Off to university…..

A few days ago C and I were in the Nespresso shop in the swanky new Tunsgate Centre in Guildford. We were buying our stock of Vivalto Lungo before heading up to the Ivy for a spot of brunch. We are so Surrey Hills these days….

While we were in the coffee shop I noticed a couple of young people looking at coffee machines to buy and it suddenly dawned on me that this was Generation Z, getting ready to go off to university in just a few weeks.

And watching these bright, yellow, young things preparing to temporarily leave home (they will be back….until their mid-thirties at least) it dawned on me how much my life had changed since being a pale-faced and pimply 18 year old freshman on his way up to the Queen’s College, Oxford all those generations ago. And, how different the experience of going to university might be for this current wave of early starters with their high expectations, digital footprints, social media followings, and, Nespresso machines.

In 1984 I was packed off to university with a duvet, a kettle, two mugs, two plates, two bowls, cutlery for two, two glasses (all acquired from Lakeland) and a rather damning insight into my parents’ expectations of me making any friends. I went with four A levels, a full state grant, a college scholarship, a housing allowance, one brand new and tailored suit (my first and my last) for formal dinners, and a knot in the pit of my stomach. I was scared and lacking confidence. Young, immature, and naive.

Generation Z heads off with their smartphones and laptops, wearing oversize, gender-neutral athleisure wear with a sneer at those clinging to the Abercrombie & Fitch and Gap of their Millennial parents and elder siblings. I had gone off with a top-loading CD player (I’ve always been an early adopter), a complete secondhand set of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and instructions to phone home every Sunday. 

Back in my day the public school sneer had been reserved for my denim and donkey jackets, my blue jeans and trainers, which betrayed working-class roots and solidarity with the striking miners, in a world full of tweed jackets, corduroy trousers and shiny Oxford brogues. My white socks and accent betrayed me as being from Birmingham in a world full of Price Charles voices from Ampleforth, Pocklington and Eton.

The world is very different now. At eighteen I was thrown into an older, ancient world of wood-panelling, privilege, initiation ceremonies, beer, hand-written essays, books from libraries, beer, the loss of virginity, sweaty bops and kebabs on a Friday night, and a cold, cold toilet at the bottom of a fourteenth century stone staircase. We stood under the gaze of paintings and statues celebrating our racist, colonial, imperial past without any guilt, fury, or protest. Protest was reserved for Margaret Thatcher. We were all too worried about avoiding AIDS  and nuclear annihilation to be tearing down statues or being offended.

But in many ways I think it was an easier time than that awaiting the new student intake, Snapchatting its way through digital references, expecting to be treated like an individual, demanding value for money in return for their student debt, and safe in the knowledge that they are going to change the world……and go home to mom and dad.

I wish them all the very best. But, I also hope that, as I did, they leave in three or four years time with the best friends in the world, having got laid, and maybe, with an appreciation of beer…..

Oh, and a degree.

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August 29, 2018 at 5:04 pm Leave a comment

Baby, it’s hot outside….

 

Baby, it’s hot outside. 

And, England struggles in that heat amid a shortage of lettuce and CO2, which is causing our supply of crumpets and lager to run out. The Mail is blaming Johnny Foreigner and immigrants bringing their hot-weather ways with them, while Boris is promising there will be bumper crops of Iceberg and bubbles once we have Brexited. 

We are awash with warnings not to lock our pets in cars or to walk them on hot pavements. Indeed, we are advised not to venture outside at all without the benefit of factor 50, a gallon (a good post-Brexit measure) of still spa water, and a floppy hat.

To be fair it’s not because of a CO2 shortage that the lager is running out but because people are drinking it, at alarming rates. Driven not by a collective anguish due to the lack of a crumpet or midget gem, but by the absolute certainty that England is going to win the World Cup now that Germany, Argentina, and Spain have all crashed out. 

Our village greens have become village browns as hosepipe bans abound. Red-faced Morris dancers drag themselves wearily around the maypole in a vain attempt to summon some ancient pagan god of rainfall and cricket. And, we are all encouraged to shower only once a week, preferably sharing with a good friend or neighbour. 

As a result, the air is heady with the aroma of deodorant and dry shampoo and the neighbours have gone underground, hidden away behind heavy curtains to block the sunlight and huddled around their Dyson Hot and Cold or sitting in the light of an open freezer door.

A plague of horseflies of almost biblical proportions threatens to wheedle out the weakest of us that dare to venture out in between football matches in search of more lager, Green and Black Belgian White Chocolate ice cream (this is the Surrey Hills, darling), Pimms, and absolutely anything to throw on the barbecue. 

At least Murray has done the decent thing and retired ahead of Wimbledon starting. So, we are spared the constant reference to his Mound and whether he has the bottle for it. And, there should, at least, be enough strawberries to go round. And, we’ve already trounced those cheating Aussies at the cricket. (Don’t mention the rugby).So, all we have to stress ourselves about now is whether the football team has been practicing their penalties and Harry Kane’s fitness.

Well that is not ALL we have to worry about. The hot air, combined with the lager and the stress of the football is causing tensions and domestic violence to rise. 

