Friday, 20 December 2013


Well, dear reader(s), this is it. This is my last blog. After a year documenting the minutes and minutiae of my life (putting the chronic in chronicles), I am hanging up my metaphorical pen and signing off as a blogger. The time has come to dedicate all my creative energy to my increasingly hectic day job as the nation's favourite freelance copywriter - and there’s something pleasingly circular about finishing up before Christmas, having started this blog back in early January. There may not be so much as a hint of Lindt or a soupçon of Suchard over the next fortnight, but there will be excessive amounts of cheese-eating and general vegetation, and quite frankly, I can’t be arsed thinking of clever puns and wordplays to entertain you over the festivities. Although did you know that Gary Numan is 13 days older than Gary Oldman? That’s my Fact of 2013, that is. I mean, like, dude, and stuff, you know.

Writing a blog has been fun, but because my working weeks are so jam-packed nowadays, it’s increasingly eating into my spare time. These precious moments could otherwise be spent planning my wedding, learning German, building up my Twitter following or maintaining my frankly obsessive knowledge of modern and classic cars. So that’s what I’m going to do from now on. In a year’s time, I’ll be a married bilingual twat who can spot a Dacia at a hundred paces. If I’m completely honest, it’s also becoming difficult to write new posts without revealing too much about myself – I’m fundamentally a private person, so blogging at all is slightly counter-intuitive. If I’m blogging for much longer, I’ll end up recounting the story about the drug dealer’s girlfriend…

As a final parting gift to a grateful and tearful world, I have decided not to delete my blog, but rather to leave it online. It will thus form a permanent shrine to my sheer talent with a keyboard (move over, Rick Wakeman), and also in case anyone stumbles upon it who might want to give me a lucrative job blogging for a newspaper or magazine. That way, future generations can marvel at my use of the Oxford comma, the deft deployment of parenthesis, and the occasional indulgent inclusion of past participles. Also, any Johnny-come-latelys can read my considered ramblings about the failings of the NHS (‘Wait and bleed’), the threat of militant feminism (‘Here comes the monster’), abused apostrophes (‘Mr Writer’), and why some Lanarkshire towns have to have self-repairing infrastructure (‘Welcome to the jungle’). By the way, if you spotted that all these blog titles are also the names of rock and metal songs, well done – you would have my eternal respect if I knew who you were.

In the immortal words of Dave Mustaine, one thousand times goodbye. And if you actually are the commissioning editor of Shortlist or GQ, gissajob. Go on…

Thursday, 28 November 2013

The separation of church and skate

It occurred to me last night, in a brief moment of relative tranquillity, that I haven’t written a blog for ages. Admittedly, my devoted followers (hi again, Stuart) haven’t had to wait as long for my latest post as the many fans of my fiancé’s work – after six posts in one month, her blog been a graveyard of ambition since early September. I’d love to say that our increasing bloglessness is due to our whirlwind social life and endless bouts of sex. So I will say that. It’s up to you whether or not you believe me…

Anyway, my neglected Blogspot profile can also be attributed to a lack of time. The weeks are running away with me at the moment – November has gone by so quickly I haven’t had time to cultivate a moustache (i.e. it grew so slowly that I gave up after a fortnight and shaved it off), and suddenly December is looming large like an obese knitwear manufacturer. My day job as an award-winning copywriter™ is the most hectic it’s been all year, our social lives really have been populous of late, and the other minutiae of daily life has collectively gobbled up most of the free time I previously had to rage about things that don't fully push my buttons and leave me partly depressed.

The scary thing about this accelerated passage of time is how quickly far-off events are now approaching. In four weeks’ time, I’ll be emptying the contents of Santa’s sack all over the living room floor. In four months, I’ll be married. And ten months from now, I could be living in a disintegrating country, depending on the results of next autumn’s independence referendum. For anyone who’s been living under a rock since 2011, Scotland is considering packing its bags and walking out on its three siblings, boldly making its own way in the world after 307 years of grumbling co-existence. Quite how the separation of these conjoined nations would work in practice is currently unclear, despite this week’s publication of a 670-page independence manifesto that claims to have all the answers, while actually posing far more questions than it resolves. Regardless of the endless waffling and posturing by both pro- and anti-independence camps, it’s come as an unwelcome shock to realise quite how close this potentially seismic vote actually is.

