Thursday, 31 May 2012

GOD SAVE OUR GRACIOUS QUEEN

The bunting season is upon us. Everywhere you look there are people nailing up Union Jacks. You can bet shortly afterwards the Bufton Tufton's dudgeon oozes out complaining that it's not a Union "Jack", it's a Union "Flag"! And what's more, it's been hung UPSIDE DOWN!


I think this is a testament to what makes this nation great. Other, lesser countries have simple, user friendly national colours with a simple design which even it's dumbest citizens won't confuse.

Japan.


The land of the rising sun and a pretty fair representation to my eyes.

France. Italy. Spain. Keeping it simple stupid.


It's fairly obvious to even the most inbred Arkansas redneck that the stars bit of the stars and stripes goes top left, although there may be confusion over the exact number of stars there should be as they keep adding states.


I think Puerto Rico is next in line to be added, so it would be America's 51st state and they'd have to rip up all the flags and stick on an extra star.

Just to confuse things slightly each state has its own flag and anthem. However, this does give the population the chance for federal hatred if they are not prepared to travel or have no idea where the rest of the world actually is.


Unstable countries keep their designers busy. Afghanistan and Lesotho are just breaking in new flags I think. It must keep the population on their toes so that they know which one to salute.

You need your wits about you if you are Slovenian.


It could be confused with the Slovakian banner.


So after a night on the borovicka (juniper spirit), you may not be sure which of the two countries you're a citizen of!

Politics aside it would be a pity if Scotland gained independence as I presume we'd have to take the St Andrew's bits off. If the Welsh left too, the English would just be left with the flag of St George which unfortunately these days seems to be mostly associated with shaven headed racists, which is sad.

I like our flag. It is unique. Tells the story of our great nation. It is probably one of the most recognisable in the world.

Go on, describe the Albanian or Icelandic colours. Can you?

Also, we are so confident in our nationhood that we don't have to keep waving it around all the time.

We save it for special events like the Jubilee, when we all rally. Stick it up back to front and upside down. We don't care. It looks great from any angle. We don't care what it's printed on. What we do know though is if it's hammered up outside a pub it's party time!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

KEEP THE HOME FIRES BURNING!

The barbecue season is upon us. Or should that be barbeque? Or maybe you prefer BBQ.


I'm not sure if we have been lagging behind other countries but I don't remember much barbecuing going on when I was a kid. Maybe it was due to our generally terrible climate and our terror of the big outdoors. Or in my Dad's case:

"What's the point of cooking on a bonfire when we've a perfectly good kitchen indoors going to waste!"

He's a big outdoors fan but just not cooking. Maybe provoked by some childhood Boy Scout trauma or National Service with all the attendant yomping and tents.


Other parts of the world with better climates do the barbie better than us. Notice I used the diminution "barbie" just then. Never been to Australia but it is part of their national stereotype. That, plus convicts, kangaroos, Bruce, Sheila, billabongs, Ned Kelly and not being very nice to Aborigines.


On my road trips across America I have seen Pacific Coast beaches with permanent barbecues in the parking lot. I've seen RV parks and bars advertising "barbecue pits for rent".

That is a brilliant example of free enterprise. Dig a hole and then rent it out. Bit like cemeteries I suppose with different flesh.


Once outside a redneck bar in Minnesota I witnessed a few guys barbecuing off the tailgate of their pick-up truck. If the truck had caught fire it would have incinerated their mean looking dog, and their rifles casually slung outside across their gun rack.

Last week in France when the rain eventually stopped, we decided to get the BBQ out only to find blue tits nesting in it. So we left them be - much to their relief no doubt. It has been known for the French to eat small birds dipped in armagnac. I wonder if they take the feathers off first?

So it was only when we got back home that the Dark Lady decided to fire up the grill.


This is often thought of as "men's work". Hunter-gatherer slays wild beast, brings it back to the family cave, etc.


Now, being lazy and cooking being one of the growing number of skills I realise in middle age I don't possess, this work is best left to the experts.

In no time the DL had fired up the charcoal. It was glowing to perfection. None of your gas powered cheating machines here. On went burgers, sausages, chicken and steak.

