The Bell Tolls

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

I woke up on Wednesday to the joyous news that First Scotrail has been unsuccessful in retaining its franchise to run most of Scotland’s train services for the next ten years. TF’s dissatisfaction with Scotrail has been well documented and I won’t repeat the standard complaints that most – if not all – Scotrail customers make against their local train service.

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For some very strange reason, when I heard the news I immediately thought: “the bell tolls”. I thought about tweeting @scotrail “the bell finally tolls for thee.” I didn’t, that would not have been good for my Twitter-cred.

What I did do was wonder where that phrase about bells tolling came from.

It turns out the phrase comes from a passage in John Donne’s, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII: Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris. I’m sure you’re all familiar with Mr Donne’s seventeenth century work (and his very pointy beard) but here’s the relevant part (and a painting of his beard!):

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells toll; it tolls for thee.”

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There are apparently a few interpretations of that passage but I think he’s saying we’re all connected and that if the bell tolls for one of us, or if one us suffers loss, we are all diminished.

Let’s test out our old chum John Donne’s theory in relation to the loss of First Scotrail:

  1. First Scotrail’s franchise is being taken over by a Dutch company. First is run from aberdeen and so, perhaps, this means that more of the profits of the business will flow out of Scotland than before.
  2. Scotrail will have presumably done their best over the last couple of years to pull out all of the stops to ensure that their service was as good as it could have been in an attempt to keep the franchise. Will the new franchisee have the same incentive given that they’re here for at least five years and probably ten?
  3. Some of what is wrong with Scotrail’s current service stems from the network itself; which they annoyingly remind us is nothing to do with them.
  4. Does changing the franchisee every ten years discourage real investment in improvements?
  5. Perhaps most importantly, Scotrail employs almost 5,000 people. As we know, in most cases where ownership of a business is transferred or there is any kind of major reorganisation, “rationalisation” – which always seems a gruesome euphemism for sacking people – occurs. We don’t really believe that we’ll soon be travelling between any Scottish city for a fiver – as has apparently been promised – so why would we believe that there won’t be any compulsory redundancies?

Having thought about it, I think big John Donne pretty much nailed the economic realities of a 21st century liberal society. That’s pretty solid work for a guy from the 1600s.

Anyway, having bored you all rigid with that, it’s time for the Tash. Ernest Hemingway saw the truth in what John Donne said and gave one of his books the title: “For Whom The Bell Tolls”. Apart from trying to work out how Hemingway came across Donne’s work without the assistance of Google, I realised that this was as good an opportunity as I’m going to get to use a quote of Hemingway’s which I particularly like:

“Never mistake motion for action.”

I almost made that mistake this week when I heard that Scotrail was being sacked. I’ll wait to see if the change is motion or action.

As you’d expect from one of the 20th centuries great wordsmiths, Hemingway wore an excellent Tash.

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Have a great weekend folks!

What’s next?

Back to basics

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

When Tash Friday first started, it was aimed at finding something that everyone could appreciate. That’s a harder task than you might imagine – we don’t all like the same music; we don’t all like the same food; and we certainly don’t all like the same people. However, the Tash was, and is, different – everyone can appreciate a well-worn Tash.

TF’s theory about why everyone appreciates a Tash is that it’s about class. Not social class but the kind of class that cannot be taught; cannot be bought; and cannot be faked. The men (and, occasionally, women) who can really wear the Tash correctly are generally the ones with real class. There are exceptions, of course, and not all of the people who stand in the great pantheon of Tashes wear one all the time. But when they do, their class shines through. As discerning people, Tash Appreciators understand that quality and, as the name suggests, appreciate it.

In the recent past, examples of that class have included these two:

Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club

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True class, or form, as others might put it, isn’t found in the amount of money you make or the clothes you wear. It’s about being yourself, being at ease in your own skin and making those around you feel at ease in theirs. It’s about bringing the best out of others because they have faith in your ability but doing it in a way which empowers them rather than overshadows them. People with class will not stop learning or giving maximum effort in all of their endeavours. They dare greatly and are gracious in both victory and defeat.

