The Blair Peach Project


So after all that, I thought it was about time you took a little breath and took in some considered thought. Honestly.

The Police (we are told by the BBC’s very impartial Nick Robinson) have been telling MPs that the only reason they were stand-offish during London riots the other night was because the last time there was a major disturbance on the streets of London, one of their member ended up on a manslaughter charge for acting too robustly.

So let me get this right: They are saying that the only alternative to killing middle-aged innocent newspaper vendors is to stand idly by and let teenagers burn down shops and houses and flats. Nothing in-between those two tactics ? Death or indolence.

It’s not been a great week or three for Pc Plod. They keep having to roll-up, and maybe sober-up, another Deputy Assistant Acting Commissioner, as the Met scurry to find a replacement for those top cops who have either been arrested, or have merely resigned in the belief they’re about to be arrested due to their culpability in the Murdoch/News International scandal.

Please, please let their new guvnor not be Sir Hugh Orde. Even by Police standards he has a face only a mother could love. He makes Ian Blair and Andy Hayman positively trustworthy.

Then three coppers show up to a riot only to find they’re slightly outnumbered. Not their fault, I know, (yes, you’re right, it’s the fault of holiday-loving George Osborne again) but nevertheless it seems a pretty poor show. Not that this is my main reason for putting pen to teller today.

If I had a grievance against the Old Bill (note the word if) I’d like to think I’d go and kick one or two of them in the goolies. If my beef was with the government (heaven forfend) I’d like to think me and my hoodie mates would attack Downing Street. Or maybe, just maybe I’d use my vote at the ballot box and vote the bastards out next time (I told you I’d mellowed).

If anyone can tell me what looting and torching, among other places, a party novelties shop in Clapham, poor and sheltered housing in Tottenham and a sandwich shop in Manchester has to do with some idiot coppers shooting a father you are a better man than me. That was a disgrace and heads should roll. They have a long and shameful track record of murdering people and it’s gotta stop. But what rent-a-mob have been up to since then has nothing to do with it. Anyone who says different is talking a load of old bollocks.

The Beeb are forever calling it “copycat violence”, or my favourite word of the week “thuggery” (which is still illegal in some states). Sadly I can’t find myself in a position to disagree with that. I’ve seen too many crying council house tenants who’ve fled their houses to think any other way at the moment. Maybe I’m just going pink.

You can see the despair and the shame on the faces of the poor community workers, people who have worked so hard with these kids (cos that’s what the majority are) to put them on the straight and narrow, only for them to set light to a furniture shop in Croydon and a Miss Selfridge in Salford in some bafflingly justified act of defiance against the man and the machine.

Do me a favour. Can you all fuck off home to your X-Boxes or PS3s, children?

I have decided that The Shovel can wait for a bit. I’ve had a particularly wobbly week: Too many dizzy spells and headaches for me to deal with for some reason, after making pretty good progress last week, so a trip up to the pub will have to be put on hold for a while.

I’m very happy that the NHS has provided me with a nice hard walking stick which, not only do I need to stand upright at the moment, will be deployed in a testicular-direction should any hood-wearing, leisure-suit donning little prick attempts to interfere with my or The Incumbent’s passage around the streets of Dartford.

Now I have to stop cos my new GP says I shouldn’t get would up. She reckons I have high blood-pressure (who’d a thunk it?).  I asked for a second opinion: She told me I was fat as well.

Advertisements

This Happy Breed


Happiness. It’s good to be happy, innit? With the country on the Fritz, the economy in freefall, your trusty black dog scratching at your bedroom door to persuade you to get up and face the world, and with no obvious light at the end of the tunnel (apart from the light of that oncoming train) it’s amazing what small Murphys we thank heaven for, what little ray of sunshine peaks through the clouds and lifts our hearts to cheer up our miserable fucking lives.

Take the recent romp and pomp up in Westminster Abbey. Now I like a wedding as much as the next bloke, though I’d much rather be an innocent bystander than active participant, of course. I can’t imagine flying across the world, or even hopping on a train for 40 minutes to go and celebrate the wedding of a couple whom I’d never met, nor ever likely to meet. But that’s what a million or so folk did last Friday. Unbelievable. I haven’t seen that many happy people in London since Robert Maxwell went for a dip off the back of his boat


Oops! Sorry, wrong one.


Tented villages appeared along the pavements in The Mall and Whitehall as people camped out overnight, overnight mark you, in the hope of catching a glimpse of the happy couple. Union flags (or is it Jacks?) were waved by small children and large Americans in front of the mass ranks of cameras as the world’s tv crews went in search of the happiest/daftest/fattest fans of the soon-to-be Duke and Duchess of Neasden South, or wherever it is.

So many smiling faces. So much glee. So much joy. The BBC’s Welsh anchor (subs please check) Huw Ewards (fablaas) led us through the streets of London like a fat Ralph McTell pointing out the who’s who and the where’s where of the unfolding events. He never did quite manage to explain who and why a bunch of guests were crammed into minibuses, or indeed who was in charge of the beer and sandwiches therein. Nor did he quite explain fully what an avenue of trees  was doing inside the Abbey but suggested it was “Catherine’s idea”. It was unclear whether Huw offered this as an explanation or an excuse. No matter, nothing could dim the crowd’s enthusiasm for anything and everything on this, the most British of Days.

