Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year

Homemade Christmas cakeMy 250th post and a timely opportunity to wish you all a very happy and prosperous 2008...

...And to share with you all the recipe for the cake above which has become a traditional Christmas standby for my family. It's a gorgeously rich, three-tier chocolate fudge cake and will satisfy the cravings of even the most desperate chocolate addict. Best served with cream this cake will allow you all to experience the most superlative of Alan Partridge moments... Enjoy!

3 Tier Chocolate Cake

Ingredients:

275g plain flour
45ml cocoa powder
6.25ml baking powder
2.5ml bicarbonate of soda
a large pinch of salt
125g plain chocolate
150g softened butter
225g light brown soft sugar
2 eggs, beaten
150ml natural yoghurt
2.5ml vanilla essence


Icing:
450g icing sugar
125g cocoa powder
125g butter
90ml milk

Grease 3 x 18inch sandwich tins and line with greaseproof paper.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarbonate and salt together.

Melt the chocolate and leave to cool slightly.

Cream the butter and brown sugar together until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs, then fold in the chocolate, the sifted ingredients, yoghurt and vanilla essence. Turn the mixture into the tins and level the surfaces.

Bake in the oven at 190 degrees C/mark 5 for 25-30 mins or until risen and firm to the touch. Turn out on a wire rack and leave to cool.

To make the icing: sift the icing sugar and cocoa powder into a heavy based saucepan. Add the butter and the milk and heat gently until the butter has melted. Beat until the icing is smooth. Remove from the heat.

Use some of the icing to sandwich the three cakes together. Cover the sides and top of the cake with the remaining icing. Leave to set.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Darlin' you give love a bad name...

Lucy Griffiths as Maid Marian** Spoiler warning!! **

Shock ending to the BBC's Robin Hood last night.

Dirty Git of Gisbourne killed Maidenly Marian! And after I'd spent hours on-line accumulating loads of pictures of the gorgeous Lucy Griffiths purely to illustrate my throbbing reviews of the show!

The dirty rotter!

Mind you, he'd been pushed to the limit poor lad. Marian, I must admit, had become something of a prick-tease over the recent weeks:

First she promised to marry Robin. Then she pretended to give Gisbourne the green light, abusing his leathery northern affections to wheedle out various advantages for Robin and his mucky men. Then she regularly snuck out from the castle to feed the poor, right the occasional wrong and spoon Robin like a good 'un. Then Gisbourne caught her, covered up her illicit activities to save her from the wrath of the Sheriff and out of the goodness of his own heart revealed that he was embroiled in a plot (with the Sheriff) to kill good King Richard. Marian naturally begged Guy to to do the decent thing - i.e. not kill good King Richard - and promised that if he thus came good she would reward him by doing the indecent thing and... er... let him come good in another way...

And then the naughty girl marries Robin Hood on the spur of the moment whilst tied to a wooden stake out in the middle of the Arabian desert. Make up your bloody mind girl!

And then she makes the mistake of rubbing it into Gisbourne's face in the last few minutes of the episode. Doh! That's just asking for trouble, that is.

The inevitable happened. The poor man snapped. You could see it in his black leather trench coat. It flapped slightly more stiffly than usual and then he shoved his dirty great sword right up and through Marian's rather saucily curved belly.

I'm sure I don't have to belabour the link between swords and the male reproductive organ...

Anyway, that's twice Gisbourne has stabbed Marian now. Feeling a mite frustrated are we, Guy?

As for Marian, she must be wondering what the hell she did wrong. I mean she does everything to get laid and instead gets laid low with a ruddy steel blade. Forever. One last snog with Robin and she pops her Laura Ashley clogs to flit up to the great Sherwood Forest in the sky.

Gone forever.

The best thing in the entire show written out.

My motivation to watch the show has lessened considerably. And to make it even worse they even married Djaq off to Will Scarlett and the pair decided to settle down to a life of domestic bliss (?) in the Holy Land.

All the eye candy for the boys wiped out in one fell swoop.

Are the writer's insane?

Ho hum. I guess Lucy Griffiths wanted to move onto bigger, more serious, more historically accurate things... and I for one don't blame her. I wish her well and would like to add that she can wear any of her incongruous, anachronistic costumes round my way any time...

I promise to be very careful where I stash my sword.

Lucy Griffiths as Maid Marian

Friday, December 28, 2007

Unwrapped

Lego AT-AT and Emma WatsonThe bin men have literally just hauled off the six huge bag loads of rubbish produced by myself and my family this Christmas. As their filthy dustcart revved off into the distance I felt a pang or two of regret... regret that Christmas is over again for another year and regret at having produced so much waste. The amount of extraneous packaging was frightening, most of it from the kid's toys - huge folded up and moulded pieces of industrial sized cardboard which defied any attempt to flatpack them into as small a shape as possible for easy disposal.

I also have to say that, despite my initial smugness at avoiding the High Street crowds this year by shopping entirely on-line, the negative of this has been loads and loads of extra cardboard packaging, polystyrene and padding hanging about the house which has only added to our Christmas carbon footprint.

Put it this way: I nearly entitled this post "Return Of The Sasquatch".

Refuse gripes aside I must admit Christmas was highly enjoyable - it being Tom's first only added to the specialness of it all. Not that Tom was particularly impressed - or even interested - in any of the presents we'd bought for him, preferring instead the occasional bottle of milk...

However, for the rest of us, there were some cool presents flying around this year that put smiles on all our faces. Among the pile of goodies I lavished on Karen was the Bladerunner 5 disc boxed set, a copy of Newman & Baddiel's History Today, an ocean of DVDS and books and some richly gorgeous jewellery. Ben had a Transformer voice mask (oh how we regret buying that...), a Lego remote control car and his own MP3 player.

Myself? I found myself presented with an ION USB turntable so that I can transfer my immense vinyl record collection to MP3 format, a Lego AT-AT Walker (Star Wars fans will understand the coolness of this) that actually walks (!) and some fab DVDS - Harry Potter & The Order Of The Phoenix, Rome Season 2 and 300 to name but a few. In fact coupled with the stash of DVDs I bought Karen we've now got so many movies to watch we could actually cancel our subscription to cable TV and still have stuff to watch right up to mid April.

Hmm. You know, that's not a bad idea... especially given how dire Christmas telly was this year. Doctor Who was a major disappointment. So much so I can't motivate myself to even write about it. Ballet Shoes was enjoyable and nice to see Emma Watson on TV spreading her acting wings. And Extras last night was very enjoyable. I actually found myself getting quite teary eyed towards the end. I guess I've still got too much Christmas sentimentality flowing around my blood stream.

Talking of which... I got some whisky for Christmas too and it's now baying for my company. Cheers one and all!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Breaking The Law! Breaking The Law!

Judas PriestHaving opted to take Geography rather than History at school it is hopefully quite understandable why the following intriguing nugget of information completely passed me by until I had the usual post-breakfast conversation with my wife this morning...

Apparently it is officially illegal in England (and possibly the whole of the UK) to celebrate Christmas. A law was set down during the time of Oliver Cromwell declaring that the celebration of Christmas was to be outlawed and it has never ever been repealed. When Charles II, all round funkster, hip-happening-guy and disco king, ascended the throne everybody just thought buggery to Ollie and started celebrating Christmas like there was no tomorrow (i.e. no Boxing Day) and completely forgot about undoing Ollie Crommie’s silly little law.

It still stands.

So. We are all officially breaking the law.

Hmm.

Suddenly the fun element of Christmas has increased a hundred-fold...!

Merry Christmas and merry rebellion one and all!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

School Play

Christmas nativityKaren and I went to see Ben in his school play yesterday afternoon armed like every other parent there with camera/video recorder/Dictaphone/iPod/mobile phone and every other piece of hi-tech gadgetry ever invented.

There were so many lenses and LEDs flying about the place that Steven Spielburg would have creamed his little furry boxers.

We took Tom along with us though he took little interest in the performance, preferring to sleep snuggled up in his car seat on the floor at our feet. Call it charisma, call it charm, call it innate acting ability but Tom’s afternoon nap commanded a fair bit of the audience’s attention... at least in the part where we were sitting.

The school play however was squeakily superb. Lots of cute lines delivered with volume and enthusiasm (but no feeling or understanding) and I’m proud to say that Ben’s delivery was the loudest of all. He was playing a transformer toy newly delivered by the tiniest Father Christmas I’ve ever seen and though he had but one line he gave it his all. Full lung capacity.

I’m not joking - I saw the first two rows of the audience visibly recoil and the stage shudder slightly as the air above it was warped by the sound waves. The headmaster was seen to exit the hall with blood pouring from his ears. Even Tom stirred a little in his sleep.

