Sunday, 30 March 2008

I was at least expecting a red carpet

Toyota Carina minicabs and custard factories. Last night found us travelling in one on its way to the other. You should be able to work this one out for yourself. If you can't, I'd recommend inhaling a little less deeply in future.

As the precision Japanese engineering motored its way through the hooning rain and jubilant Birmingham City supporters (a rare 3-1 win against an apparently below-par Manchester City), we were treated to the driver's choice in music, the banging choons of Galaxy FM. Niiice.

I bet Brad and Angelina don't have this sort of experience when they get invited to film premieres.

A friend of ours, Chris, has spent much of the last twelve months or so putting together his latest epic. He's written it, produced, it, filmed it and played one of the key roles. All he needed to do was write the theme tune and sing the theme tune, and he'd be the next Dennis Waterman. Or something.

The Custard Factory in question is an arts centre in Digbeth, just outside the city centre. Amongst other spaces, it has a 100-seat cinema that can be hired out to film-makers like Chris, so they can have proper premieres. Yay!

The film itself is, Chris keenly admitted, not the important part of the deal. Just before the screening, he told us the reason he did this was about the "process rather than the product". He puts it this way on his own site:
It's not just a silly movie - it's about getting friends together, having some fun and being kids again. We don't take it too seriously and the premier nights are always a good knees up.
Which, in these cynical and fashion-conscious days, is a very appealing sentiment. The film itself was a hoot. We laughed at the antics on screen, and indeed, no-one took it too seriously. Mission very much accomplished.

An admission to you, dear reader. I used to be a little bit of a thespian but gave it up when the demands of boring normal life meant that learning great big stonking scripts for the stage got a little too much. I miss the buzz of showing off in front of audiences, if I'm honest, and events like last night brought it home to me. Will have to see if Chris has a part for a lardy bloke in his next film.

After the showing, we decamped to the oldest pub in Birmingham, the Old Crown*, which dates back to somewhere between 1450 and 1500. Or just before 3.00pm, if you like.

(*Bloody hell, Wikipedia's doing well from links tonight...)

Saturday, 29 March 2008

This might be....interesting

I've deliberately not mentioned this subject recently, because (a) much of it has been up in the air, and (b) I tend not to write about work-related matters.

But Katie, or rather, the company that employs her, has been undergoing what I think can politely be called 'interesting times' in recent months. Nothing overly wrong with them as such, it's just as Spike Milligan once said, "there's a lot of it about".

So, as a result, the people who used to employ her, as of yesterday, don't. In fact, she's had a week or so of gardening leave, which we will forever more refer to as 'having tremendous lie-ins and then watching Countdown' leave.

But all of this changes soon. You see, Katie and I work in the same industry, sort of. And there were vacancies at my place. So, the people who employ me will, from Monday, also be the people who employ Katie. I should state here that I did nothing other than handing in her CV - I am but a small cog myself and any string-pulling is out of the question. Plus, she got the job on her own merits - not an easy thing to do as they are very picky (I must have slipped in under the radar).

For the sake of our own sanity (and the corporate stability of the organisation in question) we will not be working in the same building. In fact, it's highly unlikely we'll come into too much contact during the course of a normal working day. But it does mean the commute will now be a shared experience. There will be an extra hour and a half in each other's company.

Of course, I'm looking forward to this immensely. We've experienced almost 10 years of marital blitz bliss so why wouldn't I want to spend more time with my wife? There is the nagging doubt at the back of mind that the very reason for our happiness is the time spent away from each other, but I'll file that under H for 'Hoping Katie doesn't read this bit'.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

It might have been quite nice, actually

There are a number of competing theories regarding the one key factor that led to the inexorable rise of the British Empire in the nineteenth century. Technology developed in the Industrial Revolution, the defeat of malaria, a strong navy and a rather casual attitude to native land claims are all contributors.

However, the Full English Breakfast must head up that list. How else would British adventurers of old been able to expand Her Majesty's horizons, were it not for a bellyful of bacon and sausages, washed down with a gallon of tea every morning?

More to the point, if you're waking up in a London hotel with a trip to Harrods and the return journey to Birmingham ahead of you, the F.E.B. is really the only way to go. Katie was with me on this point. Mike made some vague noises about having tried out the hotel gym that morning, but really I could see, deep in his eyes, a longing for carbs and fat. Strike one for the Commonwealth.

There's probably some etiquette about hotel breakfast buffets. About how you shouldn't pile your plate up high with even more dead farmyard animal than is absolutely necessary. And how you really don't need enough fried bread to sink a Dreadnaught.

As the great philosopher Homer once said: "Meh."

