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For a little over four years, I led a secret double life.
I ran, unknown to anyone, the local news satire site “Inversnecky“. Basically something like The Onion or The Daily Mash but for Inverness, it was a satirical look at local news, giving more than the occasional ribbing to those responsible for the city and some of our wonderful local pantomime baddies such as Tesco.
I really enjoyed writing it, and was determined that I didn’t want it to be about me, so I remained anonymous (only my wife Nicole knew). On a couple of occasions I even found myself in conversation with people about Inversnecky in which I had to be careful to bite my tongue and not divulge more than I should.
In the end, though, I decided to give it up. While Inversnecky gained a small cult following, it really was small and the hit-rate on the site wasn’t all that great. That in part was due to another reason I stopped: I just couldn’t keep up with the rate of articles required for a good, consistent satire site, even with the occasional and very welcome contributor who would write with an article idea. I could have made the site a more professional one, I could have expanded the range of content, and I perhaps could have done extra things like come up with t-shirts or a guerilla marketing campaign offline.
I didn’t though, due to a mixture of a lack of skills and creativity, insufficient knowledge of local goings-on, and also life was busy. I had lots else I did with my time, and I really didn’t want to spend time thinking up and writing articles or recruiting trusted others. Moreover, doing it more seriously would have required keeping up with local news, and that would have meant regularly buying the Inverness Courier and Highland News. I have limits, you know.
Perhaps the biggest reason for stopping Inversnecky, though, was a bit of boredom. You can only squeeze so much original content out of the developments in a modestly-sized city, and there are only so many articles you can write about council incompetence, Tesco hegemony and other local in-jokes before you feel like you’re repeating yourself.
As such, I figured it would be better to quit rather than to keep flogging a slowly dying horse, so I announced in Inversnecky’s final post that I would be “retiring” the blog. I also, in the interests of accountability, “came out” as the anonymous creator and writer.
A few months down the line, I am able to sit back and reflect a little on Inversnecky, and I have to confess I did enjoy writing it and I am very proud of what I came up with. The writing is a bit crude and simple in places, and it’s definitely from the more aggressive end of satire, but it was fun to be able to write something that was “no holds barred”.
So if you’ll excuse the completely self-indulgent blog post, I would like to reflect on all that by sharing what are, at this precise moment in time, my ten favourite posts:
1. The Polish phrasebook – Perhaps my favourite creation was the site’s Polish phrasebook. When I started Inversnecky, the Polish population in the town was still huge – at its peak it was reported to be 10% of the city – and it really changed the nature of Inverness (very much for the better). I figured it would be good to come up with some helpful phrases to help locals engage with their new Polish neighbours, and so the Polish phrasebook was born.
Anyone with a passing knowledge of Polish football goalkeepers will probably be quite familiar with most of the phrases, and it is my biggest regret about Inversnecky’s low readership that “dóbrý dudek” didn’t take off as a local greeting.
2. Year of Highland Culture Comes To An End – …demolition of Eden Court begins. After all the razzmatazz and effort involved in the Year of Highland Culture in 2007, the highlight of which was the redevelopment of Eden Court, I thought it would be nice and ironic to imagine that it would all be demolished again afterwards.
3. 30 minutes’ less drinking time on train – With more than a little personal experience informing this article, I decided to paint the announcement of shorter train times to Edinburgh as being about cutting down on drinking time.
4. Police patrol railway line for LibDems – A story about police attempts to stop trespassing on the trainline past Culloden happened at around the same time as the massacre of the LibDems in the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections. A connection was just begging to be made.
5. Something interesting happens in Milton of Leys – Yeah I know. I think I took satire into the realms of the unbelievable here.
6. Tattooists protest against defence cuts – One of the lesser-considered factors when Fort George was under threat was the effect on the industries that depend on the military.
7. Balvonie encampment urged to move on – One of the numerous stories about illegal traveller camps coincided with the controversy about the Scottish Housing Expo. I decided to merge the stories.
8. Outbreak of beard-stroking sweeps Inverness – There’s a curious, and I am entirely sure quite coincidental, habit of the city’s abandoned old buildings to catch fire in unexplained ways. As I say, curious.
9. NHS prepares for outbreak of Gaelic – Two healthcare stories emerged around the same time a few years back. One was about preparing against swine flu; the other was a controversy about Gaelic signs at Raigmore Hospital. You can guess what I did with that.
10. Tesco chairs Asda enquiry – More sad than satirical, but there you go. Tesco (The Evil Supermarket Company) were one of my favourite targets in Inversnecky.
So that’s a wee taster of the news satire site that claimed to be “Inverness’s least regular and worst informed news source”. No more Inversnecky, but it was quite fun while it lasted. I’m glad I quit when I did, though, as all good things come to an end.
Ever since signing up to Three mobile a few years ago, I’ve had a terrible time with them – when I’ve been able to penetrate the thick Indian accents, the customer service has terrible.
