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!
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….
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……
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.
The 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.
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.
Forget the fact that Donald Trump is sexist, a misogynist. Put aside the fact that he a rude, belligerent bully. Forget the fact that he is dismissive of the media who try to expose him.
On Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly: “She had blood coming out of her whatever” – following the first Republican debate, which Kelly moderated.
“Ariana Huffington is unattractive, both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man – he made a good decision.”
“You know it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young, and beautiful, piece of ass.”
“I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”
If that is enough to make sure, if you’re an American, then you can stop reading here. If not, then read on.
if you have not been appalled by his incitement of violence at his rallies. Read on.
Trump is just like Hitler.
Comparing anyone to Adolf Hitler is a serious thing. For sure, Donald Trump has not (yet) risen to power, or declared war, or committed mass genocide. And, for sure, many look at him as nothing more than a bumbling fool. A kind of American Boris Johnson-Max.
Just like Hitler.
Back in the day, the same was said of Hitler. Many Europeans and Americans at the time would apparently burst out laughing at Adolf’s shrill voice and jerky hand movements and refused to take him seriously even when he started to rise to prominence in Germany in the 1920s and 30s.
Others, however, could see the threat he posed. Truman Smith, a junior American military attaché in the 1920s, said of Hitler “This is a marvelous demagogue who can really inspire loyalty.”
Just like Trump.
Even those who saw Hitler as a clown or self-caricature consoled themselves in the belief that even if Hitler ever got into power, other German politicians would somehow be able to control him. Indeed, a lot of German politicians believed this themselves. Many Republicans in America think the same today.
Just like Trump.
Edgar Mowrer of the Chicago Daily News reporting at the time, however, repeatedly warned the world, “What he’s saying about the Jews is serious. Don’t underestimate him.”
Just like Trump.
On January 30th 1933, Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany.
Don’t let Trump become President. Please.
In 1933 Hitler had the support of millions of fanatical disciples. Some 13 million Germans, many of them former Socialists and Communists, had voted for his party.
In 2016 Trump is attracting his own disciples from the poor, less educated, white male, working class who have a nostalgic view of American history and power. And, he’s creating division amongst other deprived and economically constrained social groups. Divide and conquer.
Just like Hitler.
But there were also millions of Germans who stood against Hitler. The two sides – those for and those against Hitler – were very nearly equal in numbers. But whereas those on the left were divided among themselves, Hitler’s disciples were strongly united. The division amongst his opposition led to Hitler gaining ultimate control. Let’s hope that the other half of America can stay strong together.
Don’t let Trump do the same. Please.
Hitler exploited racism to rise to power. Hitler proposed mass deportations.
So does Trump.
Hitler promised to make Germany great again.
And so does Trump, of America.
Hitler was an anti-Jew fascist, and many claim that Trump is an anti-Muslim fascist. Hitler made Jews wear yellow stars. Trump proposes something similar for Muslims.
Trump has called for a “complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” But, some still deny Trump’s fascism, claiming that his behaviour doesn’t meet the dictionary definition of fascism, as an overtly anti-democratic movement that suppresses all opposition as a way to fulfill political goals.
At least not yet….
History professor Robert Paxton of Columbia University does not call Trump a fascist, but understands why some might do so. “He’s good at making astonishing speeches that make people sit up and take notice,” said Paxton. “Hitler and Mussolini – no one had ever seen public rallies like the meetings they’d have.”
Just like Trump.
Hitler blamed the woes of Germany on Jewish immigrants. Trump blames America’s on illegal Mexicans and proposes three core principles of immigration reform:
“I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”
Trump wants to build a wall around Mexico and he wants Mexico to pay for it, ignoring the fact that it was largely as a result of the US negotiated North American Free Trade Agreement (NFTA), which flooded the Mexican market with US government subsidised corn, forcing millions of Mexican farmers out of business.
Inevitably, this led to huge numbers of Mexicans migrating to the US in search of work, and willing to do the tedious, back-breaking, manual labour in return for low wages, and making American farmers rich.
Trump also blames Mexican immigrants for a rise in US crime, regularly citing an incident in which two illegal immigrants attacked and killed a woman with a hammer; and another, when a woman in San Francisco was tragically shot and killed by a man who was also here illegally.
“They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists” – at his campaign launch, Trump Tower, New York City
Hitler’s 25-point plan called for all Jews to be expelled from the country because they were a drain on resources that could otherwise make life better for natural German citizens. Just like Trump who points the finger at immigrant Mexicans, while promising to help all beleaguered Americans.
Trump appeals both to white racists and impoverished inner-city neighbourhoods with the claim that Mexicans are taking opportunities that could just as easily be theirs.
And Trump has gone on to call for a ban on all Syrian refugees as well.
He has even gone so far as to threaten to remove government funding from any cities in America (so-called “sanctuary cities”) that defy his vans and extend a helping (some would say Christian hand) to those in need.
Many in the Republican Party appear be staking a lot of hope in their party to do the right thing and go with a more moderate candidate, even if Trump is in the lead and presents their best opportunity to win. But no one is stepping forward yet and Trump is threatening riots on the street if he doesn’t win the nomination.
Indeed, in Nazi Germany, the conservative faction of the German government also entered into a begrudging partnership with Hitler which ultimately led to his victory and dominance.
Don’t let Trump do the same. Please.
In a 1990 interview with Vanity Fair, Ivana Trump, his ex-wife mentioned that her husband used to keep a book filled with Hitler’s speeches by his bedside. His sequel to Mein Kampf. Don’t let Trump be Hitler’s sequel.
Do not vote for Trump. Please.