Returning to our table with heavily-laden plates, we sought that elusive creature, the hotel breakfast room waiter, for tea, coffee, toast, etc. Because clearly there wasn't going to be sufficient conspicuous consumption without a little help from the staff.

Finding one with a passing knowledge of the English language, we managed through a series of gestures and pictograms to place an order. He came back a few minutes later, with all the charm of the third Reich on manoeuvres, doling out coffee and a brownish liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea (thank you Douglas Adams). Various shades of toast followed, not necessarily delivered with the syncopation of a Busby Berkeley number, I have to say.

"Can we have something for this toast?" we asked, expecting some more of the little glass pots of jam, marmalade and the like. Small glass pots duly followed. Quite a few glass pots, actually. Oh blimey, we've got a lot of pots now, sunshine. Mr Ambassador, you're quite spoiling us.

Enough. With. The. Pots. Already.

"Is it me," asked Mike, "or has he just given us a load of pots containing almost nothing but tomato ketchup and brown sauce?"

Clearly someone had been out to lunch during the "How to identify suitable toppings for toast" lesson. But as I glanced around the room, I got ever so slightly worried. We were surrounded by foreign tourists, after all. A veritable United Nations of languages and accents rang out. What if they all actually thought this was what you're supposed to put on your toast as part of your F.E.B? When in Rome, and all that. After all, we Brits do eat some very odd things.

And in other news - I would just like to say here and now, for the record, that the Dodi and Diana Memorial in Harrods is the new International Benchmark for Tat. It's a photo of Dodi and Di. And people are queuing up to take pictures of it. Taking pictures of pictures. I ask you.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

It's just a flesh wound

Some lessons I have learned. Put together a heartfelt, well-worded post and a couple of people might glance at it. Stick some photos up here and I get loads of comments.

Unfortunately, I am not very good at taking photos. Therefore, I must give credit to the afore-mentioned Mike (he of the Birthday) for the pictures. He is rapidly becoming the de-facto Make Lard History official photographer. Partly this is due to the him being better at taking pictures, but mainly it's because he has a nicer camera, one the size of a helium atom but with quite a few of those pixel thingies crammed into it.

In addition, he can take pictures while we are travelling- belting, in fact - down the M40. I can't, being somewhat engaged with the whole "trying not to crash" thing:

The dodgy sunglasses hide the fact that I'm fast asleep. Best not to worry the passengers, I always think. And for those of you who are interested, that's a small bit of Oxfordshire in the background. Stunning, isn't it?

The M40 becomes the A40 when it comes to London - one of the main arterial routes into the capital. Of course the authorities do all they can to keep it flowing smoothly:

The more sharp-sighted amongst you will notice the yellow sign on the right, which basically means, "For your safety and convenience we're reducing the capacity of this road by 66%. Bet you wish you'd taken the train. Have a nice day."

Suitably ensconced in our hotel, we then set out to grab a bite to eat. I don't know London at all well, especially not this part, so there was a degree of aimless wandering until we found the Offside Bar. A lucky find, as in amongst the photos of Tour de France winners there were home-made burgers of herculean proportions.

Over lunch, Mike's wife Emma, a qualified clinical psychologist and therefore the Official Responsible Adult of the group, started to talk about the latest exciting discoveries in cognitive therapy:

(Sorry Em, couldn't resist).

Back to the hotel to change, then a taxi to the West End. The show was a late matinee 5.15pm start, so we had some time to mooch around. I can mooch for England when the need arises, however I wasn't aware how close the theatre and shopping districts were. Katie and Emma found their latest church:

I believe I've mentioned this before, but I belong firmly to the "Shopping Is Not A Sport" camp. Unfortunately I appear to be pretty much alone in this belief.

Is that the time? Sorry, dear, we've got to get back to the theatre:

The show itself was a work of pure genius. Our seats were pretty much up in the gods, so much so that I was clinging onto the aisle handrail for much of the first act, a rictus of panic painted on my face. But I was soon distracted by all of the silliness. At one point in the second act, in the song "You Won't Succeed.." I think I may have broken something from laughing. If you've seen the show, you'll know.

Leaving the theatre into darkened West End streets, we ended up in an Italian restaurant where I self-consciously ate my spaghetti like a true Anglo-Saxon (knife, fork, cut it into chunks) under the bemused gaze of the Italian family on the next table. Scusi.

Wandering the streets saw us taking a wrong turn, and it wasn't until I saw the signs for Mr Raymond's erm..specialist venue for adult entertainment that I realised we were heading for Soho. Perhaps not. As per all good tabloid journalists, we made our excuses and exited stage left.

