The power of advertising

I’ve been travelling a lot lately.  Different countries, different continents and therefore different time zones, different foods, poor sleep patterns, a little extra stress, and as a result I suffered with what I can only politely describe as ‘constipation’.

I know I am straying off the conventional blog path here, but with a fully signed up blog membership of 1, I hardly risk losing many punters.

I think it’s all part of getting old, one of those annoying conditions that as a younger person you only ever heard about from your grandparents, or read about in the back of newspapers.  It’s the stuff of jokes.  I wonder what’s next – uncontrolled flatulence? acid reflux? incontinence?

So there I was in Texas, feeling a little, shall we say, backed up.  And it isn’t trivial younger readers, it becomes quite demoralising after a while, and when mixed in with jet lag and solitude, it can make you feel quite down in the dumps.  So I was feeling a little moribund, it was Saturday morning and I was scanning the 76 channels on my Hyatt TV, when I chanced upon an advert.  Here’s how it played out …

Attractive looking lady, mid 30s, rather dowdily dressed with dull hair, sat in an aeroplane seat with a real frown on her face.  She’s not happy, and then when a man tries to squeeze past her she frowns even more as he rudely pushes by, rocking her chair quite violently.  She has one hand gently clasping her stomach. 

Now I’m no media ad expert, but I think the man squeezing past was a metaphor for a ‘blockage’.  What I did know was that I recognised that frown on her face, for I shared that frown.

Cut to the same attractive lady, this time now dressed in bright colours, with beautifully conditioned hair, drinking a glass of water and taking some DULCOLAX, beaming a radiant smile, so brightly that it made me smile too.  I wanted to wear a smile like that.  Cut back to lady sat in aeroplane seat with NO-ONE sitting beside her and she wears that same disarming smile.

“DULCOLAX, gentle, predictable, overnight relief”.

That sounded beautiful, I muttered the phrase again “gentle, predictable, overnight relief”.  It was like a sign from above.  Here I was, bored, time to kill, dollars in my pocket, and constipated. There was only one thing for it.

Google -> CVS Pharmacy, Richardson, Texas -> DULCOLAX -> AVAILABLE IN STORE!!

And before I knew it I was haring down North Central Expressway 75 faster than a speeding bullet.

Pharmacies in Texas are big.  In my local Co-op in England there is a small corner of the store that does medicines.  It’s tucked away at the back, but what’s good is that you can stand in front of the entire range of medicines, and without making it obvious that you are looking at BOTTOM REMEDIES, for example, you can casually stare, feigning interest at the Aspirin/Ibuprofen in case someone you know passes by, and then slowly look down to your left at the 2-3 medicines of shame which are of real interest.

The CVS Pharmacy, Richardson, Texas is the size of a football field.  It makes a Tesco Extra/Superstore look like a corner shop.  There must have been 20 rows, each the length of a cricket strip, each specialising in a different “condition” or “genre’.  So that’s good, should be plenty of choice, I thought to myself as I entered.

In I walked, looking all casual.  I knew I couldn’t meet anyone I knew which was good.  In situations like this I craved anonymity, but being in the USA you just never know when a stranger might come up to you and chat, the one thing any Brit fears above anything else, anywhere, at anytime, but when you’re in a pharmacy looking for BOTTOM tablets you definitely do not need that, and I was becoming anxious at the prospect.

Aisle 1 – baby stuff, Aisle 2 – more baby stuff, Aisle 3 – shampoos, Aisle 4 – teeth, Aisle 5 – cold/flu, … I walked on, …. , Aisle 19 – ARSE PROBLEM RELATED MEDICINES

And then it dawned on me that there is no hiding here.  You can’t use the old Co-op trick and pretend to be reading the back of the Lemsip packet whilst casually looking down at the BOTTY tablets.  In CVS Texas, once you enter Aisle 19 you are committed, you can’t be there for any other possible reason than for ***ARSE MEDICINE***!


And there was so much choice – active bacteria for the gut, haemorrhoid creams, suppositories, embarrassing itching.  I was beginning to feel stressed, my back was starting to feel sweaty and I was suffering uncontrollable hot flushes like a menopausal fish wife (Aisle 13 as I recall).

