Thursday, January 29, 2009

Dodgy dinner

I would like to think the Prince of Darkness and I have a bit of respect among the chattering classes for our hard work, dedication and bon vivre attitude. Which is why I was a bit alarmed the other day when one of our head editorial honchos turned up at our place of work to see how Meeja Wales was progressing.
The Prince and I were busy, head down, when the Daily Snail Editor turned up and introduced us thus: "Here are the miserable twosome. They are like those two Muppets on the Balcony." Well, how dare he! Never had our flabber been so gasted, particularly as we view ourselves more in terms of a great double act like Torville and Dean, Cannon and Ball or Herman and hermit (he's the Hermit).

Meanwhile, the Fugitive has turned up with his hair completely shorn, like he's about to head off to Iraq to fight the insurgents. The Wonderful One has a theory that the angry Fugitive got so angry with himself while looking in the mirror that he started hacking away at himself with a pair of scissors, shouting: "Bloody Abbo!"
I prefer to think he looks like the deposed English cricket captain Kevin Pietersen who, in a quite moment, probably acted the same way after throwing away the chance to lead his adopted country.
The Fugitive admits he has had plenty of comments about his new looks, like "Brad Pitt gone wrong". I think I'll just change his nickname on the blog yet again. "Jarhead" will do nicely.

I'd like to talk to you about Monday night but it brings back painful memories. The night had started quite eventfully in the new old O'Neill's. The boozer itself, having burnt to a crisp not that long ago (hence why I call it new), developed a pretty monumental leak while Withers and I were sitting there, sipping at our ales. In fact we were in pretty serious danger of drowning as a pipe overhead burst and splashed dripped down inches away from our table.
Eventually we had no option than to move, and somehow got drawn into the pub quiz, to be joined soon afterwards by the Prince.
Myself, the Wonderful One and the Prince actually did pretty well, thanks to a bit of help from a ringer called Nia who was desperately searching for a team to join and proved a . The barmaid, too, having set the questions, was pretty keen that we beat a group of quiz big heads on the table nearest us so kept accidentally correcting our answers. And, shock of shocks, we won.
By the time the result was announced I was heading for home and some tea. It was only at three the next morning that I decided I might have made a big mistake, running full length to the sanctuary of the toilet.
I spent the next day under the duvet, feeling rather unwell.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Birthday booze

WELL, that's it. One to go before the big 5-O. Friday marked my glorious 49th year on this planet and the usual suspects were up for the party. Had some really great presents from Wren, including a set of knives which, knowing my track record, could represent a serious handicap in my ability to keep my digits intact over the next few months.
So Friday night started with a few bevvies in Zero Degrees with one of our marketing gurus Mr Jonathan "show me the" Munnery, who was out with some of his acquantainces and clients on the basis it was his birthday the day before.
Having knocked down a few swifties we then departed for the new old O'Neills, rather than the old new O'Neills which the Fugitive always gets confused about (God knows why!). And as the drinks flowed Smashy led us in a rendition of what is fast becoming our signature tune "Are we drinkiiing... or are we f***ing drinking".
Wren joined us and after that it was a trip to the City Arms where, shock of shocks, my own personal DJ had gone awol. I had to asked the barman where he was. "Jase, he's just a lazy b***tard," was the reply. How inconvenient.
Anyway, next stop was the New Model Army Inn where the Karaoke was going great guns. The Wonderful One, who has on numerous occasions remarked about how he HATED karaoke and would NEVER get involved, was desperately trying to persuade me to go up on stage. "Go on, we can do Senses Working Overtime, he said. I agreed, thinking there was no way they would have the track. Unfortunately they did. The good luck, though, was that there were so many people in the queue in front of it that we never did get on stage.
By that time I had drunk enough, anyway. And the evidence hit me the next morning when my body felt it was loosely held together with string while a woodpecker banged on my head in a bid to crack it open.
It took a while to come around, yet there were important things to be done... like drag Wren to watch the Gas play Colchester.

What a birthday thriller. Nil-bloody-nil. Still, better than a loss I suppose. The surprise of the day came later.
I used to doubt Wren's credentials as a true blue Rovers fan, thinking she just went along to please me. But at the final whistle she dragged me into the shop and bought a lovely hoodie sweatshirt for herself with the name of the illustrious Bristol Rovers stamped across the front. She knows the way to a man's heart.

She was obviously pleased with her day because she told me afterwards: "It was great that it only cost £10 to get in, too!"
"Umm, it actually cost me £17," I told her.
Then it dawned on me. She had gone through the Juveniles turnstyle and passed for an Under-14. God, I thought. Does that make me a pervert?

