Tuesday, September 23, 2003


Yesterday: After three weeks of cycling between 10 and 15 miles a day, I was looking forward to my first five-a-side of the season. 15 days of cardio vascular whatnot, my speed has increased, my endurance has improved, my recovery rate has dipped below an hour. Fitness gives you great benefits, you feel better, you (should) look better, and in a sporting context it gives you space to think about using your skills rather than keeping down the lining of your lungs. As a footballer, I can pass, have good positional sense, can time a tackle to perfection and can outthink most of the other players. Except until three weeks ago I was burdened with poor fitness which clouded my skills in a fug of feeble bodily impotence. But lo, I am probably fitter now than at anytime since school, watch me fly.

Today: Hurt.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Prawn cocktail, steak and chips and a black forest gatox

My idea of posh food served by a French person is having a Pret a Manger Super Club sandwich on Regents Street. Le Manoir Quat’ Saison is a level of quality and service I can barely comprehend.

Whilst Emma’s been telling people the reason we took lunch at the world famous restaurant was because “We were hungry” it was actually because my family bought her a meal for two for her 30th birthday.

As you can probably tell, this is no six quid chicken in a basket merchant. Le Manoir is owned by Raymond Blanc. Imagine, if you can, a cook so famous he’s beyond Ready Steady Cook.

Let’s pause to contemplate that bombshell…

It’s so high class it’s coming back the other way. The quality of the service, food, and surroundings is so high there’s simply no need for any snotty pretence which means you’re made to feel entirely comfortable and relaxed.

We took drinks and ordered our food in the gardens. The wine waiter didn’t, as I thought he might, suggest ‘Vin au Imbeciles’, before walking away sniggering smugly to himself. His recommended Chardonnay was spot on. Only Emma was drinking so she went for a half bottle at £28, which means unless you benefit from some economies of scale by going for a full bottle, you’re looking at £56 for the full Monty. And that was a cheap one – one Champagne was £1600 – a lot of money to giggle stupidly and say “Ooh the bubbles have gone up my nose”.

After a little Cod thing to clear the palette it was on to the vegetable soup. Now I’m no expert, but I’d wager it didn’t come from a tin. In fact it was so green each bowl must have contained such a concentration of vegetables that it would’ve fed a small African nation. Our French waitress took us through our order step by step, although she did get her translations a little mixed up telling us rather than it having “hints” of flavour, that there “maybe a little parmesan”. Given the price I’d have expected something a little more definitive.

For the main course, I had cod and mash, although in posh restaurants it’s “crushed potato”, Ooh, get you. Emma had lamb.

Then came the cheese.

When we have cheese it’s usually Tesco blue stripe, it’s usually mild cheddar and it’s usually in kilogram blocks. We like cheese. The nutty offer of the cheese course before dessert was readily accepted and a gargantuan choice presented. Like a Countdown contestant I took a selection from all over the plate. They were orgasmic. My experience of blue cheeses is that they can burn your nostril hair; this offered me a taste that toured my mouth. Just as it seemed it was going to consume my head and overpower my taste buds, it retreated, tantalisingly giving me something new to deal with. It was perfectly balanced, so constant, never too much, never too little and at just £5 for a piece little bigger than a Trivial Pursuit segment, I don’t think I could go back to Tesco Blue Stripe (because I can’t afford to).

The meal was finished with a desert which was so posh it made Vienetta seem like a poor man’s posh ice cream. We took coffee in the gardens.

Although price of the meal in total would have been roughly the same as a weekend away in a three star hotel being there for four hours was like being in another world, I’m go back to tomorrow… because I have to wash the dishes.

Who goes there?

Whilst out on my bike (every day for the last three weeks) I’ve noticed things I wouldn’t normally. On the edge of Aylesbury, as is customary, there’s a sign which says “Welcome to Aylesbury”, hung underneath is a luminous yellow sign which says “Parking restrictions start from 30 June”.

In other words, welcome to Aylesbury… but not that welcome.

