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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.


Stuck in the mud – a weekend away in the country July 14, 2011

Posted by normanmonkey in Friends, Thirtynumbthing, Travel.

Deliverance, Thirtynumbthing, Blokely.comWhen Tom, an old uni friend, phoned the other week and invited me to join him, his wife and a large number of couples for a weekend away to Blo Norton Hall my immediate thought was, ‘Are they at the
swinging stage already? And how come this Norton Hall chap is getting all the attention?’

It turns out that Blo Norton Hall isn’t a sexual act, but an Elizabethan country house in Norfolk. So rest easy if you too ever get an offer to Blo Norton Hall, that is unless you know someone who knows someone called Norton Hall, then be careful because you could end up in a state rather than an estate. Get it in writing. If there is no ‘w’ you’re set for a good time rather than being the source of one.

Once the parameters of the invite were established I readily accepted. A weekend in the country would do me good: fresh air; charming, rustic inns, tranquility, nature, picture postcard England and new company, practically everything currently absent from my present existence. And not the only thing absent either:

“So.” I breezily asked my friend Tom, “who is going to be looking
after all the kids?”

“Oh, everyone is bringing their kids. There will be kids everywhere.”


There is nothing wrong with children and, although I hardly ever encounter them, there’s much to like. For starters, they are the people least likely to engage in conversation about Cheryl Cole’s love life, Fabio Capello’s team selections, the Ikea sale or the importance of an integrated marketing strategy.

In fact, other people’s kids are inexplicably drawn to me, possibly on the grounds they see someone else operating on their level. However, by my calculations the last time I would be surrounded by that many young kids was back in the infant school playground and, I might add, I was one of them.

On the Friday night everyone was arriving at Blo Norton Hall, but I was still bracing myself with a Bloody Mary at a bar in SE1, telling colleagues who asked why I wasn’t yet off to Norfolk that a ‘livener’ was a tactical necessity if I was to settle in to the rural idyll without having a panic attack.

When I arrived the kids were either sleepy or already in bed. Mission accomplished. What hadn’t been factored into the equation was the collective force of a group of thirty-something parents unleashed and unfettered. The sight of a grown man walking around with a water gun loaded with neat tequila set the tone for the weekend and it was only a matter of minutes before my mouth was very much in its crosshairs. I’d arrived thinking I was in an Evelyn Waugh novel but it quickly unraveled into Blo Norton Uncovered.

Discovering rural England

Staggering painfully into the sunlight the following morning, accompanied by a symphony of birdsong, it’s difficult to see how a hungover me decided to abandon the home comforts of my rural idyll in favour of exploring the surrounding countryside. But abandon it I did.

I recall thinking that we’d be entering a world of hay bales, Orwell’s ‘warm beer and old maids cycling to communion’, which would’ve been odd for a Saturday, I concede, or, at the very least, a country inn packed with sun burnished farmers cheerily chewing straw and talking about the harvest over ale and game pies.

Four of us decided to make the two mile walk to the nearest pub, but crossing its threshold we might as well have walked to Croydon. It served neither food nor local ales, but what it did provide was a tattooed coterie of angry looking locals whose age and gender was indiscernible beneath their leisurewear, scowling over their lager and Daily Star upon our arrival. Any attempt at interaction was drowned out by David Guetta’s Sexy Bitch. Hardly the sort of thing Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall has been peddling to gullible city dwellers for the past decade. Try foraging for Morels around here you curly-haired ponce.

Defeated, disheartened and a couple pints later the fatal decision was made to take an alternative route back through open countryside. Unlike anyone else on this break, I have absolutely no rural background or breeding. Drop me, worse for wear, in a field under the glare of the afternoon sun near a ramshackle farm and one word springs to mind: Deliverance.

The fear of a psychopath leaping from the wheat fields, though, was relieved by seeing Blo Norton Hall. Now there was just the matter of the River Ouse in our path.

“We’re going to have wade,” said Greg.

“What do you mean wade?” I demanded, “these jeans are Hugo Boss!”

As I sank crotch deep in mud and silt, it was practically impossible to save all the Guardian supplements. Family was first to be abandoned, Culture was sacrificed shortly afterwards and not even the Sport section could be saved when I fell forwards into the muddy, nettled laden banks.

