Every Scot to get luxury jet to stay in UK

The Better Together campaign has denied descending into panic while simultaneously promising the whole Scots population lavish gifts.

As the Scottish referendum draws near and exactly one poll shows the Yes campaign in a marginal lead, the Better Together campaign have promptly cacked themselves and promised every man, woman and child their choice of a boat, a jet or the pricier option of a lifetime’s supply of Irn-Bru.

Other plans include sending legions of politicians north of the border in order to charm wavering voters. This will likely involve senior Tories, such popular figures in Scotland, telling people what they should think. If this stroke of genius fails to produce the expected 50 point swing to the No campaign, David Cameron will personally stand atop Edinburgh castle and defecate on a Saltire. It is thought that the Scots will be thrilled by such a feral, masculine display of authority and immediately attack Alex Salmond en masse.

Export strength

Export strength

Only if this should also fail will Better Together officially enter panic mode, presumably triggering some kind of small scale nuclear war.

Quite how much to read into one opinion poll – especially one commissioned by a Murdoch paper and then leaked by the man himself, is questionable, but given that the No campaign has been run under the slogan of ‘It’s in the bag!’ since day one it is not really surprising that the Yes campaign have started to gain ground.

Alistair Darling and his eyebrows will point toward the less-than-sporting approach adopted by the Yes campaign: a refusal to answer any major question, a commitment to the truth that would make Fox News proud, and a fundamental misunderstanding of what independence means that is genuinely alarming – but it’s tough to have much sympathy when his campaign has had all the substance of a quite, damp fart.

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Television out of ideas

All viable ideas for television programmes have been used, broadcasters fear.

The hour-long, recurring, behind-the-scenes documentary about how teams are selected for University Challenge, a show whose high points include discussing the ‘bite point’ of a buzzer, has confirmed  that television has finally reached the end of the creative line.

The writing has been on the wall for some time for the medium. Punters have begun to notice that shows have lacked a certain level of originality, falling into one of three categories:

  1. celebrities performing active task in glittery or skimpy outfits
  2. amateurs perform whimsical craft, to be judged mercilessly by tossers or the elderly
  3. one hour show about thirty minute show

While the first is perhaps not a new phenomenon, the formats are becoming increasingly obscure. Production meetings now consist of bored executives etching words onto dog biscuits and letting the office terrier go mental – the last remaining biscuit-idea is then made into a primetime show. This method has been responsible for classics like Tumble and Splash – and rumoured to be in the pipeline are Animal Husbandry and Chess, although producers are still struggling with the idea that is simply titled ‘Goats’.

"No idea is a bad idea"

“No idea is a bad idea”

The second group of shows, a more recent but still well-worn format, effectively involves taking a middle-class pastime, gathering ‘talented amateurs’ and then making them fight each other to produce ludicrous gifts for maniacal overlords. Great British Bake Off is of course the best-known example. The shows rely on taking something that makes inherently dull viewing, like baking, sewing or one-pot slow cookery, and tarting them up with outlandish challenges. It is not enough to simply make a nicely-baked bun – contestants must stack and glue the buns into an exact, life-sized replica of Paul Hollywood’s naked form or risk a physical beating from a riled-up octagenarian. Future series include Loft of the Year and the Great British Ironing Some Shirts Contest.

Finally, the new class of dross – the show about a show. As well as the aformentioned crime that is ‘Watching socially awkward children try and apply for a quiz show, then talk about quizzes, then practice quizzes’, the Bake Off makes another appearance with ‘An Extra Slice’, which can only be awful. Their origins can probably be traced back to Big Brother’s Little Brother, which speaks volumes. Their main features are that they are longer than the actual shows they are about, and almost compellingly boring.

The current lineup is just the tip of the iceberg; as schedules become more and more devoid of things to go in them and people start noticing they’re watching a re-run of a re-run, expect to see new delights such as ‘Getting Ready for Work’: An in-depth look at people getting ready for work, before leaving for menial office jobs. This will accompany the major new series ‘Work’, documenting people doing their jobs and occasionally weeping into their tea.

By 2016 it is predicted that television will just comprise a live feed of whoever is watching it, sitting on their sofa, watching themselves, with information on how to tweet along displayed at the bottom of the screen.

Which is still better than Eastenders.

