Very Top Five… Ways to be a good driver.

Monday, 30 November 2009
Being a good driver is all about perception. I don’t mean how you perceive the traffic around you (that’s basic stuff for losers who don’t have sweet rides), I mean how you perceive yourself.

Here’s a quick way to see if you consider yourself a good driver: When you look in the rear view mirror do you just see the boring boring boring traffic behind you? Or do you flicker yourself a cheeky grin that says “Look at you, you own this road and you know it. Yeah. I would definitely make love to you, if only I could, right now over this dashboard.”

If you perceive yourself to be a good driver, nothing that goes wrong is ever your fault, any mistakes made are surely not yours; any problems are out of your control, since no one else could have dealt with them any better than you. Even if the court disagrees with you, at least you’d know the truth, like a warm glowy squirmy thing deep in your heart where the guilt should be. You’re too good a driver to cause an accident, after all. That's just common sense.

Would you feel liberated to be so good at driving that as soon as you start the engine you instantly know that there is no one out there with better reactions, greater skill or a deeper knowledge of driving and therefore no one more deserving to be on the road then you?

To attain this level of triumphant vehicular majesty, read on:

5. Assert your dominance over other road users:

Let people know that YOU have to be somewhere NOW; drive up close behind them and be ready to rip past as soon as they drift even slightly closer to the kerb.

Or are you waiting at a red light for that foolish old lady who chose to begin crossing near the end light? Give granny a blast of revs to keep her moving smartly along and edge forward a bit to let her know that if she’s not off the crossing as soon as the light goes green that she’s getting shunted, wheelchair or not.

Accelerate into corners like they do on the racing on the TV. If your passenger politely asks you to stop because it’s apparently ‘uncomfortable’ and they are worried it ‘might be quite dangerous’, give them a reassuringly contemptuous sneer and let them know that the rotational acceleration creates sufficient down-force to stabilise the vehicle. That’s just basic physics, which they might know if they’d paid more attention in physics classes instead of moaning about how ‘uncomfortable’ and ‘quite dangerous’ physics is. If they find it uncomfortable, you can drily quip, they can try walking in the rain and see how comfortable they find that. Or they can belt up and belt up.

Intimidate cyclists into the gutter; either get behind them as discussed above or barge past them, giving them just enough space to get knocked into a ditch, like they deserve. They have no right to be on the road anyway. Get a car, you carbon-neutral hippy, or get off my roads. You’re the sole reason our roads are congested, going all slowly like that and slowing the rest of us down. And congestion means pollution, you fool. It’s because of you that all the polar bears are melting.

4. Get an air-horn:

Horn: Do you get it when you sound yours?

As all good drivers know, the immediacy and importance of your grievance is in direct proportion to the loudness of your horn. ‘Drown out the rest, air-horns are the best,’ as the well-known rhyme goes.

Or maybe go one up and get a siren. You’ll feel like a highly trained emergency driver, with lightning reactions. And as we all know, feeling like a successful driver makes you automatically better. That’s just basic psychology, which you’d know if you’d paid more attention in psychology classes instead of moaning about how ‘uncomfortable’ and ‘quite dangerous’ psychology is.

With your air-horn blasting you will become a more proficient driver. It’s like magic. You are a wizard of the road, and your horn is your magic wand. Squeezing it blasts decibels of sorcery into the ears of the goblins who want to take your pointy wizard’s hat off you. (The hat is representative of driving prowess in this metaphor.)

3. Pimp your ride:

Paint bright stripes on your car and put huge speakers in the boot – it just makes it better. It won’t make you better, but people will associate you with amazing driving and give you sufficient space to work your skillz.

Insurance companies put their premiums up for modified cars, but that’s nothing to do with reduced safety; those pencil-pushing Volvo drivers are just jealous of your sweet-ass ride and are trying to punish you for you being better than them.

As if you needed any further proof that pimping your ride makes you a better driver and your car safer, consider this; Why would you spend so much money on it if you were only going to go out and have an accident? That’s just basic economics, which you’d know if you’d paid more attention in economics classes instead of moaning about how ‘uncomfortable’ and ‘quite dangerous’ economics is.

