Thank Heavens for Little Girls


..she forgot to mention her love of Greece and in particular its money.

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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.

Course of Life


To paraphrase Baldrick, I don’t have a cunning plan.

As wonderful as June was, as much football and cricket I watched, as much time I spent in the garden, burning me ol’ bald ‘ead and finally laying to rest the myth that ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’, the time has come to tout myself. All play and no work makes Mike a fat, poor boy. The answer is simple. I need to throw myself at the mercy of the few remaining employers out there and ask for a job. Due to current fiscal restraints, this doesn’t mean I’ll start taking journos and editors out for long liquid lunches, crossing their palms with lager in the hope they’ll drunkenly offer me work, as much as that approach appeals to me. No, I’ll be doing what everyone else ends up having to do: tickling-up the old CV and getting it out there.

Funny thing, a CV. For starters curriculum vitae is one of the few latin phrases I use in everyday speech (along with ad nauseam, et tu, Brute ? and the ever-popular Ave Imperator, morituri te salutant – though I don’t use that one as much as I used to). Curriculum Vitae, as any schoolboy knows, is the Latin phrase for “2 Sides of bullshit written on A4”, or “Résumé ” in American. It’s the document that causes more stress and strife to bored office workers than any other, and one that more office PAs have to type up for their colleagues in return for a cup of coffee and a bun from Starbucks at lunchtime. Statistics prove that in any one working day, 20% of newspaper workers are working on their CV. The other 80% are fiddling their expenses (one for our older readers, there).

I’ve never been one for lying about myself (on a CV anyway). The way I look at it, if I go for a job in the Commandos and my CV says I’ve been a helicopter pilot, a Navy Seal and a Ghurka, I’m likely to get found out sooner rather than later, especially when on my first mission I start crying cos I’m afraid of flying, can’t swim and faint at the sight of blood (especially my own). No, I think the trick is to be completely honest in everything you write down, just leave out all the stuff you don’t want people to find out about.

For instance, I might put down that I picture-edited the definitive newspaper pull-out on the life of Diana, Princess of Wales on the morning after her death, but may leave out the day I stuck in a photo of a Harrow schoolboy for a story lauding the young men of Eton (oh how my Editor laughed when the Headmasters of both Eton and Harrow called up to complain). On the other hand I will mention with pride last year’s Beatles supplements for which I researched and picture edited for The Times. Using many rare or unseen images of Paul, George, Ringo and the other one, these books are real collectors items. They looked fantastic and I was very happy to have worked on them and boasted the same to anyone still awake in the pub. Then again, my contribution to the same publication’s 30 Best Summer Salads will go with me to my grave.

As you get older, you find the other problem is to judge how far back in time you go. Nowadays I don’t list my education or ‘qualifications gained’. I see no possible advantage in bringing up old wounds, or taking the blame at the age of 45 for what I didn’t do at 19. No, let us not dwell on such matters. However, my first real job was at a photographic studio and agency, who’s chief photographer regularly shot Page 3 Girls and Starbirds. Oh how I hated the days I studio-assisted for him. If you’re ever 19 again, offered a similar job in a photo studio, and where you’re in charge of light meters and ice-cubes, grab it with both hands (I know I did). It was often difficult to know where to look. The first words Samantha Fox ever said to me were “Oi ! Stop looking at my fanny!”. We were on a nude shoot for a German magaine. I was quite hurt. As I’d seen every other bit of her in the British press, but never seen her nude, what was I supposed to look at ?

But the question is, although this first flash and exposure to photography obviously aroused my interest (quiet at the back !) in photography, is it relevant to my next post ? Probably not, unless I get very lucky. I had to leave that job in the end as, apart from anything else, I was going a funny shape. The beginnings of the deterioration of my eyesight can be traced back to those three-and-a-half happy years with one hand on the light meter and the other on my ha’penny.