Inside the Abbey, the mood was a little more reserved, but none-the-less joyous. Not that you’d know it from the faces of Charlie, Liz and Phil.T.Greek. They don’t do unbridled rapture, that lot, so you had to look for clues elsewhere. The cameras cut and panned from guest to guest, accompanied by Huw’s less-than-Dimbleby-esque commentary. The Incumbent and I settled down agog (or is it twogog) in front of the tv set to see who was wearing what and why. Ah there’s the Queen Mother and at least she looks like she’s enjoying herself.  There’s even a little tear in her eye, though I’m suprised she was allowed to bring a corgi with her….hang on…wait a minute.. that’s not the Queen Mum at all. She’s dead for starters. No, no, no…that’s Elton John. And that corgi’s her husband!

Souvenir Royal plate by Vic Reeves and Alan Parris. http://www.aylesfordpottery.co.uk/

Mrs Cameron looked like she had just popped out for a bottle of milk. The Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice pulled off the coup of out-uglying both the Duchess of Ming (she must never be queen) and Tara Palmer Tompkinson combined (there must surely be a by-law that prevents them being let out in public?).

Outside the hordes of happy little people waved and cheered and waved some more as if it was the happiest day of their lives and they didn’t want it to ever end. My feelings were different in just two ways. For me it was nearly over almost as soon as it begun. No sooner had the welsh commentator introduced the welsh Archbishop of Canterbury, the organist wound up the opening bars of Guide Me Oh thou Great Redeemer and the BBC quickly cut back to an interview with a welsh harpist, I found myself uncontrollably feeling for the off-switch. But I was headed off at the pass by The Incumbent who was finding the whole proceedings hilarious. Apart from wondering why they hadn’t gone the whole hog and held the wedding at Cardiff Arms Park, I had to agree. There was much mirth to be had, if you looked in the right places.

I may not have been smiling for any of the reasons that those bedecked in red white and blue were smiling, but the whole day had for a moment distracted me from unemployment, poverty and my general chien noir malaise. If you can’t titter at a guardsman saluting mid-air as the Queen gets out of the car via the wrong door then you are dead from the neck up.

Talking of which, at time of writing we’re still yet to see the photos of Osama Bin Laden‘s corpse. Many people out there still refuse to believe that the US military finally caught up with the Al Qaeda Laeda and are demanding proof. For others, the news of his death proved too much for them and their happiness was all-too-apparent as they jumped up and down in the streets of Washington and New York, waving the Stars and Stripes (or is it strips?), merrily singing USA! USA! USA! (words & music by George and Ira Gershwin).

Wave after wave of baseball cap-wearing college student chanted and waved for any poor cameraman unlucky enough to have been given the assignment to go film them. The waving of flags (and indeed the burning of them) seems to be a pastime especially made for the cameras. Over the years the amount of US, British, Danish, Israeli, Hamas and Iraqi flags which have been waved and/or burned for the benefit of “news” organisations is really quite staggering. If the camera hadn’t been invented the flag-and-cigarette-lighter industry would be in grave peril of collapsing altogether. As it is, there were no shortage of gleeful Americans who were happy to party like it was 1994 for the benefit of CBS, FOX or the BBC. They’ll be the same ones who will shout insults and hurl abuse at the Muslims doing similar after the inevitable Al Qaeda retaliation. Ho hum. Pass me that tin hat will you, dear?

The CIA and the Whitehouse are discussing whether the pics of Bin Laden’s mashed-up body are too gruesome for public viewing. Having seen the Royal Family in their full glory last week, I doubt if the Americans have anything to frighten us.

Be Happy.

True Grit ? Not Much !


Now that’s a proper movie trailer ! You can’t beat a good western. 40 years ago every Bank Holiday you could be sure one of the three tv stations would show The Magnificent 7 or High Noon. Alias Smith and Jones was the most popular tv show in our house (mainly cos my mum fancied Pete Duel) and The High Chaparral was high in the ratings, even though my dad reckoned it was a poor man’s Bonanza . “Saturday Morning Pictures” at the local cinema always showed Champion the Wonder Horse. It was fantastic.

As a spotty herbert growing up in south east London, me and my equally spotty mates would mosey on down to the Ponderosa, armed to the teeth with cap guns and plastic bowie knives, pretending to be Gary Cooper, Clint Eastwood or even Alan Ladd (the cowboy of choice for the shorter 6 yr old). Cum Christmas time everyone asked for a cowboy outfit, long before that phrase became synonymous with Virgin Media or the FA.

But few parents shied away in buying their offspring fake Smith & Wessons, dads happily made their sons bows n arrows and no one thought for one minute that they were nurturing little Johnny into the next mass murderer or serial killer. At the time of writing I have never shot, stabbed or scalped a single person who didn’t deserve it, even though as a kid I had every weapon the local toy shop could offer, (I regularly watched Tom & Jerry too).

Kids played in the streets for hours and hours, filling the air with “piow, piow” sounds and “woo woo woo woo” noises as the cowboys chased the injuns around the houses, up the avenues and down the alleyways until our mums called us all in for our tea. If you walked down my road during any school holiday you couldn’t escape the smell of sulphur from the hundreds of cap gun shots fired that day. You’d probably find the the odd sucker-tipped arrow in your garden, next to the empty Jubbly cartons and Jamboree Bags (cowboys and injuns ate on the go).

