Help Arrives at Last


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The Royal Navy reaches the Somerset Levels.

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Happy Talk


In the words of Supertramp: It’s Raining Again. It’s always raining. Foreigners may have this image of England always being covered in either pea-soupers or rain, but this time – even by our low standards – we’ve had rotten weather. We seem to have missed out on summer altogether this year. Winter-Spring-Autumn-Winter, that’s how 2012 will be remembered. It’s wet and it’s bloody cold too. The only few weeks of the whole summer to escape the rain was the sodding Olympics. I’m so happy.

I haven’t even had my birthday yet and it’s already Guy Fawkes weather: that time in the year when us Brits traditionally gather round the bonfire to mourn the fact that some bunch of Catholics failed to blow up The Houses of Parliament a few hundred years ago. Tradition has it that mum sits inside, sometimes in the cupboard under the stairs , comforting the dog and cupping its ears, while the kids stand in the garden watching dad and Slightly-Dodgy-Uncle Colin try to light damp fireworks.

After a several swearwords and a couple of boxes of Swan Vestas they give up, let the kids play with a few sparklers right up until one of the abandoned-cos-it’s-no-fucking-use fireworks decides to ignite itself and launch itself at an angle of 37.5° towards the house. Dad and Colin, by now a tad elephants, hit the deck like Luis Suarez on a day out in Stoke; the kids piss themselves with delight; the dog shits himself and bites mum. A good night is had by all.

A week before all this we have another in a long line of American imports to endure: Halloween night. Or more annoyingly and importantly: Trick or Treaters. Little fuckers. None of this ever took place during my formative years (and we can blame ET for the start of its popularity over here). I don’t even recall there even being Halloween cards in the shops while I was growing up (sic), just a few abortive attempts at pumpkin carving, and the odd whiff of a lit lantern here and there. Certainly no fancy-dress parades, and no banging on doors demanding sweets in lieu of forfeits or punishment.

Last year, The Incumbent and I hid behind the sofa when some herberts came to call, but were paid back with eggs being thrown at the house. I say it was herberts, it may well have been my mum and dad – they are at a funny age and I don’t ring home enough. Apparently Jimmy Savile would scare callers by wearing a scary costume, and waving about his gnarled pumpkin. I’m not sure what he did at Halloween.

(By the way, my pal Ciaran tells me that this years Guantanamo Bay’s Christmas Panto is to be Peter Pan. Apparently, Abu Hamza is chuffed to bits with the part he’s been offered.)

But enough of that.

So finally (and in reverse order) a couple of weeks before Halloween we (and when I say we, I mean I) will arrive with rather too much speed for my liking at my birthday. Though this year ‘s anniversary of my birth will not be greeted with as much dread, depression and trepidation as is the custom round these here parts. I watched the cricket yesterday, where the West Indies gave the hosts, Sri Lanka, a real pasting – as they had done to England a week or so earlier.

I am nearly 48 years old, I had a stroke last year (I may have mentioned it) and I am looking dow the wrong end of 17 stone, but if Ravi Rampaul and Johnson Charles are international cricketers, capable of being in a World Championship-winning team, then I am once more strapping myself into my lucky Bobby Tambling jockstrap, rubbing-in a tin of Ralgex into my aching body and again taking to the field of play. Put me down as “Available for Selection”, please. I might even put on some kit before the match begins.

“Do I detect a certain happiness in your demeanour, Mike?” I don’t hear you ask. Well, funny you shouldn’t ask: The reason you find me so happy-go-lucky today is that I was told this week by a consultant specialising in strokes (there’s that Mr Savile again) that I am ‘very unlikely’ (which is good enough for me) that I will have a recurrence of the explosion in my bonce which caused my original stroke. Even though I still suffer the occasional bouts of dizziness, numbness, and miserableness, this is normal and in a few years all such niggles should disappear (with the possible exception of the miserableness) and that I should feel free to lead a normal existence, think myself lucky, and stop worrying about stuff. “And for fuck’s sake cheer up, you sad bastard.”

So this is the new, happy me. Get used to it. Or fuck off.

And Not a Drop to Drink


This drought is getting on my tits. Last week my dad and I fitted another water butt to the back of the potting shed, and because of these drought conditions, these effects of global warming which has forced the authorities to introduce a hosepipe ban across the south of England, the barrel was filled after only one torrential downpour. Every following torrential downpour (and there have been many) has bypassed the water butt, shot down the overflow and straight onto the flower bed.

