HOW the hell a cool dude like myself can end up being mentioned in the same sentence as Steve Coogan's social pariah TV character Alan Partridge I'll never know... but Withers managed it on Tuesday.
All I happened to do was relate the tale of how I took Wren to an Owl Sanctuary at Kington, near Hereford, on Monday morning. That was it. Immediately Withers tore in. "Just like Alan Partridge! Remember that girl he took on a date to the owl sanctuary near Norwich," he bellowed in front of a packed Boozeday Tuesday crowd. Thanks Withers.
The truth is I wanted to give Wren a treat for the weekend as it was the start of her holiday. As I wracked my befuddled, post-Saturday night brain to decide what we could do, I suddenly remembered, in my capacity as cordon bleu chef, that the Abergavenny food festival had been running from Friday. Then I remembered that Wren was also a big lover of owls, and in fact owns a furry toy owl that goes by the name of Owzat. Recently she had been telling me about an owl sanctuary somewhere out in the wilds of Herefordshire.
Why not kill two birds with one stone? Well not literally kill... you know what I mean.
Anyhoo, that's what we did.
Off to Abergavenny first and an enjoyable day it was, too. A bit pricey, though, I reckon. It cost £4.50 for a red bracelet just to let you tour the various stalls, which were advertising everything from a wonderful sleep elixir to a grow-your-own-hot chillis franchise. Wren and I settled for some "Glam Lamb", a lovely burger of Welsh lamb on a giant field mushroom, topped with mint mayonaisse. Gorgeous, I must say. We also bought a home-made steak and kidney pie to have when we got home and a lemon cake for Wren to take to her mums (if it lasted the journey).
Good fun, particularly when we saw the Cosmic Sausages in a tent outside the Castle. Pure genius, particularly their rendition of the James Bond theme where they managed to play the music on Mandolin, string bass and other assorted percussion instruments while moving around the tent and donning various disguises. ]
Apparently the voice turned up at Abergavenny as well, though we didn't see him. When asked what he did at the festival he replied, in his growling tones: "I had chips." Does the adventurous spirit know no bounds?
Back to the car and we drove on to Hereford, opting to stay at the Premier Travel Inn (an old favourite) before the next day's journey to see the Owls. That night, in the Starting Gate Beefeater pub opposite the Inn, we enjoyed a pretty sizeable meal for just £36. After we enjoyed a mixed platter of fish to start, I gorged on a 16oz sirloin with peppercorn sauce and Wren tucked into a huge rack of pork ribs. Worth every penny and highly recommended.
On then to the Owls on Monday, once we had negotiated our way out of Hereford. Wren had told me the sanctuary was in Knighton, around 50-odd miles away. Luckily, to a background of tut-tutting as I looked through the day-out brochures arrayed in the hotel lobby ("You'll never find anything there) I struck lucky. The biggest owl sanctuary in Great Britain, plus miniature horses and, amazingly, red squirrels were housed just 15 miles down the road in Kington. Probably saved us 100 miles of useless searching, I reckon, so who's tutting now. Like the good boyfriend I am, I rubbed in my triumph at every opportunity.
Anyway, the owl sanctuary was fantastic. You could even stroke some of the owls. They came from as far away as Mexico and, wait for it, the Sahara. The mind boggles at how one of these cute little chaps with the beady eyes could survive in the heat of Africa.
Everywhere we walked we were followed by a honking goose with a green beak who I christened Honky. I've always been a bit wary of geese since they attacked my mum at Bourton-on-the-Water.
This time, though, it was the black swans we should have been looking out for. Two of them took an instant dislike to us walking past our pond and escorted us away from their premises pretty sharply before turning their attention to attacking some poor little neighbourly ducks. Vicious things, we reported them to the owner, who explained how territorial they were.
A splendid day despite the Swan attack, though, and we drove back that night well satisfied with the day's work.
Got a text that night from Ballsy. "Has Kempy dropped her baby yet?"
"Not yet," I replied, not realising that I'm now firmly out of the Kempy social loop.
On Tuesday afternoon I introduced Wren to the delights of Boozeday for the first time, only to see Withers bumping his gums, gloomy look spreading across his face.
"I don't believe it... I don't bloody believe it!" he growled. Apparently, some of us weren't included on the list of "need to knows" when her and Coggsy's baby Patrick was born, 6lbs 10ozs, on Sunday. The Fab BB? He knew. As did the Prince of Darkness. It only made Withers feel marginally better to know that I, too, was in the dark.
As will Patrick be, by the time he is 18, no doubt. How a fervent Welshman like Coggsy can give his son such an Irish name is beyond me. Now the poor kid will be confined to a life of drinking Guinness and Magners, lazing around and telling stories. Just like Dad, really.