The Battle Cruiser


I do love a pub.

And when I say that, I don’t mean a bar, or a cafe bar. Or a restaurant with a bar where you wait while your table is prepared. I mean a pub.

While we’re at it I also don’t mean a converted high street bank. A place which used to be a very good community bank, and is now a very shite community service pub. A place where you can buy “A chicken curry and a pint for £4.99 every Tuesday”. I don’t mean a place adorned with signs announcing “Girls get Purple drinks Half price every Monday, Wednesday and third Sunday”. I mean a pub.

Sometimes a pub's so nice it merits stopping drinking and taking a picture. This is me in the perfect Hoppe in Amsterdam. And not a hot meal in sight.

A pub should generally follow several broad guidelines. A pub should be a place where one goes to meet old friends and make new ones. And drink with them. To that end, the music out of any speakers therein should be soft enough to hear yourself think and talk, loud enough to induce an argument over the singer or the song’s identity. What decent night down the boozer worth remembering didn’t have a row in it ? And an argument over music is as good a place to start as any.

Any live singer or band playing in the pub should adhere to the above decibel guidelines. If such proves impossible, the act should always remember they are playing in a public house and therefore popular, anthem-type songs, mostly over ten years old is a must. I don’t want to sit examining my pint to the strains of the garbage you composed in your garage last night. Save that for the students. Landlords should reserve just one night per week for live music. There are only so many times I want to hear/sing Sweet Caroline down the local: Once at about ten o’clock and one encore. That’s plenty. Unless I’m drunk.

Food is an important thing to consider when running a pub, and I always think a good landlord should follow this rule of thumb: There should be no food in a pub. Packets of nibbles behind the jump are permitted. But, customers, if you want to eat a meal, then make yourself a sandwich before you go out, or go to a restaurant, eat a meal, then go to the pub. Or go down the pub, have a goodly drink, then stagger into a curry house/chinese takeaway after the landlord of the pub has refused you further refreshment.

One of the more annoying sensations is trying to enjoy the happy, hoppy whiff of a well-poured pint only to have your nasal enjoyment interrupted by the odour of fish, chips, gravy and the like. This is a pub, not an eatery. If you get peckish help yourself to peanuts, pork scratchings, pickled eggs or crisps which are available, at a very competitive rate behind the bar. You’ve already rid us of the smell of a smouldering ashtray in the corner (oh, sorry mate, is that your girlfriend ?), don’t start rubbing Ralgex into the groin by putting sachets of ketchup on the table or waving a plateful of sausage ‘n’ mash at me, when I’m only interested in a pint of Light ‘n’ Bitter.

Outdoors Bad

You would think that it would be a prerequisite of owning a pub that you serve beer (or gin, if you really must) in a glass receptacle, wouldn’t you ? No such luck any more, I’m afraid. How many times have you walked up to a bar, ordered a drink only to be greeted by the dreaded phrase “you drinking that inside or out, luv?”  Who hasn’t lied at this juncture, only to be caught out by the potman when he sees you craftily swigging from your glass while standing in the garden cos your girlfriend thought “it’d be nice to drink outside”? You reluctantly hand your drinking vessel back to the glass collector who then transfers its contents into a plastic beaker. Oh, the shame of it. A 2009 United Nations report found that one of the most (some say only) catastrophic results of global warming will be a huge increase of people being forced by women to drink outside and thus being forced to slurp from plastic “glasses”.

There’s nothing like finding a lovely cold, dark pub when the sun’s blazing outside. Or a nice, cozy, warm pub when it’s freezing outside. In short, there’s nothing like finding a nice pub. We don’t go in there to get drunk, you understand? No, we go in there for the craic. Occasional drunkeness is an unfortunate by-product of enjoying the craic, but not a compulsory nor inevitable outcome. His eminence William (Bill) Greaves (see Now Then… elswhere in these pages) has informed us how to behave in such places and situations, and it is clear from his teachings that we should endeavour to conduct ourselves in a dignified way befitting a serious (and let us not forget expensive) pastime such as drinking. Right up to the time we are plastered, that is.

Indoors Good

Is it therefore too much to ask that the landlord should present to us an establishment fit and befitting of this aforementioned due respect to our favourite pasttime? These meeting holes should be places of wonderment and worship. What they shouldn’t be is reminiscent of airport departure lounges with the addition of a John Smith’s pump. We neither want nor need plastic leprechauns on the walls, rows of vodka-shots lined up on the bar or 24/7 football on the enormous tv screens in each and every corner. Take a butchers at The Salisbury, St Martin’s Lane, London (or The Harp just around the corner in Chandos Place) and you’ll see what I mean. You don’t have to be in England to find wonderful watering holes. You may struggle to find a pint of mild, but there are always corners of a foreign field which are perfect spots to while away the hours. Try The Hoppe in Amsterdam which is as close to heaven as you could possibly be without throwing a seven. It has been a bar since 1670 and they’re still wondering how or if to redecorate it! There’s Robert’s Western World in Nashville where, if you can excuse the lack of a decent beer, you can sit and listen to fantastic music while manfully trying to avoid a bourbon overdose. You will fail. It’s sensational because of and in spite of that.

