Monday, July 28, 2008

Hello Summer!

Aaaaah, to feel the cool, cool air rushing through your hair on a hot summer's day. There's nothing quite like it, running in front of several thousand people, to get a round of applause, a standing ovation even which reduces one to tears, to take a bow, to feel at one with nature.
Even Royalty were summoned to their feet, pointing, gesticulating, laughing even, with unrestrained joy.

No wonder I used to admire Zola Budd, running in those bare feet, or Sandie Shaw, warbling barefoot on Top of the Pops. Erica Roe, where are you now?

I think we made mincemeat of the oppos. Overbearing, not to mention overdressed, lardy sweaty old age pensioners trundling after us muttering about dresscode while we ran freeeee, free as a bird, alongside the glistening steeds. I thought as one overtook me I was going to be thwacked with the polo stick but I suspect we were in receipt of tacit support, an appreciation of our humour, good spirits in tune with the celebration of summer we were there to enjoy.

I'm sure Emily Watson and her friends giggled just that little bit louder - I know Christopher Biggins certainly did - I could hear her all the way from the Royal Box where she sat with Prince Charles and the attendant aides - let's call them stiffies for the moment, if you'll excuse the terminology - and I just know the entire Australian diaspora, turned out in regimental kit of Oz flag draped over the shoulder and Fosters tinny in hand, were right behind us.

When I grabbed the ball and leapt over the boundary fence I could hear the crowd roar it's approval, I felt giddy with success as I ran and ran and ran, straight into the arms of the man with the dayglo vest who held me, preventing me from falling to my knees. And then a second roar, as Henry took a Royal Bow towards HRH, which involved bending over in front of the entire North Stand. Not once, but thrice.

Yes, there's nothing like the feel of fresh air coarsing through one's hair. Especially if it's one's pubic hair.



Tuesday, July 22, 2008

cloud...silver lining..

To Glasgow. By plane. Clouds? What clouds?

We descend into the rain and my companion, a first time visitor to the city, nods sagely and says she'd been warned, "it rains all the time in Glasgow". She pulls up the collar of her coat as we make our way across the tarmac - this is Easyjet after all, no carpeted airport walkways here. And sure enough, it rains all day.

Our visit coincides with a by-election in an eastern constituency, where the good citizens are being tempted by the SNP to withdraw their lifelong support from Labour. There's a great deal of tubthumping going on, headlines being made out of photo ops, and since this is being heralded as yet another litmus test for Gordon Brown, the Scottish Prime Minister, it's attracting an unusual amount of national attention. As a consquence, Glasgow's EastEnders have a new cloud hanging over their parlous lives, the London scribes who fly in to attack; slashing and stabbing at all they can cram into their day trips, ooh-ing and aah-ing as the taxis take them around gap sites, tenements, run down pubs and council schemes (estates). They leave the population wounded, (well that part who noticed they were there), writing diatribes which turn the stomach in their level of ignorance, rudeness, ill will and venom.

To those who actually know the patchwork of the East End, and have watched "market forces" withdraw manufacturing, engineering and traditional employers of the skilled and unskilled, these "colour pieces" are offensive in the extreme. Let's leave aside for a moment the prosperous areas of the East End, or the new build houses all over the area, or the community schemes they'll never see, the tenant self help groups, the new green spaces, the new employers, and concentrate on that part we're being told about, the visible poverty.

To witness working populations faced with only permanent, mass unemployment, wondering why their housing schemes, built to house them near their jobs but are now such desolate, desperate places with little sense of purpose, never mind community, is bad enough, a series of complex questions not to be solved by the smash and grab politics of fly-by-night former cooncillors standing for election. But to watch "journalists" drive around in cabs vilifying all they see for a few hours is beyond the pale. The current media darling debate about "critics vs bloggers" should look at this villanous trash to get a snapshot. Start here. Or here (and he didn't even turn up)

Years of regeneration, countless millions of local, regional, national and EC monies can only have long term effect - if at all - on areas blighted by the wholesale removal of jobs. But the metropolitan hoodies don't care about that, nor do they care about the big employers - steel, cars, manufacturing, the old cotton mills even - who depended on smaller outfits spread around the east end, trickling down the economic benefits. It's of no relevance in 1500 words of cynical abuse that they don't make cigarettes there any more. Or locomotives. Or even biscuits.

