Monday, 14 December 2015

Fifty potentially offensive and/or incorrect observations about the USA.

Thanks mainly to the fact that my girlfriend is American, I have been to the States about twenty times. I have decided to write down a list of sweeping, potentially offensive, generalisations about America, its people and the differences between them and Britain.

1. America is big.
2. American food is generally better than British food. Notable exceptions to this rule include chocolate, Indian food and cheese.
3. All American men under forty call themselves 'libertarians'. This is a way of being a Republican and also smoking weed.
4. More people seem to smoke weed. My theory on this is that, seeing as until you're 21 it's easier to get hold of weed than alcohol, people develop a habit. A filthy habit.
5. America is really really big.
6. Outside of the odd city, walking anywhere is unusual. This is partly due to the fact that, because it's so big, it takes ages to get anywhere. Anyone seen walking is considered a crack head and is immediately shot.
7. Drink driving is perfectly socially acceptable. In Britain anyone driving after two drinks is considered murderous scum. In America, as long as you are sober enough to find your car, you are sober enough to drive it.
8. Americans drink less than Brits but not as much less as Brits think they do. If you order a glass of whiskey in the US you get a glass of whiskey, not a miserly measured thimble.
9. There is no such as a half pint of beer.
10. The selection of beer available is a lot better, the best selling beers are a lot worse.
11. The rules of pool in the US make no sense. A foul seems to incur no penalty other than losing your turn. You never get two shots.
12. Oddly, unlike in Britain, they sell Newcastle Brown Ale on tap.
13. If you get seriously ill in America you will almost certainly go bankrupt. Most people seem to just accept this and don't seem to be aware that it's not like that in most of the rest of the world.
14. The average American is a lot better at small talk than the average Brit. They are also better at loud talk.
15. American radio stations don't have proper names. They are all called something like WKNZ 96.7.
16. They could really do with BBC News.
17. American sports seem to be attended by men and women in equal measure. Going to an American sports event is as much about kiss cam and mascots as it is about sport. Unlike in European football (soccer), the home and away fans are not segregated.
18. Rich and poor, black and white people, are very segregated.
19. You will often drive through an area that looks perfectly nice, but be told that it is very rough.
20. Fewer Americans travel abroad but this seems understandable to me. For a start, it takes a lot longer and is a lot more expensive for someone from Kansas to leave America than it is for anyone to leave Britain. Also, in terms of landscape and climate, you can experience pretty much anything within the United States. Many Americans do seem scared of leaving though. They seem to be a lot more frightened by infrequent terror attacks in Europe than by frequent mass shootings on home soil.
21. They will never ever ban guns.
22. America is enormous. This makes all these generalisations redundant. As much as it has millions of red neck gun nuts, it has millions of liberal intellectual snobs. There are also millions and millions of people somewhere in between the two. It's big.
23. Commercial breaks are longer and far more frequent. Every other advert is for prescription drugs. They also have a lot more cheap, local adverts for car dealerships and law firms.
24. They like flags. A lot. They're fucking everywhere. Every tenth home has an American flag and every car dealership has 500 American flags. There are also plenty of other state and University flags knocking about.
25. College sports are a big deal. Even high school sports are on TV.
26. All bars have hundreds of TVs showing sports. Even posh restaurants have TVs showing sports at the bar.
27. The big talk shows (Fallon, Colbert etc) and Saturday Night Live all start at 11.30pm which leads me to think that Americans stay up late. Yes, James Corden has a 'big' show over there but it doesn't start till 12.30am.
28. Other than on HBO and Comedy Central, no one swears on American TV.
29. Most people don't have HBO. Most people do have Netflix.
30. Bacon is crispy and smaller.
31. Pie is sweet.
32. They talk about God and the military a lot more than we do. There are tributes to both everywhere.
33. Except school. The separation of church and state means that there's no religion in school at all.
33. American clothes are a lot bigger. American people aren't as much bigger than British people as British people think they are. They are bigger though but it's not all about fat. They're just broader which I think has something to do with their ancestors being tough enough to survive the boat ride over.
34. Service is much better. They actually seem like they really want to help you. This may have something but definitely not everything to do with tipping.
35. You tip everyone. Bar staff get a dollar a drink and it seems like they always have. That suggests that, thanks to inflation, being a bar tender paid a lot more thirty years ago than it does now.
36. Being a bar tender is a profession. They seem to be able to remember everyone's tab so you don't have to pay till the end.
37. They do get irony. Kind of.
38. They don't have a phrase for 'taking this piss' which strikes me as strange considering that's all that Chandler Bing ever did.
39. All American sports commentators have exactly the same voice.
40. America is really big. Sometimes freight trains go on for miles.
41. They don't find the English accent as attractive as I had been led to believe. Maybe it's just mine.
42. There are not as many Indian and Pakistani people. There are a LOT more Mexicans.
43. Anyone who can't drive by the time they are 20 has something wrong with them.
44. The bus is for poor people.
45. When they mean that they are 'speaking about' something they say that they are 'speaking to' something.
46. They don't say toilet. They say bathroom or restroom.
47. Toilets have a lot more water in them.
48. Cops are a lot more dickish.
49. They don't have kettles.
50. Coffee at home is nicer and comes with creamer. Coffee out is worse and in most places the only coffee place is Starbucks.

Friday, 20 November 2015

The two best pubs so far.

Last night my shit pub odyssey continued. As you know, I love shit pubs. Good shit pubs that is and last night I found two of them. The first was thanks to a tip off and boy oh boy did it deliver. It's hard to fault the Hollydale Tavern in Peckham. It's what all good shit pubs should be - a youth club for divorced men. It has everything - pool table, dart board, sport on TV, an Irish landlord who manages to be both friendly and threatening.

One thing it did lack was women. Not one of them. I felt like I was in a gay club or the boardroom of a FTSE 100 company. Take that satire patriarchy! I would like to make it clear to the patriarchy that that was just a good natured dig and as a white man I'd like it noted that I am currently available for employment.

But who would want to employed at a time like this? At a time when there are non Weatherspoons affiliated pubs like the Hollydale Tavern serving beer for less than £3 a pint! I have half a mind to call my fictional secretary, tell her to cancel all my appointments and officially hibernate there for the winter. The landlord seemed to know everyone by name. With what looked like only a few regulars I'm sure it wouldn't take me long to become one of the gang. Sure, I didn't have the paint splattered work clothes that most of them seemed to have on but I'll bet I could arrange some. Perhaps, being an actor, I could go for a fitting at Angels Costumiers for my outfit and that could form the basis of the first anecdote I tell the lads. Maybe not.

The Hollydale is a real beaut though. There's a board instructing anyone thinking of watching a football game for free that they must buy at least one drink per half. There's another board advertising a Beatles and Elvis night (as if one wasn't enough) and a final board announcing filled rolls for sale. No empty bread rolls here. No, at the Hollydale they'll actually fill them with food creating what one can only assume is something resembling a sandwich.

I love this place so much that I almost feel like finishing my quest before it's really got going. But, no. As long as London has new sticky floors to walk on and new doors to open onto unwelcoming rooms then it is my duty to carry on. And so I did. Up the road to Nunhead and the Man of Kent.

I wrote a derogatory post about Nunhead a couple of years ago. My one previous trip there didn't go particularly well as I only saw five people and every single one of them appeared to be on crack cocaine. This one was a lot better. Perhaps they're warding off full gentrification by sending out the junkies on Saturday mornings when middle class couples are shopping for their first flat. Nunhead seems to be one of those places in London which absolutely no one has heard of. If that means it can hold on to boozers like the Man of Kent then long may it continue.

The Man of Kent is a little more cosy than the Hollydale, which had a large enough area in the middle for a badminton court whilst not having the sort of clientele who'd want to play badminton. I have never, in London, been to a pub quite like the Man of Kent. It seemed to me more like it belonged in Huddersfield or the early scenes of In The Name of the Father. The first thing you notice when you walk through the door is the strong stench of farts. This is a place for men with a Gregg's based diet. Pubs like this should be exempt from the smoking ban. Cigarette smoke serves a purpose. Not only does it mask the smell of poor digestion but it adds a sort of grim glamour. Whilst in there it occurred to me that it may well be the smoking ban which was the death knell for so many of these old boozers. If you're sat in one of these joints, drinking your eighth Carling and filling out a betting slip to gamble your daughter's school trip money on an American horse race then what's the point of forcing you to make one good life choice? You might as well go the whole hog and puff on a Mayfair.

I like the Man of Kent. Irish and very much focussed around three of my favourite things - drinking, gambling (there is racing on the tv and Ladbroke slips by the bar) and reading. Yes, it has a couple of well stocked book shelves and as long as they're not accompanied by board games then I don't have a problem with that.

I think I may have caught this pub on it's death bed though. There were very worrying signs of a forthcoming refurb. In fact, so fitting of my brief were both these pubs that I'd be very surprised if they lasted the weekend. Get there while you can!