Although I’ve just used the word seismic, in reality, I doubt it’s going to be much of a surprise. Despite my famed inability to predict anything correctly (especially the EuroMillions numbers, or who will be voted off MasterChef this week), I am slightly tempted to break my self-imposed lifetime gambling ban and place a tenner on a decisive No vote. I only know one person intending to vote Yes next September, as opposed to 30 implacable No voters. And I’m not talking here about 30 Union Jack-waving pro-monarchy Westminster apologists, or 30 Subaru-driving shotgun owners, or 30 Guardian-reading tofu-munching left-wing ALF pinko freaks who knit their own muesli and smoke things that make them happy and anxious at the same time. I’m talking about a representative cross-section of society – entrepreneurs, suburban housewives, office workers and pensioners alike. As bettable events go, the Scottish independence referendum is the most one-sided two-horse race I’ve seen since One-Legged Jack O'Hopper tried to win an arse-kicking content against a quadriped from Chernobyl with double-jointed knees and the ability to levitate. So, that’ll be a decisive Yes vote next September, then.

Anyway, at the rate time is passing, I should know by tomorrow morning whether I can look forward to billing G75 Media’s clients in pounds, Euros or groats, and whether my car will be searched by border guards at Gretna for contraband vegetables and people who say “yah”. It really makes you think. Or it would do if I actually had any time to think. Now please excuse me - I have 7,456,000,000 things to do before teatime. Which is an hour ago.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013


I have recently become a parent, in a manner of speaking. What I’ve actually done, in tandem with my fiancé, is adopt a cat. Now normally I wouldn’t dedicate a blog to waffling on about my personal life, because quite frankly, it would make you all feel jealous and inadequate. However, this story bears repeating, because I think everyone should experience the jolt that your life receives when an animal becomes part of the family.

I should stress at the outset that I’m hardly a shrinking violet when it comes to being responsible. However, our one-year old adoptee has just recovered from major surgery that prevented her from enjoying her youth properly. As a result, things like climbing and running around after toy mice appear to be new and exciting beyond measure. She is, in effect, a one year old semi-longhaired kitten, who wakes us up at 5am by licking our faces, and treats any limb unwarily extruding from a sofa or bed as a monster that needs to be bitten. Even in the middle of the fucking night.

It’s remarkable how many things in our lives have changed as a result of introducing a four-legged friend into the family. The windows stay shut to avoid the outraged yelping noise that invariably results when a cat unexpectedly descends twelve feet onto grass. Used butter knives go sharp-end-down into a mug, lest a little tongue be sliced in two while enjoying a tasty snack, rather than leaving said knife on the worktops in the hope that wind erosion will clean it. Hairs turn up in the most unexpected of places, and I have never spent so much time anxiously looking at curtains as I have done in the last month. Then there’s our new entry procedure when arriving home, which involves inching the front door open before squeezing through sideways and shouting “back back back”, in an attempt to prevent escapology acts. It’s quite a challenge with four shopping bags in your hands, but the neighbours must find it hilarious, and the cat probably quite enjoys it too.

Life has just got a whole lot harder, and I’m only able to type this now because I spent the last hour creating monsters out of straws, tinfoil and various other mundane household objects that apparently adopt magical qualities when viewed through a cat’s unblinking eyes. I’m tired and a bit scratched, our formerly pristine home has disappeared under a fine layer of brightly-coloured toys, and the cat has six times as many beds to choose from as we do. But despite all these sacrifices on the altar of Bastet (Google it), I reckon everyone in the land should adopt a cat, or a dog, or a rabbit, if they can offer it a decent home. I haven’t laughed as much in years, playing monsters is brilliant fun when you’re not half-asleep, and there is something quite wonderful about everyone settling down for a kip at the end of a long evening.

If you already have a pet, you'll know what I mean. And if you don’t, you really should.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

More life in a tramp’s vest

As a well-travelled chap, I have recently returned from visits to London and Middlesbrough. Not locations that are commonly bandied about in the same sentence, unless they’re abridged by the words “is much better than”. However, I do believe the planners and architects of Glasgow, my beloved home city, could learn a thing or two from both places. Yes, even Middlesbrough.

