Just Warming Up


I hate training. I always did. All that stretching off, press-ups, squat-thrusts, jogging around the pitch, unopposed drills. Yuk, awful. I suspect my lack of enthusiasm for training sessions was the one and only reason I never got my England cap. Yes, that’s definitely the reason.

Training sessions, in my limited but painful experience, are invariably held on a cold, wet Tuesday night and involve someone shouting at you for an hour and a half while you forward-roll and burpee your way around the pitch until your head thumps, or someone gives you a slap because you were either tackling too hard or not hard enough. Meanwhile all your mates who had to ‘work late’ or are ‘injured’ are in the clubhouse seeing the ‘physio’ or having ‘one’ ‘shandy’.

Actually, I was pretty good at that . There’s no more satisfying pint of beer than the one you have as you look out of the clubhouse bar at those assorted idiots on the training field going through beep tests and star jumps.

This five-minute fad of keeping fit can be quite annoying. The aforementioned lycra nazis mince around with their inexplicable air of superiority. Joggers in the street sweat past you under the impression that they own the pavement, with a self-satisfied “look at me” importance only rivalled by new mothers pushing a buggy into your shins.

That bunch who arrive back in the office at about 1.50 every afternoon, stinking, red-faced and drenched, unable to breath as they complete their lunchtime jog around the block- what’s all that about? If I came out of a pub looking like that I’d never go in one again.  I dunno if they actually expect a round of applause for their efforts but by the way they look at you, iPod in ears and water bottle in hand as they collapse over the office furniture, you’d have thought that they’d just discovered radium. FUCK OFF AND STOP DRIPPING ON MY DESK.

The Incumbent takes herself off to the local gym every morning. I dunno what she’s training for and given that every single morning she announces that it hurt, I haven’t the foggiest idea why she does it to herself. I’m unlikely to announce that I’m taking out for a 10k run at the weekend, so why does she put herself through it? My mate – let’s call him Paul (even though his real name’s Martin)- joined the local fitness club purely to watch women bounce around on the treadmill. Now that I understand, although I did point out there were cheaper ways to look at lithe, young women’s bodies (I’m typing on one now).

Having said all that, I am in preparation for the big event next week. The imminent England vrs Australia cricket series starts next Wednesday, but coverage doesn’t start til 11pm and goes on through the night.  Considering these days I like to be tucked up in bed by no later that 9.30 I need to acclimatise myself to match conditions. As I write, half the England team are in Brisbane, training in tropical conditions in readiness for the five-day match which will test all their physical and mental abilities. Nothing can prepare your body for the shock of playing sport in the extreme heat of the tropics, especially if you come from Manchester, Leeds or Nottingham, so the english bowlers have arrived a week in advance to give themselves half a chance of getting used to the sapping conditions.

My preparations will be no less calculated. My plan for Wednesday is to get myself down to the local pub for about 2pm, armed to the teeth with the daily papers. I shall order a pint and sit by a window and read every sports section available. At some stage I shall order a light lunch: steak and kidney pie or fish n chips. No more than four drinks shall be ordered (unless I have company then a sensible cut-off time will be deemed).

Late afternoon I shall waddle off down the hill to Railway Cuttings to the comfort of my bed or sofa (dependent on Columbo being on tv). Having checked carefully the last delivery time for Dominos Pizza (do they open through the night?) I shall snuggle down and sleep, hopefully for three or four hours. Alarm or no alarm, I hope to wake at around 1030, in plenty of time to enjoy the coverage of the match. Then I’ll simply repeat the above for the next five days.

Of course I will drop off to sleep again eventually, but this is the best plan I can come up with without reverting to chemical help to keep me awake. I’m so excited about the series I may just explode if I was to come within a nostril hair of any stimulants. No jogging kit will be donned, no sweatband worn. No hamstrings will be pulled, and even my dodgy achilles tendons can stand up to rigours of walking to the pub.

I’ll be ready. And so will the English team. Hopefully.

