Cat Lick


I twas an expression that was well used back when I was child, but I didn’t think I would ever actually get around to having a cat-lick wash.

As is well documented, the pets in our house aren’t exactly the sharpest tools in the box. Speaking of boxes it would be fair to say they are as mad as a box of frogs, yet there seems there is always a new height they can take their lunacy to.

It was the turn of Willow this time. The skittiest kittie on the block. No rustle of paper is too small not to send her running for the door. Yet at the same time, she’s more than happy to swipe the dog across his muzzle if he inadvertently walks by her.

She often comes and takes over the pouffe of an evening and will resort to licking feet in order for you to move them off her pouffe. However, things look a bit different in the living room this weekend. The pouffe is now coverless and a different colour as Helen uses it as a practical work for her upholstery course. Then there is the newly arrived Christmas tree and its decorations. The room looks a little different and is obviously confusing the poor cat.

So much so that she decided her new spot to lounge around would be on the back of the sofa just behind my head. Sat there she turned on the purring machine, generating more decibels than a 747. It’s a good job I don’t need to listen to the TV to know what’s happening in the American Football.

And then it started. It would appear Willow had mistaken the back of my thick head for a kitten, and she proceeded to start licking. The whole of the back of my head. The little rough tongue sandpapering the short hairs with great gusto. Five minutes it lasted, with Willow even turning around so she could do the far side of my head that she couldn’t reach from her original position.

It was the strangest sensation, ended only because there was movement to leave the room from Helen (who was pissing herself laughing) and therefore the possibility of food. I’m not convinced I want a cat-lick wash again.

A Personal Leicester History Through Pubs

It was another night out in Leicester. There have been a lot of them over the years. Between the late eighties and 2001 there was a hell of a lot of them. In all the time since 2001 this was only the fourth. It was a hastily put together last minute arrangement to try and meet up with a couple of old friends. However due to the last minute manner of it and other commitments it ended up being a solo night out. There had been a fair few of them over the years as well.

When I arrived in Leicester there was no actual plan in place. I was in the Highcross. It wasn’t a place I used to go to when I lived in Leicester, and for a lot of the years I used to go out it used to be shops. I was sat there nursing a pint waiting for the confirmation of my hotel booking at the Holiday Inn.

As soon as it popped through I finished my drink and headed over to the hotel to change. The view out of the room’s window was out over the Jewry Wall, and St. Nicholas’s Church. Two of the older parts of Leicester’s history, being Roman and Saxon respectively. When they had been building the foundations for the Holiday Inn they had found some more Roman remains of the reasonably sized town they had taken over on the banks of the River Soar. They let people down into the basement to look at them from time to time as well. My stay wasn’t one of those times.

The historic view gave me an idea for how to start out my trip through the pubs of Leicester. Pub one of my journey was going to be the Castle Inn. A place where I had never drank at before. I hadn’t even stepped foot into the buildings it occupied. It is set in two small cottages that made up part of the Castle’s estate, and looks out to St. Mary de Castro church, now sadly without its spire.

There had been an inn on this site up to the first half of the twentieth century, and one of my friend’s – Tony – predecessors had run the inn at one point. However it had always been private cottages when I lived in Leicester, and it had only opened as a bar in June. It was made up of two small rooms with low ceilings and a tiny bar in the corner of one. I was the only person in there (apart from staff) when I arrived, and they were struggling with no draught beers. A couple more people came in before I left. It is tucked away off the beaten track, but it is a great historic building and location, so I hope that it catches on and does well.

Pub two of the evening was another historic location. (Roger) Wygston’s House. I had been in this building countless times as a child, but never for a drink. The medieval timber framed building with its sloping uneven upstairs floors had used to house the Costume Museum. It had only opened as a bar and restaurant this year.

I sat outside in the cool autumn night, admiring the ancient building from its courtyard, whilst trying not to be distracted by the large big wheel in the Jubilee Square opposite the pub. I’ve been on the London Eye, and a big wheel in Manchester, so one in my home town was tempting, yet alcohol was calling. It would have to be saved for another time.

Moving on to pub three, well, more a bar really, and from this point the evening took a longer detour into history, personal history on the whole.

Bruxelles bar is a stunning Victorian reproduction of Georgian architecture. Inside they have very much gone with the Belgian theme; Tintin and Mannequin Pis have statues there. And then you look up at the domed ceiling. Vividly painted with scenes from around the world. Then the place names are painted around the bottom of the dome, attesting to all the twinned cities Leicester is linked to.

The domed roof gives a hint to an older name for the building. Back in the late eighties, this used to be the Leicester Dome, and for the best part of a year it was my, and a number of good friends of mine’s spiritual nightclub home. Granted we were probably the majority of the clientele on any particular Friday or Saturday night, and we probably treated it as our own personal fiefdom.

It wasn’t in the slightest bit salubrious back then, but we had some amazing nights in there, and it was a shame when it closed, though not a massive surprise. Not when the old-school style bouncers Marco and Franco were playing games such as ‘the most ridiculous reason not to let someone in’, that included the immortal “sorry mate, no white shirts” line. They should have been stopping people in the street and throwing them into the club, not thinking up bonkers reasons to prevent people not getting in.

It is a lot more upmarket and salubrious nowadays. This evening’s clientele is a much higher class than we used to be, or at least they look that way. There is a surfeit of ball-gowns and tuxedos as it seems to be a meeting point before a number of Christmas parties that are happening around town tonight.

Pub four is The Globe. Of all the venues visited on the night’s tour, this is the one that has changed the least. The look, the people, the beers, the music. It could all have been from any one of a few hundred nights out in the nineties. It was rare back then to have a night out that didn’t involve at least one drink here. I can see people, and hear conversations that could have been myself and friends twenty five years ago. It is a wrench to leave, but more history calls.

Pub five had personal and physical history. It is an O’Neill’s, the ubiquitous Irish chain pub. Growing up and being of Irish descent and having sat in the corner of many an authentic, run by the Irish for the Irish pubs in Leicester, I hate O’Neill’s as a chain with a passion.

The one here in Leicester is now massive. Mainly because it acted like the Borg and assimilated another pub and a couple of shops during the late nineties to become the sprawling monstrosity it is today.

