Monday, June 30, 2008

Faith In Human Nature

A few months ago I reported on a monumental act of misfeasance.

Back in February somebody stole our green recycling bin that had been newly delivered to our house by the local authority. I had to go to the police (as directed by said local authority) and fill out various reports before we could be allocated a brand new one.

All this on top of some petty thief’s criminal attempts to foil my magnificent recycling plans was too much to bear. I suffered apoplexy, hysteria and gout and was hospitalized for several months. I suffered hallucinations and wrote them down as blog entries. I was not a well bunny.

Imagine the horror then of returning home at the end of last week to find that our general refuse bin (black this time) had also been snatched.

It was gone. Just gone. Left out for the refuse team who were due to empty it that day and then stolen in the prime of its life.

In the space of a second I was on the edge of full mental collapse.

One bin goes missing and you feel – despite the annoyance – OK, just kids messing about, some drunken a-hole having a laugh as he wends his way home. But two... suddenly it feels like a vendetta. Siege mentality sets in. The hatches are battened and the big guns wheeled out.

Xenophobia and misanthropy leap to the fore. Who was it? Who was it? Is this the start of a hate campaign? Are they going to steal our car trailer next? It was our Polish neighbours, I’m sure of it. It has to be! They speak with a funny accent and own three cars... it has to be them! Or it’s the chavs up the road. Of course! All that bling... it’s a telltale sign. They’ve got our bin hidden in the boot of their bright blue BMW...

By nightfall I had drafted a scathing blog, written letters to the editor of the local rag and dictated a letter to the chief exec of the council. I even considered writing to Boris Johnson but managed to reel the wavering line of my sanity back in before I crossed that point of no return.

Imagine my surprise then when, next morning, our black bin was mysteriously back on our doorstep. They’ve all got addresses on you see and some kind soul, finding it perhaps abandoned and enfeebled by the roadside had taken the trouble to return it to the family who loved it most dearly.

Oh joy.

What can I say? I felt a mite foolish. All that ranting and raving. All that class war mongering. All for nothing.

My faith in human nature has been totally restored. There are good people out there.

So God bless you, every single one of you. I shall think of you all every time I stuff a full refuse sack into my newly returned black bin.

I shall keep this country clean for you.

There is a corner of a foreign landfill that will be forever England.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Location Location Brunette

I am not in a position to buy a new house. I don’t even want to. I have no aspiration at all to own a 5 bedroom 15th century barn conversion with contemporized granny annex situated somewhere in the heart of a downy sun-kissed valley in the Wirral.

And yet I find myself inexplicably glued to the telly whenever Location Location Location is on.

Well. Actually no. It’s not that inexplicable.

It’s the lure of Kirstie Allsopp.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Phil Spencer, her co-presenter and male counterpart is a great bloke. Sort of a lumbering, genial, Bungle without the bear suit. For an estate agent – or the equivalent thereof – he’s an amazingly decent bloke. Patient, kind, a quip for every occasion up his Stretch-Armstrong sleeves and a knack for finding amazing properties that match his client’s often absurd briefs (I want a 7 bedroom bijou apartment in the middle of London surrounded by 96 acres of unspoiled forest with a salmon lake at the bottom of the garden).

But it’s Kirstie who sells the show to me. She’s feisty. She’s smart. She doesn’t pull her punches for all she may cushion them a little with the kid gloves of televisual diplomacy. She’s not afraid to lock horns with her clients and tell them how ridiculously unrealistic they are being (You want a 1.5 million pound mansion house with stables and a riding school but only have £450K in the pot – it ain’t gonna happen).

But I’ll be the first to admit her attraction is something of an enigma. She’s mumsy. Her voice is kind of plummy and whiny all at the same time – like someone who has graduated with honours from Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers (which for some strange reason I read as a child). Her mouth is slightly duck-like. Her nostrils flare noticeably when a particularly annoying client has cheesed her off.

And yet she has correctly been voted one of the hottest chicks on TV. An accolade she most certainly deserves. As Dr Evil would say: “Kirstie Allsopp is on fire”.

