Wednesday, June 30, 2004

  From atop a double-decker

We Londoners are notorious for moaning about public transport, and with today’s tube strike I’m not about to break the mould.

Money? Safety? Working conditions? Sandwich allowances? To be honest, I’m lost on what the tube drivers are striking for today. And suspect many of them may be too.

For anyone unfamiliar with the current state of Trade Unions vs Big Employers in this country today, a quick perusal of any of our papers will reveal characters of Pantomime-esque proportions. Union representatives are usually cockney barrow-boys made good, thugs-in-suits, apparently electing their leader as the one with the thickest neck. Employer representatives are usually aloof ex-Oxbridge twats, whose cold personalities convey impassive explanations of their company’s position.

Stubbornness is the order of the day. So ‘Boooooo!’ and ‘ Ssssssss!’ to the lot of ‘em. Because the losers in any strike are, of course, the General Public. The Common Taxpayer. People Like You And Me.

But I’m not about to get up on my high horse, as today’s strike made me catch a bus. The journey, despite taking three times longer, provided me the rare opportunity to take in some great sights and great people-watching.

After a twenty minute wait for my bus, I leave the fading reddy-pink shopping centre of Elephant & Castle, which I affectionately refer to as the ‘Arse of London’, behind me. Traffic slows approaching Waterloo, but eases beyond the IMAX cinema. As the Thames shimmers beneath the bridge I spot press photographers with their extended lenses, taking shots of the hordes of suited commuters for tonight’s inevitable ‘Travel Hell’ headline piece. The bus rattles past historic Somerset House to the right, cuts across the Strand and meanders up Kingsway past Holborn. It continues through Bloomsbury and the recently regenerated Russell Square before hitting gridlock by Euston. After a quarter-hour sat tight, we’re moving again and soon at Mornington Crescent, from where it’s a only a short drive through Camden with its colourful markets and shops, tramps and goths then eventually, eventually, eventually… Chalk Farm. Hallelujah!

It’s good to travel overground. But I’m not relishing the journey back. And not holding my breath for this latest dispute to be resolved.

Breathe, breathe…

In a shameless bout of self-promotion, I'm also blogging over at London's new Metroblogging site so you can expect a few more dull-but-worthy city posts like this. And in a shameless bout of cross-promotion, my recent blog-sitter Salvadore Vincent is blogging over at Jonny B's site this week. Advertising message ends.
Monday, June 28, 2004

  Knock 'em bandy

After pleasant Sunday evening drinks I detoured on my way home, as so often happens, for a cheeky night cap at the Karaoke. (Previous posts here and here refer)

It was unusually quiet.

In fact, it was relatively deserted.

No ‘Blind’ Bloke. No Trashy Generation Gap Couple. No Monkey Boy, even.

Yet their absence proved a revelation.

Because from among the unfamiliar crowd appeared a disco-dancing old lady, complete with old lady clothes, old lady umbrella and old lady handbag.

Yet in a most un-old ladylike fashion, she mingled among the young men on the dancefloor, knocking and rubbing her arse against theirs.

Frequently, as if this was not undignified enough, she would adopt a bandy-legged Maori-like stance before giving her tush a fierce shake.

After enjoying ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Roxanne’ and ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’, I slipped to the bar for another cheeky pint.

Just as I was passing my change to the barmaid, I felt a substantial weight fall against my back side.

I turned back to find Bandy-Legged Granny slamming into me and my neighbouring patrons. It was clear she’d had one too many Babychams.

Returning to my seat, the obese karaoke compere’s rendition of Cher’s ‘Believe’ was suddenly interrupted by a thunderous crash.

Bandy-Legged Granny had fallen against the fruit machine and knocked herself out.

Concerned punters gathered round and for a few moments things looked pretty bleak. There was no response from Bandy-Legged Granny. Was she concussed? Had she died?

But the chorus of ‘Believe’, which the compere had continued throughout our heroine’s unconsciousness, was enough to bring her round. Within a couple of minutes she was back on her feet. Dazed, maybe, and bruised, probably, but dancing again. And disgracing herself again.

If only we all shared the spirit of Bandy-Legged Granny, the world just might be a better place.
Sunday, June 27, 2004

  Summer is here

There’s still a strong sense of tradition in this historic city of ours, and summer is no exception.

Every couple of years, the England football team crashes out of a major tournament – usually, like this week, on penalties – and the nation’s expectations are foisted instead onto the shoulder’s of our country’s sole tennis hopeful.

The St George’s flags – only just returning as a symbol of simple, good, ol’ fashioned patriotism – were still flying in the West End last night, even if the bunting is wilting a little.

It reminded me how important sport is to this city, as our Olympic Torch concert took place outside Buckingham Palace last night.

As I sit typing this ‘Our Tim’ is stringing out what should given their relative rankings have been a fairly clinical dismissal in his inimitable, painfully drawn out style.

Yet I’ve enormous respect for Henman. For every sportsman labelled ‘naturally gifted’ who rises swiftly through the ranks, there are hundreds who painstakingly adapt, tweak and refine their technique to maximise their potential.

