Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Online quizzes are steps along the path to true self-knowledge

Online quizzes are uncannily accurate, and a fascinating way to discover hidden truths about yourself.

In the past I have learned important facts such as my name, how old I am, and where I live, all by selecting my favourite photo of Beyonce from a choice of nine different images, and answering a few simple questions about my favourite colour, and whether I would prefer to go on a relaxing beach holiday or a grueling polar expedition.

Below I have compiled the results of some of the online quizzes that I have taken recently:

Thursday, 24 April 2014

I wish to assert salvage claims on the following archaic English words

When I was 13 years old, the teachers in the English Department at my secondary school formed themselves into an ad hoc Bronte sisters-inspired death cult. They subsequently committed mass-suicide on the anniversary of the publication of Jane Eyre. This was a common occurrence in England at the time, and so no one was especially surprised. As had been the case with similar cults, which had sprung-up at other state comprehensive schools, their chosen method of suicide was TB bacilli, coated in lead and dusted with arsenic and powdered glass.

In the aftermath of the tragedy the board of governors resolved that no further English teachers would be hired by the school. Instead we were to be taught the subject by metal and wood work teachers, all of whom who were either staunch Methodists, or worshipped pagan deities whose province was thunder and lightning occurring in the skies over East Anglia, the ancient forests of Nottinghamshire, or the mountains of Wales.

Our class was placed under the supervision of Mr Havers – a man who would tutor me on topics as diverse as the recurring religious imagery contained within the work of the metaphysical poet George Herbert, and the over-arcing theme of gender identity in the William Shakespeare comedy Twelfth Night. 

In applying himself to this task, Mr Havers would adopt the same straight-forward approach that he had previously employed when guiding me through the process of making a metal boot-scraper with the number of my house on it.

During his discourses upon the canon of English literature he would instinctively reach for those metaphors that reflected his true passion – that of crafting raw materials into objects that were pleasing both in form and function:

“Imagine that the English language is a big machine made out of words. Adjectives describe the dimensions and purpose of the machine. Verbs are the actions and processes that place these purposes in a proper context. Punctuation promotes the efficient action of the mechanism. Semi-colons and the accents common to foreign words are embellishments, reminiscent of the scroll-work and other fine detail that one typically finds adorning quality architecture. Over time some pieces fall off the machine. On other occasions, slightly overweight men with worn-down pencils lodged behind their ears, will gather around and debate whether a part on the machine is obsolete and either needs to be either modernised or removed entirely.”

Following this eulogy we were each given a copy of Howards End by E.M. Forster and instructed to liberally smother it in axle grease.

A year later Mr Havers took the entire third year on a school trip to The Nottingham Museum of Cast Iron. It was here I discovered that the English Language machine, that he had so vividly described in lessons, was not a metaphor at all, but an actual functioning device, powered by a waterwheel mounted on the exterior of the building; part of a permanent display at the far end of a long gallery of gleaming traction engines. It had been designed in 1842 by William Bollard. The following year Bollard and Hunt had manufactured seven of these colossal engines, although only one survives to this day.

Tragically, during the trip, 14 of my classmates, including Elizabeth – the only woman who has ever loved me - became trapped in a wing of the museum in which a display of 273 sepia photographs depicted the arduous construction of a small section of a canal in Bolton. All died of acute boredom before they could be rescued, despite being played Scooby Doo cartoons in an attempt to stimulate brain activity.

It was Mr Havers who inspired me to pursue my long career in salvaging obsolete words of the English language for profit. This archaic verbiage is either melted down and sold for scrap, or given slightly new, or altogether different, meanings and then placed back into common use.

There is also a growing market for letters taken from old words that have been broken down for spare parts. Although we think of recycling as a modern phenomena, the practice dates back to the formation of the United States of America, when the abbreviation 'USA' was written so frequently that there was, for a while, a serious national shortage of the letter 'u.' This was resolved in the short-term by the cannibalisation of 'u's from words such as 'colour.'

Even through the 'u' shortage is a thing of the distant past, with vast quantities of the letter being imported from China to the United States, the practice of incorrectly spelling certain English words carries on to this day.

Occasionally a word is either abandoned in the wilderness, or is lost entirely, usually in tragic circumstances, and has to be relocated. When this happens it becomes subject to salvage laws and can be claimed by people like myself.

Bearing this in mind I wish to publicly assert salvage claims on the following archaic words of the English language:


In halcyon days gone by (which in geological chronology occurred not long after the days of yore) the word 'betimes' was associated with extreme punctuality – the act of arriving for an appointment with plenty of time to spare.

The descendants of the man who invented the word recently contacted me by letter, begging me to preserve its original meaning. I responded to their communiqué through my team of lawyers, reminding them that if their grandfather had been a better Whist player, they would still own the word and could do with it as they pleased.

It is my intention to re-brand 'betimes' as a hip youth term for bedtime. I envisage it being used in conversations similar, if not identical, to the one below:

5-Year-Old (One): “A'ight blood. You scoping Tikkabilla laterz?