The pub it assimilated used to be the Fourpence & Firkin. Back when Firkin pubs ruled the world in the mi- nineties (or at least that how it seemed.) The Fourpence part of the title was a nod to the peppercorn rent bestowed to the building by one of the fifteenth century Henrys. (I can’t remember if it was IV, V or VI anymore). An Inn had been on this site ever since, and before it became a Firkin pub in the early nineties it was called the Crown & Thistle, and was still a great place to go.

On a personal level I remember many nights in there drinking Caffey’s or Addlestones. And I remember my dad being so drunk on a session after we’d been for wedding suit fittings that he kept sliding off his seat. In the original part of O’Neill’s a couple of months later came the point where everyone on my stag do thought they had finally got me to hit the wall. The pint of Caffey’s didn’t want to go down at all, and I thought I was done for the night as well. But it all kicked back into place and I ended up being the last man standing in the Fan Club (which we’ll come back to later).

Pub six was the Knight & Garter. Well it had been for about a year. When I left Leicester it was called Molly O’Grady’s, playing up to the Irishness of its landlords and clientele to compete with the faux Irishness of places like O’Neill’s. Prior to the renaming it had been the Saracen’s Head, and a proper old-school Irish pub. My parents had always gone in over the years, and my grandma had worked there at some point in the past.

Being on the edge of the formidable Leicester market, it used to have a hatch out to the little jetty than ran along the back of the pub. This was used to serve out of hours drinks to the market traders as they came to set up their stalls at stupid O’clock in the morning. There were a few times I took advantage of a stiff drink before heading into my Saturday job at Superdrug after a heavy night out.

This was the venue that had changed most from my memories. The layout was vastly different, and there is polished wood and shiny copper piping everywhere. There is no sign of the spit and sawdust that accompanied my childhood visits.

Pub seven does still have some of that feel to it. Duffy’s is another place that has changed its name to play up to the Irish market. It used to be called the Town arms, and was another place that had always been an Irish run pub. There was the year we were in there when St Patrick’s Day fell on a Sunday, and I met my parents in there with two of my friends – Chris and Tony. My dad wouldn’t let us finish one drink before another miraculously appeared in front of us. It didn’t shut at three as it should have done back in those days, so there was no respite in what became a very messy afternoon.

It is located opposite the block that Leicester’s registry office is located. There was always a steady stream of pre and post wedding drinkers in there. I particularly remember Barry and Dawn getting married on a Friday and the extended lunch break pre-wedding drinks caused. We had also been in there the week before on Barry’s stag do. He had been dressed as a Boer War British soldier, resplendent in his red tunic, pith helmet and not-necessarily replica rifle and bayonet. His mate Ian only had an afro wig, y-fronts with a bamboo grass skirt over it and flip flops on. He was however covered head to toe in smeared coffee residue and carrying a six foot long spear. And hardly anyone batted an eyelid as the rest of us walked through town with the pair of them. There would be lynch mobs nowadays.

There is a band playing in one of the back rooms in the pub tonight. A few people crowd round the makeshift stage, whilst others just wander in and out as the mood takes them. The name may have changed, but the spirits remains the same.

Pub eight is now called Broood. (Yes, the extra O is supposed to be there.) Back in the day it used to be called Vin Quatre, a play on the fact that it was primarily a wine bar and was situated at number twenty-four King Street. It was the Friday night haunt of the old DSS building that sat on the corner of Norton Street. It was also the home of the gallon challenge – drink eight pints without having to break the seal and pee. Unsurprisingly it was rarely completed, and to be honest, nowadays I can’t imagine trying to complete it; such bladder control is a younger person’s game.

The layout inside is very similar to what it had used to be. I think some of the older furniture looks the same as it was a quarter of a century ago. A folk band is coming to the end of its set as it reaches the old traditional chucking out time of 11pm. They pack up, but the bar carries on serving. I sit on an old over stuffed leather sofa towards the back, where the windows look out over the New Walk, and the signage still shows the sign of being called Vin Quatre.

I had made it through the plan of pubs in my head. There were some other places I had thought of whilst I was wandering around, but The Pump and Tap, Princess Charlotte, George’s, Jacey’s and Cheers are all now sadly departed. What a night it would have been with them still being in the mix. But it’s now time to hit the club.

And what a club. The Fan Club. A behemoth now, but it hadn’t always been that way. When I get there, the entrance is one building across from where it used to be, and you pay on the ground floor. It had been the case that you dragged yourself up the narrow stairs to pay at the booth at the top, and then make your way into the single room, either left to the bar, or right to the dance floor.

At the same time in the eighties there was another club on the same block, on the corner. That was Sector 5, again a single room, paying at the top of the stairs. There were three units in between the two clubs then, now it is all one club stretching across the whole of the first floor of the block.

Sector 5 had expanded to two rooms when they rebranded as Alcatraz, and introduced paying downstairs. The Fan Club has expanded to two rooms, but with as little partitioning as possible. The unit that now sat between the two clubs was used as the fire escape for both, down into the car park / loading bays that sat behind ground floor shops. Bouncers would be on the fire escape doors either side of this and you could see one club from the other when the doors were left open to let some fresh air into the boiling atmospheres.

In the nineties, these were my clubs of choice, and of a hell of a lot of other people I knew at the time as well. It was common for me to be in one or the other of them four or five times a week. The Fan Club staple drinks were Grolsch, out of the big pint bottles with the flip top lids, which ended up being used as adornments to the front of shoes or trainers, and oversized earrings. Or for light relief Orange Hooch. There is a picture somewhere of Chris and I sat at the solitary table in the Fan Club with the table being full of empty Orange Hooch bottles.

Over in Alcatraz the main drink was a cocktail called The Sacred Mountain of The Pekinese Cloud Gods, a green mixture that included Martini, Southern Comfort, Blue Bols and Orange Juice. All for only two quid a pop. This was taken alongside Prairie Fire, a shooter that was Sambuca and Tequila with a floating line of Tabasco sauce in the middle. For a quid. There were a lot of messy nights.

