Tuesday, 29 September 2015

While I’m waiting to be fit to travel any distance – and for 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 in the picture below. 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 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 the 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!!

 AARD scarf

Gest ain't the best look

The Geller Tan

Sunday, 27 September 2015

First, apologies. The much vaunted, nay anticipated, Fed Blogs will not feature this week. SBOTH's away game was called off due to some RFU red tape about the season not properly starting until 4 October. It's probably just as well as I'm not match fit to travel and so any reports would have been proxy via HOTH, which wouldn't do at all. No-one likes a second hand sausage.

And so to Strictly. Part two followed on from where Friday's show had left off (not surprising, really) and brought the glitz and razzamatazz to our Saturday. Although there wasn't so much of the 'themed' music matched to the celebrity this time. Maybe they'd run out of ideas.

The show started with Wanted band-boy Jay McGuinness. If you're unfamiliar with the band they sang 'Walks Like Rihanna' or, as it's known in this house 'Walks Like Me Nana', which is probably more apt for me. Well, my goodness McGuinness! Although he has better hair than partner Aliona, he was certainly a surprise. Jay started out with a cheery Cha Cha Cha to Reach Out. The poor lamb was so nervous he looked like he was about to be sick on his sequins, but he did a really good job of a tricky dance. He was a bit stiff and there were a couple of errors, but I reckon young Jay is one to watch in the weeks to come. IF he can get a handle on those nerves. He scored a respectable 27 out of 40.

Up next was sports presenter Kirsty Gallacher, Another victim of horrific nerves, this was a woeful waltz to Vincent -  Don McLean's tribute to Van Gogh. This dance was certainly no oil painting and Kirsty will be canvassing for votes if she's not careful. Partner Brendan was dragging her round the floor like a shopping trolley with a wonky wheel. There were no transitions, shoddy footwork and she seemed to badly lose her way shortly after starting. Poor Kirsty was more Van Driver than Van Gogh. No high scores 'ear' - a dismal 20 out of 40.

Journalist, presenter and Radio 2 DJ Jeremy (not the funny brother) Vine followed with a chaotic Cha Cha Cha to September. By the looks of this it will be next September before Jeremy shows any promise. Our Jezza is a tall bloke and his long limbs hampered his movements. Or complete lack of skill. One of the two. Rhythm may be a dancer, but Jeremy sadly isn't. This was Dad Dancing at it's worst, it looked like Vine had been on the wine as he flopped and flailed his way through the routine. Darcy was in hysterics at his efforts. He gave it plenty of welly, but it was just....awful. He looked like Pinocchio being puppeteered by someone sat on a spin dryer. He didn't impress the panel either with just 19 out of 40 from the judges.

Our next dancer was ex-Corrie actress Georgia May Foote - this year's Pixie Lott. She protests that she hasn't danced since leaving school, but that was all of five minutes ago, love. It may have been nerves (again) but she seemed to have all the personality of a baked potato (thanks HOTH for that quote). Georgia delivered a polished, professional-looking jive to Dear Future Husband. It was fast and furious, plenty of flicks and kicks with lots of content. It certainly wasn't cobbled together and right up the judges' Street, even though it got wobbly as she ran out  of energy towards the end. Another one to watch, I think. A respectable 27 out of 40.

And then there was Ainsley Harriott. Not so much Ready, Steady, Cook - more Leady, Unsteady, Oh F.....lippin' 'eck. Ainsley gave us a tango to Voulez Vous. You've got to be ABBAing a laugh. There was too little staccato, loose legs and a weak hold. He just couldn't resist gurning his way round the dancefloor and was a bit all over the place. Between you and I, this was more Little Chef than a Michelin starred performance - more fall apart than a la carte. He couldn't cook up a decent score either, just 20 out of 40.

Next on the dance card was Katie Derham. Proms princess Katie delivered a poised performance jiving to Roll Over Beethoven. For once in his career partner Anton Du Beck (Tony Beak to his mates down the pub) didn't have to resort to silly antics to disguise duff dancing. Katie actually has some talent and fabulous legs. I should hate her, really.  Her kicks and flicks could have been a bit sharper and there were a couple of wobbles, but overall a good showing. Anton was in a Land of Hope and Glory, scoring what is probably his career best of 26 out of 40.

