Friday, May 29, 2009

Greek prawn casserole

IT'S been a rather tough and frustrating week on the good ship Meeja Wales, to be perfectly honest. It wasn't helped when we were relying on a page 3 story in the South Wales EggCup about UFOs being spotted over the fair city of Cardiff.
It wasn't until 8pm in the evening that we got to see the pictures, which amounted to small white pin pricks on an otherwise black background - hardly evidence that ET was about to land in Pontcanna Fields. There then involved a 45-minute flurry of activity to rescue the story and make the best use of the pictures on offer... not a great day.
Wednesday, too, ended up being a rather long one and I only got home in time to see the second half of Manchester United's failed attempt to become the first team to win back-to-back Champions Leagues. To be fair they were totally outplayed by Barcelona in a 2-0 defeat, despite the assurances of all the Brit-biased journalists in this fair land.
The final ignominy came on Thursday night. Having parked my car in the usual pay-and-display berth and walked in to work I returned in the early evening to find a small red packet taped to my windscreen. A parking ticket, informing me I had failed to display my payment stub properly. A 30p ticket was therefore likely to cost me £20.
What had happened, unfortunately, was that the wind whipped up when I slammed my door shut must have made the ticket twist over on the dash, and some observant traffic warden had seized on the opportunity like a dog spying a particularly juicy bone. I shall appeal, I assure you.
The thieves at Cardiff County Council already make a packet out of various traffic scams these days, what with charging over the odds for resident parking and with pay-and-display machines all over the city. Robbers.

Anyway, while watching United's European demise I rustled together a very tasty prawn casserole from - you've guessed it - the Observer Food Monthly.
A packet of raw prawns
120ml olive oil
One onion chopped
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced.
1 large leek (I didn't have one, so ommitted this)
A can of chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp of tomato paste
2 sliced celery stalks
1 green pepper, cut into strips
1 red pepper, cut into strips
(you can also add a yellow pepper if you fancy it)
salt and pepper
A small amount of hot water
A handful of parsley

Heat the oil. Add onions, garlic and leek and cook on a low heat for five minutes until softened.
Add tomatoes, tomato paste, celery, peppers, salt and pepper and hot water.
Bring to boil and cook, covered, for 30 minutes until liquid cooks down.
Lay prawns on top, sprinkle with parsley, season again and cook for a further eight minutes.
I enjoyed this with some garlic bread and some brown rice.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A sniff of the barmaid's... potato wedges!

The Prince of Darkness had that lean and hungry look in the new old O'Neill's the other night and this must have been noticed by the barmaid.
As he stood at the bar, smacking his lips together and talking about some liver and a nice chianti she realised she had to do something too or her neck might be on the chopping block.
Half way through her dinner she turned to the Prince and said, "Would you like to finish off my potato wedges." Never one to look a gift horse, or double vodka for that matter, in the mouth he grasped the plate and proceeded to polish off the remaining morsels, much to the shock of partner-in-crime the Wonderful Withers of WoS.

Sunday afternoon was the final day of the Premier League season and we managed to rustle up a chorum for the event, meeting in the Varsity Bar in Greyfriars Road, Cardiff. Danny Boy (the Poipes, the Poipes), always one on the look out for a bargain, had managed to get hold of some kind of membership card that entitled the owner to a beer discount. Then, realising that a jug of Carling was a mere £7.99, the Poipes, Smashy, Paps and I proceeded to have two of them as we witnessed the demise of Newcastle United, the over-rated shambolic outfit who failed to raise more than a murmur in protest as they sank into the Championship under the watchful gaze of acting manager, and charisma-full former striker, Alan Shearer. Looking at Shearer's fizzog it was of little surprise that his team performed like a wet weekend in January.
Moving on, we enjoyed a couple of drinks with the Fab BB, Mad Liz, the Prince and Withers at Bar Ha Ha! before I wandered home to meet the Mrs, who had spent the afternoon toiling away at her work station in Bristol.

On Monday I was fully aware that the cheap Varsity Beer was having an unsettling effect on my stomach. Putting this behind me we drove out to Hay-on-Wye for the world famous book festival. Mrs R was very excited and proceeded to buy 10 new books. At the rate she reads I expect her to finish them sometime in the year 2020. I invested in five books myself and was impressed with the bargains that could be had in this wonderful little corner on the Welsh border.

On Tuesday night after a horrendous day working on the South Wales Egg Cup, Mrs R and I were accompanied to the cinema by the Prince and Jarhead to see State of Play, the Russell Crowe political thriller based on a three-part BBC series from some years back. Very enjoyable, though I must say I envied the leniency of the deadlines. Crowe hardly wrote a thing during his time chasing up sources. Still, I could see Jarhead was particularly impressed, particularly with the way that Crowe was quick to rubbish the puff-pastry world of internet journalism. Well worth the watch. Smashy (not Nicey) was a little bit surprised, though, when I sent out an invite to all my Meeja Wales colleagues. "Don't think you've got this marriage lark sorted yet, Rippers," he said. "What does Mrs R think of you inviting all your mates out on a cosy night to the cinema?"

Paps, meanwhile, has had his finest hour. He has put together a disc of the pictures he took during the evening's frivolities at our wedding. Above is a rare shot of the Prince of Darkness in dark conversation with the three Witches of Eastwick. I am surprised he didn't turn to dust when the flash went off.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Stuffed Peppers with mince

THE boss has so many Irish relatives that no doubt there is a branch on his family tree connected to that great long-distance runner Sonia O'Sullivan. Perhaps this explains his recent keep-fit drive. But forget four minute miles, or half marathons or 10k runs. The boss has come up with a new form of cross country - the six-minute run.
This week he put on his new go-faster trainers, sprinter's vest and silky, non-friction shorts and headed off for a quick lap of Victoria Park. It seemed to go quite well for the first 60 seconds or so. Unfortunately by the time he had got half way around eye witness report seeing him doubled up, breathing through his a*** with tears flowing from his eyes.
Resident Meeja Wales athlete Mike "Troublat" Hill was quick to question him about his route to fitness. "So how often does tha' go on these treks," he asked.
"Well I did go running about this time last year, so I thought I would be alright," he confided.
Now Troublat is thinking of entering him in the South Wales Eggcup's Race for Life with a webcam attached to his head so that we can all watch his progress.
I reckon it would be like that scene in the Blair Witch Project where, after six times around the woods, the girl peers into the camera, fear in her eyes and her nose dripping from her exertions, confessing how scared she is. Troublat reckons that the webcam will end up focussed on the pavement where a pool of vomit will have formed under the boss.

