Monday, May 30, 2005

I unwrap my presents.

"Pants!!!" I cry, delightedly. "New pants!!!"

Honestly, it is the best birthday ever. I have been given a set of four (including one free, which is a good bargain) 'briefs' by my in-laws, who like me very much and weren't at all disappointed, suicidal etc. when I got together with the LTLP.

They are extra large in size, which is better for the health of your testicles, and different colours so I can mix and match depending on what else I am wearing of a day.

"I thought," explains the LTLP, "that you could now chuck out some of those old pairs."

I give her a suspicious glance, like a man who has just come downstairs in the morning to find a giraffe in his front room watching Channel 4.

The LTLP has a track record in trying to get me to upgrade perfectly good items of clothing. I do not wish to wear tatty pants every day, but there is a time and a place, and if you wear old pairs occasionally (if you are not going out, or your vegetables are not due for delivery) then you save wearing out your new ones and can keep them for best.

We discuss this, but she is not on receive mode, and rolls her eyes a lot.

When we toured round New Zealand I took a lot of old pairs of pants with me, and instead of having to wash them, I just left a pair in every town. That meant I did not need to carry them home on the plane, and was a good use for old pants. I might decide to go to New Zealand again at some point, and would not want to throw away good pairs.

I open the rest of my presents (3) and scuttle upstairs to put my pants away in my pants drawer. If I press them down really firmly it just shuts.

Friday, May 27, 2005

I have been de-moled!!!

To recap:

When I had my little issue with the rabbits (now resolved), I was quite happy to shoot them. This, I explained in various emails to appalled rabbit-lovers, was because I would then cook them and eat them.

I am not sure why I expected this to mollify or reassure appalled rabbit-lovers.

But my point was that I'd have felt bad otherwise. Killing something just because it messes up your garden a bit seems a little harsh. But I have no problem with killing for food. Otherwise I'd have to be a vegetarian. And I couldn't be a vegetarian because I really, really enjoy meals that don't just consist of vegetables.

Except chips. And jacket potatoes with cheese and beans. And foie-gras.

So I felt a bit bad about the mole. But it had reached the point of no return.

I can't eat mole. I am a red-blooded male, but I can't eat mole. I don't know how you would have it. I guess spatchcocked on the barbecue, or maybe just chucked in the blender then into a milkshake.

But the mole was sort of commuting between our gardens, and had been digging more furiously than Ron Atkinson on the comeback trail.

Keith gave us some advice. He is a local man and drives a van, so should know what he's talking about. Apparently it's no use trying to bash a mole on the head with your spade. What you have to do, is dig in beside it, then flick it out of the ground into the air. As it lands, you then hit it on the half-volley through the covers.

Let's not go into details. All I can say is that I hope Short Tony has a clear conscience. He is clearly a very evil man.

In the afterlife he is going to be really in the poo if he turns up and God is not a man with a beard at all but a HUGE GREAT BIG FUCK OFF MOLE.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

I am sort of guesting today, being part of A Free Man in Preston's super but everso slightly sinister dream sequence.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

I did not write anything yesterday, in solidarity with the other important journalists who were on strike.

Thinking about it, I should have posted a repeat.

This piece of writing has lots in common with the BBC, being supplied to you high-quality and advert-free. Admittedly, I don't do a £500,000 redesign every six months or employ twelve people to analyse the site stats and produce glossy reports, and the comments don't all begin 'why oh why' and aren't moderated by Anne Robinson, but aside from that it is pretty well exactly the same.

It is an anxious time for our national broadcaster. There are arguments that it is not worth funding, as the commercial sector can produce telly programmes that are just as good. People who point to the dumb stuff on ITV like 'Celebrity Love Island' are just being selective. The hard-hitting 'Tonight with Trevor McDonald' is a case in point, plus they did that 'Brideshead Revisited' thirty years ago.

But I do have a bit of a problem with them in that our local news broadcast that they put on at the end of the real bulletin is actually local news from Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.

For some reason, we cannot get the Norfolk news. And we cannot get digital because the church tower is in the way. This is the reality of the digital divide. There is only one thing more dull than the local news bulletin and that is somebody else's local news bulletin.

They should watch out. Because, with the onward march of technology, I would imagine that in about a year's time, this diary will actually be some form of web-based TV channel. Then people interested in Village events will get all the news they want, whenever they want it.

There will be adverts in it, of course, for organisations like the Village Shop and the Cheerful Builder. And it will probably not run all day, but I will buy in some cheap talk shows to run at other times.

There will be 'Celebrity Karaoke' from the pub next door. And 'Molewatch', with Bill Oddie. And live bowls (I could probably get Ron Atkinson on the cheap to commentate).

