Sunday, 13 May 2018

Salty Sea Dogs

Move over, Captain Ahab, here comes UberGrumpy.

Unless you count the Isle of Wight ferry, Mrs G and I are not experienced sailors.  So a recent holiday with good friends on board a sailboat was quite literally a voyage of discovery. We learnt loads.  Naturally, I feel the need to share some top tips with you.

We had a captain, who did the hard stuff like making the boat move, and not crashing into other boats.  We concentrated on the basics, like standing up, not spilling your mojito, and not standing in the wrong place.  The captain was a big help here, building bonhomie with quips like “Move! You want to be decapitated by a block?”  Oh how we laughed, enjoying the banter, while quietly learning that boats are made of blocks, apparently, and sometimes they come loose.

Familiar things become strange and new. On a boat, sheets are actually ropes, and vice versa, probably. This is one of the reasons people don’t usually sleep on boats.  We did, and were surprisingly comfortable, although Mrs G still has a couple of unusual burn marks.

Similarly, heads are actually toilets. After a heavy session, the phrase ‘I was completely off my head last night’ takes on a whole new and quite unpleasant meaning.  So my advice to you, shipmates, is drink moderately, not least because the room rolls around unpleasantly even before you start.  While sipping carefully, suck on a salty snack like dried seaweed, or a Twiglet, to keep the dreaded seasickness at bay.

After a hard day’s sipping, sucking, lolling and greenly focussing on the horizon, you may think a romantic tryst in your little cabin would be just the ticket. You would be wrong, unless you are lucky enough to have rubber bones, and suckers like an octopus. Even a peck on the cheek can be downright dangerous (I could show you the toothmarks) so anything more would be suicidal.  We did have a go, I will admit. It was like Twister in an earthquake.  Lord Nelson took Lady Hamilton with him on voyage, and ended up minus an arm, and an eye. Enough said.

Perilous, yes, but such fun, and all too soon our voyage was over, and we were back on terra firma, swaying gently (mostly from the shock of the bar bill).  Sadly we watched from the quay as our nautical home disappeared, until the very tip of the mast was gone.  I guess someone pulled the plug out.  It wasn’t me. 

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Avocado With Everything

In which UberGrumpy is unimpressed by innovative cuisine.

London. Rain. Work. Three reasons for a bad mood. To cheer up, I hit my favourite breakfast place. Their cosmic Eggs Benedict is worth travelling for. Or at least it was.  I look at the menu. It’s gone.  We now have Avocado Benedict.  And Avocado Florentine, and Avocado BLT, or for those on a diet, Avocado on Toast.

So what’s Avocado Benedict?  Apparently the eggs and Hollandaise are still there, but they’ve innovated by adding avocado.  Innovated.  I don’t want innovation, I want Eggs Benedict. But the teenage hipster smugbag waiter insists: It’s excellent, sir.  Our clients love it.  I order it.  It comes. It’s revolting. The offending mush is hidden, lurking under the eggs. I forget it’s there, and cop a big mouthful.  Yuck.  It’s as bad as when I discovered that Anusol is not toothpaste, the hard way.  (I had a similar surprise discovering Colgate Superminty Gel wasn’t the soothing ointment I expected, but let’s save that, for a post not about food).

How did avocados get so ubiquitous?  Cash in your life savings and buy one, cut it open; it’s an inedible green rock with a harder rock in the centre.  Leave it to ripen. Finally, it’s good for fifteen minutes, when it’s the colour and texture of mid-flu bogey, and then it instantly turns to black mush infested with little black flies.  What’s wrong with a nice apple? Eh?

Back when ‘avocado’ mostly meant the colour of your bathroom suite, Mrs G and I used to serve them as exotic starters at our sophisticated London soirees.  We would cut them in half, remove the stone, and serve them with Worcester Sauce in the resultant hole.  It sure got the conversation going amongst the Crouch End glitterati.  What were these strange fruits? Would they ever catch on?  Where’s the toilet?  Etc etc.

And now they’re everywhere.   Virgin Trains recently had problems with their Railcard system, so they started accepting avocados as railcards.  Seriously.  What next?  Gin and avocadoAvocado massage oil?  See what I mean?

Anyway, back to my Avocado Benedict.  Eggs Benedict should have a muffin under it.  This has a brioche bun.  WTF?  Did I ask for a brioche bun?  No! Take it away! And do I want one with my burger? No!  If I want brioche, I’ll move to France and put up with the taxes and armpit hair.  I’m in Blighty and I want a sesame bun. All right?

And I want it off a plate, not a shovel or a hubcap or a plank.  And do I want my chips congealing in a cutesy wire basket?  Do I want a cup of shaving foam instead of a coffee?  Did I ask you to take my gluten out?  Why’s my sugar all brown?  Where’s that prawn cocktail when you want it?

Time to fight back. Nouveau cuisine, chez moi, sans avocado. A quick cupboard check reveals Twiglets, bourbon biscuits, baked beans, lard, glace cherries1, and a can of Vimto. I reckon I could knock up a sort of savoury Black Forest Gateau. Innovation?  I’ll give ‘em innovation. Who's in?

1 - Sell-by date: October 1986. They might be mildly alcoholic

Friday, 16 March 2018

How To Do Sex

In which UberGrumpy, against his better judgement, reveals the intimate details of his love life.

Mrs G and I have been together for umpty-nine years now, and we are often asked what our secret is. Well, I cannot tell a lie1; it begins and ends in the bedroom department. Over the years we have picked up a vast range of techniques and tips, and it only seems fair to share them. Herewith then: my top super-sexy six.