None of those drinks survive the new super club version of The Fan Club. The initial room from the first incarnation is back doing their eighties night stuff as of old. It is this room where I witnessed one of the most spectacular un-choreographed pieces of dance floor action ever. Being ejected from my house the night after my stag do, so the hen do could happen, I went alone to the Fan Club and was leaning against the wall overlooking the dance floor. The Beastie Boys’ Intergalactic was playing, and when it got to the line “let the beat drop” and it went silent, the whole dance floor’s crown dropped as one, and from a mass of dancing people I could now see straight across to the DJ booth. Everything stood still in silence for a second before normal service was resumed.

This is now soundproofed off from the middle three rooms, full of dry ice and flashing lights and a more mainstream dance mix, before you make your way into what had been Sector 5. The Tank Girl adorned walls are now painted over, in what they call the indie lounge. It’s much more chilled in here, the music isn’t as loud, and there are lots of over-stuffed leather sofas.

Which at after one in the morning, after reaching double figures of mainly wheat based lagers, is deadly. It is when the bouncer taps me on the shoulder for the second time that night as I’ve dozed off that I decide it is time to go.

Automatic pilot takes me outside, around the corner and into the kebab shop. I didn’t know there would be a kebab shop open there. I was making the assumption that seventeen years since I’d last popped out of the Fan Club, nothing had changed around there. If there hadn’t been a kebab shop there I don’t know what I’d have done. Food and a taxi back to the hotel. So blinkered on getting home I didn’t even notice if the bus station was still there across the road from the kebab shop.

I didn’t remember the taxi back either. A joke really as we used to walk back to my house from the clubs. A route that would have taken us around the Holiday Inn, less than half way along the journey.

It’s not just the pubs, bars and clubs that change over time, it’s the people who used to go to them as well, they are older and more tired and lazier than they used to be. But it was still a great night out walking through mine and the city’s history.

Now That’s What I Call A Music Update

So the verdict is in. They have got round to releasing “Now That’s What I Call A Now”, the album with a single track from each of the Now That’s What I Call Music albums numbered 1-100.

Back in August I did a post about the impact of the Now series, and I chose my selection of tracks from each of them, ready to compare when the Now That’s What I Call A Now album came out. I said that on the law of averages I should have 2-3 picks the same, but I wasn’t expecting to get that many matches.

I didn’t I ended up with four matches, and it took a long way into the series to get it.

Now 69 – Timberlake featuring OneRepublic – Apologize

Now 75 – Alicia Keys – Empire State of Mind (Part II)

Now 84 – Bastille – Pompeii

Now 96 – Rag ‘n’ Bone Man – Human

Along the way I also matched up another ten artists, but selected different songs from them that were on different Now albums. They were Erasure, Oasis, Justin Timberlake, Pink, Amy Winehouse, Pharrell, Maroon 5, Fatboy Slim, Paloma Faith and Katy Perry.

Looking through the track listing, the compiler hadn’t gone as mainstream as I expected them to. There are a number of big names that miss out, and it’s a much more balanced collection than I feared it might be, and it’s certainly miles better than the horrible selection they put on disc two of Now 100.

Now 101 is already out, and at the current rate, Now 200 will be due to hit the shops in November 2051. Always assuming there are still shops, and that music isn’t just implanted straight into your head.

Actually scrub that last bit; we don’t want to be giving them any ideas, do we?

Trains and Tribulations

What is it with me and public transport? There always has to be some kind of incident. I was heading to Nottingham on an early train from Three Bridges, so being of sound mind I’d booked a taxi the night before to pick me up at half six. Plenty of time to get to the station, get a paper and a drink and stroll up to the platform. 6.44 the taxi turned up. The taxi driver telling me he’d been back home trying to find his coin box. Sod the fact I had a train to catch.

 

Then he turns into a lunatic version of Lewis Hamilton, rules of the road be damned. Red lights – don’t worry about them. Right side of the road – no one minds. Cutting up other road users – ahh, fuck ‘em. Home to Three Bridges station in under four minutes. I think the driver had been taking lessons from the film “Taxi”. Obviously the original French version and not the shitty remake with Queen Latifah in the lead role.

 

I know it was a Saturday morning, but surely that’s no reason for nothing at the station to be open. No paper and no drink, and then at the barriers absolutely no hope of an advance ticket working. God damn Southern Trains’ stupid barriers don’t accept advance tickets. “Seek Assistance” the display tells me. I don’t need assistance you crock of shit, I just need you to work and let me through the barrier with my valid ticket. Every other train company’s barriers can make it work; it’s just Southern Trains who are supremely incompetent fucks.

 

Then after all that drama the damn Thamestink train is late, so there was no need for the mad rush. Yet this lateness was causing me potential other issues. There wasn’t a large changeover window at St Pancras, so if it got any further behind schedule I’d miss my train there.

 

For some reason at St Pancras they make you go halfway to the hotel before there is a way up to the upper level to get to the East Midlands trains barriers. They make you walk past a pair of down escalators before you get to a pair of up ones. Why each set can’t have one of each is beyond most human comprehension.

 

There was a WH Smith’s open and I had a couple of minutes to dive in and get drinks and a paper. My entrance coincided with some old bloke having a monumental breakdown about how shit their self-service machines were and how he didn’t want to use one in the first place, why didn’t they just put staff on the normal tills as all he wanted was to buy a paper. Two staff appeared, one at a normal till, so whilst the angry old man was extricating himself from the self-service till I jumped in and paid for my stuff so I could catch my train.

 

Which was late leaving. Their reservation system was up the spout as well, so it was a free for all on the seats, which was taken well by most people with reservations, as long as they got a seat in the right coach they were happy. Apart from the monumentally rude woman who got on at Leicester who shouted at the couple to get out of her seats, despite the fact that two seats exactly the same were vacant behind the two she was getting irate about.

 

I was a few minutes late into Nottingham, but I could deal with that, I had some spare time. This was a good thing as the population of Nottingham seem to have somewhat of a death wish, as they all just walk in front of the trams without checking. I don’t know how the tram driver’s heart rate was doing, but mine was off and running and I wasn’t driving.

 

Later on in Leicester it was the return of mad taxi drivers. The one I got from the station brightly told me it was going to be busy as the City game hadn’t long finished. And then he proceeded to drive straight into the mass of humanity coming from the game. There were four separate occasions where he could have taken a different, less congested and more direct route. By the time he pulled up he had the raging hump because I kept telling him what I thought of his route choices. Although to be fair he did knock a couple of quid off the fair, obviously having thought he was picking someone up from the station that had no idea of how Leicester’s one way systems worked.

