Random musings from the front line (well, more like the support trench, or perhaps the castle 10 miles away, supping Chateau Lafite with the General Staff) in the battle for curiosity, inertia, grammar and a Dachshund called Colin.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

An Interesting Week

The hero of Trent Bridge - with an obviously violated gusset in his cricket whites. What would WG Grace say, Freddie?!Well, it's been an interesting week. In fact, I don't think that I've experienced such a wide range of emotions in such a brief period, at any time in my life, ever. When I started blogging, only a few months ago, I thought I'd stick to the big picture stuff, telling both my readers the sort of lucid (albeit familiar 6th form debating society style) opinions on random subjects that would have otherwise passed them by - unless they sat near me in the pub on a Monday between the rounds of the bizarre weekly "Meat Raffle-cum-Quiz" thing that is amazingly popular (standing room only yesterday!). In other words, I'd leave off from discussing my personal life, my day-to-day happenings, almost entirely on the grounds that others do it more regularily, and much more entertainingly, than I could ever manage. But that's before I went on a holiday/road trip, during the course of which England played the most nail-bitingly tense game of cricket ever, a friend of mine let slip a particularly-sensitive secret, and I visited some stunning areas of the country that I never knew existed.

Secrets. Secrets for sale. Anyone for secrets...So, from the Ashes I had nervousness, tension, anticipation and addiction - all the while trying to remember that I was on holiday and supposed to be "seeing the sites" and being sociable. From my friend's indiscretion, I experienced the dubious "gifts" of incredulity, anger, and a slight fear about being the source of gossip for evermore. And all of this, played out in areas of Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire, Monmouthshire, Powys, Somerset and Wiltshire (again) whose beauty quite literally took my breath away. A wander around the student-less colleges in Oxford in the evening sunshine, a pint in (IMHO) the best pub in England (Falkland Arms, Great Tew since you ask) a walk up to the highest point of the Malvern Beacon that started dry and ended torrentially wet, a boozy night in the ancient Saracen's Head pub at the base of the stunning Symonds Yat on the River Wye, and 10 minutes on a waterbed in a gorgeous B&B (top room in a converted windmill) before the landlady kicked me out onto the streets because she'd double-booked and there was a couple "who were regular" coming and they therefore who took priority. I assume by "regular", she meant a repeat-visitor, rather than they had quotidian bowel movements.

The mythical view from the other side. Only the bravest of the brave ever see this sight! But for me, the weirdest emotion was going back to my old school, in Bristol, for the first time since I left at 18. The buildings were exactly as I remembered them - I even found my name scratched in the stone in the smokers' corner at the back of one building (my only graffito - I'm so proud), the streets were weirdly unfamiliar because they were empty (I've never been there in school holidays before) and with no teachers/staff around it was like a walk into a ghost town recreation of my childhood. But then I went to Clifton Suspension Bridge - world's number 3 suicide spot and scene of my most embarrassing schoolboy The Scariest Place in The World When You're 12
moment ever. My school's playing fields were (are) the other side of Clifton Gorge from the city of Bristol (where the school is), and children from my school (and a few others) were allowed to walk across for free to get there on sports afternoons, rather than pay the 20p everyone else had to. Most of the time, this was unnecessary as there were buses that ferried you directly to/from school the longer way round via a much stronger bridge further downstream the river. However, if you were late for the bus, or were banned from the bus as punishment, you HAD to walk to the playing fields. The first time I did this, when I was 12, I got about a third of the way over the bridge, chatting away with my pals, when I glanced over the side. All of a sudden, it felt like my stomach had exploded with fear, my head started swimming and (worst of all) the bridge started twisting over - threatening to topple us over the side. I dropped to the pavement, in floods of tears and vomit, knowing the end was nigh for me, barely noticing the amazed gasps of my friends, who didn't seem to notice the bridge's imminent collapse.

The awful realisation that this was something that affected me alone rapidly dawned, and to guffaws of pre-pubescent glee, I rolled into the road (ie vehicle) carriageway and crawled to the other side of the bridge, terrified, and accompanied by the horns of irate drivers stuck behind a slowly moving schoolboy. From that moment, I never set foot on that bridge again, convinced that it was my Kryptonite, my Picture of Dorian Gray, my Albatross. That is ... never until last Saturday, when I (having taken several deep breaths) walked to the other side, unaided, neither crying, vomiting, nor crawling on the way. Admittedly it took some encouragement, but I did it. And took the photo to prove it! So ... that's one particular demon buried, and one that gave me a very rare emotion indeed. Complete relief that I'm not a wuss. On Clifton Suspension Bridge, anyway!

