Tuesday, 25 May 2010

British Politics Explained

Well, actually, no it isn't
British politics has got a bit strange. First of all, who on earth is Nick Clegg? Here's who:

Nick Clegg, of the Lib Dem persuasion
Has ambitions to rule the whole nation
But he's out of the race
Unless we embrace
Proportional representation

But lucky Nick gets to lord it over the big bruising Tory and Labour parties, since whoever he pals up with gets to form a government. Let's sum it up with a natty rhyme:

Nick Clegg, amongst pigs just a piglet
Points the finger of power! Watch him wiggle it
Tory or Labour?
What a moment to savour!
Draw straws? Or perhaps just a Twiglet

So he went with the Tories, as they have a nicer office, and we now have a coalition. What does this mean? Here goes:

Nick Clegg, now assistant PM
Is brimming with vigour and phlegm
The Lords out of steam!
A new voting regime!
Incidentally, favouring Lib Dem

Here comes that posh David Cameron!
At Downing Street's door he comes hammerin'
With his wife, cat and dog,
The kids, the pet frog
At this rate he won't get his grandma in

And as for the previous lot:

Gordon Brown, that old one-eyed campaigner,
Makes room for a fresher chicaner1
But soon, post-vacation
He'll deliver oration
If you pay him a handsome retainer

1 - Well, if chicanery is a word, then the person who does it must be a chicaner. Right?

Friday, 7 May 2010

Nun Of The Above

Green, and proud of it
So - Britain has a hung parliament, and my goodness, it's well hung. Does this mean we can string 'em all up? No; it means even more dither, dishonesty, doom and disaster than usual. Herewith, a cautionary tale.

Sister Euphorbia gingerly descended from the bus outside the polling station, propelled by a sense of duty, but restrained by the butterflies filling her stomach. Sister Euphorbia had never voted before, but the stream of politicians arriving at the door of the convent to solicit the votes of the sisters, and the never-ending television, radio and newspaper messages had finally convinced her that this 2010 British General Election was important; and terribly terribly close.

The convent sat prettily in the village of Upper Woppingham, square in the middle of the sleepy Dorset seat of Bunchester. And this had the unwelcome distinction of being the closest-fought seat in the country. Pubs and hotels were full of newspaper hacks and political hangers-on, and Bunchester wasn't liking it much.

Thirty years ago it had been a safe Conservative seat, but after the long-term incumbent was photographed by a tabloid newspaper, indulging one of his unfortunate habits in his greenhouse, the capricious voters turned in their droves to the Liberal Democrats. Slowly they were coming back, particularly since the age of consent was lowered, and people seemed more relaxed about that sort of thing anyway. Now the race was neck-and-neck, a close battle in a nationwide contest too close to call.

So Sister E, traditionally aloof from the sordid intrigues of politicians, felt the hand of destiny on her shoulder, and breaking the habit of a lifetime1 she took herself out to vote.

Sister E was no shrinking violet, having honed her battle skills teaching reluctant fourth formers French, and rugby. So why, she asked herself, was she so nervous? Could it be that her vote, her one vote, would be the one that made all the difference? Or could it be, that even after all the leaflets and broadcasts and insincere handshakes, she had not the faintest clue where to cast her vote?

Yes. That was it. As she neared the council hall where the polling station was set up, she found herself asking for divine inspiration; a sign. Any sign. But there were no signs; and she queued up to collect her ballot paper, and she signed herself off on the electoral roll, and she headed to the little booths, with a feeling of responsibility to which she was unequal. She hadn't felt like this since the convent had installed Sky TV and put her in charge of the remote control.

Finally at the booth, she opened the folded ballot paper with shaking fingers. In this, the closest-run constituency in England, there were no fewer than twelve candidates; and she began to scan the list of names. But there, right at the top, was the name of Ron Tibbles, standing for the Green Party. It was a sign! Tibbles - her beloved cat! Relieved and thankful, Sister E marked her X for Ron, whoever he was, and headed back to the convent, relieved and thankful.

But Sister E had made a mistake. Further down the list came the name of Einstein Phinbarr Humpty-Dumpty, the Monster Raving Loony candidate. Einstein; her goldfish. Humpty-Dumpty; her hamster. And Phinbarr, who delivered the groceries on a bike on Wednesdays.

So it came to pass that the Green Party, with their one seat, won by one vote, and were able to hold a casting vote in the Mother of Parliaments, because the other parties were exactly tied. And Britain began a new age of eco-socialism, where everyone walked or cycled to work, and the motorways were dug up for flowerbeds, and compost collectives sprang up everywhere, and everyone had to be in bed by nine o'clock to save electricity, leading to the biggest baby boom in human history, followed shortly by the biggest economic collapse in human history.

But most ironically of all for Sister E, the Greens quickly carried out their manifesto pledge of closing all convents and monasteries to make room for wind farms, rehousing the nuns and monks in old nuclear submarines. Come the next election, she intended to go and vote the bastards right out again; but the bus by then was pedal-powered, and alas, she just couldn't be bothered.

And of course, none of this is even remotely true, but I liked the title, and it fitted. Who did you vote for?

1 - And that's the last habit joke. This is serious stuff

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

A Chap's Guide To Childbirth

Here comes the bride - and before you know it...
I am delighted to announce I'm an uncle for the 22nd time (!); and Mrs. G's little bro, ChrisProles, is even more delighted to be a Dad for a second time.

Having been through the childbirth thing three times myself, I had intended to equip him with the benefit of my vast experience. Well, better late than never. Here's some top tips.

1. Stay at the top end

Childbirth is a pretty messy and unfeasibly stretchy process, and if you want to continue thinking of your missus in a romantic way in the future, better stay away from the ghastly business end of things. That's what nurses and midwifes are for. Your job is to mop her fevered brow, and stare lovingly into her eyes, while she swears at you and tells you it's all your fault.

2. Wear waterproof shoes1

When number one son was born Don Johnson was quite trendy, and I wore white canvas shoes. Big mistake. I'll spare you the details.

3. Childbirth is really painful

At number one son's birth, Mrs G decided to relieve her own discomfort by grabbing my hair and banging my head repeatedly against the wall. For number two daughter, the most comfortable birthing position required me to bend over for three hours while she used me as a human crutch. For number three son, she kicked a midwife clean across the room, although I emerged unscathed, having procured a crash helmet and a kevlar vest, and the wise habit of keeping my distance.

4. Keep your advice to yourself

'Push!' I said. 'I'll give you ****ing push', she answered, 'you ****wit ****er, **** off and don't come back.' And that was just the midwife. Mrs. G was even worse. She didn't mean it, of course, it was just the epidural speaking, but I learnt to limit my encouragement to smiles and gestures after that.

5. Newborn babies are unbelievably ugly

Lulled into a false sense of security by Hollywood births, where the smiling infant emerges with beautiful curls and a full set of teeth, I was pretty shocked when I saw our first newborn. Mrs G thought he was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen; but to me he looked like a mini Conehead after a brutal deathmatch mud-wrestle. 'What's wrong with him?' I asked in great concern. 'Ah,' said the happy midwife, apparently not hearing me, 'he's got his Dad's looks.'

6. Get your chequebook out, and keep it out

You may have thought that rushing out to buy the babyseat, carrycot, nappies, creams, advice books, rattles, dummies, sterilisers, stair gates, safety latches, nipple shields, cutesy shoes and celebration wine/Twiglets was expensive. Ha! Just wait until they get to university. You ain't seen nothing yet.

1 - Or waders if you have them

Friday, 30 April 2010

It's A Dalek, Dahling

Daleks: The Next Generation
We have a new Doctor Who from the BBC. For anyone who doesn't know Doctor Who; think Star Trek without the money, or the adverts. Back in the 60s, the BBC couldn't afford a proper spaceship so they gave him the TARDIS. It looks like an old phone box left over from another film 'because the cloaking mechanism is broken'. Ha!

In another cunnning money-saving plot device, the Doctor 'regenerates' (i.e. they change the actor) when the current incumbent gets too big for his boots and wants more money. The new guy looks suitably weird; he weights about 80 pounds, has bow legs you could drive a train through, and a nose of surprising proportions. Captain Kirk it ain't.

And where Captain Kirk has 400 minions available to die on demand, the Doctor can only afford one assistant. Although he is a right-on equal-opportunity employer (this being the BBC), as luck would have it, this usually turns out to be a top-notch babe in a mini-skirt. Not that I'm complaining or aything.

The crew of the Enterprise weekly face Klingons, Romulans, Borg and Tribbles. The Doctor's nemesis? The terrifying Daleks; the ultimate evil in the universe. They may look like inverted compost bins on casters, but don't be fooled; they are TERRIBLY DANGEROUS. Armed with the Plunger of Doom, and a whisk, they strike fear into the hearts of their foes, plus, they never have blocked toilets, and their coffee is always nicely frothy.

