Ra, Ra, Rasputin...

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Gnats.

Ahmed's gone back to London, and they've decimated the bus services from my home town to tonight's venue again, slicing an estimated hour and a half off some serious party time.

And here was me with an inflatable shark ready and everything.

But hey.

If you're reading this on the date it says above, you ought to be drunk.
If not, switch off that bloody electronic contraption you're reading this on and head to the nearest bar. I don't care if you're in deepest Tajikhistan.
Get walking!

For it is, after all, time for a bit of a global party.

Let's get going, shall we?

That Ain't Workin'

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Len, of Christmas Day's marvellous repast, is the joint runner of Ventnor's premier Quality Takeaway Food Emporium, The Ventnor Fish Bar. The shop, where both my sister and I used to work summers (earning me £4 an hour, and more importantly, free fish and chips for life), provides fish and chips of worldbeating quality to the people of the Isle of Wight, as well as pizzas, kebabs, childrens meals, curries, mouthwatering pies and a gamut of extras.

However, what with the wide menu and increasing business, trips to cellar freezers were getting a bit time consuming, so Len asked Keith and myself to pop down yesterday and rearrange the place, using the extra space formed by Len's homebuilt conservatory-cum-work area at the back of the chip shop kitchens.

Ventnor, my home town, is an old Victorian Spa Town. Dignified Victorians would enter horse-drawn huts on wheels, change into their bathing costumes and then swiftly descend into the sea, making sure no naughty members of the opposite sex could see them in their all-in-one bathing suits. After this exciting craze died down, Ventnor was left as a south-facing tourist town with dropping numbers of tourists...until some bright spark in the Island tourist board noticed the eight or nine *cough* antique shops *coughjunkcough* (sorry) in the town and marketed the place as 'The Collector's Capital' of the Island. Genius. We are now a net importer of old people.

Anyway. The town is quite old. The staircases are thin and windy. Len's freezer's were industrial mammoths. It was a bit fraught at times, but after a few grazes, scraping a hell of a lot of paint off the walls (sorry Len) and one time of me crawling underneath it and pushing upwards (getting a blister on my little finger in the process), we got into the shop. Then there were the other freezers, the microwave ovens, shifting those refrigera-a-ators.

It weren't workin'. That's the way you do it. You get your money for nothing, and your chips for free.

(Sorry)

Ahem

Saturday night, as recounted elsewhere, Dave, Ahmed, Sharon, Lizzy, Nick and I went to Ryde and enjoyed a few convivial drinks, taking in the Wetherspoon's and a new little place on Union Street called Bar 53, which I liked a lot but didn't get to stay in very long due to having to take the one hour trek of a bus ride back here to Ventnor.

Yesterday, after the freezer movin', Len treated us yet again to an enormous dinner and an afternoon of drinking and chatting. We were joined by my sister Jemma and her boyfriend Tom, and finished off the evening with Len, Keith and myself playing a few games of chess with whisky and cigars.

All this is distressingly civilised. I'm not sure I'm going to be able to keep it up back in Hatfield.

Allie arrives tomorrow. I'm looking forward to seeing her.

In other news, Miss Shiv's Rural English Christmas Adventure came to an end this afternoon as she jetted back Stateside, while we're lucky that Miss Kate will be honouring the nation with her presence until the new year.


The New Year!
Plans for the New Year are as yet formless, writhing, electric and exciting things, zipping back and forth along phone lines with a stimulating and coruscating power.
Current favourite: A Pub, Then Out to The Square At Midnight, Where We Will Swing On Brass Lions And Hug People We Vaguely Recognise.

Well, it's traditional.

If, in the course of having a great New Year's Eve, you drink so much that you wake up on a windy, bleak, gorse-covered island in the middle of nowhere, then mine's free, and you'll be welcome.

An Evening Conversation

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Pale smears of dried drink on the dark brown surface of the table in the booth said we weren’t the first to sit there that evening. Saturday is a heavy drinking night, the week between Christmas and New Year is the party season, and we were sitting in the cheapest pub in town. It was busy.

The man who I guess is now my oldest friend was sitting opposite me and surprising me by drinking nearly as fast as I was. It was early in the evening, we were the first of our group to arrive, and a mix up in the crush for the bar meant that we had both given the same order to different barmen at the same time. I have never seen my friend with two drinks in front of him before, and despite ordering heavy bitter to make himself drink slowly, he was certainly acting thirsty.

Strange. First, he was drinking quickly, and second, he began to sound curious. Curious about a take on things he wouldn’t normally talk about. Writing, for starts. My oldest friend has a take on life that he simply and without any interference jabs into text, with a brevity, poignancy and punch that might even be able to take a Harry Potter novel down to a length suitable for children. But he was curious. My brain was up for a picking.

He cast around for an example.
"How," he asked, "would you write, to pick something at random, the situation we are in here?"
I chatted for a bit about how I find it difficult, but it is possible to evoke a lot of a scene by writing about one thing that pulls everything else out of imagination or experience. I explained it badly, but he nodded.
"You could pick out the small vase at the end of the table, with dead white headed flowers drooping downwards towards the unused ketchup sachets and scattered grains of salt," I said. But my oldest friend shook his head away from his drink.
"The sachets are going too far," he said. "They make it sound seedy."
I thought about it quickly. As an indicator of what else there was around us, as the one thing to lend life and undescribed background to a scene, they were misleading. I agreed with him. Instead I waved a hand vaguely around the first floor of the busy pub where we were sitting.
"There’s the vase," I said, "which we’ll keep. Drop the sachets, and say, spin in the unlit pale blue mosaic fireplace."
My oldest friend could not see this because of a wide pillar, but he agreed. He took a long sip of bitter.

The first of our other old friends arrived and sat down.


Or, to put it another way...

