Wednesday, September 15, 2010

End of the line

Just over four years ago I was sitting in a pub called the Goat Major in Cardiff with my pal Matt Withers and we started our usual debate about the Internet. I was coming out with my usual mantra that it would be "Just a passing phase" while he was insisting the World Wide Web was here to stay and I had better get used to it.
Over the next few pints we hatched a plot that I would start writing a blog, focusing on my culinary talents, and inform whoever could be bothered to read it of the recipes that I had come up with the previous night. With startling originality we decided it would be called "What I Cooked Last Night". I expected it to last about two days.
But it didn't really turn out the way. It became a record of our times on the Wales on Sunday or, more to the point, what the staff of that esteemed chronicle got up to in the pubs and clubs around Cardiff. Later it spread its wings and encapsulated the whole Meeja Wales experiment.
It was visionary (and double visionary on occasions), marking an era and coining some memorable phrases which are still used with fondness to this day - like Boozeday Tuesday, The Wednesday Club and Thirsty Thursday.
There was creative thinking, like how to make an entire Sunday Lunch out of different flavoured crisps, homespun philosophy from Withers ("All women who wear red shoes are prostitutes") and problem solving (how to get your girlfriend's front door keys back to her when you have driven home 45 miles to find them in your pocket).
And the nicknames became so legendary that many of the characters still go by them to this day. People were introduced to the Prince of Darkness, The Fabulous Baker Boy, Smashy and Nicey, the Fugitive, Wathanovski, Owenov, the Boss and Posh and Becks.
Well, it was fun while it lasted, an epic diversion, but it's time to wrap it all up.
Four years on and my life has changed remarkably. During the years of the blog I have been on a Barmy Army sabbatical to Australia, met a wonderful woman, got married, had a child, moved to Bristol and started working for the biggest Sunday newspaper in the UK - the Screws, as it is known here.
My tales have taken me to Boston to see my beloved Red Sox, and Cuba for an immense honeymoon experience.
But along the way the original idea has drifted as well. I don't spend nearly enough time in the pub to come up with such bizarre and cautionary tales, I no longer can regale the latest adventures of the Prince of Darkness or the Wonderful Withers of WoS, because as married life settles down I don't find the time to catch up on all the meaningless gossip in a way to do the blog justice.
Anyway, if I get any good little tales I think the world should know, I am now on Twitter @NickRipp so I will make every effort to spread the word in this other form of the "passing phase".
It's been a pleasure sitting down and trying to remember or, as some people might suggest, making up stories about my erstwhile friends. Unfortunately, this blog was starting to turn into an online diary of my life, and only those closest to me could possibly feel motivated to trawl through that.
I am glad, though, that my beautiful little baby Olivia got a mention and one day she may well sit down and read about what an angry, boozy, all-round mentallist I was. It's true, Liv, well some of it.
I'm also thankful to my grown-up daughter the Fat Kid, my wife Mrs Rippers (who began long ago as Celtic Liz), and my grandkids the Vin Monster and the Big Boy for giving me some interesting stories to narate without disowning me for giving away their secrets.
For anyone who wants to know, I am cooking beefburgers tonight.
What I cook tomorrow will be purely for my own amusement.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Tiffin for two

My love affair with clotted cream has been re-ignited over the last few weeks, what with our visit to Wiltshire and then a little trip down to Cornwall.
But it is interesting to see the difference between the value and price of cream teas in parts of the West Country.
In Lacock, no doubt because of the Cranford connection, the price of a couple of home made scones and a cuppa was absurdly expensive (at least, it was in the tea room we visited, the King John Hunting Lodge), obviously taking advantage of the American tourists in search of the ultimate quaint English atmosphere. They probably think this is where we all spend our afternoons when, in fact, most of the people I know would rather toddle along to their neighbourhood Starbucks.
After that we found a nice little bistro in Fowey, where lashings of cream and jam were plastered onto hot scones fresh from the oven. The scones were cheaper, tastier and altogether nicer at the Brown Sugar cafe.
Yesterday, though, Mrs Rippers and I found the ultimate cream tea experience much closer to home, in the Tiffin restaurant on Clevedon sea front. Fantastic. A pot of Assam tea which hot scones, oodles of jam and clotted cream, and all for the unbeatable price of £4.50. Well done, Clevedon.
Back in the smoke deputy boss Bob, who spent some of his formative journalistic years on the St Blazey beat, brought up the subject of which goes on first: Jam or cream. It's a question likely to cause more outrage and debate than the merits of the current coalition government
The much-travelled Critch got in on the act and it was established that Devon puts the cream on first, then the jam. Cornwall does it the other way around.
I don't really think there is a hard and fast rule.
I tried it both ways over the previous weeks and though I find putting the cream on first is easier as it acts like butter, putting jam on first enables you to pile the cream as high as you like.
Admittedly, it is a messy job, but someone has to do it.

Livvy update. Our darling daughter has now managed to roll over from her back to her front, much to the amusement of myself and Mrs Rippers. It means we have to keep a close eye on her these days, in case she sees the chance of a quick getaway.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Real Cornish pasties

THEY say it is bad luck to put an umbrella up in the house. It certainly is if you happen to be sharing that dwelling with Mrs Rippers.
We have just spent a lovely few days in a mobile home at a campsite in Hayle, Cornwall. We were joined there by the fat kid, vin monster, big boy and the fat kid's sister Lottie. Little Livvy certainly loved all the attention.
During our visit we had a one day trip to the surfer town of Newquay which, despite the fight for a car parking space, was well worth the journey - particularly to sample the delicacies of Cornish pasties and traditional, creamy Kelly's ice cream, while Mrs R enjoyed a small shopping spree in the tourist-magnet outlets around the town.
On the following day back at Hayle, the weather was perfect, and the boys had a good time building sand castles on the beach, though their mother took it a bit too far by burying the Vin Monster up to his neck in sand then turning him into an exceptionally crude, giant phallic symbol. God knows what our neighbours on the beach must have thought.
I used to spend a lot of time in Cornwall. It was where my parents met, coming from the adjoining towns of St Austell and St Blazey, so on Tuesday I took Mrs Rippers and Livvy on a tour of the old haunts.
We visited St Austell shopping centre, then went on to the isolated and charming Par beach before travelling to Fowey, a quaint little fishing harbour. Mind you, the town was built long before people considered the problems associated with wheeling a child in one of today's heavy-duty childrens buggies and, having parked at the car park on the top of the hill, it was like a mission even Edmond Hillary might have turned down to get Livvy down into the centre of the town. As for coming back up, I can safely say my heavy breathing at the top could have been recorded as a soundtrack for Darth Vader's next appearance in a Star Wars movie (note to self: MUST cut out the ciggies).
While the whole experience was good fun, there were a few little dramas along the way. For example, it wasn't until we attempted to put up our newly purchased travel cot from Mothercare that we realised you needed the strength of Geoff Capes and the patience of Gandhi to tackle such a momentous task.
The Fat Kid, having spent four days a week at the gym over the last few months in a bid to develop the body beautiful, used all her new-found strength to finally conquer a task more suited to the most adept contestants in the Krypton Factor. Taking it down, too, was hardly a piece of cake.
Once pieces of metal started falling from it and a large chunk of plastic broke off in my hand there was no choice... and back to the shop it went the minute we returned to Bristol.
Cot erected, Mrs Rippers decided our bedroom was a bit too bright and might disturb Olivia, so that is where the brolly came in.
She tucked a red parasol over one of the lights, plunging the room into a deep Scarlet hue which had me fearing we might be inundated with "gentlemen callers" in the middle of the night.
But the real shock came in the early hours of one morning when Mrs Rippers suddenly leapt from the bed, grabbed the umbrella and hurled it across the room, knocking over glasses of water and all manner of other things in its way.
I sat there stunned for a good few seconds, before asking the question that had been nagging me since the ill-thought-out event. "What did you do that for?"
"I just needed a bit more light," came the rather bemusing reply.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Gastro delight

Mrs Rippers and I found Gastro Heaven nestled in the middle of the Cotswolds last weekend.
As part of the extended Mrs R 40th birthday celebrations I planned a little trip 30 miles up the road to Tetbury.
First of all we visited Lacock, the olde worlde Wiltshire village where Cranford is filmed, and managed to avoid being stung by the hundreds of wasps who had also decided it would be a good place to spend the day.
During the trip we also popped into the Hunters Lodge for Jam, cream and scones and a pot of tea which cost the quite unreasonable amount of £12 (great trap for those rich Yankee tourists, though).
Having spent an enjoyable afternoon it was off to Tetbury where we booked into the Priory. Readers of this blog will no doubt think it's about time that I went to dry out at the clinic where Paul Gascoigne spends a lot of his time, but this was the Priory Inn, and what a find it was.
I found it simply by googling Children friendly hotels and this was listed as one of the top 10 in Britain. When we got to our room we found a very nice cot and plenty of toys to keep Livvy happy while we unpacked and got ready for the evening's entertainment.
This involved going down to the bar and eating in the Gastro restaurant where all food has been sourced from within a 30-mile radius.
Their specialty is pizza, and I tucked into a bacon, chorizo, free range egg and potato concoction which left me completely bloated and begging for a doggie bag. Mrs R enjoyed a meat feast combo and we had also opened the evening with some delicious starters - all including in the reasonable price of our overnight stay.
While there we were entertained by a solo musician of pretty decent quality who also managed to sing our daughter to sleep for the whole evening - a rare treat for us.
After that we slept soundly in a luxury king-sized bed before enjoying a hearty breakfast and popping out for a good walk around the town centre and a visit to some of the shops.
In short, a very pleasant trip was had by all.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Spicy dutch cheese (uh oh!)

HAVE you ever desperately tried to avoid a football score because you wanted to see the highlights of the game later? It very rarely works, you'll find.
It happened to me during my dim and distant days working for a news agency in Stoke on Trent. All day long I had been trying to avoid the result of the England match that night. And with 30 minutes to go before Match of the Day, I realised I had run out of cigarettes.
I figured a trip to the local boozer wasn't ideal, but I could be in and out of the off licence next door before anyone registered my presence. But despite putting fingers to my ears to block out the noise, some loudmouth still managed to tell his mate within my earshot: "Good win for England wasn't it? Who got the two goals?"