1. Make time for each other

We all have busy lives, so it’s crucial to make time for romance. A regular date night is just the ticket. After long deliberation, Mrs G and I have settled on April 12th. It’s warm out by then, so the electric blanket is off, and the cricket season hasn’t started, so no distractions; perfect. I can hardly wait, and judging by the twinkle in her eye, neither can she.

2. Respect your partner

A healthy sex life is all about give and take; learn to recognise the signs. If Mrs G has her curlers in, or her Kindle out, it’s no-no Nanette. Likewise, if England are playing Australia in a nail-biting five-day test match, or I have reached level nine of Temple Run on the iPad without getting killed, it’s best not to interrupt my concentration. Otherwise, anything goes!

3. The TV is your friend

Don’t underestimate the erotic power of the silver screen. There is a vast array of exciting and exotic entertainment out there. Once again, it’s vital to take your partner’s wishes into account; for Mrs G, it’s anything with Denis Quaid, even the old stuff where he wears flares. For me, Test Match Special has a tantric, mysterious and long-lasting effect. Just go with it.

4. Variety is the spice of life

There are many ways to be intimate, and life reveals more as you go on. With Mrs G and me, oral has become a big thing; it’s excellent. You can indulge whilst going for a walk, or sharing a packet of Twiglets, or waiting for a train, or doing the washing up, or mowing the lawn, although it can be a bit distracting in Sainsburys, even if you do go sotto voce.   Occasionally we will have a go while I am upstairs in my office, and Mrs G is in the garden, although the dangers here are a sore throat, and vexed neighbours, particularly if you get carried away.

5. You’re never too old for toys

Mix it up! There is an amazing range of toys available for sophisticated couples. Our particular favourites are Ker-plunk!, although you have to be a bit careful with the needles, and Travel Scrabble, as there are useful pegs to stop the tiles falling out.

6. Location, location, location

Don’t be afraid to get down to business in exotic places. I don’t want to confess too much; I’ll just say living room; garden shed; loft2. (Not the back passage though, as that’s where I keep the wheelbarrow.) Also, here’s a top tip from personal experience; avoid the airing cupboard. At least while the immersion heater is on. Phew!

There you go! Surprising eh? There’s heaps more, obviously, but I had better let discretion be the better part of valour. And all this writing has got me feeling quite frisky. Roll on, April 12th! Roll on!

1 – That’s a whopper, for a start. Expect some more
2 – Be careful; the insulation is quite itchy

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Why I Don’t Own A Dog

In which UberGrumpy gets a lodger. Or does he?

So Mrs G and I have a new lodger, Colin.  Colin is a boisterous young feller and a great pleasure to have around the house; always friendly and cheerful, never a harsh word for anyone, easy-going and amenable, always up for a bit of exercise.  But we’re conflicted about Colin. Why, you might ask?

Well, there is the odd drawback.  Colin pays no rent.  In fact, we had to pay to get him to come.  We also pay for his food, drink, medicines, shampoo, toys (he likes toys), transportation, bedding and redecoration (he is surprisingly messy).  He’s very willing to eat leftovers, including bones, which helps, but he is apparently eternally hungry.  Youngsters eh?  We were told he’d sleep anywhere, even in the kitchen, but in fact Colin is only really happy when he’s in our bed with us.  Which is a novelty.

His conversation turns out to be very limited; we talk to him endlessly but replies are at best monosyllabic, and we’re beginning to think Colin doesn’t understand as much as his eager expression would indicate.  He does fetch stuff, like shoes, and sticks, but it’s all a bit random to be honest. He also drools copiously on fetched things, so opening the post has become a bit of an ordeal.

Colin is also, alas, a stranger to plumbing.  He never takes a shower, and is quite smelly.  You get used to this, we’re told, but boy, does he hum.1 We left him a toothbrush but he hasn’t used it; hasn’t even opened the box, although he has chewed it. Worst of all, he can’t use the loo.  To be fair, he mostly waits to go outside for a poo.  Mostly.2 But once Colin’s out, he’s pretty brazen about where he goes.  He seems to positively enjoy it.  As for toilet paper? Forget it. He doesn’t even attempt to wipe.

Watching TV in the evening has become an embarrassing affair; Colin enjoys an hour or so of Netflix but then he gets distracted, and to our dismay, has taken to pleasuring himself on the rug, regardless of who’s in the house.  I’ve never seen my poor old Mum blush so profoundly.   In his defence, he is quite extraordinarily flexible.  I am quite envious.  Blowing your own trumpet takes on a whole new meaning.

So all in all, life with Colin has got a bit problematic.  But we are undaunted, and will stick with him.  After all, Colin is for life.  Not just for Christmas.

(And for the avoidance of doubt, Colin is a complete fabrication. But you get the point. Right?)

1 - This is possibly made worse by his habit of rolling on other lodgers’ poo; that is, when he isn’t trying to hump other lodgers when we are out for a walk.
2 – Unless we fail to open the front door by 5:30 a.m., in which case it’s poomageddon all over the kitchen

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Swearing For England

In which UberGrumpy's kids impress him mightily with their vast arsenal of juicy cussin' words.

A pub in Greenwich; a pleasant dinner with the kids. It’s a traditional family meal, i.e., I am paying.

The wine and conversation flow freely. We get around to TV. I have been watching Charlie Brooker's jolly good "Black Mirror" series recently. What does everyone think? We all share a positive opinion, which is a relief, as strong opinions abound in this family, and sparks can fly. For now, familial harmony reigns.

 Until, that is, I casually mention that I think the overwhelmingly sweary dialogue often gets in the way of the plot.

Warning: from now on this post, necessarily, turns a bit blue. To save your blushes, I substitute the words “Farage” and “Corbyn” for you-know-what.

