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Death by Pastry

Earth will be nothing more than a huge pie hanging in space.

22 May 2015

Petunia Mulch - Plant Psychologist

Flower in therapy

If you've got a drooping rose bush, a sagging hydrangea or a bent tulip it's very common to tackle the problem by investing in compost, new types of plant food or expensive sprays. But plant care is more than about the purely organic. To really care for your plant's wellbeing you need to take an holistic approach and consider its emotional and spiritual health. We all know that talking to your plants is beneficial, but do we really try to engage them in conversation, to understand their fears, their hopes, their dreams? Or do we just talk to them about the weather?

Well this is where I come in. My name is Dr Petunia Mulch and I am a plant psychologist. During the course of my work I have spoken to a great many flowers, vegetables, ferns and herbs and what has become clear is that many of them feel neglected and unappreciated.

This, of course, is not surprising. Take for example that marigold on your windowsill. I bet you hardly ever give it a second thought, do you? And why should you - after all, it looks healthy enough, doesn't it? But the fact is that marigolds are notoriously skittish and respond very poorly to loud noises and sudden shocks. Most of the time they will keep their inner turmoil securely hidden away, giving no clues to their anguish and frustration, but on occasion they can snap. I was once called out to a house in Rochdale where one plant, having been driven to distraction, had leapt out of its pot and smashed up the living room. It was subsequently found holed up in the kitchen behind the fridge, having taken the dog as a hostage.

On the other hand, you couldn't hope for a kinder, more sociable and good natured plant than a hyacinth. They just love daytime soaps and trashy talk shows and will thrive when placed next to a TV. They are also extremely garrulous and require a constant diet of gossip and friendly conversation. Ignore them and they quickly become despondent, and will rapidly wither and die.

In fact, it was just this sort of light and friendly banter that got me interested in plant psychology in the first place. When I was a teenager I would spend hours in my father's greenhouse talking to the tomatoes about school, TV, music and boys. Not that those kind of things interested them, but they were kind enough to pay attention and in return I listened patiently to their rants about the unacceptable levels of noise coming from the cucumbers in the neighbouring allotment.

A firm friendship developed and I gained a real insight into the plant world and its problems, which very nearly made up for the growing sense of social isolation I felt as my human 'friends' struggled to understand why I would want to sit in the dark and listen to salad. I admit that I felt no great loss and even today I am generally more inclined to socialise with a carrot or a beetroot than with colleagues or family.

Not that I want anyone to think that I fraternise with my patients. I'm not a willow tickler or a gherkin stroker, or anything weird like that. I maintain strict professional boundaries at all times. In fact, as a plant psychologist I know that it is essential to discourage unwanted attention and inappropriate contact, as anyone who has been followed home by a daffodil will tell you.

I receive all my patients at my consulting rooms, a safe environment in which they are encouraged to talk over there concerns. Many of them still carry the scars of traumatic events that happened when they were just seedlings, and this often leads to deep seated fears of common gardening equipment such as trowels or wheelbarrows. Agoraphobia is also a big problem, especially for outdoor plants that have been raised inside. Rather than spreading themselves over fields and valleys and hillsides, they take to hanging around behind bus shelters with weeds and poisonous fungi and other unsavoury characters. And I once treated a spider plant that was suffering from shellshock following a particularly vicious attack of greenfly.

The important thing is that in all these cases help is available. There is simply no need for your plants to suffer in silence, so if you have a nervous nasturtium or a paranoid peony, bring it along to me and I'll get to the root of its anxiety, nurture its budding potential and help it to flourish.


19 May 2015

How to Kill a Bagpipes
How to Kill some Bagpipes
How to Kill a Bag of Pipes

ah...

Bagpipes: How to Kill Them

Piper in sights

You know, it's all very well lobbying for legislation to remove bagpipes from our streets, but there's nothing quite like taking the law into your own hands.

Hello, I'm Major General Linus Barmy-Phipps, and this is very much my department. During my time in the army I learnt how to deal with some of the most dangerous instruments known to modern warfare. It isn't easy to deal with an enraged violinist, or disarm a loaded xylophone, but if you keep your wits about you and you understand exactly what your enemy is capable of, then there's every chance that you will pull through unscathed. I remember once when I was in India I was set upon by some young ruffian wielding a semi-automatic saxophone. He thought he had me cornered, but I kept my nerve and managed to wrest it from the fellow's grip by grabbing hold of the bell with both hands and giving it a sharp tug. Of course, I took instruction from Field Marshall Montgomery himself, who - it is widely rumoured - single-handedly defeated a whole platoon of Nazi trombonists during the North Africa Campaign.