The relevance of this story? Well, it was my lovely wife's 40th birthday yesterday and she decided she would like a trip to our old stomping ground of Cardiff. When she told me of her wish on Monday it got the cogs in my mind whirring.
Why not arrange a surprise dinner and invite some of her friends to turn up, giving her a pleasant surprise and providing me with brownie points until Christmas?
These days with all these passing fads - twitter, facebook, e-mail and text message - the job isn't as onerous as it might have been previously and I was able to secure a decent turnout. Then, it was just a case of making any last-minute alterations, getting someone to source the cake and getting her to the venue on time.
Simple. Or maybe not.
First I picked the wrong day. Somehow, in my enthusiasm, I organised it for Wednesday at 2.30 in a little restaurant in Cardiff Bay called Mimosa.
"Why are we going to Cardiff on Wednesday?" she inquired. "It's my birthday on Thursday and I have a doctor's appointment with the baby on the previous day."
So back onto twitter, facebook, e-mail and mobile phone to inform people of the change of plan.
Then the Wonderful Withers sends me a message. "I'm news editing the Daily Snail, could we make it earlier in the day?"
No problem.
Back on to twitter, facebook, e-mail and mobile phone to tell everyone the new arrangement.
And trying to keep my activities quiet from Mrs Rippers at the same time.
She thinks I've left her holding the crying baby while I fritter away my time on the Bristol Rovers website and my blogs.
Not quite. Though I did do a bit of that, too, I must admit.
Anyway new time accepted and it is all go. I've still got a decent response.

Thursday morning and Olivia has got us up by 7.10am. She is in a particularly contrary mood. First she wants food, then she doesn't, then she does, then she doesn't. She cries when I put her in the car seat. She cries when I put the car seat in the car. She cries when I take them both out again. She finally settles for a seat in mummy's car instead.
Then comes one of the text messages I feared. It's Wales on Sunday former news editor Kempy who has unfortunately contracted an ear problem and won't be able to make the surprise do. Neither will husband Coggsy and baby Paddy.
Poor old Kempy. Never mind, we will catch up another time.
Finally, we get the car loaded. We are already running late, but Mrs Rippers doesn't even know we are working to a deadline.
I've arranged to pop into Meeja Wales to show off the new addition to the family to former colleagues, including the Boss, so it's going to be tight to make it down to the Bay in time for lunch.
Then comes the moment when the whole plan nearly blows up in my face.
I've told her about Kempy's illness but NOT informed her that she was one of the surprise guests at my lunch.
Half way across the bridge into Wales, Mrs R looks up from her I-phone and tells me: "What a pity Kempy can't make it."
What? What does she know? How has she found out? Is the surprise blown?
"What do you mean?" I ask, with heart in mouth.
"Oh, she has just texted me telling me to have a nice time and it is a shame that she can't be there..."
"I was quite looking forward to seeing her in the office."
Phew. What an escape!
And what a howler from the Kempster.
I look clandestinely at the text I originally sent her.
What part of "surprise lunch" didn't she understand?

Anyway, all goes well, apart from the fact I get lost on the way to the Bay.
Even so, that works in my favour because the other guests have arrived and are sitting around the table when Mrs Rippers and I walk through the door. There is my pal Jane, Liz's close friend Claire and daughter Amelia. Paps, Smashy and the wonderful Withers have joined us, too.
We enjoy a very leisurely lunch and Claire has done the biz and managed to get me a cake, which is Mrs R's highlight of the day. She and Amelia take turns blowing the candles out.
"How did you arrange all this?" she asks.
"It's a long story," I reply.
Involving twitter, facebook, e-mail and text.

Getting home I just needed a snack, having feasted on beautiful Roast Lamb at Mimosa.
So I dive into the fridge for some new Hot Dutch cheese I've bought, which I have on crackers.
And very wicked this morning as my stomach turns somersaults as I make the long drive to the Smoke for work.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sold a pup

DING, dong the dog has gone. After nine days of mayhem in the Fat Kid's household she has decided that her pet pooch Pebbles was a bit too much to handle. When I heard the news I cracked open a beer to celebrate.
The little Staffordshire Bull terrier, which she envisaged turning into one of those "handbag" pups, outstayed her welcome quicker than I thought she would.
Having insisted on numerous occasions that my eldest daughter might find looking after a pet, on top of Vin Monster and the Big Boy, all too much it appears that I have been proved right.
As usual, the Fat Kid decided she needed to find out for herself and shun my advice. It meant putting up with just over a week of peeing, pooing, biting and generally causing chaos before she faced up to the fact it wasn't the brightest idea.
That's the pup, not the Fat Kid.
In that time I had to endure a sleepless night while the little terrier screeched and howled and ran amok in the kitchen, overturning bins and eating up their contents before ripping a black bin liner to pieces then peeing on the floor.
Two days later the text came through. "I'm getting rid of this dog, it keeps chewing everything!"
Still, dog lovers, never fear. The pup from purgatory has gone to a careful owner, one who appreciates the finer qualities of canine care and doesn't just think that "looking cute" is their sole purpose in life.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Chip off the old block

I can barely believe my darling daughter Olivia is now over seven weeks old. Every time I return home after a few days earning a crust up in the smoke she seems to have grown, not only in size but in facial expressions.
She has now developed a clicking sound with her tongue, a very clever piece of linguistic skill which I often try to copy, and is working on a good right uppercut for anyone who catches her in the wrong mood.
She's smiling, too, which is fab. These smiles, though, tend to come at a time when she has managed to inflict some piece of ill-fortune on either myself or Mrs Rippers, or embarrassed us in public.
The other day she was full of giggles after reaching back and throwing her nappy at me, while peeing the moment said nappy is removed seems to be another of her favourite tricks.
In fairness, though, we do get the chance to laugh at her, too, which isn't really fair on one so young. When she clambered up my stomach the other day and started sucking my nose, mistaking it for a nipple, I must admit I was in fits of laughter.
Today, though, it was Mrs Rippers who was on the wrong end of Livvy's attempt at humour.
Trying to find interesting things for her and Livvy to do, Mrs R decided to attend a coffee morning at the local library.
My regular reader will know that my darling wife has a love affair with libraries that cannot be shaken. It used to be a source of amusement for me when she would describe the highlight of her day as "taking out some new books", though I must admit her continued fixation with these book-lending facilities have even persuaded me to "join up" of late.
Still, I digress. When Mrs Rippers turned up she found the average age (not including my baby) was about 62 and they were all sitting around the hobnobs and Ovaltine having a good natter about knitting, flower arranging and the best treatment for varicose veins.
My wife sat there quietly, nodding in her polite manner, until the whispering was interrupted by a loud, long, ripping sound.
All the old ladies looked at each other accusingly, then shook their ear pieces to make sure their hearing aids weren't playing up.
And, in her pram, Livvy smiled contentedly to herself, her wind no longer a problem.
Mrs Rippers found it was as good a time as any to make her excuses and leave.
But when she told me the story later, I'm sure I detected an underlying inference that this kind of rebellious behaviour could only come from MY side of the family.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Dog food

THE fat kid has two new additions to the family.
Firstly, she has purchased a blue VW beetle which looks very slick and she adores. It's also the first car she has brought without the help of the bank of Dad (other than a small contribution as her combined birthday/christmas present).
Second, and far more worringly, she has somehow acquired a Staffordshire Bull Terrier which she has called Pebbles.
Now, I've lost count of the number of times I have told her not to get a dog. I've warned her that they are not fashion accessories, you have to feed them, house train them, generally look after them and not go out on the razz and leave dad to look after them. Plus the fact they don't stay puppies, they actually grow up.
But I guess me saying "no" is like a red rag to... well, a dog.
I turned up late on Wednesday to settle in for an early night before work and there it was, lying on the sofa cuddling up to her.
Ok, so it's a bit cute. It's white with a touch of pink in the face, which is why the Fat Kid likes it so much.
Not such good news, it likes chewing. More specifically it likes chewing my shoe laces and my baseball hat.
"She's no trouble, she'll be fine," the Fat Kid says.
Basically, she sees it as one of those "handbag" dogs like Paris Hilton might own. She got the idea from the little pooch in Legally Blond.
In fact, she has already got it a little dress to wear and has given it a baby's dummy to suck.
"It was either that or a baby girl," she told me when I immediately turned into grumpy Grandad at the first sight of the little monster.
I think she has read the script wrong.
The dog in the Legally Blond film is, I believe, called a White Pomeranian and I doubt whether they grow much bigger.
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier, by comparison, is the dog you regularly see walking through the Essex streets attached to the arm of a neanderthal, straining at a chain-link leash and, if you're very lucky, wearing a muzzle.
The dog is designed to say: My owner is hard.
I can't believe anyone will be taking this one very seriously when she struts along wearing a pink tutu with no doubt a ribbon tied to her head and a dummy in her mouth.
I fear poor Pebbles will be suffering a deep identity crisis before very long.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Royal Fail

THE fat kid has had a problem ever since she moved into a relatively new house in Shoeburyness. The story goes like this...
Whenever she tries to get things delivered to the house, or tries to take out some kind of HP agreement on a purchase, the assistant sorting out the order tells her that her house doesn't exist. Strange really, because I've stayed there every week for a year and I am sure it is not a figment of my imagination.
However much she insists that the address is a real one, the person serving her will reply in the time honoured fashion "computer says no".
The situation reached a critical level this week because the Fat Kid has sold her car and is eager to replace it with a newer one, a sparkly VW Beetle, but may need finance to complete her purchase. The trouble is as her house doesn't exist, no one will provide her with the loan she requires.
I decided I would try to sort the problem out today, and my first port of call was the Royal Mail website. Fine, there is a form to fill out if your house isn't recognised and I sent that off straight away, but as yet have had no reply.
Next option, then, was to ring and actually try to speak to a person. And here, dear reader, is where my normal placid demeanour was somewhat shaken.
Having rung the number for personal inquiries on the website I was presented with four options, the first one being to press 1 if I had a query involving the address.
This I did, and was then given another two options, neither of which involved speaking to a Customer Services Adviser.
Retracing my steps I then listened to the full list of options available to me and, again, none of them involved speaking to an adviser.
Finally in frustration I threw the phone down and ranted at it for a few seconds, bringing a number of wry comments from my colleagues.
Never mind, there was another option on the website. It was to consult Sarah, the online assistant, who, I was assured, could handle any query I might have.
So I typed my question into the window. "Why, when I ring the help line, am I unable to speak to a PERSON?" I asked.
And very promptly online assistant Sarah responded.
"Do you mean: Can you tell me more about ordinary Second Class mail?" she said.
Followed by: "My answer is: Second Class mail is normally delivered 2/3 working days after posting, to any address in the country."
Well, thanks Sarah, that certainly clears it up.
I took a different tack.
"How do I speak to a customer service adviser?" I requested.
She replied: "Do you mean: I have a problem with my Online Business Account. What should I do?"
I swore rather loudly at the screen. "No, no, no!"
By this stage I had totally lost it. I wondered what other completely unrelated answers I might get if I tried some rather more obscure questions.
So I asked Sarah: "Do you wear frilly panties?"
To which she replied: "Do you mean: What's the minimum I need to spend with my postage account?"
Of course, THAT'S what I meant. I had obviously just phrased the questions badly.
My God, I thought the Royal Mail was supposed to be at the hub of our communications network. It appears lack of communication is more their bag.

