Mike vrs the Volcano


“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get it under control. I trust you are not in too much distress.”

These were the words of Captain Eric Moody as his 747 flew into a cloud of of volcanic dust over Indonesia in 1982. Now I’m not sure which carefully chosen phrase I would have blurted out at the top of my voice had I been on that flight, probably something along the lines of “oh bugger”. Still we need not speculate for too long, as I’m booked on a flight on Sunday to Amsterdam. Well, that’s the plan anyway. As the UK is, apparently, under it’s very own cloud of volcanic dust, it’s not clear if any flights will be taking off by then anyway. I keep looking skywards and all I can see is blue sky and sunshine, but the met office says different and the plume of ash spewing out out the Icelandic volcano has closed the whole of Britain’s airspace.

Now as you will have read here previously, I’m no great fan of flying anyway, merely getting on planes as a means to an end, but ever since I decided to show The Incumbent the delights of the home of the clog, coffee bar and tulip, this trip has been jinxed from the beginning. No sooner had the buttons on BA website been clicked to confirm our flight, their cabin crew announced a series of strikes. The first two caused chaos at the airport, and the third promised to do the same. We spent hours trying to work out alternative routes and modes of transport and decided if the threatened third round of industrial action came (due this weekend) then we’d pop onto the car ferry and drive to Amsterdam.

Only yesterday it became pretty clear that no such action was going to take place and ‘safe’ in the knowledge we would indeed be flying, booked our spot in the car park at Heathrow. When I switched on the news this morning the news of the volcanic ash cloud took a a little time to sink in, it didn’t seem real, but 12 hours later it seems that there’s a very good chance that we will, after all, be completely and absolutely buggered, grounded by this ash. They’re telling me that this invisible cloud is sitting there above us at 30,000 ft, which is where aircraft normally do their stuff (I didn’t know that, as when I’m in the air I’ve usually got my eyes closed and my fingers in my ears, having injected the required amount of scotch into my bloodstream).

Sadly, there’s nothing to be done. I’m no scientist (no, honestly, I’m not) but I don’t think you can just sail up to Iceland and turn the volcano off. Nor I suspect could you send a fleet of helicopters up to blow the cloud away. Can you imagine the frustration to someone like me when there’s really no-one to blame ? My hatred of flying is only matched for my contempt for those that run airlines. Willie Walsh seems to have ably filled the the shoes of the crook who used to run BA, Lord King, and who but his own mother would give that shyster Michael O’Leary over at Ryanair anything but a swift kick to the goolies? Then there’s Branson. I’m running out of airlines I actually feel anything but hatred for. First they steal my money in complicated, if not fraudulent online booking forms (oh, you wish to wear underpants while flying? That’s another £17.50. Sick bags are £4.10 and a stale cheese sandwich is a tenner. Have a nice flight, sir) and THEN they scare the life out of me while I’m up there. I’m sure some of their pilots are former employees at EuroDisney.

But no, I can’t blame them. This is totally the fault of that cow Mother Nature. And probably George Osborne (and why not ? I need to vent). Sadly there’s not much I can do about either of them, I will just have to wait until the volcano blows itself out, or the wind changes direction and blows the dust cloud, and Osborn is forced, on his knees, to clean out the ash from still-moving jumbo jet engines, and what’s left of him given a paupers grave in Welling Cemetery (be sure to order the flowers early).

Osborne’s boss, Cameron, due on TV tonight appearing in the first ever live TV debate of the major party leaders. T o prepare for it, I have cleared the house of all heavy, sharp and throwable objects. I have upped my insurance on my tv and The Incumbent has emptied the liquor cabinet (well, the cupboard under the sink where I keep the booze.) I fear for my and her safety and for that of the contents of Railway Cuttings. Watching these three numpties parrot-out prepared answers to prepared and pre-supplied questions may just prompt an eruption of my own.

“Well don’t watch it, then” I hear you say. But I shall watch it because it is, as I say, the first time it’s ever happened on British TV, and also there’s something in me that believes it’s my duty to watch it. It’s clear that the party leaders only agreed to do it as part of their shameless scam to make us believe that politicians, in the wake of the expenses scandal, are now accessible, open and honest. And do you know, they actually think we believe all this cobblers? Well, why wouldn’t they ? We stood for an illegal war, our elected members stealing our money and their mates in the banking industry are still wandering around at liberty, because we’re told that Parliament will crack down on corruption in the city . We’d believe anything, wouldn’t we ? Even those of us who think we’ve rumbled them, will stroll up and put our ‘X’ next to their name come May 6th. We deserve all we get.

Some of us even believe there’s a big, black Icelandic cloud of dust stopping me going on holiday.
As long as I don’t have to get on a plane, I’ll believe anything.

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Blair In Bread Burning Bedlam


As dull headlines and stories go, this morning’s real one from the BBC takes some beating:

Busy day in the office, lads? That’s the trouble when nothing happens in the world, you’ve still got acres of space to fill. Newspapers (and therefore, I’m guessing websites) rarely expand or contract because of the amount of decent news content available, but the amount of adverts sold. Rule of thumb is the decent items you have to fill, the more ads the buggers have sold. This results on pages and pages of newsprint laying there empty waiting for something to fill it. You would have thought, wouldn’t you, that this is the time some nice big photos would be used to entertain the reader? Sadly not. More often than not, stories like the above make it onto the page.