No one would expect an ordinary civilian to tackle dangerous military instruments like that, but there are steps you can take to deal with nuisance bagpipers, should the opportunity arise. That's why we have prepared this handy guide to demonstrate their weak spots and point out the five quickest and most effective ways of disabling the instrument.

Bagpipes, Anatomy of
  • 1. Puncture the sack. Using a sharp object to slice open the sack will cause the instrument to rapidly deflate and will put it out of action for at least twenty-four hours

  • 2. Block the Pipes. Obstructing the pipes with a potato or similar object prevents the instrument from venting, and allows noxious gasses to build up.

  • 3. Use a barrel organ. The barrel organ is the natural predator of the bagpipe. In the wild, a fully grown adult barrel organ can bring down a set of bagpipes in two minutes flat.

  • 4. Snap the spit pipe. A sharp blow to the spit pipe will paralyse it for life.

  • 5. Turn it over. Bagpipes have been carefully designed to cause as much destruction as possible, but they have one major flaw: once they're on their back, they cannot right themselves. So just flip it over and watch the bugger struggle.

Remember, a set of bagpipes may seem like a fearsome adversary, but the truth is that it's probably more frightened of you than you are of it. So next time you're out and about and you see one of these scoundrels disturbing the peace with his heathen wailing, just stay calm, remember your duty and slit his sack. It may not make the world a better place, but at least it will make it quieter.


18 May 2015

Bagpipes - The Tartan Menace

Pipers

Hello, I'm Roland Trotsky. I'm forty-eight, I live in St Ives and I've got a pet hamster called Nigel - but that's enough of the biographical chit-chat. Let's talk about bagpipes - more specifically, let's talk about how we're going to get them off our streets.

You may have noticed, perhaps while out shopping in your local high street, certain tartan-flavoured people soliciting money in return for blowing into an instrument that resembles a bag of spanners with a series of vacuum cleaner attachments sticking out of it. Firstly, these people are usually not Scottish. Secondly, although bagpipes are commonly described as a 'musical instrument', I'll be damned if I can think of anything less musical than the toneless, spleen-rending whine produced by one of these accursed things. Have you ever heard a tune being played on one? ...Yes? ...Liar! A tune has rhythm, it has structure, it has... it has... well, it has a tune. The only sound you will ever hear emanating from your average bag of pipes is a depressing, droning, monotonous groan, which beats irritatingly on your eardrums for five and half minutes then just suddenly stops for no apparent reason.

Not that I have a problem with them stopping - I find the sudden cessation of their godawful racket a blessed relief. I have a problem with them being allowed to start in the first place. Who told these tuneless irritants that they're welcome in our shopping malls and town centres? Where do they come from? Is there a minibus that deploys them at strategic locations early on a Saturday morning, and do they meet up afterwards for a debriefing in which they discuss how many old ladies they've scared out of their wits, and how many children have been reduced to tears?

Imagine what would happen if I decided to put on a skirt and stand on a street corner, blowing into a bag of offal and wailing uncontrollably. I'll tell you what would happen - I'd be dragged around the back of the newsagent's by the filth and given a swift kicking, that's what. Yet these tartan terrors can get away with it in the name of 'culture'. And here are a few other things you may not know about bagpipes:

  • Bagpipes are played by repeatedly spitting down the neck. They fill up rapidly and there is a serious possibility that they might burst and cover the surrounding crowd in phlegm.

  • A large number of bagpipes enter the country illegally. This means that they have not been quarantined or given the necessary vaccinations. As a result, many of them are carriers of serious diseases, like whooping cough, scrofula and rabies.

  • A set of bagpipes can hold enough oxygen to allow its owner to remain submerged for up to eight hours. Pipers in the English Channel frequently harass marine life and are a constant danger to shipping.

  • Many bagpipers eat babies when they think no one is looking, probably.

