How to Be Dull: Standing Out Next to Genius by Mr Basil Morley Esq.

How To Be Dull Cover

Damn this book for making me spend a lunch time learning and bob and wheel poetry only to learn that I didn’t understand strophes. I think this book was quite possibly the single largest piece of sarcasm outside the comments section of my dissertation. A chapter later I found myself on a website reading Prick Of Conscience (way too old for copyright worries and always will be unless Disney pay more money than exists).

A tedious and dull thing I learned in this book was that when the author used the word osculating in reference to Prick I thought it was a joke to do with curves and tangents. It turned out to be much simpler and meant kissing. Oh how we laughed at the club about that. Perhaps the dullest and most frustrating thing about this book is the constant mention of the author’s agent. I know it was deliberate to wind me up but damn it worked well.


I did feel at times some of the frustrations of a Professor having marked countless papers came through a little too clearly. Having worked with academics for over twenty years this gave me a sadistic pleasure.

The use of “impactful” as a word is one of my pet hates so it was nice to see it being addressed clearly and correctly here. The section talking about meetings was pure genius and had me giggling until I realize that wasn’t a very dull thing to do. One of my favourite lines in this book that summed up our modern society quite nicely and goes as follows “people love to buy things and imagine they have consumed them and thus bettered themselves somehow”.

I read Mending Wall by Robert Frost because of this book and I am now re-evaluating my entire outlook on life as I clearly have much work to do before I can be considered truly dull. There were plenty of quotes and anecdotes in this book that I could bookmark to repeat ad nauseum towards anybody at work and social gatherings both.

This book has lifted me to the nirvana of dullness and I am at peace.


Nystagmus Network Open Day 2015

Raffle draw

My son has congenital Nystagmus. In simple terms he has an eye condition that results in lateral eye movement. Wobbly eyes if you prefer. The severity and impact of this condition can vary. Like all parents we worry about the impact Nystagmus will have on our son as he grows. Neither of us are keen on meeting new people or socializing. So with no small amount of trepidation we drove up the spine of the country to Newcastle to spend a day listening and learning from other people that are going through or have experienced some of the same things as we will face.

The first thing I noticed walking in to the conference was a  man in glasses  with his chin to his chest and his tablet angled away from him. This made me smile as my little one does exactly the same thing. I’ve never seen so many small children wearing glasses before. We didn’t go for the creche option so we were worried about a seven year old sitting through all the talks. He got bored at points but as usual he surprised us with his fortitude.

There were talks by researchers, experts in navigating the education system, a parents group and even a talk about the challenges adults face. I’m not going to go in to the details of each session as much of the day was recorded and will probably be available to watch soon. What I will say is that we know we are not alone and more importantly our son knows that he’s not alone. There are many people going through exactly what he is and more usefully there are plenty of people that have had great lives and careers regardless of any disability.

There was a point in the parents group session where every single one of us was either in tears or nearly  in tears. There had been a few parents clearly frustrated with the lack of support they had been receiving when out of nowhere a young man called Michael from Belgium started talking about his experience. He had clearly railed against life and was only just growing into himself (we’ve all been there). He talked about his love of football and not being able to follow the fast moving ball and his being the only one of his friends not driving away in a car when he was eighteen. This upset us all but then he said something I’ll always remember (I am paraphrasing here though). He said that us as parents need to be there. Our children will fall, and fall hard many times. We just need to be there to help them up and point them at the next challenge. For me this has made me more determined to ensure that my son has hobbies and skills that he will not be disadvantaged in, but more importantly I have been reminded how it important it is to always be there for my children.

I’d like to thank everyone at the Nystagmus Network for their hard work and welcoming atmosphere. The open day was thoroughly enjoyable and highly informative and I’d recommend it to anybody wanting to learn more more about Nystagmus. Oh and I’m really sorry that my son who was chosen to pick out the winning raffle ticket chose mine. My wife could have died with embarrassment.

The Death Of Sir Terry

I don’t think I have ever struggled over the title of a blog post before. I tried quite a few words but none seemed to be appropriate.  Words like legend, icon and hero are bandied about too easily. To me Terry Pratchett is all of those and much more. There was a time in my late teens when there was very little happiness in my life. I felt like everything was closing in and crushing me. I read books to escape from reality. There were other authors that shaped my reading habits more, but no other author that has so profoundly changed how I felt. There is nothing as precious as being able to smile when you have nothing to smile about. Terry Pratchett did more than that though. I can remember reading The Colour of Magic on the bus and literally crying with laughter. At that point it was probably the only time I’d had a positive emotion in weeks. For that reason alone I will always remember Pratchett and that book in particular. I went to quite a few Pratchett  signings and every time was greeted by a smiling and humble man that was as excited to meet me as I was him. It didn’t matter if I was first in the queue or last he really knew how to treat his fans. After I demolished a stand of books at a signing in Colchester he called me Pestilence and signed my book accordingly. That made my year. I still treasure that book.

