Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Turtle in the soup

The wonderful Withers of WoS has returned from his travels with a tale of animal cruelty so gross that I imagine weirdos from all over the country will be declaring war on one of his pals. The story came about during the wonderful One's rather strange decision to spend a fortnight travelling through the lesser known holiday resorts of Croatia, Montenegro and Albania, to name just a few.
Now, you would think that the mere presence of this motley crew would be a precursor to a new Balkans War and, by the sound of it, that nearly did come to pass.
The story begins with Withers and his gang climbing into a taxi in Albania and demanding to be taken to the border with Macedonia. No sooner have they done this than they find themselves shooting along potholed roads, heads bouncing against the roof with seat belts nowhere to be seen.
Hanging on for dear life to anything they can, they suddenly find themselves screeching to a halt in the middle of the road to avoid... a rather large tortoise.
The driver, who doesn't speak a word of English and has been prattling on in his mother tongue, only breaking off now and again to cackle insanely at his own Albanian joke, abruptly jumps out of the car, runs down the road and picks up the jaywalking creature. He returns to the car, smiling from ear to ear, and thrusts it into the lap of the Wonderful One's ne'er-do-well mate Sharpy.
With that off they go, their heads once again bouncing against the roof as their Albanian driver picks up speed again.
Suddenly, from Sharpy's seat, there is a loud squeal, followed by a curse. The next thing everyone knows is that the driver is ranting uncontrollably at him in a language Sharpy fails to understand... and this is a man who lives alongside the incomprehensible accents of Glasgow folk when he's at home.
What Withers and his other pal do know, however, is that their guide is a very angry man.
When the others come to their senses they look in the front seat to see Sharpy with a wet patch on his trousers... but no tortoise. It swiftly dawns on them what has happened, though Sharpy is keen to explain.
"It pissed on me so I chucked it out the window," he says rather sheepishly as Albania's version of Travis Bickle gives him a murderous stare, his bloodshot eyes protruding from their sockets.

Meanwhile, I am back at the Screws a day early this week. I set off at 5.30am this morning, unfortunately waking a bemused Scooby in the process, so that I could arrive at 10 and help out because of a shortage of staffing numbers during the holiday season.
It was a pretty uneventful weekend, really, however. Having only arrived back at 1.30 in the early hours of Sunday morning, Mrs Rippers and I spent the whole of Sunday lazing around watching the last five episodes of the Wire Second Series. And very good it was, too.
I did manage at some stage to cook Spanish chicken and roast potatoes for lunch (but I've already imparted the recipe earlier in this blog so won't be repeating it).
On Monday, after Mrs R had headed off to work, I sorted out a few necessary chores before meeting Jarhead for some beers at Las Iguanas in Mill Lane. We couldn't resist for long, though, and finished off the night in the new old O'Neill's. A good night was had by all and the head was pounding a bit next morning.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Works canteen (oh, joy!)

THIS may be the Premiership of newspapers, but the nicknames are really only League Two standard compared to the wonderful world of Meeja Wales. Having said that I guess I invented most of them so pretty soon my work will have to start here in earnest, too.
At the moment the ambience is very much like that I imagine exists in the dressing rooms of Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and the like. For instance, there is no Prince of Darkness and no wonderful Withers of the World. Instead we have Macca (the boss), Dykesy, Jonesy, Jimmy, Jakey (I expect, though only knowing him slightly I just call him Jake) and Critch. Hmm.
Anyhoo, they certainly know how to dine in the manner of Premiership stars. Instead of visiting the Withered Rose around the corner, which has been the norm, on Thursday the boss took us to La Strada, a very posh little Italian bistro right on the marina. Marina in Wapping? You've got to believe it.
A very pleasant afternoon was had to, with our waiter providing us with an endless source of amusement.
I don't know whether he has seen me on YouTube but when I ordered the Peroni he warned: "That is a bit strong, sir. It is about 5 per cent. May I suggest the bottled beer."
Hmm. So stunned was I that I relented. But stranger things were to follow from our medically qualified Italian host. When Macca, who is on a six months booze-free diet (what on earth has happened to the nationals since I last worked here?), ordered a lemonade he was told: "Are you sure? We have some really good wines. You really should have some wine. Would you like to taste this lovely little number?"
I thought the boss might explode but he managed to cool his temper and wave away the insistent helper. As our waiter was leaving he pointed out: "Bloody hell, lucky I'm not Paul Gascoigne. Imagine trying to resist that kind of pressure."
Best laugh, though, was reserved for my old mate Bobby Bowden, the deputy sports ed who is mostly responsible for bringing me to these parts. Bobby makes Twiggy look pretty overweight, but when he ordered his meal the waiter warned him: "It's a bit heavy, sir, are you sure you wouldn't want something lighter?"
"Oh no, that's fine I am quite hungry," said Bobby.
"Well, if you insist. But some of these are much lighter."
How we laughed. It became the butt of our jokes after Bobby polished off his lunch with room to spare. The fear was he might not be able to fit through the turnstiles on the way back into Fortress Wapping.

