Friday, December 29, 2006

All you can eat buffet for about three quid

SO England have blown another Test match - this time within three days - and I can't hide my disappointment at the way we failed to compete. We didn't do much right in this match, choosing to bat under leaden skies with drizzle in the air and then being skittled out for 159. When we then had Australia in trouble at 88 for 5 we let them off the hook with that bully Hayden scoring 150 and Andrew Simmonds (who is an Englishman, by most accounts) hitting his first Test ton. By the end of the Aussie innings they were 260 ahead - no thanks to some diabolical umpiring by South African Rudi Kurtzen, who seemed to have rigor mortis in his dismissal finger until the Aussies bowled. When England had their chance to bat again they just fell apart. Well, it's been a long tour, I guess, for the players as much as their long-suffering supporters.
We five Testers are finding it hard to put a brave face on it. The new arrivals are quite happy to sing and celebrate in adversity, but they haven't had to suffer the capitulation at Brisbane, that awful fifth day in Adelaide, and the surrender of the Ashes at the WACA. They're just on a winter holiday.
Because of the defeat we have now got an extra two days in Melbourne, which is ok but I'm now just keen to move on to Sydney.
Still, the memory of Yoda on Boxing Day will live with me forever and I must admit that my support was missing from the ground on the second morning of the Test, on the basis I woke at about 10 in the morning still lying on the sofa and decided to get to bed rather than watch what was inevitably going to be another good day for Australia.
That night involved just a few beers in the hotel bar and an early night, but last night was another heavy session, what with the Turf Bar putting on a karaoke which the Barmy Army took over - Billy the trumpeter arrived on stage to huge cheers and there is a really weird public school type chap who keeps singing Living Doll in the style of the pub singer. It involves talking jibberish like "Snurdy gurd snur gurda snurdy gurda... Pietersen" Every line finishing with an England players name rather than the words Living Doll. The rest is incomprehensible.
A lot of the guys who have been present at the other Tests seem to have materialised here, particularly Chardonay, the 50-odd GP who has dyed his hair red and seems to say that every Test match will be his last and that he must head home to England. I'm sure he will be here until the death.
The Designer has met up with his friend Tim and presented him with a signed Barmy Army shirt for his birthday. During the previous Tests we had managed to get hold of Darren Gough, Gladstone Small, Mike Gatting and Phil Tufnell just wandering around outside the grounds. They were all happy to sign the prezzie and Tim is suitably delighted with it.
I said goodbye to my new friends Scott and Holly yesterday. They now live in Melbourne with their three kids but Holly had bought Scott three days of Test match tickets for his birthday. They loved the whole Barmy Army situation and were very complimentary to me for making them feel part of the group. I feel another holiday in Australia coming on soon.
Holly was pretty much in her element last night after a few vodka and red bulls, trying to put off the Aussie pool players with moves that would make a lap dancer blush. She's certainly not shy, possibly down to her upbringing with a Geordie dad and a Scouser mum. Scott, for his part, is a huge Arsenal supporter and they both watched every game in the Gunners unbeaten season a couple of years back. Poor things.
We also let Bedford Malc and his girlfriend Sian use our washing machine in the apartment. Poor Malc was very envious of the luxurious surroundings, particularly as he was hoping for a similar all-singing, all-dancing apartment once Sian joined him out here.
Today has just been a quiet one, sunbathing on the roof terrace, but I did spend a short time at the Melbourne Bar and Bistro where you get an All You Can Eat buffet with a mouthwatering selection of Asian foods. Yum!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

xmas barbecue

I THINK I am going to spend the rest of my life dressed as Yoda, the grand master from Star Wars. What a pulling tool! If I could charge for every picture taken with me at the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne I would be a very rich man.
Xmas Day began in all-too British conditions. We strolled down to the Barmy Army barbecue and no sooner had we bought our beer tokens than the heavens opened and everyone got a good soaking. Within minutes the site chosen for this festive event resembled an open-air rock concert in Britain in late September. Rivers of water formed as we all huddled together under small parasoles designed to keep off the sun.There were well over a thousand Brits gathered in little groups throughout the site and the Aussie TV camera crews loved the chance to focus in on our misery.
But it couldn't dampen Barmy spirits for long and soon Billy the trumpeter stood in the middle of the site blasting out The Great Escape, We are the Army and Convict Colony before his now familiar rendition of God Save Your Gracious Queen. Then it was Jimmy's turn. When Jimmy steps up to sing Billy introduces him with a quick blast of Jim'll Fix it. By mid afternoon everyone was in full song.
One drawback of Christmas in Oz was trying to get phone calls back to England. I spent a good three hours having to deal with crossed lines involving about 10 different people all trying to speak to "Andy, Roger, Jean, Peter etc etc". Finally I got through to the Fat Kid just about the time she and the Vin Man were sitting down to have their Christmas lunch.
After that it was an evening drinking beers and the odd Black Sambuca (whose silly idea was that?) in the Turf Bar. It was a pretty rowdy occasion but good fun. The Designer's pal Tim and his girlfriend Josie turned up, while Watford Pete was accompanied by a mate from England, John, who is sleeping on his sofa. Never mind the fact the sofa is half the size of John and Pete has a massive double bed to himself.

Boxing Day and we all got into our fancy dress to walk to the cricket. I had to walk alongside Chewbacca who, despite all fears that he was going to boil alive, was delighted to see the cloudy skies and the rain that delayed the start of the game for half an hour.
Walking through town there were loads of shoppers stunned to see this disparate bunch of Barmy Brits walking amongst them. Olly, a Taunton lad who now lives in Oxford, was brilliantly decked out as the Grinch and managed to hide my light saber somewhere on his person so that we could get it into the ground.
Chewy (Hull boy Greg) was definitely the star of the show, but Yoda came a pretty close second, and when we stood together to signal four runs we were picked up on camera and made the local paper, The Herald Sun. We were also saluted by Trumpeter Billy, who played an impromptu version of the Star Wars theme.
I have just purchased a couple of copies of the local paper to show the folks back home.
Leaving the ground early I headed straight for the Turf Bar to watch the remainder of the cricket and met ex-pat Brits Holly and Scott, who were delighted to see some British faces. When Chewy turned up too, we started a good rip-roaring sing song. I was nearly as popular as Jimmy!
Greg and I didn't want the evening to end, though I was now getting steadily inebriated and the light saber was becoming not just a baton with which to conduct the orchestra but a pretty lethal weapon, too.
We went on to PJ O'Brien's where we stayed until 3am and I finally crawled back to the hotel. A wonderful day.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A mixed kebab plate

THE last couple of days have been pretty quiet on the lead-up to Christmas. A lot of the shops were closed in Melbourne yesterday but I did manage to find a restaurant open just around the corner from our hotel, where I had a mixed kebab plate including Chicken, Lamb and Shish. Had a pretty lazy day after that, though last night the Designer and I went down to the Turf Bar a couple of hundred yards down the road and managed to beat off allcomers, including Watford Pete and Scouse Grant, at pool. We also claimed "The Ashes" 2-0 when we wiped the floor with a pair of cocky Aussies.
Then we went back to the hotel where around 10 of us watched the football and played cards in Olly and Greg's room a couple of floors below.
This morning we got up to watch Watford Pete play cricket for the Barmy Army. It's not the warmest of temperatures in Melbourne and by 5 this afternoon I was freezing. Mind you, it certainly didn't seem like summer watching a cricket match in T shirt and shorts.
Pete, meanwhile, had enough after fielding for about 15 minutes and sneaked off the pitch without anyone noticing, choosing instead to drink a couple of beers before sneaking off back to the hotel. I reckon he was a bit miffed because no one asked him to bowl.
There are loads of Brits invading Melbourne at the moment and Christmas Eve night is likely to be chaos, not to mention tomorrow's Xmas Day barbecue. Should be fun though.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The most pretentious restaurant in Oz

BOXING DAY at the Melbourne Test will be a sight to behold. Most of us Five Testers have ordered our fancy dress and are ready to suffer for our art.
For my part I'll be dressed as Yoda from Star Wars, which may sound a trial in itself but I will not be anywhere near as uncomfortable as my mate Hull Greg, who is about 6ft 5ins and will be accompanying me as Chewbacca in full, 100 percent brown fur suit. He looks incredible in it, but is going to be rather warm I fear.
The idea to go in fancy dress started with Watford Pete. The deaf lad has ignored our pleas NOT to go as the Pink Panther (all cricket lovers know there already is a pink panther, and he is expected to attend the same Test with his pal Sylvester the Cat).
The Designer has opted to go in full Lederhosen, mistaking the name Australia for Austria, while the twins from Blackburn and Scouse Grant are going as the Three Amigos and Leanne, girlfriend of one of the twins, will be rigged out in full Flamenco outfit. Also there is Ollie from Taunton, whose hopes of going as Shrek were crushed but settled for the Grinch instead.
We have all spent a fortune in the local fancy dress shop but I am sure it will be worth it and hopefully we can grab our 15 minutes of fame on TV.
Last night we all had a meal together at the Mill. Pretentious? I had my suspicions when it advertised live Jazz but to be honest the food came in small portions yet cost over the odds, and the menu was extremely minimalist. I made do with eating up everyones leftovers as my plate of assorted meats contained about 10 slices of two meats and a load of uneccessary garnish, green and tasteless.
At least I am back into the swing of the tour after my illness. On Thursday night I had a great time, joining up with Bedford Mal and meeting a few others, first in the Turf Bar where the manager generously provided all the Barmy regulars with a free pint, and later at PJ O'Briens where Christmas-partying Aussies mixed with Army followers.
Here I met Fay, pal of my mate Ben from Chippenham. Fay is a huge Swindon Town fan and also likes a dance so we did a bit of an Irish jig together, at once stage circumnavigating the entire pub. Fay is here with her boyfriend for her birthday on Christmas Eve, she will be 26, and is not doing things by halves. Ben cruelly took a video of her later in the night where she bore a passing resemblance to a rag doll. Apparently Ben and her boyfriend had to virtually carry her back to the hotel.
Yesterday was spent at St Kildare's beach where we played cricket, dived in and out of the sea, and sat outside a bar swatting away the millions of annoying flies bugging us. Ozzy, the big Brummie from Halesowen, managed to find time to help a Swiss miss in trouble. She couldn't speak much English but the chivalrous Oz offered to show her round, much to the amused consternation of his mates.
The trams here are fantastic, but we have yet to work out how to pay and have been therefore travelling for free around Melbourne. Naughty boys but we will just plead English as a defence if caught.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