I decided to honour the memory of Terry Pratchett passing in the only way I know. I read. I read something I had been meaning to read for years and never got round to. Volume 1 of The Sandman by Neil Gaiman. I’m not sure how I’ve managed to avoid reading it for so long (I’ll be getting the rest soon enough) but this was a perfect choice for me. Aside from the obvious links Sandman is of course an anthropomorphic personification and that has always been a key for me in Pratchett’s work. I’ll be reading some other stuff over the coming week that I’ve been putting off.

I’ll miss Sir Terry and his work.


BUPA 10k London

BUPA London 10kI should give you a bit of background. I am not a distance runner. I’m stocky with short stumpy legs. At the beginning of this year I was 19st7lbs. In my usual insane manner I decided to set myself a fitness goal. I decided to sign up for the Chelmsford marathon. It is new and only has two thousands places so is pretty small and quiet. That helped get me motivated. Rolling forward to the start of may and I’m down to 16st4lbs. That’s some achievement. I’ve also managed to sluggishly manage to run over a mile without stopping (Asthma and a neglected body didn’t help). My lovely wife spots a post by The Nystagmus Network saying they need runners to fill places in the BUPA London 10k race. My son has Nystagmus. It is an eye condition that can cause some hardships but can also lead to other eye conditions. I couldn’t turn that down. Raising charity for a group of people who’s advice has really helped us is important. I don’t want other parents to miss out on the support available.

On to the day. I don’t like crowds. I don’t even like standing in queues. I also don’t like contact with other people (my immediate family aside). Somehow my brain managed to blot the potential issues out until I was being funnelled into what felt like a moving sheep pen. As you can see from the picture above there was no personal space. I already had a heavy cold and the stress of being that close to so many people for forty five minutes before the start really wore on me (folding my arms across my body did not help). A great start.

Finally we started moving as the race began. I ran past Mo Farah (he was starting the race). I’ve only ever run by myself late at night. I had no control over my pace for at least the first kilometre. I settled in to a rhythm and then my nose started running and I started to cough. This lasted about another kilometre. I walked for a bit as fast as I could before jogging again.  Then just before half way I started feeling really ill. Luckily there were toilets out on the course and I felt a lot better after a visit. I didn’t take any chances at the drinks stations. I slowed to a walk to grab and drink before running again.

I staggered across the line in about one hour twenty five minutes. No final sprint for the cameras for me. I was a mess. I didn’t really know where I was. The Lucozade in the goodie bag was very timely. I sat down for a few minutes to sort myself out. All of this aside this was the first time out of any of my runs that I have managed an average of under fourteen minutes per mile.

This run was a struggle for me but as I was ambling round the course I kept looking at the charities people were running for. Every single one of them was deserving. Every person running a hero. There were a couple of groups I saw that were obviously running for recently departed family and friends. That made me choke up as well. It saddens me that so many of these charities need to exist but whilst they do they are important. It also makes me feel great to see so many people young and old from all kinds of backgrounds running together. I’d also like to say thanks to anybody along the side of the road cheIering people on. At least twice I felt like giving up but didn’t because of them.

In conclusion I’m glad I did it but don’t ever plan doing such a busy race ever again. The course was stunning. The views alone were were worth the suffering. I now have an idea of just how much more work I have to put in before I do the marathon. Oh and weirdly the muscle group that ached the most the next day was my shoulders. Time to work on my upper body a bit more too.

Holy Stupid Idea Batman!

I just did something that is stupid on an epic scale. I signed up to run a marathon in 233 days.

Let me put this in to context. I have not run at all in twenty years. I have never run more than about eight miles ever. I’m about 250lbs and currently not very fit with a typical middle age spread.

Why on earth would I do something that stupid?

Firstly I am a miserable and insular loner most of the time, but to feel on occasion that I should help people. J’s Hospice do more to help young people than I ever could so I’m more than willing to accept a little (OK hideous amounts) of pain to help them.

