BrewBlog

Last Thursday, I went to ‘Beer School’.

This is not a euphemism for simply going out and getting drunk, nor is it my way of admitting I took a six-pack with me when collecting the boys from school (the temptation is often there, believe me) – it was actually an evening of beer education (and, most importantly, tasting), run by the BrewDog brewery, which was a Christmas present from my in-laws.

The voucher was for myself and a friend (although I did briefly contemplate going alone and consuming twice as much), to visit any BrewDog pub for their weekly Beer School, which is essentially an evening of beer and cheese tasting.

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I should explain, at this point, that aside from the fact I am very firmly of the view beer and cheese do not go together (in my opinion, cheese should be paired with wine, or perhaps pineapple; while beer is better suited to crisps, nuts, and meat), I am not a huge fan of cheese full stop. I know this places me in the minority, but my personal preference is for cheese to be as mild as possible, melted, and either atop a pizza, or mixed in to a pasta dish, so that I cannot taste it.

Nevertheless, I decided that, for an evening of drinking beer, and more importantly some time away from the children (I love them dearly, but so help me God I need a break every now and then), I would either have to man-up and eat some cheese (there’s a phrase you don’t hear every day); or, more likely, explain on arrival that my voucher was a gift, and I do not really like cheese. The way I saw it, worst-case scenario was that they might think me a little odd; while best-case scenario was that they would take pity on me, and pair my beers up with some delicious sausages instead.

When it came to selecting someone to accompany me, I invited my (joint) oldest friend, who we shall call Tim – because, well, that’s his name. When I say that Tim is my ‘oldest’ friend, I don’t mean he is ancient (although he does turn forty next month, which is frankly nothing short of a miracle, because he is both reckless and fearless, and regularly places himself in harm’s way), but I have known him since I was nine. That means we are celebrating thirty years of friendship this year, which struck me as sufficient reason to sink a few beers.

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When we arrived at BrewDog in Manchester, there was just enough time to grab a quick pint, before heading to the reserved ‘Beer School’ table… which was deserted. I immediately panicked that it would only be us in attendance, but thankfully an older couple arrived within a few minutes, and shortly after that a table of four, who had been sat to one side, turned around and said they were taking part too.

The older couple seemed very pleasant, but the lady explained she was a last-minute substitute for their son, and only came along so her husband wasn’t on his own, admitting she didn’t really like beer.  This news delighted me, because it meant my hatred of cheese wasn’t going to be the weirdest announcement of the night; and it delighted Tim, because he was sat next to her (and, sure enough, he drank at least two of her beers before school was out).

The other group of four (two couples) were rather less palatable. Don’t get me wrong, they were friendly enough, but on one side of the table was a man who smugly regurgitated beer facts every few minutes (rather pissing on our host’s parade), and on the other side were the sort of couple I detest – he was in a suit (and I got the impression that wasn’t because he had come straight from work), whereas she was clearly delighted by the sound of her own voice. Plus, they were both well on their way to pissed before we arrived, meaning their confidence and self-importance was magnified ten-fold. In short, they were the sort of people who appear on The Apprentice, which made them the sort of people I could happily take an axe to.

Then, just when I thought our company for the evening couldn’t get any more irritating, we were joined by what appeared to be a hyperactive blonde kangaroo with a nose-stud, who literally bounced up to our table, and announced at a rate of seven-words-per-second that she was ‘Talulah’, our Beer School host for the evening.

At this point, suit boy grinned, pointed at her, and loudly announced ‘Hey guys, this is Talulah!’, which, I suspect, he didn’t mean as a piss-take, but I certainly took it that way (partly for my own amusement, and partly because, if I was to make it through the evening, I needed to find some common ground with this prick).

I swiftly concluded that Talulah was, to be blunt, irritating-as-fuck (and even briefly fantasised about turning my axe from suit-boy’s head, to something a little shorter and blonder); but looking back I was wrong to jump to conclusions. I still maintain that any more than a few hours in her company would drive me insane, but her knowledge of – and enthusiasm for – beer was impressive; and by the end of the night I had to at least applaud the job she had done, not least because it transpired she was meant to finish work at 8pm, but was still tutoring us well after 9.

Anyway, after her initial introduction, and with thoughts of brutal axe-murders thankfully dissipating (honestly, these are just visions, nothing more), Talulah hopped off – again, literally – to get our first beer for sampling.

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Once she was out of ear shot, suit-boy turned to the rest of us and, with obvious panic in his voice, asked: ‘Were you guys expecting cheese as well? We only really came for the cheese. We adore cheese.’

I began to visualise the axe again.

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Everyone around us agreed that, yes, they were also expecting a cheese tasting session as well, which not only placated the far end of the table (it quickly transpired that the other couple of the four were also crazy about cheese, it’s just that we couldn’t hear them over blonde girl), but amused Tim, because he knows I can’t stand the stuff.

I spotted his reaction, and quickly whispered ‘don’t you dare tell them I don’t like cheese, they’ll fucking lynch me’, which only made him laugh more. He asked what I planned to do, and having briefly contemplated faking a lactose intolerance, I decided this would also attract attention (oh, how can you possibly live without cheese?), so in the end I opted for devouring each piece as quickly as possible, before washing it down with beer to avoid it re-appearing in the form of dairy-vomit.

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Sure enough, soon after Talulah re-appeared (the only thing stopping her from bouncing this time, was the fact she was carrying a tray of eight beer glasses), she announced that, in case anyone was panicking, she had forgotten to mention the cheese in her introductory spiel.

             “No, we weren’t panicking, Talulah. The cheese is just a bonus!”

Fucking liar.

Anyway, I could give you a description of the beers we sampled, not to mention their accompanying cheeses (quick summary: the soft and creamy ones were like cheesy snot, while the hard crumbly ones were like something you might find in a sock), but that would all be rather boring, so I won’t. What I will say is that we learned a great deal about the brewing process, the different types of hops, how to properly ‘smell’ the aroma, and how each cheese (supposedly) complimented the taste of its beer partner.

