Tuesday, July 27, 2004


They don't really exist.  Oh yes they do ...

SECOND BLADDER:  The one which wakes you up at four in the morning, forcing you to pay an unnecessary visit to the bathroom, thus interrupting the rest of your sleep.

THE VERNON KAY AND DAVINA MCCALL PRINCIPLE:  The law which states that the most annoyingly punchable arseholes will be the most unavoidable and all-pervading presenters on telly.

THE JAMELIA SNORKEL:  The periscope-type camera attachment which goes up the Brummie singer's skirt during every t.v. performance by her.                          

BECOMING PARENTS (A.K.A. SALLY WEBSTER SYNDROME):  Complete mental breakdown when formerly likeable friends and acquaintances (who used to have lives and interests and stuff) suddenly become obsessive, smug, self-righteous bores.

THE CHILD GENIUS DELUSION:  Irrational tendency of formerly principled socialist types to say "of course, normally I would strongly disapprove of fee-paying schools - it just puts certain children at an unfair advantage.  But, in our case, with Nathan, it's different.  He NEEDS to be stretched" because their offspring obviously has the potential to become the Secretary to the United Nations, or will find a cure for cancer at the very least.

COMPULSIVE OBSESSIVE SMOG CAUSER DISORDER:  Overwhelming need to start noxious smelling bonfires on any given warm, balmy summer evening, when most people would like to keep the windows open.

THE ARC OF MISERY:  The point at which every music fan realises that The Best Band In The World Ever (i.e., the one whose music paralleled your post-adolescent self-pitying phase) has Lost The Hunger and turned into the same coke-addled bunch of musos as all the other bands in the world.  It happens to them all after about three years.  My A of M came about when Echo and the Bunnymen bought out their third album, back in the mists of time.  It's best to go through this disappointment as early as possible, dear reader.   It'll make a man of you.

THE REVENGE OF THE MIDDLE CLASS NERDS:  Language as class warfare!  The use in the media (and occasionally in Real Life) of definitions with an underlying sense of violence towards Anyone Who Hasn't Been To University or Who Used To Bully Me Because I Had Violin Lessons At School And Have A Nice Speaking Voice.   Past favourite terms:  "Kevs and Sharons", "Townies".  See currently:  "He/she/it is a bit chipshop" or www.chavscum.co.uk.

THE GENERATION GAP:  Point at which adults start to think that only the current generation of children and teenagers are annoying, self-centred brats, and that a parental lack of discipline has created a monster and the world as we know it is going down the pan.  Of course, in the past our parents taught us good manners and as teenagers we used to spend all our time helping the elderly and joined church groups.

THE EVERYBODY IN THE WORLD IS WRONG APART FROM ME PSYCHOSIS:  To paraphrase "Deck Of Cards" by Max Bygraves - I know.  Because I am that person.

Friday, July 23, 2004


Hmm.  That was my attempt at an attention-grabbing opening paragraph.  The only reason anyone I don't know would look at this site is because the address came up next to theirs in the "most recently published blogs" list.  Apart from that, I'd hazard a guess that about 95 per cent of people who compose  blogs are American.  So, what better way of getting computer users to read this than to insult them?  Still, if you are from the U.S., dear reader, then at least you can retort with insults about how I'm probably a horse-faced inbreed living in a stately home, and how you lot "saved Yoorupp's ass" during World War 2.  And as for the state of those goddam Brit lame ass faggot haircut pop groups - what kinda name is A Flocka Seagulls anyway?

Yeah, "whatever" (as we tend to say over here nowadays), you might as well press the back up button now and click onto the diary by the college dropout from Portland, Maine who's having boyfriend trouble, or the very "specialized" site for people who have an all-consuming interest in feet.  Most of the stuff I write about is far to parochial to be of international interest.  Far too parochial to be of interest to anyone outside this house, actually.

So I might as well shoot myself in the foot, as it were, by staying in my dreary little "Brit" hovel and assessing something quintessentially English, yet again.  Yes, I'm going to look earnestly and in depth at pub food.  For any Americans still reading at this point (highly unlikely, I know), a pub is known across the Atlantic as a bar.  Specifically, I'm going to contemplate a meal that has been a staple at pubs for centuries (probably) - the ploughman's lunch.

