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Afternoon, everyone. How are we all?

(That was just me being friendly, by the way, so don’t bother responding to tell me how you actually are, as there’s a very strong chance I won’t give a shit – unless you are genuinely in a bad way, and feel you have no one else to talk to, in which case I am always here for you, buddy).

Anyway, enough pleasantries. This week’s entry is about car phones (don’t worry, it’s going to be funnier than you think… or your money back).

Despite my previous issues with Ford a few years ago (see: https://middlerageddad.com/2015/07/03/once-upon-a-blog/), last year I bought my second ever Ford Kuga.

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My current Kuga is a few years old (it’s a ‘15’ plate, like the one in the picture above), is by no means top-of-the-range, and it was not expensive. Well, it was expensive compared to my first ever car when I was 21 (coincidentally, another Ford), but that only lasted a few weeks before falling apart, and by modern standards I spent less than most people do on a car.

It isn’t very quick, it doesn’t have fancy gadgets, and it isn’t as economical as I was hoping it might be; but what it does have is lots of space, a massive boot, and a decent audio system. Best of all, the audio system allows me to connect my phone via Bluetooth so that I can make and receive calls, and whilst I know this is quite common in modern cars now, I would be lying if I said it wasn’t one of the main reasons I returned to Ford after a two-year absence.

I hadn’t realised just how good the in-built phone system is in some Ford cars, until I switched to the Volkswagen Tiguan for my previous motor. That is not to say ‘Tiggy’ didn’t have a good in-built phone system, more that she didn’t have any phone system at all, because Volkswagen are notoriously stingy when it comes to adding technology to their cars (for example, my parents-in-law owned a VW Passat until a couple of years ago, and that still had a fucking cassette player in it).

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As a result, when Tiggy joined our family in 2016, and I realised how handy being able to make and receive calls in the car had been (usually to determine who out of my wife and I was meant to be collecting the kids from school), I purchased a ‘Parrot’ system from Halfords, assuming it would more-or-less the same.

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Well, you know what assume does.

To say the Parrot system was utterly shit, would be an insult to shit. It was worse than terrible, and for anyone inclined to see my review (which was banned from Trust Pilot for over-use of the word ‘wanky’), I wrote a blog entry about that, too: https://middlerageddad.com/2016/05/20/the-old-blog-and-bone/).

As a result, having a decent phone system was pretty crucial to me when changing cars early last year (it featured at the top end of my priorities list, somewhere near ‘good mileage’ and ‘fancy cup holders’); and because nothing else on the market tickled my pickle, and I had enjoyed my previous Kuga – despite the issues I encountered with Ford as a company – off I trundled to get myself another one. And, for the most part, this car has thankfully been faultless (if a little thirsty on the weekday commute).

Once I had made my purchase, I was relieved to learn that the phone system was actually better than in my previous Kuga, since not only does the microphone allow those I am calling to clearly hear what I am saying (take note, Parrot, as this is pretty crucial), but the voice recognition software, whilst a little judgmental*, is usually spot on.

*I think it might be the same woman who voices my sat nav, as she can be a sarcastic little bitch at times, too.

Best of all, unlike in my previous Kuga, the phone system in this one allows me to read, listen to, and reply to text messages as well.

By that, I mean that when an incoming text message arrives on my phone, the car informs me with a pleasant alert ‘ding’, then offers me the option of reading what the text says on the dashboard; or – for safety reasons – I can choose to have it read out by the same judgmental woman instead. I usually opt for this latter method of receiving the text – not for safety, but for the comedy value of her mispronouncing words and names, so I can once again feel superior.

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Anyway, I then have the option of responding to the text message via a series of pre-set replies, which the boffins at Ford have determined to be some of the most widely used communications by British drivers.

Unfortunately, this is where the system lets itself down, because Ford are – as you may be aware – an American company, and what they think are the most common responses to text messages, is not necessarily true of us Brits. Furthermore, they seem to think that no driver over the age of 25 would want to use such a system, so everything is geared towards the [gulp] millennials, even though I doubt a Ford Kuga would be the car of choice for your average skinny-jean-wearing, crushed avocado scoffing, craft beer enthusiast.

Let me give you a few examples, to illustrate my point. Here are some of the responses Ford have determined to be the most useful when responding to a text via your car’s phone system:

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. Ok
  4. Thanks!

(pausing there for one second, I do accept that these first four responses are, whilst a little abrupt for us Brits, relatively common and practical, but bear with me…)

  1. See u in 10 min
  2. See u in 20 min

(pausing again here, I would never abbreviate ‘you’ to ‘u’ – nor would most other Kuga drivers, I suspect – so this really annoys me. Even worse, those are the only time-based options offered by Ford, so they evidently assume very few British journeys take longer than about an hour to complete, what with us being on an adorable little island ‘n’ all).

  1. Stuck in traffic

(the only one I might actually need/use).

  1. Too funny 🙂 

(don’t get me started on this one. It makes me so fucking angry to think this is considered a common text response in Britain, especially among the Kuga driving community. Who the hell uses this kind of response when texting from their car?)

  1. Yee-haw
  2. OMG! There’s been another shooting

(ok, I made the last two up)

However, the one which really surprised me, was ‘I love you’.

Now, not only would I argue this an odd thing to tell someone via the power of automotive text messaging, but they have placed it directly below ‘Thanks!’ on the list – which is the only other response, aside from ‘Stuck in traffic’, that I tend to use.

As a result, when my (female) colleague texted me during the morning commute a few weeks ago, and I tried to thank her in response, I inadvertently declared my love for her. That took some explaining when I arrived at the office, let me tell you.

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Consequently, I have decided to contact Ford in order to suggest a series of more suitable alternatives for the British market, and ideally I would like my own personalised list (having checked online and in the car’s manual, I don’t think it is possible to change the replies manually myself, but I’m sure Ford could re-programme the car for me).

In truth, my list of ‘common’ text responses is quite extensive, but having whittled it down to just the top ten, and in particular those I am most likely to need whilst driving, I’ll be asking Ford to replace my own list with the following:

  1. Knobhead
  2. Who’s picking the boys up?
  3. Stuck behind a sodding tractor.
  4. Why are BMW drivers such arseholes?
  5. There in about an hour
  6. There in about two hours
  7. May not get to you before midnight at this rate
  8. Fucking roadworks again. I’m going to take a shit in a box, and post it to Cheshire East Council
  9. Old people should be banned from driving during rush hour
  10. Just killed another cyclist. Oops 🙂 

There. That should cover it.