After all, it’s just not in our tradition to win anything without a fight.
Friday, June 25, 2004


Growing up, I was always pretty good with electrical gadgets.

Not unusually so, after all today’s kids today grow up as savvy with the interweb as I was with Sinclair computers and lead-buttoned tape recorders.

So I was very excited when we got our first video recorder back in the 80s, my parents being cautious buyers having waited for Video 2000 and Betamax to fall by the wayside first.

I took to the video recorder like a duck to water. I worked the remote. I knew all the secret features (back then, ‘Fast Forward’ was regarded a feature, and emblazoned as such on the front). And I could time it to record a complex array of programmes across all four channels without so much as flinching.

But, however hard I tried, I could never persuade my parents to get their head round using the video recorder.

I just couldn’t understand how a generation that had become accustomed to old money and weights, a bemusing alphanumeric-dialled washing machine and Esperanto were unable to get to grips with what I though was a relatively straightforward machine.

And so my parents delegated responsibility for recording programmes to me and my sister, along with management of the blank tape library.

Years passed by and I left home. The old video recorder didn’t feel the same without me, and passed away to the big Dixons in the sky, so we bought another.

Then my sis fled the nest. Ma and pa were left to fend for themselves. They struggled for a few years without us. The video recorder gathered dust.

I continued my obsession with electrical gadgets, furnishing my London pad with unnecessary items.

Until, one day watching a four-hour epic film I’d videoed was cut abruptly minutes before the end.

This had never happened before. Yet it happened again, and again, and again.

Each time, I checked only to find I’d cocked it up.

My video timings skills had deserted me. I felt like Samson after a short back and sides.

I had turned thirty years old.

Meantime, whenever I visited my parents, I’d find they’d successfully recorded a mixture of ‘EastEnders’, ‘Today At The Test’ and ‘Midsomer Murders’.

This had never happened before. Yet it was happening continually.

They’d entered their sixties.

So I’m waiting another thirty years before trying anything so adventurous ever again.
Thursday, June 24, 2004

  Bendy like Beckham

I like London's bendy buses.

Although some might suggest my taking a form of public transport known to go up in flames might be tempting fate, I took a bendy bus on my way home last night.

And I liked it.

Through my post-Guinness haze I was impressed by the amount of passengers that got on and off very quickly. I was impressed by how the space coped with varying crowds. I was impressed with the low maintenance but functional design.

I was impressed.

Now, I’m aware that bendy buses have met with mixed opinion, but they strike me as a success.

And too often in this city we don’t acknowledge when things go well.

I remember back in the early 90s how media labelled London’s Canary Wharf development a ‘white elephant’: a grandiose scheme for which there was no demand. Yet the developers remained steadfast, and slowly but surely the tower filled. To the extent that in just over ten years the main tower has since been joined by two others, and Docklands is now recognised as an important centre in its own right.

Of course, this success has gone largely unreported.

So: Bendy buses and Canary Wharf. Tate Modern. Camden Lock. The London Eye. Borough Market. The Millennium Bridge (eventually). And, of course, David Beckham. Among many others. All London success stories, which I applaud.

I salute you all.

Though it feels terribly unEnglish to do so, sometimes it’s just right to blow your own trumpet.
Tuesday, June 22, 2004

  Passport hell

’kin ’ell!

My passport application’s troubling me today.

I can imagine just how difficult it was for Mohammed Al Fayed.

My first hurdle: the application itself is, of course, an unnecessarily complex myriad of instructions, forms, and cross-references between instructions and forms. Frankly, it’s a pain in the arse, and I scratch my head when the first question on my ‘lost passport form’ is ‘passport number’.

Nonetheless, after twenty minutes, off I trundle to the local photobooth.

My second hurdle: the photograph, shows more promise as the new-fangled ‘Photo Me’ booths are quite swish; certainly a cut above the pisspots I remember from the 80s. A soothing female voice guides me through how to spin the stool to an acceptable height, fix my hair, adopt a warm but formal pose, and preview my photograph before printing.

I invariably don’t photograph well, so am pleasantly surprised by the finished prints... until I notice a subtle grey beard has inexplicably appeared. On closer inspection, though, it’s not a goaty at all. Instead, for reasons unknown, I have the words ‘Here we go!’ emblazoned in small reverse type across my chin. Alas, at three pounds fiftypence, it’ll have to do.

So, after another fifteen minutes, off I trundle back to the office.

My third hurdle: the countersignatory, is hampered by the fact that long gone are the days when my mate Volvo, passportless for his French day trip, could simply enlist the emergency help of our local curry-house waiter. So, in the absence of a priest, astronaut or other person of high standing in my immediate vicinity, m’lackey will have to suffice. I relay clear, unambiguous instructions on what he needs to write on the form and the back of my photograph; presenting quite a challenge, being a few steps up from crayons.

Childlike concentration encompasses his small face as he scribbles, his tongue waggling slightly out the side of his mouth as his eyes dart among the mountain of paperwork. Suddenly, like a toddler who’s drawn over the edges in his colouring book, m’lackey raises his head apologetically, before offering the form back.