“For Farage’s sake,” pipes up no.1 daughter. “Your generation. Honestly. We don’t even notice the odd Farage. Brooker may be a bit of a Corbyn, but he writes a Faraging good story, so who cares if the language gets a bit colourful? I think I’ll have the Chateaubriand1.”

No.2 son chimes in. “Too Faraging right. You guys are Faragewits in this department. Get into the 21st century, and catch up with the rest of the Faraging world, I say. Let’s have some more wine.” (It’s a snip at £32 a bottle).

And now, the plot thickens; we introduce euphemisms "sherbet" and "Crunchie" for their scatological four-letter cousins.

“Don’t be a sherbethead,” retorts no. 1 son to no. 2 son. “That’s a load of Faraging Crunchie. It’s not your generation, it’s just those two.” He gives us some advice. “You should stop reading the Faraging Daily Mail for a start. It’s written by Corbyns, and is a pile of Crunchie and full of bullsherbet. Try the foie gras, it’s Faraging splendid.”

“Neither of us have ever read the Daily Mail, and watch your language,” points out Mrs G, sensitive to the wide-eyed old ladies at the next table, but her voice is lost in the din of battle.

Say hello to "Twiglet", standing in for a word which begins like, well, Twiglet, and rhymes with flat.

No. 2 son defends himself, and us, after a fashion. “Sherbethead yourself, Twigletfeatures. Everyone over the age of twenty-seven has their head up their arsenic2. It’s not their fault, it’s just how they were brought up, the poor Twiglets. Thatcher’s3 children.”

They’re right of course. We are hopelessly out of date. The bill comes, and it seems quite dear. We’re in a pub. Should I add a tip?

No. 1 daughter heartily slaps me on the back. “Of course you should,” she advises. “Get with it, Dad. This isn’t Faraging 1983.”


1 - OK, this is not true. She’s a vegetarian.
2 - Take a wild guess.
3 - This is not a cussword, this is someone’s name.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

The Last Jedi? That’s A Relief

In which Mrs G Unexpectedly Goes Off Star Wars.

Mrs G likes a trip to the talkies, and I am a sucker for celluloid aliens. So we have a regular date. Every time a Star Wars film comes out, I book a couple of tickets. Hang the expense!  Bugger the waistline! I say, and round off the treat with some Maltesers and Twiglets, plus, if we’re feeling saucy, a bucket of Fanta, with two straws. I know how to show a girl a good time.

(Actually, I don’t get the cinema. Why pay a fortune to sit surrounded by a roomful of numpties with loud mobile phones, even more loud mobile children, sweets (rustle rustle), coughs, large hats, short attention spans, and flatulence?  I generally wait for ye olde DVD, and watch at home. Need a wee? Simply hit “pause”. Better than enduring the walk of shame from row G, and missing the best bit, right? At about a fifth of the price.)

But Mrs G likes an outing, and nightclubs are soooo 20161. So: the flicks for us. The show begins at 4:15. We take our seats at 4:15. Suckers! A full half hour of insipid advertising, and my God it’s dull. Whatever happened to good ads? You know, Happiness is a Cigar Called Hamlet? Flake? Lynx? No such luck. By the time they’re done, Mrs G’s head is drooping, and the Twiglets are gone, apart from the one I dropped2.

At last the film starts. Blue writing fills the screen: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...” and then DIDDLY-DAH! DA DUM DEE DUM DAD DUM DEE DAAAAH, and yellow writing scrolling up, and ooh, the adrenaline kicks in, and all the Tenalady and Hyundai adverts are fading into the past. This is going to be good.

I have a strategy for watching Star Wars. Suspend your disbelief, and your critical faculties; ignore the plot, characters, denouement, struggle between good and evil, etc etc, as they are basically the same for every episode. Just sit back, and soak up the Dolby whizzbangs, gargantuan spaceships, swordfights and wacky aliens; pass a couple of dopey hours in a Malteser-fuelled haze. All too soon it’s over. Out we go. I’m happy. I haven’t noticed it wasn’t very good.

“What did you think?” I ask innocently. Big mistake.

“Well,” she says. “Well. Not too keen, actually.”

“Why?” Second big mistake.

(I should point out there are big SPOILERS from here on in, but why bother? The entire planet has already seen it twice, and besides, how can you spoil something this predictable?)

She launches in. “When did Luke Skywalker become such a wimp? Why did they spend hours on that stupid island? What was with the interminable space pursuit? They couldn’t catch up? Seriously? Why is the goodies’ ship commanded by a load of old ladies? What were those stupid ice dogs? Where did Snoke come from anyway? Didn’t they kill off the Evil Emperor? Why is Kylo Ren such a big-nosed poutylips? And why do the guns just get bigger and bigger?”

And so on. “You hated it all, then?” I ask.

“No. I quite liked the naughty pilot.”

“Come on,” I insist. “Skywalker turns up at the end and saves the rebels with a Force projection across light-years? Subterfuge, tension, drama, and a tender reunion? Eh? Eh?”

“Ah,” she says. “I was asleep for that bit.”

Uh-huh. Next time, we’re buying the DVD.

1 - 1983, actually, if we’re quibbling.
2 - I did try and find it, but there are a lot of Twiglets on the floor, and I’m not sure which one is mine. Quite tempted by the popcorn though.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Oh no! It’s Christmas

In which Ubergrumpy goes Christmas shopping. And gets it wrong. Again.

Don’t get me wrong; I like the Festive Season. I like the goodwill-to-all-men stuff1, and the excuse to put your diet on hold, and ample free booze from the neighbours, and limitless Twiglets, and mistletoe (mmwah! WaHAAY!), and the shiny lights, etc etc.

It’s the shopping I hate.

The problem, you see, is Mrs G. She has three traits which are highly desirable in one’s spouse for most of the year. One: She’s a contented sort of person, and doesn’t want much. Two: She already has at least one of everything anyway. Three: She’s a tasteful person, and prefers things like, oh, underwear, and earrings, to be just so.

