The Empathy Effect — Bob Lock

First let me get a disclaimer out of the way. I’ve chatted to Bob Lock over the Internet for years, so you could take this as ‘what his mates say’. However, I didn’t much like his previous book so said nothing about that one at all.

I just have to wonder if Bob first rejected agoraphobic steeplejack and claustrophobic miner to then settle on the most unlikely of heroes: an empathic traffic warden. He stuck this character in the somewhat precarious position of being cling-filmed to one of the supports of Mumbles Pier, then took it from there. This is a short chaotic romp swiftly including a couple of psychopaths, a superdog, kidnapping, murder, paedophiles and dog fighting. My one complaint would be too much dwelling on what I will call ‘the carrot effect’, which is a tad hackneyed (you know what I mean Bob).

I’ll say no more about it other than that I read through it quite rapidly and simply enjoyed it. Maybe some would consider £6.99 for a 135 page book a bit steep, especially when we’re getting 3 for the price of 2 at Waterstones right now. But this is small press, so to be expected. Writing humour is a difficult thing, one of the most difficult, and I’ll venture that no one below the age of forty is capable of it. Bob Lock can make us laugh, and that’s a rare and precious thing.

Wednesday 6th

To pass your Greek driving test there are certain driving techniques you must learn. Here I’ll just give you a handy guide. If there is a car in front of you it must be overtaken. It doesn’t matter if it happens to be going round a corner when you do this, nor does it matter if afterwards you slow down, thus irritating the driver of the car you have overtaken. If a car ahead is being overtaken by another car, you must attempt to overtake them both. Extra points are given if you can also do this on a corner.

When approaching a right-hand bend, you must swing out to the left to give you a better view around the corner so you can go round it faster, just like a racing driver does. This is compulsory, even if you are driving a pick-up truck in which you have yet to discover the other three gears and are travelling at 20 kilometres an hour. Also, in an attempt not to wear out your tires too quickly, you must be tardy about swinging back to your side of the road. Extra points are given here if you can drive any approaching vehicle off a cliff and into the top of an olive tree.

Let me make a quick note here about pick-up trucks. There are only two acceptable kinds of pick-up truck. The first should be worked over from nose to tail with a hammer, all the lights smashed and it loaded with crates of grapes until it is sitting down on its axel. It shouldn’t have working brakes, road tax and if at all possible should burn a pint of oil per gallon of petrol or diesel. The second is a brand new, polished to a gleam, 40,000 Euro vehicle with all the trimmings. It has the capability of climbing mountains, being loaded with tonnes of materials, the power to tow a lorry, and is used for none of these. It must then be driven at high speed everywhere, except when there are puddles in the road, which must be circumvented at two miles an hour to avoid getting spots of mud on the paintwork.

Indicators, in the Greek driving world, must never be used to apprise the driver behind of where you are going. If you must use them at all, turn them all on as hazard lights to baffle everyone, slam to a halt in the middle of the road then abandon you vehicle whilst you go and have a chat with Kostas about the price of tomatoes.

Wherever you find functioning traffic lights you must have your hand poised over the horn in readiness for when they change. Beeping your horn when way back in the queue is essential. It won’t get the guy ahead off his mobile phone any quicker, or get you through any quicker, but you can be smugly assured that you have at least irritated someone.

Double parking is a must, and extra points are given if you can gridlock a town or do so on a roundabout. Also, giving way to approaching vehicles where access is narrow, probably because of the double parking, is for wussies. Better to stop where you are and shout very loudly at the other driver.

Bonus points are given if you can achieve all the above whilst speaking into a mobile phone in your right hand, your left arm hanging out the window as you flick ash from your cigarette, and whilst you steer with your knees. It is a given for all Greek drivers that a necklace of beads and a crucifix hanging from the rear-view mirror is more effective than an airbag.

Chair Addiction.

The image here is courtesy of Sue Carpenter, an SFX reader on Crete (who also got a letter in the previous issue). Thanks for this, Sue.

It is nice to see Tor doing a bit of advertising – something I never saw for my first six or so books. I also noted, when in Britain, how small Tor sections were appearing in book shops across the country.

Still not writing much yet. I’ve no real excuse: visitors never put me off on previous occasions, nor did building work or some of the traumas that accompany living here. I guess, because I’m so far ahead, I’m just being lazy, taking a holiday, but be assured that you’ll still be getting your fix every year. Next Monday I knuckle down again to my 2,000 words a day.

