Just been on Mark Watson's blog and he has produced a very succinct review of 2010 through his eyes so I thought I'd offer a few little nuggets of my own. So here goes...
BEST SONG: 'Empire State of Mind' by Jay-z and Alicia Keys.
BEST ALBUM: 'Sigh No More' by Mumford and Sons. Technically not released in 2010 but I'm a slow learner.
BEST BOOK: 'Awkward Situations For Men' by Danny Wallace
BEST FILM: A rather barren year for cinema-going but did enjoy Four Lions by Chris Morris and The Social Network, as well.
BEST TV SHOW: Modern Family - by far the best comedy to come out of America in years.
BEST PERSON: Anybody who managed to get through the year without wasting any money voting anybody out of / allowing somebody to stay on any reality TV talent or lack of talent show.
BEST DAY: Friday 26th March. My sister got married to Hamish in Watsons Bay on a perfect day and night. It was great to be a part of it and also marked the day I told Karyn I was going to hand my notice in and move down with her.
BEST LIVE SHOW: SIT DOWN, PEDAL, PEDAL, STOP AND STAND UP by Dave Gorman
BEST PERSONAL ACHIEVEMENT:
Getting sorted down in Worthing - it took a little while but things are starting to really slot into place.
MOST ANNOYING (NEW) THING: Louis Spence. Do I really have to say anything else?
Okay. I know, I know. It's been ages, hasn't it? I do this, it's what I do.
So here's a very succinct update on life:
I have a job. It's not permanent but it might be in 2011... possibly. I don't want to bore you with details - suffice to say it's in sales of retirement products. It has brought home the stark reality of how screwed pretty much everybody of my generation is if we don't start making hay while the sun shines.
I am still in a relationship with Karyn who has to date not acted on the multiple daily urges she must have deep down to dump me when I say inappropriate comments or accidentally hit her in the middle of the night when my body undergoes one of its spasmic readjustments.
I have just started organizing a quiz night at a bar in Brighton on Tuesday nights with my mate, Jon. We did our first gig last Tuesday and despite a few tweeks that need performing, we did fairly well and aided ourselves quite well by giving out free chocolate. Lots of free chocolate.
I have been to watch more non-league football in the last two months than at any other time in my life - Worthing are not world-class but there is something oddly rewarding about being stood in the cold watching primarily sub-standard hoofers try and attempt acts of genius and paying £9 for the privilege.
I've still been spending far too many weekends away than is humanly acceptable (although at least I've been accompanied by Karyn on most of them). It feels like I'm averaging a wedding a month recently and I'll be honest, I don't know how much longer I can get away with my current suit for - I may have to bite the bullet and buy a new one off eBay.
So that's about all I can think that there is to report at the moment.
Oh yes. One more thing... I still can't sleep!
In all the many years I've been entering Fantasy Football League competitions, I have never ever topped the table at any stage during the season. In fact, I've never come within 10,000 miles of top spot during those long, arduous campaigns of yesteryear. So, please forgive me for being just a little bit excited and surprised that I am, after week 1 of the new Premiership season, I am topping the MGM Advantage League with a mammoth 64 points.
Recognition should be paid to Joe Hart for those amazing saves against Spurs on Saturday and also to James Milner and Ryan Giggs in midfield for their goals in respective 3-0 wins against West Ham and Newcastle respectively.
The usual pattern after the first week of the season is that I start off terribly and proceed to get steadily worse before giving up on the whole thing by the end of October to the point that come May I can't even remember who was in my squad.
At least this year, I might make it to Christmas.
Anything could happen in the next 38 weeks.
Not since the day my Dad took me to see the first morning showing of Jurassic Park when I was eleven had I experienced such relentless gridlock in queuing to see a film. It was less to do with the film and everything to do with the compactness of the Duke of York Picture House itself. This historic venue (just a twenty minute walk outside of Brighton town centre) is a hundred years old this year and what it lacks in space it makes up for in good old fashioned charm. It was as good a choice as any for going to watch Chris Morris’ new comedy about British Muslim suicide bombers, ‘Four Lions’ on Saturday night.
The film itself is a mixture of satire, farce and genuine fact-based assertions surrounding its main protagonists, a motley crew of incompetent and confused wannabe martyrs, whose days are taken up with planning Jihad against their supposed western oppressors (usually from their bedsit).
Their difference in opinions as to suitable targets for their eventual sacrifice highlights their ignorance both about their cause and for any sort of tactical military nous (with Barry the white ‘converted’ Muslim wanting to blow up a Mosque so that other Muslims will rise up) and one of the others suggesting that a pharmacy would be a far better choice.
Comparisons could be made between ‘Four Lions’ and ‘The Full Monty’, if you consider that all five main characters are working-class residents of a northern city who spend their days chasing what seems like an impossible ‘dream’ in a misguided belief that it will change the way the world looks at them.
The film is brilliantly shot and much of the comedy is observational as the mismatched group fight and bicker their way to the eventual climax – their date with Allah (which takes place during a London Fun Run). That Morris is so easily able to extract the comedy out of this situation is a testament to his deserved reputation as this generation’s biggest comedy maverick. As each character’s bomb is detonated (almost all accidentally) the ending does actually leave a sombre feeling inside – not of sorrow or empathy but just a realisation that these are the times we live in.
The absolute bonus of the evening was a live Q&A with Morris and the cast afterwards via satellite from Brixton. Morris was very candid as they fielded questions. The quote of the evening came from Adeel Akhtar, who plays the unfortunate Faisal. When an audience member asks what Morris and each cast member hopes to achieve from the film, he replied humbly: “a date!”
If you haven’t had the chance to see this film yet, make sure it’s a priority this week.
The latter part of this afternoon has not been very productive. The light overlooking the stairs is still lacking a bulb, the washing up remains on the worktop and the dinner I promised Karyn would be awaiting her on her arrival home from a hard day's graft is still very much unprepared. The reason has not been the customary siesta that has been commonplace on almost every day this week but the fact that I've been captivated by Nottinghamshire's clash with Hampshire at Trent Bridge.
This four day match has seen the pendulum swing between both sides on an almost hourly basis and even though I've only had the benefit of the BBC's online commentary with Dave Bracegirdle and Robin Chipperfield, it seems that it could be used as the perfect advert for anybody who doubts the entertainment value of the longer form of the game.
Going into the last session, all three results were possible and with five overs left to face, Hampshire went from a position of playing out for a draw to needing 23 off the remaining 30 balls. With an hour to go, a Hampshire victory looked out of reach but Dave seemed sure that Hampshire would not give up, much to Robin's surprise. At eight down, it was presumed that Hampshire would bat out for the draw.
How wrong can you be?
A series of boundaries from the South Coast team's South African middle-order batsman, Neil McKenzie, supported at the end by the diminutive Sri Lankan, Rangana Herath, tipped the balance back in the favour of the visitors. The pair put on 56 for the ninth wicket which saw Hampshire home with 13 balls to spare, following a six-hit on the leg-side by McKenzie off Andre Adams' penultimate ball of the over just minutes ago.
Credit to all involved, but hats off to McKenzie, whose late surge saw the visitors pluck victory from the jaws of a draw (or even a defeat) against their top of the table hosts. The game saw two centuries from Hales (his maiden first-class century) and McKenzie, as well as top knocks from Steven Mullaney and Jimmy Adams in the first innings.
Whilst I'm very disappointed that our 100% record has been extinguished, this game will no doubt live long in the memory of all the players, officials and spectators involved. It serves as a timely reminder that anything is possible and that it only takes a few good overs to turn a game.
Nottinghamshire will need to recover from this result immediately and get their winning ways back on track in next week's match against Essex at Trent Bridge. That will be their last home game until August and they must take advantage of that fact if they're to stay in contention for their first title since 2005.
They are truly polarising British public opinion: some see them as the epitome of a bold, new future which can bring economic and cultural success to Britain. Others see them as synonymous with the phoniness that encapsulates so much of our everyday life in the 21st century and that they are destined for a short shelf life.
No, it’s not Nick and Dave. I am of course talking about Wenlock and Mandeville – the newly unveiled fictional torch-bearers for the London Olympics of 2012.