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Spanish Stroll


Don’t you love getting sprayed with someone else’s waste product when you’re standing at a urinal ? I know I do. I was standing at the trough the other evening, resplendent in my ever-present summer shorts, when a fella came into the pub toilet to begin his business. Now I don’t know what he produced from his fly (I’m far to polite to look) but by the feel of the mist that started to cover my right leg, I suspect it was some sort of steam lance.

He was presumably in a hurry to force it out and finish quickly as he started after and finished before me then returned to the bar before I had time to zip up. I stood there, thoroughly dejected with damp leg and one moist tennis shoe. If you think it’s tough washing your shin in a pub toilet basin, try cocking that leg up to the nozzle of the hand-drier, then come up with a plausible explanation as to what you’re doing to the next bloke that comes in for a pee.

I suppose I might have pointed out the error of his ways to my urinary assailant while he was imitating a garden sprinkler, but being a lover not a fighter I didn’t want to get into a fist fight with a man who not only was a good deal larger than me (in nearly every department) and who’s fist were covered in wee.

I should have asked him what he was up to for the net week as I could do with him in my garden. We’re off for a week, taking the herberts to Spain and I need someone to water the plants while I’m away. With a natural talent such as his, my chillies, carrots and peppers would be sure to get a good watering. As it is, I am relying on my parents to pop over and administer the watering can to the veg patch, and at least that way my produce won’t have a faint lager aftertaste.

So the annual trip with the four kids has arrived and, as usual, I’m pottering around Railway Cuttings making sure I have everything I will possibly need for the holiday, and all the time taking my mind off the fact I have to get on a plane in the morning (why is there always a plane crash somewhere in the world just before I go to Gatwick?).

At the moment, the suitcase list reads (in order of importance): Medical bag; loo roll; passport; tea bags; playing cards; cribbage board; iPod; reading matter; money (if applicable); TomTom; swim shorts and clothes.

You’ll notice I have not felt the need to include a Spanish phrase book. The kids tell me that at least two of them have a working knowledge of the language, but more importantly I fear that fluent cockney, brummie and scouse are the dominant languages where we’re going. I’m less likely to use “Dos cervezas, por favor” than I will “‘scuse me mate, can you shut the fuck up?”. I’m expecting to see many more signs for Ye Olde Red Lion than I will Vino y Tapas. Fish n chips and a cup of tea are likely to be the local delicacies, rather than chorizo, paella or Rioja.

Yes, the Inglés will be there in force and I thank the little baby Jesus that we have booked a villa and pool all to ourselves so I need be nowhere near them. Last year in Italy we stumbled across very few Brits and bloody marvellous it was too. I’m not sure we’ll be so lucky this time round. So the plan (well, my plan anyway) is to spend a goodly amount of time stocking up in the local supermarket then eating and drinking ourselves stupid around the pool. Give me a German, an Italian, a Frenchman or even a Spaniard to chat to at the bar and I’ll be as happy as Larry (depending on how happy Larry is, of course), but I find it hard to embrace my compatriots as they try to Anglicise the world. Maybe I’ll pretend to be Australian ? Maybe not.

If we do find ourselves outside the confines of our villa we shall be vigilant. The first sign of a pair of Union Jack shorts on the beach and we will retreat to base camp; any Barnsley bullshit that they “don’t do a decent pint of bitter over here” will result on us leaving the premises; 18-30 holiday rep organizing foreskin-drinking contests will be kept out of sight of the children and, more importantly, me. I have very low tolerance and embarrassment levels when it comes to the English abroad and look forward to avoiding any pink, tattooed nause from Nottingham holding court in a bar and giving us his thoughts on football or motor racing.

All that aside, I’m thoroughly looking forward a week with the kids and won’t let anything detract from it. Bring on the San Miguel, the gambas pil pil and the Tortillas. Bring on the large scotches in Gatwick and bring on a smooth and scream-free flight. At least there won’t be a bloke giving me a free shower in the plane’s khazi.

Oh, Olé!

