I’m a Versatile Little Blogger!

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I’d like to thank the Academy…

And my Mum.

(The rest of you can bugger off).

No! Wait! Just kidding. I’m practicing my speech for the next time I win an award. I wasn’t quite prepared this time y’see, as I had no idea anyone was actually reading my blog, much less considering giving me one. An award, I mean.

blog awardSo! I am now the proud recipient of the ‘Versatile Blogger Award’!

I think I deserve it. My blog might be rubbish, but I am very versatile. Not only am I waterproof, you can even wear me inside out and I’m a totally different colour…

This is the first award of any kind I’ve won since my university classmates voted me ‘Person Most Likely To End Up In Prison For Public Nudity’. Oh, I came close to winning a prize for outstanding customer service whilst working in the ski fields in New Zealand, only to be pipped at the post by a monosyllabic moron who only knew three words that weren’t ‘fuck’.

According to the rules of the ‘Versatile Blogger Award’, I must first thank the person who gave me one. (Sorry, did I do that joke already? Ah well, Think of it as a double double-entendre.)

Lara Schiffbauer
Lara Schiffbauer

Lara Schiffbauer, step forward and be recognized! Thank-you very much for noticing my blog, and for liking it, and for telling others about it. Gratitude is very important in my life – I am one of the luckiest beings on the planet and am a big believer in thanking everyone and everything for the roles they play in that. It’s too easy to take it all for granted, the friends, the family, the millionaire lifestyle I enjoy (okay, that last is a bit of a lie). I try not to. So thank-you.

Lara blogs about the trials and tribulations of becoming an author over at: Motivation For Creation

Next I must tell you all seven strange things about me… Hm. Not smiling so much now, are we? Well, even though you didn’t ask for it directly, here it comes:

 

Seven Things I Hate About Me:

1)   I can’t tell my left from my right. At all. I used to hold my hand up to make an ‘L’ shape, until I discovered that they both do this, depending on whether the palm or the back of the hand is facing forward. Bit of a bugger, I thought. Go on – try it! Confused? Why yes, yes I am.

SEE?!?!

2)   I can’t cook. At all. I can manage beans-on-toast for one, but if you request cheese on top – something is going to get burned. I can, however, swear like the best chefs in the business.

3)   I have no sense of balance. At all. I’m doing classes at the gym 5 or 6 days a week now and inevitably, in every class there comes the stand-on-one leg bit. Whether trying to kick, step or lift weights I always do the exact same impression of a loose windmill being demolished by a bulldozer.

4)   Cars scare the crap out of me! True story. Not the driving of them – though I only learned to do that for the first time, aged 33, in November last year (and I haven’t driven since). No, what scares me about cars is how fragile they are. We’re driving alone (okay, the missis is chauffeuring me) and I hear a squeak. “Oh crap!” I think. “Is that squeak getting louder? I think it is… Oh God. Is that a $100-to-repair squeak? Or a $1,000 squeak? And how will I know the difference if the mechanic tries to pull a fast one… and… oh, SHIT! That knocking sound wasn’t there before…” Yes, unusually for a bloke, I am a paranoid wreck around anything with an engine.

Blown Tyre
This was more of a BANG! - of the $150 variety.

5)   I’m a perfectionist – about everything. Unfortunately I am also crap at most things, which leads to a rather ridiculous situation where I do something quite badly, over and over again, desperate to improve it yet not actually getting any better. See my book by way of an example.

6)   I get obsessed with odd things. For example, I WILL turn a perfect back-flip if it’s the last thing I do. Ask anyone who’s seen me turn a back-flip, and you’ll get one of two opinions; ‘It’ll take him the rest of his life to figure it out anyway’, or ‘if he doesn’t stop trying soon it probably will be the last thing he does.’ My back just doesn’t bend that way it seems – but why the hell would I let that stop me ? :0)

Backflip
Me pulling a... something. Whatever it was, I don't think it ended well.

7)   I like being naked. Just thought I’d put it out there, for any new readers that have yet to suffer through such an ordeal. I love the feel of being naked. I read in the nude. I’d cook in the nude, if I could cook. I am also impossible to embarrass and a self-confessed exhibitionist, which makes life difficult for everyone around me – especially when I try to convince them to get naked too. Personally I can’t see a downside – except the fairly high probability that I will end up in prison at some stage – and prison is not a great place for someone who likes to be naked…

8)   DO’H! There isn’t supposed to be an ‘8’. But then I wouldn’t have time to tell you all that I only wear children’s sunglasses…

Dino Sunnies
You can't beat multi-coloured dinosaurs!
Fruit shades
Unless it's with fruit!
Flower sunnies
Or possibly Flower Power.
Spidey sunnies
Nah, just kidding - Spidey's the best!

So there we go! All done for now – and I would like to nominate the following AWESOME bloggers for this reward, though doubtless they all already have it because, well, they’re AWESOME!

Here we go:

David Gaughran – In the last six months his name has become synonymous with… ah hell, what’s the word for ‘knows absolutely everything about self-publishing-before-it-happens’? There isn’t one? Right, well I think I’ll call it a ‘Gaughran’. Trips off the tongue quite well, that. Anyway, READ HIM.

Dave and Deb of ThePlanetD – fantastic adventurers with great posts, and I’d love to hear 7 random things about them! I can already tell you one though – they’re going to ANTARTICA! The lucky buggers.

The Displaced Nation – because these guys (and gals) RULE! Still blogging every week day, they recently asked me for a post about healthy eating. BWAH HA HA HA HA HAAA!!!! Commissioning an essay on dietary goodness from a guy who lives entirely on junk food… If that’s not versatile I don’t know what is!

Trailing Trekker’s Travels – Kathy Schmidt works harder on her blog than almost anyone I know, pushing out post after post of fascinating adventures. I don’t have the energy to do half the crazy stuff she does, much less write about it. Go have a look now!