I love listening to audio books to help me wile away the time on my journey back from the smoke.
Imagine my frustration last Saturday when I realised the discs I had brought with me were ones I had already heard.
There was no option than to stop at the nearest service station and forked out my hard earned £15 for a replacement.
Getting back to the car I opened the box in eager anticipation of listening to the latest thriller from Sam Bourne.
To find? Nothing. It was empty.
I stormed back to the WH Smith's counter and explained to the shop assistant: "You've just sold me an empty box for 15 bloody quid!"
I think it was her first day. She hadn't realised that once the box was brought to the counter she actually had to fill it with the cd's you were purchasing.
It could have been worse, though. I might have been just outside Newbury by the time I discovered the error. Phew!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Been stalking

THERE is an addictive and worrying new trend growing among the young ladies of Southend. It is slowly replacing nightclubbing, pubbing, ice skating, dogging and any other activity which ends with "ing" you care to mention.
I know this because I believe it was invented by the Fat Kid and her bezzie (that means best friend, if you're down with the kids like me).
What you do is this: Get dressed up in your best bib and tucker, chuck on the slap, fill your best handbag with fags, make up and anything else young girls carry in their handbags, gather all your friends then chose a designated driver (preferrably one with a non-descript car).
Once the clan is gathered you jump into the car and head off in the direction of one of your ex-boyfriends' houses.
The official name for this activity? Stalking.
Now, we have all heard of stalking. Normally it involves some rich celebrity having their every move scrutinised by some nutter who believes they have a bond with their target. Generally it ends in tears, restraining orders and, in the most severe cases, a jail term.
But in this case the stalkee is blissfully unaware they are being stalked. There is no direct contact, molotov cocktails aren't thrown through windows and there is no breaking and entering or hiding in attics. Certainly no bunnies are hurt in the course of this trivial pursuit.
I am not really sure of the merits of this activity, but as far as I can see it provides an endless source of banter, laughter and fun for the stalkers. And the only cost is a small amount of petrol.
As for the stalkee? Well, generally, they remain blissfully unaware of what is going on outside their front door.
What doesn't quite fit is the dress code. I am not sure why the stalkers have to dress up as if they are attending the hottest nightclub in town when, as I hear it, they end up having to jump into bushes or crawl along muddy ground to conceal their presence in the vicinity of said ex-boyfriend's home.
With the Fat Kid I am still trying to work out what she is hoping to achieve. My recollection of one of the stalkees is that all the time she knew him he sat in the house either glued to some boring cop chase show on tv, smoked the odd spliff, played computer games against his mates who were rooted to their own couches, dozed off and complained at any faint hint that they should maybe go out and find something interesting to do. But hey, that's me.
It's the Fat Kid's way of enjoying a cheap night out... and it is spreading rapidly.
So, boys of Southend, if you notice a slight movement in the bush across the road, or hear a faint giggle, or notice an unfamiliar car pass your house for the third time, don't worry... just sit back down, light up your doobie and continue your quest to pimp out another prostitute in the latest version of Grand Theft Auto.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lite bytes

Standing around enjoying a few lunchtime shandies in the Batman, the subject turned to the history of computer games. My esteemed colleagues Leethal, Adders, Critch and Barry the (page) Builder were all quick to extole the virtues of those wonderful early days when you could gun down advancing space invaders or gobble up luminous pacmen.
In fact Leethal, a tyrant for the trivial, informed us that Pacmen had made so much for its inventors that they actually bought a Las Vegas Casino with the proceeds.
Then the subject turned to the consoles themselves, and which ones they had owned during their early days of geekdom. Words like Sega Megadrive, Atari and Commadore 64 were bandied about with gay abandon as our competitive clique tried to outdo each other.
I, on the other hand, fell into a sullen silence, realising that at no stage had I EVER owned a computer or games console of my own. In fact, I don't now. The laptop I use at home is one I bought for Mrs Rippers on her birthday a few years ago.
When I revealed this to the gathered crew it was greeted with a stunned silence.
Tumbleweeds rolled through the bar area until Critch broke the awkward moment.
"Luddite!" he declared.
No arguments there... but I won't be promoting this dubious claim to fame in any interview for online jobs that might arise.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Daube Provencal

I'VE seen a glimpse into my future - and it's quite an amusing sight.
Travelling into work on the Shoeburyness Flyer this morning, my perusal of the Metro was interrupted by the arrival in the seats opposite of two young boys, aged about 5 and 3, closely followed by their mum.
As the journey progressed she warned them that the train was designated a "quiet one" and people were only allowed to whisper on it. Amusing, and the youngest lad lapped it up, speaking in hushed tones for the next 50 minutes.
Mum was certainly going to have her work cut out. She had a journey all the way to Doncaster and would have to keep her two boys amused for several hours. There would also be a lot of to'ing and fro'ing from seat to pushchair to retrieve various drinks, snacks and toys. But judging by her efforts on the way to Fenchurch Street I imagine she was going to sail through it.
Why my optimism? Because this lady was able to give her kids a full and comprehensive analysis of Star Wars.
Having mentioned the films the eldest boy began to ask questions and mum had the answer to everything. Good knowledge for a girl, I thought.
In fact, even my own, rather piecemeal recollections on the subject were put into context. I reckon she would have got big marks if she had adopted it as specialist subject on Mastermind.
This clever lady gave fine descriptions of the main characters, remembered which one was R2D2 and which one was C3PO, explained the battles between the good forces and the evil ones, and gave a pretty good description of Wookies, the Force, the Millennium Falcon and the Death Star.
Here's an example...
SON: So Luke Skywalker has the force, is he like Dr Who?
MUM: No because the force is like magical powers. Dr Who doesn't have those, he's not magic. He just has a sonic screwdriver."
My favourite moment, though, was when mum actually got stuck over one of the army of villains. She knew of Imperial stormtroopers and the like, but this one fact evaded her.
Suddenly, the dry looking businessman opposite folded his Times under his arm, removed his glasses and looked across earnestly.
"I think you will find they are called X-Fighters," he said.
I guess being a parent you need to be the fount of all knowledge.

Meanwhile, Livvy continues to grow. She is now pretty snug in the Big Boy's old Winnie the Pooh pyjamas, which were hanging off her a few weeks ago.
And she is advancing in other ways, too. She managed to roll over on her own the other day, and punched her little soft toy Mr Cow off the changing table this morning.
Don't know where she gets her temper from.

Newsflash: I am applying for a job online. Oh yeah, it's a happening thing this new web thingy. Apparently it could be the future...

The other day I did a great Anthony Bourdain recipe called Daube Provencale. I borrowed it from one of his books and fed it to wife and mum in law, who loved it (or so they tell me)...

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
Boneless lamb shoulder joint, cut into 2-inch pieces (had to use my electric knife for this because wanted to keep the bone)
A packet of cubed pancetta (or bacon cut into lardons)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup white wine
1 cup strong, dark stock
1 small carrot, coarsely chopped
1 bouquet garni
Zest of 1 orange
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into large dice
4 sprigs of flat parsley

Salt and pepper the lamb
Heat olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan (or dutch oven) and add the butter.
Let the butter bubble then die down and add the lamb in pieces (you may wish to do this a batch at a time so they cook better).
Cook on high heat until the lamb is all deep, dark brown. Do this with the bone and any meat left on it, too.
Remove meat from pan and set aside.
Add the pancetta or bacon to the pan and cook until crisp, then set aside.
Pour away some of the oil, then add onion, celery and garlic and cook over medium heat until it softens.
Stir in the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for a minute.
Stir in the flour and cook for another minute, then add the white wine, scraping up the brown stuff from around the pan.
Bring to the boil, reduce the wine by half then add the stock.
Bring back to the boil, reduce to a simmer then return all the meat and bacon to the pan, together with the bouquet garni, carrots and orange zest.
Season with salt and pepper, cover the pot and simmer low over 90 minutes, occasionally skimming the fat from the surface of the stew.
After 90 minutes add the potatoes.
Cook for another 15 minutes, skim any oil from top, then add parsley at the end and serve.
I steamed some broccoli with this and added chunks of bread but it can be served as it is in big bowls.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cold Chinese

