Friday, June 23, 2006


Those of you familiar with this blog will realise that I rarely resort to the language of the unimaginative (except at times of extreme emotion). I am of course referring to the swearing disease (I have come to this conclusion about the nature of swearing after watching the epidemic spread of foul language amongst people appearing on the television after 9pm). One might be shocked to learn, therefore, that I have received a 'glarking' over on bluntcogs for, yes, swearing. If you don't know how to get there I'm not going to tell you as it choc-full of unnecessary violence and bad language. Stay away if you are easily shocked by the sight of cartoon characters suffering beheadment. Do not approach if cartoon blood makes you nauseous.

You have been warned.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A May Ball's up

My other half, the fragrant and fine spirited woman known as Dolores McCrumble, has just posted her version of events after last night's somewhat disappointing excursion to one of my favourite events in the social calendar. I am of course talking about the local village's language school May Ball. Why, you may first ask, is it called a May Ball when we are clearly half way through the month of June. Simply put, the centre's co-ordinator Max Hemlock is a Cambridge graduate (Pembroke '82) and in Cambridge every year around this time there are several so-called 'May' Balls that take place after student exams. Mr Hemlock, with a nod to his alma mater, brought the tradition over the border.

What happens at the Language School May Ball closely emulates the programme of its Cambridge cousins. Tickets are sold on a dining or non-dining basis. On arrival, guests are left free to roam the grounds and drop in on a number of entertainments such as a ceilidh perhaps, or a comedian, a disco, live band etc etc. The tickets are priced to be all inclusive, which gives hard working people such as myself the opportunity to let their hair down without having to search for a cash machine. It is also a formal affair, which means digging out the black tie and an opportunity to see the local ladies in their finest summer dresses. I don't mind admitting that I did take advantage of the bar, and was comfortably innebriated within a relatively short space of time, the stresses of the last few days temporarily shelved in the 'who gives a f**k' section of my cerebellum. My good wife, on the other hand, though she looked splendid in a black chiffon Karen Millen dress with embroidered flower details was not only stone cold sober the whole evening, but seemed to stuck in a melancholic rut. When I pressed her about it she simply shrugged her shoulders and told me, in somewhat sarcastic tones, to keep on 'strutting my funky stuff'. I laughed at her anachronistic description of my dancing, since I am well known to possess more than an average amount of rhythm and timing. My dancing has been praised in the nigtclubs of Kenya on more than one occasion by several ladies on the dancefloor.

Anyways, the night proceeded in a somewhat lacklustre way until the magnificent Bucks Phizz band took to the stage. They are a leading tribute band to the Eurovision song contest winners Bucks Fizz, who won the competition for the UK in 1981 with the worldwide smash hit song 'Making your mind up' and whenever they are in town I make sure I'm in the front row. Call me nostalgic but there is no other band in UK history that has bettered the efforts of Cheryl Baker and her fellow chansoneurs (exept maybe Katrina and the Waves who won in 1997 with 'Shine a light').

The lady who plays Cheryl Baker's role was not looking her best, I have to say, possibly due to the fact that she was wearing an eye patch after squirting hairspray into her iris. The other group members were comparatively well turned out, but when singing...well, let me just say that they were all slightly off-key, but as usual delivered the songs with gusto and enthusiasm. I danced away with almost gay abandon until a break in the set. It was then that I noticed Dolores standing on the side of the dancefloor looking at a discarded cigarette butt, and with a sinking heart I knew it was time to go home. Ordinarily I would try and get backstage to meet the band, but this time it just wasn't going to happen. I was also going to miss the encore of 'Making your Mind up' complete with the show-stopping removal of the girls skirts in homage to the stage show of Bucks Fizz circa 1981.

We meandered our way back to the car through the fields adjacent to the school, the sounds of the band gradually fading. It was a beautiful evening, but my wife seemed reluctant to cheer-up even when I performed a cartwheel - something she normally finds hilarious. This irked me slightly, as I had paid good money for the two tickets and even though I had tried to drink enough for the two of us, I was beginning to feel that the 'value for money' element was lacking. When I mentioned this to Dolores she took it badly, and in effect told me that next time I should go on my own. This prompted what can only be described as a full blown domestic, complete with arm waving, floods of tears (hers, not mine), accusations and counter accusations.

