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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

31st May - The Final Countdown

It is 100 days today until the Opening Ceremony of the World Cup. Of course, in our timezone, that will be tomorrow morning, but New Zealand time is sooner to it. In fact, it is only 97 days until I get on that train to Heathrow, and away we go. It's awful to wish your life away, but on such a stupendous trip, it is inevitable.

Over the past month I've started to plan the itinery. With time limited to see and do things in the South Island (a week has been lost there, and gained in the North Island) means that I've had to cram it in as much as possible to make sure that I see and do as much as possible. (Sleep - what's that?)

Most of the time, I'll be around the south of South Island, especially around Dunedin.

I am particularly looking forward to the games in the new Otago (Forsyth Barr) Stadium. Its 70m high glass ceiling, and glass walls must make it the biggest greenhouse in the world. England play 3 games there, Argentina, Rumania and Georgia. I've never seen Georgia, so maybe as well as collecting stadia, I should start collecting rugby teams. There is a small technical hitch though, I've not found anywhere to park the camper van.

I've also included a trip to Christchurch in the itinery. Part of it is morbid curiousity to see how badly its been damaged. It was such a lovely city, and I hope that they decide to re-build the historic centre as was, rather than re-build an ultra modern centre. I also feel a sense of obligation to spend some money there. With games moving, and people scared to travel there, the businesses will need a boost. From there I've booked a balloon flight over the Canterbury Plains.

From there we will also go on the Trans Alpine Train over to Greymouth and back. I've been told that you become blase about the scenery. 'Oh look, another snow topped mountain'.We will go on a  scenic rail journey from Christchurch to Arthurs Pass and Greymouth, passing  though the Southern Alps from one coast of New Zealand's South Island to the other. We will start off seeing the fields of the Canterbury Plains and farmland, followed by the spectacular gorges and river valleys of the Waimakariri River. The train stops at the alpine village of Arthurs Pass for a short break before descending to the West Coast, through lush alpine beech rain forests to Greymouth. TranzAlpine tran near the Waimakariri RiverThe journey is 223.8 kilometres long and takes just four and a half hours. There are 16 tunnels, and 5 viaducts, the highest being the Staircase standing at 73 metres. I can think of a regular follower of this blog rolling her eyes at these stats, as her husband would probably be quoting these off by heart.
Over at Te Anau, I've booked to go to Doubtful Sound rather than Milford Sound. Big call perhaps, as Miford Sound has always been on my bucket list. So many people have, however, told me that Doubtful Sound is quieter, the trip to it being stunning in its own right, that I've opted for that one.

The above is a stunning view - I don't think that there is a 'loser' in this. Whilst at Twizel, we're going on a Glacier boat, where you are taken right to the glacier's edge. The Tasman Glacier is the only glacier that ends in a lake in New Zealand, and you get to go 'up close and personal' - not with the same end result as the Titanic I hope. At school we were told that 70% of icebergs are underwater, and they are breakaways from glaciers so should be interesting.

I must have a fixation with Glaciers - must have been from my first year at grammar school Geography lessons with Nancy Jones, as Cwms, Tarns, and Corries, mixed with Arretes and Hanging Valleys first got me interested in geography - 88% in my first year exam - I think the highest I've ever got in an exam, and one I didn't revise for because I just knew it. Alpine geography is the Ice Age revisited, and she used to take off her jacket to demonstrate how the peaks were formed by moving her jacket around on her desk, with these huge Margaret Rutherford boobs. I will be reading my geo-morphology text book again before the trip!! The fixation continues with a 4 hour walk up Fox's Glacier. When you google that for a picture to show my blog readers, up pops a certain blue bag of mints with a polar bear on top. Not quite what I was looking for.

For a bit more of an adrenelin rush, we'll be going Jet Boating on the Shotover River. 360 degree turns means that the camera will stay in the camper van, and I'll be purchasing the expensive picture that I will inevitably have my eyes closed on as a souvenir of the visit.

Copyright has stopped me putting more pictures on the blog - google some of these sites - the views are immense. I can promise you this though, I won't be Bungey Jumping in Queenstown, I'll leave that to the real adrenelin junkies, having watched my son do it off Auckland Bridge, was enough to get my heart racing, but I will be taking in the karma of the place as the New Age capital of the world.

New Zealand lacks a bit of culture and history. Inevitable when you are less than 200 years old as a country. Dunedin is part of that culture, and history, and whilst there, I can make a comparison with Edinburgh, see the photos and artworks in the railway station and walk up the steepest road in the Southern hemisphere. I may even take a trip around Cadbury's factory (why leave Birmingham?) and Speight's Brewery (why leave Burton?).

Planning the itinery has been incredibly exciting, as people have been suggesting do's don'ts and what can be done in the time. My next planning is for the North Island - as some of my volcanic geo-thermal geography will be called into action. Who said three years studying geography in Aber wouldn't come into use at some point?
      The FInal Countdown - Europe. I must really stop picking these pompous rock songs to illustrate my blogs - people will get the worng end of the stick with my musical taste. (But at least its not Abba).

      Sunday, May 29, 2011

      29th May - Lazy Sunday Afternoon

      The morning after the night before, and as usual, I'm awake hours before the others. Staying in Kew, I walk donw to the river and contemplate the day.

      I love cities and London's one of my favourites. Too many people never get under the skin of it as a city, never really venturing from the sights of central London and the West End. As I walk towards the river, I go past two blue plaques on the wall of two houses close to the Coach and Horses pub where we stayed. (Great rooms - fresh air and open windows, and large breakfast with fish on the menu as well.) They illustrate why I love London so much. If you look hard enough, there's always little hidden gems, with a story behind them.

      The first celebrated the fact that Camille Pissaro stayed there for a year. The peacefulness of the morning, and the changing light by the river, must have inspired him.
         Three houses further down, Arthur Hughes lived and died. He was a Pre - Raphaelite painter, who exhibited at the Royal Academy, most famous for Orphelia and the Long Engagement, and also illustrating books - mostly pictures of wistful women. Artistically an interesting contrast with Pissaro. Hughes' paintings are accurate and have incredible detail. Pissaro's captured the general light and colour of a scene, very rarely have people in, with little detail - just the 'impression' of the view at a point in time and light. Just that two minutes has meant that I've discovered a new artist. In 10 yards two snippets of history.

      The tide was out, revealing the mud flats. At the east end of the city these flats inspired Charles Dickens to write 'Our Mutual Friend.' There was a variety of waders looking for food instead of mud larks looking for the treasure revealed by low tide. There were joggers, dog walkers, cyclists and rowers enjoying the peace and tranquility intermittently disturbed by planes in Heathrow. The contrast after the excitement and crowds of yesterday is marked. In 20 minutes in the morning, I've experienced a little more of London, and I liked it.

      Lazy Sunday Afternoon - The Kinks - OK so its the morning, but I close my eyes and drift away.

      28th May - We are the Champions

      Well, I finally know what it feels like to support a winning team. The nearest I've ever got in the past (Burton RFC excepted), is when I went to the old Wembley to watch the Baggies win the old Div 2 (Div 3 in old money Div 1 in new) Play Off Final 3-0 against Port Vale. 41,000 boinging their way to victory. I ended up with bruised shins (from falling off a chair I was boinging on) and a sore throat. For those of you who have never seen it, boing involves all the fans jumping up and down, whist singing 'Boing Boing, Baggies, Baggies,' in a repetitive manner when scoring or winning a game. (not a common occurrence in the grim days of the 90's.)

      Anyway, today I watched the Sarries scrape home against the Tigers. Revenge for last year when Tigers nicked it in the last couple of minutes. It wasn't the free-flowing rugby of the week before, but it was just as compelling. At the death the Tigers pounded the Sarries line for over 10 minutes but the defence that has served Sarries so well this season held out. Sometimes rugby is like a game of chess, as two teams try to unlock the opposition's defence. Today was typical of that.

      The atmosphere in the game wasn't quite the party atmosphere of last year. Too much boo-ing of kicks, not helped by the kickers re-setting the ball. It makes no difference to the players, but you just worry that the sense of fair play is slipping from the game, by such boo-ing.

      Sarries aren't a liked team. Not really sure why, maybe its the money the owner has pumped in, although Cecil Duckworth at Worcester has done the same, maybe it's the tight game plan, of this season, although they have the ability to cut lose and play a very exciting brand of rugby. (Best try in the Aviva Premiership this year, was Schalk Britz 80 yard scorcher against Gloucester in April). It was the way that Wasps and Tigers played to dominate the 'noughties' (I hate that phrase). Maybe its the perception that the team is all foreign players, but there were 13 English players on show for TIgers and 12 for Sarries - hardly a difference. It's not Sarris' fault that Johnno only picks players from the East Midlands to play for England (with the exception of big ugly slow Bastards that appear in midfield - Banahan and Tindall anyone?) Anyway, to quote Millwall fans, 'Nobody likes us and we don't care'.

      After the game we played the usual 10 minute game of hunt the missing mate in the bar as we got separated. Please Twickenham, can you find somewhere on match days to put more loos - temporary ones will do as a 10 minute wait in unacceptable, at the price of the tickets.

      The Karoake afterwards was jumping as Sarries and Tigers fans mixed and partied. Long may that continue. We don't need to be locked in a stadium while the opposing fans leave.

      On walking towards Richmond, we went past the Sarries coach just as all the players were leaving. I was suddenly 10 again, as I had my picture taken with my favourite players, (sorry to the ones I missed as there was probably another 20 I should've had my picture taken with. Schalk Britz, Matt Stevens, Andy Saull, (one for the mantle piece), Alex Goode, Jacques Burger, Jamie George etc. And my all time favourite player and in my not so humble opinion, the best player of his generation, Richard Hill. That one may also get framed. (Sorry A, you'll be cut off that one.)