 

Much later on that night, getting across Leicester to the Fan Club saw another piss taking route by a taxi driver. He got the benefit of my wisdom and no tip either.

 

Coming home was supposed to be a nice easy journey. A booked seat and the single change at St Pancras. Jeez, I really shouldn’t be so fucking naïve. The booked train was cancelled, so everyone due to travel on that was crammed onto the next train. Reservations were out of the window again, and the train travelled with two of the five carriages virtually empty, and the other three like sardine tins. They refused to declassify first class to make up for the missing train, something even Southern Trains could manage.

 

It was so bad I jumped ship at Bedford after an hour of standing and headed for the relative normality of a Thamestink train, and you all know how much I hate those bastards.

 

I ended up getting home at the same time I would have done if my original train had run as well. Thanks for small mercies.

 

Roll on a week of private car travel.

 

 

 

Just Imagine They’re All Naked

It’s well known that I’m not the most sociable person in the world most of the time. I have a limit of sociability for any given time period. So going to a trade conference for three days, and giving a presentation during it would be pushing the limits.

To make matters worse, the conference was in Birmingham. I hate that city. And my normal bog-standard hatred was made worse by the fact that I was doing an updated version of a presentation that one of my colleagues had done the previous year at a similar conference. In Oslo. Norway. Fucking excellent, three days in Birmingham, doesn’t even start to compare with any days in Oslo.

Then to put the cheery on top of the icing on top of the cake was the fact that the conference started on a Sunday. My mid-sized wheelie case had already gone elsewhere in the country so I was mixing and matching with bags, and slogging through on the train journey up.

The journey up wasn’t too bad, but then getting from Birmingham New Street to the ICC meant walking through the never changing building site around Broad Street.It didn’t look like they’d actually finished doing anything in the five months since I’d last had the misfortune to come to this hell-hole.

Being on time for when registration started, because I’m like that, meant that I was nearly the first person there. By the time the first of the various sessions started, there were a few more there. The Sunday afternoon sessions were an hour and a half long, and not long into the first one, I was thankful that my session was only going to be half of that. The room wasn’t very big, and there were a handful of people in the session. Session two only had five people in there. I could cope with similar numbers for my session the day after.

Then it was time to hit the exhibition hall, seventy-eight companies trying to get you interested in their shit, sorry, software. All with little freebies on their stands, and a good number with prize draws for all sorts of goodies. I wandered the hall and recognised a few brands. The sales forces were out in force, getting me to talk to them while I hoped it didn’t show my eyes were glazing over.

Then the fateful moment when someone scans our conference badge for their leads. Being observant I noticed that the name flashed up incorrect, they had missed a letter out of my surname on their scanning app. Furthermore, it followed through into the e-mail address, they had a misspelling there as well. Woo and hoo, if the e-mail address was incorrect that meant they can’t pester me after the event. Full on scoop up the freebies with impunity followed.

In a couple of hours I had quite a few items in a reasonable sized tote bag, and I headed off to the hotel.

There is a special place in hell for hotels like the Hyatt Regency in Birmingham. Supposed high end hotels with staff that look down their noses at you are just shit. Forcing you to give them a credit card imprint on entry before they would check you in – Cunts. Leaving mini bar items out on the desk and bedside cabinet hiding the fact that they weren’t complimentary – Cunts. Changing the way the room was set up, and moving all my property between night 1 and 2 – Cunts. Being all indignant when you asked them to cancel the imprint of your credit card when leaving – Cunts. Granted, someone else picked up the bill, so it eases the sting somewhat, but in two days they annoyed me enough that I will never stay at a Hyatt hotel ever again.

Monday morning came with bonus added illness. A dry and sore throat, a temperature and being able to shit through the eye of a needle is not what you need when you are doing a presentation. After finally having enough time between toilet breaks to get a shower and dressed I made my way over to the ICC. The morning was keynote speakers, so armed with water bottles, and finding the end of a row I sat down. With the lights dimmed there was the potential to drop off, but I managed to stay awake long enough to make it through to the end of the morning session.

Some more freebie gathering followed over an extended lunch before doing the final mental prep required to speak to whatever audience there would be. Sat outside the session there was the opportunity to try and persuade others waiting to go in that they would be far better off trying to go to another session instead. They weren’t listening.

There were technical issues with the slides. The laptop with them on wouldn’t connect to the big screen. Something to do with dodgy German connections. And then it was time to start. As I looked out at the audience I was reminded of the saying, “if you are worried about presenting to an audience, just imagine them sat there all naked.” Trust me, that’s not an image you want imprinting in your mind. Twenty-odd (very odd) payroll managers and IT professionals naked is not an image you want to have.

I think the presentation went OK, better than I was expecting. I hadn’t presented at a SAP related conference before, and it had been ten years since I’d done any kind of presenting. But I managed to get 99% of my words out in the right order, I didn’t speak at 78rpm, and judging by the questions at the end, most of the people in the room had understood what had come out of my mouth.

Time for a soft drink and to collapse in a heap. But no, I got drawn back into the freebie zone for another couple of hours before heading back to the hotel to try and rest and recuperate.

The highlight of the conference was supposed to be SUGfest, and evening of free food and drink based on an eighties theme as they were celebrating their 30th anniversary. Now me and free food and drink are normally quite good friends and a recipe for disaster. It was a testament to just how ill I was feeling that the food was limited and the drinks were soft. I had a wander around to see the various things that had been set up.

Some nice retro arcade games were by the bar and food area. A little gig room at one end, a comedy club, a casino, and a disco were all there as well. I popped my head in them all, only to be collared by someone who had been to my presentation. He was also the only person there from his company, and he happened to be in the same industry as me, so by this logic he thought it meant we would have to be SUGfest best buddies. I only managed to get back to my hotel alone by faking my own death.

Tuesday morning saw little improvement to my health, but it was the last day. There were prize draws today. Exhibitors were looking at shifting stuff so they didn’t have to take it home with them. Two big prize wins and a multitude of “yeah, just take one” meant by the time lunch had finished and we were all lining up to head to the afternoon keynote speeches I had three large tote bags of stuff. It was at this point I suddenly became relived that I wasn’t flying back from Oslo or anywhere else. Granted, I’d have been more relieved if I’d have been driving. They were going to be fun to take back on the train.