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Roughly 26 reasons why the world is going to shit.

Today we had Reason Number 612 why the world is about to end - apparently antibiotics don't work anymore so we're about to go back to dying from gangrene. Here's a few of the others... there's a medieval caliphate bigger than the country I live in who want anyone who has ever committed the heinous crime of voting, shaving or drinking a Bacardi Breezer dead. It turns out everyone who was on TV when you were a kid was a paedophile. TFI Friday is back and we're all wondering whether it was always shit or it's just shit now. That medieval caliphate are such unprecedented cunts that they've inspired other cunts to do the sort of cuntery that if one of these cunts ever gets an IQ big enough to carry out a plan properly then the results could be a lot cunting worse. The bees are dying out. Global warming is apparently definitely actually happening and we'll all be underwater by the time Brooklyn Beckham goes bald which he will because everyone gets old one day and there's nothing any of us can fucking do about it. I think I heard One Direction are breaking up. Corbyn is so astoundingly bad and has replaced the shadow cabinet with what is basically an average pub quiz team meaning that every day in British politics is like watching the sort of car crash that used to come along once every few years so the Labour Party is fucked, fucked, fucked and by the time they come back in 2035 under a different name the NHS, British legal system and the BBC will be long dead, dead, dead. The climate on my twitter and facebook means that I'm terrified of saying that. ITV has just bought The Fucking Voice for £355 million.  That medieval caliphate has millions of people running away from it and no one seems to be able to agree on what we should do about that so they're doomed to at least another five years of misery. It costs £450 to get a train to Manchester and if you haven't bought a house yet then I'm sorry but you never fucking will. Twitter has changed the favourite button to a heart and I don't know what I feel about that. The most likely next President of America is a combination between Alan Sugar, Nick Griffin and Biff fucking Tannen. The Apple Watch. Either the UK is going to leave the EU or if it doesn't, judging by what happened in Scotland, UKIP will end up winning the next election by a landslide. Scotland is now ran by a nationalist cult. THE BEES! I SAW ABOUT TWO BEES THIS SUMMER! The millions of people running away from that medieval caliphate are literally begging us for a serious campaign of airstrikes but we've fucked them up so many times in the past that we don't know what to do so we're pretending we can't hear them. Half of the people feel so impotent and detached that they try to express solidarity by sticking French flags in their profile pics but the other half try to make them feel bad about it by shouting 'BUT WHY DIDN'T YOU CHANGE YOUR PROFILE PIC FOR XYZ?' Bacon gives you cancer. All meat is clearly wrong and destroying the planet but most of us aren't ready to accept that. The chances of there being a Prime Minister who went to comprehensive school are about the same as me getting a sit com commissioned by the BBC before it shrinks to about the size of VH1. BEES! WHERE ARE ALL THE BEES?

I thought that might be quite cathartic but my heart rate has actually seriously increased. I asked my dad today if it's always felt like everything's about to crumble or if this a particularly bad time. He said it's always been like this. I think he's right. In fact not that long ago it was worse... Nazis, three day weeks, nuclear missile crisises. There's always an apocalypse just round the corner. We'll be alright I reckon. Even if Trump's right and we do end up being ran by a Chinese totalitarian state they'll still be the joy of sneezing, a good shit and maybe even the odd bit of nookie. It's all gonna be fine. Party on Wayne. Party on Garth.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Porn stars have Amazon wish lists.

Here's a funny little sub culture I've just discovered thanks to Charlie Sheen having HIV. A former girlfriend of his, Bree Olson, was in the news today, saying she doesn't have the virus. I had a look at her twitter page and it turns out she does have something else - an Amazon Wish List.

As well as being a former Sheen Queen, Bree is also a former porn star and as I've learned today, the first thing a girl does when she's edging her way out of the porn industry is get an Amazon Wish List. These women have fans who want to, I assume, connect with them. If that connection can't be through penetrative sex then what's the next best thing? Buying them some Trader Joe's Roasted & Salted Sunflower Seeds for $8.52 of course. I'm not joking that is on Bree's Amazon Wish List which she has put prominently in her twitter profile for her 1 million followers. Should $8.52 feel a bit of a stretch then they could get her some McCormick Freeze Dried Chives for $5.43 or if they're really feeling the pinch they could get her some Downy Fabric Softener Sheets for $3.07. A small price to pay for the thought that Bree might use them. Richer fans of Bree might like to splash out on a table tennis table for $403.99 or even an iPhone 6s for $939.99 - to be fair, I think you can get a better deal on that one elsewhere. 

If you're thinking this is wishful thinking from Bree, you're wrong. There is the option to look at items which have been previously purchased for her. Right now there is someone having a wank at the thought that Bree might be using the 200 Melitta Basket Coffee Filters they bought her. And that's not all! There are dozens and dozens of things her fans have bought her. Someone got Bree a Great Smoky Mountains National Park map - and then presumably went there, hid behind a tree and waited for her to arrive. People have bought her dog food, extra heavy flow maxi pads, one dude spent $200 on a Nordstrum Gift Card. That's the most expensive purchased item I can find actually so there's still a chance to announce yourself to Bree - go on, get her that ping pong table!

Bree isn't the only one doing it. It's very popular with the stars of a channel which boldly goes to one of the few places the BBC remit doesn't cover - Babestation. A quick twitter search tells me that one of their roster, Ruby Ryder (real name?) has one. One thing I found interesting about Bree's list was how absolutely nothing on it related to sex but yet she was still making a killing. Ruby on the other hand does have a few leather corsets and the like but then you can, if you want, buy her a fish tank. 

In searching for Babestation girls with wish lists I discovered a conversation between Ruby and one of her fans. He was asking her to follow him on twitter. She said one of the only ways to get her to do that was to "buy me something good from my amazon wishlist. lol". I wonder how that ended for him. I'm guessing in the most self hating wank of all time. 

Well, this has been an educational half an hour or so delving into a weird world. Educational and expensive! I've just spent a fucking fortune on these ladies. There's only one way to claw some of that cash back and that's to start an Amazon Wish List of my own. I'm not famous though so the only way people are going to buy anything for me is if they get a real kick out of it. That's why my list will consist solely of edible underwear.

Friday, 13 November 2015

The worst pub in Britain.

Yesterday I discovered a strong candidate for Britain's worst pub. My friend suggested that we went on an afternoon walk from High Barnet to Cockfosters. The mention of a pub at the end, and a quick look at my diary telling me that I have nothing booked in between now and roughly the end of time, were enough for me to leap at the chance.

High Barnet and Cockfosters - those mythical places at the end of tube lines. In the history of the tube no one and I mean no one has ever been to Mill Hill East. Don't tell me you have because you're a fucking liar. Cockfosters, particularly, sticks in the mind because the first time anyone ever comes to London they think they're the only person to have noticed the funny name. In every single carriage, of every single piccadilly line train leaving Heathrow is an American visiter saying 'Cock-fosters?!'

Near Cockfosters station is the appropriately named pub The Cock Inn. As you know, I've been on the hunt for shit, characterful boozers. This place is the opposite of that. If a team on the Apprentice was tasked with making a pub - this is what they'd come up with. If ever a pub was waiting to be moved to Runcorn services and attached to a Travelodge then it's The Cock Inn.

From the outside it doesn't look too appalling. With a big traditional pub facade I was just expecting some of the usual gastrofied bullshit - you know - candles in wine bottles, high chairs, Jenga. What I got was far far worse. Despite it being 3.30pm (like I said, nothing in the diary) every table was set for dinner. The stone floors give you the impression that you're in an upmarket bathroom showroom. Something about the armchairs make you feel like you're waiting for your girlfriend to finish shopping. On the stereo were acoustic covers of Craig David songs. I like my pubs to have an air of menace. On a table nearby were the only other customers, a family - mum, dad, two schoolboys in uniform and four orange juices.

Beside the gents was a glass trophy cabinet containing only, and this along with everything else I'm reporting is true, champagne bottles. What kind of cunt do you have to be to put champagne bottles in a trophy cabinet? A little later two guys came in. Everything about them suggested that they had just clocked off early from Bairstow Eves to celebrate selling a glorified filing cabinet for £600,000. In fact, I predict that this place is fully booked in December for estate agencies Christmas meals. It was time to leave.

The next pub, the Jolly Anglers in Wood Green, was far far closer to what I was looking for. For an angler to be jolly in Wood Green, they'd need a decent pub and this, ostensibly, is one. For a start it looks like the sort of place in which no one has ever used the word ostensibly. It has all of my requirements - pool table (two in fact), dart board, juke box, quiz machine, Sky Sports on the TV.

We played pool. Beside us, on the other table, were three men of about thirty in work clothes. And when I say work clothes I don't mean suits. I mean dusty, paint splattered work clothes. We're talking about working class, salt of the earth, almost definitely would have bullied me at school - blokes. When discussing whether 'two shots carry' or not one of them used the phrase 'prison rules'.