Nearer to home there’s The Fleece in Halifax, if you catch it on the right night. You could do worse than visit my own Shovel in Dartford. A wonderful example of a tiny, well-kept drinking den. Food?  Next door, mate. There’s Henchy’s in Cork, but we don’t have enough time to discuss Irish pubs. Just pick one, you’ll like it.

And why do I go on so ? Haven’t we heard all this before ? Well that’s as maybe. But I have a particular reason for sharing my thoughts with you. After a slight hiccup in the brain department last week, it seems that I’m hurtling towards my first dry Christmas since 1979. No Shovel for me this year. No hangover on Boxing Day, trying to remember what I drunk and when. No, I’m down for lashings of tea and biscuits, with the temptation of a chocolate liqueur ever-present. It may not be as bad as it sounds. You really don’t want a hangover with a malfunctioning brain like mine. And that’s before having a stroke. The spector of repeat performance last week scared the willies out of me so for my own good I’m off the stuff for the foreseeable future.

So you’ll have to have mine for me. Take it sensibly and behave yourself. Enjoy it and enjoy whichever boozer you chose to make your own. You never know, you may end up in The Rose and Crown, swinging on the barmaid’s…er…earrings. I doubt if you’ll find George there though :

Oh, and by the way: This is a pub. Want a coffee? Fuck off to Starbucks.

Advertisements

Happy Families


Just after the war, 1947 I think it was, my father was arrested trying to place a bet for his then future father-in-law. Clutching a filthy little tanner in his filthy little hands (cos he was one of the boys), Jerry (for that is my dad’s name)walked smack bang into a police raid on an illegal betting shop above a grocers in Erith, Kent. Dad spent 4 hours in a cell before being let off to get a bollocking from his mum. Bill, the father-in-law saw neither his half-crown nor a betting slip. Dad’s always been a kind of hero to me for that. I bet he shit himself at the time. Even moreso when my nan got hold of him.

Jerry Bealing Enjoying his Freedom

But dads sure can be an embarrassment. Snooker star Ronnie O’Sullivan‘s old man, for example. Ronnie Senior spent 17 years in jail for the racist attack and murder of a bloke in a club in the King’s Road, Chelsea. Cor!, eh ? How embarrassing ! I’m sure his son’s nice, though.

Then there was the case of the father of England soccer captain John Terry who was filmed by a former newspaper dealing cocaine. Dear old Edward Terry passed three wraps of cocaine to a News of the World (remember that?) reporter in a bar in exchange for £120 per wrap, presumably to pay for his wife’s (John’s mum – do keep up) shoplifting habit. What a lovely family they make ? Christmas  lunch must be a real treat around their house with Edward free-basing, Mrs Terry in her oversize coat , and  John with somebody else’s wife, all sitting down for a festive lunch.. Merry Christmas, one and all – I know John loves a good Dickens. Who doesn’t ?

Now we read of dear old Wayne Rooney‘s pater. Wayne Senior (not to be confused with Ronnie Senior) was arrested along with 8 other men (including his brother Richie) regarding suspicious betting patterns during a Motherwell vrs Hearts match. Apparently the police’s suspicions were aroused when they were alerted that 9 people were actually watching a Scottish football match in the first place. Never in the history of Scotch sport have 9 people offered money on the match outcome. They must have stood out like the Archbishop of Golders Green.

Wayne, Wayne and Wayne on Holiday.

I don’t know if this sort of behaviour is confined to the parents of famous sporting stars, or whether all our mums and dads have the potential to make us hang our heads in shame. My mate Mark was a fantastically gifted rugby and cricket player, though strictly amateur. When he died at an uncommonly early age his dad ran off with all the money Mark had bequeathed to his nephews. Go figure. Must be the pressure of being a dad. Or perhaps he’s just a thieving cvnt.

I regularly try to, and often succeed in embarrassing my kids. They think I dress like an old bloke (check), am fat like an old bloke (yup) and tell all the same jokes all the time, that weren’t funny in the first place (got me again). My stroke has slowed me down a bit, emphasising just really old I am, in their eyes at least. My youngest has already made it known that she expects the lion’s share of whatever is in my will (what will?). You can hear her totting up the cash every time I have a slight relapse.