Which throws me into a flat spin come the day when I can’t put it off any more, and must start shopping.2

I start in the Debenhams lingerie department, naturally, to take the Annual Walk of Shame. Emboldened by the herd of sheepish-looking blokes in there with me, I ought to be a bit more brazen (“What size Sir? Well, about yours, actually”) but I become mesmerized by all the loopy bits and lacy doodads, and lose the ability to speak. I eventually stumble out of the shop about an hour later, clutching a nice new wallet, for me.

(Actually, here’s a top tip. I am quite tempted to take last year’s pink-and-purple Elastane-and-Lycra four-part lingerie set out of Mrs G’s top secret drawer, and wrap it up again. I don’t think she’d notice. It’s never been worn. She hasn’t even read the manual.)

Several more shops prove equally hopeless. Body Shop? I dunno, but I think Aloe Vera and Ginger may chafe the skin, so I pass. Whittards? She already has eighteen teapots. White Stuff? Rubbish! She likes colourful things. And so on.

Eventually, in desperation, I hit the Winchester Christmas market. If you haven’t been, imagine ninety posh wooden sheds stuck behind a big church, then add half the population of Hartlepool. There’s very tempting stuff on sale, but I can’t get near any of it. Even the queue for the mulled wine is halfway back to Debenhams.

Home again then, and on to the Interwebnet. Hmmm. How about a new wacky corkscrew? “As seen on TV”, it says. Eh? I see my MP on TV most days but I’m not about to wrap him up and put him under the tree, am I? I pass.

But a couple of hours later, I’ve ordered some stuff. Job done? No. Because now, you have to wait for the deliveries. I swear delivery guys hover outside your front door, listening for a flushing sound before whipping out their bloody ‘We tried to deliver but you were out’ cards. So: I emerge from the loo to find three such cards on the doormat. I was only taking a pee. I didn’t even stop to wash my hands, dammit.

I give up. It’s about time we rejected all this distasteful commercial pressure, and returned to the true spirit of Christmas. Mrs G, this year, I give the gift of love, and this post. And a Terry’s Chocolate Orange.

After all, it’s the thought that counts.

1 - Why just men? Ah ha! I quite like the fact that Christmas is a bit sexist too.
2 - Often known as ‘Christmas Eve’.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Slightly sinful in Singapore

In which Ubergrumpy breaks the rules, and ends up in hot water

You probably know that sellng chewing gum is illegal in Singapore (fine: S$100,000). You may not know other things are forbidden; Feeding Pigeons (S$500), Walking Around Naked (S$2,000), Singing Obscene Songs (3 months in sing-sing), Annoying People With A Musical Instrument (S$1,000), and so on. The Walking Around Naked rule actually includes your own house. I didn't check on Walking On Cracks In The Pavement, or Wearing A Loud Shirt In A Built-up Area, but I bet they're frowned on too.

 Which has left me feeling a tad rebellious. Not that I'm proposing a nude banjo-backed rendition of Anarchy in the UK while feeding Juicy Fruit to pigeons in the Botanic Gardens; but it's so delicious to break the rules. Just a bit.

 Be careful though. Caught littering three times? Pick up trash weekly, wearing a bib saying "I am a litterer." (You'll struggle, mind, because there isn't any to pick up.) Graffiti? Caning. Drugs? Death. Blimey. I took all my Imodium on the plane in, just in case. Bonus: the Failing To Flush A Public Toilet rule (S$150) is unlikely to affect me.

 I miss an early opportunity for rebellion. We are staying with Mrs G's little sis and hubby, who treat us to a sumptuous dinner in a swanky rooftop place. No Twiglets here. Dress code: long trousers. I obey. But there are three guys there brazenly and blatantly flouting the rules in shorts. Buccaneers or what! But the meal, view, and company are top-notch, so I mellow out. My turn will come.

 And then little sis takes us on a walking tour of notable Singapore neighbourhoods. It's not all high-rise and superpowered here; there are elegant streets from a bygone era, now protected by the government, and very desirable, so colossally expensive. Little sis knows a byzantine route that takes in the best of them; but she likes to move quickly, and she is French, so crosses the road where she will. Whoosh! Ooh la la!

 In other words, little sis is a world-class jaywalker (S$2,000). This is cool. Vive la revolution!

I quickly learn an unwritten Singapore rule; the more your vehicle is worth, the worse you drive. Since even a Toyota Hybrid Roller-skate costs as much as a small house in Basingstoke, the average standard is, well, bracing. And on our walk the vehicles are premium. In the first hour I am almost run over by a Rolls-Royce, a Ferrari, and a Maserati. What a way to go!

 It's a mighty workout, but we eventually find ourselves back at little sis's, in perfect time for lunch (did I mention that she's French?). First, a well-earned shower. Off with the sweaty kit, but I close the curtains first. Wouldn't want to offend the neighbours.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The Worst Hotel in the World

In which we learn that Vietnamese scooters are nippier than they look.

At the outset I should mention that the Vietnamese currency is called the Dong. In the hands of some, this may be an excuse for a stream of puerile jokes, but I shall rise above all that. Any double entendre is all in your mind, you pervert.

So: Mrs G and I are on Con Dao island, arranged at short notice. We scrambled to book a couple of different hotels. Hotel One was a delight. We've died and gone to heaven. Two blissed-out days, food, service, comfort, for about half the cost of the Eastleigh Econolodge.

And then we check into Hotel Two. 

They put our back up early, by insisting on being paid in cash. This puts a severe strain on my Dong right away. But, determined to enjoy my hols, I swallow my pride and follow the chain-smoking attendant to our deluxe beach view room. He throws my bag at the door, and after hovering briefly in the vain hope of some Dong, naffs off.

