Wednesday, March 31, 2004

I found a bottle of beer. Charrington’s ‘Bi-Centenary Ale’. It must have been granddad’s.

My grandmother has moved into sheltered accommodation, and we’ve been clearing out her place. There is a certain type of china that is only ever found in old ladies’ houses and, boy, I now have plenty to spare.

Finding the beer was a bit of a shock. Granddad passed away twenty-five years ago, for a start, and this had been sitting on a shelf undisturbed and unopened since then. When you also take into account that the bi-centenary of Charrington’s brewery was, in fact, in 1957, this gives you one hell of a historic pint.

It’s miraculous it survived. Not that it didn’t get chucked away or knocked over or whatever, but... well – to put it tactfully – I get the impression that bottles of beer didn’t stay unopened around my granddad for long.

He was an interesting character. A granddad less like the popular Clive Dunn model would be difficult to find. Although I do think the song and TV show would have been improved immensely, had it been performed by a hearty, robust, red-faced Australian. With two false legs.

People say I look a bit like granddad, and I’m not sure how to take that.

Anyway, I took the bottle of beer. I thought I’d bring it back here, and drink a toast to him. I’d then keep the bottle as an ornament. I didn’t particularly expect the beer to be drinkable, but I was interested to see.

It would have been very moving, had the bottle not emptied itself all over the boot on the journey home.

Forty-seven years that bottle lasted intact. Now my car stinks of yeast.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Fishmonger!! I am indebted to Peter for ‘fishmonger’, which would have saved a whole lot of trouble from the word go. It’s one of those words that doesn’t get used much these days, and I feel that it’s part of our collective duty to cherish such phrases and to keep them alive. Although I won’t get much chance to contribute personally, being that the fish shop has... oh well, never mind.

So I stomped in yesterday evening, wishing that I’d gone for my third transport option – quicker, cheaper and more reliable. That is, to position myself outside the house with my briefcase and newspaper and wait for continental drift to carry me gradually South, until Norfolk was situated just adjacent to Surrey and I could do the whole journey in a brief stroll.

The real problem with transport in this country is not slowness, or even cost. It’s the fact that it’s just so teeth-grittingly unreliable. Train X might well be scheduled to get you to your Terribly Important Meeting on time, but to be safe you have to catch the one an hour beforehand. Likewise, it might take you an hour to get across the QE Bridge and round the M25, or it might take you three.

See. I told you this would be boring.

So, with apologies to the enthusiastic man from NASA, I find myself completely unable to get worked up about their new Scram Jet. Frankly, I just can’t get excited about being able to reach New York in seven seconds if I’ve just endured a four hour crawl to Heathrow Airport and a further three at check in being strip-searched for hidden toenail clippers.

And – forgive my cynicism – but there is just a teeny-weeny suspicion that the technology might go to the military before it’s passed on to the likes of EasyJet.

I check the website of Norwich International Airport, and as far as I can see they have no immediate plans to introduce scram jets on their flights. For the time being, I will stick with long weekends in Britain.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

I have a Terribly Important Meeting tomorrow.

It’s been arranged for 10.30am, in Surrey. Which might seem reasonable to some, but from my point of view it may as well be taking place on Mars.

I have two options as to how to get there.

Get in the car, drive down through the Fens praying not to encounter any beet lorry convoys or eighty year-old caravanners, skirt the Cambridge rush hour, down onto the M25 to hit the traffic, brave the bridge at Dartford then motor round the stockbroker belt with an AA street atlas balanced on my knees whilst simultaneously trying to scan for street names, talk on the hands-free and change CDs on the stereo.

Remortgage the house and send the LTLP out to work the streets. This would enable me to buy a train ticket. Then I could drive twenty miles to the nearest station, and trust that the long BR journey/two tubes/short BR journey will pass with no problems whatsoever. Get a cab. Then reverse the process, but in the evening rush hour.

There is nothing – nothing – more boring than listen to peoples’ detailed moans about their travel nightmares. Therefore, in anticipation, I suggest you skip Tuesday’s post, and we’ll return to amusing anecdotes and stuff on Wednesday.

