Friday, December 23, 2005

A very merry Christmas to all
readers, linkers, commenters and lurkers

From the management and staff
at JonnyB's Private Secret Diary.

We will be returning in the New Year for your continued entertainment.

If you asked for a PC for Christmas purely so that you could read this, then you'll find that October 2004 is probably the best place to start.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Today - some Christmas facts at 'Tis the Season. About parrots.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

There is a Suspicious Noise!!!

I am sitting up late, replying to fan emails etc. The Noise jolts me upright. As soon as I react, it is gone, so I am not quite sure whether I heard it at all. Then it happens again. But as soon as I react, it is gone, so I am not quite sure whether I heard it at all. I prepare myself this time, listening hard, so I don't have to waste valuable reaction time reacting. But it doesn't happen again, so I sit all tense for some time, straining my ears.

The house is dark and utterly still. No cars for miles around, no noise from the farm. I can hear the LTLP breathing gently in the bedroom. Aside from that - nothing. I recall that I haven't bolted the front door. Peering through the study door, it seems even darker downstairs, which is probably an optical illusion or something scientific to do with it being further away from the sun.

I resolve to investigate.

Liveblogging: Suspicious Noise.

By now, I am fairly convinced that there is some form of intruder in the house. My evidence for this (a Suspicious Noise) is pretty weak, but I have built it up in my mind, and it won't go away.

The stairs creak at 10000000 decibels as I tiptoe down. I am torn as to whether to try to be quiet, so I can creep up on the Suspicious Noise, or whether to make as much racket as possible in order that it can hear me and run away. I decide on the quiet route, as I don't want to wake the LTLP, and I am as scared of her as I am of the Suspicious Noise.

Halfway down the stairs, I start worrying more about the Noise. It might not be somebody knocking something over after all, and could just be a standalone Noise that has transformed into a physical entity, like the dark, fog etc. in the James Herbert horror books. In this case, my intruder plan (make a lot of fuss and try to punch it) will probably not work. I pause for thought for a second.

Downstairs, I tentatively reach round the corner for the lightswitch. Nothing grabs hold of my arm and pulls me physically screaming across dimensions to the Vortex of the Zlith, which is encouraging. Instead, the light comes on. I poke my head around to see an absence of burglar blinking in the glare.

Presumably any human being would now know of my presence and would be hiding. Ready to leap out on me. I take a deep breath and check the toilet. There is nobody in the toilet. I need the toilet. Now would not be an appropriate time. My heart is thumping: bang, bang, BANG, pitifully and pathetically for a grown man on the trail of a minor Suspicious Noise. Standing in the doorway of the bathroom, I peer across the lounge. There is nowhere to hide in the lounge. The Suspicious Noise must be in the kitchen.

There is nothing in the kitchen.

Retreating upstairs, I try to laugh off my worry. But as I turn the lights off I can grasp no reassurance at all. All I seem to have done is to prove that the Suspicious Noise was not Earthly in origin. I console myself by thinking that if it is the supreme aural manifestation of evil then at least I will be able to write a newspaper article saying that bloggers broke the news first.

I creep past the main bedroom and shut myself firmly into the spare room. Hopefully it will get the LTLP first and then not be hungry any more.

I crawl under the duvet, and lie awake for ages.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I do my Christmas shopping.

They have spent about a grillion pounds on renovating Lynn town centre, and now it has a spanking new multi-story car park and gleaming, architect-designed pound shops. I purchase an indescribable thing in a roll for my lunch and gradually tick items off my list.

Up near McDonalds, Santa is selling the Big Issue.

I find this a bit depressing. Whilst he's always had a bit of a seasonal job, I am sorry to see him in this position. Still - that is globalisation for you and he, as an inefficient monopoly, has lost out.

In fact thinking about it, he has got a bloody cheek coming over here and begging on our own streets. It is because we are known as a soft touch. They have been flooding in from Lapland in such numbers that we do not know what those numbers are.

