TRENTON!!!!!!!!!!!


With apologies to Benton and other mad dogs.

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Up in Smoke


Since my little episode in the summer – when I hit the deck like the GB’s baton in the 400m relay – I’ve been like the Olympic Flame: never going out. Well, hardly ever. But “hardly ever going out” isn’t the end of one of my favourite jokes, so we’ll make do with never going out. Ok?

The route for the Olympic Torch has been announced this morning and, for better or worse, the good people or Dartford won’t be within either a javelin or a stone’s-throwing range of the runners and the flame. Good thing really cos The Incumbent has been practicing her aim with both. If a procession of tracksuit-clad locals and micro-celebrities were to jog past the Potting Shed, a violent salvo of objects, once destined for eBay, would be launched in their general direction. She may manage to cop someone of the stature of a Floella Benjamin or a Jim Davidson around the earhole with an old ornament, causing considerable damage.  But you can never be too sure of a direct hit, so it’s best the entourage stays well away from the neighbourhood.

Since we failed to secure even a single child’s ticket for the egg-and-spoon race, the London 2012 experience is not one to be enjoyed in our house. Coupled with my failure to get a job with the Olympic organization’s photo-team, mention of The Games is strictly verboten around here. (Although we are only assuming I didn’t get the job, me having not received a single word either way from the interviewers. Rude fvckers.)

Whenever there’s a news item about next year’s event, or Seb Coe’s beaming face appears on tv, the station is immediately switched off or over – even if it means watching another autopsy on Channel 4 (have they not got any other ideas?). The whole shambles/con (delete where applicable) over the ‘legacy’ and the football stadia, and the ‘affordable housing’ and the ticket prices has really left a nasty taste in the mouth, so we won’t be joining in the fun, if you don’t mind (I bet that’s come as a shock to you, hasn’t it?)

So no runners past the Potting Shed. No cheering-on of the torch by the farmhands. The locals at The Berchtesgaden Arms will not have the chance to wave the flag of St George in celebration of the flame’s progress. They’ll have to save their celebratory bender and Sieg Heil session until the Stephen Lawrence accused get off again.

Casting a cursory glance at the route I think I notice the joggers won’t be taking the torch around neither Tottenham nor Croydon. Probably for the best, I suppose. I think they’ve had enough of flames for a while. That bloke in the furniture shop has only just sat down after giving all those emotional news interviews. It’d be nice to give him a rest for a while.

While we’re on fire-related moans and groans: Can’t we now take this opportunity to ban fireworks altogether? It’s too early to know what really caused the horrors on the M5 at the weekend, but can we not make use of the suspicion by outlawing bonfires and fireworks once and for all? If we can prove they are harmful to the environment, I’d gladly reinforce my immaculate green-credentials in an effort to rid us all of the noise, the smoke and the smell.

It used to be that you’d only see and hear these bloody things on, or around November 5th.  In 1605 Guy (Guido) Fawkes and a bunch of his catholic mates tried to blow up Parliament. He got caught and the ‘gunpowder plot’ failed. We’ve been celebrating his capture/mourning his failure (delete where applicable) ever since. All well and good, I suppose. Most countries have a yearly festival or celebration day when the fireworks are rolled out. The French have Bastille Day, the day every year they give thanks for not being invaded by the Germans (again). Then there’s the 4th of July, commemorated by Brits the world over as the day we finally let the yanks out in the world on their own. A bit like sending an annoying spotty teenager off to college and getting the box room back. Years later he returns, now owning IBM and degree in shooting people, but the peace and quiet was nice while it lasted.

I digress.

But now we not only have to start dodging rockets and catherine wheels around 5th November, but we now have to listen to them over Christmas, New Year, Easter, Yom Kippur, Epiphany, Lent, Diwali, the  X-Factor results, Downton Abbey finales, in fact any and every single celebration that someone somewhere feels they need to enjoy. I’m all in favour of a multicultural, multi-faith country where all are welcomed and encouraged to live as diverse and existence as is possible. But why-oh-why-oh-daily-mail do all these festivities have to come with sodding fireworks ? Maurice, the rather nervous dog next door has shellshock – they now feed him on valium and St John’s Wort. There’s a pall of smoke hanging over the lower paddock, making it look like Kabul after the big beardy naughty boys have been about.

