March 17, 2013

Have you noticed more traffic than usual in Linlithgow recently? Yes, I thought so.

There is a reason for that. And the reason is… stupidity and poor planning.

I know this because I was recently forced to take a long route over the Union Canal and into the Bathgate Hills in a frustrating attempt to make my way home.

So, I know.

I was heading back in the small hours after performing in Aberdeen, and had armed myself with the latest information regarding road closures. Fortunately, the complete closure of the Forth Road Bridge was delayed – for all the difference that made.

Aberdeen to Livingston. Keep heading south, then up the M8 to junction 3. Simple.

Except, of course, that Junction 3 was closed to all traffic. That’s right, just shut.

The obvious route to take in this case is along the A89 to Uphall, and then into Livingston. Except, no, because that road is also closed to all traffic at the Newbridge Viaduct. That’s right, just shut.

Now, maybe it’s just me, but what kind of halfwit closes two major roads, running parallel with each other, at the same time? I would suggest it must be a very special kind of halfwit. One who gets up very early in the morning and practices.

So, having worked all this out, my route was obvious. In truth, when there are a clutch of road closures, I play a game in which I pretend that these areas have been closed due to zombie activity. The challenge is to make my way home without being eaten – it adds a bit of fun to the trip.

So, my perfect plan was to head along the Queensferry to Linlithgow road, then cut up, under the M9, and up the B8046 past Old Philpstoun to Uphall… except the whole road was filled with cars trying to complete U-turns because – you guessed it – the road was closed. That’s right, just shut.

As a result, there was a convoy of Livingston-bound traffic heading into Linlithgow, and then driving south across the Bathgate hills.

Still, we managed to avoid the zombies.

Unbelievably, the result of all this was that at the Northern side of Livingston we were met with a forest of yellow diversion signs; one at every corner and slip road. But they were all for different diversions!

At one location there were three – count ‘em – diversion signs, all pointing in different directions.

A stranger to the area would have no idea which route to take. Some drivers are probably still following them in circles, many of which would take them along Linlithgow Main Street.

And that, my friends, is why there has been more traffic than usual in Linlithgow recently.

Seriously, these hi-viz jacket wearing planners need to get their heads together. Actually, they need their heads knocked together.

Drew McAdam



March 10, 2013

I love telephone answering machines. Always have.

Nobody ever phones you because they want to GIVE you something, so an answering machine means you don’t actually have to talk to them. You just listen to their message, then experience the delight of pressing the ‘delete’ button and jettisoning it off to wherever these voice recordings go.

But there’s more. They are a wonderful tool for leaving annoying outgoing messages such as “Thank you for calling. If you wish to speak to Robert, press 1. If you wish to speak to Sandra, press 2. Should you wish to sell us something, press 3. To leave a message, press 5. Under no circumstances press 4; this is only for use in emergencies and gives access to the secure line.”

Or how about.: “I can’t come to the phone now… well, actually I can come to the phone. Like, well, NOW, because I’m here NOW, recording this message. But I’m not here, like, NOW, while you’re calling. I’ve gone now. So you’re here, listening to this message LATER, which for you is actually NOW… I think… are you following this? Gosh, this is confusing. So, leave a message and I’ll listen to it later… which, for me, means I’ll be listening to it NOW, if you see what I mean.”

But for more fun, you can use the concept of an answering machine for playing pranks… When somebody calls, you pick up the phone and say: “Hi, I can’t come to the phone right now. Please leave a message after the tone. Beeeeeeeeep.”

Let the caller leave their message. When they finish, and just as they hang up, say: “Thanks for calling… ‘Bye!”

But what about when YOU have to leave a message on somebody’s machine? These days, I don’t say who I am or what I want. I just leave a short joke, such as “What do you call an exploding monkey? A BABOOM!” Clunk.

Perhaps the best ever, though, was when I misdialled, and instead of getting the local branch of my bank, a voice said “Hello, this is the Reverend Robertson. Sorry I’m not here, but please leave a message…”

I don’t know where it came from, but I said “Hello! This is God. Where are you when I need you?” Clunk.

Oh, yes, I love telephone answering machines. Always will.

Drew McAdam


February 24, 2013

This from my “There Must Be an Easier Way” collection.

We’re all being encouraged to use public transport. So, buying a train ticket should be a simple task.

I recently set off to take a short journey by train, but on arriving at the unstaffed station I was confronted by a ticket vending machine the size of a Volkswagen Camper Van.