High Alps Challenge -a week of going up mountains on a bicycle

So here it is then, the write up that literally three of you have all been waiting for. As you may or may not know, I’ve spent the last week slowly creaking my way up 10 Alps, using nothing more than my legs, my fox-like sense of cunning, and a collection of components commonly known as a bicycle, all in aid of Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research (ahem).

For those of you who don’t have the time or inclination to read through the rest, I don’t blame you and here is a small set of responses which will answer all of your major questions:

– Yes, it was great

– Yes, it was a challenge

– No, I didn’t get in the van

– Yes, I did get caught picking wild flowers at the side of the road

– No, my legs are fine

And now the slightly longer version:

Day 1: Geneva to La Giettaz

I should probably do a day 0 which details the hilarity of trying to pack a bike box, the rush to Evans to buy a pedal wrench, and the fun of wheeling a bike through an airport, but I won’t. You’re safe. After an almost incident-free trip out to Switzerland, we set out from our lakeside campsite in search of mountains. First up, after a 50km slog on the flat we arrived at the base of peak number 1, the Col de la Colombiere. I will admit to feeling a certain amount of trepidation at this point, coupled with the strong urge to cycle into a field and hide, then maybe living feral for a week. The thing with mountains is that you can see them from quite far away, and they are both big and imposing. With jelly legs that were only partially caused by my alarming lack of fitness, we set off on the first climb. I probably needn’t have worried – it was awesome. I quickly found my lowest possible gear and didn’t leave it for several hours. The thing with cycling in the Alps is that it’s not necessarily that steep, it’s just long. It’s certainly steep enough to keep you wishing for more gears to drop into, but you get into a rhythm quite quickly and just keep your legs spinning. The weather wasn’t great but the views still quickly move from pleasant to spectacular in no time at all as we found ourselves chugging through pretty villages and saying hello to bemused cows. Up towards the top it starts to become pretty steep – the last 3km go 9%,10%,11% in gradient which is a bit sad. The weather was also turning threatening, and the only saving grace was bumping into a young couple on mountain bikes, one dragging a trailer full of luggage and the other dragging their infant son in a small buggy. They were moving so slowly that their bikes were weaving, and even though they were close to one another both remained tight-lipped and stony faced. Being a fundamentally bad person, I wished them an overly cheery hello and burst past them to the top, reveling in my superior bike speed. They, meanwhile, are probably either still on the mountain or getting their vows annulled. After a quick break for cake and hot chocolate – a common theme through the week -we set off on the descent, which is both hilariously dangerous and addictively fun, to the point where I was secretly making aeroplane noises to myself on the fast bits.

The top of Colombiere (post cake)

FYI – I’m in the crappy green gilet looking like an idiot

After a wet jaunt down to the bottom we had to come back up another Alp, the Col des Aravis. At 9km this is something of an Alpine tiddler, but by this point my body was beginning to feel the gravity of the situation and I had to keep talking to myself and passing livestock to distract myself from the internal protests. At the end of the day we cruised into the tiny village of La Giettaz to a surprise: a roof and a warm bed, which was nice given that the weather was doing this:

Lush

Lush

Meanwhile, our support crew, the beautiful bastards from Traverse Aravis, slept outside in the rain, which must have been awful. Sorry guys.

Day 2: La Giettaz to Bourg St Maurice

Feeling full of beans – or more specifically pasta and porridge, our staples for the week – we set off on day two after an expert stretching sessionP1020187 If you notice that the gentleman on the right is walking with a bit of a spring in his step, it’s because he has spent the last three minutes applying chamois cream to his nether regions, in full view of all of us. As I work with the man it’s an image I cannot unsee and am reminded of on a daily basis. Anyway, I’m now going to stop with the precise metre by metre account and switch to a key summary of each day.

Key Climbs

Les Saisies and the Cormet de Roselend. The former is quite good fun. After being completely left for dead by my group – a recurring theme I was happy to go along with – I got into a hell for leather race uphill with and elderly Belgian woman, which I won by a good ten yards. I’m not sure she knew we were racing. The Roselend is a strange beast – about 23km long and all damp, enclosed forest for the first 15. After that you come across a reservoir and small restaurant, where it took me 5 minutes to successfully order chips, which were then sent to another table. The remaining 8km climb up and away from the reservoir are, in a word, magical. Climbing by bike is so much more bearable when the scenery is fun, and the top of the Roselend is up there with the best.  IMAG0078

IMAG0088_BURST001 IMAG0080 IMAG0074

A properly gorgeous ascent, capped off by a mad descent which is so beautiful you struggle to keep your eyes on the road – no photos unfortunately, I struggle to stay upright with two hands on the bars.