This week, I think I’ve found someone with all of those qualities. He’s dedicated to his profession and is not part of the celebrity “scene”, saying in response to questions relating to his private life: “I chose for a long time not to answer these questions because of the manner in which they were asked, and because I was never talking to someone I trusted, so why should I?” Every film, theatre production and television series in which he appears or produces are improved by his input. If anything, he has improved with age. To finish off the package, he manages to pull off the old receding hair-line look!

This week’s Tash was in Se7en, The Usual Suspects, L.A. Confidential, American Beauty and the tremendous Margin Call. He’s been Henry VI, Richard II, Kaiser Soze and (my favourite) Frank Underwood:

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He is probably my favourite actor – Kevin Spacey. He’s also been known to wear a Tash pretty bloomin’ well – there’s nothing this man cannot do:

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Have a great weekend folks!

What’s next?

Shut Up Legs

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

I’ve been making my way through a series of documentaries on the initial training of Navy SEALs this week. The series followed one class from the beginning to the end of their training.

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It turns out that SEAL training, particularly the first three weeks of it, is even more horrific than I had previously imagined. They call the first phase “two weeks and one long day”. The “one long day” refers to the third week of training, also known as Hell Week, where those wanting to become SEALs get up very early on Sunday morning and next go to bed on Friday night.

The purpose behind this torturous form of training turns out not to be a test of physical ability – these guys are already in good shape – it’s to teach them a lesson. The lesson is that their bodies are capable of withstanding more than they think possible and that the only thing holding them back is their mind.

To put the lesson in context, the first two weeks involve a series of “evolutions” which are carried out by boat crews of six. The evolutions range from each boat crew doing exercises while holding very large logs above their heads; to paddling rafts through/over impossibly large waves; to lying in freezing cold water for long periods of time.

Hell Week involves doing all of that for five or six straight days.

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As far as I’m concerned, surviving Hell Week should be impossible. That view is supported by the fact that the vast majority of those who start Hell Week do not make it past day two or three. However, by the third day, you can see that the prospective SEALs have simply stopped thinking about the pain and the fatigue. They no longer think; they simply do. They have gone beyond the mental barrier which in normal circumstances would have caused them to stop and they just get on with it.

In a less hostile environment, something similar happened last night. Jens Voigt, the 43 year old German cyclist, pushed his body to its limit by cycling a staggering 51.115km in one hour. That’s 400m further than the previous record.

I’m quite certain that Jens could have been a SEAL if he’d wanted to be. He’s well known – and incredibly popular – among cycling fans for his no-nonsense approach to riding and his seeming indifference to pain.

For those who haven’t heard of “The Jensie”, he retired last night but all year he’s been racing in a team where he’s been a pro longer than most of his team mates have been alive. But despite his age, the punishing pace which he sets when he’s racing is one that few can keep up with. That’s not because he’s physically in better shape than other riders (he’s clearly not), his ability comes from his mental strength. When his legs are screaming at him to stop, he simply says “shut up legs” and presses on. Seriously.

Not everyone can work at the level of Jens or SEALs – most of us will find that our brains will take over at some point and say “that’s enough”. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep taking ourselves to our limits and try to push them just a bit further away. In some cases, even where logic and reason says that something is impossible, we find that it is not. Sometimes glass ceilings can be smashed through and closed doors can be knocked down. I found that notion reassuring this week.

As for the Tash, Jens obviously rocked one:

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and it turns out the SEALs have been enjoying the benefits of a Tash since 1992 at least:

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Have a great weekend folks!

What’s next?


From Scotland With Love

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

Almost exactly five years ago, I was enjoying a three-week road trip in the US with a group of pals. These were the days before Bluetooth and aux cables so our driving music was restricted to CDs. Between the nine of us (and our two cars) we had only three CDs: a David Guetta album, a Black-Eyed Peas album and a mix-CD titled “Scot Rock”.