Apart from “Professional Experience”, there’s also the section at the end of a CV which comes with the heading “Outside Interests” . Over the years I’ve realised, having had hundreds of them submitted to me, this is the part of the CV which can reveal all about the candidate, the way of separating the ‘possibles’ from the ‘improbables’.
I once advertised a vacancy on a picture desk, I needed a junior researcher with a little bit of spark and nous. One applicant, having listed her places of work, qualifications gained (cow) and universities (plural) attended listed her ‘Hobbies and Interests’ as: “Taking and developing photographs; going to photo galleries; reading photographic books”.

NO !

I put it to you, that she was either a consummate bullshit artist, or the world’s dullest woman (and I’ve known a few). Possibly both. Why would you do that ? I don’t want to work in a photographic office where the only conversation is “Ooh did you see that documentary on Diane Arbus last night ?”
“No, I was at the Tate for the exhibition of contemporary Slovakian Romany black and white photography”
“Were you ? I wanted to see that, but my Rolleiflex is on the fritz and I had to get it repaired before the deadline to World Press Photo expires”
I tell you, it can get that exciting, I’ve heard them.

Wouldn’t you want to give the impression to your prospective employer that you’re a well-rounded, multi-faceted individual ? Someone who’ll bring a little bit of colour into the office ? Someone WHO HAS A LIFE ??? When I get to this part of the form I’m always tempted to copy Monty Python and list my interests as “golf, masturbation and strangling animals” just to see if anyone actually reads this far down. I know I do, and if I ever saw that sort of entry I would hire that person on the spot, but I suspect most just read the headlines at the top. I haven’t got the balls to test out this theory, of course. I shall probably be pretty vague and put down “Sport, movies and entertaining”. They don’t need to know what I really in my spare time, do they ?

So here I go. A day at my Mac, trying to remember what I did and when, avoiding professional disasters, bigging-up meself, as we like to say down these parts, and spreading the word that I’m back on the market, you lucky, lucky people. And hurry up with those job offers, I’m skint. Carpe Diem !

Now, here’s the job for me ! Who can I put down for a reference ?

Pity it’s in Wales.

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What’s My Motivation for This?


It’s the little things in life that really get up my nose.

People who step onto a train (or into a lift) before you are able to get off. Wouldn’t it be easier for me to get out first, thus creating room on the train? Never mind common courtesy! Then there are those others who, when you’re waiting for a lift having pressed the button and made it light up, come along in front of you and press that button very same button again- as if you hadn’t thought of doing that. “IT’S ALREADY LIT YOU CABBAGE !! I ALREADY PRESSED IT!!”

They are right up there with people who, while you’re stood holding a door open for them, say nothing and just saunter through. Not a thank you, kiss-your-arse, NOTHING. Or worse, they walk through the open door not even bothering to take their hands out of their pockets to take the door from you. Bastards.

Short people using umbrellas in public places. They are a danger to my eyesight. I’ll go blind soon enough, thank you very much, and don’t need any help from you attacking my retinas with your steely spikey spokey pokey brolly. Then again, I really despise those who take something from you, whether a cup of tea, a pencil or whatever and who not only don’t say thank you, they don’t even look at you by way of acknowledgment. Grrrrr…

While none of these annoyances, taken individually, would force you to unleash the forces of hell, imagine how you would feel if all of the above happened to you in the space of one morning?

Well , welcome to my world.

My bad morning had started early, (as early as last night, in fact) as I’d lost my glasses. This was the first time it’d happened to me in the six weeks since I’d been viewing the world in glorious HD. I was worried, and it irked me. I’d either left them at work, or in the pub, or on the train, or somewhere. Bugger. Still, I was so knackered last night, couldn’t be arsed to worry about them, so I decided to sleep on it.

I woke up this morning and immediately started to worry about them. Bugger. And Charlton had lost again.

With my spare pair of specs (£9.99 Foster Grants from Sainsburys) in my top pocket, I set off for work by my usual train. I don’t like my spare pair. Ok, so they’re approximately £337.21 cheaper than my lost pair, but they do look every bit of that. Ill-fitting, cheap-looking plastic frames and, in all honesty, I can’t see out of them. Dunno why I bothered really.

