Saturday, 27 May 2017

Hip To Be Square Meal

It's already well established that I am a grumpy old fart with all the trendiness of Queen Victoria. The only aspect of 'hip' I have is the rather wide set near my bum. I have been accidentally 'on trend' (whatever the chuff that is) twice in my life. Such was the shock I had an attack of the vapours and had to lie down. So you can guess that the latest 'hipster' trend is something I view with narrow-eyed suspicion, much like that your parents used to reserve for Top of The Pops...or computers. (The irony that I am turning into my parents is not lost).

And so, hipsterism has even crept in to the way we eat. Having lunch is no longer a way to cram in calories to get you through the afternoon. It's a 'dining experience' - theatre and Art and, well, faff. Look, I'm not adverse to theatre and art – Husband Of The House (HOTH) and I met at Am Dram (that's another story best reserved for when I've had a lot more gin). I just don't particularly want it all the time and particularly not when I'm getting to that 'hangry' (angry hungry) stage of the day when all I want is food.

Take this week. HOTH and I went out for lunch. We decided to go to the new place that had opened in town (I'm not naming names!!). As soon as we walked in we realised it was TRENDY. It was young & hip & happening. It was.......YOUNG!

First, none of the tables or chairs matched. It looked like the dining equivalent of Scrapheap Challenge meets Ikea End Of Season Sale. Not even two chairs at one table were the same. Upstairs was all bare plaster & exposed light fittings. Sort of like that stage of Grand Designs where Kevin McCloud goes round when the money's run out and then the woman miraculously gets pregnant. The walls were covered in a mish-mash of paintings and drawings of various styles and (to be honest) talent. And it was heaving.

We snagged a table and sat down, perusing the bright! and! cheerful! menu! that! used! too! many! exclamation! marks!!!! There was lots of the flowery menu language to describe the food - 'nestled in', 'drizzled with', 'in a bed of'...you know the thing.

Having chosen our Artisan Unicorn Hooves On A Bed of Centaur Hide Drizzled With Leprechaun Tears (just kidding - HOTH had a burger and I had a steak ciabatta with fries) we placed the order at the bar, got our drinks and sat down to wait.

And wait we did. Wait and wait and wait. To say that the service was....erm...relaxed would be like saying The Great Wall Of China is a bit long. Or that Justin Bieber is slightly annoying. Twenty long minutes ticked by. We ran out of conversation. Being married nearly eleven years this does not take long these days. We looked for one of the waiting staff to chase up the order. Now...here's the clever bit of Trendy Place. The waiting staff are all dressed in their own clothes (as in no uniform or recognised theme, not that waiting staff should swap outfits before coming on shift. That would be weird. Wait...hang on.....I'm sensing the next trend. Remember if it happens you saw it here first). Anyway, Own Clothes Staff means you can't tell them apart from the customers! Is that tattooed & pierced girl one of the staff or trying to get served? Is the guy in the painted on jeans rolled up mid-shin, plaid shirt, brogues and too much facial hair the manager or a mangeur (that's French for eater - I looked it up)? Or just so achingly hipster he's making my palms itch? You couldn't tell. And, not being hip, we didn't want to risk being Laughed At for being Luncheon Luddites. So, we carried on waiting. Without much conversation we looked like we were on an awkward first date or something.

Thirty minutes after placing our order, the food arrived. My chips, sorry, House Fries were in a bucket. A little steel bucket. Why? What aspect of chips says 'Serve me in a cold steel bucket separate to the main part of the dish. Yeah, cold steel so I arrive at the table at something like less than room temperature'? Which, this being a trendy place, is obviously cool. At least the rest of our food was on (non-matching) plates rather than boards, slates, floor tiles or, I don't know, in a size 12 Doc Marten boot hand painted with a picture of the chef's mum.