She’s curvy, voluptuous and lush. She’s not afraid to plunge her cleavage down to the shiny buckles on her shoes. She’s bold and brave and not afraid to speak her mind. One suspects she’s rather dirty in the humour department. And most of all, she’s a fabulous brunette (which always ticks a huge box for me).

And did I mention the cleavage? (Is there an echo in here? Exultantly, yes!)

I’d happily buy a house off Kirstie – any house at all in fact – provided she gave me a full tour of any extensive grounds and a good going over in the wine cellar. Phil could hang around outside and deliver a few quips to camera if he wanted to but other than that he’s free to get the drinks in at the local pub. Get me a Guinness please, Phil, I may be some time in my deliberations...

So it’s really annoying when week after week we’re presented with pensive-faced, mealy-mouthed couples with £500,000+ budgets who constantly turn down the amazing houses that they are presented with for the most spurious of reasons. “Ooh no, Kirstie, I know the indoor swimming pool is precisely what we wanted but the plastic windows... oooh no, I just couldn’t live with them....” “Ooooh no, Kirstie, the house is perfect in every way but it’s facing 2 points due East when really, ideally, we’d like North by North-West...”

Speaking as someone who’s clinging onto the bottom rung of the property ladder with his teeth I find this kind of rich-man’s fickleness deeply irritating. And I think I like Kirstie most of all because she patently shares that irritation. Her clients have more money than taste, they’re getting an hour’s worth of free televisual fame and they get to spend a week of their lives getting Kirstie spread-eagled and oiled-up in numerous bedrooms across the English county of their choice.

Just what is their problem?!

Er. “Spread-eagled and oiled up”? How on earth did that get in there...? Phil, just what did you put in this Guinness?

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Frank Spencer Moment

It’s never been my intention to have this blog evolve into a year long catalogue of my many accidents and near death experiences but all I seem to talk about lately are the many mishaps and scrapes that I seem to drop myself into. Maybe I should just post my medical records and have done with it?

Today’s bone crunching event, however, has been a real humdinger.

Picture this. An electrician turns up on site today to attend to the many electrical failures that the building has incurred over the recent weeks – blown light bulbs, that kind of thing. Picture three particularly troublesome bulbs that stretch out over a flat ceiling right above a run of very high steep stairs. Ladders are not an option as the walls around the stair case are all lined with plate glass windows at just the point where a ladder would ideally rest.

The furthest bulb is a good 12ft above the bottom step.

Now the sane, even the corporate thing to do would be to hire a stair tower (at extra cost) to access the bulbs safely.

Not this electrician. He’s confident he can climb up the wall – which remember has windows inset into it and hence ledges – and can reach the blown bulbs with the power of his inhuman sparky agility. I’m not so sure about this but the electrician is already hoisting himself up using the banister as his first foot-hold.

The first two bulbs are swapped out easily enough – and I’m impressed the guy can do this one-handed given that his other hand is pinching hold of a ledge while his legs straddle a 12ft drop. The third and final bulb requires a manoeuvre that even Peter Parker would baulk at but Mr Sparks manages it. He must be clinging on with his teeth at this point I swear.

Meanwhile I’m halfway up the stairs having kittens. And they ain’t purring.

But there’s no going back at this point and... oh my God.... he’s done it. Mission accomplished. Great! Cue cheesy smiles.

So. Bulbs all changed. Just the problem of how to get down. And I bet we’ve all done this. Taken what looks like a simple route up a cliff face, a mountain side, a sheer office wall and then when it’s come time to head down again the route suddenly isn’t as simple. Or just doesn’t present itself at all.

Cue much swearing and foul language all round. Which of course always helps.

In the end we decide on the traditional (and probably most unhelpful) solution. I will “guide” his foot back to the banister allowing for his “safe disembarkation”.

Yeah right. Like guiding someone’s foot somehow diminishes both distance and gravity. A gap of 5ft suddenly becomes a mere 2 just because I’m guiding someone’s foot down through it.