That’s my boy.

A star is born. The roof had been raised (literally – three cracked rafters and 17 missing slates, last seen flying towards Birmingham on a supersonic jet stream).

Mark my words; it’ll be RADA when he’s older.

Either that or a job as a town crier.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Heat Is Off

As I commence my last week at work before a much needed Christmas break the building naturally goes into complete maintenance meltdown.

No heating.

No humidity control (essential for the safe storage of art objects).

No external emergency lighting.

Broken hand driers in the public toilets (this one makes Joe Public kill).

Dead rats in the basement.

Faulty doors.

Roof leaks.

And I’ve just eaten my last chocolate on the office communal advent calendar (I am officially panicking).

Any hope I had of a nice easy week – a nice slow, downhill cruise toward festive holidaydom – has gone completely out the window. Along with the last of the building’s residual heat.

And naturally all the contractors and engineers who normally bail us out of these sorts of problems are reluctant to do so this close to Christmas because they too are wanting to have a nice easy, downhill cruise toward their Christmas breaks and don’t want to be immersed up their necks in major (probably irresolvable) works that will keep them away from their last minute Christmas shopping and their early finish on Friday prior to hitting the pubs for a session of festive quaffing.

Gits.

To quote the Pogues...

Merry Christmas my arse.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas Tag

Per.pri has tagged me for Christmas and so it is with festive joy that I respond and also tag a few of my other blog buddies in return to keep the tag going. Tris, Ally, Amanda, Laura and OC – consider yourselves tagged for Christmas; I look forward to reading your answers.

"When people say 'Christmas' you immediately think..."

Nativity and the school Christmas play. For some reason I have very strong memories of being at school and enjoying the anticipation of Christmas… the hours spent in the playground looking up at the cold grey skies and hoping that I’ll be getting the present that I’ve most set my heart upon (which tended to be Lego when I was a boy and still is Lego now if I’m honest). It also makes me remember the excitement of spending Christmas Day and Boxing Day with all the family at my grandparent’s house and the constant buzz of visitors and neighbours popping in. It also, rather annoyingly, makes me think of Slade. And Noel Edmunds. Urgh.

"Favourite Christmas memory..."

My favourite Christmas memory is wanting a Lego spaceship one year. It was way too much money for my parents to afford so we did a deal whereby they’d give me twenty pounds for it as my Christmas present and then I could put whatever other Christmas money I received towards buying it afterwards. I have to say that the thought of just getting money for Christmas was hard to get excited about and I recall writing off Christmas that year with a sad shrug. When it came time to receive the money I was told to close my eyes and hold out my hand. Sure enough I felt the feather touch of paper being placed on my palm but when I looked it was a fake £20 note as drawn by my sister. Ha ha – good joke. I was told to close my eyes again. This time the Lego set itself was placed in my hands. My face must have been a picture. Suddenly Christmas was back on again. Absolute result. Best Christmas ever.

"Favourite Christmas song/carol..."

This is easy: In The Bleak Mid Winter in honour of my gran who always cried when she heard this. And oddly Silent Night which always made my granddad cry. I never knew why it made my gran so tearful but I did learn why Silent Night upset my granddad so much. During WWII he took part in the North Atlantic convoys. One night one of the ships was hit by a U Boat and a lot of men were thrown into the water. Unfortunately due to the U Boats there was a black-out so all the sailors knew that there could be no lights on and no stopping to rescue anyone… the sailors in the water knew they were going to die and all sang Silent Night as their comrades sailed by.

"Favourite Christmas movie..."

Hmm. Quite a few. Traditionally Mary Poppins or Half A Sixpence come onto the TV at some point and I’m quite a sucker for them. Since the three Lord Of The Rings films were released during this time of year though they now have a Christmas feel to them and indeed Karen and I have just spent the last few weekends watching the extended version of each to get ourselves into the festive mood. Harry Potter is also a Christmas favourite.

"Favourite Christmas character..."

Difficult. I never went overboard on the Elves or the reindeers. However, I’m quite partial to the Christmas Carol story so I suppose Scrooge would be a good one. I have a soft spot for redemption stories.

"Favourite Christmas ornament/object..."

I quite like Crhistmas snow globes and have a musical one that features a long limbed Santa – he looks like a character from a Tim Burton animation.

"Plans for this Christmas..."

Shut the door, turn up the heat, and just enjoy being with Karen, Ben and Tom. We’ll get up when we’re ready. Spend the entire morning opening presents and then eat a luxurious dinner. The whole day will be one of chilled excitement – if that’s not too contradictory.

"Is Christmas your favourite holiday?"

I’d be lying if I said no. Especially now that Karen and I can enjoy it through our kid’s eyes. But I’m also partial to the summer holidays because I love the sun and love travelling to new places.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Generations

Last week Karen and I were finally able to take Tom up to meet his great granddad. As some of you will know my granddad has been recovering from a recent spell of C Diff which had delayed the meeting for a good few weeks until everyone was sure my granddad was fully recovered.

Last Wednesday the two generations finally met. It was very emotional and my granddad had a good cry as he held Tom in his arms. Due to Macular Degeneration my granddad’s eyesight is virtually non existent but although he was unable to see Tom clearly he could at least hold him and we in turn got plenty of photographs of the momentous occasion.

My granddad now feels more at peace and quietly told me that now he’s held his great grandson he’s quite happy to “toddle off” and join my grandmother in the afterlife. There’s not a lot one can say to that – he’s been deeply unhappy since she died – but I did say I hoped he’d stick around for a little while longer. Maybe until Tom’s eighteenth birthday party so he can buy Tom his first drink.

At 87 that’s highly unlikely but you never know. Some people respond well to a bit of gentle prodding...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Morning Wood

Roy WoodOk. I’ll admit that finally I’m getting in the mood for Christmas.

The spare room is over flowing with yet to be wrapped goodies for my loved ones. Karen and I are already compiling our Christmas food shopping list. Suddenly I’m able to stomach every cheesy film that the TV throws at me (I’m even enjoying the Christmas idents on all the TV channels).

And my budget is as blown as Hugh Grant on an L.A. side street.

I’m sure I’ll be annoyed with my spendthriftery come the New Year but for now I’m well pleased with what I’ve bought. There’s nothing worse than being lavished with gifts yourself on Christmas morning and then grimacing as you hand over a meagre pile of newspaper wrapped gift-ettes in return. Sure the January bills will be depressing but I can take consolation in the fact that Karen and the boys will be over the moon with what I’ve got them.

I’m sure such inner warmth will also help insulate me from the cold chill winds of February as I bed down for the night in front of Woolworth’s shop window...

And as for Roy Wood’s desire that it be Christmas every day... well. Nice idea Roy but, really, no. I honestly couldn’t afford it.

I’m already considering approaching Richard Branson for financial help as it is...

I wonder if it would help if I changed my name to Northern Rock?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Dropping The Baby

Not a nice experience over the weekend: 5am Saturday morning and so tired that one handle of Tom’s Moses basket slipped completely out of my hand before I could stop it...

The result was that Tom was ejected to the floor in a manner that he really didn’t like at all and Karen and I had our hearts in our mouths for a good hour afterwards. Thankfully we were very lucky. We tend to carry the basket low to the floor anyway so as it was Tom didn’t suffer any kind of drop – he basically was just rolled sideways out of the basket and onto his back on the carpet.

He certainly cried about it but it was mostly shock and surprise and was soon smiling, cooing and feeding again as normal.

I, however, felt awful – really shitty – and just had to hold Tom close to me for a while to make sure he was ok, followed by Karen doing the same. Instinctive reaction I guess.

We both know that such accidents are actually quite commonplace – all of my friends with babies have experienced such incidents at one time or another – but it’s unpalatable when it happens to you.

The only good thing about it is that it’s made us be extra careful when manoeuvring Tom around in his basket since then... especially in the small hours of the morning.

On a lighter note Tom is displaying a definite sense of humour – loads of laughs and bubbly giggles – and a definite interest in the world around him. He also likes having his face stroked.

Just like his old man!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

True Romance

Lucy Griffiths as Maid MarianRobin finally girded his Lincoln green loins in last night’s episode of Robin Hood and asked Marian to marry ‘im.

His carefully prepared speech whooshed and veritably twanged with romance.

He basically compared Marian to his Saracen bow. Doh! Why didn’t I think of that when I popped the question to my wife three years ago?

Apparently when Robin first held his bow he just knew, right, that it felt RIGHT. And Marian was exactly the same.

Yes. I can appreciate the analogy. She has curves in all the right places. It takes patience and strength to pull her properly – and if you do it incorrectly you’re in danger of losing one of your most essential digits. She must be brought to the right level of heightened tension before she can achieve the ultimate release. And I dare say she’ll hum rather tunefully when Robin fires off his heavy tipped long range arrows.