Leaving them seems to be a complete stramash, too. I’ve just spent too much time on the phone to them this morning sorting out my final bill which I don’t recall receiving but for which I’ve received two final demands. It turns out that this is not the final balance either – apparently when issued with the PAC number, the fact that it can be used for up to 30 days means that you still pay for those 30 days on your account regardless of how early in that time period you make the switch.
That sum just missed my “final” bill and so will go into the bill generated at the end of August, which I probably won’t get until early September. Given that I requested my PAC and gave notice of my desire to end the contract at the end of June, three months seems a ridiculously long time to process an account closure.
There’s loads more about Three I could rant about, but I’ll instead cheer myself up by telling a story of good customer service I’ve just received.
Yesterday morning, my wireless router appeared not to be working, and the plug was very hot to touch. I switched it off at the wall, unplugged it from the multi-socket adapter I use for all my computery stuff, plugged it back in and switched the wall plug on again.
The router plug fizzed, popped and banged in a way that makes me feel relieved for my safety that I didn’t take it out from the multi-socket adapter and put it back in again with the power still on at the wall. I may be unpractical with such things, but I’m not that stupid.
I took it to Sutherland SAS, an excellent wee computer shop on Tomnahurich Street who I have used before, and who I am glad to use as a means of avoiding unhelpful and incompetent chains like PC World. They showed me the inside of the plug, which looked like a small explosion had taken place. Which was unsurprising, as that in effect is exactly what had happened.
Now one option could have been to sell me a whole new power adapter – or even a new router, which would have involved the ridiculous hassle of setting up a new wireless network at home. However, they proposed instead to recycle an old power adapter they had, splicing on the connector from my old one onto the new one.
Not only was it a cheap job, it also was reassuringly old-skool in this day and age of “buy it, use it, break it, bin it”. How many shops would recycle and cannibalise spare parts in order to come up with something that’s cheaper than a new product but works just as well?
It’s nice to know that I am doing my bit for the environment, one recycled plug at a time.
As a general footnote to both tales, thank goodness for the iPhone – on the one hand proving that phones and phone providers can be excellent, and on the other keeping me connected (albeit quite slowly) with the internet during the 24 hours that my wireless was out of action. Which reminds me, I must blog a review of my iPhone now I am a couple of months in.
And finally, to quote Sir Trev, it’s quite telling that 24 hours without a proper laptop internet connection was something of a hassle for me. Yesterday’s odd jobs in the flat included sorting my unnecessarily large number of books into those I want to keep and those I want to give to a charity shop. The vast majority of those I am getting rid of are reference books, out of date politics books, and other things which tell me stuff I’d – in this modern information age of Google or Wikipedia – never even consider looking up in something as antiquated and time-consuming as a book. Just a decade ago, we’d turn to a book for facts about people or the world. Now, the information is just a click away.
As long as the wireless is working, of course.
It was the annual Join Me get-together in Inverness this weekend, and among the international gathering were two joinees from down south who were walking from John O’Groats to Lands End… with fridges.
Raising money for the Alzheimers Society, their trek will take them a number of months, and from the stories they told us it’s been quite an adventure already.
We had a barbecue on Dores beach this afternoon, and the two fridges were unlikely companions. However, the two guys and their fridges were slightly off-course, as they were seeking to follow the Great Glen Way which follows the north side of Loch Ness and Dores lies on the south side.
Thanks to some guys in a speedboat, though, a lift was soon blagged and the two fridges were ferried across to the north shore from Dores beach. Fridges on a speedboat… like snakes on a plane, I thought, but a little more surreal.
After that weekend of fun, I am on leave for two weeks. Apart from two days in Skye tomorrow with Nicole, it will be spent sorting out my flat, painting and doing various other wee odd jobs. When married we will live in my flat. I’ve been told it needs “neutralising”. Whatever that means.
I’ve not blogged for a week.
Which is not to say nothing’s happened. Far from it, in fact, although the events of the last week have been either uninteresting or unbloggable.
Lots of exciting things forthcoming, however. So to coin a phrase, stand by…
…and in the meantime, how are you?
I interrupt an evening of tidying the flat to bring you two pieces of observation.
Firstly, I am currently listening to The Side‘s new album, Nowhere Left To Run, which I downloaded from iTunes earlier. Having got over the deep trauma of the scandal that was The-Side-not-turning-up-at-the-Ironworks-gate and invested in their new release, I am happy to report that this offering from the local (ish – Alness) outfit is excellent.
After a few days of downbeat sounds emanating from my computer, it’s been quite a refreshing change to have some chirpy, funky, energetic pop rock to listen to. The Side, who I have seen once or twice before in town, have a catchy sound, with a clever blend of guitars, piano and drums, and voice/lyrics that (unlike so much of the genre) manage to enhance, rather than detract from, the music.
There’s a reassuring old-school feel about the riffs, instrumental solos and beats, evoking classic rock and roll, funk, and even a wee splash of reggae and space rock now and then. To round it off, the music has a whole sound that you can only really summarise as “fun” – you get the impression the band are having fun playing, and in the live sets I’ve seen they certainly have an infectious energy and cheerfulness.