Thursday lunch meant that today I had to take it easy. Fortunately there is a fab canteen here. It takes about half an hour to get there, though, through probably the longest working building in the world. When I first came for an interview I arrived at security two minutes early. By the time I got to our little outpost I was about 25 minutes late.
Doesn't help when you finally reach the canteen and really you have left your pass behind. There follows another long walk back to the office. Safe to say I think I have done a London half marathon today ahead of schedule. Still, it is worth it. Four different counters selling four different types of grub. Maaarvelllous, as Marvellous David might say.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Free grub on a Saturday!

PHEW! I've completed my first week on the News of the Screws and come out the other side, a bit mangled and dog-eaten but otherwise feeling ok.
I must admit it has been a bit of a shock to the system, not working for the most famous newspaper in Christendom but having to cope with the antiquated technology which makes Meeja Wales seem almost space age in comparison. But more of that later, I have a week to catch up on, including the TWO leaving dos I managed to fit in.
You may recall that the last time I updated you on the situation I had been forced to spend my last day editing the South Wales Egg Cup. This was because Troublat was moving into a new house, big Al (otherwise known as the big boss) was spending a day at the Test match and The Boss was in Ireland to celebrate his dad's birthday. Apparently this involved holing up in a bar in Donegal for a number of days - a kind of test of endurance. And I had evidence of this the previous night.
At about 9pm I had a text message from The Boss, hardly Richie Benaud when it comes to handing out the cricket knowledge, which read: "The Ashes is on in the background of the pub. Flintoff is batting, it's awesome. Oh, the Aussies have knocked another one out."
Not sure about the terminology but he went on to add: "Who do you think is winning?"
Of course, being the cricket font of all knowledge I gave him a very detailed and circumspect reply which basically told him that it was about even, but that we would only know after a couple more days.
Lying in bed at well past the witching hour (when only the Prince of Darkness and his hordes are abroad) I was awoken again by my phone beeping out a text alert. Struggling out of bed I picked up the offending object.
"Wa' the hell does tha' mean?" came the message from the Donegal pub. And, yes, when having partaken of some of the black stuff in the Emerald Isle I do believe The Boss even texts in a Scottish accent.
Asking him about it a few days later, he admitted: "Sorry, wee man, ah'd forgotten aboot the previous message completely. Ah was joost tryin' ta loook like I knew something aboot the game as it was taking place in Cardiff."

