Monday, 30 November 2009

Abstract balls

I've slagged off ex-England cricket captain Michael Vaughan a couple of times on this blog, most recently a couple of weekends ago, for taking himself just a little bit too seriously.

And today I managed to stumble across further damning evidence that the Manchester-born "Yorkshireman" has now officially moved to a new permanent residence - up his own bum.

Here's the text of an article currently on the BBC website:

He bowled over cricket fans during his time as England captain and now Michael Vaughan is hoping his batting skills will hit Cardiff art lovers for six.

The retired batsman may have left the field but he has hung on to his bat and ball - and has used them to create his own collection of abstract art.

Using a technique he calls "artballing" he has batted balls painted with symbolic colours at a blank canvas.

The colourful results are on display at Castle Galleries, Cardiff Bay

Vaughan, who led the England squad to a long-awaited Ashes victory in 2005, said his love of art was cemented in the first part of this decade when cricketing team mate Ashley Giles took him to the art galleries in Shoreditch, during rained off matches in London.

This fuelled his passion for abstract expressionist art and sparked the idea for combining the two art forms of cricket with art.

Escaping to a warehouse in Yorkshire, Vaughan created the art at over 100mph, which he said also provided a therapeutic tonic to his emotional retirement from international cricket.

He said: "It is a very rare thing to be able to follow a career path that you love and the opportunity to combine my two greatest passions - art and cricket - has been a sublime moment in an extraordinary life of highs and low, dreams and sometimes nightmares.

"Artballing captures the drama, speed and excitement of cricket in one precious, dynamic visual moment that, unlike the perfect six, lasts a lifetime."

The former Yorkshire player used his favoured cover drives, square cuts and pull shots to create his art collection.

The From Crease to Canvas pieces include the Day/Night image, where he used white and red balls against a black backdrop and Yes, No, Maybe? featuring red, orange and green to symbolise the universally recognised symbols of stop, go and indecision.

Vaughan's style follows in the footsteps of a long line of artists who practised abstract expressionism or action painting between the 1940s and 60s.

So that, my friends, is "artballing."

And with it, Your Honour, I rest my case for the prosecution.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Muck, duck and an absence of luck

"You don't get owt for nowt," is a saying I've heard several times since moving to Yorkshire six years ago.

But, as the sign above clearly shows, there are exceptions which prove the rule.

I took the picture in Horsforth this morning as we Whites were travelling back from a very pleasant overnight stay with our friends Layla and Simon, who live not far from Otley.

Simon (nearest the camera) whipped up a veritable storm in the kitchen. In fact, his roast duck was genuinely the best I've ever tasted (but please don't tell Jamie his mummy and daddy had little duckies for tea). Also around the table were obviously Layla (furthest away), plus our mutual mates Ewen and Gillian. You already know Vanessa.

And, after dinner, the plates were cleared away and replaced by playing cards and chips.

Poker was the game and, perhaps predictably, I was the first player out. In fact, my chips couldn't have disappeared any quicker if they'd been of the potato variety and served to Vanessa Feltz with salt and vinegar.

Meanwhile, Jamie spent most of the evening sound asleep upstairs in his travel cot. But, as a special treat before bedtime, he was allowed to stroke Layla's pussy.

She's called Pino.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Pudsey oppression

This was the road which runs pretty much along the side of our house earlier today. (The scene actually looked slightly different a few seconds beforehand - until I removed the traffic cones from the pavements to allow prams and wheelchairs to get past.)

This is what the main road at the front of our house currently looks like.

A little further down, you'll find this.

And, if you want to turn right up the hill, this is what you'll see.

But what you'll not spot in any of the pictures is any workmen. Because they, my friends, have been given the weekend off.

I can't quite work that one out.

Hot (and bother)

Is there anything easy about parenthood? I'd say no.

As I mentioned yesterday, Jamie's been a bit on the ill side again this week and his temperature's been high. But we only know his temperature's been high because his brow's been hot and, rather more scientifically, the nursery managed to get a reading.

