Saturday, December 27, 2008

Wos Not Wos

SO the great and the good gathered together in solemn contemplation as the Xmas party took place to celebrate, or was it to commisserate, the end of Wales on Sunday as a separate entity in the new era of Meeja Wales.
Well, to be fair, there weren't too many miserable faces as past and present members of that great institution got together again to consume vast quantities of alcohol and then forget everything that went on. The London WoS contingent turned out in force - the fabulous Baker Boy, Rosey, Becks and Ballsy Ballinger were all there to sip a few sherbets with the rest of us. Also present, if I can remember, were lifetime membership WoS-ite Bram 'the little Bowling Ball' Humphries, wacky old Woody, myself, the Prince of Darkness, Shutts, Mad Liz, Danny Boy (the Poipes, the poipes), the wonderful Withers of WoS, Monsieur de La Busier and Wathanovski.
One of the biggest mistakes was to get into a round with this lot in possibly the most expensive drinking establishments in Wales. The Yard was selling the Italian Brew Peroni for an astonishing £3.85 which even had the Baker Boy exclaiming: "It's even more expensive than London!"
As the beer flowed we began to get more boisterous, well I know I did, and later we went on to Six Feet Under where things all got a bit silly. At some stage, in short order, I managed to go barmy and sack my best man and Wathanovski somehow succeeded in abusing a barman and getting himself chucked out. In sympathy, we all walked out en masse and headed for the City Arms. Horror of horrors it was shut - on a Sunday night!
There was only one place that would take us in our stumbling form after that: The Lava Lounge. And though I didn't see out the evening it appears that Rosey, the only man among us who was able to recall anything, gave a full progress report to Coggsy on the phone the day afterwards.
When Wren and I visited Coggs and his Mrs Kempy the day after we were told a string of things which I had no recollection of at all.
And there were others that were completely denied - like the fact that the Wonderful Withers locked lips with a certain member of our group, and I don't mean Ballsy or the fab BB. Not true! said Withers, although his vehement denial prompted me to suggest: "Methinks, tho doth protest too much."
I guess it all depends on who you believe - storyteller Rosey or forgetful drunk Withers.
Next instalment, Xmas dinner at the House of Paps.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Party fodder

PEOPLE vowing everlasting love to their colleagues and threatening to leave their wives and children, others snogging people they shouldn't be, people falling over in the street, others ranting and raving at their best chums... ah, my good readers, it must be Xmas party time again.
Never let it be said that the good people of Meeja Wales couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery. In fact, judging by the Xmas work rotas and the complete confusion surrounding who is doing what, I would suggest it is about the only thing we CAN organise.
You may have noticed that it has been two weeks since I last added an entry to this much-loved real-life serial of everyday newspaper folk.
A brief explanation.
The first week I spent away from work doing my Christmas shopping and recovering from copious hangovers. If the truth were told I was barely coherent enough to get my thoughts together, and my hand shook so much I was in danger of pressing three computer keys at once.
On the second week I came back to work and was so busy sorting out the delightful pile of Eggo letters in front of me that I didn't have a chance to scream, let alone think.
In which case, I have a lot of catching up to do and shall attempt to split this blog up into different sections running on different days to give you the full feel of how we humble folk spent the festive period.

It's probably best to start on the first Wednesday night when the usual suspects - Smashy, Paps, the Fugitive, the Prince of Darkness, the Wonderful One and I met up for a few sneaky ones in old O'Neill's. It was a generally decent night, from what I recall, and even the Fugitive managed to enter into the spirit of it without foaming at the mouth too much and repeating the words "kill, kill, kill..." as his mind focussed on the head honcho at the Welsh Rugby Union (If I was he I would be bolting my doors and windows and employing former SAS men as security guards this Christmas).
In fact, it's fair to say we were all in a pretty jolly mood, even my best man the Wonderful Withers, who was looking pleasingly coy when people started asking him about his apparent tryst with some mystery beauty at the Equinox do. Did I say mystery? Well, it was certainly a mystery to him the next day when the Boss chimed up: "Aye Withers, I hear ye were snoggin' that girly Rhiannon at the Equinox dooo". Apparently, onlookers tell me a terrible expression of doubt crossed the Wonderful One's features and he was later heard muttering to a colleague. "Who did I snog last night?"
Fortunately, Stormin' Norman put him right. His memory hadn't failed him, the boss had just identified the wrong girly.
The rest of the night passed pretty pleasantly, although I must admit it took some powers of recovery to be ready for The Big Event on the Friday night.

Come the Meeja Wales do and we all packed into the upstairs cupboard that represents the Function Room of O'Neill's. In a year's time, with the rate of redundancies and departures, it will probably feel like a grand hall to us, but at the current time - with three newspaper staffs all now incorporated under the same roof - it was a tight squeeze.
The company had contributed £20 a head to the affair behind the bar and the little Bowling Ball didn't help matters by inviting his entire entourage of cronies from the Boar's Backside to join us.
We only realised this fact when I was talking with Chalkie White and Picture Editor Rob Roy and glanced over to see this unfamiliar character, resplendent in red flashing nose and reindeer headgear tucking into our sandwiches with great gusto. "Who's that?" I inquired of my colleagues. They both shook their heads in denial.
Shortly afterwards this strange creature, tucking into his free pints and free food, was joined by our friend the Bowling Ball. Ah, I thought. I raised the question with the rotund one himself.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "My friends bought me drinks over the road (in the Boars) and I decided to use my £20 behind the bar to return the favour".
"So as soon as they finish their drinks they're leaving?" I asked.
He looked at me sheepishly. "I imagine so," he said.
Only the richest man in the building could have come up with such a cheepskate idea of treating his friends to a christmas drink (I'm sure the Greek, Steve "Ned Flanders" Jones and maybe even the wonderful One will soon catch on).
Later in the night and Steffan Ap Glyndwr Rees, our token rabid nationalist, turned on his erstwhile pal, cockney cheeky chappie snapper Rob "Kneeseupmuther" Brown.
"Bye Steff," ventured Rob as he set off for home.
"Don't speak to me you English @!*!@!" ranted Kommandant Ap Rees, stamping his Swansea jack boots up and down and making strange salutes in the air.
He was a little bit on the sheepish side when he turned up for work the following Monday to be told that the English-speaking side of the office had sent him to Coventry, a place he would never dream of going of his own accord (too far from Aberystwyth).

Meanwhile, the Boss was doing his usual job of geeing up the staff with motivational Christmas one-on-ones. "Oi, ya wee wassack. Ye've not doon anythin' good for a month, ye lazy Sassenach. Yer resting on yer laurels," he said in his soothing Irish brogue to one of the hardest working reporters in the building.
Still, the reply from The Barrow Boy was priceless. "F*** off! I don't care, it's my last day next week. I'm leaving to do PR."

And, off we trotted to the City Arms. Well, I say trotted. Withers was last seen stumbling. I had to hold the poor dab up to stop him hurting himself irreparably in the teeth region once more. "Lezzgoshittyyams," he spat at me, his eyes rolling in his head, his trouser buckle for some unknown reason hanging lower than his knees.
It took me five minutes to interpret before I got him to stand reasonably straight and concentrate like a grand chess master on getting past the two bouncers on the door. Later I poured him into a taxi and dropped him off home... just to save the Heath hospital nurses the time and trouble of trying to patch up his dental work again.
Next stop, the Wos Not Wos do, and more scary revelations...

Friday, December 05, 2008

Hospital food

Hello, and welcome to another episode of casualty. Oh no, sorry, it's just my blog.
It appears, though, that overnight the Meeja Wales sports department has turned into Emergency Ward 10.
The boy Wathanovski is sporting a cut above his eye that even Roy Jones Jnr would have thrown in the towel over, and deputy sports guru Blanchy has a huge bruise and cut on his forehead, too. My first thought was that perhaps the sports desk xmas booze up turned a bit nasty last night, but I was informed that the injuries occured in seperate incidents.
Fortunately I had stumbled home from PR agency Equinox's Xmas do at around 12.30 and turned down the chance to join the dirty stop outs in a dance club just down the road.
This, I am informed, is where Wathanovski, cutting some moves on the dance floor, slipped and cut his head on the DJ booth. Meanwhile, the Blanch-ster "did a Withers", a term now so universally used that I am told it is to appear in the next edition of Thesaurus. He fell and cracked his head on the pavement, but at least his teeth remained intact.
One of the other sports boys, Tucker, due to the Tropical conditions, actually developed sleeping sickness. I am reliably informed he was seen slumped in a chair outside said nightclub snoring to his hearts content.

I've got to say the Equinox bash - which was so good last year I stripped off my shirt and wrapped my tie around my head purely out of respect - was another pretty good night.
I hear the Wonderful One actually did a karaoke duet, though I must have missed that.
The Boss was out as was the editor of the Eggo, an approachable northerner from Barnsley who I shall from now on refer to as Trublat Hill. Apparently my parting shot to the man in charge of our loveable evening paper was "I gotta tell oo (wobble, wobble) aye ate the eggo. But s'ok cos I ate the Daily Snail more! Love WoS though."
As Wren says: "It's terrible when you end up going for a drink with your boss. It's like going for a night on the town with your parents." The Fat Kid should know: She actually had to put me to bed after one infamous Independent Xmas party when I ended up surfing on our stodgy northern soccer writer's briefcase.

Today we were paging up the wonderful evening rag when someone mentioned that we were going to do a rip-roaring feature on 16 Cardiff dancers who are appearing in Pantomime at the new Theatre. My mind raced back 30 years. "Oh my god, not the Olive Guppy dancers - they are shit!" I exclaimed before I realised I had actually opened my mouth.
Of course, no one knew what I was talking about but around 30 years ago I was sent to the very same Pantomime while at journalism college and asked to write a review. At some stage these young local dancers wobbled onto the stage and then appeared to dance in the most unsynchronised, un-choreographed way imaginable. That was my abiding recollection of the Olive Guppy Dancers.
Fast forward to now and later I was talking to Gerry Holt "Who goes there?" and Katie Stormin' Norman and it turns out that my fears were greatly exaggerated. The kids in question were actually from the LORRI Guppy School of Dancing. Phew that's a relief.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Feeding the Fat Kid

Friday night, and the Essex girls were in town. The Fat Kid descended on us with her good mate Carly, and Cardiff didn't know what had hit it.
Now, as you may already know, the Fat Kid isn't actually fat. It's more that she used to call everyone else by that unusual moniker and somehow it stuck. Having said that she can certainly put the food away.
After nipping out for a quick drink with Paps, the Prince, Smashy and Withers at the new, old O'Neills (the famous scene of St Paddy's night which has since burned down and been built up anew) I legged it home in time for Wren's arrival at eight.
The Fat Kid, having left Southend at around 3pm, was expected any minute but didn't arrive until 10. Why? She got lost. How? Well, her excuse was the fog but I can imagine she and her partner in crime were gassing all the way up the M4 and missed the junction.
When they eventually turned up they were quick to tuck into the wine with Wren and by the end of the evening had managed to drink the equivalent of a bottle each. The Fat Kid had also managed to help herself to some of our Chinese, even though she said she had only eaten a couple of hours before on a motorway service station.

