Sunday, 30 December 2007

Isn't it ironic?

Don't you think?

No, not rain on your wedding day. Actually, that's probably not all that ironic unless you happen to be a climatologist who's marrying a meteorologist.

No, consider the irony of someone living in the UK's second largest city, sharing space with over a million other living, breathing and (occasionally) noisy people. He needs some rest and relaxation, so goes to a small Welsh coastal village with a population of a few hundred souls.

He fails to get any sleep. At all. For three straight nights, including the one before he comes home. Making the 220-mile drive home something that will boost Red Bull share prices well into the New Year.

That someone was me, by the way. Everyone, repeat after me: "Welsh cottages at the end of a coastal rift valley may experience some considerable wind noise in December, more so than your double-glazed semi in the suburbs."

Despite that, we had a great time. Some highlights:

  • My predictions regarding Christmas Day were a little off the mark. Itunes issues meant that the Phil Spector backing track went awry - we had to have a Rat Pack Christmas instead. Katie came down with flu and although we had Christmas dinner out, she couldn't taste it at all. "But the goose felt nice as I was chewing it," she said later.
  • Activity levels, partly due to Katie's condition but mainly down to our laziness, were lower than a snake's belly. Here's an example:
That's our car, parked in front of "our" cottage. And that's where it stayed for almost a week. Apart from one trip out. To the bottle bank. Shocking, I know.
  • Winter skies like this:

  • Claire, who works at the Cambrian Inn, and her turn of phrase. On asking about the singer and band we'd heard playing old rock and roll standards the night before, she rolled her eyes and referred to him as Elvis Preseli. It's a Wales thing.
  • We didn't manage The Official 2007 Bad Taste Christmas Challenge. Sorry. But we did spend time perfecting our Catalogue Poses. I'm delighted, as I type this, to learn that we're not alone in enjoying this pastime. There's even a Flickr group. I see a theme emerging in the New Year, especially if I run out of subjects to write about.
  • By Thursday Katie had recovered enough to want to eat out again. So energetic was she at pulling off the head of her last crevette that I expected to see it go flying across the restaurant - a little like that sausage on the fork in the opening credits for Grange Hill in the eighties. (I suspect that might be a reference too far for some of you.)
  • If you're ever near Cardiff Gate services on the M4, visit the Burger King there to see the amazing ventriloquist trainee at work. He talks to all the customers, but never moves his mouth. Surely after the 200th time a customer says, "Sorry, didn't get that," he might just begin to get the hint. God knows how lip-readers cope.
  • Katie took over driving us home after Cardiff, as the Red Bull was wearing off. She is a fine and enthusiastic driver. And I should shut up about her one-handed lane changes. (Will that do, dear?)
Right. Off to get some sleep. I've got work tomorrow. To anyone looking in, have a great New Year. See you in the next one.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Just so you know

We must be getting old. Despite getting into bed at a (reasonably) decent hour, we're still well and truly knackered when we awake the following morning.

This is not good.

I haven't written anything truly daft in ages. Although I've had plenty of daft thoughts, I haven't been able to translate them here into anything truly worthy of adding to the Fatboyfat List of Odd Posts.

This, also, is not good. I enjoy writing them. And let's face it, people really don't want to be coming here to hear about Real Life (tm) when there are tales of swimming squirrels to be told.

We could do with a break and a change of scene. So here's how it's going to play out.

Tomorrow morning we are driving down to Wales. We will probably stop at Cardiff Services on the M4 to pay homage to the Burger King. That's a nice vignette for you all, isn't it?

On our arrival in Solva I might have a couple of pints.

The days will be spent wandering around this delightful corner of Pembrokeshire - the bracing air, the sea, the skies clear and blue.

In the evenings I might have a couple of pints.

On Christmas Day itself I shall arise, wraith-like from my slumbers. Putting the Phil Spector Christmas Album through the iPod speakers, we'll set to opening our presents whilst sipping chilled Bucks Fizz. Then to Christmas luncheon - the bird, hopefully with chestnut stuffing and all the traditional trimmings. All washed down by a cheeky young white Burgundy.