Notable incidents

First pangs of knee pain – more on this later

We met a Nowegian couple who had done the entire climb on a steel tandem, immediately making them the greatest people in the world. They told us about some abandoned hot springs that you could bathe in at the bottom. When we arrived it seemed to be full of crack addicts, so we cycled on. They just went straight in, presumably because they were cooler than us.

We also stayed in a small village outside Bourg St Maurice on Bastille Day. The French seemed intent on celebrating Bastille Day by sending up three fireworks and then blowing up small sections of their country with massive explosives. Fair play to them, the sound of explosions bouncing off mountains is brilliant.

Day 3 – Bourg St Maurice to Bramans

Key climbs

The Col de l’Iseran, which I think is French for arsehole. Over 45km long, coming up from Bourg St Maurice through Val d’Isere and up to 2,770m, which for the uninitiated is pretty damn high. There are good and bad points to this kind of altitude. The bad points are that it’s cold, rain evaporates when it hits the ground and the lack of oxygen means you struggle to cycle. The good point is that the lack of oxygen makes you feel amazing, so you don’t actually care.

Notable incidents

In Geneva airport we met a Belgian man, early 60s, who got off the plane in his cycle gear, pulled his bike out of a box and cycled out of the airport. We saw him in Val d’Isere, 3 days and 250k later, eating a large pastry and watching a group of gypsies dance.

I also had to be dragged up the last couple of km by one of the guys who was cycling with us. He could have been done about 20 minutes earlier but stayed back to make sure I made it. For this I am eternally grateful. I also lost the plot slightly and started picking flowers, which I intended to press and give to my girlfriend for reasons I can no longer recall. I had nothing to press them with apart from some socks. They died. I probably won’t give them to her – she’d find it odd even by my standards.

On the way down I got into a race with a Renault Clio, which I only narrowly lost after nearly stacking it on an unexpected corner. The gradient then evened out a bit, and we took a leisurely spin back to our campsite. On the way we stopped in a village and, like the athletes we are, bought a large quantity of local cheese and ate it on the the street with our bare hands. It was a fine decision.

IMAG0099IMAG0090

By this point I have also started stopping regularly to take photos, conveniently resting my aching limbs for up to 10 minutes. As such I have about 200 photos that will never see the light of day again.

The other new news on day 3 was the bit where my knees started to feel like they were about to explode. This may have been in some part due to my chronic lack of training, which one flatmate described, accurately, as “playing FIFA and ODing on Pringles.” But being a real man, I wept quietly, complained loudly, considered quitting or re-visiting the ‘go feral’ strategem, and eventually got back on my bike, all sulky.

 

Day 4 – Bramans to Argentiere la Bessee

Key Climbs – Col du Telegraphe and Col du Galibier

Quite rightly known as a horrible pair of climbs, these bad boys are back to back, 12km and 19km respectively, and about 7% in gradient. Telegraphe is ok, aside from the fact it was touching 30 degrees and they had decided to re-surface the roads in preparation for the Tour de France, which then didn’t go up it. Bastards.

Galibier is a bit of a different prospect. There are some very steep sections which you really, really feel. I can’t quite pinpoint why it’s tough, but it really is. About 3km from the top, where the gradient starts to ramp up, I had to stop with one of the gang to take on water, eat an energy bar, do a bit of a pep talk and break wind with reckless abandon. The top is an absolute stunner though.IMAG0120 IMAG0121 IMAG0122 IMAG0119

Probably my favourite view of the week. Quite how people race up here is completely beyond me though.

Day 5 – Argentiere to Jausiers

Key Climbs

Col du Vars – by which point I was very close to giving up. 20 odd km of climbing on swollen knees and being instantly dropped by most of the others was less than fun. In the end I resorted to fiddling with my seat post for some time (not a euphemism), which seemed to do the trick.