Anyway, the upshot is that, rather than Wren's maturity rubbing off on the Essex girls, they managed to turn her into an honorary one for the weekend.
While I was working, they went for a bottle of wine and some food in the Spanish restaurant La Tasca where, apparently, Carly got chatted up by one of the waiters who told her if she returned that night he would give her a free bottle.
By the time I met up with them in the Thai Edge on Saturday night they were well into the bevvies, Wren sporting a brand new shade of eye shadow having had coaching lessons on "how to look good" by the deadly Essex duo.
Immediately they were pleading with me to take them out on the town, even though it was full of Welsh rugby fans three sheets to the wind after their astonishing 21-18 victory over Australia. I decided to be wise for once and thought that, with the weather so cold and so many people about, I would refrain from drinking so that I could drive them home rather than wait out in the cold for a taxi for hours.
Mind you, I am not a good designated driver. In fact, I am a terrible designated driver. And seeing people in alcohol-induced euphoria just makes me incredibly grumpy. If I can't join them I just want to get as far away from them as possible.
At one stage Wren was imploring me to go down into the depths of some rank club in St Mary Street where hundreds of stumbling, rugby-shirt wearing oiks were queueing. "Come on, it will be fun!" she demanded. Like a hole in the head, I thought.
Eventually we settled on cocktails in Pikey, Pikey (as the ex-Eggo crew call it). By this time the Essex whirlwinds were well into their stride, giggling and talking away at ten to the dozen and trying to lure the barman into giving them free cocktails. Their best line was "Guess where we are from?". Bearing in mind they believe Southend to be the centre of the Universe they were greatly disappointed when people couldn't work it out. One woman even suggested Ireland. "Do you always talk in a squeaky voice, like a couple of rats?" she asked them.
Normally the Fat Kid has a bit of a temper when provoked (who knows where she gets that from?) but her senses were so slowed by the copious amounts of alcohol she had been swallowing that she didn't realise it could be construed as an insult until about an hour later in the car on the way home. A night out with these two is like an audience with French and Saunders, and I told them so.
They both looked at each other, pointed simultaneously, and shouted in a high pitched squeal: "You're French then, the fat one." Got to love the Essex Girls.

Next day, as the Fat Kid had promised her mucca, I cooked up a pretty filling fried breakfast with scrambled eggs and a giant mushroom, together with sausages, bacon, beans, tomatoes, fried potatoes and freshly baked baguettes. It went down a treat.
Scrambled egg, by the way, is pretty easy in the microwave. You just mix up as many eggs as you think you need (I used seven for four people) add a good glug of milk, mix in salt and pepper, then turn it on full power for about three minutes (for an 800 watt microwave anyway). Keep checking and stirring until it rises light and fluffy and you can dish it up. A good trick that my flatmate Scooby showed me.

Once they had set off for home at one, I breathed a sigh of relief and Wren and I recuperated for the afternoon in front of the TV. Of course, the girls will be back... for poor Wren's stag night. By the time she returns she will be chewing gum, wearing micro skirts and shouting "Guess Where I'm from" while slurping from an alcopop. Brrrrrr, doesn't bare thinking about.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Lapin Aux Olives

REGULAR readers of this unmissable blog may have noticed that you can now listen to me reading it in an American accent. This, rather than my brizzle tones, must have come about after my trip to Boston and my fascination with all things on the other side of the Atlantic. On the other hand, it may be down to a fantastic piece of software that I was alerted to by Mr Sion "The Bizz" Barry. And very good it is, too.
I particularly like the way my American friend says "Wowy, wowy". In fact, so much so that I am going to say "wowy, wowy" again.
Apart from that it has been all quiet on the Meeja Wales front this week. The Prince of Darkness has been confined to his coffin this week, which is his way of making the most of his week off. I am reliably informed that the coffin also contains copious bottles of red wine, strong lagers and the odd measure or two of vodka. No doubt he will return to work in a week's time desperate for a rest.
Without my partner in journalistic crime it has left me to look after the letters for both the Daily Snail and the Eggo. It has been a monumental task and one I haven't enjoyed one little bit.
In fact, with the new hours, and no drinking buddy available by the time I leave work at 8, I have actually taken to driving in to work and home again afterwards. At least it should save some money with the Fat Kid and her mate about to descend on me this weekend.
Anyway, this gives me a chance to give you my rabbit with olives recipe. I will be interested to see how my American alter-ego copes with it.

A list of ingredients:
One rabbit, hopefully already prepared for cooking
1 small onion (coarsely chopped)
1 carrot (coarsely chopped)
1 celery rib (coarsely chopped)
4 garlic cloves (crushed)
2 bay leaves
a sprig of thyme and leaves from another sprig
a sprig of rosemary and leaves from another sprig
a sprig of parsley and leaves from another sprig
1 tablespoon of whole black peppercorns
1 and a half cups of white wine
salt and pepper
quarter of a cup of flour for dredging
plus 1 tablespoon of flour
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of tomato puree
half a cup of red wine vinegar
2 cups of chicken stock
Quarter of a pound of green olives

To do:
Prepare your rabbit by combining rabbit, onion, celery, carrot, garlic, bay leaves and the sprigs of rosemary, thyme and parsley, together with the peppercorns and white wine.
marinate this for two hours.
Then drain the marinade, saving the liquid and vegetables seperately.
Pat the rabbit dry, season with salt and pepper and dredge in quarter of a cup of flour.
Heat the oil over high heat in a thick based pan, then when hot add the butter.
Brown the rabbit on both sides until golden brown.
Remove it from the pot.
Add vegetables to the pot and cook on high heat until brown and caramelized.
Stir in the tomato paste and the rest of the flour and mix well.
Cook for one minute, then add the red wine vinegar and marinating liquid.
Cook until liquid is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Then stir in the stock and bring to the boil.
Return the rabbit and reduce to a simmer. If you are cooking all the rabbit you will probably need to cook it for about an hour and a half.
Then remove the rabbit and set aside, strain the liquid and return to the pot, discarding the vegetables.
Return the rabbit and bring to the boil, then stir in the green olives and chopped leaves. Season and serve.
I served up my bunny with some lovely mashed potatoes...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Roath farmers market

Friday night and The Yard was pretty quiet, considering the hordes of rugby wallahs who were descending on Cardiff in the misguided belief that Wales might actually be able to beat the All Blacks.
The roll call read Smashy, David "the Suit", Paps, Tapper, Withers and myself.
All pretty sane stuff for the first hour and a half before Wren turned up to join us and we ajourned to the City Arms for a few more beers and some mad dancing (well, mad dancing on my part, so I am told).
My own personal DJ actually had the affrontery to turn down one of my requests! I wobbled up to ask for the Ting Tings and he pointed out: "I don't play anything newer than the 70s and 80s." I don't believe him, mind. I am sure I have heard him play more recent stuff than that.
A few more drinks and I found myself in the middle of a Jagger impression to Start Me Up. So frenzied it became that I almost fell down of a heart attack after it and was left breathing heavily for the rest of the night.
Paps, as is his wont, was there to indiscretely capture the moments on his digital camera.
Then the Prince arrived, having been to see Primal Scream at the Students Union with some of the Boss's iffy mates - Griff, Diff, Jiff, Biff (and anything else ending in iff). At least one of them was there, anyway, as was our official wedding photographer Andy.
The Prince's appearance brought about a kind of tribal dance from the rest of us. We all got as low to the ground as possible, raised our hands in the air, wiggled them wildly like Kermit the Frog, then leapt three feet in the air shouting "wowy wowy". It's a move that even the best entrants on Strictly Come Dancing would find it hard to master.
Eventually Wren and I toddled off to chip alley and a rare visit to Dirty Dots. I went for risole and chips, while the bird opted for chips covered in grated cheese (an unusual little concoction, I think you'll agree - only to be attempted after eight pints of Fosters).

Saturday morning and we were both feeling a little bit peaky, but managed to haul ourselves up and walked around to the Roath Farmer's Market by the bowling club and tennis courts.
It proved to be a winning idea. There are plenty of stalls including a specialist curry outlet which we resisted.
But at the meat counter I couldn't help feasting my eyes on the rabbit, having never cooked it before, while wild boar and venison were also on offer. I eventually settled for the bunny.
We also had some lovely burgers and I bought a hot chilli relish, a tub full of various olives and bags of spices, together with some very fresh looking spinach. Wren settled for some tea cakes and chocolate brownies.
Saturday afternoon I watched Wales start well before fading badly to the expected rugby union defeat against the Kiwis, and in the evening I cooked the rabbit before we watched a DVD. Vantage Point was thrill-a-minute stuff, most entertaining.
I'll put the rabbit recipe on this blog later in the week...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Teddy Bear's picnic

I GUESS I am like all go-ahead top newspaper execs.
I shout quite a bit, moan quite a lot, drink quite a lot, smoke too much...
and lately, at the tender age of 48, I have been going to bed alongside a big cuddly teddy bear called Fenway!
No, it's ok. I am not about to have a nervous breakdown, I think that started two years ago. But walking through BHS the other day with Wren she suddenly gasped, pointed and said: "I want one of those."
The upshot was that I bought the bear, originally called Benji, as an early Xmas present for Wren, but as she cannot have it until the appointed day it has been staying in my flat with me and, well, he IS pretty cuddly and I didn't want to leave him in the front room where he might become overcome with cigarette fumes and stink like an old ashtray.
So somehow he has found his way onto my bed.
That's my excuse, anyway.
He is called Fenway for obvious reasons, a tribute to our lovely holiday in Boston earlier this year. He has a woollen scarf around his neck and also a British passport attached to him.
I must admit I'll miss him when he is gone.

