Friday 25 November 2011

Bronze, Silver, Gold

At the Leveson Inquiry, celebrity after celebrity has come along to condemn the awful behaviour of the media. Fortunately these are generally REAL celebrities rather than the Z listers who have nothing to offer except their love of being in the limelight. Away from the proceedings the media barons are not slow to suggest that the Inquiry is simply revenge for the MPs expenses affair. This year we've had the Police on trial for their handling of riots. And I hardly need to mention the behaviour of that other pillar of society - the financial sector which has brought the country and the world to their collective knees. This week a judge was sent to prison for allowing their child to die after failing to get treatment for a burn they inflicted. I'm left wondering why it is that in past times when the very structures that support a civilised society have become so de-based, root and branch change has happened. Revolution even. But here we are with little more than tinkering to a tried, tested and failed system going on. Common sense says that a lot more needs to change than is actually happening. But the problem is that the career politicians in charge are nothing more than middle-managers, and we are bereft of political leaders with vision. It's rare that I find myself in agreement with Ken Livingstone, but I couldn't help but nod vigorously when he said on the Andrew Marr show last weekend that at least with Maggie Thatcher she had a view of how the world should be and her policies were there to drive that vision. Of course he did add that it was as shame that her policies were wrong, but at least she had a vision.

One pillar of society that at the moment appears to be going from strength to strength is the monarchy. I suspect Helen Mirren in The Queen and Colin Firth in The Kings Speech may have something to do with this. After the Queen's Annus Horribilis, the monarchy has steadily rebuilt its stature and standing. Well done Kate Middleton. I remain firmly in the 'Chop their heads off' camp, but at least I can appreciate their efforts. Prince Philip has hit 90, and he keeps the gaffs coming...good for him - here are some great examples which I've stolen from The Daily Telegraph and Wikipedia (always a reliable source):

1. China State Visit, 1986

If you stay here much longer, you’ll all be slitty-eyed

2. To a blind women with a guide

“Do you know they have eating dogs for the anorexic now?”

3. To an Aborigine in Australia

“Do you still throw spears at each other?”

4. To his wife, the Queen, after her coronation

“Where did you get the hat?”


“If you see a man opening a car door for a woman, it means one of two things: it’s either a new woman or a new car!”


Speaking about the rate of British tax, he said: "All money nowadays seems to be produced with a natural homing instinct for the Treasury."


On seeing an exhibition of "primitive" Ethiopian art, he muttered: "It looks like the kind of thing my daughter would bring back from her school art lessons."

The Duke famously proclaimed: "British women can't cook".


When asked if he would like to visit the Soviet Union: "I would like to go to Russia very much, although the bastards murdered half my family."

The Duke said to Tom Jones after his Royal Variety Performance: "What do you gargle with, pebbles?".

He later added: "It is very difficult at all to see how it is possible to become immensely valuable by singing what I think are the most hideous songs."

On the Royal Family's finances: "We go into the red next year. I shall probably have to give up polo."

On a tour of Canada: "We don't come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves."

During the recession he mused: “Everybody was saying we must have more leisure. Now they are complaining they are unemployed."

When accepting a figurine from a woman during a visit to Kenya he asked: "You are a woman aren't you?"

He told a World Wildlife Fund meeting that "if it has got four legs and it is not a chair, if it has got two wings and flies but is not an aeroplane and if it swims and it is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it."

Prince Philip's opinion of Beijing, during a tour of China in 1986, was simply: "Ghastly."


To a British tourist in Hungary in he quipped: "You can't have been here that long — you haven't got a pot belly."

To survivors of the Lockerbie bombing he told them: "People usually say that after a fire it is water damage that is the worst. We are still drying out Windsor Castle."

"Aren't most of you descended from pirates?", he asked an islander in the Cayman Islands.

To a Caribbean rabbit breeder in Anguilla, he said: "Don't feed your rabbits pawpaw fruit — it acts as a contraceptive. Then again, it might not work on rabbits."


He asked a Scottish driving instructor in Oban: "How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to pass the test?"


