Monday, June 29, 2009

candy flossies

THURSDAY, June 25 - 11.15pm

WHEN the text came through from my daughter I was waiting for the punchline. "Is Michael Jackson dead?" she inquired. It must be a joke, I thought. I waited, but no follow-up punchline was forthcoming.
I then found out that she had heard rumours on BBC 24 bulletins, but as yet they were unconfirmed. I immediately texted Paps with the news. "Yeah, just got back into the office," he replied. I checked my watch. It was 11.30pm. That meant Paps, the head of news/teamaker extraordinaire, had only been out of the office for four hours - just enough time to listen to that day's edition of the Archers, I reckon. What a pro - or saddo, considering your take on things.

To me it was one of those days when, as a journo, you just want to be there. That is, unless you can't give a toss about your chosen profession, I suppose - and there are some of those about.
I lifted my aching bones from the sofa, where I had been watching a DVD, sleptwalk (if that's a word) to the car and dozily drove the mile or so back to the office I had left just three hours earlier.
On duty were the Big Boss, Rob Kneesupmutha, Orson Wells, Cath Mary, Paps, Neil Gibbo Gibson and late man Vimal. A small crew, but plenty of people to turn around the next morning's Snail and make some effort to record actual breaking news in the South Wales Egg Cup which, like most evening papers, now prints the night before.
Paps was in his element, going through the wires and piecing together the story, while also finding background info with which to reproduce the Michael Jackson story. No online people, though - funny that seeing this is the sort of story that should be appearing online first in the new Meeja Wales environment. Paps was left to upload the story, too. The Prince, from his lair, made his contribution, too, by texting the first Wacko Jacko joke of the night - "I guess his heart didn't Beat It," he helpfully suggested.
Still, by 1.15 we were out of there... job done. And, in the words of the Prince of Darkness, "I had a bit of a buzz on."

Paps may have been up-to-the-minute with his news editing on Thursday but the rest of his life seems entrenched in the 60s and 70s (and even before then). When I told him I had been watching another of my Audrey Hepburn box set that evening he chimed in with: "Was it Paris When It Sizzles"? Well, amazingly it was - a film I had never even heard of until I took it out of the box and put it on.
Paps, though, just turned 40 but with the tastes of a 75-year-old bedridden codger, had obviously watched it a thousand times. Bedridden codger? Well if you took a look around his house to establish who lived there, in the manner of Loyd Grossman on Through the Keyhole, you would be forgiven for thinking it must be Splott's answer to Jim Brennan of Eastenders fame. The videos (probably in Betamax) include box sets of the Sweeney and Porridge, together with Carry-On posters and all sorts of ancient memorabilia. He even has the Sweeney theme tune as a ring tone on his mobile (yes, he does have one of those).
As touched upon before, his evenings seem to involve sitting in his old comfy chair with his slippers and the gramaphone, which blares out the Archers to anyone who cares to listen (and there are few of those these days, I would wager). I wonder if the old boy has one of those ear trumpets, too?
Still, I suppose if it is a choice between popular culture and Paps' old-worldly ways, it is a close run thing as to which I prefer.

One thing that DI Jack Regan and DS George Carter never had to encounter, I imagine, was the Public Relations fluffy. In fact, I could imagine John Thaw's character blowing a fuse at having to deal with this scourge on modern society.
That said, this is the one element of modern culture that Paps has more than enough time for. Regularly he spends a good 10 minutes talking animatedly on the phone to one fluffy or another, saying how exciting it was that they had invited him or one of his reporters to the opening of a jar of marmite.
Some fluffies get even better treatment than others, too. Now and again Paps disappears into the privacy of the Orson Wells b***cking room - known because it is also the room where Orson takes his staff to task - so that he can conduct a private conversation on his mobile with Jocasta or Mimi from Prepubescent PR.
Now, God forbid I should draw conclusions as to what these conversations are about but they tend to end up with him announcing a couple of hours later "Think I might just nip off to such-and-such a pub to see some friends". For friends read fluffies. At least, that is the conclusion of his well-trained and alert colleagues.

On Friday we said goodbye to another five people from the IT department, which is beginning to sound extremely echoey. Two of the old guard, Arfur Blissful and Jeff Fried Egg, have been around for so long I reckon they started when the newspapers were chipped out of tablets of stone and all they had to do was to make sure the chisels were sharp.
They will both be greatly missed though as will Nas, as much for his cricketing prowess with the Snail and Egg Cup weekly slugathon team as for his technological skills.
After that we sidled off to old O'Neill's where we bumped into the legendary Welsh rugby fly half Barry John, who had spent a decent time out and about in the local hostelries and was full of stories by the time he met us. As Withers pointed out: "Bloody hell, Rippers, he repeats his anecdotes more times than you repeat yours!"
At that moment Paps piped up "I've just got to go and meet some friends in the Pen and Wig."
Smashy knew exactly what this meant, Fluffies, and intimated as much by shouting in a high-pitched, flossy voice: "Friennnnd, Speshial Friennnd," to which Paps dropped his head, raised a finger and charged off in the direction of said pub.

We joined him soon afterwards. Before we got to the pub, however, the Prince looked at me darkly and warned: "Don't spoil it for him, Rippers. Don't call them fluffies."
Red rag to a bull I am afraid. I couldn't resist it when introduced to the girls from Bathwater PR despite black looks from all around. As for Paps, having had his evening rudely interrupted I imagine he finished the night curled up in his old sagging chair, watching Carry On Camping and dreaming of a young Babs Windsor.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Meatfeast jacket potato and gravy

WOW, things don't come in halves in my life. Having got married and landed a new job, it seems that Wren and I have now secured a new house. It's a little cottage in a village called Stapleton just outside Bristol and it is absolutely fab. We have managed to land it at what I would regard a bargain price, too, but have a look for yourselves on this link:
Believe it or not, the sellers want us to complete the exchange by July 21, which is less than a month away. It will all depend on banks and solicitors, but it is all very exciting stuff.