Not that we haven't tried ourselves. Until yesterday, we were a "two thermometer household." (We'd prefer to be a "two-car household" but, until I get my test, that could be regarded as an unnecessary luxury). But neither of them have been very effective thus far. And the reason is simple. It's called Jamie.

Our first thermometer was one of those forehead jobs that you place (you may already have worked this out) on his forehead (did you get it right?) But he doesn't like anything being placed on his forehead and reacts by wriggling like a snake with legs, making it nigh on impossible to get a reading.

Thermometer number two was bought for him very kindly by my mum and is essentially a very whizzy dummy with a thermometer built in. But, ever one to be helpful, he insists on spitting that out before it has a chance to go beep.

So, yesterday, I bought thermometer number three (above) which is more of a traditional variety, save for the fact that it has a little digital display and doesn't have any mercury in it. (To be fair, it's possible that thermometers haven't had mercury in them for 20-odd years - i.e. the last time I had my temperature taken - but it's really not that important).

There was obviously no way he was going to let me put this thing in his mouth, leaving his armpit as the only viable option.

Somewhat ironically, he didn't seem to be as hot last night when I attempted to do the deed. But I'd paid £8 for this thing and he was going to have his temperature taken come what may.

To cut the story of a three-minute ordeal very short, I held him down, he fought like blazes, I continued to pin him down, he continued to kick and scream, the thermometer went beep, and I got a reading of 38.2C - a bit on the high side.

But given the fact that his face was purple and thick with sweat as result of his efforts to avoid having his temperature taken, this was hardly a surprise.

However, I think I've made my point: there truly is nothing easy about parenthood.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Dog tired

I've been a bit under the weather for the past couple of days (hence no update to this pish since Wednesday), principally because Jamie has been very much under the weather.

He's teething yet again (seriously, this boy is going to end up with more teeth than Jaws - but not Alan Carr) which, in addition to the pain in his gums, means he has a heavy cold, a bad cough and isn't sleeping.

And he didn't sleep last night in a very big way. I don't think either Vanessa or me got much more than about three hours downtime and, despite it being a Friday, it means a bit of an old struggle between now and Guinness / home time.

But, you know, one must put a brave face on these things.

So in an attempt to cheer myself up and hopefully amuse you even a little bit, here's a picture I took this morning of my favourite Bradford shop sign.

Sadly the outlet is long since closed, which is a real shame on many different levels.


Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Michaela's the one on the right

It's not many mornings when you can say you've learnt something before even getting out of bed (don't be mucky!) But today I can.

Michaela Strachan is now very much part of my daily routine - a situation I used to dream of as a tragic teenager.

Indeed, such was the size of my thing for Michaela Strachan (come on!) that I even decided to make a public demonstration of my love by putting a huge poster of her on my bedroom wall. But then she drifted out of my life (or, to be more accurate, they cancelled The Hit Man And Her) and I hadn't seen hide nor hair of her for years.

But now she's back as presenter of Animal Families on Five (which I hope Jamie enjoys but, if he doesn't, then tough).

Today Michaela taught the two of us all about animal families that swim - including mongooses.

And here's the thing. For 37 years (minus perhaps the first three or four when I was wee), I've thought the plural of mongoose was mongeese.

But thanks to Michaela, I've been corrected.

Clearly I'm eternally grateful to her for putting me right, it remains very nice to have her back in my life and long may she continue to reign (again).

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Booked into my own bedroom

I've been sent to my room for the first time in, I would imagine, 30 years. On the plus side, I do have my supper with me (pictured above).

It's Vanessa's book club's turn to meet at our house tonight and non-members aren't permitted to attend (even if the meeting's taking place in their own living room).

I'm also not allowed in because I happen to be a man or, more specifically, a daddy.

Vanessa's book club is actually an off-shoot of her mothers and toddlers group which she and White Jnr go along to every Monday morning. And it appears that not all members (which doesn't include the toddlers who are also barred) are actually into books.

In fact, at a recent meeting (and you do realise Vanessa will kill me for telling you this), the host began the evening by announcing she hadn't read that month's book and then proceeded to get tetchy when others attempted to kick-off a discussion on it. (It's when I hear things like this that I'm reminded how relieved I am to be male).

