A fortnight’s blissful, indolent cottaging beckons, with nothing more arduous than dead-heading the geraniums stretching ahead of me. No plans, no engagements, no commitments. Why, we could just sit with the newspapers in the morning room for the next sixteen days solid, and it wouldn’t matter a jot or a tittle.

There may be blogging ahead. But, on balance, probably not a great deal of it, what with the steam-powered 56k dial-up laptop and all. (It never feels right, unplugging the phone and stretching the cables across the kitchen table. Like some sort of violation of our bucolic, Epicurean ideal.) Besides, as we old lags know from experience, simply nobody reads weblogs in August, darlings.

There will, however, be at least a few more pieces over on Big Blogger, where I have now made it through to the final four. The most recent task: to describe your greatest irrational fear, and to devise a means of overcoming it. I could have written for the next two weeks solid on that subject alone. Cognitive behavioural therapy: who needs it?

There will also be a few more Consequences posts, as I’m allowing everyone a maximum of two each, and a couple of people have yet to make their debuts. Good, aren’t they? I do love the sensation of checking my own blog for updates. Saves on travel expenses.

Incidentally, Austria was surprisingly lovely. This was the first time, in seven countries and maybe as many as thirty business trips, where the client has taken the time and trouble to take me out for the evening. Much appreciated, that was. And not only that: because we got through the work so efficiently, I ended up having a few hours to spare in the afternoon. So what did the client do, but take the afternoon off and show me round Vienna? I particularly loved the Schloss Schönbrunn: full-on Viennese old-school style, which straddled the divide between magnificence and kitsch to marvellous effect.

I think I know why I liked Vienna so much. It was like Germany, but with a key added ingredient: style and elegance. And quite the friendliest people I have ever worked with, even if I could barely understand a word of their Austrian dialect. Why, I even enjoyed my Wiener Schnitzel. They’re actually quite nice! Who knew?

Oh, but I’m rambling. Filling in time before the bell rings. Can you tell?

There might be a new podcast this afternoon, but it’s looking less likely now that I have to make an emergency appointment with the dentist. (One of my crowns has wiggled loose, and I’m scared of morphing into Worzel Gummidge halfway through the holiday.)

Come on, Mike. Pull the plug. The holidays are here!

(Do go and read my Big Blogger posting, though. It’s much better than this one.)

24 July 2005: task 11: a tale for the little ones.


Once upon a time, not so very long ago, fifteen people went to live in a big house. They hailed from all across the land: from north and south, east and west. Some of them even came from far off places, like Belgium and Portugal. Some were young, and some were old. Some were quiet, and some were noisy. Some were serious, and some were silly. But all were here for one reason: to play a big game, in front of thousands and thousands of people.

The house was owned by a great big giant, and a lively little pixie. The giant’s name was Big Blogger. He wore big boots which went CLUMP, CLUMP, and he spoke VERY LOUDLY, in a deep voice which echoed all around the house. No one ever saw Big Blogger, but they could always hear his boots going CLUMP, CLUMP, and they knew that he was always watching them.

The pixie’s name was Little Blogger. He was a funny little fellow in a green cape, with green stockings, and a pointy green hat with a bell on the end. Little Blogger was always smiling and dancing. At first, everyone thought he was their friend. But he could also be very strict, and make up all sorts of rules on the spot, and so people soon learnt to be careful with him.

The oldest person in the house was called Peter. He had silver hair and a long white beard, and was very wise. Because he was so old, he had to stay in bed for most of the day. He could be a bit grumpy sometimes, but everyone who knew him said that he had a heart of gold. Peter had a lot of favourite sayings, like “I shouldn’t be sitting here talking to you like this”, and “You couldn’t make it up”.

But Peter didn’t stay long in the house. And here’s the reason why.

One of the rules of the game was called Doing The Tasks. This meant that every time Big Blogger or Little Blogger asked the housemates to do something, they all had to obey.

The first task was easy. Everyone had to say hello to the others, and tell them a little bit about themselves. Everyone enjoyed this task.

The second task was more difficult, and also rather naughty. Everyone had to write a letter to the Queen, saying they had seen something called a Dodo in the garden.

“But there’s no such thing as a Dodo!” the housemates cried.

“WE KNOW”, said Big Blogger, in his deep, booming voice. “BUT YOU’VE GOT TO PRETEND YOU’VE SEEN A DODO ANYWAY.”

The housemates all looked nervously at each other. Wasn’t that fibbing? Wouldn’t the Queen be cross? But as they were all a little scared of Big Blogger, they all got out their notepads and pens, and started scribbling their letters.

All except for one person.

