We interrupt this journey for a RANT!

Philosophy
Theresa May
IDIOT.

Well, I just happened to see a bit of the Tory Conference on TV today (in my defence, I was in the gym!). Dumb-ass Theresa May was waffling on about how she was going to get tough on immigration.

But how is she going to do it? No word there of the strategies she will use to make it happen – just strong-sounding, yet ultimately empty, statements.

I know how to sort out the immigration problem. In fact I know how they could sort out the whole bloody country in three (rather dramatic) steps:

1) IMMIGRATION: Go door to door around every address in the country, comparing all residents against the electoral register. Any bugger who could potentially be an illegal immigrant should be sent to a detention centre, where each case is investigated and all illegal immigrants are held until there are enough for a deportation boat to their country. This will remove about 1/3 of the excess population, leaving more jobs and more government funds to go around. Foreign criminals should be deported penniless, all their assets seized and contributed to public funds in lieu of keeping them in expensive jails in Britain. Haulage companies should be issued huge fines (£5,000 each for the company and the driver) if illegal immigrants are found hiding in their trucks. Police have the power and active encouragement to stop and search trucks coming from all the main ports instead of spending their resources chasing speeders. All illegal immigrants are immediately interred in camps and deported asap.

2) SPENDING: Carry out the ultimate wastage investigation throughout the government. Find every department that is paying £18 for a box of paperclips because they come from a HM approved supplier and make ‘em go to Staples. Find every gigantic office block owned by the government ‘just in case’ and sell ‘em. Demolish every ridiculous subcommittee engaged in pointless policy wrangling and statistical analysis of five-year economic trends. Publish salary details for every elected person and civil servant and bring them all in line with equivalent private salaries. Fire all insanely overpriced advisors and consultants. As a result create more jobs with training in the same areas! And chuck all that spare cash at the NHS. I get a feeling they could put it to good use.

3) EMPLOYMENT: Make it illegal for any company to out-source their production/call centres/suppliers to another country if there is a suitable equivalent available in Britain, OR THE CAPACITY TO DEVELOP ONE. Any company wishing to shift their manufacturing base to India should have to prove that there is a genuine and pressing reason – and increased profit is NOT an allowable consideration. So if we can build a train in England, or have the potential to create a factory and workforce to build that train, it is illegal for the company to have it built in Germany or Poland.

And that’s it! Then, when we have a strong economy, comprised of people who are entitled to be here, with sufficient jobs and public funds for all – and on top of all that, a government we can trust, who are leading by example – THEN we can worry about tackling the bloody deficit! It’s always been there, it’s always been growing and every other country has the same problem, most of them much worse than ours. Does it affect our day to day lives? Whether we can feed our children? No. So leave it the hell alone until our more pressing domestic problems are sorted out!

Right! Rant over. Sorry about that folks. What do you think? Got any better ideas?  :0)

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Another Day On That Damn Big Wall

Hadrians Wall

Standing on the wall

Today’s walk was really pleasant, through constantly changing scenery and several tiny villages. Every time we passed an old stone barn or cottage we eyed it suspiciously – there used to be a damn big wall around here at one time, until some bugger pinched it. It wasn’t hard to guess where most of it had gone.

If only it hadn’t been for the 15+ kilos of dead weight crushing the breath out of us. Uphill was a struggle – downhill was borderline suicidal. The rucksacks, now including food for three days and a tent, sat more heavily, their weight resting squarely on bruised hips, the straps sawing back and forth across shoulders rubbed raw the day before.

A lot of people tell me that an average person walks at 4 miles an hour. I’d LOVE to know where this common misconception comes from, but trust me – as someone who’s walked a few of ‘em – miles don’t pass that fast. 4 kilometers an hour is much more realistic – when happily skipping through the park on your way home from school. In thick mud, staggering uphill whilst bent double under a bag the size of a golf cart, you’re lucky to manage half that.

So I wasn’t too surprised to find, after four tough hours, that we weren’t even halfway. It had been a monster day for sure, but we were so sore from yesterday’s mission, and this route seemed all uphill. I was disheartened, but realistic – we had to call it a day at the next town, or we wouldn’t be able to stand tomorrow, let alone hike.

Roo checked the bus time-table – we could just make the last bus! We sat on a huge chunk of Hadrian’s Wall – the first we’d seen – and doctored our feet for the final push.

Infinite WallThe first problem was that we’d clearly bitten off more than we could chew – over 20 miles all told, when I finally tried to work it out.

The second problem was the complete lack of bus stop – after being told by a local that the bus would stop “anywhere you wanted, as long as you wave at it”, we hiked on even further, finally finding an official stop by a ruined watchtower about a mile away.

The third mistake was that there was no bus. It wasn’t listed on the stop. We checked the timetable in a panic – only to realize at the last minute that it was last year’s timetable! I dug the current one out of my rucksack and discovered it was identical except for one tiny detail – the last bus, the one we were desperate to catch, had been axed.

This was not cool. All we could do was soldier on to the camping barn another mile up the road. As we groaned and hauled our bags onto our backs, the wind howled and it began to rain.

We stuck out our thumbs in hope, but nothing happened. We arrived dispirited, aching and so, so tired, at the camping barn – to be greeted with a notice saying ‘CAMPING BARN CLOSED’. That was it. No-one around to ask and nothing else to do. Well, we did a good bit of swearing, but I don’t think it helped much.

We hiked on. Roo had more blisters than toes, and the muscles and tendons in our ankles were screaming at us. Expensive cars roared past us – all carrying a solitary, middle aged woman. None stopped to pick us up.

A mile later we arrived at the Youth Hostel at Birdoswald, ready to collapse.

Well, we arrived at where there should have been a youth hostel. We ditched our bags and explored the Roman Ruins (which, had they been officially open, would have cost us almost a fiver each) – but there was no sign. Only a closed and locked building behind the visitors centre which looked like it could once have been a hostel. Not cool at all.