London is a very big place, so it stands to reason that its landmarks are far more landmark-y than might be expected in Glasgow. From the 63rd floor of the Shard, you can admire buildings as diverse as Westminster, the Tower of London, the Gherkin and the Walkie Talkie. (Incidentally, did you know that the French for walkie-talkie is talkie-walkie? Made me laugh for ages, that did, and I don’t even know why.) Anyway, I am not suggesting that Glasgow should become home to phallic skyscrapers or 11th-century prisons. What I am suggesting is that Glasgow should borrow some of the architectural ideas seen elsewhere in this country, because there are critical errors needing to be corrected in our city’s fabric.

Consider Harley Street. Forget about the presence of the London Leech Therapy Clinic, or psychologists who charge £395 per hour to nod sagely while listening to your first-world woes, and instead look up beyond those buffed brass door plaques. These elegant four-storey terraces sport substantial front doors, simple rooflines and railings a few feet from each elevated ground floor window. It’s a brilliant streetscape that would work equally well in contemporary materials, and I am absolutely convinced that if buildings of this calibre were created in Glasgow, they would walk out of the sales suite. It worked for the Georgians, and they didn’t even have Cat5E cabling or rainfall showers.

Which brings me onto the rather less evocative setting of Middlesbrough. I have a real soft spot for this place, even though it’s a bit rough and industrial, because I appreciate the fact that Middlesbrough’s town planners didn’t try to run before they could walk. The skyline is low-rise, because there was no need to economise on land by building upwards. The grid-pattern streetscape actually works better than it does in Glasgow, because (if you ignore the dockside districts), there is far less wasteland or brownfield than you might expect. There is greater harmony in the choice of building materials, and it feels like the place is actually finished, regardless of whether or not you like the end product.

Now contrast this with Glasgow, where entire swathes of the east end lie empty and overgrown, often because land has been zoned exclusively for housing associations with no interest in actually building anything. Travel along Gallowgate, Carntyne Road, Duke Street or even London Road, and there are regular expanses of scrubland where tenements or factories once stood – gaping holes in Glasgow’s welcoming smile. It’s an absolute sin, and it’s an issue throughout the city – Balmore Road in the north, Pollokshaws Road in the south, and even Beith Street in the west end, which borders Byres Road, for God’s sake. We have more land than we know what to do with, so why are we sanctioning housebuilding on the edge of the city, in places like Whitlawburn and Newton? Where’s the sense in building 18-storey residential towers at Glasgow Harbour when the land immediately west of it is undeveloped? Why aren’t builders being incentivised to construct quality dwellings on these desolate spots, when there’s a housing shortage and particularly high demand for new homes?

If I won the Euro Millions lottery, I would set up a property company and start planning elegant terraces of high-ceilinged tenements for as many of these gap sites as I could. Combine traditional aesthetics with modern specifications, engineer in good soundproofing and secure off-street parking, and residents would flock into areas that are currently little more than urban wastelands. It’s a guaranteed money-spinner and it would fill in all the missing pieces of Glasgow’s urban jigsaw, making this the city it should be rather than the (incomplete) city it currently is. Now all I need to do to realise this Utopian vision is actually win the Euro Millions. Can anyone lend me £2 for a ticket? I promise I’ll pay you back in full within 48 hours of striking the jackpot…

Wednesday, 16 October 2013


You might have read in the papers recently that a young Welshman called Gareth was offered a fairly high-profile new job a few weeks ago. He wasn’t sure whether to take it, since it involved relocating abroad, but the monthly salary of £1.11 million was enough to swing his decision. His old employers were paid an £86 million lump sum by his new ones, and everyone ended up happy. Actually, that’s not true. The only really happy people were Gareth, his representatives, and the owners of the two respective businesses, one of whom now has loads of money to re-invest, while the other is planning a marketing campaign in the Far East to cash in on Gareth’s new-found celebrity.

