Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Burnt offering

THE Prince of Darkness has found himself in a battle that he may not win. He has taken on the Beautiful People in a byline war that wouldn't look out of place in Lord of the Rings.
The scenario goes something like this... Not knowing which of the Beautiful People had written which features for this week's Wales on Sunday the Prince had a novel idea. It involved putting all the names in a hat, throwing the hat in the air and catching individual monikers as they came to land. A bit like a lottery, really.
The result: Everyone had the wrong bylines on the wrong pieces and there was grumblings of great discontent around in the features hub. So much so that Princess Margaret of O'Reillyshire was straight on to us at Mission Control.
"Where's our 'preshhhhious' bylines?" she inquired in the manner of Gollum of Rings fame.
Behind her the cries of anguish could be heard. "Yessh, where's our precious? We loves our precious."
Unfortunately the Prince had retired to his lair for the day and so yours truly had to appease the Beautiful Ones. "You'd better speak to the Prince," I said keenly. "He's in tomorrow."

On Tuesday night the war nearly broke out at the NUJ yearly party - or wake would probably be more to the point.
Somehow the Wonderful Withers, back from his trip to Corsica (not Sardinia, as previously stated on these pages) managed to persuade myself and the Prince to step into the Enemy's den. The Prince, appreciating the fact Zync was dark and dingy and sold alcohol, didn't take too much persuading and I tagged along dutifully with Smashy.
Those great Union men the honorable Viscount Shippo and the freeloading Sniffer, along with Steve "Flanders" Jones were dancing their hearts out at Zync. Um, well, maybe not. They were, in fact, huddled in a corner muttering about injustice for the workers and sowing dark seeks of rebellion.
And the first people we bumped into were the ones the Prince had so badly wronged.
It must be said the flame-haired Claire Voyant and her goth-like mysterious mate Morticia Richards look worthy adversaries. I can just imagine them now, standing around the cauldron, throwing in eye of toad and tail of Newt, and whisking up a potion to send the Prince into a coma. Come to think of it, looking at him today I think it has worked already.

My lovely wife-to-be Wren made me a terrific shepherd's pie on Monday while I was in work, and there was a whole load of it. I ate half on Monday night for my tea and put the other half in the fridge.
Returning home far too late from the NUJ do, I decided I would reheat said pie and put it in the oven for 15 minutes.
Did I say 15 minutes? Well, that was the intention. I thought I would just relax on the sofa in the meantime and listen to my latest CD purchase, the first Editors album.

Four hours later I woke to the sound of Run DMC, the discs on my CD player having gone around in a loop three or four times. What was I doing still up? Why hadn't I come straight in and gone to bed. Then a nagging thought crossed my alcohol-saturated brain. I wonder...
When I got to the kitchen my Wren's lovely pie had been well and truly cremated. Feeling guilty though, I tried to eat as much as I could. Putting aside the bitter taste of charcoal I think I could detect the odd bit of carrot and potato.
Having gnawed my way through three quarters of it, leaving the bits that were too hard to swallow, I finally gave up and went to bed.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Curry on the hub

The Prince of Darkness has surpassed himself. We met up outside The Yard before the great and good of Meeja Wales gathered for a curry in the Spice Quarter. This was to celebrate the successful launch of this mega project which has turned our lives upside down.
And talking of upside down, the Prince appeared like he had been pulled through a bush backwards. It soon became clear why. "I couldn't be bothered to get up today," he admitted, "so I stayed in bed until about 4.30 this afternoon."
The Prince, Wren, Paps and myself had a couple of swift ones outside our usual haunt before braving the big curry get together, where we were met by the MD, the editors and the various Hub heads. I must admit I viewed it with some trepidation but it was an enjoyable evening, followed by the usual suspects getting together for a few drinks in Six Foot Under. Strangely, the Prince wasn't in his usual Wowy, wowy mood. "I've eaten too much to drink," said the waifer-thin executive editor, sipping on a drink which somewhat resembled the blood of a young virgin. So the night ended pretty swiftly by his standards.

