Friday, 29 June 2018

Fake Champagne!

Well, I have to start this edition with a bit of a gamble. Obviously the World Cup is in full flow, and the bets are on. But I had a couple of quid left in my betting account so I looked for some value.

All teams in the World Cup to score at least 2 goals. Seems unlikely, but at 100/1 why not? After the first match in which Saudi got hammered 5-0 it seemed unlikely, and when it came to the final set of games the odds would probably be a lot more than 100/1!

First up in group A Saudi against Egypt. The Saudis still needed two and Egypt needed 1. Result, Saudi Arabia 2 Egypt 1. Saudi's winner came in the 95th minute. Wow. Maybe its fate! But lets not get carried away. Group B was possibly a bigger problem. Iran needed one against Portugal and Morocco needed 2 against Spain. Results, 1-1 and 2-2 respectively, with Iran's equaliser coming in the 93rd minute. Still in the game! Group C was down to the Peruvians needing two against Australia. Result 2-0. On to Group D. Argentina and Iceland both needed a goal apiece, Argentina settled theirs early, but Iceland had to rely on a 76th minute penalty as they went down 2-1 to Croatia. Half way there - but still a lot to do. Group E was a problem. Costa Rica needed two goals against an ultra defensive Switzerland. 2-1 down in injury time they won a penalty, and Brian Ruiz smashed it against the woodwork. Fortunately it rebounded, hit the keeper on the head and went in. The drama increased day by day! Group F featured the South Koreans needing just one goal against the mighty Germans. They scored two - in the 92nd and 96th minutes. Group H was decided next, with just the Poles needing a goal. This was sorted early so I could relax until Group G was played out later that day. England, Belgium and Tunisia were all done and dusted - but I still needed Panama to score against Tunisia. 33 minutes in I turned the game on to see the ball in the back of the net, and the red shirts of Panama celebrating, but maybe not as much as I was!

Speaking of the World Cup, the tv aerial works (see previous edition). Unfortunately I have not had much time to use it as life and alcohol seem to have got in the way!

My Thursday morning shows on Ex Pat Radio have featured some real literary superstars. The past two weeks have been with Amanda Robson, Judy Leigh and Fiona Gibson, and prior to that I chatted to Sue Moorcroft and Caroline England. Both of these are bestsellers and Sue has been number 1 in the entire Kindle list. The shows are now down to a short sharp half hour - and its anyone's guess as to who will be on next week!

I met my MMU students in North Tea Power in the Northern Quarter a couple of weeks ago. Nice coffee, and that should lead to my website being revamped over the next coupe of months. On the same day I met a mate who was about to get married (see below). We saw a strange sight at Piccadilly, so he decided to take a pic. If you look closely you can see him in the reflection!

I walked through the centre of Stockport a few weeks ago, and it gave me the impression of a sad old town that was dying. Pubs were closed down, buildings boarded up, and the few signs of life were as if someone had stuck a sticking plaster on the hole in the Titanic! However, a week or so later I went to the Light Cinema close to Princess Street. What a difference. The cinema itself is spectacular, with seats that make it seem like you are watching the movie in bed, and the surrounding area is filled with bars and cafes to give the place a really lively feel.

We've had a new cooker delivered. It takes a bit of getting used to but I'm getting the hang of it. Sally, of course, is barred from using anything but the rings on top.

I'm now investing in another student, a chap from Buxton who writes computer games. We are currently jumping on the World Cup bandwagon with a game for Android! You can have a look at it here:-

Crossbar Challenge

Ole managed to get a car after much research (mainly from his mum), however, there was a bit of a problem with the insurance. New driver insurance is always an issue, but if you add parents on then it can reduce dramatically. So we did. But, when they checked Sally's details they reported that she had not declared an incident from a couple of years ago. The incident was in Sainsbury's Car Park in Ashbourne, when a nutty woman deliberately slammed her car door into Sally's, claiming that I intimidated her. Sally wasn't even in the car at the time. Some frantic phone calls later and we got a suitable reduction, with the road rage incident being removed from her record.

Any idea what this is?