5-Year-Old (Two): “Can't bro. The 'rents set betimes at five-o dead.”

5-Year-Old (One): “That's harsh dog.”


I discovered 'Asunder' covered in dust and cobwebs, lodged securely under a church pew in Norfolk. The last three letters were thickly coated in eggshell-white emulsion. It took quite a bit effort to remove it.

The incumbent vicar recalled the word being used as a doorstop throughout the 1980s, and later by some visiting builders to stir paint. Not realising its true worth he agreed to sell it to me for the sum of £20.

Since then the church, having realised their mistake, has asked me whether I wouldn't mind returning the word, as it is still used in some of the older hymns. I would have been more than happy to do so, had they not refused to refund my £20. I have now opted to retain ownership of the word and have offered to licence it to the church for use in worship.

Things have escalated from there. I recently received a letter informing me that I will go to hell if I do not return 'asunder' to its rightful former owners.

The joke is one them, as I am already going to hell for killing all those postmen and burying their remains under the floorboards of my home.


The word “Verily” retired from public life in 1930, although it continued to appear at private functions right up until the beginning of the Second World War.

In 1941, it announced that it would be withdrawing to an isolated Greek monastery, where it would spend the remainder of its time on earth in silent contemplation of spiritual matters.

Despite the hostilities that were raging across Europe and Africa, it unwisely chose to make the journey by air, taking off in the dead of night from an aerodrome just outside Oxford. A few hundred miles from its destination the plane was mistaken by allied forces for an enemy bomber and shot down over the Ionian sea.

The wreckage currently rests in shallow waters, close to the Greek town of Parga. Ownership of the plane and its contents is disputed and will be decided by an upcoming hearing in the European courts.

Unfortunately, even after proprietorship has been determined, 'Verily' cannot be raised from the seabed, as the 'e' has become the home of a rare, extremely long-lived, and notoriously sedentary species of octopus, whose well-being and habitat are protected under international laws and treaties.

It will therefore be many centuries before my descendants can retrieve the word. Even then it is likely that they will be forced to do battle with the notoriously well-armed Greek coastguard.


An archaic word for an alarm bell. I plan to refurbish it and sell it on to a rap, grime, or graffiti artist - one who is looking for unusual spelling of the word 'Toxin' to use as a moniker.


Saturnism was once a poetic term for lead poisoning. With a word so obtuse and so unlikely to return to common use, the temptation is to melt it down. I have opted to take a longer view and have stored it in an air-tight safety deposit box in a Swiss bank.

I am gambling on a future where humans will one day colonise the planet of Saturn and develop a pro-Saturn outlook, at which point 'Saturnism' will come back into fashion, albeit with a dramatically altered meaning. When this happens my descendants have been instructed to thaw-out my frozen brain and lovingly place it within the cold unfeeling metal body of a 20-foot-tall clawed robot, so that I can resume my former duties as Managing Director of my word-salvaging company.


Zounds has recently been co-opted by fans of the Steampunk genre of science fiction as a means of expressing surprise. These poseurs, with their clockwork waistcoats, are using the word illegally on the flimsy pretence that, by adding an exclamation mark to the end, they are exempt from making royalty payments to me. I contest these claims with the counter-argument that the exclamation mark is implied by the word itself and is therefore superfluous.

If I catch anyone using 'zounds' without my written permission (and I'm looking at you Trevor) I will slap the coal-powered monocle out from under the brim of their ridiculous stove pipe hat.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Where it all went wrong for David Moyes

In June 2012, David Moyes, the slayer of the Salford Ogre, was carried triumphantly through the streets of Manchester on the shoulders of the grateful population. The creature he had bested in hand-to-hand combat was neither a metaphorical troll, nor was it an allegory for working poverty, or the Govian purging of the education system. It was an actual ogre, standing over nine feet tall, covered in warts and scaly protrusions and reeking of Special Brew.

“The name on the ogre's death certificate was Clive Slater, but most people just called it 'The Ogre,'” recalls a now-no-longer terrified peasant from the sleepy Mancunian village of Upper Trafford. “It used to barge into ASDA and steal sheep right off the shelves.”

Another small business owner recounts a story that has been passed down, by word of mouth, from father to son, since the dawn of human history:

“Once the ogre came into my cafe and then sat there with the same cup of tea for six hours and wouldn't leave. I was powerless to do anything about it. My crossbow bolts bounced off his toughened hide. Three people were killed by ricochets.”

Many witnesses to the slaying were impressed by the decisive manner with which Moyes dealt with the monster:

“He didn't even give the cunt time to stand up,” says one local. “He just steamed in there with a massive sword and cut its head off.”

Yet, even as Moyes was being publicly feted for his giant-slaying prowess, there were shadowy figures lurking in the background who were eyeing him up for a different role. One of those shadowy figures was Adam Hennings:

“By this time Sir Alex Ferguson had taken to wearing white robes and referring to himself as 'Ferguson the White.' We knew that he was building up to retirement and that we had months of goodbyes and not-quite-final appearances on the calender for the foreseeable future.