      Then we went to the Sun Inn in Richmond, which had a great party atmosphere, even though the Man U/Barca game was on TV. It also seemed to be the referee's end of season party, and this time it was F's turn to be 10, as she met Dave Pearson the referee. 'Ooh, I'm your biggest fan, I love you,' she said. Dave Pearson replied, 'Oooh, I've got a fan club of one....' Top bloke - apparently he's reffed at Burton. You can feel quite self righteous about rugby and its camaradarie, spirit etc. but name the sport that allows the match day ref, (who'd given a contraversial yellow card in the first 6 minutes of the match, even though it was the right decision, but I would say that wouldn't I - it was a Tigers player. If killing the ball in the 60th minute is a yellow card, then it is in the 6th minute.) Where else could Wayne Barnes, match day ref, have a few drinks with friends, chat to fans, not be challenged in any other sport. I can think of one particular sport, which has lost control of discipline, as it moves to a multi billion pound business (in off shore accounts of course), where a similar decision would've meant death threats and a police escort for weeks afterwards.

      Wearing the Burton shirt in a rugby pub makes you realise how well known the club is nationally. We met a guy who played for the club in the late 70's early 80's who's now part of Footscray rugby club. There was also half the Sarries team from the same period, who had connections with the town and had played for Staffordshire. The spirit of rugby continues.

      I don't like Queen - all that pomposity in their music, but whenever there's a crowd celebrating a win, their music just works. We are the Champions and Tigers aren't anymore.

      26th May - School's Out

      After three relaxing days in Cornwall, and me fantasizing that maybe life was nicer (and better) there, I was brought down to earth with a bump. I'd been in a fantasy world, the food as better, pace of life slower, and people friendlier and politer.

      We made the mistake of travelling at school home time. At home, I won't go out in my car any more between 2.30pm and 4pm. I just don't need the hassle and whilst it sounds melodramatic, I don't want to be the one, tha knocks a child over. I want to keep the risk at a minimum.

      It's also very stressful to drive at that time. In Rolleston, the mums park, blocking drives, my road (literally parking on both sides, so its impossible to get past), on corners, not leaving 'pull in gaps'. I've been stuck in a stale mate twice. I've not moved for 10 minutes where a bus and a lorry met along the road, and neither could reverse easily or pull in anywhere. I've been made to turn around and go another way home, (ironically past the school). I've also had abuse thrown at me by a mother who cared so much about children's safety that she abandoned her car on yellow paint. (PS I pointed that out to her). So if I'm not at work, I don't go out. I can understand the morning drop off, there for 30seconds on the way to work, but I just don't get the afternoons.

      (It seemed to be the same in Devon, with cars parked on already narrow roads making them almost impassable.)

      If mums, and it is usually mums, were picking the kids up on the way from work I could understand, but they aren't. They are all made up to the nines, half an hour early in their cars to stand in the playground and gossip whilst the passing traffic negotiate the chaos outside.

      This is why working mums refer to housewives as JUST a housewife. I didn't have time for the niceties of small talk, I was out earning a living, and then returning home to keep the dust down and look after my son. Meanwhile, you've washed up a few pots, wandered down to some coffee morning, perhaps done a bit of shopping and then pushed a hoover around. Please will you explain how this hard work stops you walking down to the school instead of driving. Please can you explain how parking erratically so that passing traffic wouldn't see a child run between two cars into the road is safer. I've had this revolutionary idea. Leave your car at home, walk down to the school and pick the kids up. Then walk home again. You'll keep your weight down, you won't need that expensive gym membership, the kids will do some exercise, and get rid of the excess energy from being in a classroon all day, and you can gossip with the mums on your way home. One hour on foot, or one hour doing your make up and gossiping.

      Living close to a school, I always thought that I missed out, because I didn't have to walk far before I was home, and I envied my class mates who walked home together for about a mile. There was always a Nice or Cow Biscuit waiting for me (malted milk), and a drink. It's not always the food that gets children fat, its the lack of exercise the get. I wonder why children and their mothers are getting fatter.

      Schools Out - I understand why a bloke with long hair and Kohl Eyeliner is called Alice Cooper.

      25th May - The way we were

      I know that when you look back in time, things are rosier, skies bluer, smiles brighter and whatever else Gladys Knight tells us our memories should be. I can remember lots of bad times as well, embarrassing moments, things I could have done much better etc.

      Whilst in Cornwall, not only was there a greater love of food, there seemed to be a slower pace of life. Every pub or restaurant we ate in had a note on the menu, asking customers to be patient, as each meal is cooked from scratch. 'Dear impatient person, real food does not go ping when it is cooked. However simple a menu is, it is prepared with the care that good food deserves. Get over it, you're probably on holiday, so relaxing is what you are supposed to do, not run at 100 miles an hour.

      One of the things that you forget you've missed is customer service, untl you experience it again. You know the sort of thing I mean, 'Good Morning', 'Can I help you', 'Just call if you need anything', 'Please', 'Thank You'. None of these need a lot of training, and used to come naturally to all of us whether customer or seller. So why do banks and other services think that dialing a line to Bombay constitutes service. You usually have to key in birthdate, postcode, card number, account number, inside leg measurement before you even get to the person reading from a script.

      Its only when you see service do you realise what has gone. In a M and S Outlet, (not even the stores) in Barnstable, The women enjoyed talking clothes so much to the customer - me, that they helped me chose accessories for a purchase I had made. In another instance in Prestos in Cornwall, a forgotten takeaway coffee was replaced with a smile.

      Maybe its because the customer is important to them because of the huge tourism industry. I'd like to think that it's because they are so isolated from the rest of Britain and the world that they aren't poisoned by bad manners and can't be bothered attitudes that inflict the rest of the retail industry. I really can see why people give up their lifestyles to go to live there, even though the wages are low, and houses unaffordable.

      I've seen it elsewhere as well. In Chicago young men in their twenties hold doors for you. In New Zealand, the place that many think time stopped in the 50's, a rather large rotund lady got her only pair of trousers wet and needed to replace them, and went into a ladies outfitters to get some new ones. They didn't stock her size, and so the assistant rang another shop, asked if they did, and gave her directions to it. I thought this was a lovely story, so told people about it. One of which was a shop assistant. She responded, 'What do you expect, we only get minimum wage you know.' And they don't in Devon or Chicago or New Zealand?

      What they understand is the bigger picture, be polite and helpful and people come back and buy something, which means more money for the business and job security - simple isn't it? Treat people as a human being and they respond positively.

      We could get something of this back if we all want it, hence the choice of song: The Way We Were - Gladys Knight and the Pips (better than Big Nose).

      24th May - Village Green Preservation Society

      In travelling from Bude, through Boscastle, Tintagel, St Isaacs down to Rock and across to Padstow on the ferry, it struck me that in all those small towns I only saw one boarded up shop.

      There were no McDonalds, KFC, Subways, and Greggs in those places, but a variety of other food outlets owned or run by a local. For lunch one day, we had a tasty Cornish Pasty from Presto. It had real chunks of beef skirt in it, and peppery vegetables. Cornish Pasties have been granted PGI status by the EU. (PGI = Product of Geographical Importance, meaning that to eat a true Cornish Pasty, they can only be made in Cornwall.) The ones we had were a million times better than the soggy potato filled pasties that were served to us prior to this, claiming to be Cornish.

      Many of our brands that would be awarded a PGI status were industrialised and commercialised before this could happen. Burton Bitter, Red Leicester, and Chaddar Cheese should only be made in these places, but they are made in factories all round the world. Maybe if PGI had existed 50 years ago, Burton would still have a decent brewing industry rather than the bland Euro-fizz that mascarades as beer now.

      Cornwall is not devoid of supermarkets, each town had at least one, but the Co-op, a significant player in the supply of British Food to British consumers, was also a major player here. Supermarkets aren't shops they are distribution units to supply to the end consumer. This makes the 'far flung' places like Cornwall and Scotland of uneconomic value, when the supermarkets constantly have to exceed previous performances to generate more profit for shareholders, whilst still providing cheap food for the consumer. It is therefore, no wonder that food as lost value in our society, when the value of food has been eroded. The Co-op of course, is a different model, as it shares its dividends amongst its members, and therefore has more freedom to serve its communities and make less profit.

      Cornwall is a rural economy, with farming and tourism being key industries. By the same token, Cornwall falls into what Europe clssifies as Objective One area. This means that the average salary salary is less than half the  European average. In other words, despite perceptions that rural and land ownership equals wealth, this is certainly not the case in Cornwall.

      The reason why independent shops are closing in the rest of the UK is put down to the supermarkets, clone high streets, high rents etc. Areas that are wealthier than Cornwall. Visiting in the early tourist season, with all the shops open, I wondered how they could survive everything else that is killing the high street. Maybe its because the tourists don't mind spending a little bit more on holiday, maybe its because the landlords aren't so greedy about rents and it allows smaller businesses to survive. The clone shops are not really present. No Zara, Next, Primark etc. Supermarkets do have an intermittent presence though, albeit smaller models. People still need to buy Baked Beans, washing powder etc, but these towns had butchers, bakers, fishmongers, green grocers, ironmongers - I even visited a Grocer in Boscastle. Maybe it is because in a county close to its farmers and food, they appreciate the value of food much more and want to support each other by patronage of smaller locally owned shops.

      A few years ago, The New Economic Foundation released a study which claimed that for every pound spent locally, 80p is subsequently spent locally. If you shop in a national chain, the money flows out of the area. This seems to provide a more supportive profitable economy, where food is valued for its quality raher than cheapness, where people look to their neighbours to provide for their needs. Small helps you with being more innovative, use better materials, and respond quicker to customer demands.

      I also wonder if the people running these businesses understand that lifestyle, rather than merely profit is all important, and are prepared to play a long game, and that a supportive community means that all their businesses can make profit. In other areas, once a profit margin falls below a certain threshold, the shop closes.

