Fat Man on a Keyboard 'At first they came for the smokers but I did not speak out as I did not smoke. Then they came for the binge drinkers but I said nothing as I did not binge. Now they have an obesity strategy...'
Cocktails and Records ... what could be finer? A weekly tune from the record box, handpicked, dusted down, and lovingly described. Also the place to get answers to Major Questions Of The Day, such as 'is rollerskating the new trendy alternative to bicycles?'
blue cat This blue cat fellow (he writes for the telly you know) issues forth an apparently effortless stream of grade-A funniness that has me overcome in turns by helpless laughter and shameful, powerful envy. There I've said it.
Joella Joella in Oxfordshire. Working for The Man while training to be a plumber (I think!). Loves gherkins, hates aubergines... and Fascists.
Jason Mulgrew Jason in his own words: 'I am from a blue-collar Irish Catholic family from Philly, complete with a chain-smoking tattooed dad, a short gregarious mother, a younger brother that despises me and a younger sister who’s pretty sure I’m gay'.
Clare Sudbery Another of Mancheter's finest... a textually loquacious word-freak, with quite a way with words.
A Free Man in Preston Office life with unforgettable characters such as 'Stella, my eighties yuppie witch of a team leader', seasoned with occasional out-of-hours forays into the murky world of Lancastrian barbershop quartets. The writer is a very nice chap to boot.
Assistant another Jonathan! Sure there's a lot of it about...
Dubsteps (formerly Hobo Tread) Thoughts of Skif, a Havant and Waterlooville fan exiled in Liverpool- possibly the most engaging non-league football writing to be found on the web- and with a little bit of politics, and plenty more beside!
Rhodri Livejournal is much-maligned in some quarters which is perhaps why you haven't seen a link to Rhodri anywhere else. Be assured, though: this is a writer of rare poise, able to extract hilarity from the most humdrum of subject matter. Oh and as well as being a professional broadsheet journalist he's also the keyboard player with Scritti Politti (I swear I'm not making this up).
Private Secret Diary Dispatches from deepest Norfolk. Not that private and not that secret. Just consistently hilarious.
Emma Kennedy the daily weblog of BBCTV and radio's Emma Kennedy. The design and format (and the car number spotting thing!) may be copied from Richard Herring- but Emma has very much her own writing style. Consistently entertaining.
Pete Ashton's Internet Presence Birmingham's finest. Writing with enviable clarity on every subject under the sun since 2000 (a very long time indeed!). Now with added nice pictures of canals and stuff...
Tokyo Times Lee Chapman. Not the ex-Sheffield Wednesday striker (at least I don't think so) but an English bloke who lives in Tokyo. And tells interesting stories about it. Often accompanied by pictures.
Petite anglaise Petite, our very own 'cause celebre' (she was sacked for blogging back in the day, you know). The first novel now published, but she hasn't forgotten where she came from, oh no...
diamond geezer From London. And seems to have been around for about as long as the City itself. One of the 'Old School'.
Looby 'An awkward, clumsy fellow; a lubber; a novice'....a venerated (if refreshingly irreverent) blogging institution. Lancaster's very finest!
RichardHerring.com The comedian Richard Herring's kind of online diary thing. Always worth a visit.
From the neighbourhood
Levenshulme Daily Photo We're a very photogenic little suburb, you know. The go-to place for arty shots of express trains speeding past sports centres, kids on scooters dissappearing up alleyways... and rain. Lots and lots of rain.
Love Levenshulme Handcrafted local blog taking admirably positive slant on all things M19. Equally delightful postcards available from libraries, butchers, and candlestickmakers the length and breadth of our part of the A6
Just a quick post to advise that due to a sudden rash of 'comments' written in intermediate level English from people with addresses like 'Flat Screen TV Best Bargain Online' and 'Deluxe Coffee Maker Full Range Available Click Here!' I have had to put comment moderation on the site for a while... which means your comments won't appear straight away, but I will check daily and if you are a real person with a real person's name and your comment doesn't say something like 'this is a great web-blog and so well written on a topical theme, I wonder where you get your information from it really peaked (sic) my interest, I'll share your provocative views with my roommate, I'm fairly sure he'll laugh plentifully!' then I will press 'publish' without further delay.
Thank you for your patience and understanding. We now return to our normal programming.
The part of Frankie's brain which deals with the nomenclature of the Red Letter Days of the British Autumn appears to be malfunctioning. Halloween has become 'Evil Weekend' (as in,'will we be doing pumpkins again for- what is it called-Evil Weekend?') and Guy Fawkes has been renamed 'What is he called again? Bonfire Jim?'. But my favourite is 'The Day That Everything Freezes', which had me properly stumped during this increasingly mutually exasperated exchange the other Saturday morning:
'Is tomorrow the Day That Everything Freezes Daddy?'