Throughout each description, Talulah continued to test my patience by repeatedly using ‘air quotes’ (yes, I realise the irony of using quotes there myself), as well as the word hipster far more than is ever necessary (i.e. more than once a year), but she also captivated us with her knowledge and stories.

Did you know, for example, that in ‘olden times’ (despite being married to a history teacher, placing periods of time throughout history was never my strong point, so I won’t embarrass myself by even hazarding a guess), when a couple got married the entire village would spend weeks beforehand preparing as much mead as they possibly could? Then, once the couple were wed, the idea was that they would spend the next two weeks drinking and, erm, consummating the marriage to hopefully bear children for the village. The idea, I believe, was that drunk people shag more (who knew?). And, since mead is made from honey, that two-week period became known as the honeymoon. See, history is awesome (and, by all accounts, so were the olden times).

Talulah also told us about BrewDog’s various publicity stunts over the years – such as the time they inflated some stuffed cats, attached parachutes, then dropped them from a helicopter over Canary Wharf. The idea was to protest against the ‘fat cat’ breweries, only the parachutes didn’t open, and they ended up injuring people (I had to again nudge Tim, and beg that he didn’t mention my occupation to the group).

By the end of the night, I don’t know whether it was the copious amounts of beer talking (although I have a strong suspicion it was, bearing in mind I hadn’t eaten anything other than cheese, and the last sample was a rather potent 14%), but I had decided the older couple were lovely, suit boy wasn’t all that bad, and Talulah was a Beer Goddess (not necessarily in terms of looks, although she was far from unattractive, but her personality was as infectious as herpes). She even gave us three ‘bonus’ beers for free, as she liked us so much:

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Even suit boy’s girlfriend, ‘loud blonde woman’, endeared herself to me, during one of the latter aroma tests, because despite everyone suggesting the usual hints of vanilla and citrus (none of us could actually smell vanilla or citrus, but those had been the answers for the preceding beers so we decided to hedge our bets), she decided to be brutally honest, and claimed that her glass smelt of ‘wet dog’.

This, naturally, made everyone laugh (including herself, and I do hate people who laugh at their own jokes), but it tickled me especially, because sat directly behind her was a couple who had just come in from the pouring rain for shelter, and their soaking wet spaniel was between them under the table.

Cheers – and thanks for reading x

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I’ll Have a P, Please, Blog

Last week, I went to a pub quiz.

Now, much as I love a good pub quiz, I should explain that this particular event was a ‘networking’ quiz, organised by a bunch of lawyers, for a bunch of lawyers. And, if there is one thing guaranteed to suck the fun out of a social occasion, it’s populating it with members of the legal profession (as a solicitor myself, I readily accept that we are generally a humourless bunch, but hope I am one of the exceptions to the rule).

Normally, I wouldn’t think twice about attending a pub quiz, but when you add in the words ‘legal’ and ‘networking’, it does rather spoil my anticipated enjoyment. It would be like inviting me to a football match….. at Old Trafford, or a sexy strip show…. at a retirement home.

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Anyway, I weighed up the pro and cons, and ultimately agreed to attend, because if nothing else it was an excuse for a child-free night out, and the mention of a free bar and buffet was enough to persuade me.

Sadly, due to the fact we arrived at the venue with barely minutes to spare, the ‘free bar’ had been depleted to just a few bottles of Budweiser – which, if I was to rank the beers of the world in order, would feature somewhere near the very bottom – together with some nasty looking white wine (in fairness, it may have been a very nice expensive white wine, as I am by no means a connoisseur, but given the beer choice on offer, I’ll wager it was cheap shit). Still, it was free, so I tried to hide my disappointment and took a bottle of Budweiser while I still could.

Sure enough, as we located our table in the gloomy surroundings and sat down with our teammates for the evening, an announcement was made that the free bar had run dry before the quiz had even started. Awesome.

In the organiser’s defence, clearly some teams had arrived early and, for want of a better phrase, taken the piss (which, bearing in mind they had grabbed armfuls of Budweiser, is literally what they had done), and they did replenish the stocks about half an hour later, but they did so with more Budweiser, so it was a relatively empty gesture. I know this makes me sound ungrateful, but there are far better beers out there for an equivalent or lower cost.

My spirits (oh, how I wished there had been spirits) were raised somewhat, when I realised this was a proper pub quiz, with not only a picture sheet (and a ‘clever’ link between the answers), but rounds on film, sport and music – which allayed my initial fears that, with this being a ‘networking quiz for lawyers’, the organisers might think it fun to include legal questions. And that really would have sapped any remaining joy out of the occasion.

The first round was actually entitled ‘2018’ and, as the name suggests, it was based on the events of last year. It seemed to go relatively well, too, until it came to swapping our answer sheet with the team behind us for marking, when it quickly became apparent that they were, to put it mildly, pedantic fuckwits, who would stop at nothing to win.

For example, the very first question was (paraphrasing) “Which company got Facebook into trouble last year, by stealing everyone’s personal information?” Now, you may or may not know / recall the answer, but the company in question is called Cambridge Analytica, however our team (and I take responsibility here, as I was in charge of writing) mistakenly put Cambridge Analytical.

Now, had I been marking that answer, I would have allowed the slight error to go unnoticed; but unfortunately for us the group behind (who resembled a University Challenge team on a stag do) not only marked our answer as incorrect, but chose to query it in front of everyone.

“Erm, excuse me, but the team behind us have put Cambridge Analytical, so am I right in saying that’s incorrect and we shouldn’t give them a mark?”

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Fuck off, Hugo.

He even scoffed when announcing this, and I so desperately wanted to insert a Budweiser bottle into his rectum (big end first) in retaliation.

