Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Happy Days

Sometimes life gets a little tricky. Sometimes there are bumps in the road, the occasional anti-personell mine upon life’s great highway.

Last weekend was not one of those weekends.

Last weekend has been one of those weekends that come along every now and then. The ones that you think are going to be good, but turn out to be ace. I know I’m a lucky man at the worst of times but last weekend was, frankly, fecking brilliant.

The IMA and I were north of the border again and we had a busy itinerary planned for Saturday, starting at 9am in a Glasgow florist, with a million and one people to see and things to do after that. I had to work until 1pm in Corby on the preceding Friday, which meant that we wouldn’t be setting off in the car from Leicester until 1.45pm at the absolute earliest. It’s generally around a 6 hour drive if you’re lucky and given the prospect of the M6 on a Friday afternoon getting more choked up than an X-factor contestant talking about their gran, we made the only sensible choice available to us. We arranged to go for a night out with a couple of the IMA’s oldest friends.

On Friday Night.

In Edinburgh.

It was ace. The hotel room was stunning – this was the view from our bed:

We had pre-drinks like a pair of students in our room, and then we went to meet up in the restaurant. I had a chicken and haggis burger, we drank, we laughed, we went over the road to a pub, we heard tales of accidentally-stolen guinea pigs, we laughed and drank some more. Finally, after a nightcap and a carefully devised plan for peace in The Middle East mainly revolving around pygmy goats (did I mention we’d been drinking?), we collapsed into bed. At around 1.45am. They were lovely people and I had a hoot.

The morning continued at 7am, when I was surprised to find that the Scottish beer had done a pretty good job of making me sound like a cross between Chewbacca and Tom Waites. We had breakfast looking out across the Firth at the bridge. A bleary-eyed drive west got us to Glasgow in time to meet the florist, which was followed by staccato meetings with various other wedding-related johnnies. I did my best to appear awake and I think, by and large, I pulled it off.

Finally at 2pm we rolled up at the hotel where our wedding is to be held. We were there to go through the menu and decide what we were going to eat on the big day. The doorman, resplendent in tartan trousers and geeky glasses (yet still somehow managing to look cool) picked up our bags and showed us to our ‘room’.

Yes, that’s all our room, you can see the IMA gazing out of the East window if you have good eyesight - she was a long way away. If your eyesight isn't 20/20 these days, click on the pic for a larger version. I think the timezones changed somewhere between the dining table(!) and the sofa area(!). There’s also a bathroom containing a bath that probably had a wave machine, such was its size. I have lived in houses with less surface area.

We mooched around for a while, being suitably bewildered. The IMA had a makeup trial whilst I sat and drank espresso from the machine by the Bang & Olufsen TV and read my book.

The menu tasting was yet another eye-opener. Course after course of top-notch food, accompanied by a run-down of the wine choices by a sommelier who was clearly very knowledgeable despite looking like she wasn’t old enough to buy alcohol in the first place. There were samples of reds, whites, roses, champagnes and proseccos plonked in front of us, we tried to keep pace. The service was impeccable. The restaurant manager turned out to be from Nottingham and suggested I borrowed the Leicester Tigers mascot costume to get married in. I laughed, The beautiful IMA refrained from punching him.

Eventually, being suitably fed and having wangled a tour of the wine cellar, where I stood within knocking-over distance of a £2,200 bottle of wine, the IMA got a call from the hairdresser who was scheduled to do the hair trial. We met her outside the room and it soon became clear that she was very much from Derry and very much bonkers. She did a brilliant job on the hairdressing front and also made me laugh quite a lot with her summary of haute cuisine – “Champagne foam? That’s just a load of shoite right enough.”

We collapsed into bed around 10 and slept the sleep of the just. Or at least the sleep of the well fed and beautifully coiffured.

More of these weekends please.


Sunday, 25 November 2012

Shake Your Tailfeather.

Welcome to the whirling maelstrom of various barely-understood tasks and activities that is the approach to my wedding.

I think if Derren Brown truly wanted to convince someone that the end of the world had arrived, he should have just plonked them in a room for a few days with a bunch of women who had been hypnotised to believe they were getting hitched. There is so much stuff to do that even my astonishingly level-headed wife-to-be is starting to crack.

I should have been more vigilant. There were early warning signs that, with hindsight, should have started the alarm bells ringing that the strain was starting to tell. When wedding teatowels were considered and eventually discarded I thought the crazy talk was done.


Unfortunately the beautiful IMA has now decided that it is not only possible, but necessary for me to learn how to dance before the wedding in just 5 week’s time.

To say that I am a useless dancer is an understatement of mammoth proportions. I have all the grace and coordination of a drunk tramp, high on crack, riding a skateboard down a flight of steps. I would be more in time with the music if someone Tazered me. I am quite a self confident person on the whole and I am often to be found confusing my intentions with my abilities, but as far as strutting my funky stuff is concerned I am completely aware of my shortcomings.

At least we have Jump Around by House Of Pain on the playlist. Even I can manage that.....can't I?