On a more personal level though I struggle to lose weight or get fit unless I have a goal. Last time it was a three hour fitness challenge raising money to aid Help for Heroes. I like a challenge and as I was applying it seemed like a good idea. Now? I’m scared witless about how I’m going to achieve this. Conditioning and stretching starts today with slight running over short distances to commence next week.

I must be more than slightly insane but this is a good idea both for my own longevity and quality of life but more importantly to help others and be a useful member of society. The more sponsorship I get the less able I am to bottle it and just pay the money so feel free to pop on to my sponsorship page. If not have a good old laugh at the thought of me dragging my sorry carcass over twenty six flipping miles.

Tis The Season To Be Depressed

It is the winter solstice today. The darkest day of the year. Not just literally though. There is something ominous and oppressive about this time of year. It isn’t really a surprise to me that for centuries we have ensured there is some kind of festival at this time of year. Even an old misery guts like me needs to see people happy. It does help. Help what? Depression. We all know people with depression. Most of them are fine. Or at least want you to think they are. Between the time my mum died and I moved in with my wife I spent as little time with people as possible at this time of year. I hid away in my own little world and in online ones as well. That worked for me for a while but it was never going to be a successful long term coping strategy. I’m a very lucky man. I married one of the most wonderful women in the world. She gives me space when I need it but will push back and make me get help when I need that. I’m starting to understand why my mum dying was so terribly debilitating for my dad. I can also see how other people fall apart after life changing experiences. I can even see how believing in a god can help. Whatever works.

To all the people out there feeling worse than I do I say hang in there. Look to your coping mechanisms. Whether they be to go and see family members or read a book in a quiet room or even visit a place of worship. Do what you have to do. Get through the darkness as best you can.


You think you are because when you look around you see no solace. Most of us have friends and family that would be glad to help if we but asked. Especially at this time of year. Asking for help is really hard. I know that. Instinctively we know that people need help at this time of year and are more open to it. If you really feel like you have nobody you can talk to there are other options. Online chat rooms dedicated to support that you can be anonymous on. Wonderful helplines such as The Samaritans who will not judge you. Just open a search browser and search for ‘depression help’. This post is part of how I’m coping this year. I’m looking forward to the holidays this year and I hope you are too.

Peace out all.

Tiptree Jam is not a normal company

This is an unusual blog post for me, but one that I am compelled to write.

Today is my lovely wife’s birthday. I tweeted earlier that I was going to the Tiptree Jam (Wilkin & Sons Ltd. as you might know it) tearoom at Heybridge Basin.  It is a lovely place to go and my wife has taken the kids there a couple of times before. I had not been so it was a bit of a surprise when on sitting down the waitress asked if I was Tony Lane. I was a bit taken aback but didn’t think I owed them any money so admitted this dastardly fact. Apparently it had been spotted that I tweeted about coming here.

The five of us had a lovely meal in a lovely environment and the service was friendly and helpful so all in all it was a great late lunch. You’re probably thinking that’s the end of this story, but it isn’t. As we went to pay the waitress said there was no charge. Apparently the MD looks for related tweets and if something appeals to him he will occasionally do something like pay the bill of a customer. This was a really pleasant surprise and put a spring in our step as we went for an afternoon walk. It was the icing on top of a lovely birthday.

If you are in Essex I can recommend eating at one of their tearooms, but particularly the factory one at the factory in Tiptree. There is a little museum about the company history which is worth a quick wander around too.


Toilet Etiquette

This is not a whimsical look at which urinal you should use and why. This is a rant. A rant about the dirty horrid people that appear to be everywhere.

I go to the toilet more than most people. My wife says I have the bladder of a pea, whereas I say her family are descended from camels (it might explain why she always has the hump).

Using a toilet is a simple thing. Unless you are pissed up in a pub or club there should be no problem hitting porcelain. If you are having troubles use the cubicle, BUT sit on the freaking seat. DO NOT stand up in a cubicle and do an impression of a garden sprinkler. It’s not funny, it is not clever, and some poor bugger has to step in it or clean it up.

If my three year old behaved like that I would be cross, so I expect better from adults.

I’m not finished though, I’m only just getting started. Flush the freaking chain. If it is not ready to flush or does not flush properly on the first try, taken a second and try again. It is quite simple really.

I know sometimes an upset tummy can cause a little bit of a mess in the toilet bowl. It happens to most of us. Those of us with manners use that special brush right next to the bowl to give a quick little clean. Five seconds maximum is all it takes. It is not hard, not much effort.

