The Birthday post

If you want to, cry on your Birthday. If you’re completely confused, it means you are really very young and set to grow up with more debt than your parents. Good for you!

31 years ago today, and thanks to my Dad’s rather eager sperm, my poor Mother – one big haired, blonde, Shirley Rita Pink of Harston, Cambridgeshire – was enduring one of the five most painful experiences of her life (three of those other occasions were giving birth to my brother and sister and I, the fourth was learning to drive – something which I am brutally reminded of whenever I get in the car on a day when she has decided to wear shoes which she wouldn’t usually wear for driving, and ideally shouldn’t. Only joking Mum, you’re a great driver! As long as you wear the right shoes…). Mum has never talked much about giving birth and how it was for her, other than to say that everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Spectacularly. And my Mum is a woman who does not mince her words, I can assure you (she always says exactly what she thinks about run-away success Strictly Come Dancing, and she should know — she used to be a ballet dancer).

While a lot of people actually have annoyingly hassle-free pregnancies, where everything falls into place and the pain and the stress is minimal, Mum really suffered with all her births, especially my older sister Natalie – so much so that it’s remarkable this version of me even exists. Just imagine, or don’t, as I prefer…had I been born a few months earlier or later I might have never ended up as a freelance writer who is frequently able to choose his waking hour. I might have become a banker, I might have become anything else. And I’ve always despised early mornings, so I am grateful.

See, not only was Natalie the world’s most miniature premature baby, but with that came all kinds of terrible complications; Natalie had breathing difficulties and heart problems galore, and the stress of it all did its fair share to kick my my Mum in good and proper, too.

So one thing I have never quite understood about Birthdays, is why the Mums get so little recognition. OK, so I did my bit and somehow naturally got myself in the right position so that the delivery wasn’t too much of a nightmare — at least, compared to my sister’s exotic escape — but I had no idea I was doing that, did I? It was pure chance. I was probably just fed-up of being in that position for too long and fancied a change, as babies do. It was Mum who bore the strain. Mum who had to carry me for many months, and Mum who had to get through the agonising pain of having to look at my Dad who was getting off completely scott-free, not me. That’s why I often feel a bit weird about celebrating my birthday — the day when Mum had a horrendous C-section, and forever after her body was never quite the same. Although clearly I don’t feel that weird about it, nor have I ever protested along with many other like-minded individuals about how there ought to be a special day for Mum’s everywhere, something more personal than just a collective and commercially lurid Mother’s Day. Because this morning I gratefully accepted a number of gifts, and not once did I turn to dearest Mum and say, “Here, I feel bad accepting all these nice things, why don’t you have them all? Why don’t you take that £50 note? Would you like some 85% dark chocolate?” What I will say is that it’s probably good that I didn’t offer her the Alan Partridge book to be honest. I really don’t think she’d appreciate it as much as I will, and she’s never been much of a fan of dark chocolate (she says it’s too bitter).

Putting all the giving birth stuff to one side for a moment – watch where you put that hypothetical Placenta, please… – one of the things I really like about modern birthdays is the Facebook thing. So what if most of the people on your friends list probably wouldn’t remember your birthday were it not for the fact that Facebook automatically makes all your friends aware of it, whether they like it or not. Does it really matter that the Birthday is spoon-fed to them? Not to me. I’m bloody awful at remembering birthdays so I appreciate any help I can get. While it’s true that Facebook certainly does an excellent job of guilt-tripping all your mates into writing something on your Wall, even if some of them rarely speak to you – who, really, can resist writing on the wall when every time they log in they see that little reminder in the corner of the screen? – the act of writing on someone’s FB Wall is still something special. Sacred, in a certain kind of way that transcends the seemingly too-easy simplicity of it all. At least to me. What makes it even better, I think, is when people take it upon themselves to invent an ingenious way to say Happy Birthday. I don’t want to single any one particular person(s) out here, but it’s definitely something which helps to make the world go round. On Birthdays, you should always forgive bad grammar and spelling mistakes. You should always thank everyone for bothering: thank you all for bothering!