Leaving Do Number 1, when I finally arrived at the new old O'Neil's at gone 7 having said goodbye to the Egg Cup and planning to never speak about the experience again, I was delighted to find the great and the good already well into their sessions. Jarhead, for instance, had escaped the clutches of the sports department shortly after 5 (no change there, then) and had already partaken of a few pints of the loopy juice they sell in Zero Atmosphere (the gastro pub around the corner).
I was immediately waylayed by the little Bowling Ball and an old work colleague the Welsh Sheikh, who had just returned for a short break from the latest middle east country where he had made his home (I am a bit sketchy on the details but think he said Qatar).
All in all, I was extremely pleased with the turnout. Roger "heaven knows I'm happier now" Morrisey, who retired a short while ago, turned up unexpectedly as did others like the Fab BB, telling his London bosses he just HAD to be in South Wales to work on an important story.
In the early part of the evening I got talking to the two Katies, Stormin' Norman and 'The Body' Bodinger, who were in good form, then after a time Mrs Rippers turned up.
Soon we were enjoying the company of a rocking band called Two Tickets for the Gun Show, or some such. By this time I was well on the way and couldn't help heckling the Aussie singer.
At the end of the show he came up and asked me why I had done so. When I pointed out that we fully paid up members of the Barmy Army feel compelled to do such things he revealed: "I'm a kiwi". Prefuse apologies followed.
After that it was on to the City Arms where my own personal DJ Jase, having experienced a bit of a downturn in fortunes of late (for three weeks only around four people had attended his Sound of the Suburbs sessions on a Friday, poor dab) was delighted to see us and play all my favourite tunes. For some reason I felt in an early 70s Skinhead and Suadehead mood and acted accordingly, requesting Double Barrel by Dave and Ansell Collins followed by the Resurrection Shuffle by Ashton, Gardner and Dyke. Brilliant stuff.
As the night closed in Mrs Rippers came to see if I was ok, noticing that at some stage my shirt had somehow slipped off. I got up to speak to her or, rather, my mind did, but my body stayed exactly where it was - I guess that is what they call legless. Pouring me into a taxi, we made our way home.

It was a quiet weekend with just a full chicken, chips and curry sauce on the Saturday to accompany our 24 hour recovery plan, which involved lazing around and watching a surfeit of videos.
On Sunday, convinced England were going to lose the Test match having lost five wickets before lunch and still trailing on first innings by the small matter of 170-odd runs, Mrs R and I could bear no more. We opted to forget our woes for a few hours and go to the cinema where we watched Jonny Depp's latest movie, Public Enemies, which is about the gangster era of John Dillinger. Very enjoyable in a bang, bang, shooty, shooty way.
Coming out of the cinema I got in the car to find out how many England had lost by only to learn that Paul Collingwood was still at the crease, playing a monumental innings in a bid to save the game. We high-tailed it back home, at least I did and I was the driver (so there) and watched the rest of the action.
Amazingly, England held on to a draw when their last two batsmen, Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar (whose bat is normally as effective as a stick of rhubarb) lasted the last 11 overs to deny the Aussies. Magical.

On Tuesday I returned to the office for the BIG presentation. The Boss made an interesting speech where he referred to me as Rambo because of my penchant for wearing my tie wrapped around my head (I've been called Rimbo before, but not Rambo). What he doesn't realise is that the "look" is based on that great party boozing game we used to play called The Beerhunter. I had to put him straight.
I had some great gifts, thanks to a not-so-secret conflab between Mrs R and the Wonderful One, including a miniature digital radio which I can listen to while on my way to work at the Screws, and an amusing little album all about cricket by The Duckworth-Lewis Method, apparently a band dreamed up by one of the blokes from the Divine Comedy - it's a lot of fun.
On the basis that I was joining a newspaper at the centre of a famous phone-tapping scandal, I also received the third series of The Wire. Interesting. All week people think they have been the only ones to think of the joke: "I'm not giving you my mobile phone number, you'll tap it."
When my newsagent became the 50th person that week to suggest it I almost chewed his head off. "Sorry, Richard," he said, as he does, "I thought I was being original."

So to the Screws and what an interesting week it's been. I drove up to the Fat Kid's on Wednesday, slept on the sofa with a nice big quilt, then was up with the lark to get ready for the day in my new silver grey suit which Wren had bought me. I was originally planning to travel to Southend Central but the Fat Kid pointed out that Shoeburyness station was just around the corner so she gave me a lift and I boarded the 8.05.
I must say the train was very comfortable and, though it took over an hour, listening to my new radio the time flew by. I was intending to go all the way in to Fenchurch Street but was delighted to find the train stopped at Limehouse, just one Dockland Light Railway stop from Shadwell and Fortress Wapping. Sorted.