Upon inspection, m’lackey has in fact signed his name – joined up, n’all – beyond the borders labelled “IMPORTANT – KEEP WITHIN BORDER. Failure to comply with this instruction will invalidate the application.”

I can’t imagine just how easy it was for the Hinduja brothers.

So, after another fifteen minutes, off I trundle back to the post office for another form.

They’ve run out, so advise me to try Camden instead.

’kin ’ell!
Sunday, June 20, 2004

  Return of the unlucky

I’m back! Back!! BACK!!!

OK, so the week didn’t quite pan out as I’d planned it, never making it to France having lost my passport – granted, a result of my own stupidity, rather than any genuine unluckiness.

Worse, I didn’t make it much beyond my flat, owing to a serious bout of what I understand was a ‘summer cold’… ironically, being so knocked out softening the blow of being unable to go abroad.

I’m not saying I had a sad, lonely week, but suffice to say I felt a bit like James Caan in ‘Misery’, but without Kathy Bates to keep me company.

Having said that, there’s worse weeks to be holed up indoors than the opening of ‘Euro 2004’. I also adhered to my self-imposed blogging ban, instead indulging in my backlog of videos, several DVD films, and much reading. And, even during those times I felt most sorry for myself and dipped into some inane daytime TV, I never felt as bad as the participants on ‘Trisha’. I would rather spoon my eyes out than be them. In summary, readers, I emerge enriched from my week: a better man.

Heartfelt thanks to my good friend Salvadore Vincent for doing a sterling job sitting this blog; gratitude to the few of you who left welcoming comments; and MAY ETERNAL SHAME REIGN ON THE REMAINDER OF YOU who were so uncharacteristically quiet during the week.

I’m pleased to say as my energy returned I managed to get out: to watch Thursday’s match, for Friday drinks, and on Saturday beyond the M25 to support my Saxaphone-playing friend’s band at a Kent festival.

It was good to get out of the city, the excitement inducing a spring in my step, and I enjoyed joining my friend’s group for drinks in the mid-afternoon sunshine.

Saxman, as he shall forthwith be known, had forewarned me that the festival’s music was in jeopardy since residents’ complaints (these people literally Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells) had caused the local council’s Environmental Officer to bring forward its license from 10pm to 7pm: a mere two hours after proceedings were due to start.

We made our way to the town bandstand, with the pragmatic approach: “see what happens”.

Proceedings took a turn for the better with the arrival of the town’s Unicyclist. Now I, if I were to dress in ridiculously old-fashioned striped attire, don a spitfire-pilot’s helmet, affix a bubble-blowing machine to a lamp-post, and encourage local children to indulge in pavement-chalking activities, would rightly expect to be arrested or at the very least cautioned on the streets of South London. But with this town’s character such behaviour seemed to be not only tolerated, but encouraged.

(I sat quietly sipping my pint, soaking up the ambience, etc, etc…)

The festival itself was perfectly pleasant: an earnest singer-songwriter and tightly harmonious acoustic guitar group preceding Saxman’s funkadelic band. His concerns over the plug being pulled seemed unnecessary as their set was followed by a 20-strong samba drumming troupe. After perhaps the town’s only ska-band brought the programme to a close, the crowd started disbanding, many of whom had been drinking since the early afternoon.

It by now way beyond the supposed curfew, a rustle suddenly sounded from the tree and our heads turned to see a mysterious silhouette climb an outstretched branch. It was our ‘pied piper’ friend taking to the bandstand roof to perform an impromptu, and let’s face it uncalled for, rendition on his oboe.

It was getting cold, and late. Stopping off for a nightcap at another bar, I just made my last train back to the big smoke.

It’s good to be back.
Friday, June 18, 2004

  And now the end is near...

Just a quick post to sign off and hand back the blog to Unlucky Man. It's been a big responsibility, not unlike looking after a neighbour's pet. Thankfully I didn't have to start a new blog from scratch and hope he won't notice the difference (though when checking his stats his first thought might be "What happened to all the .pl readers?") I’ve enjoyed this week and would fill in again next time he goes on holiday/loses his passport. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading.

The only bit of unfinished business is yesterday’s competition. The standard of entries was overwhelmingly high and it was difficult to choose between them.

Some highlights were:

The Bauxite Saga
Nicoal Kidman
The Dog’s Borax
Limestone Cowboy

In a way you’re all winners, though in another, more actual sense you aren’t, because the winner is harvestbird with:

John Coaltrain

Congratulations and here’s your prize.
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

  Poles Apart

I am becoming increasingly concerned by the large number of cards in my local newsagents’ windows that are written in Polish. Now, most people would suggest that this is just the local immigrant community reaching out to its members, perhaps with news of regular meetings in a local community centre, or offers of house-shares where everyone would be happy eating Eastern European cuisine. Or perhaps they are adverts for prostitutes who only want to have sex with fat, balding men from the old country.

But I believe that it’s something more sinister – a secret Polish organisation that plans to kill us all and take over. The Poles are, of course, leaders in the field of subterfuge and cryptography. Marian Rejewski had cracked the German’s Enigma code before WWII had even started. And how much cleverer could you be than writing your secret messages on 6” x 4” cards and placing them under the very noses of the people you are trying to deceive? This is obviously the perfect way to prepare their members for P-Day.

