Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Flower wars

When I took up exhibition dahlia growing, I did ask myself whether it was rock and roll enough for me. Did it fit with the image? Would Johnny Cash admit to growing dahlias? Most role models in the world of the Flower and Veg. Show are Geordies called Stan, with Woodbines behind their ears and whippets on leads. So I suppose Sting might do it, but who wants to be like him. In the end, I decided it could actually add to my machismo, much the same as having Marion for his real name made John Wayne seem even less like a man you'd mess with.

The clincher came from studying women's blogs and the realisation of what my potential as mate material was. When I read, ".... he cooked me a meal and cleared up as he went!" to dozens of approving comments from the sisterhood, I saw to my horror, that if Mme. had to make a list of her top ten requirements in a bloke... and then score me against them, I'd be off having to advertise myself on Yahoo Personals before you could say 'candlelit dinners and country walks'. Evidently, they like to see your gentler side as well as your endowments. So giving them a bunch of flowers and being able to say, "I grew them myself" isn't a bad insurance policy at all.

Well, of course, all this is a load of bollox, just an excuse for me to witter about my dahlias in the countdown to the big show, in about 10 days time. Heady business. Just one chance to get it right per year. Screw up and the trophy sits on somebody else's mantlepiece while you can only gnash your teeth for twelve whole months. The problem this year is the Green Spot of Death (see pic above) where the inner petals aren't forming as they should. As any exhibitor will tell you, this is due to too much/little nitrogen or phosphate and/or over/under watering. Or thrips, of course, or virus. Whatever I do is as likely to make the bloody thing worse as to cure it.

I've just had a call from one of my rivals, saying that hers are awful this year, and she doesn't think she'll have any to exhibit. I have a sneaking feeling that this is akin to Ferguson hinting to Wenger that his whole defence has the mumps on the eve of a Cup Final, though, so I'm taking it with a pinch of salt and carrying on with my strict training regime. In fact I went out and glared at them, just before sitting down to write. If that doesn't work, it's the Tomato Fertiliser next. If that fails, it's another whisky.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Catching up and putting off

Should have gone to a recital, this lunchtime, given by a friend of Mme.'s at Boston Stump. But there was going to be a soprano and a baritone as well as the pianist, so I pulled out at the last minute, not without catching a 'look' from Mme.'s north eye.

Shame, really. I could have told myself that it would have done my soul some much-needed good; sacred music soaring to the rafters of an ancient church where thousands have sought mercy over the centuries. But the fact is, I can't stand operatic voices. I know I'm probably missing something very moving and precious but I can't so there we are. A couple of months ago, she took me to a professional opera production in Skegness... yes, you read that right.. a professional opera production in Skegness - we are cultured in the extreme out here. Turandot, I think it was. Or it may have been La Traviata.. anyway, by the interval I was flagging with an almighty headache, backache, legache, neckache, arseache, earache and bleeding from the nostrils, etc. (that last bit might have been slightly imaginary) so we left early and, miraculously almost, I revived completely as soon as we got in the car to come home.

So today, I've caught up on some weeding. A pain in the hip has been bothering me lately, and by the time I'd weeded to the end of the garden, it hurt so much I could hardly walk back. Maybe it's a sprain, but I doubt it although I'm hoping if I rest it long enough it will recover. Been a few weeks now, though and, at the back of my mind, I know full well it's to do with an operation I had after an accident about 10 years ago. Had to have bone graft... I asked the surgeon afterwards where he got the bone from. "Donors", he said. Well, I was still feeling a bit muzzy and it seemed odd that people would donate bone. Blood I could understand. You can lose a pint of that and not miss it. But bone? Who's got any of that to spare? It was weeks before it came to me. Dead people. So if I ignore it a bit longer maybe it will go away, otherwise I might have to trouble them for a bit more.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Service with gritted teeth