It Happens to the Best of Us

Confused ? You will be. Like so many in my neck of the woods, the British authorities have decided that despite being subjected to monsoon conditions for the past few months, many parts of he UK must be forced to live under drought measures – no use of hoses, strict water monitoring and neighbour encouraged to rat-out neighbour if they should spot anyone flaunting the rules.

You’d be pretty easy to spot, mind you, if you did decide to water the lawn using the hose: some berk in his wellies and raincoat, squirting a hose over the grass while the heavens unloaded another skip-load of H2O on his head would stand out like a black bloke at a Ukrainian football ground.

Or a little girl in a pub. 8 year old Nancy Cameron was taken by her mum and dad to the pub the other Sunday, which is nice. Problem was, when they left, her parents-  David and Samantha – left young Nancy in the pub (The Plough Inn, Buckinghamshire, if you are interested) to fend (and order a drink) for herself until, 15 minutes down the road, they realised something was missing from the back seat of the car. Poor Samantha was distraught. David blamed Nick.

You’re Barred

Now, I will not sit here and attack Dave for leaving his little girl in the pub. We’ve all got pissed and left stuff in the pub: videos, brollies, girlfriends, trousers. Nothing new there. But as we all know, children should not be allowed in pubs – accompanied or otherwise. Many of us go to the pub to get away from kids – mainly our own. When I’m propping up the bar, chucking a dart or being escorted from the premises by the bouncer I do not want to have to negotiate my way around small mammals, or curb my language because some couple (or worse, some Sunday Dad) decides to bring the offspring into the boozer. Fuck off and take them to Pizza Hut, the Zoo or the movies.

Pubs are full of fat, drunk men, spouting off about anything and everything – often on subjects or in terms not fit for a child’s ears. I know. I’m one of those men. Now I am sure the pubs to where the PM takes his kiddy may not be full of anyone, save a PA or two,  several security staff, and the odd hand-pick, paid-up Barbour-wearing member of the half-a-shandy brigade, so the sweary/drunky problem probably doesn’t arise. I also doubt if Cameron forgot his daughter as he was too pissed, or got embroiled in a row over a game of dominos, Sam having to lead him away “leave it, Dave, he’s not worth it”.

But rules is rules, and in my rules, kids and pubs are mutually exclusive. I certainly never entered a pub until I was 15 years old and could legally (?) get served, without needing my dad to get them in for me (they were far less strict in those days- and anyway, my Dad  went to the pub less frequently than even David Cameron does). It’s not quite so bad since the smoking ban was enforced. At least kids running around the bar aren’t at risk from losing an eye from running into some half-smoked cigarette in the hand of a local.  Now the smokers are gathered outside in the glorious sunshine (!) supping on their pints, dragging on their fags while topping-up their tans at the same time. So now that a lot of pubs make families sit in the garden, the only place the kids are allowed is where the smokers are. Another reason to leave the little brats at home.

Anyone who looks younger than Jeremy Hunt should be barred from public houses, in the same way that everyone who looks like, or indeed who is Jeremy Hunt should be banned from Public Office.

Rules against under-age drinking and lying to Parliament are very clear, as are the hosepipe ban laws. But as my mate Mr A.Heckler said to me : “If they come round here moaning that I’m using my hose, trying to fine me £1000, they can fuck right off. If they can’t handle properly all the water we’ve had, they shouldn’t be in a job.”

Someone’s gonna call time on the water companies and Mr Hunt very soon. And if Dave can’t use a pub properly, he shouldn’t be allowed in one. Bet he doesn’t use Greaves’ Rules anyway.

Your Bard

Snow Patrol


Thanks go to Mrs Hunter of SE23 for pointing me in the direction of this little gem.

bbc.co.uk

Woman dials 999 to report snowman theft in Kent

3 December 2010

A woman who dialled 999 to report the theft of a snowman from outside her home has been branded “completely irresponsible” by Kent Police.

The force said the woman, from Chatham, thought the incident required their involvement because she used pound coins for eyes and teaspoons for arms. During the call the woman said: “It ain’t a nice road but you don’t expect someone to nick your snowman.”

