I am an Internet Failure…

internet failure

I see Facebook friends of mine with hundreds of ‘friends’, thousands of likes and countless ‘funny’ posts showing dogs in superhero suits and cats that look like Hitler. On twitter, someone I once had a fight with over a girl we both fancied has 600 people following him and all he does is give his opinion, in Olde Worlde English, on Manchester United football matches. I lost the fight but got the girl. She ‘chucked’ me a few weeks later though. Some celebrities have millions of followers and from what I can see, they all pretty much say the same thing, especially if anyone remotely famous or important drops dead. One celebrity tweeted a photo of the food they were about to eat, then later tweeted the photo of their empty plate… This got something like 2000 re-tweets. I see videos on YouTube with millions, some with hundreds of millions of views, usually they are little less than a pet doing something cute or funny, someone falling over, something exploding using vinegar or pranks made on the unsuspecting. Yet they go viral, get lots of shares, endless comments and make their creators famous enough to end up with a slot presenting some daft cable TV show.

I needed to get myself a slice of this pie. Reading through all the posts and tweets and looking at selfies and photo-bombs and knowing now what ‘planking’ really is, I set about my quest for internet glory, internet fame and the riches that would follow. Soon I too would be mourning the loss of some fellow celebrity as if I knew them personally and I too would be tweeting a photo of my lunch.

For weeks on end I grabbed clip after clip of our children doing their thing. My post production was, I felt, on a par with Hollywood, the titles amazing, the effects I humbly suggest were nothing less than stunning, imovie had liberated my creative juices, Garage Band had given me the musical talent of Eddie Van Halen and now YouTube would give my video an audience of millions and fans a plenty. 4 months after posting my mini-feature, I have had 4 views, 1 like (thanks Dad), no comments and no shares. Facing such humiliation was hard, but I continued my efforts. With the upgraded imovie, my second attempt would harness ‘stop-frame’ technology, high definition and now, Facebook linking to capture those elusive millions. And, having studied in-depth what was trending, I just knew that me falling off my bicycle would be an overnight success. This time I fared better, 2 likes (thanks Dad and thanks Auntie Mimi), 9 views and one offensive comment that I had to delete rather quickly. All this in just a few days. The snowball had started rolling, momentum was growing… The following week YouTube administrators took it down for music copyright infringement. It turns out that copying an Eddie Van Halen track using Garage Band is really not a talent after all.

My burping rabbit clip didn’t rock the world either. It did mark my entry into double digits though. 11 views.

I decided the time and effort of making videos was too much, but as I had finally dipped my toes into the Facebook world it seemed logical to pursue this further. It would even remind people when my birthday was due so they could send me their greetings without any effort or expense. After being happy with just my normal quota of 5 or 6 Birthday cards each year for the past ten years, having my inbox full of Birthday well wishing would boost my self esteem no end. I now have 30 friends, 20 of whom I vaguely remember from school, 4 whom I really don’t know at all, of the remaining 6, I live with 1 of them and speak to the others most weeks anyway. My most popular post (a cat that looked like Hitler) managed to be viewed by a feeble 120. And to put salt on the wound, someone then posted the very same picture to my timeline, and they managed to get over 15,000 views. On my birthday, only 6 people posted well wishes, one just saying I should go away and die, so really then, only 5. Still, being positive, that’s a 100% increase on the previous year.

My Linked-In efforts made a poor showing as well, 60 connections consisting mostly of my Facebook ‘friends’. Deviant Art is no better, 2 followers, 3 comments (by a strange coincidence, one just said ‘go away and die’), Dare I mention Twitter… No. I have just 1 follower who stopped following me after just a few days.

And so it can be said, with a certain conviction, that my overall social standing in the online social world is that of a social outcast. If there were an award for online failure, I would be the winner. “Unfortunately Mr. No-mates can’t be here to collect his award tonight and we couldn’t find any friends to accept it on his behalf, so moving swiftly along…” Billions upon billions surf the web, yet only a handful seem to find me. And statistically, of the handful that have found me and made an effort to comment, 46% of them want me to go away and die.

Knowing how unpopular or unimportant I am online is of no significance though. It doesn’t really reflect anything to do with my real life. I do have friends, not many I admit, but they are real, physically close when I need them and genuine. My family love me and those who know me know there is more to me than a few rubbish videos and photos of cats looking like Hitler. The most important well wishes on my Birthday come from the four most important people in my life and their spoken ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ on what I do or say are worth far more than any online ones. The truth is, I don’t really care about my failure to socially network online because I am not really aiming for online success. I thought I was but actually, Facebook, Twitter, Deviant Art, You Tube and all these things are just distractions I wander into as and when the mood takes me and time allows.

Most online ‘likes’ are worthless, most ‘comments’ are baseless and growing ‘followers’ has little true relevance unless you’re a celebrity selling your ghostwritten book. Knowing that you’ve stopped off at Starbucks and looking at the photo of your coffee and bun you’ve kindly posted leaves me in little doubt that the social network is beyond help and I am better off not worrying about being an active part of it.

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I need to find myself a time-machine.

time machine

It was my son’s 10th birthday, him reaching double digits, him really coming of age, him just being him and us loving him more and more for it. Don’t you just love those times that you know are memories being made that you’ll cherish and hold forever. We had a great party. Go-karting with some of his mates followed by a massive water-pistol fight by the pool followed by two hours non-stop mayhem in the water. It was a great afternoon and a great evening with the other mums and dads who’ve grown close over the years. It was as near perfect as perfect could get. If the day were a pole dancer, after her first shift wiggling and wobbling, her thong would be full of crisp fifties. If it were a golfer it would be his second hole and the second hole-in-one of the day. Then the ducks died.