The Daleks' sworn ambition is to master the universe, or at least those bits of it without stairs. Time and again they've come head-to-head with the Doctor, and lost, his sonic screwdriver (yes, really) proving too powerful for them. Check out this gut-wrenching clip, unless you're the faint-hearted type. They strike fear into the hearts of all who encounter them, including me1.

Until now. Because the Daleks, like the Doctor, have had a makeover. Do you remember how BMWs went all fat and fussy-looking a few years back? I think the Beeb employed the same designer. Daleks are now corpulent and strangely bulgy. Gone is the indestructible galaxy-defying plywood; now they have plastic trim, like an entry-level Subaru. Gone is the Emperor Ming Shiny Black and Certain Extinction Silver colour scheme. Now they're orange, blue and green. They're Mighty Morphin' Power Daleks. Dare I say it? They look a bit girly.

But some things never change. The BBC may have been tempted to compensate by arming the new Daleks with Zombie Death Rays and Terawatt Ion Cannons. But bless 'em, they kept the plunger. And the whisk.

1 - When I was six

Monday, 26 April 2010

Gordon, Where's Your Troosers?

Tartan: always stylish
Did you know a Scottish drummer in a kilt is the sexiest thing on the planet?

So says Gordon, our Scottish drummer, who spent last night drumming for us1 AND his other band; and yes, he was in a kilt. I think this was terrifically brave. You wouldn't catch me sitting on a stage, on a three-legged stool, in a short tartan skirt with no underpants, joggling my knees up and down for a couple of hours.

The occasion: the special birthday of Gordon's amazingly young wife. How did he attract such a rare beauty? After all, he is a drummer. Well, if you saw his impressive drumstick manoeuvres last night like we did, you wouldn't need to ask.

And yes, I do have a hangover worthy of the occasion. Oh how it hurts. I blame Gordon Brown2, and the wine.

These guys know how to put on a party. We kicked off with ace grub (no Twiglets - very classy) and then moved quickly on to a Ceilidh. This is pronounced 'kaley'; imagine The Queen on first-name terms with Kylie Minoghue and you'll pronounce it about right. The strange spelling results from the reluctance of the Scots, until recently, to buy the more expensive letters of the alphabet, like 'a'; they're a canny bunch.

Having learned 'The Gay Gordons' (it was a broad-minded sort of evening) we moved on to a rockin' set from Gordon's old band, The Works. Resplendent in kilts and big hairy sporrans, they blasted through rock classic after rock classic; but the high spot for me was the medley of 'Smoke on the Water' and 'Donald Where's Your Troosers'. Unforgettable. No really.

So then we came on and did our thaaang and do you know what? In my conventional legwear I got quite sweaty, and even a little chafed. So I've seen the light. Tomorrow I'm off out to buy a kilt. Then I shall chuck all my underpants in the bin. Except the tartan ones.

1 - Hot Rabbit, Hampshire's hardest-working band
2 - Scottish! Ah ha

Friday, 23 April 2010

Coming Home

Travelling light
So finally we came back to England. Goodbye France, land of wine, wit, women, and wonder; hello Blighty, land of telly, twiglets, Tuborg, and taxation.

We were a bit tired after all that driving, but not nearly as tired as you poor buggers whose flights were cancelled from all four corners of the planet after Iceland blew up. Serves you right, I say; if you will ignore your carbon footprint by flying everywhere, then you have to expect a bit of Divine Retribution now and again.

Besides, walking home from Portugal is a great way to get fit, so stop moaning and get marching.

I like coming home. There's something comfortably incompetent about England. The ferry arrives (late) at Portsmouth Harbour, which is dominated by the lovely new Spinnaker Tower; 500 feet of gleaming white metal1. It was originally to be called the Millennium Tower until it became clear it wouldn't open until 2003. On the grand opening day, the swanky outside lift broke down halfway up, and trapped the mayor and several local VIPs. On a quiet night, you can still hear their plaintive cries.

Portsmouth is also home to HMS Victory. She was built in 1763 and is still a commissioned ship of the Royal Navy. Given relentless Navy cuts, she soon may be the only one. Should we be pleased at the peace dividend, or concerned? Dunno. All we can send to exciting international wars is five kayaks and an old car ferry painted grey. I blame the global recession, and Gordon Brown.

The Family Von Grump are great travellers so we are reminded of other comings and goings. We've been back and forward across the Atlantic a bunch2; we lived in Washington DC for a couple of years, then London, then my favourite: Atlanta. What a cool town Atlanta is. Everything's big! Big-hearted people! Big cars! Big houses! Big potholes! Absolutely stupendous insects! When we had to decide whether to stay or return, I was sorely tempted to stay. But Mrs G was strangely drawn to her roots, even though she grew up near Birmingham. Well, someone had to.

So home we came. And in the end Mrs G, and England, won; because at heart we are dozy and lazy. In America 'I'm pissed and I'm packing' means I'm very cross and I'm going to shoot you. Here I'm pleasantly drunk because I'm off on vacation. Again. Whoopee!

1 - Or plastic. Or it might be concrete
2 - Until we realised how big our carbon footprint was, naturally

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Bat Out Of Belgium

Don't mess with Belgium
So, the Family Grump have survived the skiing season for another year. And what a top vacation; riding up and sliding down all day, generally without injury, with the exception of a nosebleed, one spectacularly sunburnt nose, and a nasty testicle-crushing incident on a draglift. So all round not too bad, since I didn't want any more kids anyway, and have never attained the high notes in "Bohemian Rhapsody" until now.

But in an unexpected twist, this vacation taught us many interesting things about that mysterious nation, Belgium.

Belgium, originally established as a place where the French could send their landfill, nuclear waste, and excess Algerians, would probably have disappeared altogether if the cunning Belgians hadn't invented the European Union. Allowing the Germans and French to believe it was their pet project, they managed to get it based in Brussels, which until then had only been known for its poisonous sprouts. What a stroke of genius. Today the corpulent EU splatters lucky little Belgium with great satisfying gobs of EU cash, and the canny Belgians have never looked back.

So here's what we learned.

Belgians can ski

Belgium is flat and damp. Skiing was unknown there until 1982 when EU defence chiefs, concerned about the possibility of war on a slope, issued every Belgian with new skis and natty jackets, as their contribution to the mighty European war machine. Each Belgian adult was issued with free skilift tickets, and vouchers for large frothy beers at lunchtime.

Belgians take a lot of vacation

As Belgium is at the centre of the EU, whenever any member state has a public holiday, Belgians honour that state by taking it too. Combined with the EU working time laws, this means that most Belgians work for two days each month, which is just enough time to enjoy their statutory sick days.

Belgians have enormous cars

The EU, concerned about domestic vehicle production, hit on the excellent scheme of issuing Belgians with whopping great BMWs, Volvos, and Audis. Small cars wouldn't work, alas, as Belgians, courtesy of the EU waffle, beer and chocolate mountains, tend to be on the large side.

Belgians drive very fast...

...and not very well. To hone their fighting skills, Belgians head to the Alps in vast numbers each year. It's a long way, so naturally they have to drive like maniacs to get there. It's a bit disconcerting for other road users like, say, me, travelling at the French limit of 82 mph, to be undertaken by a Belgian with a beer in one hand and a waffle in the other, steering with his knees.

So pardon me if I sound a little frazzled. Nine hours of Death Race 2000 with half the population of Antwerp doing Warp Factor 3 all around you is a dizzying experience. Next year, I think we'll take a cycling holiday. Somewhere flat and empty. Like Belgium.

P.S. I forgot to mention Twiglets. Oops. I blame the stress, and Gordon Brown.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

War and Piste

Spring skiing. Splendid
I've been a bad, bad blogger recently because I've been working my fingers to the bone trying to get ready for vacation. Sorry.

Vacation eh? For someone who's scared of heights, doesn't like the cold and looks spectacularly silly in any hat, skiing may seem like an odd choice. But the family like it. So for the next two weeks we'll be in France (again), for a week of which we will be sliding down a big slippery hill on two planks, then riding up again on a cold wet windy seat, and repeating until it gets dark. And paying for the privilege.

But I am a veteran skier and I have strategies. Here they are.

1. Ski in late Spring. You can't lose. Either the snow has melted and you have a nice walk, or it hasn't. But you don't freeze on the long lift which inevitably stops ten yards from the top, as the ski school of five-year-olds who pushed past you in the queue, learn how not to get off.

2. Stop after each run, or during, or both, for a hot chocolate or a mulled wine, avoiding the very real danger of mountain dehydration. Keep a packet of Twiglets available for dipping purposes, and to replace essential minerals.

3. On a related note, always ski drunk, so you can be relaxed and even amused as you fall over, hit trees, lose a pole, collide with a French snowboarder, etc.

4a. If it's snowing, take the day off. The fresh snow will be ace the next day.

4b. If it's raining, take the day off. Rain on chairlifts is miserable.

