Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Beast From The East - and a flashback to Japan 2002

The Beast From The East certainly caused havoc on the roads, and Zac finally got the snow days that he has been yearning for! However, it was not without drama. On Wednesday, as the Beast entered the fray, he conducted an impromptu risk assessment from the warmth and safety of our bedroom window. As snow gathered on the streets he delivered his verdict. "It's not safe out there. Its ridiculous that they have not closed school. What are they thinking of?" Off he trudged, but within 90 minutes he was on his way back again. Sally picked him up and he sat in her front seat as headmaster Mr Grieves ushered people to safety around the snow covered school car park. Zac watched on with disdain, and he wasn't slow to voice his opinion. "He's sorry now isn't he? Should have never opened, and now he's got to get everyone out." School closures the following two days were a formality, both announced the day before. It has been suggested that the time has to be made up with schools being opened on Saturdays. I can quite categorically state that Zac will not be participating!

He had another early morning hiccup when I was in Nottingham and Sally had gone to work. I called at 7.45am to ensure he was up, and indeed he was. However, he didn't let on about the drama that had happened in the previous hour. Sally decided to call him at 7am to check he was awake, but there was no answer. She kept trying the house phone, but to no avail. She then decided that his mobile might be an option, though he normally keeps it on 'Do Not Disturb' mode whilst he is in class. For once his phone rang, and he picked up. It was 7.10am. "Where are you?" asked his perturbed mother. "I'm at the bus stop and there's no one here" was his reply, as he considered the possibility that school might have been cancelled without anyone letting him know. When mum explained that he was an hour early and he might as well go back home he was not exactly thrilled!

Ole has applied for a temporary position at the BBC. The problem with that is you have to fill in the same application form whether you want to be an occasional extra or the director general! He called me and we got through it in a series of often frustrating and frequently hilarious exchanges. When it came to uploading a CV he asked, "What's a CV?", whilst the psychometric questions needed a fair bit of explanation.

My stint on Ex Pat Radio with guest presenters Eilidh McGinness and Wendy H Jones is going well, so much so that Wendy has asked me to appear on her radio show. I wonder when folk will call me the tart of the airwaves! This week's guest was Debbie Young from Hawkesbury Upton, the same Hawkesbury Upton that became the home of the late David Beeley, once of this parish! The History Of Zombies continues to sell well, with the first free Kindle promotion due to appear over Easter.

And speaking of Guinness, it is St Patricks's Day so I took this picture for my good friend Clive Ashton who claimed to have 'The Best Guinness in Leek", 

and I made my very own O'Battenburg Cake!

Business continues to be busy, and I went to MMU to see how my groups of students fared in their Showcase. One group were developing a Cookie Policy generator, whilst the others recreated the Tideswell MVC website in such a way that the choir could easily maintain it. Great effort put in, and I look forward to working with some of them in the near future.

Speaking of web development, Zac as done a project to build a site using Weebly. His chosen subject was Zakynthos, and the results are impressive. Maybe I should let him run the company!

I went to Washington DC for four days of strategy and planning - and that trip once again highlighted one of my pet bugbears. Fast Track. If you go through Fast Track its because you want to get through security quicker. A basic requirement of this is knowing what you need to take off, leave on, have in your hand luggage, have in a clear plastic bag, etc. Having paid for the privilege of fast track it is totally annoying when some egit in front leaves his laptop in his bag, is carrying a bottle of water, leaves his phone in his pocket, won't take his shoes off, and wants to debate the liquid properties or otherwise of lip balm. Next time I am going to slip a few grams of cocaine into his back pocket - see how he copes with that!

Monday night was an interesting affair as I got a message saying that there were a lot of sheep, dead and dying, at the cricket field. As I was in Nottingham I could not do much about it, but I messaged a few people to see if it could be resolved. Farmers denied all knowledge, the locals offered to make mutton curry, whilst the local fox gorged himself for several days. Eventually the owner of the sheep was identified though I suspect it was too late for most of the carcasses. Anyway, the sheep problem seems to be more or less under control, However, the mole problem...

And so to an unusual part of my blog. I was flicking through a few old documents and found this narrative about my trip to see England v Argentina in Japan. I've added some authentic pics for effect!

Have you ever wondered who it is that wins magazine and other competitions to win fantastic holidays? Its all fixed isn't it? No one ever really wins. Well I can tell you for sure that these fabulous prizes do exist, and the tale below tells a factual account not only of the competition, but also of the actual trip to Japan for the England v Argentina game in the 2002 World Cup, jointly hosted by Japan and South Korea.

Monday 6th May 2002
Bank Holiday Monday. The only thing worse than going shopping on a Bank Holiday Monday is getting stuck in traffic on a Bank Holiday Monday. This particular Bank Holiday Monday saw us get stuck in traffic on the way to the shops. Still, I discovered that Tesco in Macclesfield has a marvellous array of magazines and I managed to pick up the World Cup edition of “Four Four Two”.

Wednesday 7th May
Confidently announced to work colleagues Martin and Mike that I was going to win the competition in “Four Four Two” after using a bit of initiative. The competition was on a postcard, on one side of which was the competition address, whilst on the other side there was a lot of promotional nonsense from sponsors Gillette, and a question. Who scored the most goals in a World Cup Finals? Easy. Juste Fontaine. I could have put this down to my encyclopaedic knowledge of World football, but in actual fact I had just read an article on the legendary Monsieur Fontaine in the same Four Four Two magazine. Now came the clever part. After filling the answer to the question, I noticed that there was nowhere for entrants to put their name and address. I wrote mine on a piece of paper, sellotaped it to the postcard and sent it off.

