Friday, March 31, 2006

More Hotels

I have been away in the principalities for a couple of days. Well, only one of them because it would have been rather nonsensical to say "I have been away in the principality" as that would have given the erroneous impression that I was referring to my own one and I'm a long way off that yet having made only £40 last week.

Wales. It's very nice and I go there often as it's only half an hour down the road. Admittedly it was of a bit of an on-spec decision to go and I hadn't made arrangements about where to stay and as I set off some time after sundown, the first stop ended up as the Oswestry branch of that fine British institution, Travelodge. Unable to take advantage of their noble scheme that allows you to have a room for £10 if you book a month in advance, I was forced to part with £46 for a night of unassailed luxury. Do all Travelodge receptions smell strongly of gin after 10pm? I switched on the telly ready to tune into Quizmania but nothing worked. Change rooms. The worst thing about Travelodge is that whereas every other craphole in the land gives you a free breakfast , they don't. Why not? I couldn't even wangle a discount off the Little Chef next door.

Where to next? I like Llangollen. It's in hills so the mobile doesn't work and it's nice and compact with plenty of cafes, guesthouses and stuff. It even has a taxidermist who specialises in roadkill. I could have earned myself a few bob by hoicking up the freshly dead badger on the road in but never thought. I must keep my wits about me next time and replenish the supply of plastic sacks in the boot. I usually stay at the "World Famous" Britannia Inn at the bottom of the Horseshoe Pass but it's £65 a night and the food's a bit overpriced (although Anne the landlady and the rest of the staff are great. And that even goes for the world's most morose barman, who I think is called Derek, from Essex).

This time I thought I'd try the Abbey Grange Hotel, just a couple of hundred yards back down the road into town. I've tried to get in there before, attracted by the sign outside promising £17.50 per night but it's always been full. Result! They have a room. The receptionist even asked if I'd like to see it before booking in which I must say was a surprise. I was a bit taken aback by the room though.

"How much?" I asked, having been tricked by cheap signs before. Most recently here


"Really? You're on."

Double four poster bed; dressing table big enough for the laptop; two decent chairs; a telly that worked and had a decent picture; clock radio; two bedside lamps and a proper bathroom. Usual tea and coffee stuff AND a china teapot. There was even a big coffee table and one of those slatty things you put your case on. A pot of pot-pourri was a nice touch and there was a shelf by the door on which you could leave your keys and other pocket crap. Outside on the landing was an ironing board and Kirby press (they're disappearing fast, get one while you can) and a huge dresser laden with blue and white that would have had Sharon salivating wildly. The bathroom was decent if a bit 70s. And, in even starker contrast to the world's worst hotel (The White Swan in Barton-upon-Humber), it was spotless. The carpet looked as though it had been laid earlier that morning and there wasn't a speck of dust anywhere, not even on top of the wardrobe or the curtain rail. Well, ok on one picture frame and one rail of the four-poster. It even had a window. Don't get me wrong, I don't make it my habit to do this but any opportunity to rub the world's worst hotel's (The White Swan in Barton-upon-Humber) nose in it will henceforth be taken.

They did a fine pint of Marstons in the bar, too. And the pork chop I had for my dinner was the size of a T-bone. The background music was nice and eclectic, too. It's the first time I've heard Free and Florence Foster-Jenkins on the same tape. Two nights in this fine establishment, complete with two huge dinners, several pints of good ale and sandwiches at lunch came to less than £80, which more than made up for the occasional rumble from some bar-type equipment directly below my room. I will certainly add this to my list of favoured bolt-holes for when the pressures of home life (and PMT driven bits of loose fitting) take their occasional toll. I even got some bloody work done.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Blatant Plug

Buy this book.

Path of the Dead

It's written by Caroline Benton, hostess of my recent two trips to France and it is her first book. It's published on the 30th March but you can order it now. Right now. Caroline is a very nice lady and will thank you greatly for your interest.

End of blatant plug. Except for over in the sidebar.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Teenager Etiquette, part the third.

Stepdaughter is now 17. She is embarking on life with a lust that certainly shames me. To a degree I'm envious; she's off on three holidays this summer and has got plans for her gap year from a university she hasn't even qualified for yet. She gets £30 a week just for turning up at college. If she does well, which she often does, she gets a bonus. My, how things have changed. At 17 I was still doing a paper round for £2.40 a week, just enough to finance my burgeoning tobacco habit.

At 17 in 1978, my social life consisted of cricket in the summer (drinking); hanging with my mates' band (drinking and smoking) and er...drinking and smoking, usually in The Swan in Tufton Street, Ashford's premier under-age drinking establishment (a status , I do believe, still maintained to this day), positioned immediately across the road from the police station. I had several "never again" moments and one or two "how did I get home" ones. Typical rites of passage stuff. Falling off your moped outside your front gate at midnight and being scraped off the bathroom floor and put to bed by your dad (oh...the emotional pain of the realisation over breakfast the next morning that, because you woke up in pyjamas and you were incapable of even blinking when you got home, your dad must have got you ready for bed. And that involved undressing you) being the British equivalent of getting dragged off into the bush by the tribal elders for some ritual cosmetic surgery.

My mum and dad weren't particularly indulgent of my drinking habits. Tolerant certainly but they had to be self-financed and if I got into trouble, be it on my own head "because we can't afford to bail you." As a consequence, I drank in the pub so as to enjoy the experience of getting slowly and comfortably inebriated with my mates. I didn't drink at home and binge drinking was unheard of.

Teenage culture now dictates that alcopops are the order of day before going out and the more vodka they contain the better. Why, I don't understand. The popular argument about vodka being undetectable only holds true when you've only had a couple of glasses and only applies to your breath. When you've had enough to affect even your minor motor functions it doesn't matter what it doesn't taste of; you'll look and sound a tit and you won't fool any doorman.

