I’m not a handy person. Come the armageddon, I’ll be next to useless in whatever society crawls from the wreckage. Plumbing? Nope. Carpentry? Forget it. Mechanics? That’s what oily men are for. I can, however, build you a kick ass spreadsheet and I can even get it to talk nicely to a database backend. Come the armageddon, I don’t expect to be called into action immediately.

But, every dog has its day. When we got a cat, nearly seven years ago now, I successfully cut a hole into our kitchen door and filled that hole with a catflap. Not just any old catflap, you understand, but a magnetic catflap. For those not familiar with such things, this is a catflap that remains locked until a magnet comes into close proximity and then it unlocks. Affix magnet to cat’s collar and you’d think it would be plain sailing after that.

Not for our cat. She wasn’t used to having to press her head against a plastic flap to come and go. She much preferred to walk in and out of an open kitchen door and that’s what we humans were for. I tried to introduce her gently to the idea, then I tried a more direct approach. She protested vocally and violently. I eventually let her be and she wandered over to her food bowls to have a snack and forget about the whole nasty business. The food bowls were metal. She had a magnet round her neck. Once she was within six inches of her dinner, the bowl lept from the floor, clattered into her chin and sent her scampering for cover with a large metal medallion hanging from her collar. She’s only now getting over the experience. For fear of coming home one day and finding her clamped over a Chinese take away menu on our fridge door, we removed the magnet and “switched off” the catflap to freely allow comings and goings, Magnet Not Required. The cat, eventually, got used to the arrangement, but why the maker’s decided to use a NASA standard magnet in their product is anyone’s guess.

And all was well until recently, a fat moggy moved into the street. Fat moggy has no issue with using our catflap or eating our cat’s food or generally just bullying our cat. She’s a fragile wee thing, our cat, and we love her. So we — me and my missus, not me and the cat — decided to give this secure catflap business another go. Technology in the world of catflaps has come on leaps and bounds in the last seven years and you can now get one that’s driven by an infra-red beam … or frikkin lasers, as I like to think of it.

It’s the same size as the existing flap so I didn’t need to chance my arm with a jigsaw again. A little bead is attached to the cat’s collar to trigger a sensor on the catflap and at no point will this cause her any surprise when she feels peckish and, all going well, it will keep nasty fat moggy out of our house.

But … it’s noisy. When the cat moves within range, there’s a CLUNK! as it unlocks and a CLUNK! when she moves out of range and it locks again. Problem is, when she moves out of range and it CLUNKS!, she must think nasty fat moggy is trying to get in. So she moves back into range and CLUNK! it unlocks again. She has a little sniff around the plastic door and once she’s satisfied there’s no funny business, she wanders away … CLUNK! and like a shot, she’s back within range again to investigate the noise. And when she sits on her mat at the door, as she’s likely to do, it basically CLUNKS! on and off constantly. This carries on long into the night. I’m starting to think the manufacturer’s hate cats and their owners. I suspect the handiwork of one Jerry Mouse.

So far, though, there’s been no sign of fat moggy, but short of giving our cat her own set of keys, I’d be interested to know of any alternate ways to keep local strays out of our house and let our cat come and go as she pleases while keeping our sanity. Answers on a postcard, please.


Full of good intentions, I had planned to make some predictions for the 2010 BAFTAs that were announced last night. Unfortunately, I’m also full of the cold so I went to bed instead.

I’m pleased to say, though, that I’ve woken up to see some very sensible results.

The number of nominations thrown at Avatar and, to a lesser extent, Up in the Air baffled me. Neither were Best Film material and neither, as it turned out, won. Instead it was The Hurt Locker’s night — a far more deserving destination.

Avatar excelled in two fields and it was those two fields in which it found some success: special effects and production design. Up in the Air got best adapted screenplay and that’s probably deserving too … the script was pretty good.

Christoph Waltz was a shoe-in for Best Supporting Actor, Up was hugely deserving of Best Animation and Best Music and it would’ve been a travesty if my favourite film of 2009, Moon, had gone home empty-handed.

Biggest surprise and disappointment of the night — perhaps the only surprise and disappointment — was Let The Right One In didn’t get Best Film in a Foreign Language. It’s hard to imagine a better foreign film than the Scandinavian vampire tale and I haven’t yet seen the winner, A Prophet, so it’s unfair to manufacture true outrage. I can’t help thinking maybe there’s been too much buzz around vampires recently and that’s done it a disservice.

Now it just remains to be seen how or if these results translate into Oscars in a couple of weeks. Head says Avatar may do a little better across the pond; heart likes the believe that Up might bag Best Picture.

Finally, I’ll be particualrly interested to see if James Horner can pick up a gong for Best Original Score for Avatar, especially as the man and that same Original Score already won it in 1997. Something about a big boat …

Every time I tell myself that I’m finished with posting about odd signs and notices, I’m guaranteed to see another one that I simply can’t ignore.

