Friday, June 29, 2007

Wonderful World 

I made my debut public performance with the Barbershop Chorus tonight and feel very proud.

It was a balmy evening, and Girlfriend and Fairly Famous Actor came along to cheer me on.
They settled at a table not too far from the bar with a bottle of wine each, which they set about making short work of, while I stood about feeling a little self-conscious, never having worn a houndstooth check blazer before.

Dressing up like door to door salesmen from the Fifties – “Can I interest you in a carpet, Madam? Nylon stockings? Contraband dried eggs?” - hardly seems a good strategy for the Chorus to attract new and youthful recruits, as is their stated intention, but I can't say I mind.

I suppose the truth is I'm jealous at the thought of losing my crown as the young sexy one.
I like to think of myself as Justin Timberlake to their Bing Crosbys, the eye candy to their Uncle Joe's Mint Balls – so I'll be buggered if I'm going to let some bloody Mika muscle in on my scene.
Keep the Old Guy jackets, I say, and while we're at it let's introduce compulsory toupes, little short grey ones, for all members of the Chorus.
Have you thought about how “cool” you'll look with one of those sitting on top of your golden mop of luscious curls, hey Mika? Well? Have you? Grace Kelly my arse.

Anyway, it was a great gig, as we say in show business, not a dry seat in the house, etc.
I mimed most of it, having a really sore throat and not being too sure about some of the words. I don't think anyone noticed.
Backstage after the show, Field Marshall Woodplumpton made a stirring speech to the troops and said some kind words with respect to it being my debut appearance and so on. The whip round was as generous as it was unexpected.
Girlfriend and FFA enjoyed the popular classics – Wonderful World, Moon River, YMCA – but weren't so keen on the faffy technical numbers, which they said were probably more enjoyable to sing than to listen to.

FFA was particularly amused by the way every song was delivered with a cheery smile and jaunty dance, regardless of context:
“Hello emptiness...” - cheeky wink - “...I feel like I could die...” - shuffle feet, jazz hands - “...Bye bye my love, goodbye!” - big smile, thumbs aloft.

Then again, I've seen his Pa Larkin, so I hardly think he's one to talk.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Out Of Time 

"My time server has lost six minutes this week," said my colleague Terry. He scratched at his keyboard with a half eaten biro, fishing for crumbs.
"That was careless," I replied.
"Well, to lose one minute is unfortunate, but to lose six is just plain careless."
"Oh forget it."

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Me and Girlfriend tramped through the fields looking for somewhere to let off my rocket. Nothing doing. There were too many cows and houses around, and I'm nervous about it all going wrong and setting fire to somebody's dairy herd.

The ideal place, of course, would be on the beach back home. Perfectly flat for miles and miles of hardly anybody.
Still, I don't know if I'm supposed to alert the airports, and I'd hate to ruin somebody's holiday by accidentally shooting down their Ryanair shuttlebus to Barcelona. I fret too much.

Here's a snap of the entry point to our ditch walk. In daylight, it looked like we'd clambered maybe 100 metres or so. Under a coal black, starless sky, with our beer heads on, it had seemed at least twice that much.

It was our turn to cook dinner, so Girlfriend spent the afternoon making margaritas – “What do you think of this one?” she'd ask every few minutes. “I've put in twice as much tequila as last time, and three times as much vodka” - and I laid the table. We've come to the conclusion it's all about limes.

After that it was more Scientology in the upstairs living room, followed by Twister. Here I am about to whup JP's arse. There's some video footage which suggests foul play was involved, but I insist I was merely asserting my rights.

There's also some fantastic video footage of me singing Thriller while Leanne, Charlie and JP do the dance routine. It won't be hitting YouTube anytime soon I don't think, so here's a still.

It was another up until sunrise night, listening to music and that.
Leanne apologised for seeming a bit elusive in the last year, and promised it won't happen again. She says we can kick her arse if it looks like she's going down that road again.
We decided that everybody's allowed to have one year of being a bit rubbish, and that was hers. Which isn't at all bad going, just the one.
She says best friend A had told her it was good to have her back.

It all went a bit group hug, which is no bad thing in moderation.

Best joke of the week:

What's Charlie doing?
She's bringing up some cheese.
Does she need any help?
Yeah. You can hold her hair back.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Very Big House In The Country 

We visited Chatsworth House today. FFA and Charlie did a flying tour of the inside, but the rest of us headed straight for the gardens.

They're beautiful – flowers, more flowers, me and Girlfriend forming a human sundial - and we were especially taken with the maze.
It was funny to wander blindly for ages making absolutely no progress, bumping into the same people again and again, all faring similarly badly. It was one of those “It's not the destination, it's all about the journey” metaphores.
I tend to get a bit ratty and impatient if I don't achieve what I've set out to do within, say, ten minutes: I'd sooner do without than wait that long to be served in a bar or library, for instance, so I'm sure left to my own devices I'd never have made it to Maze Central.