And, do you know what? It was really nice. The food, I mean. It was lovely. Juicy steak done just right, delicious melted cheese and wholegrain mustard mayo. Side salad with a really tasty tarragon dressing. Delicious. HOTH reports that the chorizo burger was just as nice, with pesto mayo for more depth of flavour. Honestly flavourful food. We hoovered it down with 'mmmmmms' of approval and much wiping of mouths & fingers in a matter of minutes. Finally replete, we left as nonchantly as we could, nodding to staff, or customers, or maybe the postman for all we could tell. Trying to look like the kind of people who ate at that kind of place all the time - when we're not sampling micro-brewery beers no-one has ever heard of or watching Scandinavian detective shows re-dubbed into Japanese or something, that is.

The thing is, we would eat there again. We will eat there again, most likely taking Small Boy Of The House (SBOTH) who, at nearly ten, is far, far more on trend than we can ever hope to be. He'll up our cred (do you youngsters still say 'cred'?) by at least a factor of ten. It was genuinely very nice food, with a decent varied menu and it serves alcohol. But why all the fuss and faff and 'Emperor's New Food'?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not after harking back to the times where a trip to the Beefeater for prawn cocktail, leathery steak and Black Forest gateau was the height of sophistication, I just want to be able to choose my food without having to use a thesaurus. Where I know who the waiting staff are and where my food - all of it - will be served on a nice warm plate in slightly less time than it takes me to eat the damn thing. Somewhere where I might actually look like I fit in with the rest of the clientelle and not look like an extra from How We Used To Live or The Supersizers Eat.....

Right....enough ranting....I'm off to find a Wetherspoons!

Just kidding ;-)



Laserquest Flasher

I’ve had a few hapless adventures through life. Actually, there have been more than a few. Not all of them even involved alcohol. After much thought, I decided to start with this one.

Laserquest Flasher explained..........

Come with me, if you will, on a journey back in time. Back, in fact, to 1989. Here we go – twinkly, winkly music and wibbly wobbly screen wipe. There – are we all here safe and sound? Good. So – the Laserquest Flasher story, eh?

It’s 1989. I’m not quite out of my teens. The charts were full of Kylie, London Boys and Debbie Gibson. Madonna was causing controversy with Like a Prayer and Anneka Rice was flitting all over the country in a helicopter directed by hapless contestants desperate to find the clues and ‘stop the clock!’

Fashion was.......eclectic. On the day in question I was dressed in a crisp white blouse with shoulder pads so wide that, from behind, I probably looked like an armchair. This was teamed with a tight black mini-skirt and four-inch white stilettos. Classy. In my head I looked like Christie Brinkley. I thought I looked like the dog’s bollocks. In reality, I probably looked more like a tramp’s breakfast but, hey, this was 1989. We all looked weird.

The day at work had gone OK. Boring as usual and I was clock-watching, waiting to go home. Five o’clock rolled round and I headed out of the door. To my surprise, my boyfriend at the time (not Husband Of The House – sorry to disappoint everyone!) was waiting for me outside with a bunch of his mates from where he worked. He didn’t usually meet me after work, so this was new. ‘We’re going Laserquest’ he announced. Fair enough, I thought, I can call my mates and meet them somewhere. ‘No,’ he said ‘We’re ALL going to Laserquest’. Nothing was going to change his mind on this. Oh. Poo.

For the uninitiated, Laserquest is a game where you run around with body armour covered in sensors and people shoot at you with laser beams in (toy) guns. If your sensor is hit by someone else’s laser, they score a point, you get a point against you. It’s played in near pitch-dark with UV lights on to navigate by. It sort of resembled a bad sci-fi movie. All funky and futuristic. I’m assured it’s great fun. SBOTH loves it.

The snag is, as I’m sure you know, that white clothing GLOWS under UV lights. It is practically visible from space. And there I was, in a pure white blouse and white stilettos. As soon as I set foot in the place I lit up like a sodding Christmas tree. It was like turning on a giant torch. In short, an absolute perfect victim.
Seemingly as one, practically the entire pack of participants turned and started shooting at me. I couldn’t have been a better target if I’d had a giant cross painted on my back and a bull’s eye on my forehead. The ‘pew, pew, pew’ of all the guns firing in my direction and the bleeping of my sensors registering hits filled my ears. It was like ‘Running Man’ meets ‘Platoon’.

