Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Blue Wales

A real Welsh beauty
Not blue as in 'sad', blue as in 'cold'. We're not sad, far from it; we're having a Welsh Whale of a time. Christmas in Wales is a blast. The cold isn't a problem either; we have plenty of firewood and when that runs out, furniture. Then cats.

Blogging, however, is a bit of a technical challenge. Luckily today just happens to be a day when we get both electricity and network access; very rare up in the Powys hills. So I'm taking the opportunity to announce the results of BalancedPaul's festive quiz (see previous post).

This isn't quite as simple as it should have been; e-mail has been a bit erratic, as by law all mails must be translated into Welsh, then taken by carrier pigeon to the local post office. However two successful entries managed to struggle through, and the winners are:
Congratulations to them. The correct answers were 'Pride and Prejudice' and 'A Christmas Carol.'

If anyone else thought they'd answered correctly and I didn't get in touch, apologies. I have to admit to some confusion. Some of the pigeons are on strike, and others may have frozen on the way through. Please let me know and I'll sort on our return to civilization England.

I have one small confession to make. I bought the prize curly-wurlies and an extra one for me. Then I ate it. Crikey they're sweet. And quite sticky. Goodbye fillings, hello love handles. You have been warned.

Anyway, next post in the New Year. Party time! Cheers

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

BalancedPaul's 55-Word Mystery Giveaway

Dressed for winter conditions
Special treat today; a guest post from BalancedPaul, and an epic curly-wurly giveaway.

BP is in fact my brother, and if I'm Sherlock Holmes (I wish) then he's Mycroft, i.e. cleverer, more enigmatic, and too lazy to run his own blog.

BP was much taken with G-man's 55-word fiction thing (tell a story in exactly 55 words) which normally takes place on a Friday, but this Friday we will be in the middle of our Welsh Christmas, so will spend all morning in church singing 'Land of our Fathers' and 'Bread of heaven', then all afternoon shearing leeks. It's tough up here.

So your 55-word challenge is early. He's fiendishly condensed two classic stories without referring to major characters at all. What are they?

Competition open to all followers of this blog. To enter, just e-mail the names to mw@tucasi.com. First three correct will win a year's supply of delicious and nutritious curly-wurlies1.

Good luck. Here's the stories:

Bodice-ripper, with class

Lady with five daughters to marry off. Unlucky, eh? Eldest finds
catch. Vivacious second, his supercilious friend.

Youngest brings disgrace. Trollop. Friend dissuades catch but offers
own hand despite lowering himself. What! Rejected!

Complications ensue. Youngest marries. Phew. Honour saved.

Friend and catch finally learn value of virtue over background. All
marry. Everyone happy. Nearly.


It's cold but no coal can be put on the fire. Miserable sod.

Christmas is costly. People wanting time off. Bah.

The ghosts show the error of this outlook; deceased ex-partner always forgotten.

A change of heart! And the goose is purchased for Tiny Tim (mind you, I wish someone would strangle him)

Merry Christmas!

1 - Which means five of them. I wouldn't want you getting lardy

Monday, 21 December 2009

Christmas Card Ethics

Always use a ballpoint pen when
writing cards

We are racing through pointless Chrimbo cards to deliver to our neighbours, who we see every few days anyway. Poor Mrs G does the bulk of the work; I can't write, courtesy of being left-handed, and typing a lot, thereby losing the habit.

So we have developed a good system. Mrs G writes the cards, then I scrawl my name, stick on an address label and lick the envelopes. I like this bit. I feel with every lick I can taste a bit of old China, or Malaysia, and sometimes Hong Kong. (We don't spend much on our cards.) So I just enjoy the ghost of Peking Duck or Singapore Noodles, complete with green tea, and food poisoning.

Anyway all that's easy. Harder is tackling the Moral Maze of Christmas cards. There are several thorny issues. Here's some guidance for you.

One. Do I send them at all? Each year we get more and more e-cards, and a high-horse message telling us the money saved will be donated to charity. Yeah, right. Sure you do. Prove it and send me the accounts. Verdict: If you don't want to send a card, don't send anything. e-cards suck like a new Dyson.

Two. Do I send a card to Great Aunt Agatha again this year? I haven't seend her in thirty years and if one is honest with oneself, one is just hoping for a modest legacy when she pops off some time fairly soon. Is that the spirit of Christmas? I think not. Verdict: Yup, send it. She actually shuffled off this mortal coil in 2003 and her grasping kids got the mansion. At least I can annoy them with the card.

Three. Do I enclose a form letter with interesting highlights of my year? Verdict: Absolutely not. Ask yourself this: do you like receiving them? We received one this year detailing the contents of a child's blazer pockets. I don't give a stuff about your favourite films or your top ten recipes either. Save your breath and the planet. A simple hand-written 'hope to see you in 2010' will suffice.

Four. Do I give a card to the postman with a fiver in it, in response to his cheery card dropped in earlier in the week? Verdict: No. If he can't be bothered to say hello during the week, he doesn't deserve it, and he's on strike most of the time anyway. His card was a cynical attempt to gain a tip and should be used to light the christmas fire. If you have to give him something, a curly-wurly and/or a mince pie is ample.

Five: Do I send a card to my curmudgeonly neighbour who never gave my strimmer back and whose dogs leave wet little presents in the swing set? Verdict: Yes. It's a good opportunity to send a little reminder. Write a cheery message like 'Seasons greetings to you and your canine chums. Have you tried dried dog food? Where's my bloody strimmer?'

So there it is. I hope that eases some of those nagging seasonal stresses for you. And by the way, Merry Christmas. We won't be sending out cards this year, but will instead be buying a bigger turkey and a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape to go with it. The '95. Cheers.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

The Knight Before Christmas

A typical 'relaxing at home' outfit
Right, feeling better now. Thank you for your hangover cures.

I rewrote this 'orrible schmaltzy poem a couple of weeks ago, and felt very pleased at how witty and original I was until I saw lots of others had done the same thing, sooner and better. Particularly Bob and Eva. Oh well.

Anyway, for your reading pleasure; a sobering tale of a less-than-sober Christmas reunion. It's serious stuff.

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the flat
Not a creature was stirring, (we'd sold off the cat).
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
Along with some other top-notch underwear.

The children were nestled all snug at their Dad's,
who was out, naughty chap, in the pub with the lads.
And mamma stayed in with some tonic and gin,
And some Pringles with dip, for a long evening in.

When out on the street there arose such a racket,
She fell off the sofa and tore her new jacket.
Away to the window she flew with a curse,
I daren't repeat it, although you've heard worse.

The moon on the breast of the statue outside
Made its bosoms look big and its hips far too wide.
When, what to her booze-fuddled eyes should appear,
But the guys from the pub, overflowing with beer.

There was one on the phone, trying vainly to text,
she knew in a moment it must be her ex.
Like damp chipolatas his fingers they went,
It would surely be morn 'fore that message was sent!

"Now Jason! now, Tony! now, Martin and Steve!
Look, David! You've got some kebab on your sleeve
Try to look sober, grown-up and clean-breasted,
Or the cops will turn up and we'll all be arrested.

Mindful of this, the lads soon dissipated,
Apart from her hubby who stood with breath bated,
Looking uncertainly up at the flat,
Where his missus of fond memory was now at.

And then, in a twinkling, he weaved to the door
And dinged on the bell with a trembling paw.
No answer there came, but with booze-inspired pluck,
Down the chimney he went, though he nearly got stuck.

His dress was smart casual, from his head to his foot,
But his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
He didn't look clever or famous or rich,
Apart from his shirt, Abercrombie and Fitch.

His eyes-they were bloodshot! His lips, like blueberry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
But he grinned like a fool and tried to look sober,
Which he hadn't been since the last week of October.

But he didn't look too bad, all things considered
Though he looked a bit dozy and quite heavy-lidded
Nevertheless his bearing was burly
Curly his hair, his moustache nicely whirly

Come in to the kitchen she said with a sigh,
You'd better have coffee, I've got a supply
It's not that you're welcome, she said with a shrug,
It's just that the soot is destroying my rug.

He opened his mouth to deliver a carol
She hit him quite hard with an old biscuit barrel
Ouch, he exclaimed, was it something I did?
Yes, she replied, you're neglecting the kids

I am not, he declaimed, with great indignation
I left them at home with a distant relation
Who? She demanded, her eyes full of pain
"If you must know, it's Auntie Deauxma from Ukraine".

She softened a bit, and she offered her cheek
Which was more than he'd hoped for, for many a week
He asked if she'd let him remain for the night,
No, she replied, but when sober, you might.

He spoke not a word, but delivered his gift,
A small potted plant that he'd nicked from a lift.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
He wiped off a teardrop, which from him arose.

He sprang to his feet, like a kid with a toy
And blew her a kiss as he left, full of joy.
And she heard him exclaim, as he fell down a drain,
"Happy Chrishmash, and sorry I've been such a pain."

