Thursday, 15 March 2012


Gary Hobble sighed and half heartedly adjusted his clipboard as he followed the receptionist through the largely beige, foul smelling industrial unit. Crates of tinned pet food were stacked floor to ceiling,
“When did this happen?” he thought briefly, “At what point in my life did I take the wrong turn that led here, to this.”
The receptionist showed him into the magnolia office where the factory manager, Mr Fanshawe stood to greet him. His host filled two cracked and stained mugs with weak tea, and dropped some soft digestives onto a dirty plate. Time to get down to business.
“Okay Mr Fanshawe, you’ve now been running this recycling programme for young unemployed people for six months, so this is just a perfectly routine audit of what you’ve been doing.”
The office was also littered with tins and boxes, pet food marketing posters hung limply from the wall.
“Of course. Government needs to know the money is being well spent. I quite understand. I know these new programmes can be controversial.”
Gary shuffled his papers in a way that he hoped suggested he was remotely interested. Mr Fanshawe grinned a rictus grin.
“Now,” said Gary, “you’ve had really massive numbers of young people getting involved which is great, but I’d just like a word with a few of see how they’ve been finding the work.”
Mr Fanshawe continued smiling, but a little wave of confusion rippled gently across his face.
“I’m not sure I understand. I would you be able to speak to them?”
“Arent they here?” asked Gary.
“Well...yes,” smiled Mr Fanshawe, “they’re everywhere really.”
Mr Fanshawe gestured around the room, and then picked up a tin.
“In these. Three varieties. But not very chatty.”
Mr Fanshawe chuckled genially.
“They’ the dogfood?”
“They are the dogfood.”
“You’ve turned them into dogfood!?”
Gary, for the first time in some months, started to panic.
“No! Dear me no! Not just dogfood. Cat food as well.”
“You’ve turned people into petfood?!”
Mr Fanshawe scrambled urgently through some papers on his desk and produced a report, holding it up in front of himself like a very flimsy shield.
“Well there was a bit of consumer resistance to eating spam made out of dead unemployed people. But we’re a nation of pet lovers so...”
“I can’t believe this is happening.” said Gary, no longer even pretending to look at his clipboard.
“It was all in the proposal.”
Mr Fanshawe handed Gary another document, this one entitled “Human Waste Recycling Project”.
“But...I thought human waste recycling meant...y’know...toilet stuff.”
Mr Fanshawe shook his head in disgust.
“Good lord no! I mean..what dog owner is going to buy a can of poo?”
“But this is terrible! This is supposed to be a work project for young people to help them get employed.”
Mr Fanshawe felt slightly on the backfoot, this wasn’t going at all how he had envisaged this morning in the shower.
“Young Tam’s got a job.”
“What does he do?” asked Gary
“He pushes everyone else into the mincer. Big lad. Plus we’ve managed to save a bit of money there by paying him on commission.”
Gary started to gently rock himself back and forward.

“He was a bit overkeen the first few weeks mind...lost a few cleaners..but thats all calmed down now. Great to his family. God rest their souls.”
Gary upturned the plate of soft digestives in the nearest he could manage to a rage
“This is a charnel house!”
Mr Fanshawe was now on the verge of feeling a little hard done to.
“Well...yes....Did you actually read my proposal?”
“Not the's a black box approach...the numbers just looked really good...”
“The numbers are really good!”
Regaining ground, Mr Fanshawe enthusiastically unfolded a series of colourful bar graphs and pie charts.
“We’re at 150% productivity...way above original projections. Plus we’re recycling almost 95% of waste products. Teeth are a bit problematic at the minute...but I’m thinking we could look at some sort of jewellery line.”
Gary’s dead eyes danced numbly across the figures.
“These numbers are fantastic...”
Mr Fanshawe nodded, producing a nice pastel tone gant chart for the rest of the years activity.
“Local unemployment is down...local pet satisfaction is up. This is a good news story!”
“I suppose...apart from all the murdering. Listen...let me have a think about it.”
Gary got up from his chair, shaking only slightly.
“Makes a change from all that negativity around government work programmes eh? Let’s celebrate success!” said Mr Fanshawe, handing over a document entitled “Human Waste Recycling Franchise Opportunities”.
Gary looked at one of the tins
“Okay. You’re not totally convinced." said Mr Fanshawe, placing a reassuring hand on Gary's arm, "Do you have a pet at all?”
Gary shook his head
“Shame. Tell you what...come back next week and I’ll talk you through my proposals for a chain of old folks homes.”
Not even realising he had left his clipboard behind, Gary wandered out of the magnolia office and back onto the beige factory floor.
Mr Fanswhawe lifted the phone and dialled downstairs.
“Tam. Hi. See our guest out would you. Very meaty thighs.”

