Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Saturday November 1st

The highlight of the weekend was taking my wife to see the fireworks display, held annually by the Cardiff Rotary Club, in the grounds of Cardiff Castle. As with Birthdays, Christmas, Halloween, Anniversaries and New Year, my wife gets inordinately excited about Bonfire Night. This year she was especially pleased, because after four years of broken promises, I had purchased the tickets and we were definitely going. I hadn't intended to let my wife down on the four prior occasions, but I am very poor at prioritising for events, especially when I see them as essentially unjust. My stance on Bonfire night can be traced to Mr Garland, my history teacher during the mid nineteen-eighties.

Mr Garland's history lessons were the sort of lessons that were genuinely awe-inspiring. In the years before the strictures of the National Curriculum, Mr Garland opened one's eyes to an alternative view of the past. After all, as he always reminded us, accepted history was written by the victor. Little did he know, that one lesson in particular would stick in my mind. Furthermore, that the information he made me party to in that lesson, would culminate in a phone call to the Canton Police Station, in November, 2007. As near as I can remember it, the conversation went thus,

Mike: Can you tell me what time people have to stop letting off fireworks? It's nearly eleven and I've got to be up for work in the morning.
Female Civilian Police Employee (FCPE): Well tonight, it's midnight.
Mike: Midnight! That's ridiculous.
FCPE: It is Bonfire Night.
Mike: So?
FCPE: It's a special occasion.
Mike: What if I was a Catholic?
FCPE: I'm sorry?
Mike: What if I was a Catholic? I might be offended by it.
FCPE: It's Bonfire Night.
Mike: It's Guy Fawke's night, actually. People forget that.
FCPE: Sorry?
Mike: Guy Fawkes. The Catholic that was framed by the government to stir-up anti-Catholic sentiment.
FCPE: Sorry?
Mike: How could he have got hold of all that gun-powder? Why was his voice drowned out by drummers at his execution? Hmm?
FCPE: You're wasting police time.
Mike: I pay my council tax. You're telling me I can't get to sleep, because some ne'er-do-wells are legally allowed to let of 'Air Bombs' in Canton until Midnight? In celebration of burning a Catholic to death in London, three hundred years ago? For a crime he didn't commit?
FCPE: Goodbye.

After getting nowhere with my complaint last year, I thought that I would try to put the inconsistencies in the accepted version of events to one side and treat it as an evening out.

We got to the Castle grounds at around six-thirty. On the way we passed at least half a dozen Chinese nationals, each selling fluorescent plastic tat. I had no idea that there was such a shortage of indigenous plastic tat retailers in this country, or that the Chinese were so able to fill the gap left in the plastic tat market. I imagine that, whereas nursing agencies head to the Philippines to employ their qualified medical staff, and construction companies advertise extensively in Eastern Europe for experienced tradesmen, The Glow-In-The-Dark Plastic Necklace and Rabbit Ears Retailers Association are undertaking a massive recruitment drive in China.

Once inside the grounds, we headed to the display area. We decided that as it was a cold evening, hot donuts would be the perfect winter snack. As we were a captive audience, I was disheartened, but unsurprised, to pay £3 for five donuts, that would been marketed more honestly, as 'mini-donuts'. A salient lesson in the perils of monopolies.

After finishing our donuts, we headed toward the bonfire area. This necessitated walking past the Real Radio Stage. Utter crap. Utter, utter, crap. The hosts of the Real Radio breakfast show asked banal questions, in artificially excited voices, of a series of even more banal guests. Oblivious to 'their' audience's total apathy, the hosts continually encouraged everybody to 'give it up' (I wished that they would), or 'make some noise' (I wished that they wouldn't), for the Z-List celebs on stage.

The first stellar act were two butch female 'singers' from the Welsh valleys, whose claim to fame was to have been eliminated, at the earliest possible juncture, from the X-Factor. The only thing worse that these hags' terrible songs, was their mind-numbing small-talk.

Next was a young man from Cardiff, who had progressed to be eliminated at the second possible juncture. Despite very obviously coming from the eastern part of Cardiff, or should I say, the eastern paaart of Caaardiff, he suddenly developed a ham American accent as soon as he began to torture the assembled throng with tracks from his first album. Fortunately, things don't bode well for a prospective second album, as after two tracks, he treated us to a cover version of Wham's 'Club Tropicana'. As the rain dripped off my nose and I stamped my feet in the wet mud to stimulate circulation in my frozen feet, I had the overwhelming urge to throw him in a swimming pool. Preferably whilst it was closed and drained for renovation.

The best act was left until last. Who was that? It was only X-Factor finalists 'Same Difference'! If, like me, you refuse to watch the X-Factor after the Seriously Deluded/Special Needs stage, I will enlighten you. Same Difference are a brother and sister act who, bearing in mind the libel laws, definitely do NOT enjoy anything other than a normal, healthy, sibling closeness. I have a younger sister myself, and like nothing better at parties than singing duets with her, as I gaze into her eyes. Our Top Five favourite duets (and doubtless favourites of Same Difference too) are,

5. You're The One That I Want (John Travolta and Olivia Newton John)
4. Endless Love (Lionel Richie and Diana Ross)
3. Tonight I Celebrate My Love For You (Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack)
2. I Know What You Want (Busta Rhymes and Mariah Carey)

and of course our personal favourite,

1. Give It 2 Me (Madonna ft. Pherrell)

Just before the bonfire was lit, Same Difference stopped staring at each other, for just long enough, to give us the amazing news that they had been signed by Simon Cowell's record label. He really is all about the music that man. The Spirit of Woodstock is alive and well and living in Mr Cowell. Unfortunately, due to the early stages of hypothermia, neither my wife nor I could reach into our pockets to retrieve our mobile phones. If we could have done, we would have texted Same Differences' premium rate phone line, which they pushed relentlessly, and pre-ordered our copy of their first single. In reference to the duo's heavy reliance on technology, my wife made the comment that she would like to see Same Difference unplugged. I replied that the only thing I would like to see Same Difference unplugged from, would be a life-support machine.

As the Bonfire was lit, our ebullient hosts interviewed the leader of the South Wales Fire Safety Partnership. She was pointing out to people, who had paid to come to an organised fireworks display, that the safest thing to do at this time of the year, was to come to an organised firework display. Brilliant. Her safety talk might have been less ironic, however, if, as she was speaking, people weren't turning away from the millions of glowing embers, that the gale-force winds were blowing into the faces of babies, children and adults alike.

The fireworks, when they finally started, were, even I have to admit, impressive. For at least twenty minutes, tens of thousands of pounds worth of fireworks lit up the night sky. In fact, they were so impressive, that in spite of the best attempts of the Real Radio Breakfast Show and The X-Factor and notwithstanding the fact that it is, in essence, a celebration of a religion-based hate-crime, my wife and I will be attending the event next year.

After the last firework had dazzled us all, my wife and I headed back home. The way out was lined by yellow-vested members of the Rotary Club. The British love of politeness was clearly exemplified as we left the venue. There was, near the exit, an obvious shortcut across the grass to the gate. This would have taken around a hundred yards off the exodus' rain-soaked journey. However the short cut was staffed by two retired gentlemen, one of whom informed the thousands of spectators that they were to keep off the grass. Despite him patently having no explanation for this, beyond 'because I said so', and despite it being a clear example of officiousness for officiousness' sake, only one person disobeyed this jobsworth. A youth of about sixteen jogged the few seconds across the grass to the gate. His actions elicited a disgusted shake of the head from the two elderly gentleman, and several hundred tuts of disapproval from the bedraggled queue, inching forward, on the path.

On eventually exiting the Castle Grounds, my wife and I called into the best fish and chip shop in the world, The Codfather in Canton, and then walked the short distance home. Beelzebub was nowhere to be seen and the Micra was unlocked where we had left it.

After a wonderful dinner of cod, chips and mushy peas, I sat on the left hand side of the big sofa, ate two indigestion tablets, and watched TV in my underpants. All in all, a very enjoyable evening.