I remember one afternoon me and my mate Alan Martin were hiding behind Mrs Baker’s garden wall, waiting to ambush some redskins who were creeping up the road, baying for white man’s blood, using the Unigate Dairies’ milk float as cover. These braves lived in the block of flats at the top of the road and we knew they’d soon be off home to watch Pinky n Perky and Mrs Baker’s garden was the perfect spot to cut them off at the pass. I checked my holster string was tight around my thigh, I pulled my neckerchief (my mum’s paisley scarf) up over my nose and mouth and checked I had a full reel of caps in my gun.

As I did so a warm feeling overcame me. Alan must have had one Jubbly too many that day cos in the excitement he decided to relieve himself down the back of my leg. The unmistakable sensation of someone else’s tepid urine saturating my jeans caused me to leap out of my hidey-hole and my cover was blown. I turned to remonstrate with my once partner, probably should have pistol-whipped him, but chose to burst into tears instead. As the woo woo woos started up and the arrows rained down on on us, Alan ran away and I stood there in a puddle of piss, not caring if the injuns scalped me, skinned me or strung me up by my nipples. I squelched home, ignoring the cries of “you’re dead, Bealing, you’re dead !”. I was steaming. Literally.

Things were never the same after that. I went off being a cowboy and took up cricket instead, though I always refused to go into bat if Alan was wicket keeping. When I eventually got to see True Grit a couple of years later I absolutely loved it. Never having been a huge fan of “Da Duke”, this was the best thing I’d ever seen him in. He was funny, he was horrible and for once wasn’t taking himself too seriously. I wanted to go out and buy myself an eye-patch, and if it wasn’t for the spector of my mate’s weak bladder I probably would have.

Westerns were changing. The old white hat/black hat world of Gary Cooper was over. Even Clint, who was slick and sleek in Rawhide, was still the goody but was now unshaven, mean and moody. I wasn’t allowed to watch most of these nasty, bloodthirsty movies, and I had to wait some time before I could find out for myself if there was indeed any spaghetti in them.

Then for years the genre (yes, I used it) went missing. They went out of favour, certainly in Hollywood, with just the odd European oddity making it to cult status. The late 70’s and 80’s were littered with cheesey cobblers like The Long Riders or Young Guns. But when Lonesome Dove came along in 1989 there was some hope that somewhere, someone was thinking along the right lines. Dances with Wolves quickly followed, then came The Unforgiven, many people’s favourite “cowboy” of all time. Things were really warming up. Wyatt Earp, Tombstone, and Ned Kelly were all thoroughly enjoyable romps and Brokeback Mountain evoked memories of the time when men were men and other men were glad of their company.

But when No Country for Old Men was released in 2007, closely followed by The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford I could have happily have died with my boots on there and then. Surely it couldn’t get any better than this ? They looked beautiful and felt good. These were adult movies like they started making in the 60’s and the 70’s before they forgot how to. We were back to Little Big Man, The Wild Bunch and A Man Called Horse. That’s worth a Yee-Harr in anyone’s language.

Now, just when I was thinking it couldn’t get any better, look what they’ve gone and done. Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn and Matt Damon as, er, Glen Campbell. I’m in heaven ! I don’t need my old mate any more – I’m nearly wetting myself with excitement, waiting for the movie to open early next year. As I should have said to Alan on that fateful, moist afternoon: “Fill Your Hands, You Son of a Bitch”.

The Battle of Waterloo Sunset


One evening a while back, I was walking across London’s Waterloo Bridge when I heard the all-too familiar sound of footsteps running up behind me.
“Oh bollocks!” thought I “here we go.”
Fist clenched, I swiveled around to confront my would-be assailants. To my relief, and not a little surprise, I came face-to-face with two elderly couples. The biggest came closest to me. I estimated him to be about 65, and he was dressed in generic old bloke going-out garb: Flat cap, checked shirt, v-neck jumper, windcheater, corduroys strides, shoes with nice soft comfy soles. He and his wife and a couple of friends were painting the town grey, or at least urine yellow. “I could take him” I reckoned.

He spoke to me in a Sandhurst accent.
“Where’s the London Eye?” he asked, sharply.
“Pardon?” I replied.
He tried to explain:
“The Eyyyeeee” He was making a big circle shape with his hands, smiling and nodding as the British do when speaking to a stupid foreigner who not sprechen ze Englisch. He continued, and still with the sign language.
“The Eyyyeeee??? The big wheeeeel ??? People go up in it??? Where? where, hmmm ?”
I’d had enough:
“I know you’re talking about, mate, I was just waiting for you to say ‘please’, you rude bastard!”
He leapt out of his Hushpuppies. It had clearly dawned on him that I was a fellow Brit. He’d taken my earlier ‘pardon?’ to be an attempt at Pidgin English, and not a guttural splutter from a member of the underclasses
“Haha!” he laughed, patting me firmly on my shoulder. “Where are you from?”
“London” , I lied, not seeing the funny side, “where are are you from?” I barked.
“Ha! Ascot” he said, still holding on to my shoulder as if we were suddenly friends.
“Well don’t they teach you manners down there?”
Then I pointed to the big 400ft tall wheeeeeel standing about a hundred yards to my right. “It’s over there. It’s the big wheely-looking thing, sorry if it’s confusing.”
The four wrinklies scuttled off, without so much as a “thank you guvnor”. I turned on a tenpence and continued my journey home.

And I had the raving hump.

Rude fucker.

.

Dark Matter


Well that’s that, then. Time to pack away your shorts and sandals, put the covers on the garden furniture and start the never-ending process of sweeping up leaves. As a default position I’ll be drinking Guinness instead of lager, and if I fancy that something a little bit different I’ll opt for a scotch (size to your discretion) rather than a Magners. Roast potatoes will be on the bars of the nation of a Sunday lunchtime, and the social lepers will drag on their gaspers while huddled round the patio heaters in the garden.