'The Day That What? Well the forecast is chilly, if that's what you m-'
'No! The Day That Everrything Freezes! We've been doing it at school. You know'.
'I've got literally no idea what you're talking about Frankie. The-'
'The Day That Everything Freezes! For the dead soldiers! With the poppies!'
Which, you would have to admit- while lacking a certain Dimblebyesque lunchtime-on-the-BBC gravitas, is sure as hell a lot more snappy than the somewhat stuffy and redolent-of-brussel-sprouts-in-front-of-Harold-McMillan-on-the-wireless Remembrance Sunday, and if anyone has the number for the marketing department of the Royal British Legion perhaps you could let us know.
Later that same Saturday I have occasion to observe that the custom of remembrance remains stoically entrenched in the deepest recesses of the non-league pyramid. In advance of the kick-off at Cheadle Town versus Oldham Borough, the referee beckons the 22 players to arrange themselves evenly around the perimiter of the centre circle, and with a short blast of the whistle, ordains 120 seconds of head-bowed silence. On the sidelines and up in the high-stepped single rickety wooden stand. a similar number of spectators shuffle their feet and, reverentially, pause consumption of steaming hot meat and potato pies.
Just half an hour earlier, it had appeared The Fallen would remain uncommemorated in this particular outpost of Mancunian suburbia, the football match necessary for the preliminary observance of time-honoured ceremony being momentarily at risk of falling foul of the conditions. As raging inclemency battered the roof of the portakabin (strong smell of damp; draught pumps out of action since 1989; cans of Carling at £2.50 a pint out of the fridge or nothing) a harried looking man in an official-looking raincoat burst in among us to announce that there would be a short delay to allow the clouds to clear and hailstones to be swept from the touchlines. Kick off- we were assured- would be no later than 3:15PM.
The be-gabardined gentleman is as good as his word, and at 3:12 prompt a game of association football is underway. From the outset the quality of the play belies not only the challenging conditions but the supposed lowly standard of the North West Counties Football League Division Two. Resplendent in all green, the home team take early charge, their slick passing game too much for a youthful opposition outifit rich in individual verve but lacking the hardbitten streetguile needed to prevail at this level. A goal midway through each half has the outcome settled beyond doubt by the hour, which is enough for the specators, but evidently not for the home coach- a thick-set authoritarian in a padded anorak who prowls the touchline until the last whistle, hoarsely bellowing at his charges. The left winger- a short, balding, wiry individual reminiscent of Nottingham Forest's Steve Stone in his pomp- has the misfortune of being closest to managerial earshot, and is particular target for constructive criticism as a series of quickfire passing moves end with misplaced centres:
'Arrgghh! Float it son! Just fucking float it!
'Orrggghh! Drill it! Early! Fucking drill it in! Near post!'
'Aaaooorrghhh! Stand it up! Stand it up fucking back post he's fucking screaming for it! Fuck's sake!'
For the avoidance of doubt this last tutorial is delivered accompanied by a short but focussed twin-footed assault on the pitchside advertising hoardings which brings a mildly admonitory sideways glance from the nearby linesman. Moments later and to the surprise of no-one whatsoever the flag-wielding official is called into more routine service, lifting the proferred 'Number 11' board to signal the withdrawal of the hapless wingman.
The remaining minutes are played out in increasing obscurity, as play loses its competitive edge and the spindly floodlights prove inadequate to enable continued ready distinction between teams whose already similar outfits (Borough sport Chelsea-esque all blue in keeping with their self-destructive preference for flamboyancy) are by now generally muddied beyond recognition. After a regulation two minutes of injury time another short blast of the whistle brings and end to the proceedings. The home coach pumps his fists and performs a surprisingly deft jig of delight on the gloom of the touchline, and in the wooden stand there is a moment hearty applause before the specators begin to shuffle down the high steps towards the exits. As I hasten my way across the puddles and towards the welcoming interior of the number 11 to Stockport via Edgely, the lasting impression is of a Saturday afternoon well spent, with this outcome:
North West Counties Football League Division Two. Saturday 9th November
Cheadle Town 2 Oldham Borough 0
1-0, 12 mins. Left wing corner, half-cleared. Falls invitingly to centre forward who finishes low and clinically from 12 yards.
