Friday, 29 May 2009
It was lunchtime. Gemma’s egg and tomato baguette from the canteen, a solitary bite taken out of it, was on the table between us, spread out and opened up like an autopsy patient on the slab. Between us we counted five thin slices of egg and six manky slivers of tomato. And that was it - no spread, no salad garnish, no nothing. It was a wan and sorry specimen even before you compared it to my walnut bread bursting with Serrano ham, artichoke hearts and rocket.
ME: How much do you think they’ve made off you with that travesty of a sandwich?
GEMMA: I don’t know, how much is an egg?
ME: Say eggs are £1.50 for half a dozen. So your egg cost 25p. And that tomato can’t have cost more than 10p.
GEMMA: And I bet they don’t use free range eggs either, I bet they use the cheapest nastiest battery eggs they can find. The baguette can’t be more than 10p. So they’ve made £1.32 profit on that sandwich. It’s a disgrace. And those tomatoes taste well cheap.
ME: That's true, but even so I’m not sure you can take it back. The sticker says ‘Egg & Tomato’ and technically that’s true. It also accurately depicts the complete lack of butter or mayonnaise.
GEMMA: Something about this tastes funny.
ME: Well, you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to pretty safely narrow it down to one of two ingredients.
GEMMA: It’s the egg! It tastes of vinegar. Here, taste this.
Gemma took a clammy slice of egg out of the sandwich and waved it in my general direction. With apt timing half the yolk promptly fell out and splatted onto the table between us. I took what was left and put it in my mouth. Chewy doesn’t come remotely close.
GEMMA: What do you think?
ME: It definitely tastes of vinegar. On the plus side, if you close your eyes and imagine really really hard you could almost fool yourself into thinking that you’re eating very overcooked squid. Almost.
GEMMA: This is so rubbish. Even Dave could make an egg and tomato sandwich. Although I’d have to boil the egg for him.
ME: And cut open the baguette.
GEMMA: And slice the tomatoes.
ME: And assemble it before giving it to him to put on a plate without dropping it.
ME: This must be a new definition of the word “make”. Would you like my yoghurt?
GEMMA: No thanks, I’m not hungry any more.
Thursday, 28 May 2009
I forgot to put collar stiffeners in my shirt this morning and the whole day felt flabby, shabby and unstructured.
I went to work without a jacket on and all day I felt inferior and ill-prepared, like everybody else knew something I didn’t.
These are the sort of thoughts that idly flit across the surface of your mind when you’re standing at the bakery counter in Marks and Spencer waiting for the man to slice your walnut bread. Actually that should probably be “a man” not “the man”. I clearly work for “the man” and have certainly never stuck it to “the man”. And no, handing him middle class bread based products and asking him to sort them out doesn't count.
The reason I have been sans jacket is that I was preparing for work yesterday morning only to find that a bird had thoughtfully deposited a giant creamy shit all the way down the back of it and my suit trousers leaving a pair of white stripes even more nauseating than the band of the same name. And they say it’s supposed to be good luck. What hogwash! I can’t quite see how anybody covered in a pigeon’s off-white liquid arse mess ever managed to convince anyone of this. Not having a clean suit jacket was bad enough, but worse still was the realisation that I had clearly walked home from town the day before looking like I had been dry humped from behind by a sex maniac.
Anyway, the topic for today is the dullest man I’ve ever met, so here goes.
Many years ago I was living in Nottingham with my then girlfriend, her dad, her brother and her brother’s then girlfriend. The experience was as uncomfortable and tortuous as the sentence you’ve just read. My girlfriend’s parents were divorced and her mother had a serious drink problem so they hadn’t spoken for quite some time. But as part of an attempted rapprochement we went over to her mum’s house for dinner and that’s when I discovered that she had remarried the most boring man in England.
His name as I recall was Norman, though I might be wrong as I’ve tried over the years to blot much of the evening’s festivities from my mind. The conversation at first was stilted but that was only to be expected. It was the first time I’d met them and a fairly uneasy experience for my girlfriend as she didn’t know quite what to expect from her mum, or even if she would be sober. But things seemed to be going reasonably well and then her mother said, during a pause in the conversation, “Norman, why don’t you take him upstairs and show him the spare room?”
Which struck me as odd because we hadn’t said anything about staying over.
So I left my girlfriend and her mum sorting out the roast lamb and he led me up the stairs. I was a bit unnerved as he opened the door as he clearly didn’t get out very much and if I was married to somebody who drank as much as his wife I think I would be out of the house every opportunity I got. I could suddenly see the appeal of Ladbrokes.
Now, some people have spare rooms full of books. Some people, like me, always seem to have clothes on the airer and boxes full of stuff. The boyfriend of a friend of mine has practically an entire branch of Games Workshop in his, which is almost too depressing to contemplate, but that’s another story (and he knows the manager of the Reading branch of Games Workshop who – unbelievably – is single! Who’d have guessed?). This spare room, however, was worse than any of those.
Bare walls, no pictures, no chairs. Just a table. And on the table, fashioned entirely it seemed from matchsticks, was a model of a fairground. The attention to detail was incredible – creepy but incredible. It had been painted beautifully and with precision. I found myself wondering what Norman would have done with all this energy if he hadn’t poured it into his creation and I had a horrible feeling it would have involved small children and his sexual organs.
He looked at me, expecting a gaze of rapt wonder. I in return stared blankly into his tiny gleaming eyes.
“Wait, there’s more.” He said.
He switched off the lights in the spare room and flicked a switch at the socket in the wall. The whole thing burst into noisy life. Wheels turned, lights flashed and rollercoaster cars began to shunt up a steep slope. I can’t remember if music played but even if it wasn’t I am pretty sure it was playing loud and clear in Norman’s head. Whether it drowned out the voices we will never know. I began to wonder if I’d leave this house – or indeed the room – alive.
I swear about five minutes passed in complete silence. Norman’s eyes shut and he looked in a state of ecstasy. I briefly considered making a break for it there and then and possibly hitch hiking somewhere more hospitable, like Beirut. Then he took me back down to the dinner table just as the meal was served.
Over the years I have become very good at seeming to say something nice about things I hate without being dishonest. I put it down to years of practice gleaned from office life. When my friend Claire had a haircut and looked like a 40 year old townie lesbian I said “Wow, your hair!”. I have accepted many well intentioned Christmas presents with an expertly chosen “Amazing! Where did you find it? I didn’t even realise they sold things like this.” But back then I didn’t have those skills, so dinner was a tad awkward. But, as it turned out, still worse was to come.
“This broccoli’s nice, isn’t it?” said Norman to me.
“Yes, it’s lovely.” I responded on autopilot.
“Do you know which county in England produces the most broccoli?” he asked me.
“No, I really don’t.” I replied in bewilderment.
There was a leaden pause punctuated only by my frantic attempts to saw through the roast lamb in front of me. Forget broccoli, I was clearly living in the tumbleweed capital of the United Kingdom.
“Well? Which one is it?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Norman, “I was just curious and I wondered if you did.”
The conversation sort of dried up after that.
I never saw him again - shortly after that meeting (which apparently was quite successful by their standards) my girlfriend and her mum properly fell out, the drinking got worse and there were occasional tearful late night calls to the house. The low point was when she sent my girlfriend a birthday card which proudly declared on the front in gold embossed cursive “To Someone Who’s Just Like A Daughter To Me”. Was she too drunk to remember that it was her actual daughter, or was it a not very subtle dig? We split up soon after and I never found out. Shame, because if nothing else I’d love to know what Norman did for an encore.
Wednesday, 27 May 2009
I reread the instant message that had just popped up on my screen. It was from David, the victor in the battle of Jamie’s tongue and the only man capable of besting me in feats of pedantry. He had read my last blog post and spotted the Achilles heel in my argument. In the distance I could just about make out the whispering sound of a hair being gently split in half with surgical focus. I sighed. I didn’t have a hope of winning this one.
