Le Chocolat

Thursday, 22 December 2011

I'm not really into eating massive amounts of chocolate but this blogpost is about just that- chocolate. I suppose if I wanted to make some tenuous link between the brown sickly stuff and running (to justify the name of this blog, don'cha know) I could tell you that Colin Jackson used to chow down on a fuck-off big bar of the stuff just before a race.

Anyway, that's enough about running, hurdling and Welsh people.....back to the issue in hand. So a few weeks ago I was asked to attend a Wandsworth Borough Community Awards event. Let's get this right, I was asked only after all the preferred individuals had knocked it back. Imagine the Queen getting the cold shoulder from everyone invited to her garden party and ending up inviting Gary Glitter.....it's kinda that vibe but without any connection between me and the shoulder pad wearing, bouffant headed sicko.

So I agree to go....a three course meal with complimentary wine, it's a no-brainer if you ask me. Then I'm asked to recommend a local community champion for an award , again, a no-brainer. I know a fella that's kept the local community kebab shops and off licences in business despite a crippling recession, surely a community champion. But that fella will be quaffing complimentary wine and scoffing a three course meal on the same night as the awards, so I'd best recommend someone else.

Of course! My oppo, Vince who I run the local youth boxing programme with. So I recommend him and guess what? He wins!

Of course I win too. Not necessarily because we're a partnership and he takes the award for the both of us....more because I've encouraged the wine waiter to properly fill my glass rather than those ridiculous quarter-filled measures.

Anyway, a local dignitary hears of Vince's success but is concerned that Yours Truly hasn't been suitably recognised. If he'd seen the recycling bin the next day he might have thought otherwise nevertheless, I'm summoned to said local dignitary's office. The guy is a lovely fella and camper than Larry Grayson on his way to a Liberace concert but he hands me this package and says:

'This is for you. Thank you for all your hard work in the community.'

I'm holding this beautiful pyramid shaped box; it's coloured in gold and brown and tied up in a bow.

'Thank you, but what is it?' I ask.

'Chocolates.' I'm informed.

I thank him kindly, we exchange Christmas cards and I'm out the door, hotfooting it down the road with a box of fucking chocolates.

Chocolates. Never been given those before. Beer? Yes; Wine? yes; Whisky? Yes; Chocolate? No.

Chocolates. They're the default present that you buy your aunt because you don't really know her at all.

I get back home and decide that I need to Google said chocolates to ensure they're not gonna play havoc with my lactose intolerance. Google tells me these chocolates cost £120.00 a box.

Yes, I said £120.00 a box.

Fucking expensive chocs

Although I don't dare open these chocolates because I've promised to share them, dying to see what a £120.00 chocolate tastes like. So as we enter the run up to Christmas I make do with my normal wine and kebabs.

So I'm in the kebab shop tonight..... normal large chicken doner with extra chilli sauce. The chef (!) is cooking my kebab and I'm leaning on a table reading a two-day old copy of The Sun. As I'm reading a story about a guy whose wife has run off with his dad I hear the words:

'You wanna the salad, yes?'

I sigh, and without looking up from the newspaper answer, as I do every time:

'Lettuce, cabbage, and don't be shy with the chilli sauce.'

I close the newspaper without finishing the article and fish £5.60 out of my pocket. I hand it to the guy behind the jump and he says:

'This for you, best customer. Merry Christmas.'

And I'm handed a box of Thornton's chocolates. I'm quite choked. I stammer a thank you and walk out of the place with yet another box of chocolates.

I've got more chocolate than that which is hidden behind the jumpers in Vanessa Feltz's wardrobe.

The one thing I'm left wondering is that if you're a well known chocolate chomping community volunteer, or if you consume an inordinate amount of chocolate from the local chocolate shop, do they give you wine as a reward?


Why Should the World Stop Turning?

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

I remember back when I was a lad in South London I used to listen to the patter of the adult males upon meeting another of the species. The questions asked of each other to make acquaintance were always the same:

'Alright, mate? Where d'you live?'

The answer was usually one of the various working class parishes around Peckham- Camberwell, New Cross, Catford, Lewisham, Bermondsey, Elephant and Castle, somewhere like that. In those days no-one seemed to travel very far (and they think that postcode wars are a new thing).

The question regarding one's geographical locale was quickly followed by:

'Where d'ya drink?'

On a hierarchical list that defined the male working class Londoner of the 1970s, these two factors sat atop such meaningless drivel as your wife, family and profession. You might detect a distinct lack of that particular facet that dictated the colour of one's scarf - the football club. But that answer could be gleaned from the answers to question 1 and 2 above. You wouldn't want to be drinking in a Millwall public house wearing a claret and blue coloured scarf.

