Wiseman’s Back, and Broon the Parsnip

The Northern Ireland trip passed off peacefully. It was great. In fact it was dead-on, so it was. There have been some changes since my last proper visit (where a proper visit is defined as lasting more than 24 hours). The now relatively well-established peace (I describe it thus with some caution, as our Admin Supremo, volatile enough to spark a civil war in Switzerland, is actually holidaying VERY NEAR to the province at this very moment) has caused house prices to sky rocket. However, some things remain the same. You still get offered a choice of chips or rice with your Chinese takeaway.

I made my escape back to Scotland and drove straight to the Strathclyde Hilton, where an old friend was having a ceilidh to celebrate her recent marriage. Needless to say, with dancing to be had, much of the chatroom was present. Jen, on her way rather predictably to the bar with a couple of friends, where she was no doubt planning to convince someone to buy her a drink, was accosted by an older gentleman and his mates.

“It’s alright, ladies, I’m HERE,” he announced.

“YESSSS!” replied Jen, rather more audibly than she might have planned, while punching the air triumphantly. Whether the trace of sarcasm in this response was picked up or not was unclear, and she spent the rest of the night looking nervously over her shoulder.

Wiseman, out of circulation of late due to spending time with the missus, no longer has a missus to spend time with, and hence had to make do with our company instead. Having booked some rooms at the hotel and stayed overnight, I got up early and sneaked into the gym the next morning to watch the great man at work.

A picture speaks a thousand words, they say.

Tonight I made my yearly visit to my mum’s GB Display. The GB is an organisation for young girls that gives them something to do besides buying shoes and talking about Big Brother, namely playing games and learning about God, and their Display is the annual end of year show. I realise that openly admitting that I spent the evening watching young girls cavort about a hall might not do any good to either my credibility or my status with Disclosure Scotland, but I can only protest my innocent involvement as the musician. Don’t shoot me, I’m only the piano player. I might hope that Broon, who was also present, would back me up here, but realise that my acerbic character profiling might just come back and bite me on the bum. Oh well, such is the lot of us satirists.

Mum, who is captain of this particular company of girls, waited until halfway through the minister’s opening prayer before deciding to check if the radio mic was working. She switched it on and blew hard into it. It was working, what’s more it was turned up quite high. After the subsequent explosion she turned and smiled, apparently pleased that the whole hall now knew the PA was switched on.

We moved on to the first song, during which my music book made several attempts to pitch itself headlong onto the keys. My playing wasn’t that great, I’d be the first to admit, but I didn’t consider it so bad that the music book itself would seek to intervene and call an abrupt and atonal end to matters.

These evenings tend to include games with audience participation. Early on in the night we witnessed a game which involved one of the leaders “making soup” by waving her arms vigorously as a number of girls-pretending-to-be-vegetables ran round her at speed, before they shot off back to the corners whence they came.

“You got the idea?” she asked the audience, confidently. I chanced a look across to Broon, skulking in the back row on the opposite side of the hall. Broon clearly had as much idea what was going on as I did. Which was unfortunate, as shortly afterwards she was deemed to be a leek and was summoned onto the floor. It wasn’t long before she got confused and tried to pass herself off as a parsnip (no-one was fooled), and ended up back in her seat red-faced.

And that’s about it. Colin Eye informs me that the pesky IT people at his workplace have blocked his ability to make comments. Perhaps they have read your comments, Colin. One can only surmise how long you can remain in the Cabinet without being able to make comments… shame really, since you’ve just made it in. And it’s such a nice photo…

Radio 2 and cricket

Heard a new song from Duke Special on Radio 2 this morning, as I was wending my way westwards towards the coast and another visit to Northern Ireland. The Admin Supremo expects me to derail the peace process while I’m there, having been thwarted by hitherto unknown goodwill and peaceful intentions on my previous visit, but nothing could be further from the truth.

I started receiving emails advertising Duke Special’s forthcoming gigs some years ago. Didn’t come across as spam, but had no idea who Duke Special was/were, and so I binned the emails and requested my name be taken off the mailing list. Which it was, so it can’t have been spam. Now, having heard the song on the radio, it sounds uncommonly like Peter Wilson, who I emailed via Friends Reunited some time ago after spotting his name in the inlay notes of a CD I was listening to. Which maybe explains how I ended up on his mailing list. Peter Wilson used to go to my school, Down High, which is why I was interested in the first place. So Mr Wilson joins Ash in the select group of people who have left my school and had a song played on the radio. Although, strictly speaking, I think Ash achieved that feat before leaving school, the upstarts. Perhaps Broon, another DHS ex-pupil, may yet make it a hat-trick. It would be a shame if her skills on the slide trombone were not exposed to a wider audience than just Bellevue Chapel.