I can still remember the first time I was in America and ordered breakfast. In a voice like chocolate-coated cherries dipped in sweet wine and honey, the waitress asked me, "how do you like your eggs?" The question absolutely floored me. Nobody in my life up til then had given a shit how I liked them. You just got them however they came, usually swimming in grease with milky yokes and burnt at the edges. From somewhere deep down in my memory, I heard another voice, like James Garner saying to Doris Day, "sunny side up." Feeling as if I was about to make this gorgeous creature burst into hysterics, I screwed up all my courage and said it. Well, muttered it, without much of an idea as to what it might mean but hoping that she'd forgive a foreigner for struggling with the language. "Sure", she said, "want some coffee while you wait?" It was as if I'd made her day.

In Spain they can plonk a Cuba Libre in front of you with a wristy flourish. Italians make you feel part of a theatrical experience when they bring your espresso. Even daunting Parisian waiters in long aprons and black waistcoats act as if they're members of an honourable profession and worth their extortionate tip. Everywhere you go, service in cafes, bars and restaurants is seen as something that's a fair exchange between punter and provider. Except, of course, as we all know, here in the good old UK.

We've got two types. Both are aimed at overcoming the deep-rooted British horror of appearing to be servile. There's the scripted ("Hi, my name is Kayleigh/Kyle (eye contact)... welcome to (smile don't forget to show teeth)... how may I.. etc.) and then there's also the bogus mateyness. The first helps staff to hide behind a set of words devised by a team of expensive PR consultants, the other cunningly gives the impression that the waiter is not actually an employee at all but is doing you a favour as pal to pal. This is the one that grates on me the most. It's usually done with a, "there you go".

"There I go!?" Wtf does that mean? I see the food or drink on its way and can pretty much guess what's coming next, and sure enough, "there you go" dribbles out of their mouths before I can stick my fingers in my ears. Too late to leave the place, the stuff's on the table. You won't see them again till they come back and say, "is everything all right for you?" See.. they've done it again. "... for you". What that really means is, "this food is perfectly OK - but are you the sort of stuck-up sod who nit-picks?". If you say anything critical at this point, it will be taken back into the kitchen for the chef to spit in it before sending it back out.

Radio Five Live presenter, Phil Williams, told the tale on his show the other night of how he'd put a bogey on the ice-cream of an awkward customer, and watched as he ate it. "Yeah but", he explained, "I was only 17 at the time." Oh well that's all right then.

Actually, para 3, sentence 1 is wrong. There's a third type of service now. One of the benefits of educating everyone to the point where they've got so many A levels that they'd rather be on the dole than get a job that's beneath them, is that the service sector is now staffed by Eastern European doctors and physicists who can earn more working here as waiters than doing their real jobs back home. So if you find the right place (oh, and Australians are excellent, too) you can get served in the real sense of the word.

Not many have found their way out here in the wilds of Lincs. yet though. Still, it's a beautiful day for a change. So tonight it's out with the patio-heaters, and on with the barbie. Anything but eating out.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Men's blogs, women's blogs

Keep clicking on 'Next Blog' at the top of the page and you soon end up thinking that the world is populated only by Brazilians, Korean adolescents and fundamentalist Christians. Or; you can find a blog you like and keep clicking from their links to link after link after link and you find lots of like-minded people. I've spent an idle hour or two doing this and it's impressive (and a bit humiliating) to see just how articulate and amusing so many of you are.

OK, this is just a rule of thumb I found. A rule of thumb, OK? If your blog doesn't correspond to it, thank you for not shooting the messenger.

Blogs by men, when they're not focusing on extraneous subjects, like politics and hobbies, tend to deal with items or incidents they want to put their own twist on. When they're writing about stuff that's happened to them, they mostly keep the personal details out of it, referring to their wives and g/fs only as extras in the drama.

Women's blogs on the other hand, are almost certainly going to be diaries, with plenty of domestic details and scene-setting including men, kids, housework, chocolate, men, clothes, hair-dos, chocolate, minor domestic crises, men and chocolate. Lots more soul-searching and openness too and support from the sisterhood.