There are demonstrations every weekend for and against this and that. And, that twat Trump is visiting next week to play golf with the Queen. Some are predicting riots in the street.

And there is an infestation of Mamils (middle aged men in Lycra) taking advantage of the long dry days to abandon their children and dog-walking duties, to take to their peddle bikes to slow traffic, and to terrify pedestrians and walkers while eating flap jack and drinking real ale (no CO2 required) while having conversations about how real men play rugby, shave their legs and vasolene their intimate bits. 

And yet, if you listen very carefully, amid the sound of hot birdies panting in the arid hedgerows, and the faint sound of horseflies gently sucking the blood of some unfortunate that fainted on the way to Waitrose, you can hear a quite murmur slowly growing in volume and building in intensity – “It’s coming home. It’s coming. Football’s coming home…….”

NB. This blog was written ahead of England’s game against Colombia. If we lost, especially if we lost on penalties, please ignore the above but still feel free to vent your fury when Trump arrives or whenever Boris stands in front of another bloody bus. 

Fifty two years of hurt. But there’s always Qatar…..

July 2, 2018 at 5:46 pm Leave a comment

The Mother-in-Law….

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Well, my mother-in-law has returned to her home in Royston Vasey after a week long stay. 

Unfortunately (sic), I managed to miss most of her stay. I was in Spain on business (sic) for two days; and, had a couple of long days in London. The rest of the time I spent taking frequent and long trips to the bathroom; or hiding in the airing cupboard (she hasn’t found me yet); drinking; or sobbing silently into a cushion.

No, to be honest it hasn’t been all that bad. We had other guests to share her amongst last weekend – my baby sister-in-law, her long-suffering husband, and our adorable two year old niece. And, these days the mother-in-law rarely has the stamina to stay up beyond 9.30 in the evening, especially if you’ve plied her with a drink or two.

And, believe me we did.

And at times she can be “entertaining “….. Like the time we caught her eating her breakfast cereal, sloshing with milk, off a plate. Because she couldn’t find a bowl. Despite being stood between the dresser (where the bowls live) and the dishwasher (which contained all the cleanly washed bowls).

And she comes with a running commentary. “I am just going to the toilet.” “I am now entering the lounge.” “I would like a glass of Baileys now.”

And in restaurants she announces her arrival in the same tone and manner as the proud, defiant remnants of the gladiator and slave army at the end of the movie Spartacus “I’ am Gluten Free!”, wielding it like some super power or a threat of imminent legal action against the serving staff….

But she has gone now. The house is quiet once more. And, C and I have been reclaiming our home space. I have been stroking the remote control which I have not let leave my side, and I am refusing to budge off the sofa having reclaimed my spot, which was denied me for a week – I was literally sidelined. 

And, we have returned the best glassware, and bowls, to their places of glory and restored all sharp items from their hiding places. And, I can now freely take a banana from the fruit bowl without being made to feel that I am stealing food from her mouth.

But I mean she has “gone” only in the sense that she isn’t here. A quick, rudimentary check would suggest that all of our valuables remain intact and have not been squirrelled away to Royston Vasey, where she lives. And, surprisingly, the spare room cupboards and drawers seem to be clear of forgotten secret stashes of drugs and gluten-free pecan pie tarts.

But, there is also worrying evidence that she is moving in. Slowly. Piece by piece. Visit by visit. She has left a pair slippers. A dressing gown. A cupboard full of Voltarol, Steradent, corn plasters, and other strange cosmetic ranges.

So, she clearly intends  to be back.

Sob.

Miss you already, Pat.

June 23, 2018 at 5:47 pm 1 comment

To crack a nut….

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I have acquired a sledgehammer.

While we do not really have a gun problem here in the UK, not one like in America at least, I am aware that many in our biggest and baddest criminal fraternities are not averse to carrying weapons as they ply their nefarious trade. Knives, baseball bats, pick handles and the like.

Thanks to the Daily Mail and the Express, we also know that many of these criminals are immigrants such as Polish , Romanian, Gypsy, or the Irish and, as such, will have ready access to “heavier weaponry “ such as heavy wrenches, tyre levers and sledgehammers…..

We know from our American brethren that is important to be able to fight fire with fire. To be able to defend oneself, loved ones, and one’s property against such miscreants, or against a similarly well-armed neighbour or casual labourer with a mental health illness; or, with a temper and a six pack of strong lager.

Of course, I considered a concealed weapon option first. But, I felt that my Swiss Army Knife just wouldn’t do it. It lacks the gravitas and deterrent factor. And, I feared that if I panicked in the event of a home invasion or a road rage incident, I might be slow or confused in my panic. I might inadvertently find myself defending myself with little more than a tiny plastic magnifying glass or an inch-long crosshead screwdriver and an adrenaline rush backed up with a very hard stare.

I did try a concealed claw hammer for a while but got fed up wearing the same coat – the one with the big pockets – and I almost did myself a mischief once when I sat down too quickly on a hard surface….

So, now I have my very own sledgehammer and I am fully prepared for invasion by those Europeans (bloody Brexit), Islamists, zombies or the federal government (if Surrey ever gets devolved power…..).

