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31 July 2006

Dirty Weekend

Once again, the whirlwind that is my pitiful life has overtaken me and prevented a single moment occuring in which to compose even the slightest note. You'll already have realised that "the slightest note" from me can run to a thousand words, so forgive me. You probably needed the break, anyway. Before I continue with the tense, action-filled thriller that is "trying to bring a speedboat back from Spain", I must bring you up to date with the events that have prevented me from doing so thus far:

On Friday, my good lady took a half-day holiday so that we could leave early from Birmingham for Leeds, and avoid some of the weekend traffic. She was out of work at 1pm, having her hair cut and styled (very nice too, I am obliged to insert here. Quite Farrah Fawcetty. Bangs and parting. Phwoar), before meeting me back at mine for 2pm. We intended to leave by 3. We were away finally at 340pm. Not that the 40 minutes would have made any difference. The journey to Leeds was hellish in every sense of the word. The whole episode lurched from heavy traffic to contraflow to accident (rubbernecking) to moment of movement before snarling up all over again. We arrived in Leeds at 715pm. Both myself and the missus were hot and bothered.

Quickly checking in at the Headingley Lodge Hotel at - yes - Headingley Cricket Ground in Leeds, we changed rapidly. Our rooms double as executive suites - the "back end" of corporate boxes for Test Matches and so on. So, there's this great big door onto the upper terraces - which you cannot open. Very frustrating. The temperature in the room was upwards of 30 degrees, and with an 8-inch fan gasping in the face of its insurmountable task. The good lady tried to play the diabetic card with regard to body temperature, but Little Miss YTS at the front desk, together with her cohort from Fatty Slobby Stupid Lazy Security Ltd, conspired to prevent any such "breaking with protocol". Tsk. Wasters.

My sister's 30th birthday party was being held in the Taverner's Pavilion. She used to work at the Hilton in Leeds, in Food and Beverage. She knows a few people in the trade, and one of them works at the cricket ground now, hence the location. It must be the third family event we've had there - definitely my youngest nephew's post-christening business... maybe it's only the second, but it's certainly become the venue of choice for any northern family business. Anyway, it's roughly L-shaped, with a bar at one end, coming through seating areas and the dancefloor at the elbow, into sat dining tables at the other end. Stretching outwards from the elbow of the L are the steps up and out onto the terraces, which is where scum like me can smoke. Not indoors, unfortunately.

There were a collection of faces from my sister's past - ranging from mates-since-nine to more recent additions to the fold. Many of the later friends are only slightly-known to me, but those that she had at school and early university days are a good bunch, and always good fun. They all are, really, even the ones I don't know. A few iffy ones, but that's life, eh? I got into some food early on - my sister had decided that a one-size fits all meat-or-veggie lasagne, chips and salad, plus bread rolls and butter was all that was needed, and seemingly it did the trick, too. My stomach suitably lined, I began to drink at what was a steady pace, playing it safe for the inevitable karaoke later on.

The DJ for hire was of good quality family event stock, complete with cheery, encouraging patter for all wannabe dancers and - more importantly - singers for his karaoke machine. Once that booze threshold had been reached, which was around 9pm, the machine was almost permanently occupied with singers of all hues and creeds massacring well-known tracks. It was bliss. There are few things in life as glorious as the utter disharmony and caterwauling that is the party karaoke machine. My sister had worried in the run-up to the party that no-one would use it, that everyone would be too shy, that I had to start it off. She needn't have had a single concern: once enough Carlsberg, Tetley and Vins Blancs and Rouges had been drunk, everyone was a million-selling number-one act. Karaoke. God love the Japanese.

A slightly uncomfortable incident ensued, not noticed by anyone, of course, but one that - now I come to write about it - still pisses me off. I have to tell you a bit more about my childhood now. Get on your couches. When my family lived in Birmingham - we moved there when I was eleven in 1985, with me rejoining the family permanently in the city once I'd reached thirteen and finished boarding school down in Sussex - my sister and her friends obviously got a bit of a head-start on me. As it turned out, my sister's earliest non-school friend turned out to be the daughter of the parents who would become my parents' best-friends. And so the die was cast. My friends' parents never really had a look-in, really. Sure, there was maybe one or two parents of my friends that my own might say hello to, but never invite round for dinner. Or go on holiday with. Or share Christmas with. I didn't realise it until right now, but I think that hurts me slightly.

Anyway: the parents of this girl friend of my sister's. The Dad is great. He's like my Dad. Clever. A businessman. Sharp. Spots opportunities. Knows what's going on. Well read in history, politics, religion. A fun bloke to be around. Then there's his wife. Vain. Shallow. Not really very clever at all. Critical. Skin like a saddlebag. The same daft fucking haircut since I first met her 20 years ago, I kid you not. Makeup that would render Morticia Addams "fit". She speaks very highly of me, too. I suspect - though don't know - that this lady, when she has the chance, spouts evil gibberish about me to my Mum, about how I'm no good, that I'm a risk-taker, a drug-taker, can't be depended upon. That I'm a scumbag. That I will go to hell for the way I treat her. And, even if she hasn't, I loathe her for it.

There is a point coming. I go outside for a fag, and end up next to this lady. I had said Hello and kissed her at the beginning of the evening, when she's all smiles and creases. Now - and I think this might be the root problem - this lady likes a drink. She doesn't get drunk. She just becomes mean, I've seen it a million times at a million occasions. Once her gaze has focussed on me - her lifeless, fucked-through eyes need a second to readjust from the middle distance - her venom begins. You should give those up, you know, she begins, referring to the cigarette I am smoking. Yes, I know I should, I offer. But I've tried to give up before. Four, maybe five, times. I've tried patches, gum, willpower. My doctor says there's only acupuncture and hypnosis left. Well, you remember (my husband)? Yes, of course I do, thinking what a daft question it was, given I'd met them 21 years ago. Well, he was told to stop. He was told, you're on a motorway, and you are walking through the traffic, and one day, you're going to get run over. The doctor told him that, and he gave up. Yes, I wish someone else we both know had been as good as (your husband) at following doctors' advice to stop smoking. Her next question stunned me.

Who's that, then? she dumbly fucking enquired. Ahem. Well, my own father. You do remember him? The man who came back and forth between Mallorca and the UK for over a year to have doses of chemotherapy in hospital? The man who, every two Thursdays, skip a week, next two Thursdays, skip a week, and so on... the man who I sat next to for three hours a day on each of those days, watching him wince as the heavy armaments of chemo marched into his arteries, filling him with poison, burning every weak part of the human anatomy away until all it can do is recover, recover, keep on recovering. The man who fought so hard and won the battle against The Big C, the man who - and here's the fucking point, you dumb, moronic slag - despite his success in the face of the World's Biggest Killer (TM), could not give up smoking. The man who, even when his left lung had been removed, continued to pump money into the coffers of British American Tobacco. The man who, one night in May 2004, took his last drag on a cigarette, was unable to reinflate his only surviving lung, and died of a massive heart attack on the floor of his Spanish home, in front of his wife of 18 months.

Oh, Gerald! she squawked, her shrill Hyacinth Bouquet-meets-Mariella Frostrup tones scything through the chilling evening air like cold throwing stars. Yes, Gerald, I agreed. Anyway, as you can imagine, it's pretty hard to walk around these days without being aware that smoking is very bad for you. And so I've been to the doctor to see what advice and help he can give me or strategies I can look into. What's the doctor got to do with it? she screeches. Erm, well, they can give smokers - especially relatively heavy smokers, like me - good advice and pointers towards giving up. You don't need doctors, she scoffed. I asked what she would suggest instead. Well, if you don't know, you'll never know, she dismissed.

Her eyes were glazing over. Not for the first time, I thought how much I disliked the woman, how I always had. How I'd always realised that she was an alcohol-sodden, sun-raddled, hairspray-addicted, half-witted, fucking eejit. The feeling I am sure is mutual, and I don't care one jot (oh no, you've only written about five hundred words about it now, for public consumption on the grandest scale available to you). Mahalo. And so I walked away. I had thought how best to leave, whether I should do what I really want to and tell her to her face what a witch she is, or whether I can just walk off. I took the latter option, interestingly for me. As I walked away, I shook my head from side to side and exhaled the bad air we'd shared.

The rest of the evening was great. I had been, ahem, practising one or two favourites prior to the event, and pretty much knew that Stealer's Wheel with Stuck In The Middle would be my selection, providing no-one went for it earlier. However, given this fact, I thought it best not to go up too early, as I might "take the fun out of it" by being so fabulous. I did spend some time actually looking through the options in the Karaoke songlist/book - I had thought that perhaps I should go for George Michael's Careless Whisper (too slow for now), or maybe Bryan Adams' Summer Of '69 (not a good choice, that's when my parents got married), what about Robbie Williams' Angel (might not make those high notes)? But eventually I settled on my first thought and submitted the relevant paperwork to Dave Dee Double Decks. I set to drinking steadily, and generally cruising from person to person, speaking in turn to Matt, to Michael, to Steve, to Andrew, to Jeff, to Suzi, to Annabel, to all and sundry. Finally, I was called and I made my way to the stage and threw myself into an ebulliently confident rendering of the aforementioned tune, much to the delight of my male counterparts and the now-swooning ladies, who just love a man who can sing.