Wednesday 21st May
It has been noticeable over the past few days just how many competitions Mike has entered to win a trip to the World Cup finals. FHM, Mastercard, Four Four Two, etc. Martin and myself think it would be hilarious to get one of our mates to phone him up to pretend he’s won.

Thursday 22nd May 4.30pm
I receive a phone call late in the afternoon. Bearing in mind the conversation I had with Martin the previous day, and the fact that Mike and Martin are sat opposite me at the time of the call, I am sceptical. “This is Ernie Johnson from Four Four Two magazine. We’ve just done the draw for the England v Argentina tickets, and you’ve won”. Stunned silence. Furtive glances across the partition showed that Mike and Martin were not on the phone at the time. “You’re joking” I replied. Mr Johnson then went on to explain that he wasn’t joking and that I would receive an email that evening as confirmation.

Thursday 24th May 6.30pm
Mr Johnson was right. There in my inbox was an email from a company called Hill and Knowlton, who happened to be in charge of Gillette’s PR. It offered congratulations and asked that I contact them confirming that I am over 18, and with details of my guest for the trip. When I showed my wife Sally she was, if anything, more sceptical than myself, but then she got to thinking how nice a trip to Japan would be. Unfortunately we had a two year old son at the time, and she decided that it would be unfair to leave him for five days whilst we were both on the other side of the world, so I reluctantly (ha ha) agreed that she should stay home. I ruled my daughter Gabi out as she is only 17, and I suddenly found that I had a lot of very good friends.

Friday 25th May
My daughter is not very happy that she can’t go, and even offers to get a false passport showing her age as 18. A phone call to Gillette confirms that she can actually go, as they only require myself to be over 18 so my choice of guest is settled, but I decided to let her stew for a couple of days.

Saturday 26th May
Sally tells Gabi that she can go to Japan. She hasn’t squealed so much since she met Mickey Mouse in Disney World. My mates at the cricket club are disgusted. They were all very friendly with Gabi as she used to be the scorer, but not any more.

Sunday 27th May
Bizarrely, another lad from the small village of Whaley Bridge has also won a trip to the finals, this time to see England v Sweden. Two other friends are going out there under their own steam, and we agree to meet up in Sapporo.

Wednesday 30th May
Still no sign of any tickets. Is it actually a very elaborate wind-up? I contact Gillette again who assure me that details have been sent out. They agree to fax me a copy of their letter. It looks very official and even names the hotel. Flights are from Heathrow and Gillette will reimburse travelling costs to and from the airport.

Tuesday 4th June 10.15am
Departure day. Sally makes excuses not to drive me to the airport as it would upset our son Ole, but it is really because she was at a Jubilee party the previous day and is nursing a huge hangover. Fortunately there is a bus service directly from the end of our road to Manchester Airport, and I was fairly impressed when it turned up on time, even on a Bank Holiday.

Tuesday 4th June 11.00am
Arrive at the airport to see Marc Wilmots give Belgium the lead against Japan. “He’s in my fantasy football team” I thought. Security has really been stepped up after last year’s terrorist attacks, but one person who doesn’t seem to have taken on board the new guidelines and warnings is Gabi. She placed her hand luggage on the x-ray machine, and clear as day was the outline of a pair of scissors. This caused a bit of a furore, and the scissors were eventually removed from her bag and disposed of by the security staff.

Tuesday 4th June 1.25am
Arrive at Heathrow where the Belgians and the Japanese are engaged in a real thriller. Its a pity I couldn’t catch more of it, but there would be plenty of time for watching football once we arrived in Japan. We made our way to the Japan Airlines check in desk, but predictably this was closed as there were still five and a half hours until our departure. In recent years I have noticed a strange phenomenon about airports. They are almost all full of very expensive shops, and women just love them. Gabi is no exception so I left her to spend my money whilst I waited for the JAL desk to open, or for the arrival of the Gillette representative with the tickets. I remember thinking “I hope we get some freebies as I’m sure I’ve forgotten my razor” just as a girl carrying a sign and looking around nervously appeared. She held up her sign and asked “Are you with Gillette?”, and when I confirmed that I was and gave her my name she gave me a packet with travel tickets, accommodation vouchers and £400 in Yen. I thanked her and went off to find Gabi, with the confirmation at last that it wasn’t a wind up, and that three days from now I really would be watching England v Argentina in Sapporo. The rest of the afternoon passed quite quickly at the airport, though I was a little disappointed with the special World Cup lounge that showed exclusive pictures of the Queen’s Jubilee, totally ignoring the highlights of Japan versus Belgium, China versus Costa Rica and South Korea versus Poland.

Tuesday 4th June 18.55pm
We board the plane and I immediately set my watch 8 hours ahead (I’ve heard that doing this is one of many cures for jet lag), and settle down for a twelve hour flight to Osaka. There were eight different films to choose from, and both Gabi and myself opted for “Monsters Inc”, Gabi because she likes childish films, and myself because my video was stuck on this channel. I managed to read a number of Stephen King short stories before dinner was served, and whilst Gabi left most of her vegetarian offering, I opted for the Japanese meal which wasn’t what I had been expecting. Beef in batter with cold green noodles seemed a bit odd, but I suppose this was a plane and aircraft meals are never the best of cuisine. Gabi somehow managed to stretch out and go to sleep, but I have always found this impossible on an aircraft, so I continued with Stephen King and definitely vowed not to fall asleep after reading “The Langoliers”.