Of course what is should say is ‘Aylesbury, Thank you for staying as long as you did’.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Bring bring, bring bring (for the younger folks, that’s what phones used to sound like)

“Hello, it’s Vic, the eagle has landed”

Emma sent me a text at 11am on Friday; ‘do you want pizza with the Dobscrubs tonight?’ I said yes, joking it was, after all their last night of freedom before the baby arrived.

We went for somewhere with a bit of class; so Pizza Express it was. We generally ignored Vicki’s assertion that ‘things were happening’, after all, you’d expect things to happen after nine months wouldn’t you?

Nobody has a second choice with Pizza Express. Nobody diverts from their standard order. With me, it’s always a Fiorentina never anything else. Perversely Nobby is rather odd (now now, let me finish)*; he has either a Sloppy Giuseppe or American Hot, from which he idiosyncratically removes the chillies as he eats. We try to guess his choice, it’s a ‘thing’ we do. He chose American Hot, adding an air of excitement by keeping his decision concealed until he ordered, we ‘Ooh’ed’ when he did. This coincided with the waiter getting a cramp and buckling up. He thought we were Ooh-ing his pain, so he reassured us he was OK. We looked perplexed.

As we talked Vicki idly picked the discarded chillies from Nobby’s plate. Someone may have commented that this would speed things up. At the end of the night we paid and left. The Dobscrub’s gave us a lift home; we said our goodbyes as normal.

Last Saturday I said to Vicstah, ‘we’ll see you on the other side’ something I said to my sister a few days before she had Sophie. The reaction was the same; a nervous “Oh I’m sure we’ll see you before that” followed by the rapid arrangement of another night out. Last night I chose to go for a simple goodbye. It was 10.30pm.

The phone rang on Saturday morning at 11.30, it was Vic, the eagle had landed. The commencement of labour I assumed, we’d seen them 13 hours ago. Although, on reflection, the eagle thing would have been a particularly crap analogy for labour, and Vic has a linguistics degree. It was only when she took me through the timetable of the night (things started happening at midnight, the midwife called at 3am, in the hospital by 5, the baby arrived at 10.50.) that it became clear she’d actually popped.

“The baby’s arrived!?” I said

Emma pulled the phone off me. It’s a little girl, don’t know how heavy, name unconfirmed. How was the labour? “I swore at Nobby”, to which the riposte should have been, ‘well obviously, now how was the labour’. How are you feeling now? “A little sore” – I should coco. Is she beautiful? “I don’t know Nobby’s been cuddling her”. Which I suppose is fair enough, Vic’s had her for the last 9 months, Nobby deserves his chance.

*Enter alternative joke: - ‘or oddly Nobby is rather perverse’

Saturday, September 13, 2003

Extended family

This weekend I will go to the football and watch Oxford play Mansfield, we’re top of the league and still unbeaten so I’m looking forward to it. The rest of the weekend is pretty blank, we may go to the cinema, we may see Katie, we may even visit the Dobscrub’s new baby, if Vicki conveniences us all by having it on Friday or Saturday (come on Vickster, some of us have to work). But we don’t have much on, and frankly, I’m glad because I’m emotionally spent.

The first time I remember meeting Sara she was in full Stone Roses chic in a pair of flared jeans and wallabies shoes. She was about 13. I don’t remember the first time I met Gareth, but it would have been about four years ago and Sara would have insisted on him dressing up in his best clothes when they came over. Sara doesn’t wear flared jeans anymore, and Gareth barely changes out of his slippers when he comes over. Things change.

They finally did the biggie last weekend and got married. In what was a full day, I nearly wrote off the Rolls Royce (with one working door) hired to ferry Sara around. The Pastor decided to call Sara Louise, “Louise Sara” during the vows. Two people did a runner when Sara walked in realising they’d got the wrong wedding, and then returned having forgotten their camera. A guest sitting at the front of the church in full view of everyone suffered the crippling embarrassment of her camera film rewinding and her phone going off… to which she cursed herself with an audible “Oh for fuck’s sake.”

