How to Satisfy a Bengal Lancer


I like to think I’ve been to enough curry houses to know my way around a menu. However, this one proves there’s stuff I’ve missed out on.

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Not sure I could eat any more than 10% of one, thanks for offering.

It also proves that it’s not just The Sharp Single which suffers from typos.

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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.

Only When I Laugh


The end of day three after my stroke. Or is it day four ? Who can remember ? All I know is this illness stuff is not all it’s cracked up to be.

I’ve already had a row with a doctor over my attitude (me!), been told to get off my blackberry (good luck with that one then) and almost be judged ‘nil by mouth’ twice (again, me!).

I’ve come to the very quick decision that I’m rubbish at being a patient, but then again who is any good at it ? So I’ve decided to moan and bear it and make the worst of it. For starters, blogging on a phone is a pain in the arse as I can’t type or spell properly in the first place let alone on this thing so apologies for the worse than usual grammar.

(I pause here to take in the delicate aroma of the bed next to me being cleaned by the nurse after it’s 87 year old occupant-a serial solier- relieved himself all over it. Sorry, what’s that ? No, no trifle for me thanks all the same).

I digress.

Those who know me will recognise my symptoms: I cannot move my head about, and have a constant dreadful headache. I have slighlty slury speech, a scary stare and I cannot walk around unaided. However I now do all this all day, not just before 11pm. So there’s no need to wait til pubs chuck out to see me in my natural state. I’m in constant pain, knackered all the time and terrified I’ll stay like this forever. But I know I’ve been lucky: It’s not as if I’m like poor old sods in my ward, lost limbs or woken up Welsh or anything.

The Incumbent has been truly terrific: feeding me in my prone position with paracetamol and choccie biccies, informing all and sundry of my plight and drawing up a visitors list. Only the nearest and richest get into see me. Forget a bunch of grapes and a get well soon card. You wanna see me? You’ll need a wad of cash, a litre of gin and some large-breasted physio with you (all the better if she’s female).

Having said that, thanks go to my old mates of The Still Thoroughly Decent American Press who had flowers delivered this afternoon, beautiful and welcome that they are, and Steve the Sculptor who brilliantly brought me hard boiled eggs and nuts (and if you don’t understand that you shouldn’t be reading this).

I’ve been feeding from the Hallal menu, it being the only place around here you can get a curry: Chicken Korma, Chicken Byriani and a Lamb with Lentils number have all been eaten by me on my back with plenty of relish but not the required outcome. On my notes beside my bed it reads “B/M: no”. This is nearly day four of no B/M and it’s starting to make tears well up in my eyes. I have tended to have a b/m 4 or 5 times a day, and have so ever since I was 16 yrs old. Often against my will.

What is happening to me? I shall let you know how I get on. Though you’ll probably hear it or smell it yourself.

Just after you start your trifle.

Enjoy your tea.

Luv u all xx

Don’t Read All About It


Wotcha, sorry I’m late.I just spent an hour in a line waiting for the last ever copy of The News of the World.

No, not really. But I suspect a lot did.

So farewell then etc etc … As horrible as it must be for those hundreds of poor sods, the subs, the secretaries, the IT crew, the designers, the researchers, the ad sales guys, the marketing men and, dare I say, the picture editors who were obliged to fall on their swords to save the the fragrant Rebekah Brooks, I stand before you as an ex-News International employee who can reveal (though not exclusively) that there is life after Wapping: a life of dignity and respectability, of honour and pride, a life where you can at last look yourself in the mirror because you no longer work for that bunch of nasty cnts. (and if you’re reading this, you know who you are).

But I digress.

Dear, dear Rebekah. We are told she offered her resignation to Murdoch and he refused to accept it. Tell you what, love, offer it again. Offer it again and again. Keep offering it until he accepts it.

