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.