Not sure how it happened because it all happened so fast. I guess Mr Sparks could hang on no longer. Suddenly I had 15 stone of tooled up electrician collapsing onto my right shoulder... somehow my right arm ended up hooked between his legs in an attempt to stop him falling any further.

What should have happened at this point is this: my shoulder dislocates and my arm breaks and I fall face forwards onto the sharp end of the stairs. The electrician continues his descent and cracks his skull open on the metal runs of a chairlift that awaits the impact of the rest of his body at the foot of the stairs. Mr Sparks get a broken neck and several cracked ribs. I get a face full of metal edging and a pension.

What actually happens is that Mr Sparks emerges unscathed because he manages to get a foot onto the banister (see guiding did help) and thus prevents the full weight of his body from crushing my spine into chalk dust (that ball was in God-damn-it). My arm isn’t dislocated – although it feels like it – just bruised and benumbed by 15 stone of electrician’s arse collapsing onto it. Thankfully a bit of arm wind-milling seems to get it moving again and despite a continued soreness and an ache that just won’t stop I’m in pretty good nick all things considered.

Mr Sparks and me agree that we never do anything that stupid ever, ever again. Next time we hire the stair tower and save ourselves a rather large laundry bill.

Final irony: tomorrow afternoon I am attending a meeting at council HQ to discuss Health & Safety and the compiling of Risk Assessments.

You know, I just might keep my gob shut...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Another Slice Anyone?

In a fatigue-induced kitchen-based accident last night yours truly very nearly sliced off the top of his middle finger with a pair of scissors.

I say “very nearly” with a degree of exaggeration.

It’s not like I sliced down to the bone or spray painted the ceiling with a 30ft blood geyser.

But it was messy. And rather stupid.

How did I do it?

Well, I was doing my bit for recycling and was attempting to deconstruct a large cardboard box. As anybody knows a few swipes with the blade of a pair of scissors is great for parting glued or sellotaped edges.

However, not so great when you get your finger caught between the two blades one of which then jams in the cardboard and, the laws of physics being what they are, pulls its companion towards it.

Remarkably there was and still is no pain.

Just a slight numbness but this could be down to the tightness of the plaster expertly administered by my wife as I held my newly grooved digit over the washing up bowl.

Karen thinks there is the possibility that I have severed a nerve (possibly hers) but I fear this sounds far too glamorous to be true.

It’s just a cut.

Received in the battle to save our dying planet.

I’m a bloody hero, me.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Good Walk Ruined

So the sun is shining, it’s 30+ outside and I’m taking a walk through Victoria Park as I have done nearly every lunch hour for the last three weeks – just me, my sandwiches and my MP3 player – and I’m kind of at peace with the world.

You know, lush tunes, warm feelings, glorious sunshine... for half an hour at least all seems to be right with the world.

And then I spy two kids lamping the hell out of each other across the other side of the park. And I mean really going for it. Fists, feet, head-locks, the works.

This is souring in itself – I mean it’s not pleasant to watch two 11 years olds knocking seven bells out of each other – but what makes it ineffably worse is that they are plainly in the company of three adults who are standing by and watching it all unfold. And by watching I mean watching like they’re an audience at a kick-boxing match.

One of the kids goes down with the other one on top of him still pummelling away. I’m quite sickened by this point and am glad to see one of the adults – the male – finally getting up and going over to them.

Only he doesn’t stop them fighting. He separates them, apparently gives them advice on fighting fairly and then lets them set to once more. Round two – ding ding.

I’m astounded.

What parent / guardian would let their kids slug it out in this way? Surely you’d stop them? Give them a stiff talking to and send them away separately to cool off? Not make it a spectator sport!

Oh but of course, Mr Referee was instilling the values of fighting fair into them. Establishing a chivalrous code of gentlemanly conduct and rules of engagement. No knives, pistols, house bricks or eye gouging, please gentlemen. I want a fair fight. Queensbury rules. May the best man win. Loser to crawl off and die somewhere quietly without crying like a big baby.

That this guy’s two female companions could sit complacently by, sunning their shoulders and chatting about handbags while The Gangs Of New York was playing out before them just makes me shudder. I was really disgusted by the whole thing. Not even the velvety vocals of Wendy & Lisa could restore my happy equilibrium after this little interlude.

