THE big day finally arrived. The Gas at the Millennium Stadium. Having got to the final of the Football League Trophy with victory over our arch rivals across the City, anything else was going to be a bonus. Sadly, anything else didn't come along.
Despite a late Saturday night on WoS, I was up with the lark on Sunday. My mate Haydn, his son Liam and accompanying entourage arrived outside my house just after 9.15 demanding sustenance. "Where's the best place to go for a big breakfast and a drink?" demanded my old school pal. I suggested the Wetherspoons around the corner. He could park the car outside my house and we could trot around to said pub, then walk the 20 minutes into town.
"Isn't there somewhere nearer?" he enquired.
Big Mistake No 1.
We drove over and parked the car in Sophia Gardens, then walked the short distance into town. One of Haydn's pals was on the phone to his mate. "Where are you?" he asked.
"Which one?" A reasonable question. There are four or five in Cardiff and the surrounding area.
"The Ernest Willows in City Road."
Ah, yes. The one approximately 100 yards from my house. Doh!
Anyway, we intrepid Bristolians wouldn't be put off. We were directed towards the Prince of Wales where at 9.45am in the morning it was already heaving with Gasheads. We were told to queue at the front doors. The queue stretched around the block. These poor souls were operating on the one in, one out policy. I bet most of them didn't see the inside of the pub before the 1pm kick off.
Our little group decided to march on. And after three quarters of an hour we finally settled in at Lloyds where they had approximately three bar staff serving in the region of 800 people. By the time we got our breakfast, met up with another old mate Brocky, and walked to the ground, it was 12.30 - half an hour before kick off.
Still, we were in good voice. Thirty seven thousand west country accents drawling "Good Night, Irene, I'll see you in my dreams". The confidence was huge.
The bubble was deflated within five minutes, by which time we were 2-0 down and moaning to our heart's content. "Ah well, at least we beat the City," was our consolation chant.
But, lo and behold, Rovers as usual filled us with false hope, drawing back to 2-2 in a rousing second half and only being denied victory by the brilliance of goalkeeper Neil Sullivan, between the sticks for Donny.
Into extra time. No one was sure whether it would go to penalties or not. Six minutes from the end we were still hopeful. Then Irene's dream was blown apart and we headed for home, heads down, the Watney Cup from 1974 still the only trophy in our cobweb-strewn trophy room. That's what being a gashead is all about.
Met up for a consolation pint and a final smoke with Withers and Rosey at the Pen and Wig. We've decided the word of the month should be Bozo. It's a wonderful name for a completely foolhardy individual of a certain type. Can't explain the type, you just know who is a bozo and who isn't.
This conversation took place as we munched on spare rib flavour crisps (a new one on all of us). Meanwhile, Withers defiantly stood his ground when his cigarette packet flew off the table. "Never mind, I'm giving up tomorrow," said the firm supporter of the smoking ban or "traitor" as I now call him.
This man, one of the political movers and shakers in Wales today with a blog and column which commands the respect of... well quite a few people read it anyway, has refused to raise a voice in protest against this Fascist move by Rhodri and his Doddery mates. Shame on him. His reason: It will force him to give up and save oodles of cash.
Moments later, though, the wonderful one did a shock about-turn. He raced after the packet and seized it within his grasp. "I just realised there was one left," he said.
One ciggy later, though, and he is already feeling withdrawal symptoms. "Give us a fag, Rippers?" he demanded. "Bugger off, traitor. You supported this ban, now live with the consequences," was my firm reply.
The little man's face crumpled, his eyes looking up at me in pleading earnest ... it was a pitiful sight, as Rosey would agree. "Pleeze, pleeeeeze, pleeeeeeeeze, Rippers!" he wailed, his hands out like a dog sitting up on his hind legs, begging for attention.
It was so embarrassing I had to give in.
Withers, you're a bozo.
Scooby is off to photograph Rhodri and a Doddery having a "smoke-free" lunch in the Halfway in Pontcanna. The Assembly first minister is, without doubt, a bozo of the highest order. So, for that matter, is his gruppenfuhrer, sorry, wife, Julie who would rather shoot us smokers on sight than just kick us out of the pubs. For my part, I won't be drinking today.