So pretty much old news there, then, in terms of the well-worn male/female stereotypes.

The big difference is frankness about sex. Women living blameless suburban lives feel able to tell the world the graphic details of their sex lives - often, literally, blow by blow. Mostly moaning about how bad blokes are at it, except when it's that ONE man they had but lost.

Men hardly mention it at all, unless they're boasting and/or fantasising about having improbable sessions with insatiable women. And certainly never complain. But there we are... we men are lucky just to have the good old on/off switch so pretty much anything will do for us.

And there's the thing. All men fancy just about all women. Women understand this and know it gives them the power to pick up any man, any time. Offer and acceptance. We do the posing and preening, they make the choices in the end. In a different life, I knew blokes in the same position - attractive, wealthy and famous enough to give the nod to any woman right up to and including the toppest of tottie, and they'd come running. Comfortingly, they all had pretty miserable experiences with the ones they tried to settle down with.

Too much choice seems to do that to you, like always being tempted by what somebody else ordered in a Chinese restaurant - there's bound to be
something better on the menu for people with otherly-developed appetites.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Mablethorpe leads, the world follows

Here's the thing that will do for Mablethorpe what the Guggenheim did for Bilbao. It's an entry in East Lindsey Council's competition to find the design that will take the beach-hut into the 21st century. Over 500 artists and architects joined the competition to design it, from over 20 countries including Malaysia, Australia, China, Holland, Japan, Lebanon, Singapore, USA, Israel and the UK.

This was among the best they could come up with.

That's all I can think of to say, really, without sounding (perish the thought) negative.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Meet the new neighbour

There's that scene in Carry On Up the Khyber, where Sid James and his guests insist on enjoying a banquet, ignoring a deadly bombardment from the mighty Burpars, led by Kenneth Williams as the dreaded Khasi of Kalabar and his sidekick, Bungit Din (Bernard Bresslaw). The chandelier crashes to the floor, the window is blown in, a mortar round blasts the string quartet off its feet. Do they wince? Not once! Do they flinch? Never! British you see. Made of sterner stuff. Only Peter Butterworth sees the danger, a gibbering wreck, draining bottle after bottle to steady his nerves as the manic party goes on, oblivious to its fate clamouring at the gates.

I think I'm turning into Peter Butterworth.

Learco Chindano, who stabbed Head Teacher Philip Lawrence to death 12 years ago, has won his appeal against deportation to Italy on Human Rights grounds. His victim's widow says, "I am unutterably depressed that the Human Rights Act has failed to encompass the rights of my family." and goes on, "I am deeply concerned for everything I have worked for, including the setting up of the Philip Lawrence Awards. I feel as if I can't fight any more - I feel I can't survive this." What reasonable person could disagree with her?

The Home Office says it is disappointed. It's lying. The Government doesn't give a toss about the human rights of decent people. This country is the dirtiest, the most dangerous, the worst educated in the Western world. We are the drugs capital, the clap capital, the divorce capital and the abortion capital. And we send our troops abroad to die fighting shadows instead of using the money to fight against criminals at home.

I don't know which is the worse, those of us can who can only think about getting pissed to soothe our nerves, or the rest who party on, as if oblivious to the threat. It's the new British way. At least the Carry On team had the excuse of being paid to act like idiots. And the bunch of comedians running the country?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Gone to blazes

It's easy to be sniffy about resorts like Skegness, and looking around message boards today, I've seen plenty of the, "fire caused £2m of improvements" type of comments. But even if it's not your idea of heaven, it provides a cheap and cheerful holiday destination for hundreds of thousands of the unpretentious and their kids.

Thankfully, nobody was hurt in the blaze - and the listed building that was destroyed was of no more than sentimental value. So if things are done right, this area of the seafront could be a big improvement on what stood there until Thursday night. What's so disturbing, though, is the undercurrent of suspicion.