Unfortunately Robin will have to wait a while to consummate the partnership as, though Marian has said yes, it’s under the proviso that he foils a plot to kill the King, defeats the Sheriff and brings good King Richard back home safely to give her away.

Typical toff bird. Can’t be satisfied with a nice encrusted ring hoiked off the end of a Bishop’s finger, oh no. She has to set the bar so high Robin may as well shoot at the moon. The poor boy’s forest green togs must be turning blue with frustration.

No wonder he keeps fingering his quiver.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Ebay Is Evil

I’m supposed to be shopping on-line for Christmas presents for my nearest and dearest so why is it I’ve just blown a good £100 on Ebay buying tat for myself?

I do the same thing every year and then (a) feel guilty at the amount of money I’ve spent on myself – which isn’t to say that I haven’t lavished far more of my hard earned moolah on my loved ones than on greedy old, little old me – and then (b) spend January feeling glum, broke and abstemious in an attempt to restore the balance.

As far as I’m concerned me and Ebay are lethal.

It all starts off innocently enough. Ooh, I think, I’ll just have a little punt on this item here and bingo I bid a couple of quid. Suddenly that most gossamer of connections between me and “the dream item” becomes intractable and concrete in my head. The item is MINE. MINE I tell you. How dare someone gazump me with a higher bid! I’ll just venture a few more pounds...

But £5 is absolutely my ceiling. No question of going any higher.

Damn. Outbid.

Ok. Ok. £10 is my absolute ceiling.

Poo. Right. £15...

Etc, etc.

By the time I’ve finished I’m foaming at the mouth but victorious and have blown £40 on something that I’m not sure is really essential in the first place.

And I do the same thing every bloody year!

No wonder I normally avoid Ebay like the plague.

Bah humbug.

Anybody care to purchase a genuine Royal Doulton Toby Jug? Only two careful owners...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Jewel

Julia SawalhaInterestingly, despite my last post being about “I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here” the comments to it digressed into a discussion about the BBC’s new period drama, Cranford and, more specifically, about England’s finest actress (in my opinion), Julia Sawalha... which just goes to show that when faced with a mountain of crap most people determinedly turn their backs on it and reach for something excellent instead.

Good on you, people.

Ever eager to capitalize on whatever topic of interest floats my reader’s boats I thought I might compose a small paean to Julia as I’ve been a huge fan of hers since her Press Gang days.

Press Gang, for those of you who don’t know, was mislabelled a kid’s programme back in the late eighties / nineties and was broadcast on ITV during their after school tea-time slot and was probably the finest scripted programme on television at the time. It was where Doctor Who / Jekyll writer Steven Moffat first cut his television writer’s teeth and certainly the scripts abound with enthusiasm, energy and movement. Which is not to say they ever descend into cheap candyfloss frippery and “zany” kid-world fantasy.

The scripts were cutting, sharp, breath-takingly funny and sometimes surprisingly harrowing in the choice of subjects covered. It was the one kid’s programme that refused to patronize its viewers and as a consequence is still head and shoulders above much of the TV guff that is thrown at children even today.

Julia played the formidable Lynda Day and for her first big TV role put in a performance so confident and self-assured it had Jennifer Saunders and Andrew Davies, to name but two, knocking her door down to offer her parts in projects they themselves were working on. I’m glossing over a huge swathe of biographical detail here but you get the picture. I believe the expression is: a star was born.

Since then Julia has appeared in dozens of period dramas – a period drama is now no longer believable unless Julia appears in it – Jonathan Creek, Faith In The Future and provided voice overs for plasticine chickens in Nick Park’s Chicken Run... and loads more besides.

You’ll notice I am staunchly refusing to make jokes about stuffing birds, or asking if anyone would care for a leg or a breast. I am above such things.

Anyway, despite a career spanning a good 20 years Julia has always retained a freshness and vitality that positively shines out of her whenever she appears on TV. She’s a class actress and it’s a real delight to see her in Cranford (and back being a brunette – I never cared for the blonde look she adopted in Jonathan Creek) though as TimeWarden pointed out in his comments to the previous post, she is now alas “looking older”... but is that necessarily a bad thing? She looks good, she looks natural and she is (according to the Radio Times) no longer living in the smoke and druggery of London but is immersing herself in the wilds of Somerset – immersing herself in a greener and healthier lifestyle, growing veggies and taking an English degree.

Exactly like me in fact. Except I’m not growing veggies, or living in Somerset, am not female and am not a class actress. And I can’t fill out a corset half as well as she can.

But I am a brunette. Totally natural, you know.

Enough! God bless you Julia! You’re great, you are.

Right. Gushing over. What can I moan and snipe miserably about now...?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Sleb

Marc Bannerman I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here
I watched “I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here” for the first time last night. I wasn’t impressed.

But I did howl with laughter as ex Eastender’s chump Marc Bannerman was escorted off camp after his ignoble eviction from the show (for flirting embarrassingly with Cerys Matthews despite already having a girlfriend in tow – tut tut – the public really do not like that).

“I’m in love with two people,” he simpered.

What? Himself and his own reflection?

Twat.

Baby Grow

Tom in now a little over 6 weeks old – it’s hard to believe! In some ways the time has flown by and in others it feels like Tom has always been with us. That last is a really nice feeling. He was weighed again on Tuesday and is now a hefty 10lb 2oz. He’s putting on the beef nicely and is turning into a lovely chubby little baby.

He’s also started smiling properly too – smiling in recognition of Karen and myself and in response to happy tones of voice. All signs that he’s developing as he should.

My only regret at the moment is that we’ve still not been able to take him to visit my granddad. Shortly before Tom was born my granddad was admitted into hospital with an infection which turned out to be C. Diff. He ended up being kept in for 4 weeks and Karen and I were advised by the doctors to stay well away to prevent any chance of the infection spreading to Tom. It can be fatal in adults let alone in new born babies.

He’s been home now for 2 weeks and frustratingly the official medical advice is still to keep Tom away – my granddad is still complaining of feeling ill and has stomach problems. It’s quite heartbreaking to keep him and Tom apart but Karen and I daren’t risk doing anything else.

I spoke to my doctor about it yesterday and she at least said it would be safe for me to visit him provided we kept physical contact at a minimum so all being well I’m going to nip out to see him during my lunchbreak today. But as for Tom she thought he’d probably be safe but it was best not to risk it. What my granddad needs to do is inform his own doctor of his ongoing problems and get himself tested.

Persuading him to do that is going to be easier said that done, however, as he’s terrified that they’ll take him back into hospital. And I really sympathise with that but I guess the crunch is if he wants to see Tom then he needs to ensure that he’s totally C. Diff free.

I just hope I can get that across to him without hurting his feelings...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thursday’s Weather

I’ve had the glums for last few days – a combination of work dross, lack of sleep, a bad back and the interminably grey skies that have sat over the entire country like a giant pie crust.

What kind of filling are we, I wonder? Steak and kidney? Chicken and mushroom? Beef and onion?

I have no idea and as you can imagine pondering such questions has done little to improve my mood.

However, I can’t deny that there is something comforting about the featureless grey skies that have lidded my world for the last three days. Maybe I’m only saying that because I’m English and we English are secretly proud when our weather proves to be even more mundane and dreary than our European cousins think it.

For some reason it takes me back to my junior school days... huddling in the playground wearing a home knitted bobble hat and those annoying mittens tied together by a giant piece of string, watching the world go by over the other side of the school fence, thinking how lucky all the grown ups were to be able to go about their lives without having to be stuck at school all day...

I seem to recall that for a short period in 1980 there was a huge thunderstorm nearly every Thursday afternoon. Forked lightning and everything. It sticks in my mind only because the headmaster at the time – the evil Mr Enoch – informed us that Thursday was named after Thor, the Norse god of Thunder (hence Thor’s Day) and so the thunderstorms were all rather apt.

Sigh. I’m so glad I came out of school with something embedded in my skull (other than a thrown chalk rubber).

And now I sit at work, watching the world go by outside my window and think how lucky all the kids are to be attending school rather than sitting here behind my desk grubbing at interminable paperwork and trying to diffuse the latest plumbing disaster to hit the public toilets...

Is that amused hammering I can hear in the distance...?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Toenails

Lucy Griffiths as Maid MarianA few weeks ago I wrote a piece that lamented the fact that Josie Lawrence and Tony Slattery were no longer to be seen on our television screens. And then a mere week later Josie Lawrence popped up in the BBC’s Robin Hood. A direct hit and no mistake.

Well, folks, call it luck, call it a fluke, call it psychically synchronized schedule programming but I’ve scored a double.