You can get a flavour of it on my Facebook page where there is a short video.

Mmmm, smell that over-catering.

I read about a twenty-four hour race similar to Le Mans, where crowds turn out with their whole camping outfits to watch the race. Apparently the drivers can smell the cooking as they roar around at 200 MPH.

"The Ferrari driven by Jenson Button has just pulled into the pits for a tyre change and a burger and to have the drool wiped off his helmet. I gather the team is running on all weather coleslaw this season."

I, being the dutiful husband, helped out by laying the table and eating lots.

It was the least I could do to help.

I was not alone in enjoying the pleasures of the flesh. Wednesday morning we compared knees as it is now officially shorts weather. Producer Strangelove mentioned he too had been at a barbie the night before. His tally: four sausages and a small piece of chicken.

I think his legs are really shaping up now. Snorkers could be the answer.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

QUAND ON IRA SUR LES CHEMINS A BICYCLETTE!

As you may have noticed I was away last week. Dark Lady and I headed off to France to ingest food wine and meet up with friends, including some French people who we think are our friends although it can be a bit difficult to figure out as their English is even worse than our French.


As is usual it poured with rain for the first two days, so I busied myself doing very little whilst DL busied herself doing a lot.


She has wanted to put her holiday snaps in order for some years, so decided that a tranquil week was the time to do it. I thought she meant a couple of dozen. Boy, was I ever wrong. By the the time the car was loaded with her clothes and boxes of photographs there was only just room for me and one pair of pants.


Seems the pictures went right back to her childhood and they had to be put in order! Then they had to be fixed into the first of what is shaping up to be many albums.

On the third day it rose again. Hallelujah! The sun came out and the rest of the week was a scorcher with some tremendous sunsets.


We also decided to get the bikes out and cycle down to the village to get some fresh bread. We straddled our rather clapped out steeds with some trepidation, as there are several farms on the way with excitable dogs to snap at our pedals and we may run into a "ragondin". We came across one in the car one afternoon basking in the middle of the road. They are a bit of a pest in these here parts.


It's a fairly level journey, the two miles to the boulangerie. Dark Lady was making rather heavy weather of it I thought. Being a girl perhaps she was having trouble with the gears. When we got back to the house I realised the problem. The brakes were stuck on!


Still, I pointed out (as an expertly aimed "pain deux" whizzed past my ear) it was all good exercise!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

TAKE THE WEATHER WITH YOU

I'm probably rather late with this as everyone else has been talking about ad nauseam for weeks. The weather.


However, just talking to friends and family it is amazing just how dependent we are even in this second millennium.


I wonder due to the changeable nature of the weather plus climate change if maybe we should be thinking of rejigging the year a little.

We are told spring is earlier and the flowers and furry creatures that do so much to provide harmony in nature and nice snacks for us are out earlier too.


So bearing in mind recent events I would like to propose the following.

Spring should start in May and summer in September. Autumn obviously would begin in December, so it follows that winter happens from about February until late April.


"April with it's snows so soote" or something as Chaucer wrote as I half remember.

If we steal a march on the rest we can hopefully book our summer holidays in the low season and so can afford to visit Australia whilst the weather is getting warmer down there.

Christmas will still be pleasant enough to have a turkey BBQ.


The January sales will be full of cheap winter wear just as it starts getting colder and the Easter Bunny will be in his winter coat.

This may not stand too severe scrutiny, however it is from germs of ideas that mighty metaphors grow!

Couple this to my idea that Christmas should be held twice a year, to avoid overcrowding and be better for the family budget with odd numbered houses having Christmas at normal time and even numbered in June and I think we have a recipe for success.

Either that or the early morning starts have unhinged my mind.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

16 CANDLES!

Well maybe a few more although I think you may agree listening to the show that is an age I aspire to.

So the first part of "Operation Birthday Squirrel" had been completed to the Dark Lady's satisfaction and my delight.

There was marginal tension at the end of the haircut and wash when I was ready to go and my hair was still damp. I was also reading a rather harrowing internet article on child pape on my phone and being a guy can't multitask.