Was it arson? It's being said that cars belonging to the developers were torched at the same time, in separate incidents outside the town. Ominously perhaps, their spokesman said on local TV that Skegness 'has to decide whether it wants them there, or not'. Yet through entrepreneurship, enterprise and doggedness they have shown there's a strong future for investment in the British seaside. As well as the £4m they'd pumped into this complex, they'd revitalised a dilapidated old hotel further up the foreshore by restoring to former grandeur an asset that can attract a different type of tourist from the traditional caravaner.

I only hope vested interests and the petty-minded at East Lindsey Council don't get in the way of a giant leap forward in the town. This spot is prime and now probably unique in any UK resort in having the potential for a totally new-to-Britain concept of entertainment and hospitality, if the opportunity is grasped. No more Golden Age stuff. OK? Forget the folks who wrote in to have you spend £Ks on restoring the Fairy Dell because they loved it 50 years ago. Expunge from your minds any thought of donkeys and chip shops, we've got more than enough already.

People nowadays want to be dry, warm, sleep in clean sheets, have fabulous food, great service and not have to go far to spend money. Here, they can't. In the USA, they can! Let ME be the first to volunteer to go to Atlantic City (expenses only, thanks) and see what I can come up with.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Holey Moley

I was on my knees scrabbling and barking at the front lawn this morning, when the post-lady arrived. The worst thing was that she affected not to notice or ask me what I was doing, just gave me a pitying look. A shame, because I had a perfectly reasonable explanation. Without a neatly mown lawn, you're pretty much nobody round here. Tidy grass is mandatory and you're expected to keep it looking a credit to the village.

So I was trying to get Toby, our Jack Russell, to take an interest in the mole-hills that are disfiguring our sward. He's normally a docile character. Cats get him worked up into a snarling bundle of uncontrollable fury, so do pheasants, but moles, unfortunately are something he doesn't give a toss about. If only he'd just rouse himself to catch them and shake them to death, it would seem more natural, somehow, than the ultimate weapon - a trap.

We've tried the humane method. A gnarled old country bump.. err.. chap from the down the lane told us to put prickly twigs in their runs. Tried this. No good. We've also had a tip from another old local - bury bottles up to their necks in the ground, and the wind blowing over them will make a humming noise that they can't stand. Bit like wind-chimes, which we all know are hellish, so it might just work. Well, I can't see us getting away with this, though, without breaching some EU Directive on Disposable Waste
Recycling although it does seem an appealing way of getting rid of Mme.'s empties without endless trips to the Spilsby bottle-bank.

I'm at a loss. I wonder how many mole pelts are needed to make a pair of moleskin trousers . Hope Bianca Jagger doesn't read this blog.... if I could just catch the little varmints unharmed, anaesthetise them before giving them a painless lethal injection and skinning them - I might be on to a winner here - Lincolnshire's first ethical fur farm!

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Years ago, all you had to worry about was spraining your wrist as you heaved to close the latticework steel door, then you braced yourself for the jolt and could count the floors going by as you waited for your level. Kids happily stuck their feet through the grille and their mums told them off if they got them amputated when passing floors. It was completely optional to open the gate anywhere you liked and have to clamber up, or down, to where you wanted to be. Nobody complained.

Next came the soothing Muzak, then it was de rigeur to install mirrors so that you could check for lurking muggers before you entered what had by now become luxuriously appointed comfort zones with bench seats and carpets. This lasted until they reverted to being vandal-proofed coffins, clad in graffiti-resistant tungsten and stinking of urine.

The latest improvement is that supercilious bird they have on SatNavs and answerfones who tells you, "Doors (pause) closing". "Going (pause) up." "Doors (pause) opening". What next, a NASA style countdown? Or has everyone become so stupid that they need it all explained to them?

No. More likely, it will be a Health and Safety announcement to stop clients suing for crushed legs and whiplash.

