Just Plane Stupid

Before we get started, you need to take two things on faith. One, I can read. And two, I’m not a moron.

Now then, that puts you exactly two steps ahead of the people running Heathrow airport. Having managed to negotiate my way around Northern Europe by learning some of the language and applying liberal doses of common sense, I felt confident I could survive the final leg of my journey and find my way off the plane and out of Heathrow airport. My confidence soared as I descended the steps and was met with a raft of instructions in my native English. ‘Behold!’ they screamed, ‘you are home, follow us to safety’. Most even had handy diagrams in case my time away had muddied my understanding of the language. All in all, I was far more than adequately equipped to read the sign ‘e-Passport only’, and join the appropriate queue.


That little symbol under the word ‘passport’ that’s not just for decoration you know, and the absence of that symbol does not simply mean your passport is less bling than mine.

It seemed however, this wasn’t something the staff at Heathrow were willing to take on good faith. Apparently they weren’t convinced I’d been given enough clues as to where I should be standing and that even if I had, I was clearly too dim witted to interpret them.

‘I need to see your passport.’ The Queue Warden held out an arm to bar my way. A largely ineffective ploy as her arm was far shorter than the gap between barriers.

‘Why?’ I took one headphone out and glared at her.

‘I need to see your passport.’

‘You said that.’ I shrugged, identifying the weakness in her blockade and turning side-on to take a step past her.

‘Sir, I need to see your passport.’

‘Why do you need to see my passport?’

‘I need to see your passport.’

‘That’s not a reason.’ Now, I knew exactly why she needed to see my passport – she wanted to check I did in fact have an e-passport and would be able to use the electronic passport gates at the front of the line. However by this point I was less than impressed by her grasp on how conversation worked and decided she really needed the practice.

She turned her back on me for a moment, ignoring me while she took the passports from some other people that were trying to squeeze past. This seemed particularly rude – her annoying other people before she’d properly finished inconveniencing me.

Those folks dealt with, it was my turn again. ‘I need to see your passport.’

‘Why do you need to see it when there’s a guy down there already checking it?’ I gestured to a similarly purple-blazered automaton checking people at the front of the queue had the right type of passport. For a moment I almost descended into a rant about how useless his job was but fortunately I was in a good mood, and politely said nothing.

‘I need to see your passport.’

‘No you don’t.’ Enough was enough. I ducked past her and wandered down the line. Perhaps if there hadn’t been a plane load of people behind me waiting to join the queue, she might have called out, chased after me even, but I doubt it. If the previous few minutes had taught me anything, it was that her induction into her role had been swift. Six words and a snazzy blazer were all she’d be armed with. She was little more than a walking, breathing, almost-talking billboard.

At the front of the line, the woman’s colleague checked my passport was eligible to use the electronic system. And if it wasn’t? Well, he’d have let me go to the front of this other special little queue for morons who can neither read nor interpret diagrams. Which is really why the whole process winds me up. People that ignore the sign or think an e-passport is something they can download once they get to the front of the queue, should be banished to a very long queue, preferably one that snakes past a manure farm and one were rottweilers chew on their ankles while they wait. Fuck those people*.

Like steaks and sporting events, the Americans do airports properly. In their airports, the blazered folk shout at you while pointing decisively, and you soon get in line. Though it might have something to do with their co-workers carrying firearms as opposed to the effectiveness of the system. Regardless it seems far more efficient. I’ve certainly never found cause to stop and argue with them…

*This might seem a little harsh on people with visual impairments but I assume they have some form of audio thingy-mi-bob that helpfully tells them to, ‘turn here to be inconvenienced,’ followed by ‘wait here for another pointless cross examination of your passport.’

A Murderous Brew

I think the staff of my local Costa are trying to kill me. There can’t possibly be another explanation for their utter and total ineptitude. No, I refuse to believe any group of human beings can be as collectively stupid. They must be working to some fiendish plan in a dastardly effort to have my heart explode in my chest.