Wretched Excess

Has anyone seen my glass?
No post this morning. Hung over.

Good cure anyone? I tried raw egg and curly-wurly already.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Lingering In The Lingerie

Always check the fire-retardant
certificate when buying lingerie

It's that time of year. Mrs G likes something frilly in the ole' Christmas stocking so I pluck up my courage and head for the lingerie department. Actually, if truth be known, I think Mrs G would be quite happy with a gift box of curly-wurlies and a Harry Potter DVD, but a good marriage is built on solid foundations (snigger) and moreover there's a festive tradition to be upheld here. Where would we be without festive traditions?1,2,3

So. Up to the second floor of Debenhams (nothing but the best for Mrs G). There are literally acres of mysterious lacey elastic-y underwired overpriced lurid lurex suspending padded inflatable translucent fripperies on display, and I am immediately all at sea.

Luckily I am not alone. The undies are all on little rails, just above waist height. Every ten feet or so there is a man wandering up and down, trying to look nonchalant, and studiously avoiding eye contact with everybody else. There are a couple of assistants too, hovering and trying not to laugh. We are like giraffes in the African veldt, poking our heads above the trees, taking care to evade the lionesses. Where's David Attenborough when you need him?4

In early years I would suffer hours of this, then grab anything and throw it at the till person, only to get it home and realise it's too big, too tarty, too itchy, too thongy, too purple, and, one memorable year, too edible. I have learned from my mistakes, and I now have a strategy. I boldly head5 for the chief lioness and ask her for her advice. What would she wear?

She wants to know Mrs G's size. No problem. I'm wise to this too. I used to say 'about two inches taller than you' and then wonder why they looked annoyed. Now I have all the relevant measurements to hand; cup size, inside leg, outside leg, surface area, fuel capacity, starting temperature, viscosity, voltage, range, 0-60 times, trade-in value, etc. I simply hand over the spreadsheet.

Looking suitably impressed, she makes some suggestions. Apparently crotchless earflaps are all the rage this year. They're pretty expensive, certainly if measured by the square foot, but who am I to argue? I pick out a pair in a tasteful shade of Manchester United red6. Subtle. She'll love this. Come Christmas morning, that'll get pride of place in the big drawer, on top of last year's. And the year's before that. And so on.

1 - Happier
2 - Richer
3 - Vacationing abroad
4 - Shopping for better quality lingerie in Harrods
5 - Yes I know it's a split infinitive. If Capt Kirk can do it then so can I
6 - I am a Chelsea fan but blue is sooooo last season, dahling

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Christmas Number Two

Merry what, daaahling? Can't hear you
How I loathe festive music. Every year in the UK, there is a tawdry traditional scramble to be top of the increasingly meaningless music chart, by releasing the most schmaltzy, gooey, sugar-coated, banal, insipid slop that the latest Simon Cowell-inspired, two-dimensional, d-list, brainless, egocentric, half-baked flat-voiced media monkey can croon. (Mind you, I quite like Alexandara Burke.)

These treacle-laden ditties exist for a reason, and it's nothing to do with invoking the spirit of St. Nick. They make a huge wedge of wonga for the author, and continue to deliver the dollops of cash year after year. Because I am quite poor, and mercenary, I have therefore swallowed my scruples, and penned a potential festive hit. Unfortunately it's too rude to publish on this family blog. Leave a comment or mail if you want the lyrics but I warn you, it's not pretty.

Last year Mrs G and I were in town, taking coffee 'n' curly-wurly to refuel between sessions of frenzied grasping for over-priced nine-day-wonder tat for the kids. Picture the scene. We sit in what we take to be a quiet corner. We're adding up the credit card bill, to get some worrying in ahead of January, when on comes Maria Carey ("All I want for Christmas, is yooooo"). This song induces a murderous Pavlovian reaction in me whenever I hear it, so to avoid the ghastly bloodbath which may ensue, I ask the waitress to turn it down, or preferably off.

Flat refusal. The customers like it.

This customer doesn't, so he unplugs the speaker. Blessed silence and happy coffee, and pleasingly baffled waitress.

So I encourage you to do the same; keep some nail scissors in your pocket or bag, unless you're going on an aeroplane. Then when you hear the first chords of "When A Child Is Born", snip! And it's gone. Merry Christmas.

P.S. The very lovely Vodka Logic has posted my 'New Santa's Hit' (watch that punctuation) at her sumptuous blog. Complete with tasteful illustrations!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Micro-Fiction Friday! Or Sunday

So many books, so little time

There’s a top-banana craze sweeping the blogosphere; micro-fiction Friday. Or something. Go see Galen or Susan At Stony River for a better definition. Anyway, you have to write a story in exactly 55 words, and then fabulous prizes await. Well, I’m slow to catch on, but quick to catch up. Here’s my effort. I’m not creative enough to write my own story, but to make up for it, I’ve nicked not one, but four! Enjoy.

Celebrated Fantasy Trilogy

Bilbo, 111! Gandalf persuades: “It’s up to you Frodo. Take the ring. And Sam.”
The fellowship sets off. Legolas etc. fight well. Look out Boromir! Gandalf, dead!

Many battles ensue. Yawn. Gandalf’s back. Surprise!

Soon, hobbits and Gollum reach Mordor. It’s really dirty.
Chuck the ring in! No! Yes! No! Ow, my finger!

The end.

Shakespearean Epic

Montague and Capulet, always at it. But Romeo meets Juliet, now also at it, but in a nice way.

“Wherefore art thou? It’s dark down there”.
“Here! Marriage?”

Angry Tybalt slayeth Mercutio. Romeo slayeth Tybalt back. Juliet feigneth death! Romeo, fooled, toppeth himself! Juliet awakens and joins him, silly girl. Chastened families apologize.


Popular But Tedious Thriller

French curator murdered! Langdon investigates, with sexy Sophie. Enigmatic code; scratch head; solved!

Clever old da Vinci hides clues. Hidden for millennia! Langdon uncovers all in about two days! Crikey, he’s clever. Or lucky.

Despite nasty self-harming monk, bishop, pope, church, etc., Langdon uncovers amazing secret! Jesus had kids. Big deal. Why all the secrecy?

Sci-Fi Classic

Vader captures Leia! Kiss the revolution goodbye. But Luke, trained by Obi-Wan, fights back! Take that, Death Star! Boom!

Many aliens and ludicrous teddy bears later, Yoda fulfils Luke’s Jedi training. Nice moves.

Sod that, says Darth, I’ll build another Death Star. But Luke is too powerful! Boom again!

Luke, I am your father! *croak*

Friday, 11 December 2009

Baaaaa Humbug

Raquel, curiously, is not Welsh
The Family Grumpy are excited to be off to Wales for Christmas. Wales is a special and exotic place, and the Welsh are a noble and proud people, rather like Hobbits. It's just a few hours from London, but it could be the other side of the world, say New Zealand. Like New Zealand, there are more sheep than people, which goes some way to explaining how most of the Welsh Assembly got elected. Welsh sheep also come in many varieties; the dingleberry, the curly-wurly, the tikka masala, the temptress, the baabaablack, to name but a few.

Besides being the Prince of Wales' vegetable garden, Wales is famous for many things. It's produced celebrities like Tom Jones, Catherine Zeta Jones, Davy Jones, Aled Jones, and Indiana Jones. Globally renowned sports like rugby, bog snorkelling, Man vs Horse racing, and Extreme Ironing flourish there. Welsh rarebit, famous everywhere else as cheese on toast, is a local delicacy. And so on.

Wales has its own language, which like, er, whales, is (are?) endangered. This is not a surprise as it is one of the most bizarre languages ever invented. For example, to wish a Welshman "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year" then simply say "Nadolig llawen a blwyddyn newydd dda". If you pronounce that right then it sounds like you choked on your Christmas pud, coughed it up and sneezed.

Left to its own devices this quaint language might fade away, but it's kept alive via generous dollops of my EU cash. All documents, road signs, web-sites, TV and radio programs in Wales must be translated. For example, go to the web-site of the Prince of Wales and click on the 'cymraeg' ('Welsh'1) button. Bang! Goodbye vowels. It all adds to the mystical charm of the place.

We can't wait. We will be staying with Eldest Sister, a Physician of Repute specialising in sheep-related diseases, in her leek farm in the hills. We will be bringing modern presents from England, like tinned food, VHS tapes, and cutlery. Eldest sis doesn't have central heating, but she does have plenty of cats, so you can warm yourself by dropping one down your pyjamas of an evening.

They also don't have electricity, but we can watch TV as my brother-in-law is a handy soul. Someone simply pedals the power-generating exercise bike while everyone else watches the trusty 14" VHS combo, but we rarely do, as all they can receive is Welsh-language soap-operas, and Dr Who.

