Home » Ain't life great. » Passing through the Cloud of Improbability, and other tales of the unexpected

Passing through the Cloud of Improbability, and other tales of the unexpected

 “When I go into the Map Room of Palmerston I cannot help remembering that this country over the last two centuries has directed the invasion or conquest of 178 countries.” – Boris Johnson describing his new offices (The Guardian, 11 October)

I react to this statement with the same frisson of horror at the depths to which self-aggrandising, sexually incontinent Alpha madmen like Johnson and Donald Trump can sink when they disengage from their essential humanity as anyone might to the allegations against Trump.

Actually, that’s almost all I can think to say about it. This is our new Foreign Secretary, the face of Britain abroad, who has been charged with the task of cementing new trading relations with other countries around the world, to replace the pointless void that is about to be created by the graceless abrogation of our treaty commitments to our 500 million neighbours in the European Union, gloating over Britain’s long-lost military ‘greatness’.

Just as well to remind Johnny Foreigner in advance, who’s the boss.


The young today, I don’t know

Dreadful dirge though our British national anthem may be, after the Rio Olympics you would imagine most people in the world are now pretty sick of hearing it.

I was astounded then when, on being asked to sing only the first two lines for dramatic purposes, not one member of a chorus of seven young people at my drama group, six of them in their early 20s, one perhaps excusably still a minor, had any idea either of the words or the tune.

‘God save our gracious Queen, long live our noble Queen, God save the Queen.’

The tune, if you can call it that, is lost in the mists of time. The dismal words hail from a 1745 ‘catch’ song by one Thomas Arne, the ensemble becoming the national anthem only 150 years later. They go on to ask God’s help in confounding the knavish tricks of our enemies, which Johnson would approve of; but wind up in verse 5 piously hoping for universal peace and brotherhood – a verse politicians no longer sing.

Of course, in 1745 we had a German king on the throne, George 11; also, a Scottish Jacobite Catholic rebellion going on, to reinsert (with French help, that was not entirely forthcoming) Bonnie Prince Charlie into the line of the British monarchy, that had been diverted away from the Catholic succession with the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

(You will often hear blimpish British dimwits asseverating pompously that we have not been conquered since 1066. 1688 saw the deposition of James 11 in favour of a Dutch prince, William of Orange, who landed at Gravesend with 20,000 troops and was immediately elevated to the throne. His legacy sadly was the plantation of protestant Scottish farmers in Ulster that led inexorably to sectarian division and the Troubles.)

Charles Stuart was the presumed heir of James 11. His army came close to seizing London, but on receiving false information that a second English army was approaching, they stupidly retreated.

The King’s younger brother, the Duke of – later known as ‘Butcher’ – Cumberland, then massacred the Scots at Culloden; the defeat was absolute and led to the Highland clearances and fierce laws proscribing Catholicism in British institutions, including the monarchy.

Of the seven execrable dwarfs, two may be excused, possibly, although Wales is part of the United Kingdom, on the grounds that they are of slightly differing ethnic groups: one Welsh, the other Irish. Both claimed in their defence to know the words and tune of their respective local dirges; which, admittedly, I don’t, entirely.

Even so.


Passing through the Cloud of Improbability

We all hate computers, I know. Even writing those words causes my brain to turn to the stuff you find in the filter of your tumble dryer, without the 20p coin.

Yet I cannot help throwing out this plea for a lifeline, since my ‘teenager’ (okay, so he’s 23. I’m only 29, so it’s impossible) toodled off to do his MSc.

Y0u see, something beyond normal happened and I have to tell someone, even if it’s only you.

Yesterday I left my desktop PC running while I took Hunzi for his morning excursion around the exurban space that passes for our local park, and when we got back I found the computer had detached itself from the internet by the simple expedient of losing not only its connection (wired) with the router, but also the router itself, which was no longer to be found on the list of available hubs.*

The router itself was still showing the steady blue light that says it has a good connection with the broadband service. After ‘switching it off and on again’ several times, at both ends, and having checked all the connections, I tried the desperate alternative of hooking up this, muh li’l laptop thing, that I haven’t used for two months. And lo, it spaketh immediately to the internet even without benefit of the LAN cable, by dint of magical wirelessness; as does my new tabloid, to which I managed to download 1,300 transposable jazz chord charts in a matter of seconds.

So here I am, typing the usual weekly garbage into WordPress on my laptop once again; happily aware that the old version of WordPress is still running here, while on my PC it has become something unbearably stupid, just for the sake of the new (none of the actual annoying things users complain of has been fixed in the process).