(click on the pic to go to the bbc page and listen to the call)

Kent Police said officers had given her advice on real 999 emergencies. The force said the call was made at the same time as operators fielded thousands of other phone calls about the heavy snowfall and sub-zero temperatures in the county.

During the conversation she said: “There’s been a theft from outside my house.

“I haven’t been out to check on him for five hours but I went outside for a fag and he’s gone.”

When she was asked who had gone, the woman replied: “My snowman. I thought that with it being icy and there not being anybody about, he’d be safe.”

She was then asked whether it was an ornament, and answered: “No, a snowman made of snow, I made him myself.”

“It ain’t a nice road but at the end of the day, you don’t expect someone to nick your snowman, you know what I mean?”

The operator then told her she had rung an emergency line and she should not be calling it to report the theft of a snowman. Ch Insp Simon Black said: “This call could have cost someone’s life if there was a genuine emergency and they couldn’t get through.

“It was completely irresponsible. We have spoken to her and advised her what is a 999 call, and this clearly was not.”

The Birds and the Wasps


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

!?!?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preferred Lies


About this time a two years ago I was in Kentucky trying to find a decent pint. A bunch of selected chums and I had gone over there to lay to rest the myth that the colony had thrown away the recipe for beer when they threw all that tea into the water in Boston a few years ago.

We were also there, of course, to witness one of the world’s great sporting events: The Ryder Cup. A couple of us had been to one before, in Spain 1997, and it was an experience we wanted to repeat. The build-up the matches was electric. Louisville had been invaded by thousands of European fans, including seemingly half of Ireland, and the locals couldn’t have been nicer about it (especially after they realised how much Guinness they were gonna sell that week).

The US fans were passionate about a victory which had eluded them for several years and they did their very best to cheer their team on as American captain Paul Azinger‘s 12 men visited the bars and restaurants down the main drag the night before the match. Every steakhouse and every bourbon house rang to the sound of the American chant:

USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! “USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA!”

It was impressive stuff. American fists were pumping, the US flags were waving and, having failed to find a decent local brew, we sank endless pints of Irish stout, soaking up both the alcohol and the atmosphere. One woman tapped me on my shoulder.
“Please tell your friends that we’re not all like that” she said, motioning towards a crowd of jumping, star spangled piss-heads in full rabble-rousing flow.
“Don’t be daft” says I “there’s nothing wrong in cheering for your team. We’re loving it”. It was true, too. I’d never seen this sort of patriotic fervour up close and whatever side you were rooting for, it was pretty impressive.
“We just wish you’d get yourself a better song” I added.”

Our team warm up. That shirt still doesn't fit me.

The whole week’s experience was truly sensational. The golf was mesmerising, especially by US team, and the fans were nothing if not generous, friendly and fair. We’d arrived with the slight worry that they wouldn’t respect either spirit of the competition or the etiquette of a golf crowd. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Yes they were loud, yes they where one-eyed, but they were shouting for the home team, and no-one could have denied them that.

“USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! “USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA!”

We tried to join in, but couldn’t remember the words.

One damper on the whole proceedings was when the bars were shut on the Sunday morning (they play God Squad rules over there), but we managed to survive on coke and muffins until the allotted opening time. As we sat there on that final day, perched above the 9th green and witnessed the gradual collapse of the Europeans, our new american friends were truly kind and sympathetic to our plight. They neither gushed nor gloated. I like to think we were magnanimous in defeat.

As we shook hands and said our goodbyes one elderly woman said to us “See you in Wales in two years”
“Sod that!” said our Gary “We’ll see you in Chicago in four”
“You guys not going to Newport?” asked her husband incredulously
“Nah” squarked our Gavin, “It’s a khazi and it’ll be underwater in October”.

I don’t think she knew what “khazi” meant. She gave signs of understanding “underwater”.

I didn’t sleep much last night. So excited about this weekend. Genuinely nervous. I’m spending the whole three days lying on the couch, not intending to miss a shot. Went downstairs at 6 am to make a cup of tea and prepare. Put the fire on warm and curl up on the couch. I can get a decent pint from my fridge when I need one (it won’t be long).

It’s been pissing down on the course all night. The course is sodden. Underwater. They’re playing preferred lies. The rain in Wales in October is torrential. Now who could have predicted that?