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Straight Outta Compton August 29, 2011

Posted by normanmonkey in Food, Thirtynumbthing, Travel, West Byfleet.
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‘As I l leave, believe I’m stompin’, but when I come back, boy, I’m straight outta Compton’ – Ice Cube

In days long gone an August bank holiday was a perfect excuse to not go to sleep for 72 hours in the company of other itinerants a backdrop of thumping beats. Not anymore. Those same itinerants are now hollow-eyed and sleep deprived on account of their kids or running businesses and marathons, possibly at the same time.

As per usual I had been taken by surprise by the sudden arrival of an August Bank holiday. Where on earth do they spring from?  While trapped in the killing fields of commuting and the 9 to 5 (make that 6) ] I’d fantasised and whinged about  could be done if only I’d had the time the time. It was all visions of a weekend break in Rome or a bohemian day in Brighton and yet when the time came I realised it was too late to actually do anything meaningful.There was a mad scramble of phone calls, texts and tweets like a manager without a squad on transfer deadline day at 10.55pm and discovering that even Marlon King isn’t available.

So what did a Thirtynumbthing do with three days to fill?

Left to my own devices led to the usual distractions of writing a to-do list, losing it, giving up, and then forming a nest of papers, magazines, endless cups of tea,  and an interminable feed of live sports. That was Saturday morning. By Monday however the mind-numbing effect of Sky Sports News and fermenting scent of stale sweet and sour sauce tends to lead for a call to action. What was needed was escape from the detritus of my own mounting detritus. My kitchen had turned into a scene from a William Burroughs novel. Something had to be done!

Straight Into Compton
There comes a moment when a man doesn’t want cocktails or to be surrounded by hipsters and urban attitude. I’d hit that moment and what I craved was a radical departure reassurance and twee harmony. Above all that I wanted cake.

In what may prove to be a defining turning point I went online not to Time Out but Surrey Life.  The pleasurable afternoon I had as a result could be a portent of the comfortably numb future that will befall us all before incontinence.

If anyone goes to Compton in Surrey in a confused pilgrimage to the place made famous by Niggaz With Attitude they will be sorely disappointed.  Among the cottages and rolling green hills there’s a distinct lack of gang warfare, bitches or LAPD brutality.  I, for one, would still very much like to see a twin-town exchange programme and the resultant fall out in a fly on the wall documentary.

What Compton lacks in crack houses is made up for with the Watts Gallery Tea Rooms and a fine lemon sponge for starters. The Watts is precisely the kind of place a person can end up and lose an afternoon watching middle-England in full throttle. I’d been transported to another England, one well away from the London of my work week, the one of traffic, uppity bar staff, drunks on the Jubilee Line, wasabi popcorn, feral kids, feral social media gurus or cabbies moaning about ‘the fackin’ Spurs’.

This was a haven of scones with jam and clotted cream, genteel old ladies, upstanding families, children (and even dogs, come to think of it) seen and not heard. Everything and everyone had a place and permanence to the point you could practically hear Elgar playing in their footsteps. It was, in the words of Vivian Stanshall, ‘English as tuppence, changing yet changeless as canal water, nestled in green nowhere’.

The only hitch was that I’d left my wallet at home. What would Ice Cube or Eazy-E of NWA have done in Compton when faced with only enough change for the tea room or the Watts exhibition, but not both?  According to ‘Cube’ when he’s called off, he’s got a sawn off, squeeze the trigger and the bodies get hauled off.
Wise words, but armed only with a lighter and a copy of The Guardian, violence was not an option. It meant forsaking the Victorian art and sculpture of George Frederic Watts in the Gallery favour of Welsh rarebit and cake in the cafe. Yet again, my stomach triumphs in a mismatched bout with the arts. I shall be back.

What did I learn? Firstly to plan future bank holidays well in advance; second to remember my wallet if I do should venture out and finally, next time I’m heading down to Compton to pack a sawn-off just in case I can’t pay for a cream tea.

This article first appeared as Thirtynumbthing @blokely.com


Own Goals on Sunday August 24, 2011

Posted by normanmonkey in QPR, Thirtynumbthing.
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Goals on Sunday’ is an unwelcome reminder to anyone who wakes up in a cold sweat, stares at the ceiling and is unable to remember what exactly happened at the football match they’d attended the day before. Despite the elfin pleasantries of Ben Shepherd and the thigh-slapping banter of Chris Kamara there’s no stopping the swift descent into unfettered horror recalling your team has been stuffed 4-0 at home on the opening day of the season.