Here's a man on a horse.
I love formal gardens, me.
JP umpired from a safe distance.

We stopped in Bakewell on the way back, to pick up some tarts.
Standing around while FFA used the cashpoint, we were approached by a thrusting young man dressed as a monk who addressed us as “Dudes and Duderinos.”
The only rational response I could think of was to smile and walk away smartish, which I did, but the others lingered. They spend their working lives arguing the toss with nutcases and charlatans, so for them I guess it was a busman's holiday thing.

In a previous life I'd have spent half an hour disagreeing vehemently with everything he said, before finally giving him all my money in exchange for an armful of booklets about Eastern spiritualism and the importance of surrendering Earthly goods, so in my book I'm calling that progress.
JP, who is a kind and trusting soul, gave him a quid for one of his books and a chat about his home town.
In the pub afterwards, we agreed that it was quite likely JP's money would soon be spent in a bar, but as we didn't see it for ourselves we can't be entirely certain.

Not even Leonard Cohen can ruin a good game of Call 'Em All.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Find The River 

What better way to idle away a sunny morning than poring over Ordnance Survey maps looking for funny place names? It's one of my favourite things about being British.

Here is some nice lavender.

In the afternoon, me, Girlfriend, FFA and JP went for a stroll in Dovedale.
When I was little Dovedale was one our favourite family days out and I haven't been back in, ooh, twenty five years, getting on for twenty five light years. I was pleased to find it completely where we'd left it.
There was always one particular spot on the journey, a bend in the road with a small lay by on the left, with a horse in a field on the outside of the curve, and a lovely view down the valley on the other side, where me and my brother would have Dad pull the car over so we could rush out and spew up. Happy days.

JP updated me with the latest from his job as a top secret intergalactic superhero - he has leggy assistants! - and I waffled on a bit about long exposure photography. This doesn't demonstrate it very well. I'd like to go back some overcast day with a tripod and a neutral density filter.

FFA can – and did - identify just about any bird we asked him to, which to me is just wonderful and something I'm deeply envious of.
“What kind of bird is that, FFA?” I'd ask, and he'd patiently explain that it was a chaffinch, easily identifiable because of its double white wing bars.
“That's a male, because of it's pinky brown underside,” he would add.
“Oh. And what kind of bird is that one, FFA?”
“That's also a chaffinch, Tim,” he'd say. “Easily identifiable because of its double white wing bars. That's a male, because of it's pinky brown underside.”
We passed a happy brace of hours in this fashion, ambling beside the river in the late afternoon sunshine, playing pooh sticks and beating off insects. The air was thick with midgets.

Back at the house it was jambalaya night, easily identifiable by its pleasing spicy aroma and pinky brown hued rice and potatoes.

Later in the upstairs living room, we played a new variant of What The F*ck, called Who Wants To Be A Scientologist?
In S*n Fr*ncisco – yeah, yeah, sorry about that – somebody in the street handed Girlfriend a lengthy questionnaire to fill in at her own leisure.
You'd have to be barking, not to say in possession of too much spare time, to diligently answer all two hundred rather earnest questions, then supply “them” with your name and contact details – though I guess barking and excessively time-rich are just the qualities “they” look for in prospective prey. But the questions lend themselves well to the WTF format.

So we had a right good laugh debating “Do you make thoughtless remarks or accusations that you later regret?” and “Do your past failures still worry you?” and “Do you turn down responsibility because you doubt your ability to cope?” and “Does life seem rather vague and unreal to you?”
Incidentally, just how creepy is “Could you agree to strict discipline?”?
Why not be honest and get straight to the point? “Fancy joining a cult? Free brainwashing!”

To change the mood, sometime around midnight we went outside to play bush jumping. This was Leanne's idea. It consists of running as fast as you can into a hedge. It was funny.
Then we played hide and seek a bit, and then me, FFA and Leanne walked down the nearby stream/ditch to see how far we could get.
The squelch of mud between toes became quite pleasant after a while. There was barbed wire to negotiate, and branches and brambles and quite deep bits. It was pitch black save for the scant illumination provided by a torch with a fading battery, and of course, this was also Leanne's idea and terrifically funny.

Everybody had gone to bed when we returned maybe an hour later, so we had another drink. Slimy little creatures crawled out of our trouser pockets and scampered in slo-mo across the floor, no doubt wondering how the hell they'd got there and how they were going to get back.

Eventually the sky grew light, the sun came up and we called it a day.