First thing I discover my old pal Rob "fancy a job" Bowden won't be there to welcome me. The Deputy Sports Editor and Millwall fanatic is actually on a champagne freebie at the first day of the Ashes test. Lucky bugger.
I am introduced, though, to Big Macca, the larger-than-life sports editor on the paper whom, I get the impression, doesn't suffer fools gladly - well, doesn't suffer them at all, really. I will have to be at my very best.
Thankfully Critch is there to help me. Critch is an old hand with over 30 years experience on the nationals, a guy they all call for when they are deep in the doodah. He has been doing the Welsh edition up until my arrival and is able to point me in the right direction most of the time.
We work here on In Design which, somehow, links into a system called Hermes. It seems a little bit longwinded for someone used to designing the page, writing the headlines, subbing the stories and even writing them sometimes on good old WoS. Still, I am sure I will get used to it in time.

Another old mate Adders, who has been on the Screws since I used to news edit Westgate, quickly enlists me in the lunchtime O'Booze club, conning me that there is actually food being served in the Mouldy Old Rose, the local pub around the corner. Here I meet a group of likely lads who would bet on which rain drop reaches the bottom of the window first. On this occasion I get dragged into betting a pound on the next person to hole a putt in the Open golf. It is sudden death knockout with no skill attached. You just put your pound in and hope that when it is your turn the Beeb are showing someone with a tap in for par rather than an 80 footer for an eagle.
Critch warns me I am in a gamblers' den.

Having been advised to mind my p's and q's at Meeja Wales it was great to hear some really powerful swearing on Friday. A late arriving advert elicited this response from one of my new colleagues. "You are f***ing joking, are you trying to f*** me cos this is totally f***ed. This is the biggest newspaper in the world and we are getting well and truly f***ed over.
"I tell you what - what size is it? 20 x 2? How much they paying for that? I tell you what I'll f***ing pay you six grand to keep it OUT of the paper. Yeah. F*** sort it."
Ok, that is not a literal translation but, yes, it made me smile a bit. I wonder if that Advertising Manager reported him to the Politically Correct police in that fun-quashing department called Human Remains. If so, I don't think it would make too much difference here, if I am quite honest.

Saturday was all go and it was great to be dedicated to one job and one project, even though as Welsh Sports Editor your plans change regularly on the basis that you have to keep a close eye on what is happening on the main edition. Still, I enjoyed the buzz and particularly the free food which is supplied every week in the Conference Room - a fantastic spread to be honest and I enjoyed the Morrocan Beef Tagine with rice. Lovely.
I had a dedicated designer, Sophie, and sub, good old kiwi Angus, who still doesn't smile much but can really shift some stuff. He did a great job for me on Saturday and helped to make sure things went fairly smoothly.
At 9.30 I got away and headed back to see Mrs Rippers in Bristol. The drive through London was pleasant, following the Embankment all the way and passing Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Once I hit the M4 it was a clear run and I arrived in God's Own city at just gone 12. Tiring, but perfect.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Adobo of chicken and pork

WELL it's my last day at Meeja Wales and somehow I have been lumbered with taking charge of the South Wales Egg Cup. Editor Mike Troublat Hill is moving into a new house while the Boss and the Big Boss are both away. I think maybe I am expected to do my own leaving speech as well, such is the staffing situation within these four walls.
Not only that but we seem to be struggling for a decent lead story. Surprisingly, no cats have been found stuck up trees in Grangetown today but, as always, we will do our best.
The cricket, too, seems to be going from bad to worse. Ricky "punter" Ponting made England suffer with 150 yesterday while opener Simon Katich also managed a ton. As I look at the screen the Aussies have amassed over 400 and still have six wickets left. Lumby days.
Still, met Mrs Rippers in the boozer for a nice leaving do lunch where I knocked back sausage and mash before returning to mission control. Tonight I will be heading out to the new old O'Neills and the City Arms, the two hostelries which most value my custom.
News of my departure seems to have spread prematurely around the streets of Cardiff. My newsagent mentioned as much the other day - though I think he assumes I have been sacked.
"Hello, Richard," he said, as is his wont. "I notice your picture is no longer on the letters page of the Egg Cup. What's happened?"
Oh yeah, my favourite job. Editing the letters of the Egg Cup. If I ever question why I decided to quit this salubrious establishment I will just think back to the mind-numbing days of sifting through the incoherent ramblings of Betty from Splott of a morning.