‘Sod this’ I thought and made a break for the exit. Now, let me tell you, HOLLYWOOD LIES!!! It is not possible to sprint like Usain Bolt in drag while wearing four inch heels and a mini skirt. It’s barely possible to get anything more than a trot. A determined tortoise could have overtaken me.

Then, suddenly, at the top of a slope, I lost my footing. My treacherous heels skidded out from underneath me and I slammed down on my back. Winded, I slid helplessly from top to bottom of the slope. My skirt, short to begin with, slid with me. But it slid UP. All the way up around my waist, exposing my lacy underwear and (I am cringing at the memory) my stockings and suspenders to everyone in the immediate vicinity.

I briefly toyed with the idea of pretending I was unconscious but instead struggled to my feet amidst cat-calls and wolf-whistles, trying to rearrange my clothes and restore some dignity. My face was burning with embarrassment – you could have cooked bacon on it. My blouse was covered in dirt and muck, my stockings laddered. I handed back my Laserquest gear without making eye contact with the sniggering bloke behind the counter and stalked out of the place, head held high.

I walked out to an explosion of cheers, applause and laughter. I looked up to where people were pointing. To my utter horror I noticed TV cameras were broadcasting footage of games currently being played to the queue outside and the rest of a very busy Manchester street. Everyone, everyone, had seen me crash, smash and most of all – spectacularly flash. Something like fifty or so (although it seemed at the time like half of the city) had watched as I made a complete fool of myself and shown them what my mother had told me never to show in public. I was mortified. Not even waiting for my boyfriend and his gang of goons I tottered off, face glowing, and hailed a cab home, pretending that nothing had happened. He was not happy that I had ‘shown him up’ but frankly, I couldn’t have cared less what he thought. I’m just happy ‘You’ve Been Framed’ wasn’t on telly at the time.

I have never, ever set foot in Laserquest since. Small Boy Of The House) SBOTH has had two parties there but even the thought of it makes me shudder. I think I may have PTLQFS (post-traumatic Laserquest Flasher Syndrome). Though, to be fair, most people who saw me unmentionables have probably got it as well. I could claim that I never wore outfits like that again but I’d be lying. The following day I was probably in chinos, stripy t-shirt and a gold-buttoned blazer. Come on, this was the eighties! The decade that taste forgot. Well, forgot me, anyway.

Later days, people!





Philharm-chronic

I have circulated the rumour that Husband Of The House (HOTH) and I are not averse to The Arts. We enjoy the theatre - we've been to see plays wot have been done in proper Shakespeare-ese AND followed what was going on (laughed at the jokes and everything), visited art galleries, tutted at The Tate and goggled at The Guggenheim and have chosen to watch subtitled films from time to time. We've even been known to partake of some of the lighter operas. But after a recent visit to see the BBC Philharmonic I wonder if we should call it a day and just watch back-to-back episodes of El Dorado or Hollyoaks instead.

We had been sent an amazing offer for tickets for a performance of the BBC Philharmonic at The Bridgewater Hall for the incredibly low price of just two quid each. So, it wasn't any particular pieces or movements we'd actually heard of - but if you don't try new stuff you never know if you like it, right? We decided to take up the offer and booked ourselves an evening of Culture!

Instead of a Saturday night spent eating Haribo and watching telly in my comfy clothes I had a wash, slapped on the tutty (that's make-up where I live), got gussied up in my fancy clothes - though I drew the line at heels - and headed off with HOTH to immerse ourselves in classical music.

The first half was very enjoyable. Soaring strings, vibrant brass, proficient percussion and a lively Maestro waving his baton round like a good 'un. He even conducted the orchestra for a while (badum-tish - I'm here all week). There was a proper choir who went 'aaaaaaah, ooooooh, ohhhhhhh, laaaaaaah' about three times in total. All very impressive and refined. The audience clapped and whooped and cheered when each of the pieces ended and we were enthralled at the skill and experience of all of the musicians. After roughly forty-five minutes it came to a resounding crescendo and we all trooped out for half-time drinks (£6.65 for a gin & tonic and a diet coke), chattering delightedly.