      Everything I ate was fresh, and had real ingredients in it. It was hot and properly cooked, unless it was some of the excellent Cornish Ice Cream I had. In the rest of England flavour is slowly being eroded from food, to the point where we have to consume huge quantities to get nutrients out of it. We now drink a yellow chemical solution which is called Lager, but had little to do with the excellent Pilsners found, eating wallpaper paste and call it a Greggs sausage roll, or now taking a variety of supplements that if we ate properly we probably wouldn't need. The joy of taste is being lost from eating.

      Closer to home, try Ludlow, or even your local deli or farm shop. Shop local, buy local, eat local, - you know it makes sense.
      'Village Green Preservation Society' - The Kinks, because if we really want good food, quality products, interesting shops and quirky fashions, we can be proud of our localities again.

      Sunday, May 22, 2011

      23rd May - Four Seasons in One Day

      One of the best things about being away for the weekend is the following morning's inquest on the previous day's events. As we laughed about what went on, we also help each other remember funny stories that we've forgot. After such a good day yesterday, my spirits were restored. there is nothing like a good night out with friends to make you smile, and thinking back usually means more smiles during the week.

      We met up with K and R. R is white, and K black. Something that isn't usually significant in storytelling, except it is an integral part of the story. Pontypridd is a small (ex) mining town north of Cardiff, famous for the 70's Lions, Wales and Ponty front row. They were all miners or from mining stock. Going there feels like a walk back in time to the 60's where men were men and women got beaten for not having their dinner on the table. Mining is a man's job (by law, as well as the dirty sweaty working conditions). It's inherently working class, and white. The only black face seen in mining towns are when the miners come up from the coal face, and the pit baths are broken. K was invited the run the line for a game at Sardis Road. Its a hostile passionate place, a bit like the Shed at Gloucester or the Crumbie at Tigers. Partisan, referees are given so much stick if they do not win the crowd's approval. The referee that day was Nigel Owen, the first openly gay referee, who is also easily in the top 5 referees in the world, (although he does have a quirky style). To complete the PC ref's panel was a woman. Andy Gray and Richard Keys would've been rubbing their hands with glee as they could be patronising to women, their favourite hobby. The PC referees had a rough time, in front of the stand, but only for their decision making.

      Hangovers can be judged by the amount of sugar in the morning tea, and whether there is a second cup. The kettle was on before the first cup had been finished (two sugars). As we relived the night before, we remembered the super-heroes sat behind us. The usual, Batman, Captain America,  Spiderman and Val Doonigan, complete with Aran Sweater.

      We also paid to have our picture taken with the Heineken Cup - the European Cup of rugby, only to realise afterwards that it was the European Cup - for the Champions League - hopefully won by an English team next week - Manchester United, even if for the rest one the season, its anyone but Man U. Looks very similar to me.
       We argued over how many shirts a club had in Cardiff - not the blue of Leinster, and the green, yellow and black of Saints, but the Black of Ospreys, which lost badly to the red of Scarlets. Well, I suppose that's the best you can hope for ladies, I can't see that intensity of those shirts in HQ next year, the same as the Leinster blue.

      There's always a missing phone, friend or memory. usually the friend turns up, but a new phone number as to be learnt.

      The thing about lack of sleep and hangovers, is that however lively you feel when you wake up in the morning, at some point you are going to get hit by the exhaustion bus. Even when alcohol was on my agenda, I always tried to get back to Burton before the exhaustion bus hit me, so I left early, even though I did not have a head ache. After the rant that I had about Strensham services, on my return visit, there was coaches and coaches of  Devon based supporters clubs going up to watch Manchester United pick up the Premiership Trophy. I wondered how many times, they sit and laugh the next day about their adventures. Or is it all statto stuff? How many super injunctions their players are holding over our allegedly free press? I wonder how long the injunction will hold....I am sure a variety of precedents will be set, but everyone knows now, Mary Poppins, so you may as well save your money and focus on saving your marriage.

      A rag tag of thoughts, reflecting on a really good weekend and random thoughts when driving tired.

      The other weird thing about Wales/England border is the way that it seems to stop raining when you cross from West to East. Going from East to West, the rain seems to start. This morning I drove through rain wind and glorious sunshine to get home. The choice of song today, was from a cd in my car, is Crowded House, Four Seasons in one Day. Another county, another weather condition.

      22nd May - Rockin All Over The World.

      Wow! What a game! A game without a refereeing contraversy. In fact was there a referee? Mr Poite, Sir, I hope that if France aren't in the World Cup Final in October, you are.Two teams who wanted to play rugby, and over the course of the competition, the best tow sides by far. Leinster showed character, steel and oodles of skill, but Northampton will develop more of the character and steel, in time, they have the skill. Just read the match reports on the game.

      If there was a conspiracy, it is whether someone swopped the shirts around at half time, such was the dominance of Northampton first half, and Leinster second half. In most of the other 9 finals I've seen, twenty two points would have been enough to win, and sixteen points behind, enough to lose.

      One of my favourite authors and comedians, is Spike Milligan. An original and unique style, often quoted as an influence. A big Irish rugby fan. Whenever I see Leo Cullen, the Leinster lock and captain, I am reminded of a Milligan cartoon character, I think from the world War 2 series. A long nose, sticky out ears and gangling arms, Cullen is the human face to the Pte. Milligan character. Look at the cartoons and you will see what I mean.

      I sat by an old man, who at the end of the game I discovered was Scottish. He'd been taken to the game by his son on a bonding weekend. To him, the game, the atmosphere, and the company of his son meant that, whatever Cullen was feeling as he received the cup, the man was enjoying it just as much.

      The Millennium did a brilliant job. Watching from pitch level at the halfway line, the after-match celebrations with fireworks, dancing fountains and coloured flame throwers, and lametta, sounds very show-biz, but such was the spectacle, that we'd just watched, we'd have been wow-ed by the opening ceremony of the Olympic games. In fact the song that I chose today, Rockin' all over the World, by Status Quo, I wouldn't give house room to normally, the the three chord wonders sound fantastic in a stadium full with celebrations.

      At the end of the game, we walked past the journalists' box, where they were typing furiously to try and capture the immenseness of what they'd seen. Guess what DT and ST, Eddie Butler can write his own report, and was never going to allow you to comment on it, or talk to you - he's got 1,500 words to write by 9pm. (And boy was he typing furiously.)

      We always get into Cardiff a couple of hours before kick off, to soak up the atmosphere. Fans were already gathering, many different shirts, rugby tours, flags, fancy dress, and stag weekends all mingling together. There was a French tour with pink umbrellas, used to stop young and old ladies to give them a kiss before they'd let them pass, rainbow Morph suits, a zoo, drag queens all vying for attention. Internationals never come close, however 'big' the occasion is. Cardiff as a city revolves around the activity of the stadium, but really bars and chip shops, you get the benefit of the extra income, so don't moan if the Millennium doesn't ask you to pay their share of the mess, they don't ask you for part of their profit.

      After the game, we decided to eat that great Welsh delicacy, Chicken Curry off the bone with chips, from Dorothy's in Caroline Street, (Chip Alley). The ballast this provides assists with absorption of the copious amounts of alcohol consumed. Of course being tea-total, this also means that the entertainment is watching the evening unfold in front of you.

      There was a group of blokes in the City Arms. one of them was dressed as the referee. Looking closer at the pink rugby shirt, one of them was wearing, it was the referee's shirt from the game the night before. Apparently, They had been in Amlin's corporate sponsorship, and stripped the promotional mannekin on their way out. With these Financial Advisors, no wonder there was a banking crisis - just a big bunch of kids playing.

      With the kick off being late (5pm), the evening passed by quite quickly, and by 10.30pm, I was ready to go, leaving my mates in town partying. I was asleep in my sleeping bag by 11.30, but an hour later I was back in my car, after a phone call from ST asking me to pick them up. The spots of rain that had started to fall at 10.30 had turned into a deluge. IT's funny you know, on match day in Cardiff, it can be hot and dry all day, but come throwing out time from the pubs and clubs in the city, down comes the rain, leaving revellers to fight for the few non-booked taxis. As I drove back in, people were leaping out into the streets, in the hope that some random car driver would take pity on their cold wet bodies and magic them home into bed. I arranged to pick DT and ST up by Cardiff Castle, a massive medieval building in the middle of the city. Perhaps it was too big a landmark as they couldn't find me. A Corsa is easily hidden by all the Black and White taxis and torrents of rain and Castle. Eventually I agreed to meet them by the Angel Hotel, which also had a porch to shelter in. Even then they struggled to find me. (Apparently in a road as big as a dual carraigeway, I was allegedly hiding in a side street. I couldn't look for them as I'd come out in my pyjamas. As they walked down to the car, I opened the door, to be confronted by a ginger guy who said,' Ugh mumble mumble blurgh ugh'. I would have guessed that he was Welsh or Irish by the colour of his hair, but he could easily have been Spanish as I didn't understand a single word he said. I made a lucky guess, and said, 'No, I'm picking up friends.' He repeated 'Ugh mumble mumble blurgh ugh', and staggered off.

      21st May - Mighty Quinn

      I know that I said earlier in the week that Finals were never classics, in open flowing rugby, and that spectators were intruders in sport, but this years Amlin Challenge Cup really wasn't. There were periods of pressure by Stade, but in the early exchanges, it was the Quins who got points on the board, and moved into an early lead.The game was broken up by a series of knock ons. 'This game needs a try' I thought.
      I was a little stressed when I'd got to Cardiff, the weariness of the situation at work added to by my friend DT, who doesn't do make-up, wanting her nails painted, as she was hoping to see a 'ahem' guest at the weekend. So, on her way home, she went for an emergency manicure. By the vivid pink colour, it was obvious that Stade Francais were her favoured team.

