Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Welshmen but were Afraid to Ask


Nothing I say can do this justice.

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Whiskey in the Jar


WHISKEY

In 1952, Armon M. Sweat, Jr., a member of the Texas House of Representatives, was asked about his position on whiskey. What follows is his exact answer (taken from the Political Archives of Texas):

“If you mean whiskey, the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean that evil drink that topples Christian men and women from the pinnacles of righteous and gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, shame, despair, helplessness, and hopelessness, then, my friend, I am opposed to it with every fiber of my being.


However, if by whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the elixir of life, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer, the stimulating sip that puts a little spring in the step of an elderly gentleman on a frosty morning; if you mean that drink that enables man to magnify his joy, and to forget life’s great tragedies and heartbreaks and sorrow; if you mean that drink the sale of which pours into Texas treasuries untold millions of dollars each year, that provides tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitifully aged and infirm, to build the finest highways, hospitals, universities, and community colleges in this nation, then my friend, I am absolutely, unequivocally in favor of it.

This is my position, and as always, I refuse to compromise on matters of principle.”

(my thanks to Ernie at the Ooh Ahh Daily Star for that one)

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.

Just when I thought I was out..


So, how are you feeling today ? Ok ? Good. I’ve had a pretty shitty couple of weeks, to be honest, since you ask. The medication still doesn’t seem to be doing everything the docs want it to do. Still suffering from dizzy spells, the bouts of sickness are still around. All this prevents me from attending The Shovel or any of its sister boozers. It’s rather annoying, although getting annoyed is a no-no for me at the moment. As my blood pressure is higher than a astronaut’s arse the GP is concerned I’m a strong candidate for Stroke II: The Ramipril Strikes Back, so I’m under orders to take it easy and chillax, as young persons say.

I was under a shrink, to whom I was sent in a bid to calm me down and reduce the chances of my head popping off. But this shrink started to annoy me so I’ve stopped going.


It certainly wasn’t  the thought of being analyzed that phased me. A life-long Woody Allen fan, it’s always been a dream of mine to go see a headshrinker (and to play clarinet with him at Michael’s on a Monday). I fancied myself as a bit of Tony Soprano, sitting there in my triple-breasted suit, the tassles on my loafers gleaming and my hair greased back over my ever-expanding pate. But it didn’t do it for me and it didn’t last. My quack was no Lorraine Bracco. He was a bloke for a start. No, you gotta feel comfortable in front of these guys, I reckon, and I just wasn’t. Probably a personality clash. Closing my eyes and chanting OM while listening to a tape of a whale’s sphincter was enough for me, so I left.

So, without the aid of a safety pint, and without Sigmund Freud‘s help I’m supposed to let go all the things that at some stage along the line would have made me, shall we say, a tad tetchy.

I may be no Tony Soprano, but try telling that to my girth. Not walking to the station in the morning, being barred from virtually all physical exercise, and the supreme boredom of having no work coming in has led me to nibble on anything within my chubby arms reach and to me becoming rather portly. My armpits have started to chafe and the soap isn’t going as far as it used to, even though I can no longer reach half of me in the shower. The kids are gonna by me Jacamo vouchers for Christmas and The Incumbent seems keen to rotate the mattress more often than usual.

The fledgeling business seems like it desperately wants to get back into it’s shell. Hours spent tickling-up the website and mailing clubs and associations have brought very little response. Well, that’s not true. I have had plenty of responses, just very little work. I’ve had several “Where did you get my email address from ??” replies. A few “Nothing I cannot do myself” answers, and lots of “Please strike me from your mailing list, we do not associate ourselves with tradesmen” emails. You’d have thought I was selling them anthrax.

In days gone by I may well have reeled off an abusive note telling them to to fvck themselves and wishing them good luck in the recession. But the now the new me simply thanks them for their time, apologises for disrupting their mailbox and promises to delete them from any further mailouts I may or may not do.