It had to be that size to display the four plaques bolted to the front. These signs are covered in text instructions, bullet points, email addresses, postal addresses and telephone numbers.

Well, I had no wish to contact the train company. I only wanted a simple return ticket.

And that’s when it became just a tad confusing.

Mind you, the text does suggest that if you have difficulty operating the machine, you should ask a member of staff. Well, who would have thought of THAT clever ploy?

Unfortunately, this was an unmanned station – but there was a station Help Point.

But, hey, I’m a reasonably intelligent bloke. I could work this out… and then I started reading. And what I read was enough to send anybody into a slumber so deep they might never come out of it again.

There was information about TOD – that’s Ticket on Departure, it seems. There was everything you would need to know about pre-paid internet and telesales tickets. Remember, you’re going to need your unique booking reference and your credit cards.

Then comes the instructions for buying a ticket from the machine: a 6-step process. It involves calculating your destination and other routes, then using the keyboard. Once you’ve got that, there’s ticket type, such as off-peak, anytime – and that gets a whole lot more complex if you’re buying a weekly season ticket. For a start, you’re going to need pohoto ID.

Think you’re finished? No. You still have to work out the complexities if you have a child travelling, if you’re using a railcard, “other ticket”, or there are more passengers in your group.

When you get through all that, you are invited to use your credit card to pay. That’s right, shove your precious credit card into the tin machine and hope it works, AND you get your card back.

But you’re still not finished. You need to read the helpful information, such as the type of tickets available, and the type that are not. Wade through everything from Off-Peak Anytime to advanced date tickets, and from Multi-modal fares to Zonecards and day-tripper tickets.

I hope you’re following all this!

Hang on, there’s more. Yes, more “helpful information” such as refund application procedures, age restrictions for child fares, tickets not being transferable, and “unless indicated otherwise… as some tickets are not valid… additional payment… blah de blah de blah de blah.”

And then, when you’ve waded through all that, you spot a little plastic plate further down. It tells you the machine doesn’t accept cash (ScotRail apologise for that inconvenience.) And one little line: “Cash payments can be made on-train”.

What? After all that, I can just pay the conductor on the train?

Guess what I did.

Yes, there’s got to be an easier way… It’s just a shame that they don’t tell you the easier way right at the beginning.

Drew McAdam


February 6, 2013


It’s become a multi-million pound industry – testament to the fact that an army of people are using these services.

I’m talking about internet psychic hotlines. You’ll find the little adverts popping up online with the headline: “Ask our psychics anything – for free.”

Ask anything? And for free, eh? That sounds like it could have comedy potential.

The advert for each psychic usually runs along the lines of: “I’m Monica. I’ve been working with tarot and angels since my early teens.” The site invites you to type in a question, and the psychic will type an answer… Well, half an answer, and an intriguing one at that.

It’s a teaser designed to intrigue you about the stranger they tell you is about to come into your life. Or the life-threatening danger you face in the coming week. Or the money you could miss out on.

It’s at that point you are invited to “please click to go private”.

Clicking private means giving your credit card details. Don’t worry, though. They accept all credit and debit cards. And it’s only £1.50 a minute to type in your question and get your answers.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure some of these psychics are terribly accurate. One psychic told me that I will be giving birth within two years. (They obviously thought that it was the female version of my name.) That’s one of the problems when you’re corresponding by keyboard, rather than voice.

And when I really tested their abilities, they were left wanting. Not one of them could tell me with any certainty whether or not my car would start in the morning. And most of them were completely wrong in their answer to my query about whether or not it was going to rain next Tuesday.

Not one of them was able to tell me where I’d left the remote control for the TV, or where I could buy a monkey. You know, I’m beginning to suspect that some of these psychics aren’t very good.

Just because they say they can see the future and talk to angels doesn’t mean they really can. Which is a shame for the many thousands of individuals, many vulnerable, who – perhaps in desperation – turn to these psychics. They pay vast sums of money for an answer to their problems.

Typing messages back and forth for an hour is going to cost you £90. And I’m not sure there’s much to be gained from that.

But what would I know? I’m not psychic.

Drew McAdam


February 3, 2013

A wet and windy morning, yet some 200 people went along to the Playhouse Theatre at 11am the other morning. Why? Because it was the Press Launch for The Lion King, coming to the theatre later in the year.

And it wasn’t just for journalists, but for competition winners, too.

I have to say, this was a slick and professional presentation. Well, it would be – it was organised by Disney. And they don’t do things by half.