The final inspirational speaker was Ant Middleton. Who until the previous week when I saw a trailer for something he was in on the TV, I had had no idea who he was.

After listening to him for nearly an hour, I don’t really care who he is, and I’m not sure I want to be watching anything on TV with him in it.

Then it was time to go, a bunfight at the cloakroom, and then sardines on the train to London. Playing dodge the abusive tramps getting across London and then back to Crawley and sanity.

I could go back to work for a rest, safe in the knowledge that I could go another few weeks without having to be sociable to anyone.

It’s Good To Catch Up

Early Sunday morning, up before I would normally be for a working day. There shouldn’t be any need for this really. Granted, the clocks went back an hour last night, so it’s not as bad as it could have been. And the reason for this early morning madness? The NFL. Despite not renewing my season ticket for the London games this year, I’ve got the chance to see the final one of the three games this year.

 

The Jaguars (Jaagwaars as the Americans would call them) against the Eagles. Last season’s Superbowl winners against the AFC conference runners up. It’s not going quite as well for either team this season. Me ending up with a ticket came from an unusual and unexpected source.

 

I’d sent out a hopeful message to request if anyone still had copies of e-mails I’d sent out eleven or twelve years ago. I’m on a drive to try and collate all my old writing, and this was a set that I couldn’t find anywhere. It had gone out to people I thought would have been on my old mailing list to receive random rubbish. Surprisingly a couple of people did still have copies of some of them. Not only that but one of my housemates from when I lived in Manchester had a spare ticket for the game. Not bad from someone I hadn’t seen in ten years or so.

 

For a change Thamestink were on time, though to be fair even they would be hard pushed to be late when the train was coming from a depot in sight of the platform. It wasn’t until I got to London Bridge that the issues started. The Jubilee line had ground to a halt because of signalling issues, and there were no trains. This meant no direct route to Wembley. A mile long (or so it seems) walk through the labyrinth of tunnels at London Bridge to get to the Northern line. A quick change at Moorgate was the plan; pick up the Metropolitan line instead. Well, it was quicker than not moving, a ten minute wait, and I managed to get a seat. Something that three stops later wouldn’t have been a possibility due to it turning into a sardine can.

 

My usual game of team spotting had started early. Bears fan getting tickets at Three Bridges station, closely followed by the damn Cowboys and the Jaguars on the platform. Raiders, Eagles and Packers were next at London Bridge. Vikings, Broncos, Giants, Falcons, Redskins and Dolphins on the tube. It was always a good guessing game of who would be the last team to be spotted at these games.

 

Despite the fact the game in nominally a home game for the Jaguars, and that there is a big push on supporting them in and around London, it was clear from the outset that this was going to be a more Eagles-centric crowd. The Eagles jerseys may well have been outgunning the Jaguars, but in the battle of paper coffee cups spilling brown liquid everywhere it was a much closer outcome. It looked like Costa was ahead of Starbucks, but it was close.

 

Not only that but the weather wasn’t great, a slow steady rain had accompanied my journey up to London, somewhat typical I though after the two previous games had been played in bright sunshine. It would have to be raining when I’d arranged to meet up for drinks at the Green Man at the top of that ridiculous hill. It was a good job that drips don’t get wet, they just get bigger. Although if I got much bigger I really am going to need my own post code. I also think the sunglasses may have been a tad optimistic. Yet as the arch of Wembley stadium comes into view, so does the sun, forcing its way out from behind the clouds. It may be OK after all.

 

At Wembley Park, it was back into team spotting mode. Seahawks, Lions, Browns, Chiefs, Buccaneers, Texans, Patriots and Steelers were all there. The Cardinals were seen hanging out of a window of a passing car on Empire way, shouting at random passers-by. I saw a Titans fan coming down the hill on the way up to the Green Man.

 

Which was closed. To me and other members of the general public as the Green Legion had hired the whole place out. FFS, back down the god damn hill again and through the outlet mall, where Rams, Chargers, Jets, Colts, Bengals and Panthers were spotted.

 

In the stadium surround waiting for Mark to turn up, Ravens and Saints appeared, which meant that the Bills were the last team spotted. Losers. Mark was later than advertised, but to be fair he has more family responsibilities than me. Well, that and the fact he was never great at being on time.

 

Conversation started straight away, there was a lot to fill in on both sides, but it was like picking up where we had left off, even if that was ten years ago. We went to the tailgate, a first for me, despite all the previous games I had gone to. It was crowded and felt forced, and wasn’t really worth the effort, but a lesser spotted Bills fan was in there, so the set was complete.

 

We met up with Mark’s friends who had got us the tickets in the first place. They had got some on the top tier originally, then bought some more to come with additional friends from Florida lower down, so had some going spare. We had time for a quick drink before the game before it was time to head in for the game. Clearing security and grabbing a drink made it we made it to our seats just in time for the kick off, having missed all the build-up and anthems.

 

It was a decent enough game. Defences on top at first, before some more expansive play in the second half. The Eagles got a lead and although there was only one score in it, they held out. Mark was happy, as a fully-fledged Eagles fan now after living in Philadelphia for eighteen months, it was a good result for him.

 

His friends from the states had got an apartment behind Brent Civic Centre for the weekend. So Mark and I picked up some beers and unhealthy snacks and headed over there to watch more NFL and chat. With game pass showing the Bears game on one laptop, accompanied by very loud shouting from the Bears fan in the room, and Redzone on another laptop, action from the early games surrounded chatting and drinking.

 

But, having to get home meant Mark and I headed off. As we passed Wembley, the arch was lit up in blue and white light, and the Leicester City badge filled up the various screens on the outside of the stadium. A tribute to the City owner who had tragically died in a helicopter crash following their game against West Ham the evening before.

 

At Wembley Park we headed off in different directions, vowing not to leave it another ten years before meeting up again.

 

 

So Called Experts

The experts were out again, after the long hot summer we were told that it had been so hot for so long and so dry that autumn wouldn’t happen as it normally did. We wouldn’t get that wonderful cavalcade of glorious colours on the leaves. Everything would go from green to brown and dead on the ground in the blink of an eye.