During the reception, the best man Tim took his duties somewhat literally, his speech dismantled Gareth’s personality bit by bit with stories of vomit, drinking, and nudity, which were illustrated with pixilated photos. Afterwards Emma’s Grandma said that Gareth and Emma’s dad’s speeches were marvellous, but for some reason neglected to mention the best man. He also started a near riot by opening up some old East coast, West coast shit*.

Despite a minor panic over a late arriving DJ, the evening do saw Gareth’s often monosyllabic teenage brother turn from gangling pubescent to Fred Astaire, wowing the ladies (including, most disturbingly, my mum) with moves so nifty it was like he’d been force fed Ceroc lessons since a young age. He finished the night off at 2am returning to his teenage roots, ordering tequila and two vodka shots and then disappearing to the toilets to throw up.

There were other cameos, Donkman’s dancing, the appearance of a back up bridesmaid, Tom doing a Del Boy prat fall when trying to lean on the shoulder of his girlfriend just as she stepped away to talk to someone. Gareth’s mum’s first words when she appeared in her beautifully tailored, carefully chosen designer outfit: “Ooh I’m sweating like a pig”. Then there was Claire shaking her booty like a high class table dancer two minutes before bursting into tears like someone had shot her dog blubbing “It’s like she’s left us”. Another rendition of “One more tune” like we were back on the Stag. Emma’s auntie filming the whole shebang on a video camera the size of an elephant. Tim breakdancing. The dancefloor invasion during the first dance… by the mother and father of the bride. The Waitrose Paprazzi pushing their way into the cheap seats “’scuse me, scuse me, oh no I don’t want an order of service, I’m not invited”. Me and Katie looking on aghast as Gareth’s divorced parents enjoyed a tongue sandwich then walked off the dancefloor revealing themselves to not be Gareth’s parents at all. And what about the ushers and Sara posing for a picture whilst questioning through fake smiles “What the fuck is he doing” as one dirty old bugger tried to lick the ear of the photographer?

The biggest surprise of all was being singled out in Gareth’s speech. Apparently me and Emma have offered “support, advice and above all common sense” which, whilst I’d have preferred “Elk racing, Leer Jet flights and fire breathing” was very touching.

So ubiquitous is the presence of Sara and Gareth in our lives, I had totally forgotten how close we are as friends. But moreover it confirmed to me that we’re on track with the Ruffles Philosophy. Y’see, we want a house that our friends can come to anytime they want. You may have to take us as you see us, which is usually in a mess, but you’re always welcome, the kettle is never cold.

I love the way Sara and Gareth come over in their tracky-bots to do little more than chat the world away, eat takeaway and watch the telly or how Simon appears on a Sunday to watch the 1980 version of Flash Gordon. We may not impress you with our cooking, or the size of our house, or our off-beat holidays to Upper Volta but if you come over there’s no pretence. Totally relaxed, totally normal. I like having friends who let us be like that.

On Saturday Gareth helped confirm to me that the philosophy is working, if during the 20 months of organising, we helped make things a little easier then I’m happy.

*we went to a split site school; there were two lower school’s Lower School East and Lower School West which merged into one upper school in the fourth year – there were rivalries.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Gangsta's paradise

Someone’s been watching me, having read “Have gun will travel – the story of Death Row Records” on holiday I got thinking about the gap in my record collection dedicated to Gangsta Rap. During the height of Gangsta Rap I was enjoying the more left field acts of the genre who ploughed a more conceptual furrow – The Goats (Politics Hop), The Gravediggaz (Death Hop), Pharcyde (Silly Sausages Hop) Cypress Hill (Munchies Hop).

I wasn’t a fan of G-Funk; it was a little weedy after the sonic onslaughts of Public Enemy and NWA, and the brilliantly creative samples of the Party Hip Hop it was now eclipsing.

The book is basically the story of Suge Knight, yet, if it was good enough to have a subtext (it isn’t) it would actually be the story of Dr Dre. Reading it I began to realise that with the exception of the few lyricists with anything to say (Eminem, Chuck D), the producer is god in Hip Hop. All the great dynasties have been themed through their production teams; Sugarhill Gang, Marley Marl, The Bomb Squad, Dr Dre, Timabland, and The Neptunes – the lyricists are two a penny.