One lady did come up to me later and tell me that the karaoke was the best. I agreed, everyone should do karaoke, it's such good fun and a great laugh. No, I mean YOU'RE karaoke was the best. You can really sing. Oh, me, I... I stumbled. Don't give me that humble crap, Simon, you know you're good. The bizarre thing about this incident - and all I could think about while she was near me - was that I'd been told a few interesting tales earlier in the evening: the woman involved is married with two kids, to a lovely bloke. He dotes on them, but being a working father, he is around late in the evening and at weekends. He gives his kids what time he can. His wife, on the other hand, and this is second-hand information, does "fuck all except drink". Apparently she's a terrible mother. Apparently, he wants to do one, leave her, and take the kids away. So, as you can imagine, any apparent come-on from a woman such as this is going to leave me pretty cold. Anyway, the night rolled on. The karaoke and disco was dismantled and in the back of a Vauxhall Cavalier by 1230am. We were all out by 1am. A few of us headed back to my sister's room for a "nightcap", whereupon she collapsed and passed out immediately on the bed. We lasted about ten minutes before following suit. A really great party, superb. Loved it.

We were woken on Saturday morning by the sound of our in-room phone, indicating that we should be at reception checking out. We threw clothes on and legged it, getting out by 1130am with about 20 helium balloons in tow. These were duly stuffed into the back of my 3-door hatchback and escorted - anchored to my good lady in the back seat - to my sister's house, where I put them in her bedroom. A quick chat and we left for our next destination, the Malmaison Hotel in Leeds, from where we would conduct stages two and three of the operation.

Being just up and unshowered, we checked in to our beautiful corner room, complete with curved full-height windows overlooking the River Aire. A rapid shower made us presentable again, and we headed down to the bar for one of the hotel's legendary Eggs Benedict. Duly satiated, we headed into town, where unfortunately the Harvey Nicholls sale was on. It's funny, sales. You don't spend any money on clothes all year, and then you spunk half-a-grand on knock-down, last-season stock. Very odd. Strange behaviour. But the rush of getting five high-end items for that money? Incomparable.

A return to the hotel room for going-out showering, before heading back to the hotel bar to meet our evening's entertainment. Both are male, one is very young, and one is not-so-very-young. However, he's not over the hill, not by any stretch. In fact, sometime, the elder of the pair gives us young'uns a run for our collective monies. I used to work with one at a radio station in Leeds, and the other was on my Journalism degree course at university. Both live in or near Leeds. Both are sterling gentlemen. Both have the art of conversation down to a tee. Both are very good gentlemen to spend quality time with.

Having met in the bar, we had a drink before moving to the restaurant for - going round the table - a burger and Long Island Iced Tea for both me and the missus; a Prawn Cocktail (Simple, according to the menu, but anything but in presentation terms) for the younger of our two compatriots; and a pair of £12.95 cocktails for both of our guests. The elder of the two staunchly refused food, as he does not do so beyond 6pm of an evening, ever. We had a good chat, got up to speed with all our lives and jobs and holidays. We wolfed down the food and paid the bill, before repairing to the hotel room for a quick snifter from the in-room bar, a cheeky spliff and off into the night.

Our first destination was the Across The Tracks festival in Leeds that weekend. We entered for free, courtesy of the younger chap's spanky new media job in the city, and duly attached our wristbands. We headed for the first stage, where some quite dubby-plinky-plonky-acid-head music was playing, all rather nice and harmless but not exactly "get on up and get on down" material. We moved to the beer tent, where a lack of beer created clear existential angst among the fretting bar staff. One of them, a bloke, looked like he was about to explode. He was a thin, reedy guy with geeky, spikey hair and a very thin face. He was clearly on the edge already. All it would take would be one, little push...

We finally negotiated our drinks - spirits and mixers, natch - and headed out and around to the main stage. The lights had come up while we'd been at LSD Central, I had noticed, and the lineups had looked pretty good. By the time we'd negotiated the crowd, The Magic Numbers were on stage and were getting on with their sunshiney, balladey, lost-in-love lethargia. We'd finished our first drinks and noticed that this side of the bar did have beer, so ordered some. I was congratulated on "being the first person all evening to order drinks without slurring" by a cute lass in regulation green event t-shirt. I didn't dare tell her why I was so alert.

Rain had begun to appear in spits and spats, so we decided to move on. A quick detour via the hotel to spruce up from the dusty, sweaty outdoor moshing put us back on the straight and narrow, before we headed to Mook, tucked away in a cobbled side alley in the city centre. We'd by now been joined by our younger friend's sister, who lives with her girlfriend in Manchester. Both of them are absolutely charming, and injected that much-needed weekend energy of gay indignance and righteous indignation. All forms of stupidity were attacked - indeed, one of them directly via my own strange experience that evening.

Despite clearly being with my good lady and the rest of our team, I was chatted up by a bloke. Our eyes had met across the dancefloor - mine with no intent other than "alright, having a good time, mate"; his with "ooh, I think I might like to fuck you, sir". He introduced himself, before announcing that I was clearly a Tiger. I was confused. Chinese birthsign apparently, and he was right, actually. He told me he wasn't gay, but he'd been to Birmingham and ended up in the Gay Quarter near to New Street Station. I asked him where he'd been. Thought it all a bit odd. Then made my excuses and rejoined my group. All asked what that had been about, and I told them. In the middle of the telling, our chap returns to me. He puts his pint down on the table, and puts his hand on my shoulder, and leans in. You know what you are, he accuses, you know as well as I know. The only thing is, you don't know it yet. What is it with gay blokes telling straight blokes that "they don't know it yet"? Apparently, it's OK for a 36-year-old gay bloke to have a clear idea of his sexuality by that time in his life... but us 32-year-old heteros, we've got no idea, we're just waiting for the Sexual Revelation, for the cataracts to be burned from our eyes and for it all to become queer. I handed him his pint, and pointed away from our group. He got the message, and was gone. Just another freak, in the freak kingdom.

We moved on from Mook when they turned the lights on and started barking orders. This is fair enough, it's closing time. We parry against the rain, but decide that a trip to Back To Basics was what's needed, and so we head away from the city centre to the industrial outskirts. Our media friend negotiated 3 for free, 3 full price, and so we hit up at four quid each. We entered and walked across the dancefloor, where the young, beautiful and wired of Leeds - not to mention much of the north of England - were gurning, dancing, moving, shaking, grunting, groaning. We found we had no money, and a rapid investigation was turning up no other options. After 3o minutes of people-watching - really good-quality people-watching, as these people are elegantly wasted - we left and headed back to the hotel for a nightcap. The lesbian couple - our younger friend's sister and her lover - were left to their own devices in the clutches of the evil scourge of the nation, clubland; it's drugs, perverts and ne'er-do-wells. Squeezing our guests in past security, we killed another two hours with the minibar, conversation and room service, before gently suggesting that perhaps we called it a night. And so, into the hazy, early morning light they staggered, both with homes, wives and families to go to. And tomorrow - well, later today - I must be Uncle Fun at my youngest nephew's third birthday.

We make about six hours racked up on the sleeping front. Feeling slightly spangled from the excesses of the night before, we dress, pack and check-out. But we grab a quick Eggs Benedict for the road, they can't be beaten. Finally at the car, we dump everything in and head for my sister's place. Thankfully, the party hasn't started. As I arrive - with presents needing wrapping still in their obvious Lego bag - my nephew calls out to me. Hello, Uncle Simon! Are those my presents? Bless the directness of the child. No, I said. I haven't got any presents for you. These are just things I need with me. Some newspapers. Books. Why, is it your birthday? Yes, I'm three today. Are you? I said, teasing him. I hurried inside to get the job done. Five minutes later, his Lego moneybox and Lego fireman's backpack are wrapped, ready to be taken outside and unwrapped. We head downstairs.

First he gets the moneybox, which is like his brother's one of Darth Vader, but only shaped like a Lego brick. I think he's kinda nonplussed with it. Then comes the money. He opens the fireman's pack and his little eyes widen. He realises it shoots water. He is very excited. Once the industrial-strength packing ties have been severed using a powertool, before pulling them between two cars, the damn thing is released. The backpack is filled with water and all hoses connected. Only problem, no water. I start to worry that it's broken. His father - my brother-in-law - heads off for a screwdriver, and we begin to dismantle it. I soon notice that the nozzle swivels, opening the spray holes. Before it's too late, I also realise that the two handles, when pulled apart from each other, take up one gunfull of water. And that when you push them together, it squirts. Joy. There's nothing more frustrating than not being able to work out a toy meant for age 6 upwards.

I had worried that the little lad might not be sturdy enough for a 6-year-olds toy, but I needn't have. He's a chunky little monster, very boisterous and quite rough-and-tumble. He soon had water shooting from the end, with a wild-eyed joy plastered across his grinning mug. This became the Toy Of Choice for his party friends later on - the unit was rarely off someone's back, constantly squirting someone or other, usually a Dad or me.

The party went on beyond our departure, around 430pm. Despite assurances from my sister that pizza for the grown-ups was on its way, they never materialised and so I had to forage over the children's food. Chicken dippers and chips with tomato sauce are the way forward, I believe. Slightly peckish, we made for Wakefield to visit my good lady's sister, her boyfriend, and their new house together.

They've done very well. The house is an excellent house, with wonderful period features blended with state-of-the-art modern installations. They have a large conservatory, leading into a dining room. A large front living room. A massive kitchen, leading into a corridor-based utility towards a downstairs loo. Up the stair, there's a small but very useful storage area off the stairwell, before getting to two very healthily-sized bedrooms, one smaller being used as an office, and the bathroom - complete with free-standing bathtub and overhead, oversized shower head in cubicle. What a gaff. The story continues outside, with their block-paved driveway for two cars (matching green 3-door hatchbacks), side passage, massive - and utility-supplied - garden shed, brick store, decking at house end and bottom of garden, with lawn surrounded by gravel pathway. They've pulled off a blinder.