The back of my neck was prickly with sweat, a sure sign I was feeling pressurised, as I scanned the aisles trying to make sense of the cornucopia of choices laid open to me.  Finally, I saw the word DULCOLAX and zoomed in on Aisle 19, sectors 37-63, rows 4-28.  They were located next to suppositories.  Nice move CVS Pharmacy shelf stacker.  You bastard.

At that moment a woman walked past with her two children.  She was using Aisle 19 as a cut through, her ARSE was just fine, in tip-top condition, but as she passed by me she held tightly onto the hands of her two children who were staring boggle eyed, and in awe, at the awesome array of chattles on offer in Aisle 19.

“Come on Zach, Cory, stay close to Momma, that man has ARSE PROBLEMS!” I heard her think to herself …

By now I had a decidedly waxy pallour, this was very traumatic, but I managed to focus – DULCOLAX 20, DULCOLAX 50, DULCOLAX 100.   Never wanting to go through this appalling experience ever again in my entire life, I calculated that, aged 47, a packet of 100 would hopefully see me through to death, meaning I would never have to experience such trauma in the few years I had left.

To give me strength, I closed my eyes briefly and tried to conjure up the image of the attractive lady on the plane and that beautifully relaxed smile.  I wanted that smile, this would all be worth it.

A bolt of electricity shot through me as I picked up the rather large box of DULCOLAX 100.  It was at this point that I thought about the unfortunate name.

The ‘…LAX’ part obviously screamed LAXATIVE!!!  Why make it so obvious?  I might as well have been wearing a t-shirt with ARSE PROBLEM written on it.  It’s embarrassing enough buying this stuff without plastering it all over the box.  Why not call them SOFTABS, or at least put RE on the front of LAX to make them RELAX-TABS?  I didn’t want anything to do with the word LAXATIVE, I wanted gentle, predictable, overnight relief, that was far less scary and certainly way less embarrassing than buying something so forthright as LAXATIVES.

It’s a slight diversion to the story, but the only time I had ever heard of people I knew using laxatives was at university.  A girlfriend of mine shared a flat with another girl who was trying to lose weight, and I once had the misfortune of walking past the bathroom door when she was in there ‘evacuating avec laxative’.  The sounds I heard that day still haunt me 30 years on.

Back in Texas I recalled that story as I looked at my mega-pack of DULCOLAX 100.  I didn’t want that, I wanted the gentle predictable relief, I wanted to be like that pretty lady on the plane.

I was now getting in a bit of a state as I realised I had no choice and I still had to negotiate the checkout.  I could see it far ahead in the distance, the happy go lucky, oh-so-fucking cheery bloke on the checkout was CHATTING to the customer checking out.  WTF?  You aren’t paid to chat, you are paid to take the money, issue a receipt and move on to the next customer!

I contemplated the old chemist ‘condoms’ trick of buying other things, so the offending article would blend in, but I didn’t want to carry loads of stuff back to the UK with me, and I didn’t have many dollars, and I didn’t want to extend the checkout time by paying with a card that probably wouldn’t be accepted on account of it being ‘foreign’ and risk the chatty checkout bloke asking me where I’m from, etc.

So I headed to the checkout, just one in service, please, no queues.  But what if there’s a queue when I get there and the person behind me sees my LAXATIVES?  I might have to kill him in the car park, yes I’ll do that.

100 yards from the checkout and it looked like the customer was finishing up and no-one else was in line … 75 yards, no queue … 50 yards, still no queue … 20 yards, no queue, chatty checkout bloke looking at me, no turning back now, heart rate quickening, throat drier than an Iraqi’s sandal …. 10 yards, look into his eyes, not around the eyes … don’t be afraid, think pretty plane lady, remember that smile …

“Hi there Sir!  And how are you today!!?”

“Hi … fine thanks … just this *cough*” I couldn’t bring myself to look in his eyes.  I could hear someone approaching behind me …  this was just awful, I wanted to cry.