“But a scaffolder's wife might.” I gamely attempted in response. But David had even this angle covered.
“He must have married above his station - metaphorically, not literally. It would be quite hard for a scaffolder to marry above his station, unless she was a crane operative. I can't imagine many crane operatives would name their son Jerome either.”
Check and mate, and while we’re at it game set and match, to David. Again. In fairness to him I know that being that pedantic is a curse rather than a blessing. Perhaps we should form some kind of support group, although we’d probably just end up quibbling about our written constitution. I like to think I am an exceptionally pedantic person (though technically it kind of depends on your exact definition of “pedantic” but never mind, we don’t have all day) but even I had to doff my metaphorical cap at another instant message David sent me this afternoon.
“A colleague of mine is talking about reducing bottlenecks. Is it overly pedantic to explain to him that technically that would actually make the problem worse?”
Genius. Sheer genius.
Posting about noticeboards yesterday reminded me of a time in my life when I briefly became addicted to the classified ads section of the Oxford Mail. Boy, you can see why I didn’t start this blog post with that sentence, eh readers?
Let me explain. After I finished university I got a job at Oxford working as the editor of that august publication the Cayman Island Law Reports. I shared an office in the basement of the law library with a chap called Naveed. He edited the Jersey Law Reports which was even less rock and roll (I read his cases once and Bergerac didn’t even feature in a cameo appearance - bunch of wank). Reading tons of legal judgments about drug smuggling and tax evasion written by only vaguely literate colonial judges who spent most of their time pissed off their tits had a certain appeal for a while – especially because the Cayman Islands seemed to feature many of the least competent criminals known to man.
One man got arrested for throwing a giant package of ganja over a wall. That’s right, the wall of the prison. You know, the sort of thing that’s regularly patrolled by guards. Another couple of guys got arrested for heading down to a boat on the shore and picking up – yes, you guessed – a giant package of ganja. But they had their alibi sorted. One of the criminals told the other that if they were stopped by the police to “tell them we went to look for a cow”. Just how stoned were they?
There’s only so much of that legal guff you can wade through though, so every Thursday when the Oxford Mail turned up Naveed and I would wade through it cover to cover. The classified ads particularly drew me in. This was a time before eBay or internet dating, so not only was this not exactly the done thing but the classified ads were the only outlet for some people who managed to redefine the word “desperate”. Where else could you find ads for unwanted wedding dresses or (a personal favourite this) “£50 unused NHS wig voucher for sale. Will accept £40 or nearest offer.”
The terminology of classified ads is especially entertaining, full as it is of pointless phrases like “all serious offers considered” or “no time wasters please”. As if you’re going to phone up and say “Hello, that deep fat fryer you’re offering in the classifieds? Would you accept a baked potato in return?” or for that matter “I’m ringing about the 32 inch colour television you’re selling in the Oxford Mail. Have you ever considered accepting Jesus as your personal saviour?” But the best one I ever saw was a personal ad in the dating section of the Oxford Mail. I’ll never forget it. There, amidst all the eager to please “gsoh”, “wltm” and “n/s” terminology, in stark black and white it read:
“Colin, 42, a bit out of shape and thinning on top, likes pubs and walking. Would like to meet woman aged 18-65, looks unimportant.”
The first thing to hit us was the whiff of utter desperation, the lack of any discernment. What would be a dealbreaker to Colin exactly? Next was the sheer mediocrity. He had all that space to put forward his best features and this was the best he could come up with. It was hardly a hard sell. Naveed and I howled with laughter and everyone and anyone was regaled with the story. I know the wording off by heart because I was telling people in the pub for weeks.
But now, looking back, even though I remember the words as clear as day the passage of time has sepia tinted that paragraph in the Oxford Mail with an uneasy compassion. Colin was probably a good egg like the rest of us, probably loved his mum, perhaps he had a dog. Sad movies may not have made him cry, but I reckon they affected him. I expect he liked a pint with his mates, maybe watching a spot of football. It's quite likely that people at work found him a little creepy, or he had a problem with halitosis that nobody had ever got round to telling him about. And by the time you get to be 42 for some people it’s too late. I went to school with people who you can bet your life probably ended up like Colin 25 years later. And no doubt he got lonely going back to his house on his own every night. Or worse still he might have still lived with his parents.
People are so funny, so complex and so difficult. David’s fortunate to have found someone who can endure his pedantry and enthuse about his incisive letters to The Guardian. I’m lucky that I’m with someone who chuckles when I’m smutty and can dig me out of those black moods I still get more often than I’d like. We’re all spiky, tricky little human Tetris tiles and we’re lucky when, against all probability, we find someone else and it just fits.
I hope Colin found his.
Tuesday, 26 May 2009
Then there are the rumblings in the canteen queue. But they are not a reliable barometer of anything apart from the fact that our food is only food in the loosest sense of the world. In the great family tree of gastronomy the hot options served up by our staff restaurant are the idiot child twitching in the corner and probably frantically wanking off into the salad dressing.
Having given it some (admittedly rather hasty) thought I have concluded that there’s only one way to truly assess the inner health of a workforce and that’s to look at its notice board. Where I used to work we had a computer based bulletin board and reading it was a steady stream of hilarity. From people renting rooms to people flogging Argos wardrobes to people disposing of 200 Marlboro Lights they’d brought back from a greasy fortnight in Turkey, all human life was there. Because I was working in a young company with an active social scene and a vibrant workforce. Yes, one which bought and then had no further need for shoddily assembled flat pack furniture, but work with me on this and let’s let that pass for now.
The notice board in the kitchen at work is an altogether sadder spectacle. It’s full of anaemic looking adverts flogging 4x4s or offering shiatsu massage. For some time the highlight was a brochure detailing a series of seminars on spiritual enlightenment in the workplace. I was almost tempted to go along to one just to check it out, given that the closest I usually come to a religious experience at work is daydreaming about a bloodless coup where all our senior managers are made to dress like giant chickens and parade in chains outside the front of the building singing the Macarena for the rest of their natural lives.
More recently we had an advert for a cheese and wine evening in Wallingford. Sounds good, doesn't it? But there are a couple of major catches. First of all, Wallingford is a 45 minute drive from where I work so you wouldn’t actually go to this do unless you already lived in Wallingford. Which nobody does. I mean, you’re hardly going to drive to a cheese and wine evening unless you like making yourself profoundly miserable and, if you do, ITV2 has a full schedule of events that will do exactly that without you ever needing to leave your dungeon. But more critically the advert has omitted some details. Minor things like who you need to contact if you want a ticket (though it tantalisingly gloats that only 120 tickets are left. My guess is that number hasn’t budged).
Even more impressively, due to a typo the poster claims that the wine and cheese evening runs from 7.30pm to 12pm. Or maybe they are correct and they plan to pull a massive wine and cheese all night bender. Maybe the night in question will involve a bunch of pissheads in a Wallingford hotel sniffing lumps of gruyere at 4 in the morning like giant cheesy poppers before getting their second wind. Actually if I was sure it would be like that I might hitchhike there myself.
So as you can see, the malaise in the office is well reflected in a notice board so moribund that a flyer for the next David Essex tour would positively brighten it up. I thought it couldn’t get any worse, but I was wrong. On our trip to the kitchen this morning a new leaflet was pinned brashly to the board. What was it, we wondered? Someone trying to get shot of an exercise bike? Another social committee outing nobody will go on? A holiday villa in Spain at reasonable off peak rates?