We chatted for about an hour before heading off. It wasn't long back on the M1 that hunger hit me like a brick in the face: I was feeling sleepy, my eyelids were heavy, I needed fuel. We stopped, and to my two poached eggs and bacon slice and half-muffin with hollandaise, I added a chicken sandwich, fries, onion rings and Coke to the equation. And it did the trick, reet proper. We got home about 830pm, and just chilled and watched telly and caught up with post and various other sundry homebased activity until sleep overtook us at midnight.

27 July 2006

Bringing Dad Home Part II


I woke with a pounding head, but a shower combined with the knowledge that I was going to see my boat today got the system kick-started. I was due to collect the car at 0900, and had set my mobile phone alarm for 8am. However, I hadn't changed the clock to match Spanish time, and so it was an hour behind. I actually collected the car at 10am, and made straight for Nautica Amengual.

Nautica Amengual is run by Miguel. It is on the road from S'Alqueria Blanca to Santanyi, about 1.5 km outside Alqueria. It consists of a fenced-off plot of land, guarded by a pair of Rottweilers (both lovely), and an enormous hanger with sliding panel doors going up 50 feet. All works are done undercover, more for shade than rain protection. Right now, there are maybe 10 boats in there, ranging from 22 foot speeders to 40 foot cruisers. Some are planing hulls, others displacement. There's an enormous RIB with a 150hp outboard on the back. Must go like hell.

As I arrive, I find three men in the back of a Four Winns. Miguel? I enquire, before the slighter, younger, more weathered of the three men answer. Si? Soy el hijo de Gerald Walsh, I managed. Miguel threw both arms skyward, and yelled Hallelujah! I found that quite odd, but at least he wasn't the tyrant I'd been given the impression he was.

More background: so, I've got to collect this boat. Reason? The boatyard owner (Miguel) is about to "seize" my boat for non-payment of bills. Obviously this needs mending. I speak to Mark at Peters, assess the ballpark costs of the storage period, and I bring over money accordingly. I'm expecting 2 years, 2 months at between 50 and 100 euros a month. Let's call it 2000 euros, ballpark. I've got a grand in sterling with me, which hits me up to about 1400 euros. The rest I can get from the ATM.

Miguel goes to the office to print out the outstanding balance. Miguel returns with his bill. It is for 3000 euros. Shit. He tells me the last bill my Dad paid him was on 30th April 2003 - a year and one month before he died. My Dad always told me to clear my debts. Bastard. But then I got suspicious: is Miguel milking this? I had to find out.

So: the storage costs are actually E75.90 per month, for three years and three months, aka 39 months. That's a grand total of E2960.10. Shit. Shit. Shit. SHIT. My heart was in my mouth as I tried to work out how all this was going to happen. I have 1400 with me. I need another 1600. How much can I get out over here, and how soon? I told Miguel I was going to look over the boat, then head back to get his money and come to collect the boat. I knew I was fucking dreaming. This boat was not going anywhere today.

Anyway, I was here and so was Dadsbote. I couldn't believe how good she looked. OK, so there's a lot of dust on her, but she's shipshape. The trailer looks OK too, even to my untrained eye. Climbing up her swim ladder to the rear platform, I start unpopping all the poppers around her cover and climb in. Can't believe it. It's perfect. Sure, it needs a bit of TLC, but she'll be apples after that. I check all the stowage compartments - there is a pair of waterskis in the ski locker, oars and boathook in the side compartments, as well as a red ensign with flagpole. Ah, you'll be flying that flag alone and proudly soon, my beauty. For'ard, in the bow stowage, there are four or five fenders, three mooring lines, a shoreline connection, a hosepipe. She's good to go. Amusingly, there is also a crushed can of San Miguel. It's his, obviously. I put it hidden away in the ski locker, so that it travels with the boat as it comes back to the UK. My Dad's last beer can on his boat. Fucking perfect. I think I'll have it mounted, or maybe set in a glass block, or perspex or something. Maybe one day, it'll be the prize for some boat activity or other. The Gerald Walsh Can.

Once I'd got over the intial excitement, I set to work. Starting at the front of the trailer, I worked my way backwards down each side, spraying this stuff on every moving part the trailer has. The tow-ball connection... the handbrake... the winch... the rollers... the wheels... I'm glad to say that the handbrake was off, and had not seized, and that after I'd applied all the spray to every necessary part, I had managed to wiggle the trailer left and right, and the wheels were moving. It takes three men to move this boat anywhere on its trailer. Four makes it easier. But it looks like towing it away - once the money is sorted - won't be a problem. The tyres need air, but other than that we are rolling. That's one relief.

I'd done what I could and now needed to focus on other missions. I had a bag of things for Emma that had been left over from Fullerton Court, my Dad's London flat. They were mainly electrical items or IT stuff - a couple of program CDs for the computer, a Nokia bluetooth earpiece, some Sony speakers with a Spanish plug... I went back to the hotel to grab that bag, then headed up to Casa Fushi. I had emailed, and I'd also left a phone message, but I had had no response. I was just going to drive up there. I was going to the house my Dad died in, for the first time since he died.

I got there and parked at the gates and pressed the intercom. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. There wasn't anyone obviously there, though the Shogun was in the carport. I pressed a few more times, and just as I had decided to hang the bag on the gate and leave, the dogs appeared.

Cel is Emma's dog. Cel is an 11-year-old Great Dane and, in his usual capacity, acts as the AWACS system of the pairing. He spots trouble from a distance, makes a lot of noise, runs towards it a bit to point out its location, then steps aside so the heavy artillery can come in and do their job. Cue Duke, the Bull Mastiff, Dad's dog and five years old: he's the man on the ground, having his weapons laser-guided by the eye in the sky, Cel. Duke fears nothing and no-one. He comes barrelling past Cel - and I mean barrelling, Duke is about as wide as he is long, with a big head and enormous jaws - and despite his bulk, comes hurtling down the driveway, releasing the thundering bass of his bark as he does so. Put it this way: if I didn't know the dog, I'd shit myself. If I was up to no good, I'd leave. Quickly.

I let Duke get to within 10 metres of the gate, his hackles raised, standing his ground, eyeballing me and persisting with his warning shots...until finally I take off my hat and glasses, and call to him. Duke! Come here, boy! It's me! He drops his pretense immediately as he hears my voice. Duke, when you know him and he knows you, is a fucking softy. His stiff, hard-man gait breaks into his friendly, dopey lumbering. His head starts swinging from side to side, and - yes - he gets a bit of a wiggle in his arse. He comes to the gate and pushes his muzzle as far through as he can and begins to lick me wherever he can reach. I start to cry.

Hello, boy! How are you? Is Emma in? Oh, you miss him don't you? He grunts. I miss him too, boy. I miss him every day. And I miss you. And Cel. And this house. I miss everything.

The tears roll down my cheeks onto the driveway as I reach through the fence to stroke him, getting right behind his ears and into the soft flaps under his chin. He's a fucking great dog, this one, the best. He's solid. I realise that this is all I'm going to see of the house, and with heavy heart, I get back in the car and head away. Duke is back on patrol, tail up erect, following the fence around the perimeter, watching, looking, waiting. Cel is nowhere to be seen, as usual.

I drive back through Calonge towards Cala D'Or. I'd best get to the banks and see what can be sorted out. About a mile out of town, nearly home, my phone goes. It's a local number. I answer. It's Emma. Have you just been to the house? Yes, I dropped a bag off at the gate for you with some things in. Did you ring the bell? Yeah, about four times. Oh, I'm sorry, I'm out pressure-washing the pool terrace and didn't hear you - do you want to come back? And so I turn the car around.

Duke and Cel are waiting for me, Cel a good few metres behind Duke, as is customary. There is still no answer on the intercom, so I call the house and finally get through. Emma opens the gates, and I drive up to my Dad's house. It's very weird. The last time I was here, I was living in a world of tears. It doesn't seem to be much better right now, but I hold myself together as Emma meets me at the door. We kiss on both cheeks. I don't know how this is going to go.

I'm invited in and sorted with Diet Coke and ashtray. Emma is never far away from either. We walk out to the pool terrace, where the Karcher pressure-washer is sitting abandoned, its work half-done. But the clean bit looks good. We talk, we talk about a lot of things. About how much we miss him. About the constant wranglings between lawyers and accountants and trustees in England, Spain, Jersey. About how slow it all is. Paying off inheritance tax. About what we've been up to. How all our respective family members are.

Emma is - to put it mildly - an animal lover. Here at Casa Fushi there are four cats - Kink, Cookie, Sooty and Cosmo. Cosmo is a bitch who hisses and scratches all the time, at least, that's what she's like with me. Kink and Cookie are quite cute, but they are Persians, so there is a lot of fur around the cat, and it all comes off and gets up your nose. I think I am slightly allegic to cat hair. Not dog hair. Sooty is also very sweet and a nice, normal cat, lacking as he does either excess fur or an attitude problem.

Unfortunately, Sooty is very poorly indeed. He escaped a while back and disappeared for a few days. When he came back, he was bitten, scratched, clawed, gouged...he'd obviously been roughing it up with the local feral cats. Anyway, he's been off his food ever since, throwing it all up and also pulling out his own fur, great clumps of it, all off his belly and legs and tail. He's not a well boy. He's been to the vet, and they think it might be feline AIDS. If this is true, Sooty will have to be put down, which is always an absolute tragedy, and will upset Emma greatly.

