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The Great V-Day Card Mystery February 16, 2011

Posted by normanmonkey in Single London.
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As anyone by now familiar with this blog knows the only mail I ever receive is usually a final demand or a letter suggesting I am liable to have a stroke. It therefore came as no small measure of astonishment that I should receive a Valentine’s card – albeit delivered to my desk, thanks to our office ‘systems’, two days late.

Valentines Day has almost always been something that happens to other people and, thanks the late receipt of the card upon my desk, that remained the case this year. Still, two days or two years late I’m hugely flattered and intrigued. Another cause for an amazement is they appear to be literate. The only frustration is that I have no idea whom the sender is. Currently on the mantlepiece, the hallowed card will certainly be framed once I’ve had the it checked by forensics and contains some beautifully formed, thoughtful and flowing verse, loaded with a few clues: apparently the sender is accustomed to saying hi to me a lot, but nothing more than that ‘in all this time’.

It’s as if a wall of fear, transparent, yet profound, comes up as you come near, cutting off all around.

Thankfully, after her long monologues about Bulgarian folk customs, this appears to rule out my cleaner Iliana. That would’ve been awkward, especially given the knowledge that she handles my underwear.  The other clue is that, despite the presence of a stamp, the absence of a postmark means it was hand delivered, presumably by someone who lives or works locally and knows I do too. We can already rule out anyone who works in my own office. They know me far too well, have generally good taste, are certainly never short of anything to say to me and the single ones are more likely to be on the sex offenders register (molesting unsuspecting bankers in city bars, thaat sort of thing) than sit down and compose a poem to anyone, least of all me.

So that leaves a handful of people outside of work with whom I have had long-term contact on the basis of saying ‘Hi’. Given my predictable and limited routine revolves around, and never getting beyond, a bar-brasserie about 100 metres from my office I did have my suspiscions. When I openly suggested a name in the office, Gloria sitting next to me conisdered this for all of a nanosecond before erupting with laughter and upon finding breath declared ‘You’re punching way above your weight with that one!’ (which reminds me, I really must check the date of her next career review).

There’s only one other individual whom I could hazard a guess at on the basis of the available evidence. He runs a nearby boutique emporium purveying flowers and wine (so he does have something that could sway me) and did once offer me a discount on  particulary good Syrah if I gave him a kiss.

Who knows, I certainly don’t, but it would put the mind to rest. So if you are a she not a he and have your own teeth, whomever you are I think I could at least buy you dinner if you reveal yourself.  Knowing my luck Rose West is working on day release in the Sainsbury’s Local beneath our office and I’ve been in too urgent a hurry to get my Diet Coke and Marlboro Lights to even notice her doe-eyed hello.  Oh well, as the man said in the closing line of Some Like it Hot, ‘Nobody’s perfect’.

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One wedding and a wardrobe February 13, 2011

Posted by normanmonkey in Food, Friends, Single London, Thirtynumbthing.
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‘So lets get this straight’, I said to one of my oldest friends with whom I was having dinner (Entree in Clapham – go for the venison with a Malbec), ‘We’ve spent the last two hours talking about random shit, including our respective man-flu and mid-life crises, QPR’s home form, you going for a 72 hour round trip job interview to China and how you thought Facebook had been started by Bill Gates, but you forgot to tell me that since I saw you three months ago you got married?’.

– I thought I’d told you?

– No. You hadn’t told me. Now the wedding ring on your finger makes more sense than it did earlier

It is refreshing there are still, in this blighted age of cuts and austerity, friends whom never fail to deliver 24 karat surprises. Even more so as earlier in the evening I’d asked about the whereabouts of his partner and how things had been going in his relationship. ‘She’s gone on holiday to India with a girlfriend of hers’, he replied, ‘We get on much better when we’re not together. I enjoy the peace and quiet.’ Hardly a good prognosis for a new couple, let alone a marriage.

I asked what happened to the wedding that was supposed to be happening at a villa in the South of France, the one that sounded like a scene from an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. ‘All too complicated, expensive and too many rows’, he said. So it was decided to do something very low key, just immediate family. ‘How was it?’ I asked. ‘Horrific’ he replied.