Meanwhile, the Prince of Darkness has, not surprisingly, sold his soul. Well, not quite accurate, really. It's more a case that he is actually in danger of losing his sole. The unearthly one's winkle picker boots are threatening to fall apart after he scuffed them while dragging young virgins through the ghostly backstreets on his way from one den of iniquity to the other. The sole has now completely detached but, with the Prince a bit strapped for cash, he is having to put up with the indignity for now.

Just before I leave the wonderful world of Meeja Wales, I have finally found a suitable substitute for the office canteen. It is a caravan outside Cardiff Station which sells all manner of delicious meals - like Roast Pork with jacket potato, gravy and stuffing. Scrummy.
The Prince has been hobbling over there regularly for his full-on breakfast baguette, but I didn't realise all the culinary delights it had to offer. Yesterday, for instance, I had a meatfeast jacket potato which contained pork, beef, chicken and stuffing - all covered in thick globs of gravy. Smashing.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sloppy Joes (sort of)

I'M not saying that it was a hard day on the good old Wales on Sunday at the weekend, or indeed that the Wonderful Withers of WoS is so miserable he makes Morrisey look like the perpetually smiling TV chef Ainsley Harriot in comparison, but my erstwhile colleague's sigh could be heard all over Cardiff at around 9.30 on Saturday night.
In response, The Boss turned to him and asked, "Oi, yer wee Sasenach. Wo's wrong wi' ye?"
The tormented one simply replied: "Oh, when will death come?" Quite.
It may have been that the poor sap had been working as news editor with the help of just one reporter and had to wade through a pile of MPs expenses claims which had been printed in the Daily Telegraph that day. On the other hand, it may have just been because he had been forced to prize open his moth-infested wallet to hand over two quid to Smashy for a bet they had made on the previous night in old O'Neill's.
The subject of the bet had been the Prince of Darkness and his progress with a young lady with whom he had struck up a conversation that evening. Smashy predicted things would progress little further on the basis that a. the Prince had already started sinking Sambucas, and it wasn't even 9pm.
b. He seemed to be regaling her stories of his experiences at rock festivals, which dated him back to the era before the Beatles came into existence.
and c. She actually seemed pretty intelligent.
Meanwhile, Paps was attempting to chat up the entire Northern Ireland women's basketball team who were obviously preparing for their big game the following day seriously, by sinking drink after drink and becoming decidedly merry. He, of course, needed the help of Danny Boy (the poipes, the poipes) who regularly endured knowing glares from his girlfriend the solicitor who, it must be said, has the patience of a saint.
Eventually, tired of watching the Prince in action, we retired to the City Arms which, even on a Friday night with a disco in full swing, is looking more and more like a ghost town. Wren and I ended up with the dance floor to ourselves while Smashy and the Wonderful One decided to quit while the going was good. Withers, now convinced that the Prince would have failed in his mission seeing he was barely coherent when we left him, passed over the two quid and no more was said.

This morning, though, the Wonderful One was in a much more cheery mood. Seems the Dark Lord had cracked it and Smashy reluctantly turned up at his desk to return the coins and add two more of his own.
This proved that a. the Prince can't be relied on to keep schtum about anything and
b. the Wonderful One is easily pleased.

Yesterday, Wren and I decided that rather than pay out a fortune in two seperate rents we would try to buy or, at least, rent a place together in Bristol. For me it would be easy to travel up the motorway to London on a Wednesday, then stay with the Fat Kid for a few days while working on the Screws before returning home to God's Own city. With Tuesdays off, there would also be a good chance of regular weekend visits to see the Gas.
Unfortunately, househunting is not an easy business, particularly when you have to master the Bristol traffic. We first went to a village called Stapleton just outside town and a little cottage that was idyllic, with an allotment out back and everything. The price was good, too, but Wren and I suddenly realised we hadn't sorted out a mortgage, or even had a chat with a financial advisor.
We decided that might be a good step.
Later, Wren insisted we visit Fishponds, which also sounds idyllic until you realise there isn't a fish pond in site and, if there was, the carp had probably been killed off long ago from the fumes eminating from the lorries, Kwik-fit centres and MOT stations in the vicinity. Not my idea of a relaxing home from home.
Finally, after a few more false starts, we ended up in Westbury-on-Trym, a lovely little village within a sparrow's fart of the centre and Bristol nightlife. It seems a good choice and we looked at a couple of rental properties which weren't bad.
After six hours on the road, though, my temper was beginning to fray and "grumpy grandad" came out in full mode. Wren told me as much as I cursed, crunched the gears and attempted three point turns in places where it was almost impossible to perform them (that scene out of Austin Powers, when he tries to manouevre a motorised vehicle in a tiny corridor springs to mind).
Finally, we called it a day, much to my relief, and ended up at my parents where we were delighted to show them the wedding dvd and pictures, Jean having missed our big day.
Back over the bridge then and by the time I got home it was 10pm. I had planned to make the famous meatballs and decided to do so any way, but save them for a later date. I came across a quick meal to cook while they were in the oven.
It is meant to be served in tacos or pitta bread but, having neither, I ate it with penne pasta.
Sloppy Joes
What you need:
8oz mince.
A pepper (I used a chopped yellow one)
Half an onion
Some sliced mushrooms
Tomato paste
Worcestershire Sauce
Tabasco, if you have any, or chilli sauce or ketchup.
Olive oil.