Enough. The citizenry of the East End will vote. And the scribes can go back to their poison pen reviews of matters metropolitan: restaurants, television, and Westminster Village Gossip.

But this is not the Glasgow that's normally in the news. In case you've had your head under a blanket for the past 20 years, the Glasgow that's in the news is the new shiny one that covers part of the East End, the whole of the City Centre and regenerated riverside and stretches out into the more properous areas west and north. This is a city which started with a wash and brush up, revealing the honey and rose of domestic dwellings from beneath ingrained, black soot, and continued into City of Culture, fashion, Art, and beyond. Where the buskers in Buchanan Street are opera singers, the banks have become bars, restaurants and hotels, and open topped tour buses have the tourists agog at the Victorian splendour of the place.

Glasgow has produced the biggest collection of cynical bastards you'll ever meet - none moreso than the author - who go through life well balanced (ie a chip on each shoulder) but you'd have to be blind, deaf, and stupid not to notice what's gone on here. This is a city transformed from a post indusrtial wasteland of spare ground, closed factories, and run down urban chaos to a work in progress by a prosperous, bright population who want to make a bob or two and along the way tart up the old place.

The UK's first boutique hotel, One Devonshire, continues under the brandname Hotel du Vin to offer up world class hospitality to the well heeled visitor. I don't know why anyone would want to stay anywhere else, but by God there's a choice from hundreds of new hotels and lodgings.

The venerable eating institution, The Ubiquitous Chip, started locally sourcing it's excellent supplies nearly four decades ago - when people barely knew what that was - and continues to serve world class food in a beatiful surroundings which could only be Glasgow, and still not a single chip has been served - never mind the urban myth of the deep fried Mars Bar. But the choice there, too, knoiws no bounds. There's very little property in Glasgow that can't be converted into a wee curry shop.

My companion, over a few days, hits the spot with a cliche normally reserved for the West Coast of Ireland. If she said "the people are really nice" once, she said it five hundred times. And you know what? She's right. Even if she couldnae unnerstaun whit half the pals were sayin.

But we have to leave - after a few days of cloudless blue skies (the rain stopped on day one) having viewed the place inside and out, from the top of the Necropolis (excellent view of the Tennent Caledonian Lager Factory in my opinion) to a heady night in a bar in Kelvinhaugh - and head out to the airport.

It's tight security after the unsuccessful terror attack last year and we have to put up with a little congestion. Taxis can no longer drop you off in front of the terminal, but have to snake their way through the car park turnstiles - a stupid aggravation which loses you a good few minutes when you least need it, ho hum - so we quicken our step into the terminal, which I must have passed through possibly a hundred or more times. We look for Easyjet. It's no longer where it was. It's moved, that's all. We look. We search. We ask. The minutes are ticking away and for those of you who've watched "Airport" on TV you'll know that Easyjet close their check-in forty minutes before scheduled departure and that means CLOSED. Even if the plane takes off an hour late (see below).

A stewardess from BMI tells us Easyjet is now in Terminal Two. "What's Terminal Two?" I ask, being slightly stupid, but also genuinely puzzled since I knew nothing of any Terminal Two. It turns out to be a shed in a building site nearby. And of course we arrive ONE MINUTE after checkin closes.

Life goes into slow motion. The check-in assistant blithely informs us to join the queue at Ticket Sales which - after ten minutes - we will be told to bugger off (Nationwide has travelled many, many timjes with Easyjet and -while God forbid they have not yet descended to the living hell that is Ryanair - there retain a dehumanising aspect that is very unpleasant). So instead we grab another check-in assistant and ask for the supervisor who - at three minutes after check in closed - agrees to allow us through in an act of superhuman magnanimity.