Did I mention that we were in the presence of at least one responsible adult? If that was the case, then I'm struggling to explain this:

Three rather drunk people in a lift? Check.
Large wall wide mirror? Check.
Camera? Check.

Taking our photo by reflection seemed like a wise idea. Until, that is, the lift doors opened. Because then we had to deal with a complete stranger (visible over Mike's shoulder) wondering what the three giggly people were getting up to with a camera.

It does seem to be a man thing. Ladies, when faced with a camera, simply smile and enjoy themselves:

Men, however, take a different approach. No matter how grown-up, sophisticated and responsible we may be otherwise, if we get a camera pointed at us we have to behave like arses. Just smiling and being normal is not allowed. We have to act up. It is a law:

There is no hope.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Great Friday

So tomorrow, being a Bank Holiday, means no work for Katie and me. In order to mark this, it is required that we do certain things.

In the morning we're getting in a car with two close friends and belting down the M40 to London. The "belting" is a bit ambitious, I'll admit. It's Easter weekend, after all. We will, without doubt, be stuck behind Polish lorries and people pulling caravans behind Volvos. Probably whilst wearing hats.

The caravan pullers, not us.

When we eventually reach our blessed capital, we'll be parking up at a very nice hotel. And then, in the early evening, we're going to see Spamalot. Because if I'm going to experience silliness, it must be raised to the level of an art form.

The default beer and unhealthy food shall follow.

That is all.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Par. Tay.

My friend Mike - star of stage, screen and IT helpdesk - is now 34. This is worth celebrating. Seriously, it is. I knew him back in the day when his driving style owed quite a bit to Mario Andretti crossed with Ray Charles. Now he's mellowed, we look back on those "let's-get-eight-people-into-a-Ford-Escort" days with a mixture of affection and horror.

It would seem to be the easiest thing in the world to gather up a whole bunch of people to join in these celebrations, get them plied with booze and see what happens. So that, essentially, is what we did, via Jongleurs Comedy Club in Birmingham.

So what do the events of last night have to tell us?

We could have eaten at the club. However, Jongleurs is to fine dining what Hogarths is to comedy, so we instead met up at the Figure of Eight pub on Broad Street. Right in the middle of the critical Wales v France rugby Six Nations Championship decider.

Apparently there are quite a few Welsh people in Birmingham. That must be the city's famed Lace Embroidered Hat Quarter, then.

Suitably replete, we walked the rainy streets to the club:

Live comedy is always a thrill for me. And in smaller venues like this, it's even more fun. Maybe it's the knife-edge nature of the comedy. Perhaps it's down to the intimacy of the proceedings. Or is it just the concern that the comic will pick on those of you at the front of the audience.

Guess where we were sitting?

Anyway. It's fair to say that this featured quite heavily in the evening's proceedings:

And so it goes.

There's always one pillock who'll do the whole "look at me, pretending I'm drinking straight from the pitcher" routine, isn't there?

It is a tradition. The Catalogue Pose shall be struck.

Oh God. The carnage. Don't you just know that at some point, someone's going to say "I lurve you, you're my besht pal..."

And here, gentle reader, we get to see the three stages of inebriation on display. From left to right; hysteria, middle-distance staring, barely-waking coma.

Today, it's fair to say, has been one of quiet reflection.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Wafer thin mint, anyone?

Those of you that have been reading this from the beginning (bless you but really, what are you, suckers for punishment?) will know that the original reason for the blog, and its really quite poor name, was to journal my sponsored weight loss over a three month period last year.

The "eat less walk more" programme was partly successful. Well, the "eat less" bit, anyway. And it's something I've tried to keep going. I've kept the food and drink reasonably modest since then, not at all like the bad old days. So last night was a bit of a trip back in time.

Hogarths is a splendid place. It's a hotel and restaurant in Dorridge, and is gloriously non-corporate. It's called Hogarths because that's the owner's name. Katie and I have been there before, in our "eat anything that's not nailed down" days. Some friends told us they were having a gourmet evening there. Would we like to go?

They emailed us the menu. Five courses, each with matched wine. We deliberated for, ooh, about 0.2 of a second.

I realise that there are a few foodies out there that read this. The following is for you. Those of you not into your food - never mind, there'll probably be something along soon enough about ducks that play lacrosse.