Operation Flower Market Garden


Ok: Plan B.

Not since the planning of D-Day, when the Allies poured over maps of northern Europe has so much thought gone into and effort been spent on crossing the channel. Ike, Patton and Monty, housed in top-secret bunkers, argued over the merits of the Pas-de-Calais and the Normandy beaches and had to deal with a delay in launching the attack, having to wait for a window in the weather. Theirs was a massive aerial and seabourn invasion, relying on surprise, overwhelming forces and stirring, patriotic music.

66 years later, and from an undisclosed location in London (my house), the Incumbent and I had to choose between going by air, rail or sea to our planned destination of Amsterdam. Now the weather has made up our minds for us. Our force comprises of two people in one Toyota, relying on an alarm clock radio to wake us up, and a slow puncture on the car holding out, accompanied only by Status Quo OBE on the iPod. Unlike Monty, we can’t delay our crossing: there’s is no window in the weather system, but the hotel’s already booked. Fucking Volcano.

It became increasing clear that our BA tickets would be worthless. With all air traffic in Europe grounded due to the ash cloud, the train seemed the best option of getting to Europe. But Eurostar was reporting record passenger numbers and little hope of us getting on board. So on Thursday I secured our place on a boat from Dover. As no-one travels by boat any more, I managed to book easy enough online. The ferry departs at 0800hrs (ZULU) to take us onto Dunkirk, from where we intend to drive to Holland. The first problem will, of course, occur if there are so many people with the same idea the queue starts somewhere outside Dartford.

In 1944 Kent is said to have resembled a massive car park, as the invading armies and their vehicles queued up to board the ships which would take them to ‘have a crack at Gerry’. My fear is that the roads into Dover in the morning will be in a similar, gridlocked state, as we queue to board the boat which we hope will take us to have a crack at Dutch beer and waffles.

Once safely beached in continental Europe, we hang a left and drive like the wind for the Lowlands, in our own mini-version of Operation Market Garden. Like the tanks of Irish Guards in 1944 we will have to push, push, push northeast into Holland. They were trying to secure the bridges across the Meuse River, arriving before the defending German forces defeated the stranded allied paratroopers. We’ll be trying secure a place in a Park-n-Ride car park in Amsterdam, then to the hotel before they give our room away to stranded tourists.

By the way, Michael Caine led that column of tanks (in the film anyway). He was my hero. So what the FUCK was he doing flag-waving for the Tories at the rally last week ? Turncoat. I shall never watch Zulu again (or until and unless I’m very drunk).

Boo !

Now where was I ? Ah yes, Amsterdam, for sure. I love Amsterdam. Keeping well clear of Muckystraat, which is easier to do than you might think, there’s lots of fun to be had. Good beer, proper pubs, many with proper, live music, the aforementioned waffles and of course cheese. All of which to be devoured with lashing of hot chips (yes, yes, yes, ok with mayonnaise, but you can avoid that if you are clever). If you survive that lot there’s all the museums, the Anne Frank House and, of course, the Flower Market. But I recommend lots of beer first.

On past trips (and there have been many) I have been guilty of over-indulging in all of the above, and after a particularly long and jolly evening a couple of years ago I took two hours finding my hotel after leaving a bar. I’d walked off in what I thought was the vague direction of the hotel and ended up circumnavigating the city. When I finally arrived in the lobby, how drunkly-smug with myself was I that I’d found the hotel without once having to ask for directions ? The next morning I discovered the bar was 200 yards away from my lodgings, and if I’d taken a left out of the bar, not a right I’d have been home in five minutes, wobbly legs allowing. I confess I said a rude word.

So this year, in an effort to keep me from straying too far, The Incumbent has booked a hotel which is not only a lot swisher and slicker than the hovels I’ve booked myself into in the past, but it’s also all-inclusive. For a goodly amount of Euros, the breakfast is inclusive. Drinks in the bar are included in the price. Even the mini bar in the room is all free, included in the price of the room ! It could be carnage. The chances of me wanting to leave and show the missus all the delights of Amsterdam on her first trip to the city are, at very best, minimal. A free bar and mini bar! Toblerone-me up!. If we get an upgrade to a suite we’ll have TWO to empty though, of course that may be a Fridge too Far.