I’ve lost pets in my childhood and I can say that I don’t really handle death very well. The fact it was so sudden, the fact it was both of them and the fact that it was during a party all just made it the more unbearably sad for me and totally heartbreaking for the children. Tears flowed, questions with no possible answers were raised and in the first real moment of utter sadness my son experiences, all I can do is hug him and try to stop him seeing I too am crying, crying not only because our little ducks touched us in a special way, but because his sadness is just too much for me. I tried to think how my parents coped with my tears when we lost the dog or the guinea pig climbed those steps up to the pearly gates. But I just couldn’t remember. Just 10 years into parenthood and I am feeling out of my depth and unable to support him like a father should. I know we are only talking about a couple of ducks, but they weren’t just ducks, they were our couple of ducks, they were family. This then makes me worried for when the rabbit meets her maker or dare I think, when we end up with the dog they all so constantly hassle me for… How will I ever deal with that popping its clogs? He slept with us that night. I slept little, still trying to come up with answers that may help what was going to be a difficult Sunday. I failed in that as well and all day it was tears, hugs, more tears and more hugs. I felt crap, helpless and so completely useless.

Later that day we began digging the grave at the bottom of the garden and to help distract from the gloom of our task, we began discussing what tree or shrub we should buy to mark and remember them. As it happens, the spot where we were digging was near the road and passing cars can be seen and heard a ways off, so having decided we would look for a yellow flowering bush, we began seeing if we could guess what car was coming by just listening to the exhaust notes. I reckoned I could spot any BMW 3 series manufactured between 2002 and 2010, he boasted of a pitch perfect ear for Volvo 4×4’s and any Ferrari. The next car he correctly guessed was a Volvo, my guess proved wrong, the Ford Focus most obviously had a blown exhaust as on any other day, I would not have made such a mistake. The hole was a good size when a throaty roar filled the still afternoon, it grew louder and went higher up the scale as the driver began accelerating. “That’s a Ferrari” he shouted as he ran to the fence. And sure enough, around the bend came a lovely Ferrari, trademark red, it passed us, crested the hill and turned into our road. “It’s coming here!” he screamed with excitement. And indeed it was. Earlier, a friend who owns a Ferrari had suggested that taking our son out for a spin in the car would be a super thrill and a treat to really finish off the celebrations. We also knew it would help lift his spirit. Boy did it work. The tears dried up, the smile came back and his face lit up in anticipation of a chance to go for a ride in such a stunning looking and sounding car. Roof down, engine singing, off he went with me capturing the moment on film.

I decided to wander up the road, I wanted to get some footage of the car coming back. So, with a cup of coffee I settled myself down on the verge and waited. And waited. I’ll add at this point that the car had only just come into the country, it wasn’t registered, was uninsured and had no tax, so it could only be driven around the estate. It’s certainly not a small estate but after twenty minutes, I was getting a little concerned. Twenty five minutes later a car pulls up, the window rolls down and out pops my sons head with a big grin on his face. “We crashed!” he shouts out the window. In disbelief I hear how the rear wheel spun up on a corner causing it to oversteer, which was overcorrected causing the whole car to spin into the golf club fence, knocking that all over and coming to a halt in the ditch. I went to their house later to look at the damage. Every panel was scratched, dented and needing some kind of repair, the wing mirrors were damaged, light clusters broken, runners buckled and I’d have guessed you’d be looking at a complete respray. An expensive car to buy, but a real expensive car to fix. I felt the pain. My son though, with a grasp of economics based on the market price of fizzy sweets, saw not a financial nightmare but a wild adventure park ride where they didn’t check your height and you got the front seat. The accident had made the ride quite simply the best thing ever and if he could do it again, he would.

It didn’t end there. Stupidity and his mates clouded my mind that day for sure as I had the most daft idea that it would be a good idea to nip over to the security office at the estate entrance and ask them if we could have a copy of the CCTV footage. Both my son and I thought that having the crash on film would give everyone hours of laughter, not right now maybe, but certainly in a few years. After all, how often can you say you’ve been in a prang in a Ferrari and have a copy on film to show everyone. See where my mind was going on this..? Well security said they couldn’t give us the footage, they said the cameras weren’t on. Yet as we drove off we could see the security guards hunching over the computers searching and scanning the footage to see for themselves a Ferrari being binned.

A short time later we get a call from the Ferrari owner. He was concerned and worried, he’d just driven past the scene of the crash and security were there snapping pictures of the damage. He wanted to know if he should just pretend it hadn’t happened or face up to things, go speak to security and admit fault. Obviously I said ignore it. Which, it turns out, was not only morally wrong but stupidly wrong as entry into the estate is through numberplate recognition cameras, meaning all residents have their cars registered at security. Finding the offending Ferrari would be a piece of ‘birthday’ cake if you’ll excuse the pun. If I had not gone to the security office, they may not have noticed the damaged fence until Monday or maybe later and by then they may have overwritten the CCTV tapes. But like I said, stupidity and his mates seem to visit my head far to often. There is no escape, the cameras I hope make for a more secure life, have him bang to rights, on top of having to fork out the full cost of the repair and respray of the car due to no insurance, he’s certainly going to be landed with a bill to fix all the fence he ripped apart. I can’t let a mate carry the full burden of the fence. Being fairly close to, but not completely devoid of morals, I will have to help in some way.