They banned smoking on the top deck of a bus and the left hand side of the cinema; they stopped us from riding a motorcycle without a helmet; had an amnesty on handguns; they even banned Tom&Jerry from my tv (presumably to make room for a series on human dissection on Channel 4). Surely there’s a decent case to be made against these rockets and missiles which kill, harm, mutilate and maim so many every year ? I have nothing against blowing up parliament, and happy to raise a glass to the Guido and his mates for having a pop at it. But is blowing up each other, distressing our pets and covering motorways with thick smoke really the way forward ? What if we restrict it to one huge re-enactment every year, underneath parliament, using live ammo. And hope for the best ?

Or the worst. (delete where applicable).

The Birds and the Wasps


This weekend found us visiting friends in the Leicestershire countryside. I’d been to Leicester only once before, as a schoolboy to play rugby, and found myself ruminating on just what I knew of the area. I knew it was another one of those odd English words which foreigners struggled to pronounce (for any of my overseas readers it’s Ly-cester-shyre). No not really. But it turns out I knew very little else, it being one of those little bits of England that attracts scant attention or publicity, a bit like Wiltshire, Stephen Fry or Scotland.

My cricketing hero David Gower used to play for Leicestershire, and who could forget Leicester City‘s Keith Weller ? (oh, you have). Rugby legend Martin Johnson was, of course, for a long-time at Leicester Tigers, then there’s red leicester cheese, the deaf midget tax-fiddling horse jockey Leicester Piglet, Leicester Square and the Leicester Shuffle (if you throw two playing cards onto the floor you get less ta shuffle). Clearly I was clutching at straws.

So it came to pass that on Saturday morning I was zipping around mile after mile of beautiful rolling hills and lanes, past box hedges, magnificent oaks and dinky thatched stone cottages. Past signposts which could have been lifted from the script of American Werewolf. Signs for Tugby and Queniborough sped by, for Houghton on the Hill and Skeffington, even Ratcliffe on the Wreake (which sounds to me like Harry Potter on a vodka binge). I looked for signs to North Londonshire but could see none.

It was beautiful. The trees cascaded with Autumnal colour, the pale November sun washed over the copse and ploughed fields and everywhere was teeming with wildlife. Not just sheep and cows, horses in fields and chickens in coops, but pheasants and eagles, buzzards soaring and hawks hunting. Even the roadkill was exotic – badgers and deer where, at home, I’d see foxes and hedgehogs clogging-up the roadside gutters. Ah! the countryside is great. I’ve always been a committed townie, always preferring the smell of exhaust fumes, the sound of a police sirens or a bus’s airbreaks to the smell of dung, the twittering of the birdies or the clip clop, clip clop of farmers throwing horse shoes at boisterous cockerels.

But wandering around this area I could see the appeal, and it became clear to me why at some point in many lives, city dwellers up-stumps and seek out and claim for themselves that little bit of an English field that shall be forever foreign. And smelly. Yes this was it, I thought. I let my mind wander, daydreaming of buying a labrador, wax jacket and wellies, and perchance an Austin Healey. Of doing nothing more strenuous than grow a beard or taking myself for a spin from village to village, working up a thirst before I parked myself on a bar stool down at the local pub, supping endless pints of Thruxton’s Old Dirigible through my grey whiskers, brushing off the pickled egg debris from my corduroys.

Our friends, Julia and Stuart, had moved up from town a couple years ago and I could see in their eyes that this was the sort of lifestyle they were shaping up to enjoy, if they weren’t doing so already. They’d thought ahead and brought their labrador, Oscar, up with them from the smoke of the South East. I liked Oscar. An old boy, he didn’t so much bark as cough. When you entered the room he approached you making the sort of flegmy noises that my old pipe-smoking landlord used to make as I walked into his pub (though Oscar wagged his tail slightly more and scratched himself slightly less than old Jack did). I wanted an Oscar when I moved up here.

No sooner had we arrived at their home than we were whisked off by Julia and Stuart to a nearby pub for the proverbial lunchtime pie and a pint. What perfect hosts. It was a charming, warm country affair with a fine selections of ales and spirits and a decent wine list. They even had lemons. Their daughter worked behind the bar and we were served immediately. It was wonderful ! We supped, we nibbled and we supped again. This was lovely. I could have stayed there all day. Happy days. As we’d come in I’d noticed there was a twee little white cottage next door which had a For Sale board outside. I started dreaming again. Hmmm…….

