Monday, May 19, 2008


Ham Shanks Holiday

Ham Shanks Secret Diary w/e 18th May 2008

Summer is here and my holidays are fast approaching. This year I’m going on a motorcycle tour round Scotland with my elder brother. Not the whole of Scotland you understand, mainly Caithness and Sutherland and maybes doon the West coast to Oban. A poor mans ‘Long Way Round’ if you like. ‘The Short way roond’ in fact; an abbreviated trip without the support crew, cameras and indeed any external interest. Despite the lack of documentary team and film star participants my bruv was determined to do the whole trip ‘properly’…..

Picture the scene : It’s 6 am in my brothers house; I have been shouted out of bed, shouted down the stairs and I am now sitting bleary eyed at the kitchen table whilst my brother loads a carousel on the overhead projector. Having successfully armed the beast he turns to face his audience (me) ‘So Ham, what’s the most important aspect about our holiday?’, ‘Eeeer to enjoy ourselves?’ I ventured gingerly ‘Wrong!’, ‘It’s the three P’s’ he replied, beaming a manic smile in my direction ‘The three P’s’ I mumbled weakly ‘Planning, Preparation and Performance’ he barked at me, a light spittle settling on my face ‘eeer that’s three P’s and an A surely?’, ‘the and is merely for grammatical correctness ye f@nny!’, ‘oh aye; right’ I replied as the first of many slides flashed up on the screen.

Fast forward four hours and I’m losing the will to live. I’ve seen slides of our route from every conceivable direction, slides depicting the workings of the internal combustion engine, slides illustrating the formation of the many geographical strata we will encounter, satellite images of the terrain and I’ve been forced to memorise the historical meteorological information for Caithness coast from 1945 to present day. ‘Can we take a break please?’, ‘look we’re never going to get through it all if you keep taking breaks’ he replied impatiently ‘I’m going to sh*t myself’ I replied bluntly. Sighing he pointed his swagger stick at the door ‘You’ve got 2 minutes; get out of my sight

Waddling towards the door I mumbled ‘oh thanks very much, very big of you; ye f*cking prick’ he raised his head from reloading the projector ‘What did you say!’, ‘I said thanks very much, I’ll be double quick’ I replied before slamming the door and giving him the vees from the safety of it’s cover. I probably would have spent more time gesturing from behind the door but I was very nearly touching cloth as it was.

It’s a sad situation when you’d prefer to sit on the cludge with yer eyes watering and yer nose wrinkling like a shrivelled prune than go back and speak to yer own kith and kin. I needn’t have worried though, my two minutes quickly passed and a terse rap at the door was followed by an envelope being thrust under the gap at the bottom ‘here’s some forms for the uurgghh next gnnfmmm sess..jeeesus .. ion’ I did derive some small satisfaction from the sound of his gagging as he legged it back to the kitchen and fresher air.

Opening the envelope I found a questionnaire titled ‘Personal Profiling for Expedition managers’ Thirty two pages long, 250 questions ‘forfuuuucksake!’ This was a Forth Road and Rail bridge too far; I realised I had to escape. There was no prospect of evading capture should I leave the normal way, he had the exits covered. However the toilet does have a small window situated high up behind the ‘user’ But when I say high; I mean ten feet up. It can’t be reached even if yer standing on the cludge.

The prospect of another four hours was motivation enough though. I’d seen this trick in the movies. The room was narrow enough for me to put my feet on one wall and then wedge my back against the oppostite wall. With a bit of effort I should be able to crab my way up to the window. I elected to leave the toilet unflushed as a) flushing it would draw attention and he would wonder where I was and b) it provided an effective nasal deterrent.

The mission impossible music playing in my head I started to ascend ‘da da da da dadaaaa dadaaaa da da da’ I’m sure Tom Cruise wasn’t sweating as much when he did this and I doubt he was suppressing a gag reflex either. It’s not only heat that rises, stench appears to follow a similar path ‘gnnnmmpff n.n.earl.y.’ I grunted as my muscles started to protest, but not as much as my nose ‘jeeeeesus am never eating broccoli again’ I was closing in on the window when my left leg started cramping up ‘Ooooyaaaf.f..cker’ fortunately the sudden spasm propelled me the last few inches to the sill and I gratefully pushed open the window and sucked in huge volumes of fresh air ‘Oooooh that’s good’

The respite was brief as a suspicious shout came from outside the room ‘What’s taking so long?’, ‘eeer I’ve had a prolapse’ I shouted back whilst trying to wedge myself through the narrow aperture ‘That’s it I’m coming in!’ I could hear the swagger stick thumping on the door followed by the sound of splintering of wood. I slipped quickly out the window and landed on the roof of the garage. I had to think fast; time was of the essence.