So blogging might be a challenge, particularly as 'broadband' in Wales is simply another variety of sheep, and I am obliged to translate all posts. But I'll do my best. Yacky da.2

1 - At least, I think it means 'Welsh'. It might also mean 'Sod Off English Pigs'
2 - Either 'good health' or 'your ewe is standing on my toe' depending on your dictionary.

P.S. Thank you Christie, for the lovely award posted on the right! Before I can pass it on I have to think of, and state, several original and interesting things about me. Don't hold your breath

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Vous Voulez Ketchup Avec Ca?

Nigella displays her bountiful cherries
It might not be common knowledge abroad, but we Brits are now a nation of gastronomes. This is a mighty blow to the French whose national pastime is to knock our grub (Mon dieu! Zis is cheese? It tastes like soap), but I suspect we now eat better than they do. If you don't believe me, have a mouth-watering rib-eye at our local pub1, then jump on the Eurostar2, wander down the Champs Elysees, and order steack frites3. You'll be picking the gristle out of your teeth for days.

How has this miracle come to pass? You can thank the celebrity chefs. Morning, day and night our TV is full of high-profile foul-mouthed macho chefs, ranging from Jamie Oliver (cor, strike a light, this pate en croute is f***ing sublime) to Huge Fartley-Whittlingstool (Keeping pigs is rewarding and ecologically fulfilling. Now watch while I kill one) to Gordon Ramsay (Who's f***ing moved my f***ing hat. I can't f***ing cook without my f***ing hat on, can I?)

Ah ha! We Brits rule the world in this field! Even you mighty Yanks have hamstrung yourself, by insisting that your celebrity chefs were already famous for something else. All you can offer is Paul Newman's (admittedly tasty) dressings. There's a lady called Martha Stewart who has an interesting take on prison food. And no, I don't want to buy a grill from George Foreman. Is that it?

There are a couple of frenchies in the offing, but they all live in London, so they're really Brits too. Game over!

This is also a recent UK history in microcosm. When I was a kid, '70s Britain was an austere place. The chef of choice was one Fanny Craddock, a truly nasty old lady who would frequently whack her husband with a rolling pin whenever his fingers ventured into her puff pastry.

On to the deliciously excessive '80s, and stagger forward Keith Floyd, bon viveur and utter drunk, who'd slur and sway his way through a recipe, and polish off an entire St Emilion Grand Cru in 25 minutes. No-one can remember anything he cooked, but he was meshmerishing mishermeshing hypnotic.

Then in the '90s, decade of consumption and choice, we went nuts. Delia Smith! Gary Rhodes! Ainsley Harriott! Rick Stein! Lloyd Grossman! Anthony Worral Thompson! All household names, and every single one of them released a book at Christmas, and/or a range of barbecue tongs, kitchen appliances, coffee machines, pasta sauces, flavoured condoms, you name it.

Which brings us to the sassy no-holds-barred noughties, and the current lot. Little wonder we're all fat.

Well, now it's my turn. I am a bit of a foodie. I eat most days, sometimes more than once, and I take my gastronomy seriously. I'm working on a modest book, "Chew On This", which might not be ready for Christmas but should be available for barbecue season, which in England is the afternoon of July 17th4.

You'd like a little taster? My modest contribution to our culinary cornucopia includes Battered Curly-wurly in Creme Fraiche. Delicious. Watching the cholesterol? Then may I recommend you my Cheerio Sushi Surprise? You may not like Cheerios, or sushi, but I guarantee you'll be surprised.

1 - Assuming you've got a spare forty quid
2 - Assuming you've got a spare two hundred quid
3 - Assuming you've got a spare three euros fifty, and can put up with the rudest waiter you've ever met
4 - Unless it's raining

Monday, 7 December 2009

Christmas Gig Report

One of our roadies,
pre-warming the guitars

I'm posting at 3 a.m. because Hot Rabbit, Hampshire's Hardest-Working Band1, just finished our Christmas gig and I can't sleep. We work our nadgers off when we play; we started at 9 and finished at 11:45, played more than forty songs, and only stopped for 30 seconds so the bass player could have a pee. (Bass players have notoriously weak bladders.) You'd think we'd be knackered at the end of it but I'm wired and am struck down with terminal munchies, so I have to sit up half the night watching Fu Manchu movies and eating cheese and crackers. And blogging.

We had an OK crowd; there were about 80 people in a small pub, and two huge dogs, so it felt full enough. Sometimes the ole' mojo kicks in and tonight it did. Oh how they danced. I reached the top notes in 'Livin' On A Prayer' and 'Mr. Brightside'. Fighting off pre-instrumental tension, I stepped up to 'Play That Funky Music White Boy'. I aced the tricky glockenspiel solo on 'The Curly-Wurly Of Love'. And the other lads were on similar top-notch form.

I sweated a bucket. We all did. We ended up The Four Hoarse Men Of The A-Puckered Lips. I've worn my index fingernail down to the quick, even though I use a plectrum, and my throat is as dry as Osama Bin Laden's wine cellar. Big noise, big fun.

But we're talking to the landlord as we pack up and he's shaking his head; it's tough to get people out on a Saturday. Why? Because TV is packed with shows like X Factor and Pop Idle and I Used To Be A Celebrity, Put Me Out Of my Misery. The British public sit in mindless droves soaking this stuff up, week after week. He's right. He's absolutely right.

I've tried to like these programs, I really have, because it would be a connection with the kids. But they kick me out of the room after five minutes of watching because my teeth are grinding so loudly.

The truth is I can't stand them (I mean the TV shows, not the kids). I loathe Simon Cowell. How can you trust a man with such straight teeth? He can't be a Brit. I despise the spectacle of half-arsed talentless gormless barbie-and-ken egomaniacs queuing up for ritual humiliation because they want to be famous ("it's my dream"; "it's everything to me"; etc. ad nauseam). The lovely Simon sticks a thousand of them on a pedestal for two minutes and then slaps all but one off. What fine entertainment.

Worst of all: the songs they slaughter and sell by the gazillion. Last year Alexandra Burke won Strictly X-rated Pop Factor, or something, and released 'Hallelujah'. She sang it with beautiful clarity and technical precision, and no feeling at all. Nothing. A song with heart, delivered like an advertising jingle. All she felt was lucky.

Ditto Susan Boyle's note-pefect and utterly lifeless 'Wild Horses'. Mind you at least she has novelty value. The last time a voice matched a face so badly was when Leonard Nimoy released his all-time classic 'The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins'. (The live version is even better).

So switch off the Electric Box Of Evil and Sloth, get out to a pub or club, and watch a band. Any band. These are people who get up and give, night after night, for the love of it. They don't stand up and sing half a song, with sly electronics and a full BBC orchestra covering up how duff they are. And they don't run home in tears when they don't win.

Better still, come and see us. We can promise you a warm welcome, a sweaty evening and a big smile on your face. How often do you get an offer like that? We may be forty-something (forty-thirteen in one case) but we rock.

1 - Check out our supercool, ultra-modern website, www.hotrabbit.co.uk. I did it myself, you know.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Drinking For England

Phew! It's crowded in here
My mate Raj and I like to go to the pub the hard way. Parking next door is for weenies and liberals. We start out at least five miles away and yomp our way in, to build up an appetite for warm beer, and pork scratchings. That way we can discuss the overthrow of the government out of the reach of CCTV cameras and ultra-sensitive microphones. We never whinge about our better halves though, as that would be ungentlemanly.1

So today we meet at Cheesefoot Head, which may sound like a fungal infection but is in fact a well-known beauty spot. It's been the wettest November on record, wetter even than Susan Boyle dribbling all over 'Wild, wild Horses'. But we are made of iron, and besides, we have waterproof boots. Fortified with a hip flask and a curly-wurly each, we walk, paddle and sometimes even swim to the Flowerpots Inn in Cheriton, the Best Pub in Hampshire, ready for opening time at 12:00.

Raj is a top-speed paddler. I trot along behind and we arrive early, at 11:30-ish. To our consternation the pub opens late, at 12:30, says the board outside. So it's another hour walking. But first we nip round the back to admire their fine urinals. We surprise the barmaid, who is polishing the Landlord's beer pump.

"Er, is the pub open?", I ask, which is my way of pretending I wasn't sneaking in to exercise the plumbing.

"We can be," she says.

Five minutes later we're warming our hands on the beer (a bit early I know) and having a fine old chat with the landlord. The fire's lit, the ale is tasty, really tasty, and all is well. On the dot of 12:00 half the village walks in, also ignoring the board outside, and the party's on.

Sometimes I yearn for foreign shores. The Family Von Grump plan long trips to sunnier climes, exotic locations, exciting places. We buy maps, mosquito nets, malaria tablets, harpoons and bear traps. We book guides, we buy insurance. You have to be prepared for anything in Normandy.