The other day I cooked a very interesting dish, having bought a cooked chicken and joint of gammon from Sainsbury's. It is called Adobo of chicken and pork and this is what you do...
A cooked chicken
Cooked pork leg with fat
2 tsp sugar
4 tbsp sunflower oil
5 tbsp wine or cider vinegar
4 plump garlic cloves (crushed)
1/2 tsp black peppercorns lightly crushed
1 tbsp light soy sauce
4 bay leaves
1/2 tsp ground turmeric

Cut chicken and pork into big pieces
Heat oil in wok and add vinegar, garlic, peppercorns, soy sauce and bay leaves. Stir well.
Stir in turmeric and add salt
Bring to boil, cover and simmer.
Add meat, reduce the liquid and cook for 10 to 15 mins.
Serve with brown rice.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Speciality sausage and chips

WELL done, Cardiff. Despite all the moans it has got to be said that the plan to play the first Ashes Test in the Welsh capital can be considered a big success. The first day's play, for which myself and Mrs Rippers were lucky to be in attendance, was entertaining stuff and the razzamataz which accompanied it was pure theatre. Of course, the Welsh felt the need to invite their Diva classical singer Katherine Jenkins along - she seems to perform at every sporting function these days - but it is fair to say her rendition of the national anthem went down a bomb.
Unfortunately the players had to then meet various Welsh 'dignitaries' and the likelihood is they had no idea with whom they were shaking hands. All we needed was Max Boyce (who?) to recite a stupid poem and you would be forgiven for thinking it was a Wales rugby game. Why can't they get away from these cliches? I ask myself on regular occasions.
We had arranged to meet Kempy, the former WoS news editor, and her mum Sue at 9.30 but things didn't pass too smoothly at chez Rippers in the morning. First we discovered our pet moth Mozzer had died overnight (very sad), then Mrs R couldn't decide whether sandals or flipflops should be the order of the day. Having finally managed to extricate ourselves from the house we soon had to return because of a worry - unfounded in the end - that a window had been left open.
There were then various stops at banks, the fag shop and Burger King before we finally made our way to the ground. By then it was almost 10 and Kempy was ringing me regularly demanding: "Where the hell are you?"
"Blame Mrs Rippers," I said, getting a scowl for my trouble.
Despite the hiccups, we got inside the ground fairly quickly and were delighted to find we had seats behind the bowler's arm. Not only that but my old mate Benno, former deputy editor of the Western Snail, was sitting a row in front, having returned for a couple of weeks from his new home in Melbourne.
As for the cricket it was exciting stuff with England finishing the day on 337-7 with Kevin Pietersen top scoring with 69 before getting out in trademark style - trying to play an impossible shot when there was actually no need for it.
During the afternoon the Barmy Army struck up a great deal of noise, joined by a group of schoolkids who were decked out in green having been sponsored by a supermarket chain. I am sure these kids will have improved their vocabulary no end having learnt a host of interesting new words from English cricket's famous supporters - "We all sh***ed Matilda" and "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, w***, w***, w***'' were among the most favoured songs.

During the day we enjoyed a few beers and I even indulged in what was termed a speciality sausage and chips, though the only 'speciality' I noted was the £5 price tag.
Kempy, meanwhile, had to leave early to send off a picture to one of the national newspapers.
By the time we walked away at around 6.30pm we had enjoyed a sun-fuelled, fun-filled day - excellent.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Ello, ello, allotment aggro

Mrs Rippers fancies herself as a bit of a Felicity Kendall. She has been talking about adopting the Good Life and growing vegetables and flowers on an allotment attached to the cottage we are buying in Bristol. With my culinary expertise I must say it would come in handy, but now it seems we may have stirred up a hornet's nest among the gentry of the little village.
Mrs R rang to inquire about the allotment today to be told that some people were very upset about the fact it had been advertised along with the house when, in actual fact, there was a waiting list. God, hope this doesn't turn into some kind of Straw Dogs scenario with the locals muttering "You're not from around 'ere" before attacking us with their pitchforks. Ooh err, watch this space.