It is easy to be cynical about the use of these characters (especially given the cost of creating them in the first place with a top design firm reportedly using a dozen people over a number of months) but I think the organising committee deserve a bit of praise for the historical context used in conjuring up a background story for these two Cyclops.
They are named after Wenlock in Shropshire, where Baron Pierre de Coubertin (founding father of the modern Olympics in 1896) once witnessed a sporting event and was inspired to stage an event on a global scale that would encapsulate the best in Corinthian sporting values.
His partner in crime is named after Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire, where the Paralympic Movement was established in the late 1940s.
Whilst there will be a lot of sneering about their commercial usage (it is reported that they need to earn about £15 million from the mascots alone in merchandise sales), it should be remembered that they are not meant for us the adults, but for the younger generation who will have a once in a lifetime opportunity to get behind a truly global event on home soil.
On a more personal level, I can only pre-emptively share my condolences with the poor people (by which I obviously mean students) that will be forced to don the outfits in the coming months and years in order to bring these digital conceptions to life. As someone with ample experience in this area, I cannot sympathise enough. Just remember not to give piggy-backs to any of the successful athletes – we all know that ends in tears, don’t we?
“There’s never going to be a good time, is there?”
That was my starter for ten to Karyn at my sister’s wedding in Australia at the end of March, just prior to me letting her know that I was going to hand in my notice the following week and make the big jump down to the seaside.
Nottingham has always been my home, with the exception of my three years at University in Oxford (I was at Brookes) and she always knew it would be a wrench for me to leave it behind. I also knew that if we were going to make a go of it, it was the only thing I could do.
So, this weekend, seven weeks on from that conversation, Karyn turned up in a borrowed transit van to whisk my worldly belongings and myself down to Worthing to begin a new chapter in our lives.
This blog will (I hope) detail and justify my decision to start from scratch... a new life and a clean slate. I have no job, no clue as to what I want to do, a very limited cash cushion behind me and a distinct lack of knowledge about my new surroundings. What can possibly go wrong?
Following today’s sad news about the death of Michael Foot, it reminded me of my brief but memorable meeting with the man at his home in Primrose Hill back in July 2003.
I was completing my last day at Politico’s Publishing, where I had worked as an intern for the previous eight months during the last year of my degree. Sean Magee, my Commissioning Editor and mentor, asked what I fancied doing to mark the occasion. This seemed odd and I genuinely had no idea. “Can I treat you to lunch?” I asked.
“Well, I’ve got to go and see Michael Foot for a couple of hours over lunch... in fact, let me ring him and see if he minds if you tag along.”
Two minutes later, following a brief conversation, the green light was given and I grabbed my coat and followed Sean out of the office.
A short drive later, I found myself walking through the front door of the former Labour Party leader’s abode and was taken aback immediately at the volume of books within every room of the house. There were thousands.
In one room, there were three whole shelves dedicated solely to Lord Byron (one of Foot’s principal interests) and where shelves ended they were replaced with vertical stacks that reached almost to the ceilings.
Foot had a justified reputation as one of the finest scholars this country has produced either side of the Second World War and whilst I agreed with practically none of his politics, it is worth noting that even at the age of ninety he still proved very good sharp company and in what proved to be a very surreal lunching experience, we sat and chatted for about half an hour about none other than Brian Clough. Foot had known him for over thirty years after being introduced at a House of Commons function in 1972 (following Derby’s successful Championship winning campaign) by the ‘Beast of Bolsover’, Dennis Skinner.
Foot was a horrendously inept leader of his party and will of course be ultimately remembered as the architect of the ‘longest suicide note in history’ that represented his party’s manifesto in the 1983 election. However, as an intellectual and a gentleman, he deserves to be remembered with fondness.
Even I hadn't seen any stand-up since June.
Fortunately, Komedia, in the heart of Brighton's North Laine, did not disappoint and we came away very happy with our lot when we visited on Saturday night.
The compere, Tiffany Stevenson, was very sharp but rather sweet with it - a genuine article that wanted everybody to enjoy themselves but didn't take any prisoners either. I knew I recognised her from somewhere and a quick Google search when I got home told me she'd been in The Office many moons ago.
First act up was Jimmy McGhie, a southern comic who made light of his geographical predicament (especially when faced with a room full of 400 baying Geordies recently) and won himself a lot of new fans with his self-effacing style of delivery.
The middle act was the most disappointing of the evening in my opinion: Ninia Benjamin. She had the ability to be funny but at times was just too interested in talking about anal sex for the fun of it and, in all honesty, tried just a little bit too hard for my liking. Still, she wasn't the worst I've ever seen by any stretch of the imagination and a few bits were laugh-out-loud.
The final act was Phil Nichol, who despite being a little slow out of the blocks made up for it with his final ditty of the evening: 'I'm the Only Gay Eskimo in my Tribe' which was made even funnier when he was joined up on stage by Ben, a great lad who he'd been making comical advances towards for the previous quarter of an hour. The two sung the final verse as if they were Sonny and Cher (except more attractive). For a member of the audience (if he was) he was pure class.
So, all in all a very fun evening and I can't wait to head back again soon.
As I've stated once or twice before, I am responsible for handling any charity requests the Cricket Club receives on a daily basis.
This morning, I got this letter (below) which just defies so much belief that it had me in stitches.
The address at the bottom which I've marked out is real (and according to Google Maps shows a property with both front and back gardens, so the inhabitants aren't doing too badly).
On the other hand, I suppose it will only take one gullible person to make the venture worthwhile.
Given his respiratory condition, I'd be worried if anybody did send him any cash as it could tip him over the edge.
The famous bunker scene from 'Downfall' has now become an internet phenomenon and finally Nottingham has its own representation as Forest Chief Executive, Mark Arthur, becomes 'Nazified' as the Fuhrer and learns the fate of his bid to build a new stadium and bring World Cup football to Robin Hood country in 2018. Sheer genius.
I've seen some truly awful performances by Notts players in the past... but fortunately yesterday wasn't one of them. I had planned to get down to Trent Bridge just after 3.00 to catch the last few hours of their final Pro40 game of the season against Gloucestershire Gladiators, but thought it would probably be appropriate to spend some time with Karyn before she headed back to Worthing. I saw her off about 2.45 and then took a walk down to the ground.
I was just in time to see the end of the post-match presentations - Notts were 57 all out (with Akhil Patel scoring 41 of those) and Gloucestershire knocked off the required runs in just seven and a half overs!
Still, on the plus side it meant we could celebrate the end of the season a few hours earlier than we'd intended and were soon forgetting the travails of every One Day competition this summer and concentrating more on a well-earned second-place finish in the Championship - a position that had seen every player receive an unprecedented bonus in the wake of the increased prize-money available in the competition this year.
Apparently, I spent a good chunk of the evening telling Mark Ealham that I was definitely going to put money on his seven year old son, George, playing for England one day. Despite his age, the boy's got talent in abundance and he comes from good stock (Mark's Dad, Alan, of course played for England in the 1970s and Mark played a fair few Tests and ODIs during the 1990s).
Scarily though, I think 2010 will be here before we know it.
The first time I ever laid eyes on Michael McIntyre was about eighteen months ago when he was on a panel show - I think it was Mock the Week. I thought he was awful. I mean, he really grated on me.
Then, earlier this year, a friend lent me his stand-up DVD and I was in tears. It was brilliant.
About a month later, the same friend asked if I wanted to go and see him live. I said 'yes' straight away.
I wasn't totally sure that he'd be any good - I dreaded that it might be a bit Peter Kay-esque where much of it would rely on previous jokes and catchphrases but there was little of that. He is just a genuinely refreshing comedy talent - incredibly camp but full of wonderfully acute social observations.
He is, of course, making hay while the sun shines and was visibly grateful for the turnout at the end - he knows it could all end tomorrow but I think he's got some mileage in him yet!
I am feeling rough today. Very rough.
Last night, I and a group of cerebral colleagues from Trent Bridge pitted our wits against over 30 other teams in the annual Notts County Lifeline Quiz at Meadow Lane. And lo and behold, we only went and won.
This isn't something that happens very often and therefore I was slightly overcome with the euphoric urge to celebrate by having a few pints afterwards in the Trent Navigation Inn, next door to Meadow Lane.