But it’s all in good fun (he hopes). Dad’s main function is to embarrass the kids. If I partake in a spot of old-man dancing, listen to too much Status Quo or emit nauseous gases every so often when standing up, or sitting down… or just sitting still, come to think of it, then that is part of dad’s prerogative. I haven’t killed anyone in a racist frenzy with a six-inch knife, like Mr O’Sullivan (senior), or contributed to the drug cartels’ coffers like Mr Terry (senior, of course) or even fucked off to Ramsgate with the family money like my mate Mark’s dad.

On me ‘ead, Ted. Or up me nose, I suppose.

Wayne senior’s crimes seem small-fry compared to these, and he will doubtless blame his abberation on the embarrassment he feels when watching his son arse about on the football field like he did last night against Mesopotamia. Wayne may still blame Wayne, of course (in any order you like) for the headlines regarding the hair transplant/manky old prostitute/betting shop anomaly  (delete where or if applicable).

So let’s leave Wayne’s dad alone. It must take some doing, living under the enormous shadow of his son, Shrek, and the circus that follows him and his frightful missus around. I’d be prone to rash decision and dubious actions, just like the ‘Motherwell 9’ if I were in that position. If my kids ever find out I actually bet a fiver on England winning the Rugby World Cup they’d disown me for life. Like the England Rugby team, the whole Rooney family is an embarrassment to each other. At least they bloody well should be. Dad Wayne should be left merely to receive a bollocking from his mum and a cash award from the SPL for bringing Scottish Football to the attention of the world for the first time since Archie Gemmill danced his way through the Dutch defence (as easy as a Bosnian Serb strolling past a Dutch roadblock).

Vive la France.

Di Day, 1st of June


The following article is dedicated to the sad old drunk who accosted me on a train yesterday…

Lady Diana Spencer, Diana Princess of Wales, The People’s Princess and all those other terms that come up in search engines would have been 50 today, June 1st. The fact that she never got to blow out the 50 candles on her birthday battenberg was due in part, we’re told, to some pissed-up Egyptian cabbie doing a Nico Rosberg into slab of concrete somewhere under Paris. I always thought the powers-at-be, to in some way hide their embarrassment of their small contribution to her demise,  may have declared her birthday a national holiday. Di Day ? Di and Dodi Day ? Di and Dodi Died Day ? I dunno, something fitting and duly respectful like that.

Anyway, it was just a thought.

Diana will be up there be kicking herself that she missed the last 14 years of Paul Scholes’ marvelous football career, though she’ll be happy to know that she also missed a long line of knee-high, studs-up lunges with his lethal hobnails. His stats speak for themselves:

  Apps       goals           legal tackles

Man Utd                                    466         102                    1*

England                                        66            14                    0

(*  U14 training. Apologised after)

He has also received 90 yellow cards during his premiership career and  was cautioned 32 times during European campaigns, making Ratko Mladic look like Trevor Brooking.

The no-longer fragrant Diana would doubtless be surprised that it’s taken 16 years to capture Mladic. “The Butcher of Bosnia”, as he is known,  is finally on his way to an International Criminal Court near you and will doubtless feel the wrath of the law when he’s up in front of the beak on killing-everyone charges in The Hague on Friday.

He shouldn’t worry himself too much. Last time he stood in front of a bunch of Dutchmen they rolled over in front of him like a Sri Lankan batting order in Cardiff. I trust there will be some suitably red-faced Dutch UN officials, burying their shamed heads in their Amstel when the Srebrenica story is re-told in it’s full gory detail. Short of supplying him with barrels of Grolsch wheels of mild cheese and the daily use of their enormous sisters there seems little more the Orange peacekeepers could have done to facilitate him.

Yes Diana would raise an eyebrow to what’s changed and what hasn’t while she’s been in that great Harrods Food Court in the sky. Her Father-in-law is still around (although surely not for much longer??),  Charlton Athletic are still in the third division (ditto), Sepp Blatter “The Taxidermist of Zurich” is still a crook (allegedly and forever and ever, amen) and STILL in charge of FIFA. Yes, honestly he is. No, I don’t believe it either.

Col Gaddafi is still an international pariah, although since you’ve been away, Di, he’s been our best mate for a while. Don’t ask me. Something to do with your old mate Tony and oil or something. Now he’s resumed to the status of Chief International Awkward Fucker but we can’t find him to blow him up. Send for Kate Adie, that’s what I always say (and always will).

If I was in charge of the hunt, I’d pop down to the local ATM cos I reckon he’ll need to draw some cash out soon. Gaddafi is skint. Potless. Broke. We’re told he invested in both The Royal Bank of Scotland and BP Oil and lost a fortune on Libya’s behalf in doing so. What a prat. Not since I spent my ill-earned cash on Lastminute.com shares has such an ill-advised investment been recorded (I’m still waiting for my first divvie).