It was more baffling and horrifying still. It was a promotional brochure for the catchily named Ideal Scaffolding (Southern) Ltd . Yes, you read that right I’m afraid. Somebody had decided to advertise a scaffolding firm in our office kitchen. Because I don’t know about you, but when I’m idly making a cup of coffee or retrieving my low fat toffee and butterscotch yoghurt from the fridge I’m not thinking about how to sort an especially complex spreadsheet, the future of the global money markets in the light of the current recession or who is going to win “Britain’s Got Talent”. What’s really vexing me is where I can go in my local area to get temporary roof systems, perhaps with a protection gantry over a public highway. Fortunately this bright red compendium of fascinating scaffold related ephemera answered all my questions and more with brilliant customer testimonials. Don’t take my word for it, here’s Mrs Molly May of Portsmouth:
“I just wanted to say what great workmen you have. We are in our 70’s [sic] and your men were very considerate to us and our needs. Not only did they erect and dismantle the scaffold very quietly, they also cleaned up the mess that had been left by the other builders.”
So there you have it. Quiet erections, servicing all the old ladies of the South of England and they clean up any suspicious stains. All that and they have been rigorously audited by the National Access and Scaffolding Confederation too. What more could any self respecting person want?
I was horrified that somebody thought that was what our office had come to. Outraged, I took the flyer down. All right, actually it was with the express intention of poking cheap fun at it when I got home from work. But later that day I returned for another cuppa and found, more bafflingly still, that someone had put up a replacement.
I hope they were thinking “some wanker has taken down my fascinating scaffolding flyer, if I ever find out who it is I’ll kill them.”
I worry they actually thought “Hooray! Somebody is interested. Maybe my husband will actually get some new business this month and we won’t have to file for bankruptcy and put the kids into care and we can keep saving up for little Jerome’s operation. Thank you God.”
Monday, 25 May 2009
One of my pet hates, for instance, is football writers who think they’re Shakespeare. Gents, Newcastle getting relegated is not a “tragedy” in either the classical or colloquial sense, it’s just one bunch of overpaid foreigners in Bentleys being less bothered than another bunch of overpaid foreigners in Bentleys. Build a bridge and get over it.
Then you have the news commentators. In many respects they are viler still. The recent scandals around MP’s expenses have brought out all sorts of hyperbole. You get pompous columnists claiming that this Parliament will live in infamy which shows a remarkable lack of perspective given that many of the tired hacks involved have been commentating on these events for decades. It’s a soap like any other – just as nobody nowadays says “phew! How about Willmott-Brown raping that poor Kathy, it’s an outrage”. I wouldn’t be surprised if people have forgotten about most of the expenses fiddling in no time.
Of course we’ll remember snippets – a Tory MP with a moat is too good to miss, just as we all remember David Mellor allegedly having sex in a Chelsea strip. (Actually, that proves my point as well as anything because that actually isn’t true – it was made up by Max Clifford and it stuck). But most people don’t remember the ins and outs of Tory sleaze in the early 90s and nor do they care. But of course journalists still live to try and make you think that whatever has happened is the most earth shatteringly significant event of modern times. Another ho hum day in Kabul is never going to be a headline of the foreign news section, however much it would make me guffaw.
The hype gets worse when you get to the culture section of newspapers. Obsequious puff interviews with the new stars du jour (if I had a fiver for every “hot new British actor” the Sunday papers have raved on about I could give up work tomorrow), book reviews where person X says that person Y’s book is excellent and nobody tells you that person Y recently did exactly the same for person X, the list goes on and on.
Then you get the style section which consists of the same rehashed articles year after year after year. You know perfectly well that the hacks pull them out of a filing cabinet, blow off the dust, change a couple of words and publish them again and again. “New year, new you”, “50 things to do this summer”, “50 ideal summer holidays”, “The A to Z of surviving festivals”, “Dos and don’t for the Christmas party”, I could continue but I need to save some material so I myself don’t end up rehashing this blog post in a year’s time (if I’m still blogging by then).
Everyone seems to want to be something else, too, as if being vacuous and ill informed about one subject isn’t enough. Theatre critics want to write about football. Political correspondents want to review restaurants. Because of course, if you’re a good enough writer who cares whether you know what you’re talking about, right? The Sunday Times has a restaurant reviewer (who, proving my point, also reviews the TV) called Adrian Gill who goes by the moniker of A.A. Gill. That double initial aims to add credibility – think T.S. Eliot or G.K. Chesterton – but really it is to genuine gravitas what a quick spritz of Lynx is to Eau Sauvage. Nobody is fooled.
His restaurant reviews are generally two pages long and the last one or two paragraphs are usually devoted (though that’s clearly the wrong word in this context) to getting round to mentioning the food. He does so as if it’s an inconvenience when he’d sooner continue finding himself fascinating on a topic which generally has about as much to do with the restaurant in question as this blog post has to do with the Hubble Telescope. But of course, as long as the writer is having fun that’s all that really matters.
Finally we get to the columnists. I am not a very good citizen in the blogosphere and I know it. I don’t big up enough of the blogs I read and I am quite remiss at commenting on other people’s posts. But I can honestly say that I read dozens of blogs with more entertainment and insight than the average newspaper columnist every single day. And I reckon this is why the press likes to sneer about blogs. If you took a halfwit like the Sunday Times’ Rod Liddle or the unbelievably pisspoor John Walsh from the Independent and published their musings in blogland under a pseudonym nobody would read them, and they know it.
They are threatened by a large number of skilled and entertaining writers flooding the internet with original content and I imagine it scares them. You can get your news from the BBC website, opinion from your friends, make your mind up about music on metacritic.com and one day you won’t need these people any more. Maybe this is why they are enjoying kicking our MPs right now because, deep down, they have a pretty good idea that they are almost as much of a waste of money as the politicians are.
On the plus side yesterday’s paper had a voucher in it for money off at Waitrose - £5 off if you spent over £50. So we took it with us and headed off to do the weekly shop. As we were trundling dutifully towards the checkout Kelly suddenly seemed worried.
“What’s up?” I asked, showing a rather uncharacteristic ability to read Kelly’s mood.
“I don’t think we’ve spent £50 today. You might have to dash off and grab a bottle of wine or something if it looks like we’re under the threshold.”
“Nah, we’ve definitely spent £50.”
“I really think we haven’t.”
“Do you want to bet on it?”
Kelly and I do occasionally bet. Normally we disagree about a minor fact and decide to put some money on it. And I usually win because my memory collects tiny pieces of trivia the same way a tumble dryer filter collects aubergine coloured fluff and Kelly’s doesn’t. But this kind of betting is a different matter.
“Sure, let’s put a pound on it.” she said.
“I’ve got a better idea. If it’s under £50 I’ll give you the difference and if it’s over £50 you have to give me the difference.”
So we pretended to spit into our palms, Deadwood style and the die was cast. The checkout at Waitrose lets you see the running total as it builds up. And I think the spotty teenager on the till must have thought she was serving some care in the community cases because Kelly and I went through the full gamut of emotions during the two minutes it took to run up our shopping. It was like watching an epic football match compressed into those 120 nailbiting seconds. I grinned as my chargrilled artichoke hearts in olive oil pinged up on the display (£3.65, read it and weep), Kelly virtually punched the air when her Innocent fresh orange juice was rung up reduced to 29p. At the end of extra time the total was just over £53 but there was still stoppage time to play – Waitrose adds on all the discounts at the end. The cashier pressed the button and the crowd (by which I mean the metaphorical crowd in my head which has heckled so many of the romantic disasters in my life) went wild. Kelly paid me there and then in the middle of the supermarket, rather ungraciously I thought.
So say what you like about the Sunday Times but I made – count them – one pound and two English pennies from it today. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, A.A. fucking Gill.
