Woe is me….,

cold

I am suffering from a cold. A man-cold. Which, if not as bad as a man-flu, or as media-attention-grabbing as the Ebola virus, is pretty bad. It is right up there with the normal flu that women get, or having to listen to a motivational speech by Ed Miliband….

But, I soldier on nevertheless. I remain productive despite the disturbed sleep, the sneezing and the mucus. There is lots of mucus. I carry on thanks to an unyielding inner strength and regular hugs from my new best buddy, Beechams.

I can only speculate as to the source of my man-cold. I could have caught it from a friend who, at the weekend, was complaining of “being a bit bunged up”. But, it is unlikely, as we did not exchange bodily fluids, limiting the exposure to a firm handshake and a brief man-hug.man hug

I think the more likely source was budget airlines. For my sins I have had to endure two in as many days on flights to and from Budapest in Hungary.

The first, Jet2.com, was delayed for a couple of hours, meaning that I had to endure Manchester Airport for nearly five hours. On the Monday of a half-term holiday week. The great unwashed and genetically challenged stumbled aimlessly around the place in search of fast food, cheap sunglasses and non-existent large plasma screens, suffering the withdrawal effects of being away from Jeremy Kyle TV for longer than it takes to have a pee, a spliff and a can of Tennent’s Extra.

The queues at security were reminiscent of a Turkish border control and the metal-detectors sounded more like a pinball machine as they pinged away to high-heeled shoes, gold chains, watches, loose change, body piercings, and mobile phones in pockets. It is not rocket science people!

And so it was a relief when I finally boarded my Jet2.com flight and settled into my extra-legroom seat in the front row. My relief was short-lived. I was sat next to two ladies who had clearly made the most of an extra couple of hours in Bar MCR, and intended to make the most of the three for £10 offer on red wine on-board. They befriended me. They insisted that I put down my iPad and remove my earpiece and engage with them in conversation. With strangers. On a plane. For three hours. Can you believe it?!?

And so I endured the company of a fifty year-old A&E nurse from Newcastle and her buddy who ran a children’s club in Whitby. I smiled and nodded throughout their full medical histories and the many good reasons why they hate men. But not me apparently. Despite the fact that they were constantly at pains to point out that “We dun mean nothin by it. We ain’t chatting you up. We jus like a chat.”, they apparently determined that I would have “made a lovely da” and should consider adopting, or fostering. They also claimed to have noticed me in the queue at security. Apparently I had stood out because I was smartly dressed and was a “silver fox” who looked like “im off Bake Off”. Now I can see how I must have stood out, as I was one of only few males not sporting football regalia and body piercings. But the feeling of being stalked will linger….

It was a relief when we landed and I finally managed my escape, but only after the two ladies had insisted on giving me a kiss on each cheek by way of farewell. I could have contracted my lurgy right then…

kettlingOr, it could have been as a result of my second budget airline experience. This time with Ryanair. Unlike Jet2.com, Ryanair were prompt in their departure, calling us to the gate a full fifty minutes before the scheduled departure time. Unfortunately, the departure gate was in a drafty old hut where we were effectively kettled like protesters at a demonstration. Bodies pressed against bodies. The holding pens eventually filled up and they had to open the doors and release the throng to a second holding position outside. Fortunately, having acquired yet another extra legroom seat and a priority check in I was at the front of the queue. Unfortunately, this meant that I was outside waiting to board the plane for some thirty minutes in a very fine mist of rain and a temperature of two degrees. Now that can’t be healthy.

Unfortunately, unlike Ebola, the man-cold is airborne…….

October 29, 2014 at 4:50 pm Leave a comment

The sorry state of British politics…..

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Does anyone else feel disenfranchised at the moment? I am currently at a total loss as to who to vote for at the looming General Election. The only positive thing about the current set of UK political leaders (I can feel my Scottish friends wincing as they read those words) is the positive impact they have had on the careers of political cartoonists. Surely, this is the political generation which must bring about the revival of Spitting Image!

I used to vote Labour, until I became disgruntled with Tony Blair’s false smile and illegal wars, and with Gordon Brown –  a Scot with all good humour and generosity removed from his personality (which makes him a Yorkshireman doesn’t it?), and the compassion of Attila the Hun.