Like many married couples, it didn't take us long to acquire a pet. And this one is rather cheap, too.
Mrs R loves nothing better than to open all the windows on a hot evening when the lights are on, so that we are visited by numerous creatures of the night (thankfully the Prince of Darkness doesn't know where I live, or where I stash the alcohol for that matter). Anyway, returning from cooking in the kitchen the other day I noticed a beautiful, snowy white moth on one of the curtains. Immediately I pointed him out to Mrs R who, being the gentle creature she is, warned me that I wasn't to squash it or bash hell out of it as used to be my solution to most fluttery, flappy things (as Withers knows too well).
So instead I have adopted it and we have called it Mozzer, Mrs R came up with the name because it is Morrisey's nickname, apparently. So Mozzer and I have been living in domestic bliss for the last few days and I must say he is pretty easily pleased. He seems to find a place and settle on it for hours, sleeping away the day.
You have to be careful, though. He does seem to like places like the floor and the carpet where he cunningly disguises himself, so well in fact that I dread the day that I wobble home and accidentally tread on the poor dab.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Nouveau Cuisine (Can I have some more please?)

Have you heard the one: "The ironing board's on my foot."
"No son, but you hum it and I'll play it..."
The old joke sprang to mind this week as I was rushing about my business, getting considerably more stressed than I really needed to one morning this week.
With the humid conditions I had showered and ironed a summer shirt, then dressed but was already feeling uncomfortable with the heat. Mrs Rippers and I had talked about things we needed to do to sort out a mortgage, and I'd had a message from the Royal Mail to say a parcel was waiting for me at the depot because the full fee had been short by £1.08 and I had to make up the difference.
Thinking I could sort everything out before attending a really important management meeting with Meeja Wales at 11 (never mind the fact I won't be working for them eight days from now) I rushed into the front room to find my shoes. As I did so my right foot gave the leg of the ironing board a huge kick, my small toe wrapping itself one side of the leg while the rest of the foot went the other way. I swore rather a lot, then sank onto the sofa and swore a lot more.
After that I hobbled to the car and drove to the Royal Mail depot in considerable pain. When I handed over the receipt slip it turned out the "parcel" was actually my Father's Day card from the Fat Kid, two weeks late because she hadn't put enough stamps on the envelope. In effect, then, I bought my own Father's Day card this year. No change there, then.
By the evening I had a huge bruise covering my little toe and half my foot - I don't suppose I will learn anything from this disaster, though, like putting the ironing board away after using it.

On Tuesday lunchtime I met some of the guys I will be working with in my new role. They all work for Coley at Westgate - son of Bono, the Dazzler and Tea Caddy. We had a good chat about what I would be expecting from them in the future and Mrs R gave me a very good little phrase that I am hoping Son of Bono will put up behind his desk in future: Pressure Is A Privilege. I must admit I am getting quite excited about my big move.
We met at a Barocco's Bar in Cardiff, which used to be known as Izit but now Izn't, and ordered some food. I opted for a seafood pasta dish while Son of Bono went for a lemon chicken salad and Tea Caddy chose the Wild Boar sausages and Mash. Altogether it came to just under £20 I reckon.
When it arrived it is fair to say we weren't exactly overwhelmed. The Wild Boar sausages were definitely the best choice, because my plate contained about 10 strands of ribbon pasta and a mussel in a shell. Son of Bono was equally upset at his portion which contained about three small disks of chicken, a meagre sprinkling of rabbit food (ie lettuce) and a swirly thin line of some kind of sauce.
The waitress returned as we started to tuck in. "Everything all right with your food, sir?" she asked Son of Bono. "Um, it's not exactly a big portion is it? Perhaps you could ask the chef if he has any more anywhere."
"It's a new menu, sir, we are trying it out today."
So, in effect, we were guinea pigs - which maybe explains why we got guinea pig portions...

The following night was completely the opposite. My former sports desk colleagues took me for a meal to a restaurant called Prezzo where I enjoyed a meat calzone meal. Expecting pasta, it actually turned out to be the Italian version of a giant cornish pastie. I couldn't finish it and wobbled home very bloated.
It was a great night with Jarhead, Shutts, the little bowling ball, Smashy and Owenov as we swapped long-forgotten stories of our time on the WoS sports desk. Great days.