      At the ground, having missed tea, she was hungry, and went for a glass of wine and some canapes to match her nails. (OK I'm lying there), she went for a pie and a pint. She was disappointed only to return with a Claaark's Minced beef pie, rather than the Steak and Kidney Pie she wanted. 'What do you expect , D' I replied, 'Nick Easter would have eaten the rest before the game.' (NB Nick Easter is England's number 8 and in comparison with the athletic Jamie Heaslip, or Serge Parise on display this weekend, is slow and fat.)

      The seats weren't brilliant, made worse with a boy with a horn, and two Quins rugby experts who, in a crowd that included Irishmen, and Frenchmen, shouted, in a derogatory manner, 'Come on England, let's put one over the French tonight and the Paddies tomorrow.' ( pride in your nationality, does not mean every other race, country can be insulted.)
      It was made worse by their astute tactical summary, such as when Bastrenaud, 19 stone of French Centre crammed into a 5 foot 10 frame, carried the ball to the Quins defence. It took four Quins to tackle him and bring him down'. Ha, he's too slow'. Huh, too slow hey, Stade have just re-cycled the ball quickly to the wing where there was a two on one, as there weren't enough Quins players to defend, but Ugo Monye managed to stop. Brilliant, with that sort of insight, Barnes and Morris should find new jobs. We moved seats at half time, sitting in front of a Welsh couple, complaining about the 'Stereo Morons' and the horn bothering us. The wife warned us about another Quins fan who was a pain. (For the rest of the match he was so offensive, as he shouted, come on Quins, and jumped up and down when the Quins attacked. Passion is allowed, ignorance shouldn't be. There were four Irishmen, supporting the Quins, with one of them a Munster fan, who got confused by shouting throughout the game, 'Come on Munster'. The Welsh wife moaned about Quins all through the game, and was just as awful as the stereo morons behind us.
      At 18-12 to Stade, and 75 minutes played, the try finally came and the game sprang to life. A clever break by Danny Care, and a difficult conversion by Nick Evans meant that the score was 19-18 with two minutes to go. A knock on from the re-start meant a last chance for Stade to attack.  To me it looked like Quins got the nudge on, but the referee re-set the scrum, but as I was not in the referee's position, I might have been wrong. George Clancy, the referee, contraversial at worst, poor in his worst games) leaves me to struggle at times with his interpretations. Anyway, he re-set the scrum three times and eventually the ball came back on the Quins side, and as the clock had ticked over to 80 minutes, the Quins got the ball into touch. At this point the Quins players started celebrating, and the Stade captain Parase was apopleptic. He felt that there was a Quins infringement, and Stade should have had a penalty. The game finally got the drama it desperately needed, and it was over. he stormed off the pitch, and into the changing room. He was still annoyed and inconsolable when he returned. All I can say is that Stade had enough ball to win it in normal play, and really shouldn't need to force a penalty or allow a decision by a referee decide the result.
      At full time, we met with two Cardiff fans, L and J, L had worked with DT. They took us to the exclusive bar at the top of the ground where J told us about getting lost in Castres, France. L got his Sat-Nav out to find the hotel. there was only one problem, it was tuned to have a Basil Fawlty voice, so when the direction was 'In 800 yards, turn left. It would have been half a mile, but that bastard Napoleon made us change'. Not a safe thing to be heard In France at night.
      Felippe Contemponi, the Argentinian Fly Half, who had signed for Paris, walked past. I pointed him out, but before we had chance for a photo, he disappeared, very quickly when he saw us pointing at him. DT had spotted him earlier at the bar, but hadn't realised who he was. Well he did once have a full head of hair. To make up for that, Roncero, the Argentinian prop, had his picture taken with us. Unfortuately David Bailey had camera shake, so we have no proof.
      At half past eleven, we were asked to leave. As we walked down the stairs, several of the Stade team met us going the other way into the after match reception.. Their after-shave smelt really nice, but they had forgotten their razors. Outside, the Stade fans waited patiently to speak to their team.

      Mighty Quinn - Manfred Man, the Quins theme song, played during the after match celebrations.

      20th May - You don't bring me flowers

      Driving down to Cardiff on the M5/4, I had to have my usual 'wee break' at Strensham services. I can see the logic of grabbing a coffee, something to read if on a coach, even pay for the over-priced stale muffin, but I still wonder at who wanders into a service station and thinks 'Oh look, a folding chair with an England flag on, I've been looking everywhere for one of those, how opportune.'
      By the same token, who sits at home thinking, 'I could do with some leisure wear, let's have a drive to Cotton Traders at Strensham services. We can have lunch there, the Burger King is so tasty, (what a shame there isn't a Greggs), and with a bit of luck we can change our telephone provider at the same time. Then on the way back, we can get stuck behind the accident going north somewhere around Worcester, (on a good day, the M42 most other days).
      The Marks and Waitrose I really love. I know that they are expensive, but if you've been away for the weekend, and know that there is nothing in the fridge, you can get a loaf, and 'something nice for tea'. Before that, you went to the fridge, hoping that you wouldn't have to scrape the mould off the cheese, and hope that the bread had normal levels of penicillin. Now what would be really useful , would be a shop selling spare knickers, replacement tights, a toothbrush and a cheap Pac-a Mac, as I've left my cagoule hanging on the kitchen door at home, and it always rains at full time in Wales.
      Another thing I wonder about is who buys flowers from a garage. I don't know why they don't have a sign on stating'Guaranteed to last until you've paid for them.' If they were a sick pet, they'd be at the Vet's, as you increase the price of the petrol, by putting the wilting flowers to the Snickers for sharing, barbeque bricquettes, and a pine car freshener. The thing hat really winds me up though, is the small car driver. The Mini, Corsa, Fiesta, 500, it doesn't seem to matter, that queues to put petrol in their car, and must have the petrol cap on the same side as the pump. Nine times out of ten this will cause a queue, blocking me and the transit driver, from using the three empty pumps. Guess what little car driver, if the petrol pump stretches round the back of that big transit van, it can even stretch, around a car half the width, and we wouldn't have to queue, leaving the engine idling causing global warming.
      Back to the flowers, apart from the poor old lady at the old folks home, who is grateful for any visit, and an acknowledgement that she's still alive, who else would be thrilled by them. Mind you, the briquettes always come in handy. It's been sunny all week, lets have a BBQ at the weekend. It never rains on Saturday does it?

      The other wonder I have is why do Welsh service stations toilets smell worse than English ones? Just what is in that Brains bitter and Lava bread? The ammonia could strip the paint off the Severn Bridge.

      'You don't bring me Flowers' - I think this was by Barbra Big Nose Streisand and Neil 'Combover' Diamond. Damned awful song, damned awful garage flowers.

      Thursday, May 19, 2011

      20th May - Too Much Too Young

      When I see all the teenage mothers queuing aoutside Greggs for babies' breakfast, I feel a great deal of sadness and anger. I think about what our grandmothers and mothers had to fight for in terms of equality, in terms of respect by men, and I see it all thrown away.

      My grandmother was a wise old woman, who was definately the Matriarch of the family. You wouldn't ask her to explain the Big Bang theory, but if you wanted to understand human beings she was the one. She was part of a generation that backfilled, like their mothers before them, men's jobs whilst they were away at war. They proved far more than the Suffragettes did (although the political pressure still needed to be applied). They proved that women can do a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. They earnt the respect of their menfolk, and it was a major factor in firstly women getting the vote, and although it took 30 years, equal pay for the same job. (Notionally).

      Both my mother and grandmother (as did many more of their generation) had jobs and reared children. They were pleased to be able to contribute to the family budget in what little way they could, and they had pride in their work - well my mother did. I think my grandmother was too much one of the girls and found crafty ways of stopping the production line so they could have an extra coffee break. She once got the sack for throwing a chicken out of the window for the hell of it.

      It allowed my generation to have aspirations beyond what they did. We believed we could have a career for the first time, even though we still had to fight prejudice. Why did I have to do needlework and cookery rather than the technical drawing that I would much rather have done? My mother taught me to cook, and bake, it was part of mummy daughter time when we were growing up. I didn't need to feel sick with dread every Thursday morning as I dragged my ingredients, sports kit and art shirt to school on my bike, (good timetabling that). I beat my cookery teacher though. She never made me cry. the only one in the class not to do so. I didn't want to take shorthand and typing lessons, as that would mean me ending up as a secretary, I wanted more than that. The careers advice of 'you like figures, go work in a bank', was to reflect the fact that girls left school and within 10 years were married with a baby. Why weren't the girls given advice like' you like figures, be an actuary or accountant'.

      I had a dream to be a solicitor, which for reasons of enjoying partying too much in my VIth form, I didn't quite make. Once that was over, I've forged a sort of career, in which I eventually got a great degree of satisfaction, which sadly has disappeared as I've become a wage slave, and soon need to find a new opportunity. I know during that time, I've been paid less than men of the same level within the businesses I've worked in. At interviews I've been asked if I'm married, have a boyfriend, and when I want children. All illegal but how do you prove it. My current job is the first time I've been paid equal to a man in the same position, so I know how hard it is to prove your worth. Anger at work for a woman is seen as 'the wrong time of the month', even though their male counterpart can quite happily shout at the workforce because the dog had chewed the remote that morning.

      Generally women still aren't quite there, their better work life balance (they have a house to run, want to see children etc.) is seen as a lack of committment. Smoozing around the boss involves sport - golf, corporate hospitality involves sport. Even with an interest in sport, I have been told by suppliers that my presence would make other men uncomfortable - what do they do there - watch lap dancers? In fact Lap Dancing clubs is another way of excluding women from the little boys clubs. Consequently able women still aren't reaching the top of their profession, as you are often judged on your 'political smoozing' of the boss, usually male who feels more comfortable around men, than your ability to get the job done in your contracted hours. I could go on, but I think the point is made.