It would have been time for despair, if it hadn’t been for Steve and John – two awesomely helpful blokes who had also over estimated their hiking speed. They rocked up to the empty fort, decided to call it a day, phoned their wives to come get them and immediately offered us a lift. We got driven to the next town of Gilsland, a frighteningly long distance away. Several hours by foot even. From here I planned to ring the hostel we’d booked in a town even further along the route – only to discover I’d left my phone in their car! With no numbers stored in it’s memory (as it was brand new!), and the phone about to die of battery death any minute, I was terrified I’d never get it back. It also meant we couldn’t call anywhere to get a lift, or to book a room for the night…

I lost the plot for a bit. Only a few minutes before, we’d been debating whether or not we could afford £60 to check in to the nearest B&B in a move of desperation. Now all that paled into comparison – I’d lost a £150 phone, and for all the closer we’d gotten, our nice cheap hostel might as well have been in Moscow. I got change from the pub behind us and waited for the payphone opposite. A bloke had appeared out of nowhere and taken up permanent residence in the phone box, just as I imagined the dwindling minutes in which I could still call my own phone. I sat on the curb, head in my hands. “How can this happen to us?” I asked Roo. “We help everyone. This morning I gave breakfast to that couple with no food – why is Karma being so evil to me?”

Well, someone must have heard me and thought, ‘Sorry, my bad!’

The folks that had given us a lift screeched up and handed back my phone – just as it died – and as we sat on the curb pondering our fortune, a random bloke in a shiny black Vauxhall stopped and asked if we needed a lift somewhere.

Amazing. He took us right to the door of our hostel, despite it being the opposite direction to where he was headed!

We ditched our bags, said bollocks to our super-noodles, and marched into the pub for some dinner. But just to stop me being too cocky, immediately after I got inside the pub, I sat in piss.

Whoever had occupied the seat before me had peed all over it – and no, it wasn’t cider – I could tell this by the smell, and so narrowly avoided taste-testing it. I washed my hands several times, but had no choice other than to sit and eat my dinner in pants that someone other than me had pissed on… and I’d be hiking in them tomorrow too.

To round the evening out I ate a massive slab of lasagna and showered in the dark (due to a busted light in my cubicle) – then fell in the general direction of bed. Not at all sure that, come the 8:30am alarm, I’d be capable of climbing out of it…

So. How was your day?

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A Long Hard Walk With A Twist

Uncategorized

Well, we’re a couple of days into our legendary attempt to hike Hadrian’s Wall. All I can think about is “Why the HELL did I want to hike Hadrian’s Wall?”

Hiking

Day One was an almost impossible mission. Fifteen miles ploughing through the countryside, seven and a half hours of grueling bag-dragging. Bruises forming on top of bruises. Muscles and tendons shrieking. It’s beautiful and all that, but hikers in this country must be nutters, I said to myself.

This opinion was reinforced by a pair of gear-clad old blokes striding towards us as we crested yet another hill. One of the men, with a gigantic binocular pouch hanging like a pregnant belly, beckoned us closer as though to impart a secret.

“Around the corner and down the hill, there’s a bridge,” he stage-whispered.

“Yes?” I said, certain some amazing discovery was about to be shared.

“In the river below there’s a rock with some spoor on it. I climbed down to get a closer look.” He was hissing through his teeth by now. Both Roo and I tried to look suitably impressed.

“I looked at it and smelled it, and – “ (he paused for dramatic emphasis) “ – it smelled like Otter droppings! So keep your eyes peeled – there could be an otter about!”

He seemed so excited with this discovery, I didn’t dare ask him what in God’s name had prompted him to sniff an old turd sat on a rock. Much less to climb down off a bridge for this purpose. To say nothing of how he knew what otter shit smelled like… We exchanged our best Interested Looks (the ones you perfect for those moments a nutter starts naming every train station in the country) and fled. Before he could tell us how the poo tasted…

Rock with poo on it
Nutter Rock, so called because the turd on it, clearly visible in this picture, apparently smells like an otter’s turd. Yes.
Following a poo truck
No, that's NOT mud..!

Poo continued to be a bit of a theme, as trudging down a particularly boggy lane we came face to… back end, with a muck spreader! Ever known the delight of following one down the road, travelling at 30mph, too wide to overtake and liberally splattering raw sewage with every jolt? Smells good, eh? Well we got the Full Story – sandwiched between two massive hedges we had to walk behind the poo truck for about a mile. I learnt an interesting thing then – no matter how long you walk behind a truck covered in liquid shit, you never get used to the smell. I could never be a farmer.

All in all we were glad to see the end of the first stage. Roo was limping slightly and we were both dead tired. All we could think of was tomorrow’s hike – just slightly longer than todays. Over slightly hillier terrain. And by then of course, we’d also be carrying the tent…

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The Joy Of Tent

Uncategorized

One Pot MealOur first night under canvas passed so quickly and smoothly, we hardly knew it was there. The only thing missing was power – we went to bed with the sun because, basically there was bugger all else we could do.

For our second night we spent so long driving around looking for somewhere with power to offer us that we ended up having to check ourselves into the last campsite we discovered, as it was officially closed for the night.

Not to be deterred, we pitched our tent with the last of the light and settled down to cook in total darkness. It was about now I wished I’d brought a decent torch – all we had was a tiny wind-up key ring thing which Roo had bought for £1! For some reason it just hadn’t occurred to me that we’d be camping in the dark. What is this, the middle ages?

It then emerged that the other thing we’d forgotten to bring was any food. Oh, we had plenty of snacks – a crate in the back of the car filled entirely with crisps and chocolates, Pepperami and Snack-a-jacks. Sadly, a close investigation revealed nothing remotely resembling dinner. Then, just when all seemed lost, I discovered a small stash of tins I’d stolen from my Mum’s kitchen. What can I say? They were on the top shelf, so it’s not likely she would have been able to eat any of them before I got back.*

(*My mother is a gnome. She can only reach the bottom shelf if she stands on the phone book)

Amongst the tinned horde were beans a tin of Spaghetti Bolognaise – ASDA’s finest. The two seemed destined for each other, and for our bellies, so without further ado Roo mixed them together in a pan, blasted it with our bunsen burner and that was dinner sorted. It made me quite proud to think how well we were looking after ourselves in the wild.