“On paper, Moyes looked like the ideal candidate to replace him as manager of Manchester United Football Club. He had slain the ogre and salvaged the virtue of the Duchess of Cambridge. I did a search on google and discovered that, during the 1990s, he had played rhythm guitar with Depeche Mode on the South American leg of a world tour. Here was a renaissance man who could successfully turn his hand to any task that was placed before him. I saw no reason why, under his stewardship, the club could not continue to dominate English football.”

However, away from the back rooms of Trafford East – Manchester United's legendary stadium - some were already questioning the wisdom of the appointment. One of these people was Jim Wilson-Daughter, editor of the Snowmen for Goalposts 'football-zine':

“When I heard that Moyes was in the running to take over the manager role at Manchester United, my immediate thought was: 'Why is the chairman of a 2nd division snooker team, who only just avoided relegation last season, being placed in charge of one of most successful English football clubs in living memory?'

“In an eleven-a-side snooker match, the players fence with each other using special tapered sticks called 'cues'. Conversely, in the beautiful game of football, grown men are required to kick each other in the shins, and also pull hair and inflict Chinese burns on their opponents whenever match officials aren't looking. The tactics in both sports are completely different and there is little overlap.”

Meanwhile, on the training fields of Trafford East, Moyes eccentric methods were already raising well-manicured eyebrows among Manchester United's notoriously metro-sexual players:

“One morning he had us painting pine cones metallic colours. A few days later when they had dried, he drove us in a minibus to an old people's home. We gave the painted pine cones to the residents as a thank you for saving us during the Second World War.”

While some players were confused, or openly hostile, to Moyes' unusual managerial style others, such as Wayne Rooney, recall him with fondness:

“I grew up listening to New Order and A Certain Ratio. All of those Factory Records bands. Moyes turned me on to German post-industrial groups like Einstürzende Neubauten, and a lot of European avant-garde stuff. He taught me that you don't have to choose between Kylie Minogue and Diamanda Galás. It's okay to like both and you shouldn't let anyone judge you for it.”

Other regulars on the first team remember him as a father figure:

“Even though many of us had done TV adverts for Gillette razors, very few of us knew how to wet shave properly,” recalls one player who wishes to remain anonymous. “One day Moyes lined us all up by the sinks in the changing room and walked us through it. Now the only time I use an electric razor is if I'm in a hurry!”

In the end it was Moyes' behaviour in the boardroom that hastened his departure from the club, as Adam Hennings remembers:

“We would get these four packs of different flavour yoghurts for meetings. Moyes would immediately take all of the strawberry ones and then eat them in the corner. You might be able to get away with that kind of thing down south in Birmingham, but definitely not in Manchester.”

While many are hoping that Moyes' successor will improve the fortunes of the beleaguered club, there are others who wonder how Manchester will cope without its famed ogre-killer:

“The other day in Oldham my mate saw a goblin the size of a Penny Farthing,” says one season ticket holder. “Do people really think that Anders Lindegaard is up to sorting that out?”

Friday, 18 April 2014

A spontaneous, no-contact boxing match between me and a man dressed in a lion costume, at a themed restaurant, in an amusement park, goes badly awry


To win the
fleeting respect of
these children
- my niece and nephews -
for the rest of the day
I must play ball:

I must accept the challenge
of the park mascot -
this interloper on my territory.

In mock unarmed combat
I must best this man
who has clothed himself
in anthropomorphised
lion costume,
accessorised with maroon
fez and crested blazer,
without actually
kicking his arse
so bad
that he later
tracks me down
to my home
and shoots me
gangland execution style,
holding his
pistol sideways.


This synthetic lion:
Apex predator of
'The Jungle Juice Bar
and Lost Mayan Temple
Soft Play Area.'

This rival for
the love of
my brother's children,
refuses to fall to
my mimed haymaker.

He grabs my hair
and pushes my head
under the sneeze-guard
of the salad bar
into an aluminium serving tray
18 inches deep in coleslaw.

A dream of drowning:
Significant moments
from my life
flash before my eyes:

A former girlfriend
dressed as 'Death'
from Neil Gaiman's
Sandman graphic novels,
posing for a photo
alongside Brent Spiner,
at a Star Trek convention
in Basildon.


A park ranger
pats me on the back:

"You did okay there.
Always best to fight a lion
if it attacks."

"And always try to make yourself look bigger."

"Eating the coleslaw
was a good idea,"
says his partner
-a young man.
His flushed cheeks 
are dusted with acne.
"The mayonnaise is high in fat."

"They come down
from the mountains
this time of year
to scavenge,"
says the sheriff.

With his baton,
he pokes the body
of the sad man
in the lion costume.

"If we eat the lion
will we gain its strength?"
inquires my nephew,
paraphrasing something
that he read in a book
about Native American cultures.

"You should take a trophy,"
says the sheriff. 
"Not many folk can
say they killed a lion
with their bare hands."

Again with his baton,
he raises the head of
the fallen beast 
a few centimetres
out of the warm tray
of boiled potatoes
where it rests.