You might wonder why a nation with as tragic and bloody a history as Poland would want to do such a thing. Why one member of the EU – an organisation initiated in the hope of uniting a war-torn continent in economic prosperity – would be plotting military action against another. Why a nation so patently un-warlike that its response to invading German Panzers was to send in men on horseback would have expansionist designs on our fair land. This, my friend, is how they want you to think.

Like a latter-day Alan Turing, I copied down one of the cards with the intent of running it through an instant translation site on the internet, only to find that my computer keyboard did not have the necessary accents and special characters to do so. Clever, clever...

On the verge of warning the government of the imminent coup, I pointed out one of the cards to a friend of mine, only to be told that they are, in fact, written in Turkish.

Which just goes to show you how sneaky these Poles can be.
Tuesday, June 15, 2004

  Lady Chatterley's Brother

I live in a modern, low-rise block of flats that seems to be full of single professionals such as myself. The service charge is fairly high, but it covers maintenance and re-decoration, cleaning of common areas, window cleaning and gardening. Whenever one of these contracts is up for tender the management company always seems to pick the lowest quote, regardless of any quality threshold. Certainly the cleaning and window cleaning are stretching any definition of the word "adequate" to its natural limit.

The gardens, however, are superb. Really, amazingly superb. OK, the ones at Babylon sound like they were quite good, but I expect they were planted up to a specification, not down to a price. Our gardener does a great job – imaginative, practical planting, regular, thorough maintenance, but most importantly he obviously cares about what he does. He comes twice a month, and because I work from home I often see him, and he clearly puts in the extra effort and takes pride in his work. He’s a friendly chap as well – he always responds to my nods, waves and hellos.

I bet that no one has ever told him he does a good job though. I bet the management company are only interested in how little they can pay him, and I’m sure that none of my neighbours has ever given him a moment’s thought as they hurry past him on the way to their middle ranking office jobs. I bet they look right through this honest artisan who makes his living through toil and sweat, and in the process puts a few grand on the price of their flats.

Yesterday, a glorious sunny day, I decided to change all that. He was outside trimming one of the hedges and I had to walk past him on the way back from the shop. Admiring the neatness of his work, I smiled to him as I passed and said, "Looking good."

Then I froze in horror at what I had done.

You see, he was only wearing a pair of shorts and a pair of boots. He’s a young man, but a few years of outdoor physical labour have left him with a tanned, muscular torso. He was sweating in the afternoon heat. The Calvin Klein band of his underwear was riding up over the top of his shorts. I could see his nipples for Christ’s sake! And now, having nodded, waved and said hello to him on several previous occasions, I had just smiled and said, "Looking good."

I wondered whether I could sell my flat and move in the next fortnight before I would have to face him again.

And then, like a life belt to a man drowning in a sea of embarrassment, he switched off his hedge trimmer and said, "What was that?"

"The gardens", I said with as much emphasis as possible whilst looking and pointing expansively in any direction I could away from his nipples, "are looking good."

"Thank you", he said and resumed his hedge trimming.

Maybe he heard and thoughtfully spared my blushes. Or perhaps he just didn’t fancy me.
Monday, June 14, 2004

  Unlucky man is on holiday (sort of)

What is it exactly with the English and sport?

For years, we’ve excelled at few sports, even those we claim to have invented.

All that changed when we won the Rugby World Cup six months ago, and since then inordinate expectation has been foisted onto the shoulders of all able or even semi-able sportsmen and sportswomen.

Yet it seems we have a finite quota of luck when it comes to sport: just as English cricket is coming good, our rugby goes tits up, and let’s not mention the football.

My finite quota of luck brought me a great week but struck me down with some mysterious bug (French flu, I bet), but I still had my holiday to look forward to. (‘Holiday’ may be too grand a term for only five nights away, but it’s nevertheless my first trip in ages.)

I started packing a mix of summer and autumnal clothes – dating pants included, naturellement – CDs, suncream, books, beach towels, etcetara.

Then I thought I'd better check my Really Important Drawer for my passport. I’d always checked these things a couple of weeks in advance, along with the hordes of paperwork package holidays generate, but this was a ‘Boys Holiday’. Being a meticulous, well organised man, it’d be where it usually is.

But it wasn’t where it Usually Is. Or even where it Sometimes Is. Shit! If things aren’t where they Usually Or Sometimes Are, some big fuck-up must have occurred.

Some big fuck-up had occurred. I upturned every drawer, painstakingly investigated every dark corner, ransacked every Place It Might Even Possibly Be.

Time to phone friends for inspiration: Contingency plan to organise an emergency passport was met with replies “We don’t do that anymore”. Extreme contingency plan to invade Whitehall and, as I understand is customary, set myself alight to grab attention whilst shouting “I’ve got in via Sangratte!” was conceded might get me to France, but deemed risky getting back, not to mention be politically incorrect.