In a secretly-recorded speech, Brooks told her (former) colleagues that within a year they would all realise why The Screws had to be shut down. How bad is this gonna get???  They have already pissed on the chips of their core readership: the hang em and flog em brigade; Mr & Mrs Castrate-Rapists; those poor families who receive the remains of their loved ones in a Union Flag-draped coffin at RAF Brize Norton. By hacking into the phones of murder victims and war casualties, the NOW have stabbed their week-in-week-out reader straight through the heart. And it’s gonna get worse than this? Jesus, RebeKAH, what the fuck have you lot done? You been funding the Taliban?  You didn’t secretly vote for Gordon Brown, did you ? Kill Diana ??
(Is it only me, by the way, who every time I see her picture I hear the phrase “lollipops, lollipops children” running though my head ?)

The Child Catcher and Rebekah. Separated at birth?

Oh well, we’ll find out soon enough, I guess. At least La Brooks will be tucked in safe and sound in her wapping great office (or is that great Wapping office?). Or maybe not. Let’s see what Rupert has to say when he arrives.The story changes by the minute and there’re sure to be many more twists in the tale, all of them minutely reported by News Int’s rivals.

There’s nothing the press enjoy more than writing about the press. And when one of their rivals gets itself in the mire, then happy, happy days. Pick up any copy of last week’s Mail or Mirror, Guardian or Telegraph and you will be overwhelmed by the stench of smugness, and self-righteousness. Just imagine ! Paying the Police for information !!!!! How disgraceful !!!

Yeah, right.

Working on one American magazine (the exact name escapes me) during the 7/7 terrorist attack story, I remember voicing my astonishment that we didn’t have a tame copper on board who’d pass us information. All very bloody frustrating. How the hell was I supposed to move our snappers into the right positions ? Rely on Sky News ? I don’t think so. Fortunately there were plenty of old pals back in the Fleet St who were on hand to help. Though heaven only knows where they were getting their info from. Maybe they were just very good at guessing.

I’m not saying anything more than a Ruby Murray and a pint changes hands when hack meets detective, but any journalist who says his paper doesn’t curry (geddittt???) favour with their local crooked plod is a fibbing rotter. Legend has it that the greater the size of your wad, the greater amount of info and help you can expect in return. Thus, those papers with the bigger budgets (I’ll leave the calculations to you) have the means to get the most info from Inspector Knacker. Brown paper packages tied up with string, these are a bent coppers favourite things. Failing that a chicken dhansak and a pint of  Cobra, please.

Stick your head out of the window and listen carefully. If you can block out the mass-indignation and tut-tutting of editors, you’ll hear the unmistakeable sound of shredders going into overdrive all over Fleet Street as the red-tops and broadsheets alike get rid of the evidence, should Cameron ever get around to setting up an inquiry. I should think Murdoch jnr will be up for some sort of Queen’s Award for recycling, such will be the weight of shredded paper coming out of the back door of Wapping. But don’t ever think it’ll be any different anywhere else.

You can call for heads of the hacks who pay the Old Bill for information, or you can ask why Constable Smellie is betraying the public and releasing private and confidential details. It all stinks to high heaven to everyone, it seems, except Beckie Brooks, Rupert and sonny James Murdoch.

Many who enjoy joined-up writing won’t mourn the passing of the News of The World. A nastier, more racist, more bigoted little organ you’d be hard-pushed to find (unless you happen to be in the High St Kensington area). Doubtless The Sun on Sunday will re-employ some of those hapless buggers who lost their jobs last night, but I suspect the total aggregate cull will be in it’s hundreds. More journos looking for work. Bugger. It’s hard enough out there as it is, without having to compete with even more for that odd shift that occasionally comes up. The world can do without more unemployed scribblers, snappers, subs and subs and artists, especially when all it really needed was one ugly ginger head to roll.

Thank you and Goodbye ? How about No Thank You & Fuck Off.