We use the plumbing, as one does. The plastic piping is all joined with electrical tape, so we're happy to know we won't be electrocuted by the taps. It's spectacularly leaky though; with that and the yellow water, personal hygiene might be a bit of a challenge for a day or two. Luckily Mrs G stole all the wet wipes from the plane on the way in. (If you've never cleaned your teeth with a wet wipe, you haven't lived.)

To be fair, there are some plus points to the room. The ashtray is empty, if not entirely clean; the mysterious brown stains on the sheet are at the foot end; there are sufficient lizards to handle the cockroaches; the wardrobe charmingly evokes an earlier era, when Formica was new; the fridge motor drowns out the pneumatic drills and the barking from the beach (of which more, anon). I plug in the thoughtfully-provided bedside lamp and blow the electrics. Kapow! Never a dull moment.

Ever cheerful, Mrs G pulls out my Dong and helps herself. "I'm off to the beach for lunch," she says, "coming?" We triple lock everything, clasp our valuables to our bosom, pack up the Twiglets, and head out. It's a short stroll to the beach. Intriguingly, where the neighbouring hotel has loungers, our beachfront has dog cages. The dogs look friendly enough so they are probably just mistreated pets, as opposed to, say, lunch.

We find a patch of sand free of rubble and plastic bottles, and pausing only to blow away loose cigarette ends and cotton buds, plonk ourselves down. Crikey, it's hot. I check my Dong for any signs of spontaneous combustion. We consider a swim but given the suspicious-looking pipes heading into the sea, think better of it.

Time for a getaway. We rent a motorbike. The rental lady scorns my proffered Dong; hard currency only. Twelve dollars and thirty seconds of perfunctory training in Vietnamese, and I am in the saddle! Oh yeah. I rev her up, run straight into a flowerbed, and fall off. Luckily I am carrying my wallet, and my Dong absorbs much of the impact. Thank goodness for my helmet. The hotel staff gather to pick me up, and oh, how we laugh.

Once the double vision subsides, and the blood is dry, we take to the road. The island's a hilly 'un, but with Mrs on pillion, and Dong by the million, what could go wrong?

Saturday, 11 November 2017

How not to travel, Vietnam style

In which Mrs G loses her credit card, and UberGrumpy loses his cool

The week's scheduled visit to lovely Hoi An is off. Disaster struck, not once, but twice; a record-breaking cyclone removed the beach, and most of our hotel's roof; and worse still, Donald Trump is due to visit.

Luckily, politicos we ain't, and Mrs G and I love a good U-turn. Mrs G quickly researches Plan B; would a trip to lovely Con Dao island suit? Oh yeah! Book it! It'll squeeze the budget, but you only live once, right?

Hotel first; Con Dao is easily sorted, but we need one more night here in Ho Chi Minh city. We enquire; the place is mobbed because Donald Trump is in town. Only their Silver Suite is left. We book it. They add more hidden extras than you'd get on a busload of ladyboys. More budget squeeze, but no worries; who needs, say, booze when you're high on the atmosphere?

On to book flights. Mrs G finds the airline site a bit odd, with its adverts for casinos, fake watches and opium dens, and lurid offers to upgrade to massage class, all in dubious English. It can't be a scam, though, decides Mrs G, it's on a computer, and there are pictures of aeroplanes. She submits personal and payment details with gay abandon.

Of course it's a bloody scam. The tickets fail to arrive. Their phone goes unanswered. At about this time the credit card company helpfully shitcans our card. Oh how we laugh. It's cash, cash, cash from now on, with a 5% hit every time we use an ATM. That'll hit the budget; but no worries, as I have a good supply of Twiglets and Mentos, and we weren't planning on eating out.

But we are not easily daunted. Setting off for the airport ludicrously early, we find our booked ticket is indeed non-existent. Time to buy another one then. The helpful ticket lady suggests an earlier flight at 9:30. It's 8:37. A bit tight? No, she laughs, and starts typing. Same-day travel being a bit costly, the budget takes another mighty hit, but hey! Mrs G has some nice clothes we can probably sell.

Ten minutes and a lot of cash later, we queue at check-in. 8:54, and we head to security. There is a line about a mile long. Mrs G goes into action and hustles us to the front in true Colonial style. But the nice policeman spots that instead of "Grumpy, Uber", my boarding pass says "Grumpy, British". They've typed my name in wrong. Back you go, English pigs. 9:01.

Five minutes later we are back at check-in. They correct the boarding pass and a chastened airline lady helps us past the security line and back to the nice policeman. Luckily the full strip-down body search is pretty efficient and we are through! 9:18. Ignoring our sore bottoms, we run to the gate and yes! We've made it. 9:27.

Con Dao, here we come! I hope they like buskers. We're going to need some cash.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Dubai 7, Britain 0

I am a simple chap who likes a simple life. You know, pipe, slippers, Twiglets, that sort of thing. Mrs G, by contrast, is a restless soul, and has dragged me off to foreign parts again. “Stuff The Isle of Wight,” she said, “take me somewhere exotic. And I don’t mean bloody France either.” This from a Frenchwoman; so I knew she meant business. Either I maxed the plastic, or the monthly conjugals would be withheld indefinitely.

 Off we went then. Asia beckoned. Who to go with? Given that the World’s Favourite Airline now only offers comfortable legroom to infants, midgets, contortionists and amputees, we looked elsewhere. And found: Emirates! Being eco-warriors, we offset our vast carbon footprint by not mowing the lawn for a month, and we booked ‘em. Courtesy of colossal oil subsidies (oh the irony), their planes are fat and new and roomy, and they still offer life’s little luxuries, like flushing toilets, mostly sober aircrew, and fresh sick bags every flight, used or not.