Monday, 5 March 2012


11 March 2012 would have been the 60th birthday of the writer and thinker Douglas Adams, author of The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, lover of Apple Macs. This only slightly derivative story is by way of a wee tribute...

The assault fleet of the Galaxia Media Corporation hung silently in orbit, waiting. Below, the focus of their long mission, the last planet to provide a home to the almost entirely extinct platitudeypus, beloved of publishing companies and lecture circuits everywhere.
So important, so vital was this mission, that the entire operation was being beamed back to their homeworld as a reality TV series, the longest running in their planet’s history. In truth, most people preferred the first few series before all the staged wars and jacuzzi planets. Initially, the advertising revenue from the show had funded the tanks and guns. Now it was lucky to cover the freeze dried ice-cream.
Admiral Fnurt wearily straightened his lapels and walked on to what he was beginning to feel was the rather optimistically named Battle Deck.
“Admiral on deck!” chirped a well groomed lieutenant.
“Well Captain..are the forces preparing to strike?”
Captain Zstash shifted awkwardly in his very comfortable Captains chair.
“Well...yessss...but me and the lads we was thinking”
Fnurt sighed.
“Well it’s not a very nice day is it? I mean looking at those monitors. It’s pouring down.”
“I fail to see what this has to do with our planned attack.”
“You don’t want to turn up on a wet day is all I’m saying. None of the lads have got macs or anything...and might be sunny tomorrow. Sets a better tone for an invasion.”
Fnurt had known this was how his day was going to end up.
“This is not a holiday Captain. We cannot afford to wait.”
“You’d kick yourself it it was nice tomorrow though. I mean wouldn’t you?”
Fnurt had read a book earlier in the week, “Just Managing”, it suggested that you do the thing that you are most dreading first in the day because then the rest of the day would be a breeze. It did not allow for the possibility that the thing you are dreading most might take all day.
“Captain we have been orbiting this planet for the last ten years. And every time we are ready for attack...something goes wrong.”
“Oh come on sir. That last time was hardly my fault.”
“Well I can’t see how your emergency dental treatment would take priority over the mission.”
“I lead from the front Sir. If I’m not there the lads are all over the place.”
The assembled Generals on the Battle Bridge nodded in agreement, one or two dropped their weapons or held them upside down to illustrate their incompetence. Fnurt was fairly sure most of that was intentional.
“Captain we were here two years before you mentioned you’d forgotten to pack all the attack saucers.”
Fnurt winced at this memory, this remained one of the most popular episodes of the TV show.
“And what about the time before that when you couldn’t attack because your task force were all being fitted for new trousers?”
“But I think you’ll agree they looked a treat”
Second most popular episode. Third was the first time they found a jacuzzi planet.
“We are here to take this planet...rain or no rain.”
“It is awfully heavy rain.”
Admiral Fnurt recalled another lesson from his book.
“Now is not the time for us to pick the low hanging fruit. Moving forward I want us all singing off the same hymn sheet. Today, we attack!”

So, what was it that inspired the heroic Galaxia media empire armies to brave the near torrential rains? What could be worth travelling halfway across the universe for? Well, money obviously. The platitudeypus first came to prominence just over a century ago, indigenous to several hundred very similar carbon based planets it has since been hunted to near extinction not because it tastes particularly nice or looks good as mittens, but largely because it irritates many lifeforms to the point of violent fundamentalism. And that is because this bafflingly literate beast’s many and varied mating calls sound exactly like the sort of vague half baked false wisdom that people really like to hear in times of personal crisis. So, while a male platitudeypus might be frantically signalling all females within a five mile radius, it would sound to our ears like he was suggesting that “time heals all wounds” or “ah well, it wasn’t meant to be”. The fact that medicine and surgery are more likely to heal wounds than letting them fester over time, or the notion that you are solely responsible for your own destiny and frequent mistakes is really neither here or there - who likes to hear that miserable rationalism when you can listen to a reassuring platitudeypus instead. After all it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. As indeed, is almost anything.

It only took one savvy entrepreneur to set the whole nightmare in motion; by recording the mating calls of the platitudeypus, naturalist Fillian Trantantor realised he had enough material to release an audiobook on increasing your self esteem through interpretive dance. He released “Like No One Is Watching” on Monday, was able to quit being a naturalist by Wednesday, and by Thursday teatime, the platitudeypus was being pursued by publishers across the galaxy.

Behavioural discoveries came thick and fast; herds of captive platidudeypi would synchronise the style and theme of their mating calls to the point where within a week you could almost guarantee that you would have enough material for a book on management theory, the power of positive thinking or relationship counselling. The outlay was low, a few leafy cages with a tank full of aquatic insects, and with just a sprinkling of judicious ghost-writing, you could be hitting the bestseller lists in no time.