So happy 10th birthday my most amazing little boy. It’s one we’ll all certainly remember with a mixed bag of feelings and many conflicting emotions. Watching you put the little cardboard coffin in the hole with such care, listening to you say a tearful, final, ‘good-bye’ was both lovely and so incredibly painful. If I could ever have just one wish in life, It wouldn’t be to win the lottery or have a fancy yacht, it would be to go back in time so the ducks wouldn’t have died. But you know, I wouldn’t stop the car accident. Nope, armed with some wire cutters, I’d ‘take out’ the CCTV cameras at the scene, hide myself in the bushes and capture that one particular moment on video.

Austerity really is ruining my breakfast..!

austerity_failure

I like to see where I can make savings. Small ones mainly but importantly ones where I feel we are not losing out. Take for example fuel. Instead of driving like a man possessed, foot flat to the floor one minute then stamping on the brakes the next. I have modified the way I drive, I cruise more, let the car slow down more and use my brakes less and gently. This simple change has seen my fuel bill go down quite considerably. The household heating also came under scrutiny. Now we do not heat the garage and in areas of the house where we seldom spend any time, we have turned the heating down a couple of notches. It’s taught us to be a bit more considerate, taught the children to turn off the lights and close the bloody door. Overall, it’s been no real hardship and no real effort has been required.

This is nothing new, my parents taught us the value of saving, of not being wasteful. They had come through tougher times, times when it wasn’t the planet or the economy that made them frugal, no it was just being about not wanting to waste things. Food was always eaten, a clean plate was the only way off the table and back to the telly, a brick in the toilet cistern was a simple way to reduce wasting water and as for being driven to school. Forget it. The bike they bought me for Christmas wasn’t supposed to be a toy, it was a mode of transport. Things like this rubbed off and I continue to this day to generally take care with my resources.

But my frugality often tends to backfire on me. Someone somewhere takes pleasure in seeing me spend time and effort in my personal austerity drive, then mucks things up. A brick in our toilet cistern gets discovered by the children and, for whatever strange reasoning they have, they decide to pull it out for a closer look, it slips from their grasp, cracks the cistern and leaves me with the cost of a new loo. My 30 or so litres of water saved over the months amounted to 5 euros, the cost of a new crapper, not including fitting, 350 euros.

I drive to the petrol station, I drive like my Grandma. My economy gauge in the green all the way. Excellent. Well it would have been had I not forgotten my wallet. Now I have to drive all the way back home and do the whole thing over again. The drive home and back the second time is now less considerate as grumpy me is now in a rush so again, any saving has been cancelled out.

I even have one of those ‘a bag for life’ bags they sell at the bigger stores. Now that they charge you for plastic bags, this is handy to have and I for one don’t want a mountain of plastic forever clogging our planet. Mostly though I forget to take it with me when I do the shopping so end up buying their plastic bags anyway, and the last time i did remember it, the handle broke. At the time of writing, I am currently on my 6th bag for life. Quite what they mean by ‘for life’ then is beyond me. Thank you Mr. Marketing man at the supermarket chain for selling me a bag for life that will only last a few weeks and thanks again for realising this problem and solving it by then selling me the plastic bags I will need as a consequence.

Now, one of my less clever plans has been causing some grief in the household recently. I say household but by that I mean only me. Mr. Marketing man at the local supermarket has started offering milk at the ridiculous price of just 56 cents. In the past I have sampled cheap milk and in the past I have ended up throwing the stuff away, nevertheless I am a sucker for a bargain and remembering my past mistakes, I buy just the one carton. If it is awful, I’m hardly out-of-pocket. If it tastes good, I’ll be back later to buy a lorry load. Expecting it to be coloured water, I was surprised that it was actually rather good. Not up there in the taste department with the Cravendale’s of this world but certainly on a par with our current choice and half the price!!!! Sold. I came back that afternoon with enough milk to feed a village. A large village at that.

So far all is well. I’m feeling good and no complaints from the family. But no. That someone up there somewhere just had to throw the boot in. Didn’t let it happen on the trial run did they… No. They waited until I’d made the mother of all milk purchases. What’s the problem..? I will tell you. My son likes apple juice, he would probably bathe in the stuff given half a chance. So he always has a couple of cartons of apple juice in the fridge. And it just so happens that the packaging of my cheap milk is green and white, which is the same colour they have used for his apple juice. Each morning, half asleep me, in desperate need of a cup of coffee before I can even begin to think, talk or do anything, wanders zombie like to the coffee pot, fills it then makes for the fridge, mistakes the apple juice for the milk and only realises the error after I have already stared pouring.

If breakfast cereal comes before coffee, the same thing happens only this time my Cornflakes are now contaminated with juice. My frugal side originally tried disguising the taste of the apple juice by adding more milk than one would normally use. But the juice is the bully in the flavour stakes here and fights it way onto my taste buds. I now just throw away my breakfast or coffee and start again. If I have just used up the last of my Cornflakes, it’s even worse, I am left with no option but to eat the children’s choice of cereal, some awful chocolate rubbish that is purchased for the simple reason that inside is some useless plastic toy they so desperately want.

So thank you again Mr. Marketing man at the supermarket chain. Thank you for the clever idea of producing exceptionally low-priced milk and thank you for approving a packaging design so close to that of your apple juice that I mistake it daily for the milk. Instead of saving my hard-earned cash I am now having to buy twice as much cereal and twice as much apple juice to compensate for the wastage you have caused me. I am also being grumpier in the mornings than usual which in turn is making me irritable during the school run which reverts my driving style back to the man possessed I mentioned earlier which is therefore costing me more in fuel.