Washed your hands? We have cleaners here. There is no need to feel you will get dirty by using the washing facilities here. If you clean your hands and use the lovely sterile (ish) Dyson hand dryer you’ll prevent some of those germs spreading.

In short it takes little effort and only a little thought for others to make life a little better for everybody who has to use communal toilets.

Don’t be a dickwad.

Rant over. Sorry about that but I just get fed up with the mess some people leave.

Nine years of marriage

Nine years ago today I got married. A lot has happened in that time. A lot of it very painful both physically and emotionally. There have been deaths in the family, I’ve had my gall bladder removed, huge amounts of stress at work and home. These things are extremely hard to deal with, but having somebody there to pick you up when you fall makes all the difference.

The longer I am married the more I can relate to just how devastated my father was when mum died. He is not the same person and never will be, if it was not for my sister-in-law and her mum keeping him busy helping them and by extension his grandchildren out (my brothers seem to breed like rabbits) he would have given up and faded away years ago.

I seem to be painting a pretty dour picture of my life, but that is not the case. In the same period of time we’ve seen number one son grow into an honest, respectful, intelligent and thoughtful teenager and number two son defy the odds and not only be born but grow into a cheeky, funny, and imaginative little three year old. Life does not get better than that. Both my wife and I have managed to gain post-graduate qualifications (I must sort out my dissertation to finish this damn Masters). We’ve been to some really interesting places and met some fascinating people.

Being simple people we had a simple wedding. We didn’t like the local registry office so we chose a slightly better looking one that just so happened to be a former mental health hospital. It was a small wedding, with only twenty five people including us there. I can remember standing in the room waiting to go in.  We had Love Cats by The Cure playing as all our guests filed in. The rest is all a blur until the vows. It was so hard not to start giggling but we both managed it. Then we walked out to Viva Las Vegas by Elvis. We smiled as we walked outside. Then was the important bit, the food. I hate wedding receptions, they either have a manky buffet or a set meal that I don’t really like. That was never going to happen to us. We went to The Cricketers in Clavering (run by Jamie Oliver’s parents) and they are really lovely people who treat their customers like house guests. We had one half of the restaurant to ourselves and our guests got a three course meal with at least six choices per course.  As far as I can tell everybody really enjoyed their meal and that was all that counted. We didn’t do traditional party favours either as we thought party bags would be more fun. Boys got water pistols, sweets, marbles, and other cheap tacky boy things. Girls got, well girlie stuff beyond my ken but equally cheap. Everybody got a pencil with “Julia and Tony 2002” on it. I can hear people cringing and groaning from here, but it suited us and the people we invited.

It was a hard time financially as we’d just moved into our new house and were in the process of sorting out gutting and extending it, or hell as I now refer to it. We cut our wedding list down to the bone and did not invite a lot of people that we wanted to, but we didn’t take on any extra debt which was the main thing at the time.

I am not an overly emotional or tactile person so it can be hard to tell what is going on in my head sometimes, but I do love my wife more that I’d have believed possible.

Music and Books

I was thinking back to one of my favourite books this year this morning, Serial Killers Incorporated by Andy Remic is a great book by Anarchy Books and was co-released with a soundtrack by th3 m1ss1ng. In the bizarre way that my mind works this then reminded me of a few tweets by Adam Christopher about what he’s listening to whilst writing or editing. One flashback into my teens later I was thinking about how I relate certain books with certain music.

For me it all started with the Dragonlance Chronicles by Weis and Hickman. If you are a Fantasy fan then these are a must. I can remember laying on the swing chair in the garden reading these books, but I remember just as well that I chained extension leads together to get my stereo outside and listened to a C90 cassette (Google it kids) with Slippery When Wet by Bon Jovi on one side and Kings of Metal by Manowar on the other. I guess that places it in the summer of ’89. All this time later if I read those books again I can almost hear those albums in my head, and conversely if I hear any of those tracks I can’t help thinking of Dragonlance. There are other instances where I relate music and books together. The Dark Tower books by Stephen King are closely related to Garage Inc. by Metallica.

Not all music goes with all books. I’ve tried reading Gary McMahon whilst listening to Teddybears Sthlm and it just did not work even though I loved both. So not all music goes with all books. There are rhythms to books, the pacing of the plot and the speed of the reader. I’ve often wondered if what the author listens to whilst writing would work whilst reading, or if some books and music just go together.

I’d love to know what other people think and whether I am the only nut who relates certain books and albums so closely.