THERE was always a little niggle in the back of my brain that returning to London might not be quite the sunshine and roses it appeared to be. There was something I had forgotten about when taking the dramatic step of moving back to the smoke for work, but I couldn't put my finger on it...
Last night, it hit me with full force. Bloody London transport. Or, for that matter, any mode of transport in and around the nation's capital.
After an enjoyable few hours spent in the Batman with Adam "webmaster" Marshall and Critch I started to make my return journey to the delights of Shoeburyness, hoping to get in just after the Fat Kid had taken delivery of our eagerly anticipated supper from the local chinese.
I got on the Docklands Light Railway at Shadwell, one quick stop away from Limehouse and the main line train that would whiz me back East. Trotting down the steps from the DLR I had no inkling of the saga that was to follow. Then I was confronted with a padlocked gate where the entrance to the mainline station should have been. Hmm.
No message of explanation, no one to advise you on how to continue your journey, nothing but a sheet of impenetrable steel secured by a bloody great lock. Joy.
Retracing my steps I reckoned I would have to take a bit of an unwanted detour but figured if I could get to West Ham I could catch my train from there. This involved getting back on the DLR, travelling to Canary Wharf, then jumping aboard a Jubilee Line tube.
The first part of the plan went ok, until I realised I had dropped my return ticket during the shenanighans. I had the receipt, though, so went to the ticket counter where a very unhelpful assistant told me it was no good... I would have to buy another.
Humphing rather loudly I then spent another £9.50 on a single to Shoeburyness and then jumped on the next available tube heading East.
It went one stop and then ejected me unceremoniously at north Greenwich. I waited to see if the train would move on and another one replace it so that I could get to West Ham. It didn't move.
Finally, I asked another helpful assistant where I would be able to get a tube to my destination. "Oh, you want platform 3," he said.
So I changed platforms and jumped on the next available tube.
Result, it got me to West Ham. Shouldn't be long now before I could settle into a comfy seat and wile away the next hour on route to the Fat Kid's.
I found the entrance to the mainline station at West Ham. It was blocked off with tape. A message read that no trains were stopping at the station. Then I heard my first announcement. "Due to overhead branches falling onto power lines, mainline trains are out of action between Fenchurch Street and Barking." B@ll*cks".
I thought maybe I should get a taxi to Barking so exited the station. Then had second thoughts. I could get a District Line train to Barking instead.
Yeah, but my newly purchased ticket wouldn't let me back into the station. Fellow travellers passing me as I stood there couldn't fail to notice the steam coming out of my ears. I was about to explode in full Rippers mode, fuelled by four pints of Carling.
Sod this, I thought, and barged my way through the barriers, charged onto the platform and boarded a district line train.
Finally, getting to Barking there were signs I might actually be able to get my train. I climbed aboard one which was helpfully labelled Shoeburyness. I sat there, among other people, for a good 10 minutes. Nothing happened.
Then the driver came into the carriage and helpfully informed us the next Eastbound train would be leaving from the platform opposite. "When?" I asked.
"In three minutes."
Gathering my bag and other junk I raced up the stairs, across the bridge, and down the other side, charged into the first carriage and found myself a seat. And waited. And waited. And waited.
Then saw a train labelled Shoeburyness depart from a platform next to us. "AAAAAAARGH!"
Our train did finally pull out another 15 minutes later, and I eventually got back to the Fat Kid's just before midnight.
And, yes, the Chinese was cold.
Bloody London transport.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Wetting the baby's head

AFTER two and a half weeks of putting my feet up (... hold on that should be up and down the stairs about 30 times a day) I have finally returned to the relative comfort of work.
My colleagues on the Screws have been immensely supportive during the period since Olivia was born and we have had loads of congratulations cards and prezzies for the new arrival. Thanks to everyone for being so kind.
The charity doesn't extend to the office environment, however. Some people, in particular, can be exceptionally cruel.
Take one of our design experts, Adders. During the serious business of conference the other day he interrupted talks of World Cup finals, Liverpool future signings and the like to pipe up: "I bet Rippers is going to save a lot of money with this baby."
Everyone looked at him rather perplexed, and the boss asked him for an explanation. "Well, she can wear all Rippers' hand-me-downs," he replied, a rather crude jibe over my stature.
Rather than sympathy from my colleagues, however, the whole office fell about laughing, leaving me to consider my options. After all it was a particularly heightest remark.

Another rather cruel demand came from sports editor Macca, who ordered me to the pub in his dulcet east end tones. "Right, Rippers, down the pub. We have to wet the baby's head."
No arguments about having things to sub or e mails to catch up with would be entertained.
So, with heavy heart, we headed off in baking London temperatures to a pub which Macca assured us was a really good East End boozer, having a landlord with a heart of gold and a beautiful beer garden in which to soak up the rays. No doubt it sold jellied eels too.
No doubt I say because we reached the boozer only to find it was shut. No matter, we moved on to another very nice pub called the Town of Ramsgate. A bit of a walk from the office and when Critch followed on later, dodgy knees and all, he insisted that he would probably need a taxi back.
Still, it was a fun afternoon with much conversation surrounding the fact that one of our happy band, design guru Jim'll fix it, had spent the previous week in Berlin pestering the locals dressed in a giant Lion suit. He had become so enraptured with the Screws' website cartoon character Leo the Lion that he had "volunteered" to travel to the Brandenberg gate to "scare" the locals before England's last 16 World Cup tie against Germany.
Taking his role extremely seriously, it appears that at one stage Jim actually texted the editor at 10 at night, communicating AS LEO. The message infered that he was "one chimpanzee short of a gorilla". None of us would argue.
The heat obviously got the better of him, too, because there is one picture doing the rounds of Jim, prone on the floor, apparently asleep in Lion costume minus head, which is lovingly tucked under his arm. Disney wouldn't do it justice.
As for the scaring, it must have worked. The Germans were so petrified they ran, very fast, towards the England goal, depositing four goals into our net into the bargain.
That was the end of the Capello challenge, and last night the World Cup came to an end for another four years with Spain beating Holland 1-0 in extra time to become the new champions.
Well deserved, too.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Milk monitor

I am writing this at just gone 6am in the morning having had to take my little treasure Olivia Jasmine for a walk in the buggy. Not my preferred time for a walk I must admit, but it's actually quite refreshing with the birds singing and the cool air.
Parents always tell you about sleepless nights when you have a child but you never quite realise how little sleep you get until it comes to you. Having dozed off for a good, solid four hours in the evening when the Fat Kid turned up to see her new sis and the Vin Monster his auntie ("What, how can she be? She's a baby", he cried), Olivia decided that the night is her time and that she would not settle for mum and dad to get some rest.
After a number of feeds that turned mum into a walking zombie, and more nappy changes than you can shake a pooh stick at, the only solution in the end was the fresh air. Already, I have the feeling Livvy will be a country girl. The first breath of a breeze on her face, and the first sound of birds tweeting, sends her into an almost serene calm which, having wailed off and on for the previous four hours, is a blessing, I can tell you. Mind you, my pecs are beginning to resemble those of Geoff Capes having had to lug the car seat from pillar to post over these last few days.
On Thursday we registered Livvy for her birth certificate, so she can now get a passport if she wants which, knowing the meagre state of my finances, won't be any time soon.
She has already made a starring appearance in the Bristol Evening Post, too, so is showing a hankering for picture bylines. The reporter rang up and asked what we wanted her to be and I couldn't help thinking, "Anything but a journalist. Get a proper job that actually pays proper money." Then, hopefully, she will be able to look after me in my old age - though by the time she is 30 I'll be 80 and I can't honestly envisage getting there.

Of course, normally in a World Cup year I would be watching every single moment of football on the tv but, what with running around after Mrs Rippers, who still has a way to go on her rehab and can't overdo it after the major surgery she has undergone, and working my magic as the sleep inducer for Little Liv, I have barely seen a moment in the last two weeks.
Must admit, though, I wish I hadn't seen England's dreadful demise. It reminds me of three days before the birth when the sports desk of the Screws descended on Batman (Cape, remember?) to watch the Algeria game.
All the other lads were ordering the beer in bulk but I had to cry off because I feared Mrs R could go into labour and I would have to make the three-hour trip back to Bristol to be there in time for the birth.
Half way through the second half, with everyone's pre-game optimism sinking with the realisation Capello's brave boys were going to be held to a 0-0 draw, boss Macca jabbed me in the shoulder and said: "Hey Rippers, if your wife goes into labour, can I go instead?"

Yeah, British sporting disappointment abounds. England crushed 4-1 by Germany and denied a goal that landed about two feet over the line (the ultimate irony after 1966), though their so-called superstars deserved nothing else, and Andy Murray out of Wimbledon in straight sets. Ever felt it was groundhog day?
Still, pleased with the Gas who have actually made three impressive signings. They are all relatively young and have lots to prove.
I was actually fearing our manager Paul Trollope was going to go and pay out for ageing, lacklustre, care-less players who would just drain our meagre wage bill and show no passion in return... like Lampard, Terry and Gerrard, for instance.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A born Gashead

Well, the first five days with Olivia have gone rushing by and I think I've slept about six hours in that time. What with all the feeding - not that I have much to do with that - the nappy changing (which unfortunately I now seem to be responsible for, and paints daddy as the ogre in this picture of family bliss) and cooking, washing and looking after my convalescing wife it has been pretty busy to say the least.
We have had some lovely moments with our new baby daughter, but others have been a bit traumatic. She managed to headbut me on the chin while changing her - not a pleasant experience for either of us - and there was also the great water disaster, where I managed to whip the nappy off just in time for her to empty the contents of her bladder. Ah, such is life.
The worst episode came last night, however. It has been extremely hot and little Livvy doesn't take much to the heat. Like most of us she because a bit hot and bothered.
By about 9pm she had worked herself into a right tiz, and rather than watch the remaining minutes of the Spain v Chile World Cup group qualifier I was given the duty of calming her down.
Well, I've found the car seat is an excellent invention, even when it's not in the car. She likes the security of being strapped in, I believe, but on this occasion even that didn't work.
Time for a nice drive then to put her in a better state of mind. I drove about three miles but the screaming failed to abait. Time, then, for a song. And being a Gashead it seemed only right that Goodnight Irene deserved an airing.
I started singing it with gusto, but changed the words to Goodnight Livvy, and made up a couple of verses, too. Lo and behold, somehow she settled down.
Unfortunately there comes a time when you have to whip her out of the car and back into the house. How to do it?
Well, I continued singing for 20 minutes in the stationery car, then gently removed the seat belt and lifted the car seat out. Then, no doubt to the consternation of my neighbours, I continued to sing outside in the driveway for another good 20 minutes while she found a calm equilibrium.
Getting her back in the house, she was as peaceful as a lamb.
All of this is leading up to a sincere apology to my beautiful daughter. Sorry, love, but even at this tender age you are destined for a lifetime of misery, disappointments and failure. Livvy, once you're a gashead, you're always a gashead.