A final word of clarification on the last post, following on from a couple of emails:

‘Chippy’ = place where they sell pre-prepared meals, for immediate consumption. Still open, thank goodness.

‘Fish Shop’ = place where you source raw ingredients to cook yourself. Like a greengrocer’s. But with fish.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

The fish shop has closed.

The fish shop has closed!!!

I went to the fish shop, to buy some fish. But I couldn’t get any fish, because the fish shop has closed.

Black waves of depressed old-gittishness engulf me, as I stand outside the closed fish shop, reading the ‘thank you for your previous custom’ notice. This what Britain is like in the twenty-first century. Fear of terrorism. Crumbling transport infrastructure. Fish shops closing.

‘Shop’ is probably a grand term for it. It was a shack at the back of somebody’s house, where the fish shop lady used to sell her husband’s catch, plus other stuff she’d got from the markets. In season you could pick up pheasants or partridges for a couple of quid as well.

I should write to John Prescott. It’s all very well making a song and dance about rural post offices, but where the hell am I going to get hold of a sea bass now?

I now wish I’d gone in there more often. But it does confirm the old commercial maxim that a business isn’t viable unless its trade has been the basis of at least one successful situation comedy.

They are still selling mussels from a hutch at the front, with an honesty box that looks suspiciously like an old ice-cream tub. I take a big bag and leave my two pounds fifty. I don’t even like mussels. But it seems appropriate.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

The LTLP had a bad day at work yesterday. And a lousy commute this morning.

Consequently, I have been threatened with death should I produce another horrible dinner.

I blame Dr Atkins. He has been quite good to us in some ways, but bears full responsibility for the fact that I seem to have completely forgotten how to cook.

A month of ‘Cheese on a Bed of Eggs’, ‘Pan-fried Eggs with a Julienne of Cheese’ and – my favourite – ‘Oeuf et Fromage Surprise’ sort of sapped my will to create in the kitchen department, and now we’re back to eating normally I’m afraid my Ramsay is more Alf than Gordon.

So tonight it’s back to basics with a can’t-fail new-man treat-her-like-a-goddess banker evening. A crispy, crackly baked pasta stuffed with smoked bacon, tomato and pepper. Nicely chilled Sav Blanc on the side. And the video of yesterday’s ‘University Challenge’, which promised to be an exciting quarter-final battle between London Met and some Cambridge college.

Now come on ladies. Don’t say you wouldn’t just FALL into bed after that...

Friday, March 19, 2004

Off to the in-laws this morning.

That means a long car journey and, more to the point, an argument about what music to play.

CD collections in a relationship are like Venn diagrams. On the left there’s a big circle containing the stuff I like. The LTLP would like it as well, if she made more of an effort.

On the right, there’s a big circle containing the stuff she likes. Which is all rubbish. Clearly.

There’s a small overlappy bit in the middle containing the stuff that we both like. So that’s what we tend to listen to. It’s a well-known fact that you can go through a ten-year relationship and only actually play three CD’s.

The Proclaimers’ Greatest Hits it is again, then.

All together now:

“When you gooooooo....”

Have a good weekend, y’all.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

I have to come to terms with this. Downshifting: no regrets, no stress, lovely part of the world, nice people, work on my own terms. However I am going loopy at the lack of human contact in my day to day routine.

My day yesterday:

Got up
Did laundry
Went to dentist
Worked at PC
Picked up newspaper
Worked at PC
Watched telly
Went to bed

As you see, this was an eventful day for me, as I went to the dentist. I think it summarises nicely if I say that I was quite looking forward to this, as it meant I would meet another human being.

I walk in to the waiting room, which is packed, neatly encapsulating the state of NHS dentistry in this country. I sit next to an old lady, who smells of wee. She constantly turns to her elderly husband and asks if she'll be all right. Every forty-five seconds or so.