You'll note in the picture of my dinner (Vanessa calls it "lasagne") that I've been given a glass of wine. I didn't ask for a glass of wine (only because I was about to go and get myself one) and the fact that Vanessa offered me one means she's sucking up. And she's sucking up because Jamie's got a bit of a cough, has been stirring in his sleep for the past couple of nights and she knows that I'll be the one having to deal with him until the "bookworms" leave.

I am quite happy to do this, I wouldn't have it any other way but I'm not going to tell her that on the off-chance that she might bring me up some more wine.

Finally, I'll leave you with a picture of Vanessa's "spread."

Absolute sh*te, isn't it?

Peter Kay Live - don't make me laugh

I felt all smug late on Friday night when, upon arrival in Cardiff, I saw the new Peter Kay Children In Need video for the first time.

Featuring more than 100 animated children's television stars from down the years, it is indeed a work of art. In fact it's brilliant.

But the reason for my smugness was that, 18 months ago, I would probably have known no more than half the characters in it - and most of them were from my own childhood. However, I now know them all and regard them as my friends or, at least, it feels that way.

Barely a morning nor evening goes past for me these days without Peppa Pig snorting, Thomas the Tank Engine tooting or Roary the Racing Car screeching at me from the TV in the corner of our living room - accompanied by howls of delight from Jamie bouncing up and down about two inches from the screen.

The Children In Need video was a great idea from the genius that is Peter Kay and I would encourage you to buy it. But having said all of that, I must say, I have gone off him a bit since Friday night.

You may or may not know that, also on Friday, he announced plans to do four live shows in Manchester next spring - his first in seven years. Tickets were due to go on sale at 11am on Saturday.

So, at 11am on Saturday, I was sat at Wee John's PC in Cardiff all set to buy some tickets. I went on to the Ticketmaster site and my preference was the first night, the Tuesday. Unfortunately the website crashed.

So I tried again - the same thing happened. So I tried for the Thursday. Same thing happened. So, what about the Friday? Same thing happened.

Ticketmaster then put up an announcement to say he'd added another 16 dates to his run. Great stuff.

So I tried each date in turn, several more than once. Each time, the website crashed.

75 minutes later, I was no further forward and gave up.

Later in the day, I logged on again to find that all tickets were gone and, indeed, had gone within an hour of going on sale i.e. more than a quarter of an hour before I'd stopped trying.

But - and here's the thing - eBay, together with the now very large number of spiv sites that sell "spare" tickets, was teeming with literally thousands of them, all priced at a minimum of three times their face value.

I've since spoken to a number of friends who also tried to get tickets legitimately and found that not one of them was successful. But, clearly, a lot of touts and plain greedy bastards anxious to make a quick buck had a great morning.

Surely Peter Kay, as the star of the piece, had the ability to ensure that so-called "ordinary" fans were given every opportunity to see his show without having to pay some greasy-palmed thief for the privilege.

And I give one example.

Those individuals fortunate enough not to have their computers crash whilst trying to access the Ticketmaster site were allowed to buy up to eight tickets per purchase.

But unless you're a teacher or a scout leader (or a tout), when was the last time you bought eight tickets for a show? I certainly never have and a limit of four would have been given a lot more of yer man's genuine (and not rich) fans the chance to see him do his thing.

So I'm very disappointed and, as you may have noticed, more than a little bitter.

As a result, Peter Kay will need to be incredibly funny if my face is to crack next time I see him on our telly (assuming Jamie allows me to turn over). And he probably will be - which makes it even harder to take.


Monday, 23 November 2009

"Yesterday, New Pudsey station seemed so far away..."

I've just done did a little bit of research and found that it takes seven hours and 10 minutes to fly from Manchester to New York. Total distance between the two: 3,346 miles.

This is a very interesting - and genuine - coincidence because that is also the exact same amount of time it took me yesterday to travel from Wee John's teeny tiny flat in Cardiff to the White House in Pudsey. Total distance: 165 miles.

First off, John gave a me a lift round the corner to Cardiff Central train station, where I climbed on this...

...which took me to...

...where I had to kick my heels for more than an hour waiting for the rail replacement bus service...

