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?