The public house. The place where the men met after work to spend their hard-earned while the women were at home making sure that the spam, peas and chips were on the table. My own 'local' was the Greendale pub; the place that saw me and my brothers sitting outside on an early evening eating Golden Wonder crisps and sharing a bottle of Cream Soda.

                                          The Greendale today. Peace in the Valley
When the door of the pub opened to eject a customer and a cloud of cigarette smoke we looked expectantly to see if our old man had had his fill. Usually not. Not before darkness descended, anyhow.

The Greendale was a small community of Millwall scarf wearing men from the surrounding housing estates (with the addition of women at weekends). Everyone knew each other and there was an unspoken rank system that operated there with the hardest man at the top and the divvy fella that suffered a lack of oxygen during birth at the bottom (but he wore his blue and white scarf regardless of the weather so he was on the firm).

I don't know the position of my old man in that rank system; at the time I fantasised that he was just below the top boy, Lenny. Now I suspect he may have been just above the divvy fella in the scarf.

But my old man had a rule. Regardless of the regulars being in attendance, the one single day in the year that he downright refused to go to the pub was Christmas Day. The Greendale was swerved and the 25th December was set aside for family, presents, overcooked turkey and a sickly concoction of advocaat and lemonade known as a snowball.

I followed my old man's rule into adulthood and never stepped over the threshold of a licenced premises on Jesus's birthday; family, presents and overcooked turkey are the order of the day (I can't face the fucking advocaat).

That was until two years ago when I found myself in a position that I believed didn't exist. No one gets left alone on Christmas Day, right? The little boy outside in the cold looking through the window always gets invited in, right?


There I was, arrived home from work on Christmas Day morning. The house was cold and empty without the smell of a turkey that had been cooking since the early hours just to make sure it was drier than a nun's fanny. I shuffled about a bit, fed the fish, made a cup of tea, looked out the window and thought:

'How the fuck has it come to this? I'm at home, on my own, on Christmas Day.'

Then I had a spark of genius....the pub! So I binned my old man's rule, poured the tea down the sink, put on my blue and white scarf and hot-footed down the boozer.

I walked through the door imagining that I'd be greeted by similarly sad individuals wearing drab clothing and drab facial expressions celebrating Jesus's birthday with a pint of warm ale.

How wrong was I?

It was a veritable hothouse of fun! All these years my old man had got it wrong....the place was banged to the rafters with festive cheer, Christmas tunes on the jukebox, and snacks on the bar. Fantastic.

I proper filled my boots until it reached my two-hour window to see my youngest children so I skipped out the door to arrive home to a frosty ex-wife/partner (no.3) who was sat outside my gaff in her motor. She commented negatively on the beer fumes on my breath (such an odd occurrence at Christmas) before zooming off down the road back to the bosom of her family.

Christmas Day with the children was odd. They'd already eaten so my attempt at force feeding them turkey, mashed potato and piccalilli was met with the kind of welcome Gary Glitter might get at the opening of a new kindergarten (I thought that the mash and piccalilli might add an extra dimension to the norm but it just got a bleurgh).

The two hours came and went in a flash and as ex-wife/partner's (no.3) car zoomed off down the road I was left in unspeakable quiet and surrounded by discarded wrapping paper.

No problem, I've got the answer: pub, pub, pub, pub.

So it was on with the blue and white scarf and I'm off out the door like George Michael exiting a public loo upon hearing the words, 'Hello, hello, hello.'

I hotfooted down the road longing for the festive cheer, Christmas tunes on the jukebox, and snacks on the bar.

But as I tugged on the door that wouldn't move, and looked hopefully through the darkened window, the suspicion that was created when I noticed a lack of internal lighting was realised. The fucking place was closed. All those happy individuals earlier in the day were happy because their opposite number was at home cooking the spam, peas and chips.

My old man had got it right all those years; he swerved the pub on Christmas Day because the bastards only served til mid afternoon.

So I shuffled off home to a rerun of Only Fools and Horses and, when the beer ran out, advocaat and lemonade.

The moral of this story is this: If you're with your family this festive season, please don't take it for granted. If you're on your own, remember that the pubs close early so get some extra beer in.

Thank fuck I'm working.