Then there are the dogs, Duke and Cel, who you've already met. There is also Pepito or Pepe, a rescued Shetland pony who used to take kids on rides around Palma. X-rays show that there is an iron-bar-shaped dent across his nose and down his cheek. He was not treated well in his former life. He was nervous as hell when Dad and Emma rescued him. Now he walks around the garden eating grass at his leisure, and it is clear that he also believes himself to be a dog, given his sparring partners. He gives as good as he gets, too. Many's the time a remorseful Duke has skulked away, having received a kick or bite from Pepe. Don't mess with abused animals, they will knacker you.

Then there are the fish. There were originally 6 goldfish and 6 koi. Now there are 150 goldfish-koi crosses, filling the pond. They are great. They also have a turtle as a pond mate, Timmy. He's huge, about a foot long.

Away from the estate itself, there is Emma's main passion, horses. Emma showjumps, and is pretty good, too. She's not Olympic standard, but certainly very high up at national level, regularly making the top five at events all over Spain. Showjumping at this level treats horses rather like race cars - once you've outgrown your ride, you trade. So many have come and gone in the time that I've known Emma, I couldn't being to document the history, but she's had Arucas, Timmy, Rue... Needless to say, she's at the yard in Palma every night except Sunday, working her horses, training, grooming, tacking and so on.

Emma also mentions that she's found a load of boat stuff and it's in the groundman's lodge. We head down there and I discover that there is a whole shedload of stuff, from lifejackets to flares to ropes to springs to spare propellers. I thank her for this, and tell her I'll collect it when I've got the boat out of Nautica Amengual, and Peters can look after it all together.

We head back up to the house and carry on chatting and drinking endless Diet Cokes and smoking - the twin fuels that Emma needs a lot of each day - and everything is nice and relaxed. Emma disappears to do something or other and I stroll around the downstairs of the house. It's all open plan, with a full-height ceiling and spiral staircase to the upper level immediately inside the front door, before heading to the lower level down steps to the kitchen, hall and sitting room.

My Dad died on the sitting room floor, about where I'm standing now. I close my eyes and think about him. About how I'm glad it was quick and that I know he's OK where he is. That Emma misses him madly, we all do. That Duke misses him, so much, as does Cel. That he's gone and left a ruddy great gaping fucking chasm in all our lives. That I'd do anything to have him back. My chest tightens and throat clenches and lip quivvers but Emma's coming downstairs and I can't let her see me like this. I hold back the tears, just.

We wander back to the poolside, when I enquire as to whether I might take a dip. It's a lovely pool, 15m by 5m, 3m deep shelving to 1m. As I dive in, I'm amazed how warm the water is. There isn't the slightest chill, and to be honest, it's not the most refreshing temperature. It's like a lukewarm bath. Still, I'm not one to miss out on water at any cost, so swim a few lengths before doing my usual how-long-can-I-stay-under tricks and a few dolphin-like manoeuvres. You might laugh at that, especially if you know me: you might consider me slightly ungainly on land, but in water I am a fish and take on hydrodynamic properties. And I will beat any of you in a straight 25m front-crawl sprint. Guaranteed. Don't laugh, I'll make you look stupid. Y'all might be lean and have muscles - I have technique. You don't. You think it's "just swimming". That's like telling a 100m sprinter it's "just running".

I tell Emma about how I'd started a blog, and that I'd been completely unable to fulfill the task from Mallorca (see Bringing Dad Home Part I). I asked if I could use the computer to check my bank balances and make sure there was enough in my current account for me to pull out of the ATM. They have ISDN at the house, a massive 64kbps, but it works and that was good enough for me.

Very handily, she has also found the invoice record from Miguel at Nautica. This confirms one thing: that he didn't lie about the date of the last paid bill. But it raises an interesting angle. Where is the four speaker CD system my Dad has apparently already paid E450 for? Coz it ain't aboard ship. Am I about to renegotiate the bill?

I left Emma after 4 hours, during which time I got the impression that she was really pleased to be able to talk to someone "who understood it all". I think she's very lonely without him, but her animals and running the house keep her very busy indeed, and she's got all her old Mallorca friends. She has been then 20-odd years. I said I'd be up to see her again and collect all the stuff once I had the boat in my possession. We kissed goodbye and I left, the dogs chasing me as far as the gate.

To business: I need a lot of money, and I need it now. I go to the bank. My daily limit in England is 300 quid - so I figure 500 euros should be no problem. I ask. I am declined. I am told that I have a 300 per day limit. I need another 1600 euros. That's six days I have to wait. I can't wait that long. I'll be back in England. I whip out the Visa. What's on here already? Car booking, 200 euros gone. Sure there was about £125 quid on it already. I have a limit of £900. Shit. Shit. Withdraw. It allows me another 300 euros. I think I'll try again. Another 300 euros. Great. Shall we? We are declined on the third attempt. We have maxed out. We must rely on Maestro from hereon in. So - 1400 in the safe at the hotel. Another 900 here. That's 2300. Still need 700 euros. That's at least 3 days. That's Friday, Saturday and Sunday withdrawals, and not spending more than 200 euros in that time. Should be a doddle, providing I eat once a day. I'm annoyed. This means I won't be able to collect the boat until Monday morning. It means I probably won't get the stuff from Emma until Tuesday. This is all starting to look like it's gonna be tight.

But fuck it. I go with the flow and realise that it will happen, just not on the original planned timescale, which was far too Germanic in it's conception to be realistic in a place like Mallorca. Chill out. I walk out of the hotel, singing Californication by the Red Hot Chili Peppers as I wander through the streets of Cala D'Or. The tourists look at me like a Brit who's been here too long, had too much sun. The street hawkers don't bother me, I'm not dressed like a tourist, I have a car, I am carrying bags from local businesses: I clearly know the area. In Burger King, I order a Chicken Tendercrisp (piccante) meal, with onion rings and Coke Light. I do all this in Spanish, and even have to translate for someone who hasn't bothered with their Berlitz guide. I wander about some more, poking my head into all the old places on the way. It's all changed, but it's all the same. I head back home for an early night. Tomorrow, I need to tell Miguel how it's all gonna happen.

I get back to my room at the hotel. There are bats flying around, I can see them darting in the light from the outside wall. I go out onto the balcony and I feel like Dad's here. I get the same shiver - I can only call it that - that Ellie and I got the night after he died. We were in the casita at Casa Fushi, and I couldn't sleep. Nor could Ellie. Suddenly, I sat bolt upright in bed and said He's here! We got up and went into the living room of the casita. Both of us were feeling the same presence and then a line of what looked like laser lights shot past the window that overlooked the fishpond and wild garden. There is nothing over there that would do that. Tonight, it's that same feeling, and I smile, then laugh, then cry. I ask for more, and can see strange shapes in the clouds, never a complete face, but characteristics - a wide smile, a winking eye, even his bulbous nose. The fact that suddenly clouds appeared in skies that had stayed resolutely clear for weeks on end was also strange. I know he's here, and I know he's been here ever since that day. Maybe he'll go when he knows we're all over it. Maybe not, I hope not. Please don't stop touching me, somehow.

I start to chirrup in high-pitched tones, trying to get the bats to pay me some attention. I want one to swoop down and hang upside-down on my finger. So far, no joy. I go to bed.

Bringing Dad Home Part I

Profound and profuse apologies for the utter lack of postings this last week. I did try. But I was at a cybercafe in Mallorca, and their definition of a fast internet connection leaves a lot to be desired. I think the fact that two other blokes were in there playing Counterstrike online at the same time meant that the already-weeny pipe was blocked with bullets and stun grenades, and had no bandwidth for my rambling missives.


My flight from Birmingham was leaving early. I'd got up at five am and had been taken to the airport for 6 by my good lady - who then went straight to work, for some reason. We were due to lift off at 0705, but it was 0730 when the wheels finally left the ground. I fell straight back to sleep. Slightly annoyingly, my three-seat row had me against the window, possibly the most enormous woman I'd ever seen crammed into the aisle seat, and her attention-deficit disordered kid in between. Despite the pillow-like mass created by the conjunction of his mother's arm, belly, breast, cheek and jowl, the kid decided to rest his sleepy head against me for the whole journey. Talk about not knowing which side your bread's buttered on.

We landed in Palma on time at 1035 and, as usual, the exit process was swift. Nonchalant customs officers waved me through the gates without even looking at my passport - as long as you are holding a purple EU document, they don't even bat an eyelid. Definitely one to watch for future terrorist incursions. Luggage was soon spewing from beneath the black rubber flaps, and I was out and on my way. The taxi journey was great - really fast - and the new motorway seemed to give our man a vehicular relish he'd never experienced, except perhaps on the mainland. I found myself explaining in broken Spanish that I was a regular visitor to Mallorca, that my Dad lived here, that he'd died, and I had to pick up a boat...

I should bring you up to speed a bit, here: my Dad died in May 2004. He lived in Mallorca, in the Balearic Islands off the south east coast of mainland Spain, in the Med. My parents had split up in 1997, the decree nisi came through in 2000. Dad had run away to Spain pretty much immediately as he and Mum had separated, and he'd set up out there with a second wife who he married in 2002. Dad and Emma have the most gorgeous house you've ever seen. Really. Unbelievable.

Anyway: skip back to 1988, and my Dad bought his first boat. It's a Sea Ray Seville 18, falling into the Sports Boats bracket. It has a 175 horsepower output, powered by a 4.3 litre Thunderbolt Ignition engine. And power steering. I'd been waterskiing since I was 12, and was just 14 years old when he bought the old girl, which was named Dadsbote (sic). You know I'm a stickler for linguistic correctness, and while my father's tossing aside of the rulebook when it came to naming his boat slightly irked me - demonstating neither punctuation nor correct spellings - I love that craft and I love its name. It also goes like shit off a shovel, so I can overlook such triflings. Over the years, waterskiing had become kneeboarding, wakeboarding, rubber-ringing...it's one hell of a laugh. Add this to my swimming, dinghy sailing, windsurfing, snorkelling and scuba diving, and you'll get the idea that I'm a waterbaby.