Monday, June 18, 2007


Fairly Famous Actor piled his stuff into the boot and we drove to deepest Derbyshire, beer and wine bottles happily fizzing and clanging respectively, as excited as us to be off on our latest adventure.
It was a nice day. What with all the weather we'd been having we weren't sure if Derbyshire would be closed, but we made it inside OK.

Leanne was already there when we arrived, not long ahead of us. The lady came round and gave us the key and told us about the bins and when the gardeners would be here and so on – sunbathing in the nip would out of the question for Thursday morning then; Boo! That's my favourite time – and then left us to run about excitedly looking at everything.

I wouldn't say that the initial running around saying “Ooh, look! Nice bathroom / kitchen / entrance hall / grounds / whatever” is the best part about renting a holiday cottage, but it's certainly part of the fun. There were before and after photos of what the place was like before the owners did it up – a derelict shell in a field – and it was impressive.

Girlfriend, FFA and Leanne set about unpacking food, and I documented the process. Charlie and Juggling Protege arrived not long after and so the joyful “Ooh look!” thing happened once more.
Soon it was raining again, really bucketing down, but we were so pleased to be there it didn't make much difference.

It was pizza night, then we moved upstairs to the living room and played What The F*ck - “the outrageous drinking game for 2-100+ players.” It's a board game we bought in S*n Fr*ncisco.
The idea is that you ask someone a question, then everybody else has to try and guess that person's answer.
With it being American, some of the questions don't translate too well – who really cares about the chance to attend a Presidential Inauguration? Or meeting the British Prime Minister? - but others prompted some good discussions.

What would you rather give up for six months? a) Chocolate b) Shampoo
What would you rather have more of? a) Friends b) Money
What would you rather rid the world of? a) Disease b) Crime
Would you let someone vomit in your mouth for $50,000? a) Yes b) No

We generally avoided questions of the “Who would you rather take a shower with? Player One or Player Two?” nature, which I think was for the best.

Friday, June 15, 2007

It Might As Well Rain Until September 

Outside my window it rains and rains. Rain all over Preston, rain all over England, relentless rain all over everywhere relentlessly.

I put on my wellies and waded over to the datacentre with a big tupperware box of cartridges to perform some restores, disaster recovery work.

Rex the security guard was standing where his potatoes used to grow, idly prodding the sodden ground with a garden fork. The rain beat down on his upturned face, his eyes closed, praying for drainage.
I stood a while with him, gazing skyward, the rain gathering into little streams running down my neck and inside my shirt.
“No sign of it stopping any time soon, then?” I said pointlessly, and went on my way.
He says he's never seen anything like it.

Neil, my former team leader, paddled by in a canoe on his umpteenth lap of the car park. “It Might As Well Rain Until September” played tinnily on his phone.

I've spent the last couple of weeks trying to keep my head down and just getting on with it.
Stella, my eighties style yuppie witch of a team leader, has given me a load of stuff to do which doesn't require too much thinking, which has suited me fine.

The other day Bill Surname CEO announced over the crackly bing bong that there'll be more redundancies down the pipeline. We've been promised our department is in the clear, that we won't be effected, but we've heard all this before. It's getting a bit monotonous and the news has barely caused a ripple.

I quite fancy a holiday.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Antichrist Television Blues 

We rode a taxi downtown then waited for a train – the BART, if you must – to send us whizzing under the Bay and resurfacing on the other side in next to no time.
We emerged from the underground station blinking like moles with suitcases, which we trundled through the scholastic streets until our brows were moist with dampness. We dumped them in our room – the cases, not our brows - then headed straight out again for some serious dawdling about.

Berkeley is the city of a squillion students. Telegraph Avenue is where the bustle is, and where Girlfriend bought some Lego earrings from an enterprising kid with a street corner stall.
We browsed second hand bookshops and second hand clothes shops – the nineties are the new eighties, apparently – and had lunch in the scruffiest cafe we could find.
It was the sort of place where bearded men and women buy one coffee, then sit at a table and read an entire novel, or write one, or as was the case with one particularly unselfconscious young man sat in the window, pull out a bass guitar and a Portastudio, and proceed to lay down some tracks, man.

We meandered around the University campus, eventually wending our way up to the Greek Theatre, the work of one WR Hearst.
Once it was all tear gas and National Guard troops round here, and though the students aren't quite so revolting as their sixties and seventies counterparts, dissenting voices are still making themselves heard. It was day 182 of the protest.
Tattoos & body piercing & politics.

We returned to the Greek Theatre in the evening, where The Arcade Fire put on a farewell show for the last night of our holiday.
It's a brilliant venue and it was a great show. Everybody had a good time. It was a wonderful summer evening – it didn't rain! Phew! - and I can't imagine a more perfect way to have ended the trip.

Tomorrow we have to be up at stupid o'clock for the airport. It's hardly worth going to bed. Tired but happy.

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