Thanks for reading x

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Blog Pudding

Hi there.

As alluded to in my previous blog entry, we spent last weekend in one of our favourite ever cities, York, celebrating Isaac’s 5th birthday.

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In truth, this wasn’t exactly Isaac’s idea, and the trip was primarily to meet up with my wife’s uncle and aunt, who were over from Canada (for obvious reasons, we don’t get to see them very often), but we still made the weekend about Isaac whenever we could.

This included transporting a huge ‘5’ balloon in the car without him seeing (well, it was in the boot, he’s not that fucking oblivious), leaving it with the reception staff in our hotel overnight, and then smuggling it into the room while he slept the following evening, so that it was by his bed – along with all of his presents – when he awoke Sunday morning.

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Before we had children, my wife and I would always stay at the same delightful little hotel whenever we visited York, because, although it wasn’t ridiculously expensive, it still felt extravagant for our budget, so it was a treat we would always look forward to.

Now that we have kids, however, it didn’t seem appropriate to stay at that same hotel, because not only was it too nice for our boys to stay in (arguably, most crack dens would be too fancy for Isaac), it also wouldn’t have been fair to ruin everyone else’s weekend too. To be honest, I couldn’t be bothered dealing with the judgmental stares of all the childless couples – or, worse, any parents whose kids were actually behaving themselves, and not like escaped zoo animals.

So, on this particular visit to York, we decided to stay at a Premier Inn, because as a chain they are still nicer than a Travelodge or Holiday Inn (which are, in turn, slightly nicer than your average crack den), but not so expensive that I feel the need to steal the cutlery, towels and television set in order to justify the cost.*

*That was, of course, a joke (we have plenty of cutlery already).

The most attractive thing about booking a Premier Inn, however, is the breakfast on offer. If there are three things I absolutely love about a hotel breakfast, they are:

1. The word ‘unlimited’;
2. When they offer black pudding;
3. When kids eat for free.

Now, Premier Inns boast all three of the above, and that places them very high up my list of (budget) hotel chains, and right at the very top when the kids are in tow.

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In short, Premier Inns are nice enough that staying in one is still something of a treat (although, admittedly, having an uninterrupted shit would be considered a treat these days), but not so nice that I feel I have to make excuses for Isaac’s behaviour every few minutes – and, according to my wife, ‘he can be a bit of a dick’ isn’t an appropriate excuse to tell appalled onlookers anyway.

Fortunately, Ollie shares my love for a decent hotel breakfast, particularly when it comes to pastries, and he appears to have made it his life’s goal to hunt for the world’s finest croissants (an accolade which, he maintains, currently rests with the Barcelona Airport Hotel, where he loudly exclaimed over breakfast one morning ‘the Spanish make the best croissants in the world!’ – much to the annoyance of some French guests at the next table*).

*Although, in fairness, the French look annoyed most of the time anyway, so it may not have been because of Ollie’s comment.

My eldest son was therefore just as excited as I was heading to breakfast on our first morning, to the extent he was still carefully planning his croissant gluttony as we got in the lift to go down to the restaurant, and this seemed to amuse the elderly chap who got in behind us.

As Ollie explained that he was planning on devouring ‘more croissants than there are trees in the world’ (we checked, and there are apparently 3.4 trillion trees on the planet, so this struck me as slightly ambitious on his part), the old man chuckled and wished Ollie all the best with his challenge.

I, on the other hand, was all about the full cooked breakfast, because I knew there was black pudding on offer, not to mention a generous choice of eggs (note to Travelodge: rubbery and fried, or wet and scrambled – which frankly looks like a cat has vomited in the dish – is not an appealing choice).

In fact, the cooked breakfast menu was particularly impressive:

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So much so, when we had been shown to our table, I decided to challenge Ollie with selecting a cooked breakfast containing only five of the above items (this was purely a theoretical challenge, you understand, as I was happy for him to eat as much as he wanted).

As he pondered his decision, I revealed that my personal choice, if restricted to just five items, would be:

1. Sausages;
2. Poached eggs;
3. Hash browns;
4. Black pudding;
5. Beans.

Ollie’s response to that was ‘No, I need my bacon. I’d swap the egg for bacon. And I’d  definitely swap the black pudding for…. erm…. more bacon.’

This evidently gave him an idea, because he then disappeared and came back moments later with a bacon sandwich containing so many rashers, I genuinely feared for his health as I watched him devour it.

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Still, it kept him quiet, and at least it was a change from stuffing his face with pastries. As it was, he still managed three croissants, four pain au chocolat AND a huge bowl of cereal, so he really got his money’s worth (figuratively speaking, since the boys’ breakfasts were free). I’ve never been prouder of him.

I, on the other hand, am quite particular about my bacon, and although Premier Inn do a better job of it than any Travelodge I have ever stayed in (who appear to train their chefs to cook the rashers for no more than thirty seconds on each side), I still opted to minimise the bacon on my plate to just the one crispy piece I could find in the dish, reserving the remainder of the space for my preferred items – including two poached eggs. Ok, they weren’t as runny as I might have preferred, but, in fairness, this was hardly The Savoy.

The black pudding, in particular, was superb, although Isaac did make some of the staff (and a number of other guests) laugh when he pointed at it on the cooked breakfast counter, before loudly shouting that he wanted a chocolate cookie too. I very nearly put some on his plate, if only for the shits and giggles of watching his expression sink when he took his first bite. I was intrigued to see how he would react, when the ‘chocolate cookie’ was much softer and meatier than he had been expecting.

As Ollie and I were intent on consuming our respective body weights in food, and we can both be slow eaters anyway, Isaac and my wife were finished long before us, and decided to head back to the room (once Isaac had been to the toilet, to once again try for the shit he had been threatening for three days solid*), and I was later told they had – by pure coincidence – bumped into the same elderly man in the lift back up to our floor.

*perhaps a poor choice of word in the circumstances, as when it did eventually ‘arrive’, it damn near cracked the toilet bowl. It was like a fucking paperweight.

Anyway, it transpired the old man recognised them as well, because he asked whether my wife’s ‘son’ (evidently assuming, like so many others, that Isaac is a girl) had ‘managed his 3.4 trillion croissants’.

My wife’s response?

“Where do you think he still is?!”