What I did:
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, then soften the chopped onion, sliced mushrooms and pepper.
Add the mince and brown.
Then add the tomato paste and stir in for two minutes.
Add the Worcester sauce, tabasco to taste or chilli sauce and ketchup.
Cook for a few minutes more, then serve with the pasta.
Quick and easy

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Nettle wine

I never had The Boss down as one of those tree-hugging, hippie types until he told me of one of the adventures of his misspent youth.
It all came about because I happened to mention that Scooby was off to Avebury with his drums to celebrate the summer solstice which, according to him, means bashing the hell out of his skins while wearing only a loin cloth and a smile and jigging around a circle of stones.
"Did ah not tell ye about ma adventure with some of ma wee mates when I was in ma teens?" The Boss offered in his melodic Irish tones.
When I answered in the negative, he proceeded to inform me of a time when he and his pals - no doubt known as Stiff, niff, jiff and anything else ending in iff (in the manner of all his mates) - sneaked off into the countryside to partake of some rather illicit alcohol.
While they were crawling through the woods they came across a strange sight. There was a fire blazing a few hundred yards away and they sneaked up to witness a group of cowl-wearing sun worshippers chanting in some foreign tongue while moving slowly around the flames.
The boys were convinced they had come across some sort of witches' coven and whispered excitedly to each other. Unfortunately, whispering in the throaty, guttural drawl of Rab C Nesbit tends to carry a bit on the breeze and they soon realised their talking had attracted the attention of said coven.
The witches began to call to them. "Come out, come out, whoever you are..." and, after a brief consultation, the boys decided the game was up and they might as well take their punishment.
Strangely, though, the coven were more than happy to welcome them into the gathering. They passed around such delicious alcoholic treats as nettle wine and soon the Boss and his pals were giddy with the excitement of it all.
Then, as the sun began to rise to herald a new dawn, the solstice worshippers threw off their cowls and stripped butt-naked. They then implored the boys to do the same.
The Boss, now feeling at one with the earth and rather trolleyed on nettle wine, immediately took up the challenge and cast off his clothes, quickly followed by his buddies.
They then all linked arms and proceeded to sway and dance around a young tree sapling planted in the ground - a symbol of the earth's fertility.
Only trouble was The Boss didn't realise that swaying on a shedful of nettle wine can sometime get out of hand. Overbalancing rather dramatically, he toppled straight over onto the young sapling, snuffing out its young life before it could even dream of becoming a tall and mighty tree.
Silence. As The Boss rose to his feet he was greeted by looks of stunned, open-mouthed horror and wished the ground would swallow him up, too.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Chicken curry off the bone (from Dirty Dots)

ANYONE of a certain age reading the title of this blog entry will think "Ah, right, he went out, had a shedful, ended up in Kiwis, then stopped off in Caroline Street on the way home". Caroline Street, by the way, is known more commonly in Cardiff as chip alley.
I can tell you now that the above scenario is totally without foundation. Some bits are true, of course, but I can categorically state that I actually visited Dirty Dots - the most renowned of chip alleys eateries - in the middle of the day while sober. Not stone cold sober, though. For the rest of the story we must rewind 15 hours or so.

And where do we end up? The new old O'Neill's on the Hayes, of course. Having managed to find a parking space right outside the office I opted to leave the car at work overnight and stroll into town to meet Smashy, Jarhead and the Blair Witch. And before long I was getting well into the lager on a spirited mission to "catch up" my Meeja Wales colleagues, who had been inbibing for a good few hours.
As the evening went on and we were joined by Danny Boy (the poipes, the poipes) Dave the Suit and Sarah "Not guilty" Me Lud, we were informed there would be some musical entertainment. Asking one of the barmaids who this might be, she answered: "You know the one. He's a kind of paedophile Santa Claus." Hmmm. Surely the little Bowling Ball hadn't secured another gig?
But no. Shortly, this ramshackle bloke with tattoos and long grey beard, aged around 140 I should think, took to the stage and started playing a number of trad songs. He got through House of the Rising Sun by the Animals (which I informed him was the first song most budding guitarists, including moi, learnt to play), I Walk The Line by Johnny Cash and Fairytale in New York without the benefit of the lovely Kirsty McColl.
His guitar was wierd, to say the least. It had the overall guitar shape but only the wooden fretboard was solid, the rest was just empty air. But, unfazed by the serious heckling coming from our table and a nearby stag party, he continued to strum away to his heart's content.
Then it dawned on me. This folk singer who really belonged in a folk museum might know the one folk song that is dear to my heart. And sure enough, after my request, he played the whole uncensored version of Goodnight Irene, the prayer of all true Gasheads.
Afterwards, he informed me he was playing a gig in Bristol the day after. It was taking place in Brislington. I told him Irene would go down very well there if he played it. I didn't inform him that Brislington was, in fact, at the centre of Sh**head territory and he might not escape alive if he performed it. Well, I didn't want to alarm him.
Strangely, though, when I later went to the bar, one of the staff approached me and asked if I was, indeed, a "gashead". Imagine my surprise when, after answering in the affirmative, he informed me that he was, too! Bliss. We do, indeed, get everywhere.
After that it all became a bit of a blur. This morning I stirred from a deep slumber and looked at the clock. 10.30! I am normally in work by 10 on a Friday. I quickly checked my phone. The alarm hadn't been set. Oops. Not only that but there were absoluted NO text messages for me, informing me of my terrible tardiness. Not a one. Which got me thinking... Does this sum up my value to the whole Meeja Wales operation?
A good six years ago after a famous Sunday Mirror Christmas Party I remember a similar coma engulfing me and waking the next day to find 40 missed calls! Late for work at Meeja Wales? None. I could have been ripped limb from limb by Cannibal seagulls and no one would have noticed. Alarming really.
Anyway, enough of this. I jumped up, showered and set off for the bus stop and managed to get into work for 11am. No one batted an eyelid apart from the Wonderful One, who said: "You went out last night without me? Why didn't someone ring?"
Because, dear boy, you informed everyone very loudly at work last night you were going home and even insisted: "I am ALLOWED to go home now and again, aren't I?" before heading for the exit.
Then I kind of coasted through the rest of the morning before heading off for a spot of lunch. Then, as if from nowhere, this craving came across me. Chicken Curry off the Bone and chips from Dorothy's in Caroline Street. I haven't had it for about four years and, my, it still tastes good. They even advertise it outside this salubrious establishment. "The original home of Chicken Curry off the bone" it says. Not sure, but they may have been pipped to it by some establishment on the sub-continent, if I were to hazard a guess.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Burger King