I then turned to the Liberal Democrats because their politics appear to be based upon grown-up logic, sound economics (thank God for Vince Cable), social compassion, and the best two Prime Ministers we never had – Paddy Ashdown and Menzies (Ming) Campbell. I still think that the Lib Dems have performed well in the Coalition Government, acting as a moral anchor and tempering the worst instincts and policies of the Spawn of Thatcher. Unfortunately, however, the Lib Dems seem to have become un-electable, being tarnished by association with the Tories, Clegg’s all too similar hairstyle to that of David Cameron, and that viral YouTube video….It is a shame, because I would very much like to see more of his wife, Miriam Gonzalez Durantez!

shoesI can’t vote Conservative. At least not unless they oust Cameron and swing way, way to the left. Which seems unlikely. The only swinging that the Tories seem to be involved in these days is likely to involve pampas grass and a gimp suit. William Hague is the only decent Conservative and they have already done for him. Cameron’s likely successors are quite terrifying – Theresa May, most famous for her “fuck you” shoes and having bigger balls than the other Bullingdon lapdogs, Osborne and Boris. Do we really want Boris Johnson in charge of the nuclear button and launching a bendy-bus invasion of Syria?

On the face of it I should have quite a bit in common with the Prime Minister, David Cameron. We are the same age, and we were both went to Oxford university. Indeed, we were both there at the same time although, as an obvious slow developer, he graduated a year later than me. But there the similarity ends. I was not a member of the Oxford Union, and I hadn’t even heard of the Bullingdon Club. And even if I had, I think I would still have chosen to frequent the Queen’s College Beer Cellar sweaty bops on a Friday night instead.

Unlike Mr Cameron, my Great, Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather was not King William IV (by way of his mistress Dorothea Jordan). It is a fact that Cameron is indeed from a long line of right royal bastards. Educated at Eton and Oxford, he is a career politician having just had one job outside of politics, working as a Director of Corporate Affairs at Carlton Communications for six years, a job he got on the back of a recommendation from his mother-in-law, Lady Astor. He is a fifth cousin twice removed of HRM Queen Elizabeth II. He is hardly a man of the people. And, I feel he is likely to fall victim of a coup following the debacle of Clacton. I suspect that a similar catastrophe in Rochester and Strood could do for him.

But what are my choices? Where else can I cast my vote?

wallaceAt least Ed Miliband, forty four and the Labour Leader (I use that word in its loosest context), son of Jewish immigrants, went to ordinary schools before earning his place at Oxford University. But he is also a career politician, who knifed his older, brighter, more personable, better brother, David Miliband to secure his current, and hopefully brief, role as Leader (still loose) of the Opposition.

Red Ed cannot be Prime Minister. He has the charisma of Dudley. And, a 1970s Dudley at that. He may have been an excellent President of his Junior Common Room. I might even vote for him as leader of my local council. But, a Statesman he is not. He cannot be Prime Minister of this great nation. Bring back David. Take Ed down. Take Balls down. Let someone such as Chuka Umunna or Tristram Hunt step up and save the Party. We need a new New Labour.

ukip

The only good thing about Nigel Farage and UKIP is that they are not the BNP. Not yet. But, UKIP does seem to be fast becoming the home for those who spout the ideology of “I’m not a racist, but….”; people who hanker after the glory days of the great British Empire, defined as the period before the Empire Windrush set sail from Jamaica in 1948. Farage, pint in hand,  and his Monster Raving Looney followers are set on parting the waves of the English Channel and leading us on an exodus out of Europe to the Promised Land……and oblivion.

It is a sad, sad reflection on the state of our politics today when I find myself listening to a George Galloway speech and wondering…….

galloway

October 11, 2014 at 11:18 am Leave a comment

What did I ever do to you, Pizza Express?

pizza expressI have been a loyal customer of the Pizza Express franchise for far more years than I care to mention. Indeed, proximity to a Pizza Express outlet is one of the must-have-items on C’s criteria for moving house, along with a Waitrose and other such necessities. Pizza Express is an eating-out experience that we have enjoyed very much together. Typically we would do so about once a month.

Over the years, Pizza Express has been a comfort zone. We would escape there to get away from our mad, noisy neighbour, Val. We would meet with friends and family. We would plan our holidays and put the world to right. It was a safe place where the food and service was familiar and the atmosphere amenable to conversation, celebrity spotting and people watching alike.

peroniThe Pizza Express at Wilmslow and at Knutsford have been our regular haunts of late, with occasional forays to Manchester and Cheshire Oaks when doing a spot of shopping. C would have a (small) glass of  the Montepulciano, and I would partake of a Peroni Gran Riserva, while we peruse the menu.

I am not sure why we bother with the menu as C would invariably select a Fiorentina with a runny egg, and I would have a……now wait…..No, no, no, no. They have bloody well gone and done it again. They have removed my favourite from the menu!!