We must have been at it for a good ten minutes, sitting in the stationary car so as to be out of earshot of passers-by, when something quite extraordinary happened that I don't think I will ever forget, despite the fact that I was rather drunk at the time. Essentially, what happened was that as my wife was berating my (alleged) lack of virility I spied what appeared to be the near-naked form of a nicely proportioned woman sneaking past the car. Other than a black g-string she was most definitely devoid of clothes, and was making very little attempt to cover her bosom. My wife eventually noticed that my attention had been diverted, and after an initial show of surprise dimissed the woman and her predicament out of hand.

Being in a contrary frame of mind due to our recent contretemps, I decided to show my wife that I was a man of firm mind, and became immediately determined to help the poor girl. Having pulled on the handbrake, I opened the passenger side door and sort of half tumbled, half stepped from the car. I knew that my field jacket was in the boot, but couldn't find it immediately due the plethora of useful items that occupied the boot space. By the time I had pulled the jacket out from underneath a box full of test-tubes, the girl had almost disappeared into the night. To catch her up I needed to run, but my legs weren't really up to the task and the effort of running seemed to somehow accelerate the latent stages of innebriation. She must have seen and heard me coming to help, but seemed not be interested and instead began to run away.

'Lemme pud is on ye' I shouted, waving the field jacket.

'Aye, Fuck off will ye. I'm no interested ye fucking pervert. Fuck off!' shouted the girl.

'I jush help - my wife is here....' I tried.

'I don't give a fuck if your whole family wants to watch. I'm no doing anything. Now fuck off or I'll call the police'

By this time we had reached the end of the small field, and a reasonably high fence prevented her egress. I approached with the jacket extended, trying hard to avert my eyes from her well-proportioned figure. The girl in turn simply kept telling me to fuck off and not come any nearer. Fortunately, my wife then switched the headlights onto full beam to help me locate the girl. This had the secondary effect of temporarily blinding her, and thus I was now presented with the opportunity to 1) accurately locate the position of the girls bosom, 2) lunge forward in the direction of her bosom, and 3) place the jacket over her bosom.

My efforts, I am sad to report, were not well appreciated. The girl, rather than accepting the jacket gracefully and departing in silence, pushed me away, grabbed hold of the garment and tried to whip me with it whilst aiming kicks at random parts of my anatomy and calling me a 'fucking pervert'. Fortunately only a couple of her blows made contact - one to the left shin and one to my right ribcage, but they were fierce enough to knock me out of her path, and she ran off with the jacket in hand. But clearly the jacket wasn't actually up to the job, as I saw her throw it at the car as she passed.

I managed to half-walk, half-stumble back to the car, feeling somewhat dispirited that my attempts at being a good samaritan had ended in near failure. 'She took the jacket', I told my wife.

'I saw what happened Joseph' said my wife. 'I also recognised the girl. I think you might be in a bit of trouble, you rancid pervert'

And then she actually laughed!

We drove back to the institute in silence, and I went immediately to bed. On awaking, my mind went immediately back to the final, unedifying events of the previous night. The word 'pervert' now keeps appearing in my head, and I have had visions all day of having to leave the village, branded as a sex pest. That, together with my on-going conflict of interest regarding the university, suggests that the next few days are going to be deeply, deeply distressing. I only hope that my dedicated and occasionally-maudlin wife is strong enough to bear these trials with me.....

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Exam fever

Hello Bloggers

Having checked, I realise that my blogging fequency has somewhat diminished of late. Please be reassured that this is not because I have given up recording my life-events, but mainly because the last few days have been taken up by the annual stress-fest known as Exam week. Yes, that's right. Even though the institute is an independently funded place with no official affiliation to any university, its director (c'est moi) does hold an honorary position at a well-known University somewhere in the United Kingdom. It is a mutually beneficial arrangement whereby they give me some money for research purposes and I do some lecturing/admin etc. One facet of this arrangement is that I must on occasion tend to the important task of setting and marking exam questions. As the papers must not leave the aforementioned University, it's also my duty to visit said establishment and do the aforementioned marking in situ.

Each morning I must leave the Institute and travel 52.5 miles before bearing left and driving another 18.5 miles. Upon arrival at the University I must find a spot to park. This is not easy at the best of times, and made even worse by the multitude of places occupied by contractors vehicles. Eventually I locate a space and then walk 0.8 miles to a grey portacabin on the outer edge of the campus. I am met at the door to the portacabin by a man in a dark suit wearing sunglasses, despite the fact that the sun is well hidden behind a thick wall of cloud. I think I spot a curly wire emerging from his left ear but I can't be sure as he quickly opens the door, ushers me inside and closes the door swiftly behind me.

