Friday, 28 November 2014

Black and White Friday

Unless you actually have a life, you'll probably be aware that today is Black Friday.

And I'll be honest with you, I'm still not entirely clear what that means.

I know it's an American thing, certainly, coming on the day after Thanksgiving.  I know it has something to do cheaper TVs.  And here in the UK, it seems to involve lots of people in tracksuits punching each other.

It was with all of this in mind that this morning I went out for a run and chose to waddle past Asda, which I know has played host to some of the best Black Friday scraps since the British dawn of the phenomenon.

And here was the scene outside.

As you can see, not too busy after all.  So I thought I'd pop in to see what all the fuss was about.  When I reached the man in the yellow, luminous jacket, he told me I'd have to join the queue.

"But there is no queue," I gently informed our hero.

"No sir, but there was one at 5 o'clock this morning," he said.

"Right.  But there isn't one now.  Can I go in please?"

"Certainly, sir.  Once you've joined the queue."

"There isn't one."

"You have to follow line of where the queue was."

"So you want me to walk through all those barriers when the door is just behind you."

"That's right, sir."

So I did, I really did.

And what did I find behind the magic door?  Lots of TVs available at their normal price.  And Terry's Chocolate Oranges on offer for £1.

After brief consideration, I chose to leave empty-handed, mainly because I had no money on me anyway.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Feed the Whites (chocolate if you have any)

You'll probably be aware that Band Aid 30's "Do They Know It's Christmas?" has stormed to the top of the UK singles chart after selling 312,000 copies in its first week.  At 99p a download, that's £308,880 raised - probably around the same as the stars and/or their record companies spent on private jets to get them to the recording studio.  (One Direction apparently needed two because band members don't get on).

Hopefully Bono has bought a copy to listen to whilst filling in this year's tax return.  At around about three minutes, the song should easily be long enough.

I'll forgive Coldplay's Chris Martin for any potential hypocrisy because I quite like him.

But I digress.

As it turns out, "Sir" Bob Geldof's reworked tune has some competition this Christmas time - and there's every need to be afraid.

Because on Friday morning, Jamie and Charlotte will join fellow classmates at Guiseley Infant and Nursery School to sing "a selection of songs which will be specially recorded onto CD available for parents to buy." (Source: School Newsletter).

What a responsibility. So much so that, this afternoon, I insisted that they started rehearsals in our kitchen.

And the early signs were good.

But speaking as their agent, I will nonetheless insist to headteacher Mrs Bell that Auto-Tune voice enhancing facilities are made available.  Better safe than screechy.  

Friday, 21 November 2014

Three shirts, one sad dad

I'm the proud owner of three Ireland rugby shirts, and here they are.

On the left is the original, which is around 30 years old - and isn't really an Ireland rugby shirt at all.  It was actually my "Houston House" jersey at school, which I asked my late grandfather to sew a badge and number onto (they didn't actually sell replica kit back then).  But the great Willie John McBride agreed to sign it whilst attending the Oliver Turkington Memorial Dinner in September, thereby making it more Irish than most things.

On the far right is jersey number two, which I bought early last year and which saw me through two Six Nations campaigns, including Ireland's championship-winning effort last season.

Ah, happy memories.      

So we move along to Ireland shirt number three, in the middle, also known as "the new one."  The Irish Rugby Football (IRFU) changed both kit supplier and sponsor in the summer, leaving me with little option (in my view) but to go to the shop.  But I only did so after conducting some research.

First, how long would it be before the IRFU changed the jersey again?  At least two seasons, I found out, which incorporates next year's Rugby World Cup which Ireland are destined to win, instantaneously transforming my shirt into a collectors' item.

Secondly, how tight was it? These days, rugby jerseys are generally available in three different styles:

  1. Matchday - the actual shirts worn by the players, skin tight and designed to mould to your body shape;
  2. Kids - normally made of cotton and nice and comfy for the young 'uns;
  3. Dads - somewhere in between, not too shiny and a big baggier to allow for beer guts.
Thirdly, where was it on offer?  Answer - Sports Direct in Coleraine.

So, when I was home last weekend, I visited said clothing outlet to buy the dads version of the brand new shirt.  

I intend to wear it for the first time tomorrow when Ireland play Australia.  The game clashes with the Arsenal v Man U football match, which will obviously take precedence on pub big screens across England.  So I'll be watching the boys in green at home on the sofa, with a pint of Guinness as my only company.

I'm 42 you know.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Memories to try to remember

Welcome to "rehab," otherwise known as my sofa in Guiseley.

Yes, I came back yesterday from a fine but typically unhealthy long weekend on the Causeway Coast of Northern Ireland.

The first evening - Friday - with an air of civility at the Coleraine Old Boys' Association President's Dinner at Royal Portrush Golf Club (home of the 2019 Open Championship).

Until this lot got involved.

If you recognise the faces, you will require no further explanation.  If you don't, best leave it there.

But it was good fun.  I seem to recall.