We’d pitched the tent under a group of trees, without realizing just how many birds were living in them. The dawn cacophony was magical and deafening at the same time, and utterly impossible to sleep through. A few ducks added their over-enthusiastic quacking, and were joined by the deep bass rumble of what Roo tentatively identified as a T-rex.

The rumbling got closer and more threatening, right up to the point where we cowered in our tent, sure that the rapture was approaching; in fact, it was this beast:

Bigger Digger

which the campsite owners, in their infinite wisdom, had decided to unleash upon us all at 7am. What was it doing so volubly, that simply couldn’t wait another hour? Why, it was trimming the hedgerows of course. And then dredging the streams that bordered the site. Obviously a full day’s work had been scheduled for the 300 decibel behemoth and we were eager to get out of it’s way.

And so to the toilet block! For those not familiar with camping, this is the communal toilet/showers facility for them wot’s not got their own. Rocking up to one first thing in the morning, toothbrush and towel in hand, is a bit of a ritual – and not quite as wholesome as you might imagine. For starters, most of the other male campers are OAPs. Most of them are fat, hairy and distinctly unashamed about it. And most of them eat more baked beans during a week’s caravan holiday than they do in the rest of the year. So, as I queued for a shower cubicle behind a sizeable portion of body-bearded man-blubber, it was to the tune of seventy-plus seventy-plus-year olds, taking it in turns to void their irritable bowels explosively. Never before in the field of human history have so few toilets taken such a beating from so many bloated backsides. The seats had become uncomfortably warm by the time my turn arrived…

(I have deliberately chosen NOT to illustrate this experience with a photograph)

The shower seemed more welcome by the minute. Feeling much less violated once the hot water began to flow, I hummed a half-remembered song. I’d hardly even noticed I was doing it, until the bloke in the next cubicle took up the tune. This scared me a little. Then, as someone a few stalls up joined in, the memory clicked – God knows why, but I was humming ‘Once in Royal David’s City’, a Catholic hymn from my childhood. Oh no. I suddenly wanted to leave very quickly, before a half-naked octogenarian could tackle me about my dedication to Jesus. I showered at high velocity, and luckily there wasn’t anyone waiting in a towel outside my cubicle to ask me for a ‘Hallelujah’…

So, notes to take on board for the next few night’s camping include:

  • Find a camp with fewer birds
  • Find a camp with fewer
  • Find a camp that isn’t a Bible Camp
  • Find a campsite with power
  • Find a suitable way to harness said power
  • Find a camp with fewer diggers (None at all would be nice)
  • BUY SOME FOOD!

I’ll let you know how we go on.

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At last – A Grand Adventure!

Comedy

Well, after quite a few false starts, the Grand Adventure (TM) is now up and running! The rules are simple – we have £1,000 to see as much of England as possible.

We very nearly set off three times. The first date was slightly delayed by issues of a tental nature; to whit, the tent we’d bought wasn’t big enough. Now, the missis and I are slightly built, but have two people – regardless of gender – EVER fit into a two-man tent? Just not possible. At least, not if we wanted our feet in there too.

So we resolved to wait a day, make a few more preparations (for example, we could actually decide where we were going!) and then get a slightly bigger tent in the morning.

Then we saw this:Gale Warning Newspaper Clipping

And that was the end of Official Start Date 2. Particularly since we’d decided to head straight to the north-west to hike the length of Hadrian’s Wall. They say it’s best to do the hike West to East to benefit from a following wind, but this wind looked like it could spread the bum cheeks of a wildebeest. I never like being followed by something stronger than me.

Anyway, the winds blew us up and down the road as we tried to buy our bigger tent, making us ultimately grateful that we weren’t currently trying to pitch said tent. We had a couple more home-cooked meals and congratulated each other on our decision to wait out the worst of the weather.

The next day we packed the car with maps and computers and rucksacks full of clothes, with sleeping mats and not one but TWO tents, with enough equipment prefixed with the word ‘camp’ that you’d almost think we were camp… and then we still didn’t go.

This time it was my fault entirely. Actually it was Australia’s fault. The buggers. See, they don’t make it easy for those of us who want to go live there. I thought I’d gotten over the biggest hurdle, when I seduced, despoiled and eventually married my Aussie chick. But no – they make sure you really want it before they let you in. Consequently I spent several days applying for Criminal Record Checks from every country I’ve lived in over the past ten years. By the time I was done I wanted to jump all right – off the nearest bridge. I’ll doubtless write about the process later, but suffice to say it cost me close to two and a half grand (so far) and made my balls ache from the inside out.

And then we saw this.Hurricane Newspaper Clipping

And thought, bollocks to it, we’re going anyway. Because honestly I was getting a bit scared about the whole idea – it’s been quite a while since I travelled properly, and that vague fear of the unknown that makes leaving home so hard to do in the first place, was starting to reassert itself.

“We should just jump in the car and go, wherever it takes us,” Roo told me.

“I’ve been home so long, I’m forgetting how to jump,” I admitted.

What a liberating feeling it was to finally bugger off! This time we were prepared for anything. I’d bought some waterproof hiking boots. I’d made a list of friends and relatives we might trick into letting us stay for a night or two. I’d also stolen as much food as I could carry from my parents’ house, in the hope that it would stave off roadside starvation for a couple of nights. Roo, meanwhile, had covered the car in stickers of ice-creams and octopus. And fastened a plastic dragon to the grill. Which, as she informed me, was equally important, “because you have to have a plastic dragon on the grill, or no-one will notice us!” I couldn’t fault this logic. I didn’t even want to try.

Decorated Car

And so, in severe danger of putting our departure off yet again, we jumped. Into the car, and into the loveliest part of the british countryside. A few pleasant hours beetling around he fields and forest of Somerset ended in a surprise camp-site near Wells. We had a huge meal in a nearby pub to celebrate – we only ordered a normal-sized meal, but when it arrived I found there was no part of it which would fit into my mouth.Huge burger

And then, with full stomachs and a warm tent awaiting… well, a tent that we would make warm, with vigorous generation of body heat… we were happy.

Spent so far: Fuel – £30.01 (It was Roo. She’s incapable of hitting the exact amount).