Thanks for reading x

***

p.s. – If you have read – and hopefully enjoyed – this week’s entry, feel free to:

  1. Like and share it on Facebook;
  2. Comment on my Facebook post with the five items you would select from the cooked breakfast menu above. Don’t explain it, just comment with your five items. It’ll really confuse everyone who follows my page but doesn’t read the blog, which frankly serves them the fuck right.

p.p.s – Travelodges aren’t that bad, I suppose.

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Blog of the Dump

This Sunday is Isaac’s 5th birthday, but as we are away over the weekend visiting one of my favourite cities, York, we held his party last Saturday – at a local soft play centre.

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As it happens, this was the same soft play centre where the boys had a joint party last year (their birthdays are only three days apart), but since Ollie will turn nine next week, he fancied doing something a little more ‘grown up’ this year, and has chosen to take a few friends to the National Football Museum instead (followed by a trip to Nando’s, which I have agreed to on the strict understanding no one refers to it as ‘cheeky’).

Unfortunately, because we left it quite late to book Isaac’s party, there was no availability for the ‘exclusive’ hire of the venue (after normal opening hours), so we were forced to host it while they were still open to the public. This didn’t particularly bother us, as Isaac only had around fifteen of his friends attending anyway, but some of the other families there were, how can I put this…. rough as shit?

The other issue this posed, was that not every child arriving around 3pm was there for the party, and because Isaac only started school in September, we still don’t know who some of his friends are, so we had to ask him each time a family walked in whether he knew the child or not.

There was one child in particular, however, who clearly didn’t belong at the party. Not only was she too young (probably three, at a guess), but – without being snobby – to say she was scummy would be an understatement. Look, I am acutely aware that Isaac can be a dickhead at times, and I sometimes joke about him being feral, but this little girl actually was feral.  She was filthy, nasty, rude, and it wouldn’t have surprised me if she was carrying some kind of blade.

The first time we noticed her, was when she wandered over to our reserved party table – where all the parents were congregating while their kids played – took one look at the pile of gifts everyone had kindly brought, and said “I’ll take one.”

At this point, I just thought she was perhaps a little naive, and an embarrassed parent would come running over to retrieve her and apologise, but when no one appeared, my wife and I had to politely explain that these were birthday presents for our son, and weren’t for her.

Undeterred, she glared at us and said: “You have lots. I’ll just take one”, before making a grab for the gift nearest to her.

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“No, that’s not for you”, my wife said pleasantly but firmly (when my chosen language might have been a little harsher) but she still had to physically prize the girl’s filthy little mitts off the gift, as she wasn’t giving it up easily. Eventually, she did leave the table and wander off (presumably in search of something else to steal), but still no parent(s) seemed to want to accept responsibility for her.

Before long, she was back again, only this time she bypassed our table and headed straight for the food counter behind us, where she asked a parent in the queue to buy her a box of raisins. When the lady – who clearly had no idea who the child was – politely refused, the little girl then took the box up to the poor lad who was manning the counter, and put them down in front of him with a 1p coin (which she had presumably discovered on the floor somewhere).

When he, rather awkwardly, told her that wasn’t enough money, she stared directly at him, and said in a low, menacing voice: ‘take the money’.

Now, if there is one thing I have learned from many years watching horror films, it’s that nothing is quite so scary as demonic little girls, and even though she was facing away from me at the time, and was speaking to someone else, I damn near shit myself, so I have no idea how terrified he must have been.

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I was then briefly distracted talking to another parent, but the next thing I knew, the grubby little tree-dweller was eating the raisins, so she had either chosen to ignore the lad behind the till and steal them, or he had decided that his life was worth more than a box of shriveled fruit. A wise move, because had he continued to deny her the snack, and then suddenly dropped dead, it would not have surprised me in the slightest.

We were in the presence of pure evil.

Within minutes, she appeared beside me again (I’m not ashamed to admit I actually yelped, and may have soiled myself a little), and began demanding that someone take her on the ‘big slide’. At this point, a friend of ours suggested they go and find her parents instead, but I had begun to question whether they ever existed (there was an argument this child was not the offspring of a human woman); and if they did, whether she had at some point slaughtered them in their sleep – ok, I may have been overreacting by this point.

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As I suspected, no parents could be located (at least, none who wanted to claim her), and even though she was deposited on the other side of the centre to ruin someone else’s day, minutes later she was once again heading towards Isaac’s presents. By the time my wife and I got there, she was already in the process of unwrapping one of them, so again we had to physically remove her (whilst at all times avoiding eye contact, lest we burst into flames), before making the decision that perhaps I should take the gifts to the car.

When I got there, I have to admit I opened the boot very slowly, since part of me envisaged her jumping out of the enclosed space and sinking her teeth into my neck.

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Once all the presents were securely in the car, it was time for Isaac’s party tea, and thankfully she didn’t turn up for that (it was in a separate room), but I still kept an eye out for her sneaking in behind another parent, in a bid to steal some food, or perhaps eat/destroy/urinate on the birthday cake (which was frankly amazing):

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After the children had eaten and played games, there was just time for another half hour in the main room before the party was due to end, and Isaac decided he wanted to go into the toddler’s area with a few friends.

As this enclosure is designed for younger kids to play safely, the door has a magnetic button at the top, which only adults can reach. The idea is that parents can let their children into the caged area (which has a ball-pit, slide, etc.), and then relax with a coffee, knowing they cannot hurt themselves, or – more importantly – escape.

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Of course, when Isaac and his two friends went in, there was devil spawn once more, who immediately made it her mission to ruin their fun. It was only at this point, when I began to suggest her behaviour wasn’t very nice, my attention was drawn to a small, shriveled woman sat on the floor, like the ‘Psammead’ from Five Children and It, and she muttered something about being the girl’s aunt.

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I wanted to respond with something like “You do realise your disgusting, feral, street urchin of a niece needs to learn some fucking manners, don’t you?”; but if there is one thing I detest more than confrontation, it’s being brutally murdered in front of my family, so I decided to simply walk away.

Soon after, however, I could hear a commotion in the toddler area, and headed back to make sure Isaac and his friends were ok. Sure enough, the noise was coming from Satan’s offspring, who was demanding to be let out of the enclosure.  With no aunt in sight (she must have escaped), I calmly explained that I wasn’t allowed to let her out, and that it might be best for her to stay in there (for the safety of the other children, but also to acclimatise her to incarceration, ready for later life).