I do not buy a copy of his magazine as it will send out the wrong messages to the elves.

I do feel a bit sorry for him. It is sad all round. There are children that will see him that will be traumatised by the sight.

It is a shame.

Monday, December 19, 2005

I deliver my Christmas cards.

Delivering Christmas cards is a political act. I scuttle round the village, zipping furtively up and down driveways like a transvestite Baath party activist leafleting South Carolina.

The aim, as ever, is to get in first. That way there can be no suspicion whatsoever that one is giving a Christmas card solely in reaction to an unexpected receipt. Already I have spent several hours pondering the Venn diagram depicting 'good friends', 'friends' and 'people who I meet in the village pub and am very friendly with but probably would not describe as 'friends'', and in an act of calculated aggression, have decided to play it safe. I stagger up the lane laden with several hundred greetings. Short Tony's dog looks at me sarcastically as I stuff one into his box.

In this year's Realpolitik I have a distinct advantage - I have skipped village without leaving a forwarding address with many people. Wallace and his wife have been wise to the ploy however, and have sent a card via Mrs Short Tony. I worry that they will think that I would not have sent them one anyway. I sent them one last year. I hope against hope that they have good memories, as I slip my own greeting through their small and rather tight flap.

My plan is to deliver my entire load, disappear from the village and hide, then reappear unexpectedly back on Wednesday in time for the big Christmas quiz night. That way there will be lots of slightly embarrassed 'thank you for the card Jonny, we haven't actually got round to writing ours yet, let me buy you a pint instead's. I will not want them to be embarrassed so I will accept graciously in the true spirit of Christmas.

Now for my masterstroke - I leave one at Luc's. I know very well that Luc won't have got me a card, as we don't know each other very well, but we got quite drunk together a couple of Sundays ago and he seems like a nice chap. Now he will forever be in my debt, which is great as he has quite a big house and is possibly quite rich. He has a very long drive - I skip away from his house with a spring in my step (not literally).

Finally, a declaration of war. A card and some homemade chocolates for Len the Fish. In return for the meat etc. he has given me this year. I know very well that Short Tony will not have given Len the Fish some homemade chocolates. Honestly, I am good at this. I should have been at the trade talks and they would have accomplished something.

Chuckling slightly, I leave my deposit on his front step and sprint back to the car to blow town.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Today's thing from me is over on 'Tis the Season.

OK, it's dated yesterday. But it's today's. Honest.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

If I have one dissatisfaction with my temporary accommodation, it's that the television reception is not very good.

I don't watch a lot of TV. I play bowls on Monday nights now, so don't get to see University Challenge, so from my 'must watch'es that only really leaves Eggheads and the Channel 4 News, and anything featuring Kirstie Allsopp or/and space travel. However since my reception has become a Cameronesque snowfest, the Radio Times is suddenly chock-full of interesting documentaries and dramas and nature programmes etc. that I really really want to tune in to see.

The Aerial Man arrives.

I greet him at the door. He has a van, and some electronic testy thing, so I do not ask to see ID and let him straight in. He removes his shoes at the entrance, which impresses me.

Initial readings on his device do not appear to be encouraging.

"I'm just going to follow this wire," he says, following a wire. It leads out through the rear wall. The Aerial Man asks me to open the back door so that he can examine its progress.

This I do, while he goes to the front of the house to fetch his shoes. At the back door, he puts his shoes on and goes outside. It turns out that the wire does not do anything unexpected in the back garden, so he returns to the back door and takes off his shoes. Announcing that a signal booster might be worth a fiddle, he carries his shoes through the house to the front door, puts on his shoes, goes to the van for the equipment, returns to the door, takes off his shoes and re-enters the house.

By this point I am slightly anxious that I've fallen for some sort of shoe 'cup and ball' trick, and that I will go to put a pair of my own on later only to find that he has stolen all my shoes with cunning sleight of hand. It does happen. But he seems on the level and we chat amicably about signal reception.