And then a bell rang and woke me up. “Time gentlemen please” bellowed the landlady.

Eh…? what…? Wassappening ???? I looked at my watch. It was 3pm. OF COURSE. Bloody country hours. Strangers to these shores may be unaware that up until ten years-or-so ago, pubs in England would close every day at 3pm (2pm on Sundays) and not re-open until 6pm (7 o’clock on Sundays). Legend has it that this haitus in available alcohol purchasing time was introduced during WWI to encourage the factory workers back to the production lines. As 20-somethings we didn’t give a monkeys about the history, all we knew was that our formative years of beer-swilling were punctuated by daily and very annoying periods during each afternoon when landlords would throw us out of perfectly good drinking holes. Pah.

Thankfully, the lawmakers of this country came to their senses and the laws were changed to allow beer to be served pretty much all day. Reason had prevailed and one could happily go missing in action in a saloon bar for a goodly amount of time. But, of course, we lived in London, where every opportunity to screw a few more pence out of the spending public was seized upon. Everything was open at every hour, every day. Pubs, restaurants and shops seemed never to close (though, perversely, police stations and hospitals and nursery schools started to close or operate restricted hours- go figure). Folk out in the sticks, however, liked things as they’d always been and the half-day closing practices continued.

So now, here in the middle of the English countryside and for the first time in yonks, I was being asked to leave a pub before 11pm for reasons other than foul language. And I tell you something: It felt perfectly fine. A sudden bout of nostalgia overcame me. I was transported back to those long, beerless afternoons of the 1980s, when I and legions of other thirsty herberts traipsed the streets trying to come up with something, anything to do while the pub was shut.

A smile passed my lips, this was a good thing. It was civilised, I could handle this. I was too long in the tooth to still feel the need to spend every waking hour in a hostelry. This is how adults behaved: you had a couple of quiet pints at lunchtime then made your way home to your loved ones. Spiffing. Adulthood, that which I vowed never to have anything to do with – like the Liberal Democrats, Strictly Come Dancing or anal tucks – had barged its way into my life and I felt comfortable letting it in.

We strolled back to the car. “That was great” I offered as convincingly as I might. “Very civilised indeed. Haven’t done that for years”.
“Yeah, it’s like the old days back in London, isn’t it?” agreed Stuart. We all nodded and manoeuvred our sensible middle-aged frames back into the car. I almost felt smug with myself. Stuart started the car then added,
“And on Mondays the pubs don’t open at all !”

!?!?

“Beg your pardon ?” I felt a cold chill run down my back. “Not open on Mondays. AT ALL???” I was a tad quieter on the drive back to the house.

The rest of the weekend was spent chomping a quaffing our way through Julia and Stuart’s wine cellar and food cupboards. Bloody fine it was too. Great company, smashing grub and a very fine selection of vin rouge kept us very happy indeed. We ventured out again on Sunday afternoon for a short tour of the area, stopping off at another pub for a pit stop. I wasn’t entirely convinced it was going to be open at all, given the shocking revelation of the day before. Thankfully I needn’t have fretted.

Just before we got our things together for our return trip home, a winter wasp (presumably another quirk of the countryside) flew up my trouser leg and stung me, thankfully only on the shin. Little bastard.

So we retraced our route back to the motorway en route to London, through the same lanes as the day before, now covered in jet blackness. Every so often we’d see a pair of unkown creature’s eyes illuminated in the headlights, or the flap of an owls wings as it swooped across the road in front of us.

It was all very different and all very lovely, but I decided that, as it turned out, I no longer wanted to live in the country. I’d gladly trade the smell of horses for the smell of a kebab house (often a strangely similar smell), I certainly could do without November wasps and I’ve never been all that keen on long country walks.

Back home now in Railway Cuttings, the rain is pouring down the window on a miserable, cold, November Monday afternoon. I’m looking out at bluetits on my nuts and squirrels burying theirs, not Owls hooting or badgers badgering. When I get bored of watching my more mundane urban wildlife I may just take myself off up to the village where there are five or six pubs with varying levels of charm. Some offer less-than-mediocre service, nearly all possess truly shocking toilets. In some the pipes won’t have been cleaned and there will be more barflies than customers (though I’ve yet to be bitten on the shin by a barfly). Being a Monday someone will have forgotten to order the lemons or re-stock the ice bucket.

