Friday, December 30, 2011

Horse Tranquil

2011

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

I went out last night. The first time I ventured out of the house since the 17th December. I woke up on Thursday feeling like the back of this flu/bronchitis had finally been broken; but I didn't take any chances and stayed in all day. Yesterday was an even bigger improvement and I joined the wife and dogs for a dog walk in the pouring of rain and while we were only out for about 35 minutes, it felt good to get the real world under my feet again.

This paved the way for us to receive our Christmas present from RnB, which this year, because of our, at times, perilous financial position, was a trip to our favourite restaurant on them. We were supposed to go on the 23rd, but I was far too sick to even consider getting dressed and therefore it would have been a waste of money and an evening - I've been out when I've been suffering once before, about 7 years ago with our good friends Jay and Selina and while it was a great night out, I really wanted to be snuggled up on the sofa under a quilt and surrounded by dogs.

By the time 6.15 rolled around last night, I was feeling a little worse than I had all day, but I had also been scurrying around the house for best part of the day, so I might have just overdone it a tad, because, by the time we got to the restaurant I was feeling pretty chipper. We had a very good meal, which I have to say I maybe didn't taste as well as my three compadres, and I decided that I was well enough to go to the pub and imbibe my first alcohol since December 15 (I did have some champagne over Christmas, but it was watered down with lots of orange juice).

We got home a little after 10; I still felt pretty good and this afternoon, as I sit here writing this, I feel just about well enough to embark on a new school term. Although I expect to return to work on Tuesday armed with tissues because of the amount of junk that is now, finally, expelling itself from my rather gaunt figure. It would have been nice to have not been ill throughout the entire break, but arguably, it might have done me some good and realistically, I had six months off during the summer and didn't do much more than I have for the last couple of weeks; so it all works out in the end - swings and roundabouts and all that...

It has been my intention to do a review of the year, which I found quite weird really as I tend to hate this week between Christmas and the New Year because all you get is Year end reviews and frankly, in this 24 hour news world we live in, we already remember the last 12 months like it has been etched on our brains! So, as I already did a review of music a few weeks ago and nothing much has changed since writing that; and I've basically subjected you all to the mixture of excellent and abysmal TV I watch throughout the year; given you my left wing perspective on politics and wibbled about all manner of shit anyhow, there doesn't seem to be much point. If you want to know about my perspective of 2011, read my blog for the last 12 months!

Where does that leave us then?

Well, this will be the last blog entry in this stylee. I'm going spend an hour at some point during my last two days off redesigning the page and changing the layout of how I present my entries. It's an annual thing now for me to change something and this year's revamp is sponsored by the rediscovery of my mojo.

Said mojo started to creep back into my psyche about a month ago and had it not been for the last two sobering weeks of feeling shit, I might have been even more insufferable over the holidays than I usually am. Because I have an inherent undertow of expecting the worst to happen, my mojo is tempered by the need to never allow myself to lapse from my prepared script, because I'm acutely aware that my luck tends to be limited.

I was laying in bed last night thinking about the irony of returning to school and my memory played a chronological trick on me. It made me remember how, at times, school seemed to drag into the distance and how terms seemed like huge chasms of time that would never, ever, arrive. It then reminded me that when I was at school I had a finite time there; now as part of the faculty I have potentially an even longer time there. Of course the big differences are that I get paid and the holidays have as much significance as they did when I was a lad. Yes, I will have days when I long for half terms, but there aren't that many jobs in the world that have such pre-ordained breaks and the knowledge that it's about 6 weeks between each break and 6 weeks when you're nearly 50 is considerably less time than 6 weeks is when you're 13.

I think my brain sent me in that direction because I'm still having a battle in my head over the fact that my first holiday has been wrecked by illness and that the few plans we did have were either cancelled or drastically altered. I also don't think my subconscious is convinced I'm cured, but that might just be its sense of fairness being a bit warped. I do still have an horrendous cough and I expect I'll still have it when half term comes around in the middle of February.

Anyhow, I digress. My mojo is working again and I feel confident about 2012 from a working perspective and frankly if that can be as good as I hope it will be then the rest of the year should be relatively stable. Shit will happen; that's unavoidable, but as long as the shit is kept to a minimum in 2012 then I'll be satisfied.

My one resolution for the coming year is to continue to work hard and become an important and liked member of my employment team. I want a few, uncontroversial, years without any stress or worry and if I work hard and keep my head down there's no reason I can't do that.

My hopes for 2012 are rather at odds with each other. There are many things I'd like to see for the country and the world, but many of them couldn't happen at the same time. Therefore my only public political desire is that Ed Milliband wakes up one morning soon and realises that for all his ideals, his nous and his desire to be a great prime minister, the rest of the country doesn't have any faith in him as a potential boss. If that happens, I'd hope that some senior Labour party advisers have a quiet word in Ed Balls' ear and get him to step aside and allow his wife to become the leader. Yvette Cooper is arguably the only person on the shadow cabinet bench who is good enough - all round - to lead the party; the rest just lack gravitas and believability.

Obviously I'd like to see my beloved Tottenham remain challenging for the title for the rest of the season and pull away from 4th place so that immortality is confirmed and we can take our place, rightly, amongst the top 3 teams in the country. This dream is not too fanciful, but as I support Tottenham this brings its own parcel shelf of doubt and expectations being shattered, because, that's what they do best.

Personally, apart from the work thing, I'd like a year of not having some ailment to steal 6 weeks of my life, minimum. A healthy year isn't too much to ask for is it?

Right, I've spent far too much time doing nothing this festive season, so I have nothing more to say than I hope that 2012 doesn't bring you anything you can't deal with. I hope that no one loses a loved one and come December 31st 2012 we can look back and say 'It could have been better, but it really could have been much much worse.'

Allez maintenant.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Last Temptation of Fate

Sunday 18th December, the morning I woke up with a stinking cold and feeling like shit (although one wonders if shit actually feels anything, considering it is just smelly human waste), should have been a couple of days of manflu, with me ordering the wife from the sofa while still managing to do most of the things I usually do - cook, whinge and be as sociable as I usually am. However, by the time Tuesday came around, I was feeling considerably worse than I had on the previous Sunday. No worries, thought I. It'll be okay by Christmas.

By the 23rd, I was sitting in the doctor's office with a raging temperature, a chest that seemed full of red hot coals and the warning that if I felt worse I needed to contact the out of hours emergency team because if it did get worse, I might be looking at pneumonia. I know that sounds almost scaremongering by my GP, but a careful look at my ancient medical records shows that I had pneumonia back in 1980 and you have a better than average chance of getting it again.

The original 1980 diagnosis, by my Northampton GP, was that I might have glandular fever, because my, then extant, tonsils were swollen and my glands were all fucked up. That initial diagnosis was totally pooh-poohed by a fantastic guy called Dr Wadge, but I'm getting ahead of myself...

The reason for this 1980 serious illness can be laid squarely at the feet of one person, but because she is still alive and connected to my family, I'll breeze over the fact that this person seemed intent on killing me, all of which culminated in her washing my bed clothes and then putting them on my bed while they were still wet. I got home from work after a late shift, went to crawl into bed and discovered my sheets were all very much the ocean side of damp. My solution to this was to grab a couple of bath towels and lay one on the bottom while draping the other over the top of me and still using the damp sheets to give me some warmth. I was 18; it never occurred to me that I might as well have got into a bath full of streptococcus pneumoniae.

Within a couple of days, what had been a minor sniffle turned into a full blown case of serious illness. I was prone to infections because of my diseased tonsils, but this time whatever was wrong with me didn't just stop in my throat. My mother called me in the evening of the third day and while I have no recollection of this conversation, I do remember my dad turning up at the place where I lived at some point after it, carrying me to his car and waking up 60 miles from where I started.

The glandular fever diagnosis was pursued, because another GP had said that was what it was, but Dr Wadge - who was also my parents' boss at the time - ran blood tests, which all came back as negative and this wasn't a surprise to him. He concluded that I had pneumonia. The fact that I was bed-ridden for three weeks seemed to confirm this diagnosis. In total, I was off work for 6 weeks, of which most of them were horrendous days of feeling like my chest was in a vice and phlegm that looked like it had been filtered through my blood supply.

Just prior to this Christmas, I watched George Michael talk about his own pneumonia experience in Austria and how emotional and weak he was from it all; I could sympathise completely. By the time I was well enough to return home to Northampton, the person partially responsible for me almost dying and my brother decided they needed to live in their own place and had made moves to separate themselves from me. This was good and never again did I have to suffer wet sheets, rotten steak, hidden toothbrushes and an assortment of little 'suggestions' that my presence wasn't required.

Obviously my 2011 GP's suggestion that I might be susceptible to another bout of pneumonia was the catalyst for bringing back 30 year old memories, but by Christmas Day I was thinking that maybe I was due for another one. It had been a week since I woke up feeling crappy and here I was feeling even crappier...

Normally, antibiotics work for me inside 48 hours and the fact that I haven't had any for over 4 years meant that my body was not, in any way, tolerant of them. I don't eat meat, so there was no residual animal antibiotics floating around my system and, much to my old friend Mitch's amusement, I can track my bad health record back almost six years, so I knew that this was possibly the worst case of lurgy I'd had since that horrible spring of 1980. So why weren't they working now?

The wife has suggested that my new job is essentially a Petri Dish of Disease, so having something bad isn't really that unexpected, but Jesus Hairy Christ, the last 10 days have been the fucking Nightmare of Christmas. Yes, I don't really enjoy the festive season and I am Bah Humbug Man, but I look forward to it because it's an excuse to do fuck all for a fortnight. Yes, I have done fuck all for the last 10 days, but I really would have liked to have a say in it.