She is a bit of an outdoor girl, that's for sure. One of the things that can turn her from screaming banshee to serene beauty is putting her in the seat and taking her outside the back door by the allotments. She can hear the traffic roaring down nearby Blackberry Hill and the birds singing away. At that time she seems totally at peace.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Baby food

AS I write this I can barely type, hardly speak and have just finished my first proper meal for about 36 hours. P*ssed again? Not a bit of it.
I've just spent the longest day of the year experiencing one of the most wonderful moments of my life... being at the birth of my daughter Olivia.
Many of you may have been aware that although we didn't know what the sex of our new child was going to be, I had been pretty convinced we would have a boy to carry on the Rippers dynasty. To that end, I have been talking all manner of boy things to the baby bump, like England's pathetic show so far in the World Cup, how my unborn child was destined to spend their life wallowing in the misery that comes with being a gashead and that should a posting come up with the Barmy Army they should sign up straight away.
Today, though, was the moment for home truths. Mrs Rippers and I left the house at 7am for the relatively short drive to Southmead Hospital, found the perfect parking place and checked in at the delivery suite.
As readers of this blog are no doubt aware, stubborn baby Rippers was steadfastly refusing to turn around and therefore was lying with head against poor mum's ribcage and bum facing in the direction the head should be. Hence, a week ahead of schedule we had been booked in for a c-section.
Mrs R wasn't too happy about it, feeling she would miss out on the extra chance to "bond" with baby during labour. I hesitated to mention she would also miss out on hours of agonising pain, and the feeling of having to squeeze a basketball through the eye of a needle.
The Southmead staff were absolutely first class. They warned us that things may take a little while to happen - particularly if an emergency caesarian came along - and at one stage we were half expecting to come back the next day with two people having gone in and no sign of anyone coming to fetch us.
Then, just before 12.30, our mouths dropped through the floor and our stomachs started to churn. It was our turn!
Well, when I say our turn, all I had to do was wheel the cases along to a storage room, then sit holding Mrs Rippers hand as they tore away her modesty, stripping her down, attaching various drips to her, painting her body like some Glastonbury hippy and giving her a short back and sides in a place where most hairdressers would fear to venture.
Finally, as she started to lose all feeling in her lower half, the surgeons entered and a curtain was erected in front of us so we couldn't see all the gory goings on.
I continued to talk quietly to Mrs R and the anaethetist while all manner of surgical operations were going on at the other end of the bed.
Then, in quicker time than either myself or my lovely wife could envisage, suddenly a little, wrinkly, beautiful, minature human being was shown to us over the curtain. A bit purple, I grant you, and protesting about such a rude awakening, but the baby was definitely here, clocking in at 1.55pm.
Then came the words that took me back only slightly. "It's a girl!"
Oh no! Many more years of being outvoted and ganged up against in my own home. How soon would she want an I-Phone, car insurance and, god forbid, a boyfriend? After all, I know what those boys are like. I used to be one.
Mrs Rippers and I had to quickly ditch the chosen name Cody for one more suited for the sex of our new-born. And looking into her eyes for the first time we both agreed - Olivia Jasmine.
After that we were transfered to a kind of holding room where Mrs R learnt how to feed the baby and I then dressed her for the first time in all her new clothes.
Eventually we were moved to the ward and, when the midwives departed to attend to more needy cases, we were suddenly left with this cute little bundle, totally dependant on us.
Twice, I'll have you know, I even instigated nappy changes while Mrs Rippers carried out the kind of tasks I was ill equipped for - despite the size of my man boobs.
And I admit it was only when I left the two of them to bond at 8pm that night I realised the enormity of what had taken place.
Holy Moly, I'm a dad again!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Getting ahead in advertising...

SOME of the most creative minds in advertising gather together to come up with a concept for a TV campaign for one of their big-name brands.
Each of those gathered around the table take home in the region of £500k a year with the opportunity to make massive bonuses if the company in question gives their innovative campaign the nod.
The guru at the head of the table throws the floor open.
"I've got an idea," says concept genius No 1. "I'm just throwing it up in the air, seeing which way the wind blows, wondering whether it will fly..."
"Go ahead, No 1. You've come up with some brilliant ideas in the past... pot noodle, mashed potato, car insurance... how on earth can you top that?"
"Well," explains concept genius No 1. "I thought maybe we could make it topical. I am thinking: What's going to be going on over the next month, what will get hours of TV time, what is one of the most popular sports in the world? I know it's a bit of blue sky thinking but... why don't we link it to the football World Cup?"
The faces around the table begin to light up as they consider such a novel idea.
"Brilliant!" says one concept genius.
"Outstanding!" says another.
"No one else will think of that. I can really pick the ball up and run with that one," says a third.
"Ok No 3," says the boss. "how can you actually visualise this working?"
"Well," says concept guy No 3. "We are trying to advertise cars. And we are trying to link it with the World Cup so... what about we get some cars, paint them in the colours of football teams, and get them playing football?"
"Wow! Brilliant. Tremendous. An absolutely mind-bending concept. Why don't we all give ourselves £1m bonuses and run with it."
The heads around the table nod vigorously.
"Right, that's one sorted. Now, there is this website advertising for people to sell them cars. Apparently they will buy anything. Any thoughts on this one?"
Concept guru No 2, feeling left out of the earlier discussion, chimes in... "Why don't we get a girl sat behind a desk as if she is reading the news. Then some catchy little jingle starts up with the words 'We buy any car' and suddenly... a football bounces across, she grabs it and then, along with six or seven dancers, she plays an impromptu game of keepy uppy, before sitting back down at the desk again."
"Superb!" says the boss. "That's a £1m bonus to you too, No 2."
The amount of advertising with tenuous links to the world's greatest sporting event is enough to make me rant at the screen. It has to be said that some of them are pretty clever - the Carlsberg England team talk and the ad which was updated with the boys in the middle of the desert asking about the World Cup scores are pretty inventive.
But when EVERY advert somehow manages to contain a football, or reference to the event in South Africa, you really start to despair. I wonder how that chocolate bar, famous for being deep fried in Scottish chip shops, is selling north of the border after pinning itself totally to the England cause. It is no wonder our footballers seem to move twice as slowly as some of the other teams in this competition if they have been indulging in sweet treats during the build up.
By all means advertise food high in protein or carbohydrate, but not the kind of stuff that, when eaten with gay abandon, makes you feel so bloated and cumbersome that it makes it a major feat to touch your toes. Perhaps England's goalkeeper Rob Green had been indulging a bit too much on free supplies of chocs from the England team sponsor before his glaring boo boo cost them the match in the 1-1 draw with the USA on Saturday.

There is a week to go before the big one - no, not England-Slovenia but the day little Rippers is brought into the world. Tense stuff.
Mrs Rippers and I are trying to relax as much as we can before the big event - and fortunately for me this means resting in front of the TV watching every match I possibly can.
I am already starting to wonder, though, whether this might classify as one of the more boring World Cups. There have been some decent stories but none of the football thus far - bar those blasted Germans - has really set the World alight. Mind you, we still have Brazil and Spain to come.

My little Clio Ramsey was supposed to be named after the famous Scottish chef by virtue of the fact he was a wee bit temperamental.
Now I realise that Gordon actually spells his surname with two a's. Sir Alf - manager of that England World Cup winning side of 66, does spell his name with an e, however. An omen?
God, I am starting to sound like all those people around me who know b**ger all about football but don England shirts, fly the cross of St George and endlessly talk themselves into believing we can win the damn thing when all the evidence says otherwise.
These bouts of "false" jingoism, no doubt inspired by marketing men and advertisers conning them out of their hard earned cash, really get on my t*ts.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Chile reception

Having a drink in the Batman on Thursday (the Batman being the new nickname for the "Cape" Horner in Wapping - can't think why) and it got around to quiz time.
One of our number warned us first that there were three answers and we had to get all three before hitting the imaginery "buzzer" and giving our reply. A race against time, then.
With the World Cup about to start in South Africa, all conversation has turned to football and our betting guru, Lethal, was convinced he could catch us out.
"Which three teams at the World Cup," he asked in his best Magnus Magnusson voice, "have the same letter at the beginning of their name as the end of it?"
Good question and there were fevered brows all around. I must admit that I could only think of one at first, then the second one came to me and I knew I was leading the race.
Then from nowhere Spurs fanatic Barry the Page-Builder buzz interrupted my train of thoughts. "Got it," he said with complete certainty. "Chile..."
All heads turned to him, with baffled expressions. "Oh no! That could only happen if it was Chile FC!" he gasped, as reality dawned.
To avoid spoiling it for everyone, answers on a postcard please... you'll get the correct line up in the next blog entry.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

2 for 1 cocktail madness

MET up with some of the old WoS crew on Monday for a few pre-baby beers (it may be my last chance for some time). Good to see the Fugitive and Danny Boy (the poipes, the poipes) though it must be said the day deteriorated somewhat after a leisurely few beers and a terrific lunch in Mimosas at Cardiff Bay.
I opted for the steak and although it came cut up, as if prepared for an infant, and sat on top of a square of chips that somewhat resembled a game of Jenga, it was beautifully cooked - though I do somewhat quibble at the price - £16. I guess you pay for the presentation.
Where it all deteriorated was when we returned to the city centre and, after a quick bevvy in the old new O'Neil's where we were joined by Wathanovski, the Fugitive suddenly had it in his mind that it would be a good idea to pop into Pica Pica because there was a 2 for 1 cocktail offer.
Now, I am all for 2 for 1 cocktails on a Friday or Saturday night from about 8pm, but on a quiet Monday at around 6.30? Still, there was no holding the Welsh rugby fanatic back and pretty soon we were chugging back Mojitos and some dangerous looking red drink. I have no idea what it was or what it contained.
By 8.30 or so I had wobbled back to the Sandringham Hotel where I was staying and the next thing I knew I was waking at 5.30am, lights blazing and tv blaring.
I do miss Cardiff.

The hotel itself was more than adequate and value for money at £36. It is located right in the middle of St Mary's Street and though it has seen better days it still had everything you could require as a crash pad after a boozy night out, including a full English breakfast that was all part of the overall price.

Mrs Rippers was distraught at the weekend. It appeared her internet had packed in, preventing her from single-handedly keeping in business. She rang Virgin Media's IT support without luck, cursing the "useless" person on the end of the phone who tried to advise her.
Eventually, three days later, a new wireless router turned up on the doorstep.
I tried to set it up but it kept telling me that it couldn't find the computer I was using - that was until I found the little switch on the side which enables you to access the internet and pushed it forward.
"Oh," said Mrs R, looking a little bit perplexed. "I wonder if that is the reason I couldn't access the net?"
A possibility, I reckon, but nice to get a brand new router into the bargain.