I still can't get used to having Saturdays off. This weekend Wren and I went to see the new James McEvoy film Wanted. More to the point we had gone to the Odeon in the Bay hoping to see it. I had checked on her computer to discover that the film was showing at 3pm. Yeah, right. We arrived to find the place over-run with rugrats and members of that horrible group, the general public. Aargh! More to the point the film wasn't even on that day, which put me in a foul mood. In fact, there was a danger of life imitating art as I turned green, Incredible Hulk style.
Wren suggested we drive out into the Valleys (scary) to see if the Showcase cinema in Nantgarw was showing anything good. It wasn't. I can't stand it either when you have a cinema with 12 screens but about eight of them are showing the two most popular films. What's the point? Might as well just convert to four big cinemas rather than 12 tiny ones.
In the end, with the rain pouring down on another typical British summer's day, we opted for a drive through the Welsh heartland and, to be honest, it was pretty enjoyable. We went to Treorchy, Tonypandy (no sign of Fireman Sam, sadly) and then had an ice cream on a cold, rainy, blustery hill overlooking Tower Colliery. God knows what possessed Mr Whippy to open for business up there but despite the weather he appeared to be doing a roaring trade.
We then tried to find Joe Calzaghe's gym in Newbridge (without luck) and the Pot Noodle factory at Crumlin (even less luck), finally driving through Blackwood en route to Newport and home.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Butter bean, leek, tomato and chorizo soup

I had a bit of a rude awakening on Sunday morning. There I was dozing away peacefully when a strange sound invaded my ears. No sooner did this annoying distraction wake me than my girlfriend Wren leapt into action, running into the front room like Marion Jones on drugs (well, like Marion Jones, I suppose).
Five minutes later she returned to the room and all became clear. You see, Wren has a new mobile phone, a state-of-the-art contraption which has a huge clockface on the front. Very 21st century. The sound was that of her phone alerting her to an urgent message.
"My phone has just told me I don't have to get up this morning because I'm not working," she informed me. What a useful message to get on a Sunday morning just after 8am.
It was a bit of a lazy day really after a rather long WoS shift on Saturday when I spent the first two hours answering various queries about things of which I knew absolutely nothing. The classic was some Wales on Sunday "reader" from the valleys who stormed: "I've got a complaint."
Another one? Ok, here we go, I thought.
"I was reading the TV pages of Wales on Sunday last week and it said 'International Rugby: 2.05". So I cancelled a trip out to watch the rugby, only to find out that it's on Sky!"
Oh dear.
I tried to explain that we had little to do with TV listings in the office as they were provided to us by the Press Association. "Oh, you lot have always got an excuse," he stormed. "Can I speak to someone important."
"Well, sir, I am executive editor, is that good enough?"
"Ok... well, I'm not blaming you, of course, but how can you say the rugby is on in your paper when it obviously isn't on? It's a lovely day and I had a chance to go on a day trip to Brecon."
Hmm. Then I had a thought. "Did it say what match was on?" I asked.
"Um, no. It just says International Rugby."
Grabbing for my Western Snail, I checked their listings in the Saturday Mag. "2.05: International Rugby," it said. "England v Australia: Under-20s World Cup."
All became clear and I told the ranting gentleman as such. "Oh... um... I see. Well I thought it would be Wales v South Africa."
"Yes, but I'm sure it will be a good game," I told him. He rang off rather sheepishly after that.
God, I'm fed up with complaints. Somehow, without any input from myself, I seem to have emerged as the South Wales Ego's Readers Champion and Letters page editor. It's a bit like being Lifeboat superintendent on the Titanic. The difference is the waves are made of Sh**.

On Friday Paps had a mate down so he demanded we attend Sh**ty O'Grimm's so he could prove he did have mates - to us, as well as his mate, I imagine.
During a cigarette break the Prince of Darkness watched a young girl in skimpy green skirt wobble down the street after partaking of far more alcohol than was good for her. She stumbled into Tony's chip shop and a few minutes later stumbled out. But she couldn't work out how to eat her chips while also holding her sausage in batter in the other hand. She ended up sitting on the ground in chip alley trying to nosh her supper.
It was quite a comic sight. Then seeing a fellow inbiber she stumbled across to the Prince and slurred: "Wanna buy me a drink, honey."
The Prince looked her up and down in his regal way and came to a conclusion. "Nah, you're all right," he said. Gutted, she wobbled off in the direction of home, sausage and chips tucked precariously under her arm.
"Mind you, if it had been Kate Moss in that state I may have come to a different decision," the Prince confided, conspiratorially.

The rest of Sunday turned into a relaxing rest day, watching Kevin Pietersen thump the New Zealanders in a one-sided cricket match, then being amazed at the brilliant comeback by the Turks in their European Championship winner-takes-all qualifier with the Czechs. Two-nil down with 15 minutes to go they managed to turn it around and win 3-2. Excellent.
And after all that there was the US Open with the injured Tiger Woods somehow grabbing an improbable birdie on the last hole to take the tournament to a play off. Poor old Rocco Mediate, who stood to be the oldest winner in the competition's history, ended up losing over the extra 18 holes on the Monday.

