V-O-R-C-E (and possibly, for wildly differing reasons, his parody of Village People's In the Navy, which for Connolly was In the Brownies).

That decade ended and a new one started with Chas & Dave Rabbitting (when maybe they should have listened to Joe Dolce's advice when he sang Shaddup You Face), and at a time when The Monk's offered me sound advice through the dubious medium of Nice Legs, Shame About the Face.

From the eighties onwards we have seen a more raucous, less whimsical, edge enter the novelty market although The Firm's Star Trekkin' was firmly based in taking the rise out of topical entertainment and the Pogues' Fairytale of New York with the sadly missed and absolutely brilliant Kirsty MacColl at least addressed Christmas. We saw Spitting Image advise us to 'Climb Inside a Dog and Behead an Eskimo' in the Chicken Song, but were able to balance that through the advice of Monty Python, although to Always Look on the Bright Side of Life isn't easy (although probably a lot easier than it is to 'Hold a Chicken in the Air and Stick a Deckchair up your Nose' - thank you once again, Spitting Image). Living Next Door to whoever Alice is, begat a certain question if you believe Roy 'Chubby' Brown, although anyone who waits for twenty-four years probably can't answer even the most direct of inquiries.

The novelty song seems to have slowly given way to the charity single. Hale & Pace began the nineties with The Stonk for charity but in recent years these types of single have become closer to straight covers, no matter that the recordings are by comedians - think I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) (you wish...), Is This the Way to... (ok, ok, I'll let you off that one), Islands in the Stream, or, appropriately, Help.

Some are certainly decent pieces of music - the BBC themselves are currently extolling the virtues of their own licence fee with a none-too-subtle but really rather good cover of the Beach Boys' classic, God Only Knows featuring lines and chords from the great and good such as Stevie Wonder, Pharrell Williams, Elton John, Brian May, Chrissie Hynde and Paloma Faith (spot the odd one out for me - and yes he is male, white and has dubious hair - but not (normally, anyway) a curly barnet).

 I'm not so sure that these charitable - and other - covers and arrangements really qualify as 'novelty' records although there are still some eminently laughable tracks out there (anything by One Direction springs to mind) and I'm not for a moment yearning for the return of the likes of the Ying-Tong-Song or Bangers and Mash - but... surely some act, somewhere can come up with a vaguely witty way of telling me what I need to do with my turkey next month?

And by the way, I genuinely used to own copies of The Goodies' suggestions - Father Christmas Do Not Touch Me, and Stuff It - both viable for the turkey, I guess, but I've already taken novelty note of them...

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Remember, Remember, the 3rd of November

We all seem to have a day or two that are special, don't we?
For Americans it's the fourth of July to mark the celebration of the end of bad teeth, for the French it's Bastille Day on the 4th of July to mark the end of bad dictators, and for many Brits it's November the 5th to mark the end of over-priced fireworks.

And of course, many countries have many celebratory days. To judge by the fact that decorations have now been up for seventeen weeks, a lot of us are rapidly approaching the 25th December when we all celebrate bad jokes (and no, I'm not referring to my regular posts). Then a week later there's New Year's Day for many of us on the 1st of January, and for many more its eight weeks later on the 19th February.

On the 14th February a lot of Westerners will celebrate Valentine's Day when stalking is allowed for 24-hours, and in the UK we will even celebrate the 'glorious 12th' (of August) when we can start shooting at the tiny Red Grouse with the sort of big guns that make many Americans whimper.

We even create new holiday days on a regular basis. The very religious festival of Mothering Sunday which originally referred to the Mother Church was the only day when servants were allowed to take a day off to go and worship. This his morphed into the flower-and-card shop sponsored Mother's Day event (for a slightly cheaper option, simply wait for a bad traffic accident in the area and flowers will become available from nearby lamp-posts - joke, honest). For the record it will be held on the 15th March in the UK next year, and on May 11th in the US.

This, of course, led to Father's Day which is curiously (or not) exactly nine months before Mother's Day in the UK (June 21st in both UK and US next year). We now have days set aside for grandparents of both genders, the armed forces, Remembrance, national saints (there really are four in the UK and bets are off as to which one can be named most readily despite very few of us having leprechaun blood), Hallowe'en when five-year olds are allowed to mug us, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Boxing Day, Labour/Labor Day (dependent on nationality) and ones for every Saint imaginable (Ignatious, anyone?).

There are days after days after days when the deepest reverence is called for. This is, of course, these days normally in the form of a greetings card comprising an old photograph of a clearly-drunk family member waving a discarded bra around her head with a caption referring to bodily functions which are better seen than heard. Mostly.

This begs two important questions.

Firstly, with so many celebratory days how the hell did one of the UK's largest chain of card stores go bust last year? And secondly, with so many familial days (sister, mother, father, brother, grandfather, etc. etc.) is it true that some families of a certain travelling type in the UK only need a couple of cards to cover all eventualities?