“Is that all or do you need anything else today Sir?”


“Do you need a bag for that Sir?”


I paid, I left, I got into my car, I locked the doors, closed my eyes, sat back and breathed an immense sigh of relief.

I had done it!  It was a traumatic experience but I had done it.  Yay for me!

I got back to the hotel and excitedly opened the packet.

INSTRUCTIONS:  Blah, blah, blah … “12 yrs and over – 1 to 3 tablets to be taken once a day just before bedtime”.

Hmm 1 to 3.  12 yrs old and over.  I reasoned thus – if a 12 yr old girl can take 1 tablet then a 47yr portly old bloke who weighs approx 3 x times what a 12 yr old girl weighs must need at least 2, probably 3, but what was it to be, 2 or 3?  The USA is famed for lawsuits, especially where medicines are concerned, so they must always err on the side of caution, so 3 must still be safe.  I bet you could  take 4 or 5 but I’m not going to be silly, I will stay within the guidelines and take 3.  I mean what’s the point of taking 2 only to find it doesn’t work?

So that night, after I brushed my teeth, I popped 3 tablets and tucked myself in for the night, dreaming of the beautiful aeroplane lady with the relaxed smile.

The clock was showing 04:17am when I awoke with stabbing pains in my stomach.  WTF?  Food poisoning?  Then there was the gurgle.  Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble, something was going on downstairs and no mistake.  And then that twitch of the arse that accompanies every bout of diarrhoea.  That subtle but unforgettable twitch of the sphincter that shoots an instantaneous message to the brain saying DO NOT FART.

What was going on?  What had I had for dinner?  Chicken salad, can’t be that can it?  I ran to the bathroom and glanced across at the 97 pack of DULCOLAX and the penny dropped.

I will spare you the detail of the next few minutes, suffice to say I was anchored to that piece of porcelain for 20 minutes, wailing like a deranged Banshee on acid as my life flashed, nay flushed, before my eyes.

The clock showed 04:39 when I staggered back into bed, shivering and sweating.

The thought of the smiley lady on the aeroplane made me feel rather cross.


Mr Big

The thought of prison scares me, it always has.  For as long as I can remember I’ve had a recurring fear of being jailed and then serially gang raped in the communal showers by “Mr Big” and his cronies.

I have no idea where that fear comes from.  As far as I can recollect I have never been raped, nor have I ever had sex with another man, consensual or otherwise.  I lead a fairly conventional life and I’ve never been to prison, either as a visitor or as an inmate.

And just to be clear, it’s not jail itself I fear, it’s the potential for physical and sexual abuse in jail from other men that bothers me. I don’t worry about the isolation or the incarceration particularly, although I am sure that gets to you after a while, what troubles me most is the potential for physical violence and sexual abuse that I imagine is rife in there.

When I have expressed this fear to friends of mine, they have suggested that I must have latent homosexual tendencies, that I harbour a desire to be violated by a burly bloke, but isn’t that a bit like saying, if I fear having my eyeballs gouged out with a rusty fork, that I must secretly desire to be blinded?  It worries me though, what if my friends are right?  Damn you, so called friends.

Getting old bothers me and will no doubt be covered in other blogs, but one advantage I see of getting old is that if I did ever go to jail, I would become less sexually attractive to the other inmates.

But hang on … as I get older, I get weaker, less able to fight back, so perhaps I become MORE accessible with age and MORE of a target to testosterone filled young men with a pathological bias towards sex and violence.

Angry, violent men with no outlet for their sexual tension except for the quivering old bloke in the corner …. Oh God.