Friday October 31st

When I was a child, Halloween was more of an afterthought than anything else. The extent of the commercialism, as far as my family was concerned, was my grandmother buying two extra apples from the mobile greengrocer. This was to facilitate the 'spooky' games of bobbing apples and swinging apples that my sister and I would play at my grandmother's house in Merthyr Vale. For those of you not au fait with budget, 1970s fun, bobbing apples entails filling a washing-up bowl with cold water, floating an apple in it, and taking it in turns to 'bob'. To 'bob' was to submerge one's face in the cold water/saliva solution and try bite the apple. The first one to take a bite was the winner, and the prize was to help oneself to the mauled fruit.

Swinging apples, I discovered later in life, was a game played solely in my grandmother's living room. For this game, the second of the extra apples had string threaded through it, the end of which was in turn attached, via a nail, to the door frame of the pantry (a small, cool, dark room that served as a perishable food storage area, before the arrival of refrigeration in the Welsh Valleys in the early 1980s). With the apple suspended at the height of my sister's teeth, to make things fair, my Nanna would proceed to 'swing the apple'. As in the more common bobbing game, the goal was to take a bite out of the apple first. Swinging apples, however, was the Extreme Sport version of the game. Consequently, in addition to being covered in one's sibling's saliva, the swinging apple was soon covered in blood. Milk teeth were swiftly knocked out, tongues were bitten, or caught between apple and tooth, and emerging 'Big Teeth' were rocked from bleeding gum to root. Still, a free apple though.

These days Halloween has become another exercise in marketing. The aisles of supermarkets are filled with all manner of tat, and local shops sell bite-size bags of sweets, which constitute little more than protection money. I never saw one trick or treater when I was a child. Apparently it went on in the council estates and BBZs, but even there it was a small-scale affair. These days bands of ne-er-do-wells, many old enough to know better, roam the street terrorising the local population. I fail to see the link between the traditional folk celebration of All Hallows Eve and a teenaged father throwing an egg at a taxi. I called the police last year when I witnessed a bicycle gang (doubtless all wheeliers) launching a volley of eggs at a mini-cab. The operator informed me that it was Halloween. I thanked her for stating the obvious, and assured her that if the startled driver mounted the kerb and mowed down a pensioner, I would console the grieving family, with the news that their love-one's death was merely a result of high spirits. She laughed. I further assured her that no pun was intended, and ended the call.

On the positive side, in recent years the Halloween party has become an established part of the social calendar. This year my wife and I attended the party organised by my friends Marcus and Jeff (they are not a couple), which took place at the West End Club in Barry. The event has grown from a gathering at Marcus' house, to an annual event held in a function room at the club, with around eighty people attending. They, and their wives, had gone to a great deal of trouble, and there was a buffet, karaoke, a raffle and a disco. Furthermore, everyone had taken the effort to come in fancy dress. My costume was both diabolic and minimalistic, though to the casual observer, it may have appeared to be me wearing my everyday clothes, with red make-up on my face.

We had a good time at the party, and I always enjoy meeting up with Marcus and Jeff. After leaving school we didn't see each other for nearly fifteen years, but, since being reacquainted, see each other every few months. This make them, at the very least, ten mile friends, using my Friend Radius Rating (FRR). Simply put, the better the friend, the wider the friend radius. My best friend lives more than 6000 miles away. Clearly if I didn't greatly value his friendship and love him, in a manly, heterosexual, way, I wouldn't bother maintaining a link with him over such a distance. Similarly, I have had 'friends' who I stopped seeing the instant that we stopped sharing the same office. Even if they lived in the same town, any effort to stay in touch would have made no sense. They were 6 feet friends. A case in point; at the party I saw a chap I was in school with. We hadn't seen each other in twenty years. At one point we found ourselves the width of a buffet table apart from each other. By the time we had filled our paper plates with cheese sandwiches and pickled onions, we had adequately caught up on the events of each other's intervening two decades. For the rest of the evening my wife and I stood no more than ten feet from him. There was no animosity, but I would estimate that my school 'chum' had a FRR of three feet. As I was standing a good seven feet outside of our friend radius, I had no further contact at all with him that evening and, in all probability, never will have again.

Before leaving the party I gave a sterling Karaoke rendition of Elvis Presley's 'Devil in Disguise', before my wife and I said goodbye to the Heathfields and the Hills, and thanked them for a very enjoyable night.

To my great disappointment, I did not cross paths with Beelzebub during the short walk to our front door, after pretending to lock the Micra . I asssume that this is a busy night for him. That said, he may well have been inhabiting the body of the cat, intently watching me from next door's garden.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Thursday October 30th

Rather than go into any great depth about Thursday's events, I will instead record, verbatim, a conversation I had with my wife. It was the evening of an uneventful/typical day. I sat on the left hand side of the big sofa to watch television, with my wife seated on the right hand side.

The television programme in question was 'Last Man Standing', a reality show, naturally, in which British and American sportsmen contest in a variety of bizarre sporting rituals around the globe. The participants in the programme compete against each other, and native experts, until, one-by-one, they are eliminated, leaving the series winner as the eponymous 'Last Man Standing'.

In Thursday's episode the contestants found themselves in the Himalyas. Their physical challenge was to each take a 20kg 'Prayer Stone' to a holy place high in the mountains and once there, present it to the monk who lives there. The winner was a local man, a Sherpa, who completed the course in under two hours. The programme's contestants took between three and a half and seven hours. I was, in equal parts, impressed at the contestants achievement in completing the course and incredulous at their stupidity in embarking upon it in the first place.

The conversation,

Mike: They must be fit, those Sherpas.
Wife: Yes.
Mike: Like those donkey sh-t men in Lindos.*
Wife: Yes. (Pause) Who are those other people in the world?
Mike: What do you mean?
Wife: The British ones.
Mike: I don't know what you're talking about.
Wife: Yes you do.
Mike: No, I don't.
Wife: Oh yeah, that's it. The SAS.
Mike: The SAS?
Wife: Yeah.
Mike: What are you on about?
Wife: Well they're fit aren't they?
Mike: Yes.
Wife: Well they're the same sort of thing.
Mike: Not really. I can't imagine the Sherpas ending the Iranian Embassy siege.
Wife: Yeah, but they're soldiers too.
Mike: No they're not.
Wife: Yes they are. They're those foreign soldiers in the British Army.
Mike: No, they're Ghurkas.
Wife: What are Sherpas then?
Mike: They're a Nepalese people, known for being excellent mountain guides.
Wife: Are they?
Mike: Yes.
Wife: Well why are they called Sherpas then?
Mike: I don't know. That's just what they're called.
Wife: So what was Sherpa Tenzing?
Mike: Well, Sherpa Tenzing was a Sherpa. Called Tenzing. He led Hillary up Everest.
Wife: Well how come it's not called 'Mount Tenzing' then?
Mike: It's not called 'Mount Hillary' either.
Wife: Yeah, but why didn't they just call him 'Tenzing'?
Mike: Because he was known as Sherpa Tenzing.
Wife: Yeah, but what was his first name, Ten?
Mike: No. His first name was Tenzing.
Wife: No, Ten was his first name, Zing was his last name.
Mike: No it wasn't. His last name was Norgay.
Wife: Anyway I didn't mean that. I meant George Everest.

I regularly have conversations of this kind with my wife. After our dialogue, I always have to lie and promise that I won't tell anyone about it. Henceforth, I will further betray my wife's trust, by endeavouring to share any future pearls of wisdom with the readership of this blog.

* The beautiful town of Lindos in Rhodes, which we visited last summer, is built on, and around, an extinct volcano. There is a wonderful medieval castle at the summit. This can be reached by walking up an ancient cobbled path. Alternatively, if you are an American family whose mean weight is over 250lbs, it can be accessed by exhausted donkey. Two local men are employed to follow these donkeys, from the town centre, to the castle, and back again. They must make the return trip at least thirty times a day, in thirty five degree heat. As they travel, they pick up the donkey's droppings in a home made scoop, fashioned from a recycled biscuit tin and a broom handle. Both of these men seemed inexplicably happy with their lot in life.