Sunday was a pretty quiet day and on Monday I went to see the guru, who I had last seen staggering around Cardiff unable to pronounce his name or even let himself out of The Yard. He was in a much better state this time, thank God. He could tell I was a bit stressed out, he said. Can't think why. Oh yeah, there is a wedding just a few months away, maybe that's it. Or maybe it was the fear the Gas would get dragged into a relegation battle. Whichever, the treatment was great.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Roasted Cockerels

OH what an evening's entertainment we had last night. Popping into the O'Neill's bar just around the corner from work we settled in for an enjoyable night watching Spurs take on Burnley in the second leg of the Carling Cup semi-final at Turf Moor.
It doesn't sound like the most thrilling evening out, I have to admit. But if you are in the company of mad Tottenham fans Wathanovski and Danny Boy 'the Poipes, the Poipes' it certainly gets interesting - particularly when Spurs throw away a three goal lead from the first leg against their impoverished opponents.
At first Wathanovski and the Poipes were quite chipper. Tottingham were on their way to Wembley, as former White Hart Lane favourite Ossie Ardiles once sang. But gradually their enthusiasm seeped away as first their goalkeeper was completely beaten by a near post free kick. Into the second half and Spurs were on the back foot, Wathanovski and the Poipes shouting at the screen, urging their idols into some kind of action.
Next thing you knew their defence folded like a collapsible deckchair again and it was 2-0 to Burnley. Surely the unthinkable couldn't happen.
Oh yes it could. With minutes to go it was 3-0 to Burnley and the scorn was pouring forth from Wathanovski's mouth. The manager Harry Redknapp was in the firing line, as well as Welsh superkid Gareth Bale. "We're going to lose this, we are terrible," they were shouting while the rest of us jigged around. The face of the Poipes, leaning forlornly against the cigarette machine, had gone the colour of the Burnley shirts, Claret with embarrassment.
Three minutes to go in extra time and Spurs were on the way out of the tournament and Wathanovski was wishing he hadn't booked that Wembley day out after all. But their mood changed when one of the subjects of their ire, Pavlichenko, grabbed a goal to send them ahead. Suddenly they were jumping around the table singing, laughing and dancing. When Spurs made it 5-3 on aggregate they insisted the result had never been in doubt.
Of course, we knew different.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Lost in the supermarket

WELL, this blog entry isn't exactly contemporaneous, but knowing how my large following eats up anything to do with the Wonderful Withers (formerly known as the Wonderful Withers on WoS) I thought I ought to tell the story anyway.
This involves the self-confessed snob from Crewe actually spending a day at the World Darts Championship over the new year with his buddy Becks. You see, though the Wonderful One masquerades as some kind of landed gentry, every now and then he cannot help but let his working class roots slip out, and none more so than when it comes to those big bloated fellas approaching the oche every year.
Mind you, he is still a snob even in this most base of all sports. He won't watch anything to do with the PDC (probably because he hasn't got Sky Sports - too stingy!) and insists that the WDO is the only darts organisation out there. It is all about tradition and the PDC, though possessing probably the three or four best darts players in the world, is an ungracious upstart that shouldn't be given the time of day.
Anyway, I digress. Withers and Becks spent an enjoyable day at the darts watching some of our lesser talented arrowsmiths perform. Rather than the One hundreeeeeeed and aye-teeeee! cries every third or fourth throw most of the afternoon they were hearing "40, 25, 37, 60". But Withers was in his element.
As the time went on he got into the drinking business, too, and the party continued back at his hotel. At one stage, though, the Wonderful One dipped into his ciggie packet and realised the cupboard was bare. "Where can I get some cigarettes?" he asked the hotel staff. They told him they didn't sell them but sent him off to the 24-hour garage of the local supermarket.
Off he trotted, informing pal Becks that he would be back "in the blink of an eye". Ummm, quite. About 40 minutes later Becks answered his mobile phone. "Yes, mate?" he asked.
A rather emotionally overcharged Withers spouted: "Can yoush come and get me. Iyam in the garage carpark at Teschko and can't find the way out."
Good mate that Becks is, he eventually turned up to drag the chastened Withers stumbling back to their hotel.
And this bloke is right hand man at my wedding? I'm already having nightmares.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Prime ribbing