I trudged back to work feeling sullied (and not in a good way).

Parents? Some kids do ‘ave ‘em.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Step On A Crack

Not sure how I’ve done it – it wasn’t through excessive physical labour, I can tell you – but I’ve woken up with a bad back this morning. Rather ironic given that the title of my last post was Slipped Discs. I’d almost laugh but it does, of course, hurt to do that.

So. Pain. It’s a weird thing. Hijacks your focus and concentration to the exclusion of all else. Burning sensations. Dull aches. Even duller throbs. My brain is like a dog with a bone. But do you think I can pinpoint it exactly? Lower back I say. Somewhere on the left side. No, my left.

Hmm. You’ll be glad to know that I’ve ruled out spinal injury of the life threatening kind. I’ve even ruled out kidney failure.

That just leaves the good ol’ fall-back position of generalized muscular damage. Probably of the minor variety. I’ve “pulled a muscle”. Or I’ve “slept funny”.

Nothing glamorous at all.

Which somehow makes all my vain attempts to walk around with a “brave face” this morning (furrowed brow, pursed lips, hound-dog eyes... the occasional wince as I walk) seem somehow incorrigibly ignoble.

But I don’t care.

I’m a man, you see. And we do this when we’re in pain.

Sympathy is our automatic due. And today I’m collecting.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Slipped Discs

In response to a tag from Old Cheeser I’ve been invited to share with you the ten albums that I just could not live without. The ones that saw me through the drink and drugs hell of my teenage years (I couldn’t get any for love nor money). The ones that helped patch up my achey-breaky heart (please note this post will be a Billy Ray Cyrus free zone). The ones that, joking aside, continue to inspire me, lift me and make the world seem a much better place when I listen to them.

Fire up the Quattro, guys, welcome back to the eighties!

In no particular order:

1. Killing Joke – Brighter Than A Thousand Suns.

I’ve been a long time fan of KJ, right from the occult inspired punk furore of their early releases through to the metal-esque tribal moshes of their more recent output. And yet I’ve never ever considered myself to be a metal-head. In truth I abhor heavy metal and all it stands for... Neanderthal, beer fuelled, sex obsessed, unintelligent music for spotty boys who cannot get girlfriends. Instead I’ve always leaned towards sensitive, well crafted, texturally layered music for young men who cannot capture the love interest of a beautiful gal. But KJ were the exception. There was intelligence behind the anger, a furious need to push back the boundaries, to confront everything. “Revelations” is probably the ultimate KJ album – it captures the KJ sound with a dirty purity never before or since achieved but because of that it is probably quite inaccessible to most outside listeners. Odd then that I choose “Brighter Than A Thousand Suns” as this is probably their most accessible album to date and I’m sure many KJ puritans see it as a skeleton in the KJ cupboard. Critics at the time cursed it with the moniker Adult Oriented Rock. This does it a huge disservice. Oh I’m sure fans of KJ’s early punk forays were pulling out their spiked hair at Jaz Coleman’s beautifully honed vocals, the sustained chord changes, the orchestral sweep of much of the album’s content... it is after all a truly beautiful album. And this is not what KJ are supposed to be about. But the anger is still there. The occult paranoia. The conviction that the world is about to end imminently and enjoyably. The fire still burns but not now in an uncontrolled blaze... instead it has been sculpted into something truly majestic. “Chessboards” even today fills me with heart pumping exhilaration and “Goodbye To The Village” is a perfect anthem for the fight against global warming and world-wide corporate expansion. I still dig this album out on a regular basis and wallow in its unadulterated glory. Point of note: it was the amazing lyrics of this album that first got me into writing poetry.