There was one bloke, the Chairman or Chief Poohbar of the Lions of Warrington or Wilmington or Wigan or somewhere who wrote to me in such an insulting and supercilious manner, complaining that I had actually used his public email address to try to earn a couple of quid via his club members that I did indeed tell him to go fvck himself and enjoy the recession. But that was a one-off example. Honest.

Having told him, in between expletives, what and why I was doing what I was doing and that there was nothing either coorperate nor sinister about it, and that I was just an ailing old man striving to put food on the table for Tiny Tim and his frail mother, the man backtracked and wondered if, when my business got on it’s feet I might consider joining his association. I suspect this was a genuine re-assessment of the situation on his part, feeling embarrassed at his original high-handedness with me.

I told him to go fvck himself again. So maybe we should call it a two-off example. I don’t know why I haven’t tried a life in Sales before.

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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.

Walking back to Happiness (woopah oh yeah yeah)


It’s ten days after suffering a Stroke. I must be getting better cos I’m becoming bored shitless.

In the words of the ever-popular french pharmacist Émile Coué, “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better”. I think he said that just before he topped himself.

Anyway, it’s true that my face is still numb, I have a dividing line running down the middle of my head and face and to the right of it my face feels like it’s just received several novacane injections. The Docs are not sure when or even if it’ll return to its normal self, which is worrying I admit. But it hasn’t drooped or dropped. It’s still as ugly or as beautiful as it’s always been. Many people after an attack of, say, palsy or after a botched operation suffer much worse than I have, So let’s say I have had a result.

It’s also true that I have to have daily blood tests. My blood samples are sent back-and-forward between my house and the hospital. A different nurse each day takes turns to extract a pint (that’s nearly an armful) of blood from me. I have the arms of a Jewish soul singer.

I then have to take Warfarin to to ensure that my blood is thin enough to bypass the blockages and clots in by brain. My blood is as thin as a James Murdoch testimony.

My legs are not working how they should be, but today is better than yesterday and I’ll be even better tomorrow. I’m cruising around the house like a toddler at the moment. The NHS has given me a walking stick, which I am using less and less each day. I used a Sainsbury’s shopping trolley the other day as a Zimmer frame. In the heart of Crayford, I didn’t stand out at all. I reckon I was still fitter than most in there.

I still have trouble writing. This paragraph will take me several attempts to weedle out the misspelled or erroneous words. And you’ll still find typos in it, cos my brain’s just not working that way at the moment. But it’s only a fortnight after the event and I reckon I’m doing just fine thankyouverymuch!

People look almost shocked when they see me and I don’t have tubes up my nose or am not wearing an iron lung. I’m better than I could have possibly imagined a week ago and I am sure a lot of it is in no small part to the many many cards, messages and gift expressing their concern and love from so many of my friends out there. Thank you so much for all your heart-felt well-wishes.

But I have to draw the line somewhere.

Monty and Clive are two people who not only consider themselves friends of mine but also, presumably, humerous.  I’m sorry but I fail to see the funny side of delivering a pair of pink size nine roller-skates to a bloke who’s just had a stroke. What the fuck am I supposed to do with them. ? The Incumbent has refused to push me up to the pub in them, and pink is just not my colour. Please let me know their cost so I have some idea what price I can start them off on eBay.

Funny fuckers.

Making Lists


(Written with numb thumbs on a blackberry. Please excuse the typos)

Ok, time for a re-think. God has bowled me a bouncer which I managed, for the most part to swerve out of the way of. Ok, it clipped me round the back of the head and I’m being patched up in the pavillioin, ready to be re-introduced into the action.

But it’s not as if I’m like those other poor sods I’ve seen over the last few days on the boundary’s edge, who’ve clearly taken a pearler straight between the eyes, or Brian Close-like straight under the heart.

I’ve had a touch. A stroke of luck, you might say.

So the list is looking like this:
Item 2. Learn to Walk.
Item 3. Cheer up you miserable bastard

Item 1. was dealt with at 6.07 this morning, as those in the Thames Estuary area who were woken by the “All Clear” siren this morning will understand.