But, as is the way with boats, this one was just the start of a marine love affair that would last 15 years. We'd had a lot of fun on that boat, first at Windermere in England's Lake District. We kept it up there at a Ski Club at Low Wood near Ambleside, but soon found the costs of hotels each time we were up there crippling - not to mention the water temperature - and so he bought a cruiser, which was also kept on Windermere. It was a Sealine 32 flybridge, with permanent berths for 4, increasing to 6 if you dropped the saloon table down to meet the edge of the C-shaped seating. You can see where this rampant addiction is going, I'm sure.

After a year or so of cruising and speeding on Windermere, the limitations of being on a 12 mile by 1 mile lake with no sea access became apparent. And so, it was time to move to the ocean. We're gonna need a bigger boat. Moving the operation to Birdham Pool at Chichester in West Sussex on the south coast of England, Dadsbote remained, but Dadsbote Too (sorry), the Sealine, was traded-up for a Fairline 50. This boat happily served the family adventures for about three years, before it was decided that, in fact, what was really needed was sun. And so, Dadsbote and Chocanpop (the Fairline 50 - Dad had worked for Cadbury-Schweppes: Choc and Pop) were both taken over to Cala D'Or, Mallorca. And that's where they stayed.

In the final dramatic maneouvre in his world of ship addiction, Chocanpop was also traded up for La Bella Orca (The Beautiful Whale), also a Fairline, but was now a Fairline Squadron 65. This marked the end of the road. I think I went on it two, maybe three times, before my parents' marriage collapsed in ruins. And I never saw it again. And, once Dad had settled with Emma, she was sold. That's the boat, not Emma. But - and here's really the point - Dadsbote, the original Sea Ray speedboat - was kept. And, in his will, it was left to me. That's what I've been sorting out this last week.

The taxi driver took me to Peters in Cala D'Or, where I arrived at midday. They are the British company who were - until recently - the largest Fairline boats distributor and sales operation in the world. They now handle Azimut and Sealine. In arranging this mission, I'd been lucky enough to speak to Mark McAllister, son of Ian McAllister who taught my Dad how to helm and moor a 23-ton vessel. This was an enormous piece of luck, as my Dad and Mark's dad Ian were peas in a pod. Maybe that should be beers in a pint. Anyway, Mark remembered me when I'd contacted the company before heading out there. And so, I turn up at Peters - no sign of Mark - but did meet his lovely wife Mel, who also works at Peters. She sorted me out, pointed me in the direction of the hotel, and I hauled my holdall onto my drenched shoulders and hoofed it over the hill about 500m to the Hotel Leo d'Or. Considering the cost - just 50 euros a night, including in-room safe (I'll get to that later) - I'd been done proud. Aircon, too. Blinding.

I unpacked and headed back to Peters at about 1330 to meet Mark, who was now off on his lunch. You get used to this in Mallorca. It all happens a little bit differently, a bit more leisurely. Slowly, is what I'd call it, but you must drop the mores of your home culture When In Rome. And so I wandered around the marina to Terrassa Porto Cari, a very nice but wildly overpriced cafe/bar, which is right next to where we used to moor La Bella Orca. Adolpho was pleased to see me - and I him, given the fact that the last time I'd been out here before Dad died, poor Adolpho had been caught in a kitchen explosion at the cafe: he's lucky to be alive, that man. Last time I'd sat here he'd been in ICU with poor prospects. Savouring the resilience of life, I ordered what I always order: un tostada jamon y queso, con una Coke Light, por favor. Damned expensive - the sarnie and two bottles of Coke cost 8 euros. But, look at the scenery...

I wandered back round the marina to Peters, where Mark had arrived. After letting him deal with a well-heeled customer, we chatted for a while and discussed what was needed. You need a bit more info here: Dadsbote was not on the water. In fact, she had been on her trailer in a boatyard about 10 miles from Cala D'Or - and the sea - ever since Dad died. To be fair, she'd been there a bit before that, too. The long and the short of it is, I'd come out here to get the boat off this Mallorcan bloke, to give to Peters to bring back to the UK. That is the mission. I hoped it was going to be easy. We discussed operational matters first: what state is she in, is the trailer moving? Have the wheels seized? Has the handbrake seized? I had no answers yet. Mark advised that I source some bearings-releasing spray, an ultra-penetrative liquid that, once sprayed on anything rusted and seized, renders it moveable within minutes. I agreed that this would be a good idea. So, mission one: get to the yard. Assess the boat's moveability. Find out what the bill is.

So I head into Cala D'Or, to get this spray. Of course, in my haste, I have forgotten that siesta occurs and shops close around lunchtime, some for three hours. Given the state of my shirt, I was beginning to understand why. Naturally, the place is shut, reopening at 1600. Grr. I need a fucking swim. The temperature in the shade was 34 celsius...in direct sunlight, 45. I went back to the hotel, grabbed my beach bag and headed down to Cala D'Or itself.

The resort area known as Cala D'Or is actually served by 6 main calas, most with beaches. From west to east, there is Cala Llonga, which is where the marina is. There is no beach here, but just to the south of Llonga there is the tinsy Cala D'Es Pou, a frequent skinny-dipping site from days of yore. It takes ten minutes to walk there from the marina and dive in nekkid, once you've had enough to drink. But, it's a mini beach. Don't go thinking of building a hotel there, or anything. Continuing east, there is Cala D'Or, which is where I'm about to head off swimming. Then there's Cala Gran, Cala Esmerelda, Cala Ferrera and Cala Serena. All of these calas are accessible from the sea via the same inlet, and all have beaches.

I scooted around the rocks to one side of Cala D'Or and found myself a nice spot near to someone's private swim-ladder into the sea, which I will need for getting out as the rocks have been sharpened from salt-erosion over millennia. This is closed-shoe terrain. Don't try it in flipflops. I'm sure my body hissed and steam rose as I plunged into the inviting aquamarine bay, it was pure delight. I floated about, watching the boats come and go, listening to the delighted chatter of the young'uns mucking about...and also the delighted chatter of some who simply should have grown out of all of this, but hadn't. A 41-year-old man (I was told!) was jumping off the rocks into an inflatable dinghy, and obviously taking some great spills into the water as his intended target slipped to either side on impact. It was exactly the kind of thing my Dad would have done.

Suitably refreshed, I returned to the hotel and headed out into Cala D'Or, which had now reopened after the daily siesta. Walking past the most gorgeous Chevrolet Corvette and feeling lust, I headed towards the man with the can. Despite the fact that my holiday Spanish extends as far as ordering drinks and food, asking how much it costs and where do I find so-and-so, I entered Commercial Palmer - Cala D'Or's all-singing, all-dancing hardware and boat chandlery store - with the intention of getting this spray can of bearings-releaser. In the end, I had to draw a boat on a trailer with pen and paper and point at the trailer, before explaining very poorly that it has not moved for three years. A few further hand-gestures and the bloke knew what I needed, and took me straight to it. Blinding.

Back at the hotel, I wandered across the street to book a hire car, which I could pick up at 9am tomorrow morning. What with the heavy day's workload so far, I returned to Cala D'Or, this time with snorkelling equipment and spent a nice hour underwater, finding a starfish and chasing several other species around a bit. Hooligan.

Mark had suggested meeting for a beer at Blue Juice Bar, a new addition to the marina operated by a lovely Scots bloke called Ian. Ian is a musician/ creative/ arty type, who decided to run a bar in the sun. Good on him. He comes across as a Highland version of John Lydon, with his bleached-blonde spikey hair (with early male pattern baldness, widow's peak style) and beginnings of middle-aged spread. His son, Mikey, is over in Cala D'Or helping him at the bar, as Mikey's mum hasn't got time for him, apparently. Can't really see what Mikey's problem would be with leaving Glasgow and moving to Cala D'Or, but there you are. Mikey desperately wants to be home in Glasgow. God love him for it: he's 19-years-old, wants a motorbike and to be in a rock band. More on that later.

I got down to Blue Juice around 630pm, and started quaffing San Miguel shandies like they were going out of fashion. Mark was with his wife Mel and their little girl Molly, as well as Julie (Mel's sister) and her husband John (actually John Butcher, the ex Blackburn Rovers player.) In some capacity or another, all work at Peters. We had a few drinks, and then all four returned to their house, where dinner, kiddies bedtime, etc all beckoned.

I propped up the bar a bit with Ian, until Rob and his mum Gina arrived. They and the rest of their family have moved out here to build nice villas. They did run a bar, The Waterfront, on the other side of the marina, but the rents are crazy over here and the season short, so they chucked in the towel and started doing what they do best: there is Dad, who's been a builder/contractor all his life, then there are the three sons, all brickies, chippies, sparkies. So, they changed tack and started building luxury properties. Good on them. Had a great conversation with Rob - he's a real lad, doesn't take any shit off anyone, and if he does, they soon find themselves in hospital. Apparently he gets this from his Dad, as Gina nods, sagely. Anyway, a whole range of topics were covered, largely along the "England's gone to the dogs and so we fucked off" line. It must have been a good line, as I finally stumbled home quite roaringly pissed at 2am.

Despite a busy day, I was glad to have been able to shoehorn an eight-hour drinking bout in there, as well. As my head went down, I dreamed of collecting cars and boats and running away.