As is so often the case, the popularity of the platitudeypus became it’s ultimate undoing. Ruthless publishing companies scoured the universe for ever more creative mating calls in an effort to continually reinvent the self-serving self-help boom; mighty media empires turned their guns on one another in the race for supremacy, with whole galaxies laid waste; households paid furtive platitudeypus poachers to provide them with their own home based oracle, always there with helpful though largely vapid and insubstantial advice; whole countries began to interpret the messages of the beasts in wildly opposing fashions and self actualisation wars broke out all across the universe.  However, more problematic by far, was the attention of gangs of increasingly angry rationalists who were incredibly ticked off by the popularity of such patently ridiculous advice and the damage it seemed to be causing; this was especially galling given that its very existence appeared to be an evolutionary fluke.

Indeed on one planet, a crack team of fundamentalist rationalists hunted the platitudeypus to extinction for no other reason than they were sick of people taking its advice on low-carbohydrate diets and self worth so seriously all the time. And sure enough, once it had gone, and the final platitudeypus had been stubbornly parboiled and served on a nice bed of rice, everything did actually get a lot better and there were less disagreements and upsets all round; but the planet became so monumentally grey and dull that no one even remembers where it is anymore.

Meanwhile, on the planet below, the imminent arrival of the Galaxia media empire assault fleet had not gone unnoticed, partly because the planet was very self conscious and had telescopes trained on the skies to see if anyone was looking at them, but mostly because the Galaxia media empire had started beaming down adverts for their cutting edge, reasonably priced, market cornering services. Most people were at least mildly interested in the introductory offers, but could have done without the attack saucers. Here and there, disillusioned by the brutal assault on their world, or perhaps just unhappy that their area was not within coverage of Galaxia services, pockets of resistance were gathering.

Former civil servant Hershel Genshburger decided that the time had come to take a side, and having seen an advert for his local resistance group in a newspaper shop window, he turned up at the secret meeting and was rather surprised to find that there were plenty of biscuits and tea available. But not quite as many burly ex-military explosives experts and former special-ops as he might have hoped.
“And are you connected to any other groups?” asked Hershel, helping himself to another ginger nut.
“Sorry. Could you sign in please.” said The Secretary, passing a notepad and pen over to Hershel. “Thanks!”
“Well....” said The Chairman, “There’s a group up the road in Plantard. And one down in Lurg. Jessie’s sister runs that one.”
“Okay. Any national networks? What’s the plan?”
“Well...its really still developing at the moment. We’re hoping to have some sort of conference.” explained The Secretary.
“A conference?”
“Yes...then we can workshop it all out. Figure out exactly what it is we want to do?”
The Chairman nodded and smiled as The Secretary minuted this point.
“What you want to do?” Hershel looked around at the collection of rather pleasant elderly folk. “What you want to do?! Surely you want to get ready to fight all the alien invaders and get them off the planet! That’s what a resistance movement do. They resist!”
“Told you!” said a lady by the tea urn, “I told you if we said we were a resistance movement that people would expect more from us.”
“Well this is precisely one of the reasons we need a conference.” said The Chairman “An open forum to discuss all of these issues and come to some sort of consensus.”
“There doesn’t need to be a consensus...” said Hershel “The spaceships are landing right now...”
 “I mean...maybe it isn’t about resistance at all. Maybe it’s about negotiation and understanding between ourselves and the attackers.”
At this point, The Treasurer could hold his tongue no longer.
“I think we’re all concentrating on the wrong issues. Think about the carbon footprint these things are making.”
The Chairman shook his head angrily, gesturing helplessly to Hershel in attempt to make it clear that this was old ground, well trodden.
“I honestly think that an organised group with an agreed mandate and agenda has more chance of influencing the decision making of the invaders. That’s what we’d be striving for at this conference.”
The Treasurer threw his arms up in the air.
“Oh! You and your conference.”
“Strawberry Tart?” offered the lady at the urn. Hershel smiled and shook his head.
“No...ehm…thanks very much for that.” he said, walking slowly back out of the community hall towards the battle scarred and burning streets “Probably all a bit much for me to take on in one go.”
“No problem. We’re here every week.” said The Secretary “Oh! But not next week. There’s a bingo night on. And Jessie’s got her appointment.”
“Now then,” said The Chairman, “arrangements for the AGM....”

The first of the attack saucers exploded just after lunch on Friday. A delegation of Galaxia Media executives were on their way to address a peace conference, when the rain had really started chucking it down. The hard water and acidity level of this planets precipitation did not at all agree with the Galaxia Assault Fleet’s fusion generators. Within minutes, an entire squadron of anti-matter propelled saucers starting malfunctioning. It really was very heavy rain. The planet didn’t stand a chance.

As the world below exploded, drifting swiftly out across the dark emptiness in waves of dust and rock, Admiral Fnurt sighed and turned to the camera.
“Ah well. There’s plenty more fish in the sea.”