The five minute bell rang and we took our places for the second instalment. A piano had been wheeled in during the interval - and what we were reliably informed was an 'ondes martenot' (although it looked like a Vibraphone to me and HOTH). All very exciting. The orchestra, soloists and Maestro took to the stage.....and that's when it all went horribly wrong.

Instead of melodic, evocative music there came an hour and forty-five minutes of loud, brash, discordant....noise. It was if the composer had taken a bunch of angry chimps and a few keyboards for the piano bits, let loose a pack of sugar-hopped toddlers in the pots & pans section of Sainsbury's and taken his inspiration for the strings from a bag of cats on heat being put through a mangle. There was even a woman whose sole job was to wave her maracas around (don't even go there) at seemingly random intervals. Almost the entire audience looked baffled.

The bloke on the piano was bouncing up and down like a manic kangaroo on disco-biscuits while his pet page turner sat beside him flipping the score at the nod of a head. How he knew when that was among all the other bopping is anyone's guess. Maybe he just made it up as he went along. Then Vibraphone woman chipped in with high-pitched screeches and wails (from the instrument, not, like, vocally) that were so painful the people on the front row were wincing and sticking their fingers in their ears. It sounded like a cross between the incidental 'spooky' music from 'Ghostbusters' and Alicia Keys falling downstairs.

No-one knew when to clap. We thought one piece had finished and tentatively applauded only for it all to kick off again with some mad arrangement of notes and a pitying look from Piano Man. It was beginning to sound like someone had dropped all the sheet music on the way to the Hall, shuffled it and just thought 'Sod it, no-one will know'. Which we didn't, of course.

It was one of those nights that became interminable. People were getting up and leaving whenever there was a break in the torture. One bloke fell asleep and the three ladies in front of us were overcome with hysterical giggles whenever they caught each other's eye. HOTH kept looking up at the fixtures, praying one would come loose and come crashing onto him a la Phantom Of The Opera to end his misery. All that kept him going was watching the pianist's score book become thinner and thinner as we neared the end. Discreet glances at watches became less and less discreet. I've had more enjoyable smear tests. If this was Culture you can bloody well keep it. I'd sooner watch Joey Essex reading a Chinese takeway menu. At least it had only cost us two quid each. Some of the tickets had been on sale for nearer forty.

Finally, after what seemed a lifetime, it was over. We could tell it was really finished because all the orchestra stood up and Maestro turned round to us looking sweaty and smug. We made a break for it before anyone got the idea for an encore, emerging into the night aurally assaulted, culturally confused and....well...underwhelmed. No danger of us queuing up for a copy of the CD, put it that way.

To add insult to injury, we were stiffed £16 for the privilege of parking. FOUR TIMES what we'd paid to be 'entertained'. We could have stayed in the car park and made our own entertainment for less. It certainly wouldn't have lasted nearly two hours and might even have been slightly more enjoyable.

Next time, I think we'll stick with what we know. A bit of Beethoven, a soupcon of Strauss, a dollop of Dvorak. Sod expanding my horizons. There's a reason that path is less travelled by - it leads to a mad woman with a Vibraphone and a pogoing pianist. Don't say you haven't been warned.


Winegate

I'm currently laid up with an extreme sort of vertigo. Not the most fun I've ever had, let me tell you. Imagine having five pints of snakebite, then getting on the waltzers for a bit. That's how I feel at the minute, but without all the fun of imbibing. It's making stairs interesting. Well, when I say 'interesting', I kind of mean 'hazardous'. But, then again, it's not like I need a wonky balance system to make me accident prone.

Take 'Winegate', for example. Last year Husband Of The House (HOTH) & I decided to spend our tenth wedding anniversary in Stratford upon Avon. Be a bit romantic, take in some culture, that kind of thing. I booked us into an absolutely gorgeous guest house just outside Stratford. It was set in its own grounds, just two rooms. The owners made their own bread, jams & preserves and their hens laid eggs for our breakfast. It was delightful.