Dashing through the...er, rain

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I am in the domain of the Greenhamster. Not much time to blog. Going out in Ryde with Sharon, and long lost master of the pool cheat (the one where he sneezes, accidentally grabs two of his own pool balls, hurls them into the pockets and then concedes two shots), Ahmed, who we were really beginning to wonder about seeing as he has a job in The City. We NEVER see him.

Going out. Drinking. Must make sure Dave is in fit state to return home and not give parents the impression that I am an alcoholic hellraiser their son should nto associate with.

This ain't gonna be easy.

Right. I gotta go. This is High Speed Christmas Blogging at it's best...

Boxing Clever

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Woke late. Dressed at 3pm. Watched TV. Talked on phone. Bed now.

Christmas Is Coming...

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First, I think, today just has to be covered. Something like today has to come first.

An early morning, started in the most agreeable way in which to wake up in my parents' house - "Stuart? Keith has cooked some breakfast."

All presents were gratefully recieved - I am now the proud owner of a visual guitar tutor book (which, considering that I own a guitar older than I am, is a touch overdue), a couple of books on writing (which, with my bipolar ego/id writing persona, I'm sure I'll be able to find a use for at least 50% of the time), the new Travis album, PS2 game LOTR- The Two Towers, a laptop carrying bag (probably designed for post-1996 laptops, and in for one hell of a shock when I introduce it to the much-loved 'one-upgrade-from-Stonehenge' style beastie that I currently write on), a pack of Playboy playing cards (not sure what was meant by this), a cracking mug from GHD, and a goddamnedly funky little bottle opener.

Out of the few that I bought that could be opened today, my presents to my parents went down well - Keith (my Dad) loved his sheepskinesque coat, and opened the rest of his presents wearing it over his dressing gown, and Mum loved her Roger McGough Anthology and various musicky CDs.

....The Goose Is Getting Fat

After breakfast at around 9am, and despite picking at snacks and whatnot at Lin and Len's (owners and runners of The Ventnor Fish Bar, and great family friends), by 5pm I was a touch hungry. So as you might imagine, if you let me get that hungry and point me at a lobster, things could get messy.

Not to mention dangerous for the other people at the table, in a uniquely...ballistic crustacean way.

What was the surprise, and only Lin and Len could possibly get away with it, was that the lobster (with salmon roulade, guacamole and a light salad) was the starter.

It was followed up with the arrival of a combined roast joint made of venison and wild boar with plum stuffing from a chap on the Island, and...separately, a boned goose, roast in its own fat, stuffed with a chicken...which in turn had been stuffed with a pheasant. This had been ordered from a farm somewhere, somewhere in a field in Hampshire.

To go with these (picture me sitting, shocked but beginning to grin, at one end of the table at this point) came steamed romanesco, roast potatoes and shallots, asparagus tips, roast pickled onions (yes - I hadn't heard of them either) more plum stuffing, and goose gravy. A small plate of Cumberland and Cranberry Sauces was looking around the faces at the table, hoping to get a look in.

At this point, Mein Host decided to open a suitably refined bottle of wine, and settled for a Gran Reserva Rioja, Faustino 1; 1988. My jaw dropped.

Needless to say I'm not really used to this sort of thing, but hot damn was it good. At this point I was eating slowly, trying to take it all in (take this comment any which way you see fit - all the ways I can think of do apply).

It was bloody gorgeous.

The teenage Rioja was enormously appreciated, but disappeared rather quickly and was followed up by a pair of twelve year-olds. Amazing.

Pudding took the form of a number of different desserts including trifle and tiramasu, but centre stage was given to the Christmas Pudding, ordered especially for the occasion from The Carvéd Angel in Dartmouth. The blue flame on the brandy whizzed in circles on the surface of the plate around the pudding...with Brandy Cream...astounding.

Whisky and Cigars were then produced. I was convinced I was living in some sort of 1920s upper class dreamworld by now, and thought I ought to be sporting a monocle or maybe cultivating a pipe.

My parents have gone straight to bed. I wanted to get all this down onscreen (as opposed to on paper) before hitting the sack, purely because I am still in awe. Come to think of it, I suspect I will be getting more comments from Fulminous aka Biscuit over this meal...

...And In Other News...
Yesterday's journey home was uneventful...one of the non-events was recieving an SMS from GHD just outside Haslemere, making non-progress just outside Haslemere for thirty minutes, and then getting underway again ten seconds after getting a text from Shiv. Draw your own conclusions...

Going out in Newport in Christmas Eve was also much fun - the Chicago Rock on the Island, whilst a SERIOUS contender (along with all the other Chiccy Rocks in creation) for Cheesiest Club Ever, has bizarrely become a part of home. Looking around the place and seeing so many familiar faces...so many...is earthing in a very personal way, even if I wouldn't speak to most of the people in there...or even remember their names. They've just been around, and a part of where I grew up, for a long time. Sharon, GHD, Lizzy, Vicky, Anna, Nick, Natalie, James (eventually, after he'd woken up), Laura et al were all having a few drinks and a dance to see each other before heading home for Christmas. It made me feel more at home to see them.

There's a lot planned, and I have a feeling The Autoblography may even expand over the holidays...in much the style I will be aiming not to.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

I hope all's well with you. I generally aim not to shut down over Christmas, but I've only been home about 24 hours, and there's been about 28 hours of stuff to fit in. So forgive me.

More soon.

Chin chin!

Party party party. Party!

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Well, that was fun.

Mark, D, Pix, greenhamster and Two Thirds of the mighty mighty Troika and friends sallied forth into London Village last night, in the eminently fashionable Camden. Allie swung by after work and met Kate, Dave and Shiv, which was cool, as she often says that the whole blogging thing isn't something she feels part of. (...and no, she doesn't want one, despite me enthusing manically)

There was pool, but this was quickly abandoned when it became obvious that chatting over drinks was potentially less embarassing...and less likely to result in Shiv taking a pool cue and getting all Buffy on Mark's ass, purely because he was being very, very good.