Douglas Adams said many wonderful things, among them this very poetic defence of science and secular reason,
"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it as well."
I'm a non-believer myself, but in our increasingly polarised times, I'd certainly like to think that Douglas Adams wasn't suggesting that anyone who does believe in fairies is an idiot, and that maybe, it is really up to individuals what they do and see in their garden...providing they don't start berating other people for not seeing things too. I've eh..I've run out of metaphor.

Enjoy some of my very own Vogon Poetry.

Enjoy "Shada" a lost Doctor Who, which Douglas Adams wrote for the BBC .

Get tweets from "The Meaning of Liff", Adams dictionary of things there should be words for.

Here is an episode of the bizarre childrens TV show "Dr Snuggles" written by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Liff's Too Short

March 11th 2012 would have been the 60th birthday of writer and thinker, Douglas Adams. This is the first of two blog entries which are by way of a wee tribute.

Adams is of course most famous for The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy, but in 1983, he and John Lloyd published The Meaning of Liff, "a dictionary of things that there aren't any words for yet"

"In Life, there are many hundreds of common experiences, feelings, situations and even objects which we all know and recognize, but for which no words exist. On the other hand, the world is littererd with thousands of spare words which spend their time doing nothing but loafing about on signposts pointing at places. Our job, as wee see it, is to get these words down off the signposts and into the mouths of babes and sucklings and so on, where they can start earning their keep in everyday conversation and make a more positive contribution to society."  Douglas Adams & John Lloyd

If you are interested in wordplay, you can win copies of the book by submitting your own definitions, or you can just increase your vocabulary daily by following on twitter. Here's a few of mine.

carmunnock - to scowl at small happy children in public places

ecclefechan - an ancient scottish curse. Now most often used after standing on a piece of stray lego during a night time trip to the bathroom 

largs - the chewy bits of gristle and batter at the bottom of a fish supper or more regularly, stuck to the side of a deep fried mars bar 

prestwick - descriptive of the figure hugging qualities of an especially tight pair of jeans

pittenweem - a close friend at work who becomes your manager and immediately, a prick

turners puddle - an irrational fear of swimming pool flumes

urquhart - the quiet, serious pause after a husband suggests that he and his wife should visit a swinging club

wickham market - to compose a shopping list during sexual intercourse

UPDATED - 10 March 2012
The Liff competition has now closed, here are the winning entries, official "new Liffs" as chosen by the mighty John Lloyd himself. I'm delighted to humblebrag that one of mine is among them, but hats off to the winner Craig Warhurst for Peakirk.

Hypothetical object at which a lazy eye is looking.
(AJ Dehany)

The extra work you have to do because you cut corners the first time.
(Ian Cattell) 1

Unable to walk straight after getting off a roundabout.
(Simon Beasor)

The mood you’re in when you don’t know what mood you’re in.
(Ian Cattell) 2

Anything that falls out of your sandwich and into your drink.
(Ian Cattell) 3

To decide against helping those less fortunate than yourself.

A baby so ugly you can’t even tell which way up it is.
(Ian Cattell) 4

One who sniffs fruit in a supermarket.
(Ruth Maher)

The innocent smile adopted by a baby moments before it throws up all over you.
(Mal Blackburne)

The sense that one is still wearing a baseball cap long after it has been removed.
(Philip Calvert)

To coat one’s beloved in cottage cheese.
(Janette Taylor)

A clump of pubic hair that always gets missed when one is shaving one’s scrotum.
(Matthew Imrie)

The off-putting watery residue that forms at the top of yoghurts, ketchup etc.
(Nick Kent) 1

Any nook, cranny or cavity with enough room for a small object, or your fingertips - but not both - to get into.
(Nick Kent) 2

A stretch intended to disguise the fact that you are sniffing yourself for B.O.
(Jon Freeman)

The dried streak left by an earlier attempt to clear a vehicle’s window of condensation.

One who regularly points out that there are no lavatories on the USS Enterprise.
(Craig Warhurst) 1

A lengthy and depressing period of time during which the question “What else could possibly go wrong?” is emphatically answered by a series of increasingly unlikely and embarrassing misfortunes.
(Matt Dupuy)

SPALDING ppl vb.
The futile waving of the hand in front of the mouth when eating something much hotter than expected.
(Craig Warhurst) 2

To march purposefully in entirely the wrong direction.
(Doug Forrest)

A jiggle of the leg in an attempt to free a sweaty scrotum from the thigh.
(Fiona Dickinson)

An imaginary shopping list composed during sexual intercourse.
(Paul Bristow)

The sound of cheers carried on the breeze from a distant sports field.
(Terri Washburn)

The small gap through which you can clearly see the gift after you cut the wrapping paper to almost exactly the right size.
(Nigel B)

The small, pinkish ball of lint found in the tumble-drier after washing one’s underthings.