Campsite – £12.00 (“Just give us twelve squid,” said the man in the camp site office, as though he was doing us a deal. Was he? No. That’s their regular price. But the red hot showers were worth every penny!

How will we fare tomorrow, on this Grand Adventure? I’ll keep you posted!

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A Clean Slate(r)

Comedy
Mum cleaning
Careful! Gnome Cleaning

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t posted a blog for quite a while. Sorry about that. I’ve been meaning to, I really have, but Real Life has a nasty habit of intervening.

Damnit, I hate Real Life! Give me dragons, or espionage, or an unstoppable alien invasion! Real Life… is like a big fat wobbly bum cheek. Not something I really want to experience, either personally or vicariously.

On the upside, my parents have been trying to rent out a house in South Wales for over a year now. The house itself… isn’t great and the area… well, could do with demolition (or an outbreak of a chav-eating virus of some kind).
Not to put too fine a point on it, it’s a bit of a shit hole. But then, the weekly rent is about the same price as a Big Mac meal and none of the previous tenants have bothered with anything so trivial as actually paying it.
After the last woman left (actually she fled, leaving several thousand pounds in unpaid rent and bills – not the first time this had happened and certainly not the last. It was notable mostly due to the contrast with the rest of her tenancy, during which I don’t think she actually left the sofa) – we’d had a lot of cleaning up to do.

Broken loo seat
I'll say nothing about the size of her ass, but somehow she'd broken the toilet seat.

I don’t want to be mean to her or anything; I’m just setting the scene. But she did look rather like Jabba the Hutt.

King amongst her crimes against us was the breaking of windows. In a house of six windows, she’d broken four of them – and all of the doors. Some had been kicked in, some punched, still others bore mostly teeth marks… Her dog – which she didn’t have when she moved in – weighed as much as your average bison. I never got to meet it, but I extrapolated it’s size by scaling up those teeth marks. Apparently one of the windows was down to the dog – it had seen something outside that ‘bothered’ it, and had reacted accordingly. It leapt straight through the window, a feat made all the more impressive by the twin facts that a) the window in question was five feet up the wall, and b) it was double glazed. Was double glazed. Now it was glazed with a bin liner.

Scummy Kitchen
One of the cleaner parts of the kitchen

Anyway, there’s a whole story behind what we had to do to clean the place up. Maybe I’ll get into that one day. For now, it only serves to illustrate my point that Real Life doesn’t smell like roses. It smells like sacks of year-old excrement stored in the back garden of a rental property for no reason under God that I can understand.

So when the call came through that we had a new tenant for the House of Horrors, I was overjoyed – for about 30 seconds. The rest of the call went on to mention that the place needed a bit of a clean before it would be suitable to move into. It had been empty for a year, and in that time a goodly number of insects had seen fit to expire inside it. Dust had settled. The garden had gone a bit wild…

Heavily Overgrown Garden
To the left you can just see the neighbour's 'normal' garden

It was with a heavy heart that I packed a cheap electric strimmer into our camper van and jumped in with my parents, off to spend the bank holiday weekend in my least favourite part of the world. Or rather, in traffic on the way to it. It was, after all, a bank holiday. I live in the West Country, which is where everyone who doesn’t live there, spends their bank holidays. The two hour journey took four, but I didn’t mind. Even gridlock on the M5 is preferable to certain parts of the South Wales Valleys.

We arrived and set to. We’d left two suede leather sofas in the house, having had them steam cleaned for reasons I won’t go into. Alas, an unoccupied house during the harshest winter on record had not been kind to belongings; both sofas were covered in mould. The garden looked like a set from Jurassic Park. I kept a sharp lookout for velociraptors as I fired up the strimmer…

Tony in Garden
I wade into the wild

It took the whole day. Still, nothing in comparison to our last visit, when I’d built a bonfire of brambles and kept it burning for four days straight. In fact everything went swimmingly, including Mum’s cleaning inside the house. Being a gnome she can’t clean anything higher than about three feet off the ground, so we still had to go around the top cupboards in the kitchen with a duster. After removing my hundredth cobweb something occurred to me about spiders: they are monumentally stupid. Many a documentary waxes on about their fantastic web building abilities, but I never saw one that explained this phenomenon: the house was carpeted in dead insects. Thousands of the buggers. Entering it for the first time was like a scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Yet still the spiders had spun their webs, and died in them, presumably of starvation. It had never occurred to them, once nothing was left to fly into their nets, to go and eat the countless dead ones. Perhaps that’s why they don’t have thumbs yet.

I slept the night on a mouldy couch. My parents used a mattress that looked like it had been the scene of a ritual slaughter. In the morning we took all of the above items to the nearest tip, parking outside and carrying them in as the camper van couldn’t get past the height restricting bar. As Dad and I staggered towards a container marked ‘Furniture’, we were accosted by one of the staff. He took one look at the suede sofa and said, “Number Five.”
Clearly, he didn’t like the look of our sofa. Skip Number Five was for landfill.
We put the mattress in Furniture anyway, because it was considerably closer than Skip Five (and that was a bloody heavy mattress), and because by then the guy wasn’t there to tell us we couldn’t. Half an hour later we struggled past with the second shitty sofa and sneaked a look into Furniture. The mattress had been removed.

It was just after we got back and started packing up that our day went downhill. We got a call from the plumber, saying he’d have to come up and give us a certificate to prove the gas boiler was safe to use. He’d be there in a couple of hours, which made me wish we’d been less enthusiastic about chucking the sofas as we now had nothing to sit on.

Back at home my girlfriend Roo was panicking. A team of carpet cleaners, who we’d completely forgotten we’d booked, had arrived with all their gear. She raced around moving furniture, giving a running commentary to us via a series of increasingly desperate phone calls.
“I need the hoover. Where’s the hoover?”
“Um, we’ve got that here with us. Sorry.”
“They want to move the computer – can I unplug it?” “They want to use a special chemical – should I let them?” “Now they want to go clean your granddad’s flat – are they supposed to?”
“Yes, that’s right,” I told her.
“You mean I’ve got to move all your granddad’s furniture too?!”

