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.