Blog Revamp

I've decided to redesign the blog. It's 2008, I'm curiously more optimistic about the world (hence the brighter colour scheme) and it's time for a change.

The following will also be features of this newly revamped blog: more regular entries; more reviews of TV, music and film (starting with "Ashes To Ashes"); more recorded music MP3s; (both my own work, plus some covers); more humour; more observation; less Messianic tendencies - oh, and more travel. It broadens the mind apparently.

Also, dear fellow blog readers, I'm trying to increase the interactivity of this site. So, please add comments to any of the entries to encourage a bit of an old discussion (rather than emailing me comments, which some of you have started doing).

Christmas Eve: We Wish You A Kylie Christmas

About a fortnight ago, a close friend of mine challenged me on my atheism. Not in a drop-down-the-gauntlet way, but more as a "try this point of view" and pointed me in the direction of a web article by a Free Church minister. This blog entry, then, was going to be a point-by-point argument against the (admittedly, beautifully written) article. But then I checked today's date and realised that the publication of this entry wouldn't be particularly, um, seasonal. Just as we're all about to sit down with families up and down the country in celebration of the birth of the Son of God, I'm about to theologically trash it. So, I'll leave that for the next blog entry - post-Christmas.

Instead, I'll point out the sheer stupidity of a work colleague of mine, who asked me if I'd be watching the "Doctor Who" episode on Christmas Day if I wasn't a fan. I stared open-mouthed at him; of COURSE I'd be watching it. Let's work this out logically.

I'm a bloke. A heterosexual bloke. Kylie Minogue is appearing in the episode. In a French Maid's outfit. Of course I'm fucking watching it!

"Ah," asked my work colleague cheekily, "but I'm one of those people who suspects you're gay anyway."

Again, I looked at him, as if he'd just asked a whale whether it was a mammal or fish and expected an answer back in a human language. So, let's just say I'm gay (for the sake of argument - shut up, Calumn). Let's look again. Kylie Minogue is appearing in the episode. In a French Maid's outfit. Of course I'm STILL fucking watching it! It's a win-win for a bloke, whatever their sexual orientation.

Merry Christmas, my dear blog readers. Hope you have a good one! I wish to send you all my genuine and absolutely sincerest love.

It's Only A Teddy, For Fuck's Sake!

Or somewhat similar to my other opinions of similar news stories from years past. Such as, "It's only a bloody whale!" (a whale ends up in the Thames and the UK ends up in a stupid sentimental hysteria, somewhere between mourning Diana and a Crimewatch TV presenter). Or "It's only a rather infantile cartoon, don't declare a fatwa on the entire Dutch race for it". Or "It's only a Fringe musical featuring Jesus in a nappy and swearing, don't kill a stand-up comic for it!"

But, yeah, thank God I didn't write a blog entry article on any of those, because Muslim fundamentalists decide to go utterly apeshit at someone being saved from the death penalty because she... um... decided to agree with 6-year-olds in her classroom as to what they were going to call a stuffed toy. It's a bit different to that fatwah declared on a Booker Prize winner some 15 years ago.

  Let's pick on the poor harmless 54-year-old school teacher instead, who is teaching children the wonders of democracy by getting them to stick their hand in the air as to which name they should choose.

Actually, this ain't an atheist rant. Contrary to popular opinion, I'd actually quite like to believe in God. I'm sure it would give me a slightly sunnier nature and more optimism in humanity. As it is, I'd like to believe in an Almighty Being, but don't (that doesn't mean I'm agnostic, as agnostics essentially have a wood railing stuck up their jacksy - I don't sit on the fence on most issues).

  No, this is a libertarian pro-democracy rant. It also means that certain reactionaries reading this article, expecting me to go all Daily Mail on them (e.g. ranting about Muslims being given free reign, while good Christians are once again relegated to third-best, who won the War anyway?), are going to be sadly disappointed. No, this is me fighting for the rights for Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, Jews, Quakers, Daily Mail readers, Humanists, Guardian readers, BNP supporters, the whole damned lot the right to criticise opposing ideologies without them fucking killing each other.

The Qu'Ran details the fundamental goals of Islam - and one is the preservation of life. The Bible states similar things. Jewish philosophy details the quality and value of life. As for atheists like me, I relish the fact that evolution in it's wonderfully chaotic order within ecological niches, actually happens quicker than most religious zealots would have you believe. Didn't you change your mind at least once today? That frontal lobe decided to change direction at least once surely - between having Crunchy Nut cornflakes or museli; that's evolution, baby.

  Happening right now. In that split second. Every single human being is a unique vessel, with a million-lock combination of neurons firing in an entirely different way to the single human next to them; an entirely different world of perception just a shoulder flick away. By the way, as an aside to all this, there is an almost perfect correlation between the evolved size of the amygdala and lower temporal lobe to how religious you are. The amygdala is that old ancient part of the brain that controls the 'flight or fight' response too. I'd wager that religion was a necessary part of survival in a prehistoric society, but is becoming less and less of a certainty as that bit of the brain gets smaller and smaller, with logic and reasoning dictating in these enlightened secular times. Just a thought - don't kill me for it. It's my amygdala and I'd protect anyone else's, big or small - the gamut of schizophrenic, religious text basher, agnostic, atheist and exceedingly dull person who doesn't believe in anything and buys the Telegraph.

In fact, religion provide a wonderful backdrop to some awesome creativity, rather than the awful destructivity and censorship the louder-voiced denizens wish to foist upon us. There's nothing to get the blood pounding than a good parable, some audacious Michaelangelo Catholic imagery or a Dante tryptych graphical depiction of Hell. Not to mention the fact that Jesus or Mohammed said some nice, peaceful and forgiving guidelines on how to live a good and fruitful life and how to help your neighbours. None of that reinterpretation deserves a stoning. Or when someone in Hollywood decided to re-write the Sinbad classical movie, making certain that Sinbad wasn't an Iraqi. Actually, that probably is worth the odd death threat, simply from the view of artistic integrity vs. a Michael Bay movie.