At one stage a woman came over and tried to sell them boxes of stolen Next underwear. Why didn't she ask me and my mate? Is it that we looked like we were respectable members of society who would never touch stolen goods or was it that we looked like our dicks were just far too big for what she had?

All in all - a pretty good pub I think. There was something not quite right but it was certainly the best of the four I've been to since I started my quest. I wasn't too keen on the generic chalk boards which had obviously not been hand written on, but produced in a factory somewhere. Also, too much soft leather to make it the spit and sawdust place I'm after. If I had my way the only leather in pubs would be on the jackets of the regulars. The hunt goes on!

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Two of London's shittest pubs.

Long time readers of this blog will know that I have a fondness for shit boozers. How shit? Really shit. As I've remarked before, I fear for the future of the shit British pub. They are dying out at an astonishingly rapid rate. One by one they're all either being turned into restaurants/creches disguised as pubs or (un)'affordable' homes with only an old pub sign to mark what came before.

Yesterday, I resolved to do my bit to save them by going to two of the shittest looking pubs in my neighbourhood. I've lived in Camberwell for three years now and, so shit do these two gaffs look, that I've never quite had the courage to enter. Dismayed that a former favourite of mine, The Prince Albert on Bellenden Road, has lost it's pool table and been poncified, it's clear the time is now to go to every shit boozer in London before they all inevitably go the way of white dog poo.

First up - The Nag's Head on Camberwell Road. Now here is a pub I've passed over 500 times and have never seen a single person enter or leave. Going in, I realised the reason - it looks as if the same eight people have been in The Nag's Head since 1982. The whole place does very much have an air of The Falklands War still being on. There is a large poppy display on the window and a huge St George's flag littered with what looks suspiciously like sectarian insignia, hanging from the ceiling. It is only the sight of a black man that reassures me this isn't an official BNP headquarters. When passing it, the most notable thing about this pub was always that it seemed to be advertising a St George's Day celebration - all year round.

The pub does immediately have one thing going for it - a pool table. I get myself an Amstel (no real ale here, real ale is for queers), sit down and plot assimilating by sticking a pound on the table and showing off my not inconsiderable cue skills. Just then any thoughts of blending in are scuppered by my friend walking in. Top tip! If you're looking to not stand out at such a place don't invite your 65 year old, cravat and shorts wearing, gay actor mate, Steven.

Sitting on one of four black pleather sofas we take in our surroundings. The floors are wooden - excellent for any plans on vomiting. The bar looks as if it may have been made in plywood and coloured in with black felt tip for someone's GCSE Craft, Design and Technology course work. On the television is an ITV gameshow with the sound off. On the jukebox (tick!) is the kind of imitation Doris Day 1950s warbling I thought had died out completely. There's a couple of fruit machines and a couple of those roulette machines you get in these kind of pubs which have a slot for money going in, but worryingly, don't appear to have one for money coming out. Next to the pool table is a large framed picture of a darts team. Confusingly, there is no darts board.

There's a slight menace in the air but the overwhelming tone is one of depression. The fact that it's only 5 o'clock, but dark outside, may have something to do with that. Alternatively, it could just be that everyone in there has just been turned down for a new liver.

Although I'm happy with my Amstel, my friend's Guinness looks a little sad and foamy - giving the impression no one's ordered one here since the mid nineties. We get up to leave and thank the bar maid. Another lady, who's been sat drinking Pernod on a bar stool the whole time, thanks us for our custom. That's what I like to see - the landlady getting pissed on a Tuesday afternoon. It's enough to make me think of making a return sometime soon.

Our next stop is The Red Lion on Walworth Road. This place has always been more noticable thanks to it's larger size and the permanent presence of smokers outside. One of my requirements for a good pub is for it to have at least a couple of old alcoholic men sat at the bar. This place was exclusively populated by them. As soon as we approach the bar, one of them calls the landlady, 'Mary', over. Community spirit - all very encouraging. The first negative comes when I realise my pint of Kronenberg fucking reeks. Seriously, it smells worse than what I imagine I'd discover the green carpet smells like if I was to stay for a few more and face plant myself into the ground.

Credit where credit is due though, Steven's Guinness is in much better shape than what the Nag's Head gave him. Resigned to drinking a pint of sweat, I again take in our surroundings. On the bar, and actually facing the bar staff is a bust of a red lion - as if to remind them where they work. On the television is Sky Sports - At The Races (good sign). With a Ladbrokes and an Iceland opposite you can see that this place forms part of a holy triangle, providing the regulars with everything they need. A chalk board advertises this Saturday's live music - 'Finbarr and Bernie'. With the alphabet against him, how Finbarr managed to wangle top billing, I'm not sure.

Of the two pubs, on first impressions, this place comes in second. It is an Irish pub, which is always a positive, but it's a bit too roomy for my liking. I feel like I'm in the lobby of a hotel in the train station of a minor Northern town. Actually, that sounds quite good. Perhaps it's the lighting that's the problem - it's too bright. Rather than just getting a general, comforting air of shared depression I can see right into the faces of the miserable clientele. Looking at them, I can tell exactly what it was that made Sandra leave them.

And that, I'm afraid is the problem with both these joints - they're too depressing. I still love shit pubs but these two fell below a line I wasn't sure I had. This was meant to be a helpful celebration of dirty boozers but, if anything, you could say I've been unhelpful to their cause. I have not lost hope though - the search continues! Any recommendations of decent London locals I can assess in the future are very welcome.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

My chicken balti nightmare.

One night, when I was doing regular stand up, I found myself in Bradford for the evening. One of my main problems as a stand up, other than a fundamental lack of talent or a work ethic, was that I couldn't drive. This meant that, when the last train wasn't late enough, I'd find myself staying in the town where the gig was held.

This particular gig paid £150. Once my agent had their cut I think that came to about £127. Then after a high train fare (thanks Obama) and a hotel room, I was left with about £20. Pointless. I told myself I was doing these gigs for the experience, and not just the experience of doing stand up - I wanted to get something out of every place I visited.

Trundling back to the hotel at about 10pm I decided that, being in Bradford, tonight's experience had to be curry. I got a take away menu from the front desk and ordered a chicken balti. Twenty minutes later, I was at a Holiday Inn hotel room desk eating curry and watching Newsnight. The dream.

Quick side note - Bradford has a Holiday Inn. That would imply that people holiday in Bradford. Now, Bradford has much to offer - curry, the National Media Museum... curry, but I'm not sure there's too many families agonising over whether to go back to Tenerife next summer or to splash out on a fortnight at Holiday Inn Express Bradford City Centre. They didn't even have a Kids Club!

So there I was munching on my balti and it was delicious. I mean, it really was. This was worth the trip alone, I thought to myself whilst calculating that the curry now meant that a gig that was to take me 24 hours in total would earn me roughly £8. I was developing a rhythm. I was attacking that curry with far more gusto than I had my set that night. One mouthful went in and, as I chewed it, my fork immediately went down to collect the next mouthful. Up, down, up, down. I was inhaling that fucking thing and it just kept on going. The little tray container seemed to be a tardis. How had they packed quite so much curry in there? It was so goddamn compact!

I noticed that Newsnight seemed to be winding up. Hang on. Isn't Newsnight 45 minutes long? Have I been eating curry, literally non stop, for 45 minutes? I think I fucking have. I seem to be only half way through. I need to stop. It is vitally important that I stop eating curry RIGHT FUCKING NOW.

I went over to the bed to watch a DVD on my laptop and take my mind off the curry. With the sweats and accompanying self hatred rising up that wasn't easy. I got up again and put what was left of my meal outside the hotel door. Out of sight, out of mind. But of course it wasn't out of mind. Nothing could change the fact that for 45 minutes straight I'd done nothing but swallow curry and watch interviews with junior government ministers.

Right. I need to sleep. Let's have a sleep and deal with the consequences in the morning. Sleep wasn't going to be easy though. Not with 5,000 grams of sugar and oil attacking my body like an alien inside John Hurt. Nytol! Have I brought some Nytol? Yes! Yes, I have! Right. I popped one in, started watching an episode of 30 Rock, and waited for the wonder of over the counter medicine to sing me to sleep.

Some time later I woke up from the most frightening nightmare I have ever had. How much time, I don't know. It could have been 10 minutes, it may have been a couple of hours. The menu screen of the DVD was playing a short clip of the 30 Rock theme tune on a loop. My body was drenched in sweat and my mind was trying to comprehend the images it had just thrown at me. I felt like I was in a Vietnam War movie. I was severely distressed.What exactly happened in my nightmare I'm not sure. All I remember is that it ended with me shooting my brother in the face through a vinyl record.

This is what I imagine a bad trip is like. I can state with complete certainty that that chicken balti gave me a more intense experience than any drug I've ever taken. I still get chicken balti flashbacks from time to time. Just say no, kids.