There’s no last-minute twist or happy ending to this story. An extremely big fuck-up had occurred, I suspect of my own doing, my passport a possible victim of over-zealous chucking out I’ve been conducting over the last couple of months. Though gutted, I’d only invested in a cheap flight, and frankly wouldn’t want to inflate the French economy’s coffers at present anyway.

So I’m holidaying at home this week, but taking a proper holiday from the online world.

In this virtual world, I’m delegating responsibilities to others to look after my many affairs whilst away: Pornboy Curtis will be sorting the brown packages that arrive in my post; The Mighty Crumb mowing my lawn and watering my plants; Smacked Face switching my lights on and off and playing house music overnight to ‘make it look like I’m in’; Neil sorting my CD collection by genre, year and alphabet; Clueless Joe in charge of security; Bykersink washing my Jag; Ms Jones coordinating my hectic social diary; Cheekysquirrel replenishing my fridge with milk, bread and cheese; and Paranoid Prom Queen caring for my pet monkey.

But, most exciting of all, a good and trusted (real life) friend shall still be minding this very blog over the next few days.

Not a blogger, but a respected TV writer going by the name of Salvadore Vincent shall be working to the brief of ‘being good, but not too good’.

Be kind, dear readers, as I don’t want to return to find this screen defaced. No wild parties. And I’m also imposing a patronising 10pm curfew on comments, kids.

Of course, in the real world, I’ll be pottering around London, so enjoy yourselves whilst I get my fucking passport sorted.
Sunday, June 13, 2004

  Relatively sober

After the escapades of the previous night, my hopes for a quiet night in were scuppered by a surprise call from our Norfolk Correspondent JB.

“Hi mate, you know you said I could kip over any time I’m in London?” he asked, “I’m on my way to a leaving do. Tonight alright?”

Had I said that? Yes, of course I had. Of course it would be ok. He had keys. Yet I couldn’t quite confront the possibility of waiting up for my pissed-up and curry-bloated mate whilst sober. I’d have to shelve the planned quiet night in.

“No problem” I said, “I’ve got a few things to do, then maybe I could gatecrash your party later on?”

By the time I set off at 9, he was already sounding well on his way. Instructions on how to reach their hostelry were scant, but I know the City quite well.

A ten-minute bus ride, twenty minutes wandering round, several mobile phone calls, and an aborted cab journey later, I conceded I’d been over-optimistic. Hopelessly optimistic. With directions becoming increasingly blurred, we eventually compromised on meeting at a mutually known point.

Arriving at the pub felt like walking onto the set of ‘Night of the Living Dead’, as the party staggered around aimlessly in various stages of inebriation.

I downed a pint, double-fast. Refreshed, I mingled a little with the assembled crowd. Our host ‘Tweed-jacket Zombie’ wobbled over offering outstretched hand: “Godchameetcha. Iym Tom ‘nditz myyy leevin parteee”. As we shook hands, I realised I was stone cold sober. To say ‘catch up’ was required would be an understatement. I felt like our beleaguered Beagle team watching NASA’s Spirit rover touch-down on Mars.

I downed another pint, treble-fast. Wary of the assembled crowd, I updated JB on my latest failed conquest. Suddenly, ‘Delia Smith Zombie’ ambled over like a pissed aunt at a wedding reception. She rudely and presumptuously interrupted our conversation: “Veh interesting” she said, tossing her head “Tell me more.”

I discreetly looked to JB for some reassurance, but he just shrugged his shoulders to deny all knowledge of this woman. So I divulged as little information as possible without seeming rude in the vain hope this might end the conversation. Alas, this didn’t work, and concern grew as my enquirer’s questions became more inquisitive and her manner increasingly flirtatious.

At that moment, ‘Rugby Zombie’ stepped in from the shadows, a large but kind man who had helped me out of trouble before. Alas, far from help he, sensing my discomfort, relished the chance to make a difficult situation worse by winding our over-amorous Delia up even more, to potentially embarrassing levels.

“Which one do you prefer?” he asked, the Game Show host in him pointing at each of us in turn, as he let off a laugh indicating he was enjoying this humiliation just a little bit too much.

Though it's been suggested an older woman might suit me, I'd envisaged someone from the same generation. This wasn’t what I wanted at all. Tension was in the air. It was awful. It was like a ‘Pepsi Challenge’ without dignity. Things could become nasty.

A light breeze passed through the City streets as Delia Zombie considered her choice.

JB and I faced each other square on. Faces squirming, it was clear neither of us wanted to be picked by our over-amorous stalker.

Rugby Zombie milked the situation for all it was worth. “You must choose”, he announced.

Delia Zombie staggered from side to side, pontificating as she guzzled some more white wine.

The silence was deafening. It felt like Russian Roulette. Each second lasted a year. After a long pause, she pointed at me.

Nooooooo! I froze, helpless. My heart sank. This was a nightmare. What would I do to escape her desperate clutches?

Mercifully, the evening was coming to a close. People were dispersing, and air kisses being exchanged. This was my chance. I slipped away from the grasping claws of the woman almost old enough to be my mother.

I escaped. I was not going to let myself be a victim. I joined the blokes now discussing a post-pub curry. Safe, at last. We decided upon a venue, and left to look for a cab.