We arrived and were shown to our room. I'd let the landlady know it was our anniversary and so the room had been set with decorative lights around the bed, candles and a bottle of champagne. The bed was beautifully made with crisp, snow white bed linen and the carpet was a deep cream pile. I felt ever so genteel.

The night of our anniversary we went out for a nice meal and to see a play at the RSC. Very grown up & civilised. On return to our room we got ready for bed and, the night still being young, opened a bottle of wine. A deep, dark red wine. All was going well, romantic glass of wine and posh chocolates in bed on our tenth wedding anniversary. And then.......disaster.

My hand left hand jogged the glass of wine in my right. Half the contents slopped out and sloshed massively all over the pristine bottom sheet. I squealed in horror and leapt out of bed. In doing so I tore off the scab where I'd cut my leg shaving earlier. Blood began to pour out of the cut. I scrambled like a mad woman round the bed to the bathroom to get something to try and clean up the mess. HOTH stared in open-mouthed horror as I splashed blood all over the cream carpet and merlot soaked into the snowy sheets. It looked like a scene from CSI. Scrabbling into the bathroom, my wine-soaked right arm brushed against the crisp white bathrobes hanging behind the door, smearing them with yet more stains. Everything seemed to be going in slow motion as I grabbed handfuls of tissues, a mug of water, baby wipes...anything I could think of to clear up the horror in the bedroom.

HOTH and I began to have one of those hissed voice arguments you have when you don't want anyone to hear. He went to fetch one of the towels we'd brought with us - one of the dark blue ones whose dye runs when it gets wet.....more hissing and sniping ensued. So much for a romantic evening!

Finally, after about half an hour of scrubbing and almost an entire packet of baby wipes later, the  wine stain was reduced to a translucent pink and the blood drops were barely visible - you really had to look for them to see them. Phew. Humiliation averted. Except now the bottom sheet on my side of the bed was soaking wet. There was no way I could sleep on that. There was only one thing for it.....out came the travel hairdryer. All (something like) 40 watts of it. The sheet would probably have dried quicker if a geriatric cat had spent a while farting on it. Eventually, the bed was dry enough for me to get back into - although I made sure I finished my wine before getting back in (wounded leg swathed in loo roll to prevent more carnage). Our heart rates and blood pressure returned to something like normal and we tried to enjoy the rest of the night.

Heaven knows what the couple next door must have thought. They'd have heard a small cry of dismay, a thud, more wails, more thudding, the tap running, a mysterious hissed & low voiced conversation, a weird scrubbing noise on the skirting boards and then half an hour of the hair dryer concerto...I don't know what I would have imagined was going on. Either a murder or some really kinky proceedings, probably.

The next morning we nonchalantly strolled down to breakfast like nothing had happened, exchanging a friendly 'good morning' (but little eye contact) with our neighbours. After breakfast we hurriedly checked out and fled for home. About an hour after setting off I got a text. It was from the landlady. Oh 'eck! Busted. But no, it was a lovely message thanking us for the biscuits we'd left as a thank you gift and offering us a discount if we book directly with the guest house next time. We were very relieved. If ever we stay there again I'm wrapping myself and the whole bloody room in cling film! Hey, if it works for Dexter.

To be honest, though, that was probably the least embarrassing of all my shenanigans. It's a wonder I've got to this age in one piece, to be honest. There's 'A Wee In The Dark', 'Loo Lock In' and, of course, 'Laser Quest Flasher' but they're all for another time. And you may need to buy me a drink first. Just as long as it's not a glass of merlot in a clean, white room.











Blackpool

It's about this time every year that Husband Of The House (HOTH), Small Boy Of The House (SBOTH) and I pile into the family car and take a trip to Blackpool. This is a family Tradition. With a capital T. That is, something we Always Do and have done since SBOTH was not quite a year old. Cars and jobs have come and gone (as have hair, teeth and weight), but the Family Outing to Blackpool remains a constant. There was one year when someone else took SBOTH instead, but we don't like to talk about that and, if I do, it's usually with a cat's bum mouth. We tend to go early in the evening, timing it so we're there not long before the Illuminations come on but before the rowdy crowds, lakes of vomit and fist-fights start appearing. I could do without explaining to SBOTH what that man with a willy-shaped hat on and the lady in the flashing bra are doing behind the bins, thank you very much.