– ‘Her father doesn’t approve that I’m not Jewish or converting to the faith. He even wanted me to be circumcised’

– ‘Well, I think we’d all support him on that one’

And so there we were, the Saturday before Valentines, two professional men for whom our numerous relationships have never delivered a chequered flag but a chequered past, enjoying a romantic dinner for two in a high-end French restaurant to the sounds of live dinner jazz in the background, sniffling with colds, pondering our own insanity and that of the opposite sex, surprised at his turn of events and my making the decision the best thing we could do with our evening is go to a bar and drink heavily.

The poor sod. He looked genuinely shellshocked at how his situation had changed so rapidly. Once the man about town, he’d been, hung, drawn and neutered. Life used to be a lot simpler. We’d go to these same bars a decade or so ago in a pack, but that pack is dispersed in pram pushing duties and the money once expended on Saturday night is now saved for school fees and people carriers – or in his case toward shoes and handbags. ‘She’s obsessed!’, he said, ‘And I’m not allowed to buy anything for myself”.

He had to be virtually dragged to a bar, reluctant because of the noise, complaining he was too old for this and visibly flinched in horror- to the comment of queueing strangers who witnessed it – when I turned from the bar and didn’t hand him the vodka and lemonade he’d requested, but a Jagerbomb. Several more followed and we smoked fags, reflected upon old times and current predicaments and agreed it was essential we did this more often for mutual support. All until it came for me to think about getting the last train home to West Byfleet.

– ‘I would suggest you stay at mine’, he said, ‘But I’m afraid I can only offer you the sofa’.

– ‘What happened to your spare bedroom?’

– ‘She made me turn it into a walk-in wardrobe’

With that I depaerted, comforted by the realisation the only woman presently in my life is ‘The Bulgairan’ who visits no more than once and week and her demands rarely exceed more than a new mop and a bottle of Harpic.

This column first appeared as Thirtynumbthing

West Byfleet and a special Olympics February 10, 2011

Posted by normanmonkey in Friends, In the news, West Byfleet.
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Los Angeles, Barcelona, Seoul, Atlanta, Athens, Sydney, Beijing and now West Byfleet. What all these fine global cities and one Surrey suburban dwelling, which happens to also be the home to Bonnie Langford, have in common is they have in recent decades been selected to stage Olympic events.

Apart from a sexual assault on the Parvis Road last summer (I deny all accusations) and contrary to the near hysterical tone of the Neighbourhood Watch circular which gives the impression we live in a post apocalyptic state of anarchy on account of a set of golf clubs being stolen from someone’s garage, there is very little that happens in West Byfleet. Yet it was announced today that West Byfleet is on the main route of the 2012 Olympic cycling road race. Already, one suspects, residents are recomposing irate letters to the local paper, pointing out the ever increasing dangers of the potholes to motorists, disabled wheelchair users, mothers with prams and international cyclists.

The eyes of the world will, for a good twenty seconds at least, be upon West Byfleet. One thing we can be sure of is our lawns will be mown, wheelie bins hidden so as not to be an eyesore, cars washed, tea brewed, scones creamed and our shirts starched so we put on a good show. When it’s all over we will do our best to ensure that after the whole Olympic circus leaves these shores we won’t want the world talking about Usain Bolt, Sir Chris Hoy or medals tables, but how West Byfleet seemed ‘very nice’ and just a 25 minute fast train from London. And if they are lucky they may also spot Bonnie Langford in the crowd, trying to get into camera shot, perhaps entangled among the bunting, but never letting her smile slip for a second.

The last sporting event to be held in these parts wasn’t so well received when I hosted an all-nighter for colleagues where Niles, a large black man from accounts and Robbie, a screaming loud gay PR from Wales (the self-anointed ‘The Black and the Gay’ – whom incidentally wanted to come to my Halloween party in reverse but never got round to it) decided to play a raucous game of boules at 7am to a house music backdrop. Rest assured, West Byfleet wasn’t ready for that and neither was I for that matter, but I reckon we’re going to be shipshape for the likes of British golden boy Mark Cavendish and all the French and Italian cyclists who are much better but no one knows their names on account of their continental origins.