 

Yeah, right, do these experts try and outdo each other on just how wrong their predictions will be?

 

If anything, autumn is more colourful than ever. Such a glorious array of yellows, oranges, reds and browns, all mixed in with every shade of green possible. The weather is still great now, so the backdrop to this amazing colour palette is lovely blue skies, with little wisps of fluffy white clouds.

 

The fall of the leaves hasn’t even started in earnest, only a few float their way to the ground. The acorns and conkers aren’t as timid as the leaves. Rapidly throwing themselves to the floor hoping against hope to be fertilised and planted to grow up to be the magnificent trees they have fallen from.

 

It won’t be long before all the leaves that are going to fall have fallen, and the barren branches, sticks and twigs weave their way up to the sky. And then the leaf blanket will cover the ground making it slippery. But in the meantime stop and take time to look around at the wonderful colours on display, or even take a picture like I did. It will last longer.

 

 

 

Four Castles, Three Places of Worship, Two Beaches, and an Apparent Trip to France.

I’ve been an even grumpier sod than usual for quite a while now. There has been a lack of interest in doing most things. This includes the following, which is by no means an exhaustive list; Work, writing, reading, listening to music, watching sports, going out, staying in, sleeping and being awake. In other words I’ve been more unsociable and hermit like than usual, but with none of the normal outlets to combat it.

 

Helen must have had enough as she arranged a couple of days off from work for us and made plans to invade France. Sorry visit Kent, though as you’ll see there isn’t much difference at times.

 

So, on a Sunday morning we got in the car and headed to Dover, racing the horrible wet weather east as we did so. We broke into the sunshine just before we got to the Eurotunnel terminal at Folkestone, and it was pleasant enough as we arrived at Dover Castle.

 

We’d not been before, and in my case I’d not even been to Dover to get a ferry. It has been pointed out previously that Dover Castle is large, yet the scale of it hadn’t really registered until we drove in through the gates and then took five minutes to get to the car park elsewhere in the grounds.

 

Its prime location on top of the cliffs overlooking the English Channel at its narrowest point across to the beaches of Northern France has been noted since Roman times. And from then on in almost every period of English history the site has been added to or amended.

 

The Roman lighthouse sits next to a Saxon church in a hollow on a Motte in the grounds. Further inland beyond a moat stands the medieval castle started in Norman times. It’s a pretty much intact castle, a rarity for an English Heritage property. It is now surrounded by many later buildings. Fortifications built for the threat of the Spanish armada, Napoleon, Hitler and more.

 

The main keep is impressively complete and laid out in full medieval working order. A slight drizzle had caught up with us as we explored the out building close to the keep, full of displays on the building and history of the castle. By the time we had wound our way up to the roof, through the various rooms, halls, chapels and spiral staircases, there was torrential rain, driven sideways by the almost gale force wind. Even through the rainy murk there was an impressive view available all the way around.

 

After the short damp sojourn on the roof, we went and explored the medieval tunnels, including the fifteenth century remote controlled doors at the very far end. Only to find we couldn’t exit those doors, and so had to pick your way back the way we came. When we did venture blinking back in to the light the torrential downpour had subsided into a light drizzle.

 

We carried on wandering around the grounds and the various gatehouses, before finding the NAAFI and having a drink before queuing for the tour of the more modern wartime tunnels. An impressive layered three miles worth of tunnels excavated deep into the cliffs of Dover and used as barracks and control centres in three wars.

 

The free tour of the tunnels ended at the gift shop and a balcony overlooking the grim industrial harbour of Dover. By the time we arrived there it was bright sunshine out there, all the clouds had ran off whilst we’d been underground.

 

There was still more to explore, the lookout building across the Channel, and the array of cannons and anti-aircraft guns aimed out over the water. Then past the large college building in the middle of the grounds before finding ourselves back where we started five hours before. We were left to drive back to the outskirts of Canterbury and our hotel for the next couple of nights, in the glorious early evening sunshine.

 

A quick search on Meerkat meals told us the hotel restaurant was the nearest location. Which seeing as driving into the hotel was only possible from one side of the dual carriageway meant we went for dinner there. And it wasn’t bad for a Holiday Inn Express restaurant. Bonus.

 

Day two saw a short drive into Canterbury. Parking at Canterbury West station was the cheapest option and meant we were right at the point for easy access to the city walls.

 

While I mention the station, I’m not sure which idiot named the Canterbury train stations. But their sense of geography was piss poor. Both stations are to the west of the city centre and aren’t far away from being lined up in a perfect north – south line. They are in fact to the north and south of the city, so those names would have made much more sense than east and west.

 

We walked the city walls to the point where it was possible to turn into the city centre, and then headed the other way to go to St Augustine’s Abbey. This was much more in the fashion of English Heritage buildings we are accustomed to. It was a ruin. It is a massive site and it still has some of its later fifteenth century buildings standing. But they now belong to the King’s School and didn’t suffer from the reformation.

 

From the Abbey we headed to the Cathedral. Hidden away from casual view but the streets of shops that surround it to the west and north. Entrance to the grounds is through the grand entrance gate opposite the Butter Market Square. Inside the grounds, renovations and improvements are in full swing. Scaffolding and protective fences hide a lot of the low level view of the Cathedral church itself.

 

We walk around the large grounds first. Two cloisters and an herb garden inside the cathedral walls, and then a large green with the other half of the King’s School beyond. An ancient synagogue, and ruined abbey grounds, all before getting inside the church itself.

 

It is vast inside, as they just carried on building in a southerly direction over the centuries. The crypt is larger and better lit than most parish churches. Every time we thought we had got to the end of the church there was another bit stretching off in front of us. It may well be where the idea for the Tardis came from. Then you turn around and look back down along the church from where you came and you realise just how large it is.

 

The only way you are allowed out of the cathedral grounds is through the gift shop, which is bigger than some Poundland’s, and full of even more tat.

 

We found a nice café with tables outside and some very different and tasty items on the menu and sat watching the world go by. We were accompanied by the sound of concrete saws from nearby Orange Street that were adding a special dusty layer to the food and drink of the customers of the chocolate house over the road.