4c. If it's sunny, take the day off. You risk sunburn ('raccoon eyes') or skin cancer in that thin mountain air.

4d. If it's foggy, go ski! No-one can see your poor technique, and the family get cold quickly, so they want to stop for chocolate more often.

5. If you need a pee, and have to duck into the trees, take your skis off first. Sliding out backwards with your salopettes round your ankles, leaving a trail, is not cool. Trust me on this one.

6. Use your poles to good effect. Plant between a Frenchman's skis to impede his progress as he tries to jump the line for the lift. Or when hurtling out of control, wedge them betwen the ground and your solar plexus for a very effective fast stop. Or as a last-ditch effort to snag the drag lift as you fall off it.

7. Avoid the rush! Don't start skiing until about 12:00, when all the French are stopping for lunch. Stop at 14:30, just as they're starting dessert.

8. If the Frenchman on the lift next to you lights a cigarette, don't be afraid to aim a fart at him. It's expected, although he may display his Gallic wit by trying to light it.

9. You know those pine trees all covered in snow? You know how soft they look? Well, they aren't.

10. Can we go sailing next year? Please?

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Teeth, and the Decline of the British Empire

Open wide
No. 3 son, or MicroGrump as I call him, has just finished cosmically expensive orthodontic treatment. I tried to talk him out of it by appealing to his better side. I told him that if we gave the money to Translithumoronia instead we could protect their threatened uranium mining industry for the next decade.

No go. He wanted perfect pearly whites, like all his schoolmates, so they can admire themselves in their shiny iPhones. He now has A1 Ku Klux Klan teeth.1

What's happened to us Brits? When we had bad teeth we ruled the world. Only fuzzy-wuzzies and Italians had good teeth. We've lost the splendid attitude displayed perfectly in verse 14 of the National Anthem:

"A cricketing hero from Leith
Who while batting got hit in the teeth
He spat out a molar
And said to the bowler
"A bit to the left, if you pleath"

That was the stuff. We used to have a stiff upper lip, which was mainly to hide the ghastly sight beneath, but now we're all full-lipped and pouty and sparkly, and what's the consequence? The empire is down to the Falkland Islands and seventeen retirement communities in Spain. We've gone soft.

Oh, for the excellent martial spirit of Rudyard Kipling:

"The boy stood on the burning deck
Impervious to the killing
He bit out the pin of a hand grenade
And risked his brand-new filling"

Well, I'm bringing it all back. I'm going to have a whip-round at my local, The Bridge and Crown, and buy a surplus ship from the Royal Navy (there are plenty). We'll name her HMS Halitosis. Once the weather gets nice, I shall load up with Twiglets, sugary snacks, and no toothpaste. Then it's off to France where I'll claim Calais back. Then I'll point the prow westward. It's about time somone invaded America. So get ready, colonials. You owe me a lot of back-tax. We can negotiate it over a nice cup of tea.

1 - White, mostly straight, and boring

Thursday, 18 March 2010

iPhone, You Phone, Everybody Phones

Hello? Hello?
They're everwhere. iPhones. You can't get on a train, go to the cinema, run round the park, shuffle round Sainsburys or even visit the loo without bumping into someone staring cross-eyed and jabbing frantically at a greasy little screen. And I wouldn't mind so much but they're constantly trying to use it to impress.

In pubs people run a little doodad which, when you hold the iPhone to your mouth, and tip, shows a virtual beer emptying. This is truly hilarious the first twenty or so times you see it. There's an application which tells you which London Underground train carriage to choose, so you are closest to the exit at your destination1. There used to be an entertaining if rude aplication called Wobble, but the stiff folks at Apple put paid to that by removing it from the app store. That's OK; there are 150,000 more.

My little bro' has one and let me try it out. Well, I'm not impressed. Is it a telephone? No! Where's the speaker? Where's the microphone? Which way up do you hold it?

Is it a computer? No! Where's the keyboard? Where's the dot-matrix printer? Where's the fire extinguisher? Where's the cupholder?2

Is it a games console? No! Where's the joystick? Where's the popcorn? Where's Mario?

So; it's just an expensive chunk of electronic bling. It's a make-up mirror with batteries. And if I invite you out to dinner, I didn't invite your iPhone, so switch the bloody thing off. No, not 'vibrate', 'off', you pervert. What do you mean there's no 'off' button?

If I'm honest I'm also starting from a poor vantage point because I loathe all mobile phones. That may sound strange from someone who's spent his working life welded to a computer, but for me, life took a turn for the worse when my job could follow me into the bathroom. Mobile phones are the worst invention since the internal combustion engine foisted pollution, furry dice, obesity and the M25 on the world.

I have one of course; Mrs G made me get it, so I bought the cheapest one I could find from one of the 42 phone shops that blight Winchester. It cost £2.88 provided I bought £10 of pay-as-you-go time. That was a year ago and I've still got £8 left, mainly because the battery only lasts long enough to dial about six digits3.

So I obviously don't want an iPhone. Those iPads look pretty sexy though. When they make one that fits in my pocket, I'll be first in line.

1 - AnallyRetentive 1.0, from wwwwwwww.getalife.com. Probably
2 - My computers are quite old, admittedly
3 - I have fat fingers, so I have to dial with a Twiglet, which doesn't help

Friday, 12 March 2010

Mrs G Goes To Work

And there's make-up on the upholstery

My favourite car is a very beaten-up Nissan. Bits are falling off, but the engine and gearbox are sweet as they come, and parking is a breeze1. But recently I am doubly smitten.

First my lovely motor has begun to pong. It's quite unpleasantly pungent. I've searched under the seats, in the boot2, in all the little handy Japanese compartments, for rotting fruit, dead animals or stale twiglets, but nothing. Maybe it's e Coli in the AC, or a Coli in the EC, or something. I'm not good with cars.

Secondly, Mrs G has begun taking it to work. As mentioned last post, she has found herself gainful employment, abandoning me to clean the porcelain. To add insult to injury, she's nicked my car.

Mrs G loves her job. She works on a smallholding providing opportunities for people to learn horticultural and outdoor skills. They have 100 chickens3, some donkeys, rabbits, three lambs (soon), and about a trillion worms.

And since Mrs G likes to share the love, and they have a constant need of help, she asked me. A door on their chicken shed is loose; could I fix it?

Well of course I could. Like most men I am extraordinarily gifted at fixing stuff. Except cars. I chuck the drill in the (other) car and head up. Mrs G shows me the offending door. Although it is a challenge drilling while being surveyed at close quarters by Chicken Licken and Henny Penny, it's fixed in a jiffy! Damn, I'm good. Mrs G, all impressed innocence, invites me for tea as my reward. Why, I'd love to. Teatime is in about an hour.

It's about now I should have got suspicious.

An hour to kill. What shall we do? I've got a suggestion, says Mrs G, fluttering her eyelashes, today is the day we clean out the chickens. Come and help me. OK. What does that involve?

Over the next hour I really earn that tea. 'Cleaning out the chickens' is a euphemism, like 'walking the dog'4. It really means shovelling colossal mounds of chicken crap into wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow. I had no idea chickens had such a productive digestive system. It's a foul job (pun intended). The fumes could knock a grown man off his feet5.

But wait a minute! I know that smell. And after tea I watch Mrs G pack up. She changes into her day shoes and chucks her gunge-encrusted boots into the back of my lovely car. So there's a silver lining. I simply treat Mrs G to another pair of boots she can use at home; and lo, my Nissan pongeth no more.

And that's my last scatalogical post for a while, you'll be relieved to hear. Spring has sprung; time to move on to more fragrant themes. But not before I show you this, with the best product write-up, ever. Ha! I never need to clean another toilet again. Or chicken.

1 - French style. Just drive up to stuff until you hit it
2 - That's 'trunk' to you, colonial chums
3 - 98 if we're picky. Two popped their clogs over Christmas
4 - Which actually means 'taking the dog to poop on the neighbour's lawn'
5 - That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. Tripping over a chicken would be undignified

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Rage Against The Mr Sheen

The perils of office life

I'm on my knees scrubbing a toilet. I like to start with the toilet, as it's the worst bit. Baths and basins are easy, plus, you get to shine the taps. It'll soon be one bathroom down, three to go. After that I get to wash towels and sheets. Sigh.

It wasn't always like this. I used to be an Executive. I had ties that I didn't wear, because we dressed down. I had a PA who fielded my calls and brought me tea. I went out with other executives, and we relaxed with manly jokes1. I had a pen that went 'click'.

But I only have myself to blame. Back when I was young and stupid2, it was fashionable to set life goals, so I did. One of my goals was to be able to stop work at 40, so I did. We sold the company, paid off the mortgage, did some clever investing3, and hey presto. Mrs G and I can now cruise along quite happily, provided we avoid extravagances like holidays, and eating.

Well guess what? Mrs G, after many years of looking after kids, and me, has decided she needed to 'experience the workplace again', and gone and got herself a job. How selfish is that? I could have told her about the workplace. It's all sitting down; in a car, on a plane, at a desk, on the loo, in meeting rooms, on the photocopier4, and on the job.