In the mornings it’ll take just that little bit longer to raise yourself from beneath the duvet. It’s a time to delve deep into the back of the wardrobe and re-discover those long-forgotten woolies and overcoats. It’s also the time to play chicken at home. Who will blink first and put the central heating on or stoke up the fire? “Close those bloody curtains, it’s freezing in here!” Life in London will be spent in virtual darkness, only very occasionally punctuated by spells of bright, crisp days, when we’ll moan cos we’ve slipped over on the ice outside.

You’ll walk to the station in the morning and from the station in the evening, never spying the sun as you do so. Wrapped up against the elements with perhaps a hat perched at a jaunty angle on your head, you battle your way through the masses of arseholes and their eye-gouging umbrellas on the station platform. It’s gonna be dark, damp and cold. They’ll be a nasty nip in the air. Are scarves in this year, and if so at what length and what’s the fashionable way to wear them? You’ll have plenty of time to get it just right, as the first cold snap or fall of leaves will delay your train service into the metropolis. Last year during a heavy snowfall the London Underground ground to a halt. How the fuck does that happen?

rain460

The trains and the offices of the land will be alive with the coughs and the sniffles of those suffering the latest bout of bugs. Steam will rise from the gloves perched on radiators, placed there in the hope they’ll be dry by home time. There will be empty seats at desks cos ‘Julie has a cold’ or “Dave has the flu”. The perennial malingers have a friend this year in swine flu, offering the perfect alibi for a day off work. It’s a brave boss this winter who will insist you come into the office with suspect symptoms. Having typed that I will doubtless come down with it myself. But for real. Honest.

For those of us who manage to struggle into the office, sundowners on the way home will be a thing of the past, that pleasure of having a quiet sup by the river as the sun sets having been replaced by the joy of a standing by a real fire in a real boozer. It’s early October so the posters to entice you to book your Christmas party will already be festooning the walls of pubs and restaurants. We’re seconds away from this year’s M&S and Coke ads on the telly. My 45th birthday will come and go and my Black Dog will scratch at the door. This year he’s not invited in.

ben-winter-in-london-1955-9906151

The soccer season will continue unabated, apart for the poorer clubs who don’t possess undersoil heating. The England cricket team will show us new and un-entertaining ways of how to lose matches abroad. Strictly Come Dancing, the X Factor and the like will clog up the schedules until the festive season, by which time you have done your bollocks on pressies, and are able to recite word-for-word both those M&S and the Coke ads. You’ve bought enough food and booze to feed the street, all the while moaning that you only do Christmas for the kids. The kids buggered off round their mates yonks ago.

January comes and you’re even fatter than you were in December, and you vow never to look another Jack n coke (Coke Is It!) in the eye again. If you didn’t purge yourself in November in preparation for the big push, you go on the wagon for the whole of January, which usually lasts 13 days until you have to go out for a drink with your mate on his birthday. Life continues in the dark and the wet of the early months, your eyes peeled for the green shoots of Spring. No-one knows when Easter is as the fuckers have moved it again, the only ones in-the-know being Devil-Dodgers and Sheave-Bringers, and they’re few and far between, thank Christ. The Six Nations Rugby offers a glimmer of hope: It takes so long nowadays that you know by the end of it you’ll be rubbing linseed oil into your bat and liniment into your groin.

Then it all happens at once, seemingly. The National, the Boat Race, then it’s here: the traditional start of the season: The Marathon. The first drink of the year without wearing a coat, and the biggest hangover of the year. It’s six months away, but stick with me kid- we’ll get through the dark times together. Wrap up warm, have a regular wee dram to warm the cockles, close your eyes, think of cold beer, hard pitches, hot tea, blind umpires and cricket pavilions and it’ll be spring before you know it.

train

.

Laughing in the face of Danger(mouse).


guinness-draft1

It was my own fault. I’d ignored all the omens, poo-pooed all the warnings and cocked a deaf’un to to reason. Thus, gasping for a pint after a long, exhausting Thursday, I headed down to my local for a pint-or-eight. My local pub is one of a famous chain or Oirish Pubs, it was Thursday 24th September, they were ‘celebrating’ 250 years of the birth of Arthur Guinness, yet forgetting all that I held true to my heart, I entered the establishment for refreshment.

I have previously explained my position on Guinness and Paddy’s Day and it is a measure of a) how thirsty I was and b) the lack of any other decent bars in town that I broke all my own rules. “Happy Birthday Arthur” was yet another in a long line of promotions intended to get you into a pub and drinking gallons of vitamin G. Nothing wrong in that, you might say, but then you would be wrong. Most of us don’t need encouragement to drink a lot and you just know the types who enjoy this sort of thing, who would turn up at a party celebrating the power of dysentery if there was a chance of a free pint, and dress up accordingly. My worst fears were soon realised.

My first pint was served to me by a 6ft 3″ black Leprechaun. He came complete with a green, foam, top hat, green nylon all-in-one suit and elasticated ginger beard. I know this bloke. Nice enough fella, just finishing his studies at college and wants to join the Old Bill (I’m working on him). He was the only Leprechaun behind the jump, but I noticed some of the girls serving were dressed in emerald green crushed-velvet River Dance outfits. The early signs weren’t good. But fair enough, if the boss tells you to dress up like an idiot, you dress up like an idiot, right? WRONG. There was clearly dissent in the ranks. The natives were revolting, as I witnessed when I spotted two of the older barmaids, with faces liked slapped arses, wearing their regular black shirts and trousers. They’d told the boss to stick his idea. There was tension in the air.