I've fearlessly done loads of research on the subject of this delicacy, i.e., I looked up the first entry on a wordsearch on this computer, and was directed to a website (www.outlawcook.com) which described the origins of the ploughman's lunch.  It consisted of equal amounts of bread and cheese, and, rather eyewateringly, an onion eaten raw like an apple.  I think the article was designed to describe the meal to an English speaking audience of potential tourists.  The author suggested that the best ploughman's lunches are likely to be found in the real English rural areas of Devon, Hereford and Somerset, rather than the crappy pseudo-countryside home counties around London (in one of which I reside!).  Unfortunately, he neglected to tell readers that transport to the west country from London tends to be an absolute nightmare, particularly trains, and any tourist would surely rue the day he spent 18 hours trying to get to the middle of nowhere to eat a pleasant but hardly life altering meal.

Of course, the reality of most ploughman's lunches is far different from the Egon Ronay recommended feast of delicious home-cooked bread, farmhouse cheese and crisp pint of bitter.   The typical ploughman's consists of the following ingredients:

Six pounds of sweaty Cheddar cheese
Four pounds of Red Leicester cheese (for colour contrast)
Big dollop of supermarket own brand chutney
Two pieces of "Round" lettuce (the cheapest, most flavourless sort)
Dish with various condiments - low fat mayonnaise, salad cream, vinegar, tomato sauce, French mustard, English mustard, brown sauce (all in sachet form)
Slightly stale crusty half of French loaf

This should be accompanied by a pint of gassy lager.  Indeed, the whole eating experience is one of the most unpleasant to be had.  The combination of dry bread and endless cheese leads to the diner having to chew away at the food for, oh, several hours.  The lettuce will barely help and the chutney's tartness doesn't seem to lessen the parched feeling , so that the tongue is virtually stuck to the roof of the mouth by the time one manages to finish eating.  The only relief to be gained is by drinking the ale which, alas, will merely contribute to  an epic bout of indigestion.

So, why does the ploughman's erm, plough on into the twenty first century?  My opinion is that pubgoers like the idea of a meal that is vaguely like a salad, but not nearly as healthy or boring, and is an alternative to the hot food on offer.  Mind you, the only people who actually order the dish tend to be nascent vegetarians or people who think they are choosing the "healthy" option. 
All that cheese though -  virtually furring up the arteries even as you consume it. 

But the real reason that this humble dish survives to this day is that it is link with the past - a past of Constable paintings, jars of homemade jam with little lacey cloths on top of them, child labour, the plague, scurvy, rickets, consumption, women being burnt at the stake, criminals being hung, drawn and quartered, and farmers marrying their sisters.  In short, the idyllic times before the likes of Starbucks took over our town centres and, like, corporate branding controlled our lives and things became a real bummer.  There'll always be an England (or an imaginary one at any rate) so stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr American capitalist filthbag!

Friday, July 09, 2004

Time for me to put on my Judith Chalmers wig - usually a pleasurable experience of course. I recently visited the colourful Balearic island of Majorca. Blimey! The senses are assaulted by a variety of smells - spices in the marketplace, a delicious stew wafting from the window of a simple but charming peasant cottage, fragrant orange groves, the pungent stench of a mad old woman etc.

Truth be told, there were three days of rain right in the middle of our week long stay. Fortunately for everyone who arrived after, there has been continuous sunshine ever since. Still, I consoled myself with the thought that it was only the beginning of summer and we might have some nice days out here in Britain. Of course, the rainclouds have followed us home and taken up residence over our house until, oh, probably next May at the earliest. Then things took an even worse turn with the news that gruesome 1980's
blue eyed soul types Wet Wet Wet have reformed. We're in for a bumpy ride this summer.

Look, I'm making an effort to snap out of the epic sulk brought on by all this. "Remember what people had to put up with during the war!" I think to myself, unconvincingly. Actually, things were pretty grim, even in my own lifetime. It's just that personal expectations of what's to be gained from going on holiday have changed over time. You didn't take it for granted that a break would offer sun, relaxation, overindulgence or even enjoyment in those days.

As a child from a relatively poor family, there was an unwritten rule regarding holidays. Your parents chose a destination and that was it: you went to the same place, for one week only, year in, year out, regardless of whether you wanted to go there or not. It was part of the working class creed of loyalty which meant you held down the same job, supported the same football team or stayed with the same husband/wife for ever and ever, for better or worse (usually worse and worse, I would imagine.)

What seemed at the time so futuristic about the early 1970's can now be revealed to have really been the dark ages. In Ian Hunter's circa 1973 "Diary Of A Rock 'n' Roll Star" he charmingly enthuses about travelling to the U.S.A.! On a plane! Staying in American hotels! All for the benefit of us jealous plebs who would never travel further over the sea than Barry Island in our lifetimes. Leaving his house to tour abroad means leaving nothing to chance - he even switched off the fridge, which I think may have been a mistake. Did he have to wade through a foot of water in the kitchen when he got back?