SD was going to a public party. She had asked if we could get her some booze. She's done it before and shared a glass or two of WKD before going out with her mates. A couple of times she's had a few too many while out but is usually quite cautious. We can't argue for fear of justifiably being called hypocritical but we try and impress the importance of responsible boozing and generally it works. She's 17, looks older and she'd find a way anyway. This time she said she was going to save half for the next time as she's saving up to go away. OK,fairly responsible. What we didn't know was that she polished off a bottle of cheap white wine and half a bottle of Taboo in about an hour. I'd be on my back after that. Not only that, while we were waiting for her mate to turn up, she was busily sharing a large bottle of WKD in the car with her other mate. I thought they were sharing a bottle of water. I dumped them at the venue and they seemed a bit tipsy but capable. The last thing I said was "Please stay out of trouble, I don't want to have to come out and fetch you."

I must start making a list of my stupid pronouncements and instructions. They're like reverse prophecies and probably of value to some kind of paranormal researcher. I had just returned when the phone rang "Can you come and fetch LM please, she's ill." "I've only just got back! Is she pissed?" "Yes." I have to admit, I swore a lot and violently. It was a 20 mile round trip and they were meant to get a taxi back because we were meant to be going to a neighbour's birthday party. I grabbed a bucket, slung it on the back seat and shot off. Via the petrol station because I was on reserve.There was a long queue. Good. And it was pissing down. I would hurry but hell, the rain would sober her up so I wouldn't hurry that much.

She was tipped into the car, mumbled some kind of thanks and got "Your mother's not very pleased. And neither am I. I've just driven 40 miles in the pissing rain for nothing &c..." back. Usually I steer clear of criticising her to her face because, well, she's not my bloodline and it always feels a bit awkward. But I did this time and it felt good. I looked round and she hadn't heard a word because she was slumped sideways in the seatbelt with her head buried in the bucket. Oh for a camera.

Now the embarrassing bit. We got home and I had to manhandle her out of the car while trying to keep the bucket strategically placed. She was in that state where the link between brain and legs stops around the arse and staying vertical wasn't much of a priority. My problem was that I hadn't a clue where to put my hands and now she was starting to puke. I've just about had my fill of pavement pizzas this week but I'm used to it and anyway, this was mainly wine and the water someone had thoughtfully provided her with. She was now gabbling gibberish and lots of it.

I parked her on a wicker chair well away from the soft furnishings although the suitcase that was still there from Friday evening copped the contents of the bucket when she dropped it. Her mother came down and propped her up while I fetched some water. Now we could have fun. Out came the camera and the digital sound recorder I use for my work. She doesn't know this but we have her talking complete and utter bollocks and a picture of her squatting in her bedroom with her head in a bucket. Binge drinking is to be curtailed severely and there will be a renewed familiarity with the Dyson outside of her own bedroom. I dare say my car will soon need washing too.

I believe the very apt phrase currently in common usage in the United of States is, "you are so owned." I feel gleefully triumphant.

One thing though, she was up at 7.30 am and, although she'd forgotten what day it was and thought she was getting up to go to the party, she hasn't exhibited any signs of hangover all day. Cow.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Better off in bed

Sometimes you just know it's all going to go wrong.

Thusday morning Sharon sat up in bed clutching her belly in a rather ominous way. The afternoon was due to be spent driving across country to South Humberside for an evening of musical appreciation and this did not bode well.

Sharon clutching her belly is the nearest we get to a harbinger of doom and woe in this house. Since she was eviscerated three years ago, she is wont to go into sudden and oftentimes violent spasms of pain as the remainder of her large intestine (she doesn't have a small one) attempts to deal with something as benign as a glass of squash or a banana. She's learned to live with it but occasionally she gets "days" and yesterday was one of them. I still find it quite distressing to watch and as a result I now hate bastard cigarettes with a vengeance because they were the cause of all this ruination.

She was determined not to let the side down so we set off. The nearer we got to the Humber Bridge the more apprehensive she became and I was being warned that I would probably be going on my own. Not to worry.

We arrived in Barton-upon-Humber which is a nice little town. A quick ask and we were pointed towards the hotel I'd booked a few days before, The White Swan. Looked OK from the outside. Parked up and I left Sharon in the car while I went to book in because we were then going to have a drive around to find the venue. Booked in. They've got the dates wrong, thought I was staying yesterday. Strange nobody noticed I wasn't there. I was shown up to the room. The place was a building site and only one bar was open, a typical spit and sawdust one where it goes quiet, like in American Werewolf, if you're not a local. Boding increasingly less well.

Arrived at the room on the top floor. Oh dear. Sharon doesn't do stairs. That's not in a Mariah Carey way; her body won't let her tackle too many at any one time and this was about 5 flights of steep ones. Starting to edge off the boding scale now. Next surprise: "There's your shower and toilet, you share it with room 6." "I was told it was an ensuite." "Ah...I've not been here very long." Again, when you've only got a very short bowel, things don't tend to stay inside you very long and have a habit of wanting to exit without much notice from either end. This isn't a regular occurrence, mind. it's just nice to have the facility nearby when required. Boding is now off the scale completely.

Left to my own devices now to dump the case. The room is monumentally small. There's one window - out onto the hall outside, so no natural light. Am I complaining too much? Double bed with two feet of space around three sides. OK, it's only for one night, I'll live with that. But, the bed hasn't been made. In fact, someone's been using it to watch telly from because the pillows are propped up under the only working overhead light. The duvet covers and pillow cases have seen better days and there's a disgustingly manky yellow stain on the sheet. I can't lock the door from the outside because there's a key still in the lock on the inside. Seems like we might have surprised someone.

