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Blame Canada, blame me and apologies to Vietnam March 24, 2011

Posted by normanmonkey in Friends.

Tomorrow is my last day at 36 years of age and I fear I may be losing my mind. Today whilst smoking a hasty cigarette outside the office a man I vaguely recognised approached me. I remembered him as someone who lives opposite and who is embarking on opening a chain of high-end coffee shops in the capital. I engaged him for a full five minutes on the subject of coffee retailing and then apologised for having to depart in haste.

It was only after I returned to my desk a colleague expressed surprise I should have met the coffee shop man as he is currently in Australia. ‘That’s bizarre’, I wondered out loud as he appeared to be talking with a Canadian accent. It rapidly dawned on me in emerging horror the chap I was speaking to was in fact the Head of Marketing for the Canadian Tourist Board that has moved into our office complex and whom we’d been buttering up over cocktails in Village East on Friday. This would therefore explain both his Canadian accent and lack of enthusiasm for my observations on the coffee bar business.

At least if the mind is rapidly fading with humiliating consequences the looks are holding up, albeit with unseen scaffolding. For the first time in my life someone asked me last week if I’d ‘Had any work done?’. I wasn’t sure whether to take that as a compliment or be mortified. Not only have I not had botox or a facelift, but not once in my 36 years and 364 days on this mortal coil has my tender face come into contact with moisturiser.

All of which leads me to conclude the cosmetics business is one of the great marketing cons of the modern age. This may be a face that has seen trouble, but hasn’t been too badly weathered thanks to a combination of late nights, Marlboro Lights, fine wine, Surrey air, interesting company, James Daly PT to the stars, the total absence of outdoor pursuits nor offspring kicking me in the shins for the past decade (the latter two tend to go together as I’ve observed from my exhausted peers).

Quite why I haven’t already got a withered prune like face like Mother Theresa’s death mask (now there was a a woman for whom god ensured abstinence from sex would be a two way thing made easy) is actually beyond me and I can only conclude that if it’s alright on the surface I must have organs like the inside of a mechanic’s glove that’s been chewed by the rat catcher’s dog.

While it may be my birthday on Saturday tomorrow is a far more important day: my parent’s Golden wedding anniversary. Fifty years. Think about that, fifty years. (These days I’m given to throw a celebration party if a relationship goes beyond fifty minutes). That’s a period comfortably before the release of Lady Chatterley and The Beatles’ first LP and into the age of iPads and Simon Cowell. There could well have been World War I veterans jiving at their wedding to the latest hit from Tommy Steele or Mel Torme. And fifty years on I’m all they’ve got to show for it.

It does make one wonder if they’d have gone through with it if they knew then what they know now. The sum total output of their union is a man who regularly locks himself out of his own home, finds fags butts in his mustard, bank cards on the lawn and mistakes a Canadian from the Canadian Tourist Board for an Australian coffee entrepreneur. I doubt it very much.

It took them 13 years before they even had me. By then they’d  reached the stage where they were considering adopting a Vietnamese orphan. It has occurred to me in latter years in some guilt that there’s some poor sod, cursing his luck, wading through a paddy field at this precise moment who, had it not been for my untimely arrival, could’ve enjoyed all the benefits in life I’ve had plus his own QPR season ticket and would’ve never once found a fag butt in the soy sauce. I sincerely hope he doesn’t show up at the bash on Sunday or that’s something else I’ve got to answer for.


Dos coffee, Fraulein. March 13, 2011

Posted by normanmonkey in Friends, QPR, Travel.
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Imagine the scene: two Englishman arrive at an Italian cafe in a bohemian district of Hamburg one Saturday morning. One of them has not long mentioned in the taxi from the airport how a few years military service as a marine in Germany meant he picked up some of the lingo. Not that this is a factor of course as almost everyone in Germany has a faultless grasp of English these days. Imagine then the surprise when the obliging waitress arrives, he jabs the menu and, with all the authority he can muster, orders ‘Dos coffee’.

I could but look back at her bafflement with a pained, apologetic expression. This was the beginning of my pilgrimage to watch St Pauli FC with Lee Blewett, The Publican, a couple of weeks ago. And that was about as top of the game as we got. An Englishman speaking Spanish to an Italian waitress in Germany is a sight to behold and triggered our downhill spiral of this ‘cultural visit’.

Imagine an English Premier League football club in England based on radical politics, punk rock, anarchism, eccentricity, a steadfast refusal to conform, a team that comes out to AC/DC, whose ground and fans bear a skull and crossbones emblem and locate their stadium in one of the world’s most infamous red light districts (in this case the Reeperbahn where the teenage Beatles cut their musical teeth and caught the pox for good measure) and you have St Pauli FC, recently proclaimed by CNN to be ‘the world’s coolest football club’.

The football was absolutely dire, the atmosphere was magnificent with constant singing, jumping and chanting all conducted by a few fans with megaphones. For 90 minutes this offered a spectacle inspired more awe than any 22 men hoofing a ball round a field could muster. It’s only this season and the likelihood of promotion that things have livened up at QPR. For the previous 15 years in the wilderness the only thing going on in the stands has been the occasional erupting psychopath or small children pleading to be taken home.  So St Pauli was a revleation, it was fun, it was raucous, it was friendly, especially given the plastic, witless and often oafish snarling nastiness of support we get served up on Sky these days.

Neither were we prepared to walk down the road from our  shi-shi hotel toward the bars of the Reeperbahn and be propositioned by at least twenty different pretty German girls in jeans, ski jackets and bobble hats to do outrageous things for money (I think, alas, the deal was we paid them rather than the other way round ). One after the other, it was relentless, like a domino effect and it felt like the opening of an Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Forget anything Usian Bolt has done, us pair completing that 100 metres without seizing up or falling at a hurdle has to be marked down as one of our greatest achievements. There are some friends we could’ve had with us who’d still be negotiating their way to the end now.

Twenty four hours later we checked out of our suite sporting our St Pauli scarves and holding our heads. Lee insisted upon crashing out in the hotel’s ironically named Wellness Centre spa rooms. I have never felt a Sunday is best spent spread out fully clothed on a lounger in a spa listening to ambient music as a publican snores loudly next to me with an assortment of towels and German newspapers over his head, so decamped to the bar for my book and a bloody mary to sort the nerves.

It wasn’t long before Blewett turned up looking  even more jittery and shellshocked than when I left him. He’d come to in the Wellness Centre, aware of the presence of voices and removed his towel to find a middle-aged German couple on the loungers near to him, both stark naked and in a state of contemplation. I didn’t know who I felt more sorry for, him or the couple. Imagine having your plans of  shared tranquility in the buff with your partner ruined by a hungover skinhead publican in Fred Perry polo shirt and jeans with a QPR bulldog tattoo on his forearms and a towel on his head staggering, spluttering and crashing from wall to wall in a panic to escape.

After that it back to reality for us at QPR. We’ve been top of the league since the opening day of the season (save for a fortnight when Cardiff had the honours but were rapidly hoiked out like a grubby man in a mac at a beauty pageant), but that may all change due to charges of an illegal transfer. When the potential points deduction and the promotion that may not be news broke this Wednesday I had to give Lee counselling to deal with the trauma. Meanwhile, somewhere in Germany there was the strong possibility of a middle-aged German couple booking in for the latest counselling session to overcome their newly found fear of ever entering a spa in the buff again. Karma perhaps.