Over the twenty minutes that I wait, his replies escalate from "of course you'll be all right", through "will you stop worrying! You'll be all right!", reaching "look, I'm not going to tell you again. It'll be fine" and finally "will you just sit there and shut it!" - which is when I'm called in.

Look - I know it's cheap having a go at dentists. But honestly, I've never had a problem in the past.

He calls it a 'descale' but it feels like a drill. He starts on the delicate bits against my gums and I'm astonished at the speed at which he seems to develop an advanced form of Parkinson's. Three minutes later and I'm out of there, a mouthful of blood, sandpapering the tip of my tongue along the back of my bottom teeth.

"Now. Can we book you in for six month's time?" asks the receptionist sweetly, charging me fourteen quid.

"Great. Thanks."

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

There was a dead starling on the gravel path in the back garden. I think it was a starling – I’m not much good at ornithology.

Even at my age this seems like something your dad should deal with. But seeing that he lives in Essex, it seemed unlikely that he’d notice it and take action.

In the end, I went out to Shed #1 for a spade. I carefully scooped it up, for some reason trying to give it as much dignity as possible, but its leg fell off and then I dropped it altogether so by the time I laid it to rest in the back field it was in a bit of a sorry state.

According to the news, they have found a new tenth planet. I’m sure I would have been thrilled about this as a kid, but as far as I recall, they’ve thought they’ve found tenth planets before several times. Plus, it seems unlikely that it will be full of exciting alien civilisations from 50’s sci fi.

They have already given it a name: ‘Sedna’. It strikes me that the cash-strapped world of space exploration has missed a trick here. ‘Planet Nike’ or even ‘McSedna’ would have been ok by me, and would have paid for a few more Beagles.

Monday, March 15, 2004

I had to throw away three lemons yesterday. They were soggy, skulking in the bottom of the fridge. This is all down to the LTLP’s refusal to think ahead and make proper plans as to what we will eat/drink for the rest of the week. When I shop it is far more organised.

I log on to The lemons retailed at a value of £0.17 each, making a net loss of £0.51. This is unacceptable.

I am grumpy as Big A goes back to work today. It’s the end of an era, and means the end of our weekly games of Risk. Me and Short Tony turning up like kids, sticking the kettle on, checking out the scar on his leg and then settling down for four-hour strategy games – they were great times. Great times.

Just the three of us. It was like Last of the Summer Wine, although to be fair we’re a lot younger, nobody got pushed down a hill in a bathtub and there were generally more laughs.

It’s like the end of the school holidays.

This gives me one less excuse to avoid getting in new work.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

I've missed Friday nights in London.

I've not had a social life for so long, I forget how to talk to people. It’s noisy and there are women in there. I try to remember how to be charming and articulate, and I don’t do very well.

I meet two girls that are organising a bingo evening for work, in a sort of post-ironic way. Somebody has convinced them that all Mecca bingo halls face East.

If you use a sincere enough face, people will believe anything. Clearly, given one minute’s thought, it is just not credible that all Mecca bingo halls face East. For a start, it would make finding sites well nigh impossible, given that most of them are conversions of old cinemas.

I once convinced the LTLP that, with regards to James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5, the ‘DB’ stood for ‘Dog’s Bollocks’.

We move on from the Enterprise to a restaurant. Service is good, and we dine alfresco, picking bits of lamb, onion and chilli from the pitta and soaking up the atmosphere of the petrol station.

On to a club in Camberwell. We walk in. It is not as expected. It's like a school disco. Note: not 'School Disco' but 'a school disco'. We stand at the side and peer across the dancefloor forlornly. Unlucky friend is waiting for a text from last week's hot prospect. It doesn't arrive. Retire to bed via a for-some-reason-still-open pub.

Woken by a ferocious argument in the street about jerk chicken. “You gonna take the chicken?!?” “You want the jerk chicken?!?” "Well fuck you then!" etc. Breakfast in a caff, bus, train and drive home.

I've missed Friday nights in London.

Friday, March 12, 2004

I am greatly excited by this new "dogging" craze sweeping the nation.