Apparently as part of this health kick he has also bought a new bike. He forked out on a piece of state-of-the-art equipment, totally unaware that it had only one gear. Don't be surprised if you see the Boss heading backwards down a hill near you, face stuck in some kind of frozen grimace and shouting in his dulcet Irish tones: "Ah, fook! Ah fook! Ah fook!"

I thought for one moment on Friday morning that Van Helsing had finally caught up to the Prince of Darkness, surprising him with a wooden stake through the heart in his musty lair on Cathedral Road. At 11.15 there was still no sign of the Dark Lord at his work station when normally, hungover and bedraggled maybe, he is there on the dot.
As questions started to be asked in the house (particularly by those who had seen him getting stuck into the voddies in the Soda Bar in the early hours) I decided the best course of action was to send him a text. Seconds later my phone rang. "F***, f***, f***," he said, in a phrase not unlike the trick-cycling Boss, "I've just woken up... the alarm didn't go off. That's NEVER happened to me before. Thanks for the text mate, it woke me up!"
Twenty minutes later the Prince was hot-footing it through the doors, having donned his fastest cape to spirit him from house to office. To be fair, he looked in a far better state than most days. "I actually woke at 8 and thought, 'I'll just sleep a bit longer, I don't have to be up for ages."

Friday night and the gathering of the clans took place in the old new O'Neills. Smashy and Paps, the wonderful one, Ben Double Glazing, a member of our ace reporting staff, and the Prince himself were sinking beers at a rate of knots. At some stage I was giving the poor old Prince an earbashing over what, I am at a complete loss to recall,. The wonderful one decided it was a good time to interrupt and, without thinking, I pushed out a left arm jab and caught him right in the eye. I have no idea why, the poor fellow certainly didn't deserve it. Spent the next half hour apologising before tottering home.
I must have been in a bit of a state because I forgot to text Mrs R to tell her I was home and woke up next morning in desperate need of Resolve Plus.

The big news, for those who don't know, is that I am actually leaving Meeja Wales for pastures new. I have landed a job at the News of the World, sports editing the Welsh edition. Big stuff indeed. It now means that I will be able to deal in scurrilous scandal and get paid for it, rather than do it for my own pleasure on this blog.

On Wednesday night I cooked up a meal of stuffed peppers with a mince and parmesan filling. Yes, Withers, it was out of the Observer Food Monthly (an old copy from about two years ago) and was delivered by good old Nigel Slater. In fact, I mixed up two of his recipes - tasty mince and stuffed peppers.
50g butter
cubed bacon (I used pancetta)
one medium onion - diced
2 flat cloves of garlic (crushed)
2 sticks of celery (chopped)
100g mushrooms (sliced)
2 bay leaves
400g minced beef
canned tomatoes
three peppers (I used one red, one green and one yellow)

Melt the butter in a heavy pan (I used my non-stick wok), then stir in pancetta and cook for five minutes without colouring much. Add garlic and onion and mix in, the add celery.
Cook for a further five minutes before adding the mushrooms and bay leaves.
Turn up heat, add the meat, and brown. Put in on one side and cook on a reasonable heat, then turn over bit by bit until it is all brown.
Add the tomatoes and the stock (I put in water then added one of the new stock pots), nutmeg, salt and black pepper. Bring to boil, then turn heat down slightly.
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 200 and cut the peppers in half. Discard seeds, then lower them into boiling water and leave for 6-8 minutes until they go slightly limp.
Remove from the water with a draining spoon. Spread olive oil on a baking tray then roll the peppers in it and turn upwards so that they can be filled. Put in the mince mixture and top the peppers with a good measure of parmesan.
Put in the oven and remove 20 minutes later. Being quite hungry I had them with a bit of Penne Pasta

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Virgin Atlantic (or Con Air, I prefer to call it)

The return from honeymoon was the proverbial day from hell. It all began in the morning with the realisation that I had lost another baseball cap, probably never to be seen again. This one was my favourite, too, my souvenir from seeing the Boston Red Sox, the one which proudly displays the words Fenway Park 1902 on the side.
Now previous readers of this fastidious piece of work will know that I am rather accustomed to leaving my headgear in various hostelries around the Cardiff area, normally after a few too many beers. But in this case I put it down to Cuban scullduggery. Nice people, the Cubans, always offering you things you don't really need but feel obliged to take off them for the odd peso or two.
Having had a hat made out of palm leaves with two grasshoppers perched on the top presented to me earlier in the week I was then invited by Montenegro, one of the random gardeners who mysteriously emerge on the grounds of the Paradisus as if from nowhere, to partake of some coconut milk.
Not being a fan of coconut I tried to decline, but the old boy was very insistent and, having found some Aloe Vera to rub on my mozzie bites, I felt a bit rude not to follow him. What I had neglected to do was replace the baseball cap on my head and instead left it lying below the sun lounger. After the coconut and Aloe Vera it was the moment when Montenegro showed great interest in my Gas top and I eventually handed it over. I didn't know then that I would be waving goodbye to my absolutely priceless baseball cap, too.
It was only next morning when I realised I must have left it under the sun lounger. And rule number one in Cuba is: Don't leave anything anywhere... you will never see it again. A trip to lost property is an absolute waste of time. "Have you seen my cap," I asked pleadingly. "Muy importante." The guy on the reception counter barely acknowledges me before making the quickest of phone calls (probably to his bookie for all I know) then shakes his head. No.
I then go back to the sun-loungers and look in every corner for my beloved hat. I then ask one of the pool attendants, who gives me a glimmer of hope.
"Wait there," he says in reasonable English, then disappears into a block of apartments, only to return five minutes later empty handed. He then speaks to two of the dodgiest gardeners on the premises - ones who can regularly be seen finding coconuts on the floor, laying into them with their fearsome looking machetes, then selling them for a peso to ladies stretched out on sunbeds. Never, but never, do I see them actually gardening.
He gives them some instructions and they disperse around the pool area.
"We leave at quarter past one," I tell him. "If you find anything by then can you come to the lobby. There will be a reward," I say. Well, I don't really. I just tap my wallet - a universal language unmistakeable to a Cuban.

Ten minutes before our coach is about to leave and one of the shady-looking gardeners emerges with a black sack. "Hat, hat," he says, pointing into the bottom of the bag and beaming. I am hopeful, but the bag looks a bit big to carry a small baseball cap. I peer inside. It's another bloody grasshopper hat. "No, no, no," I shout, pointing to his own baseball cap. "It's like that one."
"Oh," he says, "No, haven't seen that one."
Bet one of his kids is wearing it as I type.