"It's been a bugger of a morning," he explains, twiddling a dial. "I got the wrong house, and went next door. But the woman was on the phone, so she just beckoned me in. I think she thought I was there to see her husband. I was hanging around for ages before she asked me who I was."

"We were both quite confused," he adds.

Presumably he also had no shoes on at the time.

In the end we establish that he can do nothing without incurring considerable expense, the aerial socket not actually being connected to the rooftop aerial itself. He gives me some more good advice about cable types whilst packing his equipment away.

"How much do I owe you?" I ask.

"No - nothing at all. Sorry I couldn't do more."

"Are you sure?"

"Wouldn't dream of it."

Monday, December 12, 2005

I go to the Village Shop.

My new Village Shop is extremely handy and well stocked, but is situated inconveniently one hills-worth away. I haven't got much exercise recently, so I am panting and disorientated when I arrive.

"Morning!" I say to the Village Shop Man. "It's a lot warmer out today."

"Morning Jonny," replies the Village Shop Man. "Not as warm as in Hertfordshire though. Only need to glance out of your window there and you'll get a tan."

I am a bit puzzled by his response but do not follow it up. My attention has been taken by a headline on the paper that Richard Pryor has died. I am sad about this - he was a great comic actor, and I was a big fan of The Good Life and Ever Decreasing Circles. It turns out that he set himself on fire once, which goes to show that you never can tell. I pay for my newspaper and take my leave.

It is only later that I discover what the Village Shop Man was referring to (re Hertfordshire conversation, above) - that oil tanks have taken to blowing themselves up all on their own.

This is extremely alarming. I have one in my new back garden which coincidentally I had filled up last week (it was a regular delivery, not a panic buy at all). I am not really sure what to do. I don't really want to get exploded and have my windows blown in and my ceiling brought down; worse, whenever there is an incident like that they force you to go to a local leisure centre. I have spent my entire life giving local leisure centres the wide berth that they require, and I don't mean to change that now.

Modern life is so full of complications. The central heating here makes the house warm and cosy, but at times like this I long for the rustic simplicity of my own cottage with its wood fire and reassuring oak beams, plus the internet access is better. But we are in general very happy here.

I settle down with the paper for ten minutes, then put the pork on to roast.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Intermission for diversionary announcement:

'2005 Blogged', the paperback blogging anthology edited by Tim is still available from that link just there (ad removed from right hand side due to 28k dial-up hell).

I didn't say a lot about it before, basically because it hadn't been printed so there wasn't a hell of a lot to tell you. But also I guess I was unsure as to who to recommend it to. Now I've read it through a couple of times I'm clearer on that front, and a couple of people have asked my opinion, so here's some sort of more detailed appraisal much of which has already been covered by Mike and the subsequent commenters, including Tim's replies.

There's some great stuff in there. Structurally it's exactly as you'd expect a blog anthology to be. It's all well-written. There are pieces that are funny; there are pieces that are serious. There are pieces written as satire or parody; there are pieces where you're not sure whether they're written as satire or parody or not. There are pieces that you find yourself nodding vigorously in agreement to; there are pieces that make you want to crawl into a hole and rock gently from side to side. There are pieces that are short and pithy; there are pieces that would have benefited from being included in their own pull-out, perhaps featuring advertising by the Samaritans. In short, style-wise there's the full gamut.

Topics-wise, anthologies are always going to reflect the interests of their editor - I guess you could describe Tim's sphere as 'political argument'. Rather than 'this is what happened to me today', 'political' bloggers tend to write self-contained posts about current affairs that require no background knowledge of the writer. This is always going to be handy if ones brief is to compile a book of self-contained posts about current events aimed at readers with no background knowledge of the writer. Despite Tim's genuine and perhaps heroic forays into the areas of blogland less familiar to him, politics is the lens through which he sees the medium (everybody has one) and it forms the soul of the book - the strand to which we return again and again. Occasionally and amusingly, political-blogger-parochialism does creep in to the annotations. "Robert Fisk of The Independent," we're told authoritatively, "is a favourite target for bloggers all over the Anglosphere". Here in the Norfolk webring we talk of little else.