I will eat my annual sprout. (Yes, that's 'sprout', singular. One can overdo these things.)

Pudding, mince pies and assorted cheeses may follow, with port. We will scan the TV channels for The Guns of Navarone, or maybe go for a brisk stroll along the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path.

In the evening I may have a couple of pints. Maybe with Laphroaig chasers.

See you all on the 28th. And in the meantime, happy Christmas, Winter Solstice, Hanukkah, Saturnalia, Kwanzaa, Yuletide, etc. Hope it's as good for you as it's shaping up to be for us.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Our Christmas challenge

Did I mention we were going away over the Christmas period?

We haven't really indulged in the usual seasonal activities as a result. We haven't bothered with decorations or even a tree. After all, what's the point if we're not here to enjoy them? And if we have a tree up, Bodie the cat will only try and hump it in our absence. Matt and Kate next door are looking after him while we're away, but expecting them to deal with the aftermath of a cat/tree coupling is a bit too much to ask.

So when Katie asked me the other day if I'd bought her a card, I admitted that I hadn't. "That's OK," she replied, "neither have I. And to be honest, I'll struggle to get hold of a halfway decent one before we go away at the weekend."

This struck me as a little sad. Is this what nine years of marriage leads to?

So we've decided to make it a little interesting. We're going to have a challenge:

The Official 2007 Bad Taste Yuletide Challenge.

Snappy title, yes? The rules are quite simple. We have to find the cheapest, nastiest, godawful Christmas cards we can, and send them to each other. Extra points for any verse that induces the early onset of diabetes. I will be taking pictures if the quality is low enough.

(p.s. I know. It's my 100th post. I don't quite understand how I got here either. If I'd realised then what I realise now, etc.....)

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Stripping the willow

Last night I went to a party to celebrate my cousin's recent marriage. Because, quite frankly, we haven't had enough wedding-related celebration in the last twelve months.

Anyway, Steve has married Meg. They got married in October, on Long Beach Island in the States. This wasn't some extravagance, as that's where Meg is from (the States, not Long Beach Island). And as our funds weren't going to stretch to a second transatlantic trip this year, we waited for the UK leg of the party instead. So last night we had a barn dance and hog roast. I managed to participate in 50% of those activities. Care to hazard a guess?

It's not that I'm a particularly bad dancer. That would be a bit like stating I'm a bad skydiver. It's not something I do often enough to be able to judge. But the problem is, when surrounded by happy dancing partygoers, I'll typically stay welded to my seat and nervously avoid eye-contact. I blame my dad. He once told me that he considered dancing a "criminal waste of drinking time". Once you've got that in your head, it's difficult to overcome.

Which is a bit of a shame, I suppose. I've never been to a barn dance before; this one seemed to have all the traditional English dances, accompanied by a folk band and with a leader calling out the dance moves. Before you ask, there were no cable-knit jumpers involved. It actually looked like fun - people of all ages were up there and you could actually get, well, quite close to your dancing partner. It certainly harked back to a more innocent age, although I'm sure there are probably some deep anthropological meanings to more than a few of the dance moves.

I was delighted to learn from Meg that she'd wanted to have such a quintessentially traditional English evening.

Smashing. Or awesome. Depending on your viewpoint.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

The Santa Worshippers

I was once Santa Claus.

Obviously, not the Santa Claus, merely a Santa Claus. As we all know, the real Santa, Father Christmas, St. Nick, etc, is a kindly old Laplander with a booming laugh and a serious work ethic around this time of year.

It was this heavy diary commitment that meant the real chap was unavailable several Christmases ago, on the occasion of my employer's charitable foundation presentation evening. The foundation makes awards to the types of organisations that don't normally get recognised for funding, but for whom a few hundred pounds should make a real difference. Every so often, there's a presentation evening when the cheques get handed out, and in the event of this happening in December, Santa shows up to do some ho-ho-hoing and to dole out presents. Invariably, some of the charities will be for kids so it all goes down well with the audience.