      When my grandmother was born, women didn't have the vote, when my mother went to work, women were paid a lot less and had careers that excluded them. my generation had career options that had a glass ceiling on, because we were women. Our economic value to society took thousands of years to be realised.

      So lets go back to the teenage mum with a baby outside Greggs. She's probably chosen that as a career option. She may not know the dad. She may not want to know him, and the rest of us, including women, will pay through our taxes. One of G's friends has just been caught. Easy done boys, 'of course I'm on the Pill' at the critical moment is good enough for most men, they are hardly likely to stop and say 'show me the packet' are they?' My grandmother's and mother's generation couldn't live with the stigma, they had babies taken off them for adoption, and reduced their chances of marriage. My generation saw it as a way of reducing life's options. This generation see babies as a career option, providing them with a house, and income. No self respect. They don't know the dignity of a job, earning the respect of men as being capable of doing the job, contributing to the family income for nice things that we would all like to have.

      Apparently its a human right to have a baby. It's no longer a blessing and a great responsibility, as I was taught, that is the most enjoyable experience in anyone's life. It's a parent's responsibility to teach the child to live, love, work, learn and all the other importnat things in life. It takes two to do that or otherwise it's damned hard work, however pleasurable. Women wanted it all, and in my generation very nearly damn got it. Career, family, lifestyle. Thanks to the hard work and vision of the three generations of women before us. And now I see so many  of this generation throw away everything we worked for.

      We have a dignity that they will never have. We have self respect, ambition, pride in what we and our children achieve. Feeding a Greggs sausage roll to a toddler won't give them health or teach them how to cook. Not providing a father figure to them won't give them discipline and football practice. Not showing them that you work for the nice things in life will mean that they will always be untapped potential. The one thing that Givernments can't tax is your self respect, and yet it is one of the most important things that you do have.

      You have approximately 30 years of healthy productive child bearing years. There is no reason to do it in the first 5 years. enjoy life, have some fun, make something of yourself. ItGet that self respect.

      Too Much Too Young - The Specials, talked about being married with a baby too young. Now all young women seem to want is semen.

      Wednesday, May 18, 2011

      19th May - Time of your Life

      In 2007 the game was held at HQ. Again I was lumbered with 3 extra tickets which luckily my brother-in-law wanted. Lesson here I think - only get 2 in future and then have a pretty good idea who is coming with you!

      The game was a battle of the giants of the English game at that time, Wasps and Leicester. Both pushed the laws to the limits especially at the breakdown. I expected a close tight game, but actually it ended up with an easy Wasps win, 25-7. The game was actually memorable for the guy who retired that day - Lawrence Dallaglio. Past his best, due to a series of injuries, his value as a motivator remained. He was the second of the Holy Trinity to retire. I must be one of the few, if the only person in the world to be at the last competitive game of all three. Neil Back retired on the Lions Tour 2005. To be honest, he was way past his sell by in the League, and whilst being brilliant in his day, it was a tour too far and he was a shadow of his former self. Probably for most of his life he was illegal at the ruck, but he was so good, the referees penalised the opposition. Richie MaCaw enjoyes the same reputation as a Cheat - but if you don't get caught......Richard Hill, the quieter, yet most talented of the three, retired in an end of season game at MKDon's stadium (known as the Moocamp, because of the concrete cows in Milton Keynes), playing for Saracens in a non-descript game against Bristol. His knee was so bad that he should have retired at the end of 2005, when he got injured in the first Lions test. He fought back to retire on his terms, even though he literally limped from ruck to ruck. Such was his reading of the game, that he could get to the right point to get involved even though, for the rest of his life he will walk with a limp. I am an unashamed fan. To me he was the greatest rugby player of his time. The only player never to be dropped by Woodward, the most successful English coach ever. 69 England Caps, with 18 games in a row unbeaten 25 if you don't count the game England lost when he wasn't playing, 6 Lions caps - and the Lions never lost with him on the pitch. The superlatives could continue, but that's not the subject of this blog.

      Dallaglio had an immense presence on and off the pitch. I was at HQ when he scored a try against Wales, carrying 4 Welsh players over the line with him. He was never afraid to show his emotion in playing for England, often having tears in his eyes when the National Anthem was played, most notably in the World Cup semi against France in 2003. He was the character of Wasps, who have never been the same since he retired. He knew personal tragedy, with his sister being killed in the Marchioness tragedy, and so knew the importance of life, family and making the most of your time. Opposition fans used to hate him, but every player that talks about colleagues always says what a top bloke he was off the pitch. And so, when on 70 minutes, he was substituted, the standing ovation he got from 70+ thousand in HQ was well deserved, even though Tigers fans would have barracked him all through the game, they knew a true English legend had retired. As he walked off the pitch, the tannoy played 'Time of your Life' - Green Day. I'm glad that I was there.

      The score at the end of the game was 25-7. The most comfortable win of all the Finals I'd seen.

      The following year I was back in Cardiff, the final time G came with me to watch a Final. Not a great final. On the Friday night we went into Cardiff, and we went into the Brewery quarter for a drink. The town was red. There were Munster fans hanging from the lamposts singing 'Fields of Athenry'. There was only going to be one winner the next day, and it wasn't Toulouse. We went into town early the next day. At 11am the next morning, the Angel had sold out of beer, and was making emergency calls all over the city for beer. Cardiff Rugby Club ran out at 3pm. From comments made by the potboy at the Club, pubs all over the city were ringing round trying to get extra barrels in. The Irish were in town and they were going to party.

      The game itself wasn't very good. In fact once Munster were ahead, they shut the game down to the frustration of the French one of whom, got sin-binned for kicking an offside Munster player up the bum. (An offside Irishman? Surely not!!) Game over 16-13. An easier win than the scoreliine suggests but the worst game of rugby as it also lacked a lot of drama. We had booked a hotel room in Cardiff as we knew taxis would be few and far between. Of course the rate was twice the normal one. This bugs me. Whilst supply and demand dictates, a hotel makes its money on being half full, and offers cheaper rates at weekends when the travelling businessmen don't want the rooms, so why charge more than a business account would pay during the week? Anyway, I didn't sleep well. I never really do in hotels. If they want to make more money, they could reduce the temperature in their rooms by a few degrees, rather than raise room prices, then we wouldn't need to open the window the half inch we are allowed to let the heat out, or have the air con on. The road sweepers were out from 4am in the morning cleaning Cardiff's roads. I could hear snoring from outside the room. It was so loud it sounded as though it was in the room, but I was alone. At 7am I gave up and got up, got showered and dressed, and opened the door to find several Munstermen asleep on the floor in the corridor. The snorer was right outside my door. I went down in the lift. The doors opened and there were more Munstermen asleep in the corridor down there. Finally as I left the hotel, a couple were asleep in the vestibule between the two sets sliding exit doors.

      2009, saw a return trip to Edinburgh, the rip-off capital of Britain. Hotel rooms started at £200 per person. I bought 4 tickets for the game and guess what, I lost money on unused tickets. We could have sold them in other years, but Munster had bought up final tickets expecting to be in it and they weren't, Leinster won. Happily that would also backfire on Edinburgh Hoteliers as rooms were cancelled. A few years ago, on a girl's weekend, we went to Edinburgh for a Scotland England game. Most of my 'tour mates' were Welsh. DT, who booked the hotel, told me that the Scot taking the booking said, 'Oh you're Welsh, that's good. We charge an extra tenner a room if you're English'. Mmm, so it's not just Black people and Gays who get treated unfairly then. But clever, as it's not classed as racism, as colour is not involved. There are more attacks on English people in Scotland than 'ethnic minorities.' Fact. I experienced it myself in a pub on the Friday night. I went to the bar, and asked for two drinks. The guy next to me said, 'Remember 1967. I was also at the 1970 World Cup game supporting West Germany. I also bought an Australia top in 2003.'
      1967 - the Scottish football team were the first team to beat World Cup winners England, after their success.
      1970 - World Cup semi- Finals - food poisoning and some daft selection decision saw England lose in extra time to Germany. (football)
      2003 - England beat Australia to win the World Cup (rugby).
      I was accidently push into another guy, and he spilt his pint. I apologised, even though I had been puched myself. He turned nasty. Luckily my Welsh friend calmed the situation. Give me Glasgow any day.

      So there are people, teams and countries I don't like, but I don't spend money on supporting anyone but... £40 on a rugby shirt for one game. Sad. By all means be proud of your country, but don't base nationalistic pride on hate. (Look at the recent visit of the Queen to Ireland. Most mature Irishmen know that past was bad, but they feel enough pride in their country to look forward not backwards and see the visit as a goodwill gesture. (Along with the £7 billion loan no doubt.) And they still love to beat the English - and do so with an alarming regularity at the moment.

      Edinburgh Council again had done their best to welcome fans, with banners along Prince's Street, free maps and suggestions of things to do. I would suggest that they look at the more personal welcome. On New Zealand websites at the moment (Councils, Tourist sites), they are putting suggestions on how businesses, shops, clubs, communities can make the most of the opportunity by picking a second team to follow. Inviting ex-Pats, holding cultural evenings featuring food, song, beer etc. from their 'Second team'. A way of welcoming foreigners perhaps. Next time its in Edinburgh, I shall stay in Glasgow.

      Anyway, rant over back to the game. Although it was a sell out, there were lots of empty seats. The game was exciting, and the right team won, Leinster beating Tigers 19-16. The scoreline flattered Tigers, who could have nicked it. After the game we went across the road to the Murrayfield Hotel. There was a real buzz in there, and the fans were mingling, drinking, and singing. We got invited to go to a bar in the City, with some Leinster fans. I thought this was a good idea, as it would be harder to notice an odd English person amongst so many. When we got there, it was all bang bang music and stainless steel. I hated it and after about an hour I gave up and walked back to the apartment, (not a hotel - but £50 a night - fair price.) All the pubs full of character, banter and live music and we'd picked one with bangbang music flashing lights in an entertainment centre with a Nando's and Multi screen cinema. Maybe I'm just getting old.