"Your hair's still wet"

"Mmm, it's fine"

"Do you want them to dry it a bit more?"

"Mmm... nah not particularly"

"It's still wet and you have treatment on your hair"

"I never dry it totally. I like to let it dry naturally"

"You're not listening, you're living in your phone"

"Mmm wha-what?"

After I made my point in an eloquent and understated way:

"IT'S FINE!!!!"


We set off for a late lunch.

For ages the Dark Lady had been telling me about her favourite Italian restaurant which was family run. She had been there many times over the years, often for business lunches being a tycoon and all. She even bonded with the waitress over finger injuries.

You may remember on Boxing Day my lovely wife managed to stab herself rather severely with a very sharp knife whilst destoning an avocado. In this instance the waitress had managed to nearly saw her thumb off whilst doing something restaurant related I presume.


We were early so we had the place to ourselves. As the kitchen was gearing up for the evening rush, they brought out some extra bits on the house for us to try so that they could be sure they were going the right way with the recipes which was a bit of a bonus.


I had some "spaghettini", which looks a bit like angel hair pasta. I adore pasta and can eat it by the bucket load. We decided on a starter of avocado (DL still loves them despite nearly losing a finger in a battle with one) with tuna in my case and mozzarella in hers. I know that when we are out eating I will get to try hers and she won't want to try mine. This aids my inherent greed without it appearing like I have ordered two of everything.

A glass of champagne to toast my birthday plus a glass of the house white and we were ready for the next stage of the proceedings.

Tickets were suddenly produced for "a play". Being the organised one (I am really punching above my weight here), the Dark Lady had even ordered a taxi to take us from the restaurant to the theatre.


How she puts up with me is a miracle as we cruised into London's Theatreland and I peered excitedly out of the window.

"Is it The Lion King?"

"No"

"Is it We Will Rock You?"

"No"

"Is it The Mousetrap?"

"No"

"Is it Mamma Mia?"

"No"

"Is it Jersey Boys?"

"We've seen that"

"Is it One man Two Guvnors?"

"No"

"Is it The Book of Mormon?"?

"It's not on here and we've seen it"

"Is it..."

That was as far as I got before we drew up outside the Aldwych Theatre for "Noises Off", a play within a play or in this case a farce within a farce starring Celia Imrie.


Neither of us are very good with theatre, particularly serious plays as we can see the mechanics of the acting going on which for some reason we don't notice in films.


We both like musicals having seen "Crazy For You" the Gershwin musical last summer at the open air theatre in London's Regents Park.

I think I enjoyed it more than the DL who is not too keen on slapstick. Thus far in our relationship she has not been open to watching old Marx Brothers movies, although I like to think it is a matter of time before she crumbles. After all, I have sat through rather too much of "The X Factor" and "The Voice". So fair's fair!

It was brilliantly done if not brilliantly funny. There were a few laugh out loud moments but most of it just brought the occasional smile to the lips. What was good though was the comic timing of the cast. That was worth the not inconsiderable price of the ticket alone.

It had all the hallmarks of a proper farce.

People coming in and out of the front door and/or the window. Lots of people being locked in cupboards. Most importantly, trousers round the ankles on many occasions.

As we drove home after I still had one present to look forward to. The one from Ella and Jamie my stepchildren.

I wanted to open it in front of them, and earlier in the day they had been at school.

They had decided that if I was going to be part of the family and so be living with them a fair amount of the time it would probably be a good idea to have my very own towelling robe. After all, there is now not only an extra mouth to feed but also an extra body wedged in the bath for hours at a time.

I was very touched thank you, and children I promise not to get tomato soup stains on it like that one at my house!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

JEEPERS CREEPERS!

It was my birthday last Friday.

First of all thank you for the many good wishes that came in to the show via text, Facebook, Twitter etc.

It was very kind of you. I hope to have many more!


The Dark Lady had been plotting surprises. This in our family is for some reason known as "squirrelling".

At about eleven I was whisked off to a large shopping centre to the err opticians.

She had booked me an eye test!

Before you head down the "she's trying to improve him" route, let me stop you there.

What she is dealing with is a husband who is the definition of slack. The acme of inertia. On my days off I can make boulders look animated.