For someone who absolutely hates setting things up, I have found myself in my own personal hell over the last few weeks. First there was the Argos flatpack which, after much cussing, finally turned itself into a child's chest of drawers, and on Wednesday it was a large canvas covered wardrobe.
Mrs Rippers, in the advanced stages of pregnancy, sat on the big round ball she had obtained from Mothercare and acted as foreman for the afternoon while I battled with various sized planks of wood, screws and an Alun key.
I have to say the raw materials I was given to work with must have been put together by a mentally challenged chimpanzee which made the job even harder than it appeared to be in the first place. I found myself using words which, quite honestly, have never really been part of my vocabulary - phrases like "This joint isn't flush."
I guess if the job opportunities ever dry up I could find myself working for B&Q with that kind of language.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Car seat hell!

I am now getting a teensy-weensy bit worried about how my calm, mild-mannered personality is going to cope with a teeny weeny baby.
This occured to me at some time, mid rage, on Wednesday afternoon.
Having visited the hospital to find out a little more about the impending birth, Mrs Rippers and I returned home.
First we opted to complete the set of Argos drawers we had bought for the new arrival and, after a little bit of counting up to 10, we managed it - result. Then we decided it might be an idea to try to fit the super-dooper, all-singing, all-dancing car seat we had purchased into our motor vehicles.
At first, it seemed a simple task. It took me no time at all to get the seat into Mrs R's Micra Millie and I felt quite proud of myself. I even managed it with our stroppy teddy bear Fenway strapped into the seat. A rather big baby, I have to admit, but perhaps a bit more pliable than the real thing.
Then it came to my Clio Ramsey, and it was an entirely different story. I strained this way, pulled that way, swapped seats, swapped belts, everything. And none of it worked. Only one thing to do. Stomp up and down and express the opinion that "obviously they didn't have car seats when this car was built". Umm, 1998, actually. Thinking about it, that is probably a bit of a mad declaration.
Anyway, following my moto - if in doubt, give up - I stomped off back into the house, flinging the instruction book onto the table and declaring that I would need to get a new set of safety belts.
Fortunately my wife is a bit of a cooler character, and far more up with new tech. She went onto you-tube and found out exactly how the car seat should be fitted.
After coming down off the ceiling, I watched the video and was shocked to see how easily the task could be performed. Trying it out in Ramsey, the seat fitted... no problem. Which makes me ask: Why bother with such a ludicrously complicated, over long, instruction manual when a video does the job in half the time?

Meanwhile, the Fat Kid has lived up to my nickname for her. I call her the goldfish because, no matter what happens to her, she will go through exactly the same thing a few weeks later as if she has never encountered the problem before.
She is now going back out with ex boyfriend Scott. This was ex boyfriend Scott she moaned about excessively, who treated her worse than dirt etc.
A month later, though, and one more trip around the goldfish bowl...

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The name's Rippers...

I had a Daniel Craig moment in the swimming baths this morning. Ok, so Daniel Craig is tall, has rippling pecs, hair and has millions in the bank. I, on the other hand, can boast none of these attributes.
But as I climbed up the steps from the water I couldn't help notice that all eyes were turned on me. It was as if the blokes all wanted to be me and the women, ok they were all probably short-sighted and not one of them was below 50, all wanted to be with me. I walked cockily back to the dressing rooms, the sunlight glistening on my admirable torso, and hopped into the shower, feeling quite chuffed.
Then I spotted the rip that extended from the bottom to the top of one of the legs of my bermuda shorts. In fact, there was more resemblance to a cheap Hollywood hooker than the latest 007, star of the James Bond movies, who has become a pin-up for many frustrated housewives up and down the land.
I guess I shouldn't be surprised, really. The trunks have certainly had a lot of use since I bought them, what, at least 15 years ago I would think. Time to invest in a new pair, I reckon.

Mrs Rippers and I are trying to persuade young Rippers to turn around. With just under four weeks left until our lives change forever and the little mite pops out, he, or she, has decided to lie the wrong way around in a very strange position where the two little feet have somehow found themselves next to the head. Looks a bit uncomfortable and we are informed that this is the breach position. To correct this there has been plenty of advice, one piece being that Mrs Rippers should do the opposite to the baby and lie with arse in the air and head on the floor. Not exactly the most flattering pose and I can't see it catching on.
There is time yet, though, but if the little one doesn't feel like moving we aren't going to try to persuade it otherwise - it may well mean Mrs R has to have a c-section but we will wait and see what the doc says tomorrow.

Last night I made a rather tasty spicy Italian Lamb casserole.
What you need:
3 tablespoons olive oil
Lamb (I used two lamb steaks cut into cubes)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 cup red wine
3/4 teaspoon chilli flakes
1 tablespoon of crushed juniper berries (I didn't have these so threw in five red seedless grapes)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup chicken stock
1 sprig of rosemary
12 small onions
2 potatoes, cut into chunks
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Pre-heat over to 350 degrees/gas mark 4
Heat the oil in a large casserole
Add the lamb in batches, season with salt and pepper, and brown over a high heat
Remove when browned.
Add the onion, celery and garlic to the remaining oil, reduce the heat and cook for 4-5 mins until softened
Return lamb to casserole and pour on marsala. Cook over high heat until dark brown and reduced by half.
Add chilli flakes, juniper berries (or grapes) and cook, stirring, for 10-15 secs.
Add tomato paste, chicken stock, rosemary and 1 cup of water, just enough to cover the ingredients.
Cover with lid and bake in oven for 45 minutes.
Add the small onions and potato and cook for a further 45 minutes.
Stir in the parsley, then serve.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

water torture

THERE are moments during your motoring life when you feel a bit like John Cleese in Fawlty Towers or Clockwise. I managed to combine the two on Saturday in a hectic morning that wasn't ideal preparation for the biggest day of the Welsh sporting calendar - Cardiff City in the Championship play-off final against Blackpool at Wembley.
Determined to get to work early I first decided that as my Clio Ramsey had been leaking a bit of water of late it would be best to top it up first to avoid any later catastrophes either on the way to work or on the way home to Bristol afterwards.
Having done this, I set off nice and early.
The clunk came just after leaving the Fat Kid's house but I thought nothing of it. I just assumed something was rolling around in the boot.
Then, 20 minutes later, I suddenly had a thought. I couldn't remember replacing the cap after topping up the water.
Stopping in a layby I lifted the bonnet and my worst fears were realised. Steam was coming out of a gaping hole in my radiator where the cap should have been. Oops.
Then came the dilemma. Do I drive on, find a garage, and just hope they have a cap to fit a Renault? Risky, because I imagine the water could disappear pretty damn fast, evaporating as the temperature grew.
Or do I turn around, drive all the way back and try to find the cap on a rather vast expanse of road just around the corner from my starting point, thus losing all the time gained and making it impossible for me to get to work on time.
My third option was to shout at myself "stupid! stupid! stupid!", though I must admit I did fall short of actually whipping Ramsey with a tree branch.
Eventually I chose the second option, turned the car around and headed back, mumbling under my breath at every motorist in my way, even though it was not their fault I had left my water cap lying around somewhere on the engine when I had left the house that morning.
Finally, after much cussing, I got back to the point where I thought it had fallen off. I scoured the pavements and the road for a good few hundred yards before coming to the conclusion it was a near impossible task.
But wait. Then I saw it lying in the road. Happy days. But not. Some sod had run it over and broken it. I tried to do a temporary repair job on it, then dropped half of it into my radiator. Aaargh! Cue more Fawlty impressions.
Last resort, I pulled out my mobile and dialled the AA explaining, in a frantic way, what the problem was. Bless them, they had someone with me within 15 minutes... and he had a spare water cap on his van.
Having fixed it on and also temporarily repaired a water leak, he was on his way.
Vehicle repair man... I salute you.

More Fawlty impressions followed the next day when Mrs Rippers and I decided to try to put together a chest of drawers for the new arrival. Hmm.
The "easy to assemble" (ha!) kit came from Argos.
First we had to count up whether we had all the right parts. Who puts these things together?
In a bag supposedly containing four screws there were only three. Is it a child's chest of drawers because a child put the bags together and had yet to learn to count up to four? Ridiculous.
Still, we soldiered on and were quite pleased after muscling some screws into a hard piece of wood and attaching a metal runner to it.
Then Mrs Rippers sheepish looked up from the position she had assumed as foreman. "Umm, I have just looked at the instructions again. I think it is on the wrong way around."
Still, after taking two hours to afix the first metal runner we had soon got the hang of it and the second one took 20 minutes - thanks, in no small measure, to the electric screwdriver Mrs Rippers had cunningly purchased.
I don't know about electric screwdriver, I think Dr Who's sonic one is needed here... to whisk us forward into the future when the job is finally completed.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss...

... and I've been fooled again. The mother-in-law has such a gentle way with her that you don't realise before it is too late that she has chipped away at your resistance and you suddenly find yourself painting the new chest of drawers that you have bought for the coming arrival.
Now, me doing any kind of DIY is like asking the Rev Ian Paisley to take holy communion, but there I was sat outside my back door splashing paint on various strips of wood and, it must be said, most of myself in the process.
Not only that but on Tuesday night our curtain pole in the main bedroom decided to pull itself away from the wall (thanks in no small part from the lovely Mrs Rippers managing to sit on the curtain) and suddenly it was all hands to the pump to get it fixed.
Her mum immediately took charge like some strange mixture of Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen and Field Marshall Montgomery, and was quick to provide the polyfilla which she insisted was a cure for anything.
Try as we might, though, we couldn't get the curtain pole screws to fix into the polyfilla-filled holes and it was then I decided that perhaps brain power rather than brute force was the answer. Swiftly taking control, I suggested that the screws actually needed to screw into something, rather than lamely sit in some sticky gunge until it finally set. And after much elbow grease and aching arms I managed to use Mrs R's miniature Phillips screwdriver to drill the screws into the stone wall. Magically, the curtain pole was then put back on and the screws held it in place! Great, it is still firmly afixed while we speak.
Mind you, I may have made a curtain rod for my own back. Mum in law Amanda said: "You see, you are good at this, if you try."
Oh no.
Anyway, in all seriousness she has been a great help to Mrs Rippers at a time when she was struggling to juggle house, work and a rapidly increasing bump. Amanda went back home to sunny Suffolk yesterday with our thanks ringing in our ears.
Immediately I resumed the position: Prone on the bean bag, watching my favourite DVDs...