Except Mrs G's job is all outdoorsy, and horticultural, and people-oriented, so it's not a proper job at all. And it's only half-time. Where's the stress? Where are the repetitive strain injuries? Where are the office intrigues? Where are the incomprehensible coffee jugs? Where are the nylon carpets that send 5,000 volts up your bottom when you scoot your chair around? Where's the photocopier?

Anyway, Mrs G's job is for another post; today is about me.

So: I'm a house-husband two-and-a-half days a week. It's ghastly, but fascinating. Look what I've learned in a short time:
  • The hardest substance known to man is left-over Weetabix

  • Domestic vacuum cleaners are unsuited to Autumn leaves, especially when they're wet

  • You can have too much Tupperware


  • Twiglets are not good with breakfast

  • Drier lint is surprisingly inflammable

  • Flammable and inflammable mean the same thing

  • The postman always rings twice. No idea why

I've also learned that I don't like it much, so grudging respect to Mrs G for putting up with it for so long. Time for some new life goals, I think. In our next life, we will live on a beach, which never needs cleaning. And has no toilets.

1 - Like 'Why haven't women been to the moon? Because it didn't need cleaning.' Oh, the shame. You wouldn't catch me telling a vile sexist joke like that now
2 - As opposed to middle-aged and stupid
3 - Savings account, premium bonds, and roulette. And we sold the pets
4 - At the Christmas party. Ahem

Monday, 1 March 2010

Come back, Monster Raving Loonies, all is forgiven

Jackass or Dumbo. Make your choice
Election fever is gripping Britain. We will soon be summoned to choose between the sorry collection of has-beens, crooks, no-hopers, spongers, bankrupts, conmen, hangers-on, talentless minority group opportunists, fading B-list television celebrities, and geriatric dorks that pass for politicians here.

What a choice. It comes down to Gordon 'take that, you English pussies' BROWN, David 'Thatcher without the spine' CAMERON, and Nick 'who?' CLEGG. They'll all be licking babies and paying off unions until May or June when the whole ghastly business comes to a climax, as all the over-50s go and vote, and everyone else goes to the pub. And one thing is guaranteed; whoever gets elected will be as tedious as Mr. Bean: The Movie. And the sequel.

You can't even watch TV to escape. All channels will show 'Election Special' on the big night. This may sound like Asian pornography, but is in fact three wrinkly old men and a token wrinkly old lady pontificating to eternity while the results crawl in. All bloody night.

British politics used to be a lot more interesting. The '80s were the heyday of the Monster Raving Loony Party, headed up by Screaming Lord Sutch. They ran the party from a pub in Llanwrtyd Wells1, fuelled by good Welsh beer, and twiglets.

By 'heyday' I mean they almost, occasionally, got the 5% of votes needed to avoid losing their £500 deposit. But undeterred they kept coming back for more. Their policies were bonkers but strangely compelling. For example:
  • Traffic cops "too stupid" for normal police work to be retrained as vicars

  • All motorways to become massive cycle tracks

  • The introduction of a 99p coin to "save on change".

See? The stuff of genius. I voted for them, twice. Partly because I liked them, partly because it was a great way to choose 'none of the above'. Lord Sutch himself is no longer with us, God rest his barmy soul, but the party, although much reduced, limps on.

The Loonies weren't the only 'out there' party. Miss Whiplash led the Corrective Party. The Fancy Dress Party made a brief showing, with their signature policy of using a smaller font to automatically reduce unemployment statistics.

Alas all that has gone, suppressed by the fat sloppy swine in Westminster who protect their jobs through a series of mealy-mouthed self-preserving small-minded laws making it harder for a small independent party to stand at all, much less get elected. Thank Heavens for Europe, where we've dispensed with all this democracy nonsense, and choose our president the old-fashioned way. Behind closed doors, over a fat cigar.

1 - If you pronounce that right, it should sound like burping and sneezing simultaneously

Friday, 26 February 2010

Sorry Mum. If Only I'd Known

Poor Mrs G. No time to dress
Sensible folk that we are, Mrs G and I have three kids. Three is a good number: sufficient to continue the human race, so we've done our bit; but not so many that we have to drive a ghastly people mover1, or sell body parts to buy food in embarrassing bulk quantities.

Yet we have a reasonable chance of engendering a pop star, prime minister, or oil magnate, who will keep us comfortable in our dotage. No. 1 son is now studying advanced mating habits, sleep deprivation and liver abuse at university (or 'yoony'), while the other two are working towards it. Job done.

My parents weren't so smart. I am one of seven. My childhood memories are mostly of being slapped around and told what to do by older siblings, and passing the favour on down the chain. We had to book the bathroom days ahead. My Mum couldn't remember our names, and still can't. Leaving home to go to university felt like moving on to somewhere quieter and less crowded. They didn't realise I'd left until I 'phoned home for a chat, and money.

Well, little bro' BalancedPaul is currently convalescing at home, and, kind souls that we are, we offered to host his four for a long (long!) weekend. But in a perfect storm, No. 1 son decided to grace us with his presence, since all his clothes needed washing, and MiniGrump came home from her cosmically expensive school trip to Thailand, all jetlag and jungle tales.

So we now have the 'seven kids for the weekend' badge. Blimey. I apologise for not blogging or visiting much recently, but at least now you know why.

Luckily BP's kids are a bunch of fun, with good manners and generally excellent hygiene, considering their age. The two youngest, Emma and Olivia, are twins, and sometimes leave pithy comments here. The last was 'mighty beautiful livvy the livvya livster said... bet i can do a better pose then her right every one oh please say yes and i bet you will'.

Can't argue with that.

But it's still been a stressful couple of days. I have sawed through a lock, unblocked a (very) blocked toilet, fixed two computers, driven about a thousand miles, averted several punch-ups2, switched off every light in the house at least four times, hunted endlessly for tiny electronic toys, and washedupandwashedupandwashedup, while Mrs G cookedandcookedandcookedandcooked.

Back to two teen twiglets now. Are we relieved? No. Missing 'em.

But here's what brings me up short. We've managed this for a weekend and we feel like heroes. My folks did this day in, day out, for umpteen years, without killing, maiming or losing any of us, even once. Next time I see my Mum I shall bring her flowers and a decent box of chocolates. With a big card, with my name in it, to save her the trouble of remembering it.

1 - Although we do anyway
2 - Between Mrs G and me

Monday, 22 February 2010

They're Out There

Bloody aliens. Always abducting me
The Ministry Of Defence, in its wisdom, has released details of UFO sightings from all over the UK up to 2000. We are awash in aliens, apparently, and I'm not talking about plumbers from Poland. Little green men are flying around the countryside, examining us, taking detailed pictures of our homes and streets, recording everything about us, our habits and tastes, every last byte stored forever. No, wait a minute, that's Google.

Anyway what's all the fuss about? I've been abducted heaps of times, and sometimes it's actually quite pleasant. The last occasion was about two weeks ago. I was walking briskly home from the pub at 9:30, after my modest white wine spritzer and small pack of twiglets, when a sleek, mysterious craft appeared from the western horizon, moving at incredible speed, but in utter silence, and stopped exactly above me, about 10 metres overhead, as though it knew me, and had sought me out.

I stared up. "Not again," I thought, resigned, but strangely unfrightened.

A beam of light suddenly issued from the base of the craft and enveloped me. Intensely white, humming, pulsating, warm on my skin, I felt myself lifted off my feet and drawn towards the source of the light. I was unable to move; my muscles were paralysed but completely relaxed. Slowly, inexorably, I rose into the belly of the craft.

It all gets a bit hazy from there. I remember some small silvery-skinned beings, laying me on a bed of steel and injecting my arm with a glutinous green fluid; but still I felt calm and unruffled. Somehow I knew they meant me no harm. Time passed without me sensing its passage; I later discovered four hours had elapsed until the moment I was deposited in the same spot. I was unharmed, but the fluids they had injected into me had left me unsteady on my legs. I managed to stagger home. When I told Mrs G the story, my voice was strangely slurred, my face was flushed, my eyes were bloodshot, almost as though I had drunk quite a lot of beer.

Which obviously I hadn't.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Welcome To Frqnce

It's breezy crossing the chqnnel
After lqst weekend's hard slog to Wqles, Mrs G qnd I are enjoying a Frogtastic long weekend in La Belle France. Mrs G's Mum and Dqd live in Normandy and they love to see their dqughter. As for the son-in-law, I can come provided I mow the lawn, fix the computers and keep my mouth shut. So here we qre.

Ah, The Channel Tunnel. The most extraordinary feat of engineering. We cqn breeze up to London, grab a quick tube train1, then sit back on the Eurostar to the very heart of Paris, relaxing with a glass of champqgne as the countryside rushes silently by.