Things at The Sharp Single are no different. If I have nothing vaguely interesting to say, yet haven’t posted a blog for sometime, I tend to find a random Youtube clip to post, or write something as dull as this paragraph you’ve just read.

24 Hour news channels have a terrible time of it. Yesterday morning, around 4am, BBC news’ lead story was an item that the vast majority of pensioners asked didn’t want the Government to stop paying their benefits by cheque, to be replaced by internet payments. Really? You telling me that old people want to retain the status quo (OBE) ? That they don’t like change? That they get confused by the web?? What a revelation ! What a way to lead a news bulletin ! Sadly, by late evening this piece had been demoted only to number 3 on the schedule, now behind The ABC’s attack on Irish paeodophile priests and a very long and tedious story about teachers and schools, and just before The University Boat Race result.

Talking of which, being the sort of bloke I am, I tuned in on Saturday to watch The Boat Race at the advertised time, 3.10pm to be (eventually) informed by our old friend Claire Balding that the race was due off at 4.30. That’s an hour and twenty minutes to fill before kick-off (or whatever they call it). Now I like a pointless sporting event as much as the next man but even the coverage of the Grand Prix allows for only an hour’s build-up. Sky had the decency to only give us 45 minutes of ‘informed chat’ before Man Utd vrs Chelski on Saturday.

However brilliant Claire Balding is (?) and no matter how long pundits salivate about the (unlikely) prospect of another sinking this year, The Boat Race is a tough sell and a painful stretch of a pundit’s powers to fill 80 minutes, even if that pundit is Steve Redgrave. As it turned out, there was no sinking this year (shock), just a rather exciting race (even more shockinger!!)

Time and space to fill. I’m only writing this because it’s five o’clock on Bank Holiday Monday morning and I’ve already watched the news three times, in lieu of anything in ESPN Classic. There’s is a comedy football quiz showing at the moment, but I refuse to watch it as it’s called The Umpire Strikes Back which, apart from being a more hackneyed play on words you’ll find anywhere on these pages (!), has zilch to do with soccer. UMPIRE ?!?!. So as no-one at ESPN could think of a remotely witty-yet-soccer-related title for their quiz, they have lost one insomniac viewer. That’ll learn ’em! For a ha’peth of tar, eh?

Meanwhile, back on the news channels there’s yet another row about Labour’s policy on National Insurance again (apparently there’s an election looming), Liverpool FC have fucked up their season (again) and cricket legend Alec Bedser has died (surely again??). There’s an earthquake in Mexico which has killed one man and a mine collapse in China (interesting, but too far way away to merit a lead item, apparently), it’s tough for young people to get on the housing ladder (really? are we in recession, then?), and it’s gonna be sunny with showers in the South East today. Or not. They’re not sure.

So there you have it. 761 words which fill a chunk of space when there’s nothing vaguely interesting to talk about. It’s about now when I should say “And if you have photos of snow/spring daffodils/sweet babies/Jesus’s face on a piece of toast, please do send them in and I promise to run them when I’m bored shitless and have acres to fill.” Quality journalism, eh? Pah!. Now, let’s have a quick look at the front pages of the papers…

Zwei Birra, und Quattro Cokes, Si Vous Plait


So I was worried about the flight, and I was worried about the drive across Italy. A little bit of me worried how I’d handle four kids for a week. But for some reason it hadn’t occurred to me to be worried that we didn’t possess a map , a phrasebook or the minutest smattering of the language between us. Whether it was an oversight, what with everything we had to organise and fret about beforehand and all that; or whether my subconscious considered me far to wordly-wise to bother about not being understood I’m not sure. Anyway, we had the Tom Tom, right? Nothing goes wrong when you have a Tom Tom, does it? And this was, after all, an EU country where everyone spoke English, right? Wrong! This was a part of the EU where they had been mercifully ignored by plane-loads of Brits tearing up their towns and abusing their waiters. Sure there were always a few families passing through, but not enough for the indigenous population to feel the need to gen-up on the Oxford English Dictionary.

So, Ich nicht sprechen Italiano, je ne comprends your banter pas, old boy. By the way, can you tell me when the hell I am please, Signor Garcon? What a berk.

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No matter, we picked up the motor at one of Rome’s airports (a battered and bruised Fiat Ulysses, prefect for our Odyssey, I thought) and sped east along the Autstrade. 17ks later we hit (almost literally) a string of Toll booths, stretched across the road. In a singularly British way I plumped for the wrong gate. I pressed the red button. Nothing. Pressed it again, still no ticket. Two cars had pulled up behind me. I started sweating-up in the paddock. I pressed the green button, next to the speaker. A conversation was had between 2 people who had no idea what the other was saying. The word “ticket” was the sole common denominator. Four cars behind me now, the third gave several honks on his Italian handbrake (his horn). I made the International Sign for bugger off, back-up, I’m coming out and they begrudgingly obliged and I reversed onto the hard shoulder. Somehow Italians can steer a car, press the horn AND wave both arms in the air all at the same time (yes, I know this sound like a stereotype, but it really is true).