Wednesday June 5th 3pm
How time flies when you travel half way around the world. We land at Osaka airport and I spot a Japanese woman holding up a sign that says “Gillete”. Although our itinerary hadn’t indicated that we would be met at Osaka, she told us that she had booked a meal for us, but “Where are the others?”. It transpired that there were twelve other prizewinners on the trip, and they were all supposed to meet this woman whose name was Iko (pronounced Eeko). After half an hour another pair arrived, a man from Kent and his ten year old son. Iko was getting a little worried so I offered to hold her sign up for her whilst she went off to find the others who may well have passed straight into the main part of the airport. Several minutes later she returned and led us upstairs, where the remainder of our party were waiting. There was an elderly couple from Liverpool who seemed to be accompanied by two younger men also from Liverpool, a young couple from Northern Ireland, a couple from Scotland and a couple from Manchester. The man from Kent told me that his wife had won the competition via Gillette Mach 3, which was not unusual as she had given up work to do competitions for a living some time ago, and she regularly won foreign holidays, cars etc. The Irish couple had also won their prize via Gillette Mach 3. The elderly Liverpudlian man also did competitions regularly and had just returned from a trip to San Francisco that he had won. His prize had come via Gillette’s “Spot The Ball”. The Scottish couple had won via Gillette’s web site, and the Mancunians via “Loaded” magazine (in conjunction with Gillette). So, fourteen people with Gillette and very little else in common, and it reminded me of one of those old horror movies where several people are thrown together by fate, and are then bumped off one by one. So who would be first?

Wednesday June 5th 4.30pm
Iko led us through the airport to a restaurant, which none of us were expecting as it wasn’t long since we had eaten on the plane. Not wanting to offend we sat down in magnificent surroundings, overlooking the sea from the seventh floor of the airport building (Osaka airport has been constructed offshore so the restaurant afforded us spectacular views of the bay and the distant shoreline). Once the waiter had sorted out the mixture of vegetarians, vegans, etc, the first course was served up to the rest of us carnivores, and it was octopus. There was no mistaking that it was octopus, though it was hidden beneath a few exotic lettuce leaves, but I thought “When in Rome........” and tucked in. The taste was surprisingly bland, but the texture was a bit off putting and after the third mouthful I decided to leave the rest. The next two courses were also of the fishy variety, one similar to cod and the other skate. Then came the sea urchin. I wasn’t expecting that and looked enviously at my vegetarian daughter tucking into spaghetti. Anyway, we finished up with ice cream, then we made our way towards the departure lounge ready for our onward flight to Sapporo.

Gabi with the local cutlery

Wednesday June 5th 6pm
The departure gate has two interesting restaurants next to it; a MacDonalds that Gabi decides she just has to visit for French Fries as she doesn’t know when she might get some “decent” food again, and a “Hot Curry” stall that I make a mental note to try out if we have time on our return.

Wednesday June 5th 9.15pm
Make it through Sapporo airport just in time to see Germany take the lead against Ireland. We transferred to the hotel which we were too tired to appreciate, but we decided to take a short stroll around the surrounding area where we found a Pachinko bar (a mind boggling bagatelle style game) and a Spar. Gabi stocked up with biscuits and doughnuts whilst I sampled some of the local beer, then we retired for the night.

Thursday June 6th 9am
After an ample breakfast, which was served buffet style and which was a mixture of Japanese and Western cuisine (though I have never got used to hot dog sausages to start the day) we met up in the hotel lobby for a sightseeing tour of Sapporo. First stop was a shrine at which we were fortunate enough to see a Japanese wedding, but I have never been a great fan of that kind of sightseeing so I was more than happy when we departed for the Olympic ski jump site. The steepness of this was quite frightening to see close up, and after taking a trip up it in a ski lift (and down again by the same method), I gained a lot of respect for the ridiculed efforts of Eddie The Eagle. Our sightseeing trip ended at the Sapporo observatory, an odd mixture of restaurants and shops, but with a view overlooking the futuristic stadium. If ever an alien spaceship was to land, I wouldn’t mind betting that it would look something like the Sapporo Dome.

Not getting me up that ski slope

Thursday June 6th 12noon
We returned to our hotel where Iko offered to walk with us to the fish market, but most of us had had enough of sightseeing for one day, and with the heat and humidity rising we opted for an afternoon in the park. An innocent remark then sparked off a panic that lasted for well over 24 hours. One of the guests asked us where we would be sitting in the stadium, and Iko was amazed that we didn’t have our tickets with us. After brief discussions it transpired that a monumental cock up had occurred and Gillette had forgotten to send our tickets out with us. A few frantic telephone calls later and the story emerged that Gillette had realised their mistake and that the tickets were being flown out by courier. They would definitely reach us by later that day. There was nothing we could do about it, and with Senegal against Denmark just a few hours from kick off we asked Iko if she knew of a bar where we could watch football. Her lack of comprehension was immediately apparent, and she explained that the Japanese do not watch football in bars. They tend to watch it at home and then go out to sing karaoke. She found it very odd that we also have karaoke in bars, but when the football is on the karaoke is turned off. This is almost sacrilegious in popular Japanese culture. There were then rumours of an Irish bar not far from Sapporo station that had a television, but an hour of searching proved to be in vain, and as we met up with various other football fans the story was the same; there were no bars that could be found to watch the football. We were already the best part of two days behind with results, and now we couldn’t even watch live games either. Again there was very little we could do about it, so we got a few cans of beer and made ourselves at home in the park, which by this time was beginning to fill up with English football fans, together with an odd few Argentinians, a handful of other nationalities, and a multitude of excited and very inquisitive Japanese. Sapporo is built in a grid system, with all streets running either north-south or east-west, so it is very easy to find your way around. In the middle there is a long thin strip that has been turned into Odori Park, and this is a traditional meeting place for Japanese office workers, schoolchildren, and just about anyone else who happens to be in town. It was an ideal spot for various football information desks to be set up, and it was taken up immediately by football fans. Banners soon surrounded the picturesque gardens, and after a while there was hardly a spot of grass to be found. As we sat basking in the sunshine, there were a considerable number of Japanese television crews keen to film the throng, whilst the local Japanese would point their camera at you and sit for several minutes until you adopted the pose that they required (which usually involved taking a drink from a can). They were too polite to ask you to adopt the pose (and anyway the language barrier would probably have proven too great), but if they got the picture they wanted they were extremely grateful. I met up with the two other friends from Whaley Bridge, Neil and Dave, who had travelled out under their own steam to follow England. Ironically they didn’t have tickets for the England v Argentina game which were fetching £700 on the black market, but then at that stage neither did we. They had also managed to take in a couple of other games, including Croatia v Mexico, and they confirmed our findings that whilst the Japanese were an extremely friendly nation, they did not watch football in bars. In addition, it was extremely difficult to get any coverage whatsoever of games that were being played in Korea.
Anyone for crabs?