What she had cleverly arranged along with the treats was a brilliant way of getting stuff done that I had been putting off for weeks or in some cases months.

The eye test was to ascertain my ocular prescription. I need some new "readers". The ones I have are the £2 from the hardware store type.

I don't like eye tests for the same reason I'm not keen on dental visits, nor trips to the doctor. You just KNOW they are going to find something wring and it will probably be fatal.


So a phone call to the other branch where I had a test in March and we had the information we needed. (+2 dioptre fans!)

So now the challenge. The frames. It was about noon. I asked the salesman what time his shift finished.

"Eight"

"You could be with us for most of that time. We're going to start top left and try them all on!"


So we worked through style by style until we had narrowed it down to three or four.

I've always gone for wire frames in the past. However, things have changed and we are looking more at heavier frames. Not talking Elvis Costello or Harry Hill here, but not frameless either.


In the end we plumped for two pairs which are now being made. The also rans we classed as "Norwegian geography lecturer" in style. A half-plastic half-wire pair were also rejected as "Madmen meet the second gunman on the grassy knoll!"

If you saw them you would know exactly what I meant.

So, an entertaining hour with a lot of laughter and a job had been completed.

Then it was off to the hairdressers. I have long hair. I like it. It is mine. It is not a rinse and so far it isn't dropping out. So whilst I have it I'm going to flaunt it.

As importantly, DL likes it providing it doesn't get too straggly and I end up looking like a model from your local high street branch of "Modern Hobo".


I have often voiced my concern that having your hair washed and cut often involves having your head massaged by a woman young enough to be your granddaughter. So terrified am I of appearing a dirty old man it can be months in between trims. If your wife is your chaperone, there is no chance of looking like an old letch.


So wash, cut, head massage, glass of sparkling mineral water and a flick through a couple of glossy magazines full of Teevee people and slebs who I have no interest in and it was on to the next squirrel.

I was getting hungry by this point...


Part two tomorrow!

Monday, 14 May 2012

"GONE COUNTRY. JUST LOOK AT THEM BOOTS!"

Radio 2 "2day" re-appeared last Thursday. Last year I was away with the Dark Lady on a 2 week American road trip retracing some of the footsteps from my first month-long "American Adventure" back in 2007. (Incidentally that blog is still available to read, as are the two subsequent trips. )

I didn't hear any of 2day last time but did take part in the Matt Lucas hosted show "The Lucas Awards" which was broadcast on the day and has transferred to TV recently with my role reprised by Esther Rantzen


This year what was I going to do? How was I going to be involved?

The call came from the Simon Mayo show. They had been tasked with doing an hour of Country Music and they knew I was a big fan.

The idea was that we would have a band of top session musicians in Nashville who would talk about the music, demonstrate their instrumental prowess and play a couple of tunes for us at the end.

Brilliant. I love Nashville and couldn't wait to board that plane.....

Hold hard there, boy. I was going to be in London. As was Simon. As was Sally Traffic. In fact so was everybody. Save for the musicians.

Rats!

An hour is no time to squeeze all the interviews and the tunes in. Still we managed it with Simon as ringmaster. I managed to get a few country-related anecdotes and facts in. Hopefully in the proceeds we whetted a few appetites and converted a few people to the idea that Country music is not just a series of US clich├ęs, that it has a message, that it reflects a culture and is also to an extent a state of mind.

My Country Epiphany came driving through Arizona listening to Tri-state Country KFLG "K-FLAG".

I maintained that hearing it in it's natural setting aided understanding and appreciation. Although I wasn't going to take issue with the assertion that it can also sound good driving up the M6 on a rainy Thursday afternoon!

Judging by the feedback we received - other than the negative reaction from some - to the whole concept of 2day, I think it was a success and the hit of the day

Well, I would say that wouldn't I?

Yur durned tootin'!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

WATER!

Day two of our retreat to the spa complete with guilt plates and excruciating deep tissue massage.

I dragged my battered body to the rather impressive indoor pool and paddled rather ineptly around as the Dark Lady swam strongly from end to end.