Gareth, you see, is pretty good at his job – in fact, he’s acclaimed far and wide for his talents. So much so that his £256,000 a week salary is earned for roughly a 25-hour week, including around three hours of high-profile work in the community. He also gets lots of additional revenue for his image rights, which is a bonus in every sense when you’re not exactly a looker, and Gareth also has some new friends with whom he can party during his extensive amounts of free time. Indeed, there’s more free time than even Gareth expected, because much of the time, his talents are deemed surplus to requirements, and he’s told to stay at home while other people do his job.

If you re-read those opening paragraphs and think of Gareth as a consultant, or a solicitor, or a motivational speaker, or pretty much any career imaginable, it seems utterly obscene that someone can be paid so well for effectively a part-time job, particularly when the country he’s moved to is Spain, with 56 per cent youth unemployment and a rapidly contracting economy. However, as the more astute of you will already know, young Gareth earns his crust by kicking a plastic sphere into an onion bag strung between three pieces of fibreglass, and he is therefore apparently worth every penny.

Fucking disgusting, isn’t it? The problems and poverty that exist in the world today, and Spurs get £86 million for selling a midfielder to Real Madrid. But that’s the hyper-inflated bubble of football. While you and I balance our cheque books each month and battle to live within our means, the football elite get to enjoy a real-life Brewster’s Millions – every weekly salary of £100,000 or £150,000 needing to be spent on something. The problem is, though, when you’ve already bought an eight-bedroom mansion in Alderley Edge and filled its quadruple garage with Ferraris and Bentleys, what else do you do with your cash?

Well, drugs are out for a start. RDTs and Diego Maradona have put paid to that. Prostitutes are risky, especially now the whole super-injunction thing has been cruelly exposed by Twitter. You could buy more houses in Alderley Edge, but since all your team-mates and players from several other clubs are competing to do the same, that’s not really viable. Foreign holidays are a limited commodity when you only have every second summer off (and even then you often end up doing overtime in China or America), and there aren’t many yachts that can fit up the Manchester ship canal. Your wife would probably love to go on high-end shopping sprees, but even a Victoria Beckham dress is priced in the upper hundreds rather than the thousands, so that’s not going to empty your bank account. Maybe artworks hold the answer, but since most footballers couldn’t tell a Canaletto from a Cornetto, that’s probably not going to happen.

All of which makes me wonder why more footballers don’t use their astronomical wages to do some good in a world that’s clearly desperate for their assistance and cash. A notable few do their best – and quite often the players you’d least expect. Uber-merker Rio Ferdinand funds various charitable initiatives in his childhood suburb of Peckham, while Cardiff’s nutter-with-a-putter Craig Bellamy has a truly heart-warming footballing foundation set up in Sierra Leone for children who wear rags and live in mud huts.

Sadly, these are the glorious exceptions to the inglorious rule. For the most part, the money in football is raised from Sky subscribers, given to football clubs, lavished on player wages and then…what? What do they do with it? Where does it go? How many billions are sloshing around in offshore tax havens, unspent and pretty much unwanted? And, most depressingly of all, how much further does this bubble inflate before it bursts, leaving people like Gareth earning less than ten times as much in one week as the average British worker earns in a year?

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

State of the world address

I’m not going to go on a hate-filled rant about cheese today, or spend six paragraphs discussing why Rise Against are better than Enter Shikari. Instead, I’m going to make some serious points about something that could change our lives if we’d only let it – working from home.

Every major population centre in the UK experiences gridlock and mayhem on its roads for several hours each weekday, as increasingly ignorant motorists vent their frustration on everyone around them. The trains are crowded, slow and unreliable, while the Glasgow subway is a rattly old shitbox and London’s glossier alternative is simply too crowded to function properly at rush hour. Meanwhile, buses are grubby and erratic stab labs - the last time I was on a bus, the windows got bricked. Clearly, commuting isn’t working in this country. So why do so many of us do it?

Putting aside road accidents or the wrong kind of air around train tracks, most congestion builds up during the ever-lengthening “rush hour” periods because too many commuters are trying to get to (or out of) one place at the same time. Remove the need for everyone to channel their way into overcrowded employment zones, and the sea of people will melt into a more manageable river of humanity. The simplest, most obvious way to achieve this (other than everyone working different hours, which would be a logistical nightmare) is to allow employees to work from home.