(Sorry)

24 Hours from Ulcer


The train standing at platform 4 is shite

Word has it that the next series of 24 will be filmed in London. Apparently it opens with Jack Bauer boarding a DLR train at Lewisham, heading for the Olympic Stadium. 24 hours later he’s still on it. Jack get’s into a heated argument with a Train Captain (ticket collector, to you and me) over which Zone Stratford is in, and has a difference of opinion with a fat bird who wants the window open. In episode 4 he gets a tad miffed with the bloke sitting next to him who’s iPod is blaring our through his earphones. Ok, it may not be most exciting of series of the popular show, but it’ll be the most realistic. I spent a week on the DLR last Tuesday, at least that’s what it felt like. It has to be the most useless mode of transport, even by London standards. How the fuck they expect to ferry the poor sods who turn up to the 2012 Olympics is beyond me. The sight of Jack Bauer whizzing along at 2 miles an hour, his plans going awry cos there’s no lift service at Pudding Mill Lane is unlikely to give a boost to the ratings.

I say all this, but I’ve never seen a single episode of 24. Neither, come to think of it, have I ever watched Lost or Prison Break, or MadMen, or Heroes or CSI…oh I could go on.Twin Peaks, Hill Street Blues, or Spooks or Thirty Something or Curb Your Enthusiasm. I have tended not to tie myself into any of these long series as I’ve never been confident I’ll be sitting in front of the TV at the same time every week to watch the next episode. There are places which serve beer which tend to be open when these shows are aired and they tend to jump out on me on the way home from work.

I have resisted the temptation to tape them as I’ve never enjoyed the pressure that puts you under. Falling behind for a one or two episodes then trying to watch them the night before the next one is shown on TV is stressful, and all the time your colleagues in the office have water cooler chats about the fantastic ending to last night’s show. Trying to go a whole day or two without hearing what happened in the episode(s) you’ve missed: Now that’s real pressure. (Anyone remember The Likely Lads “England F… ” episode?)

Don't nod off, Stanley, CSI is on in a minute

Pre-digi days there’d be piles of VHS videos under the telly with stuff I’d recorded but never gotten round to watching. Piles of 4-hour tapes (8 hours worth of longplay, if you like the quality of playback to simulate watching tv through a sock) with badly scribbled then crossed out labels, reading LIVE AID, DO NOT ERASE (that one was stolen from out of my car in a pub car park), or HOW THE WEST WAS WON (LP) . Or unlikely combinations of viewing as you filled up any blank tape space you had: ZULU/ENGLAND vrs FRANCE W.CUP SEMI F/O.G.WHITSLE TEST/TUC CONF. 1989. There they’d sit, with their tatty white stickers, clogging up the tv cabinet or the bookshelves, never likely to be removed from the shelf until I needed to tape over them again (always remembering to put some sellotape over that clip in the corner I’d broken off to protect them.)

Not much has changed now that I’ve gone all hi-tech and TiVo-fied. I’ve got 30 hours of stuff to watch stored on my TV’s hard drive, plus the whole of the last series of In The Thick of It, (which is the exception that proves my rule as I did make it home to watch all of those.). 30 hours worth! That’s 14 movies. I’ll never get round to watching them, cos every day something else is released so I go onto Amazon and buy that, then something else is shown on TV one night which I’ll record , never watch that either and the backlog just gets longer and longer.

Did I remember to Videoplus the snooker?

But having said all that I find myself believing, and saying “I have nothing to watch”. How come? Well, a couple of years ago the Incumbent, bless her, bought me (us) the box set of The West Wing. We devoured it, were obsessed. We lived The West Wing, we breathed The West Wing, we ate West Wing sandwiches. We quite liked it. What’s more, we could watch it at our own pace. One a week. One a month. Eight in a day. As many we wanted to watch WHENEVER we wanted to watch them. Being a good few years since the show ended on TV, there were no colleagues in the office discussing last night’s episode. It was sensational telly and we didn’t want it to end. Then it did. Bugger.

