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Staggering stags and superhero roadkill September 22, 2011

Posted by normanmonkey in Thirtynumbthing.
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And lo, Mr Incredible, watched by an assembled, cheering crowd, muscles rippling, stood before the blacked out windscreen of a gleaming new Range Rover. With a raised hand he commanded it to stop and, summoning all his powers, placed his hands on the bonnet to push it backwards.

“Given the reputation for organised crime, guns and gang violence in Puerto Banus,” I said to the person next to me, “this is probably not a very wise move.”

Sure enough as my friend, from a day of drinking on his stag do and now condemned to don fancy dress – demanded the 4×4 moved back, the driver clearly wasn’t in on the joke and thought otherwise. He lurched forward and ran him over. Winding down his window, to reveal more than a passing resemblance to Niko Belic from Grand Theft Auto, he waited with cold, dead piercing East-European eyes for my friend to stand up and get his bearings, “Next time I finish you.”

Imagine all of us returning home, hungover and full of remorse at Gatwick, presenting the bride-to-be with a coffin containing one dead stag. Dressed as a beaten up Mr Incredible. It certainly would’ve put a dampener on the wedding.

It all begs the question who the hell invented the British stag weekend? My money might be on Dr. Robert Oppenheimer and it was an even bigger regret for him than the atom bomb. It was one thing when it was just a night, but doing it once and then repeating all over again, invariably on foreign shores, is asking for trouble.

The notion of a few ales down the local, a sing song and maybe a peck on the cheek from a tassle-swinging saucy stripper called Stacey has long gone. The previous stag do I went on was in Kuala Lumpar of all places, and included a performance in a  strip club that has put me off table-tennis for life. Even now when I hear Boris Johnson talking up the origins of what he calls ‘wiff-waff’ as a British gentleman’s after-dinner parlour game I shudder. Do you know what they do with ping-pong balls in the Far East?

In your 20s there is the ‘activity stag do’. This is when the best-man, usually someone with military aspersions whom you’ve never met and no one else but the groom knows, thinks it a terrific idea for you and a bunch of other poor sods to pay a fortune pursuing a worthy ‘masculine’ outdoors activity. An activity you’d never in your wildest nightmares pay to do.

The one and only time anyone ever charged me with organising a stag do I had it drummed into me by other attendees “We have to have an activity”.  So I booked kart racing, against my better judgement. The groom and I knew better and spent a night on the town taking in an exceptional evening of Chas and Dave at the 100 Club, thus rendering us both incapable of taking the wheel the next morning.

It doesn’t get any easier as you get older, stag dos are few and far between. Almost everyone is married and only allowed off the leash in a pack, some possibly for the first time in many years. Cue the incessant contact from their wives who could almost scent their tracks toward wayward paths. I surveyed my companions at the poolside and they looked like The  Dirty Dozen, but with disposable income. Clearly this was not going to  be a weekend in Spain spent sipping sherry and admiring old churches.

We should all be relieved to have made it through two successive  nights without being taken out in a drive-by. Even the golf trip that I  missed for obvious reasons [I don’t like golf], in favour of Anadin and iced water  down at the beach, proved to have a near death experience. One chap and  Mr Incredible managed to flip the golf buggy at the 18th hole.

The worst scars we bore at Malaga airport on Sunday night were purely  psychological. By my count, there’s only me and a friend, currently  working in the wine trade in Sydney, left to have stag nights. Unless we get lapped by someone getting divorced and rapidly hitched, which given my own lax circumstances and that said friend is going out with a  stripper, there’s every possibility of that.

Are we alone in our  oddity? Recently, Newsnight sent a crew all the way to Beijing to  highlight how hard it is for urban Chinese men to find a suitable  partner. They could’ve saved the time and a fortune in our license fees  by coming to meet me in Surrey – and I’ve got my own home and a QPR  season ticket over my Beijing brethren.