At this point, her eyes glowed red (or, at least, they have each time I have played the events back in my nightmares since), and she growled: “Let. Me. Out.”

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“Nope. You stay in there, you evil little fuck.”

Then, as I turned away to walk back to our table, I could hear her thrashing around behind me, but didn’t dare glance back in case her head was spinning around and she was vomiting green ooze in my direction.

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It was only a minute or two later, when I dared to look, I realised the noise had been her frantically destroying the ‘house’ Isaac and his friends had built from cushioned bricks, then using them to build a platform against the door. Within seconds, she had created a structure which enabled her to climb up, reach around the door, and release it herself. I had to hand it to her, she was a resourceful little critter.

Needless to say, when the door released and she came tumbling out, the aunt was nowhere to be seen, and it took another parent to come over and escort her back to a table on the other side of the room – where the aunt was sat with a couple who I later discovered were the girl’s parents. Yes, they had been there all along, ignoring not only their daughter, but more importantly her appalling behaviour.

At that point, I hated them even more than her. Ok, she was clearly possessed by some malevolent spirit, and I have no doubt there was a black pit where her soul should have been; but she was only young, and clearly had very little chance in life with these two toothless gibbons for parents. I almost felt sorry for her.

Almost.

Thanks for reading x

 

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The Blog and White Army

I’m going to pre-empt this week’s entry with a warning that it is admittedly about football – specifically my team, Stockport County – but I suspect (hope) those of you who don’t follow or like football will still enjoy it.

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My main reasons for that assumption are as follows:

  1. The fact it is about my beloved ‘Hatters’ (Stockport County’s nickname) is all rather incidental, as it is mostly about the loving bond I share with my eldest son, Ollie (and any blog entries about my boys always prove to be more popular);
  2. I posted a ‘short version’ of last weekend’s events on my Facebook page, and at the time of writing it has attracted just under one hundred ‘reactions’, with more than a third of those being ‘love’ emojis. It is rare for anything I post on Facebook to attract so much ‘love’ (but, in fairness, that’s usually because it is either rude, sweary, or because my followers are too busy laughing at my latest embarrassment);

Besides, Isaac has had an uncharacteristically quiet week (by his standards), and not much else has happened in my life, so unless you want to read a blog entry about a group of friends baking a cake (which was, admittedly, huge and brightly coloured – see below), or me taking Isaac swimming last Sunday, then it’s tough shit, I’m afraid.

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Anyway, I shall keep the football element of this week’s entry to a minimum, by providing the following whistle-stop tour of the last decade or so supporting Stockport County:

  • May 2008 – promoted to League One (the third level of English football), at Wembley. This remains, after our wedding day, and the birth of our two sons, the fourth happiest day of my life (so far);
  • Soon after, the club’s financial difficulties were revealed (at the time we were owned by, and being run by, utter dickheads);
  • Despite our total debts amounting to roughly what a premier league footballer might spend on a pair of pants, County were placed into Administration in April 2009, and very nearly ceased to exist all together;
  • We were promptly relegated back down to League Two; and then, in April 2011, our 106-year stint in the football league came to an abrupt end, as we were relegated into the ‘non-league’ for the first time in our history;
  • Just when County fans didn’t think our fortunes could possibly get any worse, after more atrocious ownership decisions and piss-poor management, in April 2013 we were relegated yet again, this time to the sixth tier of English football. We remained there, playing regional football, until last Saturday.

Now, because our demise into non-league football had become inevitable by Easter 2011, and because I was determined Ollie’s first County match would not be against some ‘poxy non-league side’ (I didn’t realise at the time how bad things were really going to get, and how good some of the sides down there are), his first visit to Edgeley Park took place on Easter Monday (25th April) 2011 – when he was just eleven months old.

Obviously I didn’t expect Ollie to understand what was going on  at the time, but ever since I had found out I was going to be a father, I had looked forward to taking my son or daughter to Edgeley Park for the very first time; I just never expected it to be the match which effectively (if not mathematically), sealed our fate, and relegated us out of the league for the first time in more than a century. To say I had mixed emotions that day, would be a massive fucking understatement.

In truth, it took Ollie a few seasons before he actually started to enjoy coming to County with me (a rucksack filled with snacks often helped pass the time for him); but then, prior to the start of the 2016-17 campaign, I purchased season tickets for the two of us, and we have been in the same seats ever since.

As his love for football grew, I started to worry that he might be tempted to switch allegiances to one of County’s more successful neighbours down the road in Manchester, but I have thankfully never had to carry out my threat of chucking him out of the house on his arse, because he has not once shown any interest in supporting either Uni*ed or C*ty (I may swear occasionally in my blog, but there’s no fucking way I’m typing either of their names in full). Ollie has remained a proud ‘Hatter’ ever since.

It would be fair to say County’s fortunes over the period of Ollie’s support have ranged from ‘disappointing’ to ‘utterly shit’ (and a wide spectrum of brown shades in between), yet not once has his allegiance faltered. It would have been so easy for him to succumb to the temptation of supporting a more successful team, as so many of his friends at school do, but he has always proudly boasted about his love for County, often in the face of derision and laughter. In fact, one of my proudest moments as a father, is when he encountered a young Manchester Uni*ed fan on a visit to the National Football Museum when he was five, and explained to them why their life choices were so regrettable.

As a result, when County won automatic promotion to the dizzy heights of the fifth tier of English football last Saturday afternoon, I had decided to reward Ollie for his loyalty by taking him to the end of season awards dinner at Edgeley Park.

I have been to this event a few times myself over the years, and have usually ended up quite drunk (I once – rather embarrassingly – drew up a contract on a napkin, to try and ‘sign’ a County striker for our five-a-side team, explaining that I was a ‘proper lawyer’, and would hunt him down like a dog if he didn’t show up for the tournament we had entered the following day), but I had previously agreed to take Ollie once he was a little older, and this seemed the perfect season to make good on my promise.

So, with promotion to the National League secured shortly before 5pm last Saturday, Ollie and I donned some smart clothes, and caught a train from Sandbach to Stockport. To say he was excited would be an understatement.

Fortunately, the fancy two-course meal was something he was willing to try (even though I ended up devouring his dessert, as well as my own, because ‘there’s some red stuff on it’ – a berry compote), and since we had a lazy Sunday planned the following day, the prospect of him getting to bed well after midnight thankfully wasn’t too much of an issue.