2. Kate Bush – This Woman’s Work

What can I say about Kate Bush that hasn’t already been said? Everybody should own at least one Kate Bush album. Personally I’m the proud owner of just about every 7” single she’s ever released and have all her albums neatly lined up in chronological order on my record shelf. Everybody raves about “Hounds Of Love” and it IS a fabulous album but for me she hit her peak with “This Woman’s Work”. Lush and layered with rich depths – not unlike the woman herself – this album is amazingly evocative and emotive. “The Fog” is my all time favourite track though it is overlooked by many. Strings that catch the heart and a simple metaphor about learning to swim and letting people go all combine to get me watery eyed and blissful. The sustained emotional drive of this album is very powerful and purely feminine whereas “Hounds Of Love” has an inexplicable male energy to it – not that that’s a bad thing. “This Woman’s Work” is Kate Bush at her most complete and accomplished. It’s never been bettered.

3. Fields Of The Nephilim – Dawnrazor

OK. I admit it. I was a goth at heart. I even bought myself boots and a cowboy hat to see the Neph’s play at Birmingham Powerhouse in the mid to late eighties. This album owes more to Ennio Morricone than to true goth-dom however – full of howling wind and the ker-chink ker-chink of metal spurs. You can practically see the dust bowls rolling down the dusty street at high noon. “Volcane (Mr Jealousy Has Returned)” sees Carl McCoy’s thunder-bass vocals put to good effect with the catchy refrain “yer-hee yer-hee yer-hee”. Lyrically it’s a ridiculous album but something about the sidewinder guitars and the spaghetti western ambience just works for me. It makes me smile with fondness every time I listen to it. You gonna reach for those irons or just stand there whistling Dixie?

4. Breathless – Between Happiness And Heartache

I don’t actually know much about Breathless. I was given a copy of this album on cassette by a penfriend and fell in love with it immediately. It’s all ‘sensitive poetry boy’ kind of stuff but packaged up in jangly guitars and marvellously throaty vocals. Music to listen to when you’re reminiscing about a relationship break-up that no longer upsets you... when any upset you do feel is purely a luxury and a pleasure. This is an album of emotional indulgence for me. It’s a humble album in many ways and I doubt many people will have heard of it... but that all adds to the sense of intimacy I feel when I listen to it.

5. Danielle Dax – Jesus Egg That Wept

Danielle Dax is something of a curio and an enigma in the world of music – never quite crossing over into the mainstream despite many efforts to do so... and yet I bet most of you would recognize “Big Hollow Man” or “White Knuckle Ride” if you heard them. However, “Jesus Egg That Wept” was apparently recorded on a humble four-track before she got a major record deal and captures a rough and ready sound that is both unpolished and rawly energized. Danielle’s vocals aren’t for everybody – dipping to monster baritone and then rising to eyelash flickering angel all in the space of a heartbeat. Standout tracks here are “Hammerheads” – a nursery rhyme diatribe against the male ego and “Evil Honky Stomp” which begins with the memorable line “Up at the big house they’re branding niggers...” There was something both disarmingly charming and ineffably dangerous about Ms Dax. It’s a shame she wasn’t bigger as she would have been the perfect antidote to the Stock Aitkin and Waterman malaise that was to infect the UK music industry in the nineties.

6. Propaganda – P-Machinery

Ah Claudia Brucken and her fabulously sexy German nose! Propaganda delivered – with the help of Trevor Horn – one of the most perfectly polished and lush albums of the eighties. “Duel”, “Dr. Mabusa” and the title track all stand out as immaculate examples of synth driven eighties pop. My personal favourite is “The Murder Of Love” which features Claudia’s sexily Teutonic vocals put to good effect as she convicts a love-rat to some terrible fate. Sadly Propaganda’s follow up album was a huge disappointment - mostly because the wonderful Claudia had left (I think) to pursue a solo career that was just as equally disappointing. Alas we shall not see the like of her nose again. It made her look like an exotic bird woman. An eagle faced Valkyrie. Coupled with her cold Germanic demeanour and a fetish for outfits made out of metal lattice work... well, let’s just say she launched a few fantasies from the closeted comfort of my adolescent bedroom.