Friday, 30 October 2015


One of the things I hate most about my job is, along with the hordes of needy fans, the insecurity of it - the fact that I rarely know when the next chunk of money is coming in and, when I do get it, how long that money has to last for. Now and again that situation works to my advantage when I actually have a moderate chunk of money and nothing in my diary. Sometimes I can do something like fuck off to Berlin for two days on a whim. I did that this week.

I've done solo trips before and I like them. I'm pretty good in my own company but, having never been good at first impressions, for the first few hours I always hate myself. What am I doing here? What am I going to do with myself?... other than the obvious. Lads.

Arriving at about 7pm, I started with a stroll (I'm 35, I stroll now) around the neighbourhood I'd chosen to stay in - Prenzlauer Berg. Whenever I leave London I'm struck by how quiet everywhere else is. Opening your front door in London is like walking into a metropolised and only slightly more sober Glastonbury. Never ending crowds of people on their way to do fuck knows what. I was looking for a bar with an atmosphere but found myself confused. All these bars appeared to have available seats in them. Yes, it was a Tuesday night, but at that very time in London every single pub would be literally spilling out into the street. A seat?! You have to get there at 2.30pm, to beat the post school crowd, for that. But no, in Berlin, seats are ten a Euro.

Not only do Berlin bars have seats but they also have, in a blast from the past, smoking. Only in retrospect do I realise that as a non smoker but a regular pub goer, from roughly 1997 until 2007 I must have consistently stank of cigarettes. It's a wonder I got so much sweet sweet pussy*. When you consider Germans' diet of sausage and cabbage allowing smoking in bars is clearly a smart move designed to mask the smell of what must be a permanent fart fog.

Returning back to the hotel a little drunk and realising I'd left my fucking jumper somewhere, I still couldn't shift the initial melancholy of one of my solo adventures. My mood was only slightly improved by spotting a restaurant called 'Knoblaunch'.

The following morning I woke up determined to enjoy myself - and how does one do that? By heading to a Nazi museum! But first I had to have some breakfast. Having recently been to Berlin herself, my girlfriend told me about a pastry called 'fluffige laugenecken' which was apparently a delicious combination of croissant and pretzel. The first three cafes I went into didn't appear to have it. Entering the fourth, hungover and hungry I convinced myself that something that didn't look like the puffy triangle she had described but was labelled with a close enough name (it ended in 'necken anyway) must be it. Sat down and taking my first bite I realised it wasn't. What I had chosen to eat for breakfast appeared to be a stale brown bread roll. I took one more miserable bite and ran out the door.

Picking up an actual croissant from somewhere else, I decided to walk into the centre of town. My latest formula for my own personal happiness is to do as much as possible of the three w's - walking, writing and (w)reading. About a mile into the three mile walk I was more convinced of the benefits of the first of those three than ever. Walking through a foreign city, listening to music, is quite possibly my favourite thing to do. Songs which I'd previously always skipped suddenly reveal their worth to me. Who'd have thought this would be the trip on which I would finally grow to love Killer Mike's album R.A.P Music? Not me.

The closer I got to the epicentre of Berlin, the perkier I got. Great big beautiful buildings containing what, I did not care. Then the Brandenburg Gate. So ignorant was I that at first I wasn't sure if that's what it actually was. Berlin's a big city, I thought, there could be another couple of big fuck off gates knocking about. Once I was sure it was Brandenburg Gate I was happy to have seen a world famous landmark. Tick!

Jolly little me took a left and then smack - the Memorial To The Murdered Jews of Europe. Oh yeah. This city has a staggeringly tragic recent history. The memorial itself is powerful. It consists of 2,711 concrete slabs. I imagine that walking through them, one is supposed to feel overwhelmed by the scale of the thing and in turn by the scale of what it memorialises. Unfortunately that is a little hindered by visitors taking slightly too light hearted, for my tastes, selfies. I'm not keen on enforcing solemnity but it's jarring.

And so onto my first officially pre planned destination - the Topography of Terror which tracks the rise and fall of the Third Reich. It's an excellent, highly detailed museum. I won't inflict my own assessment of the Nazis on you. I'd like to think you already have a pretty good idea of what it is. Three words - not a fan.

What I will tell you is what I think of Germans. I think they're incredible. They had the Nazis and then, one side of the country immediately went through forty years of an all seeing, all knowing Communist state. Then in 1990 they unified and - bang! - as far I can tell they were almost IMMEDIATELY ready lead the world in everything - democracy, liberalism, football. How the fuck did they do that? Seriously. How? Don't answer, just marvel.

After dealing with the Nazis I headed up to Checkpoint Charlie which was odd. Light hearted selfies here were actively encouraged. What I can only assume were out of work German actors were dressed as American soldiers and took smiling photos with tourists. When much of what you have to offer to tourists are landmarks of tragedy I can understand a little Disney-fication, I guess. But Checkpoint Charlie only closed 25 years ago. I wonder how the Berliners who were around when it actually meant something feel about all that. Perhaps they're not as poe faced as me and are happy to get some fun out of it.

Keen on giving my feet a rest I decided to take a trip on my favourite form of transport - the open top tourist bus. There was a time in my life when I (ironically) looked down on people who went on these. Why limit yourself to what some goddamn tour operator wants you to see of a city? Discover it for yourselves you idiots! But then, a tour operator probably has a good idea of what's worth seeing and can give you an overall impression of a city in a couple of hours. My one requirement was that, even though it was late October, the bus was actually open top. The first three I saw had roofs and looked dangerously like being on them would be too similar to another trip on the 171.

I hopped on the first true open topper, paid my 10 euros, and sat upstairs with the only other two people in Berlin prepared to brave the elements. Twenty minutes in and feeling the cold I started to envy their scarfs. Despite my frozen feet, I enjoyed the ride. Bombed to shit in the war, like London, Berlin has managed to hold on to plenty of pretty buildings. I would suggest it's done a better job of building pretty ones since too.

The area around the Reichstag was packed with impressive government buildings. I'm always surprised by just how much actual space government takes up. And embassies! Every capitol city has enormous, I mean gigantic, embassies. Swiss, Kiwi, South Korean! Why do they have to be quite so big? Is there really that much to do? They're macho statements aren't they? Embassies are opportunities for the countries of the world to erect giant penises on each other.

Having only eaten some questionable pastries and a dodgy little quiche it seemed seemed distasteful to complain about in the Topography of Terror, I got off the bus hungry. Before leaving for Berlin I asked my Facebook friends if there was anywhere I should go. The only two recommendations I paid any attention to involved burgers.

After a failed attempt at using what my tiny brain found to be a confusing subway I treated myself to a taxi. 'Take me to meat!' I yelled as I got in. White Trash Fast Food is where we ended up. Two beers and a giant slab of delicious bunned cow later I tried to figure out where I was. As luck would have it I was only 20 minutes walk from the East Side Gallery - a section of the Berlin Wall which has been kept as a canvas for art.

I was expecting something not quite as big but it took a good half an hour to slowly walk along the whole thing. It consists of officially sanctioned paintings of varying standards which have all been added to by graffiti of even more variable quality. In amongst some quite beautiful stuff was the odd penis, plenty of pleas to legalize weed and a surprising number of tributes to Middlesbrough Football Club. It was 7pm and other than the odd passing Berliner I was amazed to have the whole brilliant thing to myself. I resisted the temptation to write on it.

With the two beers having made a serious impression on my bladder I headed to a nearby train station in search of a toilet. It was 7.30pm at a major train station in Germany's capitol city. This was the scene...

Virtually empty. Where was everyone? I'm beginning to think that every fucker in the world has moved to London. I don't mean that in a UKIP, 'we're full up' kind of way. I mean that in a 'Why does Berlin look like 28 Hours Later?' kind of way.

The rest of my evening was spent back in Prenzlauer Berg. A couple more beers and two generous old fashioneds later and my mid thirties stroll became an early twenties stumble back to the hotel.

My second and final morning began like my first - hungoverly looking for an elusive German pastry. When I finally found the fluffige laugenecken it was fine but I'm not sure it was worth what must have been a total of at least an hour of hunting. Once I'd stuffed that fluffige straight down my necken I was ready to soak up some more depressing history... to the Stasi Museum!

This was without a doubt, and I apologise if this is an inappropriate tone, the highlight of my trip. The Nazis I knew a fair bit about, the East German secret police not so much. The Stasi Museum is located in what was their headquarters right up until 1989 - in the very building. You are able to walk around the office of their head Erich Mielke. You are able to see the surveillance apparatus they used and the footage they took.