grilled fish, chicken salad and loads of imodium

PERTH has sold out of Imodium - and I'm not the only one who has been buying it by the job lot. The reason this blog hasn't been updated for days is that I have been feeling what the Aussies term "Crook". I'm not sure whether it is gastro-entiritis, flu, some awful disease spread by those dammed mossies or even the bed bugs the local pharmacist suggested might have been taking chunks out of my skin.
Anyway, the long and the short of it is that I'm glad to be out of Western Australia and into the more civilised environs of Melbourne.
The last few days of the Waca test match are a bit of a blur. I headed back to the hotel early on the Saturday evening because of the stifling humidity at the ground, therefore conveniently missing Adam Gilchrist's sensational second-fastest Test century in history. I did manage to watch it from the hotel bar, however, and there was a round of applause from the Aussies grouped around the TV when he brought up his milestone.
We went out for a very nice, extremely cheap Indonesian meal later but whereas the Designer, Watford Pete and Bedford Malc went off to a quaint little club called The Shed to watch Liverpool on the telly, I suddenly felt wiped out and went back for a lie down.
I hardly moved for the next day and a half. I had to watch England's brave attempt to save the Test from my hotel room with an appalling migraine, bad stomach and soaring temperature.
The next day, though I felt little better, I persuaded myself I should support England in their final attempt to save the Ashes. Rather than walk to the ground with the others, I hopped aboard an air-conditioned CAT, the free bus service that operates in Perth, and travelled to the ground in comparative luxury.
The first hour went ok, but just after the drinks break I suddenly felt awful, sweating buckets and coming over dizzy. I struggled down the steps from my seat in the stands and wobbled around the corner, praying I wouldn't collapse.
Thankfully, I had spotted a St John's Ambulance Station nearby. They helped me inside, got me to lie down, administered oxygen and checked my pulse and blood pressure. These volunteer first-aiders are worth their weight in gold and I cannot thank them enough. Within 15 minutes I was feeling much better so they took me to a chill-out room where I sat and watched England's last rites with a large majority of the Perth police department. Obviously they were being underused a. Because hardly any Aussies turned up to celebrate the regaining of the Ashes and, b. Because contrary to the belief of the Aussie press before the tour, the Barmy Army have been impeccably behaved.
At lunch, with one wicket left standing, I felt well enough to head back to the hotel. With a 5am pick up for the flight to Melbourne the following day I just had a very basic meal of grilled fish in the hotel bar, missing out on the Barmy Army's farewell party to Perth.

Billy, the trumpeter, didn't, however. As we were checking out of the hotel he was just returning from a night at The Shed. He was hanging. Hadn't packed yet, but was on the same flight as us. Later he could be spotted snoringly loudly in the departure lounge as we waited for our flight. Poor old Billy. Because he is now such an icon the Army DEMAND he attend every function - and the same goes for Jimmy. They must have brilliant consitutions - better than mine, any how.

Melbourne and suddenly we are living in the lap of luxury. A superb apartment in a brilliant hotel complex with a swimming pool, sauna and gym. We have our own washing machine, cooker, dishwasher, toaster, kettle and spin dryer. I think we're going to really like it here.
Last night we went out for a quiet meal at the Spaghetti Tree, a small Italian restaurant, but I stuck to a warm chicken salad while the other guys went for the Carbonaras, Bolognaises and Raviolis. As one who can't stand salad yet loves to indulge in the other delights of Italian cuisine I felt pretty sick, I can tell you. But I'm not up for taking risks yet. I want to be fit for christmas.

Just down the road from us is the Turf Bar, one of the Barmy Army Headquarters. A very nice bar, all the five-Testers met their last night and we had a few drinks and a laugh watching the joke that is the Asia Cup draw. It was funny in an excrutiating way, a bit like watching the Eurovision song contest.

Standing out on the balcony of the apartment it suddenly hits home to you how hot the Bush fires must be. There is a smoke ceiling covering this big city at the moment and you can smell the fires in the air, even though they are some way away from us.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Dodgy curry

YESTERDAY lunchtime we spent having a few pints with the hells angels of Perth - highly amusing. The Carlton Hotel is a small distance from the ground and has become Barmy Army headquarters on match day. And to say it's a bit dubious is a real understatement.
The heavily-tatooed guys at the door looked ready for trouble if it kicked off. And at some stage some larily Brit tried to start a fight.
In steps Guy, 6ft 4ins, long goaty beard and drinking something highly questionable out of a brown paper bag. To be fair all the guy did was split the warring factions, then went back to his chosen refreshment.
Highly impressed, we got talking to him and a couple of his mates. Then Fred turned up. Fred was about as old as Australia, grizzly beard and even grizzlier face. He had just a few words to his vocabulary. In fact, he reminded me of Father Jack, the booze-addled priest out of Father Ted.
He seemed to think we were "Terrorists", having mistaken the word Poms for Bombs, and constantly told anyone who would try and engage him in conversation to "F*** off". We did, however, manage to get him to sing a rendition of God Save the Queen.
This all took place at about 2pm and when I passed the pub five hours later following an exciting first day's Test action in which Monty performed brilliantly (why hasn't he played before) some of the same geezers were still outside, drinking merrily away. I'm not saying they were heavily inebriated, but Guy had already asked the Designer his name four times during the lunch time session.
Last night we made the hour-long hike back to the hotel and then went out for a quiet Vietnamese meal. It was an unmitigated disaster.
The designer's meal didn't turn up and my experience with special fried rice and vegetable curry is unfit for print. This morning I've had a couple of hours out of the heat to try to settle my stomach.
England are hanging in on the cricket front, but it isn't looking as rosey as it did yesterday.

There was a Gasheads convention at the cricket yesterday. I wore my Rovers top and some bloke who now lives in Perth turned up in his, too, having spotted me from the stands. After having a chat we spotted a third person wearing the famous blue and white quarters and by the late afternoon there were six of us discussing the merits of my favourite club. No wonder they don't get anyone turning up at the Memorial Ground these days - we're all out here. In fact Gerry, who lives in Sydney, has been writing for the Gas website for 15 years from over here. Nice work if you can get it.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A meat and curry pie

WE had dramas on Monday night. During the day myself, the Designer, Watford Pete, Scouse Gerry and the AnaestheologistMalc took a train to Cottesloe Beach. It was a beautiful setting.
We larked around in the sea for a while, then the Designer went and bought a beach cricket set so we had a 10 minute game, ending up absolutely shattered trying to run around in the heat across extremely soft sand. We needed a beer after that.
Lunch was an enjoyable Taster plate which contained crab balls, prawns, salami, dipping sauce and a host of other delights, then it was back on the train to the hotel.
That was when the bug struck the Designer. While I was baking hot, realising that perhaps the wind at Cottesloe had managed to disguise the strength of the Sun too much and starting to resemble a lobster, the Designer was shivering, climbing into bed with all the covers on and complaining of feeling terrible.
I went to reception and a helpful member of staff called Nancy explained that she had first-aid training and could take a look. She said the Designer's pulse was too high and so was his temperature. After explaining he had a stopover in Thailand on the way to Oz, the fears increased. Could it be malaria?
Having organised a fishing trip for early the next morning, though, he was adamant he didn't want to spend the night in hospital. Thankfully by around midnight he was sat up in bed, watching TV and insisting he felt much better.

SLEPT in yesterday, then had a couple of drinks with Malc in the Brass Monkey, a pretty good bar with a cocktail lounge (Bloody Mary's to die for) and any beer you care to name. We had a couple of Krony's and it was just like Boozy Tuesday back on WoS, but without the Prince of Darkness.
Then I jumped on board a train to Hillary harbour to meet the Designer off the fishing boat and visit the Aquarium. It was excellent, walking through a long tunnel and watching Nurse sharks, giant rays and peculiar looking fish passing around and above us.
On returning I went off to the Legends cricket game at the WACA. There were 15,000 fans there to see the likes of Mike Gatting, Robin Smith, Dennis Lillee and Merv Hughes perform in a 20/20 game. And at last England won something, thanks mainly to a brilliant innings by Graham Thorpe (why's he not still playing for England?)
Followed that with a trip to the Shag where I again bumped into Malc. He was steaming, having been on a River cruise with some of the Barmy boys who had just arrived after DRIVING all the way from Adelaide.
Later I hooked up with the Three Brummies, great lads that I met for the first time. We got a taxi back to the hotel.
It was then I realised I had only eaten a meat and curry pie all day. Unfortunately all the restaurants are shut here by 10. I toyed with the idea of a Domino Pizza, but in the end tiredness took over. A good day, all in all.

Monday, December 11, 2006

medium rump steak in pepper sauce

WE took a train to Freemantle yesterday for what is commonly known in Perth as the Sunday Sesh. This is where the locals go out for the day and slowly get bladdered in the sunshine.
Some of the boys mistakenly thought it was a trip to the beach and brought along towels, cossies etc. Others of us who had read the guidebooks were a bit wiser.
It was a real eye opener. The Little Creatures is Perth's equivalent of the Cardiff Brewery Quarter apart from the fact that it is one massive bar with huge chrome vats of beer. You get your drink poured straight from the vats.
Inside it was amazing to see around 30 Santa Clauses drinking away. This was their way of making money for charity. No walking 25km here, just stand in the pub, sing a couple of carols and collect the cash.
After Little Creatures we moved on to the Ship and Anchor for another couple of bevvies, returning quietly inebriated on the 4.30 train. An enjoyable day out.

The Designer and I have both been struggling. I've had a dodgy stomach and he woke up today with full-blown flu. I just had a quiet night in the hotel in the evening, enjoying a steak with Scouser Gerry. The Designer, meanwhile, got up at 2 to watch the Chelsea-Arsenal game, only to find that all the boozers were shut. How very dare they!?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

A very HOT plate

THE travel bug has really got me. The bastard's got me on the ankles, the legs and, most uncomfortably, on the arse. I've been applying the insect repellent every day but it seems the Perth Mozzies are a strong breed.
The first two days in Perth we've spent getting our bearings and drinking regularly on the river terrace at the Lucky Shag. Yesterday, we spotted that a jetboat leaves from the jetty just below it so, under pressure from the designer but not sure whether it was a good idea or not, we paid our 40 Aussie dollars for a spin around the bay.
Did I say spin? My God, it was like spending 20 minutes in a tumble driver. The driver, who smiled when I suggest he must be a sadist, put his 600hp jet-propelled boat through a number of manouevres around the Swan river that left us thoroughly soaked and all shook up. Having said that it was absolutely exhilarating, better than any fairground ride at Alton Towers.
Getting our feet back on dry land I needed a pint. Bedford Malcolm was there partaking of a cheeky glass of wine so I spent the afternoon with him discussing all manner of things, including the many jelly fish floating around in the water just below the Shag.
A Shag, by the way, is a kind of seagull, I have discovered. At least, that's the only Shag I've seen so far.