After swimming 50 lengths at the local pool to get this growing anger out of my system, I finally decide to take the plunge and enter my first "smoke-free" pub. It's booze day Tuesday but I am approaching it with some reticence.
In the Yard the Prince of Darkness is hovering gloomily over his pint of Krony, fingers scraping at the table as he mourns the death of little pleasures. Poor Becks, a non-smoker, then has to put up with over an hour of conversation centred around cigarettes. When Roberts turns up he looks like he has developed St Vitus Dance or something. I myself feel a nervous tick affecting my eye. This is horrible, terrible, the worst pain possible. We're like junkies deprived of a fix. Perhaps that's what we are. The beer tastes decidedly lousy. Maybe I don't like alcohol, after all. My God, I've been drinking it with gusto for the past 30-odd years.
Finally I wander home, disgusted. Brammy, meanwhile, has found himself a little haven - and I can't say where because Big Rhod-er and the smoke police might be listening in - where he has been contentedly puffing away with pint in hand (and I don't mean the local park). Spend the night switching between the cricket and the footy on TV.
To avoid the drink I go around Kempy's for a curry, and we have a good time watching England lose to Sri Lanka off the last ball of a tremendous World Cup cricket match, discussing work as we do. I have a meal called lava lamb (not to be confused with lava lamp, which might prove a bit crunchy) while she settles for a chicken biryani. Then its home for an early night. The drummers are in session downstairs, it's boys night out for Scooby and the lads.
Among our number in Thompson Towers, where the three Cardiff-based daily newspapers live, is a person I can only describe as Raffles. Certain of our number gave him this nickname because they are convinced he is a "gentleman thief". This well-spoken, jovial, dapper-looking gentleman seems a real bon vivre on the outside, but behind the exterior lies a mystery wrapped in an enigma. You half expect him to twirl his moustache and say "Don't you know" at various intervals.
He has been spotted wandering the corridors long after his fellow workers have left the building, opening drawers and rifling through them, though hard as they try my spies have no proof that anything has gone missing (may explain the disappearance of my face-off car stereo, though).
Raffles also claims to have lost his money in the chocolate machine on numerous occasions. It's situated in our office so we go through this little drama nearly every day.
Shaking the machine, our gentleman thief demands "Where's my chocolate? The machine has swallowed my money!" None of us have ever seen him put real money INTO the machine, however.
For this reason, it was galling for Withers when he put his own money into the same machine and failed to get the cigarette-substitute fix he needed. As he wandered off, muttering under his breath, Raffles appeared on the scene.
"Don't put any money in, it's not working," cried one of the more generous of my colleagues.
Ignoring the plea, Raffles inserted some "coins" (probably old roubles acquired in his distant past or perhaps even silver buttons off one of his many ancient blazers) and minutes later two chocolate bars dropped. Of course, one belonged to Withers. Before he could speak up however, the Gentleman thief had faded into the distance, munching gaily on his ill-gotten gains.
Gadzooks, what a cad!
That recipe I promised you of Finnish meatballs is as follows:
3 slices of white bread, crusts removed, soaked in 5fl ozs of milk for 30 mins.
500g minced pork
500g minced beef
1 peeled and chopped red onion
2 teaspoons of allspice
21/2 ozs butter
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tbsp plain flour
7 ozs sour cream
Salt and Pepper
Mixed bread with milk soaked up with mince, egg, onion, allspice, salt and pepper.
Make into balls the size of walnuts.
Heat some of the butter with the olive oil in a non-stick pan.
Fry balls in batches making sure not to burn the butter. Transfer them to a large saucepan.
Sprinkle flower in frying pan and mix until smooth.
Add butter and cook, stirring until golden.
Remove from heat and add 18fl ozs of hot water. Stir in sour cream and mix. Then pour over the meatballs.
The sauce may separate slightly but don't worry. Season, bring to boil and then simmer for 15 minutes. Serve over a nice pasta or some mashed potato.
Well worth it.