There was drinking, and chatting to Krissa via the international satellite linkup ("I'm sorry I can't be there with you all this evening, I'm on the set of my new movie..."), before, as 11 o'clock and the imminent closing of the bar came around, greenhamster and myself decided to round off the evening with a couple of whiskies.

Man were they premature.

I would like to say in my defence that as that last drink was going down I really got to like the flat cap, and wanted some pictures to remember it by. I'm sure there will be plenty forthcoming elsewhere...
Fantastic night. Much, much fun.

It goes without saying that the workman kneeling on my desk with a masonry power drill this morning is...less fun.
Especially for my head.

And the hangover that lives there.

Coffee Up

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Welcome to the coffee shop of your very dreams.
Please note the shiny chrome rim of the bar, the large baskets of freshly baked muffins on the tables, the large sofas and slowly spinning ceiling fans. For those who have just come in out of the cold there is plenty of room around the fireplace. And just for the hell of it, I'll pop this Santa hat on.
Come in, come in...

Right. I'd best get started. First up let me just run through a pot of regular filter coffee on the percolator. I'll just put that to one side for a moment. I'll be putting it through again in a minute...yep - that's for you, Shiv and Lyle. Patience...

Okay. Now this fearsome explosion of black plastic and chrome must be the main coffee machine. It exists purely for this morning's session, so you'll have to excuse me because I've not used it before. There's a few things that are worrying me...is...is it me or is this bit actually a bin?
This bit looks a lot like those jugs you get in Ancient Greek museums...and why is there a ferret in that jar? It looks a bit bulemic. The tubes from there seem to lead down to a mug with 'Gordon' written on it.
How strange.

Ye-es. There is a hopper full of sugar, one of those bizarre orange spinny cup squishers up there near the ceiling, a slot marked 'Insert Chocolate Here', whoops, best do that first then...one bar of Dairy Milk...there we go, and there's a distinct mooing sound coming from the kitchen.
Odd.

Right, if someone could please shut the door, it's getting a bit chilly in here. I'll just run this pot of coffee through the filter again...and I'll put twice the regular amount of grind in there to boot.

Ah, Greenhamster! Pass those mince pies around, there's a good chap - Gordon asked for one specifically. I'm sure he'll be thrilled that they've got Port in...nicely done sir.

Now, this contraption's controls are...oh.
There's only one button. Hmmm.
What the hell.

HELP YOURSELF TO MUFFINS, MINCE PIES, AND DIGESTIVES, ROBIN THEY'RE OVER THERE...SORRY IT IS A BIT LOUD, ISN'T IT? YOU KNOW I'VE ONLY JUST NOTICED THAT MASSIVE WHISTLE AT THE TOP! REMINDS ME OF THAT CARTOON THING...OH, WHAT WAS IT?

Oh, Bertha, yes. Right!

That's one latte for Karen, without whom none of this would have been possible, feel free to sink into the hugely comfy sofa, my dear, another for Robin, and this spicy smelling customer must be for Greenhamster, already with a dusting of cinnamon. That's the weak and feeble coffees out of the way...

After a third and final routing through the machine, there's a large...blob of coffee solids for Shivery and Lyle...Erm, I'll leave that to be divided between the two of you. I think there might be a spoon dissolving in there somewhere...sorry.

This urn-ful of coffee...hmm. Smells walnutty. That'll be for Wild, who...yep. Tuck into those muffins. Good man.

This beautiful creation here that smells like all the Tia Maria and orange cocktails I've ever dreamt of is for Pix, and S has this wonderfully fragrant hot chocolate, sprinkles and all, and has very kindly brought some chocolate biscuits...man we're all gonna be huge.

Milk! Someone order a milk? Er, Vanilla? That'll be for the graceful Green Fairy, who I can see is already making inroads into the marshmallows. Oh, and another for Karen. Indulge away.

Aye-oop it's another milky one for Dave, who has opted for the simple yet tasty hot milk with nutmeg...mmm. There's some brown sugar as well if you care for some.

There's still some kind of noise coming from the machine...a slow dripping...hah! That bin is slowly filling with espresso. It'll be ready by about three o'clock, Porny Boy. Sorry about that - I'm sure I can scoop some out for you though. There.
Oh, and there's a Weasel Coffee for Gordon.
Ahem.

Old Uni Buddy Alek dropped by for a spot of gossip, so I'll sling him his favourite drink, which was a pint of spirits, if I recall correctly, and pair him up with Karen, who fancied a chat...

Me? I'll just have water thanks. Owning my own coffee shop has proved to be too much of a temptation, and I've over-indulged.

Merry Christmas!

Lattecomers

There are, of course, a few pots of various hot drinks on the hotplate for anyone who cares to drop by during the course of the afternoon...and of course if anyone wants top ups. The muffins are held in bottomless bowls, so don't feel bad about having a second one.

Mr. D wants an espresso, and an espresso he shall have.

This is the ultimate coffee shop. There is nothing that can't be done within these walls.
However, I must have completely missed Krissa asleep in the corner. You know, girly girl, you're going to have to watch those late night coffee shop sessions. I didn't notice you when I locked up last night, either.Next time, don't wear the same colour as your sofa of choice. Here. At the risk of becoming a paraplegic, albeit a loved one, have an intensely sugary café au lait.

In the spirit of the continuing magic of this emporium, and of course the fact that we are now within English licensing hours, Spengy may have a beer, or a beer-flavoured coffee. Whichever.

And of course, a mocha for Mark, and a complimentary hot chocolate as well, just for the hell of it.

Monday Morning Coffee Emporium

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Roll up roll up, gitchoor koffies 'ere.

Monday morning is that horrific time when, after your body has just settled down after the weekend, you evilly plunge it into the working week and make unreasonable demands of your brain.