When you think about it, home working is potentially a cure for many of the nation’s ills. It offers us the chance to save vast amounts of time, reduce the horrific burden on public transport, lower the numbers of road traffic accidents while cutting pollution and congestion, save everybody pots of money, and create happier staff who will take less stress days (which is now the biggest cause of workplace absenteeism, lest we forget). The time and money saved by not commuting can be redirected to people’s loved ones, so families would benefit and children could become happier than they are in their current latchkey states. Meanwhile, employers would benefit from greater staff productivity, workplace satisfaction and employee retention rates, not to mention smaller offices that in turn save money on overheads.

Obviously, home-working can’t be applied to all jobs – someone has to drive the Mr Kipling cakes to Morrisons, and doctors certainly shouldn’t video-conference an oncology consultation - but most companies will have a percentage of staff who could be based at home either part-time or full-time. Do graphic designers need to be in large city centre offices? Couldn’t call-centre workers operate from home if their employers paid the phone bill? Why are middle managers forced to attend meetings when teleconferencing is now a practical alternative? I spent ten years driving across Scotland to sit at a desk and email documents to people in the next room – now I do it from home and save a fortune on petrol.

This, then, is a direct appeal to any managers or directors who are reading this blog. Why not try letting your employees work from home? Set them work-related targets each Monday, keep in regular contact using the panoply of modern communication methods available nowadays, and if the targets have all been met by Friday teatime, it’s working in every sense of the word. Alternatively, if they end up watching Loose Women and the targets are missed, bring them back to the fold, discipline them, or sack them – they’re probably on Twitter all day in the office anyway. Do the whole country a favour, and start alleviating the rush hour misery that your outdated employment policies are inflicting on society. You know it makes sense.

Right, that’s enough seriousness. Next time I’ll explain why cheese slices are better than heroin.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Bring it back to the streets

I have an addiction. It’s one of those shameful secrets that quietly festers away, like the embarrassing itch that comes from drunken sex behind a skip. It started off as a harmless bit of fun, but it’s become far more demanding than that. I’m increasingly making excuses to be alone, to indulge my habit, but if I’m honest, I can’t get enough these days. Enough, as a concept, doesn’t really cut it. Loads more, however – well, that can keep me going for hours, while my fiancé sleeps on obliviously in the next room.

What is this obsession, I hear you cry? Is it midget porn? Cocaine? Kraft Cheesy Pasta? No. It is [takes a deep breath] Google Street View. Hi, my name’s Neil, and I’ve got a problem.

Google Street View rose to public prominence a few years ago because a handful of waddling fatties objected to being shown ramming pasties down their throats five yards from the front door of their nearest Greggs. Infringement of privacy, could be having an affair, you can see my psoriasis, blah blah blah. After the fatties had their faces pixellated, everyone seemed to forget about the whole thing. But it’s still out there. And as a means of seeing the world and learning about places on a street-by-street, house-by-house basis, GSV is quite simply peerless. You can zoom in with excruciating clarity, to discover the weeds discreetly poking out of untended gutters, or the group of youths lurking with nefarious intent in the underpass. You can check out what sort of cars people drive on a particular street, and no piece of graffiti is safe from that 360-degree camera, which can go anywhere the tarmac permits.

I started using GSV through my job as a property journalist – it’s a marvellous way to learn about a street you’ve never been to, when you’re writing about a house that’s for sale there. However, the sheer scale of the Street View project has allowed it to take over more and more of my free time, as I obsessively ‘drive’ the wrong way up one-way streets in towns I might like to live in, or towns where I used to live, or work, or drink cider, or towns where my friends used to live, or ex-girlfriends, or basically anyone and anything. You don’t need a reason when you’ve got a broadband connection.

I urge any children reading this to avoid Google Street View – it’s crack for the eyeballs. I’m a hopeless addict now, and I’ll probably always be battling some craving to see what Old Bellsdyke Road in Larbert looks like now that metal storage container has been removed. (Did I mention that GSV gets updated quite frequently?) It’s too late for me, but you can still save yourselves. Just say no…