A Brazilian anyone….

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Brazilian

brəˈzɪlɪən/
noun
1. a native or inhabitant of Brazil.
2. a style of waxing a woman’s pubic hair in which almost all the hair is removed, with only a very small central strip remaining.
adjective
1. relating to Brazil.

My flight to São Paulo, Brazil from Manchester via Paris, Charles de Gaulle was fairly uneventful.

Incidentally those words “Paris, Charles de Gaulle” should always be spoken in a French accent, otherwise one tends to come across like a pompous or uneducated Brit abroad.

Which I am not.

Indeed, sometimes, I like to embellish the words with a little shoulder shrug and blowing a little air through pursed lips “phtttt”, or use the destination “Roissey” instead. On a good day I can almost pass for a native.

A native-born in Birmingham and speaking French badly using un-rounded vowels….(RIP Mr Rolands).

Manchester Terminal 3 was busy, especially in the bars and lounges, which were thronged with United fans (mostly Paddies) heading home early after the game had been abandoned due to a suspect package left at the ground.

I couldn’t help but wonder how many had managed to grab an earlier flight home and how many others had just chosen to take advantage of an unexpected 24 hour window in which to drink themselves stupid.

The flight to CdG (also to be spoken with a French accent) was made all the more entertaining by the drunk Scouse couple sat behind me (behind the curtain of shame which separates business class from those less fortunate) who were clearly off to Paris for a dirty weekend.

The woman was literally sobbing and slurring such things as “I’m so happy.” and, “This is the most romantic thing ever.” The cabin crew were clearly paying special attention to the lady and chose to quieten her down with a free glass of champagne. I thought this was a dangerous tactic but at least they declined her request for vodka as an alternative….

I think I got a glimpse into the weekend that they were going to be having when, upon landing, her romantic partner leaned in and declared that their hotel, apparently, was just a ten minute walk from the airport. More joyful tears….

Thankfully the flight landed early and my connection for São Paulo was in the same terminal, so I was quickly at the gate where I met a colleague that I am traveling with for the very first time. I immediately felt like a novice traveler.

Which I am not.

For, while I had checked in a suitcase the size of a small skip; was sporting a rucksack with which I could easily have undertaken a trek in the lower Himalayas; and a bag full of duty free cosmetics to replace those I had so ingloriously had to abandon in my sprint across CdG just a couple of weeks ago, he turfed up with just a trolley bag almost identical to that which I had left in the spare room.

The flight left on time. The seat in business class was comfortable enough but it wasn’t quite an A380. Nor was it Emirates or Ethiad. There was no bar at the back….

Indeed I believe they may have been rationing the booze. One glass of fizz upon boarding – which they do just to piss off all those in economy they make trail through business class. That’s the only reason why they let business class passengers board first. And just one glass of red with the meal.

Nevertheless I was tired and retired after watching the quite entertaining Deadpool and having taken the hint after they had dimmed the cabin lights.

And then there followed several long hours of cat napping between the snores of my fellow passengers; people rummaging for things in the overhead lockers; announcements telling us to strap ourselves in due to turbulence (it was quite bumpy); and, my own ragged breathing due to an untimely and unwelcome bout of sinusitis. I have a mucus brick inside of my head right now….

They turned the lights on with a couple of hours to go (why?), served us breakfast and the regaled us with announcements about imminent death as a result of various mosquito-borne maladies….

Welcome to Brazil! Now, which bag did I pack the repellent in?

 

May 17, 2016 at 12:57 am 1 comment

A world without social media….

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It has been a strange week. The final week with my current employer – last week was my leaving do and the ritual handing over of my laptop and security badge as I have been on leave this week.

In the middle of this week, for some reason, my current employer disabled my email account. In many ways this was a blessing, but in others, felt like a parting with an old friend. I expect that my iPhone will die tomorrow – a final farewell.