THE gossip was circulating all week: Someone important was coming to Meeja Wales.
As a result, on Friday the normally scruffy, unwashed and slightly dazed all turned out in their best bib and tucker. Even Smashy had a tie balanced on his well-dressed paunch.
It made no difference to me, of course. I was the usual figure of sartorial elegance.
My first clue that this celeb was going to be a bit out of the ordinary was when a couple of Men In Black (special branch, I reckon) were loitering outside the tradesman's entrance, eyeing me suspiciously as I puffed on a roll up.
Moments later, back at my desk, a media scrum emerged when all the bright, beautiful and incredibly important people from Twee Bee C Wales and ITV gathered in our news room, making it incredibly difficult to concentrate on ones work or, more to the point, get a sneaky 40 winks in.
Then, to a fanfare of trumpets, HE arrived. Gordon Brown. Prime Minister. Former Chancellor. Lord of all he surveys. And he was surrounded by all the "Yes Minister" entourage you would expect, plus a couple of additions - our very own Editorial Director and MD.
Fair play to Mr Brown. Rather than make for the minor B list Welsh celebrities present - rugby player Neil Jenkins and WRU chief executive Roger "the Dodger" Lewis - he decided he would talk with some of the journalistic staff in our esteemed sports section.
Big mistake.
For some ill-thought-out reason he chose Tucker to have a conflab with. Now, our resident stand-up comedian may have a bit of a liking for Cardiff City, but he wouldn't know a rugby ball if it pounded him in his not insubstantial beer gut.
"So how do you think Wales will get on in the Six Nations," inquired Mr Brown.
"Um... um... oh... um".
Fortunately the boy Wathanovski stepped in to save the day, beguiling the VIP with his sporting knowledge and informing him of the vast array of Scots now in the Bluebirds ranks. To be fair, the PM showed a fair bit of sporting knowledge himself.
He later moved around the office and finally plocked himself in front of my desk, thrust out his hand and said "You must be Rippers. I read your blog." Well, no, actually he didn't. But he did ask how I was and how I enjoyed my new job. I lied, of course - understandable with the powers-that-be in earshot.
It was a great shame that Mr Brown couldn't stay a bit longer. I would have shown him the vast array of intelligent letters in the Echo mailbox that day, including the one from the irate former ASW worker who was blasting Mr Brown for spending taxpayers' money for his jaunt across Britain with his "muppets and puppets".
But good Gord was already deep in conversation with the Prince of Darkness. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the security guards getting edgy. They kept touching those concealed earpieces and reaching behind them so their tasers were ready for operation.
Gord was undaunted by his meeting with the Prince. "So you put all your stories on the internet now, do you?"
"Yes," said the Prince eloquently, doing a passable impression of a rabbit caught in some particularly high-beamed headlights.
"What even your exclusives?"
"Well... er... no, not them," conceded the dark one.
At this moment the Boss felt it only right to leap to the Prince's aid.
"Och aye, the noo, Aam the Soonday editor. We ne'er share our stories with anyone, particularly our exclusives."
The PM nodded vaguely and moved on.
"I'm shocked, the noo, that he didn't recognise ma Scoootish accent," said the Boss miserably.
Of course, we who know better, are well aware that the Boss is, in fact, from the emerald isle. Maybe Brown was perplexed by his blarney.
Mind you, I wasn't surprised to see the British establishment's No 1 figure being whisked away. They had obviously been tipped off in advance about the danger posed by Wales on Sunday's version of Martin McGuiness.
I did find the Prince's comments a bit bizarre, too.
"I couldn't understand a word Gordon Brown said. It was his thick Scottish accent."
This from a man who has to deal with The Boss on a daily basis and has been seen in dark corners of dodgy drinking establishments locked in whispered conversation with him on many occasion. If you can understand The Boss in those circumstances, you can understand anyone.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Port and Brandy (happy new year!)

The temperature was -3, the streets pretty empty, and only a fool could be dancing around in the middle of a serious cold snap without their shirt on this New Year's Eve.
You've guessed it, I was that fool. I guess sometimes people expect you to live up to your reputation.
Early in the afternoon Smashy had predicted to fellow Meeja Wales inmates that this would come to pass. Clairvoyant? I don't think so. The fact that I overheard this conversation must have stuck in my mind because however much I told myself that this New Year I would definitely not be shedding my clothing, a nagging little gnome inside me was saying: "Go on, go on, go on." Or maybe it was Withers. To tell you the truth I can't remember.
And it had all started off so sedately, too. The great and the good had gathered in The Yard at about 6.30 to warm up for the big event. Smashy, The Fugitive, the Baker Boy (once again visiting Cardiff for his holidays), Danny Boy "the poipes, the poipes", the Wonderful One, the Prince of Darkness and Mad Liz were all on hand for the occasion.
Later, Paps was to join us. He was thinking himself a picture of sartorial elegance in his pinstriped suit jacket and jeans until a cool dude came in dressed in the same manner, but topping it off with a superb pork pie hat. It was only right to comment on this fashion faux pas.
"Not many people can carry off a pinstriped jacket with jeans," I said, pointing to the cool dude. "He can." Poor Paps looked crestfallen.
Not feeling at my best by that point I decided to indulge in a port and brandy, which a mate told me a long time ago had certain medicinal qualities. By the time I reached old O'Neill's I was well into the swing of things.
And finally it was on to the City Arms to see in the New Year with DJ Jase, "Senses Working Overtime", discarded shirt and cardboard pirate hat. The Prince, too, was in full flow with some limbo-style wowy wowy dancing while Smashy could quite easily passed for a TV Cop (anyone remember Cannon?) in his cardboard police cap. Apparently there are pictures, but I've yet to see them and am dreading the moment.
Believe it or not, I was home by 12.30. Unlike some.
Rumour has it that the Prince, fearful of oversleeping when he was due in to work on New Year's Day, stayed out all night just so that he could turn up for work on time. What a trooper!

