Sunday, September 23, 2007

Fair play

Thame Fair is an institution round these parts and like all great institutions it’s barely changed in at least 25 years. It cuts the whole of Thame High Street off, a logistical and economic nightmare, and coincides with Thame Show – the largest one day agricultural show in the country. The two events together are the highlight of the town’s social calendar.

When we were at school, it would all start the night before it actually opened. Wednesday night was for setting up. We used to have the day off for Thame Show on the Thursday, so Wednesday night was free. Wednesday served three purposes; firstly, to check out what was new, to see if there was the opportunity to test the rides for free, and to get a fair job.

All, completely fanciful; there was never anything new, nobody ever tested the rides and why would hardened fair ride owners cut into their profit margins by handing jobs out to twelve years olds?

Because of school the next day, mums and dads throughout the county locked down their children for Thursday’s opening night. Those who did make it out would turn up on Friday morning with stories of how one of the rides had broken and killed someone. Usually a car had flown off the Tri-Star hitting the Town Hall. Oddly, the Thame Gazette chose never to feature the story; which suggested that there was some grand conspiracy, Thame’s resident hacks had bigger stories to cover, like the new tree that’s being planned for the war memorial or it was complete braggadocio.

Friday was The Night. The whole school would descend on the town; cars from the surrounding villages would stack up round the ring road waiting for clearance to drop their payload of children off at the end of the High Street. Kids would walk around four stone heavier laden ten pence pieces in their pockets. It was an egalitarian social event, because whether you were cool or a geek everyone could go down the fair.

Friday was the night Wiggazz finished his shift at Budgens and between leaving its front door and meeting us at the arcades two hundred yards away; had blown his week’s wages on slot machines. It was when Choggaz spent the night comparing Star Wars strategies some mystical lard arse and the night we encountered Gauntlet; a revolutionary game you could play with your mates and keep your characters power up by putting more money in. As a result it ate money.

Saturday was best kept clear. Rumours were abound that ‘posses’ from Aylesbury, Wallingford and all obscure villages in the surrounding area would turn up. Apparently (though typically, this again was missed by the paper) the fair would end in a massive riot with all the posses and fair workers scrapping it out for supremacy. For years I imagined that all these posses had club houses and robust governance structures and they planned their assaults meticulously. In truth it was just kids you didn’t recognise from school.

We went to the fair last night with Millie. Nothing has changed. Presumably it’s ludicrously expensive to paint a fair ride as each one is stuck in a timewarp. Like the ride which featured Ally G or the one that screamed ‘WASSSUP’ every two minutes, or the stall where you could win a cuddly Crazy Frog. I’m sure the Superbowl ride had a painting of Dan Marino on it. I found myself staring at people my age trying to regress them in my mind back to the school days. If you could take 3 stone and 20 years off their faces then, yes, they were from school. Yes, like us they have children and like us they have to go home at 7.30. But essentially, everything is the same. Now, like then, these people hang around in groups barely making eye contact with each other. And that’s just the way it should be.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

London loves?

Prior to boarding the train into London yesterday, I was listening to a debate about Northern Rock. The discussion basically went along the lines of…

Caller: “I’m taking all my money out because if they’re wound up then I will lose all my money and will have to work for the rest of my life”
Financial expert: “But they’re not going to be wound up, they would be able to function without any deposits at all and the Bank of England will only lend to companies who are in good shape.”
Caller: “But what if they are wound up?”
Financial expert: “They’re not going to be”
Caller: “But what if they are?”

Getting off the train, I found I was in a carriage with a woman dressed in red shoes, thick red tights, red dress and red coat, a woman with one leg on crutches, a body builder in flip flops, a couple of fat lesbians and a woman in thigh high boots and a business suit.

Walking down Regents Street I was held up by a bunch of clearly wealthy Japanese business men dressed in hideous, but expensive, golfing casuals. With breathtaking predicatbility, they meandered along until they got to the Pringle shop then stood stock still like rabbits in a car’s headlights gawping at the pink and lemon patterned jumpers in the window.

I passed the Hanover Street branch of Northern Rock with 200 people hanging around outside and TV reporters doing their hair preparing for broadcast.

I had lunch in EAT in Vigo Street, and sat intimidated amongst stick thin models eating cress, fashionistas in vintage sportswear, people with indeterminate marketing jobs making energetic calls about ‘The Tour De France account’ and ‘The Paul Smith Campaign’ and fashion students talking about this season’s fabrics and colours with piles of drawings and rags spread out all over the table.