Seat 55E


Choosing your seat on a plane is a science.  As a fairly frequent traveller I take this job seriously as I tend to fly the cheapest, nastiest, most inflexible ticket available.  This is particularly important on long haul flights, and in case you’re interested and ever find yourself booking a seat in World Traveller (Cattle) on a BA 747-400, Seats 52B/J are the seats to go for. 
You have a window seat so are undisturbed, you have space to your left/right for bags and extra legroom into the row 51A/K space in front of you.  I had seat 52B on the way out to Dallas, unfortunately on the return leg I was late selecting and ended up with seat 55G – that’s the right hand yellow coloured aisle seat on row 55 (see link below).
Hang on, you said you booked 55G Andy, but this blog is titled 55E?
Let me explain … 
Upon arrival at 55G, the air stewardess asked me if the elderly lady in 55F could have my seat as she would need to ‘use the toilet frequently’ (she whispered this for full effect).  The elderly lady was Indian and didn’t speak English so her son interpreted for her.  Her son was in 55E, so they had the two middle seats on the back row.  She looked sad and a little scared, rather frail looking too.  I couldn’t say no, so I offered to swap with her, only to find the son took 55G, whilst elderly lady remained in 55F and I was left with 55E.  Needless to say 55D was also occupied (by a middle aged lady).
The son of the elderly lady then proceeded to drink 7 (seven) cans of Heineken before the plane had even left American airspace, and was refused an 8th by the senior steward in charge.  
It turns out the elderly lady didn’t need the loo but her son certainly did!!  What a stroke of luck for him!! One minute consigned to a middle seat with a serious drinking habit and a slack bladder, only to find he had duped the English guy on the aisle into a swap!! 
Being the back row, there is very little seat recline due to the wall of the toilets (for there are 4 of them) located directly behind, and in flight, there is a constant queue in the aisles on both sides of row 55 as rows 40-55 (3+4+3 = 10 x 15 = 150 – 10 = 140) stand in line to empty their bladders. 
I calculated.  If a passenger needed the toilet on average every 3 hrs then on a 9hr journey that’s 3 trips to the traps situated by row 55.  Multiply that by the 140 passengers in that section of the plane and that equates to 3 x 140 = 420 toilet door openings, 420 toilet door closings and 420 associated chemical scented toilet flushes plus assorted peripheral odours *cough*. 
And if, of those 420 trips, every 10th one was for a poo, that’s an additional 42 headily scented aromas thrown into the aromatic mix and ambience now permeating row 55. 
Also, whenever anyone uses toilet L1 (upper left quadrant), the wall of said toilet wall at the back of seat 55E rattles each time the door opens and closes, and it judders/bangs the back of seat 55E.  
If the four toilets are used evenly throughout the journey, that’s approximately 105 bangs x 2 (1 on way in and 1 on way out) = 210 on a 9hr flight from Dallas to London, so that’s 1 bang to the back of seat 55E every 2.5 minutes, for 9 hours.
If 55E and row 55 were for sale in an estate agents window it would say something like this: 
“Adjacent to 55D and F, 55E has to be seen to be believed, and is within close proximity of the toilets which are ideally suited for the elderly, the insecure, the alcoholic and the infirm.
On row 55 you NEVER need waste another journey waiting in line for the loo.  That’s because there are no less than 4 (FOUR!) toilets within easy reach, and should your eyesight be problematic, worry not because your nose and ears will tell you every time the toilet doors are opened and closed!! 
And as well as neighbours on both sides, you are also treated to an endless stream of (bladder filled and gas ladened) visitors who form a permanent queue right by your row!  Don’t be a stranger! Move to row 55 NOW and make many NEW friends!!!” 
Incidentally, the yellow colour of row 55 on the seatguru site link above indicates there are “some drawbacks”.  You have been warned.

The art of debating

I was going to blog about religion, but I can’t do that without first discussing ‘debate’.

Let me explain what I mean. Fact is, I’m not very good at debating, and I think there are two reasons for that.

Firstly, I find I get too emotional.  I tend to take things personally and gradually, during a debate, I lose the ability to reason and start to get defensive, taking criticism personally rather than taking it merely as a counter-argument.  It’s a shocking indictment on my own character and it’s something I am ashamed of, that I can’t maintain rational debate for very long without resorting to “fuck you!” type retorts, or cheap comebacks like “up your arse wanker!”. Sometimes I say them inwardly, or under my breath, but you could say I have debating Tourette’s, and like any Tourette’s sufferer, it’s not fucking funny so you can wipe that smile off your face.  Wanker.