But back to my atheism again and, specifically, religious fundamentalism trying to silence my views in an ostensibly libertarian democracy (yes, I know, I know; that argument is reserved for yet another blog entry about the unholy alliance between Brown and Cameron - YES, there is one, haven't you noticed?) - so fed up am I with being gagged for what I want to say, without fear of being burned at the stake or have a Salman done on me, I've decided that democracy pays for me to have a sort of opinionated joi de vivre. After a fortnight of growing a beard and people reckoning that there was something of the religious nutter about my facial hair, I decided to become fundamentalist in my beliefs. However, that didn't mean I was going to convert to another religion just to keep up with my hairy image. It struck me that there was a 'gap in the market' amongst the born-again Christians, Zionist zealots and the Muslim extremists.

I was going to shave and become an "atheist fundamentalist". I would be the first of my kind and would attempt to recruit an army of followers. I would scream "There is no God!" and shake my fist at irregular
intervals. I would threaten cinemas that showed

Mel Gibson movies, but didn't screen David Cronenberg movies. If I got into an intellectual discussion with religious moderates or agnostics, I would not listen to their arguments and quote large tracts from Richard Dawkins' books. I would declare death to any person or country that dares produce a satirical cartoon of my prophet Desmond Morris.

That ought to show 'em.

Next up: I promise, a return to the form. This entry and the last one is coming dangerously close to being mindlessly Messianic. Christ, I even said joi de vivre, for the love of Nigella. I'll toss off the usual Wagnerian review of the last episode of "Heroes". Or "The Mighty Boosh". Depends on how I'm feeling. Heck, why not even a parallel review of both...

Facebook Is Evil, Goddammit! Part II (Back To The Future)

Ah yes. This blog entry is a bit late, but a lot has happened over the past fortnight - but, as promised, I'm continuing the thread of Facebook as no better than a Satan in the machine and picking up on RULE 5 from Part I of this article. For those of you who have the attention span of the Cheeky Girls on crack, Rule 5 was the one about getting back in touch with school friends again. Let's revisit one of them, namely my "school prom queen" who is currently in London, having to contend with her police officer's salary, surrounded by unaffordable property and embracing Buddhism as a way of dealing with the bodies (dead or alive) surrounding her. For the purposes of this article, we'll call her Buddhist Cop. In addition, there's my other dear school friend who lives in London and when I heard his voice over the phone a few months ago, he was panicking over a gently smouldering server computer. It wasn't so much the fact that he was telling me about a fucked computer that was slightly bizarre - it was the gap of 15 years between last hearing his voice, during a time when the internet barely existed to suddenly hearing his contemporary voice again, talking about... MODERN applicances!! Things that are.... TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY! For the purposes of this article again, I'll refer to him as Asp Man (for those bored enough to know why I'm calling him that, he codes some stuff in ASP for the business that he runs himself - betchya that fascinated all you geeks out there).

With Buddhist Cop and Asp Man, I'm supposed to be organising a school reunion because of Facebook. Just by me writing that sentence, I've already caused some outright derisive laughter from some people. But you'd be right - out of three of us supposedly doing it, I was probably the most cynical; the other two probably had a better time at school than I did anyway. But curiously, I appear to have become the lone torch-holder for this re-union - primarily because I've changed perspectives on it and am essentially doing a Hunter S Thompson.

Gonzo bloggism, instead of gonzo journalism, I suppose you could call it. And, fuck me, am I now enjoying it. Rather like Edward Norton's character in "Fight Club" feeling disconnected from life events around him and then suddenly feeling the pulse of life by getting beaten up on a nightly basis, I'm discovering bits of myself that I'd forgotten about; I guess this is a journey of self-discovery I've accidentally tripped upon. Except, thankfully, I don't have my alternative psyche played by Brad Pitt pummelling crap out of me.

Anyway, my Hunter S Thompson journey and the gonzo motto of living the experience, rather than being a dispassionate observer, is never more apt than turning off the evil of Facebook and just going out and meeting the REAL people behind those profiles. And the most viscerally satisfying out of meeting any of those Facebook friends are precisely those friends from school, mired in the emotional flashbulb of screaming hormones and formative experiences. Big, gut-wrenching, filmic moments that re-visit you occasionally in the deepest bowels of sleep, during times of contemporary anxiety - normally caused by those exact same peer pressure moments that were the lingua franca of teenage interaction at High School. God, my old English teacher was right - I've just looked at that last paragraph and I'm STILL fecking mixing more metaphors than a pissed Alan Whicker. But bear with me, as after yet another meeting with two people from my school past on Saturday night, I'm starting to understand why Facebook can be rather mis-used. So far, Facebook communication has fallen down because of the way most internet communication breaks down - zero body language, amplified by the fact that people are ALWAYS going to think that the old school friend from behind the profile is frozen in time like a Grange Hill DVD, rather than the rich collection of life experiences that they are now. It's been the basis of terrible, terrible misunderstandings behind some of the messages flying between some of the people and I've ended up becoming a bizarre mediator, attempting to bridge a time-gap older than 15 years. Misunderstandings that possibly would've occurred anyway, but magnified to quite a terrifying degree by Facebook, and all based on a false sense of familiarity. I'll happily rip off another old school friend who I met about a month ago; he looked at me over his glasses and said, "a gap of 16 years suddenly vanishes with one click of a mouse button".

Thankfully, my worst mistake was sending someone a Runrig track, because I remembered she loved the band as a teenager. What a stupid thing to do though? How dare I just assume someone hasn't changed - an awful way of breeding a fake familiarity through broadband wires. And she likes Green Day now anyway.