I found a tall, imposing, para-military-type at the help desk, complete with mirror-shades and, dare-I-say, jackboots. He spoke very little English, so he had the jump on me. “Where you go?” he asked.
I’d forgotten where, indeed, I was going, so I picked a nearby city at random “Ancona” I replied. A puzzled look came across his face. Why would anyone want to go to that sh*t-hole?, he was thinking. Ah wait!: He’s English. He wrote several unconnected words in block capitals onto a scrap of paper and handed it to me.
“You no pay” he said. Then gesturing the International Sign for giving, said “you give this to Ancona”.

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What he wrote I cared not one wit, as it was clear he was letting us through without charge. And away we went.

An hour down the road we approached a second set of tolls. This time I was determined not to embarrass myself as before. I chose the one with the International Sign for money above it. But there was no slot to insert neither coins, notes nor credit card. I started to panic again. Then a cardboard ticket spewed out of a hole just in front. In my haste I lunged at it, snatched at it and dropped it on the tarmac.

“Oh sod it ! Sorry kids” I exclaimed.
“Dad, Daaaaaad” yelled one from the back row of the car “it’s open!”.
I looked up to see the gate had indeed opened. WooHoo!!!, I had an escape route. I stuck her into what I hoped was something near 1st and released the clutch. We stalled. I’d stuck her into 5th. All week I would struggle and fail to find the right gear. Left-hand-drive motors call for right-hand gear-changing and I would discover that I was crap at it. I restarted the car, found 2nd-ish and we kangaroo-ed out of the trap.

Ninety minutes of scary motorway driving later and we’d reached our exit. Down the slip road, around the tight hairpin (5th instead of the desired 3rd gear) and up to our final toll booth. I pressed the green button. Nothing, but an LED message in Italian. What good was that to me? I pressed the green button instead.

“Si” came a woman’s voice after a short pause.
“Hello”, I said in my best David Niven, “do you speak English?
“Put in your ticket” she replied, by way of an affirmative.
“I don’t have a ticket”
“Put in your ticket”
“I’m sorry I don’t have a ticket”
“Put in your ticket”
“I don’t have a ticket, sorry. I have a piece of paper”, remembering Signor Jackboot’s gift to me earlier.
“One moment please” There was a pause of no more that 4 seconds.

The LED message changes from the unintelligible message to one I understood clearly. It was the International Sign for 75 Euros. Signora Tollbooth had suddenly gone mute. Hmmm… I knew I was stuffed. I hadn’t the command of the language to argue the toss, even if I had an argument. Two crisp 50 Euro notes were slid into the machine, the change was spat out into the tray bellow. I stuck her into reverse, then 3rd, then finally 1st and limped out under the open gate, my tailpipe between my legs.

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“I bet they did that cos we were English” offered one of the small mammals in the back seat.
“Yeah” said another, “They hate the Brits” declared a third.

“Nope” I told them. “We didn’t have a ticket so they charged us for the whole length of the motorway. It’s fair enough. British Rail do similar. We’ll know better next time.” Famous last words.

On day 3 of our trip one of the lads and I parked outside what we took to be a supermarket, but which turned out to be a chemist. Exiting with what little we could find worth buying (Aftersun and loo roll) we noticed a parking ticket for 38 Euros slapped on the windscreen of the car. A tad miffed we yomped to the local Cop Shop. “Hello” I said (trying my Alan Whicker this time), handing him the Duty Sergeant the ticket,”do you speak English? ”
“A little” he smiled.
Sadly, he apparently knew only one English phrase: “Thirty-eight Euros”, he said, holding out his palm and making the International Sign for give me the money.
“What did I do wrong?” I asked
“Thirty-eight Euros” he grinned again. Hmmm…. we’ll know better next time.

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Later, in a take-away restaurant I managed to order 6 whole pizzas when I wanted 6 slices. The kids were thrilled and chomped their way through the lot. When we finally found the supermarket I bought 12 litres of water which no-one would drink as it was of the fizzy variety and they’d “clearly asked for still, daaaad”.

Map-less, we managed not to find the biggest water-park in southern Europe, drove up two one-way streets and, on the home trip, spent ninety minutes looking at the airport from a distance of 700 yards while we encircled it trying to find a route in. When we finally did so, I drove into the wrong car park to return the car and had a fruitless two-language argument trying to get out of said car park to go find the proper one. This time the lady took pity on me and opened the gate for nix.

So would I go back? You bet. Apart from the odd jobsworth and copper, the Italians were a superb bunch. Most were very happy to help us through the language barrier, and keen to teach us the few words we needed to get by. Birra, Conto, Prego, Formaggio, Pomadoro and the like now seem second nature to me, which will be handy when I go to France tomorrow.