We can, but we don't, because the ferry is cheaper. Also, we feel thqt unless you've come close to being sick in a bag, you haven't really travelled. So we go overnight from Portsmouth to Caen on the Nausea Express, lying in a cabin and groaning. It's exciting stuff.

We're travelling only with MicroGrump, as MiniGrump is in Thailand 'learning' and No. 1 son is at yoony, also 'learning'. Needless to say, qll this 'learning' is why we're travelling on the cheap. Micro once distinguished himself by vomiting on a cross-channel ferry before we actually left harbour. He's older and wiser now, and avoids illness by falling asleep early, and frequently equalizing bodily pressure, by farting from the top bunk.

But it's worth it. I love France. I love the people, with their high-spirited driving, and their ubiquitous yappy dogs('Je monte la garde'), which between them make for very lively jogging.

I love the booze and cheese (how do French people live so long?) I love the boulangerie, where you can buy (cheap!) bread so fresh the crust rips a hole cleqn through the roof of your mouth. And I love the pharmacy where you cqn buy any number of (expensive!) mouth ointments.

But one thing I don't love is French keyboards. You try using a PC where the A and Q are swapped. It's tqken me qbout four hours to type this. I might hqve missed q couple. Sorry.

1 - Seasoned London travellers might spot a hole in my argument here. 'Quick tube'? About as likely as 'Considerate Parisian'

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

No-one Rocks In January

Bloody roadies. Always sitting down
on the job

(Yes I know it's not January anymore. I wrote this a week ago, and besides, we've been in Wales, where it's still November).

The worst-attended gig I ever played was in January. It was 1982, at The Albany in Great Portland St, towards the end of our ill-advised and ill-fated Monday night residency. We were a four-piece and we outnumbered our audience. And that included the barman. We got four encores though.

So I was a bit worried ahead of our gig at The Phoenix in Twyford last weekend. Proper pub; good beer, rotund jolly landlord, scampi (what are scampi1?), chicken in a basket, or twiglets in batter. Darts. And skittles. For those who don't know, skittles is like bowling without the varnish, or the stupid shoes, or people in matching lurex tops whooping when they knock all the pins down.

But I'm worried. I didn't help myself by failing to e-mail around until two days before the gig. A few lame excuses came back; out of the country on business, in hospital having an operation, that sort of thing.

But the response I hate the most is 'we'll try to make it'. Eh? This is a trip to the pub, not an attempt on the North face of the Eiger. Why not just say 'I saw you before and I thought you were crap'? Or 'you old git, you can hardly carry the guitar, let alone play it?'

And the omens are bad. The afternoon of the gig, Martin, chief picker and co-crooner, mails to say he's lost his voice. My new guitar workstation dies. I bring the wrong power supply for the vox unit. During sound-check, some curmudegeonly old geezer playing dominoes yells at us; he can't hear himself think, apparently. I wonder what his excuse is the rest of the time.

But then it's time to play and things are looking up! About twenty of our lot have actually turned up, adding to a decent crowd in the pub. My good mate Alan has brought his daughter Lucy who luckily is professionally trained, as well as gorgeous, and gives us a vocal assist here and there. MiniGrump has brought a half-dozen mates, and they all dance, making us old rockers feel very special. What's more, the skittles alley is occupied by the Tone-Deaf Society of Hampshire, who love a good knees-up, and aren't too fussy.

Best song? 'Sex on fire'. (Even though no. 1 son hates it). Mini and her mates go nuts, and Mrs G puts her hands over her ears, so I know we're in the zone. Worst song? Don't be silly. They're all good.

Want to see some pictures? Go to the state-of-the-art Hot Rabbit web-site, click on 'Gigs galore', then select the first entry. Or just go here. Natty t-shirts eh? Well, I didn't say we were cool.

1 - And while we're on the subject, what do you call one scampi? Is it a scampo?

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Mini's Big Surprise

A lick of paint, a trip to Ikea and we'll be sorted
UberGrumpy is on vacation. Wales again. The house, and the blog, are under the care of MiniGrump for a week or so. Thanks Min.

Dear Papa UG,

First of all, I hope you are having a lovely holiday with Mama UG and MicroGrump. I am missing you a lot. You said you'd check the blog often, so I thought this was a great way to tell you my wonderful news - I met somebody!

We met online. Isn't Facebook wonderful? He is very lovely and I can't wait for you to meet. His name is Utbah. He's a little older than me but is very handsome.

He flew over straight away, just to meet me. Well I thought that since he came all this way, the least I could do would be to let him buy me a coffee! Although we have only known each other for a week, he has swept me off my feet. Don't be cross but - we are getting married! He proposed (over that coffee - amazing huh?) and of course, I just had to said yes, which was lucky, since he had nowhere to stay.

I wasn't sure at first, but he said we shouldn't wait, so we will be man and wife by the time you are home- isn't that fantastic? I won't be his first wife - he's a bit coy but apparently has several already. So he's well able to look after me, since he has plenty of experience.

But don't worry. We won't be a burden on you, he has a house in Saudi Arabia where we will be moving to soon. He wants to be closer to his children- he has 12, isn't that nice? You'll have 12 instant grandchildren who you can visit any time you like. If you can get a visa.

I have quit college already, you don't have to worry about that! Utbah has said he will provide for me, he also told me that he never went to school so I don't need to either. And apparently women don't need qualifications where he lives. I thought that was a very fair point, so I dropped out yesterday.

I can't wait for you to meet him. However, the flight we booked to Saudi Arabia is the day before you get back from your holiday, he thought it would be easier for me to leave without any tearful goodbyes (I know how you get) -so I probably won't get time to see you until the Summer. Or Ramadan.

So, I love you Papa UG, and goodbye- see you in a couple of months. You never know, the baby may be showing by then.

Lots of love, The MiniGrump Xx

P.S. None of the above is true, but I had a party and someone spilt IrnBru on the new beige carpet upstairs. Sorry.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Ikea Rocks

Cool, maybe, but is it comfortable?

So. Vegetable Assassin threw down the gauntlet. Ikea rocks, she said; nothing you can say will change my mind.

I love a challenge.

Well, Vege, I know Ikea rocks. I've tried beer mats, rolled up wads of paper, my foot, wedges, beer cans, dead cats, but it's no good. In fact everything I ever bought from them rocked, apart from the OOMSKORTEN rocking chair for £19.99, which just wobbles. But that's not the point.

The key thing is the brain-numbing Ikea shopping experience.

They opened a new store in Southampton recently. It's been a while, but naturally we head down with the hordes. It's huge! We park up and shuffle in, wide-eyed. It takes a while to get our bearings. Everything is strange, and foreign. We squint at the labels.

Who names this stuff? Is that sofa really called EKTORP? Surely that's a medical condition. There's a shelf called BODO. Wasn't he a hobbit? Do I want a light called RUTBO1? A bookcase called BILLY2? DO I want to sit on a POANG? Are they messing with us?

Plus what's with the food? We try a hot dog. It's actual dog, on stale bread. We try Ikea coke which tastes like brake fluid. The french fries have apparently been cooked in France. Sometime last year. I don't even want to think about the provenance of the meatballs.

But perhaps there's an exotic ingredient in the hot dog, because we're being won over. They've got whole houses in there! 20m2 living rooms! Supercool eco-kitchens! Dining rooms bristling with awesome fold-away cleverness! Everything's in primary colours and metric measurements. It's cool, it's chic, it's tomorrow3.

We get carried away. We grab our little Ikea pencil and Ikea list and start to write down part numbers. It's easy! Just pick 'em up on the way out. First though, you must descend through the labyrinthine martketplace, having traded your little yellow bag for a shopping trolley the size of a small car. My advice? Keep your head down and grit your teeth. Do we need a set of eight RAMBO cheese graters? No. Or 100 TWIGLET candles. Or a clever SPILPOO toilet paper dispenser. Or ELEKTROKUT plastic bedside lamps.

At last, time to pick up the big stuff. And now the day falls apart. If you want to buy a Billy bookcase, it's on aisle 34, section 7. Apart from the shelves which are on aisle 92, section 16. The feet? Aisle 4, section 22. Hang on; these are black. We wanted oak. Start again. It's out of stock. Black then? If we must.

It takes hours.

And you're almost guaranteed to get it wrong.

Don't bother asking for help. If you do, you encounter the mysterious dichotomy between Ikea the company (efficient, clever, fresh and bright) and Ikea the employee (officious, stupid, stale and dull). The answer to every question is 'If it ain't on the shelf, we ain't got none', which is a bit strange when you're asking where the toilets are.

What's more, it's not that cheap. Look around the checkouts when you finally get to them; everyone is staring wide-eyed at their receipts. Surely the KLAPTORP wasn't that much? No it wasn't, but those GOTCHA cushions mount up. Sly bastards. And then they charge you extra for using a credit card. And parking. And bags.

