fatfakir's blog

Heart of Gold. Nerves of Steel. Knob of Butter.

This site is best viewed at 1024 x 768, using your eyes and a web browser

Monday 31st December

The Last Post (of this year)

Well, after my jaunt down to that there London things have been fairly quiet at the maison fakir. I haven't been anywhere much or done much of note really - it's all been work, footy, eating and sleeping, to be honest. I haven't even been out and bought armfuls of CDs or DVDs that I can talk about. On the other hand, I can report that I have received the latest CD by local band The Lockdown. What you get for your money (or for free, in my case) are five slices of solidly crafted indie-pop. Which means that they've already got more than enough songs to support Ted Chippington. ("Four numbers, that's all you need," as the almost-famous comedian once said.) Anyway, the EP kicks off with the synth-heavy 'Amnesia', cranks it up with the stomping live favourite 'Like Never Before' and then delivers an absolute showstopper of a ballad in 'I Don't Know How'. Seriously, get thee hence to their website and check it out. If I knew Louis Walsh, I'd be trying to flog him that song for a serious amount of cash. Anyway, back to the EP, next up is the Placebo-tinged 'Last Goodbye', and finally the slow burn of 'The Long Run'. All in all, a solid effort throughout, with one definite high point, and builds on the promise I thought they showed in their live performances. It definitely gets the "fatfakir thumbs up" award.

Moving on to more esoteric nonsense, now I'm sure you've often wondered how many five-year olds you could beat in a fight. After all, who hasn't? Well wonder no longer as thanks to the miracle of the modern t'Internet, you can now chug along to this fight site, answer a few simple questions and determine just how many of those little blighters you could beat to a bloody pulp. I managed to score 32, but I have to admit I lied in answering a couple of questions. When I was completely truthful, I upped my score to 33...

Sometimes, I have to wonder about what sort of world my parents think I live in. Either they think I live in some sort of 1970s bachelor pad, next door to Bodie and Doyle, from the Professionals, and just upstairs from The Sweeney, or they think I'm running some sort of gay S&M bordello. I hope its the latter, to be honest, if only because the hairstyles are much better. I mention this because, for the second year in a row, they've given me some shiny, satiny, black bedding as a Christmas present. Hhhm, slinky and kinky. Actually, I don't mind that much but it does have three major drawbacks. One, if more than about three inches of duvet hang over the edge of the bed, the whole thing starts sliding off. Two, it feels cold and damp when I first get into bed. (And the bedding feels damp too, Fnaar! Fnaar!). And three, if I leap into bed with any sort of enthusiasm I find myself skidding across the bed and out the other side. I'm thinking of replacing my bookcase and bedside table with a pile of cushions instead...

Now, I'm sure I had a moan a while back about Hotmail becoming Windows Live Hotmail (or whatever it's known as now). Well, not only has it resurrected email I deleted months ago, but now it's also flooding my Inbox with spam. Admittedly, this is largely my own fault as I have a re-direct from my domain to my Hotmail account and my domain name is clearly on a large number of spammers' lists. However, there is also a much larger quantity of spam adressed to my account getting through these days. It is frustrating to have to deal with 30-40 spam e-mails a day. Especially when a large majority of those spam mails are offering me guaranteed, quick and easy ways to increase my penis size. I suspect one of my ex-girlfriends has been telling them... Anyway, I've finally got fed up and set up another account for mail sent to my doamin, and that seems to have made my Hotmail account usable again. In the meantime, if you have e-mailed me recently and had no reply, then there is a fair chance I may have accidentally deleted your mail in one of my regular purges. Or it could just be that I've been my usual crap self in responding to personal e-mail.

Thinking of personal e-mail, my ex-boss, Miriam, sent me this link to mohairknitter. A link she claimed had been sent to her by one of her work colleagues who was trying to gross her out with dodgy yet "work safe" sites. OK dear, whatever you say, I'll believe you, thousands wouldn't. To be fair, she has shown it to me before, and the website. Fnaar! Fnaar! This time round though, the lady has added catsuits to her repertoire, just in case you're not getting the message about her mohair fetish. Enjoy.

It will come as no great surprise that no sooner did I mention Crewe's good run of form, it came to an abrupt end. That win over Northampton back in mid-November was the last time the Alex collected all three points in a match and since then they've managed two draws and six defeats, scoring only 3 goals, in an 8 match spell that has seen them tumble perilously close to the relegation zone. With a number of tough fixtures to come against the promotion contenders, I fear my little smashers could be in the bottom three come the end of January.