Then, when all seemed to have settled down, we got one last frantic phone call from Roo; “Help! I moved a bookcase and now there’s SPIDERS coming out of the wall! Hundreds of them! SHIT!”
At the other end of the line, my parents and I stared at each other in shocked disbelief.
Then we all pissed ourselves laughing.
Mum thoughtfully covered the phone, in case poor Roo thought we were making light of her predicament. The only advice we could give her, when we’d recovered the power of speech, was to look under the sink for some bug spray.
I was surprised, but not so much. “Does anyone else think that getting the carpets professionally cleaned at our house is a bit like trying to put sellotape over the hole in the Titanic?”
Our house is in worse a state than the one in Wales – largely because we devote all our renovation attempts to the houses we let out. Our own just sort of slips through the cracks…
Those cracks were the subject of conversation as we sat in the inevitable traffic jam on the way home. “We’ve really got to fill them,” Mum was saying.
“First we’ve got to get rid of the spiders,” I pointed out.
“No,” said Dad. “First we’ve got to stop the shower water from coming through the ceiling downstairs…”

So if I don’t get around to posing a blog next weekend either – well, you know what I’ll be up to. And it probably won’t be pleasant…

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Promo stunt goes horribly right!

Comedy

There was an unlikely occurrence this weekend, as the home-made promo team for ‘That Bear Ate My Pants!’ swung into action at last.

Promo team outside Water stones

Well, you’ve seen the picture. What more do I need to say? If I was known for having rational ideas, well, it probably wouldn’t have been worth writing a book about my life.

If things had gone according to plan, this little stunt would have taken place on Launch Day Weekend, on Friday and Saturday last week. A family crisis meant we had to delay it ‘till this Fri/Sat, and the fact that is pissed it down with rain most of Friday persuaded us to reschedule for Sat/Sun. No-one wants to hug a soggy bear. No-one wants to wear one. There was a major disadvantage in these delays; it meant that I was available. On Launch Day I’d hardly dare leave my computer to pee, and my wonderful sister (Gill) and fiancé (Roo) had planned to do the bear-and-pants-show without me. Now, a week later, I had no excuse at all. And neither did my Mum, so I roped her in too.

Mum in bear suit

At a gnomic five-foot nothing and a quarter, she looked less like a bear and more like an Ewok.

We’d been up all night printing flyers and reinforcing the gigantic pair of cardboard underpants. So, a fairly typical evening in my house. On a beautifully clear Somerset morning, we descended on the town of Taunton.

My first victim was an older woman, slender with long grey hair. Unlikely to buy my book, I thought, but an ideal test subject; my sales pitch had yet to be practised. Hell, it had yet to be invented. I approached her and muttered something about having written an e-book.

She turned on me, eyes blazing with righteous fury. “I don’t approve of THAT at all!” She declared.

Oh bugger.

She then proceeded to tell me in emphatic detail, how technology was the work of the devil. How our society is being destroyed by it, even as we speak! How we are sinking further and faster – the only way to free ourselves is to wipe it all out forever!

“I’ve just paid this young man in cash,” she indicated the green-grocer’s stall behind her. “Credit cards ruin people’s lives – credit cards and COMPUTERS! If I could I would burn the lot of them.”

There really wasn’t much to say to that. I hadn’t been cursed so thoroughly since… well, ever.

“Would you like a flyer?” I offered.

She glared at me as though I had stood on one of her doubtless many cats, and I retreated slowly.

The rest of the morning passed without incident. Not without interest though. Once the crazy woman made her departure, I offered a rather more subdued sales pitch to the green-grocer she’d so kindly paid with pure, innocent cash. He was more receptive.

“Sounds great,” he enthused, and whipped out an iPad from under his stall. He concentrated for a few moments, tapping the evil device on various corners with a grubby finger.

“There!” He proudly showed me the display, featuring the front cover of ‘That Bear Ate My Pants’. “Got it! I’ll read it tonight.”

I was stunned. For a techno-whoring minion of the antichrist, he was a jolly nice chap.

There was a bloke collecting for Guide Dogs for the Blind, sitting outside the car park on a stool with his bright blue plastic bucket. We’d all donated after parking, and had threatened to come back in costume. Now seemed like the perfect time for it. Gill handed him a flyer and he glanced down in surprise.

“We’re advertising my new book, all about my crazy adventures in Ecuador!” I explained.

His brow wrinkled. “But… I can’t read. I’m blind.”

It honestly hadn’t occurred to me. “Oh. Um. Sorry!”

He was still clutching the flyer the next time we walked past.

Gill was wearing the pants. Her new husband, much amused, was trailing us and taking photos. Every so often she would stop and ask him to help her adjust the string shoulder straps. Every time she would mug an unhappy face at the nearest passer-by and tell them “My pants are falling down!”

Roo was a great advocate, loudly proclaiming the merits of the book to everyone we passed. “Buy it – it’s hilarious!” she told a businessman.

“Fuck off,” he replied.

After that she decided to take a turn in the bear.

We de-beared and de-pants’ed outside Debenhams so we could swap jobs and take it in turns to use the loo. Roo suited up and immediately started dancing to the music in her head. Within minutes she had been offered a job by the cafe next-door. They needed a human statue for the upcoming flower festival. Apart from us getting married that week (and going to my Uncle’s funeral in Manchester) we really didn’t have much else on. So she took the job.

Bear and pants

We moved to the seaside for the afternoon and the lifeguards were fascinated. When the Giant Underpants shoved their way into their hut there were gales of laughter on all sides.

“Hot pants,” one of them quipped, eyeing up my sister.

“People have been trying to get into her pants all day,” I warned.

“Well, I’m the one in authority here,” said the oldest of the lifeguards; “Knick-her!”

I groaned all the way down the beach.

Halfway back up the ramp I was accosted by a tiny blonde girl of about six. “Excuse me, what are you doing?”

I favoured her with a grin and launched into my standard spiel. “I’m telling everyone about my new book, ‘That Bear Ate My Pants!’ It’s very funny, and there are bears in it doing very funny things!” Okay, so it wasn’t exactly my standard spiel. I handed her a flyer to seal the deal and strolled off.

