Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Brighton rock

WELL the big stag weekend is all over and I have spent the last two days trying to work out how my ribs feel like they have been crushed in some kind of Victorian torture device. Every move seems to bring about a grimace as pain shoots up my side. For a while I imagined that some giant animal of Shutts-esque proportions had administered a bearhug to me in the manner of Giant Haystacks, the famous television wrestler from eons ago.
Then, like a thunderbolt, it hit me. It must have been the windmill guitar actions I performed while doing my best Pete Townshend impressions during the gig by rocking cover band Who's Who in the 'world famous' Portland Rock Bar. But more of that later...

It began on Friday morning with a leisurely breakfast at Servinis before the 11.55 trip to London Paddington. I was decked out in my newly purchased pork pie hat and Who target t-shirt as I met up with Smashy, Danny Boy, Paps, the wonderful Withers of WoS and the Prince of Darkness for a no-holds-barred fry up.
From there we went on to Cardiff Central Station, via a quick trip to the off-licence where the usual suspects bought their body weight in booze to help ease the journey. Jar Head and Shutts were there to meet us and very soon we had taken over carriage B on the inter-city train.
We were barely out of the station before bottle tops were being removed with great gusto, the Prince determined to have a hair of the dog before the buzz from his previous night's vigil in the Soda Bar had worn off.
By the time we reached Newport some of the gathering had engaged in conversation with a young couple heading for London. For their part, they were celebrating the chance to get away with a couple of bottles of wine. But the Prince, having already knocked back his body weight in Peroni, was already in the full flight. By the time my long-serving schoolmate Haydn had joined us the Prince was already helping himself to the couples wine. When we pulled into Paddington he had in front of him an impressive array of finished bottles - the little table in front of him resembling a closing down sale at Threshers.
A quick trip across town then to Farringdon on the underground, where at every stop the Prince managed to stumble over, obviously forgetting the lesson he should have learnt from the previous one.
We were running late and it was a quick dash to the Brighton train where we met up with Phil, my old mucker from the Sunday Mirror.
Little to report on the journey to Brighton apart from the points failure that kept us sitting tantalisingly from our destination for about 30 minutes. The little Bowling Ball and myself were almost climbing the walls by then, desperate to satiate our need for tobacco.

So it was on to the character-filled hotel known as the Blue Lagoon at Hove, with a main bar, a sports bar equipped with pool tables and lots of cheap booze. We split the assembled crowd into three rooms and got down to the serious business of drinking while waiting for some of the stragglers to arrive.
The kitchen designer from my Ashes trip soon turned up with Watford Pete, our deaf mate. Cue more booze. Then Becks and Rosey joined us and we headed into town, stopping off at a boozer called Old Orleans where I was lifted shoulder high by a couple of random blokes in fancy dress superhero costumes for the others to take pictures. By now the Prince of Darkness' brain was in freefall and he couldn't get a camera to work until five minutes later by which time I had been returned to terra ferma.
Shutts, ever the eating machine, was getting rather itchy feet by now and insisting on walking around the corner to book us in for a meal. We ended up in Donatello's Italian where we enjoyed a good meal accompanied by around 10 bottles of wine. Yes, it was getting messy.
Watford Pete suddenly announced, with a glazed expression, he was going home. Back to Watford? The Kitchen Designer and I burst into action, helping his now useless legs negotiate the stairs and taking him out for some air.
A little while later, after an excursion to the toilet, he managed to fall flat on his face. The kindly restaurant staff helped him into a chair and emerged with an ice pack. We had our first casualty of the trip and the Kitchen Designer kindly offered to make sure he got back to the hotel safely.
Meanwhile, Stu had arrived from London having knocked back a couple of Scrumpy Jacks on the train. After a few glasses of wine he was well into the swing.
In the dying embers of the night we split up, some of us returning for a night cap in the hotel bar while others - including the plastered Prince - heading out for late night action on the town.
Stu was among them and apparently inquired of the startled hostess on returning to the Lagoon in the early hours: "Do I have a mini bar in my room?"
"Where do you think you are, the bloody Hilton?" she replied, before kindly providing him with a couple of bottles of San Miguel.
Meanwhile, Watford Pete, having been guided to the bedroom, had fallen flat on the floor, mistaking the two single beds at his end of the room as a double and falling face down between them. When I got to bed he was snoring so loudly that the next day the Kitchen Designer and Haydn bought a supply of ear plugs.
Don't miss part two of this exciting tale of a Jolly Boys weekend tomorrow.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Candy Floss