You, your brain and body all need coffee, so don't hold back. Order your coffee here, and you will recieve virtual coffee of the highest quality. With beans grown on the slopes of the very highest peaks in cyberspace, roasted over the flames of the hottest converation threads, and ground with the friction between Microsoft and Apple.

And, for the more traditionally minded amongst you, you may order your coffee with a Christmas theme, and a special prize for the most tenuous link.

Orders please!

(served just before midday)

Fever to Tell

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The urge to share, the urge to sculpt raw experience into something that can be communicated and exchanged, given and potentially relived...

Do you think it is contagious?

Fratboy Blues

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Well, I've finally gotten the wild and bushy hair cut.

Wandering into the shop, I realise that all of the barbers have the same haircut. And each of the three people in the barbers' chairs are slowly having their hair transformed into this same cut.

I suppressed the urge to run. I had promised Allie I would get it cut.

When the guy was explaining it to me, he told of the two styles - spiky or brushed back. I said, "Well I just kind of let it curl," which was met with a blank look.

I now look so upstanding and youthful with my shockingly short and combed-back-and-gelled haircut that I feel I am only just escaping from being press-ganged into standing on street corners with a black name badge that says 'Elder Stuart' whilst politely harassing passersby with the good news about Jesus.

I look too clean-cut, too...suave. I feel uncomfortable.

I feel that there is some serious work to be done; not shaving all weekend, using whisky instead of aftershave, and neglecting to iron my clothes. Maybe then I'll be back to the lovable scruffball that is my usual image.

New Addition

One of my friends at work has left to go to more fiscally appreciative climes, and has left me his PC-top bonsai to remember him by.

I shall call her Cecily.

Ooops! And there goes the 5000th visitor.


Have a good weekend, people, and to those who've already started their holidays....I hate you. But in a general, wishy washy, impersonal way.

So don't take it to heart.

It's A Hard Act To Follow

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And bizarrely, it is me...anyway.
Back to normal.

I am finding it increasingly hard to get out of bed in the mornings as the Christmas break approaches. I'm impressed with myself- it only took six months of working 9-5 for this to start.
This morning I left getting up until the dangerously late time of 8am, and only just scrabbled through the door of the office at 9am.
It was a close run thing, but I made it, albeit by missing breakfast and forgetting to water the carnivorous plants.

Bit of a scare this morning - a gas leak evacuation of the office, and because of the fear of using anything electrical, it took the form of people walking around shouting, 'Everybody get out for an hour or so!'.

In the end, my fears from yesterday (when someone first reported smelling gas in our kitchen) were confirmed.

No gas.

Someone had spilled washing-up liquid on a worksurface and left it, and this, combined with our resident "gourmet" keeping horsemeat and french cheese in the fridge, creates a smell not totally unlike gas, if you really use your imagination.

But still. With the hour off I had time to squeeze in a light breakfast at Erol's...

“So that’s it then,” he said.
She nodded.
“I’m sorry Stu, but it’s just too difficult. The distance and everything...”
“Right. Okay,” he paused. “Is there somebody else?”
She shook her head, pursing her lips as she did when she meant to show she was serious. Her hair had grown since he had seen her last. It flowed more as she moved, the curls were longer and more open. She looked beautiful.
“I’m sorry,” she said again.
Outside the café, the lights in the windows of the shops around the square were bright, and the walls of the church picked out the grey of the cobbles paving the space below the upstairs window. People walked quickly in the cold.
“Are you okay?” she asked. She did not reach for his hand.
He stirred his coffee.
“Yeah.”
“You’re not, are you.”
“Just a bit...surprised, I suppose. Your last letter was so...happy.”
“I am happy,” she said.
He sighed.
“I wish you’d told me before.”
“It wouldn’t have made any difference, would it?”
“I suppose not.”

This time she smiled and reached for his hand. He stiffened but he let her do it.

Cold kisses in the bitter month, with the moon in the arms of Orion.


Tents lie flaccid on yellowed grass. Cars fill the space were darkness encroached on drinking groups the night before. There seem to be more people today than there were last night. It had been colder.
She was tilting her head, just as she did when she was doing anything that she didn’t like, anything that made her feel bad. She pushed it all to one side, and the effort cocked her head. He stood in front of her, knowing. He had seen where she had spent the night. In the grey-green morning when returning to the caravan, shivering, his shoulders jumping from the cold, there were two figures close together, one unknown, and the other all too familiar. In that light, in that moment, in that cold, there was no feeling.
An offer of a lift, with a waiting car, a running engine. A sudden decision. He gets out and stands in front of her. Things have been declared, things have been said and changed. All there is is the retreat, but it cannot be graceful. It cannot be easy.
“I thought you said you loved me.”
She tilts her head. A wing of raven hair lolls out into the space by her cheek. It is six in the morning, her face and hair are immaculate.
“I did, but, things have changed. Things will change. I’ve never had a relationship last the summer.”
“We could make it last.”
“No.”
“I had to check.”
She stops tilting her head.
He hesitates. He gets back in the car. The sun is barely over the trees around the field.

The steps to some songs have to be danced, willing or no.


Her voice breaks down the line. Something leaps in my chest. I bite it back.
“But why?”
I am feeling this. Every second and every question and answer are pulling me back and pulling me down but this is not something that can change.
“Because wherever I am I don’t want to be wishing I was somewhere else. When I’m in...Rome, or Venice, or wherever, one thing I don’t want is to be wishing that I was in Leicester with you.”
A silence throngs between us. It is an answer that isn’t an answer, and we both know it.
“Well,” her voice breaks again, “I hope you have a good time.”
Another silence. I cannot thank her for that.
“Look after yourself, and you know, carpe diem.”
My heart.
My choice.
Myself, standing in the kitchen, staring at the pinewood grain of the side of the dresser, listening to a sob, broken by a click and a high tone. My hand, resting its weight on the green plastic as the handset settles in its cradle. A quiet creaking shift of weight on the floorboards outside the door.
“Come in.”
“Was she okay?”
“Not really.”
“Oh,” and the face.
I look at the floor, and leave the room.