I find pre World War One history difficult. I do not know the difference, apart from, one assumes anatomy, between George I and Elizabeth I. Anything before the invention of the zip is tricky for me. Once I am able to see photographs of the participants I'm fascinated. In the Stasi Museum I am looking at photos from the 1980s, from my lifetime. I am looking at pictures of people who don't look all that dissimilar to me. That's a lot easier to relate to than some mythological beast like Henry VIII. I am not qualified to try and sum up the Stasi for you. In fact, having skipped the Basic Food Hygiene Course at school, I'm not even qualified to work in a kitchen. I will simply say that the Stasi Museum is incredible and for anyone with an interest in that kind of shit, worth a trip to Berlin alone.

Leaving there and going for my final walk, I passed the flats previously inhabited by those who worked for the Stasi. I passed an old couple crossing the road and couldn't help but wonder what their lives had been like thirty years ago. What roles they played in East Berlin. Then it occurred to me that for all I knew they'd only recently retired to Berlin from England so I went for a bockwurst and pissed off back to London.

* sorry.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

The day I went to see Back To The Future 2 was the happiest day of my life.

The single greatest day of my childhood was the one on which my dad took my brother and I to see Back To The Future 2. That makes my early years sound like Angela's Ashes and one trip to the cinema was the only respite I got from poverty and a string of dead siblings. Actually, very few of my siblings died (none, come to think of it) and my childhood is something I look back on as 'ok'.

Perhaps you're thinking that that being my fondest childhood memory is a little too convenient considering today is Back To The Future Day and I was trying to think of something to write a blog post about. That's not an unreasonable assumption to make but it is an incorrect one. That day really is, quite possibly, my favourite day of all time.

If my calculations are correct it would have been around Christmas 1989 and I would have been nine. Our family of five (mother, father, three living children) were heading into town to go shopping - OR AT LEAST THAT'S WHAT I THOUGHT. One of the few characteristics I had in common with other children was that I hated going shopping. Fenwicks department store in Newcastle gave my legs a tired feeling I am reminded of every time I go to a museum today. One way I would entertain myself would be to hide my arms in my jumper and try to fool strangers into thinking I had missing limbs. In my head it worked.

When we arrived in town it became clear that my mother and my, then one year old, brother were going one way and me, my dad, and my five year old brother were going somewhere else. I asked where. My mum and dad gave each other a look which said to me we might be in for something good. We were.

Back To The Future 2 is a brilliant movie. It seems fashionable to say that only the first one was any good. That is wrong. I fail to see what is bad about either sequel - particularly number 2.

1. You have Michael J Fox being cool. In number 2 there is a scene in which he thwarts Biff's goons in a stairwell by leaping over some handrails in a way that I still wish I could do.

2. The fact that the movie encompasses 2015, 1955, bad 1985 and good 1985 means that we get to see Lea Thompson and Thomas F Wilson parade their forever underrated comic versatility as various ages.

3. Good 1985 and bad 1985! The space time continuum! When Doc explained that Marty had interrupted the space time continuum and created an alternate 1985 that blew my nine year old mind! Wh-wh-wh-whaaaaaaaat?!

4. How that came about - Grays Sports Almanac. The idea that just by knowing all the sports results, someone could build an evil empire that changed the world, was fun. It's also something we need to be vigilant of. I will say though that for a book that supposedly contained every sports result for fifty years it was rather small.

5. Marty returns to the moment in the first movie in which his dad punches Biff and we get to relive it and see Marty actually witness it. Fun! This features a great moment when Marty takes the sports almanac from Biff's unconscious body. A bystander gives a wallet based performance I really enjoy. I enclose it in two short parts here. I don't know why I like it so much.

Now that I've brought up Biff again I should say one thing about the franchise that has bothered me for a long time. I may have mentioned it before. In the first movie, in 1955 in the car, Biff essentially tries to sexually assault, if not rape, Marty's mother. At the end of the movie though, in 1985, he's waxing the family car and there's a whole loveable 'Oh Biff!' vibe. I'm all for leniency but the McFly family's capacity to forgive is incredible.

But that's just a side note. In short, as I have just proved, the movie was incredible. You may remember that it finishes with a trailer for Back To The Future 3. I turned to my dad and asked if we could go and see that when it came out. He said 'Yes'. The secret to happiness is, we are told, something to look forward to and there it was - instant happiness.

On the journey home my dad pretended our Ford Cortina was the DeLorean as we shouted 'We gotta get to 88mph!'. Speed cameras weren't common place in those days and he was able to do just that. Parenting. When we got home my brother and I shouted 'Marty! Doc!' at each other for two hours and went to bed happy.

I challenge the birth of any children I may have to beat that day.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Three observations on what it's like filming a television programme.

I've just finished filming the second series of that David Hasselhoff sit com, Hoff The Record. Now, in an attempt not to slump into a winter of inactivity I'm inflicting this blog post on you.

I'm expecting readjusting to not regularly having a camera pointed at me to be difficult. Below are some observations on filming in general - a peek behind the curtain into the curtainless world of television. If you're not a TV actor you may find these observations interesting. If you are, you may chuckle in recognition. If you find these observations neither interesting nor amusing please write a long blog post of your own, assassinating my character.

This is perhaps the most notable difference between life on a TV set and life in my house. On a TV set you are continually offered free, often delicious, rarely healthy, food. This leads me, a man of little to no will power, to eat Grand Slam tennis player level calories on a daily basis. The schedule goes like this...

Breakfast - every day you are faced with a catering truck happy to serve you a full fried English breakfast. Every day. There are fruits, cereals, yogurts and porridge on offer too. This doesn't mean that you don't tell yourself that a bacon and egg sandwich with a hash brown and baked beans is a fairly light option.

Morning snack - at about 10.30 some trays are brought to set. What these contain depends on the job. On this particular one they consisted of fruit, cakes and crumpets or croissants covered with cheese. What could that croissant do with to give it a bit more oomph do you think Vera? Just stick a slab of grilled chedder on it.

Lunch - This consists of three hot options and a table covered with salads and the like. The hot options are usually along the lines of a full fucking roast or a shepherd's pie.

Dessert - of course there's dessert. Two options. One of which is nearly always some kind of sponge with custard. On a normal day at home I do not have a lemon and ginger sponge with custard at 1.30pm. I did 36 days of filming on Hoff The Record series two. I had 36 desserts. In fact, so used to desserts have I become that I have had one on each of the three days since we finished. When something becomes the norm you fail to see how wrong it is. I'm like a Nazi and like so many of them I will, rightly, die at 45.

Afternoon snack - Just three hours after essentially eating Christmas dinner some more trays surface. This time they have sandwiches, fruit and more fucking cake.

Somehow, after seven weeks of Elvis circa 1977 intake, I haven't put on any weight. That, I suspect, is because of the following...

As a penalty for such a high calorie intake, everyone on a TV set has to work long hours. Longer hours than my non TV set life anyway. Not longer than a junior doctor perhaps... BUT FAR MORE IMPORTANT.

On an average day I would get up at about 5am and get home at about 8pm. This meant that I spent most of my life feeling like I had just been on a long haul flight. I realise any parents of young children reading this don't feel like I have a right to complain about those kind of hours. Well, I do. Because, as everyone knows deep down, parenting is piss easy.

Being an actor, the long hours are made a lot more bearable by the fact that you are driven to and from work in a nice car. Your ability to sleep on that car journey will depend on two key things - how loud your driver likes to have LBC on and how much they want to talk about what's being discussed on LBC.

The chauffer driven thing does make your life a lot easier than the crew though who have to make their own way and have to work those kind of hours forty/fifty weeks a year. But you don't give a shit about the crew because you are an actor and are therefore...

The TLC TV actors are given is absurd and I say that as someone who's CV consists mainly of children's television and under the radar comedies, the most recent of which is on Dave.

We're constantly fed, we're constantly asked if we want tea or coffee, we're driven to set and then if it's raining, an umbrella is held for us and we are walked to our own personal trailer. Then after a while, a conversation like this will occur...

RUNNER: Sorry Fergus, do you mind if we take you to set now, if you're ready?
FERGUS: Sure. Can I just go for a pee?
RUNNER: No worries. Take your time.

Fergus goes for a pee. Possibly a quick wank.

FERGUS: Ok. Ready.
RUNNER: Thank you Fergus. Sorry about that.

They literally thank you for urinating. I was never treated with that kind of respect when I did the night shift at Braintree Tesco in 2001. Imagine how well top TV actors must be treated. Imagine if you've been one for forty years, it must make you a bit of a dick. I mean, TREVOR EVE MUST BE A CUNT. I've never met Trevor Eve by the way and am in no way suggesting that I've heard consistantly for the last ten years or so from crews and actors alike that TREVOR EVE IS A CUNT and that one of the most common forms of bonding on British TV sets is in the form of people telling stories about TREVOR EVE BEING A CUNT. If you take one thing away from this blog post don't let it be that TREVOR EVE IS A CUNT.