 

After refreshments we took to wandering the pretty medieval streets of the old city. Above street level not many of the buildings have changed since medieval times. It is just at ground level where the frontages resemble the plan of any town or city with its chain store eateries, shops and banks garishly contrasting with the medieval front above them.

 

Then it was a visit to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Set in a converted church near the centre of the city we took the trip through story board rooms listening to some of the better know and more popular tales with a backdrop of fourteenth century décor, sounds and smells as we wove around the building to the shrine of Thomas Becket – the second one of the day – before, surprise surprise, exiting through the gift shop.

 

On the way back to the car we went past Canterbury Castle. No longer open to the public due to its crumbling masonry being a danger to passing pedestrians. They are afraid it might knock some sense into them.

 

The plan was to go back to the hotel and change, and then come back into the city for dinner. But we hadn’t seen anywhere on our wanderings that had jumped out at us and screamed EAT HERE YOU HEATHENS.

 

So we had a quick drive straight up to Whitstable on the coast instead. Most of the town was closed by the time we got there. But we were able to walk along part of the beach to the harbour, and then out the other side to the Neptune where we had a drink overlooking the beach with the sun setting over the Isle of Sheppey in front of us. Slowly reaching down to the land and then dropping that last bit like a stone. The orange glow suddenly gone behind the land on the horizon.

 

As luck would have it, Meerkat meals struck again with a Zizzi hiding just yards from where we had parked the car. Another good meal to finish the day off before heading back to the hotel.

 

Day three started slightly slower than day two had, but there was no rush. We headed through Canterbury before heading cross country to Sandwich. We had a little tour around the wonderful narrow streets and buildings before having a slight unintended detour to pass the famous golf course before finding the correct road to get to Deal.

 

Now, pictures of Deal Castle, along with the description always make it seem massive. So there was some element of surprise at the smaller than expected size. Yet it was another complete English Heritage property. Built just yards from the beach along a flat stretch of coast it is now surrounded on three sides by nineteenth and twentieth century builds, just built across the road from the edge of the moat of the castle.

 

Inside is a different matter. Built as a circle with six smaller semi circles on the outside it is still disorientating to this day. Above ground the inside is done out as a museum, and no longer holds the soldiers that would have been based here, or the commander of the castle, a post held by high ranking officials for centuries.

 

The basement is a different beast. The moat was never water filled, and the basement has slits to fire out of at every angle. If someone got into the moat, the chances of them getting out alive were slim, let alone to get into the castle. Walking through the passageway in the outer walls is disconcerting. It is dark and damp with no straight lines to follow, so you don’t actually know which way you are facing. So much so that after quite a few minutes wandering through them, when we came to a clearing we thought we had been all the way around the outside of the castle. Only after having gone through the rooms in the centre of the basement to find that we’d only been halfway around. That and the fact that they offered wellies for the trip around the tunnels so you don’t get your feet wet in the puddles down there.

 

Blinking back into the daylight we headed just over a mile down the coast to Walmer Castle. The third English Heritage castle of the weekend and another one that was still complete. And one that had a number of rooms hidden from the general public as it has residents as the privy commander of some fleet or other has their official residence here. Ironically the only castle we saw over the weekend that was a ruin wasn’t owned by English Heritage.

 

 

Walmer was built at the same time as Deal and the now completely destroyed Sandown castle, along with four temporary forts to defend the coast from potential French raiders, by Henry VIII. They were also used when we were fighting the Dutch in the seventeenth century. Once the end of the Napoleonic wars had gone it was converted into a private residence. Pitt the younger was the commander in residence for years, as was the Duke of Wellington after him, and the Queen Mother was the privy commander of the castle until her death.

 

Over the years the grounds expanded and gardens and woodland were laid out, and much of what had been garrison space within the building was turned over to living space. Only the basement remained as it may have been.

 

The dry moat shows the clover leaf shape of the castle off best. It is a great green space to walk around in peace. Especially as an invasion had actually occurred in the castle. It was the Germans. Hundreds of their school children. Though we wondered why they had come to Walmer castle when Dover was only seven miles away.

 

It was now mid-afternoon and late lunch was calling. We headed for St Margaret’s, driving through the On-Cliffe piece and corkscrewing down the side of the cliff to the Bay, and the pub overlooking the beach called Coastguard-at-Sea, in what used to be the coastguard station.

 

However down at beach level, shielded by the cliffs from most of England, our phones told us we were in France. Phone signal was coming from the other side of the channel. From the coastline we could just make out in the distance. We were roaming apparently.

 

Late lunch was lovely, but once finished it meant it was time to head home. Back over to Dover to pick up the A20 to head to Folkestone and the motorway. Free flowing motorway traffic all the way back to Crawley, the whole time with the sun shining in our eyes.

 

A great few days away from everything. Calmness had sunk in. Only to be ruined by the fact that once home, it meant it was work the next day.

Ups And (South) Downs

Go out for a walk they said, so up on the South Downs they said, it’s a lovely afternoon for taking the dog for a walk.

 

It was; which was why we were heading for the Jack and Jill windmills. They weren’t as busy as the Ditchling Beacon car park, which for the last three attempts to take the dog out there, had been completed full when we’d arrived and we’d had to divert off elsewhere for a walk.

 

However, unknown to us, this particular Sunday was an open day at the windmills, so the Jack and Jill car park was rammed, as was every inch of grass verge halfway down the hill. It was failure number one. We headed for Ditchling Beacon instead, in the hope that if the world and their wives were at Jack and Jill, there would be space at Ditchling.

 

We only got to the bottom of the hill to find the road up to the top closed to vehicular transport. It was the London to Brighton charity bike race / event. Rather than try for a third place somewhere on the downs we abandoned the car in the car park at the bottom of the hill.

 

The footpath up the hill was discarded in favour of the road. If it was shut to traffic it would be safe enough to walk up. We let Charlie off the lead, mainly due to not having roller skates, so pulling me up the hill wasn’t an option.

 

A lot of the cyclists were pushing their bikes up the hill. I didn’t blame them, if I’d ridden from London I wouldn’t be attempting to walk up the damn hill, it’s steep as fuck. An occasional cyclist would pass us, not going very quickly, but determinedly grinding their way up the hill to say that they cycled the whole route. There were signs at various points up the hill to motivate the cyclists. If I’m honest the one half way up saying “you are halfway” is rather demotivating, as you just think, “Shit, I’ve got the same amount to climb again”. I think that some of the cyclists felt the same, especially the ones Charlie ran in front of.