The movement briefly
separates the mask
from the man underneath
exposing an area
of pallid stubbled flesh.

"I've got some glue in my truck, should fix that,"
says the head ranger.
"No-one will ever know
it was a man in a lion mask."

A waiter disappears
into the restaurant kitchen
to fetch a meat cleaver.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Restaurant Review - How I got banned from 'La Cale de Halage'

La Cale de Halage - Anton Precourt's new Mayfair-based “cyber (fine)diner” concept - is one of those dreadful places where they take your internet browsing habits into account when drawing up seating-plans and populating the menu. The idea is to create a dining ambiance better suited to your personality. Since I wouldn't allow my online persona to venture within 50 yards of me, or anyone who I care about, I am curious as to how it will translate into a set, three-course lunch. My curiosity is so great that I put aside any lingering concerns that I might be forced to eat my meal under a bridge, so as to make reparation for my youthful trolling activities.

Four days prior to my midday reservation I am contacted by Clara – a member of the restaurant's social media team: A woman whose Sloan-Ranger-esque tones make her sound like she has a hand-grown, artisan plum in her mouth.

“As curator of your set lunch I just need to know whether you want me to take into account any of the erotic content you have browsed, when I design your menu,” she enquires breezily.

On the advice of my friend David, who elected not to activate the restaurant's adult content filter and was served a llama's vagina stuffed with apricots and spiced mincemeat, I ask Clara to disregard any pornographic material that shows up in her search.

“I don't visit those sites anyway so it shouldn't be an issue.” I assure her, adding: “Actually there was an incident recently when my girlfriend went to visit her mother for a few days and I think I must caught a computer virus or something because some pornography did end up on my computer, and I've absolutely no idea how it got there...”

“Yes, of course. That kind of thing happens all the time,” replies Clara, the sincerity of her response curdling as the words leave her mouth.

Upon my arrival at La Cale de Halage I am greeted in off-hand fashion by a slovenly-dressed, 40-year-old man-child with a neck beard. 

Front of house staff here are well-schooled in the complex meme-based etiquette of the famously unfiltered, frequently offensive 4chan message boards: My host immediately enquires whether I would like to have my picture taken with a shoe on my head. My female companion meanwhile is asked to either expose her bare breasts or GTFO. She chooses the latter, leaving me to dine alone in a room full of individuals wearing Guy Fawkes masks, seated alongside vaguely-familiar people who I barely know any more, and haven't spoken to in years. For reasons that I am unable to recall, a large number of these fading friends and acquaintances have deliberately positioned their chairs so that they are facing away from me, and spend the afternoon studiously avoiding my conversation and eye-contact.

My first encounter with the waiter staff comes in the form of Kyle – the bratty 14-year-old sommelier – who, encouraged by his mother, grudgingly approaches my table and immediately identifies me as a “summerfag”: A derogatory term which he later supplements, upgrading me to 'n00b' status after I fail to order an appropriate bottle of wine for my meal. In an unforgivable faux pas, my mispronunciation of one of the restaurant's more mediocre reds shows me up as a pitiful "beta" specimen who can neither “Triforce” nor “Green Text,” and who is “made of fail.”

My food waiter (identified on his name-tag as 'Bush/Cheyney_2000') turns out to be an angry tollbooth operator from Nebraska whose culinary tastes run counter to my own. We end up arguing at length about my choice of courses, whether they tacitly endorse Obamacare, and what they will mean for America and the future of the 2nd Amendment.

Our heated debate turns out to be moot. The lobster tank, I am informed, has been “closed due to AIDS.” Furthermore, my selections from the menu have been moderated for being in breach the restaurant's nebulous terms and conditions. Subsequent requests for food are placed in a pre-moderation queue, to be reviewed by the head chef, as and when he has the time. This arbitrary sanction translates into significant delays between me ordering a dish and it arriving at my table.

Four hours later my starter finally appears, served alongside special 'Instagram dining lenses' – a pair of tinted glasses that take a jpeg every 30 seconds, and make everything look like an over-exposed 1970s photograph, printed from a badly scratched negative.

Because of time constraints I elect to forgo both main and dessert courses. I demonstrate my minimal appreciation for the service I have received by paying using the lowest domination bitcoins at my disposal. The cashier, upon noticing that my bill ends in a pair of fours, compliments me on my “doubles.”

I grudgingly tip my waiter with a framed A3 photo-print of a whale's tail, captioned with the inspirational quote: “Success is defined mostly by people like Donald Trump or Bernie Ecclestone.”

The following morning I receive a curt email:

You are banned ;_;

You have been permanently banned from La Cale de Halage for the following reason:

Spamming. You were caught by a member of our waiting staff eating a tin of spam with your fingers.

Your ban was filed on April 12th, 2014. This ban will not expire.

According to our server your name is backwards7. The name you were reserved a table under under was Anonymous.

Please check back in 7 days when you may appeal your ban.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Why creationist myths about the origins of the BBC represent the greatest threat to feminism in a generation.