So the man or woman on the Clapham bendy-omnibus will find the year as described in '2005: Blogged' familiar but also oddly disconnected from them. It's a world in which a piece by Polly Toynbee in The Guardian just can't pass without analysis and dissection, but in which we didn't actually get to win the Ashes. Football gets nine lines, winning the Olympics gets five (despite being one of the 'major events' on the back cover blurb); there was nothing on the telly that could be enjoyed without a political deconstruction (indeed no films were released either and there were no cultural events); Ronnie Barker's still with us; Michael Jackson's still prancing round Neverland without a care in the world... you get the drift. Meanwhile, the nineteen pages on the 'ID card debate' are detailed, informative and well-argued.

As one who regularly weeps into his ex-broadsheet newspaper at the dumbing down of Western culture, society and media, pointing out an imbalance towards serious political analysis might be a little contrary. Actually, in an odd way, relying on this political core probably makes for a more coherent and focused book - 'reviews of the year', being a bit of an artificial conceit, aren't often that interesting in their own right. Therefore if there's a problem it's not with the product itself but with the ambition to produce a catch-all 'this is what blogging is about', which I'm not sure is actually possible to do. So two stars for fulfilling the mission statement, four stars for an enjoyable browse. I suspect it's likely to put off more people than it converts; those it converts will be very converted.

A recommendation? It's the ideal Christmas gift for your annoying brother-in-law who monopolises dinner parties with his loud and entrenched opinions. Buy him the book, log him into Blogger, point him towards that particular area of blogdom and let him get it all off his chest. As such it might be construed as a public service.

Friday, December 09, 2005

My car has been crashed into!!!

The LTLP told me the news as I lay in the bath; Short Andy had popped over to let her know. He really is a most helpful neighbour and very sensible in comparison with some others that I have had.

The car had been parked fairly obviously, the only one plonked on the straightest of straight roads leading in to the village.

The driver had driven off afterwards leaving a hole in the bumper. For the benefit of overseas readers I should point out that this sort of crime is quite common in the UK, as the police do not carry guns. I pursed my lips crossly as I wished the descent of endless live Dido studio sessions on the perpetrator.

Later on, I heard the LTLP answer a knock on the door. The driver had returned!!! I resisted the urge to leap up and run out to confront him, as I was still washing myself and so I would have also been guilty of an offence, probably even if we were on my own private property. It is political correctness gone mad that I am liable to arrest if I stand dripping and naked on my front step shouting angrily at a criminal, with a large erection, even if I do remove the shower head.

That last bit was a joke. (The hose to the shower head would not have stretched to the front door anyway).

"I'm really sorry," I heard him mumble. "I thought I'd only hit it gently, but when I saw the damage to my own car I thought I'd better come back."

This seemed fair enough and I regretted my earlier crossness. The baby Jesus said something like it was better for people to sin then own up to it than not to sin, and this bloke sounded pretty contrite. Hitting a parked car is an easy enough thing to do, especially if you have had a couple of pints, and it was dark and rainy outside making conditions difficult for driving. I relaxed in my steaming bath water and pondered the redemption of humankind.

The LTLP took the name and address, and we took things no further.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

'Tis the Season!!!

A sort of December-only advent calendar funny thing. Run by Meg and Anna who are very funny ladies and prove that women can be really funny, as well as all soft and warm.

I'm doing a couple of pieces on it this year. Read it!!! Read it!!!

UPDATE there is also a funny blog advent cartoony calendar over here. It's by regular reader Dave, who is a man and funny.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

"Morning! Didn't expect to see you today!"