So, I go downstairs and tell them we'll be back in half an hour and I expect etc and so on. "It's been polished" Has it my arse. The telly's covered in dust and the cups lift the saucers up with them. We get back a bit later from sussing out where the gig is and at least the bed's been changed because the stain has gone. Sharon is shattered and hits the sheets; there's no way she'll be going with me, bless her. I get ready to go out.

Surprisingly, despite all the foreboding, the gig is great. The pub is one of those awful 70s boxes put up on the edge of housing estates so there's somewhere for the local in-breds to have cheap wedding dos but is now primarily for watching football in. But the staff are diamonds and make me feel very welcome. Even the man-mountain in the hi-vis dungarees holding sweary court by the bar bids me a cheery good-bye as he leaves. I go up to the function room, which is about one third full and I settle down for a chat with Barry the guitarist who I haven't seen for a couple of months. For a venue that's off the beaten track a bit they get some good names in. Bert Jansch, Ainsley Lister, the Battlefield Band and Amy Wadge are on the roll so there could be a knowledgeable crowd. There is. The gig is very good indeed and the crowd are rapt and attentive. Despite the music lending itself very well to that kind of 70s air guitary type rug-cutting, we're all of an age where the most we do is sway and tap feet but it doesn't seem to matter.

The late Rory Gallagher is/was one of those great unsung heroes of Britrock. Never commercial through choice, he is nevertheless still lauded and loved by millions. Sinnerboy do the man great credit and for many they are the definitive reminder of a performer who almost uniquely combined great talent with a gentle humility. The landlord, in his 30s, asked me before whether he was dead as he didn't know much about him. I briefed him quickly. During the gig I had to snap him out of a trance during "Million Miles Away" so I could get served."You were right," he calls to me, "I'm converted, they're brilliant!" He later succesfully blagged a free copy of the band's CD. Mark, the promoter, knew all the words and remembered seeing Taste back in the 60s. He was totally blown away, a repeat booking guaranteed. This isn't a tribute in the Abba Gold sense; no wigs and twat dances, this is three guys with a deep love of one man's music who love to play it the way they heard it and the way the fans still hanker after. It's difficult to explain unless you actually saw Rory play live and it's nothing to do with being a creepy uber-fan, either because I'm not. We just happen to think he had all the tunes. Great night guaranteed, every time.

I got a lift back to an open kebab shop and took some grub back to the hotel. Sharon wakes up and says she feels a little better. We eat and I go out to the lav. The swearing, as I encounter a pile of vomit over the khazi and on the floor, is unpleasantly heavy but surprisingly muted, as it is after all 1.15 am.. Not muted enough, I hope, for the permanent occupant of room 6 to hear. As it contained carrots, I guessed it wasn't Sharon's as she hadn't eaten any (I know this traditionally doesn't matter as they always appear anyway) and I'd know my beloved's discharge anywhere. I can only be thankful that the pub only served keg beer as the 6 pints of Old Speckled Hen I would have swallowed on a similar occasion at the Limelight in Crewe would have destroyed my constitution completely rendering me incapable of even staring at the mess. The end of a wonderful day.

The journey home was appalling. We did go to Scunthorpe as I'd wanted to but the weather was vile and Sharon was also nowhere near capable of doing anything other than sit and convulse occasionally, so York was out of the question. What do they call people from Scunthorpe? Please tell me they're Scunts; scant consolation I know for all the crap we had to endure to get there but consolation all the same. The whole length of the westbound M62 between Leeds and Huddersfield was reduced to a crawl because of brain-dead idiots rubbernecking an accident on the eastbound and it took us 5 hours to get home, including my now traditional wrong turn at the Eccles interchange. Just as an encore, we got to within 200 yards of home and the dog poop bag I permanently carry around in my back pocket was called into action as Sharon finally succumbed to her body's protestations. Better out than in, girl.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

On tour

Tomorrow evening we shall be venturing almost fully across the country to the North Lincolnshire town of Barton upon Humber to worship at the twin shrines of St Rock and St Roll. I need some loud because I haven't had a headache for a couple of days now since I started taking the Nytol and my sleep patterns improved. Nytol is pretty low down on the list as far as dangerous narcotics go (the bottle says overdoses are unknown so that will keep Doherty away from my stash) but it appears to work well enough. Last night I was sinking into a comfortable trance when Sharon's toenail brushed against my calf. I awoke with a start thinking I had been burnt by something but immediately went back to my slumbers.

We shall once more be seeing our good friends Sinnerboy perform their honest tribute to Rory Gallagher, a show I never tire of seeing because they are so darned good. My musical tastes are quite conservative when it comes to loud; one can't beat a good work out around a pentatonic scale to get the feet trembling and there was no better exponent than the great Celt. If anybody is around the area of the Carnival Inn tomorrow evening, please say hello. I'm the fat beardy bloke in the check shirt holding a pint and nodding my head. You're allowed to do that at my age.

We will be staying in the town overnight so that will give us the chance to visit some local sights. The Humber Bridge, Immingham refinery and the Humber Estuary will all be on the itinerary if time allows. I am though, definitely hoping to pop my cherry as regards visiting the only town in England whose name contains a full and complete spelling of our finest and most emotive sweary word and is consequently the scourge of every company profanity detector in the English speaking world. I refer of course to Scunthorpe. Boy, what a fun couple of days we're in for!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Fear and loathing in Stoke on Trent

You may have noticed the odd reference scattered about these pages to the city that lies just across the M6 from where I live here in the sub-tropical micro-climate and exotic playground to the stars that is Crewe. Did I say stars? Oh yes indeedy! Indiana Jones and that skinny woman came here on a canal boat last year (they got off it at night and stayed in posh hotels), as does David Suchet, to buy marmalade in Church Minshull (that's Herkooll Pr Pr Prurot, Mum). That Peter Kay came to The Limelight last year as well - in the crowd! And for all the rock and roll types that come to The Limelight, there are plenty of gentlemen down West Street wearing their trousers tucked into their socks and accompanied by hungry Staffordshire Bull Terriers who are just waiting to furnish your every medicinal need.