Olympic runner Iwan Thomas followed. When his routine started with him running round a projected track I knew we were in trouble. Ola Jordan doesn't waste time on unnecessary gimickry unless she hasn't got much to work with. This was allegedly a tango to Keep On Running. I can't relay the dismal dance to you. Iwan was more hunched than a teenaged Goth Quasimodo. He was flat-footed, stompy and clompy   and appeared to have all the musicality of maimed mammoth. There are some things in which Iwan should not 'medal' and dancing seems to be one of them. There was no podium finish in sight last night and his race might be over sooner than he had hoped. Just 17 out of 40 for Iwan.

Jamelia then took to the dancefloor. Now, I've never forgiven Jamelia for her song Superstar back in the day. The place where I worked had the radio on all day and they played the fecking thing FOUR TIMES in an HOUR!!! It was like some kind of cruel torture - or Total Recall without the eyeball exploding bits (which probably would have been more fun than Jamelia on a loop. Certainly less painful). I was singing it in my sleep. Just the opening bars are enough to set me twitching. Anyway...dancing. Jamelia gave us a lukewarm waltz to Do Right. Unfortunately, there was only so much she could do right. She started off elegantly enough with a flowing form, but quickly lost it all and went to pieces. Partner Tristan had to do some frantic covering up for her until she got back on track but the mistakes had been too obvious. The Loose Woman had become undone. She was more flappy feet than happy feet by the end and looked glad when it was all over. Much like me when Superstar comes on the radio. The judges were sympathetic and I do think there's better things to come, but she only scored 21 out of 40.

Closing the show was Peter Andre. The orange antipodean (who, apparently, really loves his kids) came out with a corking crack at a Cha Cha Cha. He had bags of personality and energy, although there was no real bounce and he lacked a bit in the hip department. It was a bit stop / start at times and there was some messy armography, but he covered it up well. I can't remember what he danced to, I'm afraid. It was probably something modern by one of them there bands like One Union or J Direction. Something like that. Partner Janette Manrarararararara will have thought it was A Perfect Night (one of Pete's songs, I googled) and there was no need to Call The Doctor (yep, another one). Peter might endorse a certain food store, but there was nothing frozen about this performance. The judges loved it, giving him a whopping 30 out of 40 which, for week one, is amazing and placed him at the top of the leaderboard.

And so that was Strictly Week One. As I said, no-one is going this week so there's no dance off. It was certainly a very mixed bag - some good, a lot of middling, some promise and a generous chunk of downright awful.

But, as former D:Ream keyboard player Professor Brian Cox once said...........

“We are the cosmos made conscious and life is the means by which the universe understands itself".

What? You didn't think I'd be THAT obvious, did you?????

Saturday, 26 September 2015

It's finally here!! Strictly Come Dancing 2015 has started and that can only mean one thing - it's nearly Christmas! Last night was the first show of the new season and so here's my round-up of what went on. WARNING!! This piece may contain puns. Very bad puns. If you are allergic to puns or are of a nervous disposition you may want to look away now.

Now. let me say from the start, I can't dance. Not dance dance. I can flail my way round a dancefloor at a family do after a few beverages. I can Macarena, Locomotion, Cha Cha Slide and Time Warp as well as anyone else (these being the tribal dances of our culture & generation). A man once told me I had 'a very Latin bottom', which I'm assured was a compliment. But no, Arctic Monkeys, I do not look good on the dancefloor. Which is fine, as neither do most of the celebrities.

And so it began. Everything was as familiar as an old sweater and As It Should Be. Claudia - the perky panda-eyed pixie, as orange as the love child of an Oompa Loompa and a cheesy wotsit. Leggy Lancashire lass Tess, looking far more comfortable these days now she's not being mauled by Brucie and his Shredded Wheat toupee. Even Phill Jupitus was there. Well, not actually Phill, but the bassist is the orchestra is his doppleganger. You look next time and you'll see what I mean. The judges slipped into their usual roles - Bonkers Bruno, Lothario Len, Dahling Darcy and Cruella de Revel Horwood. Let the magic begin...do do do do do do doooo, do do do do do..............