You can’t count these on your fingers, you can’t put it down in words. You can only pick the moments, and keep them, and live on with what you have.


Someone out of another tale that I cannot tell just yet thought that life isn’t about making the right decision, it’s about being able to justify your decisions to yourself, and to know that you made the most of whatever path you happened to think was right at the time.

But I disagree with her. It isn’t about winning or losing or justifying anything, it is just making the best decision you can at the moment you make it, and living with it, even if, especially if, you know now that you were wrong. That is learning. That is living.

And when you’re on the recieving end of any decision that you can see has been made in this spirit, you take your moments, your memories, and you keep them, and you do your best to live on with them without taking them out of who you are. If, after the dust has settled, you can still laugh at a joke, remembered without rancour or bitterness, then maybe you’ve kept what was created.

Self-fulfilling Reflex

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There's a slogan at the end of a computer game advert on television at the moment.
'Challenge Everything'.

Am I the only one to think 'Why Should I?'?

It's a bit tragic, but I just can't help it.

Erol’s is what Lonely Planet-writing Australians would, with no thought for the lives of their readers, call a ‘Greasy Spoon’.

This is of course a slanderous misnomer. Not even the regulars in Erol’s would think to use a spoon for eating anything greasy. Spoons are for eating the froth off the top of the cappuccinos.

Don’t let your cappuccino-related prejudices mislead you. Erol’s fried breakfasts come with ever-so-slightly congealed baked beans, fried eggs with semi-transparent albumens, sausages with a consistency that means they are not so much cooked as toasted, bacon with a rust-coloured frying scorch to it, and mushrooms fried in the same fat since 1978. Regular patrons – builders, roadworkers, car criminals, old age pensioners and most of my office - wouldn’t have it any other way. But the coffee is something else. It doesn’t matter which of the surprisingly large variety of coffees from the menu you order, when your mocha, cortado, americano or regular coffee arrives, it will look, taste and wear the signature two inch chocolate dusted froth of a cappuccino.

It is simply the way things are.

Any attempt to ask for your coffee to be changed will be diligently ignored by the the mysterious and rather short-tempered blonde woman with the eastern european accent who waits tables in there.

Do not alter your order. Do not change your mind. Speak up.

This advice, unlike the food, is for your own health.
Other than this, the atmosphere whilst ‘eating in’ at Erol’s is wonderful.

Erol’s also does a takeaway service, dispatching cheaper and bigger bacon rolls than the satanic and debauched Simond's Bakery across the square. Considering that The Cheese Shop does cheaper sandwiches, Erol’s Café does better breakfast rolls, and the assistants in the Bakery are all extremely rude, it is surprising that Simond's does as brisk a trade as it does. There is only one feasible reason that I can see. The manager and staff of Simond's Bakery are in the pay of the Devil, selling sesame-seasoned satanically sanctioned baked goods to the unaware and vulnerable citizens of Hatfield. They obviously plan to use the takings from their extortionately high prices to fuel corporate expansion of the chain, ultimately spreading to every town on earth towing a dark evil in their wake.
You know - like McDonald’s.

I digress.

Once you have achieved the not insignificant goal of getting your order into the kitchen via the waitress, everything in Erol’s is cooked to order, meaning that patrons have time to appreciate the artwork on the walls, or contemplate the marketplace outside the glass front of the café. There is a painting hung on the wall above each table, around twenty in all. There are four different pictures. Directly opposite Erol’s on the other side of the marketplace is a shutdown food store, boarded up and covered with bill posters for a party a few summers ago. A layer of grey-walled flats sits on top. Between there and the customers of the enigmatic Monsieur Erol is the cobbled surface of the marketplace, broken up in a few places by grassy areas and a few anaemic spruces. Saturday sees the Farmer’s Market take up residency there, where the good people of Hatfield can decide not to buy dried grasses and ostrich burgers. Why would they want to? They can go to the gingham table-topped pillar of the community that is Erol’s Café and Grill.

Recommended: Ask for the Full English breakfast - very politely.

Next up on Stuart’s Guide To Hatfield: The Galleria Shopping Centre

It was the end of P.E., and Miss Hewkin was calling us down off The Apparatus. More things had capital letters in those days. There was The Playground, The Church, The Library, The Hall...fewer things, fewer names, and life was seen from just three foot off the ground. These places had greater significance than they do now.

The Apparatus was an exciting conglomeration of climbing racks, rope bridges, ladders, a slide, nets, little houses and a small sand pit which hardened after the rain. There was no padding or cushioning around The Apparatus – just grass and earth. They wouldn’t allow it any more. It would have ‘legal nightmare’ written all over it.

I was halfway across the rope bridge, around the back of The Apparatus, off the ground and amidst the leaves, when Miss Hewkin called out. It was summer. There were trees on the surrounding bank above The Green, a grass patch that seems so impossibly small now. Too small to have held so many games of ‘It’ and football, and so much involved and tortuous small-scale social intrigue. Below the area that receded grassless beneath the trees where we used to sit, dart-like grasses grew. They were ideal for breaking up and throwing into jumpers or hair from the leafy canopy as people walked by below. There is a mobile classroom blocking the route up underneath the trees now.