We leave early for Havana Airport, arrive at just gone 4pm and have to join a massive queue for one of the only check-in desks. Still, when we reach the front of the queue the people behind us are snaking out of the door and along the front of the airport.
Then the Virgin Airline check-in desk drops a bombshell. "We don't have any seats together," says the miserable woman in front of us.
I am ready to blow a gasket. This is, after all, our honeymoon and no one even hinted we might have to spend 10 hours apart on the airplane home. In fact, it just doesn't make sense. For there not to be two seats together absolutely defies logic. For that to happen, they are going to have to find separate seats for the 200-odd people behind us, which would appear even more difficult than putting two of us together. They would almost have to fill one seat in one row at a time, then go on to the next row and do the same until the plane is full with people sitting next to others they don't know. And that would be ridiculous, wouldn't it?
Well, maybe not.
I am beginning to smell a con. I want to have it out with them, shout "Do you know who I am?", produce my Meeja Wales credentials and demand to speak to Richard Branson on the phone. We had heard rumours about the "no seats together" policy earlier, and when a woman in front of us in the queue inquires at another desk she is told she will be able to sit by her husband if she pays an extra £60 surcharge. Absolutely scandalous.

Mrs R knows I am on a short fuse though and quickly asks if we can have aisle seats. We end up sitting one in front of the other.
My mood doesn't get any better as our flight is delayed by more than two hours, there are no seats available in the departure lounge because two other flights are also delayed, and we now have just two Cuban pesos left after being advised to get rid of them before we left the country. By this time Mrs Rippers is burying her face deep in a book, fearful of looking at the stormclouds over my head.
Eventually we are able to board, and I give the air stewardess my best scowl as she welcomed me with a smile and wishes me a good journey. If I was being bitchy I would suggest the Virgin girls are hardly a patch on the ones in the famous advert accompanied by the Frankie Goes to Hollywood "Relax" soundtrack. But I'm not a bitter bloke. Honest.
Then, as they start showing us the safety drill I realise not only do I not have a safety card but there is no in-flight mag either. Finally, unable to contain myself, I push the light above my seat.
Eventually a stewardess turns up.
"Oh terribly sorry about that sir. It only happens in Cuba. The ground staff come on board to clean and then they steal all the in-flight magazines!"

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The most disgusting fruit in the world


Today we met up for our special "honeymoon" welcome drink at the Gazebo looking out over the Atlantic. There were about eight couples there and the setting was quite spectacular... but the rest of it was pretty ordinary. A drink of cava, some nondescript nibbles and the chance to fill out a hotel survey on our treatment at the Paradisus so far. Then, after a couple of pictures, we were invited to stay and enjoy the moment... unfortunately the cava, the nibbles and the band which, coincidentally, played Guantanemera departed immediately.
Right, so are we going to stand in this windy spot overlooking the ocean without food or drink? Are we hell.
We headed back towards the main bar and only then a voice came from behind us. "Hey, you guys are English aren't you? Wasn't that a load of cr*p."
Enter Southmead Simon, purely coincidentally another gashead who used to live in Bristol but is now based in Weymouth. He and wife Sarah came to the Caribbean last Friday to get married in the Gazebo. It went alright, apart from the fact Simon had to stifle giggles at one of the women carrying out the ceremony, who was boasting a full moustache on her top lip.
The aftermath didn't really go according to plan, either. When all the guests turned up to one of the restaurants for the reception they were turned away because they were improperly dressed in shorts and t-shirts. This did not please the groom, who stormed into the lobby and using some rather colourful language got a full-scale apology from the manager and the free use of a private villa, complete with swimming pool, for the week. It obviously pays to complain.
We were invited to see said villa and sat around drinking cava and beer. Later he introduced us to one of his two best men, Dave, and girlfriend Amy. All the girls wanted to go to play bingo in the Gazebo - something arranged specifically for the British tourists. How sad when you have a beautiful beach, massive swimming pools and bars that sell free drinks all day all the Brits want to do is mark numbers on a card and shout "House" now and again.
Fortunately Southmead Si and I managed to prolong the drinking interlude with discussions about the Gas. It is even more significant because he actually works for the Gas Board. If you are visiting the Mem any time soon you might notice quite a few youngsters sporting jackets with Gas written on the back, courtesy of the Gas Board and Southmead Si. "I order them and give them to my cousins," he explained candidly.
Later we moved on to the bar where we bumped into a few other Brits including a Luton Town fan and a Manchester United fanatic. A good evening turned into a good night and by 10pm Mrs
Rippers and I stumbled off to bed.


Today was another excursion on a sun cruise across to an island called Cayo Blanco. But on the way we stopped to swim with dolphins in the sea (even though they were inside tanks and had been trained to kiss each tourist that jumped in with them). Good fun, though, which is more than I can say for the snorkelling which followed.
Mrs Rippers has been going on to me about how much she loves snorkelling after a trip to the Barrier Reef some years ago. I have always resisted it. I can't get my head around the fact that the goggles block off your nose and you have to breathe through your mouth courtesy of a tube.
Anyway, we were all turfed off the boat into the Atlantic and when I dipped my head under the water all I could see was dying coral. Oh yes, and a floating leaf of some description. When I raised my head again I was a fair way from the boat. There then developed a desperate swim back to safety as the captain blew his whistle to call us back on board. Men were climbing over children and ladies pulling each others hair out to get closer to the boat - it was like that Olympic open water swim which David Davies took a silver medal in during the Olympics. Thankfully I grasped the side of the boat and climbed on board, still wearing my swimming trunks.
Then it was on to Cayo Blanco for lunch and a couple of hours sunbathing on golden white sands under palm trees and taking the odd dip in the sea. Very nice.
On the way back our boat the Calypso was playing some fantastic Cuban Hip-hop music. Ironically Castro, who hates everything American, openly supports the new music movement and there are now about 50 artists bringing the new sounds to the public - it's better than Guantanamera I've got to say, and Mrs Rippers and I clubbed together to buy a CD so no doubt you'll be hearing more of it in future.
Two miles out from Varadero and our host Luis, a guy conversant in nearly every language under the sun, announced that it was tradition to dance our way back to land. Then the music struck up and the crew members joined in some kind of synchronised dancing routine, imploring the passengers to do the same. There was no escape but it was a great laugh.

Mrs Rippers and I returned home shattered after a thoroughly enjoyable day. In the evening we could just about drag ourselves into the restaurant for dinner then finished the night off with a couple of cocktails.