16 July 2006

You Don't Need Superman (Returns)

I was just four years old when the first Superman movie came out in 1978; six for Superman II; nine when I saw Superman III; and had just hit thirteen when the last in the Christopher Reeve series finished the job of hammering the Man Of Steel into the collective celluloid consciousness. I hope you might be prepared to believe that this repeated exposure to Clark Kent and his heroic alter-ego directly led to my becoming a journalist, though there was no Daily Planet for me to work at. And spandex ain't ma thang.

Now, I am a man who likes to reignite those teenage years, to act childishly and play the fool. To cast my mind and behaviour back to earlier days. And so it was when I found out that there was going to be a new Superman movie: childlike joy welled up inside me, instantly. And so, to Superman Returns. Myself and the good lady have just wasted twelve pounds watching this complete pudding of a film. I really wanted to love it. I wanted to sit in a large, dark room with complete strangers and share the communal joy of seeing one of cinema's best-loved heroes brought back to life with renewed vigour, energy and compulsion.

Oh dear, team.


Superman Returns is 154 minutes long. That's two hours and 34 minutes. This is a long time to watch a movie. I don't mind watching long films. I do mind watching when it's clear that the Editor has just completed Movie Editing 101. There were at least three jumpy cuts that just left a bad taste in the mouth. It would have been fine if it had been 154 firecracker minutes, in the same way that Black Hawk Down is, never letting you catch your breath. This movie had me shifting my arse a lot, which is not a good sign. Before the film finished, I was already commenting at how slow, boring and fidgety it was.


Top marks go to Brandon Routh as Superman - he completely fits the bill. He looks like the bastard child of Christopher Reeve and Tom Cruise. However, as both Kent and our eponymous hero, he has the mannerisms of Reeve down off-pat. All told, a decent lead male. He gets most of the funny lines.

Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor has his witticisms, too. But, and this is a criticism of the movie editing and dialogue more than Spacey's acting, there is no snappiness about Luthor. If you remember Gene Hackman in previous Superman outings, there was that jolly, mischievous side to his evil - here, Spacey lends more of a Keyser Soze air to the character, an air that is perhaps a touch too dark for the material we're dealing with here. It's not the same with Batman Returns - the original comic book, The Dark Knight Returns, was very dark and gothic. Superman never was - he was always good, wholesome, clean American fun. Lex should be a likeable baddie - not an out-and-out evil bastard. Anyway, while we're in the Lex arena, he has the most laughable collection of comedy henchmen you've ever seen on screen, including one who duets at the piano with the sickly kid.

Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane? No, no, no, no, no. I'm tempted to stop right there, but feel I should give her more. To start with, and here's a plot spoiler for those who want to avoid reading it - if so, jump over the next paragraph now.

Superman actually returns five years after we last saw him. Lois is now in a committed relationship with child. The child, an asthmatic called Jason, is - we are led to believe - the son of Lois' new squeeze Richard. Now, here's the really nice bit. Basically, Richard's uncle is Daily Planet Editor Perry White. Richard is a top-flight journo at the DP, too, singlehandedly reviving the paper's fortunes with his excellent work. So, as soon as Superman does one five years ago, Lois jumps in bed with the boss's nephew. And says the kid is his. And lives in his fuck-off waterside house with...ahem...seaplane docked at the bottom of the garden. This allows the "my new man takes me up in the sky, too" line. Anyway, the kid isn't Richard's - it's Superman's. But he's obviously inherited his asthma from his smoking mom. Tsk.

So, she comes out looking a bit of a bitch. Add to this that she can't really act very well, and all round a poor performance. Considering I was going to stop at the line of "nos", I've done pretty well there. The rest of the cast are all pretty much B movie performances. No awards here.


- archive material from Marlon Brando as Superman (Kal-El)'s father Jor-El from original movies - message about "the people of Earth are good, but they need a guiding light. And so I have sent my only son..."

- Superman takes Lois up above the Earth, right above, and asks her to explain Why The World Doesn't Need Superman (her Pulitzer-winning piece), because "I hear everything, and all I hear is people crying out to be saved." Cue luminescent light on planet and Superman's face

- falling back to earth in a cruciform position, having jettisoned large kryptonite rock into outer space

- cutting hands and fingers on kryptonite rocks and blood on hands

- Lois losing her faith (Why The World Doesn't...), to rediscovery, to reaffirmation (Why The World DOES...)

There are probably more, but the religious undercurrent of the movie was clear to anyone with half a brain.

When Superman first returns, he's gazing at the TV, and we are treated to shots of the Iraq war, general global unrest and people running away from men with guns. So what does he do about this state of despair? He stops kids holding up liquor stores, and men robbing banks, right here in the Good Ol' US Of A. It would seem that, tug on the heartstrings though it may, the Middle East situation is too much for the Man Of Steel to contemplate. Let's look after America first. He does - according to news reports, show up in Germany and The Phillipines - but these were surely short, sharp PR outings: a bit of "winning hearts and minds" strategy?

Bryan Singer, what has happened? You did such wonderful work with the X-Men series. With The Usual Suspects. Your hit TV show House won awards just weeks ago. Have you just gone through a bad patch? Did time overrun grossly? How did you manage to convince WarnerBros that this was the cut that they should release? Why was the film so goddamn slow? Where was the pace? The excitement? The comic book crash-bang-wallop? Sure, some lovely set pieces in there - the boat breaking over the growing crystal island, the burning plane full of journos (nice touch, mate), etc. But really? You can do much better than this Bryan. C minus. You're on report.

So, to all those radio DJs, pundits, entertainment journalists and members of the Great British Public who have raved about this must-see Summer blockbuster: I don't think we saw the same movie. You must be retarded - or if not actually retarded, someone with a complete inability to express their own, honest opinions. Swim away from the hype whirlpool, you're gonna drown, fishies.

Boring. Overindulgent. Wasted opportunity. The movie equivalent of England's World Cup performance. And I said I wasn't going to mention football for four years.

14 July 2006

Rome Wasn't Built In A Day

It's been a slightly odd two days, in so far as lots of good things have happened.

On Thursday, I received an off-the-cuff invitation from my best friend's wife to step aboard Havengore, the riverboat that carried Winston Churchill's body up the Thames. That is on Saturday. Needless to say, I am going. My best friend's wife's father owns the boat, after it was put up for sale about six months ago.

The vessel will be used as the starter boat for the 32nd Annual Barge Driving Race. We are not racing. We just fire the gun, drink champers and wave at the proles on the banks. Hoorah.

Friday was even odder. As I was preparing myself to head to Mallorca to wrest this boat from the grip of the evil tyrants, I was checking that I had all my stuff: and found I was missing my credit card. Before cancelling, I retraced my steps, found it was last used at PC World, so headed there this morning to check. Hallelujah. They had it, and indeed most of the staff nodded sagely even as I mentioned my name.

Beyond that, I went straight to my former employer to submit my expenses and final timesheets. All told, I should have about another two grand heading my way.

Add to that the fact that my accountant says I've been paying independent National Insurance contributions - when I didn't need to - for the last, ooh, four years. So that should be another £1500 to two grand back in the kitty.

I also spoke to my Mallorca contact, who is arranging my accommodations as we speak. So flights are booked for Wednesday - and Saturday will find me heading beneath the waves again with Scuba Mallorca. Other than that, I refer to my previous post about the boat. Maybe I should clarify the whole story again sometime. But not now.

I am now in London at my other flat, and preparing for a nice sleep before Thames action tomorrow. A full report will be incoming tomorrow evening.

When is something going to go wrong?

13 July 2006

Queueing - At Your Service?

Us Brits like to talk about how we hate queueing, but I'm not about to start that diatribe. Personally, I think that queueing is all well and good and should not be complained about, but I am noticing recently a growing trend that is starting to dent my good-natured English acceptance of standing in line.

At the risk of sounding slightly Germanic, waiting for something is fine as long as the thing you are waiting for is executed swiftly and efficiently. And here is where the whole shooting match falls down. Let me give you an example: there are two city-centre, scaled-down versions of major supermarkets that I frequently use - Tesco Express and Sainbury's Local. The experiences at the two could not be more different.

Sainbury's does the business: there is a good selection of staples, the odd flourish and when you get to the till, it's all bagged up for you without question and paid for before you can say Jack Robinson. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but generally, it's the nuts. But while Tesco has a range of products that far outstrips the variety on offer at this Sainsbury's, they have a very serious problem when it comes to service.

This particular Tesco finds itself in a busy, multi-use city centre mall - there are workers in the complex itself, and many city centre workers and shoppers visit it around lunchtime and evening for its bars and restaurants. You would think that they would notice a pattern of trade, and man the tills accordingly. You would think. There's no problem with the stocking of shelves and what-have-you at this Tesco store, but the experience of queueing - one that we must accept, stoically - is thoroughly marred by the nonsense you experience when you get to the last stage in the shopping process.

Mostly, the rule appears to be to have three people standing idle at the tills all morning when it's quiet, before quickly seconding two of them to stacking duties just as the lunchtime rush begins. It takes at least ten people amassed in the snaking, Tensabarriered "queueing zone" before the single till operator reaches beneath his or her position to ring the "can someone please come and help at the tills" bell. You can hear it ring from inside the shop. On average, it then takes five minutes and a few more insistent ringings of the bell before someone - clearly under duress - sluggishly scuffs their way to the till to serve their customers.

If it's not a lack of staff at the tills, it's the staff at the tills who aren't serving. Cashing-up seems to take place during any given busy period, and involves two workers, one counting and one bagging and cross-checking. Those two workers who could be manning two tills. Meanwhile, the queue builds to fifteen and you could imagine you were hearing the seasonal mating calls of Amazon toads, what with all the tutting.