Resist the urge, even if it is just an itch that needs scratching…

super_dave

You know how it is that sometimes you have to do something, you have an urge. Those times when you have a need to eat a kebab or the craving for a particular snack is just impossible to resist no matter how absurd it may appear? I admit to having them rather too often and, like an itch, they have to be dealt with. On the whole I’d say these urges are, more often than not, very satisfying. Well one evening, I got an urge, an urge that had to be followed up. Overall it was a stupid one, made even more stupid thanks to the help and encouragement of some equally stupid friends.

That evening we had been out at a countryside pub. The one tucked away down some tight country lanes, lanes lined with bushes and gated entrances to farmers fields, lanes where houses are rare and when found, are usually old, beautiful and expensive. We were driving back into town and having fun driving recklessly with youthful abandon. We took a corner a little too fast and didn’t slow down quick enough for the hump back bridge that followed the corner. I say we were driving fast, but remember, on a single lane winding road, 40mph is too fast, so we weren’t exactly belting it along. Nevertheless, even allowing for sudden braking, we hit the hump-back bridge at maybe 25mph. It was enough to make all of us leave our seats and bash our heads on the roof! The car hit the ground with a jolt and a sound that told us all something had fallen off. We fell about laughing… It was like a fairground ride, only free. We wanted to do it again, but faster this time. Our designated driver was in no mood to repeat things, it being his father’s car and his father would not be happy that his car now had a buckled front bumper and was missing a front indicator. So home we all went. But that evening had left an itch that needed to be scratched.

Over the coming weeks myself and my fellow passengers agreed we needed to return to the hump-back bridge and see how fast we could take it and how far the car would jump. With military precision we began working out the details, each of us taking a role in the operation. One of us was a regularly competitor in banger racing and could source us a car that would not cause any family upset if we broke a few bits, another could then prepare the car so that it would survive what we were sure would be a pretty awesome jump and me, being as mechanical as a bowl of fruit offered to paint the car so it looked good. A week later we have the car, a white, 20 year old Ford something or other, picked up from the local scrap yard for £35. Quite un-roadworthy if you were to look at it with a legal eye, but the engine was good enough, the clutch only slipped between 3rd and 4th gear and the bodywork, rusty in places, would do. Mate number 2 took out the windows, removed the petrol tank and rear seats. A smaller, plastic petrol tank was fixed into the boot, metal bars were welded to give some strength and protection, and finally the seat belts were replaced for cheap second-hand race-harnesses. Then came my turn to add the artistic touch. Although it is fair to say I did paint it, it’s fairer to actually say I just painted the words ‘Super Dave Stunt Team’ down both sides in thick black emulsion paint. That said, after those 5 minutes spent decorating the thing, it looked pretty good. It  was all ready to go, we were all ready to go, it was time to deal with that urge…

The location of the bridge as I mentioned earlier is on a thin country lane. From the opposite direction there is a long downhill run up to it, a length we guessed would allow the car enough room to achieve maybe 50 or 60mph, a speed we were confident would give us good height and laughter filled flight time. We also took into account that the damage suffered to the original car when we first took the bridge would be multiplied at a higher speed. Therefore one of us would have to borrow their parents car and follow us as if the damage was enough to make the ‘jump car’ un-driveable, we’d need an alternative mode of transport to get us to the pub so our night out could go ahead as planned and later we could then tow the ‘jump car’ back on our way home. See, we really had taken our time and knew that preparation is indeed the key to everything.

The weekend came and that evening we got ourselves ready. No special clothing, it was, after all, still just a lads night out, so fireproof race suits were dismissed in favor of figure hugging trousers, funky patterned shirts, some fake tan, a few squirts of cheap smelly stuff and a condom in the wallet just in case. Can’t be disappointing the ladies now can we. The one concession we did make was to use crash helmets, as we knew from experience that hitting the roof without one would hurt. Suitably attired we fired up the old bucket and off we went. Aware of the car being now completely illegal, un-registered, un-taxed and uninsured, we took the route we figured would be the most discreet.

I thought I knew my friends. I had grown up with them, been through years of school with them, showered with them and spent countless hours in their company. They had my trust. I would have been a more cautious driver that night, I would have taken the hill down to the bridge at the speed we had agreed upon, braked a little maybe, shown some caution and a degree of consideration to my passenger. But I wasn’t the driver that night, I was the passenger and my trust was in the hands of the driver. Those years of thinking I knew him were proven wrong. We took the corner before the hill at close to 60mph, by the time we were upon the bridge we were doing 95. We hit the bridge and just took off. The car must have been launched easily 40 foot into the air and our flight distance must have exceeded 100ft, the glide path changed from being us looking up to the stars to us looking down onto the road as the weight of the engine in the front and the laws of gravity pulled the nose down. The whine of the screaming engine was replaced by the crunch and crash of metal hitting tarmac. Bits of car fell around us, the bonnet flew off, the rear door popped open, the bumper shattered and the steering wheel came away from its mounting. The back of the car touched down a few moments later and we began to bounce uncontrollably. Earlier I mentioned how we originally discovered the unique qualities of the bridge, how from the other direction we had taken the corner too fast at 40mph, remember that bit. Well now we were aiming for that said corner at something like 80mph plus, bouncing around like a kangaroo and as we now had no steering wheel, we were both just passengers in the sequence of events that followed.

It became clear we were not going to make the corner and I braced for impact as the bushes lining the corner grew closer. We ploughed though the bushes, which it turned out were for a rather well concealed house, a rather elegant one as well. The owners had obviously spent time and money on their garden, the lawn was flat and perfectly stripped by a recent trim, pretty flowers lined the edges and the centre-piece was an ornate little pond with a fountain in the middle, a fountain shaped like a flower with some Greek styled statue of a woman holding an urn from which water was cascading. The pond I imagine would have been a perfect habitat for newts and frogs, possibly hiding some fish as well, who knows, its surface was dotted with large Lilly pads and it was dark. I did know that it was overdue a bit of dredging as, climbing out of the car, my feet sunk into a deep muddy bottom. Completely ruined my shoes it did and the algae stains on my jeans would prove a nightmare to get rid of. In fact, months later, the vigilant would still be able to pick out the slight change of colour where the stains once were.