I went to The Pen Shop, because I needed a pen, but found their starting prices were around £60. I then spent 35 minutes looking for a shop that sold both cheap pens and mini-London A-Zs.

Britain: weird or wonderful? you decide.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Not making a meal of it

Emma’s has had a wretched time with her new car. About two weeks before our holiday two of the hubcaps were nicked from it. When we returned from holiday we found the other two gone too.

Yesterday, whilst she was shopping, someone ran into the back of her in a car park breaking the rear light. The culprit then drove off without owning up to their crime.

In between some scallywag wrote in the dust on the roof what appears to be the legend ‘Cheesecake Cock’ – now I can’t definitively say what that means, though I can have a good go.

Not one to look on the dark side of life Emma turned to me and said, “You never know, maybe it says ‘Cheesecake Cook’ which would be a complement.”

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

All hail the chef

It’s a hard life, but yesterday I had to do a tasting in preparation for a conference. The chef was a Swede, the nationality, not the vegetable. He was about nine feet tall without his hat, and twelve with it.

I’ve never done a tasting before, I thought we’d be given samples of all the food; we’d pop it in our mouths, say ‘yum’ and move on. Not a bit of it; it was all about the performance. Our Chef wanted us to understand firstly where he was coming from (two Michelin stars at the age of 23 before he had a heart attack as a result of the pressure) and where his food came from.

I don’t mean where geographically, although he told us this too – he only gets his sun blushed tomatoes from Sicily (‘if they’re the only place that does good ones, what are you gonna do?’) for example. He wanted us to know where it came from spiritually and philosophically. He was, he said, trying to redefine conference catering – well, we’ve all got to have a hobby, I suppose.

Not only was he trying; he had achieved it. He told us so. It was delicious, and there was no denying his talent. Or confidence. Or arrogance. Depending which way you look at it.

What’s more, we were lapping it up. We may have suggested under our breaths that the chicken pie needed some greenery, but we weren’t going to tell him because he was the maestro and not to be questioned. We even called him ‘Chef’ rather than use his name out of sheer reverence to his limitless capabilities.

I managed not to refer to him directly as chef; I couldn’t bring myself to do it. When he described the food’s philosophy, the temptation was to tell him to calm down – it’s just cooking a bit of lunch. I didn’t of course, but I wasn’t quite as compliant as the others.

Effectively we were playing a game of master and servant, he would tell us how marvellous he and his food was, we would tell him how right he was then call him Chef. Maybe we’ve watched too many restaurant programmes and as a result of seeing Ramsay and Marco Pierre White in action we’ve now all got a channel for our latent sadomasochism. We might as well have called him Mistress. We probably needed a safe word, like “McNuggets” or something.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

One for the Daily Express readers

I'd like to say that the reason for my blogging hiatus was due to spending time at a Buddhist retreat or some life changing experience. It's not; it's just because work has been bloody hard and play has been bloody fun. I've had precious little keyboard time.

Time flies... which is a neat segue into the fact that it's been ten years since Princess Diana's funeral. I can't really remember how I felt about it then; I didn't lay any flowers at a makeshift memorial, I didn't use the phrase 'Queen of Hearts' or 'The People's Princess'. I did feel the impact of what happened though, it's one of those things that you cannot describe to those who weren't there. The whole nation appeared to go into shock for a week, and for a period is was like it would never go back to normal again.

Charlie was down the weekend it happened. The night before she died we'd been out drinking and ended up at Penny's house sitting in the garden trying to wake up a Bishop who apparently lived in one of the nearby homes. We got home very late. Shortly after going to bed the phone rang; it was Andrew, who was still drinking in the garden, doing spitfire impressions. We eventually managed to convince him that it wasn't really that funny and we finally got to sleep.

I got up fairly early and went downstairs; in a completely atypical move, I didn't turn the TV on. For an hour or so I read. When I did eventually put the TV on, it was quite apparent that something was up. The news was on when it should have been Saved By The Bell.

I went upstairs to tell Emma and Charlie what had happened. I think I described it as 'exciting', which it was. We phoned Andrew who answered in a bit of a mess and thought we were getting him back for his Spitfire prank.

We'd planned to go to the cinema in the evening and, such was the impact, felt it necessary to phone up to check they were still open. A couple of our friends actually chose not to go, out of respect. We had problems getting to the cinema because the motorway was closed to allow them to transport her body back.

The next morning we went back to work and speculated that there may be a day of national mourning, or more specifically, a day off. Our fiery Irish boss was apoplectic at the prospect. Which was instantly sobering and, in hindsight, probably saved us from joining the utter madness of the week.

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