Saturday, 23 May 2009
Carcassonne - even shitter than Budapest, and with rain of biblical proportions thrown in for good measure
Gemma is on holiday in Florida, which means no Karma Snackra, no Fascinating Fact Friday, no news on her sister and her boyfriend’s twin brother’s forbidden copulation which I’m sure isn’t happening. Donald Pleasence hasn’t been on the funbus all week. Rumour has it he too is on holiday though goodness knows where. Given his rampant patriotism to his adopted country I fully expect him to be completing a tour of the UK’s coastal towns (“if it’s Wednesday it must be Weymouth”), probably by coach with a clipboard so he can fully assess and grade all the drivers who get him from A to B. Hmm, a busman, on holiday... if only there was an appropriate cliché. Maybe he’s at a coach commandant’s conference picking up new tips on traytable alignment and tannoy technology. Even Mikey and Iain have been in and out of the office which only adds to the Marie Celeste quality.
Tumbleweed, too, is blowing through blogland. Nobody seems to be writing much, or commenting. Maybe nobody is reading either. Having neglected everyone while I was on holiday it’s my turn to feel a bit neglected and chuck a big sniffy diva hissy fit that nobody loves me any more. Because, after all, it’s all about my ego which as you must know by now is considerable.
I haven’t really talked about my own holiday and there’s a reason for that. It chucked it down. For the whole trip.The catchphrase of the holiday became “This would be so lovely, if only it wasn’t fucking raining.” This applied equally to the historic walls of the old city, the market square (complete with sodden stalls staffed by soaked grocers manfully trying to sell increasingly damp vegetables and cheese) and the little terrace you could access from my hotel room. Eventually it just ended up applying to everything.
Even the trashy novel I read on holiday (Mirror Image by Sandra Brown, as recommended by Gemma) was a disappointment. Gemma suggested that it had lots of red hot action in it and I suppose it did if you've spent your whole life in the Salvation Army band and think Alan Titchmarsh is a bit of a dreamboat. But I was expecting more and kinkier rumpo and felt thoroughly let down. No swinging, no threesomes, no nothing. Though don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it would have been a lovely book, if only it hadn’t been fucking raining.
There were some light moments, by which I basically mean every meal was delicious. So in that respect it probably wasn’t worse than Budapest. Things got so desperate in Budapest that I almost did something I resolutely refuse to and that’s go into a Burger King. Delirious with manky oxtail tortellini induced starvation I weakly staggered as far as the window of a BK in Budapest where I spotted a poster proudly advertising something called the “Angry Whopper” for a handful of forints. I thought I can’t say I blame you having to live in this dump and went and bought a bar of Milka instead. The fact that the country is called Hungary is an irony not lost on me. Perhaps Carcassonne should follow suit and change its name to Carcamonssoonne.
On Saturday morning things picked up as Kelly and I sat by the town square at a pavement café in the sun. My coffee was hot and delicious. We could see the market in full swing. The people watching was first class and the weather was beautiful. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better – and I’m not making this up – a medieval marching band piled into the square. You wait all your life to see someone playing the sackbut and then six of them come along at once. It’s a bit like bagpipes except that the overall impression was of a randy Frenchman with a giant handlebar moustache trying to resuscitate an unwilling sheep that was longing for death. All that and it was twenty five degrees in the shade.
It was perfect.
Or, I should say, It was a perfect half an hour in between checking out of the hotel and the taxi turning up to take us to the airport.
Oh well, you live and learn. I put all my photos on Facebook (should I add a link to the album or are you not bothered?) but here are a few of my favourites.
On a note which couldn’t be more unconnected if it tried, one thing that has really annoyed me this week at work is people using words that make them seem clever and getting them wrong. We had a briefing about our financial results this week and someone used the word “renumeration” instead of “remuneration”. An easy mistake to make, you might think. But he followed it up by using the word “nonclamenture”. Now come on. First of all, the word is “nomenclature”. But secondly, even if you knew the right word why use it? It’s so poncey.
It reminded me of working for a firm of solicitors who seemed to believe that the word “here” had been replaced with the word “herewith” to the extent that “herewith is your cup of tea” was acceptable English. I suppose when you charge that much by the hour you need cheap tricks like that to make thick people think you’re worth the money but I still challenge anyone to use that word in conversation without coming across as an utter cockflap.
To my despair this seemed to be catching. Mikey, Cornish Rob and I piled on to the funbus on Wednesday and Cornish Rob was on a conference call on his mobile with some work people. This happens a lot and Cornish Rob, being a clubbable chap (in the best sense) has footballer style names for them all like “Lozzer” and “Dazzer”. To Mikey’s and my horror, he wrapped up the call by saying the following:
“Okay Dazzer, we’ll get on another call with yourself and sort it out.”
I made eye contact with Mikey and I could tell he was thinking what I was thinking. Yourself? Yourself? What the fuck? When did Cornish Rob become the sort of person who said “yourself” without a shred of irony? Should we expel him from our funbus band of brothers? Then we both realised this was too good an opportunity to miss. So when he got off the call we started talking.
ME: So Mikey, what’s yourself getting up to this evening?
MIKEY: Myself is going to Marks and Spencer and buying some dinner before going home. How about yourself?
ME: Myself doesn’t know. Myself might go home and listen to something by Simple Minds. Their best song is probably Don’t Yourself Forget About Myself.
MIKEY: Nah. De la Soul are much better, especially the classic track Myself, Myself and I.
We went on like this for about 5 minutes before we ran out of song titles. Plus disappointingly Cornish Rob wasn’t biting, which was very unhelpful of himself.
Speaking of songs I haven’t put one up for a while and I’ve been playing this one again and again, appropriately. Here is “Again And Again” by the excellent The Bird And The Bee. What do you think?
The Bird And The Bee – Again And Again
Thursday, 21 May 2009
But I was an eclectic eater even then – mushrooms may have been on the blacklist but I would quite gladly try to eat glass and my parents had to take shattered tumblers out of my tiny mitts on a semi-regular basis. Adolescence held some food related terrors, in particular my mother’s risotto (“one slice or two?”), but gradually over the years my tastes have widened and now I’m prepared to try most things. Sweetbreads, crocodile, springbok (mmm, springbok is particularly nice), you name it. And I’m still convinced that those meerkat burgers are only a matter of time.
But my last post got me thinking about truly vile, stomach churning meals I’ve had, and there are many candidates. Here are the podium positions.
Bronze medal: Oxtail ravioli with pea puree, Budapest (2008)
On reflection, I’m still not ready to talk about this. Too raw (the memory, not the oxtail, though that couldn’t have made it any worse).
Silver medal: Gizzard on a stick, Madrid (2001)
Well, it is what it is. I was in Madrid visiting my friend Mike with my then girlfriend who was a devout vegetarian and all round killjoy. I discovered in the process that Spain is not an ideal holiday destination for vegetarians. For one thing, they tend to take exception to the fact that every licensed premise has a whopping leg of jamon hanging in the window. Fortunately by the time this incident happened our cordial relationship had crumbled and decayed into a constantly bickering mutual loathing.
So when I had the opportunity to eat intestine in front of her I seized it on the basis that, however horrendous it was, it was going to hurt her a lot more than it hurt me. But sadly, I was dead wrong.
It was intestine wrapped round a skewer and placed on a charcoal grill. So the outside looked crispy, even alluring. You could easily mistake it for a tasty doner kebab. But as my teeth broke the surface terrible things happened. Underneath a quivery mass of tubes wobbled ominously, farting out a cloud of foul smelling steam which vividly reminded you of their previous occupation before some Spanish sadist decided to serve them to the unsuspecting diner. I couldn’t go on. Mike, on the other hand finished the whole lot. My girlfriend was pretty appalled but I couldn’t tell whether that was the background hum of our gradually curdling relationship or anything in particular that I had done.
On the plus side, I steered clear of tripe which is a Madrileno delicacy.
Gold medal: Chicken satay, Colchester (1997)
Another story about Mike. I went to visit him in the lovely town of Colchester where he was studying. Mike announced that he was going to cook, which was not something I had previously experienced. He told me he had found a brilliant supermarket selling loads of cool sauces. So we went in. It looked like an Eastern bloc pound shop (if such a thing exists), random wares piled on unmarked shelves while lumpy middle aged women with tartan trolleys swapped already inconceivably cheap price labels from one packet to another to save even more money. Mike picked up some satay sauce.