Thursday 6th June 7pm
Still no sign of the tickets. We met up for a “Western” meal of many courses, and though the soup was not too bad, the veal and extremely rare beef were not to everybody’s liking. An interesting topic of conversation centred around myself and my companion, as several of our group, including our guide Iko, wondered whether Gabi was in fact my wife or my daughter. I’m not sure whether they were relieved or disappointed when I told them the truth. Iko then asked us whether we would like Western or Japanese food on Saturday night, as she was leaving us and would have to book it in advance. I asked if the Japanese food would be the same as at the airport, and was slightly taken aback when she told me that that was a Western meal. I felt it was my duty to inform her that in England we do not (knowingly) eat octopus and sea urchin as a matter of course, and she was quite surprised at that. By this time it was early afternoon in England so I decided to ring Gillette. Phonecards and a multitude of payphones made it very easy to call England, though there was no one available at Gillette to help with the tickets, so we went back to our room to watch France v Denmark. A round up show followed, entirely in Japanese, and between my daughter and myself we recognised enough flags to just about deduce the results of the matches that we had missed. The Japan Times, an English newspaper delivered to our room each morning, also helped, but this was 24 hours out of date.

Thursday 6th June 11pm
We returned to the park to find it strangely deserted, then when we got back to the hotel someone from Gillette at last returned my call. They assured me that the tickets were in Tokyo and they would be arriving at our hotel between 12 noon and 2pm tomorrow afternoon in plenty of time for the game.

Friday 7th June 10am
Having been woken by several faxes confirming that the tickets were in Tokyo overnight I was rather tired, but soon came round as we once again made our way to the park. Many fans were staying a three hour train ride outside Sapporo and just travelling in for the game, so the hordes of yesterday became significantly larger today. One of my friends from Whaley Bridge arrived and told me that the other one had gone to our hotel for some reason, but we sat down with a few cans and took in the growing atmosphere. Black market ticket prices were approaching £1000, and a large number of Argentinians had taken up residence quite close to where we were. Ordinarily this might have seemed a little intimidating, but there was never any hint of trouble before, during or after the match. By 1pm I decided to call our hotel to check whether the tickets had arrived, and the language barrier kicked in with a vengeance. “Have you had a delivery for room 711?” I asked. Silence on the other end of the line. “A package for 711?” I pleaded, but all I got in reply was “711”. A second voice came on the line and I was cautiously optimistic when I heard “Can I help you?”. I repeated my first question and was met once again by silence. I could almost hear the confusion, and I half expected the Spanish voice of Manuel to shout “Que?” at me. Then, out of the blue, I got a reply “Yes we have a delivery for room 711”. I then tried to explain that I was in the park and would be there in ten minutes to pick up the tickets, and whilst not expecting them to understand I did not expect to generate the level of confusion that actually ensued. The second friend from Whaley arrived and told me he had left a message for me at the hotel in case we missed each other, then at once we realised that his message was probably the “Delivery”. I returned to the hotel to find several of the other prizewinners eagerly awaiting my arrival. The “Delivery” was indeed my friend’s message, but when the elderly Liverpudlian couple had asked whether the tickets had arrived, the helpful chap on the reception desk had informed them that they hadn’t actually arrived but someone had them in the park and would be there in ten minutes.

Dids with a couple of mini air hostesses

Friday 7th June 3pm
Still no tickets so I returned to the hotel again. Iko was there and she had phoned every courier in Japan to no avail, whilst it was still too early to call England. Then, when we had almost given up on the tickets, a man appeared from behind the reception desk holding a thin, square parcel and asked “Is this what you are looking for?”. It was indeed the tickets, and I sprinted back to the park to tell the others. By this time the local schools had been let out, and the usual inquisitive Japanese had been joined by hundreds of schoolgirls, all eager to join in the fun. After a few more beers I went back to the hotel where our party were gathering for a pre match meal. My daughter had eaten several portions of sweetcorn and potatoes from the local food stands in the park, so she wasn’t hungry, but I tucked in to minestrone soup, pasta and tomatoes that could almost have been Italian.

School's out!