Saturday, 17 November 2012

Interesting Lunch

Yesterday I went to lunch with a couple of the boys from Corby. I haven’t seen them for quite a while as

a) The offices where I work are frankly enormous.


b) one of them has been in Hong Kong for the last few months.

One of them is the most authentically Scottish man ever to be born outside of Scotland, the other is very English and is what’s described locally as ‘well connected’. To put it another way, he’s the person I would most likely call if I ever got on the wrong side of Tony. We’ll call him George.

Angus (can you guess which one he is?) was telling us that he had managed to get tickets for Question Time, which was being broadcast from Corby last night. He’d submitted a question in the hope of getting on the telly. It’s worth pointing out that Corby has a hugely Scottish streak, both genuine and aspirational, due to a migration of Glaswegians in the 60s when the steelworks was moved.

So, Angus’ question:

“Given the upcoming vote concerning Scottish independence, are there any plans to allocate voting rights to the residents of Corby?”

My well-connected friend hooted with laughter and asked, in the interests of clarity, where Angus was born.

“Ach, I was born in sight o’ The Great Loch.”

“You mean Corby boating lake?”

“If you want to call it that, aye.”

Also on the conversational agenda was the news that one of the local boozers had won a competition to display the FA cup for a couple of days, which drew a fair bit of disbelief all round. Corby is a bit of a ‘lively’ place for an evening out (think Blackpool, but without the donkeys) and this particular pub is more lively than most.

“It’ll need a couple of members of the SAS to come with it if they want it back again” chuckled George. He told me that the last time he walked in there was water gushing up the wall from the open pipes where somebody had just kicked the radiator off of the wall, there was a chap in the corner, fast asleep, with his shopping from Iceland* gently thawing out all around him, a middle aged woman passed out in the middle of the floor and a chap skinning up on the bar. This, apparently, counted as a quiet night.

I didn’t see Question Time last night, but I hope that the panel went out for a post-show drink.


* - The taste-free frozen food chain, not the country.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Offer Of The Century

Indian meal with coffee/dinosaurs?

I'll take a Stegosaurus please. No sugar.


Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Smart Failure

I love TED.

This isn’t a sudden coming-out-of-the-closet thing, or a slightly juvenile attachment to my childhood bear a la Sebastian Flyte. The TED to which I refer is an example of what makes the Internet Age so fantastic.

For those who don’t know it’s basically a loosely gathered organisation that invite some of the great and the good, rising stars and inspirational souls from various walks of life to give a short speech (usually 10-20 min) on their subject of choice to a small audience. This speech is filmed and then plonked onto the interwebz where you can watch it for free.

So far I have heard from a woman who worked on a project to create an aircraft capable of Mach 20 (“It sustained controlled flight for 3 minutes before melting. We can’t put a pilot in it yet.”), a guy who created an augmented reality system and made it open source, the direct correlation between body language, posture and chemical reactions in the brain and I have even learnt about the mechanisms octopi use to avoid becoming dinner for predators.

I love this stuff. I love hearing people speak who genuinely know their subject and talk passionately about it. I love listening to people who are clearly far more intelligent than I, making complex ideas simple. I love the process of following someone else’s knowledge down the rabbit hole and seeing where we end up.

But my favourite so far has been a chap called Eddie Obeng. He clearly has a brain the size of a planet, talks at a million-miles-an-hour and looks at the changing pace of our world in a very very interesting way. He hurtles through the way we learnt at school, the challenges of the work environment and how we like to operate as human beings. Eventually he ties the whole thing together with an inspired piece using fluid mechanics as a metaphor for how we live our lives. He even does the worst impression of the Queen I have ever heard just for good measure. If you’re interested, you can watch his speech just below.....

And I, for my part, am happy to be part of the turbulence. Laminar flow is just so very yesterday.


Saturday, 10 November 2012

Grand Designs.

This afternoon I am looking at houses. One house in particular.

It has the potential to be a lovely first-and-last house for the beautiful IMA and I in a couple of years, but at this present moment, well. Let's just say it requires some attention.

There would be brick-dust and grout and plaster and muck all over the shop, I would be up to my eyes in stuff that I'd not done for a long long time, but if it comes off I think it would suit us very nicely thankyouverymuch.

We're still a way away from anything certain, but things feel like they're moving. It feels good.


Wednesday, 7 November 2012


Could you write a one-word review?

The person who does The Times' TV listings for the also-ran channels can.

And he/she shoots from the hip. Of particular hilarity are The Real Housewives Of New York City (9.25) and Jeremy Kyle (1.30).

I wonder if they're written by Jack Dee?


Marketing. FFS.

I sometimes wonder just how far the marketing department's insidious influence will reach.

Today I learnt that even that last bastion of mundanity*, the very essence of unimaginativeness, the nadir of culinary flair that is the humble cheese sandwich will not escape their attention.

This is the packaging that contained my lunch.