This morning our honeymoon breakfast arrived at the room. It was ok until I bit into some of the fruit on offer. There was water melon and figs, of which I am not a fan, and a bright orange fruit which looked like another type of melon. Biting into it though sent my whole mouth into somersaults of distress. In the words of Mrs Rippers "It actually tastes of vomit". Now speaks as you find, I say, but the offering I am talking about is Papaye. Whoever was the first to pluck it from a tree and say, "Yum this is nice" must have had seriously depleted taste buds. It is absolutely vile.

Later we watched a bit of the Madrid Open tennis final - Nadal v Djorkovic - before retiring to the pool for some leisurely reading in the shade. My body is now burnt beyond recognition and I've had enough sun. And the mozzies, who seemed to have held off from their favourite food - me - until now have suddenly decided they actually like the taste of the double deet I have been spraying on myself to protect me.
Luckily Montenegro, one of the hotel gardeners, came to my aid by cutting a leaf of Aloe Vera from a tree and rubbing it on the bites. He then dragged me away to cut down a coconut for me, slice it open and offer it to me for a drink. "Good for the stomach," he told me. If only I had known earlier.
Of course, nothing comes in Cuba without a price, though. Lovely people they may be but you don't get something for nothing. His eyes perused my Gashead top and he asked me how much it was in Cuban pesos. I told him and his eyes betrayed his shock. What the hell? I gave him the shirt for the three bambinos he may, or may not, have. He fell to his knees and literally prayed to me. It was only a top from two seasons ago anyway. No great loss, and at least it means that someone in Cuba will be walking around spreading the good name of Bristol Rovers for years.
Anyway, Mrs Rippers and I head for home tomorrow. I get a massage later and a honeymoon special meal tonight. It is lobster, I believe. I sincerely hope they don't serve it up with Papaya.

Battered crabs


THERE I was sitting in the lobby in Havana, minding my own business and waiting for the next bout of Montezuma´s revenge (they may have banned Mexican flights here but not their stomach assaults) when I heard someone talking in front of me. "Hey, Ron, look here... it´s a gashead!"
Realising that I had my Rovers away top on I looked up to see an elderly couple complete with bags who had just entered our hotel.
"I´m sorry?" I said.
"Oh, hello dear, you must be from Bristol," said the lady. "You´re a supporter of the Gas are you?"
When I nodded, Ron piped up. "I´m a fan of the other lot."
"Great," I thought. Just my luck to meet a s···head.
"I´m a Bristol rugby supporter," he added quickly in case I might take offence. I guess someone has to be, even though they have had another dreadful year. "How long have you been in Havana?"
"Three days," I replied, "but we are about to leave for Varadero."
"We´ve just been there for two weeks," he explained. "It´s ok, depends which hotel you are staying in."
"The Paradisus," I replied, smiling with the knowledge it´s a five-star luxury complex.
"Oh," he looked crestfallen. "That´s where we stayed. I would say it´s the equivalent of a two star."
Great, I thought. All this money and it´s going to be like seven days in Cardiff´s Blue Dragon. "Mind you, I don´t want to put you off, you might have a different experience."
Thanks, Ron. Mrs Rippers and I looked at each other in trepidation.

On the coach to Varadero we stopped off at one of their few rest stops, which aren´t quite motorway service stations but you can guarantee three things. 1. no toilet paper, 2. a toilet attendant who will look at you daggers until you place a coin on her plate. 3. the obligatory Cuban band of musicians playing the same old cliched songs.
As they ran through their repertoire one of the guys came up to us lovingly fawning over a CD in his hand.
"You like to buy?" he said. When I shook my head vehemently in the negative he used his tried-and-tested sales pitch. "But it´s got Guantanamera on it!" Whoopeedoo. If I never here that song again it will be too soon.

Mrs Rippers wasn´t too impressed with her first sight of what she assumed was Varadero. A bunch of crumbling buildings beside the sea with a great big dock opposite and ugly ships pulling in and out of port. But Mrs Rippers could never let her true feelings veer towards negativity. "Oh I expect it will be ok and at least we will be helping these poor Cubans by providing money to their government."
Nevertheless, when we sailed straight through the area and carried on with the trip there was a big sigh of relief from the seat next to me.

So to the resort. We passed through some fancy hotels it has to be said, only to drop other passengers off. We stopped at one with its own golf course then another with a beautifully decorated lobby with vines hanging from the roof. Picturesque. Neither was ours, though.
Finally we pulled into the Paradisus. Well, I could never imagine the Blue Dragon to have porters there to relieve you of your baggage immediately, then when you have checked in give you a lift around to your very own little flat by the beach. Unfortunately, it wasn´t quite what we were expecting. The holiday company had told us that we had been upgraded to honeymoon status but there was no welcoming bottle of champagne, no special message of greeting and no mention of a honeymoon breakfast and cocktails.
I returned to the lobby and asked one of the receptionists. "I´m sorry, what is included in our honeymoon package?"
She checked us out on the computer. "Oh your not booked onto one of those." Bummer.
But to be fair she made a phone call and we were upgraded to a beach view apartment and later had an invitation to a honeymoon dinner and breakfast in bed. It pays to complain, I guess.


We spent the first day getting acquainted, and luxury isn´t the correct word. The hotel has two giant pools, plenty of sunbeds with beach towels for all the desks, and a white sandy beach with little huts adorning it if you need the shade - and often you do. Don´t have a clue was Ron and Mrs Ron were on about - this is truly Paradise.
And it was hot, hot, hot. We spent a little time lying out in the sun on the beach but it was too much for me. I decided to return to the room, and it was then that I bumped into my mate the snake. We had seen plenty of friendly little lizards but when this things quickly crawled in front of me and hid under a rock it took a while to register what it was. Then, I admit, the jitters set in and I asked everyone I knew whether there were any dangerous snakes in Cuba. No, was the reply, but I wouldn´t fancy stepping on one and making it angry. I have stuck to the paths ever since.


Today we met the rep Eduardo who was an interesting guy. He was telling us about the trips on offer and I mentioned I wanted to go to the Bay of Pigs. It is not on the Virgin holidays agenda but he assured me he could fix it with a local taxi driver he knew well. Ten minutes later Mike turned up to say he would be able to take us anywhere we wanted to go on Wednesday.
Meanwhile we had our first meal in one of the four restaurants on site - the steakhouse. Sadly there wasn´t a steak in sight. Expecting a 16 ouncer accompanied with a pile of chips, instead we got a small lump of meat with a few (and I mean very few) vegetables. It said it came with grilled potatoes so Mrs Rippers asked when they would arrive. "Is there," said the waitress, pointing to a thinly sliced offering hiding underneath the slivers of red and green pepper on the plate. Cuisine is not a speciality in Cuba it has to be said.