It's hilarious standing outside in the "beer garden" of the Shag while the Australians enjoy their Christmas Parties in nigh-on 80 degree heat, dressed in santa claus hats and reindeer antlers. All the shops are decorated in snow, yet I bet they've never once had a white christmas.
Heard about the Tornados in Wales and London - the only problem out here is the massive bush fires that are causing real trouble.
The Aussies are still being extra loud but I had to laugh yesterday as the Designer and I crossed the railway bridge. A bloke behind started shouting "Baldy" at the top of his voice. Eventually, though I tried desperately to resist, I turned around. He took off his sun glasses, peered at me, and realised he had the wrong person. "Sorry, mate," he said rather sheepishly as he trudged off with his girlfriend. Unfortunately, the other people around me found it all pretty amusing which, I guess, I did to. Wish it had happened to someone else though.
That might have hurt my pride, but last night a snooker ball hurt me somewhere else. One of the Five-Testers, as I will call the 20 or so of us doing the lot from now on, was playing pool in the Shag and managed to chip the ball off the table right into my private parts. I had been blissfully unaware of the impending danger as I chatted away with some of the other guys, beer in hand.

I also managed to smoke out an entire Vietnamese restaurant last night. I ordered the Mongolian Lamb with chilli and onion (on hot plate), and when the waiter delivered it to our table the hot plate was empty. In his other hand, however, he had a bowl of Lamb, chilli, onion and sauce which he plonked onto the sizzling platter. Cue a mountainous amount of smoke covering about six tables in the vicinity and sending many, including the unfortunate Designer, into coughing fits. I did feel slightly embarrassed.

There are some great bars in Northbridge, the area of Perth where our hotel resides. I think, rather than spending hours at the Shag, we may well spend a few more days closer to home. Live Bands, the scene is really kicking. A bit like the Yard. Not.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

kangeroo steaks, crocodile and Baramoundi fillet

YESTERDAY we moved to Perth after a disastrous final day of the second Test in Adelaide in which England managed to undermine all their good work of the previous four days by throwing away the game. The Aussie crowing reached record proportions. Never mind.
To drown our sorrows it was time for a night out and I had booked a table at the Strathmore Hotel for a farewell meal to Adelaide. And what a pleasant surprise.
Sitting in the upstairs restaurant myself, Watford Pete, the Kitchen Designer and Stormin' Norman, a 50-something Belfast-born, Buckinghamshire-based laugh-a-minute cricket lover, suddenly found that we had to cook the meal ourselves! For once this blog's title is actually accurate.
I plumped for the Aussie fare - Kangaroo steaks, crocodile and the popular local fish Baramoundi - while the others all chose the steak option. It was hilarious for Stormin', who had only told me the day before that he had never cooked a meal in his life.
The food turns up on a thick piece of stone, possibly slate, which has spent hours heating in the oven. First you have to sear the meat on the stone and keep turning it. Then you cut slices off and continue to cook how you want it. Watford Pete, the deaf lad, looked totally bemused by the whole thing but once he got the gist he really enjoyed himself cooking his well-done rump. Mind you, he made a bit of a mistake with what he thought was a mustard sauce but was actually a big bowl of English mustard. Cue a grab for the water, steam eminating from his ears as he realised his big mistake.
All in all, a great experience.
We then opted to drown our sorrows in the bar below and eventually managed to talk Watford into a trip to PJs for one last hurrah. The previous evening I had been there with Stormin' who, not used to the power of VB, had to be poured into a taxi at the end of the night. He was still carrying a hangover when we went for our meal.
It was a good night apart from the fact that Watford, who had already been showing signs of being worse for wear (he wanted us to go to the Melbourne Test dressed as either the Telly Tubbies or a Pantomime cow!) then preceded to knock back two pints of Guinness in the time it took us to take the froth off our cold ones.
When I returned from the bar a little later he was looking terribly sheepish. Next moment the bouncer was ushering him out of the door. He had managed to throw up on the ciggy machine. Poor Pete. He had to get up at the crack of dawn next morning for a two-day trip to Ayers Rock. He's ok, though.
Said goodbye to a few mates we had met during our stay in Adelaide on the basis they were returning to the UK. Paul from Cardiff and his dad were on the way home and it was nice to see his old man out with him in a bar where the local band were playing a really good cover-version set of things like Black Sabbath's Paranoid and Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall.
I eventually stumbled back at just gone 3 whereas the Kitchen Designer ended up going back to the Holiday Inn with some mates. He came across a large number of the Aussie team in the bar, absolutely trolleyed (and who can blame them?)
Ponting was off his face, Mike Hussey was singing and Adam Gilchrist was still in his whites. He fell off his stall laughing when one of the Kitchen Designer's crew started singing "We're gonna win 3-2!"

Barmy Army Travel is starting to do exactly what it says on the tin. Some of the organisational c cock-ups have been outright barmy. Still, I imagine it is the first thing they have taken on of this nature and I'm prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Yesterday started with a call to the room at 10.20. "Are you checking out today, sir?" was the question as I looked at the clock through bleary eyes.
"Well, you should have done so 20 minutes ago."
So much for the note slipped under our door which said we had until 12 to pack and check out.
Then when we arrived in Perth they managed to drop us off at the wrong hotel. It was The Seasons rather than the All Seasons and we had to call the bus back and lump all our cases back on board. Not a pleasant job for the Kitchen Designer, who managed to whack his head on the roof of the luggage compartment and felt dizzy from then on.
Eventally we arrived but the Designer and I were stunned when we saw our room - no window and no smoking! It was claustrophic. Good for the Designer, though. He went back and complained and they shifted us to a smoking room with a window for one night. We'll have to move again today.

Last night we had a beer with "Jimmy", the iconic choir master of the Barmy Army. Everywhere we go Jimmy has to done his George Cross hat and his white George Cross shirt as the TV crews gather to speak to him. He is more of a celebrity than every England player bar, perhaps, Freddie Flintoff.
Mind you, the Designer and I also got our share of the limelight yesterday with Aussie station ABC interviewing us for their news bulletins. They wanted to speak to miserable Englanders at the airport, but we didn't give them the satisfaction, being very upbeat and positive (not that I felt it, mind. I think we'll lose 5-0).
What a nice bloke Jimmy is, though. His real name is Vic and he is a carpenter and joiner by profession. His hat is sponsored, which provides him with beer money, and he also has a little Welsh flag on his chest given to him by another Barmy boy.
As we sat in the bar we were joined by another famous Army member - the trumpeter who has been hitting the news worldwide. The Aussie sat at the next table couldn't believe it. He rushed off to his room, returning with his camera and a copy of an article on the Army in Zoo magazine, which Jimmy had to sign. I took a picture of the two Barmy "celebs" with their new Aussie friend and he was delighted.

Ended up in a bar called "The Lucky Shag" last night. Didn't get lucky, though. Still, it was a beautiful setting, out on a verandah looking out over The Swan river. Simply stunning. I think, once we've settled in, I will like Perth.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Aussie 100 per cent beef burger

STANDING in the bar at the Cathedral yesterday I got chatting to a bloke called Paul who is out here with his 80-year-old dad. Turns out he's from Rhwbina in Cardiff and works for Lloyds Bank. He also knows my former account manager Nicola so we immediately had something in common.
He goes home after the Adelaide Test and, as a Cardiff City fan, he is eager to get home quickly - apparently they haven't scored a goal since he came away!
He said he has never bought the WoS but will be getting one as soon as he gets home, so by my reckoning that means I am doing valuable work for the newspaper and should be paid for my exploits.
Also met Mark, who runs a pub in Anglesey and sports a Travis Bickle haircut. Nice bloke, but gets a hell of a lot of stick from his Mrs every time he bangs the advertising boards or shouts his support of the England team. They are like George and Mildred, and it is all highly amusing.
Went to PJs last night where I met up again with Harry. The boy might not be a journalist yet but I am sure he will do well. he is king of the blaggers and almost talked his way onto the England coach yesterday. He also reckons he met one of Freddie Flintoff's mates who gave him the England captain's mobile, home and Aussie mobile numbers! We'll see if they work.
Harry also told me he had been on the Getty Images website and there are about five pics of me singing my heart out with the Barmy Army. Think I'll take a look after this entry.
This is our last day in Adelaide, then it is on to Perth tomorrow lunchtime. That will be like a holiday within a holiday, with no cricket to watch for six or seven days. Enough time to get some whale watching done hopefully and to catch up on the laundry.
Yesterday I didn't eat much, but had a nice 100 per cent beefburger at the ground. Tonight, though, I've booked into a restaurant where the steaks look wonderful. Hopefully we will be celebrating an England win, but I won't hold my breath.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Malay seafood noodles

THE bad news is that I have lost my St George Cross flag. The good news was that that it cost me 10 dollars (about 3 pounds) on our departure from Brisbane. Typical me, left it in a pub and couldn't be arsed to go back and get it. Never mind.
I had painted the flag with our names in permanent black marker - Rips and Glen - so that I could see it from the hill, and my Dad told me last night that he had actually seen a flag among the Barmy Army masses with that on it, but didn't realise it was me. Some of the Aussies actually think it means Rest In Peace, Glen McGrath, and by his bowling out here I can understand why.
The Kitchen Designer and I have finally got a hold on Adelaide after spending a Saturday night here watching the Arsenal v Tottenham game in a crowded sports bar. We've decided that it's actually the Blackpool of Australia, albeit with good weather.
Having said that it has been pretty cool over the last couple of days and when the wind gets up it can actually be quite cold.
We went to see the Adelaide Utd v Melbourne Victory game on Friday night so that we could get a glimpse of the 43-year-old former-World Cup winning Brazilian Romario. The game was a sell out, not brilliant, but the atmosphere was terrific. We sat right near the Melbourne fans, who were letting off firecrackers and chanting throughout the game. They had travelled around 13,000 km to see the game as their team are top of the league. Soccer is certainly taking off since the Aussies did so well in the World Cup.
On a bad note, I think they are about to encounter football-style hooliganism. There was no segregation at the ground and everyone was allowed to drink alcohol. In front of us two Aussie-Poles from Melbourne were getting on everyone's nerves and some Greek-looking bloke built like a Brick Outhouse was ready to thump them both before a steward stepped in.
On the hill, the Aussies are terrible in their attempt to bait the good-humoured Barmy Army. I am also encountering a bad current of racism, which may be down to naivety or perhaps just their prime minister's immigration policy. It's not nice.
Still, I have met some very good Aussies too, including Ryan and Craig, who we had a drink with in the Cathedral Inn at lunch yesterday. They followed their football team to Germany and were good company.
Meanwhile, we have finally got a foothold in the Ashes, thanks to Colly's brilliant double ton yesterday.
Oh yeah, by the way, I had Malay seafood noodles for my supper. Not brilliant.
I did see a bloke in the restaurant with a brilliant Sopranos Bada Bing T-shirt though. I'm going to search for one when I get back.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