Once we got into Mike’s kitchen I looked on the back of the packet of sauce. It was best before October 1995. It was probably mouldy. I expressed my concern to Mike.
“Nah, don’t worry.” He said, “These things are foil packed and heat treated, they live forever.”
Despite this I wasn’t enthusiastic about putting Mike’s furry peanut products in my mouth. The chicken went in the frying pan and started to brown. It looked juicy and delicious. Then Mike snipped off the corner of the sachet. That's where it got ruined. Like a foil sphincter, the sachet shat its contents into the pan with a ghastly felchy squelching sound. They dribbled all over the meat and a grisly stench of ancient nuts and young healthy microbes began to invade the room. My stomach spasmed in fear.
By the time the food was on the plate I found myself thinking that it could hardly taste worse than it looked. Guess what? Yes, I was dead wrong again (bit of a theme here). I picked slowly at the finished product while Mike wolfed his down. I feebly tried to scrape the satay sauce off the chicken but it was stuck to the surface like glue. Eventually I managed to get some off with the knife but that just left me with a knife covered in greasy clumps of nutty muck and I couldn’t get it off that either. By this stage I had eaten some to avoid giving offence. I imagined it clinging to the lining of my stomach like a protester chained to some railings.
Enough was enough. I skulked to the kitchen where I briefly considered running the chicken under the hot tap. Then I realised I might well need a scouring pad or a wire brush. If they didn’t work a chisel might be required and I was relatively confident that Mike didn’t own one of those (it could have been handy for my mum’s risotto too, now I come to think of it). I got as far as turning the tap on when Mike came in with his empty plate. Shamefaced I started putting my leftovers in the bin.
“Sorry Mike, I had a big lunch and I’m not hungry.”
“Are you really full? Or does my cooking revolt you?”
At that point I began laughing uncontrollably. In fact I don’t think I stopped for about ten minutes. First Mike was nonplussed, then he was quite offended. But because we’d been friends for years I managed to resist the urge to order a pizza.
Anyway, thank god those days are over and I have a delicious chicken cassoulet for dinner tonight with fresh English asparagus. The chicken has been marinading in olive oil, lemon juice, thyme and garlic overnight and I’m feeling hungry just thinking about it.
I would give you the recipe, but we both know this isn’t that kind of blog. And if it was, you’d probably stop coming here.
Wednesday, 20 May 2009
We took our seats and started to peruse the menu. The set menu was full of tasty reasonably priced fare – coq au vin, rhubarb and mackerel tarte, lots of goodies. So I thought this would be a straightforward decision. But Ivor had that look in his eye that I recognise only too well from my own thought processes. He had seen something he fancied on the a la carte menu. What was it? I wondered. The rump of Welsh spring lamb perhaps? The sea bream?
“What do you fancy?” I said.
“I think I’m going to go for the pig’s head.”
There was a 10 second comfortable silence. Then there was a 50 second uncomfortable silence. That’s how long it took me to realise that he wasn’t joking.
“Yeah. I’ve never had it before. It won’t disgust you, will it? I can turn it round so it isn’t eyeballing you if you like. And if it’s not very tasty or we get bored I can stick it on my head and run round the restaurant scaring the other diners.”
I’m afraid at that point I laughed much louder than is seemly in such a posh dining room. But put like that it suddenly didn’t sound like such a bad idea.
When the waiter turned up and Ivor ordered the pig’s head there was pregnant pause. He asked Ivor to repeat it. It reminded me of the first time I got my head shaved. I asked the barber for a Grade 2 all over and he asked me to confirm it twice. Then he said “it’s really short, you know”. The grilling went on so long I half expected him to get me to sign a waiver. And so it seemed with our waiter.
I suddenly wondered whether anyone actually ever ordered it or whether he’d have to own up that they just put that on the menu for shits and giggles. Or perhaps they would say “congratulations for calling our bluff, you’ve won our mystery star prize!” before bringing out a magnum of Margaux. When Ivor had confirmed his order to the waiter’s satisfaction I watched as a Gallic smirk slowly crept across his face. I wondered if he thought Ivor was doing it for a dare. Or perhaps he was looking forward to seeing another person’s hubris defeated by the snout of destiny. By this point I too was beginning to question Ivor’s motivation.
The dramatic tension built as we polished off our starters. My dish of scallops with black pudding, pancetta and curried cauliflower puree was a triumph – the texture just so, the flavour combinations exquisite. Ivor’s pigeon salad looked gorgeous. But a bit of me couldn’t concentrate. I found myself simultaneously looking forward to and dreading the impending arrival of the feature attraction. Credit to Ivor though - if he found himself thinking My God, what have I done? his face never once betrayed it
The plate hoved into view, carried by the smirking waiter. My first disappointment was that it wasn’t covered with a silver dome. I had been half expecting him to set it down and whip the cover away to reveal a whiskery boss-eyed porker glaring at Ivor like Kirstie Allsop on crack. I daydreamed that after that Ivor could lift the top of its head off and sup chilled brains with a spoon in true Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom fashion. Or failing that pop it over his head as promised and run round the restaurant going apeshit. After all, there was a birthday party a few tables along from us which was crying out to be ruined and I couldn’t think of a better way.
But it was nothing quite that unsavoury. The plate in front of Ivor just looked like a piece of belly pork, some rashers of bacon and a potato croquette. And then the waiter explained that it was pig’s head served three ways. The belly pork was in fact slow cooked pig’s cheek. The rashers of bacon were in reality crispy pig’s ear. And the croquette was made with what the waiter reassuringly vaguely described as “meat from the head of the pig.” Thank goodness his English isn’t better, I found myself gratefully thinking.
Between forkfuls of food and mouthfuls of Graves, Ivor told me that it wasn’t too bad.
“The best bit is the croquette. Mmm… mystery meat.” he said.
“Would you order it again?”
“Put it this way, I’d check out the other stuff on the menu first. But it’s good. The only bit I don’t like is the crispy ear. You kind of think it’s bacon and then your teeth hit a tendon or a bit of cartilage and you realise it’s not.”
I’m sorry to say that that almost put me off my slow cooked pig’s trotter stuffed with caramelised sweetbreads. Almost but not quite.
Oh, one last thing. In the process of putting this blog post together I did a Google Image search using the words "pig's head". And I learned something very useful, namely: don't ever do this.
Tuesday, 19 May 2009
As I may have mentioned, the Eurovision Song Contest is one of the highlights of my year. So it was with a mounting sense of excitement that I walked up the path at Casa Burden to see a Eurovision sign affixed to the front door. It was a small and intimate bash this year – Glenn, Lucy, Kelly and me (the hardcore Eurovision fans) along with Glenn’s only moderately bewildered brother Craige. And of course a network of Eurovision loving friends only an SMS away, but more on that later.
In the past Lucy has tried two different approaches to catering the Eurovision party. We’ve had Eurovision themed dishes (my personal favourite being Boom Bang-A-Bangers, a toad in the hole tribute to Lulu) and menus themed around the host country. That worked when Finland won it (well, I’ve always loved herring) but became less and less appealing as Serbia and Russia won the competition. And if Hungary ever won I’d have to boycott the event entirely because I’m still not ready to talk about the oxtail tortelloni I was subjected to in Budapest.
So I was pleased to see a return to the Eurovision themed menu but nothing could prepare me for the genius on display.
DAVE: As boring as ours, but with a hat.
ME: I don’t like ours but the chorus is memorable.
DAVE: Can we set light to Lloyd Webber at the end?
DAVE: Great use of the tea caddy.
ME: This song would be improved if they lezzed up.
DAVE: Get em out.
ME: Her cheekbones?