Monday, 3 August 2015

I Grew Up In A Cult

I grew up in a cult, a harmless cult but a cult nonetheless. My parents were and still are members of an Indonesian spiritual group called Subud. I say harmless because I really think it is. People of all and no faiths are in it and it forbids it's members from recruiting people. If someone asks you about it you can talk about it but you are not allowed to actively promote it. The theory is that if someone is supposed to find Subud - they will. Well, it's been going for nearly 100 years and has roughly 10,000 members worldwide. That's a little bit more than Luton Town's average attendance. My suggestion would be that either not many folk are meant to find it or Subud might want to look into finding some flexibility on that rule.

So what is it? The main thing that Subud members do is something called 'latihan' which translates as 'spiritual exercise'.  What does that mean? The idea is that, for half an hour or so, you submit yourself to God (or whatever you believe in) entirely. Does it work? Fuck knows.

From the age of 17 I did it regularly for about two years. Some experiment with drugs in their teens, others their sexuality. Me? Twice a week, I went to a small hall in Suffolk and pretended to be moved by God with my dad and his fifty something year old mates.

Since I was very young I had been in rooms next door to latihans, so I knew what they sounded like. Familiarity meant that, to me, there was nothing unusual about it. You might feel differently. People tend to sing nonsense or speak in tongues. Once I started attending latihans I was unsurprised to learn that they move about and dance too. Each person does their own thing. At no stage does a group ever find itself synchronising into an old show tune.

So there I was in a hall on a Tuesday in Sudbury about to receive God for the very first time. The men around me (latihans are split by gender) began to do their thing. Had I not grown up around it, it might have frightened me. I was just waiting for my spiritual earthquake though. Hit me Lord. Hit me with the answer. Nothing came. Should I sing anyway? No mate. It's your first one. Don't get ahead of yourself.

I should say that my parents never suggested I join. It was my own idea. Ludicrously, I think I thought that saying I was in an Indonesian spiritual group might be an effective chat up line. I also did it to feel like an adult. In Britain, once you're seventeen, you can drive. Well, I didn't have the money to take the test and, more importantly, have never trusted myself with heavy machinery. But for me, my seventeenth birthday came with another potential right of passage - Subud. All of my parents friends were in it and all of my parents friends were nice. Fuck it, I thought. I wouldn't mind a bit of God's love pouring down on me. There's nothing good on telly on Tuesdays anyway.

But God's love did not pour down on me. Perhaps I always stood in the wrong part of the room. The idea of God is a pretty big thing though and once you've decided to let the fucker into your heart you might as well give him a chance to find you. So I kept going back and He kept on missing me. After a while though I became aware of the fact I was the only one in the room not doing anything. As an A level Theatre Studies student I hated the idea of not putting on some kind of performance. So I started to sing. I started to move about. I even started to churn out some gobbledygook. There was only one occasion in which I convinced myself that I had actually felt a Divine presence. On reflection though, I think it was a draft. Gradually my attendance dropped off and about a year after going to University, I stopped going altogether. I was doing a drama degree. I had enough nonsensical moving about in my life.

I have nothing bad to say about Subud. I call it a cult in the nicest possible sense of the world. It has a 'cult' following in that its membership is small and geeky. Growing up around it gave me, from the get go, an openness to unusual things. But then my fruitless experience of practicing it may have contributed to a cynicism towards them to. When the time came and I opened up my receptors to let the spirits in - I didn't feel a fucking thing.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Four entertaining stories from my trip to Morocco.

ONE - Vicar in Ralph Lauren.

Thanks to it being the off season and me having a fundamental lack of responsibilty with money, we stayed at two rather nice hotels in Morocco. The first guests we met were a well to do couple in their late fifties from Gloucester. Whenever I meet someone, I can't help but try to impress them with my knowledge of where they're come from. It's a little bit of a twattish trait but at least I'm making an effort. As soon as they said Gloucester all my brain kept shouting was 'FRED WEST! FRED WEST!'.

I managed to avoid that subject by moving onto another of my conversational weapons and asking what they did for a living. Seriously guys, try it. Turns out she was a nurse and he a vicar. Here's the thing, they were dreadfully posh, staying in a relatively pricey hotel and wearing what looked to me like expensive clobber. In this country at least, I've always been under the impression that those are two of the worst paying professions. I decided that he must be a former stock broker who handily found God just before the last crash. Being the judgemental arsehole that I am, I delved deeper and asked how long he'd been in the 'old clergy game'. Twenty four years it turns out and before that? A CEO? A drug baron? A yacht salesman? No, a fucking teacher! There's something seriously fishy going on there and I can't prove it but I am dead certain that this couple in some way profited from the Fred and Rose West murders. IT. JUST. ADDS. UP.

TWO - The Branson Couple

Hot weather, laziness and a basic lack of curiosity about other cultures (not true, I've been to Epcot) meant that we spent a lot of our time by the pool. Our most common fellow pool dwellers were in their mid twenties and quickly became known as 'The Branson Couple'. That was because he always had a copy of Richard Branson's autobiography in his hand. Always. Even when he was in the pool, he leaned on the edge with 'Like A Virgin' in his hands. Here's the thing though, and this became an obsession of mine, he never seemed to be reading it. At the end of the four days in which we shared the same hotel it appeared as if he had read no more than ten pages. He just sat there, talking to his transfixed girlfriend about Richard Branson.

Here's something he actually said after reading his paragraph for the afternoon...

"Did you know that Richard Branson invented Times Square?"

I think you might want to see if you can get another source to verify that for you mate because it sounds like Branson might be telling you a bit of a porky there. Yes, it would seem that in one of Richard Branson's books he claims that Times Square, named 'Times Square' in 1904, was invented by Richard Branson.

THREE - Ramadam

Two things worried us before arriving in Morocco. We wondered whether we had been foolish to book a holiday in a place which was forecast to have 40 degree heat and which was going through the last week of Ramadam. That doesn't seem like a good combination. Between the hours of 6am and 7.45pm every healthy adult in the entire country was refraining from food and water. Literally everyone who served us on our entire trip was staring at us through a kind of giddy haze.

"What's that you want? Another Mojito? And a big bottle of still water? Of course. And a chicken sandwich? With fries? Yep. Sure. Sure. I'll just walk up those stairs to our furness of a kitchen and get that for you. No worries. You stay in the shade and surreptitiously listen to The Branson Couple with a view to mocking them in your shitty blog."

While we sat under our umbrellas and sipped on our cold drinks complaining how hot it was, we watched starving gardeners hard at work in the midday sun. It's amazing how quickly you can put guilt to one side.


On our first trip to the souks of Marrakech we got a little lost. No problem, I thought, for I am a seasoned traveller. Salt, pepper, herbs. The lot. Yes these souks have a reputation for hassle and ball ache-ery, but I think I know how to handle it thank you very much. My ability to fit in abroad is yet another reason why I am the natural successor to Michael Palin.

I thought about an old university friend who came back from Marrakech telling tales of being tricked, virtually kidknapped and cheated out of money. That won't happen to me. He was naive, whereas I am fucking Phileas Fogg up in this bitch.

Three minutes after having that thought someone offered us directions. Someone else had already given us some without any hassle so we figured this guy was the same. He saw that we weren't some weak ass Europeans he could mess with. But then rather than just pointing us the right way he insisted on leading us there. For ten full minutes. We sensed that this wasn't just a scout collecting a good deed badge. We would have to pay for his services.

Once he had dropped us near our destination he mumbled his price at us. It was, I thought, a high price. Enough money to get a black cab home on a Saturday night. We handed him something we considered more reasonable. Immediate anger.

"This is for small boy. You give this money to small boy. Not for me."

Like a dickhead, I showed him exactly where my credit card was by putting my hand in my pocket to hold it. He looked at my pocket and at me, letting me know he knew the score. He pointed at my girlfriend's handbag, implying we owed him the contents. There suddenly seemed to be a lot of dark corners around and not many people. Briefly, I pictured my rape.

As it happened, five minutes of firm insistence that he wasn't getting anymore, in the manner of my dad telling me I couldn't have an ice cream was enough for him to leave. It was that same kind of head mastery attitude that got Britain it's empire. Oh no, hang on. I've just checked. It was guns.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Beer Snakes

Y'all know what a beer snake is? It's something that happens, as far I can tell, only in Britain and only at cricket matches. It's controversial too. As you enter the stands at The Oval cricket ground in London you will see signs which say that...

"The making of 'beer snakes' is prohibited. Furthermore, anyone seen making a 'beer snake' or facilitating the making of a 'beer snake' will be ejected from the ground and shot".

That is (almost) what is says, word for word. So what is this dangerous evil creation? For the uninitiated, a 'beer snake' is a stack of empty beer cups, held by a number of secretly depressed men, which, once large enough, begins to resemble a giant snake.