steak and a schooner

Oh bugger! Spent all this time in Australia pretending to be a decent, considerate human being and ruined it all last night by getting bladdered on my first day in Adelaide. Now I am wondering exactly what bad behaviour you need to get up to if you want to be thrown out of a Barmy Army-backed nightclub.
It all began after we checked into our hotel following a two-hour flight from Brisbane. We took a stroll into town and met Darren Gough, the legendary England fast bowler and Celebrity Come Dancing star, on the way. The Kitchen designer got him to sign a Barmy Army shirt that he had bought for his mate Tim, who arrives out here for his birthday just after Christmas.
Goughie was great, really approachable, and got really animated when I discussed the Dance With the Stars programme which has just finished over here. The winner was some Aussie rules player who got 10 out of 10 from all four judges.
"Ah was watching tha' you know," said the Dazzler. "Bloke was bloody crap. God knows how he got those high marks."
Good old Dazzler, still putting down the Aussies. Wish he was playing today.
We went on to a bar which contained a mechanical bucking bronco and were pleasantly surprised that on the menu was steak and chips, plus a schooner of lager, for the equivalent of 4 pounds. Lovely stuff.
Walking on I spotted a bloke in an Adelaide Utd top. He said tickets were running out for tonight's game and pointed us in the direction of ticket line.
You see, the Aussies now have a soccer "super league" and we heard last week that Romario has just signed for Adelaide at the age of 43. The chance to see a real-life World Cup winner was too good to miss so we went and bought tickets for 19 dollars, the equivalent of a tenner. English Premiership, take note.
Strolling back to the hotel we stopped off for a pint and were joined by Pete, a deaf lad who had suffered a nightmare with schedules but ended up staying in the same hotel as the Aussie cricket team, and Malc, a nice guy from Bedford. It turned into quite a sesh, then it was back to the hotel for a quick shower and down to PJ O'Brien's, the Barmy Army recommended bar.
Oh my God. A couple more drinks and I was in loveable drunk mode. Harry, our former work experience lad, turned up and bought me another pint and then I decided to invade the stage where there were a few people trying to impress with their dancing.
Move aside - Rippers is here. I managed to get pushed over for patting the DJ's girlfriend on the arse (bit silly really, for some reason I thought she might persuade him to play The Clash), then managed to spill a pint over the DJ's decks. He wasn't happy and I was waiting for the inevitable expulsion but, joy of joys, the Barmies seem to be immune.
Went and bought another drink where for some reason I got preferential treatment at the bar, then handed over a pint to a bloke who I thought was Harry, but apparently wasn't. I saw Harry moments later and inquired as to the whereabouts of the pint I had just given him. "What pint?" was his reply.
Finally got a taxi back to the hotel and crashed. The Kitchen Designer woke at 6.30 and recorded my snoring. Apparently it broke the decibel limit for downtown Adelaide.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Thai to die for

THE big craze over here is power walking.
I thought this was something that was just done by a few people while the rest of us took the mickey, that judgment being made on the basis of an episode of the Aussie comedy Kath and Kim. Wrong.
Everywhere you go you get Aussie women and men charging past you, arms pumping as they make their way to work, or the shops, or just about anywhere.
I would like to say I've got the hang of it, but yesterday proved I am still way off the pace.
I found a beautiful walk along a pathway which follows the Brisbane River and decided to visit a pub I had been told about which nestles just under the picturesque Story Bridge.
No sooner had I set off, though, than I was having to dive out of the way of bell-ringing cyclists, keen marathon runners and the aforementioned walkers. Brisbaners are fitness fanatics.
When I finally reached the bridge I then had to climb an extremely steep hill. This is certainly not the only steep hill in Brisbane as there is one on the way back from the city centre to my hotel. And my lonely planet guide tells me the city is easy to walk because its "relatively flat". Have they got the right place?

When I reached the top? No pub. So I decided to stop someone and ask for directions. Impossible. Instead I ended up jogging alongside a young lady power-walking her way home, sweat pouring off me from my exertions. She didn't break stride as she gave me directions to the Story Bridge Hotel, which just nestles under this impressive structure on the other side of the river.
Having walked to the ground and back every day for five days of a Test match, plus this marathon expedition into the unknown, I should be as fit as a flea by the time I get home.

Last night the Kitchen designer and I found a fantastic thai restaurant just behind our hotel. Problem is that a lot of Brisbane shuts VERY EARLY. We arrived at about five to nine and had to rush in our order before the place closed up.
The starter was some terrific oriental fish cakes with a spicy touch and a clear but highly tasty dipping sauce. After that I had a red curry of beef, without coconut, while the Designer opted for a terrific red curry prawn dish with prawns each the size of a small shark! Having tried one, it was delicious too.
As it's our last night in Brisbane before flying to Adelaide at 6am tomorrow I think we shall be visiting it again tonight.

After dinner we went on the long search for a bit of musical entertainment. My guide book told me that an Irish bar called O'Learys wasn't too far away but unfortunately we took a wrong turning. Cue more walking up and down hills.
Eventually, though, we turned up at the right place to find it had been renamed Kitty O'Shea's. Put a whole new slant of "popping to Kitty's" for a lunchtime drink.
It was jam-session night and although the posters advertising the place suggested we were in for a night of diddly diddly music, the musicians were extremely good - and not an Irishman in sight.
The lead singer was a big Fijian with an acoustic guitar, the bassist an incredibly talented Japanese bloke, and there was also a Spanish flamenco-style guitarist, a Chinese lead guitarist and an Aussie on drums - quite an international mix.
And at last we found somewhere in Brisbane open after 10.30 on a week day (well, that's apart from Just Hooters). We shall probably pay it another visit tonight, too.
By the time we got back to the hotel at 11.30 the bar was already shut.
What's that all about?
Hopefully Adelaide, with an hour and a half time difference, will be a bit more lively.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Moreton Bay Bugs

SO England lost the first Test, but the Barmy Army certainly won the battle of the fans. For the first time yesterday all the England fans were in the same part of the ground and they sang all the way through the last rites of the game. There are some great characters, like the nutter who runs over to the Army every now and then from his place high up in the stands and waves two pieces of card at us marked: "Av it!" Every time he raises them everyone shouts "Av it!". Yesterday, a lady standing in close proximity to him gave us all a laugh when she raised an imitation Ashes Trophy and waved a card announcing "Got it!"
Took the wind out of his sails a bit.
Jimmy leads most of the singing and I don't know how he manages it. I've found I've been losing my voice on a regular basis.
Freddie Flintoff and the England team certainly appreciate the support. At the end of the game he bought them over to acknowledge the fans, which was a nice touch.

The heat in Brisbane yesterday was sweltering and humid.
Had my hair washed and head shaved at the Brisbane School of Hairdressing for about a fiver which helped me to cool down, then visited the big Food Court in Brisbane's main area, Queen Street. You have the option of sampling dishes from many different countries - heaven for a coinnosseur of eathing like myself so why I eventually plumped for a good old Beef and Lamb Kebab with hot chilli sauce I don't know. It was like being back in City Road.
After doing a bit more shopping it was back to the hotel and a bit of rest and relaxation in the cool of our room. It is starting to resemble a bomb site as living out of a suitcase takes its toll.

Every day I've been waking up at about 5am with the daylight streaming through the windows. It has given me the chance to do things you would never do at home and I've got into a bit of a routine. I come down, blog then have an early swim in the outdoor pool here. First, though, I check it carefully. I've heard that one of the Aussie spiders can survive for up to two months in the pool. Alastair, the guy we met on Sunday, said they have a saying here: "If it has eight legs or no legs, give it some respect". Kempy will delighted to know I came across my first cockroach yesterday, lying upside down and on the verge of pegging out. It was about the size of a big thumb nail. Nice.
The other thing that has amazed me is the size of the bats that fly through the trees in the park opposite the hotel. They are truly massive and shriek as they disappear over your head. Scary.

Those who know me won't be surprised by the news that I lost my complimentary Barmy Army cap after just a day, but I was delighted when the hotel reception called the room to say it had been found in the smoking area by the bar and pool. No surprises there.
Last night we actually hit Brisbane for the first time and I was tempted into trying the local seafood delicacy, Moreton Bay Bugs. They resemble giant prawns or small lobsters and you have to crack open the hard shell to get to the flesh inside. Ok, but I wasn't particularly bowled over by them. The firm white fish resembles cod in its texture. Still, for the first time I've tried something a bit different.
The Kitchen Designer, like me, loves his cooking and we swapped tales of the kitchen over our meal. His girlfriend is currently at his mum's having a cooking lesson because she wants to make her own cakes. Apparently, she has just two dishes - grilled mackerel and liver. It sounds a strange diet to me, but each to their own.
Going on from our meal at a place called Jimmy's on the Mall we visited the Victory bar for a couple of pints of VB, then headed back. We were both shattered from the sun and the strength of the Aussie beer. Getting back we found the hotel bar had closed by 10.30 (what's THAT about), so we finally raided the mini bar for a couple of cold beers and lay on the bed watching the Fox sports channel.
Woke up covered in beer, having fallen asleep in world record time. And this is a bloke who suffers from insomnia back in Blighty!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Nachos with chilli and guacamole

AT last those crowing Aussies aren't quite so full of themselves. England had a good day batting and I reckon a lot of it was down to me and the Kitchen Designer.
Leaving the Gabba at lunchtime with England in trouble we made the short trip to the Chalk Bar, a massive boozer which resembles Dr Who's tardis in the fact it is much larger inside than it looks from the outside.
While there we got talking to a guy called Alastair, originally from Devon but now living and working in Brisbane. And soon we were so comfortable in our surroundings that we decided to delay our return to the ground on watch on the big screen at the bar with a few cold VB's to help us relax.
Cue an England fightback, first with Alastair Cook and Paul Collingwood, and then with Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen putting together two determined partnerships. It felt wrong to leave the bar with England doing so well - neither of us wanted to jinx their progress.
As the VB's kicked in so did the hunger, so we ordered some nachos to go with them. Very nice, a huge platefull each which I couldn't finish.
When we returned to the ground I joined the Kitchen Designer in his section, which was where the main Barmy Army crowd, including Jimmy, the long haired bloke with the big St George's Cross hat, had gathered. The banter between the Brits and the Aussies was brilliant, even more so when the Aussies actually found their sense of humour and spotted a member of the "Fun" police who looked remarkably like Chuck Norris. We all joined in with the "Chuck Norris, Chuck Norris..." chant. The member of the constabulary looked totally embarrassed by this but acknowledged the chants to huge applause.

The police haven't been all fun here, hence the nickname. They have confiscated a number of beachballs from the crowd like sniffy headmasters trying to punish naughty pupils. It added to the fun when about three of them tried to grab hold of an inflatable doll in an Aussie section of the crowd and it ended up like a highly amusing game of piggy in the middle. The whole crowd cheered each time one of the Fun Police reached up and failed to catch the latex doll.

Last night, the kitchen designer and I had every intention of getting up at 2 in the morning to watch Manchester United v Chelsea, and after a few more beers in the hotel bar and a visit to the local Indian curry house we retired early to bed.
When the alarm went at about 1.20 we both looked at each other and it was a mutual agreement that we should remain in our pits. We could have walked to the Union Jack bar to see the game, but we must conserve our energy to support England on the final day.