2. Make like a canal barge, and bounce:

Speaking of crashes, have you ever seen any dented canal barges on the roads? No, of course not, and that’s because they’ve found a brilliant new use for tyres. What they do is hang a garland of them over the side so no harm befalls them if they happen to nudge the edge of the canal, another barge, a canal lock or a drowning man batting with shameless futility at the sides of your mighty ship as it slips effortlessly over his kayak. That’s just basic canal etiquette, which that drowning man would have known if he’d paid more attention in canal etiquette classes, etc.

So why not use overhung tyres on your car’s body? Obviously you’ll never be so stupid as to cause a collision, but what if some idiot parks too close to your usual spot outside the shops and you give him a little shunt through no fault of your own, the idiot?

In fact, is that parking space just a little too tight? Well, that’s no longer a problem; gently nudge the other car, sliding it out of your space, back into the road where it would have parked if you’d been in your space, like you always are. Your rubbery dangly new friends will protect your paintwork throughout.

Worried about getting a puncture? It’s no longer a problem when you have sixteen spares. Such protection means you can be constantly relaxed, maybe stick a bit of Bryan Adams on, and let the road’s dangers melt away to an inconsequential background.

1. Don’t get insurance:

Have a little faith in yourself. You’re a good driver, right? And good drivers don’t have accidents, so why bother with insurance at all? It’s just another pointless tax on good drivers to subsidise bad ones. It might be against the so-called law, but since when did you let The Man tell you how to drive your car?

Remember the insurance dodgers’ motto: “I’m never going to crash, and saved a ton of cash.”

And when you go to prison for insurance fraud and dangerous driving you’ll wish you’d paid more attention in not-getting-raped-in-the-showers classes (which can be uncomfortable and quite dangerous).

Very Top Five... Twin Cities

Monday, 23 November 2009
Twinned city agreements (also called sister cities) are designed to foster international cooperation, by which I mean give town officials a pleasant place to play golf and relax for a week whilst on their yearly ‘culture mission’. And you can’t do culture without margaritas.

Most cities will have one or more sisters. The will to foster international links with as many cities as possible is as strong as the desire to have more than one yearly free holiday courtesy of public funds. Also, you get to make signs with your city's name on them in big writing, and 'twinned with some other city' in smaller writing underneath, showing what a cosmopolitan hub you are.

Most cities have realised that these are the essential points of the sister city agreement (Fancy sign, golf holiday), and keep quiet about it in case anyone notices. However, some five cities dared to stand out from the crowd. It may be that they have an unusually large number of twins, or twins in strange places, or have totally missed the point of twinning altogether, but all of them stand out in such a way that makes them as great a twin as Romulus was to Remus. (i.e. quite willing to beat your brother to death with a shovel if it means that it's your name that gets to go on the sign.)

Let’s tee off…

5. London, UK

There are 46 places named after London. This is because in the past the British investigated new lands with nothing but a map, a pink marker pen to illustrate which parts of the map now belonged to the Empire, and several thousand cannons just to make sure that the surviving natives agreed with the man with the marker pen.

Despite this, nowhere called ‘London’ is also twinned with the real London. This is not because these lil’ Londons have never suggested to their eponymous big bro’ that twinning would be a jolly good idea, but because London has always refused these twinning requests.

However, London has to be seen to be making foreign friends these days, to make Britain look less insanely imperial. People look to London to set the British example due to its tremendous influence, particularly in the UK, since one in five people in Britain would say that they live in the Greater London area. (Actually they wouldn’t. They’d say “Why the fack d’you care where I’m facking from? Fack off.”)

Anyway, London has twinning agreements with New York, Moscow, Berlin, Johannesburg, Kuala Lumpur and Kuwait city. This seems like a good number, but London has also got so called ‘friendship agreements’ with 18 more cities. Friendship agreements are awarded to places with which, although London wants to be associated with them, it doesn’t want to go all the way. This is similar to when someone breaks up with you and says “Hey, I still want to hang out with you, but let’s be friends, yeah? Cool? Cool, I’ll ring you. Don’t ring me; I’ll ring you. I promise.”

4. Keighley, Yorkshire, England

Keighley is a medium sized town whose claim to fame is that they started the whole twinning thing back in 1905 with Suresnes in France. They didn’t really get the hang of things straight away though, and in 1920 claimed to have ‘adopted’ Poix-Du-Nord. This talk of adopting another town sounds vaguely patronising, and if there is anything the French hate it is being patronised (Probably because they are annoyed that they didn’t get the chance to do it first).