Dan’s Adventures – I’ve just started following what Dan is up to – check out his recent post to see that he’s hand one hell of a year! And, poor sod, he spent some of it in Wales… :0) More to come in 2012 apparently. Stay tuned!

So there we go. Fun and foolishness! Your homework is to tell me at least one strange thing about yourself in the comments section – no point me being the only one baring my soul now, is there?

Bring it on!

Love

Tony

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It Must Be A Sign…

Comedy

Because Outpost Magazine have been running their Signs of the Road competition I’ve been digging around in the old photo files on my MacBook. I found some crackers (in the usefully-named ‘Amusing Signage’ folder) and thought I’d share a few of the best with you all. Don’t worry – not all at once!

For today you just have to cope with this classic:

Sign saying To Bang Sue
Understandably, there was quite a queue.

It’s a sign I spotted in a Bangkok underground station, pointing the direction to the end of the blue line. My sister Gill snapped it when she came to Thailand to rescue me… long story.

Earlier that day I’d had an interesting encounter with a hooker, which I’ll have to tell you about now that I’ve mentioned it or you’ll start to think all sorts of dubious thoughts about me.

 

So there I am, walking down a bustling road in the centre of Bangkok.

I’ve booked quite a posh hotel as I’m here to meet Gill, flying in from London, and you can just do that in Bangkok – book a posh hotel. It cost me about the same as a youth hostel would back in England.

For the night before though, I’d booked a backpacker’s – no point wasting money on the likes of me. So I strolled out of the hostel, down the road and bumped into a hot young Thai woman who invited me into her bar.

I got about ten feet inside when my eyes adjusted an I realized I was staring at a naked woman – no, I was staring at a reflection of a naked woman. There was a giant mirror on the floor and above it, on a ceiling of glass, this chick was gyrating for all she was worth.

Deciding this wasn’t quite my kind of place I beat a hasty retreat – not without the odd backward glance I must admit, but then I’m only human.

But the hooker wasn’t going to let me go as easily as that.

“No, stop!” She called at me. “You can’t go out, you have no shoes!”

I looked down at my bare feet. They were filthy.

Should I explain to her that almost six months ago, having had my shoes stolen for the third time in a week and frustrated with the general crappiness of flip-flops, I’d made a bet with a friend that I could go barefoot for a whole year?

No. She’s never understand.

I just smiled at her and said, “indeed.”

And left.

I’d gotten to the end of the road when I head a slap-slap, slap-slap, gaining in speed and volume behind me.

Just when it sounded like I was about to be flattened by an overly enthusiastic sea lion, I turned to spot the hooker wheezing right behind me.

“Take, take!” she panted, and held something out to me.

It was a bright pink pair of flip-flops.

So concerned with the health of my feet was she, she’d run back into her bar, grabbed the first pair of shoes available and chased me all the way down the road with them.

“Um, thanks?” I said as I took the pink plastic shoes. They looked a little on the small side for me.

“No pwobwems!” she replied, grinning, then skipped merrily away up the road, her good deed for the day done. It made me feel a lot better about hookers as people. They weren’t bad people; it was their clientele that should be avoided. Plastic shoes eh? Given her profession I should be grateful she gave me tat instead of tit.

I stood bemused at the cross-roads wondering what to do with the tiny pink pair of flip-flops. I didn’t want to carry them around all day, it would make me look even more like a homeless person. Or possibly a child molester.

The traffic lights changed and people began crossing the road. I made eye contact with a girl coming the other way and stretched out the shoes to her as she passed.

“Want these?” I asked.

“Oh! Ah, okay?”

And she took them.

She gained the other side of the road and turned to stare at me in confusion.

I looked back and caught her eyes.

I waved at her.

She waved back.

“Now shoo!” I said.

 

Anyway, that’s all the explaining I’m doing today.

If you like the sign, there’ll be more of them – I have a collection after all, each with a fascinating story behind it – and yes, I promise not to tell you all of them.

Really – would I do that to you?

:0)

Tony

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Alternative New Year Resolutions

Australia

Sick of people going on about New Year’s Resolutions yet? No? Well of course not, because most people stopped making them at age 12.  In spite of this I’ve decided to continue the tradition – but being me, I make a more… alternative kind of resolution. I also waited until half way through January to make them, to give myself time to recover from New Year. That way I could be sure they were true and honest, and not written out of any knee-jerk sentimental idealism. Here’s my aims for 2012:

1) Drown Fewer Bandicoots:

Drowned MarsupialJust because an animal is stupid doesn’t mean it should be allowed to die. Otherwise I’d have no friends left at all.

(Ow! Stop hitting me!)

Seriously though, we have an issue with our pond – it’s so tempting for bandicoots that they throw themselves in with great enthusiasm, completely disregarding the fact that they can’t swim. No wonder they’re endangered.

Roo was making a lovely list of sightings to report to the Dept. of Conservation, until sighting #14 was stiff, smelly and floating.

‘Dear DoC,

Please find enclosed a report on the bandicoot that was living under my verandah until about 2 o clock this morning when he decided to go for a swim. He is now living in a plastic carrier bag in my bin.  Not sure what the official number of them left in the wild is, but please deduct 1 from the total. If you’re looking to wipe out any more of the little critters just send ‘em this way.’

Your friends in Conservation,

Tony and Krista

2) Harass more Pro-Bloggers:

Because they secretly rule the world. Not the politic-y type bit of it, which is boring bullshit anyway, but the bit that matters. They’re the new black. No, not even that is cool enough – they’re the new ninjas. Everyone wants to be one. Except me, thank God! Imagine if I wrote this crap full-time. I’d have people suing me for making their brains dribble out of their ears (and staining their best shirts in the process).

Instead I will poke fun at these paragons of the digital realm, these gate-keepers of all that is good. You never know – I might get a rise out of one of them, and they’re usually far too nice to call the police. Might even sell a few books…

3) Get naked more.

Because you love it. Yeah y’ do. Here’s why:

My bare chest
Told ya so... :0p

4) Take more photos of Random Shit:

I’m not a camera carrier. I lived for a year in Thailand and only took one photo. I’ve quite literally destroyed more cameras than I’ve owned (sorry Roo, Gill, Dad….)