A few steps later I turned to check on the bear, only to discover the blonde girl was walking along behind me. “Excuse me,” she said again, “can I have one of those for my friend? He wants one.”

“Here you go,” I told her, handing her another flyer. She skipped away merrily.

“We’d better move,” I said to my team.

“Eh? Why?” They followed me quickly back up the boat ramp and into the crowd at top speed. “Where are we going?” Gill asked when she caught up with me.

“Well, those flyers I gave to the little girl?”

“Yeah?”

“The second line on them reads ‘Holy SHIT! I’m about to be eaten by a bear.”

“Oh…! Right. Yeah, we’d best get moving then…”

The flyers did their trick though. I was delighted to see some people had kept hold of them, and were brandishing them at me the same way you’d show a crucifix to a vampire. ‘Keep away,’ their eyes said, ‘you’ve got me already…’

Of the teenagers we met, some were clearly too cool for skool. These types, terrified of anything that could endanger their street cred, fixed their ludicrously outsized sunglasses on the horizon and strode past as quickly as possible. But one group of lads showed an interest. They dared each other to hug the bear (something that kids as young as 18 months had been managing to do without being dared all day). “Is it a boy or a girl in there?” One lad asked.

“Girl,” I replied.

Suddenly they all wanted a hug. One even tried a little dry-humping. His mate noticed and dragged him away with a stern warning. “Matt, bestiality is NOT the answer!”

Bear poses with lads

Then Gill offered a flyer to a confused looking man. “But I am here on holiday,” he said in heavily accented English. “I don’t know what to do?”

“Where are you from?” Gill asked.

“Cherr-many,” Came the response.

Gill brightened, and gave the bloke a wide smile. “Welcome to England!”

This marks the first time in the history our our two nations, that a citizen of one has been welcomed to the other by a gigantic pair of cardboard underpants. At least as far as I know.

As the day drew to a close and our dancing bear had hugged her way into heat-stroke, Gill (in pants) tried to flyer a flyerer – only to find out the man was advertising The Path To Heaven. In fact he had a large placard with a flow diagram, neatly depicting which sins pointed you towards Purgatory and Hell (and in which order), and which acts of redemption allowed you to ascend to the clouds. It looked so… definite.

He didn’t even offer me a flyer.

I could tell from his expression that there is no place in heaven for people like us.

So. What did I learn?

1) NO-ONE can resist ANYTHING when it’s handed to them by a walking pair of underpants.

2) Children love bears. Especially smiling ones. This works well, as while they are hugging, poking and otherwise molesting said bear, I can chat to the parents about my book. HOWEVER, it does make a lot of people think it is a children’s book. Perhaps I should consider writing a children’s book. Or renting a werewolf.

3) Promoting from behind a keyboard isn’t nearly as fun as getting out there in the real world. Especially if you’re a complete lunatic. I can’t imagine we made many sales from our activities, but we sent some photos and an article to the local paper. They’re bound to print something – literally nothing else happened here last week.

4) Hot day + hot bear costume = one sweaty fiancé. The Giant Underpants were far better ventilated. That is not a sentence I get to use very often.

5) My family love me very, very much. And I use this love to make them look foolish, and then write about it. But you know, I’m okay with that…

So. Done anything crazy lately?

Bear hugging tree Roo in bear suit

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‘THAT BEAR ATE MY PANTS!’ goes Live!

Uncategorized

Holy crap folks, it’s really happening! As of midnight last night, ‘THAT BEAR ATE MY PANTS!’ went live on Amazon.co.uk. At 8am it became launch day in the US too – but only because it turned midnight there. I’m not expecting to sell many books overseas until people start to wake up.

There’s already been a few sales here in England, but it’s far too early to check. Amongst self published writers there is a condition called CSRC, or Constant Sales Rank Checking. Pretty self-explanatory – watching the sales roll in and pile up is highly addictive. It can also be hideously demoralizing if, for example, you haven’t get a cat in hell’s chance of selling any books.

For now I’d like to believe I’m not in that category – and this wishful thinking is all that stands between me and the Disease. It’s making me too scared to check!

Some of you have very kindly offered your assistance in getting the message out to the world. For everyone except Roo and my sister (running around Taunton in the bear suit and the giant pants) this means Twitter and Facebook. I’ve tried to make this as easy as possible, to encourage lots and lots of sharing. Sharing is caring, folks! Here we go:

First, for the Twitter-maniacs amongst you, here are some Tweets you can use to tell your followers about the book: (or make your own up and add the Amazon links on the end).

With Link to UK site (Amazon.co.uk):

Semi-decapitated crocodile? Midget with a machete? Must be ‘THAT BEAR ATE MY PANTS!’  by Tony James Slater http://amzn.to/thatbear

Hilarious; unbelievable; ridiculous. No, not your face – the new book by Tony James Slater: That Bear Ate My Pants! http://amzn.to/thatbear

Read the crazy new book by Tony James Slater: That Bear Ate My Pants! http://amzn.to/thatbear

Released today! Funniest book of the year – That Bear Ate My Pants! http://amzn.to/thatbear

There comes a time in every man’s life when he says to himself “Holy Shit! I’m about to be eaten by a bear!” http://amzn.to/thatbear

It’s true. A bear did eat my pants. Luckily I wasn’t wearing ‘em, or this book would be called That Bear Ate My Ass! http://amzn.to/thatbear

@Tonygetslost has just released his hilarious new book ‘THAT BEAR ATE MY PANTS!’ Free sample available here: http://amzn.to/thatbear

Or with Link to US site (Amazon.com):

Semi-decapitated crocodile? Midget with a machete? Must be ‘THAT BEAR ATE MY PANTS!’  by Tony James Slater http://amzn.to/kKsMSR

Hilareous; unbelievable; ridiculous. No, not your face – the new book by Tony James Slater: That Bear Ate My Pants! http://amzn.to/kKsMSR

Read the crazy new book by Tony James Slater: That Bear Ate My Pants! http://amzn.to/kKsMSR

Released today! Funniest book of the year – That Bear Ate My Pants! http://amzn.to/kKsMSR

There comes a time in every man’s life when he says to himself “Holy Shit! I’m about to be eaten by a bear!” http://amzn.to/kKsMSR

It’s true. A bear did eat my pants. Luckily I wasn’t wearing ‘em, or this book would be called That Bear Ate My Ass! http://amzn.to/kKsMSR

@Tonygetslost has just released his hilarious new book ‘THAT BEAR ATE MY PANTS!’ Free sample available here: http://amzn.to/kKsMSR

For the more Facebook inclined, here’s a post I’ve been using:

There comes a time in every man’s life when he says to himself, “Holy SHIT! I’m about to be eaten by a bear!”