Puts a different complexion on it, doesn't it? At this point you're probably asking yourself why such a dangerous piece of kit is allowed to be paraded around our streets, unlicensed and unchecked. This question becomes all the more pertinent when you consider the history of the instrument. When the Jacobites came marching down from the Highlands during the eighteenth century, it was the pipers who were sent in first to scare the doings out of the English. And it worked. The English quite rightly thought that whoever was capable of wringing such a dreadful, tortured squeal out of anything - be it living or dead - was clearly somebody to be reckoned with. Of course, as soon as the Redcoats developed earplugs the Highlanders were sunk but, even so, whenever an English soldier happened to glance up and see that dreadful tartan sack he was struck with mortal fear.

So a set of bagpipes is actually a weapon, and a pretty devastating one at that, which is why they must be stopped before someone gets hurt. To that end I am spearheading a campaign to get these nasty and malicious instruments of torture decommissioned. If you'd like the join the battle to keep this unholy racket off our streets, write to us at the following address:

We Want to Stop These Damn Bagpipes
112 Tartan Avenue
Sao Paulo

And then, once every last one of the blasted things has been destroyed, we're going to make a start on banjos.

TOMORROW: How to kill bagpipes.


15 May 2015

Privatising the Salvation Army

Spread the Good Word!

Your chance to buy shares in the Salvation Army!

tambourine

The UK branch of the Salvation Army was nationalised in the early 1970s and is one of the few remaining organisations to remain under public ownership, along with Ordnance Survey, The Tufty Club and Status Quo. Now the Government has decided to sell its stake which means you can get your hands on a piece of that sweet tambourine action.

With around two hundred outlets and a staff of over 4,000, the Salvation Army is one of the nation's best known brands. Our magazine, The War Cry, is delivered to more than 8,000 homes, whether they want it or not, and our volunteers regularly annoy people in towns and cities throughout the country.

Which means we're ideally placed to ditch all this 'god' stuff and open a chain of coffee shops. And a health spa. And we're also going to start providing loans.

Really, there's no bandwagon we won't consider flinging ourselves on to, so, if you know which side your bread is buttered, stop by and pick up a prospectus. And don't forget to register your interest!

The Salvation Army

Blood, Fire and a Decision on Your Loan Within Minutes


14 May 2015

Office Safety

And now a guest post from award-winning blogger, lifestyle expert and bestselling self-published author, Maisy Donnington.

Hello There

Maisy Donnington here with some more wit and wisdom to help you get through your day. So here's a question for you - what's in front of you at the moment? If you're reading this at home then you're probably sat at a desk piled high with paper, dormant coffee cups, half-eaten sandwiches, discarded soup tins, old prams and assorted rubble. In short, not the sort of setting that facilitates a productive day!

As a writer, I understand how important it is to create a clean and tidy workspace. A cluttered desktop is not only a distraction but can also be a health and safety risk. I learned this the hard way some time ago when I reached out for my cup of coffee and put my hand through my desk fan. Luckily, all that ensued was the bruising of several fingers and the spillage of a hot beverage, but it was nevertheless something of a shock and I had to go and lie on the sofa for an hour and eat custard creams. It was all the more traumatic coming so soon after a similar incident, in which I got my nose caught in a cross-cut shredder while hunting in a drawer for paperclips. On that occasion I found myself unable to function for the rest of the day and it took two packets of Hobnobs and a bar of Dairy Milk before I calmed down. And I never did find those paperclips.

Ever since, I have striven to maintain an orderly, uncluttered office. These days, before I sit down to write, I take a few brief moments just to prepare my 'space', as I like to call it. Starting with my chair, I ensure that it is in an upright position and at a comfortable distance from by desk. Too far away and I overextend myself and am likely to fall off. Too close and I run the risk of crushing my chocolate digestives, which I always like to have on hand in case I get peckish mid-paragraph. I used to have a swivel chair on casters which, quite frankly, was just asking for trouble. Not only would I frequently find myself facing the wrong direction, significantly interrupting my workflow, but more often than not would spend far too much time sliding randomly around the room, ricocheting from the walls and furniture.

It was after one particularly frenetic writing session - in which I shot out of the room, juddered down the stairs and ended up in the street, sitting behind a milk float at the traffic lights - that I decided that something needed to be done. These days my chair is firmly bolted to the floor and I strap myself in for that extra bit of security. So far these measures have been largely successful and I have only fallen out once.