Today, I have woken up feeling like the fever has finally broken. I feel a little like my old self, but I still have a vice around my chest and I feel pretty weak - I know that's a pathetic thing to admit, but it's true - but I feel like I can actually do some stuff. I've missed taking my dogs out for a good walk; I've missed having a drink and indulging in treats and I've felt that the last ten days have been grossly unfair; like someone is kicking me, for the last time, in a year that has been dogged with bad luck and misery. The last few years have been pretty shitty in terms of my health - what with my shoulder, my back and my joints - but I've been fortunate that the worst I've suffered in illness terms has been a couple of doses of manflu and a couple of colds. This recent bout has surpassed much and has left me worried because in a week I'm back at work and I need to see a massive improvement in the next 7 days to be ready for the new challenges and rules (that I'm responsible for) of 2012.

I might have broken the back of this thing, but I'm acutely aware that I still have three days of antibiotics left and that if I overdo things it might all slide back into the nastiness of the week before Christmas. But I think I'm entitled to be a little positive; I might get a few days of my winter break for me. Yes, I'm tempting fate and whenever I do that I end up on my arse regretting saying anything, but I don't care.

***

So, Boxing Day has always traditionally been the best day on TV. Every year I look at the Radio Times and find at least half a dozen things to watch on the 26th; this year I found nothing. Boxing Day made Christmas Day look like a blockbuster of a day; so we decided to watch a movie.

The preferred choice was The Ides of March, a political thriller with George Clooney and Ryan Gosling. Unfortunately, the advance review copy that I downloaded was a bit buggered and did some interesting things to my DVD player. I tried burning it to another disc and to the same result, so we were left with the best of an average lot as an alternative. The wife suggested we watch Winter's Bone, a critically acclaimed indie film from last year. All we knew about it was it was set in the mid-west of the USA and was about a young girl trying to find her father.

My God, what a depressingly awesome film it is. I have seen horror movies that have creeped me out less. It is a cold, stark and deeply menacing movie that has an ending that I suppose is more upbeat than the rest of the movie, but only in a way that makes losing your hand much better than losing your entire arm. It is, I suppose, a sort of road movie, but equally it's the kind of film that makes you realise that parts of the USA are no better off than parts of the Sudan or North Korea. In fact, it paints a picture of the backwoods of the States as a place that is, in many ways, far more dangerous for people than going to Afghanistan wearing nothing but a Stars & Stripes flag while singing 'All Muslims are Gay'.

Not exactly festive viewing, by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm glad I watched it. I doubt I have seen a more thought provoking and disturbing movie in the last 12 months and I watched Terry Gilliam's Tideland this year! If you want to see a film that is just depressingly brilliant, wonderfully shot and full of characters that could easily be seen for all being inter-related, then watch this. Don't if you fancy a fun-filled night in with the gang!

The other big film we watched was Bridesmaids, which I have to admit was good fun, but nowhere near as brilliant as the critics seemed to think it was. I like Kristen Wiig - the two previous films I'd 'seen' her in were How To Train Your Dragon and Despicable Me, both brilliant films from 2010 and her performance in Bridesmaids was pretty excellent; but you just got the impression that the film makers could have gone the extra mile in the film. To me the film fell between two stools and therefore never really fulfilled its potential. I also think the makers copped out several times when they could have really pushed the comedy envelope. Still, it wasn't bad.

***

The big TV event was Doctor Who, an annual event that I usually am so drunk by the time it comes on I miss most of it from falling asleep. This year, no booze had passed my lips and I watched it expecting another really naff special. So imagine my surprise when the episode finished and I found myself wiping a tear from my eye. Not at the main story, full of plot holes and nods to other children's fantasy fiction, but at the end, when the Doctor arrived at Amy's house for Christmas.

I think, without a doubt, that Karen Gillan is possibly the most interesting, sexy and devastatingly good looking woman ever to be stuck next to a doctor and in the two minutes on screen on Sunday, I realised that Moffatt has to do something special now that she is leaving for pastures new. I've been highly critical of the Matt Smith era, because they had 4/5ths of a great cast, a good budget and stories that flip flopped about and caused more confusion than entertainment; but Amy Pond has been a revelation and I don't think DW will be the same again...

***

Just to prove that if I like something I've downloaded I get the original. One of my presents was Hurry Up, We're Dreaming by M83 - the album I've been saying for two months is my favourite album of the year. Guess what? It still is.

***

Either I'm just getting old or the flu/infection thing I've had has made me a big softy, but my eyes have leaked more this Christmas than I can remember. Music and TV have both had moments where I've felt that hitch at the back of my throat, or the sensation of having something in my eye. Maybe being ill at Christmas has made me a little more sensitive, or maybe I just miss my long departed parents. Or it might be that I've felt unbelievably isolated this time - whatever it is, I found I had to turn a film over on Saturday because I knew I was going to blub...

***

The plan for today was to go out with the dogs and then go to the pub quiz; however, most of my optimism has evaporated as the wife takes the dogs out and I sit here finishing this off feeling crappy again and cold.

I suppose I just need to take it easy, but I'm a bit stir crazy. I have, at least, prepared dinner and I still intend to take my fellow quizzers to the pub, even if I just drop them off, come home and then pick them up again after 11pm...

***

Incidentally, I've grown a beard.

***

Anyhow; thanks to everyone who sent well wishes my way either via the phone, email or Facebook. Much appreciated!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Autistic Queen

The one thing you can set your watch and warrant by this Christmas is that I will receive the latest Stephen King novel. It's traditional, despite me almost giving up the author, in disgust, after the Dark Tower debacle.

Eating Pie

I was clearing out a box in my cupboard; something caught my eye that ended up being nothing and instead I pulled out a copy of Wired from the mid 1990s. I had it because on the cover was a photo of an old friend of mine, who I discovered had died towards the end of the 1990s. There had been some discussion between the few of us who knew each other back then and still were in contact. Most agreed the picture looked like Shelley, but I was convinced. He had a slightly dodgy and bulbous septum and this was perfectly highlighted in this cover image of something Wired was christening a Zippy - a computer-savvy hippy.

Pulling out the magazine brought back some strange memories of a period of my life that I've often wanted to talk about, but has been breezed over for a number of reasons - the gaps in my memory; some of the things I did and the fact that, at times, it was the most carefree, dangerous and exciting period of my life. I experienced the world in microcosm while I lived in Shenley, Hertfordshire. When I came back to the drudgery of Northampton in July 1982, despite my friends having had all their own adventures, mine just seemed more 'real'. Not surprisingly really as they were my memories and all I had was what I offered - my own stories, probably just as meh as I thought theirs were.

Shelley was one of a gang of people I spent about 18 months being really close friends with. I was the baby of the group and Shelley had held that status before I was bundled into their little group. This little clique consisted of Gerty, Ricky, Rory, Jim, Ruth, Andy, George, and a few others, who I am ashamed to say I've forgotten their names, even if their faces are clear in my head. I joined their loose affiliation almost by accident. I had been the victim of mistaken identity and was about to suffer the consequences...

During the first game of the 1981 FA Cup Final between Spurs and Man Citeh, which ended in a 1-1 draw, someone called Spurs' winger Tony Galvin 'A useless Irish wanker' and it wasn't me. However, at the social club my folks ran there was a huge Irish workforce and this being 1981, there was also a huge number of very anti-British Republicans. A small number were believed to be IRA sympathisers and while I would never know for sure, I wouldn't have been surprised. One of these people believed it was me who had shouted the racist comment, when I believe to this day it was fellow Spurs fan, a guy called Wolfie, who had said it; he was sitting next to me at the time when this chap called Martin took massive offence.

Later that evening, I got invited back to one of the weekly parties in the female nursing home and to be honest, I was a little out of my depth. I was only just 19 and had mainly befriended a few of the first year RMN students; this new bunch of people were 2nd and 3rd year students - they were almost proper Registered Mental Nurses and therefore were considerably more mental than my usual friends. I was sitting, minding my own business, against a wall and drinking a can of Skol when out of nowhere I heard a commotion and saw a fist flying directly at me, which connected with the side of my head and was heightened by the fact I was pressed against the wall of the relatively small room. I just about passed out, but not before I saw a knight in ginger armour. Gerty, who would become one of my best friends of all time and someone I still ache to see at times, despite not having seen him in over 25 years, rugby tackled this owner of the fist - Martin - and they went sprawling over the floor, scattering ashtrays, drugs, beer and people everywhere. I think I blacked out after that, because the next thing I remember was a girl called Gaynor wiping my face with a cool flannel and a bunch of concerned looking nurses standing over me - these were to become the people who would protect me from the big bad Irish Mafia for the next year and become one of the true highlights of my life so far.

Gerty was from Wales, he was built like a shit house rat and was going bald despite only being 2 years older than me. Jim, who I still talk to as he's from Northampton, was tall, wiry and as hard as a bullet; he had and still does have a slightly mad stare, enough to make you back off if you're not 100% sure. Ruth was the tomboy of our pack; with bright red flowing hair and a very butch attitude; she'd hate me for this; she looked after us and we saved her from herself a number of times; she had bad taste in men. Andy was ex-Rhodesian SAS and the first person I ever met who had actually killed a man (I'd like to say he was the only, but he isn't, but he was the only one who hadn't been to prison for it). He was bonkers, but thankfully in a very bizarre way. He had more funny sayings than Imelda Marcos had shoes. I've talked about George before; he was the gay guy who had every hot woman hanging around him. Rory was about 200lbs of solid muscle, was as thick as a brick and was loyal and lovable like that cartoon character who just wanted to hug you and kiss you and be your fwiend. Rory was also Irish and he didn't believe for a second that I could have said anything detrimental; he eventually played peacemaker, despite the fact he struggled to spell his own name. He was also so full of bullshit, we developed an expression whenever he started wandering off into the realms of fantasy. Ricky was from Barbados; we had a token woman, gay and Welshman, we had to have a black guy! Ricky was essentially our drug supplier and next to Gerty this man was probably the closest one I was to. And then there was Shelley, who unlike the others didn't have a definable past. All we knew about him was he'd come into nursing because there was nothing else to do in the north Midlands, where he originated, but hadn't lived in for a few years. Shelley had a closed past and none of us ever tried to get into it.