7. Wendy and Lisa – Eroica

Talking of adolescent fantasies, I’m a huge fan of Wendy and Lisa. Most people will know them as being members of Prince’s original backing band, The Revolution. When Prince disbanded the Revolution in the late eighties he lost, in my opinion, much of the beauty and the oddly delicate touches of much of his sound. He descended into self indulgent soul-funk and I bailed out of the whole Prince ‘thang’ when he released the God-awful “Graffiti Bridge”. Wendy and Lisa, however, decided to form a duo and go it alone together. If that makes sense. They released 3 superb albums here in the UK and developed a robust and respectable following... but alas they just couldn’t quite hit the big time which is a great shame. “Eroica” is their most accomplished album and features some gorgeous classics – “Mother Of Pearl” would have been an immediate smash hit if someone at their record company had had the brains to release it as a single and “Valley Vista” for some reason makes me melt at the knees. My God did I have a thing for Wendy when I was growing up. Sigh. Anyway, enough of my teenage bedroom daydreams – Wendy and Lisa are still plugging away at the music scene though have diversified into atmospheric and aurally textured sound worlds. Those of you that watch Heroes will know that Wendy and Lisa supply the incidental music and the theme. It’s far removed from the groovy-disco-pop-funk tracks that they were producing in the eighties. As a critic at the time memorably wrote – some people make music for people to dance to; Wendy and Lisa make music that dances.

8. XTC – Skylarking

As with Kate Bush everybody should own at least one XTC record. And as with Kate Bush I’m the proud owner of much of their vinyl output. I could have picked any one of XTC’s marvellous albums to grace this list: “Black Sea” with the classics “Sgt Rock” and “Generals And Majors”; “English Settlement” with “Senses Working Overtime” (possibly the greatest pop single ever) or even one of their later offerings, “Oranges And Lemons” with the heartily clever “Mayor Of Simpleton” and “Poor Skeleton Steps Out”. “Skylarking” however is the one that brought XTC some kudos and success in America thanks to the track “Dear God” (which initially didn’t appear on the UK release, pop-pickers). “Dear God” was a woeful lament about the state of the world and a loss of faith set against an almost medieval sounding acoustic guitar. Allegedly some disgruntled student in America forced his Uni radio station to play the track over and over again at gun point. But “Skylarking”, I have to say, is hardly a reactionary’s dream. It’s a warm, languorous, fun, ultimately English summer cocktail of an album that is best played outside when the sun is low and the barbeque is high and the beer is cold. If “Mermaid Smiled” doesn’t make you grin then your heart needs to be thrown onto the barbie to warm it up. Pop pure and simple, unpretentious and divine.

9. Siouxsie & the Banshees – Twice Upon A Time

It’s probably a cheat to have a compilation album on here but I don’t care. I love this album. “Swimming Horses” is hauntingly beautiful and is possibly my favourite Siouxsie track of all time followed closely by “Song From The Edge Of The World” which alas doesn’t appear here and “Dazzle” which does. The musical output of Siouxsie & the Banshees was an odd mix of experimentation and fixedness. No matter how avant garde they tried to be they only ever sounded like themselves. The reason for this I’m sure lies in Siouxsie Sioux’s distinctive vocals. Both a curse and a gift. Personally I’d veer toward the latter. What can you say about Siouxsie? Formidable. Intelligent. Uncompromising. Passionate. Individual. Wonderful. A must have.

10. Bjork – Debut

I was on holiday in Canterbury when I first bought this and initially bought it on cassette so I could listen to it on my Walkman. I didn’t take it out again for the entire summer. “Debut” caught a charm, a knowing naivety, a gentrified naughtiness about Bjork that was never quite seen again in her follow up albums. “Venus As A Boy” is, of course, the stand out single – the video made frying eggs seem somehow incredibly sexy – but “Come To Me” is by way and afar my favourite track from the album. A warm, bath towel hug of a song, you can almost feel Bjork’s arms around you, holding you close as she croons / breathes the vocals intimately into your ear. Ah if only. How perfect Canterbury would have seemed if that had really happened! Instead I had to make do with Bjork on my Walkman and a collection of Roger McGough poems in my hand. An odd mix to be sure but it worked for me. And all of Bjork’s mispronunciations have never seemed so cute! Ah Bjork. How do you like your eggs in the morning? Oh. Fried. OK... do you want a sausage with that?