Lastly, Birthdays are, to some degree, all about the cards and the presents and the feeling that today is something to be remembered — for example, today will be remembered as the day I got a great jumper from my girlfriend, and the day that Nana Pink rang up to actually sing the entire long version of Happy Birthday to you… down the phone at me, without stopping once to feel besieged by embarrassment — a fine attribute which I fear only comes with age. I don’t care what anyone says about being materialistic, or how militant you are about giving and receiving gifts: it just feels good to know that someone has taken it upon themselves to give you something from the bottom of their heart. For me it’s never been about the size or cost of the item, and it’s certainly never been about asking for something specific. For me it’s just nice to know that someone cares you did exit the womb on this day.

Update: It’s been pointed out to me that this post could be perceived as inaccurate and unfair, and that it makes out that many women have easy pregnancies when this is in fact not the case at all. It’s difficult for me to say any more, without having a comprehensive understanding of it all. What I will say is that this post is based purely on my own limited experiences and I am in no way suggesting that these are the same as everyone elses.

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It’s war against leaves

This picture of a lonely leaf is testament to how brutal the war against leaves has become. I typed Leaf covered path into Google and couldn’t find one suitable photo. There were many of half-covered paths, but none that portrayed the rare sight I’d seen this morning. Unless I imagined it, which right now is looking more likely

Rejoice, for Autumn is here once again! A majestic time…a time of golden leaves tumbling in the wind, a time of magic, prosperity, and simple pleasures like walking over rustling leaves (and if you’re really daring, taking a proper run-up and kicking a carefully collected pile of said leaves all over the place just for the sheer hell of it – something which has to be timed properly if you live in a village like me, less a nosy old lady sees you and starts a rumour that there is a 30 year-old bearded hooligan on the prowl…).

Actually don’t rejoice. And don’t even ponder walking over rustling leaves, even less kicking them in a moment of childish pleasure. How can you when everywhere you go, the unfair victimization of leaves is taking place and there are no leaves to be found in any great number, like back in the good old days? At one time, for a period of many hundreds of thousands of years, leaves were allowed to fall wherever nature intended, bringing happiness and colour to the lives of people all over the place. But not so now — at least, apart from a few isolated and untouched path-ways, like the one I trod this morning on the way back from the Post Office. Now, leaves are seen by many bone-headed spoilsports as a natural enemy: a menacing force of nature that must be kept in check through whatever means are necessary.

And please don’t give me any of the following excuses for why leaves need to be kept in check, because they won’t wash with me or any of my pro-leaf posse.

1) Leaves become slippery when wet, causing a health & safety hazard to people with dodgy legs or dodgy eyes, or even people who don’t always look where they are going: ancient hepatitis-carrying 2 pence pieces are also very much a health & safety hazard, don’t you think? It goes without saying you can’t easily trip up on them, of course – unless you happen to be wading across an oil spill where a lorry transporting tons of lethal pennies has recently crashed – but hepatitis, which causes swelling and inflammation of the Liver, is still awful, just look at Mick Hucknall’s face, where his Liver is located. Actually I just made that up. There’s nothing medically wrong with Mick Hucknall’s face, and as far as I know it his Liver is ginger but fine. Aside from that, people with dodgy legs and dodgy eyes should avoid leaves or face the consequences. Or at the very least tell the people they are with to steer them away from them. As for people who don’t look where they are going, if I was a meaner person I might say something here about hepatitis and who deserves to get it, but I won’t, because I’m nicer than that.