The Scot Rock CD had been prepared by the musically minded member of our group. It had the usual Deacon Blue and Proclaimers tracks but it mostly contained songs from Arab Strap, Frightened Rabbit, We Were Promised Jet Packs, Belle & Sebastian, Idlewild etc. It was a cracker, actually, and I still regularly listen to many of those tracks.

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Like many people, there are some songs which take me back to very vivid memories. One memory which comes to mind every time I hear any of the songs from the Scot Rock CD is from one particularly long day of driving. I remember that the weather was not good but that all of us in the car were gazing out of our respective windows in that way which only happens while travelling.

Although none of the songs we were listening to were particularly about Scotland, they all seemed to capture something which reminded us of home. It was strange – even though we were all thousands of miles away and having a great time, it was clear that each of those tracks made us think about home. Although we were looking out at a foreign countryside, our minds were in Scotland.

That brings me on to the independence referendum. Some of you will be sick to death of this topic but hopefully what follows will be constructive.

Thinking back to how the Scot Rock tracks caused five guys to sit and think of Scotland in their own way got me thinking about how personal the referendum vote will be to all voters. For most of us, we are not just thinking about who will run the country for the next five years but what the future will hold for the place we call home. The future which each of us is thinking about will be entirely unique.

For example, when I think of Scotland, I tend to not think about castles, mist or saltires fluttering in the sky; I think of pipe bands at Murrayfield and walking home from Central in the rain. My vision of the future will derive from those memories and the particular way my brain has processed them.  Your vision will be based on your own memories and your own thought processes, which can only result in an infinite number of ways to approach what appears on the face of it to be a very simple question.

As most of us have lived here for a long time, it’s only natural for each of us to have a strong reaction to the question of whether Scotland should be an independent country. It’s probably an excellent thing that so many of us are passionate about our views. But when we’re dealing with each other, it might help if we remembered that there aren’t many things closer to each of our hearts than our homes. I wonder, with all that in mind, whether we might all be kinder to each other, regardless of how certain we may be that one view is right and one is wrong.

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I’ll leave you this week with a relevant Scot Rock recommendation and a Tash.

My recommendation is King Creosote’s One Night Only – it’s a track from his album From Scotland With Love, which was the soundtrack to a BBC film of the same name, made up of vintage Scottish footage and aimed at showing Scotland’s modern history in a new light.

Finally, the Tash. As one might expect of someone with credentials in music appreciation, the lad who created the Scot Rock CD has rocked a Tash for many years. He still does, even though he’s also developed a goatee type thang. Some of you will know him as Stuart, I know him as D-O-Double-B.

Have a great weekend folks!

What’s next?

The McConaissance

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

Just a brief edition this week due to the fact that I wasted time contemplating whether it was too much to send a tweet @scotrail wishing a literal plague upon their house (true story – I despise “them”).

Anyway, while I was pondering how one might bring down Scotrail, I got to thinking about what I would do when I finally got home. I decided that my treat to myself would be an episode of a TV programme which I’ve slowly been watching – It’s the small things in life.

That, in turn, got me to thinking about one of the stars of the show and his marked rise to critical acclaim in the last few years. “Maybe he had to put up with the horrors of a monopolised public (but privately run) transport system too”, I thought.

I couldn’t find anything to suggest that this chap had ever been on a Scotfail train but I did find a marked pattern in his career which gave me encouragement. His career trajectory was essentially as follows:

  1. 10 years in TV shows, adverts and music videos.
  2. 10 years in romantic comedies; almost exclusively sans shirt. He became known by one leading critic as having the surname Mahogany on account of his perma-tan. He wasn’t thought to be much of an actor but I understand he was a hit with the ladies. I’ve no idea why.
  3. Tash Friday 5:9:14The current status of his career is that of a critically acclaimed Academy Award winning actor. He does TV these days because he’s able to explore the character in more depth but he’s also due to appear in Chris Nolan’s next blockbuster – Interstellar, which looks cracking, by-the-way.