Lyrically, Gangsta Rap is banal, but reading the book, so are the lives of its protagonists - which are a very boring cycle of fights and beefs punctuated by about three stories of interest i.e. Suge Knight holding Vanilla Ice out of a 23rd story window by his ankles to make him sign over rights to his album, and the killings of Tupac and Biggie Smalls – which seem to be little more than petty spats that got out of hand rather than any lawless street war. There doesn’t even seem to be very many guns involved – in fact they all seem to jump out of their skin when a gun appears.

Given Death Row’s extensive roster of acts you’d think it’d be difficult to find the definitive Death Row album, but it becomes clear that since the 90’s hip-hop has been all about franchising (Wu Tang Clan with Method Man, GZA, ODB, etc, Eminem with D12 and 50 Cent) and most of the spin offs are crap reproductions. The Death Row records worth having have been produced by Dre, and of those The Chronic is where it all started.

The Chronic is a brilliant album, as well produced as any I’ve heard, especially turned up to 25 in the car. But after The Chronic, the genre (sub-genre? whatever) leaves me cold, I like Snoop’s drawl but the rest on the West Coast just make up the numbers and the East Coast equivalent is really very lame pop RnB.

However, being a consummate archivist when it comes to my record collection I needed something to fill my East Coast Gangsta void. The record that always comes into my head is Mo Money Mo Problems by Notorious BIG (featuring inevitably Puffy on backing “Ah Ha’s” and “Oh Yeah’s”). This record is several years old, and was deleted ages ago. I’ve been trying to track it down since I got back from holiday, preferably on 12”, but I’d even failed to find it on CD. The Diana Ross sample has drilled into my head constantly ever since – you don’t know how pre-occupied I’ve become with the record.

Well, someone does, yesterday whilst virtuously walking from Blackfriars to Marylebone after a meeting I dropped into HMV. On a rack of re-released classics, there it was; a repress of Mo Money Mo Problems by Notorious BIG. It wasn’t there last week, but there it was: it – perfectly positioned product meeting me – target demographic. It was expensive, but I’d become so obsessed by it I just had to have it.


Friday, September 05, 2003

A boy on his bike

Who hasn’t had a few scrapes on a bike? OK, OK, you can put your hands down now, don’t draw attention to yourself, you’re at work remember, you’re not supposed to be reading this.

I’ve had many; I’ve used a peddle-back break, one which I didn’t know I had, whilst taking a corner making me involuntarily apply my front break and sending me flying over the handlebars. I’ve slipped a bike into neutral losing all power causing me to slide alarmingly across a gravely road tearing my 'Battle of the Planets' t-shirt in the process. I’ve been hit by a car, and was so startled just jumped back on and rode off without a word to the horrified driver.

Having cut and banged my knee in that accident, Emma, along with a number of her maternal friends insisted that I visit A&E to get it checked out. After all, they said, knees are funny things; a small bang can come back and haunt you in years to come. It was a little swollen and quite sore. I think Emma may have made me a cup of tea out of sympathy. Yes, it looked that bad.

So the next day I went to A&E and sat with the children with pots on their heads and the winos who had overdosed on Vim. Being healthy, male and in my early twenties, having walked in unaided and wandered around picking up leaflets, I was left to wait for two and a half hours for my check-up. Eventually I was seen by a dashing young doctor who rolled up my trouser leg carefully so not to damage ligaments or dislocate the knee cap. I sat and looked down, wincing and what we might see. I was shocked to see…

My knee.

I swear, even the cut had healed up, the swelling was nowhere to be seen, the doctor muttered something like “another Munchausen tosser”. When I asked him to clarify he looked me in the eye in a pitying way and said. “Would you like a tube-e-grip to go on it?” I said no and left in a hurry.

Despite this my greatest fear and scrape has always been with divots; little folds in the road, the lowered part of pavements that allow cars to access driveways. Anything, in fact, which is less than a quarter of an inch high.