Ahead of me, just pulling himself off the rope bridge, was Olav. He was a thin yet boisterous, social kid, who bore the childhood handicap of a pair of oversized ears with a kind of gleeful indifference. He stood at the end of the rope bridge that I was working my way along, weighing up which way he wanted to get down. We were about five foot off the ground – nothing nail-biting, and there was a sheer jump to grass on his left, and the network of steady ladders and things working down on his right. As I reached the end of the bridge, he turned left and stopped at the edge. Miss Hewkin called again. The wooden platform that Olav was standing on was not very big. It only just took the two of us. He hesitated, shifting his weight forwards and then backwards into me. I was not a confident nor sociable child, and I certainly wasn’t a bully. Whilst towering over us all in the playground, settling disputes and dishing out sympathy for grazed knees, The Dinner Ladies (more capitals) called me the Gentle Giant. But Olav was dithering, Miss Hewkin’s voice was getting louder, and we were going to get into trouble. I was a Good Boy. I didn’t want to be in trouble.
So I pushed him.

He wailed in agony from the ground. I scuttled down the ladders and things and sat down, head bowed and cross-legged in the group of children on the grass under the eye of Miss Hewkin. She went and tended to Olav, who amidst the tears of pain, denounced me as A Pusher.

I said that I swung off the end of the rope bridge and lost my balance. No reaction was forthcoming from The Teachers.

I can’t remember the rest of the day apart from a terrible rising fear about what would happen when my parents found out. When Hometime came, I rushed out of the door of the school and hugged my Dad, paying particular attention to covering his ears, in case any of the other children blurted it out as they met their parents.
It was something I wasn’t going to be able to keep up for ever.

I gave the same version of the story to Mum and Dad as I had to the teachers, and the story was accepted, but I felt enormously guilty about the whole affair. Olav had his arm cheerfully covered in plaster when he came back to school, and no grudge was held that I can remember.

I bumped into him in an Island nightclub a year or so ago, and in a jovial spirit, apologised for breaking his arm. He looked at me funnily (it was a £1-a-pint night in Colonel Bogey’s, so that may have had something to do with it) and frowned.

“That wasn’t you. I fell off.”

The et cetera of life

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Autoblography entries of late have either been hearty, well-edited pieces prepared the night before, or piquant little scribbles tapped out in my lunch break and idle moments.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present: something in between.

Stuff

Reading: Colin Thubron: Lost Heart Of Asia

Nothing like a little top-notch travel writing to make you feel alive. This is also the first book in ages where I've had to keep a dictionary nearby - which also makes me feel good because I don't like the idea that there are a load of words out there that I might want to use, but just don't know them. That said, I'll just quickly dash off and look up 'chiaroscuro'. *

Listening: Shivery Tunes, the full Amon Tobin back catalogue, a little Bach, The Streets, and Leonard Cohen's Greatest Hits.

Behold my supreme eclectism. It's making my head feel a little funny actually.

Playing: Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell (PS2)

I'm not really fully into this game as yet, despite it being pretty good. I think it was at the point when the 'back at base' character authorised the main action character to use 'any and all force necessary' to achieve his goals. I just wasn't in the mood for killing Georgian policemen that day.

Writing: A little more than usual.

I'd eased off on the munter of a main task - redrafting the novel about twice, because I'd started quivering in the corner at the thought of piling into it all again, but I've sweetened myself with a few smaller side projects and so on, to jolly myself into doing the harder work. Honestly. Sometimes it's so easy to trick my inner child. He's so immature.

Eating: Italian, naturally. I will try Robyn's Nepalese Momo this weekend. I swear!

Drinking: Not a lot. The spectre of Tuesday's Work Christmas Party, whilst fully recovered from, is still haunting me.

Looking forward to: The Christmas break, if not Christmas itself. I'm looking forward to heading back to the Island, seeing my family and friends (and the parrot) and generally doing rural, caulkheady, back-of-beyond type things. Oh - for some better island pics, go see Plig's brilliant photographs of his recent break there.

Missing: Specifically? Not a lot. I'm feeling pretty future-oriented at the moment.

Wondering: Aren't we all?


Have a good weekend, everyone.

* One of its definitions is 'pictorial representation in terms of light and shade without regard to color'

The Relief of Vindication

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Isn't it nice to be proved right?

(especially when, after a while, you thought you might be in the wrong)

The Guide

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Seeing as it is markedly absent in the annals of great travel destinations, and in the vein of The Guide to New York as produced by The Great And Beautiful Shivery, I felt it was time that Hatfield cut it’s own slice of the virtual tourist cake.

Stuart’s Guide to Hatfield #1: The Cheese Shop

The first thing you should know is that The Cheese Shop is not a Cheese Shop. It is a big lie, intended to confuse and obfuscate. The Cheese Shop is in fact a sandwich shop, some of which, if you should feel the need, can be made to have cheese in, so, strictly speaking, yes, you can buy cheese from The Cheese Shop, but don’t let this confuse you.

The baguettes are the second most expensive take-away bread based lunch product available on the streets of Hatfield, (second only to the Megalithic Corporate Evil that is Simond's Bakery) but they are all right. When the baguette has been made, the woman in there rolls it extremely tightly in greaseproof paper, carefully making sure that some of the paper is in between the bread before gripping and rolling it hard. This means that when you eat it;

a) You have a high chance of munching through greaseproof paper, and
b) All of the filling spurts explosively out the back of the baguette after the first bite, redecorating your desk in an interesting shade of chicken and sweetcorn.

There is a large blackboard covered with the different prices for a certain filling in a sandwich, bap, roll or baguette. It is enormous. Every time I go in there, the woman behind the counter asks her husband how much my baguette is, even going to the point of going out the back to ask him. Her husband is the owner of the hairiest pair of arms I’ve ever seen on a human being, and since I’ve noticed them, I have patronised The Cheese Shop less often.

I’ve been thinking about it. If, when preparing food, people have to wear hair nets, what’s the deal with people who have hair in vast quantities elsewhere on their bodies? Should this guy be wearing some sort of fine string hair vest to protect his customers? Isn’t that a bit S&M? What good does a hair net do anyway? It’s obvious that hair is significantly smaller than the holes in the net. I digress.