IT is true to say that the Prince of Darkness, while not feeding on the blood of young virgins, adheres to a pretty strict diet. And I am not talking here about his liquid intake of double voddies, sambucas and Peronis.
Looking at him you would think the Dark Lord, who weighs in at about 7 stone sopping wet, lives off lettuce leaves and slim-a-soups. Not a bit of it. It's more like he watched Morgan Spurlock's Supersize Me, where the man in question lived off a diet of McDonalds for a month, and thought it was some sort of healthy eating guide to be followed remorsely.
Here, exclusively, is an example of what he ate last week.
Monday: Two big macs. Tuesday: Two big macs. Wednesday: Two big macs. Thursday: Two big macs. Friday: Two big macs. Yet he didn't seem to put on an ounce. Perhaps that, more than anything else, is proof that he has some kind of pact with the devil.
When he's not eating big macs he tends to make a huge vat of spaghetti bolognaise at the weekend, then returns to it throughout the week to take care of his dietary requirements. How healthy it is to leave the vat on the stove and reheat it every day of the week, I am uncertain, but it certainly doesn't seem to have done the Prince any harm.
Then there is the dinner time feast. This is when the Prince slips out for a bite to eat, returning every day with a breakfast roll from the little shack over the road by the station, oozing with greasy bacon, sausage, egg and sauce.
On occasion, though, he has shocked his colleagues at Meeja Wales by returning with a bag of fruit. As he explained one day: "I think the guy in the fruit store feels sorry for me, he called me over and plied me with bananas and grapes and only charged me a quid."
One thing I have never seen the Prince go near, however, is garlic. And if he gets any thinner he won't be able to see his reflection in the mirror. Mind you, I seem to recall that is par for the course for these creatures of the night.

Wren and I watched a pretty good film on DVD last night. It was a psychological thriller called Derailed, starring Clive Owen and, remarkably, Jennifer Anniston. Remarkable, I say, because this was no rom-com and was as far removed from Friends as it was possible to get. It featured some particularly nasty characters but had a great twist at the end. Well worth a viewing.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The wonderful One (an unreserved apology)

YESTERDAY I may have given the impression that the Wonderful Withers of WoS had compared his recent disappointments in the love department to a football team failing to win a league game. This, I now accept, is totally untrue.
To put the record straight he actually compared his miserable failures with the opposite sex to that of Eddie Johnson, the pretty non-descript American striker and perennial substitute at Cardiff City, who spent an absolute age trying to score his first goal - so much so that he could probably have been reprimanded for breaching the trade descriptions act by calling himself a "striker". He actually said: "I am a lot like Eddie Johnson in that the longer he went without scoring the more the pressure built up inside him, particularly with all the heckling he was getting from the terraces."
So, you see, it is absolutely nothing like being a football league team that cannot win a game, and feel the pressure the more it goes without them breaking their duck, particularly with all the heckling they get from the terraces. The analogy is obviously COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY DIFFERENT.
Withers, I apologise unreservedly.

Actually, to be fair he keeps getting in positions to score (although I hesitate to use the footballing analogy that he keeps getting into the box), and the suggestion I made the other day to the boys, that he was just the warm up act for the Prince of Darkness, is now looking more and more inaccurate, too.
On Monday night we joined up with the Fabulous Baker Boy, in town to take his folks to the Take That concert (so he claims), Monsieur de Lebussier and Mad Liz in the new old O'Neill's. It was a very pleasant evening which took an unexpectedly entertaining twist when we bumped into a lady from Chiswick in London claiming to be called Zenith. When asked what her surname was she came up with something totally unpronounceable with lots of clicks and gutteral sounds. She claimed it was down to her Zulu upbringing but we soon twigged she was a bit of a joker.
This was great for the Wonderful One who, as you may have heard earlier in this blog, fancies himself as a bit of a stand-up act himself.
'Zenith' was in town to campaign against a new Biofuels plant being located in Newport, her argument being that it will actually help destroy the rain forests - though I am unaware of any rain forests in Chiswick.
Still, in her spare time she just happens to fancy herself as a comedienne and has, in fact, been on a few courses in pursuit of this hobby. They were soon engaged in a bout of witty reparte which had the Wonderful One beaming from ear to ear.
Not so Mad Liz, who chose this moment to demonstrate how she has obtained her nickname. The Mad one, perhaps in a fit of pique having being robbed of the undivided attention of the Fab BB, joined in the conversation by saying: "Why don't you f*** off back to your hotel, Zenith. I don't like you." What a mentallist! as Alan Partridge might say.
Eventually we managed to calm her down and her and our guest were almost friends by the end of the evening.
As I left the boozer the Wonderful One and Zenith (real name Sue, disappointingly) were still deep in conversation. Go on, Eddie son... no pressure.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Roast beef with horseradish and rose wine glaze

THE Wonderful Withers of WoS is feeling the pressure. He admitted as much on Friday when we visited an out-of-town venue rather than try to negotiate our way through the mass of stinking humanity that had descended on Cardiff city centre for an Oasis concert at the stadium.
There was another reason, too. All the pubs in the area, including the Cardiff beer and cider festival, were serving drinks in plastic glasses. Yuk!
So we had to walk a bit further but ended up at the Pen and Wig, a cool boozer with a largely student clientele and arguably Cardiff's best beer garden.
After a particularly fraught day on the South Wales Eggcup, where everyone seemed to be getting deliriously excited about some story about a bendy bus, I arrived very late to join up with WWW, Jarhead, Danny Boy (the poipes, the poipes) and Smashy. It was pretty obvious that, having given them three hours start, they were well into the swing of things.
In fact, I knew as much before I even got there thanks to a text message from Jarhead which simply read: "Sh** it's great here. Proper glasses and birds in suits?!"
Had he mentioned boots as well it would have amounted to Jarhead heaven.
Anyway, the beer was obviously slipping down well... so well, in fact, that the Wonderful One didn't realise that instead of buying him Stella Artois, the others had been playing tricks on him and providing him with all manner of other beverages, including a Carling Shandy I do believe.
I was, of course, accompanied by the Prince of Darkness, who immediately upped the pace and by the time Paps joined us Withers was beginning to metamorphosise from writer and broadcaster to slurring, incoherent zombie.
At this time we were joined by a Yard bird (as the barmaids at our FORMER fave venue are known) and her mate, who actually appeared to find the Wonderful One rather hilarious. I don't know whether it was his witty one liners that had her engrossed or if she was just captivated at the prospect she had come across the missing link -its early attempts at communication involving a series of grunts and giggles.
Anyway, the amassed crowd were fascinated to observe this meeting of minds and were quick to encourage Withers that he was actually doing pretty well. This, of course, had the opposite of the desired effect on the Wonderful One.
I advised him that now would be the time to arrange a future meeting or, at least, get a phone number before toddling off home. Unfortunately he did the worst thing possible in his circumstances - he arranged to meet her later.
Next day I inquired of his progress and he confessed that when he reached the arranged meeting place she was nowhere to be seen. Mind you, it's probably a good thing, too, judging by the state of him.
He did, however, explain to me how difficult it was to be Withers these days - particularly when in pursuit of a happy liaison with a member of the opposite sex.
"It's like being a football team desperately trying to get your first league win. The more it doesn't happen, the more pressure you feel. It gets to the point that you think you'll never win one. And it doesn't help with the crowd on your back, too... like you lot."
Fair point, mate but, as I imagine every England football and cricket manager has told his teams over the last 40-odd years, "It's not the winning that counts, but the taking part."
Whoever actually came up with that saying must have been a real loser, mind you.
Far better to follow the scattergun approach of the Little Bowling Ball, whose theory is that if he has enough shots at goal at some stage one of them will go in.