Yes, that place. Stoke on Trent. A strange place. A place now oddly devoid of identity. More commonly known as "The Potteries" it can't even decide whether it's the five towns renamed by famous local scribbler, Arnold Bennett or the six towns according to the council website. I must add here that neither Bennett nor the Council includes the metropolitan area known as Talke Pits as one of the relevant towns. I know this will disappoint a sometime future relative but he will have to learn to face facts. Back to Stoke. It's a place that used to do things but it's finding it difficult to trade on past glories. It still makes loads of plates but for how long? (Minor furore caused there last year when the company revamping Trentham Gardens decided to source all their crockery from Korea or somewhere because it was cheaper). It also used to mine lots of coal until Maggie shut the pits down. It was the birthplace of our most illustrious footballer, Sir Stanley Matthews. Now it's famous as the birthplace of Robbie Williams. Everybody forgets that such varied luminaries as croaky voiced denizen of those "100 best" shows on channel 5, Nick Hancock; silky haired axeman Slash out of Guns and Roses; wart model Lemmy; chocolate eating Anthea Turner and Captain Smith wot sunk the Titanic were also born there. It's so desperate to become somewhere again that it's even stolen Junction 16 of the M6 from Crewe on the Radio 2 traffic reports. It's already got Junction 15, how many accident blackspots does it need? It's 10 miles from 16, Crewe's only 6. Give us it back, Grade, or I won't pay my licence fee.

In the years immediately before I moved up here I knew Stoke as being near Alton Towers and as such, much too far away to bother about. In earlier life it had a few more sinister connotations. In 1972 I started at secondary school. Within a week I'd experienced things that would stay with me for life.

We had a history teacher. I don't know whether he's still alive so I'll skirt around his name but suffice to say he shared one with our most famous Field Marshal so we called him Monty. That'll do. It's a curious fact that of the myths and legends about secondary school life that had crept out before us meek little pipey voiced toddlers had joined the roll, most concerned razor blades in carbolic and "soap money" (extortion with menaces). None were at all concerned with the reputations of the teachers. We were lambs to the slaughter.

Quite frankly, I don't know where to start. Brooding menace is as good a place as any. Brando as Colonel Kurtz had him bang on, even down to the voice. I didn't even know Brando was a pupil of Ashford Grammar School; maybe he was there when Bob "I'll have a P please, Bob" Holness was there and that Bushey Thicket, who we imagined had been there since the conquest, had introduced him to Stanislavski after one of his lessons on wanking (Snrkklllff. Bushey said wanking fff ff ff. Sshh!).

Monty held court from the front left-hand corner of Room F7 on the first floor. It never changed. The only time he was ever seen out of that room was at assembly. I don't think he was ever given playground duty or indeed anything active; I certainly don't think Kenny Hall (oh how original we were with our nicknames - rhymes with Kenny Ball, yeah?), the deputy head and singularly the biggest wet flannel ever and in charge of such things, would have even dared apportion any part of a duty roster to him. F7, from the very first lesson, would have to be known as "The Temple of Piety and Learning". In it, all thinking would be banned. If you so much as uttered the dread "Sir, I think..." that's as far as you got before "You're not here to think, BOY, you're here to work, learn, know, obey and remember!" was bellowed at dangerous volume straight back in your face.

Many teachers have their own little idiosyncracies; Monty was idiosyncracy. He was beyond eccentric. Every word in his lessons was dictated. Colour of inks was not open to debate and margins had to be exactly one inch wide. Not 15/16ths or 27 mm, one good old imperial inch and drawn in pencil. Every indentation and underline (in red) was ordered verbally. Every now and then books would be checked for continuity and any kind of departure would be punished. Depending on his mood, this could take the form of a simple admonishment and even approach humour; repeated errors would vex him greatly and the boys sitting in G4 were well used to seeing exercise books fluttering into the rose bushes outside their windows.

He had three pet hates: long hair, Manchester United and the village of Hamstreet, 6 miles out of Ashford on the edge of Romney Marsh which he insisted was populated entirely by flat-earthers and people afraid of mirrors. He would even include it in his dictations: "Following the battle, William advanced on London, making sure to give Hamstreet a wide berth." Nobody is quite sure why he hated it with such venom, it was only a small place after all. Didn't even have a proper church. I should know, I lived nearby and I'd been to primary school there. What's more, I had longish hair and sported a Manchester United badge (this was Kent, after all). I should have been cannon fodder and to this day I don't know how I survived without a scratch. I think I became a big girly swot as a means of self-preservation and it must have worked.

He was capable of humour. He once had 3B in fits by repeatedly trying to get Patrick to say the word "Phillistines". Patrick had a giggling fit and it became infectious, causing him to crack up for months after on the command "Phillistines, Bingham". Why Pad cracked is a mystery I'll never solve as he sadly passed away a few years after we left school.