Last night saw Tony Slattery also attempting a TV comeback in the BBC’s Robin Hood.

Tres bizarre.

Have I got the televisual Midas touch? Have I got the power of the Mysterons over the casting department at the BBC?

Well, hey, let’s put it to the test shall we? If there’s anybody you’d like to see on TV – or to be precise in Robin Hood – then leave a comment and let me know and I’ll see what I can do…

Personally I’m still working on having Lucy Griffiths appear in nothing but a Cornish fishing net but I’ll be happy to make room for other requests too.

As for Tony… well it was both a pleasure and a tragedy to see him back on TV. The poor man looked dreadful. Disturbingly over-weight – though he was never a svelte ballet dancer – and eyes sunk further than the Titanic. Karen assures me it was just heavy eye make-up but personally I don’t think the Robin Hood make-up department are that good.

It’s plain he’s been ill and that’s sad to see but let’s hope that this outing is the start of a major health and career recovery. Though being shot in the man-boob by Robin Hood can’t have been good for his cholesterol.

Yes, there was death and carnage a-plenty in last night’s episode. Tony’s Canon of Birkley was punctured by Robin but only after he’d skewered Marian’s father, Edward, on the end of his jewelled dagger. Ooh the cad.

Personally I think this was a good move on the part of the writers (and it’s not often I agree with their plot decisions) as it frees Marian up to join Robin in the forest and pushes their burgeoning romance a little further down the road to soft pornography. Did I say soft pornography? I meant to say family centred fulfilment. Ahem.

For the Robin Hood nerds among you, you’ll no doubt have noticed that last night’s episode doffed it’s cap to not one but two episodes of it’s forerunner Robin Of Sherwood. The story of a young man coming to rescue his love from the evil clutches of the Sheriff was redolent of the "Alan-A-Dale" story in the first series of Robin Of Sherwood and the scene where Edward sneaks into the Sheriff’s bed chamber to steal the keys to ye olde safe was a salute to "Seven Poor Knights From Acre". It’s good to see the writer’s acknowledging Richard Carpenter’s far superior series…

Lastly folks, my favourite anachronisms from last night’s episode:

1) John of York’s protestations that he only had 10 shillings to his name. Shillings? Shillings? Surely the coin of choice in the 1100’s was the mark?

2) Robin and his merry men all wearing cowboy hats and duster coats as their latest disguise. “I say Gisborne, have you seen Robin Hood creeping about the castle?” “No Sheriff, but I thought I saw Clint Eastwood and Clyde the Monkey poking about your oubliette…”

Yes…

Much really needs to get rid of those ginger sideburns…

Thursday, November 15, 2007

On The Buses

Blakey from On The BusesFame hungry swine that I am, I have this week managed to get my name inserted into the hallowed pages of the Leamington Courier yet again. Lord knows why they don’t ask me to write the entire ruddy paper for them. Hmm. Probably because I’d demand too much money...

Anyway, the background (for those of you that are interested) is that the local bus company, Stagecoach, have launched a brand spanking new bus service this week. All posh leather seats, fleur-de-lys décor and gold trim. And hardly any space for parents with prams or pushchairs – a subject, as you know, which is rather close to my heart at the moment.

The end result was that Karen, Ben and Tom were refused entry to three buses on the trot one afternoon this week because the one and only space on each bus (which is technically set aside for wheelchair users rather than prams) was already occupied by a mum with a pushchair. There was nowhere for Tom’s pram to go so it was a case of “sorry luv, you’ll just have to wait for next one...” By the time they eventually got home they were all tired, freezing cold and very very upset. A 20 minute journey had taken the best part of an hour.

Not good enough! What’s the use of Italian leather seats a-plenty if you’re not allowed onto the bus to use the damn things? Right, thought I: no-one treats my wife and kids like that...

And so you can read the gory details below. The letter was sent to The Courier and to Stagecoach themselves:

Re: Your new Goldline Bus service

Whilst I am very impressed with the aesthetics of your new Goldline bus service as unveiled this week – the Italian leather seats, the plush navy and gold interiors – there has been a huge oversight on the part of the bus designers.

If you are a young mum with baby in a pushchair or a pram your chances of boarding a Goldline bus are severely diminished because of the lack of provision for such devices within the bus itself.

My wife has been refused entry to your Goldline buses on three consecutive days this week because the “space for wheelchairs” was already occupied by a traveller with a pram. On the second day that this happened she was refused entry to three buses in a row. This meant my wife – recovering from a caesarean, our 6 year old boy and our 4 week old baby were left waiting in the freezing cold for over 40 minutes despite three buses having called in at the bus stop during this period. By the time they were allowed to board a bus night had fallen and the baby was due a feed. Both he, my boy and my wife were understandably very distressed.

To be fair I’d like to state that I have no complaint against the bus drivers at all. They were all sympathetic but unable to do anything about the situation. In fact one commented that “this had been happening all day”.

Having used the G1 service myself I couldn’t help but notice that the only space for pushchairs is actually designated as being for wheelchair users only. It seems no provision has been made for mums with young children and babies at all. I rang your Leamington office this morning and asked what would happen if someone with a pram was occupying the space when a wheelchair user wished to board the bus. Reassuringly I was told that Stagecoach would not ask ticket holders to leave a bus once they had paid for a place and the wheelchair user would have to wait for the next available bus as my wife had done.

In this age of anti disability discrimination I can’t see such a response being sanguinely accepted by any wheelchair user. And given the great pains your bus designers have gone to in order to make buses more accessible to the disabled such a notion rather contradicts all your efforts to make buses accessible for all.

Are wheelchair users and parents with newborns to fight it out at the bus stops with the victor claiming the one and only bus space allocated to them? This is shoddy, second class treatment of both parents and the physically disabled. It just isn’t good enough.

I appreciate that a solution might be difficult to achieve but nevertheless something needs to be done. There are clearly more mums with young children in the Leamington and Warwick area than there are G1 buses... this problem is clearly not going to go away and needs to be addressed ASAP.

Yours sincerely...

In the words of Blakey from On The Buses: I ‘ate you, Stagecoach, I ‘ate you! Aw-haw-haw-haaaw!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Yet Another Novel Update

After much discussion and speculation on the state of my novel in the previous post’s comments I hereby present to you, most fastidious reader, a crisp and newly composed excerpt...

The Book Of Ouroboros: Excerpt 2.doc

I’m now 84,000 words into the story and my initial estimate of 120,000 words to complete it now seem hopelessly optimistic. However, the plot is unfolding nicely and I’m happy with the overall progress... so I’m just going to run with the ball and see where it leads me.

Hope you all enjoy...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

No Bean Monday

Do you ever have one of those days when nothing major goes wrong, nothing especially disastrous occurs but nevertheless the day is a mega crap one?

I had one yesterday.

I didn’t get half an hour to myself at work – there was always someone around wanting something or needing my attention. Nothing particularly difficult or traumatic but I just didn’t need or want any of it.

I also found it difficult to be creative despite feeling in a creative mood. It took me nearly 90 minutes to “get into” my novel and then I only produced a measly 600 words. OK. It’s not going to be the end the world but it’s frustrating.

And then there was lunchtime.

Lunchtime summed up the entire day. I decided to treat myself by going to Mr Spud, the local purveyor of that fine English traditional meal, the hot potato. A nice hot spud with a chilli con carne filling was just what I needed to cheer me up and break the malaise of misery that had laid its broad hands upon my shoulders.

Only when I get to be served I get the dregs from the chilli pot. Instead of starting a new pot the seller merely tipped up the sparse remains of the old and slopped it all over my spud. The result was I was the only spud purchaser that day whose chilli contained not one single kidney bean.

And I love kidney beans. For me they are the highlights of a chilli.

Some days, it seems, it’s plainly not worth the effort of getting out of bed...

Monday, November 12, 2007

For Once A Good Idea

I’ve just received the following email:

Number 10 Downing Street has approved a petition that was launched requesting a new public holiday falling on the Monday after Remembrance Sunday in November each year. To be known as the National Remembrance Holiday, its purpose is threefold:

1) To emphasise the remembrance of those servicemen and women who have given, and continue to give, their lives for Britain.

2) To remind people of the importance of protecting our Nation and what it stands for.

3) To break the 3 month period between the August Public Holiday and Christmas when there are currently no long weekends, especially as the UK has fewer public holidays than most European countries.

If you are in agreement, please sign up to the petition - it only takes a few moments - and it would be great if you were minded to forward the link to other people as well.

The petition is available on-line at:
http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/remembermonday/

Seems like a jolly good idea to me...