Talking of strange liaisons, a new club opened in town on Friday night and our wedding photographer Andy was there to snap all the celebs. Celebs? There were absolutely none. Not even Noel from Hear Say managed to attend this time, and by all accounts he will show up at the opening of an envelope.
Mind you, Andy was taken aback when he was introduced to a woman who claimed to be on the reserve list for this year's Big Brother show. She looked pretty familiar and when he twigged to sent his snap into Meeja Wales for the Prince of Darkness to view.
"Hoo's tha' boord then, mate?" asked the boss, intrigued.
"I don't know. She looks familiar, but..."
Then Andy rang in to solve the Prince's memory crisis. "She's that pole dancer who took us back to her house, stripped off and then had you dancing around the pole in her front room," he revealed.
"Oh yeah!" said the Prince, who had viewed numerous pictures of her previously as part of a feature on the Big Bro series which appeared in the South Wales Eggcup yet failed to recognise her totally. I don't suppose alcohol played any part in the memory loss, though.

On Saturday night Wren and I enjoyed a very tasty bit of beef, basted in an interesting glaze of rose wine, hot horseradish sauce and thick honey.
You need:
Lean beef joint of topside, sirloin or rib of beef - I used topside
1/4 pint of rose
4 tbsp horseradish sauce
1tbsp thick honey.

Calculate the cooking time of the joint from the packaging, then roast in a preheated oven at 180 degrees/gas mark 4-5. Meanwhile put all the glaze ingredients in a saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
30 minutes from the end of cooking time, remove joint from the oven and spoon the glaze over the top, then baste occasionally until the joint is cooked.
Stand 10 minutes before carving, while returning roasting dish to the top of the hob, adding a good sprinkling of flour to the meat juices. Mix in while heating then add some stock to make a reasonably creamy gravy. Serve with vegetables and new roast potatoes.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Wassabi crisps

WE are surrounded by the wonderful world of text speak these days - the abbreviated language of youth. My daughter the fat kid is somewhat of an expert at it. I get messages which regularly end in the phrase lol, which I am reliably informed means Laugh Out Loud, or tb, which is shorthand for text back. There are others far too numerous to mention, but I must admit I was perplexed about the one I came across the other day.
Now, I've never really thought of the Prince of Darkness to be a trendsetter. Unless, of course, it has suddenly become trendy to prey on student virgins, dance like a wonky three-legged table in the middle of an earthquake, live in a crypt and never emerge till dusk or hum the tunes of Frank Zappa to yourself, but a recent tale has made me re-evaluate his ability to get "down with the kids".
The boss and his doppleganger Billy Muirfield, a former columnist of the esteemed Wales on Sunday, were out having a few drinks this week when a text message came through from the dark lord inquiring of their whereabouts.
The boss immediately asked him what he wanted and was a wee bit perplexed by the answer.
"Wha' the hell does tha' mean?" inquired the Boss in his lilting Irish brogue.
He passed across the phone to his compadre who, shockingly, happens to be a Rangers fan - something The Celtic-infatuated Boss seems to have failed to register.
All the message said was "dvc".
For the next half hour they tried to work out this bizarre message until giving up the ghost and settling back to enjoy their drinks. Eventually the Prince himself turned up but by then everyone had forgotten all about the strange texted abbreviation.
Next day and the Boss suddenly recalled this strange occurence. He proceeded to pass his phone around the room, hoping that someone might be able to shed light on proceedings. Not one of us had come across the shortform before.
Then on came that little light bulb that sometimes shines above the Wonderful One's head. "Got it!" he shouted, as if he had uncovered a rare fossil.
"Oh aye, so wha's it mean then, ye ken?" asked the boss.
"DVC... Double Vodka and Coke," replied the Wonderful One. Obvious.

On Thursday night there were a few beers supped in the new old O'Neills in the company of the Prince, the Wonderful One and Danny Boy (the Poipes, the poipes). The latter was looking forward to a long weekend, which would involve a stag party of, no doubt, momentous proportions.
"But it's your long weekend. What does the solicitor say?" I asked.
"Oh, it's ok," said the voice of reason. "I've told her she can go and visit her mother for the weekend."
What a thoughtful chap.

Getting home it was pretty late and I had no desire to cook. For that matter I had no desire to set fire to the kitchen or ruin any of my pots, which would have been the inevitable consequence of putting something on the stove, then falling asleep in front of the Yankees v the Red Sox.
I therefore settled for a packet of Wasabi crisps. Wasabi, apparently, is Japanese horseradish - and very nice they were, too.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Ok, I confess. I have a nasty habit - one might call it an addiction. Where some people gamble, others drink (no, that's not the addiction I am referring to - how dare you!) and others still dabble in drugs, I find I cannot go into a supermarket without buying much, much more than I need.
For example, I will nip into Sainsbury's to buy a few essential items and end up running up a bill in excess of £100 after filling my trolley with things I will probably never get around to eating. You know, there is that special shelf of "exotic" foods, and for some inexplicable reason I will grab a jar of pickled Indonesian goat testicles, just because "you never know when they might come in handy".
My cupboards are full of such bonkers purchases with sell-by dates that go back to a time when Slade topped the charts and Neil Armstrong was taking "one small step for man".
Well, that's my case for the defence anyway as I will need one after the story I'm about to tell.