What really marked him out was his sheer brutality. In one of our first lessons with him this was illustrated graphically when he called Nick to the front. Nick was a year older than us as he'd under-achieved the previous year and been held back. This irked Monty. Nick had transgressed in a very minor way but wasn't afraid of answering back although he wasn't a typical disruptive. Asking him to hold his hand out, palm down, Monty produced his Ronson and lit it. Under Nick's hand; 6 inches under. The IRA internees in the H blocks were rioting for less. This was genuine torture and disgustingly, we were enthralled. As the years wore on, I think we were secretly waiting for him to accidentally kill a boy just to see how the school would react. We thought he'd succeeded when, according to legend as I didn't actually see who it was although I was there in "Greg" (what else?) Lake's German class, Tom Barret crashed into the roses outside G4. He hadn't run there, this was gravitational. It turned out that the boy had actually been leaning against a window when it opened. It wasn't even F7, it was the library next door but the deed had finally been done and Monty was now hurling children through the window. Tom, I hasten to add, had the same geographical disadvantages as I as we lived in the same road and had attended the same primary school. All compelling grounds for a test flight.

He had one passion, Stoke City FC. We're not sure why but he was in deep. Sadly, Stoke had won their one major honour, the League Cup, in the spring before we joined the school so we never saw Monty genuinely excited. Watching the results on the teleprinter each Saturday was a must for all history pupils. A good one didn't guarantee leniency the following Monday, you just hoped it would.

This passion even extended to his choice of weapons for corporal punishment. This was the 70's and teachers were still allowed to murder anyone they chose to with near impunity. The poor unfortunate would be called to the front of the class where on arrival, Monty would produce a running shoe, complete with spikes and thump it into the lid of the nearest desk, thereby eliciting a strangled and tearful whimper from the victim; Monty was a master at building suspense. The lad would be asked to bend over in front of the blackboard at which point, knowing he was now out of the victim's line of sight, he would open a drawer in his desk and fetch out a plimsol (sneaker, Jed) and grin to the expectant crowd. Making sure he grabbed the running spike in view of the boy he would raise his arm and then, mid-waft, exchange shoes, bringing the soft-soled plimsol down onto the poor sod's rear in a cloud of chalk dust. For this particular punishment there was only one stroke but depending on the severity of the offence, this could be a tap or the full throttled swipe that would send matey's head into the wall. Either way, the result was the same; a mixture of relief from the boy that he wouldn't have to go to Mrs Fud to get plasters affixed to his expected set of wounds and hilarity from the class as he became aware that he was now wearing the legend "Stoke" across his arse. There was a certain amount of kudos attached, not least because to have received a Stoking, everyone knew that there had been that terrible moment when both the victim and crowd never quite knew whether Monty's inner psychopath would triumph.

There were endless stories of his scant regard for the changing attitudes and indeed, laws, regarding corporal punishment. I met up with a friend and classmate a couple of years ago, who is also a history teacher, who had heard that eventually he just had to go around 1989, for his own sake more than anything, as his fondness for bouncing young heads across desk tops was marking him out as too much of a dinosaur and leaving him and the school increasingly open to prosecution or him a victim of a reprisal. Why it had taken so long, nobody is quite sure. Never was a master so feared and revered. He's the sole reason why many of Ashford's 40, 50 and 60 year-olds have no knowledge of any British history after the end of feudalism.

And an irrational fear of North Staffordshire's largest conurbation.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Very nice people

In amongst the mud and pyrites of retail park warehouses and the bored resignation of sub-continental help desks and rip-off 08700 numbers stand two lodes of genuine 24 carat retail virtue. They have kept alive my faith that there are indeed people out there who are not only after your business but genuinely want to help you, don't want to rip you off and moreover, know what they're talking about. I think they call it old-fashioned service.

If you have read my previous post you will know that I'm juiceless following the death of my laptop's power brick on Saturday morning and that I was to be thrown to the mercy of the people who took over Tiny's (don't laugh) service and warranty operation. This was a matter of some urgency as my whole life and work is tied up on the pooter and this one is Sharon's and she's got a life on here that she needs to access occasionally.

Over the weekend I did some research and found out that the part I need is just about as non-standard as you can get. Time and Tiny had a habit of using non-standard bits to try and tie you in to their warranty agreements, their built-in obsolescence being of a high standard. I never take up these offers as I refuse to be ripped off. More of that later. I called Total Care or, whoever they are, a bit earlier in a hopeful mood because they had been quite decent when they called me a couple of weeks ago. What I didn't realise at that time is that they were just on a fishing expedition for new business as my warranty had completely expired. Today I was passed between two departments who kept giving me each other's 08700 numbers to call and it rapidly became obvious that I wasn't going to be able to get any service unless I took out a new plan. Sod that.

Over the weekend I found a site that looked promising, Laptop-chargers. Today I re-visited them and had a good read. They really do know what they're talking about and the information on there about adaptors and power supplies is extensive and is clearly laid out in a humorous and easy to read style. They provided advice about the one I needed whereas Maplins just laughed at me. I called them today and they were superb. The guy knew the part immediately, talked to me about it, said they were in stock and we had a laugh. That's right, a laugh with a guy who's providing a service. Ever tried that with a call centre in Chennai? They have promised delivery by 1 pm tomorrow for no extra charge. That's service. Here's some more about them. They obviously mean business.

The other company is one that's been around for 20 years or so but that I'd never ever used before for some reason, although I'd always been tempted. It's Richer Sounds, home of pile it high hi-fi bulk buy. A couple of weeks ago and tempted by their ads and that long standing promise to go, I went to aarghh Stoke again and bought my Christmas and birthday present from last year, a Samsung DVD recorder. The staff in there couldn't have been more helpful. They advised on which model was best bangs for my bucks and didn't try and steer me towards the most expensive one, which they pretty much dissed as being a dead cert for a return anyway. Whether they really did know as much as they gave out, I don't know, but they certainly had the confidence and air of people you could trust. What really impressed me though was when the inevitable extended warranty was offered. Not only was it cheap, about £15 a year for three years, if I didn't need to invoke the warranty, I'd get my money back. Eh? You read it correctly; you get your money back. All of it. That's a big company honestly buying your loyalty. And that's cool by me and why I'll be going there again when I've got some money to burn. If only they'd sell laptops.

