Saturday, December 28, 2002

Get me a bucket, something that cuts plastic, tarpaulin, high tensile rubber and something to make a fire with

Yep, charades just wasn’t on the menu this year. Every year on Christmas night a small band of Crendonites get together for a party. As the kids grow older and have their own lives it’s become the only time in the year that the parents, kids, partners et al are together in one room. Traditionally the evening degenerates into noisy mayhem through a series of traditional Christmas games.

This year was a little different. The hosts, as always, were the Boultons; the Osbournes with the volume a little lower. Di is Sharon; the matriarchal driving force of the family, the kids Richard and Lucy are charmingly dysfunctional, and Ray is Ozzy. Di was struck with Winter Vomiting Disease and a question mark hung over the whole night. Ray decided he would take responsibility for laying on the food and drink whilst Di recuperated in bed. Whilst this doesn’t normally seem too hard a job, Ray is the person who has outdoor decorations powered by a cable wrapped in plastic bags and run through puddles and damp grass into the house. No wonder he goes to church every Sunday.

To his credit Ray did a sterling job with the food, but when it came to the games, nobody was there to act as the voice of reason. Every Christmas Ray has a new novelty that he gleefully shows off like a five year old, but normally Di is there to put it away when things get out of hand. This year it was a gun that fired air. When they hit, it felt like you had been hit by a soft ball, but it didn’t hurt. Basically it was a hollowed out bucket with a piece of tarpaulin stuck over the back, which could be pulled back and fired like a bow and arrow.

After a bout of left over Turkey and a few aimless shots from the gun, Ray decided it was time for something more organised. Normally the games involve everyone, but the ‘olds’ wisely stayed in the dining room whilst the youngsters (aged 18-30), plus Ray (aged 54 going on 6 and a half with a sugar rush) stayed in the living room.

The game was simple, somebody sat at one end of the living room with a lit candle on his head whilst the others sat on a stool and fired the bucket gun to blow out the candle. If you missed you were out, if you hit, you went through and the stool was moved back. The winner was the person left at the end, the winner was also granted the opportunity to enter the Hall of Fame, blowing out the candle from behind the settee.

The atmosphere was electric as the competition heated up, Matt cranked up the pressure with his Willy Banks style rabble rousing, inviting the crowd to clap a slow rhythm as he set himself for ever more ambitious shots. Needless to say, he entered the Hall of Fame with aplomb.

The second game was eventually was won by Emma. So wrapped in the competition were we there was genuine shock when Matt tumbled out in round two. Jo, not quintessentially Steppenwolf Jo, not Jo in Australia, not Jo who’s mum to Alice, another Jo, Matt’s girlfriend, and a legend in her own right, stepped up. She drew back the tarpaulin and took aim.

There was silence, deafening silence. I’m not talking about hush; I’m talking about 15 people unable to breath in anticipation of her shot. She had to abort the shot to tell everyone to calm down and stop taking it so seriously.

The failure of Richard to make an impression on either game lead to Ray publicly denouncing his son’s inability to shoot straight or “get a proper job”. He said he wanted Matt to be his son, and Matt accepted.

Upon completion of each game was the induction into the Hall of Fame, the shot from behind the settee. That completed, it was time for the gala, a bit of showboating. So Ray got a match, lit the candle with it, and then put it in his mouth. The idea was that the champion would try to blow out the candle and match before it burnt Ray’s face off.

I forgot to tell you that Ray has a big bushy moustache that seriously curtails the amount of burn time before we had to call an ambulance. He didn’t burn himself, but I don’t think Di’s going to be happy when she sees the carpet.

Sunday, December 22, 2002

Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I’ve got, I’m just Ruffles on the blog

In terms of taste making, I am the second interview to fame. I’m not the first interview, I’ve never seen an unsigned band who went on to headline Glastonbury, nor am I the isometric test, I do miss more often than not – The Frank and Walters really should have done much better. But I can give a serious leg up to evolving fashions. If you get past me, fame is a short hop away. For example, I was into the Happy Mondays long before they charted, I saw Radiohead at Kingston University just after they released Creep for the first time (I thought they were noisy rubbish – I didn’t say that I could consciously spot a talent), I bought the first Oasis single before its official release and have been to an Oasis after party pre the days when the likes of Tony Blair turned up. I’d been ‘into’ Norman Cook long before Rockerfellar Skank went big. Likewise, I was rocking the football casual look years before Liverpool scallies started nicking La Coste; I’ve worn combat trousers since I was knee high to a grasshopper. My mum bought me a pair of Nike trainers when I was 11, which saved me from a beating from the school nutcase (my Nike’s were ‘cool’, and I taught him on how to make the tongues stick up – thinking now, that makes me proud, hopefully its subsequently saved him a few buggerings in the jailhouse ever since).