The final insult; you get home and it's in pieces! I thought the boxes were a bit small. Hours of screwing later (ooh-err missus) and you have half a sofa-bed and a three-legged bookcase. In blue. And boy, does it rock.

1 - Yes. We buy four
2 - And a whole wallful of these
2 - This isn't a footnote, it means 'square meters'. Come on, shape up.
3 - It's chipboard, but nobody's looking too closely.

And the answer to the crossword clue in the last post was 'spent a penny'. Bumper pack of Twiglets to anyone who can tell me why.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Tagged! Phew

Tea and boob cake. My favourite
Thank you to the incomparable JenJen for tagging me, and relieving me of writer's block. 'Tagging' is a new American thing, which means you answer terrifically intimate questions about yourself, then tag some other poor sods.

I beefed up the list a bit.

1. What is your current obsession?
15 across: 'Nasty, nasty authors cut through weed' (5,1,5)1

2. What are you wearing today?
Carpet slippers and a floppy hat and nothing else. Well, it's Sunday. Or at least it was last time I looked

3. What do you think about the person who tagged you?
JenJen! Toppest of the top bananas.

4. If you could have a house totally paid for, fully furnished anywhere in the world, where would you like it to be?
Is the furniture from Ikea? If so, no thanks.

5. What's your favorite quote?
", closely followed by '

6. Who do you want to meet right now?
Nobody. Neither would you if you were wearing carpet slippers and a floppy hat

7. What's your favorite magazine?
The Economist, but I tuck in a copy of 'Jugs 3D' on long train journeys. You can't tell

8. What do your friends call you most commonly?

9. Would you prefer coffee or tea?
Oh! Tea please. I think I'd like one of those lesbian jobs, like ginseng and jojoba, or aloe vera and euphonium. No sugar.

10. What makes you go wild?

11. Who's your favourite deep sea diver?
Jacques Cousteau

12. Is that a twiglet in your pocket or are you glad to see me?
It's a twiglet

14. Are you superstitious?
Certainly not

Today I'm tagging M's. That's MiMi, Mme DeFarge, Marla, Magda, mo, and Moooooooooog. Fill your boots, team

1 - Come on, work it out... answer next post

Friday, 29 January 2010

Welcome Home, BalancedPaul

Oh no. Not another blanket bath
Big day today.

Observant readers will have noticed BalancedPaul is a frequent witty commenter. He also hosted the '55-word fiction' contest here over Christmas. Paul is my little brother. 'Little' as in younger; he's about three inches taller than me and could give me a sound thrashing if the mood took him, but luckily he is a genial chap.

Last summer Paul unluckily copped leukemia, at about the same time his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. He has had what the Queen, bless her, would call an 'anus horribilis'1, which means 'arsehole of a year'.

Since then Paul has endured NHS pyjamas, peeing in a cardboard bottle, vomiting in a cardboard hat, frequent visits from obscure mates, NHS food, drips, London parking, hair loss, snow, NHS television, bedsores, tubes into his arm, tubes into his heart, Bargain Hunt, Countdown, crutches, teenage doctors examining his nethers, polystyrene cups, about a million pairs of rubber gloves, his bloody iPhone, me calling him on his bloody iPhone during nap time, you name it.

Oh, and four months of 'Not-dead-yet? Have-some-more-then' chemotherapy.

He's been in hospital for 103 nights on ond off since September. Not that he's counting or anything. Until around Christmas, his wife had much of the same. And they're not even allowed grapes. Or twiglets. So it's lucky all he can stomach is dry crackers, fruit gums, and Heinz Tomato Soup2.

Well guess what? All primed with brand new bone marrow from Heroic Little Sis, Paul is now out on parole, although he's not quite home, as his brand-new antiseptic en-suite bathroom is currently a lot of bricks, pipes, and dust. Cue big brother, who is putting him up in his swanky London flat. Niiiice.

So Paul and Mrs BP are well on the way, but not quite out of the woods yet. Infection is the risk, and neither will be at work much before next Autumn. They face testing, prodding, poking, assessing, questioning, needling, general harrassment and irritation for months yet. And that's just from their kids.

It hasn't all been bad. Paul refers to this time as the Big C Diet, although he is still heavier than me, hehehe. He has honed his crossword skills; the Times Cryptic takes no time at all3. And although we may diss the NHS, no-one's ever asked him for a penny. Even for the pyjamas.

What about this blog? It was kicked off mainly as a gift to him. Unsurprisingly, you may see Paul commenting a bit less over the next few weeks; he has some catching up to do. (Ooh-er missus). And I may post a bit less for a week or two; not least of all because I'm a bit out of ideas myself. Sigh. But Paul and I will be back, as we've got the bug. (Don't mention bugs.)

If you are the praying type, please send one the way of Paul and his family. They deserve it. And/or leave him a message here; he reads 'em.

Paul, here's to you. If I could face what you have faced with half your courage, determination, optimism, dignity, humour, and sheer grit, I'd be proud. You should be too.

Enjoy your homecoming, little bro.

1 - Actually she said 'annus horribilis' but she's a bit old-fashioned. We know what you meant, your maj.
2 - And it has to be Heinz. He's a fussy bugger.
3 - Beacuse he still can't do it.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

England 2, USA 0

Yes, very nice, but what's with the gloves?
Aeons ago, when we moved to the Yoo-Nahted States, we were urged mightily to go to The Game. So we did. What a great night out. Fill your face with hot dogs! Get slightly sozzled! Seventh innings stretch! Do the politically incorrect Tomahawk Chop! Watch the lovely ladies during amazingly frequent commercial breaks! Laugh at the hilarious man dressed as a furry animal! Puzzle over the stats on vast screens! Marvel at the blimp! Drive home with all the doors locked!1

On my third or fourth visit I realised some men in stripy pyjamas tucked into their socks were playing a game too. And although the game was rounders, with big cheaty gloves and large salaries, from that point on I was hooked. I learnt the rules, and the subtleties of the game. I even went as far as learning what RBI stood for, although I forget now. (Raking Billions In? Run! Balls Itchy? Reuben's Bagel Imporium? Nope, it's gone)

So we were fans. But when we returned to England we naturally turned to cricket instead. And it's much better! Why?

a) It lasts longer. Test matches last five days. Five days.

b) It's a closer contest. Most five-day test matches end in a draw. Or a tie, which is different.2

c) It's sartorially superior, with jolly nice white trousers, sensible jerseys, plastic codpieces and schoolboy-type caps. All very super, in a Village People sort of way.

d) There are no commercial breaks, but it's so slow you can have a beer/pee/nap/twiglet break whenever you feel like it.

e) Like all the best sports, cricket is more or less incomprehensible. Players take up positions with names like Silly Mid Off, Long Fine Leg and Third Slip. Batsmen can be out in any of a dozen ways, including hitting your own wicket. Which is less painful than it sounds.

On the downside, there are no scantily-clad cheerleaders. But the dinner ladies at the Hampshire Rosebowl are simply gorgeous.3

So cricket wins (unlike England 90% of the time).

Which brings me to football.

I have to tell you I went to about twenty American so-called Football games in Washington and Atlanta, and no-one kicked the ball. Not even once. They just threw it around like a bunch of gurlies. And the huge geezers running around the field looking tough? Once they get all that Kevlar padding off, I bet they turn out to be 120-pound metrosexual weenies with personal trainers, Rolexes and stockbrokers. Probably.

Game over.

1 - It's a tradition in America to build stadia in the roughest part of town, so the players can buy their cocaine on the way in
2 - Unless it rains, in which case it just stops
3 - After six pints of lager

Sunday, 24 January 2010

In Praise Of Wives

Mrs G is a keen gardener.
This isn't her, obviously

I am doubly fortunate. First, I have a wife who is half-French, half-English, which makes for an interesting life. Second, I am lucky in that her top half is English and her bottom half is French. As we all know, the English are sensible but reticent, and the French are sexy but incomprehensible. If it had been the other way round, I wouldn't understand anything she said, and we would have no children.

Modesty forbids me from revealing how long we've been hitched, but here's a clue; at our wedding, we danced to songs by that popular funky heterosexual, George Michael. And Elton John was married. And Frankie had only just arrived in Hollywood, and was picking out nice curtains.

You may get cross with the French for not turning up at all the exciting wars, but I like 'em; and vast benefits accrue from a multi-national marriage. Exotic holidays abound. We have vacationed all over France, horribly abusing family generosity. And my kids have multiple nationality, very handy in terrorist situations, or when England fail to kick gallic butt at rugby. MiniGrump in particular is French, English and American all in one, which is why she is cynical, smart-arse and sassy all at the same time.

We can choose the best of both worlds. For example, I haven't shaved my armpits since the day we met. And whenever we get a new car, Mrs G promptly crashes it to show solidarity with her Parisian kin, saving a fortune on unnecessary insurance.

When you've been together as long as we have, the question inevitably arises; doesn't one's romatic life get a bit repetitive? A bit dull? Aren't you tempted to play away from home?