But whatever the state of our local boozers down here in our little part of London they will be open. And that’s the way I like em.

Give Me your Tired, your Poor, your Huddled Masses


David Beckham came into this world on May 2nd 1975. By my reckoning that makes him 35 years old. When Fabio Capello told the media that Mr Beckham no longer featured in the England manager’s plans for the future, newspapers front pages and tv news bulletins went bananas. Some called it a disgrace that Golden Balls had not even received a phone call to tell him of his forced retirement, others pointed out he was a 35 year old recovering from injury and was clearly past it. On the other hand, there were those that said Beckham was sill the best crosser of a ball in the country. Then again, The Daily Express predicted that Beckham’s retirement would effect house prices.

This week Liverpool have been trying to re-sign Sami Hyypia from Bayer Leverkusen, but the Germans want to keep hold of the 36 year-old. A few weeks ago Capello thought 40 year old David James was the best goalkeeper in England. Fabio is 60-odd so we can put that down to dementia.

Paul Scholes was born on November 16th 1974. Scholes was recently awarded the man-of-the-match prize when his team Man Utd beat Chelsea at Wembley for the Community Shield, whatever that is. In a pitch-side interview after the game, Scholes was asked if there was any point Capello calling his to select him for England duty. “Probably not”, smiled the meek Scholes.

Like Scholes, Marcus Trescothick withdrew his services from his national team well before time. The brilliant opening batsmen for Somerset and England retired from international duty at the ripe old age of 31, citing manic depression and an unwillingness, nay incapability to travel, preferring to play county, not country. A good decision for him and his family, a potentially disastrous for the England team, as four years on Marcus is one of the most destructive and successful batsmen on the professional circuit, proving an old man can still play professional sport, even with two black labradors strapped to his legs.

Temporarily free of black dogs chasing me around the outfield, I again took to the field yesterday at the grand old age of 45¾. I dunno how Scholesie, Trescothickie and Beckhamie keep fit enough to run round around at the weekend, but Bealingie was more than a little fatigued after throwing down 9 overs of assorted rubbish. Both ankles, both knees and a hip were (and are) screaming out for mercy, and the fat, overripe pumpkin which passes for a head on top of my shoulders was in danger of meltdown.

The two Kiwis and one Aussie in our team were genuinely concerned as to my wellbeing. But from my position of all fours at fine leg, and between retches, I indicated I was fine and that I always looked like this. Elsewhere on the field, the two lads from Bangladesh lads were struggling to contain their amusement. Surprisingly, I’ve let my Bangladesh vocab slip of late, but by the way they were doubling up, puffing their cheeks out and pointing at me, I suspect they weren’t discussing field placements. Having said that, I understood little more of what the antipodeans were chortling about. “Here, mite, you seck?” Now what the fuck does that mean?

Our team, as you can see, is a cosmopolitan affair. It always was a rather rag-tag bunch of hack journalists, retired hacks, wannabe hacks, mates of hacks, mates of hacks’ sons. But over the past couple of years we’ve widened our net to include brothers and cousins and mates of mates of sons of hacks. Anyone really. It’s sad, as what started out as a journalists’ team can no longer raise 11 good men and true from it’s own ranks to enable us to put out a side every Saturday. Journalists get sent away on assignment, work weekends and work shifts. Sometimes the skipper would make 70 phone calls to try to raise a side, but to no avail. Hence the need for outsiders or ‘ringers’ to fill the breach.

The great thing about it, of course, is that the wider your net the more chance of including men that can actually play the game. And this has certainly proved to be the case for us. We take no notice of nationality, creed or colour. Just as long as you can wield a bat, throw a ball and run around for a bit then you are in. If you can actually catch a ball you’ll probably be made captain. If you buy a round after the the match, Life President. Complete arses need not apply. We’ve had a couple of infiltrators but they’ve been spotted and weeded out before they could do too much damage. They’re easy enough to spot:- they don spirally caps, old school tie as a belt, play for themselves not the team, buy their own beer, drink halves – you know the sort.