I thought Ramsey was about to pack in on me last night. I'd only just got onto the M4 on the long haul to Southend and was pushing 80 when the little Clio started jumping and juddering around like some ageing punk pogoing to the Damned.
Bugger, I thought. I am going to have to stop and call the AA.
Then I had another thought.
When I took the car out of third gear and put it into fifth instead, the rev counter came down from 80 to 30 and normal service was resumed. Doh!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Kitchen Cabinet

In the spirit of coalition government, I now find myself with two bosses. Mrs Rippers, no doubt tired of nagging me about all the things that need to be done by the time the new arrival turns up in about six weeks time(!), has called in her mum for support and I am now firmly in the minority in the House of Frenchay Commons.
Only joking, of course. Myself and Amanda get on famously, and it has to be said she has been a great help to Mrs Rippers and myself, particularly in terms of ironing all my shirts, t shirts (something I have rarely done) and even my jim jams (which NEVER used to happen). It means, though, that at least I find myself able to lie rigidly in my new fold-up bed at the Fat Kid's.
Amanda's quiet, persuasive ways have definitely kick-started me into a few other things, and I have now re-arranged the kitchen completely so that there is room for the new bottle sterilizer and all things associated with baby feeding in the kitchen.
You may recall that during the reign of Ridsdale (our rather unwanted, furry house guest) we had to move everything out of the kitchen cabinets and put them into various tins and things on the work tops. It meant there was barely room to swing a rat, let alone cat, but the disappearance of the troublesome critter has meant the plan was due a re-think.
Interestingly, though, when I went through all the various tins, plastic containers and boxes I uncovered a huge supply of biscuits. In fact, in some of them there was just one pack of biccies or a couple of bars of chocolate.
I didn't realise that Mrs R's hoarding capacity for sweet things was so great and once re-arranged I found that I now have complete access to my kitchen work surfaces without having to throw away any of my lovely wife's hidden treats.

Talking of beds, I got a wee bit distressed at turning up in Shoeburyness every week to find that the Vin Monster and Big Boy had taken to using my blow-up bed as an early morning bouncy castle. Unfortunately it meant that these handy inflatables didn't last for long, despite their cost, so Mrs Rippers decided I needed a more sturdy sleeping place.
She pointed out on the Argos website that there was a fold away chair/bed which would do the trick admirably and ordered it for me straight away. It arrived at the Fat Kid's a couple of days later and is, indeed, comfy with the added advantage that it doesn't deflate in the night, leaving you lying on a hard, uncomfortable floor.
The down side? As the Fat Kid put it last night "That is probably the smallest bed in the world". Still, as long as I lie with my legs and arms close to my sides (a position much easier to adopt with the new ironed jim jams) then I can generally manage a more comfortable night's sleep.

Bad news on the jobs front for myself and everyone who helps put together the Welsh edition at the Screws. Like elsewhere, we have been hit by cutbacks (Wow, it's only a couple of days since David Cam-moron came to power). The outcome is that the edition going to the principality has been cut and I now find myself as a minister without portfolio. Hopefully something will be sorted out to keep me in the lifestyle to which I am accustomed, and there are various irons in the fire. I wish everyone else affected the best of luck too because the last year has been a real blast, and I've loved every minute of it.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Cooking with Jean Christophe

Well, there goes the election and what a damp squib it all was. Thinking back to that glorious night in 1997 when all the bigwigs like Michael Portillo and Chris Patten were booted out of office, I was quite looking forward to sitting in front of the TV and watching the story unfold.
Unfortunately, aided by a few glasses of beer, I never really got started. In fact, the results coming in were so slow that when I dozed off after over three hours of watching the scoreline read: Labour 3 Tories 0. Imagine my surprise then when I woke up and found out that comeback kid Cameron had turned it around and was leading by a significant margin, though not significant enough to form a majority Tory government, thank goodness. I don't think I could stand the sleazy richkids in power again, and one look at that snooty toff from Richmond, who just happens to be a millionaire (or is it billionaire) thanks to Daddy's money, was enough to leave me with my head buried back under the pillow.
Still, there is lot more to come.

Talking about damp squibs, I had some fun with some damp squids on Wednesday (see what I did there?). Mrs Rippers bought me a day's course at the Jean Christophe Novelli academy and, though the big man himself failed to make an appearance, we were told the patter of tiny feet upstairs was his nipper running around.
I must admit it was a pretty fun day. Situated at a farmhouse at a place called Tea Green just outside Luton, there were 16 of us at the Novelli Academy to experience there "Beside the Seaside" course advising us on various things involving fish.
The theme seemed to be very much the same. Of the 16, 13 of us were blokes and nearly all of us had been bought the course as "presents" by a female member of the family. I guess it was a gentle hint that they are becoming sick to death of various meat-based chillis and curries (hot, extra hot, eye-wateringly hot etc).
My fellow students did a wide range of jobs - There was a policeman and a solicitor for starters.
Well, no, actually there was a very nice crab bisque for starters, but you know what I am saying.
Of course, my chosen profession created some interest, particularly when I was struggling to open up an Oyster Shell and one wag commented: "I didn't think you journalists ever had trouble sticking the knife in!"
Anyway, we went on to debone a mackerel, prepare a crab, fry said mackerel, try raw Oysters and caviar, and prepare a barbecued squid with prawn, asparagus and tomato. All through the day we snacked and I must admit by the time it was over at about 4.50pm I was pretty damn full. Still, hopefully some of the recipes will be forwarded to me and I will be able to try out my new creations on Mrs Rippers and maybe her mum Amanda, too, who is staying at our bijou cottage for a few days. I'm in desperate need of recipes at the mo, so don't be surprised to see some appearing on here, too.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

All le rage

It's difficult to believe it, but Mrs Rippers and I were celebrating our first wedding anniversary this weekend. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then - in fact, it has been a bit of a tidal wave.
We have been on honeymoon to Cuba, moved in together in our little country cottage in Bristol, I've started a new job on the Screws and Mrs R has somehow managed to get herself with child. Amazing.
I think it had all got to her a bit and she had to take two weeks off because she was practically exhausted, but things have improved recently and it meant we could get away for an anniversary break.
I booked us into the Savill Court Hotel near Egham, Surrey. When I mentioned the destination of our anniversary break there were a few chuckles from some of the crew at the Screws, expecting me to announce I was whisking her off to Paris or somewhere. "Egham?" asked cockney Cliff, unable to surprise the smile on his face.
I am delighted to report, however, that it was an absolutely fantastic break. The tree-lined driveway led to a very nice country house in acres of grounds, and when we went for a wander we ended up taking in the air at Windsor Great Park just down the road. We must have walked about two miles, not bad for my pregnant wife though she was struggling a bit at the end and desperate for somewhere to sit down. It was rather bracing, too, the lovely warm weather having disappeared, typically, just before we went away.
After our walk we got dressed and headed into Egham for a meal at the Brasserie Gerard. These are a French chain of restaurants and are very nice indeed in a bistro sort of way. A bit pricey maybe but we certainly enjoyed our meals. Mrs Rippers had a demi poulet (or half a chicken for those Anglophiles with little grasp of the French language) while I enjoyed boeuf bourginon.
As a starter I had some lovely battered squid with tartare sauce while Mrs R tucked into a very nice cream of mushroom soup.
A pleasant change.

The following day I suddenly became aware of a new phenomenon. Apparently pregnancy, as well as causing cravings, cramps, insomnia and other minor irritations, also causes road rage. True.
After swimming 64 lengths of the hotel pool we set off for Runnymede, which was just down the road. It seemed appropriate to visit the home of democracy in the week of the general election and we had a short walk to the place commemorating where the Magna Carta was signed.
Then, after an aborted trip to Windsor where the cars queued around the block, we decided to visit Oxford.
By this stage Mrs Rippers had control of Ramsey and it was then that the trouble ensued. We were trying to manouevre our way through a packed long-stay car park when Mrs R politely allowed a woman to pull out in front of us.
But rather than drive on she immediately reversed into the parking space we had our eye on. Well, how dare she! I saw the red mist glaze over my mild-mannered wife's eyes and then, having finally discovered where the horn was, she gave five sharp blasts and shook her fist Tim Henman style.
I was a little bit perturbed (and scared) I had to admit, and tried to talk her down. But as we drove around the corner there was another car blocking our path. Now Ramsey might be a small car, but the gap between the car and a parked van on the right was no way big enough for him to go through. But, revving her engine in the style of a female Jenson Button, she lined up the gap and started to move forward. "No, no," I screamed for dear life, "What the hell are you doing?" Fortunately she stopped just in time as my knuckles went white holding on to the handle above the passenger door.
After that little episode I needed a stiff drink. Unfortunately, I couldn't have one because I fully intended to take over behind the wheel for the rest of the journey back to Bristol. So instead I settled for an orange juice in the Morse Bar of the Randolph Hotel, so called because apparently Inspector Morse himself used to drink there (though I can't recall seeing an episode where that was the case). There were plenty of pictures of John Thaw on the walls though, and we took the chance of an impromptu photo shoot ourselves.
A splendid day, but a salient warning. Don't attempt to park in a space if the car behind you is being driven by Mrs Rippers.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Terror Nova

