Friday, 13 August 2010

We're all going on a summer holiday...but not quite yet

Fire and ice

For the last gazillion years, I've taken a couple of weeks holiday in the summer...I don't think I'm too peculiar in that. Usually, it's the last two weeks of August, with one week taken in Brighton, and one week else where...last year we headed to Bavaria for a bit of beer and leather trouser action. This year is more complex as we're now four. I may have mentioned that a couple of weeks ago, The Cat and The Cat's Mum headed to New York, whilst the boy was variously adventurous training and exchanging in Germany. I was home alone. And none to pleased about it. Next week The Cat and The Cat's Mum have organised to go to Italy, whilst The Boy and I remain in little England. Our holiday...the four of us will be the following week in Iceland, which we're very much looking forward to. But the net result is that I won't be getting my two weeks holiday (as we're rapidly running out of school holiday to fit it into) and I'm pretty grumpy about it - oh my word that's the second grumpy reference in the space of a week.

I've no idea whether I'm being reasonable in my thinking, but just can't quite get my head around not having the full fortnight which I feel I need...and thought we'd get. So it's been tense....

Anyway, assuming the only eruption we get in Iceland is from Eyjafjallajokull, it should be a very splendid trip indeed. The Boy and I have been there before, but restricted ourselves to the environs of Rekjavik...still managing to see whales, glaciers, Blue Lagoons, geysers and waterfalls and have wanted to return ever since. This time we've hired a car and will be driving round the entire island. I haven't yet been able to find out if there's still smoke coming from the volcano, but I hope so...and the Northern Lights have been very active...fingers crossed. We may skip the whale watching as it really only resulted in feeling hideously sea sick, but we have plenty more to see and taste...smoked shark will be on the menu. Hopefully I won't have to worry about a young boy who decides whatever I do that it's a good idea to run around on a glacier which is peppered with large deep holes which take you down into the icy depths...actually at this age he's more likely to want to climb down them....

In the meantime, I'm going to take a couple of days in Brighton the middle of next week, before coming back to finish off the work I probably should have done this week!

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Action man

I wonder if The Boy will grow up with any political heroes? Even at a young age, I realsied that our political leaders were not of the same calibre as Churchill, or Disraeli or Gladstone, and these days they're nothing more than middle-rank managers. For a while it looked like Blair would be a great, but he turned into a lying murderous war-monger who achieved nothing of any value on the domestic stage either. I suspect that history will eventually look kindly on Thatcher...she was a charismatic leader who made great changes. What a shame I can't think of a thing she did that I agree with..

Away from the UK, it's equally hard to find political leaders of any real stature. Obama stands out as much because of his atrocious predecessor as his rhetoric; ultimately he may well turn out to be another Blair. On the European stage, Merkel has seems a good leader, but hasn't got the presence, Sarkozy is a populist and Berlusconi is a joke everywhere except Italy. No wonder The Boy and his generation struggle to find inspiration from our political leaders.

South America has some interesting characters - Chavez, Morales and now Santos all lead in a continent that has a history of political idols.

But my favourite is Vladimir Putin. And not just because I bear a pasing resemblence to him as I showed here.

He's everything that a Russian leader should be (to an outsider anyway) and has done much to restore Russia's pride and confidence in itself. At uni, I studied Soviet government and it remained a mystery from the start of my course until the end. And the same is true now with Russia. Nominally a democracy, voting is probably not quite as free and fair as it should be...but equally the people end up with the leaders they want. How Putin moved from being President to Prime Minister is an interesting study in the complexities of political manouvering in a deeply complex system. His successor, Medvedev was refered to as a dwarf by several of the Russians we spoke with when we visited. I'm sure Mr Putin is as flawed as anyone, but his action hero antics are fantastic especially when seen in the light of the grey-suited behaviour of other global leaders.

As seen in this video

Or this one:

Or here

At least you know where you stand with him...say the wrong thing and you're likely to end up with a dose of radiation in your coffee....

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

It's all in the timing

There are many things in life that I find frustrating. I could list them all, but if I did you'd probably pigeonhole me as a 'Very Grumpy Old Man'. I may be that, but I'm not prepared to admit it in public yet.