WELL the jolly boys are all getting ready for the event of the year - our outing to Brighton for the big stag weekend. It should be an interesting mixture, all the usual suspects from work plus a couple of Barmy Army comrades (the kitchen designer and Watford Pete), old pals from London like the fab BB and Becks, the little bowling ball and all.
Paps has already been warming his camera up for the occasion although some may be praying he forgets to bring it with him.
As for my theme of a Quadrophenia-style Mod weekend, I am not sure how many have taken me seriously. The Wonderful Withers of WoS has positively frowned on the idea, shrieking in his high-pitched voice of dissent: "I bet they've never seen anyone dressed up as Mods in Brighton on a stag weekend!" But he's a miserable old whinger at the best of times.
Paps, Gawd bless him, and I have taken the whole thing in the spirit it is intended. I have bought an ice blue harrington jacket, two pork pie hats and both of us have bought Who target T-shirts.
We are staying in a shady looking establishment on Hove seafront called the Blue Lagoon. To give us an idea of its quaint character it announces proudly: "We welcome hen and stag weekends." It will be six to a room as well - I haven't done that since way back in the 80s.
Plans include a trip to the boot fest that is Brighton v Tranmere and a possible visit to see a Who tribute band. Fab.

Meanwhile, Paps was in a bit of a mood yesterday. He looked downcast as he announced to me: "I've got another bloody meeting."
Then, 10 minutes later, he emerges with a tour party of PR girls, or flossies as he likes to call them. And he seemed in pretty jovial mood as he showed them around the Meeja Wales newsroom.
Most of us, when we get a call from a Pippa or Jemima, give the response "Yes we've had the e-mail" and swiftly cut off the call. Not Paps. He will have a 20-minute conversation about how he enjoys the Archers, or what he cooked for tea the previous night or how a certain Flossie is wearing her hair these days, before finally signing off with a sigh. "God, these bloody PR people," he will then announce to the world, having accepted their invitation to dinner/a movie/a leaving do/a party (delete as appropriate).
Methinks he doth protest too much.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

meatball and chickpea rice

THE latest signs of impending old age hit me hard on Tuesday.
You don't really notice it happening and then it creeps up on you in increments.
It started a little while ago when I was standing outside with the little bowling ball, having a cigarette, when I looked at my feet and realised I had a different shoe on each foot. Not a good look for Meeja Wales, particularly when one is in the position of the Executive Editor.
Then there has been the odd episode of putting salt in the fridge, pouring hot water into a cup without remembering to include the tea bag or, worst still, making a cup of tea without having actually boiled the kettle.
But Tuesday was probably the worst example, because it was a wee bit embarrassing. Which is why I am telling you lot in the best read blog this side of Withers's political tome.
At about midday I fancied a wazz, or a wizz, or a jimmy riddle, or whatever you prefer to call it, so I hot tailed it to the little boys' room. Approaching the urinal I fumbled around for, in the words of the witty Russell Brand, my "dinkle". But however much I struggled I couldn't seem to find it.
It was then that reality struck - I had put my jockey shorts on the wrong way around.
There was an immediate retreat to a cubicle where I was forced to strip down, right the horrendous wrong, and then put my trousers back on and make my way back to the newsroom without anyone noticing.
I guess this was how Cameo felt when he realised he was wearing his pants outside his trousers in that famous Word Up video...