After a near-alercation with our cab driver, we made the two mile journey to the curry house, which had come on recommendation.

Its near-emptiness didn’t look promising so I inspected the surroundings. Over-bearing décor: Check. Indian scenic pictures: Check. Tropical fish tank: Check. Asian disco fusion music: Check.

My eyes gravitated towards the certificates on the wall. The ‘hygiene’ certificate being photocopied was worrying enough, but moreso the certificate next to it. It wasn’t ‘Restaurant of the Year’, or ‘Employee of the Month’, but awarded to ‘Helping Child Victims of Crime’. I had worrying visions of a coach-load of victimised kids having their hopes for Disneyland dashed as they arrived at the dowdy-looking curry house.

In the event, the meal was fine and, by the end, I was feeling slightly merry, and my companions were at last sobering up.

We departed, and I made it home safely.

I’d escaped the Zombies.
Thursday, June 10, 2004

  Hangover blues

Why are the bestest, bestest evenings always followed by dreadful, dreadful days?

Last night was a fantastic night: Great company. Top music. Plenty of drink.

As always, the following morning’s alcohol audit trail reveals I’d overindulged.

Sometimes, evidence comes in the way of various flashbacks: attempting to hail a passing double-decker bus; being convinced I could speak fluent French; arguing with a cabbie about his refusal to allow my female companion’s kebab, causing me to shout defensively “actually, it’s falafel!”.

We’ve all been there.

Last night, I didn’t think I was particularly pissed. Which, for me, can be the most dangerous type of pissed.

But I so clearly was. On a schoolnight, n’all.

Because today, evidence came in the way of replies to emails I’d not remembered sending when I got home. Stupid emails. Embarrassing emails. Emails I definitely wouldn’t send sober. Emails which, at the time, I thought were great. Emails which, in the cold light of day, are mortifyingly bad.

And that’s before I conduct a post-mortem of things I might have said or done.

So as m’lackey and I ate our fry-up al fresco under the mid-morning sunshine, it dawned on us that our intended ‘breakfast brainstorm’ was descending into exactly that post-mortem.

Why do I let myself get bladdered? I shouldn’t do, but I do do.

I am scum.

An older me should have taken a younger me aside years ago and had a stern few words in a dark corner of a dingy bar. Alas, I must have skipped the lesson on time travel.

Excessive drinking isn’t big or clever.

But it sure as hell is fun.

Cheers to doing it all again tonight.
Tuesday, June 08, 2004

  La promenade gaie de garçons

David Hasselhoff!

Though I’d omitted to mention the hairy-chested beefcake, he’s clearly been touched by someone else’s unlucky hand.

Despite my futile experiment failing miserably, I’m excited.

Very excited.

Because this time next week I, Dorset Boy #1 and Dorset Boy #2 shall be spending a few days on France’s Northern Brittany coast.


I can almost taste the cheap wine and overpowering cheese already.

We’re honoured guests of an old mutual friend of both of my travelling companions - Dorset Boy ‘Trois’, I assume – who’s working at a beach-side campsite.

Beyond that, nobody seems to know exactly where we’re going or what we’re doing.

Which is just fine with me. The best times, after all, are usually those least planned.

Four English boys, with the tip of France at our fingertips.

Nous sommes, nous sommes, nous sommes les jeunes hommes” we’ll sing ‘dans les rues pavées en cailloutis’ just to conform to our Euro 2004-heightened English stereotypes.

Either that, or perhaps learn a couple of obscure Serge Gainsbourg numbers.

Maybe I’ll find my ‘Nicole’. (Even though I’m almost old enough to be her ‘Papa’).

Chanson d’amour, ra ta da da da, chanson, chanson....

Anticipation running unrealistically high, I leaf through my ‘Time Out European Breaks’ guide to locate the page for Dinard airport.

I scan though the wordy bits – yadda, yadda, yadda – and skip straight to their simplified summary with 5-star rating system.

Zut alors!

Out of a potential thirty stars, Dinard scores just eight. Yes, eight. Some of the guide's findings are reproduced here without any permission whatsoever:

“Why go there?” asks the guide, “Because you're old.”

Hmmmm. Bon.

Joke.” it explains, “Because it’s surrounded by beautiful beaches, and is in spitting distance to St-Malo.”

Ahhh. Meilleur.

But the reference to its neighbour might explain the nul points for Art and only two stars for Sights. One Alfred Hitchcock statue, which the guide ridicules for the area’s reputed hatred of everything English, and “That’s it for sights. No, really. That’s all there is.”

Unperturbed, I read on. That's OK, as sights weren't top of my list anyway.

Food and drink? Three stars and two stars respectively. No matter, we’ll be cooking a steak rare on our barbeque and washing it down with some Chablis back at our tente.

Besides, I’m with 'the boys'. We’ll create our own entertainment. Yes, it's a 'jolly boy's outing'. But set against the background of a vibrant, bustling Francophile social scene, oui?

Non. Nightlife: nul points. Even shopping, the last potential saving grace, only scores one star.

And that’s it. That’s the eight stars. All eight.

“Bad news” advises the guide, “It’s expensive, and you’ll likely be the youngest person here by 30 years.”