To digress very briefly, perhaps this muddy decision was made through a fog of nostalgia, not helped by the fact that our surrounding media seems to be going through a psychedelic mind-fuck of slamming the past into the future, in the hope of catching this zeitgeist of, um, reliving the past. That's GOT TO be a paradox, right? The very meaning of zeitgeist is capturing the spirit of a current time! Okay, I'll give you a few examples and this'll maybe explain what spurned me on, possibly sub-consciously. As anybody who knows me very well, I love "Doctor Who". I also utterly adore "Fawlty Towers".

It didn't help matters for my current state of mind when a gap in my brain of over 20 years got bridged shockingly in "Children In Need" and I watched in slack-jawed amazement as Peter Davison appeared in front of David Tennant and started conversing with him, BOTH playing the eponymous Doctor. I glanced briefly at my mobile phone, with my blood pumping full of cheap lager, and thought I was having some sort of weird out-of-body experience. There were the phone numbers of Buddhist Cop and Asp Man, snugly nestling alongside friends from... well, the PRESENT! THE CURRENT TIME PERIOD! Some two hours later, my cerebellum came dangerously close to leaking out of my ears, as I witnessed Prunella Scales playing Sybil Fawlty, running a contemporary Hotel Babylon, for fuck's sake! To further compound this mind fuck, Kylie Minogue decides to do a comedy sketch show the following week, where Jason Donovan meets her. But this isn't a repeat of the Neighbours wedding, it's them NOW! In a freaking comedy sketch! Playing postmodern versions of themselves at that, with Jason failing to recognise his ex-girlfriend. Funny, yeah. But a real head-fuck, let me tell you. Particularly while boozing.

I mean imagine what happened if my past self met my current self. He'd probably gob on me, knowing him... um, I mean, knowing ME??! Arrrrghhhh, give me some more medication, nurse!

But enough of the digression, let me tell you this - there are three things that have remained consistent during a fourth genuine meeting with school friends that I haven't seen in over a decade after a Facebook natter.

1) Expect the unexpected
2) Expect to be moved to sadness and genuine tears
3) Expect to laugh till you can't breathe

I enjoyed the company of my codenamed colleagues (and friends from school), Baileys Belle and Lab Dancer, on Saturday night and went through the above three movements exactly. No, I'm not going to fully explain their nicknames either (although Baileys Belle was the movie quiz queen from Part I of this article). Yes, Baileys Belle did have the occasional Baileys Irish Cream between glasses of white wine, but the full explanation would require you to be a fan of "The Mighty Boosh" and, even at that, would still not make a huge amount of sense in whatever context I spinned it in. Meanwhile, Lab Dancer runs a successful lab cleaning company - and I'm not going to explain the dancing bit either. Just take it as read that they're appropriate nicknames. Anyway, back to the three movements; the arpeggio (expect the unexpected), the adagio (sadness and genuine tears) and the allegro (laugh till you can't breathe). This is exactly what happened, bang on schedule. Specifically with reference to Baileys Belle, we ended up being stunned by unexpected revelations, such as certain hidden relationships and dating that we were unaware of. We ended up moving each other to tears when talking about a mutual school friend of ours in London having a VERY tough time. Plus, we ended up laughing like a couple of twats, remembering some of the things that teachers tried to do, to appear cool. Dimly-held memories suddenly became the flashbulb moments again and I was almost moved to tears again, when Baileys Belle remarked on me being a "catalyst" and having "blossomed" (and eliciting a VERY rare schoolboy blush). She then dragged me to the Brazen Heid pub, which Lab Dancer thought was the funniest and unlikeliest combination ever; the High School 'Prom Queen' (she'll kill me for that term) and the High School geek in a rowdy Celtic supporters' pub. In fact, he was so utterly baffled at the collision of two time-periods in such a strange juxtaposition that he repeatedly told us all that this was the 'weirdest night' of his life, while he eyeballed us both as if we were Bill Gates and Cate Blanchette walking on the red carpet together. Mercifully, that was an old perception quickly and dutifully disregarded to the dustbin of history. We all tended to focus on the superficial at school, the cliques that people formed, and so on. Surprisingly, some years after the event, turns out that both Baileys Belle and Lab Dancer liked people I wouldn't normally countenance and strongly disliked some others that I assumed they got on well with.

"Am I missing something in life?" is what I was asked near the beginning of the mini-reunion night by Baileys Belle. Thankfully, for the first time in a while, I was able to be confidently say "No" to that question. In fact, it's precisely because I'm feeling fairly happy with myself that I CAN go and seek all these people out on Facebook from my school years and have mad insane evenings with them. But that's not Facebook. That's me. Facebook is still evil. If nothing else, me and my two new friends (and they are NEW friends - I'm not mistaking them for the past ghosts that we all were) proved that by closing the Internet Explorer window and having mad visceral fun, a proper connection is made - not one based on Facebook Pirates Vs Ninjas.

Meanwhile, Buddhist Cop and Asp Man are missing out - they really are, 'cos they're in London being busy all the time and only able to really communicate in snatched minutes at their laptops. Trying to prove a connection by sitting something like the Picture Personality quiz ("See? See? Aside from us being in a club/at school together/in rehab, I STILL have a connection to you - honest"). 'Cos that's what Facebook is - as speed dating is the natural end-product for starting a relationship in the 21st century, Facebook is the 21st Century busybody's speed-"friending".

  But speed-"friending" by sending Mortimer the travelling bear onto someone's Superwall ain't gonna cut it, particularly if you HAVE been to school with that someone and haven't seen them in over a decade! A non-existent fricking teddy will only help in the short-term, for Presley's sake.

So, back to the school reunion. I am now one of the happiest people to be organising it, after being so cynical. You get to see a perfect example of psychological longitudinal studies standing in front of you and you're allowed to do that because of that lonesome link of you once sitting together, being bored, whilst being taught about General Haig. And, just like a psychologist, the experience is even more enjoyable if you arrive with no preconceptions, no judgements and always ready to be surprised. Life is so much more exciting like that, when you don't bring your cultural baggage with you. It's also caused me to look at my current contemporary friends (that I DIDN'T go to school or Uni with) in a new light and marvelling at the life experiences that made them the wonderful, rounded, fleshed-out, fantastic funny characters they are. As the humanist and writer Wordsworth observed: "The child is the father of man." Christ almighty, it's even got me picking up my guitar again and writing songs - like the reborn teenager that I'm becoming again, but with the benefit of life wisdom. Surely, THAT is a big reward in itself.