In front of me is a table and a chair. The only other furniture in the cabin is an empty water dispenser. On the table is a stack of papers about 15inches high. They are exam scripts from first year undergraduates. Each student has had to answer 3 questions of 45 minutes each. There are a set of instructions next to the stack with guidelines on how to distribute the marks. The guidelines are clear and unequivocal. I am to mark all scripts with absolute impartiality, awarding any mark that I feel is appropriate. My marks are to be recorded on a piece of lined paper which I am to hand to the security guard. I must make no remarks on the exam scripts, nor write anything on the lined paper except the candidate's number and their mark. I have 2 hours to complete my task, after which I am to leave the portacabin and communicate with no-one until I have left the university grounds.

Now, I admit this may seem a little bit strange, but it works for me. I ask no questions and each year for the last 3 years our arrangement has worked just fine.

Until this year.

Yesterday I rolled up as per usual and went through the routine. It was the same security guard as usual, the same portacabin etc etc. I marked the scripts, handed over the paper, left the portacabin. But this time, instead of leaving the university immediately, I decided to make use of the facilities (by this, I mean its library of course). On leaving the library I saw the security guard in the hallway. He was carrying what looked like the sheet of paper on which I had written my marks and was about 10 yards ahead of me, walking obliquely across my field of view. I passed behind a pillar and when I emerged I noticed that he was in the process of tearing up the paper and dropping the pieces into a nearby bin. Somewhat perplexed I ducked behind the pillar and waited for him to finish and move on.

Imagine my surprise when I looked in the basket and saw that it was indeed the piece of paper upon which I had recorded my marks. The paper had been well and truly torn into shreds - a deliberate act which must have been premeditated, and which led me to an immediately obvious conclusion.

The security guard I have been working with for 3 years is a bad 'un.

I wondered whether I should confront the guard but thought better of it when I recalled that he stands a foot taller than myself. Instead I picked up the shredded piece of paper and made in the direction of the head of the biology department to report the fault. When I reached his office I was somewhat surprised to see another burly security guard by the door. He asked me what I was doing there and whether or not I had an appointment. I told him that I had an important matter to report about one of his own and that he should let me see the HOD immediately. This didn't go down very well. The security guard (who, curiously was wearing sunglasses despite the rather gloomy light in the lobby) scowled at me and said rather gruffly that the HOD was not in and wouldn't be around all week.

'Strange.' I said, 'because this is exam week. He really should be here. Are you sure he's not in his office'

'I told you, sir, he's not here. If you tell me what you need to talk to him about and your details I'll let him know.'

'Isn't that his secretary's job?' I enquired.

'She's off sick. I'm filling in. Just leave your details here...'

The guard reached inside his pocket and pulled out a pen and writing pad. I wrote down my complaint and a contact number, folded the paper, wrote the HOD's name on the envelope and the words 'URGENT ATTENTION REQUIRED', and finally handed it to the guard. He put it in his pocket along with the pen and paper. Perhaps sensing my concern he then smiled and assured me that the HOD would receive my comments as soon as he returned to the office.

I drove back to the Institute in a hurry. A little voice in my head was telling me quite strongly that something fishy may well be going on and that I would be better off maybe not saying anything more. Like I say, its worked tickety-boo over the last 3 years, and the payments have always arrived on time. On the other hand, if exam marks are going missing then.....

Oh dear. I think what I might just have created is something every scientist dreads.

Yes, that's right fellow bloggers,

I'm having a conflict of interest!

Please help.....


Monday, June 05, 2006

Introducing my good lady wife....

Dear Bloggers

Having said to me that I spend too much time blogging, my good lady wife has, somewhat unbelievebly, decided to host a blogspot herself! You can see what she is writing at

This could get interesting I suppose.

In other news....

The twins have now gone back to boarding school. It was the usual kind of week when they are around, namely I didn't get a chance to do anything other than prevent them from harming either themselves, myself, any of the staff or animals. Dolores (for that is her name, and I have been instructed never to call her Mrs Dr McC ever again) dotes on them. I try to be a good father, but find myself on the back foot in a defensive posture most of the time. Is this contributing to their development? I'm not sure. Twin X told me he wants to be a poacher when he grows up. Twin Y says he wants to be 'unemployable'. I'm not sure he understands what that means, and I also sincerly hope with fingers crossed that this is just a phase he is going through.