2) I own a business and every single Autumn, the leaves fall on the pavement outside it and make it troublesome for customers to make it to the front door without falling over and breaking a leg or an arm and suing us: grow up! How old are you, five? Actually forget I said that — I know five-year-olds who would kick you in the shins if you even suggested that you were like them. The point, if you still need telling, is that the leaves were there long before you. Just go and find a premise’s where there are no trees around for miles, will you? It’s a good job trees don’t get the hump with people and say “I tell you what, we’re sick of all our leaves being stolen, we’re not going to be the lungs of the planet anymore!”

3) Leaves make driving difficult: so does the rising price of oil, suicidal squirrels and the Great British phenomenon of suspension-killing pot-holes.

4) Only dull-coloured leaves fall where I live. If they were a brighter and more Autumnal colour like in the movies I might smile and feel happy when Autumn arrives. I might never have become the leaf-averted person I am to this day. Things would have been different, I’m sure of it: I suggest you take this up with the people responsible for planting trees in your area many generations ago. Except they will be long dead, so you’re better off writing a letter to their descendants, who will no doubt be so used to receiving such letters that they already have a letter ready to send back to you. Failing that, a psychologist might come in handy. Or just a lot of LSD.

And now we’re on the subject of people who have an aversion to leaves and feel the need to blast them away with those ridiculous blowing-machine-things – or even worse, those who hire small armies of organized, like-minded buffoons who callously spend their days staring at the ground like it might at any moment rise up and spit on them – another thing has occurred to me: the name leaves, as in leaves us alone, or leaf me be! You’d have thought, really, that with this word and these messages now being embedded in the consciousness of society, the last thing anybody would want to do is remove our amazing autumnal gift.

For me, and maybe it is just me, if you take leaves away that’s like pretending that Autumn doesn’t really exist. Why not just stick with picking on Winter instead? We all know that’s the real culprit.

Jealous of Ray Mears

Ray Mears wearing a suit with bow-tie: a situation infinitely less probable than Ann Widdecombe being photographed displaying a sexy smile

Imagine you are flying through the air; it’s something you do more or less constantly, but despite that it never gets boring. You’re a small bird with big dreams, and today you might well be feeling ‘blissful’. The tragic fact about how you feel, of course, is that you don’t really know how you feel, because your brain is much too small to afford you the luxury of such knowledge. What a shame. But what does that matter when you’re flying through the—

Something stops you and pain rushes through your wings, your beak, those small things you use to grip onto twigs with. You sqwuark, and you try and escape but it’s hopeless, and the more you wriggle the more trapped you feel. Somehow the air has become a kind of trap, and now you’ve really done it…you’ve wriggled so much that your head has got strangled and there is pressure all around it! Your wings aren’t doing much better either. Basically you’re a mess! Your poor little feet are stuck and mangled with a kind of black stuff, too. If birds knew swear words, right now you’d be saying “I’m fucked! I’m done for!” Instead, you are just struck with the frustration of being still when you could be hurtling through the air. That in itself is more than a bit of a bummer.

This was the horrific scenario thrust upon me when I turned over to ITV yesterday and found myself watching Wild Britain with the infamous outdoors-man known as Ray Mears. “The netting is designed to hold the bird firmly in place and doesn’t harm them at all,” said the remarkably un-feminine looking woman who was the warden of this nature reserve where all these horrendous traps were placed. “Sort of like a hammock, then,” said Ray, actually believing this utter nonsense. Yes Ray, if a nice relaxing afternoon in a hammock is spent after being fired from a cannon into it, where for hours afterwards you are forced to spend your time wriggling and writhing, convinced that as this feels pretty awful, probably only much worse things are to come…(the only good thing about being completely ignorant about your fate, of course, is that you don’t know how bad it might get).

But enough about the allegedly painless bird traps which Ray and nature reserve wardens all over the UK thoroughly endorse – people do much worse things I suppose, and just one of John Barrowman’s 360 degree spins on Tonight The Night is much more sinister. Really, I’m just jealous, very jealous, of Ray’s highly developed ability to enjoy the simple things in life. So will you be by the end of this blog post.