Last night The Prince and I managed to get time off for good behaviour and joined Roberts, Smashy and the Blair Witch (that's a new one, I know. One of our sports writers as it happens).
At one stage Roberts disappeared upstairs and seemed to be gone some time. First Blair when to check on him and when he failed to materialise, too, we thought maybe a black hole had swallowed them both.
Finally, traipsing up the Yard stairs, I uncovered the reason for the delay. There was Roberts, proudly taking charge of five Mojitas. And on a school night, too! Downing mine, I decided to go before the whole thing got wildly out of hand.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Stir fried squid and ginger

More announcements across the newspaper industry of redundancies has got me thinking: If I need to change professions at this late stage in my career in which direction should I go?
Then listening to Snooze Radio (that's Radio Wails to you guys) it hit me. While the rest of the world seems to be diving headlong into a bottomless recession there is one job that seems to be thriving:
Somalian pirate.
Go out, steal the second-biggest oil tanker in the world then drive it back to a lawless country that hasn't had a government for 13 years and wait for the wealthy owners to pay the ransom. Job creation at its best, I say.

On Friday night the little Bowling Ball enjoyed his 200th birthday, or some such, in his favourite old haunt the Boars Backside. And fair play to the little man with the big beer belly, he had arranged for some "Brammy discounts" behind the bar. He was well ensconsed in his corner, waxing lyrical about the old days, by the time we wandered off for further beers at old O'Neills.

With a number of the regular crowd all off on Monday, we arranged a Sunday funday at the Yard. We just about made chorum with the Wonderful One, Paps and Smashy joining in the frivolities at The Yard. Mind you, it seems I was sensible to leave when I did on Friday night. Apparently Withers was in true teeth smashing mode (his own, not anyone elses), wandering around the City Arms with his eyes agog and arms stretched out in front of him like Frankenstein's Monster in search of his inventor.
Of course, the story can't have a happy ending. Although all his toothypegs remained intact, he did manage to lose both his jacket and his MP3 player. Now, as one who has lost a similar valuable item in the same establishment, I must say the City Arms has turned into a bit of a blackhole when it comes to portable music equipment of late.

The wedding suffered its first true test on Sunday afternoon. I got a text from Wren who was due to do a 60 second video newsclip on ThisisBristol, the Evening Post's website.
It read: "Aaaargh! I have to do the web video about that OTHER club. I am so sorry babe xx"
Now for those who know me that other club is commonly known by us Gasheads as the Sh**heads - Those hated fiends from the South of Bristol.
I tried to persuade her out of it, imploring her to tell her bosses she was a conscientious objector. If that failed I suggested she might be able to employ a speech impediment and read the word City with an S H at the front. But, loyal servant of the Bristol media that she is, she felt that wouldn't be professional.
Anyway, sorry Wren, but I will never see your work on video. Let us never speak of it again.

If you ever find yourself out with Smashy for the night, never leave him in charge of the seating arrangements while you disappear for a cigarette, or to use the facilities.
Spreading himself out in typical Smashy style he told us on Sunday: "Don't worry boys, I'll stay here and look after the seats."
By the time we returned they were taken up by guests attending a 40th birthday party. Priceless, Smashy.

On Monday night Withers and I went to see the interesting and worthy Baader Meinhoff Gang. I thought it was pretty good though a bit more explaining wouldn't have gone a miss.
Before that I cooked up a dish with squid.
It's always a bit of a chore preparing squid for what you end up with. They sell it half prepared at Morrisons and the rest is up to you.
To prepare the squid you pull the head from the body and then cut off the tentacles and keep them. Throw the head away.
Then pull out the spine from the squid, scrape away the outside pigment and slice up the rubbery body. It's then ready to cook.
4 0r 5 baby squid
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves (finely chopped)
2 tbsp soy sauce (I used dark soy)
1inch ginger - chopped
Juice of half a lemon
1 ltbsp granulated sugar
2 spring onions (chopped)

Heat oil in work
Fry garlic til golden brown but don't burn
Add squid and stir fry on high heat for 30 seconds
Add the other ingredients and stir fry for another 30 seconds
Serve immediately on a bed of noodles

Friday, November 14, 2008

Stagg chilli and rice

FOR the first time in living memory this blog holds its hands up and admits to a piece of glaring inaccuracy. How do I know? Because my former best man the Wonderful Withers of WoS has traitoriously put a video of my performance in the City Arms last Friday on YouTube. And there it is, for everyone to see... my Angus Young impression, which I believed was being acted out against the background music of ACDCs Highway to Hell, was actually performed to All Night Long. My apologies all.
The best bit of the video, though, for those who have never encountered the Prince of Darkness, is his brief appearance, wobbling past me and trying desperately not to spill the sambuccas he is carrying lovingly in his arms. For that alone go to

This week, having totally incapacitated myself on Friday and spent a lot of money in the process, I have been taking it very easy. To ensure there have been no impromptu pub sessions I have been driving to work and returning home immediately afterwards, settling down with a bit of TV and a quick and simple tea, like last night's Stagg chilli and brown rice.
Fortunately it's pay day today, I have left the car at home and it's Friday...

Monday, November 10, 2008

A whole chicken (in our hands)

I understand the big meeting of the two Princes didn't materialise on Saturday. I've no idea why HRH Prince William wasn't introduced to our own Prince of Darkness when he arrived to officially open the new Meeja Wales offices. But when I first heard of the apparent snub I did wonder whether the Sambucca fumes wafting across the office persuaded the powers-that-be it might be a good idea to steer His Royal Highness in the opposite direction.
Plenty of others turned up to bow and lig in front of the royal one, however, as the three-line whip was cracked. Many of those were making their first-ever appearances in the office on a Saturday - unlike those of us who have spent nearly every weekend since christendom shackled to our desks. Amazing what a little bit of royal fairydust can do.
You might expect that, when summoned by Royal appointment, the Dark Lord would take it a mite easy the night before. But he made his intentions clear shortly after we left a birthday party for Paul Magic Wakefield in Six Foot Under and made our way to a more austere venue, the good old City Arms. It was here, after a quick pint as a livener, that the Prince appeared with a tray of shot glasses and announced, in typical fashion, "Are we having a drink or are we having a f***ing drink". From that moment he had decided it was Sambucca time and, I must admit, I don't remember much more about it after doing my Angus Young impression to Highway to Hell and then acting like a lunatic in the bar (tie around head and throwing baseball cap to the four corners of the room) apparently to the tunes of my own personal DJ.
To be honest, though, I was so out of it that I eventually sloped off to get a taxi . That night Wren had also been out on the razz in Bristol and had managed to mix her drinks pretty well, too. I'm not sure who was more coherent when we discussed our nights out later.
In fact, Wren and I were supposed to be going to look at wedding cakes in Weston-Super-Mare on Saturday but neither of us could face it so we cancelled. Instead we watched Arsenal beat Manchester United 2-1 and then went for a bit of fresh air in Albany Road.
Feeling peckish, we popped into the Albany Fish Bar and ended up ordering a whole chicken, masses of chips, a carton each of mushy peas, curry sauce and were persuaded to try their new chilli sauce offering, too. It's fair to say we didn't go hungry on Saturday night, making routine trips back to the kitchen to pick at the chicken or dip a cold chip in the rather lively chilli sauce. Mmm!

In the early hours of Sunday morning I managed to wake up just in time to see Joe Calzaghe's last-ever fight (we think). It was a tremendous performance against the great Roy Jones Jr, particularly as Joe was on the seat of his pants after barely a minute following a ferocious assault by Roy.
Yet he somehow got through the round and in the sixth he produced a bad cut on Jones Jr's eye which many suggested would have brought an end to the contest in a British ring. To be honest, after the first round it was all one way and undoubtedly one of Joe's finest performances, though he does worry his fans with his increasing tendency to showboat.

On Sunday Wren and I went to see W. the new film by Oliver Stone about the presidency of George Bush. It was terrific stuff, with some great portrayals. Josh Brolin was excellent as Bush, and those who appeared as Condoleeza Rice and Dick Cheney were equally good. It was a well spent few hours.
Last night, after Wren's departure, I also saw a film on ITV4 called the Beast, a story of a Russian tank being tracked through the Afghan dessert by the Muhajadeen. Excellent.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Simply bananas

PAPS must be the most well-paid tour guide in Britain. Even those poor blokes at the Tower of London would wince when comparing themselves to our very own Media Wales operative. In fact, we are preparing to club together to buy him the customary hat and jacket.
Look around for our esteemed Head of News and more often than not you will see him surrounded by a group of visitors to the Hub, waxing lyrical about the history of journalism. Come to think of it, by the time he actually gets back to send over the stories for that day's edition of the paper, they already ARE history.
And protest? Methinks he does it a bit too much. "If someone put there hand up and wanted to take our visitors around the building, I would quite happily step down," he opines.
But we've heard that one before.
Only recently he moaned that it was likely to fall on him to organise the Christmas party and what a complete bind that would be. Yet when Rowley and The Body took it upon themselves to sort it out, Paps could barely conceal the hurt look that crept across his face. A bit like Richard Briers used to be in ever-decreasing circles, Paps thinks he should always be at the Hub of the Hub.

Meanwhile, the local fruit seller has taken it upon himself to feel sympathy for the Prince of Darkness. Mistakenly believing his pale complexion was down to a lack of healthy eating, rather than the fact the Prince is actually the master of the undead, he handed over two bunches of bananas and a bucketful of grapes to the Lord of the Night. Then when the Prince rustled through his pockets to find the required payment, the caring feller told him: "You can have them all for £1.50."
If I was the stall owner I think I'd put in an extra order for garlic the next time the Prince comes a-calling.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Posh grub