Following the Dunblane massacre, he questioned the need for a firearms ban: "If a cricketer, for instance, suddenly decided to go into a school and batter a lot of people to death with a cricket bat, which he could do very easily, I mean, are you going to ban cricket bats?"

The Duke asked a British student who had been trekking in Papua New Guinea: "You managed not to get eaten then?"

In Cardiff he told children from the British Deaf Association, who were standing by a Caribbean steel band: "If you're near that music it's no wonder you're deaf".


To guests at the opening reception of a new £18million British Embassy in Berlin: "It's a vast waste of space."

At a Buckingham Palace drinks party, he told group of female Labour MPs: "Ah, so this is feminist corner then."

On being offered fine Italian wines by Giuliano Amato, the former Prime Minister, at a dinner in Rome, he is said to have uttered: "Get me a beer. I don't care what kind it is, just get me a beer!"

"People think there's a rigid class system here, but dukes have been known to marry chorus girls. Some have even married Americans."

To Elton John: "Oh it's you that wons that ghastly car is it? We often see it when driving to Windsor Castle."

While touring a factory near Edinburgh he said a fuse box was so crude it "looked as though it had been put in by an Indian".

To the Aircraft Research Association, he said: "If you travel as much as we do, you appreciate the improvements in aircraft design of less noise and more comfort, provided you don't travel in something called economy class, which sounds ghastly."

Said to black dance troupe Diversity at the Royal Variety Performance: "Are you all one family?"

To a young fashion designer at Buckingham Palace he told him: "You didn't design your beard too well, did you? You really must try better with your beard."

On asking a female Sea Cadet what she did for a living, and being told that she worked in a nightclub (as a barmaid), the Duke asked “Is it a strip club?” Observing her surprise he dismissed the suggestion saying that it was “probably too cold for that anyway”.

At a prize-giving ceremony for the Duke of Edinburgh Awards a girl told him that she'd been to Romania to help in an orphanage. He replied: "Oh yes, there's a lot of orphanges in Romania - they must breed them".

"YOU have mosquitos. I have the Press."
- To the matron of a hospital in the Caribbean.

"If it doesn't fart or eat hay then she isn't interested"
- speaking about his daughter, Princess Anne.

"Can you tell the difference between them?"
- The Duke's question after President Barack Obama said he met with the leaders of the UK, China and Russia.

"The problem with London is the tourists. They cause the congestion. If we could just stop the tourism, we could stop the congestion."
- on London traffic.

"Well, you'll never fly in it, you're too fat to be an astronaut."
- to a 13-year-old whilst visiting a space shuttle.

“You look like you’re ready for bed!”
- To the President of Nigeria, dressed in traditional robes.

Of more note though than the man's quips is the Duke of Edinburgh Award. Now incredibly popular, in my day hardly anyone got involved. Of course, many do it as a way of oiling the wheels of the application process to get themselves into University, but some do it for the right reasons. I don't normally ask anyone to contribute to the blog, but by a coincidence of timing, I had an e-mail from Zoe McLean of AtoZ Expeditions which organises DofE expeditions, and here is what she had to say:

"Most people have probably heard of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, it has been around now for 55 years. However unless they have taken part, few people will realise the life changing possibilities that a DofE programme holds. Participants are challenged by the different sections of the award which include volunteering, taking part in physical activity and learning a new skill.

The most memorable and testing part of the programme for most people is the expedition. This is an antidote to modern society where young people are often portrayed as cosseted and inactive. Participants have to plan, train and then undertake an adventurous, unaccompanied and self-sufficient expedition. They are given the responsibility to take the lead and manage the risks of the journey rather than being led by an adult – something many, particularly younger entrants, have never experienced. DofE expeditions are not just about technical skills, they are a journey of self-discovery, participants will need to overcome challenges and hardships; becoming more resourceful and confident in the process.

Most participants choose to expedition on foot, carrying all of their kit for the duration, but for the adventurous there are other options such as canoeing, cycling or even sailing.

Today there is much focus on academic qualifications but with increasing numbers of young people gaining top marks, the ambitious need to find other ways to standout. Completing a DofE programme shows that a young person is dedicated, can use their initiative and is not afraid of a challenge – standing then in good stead for whatever their future holds."