I gave it a chance, I truly did. I left the thing sitting on my desk for a good ten minutes whilst I pondered how 2 slices of bread, some margarine and a sprinkling of cheese could possibly achieve the grandiose claims on the back of the pack.I can confirm:

  • It was fresh. - Fresh þ
  • I'm pretty sure many, many people have made a cheese sandwich before. - Innovative ý
  • It didn't pretend to be a feta and olive ciabbatta. - Honest þ
  • It didn't run around my desk shouting "Woohoo! I'm an excellent example of a cheese sandwich!!". It just kind of sat there. - Enthusiastic ý
  • It didn't give me a tenner. - Rewarding ý
  • It didn't tell me a single joke, anecdote or witty one-liner. - Fun ý
By my calculations, that's a 2:1 ratio of bullshit.I'll bet Marketeers across the world still thank their lucky stars for Carlill v Carbolic Smokeball Co.

As a cheese sandwich, however, it was very nice.


* - It is a real word, it's in NDC's Big Word Dictionary. available mailorder only, £39.99.

Monday, 5 November 2012


I'm on 'em.

I feel tired and worn out.

The weekend had far too much getting parking tickets, careering along motorways in order to complete a 40 minute journey in the 30 minutes available, standing in a field freezing my nads off whilst listening to One Direction providing the backing ‘music’ to an equally crap fireworks display and being fleeced to the tune of £7 for a hotdog and chips, being scowled at and being woken up at stupid o'clock.

The weekend, conversely, did not have anywhere near enough of being in the company of the beautiful IMA, sleeping and general cheerfulness. I missed these things.

And now I am at work.

I have spent the last 3 weeks putting together a presentation (currently standing at 43 slides), detailing my plans for world domination in the glitzy world of Fluid Management. I hate PowerPoint with a depth and purity bordering on the religious.

The process is being further enlivened by occasional sniper fire from my own side, who are clearly unaware of the terrible implications should my plans fail to reach fruition. Entire industrial empires will crumble. The resulting fallout will make the recent financial turbulence look like the results of a rained-off bring-and-buy at the church fete*. The evil genii bent on world domination in films never seem to have to deal with Barry from Goods In turning up and moaning about the state of the latest delivery whilst they’re trying to be malevolent.

But, I have my 6th cup of coffee of the day and I shall keep plugging away. Shortly I shall go home, The beautiful IMA will smile and all will be right with the world. I shall go and do the shopping and do some dinner and probably go to bed. Normal service will be resumed tomorrow.


* - This is not true. The world will be largely unaware, but it matters to me.

Friday, 2 November 2012

That's Entertainment.

This past week, in an effort to redress the balance, to atone for far too many nights* spent slumped in front of the TV watching second-rate shows aimed at a target audience with a collective IQ of a shoal of goldfish and an attention span to match, The lovely IMA and I dragged ourselves out into the blustery darkness and went to the theatre.

Twice. In one week.

The first was to see One Man Two Guvnors, in which the lead role so successfully filled by James Corden in London & New York, was taken by Rufus Hound.

Things didn’t get off to a good start. The unsuspecting lady behind the counter in the foyer charged us £2.50 for a pack of Revels. IMA was fairly bristling about such an affront, so I tried to diffuse her ire by pointing out that a bottle of Bourbon in the bar was called Knob Creek, but even that didn’t cheer her up. I took a picture of it just in case it might make her chuckle later, because I’m good like that.

To be honest I wasn’t sure if I’d like the play (I’m not a huge fan of theatre and haven’t been to see a play of any type for as long as I can remember) but there had been so many positive reviews that I thought it’d be good to give it a whirl. To be fair there was enough childish humour to keep me amused and there were some great ad-lib interactions with the audience from Mr Hound and a couple of others in the cast so I felt like we’d had our money’s worth, Revels aside.

The second outing was much more my thing. Bravo Figaro is a one man show by a comedian/activist called Mark Thomas, who gained a degree of fame in the late nineties for a show called The Mark Thomas Comedy Product. The main premise of this show was his ability to find obscure ways of sticking it to The Man. This, allied to his fantastic talent for storytelling, had me in fits of laughter. You should Google it – it’s OK, I’ll wait here while you do.....

The first part of his show** was a few retellings of some tales from this show, along with some more recent stuff from a show he did on Radio 4, called The People’s Manifesto. He had the audience in stitches.

The second part was the show itself. It was a tale about Mark’s dad, a self-employed Tory-voting builder with an overwhelming desire for self improvement and a love of opera. It dealt with his dad’s descent into decrepitude and mental decline because of an aggressive disease and how Mark came to persuade a number of singers from The Royal Opera to put on a performance in the front room of his dad’s bungalow in Bournemouth.

It was fantastic.

There were so many parallels between his dad and mine, in the world view, the approach to work and, unfortunately, in the end game. There were just as many differences. The tale was incredibly well crafted to work on a stage, funny and heart warming, shocking and tear inducing (although that was probably more about the nerves it touched for me). I’d wholly recommend it to anyone on the following proviso:

Be prepared for lots of swearing (both in volume and variety) and, if you have a posh voice or even moderately right-of-centre leanings, keep quiet.

And when we came out the beautiful IMA bought a copy of The People’s Manifesto and some ‘book heckling’ stickers for me, for I am a lucky man.


* - In my humble opinion. In the winter the beautiful IMA would happily watch Take Me Out until her brain dribbled from her ears.
** - Or “the facking warm-up” as mark referred to it. He’s from East London.