Oh yes, the little bowling ball now has a world profile. It is because, ladies and gentlemen, the new Google Street View site actually shows him in all his glory, cowering around the corner of the old Thomson House building, sneaking a crafty fag.
It's brill. Anyone who wants to see his masterful protruding gut (through which I immediately recognised him) should go to Google Maps UK and type in Park Street, Cardiff, then look at one of the side entrances where you will see the little man in all his glory. Actually, having said that, I've looked again and it probably isn't him, but it was a nice idea while it lasted.
Good old Basil, though, gets a good show parked outside my house. I appear to have my curtains closed on a sunny early summer's day. Must have been a hangover day...

Wren came over last night and I decided to show off all my culinary talent by cooking a few Indian meals. We had Balti chops with Paneer Cheese and pepper curry along with meatball and chickpea rice. Amazing...
Here is how I did the rice.
1/2lb mince
tsp salt
tsp garam masala
a handful of coriander chopped v small
1 egg
cumin seeds
tin of chickpeas
plenty of plain rice

To do:
Soak the rice in warm water for half an hour.
Make the meatballs by mixing the mince with the salt, garam masala, coriander and egg. Roll into small balls then dry fry in a frying pan until turning brown.
Remove from heat.
Heat some oil in a deep saucepan.
Add the meatballs, some bruised cumin seeds and some crushed garlic
Cook for about three minutes then add chick peas and as much water as you will imagine you will need for the rice.
Then add the rice and bring to the boil.
Reduce heat and cook for 10 minutes, then when the water is nearly soaked up put heat on to lowest setting and cover with foil to steam for another 10 minutes.
Voila, meatball and chickpea rice

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bouef Bourginon

HAVE you ever had one of those terrible moments when you find your legs just won't do what you tell them to? Happened to me on Friday as a matter of fact. And, to be honest, I had only had a mere five pints of Carling at the time.
Leaving work at the reasonably early time of 6.30, myself and Smashy walked over to the old new O'Neills next to the office for a few after-work swifties. It was a chance to relax and wash away the joys of another week on the treadmill that is Meeja Wales.
Having sunk a couple of quick ones we were soon joined by the Wonderful One and the Prince of Darkness who were also keen to get their weekend's boozing underway.
Anyway, at some point in time I slipped out of the side door and onto the street to have a cigarette. And this is where everything became hazy.
Whether it was the unwelcome gust of fresh air that hit me, or the first strong drag of Old Holborn, I cannot guess, but I suddenly found myself wobbling around uncontrollably. Realising that the bouncers on the door might notice my predicament and mistake it for unsobriety I tried to will my legs to stay still, but they continued to rock me back and forward.
What to do? A real dilemma.
Focussing my brain completely, I decided the only option was to walk casually around to the front of the pub and make my entrance that way, hoping against hope that the bouncers wouldn't be patrolling there, too. Wrong.
As I attempted to step through the door a hand came out and the voice announced: "Sorry son, you're too drunk."
"But it's not me," I protested. "It's just that, for some strange reason, my legs won't work. Can you let me back inside to say goodbye to my mates and get my tobacco."
"No can do mate. You're pissed as a fart."
The liberty. Five pints of Carling? Who did he think I was?
Sheepishly I rang Smashy to break the news, then wondered off to get a taxi home - crestfallen. And a stag weekend just 14 days away.

Saturday and Wren came over to show some sympathy. We watched Manchester United somehow get hammered 4-1 at home to Liverpool, then wandered into town to pick up some bits and pieces. Wren's mum gave me an M&S giftcard for Christmas and I had been scratching my head what to do with it. Then it struck me. Cookware!
I bought a very nice blue casserole dish and vowed to make use of it that night, putting together a bouef bourginon for our tea.
Shock of shocks, I got home to catch up with the footie scores to find the Gas had won 5-0 away at Walsall - play offs here we come! Lucky I cancelled that first wedding date.
Wren and I then watched our fave new series, The Wire, on dvd. It is an excellent show - up there on a level with the Sopranos and the West Wing about a bunch of diverse cops who are trying to bring down a drug gang in Baltimore.
Then I cooked tea, of which more later.