As we’ve got the cycling, there’s good cause to say ‘Bugger London! We’ll do the lot!’ and simply transfer the rest of it here for good measure. The mighty Byfleet Boat Club at the end of my road can host the rowing and sailing (and thus enabling competitors to stop off for a picturesque pub lunch at The Anchor in Pyrford) and, Weils disease aside, the River Wey can take on the swimming, diving. There’s Byfleet tennis club for the tennis, squash and badminton, the football and cricket clubs can host the track and field events; weightlifting we’ll do away with conventional weights and competitors can try to their best to lift some of the customers in the frozen food aisle of the Tesco in Brooklands. The bowls is a given: my back garden, at a civilised hour, minus ‘The Gay and the Black’ and the David Guetta feat Akon techno remix of ‘Sexy Bitch’ and as for the boxing and martial arts, well that can simply be transported just up the road to Woking town centre which traditionally hosts these events at closing time on weekends. Seb Coe couldn’t put on such an extravaganza in his dreams.

Naturally there will be an Olympic party to host now in West Byfleet and that’s where there is justifiable cause for concern. Lets hope the only thing that makes the news that day is the cycling. Some of the usual suspects likely to attend are better off not behind a barrier but in a cage. What could start out as Pimms and rose in the sun and flying a flag in anticipation of the peloton could, a few hours later, end up with an incident involving  an overexhuberant dance routine, a stumbling gay Welshman naked save for a sailors hat and a pair of grey Sloggi briefs, inappropriate acts with a bottle, a single stray boule, several dozen mangled cycles and bloodied cyclists – in short, a global broadcast story to bring shame upon both the nation and the good name of West Byfleet that no number of manicured lawns with five rings mown into their centre will be able to atone for.

Perhaps, with that vision and the tearful apologies of Ken Livingstone, Tony Blair and Boris Johnson ruing the day they bought the event to our capital and asking the world for forgiveness, now burning on the brain from now till 2012 it’s better after all if we keep indoors and watch it on the television.

Lobster bisque and crackers February 8, 2011

Posted by normanmonkey in Music, Travel.
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A Sunday breakfast of lobster bisque and cream crackers was a clear indicator as ever needed that it was definitely time to go food shopping. Domestic chores have fallen by the wayside recently and that is attributable to the malaise that came from the hellish month of January. It’s a good job it finished when it did. One more day of that month and I swear, if it was a person, I’d have knocked it on the head with a shovel and tossed it into a ravine.

It’s around this time of year, and because of it, that people start plotting their escape away from all the domestic turgidity, the kind that comes with combining crackers with lobster soup for breakfast. The closest I’ve been to abroad in months was on Friday and that was only Reading for a QPR away game and that could hardly be described as a new horizon.

In recent years my holidays to the likes of Las Vegas, Phuket and Marbella, not to mention the recent Cow PR three-day invasion of Budapest, have been about as cultural as a lock-in with Bernard Manning. Although well versed in the art of the lone traveller having been to Cuba, Jamaica and Buenos Aires with nothing in my ‘backpack’ except clothes, a few books and the booking confirmation of a five star hotel, planning flight for foreign soil is not so easy when you are a single man in your mid-30’s. Half the destinations I’m genuinely interested in going to such as Vietnam, Central and South America would immediately have me placed on an Interpol database headed with the words ‘Sex Tourist’.

All this has been accentuated while currently reading ‘David Bowie In Berlin: A New Career in a New Town’, the account of how a manically-depressed, drug ravaged, reclusive rock star fled mid-70’s L.A, where he survived on a diet of milk, green peppers and paranoia to go to the Cold War torn but culturally fermenting city of Berlin with Iggy Pop as a traveling companion. Here they subsisted on Thomas Mann novels, Weimar inspired art, beer supped in anonymity in backstreet cafes and asparagus shopping in the food market with members of Kraftwerk and still managed to find time to  record five of the most seminal albums of the decade that shaped industrial rock, electronic and ambient music into a mainstream form. So, is there any sign of a middle ground between Bisque in West Byfleet and Bowie in West Berlin?

‘Hamburg with Blewett’, the imminent weekend jaunt of myself and a pub landlord with a pair of eyes tattooed on his arse, may not prove to be as seminal or culturally significant as ‘Bowie in Berlin’ not to mention The Beatles formative period there so don’t get your hopes up. We’ve got tickets to a football match at St Pauli FC, whose stadium is slap bang in the Reeperbahn, and a hotel room with a mini-bar. It probably begins and ends there with not a single Bauhaus building or name check of Brian Eno in sight.