I'VE been out of circulation for a few days - in fact, it's safe to say I've been to the back of beyond: Scunthorpe, to be exact, for my mate Stu's wedding.
Now Stu getting married is a cataclysmic event. Then again, most things that happen in Stu's life are cataclysmic.
I met him about 15 years ago when he first joined this esteemed paper as the chief sports sub. I interviewed him in the local of that time, the Queen's Vaults, where he promptly sank about eight pints of Guinness while I supped away equally energetically on lager. We talked about our mutual interests, namely everything Punk rock from the Damned to the Undertones. Can't remember mentioning work too much.
Not the traditional type of interview, I grant you, and it was a bit of a struggle to get out the words: "Jobsyours (hic) if you wannit."
After a while he moved on to sports edit the South Wales Echo, and later joined the People to take charge of the Welsh and Irish sports editions. When there was a changing of guard at the Peeps, Stu and the entire sports team relocated to Broughton, near Preston, where they were employed en bloc by the Sunday Express and Sunday Star.
The reason why Stu's world is as turbulent as Hurricane Gordon is that he never does things by halves. Ever.
Stu is competitive to a ridiculous degree, fearless and ready to take on any challenge at any time. In his spare time he's a poet, musician, painter and countryside rambler.
An example of Stu's adventurous attitude came when he went skiing for the first time. Viewing the ants on the slope below he told his fellow travellers: "God, they're not going very fast, are they?"
Reaching the top of the piste, he saw a number of skiiers slaloming gently down the beginners run and promptly announced: "That's boring... I'm going down here," setting off on the black run with glee.
His squeals of delight could be heard all over as he negotiated the first bump in the ice and took to the air. But he wasn't bargaining on the speed with which the second bump arrived and gawping spectators watched helplessly as he launched into the air with a tangle of legs, arms and skis - only to land head first in the next hill of snow. James Bond, eat your heart out.
Anyway, at 8pm on Sunday I headed for Sunny Scunny, planning to break up the journey by stopping overnight at a Travelodge on the way.
The roads, though, were clear and I finally went all the way to Scunthorpe, driven on at various times by The Clash, Obie Trice and Morrisey. I booked into the Travelodge on the outskirts of Scunthorpe at midnight.
Next morning I dressed up for the big event: Cream suit and trousers, beige shoes and white shirt with thin blue and red stripes... Oh God, it just didn't go!
Fortunately there was a Tesco Extra opposite. What a great invention they are. I found some tasty black shirts, not packaged but hanging up, retailing at £8 a pop and a really good tie to go with it - pure silk for £4. A quick change in the toilets, followed by a hearty fry up, and I was ready for the big event.
By the time I reached the church I was two hours early. Bugger. So I looked at the directions for the Hemswell Court where the reception is taking place. It can't be that far, can it? I can drop off my stuff, find the place and drive back in plenty of time for the wedding.
Some hopes. Roadworks mean that the directions I have been given are next to useless and the traffic is pretty bad. Not only that but the place is miles away. I'm nearly in Grimsby by the time I find the place and, after checking in and dropping off my gear, it's about 1.10pm.
There's then a mad rush back, interrupted by the Fat Kid who says 'For some reason, I'm not insured to drive my car'. Nothing I can do about it now, Kid, I'm late for a wedding!
I got there with minutes to spare and met up with some of Stu's work cronies: Ray and Scotty. Scotty used to look like Kramer out of Seinfeld but with his expanded sideburns he now appears more like Jack Nicholson in Wolf. When the moon changes I imagine him emerging from the woods covered head to toe in hair.
Ray's a Manc through and through, a fervent United supporter with a pathological hatred of Scousers. Also there is Ed, Stu's old boss who now, in a bizarre version of musical chairs, is Scotty's understudy on the Express.
The service seems to go ok, apart from the fact you travel four hours from Wales and all you get to bloody sing is "Cwm Rhondda". Bread of heaven, bread of heaven... Aaaaah!