Anyhoo. I do see a lot of odd stuff on my travels and it’s about time I photographed some of it. Especially now I have a shock-proof, water-proof, snowboarding-over-proof camera (which I leave at home because it was expensive) and a good phone (which I leave at home because it doesn’t work in Australia). By way of an example, here’s some stuff I saw in the bargain bins whilst out shopping yesterday:

Some rather expensive trinkets:

Expensive signAnd a severed arm:

Manaquin Arm‘nuff said. And more photos means less words for me to write and you to read – basically, everybody wins.

5) I WILL dress up like a woman. Because that’s also popular.

6) I WILL NOT dress up like a gay ninja. Reason is self-explanatory. Well, that AND – they might get me…

Gay Ninja7) I WILL try to do more crazy shit. I’m not promising I’ll manage anything as crazy as this:

Outdoor Toilet
When ya gotta go...

But you know how I roll. It’s bound to be fun  :0)

So! Your Alternative New Year’s Resolutions? In the comments of you please!

Tony

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Less is Less

Comedy

I was reading an awesome travel blog this morning called ‘YTravel’, and they had a post which inspired me. It was all about how much harder they plan on working in 2012 which I feel is commendable, if slightly insane.

I mean, work harder? REALLY? Mum, do I have to go to school?

Yes okay, we have established that I am one of the laziest buggers ever to walk the Earth. But I felt this was a good opportunity to advertise this fact to a wider audience, so I told them about my intention in 2012, NOT to work as hard as I did in 2011.

I even resolved to work less hard on blogging, what with there only being four of you reading this and all  :0)

So there I was, as usual, taking the piss, and I used the phrase ‘less is… less’ That’s when it hit me – less, in fact, IS less.

‘Less is more’ is a phrase most writers are familiar with, as it relates to economy of word use (another area in which I am sadly lacking. Jeez, not coming off too well in this post am I?).

But ‘less is less’ relates instead to the amount of writing I’ve been producing.

I’ve blogged, I’ve travelled, I’ve renovated three houses. I’ve social media-d. I’ve also got married, learnt to drive, done a Grand Adventure around England and then emigrated to Australia. It was one hell of a busy year.

What I didn’t do, though, is write.

WHAT? Shock, horror! But I’m a writer… aren’t I?

Well I bloody well better be. My only other marketable skill is… Hm. Let’s just say it’s not marketable. Except possibly to sailors.

Me in a dressIt has been mentioned to me recently that I’d “Bloody well better get on with writing the next book!”.

This, of course, is true.

I have now decided to take this piece of advice.

For the first time in my life I have fans – yes, FANS (and not the electric kind, though I have those as well thank-you very much) – asking me about the next book. At least once a day… or week… or month… okay, but it did happen at least once – I get an email, or a facebook message from someone wanting to know when my next book is out.

Who am I to deny them? The great unwashed masses, the people… peoples… person. Or two.

So if you don’t see me around – that’s nothing to do with me writing my new book. That’s because I now live in Australia. Honestly, keep up! But I will be devoting much more time to getting the next book done, hopefully for the start of the English summer. (Since that can be anytime between May 1st and the middle of September, I’d better be more accurate: Let’s say June.)

The new book has a working title of ‘THAT’S NOT MY MONKEY…’ (because at the time, it wasn’t.) I might be letting slip the occasional progress report to keep you all in the loop – and if anyone hasn’t bought my first book, ‘THAT BEAR ATE MY PANTS!’ – well you damn well should have! Nothing like a great big pay-cheque to inspire me to write the next one! Grab it now – the link is on the left.

No, the other left.

I will of course continue to blog with no discernable focus, until we all go blind from ennui and start falling into one another. I know, you expect no less.

And just like last year I will offer NO prizes on my blog, because I’m poor. And a terrible host.

Feel free to piss and moan about my general lack of tact (amongst other things) in the comments section. I will then point and laugh.

No, really!

I love you all.

Tony

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That Was The Year That Was (Review of 2011 – Tony Style!)

Australia

Ever have that feeling that a year has passed quicker than a dodgy Thai curry?

Yeah, me too. I had that thought again, that if they keep going by at this rate I’m be drooling into a care home pillow before I get to do half the things I want to do.

But then I looked back and thought – yeah. Not too shabby. I did good this year.

So, in celebration of that fact, I’m finally going to do one of those smug bastard ‘How Great Was My Year!’ type posts… oh, yes! Revel in the knowledge that I, a mere mortal (and a pretty rubbish one at that), still managed to do something in 2011. And if I can, so too can you… No, wait a minute. I did it. 2011 is over. So if you didn’t do it already, you’re pretty much screwed. Ah well. Better luck next year…

January: Okay. So I didn’t get off to a flying start… um, let’s just gloss over this one shall we? No-one ever does anything worthwhile in January anyway. That’s a fact.

Bloody January.

February: 1) Learnt to spell ‘February’. Actually I did that just now, so it doesn’t count. Hmmm. February, February, must have done something…Snow Angel

Oh yeah! I went to France. My sister Gill and her hubby Chris were working there (they have ‘jobs’ you see. How strange!). So the missis, the mother and I headed over to do a spot of snowboarding. It was a great trip – Gill introduced us to the Ski (and après ski) culture, which was new to us (New Zealand not being much for culture of any kind, unless it’s rugby ball-shaped.) I then got KILLED by an irate, uncultured New Zealander! With a rugby ball.

Okay, I didn’t. I did ride insanely fast down a mountain (possibly drunk), fall badly and hurt myself, rendering me unable to do much more than drink for the rest of the holiday. Oh, and I ate fondue.  Because, y’know, I’m not cheesy enough already  :0)

MarchI went to Jordan. In the same company – Mum having paid for the entire trip due to fears of going alone. Jordan was an incredible place, with history literally lying around on the floor for you to pick up, take home and give as presents to horrified (yet secretly pleased) archaeologists you may know. Ahem. The two things I remember most about Jordan are 1) how amazing the ancient sites would have been if they weren’t crammed with assholes trying to sell me shit, and 2) the millions of assholes trying to sell me shit.