Bombay Snake Charming

Friday, 16 December 2011

Fail to prepare and you prepare to fail; that's what they say, right? Well, there could be no failing this week so preparation took a front seat. With a works Christmas do which required attendees to dress in a James Bond theme in a hotel in Farnham; sixteen boxers to weigh and confirm their fitness to fight; a mad-cap dash to Weymouth for a birthday celebration (yep, as I sit and type this, single fingerdly as typing was never gonna be a requirement for any employment likely to come my way,  I've hit true middle age- 45. Ugh!) ;and an extravaganza of pugilism at the Clapham Grand, there could be no failing allowed.

Unfortunately, planning for Marcothon slipped off the agenda so a failing occurred. Run for 25 minutes or three miles every day in December. Fail.

Ho, hum!

I suppose if I had been that motivated or that ruthless in my planning I could have fitted in a 25 minute run around the streets of Battersea after preparing the Clapham Grand for the boxing and before the doors opened. But I didn't. Instead I went to the pub with Darrel Wilkins Jacobs, an Anglo-Indian colleague of mine who once graced the posts of this blog with alarming regularity. That evening Darrel was to be the MC at our boxing show.

Due to his absence you may have mistakenly believed that Darrel Wilkins Jacobs had suffered some terrible fate and perished. That's a fair bet to be honest, after all, a man that decides he's gonna set out from Fort William in a pair of flip-flops and trek his way to the airport is likely to suffer blisters and exposure at best. Then, after enquiring at a petrol station as to the distance involved, and to be told 100 miles, then deciding that a Bombay Bad Boy Pot Noodle and two KitKats will be sufficient sustenance, is almost definitely making A&E rather than Glasgow Prestwick. 

But no, Darrel Wilkins Jacobs lives!

So Marcothon got shelved and me and Darrel went to the pub. We were dressed smartly, me in dark grey suit and regimental tie and Darrel clad penguin-like as pictured above. We walked into the Slug and Lettuce to be greeted by the sight of many thirsty individuals that had aims of being spectators of pugilism some time later. Many of them we recognised as colleagues.

A certain individual sat at the bar with three friends that were unknown to us. He, on the other hand, was recognisable as an Asian firefighter that stands by at our fire station occasionally.

'Hey, Darrel, how you doing, man?' enquired the Asian firefighter. I could detect a perception of some unspoken, racial brotherhood from the guy. Unbeknown to him Darrel is more Delboy Trotter that Dev Anand.

'I'm alright, mate,' replied Darrel in his South London cockney accent.

'You're looking smart but why are you dressed like that, man?' asked our friend.

'I'm just about to start my shift at the local curry house next door mate. I do a bit of part-timing there to make ends meet.'

'Really? Wow! That's good. It's funny because we're on our way to a boxing show and you look like one of those microphone dudes! Maybe we'll pop in for a meal afterward, a few extra popadoms on the house, eh?'

I managed to supress my laughter quite easily. After all, I've had many years of witnessing Darrel Wilkins Jacobs reel in the gullible and easily duped. He recently convinced a German film crew and a number of international Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams that he's a USAR snake charmer and rids international rubble piles of poisonous serpents before the USAR teams get to work. He told them that snake charming has been in his ancestry for generations and he puts his skills to use for the benefit of rescue workers. This happened in Texas where rattlers and other nasty reptiles are abound.

It was as Darrel played an orange plastc recorder to the expectant massed ranks of American and European search teams, and the German film-makers rolled their cameras, that a rubber snake was encouraged out of a colleague's breast pocket by a length of invisible fishing line, and around fifty USAR operatives and a German film crew were introduced to the world of Darrel Wilkins Jacobs and the letters N-A-I-V-E.

So I guess I'm saying Marcothon got shelved but I had the joy of witnessing another classic performance from the snake-charming, popadom serving, Bombay Bad Boy.

Oh well, I might pick it up again before it gets too late.

At the very bottom of this post I've attached a video of Darrel in action (MC-ing.....not snake charming or waitering).

Post Script For Murdo or How I Almost Became a Legionnaire

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Murdo McEwan has asked me to enlighten the readership of this blog as to the outcome of the tale of woe regarding my encounter with a Royal Military Police dog that I wrote about in my previous post.

Did my two pals escape?

Did I contract rabies?

Do I now howl at the moon on a monthly basis?

Here's the answer:

I ended up spending that night in a cell in the local RMP post where I was made to stand to attention until morning. I was later transferred to the regimental gaol which was run by a sadistic Provost Sergeant called Jacko.

My two buddies made it back to the regimental lines and safety and in a truly supportive act of concern for my welfare got their heads down.