You might be sceptical but this is exactly how Sky started.

Monday, May 23, 2005

"That was rubbish," said the LTLP. "That was absolute crap."

I wasn't so sure, and gave the spacious lady from Malta a seven out of ten on my score sheet. That might seem quite high to you, but I work on a system of low expectations, where a ten out of ten in this particular exercise would be equivalent to about a three in any normal music environment.

Big A opened another bottle of wine.

The Village Eurovision Party is one of the highlights of the year. Just as in days gone past us country folk might have done maypole dancing or killed a pig, now we have new traditional rituals to bring a sense of cohesion to the community. We caught up with local gossip and news as some people from Turkey yabba-yabbad from the screen.

"All over the beer garden!!!"

"So what did you do?"

"Well Short Tony started discreetly covering it with earth, but there was so much there. So we tried to get her home, but..."

The shared experience of fellowship brought us together as we groaned at the voting. Just as the foreigners did not let us win the European Cup because we invaded Iraq, so the greasy racists made a point of voting for other countries and not us, despite the fact that we had the song that should have won because we are British.

"There are some people," I observed, "who are sad enough to sit at home and watch this tosh. Sad and lonely people with no taste. But a party is completely different, isn't it?"

A forest of heads nodded around the room.

"More wine?"

We settled down to watch the end of the results.

Partying away, all four of us.

Friday, May 20, 2005

I took my seat.

The train out of King's Cross was unusually busy. I adopted my usual foolproof strategy for ensuring that nobody sits next to me - I opened my broadsheet newspaper wide, placed a smelly-looking sandwich on the table in front of me and adopted the facial expression of a yob.

An American embarked. I knew he was an American because he had a big hat. He sat next to me.

I quite like American people. I know there are some anti-Americans who might have a go at them for their foreign policy, not doing the Kyoto thing etc., but if I meet an American person I do not expect them to take me personally to task for Ben Elton. And the jury's still out as to which of these has the potential to cause more long-term misery and despair.

He introduced himself, as one does on trains. I politely did likewise before returning to my newspaper.

"Is there a washroom on the train?" he asked.

I put down my newspaper and struggled with this, before giving the honourable reply. "If you've just come from Heathrow," I advised, "I would hate for the first impression of our country's sanitation to be the toilets on WAGN."

Once more I lifted my newspaper, this time in an extremely exaggerated 'look, I am reading my newspaper' type fashion.

He took this in good spirits and began asking me things. It was pointless to resist.

He was from Arizona, which made him a proper American, not like those plastic ones that you see on 'Friends' and stuff. I explained that I'd always wanted to visit Arizona when I was a kid, because it sounded quite exciting, what with having a 'Z' in it. (This was before I visited Ashby-de-la-Zouch).

"Are we still in London, or is that an English village?" he asked (word-for-word) as we sped through Knebworth.

"And what are those?"

I spent ten minutes giving an interesting historical lecture on the English allotment movement, from wartime to present day.

"And that? Wow, that is lush."

I glowed with pride.

"It's a bowling green."

"A what?"

"A bowling green. Do you not play bowls in America? Like... lawn bowls? Where you have to get each bowling ball closest to the white ball?"

"Oh! Like the old folk play!" he laughed.

"Right," I said, in a very small voice.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The little bastards can read!!!

I wander out into the front garden to find the lawn pulverised by moles. A neat trail leads from under the fence - almost exactly where the sign was placed.

I stand with mouth agape. The front garden is my pride and joy. (I have low standards). Now it looks like Nagasaki after a drunken visit from Frank Spencer during the 1987 hurricane.

Furiously, I stomp down the tunnels, then prowl around for several minutes brandishing the nearest thing that lies to hand - a Stuart Surridge 333 Turbo signed personally by Graham Gooch who, in an ironic twist, does look a bit like a mole when you come to think about it.

Mr and Mrs Short Tony emerge and point and laugh a bit.

A couple of commenters the other day mentioned Jasper Carrott. I don't know much about the chap, but I guess he did some form of mole routine. Although as I understand it he comes from Birmingham, so unless moles have developed a penchant for burrowing through concrete in order to dig up the floors of high rise flats, I suspect he might have been making things up for comic effect.

That was unworthy. Forgive me Birmingham, I am cross and am not thinking straight.

This is deadly serious.

He will pay for this.

Monday, May 16, 2005

There is an unusual grunting noise!!!


I am busy working on Important Things, so I ignore it for the time being. Later on, I wander out to investigate.

A professional-looking sign has been erected in Short Tony's garden, staked into the lawn by the bushes.