It’s not that I am necessarily competitive (much), and so long as our team avoided the humiliation of finishing last in the quiz I was happy enough; but I can also be a petty bastard at times, particularly if someone behaves like a cock, so I made a mental note to return the gesture should Tarquin and his chinless colleagues require any discretion with their own answers later in the quiz. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait very long.

Round Two was ‘Film’, and one of the questions was “Which musical is based on a Charles Dickens novel?” Now, the answer to that is Oliver! (and I made a point of adding the exclamation mark on our answer sheet especially, in case Team Trust Fund were going to insist on its inclusion for the full mark), but to my delight when we swapped sheets again, they had put ‘Oliver Twist’.

Oh no, my friend, that’s the book you’re thinking of, whereas the musical is just called Oliver!, so you’ll be receiving a massive cross next to that particular answer, you bell-end. Ha-fucking-ha.

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The best part was, when we swapped sheets back after all the answers had been announced, he actually made a point of checking my marking, and then tapped me on the shoulder.

‘Erm, excuse me,’ he said smugly, ‘but you appear to have marked our answer for question 8 as wrong, when we actually got it right.’

‘Erm, actually,’ I replied, making his smugness seem almost subtle in comparison, ‘I think you’ll find the answer was Oliver! WITH AN EXCLAMATION MARK, not Oliver Twist, which is the Dickens novel. It’s a common misconception…. among idiots.’

‘Well, it’s only one word different.’

‘Indeed, but in the last round you might recall that you marked us down for having one letter wrong, so you can kiss my ass, douchebag.’

Of course, as I have said before, I loathe all forms of confrontation, so what I actually responded with was:

‘Fine, whatever, give yourself an extra point.’

I couldn’t be bothered with the argument, to be honest (although I did mutter douchebag under my breath, which I felt was a moral victory at the time).

The remainder of the quiz was thankfully rather more amicable (thanks in no small part to the fact we swapped the rest of our answer sheets with the team to our right instead, who proved to be rather less competitive – and infinitely less anal – about the whole thing, and even at one point traded some answers with us), although I did briefly lose my shit over a James Bond question which the organisers had clearly got wrong (it’s my specialist subject, and Never Say Never Again is NOT an official Bond film).

Anyway, my fears of finishing last were unfounded, as our team ranked a respectable seventh out of twenty-five; and, even better, the pig molesters behind us didn’t win. It turns out, it doesn’t matter how much Daddy paid for your education, and how pedantic you are in stealing points, if your knowledge is ultimately inferior, chaps.

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That’s nearly it for this week’s entry, but before I draw matters to a close, I would like to leave you with one final anecdote from that evening.

Due to the fact the beer on offer at the quiz night had been mediocre at best (even once we had abandoned the free Budweiser, the alternative beers at the bar weren’t much better), we decided to dash back to Poynton for last orders at the local Wetherspoons. Fortunately, having raced through the door at 11.02pm, it transpired that they were serving until midnight, so we had plenty of time to fuel our hangovers for the next day.

At one point, shortly before we called it a night, I needed the loo, and if there is one thing I apparently specialise in (other than quiz questions on James Bond), it is dodgy encounters with other men in toilets (wait, I had better rephrase that….).

As I entered the gents (which, after the last sentence, should also perhaps be re-phrased), I noticed two younger men in there standing by the mirror admiring themselves, and upon seeing me one turned to the other and said ‘you should ask him’, motioning in my direction.

Agreeing, the first chap turned to face me, and asked ‘do you think I look fat?’

‘Eh?’

‘Do you think I look fat?’

‘Erm, no?’

‘Oh. Well, that’s not very nice.’

‘What? You want to look fat?’

‘No! I said, ‘do I look fly’?!’

‘Fly?’

‘Yeah. You know, like Pretty Fly for a White Guy?’

‘Oh. Right. In that case, erm, yes?’

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In truth, he didn’t look very fly at all, he looked like an early-twenties Millennial in skinny-fit jeans, who clearly wasn’t used to drinking lots; but I wanted to appease him to avoid any further toilet confrontation, and because I was in desperate need of a pee by this point (which I was rather keen to do in peace).

It seemed to work, too, because not only did his face immediately break into a wide grin, he exclaimed that we were now friends (awesome, I love making new friends in the gents), and he insisted that we ‘fist bump’ (which I prayed was the cool/lame handshake definition of the phrase, and not some weird sex-thing that Millennials are up to in public toilets these days).

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Turns out, it was the handshake-type gesture I expected (which was just as awkward, but infinitely less painful, I suspect), and he was thankfully on his way.

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Thanks for reading x

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Rita, Sue and Blog Too

I suspect most of my readers know this by now, but I have two sons: Ollie, who will be nine in May, and Isaac, who turns five a few days earlier. They are both my sons (until genetic testing proves otherwise), but they could not be more different if they tried.

Oh, they certainly have similarities, and most of the traits they do share undoubtedly come from my DNA rather than my wife’s (such as being accident prone, short-tempered, and dashingly good looking, to name but two), but at the same time they could easily be mistaken as coming from different families.

For example, Ollie is very academic, generally quiet and reserved, and his two main passions are reading and football. Isaac, on the other hand, isn’t very fond of reading, hates football, has long hair like a mane, and can be extremely, erm…. challenging at times.

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Ollie is also a very sensitive and emotional child, who gets upset rather too easily (which, again, is typical of my contributed DNA rather than his mother’s), while Isaac only tends to cry when he is denied chocolate (and, if you have been paying attention, you will know that we as a family gave up chocolate for the month of February, to raise funds for the British Heart Foundation, so he has spent the last twenty-eight days in as foul a mood as you can possibly imagine).

So, on the whole, our boys are very different, but in the last few weeks they have both reached an important life-milestone (at roughly the same time, if not the same age): they have apparently both got girlfriends at school. Needless to say, my wife and I found this very sweet (then teased them both mercilessly) but they have approached the news in very different ways.