Heaving a big sigh, Peter climbed out of bed, with a dark look on his face. Standing in the middle of the bedroom, he spoke to the invisible giant.

“Big Blogger, I know you can hear me! All the other housemates may be scared of you, but I am old and wise, and I am scared of nobody. Now, listen to me. Fibbing is wrong! And you can’t make me do it! So I’m not going to write your silly letter!”

“HOW DARE YOU DISOBEY ME?” bellowed Big Blogger – so loudly that the walls shook, and the teacups rattled, and all the housemates screamed in terror.

Except for Peter, who just stood there and shook his fist.


With these words, there was a loud bang, and an enormous puff of smoke. When the smoke cleared, Peter had vanished.


One of the other housemates, a shy fellow called Grocerjack, was so scared that he never spoke again. Instead, he just hid in a corner with his thumb in his mouth, shivering and shaking.

Another rule of the game was called The Public Vote. Every week, all the thousands and thousands of people who were watching the housemates in the outside world had to choose two people to leave the house.

At the end of the first week, the people were asked to vote. They chose someone called Dr Rob, and someone called Mr Hair.

Dr Rob was the chattiest of all the housemates. Morning, noon and night, you would always find Dr Rob talking. If nobody was around, then he would talk to himself instead. The other housemates called this “wibbling”.

Some people loved listening to Dr Rob. “He’s so funny!” they said. “We love Dr Rob and his wibbling!”

But other people got very cross. “Why does Dr Rob have to talk all the time?” they muttered. “We can’t understand what he’s saying, and he’s giving us a headache. Goodness, we do wish Dr Rob would shut up!”

And so Dr Rob lost the public vote, because all the cross people with headaches ganged up against him.

Nobody quite knows why they voted for Mr Hair, but some say it was because they thought “Mr Hair” was a silly name, as Mr Hair actually had very, very short hair.

Dr Rob and Mr Hair packed their bags, and were just saying goodbye to the housemates, when Little Blogger skipped into the house, whistling a cheery tune.

“Stop!” cried Little Blogger. “Haven’t you noticed? Grocerjack has already left the house. Big Blogger and I kicked him out for not saying anything.”

The housemates looked at each other, and shrugged. Who was Grocerjack? None of them had ever spoken to him, and so everyone had forgotten all about him.

“Now, who is the most popular person in the house?”

Everyone turned and looked at a handsome young man in a beautiful hat, called Mike.

“We like Mike!” the housemates said. “He’s clever and handsome, and he cheers you up when you’re feeling sad, and he always washes all the pots and pans after lunch, and puts them away neatly.”

“Mike, come here. As the most popular person in the house, you must save one of the housemates from eviction. Who is it to be? Dr Rob or Mr Hair?”

Mike frowned. Not wanting to choose between his two friends, he shut his eyes and thought.

Dr Rob is certainly very noisy, he thought. But maybe he will learn his lesson now, and stop talking all the time. So I shall give him a chance to mend his wibbling ways. Besides, “Mr Hair” really is a very silly name.

“I choose Dr Rob!” declared Mike.

“No!” gasped all Mr Hair’s friends in the outside world, and all the cross people with headaches.

“Yes!” squealed Dr Rob. “I am saved! People must have found me boring, so that’s why they voted for me. In that case, I’m must stop being so quiet next week. Yes, I really do think it’s time I opened my mouth!”

As Dr Rob wandered off into the garden, chattering excitedly to himself, Mike wondered if he had made the right decision after all.

A few days later, a housemate called Gordon slipped out of the house very quietly in the middle of the night, walking on tiptoes so as not to wake anyone.

A few later, a learned gentleman called Vicus Scurra also left the house. “I am a learned gentleman!” he wailed. “But every time I try to talk about learned things, they all giggle and jump in the pool! I cannot live with such stupid people any longer!”

With two people already gone, the next Public Vote was cancelled. “Boo!” said the viewers. “We keep voting, but that noisy Dr Rob is still giving us a headache!”

In the meantime, a crafty housemate called Clair had disappeared into the garden shed, where she stayed for a whole week.

“What is she doing in there?” the housemates wondered.

When Clair came out of the shed, she had a proud expression on her face. “I’ve invented something!” she said. “It’s a new kind of cocktail shaker! But now I’m very tired from all the inventing, and I must lie down.”

Clair was so tired that she slept for two whole days, and missed the next task. So Big Blogger ordered her to leave. On the same day, Dr Rob was finally voted out by the public.

“I don’t understand!” he sobbed. “Was it something I said?”

Next week, two more housemates were voted out: a ruddy-cheeked scallywag called JonnyB, and a pretty girl in a bikini called The Girl. All the Daddys watching the game were sorry to see The Girl go, while all the Mummys gave each other secret little smiles.