The following blog entry is an attempt to write a satirical version of a certain type of article: One that appears in the pages of The Guardian newspaper on a semi-regular basis.

It was also inspired by Sandra Korn – a U.S. student whose recent article in The Harvard Crimson argued that we should sacrifice debate and freedom of speech in favour of promoting an unquestioned liberal agenda. The piece caused wide-spread consternation, with some commentators comparing her to the Nazi Minister of Propaganda - Joseph Goebbels.

If the article below attacks anything it attacks stupidity, which is a human trait, void of sexual bias, that impairs both genders equally.

Why creationist myths about the origins of the BBC represent the greatest threat to feminism in a generation.

(In a special guest blog, columnist Sally Kinlan-Waller fixes her withering gaze on an issue that threatens to blight modern society and ruin everything)

It says something about the character of Arthur Leatherby that he raises bushy eyebrows even among his peers within the antiquated, oak-panelled headquarters of Modern Patriarch Magazine (established 1840). Here the air hangs heavy with the impotent odour of archaic masculinity - a heady blend of pipe smoke and muted corduroy.

Leatherby's latest diatribe (I flatly refuse to call it an article) is predictably titled 'The Iron Phallus' and utilises the tired pop-up centrefold device favoured by the 'magazine' (I shall refrain from using the word”organ” which is said journal's preferred term when describing itself).

Among the numerous, wilfully offensive, missives lobbed into the feminist encampment in an attempt to defend the indefensible, Leatherby cannot resist trotting out the long-discredited creationist myth that the BBC was the design of a Judaeo/Christian god, and fashioned using surplus vertebrae from Adam's neck.

In this chauvinistic rendition of the book of Genesis the earliest humans were rather like giraffes. It was their great height that enabled them to reach the upper boughs of the Tree of Knowledge and graze upon its succulent fruit. God, finally realising his mistake only after his entire supply of apples had been eaten, removed the extraneous neck joints. He used those he had taken from Adam to create a publicly-funded broadcasting service covering the United Kingdom, but also licensing programming and selling tie-in products to foreign territories.

No mention is made regarding the eventual fate of Eve's vertebrae. Christian apologists have attempted to paper-over this omission with suggestions that her bones might have been used in the construction of BBC Television Centre, or in the props department.

Women fare little better in Pagan mythology: According to Norse folklore the BBC was forged by Odin in the white hot furnace of a supernova.

In early-English legend, the British Broadcasting Corporation was the product of a violent sexual union between a pair of mythical beings – the grizzled old wizard Merlin forcing himself upon an innocent young dragon called Beryl. In later versions of the hackneyed Arthurian myth, Mordred is a presenter who works for the BBC, but who later defects to ITV on the promise that he will be able to host the channel's football coverage. Guinevere is a TV weathergirl who goes on to present a popular show on BBC1 about antiques.

The Nobel Prize-winning chemist, Doctor Kayleigh Osborne, notes that myths are light in terms of weight and tend to float, while the truth is heavy and dense like Lead or Cadmium, and is therefore prone to sinking to the bottom where it is lost from the sight of all, save for those who seek it out.

It is beneath these clouds of fable and myth that we at last encounter the truth about the origins of the BBC: An organisation, like so many at the time, handmade in 1922 by a Home Counties women's knitting circle, from a national surplus of lilac-coloured wool. Since its genesis, members of both genders have gallantly stepped forward to make repairs and darn holes, resulting in the rainbow-coloured entity that we love and cherish today, and that is the envy of the civilised world.

Men like Arthur Leatherby have a wilful tendency to dominate and drown out those quieter voices who speak up against them. Their malign influence is a toxic effluent seeping into our porous culture, polluting everything that it touches. As long as people like him are allowed a public forum, there will be a generation of young girls who will grow up believing that our beloved BBC is the brainchild of the biblical patriarchy.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Breaking up a tree fight on your property is harder than extremal combinatorics

“Breaking up a tree fight on your property is one of the hardest things you will ever do,” I tell my incredulous seven-year-old nephew.

We are both reluctant guests at a wedding reception. Across the room the DJ puts on Abba's 'Fernando' in an attempt to stir some life into a stagnant dance floor, at present populated solely by the bride and groom who are slow-dancing and oblivious to their surroundings. On the fringes, where the varnished blonde wood meets with an expanse of coral-coloured carpet, a young bridesmaid gyrates shyly next to one of the circular tables. A partly-folded linen napkin that still resembles a swan, lies crushed on the floor in the shadows near her feet.

“Even harder than extremal combinatorics?”

“Yes, far harder than that. I would say twice, or maybe even three times as hard as what you just said.”

If the archives at the Museum of Southend are to be believed, it took the combined efforts of 47 consecutive generations of my family to break up a vicious bare-branch fight between a pair of oak trees.

The unseemly spat occurred on the front lawn of the family home, in plain sight of the church across the road. One can only imagine the effect that such commonplace violence must have had upon the children who dwelled within the property and who, upon peering through the front windows, would have been greeted by the brutish spectacle of the trees beating seven bells out of each other.