I AM delighted to tell my avid reader(s) that rumours of the death of this blog have been greatly exaggerated. The truth is I couldn't be arsed to write anything until now having been away from the bearpit that is Meeja Wales for a whole glorious week. Sadly, I'm back and it was with a heavy heart that I dragged myself into the Hub of Welsh journalism this morning.
So let's recap. When I left the claws of this unruly beast a week ago on Friday it was straight off to the City Arms for a well-earned drink, hoping to wash away the memories of my last week of early starts on the Echo. From now on, it has been decided, the paper will print overnight and my hours will be adjusted accordingly. Apparently, the Prince and I will be working from 11.30 to 8pm from now on, which will fit in well with his desire to see as little sunlight as possible.
As Withers put it... "Rippers will have four pints, do some shouting, then go home." I think he had it about right.
On Saturday it was over to Bristol to pick up Wren and then enjoy a gloriously happy afternoon watching the Gas destroy Southend United 4-2 at the Mem with the rampaging Rickie Lambert nabbing all four goals. That didn't tell the full story either because at 4-0 up Rovers still managed to throw away two goals and leave me biting my fingernails for the last 15 minutes.
After that we visited my Dad on his birthday to present him with a card then went out on the tiles in Clifton for a few bevvies. We began in the Roo bar, a typical Aussie bar as the name might suggest, where we were immediately surrounded by about 30 loud 20-somethings on a birthday binge that involved drinking jugs of cocktails through a straw. Enough of that, we thought, knowing the evening was destined to end in tears.
So it was off to the Jersey Lilly, one of Bristol's oldest pubs, at the top of Blackboy Hill where we spent an entertaining evening watching what I believed were a group of Uni structural engineering students having one of the longest games of Jenga I have ever seen. They were all helping each other out until they had almost built an exact replica of the Sears Tower. When it collapsed it sent everyone scurrying for cover.
Sunday was a lazy day, returning to the boozer to watch Liverpool gain a shock win at Stamford Bridge (Chelsea's first home defeat in about four seasons) before lazing about on Sunday night before visiting the scene of the big day (our wedding) on the Monday morning.
It was all very useful for giving us some insight into our plans for next May.
From there it was back to Cardiff for a couple of days and on Tuesday we went shopping, managing to load up on CDs and DVDs for the roadtrip planned for later in the week.
So, a quick precise from here on in...
Tuesday night: Watched the highly entertaining film Juno.
Wednesday: Travelled to Birmingham (a late surprise for Wren) with plans to buy the wedding rings. Evening Meal in Pizza Express on a freezing cold night. Nearly managed to go flying across someone's table after retrieving the chilli flakes to spice up my dinner.
Thursday: Off to the Jewellery quarter where Wren and I struck lucky, getting a matching pair of rings from Marlowe's (the same jeweller, incidentally, that Wathanovski and the Teacher went to for their rings).
After that took a good three quarters of an hour trying to get out of the motorist hell that is our second city, before heading down the M40 to Marlowe for a freebee night in a luxury hotel, the Compleat Angler. Apparently the family tree has strong connections with the town, but I didn't manage to bump into any Rippers relatives while I was there.
We did manage to bump into the local pub conversationalist in the George and Dragon, however. As we waited to buy our drinks he regaled us of the Great Lard disaster of the previous day.
"This lorry went over and spilt its entire contents of lard all over the M40 yesterday," he told us. "Took three hours for them to clean it up."
I was waiting for the punchline, but it never came. He then set off to remove his frostbitten laundry from the washing line where he had left it in the snow for two days. I think he was then planning to return to the planet Zog.
Thursday night we had a lovely complimentary meal in the hotel and on Friday morning took some nice pictures of the Weir from our hotel balcony before the next leg of our journey.
Friday afternoon: Lunch with Wren's folks in Lavenham in Suffolk followed by a trip to Southend where we arrived with minutes to spare before the Fat kid went off to camp out for the night at the local fishery. Mad? She must be. It's all to do with a new boyfriend I gather.
Two hours later she was back. "I'm not camping in this weather it is madness!" she said.
Saturday: Spent the day cussing Christmas shoppers at the Lakeside Shopping Centre at Thurrock where we went, you've guessed it, Christmas shopping. Got the Vin Monster and Big Boy a new winter coat each and treated everyone to a Burger King in the heaving food court.
By the time we got home we were shattered which, given the fact we were off to a fancy dress party to celebrate the 31st birthday of Evans, was bad timing, really.
I had already sorted the fancy dress though. You could say it was a variation on a theme. Evans had chosen DVD covers and so it wasn't difficult to wrap a tie around my head, put a bit of smeared mascara on my cheeks, and attend as Robert De Niro in the Deerhunter.
Wren's outfit took a bit more effort - a blond wig, white dress and button badge which said: "Off the record, on the QT and very Hush, Hush".
For those who don't know films, Withers, she was Kim Bassinger in LA Confidential.
The party, once we found it, was very good. Evans was in top form as Evita and her bloke Matt had somehow managed to staple two suits together in a splendid portrayal of Two Face from the Batman movies. One of their mates, Dan, was the one who fooled everyone. Turning up in a red check jacket and knee-length skirt having walked the entire length of Leigh-on-Sea town centre (he also had a strange, old womanly bonnet on his head) he defied everyone to actually guess who he was. Miss Daisy? No. Miss Marple? Uh, uh. By the end we worked out he had just come as himself. Very entertaining it was, too.
Woke at 6am on the Fat Kid's sofa with Wren shaking me and inquiring: "Are you coming to bed?" For some reason, having returned home after a bellyful of Kronenberg I had suddenly found great interest in the results of the X Factor. As it was, I missed them all.
Sunday morning: No phone, no tobacco, no car keys and no toy gun. Typical. Managed to establish that I'd left the keys at the party and found the phone under the Fat Kid's car seat. The others were to turn up later.
Retrieved keys and drove home, dropped Wren off after a cup of tea, some food and a kip, and then headed off across the Severn Bridge.
Monday: Washing, ironing, cleaning, watched the awful Transformers movie and Fringe before an early night and anticipation of a return to the Hub.
I have a new bedfellow. He has soft fur, is about two-and-a-half foot tall and his name is Fenway. He is a teddy bear I bought for Wren and he has already settled in nicely at the flat.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sound bites

PAPS has always fancied himself as a bit of a public speaker and thrives on an audience, but I don't think he ever dreamed of appearing in his own version of a Hollywood blockbuster: How To Lose Friends And Alienate People. Yet that is exactly what happened when he made a farewell speech to Katie 'the body' Bodinger last night.
The Body is off to that great job creation scheme otherwise known as the BBC. And Paps, who is rather fond of his former cub reporter, decided it was time to give her a right royal send off. Unfortunately his attempts at humour turned into a major character assassination that left people thinking that all The Body had spent her time doing on the Echo was getting legless and projectile vomiting. I understand from the lady herself that some of the stories were even made up! Now this blog has no truck with those who wish to fabricate the truth.
Anyway, having painted The Body as someone who might have been leaving because of a pre-arranged three-month incarceration at The Priory, he then managed to make things worse. Finally admitting that The Body was a good reporter he added the rider "and we haven't got many of those". Cue dark looks on the faces of his entire reporting staff.
Of course, what he meant to say was that the number of reporters in the newsroom was quickly dwindling - but by then the damage was done. I can already see Lisa "The Terminator" Jones and James "Snake" McCarthy (the Voice, to regular readers of this blog) planning all sorts of tortures for their esteemed leader.

The leaving do at the Copa (venue where Wren and I had our first date, so I view it with affection) was full of MeejaWales old and new. One of the more recent arrivals at the Hub made a particular impact.
I had never really encountered Shinpads Sian, the only female member of the sports desk, in a social atmosphere when three sheets to the wind. Normally this quiet, modest professional goes about her work calmly and efficiently with barely a squeek passing her lips.
Not last night. Shinpads, obviously well lubricated after starting the celebrations a bit earlier than the rest of us, started laying into people left, right and centre - and before long the bodies were piling up. The Fugitive took both barrels for not treating Shinpads like "one of the lads" and failing to invite her on his regular detours to The Yard. And Danny Boy (the Poipes, the Poipes) was virtually accused of stealing a Wales on Sunday job from under the nose of the feisty female.
And then it was my turn. Shinpads decided that she didn't find my red and blue England cricket baseball cap to her liking. "Girrit 'ere, Rippers, I'mgunaburnnit... Sccchnot a goolook, Rippers". I barely escaped with my life.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Roast Lamb with anchovies and garlic

YOU would think that I would be calming down in my old age. I thought that even I had been lured into that false sense of security that father time, and a steady girlfriend, brings.
But over the last week my equilibrium has been upset, the stopper has come out of the bottle and Ranting Rippers has well and truly emerged.
It started last week after a nightmare three days on the Echo, when I realised that I was grumbling, grouching and generally cussing under my breath at every given moment. On Friday night there was a bit of a firework spectacular (sorry Smashy, but the blue touchpaper had been lit by a week of 6am starts and 6pm finishes) then this week our wonderful "Turn it off and turn it on again" department sent me into overdrive.
My poor colleagues were quietly trying to snooze in the far corners of the Meeja Wales 'hub' when my computer crashed. Then, when I tried to log back on, it told me that it was permanently disabled and that I had no authority to access my own e mail, files, etc. I then tried to use the super-duper new phone system to get someone down from the "Turn it off then turn it on again" department. Unfortunately we only have a directory with individual names and no general department phone. Either that or we can ring Birmingham, or Liverpool or outer Mongolia (depending who isn't playing darts or enjoying their sandwich with their feet up) and log a call. Three hours later, if I'm lucky, someone might turn up.
Anyway, I tried about five different "Turn it on..." people and no one answered. Then when I did get through I was immediately cut off. Finally there was only one solution ... to explode. "*!**!*!*, x*!"!*!, *!¬&*!"!" Love to repeat the exact terminology but a. I can't remember it word for word, and b. It shouldn't be repeated on a family read blog (bit it ended with the c word and a verb closely associated with going to the toilet).
Anyway, after that I felt much better. And within minutes someone from the "Turn it off, turn it on" department turned up to tell me that they had moved me onto a new server without telling me (nice of them) and it shouldn't really cause me any trouble at all (which it already had).
I am still convinced the prompt response was as a result of the decibel level of the swearing which they could hear even over their afternoon cha-cha tea party in the IT lounge three floors up. Bless 'em.

Other news of the week... I nearly packed in the blog from living such an uneventful life that there was nothing to report; I tried to stay up and greet Wren on Friday night after a shedful in the Yard and opted to have a quick snooze, setting my alarm... Said alarm went off a minute after she arrived to find me prone, snoring in bed dressed only in my dressing gown... We had a country walk at a fab little park hidden in the depths of Cardiff (Cefn Ohn near Llanishen)... My cold staged an unwanted revival... I took Tuesday off as a lieue day which enabled me to join the Prince of Darkness (on hols), Withers (two days off) and Paps (day off) for an enjoyable evening's drinking in The Yard/new O'Neill's... I had a crappy hangover all day Tuesday and felt really fluey... Woke on Thursday to find the Red Sox, one defeat away from missing out on the world series, win a staggering game 8-7 over Tampa Bay at Fenway having been 7-0 down in the seventh inning (One of best post-season comebacks ever!).
Actually, I guess I have done quite a bit.