Was moved in comedy fashion last night from Kings College to Darenth Valley Hospital. 2 young men doing poor ambulance-driver impressions turned up 4 hours late, then all but preformed 3 drive-by dumpings using me and 2 others as cadavers, throwing us from the back of their van. (I say “ambulance” drivers but on closer inspection it was a Ford Transit with the word AMBULENCE (sic) written on it in crayon.

Spruce Ward & Adam Waste

I’m now in Spruce Ward (named, I think, after a character from Batman)
But I am due to be moved any minute. I don’t mind that. I seemed to have traded my neighbour the serial soiler for a perpetual puker. They’re running out of buckets for him, poor old sod. Like I say, I’ve had it easy.

Dartford also has tvs in the rooms so there’s a good chance I’ll be able to watch the cricket tomorrow. Having missed the Open Golf and the Murdoch show yesterday that’ll be a huge bonus. That is if I’m not busy with ‘how to stand up’ lessons, or “waking slowly round the room for beginners” classes.

I’m hoping to get to what young parents call “cruising” stage” pretty quickly. Then at least I can get my own self to the loo, should I ever feel the need to go again.

Though judging by this morning’s events I feel that unlikely. I feel happier already. Number 3 may be crossed off the list soon.

Only When I Laugh


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

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

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

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

I digress.

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

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

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

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

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

Just after you start your trifle.

Enjoy your tea.

Luv u all xx

Greaves’ Rules: Once More With Feeling


Ok. There are only so many time I can post this. This may be the third time, but judging by tonight it’s clearly not getting through.

I make no apology for boring stupid again those of you who I’ve droned on to for years about Greaves’ Rules. But for the uninitiated, (and there seem to be a lot of them out there judging by tonight’s performance), here are William Greaves’—scholar, journalist and right-hand opening bat— cast iron rules of how to conduct yourself in one of her majesty’s boozers.
So, with appropriate acknowledgement to Bill, and the Today newspaper (formerly of this parish) I present to you :

GREAVES’ RULES

1.When two or more enter the pub together, one – usually the first through the door – will begin proceedings with the words “Now then, what are we having?” He or she will then order and pay. This purchase is known as “the first round”.

2.This player, or “opener”, will remain “in the chair” while other friends or colleagues come through the door to join the round. He will remain in this benefactory role until either (a) his own glass sinks to beneath the half way mark or (b) another drinker finds himself almost bereft of his original refreshment and volunteers to “start a new round”.

3.In the absence of new arrivals, any player other than the opener may at any time inquire whether it is “the same again?” On receiving his instructions, he will then order and pay for “the second round”. (N.B. The second round is the last one to be specifically numbered. Beyond that point, nobody wishes to be reminded how many they have had and, anyway, no-one should be counting.)

PD*2172610

“His Eminence” Greaves (right, in jacket) with the late, great Preston

4.The round acknowledges no discrimination. All players, regardless of sex, age or social status, are expected to “stand their corner”. (Pedants might like to note that we are talking here of the only “round” in the English language that also contains a “corner”.

5.Any new entrant, joining the session after its inception, is not expected to “buy himself in” but should be invited to join the round by whoever is in the chair (see Rule 2). If, however, he is greeted by silence he may either (a) buy a drink just for himself or (b) attempt to buy a round for all present. If (a) or, worse still, (b) is not acceptable to the congregation then the new entrant has been snubbed and should in future seek out more appreciative company. There is one important exception…

6.For reasons of haste or poverty, a new arrival may insist on buying his own with the words “Thanks, but I’m only popping in for one”. If he is then seen to buy more than three drinks, he will be deemed a skinflint, neither broke nor in a hurry to get home, and will be penalised for his duplicity by being ordered to buy the next round.