In yet more news

I can now tell you what happened after we reached the police station after the car crash (see earlier posts about Mrs Haggarty). I'll keep it short as it doesn't really warrant dwelling on such seediness in detail.

So there we were in front of the duty officer. I was still drunk. Ravel looked guilty of something. I wasn't sure what was bothering him but guessed it was something to do with his n'er do well brother, Miron. So far as I was aware we were being arrested for causing a drunken public nuisance leading to a near fatal accident, or something like that. Whether it is a bona fide arrestable offence to accidentally splatter hedgehog stew on a police car windscreen remains a mystery in my mind.

Anyway, having been arrested we were told to empty our pockets and hand over our belongings. I had almost nothing in my pockets except keys and wallet. Ravel had an assortment of various small items including buttons, paperclips, a couple of pens...

....and something very, very shiny......

'Wasssat...?' I enquired, not yet focusing too clearly on objects more than a foot away.

Ravel made as if to pocket the item again but the arresting officer prevented him from doing so and prized the item away from his closed palm.

'It appears to be a ring sargeant' said the policeman.

I squinted at the ring. It looked familiar.

'It is indeed a ring' confirmed the duty officer with an authoritative voice. 'Is this your ring sir?'

'Lemme ave a look' I said. The policeman held it close and I looked at the stone sitting on the top of the ring. I blinked a couple of times to make sure that I was sure of what I was seeing.

'Is that a ruby officer?' I asked the policeman. He nodded.

'Oh good grief. I think....Ravel.....what have you done?'

'Do you recognise this ring sir?' asked the duty officer.

'Yes, iss my wife's. It belonged to her grandmother. It's a family airloom. Ravel...' I was beginning to feel a bit nauseous as reality took a firm grip.

'Did you give this gentleman the ring sir?'

'No officer. He must have.....or maybe his brother.....both of you?' I was staring at Ravel but he was avoiding eye contact.

'Where did you get this ring, sir?' asked the duty officer of Ravel. There was no response.

I felt myself becoming emotional, most likely a consequence of an oncoming hangover, a certain degree of self pity, anger at Ravel and his brother, the thought of having to explain this to my wife, the sudden realisation that I was unlikely to have a faithful research assistant much longer, the fact that I had a whiplash pain in my neck that was independent of the hangover, and the fact that it was 4 o'clock in the morning.

'YOU FUCKING BULGARIAN IDIOT. YOU ARE FUCKING FIRED. HOW THE FUCK COULD YOU DO THIS? I DON'T FUCKING BELIEVE IT. YOU ARE FIRED...DO YOU HEAR ME!' I shouted, tears welling up. Ravel just kept looking at the ground. Wouldn't even meet my mad staring eyes.

Yes, I actually fired my most faithful research assistant on the spot. I honestly couldn't think of anything more sensible, and I do regret that now, but at the time it seemed like a reasonable thing to say. After all, would you keep a thief/accessory/receiver of stolen goods in your employ?

'Sir, I am arresting you on suspicion of receiving stolen goods.....' started the policeman. And so it went on. Ravel was taken away to the cells. I was forced to make a statement about what had happened then taken to the cells to sober up. They told me they would let me out in the morning. I had never been in a police cell before. It smelt of antisceptic. I fell asleep almost immediately.

When I awoke it was to the sound of the door being opened. A policeman I didn't recognise had brought me a cup of tea. I felt immensely confused for a moment, then I remembered what had happened. My head was thumping and I felt sick. Ravel, they told me, was to remain in custody whilst they questioned him about the ring and his brother, who now had a warrant out for his arrest. The ring itself was to be kept as evidence in case of trial.

I was told that I would be given a lift home in the 'other' police car (the first one having been wrecked in the accident). They dropped me off at the institute just a few minutes before my wife arrived. When I told her what had happened she listened patiently for a while before telling me in no uncertain terms that I was a complete an utter idiot. I tried to convince her otherwise, but for some reason she refused to see my side of the story.