Friday 7th June 5.30pm
Three hours to kick off and we boarded the coach to pass through the busy streets to the Sapporo Dome. On arrival at the stadium there was no congregating to sing songs or soak up the atmosphere, as we were hurriedly ushered through various checkpoints and turnstiles, past armies of bewildered looking police, and into the actual stadium. Beer wasn’t on sale until 45 minutes before kick off, so we bought programs and sat down to take a look at the surroundings. The Sapporo Dome resembles the MEN Arena in terms of noise and proximity to the action, in fact it is unlike any football stadium that I have ever been to. The pre match entertainment of several junior football matches passed the time for a while, then I bumped into Lawrie McMenemy in the gents. He had obviously been harassed by several people, and he was getting pretty cheesed off with one particular fan who wanted to make a video of him. Back in our seats the Irish couple spotted Fat Boy Slim just five yards away. My daughter rushed down to get his autograph which he provided with a smile, then a few others in our group repeated the request. Five minutes later he was swamped with autograpgh hunters as a multitude spotted him, though I’m sure a few of the Japanese were just following the crowd without realising whose signature they were actually asking for.
Lawrie McMenemy in the loo

The back of Fatboy Slim's head and shoulder

Friday 7th June 8.30pm
The Scottish couple had actually threatened to sell their tickets on the black market as they weren’t really interested in English football, but the atmosphere overtook them as they lustily joined in with “There’s Only One David Beckham” and as kick off approached they were as keen as the rest of us. I don’t need to tell you what happened in the game, in fact it is often better to watch on television than in the stadium as it gives you the bigger picture, but what you do get in the stadium is an intensified experience. You may have been a little nervous as Becks stepped up to take his penalty, I could barely look. I left my seat as the ball hit the back of the net and I landed on the row behind, in the laps of two Japanese men wearing Argentina shirts. This was probably even harder to take for them as I was wearing a Brazil shirt at the time. You may have been a little nervous as the Argentinians piled on the pressure, I have no finger nails left. The final whistle went and the place erupted.. The Argentina fans had been quiet for most of the evening, and now they trudged away in silence. In a bizarre twist the stadium announcer actually announced the result of the match, as if no one actually knew it. We seemed to be walking on air out of the stadium and back to our coach, but that was just the start of a night of celebration. All the way back to the city centre our coach was mobbed by adoring Japanese fans, unconcerned that we were just fourteen England fans, and they mobbed us as if we were the team itself.

There was a big cheer when Becks was announced

The final score

Friday 7th June 11.30pm
As the adrenaline of the game subsided hunger took over, and it was definitely a case of “When in Rome….go to MacDonalds” as the coach driver dropped us off at the universal sign of the “Golden Arches”. A Japanese employee of the worldwide corporation was running round with a menu asking people to point at what they wanted (an excellent way of surmounting the language barrier), and despite the place being packed to the rafters we were served and out of there within five minutes. We were in the Susukino district of Sapporo, an area famed for having over 5,000 bars and restaurants, but it wasn’t easy to identify which was which. Most of them had long drapes over the doors and windows, and it was only by peering behind the drapes that you could tell whether they concealed a pub, an opticians or an undertakers. The crowds returning from the game spilled out onto one of the busiest streets in the city, whilst the police looked on unperturbed. Singing broke out, but it was the Japanese who led the way, nimbly climbing onto subway entrances and lampposts to lead the chants from above the crowd. Eventually we headed back to our hotel, stopping en route for an impromptu game of football with some Japanese lads in a shopping arcade, and once again we realised how different the atmosphere was over there as we passed downhearted Argentinians who were still happy to pass the time of day with no hint of malice or trouble.

No idea what the rest of it says but we all know the Golden Arches!

Saturday 8th June 2pm
Where did the day go? Jet lag finally caught up with us as the shutters on the windows kept all light and sound out of the room until early afternoon. I thought it must have been around 7.30am and I wondered what the cleaners were doing hoovering at such an unearthly hour, but when I turned the light on I was amazed to find that we had missed half the day. We quickly got dressed and headed for the park, where my friends from Whaley Bridge were not surprised. They had been offered tickets to the game for £200 but had turned them down as it was too close to kick off time to get to the stadium, then we set about finding somewhere to watch the Brazil game and somewhere to watch the Lewis v Tyson fight the following lunchtime. There were two problems, one finding a bar with a television, and two finding a bar with a television where a pint didn’t entail taking out a second mortgage. After the horror stories back home, and to be fair my friends said that Tokyo was quite expensive, we were pleasantly surprised to find a bar where a pint of the local Sapporo beer was around £3, but they had no television. We tried to explain to the proprietor that we wanted a bar with a television, but even after a few rudimentary drawings we still couldn’t get through to him. In general terms the Japanese understood numbers and a basic sign for drinking, but that was about it.
Absolutely no idea!

Saturday 8th June 5pm
We finally stumbled upon a magnificent, but very basic establishment. We asked “How much for a beer?” and the owner typed “250” into his calculator. This translated to about £1.30, so we ordered three and a coke and sat down to watch the Italy v Croatia game. At half time I had to leave as we had another “Western” meal booked at our hotel, but we arranged to meet up there later for Brazil v China.

Saturday 8th June 7.30pm
Another disaster foodwise, as the beef seemed to have been prepared somewhere close to the cooker, but not close enough to prevent blood pouring out of it. It wasn’t so much rare as still mooing, and most of our party sent it back to be recooked. At least the ice cream was cold, then we hurriedly jumped in taxis (again fairly cheap compared to the scare stories no doubt put about by Western journalists to boost their expense claims), back to the bar that we had found earlier. My friends were already ensconced upstairs as the match was about to kick off, then a waitress appeared at regular intervals to keep our glasses stocked. Tepanyaki (spiced meat on skewers) was also 250yen, so we tucked in to several of these whilst the game was on.