The next day an estimation was made regarding the cost of making good our night's activities; to repaint the squadron blocks and repair the four-tonner the bill came in at DM 60,000.00, which when converted to Stering in 1988 was about £20,000.00.

I shit you not.

Although I claimed otherwise the Regimental Sergeant Major disbelieved that all that work was my own and at a regimental parade at 10:00 hours threatened that every man in the regiment would share a portion of that bill unless the culprits came forward or were grassed on.

Of course we were British soldiers and had each other's back. Grass? Never.

By 10:20 hours the Regimental Sergeant Major was given the names of my two cohorts.

The three of us were to face a Court Martial where it was guessed that we would either:

1. Be required to pay the £20,000.00 from our salary (about £500 a month back then) which would entail staying in the army forever.

2. Be sent to the Military Corrective Training Centre in Colchester to serve a hefty stretch.

The three of us decided that neither option was too attractive so a plan was hatched to do a moonlight flit, get a train to France, and join the French Foreign Legion.

Two days before the French Foreign Legion were to be offered the benefit of our soldiering skills and artistic talents we were told that due to our previously exemplary records the Colonel of the regiment had acquired supplementary powers from the Brigadier and could hear the case within the regimental lines.

The plan to exchange our berets for Kepi Blanc were put on hold and a week or two later we stood outside the Colonel's office in our No. 2 dress uniforms minus belt and beret.

I remember the following words to this day:

'Accused and escort! By the front, QUICK MARCH! HEFT,HIGHT,HEFT,HIGHT,HEFT,HIGHT...'

Now, military justice is an odd fellow. Before you know what your sentence is to be you're asked whether or not you accept it. I never met anyone who failed to accept their sentence but I'm guessing it's the equivalent of being given the option of having a criminal case heard in a higher court.

There was no question of us three not accepting our sentence as our Colonel had done us a huge favour in gaining supplementary powers, so when he said:

'Trooper Waterman, do you accept the sentence I'm about to award you?'

I crossed my fingers and shouted: 'YES, SIR!' (We had to shout in such scenarios. I don't know why.)

'In that case I'm fining you five hundred pounds and you will serve 28 days. Sergeant Major, march this soldier out and to the guardroom.'

My two pals were awarded the same sentence and we all decided to ditch the plan to learn French.

For a while after I attracted the nickname 'Rolf Harris' and, when my monthly wage slip showed a minus figure on the bottom line, spent thirty or so days watching BFBS while the usual nightly sound of merriment drifted into my window from the squadron bar.

Thankfully, I learned my lesson and would never repeat another act that would drop me in hot water.

PS.....That last line is obviously meant to be ironic.


Dog Bit Man

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

If you're an avid reader of like minded blogs you'll know of the author that I contend is swiftly becoming the Don of the blog world. I speak of the pyjama wearing, cheese sandwich consuming former Petrocelli-like Richard Cronin who pens (taps?) The Beirut Taxi.

Richard's blog is amusing, intelligent and incisive.....but he knows fuck all about dog bites. In his latest offering he complains of being mauled by a vicious cur of enormous proportions.....and then shows us what appears to be a bee sting. Richard's story, Dog Bites Man, has prompted an act of self plagiarism and forced me to retell a story that last appeared on my blog some years ago. Of course that post is now obliterated so I'm hoping you'll forgive the self plagiarism bit, but it's essential I relate a real dog attack to our man in Cork, Ricardo.

Let me transport you back to 1988. I was a young British squaddie with boundless energy and a desire to get involved in anything that might attract the word 'action.' It was November 19th, which is the date of the eve of the Battle of Cambrai, my regiment's most glorious campaign. After an initial fantastic success in the latter months of 1917, the gains made by the British Army were lost; come Christmas almost everyone of my cap-badge wearing forebears was dead. As I type this Jona Lewie's Stop The Cavalry plays in my head.

Anyway, let's get back to 1988. There I was in the squadron bar with a few muckers remarking how the tradition of marking Cambrai by attacking the neighbouring regiment had been largely forgotten in recent times. It didn't take too many more bottles of Herforder to encourage us to mount our own Cambrai campaign. So off we trotted, clad in our usual off-duty uniform of desert boots and flight jackets, heading for the Royal Hussars barracks armed with spray cans of silver paint (my mate Matt had been covering repaired crash damage on his Cortina). My can must have been less full than the others; the significance of this will be made clear in a while.