Back in the day I used to really enjoy the ham, egg and dough balls in tomato sauce. Until they removed it from the menu. Then I used to like the Neptune, with tuna, anchovy, olives and hard-boiled egg. Until it also disappeared from the menu. Then I moved to the Capriciossa (especially when it came with ham hock). Disappeared. The Da Morire. Gone.

All of my favourites have disappeared over the years. And now the Pizza Express chain has been sold to a Chinese venture capital company. And, they have just launched a new menu. I don’t think the Chinese do pizza. I think they have pizza and pasta mixed up. Which is why they now do a Carbonara pizza with a béchamel sauce base – perfectly acceptable with a bowl of spaghetti, but on a pizza base it just sounds like something that the cat might have thrown up. The new seafood option is the Mare Rossa – prawn and oak-roasted salmon with tenderstem broccoli,spinach, garlic, chilli flakes and mozzarella on a lobster bisque, béchamel and passata base, finished with fresh parsley and Gran Moravia cheese. I won’t be eating any of that pretentious twaddle either.

Why are they messing with a good thing? Why are they fixing something that ain’t broke? Why are they picking on me!

So, Pizza Express, is this how you reward decades of loyal service? You are almost as bad as the time when KFC ran out of chicken on me. Shame on you. :(

October 10, 2014 at 4:06 pm 4 comments

Better together!

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Simply put…..please don’t go!

September 18, 2014 at 7:15 am Leave a comment

In search of oblivion….

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Oh for oblivion. I was banking on an early night tonight, following an early trip down to London this morning and a busy day in the office.

Indeed, I was all tucked up in my hotel bed in time for the Ten O’clock News, and asleep very shortly thereafter. But, the sleep of the innocents has since eluded me. It is 02.43 am. Not quite the witching hour but I am wide awake. It is like the worse case of jet lag, without the time travel.

I wonder if time travel is indeed to blame?! Earlier I caught up with Doctor Who, series 8, episode 4: Listen. It was about the dreams we all share about monsters who hide under our beds. It turns out that the “monster” was Clara, the Doctor’s easy-on-the-eye time-traveling companion. Now, for sure, the thought of having Jenna Coleman hiding under the bed would be enough to keep most men of a certain age up at night…..

But, I was never one to watch Doctor Who from behind the safety and security of the sofa, so it must have been more than that behind my insomnia.

My other viewing pleasures last night included Sheridan Smith in Who Do You Think You Are. But apart from a rather dull story about a gritty Northern great, great grandad who was a banjo-playing alcoholic who may or may not have burned his pub down as an insurance scam, and some pretty awful country and western singing in a Sheffield working man’s club, there was little in that to play on my mind.

Nor is the prospect of Scottish independence keeping me awake, even with the sight of a smarmy David Cameron trying to look sincere, while sticking to his non-policy of too little, too late and promises of jam tomorrow.

No, I suspect that my present alertness has much more to do with work, the imminent round of budget discussions, C’s important job interview tomorrow, mixed with the remnants of the hotel’s burger with extra cheese and bacon (but not as we know it), fries, and a certain dill pickle poking at the edge of my consciousness.

I am bolt awake. I am also dehydrated – a consequence of spending most of my day in an air-conditioned atmosphere, and the lack of free water. I awoke to find my teeth are sticking to my gums while my tongue feels too big for my mouth.

And so I have been forced to face the dilemma of the air conditioning. I prefer my room cool, and appreciate the white noise in the background to help me sleep. But I have been forced to switch it off to halt my decline into complete desiccation.

I can feel my eyeballs reddening, my wrinkles deepening, and the bags under my eyes growing to the size of a super-model’s luggage; and, a curvaceous, large-sized super model at that.

I need to sleep. It is going to be a long day in the office otherwise.

September 16, 2014 at 12:59 pm Leave a comment

I hate Mondays…..

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The morning red-eye from Crewe to Euston is somewhat depressing this morning.

It is depressing because the country is clearly now back to work after the summer holidays. I must have blinked. I missed the holidays. I must have blinked twice. I missed the summer.

But, it is obvious that many in the first class carriage of this Virgin Pendolino (for some reason inserting the words “Virgin Pendolino” into a post seems to increase the number of hits I get. Who would have thought that my blog would be so popular with the train spotting fraternity…..?).

Several of the men and women around me are sporting good tans. When I say “good”, I mean “extreme”. These are not the tans you get by being whipped by the wind on the shore at Whitby or as result of casual bathing on the Cornish Coast.