So, after rescuing that first chair I seem to have acquired a bit of a chair habit. Caroline told me that she would quite like a few of the traditional kafenion chairs for up around the ruin and, being the skip diver that I am, I saw a couple in a local tip and immediately grabbed them. I completely disassembled them and out of them am making one complete one. Just a little bit more work to do…

Here also are some further random pictures of the garden, Jim of the excellent breakfast at the Lithos on Makrigialos harbour and my father-in-law revealing his inner alien.

Laptop Steering Wheel Desk

My thanks to Dick Puddlecote for this one – it made my morning:

I loved my Laptop Steering Wheel Desk so much I got one for my 90yr old mother. She is an avid crossword puzzle fan and now she can work on them while she is driving back and forth from bingo at the senior center. One cautionary note be careful of those jerks that stop at yellow lights, my poor mother rear ended one and the airbag drove the desk back into her stomach which ruptured her spleen, well after a short down time I’m glad to say she is back on the road and cranking out those NY Times crosswords once again. Thanks Laptop Steering Wheel Desk you have made my mothers life more complete.

Wow is this thing great! I use it as a “mini-bar” when the friends and I go out to the bars. I can quickly fix multiple shots of tequila for myself and the friends as we drive from one bar to the next. We also discovered that if you place a pillow on top of it and turn on the cruise control you can catch quick naps on the interstate. If you swerve to the left or right the rumble strips on the road wake you up in plenty of time before you get into trouble. I can now take longer trips without being tired!

Also, i am now dating a midget and she fits nicely on the steering wheel desk which allows us to experiment sexually while driving. This thing is like WD-40 or duct tape, it is a million and one uses!

There’s 270 reviews like this. Gives me hope for the human race.

Update: 187 reviews here of a Bic pen.

Alcohol Units

You know, I’d really like to cut down on my drinking, but I’ve been having a few problems lately. I blame television. Every evening I keep seeing this government sponsored advert for booze. It displays nice frothy pints of beer all ready to guzzle, it shows a lovely glass of chilled white wine, the glass all dewy and its contents utterly tempting. I’m not entirely sure what the numbers written into the dew on the glasses is all about, but never mind. There is a health warning near the end of this wonderfully alluring display of alcohol, but by then it’s too late because I’ve already cracked open a bottle.

Frequent Visitor.

He was waiting outside the back door after we’d been away for months and soon fell back in to his usual routine of attacking towels and coming in and sleeping on our bed. Caroline had wondered if he’s not sure who he belongs to, but I’ve pointed out that he thinks that we and his owner, our neighbour Heidi, all belong to him. His name’s Basil.

Terry Pratchett Living With Alzheimer's.

I once stood in a queue outside Ottakar’s in Chelmsford (now a Waterstone’s) for about half an hour, maybe an hour, to get a book signed by Terry Pratchett, all of whose books I’ve really enjoyed, even the ones you don’t hear so much about – science fiction and not set in the Discworld universe – like The Dark Side of The Sun and Strata. At the time I hadn’t been taken on by Macmillan, but I did have The Engineer and The Parasite published by Tanjen, so I took along a copy of The Engineer to give to him. What he thought of that I don’t know. Now I’m really in the writing world I reckon he probably though me some sort of freeloader trying to get a leg up on his fame, or maybe get a quote out of him. The reality was utter fanboyism, a bit of, “Look Master, see what I’ve done”.
Every year when one of his books comes out (in paperback) I buy it, or more usually Caroline buys it for me, and I read with enjoyment, normally polishing it off in a day. And if he ever appears on television I’m always there watching, since my inner fanboy has never died. I particularly liked the program he did with the orang-utans, which was fascinating and laced all the way through with his humour. In one scene a massive male orang-utan came walking through the jungle, and when it crossed a wooden bridge the heavy sound of its massive weight coming down with every footstep would have been enough to get any sphincter quivering. He noted how those about him were breaking the speed record for the nonchalant walk as they departed the scene.
Last night I watched the first of two episodes of his program Living with Alzheimer’s, which was funny, sad, offered hope and took it away again. Mr Pratchett was very angry upon discovering he had this malady, and you can see his anger and frustration as he fails to knot his tie, or types slowly and makes constant mistakes. And the killer was watching him doing a reading and starting to lose it at the end, audience dead silent and some teary eyed. What a bummer. However, the humour was there right from the start with, “Hello, I’m Terry Pratchett … at least I think I am,” and there later when he wore something on his head that looked like a Dr Who prop. In the end that guy who always speaks in capital letters in hiss books (the Grim Reaper) can be less frightening than those who usher him through the door.
When I first heard the news that Terry Pratchett has got Alzheimer’s, I felt a little sick. It’s the kind of thing that rips up someone’s heart when it’s a family member and, because he is so well known and loved, there are millions who see him as part of their lives, he’s the humorous entertainer with the beard and wide-brimmed black hat, he’s the guy who regularly produces a book they want to read at once and which never disappoints. If you ever do an English course of any substance you learn the true definition of word tragedy – not how it is thoroughly misused by the media. To me the idea that a man who has entertained millions with wit, humour and an incisive intellect, with wisdom even, being gradually destroyed from inside his skull, that’s tragedy.