At dinner afterwards I am sitting with a bunch of interesting strangers. There's a teacher from Bolton with the most blatant syrup you've ever seen who is determined to mount a determined defence of Wanderers' "Bung-accused" boss Sam Allardyce. He blames EVERYTHING on Man Utd. I'll have to introduce him to Ray.
The rest of the crew all seem to have come from Norfolk and looking around the table I begin to feel like Bert Reynolds, and have a distinct feeling they'll be whipping out their banjoes soon. Deliver us from evil, please - particularly the one with the eyebrows that meet in the middle.
Actually, they're all very nice people really and I'm being horrid.
The speeches are great, particularly when Stu breaks into Italian to welcome wife Anna's cousins from the old country. It reminds me of the Italian courses he took once because "It's a sexy language. You can even make 'I've trodden in a lump of dog poo' sound like the most romantic phrase in the world'.
He carries it off perfectly though, to a standing ovation, and escapes the character assassination he must have been fearing from his younger brother Steve.
Then it's the night's festivities and Stu tells us there is a band waiting for us. What he DOESN'T say is that he is lead singer and guitarist of the Band. So it's from cutting the cake to cutting a rug with a number of Irish-influenced ditties like Whisky in the Jar. On stage, the nine musicians look like the Pogues and the Dubliners performing a reunion gig.
As the night goes on and the lagers go down I finally decide to take to the dancefloor for the Stones' "Start Me Up" - and my Jagger impressions go down so well that everyone clears the floor (or were they just trying to avoid injury from flying out-of-control arms?). I do three minutes Jagger and am shagged out. How does he do it for two and a half hours?
Finally the dregs of the party settle down for a final drink while, around us, the staff are hoovering up and laying breakfast tables. They definitely want us to go.
Whenever there's a wedding it always reminds me of my own failed marriage. The day itself was great, apart from the fact that the ferocious wind outside Swansea registery office led to the girl I married, hereafter known as the Psycho, to drive a large hatpin through her finger. Blood everywhere. It was all downhill after that.
Up early and return home. It's a good motorway journey but by the time I complete the 500 mile round trip the black Fiat Tipo I call Boo (on account that the registration has Boo in it) is out on its feet. Every time I touch the brakes there is a serious grinding of metal. It sets my teeth on edge.
An extra day off. I do all the normal chores and then it's off to the hospital to visit Steadso, one of our Saturday casuals, who has been in hospital for weeks with a mystery ailment. I spend a good hour looking for the ward that Owenov tells me he is on. He got the ward right, just got the hospital wrong. By the time it dawns on me after an A to Z tour of Cardiff's University Hospital that somethings wrong, and I find out the truth at reception, I realise that my brakes are so dodgy I probably won't reach the other hospital without skidding off the road, a la the Voice of God. Nothing for it but to take the Tipo in to Charlie's Garage.
Quickly off home then and time for a Paella, Ainsley Harriot-style.
Half a chopped onion
Two cloves chopped garlic
A chopped red pepper
Cup of rice
3/4 pint vegetable stock
Pinch of turmeric, pinch of paprika, pinch of salt
Smoked, chopped ham
half an apple (cubed)
Assorted seafood (prawns, muscles, squid rings - you can get Seafood selections from most supermarkets)
Lemon juice and black pepper
Mix Seafood with good smattering of lemon juice and back pepper. Leave to stand.
Heat olive oil in wok or saucepan
Fry the onion and garlic in olive oil until onion softens and garlic starts to brown
Add the pepper and stir fry for 3-4 mins
Rinse the rice and then add to the mixture in wok/saucepan
Stir so that all rice is covered in olive oil
add vegetable stock so rice is covered.
Add the chopped ham, tumeric, paprika and a teaspoon salt.
Bring to boil then reduce to simmer.
Cook for about 6-8 mins, then add the seafood medley and the frozen peas.
Cook and keep stirring for another 5-6 mins. Add a bit of hot water if it sticks too much to bottom.
Add the apple just before the end of cooking and stir in.
Leave to stand for about a minute
Serve with garlic bread and, if fancied, a dollop of sour cream.
It's not quite as good as some of the paellas you get in Valencia, but it's filling nonetheless.