3. Coventry, England

Gosh, these English towns are getting a lot of mentions, aren’t they? They seem to have a problem with just picking a couple of nice places to play golf. Coventry bucked convention by not only picking a flamboyantly ostentatious twenty six twins to twin with but also has a strange understanding of the word ‘nice,’ believing it to being synonymous with ‘had the shit bombed out of it.’

Coventry itself was bombed quite severely during the Second World War, so it feels some empathy with its brothers-in-bombing. Among its twins are Dresden (Razed in 1945 by 4000 tons of allied bombs), Sarajevo (besieged for 4 years in the 1990s and smashed by surrounding tanks) and Stalingrad (Twinned with Conventry in 1943 a few months after the Battle of Stalingrad, where 2 million Soviet and 800,000 Axis soldiers died in a massive campaign to seize the city, which ended with the city being mostly destroyed.)

Coventry has developed a kind of deranged solidarity with its woebegone fellows (probably because they got brain damage from all of those bombs). It does bill itself as the city of peace and reconciliation, but maybe it’s all a ploy so that no one can say the arrangement is just for the benefit of a few officials’golfing holidays. And besides, these bombed cities are among the most interesting places to play golf. They’ll certainly have a lot of new bunkers.

2. Baghdad

Poor Baghdad; Although nine cities are listed as twins for Baghdad on Wikipedia, none of these are reciprocated on the apparent twins’ own pages. These supposed twins include London, who doesn’t even include Baghdad as one of its many ‘friends.’

This is surely rather disappointing for a city which, for hundreds of years, was the largest in the world and was also once the centre of science, culture, and medicine (But not golf, tellingly). Throughout its history angry men have repeatedly turned up and set fire to it, from the Turks and Mongols at the start of the last millennium through to the most recent incursions at the start of this one.

On the plus side, it can surely only be a matter of time before Coventry extends a cheerful invitation of twinning on some bomb-scarred notepaper.

1. Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Until recently, Dubai was a few shacks and some hardy farmers traipsing around in the desert. Then one of them pointed out that while farming sand is still as hard as ever, it may be easier to encourage other countries to take this sticky black stuff that just pours out of the ground off our hands. Then whoomph, insta-propserity.

For Dubai, bigger is better. Bigger buildings, bigger hotels (with bigger bills), and a much bigger list of twins than any one else. Dubai has thirty one twin cities, and has amassed them in a timescale quicker than it takes Coventry to say “Excellent, Baghdad is on fire. Fetch the official humourous novelty bomb-shaped invitation envelopes.”

Dubai's twins include loads of global big-hitters, such as Moscow and Geneva, but also some rather curiously small places like Dundee in Scotland, which does rather suggest that the Dubai planning authority used a strange technique to pick its new twin; looking up the index of an atlas and picking the town next on the list after Dubai.

Dubai is a relatively new face on the world stage, and is quick to make new friends. That’s the spirit! Except, I expect that it’s spirits that might be the problem, because as soon as the other cities’ mayors actually visit and realise that Dubai is an alcohol free emirate, they’ll rapidly cool on the whole idea. What fun is a round of golf on your free holiday if there aren’t any mojitos in the clubhouse afterwards?

Very Top Five... things Atheists and Christians have in common

Monday, 16 November 2009
“Knock knock.”
“Who’s there?”
“God who?”

First, let’s just sort something out: I’m not a Christian or an Atheist. Nor am I an Agnostic, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, or adherent to any other belief. Good. Right. So don’t be tiresome and claim I’m biased one way or another.

So, as I am neither Christian nor Atheist, I have decided to alienate y’all, for a laugh. I will do this by claiming to be making an attempt to bring you together under the glitzy umbrella of intended unification, when actually I’m just being bloody minded. For this audacity, you might suggest that my pharisaism will make me a pariah, or rather you might once you’ve looked up a word or two.

Atheism and Christianity are very similar in practise, even if they claim to be far apart: For example, consider two football teams who share a powerful and long running enmity. I might sit on the sidelines and say that the similarities are plain to see. And they say “I see no similarities? What similarities can there possibly be?!” To which I respond; “Clearly you’re both playing football.”

You know that glint that true believers have in their eyes? Real, fervent atheists have that too.