After a good swim in the new international pool I had to pop into Morrisons on Monday. My mission was clear. I had run out of risotto rice for paella and also needed some butter and cold meats for the week's sandwiches (a necessity since the beloved Meeja Wales canteen was taken from us just over a year ago).
I toyed with the idea of just getting a small basket, but in the past I have ended up carrying two of these, full to bursting. Passers by might easily mistake me for one of those little Turkish weightlifters who can lift things twice their size, but risk a hernia in the process.
So I got a trolley. Not the big trolley you understand, just one of the smaller ones.
Forty minutes later I was at the checkout, loading bags upon bags into said trolley. The checkout girl smiled at me as she announced: "That'll be £77.50." Are they on commission, do you think?
A wee bit expensive, too, when you consider I was only hoping to buy fillings for a week's worth of sandwiches.
Anyway, forget goat's testicles. Among my many purchases were four large chorizo sausages (you never know when you're going to need a chorizo sausage), a large bottle of hot chilli sauce, a job lot of steak and kidney pies (because they were a bargain) and the Audrey Hepburn dvd collection. Yes, that's right. Audrey Hepburn.
My reasoning? It was only £6, included five films AND the full manuscript for Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Now, on purchasing said DVD I did actually read the back, which described the aforementioned film as a "delightful Romantic Comedy", in fact just the sort of thing we red-blooded males buy all the time I'm sure you will agree.
It just seemed a logical purchase at the time. The Audrey Hepburn Collection - £6. Fantastic.
It's only when I received the bill for my purchases that it dawned on me that it is this sort of impulse buy that leaves me shockingly broke by the end of the month.

Still, having made the purchase I had to watch the film. And, I admit, it's a classic that I hadn't seen before. One of the reasons I wanted to see it was that it was written by Truman Capote and, having read his book In Cold Blood and seen the film Capote, I must admit I am intrigued by his work.
To be fair, it was a pretty enjoyable couple of hours in the company of Ms Hepburn and George Peppard whom, I recall, used to be in a series I watched years ago about a detective called Banacek before his starring role as leader of the A-team.
Afterwards I admitted to Wren how I had spent my evening. "That sounds fab," she said, "we'll have to read the scripts together now."
Ummm, no. One night getting in touch with my feminine side is enough thank you. She'll have me dressing in tights next.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Lamb Pot Roast

Scooby fancies himself as the new Stephen Spielberg but is finding it a bit tricky to master the software for his video camera. The photographer-cum-drummer-cum-landlord was kind enough to agree to produce a DVD of our wedding, but so far things haven't gone according to plan.
First take was beautifully edited with some very appropriate background music but, unfortunately, the wedding ceremony was reproduced twice. Take two, and Scooby managed to remove the duplicate (as Mrs R said, "I think once is enough for anyone") and it all seemed to be perfect, apart from the fact that my wife's speech was interrupted rather rudely by a piece of music being imposed over the top.
Being a little bit self conscious about the whole public-speaking thing she assumed that her speech was so poor that Scoobs had deliberately chosen to edit it this way. Either that, or perhaps something had gone wrong with the sound recording during the speeches.
When I asked him, politely, whether he had any out-takes of Mrs R's speech so that we could listen to it, he was shocked. He said he certainly hadn't intended to mask out her moment in the spotlight. So back went the DVD again.
Take three, and everything seemed perfect with the music in the right place and Mrs R's speech reproduced in full. Trouble was, the double wedding ceremony had been re-inserted.
Sheepishly I had to return to the producer again, but by now it had dawned on me what had gone wrong. Having re-done the footage to make sure the wedding ceremony wasn't repeated, our budding Spielberg had forgotten to change the music accordingly so it now appeared later in the film, just at the time Mrs R was making her speech.
He is back in the video suite, attempting to rectify the problem as we speak. By the time we get our DVD I expect we'll be celebrating our silver wedding anniversary. I'm sure it will be a work of art, though.

Word reaches me that Dave the Suit, who likes to think of himself as the doyen of Cardiff political journalists as he hobnobs with the great and the good on the local council, has found another string to his bow. Apparently during the latter stages of Smashy's infamous birthday bash he was seen throwing himself about with gay abandon to the music on offer from my own personal DJ Jase in the City Arms. In fact, at one stage he was seen leaping, Nureyev style, onto one of the tables in the City Arms, to the amazement of his colleagues.
I hear that the spies from the Welsh Millennium Centre are now trying to make contact. They fancy him as the next Sugar Plum Fairy.

Last night I returned home from enjoying a few relaxing beers with the Wonderful One and Jarhead in the new old O'Neill's to continue my latest cullinary delight, a lamb pot roast.
A lamb joint. I used a half shoulder but a half leg joint is recommended.
1 tsp sunflower oil
1 tsp each of thyme, rosemary and mint
500g new potatoes, cut in half if they are large
12 button onions (I used one large onion, sliced)
A sliced carrot or two
2 celery sticks, timmed and cut diagonally
One of those new stock pots advertised by Marco Pierre White
450ml boiling water
150ml dry white wine
A cup of frozen peas
One tsp of tomato puree
salt and black pepper

Pre-heat oven to 190/gas mark 5
Put lamb on a plate and rub all over with a mixture of the herbs and oil
Season with salt and pepper
Put into the oven for 45 minutes then remove and add the veg.
Pour the wine over the veg, then add the boiling water mixed with the stock pot
Cover and cook for a further 30 minutes.
Remove from oven again and mix in the puree and peas.
Cook for another 20 minutes, then set out the veg and slice the lamb on top.

