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

Don’t take the high road….

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On the 18th September this year the people of Scotland will vote on whether they should become an independent country and leave the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Well, in truth, only people living in Scotland will get the vote. Scots living elsewhere have been disenfranchised. As have the rest of us in the UK.

It is like going through a divorce when only one party gets to go before a judge. Worse still, they have opened up the vote to the petulant youth – 16 and 17 year old teenagers who have sufficient energy to drag themselves out of their pits will also be able to condemn the Union to history.

Now I am not a Scot. I am English, British and European. But, some of my best friends are Scottish. I once regularly drove for ten hours from Nuneaton to Aberdeen to date a proud, flame-haired Scottish lassie. And I, for one, do not want to separate.

Scotland is a beautiful land. A proud nation. A wonderful culture. And, a country which has consistently punched above its weight!

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I am keen to avoid the more obvious stereotypes – ginger-haired men in skirts, deep-fried Mars bars, and a Yorkshireman devoid of all humour and generosity.

And, I am reluctant to get drawn into debate over ownership of the pound (however, both of the Bank of Scotland and England were founded by a Scot) offshore oil reserves, membership of the European Union, the split of debt, and the fate of Trident.

Instead, I prefer to celebrate just a few of the successes of this great country and give just a few examples of how these British Isles and wider world have been enriched by those from North of the Border.

Scotland has led the world in the field of communication and technology, giving us the fax machine, television, film and the telephone. Many lives have been saved following the discovery of penicillin. Radar, the toaster, the bicycle and the thermos flask, Bovril and modern road construction are just a few of the myriad inventions, creations and innovations all of Scottish origin.

imageA warrior nation with a proud military heritage – it has been said that the British Empire was built on bullets from Birmingham and bodies from Scotland (and Ireland). And, the Scottish influence has also spread far and wide in peaceful times – a Scot published the first English language Bible in the USA; the first millionaire in Australia was a Scot, as was the founder of the New York Herald, and the Buick car company. To name but a few.

I could go on.

I have no doubt that Scotland would flourish as an independent country. I know that the United Kingdom would be diminished if there was a separation.

Of course, it hasn’t all been good news – you gave us Gordon Brown, Ian Brady, George Galloway and Frankie Boyle. But, the benefits far outweigh the few downsides.

But, as in any successful marriage, one partner can only succeed if supported by the other. It is about give and take and mutual respect. It is about communication, working together and having each others’ back.

I hope you vote “No”!

August 10, 2014 at 2:17 pm Leave a comment

Just b*ke right off will you…..

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The country has gone mad. The media has gone mad. It’s driving me mad. What is it with The Great British Bake Off?

It is one of those annoying TV programmes that gets shortened to an acronym – TGBBO – like TOWIE, TOTP and BBLB. One of those shows that is so popular it must have a spin-off  – An Extra Slice.

And it seems that the whole country, with the exception of C and I, are watching it, talking about it, or writing about it. It is all over the TV, newspapers and the internet like a rash. And, I just don’t get it……

nigellaNow, I can fully understand the sex appeal of Paul Hollywood. I can see how a female audience would go weak at the knees watching him kneading his dough and waving his rolling-pin around. He is after all a Middle Man lookalike…..

But the same could not be said so easily of Mary Berry and the rather unfunny comedy duo which is Mel and Sue. Nigella Lawson, Holly Willoughby and Claudia Winkleman they are not! And neither is Jo Brand, although you can at least see why she applied for the role. And, she can be funny.

This is a show in which people watch other people baking in a large tent in the middle of rural England. It is a flurry of flour, eggs, aprons and pinafores, and emotion without the benefit of the sequins, lycra and high heels of Strictly. It is all pies, bread, biscuits and cupcakes without the swimming costumes and gymnastic dexterity of  Splash! or the, I would have thought, broader appeal of a MasterChef. And yet it seems to be the Talking Dog Show to everyone else’s Puck (an Episodes reference), being on its fifth series, even without the benefit of Ant and Dec or the financial backing of Simon Cowell. It has won a BAFTA and with 9.1 million viewers it is BBC Two’s most watched programme ever, beating Top Gear into second place, and as a reward for its popularity now has a prime spot on BBC One.

Recruitment to the Women’s Institute must be at an all time high….and to Weight Watchers.

August 7, 2014 at 5:10 pm Leave a comment

On a lighter note….

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C and I went for a walk yesterday in the vicinity of Audlem, taking in parts of the South Cheshire Way and the Shropshire Union Way.

The weather was kind – it was sunny without being too hot, if a little windy in sheltered parts. We were correctly attired and had everything we might need – short of alcohol – in the rucksacks on our backs.

We survived. In truth it is always a relief when these old bones of mine survive the rigours of even gentle exercise. Even the dodgy knee seems fine this morning. But, at certain points along the way it was if nature itself was trying to get at me. It was as if some of my worst horror movies had combined and I was unable to awake from the nightmare.

cornAt one point, the farmers had clearly decided that they did not want to go to the expense or trouble to maintain the public footpaths across their land and had planted maize where otherwise the path should be. The maize was tall. Six or seven feet tall in parts. And, tightly packed together. C and I were forced to push our way through without the aid of a machete (note to self: need to add to the “everything we might need” list). It was like a scene from Children of the Corn or that truly shocking Mel Gibson movie, Signs. I kept expecting to hear a little whimper behind me only to turn around and find C gone……

So, it was somewhat of a reprieve when found ourselves inthe birds the open on the towpath of the canal. Except on a couple of occasions, like a scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds, when we found ourselves beneath a clamour of fifty to a hundred or so rooks. They seemed agitated and were swooping and diving en masse – we suspect in an attempt to chase off a buzzard or two.

It was a relief that the rest of the fauna alongside the canal was a little more benign – the odd mallard, a heron, Canadian geese. At least, those animals that were visible to us. If someone had started playing the Da Dum, Da Dum music from Jaws I would have half expected to be snatched by a Great White….

I needed a pint of Shropshire Gold to steady my nerves.

August 4, 2014 at 3:13 pm Leave a comment

One Hundred Years….

Albert William JonesMy granddad, Sapper 72094, Albert William Jones was just twenty years old at the outbreak of the First World War. He was a machinist in the locomotive industry in Irlam, Lancashire where he lived above his father’s post office and newsagents.

He volunteered, joining the 42nd Territorial Signal Company. A Pals Brigade. It was part of the 42nd East Lancashire Territorial Division. The first Territorial division ever to volunteer for foreign service and the first to leave England in the first naval convoy to leave these shores since the Napoleonic wars, on 9th September 1914.

He fought at Gallipoli, in the Dardanelles, Sinai, Palestine, and occupied Jerusalem, Damascus and Constantinople. He fought alongside Lawrence of Arabia, the Anzacs, and other Commonwealth troops from India and elsewhere. He returned home in 1919.

Albert William Jones was mentioned in despatches for gallantry as a result of brave action during the Battle of Armageddon in September 1918.

He went to Hell and, unlike so many others, came back.

He died in 1960. I never met him.

Lest we forget….

 

August 4, 2014 at 12:07 pm Leave a comment

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