2-0, 57 mins. Right wing corner, cleared to byeline and returned with outswerve and interest to goalmouth for centre half to nod home with aplomb
Conditions: Hail, Sun, Darkenss, Bluster (meteorological and human)
In the latest in the continuing series 'Ways I Never Would Have Imagined Spending Sunday Afternoons Until I Had A Small Boy to Entertain', I find myself, for the second time in recent weeks, paying £5 to spend the afternoon in the company of many hundreds of model railway enthusiasts. This afternoon's destination is the Hazel Grove Recreation Centre, where rows upon rows of period scenes aboard long trestle tables are presided over by men sporting V-neck club cardigans in bottle green or mauve, using tiny patent screwdrivers to effect running repairs to their rolling stock. It's Exhibition Time.
The scenes on display (or 'layouts', as they are known in the game) reveal the unlikely enthusiasms prevalent in the serious modelling fraternity. Here- as at the Fallowfield exhibition the other week- Thomas the Tank Engine is conspicuous by his absence, and for every layout featuring picturesque old-time locomotives chugging their way romantically through the English countryside a la The Railway Children, there are half-a-dozen obsessively-detailed and periodically pitchperfect scale-models inviting us to consider more- shall we say- esoteric delights, such as a post-war Austrian Spa Town, a contemporary Freight Terminal in the windwepst wilds of Ohio, or (me and Frankie's favourite this afternoon) central Bury on a particularly drizzly afternoon in 1985.
Taking our leave from the exhibitors (actually, not that difficult- with the exception of the occasional loquacious enthusiast in a handlebar moustache who knows all there is to know about industrial Marple in the mid-1960s and is very keen to let you know about it, the men in mauve cardigans are a taciturn bunch, too busy fiddling head-down with their tiny patent modellers' screwdrivers to pay too much attention to the aisle-swelling punters), we spend the back end of the afternoon perusing the trade stands backed against three of the four walls, where slightly-less taciturn men in different shades of club cardigan preside over tumbling Alladins Cavesque collections of their wares.
Here as in the aisles, specialism reigns. One stall features only garishly-coloured self-build plastic scale models of continental street features, (Der Politechnika, Der UberHauss, Der AutoGarage); another, just the various composite parts required to manufacture one's own freight trains; one more, nothing but videotapes ('Chester to Ellesmere Port by Class Two Diesel; A Drivers Eye View'); yet another, exclusively plastic bags containing loose replica vegetation suitable for every conceivable urban or rural location. Frankie spends his pocket money at this last pitstop, on a bag of something suspiciously bright green classified as 'clump foliage', and considering the afternoon an unqualified success, we head for the exits.
On the way out, we stop momentarily at a counter featuring tiny miniature wired-up streetlights in a million varieties, and immediately regret it, finding ourselves in a detailed discussion of the art of soldering during which we are slightly hampered by our utter ignorance of what soldering might be when it is at home or why we would want to do it. But, undeterred by this comprehensive 'outing' of our amateur status, we pause to pick up a leaflet advertising the benefits of membership of the host club. It's £25 a year to join the Hazel Grove enthusiasts, for which you get entry into twice weekly club nights in the Methodist Church Hall with tea and biscuits on tap, the opportunity to fiddle around with tiny screwdrivers to your hearts content, and occasional talks from recognised experts in sometimes controversial fields (Background Scenery Design for the Ambitious Intermediate Learner; DCC Versus Manual Operating Regimes in Standard 00 Gauge; the History of Passenger Light Rail in the Glasgow Conurbation-How It Could Have Been So Very Different).
Not to mention, of course, those very attractive v-neck bottle-green cardigans featuring the club logo, available via mail order at heavily subsidised rates. We will be back, I suspect.
Back to school, back to a familiarly Autumnal hustle and bustle. In the space of six weeks I'd forgotten how hard it was to get not one but two people ready to leave the house in one hour flat, and in the course of this effort to remember everything; not just the schoolbags and uniform but the daily-changing extras, which today meant a scale model of 'The Pyramids' constructed lovingly out of bright yellow lego, but actually more reminiscent in its execution of the brutalist architecture of Wolverhampton Polytechnic Students Union, circa 1985. Somehow the makeshift structure, stuffed into a Marks and Spencers carrier bag (we were taking the long route through the leafy middle class ghetto this morning, so the Co-op bag mysteriously lined with ancient breadcrumbs just would not do) survives the journey, and the day's most important task is over by 8:50AM.