Notable events

Nothing much, it’s a bit of a blur. The most memorable part of it was being chaperoned up the entire climb by a massive swarm of flies. They don’t really tell you about this – “come to the south of France, it’s warm and there are flies everywhere” is not the best slogan, but they were properly annoying. I cycled into a ditch trying to get rid of the bastards. Eventually I decided they were my entourage and were hyping me up the hill like a lot of tiny, filthy MCs.

As I said, slight mental breakdown.

Day 6 – Jausiers to Isola

Cime de la Bonette. The second highest road in Europe, which I bet the French are pissed off about because all of the signs say it’s the highest. It isn’t. But it is still very high at 2,800m, with a 23km climb. The last 400m are about 15% and, as a tired Frenchman I was cycling with remarked, “it is a wall”. I liked that guy- we had a sense of camaraderie built on the fact that neither of us spoke the others language, with the exception of the phrase “it is a wall”, which I learned while working as a painting and decorating consultant in Rennes. The camaraderie was such that I completely left him for dead on the last push, adding to the string of hollow, empty victories that got me through the week. The full list of vanquished foes is:

– Elderly Belgian lady

– Tired Frenchman

– Really, really old couple

– Couple on mountain bikes with child

IMAG0162 IMAG0161 IMAG0158 IMAG0163

These pictures are also quite fun because you can look back on the roads below and think, “I cycled up that.” Which is a very odd thought.

Day 7 – Isola to Nice

Legs were really starting to complain by this point, but it was a fairly easy 90km down to the sea. We all grouped up together for the last climb, a tiddler with 500m of gain, which was nice. We must have looked quite strange – 10 knackered, smelly cyclists slogging up a hill singing Bob Marley songs, but there you go.

Eventually we arrived on the seaside after ignoring pretty much all the traffic regulations in Nice. Then we did this.

P1090223

Then we jumped in the sea for the most rewarding dip of my entire life.

And that, my pedigree chums, was that! 570km along, 11.5km up, and we were on the beach in the glorious sunshine of Nice. Job done.

Have to say a huge thanks to:

– Everyone who sponsored me/us – we’ve raised almost £5,000 between us for a superb cause

– Michael, Sue, Cliff and Trigger for looking after us (and especially me in my daily moments of doubt) like champions for the entire week, feeding us like kings and offering the kind of support that just makes you keep pedalling.

– The rest of the gang – you know who you are. Thanks for dragging my slow arse up mountains, showing me that neat trick with the energy gels in water, bringing the laughter, bringing the champagne, bringing the meat and cheese, singing loudly and often, and making the whole week incredible.

– All the support from back home. I had some flaps before going and various people set me straight and made me go – it was one of the best things I’ve ever done so thank you!

So, anyone fancy it next year?

 

Ants preparing for annual airborne assault

Ants across the UK are doubling in size and roaming the streets menacingly in the build up to their annual attempt to wipe humanity from the face of the earth.

The plot, if previous years are anything to go by, will involve large quantities of newly hench ants inexplicably growing wings overnight, taking to the air and careering drunkenly around until crashing headlong into the pint you were just taking a sip from. If pints are unattainable, then eyes, hair and the pavement are also acceptable targets.

Shit is about to get real.

Shit is about to get real.

 

The arthropods, usually better known for pro-monarchy views and refusal to travel in anything other than single file, are in fact vicious haters of all humanity ever since their image rights were stolen without consent in the middle-of-the-road family film Antz.

Whilst the ants have numbers and enthusiasm, their regimented lifestyle, which involves protecting the queen, picking up small odds and ends, protecting the queen, dismembering their own dead and protecting the queen, has led to a distinct lack of imagination in their planning process. The Annual Ant Airborne Apocalypse, or Ant Day, has followed exactly the same format for many hundreds of years, can be described as having only limited success – a total of 0 humans have been massacred in several centuries.

There are several flaws to the plan which renders it almost utterly useless. Firstly, the winged attack ants have a lifespan of approximately 24 hours, making a sustained attack somewhat problematic. They also have the co-ordination of a bowl of spaghetti, resulting in myriad deaths through shit flying.