Oh, and 3) all the unnecessary shit I bought.

But it was great fun, and I had the rare opportunity to sneak into a Wonder of the World without paying the exorbitant entrance fee (of £50!) by impersonating an Australian who had already paid it. See, how much fun travelling can be?

I blogged about it HERE and HERE.

Ruins in Jordan
Find a monument. Climb on it. That's how I roll...

April – I recovered. Not from the holidays, but from a bit of news I received at the York Festival of Writing. It was there that I discovered I would never be published in the conventional sense – two agents out of two said they loved my work, but simply couldn’t sell it. Travel books, it seems, are only to be written by the already-famous. I had a blast at the Festival (my account of it is HERE) and returned with a New Mission: Publish Myself! And an epic hangover.

May – You know what? I honestly can’t remember. If you know where I was, or what I was doing in May, 2011 – please drop me a line. Unless it’s really, really embarrassing. What’s that? It IS? Oh, right then. Best keep it to yourself.

June: Just vanished. The preparations for my baby sister’s wedding took over everything, and then – oh yeah. MY BABY SISTER GOT MARRIED!!!

Wedding
Ain't she pretty!

July was a mixed bag. I will remember it forever as the month I finally married my gorgeous girlfriend Krista. In fact we got married twice, once (legally) to a CD of Dueling Banjos, which was not at all how I’d imagined it, and again a few minutes later, in the secret garden of Taunton Castle, to the trilling of a harp. It was magical – so much so that I’ve yet to blog about it at all… um… yeah. Getting married does tend to drive things like blogging out of the mind.

I will remember July as the month I launched my book: ‘That Bear Ate My Pants!’ took off better than I’d dared hope, sliding up the Amazon charts to #1 in all it’s categories and #423 overall. Ever since I’ve been meaning to ask someone more knowledgeable that I, whether or not that qualifies me as a ‘bestselling author’. Well, a man can dream…

I will also remember July as the month my Uncle Paul, stalwart guardian of his family, passed on to Whatever Comes Next. I never told him until right at the end, but he was the strongest man I’ve ever known. Uncle Paul, I love you, and I miss you. Sleep tight.

Where are we now? August. Krista and I took our first Honeymoon in Spain, a gift from my parents. It was just what I needed – to unplug, just for a week, from everything. The internet; the book launch; the insanely busy life I had somehow created for myself over the last six months – and my grief. Spain was a time of healing for me, a time of tanning on the beach, and a time of… well. It was my honeymoon!

September! Jeez, I better finish this quick – or anyone who’s still reading will be bleeding out of their eyeballs by the end! September I decided to apply for a visa to emigrate to Australia. I’d been meaning to look into it for months, but stuff kinda got in the way. See above for details. Immediately I noticed three things:

1)   It was going to cost me a fortune. Just over £2,000 so far, and counting.

2)   It was going to take Forever. Six months in fact; as of writing, I still don’t have my visa, or the legal right to work in Australia. Which is kind of a shame, as I’m living here.

3)   It was going to be a lot of work. Just the application form was over 40 pages long and every page turn revealed a new delight. Such as this innocuous question; ‘Is your spouse Australian? Yes? Please attach her birth certificate.’

What a mission. It delayed all other plans while I collected Police Clearance Certificates from every country I’ve lived in for more than a year (!), hundreds of documents supporting the validity of my relationship with Roo, sworn statements from Australians, medicals, financial reports… well, fictitious financial reports anyway. I mean come on! What government in their right mind would honestly let me in?*

*If you’re reading this, Australia, I’m sorry. Please let me live in you.

Octoberbegan the odyssey which became known as ‘The Grand Adventure!’. Actually it was always called that. I hoped to gather enough crazy experiences to fill another book; alas, England in the dank, cold Autumn, is not a Mecca for adventure. Well, unless you’re a train spotter. We had a great time, (almost) hiking the length of Hadrian’s Wall, and returned home just in time to Grandad-sit while my parents took a much deserved holiday.

Monument... on it. Innit.

The Grand Adventure blog (which was actually bloody funny!) is HERE, HERE and HERE.

November: this was when the reality of emigrating to Australia began to sink in. Largely because it was happening at the end of the month! Roo and I packed our cases, realized we had FAR too much stuff to put in them, and ordered a ‘small box’ from a shipping company. They sent us a large and a small ‘just in case’. Clever bastards! I suspect our story is not unusual; we quickly gave up on the small box and filled the large. Then we placed a quick call to the shipping company, altered our quote slightly, and started filling the small as well. About the time Roo floated the question ‘I wonder how much they charge for a third box…’ I called time; anything that wasn’t packed already was staying. Cue another frantic round of unpacking and re-packing, with Roo shoving stuff in one side and me removing it from the other. In the end our boxes were less than 1 kilo under the maximum allowed weight – between them. It truly was a feat of tessellation. We left England praying to every God that our bathroom scales were accurate…

December.Malaysia. Theme parks inside shopping malls, insane luxury in a 5-star villa (a wedding gift courtesy of Roo’s family) and much assorted ridiculousness. It rained torrentially every day in Kuala Lumpur, so we skipped on to Perth – where it rained torrentially every day. The hottest year since records began, but for once a wet one – the perfect way to acclimatize after a year and a half in England! Since then we’ve been to the beach (and got sunburnt), been to the gym (and got busted), been outside (and got bitten), been inside (and still got bitten), and I have personally killed over a dozen cockroaches (every shoe has at least some limbs stuck to it). I did not, however, kill a scorpion – that honour was bestowed upon Sonja, Roo’s sister, who caught the little bugger trying to sneak into the fridge.

Theme Park
All this is INSIDE a shopping centre - I shit you not!