Wednesday October 29th

For my wife, Wednesday was the third day in the half-term, week-long break from teaching. As we had so far done nothing together of any consequence, we had decided on Tuesday night that we would do 'something' on Wednesday. At first we had tentatively planned a trip to West Wales, staying at a Bed And Breakfast establishment in the Tenby area. By Wednesday morning this had turned into a day-trip to Southerndown, with maybe a wonderful pub lunch in the Plough and Harrow at Marcross. As noon approached, my enthusiasm to do anything other than 'watch a DVD together' was waning. At midday we decided on a compromise, a romantic walk on the beach. In Barry.

Barry Island was once a Mecca for the Welsh day-tripper. Not in the sense that non-Muslims would be publicly beheaded if they were found there, or that women were not welcome, but inasmuch as a lot of day-trippers visited it. With the decline of the coal industry, and specifically the Miner's Fortnight, numbers dwindled drastically. That said, the small numbers who came after the pits closed, no longer had to swim in slurry. Just a cocktail of sea-water, sewage and sanitary towels.

In the last ten years or so Barry has made great strides. The beaches of my home town now proudly fly the Blue Flag, which mean that the water is now relatively clean, and the sand is litter free. Granted, danger and litter can both easily still be found within very short distance from the beach, but the seaside itself has been transformed.

My wife and I parked the Micra near the promenade, and I was careful to be seen to pretend to lock the door as Barry is a car crime hot spot. As we walked along the promenade we passed the newly-built crazy golf course, and I admit that I was impressed. Whereas I find the whole concept of crazy golf decidedly odd (as opposed to crazy), Barry Town Council has created that sport's equivalent of The Augusta National. Two youngsters on the course were approaching the hole with the big cannon and the pirate climbing up a mast (lamp-post), and became involved in an altercation with each other. A concerned woman, who was either their grandmother, or their artificially-inseminated mother, called out, after sucking hard on a cigarette,

'You pair get outside now!'

The confused pair looked at each other, before one pointed out,

'We are outside now.'

She looked up for confirmation, before asserting

'You know what I mean!'

They didn't, but her stare patently meant, 'Cut it out, or this will be the last time that I spend any of my dishonestly claimed compensation money on you'.

As we stepped onto the beach I looked around. There were about twelve other people on the sand braving the arctic conditions, similarly determined to enjoy themselves. I felt one of my patriotic moments coming on. British foolhardiness is a constant source of joy to me. It was around zero degrees Celsius, with gale-force winds, and the fourteen of us on the beach, the throngs eating chips on the promenade and the common family playing crazy golf (outside) had obviously all come to the same conclusion. All of us, at some point that morning, thought that a trip to the seaside would be a good idea.

What hope had Hitler? If the British had been on the Eastern Front in 1942 they would have pushed North towards the sea, for a quick swim and a hastily-arranged Pantomime, before pressing on towards Stalingrad, whilst singing a song about frostbite and hypothermia, accompanied, no doubt, by the company ukulele player, 'Fingerless' Freddy Johnson.

After enjoying the Siberian conditions or around twenty minutes, my bladder had shrunk to the size of a small tangerine. I was desperate for the toilet, although not desperate enough to use the Barry Island public facilities. I had no intention of making small talk with a grinning simpleton about how the cold had reduced his penis size, as I had had to do during a previous visit to these facilities. As such we walked back to the Micra, pretended to unlock it, and got in. As we were leaving Barry Island we passed the Log Flume sign. I found myself hoping that the Crazy Golf would not go the way of Barry's Log Flume, Jungle Boat and Ghost Train.

The Log Flume had been a spectacular addition to the fairground in the early 1980s. By the 1990s the passage of time had bleached the fibreglass, rock-coloured, 'rocks' . Rather than invest in rock coloured paint, the owners decided to leave the rocks a slightly less realistic 'fibre-glassy' colour. During one hot summer, evaporation, coupled with an unwillingness by the management to buy extra water, resulted in one's 'Log' careering through a canyon, carved through bright yellow rock, before plunging down a waterless waterfall into a 'river' that looked, for all the world, like roller coaster tracks.

The Jungle Boat was installed before the Log Flume, but enjoyed a similar lack of funding. As one's 'Boat' travelled through the 'Jungle' a series of frightening scenes from nature were played out. At one point a hippo reared out of the water to roar at the enchanted children. Or it would have, had the motors and sound-making apparatus worked. As they did not, a large, slightly yellow hippo, lay, and remained, partially submerged, as bored children travelled past it, untroubled. Just past the hippo was a man escaping up a tree from a hungry lion. Again some of the realism was lacking, as the lion was also inert. As for the man, whilst he may have been 'climbing' the 'tree', he clearly belonged to the species Homo Meccano, his clothing have long-since disintegrated, revealing his hinged, metal limbs.

The Ghost Train though, was my favourite. There is nothing as scary as waiting for something scary to happen. That anticipation of fright, that is the hallmark of the best directors in the Horror film genre. Barry Island Funfair applied that principle to their Ghost Train. But unlike those film directors, who adhere to 'norms' and eventually reveal what it is we fear most, the Barry Island Ghost Train delivered 100% anticipation. Aside from becoming dark for around two minutes, nothing happened at all! Not one thing! I'm sure that when the ride was first installed there were any number of gimmicks, but as, one-by-one, they failed and were not replaced, a unique experience was accidentally created. One would sit on one's seat, eyes squinting, shoulders hunched, maybe clutching a loved one's hand, waiting for something, anything to happen. And then, and then....out of the doors, and back into the sunlight, before coming to a stop. On disembarking, everyone resolved not to spoil the 'surprise' for the next train-load.

After calling at my mother's to urinate, we drove home.

That night on the left hand side of the big sofa, I became convinced that the cold in my fingers was due to an impending cardiac arrest. I put my T-Shirt over my nose and breathed deeply, until my panic attack subsided, as my doctor had advised me following my first false alarm. I then took half an aspirin, just in case, ate two indigestion tablets and went to bed.

Tuesday October 28th

The only real thing of note to happen to me on Tuesday, was to go for lunch with three of my comedy chums. I appreciate that to many people, going for lunch is hardly note-worthy, but as I have alluded to in previous blog entries, my days are typically Bristolian in their thrill provision.

To say that I have little in common, aside from a sense of humour, with many of my friends on the comedy 'circuit', would not be unfair. With few exceptions, the people that I have met in comedy circles tend to belong to the, 'make the bully laugh or be assaulted' population of the Venn Diagram, which I have just imagined in my head. (Best place for that sort of thing.) I, on the other hand, was in the other, much-maligned, population. I was the person in the playground doing the threatening, waving the carrot of a non-beating, should my prospective victim make me laugh. They rarely did, and violence often followed. But in hindsight I see that, far from being cruel, playground bullies, such as myself, acted as a Darwinian force of nature. By separating the comedic wheat from the badly bruised chaff, insecure big boys, such as myself, did much to drive up standards in British comedy. The anti-bullying, nanny state, culture that has been allowed to flourish in this country in recent years, is at least partly to blame for the decline in comic standards. Show me an unfunny comedian, and I will show you a chancer who wasn't sufficiently bullied during his formative years.

But I digress. I merely wanted to challenge the accepted logic that bullying is always a bad thing.

The restaurant chosen for our lunch, patently not by me, was the Vegetarian Restaurant in the Grangetown area of Cardiff. My fellow diners were laughter-inducing Camarthenshire yarn-smith, Elis James, new-age, poker-faced funnyman from Cornwall, Henry Widdicombe and the highly amusing, Shipman-esque, Ben Partridge. Immediately I felt out of place. Not because I was a committed carnivore in a Vegetarian restaurant; not even because I weighed as much as my three friends combined; but because I was the only member of the group not sporting a beard. I think the problem is that I came to comedy later in life. I can try to be grunge, but it never looks convincing. For example, I'll favour that I am the only performer on the 'circuit' that was a member of the Young Conservatives in the 1980s. This may have been a poor choice politically, especially after my coal-mining grandfather found out, but the Labour party were always so scruffy. There really is no excuse for someone to go out in public looking like Michael Foot.