Or at least there probably was but I couldn’t sense or hear a bleedin thing over the noise of the pissed youth of Blackheath and the PA system spewing-out Diddly Diddly ditties at a decibel level of somewhere near an eleven. The bar was busy, very busy, and very lively for 8 o’clock on a Thursday. Most of the punters had either started early or quickly, or both. I asked The Incumbent who was chugging away on her half of Guinness, whether we’d missed a public holiday cos this lot looked as if they’d been at it all day. She mouthed some words which I couldn’t here over the din and proceeded to attack a scratch card to see if she’d won another half pint (free scratchcard with every Guinness. As we’d ordered a pint-and-a-half I suggested we got a card-and-a-half but the Leprechaun was having none of it).

lep

I went outside to the tranquility of the street to take a phone call. Superman was having a fag with The Joker. Oh Christ! There was a fancy dress night on too. My heart sank deep into my right-handed underpants. Why can’t these fuckers just turn up to a pub like anyone else? I told my mate on the phone not to bother coming to the pub, describing it as ‘Amateur Night in Disneyland’. Returning to the house of fun, I noticed The Incumbent was clearly non-plussed. In the few moments I’d been outside, she’d had an altercation with a drunk fat woman and , in a rare display of aggression, had given her a dig in the kidneys as the awful woman had backed into her for the sixth time. We made a tactical retreat to a quiet(er) corner of the bar.

From our vantage point, and having placated the Mrs, I cast my eye over the scene before me. it was only about 8.30 but it looked more like 12.30. The bar was jumping. The Pogues had now replaced The Batchelors (I believe) on the jukebox and groups of lads, pints held aloft, eyes shut, and heads tilted back to the ceiling were shouting the wrong words to the ‘Fairytale of New York‘. “The band of the in my seedy choir were ringing Galway day…” etc. Dotted among them I spotted Batwoman ( I assumed) dancing with Dangermouse in a rhythm only a superhero could master. Both of them out of time with the music and with each other. It took me a while to realise who the second of this couple was, as at first glance it looked like a girl in a white catsuit with a large white breast on her head. Then I realised she’d pushed her foam head back off her face so the mouse’s face was pointing straight up. It therefore wasn’t a huge nipple I had spotted, but a nose. Quite disappointing really.danger

More pints (and scratchcards) arrived, and took their inevitable toll. I made my way though the all singing-and-dancing hoards to the back to the pub and towards the loo. The aforementioned fat pissed bird was on the on her arse on the dance floor (it’s not really a dance floor, just a space in the crowd, but such was her size and her flailing dance-technique she’d managed to clear a few square yards) and shouting obscenities to passers by. I circumnavigated her and made for the gents (or the fir, as they’re known in Oirish bars). An odd conversation was taking place.
“Why you look like Spiderman?” asked the toilet man (you know him, he charges you a quid to wash your hands)
“What?” came the annoyed response, from Superman.
“Why you dressed like Spiderman, innit?”
“I’m not fucking Spiderman, I’m SUPERman”, his eyes were narrowing, he was clearly annoyed. Then he added, oddly, “I have got Spidey-sense” he used his two fingers pointing from his eyes in mock-super-vision.”but I’m fucking SUPERman”.

pause

“You’re the third person tonight who thought I was spiderman” he whimpered, looking down at his kit rather sadly.

Luckily, being right handed, I was able to go quickly about my business and keep out of the discussion. Re-entering the bar I realised the band had turned up. One of the regular Thursday night bookings, and they’re bloody good. Five black lads and a white bloke. They play reggae. I squeezed through the revellers as the band kicked off with “You can get it if you really want”. The Leprachaun was arm-in-arm with Captain America singing a Jimmy Cliff number.

“C’mon, we’re leaving” I announced to the other half. “This has all gotten too weird for me.”

.

The J.R.Hartley Experience


fattourist

I used to collect hats.

Now I don’t.

I’ve always had a penchant for a titfer and over the years have amassed a decent collection of bowlers, stetsons, pith helmets, trilbies and the like. There was something rather satisfying in strolling past a market junk stall, or an old charity shop and seeing, maybe, a French gendarme’s kepi or a Soviet forage cap laying there under a pile of old tutt and snapping it up for a couple of bob.

If anyone went away on holiday or assignment, I’d invariably ask them to bring me back ‘an indigenous hat’. Many a mate, family member or colleague cursed me as they lugged a dirty great bush hat, sombrero or headdress through customs, looking for all-the-world like some berk from Barnsley back from Torremolinos, circa 1974.

T’internet stopped all that, or to be more precise eBay stopped all that. There’s no challenge or worth in going online, tapping in “Japanese drinking hat” and being offered 78 different alternatives for sale online, many of them from Colchester or Orpington. Where’s the hunt? Where’s the chase?

So I stopped.

I still have them, hanging on various walls around the house, as part of the décor- in the same way you probably have flying ducks, bonsai trees or horse-brasses on the walls of your little hovel in Dulwich. And there they hang, collecting dust and occasionally comments from visitors, such as “What the fuck were you thinking?”. Most have never been worn in anger, as I have a head that doesn’t suit a hat. If I wear a homburg, I look like a fat tory, wear a Stetson I look like a fat tourist (see above) and so on and so forth.