That's just the way things were in those days. On the day of our imminent departure, my parents would run down the checklist. Was the electricity switched off? The gas? The water? Had the door been locked? This was even before the wait for the coach. If it was five minutes late, my parents' carefully arranged plans would start to spiral out of control. As for the time when THE COACH NEVER TURNED UP AND WE HAD TO WAIT A WHOLE HOUR FOR ONE WHICH HAD TO THEN DE-TOUR FROM RHYL BECAUSE OF US ... well, that doesn't bear thinking about.

The week in Colwyn Bay was nearly always a joyless business by today's standards. A lot of time would be spent looking out to a drear sea and overcast sky from one of the numerous shelters on the front, clad in a Pack-a-mac (the 1970's kagoule). Despite this, as a young kid I used to love it - a chance to eat ice-cream, coax my parents to buy me useless rubbish from souvenir shops, go on various rudimentary fairground rides, or even, if I was really lucky and the rain stopped, go on the beach. The guest house, with its stained glass door and grandfather clock in the hall was probably what I thought of as "very posh". And all that food! Delicious soups, crusty homebaked pies, gooseberry tart, Welsh rarebit - surely an indication of a dream lifestyle to which I could never aspire (as I probably didn't think at the time).

As for this year's visit to Palma, by comparison, it was beyond paradise. Nice architecture! Good museums and art galleries! Stopped at a few nice ports (and all that middle class stuff). Plus, we had a couple of days of sun to balance out the rain. Even the hotel was okay, with its bizarre garden whose centrepiece was a pond full of frogs which you couldn't see but which you could hear croaking all night long. Hatchet faced dowagers in garish skirt suits sat in the shade reading whatever was recommended by Richard and Judy's Book Club and I got to have a go in the swimming pool once. Demis Roussos could have written a song even better about it than that one where he's "sitting in the sun, waiting for a senorita to show", if he had been there. A chance to escape from the normal run of life should never be underestimated.

Meanwhile, Wet Wet Wet are reforming. Now is the time for the British to rediscover the Dunkirk spirit, the stiff upper lip. Jolly good.

Friday, July 02, 2004

As I compose this, hailstones the size of gobstoppers are bouncing around the lawn and it feels as though the sky will crash in. Is this the apocalypse? Not a day goes by without GMTV's lovely Claire Nazir, or the BBC's deeply unpleasant Michael Fish advising us to "make the most" of the morning's uninterrupted sunshine, because it will be followed by band after band of showers driven by galeforce winds, prompting us to feel glad if we don't have to work outdoors. Yes, this has to be the most predictably English summer for years.

It all kicked off with that most English of summer pastimes, the Intense but Short-lived Craze, with the sudden appearance of St. George's flags, en masse, on cars and vans in support of the football team's Euro 2004 campaign. Uncannily enough, this happened almost 20 years to the day since the public took to wearing outsize "Frankie Says" t-shirts in huge numbers. Mind, Frankie's song "Two Tribes" had more clout and staying power in 1984, being number one in the charts for nine weeks. England's exit from Euro 2004 came about within a fortnight. Like the t-shirts though, the flags have now disappeared without trace, and will only be mentioned again by Lisa Rodgers and Kate Thornton in a VH1 nostalgia programme, circa 2012...

England's middle class types have risked all sorts of foul pestilence and the kinds of illness last seen in the middle ages in an effort to commune with nature (i.e., mud) at Glastonbury. Meanwhile, working class youths have got their jollies by kicking each other to a pulp in town centres. Because England were knocked out of Euro 2004. I've just read about a bloke living above a Pizza restaurant giving his opinion of the England/Portugal match to some lads. When he suggested that Portugal had played well, he was thoroughly beaten up for his troubles, then his charming assailants went on to vandalise the restaurant.

No doubt similar spontaneous erruptions of violence occurred in Women's Institute meetings and the Liberty soft furnishings floors of department stores in Chalfont St. Giles and Tunbridge Wells at the news of Tim Henman's annual exit from Wimbledon. The English, so gracious in defeat.

Animosity, sporting failure, rubbish weather. What can complete the circle to make this the most English summer, ever? Oh, hold on - it's the Silly Season News Story. Roadpainters have left so-called "wibbly wobbly lines" along the streets of a New Forest village. Initially, councillors suggested that this had been done as part of a safety initiative, to slow drivers down. Now the council leader has admitted it was all a mistake, a so-English breakdown in communication between management and the labourer. Yes, the painters had been following maps with creases in them.

Keep following the wibbly wobbly lines inside your head. Mine's a cream tea, vicar.

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