Sunday I cooked a nice roast lamb with gravy and tried out a few new tips which worked to perfection. First I cut a few deep cuts in the lamb and wound some strips of lemon peel through them. Then I added slivers of garlic and anchovies into the cuts, coated the fat with a bit of butter and put it into the oven on a fairly high setting - 220 degrees, gas mark 8. After 15 minutes I then turned it down to 160 degrees and added my veg. Towards the end of cooking I added six sliced shallots to the lamb.
When the lamb was cooked I removed it and put it on a plate, covered with file, and put the baking tray on the hob. I first mixed in about 3 tablespoons of flour with the shallots, before adding a good glug of white wine and cranking up the heat. Finally I added 3/4 pint of chicken stock and continue to stir on the hob until the veg was done.
Finally, having sliced the lamb I set everything out and strained the gravy through a sieve to remove the shallots. Very nice - and you could really taste all the flavours coming through the lamb.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

spicy szechuan scallops and noodles

YOU go more than a year without losing your phone, then you can't find it twice in three days. Mind you, I am not particularly surprised the item in question went missing on Friday night/Saturday morning.
On that fateful night I fell among thieves - well the Prince of Darkness on a mission, anyway - and after a few speedily supped pints in The Yard ended up going to the City Arms "just for one". I had a Saturday WoS shift coming up so no way was I going to misbehave on a school night, as Paps calls them.
Then Paps, the man himself, turned up with a couple of mates, and in turn the Prince turned up with a tray of Sambucas, on the basis that he had read the word Sambuca on the T-shirts of some lads out on a stag night. And, well, the next thing I know is I know nothing.
All I remember is finding myself awake on the sofa at 6.30 in the morning watching the Red Sox beating the Angels 9-7 in the last inning of their second game in the Divisional Series. I somehow crawled to bed in the faint knowledge I was supposed to text Wren but all fumbled attempts to find my phone had ended in failure.

Fast forward and I open a bleary eye to look at my clock - 10.45am! I'm normal in work by 10.30 on a Saturday so I rush, grab my things and faint memory becomes fact, my phone has gone. When I get to work Rowley Rowlands (who sounds like a character out of Grange Hill in the 70s but actually works as a MeejaWales news ed) informs me that my girlfriend has rang. Oops, I must be in trouble!
But it's actually good news. Some kind soul has phoned her to say he has found my phone and will bring it back to me at work. My faith in humanity is restored - at least for a couple of minutes, having deserted me 20 years ago. Said guy, Steve, turns up and returns it at lunchtime and I am eternally grateful (though not enough to give him any money for his trouble). Mind you, if I see him in the City Arms and recognise him in the future, I think a pint would be in order.
Meanwhile, it appears Smashy has become "Son of Paps" and has sent Wathanovski a video of me, shirt off but baseball cap still on, dancing the night away in the pub. This stripping off after a few beers habit is becoming a bit alarming. No clue how I got home...

Sunday was sport day, on the basis I couldn't move from the sofa. Watched West Ham lose to Bolton in the Premiership, then Newcastle grab a shock draw at Everton in the first-match under swearing Joe Kinnear. After that it was the Chicago White Sox against Tampa Bay and only at 9pm did I have a change of scene and watched the new series Fringe on Sky - a sort of X-Files crossed with Lost. Not bad.

Monday I went swimming and had an encounter with a world superstar. I was struggling not to drown on my 30th lap of the new Olympic Pool when I realised the bloke in the other lane was languidly doing a form of backstroke which involved no hands just a casual flicking of the legs. The fact he nearly lapped me would have been alarming until I realised it was GB Olympic silver medal star David Davies. And he doesn't look anything like as big as he does on the TV.
I was still pondering this fact when I came close to driving through a red light, slammed on the brakes and vaulted forward in my seat. My phone, resting on the chair next to me, went flying forward. Pick it up in a minute, I thought.
Reaching the launderette to collect my washing I got out of the car and went around to the passenger's side. Down on my knees, I searched everywhere for the phone but, like in Fringe, it had disappeared into thin air, swallowed by the space-time continuum no doubt.
After a while it seemed a bit ridiculous, particularly to the people walking past in the high street who must have wondered what the hell I was doing. There was a bit of swearing, too, although with no one to swear at I guess people just labelled me "nutter" and moved on.
When I went in the launderette and told my tale to be fair the man who runs it came up with the solution. "You go back to your car and I'll ring it," he said.
Moments later, back in the crouching position, I hear the familiar ring tone of Kenny Rogers "What condition my condition was in". But where's the phone? What it has actually done is slide along the carpet and up under the glove compartment, then drop into a space where some of the carpet has come away. The chances? Pretty slim, I would have thought.

Monday night I rustled up a quick meal based on a Ken Hom recipe, having bought some large scallops from Morrisons.
1 tbsp peanut or vegetable oil
1 tbsp chopped garlic
1 tbsp chopped ginger
3 chopped spring onions (I didn't have any so used a chopped shallot)
12 king scallops
1 tablespoon rice wine
2 tsp light soy
2 tablespoons dark soy
2 tablespoons chilli bean sauce (I used red thai curry sauce and 3 chopped green chillis)
2 tablespoons tomato puree
sprinkling salt and white pepper
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp sesame oil

Heat up wok, then add oil until it smokes
Quickly mix in ginger, garlic and onion/shallot and stir fry for 10/15 secs.
Add the scallops and stir around, cooking for a minute.
Meanwhile boil salted water for the egg noodles in a saucepan.
Add all the sauce ingredients (rice wine, soy etc) - apart from sesame oil - to the scallops and cook for five minutes, stirring regularly.
When water boils for noodles put them in for 4/5 minutes until they soften.
Rinse in cold water, then add them to scallops
Mix in and add sesame oil before serving

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Another ready meal

I was full of the joys of spring at the weekend - then I woke up! The thing that soured my break was viewing the front page of the South Wales Egg Cup after two 14-hour shifts in a row.
I had designed the page and written the headlines, re-designed them and changed the headlines and checked them as much as I could. It was only in the cold light of Saturday morning that I realised I had called the golden wedding couple on the front by the wrong name!
Their name was John and Carole Sheedy and what made it worse was that I had checked the spelling of Carole. Unfortunately I called them Sweeney. D'oh!
Looking deep into my subconscious I remembered that the former press manager on the Daily Snail was called John Sweeney and somehow I had recalled that name at the crucial moment. Nothing like a mistake like that to make you feel crap about yourself.

Part two came when I went to see my wonderful football team The Gas, who drew 0-0 with Crewe and produced another performance marking them out as likely relegation fodder. Why they can't pass to players in the same shirt I can't guess.

On Saturday night Wren and I met up with Natalie 'Bob' Wilson, or cupid as she should be called. It was Nat, a former colleague of Wren's on the Celtic newspapers, who once texted me to ask if it was all right if she gave my number to her friend. The rest, as they say, is history.
Nat and her bloke Neil were down for the Cheese festival at Cardiff Castle, and Withers - who had accompanied his dad to the Rovers-Crewe game only to be delayed three hours by railway travel chaos - eventually joined us, too.
While drinking in the Cayo I spotted a bloke who looked remarkably like the Welsh Hollywood actor Rhys Ifans. Nah, I thought, can't be. Next day, there in my WoS, was an article saying he had been one of the star guests at the cheese festival. Could it be..?
From the Cayo we went to City Arms, where it was absolute chaos. Drunken students falling all over you, many of them dressed in the most bizarre fancy dress uniforms. The beer, too, was pretty rank and after wandering around Cardiff for about an hour in the early hours of Sunday morning trying to find somewhere decent to drink we finally gave up and went home.
Neil, by the way, is a Carlisle supporter and it looks like I may have to travel up there to see the Gas get pulverised in the new year.

Sunday, and I went to a wedding fair. Infact, I ended up going to two wedding fairs. This amounted to going back over the bridge to Bristol again. In all, Wren and I did the same journey five times at the weekend.
The first fair was just down the road from her flat, but there wasn't much to see though I did have to pull her away from the chocolate fountain. Got me thinking about vodka fountains. Then I remembered the Prince of Darkness would be there and that the sight of him slumped under said fountain with his mouth open was too much to take.
The second one was at the Marriot on College Green and was quite fun. There were some very flashy cake makers, invitation designers and bridesmaid's dress sales people. And there was a catwalk show, too. Still haven't got a clue what myself and the Wonderful One are going to wear, though. Apparently, according to my lady love, my Bristol Rovers top is a definite no-no.
Plenty of ideas to work on, though.
We followed that with a trip to the lush Bristol Carvery in Cribbs Causeway for a massive meal and blobbed out in front of the Rom-Com Hitch on Sunday night at my gaff.

Last night it was a couple of beers with the Wonderful One after work and then a ready meal of Beef Bourgoinon (quite nice really) with brown rice when I got home.
Today Wren sent me a little joke I will share with the rest of you...

A passer-by noticed an old lady sitting on her front step, so he walked up to her and said, "I couldn't help noticing how happy you look... what is your secret?"
"I smoke ten cigars a day," she said. "And, before I go to bed, I smoke a nice big joint. Apart from that, I drink a whole bottle of Jack Daniels every week, and eat only junk food. On weekends, I pop pills, get laid, and do no exercise at all."
"That is absolutely amazing!" said the passer-by. "How old are you?"
"Twenty-four!" she said.

That explains why the little bowling ball, Bramwell, keeps claiming he is 28 - he probably is. Ignore the getting laid bit, though, that's very unlikely, chum!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Coconut and turmeric curry of red snapper

IN the dim and distant past, Wathanovski lost his glasses. It happened during our training on the phone system in preparation for a move to our all-singing, all-dancing new offices.
On returning he announced: "I think I've lost my glasses in the new building. If anyone is due to go phone training can they pick them up for me."
As I was next in line for the exhilirating experience of trying to get my head around one of the most ridiculous phone systems in the world (I could solve a rubic cube quicker than actually transferring a call), I volunteered for the task.
Finding Wathanovski's lost spectacles on a desk, I vowed to return them and carefully placed them "somewhere safe". Somehow, though, they had totally disappeared into a black hole in the Space-time continuum by the time I got back. Wathanovski was forced to buy a replacement pair, leaving me totally perplexed.
Fast forward five months and I was looking for my MP3 player. Having had a bit of a jig to Sergeant Rock in the City Arms last Friday no doubt it is still lying around on the floor there. Still, determined to hunt it down I checked all my coat pockets and, lo and behold, the missing glasses turned up instead. They were hidden in a small pocket I didn't even know existed in my leather jacket.
The boy Wathanovski was highly unimpressed when I returned them to him. Still haven't found the MP3 player, though.