Second, the intensive gym work and reliance on protein shakes that the ants use to bulk up before the big day has the same effect on them as it does on humans – it turns them into vacuous, knuckle-dragging bellends. Losing any sense of caution, they spill onto the streets in search of ‘banter with the lads and fanny’, only to be slaughtered in their thousands by passing feet.

Regardless, ant leaders are optimistic that past failures are no barrier to future success, and are of the opinion that yet another Ant Day will be precisely the last thing that humans are expecting.

A spokes-ant said: “We’re going to nail those fuckers this year. The one day a year where it rains flying ants will be the last thing they are expecting. And if it doesn’t work, our current plan is to try exactly the same thing again next year.

“It’s the last thing they’ll expect.”

Cycling Training 1: London to Brighton*

*nearly.

I’m pleased to announce that Alps training has started in earnest. Today I embarked upon the challenging 85km route from London to Brighton, taking in some fairly hefty hills upon the way. I have to say it went rather well, with the only hiccup being that instead of cycling 50 miles to Brighton we instead cycled 10 miles to Richmond, which is a minor detail. We did very nearly go to Brighton, but then we couldn’t be arsed.

The famous deer of Brighton

The famous deer of Brighton

 

I’ve decided this approach is the way forward – so instead of cycling from Geneva to Nice in 6 weeks time, I’m probably just going to do a few laps of the airport and then sit by lake Geneva for 6-7 days, marveling at the enduring strength of the Swiss economy. This seems a much more sensible plan than actually riding up mountains, which if you ask me is a fool’s errand.

We managed to get about 65km in today, with 3 laps of the ever-welcoming Richmond Park.

Plus points:

– I am less fat than the majority of riders

– We saw some deer

– It was really sunny

Downsides:

– The majority of fat riders are better at cycling than me

– Forgot to suncream

– Distinct lack of hills

– Alps is more or less all hills

I also attempted to race my ride buddy at one point today. In hindsight this was a poor plan, as she has thighs like oak trees and I have thighs like oak saplings starved of light or food. By the time I met her at our designated finish area, she had ordered and consumed a coffee and some cake and completed the Times crossword. It was only a 200m race.

I’ve also discovered that singing out loud is a good way to get through the miles. Not only does it take your mind off the fact that your legs hurt, but it also makes you look like a lunatic and thus you are given plenty of room. My song for the day was Stonehenge, by Ylvis. Which is one of the greatest songs ever written.

Top tip though, try not to sing ‘And she plays with my balls’ with gusto while a young family drive past with the windows down.

On that note, why not sponsor me/us? It’s cheap, unless you want to give me like 50 quid, in which case think of it as worth the investment. Thanks for all the sponsorship so far, it is much appreciated.

http://www.justgiving.com/mjburton

Have a fine weekend everybody.

Tossers replaced by arseholes in political earthquake

UKIP leader Nigel Farage has declared a glorious new era in British politics after his shower of arseholes narrowly defeated several bunches of tossers in the European elections.

The European and council elections, which are so important that a) they’re buy one get one free and b) the only people who bothered to vote were the people who have a lot of spare time on their hands on a Thursday and/or are easily led by questionable claims on immigration, were an apparently seismic shift in the British political landscape. Farage promised a political earthquake, which itself was an odd thing to promise given that earthquakes are often, and indeed always, associated with destruction, ruin and death rather than positive change. He duly delivered a tremor which is surely on a par with the legendary Folkestone earthquake of 2007, which caused mild damage to chimney pots and shook a lady’s wardrobe handles.

Seismic.

Seismic.

The charismatic, compared to Cameron, Miliband or a tree, UKIP leader has spent the past two days braying like an aroused donkey, and has now swanned off to Brussels to stare distrustingly at the Polish delegation and complain loudly about how EU is law strangling Britain whilst staying within arm’s reach of the buffet at all times. He is then planning an assault on Westminster – it is unclear whether this will be a political, physical or sexual assault, but Westminster has been advised to start carrying pepper spray and avoid dark alleys.

In other exciting news, voter turnout has been confirmed at a shade over 34%, which is much like one person voting for a threesome while the other two are in the toilet, then them having to go through with it when they get back, and that being absolutely fine.