The chap I’m talking about is Matthew McConaughey and the TV programme to which I am treating myself tonight is True Detective – both he and it are tremendous.

Interestingly, his change in fortune was not luck – it was planned. He knew what he wanted to stop doing and what he wanted to do instead, so he did. I suppose that if Matthew McConaughey was having to put up with Scotrail then he would just stop taking their trains. Maybe I should do that too…

To the Tash. In his Oscar-winning role (in Dallas Buyers Club), McConaughey played a guy suffering with HIV. The role required dramatic weight loss and he was regularly in the papers because of his painfully thin frame. I could point out that he had to go through tremendous physical and emotional stress to play the role and that there was a point to be taken from that, but that would be too obvious. All I have to say is that the weight loss was barely noticeable because of the splendid Tash which he was toting:

Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club

As far as I’m concerned, that Tash, not the Oscar, marked the completion of the McConaissance.

Have a great weekend folks!

What’s next?

Mission Accomplished?

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

This week and next are big weeks for folk starting out in my line of work: some be starting their training; others will be moving into the job they’ve been working towards for up to seven years; but others will be going into something that they’re not altogether sure about.

I suppose it might seem that the people who are going into the jobs they want have got it made. While achieving a goal is worth celebrating, my concern would be that the energy and momentum which built up to allow the goal to be achieved could be lost if it’s not built upon. I’d also be wary of celebrating too early – you wouldn’t want to look like this guy:

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Over the last few months, I’ve picked up a strategy that deals with all of the possible scenarios listed above. I picked it up from a guy I’ve been doing some work with and again when I was reading up on the Scottish entrepreneur Jim McColl (incidentally, this speech which Jim McColl gave is particularly good). It might be worth passing on the strategy as I’ve found it to be effective while I’ve been working on Operation Zorro. It’s not rocket science but, like most sensible strategies, it involves hard work and persistence:

  1. Ascertain what your goal is and develop a plan to help you achieve it.
  2. Put the plan into action and give it as good a go as you can. Persevere with it.

Steps 1 and 2 were about as far as I’d got until fairly recently. It seems obvious now but I hadn’t thought of the remaining steps.

  1. Regularly assess your progress to ensure that the plan is taking you towards your goal. If the goal is achievable in the short/medium term, it’s probably worth assessing how effective the plan is every week or so. If it’s a longer-term goal, it’s likely that progress will not be as fast and it can probably be reviewed once a month.
  2. If the plan is not effective, think about changing it. What worked with the old plan and what didn’t – revise it to keep the effective parts but dump the ineffective ones.
  3. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until a plan which is entirely effective is found and the goal is achieved. If the goal is achieved, take time to enjoy it then go back to step 1.
  4. If you are still not achieving your goal, maybe it’s the wrong goal. That’s not to say that the goal you’ve set is impossible, it just might not be the right time or right for you.
  5. If step 6 is required, take time to deal with the disappointment before you proceed to step 1 again. Be honest with yourself about why things have not worked out; be honest with other people about it; then, when you’re ready, take that disappointment and use it to fuel your efforts next time around.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I found myself unwittingly at step 7 once – I didn’t work hard enough at school and I didn’t get onto the uni course that I wanted. It worked out fine in the end though: the course which I ended up doing was fantastic and my fear of feeling that disappointment again has driven me ever since.

My point is that the mission is never accomplished. In a world as diverse, interesting and troubled as ours, there is always something over the horizon waiting for us. The question we have to keep asking ourselves (and I know I bang on about it) is: what’s next? The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that asking that one simple question will keep you motivated and moving forward.

Anyway, to this week’s Tash – he was a man who must have felt at several times during his life that his mission was accomplished, only for it to be taken away from him. He had a successful company; lost it; got it back; only to lose it again when it was at the peak of its success. This week’s Tash is Steve Jobs:

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Have a great weekend folks!

What’s next?