There’s a certain indignity to going in search of a country pub and having to return looking not unlike Willem Dafoe in the closing scene of Platoon.

The rest of the weekend was spent firmly within the grounds and always in reach of the claret, removing the remnants of the riverbed from my pores.

When a child spotted me enjoying a contemplative moment in the sun, she gladly informed me I was going to be blasted in the face by a water gun. ‘At least,’, unlike her father, ‘it won’t be tequila,’ I thought as it forced me to re-evaluate my position on everything. My absolute unsuitability to the countryside was reaffirmed, but for the first time I realised it’s not the kids who are the problem, it’s the parents.

This post first appeared on Thirtynumbthing @blokely.com

The Jury’s Out June 15, 2011

Posted by normanmonkey in Friends, Thirtynumbthing, Travel, West Byfleet.

This morning I was woken from my slumber by REM’s Shiny Happy People, provoking what can only be described as a Fred West style assault on the radio alarm clock, and it’s been downhill ever since. Readers hoping for a review of the opening night of the new Playboy Club in Mayfair and the itinerary of my planned trip to Antibes with Keira Knightley should probably look away now.

Those of you who want a write-up on the descent of a man of a certain age in Partridge-esque parallel universe, alone in a Jury’s Inn hotel in Leeds trying to type on a laptop with a virus, no internet connection, a dead iPhone, no charger, and therefore no way of connecting to humanity have come to exactly the right place. There isn’t even a Corby trouser press to disassemble. It’s just me, four walls, the sound of faulty air-con, a kettle, UHT milk sachets and a laptop dying with digital herpes with which to write this latest desperate missive.

There is the matter, I suppose, that most international business travellers actually a) bother to pack their phone charger and b) sort out a decent hotel room before they rock up in town with their overnight bag and to avoid the situation I find myself in now. Downstairs, the lobby and restaurant are littered with the detritus of humanity, a mish-mash of bad suits, leisurewear, steak well-done, abandoned lager and mid-life crises.

Early on in the evening when there was a desperate urge for outside contact and a sense of purpose, I inquired at check-in if they had an iPhone charger and a cheery fellow called Wojech informed me they did. He then disappeared to some other part of the hotel, or Yorkshire, to find it.

“Do you have lead?” he asked on his return.

“No I don’t have ‘lead’. What do I need a lead for?”

“I only have plug to put in wall. You need to put lead in plug and then lead into your phone to charge.”

I wasn’t sure which one of us by now should be feeling stupid but I suspected the smart money was on me. Oh, for the want of a lead in Leeds. After a retreat back to room 316 there followed a period of indecision, brooding and pacing. There was, I felt for certain, exactly the lead he mentioned in the office I’d been working in today on the other side of town. I went back to reception and announced to Wojech with all the flourish I could muster that I’d be returning with a lead, but I could be sometime.

Forty minutes later there was no Wojech at reception. In his place was Elaina and she didn’t know anything about Wojech’s plug and my need for a lead. What she did know was that she had given the only charger plug or whatever the hell it is to someone else about five minutes before.

If you happened to be in the foyer of the Jury’s Inn Hotel Leeds on Tuesday night and saw an unshaven man in a Gieves and Hawkes sports jacket and brogues, slumped at the reception desk staring into the distance whilst clutching a limp iPhone charger lead from his hand before sighing heavily and heading to the bar, then you had the privilege of witnessing yours truly experiencing a dark moment of the soul.

Meanwhile in Surrey:

The other unmarried friend, Leon Dale,  is over from Sydney for a week for a mixture of work and no doubt, lording it up at my house in my absence. God only knows what he is up to left to his own devices and I’ve got no way of phoning him to find out. Plus there’s every chance he may run into Pavlina the cleaner upon his arrival this evening. I forgot to inform either about the other’s possible presence and I don’t know whom I feel sorry for the most.