I think in this day and age, every pupil should be encouraged to take's a really valuable learning experience.

I said coincidental timing, and by that I mean that Zoe's e-mail arrived on the same day that The School held, for the first time, an awards ceremony for the pupils who had achieved Bronze and Silver. The Cat and The Boy went to collect their certificates and badges. In both cases, the scheme has been really good for their development and I'm glad that The Boy will go onto do Gold. If he gets through, he won't be going on stage to collect his'll be a trip to Buckingham Palace. He's only allowed to take one person with him...I hope he invites Grandma in Wales as I know just how proud his mother would be.

Thursday 24 November 2011

A new start

The Cat's Mother has now left the building.

Yes, it's true. The Cat's Mother is no longer in residence.

Instead she has been usurped by The Baroness Puke Vom Honk'n'Heave. She moved in on Monday.

Let me tell you The Baroness is no match for The Cat's Mother. For a start she lies in bed all day moaning and groaning. There's hardly a smile to be raised.

What's worse is that she doesn't cook, she doesn't wash and she doesn't clean. So the kitchen is piling high with Dominos pizza boxes, the sink is full to overflowing...there isn't a mug to be found which isn't covered in a brown tea or coffee stain. The mice have become emboldened and have taken to organising hurdle races across the sitting room floor. We've been trying to shoot them, but none of us appear to be a good aim - their number are multiplying and we now have so many holes in the sofa and the walls we've run out of fingers and toes to count them. I've run out of clean pants so am now wearing them inside out and back to front, but I'm a feared this may not be a good long-term solution. Given his military bent, The Boy has gone commando. And we don't like to ask about The Cat. We had a go at washing, but when everything came out pink, we thought there must be something wrong with the machine.

On the up side, I've allowed myself to strip the motorcycle engine in the living room. I don't think the oily patches will show after a few weeks on the cream shag-pile carpet. The Cat has moved the drinks cabinet to her room which has given us a bit more space downstairs, and The Boy can now practice his guitar playing and drumming until three in the morning.

On balance, though, I'm not sure that, overall, it's a good deal, so I'm making a public appeal for The Cat's Mother to return. In the meantime, any food parcels would be greatly appreciated, if you could give us a clue about how to switch on the dishwasher that would be great, and if you could get Oxfam to deliver some clothes I'd be grateful.

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Round and around and around

Today is a bacon and egg sandwich today. The inevitable follow up to a curry and red wine evening last night. Life can be good in the simplest of ways sometimes.

Have you ever Googled yourself? Yes, of course you have. Don't deny it. Today I didn't Google me, I searched for Anish Kapoor, and was surprised and delighted to see that I came up (as in this blog) on the first search page. Of course, that doesn't mean anything, but as he is my favourite artist, I'm delighted to have an association. Irrespective of how tenuous! I first came across his work by accident when I was trapped in Madrid for a weekend by myself. It was so long ago, I'm not sure I was yet shaving. Anyway, I was amazed and continue to be amazed by his work. The first exhibition I took The Cat's Mother and The Cat to was Anish Kapoor. The first exhibit a giant vagina. Still they stuck with it. And my 50th birthday present from The Cat's Mother was a pair of Anish Kapoor cufflinks. Come the Olympics, I intend to be one of the very first up his curious tower which is being finished off at the Olympic park as I tip, tap away.

I've always been a great believer that what goes around comes around. So I recognise that when I'm a grumpy, miserable git, I'll get my comeuppance in due course. I usually do, and I'm glad to see it applies elsewhere. I spent a couple of years doing some work for someone known as a complete bastard. I'm quite adept, so managed to keep on the right side for a long time by most people's standards. But eventually it came to an end, with him owing me some £3000. Eight years down the line, and it was mostly forgotten, although never repaid. I was "disappointed" when I found out that he had bought a flat just round the corner from us in Brighton. An odd coincidence, and an unfortunate one. I secretly have been hoping to bump into him in public just to humiliate him on the streets - but the truth is he is so thick skinned I suspect it would just bounce off. By another interesting coincidence, one of the women I skated with on Sunday I discovered just above him. So I wonder what I could/should have said. Perhaps I should let sleeping dogs lie. I didn't tell her of the occasion when his wife burst into his office with her new born baby. She handed the baby over to the receptionist and said "You're fucking him, you can change his baby's nappies too" before storming out. Nice.