Anyway, the real Santa was unable to make it in 2005, something to do with being a little behind with the performance reviews for the elves. Someone, however, donated a red suit, hat, false beard, etc. At this point in time, my body shape kind of fitted the template a little. And I've always been a little too keen to volunteer for things. So I got Santa'd up.

As it happens, it was great - I strode in, sack of goodies on my back and generally channelling Brian Blessed. This will sound a little schmaltzy, but the look on the young kids' faces was wonderful - delight, mixed with unshakeable belief. It was Miracle on 34th Street all over for me, and ever so slightly humbling.

Last year I was away on the night itself, so a colleague stepped in. Tom is a good few stones lighter than me and is quite possibly the poshest man in Christendom. But he stepped up to the mark, dressed in the (somewhat looser) costume and made his way into the room, sack of goodies over his shoulder.

Perhaps the organisers should have checked to see whether any kids were going to be there that year.

Tom found himself surrounded by somewhat bewildered 50- and 60-year olds, wondering quite why a skinny chap, with a cut-glass accent and wearing what looked like a red ridge tent, was trying to push boxes of chocolates on them.

Timing. That's the key.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Oh for crying out loud.

Inside I am crying. Crying hot, bitter tears. Tears of envy, tears of loss.

I was not, as you'll have guessed, at the O2 Arena in London last night. I did not see the revelation. I have not experienced the miracle first-hand.

I mean, will you just look at this review? The writer's even coined a new word - 'heaviosity'. And look at how he's described 'Kashmir'. If that doesn't put shivers up the back of your neck, check for a pulse. You might in fact be clinically dead.

Or a Depeche Mode fan. Which, come to think of it, may not be all that different from being dead, but only with slightly worse clothing.

I'm well aware that bands reuniting and going back on tour has been very much the thing this year. I've even experienced one of them myself when I saw Genesis in July. It was great - but then again I had seen them live several times before.

I'll make you all a promise. This relatively sophisticated, jaded and boring old bugger will immediately, and without notice, take on the appearance and demeanour of an excited schoolboy. I may even hop from foot to foot. All that has to happen is for Led Zep to announce tour dates.

Stranger things have happened.

Monday, 10 December 2007

It's in the woods, it's coming....

With just over two weeks to go, we can safely assume that the annual meat-and-drink-and-falling-asleep fest is on its way. It takes a while for me to get excited about the Christmas period these days. Christmas isn't quite the same when you're an old fart. But I think I'm finally achieving it. Excitement, that is - I think I passed the Old Fart Threshold some years back, just about the time I started to find furniture catalogues vaguely interesting.

I can remember when I was (a lot) younger that I'd get excited about Christmas from about October onwards. Even the shock realisation at about age 8 that Father Christmas was in fact my dad wearing a knitted bobble hat in Birmingham City colours did little to put me off.

There are certain things that signal the onset of Yule. The Christmas adverts used to be a giveaway. Even in my jaded old age, the screening of the first "Holidays are coming" Coke ads in November used to be a highpoint. But now they've replaced the Coke trucks with that travesty of an advert with a dodgy-looking Santa stalking the same woman over a 40 year period. It's just a little creepy, and definitely not the same.

So now I have to make do with this:

Nothing. And I mean, nothing, says "Birth of baby Jesus" better than a CGI gamebird flogging Scotch.

Anyway, we have in the last few days received our first Christmas cards and presents. Look at this!

We had this clock from our local Indian (OK, Bangladeshi) restaurant and a feng shui desk calendar and writing set from the Chinese takeaway. As we approach what is essentially a Christian festival, I'd like to say a quick hurrah to the Muslim and Buddhist purveyors of tasty delights.

I'm not 100% sure what this says about us - we don't get takeout food that often, surely? This may explain why I reached 18 stone earlier this year...

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Party like it's, erm, 2007

I'm not going to lie to you. No, really. You and me, we have this connection, you know. I couldn't look you in the virtual eyes and pass on a deliberate falsehood. I'd feel ashamed and a little dirty, you'd be let down by the experience.

Although on reflection, that wouldn't be the first time anything I've done has prompted that sort of outcome.