This was only the second time I'd ever set foot in the place since it had been refurbished a year ago and we immediately got chatting with the bar staff and the landlady. Before I knew it, my friends had left and it was 1.45pm. I looked at the landlady, who had been good enough to let me stay behind, and told her I had to make tracks. Next thing I knew, I was in her car getting a lift home.
You don't expect that sort of treatment in a pub when you're a 'local', let alone a complete stranger!
So, Laura - thanks very much and I'll be back in soon!
Incidentally, our prize was a hospitality box for 12 people at any Magpies game this season. We're going to see what the FA Cup brings in January before committing to anything too exciting like a glamour tie with Hereford at the end of February.
Willie Williams must have the best and worst job in the world.
Having been U2's set designer since the early 80s, he has created some structural and visual masterpieces (think the interactive extravaganzas of Zooropa in the early 90s and the giant Lemon on the Popmart tour of 97/98) that have captured the hearts and minds of music fans around the world.
Every time he manages to out-do himself and this latest tour is no exception, but it must be a logistical nightmare to import the spcaeship like structure from venue to venue and make sure every single cog and screw does what it's meant to do in order to ensure a smooth show for both artists and fans alike. He could well have been employed as one of NASA's top honchos had Bono and the boys not kept him so preoccupied for the last thirty years.
Anyway, the show was electric and despite Nick and I nearly losing each other for the duration of the gig (if he hadn't taken his brolly as a marker beacon, we'd have never have found one another in between toilet breaks), we were reunited for a two hour blitz of old and new from the Dubliners, with of course a little bit of politics thrown in with Bono's now usual appeals for the release of Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi and a slightly comical plea from Desmond Tutu on the giant panoramic screen for us all to act as 'one' before the band launched into their masterpiece of the same name.
All in all, it was a great night and despite early misgivings about the Don Valley, I have to say I was very impressed with the venue and its staff - all very friendly and laid back. The mood and the weather was perfect and it will long live in the memory.
A few weeks ago, I got an email at work from a lady called Kerry, who asked if she and her friends could come and do a naked calendar photoshoot at Trent Bridge in order to raise money for Jo's Trust, a charity that offers medical advice and sipport to those suffering from cervical cancer and their families.
I'm been ready for bed all day after yesterday's day off.
It's felt like ages since I went to a gig but if you're going to choose one gig to re-ignite your passion, it has to be Oasis appearing on home turf.
The venue, Heaton Park, based on the outskirts of Manchester, near Bury and Rochdale is a cracking proposition whose last guest of any notoriety was the Pope in 1982 - so it was quite a day to cherish.
Our conscientious time-keeping was rewarded with front pit access and a great view of the stage. Manchester's first musical sons were being ably supported throughout the day by Reverend and the Makers (standing in for the illness-stricken The Enemy), as well as Kasabian and Twisted Wheel.
The weather defied all forecasts and stayed very pleasant (although by the time the headliners came on, most people had been drenched in far less savoury liquids than rainwater) and the venue seemed well suited to handling the volume of people.
Everything was going fine - on the came with their usual swagger and launched into 'Rock and Roll Star' which was great but noticeable in that Liam wasn't as amplified as maybe he would've liked. At the end of the song, they stormed off stage leaving everybody a little bewildered as to what was going on (see video here).
Ten minutes passed before they returned. The problem, it seemed, had been solved. Without much explanation, they kicked into 'Lyla' and again the crowd took off.
By the end of that, they were off again. Ten minutes passed, then fifteen, by which point an announcement was put up on the TV screen saying that there was a problem with the generators. It was half an hour before they returned in a very apologetic mood, vowing that every punter would be entitled to a FULL refund. Considering that's 70,000 people at £40 a pop, it would be a very expensive night for the band and their promoters.
To be fair, the rest of the gig (which lasted twenty minutes past the local Council's 11pm curfew) was as you would expect - fantastic! Even Noel espoused his regret at promising a refund at the end:
"Kind of regret offering you your money back now. Apply for it back if you wanna be a c*nt, we'll do our best for you."
I think you'd have to be pretty harsh to want a full refund - it was still a great gig (although a friend had sorted the tickets out, so I don't have the right to preach anyway!), but it will be interesting to see how many do.
The shuttle buses idea didn't quite work as the crowds took over the whole road outside the Park and we actually walked for an hour and a quarter to reach our car and beat most of the buses there.
A long day ended at 3.30am but it was worth the effort and the slight technical difficulties.
Could well be the most expensive powercut in musical history.
This one is doing the rounds on Facebook... you know how it goes - write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits or goals about you. So here goes...
I went to go and watch Frost/Nixon tonight and must admit it gave me an odd sensation of feeling quite sympathetic towards Tricky Dicky - maybe it was just Frank Langella's stunning portrayal of the disgraced former President that made me feel a bit sorry for Nixon. David Frost (portrayed by Michael Sheen) comes across as a fairly loveable, if not emotionally flawed character determined to get a confession out of his subject over the hours of filming.
Nixon pummels Frost in the first few on-screen encounters (much to the growing disgust of his die-hard anti-Nixon research team) and it is not until the last interview when even to Frost's own amazement he manages to extract an apology from Nixon (although you sense that Nixon was not backed into a corner and was completely aware of what he was saying and deliberately did it so as to try and draw a line under 'Watergate' and try and preserve what little of his reputation that still existed).
The film is very well shot and I would not be surprised if Langella wins the 'Best Actor' oscar in Hollywood next month.
Yesterday was my 27th birthday and Karyn treated me to a flying lesson above the skies of Nottingham. Taking off in a Piper PA38 Tomhawk with my instructor, Chris.
I enjoyed the experience immensely flying to Edwinstowe and back and was allowed to pilot the plane for a small period, as well. On the first occasion I was given the controls, I tried all directions and manoueveres in the order I had been showed them before branching out and trying to keep a course on my own.
Thirty seconds later, Chris asked if he could take controls again. "Is everything okay?" I asked "Yep, it's fine but you were starting to nosedive!" The lesson was over before I knew it and whilst I did feel a little queasy by the time I landed, I was adamant that it would be something I wanted to do again. But I'm definitely having a proper meal beforehand next time. Two pieces of toast just doesn't do the job.
...was born at 6.25am Sydney time on Thursday 4th December weighing 3.6kg (7.9lbs). He measures 53cm. I am a very proud Uncle.
I have got more than used over the last year to Jenny's 'Germanisms', where she will either get a word hopelessly wrong, replace it with an even weirder word or just speak with such a strong Bavarian accent as to render her incoherent to your average Brit. I like to think I have grown accustomed to this by now though. However, I am less used to hearing Sylvia's (Jenny's Mum) who is over visiting at the moment.
I am currently in more pain than I physically thought it was possible to be in. After an early start, along with 13,000 other people, I converged on Nottingham's Victoria Embankment this morning to take part in the Robin Hood Full Marathon.
Having completed last year's half marathon, I felt compelled to up the ante this year, though my training regime in the last month had been practically non-existent. The first 13 miles were relatively easy going and the conditions were ideal - cool and relatively dry - and taking in the University Lakes and Wollaton Park amongst other locations.
This was what I was used to but was dreading the halfway point where the majority of the runners would turn left as the road forked and celebrate the end of their half marathon. I, on the other hand, would be heading right and facing the prospect of doing the same all over again.
By the time I got to sixteen miles, my knees were starting to buckle and for the remainder of the race, I was in a perpetual state of cramp forcing me to run short distances and then walk for a hundred metres before starting up again. I was assisted at one point by a chap in his fifties who introduced himself simply as 'Mad Man Mark' who kept me going for a short distance by telling me about how this was his 55th marathon and how he had run one last weekend and was doing another one next weekend. He was not necessarily making me feel any better.
Shortly afterwards, whilst making my way around the National Water Sports Centre at Holme Pierrepont, a volunteer thrust a sachet of Lucozade gel into my general direction. I grabbed it, but given my prediliction with the state of my knee I completely missed my mouth and proceeded to squirt the syruppy mixture all over my face and hands. Given the temperature had reached the mid-twenties, it didn't take long to become a hardened annoyance.