 One drawback though. They all stop in Dubai. Mrs G and I stopped here on a previous re-colonisation of the Antipodes, and thought a three-day layover a good wheeze. Well it wasn’t. Unless you like shopping, a class system that puts Victorian England to shame, shopping, heat, shopping, sand, Chavs on rollercoasters, shopping, hotels you can’t afford, shopping, conferences for people richer than you, and shopping, it’s a vacuous, empty, soulless place. Think strip mall America, plus Disneyland, stuck in the middle of the Sahara. On the bright side, though, shopping is quite good. 

However, credit where it’s due. They sure can build stuff. Forty years ago Dubai was a creek, without a paddle; you couldn’t buy a coffee, let alone today’s haute couture and hauter cuisine at hautest prices. Wind forward to today. Dubai now boasts the world’s tallest pointless building, the only ski-slope in a shopping mall (how's that for carbon footprint?), artificial Islands shaped like palm trees, and a seven-star hotel shaped like a mighty sail. Crikey.

 We did visit the tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. We are lowly folk, so only paid one fortune to get to the 125th floor at midday. (You can upgrade to higher floors and/or sunset with more goodies for more cash, a la Dubai). But 125 is quite high enough, thank you. You’d be just as dead if you fell off. 

As for that palm-shaped island, don’t even think about visiting unless you have booked an overpriced restaurant, theme park, shopping experience, or hotel; otherwise, like us, you will pay for the train to take you out there (several classes of carriage available), disembark, then wander confusedly around a car park before taking the next train back. Oh how we laughed.

And then there’s the airport, where we are now. While Britain’s spineless politicos have argued about a new runway for Heathrow or Gatwick, Dubai has built seven. SEVEN. The international airport is so vast that the maps include the curvature of the earth. Probably. There is a lot of shopping. There is a whole separate business class airport, above the aspiring common folk, but constantly in their face, obviously. If you’ve got it, flaunt it.

 I could go on, but we have to hustle. Our flight leaves in two hours; we are at gate A3, and have to make our way to gate H308, or something. We will try to resist the tempting shopping. And like Hansel and Gretel, we will leave a trail of torn-up receipts and duty-free samples, in case we need to retrace our steps. Wish us luck.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Lemsip and Netflix

Manflu struck the grumpy household last week. It was pretty nasty, as you can imagine. But no problem! We have a well established routine when this happens.

Mrs G is immune, being a) indestructible and b) not a man, so she simply fills her diary with extra yoga, pottery, cello, and days out with her Fancy Man, so she can avoid my whining and sniffling. She does look after me though; before she disappears for a week, she leaves a cheery note, a new Sinex, and six tins of Heinz chicken soup by the marital bed.

My routine? I simply fall off my perch, and confine myself to said bed, dosing up with lozenges, linctus, and Lucozade. I then stare at the ceiling for days, or when I’m feeling better, watch daytime TV. You know, stuff like ‘Pebble Mill at One’1.

Except this time is different. This time, we have Netflix.

When healthy I don’t watch much telly, so am behind with viewing. I borrowed a box set of ‘Breaking Bad’ a year ago and haven’t started it yet. But when feeling ropey, what better distraction than to load up old episodes of something?

So - what to watch? Nothing too taxing for my snottified brain. Hmmm. I always liked ‘Star Trek’ with its cool sixties vibe, Captain Kirk holding his belly in, Scotty’s preposterous accent (‘She cannae take it cap’n!), and seductive alien ladies in weeny dresses. But above all, I liked Mr Spock with his excellent ears and unflappable emotionless logic, which failed him every other episode, to great dramatic effect.

But I’ve seen all of them. Perhaps something similar?

Enter ‘Enterprise’. A prequel, with more or less the same plots, but better special effects. Give it a try, I thought. And it’s a winner! They still have quirky characters and bonkers aliens, with a doctor who is a quirky character AND a bonkers alien, but this time, they also have a secret weapon. They have t’Pol.

T’Pol, like Mr Spock, is a Vulcan2. But t’Pol is a Vulcan lady. Not only does she have pointy ears, but she also has a very well-developed pair of personality. And Vulcans being super-efficient, she has determined that wasteful cloth is superfluous, so it’s only logical to wear a skintight costume with no underwear. Moreover, whenever the crew visit a planet, they have to decontaminate afterwards by rubbing each other down with E45 cream in a hi-tech sauna. Splendid! It takes me fifteen episodes to decide I like it.

All too soon manflu wears off, and I’m better. No more ‘Enterprise’ for UberGrumpy. Except now and again, when I'm feeling nostalgic, I might sneak one. Eighty-five episodes to go...

1 - If you don't remember Pebble Mill At One, then you are too young to be reading this blog. Off you go.
2 – All Vulcans these days have names with apostrophes, although they’re not Irish, it’s an alien thing; they don’t tend to be called e.g. O’Malley.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Livin' It Large On The Isle Of Wight


The authentic IOW experience begins the moment we step onto the Red Funnel ferry. In holiday mood we climb to the sun deck, only to hit a solid wall of fug from the chain-smoking Netto lorry drivers who, taking advantage of the Island’s relaxed drink-driving policy, are downing pints and vodka chasers with gusto, and singing songs about Old Poland. It’s 9:15.

Retreating below, we relish the atmosphere, thick with chipfat and salad cream from yesteryear’s crossings. This is the life! Nostalgia or what? Enthused, Mrs G scores us a coffee. “Two flat whites, please,” she asks politely. “Fiw-uh or la-ay,”1 drones the scowling inbred tattooed vacant sickly halfwit behind the bar. One colossal, cash-only payment later, and we take our “coffee” and Twiglets back to the formica and leatherette “lounge” to while away the crossing.