At home, there have been rewards. The Boy has been made Captain of the 2nd XV rugby team at school. One might feel that not being in the 1st XV would be a backwards step, but the appointment is more about his ability to motivate and lead people. An achievement worth a pat on the back. He's worked so hard at his rugby, having come to the school knowing only football, he went from just practicing with the team, to being a sub, to playing to going on tour and then onto the Firsts before this appointment. He's not the biggest lad in the squad, and he's not a natural catcher, but he's an important member of the team. Sometimes hard graft is the only way to achieve results.

I wonder what is going to happen in the middle does seem that the Arab Spring has made the whole region even less stable than it was before. Egypt is a powder keg. Syria? Well who knows how much more blood will be spilled. And what will the west do if the unrest spreads to Saudi? As for Iran. I feel I could almost hold my breath until someone drops a bomb there. Tricky, tricky.

Monday 21 November 2011

Two wheels on my wagon...

Sometimes you think someone is trying to tell you something. Last week I managed to get two punctures cycling in to work. The first I repaired, although it was a bugger and ended up taking me nearly 40 minutes to do, but the second left me carrying the bike over my shoulder for the three or four miles to the bike shop. I asked them to put winter tyres on, and they've promised me that I won't have another puncture for a year. We'll see.

On the other hand, I felt this week is going to be a good one when I was woken up by the radio and the station, Q radio, played all my favourite tunes as I gradually stirred myself from my slumbers.

Q has been incessantly playing an ad for 'Autoglass' - reminding us of how expensive it is to replace a whole windscreen rather than get a chip fixed. The Little Car has a chip, and I've suggested (incessantly) that The Cat's Mother gets it repaired. "Yes, yes" she says. And this is the difference between her and me. Friday she drove all the way to Bath for her weekend of retail therapy and 'treatments' with the girls. I KNEW the windscreen would crack and she'd be stranded for hours until a new one could be found and fitted. She thought nothing of it and went cheerfully on her way. Of course she returned without a problem. She has no worry lines. I'm looking more characterful by the day.

I've never thought of myself as a 'biker' but it does appear that two wheels are my preferred means of transport. Except when I'm on eight.

I've decided that if I'm to audition for rollerblading at the opening ceremony of the Olympics, I should follow my own advice: "If you're going to do something, do it properly". So on Sunday I had a two-hours skate lesson on the sea-front in Brighton. Whilst most of the rest of the country seemed to be smothered in fog, we were enjoying sunshine and warmth as the waves lapped against the pebbly beach. I skated in a t-shirt. And the lesson was invaluable, if just to remind me of how much I'd forgotten and how difficult it can be to make my body do things that feel unnatural. Fortunately I've got two more lessons this week. I can only hope I learn fast.

It was finally time for the motorbike to be repaired this weekend. Whilst a new speedo was being fitted, I was given the opportunity to test ride a new Ducati. As the sales man said, "I'm not going to sell you the bike, you should decide whether or not you want it." Nice technique. yes I want it's the equivalent of a Ferrari on two wheels. I was out on it for an hour and a half. It felt solid, it gently flows round the bends and sings when you hit 4000 revs. The whole thing just felt that it had been put together with precision, love and care...just like a Rolls Royce. Gorgeous. By comparison, my KTM is rougher and likes to be chucked around - designed and built by greasy bikers, but it feels a lot more solid than the other bike they let me have for a couple of hours - a smaller KTM which just felt like a toy (even though with a 600cc engine it is fast and flighty enough that it is the preferred choice of jewel shop thieves across London). I'd really love to get the heart is sold on it. Christmas is coming up after all, and I think I deserve a treat. But my head says I should wait. For once I think I shall listen to my head. With a new speedo, and the damage caused by the vandals/would be thieves my orange beast feels great and I enjoyed the ride into work today. Funny how just putting a new speedo made th whole bike feel better.