Free Image Hosting at

I take a photo of it, for my interested readers, but I'm a bit rubbish at photography. It reads:


I shake my head in pity at his poor attempt at mole control. Then I catch a glance of a similar sign that has been erected in my own front garden.

Free Image Hosting at
(click image for larger version).

The man is losing it.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Peace surrounds the village.

I browse the newspaper in the oak-beamed womb of the lounge. The evening sun peeps over the birch trees and through the French windows as the last of the pink cherry blossom drip drips to the ground on the gentle breeze. Birdsong enters the cottage from front and back - blackbirds, robins, finches. There is an unusual grunting noise.

I look up from the paper.

"There is an unusual grunting noise," I remark to the LTLP.

She concurs.

I resume my study, but there is no sign of the unusual grunting noise abating. Eventually, I put down the paper and go to the window in annoyance.

Short Tony is in his front garden waving a spade around alarmingly.

He has a thundrous look about him, albeit short, ginger thunder. A look that, if seen in a newspaper photograph, would normally be accompanied by the caption: "Do not approach this man."

I hurry out the front, warning the LTLP to lock and bolt the door if things turn nasty. When I arrive, Short Tony is hammering his lawn with the back of the spade, like some music hall Basil Fawlty tribute act if they hadn't been able to afford an Austin 1100 and couldn't get hold of a big branch.

I keep a safe distance, just in case the police snipers are already positioned.

He looks up, briefly.

"This is the first..." [bash!] "bloody year..." [hammer!] "I've really spent some time..." [thwack!] "on this bloody front lawn..." [murderous blow!] "and..." [pound!]

He leans on the spade, exhausted. "And a bloody mole's dug it up."

I study his lawn, but not too closely in case he takes me hostage. Indeed, there are long mole-like tunnel diggings criss-crossing everywhere.

"Yes," I agree. "It has, hasn't it?"

I suspect that the time is not right for me to raise the possibility of there being humour in the situation. Instead, I make some sympathetic noises and withdraw back into the cottage.

"What's up?" asks the LTLP.

"Mole," I explain.

We continue reading the newspapers.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

"And honestly, I had him desperately running round the court in the lunchtime heat. You should have seen him after that."

"So what was the score then?"

"He won by two sets. But I was the moral victor. You should have seen him. Honestly. I was."

I am on the telephone to an old friend.

"Do you think," he ponders, "what with your writing about tennis, running and bowls, that you're - well - giving people the wrong impression a bit?"

"What do you mean?" I stammer.

"Well, let's face it. You weren't the most sporty person in the world at school, were you? And you've hardly got a Daley Thompson physique now."

I chuckle at his complete wrongness. "I am very fit now," I inform him, "and the womenfolk readers like to know that." I think some more. "Plus they know I've got a sensitive side what with writing about my Gran an' that."

The subject is changed and we talk some more. But I am troubled. Sometimes you think your friends know you, then find out that they don't know you at all, or anything about you. Your lives have drifted apart, and they haven't kept up with events, e.g. your new super fit body and fitness regime. They are lost within their own preconceptions of you. In fact they're just fucking ignorant. I expect he had actually got the wrong number and thought he was talking to somebody else, probably another friend of his who he went to school with and was fat and unpopular and no good at sport and couldn't get a girlfriend and had a really bad haircut.

That is quite easy to do with modern mobile phones.

I am a bit cross so I go for a run to calm down.

Run! Run! Run!

Up past the duckpond then right, past the spooky disused church. I pound the lanes joyously, like my hero Mr Singh, the 93-year-old marathon runner.

I get to the top of the hill, but something does not feel right. I have a horrible pain in my back, like something to do with my nerves. With each step it tightens up until I am in agony. For the first time ever, I have to stop.

I do some toe-touching (well, one toe-touch) which seems to help. But when I start running again the pain returns straight away. I stop again, but a lady walking a dog strolls in to view. I don't want to look foolish in front of her, so I do some exercisey-looking movements as she passes. "Afternoon!" she grins.

I wait for Lady With Dog to disappear before I attempt to jog again. No good. I am stranded miles from anywhere with some form of degenerative back condition. I stroll tenderly back towards the village, which is actually only about 500 yards away, and go into the pub for a pint.

This seems to help.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

A contraflow in the village!!!

I walk outside to find traffic lights outside my front gate. There is a tailback of one small car coming from the direction of the coast.

Behind some cones, two men dig a hole in the road. I study them suspiciously like the man in the Bernard Cribbins song.

They do not look like Al-Qaida, and being very English I do not ask to see their ID. They seem to be digging at a rate that might prompt an impatient poke in the ribs from Peter Ebdon. Another car joins the tailback. Soon we will have gridlock.