Another bloody day in Paradise, blue skies, blue sea, hot sun - what more could you want? Well, how about a bit of night entertainment that didn´t involve a band playing Guantanemero? Still, we idled away the day sitting around the pool, going in for a dip now and then and later having a meal at the beach barbecue. To be fair, the chops and calamari weren´t bad at all, or indeed the red snapper.

That night we met Pedro in the Fun Pub. Fun Pub? The place always looks shut from the outside and, just like a British pub, if you are taking your drink out into the lobby of the hotel you get it served in a plastic glass. Fair play, you might say, until you realise that the lobby bar also serves booze and this comes in a perfectly ordinary glass. It sounds like a trick of the most miserable man in Cuba, the bloke who runs the "Fun Pub". Bit of a contradiction in terms there, I reckon.
Those aren´t my words, either, but the locals, including Pedro, who had called all the Brits together for a fascinating chat on the history of Cuba.
Did you realise, for instance, that their national tree, the Palm, was introduced to the country by the English, or that the Aborigines were the first people to settle in the country. It is virtually the same size as the UK but, unlike the UK, is long and thin. Guantanemo Bay, still owned by the Yanks even though they were supposed to give it back in 2002, is at its Western-most tip.
A few drinks later and they carved up the whole pig that had been brought in for the occasion, serving it with crisps, merangue and a cocktail of your choice. I went for the Mojito while Mrs Rippers opted for the Pina Colada.
That night we ate Italian. A little bit better than the steakhouse it must be said.


Our roadtrip with Mikey got underway bright and early at 8am. He immediately got me talking about football. Who did I support? he asked. Bristol Rovers, I replied. He looked perplexed.
Ignoring my explanation of the delights of League One football he told me about his love of Barcelona and how much he was looking forward to the Champions League final against Manchester United. He seemed very knowledgeable about the Premier League. I asked him if he had satellite TV. Not allowed, he replied. It seems the government keeps the population in check with what they can watch. He did whisper, though: "You can put it in illegally."
He wouldn´t throw any light on whether he had it himself - loose talk costs lives, I guess. He then told us that four days earlier the Cuban government had BANNED its people from using the internet. Shocking.
When we spoke about Cuban newspapers he just laughed. I guess he doesn´t read them. After all, you can´t believe everything you read in newspapers. I should know, I work for one!
Later, we got on to American Baseball which is shown on three channels here. By this time Mrs Rippers had realised that most of the conversation was going to have a sporting bent. Still, she was very patient, I must admit. Mike was a fascinating bloke, an excellent guide and a nice fella.

First stop was a small animal reserve which doubled up as a kind of service station. Then it was on to the Zapata peninsula and the biggest national park in Cuba - an astonishingly vast place.
We saw the Sugar Factory in a place called Australia, where Fidel Castro organised his troops for the battle at the Bay of Pigs, where they booted out an invasion of 1500 mercenaries backed by the CIA.
Then it was on to a Crocodile farm where the inhabitants, both the American and larger Cuban Crocodiles, were lazing around in the mud. A little bit scary, though, particularly when Mike explained that on the odd occasion they had escaped and been seen roaming up and down the main highway.
A big hurricane once blew all the fences down and there was crocodile carnage. Unfortunately they had to be shot, virtually halving Cuba´s crocodile population in one fell swoop.
After that we got a great boat ride through a mangrove swamp where we saw a preserved village set up by the Tanio, the first local Indian population. On the way back we saw Ospreys, herons and a huge termite nest built half way up a tree. Fascinating stuff.

It was getting hot by now so we travelled on to the Bay of Pigs. Starting at Playa Largo we had lunch at an unspoilt local holiday camp which is mainly the preserve of the local population. The Caribbean coast seems to be free of the tourist infestation.
Then we started along the road from Playa Largo to Playa Giron, where the main Bay of Pigs museum is - and it was here I came across my thrill of the day.
Not long ago I was watching a programme on the Discovery Channel. I must have come across it while flicking through channels to find some football or baseball - it´s the only reason I can think of. The programme was about these amazing crabs that come on land in Cuba to breed and virtually take over the countryside. They hide in every nook and cranny of local hotels, woods etc. But their annual trek has become a dangerous one because they must cross the main road.
I mentioned this to Mike and he said, "Yes, it is this road. I know because it plays havoc with the tyres. I have had mine punctured three times."
No sooner had he said it than we started to notice red marks on the road surface, which was becoming more and more uneven. "There is the evidence of the crabs, they don´t normally arrive until about June."
Just as he was saying it I looked astonished as two crabs made there death-defying sprint across the tarmac for the safer climbs of the forest beyond. It was amazing stuff. The smell of crabmeat permeated through the car as we carried on, the road becoming redder and redder with the bodies of crushed crabs. You often wish you could see one of these places featured in nature programmes, but rarely expect to come across one.
Anyway, on we went to Playa Giron on the Bay of Pigs exhibition. Outside are a couple of soviet tanks and a plane which helped stave off the invasion. Inside, it was difficult to understand everything because this seldom visited museum only gave explanations in Spanish, but there was plenty of memorabilia collected from the war dead, whose graves also line the roadside where they fell during the invasion.
Heading back, we stopped off at fish cave, a lovely untroubled spot of the national park where you can scuba dive, though it is easy to see the many tropical fish with your own eyes. Then we had the joy of seeing the national bird, the Trocolora, or some such, which has a red breast, blue feathers and a long white tail, the colours of the cuban flag. They are only ever spotted in this part of Cuba and we were very lucky to have spotted three, apparently.
There was nothing left for it but to travel back, discussing baseball and Mike´s love of the Chicago Cubs on the basis that they now have several Cubans playing for them. As we drove we were hit by a savage rain shower - it is apparently the rainy season in Cuba now but this was our first experience of it.
Once it cleared, though, it was fine and we headed back to the hotel happy with a day well worth organising.
Crab sandwich, anyone?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Havana cigars