Luckily my hair has a natural sense of style too, without doing anything to it, during the football casual era, I had the hairstyle, and during ‘baggy’ I was effortlessly able to cultivate the ‘curtains’. And now inexplicably, my hair is growing into a Hoxton fin.

Others are not so lucky and this is becoming an increasing concern. The application of hair gel amongst men is, quite frankly, out of control. Male grooming is not something new but the democratisation of hair care products for men is a recent intervention in socio-economic terms. It’s also an example about how you shouldn’t just dish out power and responsibility to those without the mental capacity to cope with it or use it properly.

This Christmas period has brought it into stark contrast for me. The busy shops, coupled with my 6ft 3inch frame has seen me, on many occasions, gazing down on to the top of great lumps of greasy, sorry, “wet look” hair styles of teenage boys. The fashion it seems is a variation of the Bobby Charlton scrape-over: the Scrape Forward, with the liberal application of wet look hair gel is possible to mould your hair into about 7 matted strands, each of which is teased to run parallel to each other from the front to the back of the head. It is usually finished off with the fringe standing up vertically, like you’ve run into a door.

Firstly, where does the fashion come from? I don’t see So Solid Crew or Limp Bizkit having Scrape Forwards. Secondly hair gel is one of those things where the actual reason for its existence (to create stylish hairstyles) has become utterly detached from its reason to be consumed – teenage boys don’t want good hairstyles, they just want gel in their hair. Now what we have is an entire industry dedicated to selling hair gel to people who simply plop it on their heads and look like turds. It’s a bit like selling cigarettes; it’s not sold to people who want them, just to people who feel they need them. It’s morally corrupting; they should ban hair gel advertising like they have with cigarettes. There are people making millions from others’ misplaced perceptions.

Mind you, don’t tell everyone, the whole economy works like that. If anyone ever found out, we’d all be fucked.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Conduit to fiscal furnishment catastrophe

The one good thing about lunch times in London is the excessive number of lunch options available to the happy, hungry worker. My preference was always Benjy's, the cut price sandwich eaterie apparently run exclusively by Eastern Europeans. I was always pleased to see Berute serving at the shop near Victoria Station. I wasn't adverse to the odd Pret A Manger, but could never get the hang of your average London deli run by huge families of Turks. I couldn't decide my order in time and couldn't quite work out the process between getting your sandwich and paying for it, and if I'm honest, I was a little scared to ask. Instead I went for the easy to use Sandwich chains.

But I'm not in London anymore, I'm in High Wycombe which brings with its own problems, especially at lunch time. Wycombe's oppressive parking restrictions mean a quick jaunt into town is largely out of the question. There is a Shell garage across the road who do a neat Ploughmans sandwich, and our nearest pub has Exotic dancers every lunchtime. For true decadence, and free parking there is Tesco or Asda.

Yesterday I went with Asda, because it was near John Lewis and I had presents to buy. Before I went in I thought I'd check my balance at the cash machine. I popped my card in and plugged in 3-5-6-7, my pin number. Then the screen went blank and the lights dimmed. I had managed to time my query with a bloddy power cut, which is a bollocking stupid thing to do eight days before Christmas. The card (number 3545 9090 8933 0408 expiry 05/05) was stuck in the machine. I asked Mrs Asda what would happen when the power came back on, she said 'It'll probably just pop back out' which is the single thing I didn't want it to do. So I had to wait, and wait, and wait. Then the machine rebooted, and the card stayed in. I am now living on cash money only. I have bundles of £20's in my pockets, I feel like Del Boy Trotter.

Not to mention a little vulnerable.

Monday, December 16, 2002

Christmas shopping

“We haven’t done that section over there” said the woman waving her podgy finger across 200 square metres of prime Aylesbury retail. On Saturday we went into town in an attempt to spend half the GDP of Botswana on presents nobody wants for people who we don’t want to buy for. I’m generally avoiding the shops again this year by peddling the same ‘social experiment’ card I’ve used for the last three. There’s not much mileage left in the ‘I’m seeing if I can do all my Christmas shopping on the internet” but I’m giving it one last airing. Even I know internet shopping isn’t reliable enough to specify which Christmas day the presents are guaranteed to arrive by.