The electric traffic lights are highly exciting. Usually round here we have a man with a stop/go sign, but like so many people he has been automated out of existence, probably sent to retrain as a Golf Sale operative.

Either that or his job has been outsourced and there is a graduate chap in India standing with a sign in a reconstruction of an English country lane, turning it one way then another. It is a shame.

I walk to the Village Shop for my newspaper. I steal a glance into the hole as I pass. The labourer inside steals a glance back at me.

He knows that I am on to him.

Monday, May 09, 2005

My fence has been erected!!!

It was a nice day, and Short Tony was in his garden.

"Do you fancy," I offered, "giving me a hand to do the fence? I couldn't really do it on Wednesday, what with the hangover and vomiting and stuff."

100000 years ago, I'd knocked down the old rotten fence and bought a shiny new one with which to replace it. It was one of those easy fence systems that go up in the blink of an eye.

We commenced our building work in the midday sun.

I'm not sure why we bother to have a fence between our gardens. There's a great big gate in it, anyway. I think it's perhaps to keep Short Tony's smelly dog at bay. Short Tony owns the smelliest dog in the entire world. It honks. He claims that it used to be a guide dog, but I suspect that it was really bred by scientists at Porton Down.

By about three o'clock we had erected two fence panels. That was two hours to do the erecting, and one hour standing back from it, admiring our handiwork. I had also sneakily gained around two inches of garden.

Like any fencing professionals, we ensured the panels were slightly off the ground in order to prevent rot. As the man in charge of judging this I had some difficult calls to make: not such a big gap as to allow smelly chemical weapon dog through, but enough so that I could lay a trail of carrots round from the back and get rid of some rabbits.

The LTLP arrived home at 6:45. "That looks great!" she enthused, admiring our four completed panels.

By the time we finished it was getting cold and dark, and continental drift had gained me another two inches of garden. As I write, it is still standing, which is an achievement in anybody's book.

"Fancy a pint?" I asked.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

So my grandmother died.

Different from the last bereavement. No hammering grief, no enveloping remorse for stuff unsaid and things not done. Just a deep, deep sadness that sooner or later people just... stop. I've seen people ill before - I've never watched them literally dying. A Sunday-supplement features writer might knock off the phrase 'strangely beautiful' but it's not - it's fucking depressing and I don't want to see it again.

Is it acceptable to treat death with humour? Certainly the first draft ('My grandmother has died!!!') seemed inappropriate. But we all die. If it's amusing to humiliate people in the street for TV light entertainment, then I can't tread too carefully around such a universal experience. Humour, perhaps, but not light-hearted.

I suspect Gran was slightly disreputable at heart. By my understanding she grew up in a terribly 'proper' working-class environment; best china and a front room that was never, ever used. So what prompted her to bugger off to London to get a job? To become a pianist in a dance band? To marry a rough-and-ready Australian larrikin who at the time had only one leg?

(He lost the other one later on, it wasn't that the first one grew back).

And then Granddad became 'Mister Melbourne', cheerful host of what are now the Hampstead Tea Rooms, and graduated to some form of Arch-Grand-Wizard of the Masons, and they settled in to NW3 respectability. But I still can't square this with the lady who first got me pissed - standing there with a worried and slightly sheepish look on her face as I spewed cheap Majorcan sangria from my twelve year-old guts on day three of my first holiday away from my parents.

Later on in her long widowhood she moved back to my home town and became a Methodist, albeit a rubbish Methodist who had to hide the booze away whenever the vicar came to visit.

That was then.

At the end she was in hospital. I wanted her to die neither in pain nor in Basildon, but I suspect it couldn't have been better for her. It was gut-wrenching to see the nurse's eyes - an endless and genuine depth of care, affection and love as she adjusted the blanket and stroked Gran's hair. It hit me for six. She was quite fit as well. I'd be happy with that in a few years.

As people, we generally care for our elderly. As a society, we process them. We look back in a sort of horrified amusement to the way we treated kids in Dickensian times ('they sent them up chimneys!!!'). In two hundred years time, let's look back in the same way on comfortable but soulless care homes, inedible meals on wheels, abandonment to physical and mental decline and sticking them in a room with a telly to keep them amused.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

JonnyB’s Private Secret Diary advises its readers to vote for the UK Independence Party.

None of the three main parties have demonstrated that they can address the issues that affect the Village, and it is time to let somebody else have a go.

Granted, their policy on Europe is probably wrong. But, as Mr Blair says, it would be foolish to allow a single issue to sway us into which way we vote.