Behind us, our pathway had been exceptionally well described. The entry into the garden was marked by a car width gap in the bushes, all the plants on the route were flattened and the lawn was churned up where the tyres had twisted and turned their way to the pond where we had finally come to a halt. The statue was in a number of pieces, one piece now being in our car, another embedded into the lawn and one somewhat larger piece, having been brutally flung through one of the greenhouse windows, was now nestled in what looked like some well cared for tomato plants, country show winning specimens they seemed to be, big juicy red things they were, certainly nothing like we’d be able to buy at the local supermarket. How the other half live…The fountain, having its pipe work liberated, was spurting high, raining cold water down upon us and, judging by the security lights that were now lighting up the whole garden and the sound of barking, the owners of the house were aware of their evening being somewhat disturbed. We did what any sensible person would do in a situation like this. We leapt out of the pond and ran.

The back up car, no longer being a rescue vehicle, was now our getaway vehicle and we leapt into it, soaking wet, muddy footed, screaming like the old F1 commentator Murray Walker, “go, go go”. We gave the pub a miss.

The parents of our getaway driver grounded him for a week for bringing the car back so filthy inside. The owners of the house we crashed into managed to get the insurance company to sort them out, how do I know that..? Well for our efforts, we made it into the local newspaper! Front page the following week is a photo of our car. Smashed up, nose stuck in the pond with carnage behind and around it. Clearly shown is my artistic contribution and the headline read… “Just who is Super Dave?”

The urge to see what would happen if we took the bridge a bit faster had been dealt with, it hadn’t gone exactly to plan and we did feel bad about the bushes, plants, lawn, fountain, anything in the pond that didn’t make it and of course those rather superb tomato plants. What it didn’t do was prevent a new urge from forming, a new itch that needed scratching. Thanks to the newspaper headline, we thought it would be fun to get another car, give it the same ‘Super Dave Stunt Team’ livery and see if we couldn’t get ourselves onto the front page just one more time. And funnily enough, we all began wondering if it would be at all possible to jump the local canal that ran through the town centre…

Start a fight with a fighter jet and you will lose…

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“Keep to the left” they kept saying, “make sure you stay out of the heat blast and maybe you should consider wearing some ear plugs.” Thanks for the advice but I left my ear plugs at home and with a bloody great fighter jet shaking the ground next to me the last thing I am planning to do is swerve into its path. I’m thankful for my fireproof suit, just in case, grateful the car is not a cabriolet and beginning to wonder just why I agreed to do this. 

Having driven onto the runway, we were in position and waiting for the challenger. Over the radio, the tower gave the all clear and from behind this giant, awesome F18 fighter jet rumbled slowly onto the runway and shadowed me as it took position to my right, it’s engine whine reverberated through my body. I’d expected the noise to be more, was worried about my lack of earplugs, but it wasn’t so bad. Then he hit his throttle and fully powered up his engines. God help me, David had just met Goliath.

The noise was incredible. Gorgeous, intoxicating but so, so loud. I think the fillings in my teeth need looking at again. I look up and over at Captain Javier Ramos, the pilot, he gives the thumbs up, no, I think he’s giving me the finger! I press the throttle down, tease him a bit. I need to show him that 37,000lbs of thrust isn’t worrying me. He’s confident he’ll thrash me and judging by the technical data I’ve read on the F18, he may be right. But, can he do a handbrake turn… No. Can he park outside the pub on a Saturday evening… I don’t think so. Has he got a seven speaker sound system with CD interchanger… Of course not. Does he have room for the children’s school run, their sports kit, satchels and the finger painting they did of daddy using cotton wool for his beard even though he hasn’t got a beard..? Nope. He hasn’t even got proper windscreen wipers fitted, just some basic hot air blowing system.

It had taken two months of planning, we needed permission from the very top for a stunt like this and whilst we had a bag full of cash for bribery and photos of various key people in compromising situations with ladies of ill repute it proved unnecessary as everyone was happy to accept our challenge. We also needed a car. Luckily a luxury car dealer helped us out and just happened to have a few Ferrari’s kicking about that we could use. “Pick whatever one you like” he said, waving his hand over a selection of some beautiful works or mechanical art. I didn’t pick the fastest, I picked what I thought the best, the car I would most like to own, the Modena 360 F1 a stunning car, easy to drive, quick, responsive, a bargain at somewhere around 180,000 euros and of course, red! We had tried to get a celebrity to drive the car but celebrities don’t like taking risks or at least their management don’t. The top Real Madrid players may well get photographed getting out of their pricey toys, but when it comes to really driving them hard, they shy away. so it was down to me, it was my silly idea, so with no one of any fame to speak of coming forward, I stood on the crease. Having driven and owned a number of high performance cars, spent my childhood racing anything with an engine and being the one with the most health insurance, a straight line drive should be a piece of cake…

The briefing was conducted with military precision, satellite imagery on a large screen in the cinema style briefing room indicated all activity planned for the event and clear instructions were given as to who was to be where and when they were to be there. The fire crew and ambulance staff were to be on the taxi-way at the finish line, the bus with our timing, radar and camera crew aboard would drop people off at three marked points along the 1.2 kilometre part of the runway designated for the race, giving us the best opportunity for photographs and data recording. Radio frequencies were issued and communication with the control tower was established. Our schedules had been confirmed and everything was now ready. Time for a strong coffee and the nearest bathroom.