So that's where I'm coming from and before you get all worked up, do remember that of course I’m not suggesting that all of these attributes are true of all Christians or all Atheists (just most of them) so, you know, just chill and take it on the chin like Jesus would have done.

Oh my, some of you are not going to like this at all, but it's not too late to read some lovely factettes about fungi or big animals instead.

5. Holier than thou attitude (aka smugness):

Atheists and Christians both feel that they have made the right choice. This burning passion separates the pure metal of truth from the dross of lies in the great foundry of the soul (or perhaps an analogous, purely psychological alternative to the soul). It also allows you to slag off the alternative views which lie around your adamantine island. Steel yourself for my analysis of what ‘being right’ means to each group:

Atheists derive their smugness from knowing that organised religion is an outdated, old-fashioned, chimerical contrivance, one which the pristine engine of secular science has long left it in its tracks. Surely anyone who can’t understand this is a fool?

Christians derive their smugness rather more simply: God is all powerful. I love him and he loves me. Surely anyone who can’t understand this is a fool?

Christians are also smug because they live moral lives, according to the word of God, with the greater reward promised at the end of it.

Atheists are smug because they say that being moral because God ‘told you to be’ is poor logic indeed, and consequently an Atheist would claim that his morality and ethics are of a higher calibre, enforced as they are by conscience rather than Christ.

How can you be so sure, say Christians, that living to your own standards of morality are moral at all, and not just a personal and flawed perception? That is arrogance indeed.

And both groups get a nice warm glowy smurfly feeling from being around people who share their views so they can concur on how right they all must be. At the end of the day, both sides say, “our humility is better than yours.”

4. Pretending to understand each other’s point of view by reading bits from the other group’s books and quoting the bits they like the sound of for the purposes of point-scoring:

There’s a word for people who read through a book looking for the bits that make most titillating reading and then comment exclusively on those bits out of context; journalists. And we all hate journalists, so why should you be allowed to do it?

Atheists will skim scoffingly through the bible and pick out bits like those in Leviticus and Romans about how naughty homosexuality is, or the bit that says humans have ‘dominion’ over animals. Then they’ll go “Aha! The rickety house-of-cards you call a religion has been toppled by my daring exposé of your pathetically barbaric views.”

And perhaps the Christian response will be “you clearly don’t understand the Bible. By the way, we just came out of nowhere, did we? Life just magically appeared, did it? Go on then, make some ‘life’ with your science.”

And the Atheists would say “you clearly don’t understand biology.”

“You can’t explain Love with science,” retorts the Christain, feeling that he is onto something of winning streak.

And then the atheist wades back in with “Idiot, yes you can. The brain is an immensely complicated object, with a complexity beyond current understanding, but…” and the Christian retorts, “Nope, you admitted it! Science doesn’t understand it; it’s God’s work.” And the Atheist is all; “You can’t just say ‘oh, because we don’t know how it works right now it must be God wot done it’.”

And the Christians go, “Yes you can. I just did.”

And so it goes on, until whenever the final whistle is blown. But until then, point scoring is to be encouraged.

3. Caring about how we got here (creation myths):

Why do people care about why we got here? So they can have a good marvel at the beauty of nature? Fair enough. But then why is the next step in this plan to immediately assume that either “We might not understand it, but God did it” or “We might not understand it, but Physics did it”? You don’t expect bacteria to be able to understand the complexity of how your stomach got to be there, so why should we feel equipped to appreciate our place in the Universe (aka stomach of God)?

Anyway, this whole thing is a brilliant excuse for a big fight between the “God-did-its” and the “No-He-didn’ts,” and after everyone has got bored of the creation of the Universe angle (which is a bit dry) there is still evolution to discuss (Which is far moister).

Want to annoy an Atheist? Then say, “evolution is only a theory, even biologists admit it,” because although they consider this a very trite and common misconception of the definition of a scientific theory, it never fails to annoy the hell out of them.

Want to annoy a Christian? Hide their bible.

However, as for creation and intelligent design “scientists”: Seriously? Now come on, your position is indefensible. You can’t just take the complicated jigsaw of biology and throw half of it away, take the scissors to the rest so it fits, re-paint over some pieces and say “Ta-dah! It’s a picture of god, just as we always knew it would be.”