Friday, November 09, 2007

Armistice

Poppy fieldNews of political correctness gone wrong and half-arsed council priorities were splashed over the front page of The Metro this morning and for once I’m in total agreement with their indignation.

It seems that an Armistice Day parade in Castle Bromwich has been cancelled as the police will be needed elsewhere to prevent two rival groups of football fans knocking seven bells out of each other; a rifle regiment in Chepstow has been told to parade without their rifles as the council leaders there fear such brazen displays of weaponry will encourage gun crime (like it needs anymore encouragement with the amount of gun based dramas on our TV screens) and apparently collection boxes in Kidderminster have had to be fitted with tamper alarms as so many of them are being broken into and the contents nicked.

What a wonderful world.

Whilst I realize that one day WWI and WWII will pass almost blandly into the musty annals of history along with the likes of the Peninsula and Boer War, at present it’s important to note that for some the events they signify still exist in living memory and we all should make the effort to remember and acknowledge the huge loss of life that was incurred. Our current world and our very freedoms (such as they are) were formed out of the smoking and bloody aftermaths of these events and it’s both callous and ungrateful to ignore this fact.

Now I realize I’m probably being over sensitive as I’m lucky enough to have a granddad who is still alive and who still retains vivid memories of being in the navy during the Second World War and who came out of the conflict with a host of medals, stories and most of his mates dead... but even without that living spur I’d hope I’d have the decency and respect to recognize how important it is to mark the 11th November.

It’s a question of dignity.

For us as well as for those who have gone before...

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Colic

I’m pleased to report that baby Tom continues to thrive – his veritable life of Riley only spoilt by the advent of colic whose wearing effects we are all resigned to enduring for the next 3 months or so. After this point the health visitor assures us that the colic should disappear and we might be lucky enough to have a small period of peace and baby prosperity before the teething cycle begins...

Oh joy.

To be fair – aside from the one hugely troublesome feed when the colic appears to be at its worst (which seems to hit Tom in the early evening on a daily basis) – the lad is doing well. He’s a real guzzler and is hitting his ideal birth weight target regularly. 9lb something when he was last weighed on Tuesday. I know I should have the exact amount indelibly pressed into the soft putty of my mind but I’m a bloke and we don’t record such things in this way... if at all.

Karen and I are shattered. Whoever said looking after a baby was bloody hard work was under-exaggerating. Having had the day off on Monday to give Karen a break I’m not sure which is more tiring: staying at home looking after Tom all day or going to work and then coming home to help out with the evening feeds.

I confess I’m a wuss but am I enjoying it? Weirdly – yes. Even during the darkest hours of baby-care fatigue the thought is always in my mind to make the most of it as Tom is growing so quickly that all this will soon be mere memory. He’s gone from being almost lost in the bottom of his Moses basket to nearly three-quarters filling it already.

He’s getting quite chunky which is very satisfying to see. A “swollen angel”, in fact, to quote David Sylvian...

With a hunger cry that can drown out any other earthly noise in a 12 mile radius.

Town Cryer or opera singer may both be options for him later in life...

Me, I’m looking into somnambulism...

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Burn Your Money

Call me a misery guts but I hate bonfire night and would quite happily see the sale of fireworks nationally banned except for professionally organized displays.

As a nation we quite rightly worry about our kids carrying knives and guns but then are quite happy to let them purchase shedloads of gunpowder and explosives every year. Are we insane?

Yes, I’m sure most kids are sensible and trustworthy and mature enough to handle the responsibility of dealing with live explosives… but unfortunately there are always too many who patently aren’t. I’ve personally seen fireworks being thrown, had fireworks launched at me and know of people who’ve had lit fireworks stuffed through their letterboxes.

Every year – EVERY YEAR – people are injured by fireworks; usually children. It is never ever worth it.

And that’s before you tot up the financial costs involved. Fireworks cost a staggering fortune. Who has money to (literally) burn in this way? Plainly loads of us do. I had a friend who each year would spend over £200 on fireworks. I’d roll my eyes and make disparaging comments but at the end of the day he was right: it was his money to do with as he liked. My yearly offer to withdraw £200 from his bank account and burn it for him was always met with a stony silence. Can’t think why – I’d have saved him an entire evening of standing around in the freezing cold with a load of pewling, complaining infants. Cos at the end of the day, you see, he was doing all this for his kids.

Rubbish. What kid demands his parent forks out £200 on fireworks? The kind of kid that needs a huge kick up the backside and a reality check…

In my opinion, bonfire night has got out of hand. It’s big, big money and people feel pressurized to partake and to do it “even bigger than they did it last year”.

But look at the cost – and I’m not just talking about finances: polluted air for days, littered streets, terrified animals (my Nan had to practically anaesthetize her pet dog for the entire fortnight around bonfire night) and otherwise perfectly healthy people having to spend time in casualty with third degree burns or worse.

It just isn’t worth it.

Restricting the sale of fireworks to professional displays would mean a reduction in air pollution, costs that are spread between everyone who goes to watch such events (which would make the financial burden on everyone more manageable), the detonation of fireworks restricted to maybe one or two nights of the year instead of spread over the entire effing month and hopefully a large reduction in the number of fireworks related injuries.

Everybody’s happy.

Except of course for the people who make a fortune each year selling millions of pounds worth of fireworks to the easily manipulated…

But who gives a big sparkly shite about them? As far as I’m concerned they can all light their blue touch-papers and swivel…

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Only ‘Cos It’s Josie

Josie Lawrence as MatildaI honestly was going to give my reviews of Robin Hood a break because I recognize that most of you who read this blog don’t (if you were honest) give a rat’s ass about the show and have merely read my Hoody guff out of kindness and saint-like tolerance. So I was determined that I’d ease off on the Robin Hood obsession and only let it impinge upon my blog when a real episode of true note came along.

See, I do try to be considerate.

But, you see, Josie Lawrence happened to be in last night’s episode and I’m a big Josie fan. As you know, just last week I’d been lamenting upon her disappearance from our TV screens and then lo and behold she pops up bold as brass in Robin Hood… it was simply too good an opportunity to miss so, dear long suffering reader, I do apologize... but I will try and keep it short.

Josie played a foul-mouthed wise woman / witch who wore a headscarf thing that made her look like a cross between a clichéd gypsy fortuneteller and Captain Jack Sparrow. She also played her part with a northern accent – my accent spotting skills aren’t so good that I can pinpoint it exactly but it was definitely from oop North, by ‘eck – which is fine but just looked and sounded completely incongruous because I’m so aware that Josie is a West Midland’s girl in real life. But, to be fair to the show, I dare say a Brummie accent would have stuck out like a sore thumb… and that just wouldn’t have done for a show that takes such painstaking efforts to achieve unimpeachable period accuracy.

Cough cough.

Despite the cossie Josie was fine and gave a solid, earthy performance and had all the best lines. Calling Keith Allen’s sheriff a “snot ‘ead” was particularly memorable. I really must read the Magna Carta more closely if such robust terminology was in common usage at the time.

She also got to sit on the wrong end of a ducking stool. Unfortunately any side-thoughts that I may have entertained about ye olde wet T-shirt contests were thoroughly smothered by a drab grey smock which looked like it had been made from sackcloth and doused in concrete. Ah well. I always knew that Josie wasn’t that type of girl… but she did get to suck upon Robin’s lengthy hose so it wasn’t all doom and gloom.

Yes – wilely Robin kept Josie alive by the use of a length of meaty hose and a magnificent pair of billows. What a thoroughly resourceful chap he is.

Meanwhile Marian was wandering around Nottingham in a rather fetching off the shoulder number and not batting an eyelid when the Sheriff referred to a physician as “a quack”. A term that I believe did not come into common usage until the period of the black death and came from the weird face masks that doctor’s wore in the hope of avoiding infection.

But who cares about such things? Marian looked wunderbar. Josie sounded like she’d stepped out of The Phoenix Club and Robin finally discovered that he had a nasty spy in his gang.

Alas poor Alan-a-Dale.

He’d been singing like a canary to the wrong side. Ye olde stool pigeon. What a turkey. Tut tut.

But the big question is this:

Could this discovery lead to an occurrence of that rare thing in this show… genuine bloody drama?

Clue: no.

But here's a gratuitous picture of Lucy Griffiths as Maid Marian to take your mind off it...

Lucy Griffiths as Maid Marian

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Grindstone Cowboy

Well, the grindstone is busy turning and my nose is back pressed up against it. It’s so good to be back at work.

Not.

Actually, I’m being very fair. It really isn’t too bad and I suppose in some ways it’s been nice to touch base with the real world once again (touch base? I had, I admit, a sudden impulse to type “touch cloth” there). And my return to work was less of a tribulation than I’d expected.