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The weather was hot, and the birra cold. The region in which our villa was situated was absolutely beautiful, tiny little medaeval villages dotted around a stunning mountainous landscape. An hour down the road (take a map) is mile-upon-mile of beautiful, clean welcoming beaches, full of elegant,friendly locals, spectacular ice cream parlours and, according to the Incumbent’s 14-year-old boy, beautiful, topless, Italian women (though I never saw any, and if I did, I wasn’t staring, honest).

I’ve never stayed at a better appointed nor better situated villa than The Villa San Raffaello, run by Damien and Sharon, two charming Londoners (albeit, he’s a Gooner) who set up shop there five years ago. Plenty of room, a pool, tv etc etc etc everything a family would want, complete with hot n cold running vegetables and herbs from their gardens surrounding the dwelling. Stick yer straw hat on and play being Don Corleone among the tomato plants (though, hopefully without the final consequences). The vines mature next summer so there will be wine too (or vino, as we like to call it).

Driving through a neighbouring town one afternoon the driver of a parked car I was poodling past opened his door and sliced off my wing mirror. K-LUNK. I pulled in down the road, got out and trudged back to the scene of the accident. The man, elegant, middle-aged, grey hair, mahogany skin and perfect teeth, shirt open to the navel, stood there grinning at me, arms outstretched, palms pointing upwards, the International Sign for sorry mate, but what you gonna do?. I did the only thing I could: I taught him some Anglo Saxon words beginning with ‘F’ and ‘C’, picked up my ex-wing mirror and went back to the car.

Normandy tomorrow, courtesy of Mr Horrible‘s generous hospitality. Now French I’m good at. Cul de Sac, mon amis.

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Up There Where the Air is Clear


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And so we’re off to Gatwick at 4 o’clock tomorrow morning. Not my favourite thing to do. Aircraft and I don’t really mix. I’m hoping the sheer excitement of the kids (mine and The Incumbent’s) rubs off on me and momentarily lets me forget that I’m bloody terrified of flying. It won’t, of course, but maybe just for a second or two along-the-way I’ll be preoccupied with sheepdogging four youngsters in the right direction rather than concentrating on impending doom at the hands of an Easyjet pilot. I feel sick just typing this. Not having taken a middle-of-the-night flight for years, I’m more than a little concerned that I may not be able to drink my own bodyweight in scotch before I board. Are they open at 5 am? God, I hope so.

I’m not sure quite when this fear of certain excruciating death by plummeting out of the heavens gripped me, but I do wish it would go away. I have tried everything to cure it: Valium, malt whisky, sobbing uncontrollably, soiling myself, but nothing has succeeded in allaying my fears. I don’t like small planes as they get buffetted about by the smallest breeze, and big planes don’t look like like they should be able to stay up. If I walk across the tarmac towards the aircraft I’m always on the lookout for cracks in the wings, or rust on the fuselage. I drive myself nuts.

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This time, I’m sure, the kids will be killing themselves laughing as dad’s head turns purple and his knuckles white as the big orange bird soars into the sky (well that’s the plan anyway). They’ll think it’s hilarious, as I did when I was their age cos my dad always hated flying too. I used to love it, but no longer. Too many bouts of turbulence and dropping the odd-hundred have done for me.

And they keep happening: Flying to Amsterdam a couple of years ago we flew through the tail of that tornado which hit Watford, or wherever. I tell you here and now, we dropped so quickly that my whisky n dry was suspended in mid air, al la Warner Bros cartoons, before rejoining the glass from whence it came some several feet below. I was petrified, and not wanting to give the whisky another chance to make a bid for freedom I introduced it to several similar of its kind already residing in my stomach.

This time, as I’m driving for several hours at the other end, I guess I’ll have to take it easy on the gold watch, and for similar reasons Diazepam is out (Italian coppers don’t like Brits falling asleep at the wheel whilst driving around the Colloseum, and I think the girls would complain too). Imagine my thirst when we finally arrive at our villa, some 4 hours after we land ? Peroni me up, Guido.

See you in a couple of weeks.

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Les Miserables? You Ain’t seen Nothin’ Yet


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There’s a joke doing the rounds that Susan Boyle called The Prime Minister last night to see how his mental health was. It’s not been a good week for either of them and one suspects GB may have asked her if there’s any room for him in the next bed to her at the Priory clinic. They would make a lovely couple if they hooked up, actually. The tabloids would have a new pair of nutcases to stalk, and doubtless dub them Brobo: “Brobo in all-night binge at China White”, “Exclusive pics of Brobo on beach in Barbados” (best not think about that one too long), and hopefully “Brobo to Adopt African Orphan”—well let’s hope they do adopt as I hate to think what their offspring would look like.

But of course this is all nonsense. Gordon is many things but he is a loyal man. Loyal to his wife Sarah, loyal to Blair, loyal to himself. He’ll never do the dirty on his wife, and it will take a monumental effort to oust him from office. The knives are out but he’s committed to the work which he so strongly believes his God has sent him to do. Maybe by the time you’ve read this (or even by the time I’ve finished typing it) he would have committed Edwina Kari and fallen on his sword, but I suspect not.