Back in the car, the radio crackled into life and one by one the all clear is given by each of the groups and emergency teams standing by. The pilot gets himself the call sign ‘Poker 1’, I wanted a cool one as well, like ‘Ice Man’ or ‘Devil in Red’ but everyone just told me to ‘shut up and drive’ so I ended up with the unimaginative call sign ‘Ferrari’.

Ahead the runway just vanished into heat haze. I gripped the steering wheel and kept telling myself, “floor the throttle and change gear just before the needle hits the 8,500 red line, easy. No need for anything else. Concentrate on nothing but the view ahead.” “Group 1… ready. Group 2… ready. Group 3…ready. Firefighters, ambulance… ready. Ferrari…ready. Poker 1…ready.” My eyes closed, I breathed, (I think I farted as well, I was nervous for sure, but my this had nothing to do with nerves, probably the Indian food and beer the night before) I was at one with the car, I was ready.

The flag went down, my foot followed a fraction after and we were off! The engine tone of the Ferrari was lost to the sheer noise of the F18. Climbing to an unbelievable, ear-splitting crescendo as he came level with me, I glanced at my speed, 97, seconds later he nosed in front, the roar seemingly louder and louder as he got further and further ahead, the flames from his twin turbo-thrust jet engines and the heat haze behind was an absolutely incredible sight, the ground shook, the car shook, my whole body shook. He just kept on going and going at an increasingly alarming speed. I was lost, my foot firmly on the floor the car was at its limit, there was nothing more I could do. I swear he gave me the finger again and I can imagine his smile matched that of all the military personnel watching. By 600 metres Poker 1 was airborne and later crossed the line at a staggering 960kmph to my 293. 1,200 metres in just over 16 seconds! I eased off, the car had performed superbly it was no longer necessary to let it suffer further. Dejected by failure, elated by the event, I stopped. I had lost the race but I had achieved something very special and very personal. But Poker 1 was not finished with me just yet. He arced gracefully round and took a low fly past overhead. A supersonic fly past, some 10 metres above me that furiously rocked the car and left the loudest bloody sound blast I have ever heard ringing in my ears. It was one of those moments you rarely witness but never forget, like a comet or an eclipse. Stunning! In the blurred haze left by his afterburners he banked away and was once again out of sight.

The next day we were big news. We even made it into the nationals in Spain and England and went worldwide on the internet. Overnight Javier had become a hero and I had become Spain’s biggest loser! In the spirit of the competition we opened two bottles of champagne, one expensive, quality stuff, the other cheap, bitter and nasty. Guess which one I got to drink…

I know that this type of race is not so new, in 1931, Italian motor racing legend Tazio Nuvolari, at the wheel of his Alfa Romeo 2300, was beaten by a biplane at Rome’s airport and in 1981 Canada’s Gilles Villeneuve and his Ferrari 126 CK turbo raced a F-104 jet fighter in northern Italy. Schumacher did it in his F1 car and Ducati ran their GP bike against the Eurofighter. And they all lost. Well I did it too, un-famous, unimportant little me lost as well. But I did it in a car you or I could buy, maybe not me now I think about it, but a real, normal road going car nevertheless.

Losing this fight was fantastic and it was a fight I’d happily lose again.

Whatever philosopher said that “work well done never needs doing over”, never did a vegetable garden!

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Our garden had this patch, an unused, forgotten patch of earth tucked away behind the pool. Lots of sunlight, close enough to the existing sprinkler system for me to extend it into a watered area and the soil tests I did showed it to be fertile. The garden had this patch and this patch was the perfect spot for what was to become our very own vegetable garden. 

I spent a weeks evenings digging and weeding the ground, then another two days setting up the sprinklers until everything was ready for seeding. No longer would we spend our hard-earned cash at the supermarket on overpriced cabbages, carrots and stuff. Oh no, we were going semi self-sufficient. With space for lots of plants, we estimated we would be able to have a few weeks of free veggies each year. Maybe a month or two if nature was kind. And it would also prove to be a good thing for the children, get them ‘at one’ with the earth, give them some understanding of where things come from that end up on our table. Educational, healthy and an activity the family could enjoy together. A great idea don’t you agree?

The following weekend we went shopping for seeds. What a jolly time we all had picking our favourites and a few things that just looked like they’d be fun to grow. Carefully we read the packets, bought a rake, a thing called a hoe, a garden fork and some green coloured wire to keep our bountiful garden under control. Green fingers at the ready…

A year later we realised the seeds had gone past their sell-by date so they were no good. And looking over the veggie garden it was clear my week spent digging and weeding would now need to be repeated. This time we promised ourselves, made a pact of blood, signed notarised affidavits to the effect that we would indeed get around to planting our vegetables, care for them and enjoy the taste of food fresh from the garden, un-sullied by chemicals and cleansed by just our own hands using water from the well, not whatever irradiated rubbish they fire at mass-produced produce these days. Another week digging and weeding and back to the garden centre we go, home we come loaded with fresh packs of seeds.

Some eight months later we have friends over for a visit. Being successful at growing vegetables in their own garden, they took pity on us and spent the weekend digging and weeding.

Fast forwards another six months and the children, now both capable of writing their names onto things with some degree of legibility, mostly the walls of the house, stumble upon our stash of seed packets whilst looking for coloured pens. This proves beneficial in that now being preoccupied with their excitement at remembering our planned vegetable garden, they forget the original purpose of their search and our walls remained untouched. The downside being that I have to spend the next few days digging and weeding and the seeds, being out of date now need to be replaced yet again. Off to the garden centre we go.