Ole says it is my sister Fiona's, but he has been using our spare room for a good few weeks and for some reason left this untouched. Answers on a postcard!

A random statement - Zac's favourite hairstyle (on a girl) is a bun. I'll just leave that one with you.

We've just had a lovely couple of days away in Majorca for a wedding - but as ever it did not go without a hitch. It started at the airport, or rather on the way to the airport. Ole had done his first shift at the Drum & Monkey the night before, so I, of course, sat at the bar whilst he served the customers. Four pints of Peroni, several pints of normal lager and a couple of vodkas later we went home. Five hours further on it was time to head for the airport. Sally drove! I had all the paperwork, and the security man was surprisingly polite when I tried to get through the barrier with the return part of my ticket, unlike the woman behind who tutted loudly. Sally was not too keen on this, but got her revenge moments later when the woman and her child had to hastily drink some liquids that were not allowed through security! There was a Ryanair announcement, and Sally said, 'I wouldnt like to go there!' 'Lots of people go to Tenerife,' I remarked. 'Tenerife? I though they said Tel Aviv.' I was going to point out that lots of people go there too but thought better of it.

We got through Palma airport and picked up our rental car, a tiny Fiat 500. Sally had printed off directions from Palma Airport to our German owned hotel, whilst I was using the SatNav on my phone. It got a bit twisty and turny so we turned around, and then turned around again. As it happened we were within 4km of our destination when we took our first wrong turn, but we arrived without too much stress. It was too early to check in, but we sat overlooking the sea as we looked through the information that the hotel had given us. Two towel cards, a map of the sizeable resort, activities sheet, etc. We eventually collected our key and we were taken by golf cart to the other side of the hotel where our room was suitably impressive. We wandered down to the pool and asked where we exchanged our towel cards for towels. With German efficiency they told us we must go back to reception to get the towels, which on reflection did not seem to be very efficient! I tried to get it straight in my head, we got towel cards from reception, and then we had to give the towel cards back to get towels. Now. I'm no Lean Six Sigma expert, but I can see how this process could be improved.

I had a light late lunch and decided that we would not go round the bay to the wedding venue until tomorrow, so after a few drinks and a couple of hours in the sun we headed back to our rooms. The hotel restaurants all closed at 9.30pm so we discussed the option of wandering to the seafront, where lots of restaurants would no doubt be open later, but tiredness set in so we thought about room service. Sally gave me the telephone list but there was no room service on it, though she insisted that this was a five star hotel - they must do room service. No joy, so we raided the mini bar, and dinner consisted of a bag of cheese biscuits and a bottle of water. The following morning Sally tried to work out how to use the in room coffee machine. She pulled out a large pamphlet, that turned out to be a full room service menu containing burgers, chicken, steak, etc. I somehow refrained from swearing. Fortunately breakfast was only a few minutes away, so I tucked in to the nearest the Germans could ever get to a full English, as well as a large slice of chocolate cake. The stroll to breakfast also provided a bit of wildlife - I've never seen a hoopoe before!

The wedding was a fabulous affair, though when my sister saw a picture of the groom and best man she commented, 'I didn't realise it was a gay wedding!'

The following day we had a leisurely lunch on the seafront at Porto Petro before returning to the grindstone back in Whaley Bridge!

Another great trip to York races had one magical moment. As is becoming the custom I ordered Sally a bottle of champagne on arrival. This came in a suitable bucket that was frosted over with the chilling ice cubes. After four glasses the frosted bucket had become clearer and I could read the label on the bottle. "Prosecco" it proudly announced. I mentioned it to Sally who said that she thought it was just crap champagne. Undaunted, she sought out the manageress of the bar that we were in and pointed out their mistake. This led to a full bottle of champagne arriving at the table to replace the remaining two glasses of Prosecco. She then proceeded to question a man in a horse costume, though she thought he was dressed as a giraffe! The drive home was interesting to say the least!

Thursday, 7 June 2018

As Greedy As A Pig

May was certainly a busy month, with Ole moving back home from university, our first day as members at York Races, and Sally taking lots of "food porn" pictures as we prepare for the launch of Mmm...No2...Cookbook. Sadly, the food porn has been put on hold as our cooker is knackered - new one being delivered next week. It never recovered from Sally incinerat
ing those sausages, immediately followed by the door falling off (in a completely unrelated event!)