“Ooh look” said the over excited woman pointing at a plastic bowl divided into sections with a small portion of peanuts, Bombay mix, crisps, and Cheerio’s. The bowl was tastefully rapped in plastic and tied up with gold ribbon to make a delightful Christmas snack.

There’s a loud sigh as I drift upstairs to check out presents for Sophie. There’s a man with a shaven head and a gait like a bear sweating as he walks away from the cash desk holding a pack of ladies briefs, beyond him are hordes of men with haunted looks on their faces. The lingerie section is nearby.

They’ve lusted over the belle du jours; Melinda Messenger and Cat Deeley, they’ve seen the advert where Hermione Grainger flashes her knickers and resolved to furnish their beloved with the foxy blue lacy number she’s wearing to flick the switch of passion that hasn’t been fingered in an age. Then, in the shop, everything changes and the confidence just drains away.

“Right, this is it, the basque, g-string, and suspenders, no backing out now … or the bra and knickers… or the camisole… or that three pack of pants, or the silky nightdress, or that towling robe…. mind you that jumper looks alright.”

And bollocks, another Christmas with the wife dressed in brown underwear and a scowl.

Underwear isn’t made for men to buy. The labels are so small you can’t just grab and go, instead you have to finger you’re way through a rack of highly engineered balcony bras. One slip and you’re wearing it. It’s a living nightmare.

I’m finding out what it means to be thirty. It’s not a bad age, but you do have to accept that you’re more likely to see people you know from school in Early Learning Centre than in the pub.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Human achievements

Emma's passed her Head Teaching qualifications. Hurray, I can retire.


This, is my Granda, the fact we never gave him the final ‘d’ in his name didn’t hinder him from having rather significant impact on the world. He died just over a year ago, but enjoyed a long life and his career as a research scientist that enjoyed history-changing achievements that are noticeably lacking in every generation of our family since.

I’m probably the only Grandson in the world who has a Granda who is also a resonance, and whilst that sounds like a plot line from a sixties Children’s Film Foundation film, it’s actually true, click to remind yourselves of the fundamentals his theory.

Some of his life sounds like a James Bond film. On top of his resonating, he received an OBE for being part of the team that invented radar, and Russian ‘officials’ often visited him during the cold war. Very Mish Moneypenny. In fact some of his work colleagues actually defected to Russia during the 60’s. My Granda was loyal to his country, or so I’ve always assumed.

For a man of his generation he was remarkable in more than just his professional career. For example he was a socialist and a liberal, consider that my Grandma used to refer to black people as “pygmies”, and you get a picture of how he stands out. Incidentally I once overheard two old ladies talking at a bus stop: -

“A man came to my door yesterday”
“Was he a postman?”
“No, he was a black man”

More than this he was a fine philosopher, with an excellent line in advice that both all my family and myself have benefited from over the years. It seems selfish to keep it under wraps.

“Agree with everything and do what you want, do whatever you want until someone tells you to stop”

I suppose it just says, be yourself and don’t impinge on others, it sounds simple, but it’s a great reliever of modern day angst.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

The funniest joke in the world

As you know Monday night is 5-a-side night. It’s also supposed to be training for the St. Mary’s Church Team. They play in the Chiltern Church League, and are doing very well, as a matter of fact. The fact it’s a church team is irrelevant as barely two players attend regularly.

Every week I ask Gareth whom they’re playing, and he says, “Dunno Saint somebody or other”

Every. Damn. Week. And it’s not getting any less funny.

Gareth describes himself as “A bit homophobic, not a lot though”. Last night he smacked me in the mouth in a tackle, but probably not because I’m a woofter.

Monday, December 09, 2002

Andy King's a Homosexual, He ain't got no fucking testicles

Andy King's shag's his mother
Then his sister, then his brother
Then they all go shag each other
In the Swindon slums

Into the cauldron of hate entered an insane warrior with a maniacal look on his face, the tension that had hung over this fixture to exploded, spitting its venom across the stadium. Weeks of malice, weeks of fans exchanging abuse. Is this what we needed? This nutter sprinting unabated at the Swindon fans shaking his fists? A man hiding behind an allegiance to a football club, kissing the badge on his shirt, hollering his manic ramblings through his beak.