The last vestiges of Boozeday Tuesday seem to have disappeared. This week I could find no one to accompany me on a well-deserved visit to the local hostelry. I was gagging, too. Hadn't been out all weekend.
The wonderful one, shock of shocks, actually claimed to be busy (and by that I mean he WASN'T googling his own name), The Fugitive had to go home to "fit a car seat" which, in code, probably meant sorting out his boot collection in the dungeon, while the Prince of Darkness was otherwise engaged trying to singlehandedly design The Daily Snail.
Mopily I set off for home and then a flash of inspiration came to me. Brammy! He always does his warbling, Roger Whitaker impressions in the Boar's Backside on Tuesday and, for want of a better offer, I popped in. There the old boy was, flat clap askew, singing the most folky version of an Eddie Grant classic I'd ever heard. Reggae's not dead, but Brammy came pretty close to murdering it that night.
Recounting the tale to a table of hubbites a few days later one of our group came out with a startling fact. "Roger Whitaker is the dad of that bloke from UB40, Ali Campbell."
We all raised our eyebrows but she was adamant the facts were correct. A little while later Smashy, the wizard on all-things obscure music-wise, was equally sure. "Not true," he said.
The following day Smashy proved to be correct. I received an e-mail. "
"Silly me, Roger Whitaker is not the father of UB40's Ali Campbell. His dad is folk singer Robin Campbell, who bears a striking resemblance to Roger Whitaker. I have a vague memory of them on TV doing the Skyboat Song together. Not sure about that, though."
It did get us on to other celebrity myths, however. The most bizarre one being that Bob Holness, former master of ceremonies of the kids quiz show Blockbuster, played the saxaphone on Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street. Also, completely untrue. Apparently he did play the first James Bond, though... on the radio!

On Sunday I attempted to make an easy sounding Thai curry of red snapper. I didn't take into account the boning and de-scaling of said fish. Nightmare. I eventually boiled water and poured it over the fish which managed to cook the fish but didn't really help with the de-scaling. As for the boning? I ended up sawing away like an over-zealous carpenter and ended up left with a quarter of the fish, enough for maybe half a snapper sandwich. Tips please, anyone?
The curry itself turned out ok, but for all the trouble it caused I wondered whether it was all worth it.

500ml coconut milk
250ml light chicken stock or water
2 stalks lemongrass, bruised
white sugar
1 tbs tamarind
4 tbs fish sauce, or to taste
400g whole red snapper, gutted and scaled to best of your ability
120ml coconut cream
Kaffir Lime and Coriander sauce from Sainsbury

For the curry paste
6 dried long red chillies, soaked and chopped
3-4 dried small red chillies
pinch of salt
a few bird's eye chillies
50g chopped lemongrass
4 tbs chopped red shallots
21/2 tbs chopped garlic
a tablespoon ground turmeric
1 rounded tbs Thai shrimp paste

Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend for 3-4 minutes, stopping to scrape down the insides of the jug every so often.
Combine the coconut milk with the stock in a saucepan, add the lemongrass and bring to the boil.
Season with a little sugar, the tamarind and fish sauce and add 4 tbs curry paste. Simmer for a minute before adding the fish and lime leaf and coriander sauce.
Continue to simmer until the fish is cooked.
Check the seasoning, then finish by stirring in the coconut cream. Sprinkle with extra coriander
Serve with boiled rice.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Bull terrier beef dinner

THE Fugitive seems to be on a mission these days. I don't know whether you could call it a midlife crisis but he is hell-bent on partying - and woe betide anyone who gets in his way. Last week he was apparently eager to impress two dodgy birds from Newport with his witty repartee, and last night it was the turn of another pair of unwitting ladies to fall into the mantrap.
These girls seemed to be wearing their corsets on the outside, rather like wannabe comic-book superheroes, and one article of atire particularly caught The Fugitive's eye. "Cam on love," he said in the kind of faux-Cockney market trader accent he puts on after a few pints of Carling. "Sit down ere and put those boots on the table."
Now anyone who knows the Fugitive is well aware of his fetish for a certain type of footwear. More specifically this footwear has to be black, zip up to the knee and teeter on sharp stilleto heels. We reckon he has a collection of this type of boot down in his Grangetown dungeon, and I have it on good authority that cold case detectives are still following up a few Missing Persons reports from the last 10 years.
In the end the Prince, myself and Smashy left the mad one to it, though I understand he was later to turn up at the City Arms.

I've found a good place for a roast dinner during the week, now that we have no canteen. It is well worth the trip for beef, yorkshire pud, three veggies and gravy. About time, too, because I was beginning to look like a sandwich.
The home of this marvellous dining experience is upstairs in Cardiff Market. Don't be put off by the name either: The Bull Terrier Cafe. I had to laugh though when I was asked if I wanted anything to accompany my feast and asked for English mustard. "We got any minger mustard, George?" shouted the enthusiastic young lady behind the counter. Guess the word English is taboo in these parts.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

TV dinners

THE Prince of Darkness has been offered his 15-minutes of fame and a chance of world stardom. Unfortunately he can't remember anything about it. Apparently it happened in the early hours of the morning in the City Arms when a student filmmaker engaged the Dark Lord in conversation and said: "How would you fancy appearing in a film?"
He obviously had spotted the Prince's talents from a long way off and, of course, the creature of the night was more than happy to accept the offer. "Don't mind if I do," he said, envisaging the time when his scrawny handprint materialises on Hollywood Boulevard.
Unfortunately, there has been no call back and when asked in the cold light of day what he intended to do about this opportunity of a lifetime he admitted: "I don't remember anything about it."
It got me wondering, though, what part they had in mind for the bloodsucking one...
"Dracula: P*ssed and Loving It" perhaps. Or maybe "To Live and Die in The Yard". Whatever, that Oscar celebration seems a long way off at the moment.

Mind you, according to Smashy it could be something entirely different. One of the many drunken texts I received while holidaying in Boston declared: "From the look of the Prince's hair he is turning into Krusty the Clown from the Simpsons!"
Perhaps, Simpsons Movie II is the most that we can expect.

Talking of hair, there has been some madman on the loose in Cardiff with a pair of scissors. The Prince arrived in the office freshly shorn on Tuesday afternoon, followed closely by Smashy, who had apparently run into the same demon barber at roughly the same time.
Then The Fugitive turned up sans his Elvis-style quiff. Now, I know he is struggling with his sanity at the moment, but all he needed was a bit off the sides and a mohican and he would be the spit of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Watch out, all you Jodie Fosters out there...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Beecham's flu plus

I WENT all the way to the States and all I came back with was this cold. Well, actually that's not quite true. There were also three pairs of jeans, numerous t-shirts, a toy baseball bat and ball for the Vin Monster and Big Boy, a Louis Vuitton handbag for the fat kid (which cost a small fortune but should shut her up for a few weeks), a jean jacket, two red sox caps, two van Heusen workshirts and a pair of silk ties. Oh yeh, and a new bag so that I could fit everything in.
We arrived back at Heathrow on Friday night and spent it at the Sheraton Skyline, although being very careful to avoid the rip-off Italian restaurant situated there (Al Dente's, I think I mentioned it earlier).
Standing outside having a smoke I noticed some tell-tale Ooh-Aar accents and when one of the blokes talking in this homely manner turned and asked me where I was from he was pretty shocked by the reply. "Get outta town!" he exploded. "We're from Brislington."
Turns out the blokes, this one doing a passable impression of a (using his words) "Fat Vinny Jones, were flying out to New Orleans the next day. They had originally planned the trip four years earlier for Fat Vinny's 40th birthday only for it to be cancelled because of Hurricane Catrina. Didn't have the heart to tell them that Ike was kicking up a storm in the Southern States as we were speaking.
Still, they didn't seem to mind. They were on a big piss-up mission, so I told them that New Orleans was the place for Bloody Mary's. They asked me what I was doing the next day but I thought it strategic not to tell them of my impending visit to see the Gas play Walsall, as I had a sneaky inkling they were sh**heads.

Back to mediocre sport, for me. The Gas were terrible, losing 3-1 to Walsall. So much for our new signings and the decision to change the wedding date because it clashed with the League One Play Off finals. Hah!
Went out on the razz with Wren on Saturday night in Clifton to finish off the hols, and ended up sampling a pretty good Bloody Mary in the Alma Tavern just around the corner from her flat. After copious amounts of San Miguels (Wren was on the large glasses of vino) we staggered home pretty merrily I can tell you.

Bastards! How best to finish off one of the best Holidays you have ever had? Come back to Britain, leave your car parked on a normal street and find some twat has levered the top of the door open, causing untold damage, in the search for goodies to sell to feed his or her drug habit.
But what a result, too. Said stupid thief got the door open and found my car stereo case, unaware that the car stereo was sitting there alone in the glove compartment. Thinking he had his ill gotten gains he made off into the night with the case leaving not only the stereo but around 100 CDs under the passenger seat. Don't you just love the lack of intelligence shown by your average car thief these days.

A day before I return to the grind and the cold is now coming on strong, being kept at bay by copious amounts of Beecham's flu plus. On Monday met up with the Fugitive and Smashy, who managed to bring me down to earth with a bang with their stories of misery from "the hub".
Ah, some things never change.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Footlong hotdog

ONE day to go and yesterday we went on the unofficial tour of Harvard University with freshmen MK and Tyrell. It was a highly amusing walk around the grounds with some informative commentary on the way. For instance, I had no clue that Al Gore and the actor Tommy Lee Jones shared the same room together while studying at Harvard, or that the statue of John Harvard, the benefactor, which sits in Harvard yard is not actually of the man himself as all records of him vanished in a fire.
We also had the embarrassment of having to do Primal Scream (although we were fully clothed at the time), a ceremony performed by Harvard students every year. The students don't charge for this enlightening tour, rather they claim tips at the end of it. It is probably the best way to see the famous old university and I take my hats off to them for making it so enjoyable and informative.