I spent a very pleasant day in Cardiff, reviving the boozeday Tuesday tradition with the Wonderful Withers of WoS.
Poor old Mrs R has not been very well lately, unable to sleep and having two weeks off work because of exhaustion. So, as you would expect, I stayed around to comfort and look after her. Or, more to the point, I jumped in my car Ramsey, hurtled over the bridge, and went on the razz with the wonderful one.
This is our first anniversary week and I can't believe that this has come about so quickly. It only seemed right that I should celebrate the build up with the wonderful one, my best man, while my car was being given a good overhaul by mechanic Charlie.
Having dropped off Ramsey, I wandered into town and then went around to drop my stuff off at Withers' new gaffe. Interesting. It is a flat on the Taff Embankment in a less than salubrious part of Grangetown in Cardiff. Although the flat is very amenable the wonderful one is a bit worried about the people with whom he co-habits.
On the bottom floor there are four able-bodied lads, all aged around the early 20s, who seem to spend all their time sitting on the green opposite, chilling out in deck chairs and juggling with empty vodka bottles. bizarre.
Withers is convinced they are part of the witness protection scheme, but I'm not so sure. They all have rather posh motors, but seem to do nothing in the way of work to justify them. Make your own mind up.
Still, as long as the Wonderful One is happy with his lot.
From his flat we walked down to Cardiff Bay where an hour outside in the sun at the Ely Jenkins pub resulted in a big red blotch forming on the Wonderful One's shaved pate. As good as any holiday, he assured me, as we then moved around to the Terra Nova to have lunch.
Lunch? That was a laugh. It almost finished up as a late night supper.
The girl at the bar reminded me of a Monty Python character manning the infamous cheese shop. "No haven't got any of that", "No, that's off", "Oh yeah we have got that ... oh sorry, the cat has just eaten it".
Eventually, having settled for cheese burgers they finally arrived and very tasty they were, too. But by then the sun had gone in and I was losing the will to live.
At that moment Shutts turned up and perhaps the increasing shadows were down to the fact he loomed over us, insisted he was looking forward to a few cheeky ones, then knocked back a diet coke before dropping us off in town.
It was off then to the new old O'Neills where I have to say the standard of barmaid has slipped somewhat. One of them managed to fill a glass full of foam before assuring me: "It will settle". No chance.
I insisted on a refill and finally the Wonderful One got his deserved pint.
We were then joined by the Fugitive and after a couple of beers we moved around the corner to look for Las Iguanas. Apparently, it no longer exists.
The boozer standing in its place was ok, and we had a pint before moving inside where a very pleasant girl waited our table.
A little while later I heard her telling the barman about how her brother worked as a reporter on the Sun in the United States.
There followed a string of invective by him about tabloid journos which forced me to intervene very sharply, telling him he didn't have a clue what he was talking about. I fell just short of saying "Do you know who I am?" Still, he looked pretty chastised and I got a blue bottle key ring in the process.

One of my colleague, Mr Jolly, rents out houses and has a similar problem to mine. He is experiencing visits from grey, hairy rodents with long tails.
His immediate boss, chief sub Jonesy, isn't too happy, though. Apparently Jolly named his first rat Jonesy.
Jolly's latest rat, who has sadly departed this mortal coil, also has a newsworthy name.
We have a Celtic-supporting, Glasgow-based scribe called Bob in the office, and Jolly decided his second rodent should take his name.
Today we hear that both Jonesy and Bob got caught in traps and died a painful death.
Oh dear!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Picnic at the zoo

I'm beginning to think that I am in the middle of some biblical moment.
First there was the infestation of slugs, then the appearance of the "ghost" rat which no amount of poison, traps etc has managed to solve.
Now, when Mrs Rippers and I wandered into our kitchen the other day, we found that there was a "plague" of black flies.
Either they have arrived because Ridsdale has departed from this mortal coil and they were feasting on his remains, or some higher being decides our life is far too comfortable at the moment.
To be fair, these flies are the most sluggish, lazy flying things I have ever encountered. They just flop about like the wonderful Withers after a boozy session, waiting to be swatted or squirted with some dire insecticide.
I opened the back door the other day and gave them a whole two hours to find their escape route... yet one was still hanging about when I returned. The solution? A firm tap with a recent Wales on Sunday. Knew it would be good for something.

Well after all the Buggy-fuss I can now reveal we are the proud owners of a baby mobile which cost us a little under £200, with car seat included. Result! Particularly as Mrs Rippers was keen to snap up a "bargain" for a little under £500 not long ago only for me to intervene with help from the Fat Kid.
Well, the Fat Kid came down on Saturday to help out with the buggy hunt and it was her expert advice that swung the deal. And after saving so much money I rewarded her, the vin monster and the big boy with a day out at Bristol Zoo.
Pretty expensive, to be honest, and for a place that carries the logo of an elephant on every sign for miles around I found it a mite strange that they don't even have any on site. At least I think they don't, unless they were hiding behind the giant fruit bats we came across hanging outside their cage.
While there we had a picnic and when we returned in the evening I also got the Fat Kid a bottle of rose wine. Amazingly, she managed to get rather squiffy on two glasses, though I have to admit they were pretty big glasses.

Poor old Mrs Rippers has been suffering from insomnia. She can't get to sleep for love nor money and was in such a state on Tuesday that the doc gave her a week off work to recover.
Not only that, but the Fat Kid has a severe case of laryngitis and is feeling very sorry for herself.
For the rest of us, it's some welcome peace from her shouting at the boys about their ability to cover the carpet in choco pops.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Easy meat

Well, having seen my beloved Gas get completely annihilated by Southampton 5-1 on Tuesday (total revenge for our beating them 3-2 at St Mary's) I am glad to say there was one little bit of compensation on the horizon.
I usually have a bet on the outcome with my colleague in crime, sports news ed Dykesy, but this time we decided to do things a bit differently.
It started off as a £5 bet but, always one for an opportunity when it comes to throwing his money away, Dykesy decided that we should do things a bit differently. "I know, I'll bet that your lot win and you bet that my lot win. Then, the loser won't be so disappointed."
Good idea, and I am still looking for the catch, to be perfectly honest, particularly when as the week wore on he kept upping the stakes. I thought maybe he knew that Saints boss Alan Pardew was going to have to play his Under 15 side against us (mind you, they probably cost a few mill to put together - after all, it's the youth set up that discovered Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale).
Eventually we settled on £17, the vastly inflated cost of my admission to the derelict bombsite known as the Mem.
After that it was down to my old hero, Rickie Lambert - the man we sold and never replaced at the start of the season - to score the first two Saints goals as we were roasted on the pitch.
Leaving the ground at the bitter end at least I had the compensation of thinking: "Dykesy, you tw@t!"
A wit next to me put his finger on the reason for our defeat. "I blame the ball boys," he said. "They kept getting the ball back too quickly!"

Ramsey needed an overhaul on Monday so I paid a visit to my old mate Charlie in Cardiff. Having a few hours to kill I wondered what on earth I was going to do. I bought a £3 all-day bus travel pass and took a trip into the centre of town, fully intending to go swimming. The bus system has all changed in Cardiff and it now means that rather than get a trip straight to the International Swimming Pool on the No 8 or 9 I now had to get a 38 or 39 into town and change buses in the centre.
While my journey progressed I noticed that Glamorgan were playing their first county championship game at Sophia Gardens and that Monty Panesar was in the Sussex team. It was a no brainer. I quickly changed my plans and hot-footed it to the Swalec Stadium to watch a morning's cricket in the beautiful spring sunshine.
When Charlie called later in the day to ask if I could collect the car it all seemed a simple matter. Return to the bus stop, catch the bus back to his garage, pick up the car, hand over the cash and toddle off back over the bridge.
I hadn't counted on the ability of Cardiff Council and Cardiff Bus to cause complete traffic chaos.
I went to all the bus stops I knew where the bus might pick me up and take me back - including the one across the road from where I had alighted earlier. No chance.
I ended up walking a mile around Cardiff City centre without finding the appropriate stop or any pointers as to where the bus might actually pick up.
In the end I walked, fuming and rather hot and sweaty, back to Charlie's garage having been unable to use my All Day pass. Thanks Cardiff Council, thanks Cardiff Bus.
As Woody would say: What a bunch of numpties!

Friday, April 09, 2010

Marlin in green pepper and tomato sauce

Our chief sports sub Jonesy has been looking for a new career that will make him a pot load of money. His search has been going on for years, so I am reliably informed.
Every week he will come in, like some latter-day Yosser Hughes of Boys from the Blackstuff fame, and announce: "I could do that... go on Gissa job."
Recent ideas that have come from the fertile area of his mind reserved for making a quick buck have included taking over our local hostelry (or dive as we like to call it) and turning it into a trendy wine bar and forming our own CSI team. His idea was CSI Wapping and he gave certain members of the staff jobs in his new "regime", pronouncing that Critch would be the explosive expert because he would like to "blow things up".
All very amusing but it took a new twist in the Cape Horner on Thursday night when he arrived shortly after Screws' celebrity lawyer Tom Crony joined our motley crew. Taking a quick peak at what the legal eagle was inbibing, Jonesy quickly declared he would have a pint of IPA, too.
Now, for a man who normally quaffs lager, this was a great break with tradition, and it soon dawned on us that he was actually intending to become a Crony clone.
All became clear when he turned to Critch, who is in the middle of house hunting in the Essex countryside, and announced: "I know Critch... I'll do your conveyancing. I could be a lawyer, honestly. I could do that... gissa job!"
None of us were entirely convinced, particularly the ambushed Critch.

The other day Mrs Rippers put her head round the door with a very concerned look on her face.
"Come here," she said.
"What's wrong?" I asked, but she was staying schtum.
I dropped what I was doing and joined her in the bathroom where it immediately became clear something strange was afoot.
There was this strange buzzing noise, like a drilling sound.
We wondered whether maybe there was a problem with the plumbing, or perhaps someone was attempting to drill there way into our bathroom from outside, a kind of super rat that would make Ridsdale seem merely a slight inconvenience.
As my ears adjusted, though, I was able to track down the source of the sound.
In a little beaker, just above the sink, my wife's vibrating toothbrush was still going strong.
She looked rather sheepish when I showed her the root of the problem.

I've had some marlin steaks in the freezer for some time now. I bought them from a company called Good Taste Foods who come around in a van and sell you all kinds of weird and wonderful products for your freezer.
I purchased a carton of exotic fish, not realising that some of them were not suitable for pregnant ladies - particularly the marlin and swordfish. Hence why they have been sitting in the freezer since then.
No matter, casting around for something for lunch the other day I decided it was high time I cooked the marlin. Finding a recipe on the good old internet, and slightly altering it, I set about the task with gusto.
2 Marlin steaks
half a chopped onion
A chopped green pepper
6 ozs tomato sauce (ketchup)
Half a tin of tomatoes
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
a handful of chilli flakes

Put a tablespoon or so of oil in frying pan
Heat, then fry the onions and green pepper for five minutes.
Add salt and pepper
Add in the tomato sauce and worcestershire sauce and continue cooking for 5 minutes.
Then add the half tin of tomatoes and chilli flakes.
Bring to boil then pour the whole lot over the marlin in an ovenproof dish.
Cook in the oven at gas mark 4 for 15 to 20 minutes.
I had this with some cheese potato wedges with one of those packets you can get by Schwarz's or the like.
Very tasty, quite firm fish. A bit like eating a chewy pork chop. And very nice they were, too.