And Buddhist Cop and Asp Man are still missing out. While I'm happily getting back on the phone and enjoying physical contact with the people behind the Facebook avatars, Asp man is distraught at smoking servers, and Buddhist Cop is arresting criminals while chanting a Mahayana sutra.


Chris Nicholson is fully aware that this latest blog entry features none of the stereotypical tales of woe, embarrassment and slapstick that normally encounter scenes in his life, together with pithy, incisive and deadpan comments. He is fully aware that this is what the public expect of his blog. Chris Nicholson promises normal service will resume for the next blog entry.

Facebook Is Evil, Goddammit! Part I

My friends may be surprised at this blog entry's title (Facebook IS EVIL, it is!!). After all, I'm the man who would nominally have extraneous flesh removed and Facebook surgically transplanted onto my left buttock, if such a drastic operation existed. But that's exactly my point. I used to fucking hate social networking websites. MySpace, Bebo, Friendster, MyArse, Sexually-Transmitted-Diseases-Sharers-Reunited. Now FacialBook has taken over my life - bastard stupid thing. Here are the ten rules of Facebook (or FB, as it will henceforth be known, as the pointless abbreviation that everything is in the Web community) that I've created.

1) Facebook is a Vacuity of Life and Everything (A VOLE).  Keep careful note of that phrase/acronym, as I will employ it again. A VOLE is a passtime that will never win you a Nobel Peace Prize, or enable you to be a Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter or even help you finish DIY tasks in your flat, such as washing a plate.

2) Facebook, MySpace and Bebo (along with Enemies Reunited and the like) are not social networking websites. They're anti-social networking tools. You can pretend to socialise with your mates online by incessantly Poking them, but let's face it - nothing quite beats the immediacy of a really good meal, a night down the pub or casual sex in the multiplex. In addition, MySpace has a geeky or musician cache value. Peering at friends on MySpace makes me feel like the musically illiterate slob, sitting in the middle of several casually talented artistes who could yawn out an aria or fart out a symphony in their sleep.

Meanwhile, I only logged in once a week on Bebo when I realised I felt like a middle-aged Uncle standing in the middle of my 14-year-old niece's disco, with a fixed half-smile during a Pussycat Dolls number - impressive stuff, considering I don't have a niece. I stopped using Bebo altogether when I glanced accidentally at public photos of some teenage girls in a nightclub called Spank in Doncaster. Logging off was probably a good idea at this point, since I didn't fancy being detained at Her Majesty's Pleasure for being a suspected nonce.

Finally, FB came along, when a mate of mine tagged me on a drunken night out - surely the usual and stereotypical way of joining the damned tool. I stared transfixed at the inebriated fool in the photo, precariously balancing several pints on his left elbow, before realising in abject horror that the idiot was me.

It was several months of photo tagging before I reached this monstrosity of forgotten embarrassment. I have no memories of this. Although my friend in the floppy Santa hat and the dressing gown tells me the rohypnol worked a treat.

3) Never ever use FB if you're ill or unemployed. The best analogy of this is by comparing it to "This Morning" (or any other generic morning daytime telly show). By rights, you should be convalescing in bed or reading a book. Something toward making you a healthy human being again, physically and mentally. Don't fritter away the remnants of your life by answering questions in a personality survey that will conclude that you're suffering neuroses that psychiatrists haven't even discovered yet. Plus, if you're unemployed and on the computer, try getting a job on Jobserve - avoid logging into FB to find out if you tick all the boxes for a typical Capricorn. In the latter case, you might as well be watching "This Morning's" Denise Roberts (or whatever the frig her name is) dispensing invaluable advice on fashion tips for the perfect Capricornian viewer. By the way, I should add that daytime telly is another VOLE.

4) Friends competition? Goddammit, fuck everyone else - FB is a popularity contest, where you out-do each other with the number of friends you've got on your list. Charlie Brooker (about whom, more later) wrote about this rather curious phenomenon. You'd do a lot more for your popularity if you travelled the country or even (gasp!) the planet Earth and bought a drink/meal for even one of those people, rather than stare in nervous trepidation at the profile photo of one of your friends breakdancing. I've got 138 friends at the moment - a respectable number, you might say. Except that's all the friends I've made throughout my time on Earth, including school friends I haven't seen in over 16 years. Which leads neatly onto...

5) Time-trip into your school childhood. School was the best days of your life, right? Actually, wrong. Everybody had, at the very least, a slightly rubbish time - even including the pretty popular pupils. I should know, I've got the two "school prom queens" on my list. One's claiming she'll never reach a calm serene nirvana as she's too volatile and she's dealing with this by playing a Facebook movie quiz. She barely remembers school. The other is a police officer with a penchant for Buddhist philosophy, who comes home after a day of post-mortems, sweaty rapists and Sir Ian Blair imposed paperwork and remembers her school days as when she had a "monobrow and waxing didn't exist".

Actually, this point is perhaps the most important - so, it's odd that I've put it at number 5. Surely it should be number 1? Hit the reader with the most important first. Or number 10? The reader is a gibbering mess, vowing never to touch FB with a moribund digit and is kicked to death by this final salient point. Well, dear blog reader, point number 5 will get its very own blog entry in a few days time, such is the totality of squirming embarrassment and mesmerising misunderstanding that has been provoked by a gap of over 15 years.