I’m not allowed caffeine. It’s a sad but terrible truth. Something about random electric impulses or other. To be honest, I couldn’t really hear the surgeon over the sound of the tears crashing down my face like a tide bent on ruining the world. So you see, when I go to coffee shops I’m extra careful to ask for decaf.

Yet Costa’s elite team decided to ignore my simple request and give me tea of the fully caffeinated variety. After a couple of gulps, my highly developed sense of ‘those idiots didn’t do what I asked’ kicked in, and I felt compelled to just double check exactly what they’d given me.

Here’s how the scene broke down (I’ve included some handy pictures as character references for the more visual among you).




An artist’s likeness of the average Castle Marina Costa worker.

Me: This is decaffeinated, right?

Chimp: Um. No.

Me: It’s not?

Chimp: No.

Me: Why not?

Chimp: Um. It says here *waves a piece of paper in my face* ‘regular tea’.

At this point an another chimp chimed in.


Dumber Chimp.

Chimp 2: That’s my fault. I put it through as a standard tea.


Me. Wondering which is greater – my rage or their unbridled stupidity.

Me: Because you wanted to kill me?

Chimp 2: What?

Me: I’m allergic to caffeine.

Chimp 2: Really?

Me: No, I just like making a fuss.

Chimp: There’s no need to be like that, it’s an easy mistake.

Me: One that could have killed me.

Chimp 2: What, you could have died from one cup of tea.

Me: Yes, idiot. Did you think I asked for decaffeinated because I enjoy paying the full price for something that has non of the awesome benefits?

Chimp: Oh shit.

Chimp 2: Do you need anything?

Me: Yes, you to turn back time and get my fucking order right.

Now this might seem a tad harsh, but don’t rush to their defence. This isn’t the first time they’ve failed to follow basic instructions. You see, most mornings, I go there for a hot chocolate. Skinny with only half the chocolate powder. Most mornings they fuck that up too.

Until someone decides to pay people to breathe, coffee shop workers have the easiest job in the world. They need to simply turn up, and carry out requests in a timely manner. At no point in their day do they have to struggle with anything close to a decision of their own. It’s just unbelievable how they manage to be quite so shit.

Even the managers are idiots. I can only assume they’ve been promoted for successfully defending the branch against any would be employees who seemed able to stand up and talk without over taxing their brains.

Morons. All of them.


Chump McChimpanson. Director, Costa Coffee.

In defence of Scooter.

1345025105_folderScooter, the German dance group, who according to Wiki have sold over 30 million records, are awful. Terrible. In fact, if you choose to listen to them, you’ve no business having functioning ears and should at once find a way to donate your powers of hearing to someone more deserving.

This, judging by the look on my friend’s face when my iTunes’ library shuffled its way to I’m Raving this morning, is true.

While I immediately felt uplifted by the childlike wonderment captured in every beat composed by the white-haired raver and his pals, my friend’s face folded in on itself in a way that suggested it was trying to crush her skull in order to end the suffering.

‘Scooter,’ they said, as though the word were a synonym for shit.

‘Yup,’ I said, meaning, fuck you.

Scooter* and his music are great. Let’s take as examples, as they are the ones on my playlist, the tracks The Logical Song and I’m Raving.

In The Logical Song, we learn that Scooter’s virtues are almost listless. He begins by greeting us ‘Good Morning!’ Such dedication to manners even while preparing to burst through a plethora of complicated and deeply symbolic lyrics is commendable. Later, he encourages us with the line, ‘Come on!’ For Scooter then, it’s about everyone sharing in the moment. In the chorus, he even extols the benefits of staying in school, counting ‘1, 2 , 3, 4’, something that Justin Bieber couldn’t manage even with the aid of his fingers. And okay, so Scooter finishes the song with, ‘Stand up!’ , which could seem a little self aggrandising, but I choose to believe he just wants everyone else up on his level. Up near those positive energies that are raining down like luminous snowflakes.