The trip follows the same kind of routine every year - a wander on the front to spend the equivalent of the national debt of a small country in the arcades. No longer the 'penny arcades' of my youth - long gone are the crank-handled one arm bandits, replaced with acres of neon and flashing lights, loud beeps, boops & sirens, geared to grab the attention of kids and instant entertainment addicts. Still, SBOTH actually won some money on the 'coin shove / Tipping Point' machine this year - an event as rare as the coming of Halley's Comet or England winning the World Cup, but much more exciting. Of course, he ended up putting it all back in - but that's part of the fun. Apparently.

Next comes fish and chips at our favourite chippy. It's a bit of a drive away from Blackpool itself, away from the main drag and the churned out buckets of grease selling for £2.99 a throw (up). It is still really popular - there can be queues out of the door on some nights. The fish is cooked fresh to order, piping hot in a crisp, tasty batter, translucent and delicious. The chips are chunky, proper chips - all different sizes and 'gob scadding' (mouth scalding) as my dad says. I think we'd been visiting the place for about three years, eating the goodies out of paper while sitting in the car, before I realised there was a restaurant attached and we started 'sitting in'. It's delightfully olde-worlde with proper Formica tables and leatherette seats. Thankfully the Trendies haven't got their manicured mitts on this place yet and long may that continue.

This year we piled in as usual, took our seats and waited for the....well, waitress (yes, the place still offers waited tables) to come and take our order. Having demanded our delights - two 'Dining Room Specials' (cod, chips, mushy peas, bread & butter and a cup of tea so strong it could hold its own in a fight with Mike Tyson) and large cod & chips for SBOTH - a boy who loves his fish - we relaxed and chatted, as you do. Then HOTH then noticed that the vinegar in the plastic bottles looked suspiciously pale. Instead of the dark brown malty colour you normally associate with chippy vinegar, this was a watery, translucent colour. Sort of the colour of your wee after a really heavy night out on the lash, probably involving a kebab and some ill-advised shots near closing time. Or is that just me?

To say that I like my vinegar is to say elephants are slightly larger than an amoeba or that the All Blacks are a bit good at rugby. I love the stuff. I have been known, on occasion, to drink vinegar from a pickled onion jar (don't judge me). The sight of this stuff worried me. I had a taste. I had another taste, just to make sure. My heart sank. The owner had obviously watered it down. A LOT. I'm all for businesses maximising profit and cutting costs, but this was ridiculous. This wasn't vinegar as we knew it anymore. It was inert. It was so watered down it had practically changed state into an alkaline. My friends, this was homeopathic vinegar. One part acetic acid to a million. A shark couldn't have sensed the vinegar in that bottle. I was Very Disappointed. Fish & chips without vinegar is like Morecambe without Wise, Ant without Dec, Donald Trump without his wig....I silently fumed and contemplated a sulk.

The waitress brought our lovely food. My fish lay there, hot & tempting, begging to be drowned in vinegar, sprinkled with salt and devoured. I didn't want to disappoint it. HOTH took the bull by the horns. He asked the waitress if they had any sachets of vinegar available, something that could legally be called vinegar. No, sorry, they didn't. I began to half-heartedly splash some liquid on my dinner when she reappeared with a full, unopened, unsullied bottle of The Good Stuff. Real, proper vinegar - the stuff that makes you cough when it evaporates as it hits your chips. 'I told him he waters it down too much.' she muttered. I could have hugged her. She stood over us as we liberally splattered our dinners with it, joyful in the malty, tangy smell (except SBOTH. He hates vinegar. He's weird. Unless he had so much of the stuff while in the womb it put him off). Food duly anointed, the waitress took the bottle back off us and away, hidden again like contraband until someone was brave enough to ask again.