Two of my pet hates are:

1. Parking bays on roads which have double red lines painted. As I understand it, red lines are meant to keep the traffic moving freely. Naturally, as soon as you put a parking bay there, the road is constricted and hold ups are fact they might just as well put parking bays down the entire road as one bay has the same effect as fifty. It's plain common sense to me - you either want a free-running road or you don't.

2. The waiting time frame for deliveries, etc. British Gas seem unable to predict when their engineers will be arriving within a four hour time period, and even then there's a possibility they will cancel at the last minute...British Telecom is similar. I gave up on supermarket home delivery because my 'time slot' was longer than if I went to the shop myself. So it was quite a surprise when I bought some new trainers for The Boy on the interweb and received a text to say they would be delivered between 10.32 and 11.32. They arrived at 11.17, which is good because I'd have sued for many millions if they'd arrived at 11.33...imagine just how inconvenient that would have been.

Tomorrow I shall be writing about Vladimir Putin...nothing to do with timing

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Commercial break

Yes, I said I might, and yes I’m going to…

The National Rail Museum sent me a stick of rock to encourage me to write about them. All British boys want to drive a train, so I guess if you’ve got a boy, then why not go? I gather that in Italy all boys want to be a Ferrari racing driver, so if you have Italian blood in the family, I suggest a trip to Modena. Girls? Erm….

Robinsons are currently encouraging kids to break dance. I’d stick to tennis myself….

Land’s End is now following me on Twitter…I expect they do very nice clothes

The Science Museum wants to know ‘What’s your earliest memory?’…evidently if you answer I’ll get lots of new followers. Personally I think it’s Nonsense that I’d be motivated by having more followers (I’d rather have free tickets to the Imax), but I quite like the idea. My early memories are a jumble, so I just don’t know whether it’s standing on a bridge over a gorge in Bavaria is earlier than an autumn gale that was so strong that the window of my bedroom was broken, or perhaps it was chucking a stone at a passing car, or maybe a trip up the Post Office Tower when it was open to the public. You choose, I’ve forgotten.

Natural Balance Foods have launched Nākd – a fruit and nut bar which single-handedly will stop 25% of the nation’s children being obese. It may or may not be nice (I haven’t asked for a sample yet), but I’m pretty sure fat (the government says we are allowed to say that now) children will take the chocolate bar every time. Pass me a marshmallow.

Evidently arm bands aren’t good enough, and kids up to the age of 14 should be wearing Splash Abouts Water Buddies. Personally, I think parents would be better off investing the £30 on swimming lessons during the summer holiday, but you can make your own choice.

Visit South Devon tell me it’s a great place to go for a holiday. Indeed it is…I have friends who live there and plan to pay them a visit. Gay George (who’s not gay at all) has just come back from there and concurs…but he says the locally caught fish is hideously expensive, so eat before you go.

Bottlegreen Elderflower sorbet claims to be the ideal ingredient for a Halloween treat. Please, its August (July when I got the e-mail) and I’d like to get through the summer before I think of things like that. But feel free to send me a sample.

Arena-quantum are an agency that would like to partner with me…so if they really do read this blog, send me some details and I’ll let you know…I have a passionate interest in “travel, healthcare, pets, media, gardening and other areas that may or may not be relevant to your blog”

Wood’s 100 Old Navy Rum think I should be writing about my grandparents…if they send me a bottle I will at least RUMinate about it…

Breffni O'Connor of Polity Marketing wants me to mention a book about whether the Internet is changing children, and will send me a free review copy*

*Free inspection copies are available only to full time lecturers teaching classes of over 12 students for whom the book may be appropriate as a course text.

So I don’t know about children, but the Internet’s ability to allow me to be targeted by hogwash makes me VERY ANGRY

Evidently, six gamers have broken the Guinness world record for non-stop gaming. Evidently they used a Twist Dock to keep their Playstation 3 controllers charged up. I wonder if it comes with a free pair of glasses.