Ollie has vehemently denied that he has a girlfriend, to the point he eventually got very upset and – typically – cried when Isaac made fun of him, but we suspect he is at least keen on one of the girls in his class, because he blushed uncontrollably when we discovered her name. I have since tried to work out which one she is in the playground (so I can warn her that she can do better – joke), but he’s not giving a great deal away, and just tells me to shut up.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d be horrified if he actually started dating at the age of eight, because not only is that far too young to be in any kind of relationship, but I didn’t get a proper girlfriend until I was eighteen (and she’s now my wife), so the injustice of my son playing the field at half that age is frankly rather depressing.

I am, however, pleased that his opinion of the opposite sex seems to be maturing, because until recently he still considered girls to be in the same league as green vegetables – utterly disgusting. I think it would be quite sweet if, the next time there was a school disco, he got dressed up to impress the ‘other’ half of his class (because there is still a very obvious divide in the playground between the girls and the boys), rather than simply going as Darth Vader, as he has previously. And, in case of any confusion, this is not a metaphor for him being all dark and brooding, as he actually went dressed head-to-toe as Darth Vader. In his words “well, it said ‘dress to impress’, so I did”.

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It’s nice that he is maturing, and I am particularly pleased that he is growing up to be a well-rounded young man – but at the same time there’s no need for him to hurry, and merely accepting/appreciating girls is more than enough progression for now.

Then, we have Isaac.

Isaac is the one I am worried about, because he has already shown an interest in a number of girls in his reception class since he started in September, and I suspect this isn’t solely related to sharing tips on hair styles.

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One of his best friends, a girl from nursery, started school with him, and they have always been inseparable, so when he whispered to my wife recently that he has a girlfriend, we immediately expected it to be her, but it turns out his affections now lie elsewhere.

Again, it wouldn’t be fair of me to mention the girl by name, because I have a number of local followers, and so there is a (slim) chance one or both of her parents could read this, but suffice to say it isn’t a name we had heard him mention until earlier this week, so I have again been on the lookout in the playground to try and spot her.

As with Ollie, my wife and I suspect that this girl has no clue Isaac is keen on her, so when he claims to have a girlfriend, the relationship may be entirely one-sided, but they apparently shared a lovely moment playing with Play-Doh on Monday (as in the children’s modelling clay, rather than an unusually-named classmate), and he has been smitten ever since. Part of me is tempted to tell Ollie, so he can get his revenge for the teasing Isaac gave him a couple of weeks ago, but that would be just as cruel of me; and, besides, I happen to think it’s rather cute.

It has got me thinking about what they will be like when they are older and actually dating, however, and while I suspect Ollie will be very much like me (nervous and uncomfortable around girls until he is much more mature, when he will no doubt settle down at a relatively young age), Isaac is the one I am concerned about.

Isaac, despite only being four, is the one I already worry will be sneaking through a girl’s bedroom window in the dead of night, before being escorted back to our house by a disgruntled father. Isaac will be the one with a number of girls on the go at once (by all accounts, he already has), as ladies swoon over his flowing locks – assuming he keeps them when he is older. Ladies, I am told, like a wild man they think they can tame, and a bad boy who will treat them mean (at first). They like a work in progress. And, despite only being four, that description already suits Isaac rather well.

In truth, I’m a little jealous of him already, because I have never known – nor will I ever know – what it is like to have women fighting over me (unless it’s the elderly variety, who want something reaching from a high shelf in the supermarket), but I have no doubt Isaac will be breaking hearts all over the place when he’s older.

Thanks, as ever, for reading x

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Swings and RoundaBlogs

I grew up in a village called Poynton, which is roughly equidistant between Macclesfield and Stockport, in the County of East Cheshire (in case you aren’t familiar with this part of the country, and were desperate to place it geographically).

In terms of East Cheshire (bear with me here, this is going somewhere), Poynton is very much in the Far East of the County – which is interesting, because like the Far East, we also have a number of Chinese eateries, a stockpile of biological weapons, and, until a few years ago, parents were restricted to having just one child to combat our chronic over-crowding*

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*only one of these facts is actually true.

Anyway, I spent the first eighteen years of my life growing up in Poynton, returned for a year after Law School, and, despite now living in Sandbach, I commute back to the village of my childhood every day for work. In short, I have spent more time in Poynton than anywhere else on Earth.

I therefore feel suitably qualified – no, entitled – to state that Poynton is, for want of a better phrase, a bit peculiar. And this comes from someone who lives in Sandbach, a town with plenty of its own quirks (and nutcases); so when I say that Poynton is ‘a bit peculiar’, I mean it’s really fucking peculiar.

Now, I need to be careful, since I plan to work in Poynton for the foreseeable future (until I win the lottery or secure a lucrative book deal – and the odds of each happening are roughly the same), plus half of the office lives here; but, so long as I choose my words carefully, it should be fine. Besides, it’s not like anyone reads these blog entries anyway.

So, while Sandbach and Poynton have many similarities (the most obvious of which being that both are clearly desperate to be the next Alderley Edge, such is the current upsurge in trendy wine bars and restaurants); the main difference between the two is that Poynton also ‘boasts’ what must be one of the most bizarre traffic systems in the country.

In 2011, Poynton was the subject of a major redevelopment, partly to deal with the terrible congestion caused by our position on the main road between the northern powerhouses of Stockport and Macclesfield (there was a time, in the not too distant past, when you couldn’t buy a fancy armchair and a hat in the same day, without travelling between the two), and partly for aesthetic reasons because, well, Poynton was fucking ugly.

If you don’t believe me, here is a picture of Poynton taken shortly before the redevelopment, c.2009:

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And this is what Poynton looks like now:

Quite the change, I am sure you will agree.