DAVE: Sounds like a BA advert and she’s surrounded by cabin crew.
ME: She has the shoulders of a shot putter.
DAVE: Chubby bird, that’s your vote sorted.
ME: I wondered why I liked it so! I’m the Pavlov’s dog of Eurovision.
DAVE: Want that one. It’s even soft metallish.
ME: Now this is your sort of blonde – I mean thing. Even if she did rhyme “rumours” with “rumours”.
DAVE: So glad if we go out with Portugal and Iceland it won’t be awkward.
ME: Are you volunteering for Portugal? So good of you.
SARAH: Mucho thrusting!
ME: He’s a big hit here.
ME: I might pass on that city break in Armenia.
SARAH: Are these twins girls? A bit kinky for Eurovision.
ME: If they are I wish they’d hurry up and get it on. That was dire.
DAVE: Bloody hell, is this a wind up?
ME: She appears to be sporting a shower curtain.
DAVE: Just what I said.
DAVE: If he’s had her there is no God.
ME: But he does look like Paul McKenna, maybe he gave her the Mesmer stare.
SARAH: What is she wearing on her leg?
ME: We reckon she’s the only singer in Malta. Because she ate all the others.
DAVE: Is that your ex? Perhaps she’ll get them out so I can be sure [this too is a long story I really don't want to recount in a hurry - MLS]
ME: They both shop at Ann Harvey.
ME: I can’t believe it’s not Boyzone.
DAVE: Reichy Martin?
ME: How in fuck’s name did Dita von Teese’s agent agree to this?
SARAH: Is there a whiff of cabbage? Or have I just seen two midgets humping?
ME: That’s a hot favourite in the room here. What’s not to like about breakdancing dwarves?
Half the fun of Eurovision is the hopelessly biased voting and the fact that we haven’t a hope of winning. It gives you something to rail against and keeps the second half of the evening going – well, that and the booze. So it was weird to watch a competition where we had no realistic chance of winning but were never going to be disgraced. Somehow it felt an even flatter experience still.
We all agreed it was far from a vintage competition. Just looking at my notes of the competition suggests as much - for Lithuania my handwriting dejectedly says "Schmaltzy, piano, trilby, pants." For France, "Sharon Stone torch song. But boring." For Armenia I've just noted down the lyrics "Long live Armenian dances" (charmingly jingoistic yet totally uninteresting to anyone who isn't Armenian). The Moldovan song was similarly patriotic, a stirring ode to the delights of Moldova no less, which marred its efforts on behalf of the Moldovan tourist board by including the jarringly smirk-worthy lyrics "When you love it, it fills you". But these were mere glimmers of hilarity in a hell of bland ballads.
Other favourites in the room included the breakdancing midgets of Albania and the Finnish number - a deeply disturbing rap song from the superbly named “Waldo’s People”. Finland have previously won the competition with death metal (Lordi’s Hard Rock Hallelujah, but I’m sure you know that already) and now they are clearly trying to tick off all the other genres, and who can blame them?
But here’s the problem in a nutshell. Finland may well one day win Eurovision with a rap song. In fact, Finland could put out a track every year featuring rave bagpipes ('der Klubhit mit dem Dudelsack') and a vocoder and they’ll still win the competition again before the UK does. My friends were deflated. “Where do we go from here?” mused Dave. “This is bollox” said Sarah slightly more prosaically.
I think we only have one hope. We need the Eastern European vote to win Eurovision. And we only got a measly 4 votes from Poland despite having such close links with them now. Or maybe the people of Poland thought “My brother lives in the UK, in Reading. It’s a shit hole, there’s no way I’m voting for them.” But every time I go to Prague, every time I go to the Lucerna Music Bar and skulk on the sidelines watching the throwing of the shapes, there’s one band that makes the crowd go berserk like no other. And they’re English! Yes, one English band where even their shittest, dirgiest song will get the Czechs on the floor putting their hands in the air and waving them, quite literally, like they just don’t care. And it’s not just the Czech Republic. All of Eastern Europe is crazy about them.
Yes, Depeche Mode need to do our next Song For Europe. It’s the only way. I explained my theory to Dave. His text back said “First overdose live on stage”.
He might be right. But come on, it would still be a lot more entertaining than Riverdance.
Tuesday, 12 May 2009
It’s in the Languedoc region in the south of France near the Spanish border. I thought this would mean it will be warm but the weather forecasts aren't looking too clever at the moment. But it's not all bad - the Languedoc is famous for delicious red wines and cassoulet full of beans and tasty duck all mopped up with crusty bread. I can’t wait.
Of course, that’s not how the conversation has gone every time I get asked about this trip at work.
“Where are you off to on holiday?”
“Where’s that? I’ve never heard of it.”
I’ve learned after a couple of hopeless attempts to explain where the Languedoc is just to say this – it just saves a lot of time.
“Have you ever seen Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves? The bits set in Nottingham were filmed there.”
Maybe I should just tell people I’ve invented a time machine and I’m off to Nottingham for three nights.
Not only that but Carcassonne is also the name of a moderately fun boardgame. A quick search on Flickr for decent photos suggests that some people have found ways of combining the two in photographs. Nobody wants to see a bunch of nerds playing Carcassonne in Carcassonne but I did quite like this one:
I love going abroad and this is the first time I’ll have left the country this year. Last year it was Budapest (not an experience I care to recall – one day I will post about the terrible food in Hungary, when the nightmares stop coming) and a magical week in Paris but I don’t think I realised it would take quite this long to get on a plane again. So I plan to make the most of it.
I will be packing a couple of novels, one highbrow one with plot twists and pathos and classical allusions, one trashy with embossed letters on the cover and hopefully shitloads of kinky sex in it. I will be packing a couple of cameras, a digital one so I can stick things on FB and my blog and my beautiful Leica to take proper black and white photos of French life (at least, that’s the theory). And I will be taking two lots of my cholesterol busting medication throughout the entire trip so I can actually eat the occasional croissant without breaking into a cold sweat. But no shorts, because that would totally jinx the weather. There was this one time I went on holiday and forgot to pack any pants. Remind me to tell you about it some time.
The song of the holiday – before it’s even started – is this one. Kelly and I have taken to singing it whenever we get round to talking about the holiday. Just substitute “Carcassonne” for “Galveston” and you’re there.
The Ladybug Transistor - Galveston
Anyway, as a result I’m going to take a week off blogging to rest my arms, body and soul. And I will have lots to potentially talk about when I get back. Possibly some whimsical stories of French life and lovely tales of me sitting in the old town square with a café au lait and a pain au chocolat watching the world go by. Possibly some nice photos. Or, at the very least, a lengthy rant entitled “Carcassonne – Even Shitter Than Budapest, And With Rain Of Biblical Proportions Thrown In For Good Measure”. I mean, you’ve got to come back just to read that, right?
[If you can sense desperation in that last question it’s because I am kind of worried that I will come back after a week to find everyone has dispersed. That’s silly though isn’t it.]
By the time I return all sorts of other cool things will have happened too. Eurovision not least. Now then, I love Eurovision with a fervour not generally encountered in the heterosexual male. Even though it’s becoming an increasingly homogenous Dion of ballads (like the new collective noun I just invented?) sung by random Eastern bloc sirens there’s still something about its camper and more disturbing moments that makes me proud to be a fully paid up tat addict.
And while we’re on the subject of invented words I proudly made up a new conflated word at work last week. Gemma, Iain and I were in the kitchen making a cuppa and I proudly told them that not ten minutes previously I had popped to the gents. The smell I inherited in the cubicle I had just visited could only be described as “beefulent”. Like it? And it was true too, you could have cut the acrid atmosphere in there with a plastic teaspoon. I proudly told my new invented word to David later and he could top that, like he always can. He told me they had conflated the words “analyst” and “psychotherapist” and come up with the new word “analrapist”. Kind of makes sense. (Edit: by "they" I mean that David informed me that Dr Tobias Fuenke had coined this phrase. David made no attempt to pass this invention off as his own and I sincerely regret any impression I may have given to the contrary. Disclaimer ends.)