My relationship with Shelley had never been as easy as it had been with the others; he had liked being the mascot of this little group and when I came along he just moved up the pecking order and I think he struggled with it for a while; but I'm making it sound like we were rivals or something; we got on really well, I just was never in his room as often as I was in others.

One day during the height of summer 1981, we decided to go on a field trip to St Albans, in Gerty's VW Beetle; a bright orange collector's item with CND and bright sunflower stickers all over it. It looked like a hippy mobile. Five of us went to the old Roman town; three of them had proper shopping to do and Shelley and I were left to wander around the town centre and cause mischief. Shelley was a keen badminton player and we were looking in the window of the local sports equipment shop (which has probably been long replaced by a chain store or a Starbucks) and I had a devilishly stupid idea, which I put to Shelley and he squealed like a girl. We walked into the shop, separately and I started browsing the badminton rackets. Shelley was lurking by the football shirts, looking a bit shifty.

Before long a sales assistant wanders over and asks Shelley if he needed any help, but he said he was just looking, so he turned his attention to me. "Can I help you mate?" I was much younger than him.
"Yeah, I'm looking for a Happenklanger badminton racket." A big smile appeared on the salesman's face.
"Never heard of it, mate. Someone's winding you up."
"No. I'm pretty sure they exist."
"No mate; no one called that makes any kind of racquet, now if you'll excuse me," and he makes to the door to show me out!
"Look, I read it in the paper, Happenklanger, I've not got the name wrong, I'm sure of it." The sales assistant was now looking slightly exasperated and annoyed.
"It doesn't exist. There's no such thing as a Happenbangle badminton racket!"
"Did you say Happenklanger?" Asks Shelley. The assistant almost whirled round. "The new carbon fibre rackets that Gillian Gilkes has been testing in Germany?"
"Yes, that's the one. I knew I hadn't misheard it."
"No, there was an article about it in the Express last weekend." The sales assistant is just standing there with his mouth agape. "They're bloody expensive!" Says Shelley and I just shrugged.
"Price isn't an issue; I can spend what I like on a new racket; I play county badminton." With this the assistant changed his entire body shape and instead of being tall and upstanding, he became almost Fagin like.
"Perhaps I can look through our stock books and see if I can order you one?"
"Yeah, why not?" I said, trying desperately not to start corpsing.

He obviously couldn't find one, but filled out a request form, which he assured me, would be sent to head office that evening and if they could get this new Happenklanger badminton racket then they'd move heaven and Earth for me. Was I really a county badminton player? What sort of price was I prepared to go up to? £100? Really? I'm surprised I wasn't offered coffee and a blowjob by the time I walked out and joined Shelley on the pavement where we both burst out laughing and continued to replay the joke between us to the bemusement of Gerty, Ricky and Ruth.

Once they'd finished their shopping, we headed off to a country pub on the outskirts of the town called The Barley Mow, a place which, rather astoundingly served a selection of real ales, despite this being 1981. This was a bad thing, mainly because we all liked a pint or 8 and despite Gert's best intentions, he ended up on the Owd Rodger - an 8% brew that was only served in ½ pints. He decided that half of that mixed with half of a pale ale would suffice and he ended up having five. Back in 1981 the drink driving crusade was well in swing and there were a lot more people willing to defy it then than now. We were young and reckless, so Gerty got behind the wheel and decided to drive us all home. By the time we'd driven a couple of miles, he pulled over and was sick. After the sick came the wanting to curl up in the back of the car and go to sleep for a while to sober up. We had stopped in London Colney and fortunately right in front of a pub. The four of us left Gerty to sleep it off and we headed to the pub for a couple more pints. On return, Gerty was still asleep and not making any moves to suggest he would do anything other than punch the person who woke him. It was now gone 11pm and we were six miles from home.

Now, as you may be aware, classic beetles are essentially like minis but with a bit more headroom. They're not big and squeezing 5 people into one when you're sober isn't a particularly brilliant idea. When you have a monster of a man sprawled over the back seat and four of you left outside, you start to have seriously stupid ideas. By this time we were all very, very, drunk. Shelley devised a plan. Ruth would squeeze into the back with Gerty and put his legs over her. I would sit in the front with slight little Ricky on my lap and Shelley would drive the VW back to the hospital and park it in the social club car park so as to not have to negotiate the front gate of the hospital, where Old Bill sometimes stopped for a chat or used the entrance to park and have a coffee - from a Thermos flask, none of this coffee shop nonsense.

Shelley was blind drunk and somehow managed to get lost and we ended up in Radlett, almost as far away from the hospital as we had originally been. I was falling in and out of sleep, Ruth was chatting in the back to someone, maybe me, and we had to negotiate a very steep hill and a windy road to get to where the car park was. It was now about 1am in the morning and I think Ricky had livened up proceedings with a big spliff, which would just about drive Shelley over the edge - literally and metaphorically. We negotiated the splendid housing of Shenley Hill; the almost 90 degree bend at the golf course and we were just about home and dry, we took the next right hand bend with ease and all that was left was a slow left hand bend and then a final right before the straight to the social club's car park. The slow left should have been easy, but Shelley obviously either shut his eyes and went to sleep or just forgot to turn the steering wheel. We crashed straight into the fence and then through it and onto the golf course. I was suddenly very awake as we drove through a border of trees without crashing into any of them and onto one of the fairways. Shelley looked around startled and then seemed to have a great idea. He pointed into the distance and said, "That's our cricket pavilion, I can drive to that!" And he actually put his foot down. We must have looked like something out of a Herbie film; this bright orange beetle hurtling down one of the nicest fairways you've ever seen. We had just about reached the bottom of the slope when I suddenly had a terrible feeling.
"Shelley! The stream!!" There was a stream which was effectively the dividing line between the golf course and the hospital; except it wasn't so much a stream as a little brook running between a small, and perfectly formed, valley and we were going to hit it doing about 40mph; there was a good chance we would all die.

Shelley hit the breaks, but we were on wet grass, so we just slid for about 100 yards, slowing down, but not enough; we hit the golf side of the ten foot drop doing about 5mph and the car just tottered forwards and fell nose first down the side. The bumper caught on some mud, dug itself in and the momentum we had made the beetle just topple forward onto its roof and wedged perfectly in the gully. It made a unique, post modern bridge. We all toppled into the ceiling; debris flying everywhere and bodies and limbs stuck in all manner of places. I managed to open the door after several attempts and pushing the handle the wrong way and Ricky carefully escaped the mess. I followed him, but not before I fell into the stream - the only one of us who did - and Shelley scrambled out followed by Ruth and a dazed and bemused Gerty, who was just muttering, 'My car' to himself.

All I know is that Shelley launched the keys somewhere and we all headed back to our relevant places of sleep. The most damage done - a cut on the back of Shelley's arm; a sore neck for Ruth and a saturated Phill. We discovered that the police had a call about 2am that morning saying that Gerty had had his car stolen; a simple alibi was constructed - it was never needed - and the police put it down to someone stealing Gerty's car from the car park while he had been down the club and I think that's about all that happened. The car was retrieved, it barely had a scratch on it, but sat in the car park of the social club for weeks before Gerty did anything with it. He had been unconscious for most of the trip, but I think he realised more than all of us how close we came to dying; all he had was his imagination and that can be a frightening thing.

We, of course, never spoke of it again...

I have so many stories from that period of my life; so many adventures and it's hard to believe that it was all condensed into less than eighteen months. I think that's what I miss about being young more than anything - cramming days full of different memories - when 24 hours was an entire universe to play in, instead just a brief tick on the clock as it has become...

The fact that the group I was such a big part of disbanded, went their own ways and some eventually died is just life; but Shelley was one of those guys who did too much in excess and I suppose it caught up with him. He was one of those guys who often got what he wanted - he had the best looking girlfriend of the group and was the early 1980s equivalent of a gadget nerd - which probably explained the cover image on Wired.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Spacer Fun

I am still far from happy. I'm into day 5 of my very bad cold and while that initial wobbly and ill feeling is subsiding, I'm now suffering in many other ways and it just isn't fair. Not fair. NOT FAIR. NOT FAIR!!!

Over the last 5 days I have kept the Lemsip Corporation in business; I am glad that tissue paper isn't rationed because apart from the fact the bin in my office looks like I've been continually wanking for a month, it's quite expensive, especially if you want the stuff that doesn't make your poor nose sore. I've missed my quiz this week (although from the sounds of things I wouldn't have made much difference) and my plans for today and tomorrow are up in the air - as I wait to slip into nice hot bath, the contents of my chest are beginning to show - Andrex must love people like me (and compulsive wankers) - and trust me when I say that you don't want a description of it.

Yes, you could argue that I might not have done much in the last week anyhow, meaning that I should have 'enjoyed' this bout of illness. But, I would have preferred a choice in the matter. It's a good job I got my shopping at the end of November because I would have been doubly fucked had I not. In fact, is it me, or does this Christmas seem to be... late? I know I haven't been out for days, but I don't feel even the slightest festive; my growing disdain for Christmas has even abated. This year seems a bit meh - but that might be me.