Australia, eh? It’s a pretty crazy place. Who knows what next year will bring…

PS. Roo and I, along with my family, also renovated three houses during the course of the year! The story of one of them is HERE.

So. Tell me. What did you guys get up to?

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A Very Australian Christmas!

Australia

‘Twas the night before Christmas…

In Australia.

It’s a whole different experience!

So I thought I’d take this opportunity to tell you about some of the differences between a northern hemisphere Christmas, and a southern one… For starters, it’s hot. Or, as the locals would say, ‘bloody hot mate!

I went to the beach a couple of days ago – not to do anything as crazy as sunbathing mind, just for a casual stroll around. We were there for about 20 minutes, admiring the postcard-perfect vista of golden sands and deep blue ocean. Beautiful! Then we leapt back into the air-conditioned sanctuary of the car, and counted ourselves lucky that we weren’t waiting around for public transport in the 34-degree heat – or even worse, walking home!

Still, those few moments took their toll – here’s what has been keeping me awake at night ever since:

Sun burned back
The Australian Red Back - not just a spider...

I can’t see any difference myself, but then I’m colour-blind. It makes traffic lights fun, which is one reason why I only learned to drive last month (at age 33) – that, of course, is a story for another time.

Apparently I got burned pretty badly in those 20 minutes. All because they ain’t got none o’ that Ozone Layer around these parts… This leads to very high instances of skin cancer, caused by something as simple as relaxing by the pool for just a little too long. The operation to remove them, and replace the skin with a bit from your bum, is one of the most commonly performed in Australia.  As the saying goes, ‘if you’re not careful you’ll be wearing your arse on your face!”

Although with the size of my nose, I don’t think anyone would notice.

Australian Christmas Poem
This is my take on Christmas in Australia. I was expecting it to go viral, but my Social Media ‘reach’ is not even as long as my physical reach. Yes, it’s true – I have arms like a gorilla.

Frogs.

There are frogs in Australia – just in case you didn’t know.

But they’re not… how do I say this? Normal. The don’t croak – no ‘ribbet, ribbet’ around here. No, these frogs whistle – and some make a ‘boing!’ sound, like the string of a banjo being plucked. No prize for guessing their names – the Aussies are nothing if not straightforward – the Whistling Frog and the Banjo Frog, they are. And then there’s the one that sounds like a motorbike idling at the lights… no, I’m serious! The motorbike frog fires up with a cough, then develops a ‘rmmm, RMMM, rmmm, RMMM’ type rhythm which will have you looking out of the window for unexpected guests.

Or it would, during the day.

These frogs are most vocal at night – and where we live, in what is politely referred to as a more ‘rural’ suburb… they have every one of them! It’s deafening!

But then, frogs are fairly benign. There are plenty of other critters lurking in the countryside – Australia is famous for them. Pretty much everything that crawls, walks or flies here wants a piece of you – and if there’s one way to ensure they all get one, it’s this; live in the countryside!

By way of example, last night we trapped a pretty large Huntsman Spider. Not huge – about the size of a hand – between the two sliding panes of the kitchen window. None of us were brave enough to face the thing in single combat, so we put off the decision on what to do with the creature until morning.

We had a lie in, and were baked out of bed by the sun at 9am. It was a balmy 32 degrees. One of Krista’s sisters had gotten up early to go to work, and left us this message on the snazzy neon note board:

NoticeboardThe spider was, in fact, gone. But had it escaped to the outside… or had it come in…?

We’ve yet to find out.

So if I don’t come back for a post-Christmas post, you can assume I’ve been swallowed whole by this monster and will be slowly digesting over the New Year.

On the upside, there’s one Australian Christmas tradition I was more than happy to participate in:

The buying of ridiculous amounts of booze!

The place to buy alcohol is a ‘bottle shop’ (or ‘bottlo’, as Australians are unable to pronounce a word that doesn’t end in ‘o’.). It has occasionally been referred to as a ‘grog shop’ – regardless, it’s like a supermarket dedicated to booze. And, on the day before Christmas Eve, it was RAMMED. Full to bursting. Four of us went in, and only two survived. Both showed serious signs of trolley-induced trauma, including the outline of a wheel scored into Krista’s ankle – but we staggered out under the burden of almost $250 worth of alcohol! A moderate sum, given that there will be six of us partaking of it – we saw blatantly single guys (yeah, you know the type!) manhandling seven or eight cases of beer into knackered cars – if there’s one thing Aussies can do, it’s drink.

Trolley full of boozeI know that’s what I’ll be doing!

What about you guys?

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Query Letter Advice (or, How I Done Mine)

That Bear Ate My Pants

DISCLAIMER: This is NOT a writing blog. If you’re looking for real, quality advice on perfecting your query letter, go here, or for great advice on e-publishing your work, go here. In fact my writing is so bad that I have to publish it myself! :0)  (Little dig at my Indie Writers friends there!)

So because Covering Letters (the ones you send out to agents with your precious manuscript) are so important, I thought I’d share my advice on the topic – for what it’s worth…

Scribbled NoteFirst up, here’s my example. I sent out a boat load of submissions to literary agents and publishers throughout the UK. None of them gave a shit, of course. That is, until I came up with this version of my covering letter. I only sent out five of them, and had three requests for a full manuscript and two personal rejections. I came within a gnat’s bollock of getting an agent that time – only to find out that I was unpublishable because I wasn’t famous. Bugger. As a result I published the book myself and am now practically famous – but that’s a whole different story. (And at least part of it is a lie.)

20th February 2010

Dear Lucy,

I am writing to you because you represented HOW LOW CAN YOU GO by TOM CHESSHYRE, and I feel that my book fits into a similar genre.

I nearly died in Ecuador. Pretty much on a daily basis. The trouble with being a volunteer at an exotic animal refuge is that everything wanted a piece of me; and the trouble with being me is that I wasn’t particularly good at it. So most of them got one. “THAT BEAR ATE MY PANTS!” is the tale of how a desperate bid to escape conventional life took me to the other side of the world, introduced me to pain, love and the insides of a cow, and brought me back with a strength and self-confidence I hardly dared dream of. And a bit of mucus in my hair.