During the summer, I will sometimes join 21,000 other people at The Oval on Friday nights to watch T20 cricket. A visit to any London pub, restaurant or Tesco Metro shopping basket would suggest that Londoners like to drink every night of the week. So 'legitimate' drinking night, Friday, just means heavier indulgence. This is very much in evidence at The Oval. Civil servants, human resources managers and legal secretaries all clock off and bundle in there under the pretence of watching cricket. By the start of play most will have drank more units than we're told a small woman should drink in a week.

Roughly half way through the game, some fancy dress wearing P.E teachers on a stag do will put together a stack of about twenty cups, quickly taken away by a steward. This will be half noticed by the closest 2,000 people when a few boos are directed at the steward.

About fifteen minutes later, you'll hear the first localised chant of 'FEED THE SNAKE!'. Turn, and you'll see a sixty cup high stack and a flurry of excitement. A steward approaches. Boos rain out. Just as he's about to get there, the stack is quickly passed to someone too far for him to reach. Huge cheers. 'FEED THE SNAKE! FEED THE SNAKE!'. The closest 5,000 people are now throwing empty cups in the direction of the rapidly growing stack. No one is watching the cricket. Another steward approaches from the other side. Boos. The stewards laugh, good naturedly, but stick to their task. Now there's a third steward. They're closing in. Soon, the stack has nowhere to go. It's taken away and, we can only assume, humanely destroyed.

But wait! Two stands to our right there are not just one but TWO stacks, both at least as large as the recently confiscated one. Frenzied excitement. 'FEED THE SNAKE! FEED THE SNAKE!' A shower of empty cups. And look! Passed from row to row, the stacks are gradually moving towards each other. We all know what has to happen... the stacks must be conjoined. As two brave souls begin the delicate surgery, the crowd shout in anticipation 'Ohhhhhhhhhhhh'. A world famous cricketer hits an incredible six. No one notices. And then it happens - the stacks are successfully connected. Huge cheers. Unbridled joy. The tower turns from vertical to horizontal. Those lucky enough to be underneath it hold what can now officially be called a 'snake' aloft with pride. Everyone in the ground gets a hint of what the VE Day celebrations must have been like.

'FEED THE SNAKE!' FEED THE SNAKE!'.  But we're running out of cups now and each new one is merely adding to the innevitability of the snake's eventual death. Unable to take the strain of it's unweildy weight and the approaching net of stewards, the snake slowly dies.

There is nothing more representative of what is right and what is wrong with Britain in 2015 than 'beer snakes'. They should win the Turner Prize. I urge you to go and see one before they die out.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015


Me and my brother used to make my other brother think that he didn't exist.

From roughly 1989 until 1993, the three of us shared a room. We lived in a two bedroomed house in Newcastle and my parents (selfishly I think) decided that they wanted one of those bedrooms entirely to themselves. A much fairer arrangement would have been for us to alternate who slept in a three person room and who in a two person one on a nightly basis. That way we'd each get the chance for a little more space and we'd get to know each member of the family a bit better. But no, we lived under a kind of adults versus children apartheid. Come to think of it, it may having been Mandela's impending election in 1994 that brought our own tyranny to an end. Either that or us moving to a three bedroomed semi in Essex.

In our three child bedroom (or township) spirits were kept up by fucking about. The three Craig boys were born in '80, '84 and '88 respectively. At the opening ceremony of each Summer Olympics my mother would pop out a brand new baby boy. Those relatively large age differences gave me, the eldest, a rather healthy upper hand. While the other two slept on a bunk bed, my dad constructed a sort of shelf/tree house type thing high on the opposite end of the room for me. From there I was able to hold court. I scared the shit out of them with improvised ghost stories. The best of those revolved around a man who climbed through windows, took children, killed them and then put them into a machine which extracted the salt from their bodies. He went on to sell that salt to chip shops.

In 1991 I turned eleven and Alec, the youngest, turned three. The mental advantage I had over him was unfair. Mason (seven years old, born at the Los Angeles Olympics) and I playfully wound Alec up. The most memorable occasions were when we pretended that we were the only two people in the room.

ME: Mason?
MASON: Yeah.
ME: What do you think it would be like if we had another brother? Do you think it would be good?
MASON: Yeah.
ME: But we don't have a another brother do we?
MASON: Yeah, it's just you and me.
ALEC: Hey! What about me?
ME: Don't you think it's weird that mum and dad bought a bunk bed when there's just you.
MASON: Yeah. It's weird.
ME: Yeah. The bottom bed's just empty isn't it?
ALEC: Hey!
MASON: Yeah, it's empty. There's no one in it.
ALEC: Hey! Can't you hear me?!
ME: Just you and me, eh, Mason.
ALEC: Hey! Mason!
MASON: Yeah.
ALEC: Fergus! Mason! Can't you hear me?!
ME: Can you hear a little fly buzzing or something?
MASON: Yeah, I think so.
ME: Oh, it's gone now.

I made another human being question their own existence. Fucking hell. I am a monster.

Monday, 1 June 2015


I don't know about you guys but I'm tired of hearing about Britain running out of bees. You can't turn to page 34 of your newspaper without reading about it. But then, no one reads newspapers anymore either. Britain is running out of bees and newspaper readers. What else? Pubs. That's what.

I wrote a blog post about this about five years ago. Since then the situation has got worse. Far worse. Britain is running out of pubs and no one seems to give a shit. I'm talking about actual pubs and here is my definition of an actual pub...

1) I should be able to go into the pub on a Tuesday afternoon and find at least four alcoholics at the bar. They're allowed to talk to each other but they must know each other from no where other than that pub.

2) I want a pool table, dart board or at the very least a quiz machine.

3) If there is a child in that pub I want it to be an eight year old spending his fortnightly Saturday afternoon with his semi absent father by the pool table - NOT A BABY IN A BUGGY.

4) This pub cannot serve hot food. Crisps, pork scratchings and possibly some cheese rolls. NOTHING THAT REQUIRES A KNIFE AND FORK.

5) Women are certainly allowed in this pub but it is still ran primarily as a creche for men.

These pubs are dying out and they are dying out fast. And who's fault is that? YOURS. Why? Cos you love your fucking Sunday roasts so much don't you. But you can't be arsed to make one can you? No. So you trundle down to your local, point at your mouth and say 'where's my fucking dinner?'.

And so we've had what I call the Sundayfication of London (and I suspect, most of the rest of Britain). All pubs now revolve around Sunday. The market gets what the market wants and what the market wants apparently is leg of lamb. Go into a gastro pub on a Tuesday. Not that you would of course because you're still digesting your fucking roast but go on, go in. They'll be some newspapers at the end of the bar next to an unlit candled wine bottle. Pick them up. Not Tuesday's newspapers are they? No. No, they're fucking well not. Every piece of reading will have been part of a Sunday newspaper. If you're lucky there might be a Sunday Times magazine left but most likely you're looking at the scraps - the money section, the 'family' section and the section that best demonstrates the utter uselessness of print newspapers - the TV listings.

The time between Sundays for neighbourhood pubs now is just dead air. They might fill it for an evening with a quiz night but where does that leave Gary and Barry and Terry? They had enough of feeling thick at school, thank you very much.

Look, I love a pub roast and I love a pub quiz but while we're all worrying about the rain forests and the bees something far more important is disappearing. Pubs. There's about four actual pubs left in London now. The rest are just restaurants masquerading as pubs.

Back in the last century it was all about the Campaign For Real Ale. Well, that battle's been won. You've even got your ye olde tankard style jugs back. Congratulations. I for one appreciate it, well the good beer anyway. But if I now have no other option than to drink that beer sat between a child with a colouring book and someone eating mackerel tagine with a diet coke then I'm not sure the battle was worth it.

Right, that's it. I'm writing a book on this.

Friday, 15 May 2015


I got my hair cut today. Actually, I got all of my hairs cut - at least the ones on my head anyway. I don't enjoy getting haircuts which is why I only do it about once every two months. That means I have about three weeks of relative confidence in my head followed by two weeks of 'I should probably get a haircut' followed by three weeks of avoidence of mirrors. How often do most men go? Whenever I'm in a barbers I find it difficult to tell the difference between the men who've just had a haircut and those who are about to.

Here's why I don't enjoy it... for roughly twenty minutes you are forced to look at yourself go through varying stages of unattractiveness whilst a stranger prods at your personal space. That seems fair enough right? I'm not one for conversation either. Everyone else in the barbers seems to be having a right old good time - nattering away like breakfast DJs. Me and my hair dresser meanwhile look like we're in a difficult marriage.

Once the haircut instructions have been sorted it goes like this...

'Day off work today?'




I don't know how to get it past that point and have no real desire to do so. What should I say?

'Well, kind of. I'm self employed you see so almost every day is a day off should I choose it to be so. What's actually happening here is I'm using the need for a haircut to avoid writing the novel I started last November but am making slow progress on because I'm finding myself going into dark areas which are forcing me to confront the worst aspects of my personality. Later on I'll most likely write up our conversation in a blog which will make me feel like I've done something but will ultimately take me no closer to achieving anything of real consequence'.