The food porn involves brownies, tomato soup, and Thai red curry paste, followed, of course, by Thai red chicken curry with mushrooms. For those of you keen to sample the Thai curry I will possibly be making a "Big Pan" of it in The Shepherds on 1st July. Its all down to a vote, so it could also be chilli or paella! Later on in the summer I am hoping to arrange a photo shoot for the new cook book, with such delights as chocolate key lime pie, Bakewell Tart and chocolate digestives. Watch this space...

Thai red curry sauce

That red chicken curry with mushrooms

Tomato soup

Quick brownies (or quick, brownies!)

The racing was a quiet and cold day, and it proved why so many people don't use public transport. I won a few quid, Sally drank some champagne, and we headed for the train home. We got to Doncaster on the fast train and that gave us a ten minute window to catch the Chinley train at Sheffield. Unfortunately the Sheffield train was delayed by 20 minutes, meaning we had 80 minutes to wait for the next train home. They wouldn't stand for it in Japan. For future events we will be giving Middlethorpe Hall a call and staying over!

Gabi is taking on legal drafting, including drawing up a contract for my business. If you need any legal documentation completing let me know and I will put you in touch with her. She is fully qualified!

In a scene that could have been taking from 80s comedy "The Young Ones", Ole complained about being woken up at 12.30 in the afternoon. "That's like me waking you up at 4am," he moaned.

To be fair to the lad, he has got himself a job, with maybe more to follow! He is working for a company that send him here, there and everywhere to ensure he is IDed when he buys tobacco, alcohol or places a bet. Last Sunday I spent four hours driving him around Buxton, Hyde and Glossop, with a detour to Stalybridge. He now gets it, and one of his bets won! He also did a couple of shifts behind the bar in the Drum & Monkey just to learn how to pull pints etc. This role really appeals to him, as he can stay in bed until five minutes before his shift starts!

More good news for Ole is that he has been accepted on to The Television Workshop at Salford. He has a two hour session every week, and by Christmas we expect him to be on Coronation Street and Hollyoaks. Love Island will have to wait a year.

Are kids influenced by television? Well, Zac watched "Ferris Bueller's Day Off", and the following day he played the sick card and stayed off school. However, he let his guard slip by previously telling Ole that he hated red week Thursdays, and hey presto, this was a red week Thursday!

Ole has brought the tv back from university just in time for the World Cup. My plan is to install it up in the pool room so that I can watch all the games in peace, and completely uninterrupted by Love Island. Now, since I last watched tv up there I have had Sky Q installed, so I assumed that the lack of a signal was down to the Sky man not plugging the cables back in correctly. Not So! Apparently Sky Q does not allow you to send the signal all around the house using aerial cables. Its all based on Wifi, so the RF function has been removed. I looked on the internet and there were all kinds of suggestions. I could use Sky Go on my laptop and use a HDMI cable to output to the tv, but BBC is not available on Sky Go. There was a discussion about HDMI splitters that developed into a full blown technical argument between a few keyboard warriors, so I steered clear of that. I could get a man in to sort it out, but I opted for a freeview aerial that should just plug straight in to the tv. It arrives today - I will let you know how I get on. The situation is not helped by the tv not having a remote. That particular item is buried somewhere in Ole's student digs, so I think I will just leave it there.

Another reason for watching Sky in the pool room is that I can set up an exercise bike up there. My plan is to cycle as far as Amsterdam during the competition, but I will need a lot of luck and some favourable wind! Watch out for updates.

I think Sally may have "Russian Doll Syndrome". I am not allowed to say too much more about it, but what once happened with suitcases has now happened with garden pots. You know the kind, where a £15 pot will have a £10 pot inside it and a £5 pot inside that one, etc. I will say no more about it!

Not sure whether to be proud of this one or not! Driving in the car and Imelda May was singing All I Want Is You. Ole was not happy and said, "Put Dolly on", meaning Dolly Parton. I had to confess that I did not have any Dolly with me at the time, but no problem, Ole did!