Potentially even more exciting (I know, I know) is that I heard Jo Mango on Radio 2 last night. Apparently Stuart Maconie had highlighted a song of hers earlier in the week, and we heard another snippet of it last night. I heard her perform the same song live, in a barn somewhere between Perth and Dundee, a year or two ago. In fact, you could say I actually played on the same bill as Jo Mango, although it would be stretching the truth a little.

But enough of my brushes with A-list celebrities for the time being. Back to cricket. Two weeks ago, I noted with some relief that the Australian government had decided to bite the bullet and ban their cricketers from touring Zimbabwe, which they were due to do this year.

A note of explanation. The ICC, who mismanage cricket on a global scale, have a Future Tours programme, which all Test and ODI-playing countries are obliged to subscribe to. This commits them to playing against all the other major cricketing countries home and away within 6 years. Failure to fulfil this obligation would incur a heavy fine for the guilty cricket board, possibly along with a ban, which would bring even heavier financial losses. Accordingly, countries that have been contemplating a refusal to play in Zimbabwe on account of Robert Mugabe’s regime, e.g. England, have decided to tour anyway because they can’t afford to be banned from world cricket. The ICC have copped some flak for their stance, it being widely believed in some parts of the cricket world that they (the ICC) should suspend Zimbabwe from playing international cricket until the situation in the country improves. The ICC refuse to do this, claiming that they don’t get involved in politics, only cricket. The only way a country’s cricket board can legitimately not tour without incurring a fine is if the government actually BANS the cricket team from going.

Cue the Aussie government’s announcement. Compare this with the British government’s approach: when England were faced with the same quandary a few years ago, the government refused to have anything to do with it, saying it was a matter for the cricketers. The ECB, conscious of the financial implications, hummed and hawed for a bit, then prevaricated, chewed things over and weighed them up, before finally giving in and going ahead with the tour. Money is money, after all.

“I don’t think it’s fair to leave a foreign policy decision of this magnitude on the shoulders of young sportsmen,” the Australian PM John Howard was quoted as saying. “It’s much better, in the end, for the government to take the rap.” Must be good to live in a country where the politicians talk in straight lines. Unlike the UK, which moreover sanctimoniously outlaws Australia’s tourism advertising slogan “So where the bloody hell are you?” but has no issue with French Connection’s grubby marketing. One wonders idly if Australia taking money out of the UK economy, and French Connection putting it in, might have anything to do with it.

A prime minister that says it like it is, and loves cricket too. Now there’s a thing. Midway through his re-election campaign in 2004, Howard was asked how things were progressing. “It’s like having built a very solid Hayden-Langer partnership,” he replied. “We’ve made a good start.”

Brilliant. Perhaps Gordon Brown will someday describe a stinging reply in the House as a “Pietersen slap through midwicket.” Or a wide-of-the-mark question as a “Harmison”…

Well, it’s about time for me to return to the P&O Express car deck and drive off into the homeland. The smell of a ferry’s car deck evokes so many memories of childhood holidays to Scotland and beyond (England, occasionally). Not so much a whiff of nostalgia, as an intense petrol vapour-fuelled sensory experience. The whiff of nostalgia has come instead from an unexpected source. A girl has just started playing a recorder in the passenger lounge. A RECORDER. Three notes in, I am reminded of what an irritating noise they make. Don’t think she’s in line for a record deal.

Unless, of course, she goes to my old school…

Chocolate Digestives and Grammatical Pedantry

It’s a bad thing when you run out of chocolate digestives. This happened to us at work this week, but mercifully, Adi, our Admin Supremo, was on hand to dash across to Somerfield and save the day. He even got back with the goods before my tea got cold. This is top notch admin work, in my view. Our previous incumbents in the Admin Supremo position, notably Dish and Broon/Annie-Anne, would have been hard pushed to match this performance, tending to be more adept at scoffing the biscuits than supplying them. Dish, going by her comment on the last post, also appears to have developed the skill of playing ultimate frisbee with her buttocks, which strikes me as no mean feat. Can you throw as well as catch, Dish?

Anyway. Last week I accepted Colin Eye’s invitation to join him in a viewing of Spiderman 3. I accepted, somewhat against my better judgement, having been bored witless by Spidermans 1 and 2. But my alternative last Saturday was to spend a hand-wringing evening in the bar, examining another Holy Cross 2nd XI defeat (2 out of 2) and pondering how we might learn to catch a cricket ball (4 catches taken out of 20+ chances). Even for someone with my fondness for melancholy AND cricket, it seemed like an overly-depressing combination, so I opted for the cinema. I might have caught up on some sleep while I was there, had it not been so loud. The action sequences were fun, and I liked it when Spidey went to the dark side for a bit. I can even take the ridiculously far-fetched goings on, but what I just can’t abide is the mind-numbing tedium in between. If I wanted to watch somebody clumsily blundering their way through a relationship… well, let’s just say I don’t need any pointers on how to do that…

Speaking of mind-numbing tedium, I was reading a work-related newsletter recently, when a wonderful error caught my eye:

“For those currently waiting for NHS hearing aids we agree there needs to be a sustainable low weight solution…”

I’m presuming that they meant low wait, rather than casting aspersions on the lack of dieting success of the entire NHS audiology waiting list.