My car keys had been removed along with my belt and shoelaces prior to the start of the presentation but I had a backup plan. My brother kept an old landrover in the garage, the keys were always inside the exhaust pipe. A foolish policy that he was about to regret. Shinning down the drainpipe I crept inside the side door of the garage. Retrieving the keys I quietly opened the drivers’ door and slipped into the seat ‘ha ha I’m home free now’ I whispered as the engine burst into life.

Grinding her into first gear I floored the throttle and let out the clutch. The ancient timbers of the garage door were no match for two and half tons of British engineering ‘Yeee Haaaa’ The boy blunder heard the commotion and came sprinting out the back door ‘Too late ye officious bawbag ha ha haooomppfff’ a little less gloating and slightly more attention on my driving would have helped. Brick walls provide more than adequate resistance and the last thing I saw before I passed out was a swagger stick heading towards my nose.

‘Whassat?Mmnnff?’, ‘Ah you’re back with us; excellent’ I realised I couldn’t move, I was tied to a kitchen chair, my hands had been bound behind my back and my eyelids were being held open with gaffer tape, a second strip was across my mouth ‘I’ve had to take steps to ensure your attention Ham’ the projector screen was in front of me ‘Now if you remember we were covering communication’, ‘here’s some slides depicting the wiring of a radio set’, ‘what’s wrong Ham you look tense?’, ‘mmngnffmastard’, ‘what about some nice relaxing music’ he hit the play button …

You make me feel like dancing; gonna Dance the night away’, ‘You make me feel like dancing’, ‘I’ll just leave that on a loop for you Ham; I should be back in an hour or two, three at most .. mhuhaha ha haaa’, ‘NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!’

Monday, May 05, 2008


Ham Shanks Diary - The Trial

Ham Shanks Secret Diary w/e 4th May 2008

You may remember that I mentioned receiving a jury citation last week. Well I wasn’t fibbing (for once) and this week I have been privileged to be part of the finest justice system in the world; the Scottish Justice System (cue fanfare and wild round of applause) Of course were we American a round of applause would not be enough, we’d also be clutching our chest and tears would be rolling down our bulging ruddy red cheeks. Not out of misplaced pride in our country and a missionary zeal to convert the globe to the American way. But because that’s what a high fat diet and no exercise does; it gives you heart attacks.

Here in Scotland we too are proud of our country, we also have a high fat diet, and take little exercise. However we shrug heart attacks of as ‘a wee bit nippy’ and choke down another deep fried mars bar as the ambulance carts our fat backside off to A&E ‘Gonnay stop at the offie big man, ah need some buckie tae wash doon ma pie’ Makes ye proud. Nobody kicks Scotland’s @rse at heart disease; not even the mighty yanks.

But I digress. I was talking about our judicial system, of which I learnt a lot this week. For instance did you know that there are 15 jurors in Scottish criminal trials? No me either. Did you also know that the decision doesn’t have to be unanimous? Oh no, in fact in Scotland all it needs is a simple majority to get ye banged up. So if it’s seven votes for ‘hang him and flog him’ and seven for ‘let him go, he’s misunderstood; hug a tree’ and you are the last person mulling the evidence over in your mind, it’s basically going to be down to your opinion! How fecking scary is that.

However it’s a far cry from being a ‘potential’ juror to actually making the cut and sitting in judgement. It’s also a very slow process. A very very slow process. I should have guessed when I saw the number of people with books and the one old biddy knitting a scarf. A lot of jury service is sitting around waiting.

It’s a distinctly odd process the actual ‘empanelling’ of a jury. The potential jurors are all herded upstairs into the main courtroom; the first major shock comes very quickly thereafter. Jurors are pointed to one side of the public gallery; a large area of seating not dissimilar to a lecture hall. Rows of wooden bench seats ascend from the grandeur of the courtroom floor up towards the much gloomier recesses at the back of the room. However unlike a lecture hall where it’s free places throughout and first come first served. The seating here is most definitely split into two halves. Home and away sections would be a suitable analogy.

Because the first shock is watching the accused and their ‘supporters’ being directed to the other side of the gallery from where you are now ensconced. Yes that’s right, all of us together in the same room; predator and prey looking at each other. You couldn’t make this up. The sea of Burberry check and the occasional tarnished glint of 3 carat bling does allow the casual observer to work out which side is which but it does seem somewhat archaic.