Unlike others who’d spent their summer clubbing to dawn in Ibiza, taking their kids camping in the New Forest, singing along doe-eyed to Bono with their lighter in the air at Glastonbury I’d spent most of mine in a trance-like state fantasising about QPR’s first game back in the Premier League for 15 years. As anyone who follows football knows there are dreams and then there is reality.

Two-and-half-months are a long time to allow the male mind to drift into delusions of ‘tiki-taka’ football and goals aplenty from their team, irrespective of the alarm-bell ringing absence of decent signings and universal predictions for immediate relegation. Perhaps the warning signs were there: while Manchester City spent £40m on Sergio Aguero from Atheltico Madrid, QPR signed five players for a total sum of £1.25m and still managed to find a place in their Saturday line-up for ‘One Size’ Fitz Hall, a defender so addled by injury that he now limps onto the field of play.

For those of us who deign to leave the sofa to watch their team it is almost always an unedifying experience in which men are paid large sums of money to run into each other and fall over, or in the case of free-transfer debutant Danny Gabbidon, lunge like a shot animal to steer a straying cross into his own net. At these moments there’s no whizzy graphics and replays delivered with a whoosh and boom, just the tumbleweed silence punctured by the sound of a token erupting psychopath sat behind you unleashing a cluster of c words and spittle, followed swiftly by the sounds of small children pleading to be taken home

It had started well with composure and discipline but overconfidence led to sloppiness and then disgrace as the occasion overcame them as a normally workmanlike Bolton racked up an unprecedented four goals away from home –  like watching a flirty Auntie drink too much gin in the pub at Christmas and end up legless and led away  by a randy labourer who can’t believe his luck. Even Fabrice Muamba scored, that’s how bad it was!

New season, new girlfriend

Apparently New Girlfriend arrived at mine late on Saturday night to find me slumped on the sofa, wine glass in hand, illuminated only by the light of the television, 2-0 down to the Shiraz, mumbling ‘Danny Gabbidon’ like the dying burns victim in The Usual Suspects mouthing ‘Kaiser Soze’.

Sunday was a code red: the phone was switched off; appointments cancelled and New Girlfriend was scuttling around nervously making sympathetic cups of tea yet smiling nervously like someone who was trapped in a confined space with Fred West.  Not that these emotional deficiencies have been tolerated in the past – a previous girlfriend, coming from a more elevated, cultured social background than I, was absolutely appalled to the core that she was going out with someone who liked football. I challenged that because I’m not sure I actually like it, it’s just something I do, like passing water or bleeding when cut.

This is why it is all rather irrational. Someone commented to me only the other day that I didn’t seem like a QPR fan. Most of them he’d ever encountered were unsavoury and mentally unstable. I’d go along with that. To make a life choice to follow QPR when you have pick of any London team, is a quite insane decision, as if you are trying to prove a point, like putting your genitals in a food blender for a bet. (Not that regionality has anything to do with who your support these days – I once met an absolute idiot from Cheam who claimed to support Real Madrid but probably thought General Franco was a techno DJ).

Yet of course, it isn’t just QPR fans or me. Approximately half of the people across the country who crossed a turnstile on Saturday will ask themselves over this ruined weekend, Why do we do this to ourselves? (the other half will most likely be going through this torpor next weekend) as partners of both sexes seek escape. It’s a scene that would’ve been repeated not just in Shepherds Bush or Surrey, thanks to the digital age, from Kinshasa to Kuala Lumpur, but woe betide if they or anyone else suggests it is only or game or maybe it isn’t a constructive use of a Saturday.

Walking in a Stockholm Wonderland

Instead of burning the season ticket and deciding to spend the next Saturday at Tate Modern, take up lawn bowls, or go to South America on the Inca trail, we’ll have suffered the slings and arrows of colleagues’ comments and return gladly at the earliest opportunity full of good cheer and optimism for the next 90 minute debacle. All of which leaves me to conclude for most of us poor sods is just an elaborate form of Stockholm Syndrome, where an individual or group of people held captive begin to develop sympathetic and irrational supportive feelings towards their captors, even when presented with the opportunity escape and be free.

On the matter of escape, we are one game into a 38 game season and already I observed on Sunday afternoon, with the background hum provided by two hours of Alan Smith’s Brummie tones, New Girlfriend was looking at faraway locations on the internet and I swear it’s with not so much a holiday as permanent resettlement in mind.