The four of us sat, laughed, chatted, and tried to out-anecdote each other. I probably looked like a lecturer trying to be cool by going for lunch with three of his students, but fortunately there were no other diners in the restaurant to witness this. Bearing that in mind, I could find no discernible reason why it should take a full hour to bring us our dishes. An hour! Poor Henry, who is the only person in full time employment (although he 'works' from home a great deal) was concerned, but too polite to mention anything. He also let me know that one of my trademark altercations would not be appreciated, as this was one of the few restaurants in the city that catered for people with his food disability. I agreed not to make a scene.

When the food finally arrived it was okay. There are about a hundred items on the menu, but one spiced, Indian, vegetarian item in batter, tastes very much like the next one. Henry and I have discussed the vegetarian question before. Henry, like many of his ilk, points to things such as the human appendix as evidence that we are not natural meat-eaters. I point out things such as canine and incisor teeth, as evidence that we are. These, however, are apparently signs that we are omnivores. We have pointy, sharp teeth to eat fruit, vegetables, berries, shellfish and, if necessary, meat. Hmm. Even if this were true, and it is a big 'if', meat undeniably tastes very nice. I had a heated debate with a vegetarian girl once, who stated that my love of lamb was despicable. Lambs are slaughtered when they are still babies, she was at pains to point out. I replied that, whereas I had some sympathy, they tasted amazing,

'But they're babies!' she reiterated, increasingly animated.

'And if Snickers gave birth to baby Snickers, I'd eat those too.' I assured her.

I was so pleased with my retort, that it almost made up for missing out on the sex that had been in the offing, before the issue of dietary preferences had been raised.

On finishing our meals we waited for the bill. The proprietor casually announced that 10% would be added to the total. My three chums nodded. I asked if that was the service charge, he replied that it was. I wanted to point out that it had taken sixty two minutes for the staff, who outnumbered the diners five-to-four, to serve us our meals. But, not wanting to upset Henry, I smiled and tried to look grateful for the opportunity he had given me. Namely, to sit and wait for an hour in his restaurant for my luke-warm jalapeno pepper in batter.

After lunch I said my goodbyes to Elis, Henry and Ben and headed home. Near the Canton branch of Boots the Chemist I spotted Beelzebub, in customary blue and beige apparel.

The rest of the day passed without incident.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Monday October 27th

I had arranged to meet Adrian at Rim's Motors, in Barry, at eight o' clock in the morning. Allowing for rush hour traffic and Cardiff's never-ending roadworks, I got in the pick-up to start the seven mile journey at five to eight. When it comes to punctuality, I am a hypocrite of scarcely imaginable proportions. I can honestly say, that I have never arrived anywhere early in my life, and that furthermore, I can count the times I have arrived somewhere on time (since leaving my parents' home in 1990) on the fingers of one hand. In fact the thumb of one hand would be ample. I don't do this to annoy people, it is just that I always, always, think of something else I need to do before I leave the house. Aside from my usual OCD routine of checking everything at least twice, this could include such vital, last-minute, tasks as, cleaning the hob, removing all of the empty blister-packs from the first aid drawer, wiping the coasters or organizing the contents of the bathroom shelves.

Conversely, if someone has told me that they will call at a particular time, or I believe that the service that I receive, say in a shop, or at a restaurant, is not sufficiently prompt, then I take it extremely personally. With friends this will normally manifest itself as sarcasm. With strangers this will at first manifest itself as sarcasm, but will quickly escalate to verbal abuse and the threat of physical violence and/or property damage.

I arrived at Rim's Motors at eight twenty. Rim's is Adrian's MOT garage of choice, and there can be no higher recommendation. Exhibiting his planning brilliance, we then travelled together, in the pick-up, to his house. We then changed vehicles, getting into his green Transit, but not before he showed off his new white Transit which he had purchased for £400. (Both Transits are parked on the grass verge at the side of Adrian's house. Technically this is a public area, but dual-use verges seem to be very much de rigeur in Adrian's neighbourhood. Some verges double as worn tyre depositories, some as white-goods storage areas, and others as open-air carpet remnants showrooms.) Once inside the green Transit we set off for the address that Adrian was working at that day. It was in Cardiff. We passed my front door at approximately nine o'clock, arriving at the address at nine-thirty.

The job of the day was to replace a kitchen, at a flat in the North of the city. I didn't know what to expect when we opened the door of the property, but as we stepped inside, my involuntary 'f*ck me', summed it up rather well. To say that the flat was a bit messy would be like saying that Kerry Katona is a bit common. I don't think that the it had ever been cleaned. The rooms all looked like they had been set up for a 'Crack Den Monthly' photo-shoot. The bathroom was particularly bad, but the kitchen really took one's breath away. But unfortunately not one's sense of smell. Years of burnt grease, decaying food and the stench of human misery hung heavy in the air. At one point the landlord turned up to 'see how things were going'. What little respect I had for this charlatan quickly evaporated, when he revealed that he lets the flat to his brother. His brother! He made himself a glass of coffee (there were no cups), then said that he had intended to have the flat thoroughly cleaned, but that there had been a leak in the ceiling and he had been in dispute with the management company for months over the matter. Well that's fair enough then. Let your sibling continue to pay you to live in squalor, because, before he moved in, there had been a small leak. He then tutted, complained that his brother could have cleaned up a bit, before putting out his cigarette on the vinyl floor in the hallway. He lit another cigarette, and walked out, bidding us good day. What a ...

In the afternoon Adrian treated us both to lunch at his favourite Scottish-themed restaurant. We both had Big Mac Meals and both 'went large', but not before I thoroughly cleaned my hands in the confusing and ineffective soap dispenser/sink/hand dryer.

Over lunch Adrian and I had a little chat about religion. Adrian was explaining that Jehovah's Witnesses do not think that they are a 'chosen' or 'special', people, merely that they are the ones who God, aka Jehovah, has called to do his bidding. This was a perfectly good explanation of their viewpoint, not needing a simplified version to be understood. However as, for whatever reason, people of a scientific leaning do not appear to gravitate towards Adrian's, or anybody else's, mainstream religion, he has become used to having to explain things more clearly. In my experience, Adrian's ministry relies heavily on the parable. Accordingly, he summed up what he meant (although I fairly confident that I already knew) thusly,

'Imagine you are in a big supermarket, like Asda or whatever. But they're opening up a new, smaller, supermarket, that is going to be selling the best stuff. Now, imagine you were sent to the big supermarket to look for staff for the new supermarket. You would want to pick the hardest workers, wouldn't you? We're the same. Except that everyone in the big supermarket is invited.'

So that was that cleared up. My interest piqued, I asked him about the attitude of the Witnesses to the other world religions. He sipped his coffee.

'Well obviously, every religion thinks that their religion is right.'

Refreshing, I thought. It's a shame that this live-and -let-live attitude didn't prevail throughout the rest of the world. He then paused and added that,

'The difference is, ours actually is right'.

Hmm. Another false dawn.

After work I returned home and prepared myself for my weekly battle of wits with my wife. For five years every Monday evening, when it graces the TV schedule, has revolved around University Challenge. In that time I have lost twice. I average an impressive 16 correct answers per contest, to my wife's admirable 8. The resulting tremendous feeling of intellectual superiority sets me up for the week. Imagine my dismay then, to find that bearded gnome Bill Oddy, is darkening BBC 2's doors for the next two weeks with his dreary 'Autumn Watch'. If people want to watch badgers and foxes going about their everyday business, an interest which in itself should be questioned, then why don't they spend their evenings in a hedgerow, or next to a wheelie bin. If Jeremy Paxman was hosting University Challenge a stone's throw from my front door, I would not want to sit and watch it on TV. Probably.