In Chechnya, however, they  have a traditional route to dealing with this whole issue. If a man sees an unmarried woman he would like to be with he has two options. The  first is to introduce himself and ask if she is available for courtship. The second is much more straightforward: he kidnaps her with the aid of his mates and takes her back to his village where she is held by his  family. The latter often follows as a result as a failure of the former. The more direct, insecure Chechen man just goes straight for number  two.
It begs the question – what is it that gun-toting Chechens do  for a stag weekend? Presumably, if Saturday night is anything to go by,  they go to Marbella and run down Englishmen in Mr Incredible costumes  for fun.

First appeared as Thirtynumbthing @blokely.com

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Nevermind the Horlicks September 22, 2011

Posted by normanmonkey in Music, Thirtynumbthing.
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Last week what appeared to be a run-of-the-mill transmission of Newsnight ended with an unexpected bombshell, putting the Eurozone crisis into perspective. It was a moment when Thirtynumbthings of both sexes were sent into a tailspin and forced to reach first for the nearest calculator and then for gin and The Samaritans.

Emily Maitliss coquettishly announced in a message to ‘any teenage viewers’, ‘This is what your mum and dad used to listen to when they were your age’. What followed was not a grainy clip of T-Rex or The Clash, but Nirvana. Nirvana?! What the hell was the BBC playing at?

I had already drafted the letter of complaint to Points of View prior to fully completing the maths. By my calculations Nirvana, like Gazza’s tears and Britpop, happened ‘a little while ago’. No more, no less. Furthermore, not only did I not have any teenagers, but I was positively convinced I still was one (and I can bring forward many ex-girlfriends from the past two decades who will testify on oath to this point).

It appears that Newsnight hadn’t been trying to mess with our heads in homage to Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast. It really is twenty years since Smells Like Teen Spirit was released. Maitliss clearly wasn’t one of those touched by nihilistic, post-Cold-War Genration X angst: she inadvertently nailed her colours to the mast by referring, in plummish tones, to ‘Smells OF Teen Spirit’. Evidently the most angst she felt twenty years ago was whether she’d be able to fit Latin homework, lacrosse practice and an hour of oboe playing into the same evening.

Getting older is like being in a bad science fiction movie. You forget it is actually happening. Then you meet someone from your past who might have once passed for a Prada model but now resembles Michael MacIntyre. They could be talking to me about work, kids or IKEA, but I’m not listening. I’m looking them up and down and want to reach out, stroke their cheek, shake them and scream ‘What is happening to us!’ This is precisely the kind of thing that has seen me struck off the dinner party circuit.

Usually, when confronted with the reality of the passing of my youth, I need to spend a week or so in a foetal position listening to whale music in a darkened room. With working hours the way they are, that option was not possible on Nirvana night.

Instead I had to console myself the following morning by cornering colleagues too slow to get away. Given most of them are in their early 20s I merely reaffirmed just how old I actually was by raising the subject of Nirvana. Might as well have been talking about the Charleston. In a rare attempt at empathy I put myself in their pointed shoes. Would I have understood, at the age of 22, if the senior bod at work started lamenting the passing of music from his teenage years?  The answer would be no. By god, I’d have punched my way through walls – and indeed him – to escape that conversation.

But, inevitably, what goes around comes around. To any young buck, let me assure you, it’s only a matter of a few sleeps for twenty years to pass and someone to laugh in your face when you mention Tinie Tempah.

Here’s the rub: I didn’t like Nirvana at the time and to this day have never listened to Nevermind in full. ‘Unplugged’ is the only Nirvana CD I own – and there’s a statement revealing my redundant pre-digital lineage yet again. Go back 20 years and I was proactively anti-Nirvana, preferring instead The Cramps and Pixies. Grunge permitted a large proportion of my generation to indulge in self-absorbed poetry, bad personal hygiene, oversized jumpers, cumbersome footwear and stating that they were ‘on a down’ about practically everything. It was pretty horrific. The fact that it gave us Pearl Jam was another reason to abhor.