Friday, November 24, 2006

A bacon and egg muffin - with onions!

I HEARD a little known story of Welsh history last night: The Aussie invasion of Caernarfon Castle. I am sure this has not been widely recorded, so keen students will no doubt be fascinated.
The story was told by an Aussie called Bob we met around the pool last night. "Where ya from, mate?" he inquired. When I told him that I'd travelled from Cardiff his eyes lit up. "Hey, I've been to Wales," he said.
The visit happened in 1981 when Bob and his wife took their camper van around the principality. When he arrived in the north of the country he decided it would be a good idea to try to drive into Caernarfon Castle. Big mistake. He crashed into a wall and ended up in the moat. It took us all about 10 minutes to stop ourselves laughing.
Met some good people out here. Last night the Kitchen Designer and I spent the evening by the pool knocking back a few cold ones and were joined by Aussie Bob and his mate Graham, who are from Newcastle, New South Wales, and an ageing Devon hippy with long straggly hair, a drop earring and a sunburnt nose, also called Graham. It was nice to actually find some time to relax and shoot the breeze with some interesting characters, and helped us take our mind of the cricket, which has been pretty disastrous as far as England are concerned.
It's led to a lot of Aussie crowing, and though the Barmy Army have tried to keep spirits up it is pretty hard going in the face of adversity.
At the Gabba cricket ground they have a notice that comes up on the scoreboard inviting anyone who feels a supporter in close proximity is causing a nuisance to text a message pointing out the offender. It has led to a number of people being removed from the ground, including the Barmy Army trumpeter who did nothing worse than cause an enjoyable atmosphere with his regular renditions of the Great Escape. Not one for the purists, I guess, but hardly an offence worthy of eviction.
It also got rid of the 10 face-painted Aussie schoolboys behind us who had somehow managed to get the day off to drink weak lager and shout obsenities at the England cricketers.
"Cam on, Harmison, bowl another wide you jerk."
"Harmison you're sh**, you are a liability."
"My mum could bowl better than that, Harmison."
Highly amusing to us English supporters who knew all the time that the guy fielding on the boundary in front of us was actually Matthew Hoggard.
There are plenty of Brits out here and the Gashead away top got plenty of acknowledgement. I met one guy from Frome who claimed to remember me from Gashead games about seven years ago, even though I rarely attended then because I was working in London. Then there was the Bristol Sh*thead who told me the Barmy Army were chanting "Who are you?" in recognition of my Gashead shirt. And then there was the guy who said he was visiting as a guest of the Gasheads largest shareholder. Don't know if he was expecting a pat on the back but he got an earful over how the bloke should be spending more money on buying us new players.
Haven't really got into the eating experience as yet. Getting to the ground for a 10am start means a quick breakfast, yesterday morning's was a bacon and egg muffin which also contained onions, then something from one of the snack bars at lunch (Calamari and Chips made a nice change from pie and chips).
Decided to walk back from the ground yesterday and finally succeeded in finding the hotel, but my experience of flip flops is getting no better. I bought some in Dubai and now have a king-sized blister on each toe, plus the fact they regularly slip off when I am walking along. No doubt I will seriously damage something before long.
Added to that I walked almost the entire way to the ground yesterday before realising I actually had my shorts on the wrong way around. Even by my standards, which include wearing two entirely different shoes to work once, that is pretty incredible.
Anyway, off to the game in half an hour. First stop for some plasters and blisteeze at a chemist, I reckon.

A hot dog and a bag of crisps

Day One - Brisbane

I imagine the last thing you want to watch when your plane has just taken off is the film World Trade Centre. But that is exactly what happened to my new roomie, the Kitchen designer, en route to Brisbane from Bangkok, where he visited his brother for a day on his way here.
The sight of airplanes crashing into tall buildings is not likely to fill you with any confidence about flying - more likely it is going to turn you into a gibbering wreck, Denis Bergkamp style.
Anyway, The Kitchen Designer survived the experience, which is about all you can say about the both of us and our first day day at the Brisbane Test match.
Having negotiated Brisbane airport, where customs insist you declare nearly everything you possess (and God forbid you have a live chicken in your bag) I was finally collected by the Barmy Army bus driver along with two guys from Sunderland I could barely understand and another bloke who wasn't even a member of our tour party. Apparently he knew one of the tour reps and had blagged his way onto the bus.
By this time it was 8.15 and the Test started at 10. We then set off seemingly for our hotel, the Watermark, only to find that 10 minutes later we were pulling into another airport car park having done a complete circuit of the area. We were picking up the Kitchen Designer from a connecting flight from Sydney.
The gatecrasher on our bus was getting very irate - and rightly so - at the prospect of us missing the start of the First Test match and finally disappeared with his suitcase. Meanwhile, I decided to make sure things went a bit quicker by changing into shorts and T shirt in the back of the mini-bus.
After a 13 and a half hour flight from Dubai I was feeling pretty shattered, particularly after getting up at 5 in the morning and now finding I am in another country, on another side of the world, at 8.30 the following day.
Finally the Kitchen Designer turned up. Nice bloke, we immediately hit it off.
But there was little time for small talk. It was straight off to the hotel where we were met by a Barmy Army rep who asked us what we wanted to do. Without hesitation we decided to forego check in, put our luggage in storage and head straight for the Gabba Ground. This involved me taking everything I needed - cigarettes, money, tickets - in a duty free carrier bag to the ground.
We were all in different areas, so split up and then suffered the humiliation of watching England take a good thumping on the first day. I sat in my seat for about an hour until the shade went and the sun came down full pelt, then headed for the safety of the bar, where I stayed for the rest of the day in the company of a number of England supporters who were trying to make light of our team's frustrating position by winding up the Aussies with songs like "We get three dollars to the pound" to the tune of He's got the Whole world in his hands. Followed up by "We're so rich it's unbelievable".
Another favourite has been "God Save YOUR Gracious Queen". The Aussie comeback has tended to be along the lines of "F*** off you Pommie bastards". Highly amusing.
Anyway, things were going so badly I headed back to the hotel with about half an hour's play still remaining - and got completely lost as I tried in vain to find a taxi. I ended up with blistered feet, a bad headache and double vision from the fact I had been up for what felt like three weeks. When I got back to the hotel I lay on the bed and watched some cricket highlights just to confirm my misery.
By 7.30 the Kitchen Designer, equally shattered, was asleep. By 8 I had followed suit. What party animals we both are.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

too many continental breakfasts

WENT to Fat Kid heaven yesterday, otherwise known as the Mall of the Emirates. It was a great piece of advice from the Genius and I got a taxi there to see the most opulent shopping centre in the world. Surrounded by Gucci, Armani, Ralph Lauren I felt a bit out of place, particularly as when I arrived in Dubai my suitcase was in transit for Brisbane. Hope it turns up.
Ended up having to buy a cheap t-shirt and pants as I was beginning to pong a bit after six hours on a plane and the heat of the Dubai sun in the afternoon.
Up at 5am this morning for the rest of the journey to Brisbane, and blogging now from Singapore airport while we refuel. Another note on Dubai, the taxi drivers are mental and they have all seen too many American films. Mine raised a finger and shouted "F*** u" at all the people he cut up on the way from the Mall to the hotel.
Also I saw someone who looked remarkably like Charlotte Church advertising phone sex lines in Dubai. Wonder if she knows.
No doubt the Boss is ecstatic about Celtic's win over Man U, glad I am so far away. The mobile is staying off.
Didn't manage to meet the Genius. Somehow she ended up in another Emirate and couldn't find her way back. No surprise, considering that the traffic is diabolical.
Dubai ok but you need a few days there - particularly if you like shopping. The imitation ski slope in the Mall was surreal. Everyone dressed up in thick ski costumes in imitation snow with the weather approaching 100 degrees outside.
Anyway, the plane is boarding, so on to the Ashes!

Monday, November 20, 2006


Well, here I am at Heathrow Airport having arrived SIX HOURS early for my flight. The Fat Kid was dropping me off and I didn't want to risk the chance of getting stuck in traffic. So after a hearty cooked brunch and dropping the Vin Man at his new school we climbed into the Ford Fiesta and set off. Well, that was after checking her oil and realising that the engine had been lubricated with fresh air for the last few days.
Leaving at 2pm for a 10pm flight might seem a bit over cautious, although I'm sure Shutts would have departed the previous evening. Still, the M25 was clear, unbelievably, and we arrived at Heathrow at 4.
With all the new construction work, though, it took another hour to find the departure lounge from the short stay car park, having taken a number of wrong turns, got into an ascending lift which managed to take us up to the top floor of the car park, and then attempting walking from the ground floor - not a good idea.
When I checked in for this trip of a lifetime to the Ashes the girl on the Emirates desk looked a bit shocked. "You are taking the last flight," she said. "You seem to be a little early." Yeh, six hours.
I think everything's in place now after a hectic weekend with the Fat Kid.

Saturday involved a night out at the aptly named Mayhem club in Southend on Sea - Chav central as I now call it. Scantily dressed women and young cropped hair blokes who all fancied themselves as Essex Boys. I went out with the Fat Kid and some of her mates. That was a real experience. Having hoped to be in the pub by 8 it actually involved visiting one girl's bedsit after another, drinking a large quantity of wine and finally stumbling into town at 10. The rest of the night seemed to be a series of arguments about where we should actually go.
Mayhem was, to put in bluntly, Mayhem. And within 20 minutes, having been left to look after her coat while she went to the toilet, I lost the Fat Kid. An hour and a half later, having sat in the same seat, with the same beer, and made a dangerous trip around the club, I lost all hope of finding her. Leaving the club there were seven unanswered messages on the Mobile. "I went out to make a phone call and the bouncers wouldn't let me back in. I am now at home in bed."
Thanks, Fat Kid, my trip to Southend has been memorable.

Sunday I met up with Evans who lives in Leigh on Sea, not too far from Southend - some, though not Evans, would actually say it's a suburb of Southend.
We had a few drinks in the Sarah Moore pub and then convinced ourselves we should have a go at the pub quiz, which had attracted a massive turnout of locals.
We didn't do too badly, it must be said, seeing that Evans had not returned home from seeing Zane Lowe in Colchester until 5am that morning and I had partaken of the Mayhem experience.
Decided to call our team the Barmy Army and did pretty well in the opening rounds - TV we were pretty good, Sport was excellent (of course) and General Knowledge proved easier than expected.
Then it was on to our "joker" round, Films, and we managed a staggering 91/2 out of 10. A good last round and we were in with a chance.
It just happened to be the opening lines of songs and you had to guess the artist and the song.
Absolute disaster.
Evans persuaded me she would thrive in this, but the previous night had obviously taken its toll. We were poor.
It didn't help when she suggested she would have done much better if they had played a bit of the song. Seemed to defeat the whole object of the quiz, I felt.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sunday Lunch

THIS is one of those entries, a bit like that film Memento, which needs to be written backwards.