Did I say beak?

Ronny the rocking Robin is Swindon’s mascot, this big six foot three inch robin that sprints around, slides on his knees, bangs advertising hoardings and leads the Scum singing. Quite frankly, he pisses all over Ollie the Ox.

You've got to give them their victories when they deserve them, I suppose.

Three years ago I stood on the terraces at Oxford's rusting stadium, the Manor, and got chest pains as we narrowly avoided relegation. A year later we shipped 100 goals, were relegated by April and I was shrouded with a simple gloom. By the time last season came around I was just feeding the habit with an evermore dirty, diluted drug. Each time I used it I hoped for one of those old buzzes, each time I was left sullied and unfulfilled.

Ten minutes before yesterday’s kick-off the air was filled with Two Tribes by Frankie Goes To Hollywood, it was ear splitting. Then they put on some Euro pop and the stadium began to jump, the whole place began to sing, and wave, and dance. The stand shuddered under my feet, that used to happen at the Manor, but that was because it was about to fall down, but this was because there was a wall of noise enveloping the whole stadium.

A lump came to my throat.

I've watched Oxford since I was three, I've seen them at Wembley, seen them beat Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea but in the last four years I've watched the club die under the weight of crippling debt and piss poor karma. I've stood on the terraces seeing the sands of the club's life slip through my fingers. Then yesterday it woke up again, and I had no idea how much it meant to me.

We hadn't even kicked off.

1-0, Jefferson Louis, 65 minutes. They showed the dressing room during the draw for the 3rd round; when it came out as Arsenal at Highbury Jefferson ran around stark bollock naked live on TV. If only I'd had such foresight.

Saturday, December 07, 2002

How things have changed

So, there I was in the Golden Tulip, in Manchester, though it’s name suggests it’s a strip club, it’s actually a hotel opposite the Old Trafford football ground. I was there readying myself for a conference next day. Typically, we met for dinner, exchanged pleasantries, ate well, arranged what was happening in the morning, and retired to our bedrooms. It was 10.30.

My, how things have changed, this same week past has been Online. An exhibition I used to be involved in organising. The exhibition subsumed the whole company; it was so all encompassing nobody who worked on it thought about Christmas until it past. Katharine, or Kathaaaarrrine, told me once that somebody totally unrelated to the exhibition once suggested to her a big night out the week before the exhibition, with tears in her eyes she inadvertently blurted out “But it’s Online” perplexed at how the world carried on whilst the show was being put together. No wonder she was so obsessed, she was subject to many rumours about her sexual impropriety at the show. And that was just the start.

The run up to Online was manic, traditionally we lived off Satsumas and donuts, and if we managed to have lunch, it was five minutes huddled in the back of the warehouse with haunted thousand yard stares. The weekend before the show was all midnight finishes and takeaway food.

When the show happened something had to give. The week at Online had it all. One session, which ended with us being thrown out of a restaurant, was aggressively debated in subsequent board meetings. Dave had chosen his moment to embark on a passionate monologue about poor pay and poor conditions, whilst sinking a fourth bottle of hotel wine on the company tab.

Another had one of our party throwing up no less than sixteen times in one day after a robust session in the bar. She decided that she would have to bail the following night’s drinks, and then didn’t. Four years later, the same person ordered a round in the hotel bar that amounted to more than her week’s room bill. The thing was, she had no idea she’d done it until she was checking out.

Exhibitors have threatened to throw me down the stairs, and one year the Fire Marshall wouldn’t let the doors open on the first day because a car was parked in front of a fire exit. This caused my director to stand in front of a queue of eager visitors and bang on the door with her fist, yelling in her aggressive Irish brogue “GET THESE FUCKING DOORS OPEN”.

The mornings were early, the nights were late. One night, after a week of late night drinking I began hallucinating that all the lights in the bar were rushing at me, and I had to leave. I remember one conversation with Jo who’s quintessentially Steppenwolf which passed thus: -

“What time are we meeting tomorrow?”
“7am, but I don’t start to worry about the morning’s until it gets past 3am”
“It’s 4.15”

By Thursday we had to leave, partly because it was the last day, but mostly to save ourselves from ourselves. We all went back in a minibus and ate chips, got back to the office and went home, we had Friday’s off, and didn’t do anything productive until at least January.