Anyway, I'm not going to make out that I looked forwards to yet another corporate Christmas party - with Katie's employer last night - with unbridled enthusiasm. In fact, the bridles were out in force, especially as I was getting ready, fussing with a bow-tie for only the third time this year. Other people cheat and have pre-tied ones. Other people are more sensible, I must conclude.

One of the big problems for me, as invited guest and partner to Katie is that I don't know about 99% of the people there. We see some of her colleagues socially, but that's a small proportion of the total. However, every year I'll meet a whole bunch of other people, many of whom I only see on this one occasion.

I'm great with faces - I have almost complete recall. But names are a bit of a weak point to me. So we traversed the reception last night, Pimm's in hand, with Katie shadowing me and gently whispering "Bernard and Pauline" in my ear like a ministerial aide as we walked up to yet another vaguely-familiar couple. I would then flash a winning smile and go in to greet B & P like lifetime friends, pumping hands and kissing cheeks like the genuine social butterfly.

False and insincere? Perhaps. But I was hugely gratified to see at least one other couple doing exactly the same as we approached them. Excellent.

Some other things I can remember from last night:

  • The organisers deciding to go for something a little more off-the-wall with the food choice. Katie and I liked the sirloin steak in ciabatta accompanied by curly fries, but you could almost detect a palpable "What the f...?" from several hundred diners expecting something more formal. I love reactions like that on a suitably big scale.
  • The bar staff who had no idea how much to charge. Katie bought several sizeable-ticket drinks and came back with a stunned look in her eyes and change from a fiver. This does not happen.
  • A DJ who knew his audience. Dance floor emptying? Lots of people in their 30s and 40s? Righto. Time to put "Welcome to the monkey house" on. Result. And then follow it with "One step beyond." Early eighties alt-ska always does the trick.
  • I actually broke my cummerbund dancing to Madness. Hmmm. How many social classes can I cross in one sentence?
A highpoint was meeting the lovely Verity and her equally lovely sister Melissa. Verity works with Katie. I've ever met anyone called Verity before. "I know all about you," she said. "I've been reading your blog." Oh blimey. I can handle people on other continents ploughing through this, but being up-close-and-personal with someone who's read it is a little...odd. But in a nice way. I was going to call her my blog groupie, but that conjures up all sorts of images of roadies and backstage passes, so I won't. Especially as she'll probably read this. Melissa hasn't experienced the blog, but promises to Facebook me instead. How 21st century am I?

I must have enjoyed proceedings despite myself, as we were still in their company at Oh My God o'clock this morning before I decanted Katie (by then officially 30% composed of Gordon's gin) into a waiting taxi for the journey home.

Rehab, anyone?

Thursday, 6 December 2007

On a steel horse, apparently

I am a sophisticated music fan. The 3,000- odd tunes on my iPod range from the sublime to the cor-blimey. It's therefore fair to say that I have catholic tastes. And that's "small-c catholic". It doesn't mean that I only like Gregorian chant, by the way.

So I'm only slightly ashamed to admit that I used to have the teensiest of soft spots for Bon Jovi. Now, don't get me wrong, here, I wouldn't seek their music out if I had a choice. But they were all over the place in the 80's. To be honest, I really preferred acts that didn't have such a hair product collateral - Led Zep, Motorhead and Deep Purple wouldn't know one end of a L'Oreal can from another. But in the pubs and clubs I went to at the time, you couldn't really get away from New Jersey's finest. I even got persuaded by a friend to see them at Milton Keynes Bowl about twenty years ago. They were actually rather good - a little polished, perhaps, but not offensive.

But I must admit to trying to stifle a little giggle when I saw a full-sized billboard promoting their latest tour. They're playing at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry next year. There's a picture of the band putting on their best mean-and-moody into the camera. There is a lot of leather and accessorising from International House of Horse Brass. At least one of them looks like he'd much rather be having a bit of a sit down with a digestive biscuit and a brew. The passing of time can indeed be a cruel thing.

But it wasn't the band shot that made me nearly steer off the road. It was the tagline, in words three feet high:

"The Lost Highway Leads to Coventry."