The worst thing about this heavy cold is that two days ago, when I was streaming (snot rather than music videos), I said to the wife that I could live with the cold if it just went at the end like it had never been there. But not the good old British cold; it has to stick around in the form of phlegm, catarrh and various other maladies. In my case, my lungs are so fucked from years of abuse that I have to go through a scary ritual of persuading my lungs to breath again, especially when I get an asthma spasm from the congested airways. An inhaler doesn't always work (unless you use a spacer), so calming yourself down and relaxing while simultaneously struggling to take a breath has become something of an art form. I'm also acutely aware of how crazy/mad that sounds and that after all of this shit cold business, my chest is now a prime target for some kind of bronchial infection. Jesus Harry Christ, somebody just put me out of my misery now!

***

Amazingly, when I was unemployed, I found all manner of bollocks to ramble on about. The same can't be said for this last week. The above section is the closest I've got to appraising the week and it just sounds like the latest offering from the fair weather hypochondriac. It's been a bit of a dead week. I'm sure there are people out there having a really good time. If there are, I hope you all get my cold, you bastards!

***

Facebook now has 800million users; or in real terms about 250million users all with at least two, maybe more, accounts. 250m is still impressive; but in my days as a comics journo, the magazine I worked for once sold 25,000 a month and that was equally impressive. It started to get a little questionable when that figure got inflated to 75,000 because you took into account the 'casual' readers who would pick up a copy off of a coffee table or in a comic shop. I'm not suggesting that Facebook massages its figures, just that it isn't anywhere near accurate.

***

It's been about 6 hours since I wrote the above and I'm beginning to feel human again. Chest feels like its in a vice, which means no beerage tonight; which is a great shame as I haven't had a beer for over a week now. Still, means I'll get drunk quicker on Sunday, eh?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Kim's Ill Dong

What I'm really unhappy about is manflu and the body's ability to decide when it wants to be ill. Finished work on Friday and by the evening I felt dreadful; I fully expected to wake up Saturday feeling like hostile pooh in a lavatory world, but instead I woke up and felt remarkable well. Perhaps I wasn't ill after all.

Hah!

Sunday arrived and I was ill. Really not very good. Quite poorly. Probably full of the cold I forecast for a few days. Today I feel even worse and it isn't fair. It is buggering up my plans big time and my plans were very few and far between... The bright spot is that I'm now filling up with snot; that usually means it's breaking. Usually.

***

Watched Bag of Bones the other night; it was a bag of shite. I shouldn't have expected better. Stephen King TV adaptations, especially ones with Mick Garris's name attached, tend to be really crap; this was no exception.

***

Blogger has been acting up recently (see last entry) and I no longer seem able to get basic instructions - bold, italic, etc - and that's a pain.

***

I don't have much else to moan about, yet...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Burn Them, But Burn Their Faces First

Everything seems a bit wonky this morning. The PC is running slow; the Internet is dragging its sorry arse around like a sulking teenager and I've been having a morning of wigging out to The Tubes (who at times were a seriously excellent band) while hoovering! It's like the past. WPOD!

***

"Sir, is Michael Jackson 55?"
"Michael Jackson's dead."
"What? Still?"

***

I'm now on just over two weeks holiday and this is good because I like time off work, it gives me time to think about doing all the things I've not managed to do since I've been at work. I won't do any of them, but thinking about them makes that acceptable.

***

The snow didn't arrive in Northampton. It did snow about 6:00am on Friday, but by the time I dragged myself out of bed at 7:05 it had gone. So I'm sticking with my forecast as still being on target.

***

Tonight is a extended family gathering. We shall be spending a few hours in the company of cousins and second cousins in Milton Keynes; which might sound more like a punishment than a pleasure, but I expect it will be a very pleasant visit. I've not seen my cousin Frankie for a couple of years, nor his daughter. I have seen his son Daniel recently and him and his partner Hayley have an extra special Christmas ahead of them - the last without the patter of tiny (human) feet. Next year they'll have a baby Simpson to go with the two exquisite puppies they obtained in November.

Now, the Simpsons are actually pretty much the closest family I have outside of immediate now. Daniel's grandparents are my godparents and while we won't see them today - the trip from Mablethorpe is too much at this time of the year for a couple in their 80s - they'll be there in spirit.

The Godparent Simpsons used to live in Springfield which is quite strange, especially as they were there long before Homer, Marge and co were even dreamt of. Oddly enough the next two generations of Simpson also live in Springfield, so it's their own fault they're perpetuating a joke!

My godparents are also called Frank and Tina, which Jay Eales still finds quite hilarious...

***

The boy - Murray - is suffering at the moment. He has weak claws and for the last couple of months he's been regularly breaking them, by jumping up at the bloody front door when we get home from one of our rare forays out at night.

It's really quite pout-inducing seeing the poor little fella limping around and looking sorry for himself and as the wife said, it's a shame he can't equate the fact his jumping up at the door with the breaking of his toenails. But as we all know, dogs are stupid.

***

Right, two weeks of copious blogging to follow; hold onto your stomachs!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The US Bill of Festive Meh

[Spoiler Warning]

I don't know if some of the executives in charge of the SyFy Channel are British, but the station seems to pride itself on its Christmas specials - episodes with a festive theme. Other US TV shows have Christmas episodes, but some of the more 'popular' SyFy shows have had specials, possibly apocryphal tales, which are standalone. This year's event took place on December 7th - a traditionally extra special 13th day of Christmas. Last year, SyFy delivered a steaming pile of shite. This year wasn't much better.

What was essentially the season finally of Haven proved to be a real low point in the series. It was filmed in July and was essentially about a magic snow globe. It was too simple an idea to screw up, therefore it actually hung together reasonably well. It was pretty dire though in all other departments and it helped make my mind up about one thing I won't be doing in 2012 - watching this ridiculously bad TV show ever again.

Next up was Eureka and billed as the opener for season five which starts in earnest in 2012; it was also a festive romp and sat outside of existing continuity. It was essentially a very similar story to the one in Haven, but had a bigger budget and an array of different kinds of animation. I struggled to like it and thought it was a little too quirky, even for the inhabitants of the quirkiest town in the USA. It did however feature a short teaser for the final season of a show that I think has proved to be too expensive for SyFy to make; Eureka is popular, just not that popular and killing it now saves us a few seasons of dwindling cast members and even crappier special effects.

That was two down and after 2010's Warehouse 13 load of Yuletide droppings, I started watching the 2011 special with as much expectation of a man with rotten teeth visiting the dentist from Marathon Man. I really shouldn't have worried...

The production values of W13 are on a level with Haven. Piss poor CGI is the new wobbly sets and W13 has always been able to counterbalance its small budget with some pretty good stories. Yes, like any US fantasy series, it has its fair share of pooh masquerading as 42 minutes of dramedy, but sometimes it just blows you away with its inventive stories, twisting sub plots and frankly four of the most likeable characters on TV. It also provides at least one laugh out loud (or LOL) moment every week, even in episodes where tragedy is layered on more tragedy. The Christmas special was no exception; it had plenty of bad CGI, a nasty subtext, some clever twists and plenty of LOLZ; it was also a brilliant antidote to the season finale that firmly established W13 as a show that you really can't second guess (for long without having egg on your face).

This year's Chrimble treat was a brilliant re-imagining of It's a Wonderful Life with Pete finding himself in a world where he never existed and a warehouse being run by its biggest enemy. It also felt like an homage to the first ever episode in that Pete has to assemble his old team despite them having no idea who he is and all showing obvious signs that not having him in their lives has drastically altered reality. I was utterly blown away and believe that W13 is now entering a period where it will struggle to better. The last half a dozen episodes have oozed confidence and like any good TV show - never mind the quality, feel the width!

It's also a great standalone episode and could even act as a jumping on point for people who fancy something new. Of course the one thing that makes that suggestion wrong is the state of everything at the end of the season three finale; but this is the Warehouse and if Artie can't turn back time, he'll have another artefact that will be just as effective.

***

Dexter is looming towards its series finale in a season that has reconfirmed my belief that this is the best thing on TV. It's a show that rips your funny bone out of your arm and stabs you with it while you laugh hysterically as you bleed to death - there is so much work going into a show that is both grizzly, full of pathos and berserkly (I know it's not a real world but I can't think of anything similar) funny.

Yes, in many ways it has almost become a parody of itself and sometimes things change in the background so quickly it leaves you feeling slightly cheated. There's never any explanations for the minutiae such as whatever happened to Dex's nanny or how come Angel developed a 20-something sister; there's also the police politics thing and all of these things give the impression that the story has picked up a fair old while since the end of the last season; yet other things seem to be as new as they were in aid previous season - Harrison's age, Deb and Quinn's relationship. Sometimes the mixture of iconoclast and moral ethics can almost be too preachy - this is a man who is a serial killer, yet the series seems intent on humanising rather than dehumanising him - but deep down you just accept this is a very black comedy adventure series where the hero just happens to be worse than the villains.

The superb thing about this series of Dexter is the lack of Dexter kills; all the focus is on his inner demons all having a say in how he lives his life. With two more seasons having been commissioned the chances of anything bad happening to our 'hero' himself is remote; but his loved ones is a different matter. This series has seen Dex facing up to death on several occasions and it's obvious that both threats had profound affects on him - one because of survival and the other because of unexpected death. The extremely clever plot - most people I've talked with about it are miles out with their perception of the series and what it's doing and trying to say - hasn't finished twisting either. I know nothing of the upcoming finale; I've avoided the net and spoilers - not that there are any - and I'm left with the feeling that two regular stars are going to die before the curtain on this season is brought down.