I’d highly recommend taking a listen.
Secondly, the spirit of Chris Morris lives on again with this article. Atheist summer camps!? Hang on, I thought the whole idea of atheism was that you, with as much certainty as you could muster, did not believe there was a God; not that you pedalled a whole new belief system in opposition. The article quotes the camp as being described thus:
It is “dedicated to improving the human condition through rational inquiry, critical and creative thinking, scientific method… and the separation of religion and government”.
Right, so basically it’s a science camp, with a mix of political indoctrination. Are disestablishmentarianism and the history of secular models of governance really something children can be expected to get their heads around when they just want to be on holiday and have a good time?
There’s nothing wrong with getting our children to think about burden of proof and reasonable scientific analysis. Indeed, it’s vital. But to basically say to camp attendees that for them to act in faith or experience a spiritual phenomenon they cannot fully understand or explain is wrong, is wrong. If you get my meaning.
We’re spiritual, emotional and thoughtful creatures by nature and we only partly understand the world in which we live. To expect our children to have to rule out the existence of God (who, by definition, is beyond human comprehension) is to make them misunderstand what rationalism and science is about.
Atheists are – often – quite right in their criticism of some Christian practices, for instance when they point out that indoctrination of children is wrong, and that forcing them to believe what their parents believe is potentially damaging. And there are, I am sure, intellectually sustainable arguments against Christian equivalents of the camps described in the article. But by providing atheist antidotes of the practices and culture of the church community, atheists are undermining some of the useful checks and balances that they can provide Christianity.
The more atheism starts looking like an alternative religion, the more muddy the debate about God becomes. And it’s muddy enough as it is.
Right, back to the tidying.
They were taken at the final of the Challenge Cup Final in Perth in November, and have been used in an article reviewing last season’s competition.
The fanzine is a good read, and a very thorough look at football in Scotland, from the SPL to the Highland League and even women’s football. I’m not the most avid football fan in the country, but this is certainly a great way of following what’s happening and I’ll certainly keep up with the Scotzine website now and then.
Having just downloaded the issue (the last to appear for free, so go read!), it’s been nice to see my photos in print. It’s also a little surreal to have my name just before that of Christopher Brookmyre in the list of contributors.
I’ve been listening quite a bit to Malcolm Middleton‘s Waxing Gibbous and Mogwai‘s The Hawk is Howling since buying them two or three weeks ago. Admittedly, both albums have been out for some time (particularly the latter), but I’ve never exactly had my finger on the musical pulse, even with artists I am a big fan of.
The two albums have complemeted each other well, coming from Scottish artists that exude similar moods and tones.
Waxing Gibbous, by former Arab Strap member Malcom Middleton, is very good, and is the usual blend of acerbic, downbeat wit and cunning observation about life, love and identity. I maintain what I think I’ve said before, that Middleton is something of a modern-day Bob Dylan. The first couple of tracks are uncharacteristically chirpy and energetic, but the rest of the album reverts to type a little too unimaginatively, and while it’s a sound album it’s nowhere near the lyrical and musical genius of Sleight of Heart and Into The Woods.
The Hawk is Howling, from veteran Scottish post-rockers Mogwai, is excellent. As you’d imagine from a band that’s been on the go since the mid-90s, their music has been a mix of some epic crackers and not a little inaccessible or missable mediocrity, but so many of their albums – like those of a lot of great bands – are worth buying simply for the one or two gems contained within which more than carry the rest of the tracks. The Hawk is Howling, however, is (in my mind) their most consistent album to date. Each song is very likeable, and the mix of pulsating drumming and catchy guitar riffs can be felt acutely throughout. It’s a very, very addictive listen. It also boasts some darkly humourous song titles, such as “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead” and “I Love You, I’m Going to Blow up Your School” which never fail to raise a chuckle.
Neither album is typical summer music, admittedly, although the weather of late suggests it’s not really a typical summer. This evening, though, is beautifully warm and sunny, which is good as I am just about to head off to church.
Now, which album to listen to as I walk…?
Here are a few shots – 1|2|3 – taken in Edinburgh this week on my proper camera – the level of detail, the ability to change settings, and the zoom function, all show up my iPhone’s camera as good but not excellent.
I was staying in a B&B at the top floor of a New Town tenement, which rendered beautiful views across the north of Edinburgh. The weather was, as usual for this summer, changeable – bright sunshine, angry thunderstorms and, in the shot above, dramatic sunsets.
I was glad to have my proper camera with me, which has probably been getting jealous of the iPhone…
Only I’m not having a pint – I’m approaching the end of a month off alcohol, a pre-wedding attempt to lose a bit of weight. And it’s working – one person who’s not seen me for a while said that I had done.
So I’m sitting in a pub renowned for its real ales, nursing a pint of fresh orange and lemonade instead.
I am also marvelling at the fact that in the space of a few minutes I can take a surreptitious photo, write a blog, and upload it for your delectation, all thanks to the iPhone.
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