But that’s not the end of it, oh no.  (My cursor just disappeared, by the way. It’s cursed.)

Probably the worst effect of the now notorious Microsoft birthday  ‘upgrade’ of Windows 10 was to render all the music files on my PC unopenable. It says it has encountered a ‘problem’, but won’t say what.  I tried three media players before concluding that I might not be able to play all muh jazz rec’ds on the computer ever again without benefit of a teenager.

Joy, the files having been transferred over in bulk from the laptop when we installed the PC, they were still held in the old disk memory of the laptop. Having not used it since before the devastating upgrade, I found all the old settings still intact and seemingly free from the dead hand of Gates’ beanbags.

So I opened up the Media Player and selected a fav’rit track.

Now… no sleight of hand, nothing up my sleeve, and please understand: the laptop is not by any means connected to the PC, which by now I have powered down in despair. (Drum roll)

As I played the music tracks stored on the laptop, one by one the tracks in the list that were not playing started to shut down, all by themselves. Little red flags were appearing next to the track listings in my libraries, four or five at a time, until the entire playlist became inaccessible; and so on to the next one, and the next, until there was not a single file left that would open.

Do you believe in the supernatural? Yes, that’s what I thought. But I don’t.

I just don’t understand what the fuck is happening? How can that happen all by itself to licensed files I have been playing for months and years, taken off paid-for CDs, on a machine that has no connection to the faulty one?

I am getting the notion that, as the sun orbits the galaxy, the Earth passes periodically through a region of space, a Cloud of Improbability, that turns natural order on its head. Absolutely nothing is making sense right now

*Yes, I know, I can try reconnecting the hub to the network, can’t I. That’s if I can get on the internet…. d’oh!


There’s no business like big-business

Why am I not surprised that Donald Trump can’t manage to present himself as anything other than a repulsive, bullying, self-absorbed narcissist, an overweight racist sex-pest with bad hair, a tasteless dumbfuck who pays no tax but makes free with his companies’ finances and boasts vaingloriously about his $billions, that others have made for him?

Principally because I spent fifteen years of my life working in or freelancing for advertising agencies.

During that time, I counted that I had worked on creative and strategic consultancy projects for some 200 different companies and NGOs.

As represented by the bulk of their management teams, in my experience that’s an awful lot of repulsive, bullying, swaggering, self-aggrandising sexists and racists with bad hair, bad breath and bad suits I’ve unfortunately met in my lifetime.

I’ve bogld before about M., the agency MD who diverted the entire staff bonus pool into buying himself a yacht? That was after we’d hit our revenue targets for the year twice-over by December. Our reward was a Christmas card and a £10 shopping voucher.

M. – forgive the stereotyping, but he was both Jewish and Welsh, resulting in a combination of personality traits unfortunate except in one so obsessed with value for money – used to invite selected staff up to his house to watch pornography via his massive satellite dish, that could get Danish programmes. He seemed unconcerned that his wife and 13-year-old daughter were both sleeping with the same employee, who rented a room above the offices.

And the purpose of the yacht was twofold: one, so that he could produce made-up invoices claiming he had chartered the boat to clients, thus reclaiming VAT on non-existent transactions; and two, so he could ship suitcases full of cash over to Jersey, where he had an offshore account. There was, it must be said, the occasional waterside champagne junket for staff during Cowes Week: he had to keep us quiet somehow.

Of course, allegedly.  None of it can be proved – it was over 30 years ago.

Then there was B. A psychopath with almost no education, the MD of a backwoods PR agency I worked for, B. was so dysfunctional that he employed several PAs to try to manage his diary. It was never enough, he was always double-booking his own appointments and instead of simply rescheduling, would manufacture operatic lies to get around the problem.

On one occasion, he told a client he could not make a meeting because his wife was gravely ill in hospital. The poor man, a devout Christian, spent many hours on his knees praying for her recovery. Turning up to the rearranged meeting two days later, he was somewhat startled when she walked into the room unannounced, miraculously saved by Jesus.

Driving with me to a large client many miles away, B. was in a state of panic as he realised he’d agreed to meet several separate divisional managers simultaneously. Would I take one of the meetings? Only, it was essential that I screwed a budget of £5k out of the marketing manager for a proposed video project. He went obsessively on and on about it for miles – it was no problem for me, I had a lot more experience than he did – until finally he promised me £200 as a bonus if I achieved the target.

Back in the car, he asked nervously how it had gone. Fine, I said, I got the £10k out of him…. B. travelled back in silence. Of course, I never saw the £200.