My Kinda Town, North Londonshire Is


Well that’s that then. Unless Baldrick comes up with a cunning plan within the very near future I’m gonna have to get shot of Railway Cuttings. The place I’ve called home since I managed to get myself 30ft of rope, a set of wire-cutters and fake passport and hopped over the fence of Stalag Marriage has to go on the market. Sell it or rent it, I dunno, but I can’t afford to keep it. One week’s work since June has dug deep into the coffers and my old chums at the bank and the mortgage company are starting to get a wee bit uppity.

So I need to spruce it up for the prospective buyer or the potential tenant. Get rid of half of the of rubbish laying around the place (The Incumbent can sell it on Ebay), give the walls a lick of paint, cut the grass and start thinking about how best to advertise the place.

It’s a nice part of London to live in (if you just ignore the previous 73 posts I’ve written slagging off the place) and very handy if you wanna get to London Bridge or the West End within 20 minutes. There’s the lovely Greenwich Park and common just around the corner, good connections to the M2 and M25 motorways and some of the local pubs now serve both ice, lemons and limes. There’s a farmers’ market, a Starbucks, more curry houses than your average small village oughta, and rather nice kitchen shop.

Non-CIA spook Terry Waite lives here, as does Matt Pritchett, the brilliant Daily Telegraph cartoonist and professional Millwall fan Danny Baker. Former residents include, highwayman Dick Turpin, cook Fanny Craddock and obnoxious git Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen. Very soon I shall be added to that list of ex-inhabitants and gits.

But I think I need something that little bit extra to pull in the punters. How can I sell the area to entice the loaded gentry to part with their cash to buy my place ? Will the attraction of The Cactus Pit – our combined Tex-Mex restaurant and ‘nightclub’ (guaranteed a punch-up or a bunk-up) be enough for Hedgefund managers to rent my little gaff for a couple of years? I suspect not.

So I was listening to the car radio this morning and heard an advert for North Londonshire – the place to move, for space to move”.
“Where?????? North Londonshire ??? There’s no such place” I found myself shouting at the dashboard.
The commercial continued. “It’s closer than you think”
“What the fuck does that mean ? Closer than you think ? Closer to where ???”

I sped home to my waiting laptop, determined to find out where this place was. I was convinced in my heart the North Londonshire was a made-up place. Certain in my own mind, but not enough to bet my house on it. I remembered once having an argument with a bloke about Hoxton, a district of London I was convinced was an invention of estate agents in the 1980s. After all, the place they now call Surrey Quays was what I grew up calling Rotherhithe until in 2002 some brilliant PR man for the local property developer or boundary commission came up with a new name.

Ok, I’d been slightly wrong about Hoxton – on investigation it turns out it was mentioned in the Doomsday Book – so I needed to get home this morning and double-check that only my South Londoner ignorance had prevented me from being aware or North Londonshire. Perhaps I’d actually been there, drank there, shopped there, without actually realising it.

It didn’t take me long to find it. It even has it’s own website (northlondonshire.co.uk). I went immediately for the menu Where is North Londonshire ? It read:

Closer than you think.

Located midway between London and Birmingham, North Northamptonshire is central, cost effective and well-connected.
Towns like Corby, Kettering, Rushden and Wellingborough all benefit from superb connections by road and rail.
St Pancras International, home of the Eurostar, is less than 50 minutes by train meaning Paris and Brussels are just four hours away.
Air travel is equally convenient with Birmingham, East Midlands, Luton and Stansted airports all within reach in 90 minutes.

So it’s closer than you think, if you happen to be thinking in Birmingham. Very close indeed if you live in Northampton. A short stroll down the street if you’re parked 2 hours drive north of London. Just not very close at all if you happen to be in…er…London. You may find the promotional video a little misleading too. But maybe I’m missing something.

If only all the shitty London pigeons would fuck off to Northamptonshire, the capital would be a nicer place to live. However.
The video and website may well be a load of old tosh, but it gave me an idea for an advert for the New York Post:

For Rent: 2 bedroom terraced house in Manhattan suburb.