In a word, no. Like Paul Newman said; why go out for burgers when you can have rump steak at home? (Or was that sirloin?)

It's true that frequency tails off a bit. There's no marital sauciness every second Wednesday, as I have to mow the lawn, and I haven't got the stamina I once had. But I have no complaints. Don't believe me, singles? Let me explain with an analogy from the exotic world of breakfast cereals.

When you're footloose and fancy-free, l'amour is like Kelloggs Variety; lots of different flavours, but not quite enough, somehow. But for the long-wed, it's more like bulk cornflakes. But wait. Cornflakes don't have to be dull. You can liven them up with strawberries, or blueberries. Or bananas. But my experienced counsel is to avoid the blueberries. You'll never get the stains out of the sheets.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Twitter: If You Can't Beat Them, Join Them

Desperate measures
I notice many savvy bloggers using Twiglet Twitter to build up following. Right, I’m up for it. How do you do that? Aren’t you limited to 140 charac

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Move Over Curly-Wurly; Here Comes Cheez Whizz

You can expect Cornettos to get a lot smaller
So Kraft Foods has snapped up Cadbury for eleven billion squiddlies and change. Lots of change. Eleven billion nicker is a vast wedge of wonga in anyone's language, but specifically, it's about $19 billion. Blimey.

Kraft, famous for the most disgusting cheese in the history of mankind, a poison-spewing factory in Woburn, Mass., and a persistent refusal to publish trans-fat content, is now in debt up to its cholesterol-encrusted eyeballs and will need to make some changes.

I can't see the modest Cadbury Curly-Wurly lasting long. Curly-Wurlies may be a delicious symphony of chocolate and caramel, with their majestic swirls reminscent of the marvellous helical complexity of DNA, but they aren't very efficient. They're full of holes, and they're a bit crumbly. And they're short on preservatives, xanthan gum, carcinogenic E-numbers, and so on.

Let's face it. Their days are numbered.

In 1993 Kraft bought Terry's, a smaller confectioner with a 250-year history. Kraft closed the factory in York and moved production to Poland. Will curly-wurlies become curlski-wurlskies? I for one will not be eating them. This is because of my high social principles, and is nothing to do with them already being a bit sickly. God knows what they'll be like after the sugar wizards of Warsaw and Gdansk get hold of them.

On previous form, then, we can expect Kraft to wait for the press to focus on something else, then close down the Cadbury factories, along with their expensive outdated Quaker social policies. They'll save a mint, and no-one will notice, will they? Apart from the sacked employees, obviously, but they won't be able to afford chocolate anymore in any case.

So, with a heavy heart, this right-on socially-aware blog waves goodbye to the humble curly-wurly. From today we switch snack.

Behold: the day of the Twiglet.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Tax Return Blues

My accountant
Here's a song from the archives. 'The Tax Return Blues', by Long Willy Roachcock and the Daydreamin' Mofos, was released on the 'Home Truths' EP in 1965, along with the then-seminal but now-forgotten 'I Bought Me A Poor-Performin' Index Tracker' and 'Ain't No Use Bein' Thrifty When There's Sales Tax On beer'.

Here's me performing it, but before you listen, an international apology:

1. Sorry for sounding American. You have to put on a phoney southern drawl to sing the blues or it don't work. Er, doesn't.
2. Sorry for sounding Japanese. I recorded it on a Roland Micro BR, the size of a cigarette packet1, with a teensy microphone guaranteed to give your voice that Yoko Ono 'je ne sais quoi'. Note also the electronic balsa wood drum kit.
3. Sorry for sounding French. Everyone knows French people can't play guitar. Well, neither can I.

Here's the lyrics so you can sing along:

Done my tax return this mornin'
Got me on my knees
Done my tax return this mornin'
Got me on my knees
Missed my filin' deadline
Gotta pay some penalties

Goodbye savin' days of clover
All that money down the drain
Goodbye savin' days of clover
All that money down the drain
Had to pay my last dime over
Forgot my goddam cap'tal gain

Oh I shoulda seen it comin'
But I'm as blind as I can be
Oh I shoulda seen it comin'
But I'm as blind as I can be
But like a fool I closed my eyes and
Ignored my P11D2

Well don't you make my mistake
With The Man don't you be messin'
Well don't you make my mistake
With The Man don't you be messin'
Get yourself a 'lectric 'puter
And do some online self-assessin'

(face-meltin' gee-tar solo)

Gonna pack my bags and head out
Gonna slide on like Ry Cooder
Gonna pack my bags and head out
Gonna slide on like Ry Cooder
Gonna fetch up somewhere warm
Ain't no taxes in Bermuda


It's been pointed out to me that there are, in fact, taxes in Bermuda. So here's a new last verse:

Gonna pack my bags and head out
Gonna flow on like The Mersey
Gonna pack my bags and head out
Gonna flow on like The Mersey
Gonna fetch up somewhere chilly
There's a fairly friendly and red-tape-light tax regime in Jersey

And for the avoidance of doubt, we're talking about Jersey in the English Channel, not the hilariously-named 'Garden State'.

1 - But you don't have to be a smoker to use it
2 - It's a form. Kiss the planet goodbye, one sheet of paper at a time

(Inspired by Hunter's recent rap at The Time Crook.)

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Cheer Up Miserable Blog Gits

All right, no need to overdo it
Crikey, everyone's got the hump. I thought I was the grumpy one. January is apparently the saddest month but you know what? I like it.

Evenings are drawing out, and it's almost light at three p.m. Gordon Brown will only be rogering us painfully for another few months1. There's a brand new Doctor Who. And so on. See? Simply heaps of good stuff.

So here are my reasons to be cheerful:

1. I already fulfilled a new year's resolution; to lose twenty pounds. It was 'Fancy Pants' running in the 2:15 at Sandown. Surefire tip, supposedly, thank you, bloody BBC Radio 4, but she came in last, having thrown the jockey after the first furlong.

2. I bought new clothes in the sales. I can now leave them hanging up 'for best' and Mrs G won't be able to nag me about being a scruffbag.

3. I built an igloo with the kids, a lifetime's ambition. It's looking a bit wonky now, but with a bit of luck it will collapse on the cat and save us a fortune in vet's bills and cat food.

4. I figured out my new AX3000G Guitar Workstation. I pluck one note and it promptly plays the whole solo on 'Hotel California'. Now all I need is a decent vocal effects unit and I won't even need to turn up at gigs.

5. At long last I finished Stieg Larsson's third book, the strangely compelling but bloody long 'The Girl Who Liked Swedish Rumpy-Pumpy When Not Beating Up Hell's Angels And The Swedish Secret Service', featuring the least likely heroine in the mercifully short history of Swedish popular literature. I'm now moving on to something snappier, like War And Peace, or the phone book.

6. It's still snowing so I have an excuse not to jog, or even walk for that matter.

7. Curly-wurlies are on special at Tesco; £1.00 for 5. Run in and grab yourself a happy bargain.

There you go. My reasons for feeling as happy as the proverbial pig. What are yours?

1 - I dread to think who's next though

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

UberGrumble And Filch

Accessorising that perfect top
A good tale from my neighbour. Let's call him Ken1. Ken is a good-hearted man; he bought his lovely daughter a top from AberCrombie and Fitch which was the wrong size. No problem; planning a trip to London anyway, he offered to change it for her.

We live and learn.

Upon arrival he is surprised to find a queue snaking out of the shop and round the corner. A queue for a shop? Is the queen visiting? Or David Beckham? Apparently not. There's always a queue at A&F. Ken joins the line to find himself surrounded by eager teenies. And when Ken sensibly takes the opportunity to eat his cheese and pickle sandwiches with curly-wurly and diet Fanta, they all noisily disrespect him.

So Ken feels a little out of place by the time he reaches the door. But upon entry he is concerned to discover they have a power cut, or a fire. How come they're still letting people in? It's completely dark, and sirens are going off.

But as his eyes adjust to the gloom, he realises this is how it is all the time. And the sirens are in fact loud and trendy music. Has he accidentally lined up for a nightclub? How embarrassing.

But no; he puts his hands in front of him and advances gingerly until he bumps into what feels like a clothes rail. It is the shop.

Now call me old-fashioned but I quite like to see clothes when I'm buying them. Ken's in the same camp. Wishing he'd brought his head-torch, he manfully squints at tops for a while. No help is available; the A&F employees are busy dancing, half-naked, on a dimly-lit balcony far above. Ken shakes his fist at them, but they mistake it for a dance move of yesteryear, and kindly shake their fists back.

Ken is now quite cross, but he's come this far and he is made of steel. He finds the right top and gropes his way to the tills.

There's another queue. This one takes half an hour. Ken is beset by suspicious glances from more teenies who obviously assume he is a pervert come to spy on their shopping. But at last he is at the front, by now grinding his teeth. The assistant, very fetching in a bikini and buffed up with what looks like margarine, asks did he want the pink top? The old one's orange.