So let's start on Monday morning, 9.15am, waking fully dressed, barely able to stand, bleary eyed as I try to answer a knock at the door. Worst still, every brain cell available to me (about 15 at a guess) can't figure out how to open said door, the most menial of tasks on a normal day. But not today, oh no.
In anguish, after various attempts at turning the key by brute force alone, I admit defeat. "I'm sorry, the door won't open."
"Ok, don't worry, it's only the postman, I've posted next door's letters to you by mistake."
Thank God he knocked, though. Otherwise I would have slept in until 4, forgotten to take my car to Charlies for an MOT, forgotten the guru, missed my doctor's appointment and well, basically, buggered up my entire well-planned Monday and well-planned week.
Struggling back upstairs I look into the spareroom to see a mirror-image staring out at me, white as a sheet, bloodshot eyes and fully dressed under a pitiful attempt at a quilt covering. It's Pete... least it vaguely resembles Peter. "F**k" I murmur. He nodds.
Pete's presence explains where my leaving do before my trip to Oz went horribly wrong.
I blame Pete...

Sunday started well with a big slap-up Sunday lunch in the Queens Vaults. Pete turns up on the train from Newport brandishing a return ticket and a fully printed list of all trips from Cardiff Central to Newport Station going from Sunday at 5pm right through to Sunday at midnight.
"I'm definitely going home tonight, I've got loads to do on the house," he says, in all seriousness.
I concur. "Yeh, I've got a busy day too. I've got to get the car MOT'd..."
We actually believe this is going to happen. There's just something nagging at the back of my brain that tells me we've been here before.
To be honest we're too stuffed to knock back the beers straight away anyway. Roast beef, Yorkshire pud, plenty of roast potatoes plus lots of veg and we're sitting there like two bloated predators on the serengetti after catching up with a wildebeest.
Gareth arrives and enjoys a pint with us and then it's time to move on to the Yard.

Beer 3 is not long coming, followed by Kempy, Coggsy and Rosey (the three degrees), shortly followed by Roberts, who has a regular date with his mams cooking and won't risk it for ANYTHING.
Beer 4 and Becks shows up with Owenov in hot pursuit and by the time we have drunk up it's pointed out that the Arsenal-Liverpool game is about to start.
Because The Yard is a bit sniffy about football and will only show rugger, we have to hotfoot it to O'Neills. Shutts joins us as we cross the road.
Bloody hell, the place is absolutely packed for a Sunday and we stand there, half watching Arsenal giving Liverpool a tonking, half jabbering away. There's a good quorum with Marc turning up too, although the fabulous Baker Boy can't drink on account of his bad tooth that's being removed the following morning.
The first sign of a row emerges when Rosey returns from the bar to find that Kempy and Coggsy have gone over to McDonald's for a big Mac.
"They've gone without me!" he storms. "... And I was busy buying THEM a drink."
Awww, bless. I have to point out that there is, in fact, just two people in that relationship. I'ts a crushing blow to his sensibilities.
Meanwhile, Pete and Shutts, two Newportonians, are getting on fine and it seems that Pete is sorted out for a lift home. Everything is going to work out hunky dory on account of the fact that Shutts has the car and doesn't drink.
After the match the survivors head back to The Yard. We are accosted by an ex-marine character who reckons Pete and Roberts are members of the SAS. I haven't the heart - or the courage - to tell him he is wrong and that it's actually Kempy, Rosey and Becks who are the military recruits in our team.

Someone mentions a new club called the Buffalo Bar and we file off there. It's then that the evening gets a bit hazy.
At some stage I remember the new shoes, which look a bit like teddy boy shoes, come off and the next thing I'm weaving and wobbly on a chair to the music.
I soon return to earth, however (and I'm taking Shutts' word for this on account of he is 100 per cent sober) when a group of breakdancers take to the stage to show me up. Kempy and Coggsy immediately extend them an invitation to appear at the wedding.
It's my turn at the bar, and we've now been drinking 10 hours solid. I notice that some of our number are calling it a night, well actually all of them apart from Pete, who is slumped in his chair, totally content to carry on.
I turn to Shutts: "Have you forgotten him?"
"No, he said he'll make his own way home."
I know what that means. It will all end in tears.
Anyway, all in all it was a bloody good Ashes send off.
Not such a memorable morning.

I will endeavour to keep this blog going throughout my tour of Australia, but whether that will be possible we will have to wait and see.
A footnote: The doctor has told me that as a result of recent blood tests I must now cut down on drinking. Bloody hell! Two months in Australia without a beer? What do you think?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Beans on toast

THE Prince of Darkness ordered me to sort my staff out yesterday. I know exactly what he means.
Sitting around discussing favourite recipes, food mixers, the best use for butternut squash etc is fine. It's understandable to get in touch with your sensitive side to a certain extent, but when it comes to buying flowers for yourself that crosses a line.
Yet this is exactly what Shutts did yesterday. No excuses. Quite proud of himself. He marched into Tesco's and bought himself some lillies. "They brighten the place up," he explained.
Well, tickle my knackers with a feather duster, that's going TOO FAR.
I mean, Shutts could have come up with any excuse: "I bought them for the Mrs after a particularly big fight when she threatened to throw all my porn in the bin."
"I bought them for the Mrs as an apology for going out on the p*ss with my mates on our anniversary."
"I bought them for the Mrs to try and persuade her that I didn't really fancy all the girls that I've been texting with undying messages of love."
But none of them will wash, because Shutts's Mrs is actually on holiday with her mates in Australia. So, unequivocably, he bought them for himself.
And worse... as he tried to talk himself out of it he made himself sound even more wussy. "Well, you get double club points for them."
Double club points? What man who doesn't spend his life dressing in women's clothing and showering himself with sweet-smelling "products" talks like that? What will he be doing next? Dressing like Freddie Mercury in suspenders while hoovering the front room and singing "I want to break free."
The Prince is quite right. This has GOT to stop.

Did I mention that Owenov is quite forgetful?
Well, by his standards, yesterday was the Mother of all forgetfulness days.
Mrs Owenov (we'll call her the Belfast knee-capper and hope she doesn't read this) came around to collect the car keys yesterday. "Where did you park the car?" she quite reasonably asked.
"Umm, I can't remember."
There then followed a 10-minute discussion about where in the whole of Cardiff Owenov might have parked the car, including excuses like: "Well I nearly crashed into Son of Bono and that put me off and then I just parked it and walked in and..."
Finally, after more umming and aahing than is good for you, and for his knee caps, he finally had a Eureka moment. By this time the sports desk in its entirety was rolling around on the floor, emitting hoots of derision.

It was Champy's 40th last night. Well, she's been celebrating for the last two months so why would Friday night be any different? Champy works in the Newspaper Sales department. She's a good laugh and enjoys a night out so, having promised myself a quite Friday, I ended up listening to my own personal DJ in the City Arms, dancing around, shoeless, tie around head, and didn't get home until 12. I could really do with some beans on toast which, I am reliably informed, is what Shutts has been living on since the Mrs went away, but am in no fit state to cook it.
Last night Freeman and I spent much of our time trying to find our mobile phones. First I couldn't find mine. "Let's ring it," he said. Queue Kenny Rogers ringtone and vibration at my left nipple. It's in my inside pocket.
Later Freeman says: "Think I've lost my phone. Ring it, can you?"
Within seconds we hear his ringtone blaring out into the Cardiff night. It's in his coat pocket.
Deja Vu.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Tuna fit for a Prince

Handy cooking hints from the Prince of Darkness should be taken with a large pinch of salt - or at least a pint of Stella Artois.
As the Prince was scribbling down a recipe for my tea last night I had visions of what it would entail...

Turn off lights, pull curtains and light 200 candles.
Don't go within 100 yards of the garlic.
Put on black cloak to guard against splatter.
Harvest five Gwent virgins (bloody hell, that's more difficult than finding some of the ingredients for a Nigel Slater recipe!)
Hang upside down and bite each at the neck, leaving trough to collect ...

Nah, only joking, this one was actually for Tuna steak and very enjoyable it was, too.

Fresh Tuna steak
tablespoon olive oil
3 or 4 anchovy fillets
two crushed garlic cloves
four chopped, fresh tomatoes
a squeeze of sun-dried tomato paste
6 or 7 capers
crushed black pepper
A good scattering of chilli flakes
(the chilli flakes and sundried tomato paste were my idea)

Boil salted water in a pan, then cook spaghetti.
Heat the oil and melt in the anchovy fillets
add the garlic and soften but don't burn
Make sure the oil is hot, sear the Tuna on both sides.
Add the tomato, tomato paste and capers. Stir well.
Add a handful of basil
When the spaghetti is cooked, rinse and then add the tuna and sauce.

After that, get one of the spared virgins to do the washing up while retiring to the coffin for a good rest.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Thai fish curry and a marathon, man

MARC has just undergone a rather painful dental experience, in the manner of Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man.
On Wednesday he was suddenly struck down by awful toothache and was forced to go to an emergency dentist. From the way he regaled the story last night, it sounded as if Sir Laurence Olivier was standing over him, drill poised, demanding: "Is it safe yet?"
Of course, that didn't happen. What did happen was bad enough, though. Having had a localised injection to deaden the area, Marc was pretty sure it WAS safe. His face had swollen up and the area surrounding the troublesome tooth felt pretty numb.
When the drill struck, though, it was a different matter. Our brave soldier yet out a painful yelp and spluttered above the teeth-grating sound: "Stop! Stop! It's not dead yet."
Thankfully he lived to tell the tale in the pub last night when we all gathered to usher in Brammy's 50-and-quite-a-bit birthday.
It seems Brammy's assertion he's "never had a problem with the Ladies" is quite accurate, too. There he was, holding court in the Boar's Backside, surrounded by six female admirers waiting on his every word. Clever old dog, Brammy. He knew he would get more cards if he invited more girls than blokes.
Withers, meanwhile, is now more worried than ever that he has actually been cloned from me. Marc's dental story prompted me to relate a tale about the day I lost my two front teeth, falling off someone's shoulders and landing in the gutter during a particularly long boozing session. Cup final day, if I recall correctly. I spent the rest of the night showing off my war wounds in the local boozer, only to wake at 3 the following morning. "Aaaaaaaaaaah!"
It appears Withers, too, had exactly the same tooth-shattering experience. On this occasion, he was the one doing the carrying, couldn't remain upright and cushioned his fall with his mouth. Result, he lost his two front teeth.