Then I come to a pub like this and remember why I live in England. It's absolutely bloody knockout. The staff are friendly, so are the locals, the food is wholesome and plentiful, the dog doesn't smell, there are no pinball machines or horse brasses, there's no tooth-grinding Christmas music. Opening and closing time are a fiction. Come when you like. None of this oh-sorry-breakfast-ended-at-eleven-sir. It's just people having a beer and a chat, and enjoying the landlady's plentiful baps.

No kids either; if you want to bring them, there's a jolly tent outside where you can stick them with a Vimto and a bag of cheese and onion crisps between them for an hour or four. It's prefectly safe; if the temperature falls below freezing, the pub will light a patio heater. Besides it's good for them. They need to develop patience, and their immune systems.

The beer is brewed on the premises with interesting variations, so naturally we end up sampling a bit more than we intended to, and staying a bit longer.

Before we set off the landlord has to leave on an errand, so before he goes we chat with him again. Fifty pubs a week are closing in Britain. We commiserate with him and he shakes his head sadly. Business is slow, he says, which is a surprise given how full the place is, but we duly leave a big tip for the food.

Then he's off. As we set out for the long swim back, bellies sloshing, we see him sweeping out of the car park in a fairly new red Porsche 911 Turbo. Crikey. I wonder what he drives in a good year?

1 - Plus, at least one of them reads this blog.

(Inspired by the full-on recent rant by Dan at Vacant Mind).

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Navel gazing

A typical blogger, revealing all
I think it must come to every fresh-faced blogger, sooner or later, to blog about blogging. Today's ejaculation may be a bit premature, but I'm fascinated, so please forgive the indulgence.

I started blogging to scratch a writing itch. I've written two fabulously unsuccessful novels. My best rejection letter was the hand-written scrawl "I do not read thrillers" in response to my romantic comedy, and as for my post-modern lightly ironic biopic set in the fascinating world of my office, well, I didn't bother sending that out at all. I'm working on an erotic sequel though.

But blogging is a revelation. Instant success! Write any old nonsense, press 'Publish', and it's plastered all over the planet for everyone to read. Mail all of your family and mates, let 'em know it's there, they'll be soaking up your pearls of wisdom on a daily basis.

Except they don't, mostly, because they don't share your obsession. And I have become an utter blog bore. Time and again when I bump into a buddy I blurt out: 'Have you read my blog recently?' I can't help myself. It's like Tourette's syndrome. The response is usually a polite, if stiff: 'Ooh, no, I will soon, thank you so much for reminding me. Again.' The notable exception is one brutally honest friend who shall remain nameless. She point-blank refuses to read it any more. Thanks Dawn.

So the other source of readers is fellow bloggers, and they do come, agonisingly slowly, but they do. And what an amazing bunch of people. Eclectic doesn't begin to describe it. Click on my modest followers collection if you don't believe me; they nearly all blog, and they're all good.

Followers are very precious, as are comments, because they mean someone has taken the trouble to read what you wrote1. It's like your Mum praising your latest Airfix model. So I agonise about my followers and I'm just delighted out of all proportion when one joins, the same feeling I get upon finding an extra curly-wurly at the bottom of my Christmas stocking.

I don't think I'm alone. A recent post from Dr. Zibbs, who runs a very funny and refreshingly vulgar blog called The Blue Yak, complains long and loud about lack of comments. He'll give up, he claims, unless he gets at least 100. This from a guy who has several hundred followers. Cue lots of comments, effing and blinding, slapping him about and good-naturedly knocking him off his soapbox. Quite right too, Zibbs, count your blessings.

It seems the good doctor has broken one of the unspoken rules of blog etiquette, which is: Don't moan. This is because many, nay most, bloggers are from N America, where people are unrelentingly positive; witness the proliferation of cheerful jogging blogs. In the rest of the world 'cheerful jogging' is an oxymoron.

I like this attitude. Someone once summed up Brits and Americans thus: if an American sees someone driving by in a swanky car (an import, obviously) they give a cheery wave and say "That'll be me someday". In Britain we just mutter "Bastard" and pretend not to notice them.

Well, I may call myself Grumpy, but I'm with you colonials. Look how happy I am. Please feel free to follow me. Go on. Please.

Which brings me to awards. I'm bowled over to have got two today, so I have to recommend two-times-five-is ten other blogs. Only ten? I'm following about ninety and I like all of them. But here goes:

From Sandra, passed on to:
Alice In Wonderland - Pull up a comfy chair, plump up your cushions and let Alice read you a soothing poem
Dan at Vacant Mind - Fellow brit and much grumpier than me, despite the bloody cheerful music. Read his pub rant
Marla at Butts And Ashes - Serious stuff but beautifully written, from one good person
Sarah - The Good Girls. Straight from the heart
plainolebob - Everyone awards him so it'll clutter his shelf but how could you not? He's just a nice bloke with great stories

From Alice, passed on to:
Vegetable Assassin - She makes me blush but she's sure funny. I don't think she's a vegetarian at all
Jen - Cheerful marathon runner, for heaven's sake. She'll do her knees in. Help me talk her out of it
MiMi - Living In France - which she dosn't. V funny.
Tina, at the Clean White Page. Spoooooky; dare you enter?
Lou, at Live Write Dream. Anyone who can use the word 'Meh' to describe a movie gets my vote

Honourable mention: Sandra at Real Life In A Minute. I was going to award her but she's got so many today already the poor lady must be completely bamboozled. Next time, JP

1 - Except maybe comments offering to sell you a Ukrainian bride, or man-sized man-parts

Monday, 30 November 2009

The Blood Donor

NHS dress code used to be much more relaxed
Addressing a lifetime's delinquency, I went to give blood today. My wife has done it for years, and in the 'container of blood' club, she has attained small wheelbarrow status. It's a breeze, she tells me. You won't feel a thing, she tells me.

We set off. Hell's bells - what have they done to the village hall? It's ghastly, like a scene from the old Hammer classic "The Mass Production Facility of Count Dracula". Beds everywhere, with people on them bleeding into bottles. My knees wobble, but I've eaten garlic recently, and the missus is with me, so in we go.

They greet her like an old friend ("Back so soon, Mrs Grumpy? Usual bed?"), but I have to undergo first-timers' initiation. It turns out they're quite fussy. Amazingly, it's OK to visit North Africa, but you can't give blood if you've been to North America. They may claim West Nile Virus, but I think they're worried we might start demanding payment. They're a canny bunch across the pond.

Besides wanting to know where you've been, they want to know all about your sex life. Some of the questions would make a trooper blush. Certainly not, I answer to questions 4 through 9, not with my bad back, and even if I wanted to I wouldn't know how. They ask if you've bounced around with anyone in a country where HIV is prevalent. I've been on an exotic holiday with my wife. Does that count? Confusing.

Questions, questions. What is your ethnicity? Have you ever been a member of the Conservative Party? Do you sell wartime memorabilia on eBay? Do you wear pyjamas in bed? I lie, obviously. Their privacy statement ominously says 'Unless we are required to do so by law, we will not disclose any personal information'. In other words, if you admit to having visited Morocco then HM Customs will drop round with dogs and sledgehammers, demanding to inspect your souvenirs. You have been warned.

At last the nosy questionnaire is out of the way. A nice nurse pricks my finger and then squeezes out a gigantic blob of blood, to test me for anaemia, and squeamishness. I pass the test by not passing out, so then it's off to the bed where the real business starts. It's super-efficient. Sweater off. Lie down. Tap, tap on the arm. Squeeze this. That? Yes, this. 'Nice vein'. 'Why, thank you'. Out with the needle; little scratch. Ouch.

Ouch. And more ouch. 'Does that hurt?' she asks. Er, yes. She wiggles the needle. Ouch. 'Does it still hurt?' Ouch. Yes. It seems she's gone in one side of the vein and out the other. I bravely try squeezing a fist for a while but I'm drier than Alabama on a Sunday morning. She's a bit embarrassed, and patches me up. It might bruise, she says. (She's right).

So I skulk in the corner while my wife lines up with the other veterans to receive her golden wheelbarrow. But there's a silver lining. On the way out, they still give me a free drink, and a curly-wurly! Ha! I beat the system! I can go again in 16 weeks. Sign me up.

(With apologies to the late but still great Tony Hancock.)

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Haikus Are For Weenies

Limerick, Ireland: Home to humourous
verse and, er, shorts

I summarised last month in haiku. My good mate dozyoldbuga at the time said that 'Haiku are just limericks with a posh education'. Stung, I report the month in limerick form then.