2. Clinging on to one concept like it’s the end of the world:

These two concepts are faith and the scientific method. Neither is infallible; this is something which both sides often forget about their own views but are quick to mention it when they spot a flaw with the other’s.

Both sides are also keen to point out that actually yes, their concept is infallible; Faith because although discussion and disagreement on interpretation is perfectly acceptable within the teachings of a religion, this is not fallibility as you are merely continuing to weave the framework of continual assessment of faith led by the teaching of the Bible allowing you to move closer to truth; and the scientific method because although individuals make mistakes, sticking to the concept of a method of continual assessment of evidence will always move towards greater knowledge of truth. D’you see what I mean?

Faith’s been around for longer, and has seen more people from cradle to grave than any new-fangled atheistic, humanistic construction, the Christians might argue. The scientific method is based on logic, truth and a curiosity to discover more about the world, the Atheists might respond, and consequently is at least as old as faith. They then might have a discussion about the comparative power of faith versus science, or perhaps just take turns at bludgeoning each other with their metaphorical clubs.

1. Worship of those who explain the organisation’s tenets eloquently:

He is our leader of leaders, our teacher of teachers. His words help us live our daily lives, and we take solace in His words. We use those words against the unbelievers. He is our saviour, our messiah, our Lord and our hero, and His name is Richard Dawkins/Jesus Christ.


Overall though, I like Christians because hardly any of them use opposition to atheism to define their own belief system’s existence, and they often show a seraphic ignorance towards Atheists’ snide sniping with a level of quiet patience beyond that of their atheistic antagonists.

Conversely, I like atheists because I don’t think that we need a God for existence to exist, and I agree that many Christians only label themselves as such because that’s how they were brought up, and they haven’t thought about it properly for themselves.

I expect that Christians will pity my lack of belief, but forgive me (hate the sin, love the sinner). Atheists will pity my indecision and seeming inability to use my self-professed knowledge of the scientific method to a logical conclusion; after all, what do you feel for someone who cannot or will not allow themselves to be convinced of the truth; the absolute truth, knowledge of which improves your understanding of life every day? I imagine you would feel pity.


My name is Christopher, which means bearer of Christ, which you might think is hypocritical. But no, it’s true, I do bear Christ. I can put up with him as well as anyone.

So let’s end with a lovely pair of quotes. And whoar, what a lovely pair they are:

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” C.S. Lewis

“The patient typically finds himself impelled by some deep, inner conviction that something is true, or right, or virtuous: a conviction that doesn't seem to owe anything to evidence or reason, but which, nevertheless, he feels as totally compelling and convincing. We doctors refer to such a belief as 'faith'.” Richard Dawkins.

VT5... uses of acronyms

Monday, 9 November 2009
Acronyms are the LASERS of language, the SWAT teams of succinctness, and the semantic equivalent of filling your SCUBA with TNT instead of O2. OMG, acronyms are amazing (as are alliterative annexations).

Acronyms, as you may know, result from taking a group of words, hacking some of the first letters off, and using what results as a brand new term of reference. E.g., AIDS is quicker to say than “Argh! It’s Diseased Severely.”

Businesses do love ‘em, and occasionally sue each other over them. Like when the WWF sued the WWF, even though the WWF used to be the WFN and still is in some countries, and that’s not even considering that the WWF has recently merged with the WCW and ECW. Anyway, the WWF beat the WWF, and now they are the WWE. See how confusing it can get when they have the same name? That’s why it came to court. In fact, you might say it got acronymonious. Eh? Might you? No? Like acrimonious, obviously.


5. Internyms

Don’t know what internet acronyms are all about? Well, RTFM you FOAG, and soon we’ll be BFFs, IMHO. (BTW, FOAG doesn’t mean anything rude; but it sounds like it does, which is what matters.)

Internet acronyms were invented because really cool people were too busy being cool to type whole phrases, and then everyone else started using them because they also wished to appear cool. Alternatively, they were invented by paedophiles trying to corrupt your kiddies by using a code unbreakable by worried parents. (Did you know that that one of the ‘L’s in LOL stands for lick?)

4. Recursonyms

Computery people, particularly those of the Open Source (OS) community, like being clever. They like writing efficient programs, they like sticking two fingers up at the proprietary business model, and as it turns out they also like acronyms.