So what to watch now ? I had this collection of films I’d taped and had never watched, but I couldn’t be arsed to see them now. There was this show which everyone was talking about called The Wire. “Oh I can’t believe you don’t watch it, Mike” they would say. “You’d really like it Mike”.
“Listen” said I, ” I’ll tell YOU what I like and what I don’t, thankyouverymuch”. I dug my heels in, I refused to join their gang. Two months after the last episode of the last series finished, we bought the box set of the whole 5 seasons.

I'll tell you something, bro, I haven't understood a fucking thing you've said in 3 seasons

Fuck me. What a show. It was and is the best thing ever to be made for telly. Sensational. All-day-long sessions watching Avon Barksdale, Stringer Bell, Omar Little and the rest were completely compelling. I just wanted there to be another 5 seasons. But there wasn’t. So, after that had finished I conned Mrs B into watching Band of Brothers with me (I’d seen it before, but I could watch in on a loop), telling her it wasn’t about war but about people. To my surprise she now thinks THAT’S the best show ever made. I’ll never work em out. Finally, this January we started on the Sopranos box set. That’s a bloody good watch too, and another that no-one can believe I’d never seen before. Oh well, I have now, alright? so shuddup!

Now there’s a vacuum, a void in my viewing schedule. The Pacific (Band of Brothers with palm trees) is launched on Sky Movies soon. I won’t be watching, for all the reason’s stated above (and I don’t have Sky Movies). I shall pre-order the whole set from Amazon and try to survive til then. But I will need something to get my teeth into while I wait. It’ll probably be MadMen, it won’t be Lost. Maybe Kiefer Sutherland armed only with an Oystercard, stuck on a train at Deptford Bridge is my only option. Unless I watch The Wire again. Or Phoenix Nights. Or World at War, or…

Return to Stratford, please

Born to Run


03_03_2000 - 19.11.29 -  - Loneliness_of_long_distance

So there’s this bloke.

I see him most mornings on my way to work. I alight from the train, walk out of the station, and within about 100 yards I see him, running in the opposite direction, presumably for the train. He’s about 35 years old, 5’6”, maybe 5’7”, wears a single-breasted charcoal grey suit, either a schoolboy-blue or light grey shirt, those spongy-souled, mock-hushpuppy shoes which should never be worn with a whistle, and has his iPod plugged into each ear.

He often sports the look of a worried man, and he is always running. Running, not in a jogging lycra-nazi, a fitness fanatic or a health-freak kinda way, but running in a fashion which would be familiar to Jerry Lewis fans everywhere, and of a man who is late for an appointment. I reckon I see him at least three or four times-a-week, depending on which train I catch, and he’s always somewhere between a fast jog and a slow sprint. Some evenings when I’m making the return journey, I see him running in the other direction. Presumably he’s late getting home too.

Each time he passes me I try to catch his eye with a nod, or a polite grin but he’s too immersed in himself and his troubles to take any notice. His eyes are firmly fixed on the pavement about 4 ft in front of him, presumably for fear of falling or tripping. In a flash of flailing elbows and ankles he’s gone, off to catch whatever it is he’s late for. He must humm a bit when he gets to work every morning. I hope they have showers at his office.

Roman Polanski has done his fair bit of running over the years, from the Nazis and from the Law, mainly, but now it seems he’s jogging days may be over. There’s been a lot of hurrumphing over his apprehension by Knacker auf Der Garten in Switzerland over the weekend, and I feel I may have missed a bit of the story somewhere. As I understand it, 30-odd years ago he was in a hot-tub in Jack Nicholson’s house with a 13 yr-old girl during a booze and drugs-fuelled party. Somehow, Roman has sex with the girl, it goes to court and he denies rape. Eventually he admits to consensual sex with a minor and is charged. Before he’s sentenced he does a runner to Europe, where he’s been ever since. Now Pc Trott has slapped the cuffs on him and our diminutive director may have to return to the States to face the music.