B. also had a nasty habit of delegating shit jobs to juniors, for instance ordering them to get on the phone and beat-down suppliers on their invoices after the work had been signed-off. He would stand behind them, screaming hysterically and quite audibly to the hapless victim on the other end: ‘Tell ‘im ‘e’s a fuckin’ cunt and I’ll destroy his fuckin’ business if he doesn’t do it!’

I have honestly never been happier to be called into an MD’s office to be fired – the reason being, he said, because he needed my salary to hire another PA. I’m hoping by now someone will have stuck a paperknife in his eye, because of all the  bog-stupid trash in business I’ve ever met, B. most deserved it.

I tried to avoid corporate nights out, but sometimes attendance was unavoidable. So I have my own private views about foul-mouthed racist and sexist comedians, minor ‘as-seens’ earning extortionate fees for being embarrassingly unfunny in a roomful of inebriated cheap suits, all boasting about their sexual fantasies and being experts on football.

The worst example of sexual harrassment I ever heard of – happily I wasn’t there, but my ex-wife was – occurred at one such event in 1986, a leaving do for a female marketing manager, I forget her name, let’s call her K.

K. was a rather plump, plain, ginger-haired Irish catholic girl, with bad skin and a somewhat frumpish personality to match; but reasonably good at her job. The marketing director, a noisy, balding oaf, got up onstage and, after a witty speech (some of which I wrote, in Shakespearian blank verse), presented her with her leaving gift: an inflatable male rubber sex doll with an erect penis. The room, almost entirely unmarriageable men with bad breath and dandruff, exploded in raucous laughter.

You may know the company, UniBond. They make overpriced, niche-marketed gloop for DIY enthusiasts. It’s a waste of money, don’t buy it.

D. was the ‘editor’ of an appalling weekly freesheet newspaper with a small circulation in a town near Oxford, on which out of desperation I’d obtained a day’s work a week as a freelance subeditor – a job for which I had no experience of actually making up newspaper pages, as I’d only worked on corporate magazines and in radio and TV newsrooms. It paid fairly well – £96 a day – but involved a 100-mile round trip from my home; and a bit of a learning curve.

Another psychopath, D. would sit for hours, brooding in his darkened glass fishtank, from where he could monitor all our input. From time to time he would erupt like a Disney octopus, oozing out into the filthy, disordered, rubbish-strewn newsroom with its burned-out monitor screens and demoralised journalists, to scream at the top of his voice, over some minute typographical error: ‘I pays you fuckin’ Fleet Street rates an’ I ‘as to do all the fuckin’ work meself!’

He fancied himself as a newspaperman, but I learned from one leaving employee – the staff turnover was rapid – that he had formerly been employed only as a typesetter in the printroom of, I think it was, The Sun.

One day, a fresh young journalist arrived to take up his first job in the murky business. He’d given notice at his flat 200 miles away in Yorkshire before travelling down, and taken a rented room in town. D. instructed him: ‘There was a fight in ‘x’ pub last night, I want you to take a photographer and go and interview the landlord and bring back twenty photo opps.’

We all looked at one another sidelong. Photograph what? There was no story! A drunk had been ejected after aiming a punch at the publican, nothing more.

An hour later, the young journalist returned with only five shots showing the exterior of the pub, and the landlord. ‘Right’, screamed D., ‘You’re fuckin’ useless. You’re fired!’

And he was, in tears.

At the end of my shift, I informed D. that I couldn’t afford the travelling and would not be coming in the following week. He looked at me, crestfallen. ‘Was it something I said?’ he asked, pathetically.

Business is overrun with these dismal, underqualified, insecure bullying cretins and madmen. They’re endemic to the culture. It may explain why our economy has been tanking at least since the Second World War. In my view, directors should be forced to take a business driving test showing their fitness to employ people, before being registered and allowed to practise.

Or see a good psychiatrist.

I suspect Trump might fail on either count.


The return of God

We all thought the old sod was dead, and good riddance, but seemingly not.

In the next episode of this, muh Bogl, our Nobel prizewinning  Science correspondent, Kirsty Quark (@infinityandbeyond) investigates the ‘Simulation Theory’ of Creation.

Is God alive and well and sitting on a beanbag in Silicon Valley?

You need to know….



2 thoughts on “Passing through the Cloud of Improbability, and other tales of the unexpected

  1. I could tell you a long anecdote here, but satisfy with the recent comment of a young English female: “I don”t like football, so I don’t know the anthem”.

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