After some rest and recuperation, it was off to the home of football, the Coleraine Showgrounds, to watch the Bannsiders make mouths of themselves in a 2-1 defeat to Dungannon.

The last time Dungannon won a game was the two teams' previous meeting (according to my mate Dean).

A few pints later, and it was out for my dad's birthday.

Praise be.

Then a boozy Sunday lunch not many hours afterwards.

Followed by the Ireland rugby match in a pub and a night with friends in another pub.

I stopped taking pictures at that stage as pointing the camera became an issue.

I'll be off to bed shortly.  I expect to be there for some time.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Good things happen to good bar people

You might remember, back in August, I told you about the launch of a little campaign to ensure that Clare Johnston - Northern Ireland's greatest living bar person - was united with her rightful title.

Well, last night, it happened.

And here she is with her award.

Yes dear friends, in a glitzy reception in thon Belfast, the Queen of the Railway Arms in Coleraine was formally crowned as Best Bar Person at the Ulster Pub of the Year Awards.  (The Railway Arms also made the shortlist for Pub of the Year).

Those of us who know Clare and understand how deserving she is could not be more proud.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Proper Charley

It's a jaw-dropping day for many on Planet Earth with news that some hairy Europeans have managed to land a dishwasher on a comet travelling at 30,000 mph.  Who'd have thought.

But that's nothing compared to what Vanessa and I were told at Jamie and Charlotte's parents' evening just a little earlier.

Whilst both are reported to be doing well in their respective endeavours, it seems their behaviour is a little different under the school/nursery roof than at home.

Here, their joint presence is like having the TV and radio on simultaneously with the volume at full blast.  

But at Guiseley Infant and Nursery School, their teachers/carers advise that they are relatively quiet in comparison with many other inmates.  This has come as something of a shock.

Let me give you an example of why.  With Jamie at Beavers tonight, I was making tea for Charlotte and chose to address her as 'Charley Farley' (as I do from time to time).

"My teacher doesn't call me Charley Farley," she enunciated without a breath.

"She says, 'Good morning, Charlotte.'  Can I have my tea now please?!"

That's my Charley Farley.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

The War game

I spent a large chunk of yesterday morning trying to convince Jamie that, in life, it's the taking part and not the winning that matters most.

Fast-forward 24 hours, and this morning's lecture was all about the many brave soldiers who died fighting for our country.  This was to ensure he was fully briefed in preparation for joining big cousin Jack in the Guiseley Remembrance Sunday parade.

I explained that this year's commemorations were all the more special because it was the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War.

And I told him about his great grandfather Jack Layberry, an Englishman, who was posted to Northern Ireland with the British Army during the Second World War.

"Did he win?" asked Jamie.

OK, so sometimes winning is a little more important than the taking part.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Ginger winner

I was going to entitle this post "Ginger whinger" (which rhymes) - until I had a bizarre bit of luck.  Let me explain.

Like many fortysomethings, I'm a fan of Chris Evans' Radio 2 Breakfast Show.  (As a twentysomething, I was also a fan of his Radio 1 Breakfast Show until he went mad and they sacked him).  And thankfully Vanessa - almost but not quite a fortysomething herself - has bought in.

If you have too, you'll know all about CarFest - allowing you to skip the next paragraph.

For those of you still here, it's essentially a three-day family music festival with added cars, planes, helichoppers and fairground rides.  And there are two, CarFest North (in Cheshire) and CarFest South (not in Cheshire).  Musical entertainment at CarFest North 2015 includes the Boomtoom Rats, Billy Ocean, Texas, Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott, Seasick Steve, Level 42, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Midge Ure and Level 42, with more acts to be announced.  So all good.  And tickets for both events - held next summer - went on sale this morning at 8am.  You're up to speed.

If you're rejoining me, welcome back. Right, so as tickets went on sale, I had my laptop, desktop and mobile phone all tuned to the CarFest North ticket buying page and ready to rock, with Vanessa perched on her iPad. The 8 o'clock pips went.  And the scramble began.

At approximately 0802, my laptop advised that one family weekend ticket with camping had been reserved.  Easy.  I entered my details and pressed the confirm button.  I was taken to a page saying that all tickets were sold out.  It was 0804.  Great.

Spitting ginger feathers, I went onto the Chris Evans' Facebook page to find out how other people had fared.  Many had experienced the self-same outcome.  But then a lady commented that she had refreshed the ticket page a few times before being successful.  So I had a go.  I got nowhere.  At 0851, I refreshed again and was asked for my payment details.  Bingo.  I entered my details and pressed confirm.  I was told all tickets were gone.  Great (again).

As 0930 approached and the Breakfast Show reached its end, Chris Evans announced that both CarFest events were officially sold out.  Well done him.  I pressed refresh one last time.  I was asked to enter my payment details.  I pressed confirm.  I was taken to a new screen which advised that we were going to CarFest North. The ticket confirmation email arrived shortly afterwards.  And thank goodness for that.  I now need a holiday.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Mr Fickle

"They" say the gym is good for you but I've always hated it.