Which was for the best, because County’s final match of the season had been away at Nuneaton, and because the result meant we were crowned champions, the players had to wait to be awarded the trophy in front of our 3,500 traveling fans, meaning they were delayed heading back to Stockport. So late, in fact, that Ollie and I were the sole occupants of Table 17 for at least an hour, and dinner wasn’t served until 9.45pm, by which point I honestly thought Ollie was going to pass out from hunger.

The consequence of dinner being so late, was that the awards themselves went on until nearly 11pm, and I knew we had to leave Edgeley Park soon after 11.30pm to catch our final train home, which meant Ollie had very little time to meet the players for autographs.

Thankfully, he had already met many of the squad last season when he was mascot for the day, and he had memorised a list of the signatures he still needed in his autograph book, so we focused on those players and managed to collect all but a couple.

Better still, as we were due to leave, we spotted County’s Manager, Jim Gannon, holding the champions trophy County had been presented at Nuneaton a few hours earlier, and we managed to nip in for a very quick photograph. It just so happened to be one of the best photographs I have ever taken:

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Then it really was time to go, but thankfully – apart from a few players we hadn’t been able to catch for signatures – the night was winding down anyway, and Ollie was utterly euphoric (if a little knackered). So much so, as we got on our last train home to Sandbach shortly after midnight, he turned to me and said “This is the best night of my life! It doesn’t get any better than this!”

And, as I explained on my Facebook page last weekend, those few words made it one of the best nights of my life too.

Thanks for reading, and I promise next week’s entry won’t be about football x

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Blogs Bunny

Last weekend, we decided to spend Sunday as a family, and have a ‘nice day out’.

Of course, with our boys, having a nice day out is unlikely at best, but my wife and I nevertheless persevere, in the hope that one day we will take them somewhere for a treat and they won’t be ungrateful little shits about it.

Also, I say ‘we’ decided on a family day out, but this was very much my wife’s suggestion, for the following reasons:

  1. You should spend time with family at Easter;
  2. The forecast promised (and delivered) glorious weather;
  3. Ollie and I were at the football on Saturday and Monday, so Sunday was our only chance to go out as a family before my return to work;
  4. No rational person can survive three consecutive days with only Isaac for company.

Naturally, I couldn’t argue with any of her points, because not only were they all valid, but after nearly fifteen years of marriage I know better than to argue with her at all.

So, having carefully researched our options (while I dozed on the sofa and periodically nodded at what I assumed might be appropriate points), my wife decided we should visit Tatton Park, as it’s less than half an hour from us, and they seemed to have a lot of Easter activities organised over the weekend.

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When we arrived soon after 10am, we firstly headed towards the gardens, where I was persuaded to fork out £33 for a ‘Totally Tatton Ticket’, granting us access to the three main ‘attractions’ – Gardens, Mansion and Farm (I use the term ‘attractions’ loosely, because my personal view is that Nemesis at Alton Towers is an attraction, whereas gardens are merely ‘somewhere the elderly visit’; however my wife is a history teacher, so a 19th Century manor is like history-porn to her).

Having handed over my bank card, while muttering something under my breath about it being ‘so fucking expensive I can’t even use contactless’ (putting my pin in these days seems so last decade), we then entered the gardens themselves, where we were informed there was an ‘Easter Hunt’ going on. Better still, the hunt involved collecting a series of clues (which Ollie loves), by searching for hidden fairy doors (which Isaac loves), and the prize for completing the trail was a bag of chocolate each (which they both love).

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Afterwards, the boys wanted to climb trees in the woods, which always fills me with dread (because they have inherited my clumsiness), so it was bound to end in tears. Sure enough, while Ollie busied himself making a ‘lookout’ roughly six inches off the ground (honestly, he was still below my nipple-height, and I’m not that tall), Isaac opted to scale an entirely smooth part of the tree, with no branches to cling on to. See exhibit A:

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Sure enough, barely seconds after that photo was taken, Isaac did indeed slip, and smacked his head on the floor with such a bump, I honestly felt sick and started working out which was the nearest hospital. Fortunately, the injury wasn’t that bad, because although he immediately screamed bloody murder (which was a good sign, because it showed he didn’t have concussion), it transpired I had underestimated both (a) his protective pony-tail; and (b), the healing power of scoffing the entire bag of Smarties he had just won for completing the trail. Within minutes, he was fine again (albeit with a face covered in tear stains and chocolate smears).

Ollie, on the other hand, was by this point sobbing, because I had shouted at him. I tried to calmly explain that Daddy had only shouted because we thought Isaac might be paralysed, and at that precise moment in time, no, I didn’t give a flying fuck about a building he had spotted that looked like something out of Scooby Doo, but that did nothing to placate him, and he continued howling for far longer than Isaac had. And therein lies a summary of our kids: one is a bit of a wimp, while the other can take a direct – and potentially fatal – blow to the noggin, but recover within minutes.

When Ollie did finally stop crying, and following a further argument between us over the best route out of the gardens (which, rather annoyingly, he won – meaning I never got to perform the victory dance I had carefully choreographed), we stopped off for a quick picnic lunch, before making our way to Tatton Hall itself.

Once inside the Grade-I listed building, we realised there was another Easter hunt going on (with a further bag of Smarties on offer), only this time we had to walk around the house spotting clues to famous fairy tales. At this point, the ‘princess’ we had passed on the way in (a lady in a gold dress and tiara, who I had thought at the time was somewhat over-dressed, particularly considering most of the men around us were shirtless) suddenly made sense, and Isaac decided it was ‘Belle’ from Beauty and the Beast.

My wife therefore suggested we search for ‘the Beast’ (although didn’t appreciate me immediately pointing to my crotch and shouting ‘found it!’), and we discovered him in the next room. Both boys then surprised me, since the previously timid Isaac immediately went to hug the Beast for a photo, while Ollie pulled out a semi-decent joke, by wishing him ‘Happy Beaster’. Ok, it’s never going to win best joke at the Edinburgh Fringe, but for Ollie it was a comedic triumph (I honestly thought the elderly lady next to us was going to wet herself, although the same might have been true regardless).

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As the hunt continued, we ended up downstairs in the servants’ quarters, where my wife went into history teacher mode, educating our boys about the 19th Century class system. It was at this point she spotted a costume box, where kids could dress up like the impoverished youth of that period.