A Rural Story.

Thanks to Shaun for this one:

A Lancashire Farmer is overseeing his animals in a remote part of the County when suddenly a brand-new BMW advances out of a dust cloud towards him. The driver, a young man in a designer suit, Gucci shoes, Ray Ban sunglasses and YSL tie, leans out the window and asks the farmer, ‘If I tell you exactly how many cows and calves you have in your herd, will you give me a calf?’

The Farmer looks at the man, obviously a yuppie, then looks at his peacefully grazing herd and calmly answers, ‘Reet, why not?’

The yuppie parks his car, whips out his Dell notebook computer, connects it to his Cingular RAZR V3 cell phone, and surfs to a NASA page on the Internet, where he calls up a GPS satellite navigation system to get an exact fix on his location which he then feeds to another NASA satellite that scans the area in an ultra-high-resolution photo. The young man then opens the digital photo in Adobe Photoshop and exports it to an image processing facility in Hamburg, Germany. Within seconds, he receives an email on his Palm Pilot that the image has been processed and the data stored. He then accesses a MS-SQL database through an ODBC connected Excel Spreadsheet with email on his Blackberry and, after a few minutes, receives a response. Finally, he prints out a full-color, 150-page report on his hi-tech, miniaturized HP LaserJet printer and finally turns to the farmer and says, ‘You have exactly 1,586 cows and calves.’

‘Wow That’s right. Well, I guess you can take one of my calves,’ says the Farmer. He watches the young man select one of the animals and looks on amused as the young man stuffs it into the boot of his car. Then the farmer says to the young man, ‘Ey Up!, if I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my calf?’

The young man thinks about it for a second and then says, ‘Okay, why not?’

‘You work for the British Government’, says the farmer.

‘Wow! That’s correct,’ says the yuppie, ‘but how did you guess that?’

‘No guessing required,’ answers the farmer. ‘You showed up here even though nobody called you; you want to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked. You used all kinds of expensive equipment that clearly somebody else paid for, you tried to show me how much smarter than me you are; and you don’t know a thing about cows ……. this is a flock of sheep. Now give me back my dog.’

Playmobil Security Checkpoint

My thanks to Phil Edwards at Live For Films for pointing this out to me. It’s the Playmobil Security Checkpoint sold on Amazon. Read the comments below – they’re hilarious. Here’s a sample:

I was a little disappointed when I first bought this item, because the functionality is limited. My 5 year old son pointed out that the passenger’s shoes cannot be removed. Then, we placed a deadly fingernail file underneath the passenger’s scarf, and neither the detector doorway nor the security wand picked it up. My son said “that’s the worst security ever!”. But it turned out to be okay, because when the passenger got on the Playmobil B757 and tried to hijack it, she was mobbed by a couple of other heroic passengers, who only sustained minor injuries in the scuffle, which were treated at the Playmobil Hospital.
The best thing about this product is that it teaches kids about the realities of living in a high-surveillence society. My son said he wants the Playmobil Neighborhood Surveillence System set for Christmas. I’ve heard that the CC TV cameras on that thing are pretty worthless in terms of quality and motion detection, so I think I’ll get him the Playmobil Abu-Gharib Interogation Set instead (it comes with a cute little memo from George Bush).