Every so often I don one for that special occasion, such as the time I wore a white Rorke’s Drift pith helmet to the Oval in 2005 to watch us win back the Ashes from the Australians (ok, the headgear would have been more appropriate had we’d been playing the South Africans, but you get my drift). Having watched the match and drunk South London dry, I staggered back to London Bridge station, slumped on a bench and awaited my train. I was wasted. It was about 8 o’clock in the evening. A fella in a suit approached me. He looked at my attire: Pith Helmet, England replica cricket shirt, khaki, knee-length shorts and desert boots.
“Been to the cricket, mate?” he politely enquired.
“No, you c*nt! I’ve been to the opera!” and off he jogged.

So anyway.

My collection of cookbooks is rapidly rivalling my hat collection, albeit the books are slightly more useful than the hats ever were. I love a bit of cooking and do like a little experiment in the kitchen. Nothing better than trying (and succeeding at) a recipe for the first time, especially when your mum’s in town (always the hardest to impress). One of my favourites is simply called Curries by Mridula Baljekar (usual spelling, no relation). Published in 2006, it previously went under the name of Curry (beware of imitations), and a superb little book it is too. Nicely illustrated, simply designed and dozens upon dozen of simple yet gorgeous Rubies to tuck in to. I heartily recommend it. At least I would if you could go buy it.

curries

The Incumbent (or, for the purposes of this story, the Mehm Sahib) on having been at the sharp end of my culinary experiments for some time, expressed an interest in buying her son a copy of this said book. I agreed: simple to follow, nicely laid-out (that’s the book, not the Mrs) and doesn’t have you shinning up exotic trees looking for odd and unlikely ingredients. Off she popped and logged on to Amazon. Curries by Mridula Baljekar, Southwater Press. MRP £8.99. (it said on the back of my copy anyway). No new copies were available. There was in the Used and New section on offer for- wait for it- £ 144.95, for sale by a bloke in the States. That’s an 8.99 book going for 145 quid! It’s not THAT fucking good !

There were other offerings by the same author, including the aforementioned Curry, but you never know, do you? Curries is what she wanted, plural. Curry in the singular, may be missing that vital Taka Dahl entry, or may not have the nice pics of that Chicken Tikka. In any case, it can’t be the same book or they wouldn’t have re-named it! eBay was no more help. Not even an old copy for 200 quid. Nothing.

So it’s back to the good old shoe leather approach. I shall walk the streets of London through the junk and antique shops of Greenwich, the second-hand bookshops of Soho, or at the very least, Bluewater Shopping Mall until I find the volume I seek. It’s gonna be, I suspect, a long slog but it’ll be a little quest and a test, a hunt and a chase. Think of the thrill I’ll get when I find it?? Much more satisfying to find after Planet WWW tells me it doesn’t exist! I might pick up a hat along the way too.

.

If I Were a Betting Man…


They were taking bets on what colour hat The Queen would wear to the Derby today. Bookmakers Paddy Power had lilac as odds-on favourite. Yellow, light blue and white all had interest from the punters, but her Maj—a dark horse herself— turned up in the paddock wearing some sort of pink bush-hat and the bookies had a field day. I’ve lost count how many times someone in my office (it’s usually a bloke from the post-room) has come to me with inside info from a trainer, a coach, a stable-boy, an insider (though rarely a milliner) telling me that a certain horse/dog/hat is a dead-cert, then I stick a crafty fiver on it and imagine the riches of the Indus coming my way via the Turf Accountant. A few hours later the race is run, the match is over or the hat donned and I’m left counting my losses, vowing never again to listen to any more ‘tips’ from that berk who delivers the Evening Standard. Jeffery Bernard once said “One way to stop a runaway horse is to bet on him” and I am living proof that the fine old bugger was, as on so many things, absolutely right.

Five Pounds to win on "The Bastard Sarkozy" please

.
It’s a mug’s game, betting, unless your surname happens to be Coral, Power or Hill, yet the vast majority of us have been guilty of handing over our hard-earned readies at the drop of a (pink) hat, a nudge from a tipster or purely because the name of the horse makes us laugh. Anyone who uses the phrase “if I were a betting man…” usually is just that. Indeed I treat those who don’t bet with the same suspicion as I do vegans, teetotallers, and policemen—not to be trusted. (By extension, my mate Trev is possibly the most trustworthy person I know—just don’t bet on the same horse he’s on.)

If I were a betting man I would have walked down to the bookies and had a shilling on Susan Boyle to win BGT, Alastair Darling to lose his job as Chancellor and England to stuff Holland at cricket. Except I wouldn’t. As we know from our reading and viewing, betting on England is for the deluded or the clinically optimistic. You may as well put your money on Andrew Symons turning up for training as expect any return for your bet on our national teams prevailing over minor opposition. A mate at work (an Australian) said on Friday morning ” England vrs The Netherlands??? What’s the point in you lot playing minnows like that?” He hasn’t been over here long, young, naive, boy.

No-hopers and also-rans. But better than us.

No-hopers and also-rans. But better than us.

Remember when San Marino scored within seconds of the kick-off? Or how about those “nailed-on” victories which were never to be against the Jocks at Murrayfield and Twickenham, when we only have to turn up to win the Championship ? Or when Eddo Brandes, a Zimbabwean chicken farmer, took us to the cleaners in a One Day International ? We’ve always been crap against crap opposition. Yeah yeah yeah, the Dutch played well, blah blah blah, the lesser nations are catching us up blah blah blah, 2020’s a great leveller, blah blah blah, THEY’RE DUTCH, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!!!!! Clogs? yes. Spliffs? yes. Tulips? yes. Gay policeman? almost certainly. But CRICKET???? DO ME A FAVOUR!!!