The staff at the two could not be more different, either, in both appearance and attitude. Sainbury's seems to employ pretty sharp young folk, people who smile, people who'll have a chat with you as they pack your bags. There is a sense of teamwork going on. Tesco, I can only imagine, stipulates "a lack of social skills and etiquette, together with some form of personal hygiene or communication issue" in their recruitment advertising. Sorry, but it's true.

I would also like to point out that Tesco always runs out of Marlboro Lights, whereas I can buy a multipack from Sainbury's at any given time. Hooray for Sainbury's. Boo for Tesco. I do prefer Tesco's food, so that evens it out. But the rot is setting in. Today Tesco. Tomorrow, the world.

12 July 2006

Thank God That's All Over

And it is, now. And what a sparkling finale. In what is likely to be one of my last postings regarding football for four years, I would like to pay homage to the Italian side who, despite being the weaker team, gave dem Froggies a good match. Further, I would also like to pay homage with extra cheese to Monsieur Zinedine Zidane who, in a maneouvre reminiscent of Eric Cantona's flying kung-fu fan-kicking days, managed to render every single global viewer utterly speechless. What a way to finish your football career, racist maternal comment or not. Anyway, Italy deserved to win after that shenanigans. Forza Italia!

Anyway, back to business. I've continued to sort out all those odds and sods that invariably fall by the wayside when you have a permanent daily job. Being as I am in hiatus mode right now, with several exciting potential channels to explore, I'm taking the time opportunity to get a few things sorted: get my London flat rented out; collect my Dad's boat from Mallorca and get it on the water in the UK. I'm thinking Swansea. If you happen to know of a good reason why I shouldn't moor up there, please tell me. And "there are Welsh people there" won't do.

A gadget a day keeps the doctor away, said one of my good friends as he walked into my living room on Monday, as he spotted my new (oh God, I'm sorry) projector. It's mini and made for laptops, but the fucker will crank out a 8ft by 3ft image on a white wall with no worries at all. So, this mate and I sat watching the movie rendering of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, and a jolly good time was had by all, most notably Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro, who must have had laughs of quite titanic proportions making that film. Haven't seen it? Sort it.

Forget all the entry-level shit about him being a massive caner and unable to manage his life and finances...Hunter S Thompson was poking fun at America long before Michael Moore came along, and the public appetite for that slobby jalopy seems to be insatiable. If you want to see the rot at the heart of the American Dream...you'll get more from this than you will from Death Of A Salesman. Later that evening, I simply had to watch the directors cut of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks, I do, I do, I do, I do...

Just need some surround sound action now and it'll be apples.

I've been very busy on the home maintenance front. Save for changing a few lightbulbs (don't shake your head, it's those 50w halogens that are so easy to keep forgetting to buy at the DIY superstore), I have finally installed the retractable mirror that's been lying around in the bathroom since the end of 2002. It works like a charm, and I even waterproofed the drill holes and face plate with silicone sealant. I love doing DIY. My Dad used to take me around the house whenever he was fixing or mending or rewiring or changing a fuse. It used to bore the living shizah out of me at that age. But, it all went in.

I've finally paid off my uni mate for the university house week. That's in November down in Hampshire - over the weekend of Bonfire Night - and is costing £174 per couple FOR THE WEEK! Now that is smart. Dunno how much of that time I'll be spending there - probably just the weekend, maybe a long'un...we shall see. It'll be good to catch up with everyone - you know how, even when people have been your best friends through some truly formative times, you just lose touch? It's at that stage with these folks, though I am sure that we shall relight the old fires, even if it's just for a weekend.

Today I have researched marinas in the Wales area. It's been a kind of poisoned chalice, inheriting this boat. Don't get me wrong, I love the fact that my Dad left me his speedboat when he died. We had some of the best times on that boat. It's a SeaRay Seville 18, which should mean approximately jack-shit to you unless you happen to be a "boatie". I say "boatie" rather than "yachtie". The two don't mix. If you have a mast and sail, you have class. If you have a planing hull and a powerful engine, you're a petrol-headed boy-racer. Guess which category I fall into?

The bastard is just 18 feet long but has a 175 horsepower Mercruiser engine, 3.5 litre. With one-up, it'll do 50 knots easy, so let's call it 55-60 mph for you landlubbers. When you move at these speeds across water, it's not like a casual sub-limit stroll along the motorway. Water, at speed, takes on the properties of concrete: it hardens, but rather than being flat, polished concrete, it's bumpy, jumpy, choppy concrete.

Of course, the best thing about the whole lot of this is that I get to go over to Mallorca and "make arrangements". I haven't been back to the place since Dad died. I wonder how I'm going to feel? Staying around in the town we spent so many family holidays in. Driving the roads. Eating and drinking at the bars and restaurants. Crying on the same harbour wall?

Anyway, the basic cost of keeping a boat of this size on a mooring in Wales for a year is coming in around the £1500 average. However, this is why I fancy Swansea, where the costs could be under a grand per annum. Which would be much better. I was thinking about somewhere on the western or northern coasts of Wales, but the prices are high and the distances/drive times are crippling. Swansea is right next to the M4 - so, head south on M5 from Birmingham, take a right on the M48, join main M4 in a bit, and get off at Swansea. Motorway all the way, that's my motto.

Before then...I must still submit my freelance expenses and get my final timesheets signed off. To be fair, the hold-up is no longer my fault - I have made the contact and need to have it all done by the end of the week, discussion time with former boss allowing. I also have my tax return to submit, which is a ballache but a necessary evil. While I do allow a professional to pull the whole lot together, it does fall to me to collect and annotate all of that material and hand it to them. To call this process dull is grossly inadequate.

I shall book my flights to Mallorca today, and get in touch with the right people Cala D'Or sides so that I can bunk in some cheap grothole for seven nights and get this mission accomplished.

09 July 2006

Spamkiller Made Flesh

(previously published in the UK's underground idiocy compendium Blowback magazine - the title above is a link - in July 2005. And I didn't get any money for it, so copyright's still mine. Muhahahahahaha.)


Feeling as if some disgruntled farmer had emptied a month’s worth of slurry from his Cotswold cattle farm into my frontal lobes, I spill from my bed towards the intercom.

“…hello…,” I manage.

“Hello there! I’m a courier here to deliver a letter. I’ve got to leave it at the boxes.”

This sounded fair enough, but being security-conscious of my apartment block – I once watched a Community Liason Security Officer from West Midlands Police break into this building with nothing but a Swiss Army knife – I grab my dressing-gown and head downstairs.

The chap looks rather surprised that I haven’t just buzzed him in through the door from my flat to just get on with it. Come to think of it, I am quite surprised, as I could be back in bed by now.

The fella is a somewhat dishevelled character, more Birmingham Evening Mail streetbox seller than “courier” – a position which spoke to me of shiny, finely-tuned motorcycles, leathers, helmets, club patches, day-glo bags and clipboards of delivery dockets. Conversely, our man is on foot, short, squat and unshaven, with thick-lensed glasses perched on an upward-tilting snout. His mucky canvas bag and overalls perfect the mechanic vision.

I expect to sign something on behalf of someone. Instead, the mole-like creature shuffles past me, and I notice a perceptible whiff of the unclean. This was looking less like Parcelforce every minute.

He approaches the postboxes, and pulls from his shabby satchel a clutch of advertising flyers – junk mail – heralding a major local property sales and rental firm. One by one, he begins to insert them in each of the pigeonholes. I watch him, even as he drops one in my own slot. Perhaps becoming uncomfortable at my presence, he turns to tell me that he can manage on his own, that he’ll see himself out.

“I thought you said you were a courier and that you had a parcel to deliver to someone?” I enquire.

“I said I had a letter.”

“Well, that’s more than one letter, and it seems to be for everyone. You’re not a courier.”

“I am a courier.”

“But you’re just putting junk mail into every box. How does that make you a courier?”

“Because I’ve got all these letters to deliver.”

“These aren’t letters: letters come in envelopes, addressed to individuals and with postage paid. These are advertising flyers. Junk mail. Crap.”

“Well, if that’s what you think of it…”

“It is what I think of it, and it’s what everyone else thinks of it. It’s just more rubbish for the bin. What’s more, you have gained access to this building under false pretences, which is illegal. If you and the company you are delivering for want to flyer our letterboxes, you can do so when the post arrives in the morning.”

He leaves.

I wonder later if I was unduly harsh. After all, he’s just the messenger. But, to be fair, he’s the only one who was available for shooting right there, right then.

Time Flies When You're Having Fun

Dear Diary, I am sorry I have neglected you these past...erm...four days? Does that make it Wednesday since I last checked in? I have failed to submit my freelance expenses to my last employer, and the guilt is weighing heavy on my heart - not to mention the idea that they might be rejected. I told my last boss that I would do them before the end of last week, even mentioning Wednesday in the equation. The same Wednesday when I rattled on about bleeding late night TV phone-in quiz shows. Perhaps my focus should have been elsewhere.

Actually, I don't know why I'm apologetic in tone here: I've just worked like a rabid monkey for 12 weeks straight (ooh, don't work too hard, me lad...) and have earned a break. I can't believe I'm feeling guilty because I haven't done anything for a week. God damn the Protestant work ethic. Not that it should interest you in the slightest, but as I've been doing sweet Fanny Adams since we last spoke I might as well mention it, even if I do sound like a dweeby bastard or complete show-off. God, I've really built it up now, and I'm afraid the vinegar strokes may not be rewarded with the money shot that you perhaps expect. I got myself this really tidy laptop. An "ultraportable" they call it. Anyway, it does everything I need it to do and it's less than A4 size and weighs the same as a bag of sugar. Dull. Dull. Dull.