7.Although everyone in the group is normally required to buy at least one round before leaving, the advent of either drunkenness or closing time sometimes renders this ideal unattainable. In such circumstances, any non-paying participant will (a) have “got away with it” and (b) appoint himself “opener” at the next forgathering. However, any player who notices on arrival that the round has “got out of hand” and has no chance of reaching his turn before “the last bell”, may start a “breakaway round” by buying a drink for himself and all subsequent arrivals. This stratagem breaks the round in two, keeps the cost within manageable proportions and is the only acceptable alternative to Rule 5.

8.When a pressing engagement elsewhere precludes further involvement, it is wholly unacceptable for any player who has not yet been in the chair to buy a round in which he cannot himself be included. In such circumstances Rule 7 (a) and (b) therefore apply.

9.In the event of any one glass becoming empty, a new round must be called immediately. This should not necessarily be called by the owner of the empty glass, however, because this place the slower drinker at an unfair fund-saving advantage. (N.B. Whereas it is permissible for any member of the round to decrease the capacity of his individual order – “just a half for me, please” – the opposite does not hold good. A large whisky, for instance, may be offered by the chair but never demanded of it.)

10.Regional variations. In various parts of the country, a particular establishment will impose its own individual codicil. In one Yorkshire pub, for example, the landlord’s Jack Russell terrier expects to be included in every round. Where such amendments exist, and are properly advertised, they must be piously observed. We are, after all, talking about a religion.

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Is Vicks There ?


It would seem that spring has finally sprung and the first indications that we may be out of the misery of that long, cold winter are finally tippie-toeing their way up the garden path. Not that I’ve seen much of it as I greeted the first sunshine of the new-ish year from the puddle of sweat and snot that was my sofa in the potting shed, surrounded by an industrial box of tissues, (for my nose) a litre of Benylin, tubes and packets of lozenges of varying flavours and a collection of Vicks nasal inhalers which, at a moment’s notice, I could stuff up one nostril or the other , releasing its sweet menthol vapour up and into my hooter.

Yep, I’ve been laid-up all weekend with one of those colds I used to blame on air-conditioning in various newspaper and magazine offices, on the snivelly little herberts who I would encounter during a day in the office, or the mucus-sprinklers on the train home in the evening.

This time however, as I’ve not set foot in Fleet Street for a few weeks, I cannot blame anyone for my illness except Allah, The Incumbent or the flock of pigs in the sty outside the potting shed window. But since none of the above either exist, have a cold or have come into close contact with me recently (any order you like)  I am an Assange short of a fall-guy.

I am assuming, of course, that what I have been suffering from is merely a common cold. There could be other, more worrying explanations. January is traditionally the time of year when I tip “Behemoth” on my Timothy Whites bathroom scales and when I decide to deprive myself of all things tasty and goodly in an attempt to lose the odd 50 pounds. It’s my own variation of the Atkins Diet which has worked so well for me in the past but which also, it has to be said, has led me to my current position of staring down the wrong end of 16 stone. Consequently I’ve undertaken to abstain from anything in the fridge which fills me up, satisfies my palate, or looks vaguely interesting. All except anything that comes in tins or bottles with Alc 5.0% Vol written on the side, of course. In short I’ve been starving myself and it’s left me, well…starving. Thus I’ve left myself a little run down, and hence the onset of the lurgy. Listless, lifeless but not, I’m afraid to say, snotless.

All the jobs I had pencilled-in for myself have gone by the wayside:- painting the spare room, washing the car and trimming the Incumbent’s bush will all have to wait til I feel a little better. The aforementioned pigs have been left un-sheared, I’ve been both unable and unwilling to milk the chickens, and the cows will have to go pluck themselves. I may yet to have got the hang of this country lark, but I’m beginning to wonder if all this mucking around with livestock may have led to my current predicament. Have I contracted Cow Flu?  A touch of Foot and Mouth maybe ? The goats look mangey enough to be capable of spreading anything to anyone. That’s the last time I eat any of them, lo-carb or no lo-carb.