This season started last night with six of the fifteen celebrities showing us what they'd learned over the past three weeks between their day jobs. No-one is leaving this week (which is probably just as well looking at half of 'em) but the judges' scores will roll over to next week to be added to those scores and the public vote.

Kellie Bright kicked off with Kevin to the Kinks. Marvellous alliteration but murder on my 'k' key. The pair danced a tango to 'You Really Got Me'. But....I sort of didn't. the music didn't really match a decent tango. There was far too much grinning and mugging at the camera instead of the passion and performance you normally expect with the dance. Kev's got form for 'fusion' dances but this one didn't pay off. He seemed to be giving the Eastenders actress  instructions through his rictus grin as the clomped through the routine. Still, the judges were kind enough - even Craig, who had been mock-threatened by Kellie's screen husband hardman Danny Dyer. I secretly think he's from Kensington Money, you know. No-one is that Cockney! Craig handled it with the aplomb only a drag queen can muster and it was all in good fun. Kellie's opener scored a respectable 27 out of 40.

Up next was boxer Anthony Agogo. Poor Anthony is carrying a bad shoulder injury and has to limit the use of his right arm, which detracted from his dancing. He danced to Wham's 'Wake Me Up Before You Go Go', which proves the show's producers' sense of humour is as bad as mine. I wonder if all his routines will be to suitably themed music? Simon & Garfunkel's 'The Boxer'? 'Theme from Rocky'? 'Eye Of The Tiger'? It'd be interesting but would probably grate after a while. Anthony gave it his best shot. At times he was more Hugo Agogo (Batfink's arch-enemy) than anything else, which was a shame as his jive showed promise. It was punchy and although not a total knockout was full of energy. Unfortunately, there were timing issues and he had flat feet sometimes and there was a wardrobe malfunction too as he split his trousers. Not a great start but he'll get a second chance now the gloves are off. The judges' decision was final, scoring just 21 out of 40.

Call The Midwife's Helen George followed with a wonderful, whimsical waltz with partner Aljaz to 'With You I'm Born Again' (see what they did there?). Well, Helen certainly delivered in this routine. There was no need for Aljaz to labour as they swept around the dancefloor. It was elegant, graceful and polished. Helen was impressive and she acted the piece as well as danced it - a great opening performance. Could we be witnessing the birth of a beautiful partnership? The judges were certainly impressed giving Helen a whopping 29 out of 40, putting her in first placenta, sorry, place.

Woeful weathergirl Carol Kirkwood unfortunately had to follow that. She danced an alleged Cha Cha Cha to Thunder In My Heart (I'm not making this up) with former champ Pasha. It seems to be an unwritten rule on Strictly that if you win one year you get stuck with a lemon the year after (witness - Aljaz & Abby Clancy, then partnered with Alison Hammond, Aliona & Harry Judd, then Johnny Ball, Tony Jacklin and Gregg Wallace - she must have really upset someone). Poor Carol. The normally cheery Cha Cha Cha was more like a wet weekend in <insert choice of resort here - I'm not offending anyone!>. I have seen more hip action in the snake house at Chester Zoo. She went wrong almost immediately and was dragged through the rest of the routine like a bewildered auntie in the mosh pit at a Metallica gig, with poor Pasha grimacing gamely as all his hard worked choreography was completely undone before his eyes. It's not 'weather' Carol will stay in, but how (mon)soon she will go. An awful score of 16 out of 40 placed her below freezing on the scoreboard.

Crooner Daniel O'Donnell has been paired with Kristina Rihanoff allegedly to prevent romance between the pair (the dancer has had relationships with former partners Joe Calzaghe and Ben Cohen as well as dancer Vincent Simone all during Strictly runs). I can't see anything developing here. There was no chemistry between them at all. It was flatter than a week old cola and a Dover Sole pancake in Norfolk (all very flat in their own right). Flatter, even, than Katie Price's singing - and that's going some. Personality vacuum O'Donell plodded round the floor in an awful waltz to When Irish Eyes Are Smiling. Well, no-one was smiling with this routine. Dreary Dan shuffled about like he was wearing carpet slippers and resembled one of those boring uncles your mum makes you dance with at family weddings. Even Craig called it 'uneventful'. I'm looking forward to Daniel's Latin dance, though. Like I look forward to root canal surgery or an ear syringing. The judges' verdict? They obviously saw some potential, giving him 24 out of 40.