‘THAT BEAR ATE MY PANTS!’ by Tony James Slater is the most ridiculously funny travel book this year. You believe that? Well, there’s only one way to find out… BUY IT! (Or download a free sample!)

http://amzn.to/thatbear (for UK)

http://amzn.to/thatbearatemypantsus (for US/Rest of World)

And for those who want to do both… well, who am I to try and stop ya’?

Thanks so much for all your help and support folks. I literally couldn’t do this without you. The chances are I won’t make enough money to buy you all a drink – it’s never really been about the money, which is just as well as Amazon don’t pay me my share until at least 3 months after the sale is made – but if I can, when I see you next, I will. And if not (and anyway) you have my heart-felt gratitude.

Now bugger off and go sell some books  :0)

Tony

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The Pre-Launch Process

Comedy

I bet you’ve always wondered what goes on in the household of an Indie Writer just two days before his first major book launch. What’s that? You haven’t? Ah well. Let’s just sit and watch The Apprentice then.

Except that I can’t. As I write this, my sister Gill is carefully constructing a big pair of pants out of cardboard. We are talking really, REALLY big pants. My fiance is taking time out from organizing our wedding (in less than three weeks’ time) to phone around every fancy dress shop in the west country, looking for an adult-sized bear suit.

I won’t even get into what my Mum is doing. I mean, I know I say some crazy shit on this blog, but there are some places even I dare not venture…

In between times we are sitting side-by-side on laptops, all four of us tapping away furiously – only the occasional expletive shatters the silence. Okay, so occasional shards of silence intrude on the torrent of swearing that pours forth from three mouths simultaneously! My fiance, of course, is above all that  :0)

My Dad, bless him, is relegated to a support role – making vast quantities of tea, largely because he does that anyway. Seriously, if you put an empty tea cup down in my house there’s already a fresh cup sitting next to it ready to be drunk. If you’re not on the ball you can quite easily end up with three or four lined up waiting.

And flyers are being printed. Ink is running out. More swearing follows a frantic Google map search to find the nearest PC World…

I make a ‘press release’. Then I look up ‘press release’. Then I destroy mine, as what I’ve made doesn’t even remotely resemble a press release. Well, it had a button that you press to release and that’s all I’ll say about that.

Having never done a book launch before I have the following piece of advice; Get Advice! I’ve been making it up as I go along, and it’s not pretty. By Friday I’ll be able to sleep standing up outside in a rainstorm – which is just as well, as I’ve more chance of seeing that than my bed. Oh, I do love my bed. Will it start to forget me? There’s always a danger someone will clean it while I’m not in it…

We’ve emailed every radio station and newspaper for miles around. We told them to expect a ‘promo team’ – I harbour a suspicion they might be a little disappointed if they show up in pouring rain to find my Mum waggling her ass in a bear suit outside ASDA, while Gill hands out limp leaflets. We’re not exactly the Red Bull Display Team.

Oh, how I HATE printers! I would say roughly 80% of the use of the word ‘BASTARD!!!’ in my house right now is directed at the printer. For no reason under God, it’s just decided to print two flyers per page instead of four. We haven’t changed a thing. It just fills half a page, then gives up. Apart from occasional psychotic episodes when it chews three pages to shit in one go. An hour later, when I finish screwing the top back onto it, I discover a small handful of plastic components that I swear didn’t come out of it… but now it won’t print at all. Plus I think I left my other screwdriver in there. I would have made a rotten surgeon.

Kevin McCloud once said that surgeons can bury their mistakes, whereas architects have to look at them forever. Where does that leave writer’s mistakes? Oh, I know: Amazon Sales Rank 400,000. At least down there no-one will ever see them. In obscurity, no-one can hear you scream…

So fingers crossed for a successful launch, eh! I mean, I don’t see why not.

Threats Made Involving Outsized Fish? – Check!

Inanimate objects cursed within an inch of continued operation? – Check!

Enormous pair of cardboard pants? – Check!

Strong belief in the power of positive thought? – Wavering…

What can possibly go wrong?

We’re almost done now. The house looks like an explosion in a stationary warehouse and flailing around in costume I’ve personally spilled more cups of tea than I’ve drunk. If anyone comes around tomorrow to congratulate me on my efforts, and they notice the mess, wet patches and tufts of hair on everything, perhaps they’ll think to blame the dog.

And I’ll be able to say, without a trace of a lie, “Oh, no. That’s from the bear.”

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That Bear Ate My Pants!

Comedy

Here it is, as promised – not only can you read a never-before-released sample of ‘THAT BEAR ATE MY PANTS!’, you also get to see the shiny new cover! What do you think of it? As always, all comments gratefully received. Enjoy!

THAT BEAR ATE MY PANTS! Cover Image

(This is taken from the middle of the book. In it I’m working as a volunteer in an animal refuge in Ecuador with Toby, my boss and mentor.)

A Close Shave

To me, a trip to Tambillo town meant food. There was a tiny bakery which sold bread rolls and an equally minute dairy shop which sold a kind of weak tasting, soggy white cheese. I was living almost exclusively on these two products. Shopping with Toby had been such a sensory overload that I hadn’t really spared much attention for what he was buying. A day later I’d awoken to the realisation that we still didn’t own any meat – in a country where the staple diet was chicken and rice, living with a vegetarian would be a singularly bland experience. We had an infinite variety of fruit of course and plenty of oatmeal. Hell, we might as well be eating straight from the animal’s feed bowl. It suited the monkeys. But alas, Toby’s shopping list had been utterly devoid of anything I consider food.