Waiting ain’t no game

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

I was reading this week about how in 2012 callers spent the equivalent of 760 years on hold to Government telephone help lines. That’s a lot of waiting. I read some other facts about waiting too:

  • British people spend around 6 months of their lives waiting in queues;
  • We each generally spend 62 minutes per day waiting for one thing or another; and
  • We each spend 653 hours of our life waiting for trains. Anyone who has endured Scotrail’s diabolical service can testify to that.

These figures are almost certainly utter nonsense. Are thousands of people asked to measure how long they spend doing things for their whole lives and then an average is taken? I think not. The point from my perspective is that looking up these fatuous facts has killed ten minutes; ten minutes I would otherwise have spent waiting.

As I write this week’s TF, I’ve been waiting for in excess of 60 hours. By the time you’re reading this, that number could have increased to around 120 hours. It’s an email I’m waiting for – just an email. I don’t care if it’s in the ASCII medium usually associated with the early incarnation of electronic mail or if it arrives via the process standardised in the Internet Engineering Task Force’s RFC 2045 to 2049 – yes, I’ve got the stage where I’m looking at exactly what an email is to distract myself – all I care is that I get the email; preferably within the next five seconds.

Some of you will say that patience is a virtue. If you feel it necessary to make an incredibly helpful comment such as that, I refer you to the work of Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, the chap who set out the seven heavenly virtues (I looked that up too!), and ask whether you can lay claim to having the virtues of chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, kindness or humility. If you’re missing any of them, feel free to run along, lock yourself in your greenhouse and leave me to my torment.

Having made my point about waiting being roughly equivalent to the removal of finger nails with a rusty pair of pliers, let’s move on to this week’s Tash. I got to thinking about people who no-one in their right mind would keep meeting; the kind of person even an automated answering service would know not to trifle with. The person I immediately thought of has a reputation as being Britain’s most dangerous prisoner and happens to have an absolutely cracking Tash. This week’s Tash is Michael Gordon Peterson:

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You may know him better as “Bronson”, as played by Tom Hardy:

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Have a great weekend folks!

What’s next?

P.S. The email came in – it was worth the wait.

Words and ideas.

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

The human body is a strange thing. It’s capable of incredible ingenuity, creativity, feats of strength and endurance. It can experience love, hate and everything in between.

However, the problem with a complicated machine, like the human body, is that a tiny change in it’s structure can throw the whole thing off-kilter. A change in the chemicals fizzing around the brain or an experience which hasn’t been comprehended in a healthy way can have catastrophic consequences. It can get to the stage where it cannot fix itself and, for want of a better phrase, it self-destructs.

The seemingly randomness of how the human body can react is only too evident in the case of Robin Williams – it brought one of the funniest men on the planet to the point where he couldn’t bear to live through another day. All of the goodwill in the world couldn’t save him from his own body.

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I thought long and hard about what I wanted to say about this. I thought about tearing into those who called him selfish, but I realised that very few people think like that these days. I thought I’d look at the statistics and bemoan that more can’t be done to help those suffering from mental illness, but after a bit of reading I found that dozens of organisations are already doing formidable work in this area and it seemed wrong to criticise their efforts.

To find something constructive to add, I looked to the man himself. He said this:

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”

If words and ideas can ever change the world, it’s in the field of mental health.

Someone with a mental illness, particularly someone suffering from depression, relies on words and ideas to get them through. Those words and ideas often don’t come from within. Instead, they have to come from someone else. Often, the person who is suffering is blinded by a seemingly never-ending fog which clouds their brain and hides all that is good in their life. As a result, the only person who can guide them safely through is a friend or family member who has noticed that something is wrong.

If you were affected by Robin Williams death; if you thought it was a tragedy for someone who brought so much joy to others to feel like they had no option but to take their own life, remember that the chances are that someone around you is feeling the same way today.

If the idea strikes you that someone might be suffering from mental illness, find the words to take action – doing so might be the way in which you can make a really positive difference to someone else’s life.

What’s next?

The Phantom Punch

Good Morning Tash Appreciators,

Operation Zorro activities have kept me busy this week and so this edition of TF will be a brief one. Luckily, this week’s topic is an event which was over in the blink of an eye. In fact, it happened so fast that many people in the audience didn’t believe it happened at all.