That brings me to one day last week which happens to be 'my' day. For me the 3rd of November holds so many memories of note that I view it with a certain degree of trepidation each year.

When I was a boy all of my family lived in London and on the 3rd November 1969 (which if you believe some of my recent comments means that i would have been minus eleven, but when I was actually nine), my parents and I moved out of the great big dirty City and into the Garden of England. Well that's what the advertising said. In hindsight (isn't it amazing how hindsight is the only guaranteed 20:20 vision we have?) this was not necessarily the greatest move ever - at least not for a soon-to-be teen who really wasn't that keen on meat that still went 'baa' or 'moo'.

I was still a teenager when another 3rd of November brought about a rather lovely change in my personal standing. Or rather my very personal lying down, if you get my drift. It was a day when one 'V' word disappeared and another took its place...

My internal jury was still out on the whole (check spelling...) 3rd November thing, but then when I was a mere 24-year old my first wedding took place on that day. I joked at the time about it being the only way to guarantee fireworks during my honeymoon, but maybe I should have taken more note of sayings things said in jest. You might also note that the phrase I used earlier in this paragraph was 'first wedding' - and that should be sufficient a clue as to how I have viewed that particular 3rd November ever since.

Then, on a rainy Sunday in 1991 - the 3rd November, of course - my soon-to-be second wife moved into my London apartment where I had been living for a few monastic (ahem) months after parting from my first wife. Happy days was not just a much-repeated American sit-com.

The scales for the day were definitely lifting from the negative and a few (four) years later I was the recipient of my first and only decent national lottery win to guarantee it. Technically it was won on the 4th, but it I had bought the ticket the night before after work. They really should - and probably do - make a 'Happy hangover' card. The 3rd November was back in positive territory.

All good things and all that, though, and that day nineteen years ago was probably my last 'happy' 3rd of November. Since then I have seen one 3rd when I worked twenty-two hours, one when I had a car stolen, one when I attended my first MS clinic, one when... actually, I'll stop there before depression sets in.

For most people, birthdays-excepted, I'm sure that November the 3rd is simply the 307th or 308th day of the year. In this hemisphere it holds the promise of Winter to come and represents a near mid-point between the last of Summer and the yuletide festivities that lay ahead. It's a dull day for many, I'm sure.

Not for me, though. There have been three very good ones in the last forty-five years, but by and large it's been a black day for me. At least I survived the latest one with my marbles intact, so that's good enough for this gerbil. Happy thingy and don't let the cat litter melt!

Sunday, 2 November 2014


Shortly ahead of the release of a brand new Queen album featuring four brand new Freddie Mercury-included tracks (there's a great article about it in the Guardian - I just have to share my memories of this stunning band.

My love affair with the music of Queen began because I was something of  pretentious little thing when I was just coming up to my teens (I've grown out of it, honest) - I fell in love with just one word and wasn't exactly sure of the meaning. The word? 'Fastidious'

What sort of song could possibly have such an esoteric word (I didn't know the meaning of esoteric back then, either)? This, my little mind thought, must be a very intelligent, very creative band - I'd better listen to more. And, for those of you who don't know, before you start frantically (as if) Googling it, the word is used to describe the Killer Queen (...fastidious and precise, she's a...).

I listened to more and was hooked - despite the band's lack of popularity among my peers, and the 'dubious' nature of Freddie M's sexuality (believe it or not, it really was something strange back then to some). I left them to go listen to their super-straight Elton John and Michel Jackson albums (probably all introduced to them by Jimmy Savile) and for my part, wore Sheer Heart Attack down so much it probably counted as one of the first ever see-through albums.

My peers soon changed their tune (often literally) in the Autumn of 1975, though. Suddenly everyone was taking about the most amazing track they'd ever heard and I sat back, secure in the knowledge that they were both right, and that this was my band. As teenagers only can, I 'owned' them. I'd told all of them about how amazing Queen were long before Bohemian Rhapsody made all of them sit up and take notice. I imagine one or two of them even stopped their new-found bodily experiments long enough to listen to this stunning piece of art-cum-rock.

Lately, it should be noted, the magic track (in modern parlance, apparently 'BoHo') even has healing powers, acknowledged by the great and good. Just this week most of the major newspapers and television channels in the UK were publishing articles on the music's benefits to mankind - two examples being and

The more sceptical of my peers decided that I had got lucky with Bohemian Rhapsody and that this was a one-off, but I wouldn't let go of my adoration. A Night at the Opera was followed a year later by another Marx Brothers film, A Day at the Races, and the sceptics were to be found fuming at Somebody to Love. To make matters worse for them and even better for me, News of the World appeared in 1977, heralded by the double-A single We Are The Champions and We Will Rock You - which everyone reluctantly agreed was anthemic in the extreme.