Oh, apart from that time I bid for London Olympic 2012 tickets and got sod all back. Nothing. Not even the fucking egg-and-spoon race. Not a sorry, not even a thanks for trying. Not EVEN a “fuck off, peasant these are going to our corporate mates”. Which they most certainly are.

Where’re my bleedin tickets ?? I only wanted a couple to watch to the 1 yard air rifle and the beach pole vault. I wasn’t bidding for the whole fucking games? I spent all month ensuring there was enough cash in my account and then when yesterday’s deadline arrived : NOTHING. Nothing immediately happened. Nothing was immediately and swiftly taken from my bank. I’ve been robbed by someone not taking money from me. Apparently I’m up for some in the second ballot. SECOND BALLOT ?? What is this? fucking AV all of a sudden ? If I wanted a second ballot I would have voted for Nick Clegg (“The Scheister of Westminster”), which I most certainly didn’t.

So, you’re better off out of it Diana, I reckon.  Who’d want to be 50 in this miserable sodding world anyway? I’m looking down the wrong end of a half century and am in constant danger of losing my happy-go-luck demeanour.

Mind you, I suspect if you’d been around you might have sneaked a ticket or two for the Olympic 100 yards dash. I reckon you could have afforded it if there wasn’t room in the Harrods box. The Fuggin Fayed would have lent you the dosh I’m sure.

Binge When Your Winning


It’s now less than two weeks to go before the massed-ranks of the world’s piss-heads meet in South Africa for the FIFA World Cup. 32 countries will be represented by some of the fattest, drunkest, worst dressed and worst-behaved sports fans as the bars and bistros of Cape Town, Jo’burg, Durban and Rustenburg are held hostage by squiffy Swiss fans,  paraletic Paraguayans, arseholed Argentinians and spannered Spanish.

The Sharp Single presents it’s definitive , cut-out-and-keep guide to who’s-drinking what, who’s likely to fall over first, and what your team is likely to come up against in those all important opening rounds.

Rainbow Chundering Beckons

 

 

GROUP A

South Africa. 10-1.Ones to watch: Amarula, Windhoek, Castle, Lion

Mexico. 25-1.Ones to watch: Margarita, Negra Modelo, Mezcal tequila

Uruguay.100-1.Ones to watch: Patricia, Zillertal

France. 8-1 . Ones to watch: Champagne, Claret, Kronenbourg, Desperados

There’s bound to be a few champagne moments as the hosts take on the wine capital of the Old World. Windhoek vrs Claret promises a great competition and a few squeaky bum moments, while dark horses Mexico will fancy worming their way into contention and rubbing salt and lemon into the wounds with their star player, Tequila, especially in sunrise kick-offs. With the ageing Kronenbourg making his 1664th appearance for his country, expect more headbutts late on. Uruguay are rumoured to be fielding Patricia, one of the few world beers with a girls name, though she’s likely to be left at home.

*

 

 

Can't See Nothing from Here

GROUP B

Argentina 5-1. Ones to watch: Quilmes, Isenbeck, Scottish Ale

Nigeria 50-1. Ones to Watch: Wilfort Dark Ale, Guinness

Korea Republic 150-1. Ones to Watch: Taedonggang

Greece 150-1. Ones to watch: Ouzo, Mythos Beer

Past champions Argentina hope that Quilmes lives up his reputation of packing a punch, especially in front of goal. If he links well with Lemonado look out for his Shandy of God.  Minnows North Korea put their faith in the frothy Taedonggang, an unknown quantity, but thought not to travel well.  Tensions were high at this beer’s recent launch when South Korea retaliated by launching a premium lager of their own. While the Greeks will hope to be causing a few headaches with their ancient Ouzo, the Nigerians will hope their Irish import Guinness doesn’t cause them too much trouble at the back.

 

*

 

Double Up for an Extra Quid

GROUP C

England 10-1. Ones to watch: Pimms, Gin, Boddingtons, Shepherd Neame

USA 100-1. Ones to watch: Budweiser, Coors, Miller, Daniels (J), Beam (J)

Algeria 1000-1. Ones to watch: Submarino, Mint tea, Orange Juice, Milk

Slovenia 66-1. Ones to watch: Lasko Pivo, Celjski Grof

 