Right now, climate change and the economic downturn means millions of people are looking for environmentally friendly, low-cost holidays. All of them need a socially responsible guide book.

This is NOT that book.

But those people also need a damn good laugh! So for everyone who wants to know what it’s like to be bitten by a crocodile, mauled by big cats, blinded, shot at and head-butted in the balls by a wild pig – all in the same few weeks – “THAT BEAR ATE MY PANTS!” is just the job. A sequel, based in Thailand, is already underway.

My stories have appeared in Take a Break magazine, That’s Life magazine (in Australia) and I recently contributed to the anthology THE VOLUNTARY TRAVELER, published by Dog’s Eye View Media. I also have a background (and a BA degree) in Acting, so I have plenty of experience both on stage and in front of a camera.

Please find enclosed the first 30 pages and a Synopsis, as per the guidelines on your website. I’d be very grateful if you would consider representing me! Thank-you so much for your time. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards,

Tony James Slater

Okay – it’s not a masterpiece. I’m self-critical enough for three people, but I thought I’d use it to illustrate a couple of points I think (and it’s only my opinion) are key.

The first is, know thy enemy! You hate receiving form letters from agents, right? So it makes sense, as a form of revenge, to send them one! HA! Take that… oh, hang on – what I meant is, please will you devote your life to helping me become successful?

Don’t send them form letters. They can do that to you, because you are scum and they quite rightfully despise you.

So, research them. Specifically, find out who or what they have represented that is close to your work. I make this comparison right at the beginning, to:

a) put them in mind of a book they loved, and repp’ed, and sold – POSITIVE association, and;

b) give them a quick ball-park idea of the genre and/or style of the book.

But DON’T make it sound like you think your book is better – even if you do! Most of the books I was comparing mine to are complete crap, but their agent wouldn’t have taken them on if s/he didn’t think they were awesome. So none of this ‘It’s like Stephen King, only scarier,’ malarkey.

Next up, the length – short as poss – and the book description, also short. Three paragraphs, I’ve heard, is ideal. I also like to show a bit of my writing style in the letter, which is why there’s a bit of strong-ish language and an attempt at a joke – normally this is a big no-no, but any agent who baulks at the word ‘balls’ is going to hate my book anyway. Why go to the bother of posting them a copy?

Pile of lettersI spent a few sentences trying to give them a feel for the book, but as mine is anecdotal there isn’t much in the way of plot twists – instead I blew this extra space on trying to convince them the book as funny. Mistake? Almost certainly. But then, so are most of the things I do. It’s why I still have something to write about after all this time!

Seriously though, this section is a play on a very smart ploy – enumerating your potential audience. Remind the agent that there are eighteen point five million lactating octogenarians out there who feel your pain and would love to read your memoir. Tell them that crotch-eating bacteria is hot news and affects one in six males between the ages of eighteen and twenty four who holiday in Thailand – use numbers to suggest the size of your market. If you write sci-fi… well, let’s face it, you’re already screwed.

I repeated my title twice in the letter to help it stick in their mind and used the magic phrase ‘a sequel is already underway’. At the time it was a lie. Hell, it’s still a lie! Depending on how flexible your concept of ‘underway’ is. But the agent will be very interested to know I’m not a one shot deal – and that I’m aware of how important this is.

Finally, I gave them a bit of info about my previous publishing credits. This section is small, as I don’t have much, and it’s generally best not to try to pad out you resumé. Any waffle here, listing all sorts of minor accolades, will make you appear less professional rather than more.

I also showed again that I had read their submission guidelines and was sending exactly what they asked for – and then I thanked them. If there’s ever a time to remember your manners, this is it.

I could have included a word count, or stated that the book was finished, but the word count is on the title page anyway and the fact that I’m writing the sequel suggests this book is done – common wisdom, however, suggests you do both of these things. I am quite clearly not a wise man.

One other way I’ve seen people write queries is to start right out of the gate with the drama –

Dear Agent X,

Jeremy was already dead. He just didn’t know it yet… etc.

I think this is quite popular in the states and might work here – who knows? Anyone tried it? Personally I think it’s too ‘in your face’ for our more traditional English agenty types, and I would save this kind of opening for the manuscript itself. Don’t want your query opening to be more exciting than your book, eh!

Well, that’s it for now – this is already too long I know, particularly for someone like me with no authority to back my opinions up. Please – don’t go away and write a query letter just like mine – I don’t want to be responsible for derailing any more careers, I can’t take the guilt! Just keep in mind,

  • Brevity
  • Proving that you know the agent and/or her previous clients (and chose to submit to her for that reason)
  • Two or three paragraphs giving succinct plot synopsis
  • Demonstrate your writing style – but not too dramatically!
  • Mention sequel (even if you don’t have one)
  • Mention publishing history (only if you do have one)
  • Mention platform (again, if you have one. I don’t. Well, unless you count  :0)
  • Keep it to one page at all costs!

What do you think? Thoughts/comments/plasticine fish?

Throw ‘em all this way!

And to all my regular readers – those who’ve made it this far – Don’t worry! Next time I’ll be blogging about crazy shit, as usual. I promise.

Love

Tony

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When Is A Massage Not A Massage? A Malaysian Mystery

Comedy

Roo and I were enjoying unrivaled luxury in our private villa in the Sunway Lagoon and Resort, Malaysia. Her family had invested a sizeable chunk of cash in pampering us on our honeymoon, to the extent that we had our own infinity-edge pool, dinner served for us on our balcony and a private butler on call 24 hours a day. How the other half live, eh! As habitual backpackers we were thrilled not to have to share a dorm room with ten snoring, farting, travelling piss-heads. This was, quite literally, another world.

Luxury honeymoon bed

So, hot on the heel of our first massage came the excitement of the second. Our package specified two and our private butler was eager to help arrange it.