One of my co-pedants in the Apostrophe Protection Society, who refers to himself as the Comely Bank Branch, delights in observing mistakes like this in everyday life. He then texts them to me for my amusement. Consider the following messages I received in the last few months:

‘Birthdays’ at the east end of Princes St is closing down. One is encouraged to hurray while stocks last.

The Bristol City branch of Currys.digital is advertising the lunch of the Sony Playstation 3 on 23 March. Apparently stocks are limited.

I myself have noted that without leaving Queensferry St in Edinburgh, it is possible to unwinde with a drink at Halo after a day’s work, and then move on to sample the pre-threatre menu at Petit Paris. Before Christmas I also saw a Feastive Menu on offer in Burntisland, Fife. Perhaps my favourite of recent times was a warning sign in a hotel room which encouraged the occupant to advise Reception on their arrival “if you are disabled or hard of hearing which would effect your exit in the event of a fire”. I wasn’t aware that having a hearing loss enabled you to leave buildings, but then again, what do I know about such things.

So, Colin has now been mentioned in my last two blog entries, and as a fairly regular commenter should really be given a character page. As should Broon, really. However, the Blog Character Cabinet is pretty full. I think perhaps a couple of evictions are in order. I haven’t received any abuse from Friendy in a while – he must be on a shoogly hook. I like to keep these things democratic. Anyone care to vote someone off? Anonymous comments, for once, welcome 😉

Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday

In the course of my work, I find myself travelling to see customers from time to time. Sometimes this is because they are old and infirm and unable to travel themselves, and sometimes it’s because they simply never drive into Edinburgh these days, dear. One has some sympathy for those not wishing to drive in Edinburgh these days, given that its streets are liable to be blocked off, made one-way, or simply disappear in a puff of smoke at a moment’s notice. Perhaps tomorrow’s election will finally confine our Labour council to the inadequate recycling facility of history. But somehow I doubt it.

Today I have travelled slightly further than usual to see a customer, and find myself in the land of my birth, dear old Norn Iron. On departing the plane at an unseemly hour this morning, I was momentarily tempted to pay homage by kissing the tarmac, but I refrained from doing so. You just don’t know where that tarmac’s been.

After negotiating a lengthy rush-hour traffic jam and some more roadworks, I find myself in The Original Roast Coffee Co. on The Lisburn Road. As a momentary aside, is it purely a Northern Irish thing to preface almost all the country’s roads with ‘The’? Nobody lives on Malone Road in Belfast, they live on The Malone Road. And don’t you forget it. Anyhow. My original plan was to breakfast at Ruby Tuesday’s, a little further along the Lisburn Road. However, shaking that ass along said Road in my hired Megane, trying to spot Ruby Tuesday’s, having not done sufficient research on t’internet last night, was proving frustrating for the local drivers queued up behind me. I daresay they thought that my mother was in town, such was the plodding pace of the procession. And so I stopped somewhere near the first place I saw, which is here. And a fine place it is too, as any place that has free wireless internet and serves pancakes with bacon and maple syrup for breakfast must surely be. Now, technically, since I have been up since 4am, and had some toast at the airport, this is Second Breakfast, but they didn’t have a Second Breakfast menu, and so I kept very quiet and tried to look malnourished, in the hope that I would qualify for something from the Breakfast menu.

This is the second place I have found recently which provides free wireless internet without even hinting at, never mind advertising the fact. I find the clandestine nature of using the internet thus only enhances the experience, as it gives me the impression that I’ve stumbled across a great secret that nobody else knows about. Especially when someone comes in and has to pay for an internet code at the counter so they can use one of the terminals across from me. Victory to the laptop user.

Later today I will meet up with an old schoolfriend for lunch, last seen five years ago. As it happens, on Friday evening I am reuniting with an old university friend, last seen 11 years ago. He was a regular squash adversary of mine, and since then I haven’t managed to play squash much, never mind regularly. However, in a curious and mostly uninteresting twist of fate, I played a fairly competitive late-night game (of squash) against Colin Eye (currently saving up for a deposit to put down on a Blog Character page) on Monday night. That is to say, I was competitive in the first game, after which he stepped up a few gears and demolished me. Following that up with a very competitive late-night game of football last night, all this after the first cricket outing of the season on Saturday, and it’s no great surprise that all of my muscles, but most especially my buttocks, ache. Makes ‘getting purchase’ a painful experience.

I leave you with the news that a blogging rulebook currently being touted as a Good Idea, contains the suggestion that anonymous comments should not be allowed. Something that some of you, dear valued readers, and most especially my dear valued shy commenters, might like to ponder… 🙂