Continuing with this tradition, then, on my travels early this morning through Bainsford near Falkirk, I spotted this:

OPTICIANS, it announces proudly. But then, it panics, becomes concerned that there’s just not enough information here … something’s missing … but what else can you say about a simple opticians? Not to worry, the clever signmaker is at hand to clarify. Added at the bottom in a subtitular masterstroke, we find: For Eyes.

Which is handy for those potential customers looking for an optician to sort out their ingrowing toenail.

Apart from the sign, though, it has to be the most depressing shopfront I’ve ever come across. But I suppose if your eyesight has deteriorated to a point where you need an Optician (For Eyes), you’re unlikely to notice.

I’m not used to thinking about the shenanigans that might be going on in a Sicilian lemonade factory. Out of sight, out of mind is my standard position on the matter. And yet here I am.

This is the label from a Tesco bottle of pop. Or soda, if you prefer. Or juice if you’re Scottish.

The key information is just below the Allergy Advice warning. I’ve reorganised the order for dramatic effect, but here are Tesco’s pips of lemonade wisdom:

Recipe: No nuts.

Factory: No nuts.

Ingredients: Cannot guarantee nut free.

Eh? What on earth is going on in that factory? Whose nuts are getting dunked like teabags into my bloody lemonade? And if I pay a little extra, can I get that guarantee, please?

It’s been a few days since I last posted about workplace signage.

For those wondering why there seem to be so many security related signs at my work, let me explain.

The big building I work in used to belong to one company. Recently (actually, almost two years ago) approximately half was sold off and now certain areas are restricted and passage through departments requires appropriate security clearance. It’s all a bit like 24.

This new security sign is perhaps my favourite of the recent batch, not just for the badly worded instructions, but for the fact that it’s fixed to the door by two of the measliest pieces of brown packaging tape ever featured on these pages.

Now ideally, in a fancy FTSE company, you’d think the installation of a security pass swipe machine at a door would be sufficient tip-off to the need for accompanying, corporately approved signage. But no, we seem content to let members of staff dream up their own wordy solutions and I suspect as long as we keep brown packaging tape in the supplies cupboard, elaborate efforts like this will always be possible while clear, simple notices like SECURED ENTRANCE will be avoided.

There are two key words here: YOUR and NEEDED. Seemingly, this door will point blank refuse to open unless I give it my security pass; like my pass is the one missing for it to quench its thirst for appropriate security clearance. Charity, it seems, begins at this door.

Ok. Do NOT watch this video if you are sheepish about cartoon violence or eleven-year-old girls swearing. And this is big boy’s swearing. She says the eff word. And she intimates that she will see you next Tuesday.

Seriously. If swearing offends you, don’t click play.

First up, Kick-Ass looks like it might be the most aptly-named film ever made, but it raises an interesting question: kids and swearing … is it okay?

I remember watching The Last Boy Scout and being a bit disturbed by the little girl (Danielle Harris) who essentially told her dad to go fuck himself. Several times. I also remember Barry Norman being similarly disturbed. Danielle Harris, incidentally, went on to star in the Rob Zombie Halloween remakes, so … greater evil questions are already abound.

Despite the upping of profanity-stakes here, I’m less disturbed.

Maybe because almost twenty years have passed since I first saw that young Sweary Mary on screen. But maybe it’s because swearing isn’t the most shocking thing in the clip. I mean, she kills a dozen people here … quite explicitly, quite deliberately, quite gleefully. And then she says cunt.

Which is the worst? Well, I guess she didn’t really kill a dozen people and she really did say the words that tripped over her lips.

If nothing else, this trailer sets out in explicit clarity that it’s still possible to be shocked and that simple truth, in days when the internet serves up so many truly grotesque and frightening images, is a good thing.

Plus, I’m totally looking forward to the movie!

After a wait of around a week, the first copy of my short story and poetry anthology — A Documentary About Sharks — was force fed through my letterbox by a postie who must’ve thought my doorbell was going to give him an electric shock.

I’m pleased to report that it survived in tact and, even if I say so myself, looks pretty damned scrummy.

Within its 94 pages are all twenty of the short stories and poems I had published during 2009. These include the eponymous Documentary, The Spirit of Shackleton, The Last Red Light in the Valley and few that I wrote so long ago it was like reading something for the first time.

At the moment, the book is available from lulu.com, where the physical, smashing, hard copy paperback can be purchased for £6.95 (excluding P&P) here. As a new-age, 21st Century alternative, a digital version can be delivered instantaneously over the ether for a mere £3.00 here. The benefits of this latter method being a) it’s cheaper and b) the nervous postie doesn’t need to get involved. Amazon.com and other online outlines will get in on the act in due course.

I’m not used to such shameless acts of self-promotion so I’ll keep this brief. Buy my book.


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