That's what you should do, anyway. I cooked the majority of it before popping out for a beer, then returned to add the peas and the puree. I also left it to cook longer than expected so that I could revel in the Aussies sharp exit from the first round of the world Twenty20 Cup. I think it is a ploy though, so that they can be fully rested before thumping us again in the Ashes.
Hope I'm wrong.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Rich fayre

I DON'T know what it is with my local newsagent, but he has become very friendly with me since his picture turned up in the South Wales Eggcup as a local business champion. He also happened to notice my rather overlarge byline and picture on the letters page and now he wants to talk to me about everything under the sun. The trouble is he cannot remember my name, however many times I remind him.
This morning was a perfect case in point. Popping in for a pint of milk I arrived at the counter where there was a slight delay while the cogs clicked around in his head. "Hello... um... um..." he said as I waited patiently for my purchase. Then, just as I was about to jog his memory, he had a Eureka moment. "Nick!" he said, his face glowing with pride as if he had just got the final answer in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
Having overcome this major hurdle he then decided to discuss the merits of my job, the weather, the political situation and my wedding.
"Well, Richard, when are you moving on then? Not very good weather is it, Richard? What about that Gordon Brown, Richard, eh? Enjoying married life, are you, Rich?"
I couldn't help being reminded of the character Trigger and the way in Only Fools and Horses that he always refers to Rodney as Dave.

Last night was the boy Smashy's birthday and he was joined in the celebrations by a good contingent from Meeja Wales, plus Ballsy, who was making a rare visit to our neck of the woods from London.
Also joining us was Shutts, who looked like some kind of giant, overripe banana in a garish American bomber jacket provided courtesy of the San Diego Padres, having recently returned from a trip to America.
Unfortunately our mottley crew have taken to drinking in the gastro-pub that is Zero Degrees early on Friday evenings because of a happy hour where they dispense strong pints of lager for the princely price of £2. Just great, except that by 9pm many of us are feeling decidely worse for wear.
As we watched England lose to the mighty cricketing talents of Holland in the opening game of the World Twenty20 Cup, our chances of remaining reasonably sober weren't helped by the Prince of Darkness, who decided to mark our colleague's big occasion by going for the shots.
"15 sambucas!" he shouted excitedly at the barman. Hmmm. None of us really fancied Sambuca at 8pm. It completely caught out the bar staff, too, who didn't have enough shot glasses so had to serve them in half-pint pots. It was all downhill from there.
I opted to wobble home at 9.30 but my sources tell me that Smashy was still going strong, dancing to his favourite Indy music in the City Arms at 1am in the morning - and he still made it to work for 10.30. Top effort.

Friday, June 05, 2009

a fag and a can of bow

THE wonderful Withers of WoS has moved into a new luxury, self-contained apartment in the salubrious area of Cardiff known as Taff Embankment. The miserable one was delighted to finally get a place to himself after sharing for so long with an assortment of oddballs and ne'er-do-wells although I must admit this blog will miss his constant tales of woe which have kept us fully entertained over the years.
Having said that, he turned up at work today with a story that made his previous experiences pale into insignificance. For, looking out of his window last night during a break in Question Time, he happened to spot a couple of young ladies, attired from head to toe in leopard skin clothing and puffing away on ciggies while holding cans of Strongbow in their other hands.
As they strolled up and down they made various gestures at passing motorists, bringing Withers to the conclusion that they were, in fact, Ladies of the Night and he had moved into a notorious red light district.
As he watched, his next door neighbour stepped out onto the pavement and began to remonstrate with them, suggesting that they might care to dress a bit more appropriately because they were bringing the tone of the neighbourhood down.
I would have thought the fact that the wonderful one had moved in was enough to lower property prices a few grand as it is.

Some poor souls have mistaken the little Bowling Ball for a musician and actually booked his 'band' to play at their wedding. The truth is that he doesn't have a band, just a disparate group of wannabe guitar players who sit around in dingy corners of Cardiff's most ill-frequented hostelries strumming away to tunes which have little or no resemblance to the songs they are desperately trying to replicate.
Sorry to say even my own preferred watering holes are not immune from the odd, unwarranted strum-sesh from this disparate band of brothers. Walking into the new, old O'Neill's the other day I realised that my enjoyment of the juke box was being impaired by some tuneless wailing and strumming. Further investigation found the Bowling Ball and a couple of other random old soaks bashing away at something that they assured me was "Make Me Smile", by Cockney Rebel, but could more appropriately be named "Make Me Cringe".
Best of luck to the 'Happy' couple, I say.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Hair of the Toggy

Cockney cheeky chappie Rob Kneesupmutha Brown had a bit of a bad hair day on Monday. Turning up to work the photographer with the rapidly receding hairline looked quite normal from the front. But when he turned around there appeared to be tufts of long hair poking out amid his otherwise shaven bonce.
Being the discreet person I am, I shouted: "Bloody hell, Browny, what has happened to your hair?"
Immediately he moved to cover up the sprouting shoots, which appeared to be growing like weeds out of the back of his carefully tended garden of stubble.
"Oh God, I was hoping no one would notice," he admitted, finally donning a rather bizarre baseball cap backwards. "I was using my clippers today and the batteries went half way through. I had no alternative than to come to work like this."
Being follicly challenged myself I could understand the dilemma, but I think I might have risked a wet shave all over rather than turning up like an extra from Schindler's List.

The Prince of Darkness got somewhat confused on Friday night. Not surprising really since the dark lord had taken the day off and spent the majority of a sun-kissed afternoon sitting outside Las Iguanas in Cardiff's quaintly named Cafe Quarter knocking back jugs of cocktails with the Wonderful Withers of WoS.
By the time Jarhead and I joined the happily inebriated pair, the Prince was already telling the same stories to anyone who was prepared to listen. "You know the guitarist who plays in O'Neill's?" he slurred. "Well, he serves behind the bar in here. I've been having a bit of a chat with him."
Shortly afterwards, retiring to the bar to order two jugs of Long Island Iced Tea with extra vodka (purely for himself, I surmise) he seemed to get his wires crossed when addressing said Barman.
"What would you like?" the barkeep inquired of the unearthly one.
"How about some Arctic Monkeys?" asked the Prince, vacantly.