So yesterday, for example, we took to the field with 2 Kiwis, 1 Aussie, 2 Bangladeshis, 5 Englishmen and a Welshman (he has to play – he’s the skipper). There’s a few more New Zealanders, Strines and a couple or Welshmen who also play regularly, making us quite a little League of Nations. And you know what ? We’ve started winning games. A lot of games. Winning a lot of games very well indeed. Yesterday we beat The Times by ten wickets. A complete stuffing. Broke my heart, well almost.

The English Cricket team is full of South African ringers at the moment and seems to be doing ok. The New Zealand All Blacks have more than their fair share of Pacific Islanders drafted in to bolster their number and no-ne seems to mind. There have been a couple 6ft 6″ ginger Antipodeans representing Japan at rugby over the years, Aussie cricketers with Afrikaans accents, assorted Africans running for Denmark at the Olympics, Canadians masquerading as British tennis players. Half the Scottish rugby team would be more at home in Dunedin than Dundee (mind you, who wouldn’t ?).

So it seems Flags of Convenience are de rigueur. It doesn’t matter where you come from or where you were born, you can play for who you like, if you can demonstrate you will actually improve the national side you’re bidding for. Would Mikel Arteta be a welcome addition to the England football team ? He has apparently made himself available to Fabio Capello. He made 12 appearances for Spain, his country-of-birth, at under-21 level but none as a senior pro. You gotta believe (as he obviously does) that at 28 he’s obviously missed his chance to do so. So now he’s offering England his services. Does Fabio choose him over all the young English lads who are striving to make the grade in their own country ? Do we embrace him as one of our, as we did with Greg Rusedski, Kevin Pietersen, or Zola Budd (another Daily Mail triumph) ?

Would we be happier winning nothing with our own nationals, or winning everything (maybe) with these sporting mercenaries ? It’s all a matter of personal taste and judgement, I guess. Personally I’d rather have an old Scholes, a past-his Becks, or a Manic Marcus, than a fit-but-foreign Zola, Mikel or Kevin. But, if it’s all the same to you, I wanna keep our Aussies and Kiwis to help us stuff The Times at cricket one Saturday every summer.

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.

Catching 40 Winks in the Rye


I wasn’t going to write about the death of J.D.Salinger. Surely enough has been written? (and he never bothered to leave a comment on these pages). But then I thought I could perform a great service for anyone tempted to read him for the first time following the acres of copy written after his demise. Mr Salinger was a renowned American author, though for many of us, perhaps moreso on this side of the pond, I suspect his name first came into our consciousness via the reported antics of juvenile assassins and teenage mass-murderers.

When I was but a surly youth it seemed that you couldn’t turn on the evening news without someone having been shot down by the NYPD or similar for killing some celebrity such as Lennon or McCartney (well,you can dream) or instigating the massacre of a whole commune of cultish (spellcheck please) and religious nutcases somewhere in the Great American Midwest. Time and time again it seemed that the doers of these dreadful deeds appeared to have read Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye before they decided to pull the trigger.

A conveyor belt of judges and jurors were subjected to the flimsy defence of surviving adolescent would-be murderers, blaming Rye for tipping them over the edge, such was it’s subject matter. It’s touted as a book with “themes of teenage confusion, angst, alienation and rebellion”.Read this book, so the theory went, and you’d immediately develop a hatred of tutors, teachers and authority figures everywhere.

“That sounds the very thing for me!” thought a young me, who had already started grooming his black puppy. So I bought myself a copy of the book, fully expecting to turn into an axe-wielding homicidal maniac. There were a few teachers at school who deserved to be vapourised, and this sounded like the very accelerant I needed.

My targets, however, were saved by one small yet important fact : The Catcher in the Rye is a bag of old shite. It is THE dullest collection of self-important ramblings ever written (and I’ve read The Daily Mail). It IS , honest. There I was, aching for an excuse to end it all, and as far as I’m concerned it’s a cure from insomnia. The only people I wanted to kill after reading it were Salinger, his agent and his publisher. I may be wrong about this, but I doubt it. Feel free to tell me otherwise.

If you really want to get angry or depressed, or dabble in a spot of murder why not ingest a tome by Elizabeth Gilbert? Her brand of sickly shit chick-lit has already landed her a movie contract for the dramatisation of her first great work Eat Love Pray, a piece of celluloid sewage soon to be at a movie theatre far away from me, and starring Julia Roberts (shame on you). It’s another example of the creeping crud that is blighting all our lives. Let’s strangle this bollocks at birth.