      This brings me up to date. Back to Cardiff again. Friday night is the Amlin Cup. Stade Francais v Harlequins. Apart from the Cup, they are both playing for a place in the Heineken Cup, the Champions League if you like, so it won't be an end of season jolly. On Saturday, Leinster v Northampton in the Heienken Cup. A probable win for Leinster, but Northampton have done so well to get there, and in a cup game anything can happen. Oh and I have a spare ticket again. Next year, I'm just getting my own, and going on my own. It costs less money.

      Reason for the choice of music documented above.

      Tuesday, May 17, 2011

      18th May - Perfect

      In 2005, The Heineken Cup Final was in Edinburgh. because the Finalists weren't Britich or Irish DT left me with 3 tickets, paid for, but she didn't want to go. I took G and W again. I don't know if you've been to Edinburgh when an event is on, but the hoteliers double (at least) what their normal rate is. Naughty. Surely the city is so lovely that you want people to stay longer and spend more money, but no, you'd rather fleece them, and then let them return home quicker. If I get the chance to attend another game in Edinburgh, I will be staying in Glasgow, where there is a much warmer welcome, fairer prices, and to be honest, I'd under-rated the city, from what I'd seen on TV. Its not all tenement blocks, but Edwardian and Victorian buildings - almost Bath-like, with a vibrant city centre, that reflects it's status as the second biggest city in the UK. (It was also the second city of the British Empire, to indicate it's status).

      Anyway, we drove up early Saturday morning, and Edinburgh Council had made a real effort, with signs and banners down the road, a party in the park, and a giant screen to watch the Parker Pen Final. Unfortunately the weather wasn't good, and I offered to take the lads sight seeing. I suggested the Castle, with the Military Museum and Soldiers. K - they are 15 not 5, and were much more interested in going to the Whiskey Musuem. It was cold enough for me to enjoy the whiskey as well. (or is it Whisky?) As they taught us how to drink it, get the right shaped glass, take in the fumes, take it on the right part of the tongue etc., and it was a Single Malt, it was worthwhile, whereas normally whiskey (Apart from Powers Irish) to me needs drowning in ginger. What do you do then? Culture not being their bag, I suggested the cinema, but all the timings were wrong, and we'd missed the start of every film suitable for 15 years olds - guns cars, comedy etc. We found a pool table, and whilst there was no one else in the area, the lads were stopped from playing because they were under 18. Not sure how drinking 3 lemonades would corrupt them when earlier they'd been taught about whiskey, I'm not sure of the difference, so we gave up with Edinburgh and went to Stirling, the nearest place that had rooms at an affordable price. Again wewent to the cinema, but missed the start of the film. Stirling was a small town that felt like you were going back in time. At this point I'd given up. Let's get some beers and go back to the room lads. They of course were happy with this, and after a couple of Buds, joined in the fun of the Eurovision Song Contest. They are competitive beings and that is a competition. W picked Greece to win, (big Jugs), whereas G picked an obscure Balkan country in fancy dress. Greece either won or came highest out of our 'teams'.

      The next day it rained. After breakfast we drove to the stadium where they were virtually giving away the tickets to try and increase the crowds. Shame the crowd was small really, as Edinburgh Council had gone to so much trouble to decorate the city. Get your hoteliers to drop the prices and maybe the crowds would have been bigger. We found a ball and the lads threw a few passes until the game started. The organisers had given away flags for each team. At one point I had three of each. We decided that Stade Francais were the under-dogs, and we would support them. It was their last season in blue and red, before they went down the technicolour and pink route. The game was tryless and went to extra time, where Toulouse kicked two penalties to win, 18-12. Not a great game, but its sport. The teams play for the glory of winning, they don't play to entertain. How many finals across whatever sport you follow, do you rave about the entertainment value of the skills on show. You don't, you rave about the tactics, if you are at the game, its the drama, the contraversy, the atmosphere you go for. It's sport not entertainment, and I seriously worry about professional sport, per se, as it all seems to be dumbing down to please the paying viewer. The sportsman allows you to watch him, not the other way round. The drama and excitement of the Ashes test can never be duplicated in the hit and giggle world of Twenty20. Rugby sevens removes the heat of the battle, the chess element of unlocking the defence. It's shallow. The drama at this game was to see the elation and disappointment of the teams at the end. The Toulouse coach being stopped from coming into the crowd to share his moment with his family. I gave the 6 flags I was nursing all game when I went to the loo, to the boys, and when I got back, they had lost them.

      The following year the final returned to Cardiff. Cardiff doesn't make the same effort, in decorating the city, but probably doesn't need to. On entering the city that night, you sensed the destiny of what was going to happen. The city was red, as the Munster fans moved in. Limerick must have been empty. Again I took G and W. DT and her kids also came. On the morning we went over to the Vale Country Club where Munster was staying in the hope of meeting some of the players. We were not disappointed. As we pulled up in the car park Ronan O Gara walked past. 'Not now lads he said, we're training, see me afterwards.' We followed them over to the custom built sports hall, which contained half a rugby pitch, with artificial grass. We walked in expecting to be stopped, but instead, we found ourselves watching the Munster lineout moves, which at the time, was considered to be one of the best on the world. Paul O Connell and Donncha O Callaghan at 2 and 4, with Peter Stringer collecting the ball off the top. We knew the calls, if we knew the Biarritz coach we'd have made a fortune! We also saw Ronan O Gara lead the backs through their running moves. You sensed from the players that it was their day, and they were going to win. The boys got their pictures and autographs. On getting to Cardiff, I felt sorry for Biarritz. There were hardly any fans to cheer them on, and in the stadium, there were even less around. The stadium was red. Even over the PA system 'Stand Up and Fight' from Carmen Jones was being played, (one of the two songs associated with Munster). The roof was shut. The haunting Irish Folk song 'Fields of Athenry' echoed around the ground. Biarritz got off to a storming start, but in the end A opportunitic try by Peter Stringer, who broke from the bottom of the scrum probably for the only time in his life to score. Game over Munster 23, Biarritz 19. Destiny fulfilled. Party time in Cardiff. We went out of teh ground across to the Gatekeeper where we watched the fun. The boys started a rugby game, which gradually took over the whole street. Everyone joined in the fun. It was the start of supporters coming for the occasion even if their club wasn't involved.

      I chose 'Perfect', Fairground Attraction, as that summed up the day for the Munster fans, and neutrals.

      Monday, May 16, 2011

      17th May - Je ne regret rien

      I've cheated a bit today. My intention was to post my little stories about the Heineken Cup in chronological order, running up to the Final on Saturday, but I also wanted to practice adding photos to a blog for the first time, and the computer I usually use, (ahem) doesn't have a facility for a photo memory card. Last year's Final was in Paris for the first time since 2001. France has really strict alcohol advertising laws, and also a no alcohol within a sports ground laws. A bit difficult when the sponsor is Heineken, and so they have been excluded for that length of time even though their clubs have done fantastically in reaching the finals, because the sponsor couldn't be accommodated within the ground. Some sort of deal must have been done to hold the Final at Stade de France as the H-Cup Final was held there. Heineken beer was sold outside the ground, but the non-alcohol lager was sold within the ground at 7 euros a bottle.
      The stadium is a really clever design, the bottom few rows can be removed for athletics meetings, it is also the football stadium with the seats replaced within it to bring the fans closer to the pitch, and the big stadium rock bands also use it. The multi-sport use has never successfully be re-created in the UK. Possibly the Millennium, although the grass doesn't grow properly, and Wembley really did miss a trick when it cut out the running track. It is out in the suburbs, a bit like Wembley - surrounded by businesses and Saint Denis, a run down area of Paris. 15 minutes and you are in the centre of Paris though.
      The photos I've attached are to try and capture the colour of the day. One team was red and black, the other red and green. At half time a choir came on and led the crowd to sing 'Je ne regret rien', a classic French song - one of the few that has worldwide renown. At the final whistle, the score was Toulouse 21, Biarritz 19, and the trophy was presented to Toulouse, who were easily the better team, although Biarritz did try and made the final score a bit more respectable. After the cup was presented giant gold lametta descended all round the stadium into the crowd as well onto the winners. The way it caught the sun, was like the lights being switched on the tree at Christmas, with the childish sense of wonder we all feel at the sparkling glitter. The game wasn't really that exciting, not one that stuck out in the memory at all. Most of the players were internationals, not all of them French, but there was no Christmas magic produced by them.

      Each rugby nation has its own culture, the Welsh singing and pink furry cowboy hats, the Springboks, their Braai (barbeques). The French love Jazz, and at the game there were several small jazz bands playing mostly in a Trad style, so often it was sing-a-long, especially on the train back into the city. With the warm sunny weekend there was a real feel good factor about all the city.

      I was also over in Paris for the World Cup and they managed to combine rugby with culture with a certain 'je ne sais quoi'. Over looking the Eiffel Tower was a giant marquee in which was a cordon bleu restaurant with the Eiffel Tower framed in an open window, an exhibition of artistic rugby photography and outside was a collection of cockerels (the French rugby symbol) designed by a variety of modern artists. The music was of course Jazz.

      This time there was a celebration of French agriculture. The Champs Elyses had been converted into a giant farm with produce from all over France. I feel a rant coming on. If only we had the same pride in our food and farmers, not the pretty chef programmes that are on television serving up pigs trotters, but isolate good food from the ordinary mortal. We should celebrate the wholesomeness of well reared well grown food, which the UK is good at. People don't put dodgy petrol in their tank, but they put rubbish in their body, like a sausage and beans pastry, without a second thought. I'll stop now as Greggs will get another hammering, and I'll go off on one. On the Sunday, it seemed as though the whole of the city was out celebrating food. It was was a photographer's paradise, with fantastic subject matter. There was a real interest in what was there, and a sense of pride.