No he didn't. He just couldn't see the difference. So she stands him to one side and fetches the orange one for him. But then it turns out the one Ken chose was indeed orange; it was just labelled wrong. It takes a manager in a thong and a bowtie with a shaven chest and more margarine to sort out the mess.

By the time Ken gets out, two hours have passed.

What sort of evil genius can conceive of a shop like this? Buy a job lot of clothes from a sweat shop in Cambodia, put BIG LABELS on them, and then hang them in the dark. And hey presto! The kids are converging from miles around. No matter what you charge, because they all have vast cash reserves.

Ken, here's to you mate; you're a better man than I. Next time I buy pants and socks from M&S I'm going to keep my eyes closed the whole time in solidarity. Maybe I'll end up with a nice shade of pink. Or orange.

1 - Because that's his name

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Sports Illustrated - The Swimsuit Edition

Just do it!
After my recent jogblog, Dan and BalancedPaul challenged me to publish a picture of myself in running togs. Vodka Logic also told me off for never showing pictures of hunky blokes.

Happy to oblige on both counts.

Thanks to Mrs G for taking this action shot of me overtaking some weeny cyclists. Although it's a bit cold here, luckily we had a nice sunny day. I thought she captured my 'determined runner' look very well. Can you spot the snack curly wurly concealed about my person?

I hope you appreciate my matching running gear and hat. I always run in a hat, for the sake of modesty.

Friday, 8 January 2010

The School Trip

Would you like carbon with that sir?
My favourite school trip1, ever, was a day out at Heathrow Airport, followed by a tour of Southampton Container Port.

Aeroplanes! Back then they had propellers, two sets of wings and frequent prangs with airships. And bombs.

Then containers! Thousands of them! As far as the eye could see! Full of exotic stuff like trousers, transistor radios and illegal immigrants. How could you not like containers?

All this for three quid, with a pork pie, a curly-wurly and a bottle of Corona for lunch. Magic.

How times have changed. No. 2 Daughter, AKA the garrulous MiniGrump, has just booked herself on her school's latest trip. They're spending ten days or so in sunny Thailand. Yes, Thailand. We have remortgaged Grumpy Towers and sold off a few superfluous organs to pay for it, so she's off!

Why Thailand? She's studying Buddhism. Therefore it makes absolute sense to head to the heart of Buddhism, right? Let's tease that logic out. She's studying French. Are they planning a sensible day jaunt to Calais, where they can also stock up on cheap booze and unpasteurised cheese? No. She's studying art. Are they popping up to the National Gallery to look at Great Art, or Tate Modern to look at blank walls and building materials posing as Great Art? No.

So what's behind the tour of places exotic? After attending the parent's talk I got to the bottom of it. It turns out the kiddies on the trip must be accompanied by teachers at a ratio of five to one. And are those teachers paying? What do you think? They told us they'll be working the whole time. I suppose someone has to keep them away from the drugs and the ladyboys. Nice work if you can get it, eh?

But economics aside it looks pretty fabulous. She gets to ride on an elephant! Learn Thai dancing! Ride the uniquely polluted rivers of Bangkok! Be bitten by strange and ferocious insects! She can't help gloating at us but I remind her that she's never had a whole morning out at Heathrow. At least not without actually taking a flight. Ha.

But the kicker is this. One of the teachers stood up at the end and said, in the spirit of Copenhagen, they want to offset their carbon emissions for the trip. They're going to invest in a marijuana farm in the Gambia or something, which will absorb simply heaps of CO2. To that end, could we all cough up an extra thirty pounds?

Hold on. Reduce emissions like this: visit the perfectly nice Buddhist temple in Morecambe Bay. They can stay there for a week. That way they avoid the enormous aeroplane and the luxury layover in Dubai. I suggested it and got a frosty 'no'. No explanation given, but I suspect it's because there aren't many elephants there, and it's not very sunny in Morecambe Bay in February.

So Thailand it is. But they can take their thirty pounds and shove it where the sun don't shine. And I don't mean the fridge.

1 - And it was my only ever school trip, so by definition it was my favourite.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Jogging Tips For Lazy Bastards

Always choose sensible footwear
when exercising

About this time of year Mrs G throws out the mince pies, empties the Blue Peter Sweety Castle, then castigates me for being a fat git. And if I'm honest the 6-pack is looking a bit insulated, although I'm sure it's still in there somewhere.

We must go jogging, says Mrs G. If God had meant us to jog, He'd have given us feet, I retort. You've got feet, she replies, quick as a wink, you just can't see them any more. Get your trainers on. I'll do the laces for you.

When she gets these ideas into her head, there's no use fighting it. I get out my running gear (Nike! Just do it!) from the attic with a heavy heart. But I have learned some useful techniques from previous years' abortive fitness projects, so I'd like to share them with you.

First, and most important, always run in kilometres. These handy measures are a lot shorter than miles, cutting your journey times enormously. Kilometres were invented by the French in the 15th century so they could get to battles before the English and have their cannons all set up, plus have time for a plate of moules marinieres and a nice chablis before all that messy fighting. Then we outfoxed them by inventing the longbow, which still fired arrows in miles, but that's another story.

Second, a good warm-up and warm-down are critical. The best way to do this is by strolling the first and last kilometre, or 'K', as we joggers would have it. That way if you're planning a 5K, you only have to run 3! Neat eh?

Third, a good mid-run snack is important to keep your energy up. I usually drop a fun-size curly-wurly down my shorts, and although it's a bit melty by the time I retrieve it, it tastes as good as ever. Plus Mrs G generally declines my generous offer of a bite, so I get the whole thing myself.

Finally, pay your neighbour to secretly let his dog loose on your planned route. Mrs G hates dogs, especially those that jump up at her to let her know they've just deposited their breakfast on her path. Two or three more outings like this, and she's rethinking the whole jogging thing.

We're almost safe for another year. It just remains for me to suggest a conscience-salving game of tennis on the Wii. Unless the batteries are flat, in which case we'll just stop taking sugar in our tea, shall we? For now, anyway.

P.S. Check out my awesome award from JennyMac! She has an astounding 834 followers. 834! I've been limited to soixante-neuf for ages. Which is not something you get to say often.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

New Year, New Passports

Not a valid photo. Glasses!
This is about the time of year when we've had enough of drizzle, VAT, Tesco adverts featuring cheerful B-list celebs, the M4, and Gordon Bloody Brown, and we think wistfully of foreign climes. Unfortunately all the Family Grump passports expire in January so it's renewal time. Ha. For ample evidence that the government has well and truly lost the plot, and is making a thorough nuisance of itself every moment of your CCTV-recorded life, I recommend you try renewing yours.

Starting point is the photo. Easy, you may think. But you may think wrong. (I tried digging out left-over snaps from my previous passport application, but I look like a Mexican bandito with poor taste in shirts.) The rules for passport photos have got a lot stricter. Bloody government.

You can't smile, but on the other hand you mustn't snarl like a terrorist, unless you want a finger up the bottom every time you go to Calais for a booze cruise. Both ears must be on prominent display. You must wear neither your natty al-Qaeda headband, nor your sexy Che Guevara neckscarf. Your Vladimir Putin shades are right out.

So, new photo then. Bloody government.

Photo-Me machines used to be fun little booths you could squeeze into on the way home from the pub, to take some truly hilarious pics with you and your equally legless buddies, provided an earlier, more drunken reveller hadn't mistaken the booth for a public toilet.

Alas, technology has caught up, and so has the bloody government. The booths are now like little Whitehall departments in miniature. They know all about passports. Put your money in and they actually talk to you, to make sure everything is just right. Don't smile. Adjust your height. Lose the specs. Get your hair out of your eyes. Are you chewing gum? Are you sober? Did you brush your teeth this morning? I said, don't smile. Lean forward a bit. FLASH! You blinked. That'll be another four pounds please. Join the back of the queue, citizen.

After three or four attempts you're done. Now simply get the photo countersigned by a magistrate, bishop and/or or pop star, and you can progress to the application form. This hasn't got any easier either. You must fill in each little box exactly right or the weasel at the Post Office, which is 30 miles from your house because the bloody government has closed most of them, will give your form back and tell you to start again. Join the back of the queue, citizen.

The bloody government is obsessed with data, so obviously we've gone all biometric. Every detail gathered about you since records began is stuffed onto a little chip on the back page. So don't be surprised if border guards start asking you if you're a communist. Oh how you regret mistaking that copy of 'Socialist Worker' for 'TV Guide'.

The first foreign trip I ever took was to Germany (I was young and foolish). To allow me to travel I got a British Visitor's Passport. It cost about as much as two Curly-Wurlies, lasted a year, and the nice lady at the village Post Office and General Stores did it for me on the spot. Fast-forward to today. The price for the new family passports? Over three hundred quid. Three hundred quid! Is foreign travel worth the effort at all? Of course it is. We need a break from the bloody government.