First, a round-up of world news:

At the prospect of President Rompuy
Europeans are getting quite jumpy
A Belgian on top?
Someone else, put a stop!
So I nominate UberGrumpy

The anonymous Lady of Ashton
By the press has been thoroughly bashed on
After far too much fizz
She defends her job, viz:
"I'm the firsht, but I won't be the lasht one"

From the US, the no. 1 charmer
With the slightly odd name of Obama
Went to China but then
Buggered off home again
What a blow for the poor Dalai Lama

And in science news:

And lo! the Large Hadron Collider
Finally has protons inside 'er
She'll soon be the cause
Of new physical laws
Which will silence the folk who deride 'er

London traffic congestion is chronic
But they're planning a car, supersonic!
Why not, instead
Make a driveable bed
Since we all come to work catatonic

Closer to home, the quaint but weird Queen's Speech has triggered the run-in to the UK General Election. Snore. Here are the main contenders:

Gordon Brown, through the speech of the Queen,
can vent his electoral spleen
More taxes by stealth!
Then that dirty word, wealth
Just like Brown, will become a has-been

David Cameron, old boy from Eton
Doesn't think he can ever be beaten
Dave, don't count that chicken!
Or you'll soon be lickin'
The wounds from the voters' unseatin'

Nick Clegg, of the Lib Dem persuasion
Has ambitions to rule the whole nation
But he hasn't a hope
Unless we can cope
With proportional representation

A nasty young young man name of Griffin
Ate far too much BNP tiffin
But it's really all right
'cause the chocolate is white
So he'll just have to tuck his midriff in

Lord Pearson is looking quite surly
The polls make the UKIP1 look girly
So let's cheer him up
With a great steaming cup
of Earl Grey, and a nice curly-wurly

1 - Pronounced you-kip so yes it does scan, thank you very much

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Goodbye, award, it's been real

Advanced astronaut training.
I never made it this far

I'm supposed to pass on the award I got the other day, so it goes to Kate Lightfoot. Kate runs a warm and chatty blog from a village in Spain and she never fails to cheer me up, although her recipes are making me chunky. And no, those aren't her real ears.

I am reminded that a condition of the award was to reveal seven things about yourself. A deal's a deal:

1. I have been in a succession of bands with dubious names; The Flying Bogeys, The Sensible Jerseys, The Puffy Daddies, and these days, Hot Rabbit, to name but a few. The Sensible Jerseys gave Billy Bragg his first gig at some godforsaken college in North London. He blew us off the stage. I then left and they promptly got a record deal

2. I was turned down for astronaut training because of claustrophobia, and a nasty propensity for haemarrhoids in zero-gravity situations. Since that fateful day, I have never been on one of those free-fall rides at Thorpe Park, Six Flags, etc

3. Whilst attending the Bolshoi ballet in Moscow, as you do, I once stood at the next urinal to Peter Gabriel. And no, I didn't take a sneaky look at his manly parts, I was too busy trying to look nonchalant. This is tricky when you're peeing, even though Frenchmen seem to manage very well. We ran into David Byrne of Talking Heads in the hotel lift that very same weekend

4. I started a software company in the UK and US on the very same day (with some buddies, obviously). Its first name was 'Harlequin' which here means 'witty and sharp', but which stateside turns out to mean 'buffoon'. We quickly changed it to MATRA which everyone then mistook for MARTA, the Atlanta so-called public transport system

5. I drive a shiny Jag-wah supercharged turbo nutter bastard, and a really beaten up old Nissan Primera, and I think on balance I prefer the Nissan, even though it's a bit smelly from taking garden rubbish to the dump. This is mainly because it has more seats, and it doesn't have those ludicrous alloy wheels that cost you a bazillion quid to fix if you brush up against an awkward obstacle, like, oh, a pedestrian, or Sainsburys

6. I cut my own hair, apart from the awkward curly-wurly bit at the back which my wife hilariously pretends to do, but actually leaves so the kids can have a good giggle. Ha! Didn't think I knew, did you?

7. While revealing facts about myself I always tell one lie. Or is it two?

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

It's Frothy, Man

Phew! I'll have another Grande please
Sainsburys used to corner off a section where the old ladies and gents could come and have a natter and a cup of tea, for the princely sum of 30p. It was all a bit greasy and the tea was cold, but they'd warm it up in the microwave at no extra charge, and they'd wipe the old lipstick off the cup if you asked nicely. It had a rather pleasant, chatty English feel to it.

You could get a bacon sandwich if you stumped up a bit more. As a bonus, when your teabag broke, they'd read your fortune in the tea-leaves. ('You will feel slightly queasy this afternoon...')

But a couple of years ago they wiped all that away and put in a shiny new Costa Coffee.

I don't like it. £2.79 for a coffee. Two pounds seventy-nine! The word 'Costa' seems a cruel irony. And you can't get tea at all.

I resisted for a long time, but I thought I'd finally try it. I went in today and joined the queue of yummy mummies with Nasa buggies, and serious-looking business guys. (The old ladies and gents have gone somewhere cheaper). After a long wait it's my turn at the vacant-looking serving person. I ask for a coffee. Coffee? Blank face. Do you want Latte? Cappucino? Americano? Al-caponeo? No, if I want pasta I'll go to bloody Italy, I just want a coffee-o.

Will that be Fair Trade, she asks? No, I say, it's daylight robbery, but I'm thirsty so let's not argue any more.

Much scratching of heads, and whispered negotiation with the 'manager'. How can she be a manager? She's only 12. They duck behind the bar and do something very loud (whooooosh!). Clouds of smoke billow up. I'm just casting around for the fire extinguisher when they pop up and present me with an enormous mug. I negotiate a quick re-mortgage on the ole' mobile phone and pay up.

I sit down with the daily rag and a refreshing curly-wurly, and take a sip. Or rather I don't. No matter how much I tip the mug nothing comes out. This is strange. There's a lady wiping tables. I aske her if ther's something wrong with my coffee. Oh, she says, you'll have to ask the barrista, I'm only the wipe-ista.

Barrister? I only want my coffee, I'm not pressing a lawsuit. Yet.

No, barrista, she says, patiently, they're the schoolchildren who make your coffee.

Enlightened, I return to the bar and politely ask why they've given me coffee-flavoured shaving foam instead of the coffee-o that I asked for. More blank faces. The manager puts down her colouring book and looks sternly at me. Ah sir, she squeaks, our customers like their coffee this way.

I'm your customer! I just handed over my life savings! And I can't find the coffee!

It's there in the bottom, sir, she says, be patient. If you'd wanted less froth you should have asked for it dry.

Eh? Dry coffee? Once when drunk, nearly hung over, and desparate for food, I tried snacking on undissolved instant Nescafe. I have to report that it's not good, although on the plus side your head clears pretty quickly.

I hand back my cup of froth with a haughty sneer. Never mind, I say. I'm off to Tesco. They've got a nice old-fashioned Starbucks.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Unaccustomed as I am...

My wife wins heaps of awards.
This isn't her, obviously

I got an award! Check it out! (I hung it up on the right, there). Thank you Sarah of The Good Girls; I'm quite touched. Go visit her for a warm taste of California sunshine.

The last time I got an award was, I think, when I was 11 and I won the maths prize for swottiest kid. As I remember the prize was a bag of curly-wurlies and an eye-opening book on sex education for the under-12s. I've never looked back.

That was a good year; I also won the slow bicycle race at sports day although my joy was spoilt at the finishing line as I found out you were supposed to come last. It felt good for a while though.

I did win a prize once for Most Reckless Beginner when skiing at Killington in Vermont, but I don't count that since it was awarded mostly for falling all the way down the bunny hill, and may not have been entirely sincere.

So this award is all the more heartfelt, particularly since it comes with a £100 book token at Amazon and lifetime membership of Mr Bojangles, the happening nightspot for over-40s in downtown Eastleigh. Well, OK, it didn't, I bought those, but we all deserve little treats now and again.

My wife, naturally, gets hundreds of awards; tennis, skiing, euphonium, javelin, shot-put, etc. And I suspect there's another one coming. When she was late back from yoga the other day I called her mobile, only to get her instructor. He explained that they were practicing some extra tough positions, and he did sound a bit breathless. They were obviously working hard. Pretty soon I expect he'll be pointing a knick-knack or two her way.

But this one's all for me! I think the etiquette is to pass it on. Hmmm - off to the blogosphere...

Friday, 20 November 2009


Referendum? What referendum?
At last! Europe has appointed its first president. Please welcome: Herman Van Rompuy! Herman Van Who? You may well ask, and you wouldn't be alone. He is the prime minister of Belgium, a country about the size of Disney World, but less sunny, where the belligerent French and Flemish population are continually at each other's throats. Belgians brew insipid beer, make over-sweet chocolate1, and - ah-ha! - host the vast bureaucracies of the sprawling European Union.

Lucky Herman ascended this lofty throne courtesy of a disastrous general election in 2007 which nobody won. Out of this mess, the King Of Belgium asked him to form the government of Belgium. It's like Willy Wonka handing over the chocolate factory. (This Herman seems like a nice kid; let him have a go.)

Behind closed doors, Herman has now been chosen by the leaders of the EU's 27 states to be our glorious leader. He's the president of 500 million people. I didn't vote for him, and neither did anyone I know. We didn't get the chance.