Quiz news now, and team Amanda Huggenkiss have started to make regular appearances back at the Cronkinsons Farm following our semi-retirement. Somewhat embarrassingly, we achieved our lowest ever score a couple of weeks back, mustering a mere 31, having "wiped out" in the last round. Mind you, the winning team only scored 34 and they didn't wipe out. If only we'd not convinced ourselves that Ronald Reagan was the US President who used to be a male model... (It was actually Gerald Ford, fact fans). That said, we failed fairly spectacularly earlier on in attempting to name Michael Jackson's first five solo number ones and some other collection of five which escapes me now. It was a round everyone had trouble with, as evinced by the low scores all round. Still, we've more than made up for that by winning on our last two visits and managing to pick the '8 free pints' prize. The only problem we've got now is working out when we can spend them. We did have a Sunday lunch session lined up but both Charlie and Rob went down with some sort of lurgee, and I have to admit that I just can't manage that many beers anymore, free or otherwise.

Finally, because it's New Year and all that, I was contemplating what resolutions I should make this year. And after careful consideration, I decided that this year, instead of making several resolutions and failing to keep any of them, I'd make just one, and keep it simple. However, I still ended up making two. One, I am definitely going to start learning to drive again this year. And Two, I'm going to try to keep some of those resolutions I've been making for the last ten years. Have you made any New Year's Resolutions?


Monday 24th December

Seasons Greetings!

It's a Merry Christmas to all my reader, or indeed a Merry whichever religious or non-religious festival you are or are not observing at this time of the year. Unless it's a somber observance, in which case it's probably best not to be merry at all. As well as wishing you seasonal greetings, I'd also like to apologise for the lack of postings over the last three weeks. Truth be told there's not been a lot going on round at maison fakir, and I couldn't be bothered posting a couple of paragraphs now and again, so have been saving what little joyous news there is for an update between now and the New Year. Which also means I can bore you with details of the exciting Christmas presents I've received this year. Right, I'm off to mull some wine and start defrosting my Bernard Matthews Turkey Dinner for One. Have a good one and I'll be back in a couple of days.


Saturday 1st December

We know all about you

So now I'm back, from outer-space. You've just walked in to find me here with that look upon my face. Or at least, I'm back from London and you've just surfed on by to find a picture of me wearing a silly hat (see below) and blathering on about the stuff that I saw and did.

Having stuck around in Crewe long enough the weekend before last to see Crewe scrape a 1-0 victory over Northamption and boost themselves back into the top half of the league table, I headed down to London on the old train. Having booked well in advance I got a First Class seat for only just over 30. Unfortunately, on the weekends, First Class passengers get nothing more than free tea or coffee with biscuits and/or crisps. Still, as there was only me in my particular carriage and not many other paassengers in First Class, by the time I got to London, I was awash with tea and had scoffed more biscuits than I normally manage in a month. Having reached London, it was off round to the hotel via Maccy D's and a night's kip before the real sight-seeing began.

Sunday morning dawned grey and overcast, but fortunately the rain was holding off for the time being. After a trip to the garage for some breakfast and the arduous ritual of persuading two young(ish) boys that they could have another shower despite the fact they only had one yesterday, we headed off to the The Eye. I'd gaily agreed to go on it, thinking it'd be a laugh and completely disregarding my irrational fear of heights. (I can get vertigo standing on a chair to change a lightbulb!) I was still feeling OK-ish even after arriving at the Eye and realising how high it was. I was starting to have reservations as flight time got closer, however I knew I couldn't really back out so boarded the "flight" with the rest of the family. I have to be honest and say I didn't see much except the bench I was sitting on and the floor for the first third of the journey. It was only as we started coming over the top that I started looking out and taking in what scenery I could see without standing up. I didn't really feel comfortable though till we were on the way down. Yes, going down, towards the ground, however slowly, that was good. The rest of the family were enjoying it, although Liz and Roger had been before so knew what to expect. Having done it I think I'd like to go again and this time I might actually see stuff other than the Houses of Parliament... Actually, that's not quite true, because you can actually see the MI6 HQ building from the Eye, but it's not marked on the viewing cards. So I took some delight in being able to point this out. A small triumph for me, partly negating the fact I looked like the biggest wuss on the planet, sat on the bench and not enjoying the view.