For me, New Year's Day was spent lying on the couch, watching an inane series of TV programmes mainly featuring Poirot and Miss Marple (with a James Bond thrown in somewhere) and thinking I could never feel so bad again, but knowing that I probably will.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Xmas dinner with Paps

THERE is something rather odd about a man who has to take photographs of every item on the Christmas Day menu before you can sit down to eat the bloody thing. Mind you, few would deny there is something odd about Paps.
Because the two of us were spending the entire Christmas week in work, with only December 25 off, the candid camera specialist and I arranged to go arf and arf, as the Welsh say, and did half a Xmas dinner each before sitting down in his house in Splott for a festive nosh up.
I cooked Gammon to my favourite Nigel Slater recipe, and also provided the roast potatoes, pigs in blanket, chestnut stuffing from Cardiff market and the gravy, preferring to experiment with my own (complete with red wine) rather than go down the granules route.
For his part Paps busied himself with roast beef, honey roasted vegetables, the compulsory brussell sprouts and the starter, a moorish little number called Babaganouj (forgive the spelling) with crusty bread.
He picked me up at 12.30 to deliver my offerings to the table and we then spent an interesting hour at the local boozer, the Royal Oak. That had come about due to my first communication of Xmas morning - not from any member of the family but from the Prince who inquired enthusiastically "Are you guys going for a little drink before dinner? (translated: Are we having a Christmas drink or are we having a f*!&ing Christmas drink?!"
In fairness, we had an enjoyable couple of pints of lager in the company of the Prince of Darkness and Steve "Ned Flanders" Jones. Okely dokeyly.
Returning back to the house at just past two I then proceeded to attempt to amputate my finger with one of the very sharp knives that Paps keeps in his possession (something very strange about a man who keeps such dangerous implements in his kitchen). Having sliced straight through the gammon and into my digit I proceeded to bleed all over his kitchen floor, worktop, and sink. "I must have struck an artery", I opined, wrapping a plaster around the wound as quickly as I could.
When I eventually removed the plaster a couple of hours later there was a mere scratch where a gaping hole had once appeared. Either I am a quick healer or my threshold for blood is very low indeed. No doubt Paps took some surreptitious shots of my injury to put on some sadistic website after I had left.
Still, the dinner itself was quite magnificent and afterwards we slobbed out watching Sharks Tale before I wandered home for an afternoon kip.
Highlight of the evening, however, was the new Wallace and Grommit A Matter of Loaf and Death. Excellent.
On the presents front I had some great gifts, including a new steel wok which I will certainly make good use of in the coming weeks. I also had a new MP3 player, even smaller and easier to lose than the last one, which disappeared into the black hole that is the City Arms.

Two days before Christmas we all had a quick drink in the new old O'Neills. It was a very ambient atmosphere with the usual array of suspects turning up to wish each other merry xmas. For my part I provided the wonderful Withers and the Fugitive with black santa hats, inscribed with the message: "Bah, Humbug!" I also bought one for myself and I must say we looked very dapper in a miserable bastards kind of way...
It was only when I got home that night that I discovered the king prawn in my pocket. My thoughts immediately turned to the person who might have slipped the offending object into my jacket. It was a no brainer. Danny Boy (the poipes, the poipes)... you're a twat.

Next instalment will involve ringing in the New Year at the City Arms in freezing temperatures.

Meanwhile, here is how I produced the pigs in blankets and roast potatoes.
Pretty easy really, but very time consuming.
I like to mix it up a bit, cutting pieces of streaky bacon in two then wrapping them around cocktail sausages or rolling them around stuffing. They then go in the oven at around 180 and need to be continually checked until nice and crisp.
For the roast potatoes I brought a saucepan of water to the boil with salt and pepper, then added peeled potatoes, large ones preferably that have been chopped in two. After 7-10 minutes remove from the heat and pour off the water, then return to a low heat and shake around the pan to scuff up the edges.
Meanwhile, you should be heating goose fat in the oven until hot. When it is hot enough add the potatoes, cover in oil and then put in the oven on around 180-200, turning now and again so they crisp up and brown. Right at the end sprinkle salt over them and return to the oven before removing ready to serve.