Pressed Worchester pork belly and Savoy cabbage terrine, apple puree, quince dressing
Accompanied by a Chablis, Domaine Laroche 2005

Having been ushered into a dimly-lit dining room, James, the restaurant manager, talked us through each course. I'm not normally a big terrine fan, if I'm honest. It's a small leap from terrine to meatloaf in my opinion. But this was a revelation - the cabbage giving a nice tang to the whole affair. And the wine. I don't go in for these descriptions the wine experts give - you know, "I'm getting limes with an undercut of flint." I tend to find that most wine tastes of, well, wine. But this tasted like very nice wine. The Laroches clearly know their onions. Or grapes.

Pan fried fillet of halibut, scallop, creamed leeks and truffle oil
Accompanied by Les Nuages, Loire Valley, Sauvignon Blanc 2006.

Why doesn't every meal have its own fish course? That way, you can choose whatever you want for your main and not feel like you've missed out. I used to dislike fish, but after a halibut epiphany last year I'm now a fan. And Katie would sell your granny into slavery for scallops. You've been warned.

Gin, pink grapefruit and parsley sorbet, confit lemon


Seared fillet of Cumbrian beef, braised belly of Veal, baby leek and pommery mustard ravioli, royal potato, truffle jus
Accompanied by Maestro Sangiovese by Robin Tedder MW 2003

It was at this point that I was working out how I could get the chef to marry me. I was looking forwards to a mutually-respectful and long-standing relationship based on this dish being prepared on a regular basis. And the wine was like angels crying on my tongue.

Strawberry and milk chocolate truffle cheesecake, strawberry tuille, balsamic syrup
Accompanied by Veuve Clicqout ‘Demi-sec’ Champagne

Oh. So that's what a tuille is. And I can heartily recommend demi-sec champagne, darling. From now on I shall drink nothing else.

Cheese and ruby port.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Yum.

Finishing off the evening over a 12-year-old Dalwhinnie single malt, I reflected over the preceding three hours. There are people who dine like this all the time. Would it get boring?

It's got to be worth finding out.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

And justice for all

Oh my, this is pretty much close to priceless. Coming from the same people who brought you the concept of a motto for Britishness, now the latest idea is a pledge of allegiance for British teenagers.

Christ on a bike.

Try as I might, I'm struggling to envisage the scenario. Picture your typical 17-year-old, poised midway between child and adult. Teetering on the brink of bad ways, tempted by the lure of White Lightning-fuelled mischief. Perhaps a hooded top should be thrown into the mix.

But lo! A finely-crafted phrase, delivered in a faltering voice. Redolent of the ancient bard; words that speak of Britannia. Sentiments that scream freedom. Phrases that form a home. Moist of eye, our subject turns. A Damascene conversion is taking place. A shaft of sunlight falls through the clouds, bathing them in its ethereal glow. In the distance, the familiar refrain of 'Jerusalem' is heard. Our hero, hand on heart, takes their first steps on the path of righteousness. Civility, politeness, and a liking for cricket and warm beer must surely follow.

Hmmm. Maybe we need to suggest some words.

"I pledge allegiance to Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith."

Take a breath. You'll need it. Bless her, but can't we just call her 'Liz'? And it's a good job the Empire's not what it used to be - naming all the countries individually would have been a bit of a pain in the arse back in the 1930s.

"And that Philip fellow. He seems a decent enough chap. Well, entertaining, anyway, with his outbursts about Johnny Foreigner and all that."

"I'm also quite keen on the flag. It's quite a nice design; we've been able to avoid all those tiresome tricolours of the continental Europeans, whilst steering clear of all the dodgy ones the developing countries like. You know, those with the odd animals or funny scripts."

"One nation under God. If that's OK with you. And if it's not, that's fine. One nation under whatever belief system you find most relevant. One nation under the mythical pizza monster in the sky, if that's what floats your boat."

"I pledge to learn the words to the dead parrot sketch off by heart. For it is a classic example of the conflict between verificationism and semantic holism. No, I didn't understand that either. I shall form an orderly queue whenever necessary. Even when I'm by myself. I shall talk about the weather. A lot. The offside rule will be as second nature to me. And I shall snort derisively at anyone referring to the sport in question as 'soccer'."

"I will drive in the middle lane of the motorway, whilst bitching about everyone else that does the same. At any given time, I'll know the value of the last five houses that sold on my road, street or avenue. And I'll repeat this information at dinner parties."

"Morris dancing is, I understand, completely optional."

Monday, 10 March 2008

The flaming obvious

Apparently, and this is some sort of surprise to many, it can get a little bit wet and blustery in Britain in March. So much of a surprise that it makes headlines. The 24-hour news channels have had a field day. So this is what news reporting has come to - essentially telling us, using every medium available, that it's a bit blowy out there at the moment.

What next?