Having squinted my way through the morning’s reading matter, the train started to pull in to my stop. I made myself ready by the door, the train came to a halt and I pushed the button to open the door. I hadn’t even time to put my worst foot forward across the threshold when a 50-something, short, fat woman pushed her way through the doorway ARSE FIRST, while she closed and shook her umbrella dry. As she try to push her way in, I gave her the gentlest of knees in the sphincter. She stood bolt upright. “Oops, sorry!” I lied, as I squeezed through the rather small gap between her and the doorframe. I didn’t bother looking around to see the look on her face, I have a decent enough imagination on me. I stomped off to work.

In reception, the queue for the coffee bar was too long to worry about so I headed straight for the lift. One of the three lifts had been out of action for weeks so the wait for one of the other two can be irritatingly long. I pressed the button. Nothing happened for a while. Then it did. A youngish bloke holding a grande latte walked in front of me and pushed the button again. I assume he must have been able to hear me snorting behind him. Then he pressed it again, and then taptap…taptaptap, like he was sending morse code. Amazingly, after only seventeen presses of the button, the lift arrived. I said nothing, I just ticked.

Up to the second floor and as the doors opened a girl from the features desk made a feint to get in before I got out. I can only assume the black look on my face, resplendently framed in cheap plastic glasses, put her off. Only a nutcase would wear them, surely. She made a tactical retreat. “Thank you” I barked, forcing a smile.

Down the corridor I huffed, to the door at the end. I could hear footsteps behind me and as I reached for the door and I turned to see a young, suited bloke about ten yards away coming towards me. I pushed the door open, went though and then waited, holding the door for him to take. He walked straight through the gap, saying nothing, leeaving me holding the door as he walked past, like I was his sodding doorman.
“My pleasure” I called after him. He looked over his shoulder and smirked.
“Pig” I added.

I can’t tell you.

The next twelve minutes went relatively well. My mood was much improved by the discovery of my glasses, in their case on the desk where I had indeed left them the night before. Hurrah! All was again well in the world, so I went to buy a round of coffees. Returning to the office, I passed them around to the chaps, and all but one thanked me and offered me the cash. The last bloke, never took his eyes off his pc, just held out his hand for me to give him his cup. Having grabbed it from me, he slurped it and set it down on the desk, eyes still focussing on the screen.
“Oh, don’t mention it, Phil” I squarked.

He didn’t.

I walked over to my desk and booted the waste bin 8ft across the room. Another colleague sniggered, sensing my well-disguised exasperation.
“Well, Mike, if you didn’t wanna work with clowns, you shouldn’t have joined the circus”

And it was still only 10.30.

KimAd.

The Eyes Have It


I went for an eye test this morning.
I sat nervously in the opticians waiting room (well, in a conspicuous space in an open plan shop in Canary Wharf), clutching a piece of paper tightly. I had booked my appointment online, and by registering with them, the company offered me a 50% discount on eye tests and 10% off glasses. WooHoo!! Trouble is at no stage did they actually announce how much an eye test was. What was I going to pay half of? £10? £50? A HUNDRED ??? I didn’t know but it didn’t matter that much anyway. My eyes had not been what they were for some time, and I wanted that put right.

“Ah hello Mr Bealing, do come in” said a cheery man in the examination room. “My name is Kalpesh, how do you do ? Is this the first time you’ve had an examination with us?”
“er…yes” I replied, sweating in the way I do when under the pressure of a perfectly innocent question asked by a very polite man.
“Ok, and when was that last time you had your eyes tested?”
“Oh about 1989 I would think.”

My mind wandered off:
I remembered booking myself in for an appointment at the old Greenwich Hospital for a test, for reasons now lost in the mists of time. Two young-ish blokes put silly glasses on me, asked me to look at numbers, letters and things and finally shone several bright lights into each of my eyes before pronouncing me to have perfect vision. I thanked them, stood up and attempted to find my way out of the room. However, the previously administered lightshow was still blurring my vision and I missed the doorway by a good three feet. Smack!. I fumbled about and found the opening, the sound of optometrist’s laughter following me out into the corridor.