I did worry for a while about where I should keep. C wouldn’t allow me to keep it under my pillow and I was worried about burglars breaking in, finding it and using it against me. So, I’ve locked it in the shed. So, let’s hope we get a good five minute warning ahead of any zombie invasion…

#GunControlNow

February 25, 2018 at 6:29 pm 1 comment

KFC Deja vu?

Apparently 100s of UK KFC stores are closed today due to a lack of chicken. Go figure. And, not for the first time:

 

https://caughtinthemiddleman.wordpress.com/2008/02/14/it-doesnt-taste-like-chicken/

 

February 19, 2018 at 8:20 am Leave a comment

It’s All Over!

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It’s all over!

It is New Year’s Eve and Christmas is well and truly over.

The Mother-in-Law, R, J and the little cherub vacated the house (with threats that they still had keys) a couple of days ago now. I have since reclaimed my seat on the sofa and control of the remote. We have moved out of the en suite and back into our main bathroom. Things that were put up high for safety reasons have been restored to their normal places. Not out of reach of a curious cherub, but of the Mother-in-Law who would tidy and/or wash up, anything that was below knee height of a normal adult. And, of course, the bottle of Baileys had to be well out of reach. It is a terrible thing, the drink…

The smells of warm mince pies and a vat of red cabbage are but a distant memory now. And, while the black bin remains filled to the brim with unrecyclable plastics (destined for the seas of South East Asia) and nappies, the food and recycling bins have at least been emptied. Bottles mostly…. and red cabbage.

However, the smell of gluten free pecan pie hung in the air a little longer than that of mince pie. At least until we discovered the Mother-in-Law’s secret midnight snack stash in the bedside table of the spare room. I am pretty sure that a bottle of Baileys is still missing though….

But it was a good Christmas. A very good Christmas, despite my many mischievous missives here. Our guests were great company and the house certainly seems a little empty without the laughter of our gorgeous niece, her dancing to the very loud music of her Thomas the Tank Engine toy, her tug of my beard, and the movie, Frozen, playing on a loop. Daddy’s favourite film….

Indeed it has been a good year, 2017. A new home, which we look forward to sharing with our friends and other family, if R, J and the Mother-in-Law ever stay away long enough….

Actually, in just a couple of hours we will be welcoming good friends to help us let in the New Year. We will raise a glass or three to those friends and family of whom we have not seen enough this year, and we hope to see you all very soon. Have a good one everybody! Let’s hope Trump, Brexit and Corbyn don’t spoil it too much….

Cheers. Where’s the Prosecco?

December 31, 2017 at 1:51 pm Leave a comment

Festive Season Day 6 – The Aftermath! Part 2 – It’s only a game….

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Festive Season Day 6 – The Aftermath! Part 2….it’s only a game.

Who knew that Monopoly could be so competitive?

R and J very kindly bought C and I a retro version of the Monopoly board game as a Christmas present. It was a replica of the original 1935 board with wooden houses and hotels, luxury taxes and references to the gold standard. The Mother-in-Law remembered when the original version had first appeared in her local shop for local people (she lives in Royston Vasey)….

Once the little cherub has gone beddy byes and we had eaten, we would set a fire, fill our glasses, and gather round the dining table for a friendly family game. Not.

I should have known after the game of Trivial Pursuit, when the Mother-In-Law would only try to land on the yellow squares to answer history questions (she retired as a history teacher last century), being happier to answer questions correctly rather than trying to actually win the game. She got particularly excited when she knew the answer to a history question that I did not know (I am a history graduate), she would start to hyperventilate and shout “I’m buzzing, I’m buzzing!). She, of course, had the distinct advantage of having actually lived through most of history. Much Baileys was needed to calm her down.

There was not enough Baileys to keep her calm during the “boys versus girls” game of Pictionary, however. The Mother-In-Law would constantly break the rules around talking, nodding, using numbers, and would draw the same series of straight lines and random dots for every card, except for the word “follow” when she proceeded to draw one stick man after another until the sand ran out.

The Baileys was clearly also interfering with the psychic connection between mother and her two daughters as J and I strolled to victory. The Mother-In-Law accused us of cheating – “have you two been practicing?“ and, apparently, drawing an accurate representation of the word on the card is not in the spirit of the game….

But, who knew that Monopoly would turn them all into monsters!?

Now J had already shown signs of ultra-competitiveness during the two previous games, but Monopoly took him completely over to the Dark Side. He was as driven as any geologist who had failed to discover oil in his 13 year career in the upstream oil industry. He would whisper poor advice and promises of more and more Baileys into the Mother-in-Law’s ears to steer the game to his advantage. The “girls” would retaliate by introducing special family rules mid game, or do ridiculously one-sided deals in an attempt to thwart him. J would respond by pursing his lips and lowering his head in exactly the same manner as his 21 month old cherub of a daughter when being told off…..

For the record, I was in the lead of that game and would have won if only R had not blatantly exploited my colour blindness and sold me a lemon….

Is there any sherry left?

December 29, 2017 at 3:05 pm Leave a comment

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