If you think you might be growing out of New York, or are just looking to make the right move, you’ll find everything you’re looking for in Blackheath. There’s highly affordable quality housing offering considerable value. There are schools and education to rival anywhere in the country (or beyond). And there are career opportunities provided by leading forces in the Bangladeshi and Nepalese service community. Some of the pubs are even open til midnight !!

Relax in our beautiful ancient parkland and quiet surroundings. Visit quaint shops and three dry-cleaners (with ample parking). All this easily accessible from the lower east or west sides, with Grand Central Station, MOMA and Ground Zero Mosque just 2 minutes away (by phone) and our excellent links to both Laguardia and JFK airports, via the Old Kent Road, M4 and Heathrow (congestion charges may apply).

So why not make your new life in Blackheath, East Manhattan. SE3 ? Just 3,471 miles around the corner. Come live where the Limeys live. It’s closer than you think.

Fast Food


I’ve come to a decision. I don’t think I’ll become a muslim.

It’s not that I have anything against Islam, certainly no more (or less) than I have against any religion. Everyone has to believe in something, whether it’s God, Allah, Charlton winning the league or a lottery win. Personally I don’t think going to church is the way forward, but I maybe wrong. If you took away religion, money, Owen Wilson, guns, George Osborne and Carlsberg Special Brew I reckon we could pretty much eradicate violence in society once and for all, but that’s just one man’s opinion.

If I did become a muslim I’m bound to forget to pray 5 times a day, unless I organised myself to get out the prayer mat every third time I took a book to the loo, but I fear people would get bored of stepping over me, down on my knees as I bowed my head to Allah, the only God, in the toilets down at my local pub. Anyway, I think Mecca is in the direction of those machines on the wall, which would look very odd indeed if I was caught praying to them.

One upside would be I wouldn’t have to shave, letting the old salt ‘n’ pepper whiskers go all Cat Stevens on me, and I also quite fancy myself in a dishdasha – one of those full-length garments which middle eastern guys wear. I’d be able to strut around like Peter O’Toole and the loose fitting robe would cover up my ever-growing midriff – these trousers are cutting me in half.

But the reason I know I could never convert to Islam is that I get hungry. And thirsty. All the time. This of course wouldn’t be a problem for most of the year, but during Ramadan I’d struggle. Through a normal working day (more of that later) I’ll happily graze constantly on whatever comes to mouth, stuffing my little fat chops with sweeties, crisps, sandwiches, biscuits etc, punctuated by cups of tea, coffee, premium lager – that sort of thing.

But if I took up the Islamic faith I’d have to deal with fasting. Every ninth month of their calender I’d have to abstain from eating, drinking and sexual relations from dawn until sunset. Now obviously there are some things you don’t mind giving up for a good cause but eating and drinking aren’t two of them. If I was to sit at home all day (as has been my wont recently) not being able to eat or drink, never mind not have sexual relations (does that include with oneself ? hope not) I’d not only feel faint, but I’d go a funny shape. A day at work, with all the distractions of coffee bars, canteens, Pret A Mangers and suchlike, would be unbearable if a nil-by-mouth regime was to be followed.

You don’t burn (or at least I don’t burn) many calories while sitting at a desk or using a computer, but it’d take a monumental effort to survive all day without so much as a Dunkin Donut to keep my strength up. Imagine what it would be like working on a building site or a fireman or some other profession which required physical labour, some exertion from which a sweat was raised.

Take the Pakistan cricket team, for example. They’re playing England at the moment in a Test Series which involves them batting, running, throwing and catching (sometimes) for up to seven hours a day for five straight days presumably without so much as a sip of Lucozade Sport to keep their strength up. In these modern times of professional sport there is always a get-out, of course. The Pakistan team manager Yawar Saeed said. “”A player’s decision to fast is between himself and God. We don’t get involved in this matter. We don’t mix sport and religion. It is up to the individual concerned.” Given how devout the faithful can be, there would doubtless be a lot of soul-searching in the dressing room before the opening bowler allows himself to tuck into a Big Mac and Coke to keep up his blood sugar levels.