(A postscript this missive: I’ve just got into work to find our Viking-like Head of Digital reduced to a tragic babbling mess having watched his beloved Coventry toss away a lead thanks to two injury-time comedy goals at Crystal Palace. Apparently their ‘one hope this season is a 17 year old from Burundi.’ Pitiful)

This post first appeared as a Thirtynumbthing article at blokely.com

Mop kicks the bucket August 10, 2011

Posted by normanmonkey in Thirtynumbthing, Uncategorized.
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Settling down. Now there’s a phrase peculiar to women and parents to a son of a certain age. It always seems to be prefixed by ‘When are you?’ – a question that morphs into an accusation when you hit a certain age.

We live in times of uncertainty and the unexpected: the constant threat of recession, the collapse of the Eurozone, tsunamis, England suddenly becoming the best cricket team in the world and Joey Barton quoting 19th century German philosophers for good measure. To compound it all, I find myself in an unexpected relationship, meaning, tragically, she is now thrust into the foibles of trying to come to terms with being on the arm of a Thirtynumbthing.

From personal experience and constant reminder, we are generally a hesitant and tricky lot when it comes to ‘settling down’. We’ve come this far being dysfunctional and doing our own thing that it has almost become our natural course.

On the surface we may be all stacked bookshelves, macchiato drinking, gym going and designer kitchens, but it only takes a well-manicured nail scratching at the surface to unearth the clues that it’s not all refinement beneath. An almost barren fridge save for a few bottles of wine and a jar of pickle, a dance-proof Union Jack coffee table that lights up and the letters Q P R mown on the lawn are hardly the stuff of a Homes & Gardens centrefold and something that, perhaps, she should have been properly warned about in advance. Still, I wish her well, especially as the football season has yet to kick off and that’s when things can go seriously pear shaped on the psychological front.

If she and I try to make sense of it all, it appears this disruption of my normal continuum has also thrown the cleaner off kilter. Arriving home from work this evening it was as if there had been a death in the family. Pavlina greeted me mournfully at the door cradling a broken mop in her arms. My first moments home after a day sweltering in an office without air-conditioning (the developers euphemistically call it an eco-building, I call it cutting costs) were thus spent watching sympathetically as she tragically attempted to force the head back on the handle as I stood there helpless, awkwardly trying to muster the words that she already knew. No two ways about it, the mop was f*cked.

Despite reassurances that there were plenty of mops in the sea, it was hard to avert the sense of loss. Then again she’d become attached to that mop, quite literally. Together they had formed a formidable grime busting team, dealing with cigarette ash and spilled Malbec wherever they went. Aside from buying a new, top of the range mop with all mod cons, it seems the only way we can have closure is a mop funeral, and do it in style – sherry, a couple of hymns and a tasteful reading by its companion, the bucket.

After she departed and I threw the mop in the bin, I thought that was the last bit of drama we’d have to discuss that evening, but never underestimate the machinations and intuitive panic of a Bulgarian cleaner’s mindset. A minute later I received a text:

‘Now you are having a girlfriend now, please don’t hesitate to discuss issues about the cleaning. I am ready to offer a different price for the job, if there is one that might match your needs better. Thanks, Pavlina’.

Where does one begin? How on earth did she know I had female company this weekend? (I thought I’d covered all those particular tracks, so there’s a worry for starters). Secondly, does she assume that me having a girlfriend signifies her cleaning duties have instantly been taken over by someone else? And to the point she will take a pay cut in order to see off this threat? Finally, what are my ‘needs’ anyway?

The depressed mood was not all down to the mop. I’m assuming, very much hoping, the tell-tale sign which made her realise I’d had a woman in the house was the two dinner plates left in the dining room. Besides, I often cook for a friend if they visit and she’s never commented before (I ought to check what else has been left around the house). By that same measure, if I hadn’t cleaned up after a dinner party would she therefore assume I’d had a Pompeiian orgy?

It must be all very different in Bulgaria – one seafood linguini supper and before you know it they’ve donned a pinny, carved their name on your mop and are ready to take on all-comers with a blast of Mr Sheen. All of which makes me think if what happened earlier with the mop was not wear and tear or accident, but sabotage on the part of Pavlina: if there is to be another woman in your life then she may have you, but she will never take the mop. And by God, if ever a working mop and a happy operative is needed then it’s here.