I received the adaptor at 11 am this morning. That's less than 24 hours start to finish. And they've already replied to the congratulatory email I sent them. It's so easy.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


18 months ago and against all sane reasoning, I purchased a Tiny laptop. It was their almost "top of the range" model but I do occasionally like to push the envelope in my PC related purchasing activities. Nothing urges me on more than trying to prove the doubters wrong.

Despite all warnings to the contrary it has performed wonderfully well. It's lightning fast compared to the heap of crap I used before and the screen's pretty good. I've never had a virus on it despite it being pre-loaded with something that sent me to a Russian site of dubious content the moment I switched it on and the WiFi kicked in. It's 64 bit compliant too which means I bought something that no other software would be able to use until the computer was obselete. The back of the lid has a few bits of Araldite cunningly smeared on it to hold back the cracks and there are two worrying fractures elsewhere on the body. The internals were obviously built to outlast the shell.

Shortly after I got it, Tiny went tits up. As a company they were quite frankly, shite. Their customer service was appalling and it wasn't worth getting in contact with them for anything unless you fancied a huge phone bill with nothing to show for it so it was with little regret that I felt their passing. Two weeks ago, the company that took over their servicing arrangements phoned me to introduce themselves as I was still under guarantee. I couldn't have been more surprised. Their rep was polite, humorous and informative. He asked me if there was anything I needed and I said no and that apart from the cosmetic problems I was satisfied.

I should have kept my mouth shut. 45 years old and I still haven't learnt how not to tempt fate. This morning the battery warning light flashed so I went to push the power lead in thinking it had come loose as it does now and again. No power. Arse. The little pop I'd heard at my feet an hour or so previously while listening to the cricket was my power brick's death rattle. I hadn't even known it was ill so it must have been a particularly sudden demise. I phoned Maplins in aarrgh Stoke and they said "A what? Oh yeah, bring it down." I protested that I thought it was maybe a little bit of an eccentric power adapter being as it's an 8 amp one and has a four pin connector on it but the phone had already been put down. An hour later and I was about to strangle the dangerously mocking assistant as I was exceedingly angry that I had driven to aarrgh Stoke on a totally fruitless mission. Stoke is full of twats. Apologies to anyone from the five towns but you really ought to be thinking more positively about the benefits of eugenics. I will take a chance and phone Tiny's helpful and nice new service people on Monday and wait.

Until such time as I can reactivate my machine I will be largely absent from cyberspace. Attempts to use Sharon's laptop are fraught with misery as it's hellishly slow and she's using it all the time "for work", hence this being posted at this ridiculous time in the morning. Do keep stopping by, feigning interest and posting your ill-meant messages of support. I am already starting to shake with the onset of cold turkey and this pile of tin is hardly PC methadone.


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Search me

I had vowed I'd never do one of these but today I must as I feel I have been somewhat let down.

Satisfying my burgeoning ego, I checked my referrals to see that there was yet another link from here . It appears I am now number one (up from 3 last week) out of 2,344,327 possible choices should you be inclined to type "goat food" into MSN search. Well I'm quite pleased as there are many sites out there devoted to the subject of food for goats and I beat them into the proverbial cocked hat. As any fule kno, goats eat everything and anything, hence the name and nature of the content of this blog but, and here's the point, they do. End of. No need to update your legitmate site on ungulate nutrition because once you've said what they can and cannot eat, your site is dead in the water. Mine, constantly updated with trivial bollocks has stolen a march on the conventional and anodyne. I am justifiably proud.

Having said that, I do feel partly qualified to lecture on the subject of goat food as I once kept a goat and fed it. He was purchased during the 1974 world cup and named Humphrey after the popular Milk Marketing Board advertising of the time. He was an Anglo Nubian and somewhat deranged. In fact were he human, he would probably have been sectioned or at least suffer from Tourettes. His preferred method of greeting was to screech, run up behind you and swing his immodestly sized head into the rear of your knees, thus felling you and leaving you at his mercy. Thankfully, the Anglo Nubian is bereft of horns. His favourite food was ash leaves although I'm not sure they were healthy in the amounts he used to eat. Certainly do not feed your goat daffodils or walnut leaves. Do not go out to Canterbury for the day and forget to check his tether is secure otherwise everything green in your carefully nurtured garden will have disappeared come your return.

I have digressed. I am upset because the devil incarnate of MSN seems to have stolen a march on the great and good at Google. Obviosuly I fill pages and pages of Google Blogsearch but who uses that? Type "goat food" into Google and I'm struggling to get into the top 50. I'm even beaten by a blog called "foodgoat" that doesn't appear to have anything at all about goats in it (it has yielded this site though, which looks good. Cop the welsh rarebit recipe with beer in. Oh yes). In fact, the first reference to this place on Google is my slot on Eatonweb and nobody's used that yet anyway. I'm aggrieved.

Somebody once found me searching google for "dangers of laminator". I was 72nd on the list. The sad git had waded through 71 other sites before choosing one that has nothing to do with laminators or even their dangers. Sadder than "welding" (38th out 122,000) but certainly not as disturbing as "football stars gay pictures notw " or "is gilmour a paedo". By a short margin, my favourite is "How is Sharon doing? Ends up on knees" which merited me a 2nd place out of 31,753 possible references in Blogger. The Sharon bit I can get, but the knees?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I went to the foot of our stairs

Goodness. Earlier today, while wasting valuable time, I had a message from a certain Mr Scurra pointing out an irregularity in my matrimonial arrangements. He suggested that were I to "make an honest woman" of his 5th cousin once removed then we would be related. Hmmm...I went, making sure of the correct length of the ellipsis.