UKIP is worried about immigrants coming here to take advantage of our precious local jobs and scarce Norfolk housing. “Say No to Unlimited Immigration” urges the leaflet of their candidate, Mr Michael Stone, who relocated to this region a few years back.

I’m not entirely sure their policy's quite right here, either.

No – there is one reason why you must go out today and vote for UKIP. And that is, it will be so funny to see the look on Robert Kilroy-Silk’s face as he discovers that they are to form the next government without him.

With your help, this can be the best practical joke that has ever been played in the country, ever. You might think that it is going to a lot of trouble, electing a government for five years just to annoy a satsuma-faced nobody, but honestly - it will be worth it.

There will be a sort of fixed grin as the first results come in, and then a wave of desperation and mania as it filters through that they are going to win and that he could have been Prime Minister but threw the chance away by walking out on the party and going it alone. Then people will probably start shouting at him, and he will have to make a speech conceding defeat which will be well worth watching. Perhaps somebody else will throw pig manure at him. (note to lawyers, this is just me wondering, I am not trying to incite anybody to do an illegal act). (Gloucester Old Spot is probably best and has a deeper brown stain).

Look, I am always reading in the Guardian that bloggers are the most powerful people in the world today, ever. And if they can single-handedly win for Mr Bush then they can also do it here. So it is in your hands. If UKIP win today then I will know that the blogging phenomenon is credible and has finally come of age, and that as kingmaker I am the most powerful man really in the UK. (But I promise to use my power wisely and not for evil).

If they do not then I will know that you do not care and are really only interested in stories about getting drunk and jokes about poo.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Continued from yesterday.

The Conservatives have been puzzling.

I understood that they have some big hotshot Australian advising them on communication this time round. But they don't seem to be doing anything different on the marketing front. Once more, they have blown their entire budget on a heavyweight farmers fields campaign.

Surely - surely - in 2005 they must be able to think of some better way of engaging with young would-be voters than just putting 'vote Conservative' placards in farmers fields?

The Conservatives are the Ferodo Brake Pads of British politics. They have only one advertising strategy and, whilst Ferodo continues to enjoy excellent brand recognition amongst people who drive under railway bridges, neither organisation could be said to be in touch with the modern world.

The Liberal Democrats on the other hand, are big on leafleting. I got one the other day that was not reassuring. I quote: "Never again should we be taken into the Iraq war on false information manipulated by Tony Blair".

This is a bit alarming - I had no idea that we were planning to go into the Iraq war again, or even that we'd left it the first time round. I am also worried that the chap makes no promise about not re-entering WW2 or the Boer War. There is clearly a secret agenda here.

Mr Kennedy is not very good in debates. But perhaps this is a good thing. We have always defined a good leader by 'who would make the better arguer' and perhaps it is time for a change.

So who do we advise you, the readers of JonnyB's Private Secret Diary, to vote for?

Continued tomorrow

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The election campaign enters its final week, with the parties unveiling their last-ditch poster efforts (Labour: "All right. We're lying fuckers. But at least we're not those lying fuckers". Conservatives: "Don't forget, he killed that Dr Kelly").

And so it is the time when you will be looking for me to tell you how to vote.

This web log has readers from the widest ranges of the political spectrum. As I sit here writing about the big issues of the day, I like to think that in some small way I am as important as the United Nations and UNICEF and the BBC World Service in bringing society together. It is a responsibility that I take seriously.

I got a nice email from an important Labour party lady the other day, and some 'out' Liberal Democrats are regular readers. There are Scottish Nationalists who have said nice things about us, which is great as I am a big admirer of The Proclaimers, especially their songs 'Sunshine on Leith' and 'The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues'.

On the other side, I understand that this web log is very popular with some US and UK Right Wing Librarians, and they are also welcome. (I expect they show their political allegiance by doing things like filing 'Adam Smith' under 'A' instead of 'S').

Let us also not forget the International people. This election is also key to them, as they are either our European partners, or we used to own them, or we still do own them.

And then, of course, there are the vast swathes of people in the middle who don't have a fixed view either way.

So, before making a decision, let us examine the options available. Firstly - have Labour delivered?

Well, the village has got a couple of nice new sign posts. The village pub has re-opened, and flashing speed limits have been erected. My house is worth a lot more than it was before, but - and this is annoying - so are all the others that I might want to move to at some point.

The village shop seems to be doing an all right trade, but he has a bit of a creepy wife.

But the key issue - the key problem - is one of trust. And specifically: If we can't trust Mr Blair on taking us to war with Iraq, how can we trust him on the proposed junction improvements on the A149 at Heacham?

Continued tomorrow