The children this time take the lead and with their encouragement, not to be confused with pestering, wake us early one sunday morning, suitably dressed in their wellies and each holding small bowls into which they have put all the seeds. Accepting that we now have no idea what any of them are we nevertheless all make our way up to the vegetable patch and by the end of the day, we have planted all that didn’t fall out of the small bowls the children repeatedly spilt.

We wait… We wait some more… We forget… Six months later we suddenly remember we have a vegetable garden and upon visiting our patch, we see a well watered and very healthy looking forest of weeds. Upon closer inspection we do find our vegetables, or at least we think we do. It’s hard to distinguish what is a vegetable and what is not. We’re pretty sure we know what a carrot leaf looks like and there are quite a few of them, beetroot looks very much like dandelion or maybe thistle. It could even be the onions… The sweetcorn was easy to spot but had already been eaten. The tomatoes likewise. Some other things we think we planted seem to be still there but after all this time we are not at all sure what it was we planted and none of us thought to stick little wooden labels in the ground to help us. You live and learn though. Next time the seeds will be kept out of the children’s reach and we will use the packets to mark and remind us what we have planted and where.

The obvious solution was to start weeding and digging. I had figured that if we dug up one of each of the plants, we would be able to work out what is weed and what is food. A simple process of elimination. An hour later, I have managed to identify in the region of 30 weed plants. I now know what a dead beetroot plant looks like as well as what an over-ripe beetroot one looks like. I also now know which weeds give you a rash, which ones sting, which ones are home to tiny little insects that bite and where the neighbours cat likes to take a dump. And now I understand why gardeners wear gloves. Surprisingly I found some cabbages and a lettuce, neither of which we remember planting and neither of which would be gracing our plates anytime soon. Overall, our vegetable garden didn’t perform very well on account of our lack of attention. However, the carrots did indeed manage to survive and once the patch was cleared of the dead, diseased and dying we were rewarded with a number of bushy carrot plants and excitedly the children ran to the house to get a basket. “Get the biggest you can find” I shouted after them, “tonight we feast!”

We pulled up the carrots, shook the dirt from them and snapped off the green bits (the rabbit was also going to be feasting tonight!!!). Call me inexperienced or incompetent if you like, but somehow our carrots were nothing like what we have come to expect carrots to look like. Not arrow shaped like they are in the bags down the supermarket. No ours were all sorts of funny shapes, mostly rude ones. The basket turned out to be bigger than required as well, the ones that looked like marbles we left to the birds, same to of the ones that looked like little cocktail sticks. In fact, we didn’t need the basket at all really, the spoils of our forgetful labour could be carried in our hands. We did leave some in the ground, hopeful that later we would be able to eat at least a few of them, having figured they had managed to get this far in their little lives, a week or so is hardly going to make them worse…

Back indoors we cleaned them and laid them out on the kitchen table. A sorry-looking bunch they were. The children began seeing monsters and octopus in the shapes, one looked like a centipede, another had the appearance of a wheelchair and many more looked like men’s willies. They didn’t make it into any meal, they ended their days as a  snack, nibbles during Ben Ten and Peppa Pig. It ended up fun biting the head off the octopus carrot as we saved the ship that it was attacking, the monster carrot met its end as it attempted to destroy the Lego City fire station. The willy shaped ones we got mummy to cut up into slices, best not blot the imagination of the children or give them any ideas just yet. And we can say without any bias at all that our home-grown efforts were far tastier than anything we have ever bought. Even the rabbit, gorged on the leaves, agreed. Certainly her digestive system seemed rejuvenated judging by the time it took me to clean her hutch the following morning.

In conclusion then, taking into account the cost of time spent preparing the ground, the cost of watering the weeds for 2 years, the cost of the various creams to heal my rashes, stings and bites. the purchase of somewhere around 32 packets of seeds and the paltry result of 23 seriously disfigured carrots of which only 11 were eaten. We would have been better off spending all that money simply buying the vegetables in the first place. But where’s the fun in that.

If you want to fight fire with fire, cut your grass!

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Now winter is most certainly with us, I’m rather pleased that for once I have organised myself and all the presents I am required to buy have been bought, wrapped up and sit under the tree. There is nothing left for me to do or worry about, all the boxes on my ‘To do before Christmas’ list have been ticked and my luck has been favourable. Nothing bad to report, no mishaps, misunderstandings or mistakes. I’m not used to that to be honest so to maintain my focus and keep things grim, I’d like to take you back to the summer. I didn’t really enjoy the summer. The family packed their bags and spent time on the coast with the grand-parents, leaving me bored and restless. The car got towed by the police, I received two speeding tickets and one large parking fine popped up in the post. But to cap it all… To ruin things some more, the neighbours children took full advantage of their parents leaving them home alone whilst they nipped off for a summer break, by having themselves Friday night parties with all their mates.

Now I know those in their late teens think they’re adults. I remember being their age and felt sure I was more adult than I actually was. But they have the sensibilities of an old boot and, whilst they think they are cool, they are just inconsiderate, generally stupid and painfully juvenile. So I was not surprised they had a few parties planned, I was surprised by their taste in music though. Like they’ve only been exposed to trance rhythms from the Ibiza scene from the mid 90’s. No accounting for taste. My problem was, however, they had it far too loud and played if for far too long. By 3.30am I had finally had enough and called security to ask them to go round and get them to turn it off or at the very least, turn it down. My walls were shaking, plaster was falling from the roof and my bed was slowly hopping towards the patio thanks to the thumping base and deep tones favoured by the William Orbit’s of the world, you get the picture. I don’t mind the odd party I just think parties shouldn’t start at 3pm, be louder than a Metallica concert and go on non-stop all night.