But at least their management seem to be taking the sensible position. You can’t have a player keeling over at short square leg at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, just because he hasn’t had anything since that bowl of Cheerios at 5.30 this morning. I know I’d be having dizzy spells by 11am if I observed the fast. And that’s another thing I wouldn’t be if I did: Fast. Old ladies would be able to bowl faster than me if I couldn’t eat constantly throughout the day.

In Soccerland a couple of weeks ago Ali Karimi, an Iranian footballer known as the “Maradona of Asia”, was fired by his club for failing to fast. On it’s website Tehran-based Steel Azin FC claims Karimi, once the Asian Player of the Year, “insulted officials of the [Iranian] football federation and the Tehran team’s supervisor who confronted him on the issue”. Well I’ve never been named Asian Player of the Year, or even Ageing Player of the Year (though as a schoolboy goalie I used to be known as “The Gary Sprake of Barnehurst”), but I suspect poor old Karimi would have to take lesson’s from my delivery of an insult should anyone in my dressing room attempt to deprive me of my isotonic pork pie at half time.

I managed to pick up 4 days work this week at The It Is Are You On Sunday and jolly good it was too, especially as there were numerous tvs dotted around the office on which to enjoy the cricket during the very rare occasion I found myself with nothing to do. As I trawled my way through both the very decent workload and the myriad of eating establishments dotted along High Street Kensington I watched my current sporting heroes make Keema out of the Pakistan bowling attack I allowed myself to dream of making a lot of runs and taking a karahi full of wickets this weekend. Little did I know that at that very moment the opposition were crying off, having lost several players to the start of the soccer season and to Bank Holiday domestic duties.

The crossover end of the season is always a bugger, as rugby and soccer-playing cricketers feel the need to pack away their bats and boxes, strap on the shinpads or insert the gumshields. It’s a bugger but at least it’ll give my achilles ankle and my achilles knee further time to recover from the last match, and next time I’m called upon to perform I shall be injury free, a spring in my step and a Ginsters cornish pasty in my pocket. Insha’Allah.

Taking My Eye Off The Ball


A note from The Ed: This piece was written back in 2010, as it happens, a couple of years before what I thought was my first significant stroke (which I seem to have completely recovered from). It now appears that what I was undergoing in this instance below was my real first stroke, albeit a mini-stroke, as my Doc calls them. I clearly had no idea at the time, and treated it with some mirth. Be warned. The Ed. 2014—

 

It was 31.7 Degrees Celsius in Gravesend yesterday. That’s 89 in old money. And the infallible BBC weather service informs me that today will be similarly toasty. Frankly I’m a little concerned. No, I’m not planning to go to Gravesend today, as lovely as it is, and I’m not further demonstrating the Great British obsession with the weather. No, I’m worried about me.

I’m off to play cricket today somewhere north of London and, let’s be honest, 89 degrees is far too hot for someone like me to be running around a field, playing a game like that. A few weeks ago, during one of this summer’s previous heatwaves, I had to excuse myself from the field of play as I suddenly went blind. I’d been ‘charging’ in, doing my thang, trying to knock the batsmen’s heads off, and it was hot work, I can tell you. In between overs, for every bottle of water I drank, two were poured over my head.

After half an hour-or-so of this, I was standing in the outfield, watching my bowling partner toil away in the stifling conditions, and preparing myself to bowl again when things started going all hours-yer-father. With my hands on my knees, sweating audibly, and vainly attempting to get enough air into either lungs to enable me to emit a whimper, I looked towards the batsmen in case the ball was coming in my direction. It was then I had my Donald Pleasence moment: I couldn’t see a bloody thing. My sight was pixelated in my left eye and a complete blur in my right. When you’re standing 20 yards from a man hitting cricket balls around the park, it’s best, I always find, to have both minces in full working order, lest one of the aforementioned missiles hurtles in your direction.