The Chipper Barman welcomes me effusively. I order my drink, plus a gurl's drink for the LTLP, and ask for a bar menu. It is nice to be able to lunch together and so we have undertaken the ten-mile round trip to the (old) Village Pub especially.

Martin the IT Consultant sits in the corner, studying the food options. This is unusual - he is normally an early-evening sort of chap. I ponder his unexpected change in behaviour.

Thinking about it, the clue is probably that he works in IT. I guess that he probably keeps some form of geeky internet web log, and that he has turned up today on the sole possibility that he might bump into Ann Widdecombe in a vaguely amusing circumstance thus generating easy material to get round his chronic writer's block.

He is a very sad man.

The most convenient table faces the glass door that leads into the packed restaurant. We sit down and watch the world go by. The Chipper Barman approaches with his special pad.

"There might be a bit of a delay," he apologises. "We're really busy in there, with the Ann Widdecombe thing."

I had completely forgotten that she was going to dining in there (despite my suspicions about Martin the IT Consultant (above)). I assure him that there is no hurry. Behind the glass, the restaurant seems to darken suddenly. I think it might be Ann Widdecombe walking past the window, but it turns out to be just a big cloud.

Martin the IT Consultant meanders over to the cigarette machine, between our table and the door. I had no idea that he smoked.

"Any sign of the old bat yet?" he asks casually.

"Not yet," I reply.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Village Pub is all but empty.

Clearly my moving out has had an adverse effect on trade. I perch on my usual favoured barstool and engage the Well-Spoken Barman in conversation.

"Are you in here tomorrow?" he asks. "Ann Widdecombe is booked in for lunch."

I stare at him. My brain ticks over at speed. I cannot recall a mutual friend called 'Ann Widdecombe', nor do I know of anybody in the village who goes by that name. Perhaps one of the regulars is unkindly known as 'Ann Widdecombe' behind her or his back. It does not sound particularly likely.

It might be a euphemism. Like in the theatre when the manager runs around shouting 'Inspector Sands is in the building!!!' it is a coded phrase designed to evacuate people in an emergency without panic. There is no reason why there would not be the same sort of thing in the catering trade; 'Ann Widdecombe is booked in for lunch' is probably just something restaurateurs use to clear the area as quickly as possible in case of, say, a really bad chip pan fire.

An elderly couple are the only other people in the bar; they sit unevacuated, picking at their cheeseboard. There is no sign of smoke, flames, al-Qaida etc.

It was Sherlock Holmes who said that when you have eliminated all the probable possibilities then whatever is left even if it is really, really unfeasible is likely to be a goer. That is the typical reasoning of somebody on drugs. But he was quite successful by and large, if a bit full of himself, and I am forced to adopt his methods.

"Ann Widdecombe?" I ask.

"Ann Widdecombe," he replies.

I finish my pint, thoughtfully.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The rain starts falling as I leave the cottage, empty boxes in hand. Trudging to the car, I spot my new neighbour over the road.

"Are you sure you are not a bit early?" I ask.

"Not a bit of it," enthuses Short Andy. "You can never be too early."

I gaze doubtfully at the two large festive characters that perch askew atop his garage. Three-dimensional and dazzlingly illuminated, one is a recognisable Santa Claus figure, the other being some Christmassy person of indeterminate origin. They buffet around in the rainy squall.

We exchange some damp neighbourly pleasantries before I get into the car. The rain stops immediately. He places a ladder up against his wall, in order to try to fix things down more effectively. I drive off to pick up some more worldly goods.

On my return the indeterminate figure is upright, its hand still raised in a cheery wave to the neighbourhood children. But Santa has plunged forth, leaning at a seventy-degree angle off the edge of the building. What's more, its right arm has launched itself forwards like Superman attempting to take off or, at a stretch, a very elderly and bearded Alan Shearer celebrating a goal by dressing up in red and running around on a garage roof in a gale.

I step out of the car. The rain switches on again immediately. This has been happening for several days.

I give the tarmac a hard stare, examining it for pressure pads.