Sunday 9th June 9.30am
After a quick breakfast we had shopping to do, but this in truth proved to be disappointing. There were very few traditional Japanese shops, and the souvenirs would not have looked out of place on the sea front in Blackpool. I did manage to get a model of Spiderman for Ole, and some marvellous “sweets” from the fish market. The fish market was actually a bit off putting, as it contained several very large and very live crabs. Although I’ve never been in the position of choosing live food to be prepared in a restaurant, I decided that I couldn’t do it, even with crabs. We managed to find a bar to watch the fight in, but it was so small that only about ten people could get in and it was already full, so we returned to the park which was a lot quieter, with many fans heading out of Sapporo the previous day. Gabi continued to feast on sweetcorn and baked potatoes, but I wanted Ramen, a dish for which Sapporo is famous. It consists of noodles, vegetables and meat in broth, and whilst this sounds simple enough, there are many different varieties of broth and meat to choose from. The restaurant that we chose had a pictorial menu, which wasn’t much help as the pictures were very small. I chose what looked like, and actually turned out to be, pork, and it arrived in a huge bowl accompanied by a spoon and chopsticks. The broth was very rich and the meat tender, and washed down with a couple of bottles of the local beer it was an excellent culinary experience.

Sunday 9th June 7.30pm
We dined at our hotel which had prepared a Kaiseki banquet, a traditional Japanese meal where the serving dishes, bowls and plates are chosen to perfectly complement the food. We removed our shoes and sat around a low table, then dish after dish were brought to us. Most of them were nice enough, though raw fish isn’t really to my taste. I tried the prawns and the salmon, but I was quite relieved when the next course was slivers of beef that had been well cooked in a spicy sauce. My daughter didn’t fare so well, as the Japanese vegetarian cuisine was unusual to say the last. Jellied potatoes that had been sliced so thinly that they were translucent was just one course, and needless to say she wanted a large portion of MacDonald’s fries after we had finished.

Sunday 9th June 9.30pm
We were now regulars in our little bar, so much so that the owner didn’t even mind Gabi taking a mountain of MacDonald’s fries in there. As long as my two friends from Whaley Bridge and myself kept holding up our fingers and shouting “three beers” they were more than happy. A Geordie, just along the bar from us, had obviously decided to get involved in Japanese culture, to the extent that he was trying to order a beer in Japanese. Both the owner and his cook struggled with the pronunciation, despite the Geordie trying several different Japanese words that, according to his phrasebook, all meant “beer”. After several minutes we got tired of waiting and shouted “three more beers” in the traditional way, and the smiling owner obliged immediately. Resigned to failure the Geordie then said “one beer please”, and he finally got what he wanted. Japan v Russia was on the television, and the bar was quite full, but it was noticeable how little the Japanese drank whilst cheering on their team. One or two beers at the most seemed to be their limit, though this didn’t stop them from screaming wildly when Japan scored, whilst the commentators seemed to be very excited throughout the match, even though there might only be a throw in on the half way line. As soon as the game was over they all left whilst we carried on with more beer and more Tepanyaki. When the time came to leave the proprietor insisted on taking our picture with his Polaroid, and he gave us a snap by which to remember him and his two staff.

Farewell to our little bar

Monday 10th June 6am
An early start for our flight home, and the hotel made us an assortment of fish sandwiches for the journey. These were mainly thrown into the bin at Sapporo airport, from where we flew once more to Osaka. Gabi insisted on more MacDonalds which gave me the opportunity to try the “Hot Curry” stall that turned out to be excellent.

Monday 10th June 7.45pm
Two more flights and we were back in Manchester, sad to have left Japan where the friendly people and the challenging differences in culture make you want to return and stay for longer. Meanwhile, Ole met us at the airport and showed me just how much he had missed me with his first words which were “Have you bought me a Spiderman present?”.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Scary In Print - Scarier In The Kitchen!

A couple of catch ups from the festive period, we went to see Guys And Dolls at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. This fantastic theatre always puts on a good show, and midweek tickets for under 26 year olds are just £7. Get yourself down there.

My surgery developed an infection, so my surgeon prescribed a seven day course of antibiotics. Fortunately, it being the festive season, they were unaffected by alcohol. However, they did provide another conundrum - the instructions said to take them either one hour before or two hours after food. When does that ever happen? Anyway, they obviously worked as a few days later I was given the all clear - and that's that. Twenty five months after a high tibial osteotomy, I now have the legs of an 18 year old. He will be livid when he finds out.

Another good thing happened at Christmas - my credit card stopped working! Something to do with fraud, and I had to get a new card. No spending on it for seven days - and it was more than delighted at this unexpected detox.

The new year brought an unexpected cancellation of Ole's driving test, so we rebooked it quickly and applied for out of pocket expenses (still not paid!) Unfortunately the rebooking was for Buxton, whereas all of his lessons have been in Macclesfield. That probably explains why he failed for driving too slowly! Anyway, all's well that ends well, and on Valentine's Day he successfully passed in Buxton, with just one minor fault. That's 16 minor faults less than I got!

I'm still getting out and about with work - this time to Southampton. Piece of cake! I flew from Manchester, and on the return journey I was still in the office at 3.30 and landed in Manchester at 5.15. Quicker and cheaper than the train. Next stop...Exeter! My new website has finally been completed. Need a few more images - but its a lot better than it was previously!

Legacy IT Consultants Limited

With the MMU students, the broken links app is coming along a little more slowly than I would like, but the Tideswell Male Voice Choir website is almost done. The Cookie Policy generator should be ready in time for the Expo on March 16th.

Another website that came to my attention is my Whaley Bridge takeaway blog. This contains menus for all of the takeaways in Whaley Bridge, but I have not updated it for around 3 years. In fact, I'd forgotten about it until a friend said that his children use it all the time. So, my mission for this week is to bring it up to date. I will try to add the chippies, and maybe the cafes too. Update - takeaways done!