Sunday and Wren had to return to Bristol for work so I met up with the Prince in the pub to watch the English rugby team finally remember how to play the game. The French, though, what happened to them? This is a team who outplayed Grand Slam winning Wales a couple of weeks ago and now folded as quickly as you could say "sacre bleu". England led 29-0 at half time, for god's sake. It all means Wales are left to try to stop Ireland winning the Grand Slam next week and hopefully taking the Six Nations crown in the process.
The Prince had been having a quiet afternoon. By the time I met him at around 3.30 he was only on his fourth pint!
"Well, I had a big bottle of Becks before leaving the house, then went to the Beverley for my lunch. It took so long for them to cook my steak (he probably means about 10 minutes) that I had another two pints of Kronenberg to pass the time."
By the early evening he was professing: "I've got a bit of a buzz on" and demanding double vodkas. It was time to leave him to the night shift - Withers - who had turned up to join the party.

Anyway, Boeuf Bourginon.
You need:
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1lbs diced beef or thereabouts
four rashers of chopped bacon
4oz plain flour
One onion
One crushed garlic clove
8oz mushrooms
1/2 pint of red wine
pint of beef stock
bouquet garnet
fresh herbs to garnish.

To do:
Toss the beef in the flour then fry in the oil before transferring to casserole dish.
Fry the bacon until golden. Transfer to the dish
Fry the onions and garlic until the onions are soft, then add the mushrooms and cook before transferring to the dish.
Add the stock and red wine to the casserole dish, the bouquet garnet and salt and black pepper to taste.
Put in the oven for about an hour and a half until the meat is tender.
Garnish with herbs and serve with brown rice.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bubble and Squeek

MORE bad news for Smashy. I think I may have underplayed the opponent he came face to face with. Rather than David v Goliath it turned out his work experience challenger was none other than a member of the famous professional wrestling tag team The Valleys Boys. Aforementioned Workie climbs into the ring every weekend with his brother and wrestles in his undies with other half-naked tough guys.
Our own heavyweight champ might think twice about taking him on in another verbal joust if he takes a peek at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YSBQh-L6xo.

Meanwhile, it has been a very busy couple of days on Meeja Wales. The steam was coming out of my ears on Friday night when I realised the Snail was so far behind and that I was going to have to work above and beyond the call of duty to get things done. Still, when it was all over I was able to drown my sorrows with the usual suspects.
We started in the old new O'Neill's opposite the office where the Wonderful One was soon in full-scale rant. The pub was heaving with stag parties and hen nights and our favourite moaner wasn't too impressed. "Look at all these low lifes," he ranted, finger pointing towards the bar. "None of them are working, they are just spending our money on the beer, bumping into anyone they fancy and then shouting at them to get out of the way. I hate them, I hate them."
Thus, he managed to dismiss the entire city centre revellers in one sweeping statement.
Deciding to keep him out of trouble, we then proceeded to its sister pub the new old O'Neills where we were joined by the likes of Danny Boy (the poipes, the poipes), the Prince of Darkness, Smashy, the solicitor and my lovely Wren.
It started to warm up nicely with a good solo act playing some rousing songs. It obviously inspired the Prince who soon returned from the bar with a tray of Sambuccas. It was all downhill after that.

On Sunday I cooked my famous Mascarpone Roast Chicken. Finding I had some veg left over, the following day it seemed only right to cook bubble and squeak with some very tasty bratwurst German sausages from Sainsbury's.
First, I peeled and chopped potatoes and put them on to boil for 10 to 12 minutes, adding some frozen peas five minutes from the end. When they were soft to the tip of a knife I added butter and milk, then mashed up the peas and potatoes together and added some savoy cabbage and parsnips left from the previous evening. Mashing them well, I then put on a frying pan and heated some olive oil flavoured with chilli, coriander and lavender then added scoops of the Bubble and Squeak and flattened it out in the pan.
Continually turning it in clumps as it browned I later served it up with some woodsmoke brown sauce from Sainsbury's and the sausages. It was delicious.