On the 41 out to Manchester's Fashionable Westside, no fare to pay as, further to an exasperated phone call the other week when the bus home failed to show for upwards of an hour, the handsome chief inspector of the Finglands Coachways Rusholme depot has seen fit to dip into the folds of his greatcoat and send me in the post a specially-laminated ticket entitling the holder to one week's free travel on all services, no questions asked. In an effort to avoid the recurrent workaday gloom brought on by dreary suburb of Sale Moor and its cohort of tweed-trousered buspass-wielding retired engineers, I bury my head in a Metro newspaper picked off the freshly-mopped floor of the double-decker public conveyance and learn of: bitter rivalries between London-based Premier League managers of Iberian origin; a vacancy for a 'Media Sales Executive' in Cheadle Hulme; a momentous telephone call between Barack Obama and the President of Iran; an acclaimed new release by the Manhattan-based veteran cinematic auteur Woody Allen.
Inevitably, a day's work ensues. By half past five I've had just about enough of suburban community politics and lemon cake (this, by the way, will be the title of my work-related memoirs,when I tell you all the juicy Westside public sector gossip that was simply too hot to print first time round, oh yes) and am heading for a teatime 41 back home. Rainclouds are threatening, but the shaven-headed middle-aged hardmen of Northenden, I am pleased to note, remain out in force on the terraces of the European style café bars of south Manchester's fashionable Palatine Road, where pints of Stella remain advertised at £2.50 the pint.
Back home, to a backdrop of clattering Bruce Forsyth punchlines and superstar professional golfers of yesteryear gamely attempting the waltz, I settle down to the important business of getting my predictions on. The fixture computer has set up a matching pair of Merseyside versus North-East encounters, and I spend some time ruminating on the potential for Sunderland's caretaker manager to inspire his temporary charges to an unlikely home victory over Liverpool. In the end I decide discretion is the better part of valour, and take the favourites to prevail, 2-1.
This morning, familiar Saturday morning sounds: magpies chattering cheerfully on the back field (I'm taking this as a portent for a Newcastle victory at Everton, by the odd goal in three); Frankie intermittently playing with his trainset and marching around the house singing Michael Buble classics into a microphone stuffed inside of a sock (don't ask). I think maybe I had better get off the computer and take some kind of charge of proceedings, as we have a one-year old's birthday party to go to and possibly a traders' market (oh we are very bohemian in M19, you know). Onwards, and best of luck to your luck.
There are essentially, I have learnt, two approaches to allotment gardening. On the one hand, there is the meticulous development of a gameplan. The textbooks (one of which lives in the bedside table here) recommend the perusal of seed catalogues in November, the drawing of various complicated diagrams during February, and a streamlined programme of timely planting starting as soon as the last frost has passed and lasting deep into the summertime. Careful adherence to the right plan- the textbooks are at pains to assure us- will result in a satisfyingly steady harvest, with the optimum amount of comestible greenery emerging unfussily out of the ground just at the exact moment it is needed and no sooner. This meticulous approach has much to recommend it, clearly- and each year I sit down at the kitchen table with the most trusted of the textbooks, several marker pens and a sheet of A3 paper, with a view to coming up with a forward plan worthy of Joseph Stalin himself.
The trouble with all of this, of course, is that we are not Joseph Stalin and cannot rely on our absolute command over the apparatus of the state in order to control the supply of potatoes. Instead we are hopelessly subject to various day-to-day vagaries and incidental inconveniences, such as the weather, a full-time job, a small child whose idea of a Saturday afternoon's entertainment does not always involve the succession planting of radishes, and the insistence by one's family members in presenting you, on the occasion of your birthday, with packets of butternut squash seeds which need planting three feet apart from each other. All of which, as you can imagine, plays havoc with a man's spreadsheets, and leads to the adoption of a less textbook-favoured approach to allotment gardening essentially consisting of planting whatever the hell you have to hand and hoping for the best.
All of which will explain why me and Frankie found ourselves last Sunday spending seven hours digging up an entire plot worth of plate-ready produce (well, I was digging, Frankie was mostly foraging for blackberries in the undergrowth and constructing a scale model of spaghetti junction out of bricks and old plastic drainpipes). It will also explain why at the close of the day we were to be found hauling a large, heavily laden wheelbarrow down the cycle track (a sight which occasioned quizzical glances from a passing streetgang of Gorton scallies on BMX bikes, who clearly considered mugging us for the wheelbarrow's contents before concluding it wasn't really worth the bother, sackfuls of King Edward potatoes no matter how carefully cultivated not commanding prices on the black market equivalent to high-end mobile telephones).