On the same day, I swam a mile and then visited the guru. In the evening I was planning to get the ironing done. Then The Fugitive rang, having returned from touring South Africa with the Welsh rugby team. With the sun still in the sky it was inevitable. "Fancy a beer?" I said. He turned up in shorts and sandals, a full two-weeks growth on his chinny chin chin. Apparently they don't have razors in the third world. He had also been on a big-game safari and was waxing lyrical about his close encounter with the King of the Jungle.
While in South Africa he also managed to arrive in Johannesburg without luggage and had to spend the afternoon shopping for pants in Woolworths.
Meanwhile, Rosey sent a text. "I hear you're getting married and Withers is the best man. Is that correct?" he inquired.
"You should know, you're on the nationals and they always get their gossip right," I informed him, remembering that just two weeks before he had rung me to inform me that I had already tied the knot. Some people...

The Wonderful One, meanwhile, sunning himself on the Meditteranean during an away-from-it-all holiday in Sardinia, sent me an absurd text. "Am I an idiot?" he inquired. "I am sitting here looking out on the Med and thinking: 'I wish I was back in Wales because I could have done the story about the Assembly Member Alan Cairns resigning after referring to Italians as Greasy Wops'."
"Yes, you are an idiot," I assured him.

The other lunchtime I fancied a light snack so found a good recipe in a Sainsbury's mag.
It was for Butter bean, leak, tomato and chorizo soup and it just hit the spot, with a hunk of french bread to accompany it. So without further ado, here it is...
Large chunk of chorizo
2 tbsp olive oil
2 leeks, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 sticks celery, sliced
2 tins butter beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 pints chicken stock
4 large ripe vine tomatoes
fresh flat leaf parsley leaves.

Cut 12 thin slices off the chorizo.
Chop up the rest of it.
Heat the oil in a large, wide-based pan or wok.
Fry the leeks, celery and the chopped chorizo
Whiz half the butter beans in a liquidizer with half the chicken stock. Add the mixture to the pan with tomatoes, remaining beans and stock and seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Bring to boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
Just before serving add the parsley and dry fry the 12 slices of chorizo for 3-4 minutes in a hot frying pan till crisp.
Pour soup into bowls, top with chorizo and serve with crusty French bread.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Coq Au Vin

FORGOT to mention on my last entry about how the Prince of Darkness managed to live up to his name at the weekend. On Sunday morning he awoke covered head-to-toe in blood. It was all pretty worrying for the dark lord. Had he enticed a young virgin back to his abode, taking a bite into her neck and then let her wander around Cardiff with a complexion resembling porcelain? He couldn't piece it together.
Then he looked at his hand and there lay the answer. His hand was covered in blood and he knew he had somehow got wounded during the night at Six Feet Under. Washing the blood away, he discovered a tiny pinprick and the truth came flooding back. He had, in fact, accidentally put his hand down on a tiny fleck of broken glass. For most of us it wouldn't be a problem but, you know what they say, vodka is thinner than blood (well, they don't but it appears it must be).

The wonderful Withers had been so troubled at the weekend that it was only fair the Prince and I accompanied him to see one of his favourite bands at the Buffalo Bar on Monday, although we both viewed the idea with trepidation.
Did I say band? We are talking about one rather strange geezer from Basildon, who waves around a hand puppet and sings disgusting songs - all in a vain attempt at humour. Still, the clue was in the band's title: K**t and the gang. We actually met up with K**t himself on the door as he took our £5 entry fee and invited us to join the other 12 saddos in the upstairs bar. Withers almost wet himself with excitement.
Once the guy started playing - clever ventriloquist act but devoid of musical talent - Withers didn't need to follow his instruction to "have a little w*nk", he had already made a rather sticky mess in his pants. The Prince and I, meanwhile, looked at each other in a completely baffled manner. What was this nonsense?
Eventually it was over. A bit of a gimmick act, quite fun really, but doing nothing that Splodginess Abounds hadn't done in the late 70s and early 80s.
The following day, though, I woke to find evidence of the night before on my wrist. There in indelible red ink was the legend "K**t". I failed to wash it off in the shower and I'm sure I got some dodgy looks in conference on Tuesday morning.