In I’m Raving, the song that really shows Scooter’s commitment to his craft, he begins by putting on his raving shoes. I mean what incredible dedication. Imagine, special shoes. Just for raving. I wish I had special writing shoes. They’d have all my favourite words stencilled across them and laces made from bendy pencils. It is in this track that we see Scooter for the humble man he is, yelling out, ‘Thank you!’ as he brings I’m Raving to a close, obviously grateful for each and every listener.

Actually, come to think of it, the first time I ever heard I’m Raving was when I walked into a school disco only to see the girl I liked kissing another guy. Scooter, you dick.

*Yes, I’m aware Scooter isn’t actually a bloke, and that it’s the name of the group. You have three choices in what to believe here – One, that I think between all the members of Scooter, they have just enough personality to make one whole individual; two, that I’m eluding to some sort of existential existence where the groups’ collective talent has birthed a new being, The Scooter; three, that I’ve written it this way for comic effect. Either choice is fine.

Coffee. Ain’t nothing else like it.

Happy 2014. May it kick last year’s ass.

Generally, at this time of year I’d write a post about how I wished I’d blogged more last year*. I’d go on to reassure you and myself, that I’ll totally be blogging more this year. But we both know that’s bullshit.

What I can promise is that I’ll blog when I remember, and I’m not sleepy or late with a deadline. And I’ll definitely blog if there’s not a Marvel movie on at the cinema and I’m not engaged in a Nerf war. Provided of course, I don’t find myself driving to McDonald’s for chicken nuggets and a coffee in the small hours of the morning before setting off on an adventure to a castle in the middle of Derbyshire.

On the subject of coffee, I’ve spent the last week far from a place where they serve anything approaching a good cup of Joe. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no shortage of places to purchase the Holy Stuff**. It’s just that they’re less coffee shops, and more beverage vendors. Places staffed by folk well versed in how to put hot liquid in a disposable cup.

On yesterday’s trip to one such pretender, a friend asked me how my coffee was. He was tired, hungover. We both were. And at some point I shall apologise for my rant.

‘There are three sorts of coffee in this world. Good coffee, bad coffee, and then there’s the stuff I’m pretty sure is yesterday’s rainwater mixed with a little bit of dirt for colouring. I love the former and wouldn’t drink the later unless the alternative was to drink my own urine. The stuff in the middle, such as this you’ve just handed me, I don’t have feelings about. It’s bad. I know it’s bad. It knows it’s bad. The guy who took your one-fifty for it, knew it was bad. I’m gonna drink it because there’s nothing else.’

‘Mine’s okay,’ he answered as though we were drinking something that hadn’t come from the same glass flask. ‘Maybe you need more milk.’

Forgoing the urge to slap him, I replied, ‘It’s not fucking hot chocolate.’

‘If it were hot chocolate, it’d be better than that shite from Starbucks.’

On this he was right. Starbucks hot chocolate is made with a weird chocolate syrup, which can only be the result of exposing chocolate to a degenerative disease.

‘Still,’ I said, swallowing another mouthful of proxy-coffee. ‘I’ll take one of the coffee chains over an independent any day. At least you know what you’re in for.’

Of the three major chains operating in the UK, I’d rank them thusly – Starbucks, Cafe Nero, and Costa Coffee. Though my ordering has little to do with the quality of the coffee. I’ll explain.

costa sign 2In my opinion, Costa has the superior espresso. It’s less acidic and smoother, with a fuller taste. However, visiting any of my local Costa stores, prompts me to use the word fucktard*** more than anywhere else in the world. The one closest to me is staffed almost exclusively with people who seem unable to listen. Order Taker asks me what I’d like, then asks me again because they weren’t really paying attention. Next, Order Taker passes the information to Till Staffer who would totally tap my order into the till except they weren’t listening. Instead, I repeat my order for a third time. Finally, Till Staffer relays the order to Drinks Maker who it turns out isn’t really listening either because they’re still busy fucking up the last guy’s drink. Desperate, and on the verge of deploying ‘Fucktard’, I repeat my order directly to Drinks Maker. They nod, like they always do. But I can see it in their vacant expression. They didn’t listen. Unsurprisingly, I get the wrong drink. I make them remake it, sometimes twice. They screw their face up. I deploy, ‘Fucktard’.