Takeaways in Whaley Bridge

I did an interview on Ex Pat Radio with Scottish author Eilidh McGinness. She's a fascinating character, and has a new book, The Cypher Bureau, coming out in March. The interview went well, and now Eilidh and myself are guest presenters on The Book Show every week! Still not quite sure how that happened, but never mind, it will give me a great opportunity to publicise my latest book.

Yes, regular readers, The History Of Zombies is finally available on the virtual and real shelves. The wonderfully talented Emmy Ellis at Studioenp did the cover - and we are very pleased with it.

The book is aimed at young teens, but I have had positive feedback from adults and kids alike. Official launch date is 1st March, and the literary folk amongst you will realise that that is World Book Day, but unofficially it is available NOW! Still putting the marketing plan in place - if you would like to host a book signing please get in touch, and listen out for the very brief interview on High Peak Radio!

You can find the latest press release on my website Michael Madden

Zac continues to frustrate in the kitchen, though he has started eating shallow fried cod. Very small amounts, and he has to remove all of the bits that have actually been fried. And he has to cover it in ketchup. And preferably accompanied by a large chip. He has certainly not improved in the fruit department, and his bedroom is a hiding place for apples. In fact. most rooms have one or more whole apples that he has taken away with every intention of eating. Or rather, every intention of hoodwinking us into thinking he would eat them. The previous title of 'Best Cake Ever' was held by the Christmas Chocolate Log, but in Zac's book that has now been taken by Chocolate Cake with Nutella Buttercream filling and Chocolate Cream icing. The cake is a Mary Berry recipe, but the rest is all mine!

Elsewhere, it was my mum's 83rd birthday, and her favourite is Coffee & Walnut cake, so I made this.

I tried the Nigella recipe, but I think there is a bit too much raising agent in it. This one worked out just fine.

I also made my first ever batch of scones.

Not bad, but need to be more 'dense'! And maybe a bit more fruit.

Meanwhile, the sweetcorn relish is now being made in industrial sized batches. I literally can't make it fast enough!

The ingredients are:-
Sweetcorn, Red pepper, Green pepper, Onion, Tomato, Mustard powder, Salt, Pepper, Demerara sugar, Paprika, Cider vinegar, Water, Cornflour, Cayenne pepper. Quantities? Well, more sweetcorn than anything else, and the rest is to taste! It really is that simple!

Still on the cooking front, and Sally has been quoting Slimming World with everything she eats. Apparently its all about 'sins', but it seems to me that 'sins' are what you make of them. For instance, you can't have anything cooked with a couple of teaspoons of oil, but you can have potatoes. I am sure that when Easter comes around chocolate eggs won't be considered a sin.

Also in the kitchen, Gabi came over. She rivals Sally with her culinary skills, which include making toast that varies between 'as black as the ace of spades' and 'dark matter, like a hole in space that could suck everything in'. For those unaware of Sally's ability in the kitchen you only have to read this...


So you see why this pic is so scary!

It finally happened, Sally walked in to room and had to ask, 'What did i come in here for?' Its all down hill from here!

It was her birthday recently, and after the fiasco of Zac's birthday when the firework candles expired before he got off his X-Box, he decided that mum's cake would make up for it. I have to say it was a bit of a fire risk!

Our quest for the perfect Sunday lunch took us back to The Bull's Head at Foolow, and once again it didn't disappoint. Any recommendations for more local venues would be much appreciated.

Ole won a scholarship. This was for his 'A' Level results, and it amounted to £2,000. I fear that this will now completely deter him from ever getting a student job, and it is certainly not a reflection of his common sense. He spent a proportion of it on flights and tickets for the Bencassim festival in Spain (yes I know he hasn't received the money yet - but that didn't seem to matter). I advised him to book Priority + 2 bags on Ryanair, as they have changed the rules. He completed the transaction, along with several other flatmates, but then he had to ask, 'what kind of bag have I booked?' I can see an opportunity for hiring a minibus to rescue lost teenage Brits wandering around Valencia in late July!

The Superbowl was a tremendous game, and Ole managed to stay up and watch it all in his Student Union bar. He is really getting into it - and I have now acquired season tickets for the Wembley games in October. It may even be to watch the Superbowl winning Philadelphia Eagles, so I guess we know who Zac will be supporting.

Zac has been dong well at football, he won a man of the match award and after a hard fought victory at Rose Hill his team mate tried to pick him up. Dec is probably one of the smallest on the team, and Zac certainly proved to be an immovable object. A few weeks later and Ole came to watch his brother play for the first time in ages. Ole was surprised at how well Zac has improved as a goalkeeper and all round footballer, whilst Zac was spurred on to another man of the match award as Whaley Under 14s hung on for a 2-1 victory.

And finally, as they used to say on the news, here is a strange one. Zac fell out with one of his long time friends, which was a bit sad, but then I saw them laughing and joking at the weekend. 'I thought you had fallen out with him?' I commented. 'Not in real life,' came the rather puzzling reply. 'What do you mean not in real life?' 'We've only fallen out on the X-Box. Jim's character can be really stupid sometimes. So their X-Box characters have fallen out - but they are still best of friends!

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Police And Thieves And Celebrities

Happy New Year to everyone, and the run up to Christmas has been as eventful as ever.

Certain things always happen at certain times of the year, and I'm A Celebrity seems to be one of them. It finished mercifully quickly, but that did not stop Zac from getting in on the act. One of the questions asked was, 'What percentage of men would give up sex for a million pounds?'

Zac proudly announced that he wouldn't, then he asked me. I took the same stance.

Ex footballer Dennis Wise mulled it over, wondering what Boris Johnson's dad would do (Mr Johnson Snr being another 'Celebrity'.) He considered that Mr Johnson Snr might already have stopped having sex, so giving it up wouldn't really be a hardship.