For example, another part of the programme featured Ray wandering through English rivers. How much was he loving this? Words cannot describe, but for the sake of cutting this short right here, right now, what the hell, I’m going to try. Probably the best way to demonstrate just how much pleasure Ray got from marauding through the river – in his tall wellies, quietly destroying thousands of years worth of marine life while paradoxically explaining how the rivers were under threat from the terrible world we live in – is to say how he went about creeping up on fish for the sake of pure enjoyment. That’s right, creeping up on fish. Why would anyone creep up on a fish, I hear you cry? Well, apparently fish are very good at keeping a look out through the clear water, just in case a predator approaches. When that predator is a six-foot-tall, slightly overweight nature enthusiast, I’m fairly sure that even the dimmest brown trout can detect that, so what Ray does is get down on his front and wriggle his way to the water’s edge. Following that he lies there smiling like a goon for a very, very long time — probably while his wife sobs at home, wondering if she will ever be made love to with the same kind of passion that her husband shows for limpets and toads.

And that’s what I mean by jealous: most people need to spend money to enjoy themselves, or at least spend time in the company of like-minded, alcohol swilling humans. But not Ray — alcohol can go to hell as far as Ray is concerned! Give him a small river, some wellies and the potential lure of some cherished memories and that’s enough for him.

Thinking about Ray Mears, and how long he’s been doing his thing on TV, how old is Ray, actually? Seriously, I only ever seem to see him on all the second-rate channels, where he looks about 35 — and has done for the last ten years — so I suppose it’s fair to assume he could be in his 60s by now and instead spends his time drinking the nights away in some fish-themed Las Vegas strip bar. What a terrible thought. Think I’d much rather imagine him smiling like a goon by the river bank instead.

Jogging: a total paradox of crap and brilliant (and Mel Gibson)

I started jogging when I lived in Cologne, Germany. I don’t know the exact date, but I know it was sometime after my first major illness in 2006 – so probably mid 2007 or thereabouts; amongst all the visits to the doctors and the clinics were a few months when I somehow got strength from somewhere and decided to try and use it. Once I thought I could handle it I’d jog once a week just lightly, barely more than a walk. A kind of celebration, I suppose. I had never jogged or run before this point – as is preferable when the wounds of youth still rear their ugly heads frequently, telling you that if you do everyone will laugh at you, just like in P.E. at school – so I was anxious and actually quite scared about the idea of me running around a park when anyone else was in the same park, even if it was a really big park (we are all born with the innate ability to zone-in on a jogger who looks a bit weird, aren’t we?). Somehow though I managed to get through the trauma of starting — as with anything, with jogging, the hardest bit is the strangeness of actually getting off your arse and making it happen.

Although I don’t jog anymore, and most of the harsh memories of learning how to not be flat-footed have vanished – now there’s something I never thought I’d ever believe at the age of 14! – what I can say is this: jogging on its own can get pretty boring, however good it eventually feels (much stress on the word eventually). The concept is flawed from the outset and that’s all there is to it: 1) do it alone (you have to do it alone at first, as the shame of feeling deeply flawed at jogging outweighs any desire to do so with other people, even if they are equally as laughable as you). 2) run in a straight line. Has running in a straight line ever been interesting? Probably only if you’re Usain Bolt or a Greyhound knowing the second that it stops it will receive some of its favourite treats. 3) Do it in places where other people – thin and fat and with absolutely no right to cast any form of opinion – are and keep doing it until you don’t feel like an idiot. Not exactly a tempting offer. 4) pretend you are enjoying it. Nobody likes a grumpy jogger, and if you are going to get laughed or looked at, the least you can do is try and give the onlookers a taste of their own gloating medicine. 5) buy expensive shoes which hurt so much that you seriously wonder, just on the first attempt, if you will ever wear them again. You can’t wear them to do anything else either, unless you have a bedroom-related fetish involving Paula Radcliffe, a starting line and doing a poo where you’re not supposed to 6) run on pavement. All reputable joggers are made of the same stern stuff: they’d much rather suffer with crippling arthritis later on as a result of relentlessly battering their knees than run on grass or something soft. Goes without saying!