But only with hand luggage.

I explain that the little wheelie case can be carried on board but is packed specifically for the hold - liquids, sharp objects aplenty - but the two of them stare back blankly, possibly wondering what they're going to eat for supper that night but then wondering what that distracting noise is. Oh yes, it's a customer talking, trying to describe what's about to happen......

And at security it happens. The case is emptied of all the carefully packed, specially purchased, lovingly gifted bottles and containers, the scissors and objects we are banned from carrying on board. It's a security rule that's there for a reason (liquid explosives) but that hardly dents the steely glare of my companion, who after a glorious first visit to Glasgow is watching her knickers be spread out over a counter, her personal possessions rifled through and be dumped in a bin, and the gifts for her family chucked into a black plastic bag, never to be seen again.

And as we wait, and wait, and wait, for the plane to turn up, we experience some extraordinarily low cloud cover.


Friday, July 11, 2008


It's the weekend and I'm off somewhere exotic. Or Brighton. Or both. So here's a few things to keep you laughing that I found this week.

Can't wait for Batman? Then try


Want some real, down and dirty sex but are glued to the
Then try
Or laugh your head off at
100% guaranteed funny. Or your money back.
And that's a promise!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Best Pub in the World (2)

In a truly sensational climax to this year's truly sensational search for the best pub in the world, the winner has been announced. In a shock decision the judges named one of last year's runners up as the new Nationwide Best Pub in the World.

Taking over from the French House in Dean St, Soho, London, is the Hand in Hand Kemptown, Brighton, some 60 miles further south but still in the general direction of France. Last year's co-judge, Monty the Dog, was unable to participate this year due to a fight with a cat but the assembled team of Nationwide acolytes proved their mettle in a series of rigorous tests.

"The Hand got it for a number of reasons" said Barak, the jury spokesman, "First off, it's fucking tiny and nobody's ever heard of it. Secondly, it's got the most fucking bizarre decor you've ever seen. Blokes ties on the ceiling, a flying pig, the walls covered in some ancient newspaper shit.
But last and not least are the gents bogs. They've been cleaned."

Pamela, the token chick on the panel, agreed. "Those bogs used to stink like fury. Made me want to chuck up all over Tommy's lap. But Bill, one of the regulars, used to stroke my head a little and make me feel better. He's quite a guy."

The range of drinks available in the Hand has ebbed and flowed. The original landlord, the late great Bev, kept a steady supply of real ales flowing from the upstairs brewery ("Brighton's Oldest" "The Nation's Smallest" etc) and that tradition has been continued by ditching the real ale from upstairs and replacing it with guest beers, summer ales, bottles of wine, cocktails for fuck's sake, and, er, lager.

Kemptown's rise from obscurity is being charted by the national press but the Hand's new found status (Best Pub in the World 2008) is down to two guys who inhabit the tiny space behind the bar. (except when they step outside for a fag or slouch upstairs for a snooze).

Matt and Dai have transformed the fortunes of this pint-sized oasis through the medium of music. From Dai's eclectic itunes collection (unheard of sub-dance post-modern-thrash to whole uninterrupted albums of Smokey Robinsoin and Lou Reed) to Matt's more eloquent and eclectic tastes.(we don't know, we couldn't see the labels). Plus some blokes who occasionally stagger in and sing.

Sunday nights are a treat, and if I knew how to upload my illegally recorded mobile phone footage of free form jazz performed by students, buskers and blokes with pocket trumpets, I'd show you. But you'll have to take my word for it. And guess what that word is

They serve food too. Saturday and Sunday mornings were a major hit with early breakfasts but since they couldn't be arsed doing that any more that's a thing of the past. Wednesdays are rumoured to be a forthcoming curry night, and pasties have been on the menu, but most importantly of all, pickled eggs have returned to behind the bar. Apparently by a customer who went down the cash and carry and bought a jar.