Cooked myself Thai Fish Curry last night, from a recipe in the Sainsbury's mag.
tablespoon sunflower oil
3 spring onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
piece of Cod cut into chunks.
1/2 tin coconut milk
3 teaspoons of thai green curry paste.
A cup of frozen peas

Fry the chopped spring onions for a couple of minutes until they soften, then at the garlic and carry on cooking.
Add the coconut milk and thai green curry paste.
Then add the fish and peas and cook until the fish is done. Add some coriander leaves towards the end of cooking.
Serve with rice.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Ainsley's chow mein

EVER since my trip to the docs on Monday I have been treating my body as a Temple. I have cut down the ciggies drastically, haven't had a serious drink, swum 50 lengths, walked to work and cut out the red meat while reducing my salt, coffee and tea intake.
All that changed yesterday.
By the time I stumbled out of The Yard after a good sesh with Withers, Roberts, the Prince and Shutts I had forgotten all about my blood pressure. Come to think of it, I'd forgotten my name, my profession and my age. I had even lost the power of speech.
Well, it was my first drink since Friday and I hadn't really eaten anything significant earlier in the day (I blame that bloody blood pressure leaflet).
Withers, meanwhile, has just returned from Galway Bay after landing a freebie. It sounds like he had a good time though why you would waste a trip to see the delights of Gourmet Galway on a vegetarian beats me. I am assured, though, that the Monkfish was magnificent.
To be fair, Withers was positively beaming on his return so, for that reason alone, it's good that he has finally landed himself a trip somewhere.

Chow mein from Ainsley Harriot's meals-in-minutes cookbook is a very tasty, very quick meal to prepare.
Plain noodles
Sesame oil
Cooked Chicken, shredded
One onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
a small amount of chopped ginger
Mange tout, halved
2 tsp soy sauce
Sweet chilli sauce

Boil some water in a pan, add noodles and cook for 3 - 5 mins, then plunge into cold water and add some sesame oil.
Meanwhile heat a wok until its hot, add a tablespoon of sunflower oil.
When hot, add the chopped onion and stir-fry until it is starting to brown.
Add the sliced garlic, ginger, beansprouts (if you have them, if not use extra noodles) and mangetout.
Cook for another 3-4 mins, stirring, then add the noodles, shredded chicken and soy sauce.
Heat through thoroughly, for another 3-4 mins, stirring, then add the sweet chilli sauce and pepper.
Warm through and serve.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Spanish-style chicken

THE confidence of Welsh rugby journos never ceases to amaze me. You would think they had won the World Cup as many times as Brazil in football rather than their pitiful record of one semi-final since the tournament was launched at the end of the 80's.
On Saturday morning they were all telling me about the tonking the Australians were about to get - even Roberts, who is more circumspect than most.
"This Aussie team is experimental and they were crap in the tri-nations, Wales will beat them easily." Somehow I wasn't convinced.
Roberts' words came tumbling back into my head when Australia nipped in for two tries and were leading 17-6 after 20 minutes. Wales had hardly touched the ball.
Back in mission control, Brammy has decided the usual culprit was to blame. "!@+@+*!@" He is muttering under his breath about the referee.
This normally placid bloke, who would offer Atilla the Hun and Adolf Hitler a roll up and a pint down the Old Scroat if they turned up in tandem on these shores, has a red mist descend whenever he sees a man with a whistle.
As it turned out, Wales managed to emerge with a draw and live to fight another day.
Then The Boss, who is on a day off, choses to text in from the nearest hostelry. "We (that's Wales in this instance, not the Scotland of his birth or his beloved Ireland of his one million cousins) were ROBBED!," he stormed. According to The Boss, the referee - yes, him again - should have let play go on after time was up because Wales were actually inside the Aussie half for once and might, just might, score the winning try. Oh Lordy!

It's a horrendous Saturday at work, mainly because the superduper, all-singing, all-dancing, full colour press decides to break down (again) - and I'm on lates. When they finally get it up and running its past midnight and I eventually get home at 2.15 on Sunday morning, washing out the next day completely.

Lazed around most of the day watching the footie, and in the evening decided to watch the first Lord of the Rings film on TV on the basis that when I went to see it in the cinema I fell asleep half way through. Boring? I thought so. There are only so many fights between Orks, Dwarves, Elves and Hobbits you can watch, particularly when you already know the result - the seven or eight good guys, four of them smaller than me, will always overcome the millions of venom-spitting, snarling, weapon-wielding Orks.
I did, however, manage to make a brilliant Spanish-style Roast Chicken dish which I shall pop on the bottom of this entry.

Australia is now just 13 days away and I've started to get a bit anxious. I'm heading off for two months, until January 9, to see all five Ashes Tests.
At least now I have all the details of the trip, the tickets, hotels, transfer passes etc are all set up and I have even been informed who I will be sharing hotel rooms with - one Glen Ryan. I have sent him an e mail to introduce myself, but I am saving the blog until later. Don't want to scare him off too soon.

If I am worried, the Fat Kid is desperate. She has been on the phone every day lately, trying to get me to buy her a new car, telling me about her broken washing machine, her broken relationships and everything else that is broken in her life. Poor old Fat Kid. Be interesting to see how she gets on having to stand on her own two feet for two months.
She tells me the Big Boy is now in clothes for ages 6-9 months, and he is only just five months old. At this rate the Vin Man will be wearing HIS cast-offs by the time they are in big school.

My doctor (yes, I have finally managed to get past the guards and the swinging axes, rolling rocks etc to get in to see her) tells me that my blood pressure is still high and has given me a useful article on how best to reduce it.
Not surprisingly it tells me that every single aspect of things I like most in my life are bad for me: Smoking, drinking, salt in food, red meat, blah, blah, blah, blah). I'm going to try to do something about it - right after our Tuesday afternoon boozing session.
Yesterday afternoon I followed up a tip from Nickers and ventured into the Valleys (well, on the way to the Valleys) to try and kit myself out for the Ashes trip. She told me they were selling great value luggage at TK Max in Talbot Green. What she didn't tell me was what it was like to shop in the Valleys.
Going into Boots for my prescription for high blood pressure I'm told: "We don't do prescriptions". No doubt scared the place would get broken into with all those drugs about. Then I look around and realise that every product in the store is NAILED DOWN. Bloody hell. I feel a long way from home - actually it's about three miles.

Anyway, the Spanish-style chicken was a recipe I spotted in this month's Sainsbury's magazine. WHAT YOU NEED:
1 free-range chicken
1/2 teaspoon paprika
pinch of Saffron or turmeric
50g margarine or butter
4 chorizo sausages, skinned but left whole
six chopped vine tomatoes
1/2 a leek/coins
Big beans like butter beans or borlotti beans
6 peeled garlic cloves
one chopped shallot
4 mushrooms, chopped
a small Scotch bonnet chilli

Heat oven to gas mark 5
Mix the paprika, saffron or turmeric into the marg or butter and add black pepper
Rub into the skin of the chicken
Put chicken in oven (cooking should be 40mins per kilogram plus 20 mins) Test by putting fork in. If juices run clear it is cooked.
Half way through cooking remove the chicken from the oven dish and put in all the veg. Mix up and then place chicken on top.
Cook until the chicken is done inside.
Carve up and eat with rice or pasta.
If on your own and don't want to be a greedy sod, keep some of the chicken for the next day when you can do it in a chow mein.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Jacket potato with bacon and tomato sauce

EVANS is back in Cardiff (oh, be still my heart). And next week she is on a mission.
Now a mission for Evans normally involves visiting a full range of the finest hostelries to partake of their sweetest strongbow, followed by a visit to a nightclub or after-hours drinking joint. It normally ends up with an urgent need for medical attention after bruising knees, breaking elbows or some such incomprehensible injury.
But before she accuses me of the worst kind of libel I would like to point out that these are not necessarily alcohol-related mishaps, it's just that the girl is the most accident-prone person I know.
(did I get away with that? I think so, phew!)
Anyway, she was telling me about this mission last night and I must admit I was gobsmacked.
You see Evans likes children - but says she couldn't eat a whole one. Sorry about the old joke but, let's put it another way, her maternal instincts aren't the most dominant aspect of her personality.
Her editor has obviously decided to change all that. So next week Evans flies out with a team of aid-workers to visit Bulgarian orphans. Much as I would like to imagine it, I don't think she will be "doing a Madonna" and bringing one home for keeps.

Sometimes when you've little in the fridge at night it's time to experiment. Jacket Potatoes are always easy so last night I put one in the microwave - on full power 7 mins one side a quick flip and 6 mins the other.
While that was doing I chopped up a shallot and some bacon. First I fried the shallot until it softened, then added the bacon and continued to fry. Next I added some tinned tomatoes I had left in the fridge, added some black pepper and a small dash of double cream.
I then put the cooked jacket under a medium hot grill to crisp the outside, cut it open, added a bit of margerine and topped it with the bacon mixture and some parmigian cheese. Just right for a cold winter's night.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Ham and cheese nibbles

THE nanny state is upon us and no more so than in Wales, where the Assembly government is ready to stop us all smoking, drinking and, in every sense of the word, being merry. Assembly is right. It might as well be made of Lego for all the childish 'holier-than-thou' doctrines that emerge from it. And they want to give these people MORE power...

In preparation, the Old Scroat has already brought in a no-smoking policy - much to Brammy's disgust. He sent me a text on Wednesday night: "Sat in no smo area. Freezing. F***ing off soon. This is f***ing me off." And he's their only regular. Doesn't bode well for the future.

It got us talking on Thursday night in the Yard. It was a cold night, about -2, and Roberts confessed that he would probably give up smoking when the ban came in next April rather than stand outside perishing.
I said I would probably have to give up drinking, too, and probably life.
But the Prince of Darkness had an altogether darker outlook on things. "Yeh, I guess if I am going to have to give up these things I'll just have to go home and watch Animal Porn all night instead."
Hmm, don't know whether he mentioned that in the job interview.

Meantime, we've found a new part time job for The Voice. The Voice is rail thin, particularly in his pinstripes, but we reckon he would make the perfect Welsh Santa.
The "political correct" police at the Assembly keep going on about childhood obesity and we reckon a thin Santa would be the perfect role model. And, of course, he has The Voice. "Ho, ho, ho."
I can just see him now, sitting in Cwmbran town centre with his elf assistants, Withers and Marc. Withers would love it, smiling and sending out Xmas wishes to hordes of excitable young children in his green tights and natty hat.
Second thoughts, I can see those same smiling children emerging from the grotto with long faces and tears in their eyes.
The parents would ask: "What do you want for Christmas?"
"Lethal injection please, mum. I never realised life was so miserable."