Regular readers will know that Zac is never short of an opinion, and he was mulling over his options on takeaway night. He likes the garlic pizza at Whaley Kebab, but not so their chips. They are only the third best, and by some distance as they substitute quality for quantity. Memories Of India are much better, but the winner by clear margin is Frydays.

Sally took a trip to see the legendary Terracotta Army in Liverpool. You may have heard of this army - row upon row of Terracotta soldiers emanating from China. Well, I don't think the army have actually reached Liverpool yet. It was more of an advanced scouting party - with about 10 statues on display.

Finally, I am now very careful to set aside apple cores etc for Nellie up at the farm. Earlier this week I had a small sandwich bag of 2 apple cores, a few bits of carrot and some mango. Oddly, Sally did not take it (she enjoys feeding Nellie more than me!) I asked her why and she said she didn't think there was enough. She thought that Nellie might get angry if she ran all of the 20 yards from her house to the bottom fence to find just a few scraps. I'm thinking its starting to get just a bit ridiculous! Hence the expression, as greedy as a pig!

Incidentally - I came across these two minding their own business last time I was at the farm...

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Things That Go 'Bump' In Ashbourne

Well, the Christmas Present (from 2016) is proving to be a dangerous business. Regular readers will remember the 'going for a scan' incident, well now we have had the 'broken bridge' incident in Ashbourne. Sally was on an all day lesson involving dressage, show jumping and cross country. At the end of the day there was an obstacle known as the broken bridge, a jump that had a lower landing than take off area. Nancy, the horse, jumped it magnificently. Sally, the rider, didn't! She clung on as Louise filmed. Unfortunately, as Louise realised that Sally was about to hit the deck, she shrieked and the camera pointed at the sky, missing the £250 moment!

Louise managed to get her back to Buxton, and Ole, Zac and myself drove up to fetch her. Zac wanted to know how many people saw the incident, as he wanted to gauge the level of embarrassment. Ole drove my car back as I drove Sally and hers. The following day the medical staff at Stepping Hill gave the good news that nothing was broken, it was simply bruising and soft tissue damage. A liberal supply of painkillers was advised, and Sally went to the physio for ongoing treatment. This involved ultrasound and a series of exercises, but after a few days things were not improving. The second physio session, ten days after the original accident, gave cause for concern, and the physio sent her to Buxton Cottage hospital. Having been there myself for a dislocated shoulder, I was surprised that anyone would consider the Cottage for first line medical support, but to their credit they took several x-rays and diagnosed a broken shoulder blade.

No driving for two weeks, no horse riding for who knows how long, and an appointment at the fracture clinic, back at Stepping Hill. Their second attempt at diagnosis confirmed the break, and they gave her an improved collar and cuff. So, several trips to the farm and dozens of pain killers and anti-inflammatory pills later, I have discovered that the boxes of pills at Tesco do not register on the self checkouts, and Nellie the pig loves potatoes.

Speaking of Nellie - here she is - rushing to get her nose in my bag of goodies!

Next up is a film review. I have often wondered where Sky manage to get all of their movies from. That quantity must inevitably lead to a lack of quality, and that is what I encountered with The Hurricane Heist. If you want to watch a hurricane movie, I recommend Twister, This disaster started in a very similar way, but then somehow introduced the robbery of millions of dollars in used notes. The special effects at the end were hammed up in a poor imitation of The Mummy, and the whole thing was a preposterous mess. I guess casting someone from The Office in the role of evil bad guy was always going to be a bit of a stretch!

Ole had another of his "fuming" moments last week, not as dramatic as the middle of the night pizza delivery guy episode, but certainly more costly. He had taken out a student Spotify subscription at £4.99 rather than the usual £9.99. In November he received an email asking him to tick a box to verify he still wanted the student subscription. He didn't tick the box so his subscription went up to £9.99, and he didn't realise until April! He had absolutely no idea what to do, so after I pointed him in the direction of the website he ended up on Live Chat. The stress of this was horrendous, so he called me to act as his interpreter to the Live Chat guy. It worked, he got refunded his latest fiver overpayment, and they gave him some months free. He was about £15 down on the deal, but maybe that will teach him to check his emails a bit more carefully!