I'm very happy to report that, after that, the food was as gorgeous as ever. Hot, tasty, huge portions filled our bellies and set us up for the finale to the trip. The Illuminations themselves. SBOTH always buys something light-up, neon and twizzy on a stick to wave around on the journey (that ends up forgotten in the Narnia under his bed by the end of the following week) and we set off 'to see the lights'. A drive down the Golden Mile 'oohing' and 'aahing' at flashing light-bulbs in colourful arrangements like we've never seen electricity before. The only time of year when you willingly drive at five miles an hour in a humongous line of traffic and don't moan. Vegas it ain't, but it's Tradition and something we hold dear. Some parts of the display are better than others - the sparse strings at one end, melding into character pieces - one year, sponsored by Hollands, there was a section of illuminated pies with unsettling faces on them, nearly put me off my pastry - and finally on to the terrific tableaux, huge screens and animated displays like Alice in Wonderland, Native Americans, a pile of pirates prancing, the Haunted House. They save the best stuff to last. If you accidentally come into the display from the wrong end it must be really disappointing.

Lights looked at, we set off home. SBOTH falls asleep in the back, twizzer in hand & snuggled under coats. HOTH & I singing along to the tunes on the radio like a cut price Sonny & Cher (I refuse to be drawn on who's who), driving home in the dark and wondering just how many more times we can do this before SBOTH decides it's lame and refuses to come along anymore. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Until then, the Tradition stands. Just stop watering down my condiments and we'll be fine, okay?




Rugger Buggers

While I’m waiting to be fit to travel any distance – and for Small Boy Of The House (SBOTH) to actually have an away game – my thoughts turned to the folk whose children (girls as well as boys, of course) enjoy playing rugby. As I’ve said before, in the main they are a friendly, welcoming bunch. The RFU has specific codes of conduct for parents as well as children that stops a lot of the pitch-side nastiness, swearing and violence sometimes associated with the game with the round ball. Occasionally there are some that overstep the mark – those who have dreams of little Timmy running out at Twickenham or perhaps vicariously living their thwarted dreams of International glory through their offspring, but these are mercifully few and far between. Besides, they are usually subjected to the kind of Hard Stare that would make Paddington Bear wee in his wellies and muttered  asides about whether they’re serving Has-Beens and Wanna-Beens with the Full English Breakfast this morning.

Sometimes among the crowds of long-suffering parents, however – and if you are really lucky – you may spot Affluent Area Rugby Dad (AARD). AARDs are generally men in their mid- to late-forties who still believe that they look in their early twenties and dress accordingly. Conventional Rugby Dad dresses for the weather. Usually something he’s found on the floor next to the bed that doesn’t smell too badly and is relatively free of stains. Not AARD. You’ll know an AARD as soon as you see one.

AARD will be the one who, despite it being near freezing, will be wearing the deep, nipple skimming V-neck sweater – probably cashmere and costing nothing less than £300, obviously. Over this he will be wearing a casually looped scarf or, better yet, one of those checked Arabic scarves like Kate Adie used to wear. This will be teamed with a pair of skinny jeans so tight that, not only can you tell to which side he dresses, you can also see whether ‘noddy’ still has his hat on or not. The outfit will be finished with a pair of tan cowboy boots, or a hideous pair of eye-wateringly expensive trainers usually endorsed by a rap star. Mutton dressed as ram, if you will.

AARD also appears to have used a year’s supply of Just For Men (in ‘extra deep black’) in one application. While he labours under the illusion he looks like Johnny Depp he more resembles David Gest. Sometimes there is a pony-tail. AARD is also no stranger to the spray tan or sun bed either, quite often looking like he’s swum through a lake of Wotsits to get to the ground. You know, the 'Ross From Friends Tan' look. He will drive something like an Audi or Beemer – and makes sure all you peasants know it by twirling his oversized key fob around whenever there’s anyone in his eye-line.

Almost exclusively, AARD will spend the entire match either TALKING VERY LOUDLY about his latest 'acquisitions', skiing trip or second home in The Maldives or will be hollering into his mobile phone a la Dom Joly about ‘sealing the deal’ and ‘seizing the moment’. You suspect he’s actually on the phone to his bewildered mum or the Speaking Clock as he continually looks round to see if we’re all watching. Which we’re trying not to but, well, you just can’t help it. It’s like picking a scab.