Anyway, back to Eurovision. Did I mention how I love it so? Every year the crack Eurovision squad gathers round at Private Glennjamin and Lucy’s house, drink lots of wine, eat lovely food and hand round the scorecards ready for an evening of top notch entertainment. I mean, a couple of years ago the Bosnian entry was called Granny Bangs The Drum and featured the lead singer’s 80 year old granny getting up on stage and – yes, you kind of know what’s coming by now – banging a drum. Come on, I ask you, what’s not to adore about that?
And yes, before you tell me, I know our entry this year is a fucking dud. Yes, I know Lord Lloyd Webber is a hateful shit. I was there in the TV studio in BBC Centre when the result was announced and I remember being pretty downcast that we couldn’t build on the reeking colossus of cheese that was Flying The Flag by Scooch. I’d rather get nul points with an upbeat dance number with some eye popping innuendoes about testicles and oral sex than wipe the board with some sub Phantom of the Opera bobbins.
But that may just be me.
Anyway, as long as we get some Spanish mental patient channelling Elvis with a tiny toy guitar or a French electro pop genius with a big bushy Unabomber beard scooting onto the stage in a golf buggy all will be well. Both of those things really did happen last year and were worth the price of admission alone. You don’t believe me? Well then you asked for this:
What’s more, before the competition my friend Rebecca told me that Eurovision was all about men in white trousers. “Don’t be ridiculous, nobody wears white trousers any more” I responded. And then on the night, act after act seemed to feature a dazzling-trousered man and gloating text after text appeared in my phone from Rebecca. Thank goodness we didn’t put any money on it.
So hopefully I will return refreshed, re-invigorated and at the very least able to recommend an excellent trashy novel full of kinky sex. But while I’m away I’d really appreciate a bit of feedback. I did this a while ago, and it’s just very useful to know who’s reading this. So if you are reading this, do comment. You don’t have to say wonderful things about my deathless prose (though that’s always nice) but if you have any questions or anything you’d like me to write about or just to say hi please do. I do always wonder who on here is commenting as “Anonymous”, for a start…
Have a lovely week and don’t miss me too terribly will you? Oh all right, you can if you want to.
Monday, 11 May 2009
I didn’t think twice when I popped into my local newsagent in the morning to pick up my daily copy of The Independent and was served by President Ahmadinejad of Iran. Why would I?
As I rushed towards work I caught, out of the corner of my eye, Bill Gates in a shabby beaten up black Citroen ZX honking the fuck out of his horn at some guy who was carving him up at the lights. But it didn’t strike me as anything out of the ordinary.
Donald Pleasence took me to work and I settled down to a normal day. I flipped through the phone list and found some familiar names… Ray Wilkins, Andy Garcia, nothing to be suspicious of there.
It only dawned on me as I queued in Marks at the end of a long hard slog at work. In the “five items or less” queue I shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other and in front of me I could make out James Blunt paying in exact change for some chicken kievs, potato croquettes and brussel sprouts. It got worse. The woman in front of me had six items in their basket in flagrant contradiction of the rules. I was so cross that it took a full two minutes before I realised it was Joan Collins.
The penny dropped slowly, as if through treacle.
Of course. National Lookalike Day. How could I have forgotten?
It was all over the news when I got back. Someone I assume was Huw Edwards (but might have been a plumber from Wrexham for all I knew) ran through the implications. Civilians, for the first time in their lives, were strolling into the Ivy and being given tables without reservation. The famous were finally able to do all those things they’d always wanted to do without being hassled. Go to a garden centre. Shop at Tesco. Buy porn. Nobody could be sure of anything.
Me? I just went to the pub with my other half. We sat at the window table checking out the view. It was worth it to see Princess Anne sitting in the corner eating pork scratchings and picking her nose. Over by the video jukebox I could see Pete Townshend and Bill Wyman choosing something by Miley Cyrus. I didn't know if it was art imitating life or whether I should even be surprised. My head was swimming by this point so I went up to the bar where Mel Gibson pulled me a couple of pints of cider.
I went back to our table and set the glasses down with a satisfying thunk. My other half looked up at me suspiciously.
“You’re not yourself this evening.”
And at that point a horrible thought occurred to me, Reading's Premier HumouristTM.
What if she’s right?
Saturday, 9 May 2009
Another one to chalk up to experience. With hindsight even I have to acknowledge that there are probably better ways of ascertaining whether Gemma had a fuckable uncle. But in my defence I had the best of motivations – she was considering bringing him along to the beer festival and he had just turned 40. One of my friends going had also just turned 40. It could have been beautiful as their eyes met across a foaming pint of “Old Bollock”. And even if romance didn’t blossom there was still the possibility of a cider fuelled knee trembler behind the portaloos and they have their own kind of unique beauty I suppose.
But anyway, that reminded me of “Muncle” which is what I wanted to tell you about.
This story concerns my excellent friend Sarah. Now, I'd thought for a long time that Sarah was well brought up, posh and wouldn’t say boo to a goose. But one night the mask slipped with arresting results. Sarah, my friend Glenn (aka "Private Glennjamin") and I went out for a delicious Thai meal and copious bottles of red wine (Thai red wine, which bizarrely is not to be sniffed at) got knocked away. Before I knew it we were all having a discussion about which two of the Charlie’s Angels we’d like to have a threesome with. Better still, Sarah was playing a full and active part in those discussions and had decided to give Cameron Diaz the heave ho. On the other side of the table, Glenn had the sort of dreamy look on his face which is almost impossible to describe. Imagine Homer Simpson being told that he’s Krispy Kreme’s one millionth customer and that he has to do a trolley dash round the doughnut factory. Then double it.
Then it got worse. We got back to the flat and met up with Kelly and lots of other friends. The drinking continued and Sarah passed out on the sofa. Somehow the conversation got round to George Michael. At that precise moment, something very strange happened. Sarah suddenly awoke, sat bolt upright and loudly exclaimed,
“George Michael is a CUNT”
before promptly falling back to sleep. The next morning Sarah couldn’t even remember the incident. More alarming still, despite being as much of an indie snob as me she had to admit that she didn’t personally have anything against Britain’s top pop cop cottager.
So I knew that Sarah could be a Jekyll and Hyde character. But that was before “Muncle” reared its ugly head.
It was many months later and I was having a house party. The flat was heaving with guests and a small group of us ducked into Tony’s flat downstairs which had been serving as a smoking room. We all sat round enjoying a moment of relative peace and calm from the hubbub upstairs. I looked over at Sarah. She had that expression, that way you look when you’re about to say something. More precisely, the way you look when you’re deciding whether to say something. I felt something subtly shift in the atmosphere of the room. We were in for another George Michael moment. I braced myself for some impending bad stuff.
“Let’s play Muncle” she announced.
“What’s Muncle?” I responded.
“Oh, it’s a cool game I played at a party a few weeks back. It’s really simple. I ask you a question and you just have to answer it.”
I thought. What could be wrong with a simple game like this? My mind was fogged with vodka and coke but it sounded innocent enough to me.
“Okay. Hit me with it.”
“Would you rather fuck your uncle’s body with your mum’s head on top or your mum’s body with your uncle’s head on top?”
And that’s how my party collapsed.
Because the thing about a horrible Hobson’s choice like that is that it’s like staring frozen into the headlights of an onrushing lorry. You have no choice but to answer. It’s especially creepy in my case because I only have one uncle and he looks like my mum only ten years older and with a goatee.