I am not sure how I will cope with the prospect of being unconnected until I collect my new security badge, phone and laptop on Monday. Even if only for a day. Hopefully my new employer will furnish me with new technology but it is likely to involve a strange new world of French keyboards, and a French telephone number, and who knows what kind of phone….

Imagine a world without connectivity. Without social media. No email, texting, WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Skype. What would become of Middle Man then? Without his blog? To paraphrase the seminal work of the philosopher, George Berkeley – if Middle Man blogs in an unconnected world, who will hear his voice?

And this is all happening at a time when I have another new badge. A badge of honour, earned this week in the Twittersphere. Someone blocked me. And it is a badge I wear with pride. A badge which, in importance, stands head and shoulders above any of my 36 Tripadvisor badges….

I assume they blocked me because they did not like my politics. Or, because they did not have the wit nor wisdom to defend their own.

I had been driven to Twitter to chastise Boris Johnson, @MayorofLondon, for his banal and frankly racist criticism of Barak Obama after the latter had waded into the Brexit debate on behalf of the stay campaign.

I merely pointed out that Obama was not the only non-EU politician to offer an opinion and that, as Americans had died in large numbers in two European Wars, that America had earned the right to express an opinion on the pros and cons of membership of the European Union – an institution, which, while flawed and in need of reform, had helped to keep the Continent relatively peaceful for the last seventy years.

And I said all if that in less than 140 characters.:)

Boris did not respond. Clearly I had shamed him into silence. If only….

But, one of his followers cum acolytes waded into the debate by stating that FDR (Roosevelt) had intended to let the UK fall to the Nazis and advised me to check my history – always a red rag to this bull of an Oxford Modern History graduate who specialised in British Foreign and Domestic Policy 1935 to 1939…….

She blocked my account after I referenced certain similarities between the current geopolitical situation with that immediately before the outbreak of World War Two – mass immigration (of Syrians and others displaced from war in the Middle East and Northern Africa, rather than Jews); an aggressive ideology based on righteous superiority and hatred (that of ISIS rather than Nazism); and, of belligerent and conflicting superpowers grabbing land and strategic assets at the expense of weaker neighbours (Putin’s Russia rather than Stalin’s; China instead of Germany), etc., etc.

Again, in less than 140 characters….

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My nemesis did not retort. She merely blocked me. And no doubt turned to that greater wit and wisdom of that fine list of intellectual heavyweights pushing the Leave Campaign – the likes of Boris and Gove, Farage and George Galloway, Rupert Murdoch and Katie Hopkins…..and Putin.

Nuff said?

Now, I wonder what Ken Livingstone has been up to?

April 30, 2016 at 5:50 pm Leave a comment

What a rollercoaster….

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It has been a stressful week. A week of highs and lows. Seven days of frustration mixed with enjoyment; of joy and disappointment.

This week C and I headed to deepest, darkest Surrey Hills in search of a rental property with room enough to accommodate furniture accumulated over 23 years and within striking distance of an international airport and London.

We were very much feeling the pressure as I start my new job on Monday, Bank Holiday Monday that is. While everyone else in the UK will be huddled under a golf umbrella turning sausages on a bbq they wish they had cleaned last September, Middle Man will be having lunch in Paris with his new boss.

The absolute delight of the week was meeting our six-week old niece, Ella Rose, for the first time. She is a wonderful, cuddleful, bundle of love and beauty, and we look forward to spending more quality time with her and her parents. Although to my mind mom and dad seemed a tad too excited at the prospect of having two doting baby sitters on tap.

C had prepared a very carefully choreographed list of potential rental properties for us to view. All were selected on the basis of proximity to travel routes, Waitrose, Pizza Express (which is our traditional eatery of choice for both drowning our sorrows and celebrating our successes in life), and Laura Ashley, and price…..

It is expensive down South!