After the Eye, we had a quick snack and a coffee whilst my legs turned back from jelly to flesh and bone and pondered our next step. We decided to head off to the Natural History Museum and get something to eat whilst we were up that way. So off we went. Of course, none of the kids had been on the Tube before so were a little unprepared for the escalators. And some of those escalators are fairly long/big. This meant there was always a little comedy confusion whenever we had to get on one with the two youngest kids always waiting to jump on behind one of the adults. And with one or other invariably standing on the left to block the way for those crazy people who are in such a rush they need to run up or down the escalators. Apart from that it was all fine - we managed to get everyone on and off the tube trains without ever being in danger of leaving someone behind. Which was pretty remarkable really.

Anyway, we arrived at the Natural History Museum to find them setting up the ice rink for the day and the queues already beginning to form outside the Museum itself for admission. Having watched some of the early skaters on the rink and dismissed the idea of paying more than five quid each for a burger from the mobile units nearby, we wandered off in pursuit of something more substantial to eat. We ended up in an Italian place just round the corner from South Kensington tube. I wish I'd taken more notice of it's name because the nosh was excellent.

Having stuffed our faces (and paid a small fortune for the privilege), we returned the the museum to find the queue had virtually disappeared and in we went. The kids were immediately taken by the diplodocus skeleton in the hallway and, after a bit of wandering, they went off to look at the dinosaur exhibits whilst I hung around to meet Stroppycow and The Boy. Once they arrived, we headed through the dinosaur exhibits, where we caught up with the rest of my crew. We then went off to see the other classic set-piece of the museum - the blue whale - and then we went over to the Earth zone and The Boy's favourite, the Earthquake room. There was just time after that for the kids to have a wander round the gift shop before it was time to part ways with stroppycow as we headed off up into the centre of London for some more sightseeing and yet more food. Having seen the sights and sounds of Piccadilly, got rained on, and spent another small fortune on food (this time in Garfunkel's - not particularly exciting but when you've got three fussy eaters with you...) we wended our weary way back out to the hotel for the night.

Monday morning came and it was up and at 'em as we headed off to the Tutankhamun Exhibition. Apart from yet more "comedy" capers with tube/DLR tickets, the short journey was uneventful. Just as we arrived my phone went off and surprisingly, it was the Notoriously Unreliable E-duble-D. But instead of telling me a frog had nicked his shoes or somesuch and that he was running late, instead, he was telling me he was already there. A miracle! Anyway, we met and despite being half an hour early for our appointed slot, in we went. I have to say that it is absolutely spectacular. At first I was a bit disappointed by some of the stuff - there aren't that many big pieces, for example, but on reflection I think the exhibition was well-balanced and told it's story well. I have three minor criticisms, the first is that there wasn't actually that much additional information available. The audio tour may have provided additional information but there wasn't a great deal of stuff that you could stand and read at your leisure. Not that poor Eddy got much time to stand still - Will and Clare were determined to drag him round the exhibition as quickly as possible! Luckily, he knows quite a bit about this stuff, so was able to tell them things they might not have learnt or picked up themselves. The second criticism I have, is that there was a delay caused by a woman collapsiing in one of the rooms and this led to a queue building up. However none of the staff made any announcements or explained the delay. And when they did start letting people through the poor woman was still there on the floor. In fact by the time we got through the exhibition and out of the gift shop about an hour later the ambulance was only just leaving to take her to hospital. The whole thing wasn't handled well in my eyes. And finally, my third criticism - the outrageous prices in the gift shop. Not only was a lot of the stuff the same price in pounds as it is in dollars (te exhibition having previously been touring the US), but some of it was even racked up from the dollar price. King Tut? More like King Tat! Anyway, here's a picture of me wearing a ridiculously over-priced hat:

Jim wearing a headdress and remembering how much it cost him.

Thirty-four flippin' quid that cost me! What a bargain. Anyway, if you like the look, there are a couple more pictures and some excellent dinosaur pictures by stroppycow, living on my London Pictures page.

Post-King Tut, there was time for some more food and ten a parting of the ways as the rest of the family headed home and I went over and crashed out at Eddy's flat. In the evening, when Eddy returned from work, we went up to trendy Hoxton to catch the delightful but scary Ebony Bones in concert.