With two to go, the series antagonist - The Doomsday Killer - looks like he's planning on going out with a bang; literally and metaphorically. The police know who he is - but trust me that's only half of it - and it's the usual race between Dex and the cops to kill the bad guy first, except Dex has been so preoccupied with being normal he's not keeping up. Meanwhile, Angel has stumbled into TDK's line of sight; Quinn has gone off the rails so far that it's being set up like they plan a big exit for him; Leguerta has become the uber-bitch from hell and between her and the assistant commissioner things have become intensely illegal and Deborah, the wonderfully foul mouthed adopted sister of Dexter has been propelled into a position she can't possibly cope with and is on the verge of blowing an important gasket. Angel and Quinn are the two who appear to have limited time left on the show, my guess is that Laguerta and Deborah are going to be the two to fall. The newly promoted Captain will take the can for the cover up she's running and I think Dexter's personal tragedy is about to get even worse; I think Debs is going to die a hero. It will be terrible. It will also be, in her own words, fucking brilliant.

American Horror Story has been acceptable US drama. It's been hit or miss for a while, but with the announcement that each series will be about a different haunted house, it suddenly sprang into life. It has a lot of flaws, but generally it has been weirdly entertaining - literally - and I think the living Harman family members have already been shown a way to win this battle, Ben just hasn't realised it yet.

The tenth episode, arguably the best, wasn't so much creepy as unnerving; we both guessed what was happening, but it made it no less shocking, especially what make up did with Violet. The house surely must be destined to burn...

***

In Georgia, the first half of the tortoise paced second season of The Walking Dead or Egg of the Dead, came to a shocking, but pretty much expected conclusion. I am more than aware that this is a series focused more of the dystopia of the surviving humans rather than the 'zombie' side, but it doesn't have to have the pace of the dead and it really needs a likeable character - with the exception of Dale, none of these bastards is at all nice and sometimes it can get a little too much.

***

Meanwhile back in Blighty, Misfits just continues to astound. Howard Overman is a genius. Nuff said.

***

This year's Dr Who Christmas special is bound to be fuelled by hype and fail to live up to expectations. What I'd like to see from one of these throwaway pieces of frivolity is a story that is good and not necessarily about bloody Christmas.

I was talking Who with a mate the other day and I said it would be nice if they broke one of the golden rules and have the Doctor meet one of his future selves. It doesn't have to be carved in stone, because of the wibbly properties of time, but it could help develop the story. Move it forward, say?

***

We should all remind someone younger than ourselves over the next few weeks that TV was once had limited choice and yet Christmas was a time you simply didn't miss TV. Now, you can and not even notice.

Sordid Wombat

Fuckwit and Lard Girl have been wandering around the street like fat encrusted Weebles - he's decked out in an ill-fitting tracksuit that looks like he's not changed it in about a month and she is wrapped up in more sheepskin than Ron Atkinson and John Motson put together, however, he's walking like he's shit himself and she has all the grace of a week dead walrus. They spend a lot of time over the road at the guy who lives next to the Sexually Explicit family. He's a pleasant enough bloke and if you talk to him you have to ask yourself why he's so friendly with this perfect example of ageing chavness has never been clear; but it could be that he's just a bit stupid.

The three of them are often seen standing around the street pontificating and acting like they own the place. I'm not the only person who sneers at them, there's this other old guy who lives just out of sight of my office window. He's lived in his house much longer than we've been here and he is a bit like me in that you rarely ever see him socialising with his neighbours - it's like he finds them as disturbingly entertaining as me.

Of all my neighbours Mr Misanthrope is the one I enjoy brief conversations with the most. It has only happened a handful of times in the last 10 years, but we appear to be on a similar wavelength. Last weekend, Fuckwit began to have wandering car syndrome again, after months of sticking to parking on his drive. He decided to park in front of Mr Misanthrope and his neighbours the West Indian Family and felt the full force of Mr M's wrath.

"Are you incapable of parking in front of your own house?!" he asked Fuckwit last Sunday afternoon. I didn't hear FW's response, but it was obviously obtuse enough for Mr M to go into one of his now famous rants. He had followed a cold caller down the road once, a couple of years ago, accusing him of lying and giving false information and telling him that if he knocked on any door in this street again he would tell the people just how misleading his sales pitch is. The cold caller represented Sky TV and Mr M obviously feels the same way about Rupert Murdock as I do. This event elevated Mr M into the high echelons of my respect and the Sky rep looked genuinely concerned as this hulk of a man, walking with the aid of a cane, charged up the road berating him and threatening him with all kinds of exposure.

Mr M shuffled around and spoke in clear and loud words. "I don't care if the Queen is visiting you, parking your car in front of someone's house when you have your own parking space is rude and irresponsible. Do you ever think about the hassle you're causing your neighbours?" Obviously Fuckwit didn't because his answer prompted Mr M to shout, "That's not a reason, that's just lazy. Please move your car or I'll park my car in front of your house for the rest of the year." Fuckwit trudged across the road, keys in hand, looking like he'd been reprimanded by his old headmaster. I noticed that both of our cars were parked in their usual places, proving once again that FW is incapable of parallel parking, even in his automatic Rover.

I then heard my roly-poly neighbour say, "I would have moved it eventually, there's no need to get the arse." This set Mr M off on one which included the insult 'you are just an ignorant buffoon' which elevated Mr M even higher in my esteem. Anyone who uses the word 'buffoon', especially to Fuckwit deserve the Noble Insult Prize.

Today, while the wife is out doing Christmas bollocks, watching FW, LG and the old man pointing and making jokey comments about Mr M, I realised that mankind has no future at all and by the end of this century we will have become a pointless stain on the planet. I could never be a Conservative, but I could become a fascist with a machine gun and wipe out this canker of society for the sake of the future, provided I'm offered immunity from prosecution.

***

Fishwife and co have been remarkably quiet to the point that the wife pondered whether they'd stumbled across this blog and put two and two together and were purposely avoiding us. However, I pointed out that this has tended to happen every year as we hurtle towards Christmas; they spend more and more time round family and friends houses. In fact, Fishwife has been so anonymous recently I'm considering looking for the pod in his bottom shed...

***

It's been a bit taters out there today, yet as the sun begins to set over the back of the gardens, I was again bewildered by something I see just about every year and then manage to forget to mention.

Looking through the skeleton of the apple tree with the sun beaming through the gaps, I could see tiny little flies buzzing around in the sunlight. These things appear just about every year and especially on sunny days in the coldest bits winter and I often wonder what they are, how long they actually live and what benefit they get from anything?

***

Next time I'll tell you about how my past has returned to haunt me, how my local MP proved to be a twat after all and how the government can get arsey over £81.51 while Goldman Sachs manage to avoid paying £10,000,000 in owed taxes.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Gig Guide 10: Amplifier, Nottingham Rock City; 4th December 2011

I love Amplifier; they are, in my humble opinion, one of the best modern rock bands of this century. They produce modest stadium rock that would blow away so-called bigger draws, yet because they are a minority band they play minority gigs. Rock City seemed like the logical elevation play an acoustically good venue to a big audience and make their mark.

Xoyo in the summer was a smallish venue packed to the rafters with die-hard Ampcorp fans; Rock City must have bombed in sales. The band played a partitioned area from the actual main hall, in what ended up as big a room as the neighbouring Rescue Rooms - which might have been the better venue for them. The sound was dreadful and it took most of the gig to get it right. There were maybe 150 people there - max! And, I'm sorry to say that the lack of atmosphere and good sound made us all slightly less enthusiastic. In many respects the gig was a bit of an embarrassment because it should have been so much better. There was also a strange tension around the room; maybe it was the first night of a UK tour, maybe it was the fact that no one looked happy at the cold weather and drab surroundings; it just had the feeling of people queuing for something they weren't that keen on.

The Amplifier set was about 90 minutes of music - a mixture of The Octopus and some older tracks, including songs that sounded much better in a soggy field in Gloucestershire. Sometimes the band were tight and pretty devastating, but at other times they seemed out of it and this was highlighted by Sel Balamir being out of synch with the rest of the band of Strange Seas of Thought; making it sound just plain wrong.

I've struggled to be enamoured by any of the gigs I've been to in Nottingham - either Rock City or the Rescue Rooms; maybe Yes in the late 90s (but that was at the Concert Hall), Julian Cope in the early 90s (at both RC and RR) and possibly Shack in 2005; but of the other half dozen gigs I can instantly recall there has been a total anticlimax. Secret Machines, The House of Love and a couple of others have been much anticipated and left me with feeling that I maybe should have looked to see these bands in other, further afield, venues.

I'll go and see Amplifier whenever they play; but this third time was not like the others and I'll consign it to circumstances, rustiness and an undeserved lack of enthusiasm.

6/10

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Green Margarine

Many things went through my mind this morning; some of them are barely repeatable. One of the trains of thought I had was how much I need to do today because I'm going to Nottingham at 6:00pm. I should be ecstatic about seeing one of my favourite bands, but it's taking a whacking eighth of my weekend away - the part of my newly discovered weekend where I slump in front of the TV, have a long hot soak in the bath and generally do my bit for doing nothing.

The thing is, even though it feels like I do nothing I get things done: my lunch for Monday; all my clobber, clean shoes, and the usual Sunday ordered day. It sounds a bit anal, but my Sundays have always had a reasonable structure, even when I've been out of work; so therefore having something like this gig come along has thrown a spanner in my orderly Sunday.