I can just imagine in 20 years time watching TV and looking at the grainy, long lens images of a man in a shabby white shirt, bag in hand, fingernails bitten to the quick, and smiling out of context as he tries to stop Cameron’s tanks advancing across Trafalgar Square down Whitehall. News correspondents and historians will discuss the images: “Whatever happened to that man? we don’t even know his name”. The government, about to sit for their 6th straight term owing to the complete lack of opposition, will refuse to release any details of the man’s whereabout or fate. They’d have long ago closed down the BBC and Youtube but still rumours abound that he once went on camera, weeks before he made the ultimate sacrifice, and made a complete arse of himself. But all evidence of that footage will have been erased, along with The Stranglers back catalogue.

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The events of the politcal meltdown leading up to the 2029 election will have been well documented. It started with the expenses row back in 2009 when some bloke called Darling and his ugly sisters, Hazel and Jacqui stuck their politcal knees into the private parts of the party that had previously brought them fame and fortune. In the local and European elections that followed, the sitting government recorded nil points as the voters, like lemmings, fled over the cliff of ignorance and onto the rocks of fascism below. The BNP and UKIP (later to amalgamate into BUNKUP) came in a close third behind what used to be called the Liberal Democrats, led by the charismatic erm…

But it was the Tory party who reigned supreme and by the time of the next general election (about three weeks later) the Labour Party had declared thermo-nuclear war on itself. In a last act of madness, Dame Petra Mandleson had re-instated David Blunkett (‘The Bonker of Brightside’) and his mate John ‘Two Face’ Prescott to charm the country. Pedictably none of the remaining few labour stalwarts could vote for laughing and the party disbanded. The Tories achieved a landslide, the former Blair Babes joined BUNKUP and within five years they’d done to the fascists what Blunkett had been doing to other people’s wives for years. In 2024, King Charles the Bonkers, tired of waiting for the LibGreen Party (as they now were) to win any votes in a proper election, threw in the towel and dissolved the Monarchy. President Osborne, fresh from a successful season of peasant-shooting, officially took office in October 2025.

So anyway…

When I went to the Polling station today there were no checkers outside. No old grannies in rosettes asking for your number, no-one taking exit polls. First time I’ve seen that. I suspect the major parties fear the worse and don’t want to lose too many of the party activists and faithful to violent assault by the angry mob. Pity actually because, as usual, I’d donned my best bib-and-tucker (always no1s on polling day) and I do like to have a gentle chat with these old dears and beardy-wierdies outside the school where I vote, before shouting “bugger off and mind your own business” when they ask me who I voted for. It’s a great thing, voting, no matter what the current circumstances. The bastards will soon-enough take the vote away from us if it seems that we don’t want it. So go out and exercise your right. You don’t need to wear your Sunday Best—you can wear a vest and a thong if you prefer. And vote for a proper, mainstream party—any of them—just not the Nazis, the Xenophobes or the single-issue mob. Cos you know what’ll happen if you don’t: You’ll get loonies and extremists like me taking over.

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Phew, Wot a Scorcha !


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As the sun beats down on the ever-increasing skin atop of me old bald ‘ead and another bottle of Pimms is drained of its contents, I sit in my garden and think to myself that life ain’t so bad. (No—you haven’t clicked onto the wrong page, keep with me). The garden is in full bloom owing to a shed-load of cash, the helpful staff at Homebase and The Incumbent’s hard sweat and toil. She’s not bad for an old bird, and to watch her lugging dirty great sacks of topsoil from the car to the back garden just goes to show how committed to the cause she is. I’d offer to help but from where I sit on the sun-lounger she looks as if she enjoys it. Though if she’s not careful she won’t have enough energy to do the washing-up.

The blue tits are still busily feeding the nippers in the bird box, while in the opposite hedge the swinging blackbirds continue their orgy of cross-gender malarky which would make your mother blush. At the bottom of the garden the regular punch-up between two woodpeckers momentarily takes my mind off the fact that my drink has finished. I am left with several options: 1:Go without (yeah, right), stay put and watch Woody and co flap shit out of each other; 2: Get up and go to the fridge for a replacement beverage (not tempting); 3: Wait for The Incumbent to finish trimming her bush, come down off that ladder and go get me a brew. Being the new man I am, I choose option 2 (which also spares me from having a set of hedge-cutters inserted into me).

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As evening approaches, we head for one of the locals in the village for sundowners. The boozer we choose has recently had a change of landlord and for a while us customers thought we were to enjoy an upturn in fortunes. For years it had been run by a drunk, rude Celt. I can’t get any more specific than that as his thick accent was augmented by a litre of scotch and 70 cigs-a-day. This made him not only completely incomprehensible but it was also impossible to know from which part of the country he was from. I say Glasgow, others think Belfast. Who knows? Who cares? He’s gone now, and good riddance, miserable old bastard.