It isn't widely known, but I am available although I'm not sure whether I would be considered a "catch" in either matrimonial or conjugal terms. I do have something of an ongoing arrangement with Sharon, the woman who rents this property, but as I'm sure you'll appreciate, everyone has their price and I am a bit borassic at the moment. I presumed that maybe Mr Scurra was having difficulty gaining entry into the country for one of his distant relatives and that this arrangement would provide some kind of guarantee of security.

I went to inform Sharon that I would possibly be away for a couple of days as I had some things to discuss with a Mr Scurra. She floored me, "Not Vicus, surely? Lives in Basingstoke or somewhere. Keeps on at me saying he's my fifth cousin once removed or something. In fact I owe him an email as he usually shuts up for a bit after I send one. Thanks for reminding me. Worse thing is," she went on "he probably is related. We've got loads of Christmas cards left so no need to make an effort."

The penny slowly dropped and with it my dreams of short term financial relief. I will never be so presumptuous in the future.

Later on, I discovered what is possibly the best website anywhere in the world here and amused myself for several minutes.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

My reluctantly tolerable acquaintance, Marmite

I know it's been a while since this but yesterday I finally got around to completing my task. Having been non-plussed the other day by the plain boiled beetroot and Marmite sandwich, I changed the formula completely in order to give the hitherto evil paste a fair assessment. For the anal, the new combination consisted of Roberts thick white sliced, Baxter's Hand Selected beetroot slices in vinegar, Utterly Butterly and thinly spread Marmite.

Clearly, bringing on the expensive import for the less impressive boiled root was an inspired substitution. As suspected, it did indeed provide the cultered first touch and clinically precise finish to the rather brutish route one clearance offered by the brown sludge. Think Johnny Giles slotting home a Norman Hunter thump upfield or Sachin Tendulkar flicking Lance Klusener off his eyebrows for 6: that initial promise of disappointment or pain turned into a thing of worth. Silk purse, sow's ear scenario.

That being said there is absolutely nothing on this earth that would compel me to eat the stuff unaccompanied. That doesn't mean to say I would like someone to hold my hand while I attempt to eat it again (although if Cameron Diaz finds herself at a loose end, she could pop round and hold a bucket for me, just in case), I just need something to take my mind away from what I'm really eating.

I am worrying myself somewhat though. Although my epicurian preferences have always tended toward the savoury, I find I am becoming ever more receptive towards foods I would never have previously countenanced. For instance, on Friday last, I purchased a small tub of rollmop herrings and on Sunday, I actually enjoyed one of them. My ex-wife used to eat them by the container-load; Sharon on the other hand, insisted I underwent fumigation before I entered the nuptial suite and has indicated that in future, I am not to mention the delicacy within her earshot. This is a woman who spent 18 years living in Norway . I do not wish to provoke her ire because should she be also suffering from pre-menstrual tensions, I shall be forced to retire to Wales for several days to sulk and they don't have newspapers there. I am assured by a medical acquaintance that it is physically impossible for me to be gravid so I am ascribing this phenomenon to nothing more than a burgeoning curiosity.

Sardines? Bugger off.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Ten more things

The success of the previous feature a few days ago has prompted further scurrying, viz:

The static electrical field generated by Dyson vacuum cleaner motors has been proven to increase the generation of pheremones in teenagers. Young adults who vacuum before going out will be statistically more likely to attract the partner of their choice.

In 1991, faced with the knowledge that their oil stocks were already dwindling, Anglo-Dutch oil major Royal Dutch Shell secretly proposed the invasion of Belgium in order to turn the country over to bio-fuel production.

Posing as a US government employee, Apple founder Steve Jobs once “sold” the planet Mars to Microsoft for $27.5bn as an April Fool’s jape. The ruse went undiscovered for 3 months until internal auditors bought in new software.

All the cases investigated by Chief Inspector Barnaby in the UK’s popular Midsummer Murders are based on still open files from the Thames Valley Police force.

Shine an ultra-violet light on “yellow snow” at night and depending on the source, it will cause a small explosion. Cat and fox snow is safe, badger and dog can cause small but spectacularly colourful displays.

In the event of nuclear or chemical attack, two square miles of Milton Keynes city centre can be lowered underground out of harm’s way to form an emergency seat of government.

The west country’s favourite pie treat and gift to the world was actually the invention of Napoleonic army chef Bernard de Pasêtre, captured at Waterloo and exiled to Zennor in 1816. M. de Pasêtre’s crusty delight, already a staple of the enemy troops, became popular among his hosts who quickly named it a Pasêtre pie. Within a few years this became corrupted to the more familiar “pasty”.

During Lent, it is illegal to bray like a donkey in Kings Lynn unless holding a copy of either the King James Bible or the Book of Common Prayer.

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” said astronaut Neil Armstrong as he stepped onto the lunar surface for the first time in 1969. Except he didn’t; the speech was actually recorded in Houston three weeks earlier and broadcast from mission control as it was feared Armstrong’s communication circuit would cut out under the fierce solar glare. Buzz Aldrin had a similar tape readied.

Under new legislation due to become law in 2007, hairdressers and barbers in England and Wales will be obliged to collect a sample of all customers’ hair in order for the Home Office to collate a national DNA database.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

I am momentarily at a loose end.