If on the other hand you don’t live your life through Desperate Housewives or Bridget Jones, and would like to rebel against this post-feminist, Spice Girl/Anna Wintour/Alpha Female fuckfest which is infesting our arts and media (and would enjoy having a wee titter along the way) can I suggest you look no further than the magnificent drinkcursehate.wordpress.com. It’s a website written by three blokes who want to live as blokes in the world they thought they were growing up into during the 70’s, not as the cowering, emasculated sheep which a diet of Sex in the City, Strictly Come Shopping or Eat Love Pray would have them be. It hopes to be the antidote to Marie Claire and the Mail on Sunday. You might like it. Especially if you happen to be a fella.

Finally, a little self-congrats: Happy 1st Anniversary, The Sharp Single. Who said it’d never last? Tell your friends, tell your enemies, tell anyone with money who might want to pay me money to write this kind of rubbish.

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Difficult, Difficult, Lemon Difficult


BLACKHEATH-jpg

Strap yourselves in; this may go on a for a bit.

This is not the time to panic. This is a time for cool heads, a time for reasoning and clear thinking. We’ve been here before and got through it, and we can get through it again.

There’s no easy way to say this. So I’m just going to say it: My local pub has run out of lemons. I’m sorry, I didn’t know how else to break it to you.In truth it has had no lemons OR LIMES for a whole week now. Now before you scoff, just take on board what that actually means. Ever tried, of your own free will, a gin & tonic without lemon or lime (let alone both)? Or what about a vodka and coke? For the youngsters among you, doesn’t that glass of coke that dad buys you in the pub when he sees you every third Sunday in the month taste a little bit better with a slice of lemon floating atop? Well of course it does sweetie, just don’t tell mum we came in here.

But let’s dig further, let’s get to the nub of the problem, let’s don the safety helmets, lamps on, and delve deep to the heart of the matter: My pub has gone to pot. No, there’s no use in denying it, the boozer which has been home for the best part of a year has come to the end of its run and now I must move on.

“A year?!?!” I hear you cry in amazement. “But you speak of it as if you have been there forever-and-a-day??!! A year doesn’t seem very long”

Well, as Nana Mouskouri would say, let me tell you a little story:

A long, long time ago I can still remember how the music used to make…. No hang on a minute, that’s a different story altogether.

A long, long time ago, back in the day when two young blokes called Tony and Gordon were just settling in to their new swanky pads in the heart of London’s fashionable Westminster, a young bloke called Mike was getting used to life on his own in a house in London’s unfashionable Blackheath. In a flash and purely by chance, he happened upon a newly refurbished public house, not far from his dwelling. Over the ensuing months Mike and his friends spent many a long and happy night dancing and drinking and singing and drinking and wobbling in that little faux-Irish pub. But after three or four years of happy times, the group of friends started to go their separate ways. Some of them realised they were getting a little old to be drinking every night of the week. There were those who lamented the passing of their favourite landlord. Some felt the pub had run it’s course and was beginning to be filled with far too many of the ‘younger set’. Others agreed, but thought the fact that younger women were coming into the pub was precisely the reason to remain using the pub. Yet more others pointed out to those others that none of them had pulled so much as a muscle in all the years they’d been drinking there and that those others were wasting their time trying.

And so it came to pass that this ever-dwindling band of chums trotted down the road and began to use the pub by the railway station , imaginatively called The Railway which they would continue calling the ‘local’ for many moons to come. The Railway was a completely different kettle of prawns. It was dark, sleek, laid-back with subtle shades on the walls, non-matching, low-slung furniture. Chaise longues and sofas everywhere, mood music and exotic nibbles. They served several draught beers from oversized pint pots, there was a huge and extensive wine list, and a long and varied food menu. In short, it was fucking horrible. This was not what Mike required from a pub at all! This, in fact, wasn’t a pub ! This was a ‘bar’. Yuk!! True, the clientele was a little older and looked (at first glance anyway) to be slightly classier and less rough-around-the-edges from the Oirish bar, but in truth they were the same people, just out in their best bib-n-tucker and having had a wash.