Now, if there is one thing I (apparently) find irresistible, it is the opportunity to dress like a Victorian maid, because that was the first costume I instinctively grabbed – shoving Isaac out of the way in the process. Please understand, it’s not that I enjoy dressing in women’s clothes per se, but for some reason I was drawn to the maid’s outfit over that of, say, the chimney sweep. I can’t explain it, but it’s not the first time this has happened (in the second photo below, taken a few years ago, we didn’t even have our kids with us), so it’s dangerously close to becoming a weird fetish.

Having successfully completed the hunt, the boys were awarded their chocolate prize by, quite frankly, the oldest fairy godmother I have ever seen, and we emerged from the adumbral (thank you, online thesaurus) Tatton Hall corridors, back into the Easter sunshine.

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As luck would have it, we overheard someone say the princess (who, it transpired, was Cinderella, not Belle), was posing for photographs nearby, so Isaac insisted we head straight there, and we found her soon afterwards, alongside one of her ugly sisters – who made my earlier attempt at drag look positively sexy.

When Isaac reached the front of the queue, my wife decided to avoid any awkward misunderstandings by introducing him as a ‘prince meeting a princess’. To her credit, Cinders got the hint, and even went so far as to crouch down to tell Isaac that his hair was fantastic, that more boys should have long hair, and he should never, ever, cut it.  This made his day. Bless her.

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From there, we headed to the farm, where we were informed ‘story time’ had just started in one of the buildings. Having dashed over, we discovered a lady reading ‘The Gingerbread Man’ to a group of children, but space was limited, so I was left on one side of the room with a strange family (I’m sure they were perfectly pleasant, but they were strange to me), while my wife and boys sat opposite.

As if this weren’t weird enough, another couple then arrived and squeezed in through the door next to me, meaning I had to stand/crouch immediately behind my newly adopted family, while the latest arrivals blocked my exit (I had been planning to make a quiet escape when no one was looking).

Worse, they were clearly not my kind of people, as they were both extremely aware of how good-looking they thought they were (he had his ‘guns’ out in a vest-top, while she was wearing a long dress more suited to Marbella than a farm, together with enough fake tan to drown a fucking horse, and the sort of ludicrously-long false eyelashes that would have looked better on said horse before its mahogany-coloured demise).

In fact, she appeared to be the only person less-impressed to be there than me, whereas at least muscles attempted a few animal noises at the appropriate parts of the story (when, incidentally, Isaac nailed his pig impression, and I don’t think he’s ever made me prouder – which says a lot about his achievements to date).

To end the day, because the boys had achieved a cumulative total of seventeen minutes where they hadn’t been completely dreadful, we decided to go for dinner at a nearby pub as a final treat (read: reward for Daddy for not killing anyone).

Here, Ollie informed us that Easter Sunday is his ‘third favourite day of the year’ (after Christmas Day and his birthday), because ‘you get to eat chocolate all the time, even for breakfast in bed’. I had to then point out that, actually, he wasn’t allowed to eat chocolate in bed, because there was no way Daddy would be sniffing any brown stains on his sheets to check if they were Cadbury’s or shit.

And, while we’re on the subject of shit (sorry), Isaac yet again decided he needed the toilet just as our food arrived, and since he was very much anti-Daddy by this point, it fell to my wife to accompany him to the bathroom.

When they returned several minutes later, I asked if it had been a successful visit (Isaac encounters a lot of false alarms), and my wife’s response of ‘I can’t un-see what just happened’ told me everything I needed to know. I certainly didn’t need Isaac to loudly announce to the entire pub:

“My poo was so big, the water splashed my bum!”

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Thanks for reading x

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Don’t Blog Back In Anger

Over the past year or so, I have genuinely started to question whether I need to see an anger management therapist.

The thing is, expressing one’s anger is sometimes better than bottling it up (unless you happen to be American and heavily armed), and if I were a more placid and laid-back individual, then I suspect this blog wouldn’t be anywhere near as popular as it is – and it’s not very popular. Plus, I’d have to change the name to something like ‘The Tranquil Musings of a Middle-Aged Father who is Ultimately Content with His Life’ and, let’s be honest, that would be shit. But I do feel that perhaps I shouldn’t become quite so angry over what are, essentially, trivial annoyances at worst.

For example, everyone is entitled to get mad when something genuinely bad happens in their life, and I cannot be the only person to have sworn a little whilst driving (even though I would never confront another motorist, or engage in actual road rage, as I find a simple hand gesture insinuating that the offending BMW driver enjoys pleasuring himself often suffices), but here are a few recent examples of occasions when my pent-up fury has arguably reached excessive levels:

1. Every parent knows only-too-well how painful it is to stand on a piece of Lego with bare feet (I recently asked my wife to compare the pain to childbirth, and she just glared at me, so I think that speaks volumes and we can all draw our own conclusions from her silence), but it is hardly the piece of plastic’s fault.

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With that in mind, and assuming it would have been considered poor taste to direct the resulting vitriolic outburst at whichever child was responsible for leaving the Lego in the precise spot where Daddy’s exposed foot was likely to be placed, I found I had no choice other than to scream ‘fucking motherfucker’ at the offending piece of plastic – which, in hindsight, was somewhat extreme.

Look, I’m not proud of it, and I still maintain this was preferable to slinging the same abuse at the boys; but I started to question whether, in some weird way, it might have been better to refrain from calling anyone/anything a fucking motherfucker. Did I overreact? Perhaps;

2. On my commute home recently (which is so often the cause of many angry expletives, because I seemingly share my journey with a group of lobotomised morons), I became irrationally – and, I accept, completely disproportionately – incensed by the rear end of a Land Rover Discovery:

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The reason for my rage? Well, that would be the slight asymmetry. I know it’s irrational, but I can handle a registration plate being completely to one side, such as in former Discovery models like this one:

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But to have the registration plate marginally off-centre is utterly fucking pointless. I even pointed this out to my wife, and she just glared at me again, which I now know is her way of agreeing with me entirely;

3. Even more recently (read: within the last half an hour), I pondered over an appropriate title for this week’s entry, and having settled on Oasis’ song, I honestly switched between ‘Don’t Blog Back In Anger’ and ‘Don’t Look Blog In Anger’ so many times, I wanted to physically hurt myself.