And the second problem I have with debates, and the reason why I could never join a political party, is that I always see both sides to any argument.  I can be watching Question Time when some extreme left or extreme right wing nutter says something outrageous and the audience go wild, jeering and booing, and I’m sat there thinking ‘Poor sod, he does have a point’.

Put me in a room with a Communist, a Lib Dem and a Right wing nationalist and listening to them I will find common ground with all three. I could find common ground with any one of them, some more than others, and I’m certainly not saying I sympathise with the actions of any particular extreme party, but I can often see where they’re coming from, especially if they are good at debating.  However, force me to debate something with the three same people, and the Tourette debater in me will end up telling all three of them to go fuck themselves and to stick their phoney, ill thought out policies up their arses. Wankers.

To be a good debater, or even to be an enjoyer of debates, you have to be able to extract yourself from the emotional layer and that’s what I don’t do very well.  People think a great debater is simply someone who makes their points eloquently, but I would argue a great debater also has the ability to receive criticism, absorb it, adapt their position and then play back a counter to the counter argument, promoting further debate, and so on.  Two good debaters is a great spectacle.

However when someone criticises me in a debate, I don’t listen too much to the content, I just see a dickhead sitting opposite who is trying to put one over on me, trying to make me look stupid.  Nob-jockey.

See the difference? See my problem?

So, back to religion.  The biggest problem I have with it is that it’s so divisive and therefore inextricably linked to debate.  It’s almost impossible to discuss religion without fierce squabbles emerging within seconds between the ‘us’ and ‘them’ camps, the believers and the non-believers, those that have seen the light versus the great unwashed.

So this is all very annoying for me because I want to discuss/debate it but I can’t.  And after confessing my Tourette’s tendencies I doubt anyone will ever want to debate anything with me ever again.

Maybe I will discuss religion in another blog…


Crikey, I’m like a young Mozart, overflowing with creative juices.  My writing talent knows no bounds as I embark upon a second post and it’s still only Day 1. Where will this end? Will I slavishly blog my entire life?  Wouldn’t that defeat the object of capturing life’s events in a blog, if the blog becomes life itself?  Wooah that’s deep Andy, steady tiger it’s still day 1, we don’t want to scare the punters off.

Of course, what is really happening is what happens whenever I start anything. Throughout my life, I have begun things with such enthusiasm it defies belief.  I love running, so I run from a standing start until my toes bleed and my shins splinter.  Think Forrest Gump.

I stop drinking, I don’t cut back on drinking, I become tee-total, almost religious in my fervent belief that alcohol is the devil incarnate, even depriving myself of Beelzebub’s mildest temptations such as sherry trifle and liqueur chocolates.

I read, I love reading, so when I start a book the rest of my life is placed on hold as I lock myself away in toilets and bedrooms, feverishly reading in every spare second of every day. I stay awake all night reading, rendering myself incapable of anything the following day, except perhaps reading more. I carry my book everywhere in case I can grab 30 seconds to absorb a couple more paragraphs. And now I have a Kindle, with 3G, so I can download books from any corner of the world, 24x7x365.

I diet, I don’t just cut back, I devise revolutionary food regimes, research anthropological archives for hidden insights into caveman nutrition.  I study the diets of tribes, as yet undiscovered in the heart of the Peruvian jungle, and I order foods from niche health food stores on the web.  I clear the fridge to make way for the new van-load of foodstuffs that will be ‘next-day’ delivered to my door, and will undoubtedly change my life forever, allowing me to live to be 100 yrs old and to still be running marathons.  I have even ducked out of dinner parties during a health phase, in case I am tempted to eat or drink something evil.

I discover a new band, one tune from the radio can have me hooked, one major-to-minor chord change and I’m spellbound.  I Google the band, I download their entire back catalogue, buy their auto-biography, order a t-shirt from eBay and learn everything from where the band members grew up, how they formed the group, what they like to eat and where they go on holiday.  I have even joined fan clubs.  As a grown adult, ffs.