      Up at the Sacre Coeur Cathedral in Montmartre, there was a food fare, where produce could be bought, after sampling the best of wines and cheese, bread and meats etc. Simple food, well prepared. On the steps leading down to the city were different buskers and people sitting around enjoying the warm spring sun, just giving it a go. The choice of song was very nearly 'Losing My Religion' as everyone on the steps, regardless of nationality sang along. Priceless.

      I also visited the Mona Lisa. I don't get it as a picture. The Japanese didn't look at it, they just took a photo. Its not a picture that I think is worthy of the praise that is extolled on it, but as the world's most famous painting, it deserved more respect. For me, the pavement art at Montmartre, and the small Dali exhibition excited me more. More thought provoking,and challenging, than the Mona Lisa, but it is probably like comparing Stephenson's Rocket to the Apollo Space mission.

      There are no funny stories today, no disasters, not even a memorable game, but to me, this was my favourite final, so far. Rugby, Art, Food and Music on three sunny days - pretty much a perfect weekend.

      Je ne Regret Pas - Edith Piaf. The French version of Vera Lynn, although I'm not sure Vera had as many lovers, especially younger ones. As a song it is as iconic and to sing along to in a community situation to the French being as 'White Cliffs of Dover' is to the British. Posting pictures wasn't difficult, but with this internet speed, very very slow. (the subject of another blog?).

      16th May - Lucky Man

      This week is exciting for me as on Saturday it will be the 10th Heineken Cup Final that I've been to. The first one was a snap decision, before the event had become as big as it is in the rugby world. The week before AJP and I decided to take our boys G and W, down to Cardiff to watch the Tigers have a tilt at beating Munster to retain the Cup. The Milennium Stadium is possibly unique in the world, as it is bang in the centre of the city, with surrounding pubs and restaurants, and has a retractable roof. Both mean that the atmosphere is possibly more intense than anywhere else. Fans are not stressed by getting to the ground - once you are in the city centre, there's no queues for transport, and you can leave it a decent time before making your way to the ground (usually crossing the road from the Gatekeeper, the Angel, or St Mary's Street.)

      The Final itself is best remembered for the hand of Back. Tigers were comfortably the better team, but could not pull away from Munster, and with minutes left on the clock, it was still 15-9. Munster attacked and won a scrum near the posts. If they scored from this, then Ronan O Gara would convert, meaning that Munster would win 16-15. The Tigers scrum was strong, but very few scrums go against the head, so there was a real threat. As Stringer, the Munster scrum half who doubles as a model for a leprechaun, put the ball into the scrum, Back, (Flanker) knocked his hand or the ball, and it was enough for Tigers to get a shove on, gain possession and clear the lines. Whilst it could be seen on the main screen, and Stringer was apopleptic, the referee called time, and Tigers had retained the Cup. Munster fans were gracious afterwards, but were obviously aggrieved at the injustice. On the balance of play, and the fact that incidents like this go on in every game of rugby, including when Munster play their slowing the ball down tactics, then that was the end of it.

      We met up with friends after the game in the Vodka Bar. The boys loved it. They went round the corner to 'Chip Alley' as Caroline Street is known to the locals. Nearly every shop is a chip shop, and by closing, it is awash with chip papers, half eaten kebabs, and polystyrene trays. They reported back on the 'tarts' they had seen there. (How do 12 year olds know about such things?) When they got back into the Bar, they saw Alouette for possibly the first time, along with actions. I am not sure mothers should be present, when their sons see their first pair of real boobs, but the verse around 'saggy boobs' produced a pair from a game Tigers fan. The smile on W's face couldn't be wiped off.

      The following year the final was in Dublin, where Toulouse, the powerhouse of European rugby won their first title, against Perpignon. This time we went with DT and JT, and my parents, (handy baby-sitters) for the Saturday night. Lansdowne Road was at that time undeveloped at both ends leading to a wind tunnel effect. Even though it was late May, it was freezing. Toulouse had the wind behind them in the first half and scored 19 unanswered points and in the second half, Perpignon scored 17 to Toulouse's three. There was a very handsome Perpignon fan, who DT decided was married. 'How do you know that he's married?' 'Because his wife's sent him out in a hand knitted cardigan and with a big base drum - that will stop him pulling,' came the reply.

      When we went out that night, every bar was showing the Eurovision Song Contest, and people were watching it avidly, cheering every Irish point. We found this incredulous, as Brits we found the whole thing a farce, (and a crime against music). So there you go. The criticism the Europeans give the UK that we don't take it as seriously as they do, even though we are a major funder is true.

      The drama in the following year, held at Twickenham, was the bouncing ball in the corner that Rob Howley dived on to score in the last play of the game, and Poitrenot left to go dead, to win the game for Wasps, and prevent the game going to extra time was dramatic, made more so by the fact that it went to the Video referee who seemed to take an age to give it, and of course, The English Hex over the French in sport continued. The grounds weren't full yet, but each year were getting fuller and fuller. Toulouse couldn't do what the Tigers had done two years earlier and retain the Cup, but they were on of the names that was beginning to appear regularly. After the game, we went up to Covent Garden, to watch the street performers. The lads loved this, especially the Chaplinesque clown, and when N threw a coin at one of them and hit the wooden box the performer was preparing his props in, causing him to leap a mile with the noise (it was like a gun going off), they were in pieces.

      Today I chose Lucky Man - The Verve, as going to 10 Finals, I've got to consider myself lucky.

      Friday, May 13, 2011

      May 13th - Won't get fooled again

      There's a saying that goes along the lines of 'Everyone knows where they were when JFK died.' I'm too young to remember, although I do remember 9/11 and where I was when I found out Diana had died. Whilst she was a good egg, although a little dense and deluded, the death of Mother Theresa the same week saddened me more. Now there really was a woman who'd given up everything to serve those less well off than herself, and yet her passing was lost in the UK by the mass hysteria that followed. By the way Daily Express your Monday headline of Diana was murdered is getting a bit boring now.

      I'm also not sure where I was when Winston Churchill died, again too young, although apparently I was miffed that the Woodentops was taken off for coverage of his State Funeral. Without my weekly dose of Spotty Dog life must have seen very ordinary.

      I do remember when Keith Moon died. For those who are too young to remember, he was the madcap hell raising drummer from The Who. It was around my 18th birthday. He basically drank himself to death - and I think drugs may have been involved as well.

      18th birthday parties were the thing then. There was two a month starting with mine, as my birthday was a September one. My mum booked the Methodist Church Hall through a friend - probably became an ex-friend shortly afterwards, and drink and rock and roll was the order of the day or night. We spent the day doing the buffet, my mum gaining a lot of credibility amongst the lads for using 'real butter' not marge on the cobs. (by default that probably gave me credibility, although my mum did fall into the 'fit mum's' category, and I never fell into the 'Fit girl's' category - only the 'good mates' category.

      After the party, which was a good one, although sadly I can't remember a lot about it - apart from some neighbours complaining about the noise. Still wanting to carry on with the celebrations, the Plough lads and I went round to MW's house to drink whatever was left of the alcohol - Babycham!! About 2am I walked round the corner home. (although at that time of the night, I ran past the graveyard. A few years later a mate of mine fell asleep in there on top of a grave on his way home, imagine the poor soul who saw him 'arise from the grave', they probably still sleep with the light on.) The lads walked the other way into town.

      GVH started talking about Keith Moon, and his party tricking of 'Mooning' at the audience. Of course some of the lads didn't know what Mooning was. So, the next car that passed, GVH dropped his trousers and showed his bum to the driver. The lads obviously thought this was funny, and one by one, they joined in. Eventually another car could be heard, and they quickly strung themselves out across the road, and eight of them dropped their trousers. On came the blue light, and they all had a lift to the Police Station.

      The Desk Sergeant started taking details, name? where are you going? where have you been? As the lads answered, he went white. His 17 year old quite shy daughter had been to a party in Rolleston - what on earth had gone on, and was she safe? I think she had to be dropped off and picked up for some time after that.

      'Won't get fooled again' is my favourite 'Who' hit. The drumming on there is genius as Moon changes the pace of the song

      Wednesday, May 11, 2011

      12th May - What made Milwaulkie Fanous

      Today I got confirmation of my leaving date. Sadly, the organisation I work for is closing, due to Government budget cuts and new Policy direction. Whether this will be successful, we will see. It is an exciting time, but also scary. Exciting as I look for a new challenge, and scary as I don't know how long it will take me to find and I am unsure of the lifestyle change it will bring with it.

      It got me thinking about other times I have been between jobs. The first time was when I worked in a pub for 6 months as a barmaid. There's something about pubs that Governments don't get. In Islington perhaps things are different, but normal people don't have dinner parties every night, they used to go down to the pub to chew over the fat of the day. Its also done in churches, hobby clubs, and anywhere else people go to socialise or partake in an interest. Its a sense of belonging to people with common interests whether that be geography, faith, hobby or a taste for a particluar type of beer. That is your Big Society. That is where people look after each other, but the Government has moved us to a more secular society. Once smoking was banned, Government has started going for the drinkers, imposing what they consider to be the side effects of it. Yes there are wife beaters, drunk drivers, wino's, alcoholics, but generally they aren't found in pubs. They drink at home sneakily. Funny how pubs have been part of our society for 100's of years, but the bad side effects of alcohol have only increased since supermarkets used slabs of Wife beater as a 'Loss Leader'. You were looked after in a pub. It used to be part of your rites of passage, having a beer with your mates, your first pint with your dad. If you got out of hand, the publican used to tell your dad as well as dealing with it.