Anyway, back to this morning. The test began with me looking into a machine, which at shotgun speed blew bullets of compressed air into my eyes.
“This is to test the pressure in your eyes” Kalpesh informed me.
“It bloody hurts” I informed I him back.
“You want a tissue?” he asked, noticing my eyes streaming
“No, no, I’m fine thanks”, said I, not wanting to betray my wussiness.
Several more machines were sat at, including (as an ‘optional extra’) one which took a photo of the inside of my eyes, and Kalpesh announced he was done. He jotted down a few notes, stood up and said, “Right! Now the examination can begin”
“Well what was that, then ?” I asked
“That was just a few measurements I needed to take before starting”
So, in truth, he’d made me cry even before the test had started. Wonderful. To soften the blow, Kalpesh let me know that with the discount, the cost of the exam AND the optional extra retina photo would be 19 quid. Even I could afford that. “Lead on MacDuff.”

We moved to another, darker room. Vaguely familiar silly glasses were donned, different bits of plastic were slid into place, I looked left, right, up and down. Then came the lights again. Dirty great laser beams, more befitting of Dr. No than Vision Express honed into view and were concentrated on first my right, then my left peeper. As each beam pulsed into the back of my eyes, buckets of tears flowed out of the front.
“Would you like a tissue? “ Kalpesh again asked.
“No, no. I’m fine thanks” I said, manfully. My eyes may have been on the way out but there was nothing wrong with my stiff upper lip.

I read with my right eye, peered through the blurred mist of my left, I read letters, looked at shapes and scanned text. It soon became obvious that my eyes couldn’t do what I needed them to do all on their own, and that I would indeed need specs. Oh bugger! Or rather, Old Bugger !

Out into the daylight once more, I was handed over to Kalpesh’s colleague, Amrit. Here was another cheery fellow (what is it about opticians??? I might apply). Amrit took me through the cost of the exam and told me how, if it was my wish, we could proceed with ordering my glasses.
“Oh fuck it!” I proclaimed “We may as well get it over with. Lets do it.”.

We walked to the wall of glasses where we paused. “Now”, said Amrit “how do I put this politely?…. you have a rather wide … er “
“I’ve got a big fat head” I interjected, helping the poor bloke out
“Ah yes!” he gasped in embarrassment “thank goodness, you knew”
“Not a problem , Amrit, I was born with it.”

We spent the next stage of our time together choosing frames together. Romantic it wasn’t. Illuminating it was. I had imagined, whenever I’d given it the tiniest of thought, that if I wore Buddy Holly glasses I’d look like, well, like Buddy Holly, or Elvis Costello at the very least. No such luck. I looked like an old, fat Nobby Stiles. A mutant Harry Palmer. A poor man’s John Mcririck.

Some frames made me look like my dad, some like my mum. This was not how it was supposed to be. This was yet another rusty old nail on my worm-riddled old coffin. I couldn’t possibly be that old. It’s a short limp from here to being tapped on the shoulder by the Grim Reaper, getting a Wish You Were Here card from the other side, my Logan’s Run crystal turning to black, or the Great Umpire going upstairs for a referral.

But, hey, I know I’m old. That is, after all, all I go on about, week-in week-out. So I plumped. I plumped for a pair of not-too-retro, not-too-trendy (according to Amrit) frames which not only was I comfortable wearing, but also didn’t go ping when I tried to slide them over my ears. If I’m gonna have to wear them I want them to be comfy. So me and my newest and bestest of pals went to the checkout desk.

“So when can I pick them up?” I wondered
“They should be ready in a couple of hours” Amrit said matter-of-factly.
“Well I can’t do that, I’ll pop in on my way home tonight”
“Not a problem Mr Bealing, we’re open til seven”
“Perfect, I shall be here at half six”.
“Ok, Mr Bealing, so with the test, the lenses and the frames that comes to £347.20”

pause

“Could I trouble you for a tissue please, Amrit ?”.

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