The crowds throughout are a great source of encouragement and I was greeted with the sight of my Mum and Dad at 24 miles attempting to take an action shot with their new camera (I think Mum actually wanted me to stop whilst she figured out how to do something fancy-dan with her new toy).
The final strait was a mixture of ecstasy and sheer, uncontrollable pain as I resembled the look of a paraplegic on acid hobbling the last 200 metres (apparently ignoring the chants of Mum, Dad and Karyn on the sidelines). Before the race, I had said with a slightly cautious optimism that I would be looking to do the course in about four and a half hours. So, it was with a certain amount of relief that I officially completed it in 4:32:47 and finished 817th out of 1128 runners.
I told Karyn in true Steve Redgrave fashion that if I ever, ever, ever mentioned the idea of doing another one in the future, she had my permission to shoot me on the spot. I think we both knew that I might come to regret saying that. But one things for sure, I'll definitely have to train harder next time.
I must be getting old. Last night, I went round to our friend's house and proceeded to have a marathon console workout. My evening had started as more of a spectator, watching Richard and Dan rattle off a whole series of tunes on Guitar Hero 3 (Richard is by far the superior of the two but his ability did lead me to question whether he actually ever left his house).
Having tried to teach me guitar at the age of seventeen and quitting after 15 minutes, Richard knew pretty much what to expect when he handed me the plastic six-string required to emulate Eric Clapton with Cream's 'Sunshine of Your Love'. There was much relief when after 4 aborted attempts and a top completion rate of 17% that I handed it back to somebody with a modicum of ability - or Dan as he's otherwise known.
Then we turned our attention to the Wii. The likes of bowling, golf and even tennis are relatively easy on the body's stress system and I had played them all at least once before. However, boxing was a totally foreign concept (at least in this form anyway) and from the outset I went hell for leather, beating the hell out of fresh air with a medley of right hooks and left jabs. After one round, my shirt had to come off - I was dripping. Despite my bulldog antics, I only won one of my three matches and resembled the appearance of an Irish gypsy fighter by the end of proceedings - half-naked, my jeans stuck to my body and pumped full of adrenaline. I was shattered.
According to Richard, I was genuinely scary. I didn't believe him. Having reduced Richard and Dan to stitches, I gracefully retired to the bathroom to cool off. Today, my arms and shoulders feel like they've been stretched by a rope attached to a herd of stampeding bison - lifting a glass has felt like something that should require sponsorship. Who said nights in were relaxing?
My head was spinning. I'm quite sure I was still drunk. I hastily changed into my now iconic shorts and vest look and stumbled out to discover everybody else looking motivated and professionally kitted out (by which I mean most people had torches - a fairly rudimentary piece of equipment for the time of day we were in) as we prepared to climb to one of the highest points in the Simatei Scenic Area.
I grabbed my packed breakfast, fetched my bag and before I knew it we were off! I walked the majority of the trek with Jean and Tracey - who couldn't stop commenting on the fact that they could smell the alcohol pouring off me! It was a tad embarrassing really! I continued to sup water like it was going out of fashion and was in danger of having none left for the way down if I kept up at this rate. It was a challenge, even with the torch that somebody very kindly lent to me, to see what I was doing.
Despite the physical hardship, I have never given up on anything in my life and I wasn't going to let a few cheap Chinese lagers prevent me from seeing sunrise. It took just over an hour or so to reach our summit where unfortunately the clouds were somewhat diminishing our view, but it was still a great occasion and there was emotion all round when one of the girls, Claire, reached the top against the odds. It was a touching moment.
There was, in the form of an elderly Chinese man with a kettle and some condiments, tea and coffee available at the top and I have to admit it only took one coffee for me to perk right back up. We spent around 45 minutes taking in the views and waiting for the last remaining people to finish their ascent.
As we headed back down, there were still a multitude of views to be witnessed, not least the sight of Andrew (who had made it back in double-quick time) to change into his kilt and welcome us all back with his bagpipes. The local Chinese military were just bemused as they came out of their offices at 8am to see what the hell the noise was that was awaking every villager for miles (see below).
And that was that. After nearly five days, the trekking part of the trip was over. We all headed back into the hotel to receive a glass of what was allegedly champagne, but tasted more like sparkling apple juice that had gone sour and have our pictures taken in front of a mock-up finishing line.
We all went and showered before boarding the bus and heading back to Beijing, where we enjoyed our first sit-down restaurant lunch of the trip - although the food was identical to that which we had been devouring for the last five nights. In the afternoon, we visited a silk factory where we watched the different processes required to make something that costs a bomb over here but is obviously very reasonable over there.
I was slightly distracted by the sheer volume of official Olympic merchandise on sale and proceeded to spend about a hundred quid on everything from multi-coloured character pens to presentational sets of chopsticks featuring the five Olympic mascots. I didn't half get some weird looks as I got back on the bus, but those that had come to know me over the last week instantly piped up: "eBay, right?" Got it in one.
Once we had checked into our hotels, we decided to have a walk around and it soon became apparent after Noreen had been to go and pick up her Olympic tickets from the American ticket office that contrary to what we had been led to believe, there were in actual fact an abundance of Olympic tickets still available for a multitude of different events. I decided to stick with my plan for tomorrow and go on the organised tour and see a bit of Beijing.
That night, most of us went and had a wonderfully exhilirating, if not at times excrutiatingly painful Chinese massage, which left the majority of us in a comatose state. However, we found ourselves waiting ages for our massages to begin and as such, missed our coach back to the hotel. Lina went ballistic at the young, inexperienced manager in charge of the centre whilst we just sat and watched a Chinese gameshow of the 'Takeshi's Castle' ilk, featuring the likes of a man in a Batman suit and a girl in high heels and a top with a picture of Posh Spice on it (I'm glad to report she went in the water after the first obstacle!).
On arrival back at the hotel, I decided to have a couple of pints in the 'Happy Bar' over the road and found myself munching popcorn for an hour with a few of the others. I was ready for my first proper night's sleep by Midnight.
True to our word, Andrew and I spent our time before breakfast transferring the essentials from our two bags into one manageable entity which almost as soon as we left the hotel were able to hand over to somebody else for the remainder of the day. And that somebody was Jo - our 'wall-catcher'. Jo was from a large family and when she wasn't on the Wall, she worked on a nearby farm.
Throughout the day she sought to teach Andrew and I as much Chinese as possible, whilst assisting us up particularly steep parts of the original Wall. Quite a lot of people opted to employ 'wall-catchers' today, I think through a mixture of necessity, laziness and simply the fact that at least we were helping out the local economy in the most direct way possible.
During the day, Jo kept hinting that she had other souvenirs with her that Andrew and I could look at come the end of the day. She was pleasant though and never tried to ram it down our throats. Looking around, some people had some slightly more pushy assistants.
With my 'wall-catcher', Jo, on the Wall
Today consisted of reaching 28 towers - 14 up and 14 down. It is deceptive that even though as the crow flies we are only probably covering around 10km in a day, we are doing far more in real terms due to the constant yo-yoing. The pictures below gives you an idea of the route:
As we reached the end of the day's trek, we were faced with a suspension bridge (above). The way it had been built up had encouraged thoughts of the one in 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom'. In reality, it was far more stable than we had been led to believe. As Andrew and I crossed over, one of the ladies filming the magnificent vista with her camcorder provided some commentary: "Oh there goes the Piper man... and his son!" I pissed myself - Andrew was distinctly nonplussed. "Shut it son or you'll not be getting any pocket money!"
Once we reached the other side, we began to relax a little. It was premature. There was one last sting in the tail - with a series of winding steps that were so steep we practically had to crawl up them. On the plus side, when we reached the top, we were given the option to either embark on a further 20 minute trek to our new hotel for the evening, or we could take the shorter, more exciting route down via a zipwire that apparently hadn't been serviced in a number of years. "I can't vouch for the safety of the zipwire, so you do it at your own risk everybody", said John doing his best to avoid a potential legal nightmare. "So, John, you wouldn't advise it then?" I enquired. "Well, I'm doing it but it's completely up to you". Well, what's good enough for the goose!