6) The first rule of Facebook is that you don't talk about Facebook. The second rule of Facebook is that you DO NOT TALK ABOUT FACEBOOK. "Okay, Chris, you numerically dyslexic halfwit, you've already got a first rule and second rule; plus, you don't have to paraphrase Brad Pitt, you'll just look stupid and look like you spend most of your life doing movie quizzes with the bird from point 5". So, to put it bluntly, this FB rule means you start talking like an idiot. At least with MySpace and Bebo, there is a relatively 'normal' vocabulary. Although kids who normally use Bebo have usually lost the power of speech by the sheer amount of mobile phone texting and masturbating that they do. I realised how idiotic the whole thing was when, without a flicker of embarrassment, I engaged in a serious conversation with a fellow worker about her zombie attacking my Slayer, while dribbling about the new My Personality app that just "yeah, totally understands me and my inner criminal" - since when did I become a cyber-New-Age-gangster dork?

7) Okay, so there are the stupid apps, the one that make you gibber uncontrollably about throwing a sheep at one of your friends in Greece. Meanwhile, your Greek friend is really wanting to know about your life after a decade of not seeing you, so you express your love by chucking a non-existent virtual ovine mammal at them. But then there's the danger of the really good apps, because they're worse - they're another example of the VOLE, albeit a slightly more stimulating one. This FB rule is the one I'm probably most guilty of breaking. Okay, I can make the lazy excuse that I'm insomniac and it's absolutely vital that I play 8 games of Scrabulous (online FB Scrabble) to help me sleep. But that maybe explains why I'm being cheerfully thrashed at all those games - blearily-eyed at 2am in the morning with only the word "TIT" to put on the board, while my opponent has strategically put together "OMNISCIENT" on a triple-word score isn't conducive to good sleep or a good game. It's for those reasons I installed Texas Hold 'Em Poker (sent to me from my serene Movie Quiz queen from point 5) and then quickly de-installed it - I essentially realised I'd be stapled to my keyboard from now till eternity if I'd put that on my FB profile.

8) The drunken FB rampage. It speaks volumes that there is now a FB Group that you can join if you've logged onto FB after consuming levels of alcohol that impair any sort of objective sensible judgement and you want to confess your sins. This is the 21st century equivalent of the drunken late night phone call to the ex. You wake up in the morning after a FB drunken rampage and stare in startled bewilderment at the number of people you've Poked (including complete strangers). Also, it seemed like an utterly hilarious thing to do at the time, yet the cold morning shines a light on the rank stupidity of buying a virtual cocktail for a close female friend. Sixty times. Additionally, the drink is usually called something original like "Sexed Up Zombie Pissing On A Beach".

Also, if it ever gets to the stage where I stagger in through my front door, late at night and with a head full of Chablis, gaze at My Aquarium on FB ("Oooh, pretty colours"), wake up the following morning and find my real aquarium full of actual dead fish, neglected in favour of virtual octopi and Pink Flippers, I know I need to cut the wires to my machine. The warning signs will also be present if I ever start adding people to my Friends list that I'd never do if sober. Either someone I quite fancy, but who barely notices my existence in the real world. Or someone I recognise, but can't quite figure out why. Which leads neatly onto...

9) Befriending "famous people" or "celebs". I haven't actually reached this step yet, but others have. I came dangerously close last week, when I realised that a childhood friend was FB pals with Grace Dent and, by proximity, Charlie Brooker. To explain briefly, Grace Dent and Charlie Brooker are both incredibly astute journalists that casually blow out chunks of TV media, so we (the TV viewing dead-eyed masses) can swallow them in bite-sized morsels glistening in vitriol - useful, when it comes to something like TV's "Big Brother" (another example of a VOLE, and possibly due for a blog entry of its own). Charlie Brooker, incidentally, wrote a blog piece on Facebook too, which is probably way funnier than this one. But he's a paid journalist by The Guardian, while I'm an I.T. Web Worker with all the social sophistication of Simon Cowell's potty. Simon Cowell, incidentally, is the human personification of a VOLE. Don't ever drunkenly befriend him on FB, otherwise you might as well kiss goodbye to any dangling threads of self-dignity you ever had after breaking all these ten FB rules.

10) Big Brother is watching you. No, not the VOLE "Big Brother" (see point 9), but the original Orwellian Big Brother. This isn't, strictly speaking, a FB rule. But I felt obliged to provide ten rules. 'Cos there's always ten rules for everything - I guess we all logically like round numbers. I was chatting to one of my best friends last weekend. In the real world. In his actual flat. As opposed to on FB - see, I am getting better. He works in I.T. too. He observed, with a rather balanced note of concern in his voice, that a lot of the applications on FB suck up a helluva lot of personal data. A heck of a lot.

Even scarier is the fact that you might want to uninstall something like the Vampires application (and, let's face it, a lot of us have - a prototypical VOLE FB app). Spookily, every now and again, the now supposedly extinct application still seems to chug back into life, when a fellow friend's Queen Catholic Girl Mistress Dominatrix Arse-Gravy Vampire decides to up her vamp points by swiping a talon in your general direction. How do you get rid of the fucking thing? Via some new weird FB application called the Seance Purging Exorcist? Christ, someone's going to read this blog and actually design that, ain't they?

The point is: personal data is gathered and applications never seem to go away - is FB a massive conspiracy? It's got the biggest uptake than any of the rival social networking websites - bloody heck, even my mother is thinking of setting up an FB profile, which is always a good indicator of the popularity of a technological phenomenon. The most technically illiterate are buying into this - my Mum is quite happy to admit having a relationship with technology in the same way that I have a relationship with Angelina Jolie; it's non-existent and never likely to go further than that pot of gold I saw bobbing around at the end of the rainbow the other day.

Finally, things are never a good sign in the surveillance society when Microsoft decides to buy an enormous stake in it. Microsoft now part-owns FB. Think about that - Bill Gates now owns part of you. If that isn't enough for you to run away from your computer and go and live in a kibbutz somewhere, then I pity you. Anyway, enough prattling - I'm away to see if my new FB Hotness application is revealing online totty that fancy my FB face.