But! Because they are clever, and pride themselves on their ability to understand things that others do not, they consequently wouldn’t stoop to use regular acronyms when they could instead use recursive acronyms, and in doing so make a hilarious parsing pun and fan the in-joke flames.

For example, GNU means “GNU’s Not Unix,” as does that GNU, etc, etc, ad infinatum, ad hilarium ensuium. There are more, here are some; WINE is “WINE Is Not an Emulator”, and EINE is “EINE Is Not Emacs” and TWATS is “TWATS With Acronyms That Suck.” Although I’m not so sure about that last one.

(I always feel concerned when I bait people online who know more about programming and the internet than me. It’s like jumping into the ocean and telling the sharks that they have stupid looking fins, LOL.)

Actually you shouldn't lick sharks, their skin is very abrasive.

3. Backronyms

Sometimes, words are not acronyms, they are just words. This is fine. But occasionally they are made into acronyms later. This concept was pounced upon during the Second World War, when soldiers would use secret acronyms to delight their sweethearts back home. So FRANCE meant ‘Friendship Remains And Never Can End,’ HOLLAND meant ‘Hope Out Love Lasts And Never Dies,” and so on. How lovely. However, if Wikipedia is to be believed, and I have no evidence to suggest otherwise, then you want to watch out for SOMALIA, ENGLAND and TIBET. Those filthy, filthy sodgers.

(What’s always puzzled me, though, is surely the censors would be far more likely to blank out an apparent place name on a letter than actually writing My Ardent Lips Await Your Arrival (MALAYA)?)

Also, another sort of backronym is when the words of an existing acronym can be modified without changing the acronym itself, like DVD (Digital Video Disk to Digital Versatile Disk.) This is because businesses sometimes want to change their name without having to replace any of their expensive signs and logos.

2. Macronyms

What’s the point of an acronym? It’s supposed to be quick to say. This basic concept flitted briefly through the minds of those who renamed the American Navy’s Administrative Command, Amphibious Forces, Pacific Fleet Subordinate Command. ADCOMSUBORDCOMPHIBSPAC isn’t really what you’d call a handy alternative, though.

Russia is the world’s biggest country, so how fitting it is that they should have the world’s longest acronym to their name too, according to The Guinness Book of Records: NIIOMTPLABOPARMBETZHELBETRABSBOMONIMONKONOTDTEKHSTROMONT "The laboratory for shuttering, reinforcement, concrete and ferroconcrete operations for composite-monolithic and monolithic constructions of the Department of the Technology of Building-assembly operations of the Scientific Research Institute of the Organization for building mechanization and technical aid of the Academy of Building and Architecture of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics."

Oh those Soviets, they were well known for their jokes.

1. Contrivonyms

Acronyms are very 21st C. You want a groovy acronym to make yourself sound all hip. But occasionally fate conspires against you and your acronym of choice, formed from the words which describe your business or product best, unfortunately reads as something hilariously misleading and salacious.

For example, two Regional Technical Colleges in Ireland (Galway and Tralee) had to think fast when they were upgraded to Institutes of Technology, otherwise they would have gone respectively from GRTC and TRTC to GIT and TIT.

Saying that, there is the Technological Institute of Textile & Sciences in India which decided to go with TITS.

As for the Canadian ‘Conservative Reform Alliance Party’, and the German telenovella ‘Alles Nur Aus Liebe,’ they didn’t think far enough ahead, did they?


I’d end with an acronym, but C U l8r is a group of contracted homophones, and I wouldn’t want you to think I was into that sort of thing. TTFN.

Very Top Five… Skills for journalists

Monday, 2 November 2009
Did someone not once say “if the pen is mightier than the sword, then journalism is the whetstone”? I’m sure somebody must have done.

Anyway, do you want to check out the skills zone for current trends or indications of paradigm shifts?
By the way, if you can use the words ‘paradigm shift’ without your face sagging into a grimace under the weight of all the sarcasm, then you will make an excellent political journalist.

Journalism is a cavalcade of caustic, faustic drudgery. It even says that in the dictionary (Any journalists reading this won’t check, they’ll just copy and paste it and take my citation for granted.)

Journalists have a surprising combination of tenacity and laziness. That is to say, they flatter themselves with the belief that they have the ability to discern the wheatiest stories from the misleading, irrelevant and uninteresting chaff. In practise this means they’ll superciliously scan through a report and make up their ‘story’ by pouncing on one wildly unrepresentative strand and spinning it out to cover three pages.