It was actually a very tranquil ride down, which was promptly followed by a short boat ride to our lodgings. Tonight we were told we need to be up for 3.30am and ready to leave by 4am the following morning, as we would be attempting to reach a spot where we could watch the sun come up but would need to have our skates on. With this in mind, following a series of speeches by some on the trek whose stories were often very personal, tragic but courageous, most people went to bed at around quarter to nine. Andrew and I had different ideas. The bar was still open and they seemed only too willing to take our money. I think I got to bed about 11 o'clock. Something told me I may have made a mistake.
After dinner last night, John, during his mammoth briefing about what lay ahead both today and in future days, had alluded to the fact that when we left the hotel this morning to commence trekking, we would doubtless be beseiged by around 200 'wall-catchers' (locals who make a living out of accompanying you on your trek and carrying your possessions in the process).
He said that those wishing to take advantage of this service should make themselves known early on. I decided against it, despite my shoulder still aching from yesterday. Which was just as well, becuase for the first time in history (according to John) there was not a single 'wall-catcher' there to greet us when we ventured out. John was dumbfounded.
Today, we were trekking part of the 'Wild Wall' for the first time but due to our proximity to a military base, we would be forced to forego our cameras for the day and were forced to pack them in with our belongings that were being carried under the bus. As we arrived at the entrance to the wall, John (who was used to being nearly half a mile ahead at any given point) was already involved in a heated exchange of words (via the translatory skills of the local Chinese support staff) with an Army officer who seemingly had orders not to let us through, despite us possessing all the necessary permits that said we were allowed.
After nearly twenty minutes of posturing via walkie-talkies, we were told definitively that we would not be allowed in. It was time for Plan B. We all hopped back on the coach and drove for half an hour to another site, where we could still walk on the 'Wild Wall' and in actual fact would be doing part of the trek that was planned for tomorrow. But hey ho!
The 'Wild Wall' is exceptional, although some of the gradients of the steps were very steep (this did not, however, prevent Andrew and I frequently racing each other to the top on various occasions - even if the top constituted a dead-end). The day was dramatically shortened due to the revision of the itinerary, but none of us were particularly complaining. It gave us additional time to peruse the hundreds of paper-cuttings in the shop opposite our lodgings and also gave Andrew a chance to practice his bagpipes again. I found him in a secluded corner of the hotel around the corner from our room (see video below - apologies for the flipping of angles).
Tonight we said goodbye to Lily and Roger (two of the Chinese support staff) and they serenaded us in return. I am tired but was glad of an afternoon when I could put my head down for an hour or so before dinner. Once again, Andrew and I are on the beers although we have made an executive decision to pool our belongings into one rucksack tomorrow and employ a 'wall-catcher' to literally take the weight off our shoulders. Should be more bearable, I hope.
I awoke for a second successive morning having had minimal shuteye, once again due in part to the volume of the air conditioning unit but also a bit of cramp after day 1. Arriving just in time to grab the last dregs of breakfast, we were soon on our way. It was hammering it down. This wasn't cats and dogs. This was elephants and rhinoceroses! Unpeturbed, we ventured on into the thick undergrowth and it soon became apparent that I had to make a very difficult choice.
I had decided to start the day wearing my cagoule but after an hour or so, the humidity was making things very difficult. I had, however, ignored the advice given in our tour packs that had suggested that today may be an ideal time to bring out the long trousers. Well, I didn't have any, did I? So that was an easy choice to make. However, the cagoule had to come off! I was dying! So now, I was wearing only shorts and my vest (again!) that I had washed overnight. As I meandered through nettles and prickly branches, I sensed I may be in for a rough ride.
Half and hour later, Andrew and I soon came to a muddy slope, which due to that morning's acidic onslaught had become nothing more than a ridiculous mudslide. We slowly traversed up the slope, zig-zagging to find the most secure rock which could cushion our front foot as the back sought to ameliorate our progress.
Just as we reached the top, my nightmare continued as the right shoulder strap of my cheap and nasty ASDA rucksack ripped clean off as I negotiated the last few steps of the ascent. I was forced, until we made it to our second stop to throw the left shoulder strap over my neck which is never the most comfortable of positions.
As we approached our second stop of the day, Andrew slipped and landed incredibly badly on a rock and landed on his cocksix. However, due to a fair amount of perspicacity on his part, he had landed on his bumbag, inside of which were a pack of cheesy cheddar biscuits which cushioned the blow admirably. He got straight back up and continued unaffected by his near-miss.
When we got to relax, he took the remnants of his biscuits out and was resigned to the fact that there only real purpose now would be as bird food. But then we couldn't recall seeing any birds during our first two days - so even that wasn't really an option. During our little rest, it had transpired that one of the girls had had a panic attack after seeing a spider. To be honest, I had been so focused on not getting my skin ripped to pieces by branches, I had barely given a second thought to the various creepy-crawlies that could be dwelling within them. I tried not to think about it.
The views over the next hour or so before lunch were breathtaking as we witnessed gorges like the one above and eventually found ourselves within the central confines of the main visitor part of the trek, where we joined young and old Chinese alike in admiring the caves and the water features, which were not immune to a bit of profiteering from the tourist fodder - providing opportunities for a bit of cave-dwelling whilst in a rubber dinghy and also a bit of zorbing on a lake.
However, I was slightly more concerned about lunch by this point in proceedings. After lunch, we were given two options. Those that wanted could spend another hour trawling through even thicker undergrowth than this morning in order to reach an ancient garrison tower up in the hills. The others could go to a karaoke bar on the coach until the intrepid explorers met them in a couple of hours time.
As you can imagine, it didn't take long for me to choose the physical endurance of being slashed alive over the emotional turmoil of a Chinese song-fest. I had become slightly conscious over the course of the day that I had hit Karyn three times in the face with stray branches when I had been walking in front of her. I decided it was probably far safer (for her face and my manhood) if I trailed behind her for this particular leg of the journey.
The hour seemed to fly by and despite Tracey's boots giving up the ghost, she still ploughed on (using spare laces to keep the now redundant sole in place) and we reached our destination in just shy of an hour. The views were spectacular (as you can see from above). After twenty minutes of admiring our surroundings, we started our descent back to the others (this was made slightly easier given that there was a road this time).
As we reached the coaches, Andrew and Nigel were stood outside the bar applauding our efforts. "Well, you definitely made the right choice! That's the worst bar in the history of the world!" they both uttered in unison. As Jean and I ventured inside the courtyard we were met by a Chinese family with a big bucket of alcoholic and soft drinks. It seems that far from being a bar, I think we'd just wandered into somebody's front garden and not wanting to offend they had quickly rushed around in order to find some drinks in order to make a quick buck out of some thirsty westerners. Not that I was complaining, you understand. Never had Chinese beer tasted so good.
Our next hotel was an hour and a half's drive away and when we arrived at the Longevity Lodge, we were impressed initially with the pleasantness of its surroundings. That soon evaporated when we realised that the bathroom was slightly sloped in relation to the rest of the room and that there was also a gap under the bathroom door. Of course, we discovered this the hard way when David, the first to indulge himself with a cooling down, came to find Tristan and I to inform us that the whole bedroom was flooded.
Fortunately, our beds and bags were on a raised platform (see above) and therefore were unscathed by the lake that had now formulated in the rest of the room. Half-an-hour of absorbing, padding and sweeping later and we felt we had adequately dispensed with the majority of the water, although it was still slippery as hell. In true British style, we decided to ignore it and proceed forthwith to the bar.
Well, this was what I came for. Today, just after 10.30, having trekked for half an hour through the undergrowth and passing horses on the way, I touched the Great Wall for the first time. I was now, according to Chinese legend, 'a hero'. I didn't feel like one - the humidity had already drenched my shirt through. I stripped off and delved into my rucksack for my running vest. Coupled with the fact that the air conditioning unit above my bed had kept me awake all night by blasting out almost Baltic levels of cool air, I sensed the day could be a struggle.
I had teamed up relatively early on in the day with Andrew and Jean (pictured above). Andrew was 37, from the Borders and is an HR manager and rugby nut. I met him at dinner last night and had quite a few beers with him after everybody else had traipsed off to bed. I had sat next to Jean on the bus this morning. She was from Canterbury but had been brought up in Sydney for the first 20 years or so of her life. She is a qualified reflexologist and I found her very easy to talk to from the outset.