The Death of Celebrity

Paris Hilton. Jade Goody. Charles Ingram. Big Brother. Fame for being famous.

Charles Ingram, famous for cheating in a paltry TV quiz. He tried to use the vile world of Z-grade martydom to rescue his career. Celebrity ate itself and he ended up in court a few weeks ago, after allegedly attacking a kid who "coughed" in his general direction

Jade Goody. "Big Brother", the original TV series that launched her as a, um, bully, relaunched her in the celebrity version as a, um, racist bully. The public realised the wool had been pulled over their eyes by a virulent public relations agency called John Noel Management and decided to furiously ignore her again. Celebrity, once again, ate itself.

Now, Paris Hilton, has been in court for drink driving and has been sentenced to jail for 45 days. An online petition has been launched to 'free' her, so she can carry on brightening up the days of sub-celebrity rags. In a wonderful example of internet democracy, many other online petitions have been launched to keep the stupid spoiled bint banged up (in the prison sense of the word, as opposed to appearing in another badly-shot self-made porn video), so she can actually learn her lesson and pay her dues to society. I signed the below petition. I'm post 26.

'I think drink driving is one of the worst crimes you can commit. Essentially, it's like loading a gun with a bullet, but then not being sure when it's going to go off and if it will be pointing at someone if it does. By getting drunk and getting into a car, you have no idea if you're about to seriously injure or kill someone by accident. Paris Hilton should be made an example of. In that way, people who look up to her (a frightening prospect in itself) will know not to do the same thing. Instead of thinking that being famous for being famous will automatically get you off scott free.'

Sign this petition! It's been launched by my friend and colleague, Mr Kenny 'Big Kenny' Watt. It was mentioned in Metro today.

Tony Blair: You fool, it could've been so different

Imagine a parallel Universe. Al Gore became President. Rightly so, since he won the popular vote. People made more of a fuss of Florida's morally bankrupt voting system. Jeb Bush was rightly seen as the sneaky opportunist that he was, trying to get his dim brother and corrupt cronies into power. I could go on forever about this rather neat state of affairs. Al Gore would make certain that a promise was kept to Kyoto; Arnold Schwarzenegger would still win California's governorship, but find himself more in tune with the prevailing orthodoxy of Al Gore's environment drive; the Middle East roadmap would be further drawn and an uneasy truce would be bashed out, without needless recourse to an Orwellian "War on Terror"; there would still be a Palestine question, rather than an "Axis of Evil". I can dream, can't I? But this is about the bloke in the U.K. who just announced he was leaving at the end of his Presidential reign... um, I mean... the end of his premiership.

Bookended at each end of Tony "You can call me Tony" Blair sweeping into power was Northern Ireland. A true legacy. It could've been so different. Tony, your idiotic soundbite of "This isn't the time for soundbites, but I feel the hand of history on my testicles" (ok, I admit, paraphrased) would be so vindicated by that frankly tear-inducing vision of Martin McGuiness and Ian Paisley standing "shoulder-to-shoulder" (parallel Universe echoing present Universe), that the staunchest critic would have eaten humble pie.

"Okay, Tony, you didn't quite deliver on your pledge of repeating 'Education, education, eduction' ad fucking nauseum; but the rest of the U.K. did okay. The filthy rich got richer, but thankfully, the poor didn't get poorer, like under Thatcher and Major. In fact, lots of people escaped the poverty trap thanks to your policies. You could've gone further - feck, a lot bloody further, considering your ringing mandate. But you brought peace, a stable peace, to Northern Ireland. Your obssession with being a legacy PM would've come to fruition and that is how History would've remembered you."

Two days - two bloody days, before Tony announced his resignation, he was sitting beside a gently bizarre comedy double-act of a Sinn Fein representative and staunch Unionist, anxious to work together. To end the Troubles forever.

Another comedy double-act, normally not short of words, had their final few words on Tony's premiership on Channel 4 news; namely the wonderful Armando Iannuci and irrepressible Boris Johnson. Even they were baffled about how they could put it, without mentioning the "Iraq" word. Both normally stern critics, they shrugged their shoulders and actually thought old Tony did an okay job. Except for his bizarre non-comedy double-act with Dubya.

Instead, Tony's crying shame of a "comedy double act" was with a President so stupid, he almost aged Queen Elizabeth by about 200 years in a speech yesterday.

Good riddance, Tony. And I really didn't want to say that after voting for you 10 years ago.

You pillock. You self-deluded pillock.

The Death of Ideology

That's why I love blogging. You get to give blog entries grandiose titles.

It's not so far from the truth though. I've voted today. Confused, and with a head full of mush. The mush being the election leaflets that have poured through my letterbox. I stupidly sat down and read all of them. Even the BNP (British National Party) one. If I'd travelled down to Tower Hamlets and encountered the resident BNP councillor there, his cronies would have happily kicked three different shades of shit out of me (count 'em - Spanish, Afro-Carribean, Chinese). Four different shades, if you'd counted the Scottish.

I've watched Newsnight Scotland, with a dazed guppy expression on my face. Jack McConnell talks about law and order, and the new delight of happy slapper ASBO stickers stapled onto neds. Ain't that very authoritarian and right-wing? Meanwhile, Annabel Goldie extols the virtues of a school bus and how we should all use public transport like this, rather than driving a car and giving the kids a lift. Ain't that running contrary to individual freedom and private ownership that the Tories hold dear? Are all parties moving to the centre ground? No, they ain't.

It's about saying anything that sounds good and that will get people voting them all into power. It's nothing about the left moving rightwards, or the right moving leftwards. There's no idealogy anymore. It's a fucking crying shame.