Later in the day we went to see the Sox for the second and last time on this trip. It was the third game in the series against Tampa Bay and on this occasion took place in the evening.
The Sox fans are an amazing group though, as my dad warned me, no one can sit still for a minute and we were on our feet most of the time trying to catch a glimpse of the action.
We first sat next to a couple who were indulging themselves in wine, beer and peanuts. Having had a good chat with them we went for a walk around and I fulfilled my desire to have a footlong hotdog. We also went into the vast merchandising store at the back of the stadium and I bought a new baseball cap, while Wren bought herself a sleeveless t-shirt.
Resuming our seats we found we were now sitting next to a guy called Al, a teacher from Rhode Island. He was a pretty talkative chap, originally from New York, and we had a good natter about baseball and sport in general.
When the ninth inning closed the score was still tied at 1-1 after what had been something of a pitching duel. As people started to head for home the game went on and on, past midnight, before eventually Tampa scored a three-run homer at the top of the 14th to steal the game. Oh well, can't win them all and the Sox are virtually guaranteed a place in the close season through the wildcard anyway.
By the time we got home we were both pretty knackered, and worried about how we would get all our purchases in our cases. I've bought three pairs of jeans since I've been here, plus a levi jacket and all manner of tee-shirts. With souvenirs as well, the last thing I'm going to have to buy is a bigger bag to accommodate all my hand luggage. See you all soon.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Brendan Behan's bar

WELL, I was all ready to slate this bar at about 9pm last night, mainly because we took the T to Green Street and ended up in a dark, dingy, quiet suburb with no idea where to go. There were a few shady characters around and Wren and I were pretty apprehensive. Eventually I asked a Boston police officer outside their Jamaica Plain headquarters how to get to Centre Street and he pointed us in completely the opposite direction.
After walking for an age we eventually came across this small Irish bar in the middle of the suburbs. Entering it seemed it was students' quiz night and there wasn't a seat to be had, nor a dart board as far as we could see.
But ordering a pint of pilsner lager for myself and a bottle of Coors for Wren we got speaking to the barman. After a while he said: "Oh you're the couple who were speaking to my cousin the other day in the Beacon Street Tavern." From that moment we were home and dry.
His name was John and he spoke with an Irish accent. A few weeks ago he had travelled to Co Wicklow in Ireland to get married to a Canada girl. She is still based in Toronto while he works the bar in Boston. And we thought we had problems living 45 miles away.
Later we met Alex, who works for Olympus Cameras (what a coincidence with Scooby, also called Alex, being a photographer) and his girlfriend Nicky. They were great and when I asked them to recommend the best T line station to use to get back to Brookline Nicky offered us a lift home in her car!
It was the best bar we had found in Boston, a real pub, and John was the friendliest barman. The music was pretty good, too, they seem to love the Clash out here. In fact we got speaking to a minor celeb while there. Wren got into a conversation with a bloke called Sweeney who grabbed his 15 minutes of reality TV fame a few years ago. He was the punk who was turned into a conductor in for weeks and had to lead the Royal Symphony orchestra in Faking It! He claimed to be a Scot but spoke with such a strong Yorkshire accent it was difficult to hide the fact that he had lived in Leeds most of his life. He also had a minor claim to fame - he came out with the line: "I met Joe Strummer". Well done, Sweeney, but of course I could top it.
He had only spoken to Joe during his post-Clash lifetime with the Mascaleros whereas of course I not only spoke to him but bought him a drink during the Clash heyday. Did I ever tell you that story before?
Towards the end of the night Wren noticed the different fruity flavoured vodkas on the shelf and turned into the female equivalent of the Prince of Darkness. John provided her with a chilled Blueberry Vodka which she devoured with great gusto, then let us try the Vanilla version, too. Excellent. To say we slept well last night would be an understatement.

Yesterday we took a fast cruiser out to Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod. We had to leave at 8am and it was touch and go whether we caught the boat, having become confused by the Silver Line. We thought we were looking for a tube train platform but the line is actually a bus that runs underground between stations.
Thankfully we made it with minutes to spare and were surrounded by a group of American pensioners out on an annual day trip. They were hilarious, having a whale of a time like a group of kids on a school trip. When we hit bumps or waves they were cheering like they were on one of the big dipper rides at Alton Towers and one adventurous chap kept playing tunes on a kazoo. Mind you, it got a bit wearing at that time of the morning so I tuned out with my headphones on and dozed for the rest of the trip.
I wanted to go to P-town because it was where the chef Anthony Bourdain first began to learn his trade. It's a quaint little place full of art galleries, bars and beaches and has a large gay population, who all seem to own dogs. There is only so much browsing you can do, however, and we ended up stopping off for lunch at Pepe's Wharf overlooking the beautiful Cape Cod bay.
Originally I was going to have a hot dog but my eye got attracted to the Italian Meat Trio pizza. When I ordered it the waitress looked at me knowingly and said: "You're going to get a mighty big pizza". She wasn't wrong, it was about the size of a large Dominoes and full of Italian sausage, pepperoni, meatballs with extra cheese. I was beaten just looking at it but, with this being the country of the doggie bag, they found me a box and I took the leftovers home.
Wren, meanwhile, had a magnificent Quasillada with Shrimp, which was the Mexican equivalent of a pizza with giant shrimp the size of small lobsters, and loads of them. The one thing you get over here is value for money.
On the way back a storm brew up and we hit rough seas. The crew on the catamaran started throwing out black bin bags for those who might be ailing and I was expecting the elderly ones to start flagging. Not a bit of it. They were whooping and holloring with glee as we crashed into big waves. I think of some of the old miseries back in blighty and wonder if they would have had the same reaction. I doubt it.

Two days to go now and tonight is the Red Sox v Tampa, the third game in the series which is level at 1-1 after Papelbon blew the save last night. Tonight Josh Beckett pitches, and I can't wait to see him do his stuff. I also have my eyes on a 12 inch gourmet hot dog tonight.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Legal Sea Foods

During our trip we have come across our favourite restaurant without a doubt. It is called Legal Sea Foods and is down in the harbour. The Clam chowder is to die for and we returned yesterday to try a few different things.
As a started we shared the hot crab dip, which was fantastic, and afterwards I had shrimp and garlic, which was done in a creamy sauce with linguine. Mouthwatering. Wren had the lobster rob, which was the special of the day, and a large glass of Sangria. No complaints there, too.
Can't say I'm overthrilled with the beers though. They are all "lite" beers like Coors (which is weak as water) and Miller, not so bad but I wouldn't drink it at home. The Sam Adams isn't up to much, God knows why they named one of their most famous patriots after such an ordinary pint!
Anyway, to keep you up to date. We took a train trip out to Cape Anne on Saturday and spent the day in Rockport. It was appropriate that on the way back, our first day of filthy rain, the leftovers of tropical storm Hanna, that we should travel through Gloucester, home of the tropical storm.
Rockport was a very twee, antiquee little town but nice to browse around and have lunch. We got back early evening and after the late night before stopped in to watch baseball and have a picnic tea.
Sunday we went on a search for the Museum of Bad Arts in Forest Hills, only to find that the buses only ran every hour. Then we looked for the arboretum and had a long trek around without any luck.
We did, however, discover the whereabouts of Brendan Behan's on the bus back and expect to pay it a visit before the end of the week.
In the evening we went to the local cinema, Coolidge Corner in Brookline, which was lovely - a little old independent theatre with real tradition. We saw the new Woody Allen film Vicky Christina Barcelona. For the Prince's benefit, it was excellent with star performances from Penelope Cruz as the wild ex-wife of Javier Bardem, who was on top form too and quite different from his portrayal of the hit man in No Country For Old Men. Worth a look.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Stereophonics live in boston

THERE is something truly poignant in seeing Stereophonics play Have a Nice Day live in front of a sell-out crowd in the United States. Particularly when it is in front of around 600 people at a bijou club called the Paradise in Boston.
This is a true rock venue, not unlike the clubs the Stereos would have first played when they were just starting out in south Wales. The difference now is that they are a huge rock brand, capable of selling out large stadiums like the Millennium and headlining festivals.
The Paradise, in comparison, is small fry. But the buzz you get from seeing Kelly Jones and the boys perform in front of such enthusiastic fans makes up for all that. Everyone who saw them wanted to be there, and the band didn't disappoint.
Not long ago I saw them at the CIA in Cardiff and the result was frankly underwhelming. There were too many people there just for the occasion, the queues for a beer stretched for miles, and the group's performance mirrored their surroundings. People didn't want to dance, or mosh, even to their most popular tracks. They were just intent on holding their mobile phones overhead to snatch pictures so they could boast to their mates: I was there.
Boston was the first leg of the band's north American tour and the reason they choice such a compact venue is not precise. Their album Pull the Pin, which has been out for some time in the UK, launches on September 9 over here so they obviously wanted to give it a plug. And maybe they felt that playing in a town with so many colleges, universities and budding musos was the way to do it.
Quite simply, it worked. They played all their old favourites mixed in with a number of new tracks, none better than the single It Means Nothing, and the crowd simply lapped it up, myself included. It was a brilliant gig with Kelly bringing the house down with old favourites like Tramps Vest, a Thousand Trees and Boy In the Photograph. And he gave it his all, singing some of their most popular songs with great feeling. He really wanted to be there, and the crowd went wild when the band finished with Dakota after a soulful solo version of Just Lookin'.
Interesting, too, to see that wherever they go there inevitably will be ex-pats turning up to see them. Paula and Rich, from Cardiff, have been living in Boston for three years but when they heard I was from the same city they couldn't wait to try to sell me their 450,000 house in Cefn Coed. The credit crunch has far reaching consequences.
One blip on the landscape was pictures. I tried to find a photograph as Nathan suggested but the gig was poorly publicised over here and the one freelance I met explained that despite trying for a week she was unable to obtain a pass for the gig. Apparently press pictures were only allowed during the first three songs, but there weren't any photographers there to take advantage.
Maybe the Stereos will have better luck in Canada, their next stop. I hope so. This gig just showed that you don't have to play big stadiums to be a big band and it would be great to see them in smaller venues in the UK, too.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Whale meat again

I achieved another first yesterday on another fantastic day in Boston. The temperature was around 88 degrees and Wren and I went out on a trip to see Whales off the Boston coast. I must admit that I was sceptical about whether we would actually get to see any activity, but how wrong could I be. Within an hour and a half of setting sail from the New England Aquarium down at the harbour we came across a Humpback whale, her calf and their escort. It was a thrilling moment, watching them surfacing for air, then diving to the depths, their tails flooking in the air as they did so. I don't know how many pictures I managed to get on my cheapo $7 disposable camera, but I'm confident at least a few will come out. We also saw some minky Whales and by the time we had to leave their feeding grounds there was activity everywhere. Breathtaking.
When we returned to dry land Wren and I went to one of the best recommended sea food restaurants for locals, Legal Sea Foods on the harbour. I had clam chowder to start and Wren had lobster bisque. For main course I had an amazing dish, can't quite remember what it was called but it contained lobster, clams, mussels, squid and a fish called Scrod (not Wanda) in a tomato sauce. Wren had a seafood mixture of tuna, salmon, prawns and scallops woodsmoked with chips and salad. Sensational. The bill worked out at around $80 with drinks etc, so it was well worthwhile.
On a long walk through the City we came across a more salubrious area and were amazed to see the Welsh dragon taking pride of place outside one of the poshest hotels in the city - the Fairmont Park Plaza. I shall endeavour to find out why it was one of only three flags flying from above the entrance.
We were pretty tired by the end of the day but had to go and see the bar where they took the picture of the outside of Cheers at the top of Beacon Street. Not impressed. This place is the typical rip-off joint with boozing coming secondary to souvenir selling. We couldn't have a table unless we ordered food so sat at the bar when we could find a space and had a couple of beers, but it wasn't somewhere I wanted to stay for long. The whole atmosphere was about commercialism, far removed from the original Cheers bar where locals met and "everyone knows your name". Still, it had to be seen.
We far prefer our local bar the Beacon Street just down the road from our hotel and stopped off for a couple of drinks. I knocked back two pints of Herdinger while Wren opted for Jack Daniels and Coke in the true American fashion.
By the time we returned to the hotel we were both tired and, shall I say, merry, but it was a day never to forget. Boston rocks! Tonight, of course, the Stereophonics are in town and it should be another exciting day.