It didn't take us long to suss Andy out - within the first kilometre, he spotted a soldier's stray hat in one of the towers en route and immediately grabbed it and tried it on. "Quick, grab a picture," he bellowed whilst I was still faffing around with the intricacies of my new camera. I duly proceeded. "Right, your turn!" he ordered. As I pondered, I all of a sudden noticed a uniform appear just around the corner. "I think I'll leave it", I replied, conscious that being deported on day 1 for undermining the Chinese authorities would doubtless win somebody some money in a sweepstake back home.
We seemed to make pretty good time and were some of the first people to make it back to our lunch stop, where having finished our fairly simplistic fayre, we were presented with the option to climb what had been dubbed the 'Oh My God' steps, around 400 in total, that led to our first glimpse of original, though no longer trekkable, Great Wall (see picture below). Never one to shirk a challenge, we set off and in fairness found the arrival slightly easier than the departure (especially given the gradient of the final few steps up to the summit).
After lunch, we turned round and started heading back in the direction in which we had come. The views were spectacular, and it was amazing to see young Chinese families walking around in nothing more than flip-flops, in stark comparison to us with our top-of-the-range walking boots, trekking sticks and (in many cases) army-style rucksacks. The highlight of the day was the descent from the wall. Whilst a continued trek was an option, most people (young and old) opted for the toboggan run, which basically involved going down a dry, meandering chute in a glorified go-kart. It was great fun (although less fun when you actually have to slow down for fear of taking the person in front of you clean out) although I reached the bottom just in time before my legs decided to momentarily seize up.
At the foot of the Wall lay the village of Mutianyu and we had an hour or so to be cajoled and pestered by the various purveyors of tat (by which, of course I mean quality China-related paraphanalia). After having discovered the art of Chinese negotiation very quickly (whatever they say the price is, you offer a maximum of 10% of it), I found myself having done quite well to come away with just a cheap imitation Chinese fan. Others were not so lucky. One lad was just buying things because he enjoyed the negotiating so much.
I got back to the hotel to discover that the big TV from my bedroom had been appropriated by the hotel staff for use in the outside area, in order that we could all sit and enjoy the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics that evening. During dinner, Andrew enlightened us to the fact that when he had got back to the hotel this afternoon, he had decided to have a stroll down the road in order to find a secluded spot to play his bagpipes for 20 minutes or so. He had barely been there any time at all when he found himself being approached by 4 Chinese Police Officials. Luckily, John (our group leader) was on hand to resolve the problem, otherwise we reckon Andy would now be in a less than salubrious cell somewhere.
Around ten minutes into the Ceremony, the thunder began to roar through the sky and within minutes, people were seeking shelter in the dining room like refugees. Andrew and I looked at each other in true British defiance. There was no concern. We were under cover outside anyway. Everybody obviously knew something we didn't, as two minutes later, we were both drenched. And I mean sodden to the core. We sensed we may have made the wrong call. Everybody vanished off to their respective rooms and left poor James (one of our Chinese guides) sheltering under a huge table brolley outside, attempting to prevent the TV from blowing up. Poor lad.
Anyway, I was cordially invited to join Tracey, Karyn and Usma's room to watch the conclusion of the event. To be honest though, having seen every other country in the world (including at least two I'd never heard of) I could not summon the attention levels required in order to make it through to Team GB's appearance on the track with the Union Jack in all its splendour. I retired to bed and prayed for a night of relative warmth and solitude. Apparently, I missed our athletes by about five minutes.
During the Test Match back in June, whilst loitering harmlessly by the main reception doing nothing in particular, I found myself accosted by two blokes in Hawaiian shirts with pints in their hand, who having been pointed in my direction, seemed rather keen to make my acquaintance. They asked if they could have five minutes of my time. In the absence of any real work to do, I agreed and led them into one of the few quiet enclaves remaining on the ground.
Their names were Phil and Bert. They had been best friends for nearly 20 years and you would think they were brothers than mates. Phil works for Waitrose and Bert's a Postman. They explained that in late July they would be setting off on a trek around all the major Test Match Grounds in the country. Starting off in Durham at the Riverside, they would then progress down to Headingley, ourselves at Trent Bridge, then Edgbaston, then Lord's before finishing at the Oval. The journey would be over 350 miles and would last a fortnight.
So, what was their reason behind the journey? Well, two years ago, Phil lost his little daughter, Abigail, at just six moths old to a rare illness called Type 1 Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) and since then he has been tirelessly fundraising for a small charity dedicated to the illness called The Jennifer Trust, which provides Outreach support for both sufferers and their families. Phil cut to the chase: "So, basically we were wondering when we come to you, whether we could get some publicity and maybe meet some of the players. Oh, and could we get something to auction, as well?" I looked at their itinerary and worked out that we would in fact be involved in a four day County Championship game when they were due to be passing by. I said we'd work something out nearer the time. I shook their hands and they vanished back to the bar.
Anyway, this morning I got a call around eleven o'clock from Phil: "We're at Edwinstowe mate. It'll probably take us another five hours before with with you. Is that okay?" "That's fine mate", I replied, whilst trying to work out the approximate mileage still needed to be covered in my head. The day wore on, and on and on. It got to around 4.30 and I decided to get an update. "Where are you?" "We're in Calverton. Is that nearby?" "I don't know how to say this mate, but not really no!" "How far do you reckon we are away?" "About three hours or so!" "Ah!" In the ensuing few minutes, I tried to work out a plan for them and agreed that I would hold on until they arrived.
Fortunately, I knew I'd have enough time to go home, eat, shower and get back to the ground before they were anywhere to be seen. As I arrived back at the ground, I was met by his wife, Rachel and other members of his family, and we all stood in eager anticipation of Phil and Bert's heroic entrance over Trent Bridge. Admittedly, we had to wait until 8.15 but when they finally arrived, they recieved a huge round of applause from not only us, but those that just happened to be sat in the outside part of the Trent Bridge Inn who knew not why they were clapping, but assumed it must be something relatively worthwhile. There were hugs all round and Bert downed a pint of beer in what can only have been the wink of an eye. They'd covered 34 miles today alone, but Phil was really feeling the pain. He reckoned his foot was mangled.
In an attempt to take both their minds off the pain, I ushered them back into the ground and gave them a tour around the Sky TV box ("it's like a stationery cupboard"), as well as taking them out as close to the Test wicket as their ever going to get without having nine burly security men wrestle them to the ground. I presented them with a signed Notts shirt and a signed scorecard from the recent Test Match for them to add to their auction in a fortnight's time.
We all stood for photographs and then they announced they were heading back to the hotel for a shower before hitting Hooters for some food. There are times when you dread being door-stepped in life but this is one of those occasions where I'm rather quite glad I did. For more information on the Walk, click here.
UPDATE: 2ND AUGUST I've had a message from Phil this afternoon: "Hi Alex. Thanks again for everything you have done for us. Unfortunately, when I took my shoes off last night my feet looked like something from a horror movie and I have been to the Doctors and he's told me I can't walk for a week. As you can imagine I'm gutted but Bert is going to carry on and if my feet feel better in a couple of days, I'm going to get a bike and hopefully finish it on that. As I said last night, when you get back from China we'll go out for a beer or ten! All the best! Phil" I feel really sorry for the guy. Keep pushing Phil, keep pushing.
UPDATE: 17TH AUGUST Phil got in touch today: "Hi Alex. Bert managed to finish the walk and my feet recovered enough to do the last bit to the Oval. The auction was a massive success and we raised over £6000 which was amazing. We'll come and watch a match soon and take you out for a beer.Thanks again, Phil". Well done fellas. Top draw.
On Tuesday last week, I received the following email from 'Just the Tonic', Nottingham's premier comedy club:
Hellohave just come off the phone and have booked Ross Noble to host Just the Tonic this Sunday in Nottingham. This is a very rare chance to see him live, as he lives in Australia now and is only over here for a couple of weeks.