And second place goes to: Britain! The position of foreign policy supremo is handed to Lady Ashton, the EU trade commissioner, who has never held publicly elected office and has only been in post for a year. You've never heard of her either? Neither had I, until just now. But apparently she's jolly nice. And she does have a sociology degree, so she's obviously pretty damned smart.

What have these two paragons of fluff got in common? They're both completely bland. They haven't annoyed anyone, except people like me, and we don't count.

In Britain we were repeatedly promised a referendum on the constitution, which then became the Lisbon treaty. It never happened. The promise meant nothing because it was made by Blair/Brown. At least they're consistent.

Cameron's turn now. Sigh.

Can you imagine this happening in the US? American elections may cost as much to enter as the GDP of a small country like, ooh, Belgium, but at least they get bumper stickers ('Vote Herman and Lady Wotz-er-name 09!'), and everyone gets a say. Even in places like China or Russia they're honest about their dictatorships.

This is the biggest stitch-up in history, bigger even than Jedward on the X Factor. It doesn't feel right. Can it last? Of course it can. No-one cares. Chocolate, anyone?

1 - Not curly-wurlies, obviously, they're British

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Doctor Who?

One of Belle's many fans
Who is Doctor Brooke Magnanti? Why, none other than Belle De Jour, the infamous £300-an-hour courtesan who has blogged her way to fame with detailed and very naughty accounts of her professional exploits. Apparently she got into this after running a bit short of cash for the old PhD. I'm kicking myself. When I was short of beer money at yoony I went and stacked shelves in Sainsburys, which is a much less fun way of doing your back in. But hats off1 to BdJ for a job well done.

Nevertheless, I for one am shocked. £300! And what were they doing for a whole hour? Negotiating? You have to feel a bit sorry for the punters who parted with their hard-earned readies for an illicit quickie, only to find their inadequacies plastered all over the blogosphere, with great wit, erudition, and detail. Explain that to the wife.

The good Doctor now works in developmental neurotoxicology and cancer epidemiology, where she is a respected specialist. I'll bet. How does she find time to develop all those neurotoxins between book signings, movie rights negotiations, and in-depth interviews? This is one serious over-achiever.

What's she got that I haven't got? It's taken me months to build up a modest following, and there isn't even a sniff of "UberGrumpy: The Movie" yet. A change of tack is needed. Perhaps I need to start blogging about my exploits between the sheets. I think I could raise an eyebrow or two.2

So watch out for my racy new blog. It'll be called "In Bed With UberGrumpy", and the first article will be "Surprise her with a curly-wurly". I'll post as regular as clockwork, once a month, except summer when it's too hot. And Christmas, when we're too tired after all the shopping.

1 - And trousers, presumably
2 - And not much else these days, if the truth be told

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Roger Less

Where do you want these?
I've gone right off the cinema. I'm not unsociable, but I have the family curse; Strange Attraction. If I ever get on a train, the drunk sits next to me. On a plane, I'm in the middle seat between the sumo wrestler and the travelsick Mum with triplets. In Tesco's, old ladies pigeonhole me demanding to know where the luxury toilet rolls are. If the animal rights mob or the Hare Krishnas are in the neighbourhood, they always bang on my door first. You get the idea.

So the cinema is a nightmare. Do you have a mobile phone, BO, extra large popcorn, and four noisy children? Come and share my row. Do you spit when you chew your gum? Yup, the seat behind is free. Did you just buy an enormous hat? Sit right down in front of me then. Yes I can see just fine. Sigh.

So the Family Grumpy tends to watch DVDs. Which is why I've only just seen the latest James Bond film, Quantum of Solace.

Here's how a Bond movie should be. Bond, interrupted while servicing a beautiful ambassadoress1, is summoned to fight a rogue General/Businessman from Germany/Russia/Korea. He stops off to sexually harrass Miss Moneypenny and diss poor Q. With his gorgeous assistant, agent Dee Cupps, who he sleeps with forty-five seconds into reel two, he flies first class BA/Virgin2 to Budapest/Hong Kong/Iceland where he uses his exploding pen/rocket bicycle/homing jockeys to escape from the yacht/castle stronghold/ice palace.

And so on. It all ends with a terrific explosion and lots of shot-up villains descending on ropes, but lucky Bond escapes with the villain's girlfriend, who obliges him with a damned good seeing to. 'No, M, can't talk to the PM right now, I'm on the job'. Snigger. That's a Bond movie.

So what's with this Daniel Craig chap? He must dispatch about a thousand baddies, and some goodies (oops), but there's not even a kiss. There's no time.

And it's not only the love interest that's gone. OK, Dan's got the man boobs and a good pout, but where are the pithy quotes? ('Shocking!', 'No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die!', 'Is that a curly-wurly in your pocket or are you glad to see me', etc). Where is the comic American policeman? Gadgets? Q? Big lapels? Jaws?

The argument I keep hearing is that Bond is better now because it's much more realistic. Come again? Realistic how exactly? I've never killed anyone but I've done sex heaps of times, at least five, although admittedly never with a beautiful ambassadoress3.

Bring back Roger Moore, Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, or that bloke who only got one movie (George Lazerbeam was it?) They may be wrinkly. But they had heart.

1 - I know it's not a word, I made it up
2 - And that's the only virgin you'll see in this film
3 - Yup, made it up again

Sunday, 15 November 2009

The Ten (PC) Commandments

And there'll be none of that either
1. Thou shalt not debate. At dinner parties thou shalt restrict thyself to talk of house prices, and the X Factor

2. Thou shalt never criticise the NHS, and thou shalt hold dear its essence, of being free to everyone forever

3. Thou shalt pay without complaint NHS parking charges, prescription fees1, eye tests, dental work, substitute edible food for in-patients, poncey coffee in the lobby, essential services in thy dotage, vaccines, etc., and thou shalt cough up charitably for the MRI scanner which shall remain forever idle for lack of staff

4. Thou shalt keep thy Private Healthcare a close secret, although thou canst swank to thy heart's content about the expensive school to which thou sendest thy progeny

5. Thou shalt mightily endorse all things gay, even when thou becomest slightly queasy during Brokeback Mountain, and thou findest Graham Norton to be the most annoying and unfunny midget on TV since the Crankies, or even Ronnie Corbett

6. Thou shalt never criticise anything Jewish, lest thou be branded anti-semitic and have valuable banking services withheld from thee. However thou canst enthusiastically kick the Christian, for he will offer his other cheek, at which point you can kick that too. Thou canst likewise diss the Muslim, although thou riskest a Fatwa on thine arse

7. Thou shalt not read nor peep at the tabloids. Only The Guardian shall be thy organ of choice, even if thou preferest the crossword in The Telegraph, and thou findest Polly Toynbee to be self-righteous and up herself

8. Thou shalt express a preference for Labour although deep in thy heart thou longest for a bit of common sense, and the return of thy pension dividend credits

9. Thou shalt be in touch with thy feminine side, but not in a naughty way. Wolf whistle shalt thou never, except where it be an ironic endorsement of a male colleague who looks particularly buff today

10. Thou shalt stick to only Ten Commandments, and Ten shall be the count, even though thou feelest thou've only just got started

1 - Unless thou art Scottish or Welsh

Saturday, 14 November 2009

The Dark Side Of The Sun

Too much Sun is bad for you
You've got to hand it to The Sun. Despite accusations of being a tawdry two-dimensional witless rag, they keep on plugging, and they're still Britain's most popular paper by a very long chalk. We Brits may not have much taste but we read voraciously. Or at least we look at the pictures.

What's not to like? Irrepressible editorial style, unconstrained by conventional journalistic norms (truth, accuracy, ethics, etc). Attention-grabbing headlines. Handy format. Free DVDs featuring ropey films of yesteryear. Although admittedly the scantily-glad female in every copy is a bit of a cheap gimmick (ahem).

The Sun is so popular it has its own Cockney rhyming slang - it's the Currant Bun, my son, innit? Perhaps this unique blue-collar accolade is not such a surprise. There aren't many words that rhyme with Guardian (Cardigan?) and Telegraph is downright impossible.

But a watershed has been reached. After twelve years of Labour love-in, The Sun has decided to support the Tories. Cue furious reaction from the jilted party. We've seen copies ripped up at conference, Harriet Harman complaining about 'News In Briefs', and Peter Mandelson hinting at some dark contract between Murdoch and the Tories. He should know.

Does this strike anyone else as a teensy bit hypocritical? Can anyone remember them complaining as they enjoyed all that support? And the love was reciprocated. During Blair's glory years, Murdoch's News International enjoyed no shortage of favours from him. It's not every company that can persuade the UK PM-in-waiting to fly to Australia to give a pep talk to its executives. And Hattie Harperson was notably absent from her high horse, wasn't she?