If so, it's not enough. What they need is a video: "Welcome aboard this OTIS VRX3777bx9. Even if you've ascended with us before, will all passengers please take a moment to study the safety features of this podule. Egress is by the same aperture by which you ingressed, (here). In the event of a sudden non-fatal emergency scenario, whistles will descend from the ceiling (here) and you should put them to your lips (like so) and just etc., etc......" "Please be aware that we are about to achieve our departure and adopt the Brace Position now and..."

Have you ever had an accident that wasn't your fault.....

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Going west

An email has flooded in, from a reader complaining that I never reveal any personal details (the nerve!) and wanting to know why on earth I went to Warrington at the weekend.

Had to go all that way to see a doctor who I trusted, such is the Health Service in Lincs. OK? Enough or you want to see the x-rays?

I'd thought the Warrington Travelodge was a bargain at £26 when I booked it, and I suppose it was, in a way. It's downtown, between the award-winning bus-station and Asda. Most of Warrington seems to have been demolished in the 70s, the slums replaced by spanking new (then) roads with the backs and sides of B&Qs, and Kwik-Fits everywhere. A brown Tourist sign points to the Cultural Quarter. No doubt it's a sight worth devoting a whole hour to, but we decided to give it a miss. We didn't see many actual people around, it being Sunday evening they were probably all at t' chapel. Outside the hotel, though, a couple of youths in combat fatigues were lounging on the kerb smoking. They might have been guests avoiding the latest ban, but I hoped they were there to prevent our car being torched by local youngsters during the night.

Inside, a security guard took our details, the lobby had tables and chairs bolted to the floor, the windows in our room had black mould on the windows neatly co-ordinating with the greying net curtains. The view was over a main road and a railway line to factory roofs on the far horizon.

Luckily, we'd brought sandwiches, otherwise it would have been a trip to the vending machine downstairs for supper. We watched Mountain! on the TV, with Griff Rhys-Jones showing us a different Britain, green and pleasant, photographed lovingly from the air. I wonder if even Warrington could be made to look attractive from a helicopter. So to bed, with traffic along the roughened tarmac of the adjacent pedestrian-crossing as background noise.

I had an email from Travelodge, too, this morning asking if I'd recommend the place.

They must be joking. The full price of this room would have been £50. For the same amount or a tad more or less, we've luxuriated in places like the Melia Horus in Zamora, the Puerta de la Luna, Baeza, or the Molina Lario in Malaga. What is it with English prices? Pity the foreign tourists who are swayed by blurb on our hotels' websites.

Next day, we joined the motorway for the journey back East and sanity. The M62 is not for the faint-hearted. It's an 80 mile an hour traffic jam, snaking its way through spectacular Pennine scenery which, if you even glance at it, will get you killed instantly in the resulting pile-up. Then on to quieter driving along the semi-deserted M180, which leads from Scunthorpe to Grimsby, so no surprise there, then. And back through the lanes to home. Glad to be back too. Disorienting to lie facing south with the sea on your right.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Avast behind!

Girls, girls! What are you doing to yourselves? When I were nobbut a lad, sights like this were so rare we could afford to joke about them. Now, it's no laughing matter. Mountains of wobbling flesh are everywhere. Quivering acres of flab are changing the nation's scenery for the worse.

I'd previously thought that Skegness was full of them only because it's flat terrain and attracts the sort of holidaymakers who get turned away from airlines on safety grounds. But for reasons not worth going into, I was in Warrington at the weekend and they're stiff with them there, too. So at a service station on the way back, I did a scientific countup and found that less than 4% of the whole female clientele was decently svelte. Then, this morning it turned personal. I was lectured on my (barely discernible) cholesterol level by a nurse whose uniform was straining at the seams. Well, OK, she droned on about my smoking as well but it all seemed so offputting knowing it was coming from somebody who can't shave her own legs without using a mirror.