I went to bed early and resolved never to watch repeats of The Goodies.

Sunday October 26th

I had arranged to do my good deed for the week on Sunday. My mother in law had mentioned that she was going to pay a local ne'er-do-well £100 to clear her garage. I told her that, to save her money, I would borrow one of Adrian's fleet of vehicles and clear the garage for her. I assured her that I would do this 'soon'. After weeks of stalling my MiL, 'soon' had arrived.

Adrian knocked on my door an hour earlier than we'd arranged. Or so I thought. The clocks had gone back in the night, but feeling pleased with myself this year, I had remembered and changed the time on my mobile phone as soon as I had wakened. However, by some witchcraft, it transpired that my phone had already gone back an hour, unassisted, so was now two hours earlier than GMT. How does it know when to do that? In every way my phone amazes me. It photographs, video records, entertains. As my friend Elis pointed out on our Exeter trip, if our grandfather's were alive and saw the things that these tiny devices could do, they would think that we were in league with the devil. (As blog reader's will know, our ancestors' belief that good will ultimately triumph over evil, would have been restored, minutes after that statement, as Satan's box of tricks was to drop a bollock, as it's SatNav lead us, not to the desired comedy venue, but into a residential cul-de-sac.)

Anyway, Adrian arrived (when I was still in my TV underpants), and dropped the keys off to his pick-up. Not wanting to waste time. I threw on some clothes from my DIY collection, and headed out of the door. I then headed back in the door, and checked that the oven and all the switches were off, and headed out the door. I then headed back in the door, to check that the iron, which I had not used, was unplugged, and headed out the door. I then headed back in the door, checked the back door, which I hadn't used, set the alarm and headed out the door. I then locked the door, tested it three times, said aloud 'the door is locked' and got in the pick-up.

Like the rest of Adrian's fleet (two Transit vans, a Toyota saloon and a Mercedes convertible), the pick-up is testament to the short-comings of the British MOT system. Adrian's love of a bargain and gung-ho attitude to all things 'handy', mean that the area surrounding his house is home to vehicles in various states of (dis)repair. Adrian is a keen amateur mechanic and electrician who also, due to his strong faith, has an unshakeable belief in life after death. This is a heady brew. Adrian can often be found driving vehicles that, to the more critical eye, might be deemed 'dangerous'. Indeed, he had previously loaned me another vehicle which, after I had driven it, I deemed to be 'f*cking lethal'. The possibility that Adrian's pick-up would transport me on a one-way journey to meet my maker, who may, or may not, be called Jehovah, was outweighed, in true Welsh style, by the fact that it was free. In fairness to Adrian, the pick-up seemed relatively roadworthy, the only niggles being a drivers' side window that leaked, a drivers' side wing mirror that gave an unimpaired view of the road beneath the door, and a fuel cap that was in every way identical to a piece of folded carrier bag held on with an elastic band. These features made Adrian's pick-up only a distant second in the 'Most Dangerous Pick-Up I Have Loaned For Free' competition.*

On arriving in a Swansea ,with a wet right arm and thigh, following heavy rain, I was pleased to see my wife. I was even more pleased when she informed me that I had missed her mother's breakfast. I was keen to press on, so I backed the truck up to the garage, and opened the up-and-over door. My MiL's garage is not unlike the cauldron described in the Mabinogion, the magical vessel which never empties, no matter how many people are fed from it. I made twelve trips to the Penlan skip in the Micra, in one day, not twelve months ago, to empty my MiL's garage of, what can only be described as, tat. That same garage was now once more filled to the rafters with kipple. (Yes, kipple. Look it up.)

By five in the afternoon I had returned to my MiL's house, after three full truck-loads of unwanted kipple had been deposited in the main Swansea skip. I say unwanted, I mean unwanted by normal people. Skip workers, on the other hand, seem to be genetically predisposed to locate and store items, discarded by others, which they think may be of some value. This 'Junk Gene' is what causes their wild scramble from container to container. There scurrying is invariably rewarded with a pile of broken toasters, Buckaroos, tennis rackets, and so forth, which can be found next to their deck chairs, and which they guard jealously.

Good deed accomplished, I accepted the offer of a ham and cheese sandwich from my MiL, in preference to the alternative, (warmed) bacon in a (dry) bap. This was followed by a too-sweet coffee and a Twix. Replete, I kissed my MiL and headed home to Cardiff to meet my wife, who had already gone ahead in the Micra.

On arriving home I cashed in my Brownie points by letting my wife make dinner, whilst I, thanks to the wonder of Sky+, watched 1 x MotoGP Races, 0.5 x Rugby League matches and 2 x NFL games. I didn't watch the third NFL game as I was taking the pick-up back to Adrian in the morning and had agreed to 'help him out' for the day. I wanted to enjoy the experience fully.

Before bed, I checked the oven knobs, front and back doors and electrical switches (twice), made myself a blackcurrant squash and ate two indigestion tablets.

* My friend Todd's pick-up, located in Calgary, which I drove several times, was considerably more dangerous than Adrian's vehicle. As there is no MOT in Canada, Todd's truck was totally un-roadworthy. It was severely rusted in all the major weight-bearing areas. It had no working instruments or fuel gage. It ran on propane, which was pumped directly into a huge, corroded, tank, welded onto the load-carrying area, just behind the occupants heads. In short, it was like driving a bomb to rugby practice twice a week. I genuinely winced every time I turned the key in the ignition. Still, it was free.

Saturday October 25th

Saturday was a strange one. I awoke fairly early, in a flustered state, as I was unsure at first, of exactly where I was, or who I was with. As it became apparent that I was in my bedroom with my wife, I began to relax. I then panicked, as I remembered that I had gone out with Rob, but had not returned with him. My wife then assured me that I had returned with him, and that he was the person snoring in the Blue Hawaii Suite (aka the spare bedroom).

I felt remarkably well as I headed downstairs to make coffee. But I was not about to be fooled by the Window of Wellness and, as such, I retired to the big sofa to await the hangover. But it never happened. The Window of Wellness was to last all day. The only after-effect of our mammoth drinking session, was to be an insatiable, extreme, hunger.

My wife left before midday, as she was attending her best friend's hen party in Swansea later in the day. She wanted to get there early to distribute hats, outfits and badges, supervise dance routine practice and ensure that everyone had brought their musical instruments. This attention to detail seemed to me to be fairly futile. I have witnessed many hen nights in the Wind Street area of Swansea, and by 10pm they all resemble each other. Girls wearing almost nothing fighting/vomiting/urinating outside Yates Wine Bar, before heading to eighties theme bar Reflex to dance with/be sexually molested by a steroid-fuelled, tattooed, highlighted dwarf, who would invariably expose his penis at some point during, for example, Chaka Khan's 'Chaka Khan'. Still, it makes her happy.

With my wife gone and Rob awake, it was time to head for breakfast. We opted for Steve's Cafe, a short walk from my house. During the brief journey I glimpsed Beelzebub disappearing down a side street.

There is nothing like the Great British cafe. As we ate bacon, eggs, black pudding and luke-warm floppy toast, I tried to avert my eyes from the other diners. If one ponders too long on the fact that the fork which one is putting in one's mouth, may very well be the same fork that the stubbled, unwashed, vagrant sitting across the linoleum floor put in his mouth yesterday, it can really spoil one's appetite. The dining experience was enhanced, as usual, by the grunts of the slipper-wearing illiterate, feeding his latest payout from Accidents Direct into the fruit machine. Doubtlessly hoping to land the big £5 jackpot. He was accompanied, as he always is, by a mute, slipper-wearing, female. The precise relationship between the two is hard to ascertain. She may be his sister, his daughter, his lover. Or any combination of the three.