So the pub got a new coat of paint a few weeks ago and looks pretty good, and we had high hopes for the new faces behind the jump. Alas I fear the new, presumably married couple may not come up to snuff either: He has taken to wearing a football shirt in the bar (Man Utd, for those keeping score) and I swear he’s inches away from serving customers in his vest, or some other sweat-stained undergarment. She on the other hand is always reasonably turned-out but has a face like a slapped arse. I came very close to getting served by this lemon-sucker the other night but was fortunate enough to be headed off at the pass by a young girl who helps out behind the bar (I give her about 3 weeks before she flees).

However on this glorious summer evening, nothing is going to scupper my good mood. We sit sipping and bathing in the late-evening sun streaming through the window, engage in jolly banter and idle persiflage with several friends and even when I am informed that the sun had gone down hours ago and that it is time to leave I care not one jot. Back home, where usually on a Sunday evening I am pacing the carpet, worrying about work the next day, we repair once more to the back garden to have just-the-one before retiring. I hold and ice-cold bottle in my hand and watch as the insects buzz around the garden light before biting lumps out of me. Unflustered, I take myself up the wooden hill for a long, uninterrupted slumber. I have a smile on my face.

I wake up to even more hot sunshine slapping me round the chops, I leap to my feet like a young gazelle (albeit a slightly hungover one) and prepare for the day ahead. An hour later I am in work. Two hours after that an envelope arrives by courier. I open it, read its contents and smile to myself again. My boss is on holiday so I call him on his mobile. I say the words which I’ve dreamed of saying for a long time, but hadn’t actually said to anyone in seriousness for nine years: “I resign”. He takes it well (it isn’t exactly a surprise to him) and we agree to have a beer and watch some cricket on his return. I’ll spend the next month working my notice with a spring in my step, a song in my heart and a glint in one of my piggy little eyes before I leave for pastures and boozers new. The limbo of working one’s notice is always an odd feeling.

But I resigned yesterday and that felt very good indeed.

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Shockin’ down in Kent


My sad, silly old mate Dave Sapsted once wrote, “Bealing grew up in the part of Kent which everyone else calls South London”. Well he was half right—which is 50% more than he usually is. I was born in the London Borough of Bexley but went to school in Dartford, which was and still is in Kent. Not so much the Garden of England, more the Allotment. Apart from the Warbler, England fast bowler, Graham Dilley, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, I’m the only thing of note which has come out of this rather unremarkable town. If you do want to come out of it it’ll cost you 30 bob to use the Dartford Tunnel, and you wouldn’t wanna do that cos it’ll take you into Essex. For 59 quid you can hop on the Eurostar at the nearby and romantically-named Ebbsfleet Inernational Railway Station and lose yourself in Paris or Brussels. Or you can do what most Dartfordians do instead and lose yourself in Bluewater shopping centre (and if you can get out of there alive without spending 59 quid you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din). All once-remembered links to Chaucer’s Pilgrims or Watt Tyler‘s Peasants have been washed away by that massive lump of concrete hell, sitting in a disused chalk quarry a couple of miles east. “Oh you come from Dartford? Where Bluewater is?” Yes, I do. Fuck off.

Thurrock, sir? First shithole on your right

Thurrock, sir? First shithole on your right

Shunning the obvious delights of Dartford, some years ago I made my way 10 miles up the A2 to the last bastion of civilization left in SE London: Blackheath. Civilization, however, is suspended on Friday and Saturday eves as the Eltham Nazis take over the village bars and restaurants, and we now have a black maria which circles the small one-way system in almost perpetual motion, picking-up the knuckle-draggers as it goes. We do get 5 days of relative peace and calm, where you can get a pint and a curry and have a more-than-decent chance of making it home with as many limbs as you came out with. But I do hear often from friends “Oh, Blackheath! Lovely down there, isn’t it?” It’s lovely in the way that Basra is lovelier than Baghdad.

 

Anyway, back to Baghdad…er Dartford. I always keep half an eye on Dartford— my kids live there for starters, as does The Incumbent, and there are still a few of the lads who never made it over the wire, so I return there every-so-often. But like a favourite testicle after too long in the bath, it has shrunken and shrivelled over the years since I was a schoolboy more than 25 years ago. The streets are shorter, the shops smaller, pubs grubbier and girls uglier (present Mrs B aside, you understand). The town planners seem to have been influenced by Jackson Pollock or Magnus Pyke, the semi-deserted streets (Bluewater sucks the life out of the town on weekends) are the domain of small herds of herberts in hoods, grazing on MaccyDs in forests of triffid traffic signs. It’s an all-too familiar story if you know towns like Barnet, Orpington, St Albans or any of a number dotted around the M25 corridor.

Locals point the best way out of town

Locals point the best way out of town

As a young man I used to ply my medium-pacers for Wilmington CC, a village team just up the road. Wilmington was a leafy little dingly-dell, away from the bustle of the Dartford ‘metrolopis’, with a couple of proper boozers, a local park with a decent cricket square (complete with licensed pavilion), a couple of schools and lots of tree-lined lanes where on a clear night you could witness fleets of Escort Mark I’s bouncing up and down to the rhythm of young couples at it. Nowadays those same lanes are the natural habitat for middle-aged men taking themselves on long, lonely strolls in the hope of meeting other middle-aged men on long, lonely strolls in the hope that they can have some fun together.