All this and jogging involves going outside, where, in the UK, it often pisses it down the moment you think Strange it’s not raining toda—

Then there is the pressure from other people. Both to stop and to carry on. I don’t know what’s worse. Is it worse to be surrounded by organic-orange-juice-drinking health fanatics at the pub who can’t shut up about the joys of jogging and how bad smoking is for pets as well as people? Or is it worse to sit amongst jogger-haters who have spent their whole lives forming a dread-ridden argument against anyone without shin-splints, in the hope that one day their depressing attitude will spread so widely that any kind of jogging or running might one day be banned? If Harry Hill was here he’d say “Fight!” and it would be a sight to behold, I’m sure. Yes, the joggers would be fitter and stronger, but don’t forget they’d also be much lighter. I imagine a beer-swilling, lycra-hating, mid-twenties pub-dwelling yob could easily go through a few of them just by swinging one arm.

But it isn’t all bad news with jogging! The thing jogging has on its side is Mp3 players and music. Just imagine, if we’d never had shell-suits and the 1980s, we would never have evolved to making Mp3 players either — a disturbing though for anyone who has ever got on a bus. Give that consideration the next time someone talks about hunting down Mick Hucknall and his family.

Mick Hucknall: an ideal candidate for a future remake of Child’s Play?

If you saw my brother and I standing together, you’d think that my brother might be like me, that he’d at least give jogging a go. But no. Despite looking like a parallel universe version of myself – similar beard, similar nose, very different hair but you can’t win them all, right? – he hates jogging with a passion. Which I wouldn’t mind…were it not for the fact that the git’s build is suited perfectly to any kind of running. Honestly, it’s a joke, and that’s one of the things which winds me up about some people the most. Maff can run for about 5 miles without hardly breaking a sweat, yet he chooses not to, because he finds it too dull to bear…

And let’s not even get started on those super-mums who can jog while also taking care of another life that sits there quietly perfect and not a bit of trouble.

Of course, before Mp3 players came about there were ways to make jogging more endurable. In the Mayan-themed 2006 film Apocalypto, director and general much-hated person Mel Gibson demonstrates with some degree of finesse just how interesting and exciting jogging/running can be if you really set your mind to it. Forced to run in sheer terror across a path of barren land where prisoners go to die horrible nasty deaths, the two main characters we’ve been following since the beginning of the film are shot at with bow and arrows by master marksmen who could do with a bit of fun to liven up their day; the name of the game being to cut the men down before they reach the crops on the other side, thus giving all the other evil Mayans something to talk about that night while they eat their raw goat colons and other such delicacies. By all accounts this shoot-the-runners thing is a fun and challenging game…when you’re the one doing the shooting. But what the two characters miss out on in fun, they more than make up for in exercise, and half way across the war-zone one of them decides to start running zig-zag to try and fool the marksmen, who, up until that point didn’t even know that anything other than straight lines existed (this is obvious from the looks on their faces). Not that exercise is much good when a razor-sharp arrow is about to go skewer one of your major organs – as proven by the several people who went before you who are still lying haphazardly about – but still, the game does at least give the mind the illusion that the body is getting fitter, and that’s got to count for something, right?

The Battle Down Under

No, this isn’t a blog post about the woman’s long and tiresome battle with stubborn tarantula-like pubic hairs. Nor is it an Anne-Robinson-style expose on the shocking lives of lice which live in the nether regions. I should probably delete that sentence but I’m feeling daring, so I’m going to leave it in. Also, if the first paragraph of this blog post can help motivate just one sufferer of pubic lice to go and do something about it, then it was worth writing (not that I have any experience with that…it was a friend…OK, going to shut up now).