The only other gigs he is doing while over here are Ther Mighty Boosh and Latitude Festivals. If you have never seen him, then you are missing out on one of the best stand ups in the world. On the bill with him are Jon Richardson and Wil Hodgson doing Edinburgh previews. Book online http://www.justthetonic.com
Venue: The Approach, Friar Lane, Nottingham. Doors open 7pm. Show starts 8.30pm
In my eagerness to be first out the blocks, I went straight online and booked four of the beauties. I had no doubt I'd be able to find three other fans of the gangly Geordie. As my credit card was accepted and the confirmation screen appeared I let out what might, with hindsight, be considered a slightly girly 'yay!'. Michael, slightly taken aback by my slightly feminine tone and subsequent hand gesture asked why I was so excited. When I told him, he just stared at me before unleashing a fact that I was aware of, but yet had given scant consideration of when I was purchasing the tickets. This Sunday, at the exact point that Ross would be gallavanting around the postage stamp of a stage making us all giggle like epileptic hyenas, most of my friends would be watching the European Championship Final. D'oh!
Ever the cock-eyed optimist, I sent round a flurry of text messages and answerphone messages, only to be met with a cavalcade of negative responses. I would persevere over the next few days - asking everybody and anybody - alas, all to no avail. Only Alex was interested. So, at 6pm last night, just an hour before doors opened, I rang Alex and asked if he could think of anybody else. "Leave it with me mate!" he replied. Ten minutes later, he rang me back: "Right, can my Mum have one of them?" he exhorted. "Of course she can!" I replied, excited at the notion of spending time with the Mum of one of my best friends - a man who I'd known for 19 years but whom, curiously, had until now kept his Mum a secret from me. This would be fun! That just left one remianing ticket.
All of a sudden, my phone began vibrating. It was Dallas. Dallas Dean!
"Hey, hey, Dallas Dean! How you doing?"
"I'm good darling, how are you? Just thought I'd not spoken to you in ages so I thought I'd give you a bell."
"You could not have called at a more opportune moment. What are you doing right now?" I asked excitedly.
"Not a lot. Why?" "Do you want to come and watch Ross Noble with me and a friend and his Mum tonight. Well, in about half an hour?"
"Do I? Where is he... in town?" "Yep!" "I'll be there in twenty minutes!"
And true to her word, she was. I hadn't seen her in nearly six months... in fact, come to think of it, this was only the third time we had ever met. I had met Dallas randomly in a bar the previous September when I had been watching Alex's band play upstairs.
We had started pulling faces at each other in the bar mirror whilst waiting to be served and had got chatting after that. Despite being out with her boyfriend, Ben, and his mates, I was welcomed to join them and spent the whole night talking to Dallas about life.
It was two nights before the Great North Run and I was supposed to be on the wagon. I fell spectacularly off it that night and had one of those great nights where you can just talk effortlessly to a total stranger and have a really good time. I still don't remember Alex taking me home that night. I do remember the four hour drive up to Newcastle the next day as being singularly the worst hangover journey ever... EVER!
Anyway, back to last night. Now, the standard format for a comedy evening of this ilk is that the compere (Ross) comes on, does 10-15 minutes, then introduces the 1st act (who at this time of year is practiscing his Edinburgh material), followed by a little bit more from Ross, then an interval, a small bit from Ross, the 2nd act, and then a final goodbye from Ross. The whole thing should last 2 hours.
Well, suffice to say, with Ross Noble, a schedule is about as much use as a marzipan dildo. His opening gambit was timed at just shy of an hour, forcing first act Will Hodgson to restrict his act to around fifteen minutes, probably half of what he'd have liked to have done. As he lamented: "That's the problem you face when you follow probably the most gifted comedian the circuit's ever produced!" After Will, Ross probably did another twenty minutes before breaking for an interval.
Then, after that, he came on for another gargantuan session (bearing in mind that he has no script, just a unique ability to find the randomness in the most mundane of observations or topic matters thrown up by the crowd) followed by Jon Richardson (a young lad about my age) whose self-depracating put-downs won over the crowd and spawned spontaneous cries for an encore - a position the poor lad had never prepared for.
In the end, his dearth of additional material was irrelevant as Noble sprung into action to assist his peer with a proposed world-record attempt at the most encores in one evening on a rotational basis. I think it finished on twelve. The night finished at 11.30 (a good hour after it should've done) but there were no complaints. Hilary (Alex's Mum) had had a great time and Dallas' half-time near private audience with the man himself had made her month, possibly even her year.
I woke up this morning to find this message on my phone:
And I didn't think about the footy once!
A tenner doesn't go far these days. It would buy you less than 45 minutes viewing time at the City Ground on any given Saturday. It would probably be your entry fee into a sub-standard club on a Saturday night where your feet would stick to the floor and you would inevitably spill your drink all over either yourself or somebody infinitely more attractive / harder than you (or possibly a very plausible combination of the two).
So it is truly refreshing to be able to inform you that last night was probably the best £10 I have ever spent. I have been to see the comedy genius that is Daniel Kitson (for the uninformed - he was Spencer the dozey barman in 'Phoenix Nights'). But don't be fooled by his on-screen persona. He is about as far-removed in real-life from the slightly underdeveloped young man he played in Peter Kay's hit comedy as it is possible to be.
The title of the show: 'The Impotent Fury of The Privileged' is both a stand-alone show and also a precursor to his Edinburgh show: "66a Church Road - a lament made of memories and kept in suitcases" which is going to be about him leaving his flat after many years. As of this point, he claims he's not even written it. Kitson is an astonishing performer, he deviates from stand-up into full-blown melancholy narrative and vice-versa.
He is almost impossible to pigeon-hole and barely takes a breath in this trend-quashing hour and three-quarter straight performance. At the beginning, he announces to the audience (which roughly consists of Kitsonistas like myself who know pretty much what to expect and those who are in for the comedy shock of their lives) that people should feel free to go to the toilet during his performance safe in the knowledge that they will not be put through the comedic blender. His is the comedy of the sophisticated laugh, a whimsical anecdote that effortlessly captures your attention until the punchline is delivered with a pleonastic glory that sets him apart from other comedians.
That isn't to say that he shirks profanities - he probably uses the 'C' word on more occasions in an entire performance than most of us have used it in their lives - but it's generally all in the context of his misanthropic outlook on life, which isn't to say that he can't be touched by genuine acts of human kindness and quirky behaviour (although the whole theatre was behind him when he savaged a man in one of the boxes for not only possessing the most annoying laugh to ever emanate from somebody's larynx but for using it a good five seconds after the punchline had been surrendered).
As he has done since he won the Perrier Award six years ago, Kitson continues to set the comedy bar and his Edinburgh show will be a sell-out as always, but if you ever, ever get the chance to see him - take it. Even if it costs you a bit more than a tenner.
"Al, are you at the Leeds match? I'm sure I just saw you on TV!"
Not wanting to lose my momentum in putting my flatpack bookshelf together, I proceeded to forget all about it until yesterday afternoon when Matt sent me a picture of what he had meant (see above just behind the dugout).
It would seem I have a doppelganger and a half - a long lost brother, no less! There's definitely a bit of Peter Beardsley's chin in there, as well!
Frightening to think there could be two of us, isn't it?
Before 12.57 this morning, I had never experienced an earthquake. In England, there is a common school of thought that there is more chance of having 5 consecutive white Christmas' with the number one slot occupied by a three-piece outfit consisting of Elvis, Lord Lucan and Shergar than experiencing a genuinely scary life-threatening seismic wave during your lifetime.
To be honest, when it happened (and it lasted mere seconds) my first thought wasn't that of an earthquake. Nope, that would not have forced me to sit bolt upright in bed and ponder my mortality in double-quick time. No, what did immediately spring to mind was that it was our boiler playing up again.
Over the weekend, we discovered by chance more than anything else that we were very close to having our house blow up due to the fact that there was no water in the tank but the heating was still on meaning that the tank was getting hotter and hotter without anything in it. The plumber reckons another 24 hours later and we'd all have been dead.
So, with this in mind, when you start hearing apocalyptic noises at nearly one o'clock in the morning having just been told that 48 hours earlier, you do start to worry (especially when the boiler is next to the attic and you live in the attic room).
Still, it's all over now and I probably shan't experience anything similar for decades. Of course, the only problem now is, if I do now hear the dulcit tones of armageddon in the middle of the night, it probably will be the boiler and it'll have been nice knowing you all....