“Island roads are different!”, warned the poster on the ferry, and it’s true! Ten minutes from the terminal we are stuck behind a mobility scooter with an ‘I saw Hendrix in ‘73’ bumper sticker. He is refusing to go round the smouldering remains of a Netto lorry. We wait for the jolly bobbies to run up and arrest everyone, then follow a combine harvester to our holiday home.

An hour or two later we step out into the delightful countryside. We don’t see much for the first mile or so, as we have to concentrate to avoid the dogpats2, and youths on stolen mopeds, but soon we are walking, following our noses3, free and easy on Britain’s Sunshine Island.

I have invented an IOW game which you can play if you get bored hiking here. It’s called Spot The Islander. Greet everyone you see with a friendly wave, then observe. Fellow tourists will wave back, perhaps sharing a word or two. Recent Island émigrés will mumble or look away. But native Islanders will scowl or swear, or both, and set their dog on you. Never fails.

We have a whole week of such delights. People say that to visit the IOW is to return to the Seventies but this is doing it an injustice. In fact it has moved with the times, keeping a little of each decade; we have Sixties architecture, Seventies service, Eighties decor, Nineties music, and a Noughties economy, all blended with bang-up-to-date eye-watering prices. It’s a unique and heady mix, and it’s over all too soon.

On the return ferry we ponder: will we return next year? I fear not. We may only be able to afford Mallorca, or Jamaica. But we’ll be back. It’s in the blood. We’ll be back.

1 - Meaning "Filter or latte". The letter 't' has made many valiant, but unsuccessful, attempts to cross the Solent
2 - Dogpats are like cowpats; just as big, dropped from a great height by a vast canine. They're like poo landmines.
3 - And holding them. Those dogpats pack a punch

Thursday, 5 October 2017

The Big G Diet

I lost a fair bit of weight over the summer. I went from ‘attractively cuddly’ to ‘svelte if you squint’, practically overnight, so I am quite pleased with myself. I have been repeatedly asked for my secret. “UberGrumpy,” they say, “you look thin. Are you ill?”

Pretty good eh? And the best thing is, dieting is easy! Just follow these simple steps:

1. Eat less. The best way to do this is by skipping breakfast, which is easiest if you sleep in until about 11:30. Keep emergency Twiglets by the bed if you’re peckish. They contain no calories and may be consumed without guilt, although, alas, Mrs G won’t kiss me in the mornings these days.

2. When you forget things, forget them upstairs. I lose my iPad, phone, glasses and wife about fifteen times a day. Now, I simply lose them in the bedroom, so I have to pop upstairs to recover them. Burn those calories!

3. Never, ever, go to a ‘gym’. This is a big sweaty room filled with medieval torture instruments operated by people who look better than you ever will. Any visit inevitably leads to an immediate trip to Costa, where you will eat chocolate cake to dispel the despondency. Trust me on this one.

4. Keep your beer on the floor. The benefit is threefold here: You have to lift it a long way to get it to your lips, using up energy; you occasionally forget where it is and go upstairs to find it (see 2.); and you often knock it over, thus reducing your consumption.1

5. When you eat out, choose a MONSTER HOT curry. That way, you won’t be able to finish it, and what you do manage will whip through your digestive tract like the Eurostar through the Channel Tunnel, liquefying body fat along the way. Effortless! Avoid the rice. And the naan. Cobra is OK (see 4.)

6. Exercise whilst cleaning your teeth. I do the yoga-tastic tree pose (upper mandible = left leg, lower mandible = right leg).2 Be careful not to fall over though, as the ole’ toothbrush may get rammed painfully into your tonsils.

7. Do some other exercise. You know, running and stuff.

That’s all there is to it! Inspired? Do you want to know more? Buy my forthcoming book ‘Lose Weight The Grumpy Way’. In all good bookshops3 by Christmas. Probably.

1 - Put a large piece of lino around your favourite TV chair to avoid carpet spills.
2 - Don't know how? Easy; just try and get one of your heels between your buttocks.
3 - And some rubbish ones

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Grumpy Meets His Waterloo. And his Clapham Junction

I may come over like an idle bugger, but now and then work rears its ugly head1. Hence today: I head to the heart of the sprawling metropolis, and being a public-spirited citizen, I take the train. The service is run by South Western Railway. Never heard of them? Why, they are none other than SouthWest Trains who have rebranded at humongous expense, which is why my ticket costs as much as a small car.

I take the 9:19 (no you can't use your discount Railcard, sucker, off-peak hours are between 2 and 3:15 p.m. every other Friday2). I sit in the Quiet Zone, which means everyone is yelling into their mobile phone, so they can hear over the heavy metal being pumped into their shell-like ears via their high-output iPod or whatever.

At Winchester, home of the famous cathedral, and rifle, some bloke sits in front of me. He has overwhelming BO and sniffs loudly every five seconds. Sniff. Sniff. Sniff... The malodorous booger-fest continues all the way to Waterloo, where we arrive ten minutes late, as usual. Grrr.

Instead of taking the tube, I walk, to calm down. Good call, and good meeting; lots of coffee, startlingly fattening biscuits, and a great deal of splendid talking. You know the sort of thing.

Home again, home again, lickety split, and we finish early so I get to Waterloo for a train about 4:30 p.m. It's mobbed. I wander to the front of the train, which is so long I feel I should get a discount for walking part of the way home, and find one of the last few seats, at a table, with the seat facing mine empty! Bliss!

Ten seconds before we leave, and someone runs through the door and flops into the empty seat. It's the SAME BLOKE who sat in front of me on the way up. Yes, Mr SniffSmell. What a coincidence! Oh how I laughed. And he turns out to be MR. SniffSmellHalitosis. Luckily I am sitting near the toilet, so the fumes from that overpower his awful breath, and armpits.