Now I’ve made my leave from a sporting field for many many reasons- broken bones, pulled muscles, drunkenness to name but a few, but going blind was a new one on me. I waved in the vague direction of the skipper, who having suppressed a titter, led me from the arena, like a man leads his 90 year old myopic mum into a nursing home. I was clearly not well. More water was poured over my head, litres of Dioralyte were drunk until, eventually, my sight returned. (It says on the dioralyte packets they should be taken after “each loose bowel movement”, which means I ought to have been drinking it every half hour for the past 30 years.)

Now I’m not a doctor (no, really, I’m not), and I don’t know if my temporary loss of HD was due to the oppressive conditions, the rather convivial week I’d sent in the boozer the night before, or indeed the Chicken Chili Masala I’d devoured just hours before the match. Whatever it was, it rather scared me. And true to form, my preparation for this week’s sporting encounter has followed a similar path. I even ache typing this, so god knows how I’m gonna feel in three hours time when I’m asked to weave my magic with bat and ball. I do know it’s gonna hurt. I can’t make my mind up if this is a post or a last will and testament.

So forgive me if it all goes quiet over here. I don’t have BUPA and I’m not sure what the broadband speed is like at St Albans General Hospital. So I post this in the hope the skipper is reading and takes pity on me. I’d happily stand under the shade of a tree on the boundary, breaking sweat only to clap a wicket or an incoming batsmen. I fear, though, he’ll toss the ball to me and ask me to bustle into the wicket all afternoon until I drop. Perhaps I’ll be saved and the match will be rained off and we can spend all afternoon in the boozer ? The weatherman says it’s gonna be a scorcher, and I’m hoping they are up to their usual, useless accuracy.

So pray for me, pray for rain, or pray I bowl so badly that the captain takes me off after one over. My pride will be dented, but at least I’ll survive to see the match tomorrow.

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 ?

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Yellow Lines


Unlike me, Nick Clegg spent his Bank Holiday Monday in Blackheath. I, of course, was stuck in the office. I’m not saying he has any influence in the rotas in my office, but it seems strange to me that the one bank holiday Monday I’m not banging on the door of a pub in my village, urging it to open, Mr Clegg took to the streets of SE3 to drum up support for his party at the upcoming election. All very exciting for the people of the village, I’m sure ,and proof that everything is to play for in the hotly-contested constituency of Lewisham East, which covers our little part of London.

I don’t suppose he missed me much, though I have seen several snaps of Mrs C anxiously looking around to see if she might catch a glimpse of me. Oh well, she’ll catch me next time. By the way, if you do what I did the other night and close your eyes as Nick Clegg speaks, doesn’t he sound like Jimmy Carr?? Honestly, try it. It’d be a much better election if Jimmy Carr, Alan Carr and Johnny Vegas were the three candidates, at least the debates would be worth listening to.

Anyway, I have no real problem with Mr Clegg, and it’s about time someone prominent in this whole debacle turned up to tell us our votes actually matter. BUT. How the fuck does he get to park his dirty great bus on the Blackheath one-way system without getting a ticket ? Surely this is a politcal scandal of Profumo magnitude. A man of the people? My arse! I haven’t seen any footage of him as Mrs C looking for loose change in the well by the gearstick, then legging it up to the parking meter before the parking wardens slap a post-it to his windscreen.

Blackheath has, I believe (though I’m sure some pedant will put me right) a couple of lads employed as traffic wardens (by whom I know not), beautifully adorned in lurid bright blue uniforms, and woe betide anyone who pops into the newsagents for a lottery ticket of a packet of gaspers. On their return they can consider themselves rather fortuitous if there isn’t a little note pinned under the wiper blades, asking them to cough up. These blokes are swift and determined. One suspects a lucrative bonus scheme is in operation.