As a lifelong Labour supporter (not New Labour), I'm at a loss as to who to vote for. And, no, I'm not voting for Solidarity or the Scottish Socialist Party. One is a vanity project for the leader. The other is stereotypical of left-wing politics - split into factions, in disarray and not knowing its left hand from its... um, other left hand. "We're the Judean Peoples Front!" "I thought we were the Popular Front?". Substitute: "We're the SSP!" "I thought we were Solidarity? Whatever happened to Solidarity?" "He's down there..." (pointing at Tommy Sheridan) SSP shout at him: "Splitter!".

I've voted SNP in the past. Not a bad idea for a disillusioned Labour supporter. The only reason I don't vote SNP anymore is when that fucking pile of horse's manure, the "Braveheart" movie was released, it brought out the SNP's militant wing. Having an even slightly English accent at college and Uni made you a target for being the cause of Glasgow's poverty or Edinburgh's burgeoning drug problem. I concede that the SNP is a different beast again, now that the much-respected Alex Salmond is back in the saddle. But I'm still mentally scarred by Weegees scoffing chips in my face, blaming me for their diet.

So, it's a toss between Lib Dems and the Greens. The Lib Dems were the only party not to be cheerleaders for the war in Iraq. As one party, they voted against it. They also still hold education policy as an important cornerstone of any decent society. However, they've somewhat brunted that appeal by reversing Charles Kennedy's original policy of earmarking 1p in income tax for schools and universities. I'm not sure the figures add up as well as they used to.

The Green Party is the one remaining bastion of idealogy. Namely, clinging vainly onto the idea of a community of people; where the community as a global identity intelligently recognise what's best for it and decide they don't want to destroy the planet with ludicrous amounts of CO2. Unfortunately, it's looking likely that the community of people are a bunch of selfish pricks, all complaining they can't go on holiday in their cheap transatlantic flights and can't drive around in their 4x4s to fetch the organic roast from the Farmers Market on Sunday. The Daily Mail perpetuates this with their "Hard-done-by motorists" weekly headline.

Heck, the choice now is obvious. I'll vote Green as my first choice. Partly because I recognise the planet is in trouble, but mainly because it'll piss off my individualistic hedonistic holiday-going, car-driving work colleagues and current project manager. I'll vote Lib Dem as my second choice, since they've consistently backed a strong education policy. I just hope they come to their senses about tax.

I was hoping that there were candidates for the Communist Party and Class War. I guess one has just given up completely and retired to Cuba, while the other lost his/her deposit. It's a pity as a work colleague of mine had convinced me to vote Communist with some of the most solid arguments that most of the politicians had missed.

Sorry, I forgot about the Tories. Um... what do they stand for again?

Virtual Reality

I used to think there were two different types of training course.

The first is your typical classroom and tutorial session. Bloke at front of classroom, gesticulating wildly at a blackboard (or PowerPoint presentation); passive learning from the students; the odd tutorial session acting as the ''active learning' component, so the stuff learned during passive learning is reinforced.

The second is more concerned with practical exercises that punctuate and act as a foundation to a quickly explained theory. One example would be learning the guitar or the piano; the playing is the thing, although a quick explanation of theory underpins why you're doing what you're doing. Another example would be job interview technique; role-playing is the thing, but why you're giving 80% eye contact to your job interviewer and not farting continuously at an 80 degree angle in your swivel chair underpins the theory of body language.

It came as some surprise that when I did a Negotiation training course last week, I stumbled across a third approach. It involved dumping a bunch of anxious trade union representatives in the middle of an isolated spartan country house miles away from civilisation and subjecting them to a bunch of mind games, seeing how they would react and interact with each other. To those who are reminded of Big Brother (the Channel 4 TV series*, as opposed to the leader of a dystopic future in George Orwell's "1984" novel), they're not far wrong. There was even a game that involved nominating, voting and then evicting fellow housemates, for Chrissakes!

From the beginning, I'd already prepared myself for the worst. I was being driven up in a 2 hour car journey, with three comely female companions (one of them driving). For those regular readers of my blog, it's already known that my life is a catalogue of "out-of-the-comfort-zone" moments, replete with misunderstandings and gnashing of teeth. I was ready for the stark truth of reality as compared to the fluffy cloud of the theoretical. You want an example? Okay, a few of my male mates were understandably excited (but only by means of proxy) that I was to be indulged by being confined in a car with three (two single and unattached) attractive women. I, however, could only see the terror**.

Contrary to popular belief (or more specifically, FHM masculine fantasy), when there is a group of women and one singular male in a confined space, that singular male does not suddenly turn into a potential breeding vessel.

Also, my testosterone-fuelled befuddled beefcake pals, there is only a very VERY tiny probability that all the women will spontaneously turn lesbian and start writhing around on top of each other, before spontaneously switching back to a 'natural' heterosexual status quo and then them all 'doing' the nearest male mate. The female car driver wouldn't be able to steer straight for a start***. No, dear fellow male bloggees, as a singular male, what really happens is you become a small experimental specimen; like a small insect continuously prodded in curiosity.

So, what really happened? Well, there was my dearest friend and confidant, Donna, and she was the designated driver. She was a very good driver and I felt safe in her hands. She must have known she was a good driver. It would certainly suggest why most other drivers on the road were lacking the same motoring skills as her, as she patiently explained that driver 'A' was "a total fuckwit" or that driver 'B' "couldnae find the right lane if his life depended on it". After a particularly useful throwaway remark about driver 'C' "not knowing the difference between his indicator light and his left arse cheek", I decided to turn to my other female companions.

"Hello, I was wanting to know," said a cute bubbly blonde called Jen, "you're a man. Why are you all such total bastards?!?".

I started explaining back patiently to young Jen that it's only a loud-mouthed minority that misrepresents us so horribly, but she wasn't really listening - I think she was noticing my eyes were a cold shade of bastardliness. I turned to my final car occupant, the dark-haired sultry beauty called Heather, and tried the same line again (aka the loud-mouthed minority of men misrepresenting the quiet, sensitive souls that we really are).

"Are you gay?" she retorted. "No, seriously, are you?".