She is a crawl stylist whilst I favour breast stroke, which means she can do two lengths to my one. We sat and bubbled in the jaccuzzi for a while until it was time to dry off for dinner.

As you are often wet, the towelling robes and the flip flops are essential and tolerated at breakfast and lunch. Evenings is obviously a different matter, so it was lucky we dressed in our everyday clothes otherwise we would have been the only ones dining "a la towel".

As I said yesterday apart from the guilt plates the food was healthy but fairly normal with added nutritional information. To our surprise you could order wine so we split a bottle between us. Nectar!

I think that is as far as you can go. I wondered what would have happened if we had asked for a second bottle?

Would we have been wrestled to the ground and tasered by the diet police?

I didn't see any brandy nor cigars on offer, so I think a line is drawn at approximately 11.5% ABV.


We retired to the room, watched a DVD and fell into a rather achey sleep.

We could have had eggs and stuff for breakfast but as we were running out of time and wanted lunch as well, we just had toast. There is something very British about people in towelling robes queuing politely to place bread in the toaster. Then as it was a conveyor type, replacing it when it re-appeared slightly warm but still untoasted. No-one dared fiddle with the controls. Not the done thing, dontchaknow!


We had a final treatment each at 1PM so back to the pool we went, the idea being DL would power down twenty lengths and I would flounder around for perhaps half that. Then back to the room, pack up ready to leave, lunch then final treatment.

We loved the bathroom. Two basins. Double sized shower and a double ended bath. No arguments about who had the tap end. The only friction would be who occupied the end with the view of the built-in tv. I won and watched The Simpsons.

Then as we were getting ourselves organised I glanced at the itinerary for our 1PM treatments. I did a double take.

"Reflexology and flotation 12 noon"

TWELVE NOON??!!!?

It was already half past. DL immediately took charge and phoned reception. Everything seemed booked. Looks like we were sunk. Or erm not immersed.

She has a way with people that I don't. Instead of stomping off in a huff, she explained we were leaving in a couple of hours and was there any way?

There was. She went off to have her feet attended to with reflexology. They check your health by feeling your feet. It's a bit like casting runes or examining sheep entrails, I think.


Apparently she has had a neck problem (clue - tiny scar). They also mentioned her spleen. I spoke to someone after the weekend and they asked "did they mention the spleen? They usually do".

I had decided to try a dry flotation. I was given a fetching pair of paper pants (DL made me throw them away after - not sexy apparently), was basted with aromatic oils like the day before, wrapped in towels, placed on a bed, wrapped in a rubber sheet then at the touch of a button was lowered into a bath of warm water.

As it was a dry immersion, there was a rubber barrier between me and the water. So no danger of my pants disintegrating.

Then the lights were lowered and I was left to my own devices with a soundtrack of bird and I think whale song.

"Just relax. Drop off to sleep. Every twenty five minutes is the equivalent of two hours restful sleep" said the nice lady. At least I think that was the equation.

So I was alone with my thoughts and the "music". Time for some restful sleep?

NO.

"Dark in here"

Wooooo tweet twitter tweet wooo

"My nose is itching and I can't really move"

Eeeeeeooiooo chirp chirp tweet oooooo

"It's a bit hot in this rubber sheet"

Aawwwwooo aaawwwoooo chick chick chick aaaaaaaa

"Wonder how long I've got left. I may need the loo at some point"

Nnnnnnyyyoooo. Aak aak aak

"There are people talking in the corridor"

Wwwwwweeeeoooo tweet tweet

"What if there's a fire"?

Oooooaaaaaaaaoooo chirrup chirrup ooooooaaaaaooo

"This is ludicrous. You are a grown man in paper pants wrapped in a rubber incontinence sheeezzzzzzzzzzzzz"

I think I must have dozed off just before the end of the session. I'm not claustrophobic but was quite glad to be out of there.

Dark Lady was concerned that I hadn't enjoyed myself. I had. Every bizarre second of it.

Can't wait for another go. Not sure I'll go for flotation or deep tissue massage next time. There are dozens of other treatments to try though.

Hmmm, maybe a reflexology session. Feel my spleen may be playing up.