"Bears Reported To Be Apt To Defecate In Heavily Forested Areas"


"Leader Of The Holy Roman Church Discovered Not Only To Be Of The Catholic Persuasion, But Also Rather Fond Of Balconies".

I ask you.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Part of the system

OK. I'll admit it. I do have nerdish tendencies from time to time. (I was going to start this by saying I'd hold my hand up to being a nerd, but us nerds find that whole physical activity thing rather tiresome.)

As a child, my parents encouraged me to read instead of plonking me down in front of the telly. I exhausted the small local lending library within a few years, giving me a head-start in my junior education but leaving me hopelessly ill-equipped in later years when pub quiz questions would turn to TV shows of the 70s.

I could so easily have qualified for the Golden Anorak and fully embraced nerd-dom in my early teens; there was indeed a wargaming society at school, in which I dabbled. I indulged, but did not fully inhale. Eventually, girls (or at least the largely fruitless pursuit thereof), loud music and beer intervened.

But occasionally my inner nerd will come close to the surface. For instance, is it really wrong to want to collect this, for instance? Come on - you get your own solar system at the end of it - who's not going to want one of those? Perfect for those of us with delusions of adequacy.

It's a bit of a shame they didn't use the real world for an astronomical model - an orrery. But I suppose it's one of those words that is very much of its time. They couldn't really have advertised it as "Build Your Own Orrery", which is a shame. They could have your orrery delivered by pantechnicon, perhaps, or by autogyro. And then one could admire its intricacies whilst sat in one's dovecote, a laudanum at one's elbow.

I'm convinced that the first advert for this missed out the word "model", which opened up all sorts of possibilities to me. If you're going to be able to build your own real solar system, then a lot of the editions are just going to be hydrogen atoms and the series is going to stretch on for quite a while. At six quid a pop that might be quite a commitment.

Mind you, perhaps they'd stick to the original 52 edition schedule. The solar system weighs 2.6x10(27) kilogrammes, though, so each edition would come in at something like 5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 tonnes.

We're definitely going to need a bigger letterbox.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Bunker mentality

With the news that Military Intelligence (now there's a contradiction in terms if ever I heard one) studied Hitler's stars during World War 2, to try and second-guess his next move, amazingly I've found a fragment of the Berliner Kurier horoscope pages for Monday 30th April 1945.

"....plenty of opportunities to try out your Russian. Staying in might be a good idea towards the end of the week.

Aries - Ever had one of those days when it seems everyone wants a piece of you? Try and resist if you can, and aim for some 'me-time' instead. Personal space is important today. Love is in the air - are you about to formalise a relationship with a significant other? Now might be the time to commit, before it's too late. However, with Mercury in your fourth house, you might be starting to regret some earlier career choices.

Now is not the time to start any new projects. Unless any of those projects involve being in a ditch. On fire.

International travel is not indicated. Probably for the best, all things being considered.

Taurus - You can't get away from the feeling you're being surrounded......"

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Maybe I'm just being pedantic

Today is Mother's Day. And this is a source of a small amount of irritation to me. Not that I don't think mothers should have a specific day to themselves. Certainly not - it's a splendid idea.

My poor saintly mum has put up with a huge amount over the years. Bringing up brothers 1, 2 and then me can't have been easy. None of us would probably qualify as problem cases (qualify? Is there an exam?) but even so, each of us has, in their own sweet way, been a source of hassle.

So there's nothing wrong in celebrating the day; the card, the present, the meal out. That's not what's irritating me. Not at all.

It's a matter of logic and punctuation.

All the cards, all the banners, they all refer to Mother's Day. Happy Mother's Day. Have a great Mother's Day. It's Mother's Day - let someone else do the running around for once. Put down those kitchen implements, mothers of the world*, today is your day.

Hang on though. We're talking about mothers in the plural. Or at least I think we are, unless this is some strange existentialist plot involving just my mother, which would be cool and odd in equal measure. So let's assume we're talking about more than one mother. And this, we have established, is their day.

So that apostrophe is in the wrong place, surely? Shouldn't it be Mothers' Day - the day of collective mothers? I was always taught that where the possessor was in the plural, the apostrophe came after the "s".

Wait a minute. That apostrophe denotes ownership. Can a day actually belong to any group of people, regardless of their merit? Is it a day of mothers, for mothers, or belonging to mothers?

And this is what irritates me. Mind you, when I start on this sort of tangent, I suspect I might be the irritant, rather than the irritated.

Really, I can go for weeks like this. It's too late for me - move on while you have a chance.

*(OK, mothers of the UK, Ireland and Nigeria. Mothers elsewhere have their Day on other dates. But my point still stands).


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