Yes, they deserve to celebrate and deserved the win, mainly because they scored more runs than us, but FOR CHRIST’S SAKE. Why don’t we just admit we can’t play this sodding game? I don’t know why I get so upset about it because it isn’t proper cricket and should mean nowt. But it just does. The bowlers were hapless, the fielding hopeless and the batting order made as much sense as a Gordon Brown cabinet reshuffle. Rob Key coming in at six? Jesus! Open with him and make him skipper. Is it any consolation that the West Indies are, as I write this, making the Aussies look like a pub team? Well of course it is. But fuck knows what the Paks will do to us tomorrow night. We’ll be lucky to lose. Oh for a Botham, a Flintoff or even a Symons (born in Birmingham) to save us. Even if all three of them had been out on it for a fortnight (as is their wont) and were swimming in claret, they’d surely have fielded and bowled better that shower did last night.

Middle stump and bottle of chablis please, Umpire

Middle stump and bottle of chablis please, Umpire

Still, we have the certainty of our national football team doing us proud against Kazakhstan in somewhere called Almaty. Christ Almaty, what’s the point in playing minnows like that? I’ll wager ten of your English pounds we’ll put 6 past them, if I were a betting man…

“Lord Nelson! Lord Beaverbrook! Sir Winston Churchill! Sir Anthony Eden! Clement Attlee! Henry Cooper! Lady Diana! Maggie Thatcher – can you hear me, Maggie Thatcher! Your boys took one hell of a beating! Your boys took one hell of a beating!”
Norwegian TV commentator Bjorge Lillelien after Norway beat England 2-1 in Oslo in a World Cup qualifier in Sept 1981

.

…It’s later than you think.


Coming home on the tube last night, a tad elephant’s, my pal Rob and I became engaged in polite conversation with two young(er) women sat opposite. “Whaddyerthinkoftheconcert?” poured Rob to the friendlier and certainly heavier of the two girls? “Apslootelybrillant” I burped, before she had a chance to reply. We’d been to see The Specials at Brixton Academy and, even in the cold light of a hangover, I can confirm that they were indeed apslootelybillant. The girl smiled to herself then said “Yeah, really good mate, but really odd.”
“Odd???”—I could hear some of the remaining hair on Rob’s head bristling.
“Yeah, quite funny really— we had seats upstairs in the circle and as we looked down all we could see was the light shining off the back of all the blokes’ heads down below. And when they brought down that disco ball for Nightclub it was hilarious!”.
14BrixtonBlackhat

Our bubble of euphoria had been burst by a prick of realism. The girls, who I guess would have been in nappies the last time The Specials had a hit single, had never seen so many old, balding men in one place before. The very fact we were still calling it a concert was a dead give-away to our ages. The last time Brixton had seen so many overweight men with cropped hair, jumping up and down in synch would have been her Majesty’s Finest Police Force arrested a casual bystander during the riots in the 80s. They would have have been kitted out with riot shields and truncheons, not harringtons, and underneath their stomping feet would have been a young black guy, not plastic beakers half-full of warm beer, but it’d be close enough.

I’d left the “gig” (see what I did there?) earlier and waited for Rob to exit. I thought I’d spotted him fifteen times before he actually came out— everyone looked the same— skinhead, sideburns, t-shirt, jacket—no matter the gender. The uniformity was occasionally punctuated by a pair of braces or a pork pie hat, but it really was Fat Bald Boy Day in South London.
A group of us had met up in a pub earlier in the evening, and the pattern had been set early: Harringtons, Two-Tone badges, Fred Perry‘s, staypress, bald heads. I stood out like a sore thumb (or a bald head) as I managed to wear none of these (though I was wearing Doc Martens—the only things from the time that still fit me). Oh,and a growing Pate.

GripfastWhBgThe excitement around the table was palpable. “Oh I hope they play Little Bitch“, “Is Rico still alive?”, “Is that an orignal Ben Sherman?” we were like giggling schoolgirls waiting for a Boyzone concert” (took me six minutes, just then, to think of a contemporary band—bet someone will write and tell me they no longer exist). My Ben Sherman’s have long-since become dusters, my staypress will cut me in half no longer, my Harrington was ripped off my back in a car park in Erith in 1980 when a skinhead tried to rip my head off for looking at him in a funny way. But the boys did look the business and the memories flowed, along with the Guinness.
The odd celeb was spotted— Phil Jupitus was seen going in the VIP’s entrance, and he certainly wasn’t getting into anything under a 40inch waist, and a drunk, borderline-aggressive bloke spent half the night following me around, convinced he’d spotted Ricky Gervais. I have one of those faces that is often mistaken for, variously, a copper, a bouncer, Ray Winstone (lots of street cred) and David Brent (absolutely none). One way or another, whoever I’m mistaken for, there’s always someone who wants to knock my block off. I’m like Dennis Waterman in The Sweeney: if there’s a right-hander to walk onto, me and my hooter usually oblige.

So a terrific night was had by all and as the masses of very sweaty, smelly and drunk 40-somethings made their way home there was a collective satisfaction that we had seen something very Special indeed and, for two hours, we had at least tried to re-live a time when we could dance the whole way through Monkey Man without stopping every other verse to catch our breath. There’ll be a lot of sore backs and sore heads in London this morning.