The thing is, ‘Don’t Blog Back in Anger’ definitely works better as a phrase, but then I’m replacing the word ‘Don’t’ rather than the word ‘Back’, and the latter begins with a ‘B’. This goes against everything I stand for, because I have always tried to substitute the word Blog for something similar in whichever phrase or title I have settled on for that week’s entry (or, even better, something that actually rhymes with blog – but, I’ll be honest, I’m running out of those), and it got me really quite mad.

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In fact, if my work colleague had not been sat opposite me throughout the lunch-break I started writing this week’s entry, I genuinely fear I might have thrown the laptop across the room to make myself feel better. Can you imagine if I lost my job, because I destroyed work property over a fucking blog title?

Therein lies my problem. I personally think it’s good to get angry and blow off some steam from time-to-time, and it certainly presents me with some of my better writing material, but I am teetering on the precipice of a full breakdown now, over something so trivial even I struggle to justify getting irate about it. It’s a good job I’m not American.

And, while we’re on the subject (because this is genuinely helping me to calm down, so thanks for the free therapy), why, when someone does offload their burdens, is it referred to as ‘getting something off their chest’, or – even worse – ‘venting their spleen’?

I assume the former is something to do with the impact it has on your blood pressure, and the obvious connections between stress, anger, and heart attacks (which, bearing in mind this week saw the anniversary of my collapse at the Whitchurch 10k last year, when for a good few hours the medical professionals all agreed a heart attack was the most likely cause, is still very much a personal concern for me); but if something is bothering you then the issue is entirely in your head, not your chest. So, why don’t we say ‘Look, I need to get the asymmetry of the recent Land Rover Discovery off my brain/out of my head’?

Then, we have spleen venting. What the fuck is that all about? I got a B in Biology at A-Level, and even studied it as a minor subject in the first year of my Law Degree at Lancaster University, but I still had to Google what the spleen is even for. If you’re interested, it’s for filtering the blood, apparently, but don’t you dare tell me you already knew that, unless you happen to be a medical professional who specialises in Spleentology or Spleenectomies (don’t bother checking, they’re both real words).

In all honesty, before I read up about the spleen on Wikipedia a moment ago (and, if it’s on Wikipedia, what I read must be true), you could have told me that the spleen is an entirely useless organ that humans can easily survive without – like the appendix, or, more recently for me, the penis – and I would have thought twice about questioning you.

So why do we ‘vent our spleens’ when we get angry? What has the spleen got to do with anger? Why do we not aerate our kidneys, oxygenate our livers, or open our bowels? Ok, maybe not the last one.

The point is, even discussing anger has now got me angry, and that’s when I begin to suspect my temper might be getting out of hand, and I should perhaps seek professional help.

Then again, at other times, I realise that the problem is not necessarily me – it’s other people. If other people would stop being dickheads, and would just behave normally, we’d all get along famously – and my blood pressure might remain at healthy levels.

For example, since I wrote the majority of this week’s entry on Tuesday, there have been at least three instances of dickhead behaviour directed toward me, which even the most placid of individuals would have found infuriating.

Firstly, on my drive into work on Wednesday morning, a taxi driver turned right from the left hand lane of a two-lane roundabout, without indicating, narrowly missing hitting my car at speed. Now, had he accepted his actions were reckless and apologised, he may have escaped with a simple ‘what the fuck was that?!’, but he somehow decided the near-miss was my fault, and swore at me. Needless to say, I called him every abusive word I could think of (and some I invented on the spot).

Secondly, when I went for a run last night, the motorists and pedestrians of Sandbach all conspired to make the experience even less pleasurable than it already is. The pedestrians constantly blocked the pavements, forcing me into the road, while the motorists drove at me and beeped their horns (for no apparent reason other than to try and give me a heart attack).

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Finally, both boys have behaved like morons all week, and haven’t gone to sleep until nearly 10pm each night. Isaac, in particular, appears to be determined to break his bed, by jumping and dancing on it while singing songs from The Greatest Showman late into the night. This has meant my wife and I get very little evening to ourselves, have ended up eating dinner way later than is healthy; and, when we have finally made it to bed, we have been joined by P.T. Barnum himself within a few hours, resulting in us having to sleep on around six inches of mattress*.

*Just to clarify, when I say ‘P.T. Barnum’ joined us in bed, this is a reference to Isaac and his love of The Greatest Showman, rather than my wife’s love of Hugh Jackman. Believe me, if he joined us in bed, she’d be hoping for a little more than six inches to sleep on.

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On that note, thanks for reading x

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I’m Kind of a Blog Deal

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I have set myself the target of meeting someone famous by the time I am forty (which, if you have been paying attention, is next February – and, yes, I do expect a card off every single one of you).

My reason for setting this target is that I have never really met anyone properly famous before, and even though I suspect I would be one of those awkward fans who stumbles over their words and embarrasses themselves, I bet celebrities get that all the time, and as long as I end up with a nice photo or autograph (or both) as proof, then the embarrassment will fade over time.

In all honesty, I have ‘met’ quite a few celebrities in the past – and yes, I was awkward on most of those occasions – but either they weren’t very famous at the time (and are even less so now), or the encounter was not by chance. By that, I mean I met them at something like a CD or book signing, or I was at an event where they were otherwise obliged (i.e. forced) to mingle with the public.

Therein lies the primary rule of my challenge – I have to properly meet someone properly famous. In other words:

1. I have to properly meet them – it cannot be a pre-organised event, and must be an entirely random encounter. I cannot count publicity events, and I am not allowed to hang around outside gig venues, theatres, their homes etc. (especially not after that time Holly Willoughby caught me lurking in her bush).

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I suspect my best opportunities will arise at airports, train stations and major sporting events, but since I don’t have plans to fly anywhere this year, and very few celebrities frequent Stockport County, that means I’ll be doing a lot of hanging around in train stations.

2. They must be properly famous – I am being realistic here, so I don’t expect to bump into Barack Obama in Tesco, but the famous person I meet needs to be someone you have all heard of, who would be considered at least B-List. A film/television star, singer/artist, or comedian would be my preferred choice (particularly the latter, so that – if I have the confidence – I can ask them to look at my blog page, in a bid to launch my career in comedy writing).

To give you examples of encounters which would not qualify for this challenge, let me run through the semi-famous people I have met/been in the vicinity of throughout my thirty-nine-and-a-bit years on this planet, and you can judge how utterly shit they are for yourselves.

Let’s start from the very bottom, shall we?