What this is, actually, is a blog post about something far less menacing but equally serious: the two greatest Australian soaps of all-time – Neighbours and Home & Away. A debate which I remember raging through our house-hold during all of the 1990s…which one is better? How do you even begin to decide?

There was no doubt about it, though, in the beginning Neighbours was always slightly ahead. I’m not sure if it was thanks to Mrs Mangle’s ruthless streak, Charlene’s frizzy hair or Paul Robinson’s ability to make an evil conclusion out of even the most innocent episode, but it just always had a little extra something. That was, until Home & Away attacked with a vengeance. And once that had happened Neighbours and Home & Away fans all over the world were locked in intense rivalry over what to watch between the hours of 5 and 6pm…

Originally I was going to write an essay about this subject – it was the only way I could see myself getting anywhere near the bottom of this: the truth. But then a better idea occurred to me, and the following match-off was born.

For the sake of consistency and fairness, I have made comparisons between cast members of roughly the same age and constitution. Otherwise it’d be ridiculously unfair, like pitching Mrs Mangle’s earthquake-shaken, testicularly-wrinkled face against the blissful, youthful exuberance of some large-chested Home & Away filly like Marilyn (And by the way, there will be no breast-only face-offs or ‘her bum’s better than her bum!’ talking here. I wouldn’t abuse my favourite characters in that way. Instead it will be an intellectually fuelled combination of the two, with as much info as I can remember).

The HAROLD!

Harold Bishop (N) versus Adolf Hitler, sorry, Alf Stewart (H&A):

Believe it or not but it’s a known fact that there is a dark cult of people – shadow movers, those who do not speaketh in daylight – who are secretly plotting to somehow resurrect the power of soap main-stays Alf Stewart and Harold Bishop, and have them fight it to the death. Role-play geeks like the ones that hang out in Games Workshop and are obsessed with computer games, you know the sort, there’s probably one within ten feet of your house. And I have to agree, it’s awful that these two never got to cross paths in soap-land, like the bad guys so often do in horror movies (Jason Versus Freddy, etc). What would Harold have made of Alf Stewart’s incessant chant of “Stone the flamin’ crows!”? What would Alf Stewart have made of Harold resurfacing in the soap years later with several hot babes in tow? Probably he’d have said Stone the flamin’ crows! but you get the idea. The point is that both Harold and Alf inhabited roles which nobody else could have. Nobody could have been called Jelly Belly in the same way as Harold Bishop. And nobody, not nobody, could have thrown youngsters out of the Surf Club with the kind of forceful rugged excellence that always-angry Alf possessed. One of the longest serving soap stars ever, Alf – played by Ray Meagher – went ape-shit at least once an episode, and the best times were undoubtedly when he didn’t. If there was a run of two or three episodes before he went berserk, you knew it would be good, leading to a shocking climax, but if you were lucky enough to go five or six or seven episodes without one, well, then you really knew things were about to go off. When they did, it was usually in the Surf Club or about the Surf Club, and it was always a moment to behold – something you could cherish forever. No wonder Ailsa had so many problems…imagine waking up to Alf’s angry face every morning!

Winner: Alf Stewart.

Ah, Steph 🙂

Steph Scully (N) versus Sally Fletcher (H&A):

Battle of the babes! Hmm…Steph Scully was a hard one to work out all right, and kept viewers guessing right from the very beginning in 1999 until her unforgivable departure in 2010. Conforming to many of the popular She just has to be a masssssssive lesbian! stereotypes — was a mechanic, a tomboy, and drove a motorcyle — Steff had all the boys hot under the swimming shorts, while also simultaneously getting all the girls to hate her – a sure-fire sign that they all secretly loved her after all. And Steph was pretty, wasn’t she? Not that she could compete with Home & Away’s Sally Fletcher in the looks department. Or that may just be my eyes. After all, Kate Richie’s breasts are renowned worldwide for being so large that looking at them too much causes the lens of your eyes to warp and buckle. It’s a miracle any Home & Away viewer can still see. Think yourself lucky that I have had the good gentlemanly taste to not include them here.