Or just the first person here for 30 years, I wonder.

By now perturbed, I ring Dorset Boy #1.

“DB#1?” I ask, “Honoured as I am to be joining you, why exactly are we going where we are going?”

“Because it’s a cheap flight and accommodation” he answered, slightly defensively before divulging “but don’t worry, we’re away from the airport town.”

“Oh OK” I reply, coming round to the idea once more, “So where exactly where will we be?”

“To be honest I’m not entirely sure. But we’ll have a great time.”

I trust the Dorset Boys. They’re fantastic company. And I’m sure we will have a great time.

I’m just not holding my breath for my Nicole.
Monday, June 07, 2004

  Killing time

I’m still freaked out by the unintended result of Saturday's post. So thought I’ll subliminally pepper today’s post with some more names, to test whether it was just coincidence, or something more sinister.

I think this sudden heatwave is sending me kinda crazy.

Regular readers will be aware of my own mini-milestone a few weeks ago: my first date in several years after a long termer break-up.

Michael Winner!

The date itself went well and despite lack of promised follow-up (the LYING HUSSY) I was happy to regard it as a successful experiment.

Apart from that, I’ve enjoyed a couple of drunken encounters and obtained some telephone numbers, but strangely not felt compelled to engineer another date.

I realised it was time to take myself into a dark corner of the room and ask myself what I really wanted.

Serious relationship? No way. Too soon. Wanna have some fun.

Meaningless sex? No, no, no. I’m not that shallow. Really, I’m not. No. I'm not.

So where does that leave me, then? A slightly meaningful shag, I guess, would be as good a start as any.


I’d also realised that most of my efforts on the ‘dating agenda’ were, well, forced. This was never my intention, but things happened that way. M’lackey had persuaded me to attend a dating event with him, which was great fun, and subsequently provided me with D#0001. And this encouraged me to register, whilst half cut, on a dating site.

So far, so horribly organised, I thought. Not really me, though. Rely more on ‘real life’, I told myself, and just see what unfolds.

And so I’ve been enjoying myself. Really enjoying myself. Like a teenager. With a disparate bunch of friends and some great new pals too.

But things can hit you when you least expect, as these last few days have proved.

David Dickinson!

As I waited in reception to meet my new financial advisor, a 6-foot vision of loveliness past the window. I wondered to myself whether that could possibly be her. Surely not, I thought, though I do hope so.

It was, and as she took down my particulars I couldn’t help but do likewise. She was lovely. This was no fawning infatuation. I was in awe of her goddess-like wonderousness. We got on as well as you can in a formal meeting situation, and I’m sure she flicked her hair a couple of times which I’m assured unequivocally means she loves me. And when she asked me where I wanted to be in five years time, I resisted the temptation to cheesily respond, "in a mountain shack with you, honey". I instinctively wanted to ask her out for a drink, but my better judgement advised me this would be wholly inappropriate, unprofessional, wrong and potentially highly embarrassing. Instead, we shook hands, and I left.

Fiona Phillips!

Fast forward twenty-four hours and I’m drinking in the company of a more diminutive but similarly attractive girl. We’re chatting and laughing having met only minutes before, and she’s flicking her hair. I’m feeling old social skills locked up in the cupboard many years ago returning to the fore. Magic.

So what do I do? I want to ask for her number. But I don’t. Why? The reason, I tell myself, is because it’s only 5:30pm and despite having downed enough Dutch Courage for an average evening, I can’t possibly face potential rejection in broad daylight. Instead, I literally get my coat, and leave to meet my friends.

John McCririck!

Having bypassed my noble intentions for the afternoon to be a gentle warmup for the evening I, inevitably, find myself flagging by 9. My good friends widely persuaded me to adopt lemonade for an hour, which saw me return to a fit enough state to make it to the end of the evening. But the evening ended in the comparatively subdued surroundings of a Chinatown restaurant, rather than some trashy disco which had been our original intention.

So, now, I’m kicking myself. Forced socialising alone felt like trying too hard, yet I’m squandering chances in everyday life. As I sit scribbling these thoughts on a sun-drenched Primrose Hill, there’s a world of possibilities out there. I’m hereby pledging to make a concerted, two-pronged effort. The rest of my life starts today.


I think this sudden heatwave is sending me kinda crazy.
Saturday, June 05, 2004

  With further apologies...

...I learn that ex-President Reagan has died.

Which makes my already tasteless joke from yesterday's post, completely and utterly inappropriate.


Unlucky timing, I guess.
  With apologies

I’m feeling guilty from having neglected you, dear readers.

Like Ronald Reagan’s rhododendrons, you might well be feeling long forgotten.

I am sorry.

I am scum.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

Because the truth is, I’ve been enjoying a couple of days off. Doing stuff. Random stuff. Real life stuff. Offline, nowhere near a computer.

And I feel enriched for it.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve bonded with my dad watching county cricket, enjoyed a rain-soaked beer festival followed by the obligatory curry with my mates, possibly fallen in love with my new financial advisor, attended a book signing, sunk pints as the sun set by the river, attended a storming gig, yabbered into the early hours with my sister, and benefited from a Saturday morning fry-up.