      More sense is spoken in most pubs in the UK than ever is in Westminster. They understand that daft ideas and new laws will have implications that no Government has thought through. The law that changed Beer companies from brewers to property companies for instance, has removed the community aspect of drinking. Early doors is not the same if its served by a kid who doesn't know how to pull a pint of real ale, in a barn, with fake wood or steel everywhere. And why wasn't KFC, Burger King subject to the same law? Both only offer Coca Cola even though other Cola drinks are available. Ending the tie, started the end of community pubs.

      The pub I worked in was in North London, called the Builders. Let's leave it as loose as that to protect the innocent. It was run by a very dodgy character from the East End who used to be in the Rag Trade and probably knew the Krays. His wife even had a name, Pearl, that only Eastenders called their little girls, as I've never heard anyone else called it outside the M25. They were probably alcoholics, as there wasn't a landlords tap, unless vodka and lemonade was it, as I had to put a new bottle up each session I worked, even though most of the punters drank real ale. The point was though that he was a character, that encouraged all walks of life to visit, providing good beer. In the Lounge at lunch time was the Executives from the businesses -accountants, lawyers etc. Greene King IPA was their lunchtime drink, with a sandwich. In the Public bar were the fitters from the Gas depot next door. They drank the same. The pub didn't have Euro-fizz, and so the bar staff had to pull a good pint or the punters went elsewhere. Early doors were the commuters, coming in on their journey to and from the Tube Station. That couple of beer gave them chance to unwind before going home, or getting on the crushed train. Then later the couples came in, a pint before a meal, to meet friends. Lads used it as a meeting place, before going 'Up Town', or during the week just to discuss how Spurs were going to put one over the Gooners.

      Because it was a community, the bar staff were part of that, and often joined in the conversation, either to listen and join in or for people on their own to talk to. I remember one guy coming in and I had a bet with that the West Indies cricket team would win the forthcoming test series 5-0. They were that good. (Richards, Holding, Garner, Lloyd were World Class). He took the bet and paid up at the end of the summer.

      Another day, a lonely old man used to come in for a pint. He used to talk to me about horses. I know very little about horse racing, but what I know I learnt from him. One day he gave me a tip. A sure fire cert.He was a professional gambler, who justified his tip as being that certain by the fact that he lived off his winnings. I've never put a bet on, so I told Pearl about it. She shoved a tenner on to win. It lost. (it could still be running for all I know.) Pearl asked who gave me the tip. When I told her, she laughed 'Idiot, look at how he's dressed - does he look successful?' A lesson in life's characters I think.

      The pub was a managed one, and once a month, the stock taker/auditor came in. This meant a lot of frenzied acticity, as the landlord filled up empty barrels with water, to balance the books. Each month there was more and more barrels. Funny that, I remember quite often running out of IPA yet there were loads of barrels in the cellar. The other weird thing was that there was always a 'little' fire the day before the auditor came. Something was usually posted through the letterbox, and the porch damaged. It never involved the fire brigade, or the police. The landlord was always in control of putting it out.

      The vodka and lemonade consumption increased, and the landlord was around less and less. A Head Barman was appointed. An ex-Navy guy who was a Steward in the Navy, and saw this as real power, as he ordered me only to work in the public as his seniority meant that he worked the lounge. Pillock. I'll just take the money, because in 5 years time, I'll be something and you'll still be pulling pints.

      Shortly after I returned to the Midlands and got a job in a brewery, and my career slowly started. About a month later, the landlord was killed in a fire in the pub. This time the fire brigade was called. His wife and baby were saved, his mother in law didn't make it. Both were found by the baby's cot. I often wonder if he slept too heavy as a result of the Vodka, and it all backfired on him.

      His wife, who on her appearances in the bar, used to first with a young man nearly half her age. Soon afterwards they were an item. That's what 'local' pubs give you - a complete cross section of life. It's impossible in the barns they call pubs now to have stories about such characters.

      Not sure who the song above is by. I know Dean Martin and Rod Stewert recorded a version.

      11th May - Driving in my Car

      I really am grumpy today. I've listened to the news on my commute into work. Apparently the Government is going to continue the good work of the last Administration in the persecution of motorists, by introducing a set of on-the spot fines (£80-£100) for minor driving offences such as undertaking, pulling out in front of other motorists, etc.

      What the news article didn't say is who gets to keep the money. Perhaps if it is to fund the police force, then we might actually see some police on the streets, as they strive to earn money. (I can't remember the last time I saw a 'panda' car driving around - probably because they can't afford the petrol.)

      I don't know where to start with my rant. The first and most obvious thing is that they are offences, and often offences that are caused by or lead to road rage. Under-taking being the first offence. I see this every morning. It is caused by another motorist who thinks that it is his/her divine right to drive in the middle/outside lane, because the inside lane is for lorries, the middle lane for cars and the outside lane for faster cars. I've even heard it described as the 50 mile an hour lane on motorways. Wrong, each lane apart from the inside one is an overtaking lane. Once you have overtaken - move over. It's surprising how much congestion there is around your stupid actions, and who can blame the professional driver from becoming impatient and using the inside lane. It also happens on the A38 through Birmingham, which 5 years ago had a bus lane, which no one used. This caused an incredible amount of congestion, and a change in colour of the Council removed it. Five years on, many drivers are not aware of this and still continue to drive in the outside lane while the inside lane is empty. Am I going to use it, until I need to move into the right hand lane - too right I am. The same goes for our two wheeled friends. As a matter of course, they regularly undertake, to move up a line of stationary traffic, because they are thinner. Is this an offence? Probably if it means another £100 in the coffers.

      Cutting drivers up is a frustration that I see everyday. Why do lorries pull out at the last moment on the A38? I mean that tractor (which shouldn't be on a road with a speed limit of 70mph anyway for safety reasons) didn't appear like a genie in front of them. As for the idiot on the trike, I could go on for hours about his lack of concern for his own personal safety. Yes he's entitled to be there, but so are the other faster wheeled vehicles who are prone to go faster, and may make a mistake. Still you'll have the moral high ground in heaven. Lorry drivers - I know that there are a lot of idiot drivers on the road, I'm one, but using your indicators a nano second before you pull out is not appreciated, as I am already braking.

      How will the police monitor all these offences? The only way at the moment is if there is an accident,as surely they are not going to drive up and down different roads all day waiting to pounce. Of course we have those wonderful cctv cameras. As the most watched nation in the world already, I am sure that these could be extended to include roads. In fact, we could also have them over fat people's fridges as well, and make eating a cream cake an offence for anyone with a BMI greater than 23. Now that would have an impact on the economy, (and Greggs), as the NHS would then get more resources for their obesity clinics.

      It's the sense of motorists being an easy target that frustrates me. Of course it is only the motorist that is causing global warming. (We must have been around when the Midlands had a tropical sea, and the UK had mammoths). The electronic goods such as computers, which are seen as the savious of the economy, don't use energy do they, nor are they made of oil based products, or use the roads to get to the shops. The food we eat doesn't need pesticides does it or need picking in the fields? We all enjoy finding half a grub in ours apples. Pesticides= oil based product.

      However, it is solely the motorist bearing the brunt. I analysed my mileage recently. On a normal week, I do less than 40 miles a week unrelated to getting to work. Less than a gallon, Less than £6 worth. Yet I put £60 a week in petrol in the car to come to work. I use my taxed earnings to put that in my tank. So I need to earn £90 gross to do that. 80p of each litre goes in taxes, excise and VAT on that excise. So to have the privilege of going to work, of that £90 earned, £30 is income taxes and NI, £35 is excise and VAT, and £25 goes in the price of fuel. Bad oil companies or bad Government? (I used £1.35 per litre as a ball park figure).

      For that I enjoy the privilege of speed bumps, which means I drop down into 3rd or 2nd gear dependant on height - more petrol used, so more revenue to the Government. No wonder they are everywhere now. Even the main roads aren't maintained now. Repair seems to consist of re painting new white lines or different coloured tarmac. That is unless they can think of putting parking metres or yellow paint in to earn more money.

      And then when they repair roads, it takes years even though the Japanese repaired a road within a fortnight of the earthquake, as the Japanese realised that people go on roads to earn money. Yep to carry round the food and drink, pointless electronic gadgets that we are told we must have to generate earnings for American or Japanese conglomerates and Chinese manufacturers. There's over 20 miles of roadworks on the M1 being 'worked' on at the moment. Speed limit 50mph to protect the workforce. Who are invisible, underground, or perhaps not there for the majority of the time. So actually we could go faster couldn't we? Probably during daylight hours as most roadworks are overnight jobs now. The Ministry of Transport could also do what we are taught as kids. Just take what you want and when you've finished that, you can have more.

      Of course we could use public transport, Apparently more people are using the train now. Yep, driving to the station, paying the extortionate parking fees to stand until they get to their destination. Usually standing next to someone with BO, or a garlic eater, or halitosis, to have to walk in the rain to their workplace. Still High Speed Rail 2 will sort that. I am sure that the motorists are paying for this, as well. That 15 minutes will make all the difference to Birmingham, even though the station is on the edge of the city and the journey into Brum will take the 15 minutes saved. Or we all commute to London on it. So really no benefit to lifting the strain on the train network at all hey? But a new toy for the boys to play with.

      Of course we could catch the bus. If there were any. I think I started off with this rant when I started my blog, so will stop now.

      There was a time, when there was a more vertically integrated society. You worked and lived locally, goods weren't moved around the world, you ate locally, and bought what you could locally. As the world has globalised, and we've chased cheaper and cheaper goods by exploiting Pakistani or Indian child labour, then more and more of the costs have externalised, and been put back on us as taxes. I am sure once I've thought that through, there's a blog in that.

      I like policemen. I've had some good banter with them many a time. Most joined to protect their communities against crime, and violence. Which obviously doesn't necessarily generate income, unlike motorists. I worry for their morale. They can issue tickets to motorists or they can make the streets safe, and our homes secure. I just wonder what they'll be told to do.

      'Driving in my Car' Madness. The name of the group says it all. Driving was once fun.