Next day and it appears the Prince was in need of a hair of the dog, too. When the Wonderful One texted him to inquire of his welfare early the next morning, the crypt-bound one replied: "Just having a gin."
News reaches me that he later set out camping. But rather than tent poles, pegs, calor gas cooker and lots of useful balls of string, the Prince's only contribution to getting back to nature? A bottle of voddie tucked into his backpack.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Lager in Lyme

Well it appears pigs DO fly. Mrs R and I spent a lovely weekend in Lyme Regis, attending our first 'official' engagement as a married couple. Self-proclaimed perennial bachelor Pete and his missus Helen were tying the knot at a lovely little wedding ceremony.
The day had begun with a bit of a false start, followed closely by a Rippers-style tantrum. Having loaded up the car, laid out our formal wear neatly and settled into our seats, I realised that I had forgotten the car stereo. Despite a mad 15 minutes stomping through the house shouting at myself while Mrs R bravely tried to calm me down, we were unable to find the missing equipment and, loathe to travel such a distance without music, we had to empty the entire contents of the car and switch them to Millie, my wife's Nissan Micra.

Having battled the millions of drivers on the M5 setting off for the south coast to take advantage of some rare British sun, we still managed to arrive an hour and a half early and booked in at the Talbot Inn, a very nice little boozer in Uplyme just a stone's throw from the village hall where the reception and party was taking place. We had a comfortable little chalet at the back of the pub and quickly changed into our best togs for the occasion.
Meeting up with Scooby, who was the official wedding photographer, Mrs R drove us down the steep hill and into the winding streets of the centre of Lyme where people had flocked to celebrate the heatwave conditions. We managed to find a parking space easily enough and proceeded to St Michael's the Archangel church.
The ceremony was brief and enjoyable, though I felt a bit of a party pooper wearing a cream linen suit which virtually matched the groom's attire. Fortunately, I wasn't the only one. There were several others who had raided their summer wardrobe for the occasion and passing strangers could be forgiven for thinking it was some bizarre tribute to the nostalgic 70s drama series Randall and Hopkirk (deceased).
The vicar was one of those with-it, trendy types who waxed lyrical about the choice of the second hymn, and how we would enjoy it immensely. It was a happy, clappy little African spiritual number entitled This Little Light of Mine. Trouble was, though everyone knew the chorus on the basis that it repeated the title endlessly, when it came to the verses many couldn't quite grasp it. I was certainly a bit flummoxed by the tune and thought miming and mumbling would solve the problem - until I realised that everyone else had the same idea. Sorry, vic!
I must say the happy couple made everyone smile with their choice of music as they left the church. Only Mrs R looked a bit perplexed, if not a little upset.
I got to the bottom of this later on. "I thought it was a very funny way to end the ceremony, didn't you?" I asked.
"I'm not sure. I thought it was a bit rude really," she volunteered.
"Oh, come on. I think it was a really nice, lighthearted moment to play the theme tune from Monty Python's Flying Circus."
Mrs R's mouth turned into a round O. Then she revealed: "I thought it was Nellie the Elephant!"
After the ceremony we made our way back to the village hall, a beautiful setting with a local cricket game going on next door. The happy couple had adopted the Pigs Might Fly theme for the occasion, because both of them had professed they were unlikely to marry - ever. The cake contained little pink pigs in icing, with delicate wings fitted to them, while there were cut out flying pigs around the room.

The wedding breakfast was an all-you-can-eat cold buffet, which certainly appealed to Scooby. In the tradition of nearly every photographer I know, he piled into the food and was quickly back for seconds. Meanwhile, I was sipping water (there was no lager until the bar opened at around 6) while those around me - the builder, wife Wendy, Mrs R, Mungo and girlfriend Allison, not to mention Scooby - were getting stuck into bottles of red and white wine that had been provided for the tables. Looking around, it soon registered with my Jilly Golden-type acquaintances that there were a lot of tables which hadn't touched their bottles of wine. With Scooby's mobile home parked outside, he, Mungo and the Builder set off on a mission around the room, returning with arms laden with wine which was then transported back to the van for use later in the evening.

Meanwhile, the speeches were taking place on the top table. Helen's brother, who had given her away, took it all in his stride. Pete, however, opted to discard his notes and then managed to forget all the rules of etiquette associated with the groom's speech, which nearly caused an international incident (he had forgotten to present his mother's bouquet or praise his new wife for her radiance).
Helen spoke well, as befitted a teacher used to standing up in front of a bunch of adolescents, before best man and brother Robin managed to give us a full breakdown on Pete's experience with a number of the old bangers - sorry, vehicles - that his younger sibling had owned over the years, including the tale of how, only recently, Pete had driven off from a garage with the petrol hose still attached to his camper van. He was five miles down the road by the time he realised there was a long black pipe snaking behind him.

Pete's sister Wisidora (on account of the fact she used to play the witch of the same name in the children's programme) was busy organising volunteers to put away tables after the meal while, in keeping with the family theme, her husband David and his band took to the stage and turned out to be a resounding success. Like a cross between the Commitments and the Blues Brothers they had something for everyone and the dancefloor was packed before long.

The wine thieves, meanwhile, were starting to feel the effects of their actions. As the evening drew to a close the Builder took to the stage, grabbed the mic to shocked looks from the band, and expressed undying love for his wife. He then tried to force the disbelieving Mungo onto the stage and persuade him to propose to his girlfriend of 11 years. It just wasn't going to happen.
Eventually the Builder, with a head-dress of daisies balanced on his hairless bonce, was dragged from the stage and led away by his unimpressed wife.
A chaotic end to a great night and, though Mrs R and I were sent on ahead to see if the Talbot was still serving, with the pub in darkness we decided to call it a night.

On Sunday we wound our way back home, tired but happy. First, though, we had a stroll along the sea front in Lyme, then decided to return via Glastonbury in order to avoid the M5. We stopped off there for a nice lunch - I had chilli and rice, while Mrs R enjoyed nachos and mixed bean chilli. By the time we got back it was about 5.30pm and time for a lovely cup of tea, followed by a snooze on the sofa before viewing our wedding pictures for the first time courtesy of photographer Andy.