...which chugged up the motorway before dropping me off at...

...where, after another wait (and a 30p charge to use the loo), I elbowed my way on to this...

...which took me as far as....

...where I hung around for another little while, until this turned up...

...and, 15 minutes later, I stepped off at... begin the seven minute walk home.

Yes, the journey was tiring and, yes, it was an extremely long day. But do you know what the worst thing was?


Every time I took one of the clearly fascinating photos above, at least one person watching (and sometimes more than one) quite obviously thought I was a trainspotter.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

A bit of Saturday afternoon sport

Not long returned from my trip to Cardiff, and it's nice to be back in Yorkshire (where God apparently lives - you may have heard).

In short, yesterday's visit to the Millennium Stadium was one of the most breath-taking sporting experiences I've been fortunate enough to have.

The game itself - which ended in a convincing 33-16 win for the home side over Argentina - was good rather than great. But the surroundings were genuinely awe-inspiring and the view from our front row seats was spectacular.

It was wet outside so they closed the famous roof - keeping the cries of the 53,000+ spectators literally under a lid.

And the Wales fans themselves, famous for their love of rugby, were as witty as they were passionate. I can't wait to go back.

Needless to say I had to pick up a present for Jamie, and a mini rugby ball was the obvious (and some might say lazy) choice. But it took longer to find than you might imagine.

You didn't honestly think I was going to buy him a Welsh one, did you?

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Waking up in Wales

Good morning from Wee John's pokey little flat in the centre of Cardiff where, as the view from his balcony illustrates, it's a bit grey.

More positively, that white construction in the distance is the Millennium Stadium and its got a big roof. So we should be OK when the Wales and Argentina teams run out to commence battle shortly before 2.30pm.

My train didn't make it in until around 9.30 last night. But there was still plenty of time for a few pints in John's local before heading back to this dingy hovel for a takeaway and Children in Need.

To be fair, he did make a special effort to welcome me to Wales - a courtesy he extended to others as the night went on.

And then, shortly after 2am, it was time for me to go to bed and John to return to his Christmas job working as an elf.

Friday, 20 November 2009

All set for a weekend of rugby, beer and big hair

I'm off to spend a couple of days roaming amongst the Welshies - or Welsh rugby fans, to be more specific (same difference).

I've stood outside the Millennium Stadium before but never actually been inside. But tomorrow I break my duck when Wee John and I head along to watch Wales v Argentina.

We've got seats on the very front row near the ten-metre line on the right of screen if you're watching on telly.

Mind you, it shouldn't be difficult to spot us as, other than the Argentinian team and any Argentinian fans in the crowd, we'll be the only people at the game who don't look like this.

I'll try and update this drivel tomorrow morning via John's BBC-issue laptop which I intend to commandeer on behalf of licence-fee payers.

But I've got to get there first, and that might not be easy.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Elephants in the room

I feel a teeny weeny bit smug this blustery morning.

Vanessa had a work thing in Liverpool last night and stayed in a posh hotel (no, I wasn't aware they had posh hotels in Liverpool either), meaning I was on Jamie duty until a few minutes ago when his Grandma picked him up.

And I believe I did a good job - yea me!

To be honest, I think I was just lucky. Jamie's been a bit under the weather for the past couple of days and had to have a quick and pointless appointment with his pointless and always available GP on Tuesday afternoon.

As a consequence, he hasn't been sleeping again - meaning his mother and father haven't been sleeping much either. So I approached the hours of darkness last night with a degree of trepidation. But save for stirring at 4am and again just after 5, he was fine.

He also went down last night without too much trouble, leaving me with plenty of time to get to know our new housemates: Daddy Elephant Head and Baby Elephant Head.

They have a "colour" day once a month at Jamie's nursery which involves the baby-inmates turning up in clothes of the designated colour and then taking part in a series of activities themed around this colour.

Yesterday, if you haven't already guessed (come on!) was grey day and the "headline" activity was making grey elephant heads to take home. Here he is with Skye, one of the very nice members of nursery staff who, I suspect, did quite a bit of the work.

Vanessa sometimes complains that we haven't room to swing a cat in our house.