Needless to say every cupboard in the house is now bulging with potatoes, some the size and indeed furriness of small mammals, and an edict has been issued banning the purchase of pasta, couscous and other exotic staples. We shall see how long that is adhered to (my guess is less than two weeks, my command over the state apparatus being flimsy at best, especially in some of the more rural outer regions such as the kitchen). In the meantime, however, I have the house to myself for the day, and in preparation for an afternoon watching non-league football (of which more in the next post, probably) I am off to make myself a hearty breakfast featuring potato cakes, a tortilla espanola and perhaps a plate of homemade oven-cooked chips. Further recipe suggestions for our standard staple gratefully received (oh and if anyone has the first idea what to do with approximately thirty five butternut squashes three times the size of lightbulbs, that would also be most appreciated- thank you).
6:15AM Wednesday. A hot, sticky busride up the A6 to the allotment, under massive, threatening stormclouds. No sooner have I put fork to ground than the sky gives in to the pressure and explodes, causing an instant and cathartic release of sound and fury. After approximately 30 seconds of digging on regardless it occurs that maybe discretion is the better part of valour and perhaps the urgency of getting this year's beancrop transplanted does not outweigh the very real threat of a pinpoint sheet lightning strike leaving me flat in the sodden M19 soil myself, and on a rather permanent basis at that. I retire to the shed and spend the next hour sat on a bag of compost drinking sweet tea out of a flask, watching through a crack in the doorframe the denouement of a lengthy and tense territorial standoff on the rain-spattered concrete paving stones between two particularly ugly fist-sized frogs.
I arrive at work just the ninety minutes late, to the accompaniment of no batting of eyelids whatsoever, the boss being away for the week and the team having adopted with impressive alacrity a postively Mediterranean attitude to time-management. At 5PM I can't stand another minute of pretending to be interested in emails about whatever it is we do on the communities team (I'm having another one of those weeks where I've forgotten), and bolt through the fob-controlled exits into first the street and presently the sweltering innards of a 41 bus, through whose shimmering windowpanes I take in the sights and sounds of a Westside heatwave: to whit, the 'European Style' Cafe Bars of Northenden, upon whose street-facing terraces are arranged in fourstrong musclebound clumps Northenden's substantial population of shaven-headed, sunburnt semi-retired hardmen, who are, this afternoon as every afternoon, engaged in the important business of making steady work of successive tall pints of Stella at £2.50 a pint while exchanging across the picnic tables manly banter and flinty sideways glances dripping with latent froglike bellicosity.
I've been developing (you can possibly tell) a particular fascination with the shaven-headed sunburnt semi-retired hardmen of the suburb of Northenden- although not to the level, clearly, where I might consider disembarking from a sweltering 41 and joining them for a teatime sharpener, such a course of action being loaded with sheetlighteningesque peril. Instead I have been spending the warm summer days indoors grappling with the frightening wiring on Frankie's occasionally functioning trainset. Needless to say the various electrical tasks involved in track maintenance prove way beyond my lay capabilities, and I find myself in the dead of night eavesdropping heated debates on specialist modeller forums, on topics such as the merits of digital versus traditional control and the capacity of rival patent apparatus to deliver that vital slow-running effect to a man's rolling stock. Actually they are quite engaging heated debates and the next thing I know it is three o clock in the morning and the sun (which never really went down) is coming up, and the next thing after that I am at work, sitting bleary-eyed at my airconditioned desk and engaging a man in a workshop in Arundel, West Sussex, in a frank conversation about wiring.
Thanks to the patient ministrations of my new friends on the Guagemaster helpline the trainset is now working, you will be relieved to hear- and Frankie has come back from a week's holiday at his Liverpool grandma's, full of stories about penny falls,and sandcastles, and shrimps 'rescued' from the beach (and found stone dead on the patio the following morning, subsequently afforded a ceremonial burial, complete with a lollipop stick inscribed in biro 'To the Memory of a Marvellous and Wonderful Shrimp'). You know, your standard seaside stuff, when you're nine.
All of which brings us up to date, and it is Sunday night, and there is thunder and lighting raging above M19's leaden skies again, and there is some kind of weekend long AfroCaribbean community barbecue/karaoke festival going on in the field behind the house, and the ancient windows are shaking with the reverberations of homegrown amateur reggae of variable quality being blasted from a microphone-equipped soundsystem housed within the trailer of an articulated lorry adorned with the blocklettered orange and black logo of Salford Van Hire. Which sounds like the start of a new post, so I'd better stop. In the meantime- how is your heatwave going so far? Hypnotised by frogs, at all? Fascinated to the point of peril by suburban hardmen? Struck by lightning (sheet, fork, other?) Hidden in an attic? A shed? The sights, sounds, and underlying suburban bellicose undertones of your own heatwaves, in the comment box, as quick (or as slow) as you want.