And even if you don’t answer, you can’t help but think about it and your mind takes you kicking and screaming to places nobody should have to go. Bumming a scrawny old man with my mum’s head on his shoulders would have been grisly enough, so potentially the alternative would be preferable. At least it would involve lady petals. But my mum’s lady petals! No! Plus my uncle’s a dirty old man. I bet he’s got quite a potty mouth on him. Do I really want to hear my uncle’s running commentary as I intrude on my mother’s lady petals for the first time since childbirth?
GOOD GOD MAKE THE THOUGHTS GO AWAY.
I felt soiled. For about five minutes, anyway. Then I went back up to the party, grabbed one of the guests and said,
“Want to play Muncle?”
Since then I’ve developed quite a fondness for these kind of horrible dilemmas much in the same way that abused children become abusive adults. Darren recently told me another in the kitchen which is “would you rather wank your dad off into a horse’s mouth or wank a horse off into your mouth?” Actually now I think about it, Darren lives in rural Scotland near his dad. With lots of animals nearby. Maybe he’s tried them both.
My favourite is the old “if you had to shag X or Y which would it be?” game where the key is to pick the two most unattractive people you can possibly think of. We play this at lunchtimes a lot. My finest hour was when I asked Iain who he would sleep with out of Liz from complaints and his own mother.
He’s still thinking about that one.
Wednesday, 6 May 2009
Some days you finish work and have a few drinks with a friend and talk about nothing much. You stand outside the pub with him while he has a cigarette. You're glad you don't smoke any more. You both look across the road to the ugly pink office building where you both started corporate life almost 15 years ago. You are both glad you don't work there any more.
Some days you walk home noticing the streets around you. You are struck by the fading sun dappling through the trees and bathing the Victorian brickwork in stunning irregular patterns of light. Some days your iPod does one of those perfect soundtrack moments, playing just what you want to hear just when you want to hear it, just as you first make out the glinting windows of your flat in the distance.
Some days you get home to find a parcel waiting for you. You peel off the newspaper wrapping to find a yellow ring binder. Your first girlfriend has sent you all the letters you wrote her during the hot summers of 1993 and 1994. You looked like this back then and you were never properly happy.
But you didn't know any better and all the music you listened to made it sound like it was far, far cooler to never be happy anyway.
Some days you sit on the bed, still in your suit, poring through that ring binder. Looking at all the postcards you sent, the letters to all manner of far off addresses. All that spidery writing in green ink, all that gossip and boredom and depression and recrimination in ragged paragraph after ragged paragraph.
You are glad you can still recognise bits of you.
You are gladder still that you're not that person any more.
Tuesday, 5 May 2009
All was not well from the moment we boarded. The driver was new and unfamiliar. The funbus was newfangled with less seats. And worst of all, it wobbled dramatically from side to side as we headed gingerly down the aisle to our usual spots near the back. The overall effect was a bit like walking the plank. If it does this now how the fuck will it cope with going round corners? Thank goodness Donald Pleasence isn't driving I thought, seized by a sudden image of the funbus hanging off the edge of a ravine like something out of “The Italian Job”. By the end of the slow meander back to Reading we were all a fetching shade of mottled green and glad to finally see the back of what we had come to refer to as "The Millenium Bus".
There was only one topic for discussion and that was the equally sick story in the Reading Post about poor Rosie the sheepdog. The opening lines paint a grisly picture:
"A teenager who had sex with the family dog while another pooch watched had his sentencing adjourned on Friday."
It seems that the culprit was discovered when his foster mother, suspicious of the attention he was lavishing on the dogs, hid a tape recorder in his room. Mikey, Cornish Rob and I mulled over the enormity of the grisly situation. The case had been deferred awaiting psychiatric reports. Clearly there was a very troubled youth involved and a horrendous experience had been visited on a defenceless animal. Some things are just too vile to make jokes about.
There was a moment of silence.
CORNISH ROB: I don’t understand it. I always thought doggies loved a bone.
MIKEY: Still, if nothing else I guess we know what position he used.
ME: Was there a full witness statement do you reckon? Do you think the dog squealed?
MIKEY: I want to know how he overpowered the dog, sheepdogs are pretty big aren’t they. I guess he just decided to "Cesar".
ME: Maybe he went for her in a Pinscher movement.
CORNISH ROB: And they call it puppy love, eh?
ME: It's a shame Rosie wasn't a pointer, it would have made the ID parade a lot more straightforward.
MIKEY: I wouldn’t be surprised if the dog was begging for it. He should have claimed that she was easily led.
CORNISH ROB: But he hasn't even been remanded, has he?
ME: No, they’ve let him out on bail on the condition that he doesn't go near his foster family. I suppose he's going to be on a very tight leash.
MIKEY: Yeh, he’s not the only one.
CORNISH ROB: It all sounds a bit lenient not locking him up while they decide the sentence. That strikes me as a very Lassie-faire approach.
There was a pause. I looked at Mikey. I could hear the cogs whirring, see him thinking Am I going to be able to top that? He looked at me. He knew I was thinking exactly the same.
But neither of us could, so we left it at that.
Saturday, 2 May 2009
I’ve given it some thought. The mess, especially when you cross lines you didn’t intend to. The constant dipping motion involved. The feeling of deflation when you realise the end result is nowhere near as attractive as you’d hoped.
Friday, 1 May 2009
Anyone who has met my parents will know that I am in fact the legitimate son of Darth Vader and Marge Simpson.
I think my loss of hearing has already started to take effect. Either that or my colleague Abi is just plain confusing. She stopped by my desk earlier in the week.
“I got stoned. I need to have Di in me.”
I was nonplussed.
“You got stoned? Excuse me? And how does Di feel about this?”. It was conjuring up images of spliffs and strap-ons. Don’t get me wrong, I like those images as much as the next man but it was 11 in the morning.
“Not Di. Dye. I’ve got kidney stones. They need to inject me with dye.”
I was brought back to earth with a crashing and disappointing thud. Why do people like to tell other people this sort of thing? So much for all that experimentation with Di. Any fond thoughts that I might get sent video footage evaporated in a hiss of disillusionment.
“Kind of beats your GI doesn’t it?”
“What’s GI got to do with it? I didn’t realise you read my blog.”
“Oh sorry, I mean cholesterol.”
As selective hearing goes the only person that can top that is Darren. Last time he was in the office he was desperately hoping to finally clap eyes on the office tranny. He was gutted to find that he wasn’t in that day. But then I had a thought. Our phone list has little passport photos on it. Admittedly mine makes me look like a Turkish drug dealer but it would be better than nothing. I brought up the picture of the office tranny. I felt faintly let down when I saw it, because it was clearly taken before he discovered decent makeup. He was barely trying. The overall effect wasn’t so much “man in drag” as “ill advised prank at a stag party”.
“Darren, I’ve found it. But I think you’ll be disappointed, he looks kind of androgynous.”
“He looks erogenous?”
With hindsight, for all I know Darren may well have found the picture erogenous. He’s like that.
Anyway, the main reason I haven’t posted is that my RSI has been really bad so typing is very far from fun. It’s a mark of my desperation that I’ve agreed to a number of people sending me “distant healing” or, as I like to call it, “saying nice things in your head from miles away”. So if you feel like doing that please do. Think of the comments section as an online book of condolence. I might even try acupuncture. Things are desperate.
There are some exciting things coming up on the blog once I’m better, so stick with it. I haven’t told the legendary “Muncle” story yet. Plus I’m hoping my anonymous friend will take pity on me and finally release rights to the Vaseline story. Also, there’s a blog exchange programme in the offing. Which is especially exciting because I never went on the French exchange or the German exchange at school. For many years I viewed France as a mythical land where kids were allowed wine with dinner and the girls were so desperate one of them was even prepared to cop off with Stephen O’Hanlon in a locked toilet. Though apparently she did have B.O. Swings and roundabouts.
I’ll be back as soon as I can. In the meantime, I’m off to drink an awful lot of cider. If nothing else it’s a superb muscle relaxant and I could do with one of those.