For my next trick - I'm going to try and watch the last Ashes test without having a heart attack. But I don't hold out much hope.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Your (sic) Not Me

As it says on the Front Page - 'Free European Holiday for Every Reader'. Go on then, piss off to Strasbourg, like you're paid to do, you orange loony By which, the dribbling loonies at the Daily Express mean, of course, "Our deranged and incontinent readers are backing Kilroy". Ah, Kilroy. Crap MEP (I read this week that he has the worst attendance record of any British MEP), non-party political member (he left his own piss-poor creation - Veritarse - only months after founding it, probably because the other member refused to retitle the leader "Lord High Overking of the Universe" or something) and all round permatanned daytime TV exile. After my paean of praise to his Borisness (below), I thought I'd stay off politicians for a while and I don't actually intend to blog about Kilroy today. After all, he's a ridiculously easy target for a semi-anonymous blogger like myself, and many people have done the job better and earlier than me. And no-one has done any better than the superb "Will Flash for Cash" gurus at eclectech - whom I came across today whilst reading Jonny B's latest efforts to save his (non-threatened) Post Office. So, for several minutes worth of fantastic entertainment - click on the grinning idiot above (or here) and prepare to giggle like a girl!

The future appears not to be orange, after all.Actually, let me say this one thing about his ex-party - they're quite good at not wanting to give me any money. You see, in a fit of cyber-squatting entrepreneurship earlier in the year, I bought the domain www.veritas.net.uk (or something very similar, thus avoiding all you WHOIS aficionados!) in order to sell onto the fledgling neo-UKIP-type party with (at-the-time) no website. Unfortunately, they weren't remotely interested, and neither were any EBay buyers I subsequently tried to tempt, so now I'm bloody lumbered with ownership of an unwanted crap domain for another 18 months. And less lumbered with the extortionate £65 it cost me. So, despite what Gordon Gecko says, let alone Richard Branson, greed is not good. In fact, if you're crap at being an entrepreneur (i.e. me), it's slightly expensive.

Anyway, I digress. I was recently told about this amusing website called (in a way to irritate apostrophic pedants the world over) "Your Not Me". This fun-for-5-minutes diversion has the 2001 Electoral Roll within its database, and you can search for how many people in the UK (who were 18 in 2001, so I guess now are at least 22) share the same full name as you. Or surname only. Or first name. Or in fact any random words. So, here are some stats for you:
  • There are 6 Kilroy-Silks in the UK*
  • There are 55 people with the surname Merkin, but none with it as a first name (except me, of course)*
  • There are 222 James Bonds*
  • And 34 Margaret Thatchers* (can you imagine being taken seriously on the phone? "Name?" "Margaret Thatcher" CLICK...brrrrrrrrr)
  • But only 1 Boris Johnson* (that could be a football chant)
  • 14 people have the surname Lupin* (yes I know it's not your real surname, Willie)

and

  • Only 1 person has the surname Bum.

Now, when I was about 12, I remember reading about a CND protestor who was arrested outside the Houses of Parliament wrapped in nothing but an anti-nuclear flag, singing protest songs about Pershing or some other burning 1980s issue that no-one remembers these days. And his name was so memorable that I (and my friend Jon - where are you these days Chappers?) decided to commit it to memory. The man, who (if my pre-adolescent memory still serves) was born with the rather conventional moniker of "Martin Felix Smith", but had changed it by Deed Poll, was actually named (drumroll please) ....

Martin Felix Oddsocks McWeirdo El-Tooty Fruity Farto Hello
Hippopotamus Bum

And the beauty of it all is that Mr Bum is civic-minded enough to register to vote. Good on yer, Martin! Rock the vote! And Yanks Go Home. It's a bit of a pity that his wife (I know, I know, never assume) - if he has one - never took his name officially, though. I wonder if he has any children?

____________
* Who are 22 and over. Who dared risk endless junk mail and told the council who they were 4 years ago. Etc.

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Honourable Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson MP

This season's hottest fashion itemWhat is it about that media darling and all-round randy magazine proprietor, Boris Johnson MP? A seemingly charming chap who would have been my MP had I stayed in the rather poncy village of my upbringing (blast those property prices), he is somewhat of a phenomenon in the grey faceless world of modern politics, being simultaneously witty, urbane, scruffy and (most importantly) interesting. While popping into a branch of Morrisons last week (for the first and last time, I must point out) I actually saw a middle-aged portly chap wearing some ill-advised tight shorts, a pair of flip-flops, and a ... "Boris" tee-shirt, complete with a cartoon caricature of the ex-Shadow Minister for the Arts. I was gobsmacked, and for a change it was not in a literal sense by the group of feral youths hanging around the car park looking for abandoned £1-laden shopping trolleys. What other MP (especially a Conservative & Unionist MP) could inspire someone, especially someone so obviously familiar with the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder, to wear a fanclub-type garment? So I decided to do some intensive (ie Google) research and soon found that should one wish to emulate my rotund shopper, one can easily buy the tee-shirt from TeeMarto, here! But there's more....

Don't get me started on the One Way system around Falaise SquarePeople do seem slightly obsessed with young "Bozza". He has his own "Boris Watch" website, which I can't decide whether is a sign of celebrity or the function of a slightly obsessed mind. He is regularily the subject of gossip columns, satirical TV and radio shows, Private Eye articles/cartoons and he's one of the few Conservatives about whom even rabid lefties chuckle about and talk approvingly. The BBC News website wrote this very affectionate article about him on his recent 40th birthday (a rare occurrence for any MP, let alone a Tory), and is one of the few politicians of any hue (save "Shagger" Norris) who has easily shrugged off a sex scandal with no damage to his reputation.