Ever the accommodating diplomat (quiet at the back!) Mike said nothing and went with the flow, supping many a happy sundowner with his chums, sometimes chatting away quietly at the bar, accompanied by the quiet hubbub of a cattle market going on around them. However, it always seemed to take just that little bit too long to be served, and was lacking in what Mike perceived to be the due respect and politeness from the bar staff due to a bloke who poured half of his week’s wages over the counter. All this was to be endured while taking in lungfuls of the smell of duck a l’orange, or scallops in walnut batter being brought to tables every 4 and a half minutes. Mike hated the smell food in pubs, and this one was a serious and serial offender. It wasn’t awful, it just wasn’t very pleasant. But again, after a couple of years, the group slowly diminished down to a mere handful. Some got married, some left the area, some went to the infirmary and some to Doctor Gibb’s. So, when the couple who had been the main champions of the bar upped and went off to buy half of Cornwall, Mike saw his chance to change pubs. (continued after this Advert:)

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By now he had met The Incumbent (in the Railway, funnily enough) and together they made their way up the hill to The Crown. An attractive looking little boozer (both the pub and The Incumbent), with a considerably older intake (that’s the pub, not The Incumbent) than the previously two hostelries, with an interior which looked and smelled like a proper public house (old and smelly) and locals to match. It was run by Keith, a salt-of-the-earth Geordie with a bad back. This allowed him to order the young staff up n down from the cellar, lugging barrels around, and gave him more time in the bar. There was the world’s worst afternoon gambling syndicate, armed with the Mirror and the Sporting Life they systematically bet on every horse which came in last in every race on TV. There was the local village idiot, who shouted his way around the pub trying to impress women 20 years younger than himself with his brand of cockney wit, Timmy Mallet glasses, tales of the past and knob gags. There was the bloke and his little scruffy neckerchiefed dog who popped in for a sharp single as part of their nightly ‘walk’ around the village. It was too old and crusty for most trendy types, too smelly for many women, too dead for violence-seeking herberts. Only once did anything kick off in there when one rather drunk and rather fat bloke took a swing at the assistant bar manager over an alleged short measure. He missed by a yard, fell off his stool, literally shit himself, and left with not just his tail, but also a long trail of poo between his legs.

However, after nearly a year, even this roller-coaster ride of thrills and spills got to Mike in the end: The village idiot started recognising him and tried to start up conversations beginning with “allo bruv, ‘ow’s yer bum for spots?” and suchlike. The groups of old smelly men started to get progressively louder and more boisterous, much worse than any bunch of shiny-suited tossers from Eltham. The barmaids became even more miserable and unhelpful than ever, and they ran out of beers far too often to call themselves a pub. The final straw came when Mike asked for a pint of Guinness and a G&T (ice and lemon) for the missus. The sour-faced girl behind the jump went away to address the optic. She returned.
“We ain’t got no ice. You still want the lemon?” she enquired.
“I don’t think I even want the gin” Mike sighed back. They left.

Who has EVER asked for a warm gin with no ice or lemon? (no whelk jokes here please).

Crossing the road, and with a walk reminiscent of Ray Liotta in Goodfellas, Mike led the Incumbent back into O’Neills, the very same Oirish pub he’d left all those years ago. It was a changed pub: New landlord, new atmosphere, less youngsters, less anyone, in fact. Barmaids and barmen who smiled at you, asked how you were and remembered what you drank. Night after night, week after week, month after month of great service, pleasant company and great bands on a Thursday night. Mike was truly happy once more. He felt at home. He came to know the staff and they came to know both him and The Incumbent. Drinks were bought, tips were given, jokes shared. It was a nice happy time, and it lasted for about a year. Until it stopped.

Another change of manager led immediately to a change of staff. Some left immediately, never to return. The service started falling off, they started running out of certain beers, increasingly there were too few behind the bar to serve. Last Thursday Mike waited ten minutes to be served, and there were only another eight people in the pub. Two floor-servers were working but only one person behind the bar. He had half a mind of sitting down at a table to be served, but Mike doesn’t sit down in pubs. Even the Thursday night band on stage seemed not to be pulling their weight. Mike was sad again.

And then they ran out of lemons.

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So that is my story. I hope you can see my plight. Where to go next? I hear tell the Hare and Billet has something to offer, but I’m sure the landlord will serve me in his vest. The Princess of Wales may be long on lemons, both behind and in front of the bar, but it’s short on atmosphere. And anyway it’s far too far to walk (about 300 yrds). I can’t go through the whole winter without a local. Where would I take the kids at the weekend ?

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