According to the paper, every third person in the UK is likely to be secretly engaging in dogging practices. They're everywhere, these doggers. I stay alert as I walk to the village shop, to see if I can spot any in the undergrowth.

I rate the chances of getting the LTLP involved as next to zero. She's not naturally outgoing and, even after many years of sharing and honesty, I'd still struggle to work "fancy driving down the park and getting drilled by three complete strangers?" into the breakfast conversation.

We'd also need to upgrade the Beetle to something a bit more practical, like the 4x4 that Woody's just invested in. The pervert!!! This is obviously why so many people drive cars that are clearly too big for their legitimate needs.

The real thrill, however, has to be the near-certainty of running into a celebrity. It seems obvious that the public toilet/Clapham Common thing is now so much old hat - probably wouldn't even make the papers. Dogging is the new cry for help! George Michael must feel terribly old-fashioned even in his new found philanthropy.

Friday morning = 'Rubbadubbers' = the best thing on TV, although this week's episode wasn't as good as the one set on the moon. Really, really wish I had under fives so I could tune in and not feel sad and pathetic.

Off to London. We'll see if anybody tells me: "I had that Stan Collymore in the back of my cab, once".

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Every other random blog I click on appears to be a 'Blog for Bush' site. Where have they all come from?!?

Initially I was quite excited by this, as I quite like her early stuff, particularly 'Babooshka'.

A typical entry might go:

March 9th
A _letter_ in the West Oklahoma Express Mail blows the lid on the extent traitor Kerry negotiated with Viet Cong as recently as 1994, grandstanding with the enemy as more American families were being blown apart by... (etc).

This will be followed by a comment forum with entries like:

"Yeah! What you wont see on the LIBERAL MEDIA is fag ass kerry 1987 voted against bill that would have stopped monkeys SODOMISING american kids and this man claims to stand for justice it makes you laugh if it wasnt so sick."

?!?! As a normal, relaxed, laid back bloke, I find the whole phenomenon just really odd. There's clearly a massive cultural gulf here between the countries.

That is, American morons are interested in politics, whereas British morons are just interested in football and lager and programmes presented by Steve Penk.

I can't work out what I prefer. These bush blogs are quite cute, in a sort of student-politics-bless-them-it's-nice-that-they-get-involved-roll-your-eyes sort of way. I just don't get people that are so utterly convinced they're right and so utterly convinced the other fellow is the Antichrist. This goes for any blogs for Kerry sites as well, if they exist, before Bush fans start ganging up with the dog owning extremists.

Whereas you do wish that British morons would at least take more of an interest. If I get time, I might set up an equivalent over here: 'Bloggers for Charles Kennedy'. I need to think of a better name.

I know quite a lot about foreign policy, through my regular games of Risk, and will investigate further this afternoon, having a long session arranged with Short Tony and Big A.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Crisis of confidence yesterday. Have I done/am I doing the right thing?!? Where is my life going?!? Etc etc. So the LTLP suggests we sit down, relax and watch 'Cats and Dogs', which is described by The Guardian as a 'decent family comedy'.

True, perhaps, if you happen to be the Mong family from Basildon. I stare at the screen in bewilderment and black depression, as the dogs frolic around the screen with their amusing and wacky antics. I literally, yes literally, hold my head in my hands as they speak to each other using that 'animate the mouth' computer technique that they developed a couple of years back and then proceeded to use in every other sodding TV commercial for everything from booze to financial services. I smile when the mice are introduced. Perhaps I am more of a mouse person.

Every single ad in the breaks features either a cat or a dog. Clearly the media buyers worked overtime to come up with that idea - people watching the film are likely to be cat or dog lovers and therefore... etc etc.

I have nothing personally against dogs. Apart from two things:

They are unable to control their bowels;
They give me asthma.

I realise that there is a risk in posting this. That is, everyone that ever makes a mild criticism of our doggie friends, ends up with their personal details in a long file entitled 'nazi dog haters - eliminate' in some nutter's shrine, who then proceeds to write abusive letters to them, send anthrax etc. Well I don't have anything against dogs, as long as they keep themselves to themselves and don't crap on the footpath.