But hopefully she'll be soft-hearted enough to agree that there is room to park two elephants.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The death of the Great British Post Office

I remember, as a little boy growing up in Coleraine, going into the local Post Office on Artillery Road or to the main Post Office in the centre of town to buy postal orders or, even more excitingly, to cash them.

They were quite welcoming places and, whilst you obviously had to queue, at least you knew what you were getting. For example, if you bought a first class stamp and posted your letter or card before 5pm, you could be certain it would arrive at its destination elsewhere in the UK the very next morning.

And then we turn to my visit to Bradford's main Post Office a few minutes ago.

There's a usually a queue there too, but such is life. However, there was no queue today, just a load of bored-looking people sitting around on newly-delivered soft chairs.

As I moved towards where the queue would normally be, I was stopped in my tracks by a harsh-faced woman who advised that I had to get a ticket.

For, yes, they've turned Bradford Post Office (and several others, I've since been told) into a cross between a delicatessen counter and Argos.

You now have to get one of those print-out slips from a machine - after entering the "purpose of your visit" - and then you're forced to watch your number move along a line on a big screen until it's finally called out.

And you get to witness its progress from a soft chair.

Indeed, for delicatessen and Argos, you could easily substitute a benefits office and a doctor's waiting room.

My ticket said there were 18 people in front of me requiring "counter services," and it took me 20 minutes to get called (not altogether a surprise given that only five of the 16 counters were open. The rest of the staff seemed to be walking around explaining that you had to get a ticket, don't you know).

But had I chosen to be a "special delivery" customer, I would have been "seen" a lot quicker. And ironically, when I did get served and explained I wanted to send my dad's birthday card "first class," I was told I would have to pay extra to ensure next day (i.e. "special") delivery. A first class stamp these days is 39p. To guarantee that my dad's card will arrive tomorrow, it cost me £4.95.

And once all of this was over, the woman behind the counter had the neck to ask if I wanted to apply for a Post Office credit card.

"Will I have to get another ticket?" said me.

"No, you can fill in the form now if you'd like," said she.

"No thanks," said me, again.

And walked out.

Sorry for being grumpy.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Buckfast football on the Bann

It's the night after the night before - and last night could simply not have gone better for Coleraine FC, and my little gathering.

Joined by friends John, Paul, George and, sorry, I've got that wrong. Joined by friends John, Paul, Ben and Robert, I was incredibly proud to watch the mighty Bannsiders trounce Glenavon 3-0 live on Sky Sports 1. And the Coleraine players were a collective joy to behold.

There was a storm parked over the town for most of the day and the game looked in some doubt right up until kick-off - which only served to make me more nervous.

But, particularly given the conditions, the home side played incredibly well and no doubt won themselves and Coleraine Football Club many new admirers (hopefully including a rich Russian).

Sadly, Jamie had to go to bed shortly before the teams ran out, but it didn't stop him getting into the spirit of things while he could.

I'll have to think of a convincing excuse to get the Coleraine FC Supporters' Club (Pudsey Branch) together again soon.

Monday, 16 November 2009

How to start each day with a positive outlook

I bear no responsibility for the following (and apologies if you've seen it elsewhere), but I was amused when I found it in my in-box and hope you are too:


1. Open a new file in your computer.

2. Name it "Gordon Brown."

3. Send it to the Recycle Bin.

4. Empty the Recycle Bin.

5. Your PC will ask you. "Do you really want to get rid of "Gordon Brown?"

6. Firmly click "Yes."

7. Feel better?

Tomorrow we'll do Alistair Darling.

Showdown at the Showgrounds

Big night tonight for my home town as the Sky Sports cameras arrive to broadcast Coleraine FC's game with Glenavon.

It's the first time Sky has shown a match live from the Coleraine Showgrounds - I appreciate that this fact will not surprise you - so it's a big night for a lot of people I know well and I obviously hope it goes like clockwork for them (and the mighty Bannsiders win, of course!)

There was obviously no way I was going to let the evening pass by quietly, so I've invited a few friends over to watch the game with me and traditional half-time football fayre will be served.

I can't wait.