After breakfast we stopped at Tesco Metro on the way home to buy Mars Bar drinks and doughnuts. Thankfully, the flirtatious Asian checkout operator wasn't working, as my hair and breath were both in need of urgent attention. On the way home I again saw Beelzebub, this time in the vicinity of the Salvation Army shop.

On getting home Rob and I drank our Mars Bar drinks, ate doughnuts and watched TV. This kept us going until our late lunch. At around two thirty I drove Rob's car to McDonald's. I was relieved that he asked me to drive, as I have been a passenger in the car with him on several occasions on the day after a drinking session. In recent years, more often than not, he has had an epileptic fit whilst at the wheel. He suffers from a form of epilepsy which causes, what I would describe as, vacancy, rather than the more common/humorous convulsions. As such, I am normally unaware that he is experiencing an episode until after he has driven through a red light at a junction. At McDonald's we enjoyed Big Mac meals, and we both 'went large'.

After lunch we came home and watched the Cardiff vs Leicester rugby match on TV, whilst sharing a jumbo bag of jelly tots.

After the rugby Rob, headed back to Portsmouth and I made myself a bacon and egg sandwich, before returning to the big sofa.

In the evening I settled down with two bowls of Honey Nut Shredded Wheat and toasted pitta breads (?) to watch Strictly Come Dancing. I am not ashamed to say that I love everything about that programme. I love the dancing. I love the singing. I love Bruce Forsyth. And the girls look pretty good too. (I have been trying in vain for weeks to programme my brain to dream about a scenario I have created, involving Lilia, Ola, the new one with the breasts, who looks a bit like Christina Aguilera, an 'in-shape' me and a dance floor covered in KY Jelly, but to no avail. Whatever that means.)

Later in the night I watched comedy DVDs, to try and ward off the thoughts of death, which I know will be even more pronounced every time that I am home alone. After the second Alan Partridge episode I felt briefly less depressed, so dashed upstairs to try and get off to sleep before the gloom returned. It didn't work. I lay awake, endlessly pondering my own mortality, alone in my enormous bed, until three in the morning.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Friday October 24th

I was excited today as I was to meet my friend Rob who I had not seen for several months. Rob, like my friends Adrian, Loud Dan, Julian, Rabbit, Byron, Blanks, my best friend Nicky, and others too numerous to mention, is the sort of cartoon-version of a real person that enriches my life. Rob as a muse has many strings to his bow. To wit;

1. He was bi-polar well before Steven Fry made every miserable person in Britain proud of the fact they they too are bi-polar, albeit undiagnosed. Unlike these deluded, plain, idiots, he is Fry-Esque bi-polar; elated and juvenile one minute, depressed and morose the next. His mood swings are a joy to behold, and in my Churchillian 'Black Dog' days I console myself that Rob's day is, in all probability, much worse than mine. Or at the very least, he perceives it to be so.

2. He is a practical joker par-excellence. Not for him the tame practical joke. Like the best comedians he treads a fine line. My favourite example of this was a time when he stayed at my apartment a few years ago. We had spent the evening drinking and he had stayed on my pull-out sofa. In the morning I turned on the oven to make us crumpets. He sat, straight-faced, as I became aware that something was wrong. On opening the oven door, I found a pair of my shoes, hidden away at the back of the oven. I remonstrated with Rob that he could have set fire to the apartment and told him to grow up. As we ate our crumpets he continued to giggle, I assumed at the shoe/oven gag. My girlfriend, now wife, entered the room. She looked at the painting which I had lately been working on. It was a 4ft x 3ft canvas depicting the view from the Aberfan cemetery in which my grandparents are buried, and dedicated to their memory. There is a beautiful stone angel near the gates, who watches, silently, over the valley below. I had rendered this angel on the left side of the canvas, with the valley and rows of typical, colliery-owned, terraced houses on the right. My wife then asked, in a concerned tone,

'Who drew a cock on the Angel of Aberfan?'

I looked up at the easel, and protruding from the angel's praying hands, was a large, crudely-drawn, cock and balls, with a dashed line of semen arching from the japs-eye, and landing on the miners' homes in the distance. It is funny now, but at the time it was perilously close to being Rob's swan-song.

3. He is the unluckiest man I have ever met. To summarise. The wheel fell off his first car. His wife had an affair and divorced him. He was invalided out of the Navy (he was seasick on every voyage prior to that). He blew all his savings from ten years at sea on a new car, then was promptly diagnosed epileptic and had to sell the car at a huge loss. Whilst driving the car to the buyer in Swansea, he picked up a speeding ticket and three endorsement points. This doesn't include the really personal stuff which is even more tragic/amusing.

In addition to all of this, Rob can be relied upon to regularly come out with statements that are as refreshingly honest, as they are unexpectedly candid.

Rob arrived at around midday, and we promptly drank the only beers that were in the house. After watching back-to-back Curb Your Enthusiasms, we started on the vodka. My wife arrived home from work, and it was becoming apparent that we were regressing. She dropped us in town to meet up with Dave and Neil, the non-couple, who were at The Last Resort Bar. Dave and Neil were heading off to watch the Oasis gig, although it transpired that, although making it to the venue, Dave was asleep at his mother's house (he lives there, and is close to her, but is not gay) before the gig had started.

Rob and I continued to drink fairly heavily and he recounted a recent encounter he had had. He'd recently joined a Health Club ,to 'get in shape', and was having a strenuous workout in the Club's jacuzzi, when a Downs Syndrome teenager and his carer, joined Rob in the hot tub. As he was on an 'up' day, Rob made small talk with the carer. Not wanting to be rude, he then said hello to the teenager. I assume that he did this in an inadvertently condescending manner, as the youth replied by punching Rob in the face. How many of your friends have been punched in the face by a teenager with Downs Syndrome? In a jacuzzi? Exactly.

As the night progressed Rob and I headed to the one place that we always promise that we will not end up going to, before always ending up going there, Kiwis. Kiwis' clientele has remained unchanged since the late eighties. As a bright-eyed eighteen year old the prospect of a night club packed with sexually predatory, thirty-year-old women, was a mouth-watering one. These days, due to the absence of new arrivals, those same women, whilst more predatory than ever, are now approaching fifty. And not in a Madonna-esque way. To be fair to them, I am equally sure that they reminisce about the time when the men they prayed upon were eager young bucks, willing to please, not overweight, disillusioned cynics, suffering from sexual apathy.

Rob lightened the mood with two Rob-isms. The first was triggered by us drunkenly discussing the relentless passage of time, and the strange places that life leads us. He related the episode of his life when, having lost his driving license and unable to secure a job in his chosen field, he moved back to live with his mother, at thirty-two years of age. I said that I would find it next to impossible to live with my parents, at this time in my life. He nodded, sipped his drink, looked into the distance and pondered,

'You haven't lived until you've heard your mother take a sh*t at eight o' clock in the morning'

Superb. As the conversation moved seamlessly towards the subject of sex, we ruminated on our differing attitudes to sex and intimacy. Taking another sip of truth serum, Rob confessed,

'I don't like kissing. All I want to do is wank in their bra.'


At the end of the evening I ignored the text from my wife asking me to get a taxi home and called her for a lift. I would never have done this sober, but I most definitely was not sober. She proved once again to be the best wife in the world by picking us up and enduring our giggling all the way home.

On arriving home I fell into my neighbours car, setting of the alarm. I then fell through the front door of the house, thus breaking the mirror in the hallway. Bemused by the fact that my wife didn't find this impromptu slap-stick routine as funny as I did, I negotiated the stairs. Showing a poor grasp of physics, she walked up the stairs behind me to stop me falling backwards. She later admitted that the possibility of being crushed to death had been strangely engaging. Like taking part part in Jack Osborne's Adrenalin Junky. In a way. But inside. And genuinely dangerous.

Once upstairs I passed out on our enormous bed. If I did dream about anything, I don't remember it.

My wife had hidden all shoes and unfinished artworks.