Until recently, I was under the false impression that Sarah Beeny was merely that bossy blonde woman off the telly who seemed to be pregnant with a new offspring every time she graces our screens! That is until today - when my friend, Sarah, emailed me to say she had set me up a profile on Mysinglefriend.com - Beeny's digital dating behemoth which gives unbridled power to your friends to sell your personality to those who might find you their ideal physical specimen.
My parents have gone off to Portugal on a week's holiday today. It is exactly a year ago this week that they went off on the same excursion and came home to witness the above destruction.
It appeared at first that whichever parasites were responsible had come in through the roof by removing slates and lowering themselves into the loft. From here, it seemed that they had got into the bedroom by smashing their way down through the ceiling into firstly my Mum and Dad's room, followed by mine and my sister's old rooms, where there still remained many relics of our youth and more recent acquisitions.
This is where it gets weird. Whilst all three bedrooms had colossal structural damage in terms of the holes in the ceiling (which look as if the SAS have popped in to end a siege - see above), they actually took very little, if anything (in my room, the only visible item missing was an old Swatch watch that I'd not worn in over ten years anyway).
In Mum and Dad's room, there was jewellery scattered all over the place (including out on the roof itself - with yours truly being duly dispactched the same windswept evening to recover them) but it is difficult to see what the actual motive was? All they seemed to take were some of Mum's lounging tracksuits.
Anyway, my Dad's instinctive reaction was that of irrational over-reaction - stating that never again would the house be left empty whilst they are on holiday. When I enquired whether that meant he wanted me to assume a position of virtual house arrest, he started back-tracking.
As I left that night, I suggested that he might want to increase the number of motion sensors around the house that would have triggered the alarm. His reply was unequivocal:
"Bollocks to alarms... I'm getting machine-gun turrets installed in the walls!"
Let's see what happens this week...
Well, I've just about recovered from last night.
It is not often a band who have never performed live before and have only had seven hours rehearsal time together can pack out a venue with a capacity of around 250. But my friends, that is what 'Dr Comfort and the Lurid Revelations' managed last night at Nottingham's Southbank Bar. And they rocked!
The band, fronted by Nottinghamshire and England cricketer, Graeme Swann are made up of six lads who just wanted to have a bit of a craic and play some tunes that they love. Swanny is a born showman who played the crowd with ease and could knock out a decent tune, as well.
They have received some financial backing from the bar's owners in order to pay for some equipment and in return they have got about six gigs lined up. The owners more than recouped their expenditure and have been given national exposure in the following clip, which has been shown on Sky Sports News all day.
Highlights included great renditions of Oasis' 'Round Are Way' and Aerosmith's 'Dude (Looks Like A Lady). Obviously, the number of future gigs will depend very much on Swanny's international commitments (and if he keeps on playing like he did in Sri Lanka in the One-Dayers, then his stage appearances may be a rarity) but if you get the chance to see them play, or if you have a wedding or barmitzvah coming up, they could be your men!
On a totally separate note, after the gig had finished I decided that my appetite had been whetted sufficiently after 11 pints of Grolsch to warrant a nice, succulent lamb kebab from the shop next door. Having devoured one, I still felt I had room for a little more. When I broached the matter with the chap behind the counter, he politefully informed me that I couldn't have any more kebab. A little taken aback, I enquired if it was because he'd closed. He then informed me that that wasn't the reason - he just thought I'd probably had enough. Bemused, I resigned myself to the fact that I had just met possibly the world's only socially responsible kebab shop owner and trundled home. What next - a label on my pitta bread saying 'Please Eat Responsibly'? Possibly the requirement to fill in a risk assessment if I want extra mayo?
Still, waking up this morning I was extremely grateful. I think another one may have tipped me over the edge. I'm going to try and have a quiet one this week.
Yesterday, whilst walking near where I live, I discovered a wallet lying on the pavement. In a hurry (I was on my way to Birmingham), but keen to do the right thing, I picked it up and tried looking for details of an address amongst its contents, which included two credit cards, £30 in cash, a cheque for a not insignificant amount, as well as a few other bits and bobs.
Having failed to do this, I rang up the two credit card companies and asked if they could pass my details on to the owner.
Anyway, the lady owner finally got in touch this morning and came round an hour or so ago to collect it. It was not a protracted meeting, lasting little more than a minute - she thanked me for my honesty and went on her way.
In the next room, Sam observed that he thought that 'she could have been a bit more grateful!'
"She said thank you for my honesty! That's enough!" I retorted.
"Yeah, but she could have given you a reward though!" replied Sam, only half-jokingly.
Now don't get me wrong, if somebody offers you a token gesture then it's always an added bonus but what sort of society have we become when we expect to be rewarded for performing a basic act of human honesty.
A few friends have commented that most people would have probably nicked the cash and either left it where it was or handed it in to the nearest Police Station. I disagree. I think we can all be incredibly cynical about the society we have become and whilst there are undeniably a multitude of disagreeable elements within it, I still believe that 90% of people are intrinsically good-natured, charitable human beings.
Bit deep for a day of rest, I know, but thought I'd share it with you.
Normal service shall be resumed soon...
Tuesday 15th: Just received a thank you card in the post today. Oh, and a tenner too! Sam reckons her husband or someone made her feel guilty. Anyway, it's a little unexpected bonus!
In my time at Trent Bridge, I've had many strange letters and requests forwarded my way but none so stranger than a letter I received this morning. It read as follows (you tell me it's not a wind-up):
I am writing on behalf of the band I manage - Velvet Sky - to ask if you might be keen to assist with the front cover art for the band's first album, due for release in August of this year.
Velvet Sky are a Nottingham band comprised of four local boys who have recently signed to Heavenly Records with myself (also a local boy!) remaining as their manager.
The album is to be called Neural Pathways and deals with such themes as the necessary death of celebrity culture. We would like to shoot the album cover at Trent Bridge as it is a place of some significance for the lads.
For the shoot we would require the use of one full length wicket section as the concept is to have a still photo of an over in progress on the cover.
Four celebrities have already committed to the shoot. The photo would position Jodie Marsh at wicket-keeper, Abi Titmuss at first slip and Sonia form Eastenders at silly mid-off. Padded up and in bat would be Paul Danan.
The concept would dress all four in the clothes of people with real life, worthwhile jobs. Therefore Jodie Marsh would be a legal secretary, Abi Titmuss will be a firewoman, Sonia a QC. Paul Danan will be a brain surgeon.
We would be looking to shoot in March and would hope to time the weather so the cover could be shot under a doom laden sky. I look forward to your response and hope the proposal is agreeable.
Yours most sincerely
Now, I must admit, it took me a few minutes to wipe away the tears from my eyes as I read this. It's a cracking piece of comedy letter-writing. If it's a set-up, then I'm very tempted to play along.... if it's genuine, I will do everything in my power to make sure it happens!
I got an email yesterday from an old friend, Trevor (above), who now lives in Cape Town and writes the excellent 6000 Miles From Civilisation blog. He asked what I had been up to in the last few months and amongst other things I mentioned how I had recently been on a tour around Downing Street and in the process had been required to knock on the famous black door at Number 10. In a throwaway comment, I said that this incident would probably make it into the 'Top 20 Most Surreal Moments' of my life to date. He emailed me back this morning asking what else makes up my definitive list of moments. Never one to shirk a gauntlet when it's been thrown down, I have tried to compile a list, in no particular order, of the other most random, bizarre and often embarrassing episodes that I can think of. The only parameter I have set myself is that none of them can be drunken escapades or the by-product of alcohol-related activities. A 'Top 100' list presented by Jimmy Carr himself could not sustain these and besides, I can barely remember that many of them. So here are the other 19:
So there we have it! That's my lot. It's not definitive and I've probably missed loads - my memory's awful! Feel free to remind me of any past misdemeanours or amusing episodes in the Comments section. Remember to keep it clean - my Mum and Dad may read this one day! It's your turn now, Trev! I'm going for a well deserved sleep now! I mustn't forget to turn the lights off downstairs tonight - Simba doesn't look in a reading mood anyway! Au revoir.