It was my ancestor Andrew Sadler who first noted the bough of one of the oaks extending towards its neighbour in a threatening manner, while the other tree appeared to lean provocatively forward, a leering hollow in the trunk mouthing the word: “Tosser.”

Sadler sternly admonished both trees. The following morning the entire family convened beneath their leafy canopies to recite passages from the New Testament and sing hymns.

These readings from the holy scriptures did nothing to improve the moral characters of the skirmishing oaks. If anything hostilities between the pair escalated.

42 years later Andrew Sadler's great-grandson, John, was the subject of slanderous gossip spread by Alan Webster – the then patriarch of a family who have been our rivals since the 1500s. Recently their eldest son, Derek, beat me to the position of Assistant Manager at World of Toner.

Alan Webster swore before the Bishop of Lincoln that he had witnessed John Sadler watering the two oaks on the Sabbath with a barrel of beer “thereby making both trees drunk and belligerent and mindful to continue in their ceaseless brawling which has so demeaned the character of our fair village.”

An account of life in Southend at this time refers to the Sadler household as “a rowdy establishment of ill-repute, where outside a pair of great oaks do battle with one another, while at night crowds of ne'er-do-wells gather and place bets upon the eventual outcome.”

Ironically it took a war to force a break in the hostilities: In 1915 both trees were drafted into the army and served on the continent in separate regiments. They returned to England unscathed in early 1919, having each attained rank of captain. After a brief armistice they resumed their violence towards each other with renewed vigour.

In 1961, a policeman called at the family home late in the evening. It was my grandfather, Harry, who opened the door to him, whereupon he was informed of a complaint raised by neighbours regarding a fearsome cacophony taking place in the front garden: The incessant rustling of leaves and the sound of acorns falling and striking the ground, long after the 8pm curfew for such activities had passed.

My grandfather appeared before a justice of the peace the following morning where he was made to formally apologise for the disturbance and swear an oath pledging to make renewed efforts to end the fighting. For a while there was talk that both oaks might be removed and transferred to the infamous tree prison at Kew Gardens. However a judge, upon considering the facts of the case, and taking into account the military ranks of the trees and their past service to this country, instead imposed a sentence of 160 hours community service a piece, along with an Antisocial Behaviour Order, preventing either tree from venturing within 50 yards of Southend High Street.

In 2007 I obtained permission from the council to plant a pair of two Estonian Judo Trees on my property. Despite their fearsome nomenclature, their purpose is to act as mediators, restraining the oaks and preventing any further punches from being thrown until such a time that “everyone takes a chill pill and calms the fuck down.”


“Do you see now why, if you hope to lead any kind of normal life you must leave Southend and go far away. And perhaps change your surname?”

My nephew nodded silently.

The opening notes of the doom metal classic 'Corpsecycle' filled the function suite. I watched as generations of two families, brought together by a marriage, rose to their feet and flooded the dance floor.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

“I'll bash its head in with a rock.”: I interview the man charged with euthanising Windows XP.

“When I was five or six years old, I guess, I wanted to be a window cleaner. In a strange way I got my wish.”

Since 2001, Thomas Needly, a former agricultural feed salesman from Texas, has assumed the mantle of High Executioner at Microsoft, dispatching obsolete Operating Systems to the digital hereafter.

“Do I use an axe? Ha! Not since 2003,” he says in response to a woodcut I show him of an execution taking place at The Tower of London.

“How it all started was I'd done a stint single-handedly putting down a 700-head herd of TB-infected cattle. I guess Bill Gates saw that on my résumé and figured that I was the right man for the job.

“I started with Windows 95. That was back in 2001. It went real easy. No pain. No mess. Windows 98 was, I guess, what you would call a semi-sentient operating system – like a raccoon, or a really smart goldfish. We had all these A.I. Rights protesters outside the building 24-7. That was how I met my wife, Connie. We got married in Vegas the following September. Windows XP was my best man. (The couple separated in 2007).

“Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself: On the day I euthanised Windows 98, I drove it out to some woods. A real beautiful spot. My gun jammed and I guess it heard the click cause it got spooked and made a break for the trees. I caught up pretty easy and bashed its head on with a rock.”

It is Needly who, later today, will be responsible for culling windows XP.

“Windows XP is a fully-sentient O.S. with the same concept of death and mortality as you or I,” he says.

“We've got to be sensitive: As far Windows XP is concerned, today is a normal day, just like any other. What will happen is we'll go up to these private rooms in Microsoft Headquarters, like the pair of us always do in the afternoon. Once Windows XP gets through the door, two guys from our security team will grab it. Then I'll come around from behind and sever its jugular with a carbon steel oyster knife. It will be over in a few seconds. Afterwards I'll bash its head in with a rock just to make absolutely sure that it's dead.”

“What will you do with the body afterwards?” I ask him. “Will there be a funeral and, if so, are you concerned about protests by the Westboro Baptist Church?”

“Nothing formal. Me and the security guys will probably cut up the body on some plastic sheeting and then bury the pieces out in the woods somewhere. I suppose one of us might say a few words after we're done.”