Going back to Steph, one thing any fan will know is that Steph had all the bad luck. A grand-scale of bad luck. Seriously, you’ve never seen or heard anything like it. In fact, Steph Scully was to relationships what a kick in the bollocks is to any man alive – usually with the kicking foot wearing the sharpest pointy shoes imaginable.

To say that Steph purely had bad luck is not doing her frequent mishaps – or fantastically debauched script-writing – justice. The kind of ultimate crash-test dummy for sick TV producers to experiment their darkest most disturbing fantasises on, Steph was subjected to everything bad about the world – and that was before making the ominous mistake of marrying vile nut-job Max Hoyland. In her time, Steph bravely battled breast cancer, was the victim of multiple cheating bastard partners, and managed to cheat on a few people herself. All this and she got pregnant. Not that pregnancy is a bad thing of course, it’s wonderful, but making Steph Scully pregnant was bound to end in disaster at some point. The only surprise was that Freddy Krueger himself wasn’t the father.

No stranger to the mistress of debacle herself, Sally Fletcher saw her fair share of misfortune – growing up from the age of eight on the show, into a woman who would become more known for her sex-tapes than her acting.

Winner: Steph Scully.

Believe it or not, but from a thousand feet this looks exactly like Jackie Woodburne (Susan Kennedy) from Neighbours

Susan Kennedy (N) versus Irene Roberts (H&A):

Ah…now we’re really talking. These two female heavy-weights were – and are – nothing if not staples of the soap. Blessed with morals, dignity, and enough female pride to make a man seriously question what the point in ever arguing against a woman might be, Susan Kennedy – wife of doctor Karl – has long been known as the street’s golden girl and put-righter of all things uneven…shortly before things spiral wildly out of control, thanks to her meddling. Played by real life Jackie Woodburne, her soap CV is handed out to people at counselling sessions, who are then instructed to do exactly the opposite of everything she ever does – a process which is bound to lead to eternal happiness. See, sadly for Susan, she couldn’t seem to take one step forward or even blink without bringing political, family or just good-old general chaos tumbling down all around her. In 2009 a shocking storyline saw Susan boldly offer to be a surrogate mother for her daughter Libby, while earlier story-lines had her suffer from every ailment under the sun, have multiple flings with many men – including a priest, which rocked the boat a bit – and split from her husband Karl so many times that any future partner would vomit at the thought of getting together with her, for fear that the smallest decisions would cause a seismic rift to tear all the way through Lou’s Coffee Shop.

And what she lacked in misfortune – which was unsurprisingly little – Home & Away’s Irene Roberts made up for with terrible mentoring skills and an aggravating ability to say “Luv” about fourteen times a minute. Seriously, it was as if someone could see the future, could see exactly how to mess it up, and gave Irene the privilege of doing so to every single person in the whole of Summer Bay. Time after time, people went like lambs to the slaughter to Irene for “good advice”. At the beginning it was great – the advice worked a treat, a lot like when Susan Kennedy got on her high horse of moral riches. But before long grim circumstances would surround the person, before they would either be killed, horribly maimed or forced to leave Australia.

Winner: it has to be Irene Roberts.

Oh yeah, it’s Drew!

Drew (N…Libby’s husband…can’t remember his second name and in the interests of being completely inconsistent I am not going to Google it) versus any of the flaccid hunks that Home & Away could possibly ever produce.

This post might seem a bit biased towards Neighbours, but take a look through the history books yourself and you will see for yourself that flaccid is the only way to describe any of the Home & Away genetically modified hunks. Yes they are muscle-bound and blonde and good-looking, but charisma and charm? Not something found in the waters of Summer Bay. The husband of Libby, Drew was a star and a much-loved character on the show until he made the mistake of falling off his horse and dying an instant soap-ruining death (if anyone could fall off a horse with lethal accuracy, though, it was Drew. No doubt about it).