Oh how I loathe the ineptitude at my local Costa****. Now, in the spirit of fairness, there’s one guy who always remembers my drink and is smiley and friendly, and another guy who when he sees me inspecting the sandwiches, immediately tells me which one has the best protein to calories ratio. But the rest of them? I’m astounded they manage to stand up and breathe at the same time.

Nero signFor me, Cafe Nero sits in the middle of the road. The coffee is pretty good, they use powder and not syrup in their hot chocolate and their muffins are ace. Their staff also seem competent if a little removed thanks to the crap crowding the counter tops. The problem is the speed of service and the noise. Yes, I’d like the illusion that my coffee is master crafted just for me by a Drinks Artisan. No, I would not like to be able to complete a degree in that time. Though to be honest, my main gripe with the place is the noise. I like to write in coffee shops, and it’s incredibly difficult in Nero’s. All the hard furnishings and wooden floors do nothing to soften the clank of dishes and clattering of chairs.  Saucers and spoons are all fine and well but Rambo makes less noise with an M60.

starbucks-logo-640x400Starbucks then, is a heaven from morons and loud furniture. Hardly a glowing endorsement I’ll grant you. Their staff though are generally awesome. When they ask me what I’d like, they listen to the answer and even write it on the cup just to make sure. This seems like such a fool proof method for remembering someone’s order that the only reason I can think of why Costa haven’t adopted it, is because their management think it’s too much to expect applicants to be able to read and write*****. Starbucks’s selection of sugary drinks and the ability to minutely customise your drink, and still have it made correctly, is beyond rad. As a company they make quite a big deal about building a rapport with their customers, and although it’s a tactic to help retain customers, there’s no denying it’s nice to show up for your morning coffee and have them remember your name and drink. In fact, no matter which Starbucks you go into in my local area, they know me from my order.

‘For the skin-head scottish guy?’ they apparently ask.

Oh and in case you fancy testing the theory and bringing me a coffee:

A Venti, skinny, wet, two-pump caramel latte with an extra shot, would be swell. If you’re brining it from a distance, having it made extra hot wouldn’t hurt either. Thanks.


*According to the 2013 end of year summary WordPress generated for me, I blogged twice last year. I’m sure their graph-bobbins-peeps are way off. But I’m a big person. I’m not gonna make a scene. I shan’t be going back and tallying up all the posts I’m almost a little bit sure I wrote.

**Coffee, obviously.

***Which by the way is my favouritest of sweary insults. ‘Listen Fucktard’ being my preferred use of said phrase.

****So why go? Well, it’s the closest coffee shop by quite some margin, and the only one open in the early am.

*****Unless Starbucks has copyrighted writing-on-cups-with-marker-pen, which, let’s be honest, would be awesome.

Cineworld, again.

Ah, Cineworld my dear old friend. We meet again.

If you’ve read my last post concerning this hallowed establishment of moviedom, you’ll know I frequent Cineworld often. Unless you somehow missed the sarcasm*, you’ll also know that I think the staff at my local branch are inept, perhaps bordering on grossly negligent of being actual human beings. Even between them, and there’s an army of them, they seem unable to muster an ounce of good service.** But I digress.

On my latest trip to the cinema, I was met with an entirely new level of idiocy. Approaching the condiment counter, I asked for a cup of tea, black. What I was handed was hot enough to burn the sun, let alone the rather sensitive flesh of my baby-soft hands.