For some reason I can bunny-hop any Doberman that comes my way (I used to have a BMX Raleigh Burner with yellow Mag-wheels and trick nuts… Ah now you’re checking my flow.) but when it comes to navigating over something you can barely see from six inches away I’m all over the place, I inexplicably line up my wheels in parallel with the fold or curb and find myself hurtling along unable to steer with my legs sticking out desperate to stop myself. When eventually I come to a halt, all the cars that have stacked up behind me drive past, laughing hysterically.

I’ve been on my bike everyday this week; I’ve been near to catastrophe about two hundred and forty times.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Man in the Mirror

I’ve often thought there’d be mileage in a blog dedicated to commenting on Daily Mirror stories. I used to read The Guardian on the train, but I found I only liked G2 on Mondays (sport and media) and Fridays (Music and TV (which is like Monday’s Media section without the interview with the BBC Head of Welsh Cultural Programming). That plus I can’t turn the pages of a broadsheet without giving those sitting around me a blooded nose in the process. Instead I buy the Mirror which I can read in an hour, be thoroughly entertained by, and usually ensures me a double seat. Three things caught my eye today: -

Firstly this story, which I’ve edited to the essentials: - “Heather McCartney has registered her name as a brand and could develop a range of cosmetics. A spokeswoman for McCartney said she did it to use her name to benefit land mine charities and had no intention of releasing a range of cosmetics. If she does, the Mirror screamed, the range could compete with Stella McCartney’s own range of cosmetics creating further tension between Stella and her dad Sir Paul.”

Unconfirmed reports also saw Stella McCartney buying a nail file from Boots, she said it was because she had a rough edge to one of her nails. HOWEVER, (eyes narrow suspiciously) IF she uses that nail file to saw off her leg at the knee in a desperate attempt to win back the affections of her father this could create further tensions between Heather and her husband Sir Paul. The intrigue!

The letters page offers this cracker: - “Can the recent blackouts in London and New York be too much of a coincidence? Could it be that terrorists are tampering with our infrastructure in preparation for a major terrorist attack?” (This is my favourite bit) “Come on Tony Blair, tell the truth for once.”

Tony Blair resisted the urge to tell us the truth for once in answering “Yes, it’s probably too much of a coincidence and no, it probably isn’t terrorists.” Wriggled his way out of it again, the snake.

What about the enigmatic little boxes that contain corrections from previous issues. In the Guardian they usually contain things like “Correction: - The King of Deheubarth died in 1063 and not 1062, oh how we all had a jolly good laugh at that.” In the Mirror the corrections leave you panting for more. Today’s included: -

Correction: The lowest temperature possible is -273 degrees centigrade; it is not possible for temperatures to drop to -700C.

What was the story?!

Mind you, it might be worth getting the Star ocassionally on the back of today's issue the headline bellows in letters as big as houses “BECKS GOES AWOL!” referring to a story whereby David Beckham’s flight from Spain was diverted from Manchester to Stanstead causing the footballing icon mild inconvenience. The drama!

Monday, September 01, 2003

Wrists! Wrists!

Sadly I can’t claim ownership to this rather incisive social observation. For it is Simon who accurately concludes that women communicate their excitement through the medium of showing each other their wrists, hence…


I have much to tell you, the week in Italy you know about but we’ve also done lunch at Le Manoir, a weekend in Mallorca with my favourite people in the whole world, and Australia Jo’s wedding.

I have developed the theories of Bridesmaid’s Envy and Airport Machismo, pondered structuralism in relation to my friends; have developed firm opinions about the role of producers in Hip Hop. I’m redesigning justinruffles.com with masses of new functionality (if pictures and good spelling can be classified as functionality). We’re on a healthy living kick. And Oxford are on a six game unbeaten run, third in the table and in the second round of the Carling Cup.

And we have Sky!


What’s more, it’s Sara and Gareth’s wedding on Saturday, the Dobscrub’s baby is due. The social diary is packed with Willy’s birthday, and Dave Gorman and Al Murray gigs. And we’ve got a party in the planning. All I have to do now is find some time to tell you all about it.

And we have Sky!


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