And there followed a couple of days of huge disappointment viewing dark, pokey houses with ancient Argas, dirtier than any chip pan I have ever owned; inadequate parking, even for my recently downsized Audi A1; on busy roads with passing juggernauts rattling the door frames; with no mobile signal; located next to pubs, or sharing their grounds with a huge care home for elderly dementia sufferers….. I kid you not. C was worried that we might be spending our evenings corralling confused residents in their slippers and dressing gowns and was not impressed with my suggestion of erecting an electric fence….

Thankfully these horrors were interspersed by visits to nice restaurants, excellent pubs and time shared with C’s sister, her hubby and the baba…..and a rather depressed trip to Pizza Express, Reigate.

But, we did it.

We found a place which will likely be our home for the next twelve months or so. It was our very last viewing in the beautiful village of Shere, near Guildford. Shere is featured in the Railway Children (Jenny Agutter…..sigh), the Holiday, and home to the excellent William Bray pub which is owned by the Stig.

And so, we may be moving as quickly as mid-May. C is about to go into overdrive making arrangements for the move while we both try to prepare for an emotional farewell to our beautiful home, friends, neighbours, and fabulous memories, as we sever our umbilical cord with the North…..for a while at least.

What a rollercoaster six months it has been….fingers crossed for those to come!

April 30, 2016 at 12:13 pm 1 comment

The Great Divide……Chips

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C and I are finding the search for a buyer of our Cheshire house and for a place to rent in Surrey quite stressful. And so, occasionally, we have forgone our low carb, low cholesterol, five-a-day for some good old-fashioned comfort food.

Last night we succumbed to an old favourite – a fish finger sandwich. Fish finger sandwiches used to be our meal of choice on a Friday night when we had just got together all those years ago. We would leave Shell-Mex House early and dash home to our flat in Kilburn, throw a couple of bags into the faithful Vauxhall Nova and belt it up the M6 (at least until the IRA bombed it) to my first home of my own in Galley Common, Nuneaton, stopping only at the local store to acquire fish fingers and a video.

And so, last night I assembled Captain BirdsEye’s (no relation) finest breadcrumbed fish fingers on white, buttered rolls, with a sprinkling of salt and vinegar, and a dash or two of ketchup.

It felt like we had reclaimed our Northern/Midland roots once more ahead of our imminent immersion in the South. These were proper fish fingers instead of goujons; Sarsons not Balsamic; and HP instead of sun-dried tomato….

We forsook a side portion of chips. We are watching our waistlines. C’s looks a lot more attractive than mine….

Chips are another thing which divides this great nation between North and South. Suggest to a Southerner that you would like your chips with curry sauce or gravy (even if accompanied by some beer battered cod) and they will wrinkle their aloof noses and roll their eyes. Their loss….

I bemoan the demise of the proper chip. None of your oven-cooked, twice-cooked, triple-cooked, French fry, chunky rubbish….but proper chips. Chips bought from a traditional chip shop with a huge jar of pickled eggs on the counter. Or chips peeled, cut (carved) and fried at home in a proper chip pan.

None of your deep fat or air fried rubbish. A proper, purpose-built, single-purpose chip pan. None of your sunflower or vegetable oil but a secret blend of dripping, lard, and full-fat butter. In my family chip pans were handed down from generation to generation like a family heirloom together with the secret of the fat therein. A pan which would never be cleaned and fat which would never be changed but constantly topped up.

C threw my chip pan out the day she moved in, together with my red plastic washing up bowl and matching brush and drainer. I’m not bitter….

The South still seems quite an alien and distant place. But we will do our very best to assimilate while trying very hard not to forget our roots….

April 24, 2016 at 12:31 pm Leave a comment

#OldGuysOnTour

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Just a couple of weeks ago I had a “significant birthday”. I turned 50.

I was born on a Wednesday under the sign of Aries. The US president at the time was Lyndon B. Johnson (Democratic) and the UK Prime Minister was the champagne socialist, Harold Wilson (Labour), and The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore by The Walker Brothers was number one in the charts, as they used to be known.