I think about a refreshing pick-me-up on the train but, quelle surprise, there is no trolley service due to staff shortages. Strangely enough someone still turns up to check tickets though. No early G and T for you UberGrumpy. So, I get home3 at last, thirsty, and exhausted from trying to hold my breath for over an hour, but am I downhearted? No! I find myself not so much irritated, as amazed. Some people do this every day. Every single day. How do they do it?

So this post is for you, commuters of England. I salute you. I salute your fortitude, your tolerance, your patience, your willingness to spend your hard-earned wealth on third-rate public transport, your capacious bladder4, your diminished sense of smell, your high-quality noise-suppressing headphones5, but above all, I salute your stoic sense of humour. Well, you have to laugh, right?

1 - Every bloody day actually. Sigh
2 - If there's an R in the month
3 - Ten minutes late
4 - Obviously. Have you tried using a train loo? Yuck
5 - Probably

Friday, 22 September 2017

Damp in Dingle (with dolphins)

The Grump team are pretty pumped at the prospect of schlepping over from Dublin to Dingle for a beer-soaked birthday bash. Ireland! Practically neighbours! First visit! Why have we never been?

Because it's at the end of the freaking universe, is why. Having taken forever to rent a tiny car at astronomical cost (we're just washing it for you, sorr) we then drove for about a week until we hit the fearsome Conor Pass into Dingle. Think Mordor in a rented Renault, with sheep.

Descending at last, out of clouds into torrential rain, we found the place full of an army of sodden runners limping along the seafront. Hundreds of them. WTF?

Urgent research was needed. Pausing only to check into Craggy Island (more of this anon) we hit one of the thousands of pubs. The briefest of inquiries revealed the answer: we had arrived at the tail-end of the Dingle marathon.

Now, in UberGrumpy's book, the only good time to turn up for a marathon is after it's just finished. But the whole place smelt of sweat, and trainers. We had to hold our nose to appreciate Guinness Pint #11; pretty good though. By Guinness Pint #4, with a band turning up, we stopped minding the malodorous fitness fanatics hogging the bar. Pint #7, and we were positively hugging them. Ew.

But all good things come to an end, and so did the band (ahem). Bidding a fond farewell to our new pungent pals, we lurched off to our AirBnB. The Father Ted house itself. You've seen Father Ted, right? OK, maybe not THE house, but oh so close. The rank runners had raced into all the best spots, leaving us Craggy Island. It had a woodburner ('do not use for your safety') and an open fire, with an aloe vera plant in it to prevent it being used. Luckily we had real glass windows, and fascinating religious paraphernalia to distract you from the frostbite. Even the blankets were holey (geddit?)2

August in Ireland eh? Brrrr. Snuggle up Mrs G.

Day 2, and the ole' spirits were a little down, what with the hangover, the hypothermia, the hurricane, and the lingering scent of athlete. So lured by the promise of dolphins, we ventured onto the water. This being a windy day on the merciless Atlantic, we obviously chose a flat-bottomed boat with a reckless captain, for extra fun on the way.

Choppy? I'll say. Oh how we laughed. But on the bright side, it turns out that fish love fresh Guinness-flavoured puke, and dolphins chase fish! Yes! We saw vast shoals of them3, and a minke whale, so by the time we turned for home, we felt pretty good, until the skipper generously handed out bags of cheese and onion crisps.

Back in Dingle at last, the Lycra-clad lunatic fringe had mostly headed off for the next Iron Man, or Himalayan pentathlon, or whatever, so the pubs were a bit less crowded. We celebrated with Guinness, for the next three days. Then Dublin, and home!

What a mad, mad place. Will we be back? Oh yeah. But next year I sign up for the marathon. Sometimes you have to experience the whole thing.

1 - Contrary to urban myth, Guinness in Ireland tastes exactly like it does anywhere else, e.g. on Waterloo station.
2 – Sorry. I'm a bit out of practice here
3 – All right, seven

Saturday, 16 September 2017

UberGrumpy Rides Again


What was that? Why, the sound of dust being blown off the ole’ blog! Seven whole years since my last post. Seven years. And here’s the good news; the whole point of the thing was to keep my most excellent brother, BalancedPaul, amused while he kept the NHS busy. He has been in remission for all that time, and long may that continue, my bro.

Anyway. This time is all for me. Why? Here’s why:

1. I like writing. Love it actually. I’ve written two novels, top-notch bestsellers, I expect, if someone would publish them (ahem), and a book of poetry, which I published myself (and, shameless plug, you can buy it on Amazon).
2. I hate Faecebook. I keep writing witty gems1, and then another seven billion people post a shit picture of their lunch, and it all scrolls off to oblivion. Stuff that.
3. I’m lazy. I’ll be buggered if I write another novel that nobody reads except my long-suffering family. It’s so much better to write brief posts that hardly anyone reads, not confined by the strictures of bloody Faecebook, where you can only write about cats, cupcakes, Corbyn, and the Caribbean (or wherever else you’re taking pictures of yourself in a bikini).
4. I get paid pretty serious money.2

One point of clarification. Do I continue with the pictures of scantily clad ladies? Oh yeah. Why:

1. One of my good friends accused me of being a misogynistic sexist pig the last time round. I liked that.
2. The research is fun.
3. It keeps the politically correct at bay. Off you go then.
4. I don’t put up any picture that wouldn’t make it into Good Housekeeping. And we all love Good Housekeeping, right?

So. Onwards. Unlike my hero Douglas Adams, I will post something else before another seven years goes by. Promise.

1 – Well I think they're witty.
2 – This is actually a lie.

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 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