New from the World of Colour Supplement Porcelain! The Limited Edition BJ Collectors PlateWe already know that Boris has his own official website-cum-blog that appears to be run by the slightly predictably-monikered "Melissa" and "Simon", and the less conventionally-named "Olly Researcher" (a very appropriate surname, young Olly). On which we can find the MP's rather well-argued and well-written thoughts on hot topics of the day, recent news stories and (occasionally) random subjects. What I like about the site is the opportunity to post comments thereon, in a 21st century equivalent of a permanent village hall meeting. A sort of "cyber-hustings", if you will. As well as the normal reactionary drivel from bearded vegetarians, and the insightful contributions of the rather marvellous Vicus Scurra, quite a lot of reasoned discussion goes on here, which occasionally spills over on to other blogs. In fact on one blog, only last week, the as-yet-unnamed humble "@" symbol was renamed in honour of the media-watching contribution of the mellifluous Melissa, and henceforth people will be describing their email addresses as "joedotbloggsmelissahotmaildotcom". It is written.

But I digress. Many years ago, whilst walking through St James' Park with a politically-minded friend, I caught my only 'in the flesh' glimpse of the then newly-elected MP for Henley-on-Thames, and my companion said:

"There goes the next Conservative Prime Minister".
"Hang on", I interjected, "It's 1998. He's only just turned up. What about Hague?" (I'm not a Tory. Just an argumentative sod).
"Just you wait and see. The Tories are done for, for at least 10 years. He's the only one of the lot of them with a personality".

And do you know what? I think he might be right.

[Thank you to Bill Mundy RMS for the Boris Portrait]

Friday, August 12, 2005

What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor?

So. I'm back. It's been a long old 6 weeks, almost continually at sea, with the end result of having no money left, So THIS is why I got up this early!severely damaged kidneys, some cracking photographs and the new skill of managing to function on only 5 hours semi-drunken sleep a night. Despite rumours to the contrary, it's my job, rather than an extended aquatic holiday, and it's brief periods away like this that actually confirm to me that I'm (sort of) in the right business. Every job has it's pros and cons, and I'm at the stage now when I get itchy feet and mentally write them out on a fairly regular basis...

Pros
Good money(ish), lots of travel, seeing fantastic sunrises, sexy uniform (every nice girl/boy (delete as applicable) loves a sailor), the "not being in an office" factor and the opportunity to be out of mobile phone range for days at a time.
Cons
Could be (a lot) more money, travel is limited by ship programme and luck-of-the-draw job allocations, British weather at sea tends to lead to more multi-coloured yawns than multi-coloured skies, uniform makes you look like a Securicor Guard, the paperwork is never ending (and at least offices don't throw books/papers/computers half way across the room in bad weather) and it's actually rather annoying to be out of mobile phone range for days at a time.

Wise words from the good people of Ramsgate (captured by authentic crappy-Nokia-cam)But, nevertheless, I shall probably remain where I am. In what other profession can you travel to ports such as Ramsgate, where you are given a fairly clear municipal instruction on the behaviour expected (see photo left), and thence to Amsterdam, where a location is provided for that very purpose (see photo below right)?! I have seen, in the last month, a cornucopia of dockside red light districts (no, I most definitely did not partake), many Faces have been obscured to protect the not-so innocent!dangerous varieties of Belgian Beer (never drink "Kwak" Beer - it's 11% alcohol!), the most incredible assortment of tall ships (plus many warships, small ships and old ships), the inside of a Dutch police wagon at 5am(long story, not nice), some of the worst nightclubs in Europe (generally those to be found near the seafront of small British ports) and a lot of alcohol-fuelled roistering, with the occasional episode of good-natured nudity. But it's over now. And I can't pretend I'm not relieved!

Highlights? The Trafalgar 200 celebrations (see my previous post) were superb and a real honour to attend, especially as the tabloid-predicted "Red Fleet" vs "Blue Fleet" sensibilities proved to be complete rubbish and the entire day was about the plucky British against the evil Swimming off Barclays BankFrench. Five days in and around the Channel Islands were also very enjoyable, and in a "tweak the nose of neo-feudal plutocracy" move, we anchored off the private island of Brecqhou. This beautiful place, home to the secretive millionaire Barclay twins, is notorious for gun-toting thugs in speedboats ordering sightseers and bathers to "get orff my land", but (un)fortunately we were left in peace to have a dip in the glorious sunshine. If one didn't require £5,000,000 in liquid assets to reside there, I think the Channel Islands would be quite a nice place to live. Maybe I'll buy the Spectator or something - non-stop orgies, informed soft-right-wing opinions, and the opportunity to own a large neo-classical palace on a rock near Sark. Sounds like a life I could get used to.

Lowlights? Erm, probably the end of my long term relationship. But that's a separate (and rather private) matter entirely. I now have a few weeks off to regroup, recharge, and replenish my funds. And then I'm going to try and work out how to get people reading my blog occasionally! Happy August...