Violence is Golden for perennial under-achievers England, and with this line up you can see why. The country which gave the world white garden chair throwing and pitch invasions know they have to raise the bar this time. “Boddy” Boddingtons and “Old Shep” Neame are likely to start up front, but watch out for the suprise selection, Pimms, to provide a tonic for midfield-partner Gin around 10.45. The USA’s midfield of Budweiser and Miller look weak on paper (and taste even worse in the glass) but the old heads of Daniels and Beam at the back are likely to take anyone’s legs away, should opposition take liberties, like not leaving  a tip. Slovenia look to have a straightforward, no-nonsense line-up with a strike partnership which not only can’t you drink, but are unlikely to be able to say by the final whistle. Teetotal muslim outsiders Algeria’s plan to play four non-alcoholic beverages across the middle seems doomed to either miserable sober failure, or ultimate victory. Inshallah

 

*

 

For You The Beer Is Over

 

GROUP D

Germany 5-1. Ones to watch: Hefferweizen, Eiswein, Bitburger, Dom Kolsh, Stroh

Australia 200-1. Ones to watch: Victoria Bitter, Shiraz, Coopers Red, Fat Yak Pale Ale

Serbia 66-1. Ones to watch: SRB Niksicko Pivo, BIP

Ghana 150-1. Ones to watch: Star, Club

As someone once said “Soccer is a game for 22 people that run around, play the ball… and in the end,  some German drunk bores the arse off you in the bar” Ever a threat in competition drinking, Germany once more lines up with a familiar-looking muscular attack. Old hands such as Bitburger and Eiswein team-up with the unpredictable Stroh, “an artificial rum with 80% alcohol content which should be avoided at all costs” and who is favourite of many to walk off with the coverted Golden Puke.  Others in the group hoping not to be Mullered are a plucky Australian team who’ve selected the stubby Victoria Bitter up front with Shiraz making up the team, in case any Sheilas show up. Serbia’s BIP looks set to save fans thousands of  SA Rand in replica shirt letters, while Ghana will rely on a Club half.

 

*

 

An Arse Like a Japanese Flag

 

GROUP E

Netherlands 5-1. Ones to watch: Blue Curacao, Grolsch,  Amstel

Denmark 25-1. Ones to watch: Elephant, Tuborg, Carlsberg

Japan 50-1. Ones to watch: Kirin Ichiban, Sapporo

Cameroon 100-1. One to watch: Castle

Group E has been labeled the “Group of Belch”, and with good reason. The Dutch’s brand of Total Drunkeness may well pay off this time round. Groslch and Amstel — the hard-hitting double act up-front for “The Orajebooms” have been tucking them away all season. But the workmanlike Danes hope to upset the tray in South Africa. Hopes are high in Copenhagen, especially for Elephant. As one supporter said: ” I ride a small bike but this beer makes me think its a big bike. It also puts me in a mood to listen to my favourite polish opera” Praise indeed. However, in Carlsberg they have probably the most overrated beer in the world. Japan’s Kirin may well be the surprise package of the tournement. In the heat of South Africa, with sweat dripping down your back, drink enough of this and you’re sure to get an Ichiban.  Finally, don’t discount Cameroon as their Castle may take a bit of breaking down.

 

*

 

GROUP F

Italy 3-1F. Ones to watch: Limoncello, Nastro Azzuro, Moretti, Peroni, Grappa

Paraguay 100-1. Ones to watch: Baviera, Dorada

New Zealand 150-1. Ones to watch: Steinlarger, Tui, Miners Dark Brew

Slovakia 66-1. Ones to watch: Kelt, Zlaty Bazant, Saris

 

Group F looks like a done deal. Few can see past LimoncelloMoretti and Peroni staggering away with the honours here. Even fewer can see anything at all after Grappa weaves his spell. New Zealand look like a one-drink pony with Tui at the helm, while the unknown Dorada hopes to to force the odd hiccup for Paraguay. The best the Slovaks can surely hope for here is they return hope completely Zlaty Bazant.

*

 

Is that A Sugarloaf Mountain in Your Trousers...?

Group G

Brazil 4-1. Ones to watch: Cachaça, Caiparihna, Knot of Pine

Korea 500-1. Ones to watch: Cass, Hite and OB

Côte d’Ivoire 250-1. Ones to watch: Mamba

Portugal 12-1 .Ones to watch:Superbock, Sagres Bohemian, Port

 

According to one Portuguese reviewer “Superbock super star, gets you more pissedd than Stella artois.” That’s as maybe, but everyone’s favourite producer of brandy accompaniments may have to pull something more out of the cellar than just brut strength rocketfuel. The subtlety and guile of the Brazilians is always pleasing to the eye, as are the enourmous knockers of their fans in the crowd. Add to that the odd gallon of Caiparihna and midfield general Cachaca, then it’s difficult see anyone but the South Americans being in the chair. One hope for the Ivory Coast is that the Girls from Ipanema are distracted by their large Mambas. Korea’s offerings sound, frankly, a bag Cass Hite