If you go down on someone in the woods today...

If you go down in the woods today, you

Wilmington made a news-item this week. Not for it’s cottage industry, nor for the cricket team’s tight match vrs local rivals Swanley but because of the antics of the headmistress of the local school. At Wilmington Enterprise College the head mistress, Belinda Langley-Bliss (I kid you not) sent 61 pupils home from lessons in one day. Go back and read that again. IN ONE DAY.
Now what, you may well ask, happened on that day? A mass riot? Did the upper-sixth set fire to the science block? Were the school leopard and the caretaker’s water cannon set loose on a noisy session of the Chess Club ? Nope. apparently 46 were sent home for wearing trainers or ‘extreme fashions’ and a further 15 for not having the correct equipment. Sounds like a Daily Mail report, doesn’t it? Sadly this story is true. According to the PA report: “Pupils were also required to arrive at college each day with a pencil case containing a calculator, two pens, two pencils, a planner, a ruler, eraser and notebook to prevent time being wasted in lessons.” The Incumbent tell me that one of her friend’s son was sent home for not having a pencil sharpener. Yup.
You know what I’d do? instead of sending the kids away, I’d get the parents IN. Pin them down and ask them why little Jordan or Wayne have turned up without the required uniform? See if you can help in an installment-plan for a pencil sharpener. Failing that, baseball bats and bricks usually do the trick. Tell you what you DON’T do is give the kids the day off. How many kids do you know would think that a punishment? I’d have turned up with no trousers if I thought I’d have been sent away again (tried that at The Telegraph once—didn’t work). In an ever-depressed economy, where your average school-leaver’s chances of getting a job are dwindling away, why not help parents kit-out the kids in an acceptable manner, with what kit and clothing is readily affordable to non-working families? And if it’s just the case of little Johnny cocking-a-snoop at the school rules and dress like he’s going clubbing, then scare the bejeezus out of him. A bollocking from the old man usually focussed my mind. Ms Langley-Bliss has taken the option of filling up the street corners and KFCs of her local town with teenagers who think they’ve won the lottery. Others will be sitting at home in bits on the sofa because they forgot to take a pencil to school, waiting for dad to come home and rip into them. Is that how to encourage decent 14 year olds? Dartford is depressing enough. It doesn’t need arse-head strategies like this, Miss Bliss.

How Many Roads Must a Man Walk Down?


You need militants on a demonstration. You need passion and commitment and a sense of purpose. If you’re undecided or wishy-washy your march is never gonna get off the ground. Can you imagine the leader of the Liberal Party (Simon Pegg, I think his name is) organising a demo? It’d be as effective as a solar panel in Salford. “What do we want?: DON’T KNOW; When do we want it?: SOME TIME IN THE NEAR FUTURE, IF IT’S NOT TOO MUCH TROUBLE” is not gonna get anyone excited.

So you need heart. You need drive. Often, some of this passion boils over into violence which is why we see thousands of Plod on the streets of London this morning, having had Knacker cancel all leave. Shame. But we are (up to a point, Lord Copper) exercising our right to demonstrate, and a march without passion or a smidge of violence becomes a ramble— and the Church organises those, complete with kagools and sponsorship forms. No thanks.

I was 13 when my brother took me on my first demo— The Rock Against Racism/Anti Nazi League march from Trafalgar Square to Victoria Park in East London (30th April 1978, for anyone taking notes). Fucking miles! But it was fantastic. Hundreds of thousands (Police estimate:143) of like-minded people marching for a common cause: crush racism in the UK. It was 1978 and the National Front were becoming a little strong for our liking, so we marched in protest. And we sang. “The National Front is a Nazi Front, SMASH THE NATIONAL FRONT We sang it all day. For mile after mile. We ALL sang it. It was bleedin tedious.

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Google Maps tells me the direct route between Trafalgar Square and the park is 5.9 miles. Well we didn’t go the straight route (Plod diverted us away from the posh bits in the City) and my brilliant 13 yr old mind told me we walked at LEAST 15 miles. 15 miles of singing the same song. It was like listening to a Morrisey Album all afternoon: torture. But it was a thrill for me at a tender age: collecting ANL and RAR badges. AND placards, and leaflets and flyers and pamphlets. Oh! Think of the Trees, Mike, all that wood n paper!!! well this was BGB (Before Geldof and Bono) and no-one gave a monkeys about the planet or the rainforest. A witty cardboard slogan nailed to a lovely bit of 4×2 was the weapon of choice for both pacifist and anarchist.

The Author (back row, third from left), prepares to leave Trafalgar Square. Note bad haircut

The Author (back row, third from left), prepares to leave Trafalgar Square. Note bad haircut

I was proud to have my photo taken by the Police snapper when it was my turn to carry the big banner (what DID they think I was gonna do?) waved at the spotters on the roofs, and ran away quickly when some of the bigger boys started lobbing stuff at the police. But on the whole it seemed to me to be a good-natured event, (I swear that copper was smiling as they wiped the blood from his head) and it ended with my first rock concert in the park and my first sight of Joe Strummer and the boys. I was in heaven.
So we had one message and one march. And one song.