Nirvana weren’t to blame for this. The point being made by Cobain was the horror of conformity, not to put anyone on a pedestal or adulate them. As is inevitably the case, the fans took the point and missed it by a country mile, by imitating and idolising him in another form of conformity. He responded to this by killing himself. Although having Courtney Love as a wife would test even the strongest willed man, including those of us who have gne out with a French girl for any period of time.

So if Nevermind didn’t mean much to me then, why the adverse reaction now? It transpired that what I was mourning was neither the passing of something precious about my youth nor indeed the passing of someone else’s.

This week’s episode was yet another procrastination on my part to deflect reality and time passing with an introspective howl. That I chose to do so now, with an outpouring of self-absorbed prose whilst wearing a baggy jumper and in urgent need of a shower, has just reassured me that, 20 years late, I may still be young after all. I feel better already.

This article first appeared on Thirtynumbthing at Blokely.com

Clothes horse, claret and Claridge September 18, 2011

Posted by normanmonkey in Food, Friends.
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What a difference a week makes. Today a home cooked Sunday roast with the girlfriend and domestic harmony; last week I was at the fag end of a ‘Gentleman’s Three Dayer’, surrounded by brimming ashtrays, empties, take away containers and manly pursuits with old friend Ed Wells and a cameo from Robbie Gale who lingered long enough for his wife to call him back home.

What was supposed to be a civilised Friday fine dining lunch at Drake’s in Ripley was somewhat fraught thanks to a murderous hangover as we got carried away on the good stuff the night before. Chit chat and decorum went out the window in favour of Ollie Reed style bravado and dancing around the house. Drakes is worth a visit (go for the duck) but ideally don’t enter with shakes and the eloquence of Dappy from N Dubz when confronted with a menu discussion with the front of house.

What can also throw the fragile diner is a somellier the spitting image of obscure character actor Paul Giamatti,  star of Sideways where he plays a neurotic wine obsessive so for reasons only those who were present on the Thursday night could possibly understand, I was watching his every move like a hawk. I in turn managed to knock my glass of wine – the one included in the set lunch price – flying across the restaurant thanks to a lack of spacial awareness and was humbled when Giamatti cleaned up my mess and refilled my glass.

‘What did you do for three days?’ asked the new girlfriend. We talked a lot I replied.

‘So did you talk to Ed about me?’ asked the new girlfriend. Yes, I replied, but when she asked what I told him I was at a loss. I mean, I told him she existed and she was very nice, but that’s about the extent of it and that’s the thing women don’t get. When two men of a certain age get together in a moment of freedom the last thing they will ever talk about is their partner.

‘So what did you talk about for three days then?’ she asked baffled. Well, after the initial two minutes confirming our respective partners were alive and probably well, the remainder of time drinking and breathing fire on the wheat fields of human mediocrity. Particular mention should go to the 41-year-old unemployed man in that day’s paper who was killed by his clothes horse. It transpires he’d tripped backwards and fallen into it after a marathon gaming session on his console. What did his 18 year old daughter ‘Shawnee’ (yes, we covered the name, the spelling and the wretchedness of modern names) have to say in tribute to her father at the inquest? He loved his X-box. The verdict on his death was accident. ‘More like natural selection!’ we concluded.

Other mentions must go to footballer Jack Wilshere who was pictured with a new tattoo of a praying Virgin Mary up his arm (‘Prat!), the purchase of a new mouse that came with an instruction manual, people who eat out at Bella Pasta (‘Why do people pay go to a place that manage to fuck up a carbonara’) and a mutual acquaintance whose recent Facebook update was ‘I love my wife’ (that’s the sort of sentiment to keep to oneself and one’s wife – the update ‘I hate my wife’, however, has potential).

What else was on the list I can’t remember what else, definitely the football punditry of Steve Claridge (whose retort to anyone who disagrees with one of his opinions is a chippy ‘You aint never played the game’), but we filled 72 hours with a few pauses for broken sleep, made ourselves thoroughly angry and ill in the process and intend to do it again as soon as possible.