Everybody wanted to hear all about Tom and my new experiences of fatherhood and it was nice to relive the last two or three weeks conversationally amid the shadow of the mountain of detritus that covered my work desk. An internal lifeline keeping my head steady against the influx of the terminally tedious.

Now, four days into the working week, the mountain has been levelled and I’m re-acclimatized once more to the endless drone of the local authority work regime.

Leaky roofs... Blocked toilets... Customer complaints.

I’m ensconced upon my white charger and comin’ to get yer.

Yee-ha.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tag Team

Audrey HepburnGood day fellow bloggers; yours truly has been tagged good and proper by blogging buddy Old Cheeser and so I must most humbly submit myself to the task at hand.

The rules are simple (they could have been written for me):

First: post the following rules and a link to the person who tagged you.

Second: share seven interesting facts about yourself. The more amazingly interesting the better.

Third: tag seven people at the end of your post linking their names to their blogs and advising them of their tagged status via the comments facility on their own blogs.

Couldn't be easier. Except finding seven interesting facts about myself is going to be an absolute labour of Hercules...

1) One of my aunts is a distant relation of Audrey Hepburn. But sadly so distant that there is utterly no mileage in me trying to capitalize on the connection.

2) I have met Mel and Sue, Roger McGough and two members of Killing Joke. Mel and Sue I met at Weston-super-Mare train station: Mel was lovely and friendly, Sue was much cooler but still very polite. They made a point of not getting into the same carriage as me. Was it something I said? Roger McGough I met at a book signing - top bloke but he gave me a very weird look. Was it something I said? The KJ band members - Jaz Coleman and Paul Raven - I met during an amazing gig at the Birmingham Institute. Jaz shook my hand (his was very sweaty) and Paul Raven was wandering around brushing his teeth. He just gave me a weird look. Was it something I said...?!?

3) I am a secret Lego geek. I absolutely adore the stuff and am an avid collector. Sad eh? However, the way I look at it, there are worse addictions. I could be into crack, booze or gambling. Or, as Karen has just pointed out: I could be into football. I'm also keen to big up the fact that Lego is a lucrative investment as the models tend to increase in value as they get older.

4) When I was a toddler my mother tells me I used to regularly throw myself down the stairs (was it something she said?) without incurring a single injury. And then one day I fell down the bottom two steps and fractured my leg resulting in a few weeks in hospital. Why my family hadn't invested in a stairgate is still a mystery to me.

5) I started my as yet unrewarded writing career when I was about 7 years old after seeing Star Wars at the local cinema. Since then I have tinkered with stories and poetry with only the occasional year off here and there for bad behaviour. A veritable monster was created. Blame George Lucas.

6) A friend and I once snuck into the grounds of Guy's Cliffe - a local heritage site owned by the Masons and reputedly haunted by the ghost of lady Felice of Warwick who threw herself from one of the windows into the river below - and part-way round were confronted by a very spooky presence. I'm not joking for once either. We didn't actually see a manifestation but something unwelcoming was definitely there. I'm happy to report that we both turned tail and ran, wise poltroons that we were...

7) I have a phobia of moths. I can't stand them anywhere near me and I cannot relax if one gets into the house. Urgh. Horrible flaky, powdery things.

There you go - seven not so fab facts to ponder about yours truly.

And now I'm tagging Ally, Eve, Rol, Laura, Tris, Emily and Per.pri to do the same!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Forsooth

Robin Hood And Maid MarianAmazingly, the anachronism count in last night’s Robin Hood episode reached an all time record low – which is good, people, very good indeed. Because it meant that the realism score actually went up a notch or two. And that’s a veritable first. For a few seconds I even wondered if I was watching the right show.

For once we didn’t have ye olde Mediaeval Ninja Surfing Turtles or ye olde wooden iPod’s blighting the mis en scene (see, I even know the lingo) instead we had a story about poison and revenge… or even the poison of revenge… with the result that Harry Lloyd who plays Will Scarlett actually had the opportunity to act his little Gap socks off.

A nice tight script, a fast moving story and lots of shots of Marian positively bouncing around the corridors of Nottingham Castle made for a pretty decent episode. Yes, Marian’s newfound bounce was most distracting. Methinks she’s discovered the wondrous delights of ye olde underwire bra. I have already submitted my request to the BBC that in a future episode she be dressed in a Madonna-esque pointy basque onto which various Norman miscreants can be impaled in a multitude of unlikely but erotic fights to the death.

Somehow I don’t think they’re going to go for it though.

For one thing the death count in Robin Hood is always unfeasibly low. Perhaps ridiculously so. Hence the panto feel of the show. And for another I doubt the Robin Hood costume department would be able to confine themselves to the materials of the period and we’d have Marian grinding around in PVC, black leather and cut away trousers with chaps.

Hmm. Maybe I ought to write another letter to the BBC?

Anyway the only thing that grated about last night’s episode was the unpalatably large dollop of cheese that descended on proceedings right at the end. To commemorate their murdered dad the Scarlett boys came up with some awful looking tree carving with holes in the middle of it. Very Henry Moore I must say. And when ye olde evening sun did cast its life giving rays through the holes – lo! A face of light did appear upon yonder forest cliff face that looked more like Richard Whiteley than Will’s dad – but who am I to question the boy’s parentage?

Ah phooey.

But now for the most amazing bit of all... The trailer for next week’s episode!

It stars Josie Lawrence!

Josie bleeding Lawrence!

I’m 99.9% sure it’s her and from what I can surmise she appears to be playing the part of a witch and gets to experience the ducking stool at some point. Hmm. Now there’s a fantasy that I never thought of indulging… Anyway, given my previous post where I waxed lyrical about Josie’s televisual fate and bemoaned the fact that she’s not on our tellies nearly enough these days I can only assume that the gods of television were benevolently tuning in and in their infinite wisdom decided to answer my prayers…

I wonder if I’m on a roll?

Hmm.

"Dear BBC,

About Marian and this pointy PVC basque…"

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Josie Lawrence

Josie LawrenceAs I’ve been kicking about the house so much over the past fortnight I’ve made good use of my time (ahem) by catching up on some luxury telly – i.e. allowing myself the time and elasticity to just wander aimlessly through the channels and see what’s out there.

A lot of crap. As expected.

But I have found something of a gem on Channel Dave.

Yes. That’s what I thought. What a thoroughly dismal name for a TV station: Dave. Is there a secret joke that I’m patently not getting? It evokes a TV channel that dunks itself in cold tea, doesn’t shave for days and likes documentaries about road signage and steeplejacks and likes to pick the winnets out of its arse with a pair of nail clippers on a Friday night.

Not somebody I’d normally choose to knock about with.

However, Channel Dave is showing re-runs of Whose Line Is It Anyway? – the ones with Josie Lawrence and Tony Slattery in.

God I used to love this show in the eighties/nineties. It was the kind of show that, for a while, was worth the effort of coming home early from the pub. It had a freshness and badinage to it that was edgy and yet warm at the same time. It was also my first introduction to improv comedy and it was hugely entertaining to see so many comedy minds tested to the full in front of a live studio audience. Performing on their wits. Sometimes failing (but never completely) and sometimes scoring amazing hits.

My favourites were always Tony Slattery and Josie Lawrence. Tony ‘cos he was just dirty and extremely juvenile – the personification of my sense of humour in fact – and Josie was warm, sardonic and an amazing improvisational singer. Oh yeah and amazingly gorgeous and I fancied the pants off her.

A brunette with a sense of humour, see? Just makes me want to roll over and play fetch all day long. At least that’s what I hope the big stick that Karen is waving at me is for…

Anyway it’s gratifying to admit that the re-runs are still making me laugh and Ben seems to be greatly intrigued by them too. The twin ingredients of madcap and slapstick, I suspect, are what are wining him over as opposed to the sultry charms of Josie or the adult wit of Mr Slattery.

It’s a shame these two aren’t on our tellies so much anymore – sure, I know they both pop up here and there and they’re still treading the boards so to speak… and it’s heartening to know that Tony has recovered somewhat from the breakdown that laid him so low in the nineties… but they’re both (in my opinion) overlooked national treasures that the limelight of success has yet to define brightly enough…

They’re amazingly talented and I have to say I’d rather see them on BBC 2 on a Thursday night than the bloody awful Vivienne Vyle. I mean really. Did somebody forget to flush?

Come back Josie – you’re a star!

Paternity

It’s hard to believe that I am now three quarters of the way through my paternity leave. The thought of returning to work on Monday is something of a sour one to say the least. It’s been nice to cast of the weights of roof leaks, toilet blockages and council demands and instead concentrate on leaks, blockages and demands of another sort.