Security never did anything. Not surprising really. A Spanish security guard at 3.30am is probably too busy updating his Facebook page telling everyone what sandwich he’s just eaten, sleeping or watching imported porn on his portable DVD player to want to do any kind of security guard type of work.

Never mind. Saturday. Late afternoon, finally feeling less groggy from no sleep, I figure I should get a little more active. We’d just sacked our gardener. Here’s a handy tip, never employ Polish workers, or more specifically, never employ the Polish worker who worked for me, or, as it turned out, didn’t do any work for me. After breaking the lawnmower, breaking my spade and adjusting the sprinkler system so it watered the swimming pool, we let him go. I managed to fix the lawnmower, sort out the sprinklers and replace the spade. Not having a gardener meant the job of maintaining the garden fell to me. Which if I am honest is a job I quite enjoy doing, It somehow takes my mind off other things, forces me to walk a fair old distance and is rather satisfying when you look at the end result. The end result for me often being a wobbly series of lines with a few ‘missed’ clumps of grass every now and again.

So out came the lawnmower and I merrily began cutting my little patch of the world. I was surprised when security turned up some 20 minutes into things. Even more surprised to hear I wasn’t allowed to mow the lawn in the afternoon on a Saturday. “Why ever not” I asked, “Well it disturbs the peace on a weekend’” he replied. “Now hold on little fella” I remarked. “My neighbours can have a rave in their garden all night keeping everyone else awake, but I can’t cut my grass at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon because Juan Carlos and his family feel like a little nap after lunch!”

I ask if anyone has actually complained. “No” he says. Amazingly it turns out that this was his own little initiative. Driving about on his rounds, he came past our garden, heard the lawnmower and decided to take action on behalf of those who might complain or who may be disturbed by the noise. Where were you last bloody night then when someone, me being that someone, did complain about the noise! Before he left he also told me I could not have a garden fire. Why he told me that I do not know. But he told me.

During the week I spent much of my time plotting revenge. I did other things but will own up to spending far too long devising suitable retribution. The following weekend Pepe the party animal and his Neanderthal knuckle dragging mates swung back into action. Ibiza trance music again. William bloody Orbit again. Anyways. 3am, my bed has made its way to the other side of the room, the paintings have fallen from the wall and the plaster left on the ceiling has hip hopped its way to the floor. However, after a week of careful planning, phase 1 of my plan is in play and I’ve been sleeping like a baby thanks to the purchase of some rather special headphones, the ones airline pilots use. Noise cancelling things they are and cancel noise they most certainly do, Armageddon wouldn’t even have roused me. On the dot at 3.30am I wake up. By 4.15am I am in the garden listening… Silence. The neighbours have given up for the night, the cool dawn approaches with just the sound of nature wiping the sleepy dust from its eyes and there’s a wonderful mistiness to the air. It’s lovely.

My other useful purchase made the day I picked up the headphones was a seriously large, seriously bright torch along with the sackful of batteries required for it to do its job. Turning it on, balancing it on a wall by the pool, it illuminates the garden and it’s time to put phase 2 into action. Two quick pulls on the starter cord and the lawnmower kicks into life. These easy start mowers are such a joy aren’t they. Thank you Briggs and Stratton. Thank you also for a wonderfully engineered two stroke engine easily modified into a howling banshee by simply removing the two screws holding the exhaust pipe and baffles on. The noise as the exhaust gases exited directly from the cylinder head with spits of flames, was quite honestly, ear-splittingly loud. I began to cut the grass with the audio equivalent of a squadron of war-time bomber planes all gunning down the runway for a formation take-off. It was a good job I was wearing my headphones.

30 minutes later the neighbour is at the fence, looking a little worse for wear, rubbing his eyes and waving his arms at me. I wave back. Morning neighbour. 10 minutes pass and he is still waving his arms but now he has some friends with him, also waving their arms. And I must say, they too looked like they really could have done with a few hours extra sleep. “What’s the matter?” I ask. “The noise, they say.” “What noise?” I shouted. “Your noise!” they say. I shut down the engine and wander over to the fence… “We are trying to sleep but the noise you are making is stopping us” one of them said. I lean on the fence post, casual like “Well, you see, you decided you didn’t give a shit about me trying to sleep, so I have decided I don’t give a shit about you trying to sleep. Looks like it’s going to be a lovely day…” I said, as I fired the engine back into life, gave it a few big squirts of throttle to get it barking angrily and did a wheel spin as I walked away. Okay. I lied about the wheel spin, I’ve never been able to wheel spin the lawnmower in any way, or wheelie it come to think of it, but I exited with the equivalent sort of style.

Some 3 hours later I’m finished. 7.30am. Obviously after mowing the lawn I had to get the strimmer out to do the edges, so it all took a bit longer than planned (and removing the exhaust on the strimmer was a lot more complicated than I imagined). They were lucky though, they were saved from the annoying tones of the chainsaw as it had a gummed up spark plug and I don’t keep a spare. It’ll be ready for their next party though. Now the thing that makes this all the sweeter for me was that during this whole noisy period, security never once came around. It would seem that gardening on a Saturday at 3pm in the afternoon is a big no no, but at 5am or so, not a problem. Thus, from now on, garden duties during the summer months, at least until the spotty little teenagers parents return, or stop their annoying little parties, or we find a halfway competent gardener, are to be performed at 4.30am.

I am also preparing the ground for a small bonfire I plan to start.