Fast forward to today. Sit down, I have something to tell you: One of today’s marches goes from London Bridge to The Bank of England.That’s a distance of less than a mile. I have longer nostril hair than that !!

Come on guys, put a bit of effort in.

And the coalition of beefs these people have is mind-boggling: Anti Banks, Anti War, Anti Welsh, Save the Planet, Reclaim the Streets, Right to Work, Right to Left, Anarchists, Pacifists, Cyclists, Monarchists, Buggerists, Typists the list is endless. What are they gonna sing? Is there a running order? (mind you, by the time the London Bridge mob reach their destination they’d have hardly had time for a couple of lines of We Shall Overcome). As far as I’m aware they won’t be passing a McDonalds, a Shell garage, or a branch of Barclays: all classic targets for the mob (I still mourn the end of South Africa House demos). Perhaps they can get more miles under their belts by marching round and round in circles a la American pickets in episodes of The West Wing, Columbo etc. (Why DO they go round in circles??)

Say Cheese!

Say Cheese!

So let’s hope for a good clean fight today. We won’t throw lamp posts at you if you put away the CS gas and the horses. We promise not to lynch anyone, if you promise not to lie about the numbers attending. AND if you’re gonna single us out and snap potential “troublemakers” at least make the pics available to us, so that years from now I’ll have a copy of the photo for my blog.
Up the Revolution !!

A Fish Without a Bike


I have a pair of blackbirds in my garden. One’s black with a bright orange beak (the male, remember that) and the other is a sort of brown, speckly colour (the female, very important). This weekend I spent many hours in the spring sunshine pottering in my garden being watched by the black one. He’s very inquisitive and stands on any one of several high vantage points watching me turn over the soil, paint a fence, down a beer etc etc. It’s nice, in a rather odd sort of way to have a relationship with him, and I’m not really sure whose garden he thinks I’m tending, mine or his. Maybe I like it cos, thus far, he’s the only bird I know who doesn’t moan at me (or maybe I just don’t understand Blackbirdese yet)
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In the past I’ve been in the habit of greeting him with ” Good morning Mr Blackbird, how are you today”. Dunno why I do that. Something in the back of my mind tells me it’s good luck, or something. It follows that when I see his GLW hove into view I follow with similar: “Morning Mrs B, how are the kids? ”
Whatever the reason for this idle persiflage, I’m glad I don’t live in Brussels. Yes, you’ve guessed it: The European Parliament has banned the terms ‘Miss’ and ‘Mrs’ in case they offend female MEPs. It’s all part of their “Gender-Neutral” campaign, according to The Telegraph. Now there are many things I say which offend women (see above, and below), often as part of my loveable-rogue persona. But I really do think anyone who gets offended by being called “Mrs” shouldn’t have got married in the first place. And “Miss” is used purely as an act of politeness. I suppose we could use “Madam”, or “Woman” or “Old Bag” but surely “Miss” is merely trying to be polite, and recognises that ancient practise by women of pretending to be younger than you really are? So don’t blame us, we’re not trying to pigeon-hole you, honest.
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Gender Neutral:
Don’t let it happen to you

For what it’s worth (and these really are beyond me) officials have also ordered that ‘sportsmen’ be called ‘athletes’, ‘statesmen’ be referred to as ‘political leaders’ and even that ‘synthetic’ or ‘artificial’ be used instead of ‘man-made’. Just pass me a bottle of scotch and a Service-issue revolver, I know what to do. (I blame Harriet Harperson)

In other news, the French really are having it bad: sales are down at the “Big Eropolis” in Paris, apparently the biggest erotic fair in Europe. The turnover is down 30% on last year, according to Reuters. If the French aren’t sticking it hard to their mate’s wife (sorry, significant-and-equal-other) cos of the economic crisis, you know we really ARE in trouble. It’s practically compulsory over there. Presumably the rubber-clad mistresses (or Whip-wielding-more-confident-and-sexually-demanding-females, as they’re now known) are feeling the pinch. I suggest some extra talcum-powder.

Back in Blighty, if you did catch your partner looking through the rubber section of the Littlewoods catalogue, or he returned from his weekend ‘business trip’ in Paris covered in crème fraîche and whip-marks, you could have attended Britain’s first Divorce Fair, at a hotel in Brighton.
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Coping with divorce can be upsetting

Now I enjoy a good divorce as much as the next man, but under the pretence of ‘helping people start over’ a whole collection of services were available to those who are finding a recent separation tough.

The list of help available, according to The Times tells you all you need to know about this con-fest: “There were lawyers and psychic healers, financial consultants and shoe retailers, chocolate makers and probate solicitors.” as well as four”colour psychologists” to advise you on changing the decor at home. Hmmmm….. NOW do you wanna join my gang????

Mr and Mrs (there, I said it!) Blackbird have no need for such a gathering. They’re too busy watching me dig up worms in my vegetable patch. She looks older than him. And fatter.
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Phwoooaaarrrr!!!!!!!