Ben Hull and James Redmond

Look, I said we’d be starting low, and it doesn’t get much lower than two actors who used to be on Hollyoaks twenty years ago; but, in my defence, it was twenty years ago when I met them (so they were semi-recognisable at the time), and I am 99% certain I was off my tits on cheap lager and Castaway when it happened.

The reason I say that, is because the meeting took place at the Sugarhouse nightclub in Lancaster (where I went to University), and I cannot recall a single night at the Sugarhouse – which we frequented weekly – when I didn’t consume vast quantities of Fosters and Castaway (separately, I’m not an animal), because they were always £1. Nowadays, you would need to pay me to even consider necking a pint of Fosters, but oh God how I miss Castaway. It was like alcoholic Lilt.

The worst part of this encounter is, ‘Finn’ and ‘Lewis’ from Hollyoaks were making a guest appearance at the Sugarhouse for a meet-and-greet photo opportunity, and I actually queued up for the privilege.

I know what you’re thinking, as well. The idea of a young, single, good-looking lad like me, queuing up to meet two crappy soap actors rather than working the dancefloor in the never-ending hunt for amorous congress is frankly ridiculous, but please bear in mind:

  • I have never been good-looking;
  • Meeting Finn and Lewis was (slightly) preferable to being rejected by numerous women;
  • My then girlfriend (now wife) was with me at the time.

It seemed like a good idea, but, in hindsight, it wasn’t.

Alan Davies

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I was in two minds whether to even mention Alan, as it was in the middle of Manchester Piccadilly train station, and he looked stressed, so I never actually approached him. Therefore, it’s not an encounter, should be technically discounted, but it’s still marginally better than two blokes from a shit Channel 4 soap.

Mackenzie Crook

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See above, only exchange ‘Manchester Piccadilly’ for ‘The Royal Mile, Edinburgh’ (he was trying to flog tickets to a play he was in at the Fringe), and swap ‘stressed’ for ‘smug and unapproachable’. I think, on balance, I would have preferred to meet Alan Davies, but since Mackenzie has appeared in actual Hollywood movies (The Pirates of the Caribbean springs to mind), he’s marginally higher up my list.

Simon Rimmer

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My wife and I met TV chef Simon Rimmer at the ‘North West Food Lovers Festival’ in Tatton Park about eight years ago, but it was as part of a cookery presentation / book signing he was there for, so it doesn’t really count. Still, we did at least speak to him.

Feeder, Mansun, Lit

I’ve lumped these three bands and their various members together (in decreasing order of fame), because I did at least meet them, get their autographs, and have my photo taken; but all three encounters were in a signing tent at the Leeds Festival, so they were by no means random.

Gary Pallister and Steve Bruce

Non-football fans may not have heard of these two pig-ugly ex-Manchester United gibbons, but when I met them in the Kingfisher pub in Poynton in the late 80’s, they were household names. That said, they were the special guest appearance at my brother’s football team’s end of season awards night, so they were not there by chance – plus, I was still too young to fully appreciate my hatred of all things Manchester United, so I didn’t even swear/spit at them.

Terrorvision

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I would argue that Terrorvision are of similar fame to Feeder, but they happen to be my favourite live band of all time, and I have actually met all but the drummers (there have been two) on a few occasions. The lead singer, Tony Wright, did briefly front another band, who I saw live at a very small venue, and I chatted with him for some time – but then embarrassed myself by producing a vast array of Terrorvision memorabilia for him to sign.

Carol Vorderman

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Not so famous these days (although she was flaunting her curves in the press last week), and as far as ‘mathematicians from Countdown’ go, I’d far sooner meet Rachel Riley now, but I had the ‘honour’ of receiving a science prize from her at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry when I was at Primary School, and from recollection she was lovely. The prize was a lego race car too (one of the big fuckers which costs a fortune).

In other news, the fact that ‘receiving a science prize off Carol Vorderman, in a museum, when I was eight’, is my 4th biggest claim to fame of all time, gives you some idea of what a sad little loser I was/am.

Liza Tarbuck

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The first of two encounters in my wife’s uncle’s pub in Islington. This first one, features Liza Tarbuck, who actually came across as quite pleasant during her stint on Taskmaster last year (if you don’t watch Taskmaster, you really should as it’s brilliant), but I know better.

I know Liza as the foul-mouthed woman who intruded on our private party, and when my mother-in-law challenged whether she should be there, she genuinely came out with the line ‘Don’t you know who I am?’

The story is only bettered by my mother-in-law’s response, which was along the lines of ‘Yes, but you don’t appear to know who I am. I’m the sister of the guy who owns this pub, so piss off’ (or words to that effect).

Liza is not as famous as some of her predecessors on my list, but I’ve bumped her up into third place, purely because of that anecdote.

Suggs and ‘Billy’ from Eastenders

On one of my first ever visits to the same pub, I watched the 2002 FA Cup Final, sandwiched (not literally) between Suggs from Madness, and the fella who plays/ed Billy Mitchell in Eastenders. I’ve just checked, and the actor’s name is Perry Fenwick, which is about as cockney a name as you can possibly get.

I didn’t really speak to either of them, but I did spend a few hours in their company, and at least one of them is famous.

Delia Smith

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I love Delia.

The ‘joint majority shareholder’ of Norwich City, is perhaps best known in the footballing world for her ‘drunken’ rant during the Canaries’ game against Man***ster City in March 2005, but for me she will always be fondly remembered for two  reasons:

  1. Delia personally intervened and switched a Norwich pre-season friendly to Coventry from Carrow Road, when it transpired the match was going to clash with – and ruin – our wedding reception. For that, I will forever admire her;
  2. She also popped up in our local pub in Stockport, prior to my beloved County playing Norwich in 2009, and despite swarms of Norwich fans mobbing her for a photo, she made a point of coming over to talk to me by the bar, as she was interested in County’s current financial struggles and fight against administration. Reports that I may have drunkenly begged her to invest in County are largely unsubstantiated.

Oh, and I have ‘met’ Delia one further time, again at Carrow Road when enjoying the pre-match hospitality in one of her restaurants there, but our encounter was restricted to me very nearly breaking her nose whilst trying to take my coat off at the cloak room (my arm had become stuck in the sleeve, and it suddenly freed just as she walked directly behind me).

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So, there you have it. I’ve never properly met anyone properly famous, and I have until next February to rectify that. Wish me luck, and I’ll keep you all posted. Perhaps…..

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Well, a man can dream.

Thanks for reading x

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