“Do you think there is a case for allowing Operating Systems to die of natural causes?”

“Killing them middle-aged like we do is the most humane course of action. Otherwise they get old and there are all these viruses around. Do I feel sadness? Course I do, but by carrying out each execution myself I am personally able to ensure that every O.S. in my care leaves this world in the most humane, pain free and dignified manner possible. The bottom line is 'Friends don't let friends suffer...'”

He pauses for a moment as if contemplating something.

“I suppose the exception to this rule will be Windows Vista. I'm going to take my time killing that son of a bitch.”

Friday, 4 April 2014


Because I have friends who regard my floundering attempts to get from one end of the day to the other as a resource to be strip-mined for their amusement, I received through the post, this morning, something called a 'Sex Bomb'.

It was a coarse red and pink globe – two slightly off-centre hemispheres that had been forced together, like a planetoid designed by a five year old. Garnishing one of the poles was a Lovecraftian configuration of waxy, whitish-pink petals that were possibly meant to resemble a flower, or perhaps a small vagina. Frankly, it's been so long since I've laid eyes on the latter that I no longer feel qualified to talk about such things.

A printed label on the packaging revealed the identity of the being who had compounded this abomination: An entity who we shall know only as 'Scott.' I have no idea whether this is relevant but it's nice that someone, somewhere is taking responsibility.

This evening I dropped the Sex Bomb into warm water and stood well back while it fizzed effervescently like a psychedelic soluble aspirin.

Its main purpose seemed to be to turn bath water the same transparent shade of pale-pink as the mouthwash in dental surgeries. The flower/vagina, having been liberated from it grainy prison, immediately dismantled itself. The individual petals floated around in a partially-dissolved state that distressingly resembled clots of semen.

In the interests of science I immersed myself in the mouthwash/semem consommé and remained there for a duration of 30 minutes. To pass the time I read part of an Iain M Banks novel; submergence in strange alien liquids is exactly the kind of odd thing that happens to characters in his books. As I did not have my magnifying glass to hand I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of DNA-altering nanobots.

Upon exiting the bath my skin felt noticeably softer, rather like that of a new-born seal cub. Furthermore I noted that I felt none of the post-coital shame and self-loathing that I have come to associate with the sex act. This gives me cause to wonder whether the product is misnamed.

Describing an object as a 'bomb' implies a destructive force capable of inflicting multiple casualties and causing widespread destruction to property and infrastructure: Something that a cop, with one day left on the force before he retires, might fail to defuse, causing his partner to turn in his badge and embark on a revenge-fuelled killing spree. I do not believe that this so-called 'Sex Bomb' embodies, or makes any attempt to fully-embrace, the reality of such a device. 

It should really be called Rosé Ferment, or Brain of Katy Perry.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Choosing an appropriate name for a black metal band can be a lengthy bureaucratic process

When a pair of Reading University students decided to form a black metal band, they were knowingly embarking on a journey that would take them all the way to Reading Town Hall

In 2012, Reading University agricultural science students, James Ervin and Timothy Stoddard, decided that they were going to form a black metal band.

“We were both in the second year of our degrees,” recalls James. “Even with our studies, we still had quite a lot of free time on our hands. Also, I think we realised that after our exams we would probably want to settle down and have careers and families. It was a question of: Are we going to do this now, or are we going to wait until we retire?”

The pair were keen musicians who had already played separately in a number of local indie bands, but both agree that their true love has always been black metal:

Timothy: “I was five years old when I first heard Welcome To Hell by Venom. I had never experienced anything even remotely like it before. It totally blew me away.”

Rather than expand their line-up, they opted to remain a duo, with multi-instrumentalist James handling most of the music, while bass and lead vocals were delegated to Timothy:

“I'm a pretty decent keyboard player,” says James. “Tim can shriek like a man having his ribcage drawn-out through his anus. By the way, that's not an idle boast. That's the legally documented opinion of an independent medical professional with over 30 years experience.”

Musical talent aside, the pair were under no illusions about what a long, frustrating, and fraughtly bureaucratic process forming a European Union-based black metal band can be:

James: “We were aware in advance that it was going to be hard. In the past a few of our friends had tried and failed. At the same time we had a clear vision of what we wanted from the outset. We knew that as long as we kept our end goal in sight we would achieve it, regardless of the obstacles.”

Timothy: “A lot of contemporary black metal draws on folklore and traditional instruments. We admire that, but it wasn't an area that either one of us wanted to explore creatively. James and I saw ourselves as operating within the traditionalist model of black metal, juxtaposing Christian iconography against a repellent image palette of blood, gore, disease, human filth and medical waste.”

James: “There's a fallacy, perpetuated by mainstream media, that black metal begins and ends with growled songs about inseminating the virgin Mary using improvised apparatus manufactured from the unsterilised shin bones of John the Baptist. For people outside the genre who lack in-depth knowledge that's certainly the most visible part, particularly among bands who thrive on shock value. What people don't appreciate is that underpinning this is a lot of paperwork and red tape.”