So I’m allowing myself a few minutes online, to see what’s been happening in my other, virtual world.

Everything’s looking ok, so I can duck back out to the real world again.

I’m off to join this man, before joining my real friends TSF, Volvo and M for a promised evening of debauchery and painting the town red.

Have a great weekend, everyone.
Tuesday, June 01, 2004

  Status quo

After a cultured weekend mix of socialising, an enjoyable PPQBBQ and world premiere comedy, I decided to bring proceedings down a peg or two by calling in on my local’s Sunday Night Karaoke (previous post refers).

As always, it didn’t disappoint.

All the usual suspects were there, including The Trashy Generation-Gap Couple, Monkey Boy and ‘Blind’ Bloke.

‘B’B, you’ll be pleased to read, has honed his act since my last visit. Though only after, just narrowly, overcoming a disastrous start.

As our bespectacled hero took the mike, I sat expectantly on my stool, quietly sipping my pint, soaking up the ambience.

Familiar opening bars sounded, and our man immediately raced through the first verse of his regular song:

I'm too sexy for my love too sexy for my love
Love's going to leave me
I'm too sexy for my shirt too sexy for my shirt
So sexy it hurts
And I'm too sexy for Milan too sexy for Milan
New York and Japan

All this, unfortunately, before the lyric screen’s ‘bouncing ball’ had even begun moving: his cue to start singing.

Such a faux-par would have rattled less able performers. But ‘B’B was far too experienced a professional to let things trouble for him for long.

So at this precise moment where others would lose their nerve, bottle and audience, he did what separates mere amateurs from The Greats like himself.

He improvised.

On the spot, he ad-libbed a rap about his sexy trousers and shoes. Then segwayed into teasing his audience, asking whether anyone had any fags. Before ending with the sign off “Ladies!” and his trademark “Woo-hoo!” but now enhanced with a new catch-phrase, “Yee-hah!”.

It was beautiful. A few seconds before, he’d looked a wittering fool. Now, he was an artist. A contemporary poet. A bit like The Streets, but blind (or at least pretending to be).

He’d clearly left his shirt-removing days behind him. That would have been unnecessary showmanship. He didn’t need to descend to such tawdry flamboyancy. By the second verse, he was already back on track.

‘B’B completed the song. He consistently finished each verse in at least double the required speed, but in roughly the right place. This was a significant improvement on the unpromising start.

Whilst I struggled to contain the joyful wonder his performance had provided me, his departure was met by mild indifference from the rest of the audience. The ungrateful swines.

After this unmatchable early peak, the usual karaoke classics were wheeled out: ‘The Tide Is High’, ‘Tomorrow Never Comes’, ‘My Way’, ‘I Will Survive’ and ‘Hero’. Pure Chav Gold.

It was during the opening panpipes of the Dion favourite (but not mine) ‘My Heart Will Go On’ that things kicked off.

Before our singer had even reached the first nauseous line, a bloke not dissimilar to an older Buster Bloodvessel suddenly lunged for a younger-looking Phil Mitchell. Monkey Boy moved immediately to break up the fight, and was quickly joined by the Pub Bouncer. Had the four of them stood in a line, correctly ordered, they’d have been the spitting image of the first half of Darwin’s ‘Theory of Evolution’ picture.

But they didn’t, so it was just one almighty ugly scramble. A whirlwind vision of Ben Sherman shirts, fake Police sunglasses, and jangly ‘bling bling’.

I didn’t move from my stool, quietly sipping my pint, soaking up the ambience.

It was unclear what had caused this altercation, but normal service was very quickly resumed. Nobody seemed too perturbed. Such behaviour was par for the course at the Karaoke.

Dion’s aberration was restarted and our performer allowed to complete her party piece. Thank fuck.

As the bar neared its obviously illegal late closing, punters began to drift away.

Suddenly, from close by the cigarette machine, a younger-looking Pauline Quirke started furiously screaming and pointing across the emptying saloon at an older-looking Kat Slater.

“Ya can’t ’av ’im!” she hollered, “Cos ’e’s MINE. Ya fackin’ TART!”

“Oh YEAH?” came the reply, “’E dan’t iv’n LIKES ya. Sayz ’e’s LEEV’N ya, ya fackin’ SLUT!”

It was unclear whether this was related to the earlier altercation, but friends quickly surrounded the two wronged women as they moved to lock horns. It was a bit like ‘West Side Story’, but set in Sarf Landan and without any of the talent or melodrama.

Regrettably, the battling slappers were pulled apart before any chance to start hair-pulling. A typhoon of Burberry, FCUK and peroxide blonde against fake tan flashed past as the two groups continued to shout obscenities at one another.

The karaoke DJ resorted to his routine attempt to restore order with the bridge-building qualities of ‘Rockin’ All Over The World’.

I was still sat on my stool, quietly sipping my pint, soaking up the ambience.

I like Karaoke, I thought. It brings the community together.
If an unlucky man sold umbrellas, it would stop raining; if he sold candles, the sun would never set; and if he sold coffins, people would stop dying.
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