It's 11:45am and so far this morning I've managed to do very little and I got out of bed at 9.30, which means that for over two hours I've managed to eat my breakfast, do most of my ablutions and... um... decide to sit and write an extra blog entry complaining about the fact I haven't got enough time today to do all the things I usually do at my leisure.

I have to prepare and cook the dinner (veggie sausage toad-in-the-hole) and make sure it's all done and eaten by 5.30 (at the very latest). I have to take the dogs out (approx 90 minutes earlier than usual, which will have a knock on effect), clean the duck shed out (but since writing that line the wife has said she'll do it); sort out my lunch for tomorrow, get the clothes I'm wearing put out (away from the dogs), do something with my hair (which needs cutting but I haven't got the time or the money to do that at the moment)... GAH, you don't really want to hear about it; I don't really want to explain it because explaining it eats into what little time I have already!

Oh and on top of it all my back has been grumbling like a wounded polar bear since Thursday and this has me concerned because the gig tonight has no seats - Rock City isn't a civilised, sit down venue. Time to break out the expensive painkillers, methinks.

***

Another thing that has played on my mind this morning is the doom and gloom across the news - both print and broadcast. As if I need to tell you what a mess we're all in, thanks to the world economy far more than the previous government - yes, they borrowed too much, but only the most right wing have to agree that the 13 or so years of Labour rule did at least see some rebuilding of infrastructure and for the majority of those years, most people were reasonably happier than say they were in 1996.

No one in their right minds will disagree that we need to lower our debt; only Gideon and his cronies seem to think that the only way of doing this is to piss off the poor and less well off. It's like they're saying that civil servants and public sector workers are most likely not to vote Tory therefore they need to be punished. That's how it feels and yet there's still people out there - some I know personally - who seem to think that Tory is best, even if they ultimately face more than just an uphill struggle for the next five or six years.

The wife and I were discussing her stepfather (or adopted father depending on how you look at it). He grew up in Sunderland in a staunchly left wing family and yet, to our knowledge, has never voted for any one other than Conservative; even though the Tories have spent more time screwing up his life than Labour could ever hope to. Neither of us could really fathom why some people are so averse to Labour. Yes, some people think unions have too much power, or that Labour pfaff about too much with bureaucracy and red tape; but surely the rights of people against unfair practice or pernicious government policies is something we should be grateful for. We don't live in a dictatorship; having the right to campaign against injustice is a right we fought for an won a long time ago, yet some people find the concept of voting for a political party that appear to care more for the people than the rich abhorrent.

I've asked some of my right leaning friends why and so far haven't heard an argument that can't be argued against. The thing with Tory voters who don't fall into the usual Conservative demographic is that they're almost as tenacious as their rich, snobbish, selfish counterparts. Conservatives are a little like born again Christians in that they believe and therefore there is no alternative. I'd like to think that I've looked at Tory policies and found some ideas pretty good; unfortunately just because I can see some good in some ideas, doesn't mean I believe they truly have the country's interests at heart. Dyed in the wool Blues view all Labour policies as having sub-agendas, even if there isn't one. The same true Blues don't accept that a lot of good was done by the previous administration and like the Daily Mail will offer a stupid example of stupid government decisions, yet are the least vocal when a Tory MP is guilty of the same thing.

Anyhow, the point of this was purely to say that I think Labour needs to seriously consider suggesting to Ed Milliband that his place in the party is important, just not as the leader. Today's Mori opinion poll in the Observer has the Tory's leading with 36%, Labour next with 34%, the Libdems on 16% and 14% undecided. The fact that the Tory's, nearly two years into a coalition where they are the controlling party, are actually top of the polls suggests that Labour got it wrong and this is after a year of falling economies, idiotic scandals and Hooray Henrys yawping about things in plummy voices and seemingly out of touch with the majority of common people.

Cameron might be a posh twat, but on a world stage he seems to fit the bill (even if he spouts neo-fascist anti-European rhetoric most of the time). You can't even compare Millband because he does seem like a well educated schoolboy with a vague resemblance to a stoned panda. He has about as much gravitas as a bail of straw and I view him as much a liability as Neil Kinnock was. Has the party at his heart, but fails to impress people because he just hasn't got much to like about his personality.

The leadership question is now old; it's been 18 months since EM was chosen and instead of a resurge in the polls, they are in 2nd place behind the cruelest of enemies. Would it have been any different if Ed Balls had been elected? I doubt it; for he polarises opinions far more than Milliband. David Millband was too Blairite, even if he possesses more of the qualities you would expect from a leader.

The person who should be leading Labour didn't even stand for election. Yvette Cooper might be Ed Balls's wife, but she actually comes across as the best man in that family and in my humble opinion would have united the party and the country far better. We're not going to get another Thatcher; Cooper could have restored faith in women leaders in this country and I have this horrible feeling that she refuses to be drawn into this because she's loyal to her husband, who obviously harbours hopes of becoming PM one day (even if he would become a Red Top caption editor's dream).

The conclusion I drew this morning is that things will only get much worse. But not because the Tories are in. I don't think anyone would have solved this problem, it's a global one and all the finger pointing in the world is not going to alter the fact that Britain in 2016 is going to be a much different place than any of us expected it to be.

However, it will definitely be a place where the haves still have and the have nots will become increasingly desperate to exist. There are areas of our life that have remained relatively unscathed by the cuts and the impending world economic disaster; I seriously believe that once something untouchable is hacked to shreds with the cuts knife, it will open a floodgate which will see everything we take for granted obliterated.

Perhaps we have to start living in a real world; working longer, earning less, paying more. It isn't fair, because we leave people in charge, they screw up and we pay for it. But that's democracy and we have to pay to live, however unpleasant life might end up being. I just wish people would look at the widening gap between the rich and the poor; at the increasing civil unrest and the fact that bankers are getting away with repeatedly raping us and realise that the Tory's have never, ever, been the party for growth and the future. Top Tories will be okay regardless of the economic state and will continue to be okay if everything melts down. They might lose lots, but they'll still have more than me and you. Most Tories have this, 'we'll worry about then when it comes' attitude and that means we're likely to lurch from one crisis to another; more people will lose their jobs, more small businesses will fail because fewer people will be spending money; creating a vicious spiral.

A few months ago I wrote in my almost defunct political blog what the consequences are if just one person loses his job; the more people claiming the dole - and estimates reckon unemployment will peak at 3.25million (nearly twice what it is at the moment), the less money going into the economy and more coming out of it. The knock on effect is scary, because it will drive even well run businesses to the wall. Pubs, clubs and restaurants will close; only the best will survive and these will only be frequented by the people who still have and they will be contemptuous of the homeless littering the streets near their restaurant, even though they know the world has gone to shit. The service industry will take a hit; manufacturing will struggle to be competitive and eventually, the Tories will suggest banishing the minimum wage; arguing that it will make things competitive and put money back into pockets, give them self-esteem and a chance - even if they're working for £2 a hour and coming home with less than £70 after tax; about the same as JSA. Of course, you will have to do this or you won't get any benefits and Theresa May may well get her wish to scrap the Human Rights Bill.

You might sit there and think that some of these ideas might be reasonable; especially to the long term unemployed; but the upshot is you would think like that until something happens to you that suddenly puts you on the other side of the argument. Then you would be wondering where all your human and employment rights have gone and how grossly unfair it all is, but by then it will be too late.

***

Seems like my weather forecast of the other day might have been a little rash. Winter's coming and will hit the north later on tonight; the forecast for the rest of the week is not one to get terribly excited about and tellingly, the bookmakers have halved the odds for a white Christmas. The long range forecasts seem to think we might even see some sleet or snow as far south as Northampton by next weekend. They might all be wrong (and probably are) but I expect the late season raspberries, mushrooms and sweet peas are going to be crushed by Jack Frost's icy grip.

The wife is taking it seriously; she's out in the shed armed with saws and all the wood we've collected throughout the year.

***

The final thought I had this morning was how the hell am I going to get out of Nottingham tonight without breaking the law? I've been to this lovely city a number of times, but have struggled to get out of it - the main reason being the sign posting is bloody awful. The last two occasions I've gone one-way up a tram road. The one-way being the wrong way and the tram road not being for cars. I did, however, save huge amounts of time. According to directions I've got from Google Maps, it should be straightforward. We shall see...

***

Right, time for doing all the things I'd do over the next 9 hours in the next 3...


Saturday, December 03, 2011

q21

December 3: The wife picked a handful of raspberries this morning. The remarkable thing, as this photo shows, is the paucity of leaves. The other pictures I took (all pretty crappy, tbh) failed to capture the fact that everything else has just about lost all its foliage; but saying that, this is the man who managed to go to Burton Latimer armed with a camera to take photos of the wind farm and came home with 14 pictures of individual wind turbines - I could have just taken the photo of one from a dozen different angles!

It is beginning to feel like winter; frost on the windscreen and it being virtually dark by 4pm, especially if it's a dull day, but in general this has been one of the oddest and most enjoyable autumns I can remember - it's made up for the grim economic outlook and the fact we're all going to die sliding around in our own shit while Chinese tourists pay money to watch the light disappear from our eyes.

***

I might not want to discuss my job on the blog, for obvious reasons, but that won't bar me from telling you what my job is or entails. When I was at school disruptive pupils tended to be ignored; but that was basically my extremely left wing mixed school during the 70s - the kind of place where the teachers seemed more interested in each other than they did educating. Things have changed and because I have no children, the changes seem quite drastic, quite sensible and in some ways oddly similar to the 1970s.

My job is to run what is imaginatively called Internal Exclusion (IE); where a pupil is taken out of class for behaviour or school violations and placed in a form of isolation - on the face of it it is designed to be a deterrent and also an opportunity to allow the rest of the school top operate without distraction. I've been employed to make some radical changes to the entire Internal Exclusion model (and they begin on Monday).