Well, here we are in Cuba on honeymoon and I have already come across a strange local custom - the walking taxi. And it is all down to my new 'friend' Nelson.
Mrs Rippers and I met Nelson outside our hotel, the Nh Parque Central in Havana. He was touting for custom. "My horse awaits you," he told us, grabbing us as soon as we stepped out onto the street. At first we ignored him, but were unaware we were being double teamed. Across the road a smiling 'Bob' - can't remember his real name - offered us a tour of the city in his horse and carriage. He was so persuasive, and his English so good, that we could hardly refuse.
So we jumped on board and the next thing we know 'Bob' announces: "I'll get my partner". And, lo and behold, it is Nelson.
Still, the excursion was a very pleasant one and Bob was a brilliant tour guide, showing us the sights of Old Havana on a steaming hot day. We learnt much about Cuba, the communism, the music, religion and the heroes of the country who had freed them from the shackles of the Spanish back in the late 1600s. We also got the full lowdown on Fidel, his mate the bloke Mrs Rippers refers to as K, and the revolution in 1959. There are old Russian tanks and planes on display all over the city, each having played a big part in Fidel's liberation surge and the subsequent Bay of Pigs in which his gang crushed a CIA-backed coupe in Playa Giron - a place we hope to visit later.
After an hour and a quarter in the steaming heat we finally arrived back at the hotel. Although we had been quoted 25 cuban pesos for the journey we decided it was worth more, particularly as 'Bob' explained that he was licensed by the government but poor old Nelson wasn't. Nelson got 10 pesos for his trouble.
This is something you find in Cuba - everyone expects a tip from the toilet attendant to the many musicians hanging around street corners playing Guantanamera. I think I may get sick of that song. As far as the tipping goes Nelson had the whole thing off pat, hence the walking taxi. But more of that later.

We flew out here on Wednesday. It was a 10-hour flight from Gatwick and though we tried to get an upgrade with Virgin we failed miserably. Still, we did manage to purchase some extra leg room with some of our honeymoon money (thanks wedding guests) and everything went on schedule.
First sight of Havana was a bit of a shock to the system - the place is falling apart! But you can feel the history among the rubble and the teeming streets bought an air of excitement as we made our way to the hotel.
The Parque Central really was quite beautiful and our room was massive, complete with one of the biggest king-sized beds you could possibly imagine. Mrs Rippers and I would be sleeping in different postcodes, which was fine with her as it meant she would be able to get respite from my snoring. The night we arrived we had a pleasant meal in the hotel and enjoyed cocktails in the bar - I had a mojito (compulsory) while she had a Daquiri. I enjoyed a Montecristo No 4 cigar, too.

After the horse and carriage trip with Nelson he was becoming a bit over-persuasive. I find you always meet these people abroad. You become 'friends' with them and the next thing you know they are inviting themselves to tag along with you at every opportunity and finding some way to extricate the holiday money from your pocket. A few years ago when I went with my mates Stu and Scotty to Barbados for the Test match we managed to end up sharing the entire fortnight with some young lad we barely knew. He had weedled his way into our lives by selling Stu some rather strong herbal stimulation early in the trip. The next thing we knew he was inviting himself into our flat, turning on MTV and sitting there relaxing while we ate dinner.
Every time we wanted to go somewhere, he would have a 'friend' who would provide us with a taxi 'cheap'. And at the end of the trip he produced his piece de resistance. Though he was only about 16 he bought a small child into the flat, claiming she was his daughter. I reckon sister was more likely. He was trying to give us the impression he was a poor young West Indian lad having to bring up a young daughter. Yeah, right. Cynic I may be but I realised what it was about. Stu, being a big softy and certainly to blame for this extra member of our holiday party, was prepared to take him at his word.
Anyway, long and the short of it was the end-game worked. He managed to walk away with the contents of our fridge - no good to us, admittedly, as we were heading home the next day. A good fortnight's work by the young man.
Then there was a taxi driver in Crete that Janey and Pete hired for one trip who turned up every day afterwards at the crack of dawn offering them a ride to all sorts of glamorous places, including his cousin's bar. Keep it in the family, I say. You have got to admire the ingenuity.

Thursday afternoon Mrs Rippers and I got lost in the teeming, mucky backstreets of Havana, then found ourselves on the Malecon, the long stretch of road bordering the Atlantic. It was pretty hot and we walked some way before coming across a huge, imposing building on the cliff opposite. It had two towers and looked like the most luxurious hotel you could imagine. Turned out it was the world famous Nacional, where the likes of Frank Sinatra used to perform - no doubt to please his Mafia pals during the days of the ultra-corrupt Batista regime. There was nothing for it to wander through its elegant, olde world interior and out to the terrace where we enjoyed cocktails in the late afternoon looking out to sea.
The taxi back was interesting. It wasn't one of those old Cadillacs you see in the pictures of Havana, this one came on two wheels, a sort of yellow bubble car. You squeeze into the back then hold onto the strap above your head for dear life as your driver winds through the traffic, cutting people up here and there. He, of course, has a crash helmet. You, sitting in the back, do not. Still, he got us back safely for the bargain price of eight pesos.
We stepped out of the cab and there was Nelson. It was like he had been waiting all day for us. "Hey, English, you want to go to private house for dinner. Much cheaper than restaurant," he asked. I had visions of sitting down in Nelson's front room while his mum served up beans and rice to me, Mrs Rippers and eight scrawny kids. "Um, no thanks Nelson, we thought we would go to the local restaurant 'Bob' recommended.
"Great, what time do you want to go?" he asked. "My horse will be waiting to take you - no trouble."
Um, right. Oh well, we weren't sure where the restaurant was so we agreed to the offer of a ride. "We're not eating until eight," I pointed out, "Won't you have gone home by then?"
"No, you are the only customers we have had for three days so my horse will be waiting for you when you come out."

Two hours later we emerged from the hotel to witness Nelson cantering up to us. I thought he was going to whinny and rear his head up, like one of the knights in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I half expected 'Bob' to turn up behind him, knocking a couple of coconut shells together. "You come this way," he said, and started leading us through the dark, slightly scary, backstreets of Havana.
"Hang on, Nelson, where is the horse and cart?" I asked.
"Ah, that," he said. "Police came along and Bob had to go quickly because it has no lights. Still, it's a nice night for a walk and it is good for you."
Hmm, thanks Nelson. Forget the fact that Mrs Rippers and I were quite capable of walking ourselves, but we were also dressed up for the evening and now had to stumble down potholed roads in the near pitch-black with an eager Nelson leading the way. I did wonder if we were going to end up in some quiet side street, mugged and left for dead.
Eventually, though, he announced: "We have arrived." He led us into the restaurant, shook hands with all the staff, and plonked himself at the bar. It wasn't his mums but I would bet some of his relatives were involved somewhere along the line.
Still, the meal was decent enough and after giving Nelson the grand sum of eight pesos (about seven quid, I guess, in our money) we bade farewell. Seven quid! For walking? Oh well, chalk it up to experience.