Ok, the first picture is actually of war-torn Syria, but I decided to use that photograph instead, partly for comedic purposes (not that there is anything even remotely amusing about the situation in Syria), and partly because the Poynton Illuminati appear to have erased all images of the village pre-2011, so I couldn’t find anything online to illustrate my point (if you have ever seen the film Hot Fuzz, it’s a little like that here).

In truth, Poynton didn’t look that bad before; but, aside from some pretty shoddy paving work (which looks like it was installed by The Chuckle Brothers – RIP, Barry), I have to admit it’s actually quite pretty now.

The problem, however, is that part of the redevelopment was to turn Poynton into a ‘Shared Space Village’, which is hippy-lingo for ‘hey, let’s all just get along, man’. Essentially, it means that cars, pedestrians, wildlife, and even Manchester United fans all have equal rights, so everyone is expected to be thoroughly British and simply ‘give way to all’. 

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The problem, however, is that whilst the intention was to create a pleasant, friendly traffic system based on mutual love and respect, if absolutely everyone adopted the ‘no, please, after you’ approach, then no one would move for fear of being the first to do so (because, if you ignore the traffic rules in Poynton, you are immediately chased from the village by an angry mob wielding pitchforks).

As it happens, because the system is so poorly explained to outsiders, they don’t tend to give way when they ‘should’, which makes the locals very angry indeed. Rather ironically, therefore, instead of introducing a friendly shared space, Poynton now features one of the angriest junctions in the world. I should know, because my office overlooks it, and there is an incident of road rage every four to five minutes. And, when all is said and done, there is very little shared space about a white van driver screaming ‘FUCKING IDIOT!’ at a pensioner.

Apparently, the system is based on a Swedish design, and this is often used to justify its introduction, as if the Swedes are the envy of the world when it comes to traffic layouts. Admittedly, I’ve never been to Sweden, so perhaps they are, but when the only other Swedish creations that spring to mind are ABBA, Ikea, and, erm, Stockholm Syndrome*, I’ll reserve my judgment for now.

(*Oh, and Volvo. I do quite like Volvo.)

Anyway, whilst shared spaces might be fine for the likes of Björn Borg and Ulrika Jonsson, in my humble opinion the traffic system of Poynton is fundamentally flawed in three distinct ways:

Firstly, I do not know many Swedish people, but they have always struck me as a rather amiable nation, less inclined to drive angrily at pedestrians while beeping their horn and screaming obscenities. In fact, I suspect the only time a Swede has ever given someone the horn, was when I last watched Britt Ekland in The Man with the Golden Gun.

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In contrast, just in case I haven’t made it clear already, Poynton is generally filled with angry drivers, beeping their horns and screaming obscenities. I’m not suggesting all of those drivers live in the village, but one of them will certainly pass through it every few minutes.

Secondly, whilst everyone is supposed to give way, the opposite actually happens; because if the drivers assume pedestrians will wait, but the pedestrians think they have right of way and can simply walk into the road, no one even pauses. They just go. As a result, not a day goes by without someone either very nearly being hit, or very actually being hit.

Thirdly, and perhaps most uniquely to Poynton, we have the pièce de résistance of our ridiculous shared space scheme, the ‘double roundel’:

Now, this may look like a double roundabout, where everyone could quite safely negotiate their way through the village by simply always giving way to their right (as with every other roundabout in the country), but the Poynton powers that be decided our ‘roundels’ would work differently, with everyone giving way to everyone else.

Again, I suppose this could work wonderfully in practice, if all drivers were indeed courteous and patient, but aside from the fact most drivers are anything but courteous and patient, the main problem with our system is that no one from outside of Poynton has the first fucking clue how it works.

So, unless they happen to have studied our unique traffic system in advance (and, I don’t know about you, but if I am driving somewhere new for the first time, I almost never Google ‘do they have any weird traffic systems I should know about?’ beforehand), they arrive expecting motorists to give way to the right like they do everywhere else. Again, this works fine if they only encounter fellow outsiders doing the same thing, because everyone is giving way to their right, but it only takes one self-righteous Poyntonian to royally fuck everything up and cause a scene.

What I witness several times a day, is an outsider (and I use the term ‘outsider’ endearingly, because I happen to sympathise with them) approaching the first roundel (let’s pause here, to acknowledge what a truly ridiculous word ‘roundel’ is), expecting the traffic from their right to stop. Unfortunately, if the driver to their right happens to be a local, they will approach the roundel with an indignant ‘EVERYONE MUST GIVE WAY TO ME!’ attitude, and will simply drive out, beeping their horn at anyone who gets in their way.

The conversation which follows usually goes like this:

Outsider: “It’s my right of way, dickhead!”

Local: “Not here it’s not! This is a shared space! Read the signs!”

Outsider: “What does that even mean?!”

Local: “It means you don’t have to give way to the right!”

Outsider: “What, unlike every other roundabout in the country?!”

Local: “Ah, but this isn’t a roundabout, it’s a roundel!”

Outsider: “A what?!”

Local: “A roundel. It looks like a roundabout, but it works differently. In fact, if there’s no traffic, you can just drive straight over it, there’s no need to go round it.”

Outsider: “But can you always see if there’s traffic coming?”

Local: “No, most of us just drive across them anyway, then beep and swear at people like you who don’t understand.”

Outsider: “Of course we don’t understand! How can we possibly be expected to know all this from a sign that just says ‘Shared Space Village’?”

 Local: “You just should. Shared space means give way to all.”

Outsider: “But you didn’t give way to me!”

Local: “Because I live here!”

Outsider: “So the sign should say ‘Give way to all, unless you live here, in which case just drive’?”

Local: “It’s a shared space!”

Outsider: “Stop saying ‘shared space’!”

Local: “Roundels!”

Outsider: “You’re a fucking roundel!”

Of course, the conversation is never that lengthy, because the drivers have usually moved on after the initial ‘dickhead’ exchange, beeping their horns angrily as they zoom away, both adamant they were in the right.