There was more drama from the direction of Salford University when Ole realised that he needed to pick his options for next year. Once again it involved a phone call to me, with Ole on the other end trying to navigate a website that I could not see. "Oh maybe its three I need to choose - no, wait - its five. This is ridiculous - oh - its given me four." There was much huffing and puffing in a "the world is against me" kind of way. I think he will play the role of drama queen to perfection.

The struggle with Zac's food choices goes on. He has agreed to try lobster, and maybe steak in gravy as he once had a chip (singular) in gravy and he quite liked it. "What about a pie?" I asked, pointing out that they have gravy in. "I can't see me eating a pie," he replied. "Why not?" "Because its a pie." So that's another crossed off the list.

Zac also had an interesting conundrum whilst watching the Champions League semi final. As a player went down injured the commentator said that the other players were right to play on unless it is a head injury.
Zac, so you only have to stop play if its a head injury?
Me, yes
Zac, what if its a heart attack?
Over to Mark Clattenburg.

You may recall that Ole had his driving test cancelled at short notice. That was back in January. The powers that be have finally refunded him £48 to compensate for two hours of additional lessons that he had to pay for to cover the revised test. However, they would not pay for his transport to get back from Salford to take his revised test, as they only pay travel expenses for those incurred on the day of the original test, and he had none of these as he was already at home. I have no idea how their logic works!

Zac has developed quite bad eczema on his hands, so I managed to get him some black silk gloves to protect them. One of his hands is worse than the other, so he often wears just one of these gloves. I  think he must have been watching Michael Jackson on Youtube.

Sally decided to cook beef braised with onions in a red wine sauce last week. However, after about two hours it had dried up. She inspected it, and asked, 'Do you want me to put pastry on it as its got a bit of a burnt taste.' I had no idea that pastry could conceal the acrid black taste that meat takes on when it has been allowed to dry out in a red hot pan, but I wasn't prepared to take the chance. Its the first time that I have ever had fish finger butties for Sunday dinner!

Our friends the ducks are back.

Now, they may not be the same ones as these, but they are just as friendly!

So, how is Sally acclimatising to her predicament after a couple of weeks without driving? She is a real 'Woman of the people.' 'I have turned down two alcoholic beverages, I have walked all the way up the hill to the church, and I have taken a ride on a bus,' she declared.

Finally, local cricket appears to be suffering a long, slow death, though maybe not so slow if recent events are anything to go by. The games are too long for the youth of today, and the situation will only get worse. Whaley Bridge failed to field a second team for a league match for the first time in living memory last week - and that might not be the last occasion this happens this season.

Turning from Old to New Horwich Road

The footsteps slow
The breath deepens
The incline takes its toll
Onwards and upwards
To the place where the tarmac ends
And a choice awaits
To the left, who knows?
To the right, a track
That does not deserve the name of any thoroughfare
A simple, small, often concealed sign
Marks the way to WBCC
Beware of dogs, horses, ramblers
And take extra care if your car has a low exhaust
Passing places stretch the term
As side by side two vehicles dance
And rock and almost kiss
As the overgrown verge conceals discarded rock
From dry stone walls
Upwards and onwards once more
A gate, a wall
A wall, a gate
Turn to the right
And rest
And breathe
Breathe in that cleanest of air
And gaze across the landscape
Boats rest on placid water
Clouds smile above a green tapestry
Criss-crossed with grey lines
And patchwork made good
With brown remnants
This is the picture from a jigsaw puzzle box
This is Blake’s England
This is Blake’s green and pleasant land
Below, the land is closer
A green baize
Where twenty two protagonists do battle
For nought but glory of the day
They chat
They play
They chat
Then play some more
Telling tales
Ever taller the more often told
Tall tales
That have lasted beyond a generation
Creating those that will last
A generation more
Ebbing and flowing
The game progresses
And starts and stops
Ah yes
It must be time for tea

Cherish and support your cricket club before it is too late!