We arose bright and early - about 6.15am in fact - for a trip to the valley of Vinales. Why, I haven't a clue and, with hindsight, perhaps it might have been worth missing. Mainly because, though the views were spectacular and we travelled by boat through a picturesque underground cave, the journey along the most bumpy roads imaginable resembled more like five hours on a bucking bronco. Added to that we both came back with dodgy stomachs (quell surprise!)
So much so, in fact, that our very expensive planned trip to the Tropicana Nightclub in Havana had to be shelved for a quiet night in the hotel. Come all the way to Cuba, and miss the biggest tourist attraction of the lot - brilliant.
There was a lighter moment, though.
Those who know Mrs Rippers will be aware that she is a quiet, shy, unimposing person. However, if she gets on a roll she takes some stopping!
All the couple said to us in the lift was "It's hot here, isn't it?"
"Yes," said my lady wife. "Have you just got here?"
The couple confirmed they had.
"Well, we arrived on Wednesday. We got a plane from Gatwick at 11.45 then when we ..."
Mrs Rippers had taken the couple's innocent question and decided to tell them the whole story of the trip so far. A bit like this blog, I guess. Apart from the fact I am not writing this in a lift and we don't have to travel just five floors.
As we reached our destination and got out of the lift, Mrs R continued... "Today we got up at 6 and then got on a coach and went to..." She was still talking through the gap in the door as it slowly closed on her 'captive' audience. I could just imagine the couple sinking to the floor with relief as they moved on towards their destination.
Anyway, onwards to Varadero and the next excitement instalment...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Wedding breakfast

Hello I am back, and the person formally known as Wren, my girlfriend, is now my wife and hereforeto to be known as Mrs Rippers. It was a stylish wedding, we could afford the carriage (well, a very nice old vintage car anyway) and the weather was fantastic. Which was exactly what we needed seeing as we had booked the Avon Gorge Hotel in Clifton, Bristol, for the nuptials.
The build-up was fab, too, as I dragged the best man, otherwise known as the Wonderful Withers of WoS, along to see the end of season goalfest that was the Gas against Hartlepool in a crucial, middle of League One, duel - the last game of the season at the Mem. Rovers obliged with a 4-1 win which even Withers - used to such glossy football as played by Crewe Alexandra - accepted was a decent game.
After that, while Wren (I will call her that as we weren't married at this stage) was left to deal with my daughter the Fat Kid and her lovely children Vin Monster and Big Boy, along with an assortment of relatives from all corners of the globe, Withers and I popped in on my dad and stepmum Jean to find out all was not well in the house of Rippers Senior.
I was greeted at the door by my dad with a hand that had swelled up to the kind of proportions by which it faintly resembled one of those foam gloves you wear when shouting Go Yankees at the Baseball. He was unaware of the actual cause of this mutation but looked very sorry for himself with his arm in a sling. Jean meanwhile has been having problems for some time with her health and had already warned us of her apology for not being able to attend our fab day.
It was a bit of a shock to the system but once dad assured me he would be ok to attend it was on to check in at the hotel and have a couple of gentle pints and a bite to eat with the best man before settling in to watch Match of the Day and then the comic show carnage that is WWF wresting. What an exciting last day of freedom!
It was made worse when a slurry Wren rang to inform me that her and her co-conspirators the Fat Kid, her mate Carly and chief bridesmaid Up and at em Emma (of which, more later) were tucking into yet another bottle of bubbly. Shurely the roles had been reversed a bit too much.

The next day dawned bright and early and the Wonderful One and I took the opportunity to speedily get dressed in our suits and head for the lobby to greet any early guests. Or, rather, we lazed about watching the Andrew Marr politics show without a care in the world. We knew that at that stage there would be absolute pandemonium in the Wren house with so many people to get ready and so little time. Make up and hair was already being done, showers taken, breakfast eaten and more champagne to be drunk. Plus, probably the hardest job of the lot, trying to get the Big Boy into his suit seeing as he had probably grown enormously in the two weeks since he had been fitted for it.
Anyway, a stroll down for a roll up and a jog across the road for the papers to read about the glorious win which enabled the Gas to finish a lofty 11th in the division, was the most exercise the Wonderful One and I managed before 11. And in the reception there was already one guest waiting. Scooby had cadged a lift with the wedding photographer and was waiting in the lobby, suit in hand and bongo drums in rucksack. "Thought your guests might like some entertainment," he offered, forgetting the fact that Wren and I had already shelled out a fortune on a barbecue/disco and already had the music planned for the ceremony.
Still, Scooby did come in useful for other matters. Withers discovered his dress shirt had no holes for his cufflinks to go into, for instance, so Scoobs was quick to disappear downstairs and return with the kitchen's sharpest implement before butchering said shirt and allowing the Wonderful One to do it up.
Then there was the small matter of the buttonholes, a nightmare for any Alpha Male whose closest link to flowers only comes when purchasing the real ale of the same name. Well done, Scoobs, we salute you.
After that he also managed to calm my nerves, which I have to say were starting to rise with every passing minute, by buying me a much-needed Jack Daniels and Coke. We retired to the beer garden to drink it.
As others joined us like my pal the Silver Fox from London and wife Pippa, my ushers Jarhead (Roberts and the Fugitive in previous lives you may recall) and the Builder and Shutts, looking taller than I have ever seen him, we started getting into the spirit of things.
Then came a scare. Wandering through the lobby I looked at the entrance doorway and noticed out of the corner of my eye the bride's mother walking through the doors. My God she's here and I am not allowed to see her, I lamented, then panicked, taking the stairs two at a time to enter the Riverside Room where the ceremony was to take place. I then quickly called the ushers, who gathered everyone to the room.
In doing this, I had completely forgotten that Wren's mum was scheduled to arrive a good 15 to 20 minutes before the bride. I could see the faces looking at me puzzled, wondering: "Why have we taken our places so early?"
Even so it was nice to chat with the assorted guests and when the registrar arrived and told me that my bride to be looked 'gorgeous" I must admit the full impact of what I was about to do struck me right between the eyes.
Wren and I had chosen some unique music for the occasion. When the opening drum beat of "Here come the Girls" the original version, not that abomination by the Sugar Babes, struck up there was a titter around the audience, but that was what we'd hoped. And then I set eyes on Wren for the first time, in a beautiful ivory dress and veil (don't ask me to describe it, though, I am not the Mail's royal correspondent). As we sports reporters might say, though, it was a tidy
When Wren arrived next to me I was bursting with pride and had to tell her she looked beautiful. She thought I scrubbed up quite nicely, too.
Then to the ceremony which was brief and to-the-point but very nice, with some lovely words from the registrar.
The hiccup came when Wren had to read her vows by looking into my eyes. I couldn't help wondering what would happen if I made a stupid face at her, baring my teeth like some kind of cross-eyed chipmunk, and just the thought of me sent me into giggles which I found hard to contain. People were looking at each other, wondering what on earth was wrong with me, I'm sure. Fair play to Wren, though. She never waivered. There was one slight glitch however when she went to put the ring on my finger and the registrar Siobhan, joining in with the comedy spirit of things, said: "It is customary to place it on his other hand, but I guess it doesn't really matter."
Then it was a quick invitation to kiss the bride and the signing of the register to "All I want is you", the opening track on the Juno album which many of my avid readers might better recall as the advert for the National Lottery in which a couple strip off and jump starkers into the sea.
After that it was plain sailing and we left the ceremony to the refrain of "Have A Nice Day" by