Then, because they are so incensed, they speed away from the junction – at the precise moment a pedestrian steps out into the road without warning (expecting all vehicles to stop for them), and they promptly end up thirty feet away from their belongings.

Still, so long as it works for the Swedes….

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Thanks for reading x

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Charlie and the Blogolate Factory

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the recent trend of giving up vices in aid of charity, such as last months’ ‘Dry January’ (no alcohol), ‘Veganuary’ (no meat, fish or animal products) and ‘Januhairy’ (women not shaving their legs and unmentionables).

I also mentioned how myself, my wife, and our two boys are taking part in the British Heart Foundation’s ‘Dechox Challenge’ this year, which means we are giving up all forms of chocolate for the entire month of February.

Originally, this was the boys’ idea, but my wife and I have decided to participate as well, for a few reasons:

  1. To support Ollie and Isaac in their month-long challenge, because neither will find it very easy, and if they are making the sacrifice, so should we;
  2. To see whether we too can make it through an entire month without chocolate; because my wife is a self-confessed chocoholic, I cannot be apart from chocolate hobnobs for more than a few days without developing an embarrassing twitch, and those fuckers at Tesco currently have Terry’s Chocolate Oranges (the very pinnacle of confectionery, in my opinion) for just a quid;
  3. To see if we lose any weight, or notice any other health benefits;
  4. To raise money for a very good cause (and, should you feel like chipping in, the boys have their very own Just Giving page: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ollieandisaac);
  5. If my wife and I continued to eat chocolate throughout February, not only would that be unfair on the boys, but the little gits would no doubt discover our stash and devour it. Far better that we banish all chocolate from our home, to avoid any temptation.

Unfortunately, however, we are just one week in to our challenge, and it’s already going to shit. I must stress that none of us have caved in and eaten any chocolate (I would be far too embarrassed to blog about our failure, if we had lasted less than a week), but there are certain signs already which indicate the impact on our family could be devastating by the end of the month.

Let me explain.

Me

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Firstly, as the patriarchal head of our family unit (even if my wife is the actual boss), I feel it is incumbent on me to set an example to our boys, and maintain a façade of chocolate defiance* – even if I am secretly thinking about chocolate hobnobs every six seconds (thereby relegating thinking about sex into second place, in the old ‘what men think about’ league table).

*note to self: consider ‘Chocolate Defiance’ as a potential band name, if you ever get around to learning an instrument.

The problem, however, is not that I fear my resolve will waiver, and I will succumb to the temptations of chocolate by the end of the month, but more that I have the worst memory, and may consume some purely by accident.

For example, on Sunday, just three days into February, I went to buy a nice breakfast for the family from Waitrose, and, having picked up croissants for Ollie (his favourite), I then – without thinking – grabbed some pain au chocolat for Isaac (his favourite). It was not until I got home that I realised my mistake, much to the amusement of my wife, who may or may not have called me an ‘epic bellend’.

This was just three days into the challenge. As one of my more sarcastic colleagues informed me when I told them what I had done the following day (whilst offering around the unopened pain au chocolat), ‘the clue is in the name – it even has the word chocolate written on the packaging’. Of course, I tried to pedantically argue that, actually, it has the word chocolat on the packaging, and since I don’t speak French, I had no idea what this meant when I bought them, but no one was falling for it. I was a laughing stock.

I am therefore extremely concerned that I will inadvertently find myself half way through a delicious brownie, chocolate doughnut, or some other delight by month end, before realising my mistake and spluttering the contents of my mouth everywhere.

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My Wife

Now, I need to point out here, that this is the next part of the blog dealing with my wife’s love of chocolate, hence the heading ‘My Wife’ (which, in hindsight, might look a little like a caption to the gif above it, but that was never my intention – mostly because I value my genitals too much).

I don’t think my wife will mind me saying (which almost certainly means she will), that her love of chocolate is only matched by her love of shopping, Dick Van Dyke, and me injuring myself in the most ridiculous of ways.

I have no doubt that she will remember to avoid eating chocolate (because her memory, common sense, and knowledge of French is far better than mine), but I do worry that the lack of snack options of an evening may have an adverse effect on her mood – which, after a day of dealing with brat children (she is a school teacher at an all-boys secondary school), followed by an evening of dealing with ours, usually means she often craves Prosecco, chocolate, or both.

Ollie

 

Next, we have our eldest son, Ollie, who isn’t as bad when it comes to chocolate addiction as his younger sibling (we’ll come to him in a second), but the only dessert he will eat when we go to a restaurant is either chocolate brownie or chocolate fudge cake, both of which he is currently forbidden from. Which means our family meal on Sunday (for my birthday) will be a complete disappointment to him, the poor lad.

Isaac

 

Last, but by no means least, is the feral wolf child we refer to as Isaac.

To say Isaac adores all forms of chocolate would be an understatement, and the fact he even agreed to this challenge in the first place, is down to one of two factors:

  1. He didn’t realise it meant all chocolate, so he is not only denied chocolate bars until March, but also chocolate cake, chocolate ice cream and hot chocolate (which comprises his four staple food groups);
  2. He wasn’t listening properly.

Whatever the reason, if I was concerned about the lack of chocolate affecting my wife’s mood, this is nothing compared to the change in Isaac since last Thursday. He cannot sleep, he is (even more) confrontational, and he cries a lot. Admittedly, he was like that before, but never as bad as he is now, and his behaviour is like that of a withdrawing junkie going cold turkey. I swear I saw him shaking uncontrollably on Tuesday evening.

I have come to realise that chocolate is like Valium to Isaac – it keeps him sedated and able to function as a part of normal society. Without it, we might as well release him back into the wild woods from whence he came. And we still have three weeks to go.

I’m just grateful February is three days shorter than most of the other months to give us that little fighting chance of seeing this thing through.