That left just six housemates. Clever, handsome, popular Mike, in his beautful hat. An elegant lady (with a bit of a cough) called Miss Mish, who wore the finest gowns, spun from the purest silk. A funny lady from Belgium called Zoe, who sometimes got a bit tipsy, and wore a glittering tiara. A famous artist from Portugal called Vitriolica, who could draw brilliant cartoons if you asked her nicely. A man with a beard called Alan, (with his puppet circus, “Team Wiggle”) – and his oldest friend in the whole wide world, a mysterious lady called NML.

Who would be next to go? Who would stay to the final week of the game? Who would win?

But that, my children, is quite another story.

29 July 2005: task 12: irrational fears, and how to overcome them.

Pick an irrational fear, you say? What, just the one? Blimey, toughest task yet!

For I speak as one who sometimes feels as if their entire existence is predicated upon irrational fears, of many and various hues. Honestly, you don’t know the half of it.

All my greatest fears centre around attempting any form of forward motion which doesn’t involve me placing my feet directly on the ground. Swimming, cycling, driving, skating, ski-ing: these all terrify me. (OK, I’ve never actually tried ski-ing. But I can hazard a reasonable guess.) Hell, even chuffing pogo sticks scare me. In fact, the only exceptions I can think of are donkeys, tricycles and space hoppers. None of which get you very far in today’s fast-moving modern world.

However, I don’t intend to talk about any of these fears today. Firstly, I have already covered similar ground elsewhere. Secondly, I am demob-happy at the prospect of a fortnight’s holiday (starting in less than two hours’ time), and am thus in no mood for cathartic purging. (Besides, we did enough of that two tasks ago.)

And thirdly: I’m not convinced that these fears are truly irrational. Because to me, they make perfect sense. I have a terrible sense of balance, lousy bodily co-ordination, a shockingly weak grasp of speed and distance, the concentration span of a sorry where I am again, oh is this Big Blogger, sorry, miles away. So, you see, I baulk at any activity where there is not just a significant possibility, but a very real probability, that I will hurt myself. Or physically wound myself. Or die.

Or at the very least, look like a total arse and get laughed at, or shouted at, or even worse, patronised. (“Come on Mike! You’re doing really well!”)

So let us instead turn to a fear which is truly irrational. It’s my fear of not being completely up-to-date with developments in contemporary popular music, at all times.

I mean, come on, I’m forty-three. So why is it vital that I know what the forthcoming Girls Aloud single sounds like? Or that I can Form A Position on Hard-Fi, Malcolm Middleton and Clor? Or slag off James Blunt, Jack Johnson and KT Tunstall from an informed viewpoint? Or at least bluff my way through the elementary foothills of grime, crunk, micro-house, reggaeton and Rio baile funk? It’s not exactly dignified, is it?

Yeah yeah, I know: John Peel was still doing at at 60. But he had a job to perform, and hence a solid rationale for maintaining his passion. I’m just playing catch-up for catch-up’s sake. And besides, who am I trying to impress with all this surfeit of knowledge, most of which I am obliged to keep to myself for fear of boring my friends to tears? (Sometimes, I even catch myself pretending to hesitate before answering a music-related question, just so that I don’t look too geeky.)

Further evidence for the prosecution: earlier in the week, I spent the entirety of a two-hour train journey flicking through a specially created playlist on my iPod, containing every track issued on Word magazine’s free cover-mounted CDs since last Autumn. Despite the fact that these are probably the dullest series of CDs ever marketed, being almost nothing but a wall-to-wall beige slop of “adult contemporary” timidity and cripplingly limited ambition, I still couldn’t risk the possibility that, buried somewhere amongst them, there might be a decent track by a new act which I might otherwise have missed.

And there was, as well. But was it really worth two hours of tedium to excavate a couple of nuggets of goodness, when I could instead have been listening to music which I actually liked? And will these newly excavated nuggets actually enrich my life in any meaningful way at all? Will they heck as like.

So. Apparently, I am also required to devise some sort of cure for this fear.

There can be only one.

Cold turkey.

Because I’ve got enough to see me out, you see. Even listening to every track on my iPod, twenty-four hours a day, would take about a month – and the iPod is only the tip of the iceberg. So, perhaps it would be wise not to acquire any new stuff until I was word-perfect on all the old stuff. Which in itself would be a lifetime’s work.

Nah, who am I trying to kid? I mean, come on, the new Goldfrapp and the new Super Furry Animals are out on the 22nd, and I still haven’t heard all the artists on this year’s Mercury Music Prize shortlist, and…

By our irrational fears do we define ourselves. And I’m clinging tightly onto mine.


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