We sneaked up to the Royal Hussars Officers' Mess, where a mess ball was in full swing, and sprayed our squadron name 'CYCLOPS' in massive letters on the outside wall. One of my more perceptive colleagues (there were only three of us)  indicated that we'd left a pretty decisive indication of the identity of the guilty party on that wall. So we added the other squadron names: 'AJAX,' 'BADGER,' HUNTSMAN,' and 'NERO.'

Then we did the same on the wall of the Sergeants' Mess.

Then on one of the Royal Hussars squadron accommodation blocks.

Then we stole a four-ton truck from the vehicle compound.

Which broke down.

In the middle of the parade ground.

It was as we were making our way back from the Royal Hussars parade ground to our own regimental lines that we heard a distant shout that went something like: 'This is the Royal Military Police....stay where you are!!'

A chorus of three voices returned the suggestion: 'FUCK OFF!'

My two colleagues made off like Vanessa Feltz chasing a departing ice-cream van but yours truly had the flash of inspiration to repeat our suggestion in silver letters on the ground.

But I was short of paint.

I rattled that can like I was making out with Madam Palm and her Five Sisters but I only achieved 'FUCK OFF R..' before a closely located torch beam was switched on and the words: 'Stand still; RMP!' were shouted in my ear.

In true boundlessly energised, British squaddie style I threw my almost-empty can in the direction of the blinding torch light and took off down the road.

Then I heard three words that really, really confused me.

'Go, Dog, Go!'

What the fuck does that mean?

I found out seconds later when I heard a growl, smelt the unmistakable aroma of Pedigree Chum, and felt sharp canine teeth sink into my forearm.

The bastard RMP was an accompanied dog handler.

As soon as I hit the ground with a massive German Shepherd Dog attached to my arm I heard the word: 'Release!'

My hairy German attachment immediately released my arm and sat down like a good pooch.

It was then that I made what was probably my second biggest mistake of the night. I mistook my canine friend's obedience to be capitulation and took off again like Sir Jimmy Savile en route to a TK Maxx sale.

Before I'd gained three feet of distance on the four-legged resident of Alsace the fucker's teeth were embedded in my right hip and he wasn't for letting go this time. It was then that I made what was probably my biggest mistake of the night. I repeatedly punched the dog in his face.

I think that the feeling of a canine tooth, gradually gouging a groove into your pelvic bone, is enough to make any boundlessly energised  British squaddie piss his pants. So that was me, nicked and banged up with wet keks and an injury that, now healed, is very apparent on my right hip. Admittedly the scar is kinda lost among other marks of battle, some that were, like the bee-sting mentioned above, etched in Richard Cronin's homeland.

Anyway, this isn't intended to black cat Richard (nor black dog), but might be regarded as proof that men that sleep in the altogether are superior to those that rest in British Home Stores PJs.



Sunday, 4 December 2011

December. The month of festivities, parties, hangovers and indigestion.

And Marcothon.

For the uninitiated Debbie Martin-Consani created this event a few years ago which involves running for at least 25 minutes or three miles every day throughout December. At the time I thought it wasn't a great deal different than many of the other idiotic challenges people I know subject themselves to. Running from Glasgow to Inverness; running from Fort William to Milngavie....and then back again; running the West Highland Way in the depths of winter. Of course none of these things involve festivities, parties, hangovers or indigestion (OK....maybe a spot of indigestion. And vomiting. And pain) so they're not the usual, run-of-the-mill winter activities.

Debs advertised the Marcothon on Facebook and on her blog and the thing took off. I suppose it's because in the great scheme of things Marcothon is achievable by anyone with a basic level of fitness and it pokes a thumb in the eye of the determined couch potatoes who see December as being the month when 99% of the population realise that indolence and gluttony are the watchwords for life.

Last year Mrs Mac and I both took part in the Marcothon. If you don't know her Mrs Mac is a tall Scottish burd with huge feet who occasionally does a spot of running. When she faltered in completing her three miles or 25 minutes I reminded her of our friend Martin Antoninus Horatio Hooper who, at the time, was on operations in Afghanistan. I reminded her that Hooper didn't have the option of having a lie in allowing Terry Taliban the run of the country so neither should we.

So here we are again running every day in December. And when I say the Marcothon has taken off, it really has taken off. There are colleagues of mine doing it down here in London, most of whom have no idea why the event is called 'Marcothon.' Even the cast and crew of Batman Live are doing it. See here.

Today is Sunday 3rd and so far I've done a three miler at night, an eight mile hilly run on Box Hill, and a 25 minute trot with Mrs Mac.

Mason (dog) has accompanied me on all of these jaunts so even he is partaking of the 3 miles or 25 minutes. He bloody loves it.