Thanks for reading – wish us luck x

 

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Blog Satisfaction

Earlier this week, I had my annual ‘performance appraisal’ at work, which, having been with my current employer for a little over twelve years, meant two things:

  1. This was the eleventh appraisal I have participated in, since I started working here in the latter stages of 2006 (we missed a year);
  2. It was the eleventh time I have been asked to fill out the same cringey appraisal form in advance of the meeting, and therefore the eleventh time I have offered almost exactly the same responses as a result.

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It’s not that I am necessarily averse to performance analysis, and I do acknowledge that it can be beneficial for some employees to assess both themselves and their role within a company – as well as offering feedback to their employer – but I just find the whole process extremely awkward and uncomfortable.

This is by no means a criticism of my boss, as I suspect he sometimes finds the appraisal process as tiresome as I do (particularly now that our firm has grown in size, and I for one keep offering the same tedious responses every year), but the only thing I detest more than discussing my strengths – I’m not really one to blow my own trumpet – is airing any issues I might have.

I hate any form of confrontation at the best of times (just ask my wife), so even though my boss would never see a grievance as anything other than an opportunity to address and resolve the issue (well, within reason), I would personally find it very difficult to raise and discuss, and I much prefer to bottle things up and stay quiet instead. I’m extremely passive like that, so even though it means I rarely get what I want, and my career hasn’t progressed much in over a decade, I do tend to avoid any unwanted disputes (which makes my chosen profession as a litigator all the more confusing).

I am like this most of the time anyway, so it’s not necessarily a work-related issue, and I accept it makes me sound weak; but I’m nearly 39 now, and too old to change my ways by suddenly becoming opinionated and vocal. If anything, it’s sheer laziness on my part, as I just want an easy life, and have very little ambition left these days. Well, apart from writing, which – as you may have gathered – is my main passion.

Anyway, partly because I never really express my true feelings or concerns; partly because I often see this blog as an opportunity to vent my spleen at you fine people (many of whom are strangers and can’t answer back); but mostly because I hope it will be somewhat amusing and I have fuck all else to write about this week, I have decided to repeat some sections of my recent appraisal form below, with what I wish I had said at the time. Just don’t tell my boss.

Enjoy.

Appraisal – 22nd January 2019

Date of last appraisal: How should I fucking know? It’s not like I keep a record of this. I can barely remember what I had for dinner last night.

State your understanding of your main duties and responsibilities:

  1. I think I often provide light relief for my colleagues (not sexual relief, mind);
  2. Tea and coffee making;
  3. Organising work nights out;
  4. Legal stuff.

Has the time since your last appraisal been good/bad/satisfactory for you, and why?

Hmm, that depends really.

Some days I get bogged down in the sheer futility of it all, and question my place – not just within the firm, but in the universe as a whole.

I only really like three of my clients, which means I dislike 97.3% of my current caseload, and that makes waking up in the morning a struggle to say the least. Which is odd, because Isaac usually has us up by 5.30am anyway.

I hate my commute, and I have more chance of finding Lord Lucan each morning than a fucking parking space, but I do like most of my colleagues. I’m not saying which ones I don’t like, as you’ll probably get us all together to discuss the issue, and I’d rather shave my gentleman’s area with a breadknife.

Looking back, what do you feel you have done well?

My tea making is impeccable, and I honestly believe my coffee is getting better by the day.

My organisation of work nights out is pretty impressive (if we forget that time I spent the drinks kitty on Jagerbombs, because I was so pissed I forgot everyone’s order when I got to the bar).

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I now have a better understanding of which ties go with which shirts, and that it is ok to sometimes mix colours up a bit.

What would you like to improve upon?

I would like to be a better husband and father sometimes.

If I could shave another minute off my 5k time at Parkrun, that would be nice.

I need to eat slower, as I often find that I get indigestion and heartburn after meals.

I could probably recycle more and use less plastic (as could we all).

What elements of work do you find most difficult?

Just getting through each day, frankly.

Also, I could do without Julie’s constant sexual advances*

*I’ve disguised Linda’s real name to preserve her anonymity.

What could be introduced to improve your day?

We could turn the meeting room into a bar?

Nap breaks

‘Strippers Friday’

What do you see as major challenges to our profession?

The Government

Brexit

Do you have any idea about how we can overcome those changes / challenges?

If I knew that, I’d be running the country (which, incidentally, I think I would be fucking awesome at, and I’m not ruling it out).

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What training do you think would benefit you over the next year?

Mostly cardio-vascular, but a little weight-training on the arms wouldn’t go amiss. They look like two matchmakers (white chocolate, obvs).

And finally, what do you consider to be your biggest achievement in the past year?

That one time I ‘almost’ fit in the tea/coffee cabinet 

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***

NOW do you see why I don’t give my honest opinion (or even the first thing which pops into my head) when I have an appraisal?

Thanks for reading x

 

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Bloggy Kids

‘THE SCHOOL RUN’

A Short Play

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Dramatis Personae:

‘Daddy’ 

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A tall, good-looking man, who is struggling with the pressures of early middle-age, and who regularly overuses the word ‘fuck’.

‘Ollie’

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An eight-year-old boy, wiry, over-emotional at best.

‘Isaac’

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Ollie’s younger brother, four. A feral wolf child, with the face and hair of a pretty little girl, but the empty black soul of a malevolent demon.

***

Narrator:  The following play is based on real-life events, which occurred in a small town called Sandbach, in January 2019.

 

ACT I

[The lights come up on a Living Room. Daddy enters stage right, wearing nothing but an ill-fitting towel. He is wet, and the impression is that he has just exited the shower. He looks harassed and hurried]

Daddy:  Why are neither of you ready yet?!

Ollie:     I’m ready!

Daddy:  You’re not wearing socks.

Ollie:     Oh, yeah.

