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...