We didn't speak for two days. The ring, she said, was the one thing she received from her grandmother and had it been lost she would have never spoken to me ever again. I tried to explain that it wasn't actually me who had stolen the ring, but she kept saying things like 'Ravel was your assistant Joseph. I didn't employ him. Did I say you could trust him? No. Did I caution you against emplying him so spontaneously? Yes. Did I warn you that his brother sounded dangerous? Yes. ' And so it went on, ad nauseum, until two days later when she rang her mother to ask how the old, er, dear was getting on. The conversation got round to what had happened with Ravel and his brother. I listened in, not wanting to hear my name being further blackened.

'You know what they stole mother? Grandmas ring. Yes, that's right. The ring. I don't how they found it.....No there was nothing else missing. At least I don't think so. It's funny now I think about it.'

I could see my wifes brow beginning to furrow. When this happens I know that the shit is about to hit the fan, so I picked up a cushion and held it to my chest protectively.

'Joseph. Did you take the ring out of the safe?'

'No dear....' I said with caution.

'Are you sure?'

'Yes dear.' I clasped the cushion a little closer.

'Well, mother, I don't know how but Ravel or his brother must have opened the safe, removed the ring, closed the safe and left. Funny, because nothing else was removed from the safe. I keep several valuable in there. Now, I know the combination, and Joseph knows the combination. The only other person who might know the combination is....hang on a moment mother.....Joseph, did you ever tell my mother the combination to the safe....'


'Did you Joseph?'

'Actually, I might have done, yes'

I could see my good lady wife's expression change in a moment. Sometimes, when she gets really sure of something, I get scared of her. She was scaring me now and she wasn't even shouting. It's worse when she doesn't shout.

'Mother, you are the only other person who knows the combination. I'm going to ask you once and once only. Did you remove the ring?'

There was silence on the other end of the phone. It was a sure sign of her guilt. Mrs Haggarty, although she may aspire to being a master criminal, has never been able to pull it off due to her pathetic ability to lie her way out of a self-incriminating situation.

'Where did you leave it mother? Why did you remove it?'

The conversation continued for two or three minutes longer. I couldn't hear what Mrs Haggarty was saying, but I guessed from my wifes comments that Mrs H had removed the ring because she wanted to ask me something about it, but had been prevented from doing so because of her accident. She must have left it in front of the safe, but couldn't actually remember.

'I don't beleive her' said my wife later, just as the phone rang. It was the police. They hadn't located Miron, but had taken statements from Ravel. The story they told me was, frankly, somewhat at odds with Mrs Haggartys story. In essence it was thus....

Ravel had sent his brother Miron to get some food as he was very hungry. He didn't want to shame himself by turning up at the institute looking dishevelled and late for duty. His brother had entered the institute and taken a wrong turn, ending up in the lab. I was in the living area oblivious to his presence. Whilst in the lab Mironhad seen the partly dissected corpse of hedgehog no. 113. Hedgegog stew being an old family favourite he decided to make use of the dead insectivore. He took it back to the kitchen and started to chop it up for the stew but the knife hit something hard. Picking up the blood covered object he realised it was a ring. That was a surprise, apparently, and he had no idea how it got there, but decided that luck was on his side. So Miron had pocketed the ring. He left the kitchen momentarily to go to the gents, which is when I disturbed him and chased him from the institute. He had handed over the ring to his brother with the instruction that he should pawn it.

I didn't know what to believe anymore. Ravel, to my knowledge, had never lied to me. Mrs Haggarty was known to everyone as a prolific pilferer. Was it credible that she was somehow trying to steal the ring using a dead hedgehog as a device? She denied it of course, but I wouldn't put it past her. Read through the blogs again and see what you think....

The police asked if we wanted to press charges. I was initially inclined, but Mrs Dr...I mean, Dolores, was reluctant. She is even more suspicious of her mother than myself sometimes. So we told the police that we didn't want Ravel detained any longer and that he should be allowed to return. It was an emotional reunion. Ravel basically prostrated himself at my feet and begged to be taken back on. He said he would work for free if necessary, and begged that I shouldn't send him back to Bulgaria. I told him that I would be keeping a careful eye on him in future, and that I would have to demote him to sub-research assistant for the time being. He agreed, and made a solemn promise never to act so foolishly again. Then we hugged, like men do.

You think that's the end of it? Well for now it is, though I must say I am mightly unsure about the whole episode. Something happened between Ravel and his brother that I do not understand. How the ring ended up in Ravel's pocket I'm not sure of either. But at least I didn't lose either the ring or my favourite research assistant, and now the kids have gone back to school everything is finally back to normal....