At the weekend Wren and I continued to make wedding plans, going to visit the lovely Avon Gorge Hotel in Bristol. I also had time to rustle up a rather nice little Coq Au Vin, adapted from a recipe in Nigel Slater's Real Food book.
25g butter
tbsp olive oil
100g pancetta
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 large free-range chicken breasts
five or six brown mushrooms, halved or quartered
1/2 pint of medium dry white wine
300ml creme fraiche
3tbsp chopped parsley
Melt butter in heavy-based casserole and pour in oil. Put in pancetta and colour it, then add onion and garlic.
Leave to cook on moderate heat until onions soften but don't colour.
Scoop pancetta and onions out with draining spoon, leaving the juices in the pan, then add the chicken. Brown lightly on all sides.
Add mushrooms and cook for a few minutes, then return pancetta and onions to the pan. Turn up the heat, pour in the wine, bring it to the boil and simmer. Let it gently bubble for 25 minutes, turning chicken from time to time.
Then lift chicken out of pan and pour in the cream. Season with salt and black pepper and stir in parsley. Continue cooking at an enthusiastic bubble, until cream starts to thicken slightly. Return chicken to pan. When it is thoroughly hot and the sauce in thick, serve.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Withered on the vine

IT'S not been a good weekend for the wonderful Withers of (Meeja) Wales. On Friday we were minding our own business, standing outside Sh*tty O'Grim's having a cigarette, when a rather inebriated old tramp wobbled up to us. He looked at me in all my dapper glory, proudly sporting my new yellow silk tie, and slurred: "Tha' mate, is a great tie, a great tie... Ah would be proud to be seen wearing tha' tie."
Then he looked Withers up and down. "You a solicitor?" he asked.
Withers, looking rather worried about what this rather rough old street dweller was getting at, stuttered: "N, no... I'm not a solicitor."
"Well, that's a good job," said the trampy character, hitching up his soggy old tracksuit trousers and tucking in his crusty old shirt and tracksuit top. "Cos I wouldn't be seen dead in that tie. It's a blooody awful tie, that one. This man (he points at me) has a great tie, but yooo, yoooo should be shot for wearing that tie. If you WERE a solicitor I think you would be thrown out of court for wearing that tie."
He then offered the wonderful one a doleful tune on his harmonica in commemorance of the death of his reputation for sartorial elegance (a reputation which, admittedly, he invented for himself upon the purchase of a pair of red socks).

But worse was to come at the weekend. On Saturday night Wren and I ventured into town to meet up for drinkies with the Prince of Darkness, Withers and David "the suit" James. It was quite an amusing night, particularly once the Prince began to go all "wowy wowy" on us and demanded to go dancing.
We managed to persuade him to walk around the corner to the City Arms and spent an enjoyable night dancing to the juke box with a group of ne'er-do-well students including a rather tall lady to whom the Prince took rather a fancy. After trying to explain to her the full story of the Rolling Stones while dancing like the rather strange Dickensian fellow into whom he sometimes transforms, he then started shouting at us "Ten Foot Tall, Ten Foot Tall". We thought he was referring to the girl in question, but he was actually pining to visit the young social butterflies that inhabit that corridor of a club which I call Six Feet Under.
At that point Wren and I made our exit, before things got out of hand. David "the suit" James was now well into the boogying WoS scene, resembling somewhat Talking Heads' David Byrne in his infamous big suit dance on the dvd "Stop Making Sense".
But the night turned bad for the Wonderful Withers when they arrived at Six Feet Under. The Prince, having blagged his way in by draping himself over his 'friend' the bouncer, was then consumed by the throng of bright young things. The wonderful One tried to join the party and thought his luck was in when a slender female approached him and looked deep into his eyes. "You're possibly the ugliest man in Cardiff," she told him rather rudely.

We just had to cheer the poor guy up and we did that on Monday night. But more of that on a later entry...

Thursday, June 05, 2008

A dastardly laugh

ONE of my new colleagues is called Cat. Ironic really, because her laugh closely resembles that of the cartoon dog Muttley of Whacky Races fame. And we do have a laugh on the 'hub', even though most of the time we are up to our necks in doo doo.
Take yesterday when one of our main stories was about the rather alarming detection of human poo in ice cubes served with your Vodka and Coke in the pub (Prince of Darkness be afraid, be very afraid). Some of the ideas for headlines and bills were pretty unrepeatable.
Meanwhile, Paps came up with an extraordinary demand this morning. He insisted that everyone goes out for a beer on Friday week (what a break with tradition THAT will be) because he has a pal visiting from the home country and he wants to prove that he actually has mates in Cardiff!