He’d bought a carrier bag full of chillies though. Seriously, the man was obsessed. He put them in his cheese and bread rolls. He put them in his rice. He put them in my rice. At times he put so many in that they outnumbered the rice. I could tell from his face when he was eating his corn flakes that he was wondering whether or not a dash of chilli would spice them up.

So when Toby decided he needed a haircut (and insinuated that I might be similarly in need) I jumped at the chance. A hike down and, later, back up again was adventure enough by itself, since it involved leaping crevasses in the road, climbing several fences and trying to walk for almost an hour at a forty five degree angle to the slope. It was murder on the thighs. At the bottom was the short road into Tambillo town – and on that road sat the Empanada Lady.

What is an Empanada? Now that’s a tough one to describe. Its… some kind of substance, not unlike play-dough, deep fried, covered with sugar and filled with cheese. Sounds disgusting eh? But they tasted like heaven. Especially since there was no burning sensation associated with eating them. I’d tried them twice and was already considering offering the woman who sold them hard cash for the recipe. She was so friendly, sitting on the step behind her pavement stall. She had merry eyes and deeply etched laughter lines, and skin tight blue jeans. Probably a stunner twenty years ago – or maybe five? Ages were almost impossible for me to guess as I had no basis for comparison. The Empanada Woman was ageless in body, but young in heart. She always smiled and asked simple questions like ‘How are you’? and ‘How are the animals?’ This meant I could actually formulate answers, and feel good about myself in the process. I guessed that Toby had taken other volunteers to sample her delights (by which I mean her Empanadas!).

With the late afternoon sun on my face I strolled casually along the street next to Toby. Stall holders and the odd passer-by threw us an occasional “Buenos Dias!”. Across from us stone steps led down to a series of formal gardens arranged around a central monument. Together they formed a square, bordered on all sides by the road, and the whole lot sloped sharply away from us. The buildings that lined the square formed Tambillo town – apart from the gas station on the Quito road and the pay phone shop on the street leading back up to it, there really wasn’t much else. It was peaceful, especially at this hour, and quaint. Every wall needed paint, every shutter repairing, but the people seemed relaxed and friendly. I was starting to like Tambillo for more than just it’s sodden cheese.

We ducked into the miniscule hairdresser’s shop, and a slim, middle-aged woman with smiling eyes wasn’t there. She was in the shop next door, chatting happily to it’s owner with no fear at all of what was happening in her own little place. Which was strange, because there was a young lad with half-cut hair still sitting in the padded armchair and picking his nose in front of the mirror. Our presence was clearly the reminder she needed though, and she quickly scooted in through the door making the place feel quite crowded. She seemed scaled to fit the room at about four foot nine, and as he stood up, apparently satisfied with what I still maintain was an incomplete haircut, the boy proved to be equally small. I watched him leave, fascinated by his sense of style. Or maybe he could only afford the first stage and was having his hair done in instalments.

Toby took his turn first, chatting amiably to the young woman. She seemed very friendly. It didn’t take long, largely because he emerged from the chair unchanged to the naked eye. Apparently he’d had something cut off somewhere, and I decided to pursue the matter no further than that. I was starting to believe his faded red baseball cap was actually grafted to his skull anyway, so it seemed unlikely that his life would be changed overly much by the absence of such a microscopic amount of hair.

He nipped next door to buy us a couple of beers, leaving me alone and within clear speaking distance of the hairdresser. I gave her a wide smile, then carefully studied the lino floor.

Something something something?” She asked. I recognised by the rise in her voice at the end that it was a question. I glanced at the door. Toby was still very inconsiderately buying me a beer. I groped for an appropriate response, and came up with a technique I’d been falling back on more and more recently.

Si.” I replied.

She seemed satisfied.

Then as if by magic Toby was back, handing me a nearly cold beer, joking with the hairdresser, and beckoning me forward for my turn under the scissors. I was feeling a little nervous as I parked my ass in the chair. I really hoped she wasn’t fond of small talk. I was liking silence.

Toby asked me what I wanted.

“Just a bit shorter, really – short back and sides, nice and tidy. Not too short though.” I warned him.

I still don’t know the exact Spanish words he used, and I’m sure he doesn’t remember them either, so I’m probably paraphrasing here. He turned to the hairdresser with the barest trace of a grin. “Shave it all off,” he said.

And she did.

“Yeah, I stitched up a few of my mates like that back home,” he elaborated, as we sat on the curb outside the hairdressers with our beers. “They always say ‘Don’t stitch me up, right?’, so I persuade them it’ll look great.”

I couldn’t stop running my hand over the back of my head. At least in a couple of weeks, I thought, I would be able clean my nails this way.

“They must think you’re an asshole,” I diplomatically remarked, careful to keep myself out of the equation.

“Yeah,” he agreed.

“Well, I don’t care,” I lied.

“It’s easier in the mornings! And easier to wash shit out of!” He reminded me.

“Yeah. True.” I wasn’t actually planning on rubbing my head in much shit regardless of the length of my hair. Toby himself seemed to have managed to avoid the problem of a head covered in crusty shit despite having hair infinitely longer than mine was now.

The hair on my arse also never seemed to suffer from this particular problem, despite it too now being considerably longer than that on my head. I was clearly thinking way too much about this situation. But at least it was taking my mind off the shape of my skull.

We returned our empty beer bottles and set off back through the town. His hair stirring gracefully in the wind, me staggering jerkily along behind him in a state of shock. Letting out an occasional anguished moan. Two feet taller than anyone else around, with a pallid bald head the shape of a dented light bulb. I wondered if any of the locals had ever seenFrankenstein.

END

Hope you enjoyed that! ‘THAT BEAR ATE MY PANTS!’ will be available as downloadable eBook for Kindle, Mac or PC from 1st July. It is priced at £2.99 (or $2.99 for US buyers). If you like the sound of it, please tell your friends! Hell, tell your enemies too. Maybe they’ll stop hating you afterwards!

Join the launch party on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=245219902160197

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