And now I start my own blog.  Not content with establishing the profile for the blog, setting up the basics, I have to fill it.  I see other blogs with hundreds of entries and I want one, I want my own and I want it NOW.  I want to be instantly established.  I want to resign from my job immediately, to travel to Nepal and write 24hrs a day from the top of a mountain. It would need to be a mountain with wi-fi, obviously as I chose the online format (see day 1 post 1).  Samuel Pepys never suffered like this.

And it goes without saying that all of the above fads, crazes and hobbies almost always, nay, always, end in doom and disappointment. I end up in the GP surgery with chronic running injuries and am told I might never run again. I succumb to a drink of alcohol and the flood gates open, the red mist rises and I drink everything in sight, from red wine to lighter fuel, often into the wee hours.

I go on a business trip, and, forced to break from my diet, I eat like a frenzied, deranged truffle pig, munching my way through fried breakfasts, 3-course lunches and 5-course evening meals, invariably washed down with fine wines.

I get tired of reading, surely there is more to life than having your head stuck in a book? So I don’t read anything, not even a newspaper, or a bus ticket, nothing for months on end.

And on certain days I indulge in ALL my hobbies ALL at the same time. I watch Radiohead in concert (HD, surround sound) at 2am, whilst I guzzle red wine and eat a carb fuelled chickpea and wholegrain rice curry with an icepack on my leg to ease the pain and inflammation from my latest running injury, and in my hand is my Kindle where I shop for new books to read. And I do all this until I am sick or fall into a deep slumber.

You probably have the picture by now.  I’m an all or nothing kind of person and so I fear greatly for this blog. After breathing life into it, giving it legs and a heartbeat, I wonder when the fog will descend, the weeds will begin to creep into the (soon to be) untended website and “Spinning Head” will start to decay, left rotting, throttled at such a tender young age, cast asunder, stranded and alone on the side of the road that marks my journey through life, just another one of my casualties, just another fad, just another silly craze.

I really should know better.

My new blog

I’ve decided to write a blog.  Which is funny because I don’t really know what a blog is.  I know it’s a place where people write stuff online, but what do ‘Bloggers’ actually write about?  After some research through Google it turns out that most blogs are either:

– “Moms” from Arkansas,
– corporations pushing products,
– or they’re themed (cooking, mountaineering, cycling, Christianity, fishing, etc).

My idea of a blog isn’t any of those, it’s just a place where I write and store thoughts that come into my head, things that might be bothering me, amusing me, frustrating me, boring me, etc.  The key in the last sentence is the word ‘store’, let me explain …

I like writing, I’ve always enjoyed writing.  I remember as a 7 yr old in 1972, I won a ‘pick-a-platignum’ pen for my story about “Sounds in the morning”.  I remember writing about “the water swirling in the kettle” and “listening to Tony Blackburn on the radio”.  It really was a beautiful, epic piece of prose.  I jest, in fact I don’t remember.  And that’s my point, as that story is long gone.  Only the faint memory remains – the pen and those two lines of prose.  I would love to read the whole thing again 40 years on to a) recall what mornings were really like back then, and b) to see what I wrote and to gain an insight as to how my mind was working back in ’72.

I still like to write.  I don’t know what it is about travel but I often write on long flights.  Often I don’t write with any particular topic in mind, I just start to write and I love to see how my thoughts wander.  Again, it’s not epic stuff but it’s always amusing to read back at a later date for the a) and b) reasons above.  Problem is I never keep any of that stuff, it gets lost gradually over time, written on scraps of paper or notebooks long since filled and thrown away.

So, I thought I would try and keep an electronic journal. But wait, writing notes on my laptop is no good because I NEVER backup my laptop, and I don’t always have my laptop with me.  I also change laptops every few years.  Laptop, bad idea.  In the end I concluded it needs to be online, because that takes all the effort out for me.  I don’t have to back it up and I can access it from anywhere using any device.  This is the perfect medium for disorganised people like me.

So there we are – the blog is the perfect medium to capture thoughts, always accessible, always safely backed up on’t’internet.

This is my blog, so move on over Arkansas ‘Moms’ there’s a new daddy in town.  And I have a Pick-A-Platignum pen. Somewhere …