No, these are suntans that people have worked hard at while on vacation. Hours spent recumbent under a Mediterranean sun with nothing but a thong or a pair of Speedos and a factor 5 to protect you from the solar flares and ultra violet. These are sun worshipers as dedicated as any Egyptian Atonist or Aztec prostrate in veneration of Tonatiuh.

And, their reward is skin that is taught, dark and tanned (as in tannic acid). I kid you not, but if you fixed a handle to the head of Mr Creosote sat opposite me, then I would be hard-pressed to tell him apart from my nearest and dearest’s Mulberry Bayswater. He is the un-natural colour of Dale Winton or those who succumb to the perils of the self-tanning spray…..

The collective mood on board has not been helped by the failure of the Virgin Pendolino ( :) ) seat reservation system. It is a crowded carriage thrown into chaos as pot-bellied silver-back business men beat their chests in frustration and wave their tickets under the noses of innocents who have taken their seat. I’m not budging! No matter how red you turn. Now that I am in situ with my newspaper, killer sudoku, phone, and iPad deployed I am not going anywhere….

And, my personal mood has not been helped this morning by the fact that it is a one-cup-of-tea only service and Mr Branson could only afford to give me just one and a half sausages on my sandwich!

It feels like a long week already….

September 15, 2014 at 8:45 am Leave a comment

Five star….

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Maybe I am just not a five star person?! Give me a good four star Intercontinental or a Marriott anytime.

Now don’t get me wrong I appreciate excellent service, good surroundings, a wonderful location, and a nice bathroom with a walk in shower as much as the next guy. But sometimes – most times – I just want to shut the door on the world and hole up with a half decent movie or Twitter, a steak, and the contents of a mini-bar.

I have just stayed one night in the five star splendour of the Hotel Sacher in Vienna, Austria. It is one of Vienna’s finest if Tripadvisor is to be believed. Which, though rarely the case, may well have been true.

I was greeted like a pop star (or mistaken for Paul Hollywood again – he seems to be a little more current than my other doppelgänger, George Clooney) from being dropped off by the taxi. My luggage was swapped for a ticket by a man in a top hat. He could have been anyone. He could have been the infamous top hat thief of Wien who hangs around the receptions of top Austrian hotels stealing the luggage from unsuspecting travellers. But, thankfully, he was the real deal doorman and my luggage was safe and sound…..

The concierge ushered me to reception and the receptionist expressed genuine (not) interest in my day, my plans for the evening, and my life prospects over the next week or so. The conversation was sealed with the swipe of my Amex card, at which point the same receptionist took me on a mini-tour of the elegant ground floor, explained the location of the gym and spa (I am blessed with the kind of natural athletic physique that strangers just assume I must work out regularly…..), before showing me to my room.

It was nice. No, it was much better than nice. But was it worth paying more than twice the rate I typically pay for a stay in London?

I think that the room had far too many towels for one person and far too many drawers for someone living out of an overnight bag. It had far too many light switches – whatever combination I pressed there always seemed to be one left on, which required me to walk across the length of the room to turn off. And, to be honest, I didn’t sleep too well, fearing that the grand chandelier may fall and crush me….

But, in truth, the room could have benefited from a much better air conditioning unit – it was mighty hot even with the dial turned down to 11 (minus). I would have like firmer pillows, and free water. I awoke several times feeling thirsty and dehydrated, a consequence of the heat and the inefficient air conditioning.

As it happened, the location was wasted on me. I arrived after 7pm and had an hour of calls, by which time it had begun to rain outside. So, by the time I had found the hair dryer (hidden I one of the myriad drawers) and figured out how to change the TV so that it would talk English to me, it was pretty much time for bed. No sightseeing.

It might have been five star luxury but I couldn’t help wondering just how many bathrobes and pairs of slippers could a person get through in a stay. And I still had to phone down to ask for an iron and ironing board to be delivered….

Indeed, I had several visitors to the room – the receptionist who showed me around, the housekeeper who brought the iron, the guy from room service who delivered my meal, and the other guy from room service who cleared my empties (you’re not allowed to just leave it outside your door in a five star establishment!).

And on every occasion my visitor seemed to linger and hesitate before leaving. Either they were thinking of asking me for my autograph or maybe a selfie to show to their friends. Or, they assumed that if I could afford to stay in this place then I could damn well leave a tip. But, I couldn’t steal from my Company with a clear conscience….

Which brings me to the subject of the food. Now, I realise that I missed the opportunity to sample the Sacher Torte for which this particular establishment is renowned, but my food choices seem to have been limited to fried chicken, ham and grilled cheese. If it hadn’t been for the German of the TV I could have been in the American Deep South….

August 14, 2014 at 2:26 pm Leave a comment

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