I wonder how many of you are familiar with this week’s Tash, Sonny Liston:

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I suspect that his face is not familiar to many of you. In 1962, Clay became the heavyweight champion of the world and was thought to have unrivalled punching power and toughness.

However, in 1964, he came up against a young man with a relatively modest 7-1 record by the name of Cassius Clay. Clay, who would later change his name to Mohammed Ali, was the underdog but by the end of the 6th round he had put Liston under so much pressure that he sat on the stool in his corner, said “that’s it”, spat out his mouthguard and ended the fight.

In 1965, the two men fought again. This time, Liston was knocked out after 1 minute and 44 seconds of the very first round. I suspect you might be more familiar with this picture of Liston lying on his back:

Muhammad Ali vs Sonny Liston, 1965 World Heavyweight Title

The punch which floored Liston came from nowhere. Ali called it the Phantom Punch. Some of the crowd didn’t see the punch being thrown at all and there was speculation that the fight had been fixed.

Whatever happened that night, that moment, 104 seconds into a world championship fight, shows how quickly a person’s life can change. Liston’s reputation from that moment onwards was ruined; while it marked the beginning of Ali’s journey to the almost legendary status he enjoys today. It also changed the life of the person who took the photo – Neil Leifer. The image that he captured in that split second is one of the most iconic in sport – I reckon most, if not all of you, have seen it before.

I guess TF’s message this week is that things can change almost instantaneously and without warning. That can be for better or worse but I wonder if there’s also something about being in the right shape (mentally and physically) to make things change in your favour. On one view, Liston was already beaten when he sat down in his corner during the first fight and called it quits; Ali was definitely the younger and hungrier of the two; and, while Neil Leifer was perhaps lucky in that he was in the right place at the right time, he took his chance.

Have a great weekend folks!

What’s next?

At the Copa Copacabana

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

My enjoyment of the Daily Mail Online got the better of me this week as I’ve been following the ongoing “beef” between Orlando Bloom and Justin Bieber.

For those of you who aren’t following this scrap – hopefully none of you are – Bieber is alleged to have gone on a date with Bloom’s ex-wife and Bloom isn’t chuffed about it.

The two men (I use that term very loosely in this context) met in an Ibizan club, at which point Bieber apparently made an inflammatory remark and Bloom threw a punch. I imagine it was like the Barry Manilow song “Copacabana”:

“And then the punches flew and chairs were smashed in two;

there was blood and a single gunshot; 

but just who shot who!?”

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Unfortunately – this being a celebrity fight – no punches connected, no chairs were smashed and, unfortunately, both men lived to tweet another day.

I was conflicted about who to support  in this spat. On the one hand, Bieber is clearly very irritating. I’m forced to see his smirking face every time I check The Mail Online. However, Bloom behaved badly on several levels (a) he shouldn’t bother with Bieber; but (b) if he does feel the need to engage with Bieber, he should definitely have battered him, rather than swinging and missing – that’s just embarrassing.

If any of you are having a similar problem regarding who to support – again, I hope this doesn’t apply to any of you and that you have better things to think about – this photo should put the matter to bed:

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You may not be able to see it but the caption underneath the photo reads: “sunburnt and mustache”. The fact he thinks that scraggly mess is a Tash says it all – he’s lost any grip he ever had on reality.

Bieber cannot possibly be this week’s Tash and a counter point to his disgraceful attempt is required. If Bieber took the ex-wife of this week’s Tash on a date, I think we can all rest assured that a punch would fly; Bieber would be thrown to the floor (hopefully smashing a chair into two in the process); and no gunshot would be required. This weeks Tash is The Dancing Destroyer, The King of Sting, The Count of Monte Fisto, The Prince of Punch, The Master of Disaster, The One and Only Apollo Creed!

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Have a great weekend folks! That is, unless you’re reading this, Bieber – I hope you have a shocker you absolute roaster.

What’s next?