On the face of things, my job appears to be that of a glorified babysitter. The two IE rooms - behavioural and violations are run by me and my assistant and are strictly disciplined rooms where problems kids are not allowed enough rope to hang themselves. The intention (for me) is to educate kids about the consequences of their actions and how their behaviour needs to change if they want to be part of the school, have a chance in the future and to respect their fellow pupils. It is also about meeting Ofsted standards and getting the school's disciplinary record much lower than it has been. My feeling is that the softly softly approach isn't working very well, so I got offered the job to bring my experience of working with disenfranchised young people and because of my Youth Offending history - 73% of excluded pupils, nationally, end up in the court system and this allows me to do low level YOT work as an educational deterrent.

I've been there 3 weeks; it is hard work. The stress levels are intense and I come home most nights exhausted and I've yet to get the new IE fully running. I don't expect it will get much easier until the new radical approach starts to affect the usual suspects. The next two weeks - until the Christmas hols - are going to be massive.

***

Obviously my weekends have now become really important and tomorrow night I'm off to my second gig in a few weeks. Amplifier take to the Nottingham Rock City stage on Sunday and a late night beckons. I'm doing myself no favours for the big Monday push!

I'm looking forward to seeing Amplifier again and I expect a different set to the one they played at the Xoyo in the summer. There will be a gig review Tuesday if I can be arsed...

***

I think I'll spend the rest of the afternoon biting my finger nails...

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Occluded Front

I've been neglecting my duties. Work has had such an impact on my life that it has thrown my carefully balanced existence of the last three years completely out of synch. I am again experiencing what it is like to not have enough hours in the day. Makes me slightly angry that I didn't (or never) make use of the free time I had.

Yet, even if I came home feeling like I could sit down and write for England, I don't really have anything that has tweaked the old inspiration lobe. I'm sure had I been sitting at home thinking about some of the crap that has happened in and around the world I would have had bags of time to pontificate about it; but I get home; stare at Pointless with a dog on my lap; contemplate food and struggle to keep myself from falling asleep.

Last weekend I was full of it; this weekend I ache, I slept funny last night and I just want to do as little as possible today. I can't quite shake the feeling that today is going to go horribly wrong; but that might be psionic resonance - at least twice during the week I spoke to colleagues who had gut feelings that everything was going to kick off, but it never did. The worst incident of the week was a food fight and the realisation that I might actually be in a hallucinogenic coma reliving my youth mixed with a bit of St Trinian's, Grange Hill and Waterloo Road thrown in for good measure.

Trust me though, at some point in the future, maybe when I retire I'm going to write a book about my new life (and I've only been doing it for 2 weeks).

***

I'm on strike on Wednesday. I had a choice because I wasn't balloted as an unemployed member of UNISON and if I'd decided to go into work I wouldn't have been labelled a scab or a traitor. The thing is a lot of my colleagues are out and you just have to show some solidarity, don't you?

I had an interesting discussion with a colleague about the strike and put across what has become my simple argument about why they are important and the unions must fight the government's raping of the poor.

I have analysed the big picture about pensions and it boils down to something quite simple. The civil service and the public sector employees were offered their jobs with the benefits; they did not singularly or as a whole demand the pensions they were offered. Accountants worked out what these employees pensions should be and they were written into a contract of employment. The attempts to change these peoples' pensions is exactly the same as your boss coming to see you on Monday morning and telling you that your job has changed and you are now responsible for cleaning the toilets. He gives you your new job description and expects you to take the change. Employment law would be backing you 101%, the courts would be punishing your employer and you would be supported because the original deal offered you is, in most cases, not negotiable. For the government and councils to back track and penalise their staff is appalling and I don't care if they can't afford it now; these people spend enough money on analysts, futures and people predicting the future to have realised that perhaps they were being a tad optimistic about the benefits they were offering should the world economy slow down. Do the people who set things like pensions actually consider that share prices might go down as well as up?

Don't be pissed off about the strike on Wednesday, especially if it affects you. It might be a pain, but trust me if the government get away with this everyone will ultimately be screwed and you might just find yourself cleaning the toilets by the time the Olympics has become a costly memory.

***

One of my new colleagues told me a story about his early teaching days in Birmingham. It was 1999 and he was fresh out of TTC having come to teaching after doing a host of weird jobs until he was in his thirties. The school he was working at was notorious for being violent and problematic. He'd been at the school about a month when he had to take his first mass detention; he had 12 kids in a classroom for an hour after school.

Now this guy is a behaviourist; it's his speciality and he has a great rapport with his classes and is one of those teachers that you remember from your youth; the kind you always liked being taught by, the guy who actually let you use your brains rather than expecting you to sit there like a sponge. He had brought some of his ideas to the school and had a great relationship with the headmaster and most of his colleagues; however, like most of the rest of the staff, the head included, he had a real problem with the deputy head; an officious little man who made Hitler seem like a reasonable guy (his words, not mine). He demanded respect therefore got none and had a habit of interfering in other teacher's business, therefore undermining any good work being done.

My colleague's slightly laid back style grated on the deputy really badly, so on this period of detention he was hovering close by; almost sensing that he would have an opportunity to waltz into the detention class, undermine my new colleague and assert his iron will, especially if it looked like the teacher was not in control.

About half way through the hour, two of the lads in detention stood up and appeared to be arguing, the new teacher was standing, passive and almost disinterested, prompting the deputy head to barge into the lesson screaming at the two boys. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING OUT OF YOUR SEATS? He screamed at them, oblivious to the teacher or what he was doing. What was happening was a role play session he had learnt at uni that involved two people acting out a scene and getting the rest of the class to theorise what the consequences of this little act would have on the people affected. It's pretty much a standard behavioural exercise and one that is recognised to get results. However Mr Deputy Head was old skool and not really interested in the whys and wherefores of this new approach to teaching.

The two standing boys shuffled around mumbling. "ANSWER ME BOY!" Screamed the deputy.
"We're doing a role play, sir," said one of them. My colleague attempted to interject and the deputy stopped him in his tracks saying quite loudly that he obviously had no control over his class and they obviously needed more discipline. The situation was fraying at the edges and heading down Getting Much Worse Alley. The deputy seemed to only half hear what was said to him, but heard enough to realise that perhaps he was a bit premature. "Why are you even here, boy?" He says to one of the two boys, who mumbled something back that the class teacher couldn't hear. "And what about you?" He says to the other lad involved in the role play. He also mumbled something. "Speak up boy. What are you doing in detention?"
"You sent me here because I called you a fucking prick, sir!" The deputy now completely flustered, bright red from the neck upwards, turns on his heels, stares at the teacher and stomps off suggesting the new teacher learns how to control his class better.

I'm sure there's going to be someone like that at my new job. I think it's a prerequisite for schools nowadays.

***

26 November and I'm still picking raspberries! I now have no doubt that I will be picking summer fruit on December 1st, with little or no frost forecast, more mild weather and some sunshine I'd hazard a guess and say we've had almost half as many raspberries this late autumn as we had during the summer and we had enough to freeze two bags full!

One of the long range weather forecasting sites I visit reckons Britain is going to be plunged into a really cold spell by the middle of next week. This is the website that forecast Arctic conditions by the middle of November and was quoted in the Daily Mail story about another ice age about to hit the UK. Other websites I look at reckon the coldest it's going to get is about 8 degrees - roughly normal for the first week in December.

How about this for a forecast? We won't see snow south of North Yorkshire before the end of February and then it won't be much. It will obviously still cause chaos, but what else could it cause?

***

I'm finding the new Kate Bush album slightly impenetrable. I accept it is probably a work of genius, but I've only managed to get halfway through track 3 before losing the will to live. I need to listen to it when I'm in the mood I think.

The problem I'm having is there are some other albums out that I can't stop playing - top of the list being M83's new album, which, as I already said, looks like it's going to run away with my favourite album of the year award.

***

I said to the wife last night, as we sat down to watch an excellent copy of a film that's being released in cinemas next week. It's not often something appears in DVD quality before it actually gets released, so finding a copy of the 2011 The Thing was a bonus. However, I commented to the wife that I found it slightly worrying that DVDs of it are circulating; this usually happens when a film is a pile of crap.

The Guardian this morning was in full praise of the film, despite suggesting that it borrowed heavily on themes from John Carpenter's classic 1982 film of the same name. This The Thing is a direct prequel to that film and manages to mesh the two films together exceptionally well. The writer and the director must have poured over the footage of Kurt Russell and co investigating the Norwegian Science Station to ensure that the two matched and that is one of the points that makes the idea so fun. It's just a shame they decided to remake the 1982 film rather than actually explore the genesis of the story. It's just almost a carbon copy in places, although there are some nice nods to the original 1950s film directed by Christian Nyby. It attempts to out gore the original and pretty much fails; it also attempts to turn on the paranoia and suspense generated in the brilliant Carpenter film and fails because we've seen it all before. There was nothing new in this prequel and it went for an action packed approach rather than a psychological one, which might have been a better direction. I found myself waiting for the ending and that isn't a sign of a good film.

I got hold of two films that I have massively fond memories of from the 1980s. I'm hoping they have held up to the test of time because one of them has always been in my top ten films of all time and I haven't watched it for nearly 20 years.

Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension was something I saw on video, thought it was utterly bonkers and consigned it to the watched but never again pile; but recently the film has been reappraised and I decided to give it another go. Oddly enough, I can still quote bits of the film, which isn't bad considering I saw it nearly 30 years ago. I struggle to remember lines from my favourite films.