I enjoy clicking the "next blog" button, you never know what's round the corner. At the moment there seems to be rather a lot of teenage Singaporean girls with western names who write godawfully mawkish 5th form poetry and also have a liking for industrial swearing!!!!!! while taking pictures of fast food meals!!!!! populating the interweb!!!!!!!lols!!!!!!!! I am wondering whether the adherents to this curious sub-culture are the target market for the junk SEO link blogs; the ones that always seem to use that green template.

So in the spirit of experimentation I will offer the following load of toot (all culled from blogs called up as I write) and see if I can break Mr Bravenet's counter thingy:

Make poker room with cosmetic dentistry. Get poker room and texas hold-em in your liposuction and cialis. Get tickets to see live viagra dentist. Helpful vacation with cosmetic surgery in Beijing. Want information on inhaling superbowl XL? Inhale cosmetic wood pellets dentist here. Chopper minibikes buy dentist tickets as well and put in your tankless water heater. I would like to suggest that you take a look at your indiscreet wood pellet bird cage while searching for poker. At that level you ought to be getting about 40000 bird cage casio watch on ebay. Search ebay cosmetic dentist for breast augmentation with wood pellets. Cause nothing to urge in your own fleshpot with Superbowl XL current mortgage rates.

There. That should make me rich.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Lost Vote

I despair, as I find I do with ever increasing frequency nowadays. This time it's with the Liberal Democrats. Again.

I don't nail any kind of political colour to my mast as a rule but probably due to some long held admiration for the underdog I have always had a certain sympathy for the third party. I don't always agree with them but they've seemed fairly innocuous and I often felt I had the upper hand in a polarised political argument because I had the stock "Well, I didn't vote for either of them, so it's all your fault. My round?" killer point holstered, cocked and ready to fire.

If you remember, it won a recent by-election in Dunfirmline despite being in a heap of turmoil following the revelations surrounding Mr Kennedy's lushness and Messrs Oaten and Hughes' private experimentations. It had an air of Captain Scarlet indestructability about it so the time would be ripe therefore, to take advantage of both a government increasingly having to slink off and lick its own wounds while in a sort of uncomfortable stasis as it prepares for the succession and a mildly resurgent Conservative Party still finding its feet and direction under a new leader.

So what do they do in their own leadership election? Elect Mr Hughes, who despite being a bit slippers and cardigan, is still fairly young but with immense experience? Or elect Mr Huhne, who is a dashing young media man full of brash new ideas? No. They elect, by a huge majority, a 64-year-old ex Olympic runner who has pledged to modernise the party and with a name nobody really knows how to pronounce.

Sir Menzies Campbell will be past the current age of retirement come the next general election so quite what the forward-thinking electorate were imagining is beyond me. The only thing most chaps of his age are looking forward to is a sly cheroot behind the compost heap, not leading a political party. So come the next general election in 2009 or 2010, the pumped up Tories under the boy Cameron and Gordon's revitalised troops will be facing the threat of a party more concerned with whether its leader will be able to climb down the steps of the battlebus. Parliament will have to make sure debates aren't scheduled for Thursday as it's pension day and it's that nice Mr Perkins and his dancing poodle do a turn at the Pop-In centre at 2.30 (free slice of Battenberg with your tea as well).

So, in a lone bid to get the party to see some kind of collective sense I will shortly be circulating the utterly fallacious rumour that Ming took monkey glands shortly before the Tokyo Olympics and that he should shamefully resign, leaving Mr Kennedy to reclaim what's rightfully his.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

I Run 'em All

The England is playing the India at cricket. Because I’m not a subscriber to Rupe's BSky Monopovision I have been unable to watch anything but the tiny news highlights. I’ve also missed the wireless transmissions because I have largely still been in bed and India appears to have jumped several time zones towards Western Australia meaning stumps have more or less been drawn before I’m out of the bath. They do seem to be starting awful early. This is very unkind.

Were I not an atheist, I would certainly adhere to the notion that cricket was a gift to mankind from on high; a reward from the creator for good behaviour. As it stands, it serves only as confirmation that if it were indeed a reward to mankind in general then the almighty has a perverse notion of what it means to be a benefactor or indeed, what constitutes being good. (That the United of States has to keep girly rounders sadly supports the cricket=forces for good line. I shall seek a meeting with my nearest theologian to work this one out when time allows).

The England has made a sound start to the series despite suffering its traditional early tour loss of captain and/or vice captain and best bowler. I don’t believe I’m alone in thinking our sportsman are now way too fit for any kind of strenuous activity and that macrobiotic diets, intravenous pilates and being put away in an oxygen tank between tests is not the way forward. When I was playing in the top flight (The Kentish Express Ashford and District Sunday League Division 2), the true measure of your manliness, and therefore competitive prowess, was the number of overs you survived before having to be excused for a few minutes courtesy of the thrashing you’d given yourself the night before, not the size of your Chelsea Tractor. Nowadays, the Mound Stand at Lords echoes not to the sound of leather upon willow as Compton and Edrich caress four after four toward the boundary but the “ping” of snapping tendons every time a team takes the field.

We need a real-life Alf Tupper, the “Tough of the Track”. He would sleep next to his welding bench all week, dine exclusively on fish and chips and go out and break the world mile and/or 1500m record every Saturday. And that after remembering on the start line he’d left his plimsolls at home and had to run in his steel toe caps. Yet despite being a cartoon character, he was credited with almost single-handedly making athletics attractive to the boys of post-war Britain, spawning a legion of Bannisters, Chathaways, Ovetts, Coes and Crams into the bargain. Alf last raced in 1992, you only have to look at the state of British middle distance running since to see the undoubted influence he had. The future Lord Flintoff of Preston should be encouraged further in the correct direction following his laudable No 10 Ashes reception display in September. The boy has promise.

And don’t even start me on helmets. Against spin?