He’ll probably get a thirty minute barrage of provincial Bulgarian wisdom and sledgehammer interrogation on how he knows me. Given his penchant for male grooming, she’ll no doubt assume, yet again, I’m homosexual. Great. When my much older, twice-divorced cousin crashed at mine for a bit earlier in the year, she entered the house to find him merrily sitting next to me with a beer watching Arsenal in his underwear and shot off saying she didn’t realise I was “busy with friend”. Despite my explaining the situation and he was actually my cousin she returned with a doubting smile that could be easily interpreted as ‘Ok, but back home in my village we would paint your house pink and nail your genitals to the door for this’.

Actually, come to think of it maybe I’m better off here out of reach. I just hope for her sake he doesn’t get out his iPhone after the home movie he played on it last night just as I’d finished dinner. It was one thing when men used to boast about what they get up to with their uninhibited girlfriend, but a blight of the modern age that I hadn’t expected and certainly not asked for last night when he unexpectedly showed it to me on playback, especially when he appeared on screen.

“What the bloody hell has got into you? I don’t want to see that! Get it away,” I said, batting away the his mobile device. “Steve Jobs would be proud. That may be a novel use of technological advancement, but it doesn’t mean it’s progress.”

“I suppose you’ll put that in ‘your column’ now,” he said sarcastically.

As if I would. Goodnight.

This article first appeared as a Thirtynumbthing column on blokely.com

No points deduction May 12, 2011

Posted by normanmonkey in Friends, QPR.
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The most beautiful three words in the English language are not ‘I love you’ but ‘No points deduction’.

This is my final word on anything football realted for some time as, believe me, I am more weary of it than anyone else reading this. After a week of sleepless nights, gnawing fists, speaking in tongues during meetings, bursting into tears, barking at and breaking down in front of friends, family and colleagues and reading wild speculation from those in the know (and not a single sports journalist can be included in that grouping), it was announced at midday on Saturday that QPR would only receive a fine for their transfer transgressions and were officially Champions. It is a week that I, nor anyone who came into contact with me, will want to endure again.

Enough has been written about the scenes of delirium around Shepherds Bush already. I’m not in a position to report on that moment as I was in a cab stuck in appalling traffic and going nowhere for a King’s ransom on the Warwick Road. All I’ve got to show for it is crippling shin splints after giving up and describing to run the remainder of the journey in Timberland boots arriving just in time to hyperventilate at the steps of the ground as QPR scored their one and only goal 29 seconds into the game before going on to inconsequential defeat.

Next season we will be in the Premier League for the first time in 15 years, entertaining the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea and for most of those games I will probably be stuck in a taxi somewhere on the Warwick Road.

Then there is Russell an ex-colleague, now present friend and ensconced in Paris who is a Cardiff fan who has watched our success and their capitulation at the final hurdle in unbounded horror. The rivalry between his club and mine is intense and dates back to a 2003 Cardiff play-off final victory – in Cardiff – that was full of loathing and retribution has been like an open wound ever since. Even in his job interview, he grinned to me, the interviewer, upon hearing I was a QPR fan ‘We could see you crying on TV’. He very nearly didn’t get the job.

A couple of years later Russell thought it a good idea to join me in watching a televised Cardiff-QPR fixture in a pub full of QPR types, most of them proper nutters, on a Friday night on the Goldhawk Road in Shepherds Bush. Despite Cardiff then being unbeaten  top of the league and QPR being bottom and pitiful, the latter scored a goal with their first shot in the 90th minute. Amid the eruption of hooped flesh and cacophony of delight sat a broken Welshman on a stool, his pint knocked flying, jostled by simian men who assumed he too was delighted at this sudden unexpected, undeserved twist, staring agonised, unblinking at the floor as if he’d just descended into hell.

Russell then did a funny thing. He went to the gents and locked himself in the loo for a full hour and refused to come out. Years passed and this season looked like being a head to head. For only two weeks this season was another team top of the league, that was Cardiff and, of course, Russell would be on me like a flash to salute the great breakaway (‘Just you watch us now!’ etc), yet it still went to the wire with Caridff bubbling closely beneath. In fact, had QPR had any significant points deducted, as it was predicted by the press they would, then Cardiff would be promoted in our place.