“Second massage… is in your villa, is… in bath, like ah… Roman Bath.” Her English was broken and heavily accented, but still the words were enough to send a chill down my spine. Roman baths brought only one thing to mind. “The girls come ah… eleven O clock, to your villa?”

Back at the villa, Roo was seriously uneasy. “Aren’t the Romans famous for having orgies? In the baths?”

Yes, yes they were. But I didn’t say that, because the aim of the holiday was to relax.

I couldn’t help but wander into our bathroom and stare at the tub, huge and sunken into the marble-tiled floor. How the hell were they going to massage us in the bath? Kneeling on the tiles? With sponges on long sticks?

A Big Sunken Bath
Did I mention there was a pic of Roo in the bath in this post :0)

“What if they want to get in there with us?” Roo asked.

There wasn’t much of an answer to that. Not on our honeymoon, anyway.

Roo didn’t sleep that night. She was too afraid. Next morning, after breakfast, we got the call – two girls from the spa were on their way to our villa. They had an hour set aside to prepare the bathroom… We spent this time trying to remain calm in the lounge, watching old movies on a channel called ‘Star’.

“I’m keeping my swimsuit ON,” Roo was adamant. “If they tell me to take it off, I’m not doing it. I’ll leave.”

“It’ll be fine love, we’re probably stressing for nothing.”

But I didn’t know how it could be fine. I’d taken certain lengths, before the last massage, to ensure that I couldn’t get an embarrassing erection in the middle of it. Even so, I’d only just gotten through – it’s hard, sometimes, being a guy. We’re not exactly in control of all our appendages… If I ended up four in a bath with my wife and two semi-naked massage-ladies… well, let’s just say there was bound to be a development.

“What if they want us one at a time,” Roo asked. “I don’t want to go in there on my own!”

They girls had been in their for an hour now, in their robes and sandals, running water and chattering about something. Oh God… it was time.

“We, ah… ready for you now,” one of the girls said. She lingered by the bathroom door, beckoning.

Roo and I shuffled forwards, hugging our loose robes around us.

“Okay, thank-you!” The masseur beamed at me, and at Roo, shouldered her bag of supplies, and left. Her friend followed her out.

“But… what…? Are they gone?”

“I dunno?”

“Check, please,” Roo begged me. Perhaps they were waiting around the corner, giving us privacy to allow us to strip off. That had happened at the last massage. Hell, maybe they were around the corner stripping off themselves! (That had NOT happened at the last massage…)

But no. They were gone. Disappeared down the path to the spa with impressive speed, given their size. Roo and I were alone. Stressed to the point of sweating into our silken dressing gowns. As one we approached the bathroom, still half afraid there was someone waiting in there for us. This is what we saw:

Bath with petals surrounding itIt was beautiful. Luxurious, inviting and hot as hell – placing the rose petals had obviously taken most of the girls’ time while the tub was filling. I dipped a toe in and a delicate fragrance was released from the water. It rose on the steam, filling the bathroom with the scent of exotic flowers…

It was then that I realized. This wasn’t a Roman Bath.

It was an Aromatherapy Bath.

Somewhere, lost in translation, was the truth that would have set us free from a night of sleeplessness and a morning on the borders of panic.

Aroma-bloody therapy.

So I now know of four types of massage it is possible to arrange in Asia:

  • The Comfortable One (which is bliss, but with a high likelihood of causing Accidental Arousal. Which can then become Uncomfortable)
  • The Uncomfortable One (where they break you into little pieces, stamp on those pieces and then sweep them up into a pile that is vaguely you-shaped. This is the one with the longest-lasting effect, except for possibly:
  • The Illegal One (which is a bit unsanitary, could leave you with a present you’ll be needing the doctor’s help to get rid of, and nine times out of ten turns out to be conducted by a man in a dress)

And Introducing…

  • The One That Isn’t A Massage – it’s a bath. Which they run for you. And fill with petals that get lodged between your bum cheeks so that you’re still finding them in the shower days later…

The joys of travel eh? Come on then – massage stories, front and centre! Got anything to add to my list?

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A Change Would Do You Good (a.k.a. The ‘Sorry I Haven’t Blogged’ Blog)

Comedy

Hi folks! Well, it can’t have escaped your attention that I’ve been slacker than a skinny chav’s tracksuit in the blogging department for the last couple of months. What can I say, beyond ‘I told you so!’ My blogging is as reliable and regular as my bowel movements, which is to say not very. Can’t say I didn’t warn ya!

My plan to generate more jealousy in the world got a big shot in the arm yesterday when I arrived at my secluded private villa in Malaysia. Oh, yeah! Do you wish you were here? Probably not, as I’m sitting here typing in the nude, but to be honest it would be worth wearing a blindfold just to appreciate the luxury of having your own infinity pool with waterfall and dinner served by personal butler on a veranda jutting out into the jungle…

Private Pool
Our private pool in our private villa in Malaysia!

Ahhh!! Anyway, more on that later. After my next massage perhaps  :0)

My plan to become the world’s foremost blogger however, has made a little less progress. It is one of those goals, (like becoming an astronaut), that I am slowly starting to realize may not be worth the effort involved.

So. That being the case, this blog is CHANGING! (Don’t look! You can get arrested for that sort of behavior in Malaysia.)

I know some amazing people who are like blogging machines, scouring the net for the latest info, distilling it into readable articles and publishing it day after day after day –  David Gaughran is the perfect example. The guy must live at three times normal speed just to fit it all in.

I’m less… mechanical? No… less motivated! Well God damn it, lets just come right out and say it: I’m crap at this. A lot of days I struggle to get out of bed at all – mostly because my bed has my wife in it, and I’d always rather be inside than outside. (Of the bed I mean). Blogging is difficult when it competes for time with all the things I could be doing (writing, book promoting); should be doing (getting a job and making enough money to buy food and pay the rent); and want to be doing (throwing myself off of very high things, sleeping, bathing in tomato sauce).