It is a husband and wife run business, and they import their Coke(TM) from Greece. I don’t know why.

If you choose the wrong time to go to The Cheese Shop, ie lunch time, you will have to queue. But not to worry. If the queue gets really long there is always the excellent task of window shopping outside the cobbler’s next door.

Recommended: Chicken and Bacon mayo baguette, please, for love of God, hold the body hair.

Next up on Stuart’s Guide to Hatfield: Erol’s Café and Grill

Fog, Glorious Fog

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I am unbelievably grateful to Mother Nature or those chaps at the MET office, (either of which I occasionally blame) for the weather today.

It was the work Christmas Party last night, and I drank too much red wine.
You know it's going to be a long day when you have a warm feeling of triumph when you manage to pull on a pair of trousers in the morning.

When I stepped out of Alice's flat this morning the fog was like a brilliantly soothing ice pack over my entire head, and the damp cool of the air woke me up a little.
Even better, it meant that the bus from St. Alban's had to drive very slowly. Ideal if your brain is working in the same way...

So a quick apology if you've had your day lengthened or made difficult by the weather today. I rather think it was for me.

That's In Belgium, Isn't It?

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It was dark, cold and we saw nothing more of Brussels than that which was viewed, murkily-lit, from a taxi jaunting along the tiny roads of the capital close to midnight on the Friday, and all that we saw from the doors of the taxi and the spinning door of the hotel. Marble floors. Courteous staff. The softest bed I think I may have ever slept in and most importantly, a power shower.

I’m a big fan of showers.

After about an hour of international satellite television (no comment), power showerage (mmmm) and soft bed dozing, we fell asleep.

We woke up at a mobile phone-prompted 8am, and actually got out of bed at around 9am. More showerage ( you have no idea how clean I would be if I had a shower like that in my house) and a most decorous descent to breakfast. Let me say, any description of the breakfast beyond the vast and immense praise for the coffee will give readers a distorted view of how much food we had. Suffice to say the breakfast was good.

After retiring to the room for additional clothing we sullied forth into a just-rained-on Brussels. The whole place, whilst cold as I can imagine hell would be, was absolutely gorgeous – the cold and the wetness of the past rain lending an aura of cleanliness to a city whose oldest buildings are blackened with soot.

The opening out of the Grand Place was a surprise I’d gladly experience again, if only I could retract the overwhelming impression of the tall buildings and the wet cobbles and the crowds and the severe grey grandeur and expansive finesse of the beauty of the facades.

The centre of the square was taken up with a nativity scene. For this the public authorities of Brussels had seen fit to provide pine-like foliage to surround the stable, which was thatched a bright yellow, one half occupied by three of the most photographed sheep in the Northern Hemisphere. Dotted around in the foliage were several GRP animals -donkeys and cows, just standing around as cows and donkeys do. These were special though; at night they became luminously coloured. With bright spangly spots. Hallelujah!

There is a Christmas fair on in Brussels at the moment - huge numbers of wooden stalls selling just about everything - gluhwein, sausages, sauerkraut and pork and potato and onion being cooked up in enormous pans... We walked through all this, enjoying the spectacle of it all, just flowing with the dribs of the crowd. I allowed myself to be sold some beer from a stall, with disproportionate pride at the fact that I knew the french word for 'honey' when the fluent beer-making gentleman's English faltered. Interesting beer. Good beer...

One thing that really made me smile was the discovery of two merry-go-rounds in different areas of the fair. Almost grotesque...but not...solely for children; there was a giant purple wooden stag beetle to be ridden that rolled around, a flying fish with bicycle pedals that swung out above the heads of spectators and blew bubbles, an iguana you could climb inside whose head and tongue lolled about whilst bucking (gently) like a bronco...Leonardo's flying man, again with cycle...a giant rearing unicorn with steel wheels...all of it was very Heath Robinson, but the metal was burnished and brown and cold...so...visceral, and I loved it. All so fantastic and home-made-looking, it was a thing of child-like imagination carried through into reality...and I thought it was brilliant.


Continuing through the route of the fair, we discovered an ice rink in the middle of a wide boulevard bordered with yet more stalls; silks and fragrances, rum punch, more sausages, and warming gluhwein sold everywhere. At the end of the boulevard was a large ferris wheel ( the basket span around in the wind, making photos difficult - it was so cold, but an amazing view),
we had some gluhwein, wandered back along the route, ducked into an alley and discovered a little bar. Coffee, hot chocolate, biere
brune...astonishingly lost the ability to speak French on my part. I kept
inserting new and exciting syllables that weren't there before.
Brussels has a stunning cityscape.

We ate at a place called 'Falstaff's' on Saturday evening. Fantastic turn of the century place (the 19th-20th turn of the century, not that crass and materialistic recent one) with Mucha-like pastel glass murals and wooden fretwork, great tables outside under the radiant heat of electric bars...gorgeous. The food was heavenly - I heartily recommend the Chicken Waterzooie. If you find out what the hell waterzooie means, I'd like to know.

On Saturday night we (eventually) ended up in the bar under the hotel, and then, out of curiosity more than anything, we wen to the hotel nightclub. Despite it being about £7.50 per drink, we had one each and marvelled at it's 80'sness. If you've ever seen anyone play Grand Theft Auto: Vice City...with the whole 1986 vibe, you'll know what it was like. An oriental-looking gentleman along the bar from us bought himself a bottle of Johnny Walker at about £100 and sat sipping it slowly...making sure everyone saw that he had a bottle to himself...pure comedy. The barman struck us as the bastard lovechild of Manuel from Fawlty Towers and one of the Chuckle Brothers. it was an entertaining evening...and we got to bed at about 1am.