It started bang on time. Some of the cast members were there in full costume – along with a gospel choir. They performed a clutch of song and dance numbers, right there, just feet from the assembled group.

The representative from Disney gave a slick presentation and slide show – with video segments – on how the costumes and puppets used throughout the show are constructed.

Visit Scotland were brought in to the frame. The Playhouse staff members were polite, attentive and efficient.

Even already, giant advertising posters are everywhere, and the box office is being doubled in size to cope with the demand for tickets. Impressive stuff.

But of course it’s impressive – it’s Disney. They do things properly. They are customer-focused. They do it big, and they do it right.

And that got me thinking. All those sluggish companies and inefficient firms that let us down and break their promises when it comes to everything from delivery times to product quality could do with bringing Disney in to advise them how to run their businesses properly.

Actually, I think some of the captains of industry would look rather fetching in big ears, red shorts, large yellow shoes, and white gloves.

There would be no delays with the trains and transport companies if Disney was at the helm. No standing from London to Carlisle. No surly staff… Yes, Disney would sort it out.

And when when you think about it; a lot of those inefficient and incompetent firms are Mickey Mouse setups. They’re halfway there already.

Drew McAdam


January 27, 2013

It’s hard to believe that so many drivers don’t know what the little stick thing with the button at the top is for. The one between them and the passenger.

It’s a handbrake.

The idea is, when parking, you pull it on, and it stops your car from rolling away. (That said, I have to admit there have been a couple of occasions when I had to chase my car down the street.)

But that’s by the way.

The other use for a handbrake is when you come to traffic lights and they are red. You brake. Pull on the handbrake. Select neutral gear. Then take your feet off the pedals.

What could be simpler?

So, how come many people don’t actually use it? Instead, they sit in front of you with their foot firmly on the brake pedal.

Was a time when cars had two brake lights, one on either side, and down low. Now, however, most have an extra strip of laser-bright red LEDs at a height which precisely matches the eyeball height of the driver behind.

On a dark night you invariably have one of these never-use-the-handbrake clowns in front of you, and their intense eyelevel brake light is melting your eyeballs.

Obviously they never look in their rear view mirror, because if they did they would see a furious, demonic luminous red face glowering at them.

And when they eventually take their foot off the brake to draw away, the after-image of their brake light is burned into you retina to the extent that you don’t realise they’ve gone.

Just another example of the thoughtless, inconsiderate, lazy driver.

That brake light after-image could explain so many UFO sightings, though. “It was amazing… this red light seemed to dance in front of me. Wherever I looked it was there; just in front of me… until it melted through a wall. And my car didn’t.”

So, to those drivers: the brake pedal is for slowing you down and stopping. Its purpose is not to stop you from rolling away. That’s what the handbrake is for.

The driver behind you would like me to pass that message on to you.

Drew McAdam


January 21, 2013


Here’s a little secret. Dishonest technicians sometimes invent vague, senseless technical-jargon. They do this to describe a serious problem with the machine, then offer to ‘fix it’. At a price.

Another secret? Advertising and sales people do the same thing. The psychology is based on the premise that if you can convince somebody they have a problem, then offer your product as a solution, they’ll buy it.

Of course, there doesn’t actually have to be a problem in the first place. You just have to convince the customer that there is, and that your product can solve that problem.

So, what problem does the following solve? It has computer-designed ribs to give flexibility. It’s rechargeable and has a ‘daily clean mode’. It also has a waterproof handle – which is ergonomically designed – and is electrically safe. There is even a sonic version.

So, what problem would such a piece of hi-tech gadgetry solve? I’ll tell you; it cleans out wee pieces of stuff that’s stuck in your teeth. Yes, what I have been describing is the techno-babble pseudo science description of an electric toothbrush.

Advertisers and salesmen are wonderful psychologists. Their job is to manipulate us into buying something based on the fact that it solves a problem we didn’t even know we had. And the more techno-speak they can use the better.

Yes, advertising execs must think we are terribly stupid. Which is why they come up with slogans like ‘New and improved’. When you think about that, it’s just noise – empty words.

How can something be new AND improved? It can only be one or the other. If it’s new, then it can’t be an improved version. And if it’s improved, then it can’t be new! See what I mean?

They invent a problem. Offer to fix it. Then bamboozle us with meaningless techno-phrases and hollow slogans.

The worrying thing? It works, and we buy their stuff.

It’s their little secret. And now you know it, too.

Drew McAdam