Lauren from Tightsplease says, she “really enjoyed your writing, your sense of humour makes incredibly addictive reading”. Which is nice of her. She’s let me know they have a 50% discount on at the moment, which is good - should The Boy decide to become a cross-dresser.

And finally, Nestle want you to come up with recipes using their nutritious and healthy breakfast cereals. Oops, the competition closed on 31st July…I’d have been more energised to publicise a multi-national with a poor record of social responsibility if they’d sent me some brekkie instead of expecting me to do it for nothing

Monday, 9 August 2010

2” is enormous

It's not often I laugh uncontrollably...I'm far too serious for that, and don't get drunk often enough. I remember as a little boy, I was watching a Des O'Connor Saturday night show (parents have a lot to answer for don't they?)and seeing a sketch where he was in the bath, and the loofah, the soap dish, etc started being Thunderbirds with accompanying sound effects...he sat there with that surprised look he does so well. I can't remember it that well, or I would understand why it set me off, but it did.

More recently, I was told a true story of a gas meter reader who was locked under the stairs because the owner mistook him for Dobby from from Harry Potter (as you will gather I'm witholding a vital piece of information in this story)...and that set me off. Twice - once when I was told it, and secondly when I tried to retell it over a very serious lunch.

Last week, I was off again when someone was talking about husband beating. Obviously that is a very serious subject, and sorry, but I'm going to fail to tell you why this would get me laughing hysterically. You'll just have to trust me there was a good valid reason.

Yesterday we were in Brighton and stumbled across a new place that has opened...a shop come cafe/restaurant. It sells just three things - lovely wines, gorgeous cured meats and fantastic artisan cheeses. It's in Western Road Hove and is called La cave a fromage. You should pay it a visit. The manager is an absolute character. He comes from the East End and until the start of 2010 was a tree surgeon, and clearly his lack of contact with the human species produces a few quirks.

We were sitting there enjoying a plate of cheese, a plate of meat and a glass each of wine, when someone (an American) came in to complain that the cheese he had bought a day or so before had straw in the middle of it. He had eaten some straw and was not happy. The manager looked at it, turned to his illustrated cheese bible and showed the customer that his cheese should have straw in the middle of it. "But I ate it" protested the customer. "Don't worry" replied the manager, "I expect it will come out the other end".

Exit stage left indignant customer, closely pursued by manager offering a free baguette. In the meantime, I'm rolling on the floor in uncontrollable laughter.

And now back to those 2"

Three weeks ago, I managed to knock over a bottle of iced tea (it was delicious Liptons, mango flavour, if you’re interested, and if they want to send me a crate) during my lunch hour. The mess made BP’s recent antics look as nothing. It devastated my piles of paper…all work in progress of course, and not just unfiled crap, and I spent most of my lunch break clearing up. The top of my desk has a glass panel to protect the wood underneath, and the liquid spread itself between wood and glass. I had to remove everything…piles of paper, telephone, keyboard, mouse, rubber band ball (it’s a big one) and enormous computer screen…to clear up the mess. I then put it all back and carried on working.

Two and a half weeks ago I started getting the most awful back pain. As the day wore on it got worse and worse, to the extent that I wondered whether I would be able to ride the bike home. The lovely Carly who gives an excellent massage had chosen this precise moment to go on holiday with her husband and young offspring. My pleadings did not persuade her to return from Spain. The summer has also brought on hay fever, and a sudden sharp and nasty pain in my big toe suggested that on top of this, gout had returned to haunt me. Life was not good.

Over the following couple of weeks, I tried everything…changing chairs, moving position, travelling on the tube, etc, but nothing would make it better. I was reduced to tears. My mood was grim. Even Carly’s return brought no relief. I racked my brains trying to work out what could be different, or what I could have done to put me in this wretched state.

Sitting at work, staring at my computer I suddenly had a revelation. Without realising it, I had put the screen a couple of inches to the right of where it had been before the spillage incident. Tentatively I moved it back to where it used to be. Almost instantaneously I felt an easing of the pain…and a day later all is well again. I’m not sure about the pain in the toe…but that’s eased as well.

Who would have guessed that a couple of inches would make all the difference?