The wonderful Withers no doubt would like to hear about the election activity going on over here. Well, the Republicans have had their convention this week and I am trying to count up the number of times the broadcasters can say the word convention in one sentence. The record is about six.
John McCain has appointed his running mate, the Alaskan senator Sarah Palin, who was immediately surrounded by controversy with the news her unmarried daughter Bristol is pregnant. This goes against the whole Christianity/family values ticket the Republicans try to push so to overcome the obvious own goal they wheeled out Bristol's boyfriend Levi Johnston, who has a tattoo of Bristol on his finger. Never mind, if he gets sick of her perhaps he will become a gashead and add the name Rovers to the finger next to it.
Saw an absolutely sickening McCain campaign promotional video yesterday in which they had old pictures of him recovering in hospital from his wartime efforts, most of his body covered in a cast. The message was John McCain will look after you but quite honestly it was tear-jerking nonsense. The Yanks will undoubtedly fall for it, though, so I think you're probably right Withers in your assumption that he will breeze the election against Obama, more is the pity.
Anyway, that's it for now. As we Americans say: Have a Nice Day!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Peanuts and Crackerjacks

WELL yesterday it actually happened... I got in to see the Red Sox play. It was an absolutely sweltering day and we were stuck out in the early afternoon sun in the bleachers. It was a good view, though, and we were treated to an exciting game which the Sox won 5-4 against the Orioles after coming from 4-0 down to steal it in the last inning.
First, though, we went to the Cask N Flagon, a bar claiming to be the second best in all of Baseball (only second?) and had a couple of beers and the biggest plate of nachos you've ever seen, complete with Guacamole and chilli. Terrific and real value for money. Our waiter, too, was a star in the way he served everybody's needs quickly and with a smile on his face even though the bar was rammed full. It was a superb atmosphere and after the nachos we went on to the new Bleachers Bar right by our entrance, where we got our first look at the ground. You could see the players warming up through a window and the ground was already starting to fill. This was, according to the stats, the 455th consecutive time that Fenway has sold out, tying the baseball record.
For the baseball enthusiasts out there, the game didn't start according to plan with a run being taken off pitcher Matzuazaka's first inning. The score remained 1-0 and we went out to tour around at the bottom of the second. The hot dog stalls and other food outlets make the mouth water but having already had nachos we resisted going for some Fenway Franks and settled for ice cream. There was also a big area for smoking out on the street behind home plate.
Oh, souvenirs. I bought a new baseball cap with Fenway 1901 on it and a Dustin Pedroia t shirt as the little genius is the man of the moment and Boston fans are almost demanding that he be made MVP.
He proved himself again in this game when the Sox were down 4-0, smashing the only homer of the game over the green monster. It sparked a recovery which took us to the final inning where two bunts, one by Coco Crisp and the other by Jacoby Ellsbury got Alex Cora home for the winning run.
In the eighth inning the Boston crowd erupting into singing Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond which, for some reason, is their song. It's not quite Good Night Irene but it will do for now. We also enjoyed the Seventh inning stretch and the singing of Take Me Out to the Ballpark, which I have learnt is the third most sung song in America after the Star Spangled Banner and Happy Birthday. Jeez, don't these Yanks have anything better to sing?

Last night we took a T train over to MIT and walked back down Massachusetts Avenue, popping into the Middle East bar, where they had a live belly dancer and live bands upstairs. We then walked back over the bridge and followed Commonwealth Avenue down to Kenmore Square (we always seem to end up here) and found a good boozer called Cornwalls which was serving late and had tables with ashtrays outside (it was just like being outside the Yard, but warmer and less wet!).
On our way home we found a local bar, I think it was called Beacon Street Tavern, and walked in to hear The Clash blaring out. I settled down at the bar with a Bloody Mary while Wren enjoyed a Vodka and Coke and, to my pleasure, they played the entire London Calling. I had to ask the barman if he was a Clash fan. "Not particularly, I was just in the mood."
How could I resist?
"Do you know I met Joe Strummer once?" I proudly announced. "It was in a bar in Stoke on Trent..."
"Yeah, that must have been cool," he said disinterestedly.
Oh, well, I tried.

Big thanks to the Bevan Boy for getting me onto the Stereophonics guest list for Friday's gig at the Paradise. Last night's mammoth walk was in order to find the club, only to learn that it was about 10 minutes from our hotel. Cheers, mate, much appreciated.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

New England Clam Chowder

TWO days into our Boston trip and this morning Wren found the Fallen Man. Sounds like one of those US documentaries, doesn't it? The reason I am up at just gone 3.30 in the morning is that I had to deal with said Fallen Man.
But let's rewind. We are staying in a B & B called the Beacon Inn, a cosy little brownstone at no. 1087 Beacon Street, just a five minute walk from Fenway Park, home of the great Boston Red Sox. Everything has been going swimmingly, despite the fact that my credit card was somehow refused on the first day. Ringing the bank I was told it was 'just a precaution' because it was such a large sum of money (I was paying for the lodgings up front). It didn't stop me feeling like a crook though. Thankfully Wren came to the rescue.
Our room is nice, but pretty cosy and basic and we have a separate bathroom down the hall.
Anyway, in the early hours of this morning Wren needed to use the facilities and crept out of our room so as not to wake me. A few seconds later she was back.
"Babe, a funny thing happened on the way to the bathroom..." she began.
Funny time to tell jokes in a vauderville manner, I thought, but decided to play along, it being half past sparrow fart and me having nothing else worthwhile to do.
"Yes honey."
"Well I was walking along and I found a man lying between here and the bathroom."
"Oh yeah?" I said sleepily. "Did you manage to get past him?"
"Um, no, he's right in the way. I don't know what's happened to him."
With that I bravely wandered out to take a look. And there he was. Curled up in the foetal position directly in front of our bathroom. You could still just about step over him, which probably would have been my preferred option, but Wren felt differently, obviously concerned for his health. I approached him tentatively.
"Excuse me, mate..."
He sprang awake.
"Are you ok?"
"Yeah, fine buddy," he replied, leaping to his feet.
He had a big indent on the side of his arm from where he had been sleeping on the wooden floor. Fortunately he had a pair of shorts on, or it might have been even more embarrassing.
He proceeded to stand there, wobbling around a bit and trying to get his bearings.
"Trouble is," I said, "You are lying right in front of our bathroom."
"Oh ok," he said as he remained rooted to the spot.
Then he sprang back to life. "Third floor?" he said.
"This is the first."
He turned, disappeared upstairs and I heard a door bang shut.
Strange events. He didn't seem drunk, must have just been sleepwalking, I reckon.

A quick recap. On Sunday before we flew out we stayed at the Sheraton Skyline. The room was terrific (they actually still have smoking rooms!) and the bed comfy, but the Al Dente restaurant was the biggest rip off I've ever come across.
I had a couple of pork pieces with some fancy Italian name, wrapped in Pancetta, with four small new potatoes and no veg. Came to about 18 quid. Wren had another pretty ordinary dish.
We also had a bottle of water for which they charged 4 quid. The waiter, who looked remarkably like Benny Hill in one of his disguises (God rest his soul) kept coming over, displaying a mock smile and asking: "Is everything to your liking?"
For this I gave him two quid as a tip to round it up to 40, and away he went to process my card.
When he came back, though, the bill had gone up to 56 pound - for a snack! They hadn't added the VAT until AFTER the bill was presented. A bloody cheek. If you're staying at the Skyline in future, make sure you stock up on sarnies and takeaways.
Talking of sarnies there was a sarnie crisis on Monday morning before we flew. We left the tupperware with two bacon sandwiches in the mini bar in our room. Wren went to retrieve them while I stayed downstairs and paid the bill.
Then she rang to tell me the dreadful news. "My tupperware box is locked in the fridge! I can't get it out" Quick work by the hotel. They had processed my room bill and managed to lock the mini bar in one single movement. Brilliant. Wren wasn't happy so I offered to buy her a new tupperware box when we got home.

Oh yeah, Boston. Nathan, if you're reading this: The Stereos are playing over here at the Paradise near Harvard University on Friday night. I'd love to go (as would Wren) and could even do a review for Saturday's WoS. Do you know any of their people who might be able to wangle our entry on the door? Get Withers to reply.
Anyway, flight was good and the hotel, despite the odd dead person, is fine. On the first night we went out to eat at American Joe's off Newbury Street and it reminded me how well served you are over here. In contrast to Al Dente I had a beautiful first course of Clam Chowder and followed that with a massive cheeseburger while Wren's starter, Calamari, was a feast in itself and contained some tangy chillis, too.

Today was a long day, walking the freedom trail. First, though, we picked up our Red Socks tickets at Stub Hub! At least, it took them 40 minutes and they could only find the Tampa Bay ones, but gave me some others for today's Orioles game (which is first pitch 1.30). The tickets are better and they gave me back $25 as compensation for keeping me waiting. That's what I call service, Al Dente!
The trail itself was awesome but pretty tiring and took us on a historic journey from Boston Common to Bunker Hill. It took us about 4 and a half hours but we stopped off in various places, including the Hub Pub! It declared itself: The Friendliest Pub on the Hub (the hub being the centre of Boston because it was once described as the Hub of the Universe - not too arrogant. Mind you, I know some people who think that about OUR hub, the one at Thomson Towers).
There were some types sitting around a circular bar, eating lunch, knocking back beers and playing some kind of gambling game in which they bluffed each other about what numbers were on their dollar bills, or some such. Interesting, but not sure what it was.
One of the guys had a stripey blazer, red bow-tie and an eccentric air. They also seemed to have a far more leisurely lunch than most of us get. It made me speculate: The long lunch, boozing, gambling, quite cocky and flamboyantly dressed? I reckon I have stumbled across a drinking hole for Boston journalists!
Lunch in Quincy Market was fantastic with all the food on offer. I ate Greek, a moussaka with chips and salad. It was very good value. Wren settled for a salad. Mind you she was still full of the muffins and dunkin donuts she had scoffed earlier in the morning.
By the time we got back to our hotel at about 6pm we were knackered. I settled down to watch the Red Sox smash the Orioles 14-2 and take a close look at Fenway. We'll be there later today and I'll try to report later.
Have a nice day, y'all...