It is also abundantly clear that he actually knows very little about the actual game of rugby as he shouts for penalties when little Malcontent or Defacto (one of those pseudo posh names) is tackled near the try line or demands that the ref awards a corner kick when the ball goes out of play. When he does pay any attention he encourages the children to try a header or ‘give the goalie something to think about’.

Young Pesto / Epiglottis / Germolene is already showing signs of following in Daddy’s footsteps. They firmly believe that the rugby universe revolves around them, that they are the Most Important Player (since Daddy bought the team kit this season and donates handsomely to the tombola) and that no-one else should have a touch of the ball. Should any player from the opposing team have the temerity to come within five yards little Antimacassar will fling themselves to the floor like a pole-axed buffalo. Completely missing the point that anyone on the ground in rugby is Fair Game and will gleefully be trampled on by a dozen small (and not so small) children. Most of these will probably be their own team-mates heartily sick of the diva-ish antics the rest of them have had to endure so far this season.

After the match, AARD and his offspring will briefly berate the referee about his lack of bias towards Their Team. The ref couldn’t care less who AARD might be. Since it would probably be easier to knit fog while herding cats than to referee a bunch of kids he’s looking just forward to a pie and a pint – or several. Feeling suitably superior AARD and child will then stalk off in a cloud of expensive after-shave (which has had everyone wondering who had been using TCP) and impregnable self-belief to their car. AARD will rev the engine for a bit before driving off to Overpriced Leafy Suburb where they live, leaving us hoi polloi behind to enjoy the burger & chips or droopy pizza served at the club for the hungry hordes of sweaty small people and their freezing parents. AARD offspring will, of course, be dining on the finest ‘haricots cuits au four sur pain grille’ and ‘jus de cassis’ (that’s beans on toast and a Ribena to us, but let’s not burst their bubble, eh?). And so it will be until the next game. Unless wee Phlegm decides they're 'bored' of rugby and want a pony instead.

So next time you are (un)lucky enough to be standing on a quagmire of a local rugby pitch, breath steaming, nose dripping and feet likes blocks of ice, see if you can spot an AARD. It might just be enough to warm your cockles. Unless, of course, you are the AARD in the park!



It's official. I'm definitely a curmudgeonly, middle-aged old fart with as much romance in my soul as The Terminator. How do I know this?

You know when you shop online you get sent all sort of other links, sites and offers? Well, today I received one from a well known discount voucher company. You know, the one associated with women who are crap at eating sushi and are forever having their leg hair ripped off? Yes, THAT one. Anyway, among today's (tat) offers was a necklace proclaiming 'I love you to the moon and back'. Lovely, yes?

Moon & Back

Except, all I thought was 'Well, that's not really very far'. Told you I was a romantic. Because, well, it's not really. It's fewer than 500,000 miles. And while I wouldn't want to have to walk it, cosmically speaking it's probably the equivalent of nipping to the corner shop. Neither far, nor romantic - unless you bring me back a packet of Munchies or a Magnum. Let's face it - The Proclaimers have probably walked more than that by now, and they're hardly my first choice to put me in The Mood (although it was the second dance at our wedding).

'I love you to Proxima Centauri and back' (about 8.5 light years) maybe. Or 'I love you to the ends of the known universe and back'. That's more like it. But I suppose that's a bit hard to get round the outside of a necklace, not to mention harder to spell.

While I'm at it - since when did declarations of love become quantifiable in terms of distance? What's wrong with loving someone more than.....I dunno....a seat on the train home? THAT means an awful lot to me. It means an awful lot to most of the passengers if the scrum for it is anything to go by. HOTH knows I'm in a good mood if I tell him I love him more than Haribo. If I tell him I love him more than Tangfastics he gets Ideas.

But, it's probably just me. Most people are perfectly happy with the moon & back. Some folk would be happy with a nip to the corner shop. To be fair, I'm more than content with my lot......I'm just not prepared to pay an online discount voucher company good money to say it.