*

 

Time to Put the Skis Back On

 

GROUP H

Spain 10-1. Ones to watch: Sangria, Orujo, San Miguel

Switzerland 500-1. Ones to watch: Cardnial, Feldschlösschen Original

Honduras 500-1. Ones to watch: Garifuna

Chile 150-1. Ones to watch: Kunstmann, Piscola

 

Spain are forever accused of choking on the big occasions, but if all you had to drink was San Miguel, so would you. Losing their bottle may not be an issue this year as Sangria has been selected to lead the way, in the hope that it won’t be the Spanish peering into their navel oranges. Switzerland may rue the day they made the Cardinal sin of taking up football in the first place, while little is known about Garifuna, except he has a kick like a club-footed mule. Chile, like the Germans, put all their faith in Kunstmanns. But that’s another story.

.

Great Touch for a Big Man


Paul Collingwood, having just captained the English cricket team to its first ever victory in a world final (albeit in pyjamas), is reported to have been given a few months of to recoup. He says he feels mentally drained and physically exhausted. It’s been a long season and he’s picked up a ‘couple of niggles’ along the way which ‘aren’t getting any better’. With the Ashes coming up in the winter, the English cricket authorities have begun a rotation system, having rested Andrew Strauss and Jimmy Anderson last winter, Collingwood along with Stuart Broad looks set to recharge his batteries before the main business begins in Australia in November. Broad would certainly need to rest his jaw, given the amount of bleating and whingeing he does on the playing field.

The rotation system of course is a favourite of soccer managers, and Fabio Capello is not different. He may well have to do a bit of it while shepherding his 23 young men through to what he hopes is an appearance in the World Cup Final. He’s not against rotating his opinion as well as his team. He’s already picked unfit players (something he said he wouldn’t) picked players out of position (which he’d previously ruled out) and those out-of form (ditto). Still, so far he’s not budging on the WAG question. The players will only get to see their loved ones once-a-week during the tournament, thus preserving their natural bodily fluids to sweat on the pitches of South Africa rather than in the bedroom/the balcony/the back of a limo. Colleen’s had the first result of the Cup, I reckon, and at least John Terry will be close enough for his team mates to keep an eye on him.

Capello is running a tight ship at the team’s high-altitude training camp in Austria: Peter Crouch has to sleep in the same size bed as everyone else this time round, and has been bollocked for wearing slippers around the camp. Capello likes his boys smartly dressed. It must be some relief to all that King David isn’t in the squad as Christ knows what the boss would have made of him swanning around in a sarong, Victoria’s drawers and slingbacks. The games room is off-limits for most of the side, so Wayne, Rio and company will be barred from playing as themselves on the PS3. Diets will be monitored at all times.

Austria was chosen as the venue for the pre-tour training camp as Capello wanted to replicate as near as damn it the conditions in the High Veldt where the English will be playing their matches. This is where we see the Italians genius: Not only is the atmosphere similarly thin to that in South Africa, but there are almost as many neo Nazis in Austria as they’ll encounter among the farming communities when they arrive down south. Once the competition begins England will make their base in Rustenburg, SA, not to be confused with Rastenburg, Poland where A. Hitler‘s Third Reich XI set up camp during their own quest for world domination.

Historians point out that Hitler’s men may well have succeeded but for the fact that, although they possessed a devastating attack, they were a team packed with right-wingers, and were vulnerable in the air – which an RAF Select XI exploited in the quarter-final played at Biggin Hill.

Hitler's back three discuss zonal defence during summer training at Rastenburg

But I digress.

So taking a leaf out of the books of the great minds from cricket and football, I have decided to rest myself, to recharge my batteries, to get my mind straight. I’ve picked up ‘a couple of niggles’ over the season (which, let’s face it, has lasted since 1983) and they’ve shown no signs of getting any better. In fact I get more niggly as the years pass. My week’s low-altitude training in Amsterdam didn’t pay the dividends I’d hoped for, but I can’t blame the fact my WAG came along with me. No, a strict rotation policy is what I need. I know you think rotating a squad of one is gonna be difficult, but I have a carefully planned strategy to get me through the closed-work season. Playing in a solid 0-0-1 formation, I shall alternate between The Crown, O’Neills and, when I really want to punish myself, The Railway.

In the games room (my couch) I shall play no more than three hours per day, switching from Tiger Woods Golf , FIFA 10, and Red Dead Redemption, which I’ve just had a couple of hours on and is quite superb. Tiger might get squeezed out (not for the first time).