'Do you mind if I use the clippers on the side here?'

'No, go ahead'

On a positive note, I think I've cracked what my standard haircut is. I'm going for what I like to call 'normal' and until hair loss forces me to change tack, that's what I'm sticking with.

I'm taking some Americans to watch a 20/20 cricket match tonight. That should be fun. I'm intending on loudly telling them the wrong rules...


Then if anyone tries to correct me I'm going to shout...


Wednesday, 6 May 2015

I Can't Drive.

I can't drive. This year I will be 35. Hang on a second. Sorry, I just saw that last sentence and had to yell at the wall with tears streaming down my face for fifteen minutes. 35! This was very much meant to be a blog post about my relationship with driving but I may just have to rant about this whole turning 35 prick of a situation for a couple of thousand words. I mean, who is responsible for this? Am I supposed to just sit here and take this kind of treatment? There's a packet of biscuits on my desk. I've eaten two. I might as well eat the whole lot. Enjoy my last few years, eh, before I'm bundled into the incinerator for the good of the nation.

Right, driving...

No. Hang on. Election tomorrow. I will vote for any party who will pledge to freeze the ageing process. Not taxes, not energy bills, not train prices - fucking time! I want you to freeze time and I want you to do it now. Can we not put some kind of quango together to work on this bitch? You can argue over the top rate of tax all you like but no one seems to be addressing the real issue which is the fact that we've all got death running towards us at ten million miles an hour.

I realise that if you're older than me (perhaps a grandchild has just shown you how to use the internet) this is a little irritaing. Sorry. Just because you're further along in the decaying process than me it doesn't mean I can't complain. Can the people of Greece not complain just because the people of North Korea are worse off? What? Yes, I'm okay. Of course I'm thinking rationally. That was a totally measured comparison to draw. I'm fine. Honestly. DON'T TOUCH MY FUCKING BISCUITS!

Driving. Yeah, can't do that. But you know who else couldn't drive? Jesus Christ. I'm in good company. Why can't I drive? Combination of a few things. I didn't have much (any) money in my teens. Any Americans reading this may be surprised that money was a factor. Unlike in your country, we don't just hand over $50 and a smile for our licenses. You have to take proper lessons and that costs a bit.

Then I went to university, where not only did I not have any money but at no stage in those three years was I sober enough to legally drive a car. Again, Americans - I know you all think nothing of driving with the wheel in your right hand and a margarita in your left but we're a little more uptight. Think Jeffrey the butler from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Since University, I've lived in London where driving a car is completely unnecesary and only really an invitation for people to ask you to help them move house. Fuck that.

So there's my excuses. The truth is though that I'm terrified. In five years of Craft, Design and Technology at school, all I made was a bread board. Essentially, I picked up a piece of wood that looked like a bread board, took it for one trip round a jigsaw, and called it a bread board. I don't trust myself with heavy machinery. Would you feel safe with me prowling the roads (and most likely pavements) in a ton of metal on wheels? Nah, mate. Didn't think so.

And so, here I'll sit for the next half of my life, watching you lot drive around you planet killing MONSTERS.

Friday, 1 May 2015

I Faked Whooping Cough

It's 23 years since I spent seven weeks pretending to have whooping cough so that I could watch the World Snooker Championships and coverage of the 1992 General Election. It started with a bad cold, possibly a throat infection. I had a bad cough - there's no doubt about that. My mother took me to see the GP and upon learning that I hadn't been vaccinated for whooping cough* he mentioned that as a possibility.

I took two key facts from that consultation - 1) Whooping cough can last for up to three months and I should stay away from school as long as I have it. 2) A sure fire sign that I did have whooping cough would be if my coughing fits developed a 'whoop' noise as I took in breath.

I went home to work on my 'whoop'. In the days before internet, it was impossible for me to find out exactly what a 'whoop' sounded like. One thing I did have in my favour was that it was impossible for my parents to find out too. As long as my 'whoop' sounded plausible to a novice then I would be okay. Did my 'whoop' sound plausable? Listen mate, I was just a few years away from receiving an A* in GCSE Drama - of course it fucking did.

So this became my life for a few weeks. In exchange for a few exaggerated coughing fits a day and a bit of home work, I was free to do what any eleven year old home from school would do - watch political coverage on TV.

This is where my obsession with politics started. It's not ideology I'm into by the way. Not even issues really. All that stuff is way too hard. If you think you know what the fuck we should do with the NHS I would suggest that you are misguided. It looks like we'll soon get to the point where we can keep people alive until they're 150 as long as we spend £10 million a week on their drugs and they promise not to move. AND THAT'S A FACT!

Dealing with the actual issues involves moral dilemas and compromises and the odd clear conviction. Like I say - too hard. What I'm into is Cameron forgetting what football team he supports or Andrew Neil ripping a series of middle managers a new arsehole or the ongoing adventures of Grant Shapps. Stuff that doesn't matter. I like arguments I have zero chance of losing because I'm simply watching them.

That's not to say I don't pick sides and it's not to say that I don't care. It's just that, as with my well documented love for Neighbours, I'm happy to buy into the day to day bullshit narritive served up to me. This morning, for example, Cameron slipped on a Freudian and said this was a 'career defining election' before correcting himself with 'country defining election'. That'll be fun for a day. People will load it with lots of conspiracy revealing nonsense. It's funny. It's not important but it's funny. To me.

Anyway, the throat infection I suspect I did actually have cleared up and then I was left having to muster up entirely manufactured coughing fits. In time, they lost the enthusiastic energy of earlier performances and after seven weeks I was bundled back to school. My well informed John Major and Roy Hattersley quips didn't go as well with my classmates as I would have liked. It would be another four years until I touched a girl's boob.

*I think that my mother would like you to know that I wasn't vaccinated becasue of some crazy Daily Mail induced paranoia. Apparently there was a dodgy batch going around our area at the time. If you're into getting high on that sort of thing, there might be some still availible on the black market.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

The Wardrobe Sandwiches

In the mid 90s I regularly got myself into a situation in which I had a pile of rotten sandwiches at the top of my wardrobe.

From 1984 when I first went to school until 1996 when I left, I was a packed lunch kid. From what I remember my lunches always included a sandwich filled with pate and cucumber or cheese of some sort or possibly wafer thin ham with a chutney. I'm not sure if anything changed about the sandwiches themselves but it was at about the age of fourteen that they stopped having any appeal for me.

Other people's sandwiches were on white bread while mine were on wholemeal, which is what I thought was the problem but in retrospect I don't think it was. There was something about the way in which they were prepared and transported which was making them soggy. Had they always been that way? I don't know, but they were now and gradually I stopped eating them.

I started to buy chips from the canteen. I had some pocket money, a paper round for a while and at one stage I joint ran an illegal business copying music tapes called Sorted Tunes. In a pre Spotify world they all brought in enough cash flow to afford the 40p or so it cost for chips.

I didn't want my mother to know I wasn't eating the sandwiches though. That would cause a conflict in which I'd have to insult her sandwich making skills. Seeing as I couldn't articulate what was wrong with them, I did what anyone would do - I put the uneaten sandwiches in my bag, took them home and then hid them at the top of my wardrobe.

Why did I do that? Hard to say. Wouldn't it have made more sense to dispose of them before I got home? Certainly. Why didn't I do that then? Listen, it was a heady time - Blur vs Oasis, Tony Blair was on the rise, everybody was drinking a lot of Sunny Delight - no one was thinking straight. 

All teenage boys' bedrooms smell bad. Not all of them smell of rotting sandwiches but a bad smell is a bad smell and teenage boys have a high tolerence for it. How bad did it get before I realised I needed to address the problem? I couldn't give you a number. It could have been a week. It might have been three months.

I do know that there was certainly some time between the smell making me identify that I should do something about the rotting sandwiches in my wardrobe and me actually doing something about the rotting sandwiches in my wardrobe. Like an adult might lie in bed worrying about an unpaid bill I stressed about the sandwiches. My worry was that if I took the sandwiches downstairs and put them in the bin they might be discovered. Rather than take that risk I did what any sane person would do - I opened my bedroom window and threw the sandwiches (still in clingfilm) to the bottom of our front garden. Now at least the problem was outside.

Over the course of a couple of years I repeated this situation a number of times. Take sandwiches home, put them in top of wardrobe, allow worry to increase in tandem with decay, throw sandwiches to the bottom of the garden, stress about sandwiches being discovered at the bottom of the garden - repeat.

I honestly don't remember if I was ever discovered. There certainly wasn't a big confrontation - not one that has stuck in my mind anyway. Perhaps my parents thought it best not to challenge someone clearly in the midst of madness.

This story, I think, gives an insight into my deeply flawed psyche and that is why, in the interests of the nation, I have decided to withraw my candidacy for Prime Minister.