Rounding off the show was Anita Rani and newcomer Gleb. I can't actually read the notes I made last night about the Russian dancer. They sort of look like 'prfhpthpnnnmmmmm' and the ink has run where I drooled. The man is ridiculously attractive. There might have been some dancing or something, possibly involving a woman? Oh, yes, right. Anita. Gleb had choreographed a charming Cha Cha Cha. This was more like it - lots of hip swivel, pep and bounce to No Place I'd Rather Be (I BET there wasn't Anita). There was armography and plenty of wiggle, everything Carol's wasn't, in fact. This looks to be a very promising partnership and even the judges were suitably impressed at how well Countryfile's presenter had done (let's not forget fellow presenter Matt Baker was a Strictly runner-up). All good and the judges gave a very respectable 27 out of 40.

And so it was for Part One of the opening weekend. Some highs, some very lows. A definite mixed bag. Part Two showcases the remaining nine celebrities and apparently gives us Ainsley doing a tango and Jeremy Vine flashing his chest and strutting his stuff in a Latin dance. Bet his Latin bottom won't be as good as mine, though!

Until tomorrow....................keep dancing!

Hugo Agogo - better bopper than Anthony?

Some fancy dancy words.......

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

It seems ‘Winegate’ raised a few titters among you and I’ve had a few requests to explain and confess some more of my hapless adventures through life. And 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 the model in the first picture below. 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 HOTH – 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 the second picture inside. 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. Sort of like the guy in the third picture. 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. 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!

Sunday, 20 September 2015

I have circulated the rumour that 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 Shakespearese 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.

Since next week sees the start of 'Fed Blogs - a rugby mum's guide to food at away matches' I thought I'd better set the scene by telling you about the 'control' sample. The benchmark for the fare will be, of course, the great grub served by Ms L and her kitchen elves at our local rugby club.

SBOTH currently  plays for the under-10s team. At this stage they don't play in fixed positions and there's no scrums or line-outs, but enough contact to make me stock up on comfrey and calpol. It's a great little club, really friendly and welcoming with teams ranging from Tag to pre-Teens. Unfortunately, there's then a big gap from under-13s to the First and Second 15 Senior teams, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

All the coaches are really encouraging, especially when SBOTH first joined and all he knew about rugby was that it made me shout rude words at the telly. Now just starting his second season, he's a more confident, outgoing boy with a great bunch of mates. They may have been underdogs last year (as they had so few players there were none spare to substitute, meaning very tired little legs) but we've had a few new additions over the summer which means they get a chance to rest - or at least skip up and down the touchline to keep warm.

Not that that was even a remote possibility at Congleton earlier this year. Mention Congleton to any of the other parents and they will shudder with a faraway look of horror in their eyes usually reserved for apocalypse survivors. It was a horrible, hellish day. Up early to travel there. Twenty minutes trying to find the place. Temperature below freezing, pitch a mire of thick clay-ey mud that clung to the boys' boots making them heavy and play slow, s the sky unleashing a mix of sleet, snow and biting wind. Never mind the kids, when the ref suggested 'another quick five minutes each way' the parents were in tears. Luckily the ref must have caught the scent of lynch mob and decided to call it a day just before the revolt. I was so cold I can't even remember the result of the match - but let's say we won, eh? We still talk about it in hushed tones and use it as a threat to make the children behave - 'Any more of that and we'll take you back to Congleton, young man!!'

So, back to the food at our club. It's the usual tasty breakfast choices of bacon butty or sausage butty (or be daring and sausage AND bacon) but it's among the nicest I've had. Ms L does the bacon just how YOU like it - just done, medium or crispy. I commit utter sacrilege and take all the fat off mine (bleurgh, bleurgh, bleurgh) but HOTH snaffles it up contentedly. The sausages are plump and juicy and tasty, cooked to perfection and the butties are served on soft white <insert regional word for soft bread roll here>, piping hot and just what you need to set you up for a morning hollering encouragement at small - and some not so small - boys in all weathers when you'd much rather be tucked up in bed nursing a hangover. Whoever decided rugby should be an autumn / winter game needs their heads looking at! Everyone looks forward to the scent of grilling goodies on a Sunday morning. There's also after-match food - burgers, pies & chips - everything you need to grow a budding Chris Robshaw or Mako Vunipola. The lads have trained really hard on the pitch for nearly two hours so the occasional calorific treat won't hurt.