The accused is eventually called up to the dock by the clerk of the court. Chants of ‘here we go’, ‘here we go’, ‘here we go’ are quickly silenced by the burly policeman at the door. Two feet of polished riot baton being slapped gently into an open palm can have that effect. ‘All rise’ cries the clerk of the court, time for everyone to get to their feet, the Sheriff is in town ….

I was expecting a dour faced Scot with a white horse hair wig, black robe, a trio of legal texts tucked under one arm and perhaps a pair of gold rimmed spectacles. The archetypal man who has made it to the top of his profession through an awful lot of hard work, prayer to his god, extreme diligence, forgoing a social life of any sort; and of course kissing the right cheeks (the trousered variety)

What I wasn’t prepared for was the jangle of spurs and the wide brimmed ten gallon hat. Not to say that the leather chaps and tasselled shirt were high on my list of expected attire either. The Sheriff moseyed on down to his seat on the bench and once his cowboy boots were resting easy on the table ‘Y’all be seated’ was uttered in a slow Southern drawl, albeit the drawl was from the Southside of Glasgow rather than the plains of southern Texas.

Eyes out on stalks and jaw hanging slackly open I was frozen in disbelief. Thankfully my legs were working on autopilot and they slowly lowered me back down to my seat before I drew attention to myself. Nobody else appeared perturbed at this Johnny Cash tribute act. The clerk of the court calmly carried on as if nothing untoward had happened whilst the Sheriff palmed another lump of chewing tobacco in his mouth.

‘How do ye plead boy?’ asked the Sheriff. A voice from beneath the hood started to mutter Eeer Naw guilty yer hon-BANG! Aaargghhh’ the youth slumped to the floor, his left hand clutching his chest ‘oooyaahfu.c.c.ker..’ The Sheriff nonchalantly blew the smoke from the barrel of his gun. Other than the court stenographer struggling to transcribe the youths last words nobody batted an eyelid at this court sponsored slaying ‘Now I’ll ask you again boy’, ‘how do you plead?’

Suddenly a voice broke the silence ‘you’re a bloody idiot m’lud’ was bellowed across the courtroom ‘you can’t shoot first and ask questions later!’, ‘are you fuuucking MENTAL?’ with mounting horror I realised the voice was mine. My brain was shouting ‘be quiet ye eedjit!’ inside my head. But I paid no heed. Just in case Deputy Dawg wasn’t sure who dared speak I now appeared to be standing; to make a clearer target for him presumably ‘you made a big mistake there boy’, ‘Ach away and lie in yer ain pish ye faaaanny’ I blurted in reply

My brain was now screaming ‘what are you doing? shutupshutupshutup!’ I clamped my hands over my mouth but it was too late. He levelled his six shooter at my head and his finger started to squeeze the trigger ……‘IT WASN’T ME NOOOO!

My head snapped back and I could feel wetness spreading down my shirt. This was odd, dead people shouldn’t notice these things? I opened my eyes, again good work for a corpse. Everybody was looking at me? With a mixture of relief and horror I realised the front of my shirt was covered in drool not blood. The bench in front was empty; it had all been a terrible dream. Sheepishly I dabbed at my shirt whilst the clerk of the court shouted ‘All rise’ ……

….. Is that the sound of spurs jangling?


Ham Shanks Secret Diary - The Letter

Ham Shanks Secret Diary we 27th April 2008

Fimbriate adj (also Fimbriated) 1.Bot & Zool. Fringed or bordered with hairs etc. Great word that isn’t it. Not only would it win you maximum points on countdown and a wee wink from Susie in dictionary corner it is also a pretty accurate description of the contact lens after I carelessly dropped it on the floor the other morning. I had to fumble about blindly and fish it out from under the sink. It certainly nipped a bit when I inserted the afore mentioned optical aid into the correct eye. Naturally if I’d noticed its fimbriated nature then I would have cleaned it first; but of course I didn’t have my lens in so couldn’t see. It was a lose-lose situation.

But let’s cut to the chase, I’m not here to talk about the hirsute nature of my contact lenses, oh no, I’m here to talk about something far more sinister, something so dreadful and heinous that words can scarcely convey the true magnitude of it’s ghastly nature; I’m here to talk about filing! Daah daah daa daaa DAAAH! (that was sinister music reaching a crescendo by the way)

I sense by the stony silence and the sneering nature of your upper lip that you’re less than impressed by my ground shaking revelation? Well that’s fine but don’t come crying to me when you can’t find your bank statement from August 1973! Ok so I may have over played it but I did have a particular reason to rue my lack of home filing.