Now, I'm sorry. That sort of thing probably makes perfect sense in Montana, the Big Sky Country. Or in places like Nevada, Arizona, Texas, even. I can imagine a Lost Highway winding an epic route through breathtaking scenery. You're on a one-way ticket to Nowhere City. You just don't care. You're a man with a score to settle. The rules of society don't apply to you. It's just you and your ride. On the Lost Highway.

I'm afraid this sort of thing doesn't really translate very well over here. Mind you, I suppose its difficult to give the A444 from Nuneaton to Foleshill the same feel.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Paint your trolley


That's what I was shouting to myself as I drove home this evening. Actually, come to think of it, that's quite a scary image - someone chanting to themselves as they shoot along the A45 between Coventry and Birmingham. It's the sort of thing that would probably qualify you for a Turner Prize these days.

Anyway, the truth is a little more boring. Katie had called me as I pulled out of the car park at work, and asked me to add some fish to the shopping list for my weekly retail experience. Having a bit of a problem with driving whilst writing stuff down (and being too lazy to stop) I resorted to reminding myself verbally as I approached Tesco.

I parked up and played the usual "hunt the trolley" as I made my way through the other parked cars. Miracle of miracle, there was one, on the path, right between two rows of cars. So I pounced, like a cheetah getting on with an antelope. Then I noticed that there was a herd of similar trolleys right by the store, so I left the one little antelope on its own and headed for the entrance instead.


I turned to see my discarded trolley, moving under its own power as a result of my earlier touch, barely missing the front bumper of a parked Zafira, picking up speed and rolling on, about to clatter headlong into a nearby Fiesta.

Ah. Bugger bugger bugger bugger.

Springing back to stop it with a muffled cry of "Whoa!", I patted its handle reassuringly, left it and went to carry on. It was only then that I noticed a rather puzzled looking chap in the Fiesta's passenger seat. He hadn't seen the impending disaster - all he'd seen was a worried man jumping out of the shadows, seemingly to offer solace to a lonely Tesco shopping trolley. There are some things that you just can't explain to strangers. So I didn't bother.

I shouldn't be left out on my own.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Modems roasting on an open fire

Gather round, one and all, and listen to my tale. For I am very old. Not ancient, I'll give you that. There are people with way more summers under their belts than I. However I can remember when there was no such thing as an Internet.

The computer was something with an eery strange green screen that we eleven-year-olds would be banned from touching in Mr Drury's class. Odd, as we were doing Computer Studies at the time. Even when we graduated to individual BBC Micros a year or so later, the whole idea of an International Network of computers, through which you could communicate, share information, and, yes, view images of people with little or no clothing, was an alien concept.

As a result, for many years Christmas shopping meant actually having to go out to the shops. I know, it's an strange concept, a little hard to get your little heads around. You would have to go into crowded stores, with thousands of other desperate people. There would be the crush the disappointment, the tension, the queues.

And the music. Always the music. "I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day". "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time". "Merry Christmas Everybody". The horror.

Some of us still remember Christmas Eve 1989, New Street, Birmingham. We wear our shared experience like a badge of honour, and greet each other to this day like war veterans.

But now it's so different. This afternoon, Katie has performed pretty much all of our annual seasonal shop. She was sat on her sofa not four feet from me. Every few minutes she would call over as she'd crossed another one off the list. I was comfortable and composed, shoeless and relaxed. I was dressed in loose-fitting garments. I could, if I wished, read the latest edition of Top Gear magazine, or peruse from any number of high-quality daytime TV channels.

At one point I even drifted off to the kitchen to prepare some weapons-grade espresso on Kurt the coffee-maker. (You should know that we give names to inanimate objects in our house. For instance, our cars - Henry Honda and Milo the Mini. We fully intend to grow up at some point).

My only contribution to the Christmas shopping so far this year has been the entering of credit card details on several websites. Which, quite frankly, is no massive hardship.

You can keep your DNA mapping or interplanetary space travel - this truly is the pinnacle of civilised Society. Now, if we could just do something about the wrapping...


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