I little imagined how enjoyable it would be to have a baby around the house. Sure it’s tiring but as Karen pointed out: you know you love them when they howl their lungs out in the middle of the night and you still think they’re adorable.

Talking of Tom: he’s feeding (and pooing well) and when the mid-wife visits today we’re hoping she’ll confirm what we already suspect – that he’s exceeded his birth weight. He’s certainly looking a very healthy little chappie. Long may it continue. He’s got a really cute smile as well though it’s a bit disappointing to realize that it’s only wind at this stage. But hey – maybe that explains the similar reaction I get from most people?

The last two weeks have been a pleasant blur. It’s felt like Christmas in an odd kind of way. With Ben on half term we’re all home and it’s been really great to spend so much time together as a family. Somehow we’ve settled down to a very relaxed, easy going routine where nothing much seems to happen and yet the days seem stretched and full.

Little of import has occurred and really that’s the greatest pleasure in itself.

In fact the only really exciting thing that has occurred in the last few days was the appearance of half a mouse in the garden. I kid you not. I woke up yesterday and spotted the hindquarters of a mouse lying beneath one of the garden chairs. Yuck. Not an appetizing thought when one is preparing breakfast. Butty as I christened him was gone when I got up this morning, however, so I can only assume that some enterprising moggie snaffled the rest of him in the night.

Let’s face it; he wasn’t going to attempt much of an escape...

So this is the world that Tom has found himself born into. A world of mysterious half mice and father’s who will return to work with a heavy heart.

I wish I could think of something deep and meaningful to say at this point but to be honest I’m far too content to ponder such things…

Result!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Robin Hood? Corset Is!

Guy of Gisbourne and Lady MarianWelcome back to Robin Hood watch. Well, Marian watch really…

Yes, while South Africa were trouncing England 15 – 6 in Paris (well really, what did you expect?) I was watching Robin Hood trounce Guy Of Gisbourne in Loxley. Not a Loxley that the people of the time would have recognized of course – not with the manor house done up like Henry VIII’s pantry – but an approximation of Loxley nonetheless. At least that what the show’s annoying titles tell us anyway…

God they're irritating!

A change of location and the name whooshes across the bottom of the screen accompanied by the sound of a launched arrow. Twang, whoosh, thud. I’m just waiting for someone to have their eye taken out by “Loxley” or eviscerated by “Nottingham Castle”. Now that would be a show.

Talking of having your eye taken out… in this week’s show Marian was daringly sporting a rather uplifting pea-green corset which she quite brazenly wore around Nottingham Market while she tried to draw as little attention to herself as possible in order that she could enjoy a secret tryst with Robin Hood. I suppose it’s like the old joke of the naked female bank robber – no one got a good look at her face…

Hilarity of the night (aside from the Rugby score) was Gisbourne staggering about in an impenetrable suit of armour that looked like it had been made on Blue Peter out of some old cereal boxes and a Tesco blue stripe roll of tin foil. Apparently it was supposed to be Damascus Steel – an early example of, well, steel actually, and having Googled it, it does appear that for once the show’s writers managed to put down their mochaccinos long enough to do a bit of genuine research. If only the costume department had been up to the job of actually making it look like real steel. I mean how difficult could that be?

Anyway amid much gurning from Keith Allen’s Sheriff, Robin dealt with the armour-clad Gisbourne easily enough: a liberal application of pitch and a flaming arrow somewhere in the groin area. Sadly it bounced off Gisbourne’s Sheffield Steel (well, he is Northern…) but not before the flames had ignited the pitch and turned Gisbourne into the Wicker Man.

Cue a quick dive into a handy watering trough which the good villagers of Loxley happened to have standing by. It was well steamy.

Ye olde sauna newly invented!

Here’s hoping that Marian will take a lengthy and unapparelled dip in next week’s episode…

Thursday, October 18, 2007

By The Power Of Greyskull

He-ManI had an interesting phone message left on my mobile yesterday from Mr CM doing his damnedest to sound all polite and matey. I must admit that as soon as I saw who it was from I deliberately didn’t answer the phone. Maybe that was cowardice but I’m having such a lovely time with my family at the moment that I’m loath to let it be polluted by unwanted external influences.

I did however listen to the message: it merely asked me to call him back regarding an email that he’d just sent to me…

Hmm. Grumble. Grumble.

So with more than a few misgivings rattling around the bell tower of my consciousness I checked my emails and sure enough there was one from Mr CM lying in my in-box like a snake in the grass.

I opened it and breathed a sigh of relief. It was nothing too major. He just wanted a little updating work doing to his site; pics of a new vehicle that he’s just bought that he wanted putting on-line "ASAP" as he’d told various companies that he associates with that his site had been updated with details of this new acquisition…

And sure I could do it. Easy-peasy. Not even half an hour’s work. One hand tied behind my back, etc…

Except that even just this one tiny communiqué from this awful man had the blood souring within my veins.

He made me wait months and months before he paid me, reneged on his promise to pay several times and ultimately made me fight to get full payment out of him at the 11th hour. And now I’m supposed to drop everything and do more work for him?

Yeah right!

Two things annoy me about his email:

(1) I emailed him weeks ago to say quite clearly that I would not be available for work once Tom was born and would in effect be taking paternity leave / a sabbatical. A reasonable statement of intent, I feel.

(2) His email clearly implies that he’d obviously assumed I’d just drop everything to do the work for him and he’s already foolishly told a load of big-shot business clients that the updates are already done.

Arsehole. Here’s egg on your face.

I’ve not responded. It might be a poor business decision but after all the grief he put me through in the run up to Tom’s birth I really don’t want to have any kind of association – business or otherwise – with Mr CM at all. It wouldn’t be worth the money even if I charged him double. So sod ‘im.

It’s actually really nice to have the power to say no and to have him at my mercy for once.

And curiously – even though it’s been well over 24 hours since he rang – he hasn’t been back in touch to follow things up. Either it’s sunk into his thick insensitive skull that I’m on paternity leave or he’s finally taken the hint that I don’t intend our business paths to cross ever again…

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Normal Life

It’s hard to believe that Tom is now a whole 8 days old! All that build-up to the birth – 9 long months of waiting and wondering and worrying – and suddenly it’s all ancient history. Over and done with. Water under the bridge, etc.

Only it isn’t over and done with, of course. In every respect it’s all just beginning. The worries haven’t stopped – they’re just taking different shapes and forms but they’re still there and still as piquant. Is he pooing enough? Is he pooing too much? Is he eating enough? Is he comfortable? Is he putting on enough weight? Does he like me?

From what I’ve heard from friends this constant parental paranoia is all perfectly normal. And regarding the last question above he certainly seems very content to have me feed him or change his nappy. Now that’s got to be a huge badge of acceptance in anybody’s book.

But the other worries still persist daily though they seem quite trivial in the cold light of this blog.

I can recall my mother telling me that when you have kids you never ever stop worrying about them… even when they’re grown up and are living their own lives far away from yours. You worry forever. Are they happy? Are they healthy? Are they pooing enough?

This is normal life.

And you know what? Above, beyond and behind it all… it’s undeniably good.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Gott In Himmel

Dexter Fletcher snogs Lucy GriffithsSome absolute howlers in Robin Hood last night:

1) A Las Vegas style gaming table in Nottingham Castle complete with ye olde bunny girls displaying more cleavage than Pamela of Anderson giving an adult mummer performance at ye olde village moot.

2) Marian kitted out in a rather fetching scarlet riding outfit topped off with a "Robin Hood" feathered cap motif - Errol Flynn stylee - and make-up immaculately applied by Gok Wan.

3) Dexter Fletcher playing the totally unbelievable Prince Frederick of Hanheim, exasperatingly be-costumed in a modern looking DJ while playing at the gaming tables and with a German accent so bad it would have been perfect for Allo Allo.

The writer's are just out-and-out taking the Michael. It's the only explanation for such blatant anachronisms. I get the feeling they've just thought "sod it - let's do what the hell we like and get people writing and talking about the show!"

Smart-arsed little buggers.

Anyway, Marian, I have to say, looked distinctly ravagable and although it's a terribly shallow premise to watch a show it's better than doing so because I think the show is historically informative... I mean, please!

The writer's seem to be making good their promise to sex Marian up a bit and had plunged her neckline so low in last night's episode that we nearly saw her Nightwatchman's quiver. Nice to know that Robin has somewhere to hide his bow in emergencies...

The costume department also outdid themselves with Djaq, the female Saracen warrior who has conveniently joined the Merry Men purely for modern political expediency and correctness. Stuffed into a ballgown straight off the shelves of Laura Ashley she scrubbed up rather well and the Merry Men's arrows flew a darn sight straighter as a consequence...