I recently received a Jury Citation in the post and after cursing my luck in a loud, blasphemous and particularly sweary fashion that I had been chosen to pass judgement on the guilt or otherwise of some Burberry clad Ned I filed the letter away somewhere safe; I would be required to produce the citation when I attended court.

Fast forward four weeks and the time to retrieve said letter has arrived. Luckily I’d put a reminder in my calendar to prompt me to look out the letter from it’s secure storage place and phone the ‘Jury Helpline’ as mentioned in the citation; but I would of course need the actual correspondence.

Historically my approach to filing letters has been to have a quick glance at the front to see if it’s got big red writing on it, and if not, shove it on top of the coffee table until I’ve got time to open them later. Once the coffee table is at a state of near collapse I am forced to ferry them upstairs into the spare room and stack them in piles, not organised piles of course; that would be too sensible. I’m very much an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ kind of fella. This works well right up until the point I need to find something.

Having spent an hour sifting through the contents on the coffee table it became apparent that a) the letter wasn’t there and b) dairy products don’t fare well when left at ambient room temperatures for several weeks. I couldn’t be sure but I think my half eaten Muller fruit corner had evolved into a sentient life form. Possibly photosensitive as it appeared to shun the light. I gave it a good thrashing with a rolled up newspaper until it stopped moving anyway; better safe than sorry.

No sign of the errant letter meant a trip to the upstairs ‘archives’ was going to be necessary. Sighing wearily I got tooled up for the job ‘Headlamp – check’, ‘ropes – check’, ‘respirator – check’, ‘Packed lunch – check’ I was ready to tackle the North face of the wardrobe. Popping a Murray mint I gingerly opened the door to the spare room and peered inside.

I could hear a gentle rustle of paper as the opening of the door let a light draught enter the gloomy interior. My jaw dropped open as I surveyed the scene; possibly referring to this as the ‘spare’ room was no longer appropriate. Sheer cliffs of brown and white paper towered above me as far as I could see. The floor, what little was left was buried under drifts of bank statements and junk mail. I could barely squeeze inside ‘Hmmm a birrova tidy might be in order’ I mumbled weakly as the scale of the task dawned on me.

At least I knew the document had arrived in a brown envelope so I focused on the darker strata and fished out my starter for ten ‘okay what do we have here?’ it had already been opened which was encouraging ‘congratulations you are in with a chance of winning two hundred Guineas in the Readers Digest prize draw!’ checking the post date it would seem I was thirty years late with my reply. Not an encouraging start. A quick inspection determined that the lower layers of correspondence had matured into a form of peat so it was logical to assume my letter was somewhere near the top of the pile.

Hauling myself gradually up the sheer North face I made good progress for the first hour. After traversing a particularly tricky cornice of tax disc reminders I bivvied down amongst the ‘consolidate your debt’ flyers and made myself a brew. A quick date check revealed I was in the 1990’s now; not far to the summit. Steeling myself for the final push I hammered in another piton; my last as it turned out.

The piton struck a fault line in the face, I’ll never know what for sure, I think it was a polythene magazine wrapper. It doesn’t really matter, the result was an avalanche and I was caught right in the middle ‘wooannngffmppffff’ nothing was stopping me now as I tumbled down the mountain engulfed in a river of letters ‘ooh aah’, ‘oooya fuuuckr’, ‘oww paper cut! ow oww’ ignoring my wounds I swam for the top with all my strength, it was my only chance. My face burst through the surface and I sucked in lungfuls of dusty air ‘ooohthankfuuuck’ I was on top but still travelling at great speed.

Snatching on to a large cardboard package I jumped on board ‘Wooaahshiiiiit’ I’ve never surfed before but I was now learning fast. Fast being the operative word as my velocity also seemed to increase dramatically. Worse still I was running out of mountain and there was no gentle nursery slope to coast into. My flowing tears only lubricated the descent and I briefly reached my terminal velocity; ‘Ooommpfffff!

All was still, after the roar of collapsing paper an eerie silence now filled the room. Only the sobbing of a small child could be heard; unfortunately that was me ‘Uhuuu huuu I’ve got a pp.p.paper c.cut … uhuu huu’ Pulling my head out of the oak bookcase that had been my crumple zone I wiped the tears from my eyes ‘ffckin jury bastar-‘ I stopped abruptly. There, right on front of me, placed carefully between two books so it would be safe was the citation

Feelings of goodwill? Naaaaaw; somebody is going down today!

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