The no points deduction was announced and QPR declared champions at midday on Saturday and despite my best attempts to elicit a response there was not a text, tweet or call from Paris. All contact was down. And then at around 8pm on Tuesday evening he uttered his first words via Twitter: I’ve just come out the toilet. If Cardiff progress to the Play off final and lose to their bitterest rivals Swansea let me you, that self-imposed exile in the toilet will become permanent.

This is ground control…please confirm your position April 23, 2011

Posted by normanmonkey in Friends, Single London, Thirtynumbthing.
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Last week a friend consulted me on a man problem she was having and immediately I tensed up. She’d been seeing a chap; late thirties who works in the media and it had all been going extremely well. Over cocktails, she talked about how they’d shared a giddy couple of months, his charm, idiosyncrasies, but also his inability to accept his age and ‘settle down’, then, apparently, the fellow became evasive and then simply just fell off the radar.

“Isn’t it odd?” She asked, “I mean how a man can just suddenly become so detached?”

“Actually, I think you’ve just given a flawless description of myself,” and then added with a caveat, in case I got a Long Island ice tea tipped over my head, “…and any single man of that age.”

There should be a self-help group – others may say internment camp – for Thirtynumbthings, though I do wonder if we are a lost cause altogether. Certainly we are a source of constant frustration and bewilderment to the opposite sex, especially during The Ashes, yet we approach each new endeavour with the best intentions that, despite all evidence to the contrary, we aren’t merely hopeless, but hopelessly romantic. We just can’t find ‘The One’.

The truth is – if we haven’t by now we probably never will. There will almost always be something not quite right, something that rises to the surface that niggles, that we know we can’t live with for the rest of our lives. That’s unless she’s a Perfect Ten – the Rourke’s Drift of relationships – in which case we’ve been known to overlook and endure anything, including everything always being our fault and with disastrous consequences.

Alarm bells

My last brief relationship was brought to a juddering halt thanks to Raoul Moat. Before you jump to conclusions that she was taken out in a rampage, it was simply a case of her not knowing who Raoul Moat was. There had been doubts already, but the alarm bells rang when I described someone as looking like a “young Raoul Moat”, and she asked, “Who’s he?”

“You know,” I said, “the guy that was all over the news for weeks last summer, killer on the loose, a nation gripped, spawned sicko admirers on Facebook prompting outrage. Raoul Moat!” Still she looked at me blankly. It occurred to me that while the rest of Britain was in fear of this testosterone-fuelled psychopath who’d gone into hiding armed to the teeth, she’s the only person who’d have invited him in for a cup of tea. “I don’t really follow the news,” she said nonchalantly, “We can’t all be as informed as you.” matter-of-factly dismissing my Moat complex.

I mean, I don’t expect to date Kofi Annan, but she still found time to know what was going on in Heat magazine. Well that was it and quickly it began to fester. What if we went out with my friends and some other highly topical individual cropped up in passing and she said, “Who?” (come to think of it Martin Scorsese elicited the same question, meanwhile I noted she had at least two Danny Dyer DVDs in her collection). The next day in the office I was going up to anyone who couldn’t get away in time asking, “Do you know who Raoul Moat is?” just to be sure. Combined with her penchant for Tesco Value olive oil and a tendency to lick my face in public, I was out. I, too, fell off the radar.

She called after it ended to ask where it had all gone wrong. I did what any man does when asked to give a straightforward and honest answer – I gave an evasive and dishonest one. There were mutterings about lack of time, work and that maybe we just don’t have enough in common. What could you do, say, “I agree it had been going well, but this Raoul Moat thing?”

It would have sounded deranged, especially as I’d also exhibited some weak character traits that would be enough to justifiably end the relationship – such as bolting out of Le Pont de la Tour mid-conversation when a friend called from Fratton Park to say QPR had just been awarded a last-minute penalty (hardly the image Conran had in mind when he thought of his ideal clientèle).


Actually, as the latest ex and I talked she agreed it was for the best. The above sort of behaviour and lack of commitment was apparent and I got a lecture that sounded familiar to any other Thirtynumbthing. It reminded me of an email a friend (the one from who now suddenly finds himself married by mistake) received from a girl informing him his services were no longer required.