The other major political parties, and the Lib Dems, have responded in typically sterling fashion to this latest setback by promising to get more in touch with the electorate – even though the electorate have shown that they probably shouldn’t even be touched with a ten foot barge pole. David Cameron has done his best puppy dog eyes before claiming that UKIP was pretty much his idea, and Ed Miliband has tried hard to give the impression that he is human, while Nick Clegg has seemingly taken to permanent weeping and visiting all nine of his voters personally, which has been on the cards for some time now.

So what can we expect in this brave new world? Perhaps the biggest difference to daily life will be that the man who used to use phrases like ‘Johnny Foreigner’ and ‘dirty, untrustworthy, thieving bastard types’ in the pub is now your elected representative, with all the wonderful benefits that will bring. Expect heightened levels of general incompetence coupled with occasional bouts of homophobia.

In Europe, the EU will move from talking about shared values and doing very little, to talking about self interests and doing very little and not letting the Romanian delegate out of sight.

As for the general election next year, who knows. If we believe UKIP, we’ll probably have been overrun by a tidal wave of immigrants and choked to death by bureaucracy this time next year, so it probably won’t matter anyway.

Stupid decision #6,322: Cycling the Alps

You’d have thought I’d have learned not to yes to charity challenges without thinking after the previous travails of Skydiving and Attempting to do running (with obstacles) and then actually doing running (with obstacles).

You would be wrong.

Allow me to paint you a portrait. Picture the scene: It’s a cool inter’s day in a London office. A friend saunters over and enquires, “Do you fancy riding from Geneva to Nice next July?”, to which I respond “What? Yeah, fine.”

Portrait complete. In a couple of months I will be, somehow, undertaking the task of cycling from Geneva, in Switzerland, to Nice, in an entirely different country (which should have been the first warning) in a week. After casually signing up for said adventure, I belatedly decided to look into some crucial factors, like how far it is and if there are any hills. I found this reassuring blurb from the High Alps Challenge website:

The total height gained over the week is a over 11500m !!! Nearly one and a half times Everest from sea level!

Taking in some world famous ascents…

Col de la Colombiere, Col des Aravis, Les Saisies, Cormet de Roseland, Col de l’Iseran, Col du Telegraphe, Col du Galibier, Col de Vars, Cime de la Bonette

Notice the three exclamation marks on the 11500m.

Overall distance is also around 600km. I’ve also looked up some of those ‘world -famous ascents’, and they seem to be famous because only a moron would attempt to ascend them in anything other than a car. One particular favourite is a casual 35km non-stop climb, which I presume will result in me being carried up the hill in a sled of some kind, whimpering.

Allow me to give you an insight into my cycling pedigree. My greatest achievements are:

  1. Owns a reasonably smart bike
  2. Hangs washing on said bike

Which isn’t exactly a Lance Armstrong level of commitment or doping, both of which would help but only one of which is an option due to the fact that performance-enhancing substances aren’t currently available in a soluble, Berocca-like effervescent lozenge.

As such, I’ve had to resort to training. Here’s a brief rundown of my current training regime:

  1. Rode to Southend. Was genuinely overtaken on a small hill by a 74 year old man on a bike from the past. Arrived at destination and had to have a long lie down on a soft rug until legs worked again.
  2. Took the train to Surrey. Attacked the first hill for approx. 100m before stopping, exhausted, shouting “I can taste blood!” to a bemused comrade. Walked up 3 of 5 subsequent hills
  3. Increased cheese and wine intake to increase levels of protein and blot out terrible sense of foreboding.

If you want to picture me cycling, imagine the bit in nature shows where a lion singles out the weakest of the herd – you can spot it immediately and tell that it’s fucked.

Oh dear.

Oh dear.

Also, even if I make the climbs I’m REALLY BAD at descending and so I’m likely to hurl myself off an Alp at some point, looping gracefully through the air like a gazelle in lycra.

And if that isn’t worth donating 5-7 pounds for then I don’t know what is.

As ever, I’m going to ask for your hard-earned dollar at this point. We’re raising cash for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research, and between four of us hope to raise about £10,000 for a superb cause.

If you have a few quid to spare for an amazing charity, or you simply enjoy the prospect of me in a lot of pain, you can donate here.

I’ll keep you posted on training and progress ahead of the big event, so stay tuned for what is likely to turn into an increasingly panicked set of posts before I change my name and move to Venezuela to avoid cycling through the Alps.

Because let’s face it, I’m fucked.