A lot has happened since then.

I was born in Walsall, now one of the UK’s most deprived towns. While resembling many former Soviet bloc towns and cities, Walsall is, in fact, in the Black Country – not yet a reference to its ethnic mix but to the smoky, sooty side-effects of the Industrial Revolution. “Walsall” is thought to be derived from the words “Wah halh”, meaning “valley of the Celtic speakers” or “where people speak like Benny off Crossroads”. Now that has aged me.

Walsall is “famous” for its arboretum and its illuminations and is officially the “Unhappiest Town” in the country (according to a First Direct poll) and is compared with Ceaucescu’s Romania and declared “The ugliest place in the world”. Famous residents include Noddy Holder (my friends will regale me with their renditions of the “Kipper Tie/Cuppa Tea” joke at the drop of a hat) and Boy George. And, very briefly my good self. For I was born in the Manor Hospital.

A lot has happened since then.

Much of my childhood and early education has been (almost accurately) captured for posterity in the pages of this blog. But, at the age of 18 I was lucky enough to gain a place at the Queen’s College, Oxford University. And it was there that I was even more fortunate to meet three lads that would become my best friends.

And, it was with these three that I chose to celebrate my half century last weekend, with a male bonding cum “walking weekend” cum extended pub crawl in Cheshire; two nights of debauchery (not) in the Alvanley Arms, Cotebrook; a gentle (not) meander along far too many miles of the Sandstone Trial; and a morning doing the tourist sites in Chester.

In truth, I had intended to blog about the humorous things that happen when a group of middle-aged (not) competitive alpha males with history get together and test themselves beyond their physical prowess and mental ages.

And, indeed, there was a wealth of material. The usual material which comes from placing four heterosexual males in just three rooms, forcing two to share a room (but thankfully not a double bed this time); of snoring loud enough to wake the dead; and, of conversations with the great white telephone – the result of a very delicate constitution; my dodgy knee; the tea fascist cum coffee snob who swung between lecturing the hotel staff on the art of tea bagging over breakfast and the pleasure of a strong long black.

It was like an episode of Last of the Summer Wine on steroids and innuendo and beer. And, I had a great time throughout despite much physical pain, mental strife, sleep deprivation and the low point, which was the soggy triple cooked chips.

But, to blog about that would be to have done a disservice to my friends who I have now known for 32 years, being 64% of my life, and 62% of theirs – all three were slow starters. And, to be fair, the highs and lows of the weekend have already been broadcast in near real time via Twitter and Facebook…… #OldGuysOnTour. What goes on tour does not necessarily stay on tour in these social media, wifi-enabled days.

What has stuck me most thinking back over the weekend is how lucky I am to know these men who share a bond of friendship and love that has been built and cemented between us over all these years, despite geographic separation and the usual conflict of priorities and daily life.

We are more than friends and more than family. We are all blessed with lovely and loving partners, and my friends have great bright, fun, and entertaining children who are a joy to be around and who I am watching grow into wonderful human beings all too quickly. We are all successful in our careers as a result of too much hard work and compromise and share the same stresses and concerns that come with all of that. And, despite lacking much in cycling proficiency, one gammy ear, a dodgy knee, and a third bollock, we are all relatively sane and healthy. And, long may it be so.

Thank you all three for your time and company this weekend and for making my birthday memorable. Thank you for letting C and I be part of your lives and your families. I look forward to sharing more significant dates with you and yours in the future.

And, to blogging about it……

April 12, 2016 at 8:16 pm Leave a comment

Are you being served….

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We had a rather successful trip to Wilmslow today. In the WAG capital of Cheshire we managed to buy two new suits (for the new job) and have pretty much (hopefully) booked our summer holiday for September – Sicily! We also managed to curtail the time spent in the sunglasses and handbag sections. Result!