As Rob and I parted company at Blackheath Station he walked up the hill singing Enjoy Yourself to (and at) anyone who would listen. For my part, I moon-stomped through the station car park giving my own rendition of Too Much Too Young. Forgot every other word, but then it did come out a very long time ago.

Too Fat, Too Old

Too Fat, Too Old

Just One More Question, Sir…


So I’m sitting in my garden, soaking up the rays while flicking through the papers, when I’m stopped in my tracks by an advert on page 12 of The Times. Dunno why, as I’ve always felt I don’t look at adverts. As any fule no, adverts are just there to make photos smaller in papers and magazines, or to give you something to doodle on while in morning conference. In these dark days of credit crunch and the collapse of the advertising industry, I suppose we should all thank Evans for small Murphys (some more than others) and embrace whatever adverts actually make it into print, and thus keeping us in the poverty to which we’ve so readily become accustomed, but I do fluctuate between annoyance and agnosticism when I see a dirty great Halfords or Waitrose ad where a perfectly good story, or even better, a photo should be.

howard-with-tash1

Anyway, I digress. So the offending item this time is a Samsung colour half-page ad for mobile phones. An attractive young couple grapple with each other next to insets of two mobiles, underneath the legend “Ourselves. Together” whatever that means. But something struck me about those words—they felt rather familiar. So off I popped to the wonderful web world of Wikipedia. Something in the back of my pickled mind led me to believe that Sinn Féin was a translation of just that: Ourselves Together. Was this electronics giant really a front for Irish Republicanism ? Would Chelsea soon be playing their matches in shirts emblazoned with Gerry Adams’ hairy boat ? As I should have known only too well after the week at work I’ve had, the answer was no. I was wrong. But only just.

Here’s the entry:
Sinn Féin:…The name is Irish for “ourselves” or “we ourselves”,[3][4] although it is frequently mistranslated[5] as “ourselves alone”.

Now given that around 64% of what’s on Wikipedia is a load of old cobblers, I still could be right. Wikipedia is about as reliable as a Jacqui Smith expense claim or an Ant n Dec phone-poll, so perhaps my memory has served me better than I think. Maybe not.

But where did I glean this little nugget of half-truth? Well I knew all those hours on the sofa would pay off in the end: It came to me that there’s an episode of Columbo where he investigates a murder of an Oirish (you should hear the accents in the show) republican sympathiser. The episode was full of begorrahs and to be sure, to be sures and ginger-haired young men, drinking whiskey and stout, wearing aran sweaters. The do-er is an Oirish wroiter who is undone by the fact he inscribes the inside cover of a book at a signing with Together Ourselves (I thought). There, I’ve gone and ruined the ending for you now, haven’t I? No matter— as it’s the wont of the series, you always know who the killer is during the opening credits and the fun is to be had by the in-jokes liberally sprinkled through each episode: his signature whistle of knick-knack-paddy-wack; his endearing habit of ‘just one more question, sir”; his battered Peugeot and the fact that Mrs Columbo is never ever seen on screen. Often she was mentioned in dispatches but the producers occasionally had fun with us by dangling the carrot in front of us that she was about to appear— but she never did. Mrs Columbo is one of man tv spouses who remain unseen: Dad’s Army‘s, Mrs Mainwaring; Rumpole‘s She Who Must be Obeyed; Arthur Daly‘s Er Indoors; Porrige‘s Mrs Barraclough to name a few. What a lovely way to be married— to an anonymous, faceless woman who’s never around. Perhaps that’s where I went wrong?

This old man, he played one...

This old man, he played one...

Peter Falk’s shambolic detective never carried a gun, didn’t even have a truncheon (night stick, y’all) and always showed his badge as identification. Remember those days? The Wire it weren’t. If it wasn’t for his willingness to identify himself, and his lack of violent tendencies Columbo could have joined the Met.
It’s a chilling thought that had Big Crosby not turned down the part when he was offered it, the famous mac might have been replaced by a straw trilby and a pipe, and each case would have revolved around a golf course. Falk, of course, eventually made the part his own (it had been played by 2 other actors in the 60’s) and he became tv’s highest-paid actor for a while. Like Grandpa Simpson and his MacGyver I’ve been addicted to the show for years and was stunned to see one on tv the other day which not only hadn’t I seen before but in which the killer was neither Patrick McGoohan nor Robert Vaughn. McGoohan and Falk were best mates and not only did the former star of The Prisoner win two Emmys for his roles, he also directed quite a few shows. I know there are those who are horrified that USTV has remade The Prisoner starring something called a Jim Caviezel as No.6 and Dame Serena McKellen as either No. 2 or a number 2, it’s not clear. Why do they insist on doing this ? I’m not great fan of the original, but some things surely are sacrosanct ? I’m sure somewhere in managerial meetings within HBO or ABC there’ll be plans to remake Ice Cold in Alex starring Hugh Jackman, or Casablanca with Cate Blanchett as Rick Blaine. If I get a whiff that they’re tee-ing up Owen Wilson to don a scruffy raincoat and play LAPD‘s favourite homicide detective in something called Columbo: the Party-on Years I shall invite you all to join me in a violent bout of civil unrest. Together. Ourselves.

 

l-r: Hanks, Aniston,  Jackman and Ferrell

l-r: Hanks, Aniston, Jackman and Ferrell

.