Thursday October 23rd

Today was my mother's birthday. I am sure that she won't mind me revealing that she is now sixty-four years of age. Even if she did mind, her astounding failure to grasp any of the technologies of the twenty first century (Mobile Phone, Sky+, Internet, etc.) mean that she is unlikely to ever read this blog. Furthermore, a Venn Diagram containing the populations of 'People Reading This Blog' and 'People My Mum Talks To' would have a shared area containing one person. Namely, me. In fairness to my mother, she is in remarkable condition for her age. She has sharp eyes, all of her own teeth and possesses a rabbit-punch/shin-kick combination that is still as effective a p*ss-taking deterrent (PTD), as it was in the nineteen eighties.

The day started in the normal manner, by depressing myself with the News and complaining constantly to my wife about Bill Turnbull. As it was a relatively quiet news day, much was made of the media-perpetuated Credit Crunch. The BBC is struggling to convince the general public that the fact that thousands of investment bankers, estate agents and solicitors will lose their livelihoods, is a bad thing. To the casual observer, this seems more like Divine Judgement than anything else. I for one am eagerly awaiting the next four Plagues that the Credit Crunch will bring about;

The collapse of 'Reality' TV (not including 'Strictly Come Dancing').

A re-introduction of the maximum wage in football.

Huge job losses in the celebrity magazine industry.

The death of Kerry Katona.*

In the meantime, the BBC tried to make the ongoing 'disaster' more relevant by broadcasting a piece which, they proudly revealed, was coming directly from the village that was the birth place of deceased nineteen seventies sit-com star, Arthur Lowe. Yes. Arthur Lowe. Instantly hooked by this journalistic first, I got comfortable on the big sofa. The BBC reporter was on location, in the hairdressing salon that served the womenfolk of the village which was the hometown of Arthur Lowe. The hairdresser, who incidentally looked just like one, made me see the real-world implications of the Credit Crunch for the first time. I may not be able to relate to the sub-prime mortgage market in the US. I may struggle to understand the finer details of the re-nationalisation of the British banking system. I may be patently unaware of the ramifications of the weakening pound. But you don't need a degree in economics to realise that if the women in the village which is the home town of Arthur Lowe are now having the hair professionally high-lighted slightly less frequently (down 15-20%), then that is very bad news for all of us.

The rest of the day was a bit of an anti-climax after that blockbuster revelation.

In the evening my wife and I drove to Barry to celebrate my mother's birthday with her and dad. We had decided on the classic bathroom essentials presentation-pack as a gift, along with an amusing card. My wife and I would deliver this to my parents' house, after picking up take away food for the four of us, at the Chinese restaurant in Dinas Powys.

On the way to Dinas Powys, we drove past the gypsy site, near Leckwith, which has reappeared recently after an absence of several years. I would imagine that local entrepreneur Dick Lovett (yes, that is his real name), is overjoyed. His well-established Maserati dealership is immediately adjacent to the gypsy site. As such he can now tempt millionaire prospective buyers, not only with the prospect of test-driving an exclusive £200,000 sports car, but with ringside seats at bare-knuckle boxing matches, badger-baiting excursions into the surrounding woodlands and very competitive block-paving quotes.

The evening with my parents was very enjoyable, as was our chicken chow mein and pancake rolls.

On our return home I made myself an MSG-combating blackcurrant squash, which I proceeded to drink using the correct number of sips, in the correct sequence. I then ate two indigestion tablets and went directly to bed, bypassing the big sofa.

* I of course refer to the hoped-for figurative death of Kerry Katona's career, not her actual death. But you never know.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Wednesday October 22nd

Following my disastrous decision to walk home from School X last week, and bearing in mind my car-borrower status and pathological loathing of public transport/the publicly transported, I resolved to cycle to School X. Without a helmet.

I spent rather a lot of money on purchasing my bike a couple of years ago, as I was approaching the stage where half of my shirts did not fit me. My thinking followed the lines that- Cardiff is a relatively small, flat city. I live, work and socialise within the city limits. I was trying to save money for my wedding. I had recently started having to 'psyche myself up' to do up my shoe laces. I would, therefore, kill several birds with one, two-wheeled, stone. Within a few weeks I would be 'back in shape', relaxed and better off financially. And any guilt I experienced at inadvertently pleasing environmental do-gooders, could be easily assuaged, by something as simple as throwing a leaking old fridge into a river. The plan came a cropper as my extreme laziness had not been factored into the equation. Consequently, for a little over two years my bike had been parked in my garage. Next to an exercise ball that looks like a balloon two weeks after Christmas.

But on this cold, crisp morning, I was pumping up the tyres and preparing for my first ride since I bounced off the windscreen of a Peugeot 205, driven by soon-to-be-assaulted teenaged ne'er-do-well, as I navigated Gabalfa Interchange in 1995.

The ride from my house to School X is slightly uphill for the first part, with a short, steep(ish) hill right at the end. The early going was unexpectedly hard. I had not done any outdoor exercise since I unsportingly tried to decapitate an opposing player during a rugby match in 2004. (The resulting complete detachment of my right biceps had brought a sad, but predictable, end to my rugby career.) As I approached the steep(ish) section, I resolved to get off and push the bike. As I was about to do so, I spied two School X pupils, and, more importantly, they spied me. I thought I could still get away with it, as I was sure that they wouldn't remember me. At that point one of the eagle-eyed youths shouted 'Yes Sir!', the in-vogue pupil/staff greeting, and I smiled and nodded in his direction. Breath was at a premium. Thinking that it would paint a poor picture if a PE teacher was witnessed to push his bike to school, I continued in the saddle. As the whole hill was in view, I persevered to the top of it. By the time I reached the top, I could actually see my heart beating through my T-shirt, sweatshirt and waterproof jacket. I was sweating like a, well, like a clinically obese man cycling up a hill.

When I arrived at the school I parked my bike in the PE office, suppressed a feeling of nausea, and headed to the jolly secretary's office to pick up my timetable for the day. There were a number of teachers in the vicinity, bemoaning the behaviour of the children in School X. I smiled wryly, as in my head, I briefly went over the events of the previous three days I had spent in School W. The most memorable of these being a Year 11 (16 years old) class that I had 'taught'. Twenty two of the twenty eight pupils on the register were missing, presumed law-breaking. The four boys and two girls who had turned up, didn't exactly fill me with hope for the country's future. At one point, the brother of the convicted killer chased the six foot three white gangsta around the room with a stool. The big one then ending up wrestling both of them to the floor, before the brother of the convicted killer put the big one in a rather effective choke-hold. During this, the quiet one smiled at me and shook his head, whilst the two girls continued their independent phone conversations. Following his choke-hold release, the big one and the big girl started insulting each other. The white gangsta verbally backed up the big one, despite having a pronounced stammer, and the thin girl backed up the big girl with a few well-chosen barbs, highlighting the obvious shortcomings of the big one and the stammering gangsta. As I was about to intervene, the big one exhibited the sort of concentrated swearing that makes the British world-beaters in the field. He retorted to a weight-based insult, thrown by the thin girl, with this classic;

'F*uck off you f*cking sl*g. You've been f*cked so much, you've got a f*cking c*nt like a f*cking bucket.'

Lovely stuff. After being totally ignored in trying to encourage people to get along, the quiet one smiled at me and shook his head again. The brother of the convicted killer had, by this point, vacated the classroom and was running along the corridor, banging on doors and continually shouting, somewhat confusingly;

'A bomb has gone off in Iraq! Thousands of people are dead!'

I had no idea what constituted the bad behaviour that had upset the teachers at School X, but I was fairly sure that, in an Inter-School Poor Behaviour Competition, School W would definitely go through to the National Finals.

The day at School X passed quite quickly and before long I was, once more, astride my bike. During the day the workshop technician, an avid cyclist, had offered to service my bike, as I had mentioned, in passing, that the brakes weren't very powerful. As he didn't mention that that may be due to the large momental forces involved, I didn't question the cycling helmet that I saw hanging on his coat hook. However, I suspect that he may have heard about my thoughts on the matter somewhere. This is because as I was travelling homewards, down the steep(ish) hill, I naturally applied the brakes. The result was tantamount to hitting a low brick wall. The motorcycle-riding habit of applying the front brake, coupled with the hitherto-unrivalled stopping power, resulted in an 'endo' of epic proportions. This was accompanied by a loud, involuntary 'F*ck me!' uttered approximately six feet from a group of amused School X pupils.