Zac saw the merits in this, and I knew where his line of thinking was going.

'Have you stopped yet?' he asked me, without a hint of embarrassment. When I replied that I hadn't he had his own announcement to make.

'Neither have I. I've not even started yet!'

Speaking of Zac, his latest purchase is a tongue scraper, and he has been letting all of his friends know just how wonderful it feels when you have scraped your tongue!

I've been travelling to London quite a bit recently, for business and pleasure. The pleasure side of it led to a great night of American Football for Thanksgiving, whilst the business side of it is mainly around my role as GDPR Consultant. However, in an interesting twist, I may be about to become non executive director of a software development company. Never done that before - so I will let you know how it goes.

Elvis Under The Covers got a bad review on Amazon, but that's ok. If everything was five stars people would be suspicious. As Phineas T. Barnum supposedly once said, 'there's no such thing as bad publicity'.

Its been a busy time in the kitchen, as you might expect in the festive season. The chocolate log was confirmed as 'The Best Cake Ever' by Ole and Zac, an accolade that I am happy to take from my pair of cake fiends.

However, my own favourite is the Creole Cake that takes weeks to prepare, and which contains an alarming amount of alcohol!

I was supposed to make some skulls for Hallowe'en but the baking mould did not arrive in time, so I made these chocolate ones for Christmas. They contain an awful lot of chocolate!

And then there was the eating machine, Ole, who was home for Christmas. Top of his Christmas wish list, alongside new bedding and an air freshener for his university room (don't ask), was more gingerbread! He has done very little exercise since he has been away - and he seems to take great delight in eating anything that isn't pizza! Not that he would turn down pizza either.

Not a great time of year for sport (except the armchair variety), but Zac did manage to fit in a man of the match performance in which he came very close to saving a penalty. Looking forward to the rest of the season, and especially the cup match!

You may be aware that it is two years since I had my high tibial osteotomy, and just before Christmas I went under the knife again to have the metalwork removed. The whole procedure started badly when they did my pre op tests in the hospital, which revealed an unusually high blood pressure. This was followed by them struggling to get blood out of my arm, all familiar stuff if you are me. I just don't like needles or hospitals.

Anyway, the big day came and the anaesthetic was beautiful. First they inject something to make you feel you have had about five or six pints, then they ask you to count down. Next you wake up and its all done! Honestly, if I could have one every night I would seriously consider it!

I was home the same day. and 48 hours later I removed the bandages. This had to be done in the bath which led to a sight akin to Jaws as the congealed blood took on liquid form once again. The actual wound was quite neat, and all seemed well.

A week or so later, however, there was a lot of swelling and angry redness which indicated an infection.

Sally put this down to a walk to the Drum & Monkey on Christmas Eve, as that 400 yard round trip was obviously worse than chasing after her and her horse around Bakewell on Boxing Day!

Speaking of which, she looked rather splendid in her new costume. It seems that she has had quite a few new costumes to accompany last year's Christmas present!

Alarming news that we were broken in to on Christmas Eve (actually the early hours of Christmas morning), and it soon emerged that we were not alone. Sally had left her car open, and some thieves stole a few pounds and some sunglasses. The power of Social Media revealed a Whatsapp group for Whaley Bridge crime, and Sally was soon an active participant. The thieves had targeted Elnor Lane and Walters Wood, and someone had seemingly chased them to Marple, noting down the number plate of their Audi getaway car. CCTV emerged, and there were two different sets of video from our road alone. Police were called, and Sally was advised that an officer would be around shortly.

This is when I began to lose faith in our noble boys and girls in blue. We got a phone call from a police officer who had apparently come to our road, knocked on the end house, as instructed by Sally, and got no reply, so she had returned to the station. Now, there are about 8 houses in a straight row on our road, which means there are 2 end houses, about 100 yards apart. This police officer clearly failed to grasp this fact, so now someone would have to come out the next night. However, we then got a call to say the case had been logged, and we were given an incident number. We would then be sent messages related to the crime and we could track progress online. A short time later we received another call to say that we had been sent messages for the wrong crime so we would be receiving more messages, firstly to tell us about the wrong crime and then to tell us about the right crime.

A few days later we were promised another visit, and this finally happened 24 hours later than expected, but fair enough, the police are busy! The officer took down all the details and then said he would go to the other houses to get their CCTV footage. Our neighbour has a fabulous CCTV system, so they took some of his footage on a USB. A little later we were disturbed by another knock. This time it was a police officer returning the USB, to the wrong house! It is hardly surprising that they were less than optimistic about the prospects of finding several thieves and a getaway driver!

Anyway, New Year's Eve definitely provided a highlight as we ventured off to Edwina Currie's jungle room for a party. Unfortunately we were not able to stay all night, but we were there long enough for a famous face to arrive. 'I am sure that I know her,' Sally announced, shortly followed by, 'isn't that Linda Lusardi?' My first impression was that it couldn't be Ms Lusardi unless she has had a breast reduction, but shortly afterwards the unsuspecting celebrity came over to speak to Sally and to complement her on her outfit (including the customised Primarni boots)!

We had to dash off, which Ms Lusardi was quite disappointed about, though she did happen to mention that she was appearing in panto in Northwich. Sally googled Linda Lusardi and found out that she was indeed in panto, but that was last year in Gravesend. However, the ever resourceful Lady M then googled Northwich panto and came up with Vicky Michelle, aka Yvette from Allo Allo! An easy mistake to make!

Anyway, Lady M is now stalking Ms Michelle on Twitter. I'm expecting her to be invited round for tea any day now!