Monday night I joined the Fugitive, Shutts, Wathanovski, the Wonderful One, the Prince and Smashy in the boozer. On the way home I bumped into a taxi driver who just over a year ago told me he was emigrating to Italy to start his own olive farm.
What are you doing back? I asked.
Turns out he has only returned for a month having had a very successful first year growing olives for the Italians. In fact, the British ex-pat community even gave him an award for the best olive oil produced that year. A real Cardiff success story.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Saucy antics

ONE of my wayward cohorts - I can't reveal who other than to say he has a strong link with the legions of the undead - spent an interesting night out last night. Having been "roped into" a freebie at Cardiff club the Soda Bar with a buddy, he met up with a young lady who invited the two of them back to her place to carry on the party.
Wowie Wowie, thought the nameless one, grabbing two bottles of red wine and heading off into the night with young lady and pal. Next thing they know they are in a large flat in the city centre. Nice decor. Comfortable surrounding. Lots of space.
Well, there would have been lots of space if the pole hadn't been there. Yeh, the pole dancer's pole. Which the said young lady practices on, naked, before going to her job at one of the local sleaze emporiums.
Maybe you can guess the rest, but I'm gonna tell you anyway. Said young lady disappears to "slip into something more comfortable". The something in question happens to be, well, nothing. Apart from flesh coloured, see-through panties. And then, to the music of Marilyn Manson, she proceeds to give an impromptu 10-minute show for our two dumbstruck heroes.
But it doesn't end there. "I've done a show for you," she says, "now it's your turn".
So our reluctant hero, having sunk his usual gallon of alcohol during the evening, then has to fling himself around the pole. He tells us he was fully clothed, but my mind can't help thinking of Alan Partridge and his appearance in a gold-coloured codpiece and high heeled white boots gyrating in front of an imaginery audience.
The Boss was thrilled with the story as the unnamed one repeated it the following day. "So, did ye do all the twisting, turning and goin' upside doon?" he asked.
"I tried, mate, but I kept falling off. I'm surprised I didn't crack my skull," replied the hero of our story.
Anyway, at 3am in the morning the two ne-er-do-wells were sent packing into the night. The story, though, will live forever in the pantheon of journalistic legend.

Meanwhile Smashy, never one to back down in an argument, was locking horns with a work experience lad in the new old O'Neill's. The subject was rugby and whether the Lions and Welsh rugby international games should be played on the same day.
It was a bit like David v Goliath (Goliath being Smashy) or the heavyweight champion of Meeja Wales (again Smashy) against a mere lightweight. But the young 'un was giving as good as he got, standing toe to toe and arguing his case.
And then came the bitter moment that shocked the fascinated audience. It was like the moment that Lloyd Honeyghan knocked down Don "Cobra" Curry. Completed unexpected. A gigantic upset.
For, in just a few words, we knew Smashy was beaten. "Me: 20 years experience in rugby journalism. You: Four days!"
Yep, Smashy. That's the white towel thrown in, right there.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

savoury pancakes

MEANWHILE, back at chez Rippers, it was a pretty quiet weekend relaxing with Wren. We made a quick tour of the Roath farmers market where we managed to stock up on all those vital ingredients, like tea cakes and cheesy scones. Then we wandered into town to buy a few bits and pieces before settling down in the Tut to watch the England v Ireland rugby international and sup a few cheeky pints.
After that we spent the evening at home watching Gone, Baby Gone, the Ben Affleck-directed film which had received some good reviews. And very good it was, too.
On Sunday morning, having completely missed pancake day, I decided to rustle up a few for Wren, served with lemon and sugar. For myself, I saved the batter for later to make some nice savoury pancakes with a bolognese mixture I concocted.
During the afternoon I watched possibly the most boring afternoon's sport I can ever remember. The Carling Cup final between Manchester United and Spurs was a real yawn, won by United on penalties after 120 minutes of numbing footie. Turning over, there was no reprieve. Having scored 600 in their first innings of the Barbados Test, England sat back in the field and watched Ramnaresh Sarwan score 291 in a total of, wait for it, 749.

