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.