Coleraine v Glenavon, Sky Sports 1, coverage begins at 7.30pm

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Operation make-him-a-paddy-for-rugby-purposes

I am one very relieved Ireland rugby fan.

I've just finished watching a very tense encounter on TV which finished Ireland 20 Australia 20, the boys in green snatching a draw with the last kick of the game.

And thank goodness for that.

Because it means my project in seeking to make Jamie an Ireland rugby fan as opposed to an England rugby fan remains on track.

England were rubbish yesterday and I made Jamie watch it from start to finish. And Ireland weren't great today either but they were still much better than England, Jamie watched it all and even cheered in parts. So undoubtedly a success of sorts.

The next challenge is to ensure he's a rugby fan first as opposed to a football fan.

As promised, Vanessa and I took him to the park this morning to have a kick about, and he had a lot of fun.

But he seemed much more interested in getting muddy than he did the actual football.

This too is a positive sign because, as everyone knows, you can get much muddier playing rugby than playing football.

So my plans are definitely on track.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Ashes hero is dull as dust

A special treat this morning when I accompanied my (other) friend John (McIlroy) to Headingley Carnegie Stadium to watch a live broadcast of BBC Radio 5 Live's Fighting Talk.

If you haven't heard the show before, I suppose it's best described as a kind of sports version of Have I Got News For You. But the four players collect points for being funny rather than correct, and compete against each other rather than in teams.

Three of the four guests - comedian Ian Stone and journalists Des Kelly and Martin Kelner - although perhaps not universally known, had the 350+ audience laughing out loud for the entire hour.

But "star" guest Michael Vaughan stood out for very different reasons. He barely spoke during the 20-minute off-air warm-up. His stories throughout the show were generally predictable and almost exclusively about cricket. And, as soon as the show was over - unlike the other guests who were happy to hang around to speak to members of the audience - he was out the door like a brick through a window.

Whilst undoubtedly a fine England cricket captain in his day, I've long believed that Vaughan is one-dimensional, arrogant dullard. And nothing I witnessed today led me to alter this view.

To be fair, his mood may not have been helped by the treatment meted out to him by the show's host Colin Murray who, I have to say, was brilliant.

I wasn't a huge fan of his either when he first boomed out of our radios and appeared on our television screens (I can be very hard to please). But, since he started presenting sports shows on Radio 5 Live a few months ago, my opinion has changed completely.

Nothing or no-one was free from his sarcasm which he ladled on thick. And Michael Vaughan was often the brunt of his jokes (which Vaughan clearly wasn't happy about).

To illustrate, Murray began the show by predicting Vaughan would be last and that he was only there to plug his new book anyway. And he repeated these points several times during the 60-minute programme. But rather than hit back with a witty riposte or a touch of self-deprecation, Vaughan just sat there looking bored and a bit put out. Very disappointing. And, funnily enough (not that he was funny), he did come last and I'll certainly not be buying his book (that'll teach him).

But a terrific morning's entertainment nonetheless, and a show well worth listening to if you get the chance some Saturday morning.

Football: Video evidence

I'm off to Headingley Stadium shortly to do something which should be a lot of fun. More on that later.

But I did manage to get my hands on a football for Jamie yesterday, albeit a mini-leather job rather than one of the plastic floaty things I was originally after.

We held our first indoor practice session last night, and Vanessa filmed about the last 30 seconds of it before telling me off for teasing our boy.

Click onto the play button if you want to have a look. (Sorry the room's a bit dark).

It's already obvious he's going to be both a moaner and a diver, giving him every chance of starting up front for Manchester United in the years to come.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Batsmallman exposed

In between this morning's episodes of Balamory, Thomas the Tank Engine and The Wonder Pets, I managed to pick up that salaries and expenses details of the BBC's "top 100 executives" had just been published.

So I rushed to work to find out more. Or, to be frank, more on what my tiny friend and Jamie's godfather Wee John Fulton earns and claims.

Because John is a self-confessed BBC big cheese who, according to his own chat, brings in a rather large wedge each month.

But, when I came to examine the list of 100 names, guess whose moniker wasn't there?

Only Batsmallman himself.