 

Although the road was officially closed, it didn’t apply to the support vehicles, which surprised us a couple of time silently gliding down the hill, meaning we had to try and get hold of Charlie.

 

No matter how many times I looked up to my right, the top of the hill never appeared to be within reach. And then all of a sudden you round the penultimate corner and there it was. A hubbub of cyclists who had already made the top were hanging around to wait for others from their particular groups to reach the top. Cheering them and any other cyclist up to the final turn and the high point of the climb.

 

It has to be pointed out that the only cyclist that passed us going up the hill at any rate of knots appeared not to be wearing a race number. It was reminiscent of the recent TV advert where the lycra clad Brits are crawling up the hill dragging their top of the range bikes, crying, as the local Frenchman rides past them with ease on an ancient bike.

 

At the top of the hill Ditchling Beacon car park was pretty much empty, apart from a couple of support vehicles and a line of portaloos. Disappointingly there was no ice cream van. Someone had missed a trick there. Eight thousand cyclists up a bitch of a hill would be crying out for cold refreshments at the top. I certainly was and I’d only walked up the hill slowly.

 

On top of the downs Charlie could chase the ball to his heart’s content, but he appeared much more interested in hiding the damn thing in the deepest grass he could find. Most of it was deep enough to hide himself as well.

 

Once bored of playing find the damn ball we headed back to the car park and back down the hill. Cyclists were still slowly making their way up the hill. Their questions of “how much further to go?” were either answered kindly by Helen with “not much further”, or sadistically by me with “only another six miles to go”.

 

Despite this we made it down the hill unscathed. Both by irate cyclists or the sneaky support vehicles coasting up behind us only to beep and make us jump out of our skin.

 

Next time, we really do need to check if there is anything going on before we head to the downs. Or I need to learn how to stay upright on roller skates so that Charlie can pull me up the hill, and then I can roll down myself.

 

We did get an ice cream, but it was in a packet and from the Sainsbury’s local in Hassocks. Not quite the same.

 

 

Hope, Fail, Sigh, Repeat

Another season is underway. The promise of it was exhilarating. The reality is somewhat less enthralling. I’ve been an American Football fan since the 1980’s. For all of that time I’ve been a San Francisco 49ers fan. For the first fifteen years it was wonderful. Countless division titles, five Superbowl championships, and other NFC title games.

Then it started to drop off, and by the time the noughties were fully in swing the number of wins per season was nearer to nought than they were to ten. We had three good seasons in the early tens, winning a couple of division titles and missing out on a sixth Superbowl win by less than five yards. Then the wheels fell off again. But for the Cleveland Browns we would have been the worst team in the NFL.

After a disastrous start to last season we ended up winning six of the last seven games of the season. A reasonable draft and free agency left us hopeful of a good season. More wins than losses for a change, and a possible playoff berth.

Five games in and that all looks like a distant memory. If we didn’t laugh about the way we were playing we would cry. And they would be bitter tears. A loss against the Vikings could be expected; they reached the NFC Championship game last season and had strengthened. We beat the Lions, despite our best efforts to contrive a defeat from the jaws of victory. Then came game three, and whilst chasing the game came disaster. Our QB went down with an injury on a play he shouldn’t have made. It turned out to be a season ending ACL injury and you could feel the deflation.

Game four saw us throw away chances to beat a quite poor Chargers outfit, and yet we could still find ways to go downhill from there. We were playing the winless Cardinals last night. And as only we can manage, after a good touchdown drive to start the game things went downhill from there. We missed the extra point. We gave the freedom of the field to a wide receiver who was in a different post code to the cover. Fumbles, an interception, an injury to our primary running back, dumb ass penalties. It was all here.

We got a touchdown to give us hope, only for us to attempt the worse ever two point conversion try I’ve ever seen. Then we let the Cards score straight away again and it was all over. Robbie Gould missed a field goal, his first miss in 39 attempts going back to Halloween last year. We got another touchdown, but another crap attempt at a two point conversion meant we needed two onside kick recoveries and scores in just over a minute. No one will be surprised to learn that didn’t happen.

We’ve seen this all before. There are ongoing themes, a lot of which can be throwing fingers in the direction of the coaching staff. Silly penalties at stupid times – yep seen that a lot recently. Fumbles, more of them than at a drunken Christmas party, which with interceptions means we rack up more turnovers than an episode of the Bake-Off. A complete inability to tackle, especially in the open field, we’ve had less effective tackles than there are on show at a eunuchs’ convention. And finally a secondary who appear to be wearing signs that say “throw the ball over here for a completely open receiver.”

The pre-season optimism has gone. All that is left is gallows humour and a sense of we’ve been here before.

I still watch, because that’s what fans do. It may be out of morbid curiosity, I may not like what I see. I may swear a lot. I may make flippant, sarcastic, or cynical remarks and poke fun at my team. It’s what I do to stop going mental. It prevents the inevitable eye rolling from continuing out of my head, down my body and off down the street.

I took five minutes away from the game last night to rewrite Fatboy Slim’s “Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat” to become “Run, Sack, Punt, Repeat”, along with new words for all of the song. Then I rewrote part of it again when I came back to find that Brieda had gone off injured.

As I look at the wreckage of another season, with seemingly little hope for improvement on the horizon I may rewrite it again, but the punchline will be different.

HOPE, FAIL, SIGH, REPEAT.

 

But for the time being, here’s what I originally rewrote last night

So there was this kicker who was like kicking off
He didn’t know what he was doing
But he kicked far man
Like, really far man
Ball in the air
And then this returner ran in
You know, not just ran
Like a long run
Like a really, like you know
Dislike
You know what happens next
Like run and score
They were tackling
We weren’t tackling
They were scoring
And I don’t know whether anyone else noticed it
But all that was happening was
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Suddenly I think we’re going to score
Suddenly I think we’re going to win
But we don’t
I’m just dreaming
I’m just dreaming
I’m just dreaming
I’m just sleeping
I’m just hoping
I’m just praying
And then
Another
Injury
God damn
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat
Run, sack, punt, repeat