The rest of the journey's conversation seemed to revolve mostly around the art of fisting. And, no, that doesn't mean the FHM reader's lesbian fantasy has come true. Merely, a rather bemused exchange of ideas between four confused heterosexuals about what gay women get up to.

So, we eventually reached our destination, the isolated country house that I described above in the third paragraph.

There was something curiously enigmatic about the place - lots of odd dark corridors locked off by security doors; biology labs; an old library where you can imagine Colonel Mustard bludgeoning somebody with a candlestick. I remarked that the place was possibly haunted - something that irritated nearly everybody.

"Don't say that!" someone hissed at me. I repeated that the place was probably haunted - the repetition wasn't for any portentous reason, it was just to annoy everyone.

As some of you who know me really well, when I'm in a slightly stressful situation, I tend to put on an act. It's normally one of nonchalance, flippancy and irreverance. It was emerging even now and would eventually be the exaggerated facade that showed itself to a jaded audience of union reps in role-playing negotation scenarios. In fact, it culminated in one gloriously heated exchange, where it was perceived that I'd suggested to a kind and thoughtful woman that her kids were "care in the community" cases. I've been reliably informed that, for the first day at any rate, most of the union reps were unaware that this was an act and thought I was an arrogant bastard.

This "total immersion" role-playing in proper scenarios is actually really powerful. Quite apart from eliciting strong emotional reactions in its participants, it's well-known that strong emotional arousal cements memory retrieval. So, all those potentially dry notes on Negotiation Technique are suddenly spot-welded to your frontal lobe. I'm never going to forget being nominated and voted out by a bunch of people who were convinced that I was in the mafia. Trouble is: it was a game where the mafia had to hide the fact they were the fricking mafia and achieved this by convincing a gullible community to vote out innocent citizens (specifically, those who had deduced who the real mafia were). I fecking well remembered my Negotiation notes after that; particularly after the rather nasty nightmare I had later, based on those events****.

* For those of you interested, I plan on posting a series of blog entries on the Channel 4 'Big Brother' TV series in the week before the new series launches. Then I won't watch it. I have my reasons which will quickly become apparent after the series of articles. And, no, I'm not a 'Big Brother' snob, I've watched the entire third and seventh series.

** No, it's not because I'm in I.T. and so, by default, I'm scared of women. Smart arse.

*** I'm ignoring the male colleagues who said that impairing a woman's ability at driving wouldn't be noticeable in the first place.

**** Of course I'm not going to tell you explicitly what the nightmare was - suffice to say, it involved being chased by a large number of medieval villagers, desperate to set me on fire or chuck me in a lake.

The Late Post

Well, there should've been a post here describing a bizarre encounter with some animals at However, the animal photos have not yet been published, so that's for another day.

Instead, I'm posting a final entry before I head up North to Pitlochry for a training course in negotiation tactics that I need as a trade union representative (stop sniggering at the back). Boy, do I need it, as I can't even leave a company office without some walk of shame taking place. So, this blog entry continues the familiar thread of embarrassment (see practically every blog entry below).

After a long exhausting week last week, I decided to practically skip out at quarter to four on Friday (that's the 20th April). It was sunny, the skies were a peculiar drinkable hue of blue, Spring was in the air and Spring was in my step. By rights, I shouldn't have had a worry in the world. Correct? No, wrong. We're talking the demented world of Nicholson here, esteemed worrier of things that should not be worried about.

An absolutely delightful female colleague of mine happened to be leaving at the same time. Again, for any other normal human being, this would augment the wondrous ascent of glee in leaving a stuffy office for a glorious April day. However, my first perceived problem was as follows; although I'm on speaking terms with this colleague, I can't claim anything more than a fleeting friendship with her (she won a sheep-shaped Easter Egg off of me in a competition). A complete stranger would be no problem; you just leave at the same time and comfortably ignore the other person. A friend that you've known for sometime is also a no-brainer; you walk out the office together, laughing at the huddled masses still slaving within. However, a 'fleeting friendship' is something different. It could be a burgeoning embryonic potential, fed by a throwaway clever conversational gambit. Or tragically, it could be an aborted Lennon-McCartney partnership, thown away because of the 'Frog Chorus'.

It probably doesn't help that I work in I.T. either.

After obsessing about this limbo of a friendship, I also perceive a second problem. I am proud of the fact that I have a long and fast step, picked up from my hillwalking days, and am somewhat startled to find that my office associate has exactly the same speed stride. As a result, I find myself lagging behind her for a good forty seconds with a precise three foot gap between us. With mounting panic, I realise that she's chosen the same exit route as me and this could be perceived as straightforward stalking. Of course, I never once entertained the thought that a genuine professional stalker wouldn't be caught dead doing this Morecambe & Wise routine and would be concentrating on tapping into CCTV cameras.

The ending to this particular scenario doesn't end particularly favourably. I chose the seemingly preferred less-embarrassing option of turning down a corridor and improvising an 'alternative' exit route. I ended up in the first aid cupboard. At the end of a dead-end corridor. This means I have to about-turn and re-emerge back into an open-plan office. An open-plan office that's full of bored office workers on a Friday afternoon, desperately wanting to witness some unorthodox and unintentional entertainment.

However, unlike my other tales of toe-curling winces, this one has a moral at the end of it. The above story shows that all my nailbiting nuances were a direct result of introspective over-analysis. There are flashes of recognition onto reality that I should follow closer. For example, my few encounters with this colleague shows somebody who is thoughtful of others, exceedingly kind and has an imaginative sense of humour.

She also smiles a lot. And widely. That doesn't sound like someone who would turn around in a corridor and scream, "Oh my God in Heaven, it's Peter Sutcliffe. Stop stalking me!".

Moral of the story: take a deep breath, trust a genuine smile and dive in. It's not statistically impossible to make new friendships in your 30s. Catch you all when I get back from 'oop North, 'oop North.