And now my business trips are sober, tawdry affairs, I have no desire to go to the bar until 3am, I’d like to, but you need a decent gang for it to really kick off, and I’m thinking that those heady Oxford publishing days were a pretty unique, yet potent mix you can’t easily replace.

Thursday, December 05, 2002

Remember folks

Oxford United Vs Swindon Town, Live on BBC1, 1pm.... look at the Oxford end directly behind the goal about two thirds of the way up, row V seat 85.

That's me.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Stories of the scum

On Sunday Oxford play The Scum (aka Swindon Town) in the 2nd round of the FA Cup. Oxford’s rivalry with The Scum is fearsome, and runs much more deeply than our rivalry with Wycscum Wankers (Wycombe Wanderers).

It’s going to be ugly, on Saturday we played Lincoln City, and some Swindon fans turned up for a ruckus. Get that, whilst their team played Peterborough at home, Swindon fans turned up at Oxford a week early for a fight. Oxford’s stadium has no segregation, and there is always trouble at these games. What’s more, the part of the ground where Scum and Oxford fans meet will be in full view of the main TV gantry, the game is being broadcast live on BBC1. Oh dear.

As if the flames needed more stoking, this is the first meeting for a few years, the first time we’ve met in the FA Cup, the first game at our brand spanking new stadium.

My first ever Scum derby was when I was quite small, I had no idea of the rivalry (I was in a duffle coat with gloves attached to a piece of string at the time) and we won 5-1. Afterwards both sets of fans rampaged onto the pitch; my lasting vision was of one Scum fan being chased by a hoard of Oxford nutters. Realising he had no hope of escape, he turned and ran at them, all on his own, and they scattered.

After that Oxford went up the leagues, whilst Swindon went down. Then the opposite happened, we played each other as we crossed over. Out the back of the Swindon ground is a big field where the police shepherd everyone out to so the fighting doesn’t disturb the neighbours. I’ve actually had to plead with Police to let me get to my car insisting I didn’t want to go and do any fighting with the rough boys.

The best time was in our promotion season five years ago. Charlie, dark and demonic, came to watch. We were in the middle of a 16 match unbeaten run which would see us promoted after getting to Christmas in 14th position. After about 20 minutes Matt Elliot volleyed in from 20 yards through a crowd of players. Everyone went beserk, I turned to see Charlie with his arms straight in the air being bounced up and down by an old bloke who was hugging him. Charlie was loving it, he had a big boyish grin on his face, we all were. We went onto win 3-0, Joey Beauchamp got the third in front of the Swindon fans, pure magic.

And so onto Sunday. On Football Focus they described it as a Pig’s Head Derby, after Barcelona fans threw a pigs head onto the pitch in a game against arch rivals Real Madrid. It’s going to be intimidating, ugly, violent, and disgraceful… I for one, can’t wait.

Monday, December 02, 2002

Ear worm

An ear worm is a song that gets stuck in your head according to Meg. Today I’ve had an ear worm all day it goes…

The Bear went over the mountain
The Bear went over the mountain
The Bear went over the mountain
To see what he could see
And all that he could see
And all that he could see
Waaassss (hold on until breath runs out)
The other side of the mountain
The other side of the mountain
The other side of the mountain
Was all that he could see

This is a song that my sister sings to Sophie. Kirsty has quite a mothering dilemma, she’s worried that Sophie (aged 5 months) thinks she’s boring… because she has Weetabix for breakfast every morning.

This would normally be considered an issue of whimsy, but Kirsty has started having toast to spice up her breakfast eating and win approval from her daughter.

Sunday, December 01, 2002

Most sense she ever makes

Emma is the best sleep talker in the whole world, I can regularly come to bed and have 10-minute nonsense conversations with her about “moving mice”, or “leaving the, y’know, thing”. Last night she blurted out: -

“Catherine Edwards don’t stamp on the magic hat”

And was snoring loudly before I had the chance to sit bolt up in bed and say “Wha..?, Huh…? Who the fu…?”

It’s not her best performance. That was a few years ago. I was watching telly whilst she was in a deep sleep, suddenly she sat upright: -

“Are we doing indoor games?” she said

I ignored her, thinking she’ll just sink back into her slumber, she sat their for a moment.


It made me jump and I asked her what she wanted.

“I SAID, are we doing indoor games?”

I said yes, and she went back to sleep.

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