With the Munich boys back, I toddled off for a quick drink with the Wonderful Withers, or should we now call him Monkfish (I'm not convinced), in O'Neills on Tuesday and Wednesday. It has to be said that on Wednesday the Prince of Darkness was pushing the pace, declaring "I've got a bit of a buzz on" as, like a boomerang, he kept bouncing back to the bar more and more frequently.
Not being able to keep up (my liver was actually crying at one stage, I am convinced) I finally deserted my lager and wobbled off to get a taxi, managing in true Rippers style to leave everything I owned in the pub.
When I got back into the flat it hit me: My phone wasn't in any of my pockets. Aaargh! Don't you just hate that... all your contact numbers gone in a flash, no chance to tell Wren what has happened. I was about to stomp around the flat, rush out, book a taxi into town, reclaim the missing phone (and my lost tobacco) and then return home at the extravagant cost of about £12 when there was a knock at the door. Standing there was the taxi driver with my beloved mobile.
I couldn't stop thanking him... he must have thought I was a complete knob as I thrust one pound coin after another into his hand, saying "there you are mate, thanks, you deserve it". How did mobile phones become so important?

Years ago, at a Test match, I remember uproar when one person in the crowd started using his mobile phone. "Mate, if you don't stop talking now I will do something about it," said one of the disgruntled fans at Trent Bridge.
The bloke in question just ignored him and continued to conduct a mobile business conversation over the phone.
Suddenly, his inquisitor leaned over, snatched the phone off him and threw it from the top deck of the stand onto the pitch.
The phone owner was not best pleased and soon the man responsible was taken from the stand by police. As he walked out he was greeted by cries of "dring, dring", "dring, dring". And one wag looked in the direction of where the phone had been thrown, noticing the great fast bowler Courtney Walsh fielding on the boundary.
Mimicking the famous BT advert of the day, he shouted: "Hey Courtney, it's for you... hoo!"

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Are there any true vegetarians?

NEWS reaches me of dramatic events at a weekend Beerfest in Bavaria. Paps had arranged the trip some time ago to see in his 40th year and dragged along some of the usual suspects on a trip to Munich.
At the moment only dregs of information are coming through, like the fact that the Wonderful Withers decided that during the trip he would only answer to the name of Monkfish (bizarre!) and that Smashy met up with a Bayern Munich basketball star who originally hailed from Port Talbot.
Perhaps the strangest story, though, was of everyone's favourite conscientious objector Withers (not that he has a conscience) actually stuffing his face with Bratwurst and declaring: "I'm not a vegetarian when I am in Germany."
Now, I don't know about you, but I thought these veggie lovers had taken some kind of oath, refusing to eat meat because it was cruel to the cutesy wootsie animals which we dedicated carnivores tuck into at every opportunity. I didn't know it was a matter of Geography, plain and simple.
Perhaps the animals of the Fatherland are particularly uncute and deserve to be sent squeeling to their death in the local abbartoire before being served up on a platter, the life grilled out of them, for Withers to tuck his gnashers into with relish (least I expect he took it with relish).
I would like to think this was a one-off incident of a dedicated vegetarian ripping up his principles to slaver over a hot roasted carcass. Not so.
Only the other day one of our features designers, 'The Hippy', declared that he too had turned his back on all things rabbit food and was now regularly gorging on any juicy sausage, chop or chicken leg he could find.
And, of course, there was the famous case of Sarah 'not guilty' Me Lud, the Scottish reporter, who, when asked if she was a vegetarian, said "Only sometimes".
Nice to have a real conviction about something.