There you go folks, my top ten albums as picked today. Trouble is tomorrow I dare say I could easily give you a different ten. And a different ten the day after that. I’ve missed out loads but a top hundred would be totally impractical. Right I’m off for my lunch. May have to delve into some of these on the old MP3 player. Technology may have changed but my taste in music hasn’t. I guess I’ll always be an eighties boy at heart!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Accounting For Taste

One good thing about our recent camping exhibition to Mid Wales is that Tom returned with two teeth and the ability to crawl. He now roams the house like a cute, podgy little bulldozer demolishing all in his way and getting his fists into as much trouble as possible. The VCR and PlayStation are all viable targets. As are the house plants – I caught him this morning with a goatee beard made of soil.

The only problem Tom had with camping was the food. As it was impractical to bring and hygienically maintain his normal fare of homemade food we had to resort to the bought kind that comes pre-prepared and processed in jars.

Tom didn’t like it. He absolutely hated the stuff.

Once we were back home though he tucked back into Karen’s homemade food once more with unalloyed gusto.

Karen was really chuffed. Vindication at last for all her sterling efforts to nourish Tom on only the best, organic produce that the UK has to offer. And Tom was clearly a boy who knew the good stuff from the mediocre.

Except a few days later we caught him munching on a dirty bib and my socks with as much abandon as he employs to attack his food.

I’m hoping this odd culinary experiment was purely down to teething...

Monday, June 02, 2008

Windy Billets

A 6 year old, a 7 month old baby, two adults developing colds and one sitting a major Uni exam in 7 day’s time holed up in a tent in the middle of tornado conditions in one of the wettest valleys in mid Wales... were we utterly mad?

Quite possibly.

It’s fair to say that the weather could have been better. High winds when we arrived had the farmer guffawing at our efforts to erect our Vango uber-tent in his camping field though I’m at pains to point out that Karen and I achieved this assignment so singularly that ours was one of the few tents in Wales not to be blown out into the middle of the North Atlantic by the end of the day.

When we asked the farmer what the forecast was like for the rest of the week he smiled and nonchalantly replied “first the wind, then the rain”.

And he wasn’t bloody wrong.

Anyone who’s ever sat in a tent while the wind howls around them outside knows how oppressive and claustrophobic such an experience can be. However, we could just about cope with that. The kids were fine and we were definitely getting lots of “fresh air”. The torrential rain on Monday evening however was the last straw. Karen and I were feeling decidedly rough by this point and just could not get warm. All our plans to walk the hills had gone for a burton and we just couldn’t face another few days sitting miserably on a plastic ground sheet listening to the deluge outside fall at a 33 degree angle in an attempt to perforate our tent defences.

We either had to find an emergency B&B or bite the bullet and head home.

Our one and only stroke of good fortune saw us locate possibly the last free B&B in the area – another de-camped family tried literally 5 minutes after us and were turned miserably away. I admit I took sadistic pleasure in their disappointment knowing that we had secured the one-and-only room for ourselves.

Ah. What can one say about a proper bed and a television? A sofa and an en suite bathroom? Cooked breakfast and no washing up? Such things are worth killing for. Honestly.

The rest of the holiday was alas a bit of a wash out – 2 of the museums we went to turned out to have closed down and the weather was still too inclement to risk a walk in the hills. So we mooched around Machynelleth, Corris and Betws-Y-Coed and took comfort in the fact that the weather was ineffably worse back at home in Leamington Spa.

Ho hum. Another Great British Holiday experience notched onto the old umbrella handle.

We got home Thursday afternoon and I then had to get my head around some last minute revision for my Uni exam on Saturday. Poetry In English Since 1945. And what a bitch it was too. One of the toughest exams I’ve ever sat. I had to answer 3 questions. Normally I run through the list of questions at the start and put an asterisk next to the ones I feel competent enough to answer. By the end of the list I’d earmarked just one.


I had to find 2 more. 2 more!?

Suddenly being stuck on a hillside in Wales with a tornado shredding my sleeping bag around my legs seemed a much healthier place to be...