Daddy:  And you’re still watching that idiot play FIFA on YouTube. For the final time, turn it off. I said I wanted you both dressed and ready by the time I got out of the shower. Don’t do this to me again!

Isaac:     Do what?

Daddy:   Get me stressed and make us late.

Isaac:     Can I have more cereal?

Daddy:  No. You’ve already had two massive bowls and we don’t have enough time or milk. We’re leaving the house in less than ten minutes and I have no clothes on yet. Do you want me to do the school run in just this towel?

Isaac:      YES!

Daddy:   Shut up. I’m going for a shave, and I want you both ready to walk out of the door by the time I come back downstairs.

Ollie:       Ok.

[Daddy quickly exits stage left, clutching the small towel at his waist to save exposing himself as he takes the stairs three at a time. Both boys remain motionless, with Ollie staring at a laptop screen, and Isaac watching Scooby Doo on the television]

***

 

ACT II

[The lights come back up on the Living Room. Both boys are in exactly the same position as they were at the end of Act I. Daddy rushes in stage left, now wearing a suit, and hurriedly straightening his tie]

 

Daddy:  What the HELL?! Ollie, turn that laptop off NOW. Isaac, turn the television off and find your hairbrush. Ollie, put some fu… put some socks on NOW.

Isaac:      I can’t find my hairbrush.

Daddy:   Get Mummy’s instead then.

Isaac:      Ok, Geoff.

Daddy:   Stop calling me Geoff. Ollie, why are you crying?

Ollie:      You shouted at me.

Daddy:   Do you know why?

Ollie:      No. I’ve not done anything wrong!

Daddy:  Really? How about ignoring me and making us late for school yet again? How about not getting dressed before watching those stupid videos on YouTube? How about leaving your cereal bowl there for Isaac to trip over? We have the same conversation every fu…. We have the same conversation every morning, and, for once, I would like to arrive in the school playground without worrying that I might collapse at any given second. Go and get your bags, brush your teeth, get your shoes and coat on, and wait by the front door. We’re leaving in two minutes.

[Ollie runs off stage left, sniffling loudly. Daddy quickly brushes Isaac’s hair, then struggles with an orange ‘bobble’ as he tries to put it into a ponytail. At one point, when Isaac isn’t looking, he silently screams ‘FUCK!’, then punches the sofa next to him. He rubs his knuckles, evidently in some pain]

Daddy:   Right, that’ll have to do.

Isaac:     Does it look ok?

Daddy:  Sure. Now, go downstairs, put your shoes and coat on, brush your teeth, and wait by the front door.

Isaac:     Ok, Geoff.

[Isaac leaves stage left, followed shortly after by Daddy, who is still rubbing his knuckles]

***

 

ACT III

[The lights come up on an entrance hall and front door. Both boys are now wearing coats. Daddy is putting his shoes on]

 

Daddy:   Right, have you both brushed your teeth?

Boys:      Yes

Daddy:   Both of you?

Boys:      Yes!

Isaac:    Actually, I haven’t.

Daddy:  Do them. Now.

[Isaac dashes to the side of the stage]

Daddy:   Ollie, have you got your swimming kit?

Ollie:      Yes.

Daddy:   And your £1 for swimming?

Ollie:     Yes.

Daddy:  Guitar?

Ollie:      Yes.

Daddy:   Drinks bottle?

Ollie:      Here.

Daddy:    What about the permission slip for your school trip?

Ollie:      Hey, that rhymes!

Daddy:   Shut up. Do you have your permission slip?

Ollie:       It’s in my pocket.

Daddy:    Is there anything else you need?

Ollie:       My Match Attax.

Daddy:  Balls to your Match Attax. Is there anything else you actually need for school?

Ollie:       No. I have my Match Attax anyway, I was just saying.

[Isaac returns from the side of the stage]

Daddy:   Isaac, have you got your school bag?

Isaac:     Yes, Geoff.

Daddy:   I asked you to stop calling me that. Do you have your drinks bottle?

Isaac:     Yes.

Daddy:   Have you both got your snacks for breaktime?

Boys:      Yes!

Daddy:   And do you remember what you’re having for lunch?

Ollie:      Roast chicken dinner!

Daddy:   Correct.

Isaac:     I’m having a packed lunch.

Daddy:   No, you’re not.

Isaac:     I AM!

Daddy:  No, you’re fuc… you’re having chicken dinner, remember? I asked you half an hour ago and you agreed. You said you love chicken dinner.

Isaac:     I hate chicken dinner! I want a packed lunch!

Daddy:   Tough. We’re late, and I haven’t got time. You’re having chicken dinner.

[Isaac now starts to cry]

Daddy:    Please, Isaac, we discussed this. I don’t have time to make a packed lunch. You told me you love chicken dinner. It’s just chicken, potatoes and veg.

[Isaac suddenly stops crying]

Isaac:     Yay! I love chicken dinner!

Daddy:   You little f-

Ollie:      Can we play a game?

Daddy:   What?! No! We need to leave, NOW.

Ollie:      Can we play a game on the way?

Daddy:   No. Look, I have a splitting headache, I’m stressed, and you two have again been no help whatsoever. He’s been up since 5.45am, you’ve both spent the past hour fighting –

Both:      He started it!

Daddy:   – I don’t care. You’ve both spent the past hour fighting, and I’m sick of it. We’re leaving the house and you’re going to have to run because we’re VERY late.

[Ollie opens the front door]

Ollie:      Erm, Daddy….?

Daddy:   What now?

Ollie:       It’s raining.

Daddy:   Oh, for fu….. right, put your hoods up. I’m just going to swap my coat for the waterproof one.

[Daddy quickly changes coats]

Daddy:    Ok, now can we leave?

Ollie:        Hang on. I can’t find my pound.

Isaac:       I don’t have any shoes on. And I need a wee.

[Daddy starts to turn purple, and the stage lights fade to the sound of a scream]

Daddy:     FUUUUU-

THE END

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