I thought that was the time to relax but the now Mrs Rippers ushered me downstairs into the wedding car and we set off for a journey around Bristol Downs. It was as we were travelling down the road I had a quick thought: "If we carry straight on here we can look in on Jean," I suggested. My new wife was more than happy with the suggestion so the residents of Redcliffe were probably shocked to see a bride in full gown and veil walking along the footpath at my parents' block of flats and ringing the doorbell. Glad to say that no only was Jean in, but she was thrilled to see us and it was one of the most worthwhile five minutes of the whole day to see her delighted and surprised face.
Back to the hotel then for wedding pictures on the green in front of the bridge and then all the group shots in a private garden behind the hotel.
This all takes time though, and it felt like there wasn't a minute to spare as we hurried the guests back up to the Riverside Room for the lunch and obligatory speeches. I must confess now that Wren had been having a few qualms about the wedding breakfast. "We're serving our guests Shepherd's Pie and roast chicken," she said rather worringly after seeing the initial menu. I had assured her it would be fine although inwardly feeling a mite concerned myself. Were we being cheapskates?
Thankfully it appears everyone really enjoyed it, particularly the pudding which I understand Andrew, father of the bride, enjoyed so much he managed to pinch mine as well while I was desperately trying to stop Big Boy eating the table cloths and cuttlery by trying to hurry up the distribution of childrens' meals.

Then it was time for the speeches, Lordy. At the back of my mind I knew my best man would have something in store for me. After all, isn't he the leading figure of mirth for me in most of my previous blog entries? Without Withers, I would have run out of stories of abject stupidity and merriment two years ago.
First, though, there was Amanda, mother of the bride, reading a poem and then father Andrew saying some nice and rather flattering words about yours truly (cheque is in the post).
Then it was Mrs Rippers' turn to start the comedy gold. "I'll keep this speech short," She told the patient guests. "Rippers makes me so happy and that's why I love him." Queue rapturous applause before she butted in with: "That's not it, I haven't finished."
She then weighed in with the fact that I must be a genius because, well, I tell her I am most of the time - thanks, love.
When I stood up I was relaxed and comfortable with things. And I told the audience that I knew Wren was the one the moment she agreed to watch the Gas play Chester City in a mediocre, middle of the table league two game. I then said I had a gift for her and bent down to retrieve it - only to find it wasn't there! Bugger. With embarrassment and accompanied by one of the biggest laughs of the day I shared my concern with the audience.
Now it was time for the main attraction and the Wonderful One, bless his cotton socks, didn't disappoint. He managed to focus all my golden virtues in a rather different light. My first meeting with the "quiet" Wren had not exactly been a chance encounter at a leaving do. I had actually molested her on the City Arms dancefloor while jumping up and down and singing along to the chorus of Senses Working Overtime (everyone knows I don't know the verses). As he succinctly put it what was Wren's response. Did she:
A. Call for the nearest bouncer to have me evicted.
B. File with the local court for a restraining order.
or C. Decide this was the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with?
Well we all know the answer, but putting it that way does make me wonder how we DID manage to make that trip up the aisle.
There were plenty of other stories which I won't bore you with here because, quite frankly, I've told them to most people a million times. But he finished with a classic by announcing he had actually had this blog PRINTED - in the form of a book - and it is now available for sale at he reasonable price of Six Quid and some pennies. Not sure of the link you need to buy it off the net but, rest assured, I will pass the info on shortly.
Well done, Withers, a fine job, though I don't know what my family or, indeed, Wren's will make of my stories of wild nights in The Yard, the City Arms and the new old O'Neill's. They have all vowed to buy a copy, though, which is a might worrying I must admit.

On to the evening do then and a fab time was had by all, I have been assured. It all went by in a bit of a rush for me, so much so that Mrs Rippers and I actually FORGOT to cut the cake. It is now sitting on the table in our front room waiting for us to return home from our honeymoon in Cuba.
Here are a few brief highlights, though:
* Our first dance was to The Smiths "There is a light that never goes out" hardly a slow one, which involved us spinning around in wacky circles pledging "If a ten ton truck crashes into us, to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die."

* Withers tried to forge my signature on a bar tab to get a round in and was hopelessly found out for his misdemeanor.

* The Prince of Darkness formed his own harem of the Witches of Eastwick, with three girls all converging on the Unearthly One. He did scoop one up in his cape and disappear to the nearest crypt with her, my spies tell me.

* The sight of Paps, having taken a thousand pictures in the night, strutting his stuff on the dancefloor like a skinhead skanking to reggae songs, with his braces on show for all to see. He was later demanding more drinks in the bar a la Withnail, with no thoughts of the fact that he would have "an early start" at work in a few days time.

* Dan the poipes, the poipes, keeping his poker face as he lied through his teeth about certain things. Also the fact he actually looked smart for a change, rather than wearing the weather-worn cords we are used to seeing him in at work.

* The Little Bowling Ball rolling up to me and announcing "Wathanovski just got into a fight in the bar and was ejected". This of course was such an exaggeration one would suggest it was a complete fabrication. Wathanovski was still there a few hours later having had a mild argument with some idiot who had managed to insult Shutts. Wathanovski 5ft 9ins or so, defending the 6ft 8ins man mountain? Shurely Shome Mishtake!

And finally... * Wren, myself, Stu and Kempy standing outside having a last fag at 3am. Kempy, just in case you were fooled, went to bed at 9pm, missed the whole evening, and only emerged at the end of the night. She did however take a picture of Wren in my suit jacket and myself in Wren's tiara.

Just to conclude... It was a brill day and me and Mrs Rippers appreciate everyone who made it such. The staff at the Avon Gorge, Andrew the Photographer, Scoobs for his video work, the Ushers, bridesmaids etc and the best man. Withers, I'll kill you.
As for the Chief Bridesmaid Up and At em Emma, she wants to run off with my grandson and, in true Madonna style, has offered a bribe to the Fat Kid. Of course, the Fat Kid is always susceptible to bribes so watch this space...