All this couldn’t have come at a worse time. This weekend saw two of the more notable events of the year so far: The release of True Grit at the cinema and Long Lane U14 ladies vrs Tottenham Hotspur U14 in the regional final of the London Cup. I was due to go to both, but could attend neither.

(If you don’t want to know the result of the football look away now)

Reports from the ground (Dogshit Park North) indicate that my youngest daughter played a blinder (god, she reminds me of me) although she was cautioned for telling a team-mate to “fuck off and shut up” (she also reminds me of her mother) but however well they played the plucky South Londoners succumbed to their larger North London rivals by 4 lucky goals to 1.

Rooster Cogburn and friends will have to wait til next week, though I already know the result of that one.

So since Friday afternoon I’ve been confined to barracks in my best pyjamas and silk dressing gown, plonked in front of the Six Nations Rugby, Boadwalk Empire and anything else which tv land wanted to send me. All of this without bothering the scorers in the booze unit scorebox, as I couldn’t even taste a pint of beer if you laced it with Cillit Bang. Nosebuds and tastebuds kaput, this was one miserable weekend.

Looking out the window, down the track to the lane at the bottom of the lower paddock, I could see whom the Daily Telegraph would describe as “revellers” as they made their way to-and-from the Liniment and Poultice and the other pubs, drinking my beer as they went on their merry way. What a depressing sight they made. The fire in my throat was screaming out to be doused yet the only liquid nearby was that filling my nasal passages. And I wasn’t about to drink that.

Then some light relief from an unexpected quarter. One of the younger human mammals who inhabit these here parts announced he and his hooded pals were making their inaugural visit to a pub (to much sniggering from the back of the potting shed).

“Well just make sure you buy a round, don’t go and buy individual drinks.”
“What do you mean round?” he asked.

Oh dear, we were starting from a low point. This might be fun.

“Well before you get to the bar, make up your minds who’s turn it is and he then buys a drink for all of you.That’s known as a round Then you take it in turns through the night to each buy a round. Don’t each buy your own drink. It’s a dead give-away. You’ll look like students” I waited for the information to be processed. He was clearly at too early a stage to introduce him to Greaves’ Rules.

“How many of you?” I enquired.
“Six”
“Oh, that means you’ll have six rounds then. Six drinks. Six Pints
“Yeah!?!” he barked, indignantly, spotting the doubt in my voice that he and his mates would make it past three.
“Ok. Good” if he was happy, I was happy, while secretly imagining the state of them all rolling up the hill later.

He continued with his line of questioning. There was stuff that had clearly been worrying him.
“Now when you go into a pub…”
“…er…y..e..s” I was dreading what was coming.
“What do you ask for?”
“Pardon?”
“What do you ask for to drink? Or is there a list?”

I leaned over, collected my menthol inhaler from the table and took a huge blast on it. Partly because my nose was blocked and partly to give me time to compose myself.

“Yes…YES (coughing), YES, there’s a list. Ask for the beer list. From the Biertre-D, as he’s known”.
My little friend could tell I was struggling not to laugh out loud.
“No, come on, really what do you ask for ?”
“Just ask for six pints of lager, and if they ask you which one, ask them what they have. Then pick one”

This conversation went on for some little time before Doc, Happy, Bashful and the rest turned up to collect Dopey to take him to the pub. I, in my role as Sneezy was left to my little childish chuckley thoughts on the sofa. Wouldn’t it be great if pubs really did have a Beer Waiter ? Anyway, suffice to say our would-be debutant drinkers fell at the first hurdle, having been refused entry to any pub in the area on the grounds that most of them looked 12 years old. Oh well, it’s one of those rites-of-passage things that happens to us all. I suppose they ended up asking some bigger boy to buy them a litre of cider out of an off license, or stood on shadowy street corners smoking Jamaican Woodbines.

And now, as I’m on my way to making a full recovery, and as it’s Valentine’s Night, I shall treat the Incumbent to a warm bottle of light ale in The Shovel. I might even let her have first pick from the Pork Scratchings list. If she behaves herself.