And why the hell not? The village is congested enough and the little streets can darely deal with traffic and the legal parkers as it is, let alone that lovely breed of double-parkers who feel the laws don’t really apply to them (but surely not our politicians).

So anyway, Cleggy saves himself a quid or two (he better not claim for it !!!!) and the poor sods in the Everest Inn nepalese restaurant were treated to whopping great photos of Nick and his uncle Vince beaming at them from the back of the bus as they prepared the lamb tikkas and the mismas for today’s punters. There did seem, having studied the photos, a large number of nepalese and/or gurkas cheering Clegg on. I wonder what the connection is? Does he double-tip when he leaves The Saffron ? Do they give him extra After Eights and hot towels ? Does he declare this ?

A pal tells me (and I believe him) that Clegg pledged that, if elected, local hostelries would never again be short of lemons, the introduction of a cap on estate agents in the village, and a unilateral ban on green foam top-hats on St Patrick’s Day. A Blackheath border patrol would limit the numbers of Eltham Nazis coming into the village on a Friday night and standing in my spot at the bar, and he will fund a high-speed bus link to Greenwich (or anywhere else, come to think of it).


You can see what another local lad thought of it all here
(he has the slight advantage on me of having actually been there)

Well nice try, Nick, but I’m sticking with Gordon. He pays his parking fees (I’m pretty sure), I could never vote for a Jimmy Carr impersonator and I can’t trust a man in a yellow tie. Last time I wore one was at my wedding, and we know what a balls-up that was !

The State of Play


Finally, there’s something to smile about, something to feel good about, something to look forward to. As the vinegar-strokes of Spring burst forth and the new season sprays its seeds over the flora and fauna of my garden and along all the lanes and byways of the sleepy little borough of Lewis Ham the sun, which has been in winter training south of the equator, make’s an early attempt to be over the yardarm before a mid-day thirst engulfs me.

As the sun’s rays stream through the patio doors, shedding shafts of dusty light over last night’s discarded lottery tickets I hear unmistakable sound of my faithful chien noir pawing at the door in a bid for freedom. He tries this every now and then and the chances are he’ll return pronto, but who am I to keep him forever at my side? I open the door to let my four-legged friend out and, as they say in the song, let the sunshine, let the sunshine, the sun shine in.

I stand at the threshold, inhale lung-fulls of chill, spring air, let the pale,weak solar beams wash over my ever-growing face then realise I should have put some clothes on before exposing my ample frame and dwindling genitalia to the neighbours in the surrounding houses and gardens. I quickly pull the curtains, leaving the rays to illuminate the beaks of the blue tits feeding on my nuts, and to dry out the cat shit on the lawn

My mood has been improving gradually over the past couple of weeks, as it tends to do this time of year. The first indicator that winter is over is the clocks going forward, then Boat Race, then the following weekend by The Grand National (that’s a horse race) and the US Masters (a rather important golf tournament) . The National and The Masters, two events separated by the Atlantic Ocean and 20 degrees Celcius, but almost inseparable by their postitions in the league table of sensational sporting events. Both have huge fields of brightly dressed runners, many carrying too much weight for their own good, most immaculately shod and watched by thousands of animated, vocal and knowledgeable fans. Though admittedly there are rather fewer pissed scousers at Augusta than turn up at Aintree (John Daly’s not from Liverpool, is he?).

Over the years both Grand National and Masters have cost me a fair few quid as I pour goodly amounts of my hard earned cash into the open wallets of the bookies while trying to predict who will win. Most part-time punters remember their few National winners, it being such a lottery and successes come so rarely. My love of the race started in 1975 when I had 50p each-way (probably paid for by my mum) on l’Escgargot which romped home at 13/2. This is easy, thought I and embarked on a, thus far, 35 year quest to repeat my success and adorn myself with the riches of the Indus. I waited 30 years for my next win when, somehow, I bet on the 2005 winners, Hedgehunter which won as 7/1 favourite. Hardly odds on which to retire.