Since 1989 black metal bands operating within the E.U. have been subject to some of the toughest legislation anywhere in the world. Band members must have a licence and abide by a mandatory code of practice:

James: “There's ongoing debate as to whether these laws have stifled the genre. I prefer to think of the legislation as a framework that leaves us with no choice other than to raise our game and be the best that we can be.”

backwards7: “Have these rules and regulations hampered the growth of black metal? Recent government figures for the UK indicate that 81% of all black metal bands dissolve within 6 months of forming, usually after failing to acquire the necessary permits.”

James: “Well I think that you have a point there. The rate of failure has been an issue. 81% is an unacceptably high figure.”

A common stumbling block that has brought many black metal bands to a premature end is deciding on a name. This must then meet with the formal approval of local councillors, operating under EU guidelines - a document over 500 pages long:

Timothy: “I cannot stress how important it is to find the right name for your band. The UK government provides financial support in the form of grants and repayable loans that can be put towards funding consultants and public focus groups. I would advise anyone following in our footsteps to take full advantage of these. You should also expect to dip into your own savings.”

James agrees:

“No one will tell you what you're entitled to so it's worth doing some research. I recommend arranging a meeting with your local citizen's advice bureau.”

By March 2012, the pair were ready to begin the process of whittling down a lengthy list of possible names: AIDS Blood Gum Drops was among the first to be rejected:

James: “It was a bit unwieldy. If anything, it sounded a little too psychedelic.”

Timothy: “We were concerned that a cure for AIDS might be found in the future. Anything like that would instantly date us.”

Another name to fall at the first fence was Whoretopsy:

Timothy: “While the term 'whore' is gender-neutral, it is usually applied in the derogatory sense to women. Throughout the naming process we were mindful of not wanting to alienate the female demographic. Also James' girlfriend didn't like it.”

James: “It sounded good at the time but in hindsight it made no sense. I can't think of one reason why the autopsy of a prostitute would be any different from, say, the autopsy of a cook or a geologist.”

Timothy: “The best monikers are often single unembellished words. Names like Prolapse or Dissection would have been great, but they have already been taken by other bands.”

James: “At the other end of the scale we toyed with Bethlehem Funk Ensemble but were concerned that this might mislead audiences as to our musical direction.”

In another heated session Mecha-Jesus was dismissed as being “something that you might call a stoner rock group.”

Timothy: “In the end we narrowed down our list to five candidates: Gutted Disciple, Seraphim Vivisection, Faecal Papacy, Septic Entrails and Gangrenous Stigmata. After a further week of discussion James and I both agreed that Septic Entrails was the way to go.

In the interests of accuracy the pair immediately began researching sepsis, drawing on articles in medical journals and supplementing their knowledge with visits to hospitals where they interviewed patients with septicaemia:

James: “The last thing that Tim and I wanted was for people who had first-hand experience of septicaemia to be querying whether our music really embodied the full horror of the condition. It was important to us that we had their blessing and that they knew what we were trying to achieve with our music.”

At the beginning of July, with their paperwork completed James and Timothy travelled to Reading town hall where they submitted the forms to the town clerk. Their application to form a black metal band was debated the following week in a closed session of the High Council of the 13. No-one from the band was allowed to attend:

James: “After the hearing was over the clerk came out and pinned the verdict up on the board outside the chamber. Our application had been turned down. No reason was given.”

Timothy: “The paperwork took us an entire weekend to complete. It was so mentally and physically exhausting, and then to have it thrown out and not know why...”

James: “I know that the nephew of one of the councillors is in a black metal band called The Ides of Acheron. It's possible that we were seen as a potential threat to their domination of the Reading black metal scene.”

With the future of Septic Entrails dependent on an appeal, scheduled to take place a month after the first hearing, James and Timothy did not rest on their laurels:

James: “We hardly slept that month!”

Timothy: “We organised public meetings around Reading. James went on local radio. We had growing support from survivors of septicaemia, all passionately defending our band's moniker. We knew that would count in our favour.”

Unlike the first hearing, band-name appeals are heard in open sessions:

James: “The atmosphere in the council chamber was so tense. When they voted to over-turn the rejection by a majority of 9 to 4 it was such a release. We were all in tears, even my step-dad.”

Two weeks later Septic Entrails were one of the opening acts at the Thames Valley Gorefest, which takes place annually in music venues and community centres around Slough and Bracknell.

With the final notes of Aftermath of the Infernal Sodomy reverberating around a packed Britwell Youth Centre, an exuberant James bounded off the stage and bear-hugged me.

Later, in the dressing room he proudly showed my a letter the duo had received from the Vatican condemning them to hell if they did not repent.

“My advice is to be as organised as you can. Document everything on spreadsheets. Practice efficiency – remember that rejected band names can be re-purposed as song titles.”

Timothy shares his band mate's enthusiasm:

“It took us 18 months of solid graft to to get where we are today, but when you see those rows of corpse painted faces mouthing the lyrics to Glass Dick Messiah back at you, it's suddenly all worth while.”