There are many different types of journalists, from political journalists (Who report how terrible politicians are) right through to opinion columnists (Who give opinions on how terrible everyone (including politicians) is.). Regardless of what sort of journalist you end up being, you’ll need easy mental access to the following grab bag of skills.

5. Headline creation

Headlines are supposed to get you to buy the newspaper, and they should hook readers in a punchy way.

Getting the words to rhyme is excellent form, as is including the sorts of puns that would disgrace even the worst sort of dinner party bore. For examine, imagine if John Locke, the philosopher and physician of the 17th century, had been seen wearing a dress. The headline wouldn’t say “Locke seen wearing a dress,” it would be “LOCKE FROCK SHOCK.”
And the journalists would go into paroxysms of delight.

4. Misrepresentation

This is most common in areas in which most people don’t have an adequate knowledge to evaluate the worth of a concept on their own, such as science, medicine or law. The brilliant thing is that the journalist who’s writing the article doesn’t have to understand it either!

Let’s say you want to write a story about GM foods, or a pharmaceutical product. All you have to do is find a scientist with a crazy opinion about how long-life cabbages give you brain cancer and present it alongside conventional wisdom (that they don’t) and suggest that these two opinions represent the two leading equally-weighted alternatives in a contentious field, and ta-da! Instant hysteria, and the chance to write dozens of follow up articles on how YOU, the readers, reacted to hearing the ‘news’ about cabbages, letters from concerned parents, discussions between experts on the pros and cons of each side of the argument, etc etc.

And you can’t be sued for libel even though you have practically invented a scare out of nothing, because, “hey! I’m just reporting leading researchers’ opinions here. You can’t interfere with the public’s right to know information that might be important to their health.”

3. Leaving your options open

Did you hear that a celebrity turned down an invitation to attend a charity dinner for dying orphans last week? Did you report it, and deride him as a massive wanker for being a no-show? If so, woops, turns out he couldn’t come because he was at a dying kiddies home, making a massive anonymous donation, which another paper has just reported.

No problem! Your initial story should have been written with enough leeway to report both stories with the journalistic integrity required to do ‘em justice.

If you’re an editor (A person who is to journalists what a giant bloodsucking bat is to regular-sized bloodsucking bats) then just change writers for this new story, and juggle around your writers in future as necessary depending on whether you want to pan a celeb or laud them with obsequiously brittle candour.

If this happens in an opinion column, then oh no! You can’t just change writer to report your massive change of tack. But if you're in this situation you could still be in the clear, just write the new story as if it’s the first time that the celeb has revealed himself not to be a massive wanker, and discuss the significance of this as if it’s a real thing rather than something you made up to save face.

Alternatively, just say “oh, that first piece was sarcasm, everyone knows that celebrity is a jolly nice guy,” if you can stand the g-forces tearing on your morals with such a huge change of direction.

2. Attract stories

Make yourself the go-to person for your area of expertise by greedily claiming to have an opinion about every little thing to happen in your chosen field for several years, and eventually everyone in that area will come to tolerate your consistent inability to just go away, like a stain on the toilet that just shift, regardless of how hard to scrub.

Next thing you know you’ll be attracting stories like a media magnate. Eh? Eh? Geddit?

1. Hounding

Realised that most of the things that happen to most people, even celebrities, are mundane? You can get into trouble for making stuff up, so your job is to make the boring, irrelevant or personal stuff that happens into news.

So follow a celebrity around and make notes on everything they say, form a firm personal opinion about how sensible and normal they seem; perhaps the sort of person you might go for a drink with. Be secure in the knowledge that like most sensible, normal people, they will eventually something a bit stupid, unkind or offensive that they probably don’t mean and wouldn’t have said if they’d had a chance to think about it. Pounce! And publish that.

Speed this process along by asking them barbed questions, or by barracking them, or by barricading yourself outside their house with a telephoto lens and long range sound recorder. Eventually, by you and your colleagues grinding insistence, you’ll slowly shift their perceptions of normalcy so they won’t know what’s right and what’s wrong, and will trot out these crazy out-of-touch nuggets of newspaper gold as a matter of course.

So there we go, a handy how-guide to journalism. Feel free to use this as the basis for careers talks at schools.