‘Do you have one of those sleeve things?’ I asked.

‘No.’ the staff member, lets call him Dave, answered.

All fine and well, I thought, not everywhere does. I mean there’s probably an argument that they should invest in thicker cups but again, I digress.

‘Can I have another cup to sit this one inside?’



‘No,’ repeated Dave, shaking his head like a grumpy horse.

‘Why not?’

Dave stared at me.

‘Is there some sort of global paper-cup shortage? Should I alert the media?’

By now there was a sizeable queue behind me.

‘Can I help?’ another staff member, lets call him Big Dave, leap to Dave’s rescue.

‘This is too hot to hold, can I have another cup to put it inside?’


‘Why not?’

‘Our stock would be off,’ said Big Dave.

It was my turn to stare.

‘We count the cups at the end of the night to see how many we’ve sold.’

Two things struck me then: one, I wonder who they employ to do the counting. I had certainly never met a Cineworld staffer up to the task; and two, that’s the stupidest stock management system in the world. Ever.

‘Why don’t you just count the tea bags?’ I asked.

Big Dave looked past me to the queue. ‘Why don’t you wrap a napkin around it?’

I looked to the napkins and then back to Big Dave. ‘No.’

At this point a third staffer appeared, lets call him Walkie-talkie Dave as he had a walkie-talkie. ‘What about a pic-n-mix cup?’ He asked. ‘You can have one of those?’

‘But how will you know how many sweets you’ve sold?’ I replied.

The Dave’s looked at me.

‘Besides, it’s the wrong size.’

‘Look I’ll  carry it for you,’ said Big Dave reaching for some napkins.

It seemed like a fine plan, and was at least a reasonable stab at good service but Big Dave seemed to have missed the obvious flaw. Luckily, I was there to help.

‘What about during the movie, when I want a drink? Will you sit next to me?’

‘No,’ he answered shaking his head.

‘Ah, we’re back here,’ I said.

‘Wha-’ one of the Dave’s began.

‘Never mind I said,’ leaving the tea on the counter and my money in my wallet. ‘I’ll go to Starbucks.’


So this week I’m on a mission to see how many free cups I can blag from other local establishments. A quick survey if you will, to find out which other places are under the dumbass assumption that hoarding paper cups will lead to long term wealth.

I’ll let you know how I get on. In the meantime, don’t forget to go check out my new Flesh Tearers audio drama, Blood in the Machine, that I forgot to tell you about last month.

*You didn’t miss it, did you? I mean, if that’s true, you’re not only blind but are also wearing a set of extra thick dark glasses over an eye patch, and an oversized cowboy hat thats drooping because you spent too long in the rain looking for a bus.

**So why do I keep going to Cineworld? I like movies. It’s close to my house and has good parking. And, shush you.

***Now, I know what you’re thinking – I’m being harsh, unfair even. It’s not the staff’s fault. They just work there and don’t make the rules. Nonsense. It’s their responsibility to challenge daft rules or work hard, get promoted and change said rules. Failing that, how hard would it be to fill out a from saying there was one cup too few in the last delivery. The big boys stole it, is a classic excuse for a reason.

Signing my life away.

I remember January. It fell somewhere between the misery that was Christmas and now. March. I can’t believe it’s March.

This means two things. One, I’m late with at least two writing projects. Two, it’s Black Library Live this Saturday.

Last year’s BL Live was the first time I attended an event with the express purpose of signing books and swanning around being all author-ly. Back then, I hadn’t written all that much for Black Library. Reparation and Beneath the Flesh were out as eBooks, but unlike Aaron and Dan, I’d yet to be asked to deface a Kindle. So despite the oversized placard with my name on it, few people knew who I was, and fewer still stopped by for a signature.

Luckily, my lack of fame gave me a great chance to play with my new iPad. While the other authors were busy signing books, answering questions, and generally living the rock-and-roll lifestyle I’d long coveted, I managed to write a short story – Immortalis.