I blame the Government. Obesity has only become so widespread in the last three years, since it started lecturing everybody about getting fatal diseases from overeating. Now it's pretty much the norm. It does prove that TV programmes by that woman who makes people cry and inspects their faeces have no effect, though, which is a slightly positive note.

Fortunately, Mme. gets more willowy by the day so is immune from criticism. Her sister says it's because of the stress of having to live with me but I've never believed what she says about anything since she tried to sell me a time-share in Croatia.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

End of the pier, again

Superb stuff on Saturday night with the return of That'll Be The Day to the Embassy. Dozens of the best songs from the 50s to the 90s, great comedy routines and razor-sharp impressions. The highlight in a super-talented cast, for me, is always Katy Setterfield who deserves a far wider audience on her own account, rather than as an imitator of stars with not an ounce more talent than she herself possesses.

But that's showbiz, folks. She's doing well to be working at all, lacking the all-important TV exposure that pretty much guarantees any mediocrity their place in the public's affection. As an Amazon reviewer says of Britain's Got Talent winner, failed opera hopeful Paul Potts, "For those who think they are such experts that they are qualified to point out all (his) faults I would like to enlighten you on this: WE DON'T CARE WHAT YOU THINK!!! We know what we like".

This is the beauty of TV talent shows. They allow people like the reviewer to become a fan of somebody, secure in the knowledge that they're joining a cosy club made up of millions of their like-minded who also bought the hype or, as it's now known, narrative. Katy's narrative is that she's bloody good at what she does. The appreciation of her comes from nothing more than the effect her performance has on audiences.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

End of the pier

Tarkwith being indisposed following a bout of depression brought on by the return of Victoria Derbyshire to his favourite morning fone-in programme, it fell to me and Mme. to take on the task of bringing continued Culture Coverage to the blog. Right then, here we go. 'Family' entertainment is an all-but lost concept, so credit to the Embassy Theatre for at least trying to bring it to Skeggie audiences. Last night's Summer Spectacular, starring Bernie Clifton, barely attracted enough families to make its comeback a dead cert. but it turned out to be a worthy effort, given the current dilapidated state of live entertainment.

With a sparse cast-list of just the headliner, a troupe of lively dancers, a chirrupy songstress, a dated male lead and a gymnastic duo from Hungary (where else?) it could never be more than a pale shadow of the golden age of variety. But, luckily, Clifton's clowning managed to glue the thing together. There's no doubt that the man is drop-dead funny. (I'm on safe ground here. I know it's true because he wowed the Guardian's critic with the self-same act at last year's Edinburgh Fringe.)

From his opening line of, "Be honest. You thought I was dead, didn't you?" (yes) through wrapping the audience in gaffer-tape, lurching around on his trademark ostrich - including assaulting Katie from Hillsborough in its mating ritual, wrestling a 20 ft. high inflatable diving suit and getting kids up onstage to help with singing 'Dick Dodd's Dad's Dog's Dead' he kept us laughing right up to his leave-em-with-a-song finale. Sung wearing a white dinner-jacket, naturally as befits a proper comic.

As for the rest... well the Duo Denvy thrilled as shapely Gabriella clambered up her muscular partner to swing and swivel high in the air on various death-defying contraptions. I thought the well-drilled Tiffany Dancers hoofed
engagingly to some neatly choreographed routines. Shula Keyte had the right combination of moves and vocals for her role as a lead in excerpts from the musicals, but was let down by the ear-splittingly tinny sound-system. John Warwick did his best but you couldn't help but wonder whether he'd quite have been in the show if he hadn't been its director and co-producer - a little less of the John Hansons about him would have helped. (And John, love... ditch the Nessum Dorma. Pavarotti you ain't.)

So all in all, as good a way to spend a Monday evening as any.. in fact better than most and beating nights spent raging at the awfulness of the telly by miles. The memories to come away with are the sounds of kids and grown-ups helpless with laughter at a comedian who would, no doubt, be proud to say he doesn't do "stand-up". No nastiness, no modern cynicism. Just makes folks laugh.