Merry Men? Not quite but undoubtedly getting there...

Home

It's been an incredibly busy week in the Herrick-Blake household and we're all pretty shattered. However, it's lovely to have everyone home.

Karen and Tom were allowed to leave the hospital on Friday afternoon and since then we've been acclimatizing Tom to his new surroundings. He was a little freaked out at first - I guess he'd got used to his life on the hospital ward and suddenly everything was different: new sounds (a lot quieter), new smells, new sights. He was quite fractious Friday night but since then has been a lot more calm and settled.

I must admit I never thought I'd be one to go "all soppy" but quite honestly I can sit and look at him for hours and love holding him. Every facial expression is a delight and that goes for every sneeze, gurgle and poo too - the latter seeming to be very hard work for him at the moment!

Anyway, I hereby promise not to let this blog turn into a one-track paean to babyhood and baby rearing - I know such things are not everybody's cup of tea - but please do forgive me if I occasionally lapse into baby-centric rhapsody every now and then...

I'm totally in love!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Photos?

Hi all - this is just a very quick check-in as life has got unbelievably busy at the moment! I hope to compose a proper post soon.

Having talked it over with Karen we've decided not to put photos of the baby on-line - Karen is pretty uncomfortable with the idea which is fair enough in my book. So for those of you that would like to see one or two baby pics (I promise not to inundate your in-box's with hundreds) we have come up with a solution which will hopefully work for everybody.

If you'd like to see the photos then please leave me your email address in a comment. I won't publish any of the comments therefore your addresses will remain private.

Please don't feel obliged to do this - I know baby pics aren't everybody's cup of tea but if you'd like to see the baby then you know what to do!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

One From The Ward...

...well not quite!

Baby Thomas Arthur (or Arthur Thomas as we are now vacillating over the name...) was successfully brought forth into the world at 10.41 this morning: 7lb 3.5 oz and as cute as a button.

He had a good feed and then settled down to sleep for much of the afternoon.

Karen is doing well though is incredibly sore and tired and the edge has been taken off her senses by various painkillers.

We're both, however, incredibly happy.

The whole thing happened so unbelievably quickly I still can't get over it. I won't yabber too much about it here right now as I am shattered and need to get Ben sorted out foodwise... just wanted to thank you all, my lovely blog readers, for your warm wishes and support over the last few months. Both Karen and I have really appreciated it and it has made such a huge difference.

Photos will, I promise, follow shortly...

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Day Before

And so we come down to it...

I’m not quite at the panic attack stage yet but I’m definitely experiencing that all pervading ambience known as The Fear. Butterflies, lack of concentration, inexplicable bouts of innumeracy, language failure, lots of trips to the toilet and a general desire to be at home embellishing the nest ready for the baby’s imminent arrival

Karen is the same. Huge excitement mixed with huge anxiety. It’s like looking forward to Christmas but knowing you have to sit a difficult exam at midday. In a word: the collywobbles.

And everything feels somehow different already. The sun brighter. The sky bluer. My stock of clichés larger.

Anyway, I’m currently at work tying up the loose ends and making sure the old place doesn’t fall apart in my absence. Once I’m home this evening work life will officially cease for the duration. Our boy, Ben, is going for a “sleep over” at a friend’s house and, all being well, will join us at the hospital tomorrow afternoon. Karen and I, meanwhile, will prepare ourselves for tomorrow morning. We have to be at the hospital for 8am. I have no other details than that. It could be a very short wait or a very long one.

To re-fashion a well known saying: I could catch a 12 pound trout with my breath...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Twang!

Lucy GriffithsI have a theory that the BBC’s Robin Hood series exists solely for me to have an outlet onto which I can vent my thrashing spleen on a Sunday morning.

Now I know in the bigger scheme of things the portrayal of the Robin Hood legend on our TV screens is really quite small, pimply and inconsequential. But for me it is the Holy Grail. I feel about Robin Hood the same way some of my discerning readers feel about Doctor Who – and I don’t just mean that I want to see Billy Piper running around Sherwood Forest in a skintight t-shirt and g-string… Although given the horrendously anachronistic nature of the show such an event would not surprise me in the least.

My trouble – and I fully recognize and accept it – is that I am coming from a place where Richard Carpenter’s Robin Of Sherwood has been crowned king, festooned with laurel leaves and placed in the pantheon of the gods. In fact I've written about my devotion to this show previously on this 'ere very blog.

Robin Of Sherwood was gritty, brought a new realism to the legend (leaving aside the frequent references to magic and psychic abilities of course – ahem) and had a warmth and on screen camaraderie that helped cushion me through my rather bleak, nerdy teenage years. It’s a hard act to follow. And I recognize and accept this also.

But you’d think that the BBC would at least TRY!

I mean come on chaps! In last night’s opener Robin and “his gang” (Robin’s new catchphrase apparently – who the hell is he modelling himself on? Gary Glitter?) had a bit of rough and tumble with a “military unit” – Robin’s words (how very post modern) – who were all wearing army berets and looked like they’d all stepped straight out of Sandhurst.

Berets! In Sherwood Forest? In the 1100’s? I was waiting for Frank Spencer to leap out from behind one of the trees… ooh Robin, I’m ‘aving a little bit of trouble with me quiver…

But there was more. This gang was led by the suddenly arrived Sheriff’s sister who had obviously modelled herself on Honour Blackman from The Avengers. All heaving bosom, black leather cat-suit and blonde hair flung suggestively over her shoulder like a cat-o-nine-tails… and she possessed the ability to disguise herself with latex based make-up (which didn’t smudge her carefully applied eyeliner or lip gloss one iota).

Latex! In Sherwood Forest? In the 1100’s?

Sadly she was killed off right at the end. Death by large python. And I’m not referring here to Robin’s impressive pork swordsmanship. Of which we happened to see very little…

Which is a shame because the sparks between Robin and Marian are one of the few things the show’s writers have actually got right.

According to the Radio Times’ write up this new series will see a raunchier, sexy Marian – tighter outfits and lower cut tops… thigh length boots and safety-pin dresses… lots of frolicking in moist haylofts with large vats of ice cream on standby. Yes, alas, I am making that last bit up – but I must admit I find the costume based inaccuracies centred around Lucy Griffiths far more palatable than the Gap bought hoodies that mantle the merry men or the Duran Duran biker jacket that turns Sir Guy of Gisbourne into an eighties throwback. Call it hypocrisy if you must but I prefer to see it as an attempt by me to cast a more charitable eye over the show. To give it a chance. To give it a fair go…

Ok. Ok. I’m just a sucker for a brunette than can high-kick a guy in the knackers and hang upside down from a roof beam.

Anyway, despite all the above – or maybe because of it – I keep on watching the show. So I must acknowledge that there must be something about it that I like. And if I was being tortured with hot knives and root vegetables I would I suppose admit that I sort of, kind of, find it all somehow enjoyable. Annoying. Inaccurate. Historically comic. Frequently ridiculous. But nevertheless enjoyable.

There’s a massive romp element to the show and that, at least, is true to the nature of the Robin Hood legend. There. One box ticked. Happy now BBC?

For those of you that care my very hissy reviews of the first series can be accessed here and I will be reviewing the episodes of this second series with a regularity that can only be described as obsessively perverse…

Friday, October 05, 2007

Bang! And The Dirt Is Gone...

Greatly enjoyed The Peter Serafinowicz Show last night, especially the Barry Scott pisstakes.

Trouble with lime scale? Just use Toilet Grenade! Pull out the pin, throw it into the bowl and BANG the dirt is gone!

His Chris Tarrant impression was likewise very impressive, capturing both Tarrant’s infuriating smugness as well as his many vocal idiosyncrasies. Though given the nature of his voice maybe that should be nasal idiosyncrasies?

The most disturbing sketch of all though was Sherlock Holmes spooning Dr. Watson in bed due to a bout of post-case-solving lust. I know Holmes liked the occasional fiddle but even so... the clash of pipe against waxed moustache was shudderingly sacrilegious. I bet Conan Doyle was turning in his urn. Or wherever it is he’s been laid to rest.

In terms of the show’s format, there are a lot of similarities with The Fast Show – lightening delivery, a mammoth turnover of ideas and sketches – though Serafinowicz tends more to the madcap than social commentary – and more characters than you can shake a jester’s stick at, with the whole thing brought (bang) up to date with constant reference to the host of Americanized cable TV channels that infect our lives, ridiculously flashy news items and badly directed television advertising...

In many ways it’s an ideal format for Serafinowicz’s many talents and one that can only work in his favour. Sketch misses the mark? No matter. Here’s another one to try. BANG and the dirt is gone!

And onto the next one...

Here’s hoping he can keep it up.