And, there was an amusing distraction in Hoopers, a family run department store with a bright and shiny newly refurbished ground floor, but with the upper floors still seemingly modelled on Grace Brothers from Are You Being Served, and very much stuck somewhere in the 1970s.

“Fortunately” we were in the store just as they were beginning their Swimwear and Cruising catwalk show on the first floor. Only in Cheshire!

It was hilarious. Let’s just say that the youthful, leggy, attractive models were not entirely representative of their audience. The catwalk was lined with Cheshire’s well-to-do pearl and twin set, clearly relieved to find somewhere to rest their Gucci and Mulberry with a glass of free fizz, while their husbands looked like startled rabbits as the six foot leggy lovelies strutted past in their bikinis and one-pieces. The men developed a collective, distant, far-away look of fear in their eyes as they contemplated being locked on a cruise ship with their nearest and dearest for a couple of weeks without the distraction of Legionnaire’s disease or norovirus.

imageThe show was made further surreal by the accompanying voice-over which could have been by Mrs Merton reading a script crafted by Smashy and Nicey, in which Mrs M extolled the virtues of the current display of flounce and linen for “cruising with Oscar” (it means something different in Cheshire – I hope), and the “statement you would make at the Captain’s table”. All it lacked was a heated debate….

Stifling a chuckle and feeling a little voyeuristic, we beat a hasty retreat before the drawing of the raffle, in case we won anything, and headed to Pizza Express for a, you guessed it….

I am, however, thinking of returning to Hoopers for the Holly Willoughby road show at end the end of April…… I kid you not.

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April 2, 2016 at 7:11 pm 1 comment

In search of sun-dried tomatoes….

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In his book “Pies and Prejudice”, Stuart Maconie describes the moment he realised he had become a Southerner…..

‘My name is Stuart Maconie, and I am from the North Of England. Some time ago, I was standing in my kitchen, rustling up a Sunday brunch for some very hungover, very Northern mates who were “down” for the weekend. One of them was helping me out and, recipe book in hand, asked “where are the sun-dried tomatoes?” “They’re behind the cappuccino maker,” I replied. Silence fell. We slowly met each other’s gaze. We did not say anything. We did not need to. Each read the other’s unspoken thought: we had become those kinds of people, the kind of people who had sun-dried tomatoes and cappuccino makers, the kind of people who did Sunday brunch. In other words: southerners.’

Well, as you know, Cheshire is somewhat of a staging ground – a Southern enclave in the North, wedged between foreign lands such as Wythenshawe, Stoke and Wales. And so, over the last twenty three years we have slowly forsaken a diet of chip butties and balti pies and discovered the joys of brunch in Knutsford. Just last year we acquired our very own Nespresso maker. And, now we find ourselves heading south in search of sun-dried tomatoes……

We have found C’s perfect demographic based upon proximity of Waitrose, John Lewis and Pizza Express and hope to be in Reigate (no, not the retirement Mecca by the sea – that’s Margate…..) in the Surrey Hills area by the end of May.

This rapid rush to relocate is not entirely motivated by a desire to be close to our lil’ sis, Rebecca, who already lives there and has just given birth to our beautiful niece and, therefore, generated some baby-sitting duties. Although, that is the icing on the cake.

No, the great March south is the result of Middle Man finding a new role with a new employer who will require his presence in London (Paddington) and Paris. So, begins a new life commuting on trains to both capital cities, or maybe by plane to Paris should the French air traffic controllers ever decide to go back to work.

This “Tale of Two Cities” starts in May so we have both tendered our resignations and are busy trying to sell the house. We have already sold Middle Man’s car, downsizing to a very nippy Audi A1; and, we are busy trying to find somewhere to rent at a price which will still leave us with enough money for the occasional jar of sun-dried tomatoes or two.

Middle Man apologises in advance for future blogs ranting about his commute to work and we both look forward to hosting regular brunches with our visiting Northern friends and families. Don’t forget your passports.

March 21, 2016 at 7:20 pm 1 comment

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