Sensing an always welcome opportunity to take the p*ss out of someone who simply deserves to be treated poorly, I gave him a call.

"I thought you would at least have made it into the top 100," said I.

"Aw, but, you see," struggled he, "these people are the decision-makers. I'm more of a, well, facilitator."

Oh right.

So I made him an offer.

"Why don't you fax me your P60 or your last 12 payslips and I'll scan them in and put them up on my blog so BBC licence fee payers can see what you earn?"

"Urrm, no," came the response. What a shock.

But the offer remains. And if I find any stray payslips lying around his flat in Cardiff when I visit next weekend, do not be surprised if they suddenly appear here a few days later.

Failing that, I could submit a Freedom of Information request.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

No balls

Vanessa took Jamie to the park last Saturday afternoon, during which time he managed to make-off with some other child's Peppa Pig football before kicking it around on his own - rather well, according to Mrs W.

He's only got a little ball of his own at the moment (save the jokes, please) so, as a sports-mad dad, the obvious thing for me to do was go and buy him a big one. No problem there. Or so I thought.

Because he's still only 16 months old (albeit a bit on the massive side), I thought it best to get one of those light, plastic balls which the winds tends to blow around - to give him a bit of confidence. Plus, Vanessa told me I wasn't allowed to buy an expensive one. (I wonder if Coleen Rooney will say the same to Wayne).

So I tried Bradford city centre at lunchtime, visiting B&M Bargains, Boots, Primark (surely worth a go) and two pound shops. I returned to my desk with a jumper and sleeping suit for Jamie, and a load of toiletries, sweets and crisps for me. Oh, and lunch. Total cost £28.76.

But no ball.

Then, on the way home, I tried Marks & Spencer - and emerged with a packet of "Was Now" scallops, a bottle of chardonnay and a Peppa Pig advent calendar. Total cost £9.48.

And still no ball.

I'll obviously have another look tomorrow.

Do you know if they sell baby footballs in Next? Or Moss Bros? PC World?

Toasting a gentleman

Other than my family, the two things I miss most about not still living in Northern Ireland are Coleraine Football Club and my local bar, The Railway Arms.

There are quite a few pubs around where we live here in Pudsey, but most of them are as rough as Posh Spice first thing in the morning (I would imagine). And this is a great shame because Yorkshire is rightly famous for its hostelries. It's just unfortunate that our house happens to be next to all the crap ones.

But back to The Railway Arms. This wonderful establishment, beside Coleraine train station (hence the name), was opened several decades ago by well-known local couple Hugh and Margaret Johnston and is now run by their wonderful daughter Clare (who kicked my arse in last year's London Marathon).

We held Jamie's christening do in their new function room and it simply could not have gone better. But there was one thing or, more accurately, one person missing that day - head barman, Seamus Fisher, who sadly had to be elsewhere.

I've known Seamus for many years and used to have the privilege of living next door to his parents-in-law, who were both extremely kind to me.

Even if I haven't been home for a few months, as soon as I enter The Railway Arms, Seamus shouts over to me and treats me like all the other regulars - and it's great. No fuss, no frills but always a good chat and a perfect pint of Guinness, followed by another, and another etc etc. And if any friends or, on occasion, some of Vanessa's family are with me, he never passes without stopping for a chat with them too.

Indeed, a few years ago, I arranged for a group of workmates from Yorkshire to visit Coleraine and, to my mind, no trip there would be complete without a stop-off in The Railway Arms. So I took them in, Seamus sorted us out with a table, got the drinks in and came over to say hello to each of his guests.

It was with all of this in mind that I was absolutely thrilled a couple of mornings ago to open a recent edition of The Coleraine Chronicle and discover that Seamus, pictured above, had been named as the Licensed & Catering News Awards Bar Person of the Year.

How good is that?!

Commenting in the paper, Seamus said was was "overwhelmed" by the award but, typically, shared the credit with the rest of the team at The Railway Arms.

I am absolutely delighted for him, a true gentleman in every sense. And I look forward to going in on Christmas Eve to say well done and to buy him a congratulatory pint - which I'll ask him to pour himself, obviously.

No doubt my father will be with me too.