Of course, I was nowhere near last year’s 100-1 Mon Mome, not even in the office sweep. No, I was on State of Play which finished fourth, so I just about got my money back. No-one would ever (or shouldn’t ever) bet ‘to win’ on this race, as a field of 40 horses jumping over 30 sodding great fences over 4 1/2 miles is anyone’s race, so my little ‘each-way’ wagers each year have just about kept my head above water.

So it was with curiously mis-placed optimism that I sat down to watch yesterday’s race. I’d spent long hours studying the form, listening to professional pundits and looking for funny names, but eventually I went with State of Play again, (which this time came in 3rd), while my mate Rob (who has absolutely no interest in the Sport of Kings) had a last-minute, completely uninformed and lucky fiver-each way on the winner, Don’t Push It (10-1) and thus went home with a smile on his face and a bulge in his wallet. Oh goody! How I laughed.

Meanwhile, across the pond in Augusta Georgia, The US Masters has for years had a similar grip on both my interest and wages and, up until Tiger showed up, was as unpredictable as the gee-gee race over in Blighty. Any one of the 90-odd players in the field were capable of winning and picking the winner was very much a game of chance. Once Woods came onto the scene, things became a little more predictable, but by no means a sure thing. Nevertheless, in 20 years of handing over my crisp notes to the good bookmakers, I have yet to collect anything back off them by way of winnings. Again, each-way bets would seem to be the key to all this, not that I’ve even gotten a 4th place.

When Tiger zipped up his trousers and decided to make his comeback at this year’s event, I resisted the temptation to put the house (or even a shilling on the side, just to make it interesting) on him. I was banking on the past 6 months of chaos and media frenzy that has followed young Eldrick Tont Woods around would have put him off his stroke (on the golf course, at least). No, I plumped for the plump Lee Westwood of Ing-er-land as this year’s conduit of delivering my money into the safe clutches of turf accountants of the world.

Lo and behold, my man Lee is having a stormer!! After two rounds he was leading the field with his fellow Brit Ian Poulter, and at one stage during the third round he was 7 shots ahead of Tiger, Phil Mickelson or anyone else. SEVEN SHOTS!!! It was in the bag. Lee would have to drop about a dozen shots to drop down to fifth place, to where my each-way bet wouldn’t bring me any money back. But chances were that he was gonna romp it. In my head I began counting my winnings: £10 at 25/1 is…er..£250, plus my stake back, that £260. That’s 86.6667 pints of Guinness in O’Neills (81.25 in The Crown). Even if Westwood stumbled a little and came in, say, 3rd I’d still get a percentage of the odds, enough for a pint and a curry in Khans.

Hang on a minute.

I logged onto to my online bookies, just to make sure I hadn’t put 50 quid on him (I had had a little drinky when I placed the bet) and thus about to become a very rich man indeed.

Sadly I hadn’t bet 50 pounds each-way, or even 10 pounds each way. I had, for reasons best known to God and Arthur Guinness, placed ten pounds on Lee Westwood to win. TO WIN! No-one bets to win on anyone but Tiger. No-one except bad, drunk, amateur gamblers, that is. As I looked up from my computer screen, Lee’s lead had been cut to three shots. The one shot. Then he was level. Then he was one shot behind. Bollocks. By the end of play Westwood was again top of the leaderboard, but by one shot from Mickelson, with Tiger looming ominously only a couple of shots back.

So that’s that, then. My one chance in 20 years to clean up at The Masters gone, duck-hooked out-of-bounds, sliced into the long grass. Unless it isn’t and Westwood holds strong and wins. In which case I shall celebrate by drinking just enough to put on a well-judged wager. Lib Dems at 200-1 one look tempting. On the nose, of course.