Got home last night and couldn't be arsed to cook. Also, there was a new drama series on BBC, The State Within, that had me hooked from the start. Settled for a bag of Ham and Cheese Nibbles and a cup of tea.
Downstairs it was boys night out. My attempts to have an early night were thwarted by Scooby showing off on his new pair of Congos to Pete and Gareth. Cue Scooby banging away to a rather loud version of Peaches by The Stranglers, with the other two singing along enthusiastically but with little reference to the tune. Wonder what the neighbour thought - she's a singing instructor.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Love potion No 9

THE doctor's surgery is hardly the best place for engaging in deep and meaningful conversation with members of the opposite sex (all right, "chatting up" for short). Wrong.
I was back at the docs the other morning, and ended up talking to a lovely lady who sent my blood pressure soaring.
And it was all down to the Chav family.
When I sat down next to this girl with long brown hair, dressed in jeans and a black jumper, I had no other intention than to bury myself in my latest book.
But the Chav family, God bless 'em, had other ideas. Mummy Chav, a rather rotund lady wearing Primark joggers and sporting a rather natty rose tattoo above her right breast (not that she was showing her right breast, Heaven forbid), was having quite a task keeping Little Rascal Chav in line.
He had decided that the doctor's surgery was the best place to show off his full range of squirming, shouting, throwing things, kicking his sisters and generally being a little rascal - a little, heavily overweight rascal.
His sisters, for their part, were doing their best to wind him up. On occasion, Mummy Chav and oldest sister Chav exchanged playful kicks across the small corridor between their seats.
I wanted to share my enjoyment of this playful hi-jinks with someone and when I glanced at the girl next to me our eyes met and we both beamed. I may have, indeed, shwuned, with hindsight. Then someone touched my knee!
Unfortunately this was not the object of my instant desire, but Mummy Chav, who then gave me some very helpful advice. "If they are annoying you, mate, just belt 'em," she said. An interesting take on modern parenting.
When I turned back to the object of my affection, she was called to see the nurse.
But fortunately this story of unrequited love doesn't end there. Later she returned and, with nearly the whole waiting room to choose from, squeezed back into the seat next to mine!
I pretended to be unfazed by this, turning a bright red and feeling the butterflies turn somersaults in my stomach. Definitely a shwun. Perhaps even a shhhhhhwuuuuuun, as The Boss might say.
But how to open the conversation? No need. We locked eyes again and she said... "It's really busy here today, isn't it?" This was true mainly because The Chav family had annexed the waiting room and were now lying, sitting, fighting and generally taking up nearly every available space.
It was just the opening I needed. I talked at great lengths about how I wished I had queued outside the surgery from 7am, how it was a pity that they didn't take appointments but, then again, at least you could get in to see a doctor which was more than some places when you had to make an appointment seven days in advance by which time you were well again.
"Not that I am a regular visitor to the Doctors," I quickly pointed out, fearing she might think I had some incurable disease - probably verbal diarrhoea.
The conversation continued until she was called in by the doctor. At the same time my phone rang. "How are ya wee man?" asked The Boss.
By the time the phone call was finished the desirable one was leaving the doctors and all I could do was smile and wave while attempting to get The Boss off the line as quickly and harmlessly as possible.
Anyway, in the very unlikely circumstance that, like Withers, she spends at least 20 times a day googling her own name, here is what I know...
Her name is Susan Woodward
She has just bought a house in Newport
She has spent the whole of her life in Cardiff
She went to University in Nottingham.
Susan, if you're out there, leave me a comment. Better still, a phone number.

First there was Herbie, the little Volkswagen Beetle with a mind of its own.
Then there was Kit, out of Knight Rider, who actually "talked" to its owner David Hasselhoff.
They may have both been ficticious creations, but it seems that a car does exist now which can act of its own accord.
Shocked rugby writers waiting for a press conference at the Vale of Glamorgan Hotel spluttered over their coffees when they saw a car disappearing past the window - with no driver in sight.
Then an alarmed Hotel worker poked his head round the door and announced in a posh, sniffy voice: "Will the owner of blah, blah, blah, blah, blah please go and fetch his car - it's just rolled down the hill".
Cue an embarrassed Coggsy, who had forgotten to pull on the handbrake.
As he had parked on a hill in the first place, he must have walked off to the hotel, being followed closely by his vehicle.
The most absent-minded driver in the world? Probably.

Pleasant afternoon spent with Withers and The Voice in The Yard, where the new barmaid, from here on known as "Funny Girl", kept us amused. Fell asleep on getting in and woke after missing the Barcelona v Chelsea game. Drat. Cheddar Cheese on rice crackers with a bit of Worcester Sauce was the easiest tea option.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Meal or no meal

I think I've uncovered a terrorist plot. The PPF, or Powys Popular Front, have infiltrated right to the top of the British establishment - in short, Brammy tells me his brother has landed a job as a driver for the Royals. It's all cloaked in secrecy and I don't know which Royals (most probably the King and Queen of Sheppey), but when you consider Brammy's political leanings I would suggest the screening process has gone a bit awry again.
Quite often you will hear "proud Welshman" Brammy blurting on about the injustice of being under the English yoke, of how everyone should be speaking their own language, of how we English should be kicked back over the bridge and of how the likes of Cardiff City, Wrexham and Swansea City should quit the abomination that is English football and join the Welsh Premiership, where they would conquer Europe in about 50 years time.
As he rants about all this he neglects to mention some extremely salient points. 1. He was born in Gloucester. 2. He can't speak Welsh despite numerous efforts to learn, and 3. He supported the English football team until his late teens. So maybe I'm wrong. Maybe, just maybe, Brammy is a double agent, having infiltrated the highest levels of the Owain Glwndwr network. Or perhaps he's just a babbling idiot who puts on this act just to see what reaction he will get. Whatever, if MI5 find out the Brammy connection, there could be a full-scale inquiry.

Brammy, by the way, is walking around with a huge smile on his face at the moment. He's in demand. He has been making thousands of pounds out of the company on a freelance basis, while having paid off his mortgage with a nice big wedge of redundo.
But that isn't what is making him smile. It is the fact that his two favourite boozers, the Old Scroat and the Boar's Backside, are both re-opening for business after refurbishment. And they are both fighting for his custom, though Lord knows why.
The Boar's Backside was Brammy's original favourite. He could sit in the back bar and regale his tales of daring do to a wierd assortment of foreign students, steaming drunks, 6ft 8ins Brazilian transvestites, ageing gay council workers and psycotic glass collectors. They even allowed him to play his guitar, for God's sake. And he used to be allowed to participate in the student offers which, at the age of 50-plus, isn't a bad gig.
Still, the novelty wore off when they tried to make the place more popular. This to Bram is sacrilege. Once, having visited his local in Newport, The Engies, every day for about 10 years, he stormed out when someone who "wasn't local" was given the last order of faggots, peas and chips. He hasn't been back since.
From the Boar's he travelled 50 yards down the road to the Old Scroat where he immediately made good friends with the manager and staff - on the basis that a lot of the time he was the only person there for them to talk to.
But the Scroat was closed down for refurbishment, as mentioned elsewhere on this blog. So Bram, since then, has been a wandering soul.
At the weekend, though, he went up to "do a bit of business" in the Boar's. This usually means collecting a free pint off some poor unfortunate who lost a bet with him on who would win the rugby. Brammy's technique is simple. Welsh team wins, he wins; Welsh team loses, he loses. He has lost a great deal of money over the years.
While supping his pint the landlord materialised to tell him that they are putting the old bar back to what it had previously been and he was welcome to the proud unveiling on Wednesday.
Chipper about this, he strolled down the street only to bump into the Scroat's manager. "Hey, Brammy," said the bar-keep. "We're re-opening on Wednesday. We expect to see you back in situ."
What a dilemma. He will probably get a free pint or two in both.
One thing is for sure - he won't be working Thursday.

I'm feeling very old today. Must be down to Becks' 26th birthday party I attended yesterday. In the good old days, when I was still in my 20's, a birthday used to involve going out, getting horribly drunk, ending up at some grab-a-granny night, grabbing a granny, getting beaten up by the Grandad who was actually going out with her, spending a bit of time down the Infirmary getting stitches, sobering up to a terrible hangover, getting home half an hour before having to set off for work, getting a taxi to work, turning up at work and then trying to somehow sleep throughout the day without the boss realising. Not any more, it appears.
No, folks, now you sit around in someone's house and attempt to play the electronic boardgame version of Deal or No Deal.
I say, attempt to play Deal or No Deal, because the first thing you have to do is fit the batteries into the cheap imitation plastic phone from which a Noel Edmonds sound-a-like tells you what is going on. Removing the battery cover to fit the batteries was attempted, in turn, by Withers, Marc, Becks, Posh Lins, Rosey and Marc again, who finally declared: "Bugger, I think we've mutilated the screw head".
It was then left to Rosey and his super-human, Universal Soldier Army-training strength to break off the cover. Then there was the mad scrabble for batteries. "We need three!" shouted Becks despairingly before raiding all his other electric gadgets to find the necessary. His landlord Kiwi could be in for a shock, or not, when he tries to use his electric toothbrush this week.
After finally getting things together, and dispensing with the difficult task of having to make 22 identical boxes out of small flatpacks (this was more like B&Q the Boardgame, by now), the game eventually started an hour and a half later. And it was pretty crap, to be honest. And the electric voice didn't even sound like Noel Edmonds (although it did sound MORE like Noel Edmonds than John Culshaw, who was actually imitating the great quiz show host on the Anniversary programme of the same name that everyone, bar me, wanted to watch that night).
Truthfully, Becks, I did enjoy it. It was certainly different, and at least I got home without a visit to the Infirmary.

I know I can't cook like Anthony Bourdain, or ever hope to for that matter, but it won't stop me customising and ripping off his recipes. And last night's meal actually turned out to be fantastic...

Tournedos Rossini with cream and red pepper mash and garlic spinach. Mmmm.

Three or four thick slices of beef. I cut them from a nice beef joint
Vegetable oil.
Butter or marge
2 sliced Shallots
1/4 cup red wine
3/4 pint beef stock
Cornflour mixed with water
Potatoes peeled and cut into big chunks.
Red Pepper burnt skinside up and then the burnt skin peeled off and the pepper diced.
1/4 cup of double cream
Two sliced garlic cloves
A good portion of spinach

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan until it is hot. Add the butter or marg and when foam subsides put in the seasoned Beef. Don't overcrowd the pan - if necessary cook in stages.
Make sure the beef is brown on all sides before transferring to a roasting dish and putting into a preheated oven, gas mark 4, for between 5 and 10 mins.
Meanwhile boil the potatoes for 15 minutes until you can push a fork into them, then remove from the heat and add pepper and salt. Mash and put the lid on the pan.

From the pan which had the meat in, put in the shallots and cook for 4 mins before adding the red wine. Bring this to the boil then add most of the stock, keeping a bit back. Boil vigorously, stirring regularly, then as it is reduced put through a sieve and strain. Throw the shallots away and reheat the wine sauce, adding some cornflour to thicken.

Put the pepper under the grill, burn the skin and then scrape off, dice the cooked pepper and add to mash.
Bring some butter and a little cream to the boil and also add to the mash. Mash again.

For the spinach, fry the garlic cloves with some salt for 10 seconds, add the spinach leaves and toss around in the frying pan until they start to reduce in size. Add the remaining stock to this and cook on for 4 mins.

Pile the mash on the centre of the plate, surround it with spinach, put the beef Tournedos on top and then pour over the red wine gravy. Absolutely fabulous.