14_05_1997 - 05.37.06 -  - FRANCE_FILM_FESTIVAL

“Shame, Shame!” I hear you cry. “The poor man’s been through a lot. Mother killed by the Nazis, father in Aushwitz, girlfriend murdered by Charles Manson– hasn’t he gone through enough??” Well no-one would say that was the stuff of an Enid Blyton book, but he did have sex with a 13 year old, albeit 35 years ago, and doesn’t that merit some sort of punishment? “But wait! He’s a genius. He directed Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown, to name but two. His contribution to the Arts must count for something ?” Nope. Not round here, mate.

Mr Paul Gadd has had his request to go on holiday to France refused by the authorities. Paul is a well-known kiddie-fiddler and the powers-at-be are concerned that once in France, he’ll hop over the border the Spain, where I’m told the age of consent is, coincidentally, 13. When Paul had a pop career and went by the name of Gary Glitter, he gave literally some people enormous pleasure with his glam rock numbers. Several no.1s and a great line in Christmas retro concerts endeared him to many, right up until the time that he was exposed as having a serious interest in child porn. Gadd fled the tabloid press (and presumably hopefully, UK sex laws) to South East Asia. Sadly for him, a few years later a court in Vietnam charged him and convicted him with a number of obscene acts with minors. Should this bloke go free because of I love You Love Me Love or The Leader of Gang? I’m sure that there are many who had his picture on the wall of their bedroom throughout the 70’s, and think of the pleasure he brought to so many of the years. Tough.

You can’t blame him for trying to slip through the net from France to Spain though. It’s not the worst getaway plan I’ve heard of this week. Take the two brothers, Wayne and James Snell, who meticulously planned a bank robbery to such fine detail that all went swimmingly well. Sadly for the Brothers Dimm, they used James own BMW as a getaway car. The number plate? J4 MES. Only 78 passers-by remembered the car with the personalised plate parked outside the bank that day, which quickly led Knacker to the brothers’ flat where they were pinched, sitting beside a pile of readdies. Not quite the perfect crime.

Running, clearly, isn’t as easy as we’d like to think. Take poor old Graeme Smith, captain of the South African cricket team. Last night, his team were engaged in a rather entertaining little match against the Bastard English when, 3/4s of the way though the match, Mr Smith went down in cramp spasms. He does this a lot, his career has been dogged by cramp. He’s a big old lump, and probably not what other sportsmen might deem an athlete. Some might say he doesn’t take very good care of his body, given that a lot of cricket is played in sweltering conditions, inducing players to sweat gallons. Clearly incapacitated by cramps in his legs, Smith asked the England Captain, Andrew Strauss for a “runner”. Under the laws of the game, an opposition captain can grant a batsman a “runner” if that player has injured himself during the match, and so is unable to run between the wickets. It’s the sort of sporting behaviour which cricket in general, and us English in particular, are known for. Strauss refused (he was born in South Africa), Smith fumed, then hobbled up-and-down a bit and lost his wicket. England won, which is much more important than playing fair.

CRICKET England 41

It reminded me of a match a long time ago between Sri Lanka and Australia. The Sri Lankan skipper, Arjuna Ranatunga was fat. Fat and sweaty. A man who wasn’t built for running, especially in hot weather. He was built for eating, however he was still a rather good batsmen. During this particular match, Ranatnga had been batting for a long time, but was tiring visibly, and sweating audibly. So he decided to try a ploy that had worked for him before. He announced to the umpire that he had “sprained something” and requested a runner. The umpire turned to the Australia captain, Ian Healy, to ask if that was ok by him. “No it ain’t! ” exlcaimed the Aussie. “You don’t get a runner for being a fat c*nt”.

The prosecution rests.

.