So in order to make this less painful for both of us – yes, I always have my reader in mind (thanks Fred) – this is what we’re going to do:

MORE blogs! You lucky, lucky dog you. Now flee.

SHORTER blogs! You lucky, lucky dog you. You can read me AND make a sandwich in the same afternoon.

MORE VARIED blogs! Okay, this one is a lie. What can I say? I’ve blogged about everything from sitting naked in snow to open cock surgery to… what’s that you say? I blog too often about nakedness and my penis? Aha! Fair point.

LESS BLOGS ABOUT MY PENIS! Unless you really, really want them. Sorry, say again? You do? Ah, well then. Just don’t ask for pictures. Oh yeah, that reminds me:

MORE PICTURES! These will most definitely NOT be of my penis. But I do reserve the right to be naked.

Towel Swan
I have just killed a Malaysian Towel Swan. In the nude, of course.

I think that about sums it up. It’s been a crazy year for me, and I don’t mean the kind of crazy you might say about a slightly eccentric friend or relative (as in ‘oh yeah, Frankie’s crazy man!). No, my year has been pretty full of insane. The highlights include my wedding, my sister’s wedding, emigrating to Australia, trips to the French Alps, to Jordan, to Malaysia, inheriting a large sum of money and spending it in one afternoon, publishing my first book, learning to drive, renovating two FILTHY houses and of course having a miniature blow torch stuffed up my willy.

Some of this year’s events will be featured in the posts to come (the fact that I got MARRIED might make an appearance); some will NOT feature (I’m looking at you, unexplained bowel movements).

For now though, I shall love you and leave you. Please look out for my newer, shorter, punchier blog posts. And when you see them coming, don’t run the other way – THEY CAN SMELL FEAR. Honestly, it will only hurt more in the long run.

As you text-speakers, say, SL,ATFATF!

Tony

(Ps. Anyone who can translate that text-speak will win… admiration. Of a generation. And perhaps a mention in the blog. See? I told you you were lucky!

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Back to the Wall…

Hadrians Wall

Or maybe not!

As the phone alarm buzzed us awake at 9:30am, I could tell even from across the room that Roo was feeling about as enthusiastic as I was. I tried to sit up and winced – every bit of me hurt like hell.

“Are we…?” I began.

Roo just looked at me. I had the horrible feeling she was about to cry.

It was at this moment that a strategy emerged, fully formed, in my mind. Shit I love it when that happens.

“We could get the bus back to where the car is?” I suggested. “Then we could drive back here and hike the next stage without bags. Bus back here after we finish walking and stay here again tonight. Hell, we could do the whole rest of the walk like that!”

And we did.

It was the fastest we’d moved in weeks – the sudden glimmer of life without a crushing weight on our shoulders galvanized us into action. I checked the time-table – we had just less than 10 minutes to pack our shit (currently scattered across the whole dorm) and get our asses down the road to the bus stop. Moving like extras in a bad zombie movie we lurched around the room, gathering up still-moist towels and spilled packets of super noodles. In an instant we were out of the door, bleary-eyed, unkempt and somewhat fragrant. Showers weren’t close to being an option.

By the time we made it to the bus stop, we figured out we wouldn’t be hiking much further that day. Neither of us could walk properly, having pulled pretty much every muscle in both legs. Our backs were stiff, our necks ached, and Roo had a blister which was actually bigger than the toe it was attached to! It was time to admit it – this walk had kicked our sorry behinds from Day One. Perhaps we weren’t as fit as we used to be?

It wasn’t until, mid way through our first morning of hiking sans rucksacks, that we realized we hadn’t passed a single other person with a big bag. Of course! Out of all the people who had dared to hike Hadrian’s Wall, from the frailest old granny to the keenest Army Cadet, we were the only ones stupid enough to try to do it with 15 kilos on our backs.

Everyone else had paid a courier.

2011: A COCK ODYSSEY

There was one thing Roo vitally wanted to see on this particular stretch of wall. Scouring the guide book for bits on interest she had come across something she just had to photograph: somewhere on the mile of wall we had missed yesterday, an ancient Roman comedian had carved a big fat penis.

True story.

And so, bag-free, we leapt athletically up and down this stretch of wall, frantically searching for this pre-historic phallus. It wasn’t easy to find. “There’s no cock,” I told Roo.

“There IS,” she declared. “I HAVE TO see that cock!”

“You can see mine tonight,” I offered.

“No. It’s not ancient enough.”

Such is married life. You’ve got to take the compliments where you can get ‘em.

A group of boy scouts approached, optimistically carrying sleeping mats. “Any of you guys seen a big cock?” I asked the lads.

No response.

“My missis is desperate to get her hands on that cock,” I tried.

Nothing.

“I think it’s about yay-big…” I held my hands a foot apart.

They must have been foreign.

By this point Roo was running up and down, screeching “Where’s the cock? I WANT the cock!” More than a few passing hikers had stopped to stare at us. But just as we decided to quit (or in fact as I attempted to drag Roo away, with her still shouting “I just want to touch the cock!” – we FOUND IT!

It was spectacular. Not. But then, it had been carved close to two thousand years ago, and it was an amazingly accurate reproduction. I  was forced to picture some unlucky legionnaire, ordered by his Centurion to flop it out in the chilly Cumbrian wind and hold it there while the sculptor chiseled a perfect likeness in limestone. On the upside, he must have one of the most famous willies in all of recorded history. And the most handled – both Roo and me had to have a sly stroke – because after all, it is a piece of history. With a great big pair of balls, for realism, almost worn away by the passage of time. And hands.

One unexpected advantage of this new take on hiking was this: instead of staggering into town bare moments ahead of darkness, we had a leisurely lunch and decided to turn in early. Half an hour later we’d found a bunkhouse, claimed the best beds, turned the heating right up and lay in bed reading the books we’d never been able to fit into our rucksacks. Hell, I even broke out the computer and checked Facebook – whilst sipping a bottle of cider I’d had to leave with the car. ‘Ahhh…’ I thought, ‘now this is what hiking should be like!’

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