While Drew – ah, Kirk was his name – wasn’t around for too long before his sudden demise, he left a lasting gap in the hunk market that I doubt has been filled since. His funeral will always be remember for being the shortest funeral ever conceived, and Libby will always remain the most loyal soap star. At least, until she started having sex with everyone else on the street (but not before she sang at Drew’s funeral, probably making everyone slightly suspicious as she had never ever sung before…hmm…).

Winner: Drew Kirk.

The Dastardly, evil, Paul Robinson of Neighbour’s fame!

Paul Robinson (N) versus…anything Home & Away could chuck at them:

See what I did there? Yep. I couldn’t think of one person who has ever appeared in Home & Away who was even on the same planet of dastardly maliciousness as Paul Robinson – the twisted financially-minded megalomaniac who has made the demon smile his calling card. Never one to miss an opportunity to accidentally-on-purpose push someone down a flight of stairs, or by chance wander past a cauldron of burning hot oil while a small puppy walks unknowingly beneath, for the endless time that Paul – played by Stefan Dennis – has been in Neighbours, ever since the beginning, he has been pure soft-core evil at its very best. Among his list of terrible deeds are the aforementioned opportunistic murders – OK, we never saw the puppy incident but I’m sure the producers at least considered it – as well as numerous scams and plenty of absurd bouts of bad luck, followed by a bouncing back that Alan Partridge couldn’t even begin to fathom. My theory is that the makers of Home & Away simply didn’t know where the hell to begin with constructing a monster of equal measure, and who can blame them? So instead they made a valiant attempt to mask their ineptitude by having as many as a dozen bikini-clad babes in the surf club in any one shot. And by all accounts, it worked.

Winner: a dozen bikini-clad babes in the Surf Club in any one shot. That versus Paul Robinson’s face really is no competition.

I set myself a serious challenge: draw Helen Daniels in under 20 seconds. I succeeded, but the result isn’t exactly pretty…

Helen Daniels (N) versus Mrs Mangle (N):

The battle to end all battles…the legends of all legends. In soap-land, it’s a well-known fact that the mere mention of Helen Daniels and Mrs Mangle still makes countless children and adults alike instantly wet the bed. Both carved out of wood and hell-bent on taking complete control of the world in their own unique ways (Helen by pure niceness, Mrs Mangle by her very nature).

Of course, this comparison is completely unfair on Home & Away, seeing as both members featured in Neighbours. I don’t care about this. So be it if fans of Home & Away come after me.

While doing a quick Google search for this one – I know that’s unfair too, but I really wanted to find out if Mrs Mangle was born with a real name like other human beings – I ran into a number of difficulties. Firstly, the internet suddenly stopped working, and secondly, Google point-blank refused to search for Mrs Mangle’s full name. It was then, only by chance and while sweating with a feeling of doom descending all around me, that I discovered the truth was far less sinister. Rather than the ghost of Mrs Mangle looking over anyone who dared speak or type her name, like some Bloody Mary kind of character, I found she was actually called Mrs Nell Mangel. Although I still insist that just then as I typed her name again the lights flickered…as if to warn…

Superstition aside, Vivean Gray was the actress charged with commanding this villainous and highly iconic role – a role which saw her frequently threaten and harass Madge Bishop in that loveable way that family’s found really enthralling while eating their dinner.

Going back to Helen for a second, don’t think that just because she was mostly nice she was always nice. That is simply not true, and demonstrated by her slew of epic mistakes – the blue-print that Susan Kennedy lived by, perhaps. The best of these hideous foul-ups was a rampant sex-romp with her daughter’s fiancé – quite a feat considering her nun-like nature that was the complete and utter opposite visual manifestation of the words sex appeal.

Winner: Mrs Mangel.