Friday, 20 April 2018

Blogs, Hogs And My Drama Exam

Well, my last post, accompanied by a picture of some Japanese schoolgirls, has been the most viewed in the history of this blog. I like to think its because the writing is getting better!

It has been a traumatic time for my two sons. Ole was home for Easter and he was driving my car. The subject of fuel cropped up and he asked if there was enough to get to Chapel Leisure Centre. I explained that the dashboard has a number on it that currently reads '96'. That is approximately how many miles there are left in the tank. He understood that, but still had a problem. 'How do I know how far a mile is?'

A few days later he went to Wales with his girlfriend. Not in my car, I hasten to add, particularly after he explained that he had reversed into a picket fence, and it was hilarious. It must have been, as all of his mates who saw it 'live' said it was hilarious. Anyway, off he went to Wales, with every intention of doing his drama homework. This was an essay on Black Watch, a play about the famous Scottish regiment and their time in Iraq. I said that I would help him, he would just have to email me his work. Unfortunately, parts of Wales are still in the middle ages - and there was no Wifi! He said he could take pictures of it and text them to me, but I declined. Eventually, late on Sunday evening, the first draft came through, and it was about a third of the required words. I rewrote it, embellished it, and added a few hundred more words, then he did some more work. I don't know what they teach for grammar in school these days, but Ole seemed to have bypassed it all. Further revisions just left Ole to do the final scene and conclusion. He sent those through, and it was hardly noticeable, 160 words at the most. More revisions, and I finally had it finished! I'm hoping to get a first.

Zac was very excited to get his first 'Season Pass' for Alton Towers. For £55 he can go as many times as he wants this year, and his first visit was an inset day last Monday. I dropped him off, he picked up his pass, and in he went. When he got home I told him to put the pass in the drawer with his bank card. Unfortunately, when he emptied his bag, there was no pass. He had lost it within a matter of hours of picking it up. We rang round and no-one had it. Emailed Alton Towers, but nothing. However, all is not lost. For £10 he can get a replacement. So, he decided that he would work off the debt and get a new card. Mum offered to give him a couple of hours of chores to cover the £10, but he was shocked. 'I'm not working for minimum wage,' he announced, and that was that! He wasn't even swayed when he found out that Ole was on less than £5 per hour this time last year. Zac is a bit more cunning than that. Beware, he has 'outsourced' his jobs before, and I can see this happening again.

I think that nerves are starting to get the better of Zac, as he has felt a bit sick during his last two football matches. He, of course, has another explanation. 'Maybe I'm lactose intolerant - I had a hot chocolate before the game.' That almost backfired as I said, 'Maybe you are chocolate intolerant. You eat a lot of Cadbury's milk chocolate - what do you think that is made from?' That conversation ended very quickly.

An exchange student has been in to Zac's school, from Denmark. Zac feigned interest, but his ears pricked up when a surprising fact emerged. There are 6 pigs for every person in that particular corner of northern Europe, but I suppose with so much Danish bacon its got to come from somewhere. Anyway, that brings me on to my latest friend, Nellie. Nellie is a pig at the farm where Sally goes to ride Nancy. Nellie is very friendly, particularly if you have a bag of food. She doesn't like oranges or cabbage, but she loves potatoes and strawberries.

I have been busy in the kitchen - including a repeat of kebab in a can. This is doner kebab made with lamb, onions, herbs and spices, and it is cooked in an empty can (in my case baked beans). Tastes like the real thing, without the eyelids, nostrils and bone. The white stuff is mint yoghurt!

The weather has been anything but springlike, so I decided to leap in to summer with paella, complete with fresh lemons. Very summery - but too cold to eat alfresco.

I also made a kind of cottage pie, topped with sweet potato as well as normal potato. The filling was chicken and vegetables in a thick chicken gravy - so more like a Colonel Sanders pie.

I have also been trying out a new five ingredient brownie recipe, Zac's new favourite. Actually, it ends up being 8 ingredients, but they are very very easy to make. Unfortunately, I have not managed to keep them long enough to take a picture.

