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.