It opened with the line, “Do you practice at being useless or was it something they taught you at school?” Then followed a tirade, questioning every facet of his poor character and psychological flaws that was brutal, damning, beautifully written and completely accurate. He was most put out, but everyone who read it agreed entirely with her assessment and one or two speculated whether she had gone far enough. After all, she only had a glimpse of the brushwork, God knows what she’d have written if she could’ve seen whole canvas.

None of this, of course, was any comfort to the friend I was having drinks with. She has impeccable wit, conversation, gravitas and excellent taste in olive oil (she concurred on this point). It could just be that women have a far better grasp on reality and, while we don’t practice it, some of us are just better at being useless than others.

First published at Blokely.com http://blokely.com/life/thirtynumbthing-this-is-ground-control-to-thirtynumbthing/

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.

One wedding and a wardrobe February 13, 2011

Posted by normanmonkey in Food, Friends, Single London, Thirtynumbthing.

‘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.
Tags: , , , , , ,

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.

The Odd Couple (and Kimberley with the scar) January 15, 2011

Posted by normanmonkey in Consumer PR, Friends, Home.
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My older, twice-divorced, cab driving cousin has come to stay with me for a while, at least until ‘things calm down a bit in Egham’. I’ve already established that should he ever go on Mastermind his specialist subjects would be Arsenal FC, Northern Soul and the names of the all girls on the free to view Babestation stations. Dedicated viewing means he knows them off pat and can even provide a running commentary into their levels of filthiness and surgical history: “Look at her, Kimberley that is, all pumped up…oh she’s got the old scar down there n’all…Lets see who else is on…Lindsay! Oh no, she’s had them reduced! what’s she gone and done that for?!”

There’s been a bit of a  kerfuffle, lets put it that way, a fallout over something or other that needs to be settled or as he was explaining to me the other night with the TV set to Arsenal in the background: “I don’t know what I’d do. I’d have to move ‘ouse, I’d ‘ave to move out the area, that would mean having to change my job, not seeing so much of my kids, all my life is there….HE WAS NEVER OFFSIDE!…OH REF!….Did you see that?…HE WAS LEVEL!…so, yeah it’s really bad…I can’t believe that. The left back played him on!”.

That’s my family all over. Older generation aside, we’re littered with black sheep and I, at the very least, come in pastel shades of grey (my cousin was impressed when I showed him pages four and five of from a tattered News of the World featuring a woman I once dated). Still, he and I have always got on extremely well,  enjoyed each others company and its been good to have someone to come home to of an evening  even if to the outside observer this incongruous pairing of mini-cab driver in hiding and PR Director seems like a well crafted Pinter play. Whilst he has now embraced Waitrose, my predilection for books, ‘posh soup’, no bread,  fine wine, The Guardian, foreign films, skimmed milk and unopened mail has been heartily, and possibly justifiably, mocked. Meanwhile, I’ve noticed my consumption of lager, takeaways and Kimberley with the scar has rocketed in the past week.

Having easy going company has been welcome as it’s been a grueling time on the work front. Another fortnight at the coalface, albeit this one of the Chilean variety and no sign if a drill boring its way to us from daylight above.  January is always like that. After a week or so off we returned to four pitches in six days. Ideally a pitch requires a minimum of two weeks to crack the brief, discuss strategic approaches, develop creative tactics and then produce a presentation, so coming back on January 4th dotted with the remnants of festive tinsel and still giddy with the echoes of Jingle Bells ringing in our ears was always going to be a shock to the system at the best of times, but especially under these circumstances.

What keeps one going is the knowledge that it will all settle down again by February. No one dared venture to Village East despite it being the end to a long slog of a week, a combination of detoxing and desire to recharge, no one that is except Martin and I.

We’d felt that after refusing to leave the office on Friday night until we’d properly cracked a brief and by that coming up with an idea that we loved and that would fly rather than a nice set of ideas that would do, we’d earned an Espresso Martini or two. On seeing us and hearing of our stint our drinks were kindly provided on the house by management, meaning I arrived home jubilant and uplifted with the late turn of events to the week and pitched the new PR idea to my cousin on my return. ‘I don’t have a clue what you are talking about’, he said, ‘But I admire that you get paid for coming up with that sort of thing…now stop talking bollocks and have a beer’.