My own love-affair with their music rumbled on like the happiest of marriages, and even my parents - steeped in the sounds of the big jazz bands and the Big O (dad and mum, respectively) - were content enough to let me play the music at home as loud as I liked. Although that was on the condition that I wore proper headphones* and stopped trying to sing along with Freddie... Both of them even, in one case rather grudgingly, at one point or another admitted that they actually quite liked some of the sounds this flamboyant, loud, band came up with.

I was a true fan by then - by 'true' I mean that I went to see the band in concert - and was delighted to discover new facts and material about the group or their members. I recall discovering that one particular band member had once recorded under the highly appropriate name of 'Larry Lurex' (need you ask?) and remember the equally horrified look that little fact produced on one or two faces.

I shared the band's skills and creativity at every opportunity and was even fussy enough (despite the natural teenage desperation) to only choose girlfriends who liked their music as well. To be fair, I was a teenage male so I would accept any young female who just pretended to like Queen. Proper girlfriends even got invited along to see them perform live. I sometimes went alone, though - even to a teenage male, the band were the thing.

I had just turned twenty when I woke up one December morning to hear the, to the young me, almost unbelievable news that John Lennon had been shot and that he had subsequently died. I've already written about the Queen concert that I attended later that night ( and perhaps as much as anything, the band's jaw-dropping tribute to the former Beatle cemented them in my heart.

As my twenties wore on (and began the inevitable process of wearing me down) I continued to follow the band with avid enthusiasm, even allowing them a little slip (in not just my mind) when Hot Space made its dubious appearance. I got married in 1984 and maybe should have known better - the young lady (ahem) was a Springsteen fan and her Queen knowledge was sketchy - and the band had been through a relatively quiet period. My new circle of (slightly more) adult friends found my ongoing adoration of the group a little odd, but then The Works introduced them to new classics.

Of course, it was a year later when so many of them truly realised what I had been on about for so many years. The Live Aid concert, held on that gloriously hot July day in 1985, was headlined by someone or other here and in the United States - but it was the performance of Queen which captured so many people's attention. My band stole the show and guess who was there loving every second of it?

Putting my own adoration aside for a few seconds (any longer and I start to get withdrawal symptoms), I've never known a single, short performance to lodge so firmly in the collective conscious of so many fans and non-fans alike. To this day the phrase 'Live Aid' is inexorably linked to the band's name. My only negative comment on Queen's sudden rise in popularity was that it made tickets to see them much harder to get hold of!

The eighties whirled on and became the nineties (who'd have guessed...) and in January and February of 1991 we were treated to the release of Innuendo, both the single and the album, respectively. It was a return to the Queen roots, reminiscent of A Night... in many ways and I was overjoyed. But then we could all see the promotional videos and those that accompanied many of the new tracks.

Freddie's illness was so obvious, even to those who hadn't grown up watching his stunning, captivating stage performances. Real fans knew that he was really Farrokh Bulsara, knew that he was as flamboyant as he appeared (and yet, truly shy), knew that he was a musical genius. The announcement of his death in November of that year was, to me, still a shock and, without doubt, one of the saddest days I have ever experienced.

That Queen returned to the top of the charts, that 'BoHo' featured in Wayne's World, or that Radio One announced that the track was the most played band in the channels's history - all of these things would have delighted the teenage me. But the knowledge that these were posthumous honours in one of the band members' cases made them almost hard to bear.

It seems almost unbelievable to me that Freddie's sad demise was twenty-three years ago - longer than I knew the band with him present - and yet the love affair goes on. It gives me a strange sort of pride when I hear compliments to the band, and I comfort myself with the knowledge that the Queen of the Mercury days will live on in so many minds, just as The Beatles and Elvis do.

It's not just Freddie M, of course. I have solo music recorded by Brian May and I'm an avid fan of the quirky productions of Roger (Meddows - don't confuse him with the Duran Duran guy) Taylor. I've watched Paul Rodgers and now Adam Lambert taking the Mercury role, but it's just not the same. Lambert in particular is fun and has a great stage presence but... It certainly gives you an idea of just how great Freddie was.

My love affair with Queen has outlasted my turbulent teens, one turbulent and one quiet marriage, and it's accompanying me through a third marriage and into my dotage. The music comforts me, excites me still, makes me think and feel. No wonder doctors are prescribing Rhapsody as a pick-me-up.

Queen will live on with me (and so many more) forever.

* I could play the music at deafening volumes but only if I wore big, proper 'bins', nothing like the silly little ear plugs you get a lot these days. You know the ones, often bought to go with tiny music-playing phones that cost several hundred pounds and which are worth about ten pence to judge by how they let everyone close to said-phones share the tinny squeaks that the said-music appears to be made up of.