It's all changed now. The Sun has been accused of distortion, rabble-rousing and hysteria. But UberGrumpy can reveal it's not just them. Here's a sample of articles from the so-called respectable press this week:
So don't believe what you read. Except on the Internet, of course. Here, it's all true.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Fat and happy

Sudoku schmudoku! Let's eat!
Check out this terrifically sexist article from the BBC, saying 'curvy' women (their words) are cleverer than skinny ones. I particularly like the way the article reports that 16,000 people were tested, but the Beeb, scientific to its luvvie core, affirms the research with a sample of one, the very lovely Nigella Lawson.

Bloody cheek. What about us guys? I have long suspected that as I get fatter I get more brilliant. And the effect is instant. Picture me this week, seduced by the secret addictive ingredient in McDonalds, wolfing down a Supersized Big Mac with conscience-salving Diet Coke. I'm loving it, I think as I tuck in. But two minutes later and five pounds heavier my eyes are opened! It's disgusting. (Belch).

The converse also applies; lose weight, lose wit. Many an evening I've hit the pub and come out a lot more bloaty, yet extraordinarily wise. But beer, alas, doesn't last, so I wake up feeling stupid, until I embark on my five a day.1

The government hasn't cottoned on yet. They're still trying to make people thinner. A brilliant new NHS scheme in Essex, obviously conceived by skinny doctors, is tackling obesity by giving people 50% off in the chippy if they choose the healthy option. What healthy option? Mushy peas? Pickled eggs?

So Gordon Brown's new jogging habit is a big mistake. He's losing his edge over that lightweight Cameron. Perhaps they should both move over; yield the Despatch Box to MPs with gravitas, gravity, and, er, gravy. I nominate Prescott and Pickles. Prime Minister's Questions will be a great deal livelier.2 Between them they'll soon sort out those imbecilic Fat Cats at the banks. Here, hold on a minute...

1 - Sausages
2 - And a lot shorter, as they'll need to stop for their afternoon curly-wurlies

Monday, 9 November 2009


Bosons: small but fascinating
Anyone with a passing interest in science will know that the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, will start operating pretty soon, after the odd false start. This monumental machine will move science forward in ways that are tremendously important, more mysterious than a UK government budget, and eye-poppingly expensive, obviously, as it's a European project.

I have done some research. I now know what hadrons are. They are not the invisible villains that Captain Scarlet struggled valiantly against - those are Mysterons. No, hadrons are tiddly1 bits of atoms, composed of even tiddlier quarks2.

'Large'? It ought to be called the Absolutely Gobsmackingly Enormous Hadron Annihilator. It's a circle 27 km in diameter, like the North Circular Road, but quite a lot faster. It's got to be terrifically cold, so that the magnets can superconduct; a bit like Andre Previn in a freezer.

This all persuades the unlucky hadrons to hurtle round at huge speeds and then WHAM! They smite each other mightily, producing energetic and wacky particles that we can then observe, if we have the right sunglasses and a high-quality magnifying glass.

It costs about £4.5 billion. A mere bagatelle; the Bank of England could Quantitatively Ease that much in about a week.

Could it go wrong? There is a risk that it might produce a black hole, which would obliterate all matter within a 100 km or so. For this reason it has been built in Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU. Wales was ruled out because all the documents would need translating into Welsh and it's already quite tricky enough, thank you very much.

What's it for, you may well ask as you fill in your tax return? Ah. We are on a quest for the Higgs Boson. This produces the Higgs field, which allows us all to have mass. Most of the Higgs bosons disappeared very soon after the Big Bang. Problem. If there are no Higgs bosons then we will get lighter and lighter, and eventually float off into space.

So the LHC will produce a steady supply, gluing us all to the Earth. Because it's been paid for by the taxpayer, Higgs bosons will be provided free of charge, except in America where you will need to buy Higgs insurance. Unless you are poor, in which case you'd better not plan to go outdoors anytime soon.

1 - To give you an idea how tiddly, if we used hadrons instead of sugar to sweeten our tea, then the question 'one lump or two' would need to be '1024 hadrons, or a multiple thereof'? If you then put them in one at a time, as fast as you could, your tea would be cold by the time you got to drink it, but you wouldn't care because you'd be long dead anyway.

2 - If you think that's a Star Trek character, just stop reading and look at the picture.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Twenty Feline Facts

Who, me? Yes, you

1. Cats can lick their own bottoms, and often do
2. Use of toilet paper is quite rare in the feline world
3. Cat poo does not smell very nice
4. Cats just love to sit on your lap

5. Cats have claws that are sharper than razor blades
6. Each cat has over 700 claws
7. Cats often use their claws to catch germ-infested vermin
8. When cats get on your lap, they instinctively bury their claws about an inch into your skin. They rarely hit an artery

9. Upholstery is really really expensive (not strictly a cat fact, obviously)
10. Cats need to keep their 700 claws sharp
11. You can buy purpose-bult scratching posts
12. But the bloody thing prefers to rip the back off your new leather recliner

13. When they're not licking their bottoms, cats like to lick the rest of themselves
14. Cats swallow a lot of fur and need to throw it up, often
15. New rugs are even more expensive than upholstery
16. Cats always throw up in the middle of the nearest rug

17. Cats like to spray their territory with pungent, sticky urine
18. Even female cats do this, we were unpleasantly surprised to discover
19. Cats can mistake your brand-new and very precious guitar amp for a territory marker
20. We no longer own a cat

Some useful online resources:


Thursday, 5 November 2009

Up in smoke

Fireworks used to be a lot
more interesting

It's bonfire night! Tonight's the night we set light to our garden clippings and set off fireworks. Unless, that is, we are the Ilfracombe Rugby Club. These weekend warriors, who hurl themselves at each other every Sunday with scant regard to life and limb, are watching fireworks on a telly because of Health and Safety concerns. I'm with Stephen Fry; Health and Safety are the two worst words in the English language.

What happened to proper fireworks? Anyone remember Jumping jacks that used to chase you round the garden? Or those aeroplane things that used to fly up your Dad's leg?

So what can we burn in complete safety? I know; money. The Bank of England is extending it's Quantitative Easing policy by £25bn to £200bn. So two questions. What's £25bn? And what is Quantitative Easing?

£25bn is a LOT OF MONEY. We've got so used to seeing billions and zillions bandied around we've lost our sense of scale. So, £25bn is
  • About £180,000 for every doctor in the UK, or

  • About £830,000 for every school in the UK, or

  • About £417 for each of us, or

  • MPs' expenses for well over a year.
Yup, a lot.

As to Q2; what is Quantitative Easing? Well, it's printing money. Why don't we call it Printing Money then? Perhaps QE has come to mean 'trying desperately to recover from wretched excess'; and PM already means that, doesn't it Gordon? Or perhaps it's so that we can baffle the electorate with a piece of nifty jargon, so they think we know something they don't.

But surely printing money means it arrives out of thin air? Free cash for everyone? Er, no. QE just spreads thin the intrinsic wealth of the UK. The value of the pound stays depressed; have you noticed how expensive your foreign hols feel? And inflation is just around the corner. But that's OK, because the nasty Tories will have to deal with it.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Bigger, Stronger, Fatter

Don't look up Ethel!
Interesting stories today. Apparently rugby players are much bigger than they used to be, so their injuries are proportionately bigger too. We're considering American-style padding, although that won't help much when someone is twisting the family jewels through 180o in the scrum.

At the same time, child obesity is levelling off, which is a nice way of saying virtually all of us are now lardy. Hardly a surprise, is it? We don't buy Kit-Kats any more; we buy Kit-Kat Chunky! And we don't eat crisps; we eat Walkers Max Cheeseburger Crisps! Move over Dandelion and Burdock (what is Burdock?), here comes Pepsi Max Big Gulp!

It's not just people getting bigger. When we were at Yoony we used to watch Coronation Street twice a week on our b&w portable. Today we watch EastEnders on our forty-two inch plasma, four times a week, repeated on BBC3 with an omnibus edition and a web-site. Or rather we don't, as a) we can't afford one b) it's drivel.

Even already-big stuff has got bigger. The UK government is 866,000 people bigger today than in 1997. (Yes, really)1. Our banks are so bloated they need to be split up, so they can re-bloat. Is everything growing?

No, not everything. When I was a kid a Curly-Wurly was three feet long. Now it's so short it ought to be called a Straighty-Waity. Also, the notes and coins with which we buy our Straighty-Waities are pathetic little things. I miss half-crowns like dinner plates and fivers the size of parachutes. With one half-crown you could buy a Party 82 and an economy bag of Monster Munch, and it was party time! Nostalgia, eh?

But our living space seems to be shrinking the fastest. In Winchester, Chilbolton Avenue is a road full of old sprawling Edwardian houses, with some wasteful open space called 'gardens'. They're being demolished at a furious rate. Same story all over the city, except for three very bland fields, where neighbouring nimbies are holding out. 'Save Barton Farm!' they cry from their old sprawling Edwardian houses. Regardless, a house a day is replaced by about fifty very efficient flats, with just enough room for a bed and a loo, and a forty-two inch plasma.

Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that the M3 is a car park from Basingstoke to London every morning. For most of these poor sods, it's the only place they can find somewhere to spread out. Perhaps we should build another lane. Sigh.

1 - Admittedly that includes over 200,000 merchant bankers.
2 - That's 'insipid beer in an oil drum' to the under-40s.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Texty Beast

Try texting on this
When our kids were small we could fool 'em by spelling things out. We knew we were rumbled when The Boss, spelling to me 'Shall we go to M-C-D-O-N-...", was interrupted from the back seat by "We want happy meals!" And in recent times they've completed their revenge, by somehow mastering the oriental art of text.

Not so fast, kids. I too have learnt to text. You can too. It's crucial to get the rules right so you can communicate effectively with the yoof at yoony. I learnt the hard way, so here's a small tutorial for all you fellow technophobe oldies. Don't worry; it's a breeze once you know how.

Grab your mobile, and a pair of extra-strength glasses so you can see the fiddly little buttons and the rotten little screen, unless you have an iPhone, in which case you won't be able to find the buttons at all, so give up now.

Your kids hold the phone in one hand and use their thumb to text, but you will dislocate it if you try that, so you'll need both hands. You'll just have to steer the car with your knees.

Start assembling your text. There are two ways to do this. First, the traditional method, where numbers correspond to letters. For example, '2' equals a, b and c1. To get a 'c' press the '2' key 3 times. Notice your screen shows 'aaa'. You pressed too slowly, because you are old and arthritic. Start again. Eventually your fingers will fly around the keys, and you can be as annoying as the little sod sat in front of you every time you go to the cinema.

Number two is the 'Psychic Text' method. With your eyes closed, press keys corresponding to your word, and the phone magically works it out. Perhaps you want to write 'money', a word you will need a lot to communicate with yoof at yoony. Simply type the keys 66639. The word 'bankrupt' appears as if by magic. Type in your message. When finished, your screen shows a a bunch of apprently unconnected words; but don't worry, your text-savvy recipient will understand it perfectly. I don't use psychic text because I am a Catholic.

Now for the clever bit. It's common to use some shortcuts when texting to save time, and as we all know, time equals money bankrupt. First, we can leave out most vowels. Ths rmovs th need fr a lt of unncssry typng. Scnd, lve out mst pnctuatn, bcs its actlly qt hrd to pnctuat on a mbl phn Ths mks you qckr stll Thrd, dn't use cptl lettrs jst cntnue your sntnce you are frly flyng alng now 4th swp cmmn wrds fr lttrs & nmbrs e.g. 'you' bcms 'u' nw u cn b th gr8st txtr on th plnt & u r frggh sdfsjjkf gdtrgdb snzzz glpsrrfgnm

See? Easy.

1 - The '1' key is not involved in texting, because it was invented in Japan, where one is a sacred number.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Haiku! Bless you

Lovely Japanese
Clever in her glasses but
Underwear mix-up

For those short of time, I present the week in Haiku.

Tony Blair for pres
Sarkozy Merkel nix nix
Back to lecture wealth

Bloody great big ship
Oasis of the sea (sick)
Bang goes planet earth

Helicopter fail
'It's bad!' intones Jock Stirrup
That's a funny name

Postal strike again
Backlog high like Mount Fuji
(Covered that last week)

Halloween today
Telly full of scary crap
I think: DVD

Liking Haiku thing
I think I'm understanding
Or maybe it's just too difficult to fit the words in, espcially if they're rhyming
(which they're not supposed to).

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Postman Pavel

Let's hope this postal strike ends soon. It's quite disruptive. My post has been arriving quite early; so I am robbed of the happy anticipation of it arriving around suppertime. What's more, all of it is for me, so I've lost the enjoyable banter with my neighbours as I try to figure out who's got my mail.

I assume our replacement postie is temporary, because he's polite, cheerful, efficient, and Polish. I expect the usual incumbent, Darren, is champing at the bit to get back to work. He doesn't have time to be polite or cheerful; the permanent scowl and avoidance of eye-contact is because he's concentrating. However he makes up for this with a lovely pre-Christmas card ('from your postie, Darren'). I'm sure this has nothing to do with angling for a tip, so we don't give him one.

Darren is riding the crest of a wave of union enthusiasm. Life had got a bit dull what with everyone off to the office every day, so the gusto with which the CWU is failing to turn up for work is a breath of fresh air. They're not alone. Yesterday I received a Unison letter passed on from a public sector buddy. (I feel his identity is safe; there are 1.3 million of the buggers. Can you hear me at the back comrades?)

The letter was a response to a request for workers to take their full holiday entitlement. This would avoid a big budget deficit due to people carrying forward holiday. Unison helpfully suggested that if its members were being asked to take holiday, then they should share in the profits. In other words, pay me a bonus for taking my holiday. Which I'm contractually obliged to do anyway.

Ho hum. Welcome to the 70s.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Clock and Bull

Winter is coming. Brrr
I'm feeling a bit fragile today. This has nothing to do with a huge excess of red wine; it would be wretched and debauched to be suffering from a hangover on Tuesday. No, it's jetlag from turning the clocks back. Plus the sheer effort; there are no fewer than 21 clocks in my house, all showing a slightly different time. What a waste. Does my microwave really need to know it's 3:30 a.m. when it's heating up cold pizza to combat my munchies?

It's a strange time of year. We struggle home in the dark to the merry sound of schoolchildren bouncing off car bumpers. So what's the point? Apparently it's so that the last fourteen farmers remaining in Britain can have a bit more daylight. Obviously you can't buy tractors with headlights. Or at least you couldn't in 1916, when we started messing with clocks.

But what's really bugging me is this. Our cheap nasty Japanese car, used for trips to the dump, happily sets the clock from the radio. Unlike our luxurious British motor, which cost as much as a small house (admittedly nowhere you'd actually want to live). We Brits are no longer capable of practical things. So don't expect to see the clock-changing mallarkey stop any time soon.

There is one bright spot. ChrisProles reminds me that October 25th was also the anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. Ha! Take that you Frenchies. We may not be able to build cars anymore, but we've got a really long memory.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Unholy Alliance - A Play In Two Acts

Look how nice we are now
Act I: White City; BBC HQ

(The national anthem plays)
Big cheese 1: Well, let's face it. Numbers are down.
Big cheese 2: Yup. We need to do something drastic.
BC1: The usual formula?
BC2: Back to 'Men Behaving Badly'? 'On The Buses'? That sort of thing?
BC1: Tempting, but no good - wouldn't fit with our new PC image.
BC2: OK - here's radical for you. How about Nick Griffin on Question Time?
BC1: What! Are you mad? He can hardly string two words together!
BC2: No problem - he'll be up against windbags from the main parties; he'll never get a word in edgeways. He'll just sit there and shake his head.
BC1: Good, because if he opens his mouth we could be in trouble.
BC2: Stop worrying. There's no such thing as bad publicity.

Act II: White Town; BNP HQ

(The national anthem plays)
Big cheese 1: Well, let's face it. Numbers are down.
Big cheese 2: Yup. We need to do something drastic.
BC1: The usual formula?
BC2: Back to men behaving badly on the buses? That sort of thing?
BC1: Tempting, but no good - wouldn't fit with our new PC image.
BC2: OK - here's radical for you. How about Nick Griffin on Question Time?
BC1: What! Are you mad? He can hardly string two words together!
BC2: No problem - he'll be up against windbags from the main parties; he'll never get a word in edgeways. He'll just sit there and shake his head.
BC1: Good, because if he opens his mouth we could be in trouble.
BC2: Stop worrying. There's no such thing as bad publicity.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

One out, all out

Ooh! That's quite a backlog

No post today, I'm on strike.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Vive la difference

Smouldering hunk with
6-pack, as requested

I like to include a light-hearted illustration with postings, to flesh out the theme, so to speak. But it's been pointed out that a disproportionate number of pix happen to include inadequately-clad ladies, and looking back, to my surprise I find I can't disagree. So today we redress the balance with one for the ladies. Enjoy.

Feminism has come a long way since the seventies. But I've always tried to remain abreast of current thinking. When my friends were burning their bras, I tried to show solidarity by burning my y-fronts. No-one told me you had to take them off first, and I still bear the scars today. I may wince a little when mounting my bike, but you won't find me complaining, because it was worth it.

But hooray! We're still different. I offer a trip to Waitrose as compelling evidence. My good wife engages trolley, then belts up and down picking goodies up in order, by instinct, even though she's never been there before.

Meanwhile I'm on a quest for the tomato puree. I can't find it. Obviously I can't ask directions, I am a man. I begin a systematic aisle-by-aisle search. There isn't any. Then I can't find her. Are you with me guys?

Finally she rams the trolley into my ankles as she chucks in two tins from the extensive selection of international purees on aisle 12, which I'm standing in front of. Battle of the sexes? There's no contest.