That's why I've just signed a 12-month contract at LA Fitness.  Great, just bloody wonderful.  (I invite you to spot the irony).

The thing is, after last month's Great North Run endeavour, it was painfully obvious to me that my half-marathon days are definitely over.  Too far, too much training required and too old.

Also, whilst running up and down a road is healthy in lots of ways, it's also unhealthy in lots of others.  Think knees, feet, ankles, back.  Plus, although it leaves you with big leg muscles and lots of puff, the rest of your body is pretty much neglected.  That's why I, for one, have weak arms and not a single can in my tummy pack.

So the gym it had to be.

I went this morning.  I ran there, I concede.  Before 20 minutes on one of those exercise bikes with a proper chair for middle-aged people.  Followed by another 20 minutes trying to make my arms stronger by lifting weights.  I'm sure they were longer rather than stronger by the time I'd finished, just like Mr Tickle.  Then I ran back home.

Tomorrow I'm planning much the same.

As I (hopefully) get more into the whole thing, I might attend some spin classes.  Plus a visit or two to the in-house bar; not something recommended to me in my induction but, if they don't think it's good for you, they shouldn't have a bar.

But the truth is, I really can't be arsed and would much prefer to release my inner fat bastard.

Maybe in 12 months.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Daggers (over)drawn

Last week I complained about London bar prices.

But there's little point in getting upset about these things.  They exist and it's best not to think about them.  A bit like Piers Morgan.

It was in this spirit that I returned to the capital on Saturday for a day trip with the male in-laws.

And here they are.

From right to left we have my nephew Jack, brother-in-law Jonathan, stepdad-in-law Mike and - last and by all means least - other brother-in-law Dagenham Dave.

The eagle-eyed amongst you may recognise the location, Twickenham, where England can often be found trying and generally failing to play rugby.

Thankfully two proper teams were on show at the weekend when Australia took on the Barbarians.

It is obviously customary on such occasions to have a pint or two, which we did (other than Jack who's not old enough and is the son of a policeman).

And lo and behold, Dagenham Dave stepped forward to buy the first round.

A couple of quick facts about Daggers if you haven't encountered him here before.  Number one, he's actually from Guildford (but Morrissey didn't write a song called Guildford Dave so he's stuck with the nickname we've given him).  And number two, he's officially the tightest man on the planet, making his decision to crack open his little purse all the more surprising.

But, gloriously, an even big shock lay in store - for him.

"Four pints of Beck's, my good man," said our hero, trying to sound thrilled about his selfless deed.

Four pints poured and handed out, it was time for the fun bit.

"£24, please sir," announced the barman.

It was, without question, one of the happiest moments of my life.

What was not fully appreciated by old Dave when he volunteered to be so generous was that, at Twickers, you also have to buy your "souvenir" (plastic) glasses when purchasing the first drink, which they then change if you go for a refill.

I've rarely enjoyed an alcoholic beverage quite so much - whilst Dave almost choked on his.

Yes, even London prices have their merits.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Blackpool rocks

Good evening from Blackpool.

Yes, after two trips to London this week (news on visit number two next time), I've joined Mrs W and the other two on a little jaunt over the Pennines.

Some people seem to delight in slagging off Blackpool.  But I remain a committed defender.

OK, it's not Las Vegas - it's not in America for a start.  But it is what it is and, based on tonight's evidence, Jamie and Charlotte have enjoyed the experience every bit as much as I did when I first came here with my sisters and grandparents back in 1808 (roughly).

To be fair, not much has changed about the old place since then - with the odd exception. 

This includes the arrival of The Big One, still (I think) the tallest roller coaster in Europe.  I went on it during my mate Dave's stag night in 1997.  And every time I've returned since, I wonder why.  Then Vanessa reminds me I was hammered.  

It's a bit like going up Blackpool Tower, all 518ft 9 inches of it, which I traversed on my (sober) virgin visit. I'll never do it again. It's massive, I might fall out and die so it's best avoided. 

But it's still compulsory to have a peak (from a safe distance).

My personal highlight today was an encounter with Moby Dick.

We'd walked almost four miles to get to the start of the Illuminations and I was famished. (I say "we" but I pushed Charlotte all the way, making me extra-famished).  Now, I'm not the biggest fish and chips fan there's ever been. I like them but I don't get madly-excited.  Until today.

By the time we'd we reached our destination and begun the promised (to the kids) visit to the fish and chip shop, my view had hardened.  I no longer just wanted fish and chips.  Hell no.  I wanted, nay, NEEDED the biggest fish that had ever been landed in these parts. I sent for "The Moby Dick." (And chips, obviously.)

He didn't disappoint.

Neither did I.

With Jamie barred from school tomorrow whilst his teachers train still further, we're all off to some indoor water park located nearby which does sound good.  

Then maybe we'll buy a selection of novelty hats and tee shirts. I might even have my fortune told.

Blackpool rocks. (I'll probably pick up a selection of those too).