And whilst on the subject of food, I have recently added Frydays and Cafe 110 to my Whaley Bridge takeaways page. Hoping to get some more in the next couple of weeks.

Takeaways in Whaley Bridge

And whilst on the subject of blogs, I have produced a guest blog for global IT company Microfocus. Hopefully there will be more to come.

Still more blogs - 2018 marks my 40th anniversary in IT. Of course, its not all been bits and bytes - there was a lot of drinking in and out of a brewery, my very own MMM Fantasy Cricket Leagues, and a lot more besides.

You can find the first three episodes, including my Punk Programmer phase, here:-

with more to come.

Finally - GDPR! I have written some blog posts for Acceptcards detailing GDPR and the journey to compliance.


There are a lot of scams on Facebook at the moment, including free trips to Disneyland and free flights from Ryanair (really?) Anyway, if you are tempted to 'Like' and 'Share' one of these posts, just ask yourself, 'Does this seem to good to be true?' If it does then it probably is! You will probably find the Facebook page is a few days old with no posts. The link will be 'Clickbait' designed to get hold of your data. Beware - there are some unscrupulous people out there!

And speaking of Clickbait - that is the title of my latest novella. I've only written the first line...

"Johnny Fucking Cash!"

I'm quite pleased with it so far!

In other literary news, my poem Where Did All The Children Go? has been accepted for The Pangolin Review, an online journal to be published in their June edition. I thought that this might be some sort of a scam - but no - some of the poets in previous editions have been shortlisted for very prestigious awards.

The History Of Zombies has received its first review - and its from France (fortunately in English!)

The review says exactly what I was aiming to achieve...

"Thrilled to see my 12 year old son engaging with a book. He really enjoyed this book. Roll on the next one!"

I went to the Irish World Heritage Centre last week to see Mary Coughlan. Although it was a surreal experience in what looked to be a converted gymnasium, the lady herself was fabulous. "The finest voice ever to come out of Ireland" has been said several times. She hails from Galway, the same as my mum's family - and has a very interesting past - I recommend her autobiography "Bloody Mary".

This is her interpretation of a famous Joy Division song...

Mary Coughlan - Love Will Tear Us Apart

The finest voice ever to come out of Wales is probably that of Tom Jones, and we will be going to see Tom after racing in York. Someone asked me if Tom often played venues such as York racecourse. I said "Its not unusual".

Finally, on the music front I went to see The Stranglers in Manchester (again). They were great, even though their setlist contained some very obscure and dubious album tracks. However, they have added a brilliant light show. The audience was as raucous and rowdy as ever, with a fight breaking out right in front of me. Most of their original fans, myself included, would not have the energy or inclination to get involved in anything like this, but the protagonists probably weren't even born when I first saw the band.

Easter saw us head to Moviescape in Stockport. We were at a Breaking Bad themed escape room, chosen by Zac who was the only one that had actually seen a single episode. Anyway, that didn't seem to matter as a girl who was far too excited locked us into the room. We didn't have to escape, we just had to collect as much money as possible. Every time we asked for a clue we lost $50k. Anyway, with just 20 seconds of our hour remaining we unlocked the vault and claimed all of the cash - using up three clues (but we got away with one due to some poor printing). Great fun - and we may well try the haunted house next.

Sometimes, you just can't put your finger on the right word to use. No problem for Zac, he just makes up a word that seems to fit. We were watching football the other day, and he disappeared half way through. He only wanted to come back at the end, so that he could watch the 'analysation'. I think I know what he meant!

And speaking of Zac - he announced that he is going to be the next Stephen Hawking. His brother was dismissive. 'You mean you are going to ride around in a wheelchair with a funny voice?' but Zac had a response. 'Well all you do is drama,' delivered in a voice that Laurence Olivier would have been proud of.

Finally, a sad ending. We lost a dear friend recently, 19 year old Callum. He has been a friend of the family, and particularly Ole, for many years. So sad to see so many young people at his funeral, but they turned it into a joyous occasion. Callum played Edgar Allan Poe in our production of The Raven, a challenging role that he pulled off with great skill and characterisation. He will be fondly missed.

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?”.