On Friday, I met up with an old friend from school down in the south of England. While my family lived in Africa, I went to boarding school near Gatwick airport, and I appreciate how glamourous that sounds. This chap went there at the same time as me, but was a year older. We would have last schooled together when I was 12 years old. I like the fact that we still have lunch together 20 years later. Anyway, he had this brilliant idea. Really superb. The idea was beautiful in its simplicity: to set/programme/browse your digital TV set-top box via your mobile phone, and remotely set it to record. Never miss that programme again - you can record Juliet Bravo from the comfort of the pub. I'm sure you can see the genius. Despite the consumption of Guiness by my friend over lunch, neither the luck of the Irish nor the pure genius of the black stuff was on hand to assist. On Saturday morning - about eight hours after he was talking about taking Intellectual Property out on the concept - Sky TV announced their groundbreaking new technology drive: "Remote Record - set your Sky set-top box from your mobile phone". So, as you can imagine, the disappointment was palpable. Despite his being a pretty switched-on character, he hadn't seen the news. I hated breaking it to him. However, it did solve the problem of who to sell the idea to, and how to raise capital for the costs of IP lawyers.

I've just had a very drunken Saturday night out with my good lady friend and a gaggle - I think that's what I should call it - of her old London girlie mates. Two doesn't really constitute a gaggle numerically, though the collective noise the three of them generated made the gaggle tag seem somehow inadequate. Thankfully, and I don't mean any disrespect, one of the number brought her bloke along and a fantastic bloke he was, too. I think he was as glad as I was that there was another fella there, though I must highlight that he knew all the associated characters much better than I do and was able to comment on individuals I am yet to meet. After a swift pair of cocktail rounds at Bank in Birmingham - simultaneously the most stylish and supremely wankiest bar/restaurant in central Brum - we slipped through Brindleyplace to the canal, and walked along past Gas Street basin to The Mailbox. The missus and I felt like tour guides, pointing out such local delights en route as The Tap & Spile - Birmingham's oldest pub, and colloquially known as The Spinal Tap - which also happens to be Birmingham's grottiest pub. In the summer, the easy canalside access to the toilets (sorry, I do not mean to offend the American sensibilities: the restroom. the bathroom. Though why you bath in there, I have no idea. And as for being restful...well, there are clearly more differences over here in Europe than I ever imagined.) Anyway, the toilets: they reek, acting as they do as a public canalside pissoir. There is a 20 yard stretch of canal that, on any given summer's evening, is awash with the drifting stench of urine and those blue chemical blocks they bung in the urinals. Urgh. Enthralled by the city they had descended upon, our southern guests - a pair from Brighton on the south coast in Sussex, and the lady-half of a married couple from south Devon - seemed more awestruck by Birmingham's Mailbox "complex" than I'd ever imagined anyone could feel. There was a wow factor that I did not realise existed. If anyone can shed any light on this, that would be grand.

During dinner, and after the consumption of much wine and beer, conversation turned to the wilder, more hedonistic days of late school and university. It seemed everyone had a tale to tell, everyone had their favourite Class A or B, and proferred an experienced user's guide to the respective substances. I'll not bore you here with tales of people crouching in cupboards "waiting for the man", nor running around barely-clad and diving into lakes in university hall grounds, or any such frippery. The best part (and the point) is that the couple sitting next to our table - a pair who had resolutely refused to communicate with each other during their entire meal - apparently took enormous offence at the content of our druggy conversation. I missed this completely, and merrily chatted on about Daft Situations I Have Been In. But, after they had left - and I had taken the opportunity to point out their Benedictine silence to the others - it became clear that the rest of my party had observed the distaste and poor humour with which our co-diners had judged our banter. I find that terribly amusing and fart in their general direction.

Bonsoir, mes amis. A toute a l'heure.

05 July 2006

Late Night TV Phone-In Quiz Shows

I'm sure if you're American reading this, you'll have had these things for ages and won't understand why I'm so alarmed at them. There is a recent and rapidly-expanding trend for late-night call-in quiz-shows where you can win money by answering really fucking easy questions. They're not even really questions. They are word games. What's more, they are word games that you would play with a six-year-old.

The current game is this: there are prizes running from £2 to 4 thousand quid, with the callers having to append a noun (their guess) to a previously-given noun (on the board). They call in and wait, on hold, on a premium-rate phone line. Then they get to deliver their compound noun and check them against the list of previously-decided results hidden on the board.

The current noun is SUN, and so callers have to make a complete word that begins with sun and end with their own guess. You would not believe the answers that some people have been coming on national television to give. They even gave clues out, such as "you might find this in a car"...sun...VISOR. Yay. Here and there they double the prize monies, too. It's like, phone in and we'll give you some money. But no, Joe Public doesn't like those odds. Another clue: rub this in. Sun...CREAM. Woohoo.

Here are some examples of submitted answers:

Marie in Stratford, East London: derland. As in SUNderland. Oh Jesus Christ.

John from Peterborough: board. As in SUNboard. I beg your pardon?

Pete in Taunton: city, as in SunCITY, technically a proper noun, not to mention a European holiday resort built on ancient South African tribal lands and the sweat of poorly-paid local labour...and a bit daft too, really, though much better than Marie and John.

Steve from Bedford: seed. As in SUNseed. Not bad. Not there either.

Patricia in Hertfordshire: lotion. As in SUNlotion. Wasn't on the board. Oh, well.

Lovely link just happened, something I'm familiar with from radio days. The caller has the TV on in the background, because the numpty wants to hear how stupid he sounds on telly. The delay between speaking and hearing transmission buggers it all right up. Lots of howl and feedback and the most disjointed conversation possible. The lass on the show? She's just been very stern, telling viewers to turn their TV off when they take part on the show, as "it makes life very difficult for us!" So, go on, turn off your TV sets...all of you...

These poor presenters. Canned laughter and cheering. A nasty studio. They obviously consider it a move up from local radio or voiceover work, but to be honest, it's like hosting a quiz show in the style of QVC. The amount of filling they have to do between callers - is this because there are none, or is it because they want to keep them on hold paying £2.99 per second? - is enormous. But the unwavering enthusiasm with which the pair of them encourage callers, participation, sell the competition, remind viewers of possible prize money, and generally act all bubbly is a study in getting the job done.

Who is watching this drivel? Apart from me?

Did I Say I Hated Football?

The World Cup theme sadly continues, as I register my intense pleasure at the German exit from their own tournament. If they were getting to the final, it was gonna be against England. Two Italian goals in the last two minutes of extra time? Football legends are made of this.

04 July 2006

Will I Get Water Up My Nose?

I suspect that there aren't going to be many constructed strands to this blog. It's what I want it to be when I sit down to type, I'm not gonna bother defining it, because then I'll feel compelled to meet my promises having set out my stall. I'd much rather this was all kind of stream of consciousness, know what I mean?

Have you noticed how many non-emergency service vehicles have taken to sporting emergency service attire? I'm talking about the window repairers, tree surgeons, pet rescuers, even your common-or-garden electricians and plumbers. Have you seen how they hang out in the middle lane on the motorway, watching with glee as you tear up the outside pushing the ton, before noticing the 'police vehicle' ahead and slamming on your anchors? Until you come alongside and realise you've just reacted to Big Dave's Vehicle Rescue?

Do you feel the same urge I do to wind down your nearside window and extend your middle finger incontravertibly in the driver's direction? Just before arming your rear-mounted RPG launcher and blowing the smug fuck off the road? Well, I do and I suspect I am not alone. I'd love to hear from you if you share my heightened sense of emotion on this subject.

Talking of emotion, the World Cup is on as I'm sure many of you might have noticed. I have to confess to being a complete anti-footy activist - though of course when England play, it's OK. But as for your day-to-day following of a football team: going to all the matches, buying all the programmes and keeping them up in the loft, heading away from home a few times each season, getting really irate about players, managers or owners - that's all far too much for me.

Sport is fine (especially rugby and cricket) but following it with nigh-religious...scratch that, supra-religious...fervour leaves me a little cold. I do have friends - most of them in fact - who will disagree with me, who will cry when England exit the World Cup (and did), who will tell me I am a heathen or not even a proper man. But there you have it. I don't find myself sitting in the gutter crying in public quite as often. To be honest, the reason I like the World Cup is that I get to see lots of my mates over some beers. However, conversation topics do tend to be limited in the circumstances.

Anyway, a strange thing happened to me during England's final match against Portugal in the Quarter Finals. Once Beckham had retired hurt and Rooney had left the pitch for stamping, the team began to play with a new vigour - they were running rings around Portugal in terms of passing, possession and attack.

What stunned me was the insistent advice from BBC commentators John Motson and Mark Lawrenson that England should play for penalties..."it's the only thing they can do." So...sorry...Rooney is off halfway through the second half (you have 25 minutes left to play in normal time), but the team is advised by the commentators to go for the draw in the main match...and then a draw in the 30 minutes of extra time...to play for penalties?

What about...ooh, as you're all fired up, why don't you sink one, then play defensive for another 30 minutes, and we can all go home for tea in normal time and see you all in the Semis? To stupid-bastard-dont-know-nuffink-bout-footy here, what I do recall quite vividly is England's somewhat poor historical record in penalty shoot-outs. And that's going back over two decades.

Why on earth two experienced commentators would advise what they did - I know Sven had very few strikers with him, and most of them were injured or off the pitch - I can only fathom a guess. And my guess is, they are both daft as brushes. And they wanted England to lose.

Of course, the most stunning thing about all of the above is the fact that I gave even the slightest shit in the first place.

So: he likes driving. He hates football. That'll do for starters.