I have nothing personally against cats, either. Apart from two things:

The bowel problem, as before, although admittedly not as bad;
They give the LTLP asthma.

Mice are OK. I'm easy with mice.

Friday, March 05, 2004

The cess pit emptying man has just left.

I have great respect for the cess pit emptying man. In our frightfully civilised and advanced Western civilization, the role of cess pit emptying man ranks right near the end of any list they may give you at the careers advice centre. However, he is always cheerful, jokey and smiling, which I guess you have to be if you spend your day playing around in other peoples' ordure. He empties the cess pit, using his big pipe. I give him a cheque, but can't find my guarantee card.

"Don't worry," he says. "I can always bring this back."

The LTLP's hair is completely back to normal. Our emergency dyeing was a tremendous success.

And I have been listening to 'Punchbag' by The Bees. It really is rather good. Perhaps they have a really really good marketing person in cahoots with Amazon.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

The Covent Garden Soup Company still haven't replied to my email complaining about their exploding soup. A wave of old gittishness engulfs me. Those fat cats pretending to be all cottage-industryey whilst they gorge themselves on the profits of their range of unreliable potage products.

Well I'm not buying their stuff again and may well phone personally to complain. And then they'll be sorry.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

TV is so full of inverted snobbery that it’s quite nice to sit down to Midsomer Murders, which is as middle class as you can get. So on Sunday night we veg in front of John Nettles, fresh from the same plastic surgeon as Kryten from ‘Red Dwarf’.

The plots are usually the same. Somebody is murdered in unusual circumstances, and their body is found by a man walking a dog. Later, somebody else will be wasted, invariably at a ghastly-looking ‘village event’, right in front of Nettles and his wife.

Everybody involved lives in a nice cottage. Several will be suspiciously rude and uncooperative with the police, for no reason whatsoever. Others will cast aspersions on the ‘locals’. These occasional characters, young, scruffy and often riding motorbikes, are not specifically referred to as ‘pikeys’ by the script, but the suspicion is that they are of vaguely gypsy origin and/or a threat to The World As Daily Mail Readers Know It.

Of course, these youngsters didn’t do it – far too obvious – although as a subplot they may well have been engaging in a little petty ne’er-do-wellism/secret good acts/banging the local landowner’s daughter etc. Rather, a fact comes to light involving an outrageous coincidence, Nettles’s wife’s interest in local history and some questionable leaps of logic, that leaves you cursing your naivety in bothering trying to work it out beforehand.

Of course it was the elderly local church historian spinster who’d killed the village rugby team with her bare hands, and Nettles regretfully arrests her after thwarting some mortal danger to his own family.

Cullie’s got a nice arse, but she’s so WET – you just... couldn’t.

This week it was all focused on witchcraft. What was all that about then?!?

Monday, March 01, 2004

The LTLP is waiting for me on my return from the market.

"I. Am. Really. Pissed. Off."

I close the car door warily. This is not an encouraging phrase to hear, first thing on a Saturday and, more to the point, immediately after a visit to the hairdressers. Her hat is pulled down over her ears. We enter the house together.

"She. Has. Fucking. Ruined. It."

I don't know what to say. My mind races. On a purely selfish level, I am pissed off that the weekend looks like not being a fun one for me. Like a chess grandmaster, I try to work several moves in advance - is there any, any way that her getting a bad haircut could possibly be twisted to eventually become MY FAULT? I keep my face utterly neutral as I think, but I consider myself safe. I can't be blamed for this.

I am also a bit weary at the drama-queen nature, as I know it's not as bad as all that.

She removes her hat. It is as bad as all that. The highlights leap out from her haid with no degree of subtlety, and don't quite meet in the middle, so she already has quarter-inch roots. She looks like a thirteen year old who's been trying to doll herself up with her mum's hair dye, in advance of going into King's Lynn in order to hang around the shops with her kid.


"Ummmm. You're right. It's disastrous." What more could I say?

Later, we go into Lynn to buy hair dye. She keeps her hat on.