A strict diet from the Sun Bo chinese takeaway (chilli beef me-up), Khans curry house (mismas every time) and the imaginatively dubbed Blackheath Fish and Chips (all major credit cards accepted, and at these prices highly recommended) will keep my girth at the diameter to which it’s accustomed.

I have promised myself the bathroom will be painted, the banisters sanded and the bushes and hedges in the garden kept neat and trim. If I can’t find a source of income soonish, I may have to rent (or even sell) Railway Cuttings, so a month off is a great opportunity to get the house in top shape to impress any potential buyers.

But with 3 World Cup matches every day and villains and varmints to shoot on a video game, I may have to break a promise or two. Now where are my slippers ?

.

Browned Off


“Ooh, you do look well !” she said
“You should see it from my side” I replied, unconvinced
“Been anywhere nice and sunny ? you have a tan”
“Not really”
“Didn’t you go to Amsterdam? Did you get stranded?”
“Yes. No”

I wasn’t really in the mood for idle persiflage. It was my first day back at work and I had more on my mind than how well I looked. The longer you take off work, the harder it is coming back. Perhaps I should take every other day off ? My colleague went back to her desk and I settled down at mine, turned on my pc and surveyed the scene. It was all exactly as I remembered. Same desks, same pile of work on top of mine, same people. Bugger.

Another workmate approached. “Christ you look well ! Where did you get that colour from ?”
“South East London” I said, not looking up.
“Ha ! Yeah, right”

It was partly true. The only real exposure to any sun I’d had over the past fortnight’s holiday was in my garden on Saturday and standing on the touchline on Sunday, watching a rugby match. Last weekend was the first time this year the UK has been blessed with warm sunshine and I decided to get me some of it. It’d been a long while since I’d had the chance to potter in the back yard, tending the plants and chatting with my old mates the blue tits and blackbirds, returning to my little patch of land to make merry, like old mates who’d been away on their hols for the winter. The return of my old mate the sun on my back was more than welcome.

Sunday, of course, saw the return of The London Marathon- a huge event in my part of town as 36,000 runners run around and along the streets, with plenty of vantage points to cheer on the Elite Ladies and the Complete Nutcases. It’s also long been my particular social event of the year and once again I was stood in a bar at 9am, this time with The Incumbent and keen ‘sports’ enthusiast, Shaun.

We managed to get a couple in before the lead women sped by the pub (in truth we missed the leaders as I’d mis-timed my-round) but thereafter we spent the morning, Guinnesses in hand, cheering and clapping on the masses as they jogged by. I met a couple of other old mates, Matt and Andy, who seemed pleased to see me, but neither would come in for a pint, try as a might to persuade them. Maybe it was too early on a Sunday morning for them, or maybe it was simply that they were trying to complete a marathon, I just don’t understand people.

Once the runners had all passed, and we’d taken advantage of a roast Sunday lunch, I suggested we finish off the day down at the rugby club, where there was a chance to meet more old friends, and maybe, just maybe, the bar would be open there too.

I’m happy to report I was correct on both assumptions. The sun shone, the beer flowed (we even watched a bit of rugby) and the gay badinage and repartee with the old gang went long and late into the evening. At least it would have done if our designated driver not been summoned to pick us up at 5.30. It was a fair call. We’d been on the beer since 9am and although a time of 8 hours 30 wouldn’t threaten any record books, our marathon had clearly run its course.

Back in the office on Monday. “Morning Mike, cor! you look well” chirped a happy voice passing.
“Well it’s either the blood pressure or adrenaline” I huffed, already tired of these alleged compliments. That bloke is a crawler anyway.

After a few hours the effects of the day before, coupled with first-day-back blues, had started to kick in. I popped some ibuprofen to clear my head. Ibuprofen is a double-edged sword for me: It’s the only drug that cures my headaches, but there’s something in it which I’m allergic too. Within an hours of taking it I come out in hives. Red blotchy lumps start appearing all over my back, my head and my face. It’s not a pretty sight. At their height, and to coin a popular phrase of the moment, I look like a beekeeper’s apprentice.

The afternoon wound on, with all the pain and sorrow I remembered so well from when last I was in the office, two weeks previously. I was beginning to wilt.

“Hello Mike, CHRIST you look awful ! You alright, mate?” came the assessment from the bloke at the coffee bar. My hives were in their pomp.

“No, not really, I need a holiday”

Dutch Nightcaps


We made Amsterdam in good time, avoiding the chaos which was ensuing at Heathrow and Calais and arrived at the hotel in plenty of time for a sundowner or four. Entering the small lobby of our lodgings, we were greeted by two charming, smiley young women who handed us a glass of champagne and gave us the lie of the land and the tale of the tape: Help ourselves to what we wanted from the lobby bar and the room mini bar, and enjoy ourselves.