We had a late day on Sunday, and went a little easier on the breakfast this time.
We walked about a gloriously bright, clear and cold Brussels, taking in the abandoned and beautiful Parc de Bruxelles, and a couple more cafés...we marvelled at the suspended dragon stealing a cow under an arcing glass ceiling in the Galerie St. Hubert, bought postcards and I decided against buying a moleskin gauche notebook on the grounds that I haven't yet filled my 5 other, less fancy ones...Eurostar was late on the way back, and we arrived home at about 11pm.

Don't Mess With The Hair

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Right. After a windswept weekend in Brussels (details tomorrow, o impatient ones) wandering round with my now excessively bushy hair barely contained under a baseball cap, I feel it is time to get it cut.

This morning I looked like the bizarre genetically engineered offspring of Wolverine, Wileykat and a Novelty Supermop.
I still do.

There is of course the downside to be considered - hair keeps in heat, and it's frickin' freezin'.
I could, of course, go the other way, and go for an afro. A small afro, but with the right perm, it's possible.
As a bonus, I would never need to use a pillow again.

Decisions, decisions...

In One Word

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Crisp.


More words (and pictures) to follow - tomorrow.

Yah Boo Sucks I'm Off To Belgium

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Right.
In the continuing vein of pretending that money doesn't exist (la la la la LA LA I'M NOT LISTENING) in the month of December, Alice and I are off to Brussels this evening.

We are staying here, in the (scroll down) Godiva Suite.

All I am saying is 'Hurrah for lastminute.com!'

Whilst in Brussels Allie and I will be sampling the beer, the chocolate and the...uh (what else do they eat in Belguium?)...and looking out for all those landmarks...the Grand Place, the EEC, those cows and...er, Quickos...hmmm.

Beer then!

I promise lots of shockingly bad quality cameraphotos on here.

It's over to Pix's for cocktails, and then off to the Eurostar.

Toodle-pip you lot! Have a good weekend...

The Big Picture

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Jigsaws.
An interesting hobby.
Somewhere between the peaceful Zen empty-mind of fishing, and the somehow satisfying feeling of faux-creativity.

I've done a few in my time. Not many recently, mind you.

I had cause to go and buy a second-hand one the other day, and upon my return noticed that it had a sticker on to certify that it had been checked and rendered complete by someone in the shop. Imagine - you volunteer to raise funds and forward the cause of your favourite charity, a high and noble cause indeed, and then some generous and large-hearted swine brings in a large bag of jigsaws and you're sat counting bits all day.

Imagine, if you will, someone, in a particularly strange vein of mild-evil (the diet coke of evil?) who went around and stole just one piece from each charity shop jigsaw. The frustration and dissatisfaction from each act, when the new owners completed their puzzles, would be spread wide and far.

But go back to the imaginary piece-thief - the Wrecker of Puzzles, Destroyer of Joy. Imagine them continuing this unsavoury habit - unchecked, and undiscovered by the police - for years. Picture, if you can, his growing pile of single pieces, perhaps surrounded by a small candle-lit shrine, and polaroids of people with hopeful faces buying the incomplete jigsaws.
Visualise his moment of ecstasy as he realises that he has one thousand pieces from one thousand separate jigsaws, and see him in your mind's eye as he buys a box to put them in...and donates them to a charity shop.
Imagine the sweet old lady who bought this puzzle because of the nice picture of puppies on the box. She would be the most confused person in the world.

Don't know why I'm telling you this. I guess I'm just happy that I've got something to do when I retire.

God Rest Ye Merry Geeks, Oh Yes

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It's coming up to Christmas, right?
Wonderful.

There may well be an above average number of geeks out there, so some people have rightly seen fit to cater for them, with Renditions of Physics Related Christmas Carols.

Personal favourites include: 'Gravity, O Gravity', 'Photons of Light' (to the tune of Silent Night), and the timeless 'O Little Physics Reference Sheet' (guess).

Opening this strangely fascinating tin of worms, I followed a couple of links and ended up here.

If you're stuck for what to download first, I would recommend the excellent 'Carbon is a girl's best friend'...complete with lyrics sheet.

The NYC-London Party Marathon

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Has anyone got $500 spare in order to bring about a little joy this Christmas/Chanukah/Religious festival / festive season of your choice?

If so, then Li'l Miss Krissa would like to hear from you.

If you like, you can imagine yourself as the mysterious benefactor in a heartwarming Christmas/Chanukah/Religious festival /festive film.
Which would, in fact, be the case.

Lay all thoughts of that 34" flatscreen TV aside. There's a girl who needs a party.
At Christmas.

Where's your humanity?

(Pssst, Krissa, I don't know if this is going to work, but it was worth a try, right?)

Has it come to this?

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I wasn't going to post today, but I just really enjoyed my lunch, and I thought I would see how many arses I could bore off the readership.

I resisted doing anything Christmassy - discussing presents or even holiday arrangements with Allie until it was December.
Now it is here, I'm beginning to feel incredibly festive.

There is a lone, plastic and sparsely decorated tree that has been placed on some empty desks in the corridor outside the office. It appeared, one day, and no one knows where it came from. It is a blinding reminder of the impersonality of business, and as such makes me chuckle every time I see it.

Lunch today. Mmm. I opted for Asda's 'Christmas Special' Wensleydale and Cranberry sandwich filling.

Wensleydale and Cranberry cheese, with cranberries, in a yoghurt and port mayonnaise.

Despite my concerns that it would taste like eating a lumpy six-month old Fruit Corner, it was luscious.

I am so damn festive that I am now up for a roast turkey and stuffing dessert.

Please leave all your arses in an orderly, countable pile in the corner, thank you.

Note to Prospective Bloggers

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Just a quick note -when choosing the name for your blog, feel free to go for any pun you like, but remember to choose something you wouldn't mind shouting over music and/or carousing with a drink in your hand.

For a bad example of a blog name chosen without this consideration see Autoblography, The.

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