Consequently, at the Black Library Weekender, I went prepared with my MacBook; (Apple have long been conspiring with Starbucks to take all of my money). Scheduled for six hours of seminars and signings I was positive I’d get plenty written. At the very least I’d organize my iTunes library and clean out my dropbox folder.

I was wrong.

At my very first signing there was a long queue of people that saw me signing for 70 minutes solid. 70 minutes! I haven’t held a pen for that long since my English exam in high school, and even then I was mostly doodling.

My seminars, which I had anticipated being a chance for the seat cushions to plump themselves back up, were well attended, and not just by the the cohort I’d dragged in for moral support (thanks Nic, thanks Chris, you too Aaron).

I was stunned. Honoured even. It seemed having a book with a giant Flesh Tearer on the cover had done wonders for my street-cred. Not once, over the entire weekend, did I have a spare moment to reach for my laptop.

Black Library Live then, was very definitely one of the highlights of last year.

Sadly though, I didn’t take a single picture at the event, leaving me nothing but my memory, an unreliable and temperamental beast, to remind me of its awesomeness. Even Google, my one-stop saviour, didn’t seem to have much in the way of photographic evidence.  Though a quick search for ‘Andy Smillie Black Library Weekender’, returned this:

Me at Weekender 2012

I’ve no idea what had me looking so perplexed. Submit your caption ideas as comments on this post. There’ll be a prize for the best one, probably.

For those of you who missed the event or like me, would just enjoy the chance to relive it in pictures, here’s a selection of images that you can take to be close approximations of what actually happened, ish.


The Weekender was held at the Nottingham Belfry, a venue so awesome it could only have been made out of Lego.


As soon as the doors opened, the hotel was overrun by a horde of frothing fans.


The limited edition anthologies, like snuggly hoodies, were in high demand.

Lifestyle Adults

No one in the singing queue wore the same shade of denim, which made it easier to tell them apart.


Although the two-tone system worked well for the seminars, making it easy to tell author from fan, I do hope that next year I get to be a nice pastel colour. You know, something better suited to my Scottish complexion.


Universally Challenged, Saturday evening’s quiz, saw Dan, Aaron, Gav, Graham, Jim and Chris Wraight do battle. I’ll let you decide who’s who.

Hopefully, I’ll see a bunch of you this weekend at BL Live. If one of you could bring a camera, that’d be great.


In loving memory.


I wouldn’t normally write a post this personal, but I’m terrible at grieving, so forgive me my indulgence.

Today, we laid my gran to rest.

She was my favourite person in all the world, and I attribute every virtue I posses to her. The three lines engraved on the plaque of her coffin (pictured above), hardly seemed enough to sum up her life. To help, I wrote the following, and read it aloud at the service:

This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write.

For how can any word or arrangement of sentences sum up a life?

Ruby, not Rebecca because her mum disliked Becca, was a sister, a mother, a grandmother, a friend.

She was a soft women from a hard upbringing.

She was many things to many people.

To me she was Gran. She was warmth. She was safety.

She was a Tea Genie. A caramel wafer dunker and Twix fan.

She was homemade soup, and bacon sandwiches.

She was a hearty laugh, and a smile that filled her face.

She was ice-blue eyes, that were always warm.

She was an asthmatic who called her inhaler a ‘puffer’.

She was a TV addict who perched on the edge of her seat, yet she never fell off when she napped.

She was bed-time stories and Bible readings.

She used the word ‘weeshed’, called me ‘son’, and never took the Lord’s name in vain.

Gran was all these things, a hundred more, and far more than the sum of them all.

I’ll miss her more than words can say, and the pain at her passing is greater than any I’ve felt. But my sadness is as nothing compared to how happy I am to have had her in my life.

Ruby lived for her family, for her loved ones, and we are all the better for having loved her.

Goodbye, Gran. I’ll miss you.