The other and the film I'm hoping has stood the test of time is The World According to Garp - an early Robin Williams film directed by the wonderfully bonkers George Roy Hill. It has a totally memorable performance by John Lithgow as a transsexual - just one of many brilliant performances in all kinds of films by this genius of modern cinema - and is one of the most funny and tragic films I have ever seen. I was so impressed, I bought the video. The wife has never been able to understand why I'm so enamoured by it; it's a meh film for her. I just remember it being a movie that makes me laugh, feel sad and allowed me to reflect on stuff.

It hasn't escaped my notice that these two films have really long titles.

***

I actually started on another short story last week. I managed to get about 200 words down when I fell asleep at the keyboard. I hope it doesn't reflect in the story.

***

There was another point to my piece about spam last time and that was the fact that some of spam appears to be directly targeted at me, using names and subjects that *might* make me open it. Now I have more protection on my PC than Fort Knox, yet somehow I'll get spam from or about things that may have appeared in a Facebook update or from a Google search. Yes, I might have a trojan or some such hidden away that I'm not aware of or has beaten my army of firewalls or major established web icons are actively selling this data to the spammers, or maybe are even controlling them. It's just plain weird when I get a spam email with a word in it that seems to relate to me or what I've been talking about.

***

I have housework to do; hoovering, cooking and general tidying up. I keep looking at the Dyson and thinking, "I'll do it in a while." I'm running out of procrastinations.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sequential Stinking

In a recent blog entry, Roger mentioned some spam he got. He kind of pre-empted me, I'd been planning on talking about spam for months, but somehow I always managed to either forget about it or what I was going to say. It is a fascinatingly odd subject, which, in my humble opinion, is a great example of futility, but obviously has to work to some degree or it would have died out like dial-up Internet connections.

Most email accounts have spam filters, which are now a lot more sophisticated than they were, when they just arbitrarily grabbed anything that had been CC'd to more than three people and this alone has to suggest that for spam to actually work, someone must be trawling through their spam folders looking for cheap meds, penis enlargement, Russian mail order brides, Viagra, credit checks and/or anything else you could possibly imagine, including whatever variant of the Nigerian Prince email. I always find it amusing that you see just about everything 'advertised' in spam apart from arms, illegal drugs and child slavery - which suggests that whoever is responsible for spam is easily traceable by the authorities, contrary to reports we hear or read.

I can understand how some people got sucked into scams such as the aforementioned Nigerian Prince and his millions of dollars - some people are just suckers for allowing their greed to get the better of them - and I can understand why people would go in search of cheap medicine and possibly even Viagra (especially if they're too self-conscious to mention their impotence to their doctor), even if clicking on any of these spam emails will at best leave someone open to credit card fraud and at worst infect their computers with more trojans and phishing ware for whoever is paying for the spam to have access to everything on your hard drive.

I witness fuckwittedness every week on the Internet; from ignorant opinions to people participating in something that warrants no attention from anyone else. [I'm just as guilty of offering opinions and participating in notice boards and forums for the BBC and newspapers, even though I know that the opinion of P. Hall of Northampton is as interesting/valid/important or sensible as I alone believe it to be. I don't care how much common sense you see on a noticeboard or forum, it's still being wasted or pointlessly written because NO ONE will take any notice of it and those that do are NO ONE! But spam? Spam is, IMHO, something that should be dying out or even facing extinction, yet it now seems to be more prolific than ever before and remarkably even more bizarre and weird. Some spam that ends up filtered out of my main mail is just downright unfathomable.

There appears to be three kinds of spam nowadays: spam from recognised places - the kind of thing you sign up for (or have to to gain access to something else) that bombard you with shite until you click on the unsubscribe button or hit the This Is Spam button and it gets filtered into the same place as the Viagra, painkiller, credit and anything that requires you to give credit card details. Then there's the third kind; the stuff that is written in machine code, or hasn't been sent by any one from nowhere, or the kind that just doesn't make sense, like it has been generated by a dyslexic computer or an alien who understands the words, just doesn't know how to arrange them properly. This kind of spam along with stuff that seems to defy all logic - spam that has no links, gives no reason for being sent and more importantly the anti-virus software has scanned and declared clean.

Admittedly, with a billion Internet users worldwide, then less than 0.01% would still net whatever or whoever the scam was from enough money to retire, so I can see the logic in that, but seriously if there are ridiculously stupid people out there, and sadly we know there are, how come they're still alive?

***

November 20 - seven raspberries from the garden; 3½lb of horse and field mushrooms and about 1lb of Slippery Jacks from the dog walk. My runner beans that had all but died off a month ago are suddenly sprouting shoots from 'dead' runners; the grape vine is still growing; the young nectarine trees are still green and showing no signs of autumn and the grass needs cutting again. It is a bit weird and obviously it's all going to end in tears and sacks full of dead baby ducklings...

***

I spent £40 on ONE pair of shoes yesterday. That is obscene!

***

Someone in a 50 yard radius of my house is learning to play a musical instrument. I've no idea what instrument, possibly the thing Rolf Harris was hawking in the 1970s, but whatever it is it currently sounds like a man beating bagpipes to death with a goose.

But, what's just become an even weirder thing, it appears whatever this instrument is you can pluck it as well as blow through it... It must be a chicken!

***

Today I have been knee deep in duck pooh. Three times a year (sometimes four depending on debris) we empty the pond. Last night, I had to dance with Vile's Disease again by sucking black, stinky, foetid pond water up and old hose so that gravity would help empty it over night. Today, I had to scoop out a crazy mixture of plums, twigs, duck shit, pebbles and gloop in a big bucket and then chuck it on the veg patch.

It's one of the most icky jobs you could imagine and especially unpleasant in the fog and frost. The ducks also spend three hours barking at you because they have no pond. It's a bloody good job I'm a vegetarian.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Glass Onion (part F)

Sainsbury's do this pre-packed tomato thing called Polpa Fine, which is essentially very finely chopped Italian tomatoes in their own juice and for 25p more than a plain old carton of chopped tomatoes, this doesn't have stalky bits or massive chunks you end up pushing to the side of the plate. I now use this virtually all the time now when doing tomato based food and it is absolutely perfect for...

Aubergine and Red Pepper Bake

I was thinking about how I could use egg plant in something that wasn't either Indian influenced or when it appears in almost unpalatable chunks in ratatouille or similar offerings. I came up with this - completely out of my own head and with little or no influences. This is for 2 people.

1 carton Polpa fine tomatoes
3 large cloves garlic
1 medium red onion
fresh basil
½ tsp chilli flakes
splash of red wine
salt and black pepper.

This is the basis for your sauce, which goes with:

4 round slices of aubergine (about 1-2cm) fried in olive oil until they start to feel cooked (season while cooking). Remove from the frying pan, add some more oil (if necessary) and fry either a couple of
Portabello mushrooms or some big chunky sliced across the centre rather in down the grain. Remove from heat and leave to stand and expel some of the juice (which you add to your sauce).
Fry (or oven roast) two large slices of red pepper until slightly charred and you are able, if you wish, to remove the skin.
You can also use sliced courgette, roasted onion, or some wilted large spinach leaves.

To build - place the aubergine slices in the bottom of a shallow dish; cut up mushrooms if necessary and place in places where the aubergine isn't covering; lay a slice of pepper onto it and season for some more black pepper. Add a few more fresh basil leaves, add two ladles of tomato sauce and distribute. grate on some hard cheese and then cover with mozzarella and bake in a hot oven until the cheese is beginning to brown.

Serve with crusty bread, to mop up the juices.

***

My mate Kelvin has been searching for a decent Thai Green Curry recipe and I have continually failed to find one or even invent one. However, a few weeks ago, inspired by Nigel Slater, I developed something that me and t'wife both really enjoyed.

Big chunk of ginger chopped roughly
handful of coriander chopped roughly
5 cloves of garlic
1 stalk of lemon grass
juice and zest of a lime
salt
oil
soya sauce.

Blitz this in a processor until it is well chopped, but not a mulch. Fry off in hot oil.

Add a tin of coconut milk and continue to combine and simmer.

Add a variety of vegetables (or chicken or prawns), I like cooked cassava, cauliflower, firm fresh mushrooms and baby sweetcorn. Cook until the cauliflower is just done; serve with sticky rice.

I don't choose to use things like fish sauce (natch), galangal or kaffir lime leaves mainly because these latter two are related to ginger, lemon grass and limes by virtue of their acidity and citrus like taste and aroma. When cooking chicken or fish with this, the extra citrus undertones are welcome, but if you're using just vegetables it can be almost too citrus.

***

Lastly for now, something that I invented on a kind of whim.

Leftover rice is useful if cooked properly. this is something I did with some basmati rice, chopped up peppers and mushrooms and a few other things.

2 cups of cooked rice
chopped shallot, mixed pepper and mushroom (some quorn chunks if that tickles your fancy or some chicken or prawns)
1 egg
seasoning
2 large peppers - preferably red or green, hollowed out, placed in a baking dish and covered in some olive oil and seasoning. Bake for about 30 minutes at 180. Take out and leave to cool down.

Fry your shallot, mushrooms and melange of whatever veggies you fancy, add the rice, seasoning - herby or hot, it works both ways and once combined, put to one side to cool a little. When cold enough, add the egg which has been beaten and combine it all together so it looks like a congealed mess. Spoon this mixture into the cooked peppers two-thirds of the way to the top. Mix the rest of the filler with some hard cheese or smoked cheddar (depending on whether it is herby or hot) and put this into the rest of the space left in the peppers. Put back into a baking tray and cook in a hot oven for about 15 minutes.

***

That's that.