Last night all the talk was of stag do's. It is left to the boy Withers to make the arrangements (a bit worrying really, because a night out in Crewe really doesn't appeal). I quite fancy Brighton but Smashy has more ambitious ideas. At 11pm last night, a good two hours after I said goodbye to the boozing crew outside the yard, he sent me a text message. "We've decided we are going to have your stag night in Boston. Go Sox!" Cheap at the price I have to say.

As for food, on Wednesday night I managed to smoke out the kitchen with a little Spanish tapas dish called chorizo and potatoes. You are supposed to cook it in oil and butter and leave it for a good hour, but being a bit impatient I thought I would give the heat a bit of a boost. Then I retired to watch a bit of the Aussie-West Indies test series.
Ten minutes later, checking on my tea, I found the kitchen enveloped in a thick fog (like London in the days of Jack the Ripper) and my chorizo cremated. Still, waste not want not, I shovelled it down. I could still taste charcoal the next morning.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Wren's chilli con carne

I BLAME the barmaid at the Tut. Ever since we popped in for a little drink the other weekend the talk has all been about weddings.
The barmaid in question saw the ring on Wren's finger and immediately went all gooey about how she loved nuptials, watched the Weddings Channel on Satellite TV and demanded to know when we would be tying the knot.
After about half an hour of the conversation I disappeared outside for a cigarette and didn't rematerialise until the coast was clear. By then, she and Wren had decided it was time to set a date. Game, Set and Match to the women.
Only joking. It was probably about time I got a kick up the arse and tried to organise something, so at the weekend Wren and I actually got down to talking tactics. And we had a great idea. If we chose the Sunday on the second bank holiday in May it would be excellent. The weather would probably be good and anyone wanting to stay over might be off work on the Monday. It meant my pals from all over the country would have 24 hours to shake off their hangovers.
May 24 it is then. Umm, or maybe not.
I thought I had better check things out with my close family so rang them to impart the news. Ten minutes later I received a text message from my bro Tim. "Do you realise that date will coincide with the League One Play-off final?" He politely inquired. I had to laugh.
Tim, like me, is a dyed-in-the-wool gashead, but putting off a wedding for the play-off final when our beloved team only won one of their last 15 matches in the season just gone? In the words of Ricky Gervais in Extras: "You're having a laugh".
Then I got to thinking about it. And the more I got to think about it, the more I started to worry. If I had the wedding on that day you can guarantee the Gas would rise from the Ashes like some footballing version of a Phoenix, march on to Wembley and 25,000 Gas supporters, including some of my mates, would be hot-footing it to London for the great day.
Meanwhile I would be standing at the altar (or whatever they have for a civil ceremony), looking nervously at my watch, wondering about things 150 miles away. The registrar's words would be muddled in my brain (do you, Paul Trollope, take this trophy...) and my words would be muddled in response (I Nick Rippington take Ricky Lambert to be my lawfully wedded...) It just doesn't bare thinking about.
I sheepishly mentioned the conundrum to Wren, but she is so understanding that it wasn't a problem. "Let's do it on the Saturday then."
Ok, no problem. Only that is the date of the Championship play-off final and, if by some bizarre coincidence, Cardiff City or Swansea City were to appear in it suddenly half my guest list would disappear overnight.
So now our wedding is being dominated by mythical sports events that probably won't happen. But you can't take that chance. I've heard of stories where unprepared bridegrooms have marched down the aisle on the same day that Wales have been taking on England at rugby.
At one point in the afternoon nearly all the guests had disappeared, only to be found huddled around the TV... in the bridal suite!
By now, of course, Wren must be aware that she is going to become a sporting widow. But she is very philosophical, which is why I love her (creep, creep).
The worst thing is, of course, that now we have agreed to change the date I have completely ruled out any hope of the Gas reaching the play-off finals next season. Sod's law.

Another reason I love Wren. I returned home on Saturday night from a WoS shift to find she had made a bucket load of chilli con carne.
She, however, was having a jacket potato and ready meal for tea.
"It's all for you," she said. "I know you're too busy to cook (and spend far too much time in the pub afterwards, the subtext read) so I've made you enough for the week."
It was quite hot, too, enough to bring perspiration to my brow.
Not as hot as I usually have it, though, so I decided on Monday to spice up the first installment a bit more by adding a Scotch Bonnet chilli. And more chilli powder. And some cumin and black pepper.
Kaboom! It blew my socks off and brought tears to my eyes. Trying to rub them away I managed to rub a little chilli into my eye, despite the fact I had earlier washed my hands.
So I watched the Simpsons with eyes streaming and forehead dripping.
Just the way I like it!