Of course, my preparations don't end there. The determined writer can still significantly damage herself if she is prepared to put in the effort. A misdirected pencil can easily hook out an eyeball, a keyboard can cause concussion when swung with enough enthusiasm, and there is a reason that we writers commonly refer to the humble office stapler as the 'death-bringer'. Even paper cuts should not be taken lightly - it's ludicrously easy to lose a limb if you mess around with the business end of a sheet of white vellum, as my friend 'Pegleg' Peter O'Pendlesham will tell you. I try to avoid anything weighty or with a sharp edge. Bubblewrap is the writer's friend for those items that it is particularly difficult to do without, such as a phone or monitor, and I have also invested in a sponge desk. I certainly don't have scissors lying about. Not any more. I'm still getting the searing headaches.

Writing is a dangerous business - or at least, it is the way I do it. I've been in this game long enough to have witnessed some very real casualties: the kind of literary injuries and clerical misdemeanours that no one should have to contend with. So my message to any young writers starting out is simply this - be careful out there. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword, so before you start wielding it you'd better learn how to use it. Either that, or use a crayon instead.


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The University of the Bleeding Obvious Annual 2015

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February 2001
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Cosmic Background Apathy

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Hole 2

Different archaeologists excavating in a different part of Peterborough have unearthed substantial Roman ruins. However, controversy has surrounded the discovery of a small sherd of decorated pottery. Pottery expert Quentin Mince immediately identified the fragment as being part of a large storage jar used for keeping grain. He went on to explain that the jar would have been about sixteen inches high, decorated with a leaf motif and was made locally, most probably on a Wednesday. Furthermore, he claimed that the jar belonged to a Roman Centurion called Kevin, who had been presented with it by his sister-in-law, but he had never really liked it and had only had it for three days before he had dropped it on purpose and thrown it out.

Quentin Mince is regarded as one of the foremost authorities on Roman pottery in the country but, in spite of this, Project Co-ordinator Christian T Pyle has expressed serious doubts about his summation. "It's a load of guff, that's what it is," says Pyle. "This man is paid sixty-five thousand pounds a year and he doesn't know Jack Shit. It's a storage jar, he says. Well, of course it's a storage jar. It's always a bloody storage jar. I've worked with him for over fifteen years, and no matter what we ask him to evaluate, his answer is always the same. A sherd of pottery - it's a Roman storage jar. A piece of tile - it's a Roman storage jar. Half a brick - it's, you guessed it, a Roman storage jar. The air filter from a 1976 Ford Granada - yep, that's a Roman storage jar, as well. Trouble is, he's got everybody convinced that he is an expert, so no one will dare contradict him."

Professor Pyle's outspoken comments have landed him in trouble, and Quentin Mince is currently considering suing his colleague for slander. Pyle, however, is unrepentant. "The man's a charlatan, and it's about time he was exposed," he insists. "I mean, really - who ever heard of a Roman Centurion called Kevin?"

Shave the Moon

"...landing a man on the moon, shaving it, and returning him safely to Earth......"


Detective Inspector Barker Harris

"You can call me Snuggles..."

Wensleydale

"The caverns were closed to the public for their annual hosing down..."

Gentlemen's Etiquette

"A gentleman never fouls himself upwind of a waitress..."

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Board Meeting Goldilocks and the Free Bears Death Doom and Disaster Tall Story in a Short Glass Venus by Catapult Barry Buys a Broom
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Tiverton's top store detective

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Arse Kicking

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Stuffed with new material and old favourites, Recalled to Life is 280 pages of plumptiousness and very probably exactly what you need to prop up that wonky old table in the kitchen.

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Kicking and Screaming

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You Don't Have to be Mad to Work Here...

Machiavelli Management Solutions

The Bleeding Obvious

Exploding Dogs

Baby's First Swear

Scrufty's Magic Juju Shop

Pigmongering

Empire of the Flowers

Scumm

Mrs Wilberforce and the River

Epilogue: Persons Unknown




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All material Copyright © Paul Farnsworth 2000-2015, and may not be reproduced without the express permission of the author. All characters, companies and organisations are fictitious, and any similarity to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.


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