Bearing all this in mind, Fed Blogs will be awarding points on a balls basis. Rugby balls that is. Five balls is perfection, three balls average and so on. Quality & value for money will count towards the score and the judge's (that is, my) decision is final. I will be throwing myself on that sword of sausages purely for research purposes, you understand. I am so dedicated to my craft. The rest of the week will have to be salads and lemon water! Our club is a solid four and a half balls, so the bar is high and there's a lot to live up to. There's no actual prize and I promise not to turn into the next Jay Wallace or Gregg Rayner - it's all in fun.

Right, I'm off to get into training. That ketchup won't squirt itself. Tune in next week for the first instalment of Fed Blogs AND the first Strictly round up of the season! I spoil you, you know!

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

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 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.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

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 - 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 thesauarus. 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 ;-)
*NOT me & HOTH!

Saturday, 5 September 2015

I'm not a fan of shopping. To say I dislike shopping is like saying the Atlantic is a bit damp. I also hate shoes, shopping and chocolate cake. It's probably why my husband married me. I save us a fortune. But, sometimes, shopping is a necessity. Like when you need food and toilet paper and essentials like wine.

So, this morning, we found ourselves heading to the local town centre. Brunch had been promised. Unfortunately, the world and his hamster also appeared to have had the same idea. The centre was rammed. Parking, especially, was going to be tricky.

HOTH (husband of the house) drove round and round the upstairs car park looking for that Holy Grail empty space. Things were starting to look grim. Brunch was starting to look like a forlorn hope. Then - suddenly - a miracle!!! A guy wandering back to his car, laden with bags, ready to go home. Hoorah!! HOTH flicked on the indicator to stake our claim to the soon-to-be-free slot.

Shopping guy turned and saw us waiting - faces aglow with the anticipation of tasty goodies. A smug, knowing look came over his face. He opened his car boot....and proceeded to put items in ONE THING AT A BLOODY TIME. One loaf....pause....one more loaf....pause....look round and smirk at us.....one tin of beans....AAAARRRGGGHHH. The swine was enjoying this, holding all the cards, the power of the parking space. We sat for several minutes as he continued his little game, open mouthed at his brazenness, his sheer bloody-mindedness. The smirk was becomin infuriating. My palms were getting itchy and the 'inventive swear-word and name-calling' part of my brain started to warm up.

'Screw this', said HOTH - having had enough of the mind games and Mr Smuggy McSmug's antics (and being fully aware of both my short fuse and propensity for violent thoughts) 'Let's just go to the downstairs one'.

We drove past Smuggy, leaving him to his petty little antics. WE had the upper hand now. No longer beholden to his behaviour we drove downstairs and practically straight into a waiting space, parked and skipped (well, strolled) off for a very well deserved and sumptuous brunch.  The Eggs Benedict was divine, by the way.

Now, I'm not a vindictive person. No - honestly, I'm not, I don't care what you've heard. BUT...Mr Smuggy McSmug...because of your crappy behaviour this morning, I really hope that one day you get two flat tyres. In the pouring rain. And you suddenly develop really itchy piles in public. Or explosive diarrhoea in a really, really long traffic jam.

It wouldn't have cost you anything to just put your bags in your boot quickly and let us park. It would have been quite a nice, friendly thing to do. But no, that wasn't in your plans for today was it? Taking a little bit of time to pack is fine - but the one bag at a time while smugly smirking, letting us know this was deliberate is another.  That was just mean.  Yes, we did find a parking space and got to eat, which is why I'm letting you off lightly. But be warned, if it happens again I'll be out of the car & chucking your shopping in your boot like I'm bowling for England. I won't even care if your French Fancies end up squashed under your Fray Bentos pies (other tinned pies are available). NO-ONE gets between me and my weekend brunch! Consider yourself warned!

In other news, the Strictly Come Dancing pair off is on tonight.....only a couple of weeks till my musings and gentle abusings begins!