Home to the the Dutch wing of the family

Although confident that we would, I turned to notice that some of our fellow guests had an unhealthy head start on us. Three couples in particular caught the eye, partly as they were blocking the view of the bar. All six of them were heavy-boned, and were busy helping themselves to the pleasures of the drinks cabinet. All were around fifty years old. Two were clearly Brits, as they were drinking pints. There was one guy in a blazer, chinos, blue chambray shirt and a baseball cap turned backwards on his balding head. Not sure where he came from. His wife was very loud: hmmm…still no real clue.

The final pairing came from California. I only found this out later as it was all the wife spoke about, along with her diet and the “fucking French”. All this while her red-faced husband devoured bottles of Argentinian Merlot and slid down the back of the chair, quietly grinning to himself.

A nice mini bar and all that, but where are the lemons ?

Having been shown our room, had a quick swig and freshen up, we returned to the lobby, en route to seeking out a cool pint of Amstel in the many bars outside. The six juggernauts had hardly moved from their positions of earlier, though the females were now seated in lounge chairs, demolishing plates of food. We left.

A convivial stroll around the pretty town and it’s bars, following the long drive had left the pair of us a tad weary, so after two or three hours we shuffled our way back to the hotel for a nightcap. The six lobbyists had been joined by three or four other Americans, in the far corner of the room was a French couple, keeping themselves to themselves, him reading Le Monde, she watching him reading Le Monde. Finally at the concierge desk, a retired couple were demanding what the weather was going to be like tomorrow. I thought they were Dutch at first, but it turned out they were scousers. It’s the phlegm, I guess.

We took our seats in the middle of all this and, glasses charged, proceeded to people-watch and to listen in. The Yanks and the Limeys seated amongst them had been for varying lengths of time stranded in Amsterdam by the volcanic ash cloud. In between visits to the bar the Americans took turns in visiting the two pcs situated in the corner of the bar and looked for flights out of Schipol Airport, news from home or weather reports. The Brits, when it was their turn, looked at the BBC website and at railway timetables and ticket office sites. All had pretty much given up hope of leaving soon, and none were happy about it.

The chat was of insurance, California, Argentinian wine, politics, cheese, diets, then the fucking French. At that, the pleasant French couple left. They’d been chatting quietly (as far as my limited French would allow me to understand) about how much these people were drinking and eating. I have no idea what the Scousers were talking about.

The chatter continued: The hotel elevators were too slow for one woman, the bathrooms too tiny for the British glandular-case (I could clearly see why). “Oh honey” announced Mrs California, “the bathrooms are positively palatial compared to ours in fucking Paris”. Guessing that the chat wasn’t gonna improve any time soon, we retreated to our room.

The pattern repeated itself the following day. Our un-happy band of brothers and sisters were decamped in the lounge, devouring all before them, like a plague of fat, boring locusts. Morning, noon and night. The original big six were occasionally joined by other refugees of the airline ban, exchanging war-stories and escape plans. Cast your mind back to the lounge bar in The Killing Fields, with groups of various nationals marooned, awaiting the airlift, with nothing to do but wine and whine the days away. In one scene in the movie they try to fake a passport, attempting to fix the photo with urine, in lieu of proper photo-fixer. Fortunately no such drastic measures were needed here. And anyway, if there was a bottle of urine laying around, the fat Brits would have drunk it.

We spent our days visiting museums, bars, shops and restaurants, buying gifts for the kids, cheese for us and tulips for the garden. Each time we returned to the hotel, more refugees had arrived, the static six, who were now experts in everything Amsterdam and Airline-related were holding both court and enormous gins.

On Wednesday morning I went down to the lobby for breakfast and realised something was wrong. Either I’d gone deaf or the Californians had left. Sure enough, the ban had been lifted and they’d flown the coop. Somewhere over the Atlantic, some poor sod was being bored shitless by a man wearing a suit and baseball cap, accompanied by his fat, frightful wife. The Brits had apparently got tickets on the train to Calais, via Burger King, then onto London. I almost punched the air in gratitude.

Our last day was spent in peace and quiet, free to wander the streets and explore the drinkeries and eateries, yet content in the knowledge that we could return laden with yet more cheese and flower bulbs to our hotel which now looked like a hotel, not a 4-star refugee camp. We enjoyed an evening meal in town, a couple of drinks in a quiet bar and returned to the lobby for one last snifter before retiring to bed. All very pleasant indeed.

We left by car the following morning having spent the oddest few days in Amsterdam. We left the little boats putt-putting along the canals, our hotel staff re-stocking the lobby bar, and we left 45 quids-worth of cheese in the our room fridge.

Dank u!

Amsterdam: Always a warm welcome

.