Incidentally, I have never been a good 'trick' rider, even in the days when I rode my Grifter on a daily basis. In fact, none of the Somerset Road Gang were good 'trick' riders. It was a matter of geography. In my experience, I have always found that a child's ability to wheelie a bike, was inversely proportionate to their household's income. If you are offended by this I apologise, it is not meant to sound judgemental. Although the chances are that if you did take offence, you are almost certainly a wheelier and you grew up in a BBZ.

Wednesday early evening passed without incident or Beelzebub sighting.

Later in the night I was to be found sat on the left side of the big sofa, displaying a melancholic expression.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Monday October 20th

Thanks to my good friends at Barclaycard, I had agreed to do three days supply teaching at my previous employer's, School W. My wife, a teacher at School W had regaled me with stories about how the lunatics were finally running the asylum, which I, knowing the female tendency to exaggerate (but not about that), took with a large pinch of salt.

I sat watching the News in the morning, applying the 'Head Banging Principle'. Like the man who banged his head against a wall because it was nice when he stopped, if I watch enough reporting about the credit crunch, climate change, repossessions, stabbings, beatings, famine, disease and pestilence, then anything else seems like a breath of fresh air. Suitably depressed by world events, and equal parts amazed and annoyed by the fact that Bill Turnbull is evidently considered, by someone at the BBC, to be something other than a burk who was not bullied enough at school, I headed to the Micra.

The drive to School W from my house is a short one. One of the aspects of the journey that never fails to amuse me, is Cardiff County Council's approach to environmentally-friendly travel. Doubtless some idealist in Westminster, or worse still, the Welsh Assembly, thinks that cycling to work is the solution to a multitude of ecological and economical problems. As such they have sworn to do whatever it takes to encourage us all to get on our bikes. Either that or they are on a big back-hander from Paint Our Gutters Red Ltd. To expand on that, to say that that the drive to pedal-power had been half-hearted in the Cardiff area, would be a gross understatement. In place of the broad cycle paths to be found in continental Europe, the densely-populated UK has opted for a compromise. Unable to lose space from our already congested roads, and unwilling to fund road-widening schemes, British decision makers have invested almost nothing in a third way. By painting the area between the double yellow lines and the kerb red, Councils such as Cardiff immediately created miles of cycle paths, exceeding (I would have thought) government targets. Brilliant on paper, the scheme loses a little credibility, when the fact that standard bicycle handlebars are several centimetres wider than these newly created cycle paths is factored into the equation. In the unlikely event that the hapless cyclist was not clipped by a passing lorry and sent under the wheels of one of Cardiff's pointless thirty metre long bendy-buses, they would still have to endure cycling through three inch deep dirty rainwater, dog faeces and cicagrette ends. But they still do it. Every morning polystyrene hatted idiots risk life and limb to turn up at work looking like a cross between a vagrant and an aerobics instructor.

Whilst I was parked at the traffic lights near the rear entrance to the train staion (in the cycle path/red gutter), I saw two fly-posted signs that tickled my fancy. The first was advertising a Cage Fighting night in Newport, the second a 'Time Flies in the Rhondda' DJ night.

If you have never been to Newport, don't. It is the most violent conurbation I have ever spent an evening out in. I once had the pleasure of escorting my best friend, bleeding profusely from a head wound (not self-inflicted), to The Royal Gwent Hospital, in Newport, on a Saturday night. The A&E waiting room was standing-room only, as ne'er-do-wells with assorted injuries swayed back and forth. At first I thought that two resident police officers in riot gear was a little heavy handed for a hospital. However, they were soon overwhelmed by the three fights that broke out, independent of any earlier altercations, near the reception desk. As such, the thought of people paying their hard earned money to see grown men fighting, in a barbaric, no-holds-barred, contest, in the Leisure Centre in Newport, is only obscene in as much as those people could see the same thing, gratis, outside of the Leisure Centre in Newport.

With the closure of the mines, the loss of the supply businesses associated with the coal industry, and the crushing unemployment levels that followed, the Rhondda has suffered more hardship than most areas of the UK. The extreme lack of investment has resulted in a landscape peppered with dilapidated buildings and a population who could be forgiven for thinking that they had been abandoned. This oppressive feeling of hopelessness is largely to blame for the greatly heightened levels of drug and alcohol dependency that the area experiences. Accordingly, the reason that I found the DJ night fly-poster particularly ironic, is that I'll venture that one thing that time does not do in the Rhondda, is fly.

On arriving at School W my feelings of dread proved to be well founded, and it took until 10.32am for me to remember exactly why I left my full-time teaching post in the first place. But I think that I will combine my few days back in the real world into one expletive-riddled blog tomorrow.

On the way home I was relieved to see Beelzebub appear, suddenly, near my house. I had not seen my diaboilical chum for over two weeks, and was beginning to think that maybe his work in Canton was done. But there he was, large as life and still wearing his lucky blue sweatshirt and cream trousers.

In the evening, exhausted, I fell asleep on the big sofa, and dreamt of all my teeth falling out.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Sunday October 19th

For the first time in a long time I woke up on a Sunday morning knowing that I had to go and do a 'proper' job on Monday. As such, I was determined to make the most of the day. My plan started poorly, as I didn't get out of bed until nearly 10am. On rising, I pulled a pair of jeans on over the pants I'd slept in, put on a slightly kebabby T-shirt, and headed for the big sofa.

The left hand- side of the big sofa is a multi-use space. I use it for TV watching, hangover-recovering, surfing the Internet (Porn, Facebook, Facebook Porn etc.), eating meals (that do not involve gravy) and thinking about death. The relentless pressure from my frame has resulted in a degree of ongoing tectonic activity, as the left cushion is gradually subducted beneath the right cushion. This has had the effect of creating a small, uncomfortable, mountain range, near the destructive plate margin of the left cushion/right cushion boundary. Conversely, the constructive margin, situated at the left arm/left cushion boundary, has developed an ever-widening, remote control-swallowing, trench.

I stayed on the sofa for most of the remainder of the morning. For a period of over an hour I desperately needed the toilet. Almost as much as I desperately needed to not do anything as rash as stand up and walk to the bathroom. As I get older, I increasingly find myself balancing my need to do certain things, with my desire to conserve energy by not doing them. This ranges from big things, such as going/not going to the gym, to little things, such as whether to brush my teeth, or to opt for the less labour-intensive rinse with mouthwash, which I typically combine with urination (clear evidence that men can multi-task). On this particular occasion I eventually gave in to the demands of my bladder, but not before watching all 27 laps of the MotoGP motorcycle race that I had recorded (I was in a fair amount of pain as early as the warm-up lap), and walked, bent double, to the downstairs toilet. The mouthwash combination was not an option, as the Listerine was in the upstairs bathroom.

At around midday I made brunch, and settled down to watch both rugby matches that Sky Sports were broadcasting, resolving to 'do something' after the second game. Following the second game I made a rather good Sunday dinner which, as it included gravy, we ate in the dining room. As the weather had taken a turn for the worse, I decided to postpone 'doing something' until another day, plumping, instead, to sit on the sofa and watch three NFL games back-to-back. I have loved American Football since the first time I saw it on Channel Four in 1982. Little did I know, in those halcyon days of the sixty minute highlight package, that eventually the glamour and razzmatazz of the game would directly influence me. That I would be living la vida loca. By regularly spending ten hours on a Sunday, sucking the marrow out of life. By watching TV in my underpants, on my own, in my living room.

By three in the morning I would have had to admit that, despite my early best intentions, this Sunday would, once again, be added to my 'Days I Could Have Spent More Constructively' file.