During the course of the evening, I learnt that the trilby, as favoured by Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse's husband is known in London as a c*nt-hat because "anyone who is wearing one is, invariably, a c*nt." So if you're thinking of slapping one on, to go with your jacket and trousers, think twice, eh?


Wednesday 14th November

Enhanced with an elbow patch

Flaming Typical! Part One:It's just flaming typical that as soon as I recommend a band, and one particular track, that within days said band have taken said track off their myspace site, squirreling it away for a commercial release early next year. So, apologies to those of you who raced over to Hush The Many (Heed The Few)'s website, only to find a distinct lack of track called Revolve. They're releasing it as a single in the New Year apparently. I daresay it's still available out there on some peer-to-peer file-sharing site, but I don't go in for that sort of thing. Anyway, take it from me, it's brilliant and you'll be stunned by its beauty next time you hear it. I hope.

Whilst I'm on a musical tip, I must report on my trip to Mez Fest down at Nantwich Civic Hall. I went along to see with the specific intention of seeing two of the bands on the bill. I managed to time it so that the first of those bands, The Lockdown, were just about to start as I arrived. They've improved immensely since last I saw them. Not only have they written a couple of decent new numbers but the frontman has started to develop a bit of stage presence. I thought they put on a decent performance, and in 'Like Never Before', with which they closed their brief set, they've certainly got a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. Next up were Geneva's Lab, who I saw in Northwich a fortnight previously. Sadly, this time round, whilst their nu-punk grew on me a little, their bass player's unfamiliarity with the concept of singing in tune somewhat spoiled the show. Top marks for effort, no marks for execution. Following them were Django, Kill. I'll admit I'd had a couple of beers by the time they came on, and so my first thought was "Christ no, the last thing Nantwich needs is a Pete Doherty wannabe, complete with twatty hat!" Which might be a bit harsh on Django Kill's singer but, I'm not bleedin' wrong. Luckily, image apart the singer and the rest of the band have little in common with Doherty (unless, of course, they all used to go out with supermodels and are addicted to heroin). In fact they churn out a very tuneful indie sound which pulls in elements of everyone from The Who of the 70s, Wire, The Clash, the Postcard-era Scottish punk-funk bands, The Smiths and even Britpop-era Blur. Give their myspace site a spin and you'll see what I mean. They were followed by the other band I came to see - Rig Up Explosive. They were as good as I expected. I think what I like about them is that on first listening to them you can't tell who they're influenced by. There's elements of metal, ska, punk and, believe me, rockabilly in there. It's a potent blend, whatever it is. Finishing the night off were Stash Pocket. Well, I'd had a few beers by this time so I can't recall if they were actually any good or if I was just having a good time anyway. Judging from the Ataris-style punk stylings on their myspace site, I think the beer may not have had a lot to do with it. I'll deffo have to check them out again. Luckily for me they're playing at Nantwich Civic Hall in nary a week's time. And I must just say that I had a moan about the quality of the sound at the Civic last time I reviewed a gig there. Well, the complaint still stands, but I did discover that if you stand in front of the speaker stack then things are clear as bell. So I'd guess that most of the bands sound great during their soundchecks and then once the crowd get in they absorb 80% of the top end frequencies and the bottom end stuff just rumbles off into the floor. Not sure I'd recommend standing with your head next to the speakers in order to get the best audio experience, but my hearing's pretty mucked up already, so it won't make much difference to me anyway...

Flaming Typical! Part Two I say I'll not talk about football because my little smashers, Crewe Alexandra, aren't doing very well and then they go and start a little unbeaten run. It's not much, only five games, but great oaks from little acorns and all that. And as part of this run they managed to win at local rivals Port Vale. It wasn't a great game and the Vale had the majority of possession. However, the game is all about putting the ball in the net and Crewe managed to put it in once and Port Vale didn't. Sandwiching that win was a terrific erformance in disposing of a poor Yeovil side and then another defensively sound performance in knocking the high-flying MK Dons out of the FA Cup. True, the MK Dons are in the league below, but they're top of that league, where as we were, until our recent revival, near the bottom of our own. Sadly, our reward for dispatching the Dons is a tricky away tie to either Doncaster or Oldham. Anyway, the recent revival seems to have come about because the management have finally found the right balance in midfield, and loan player Church gives us an extra dimension up front. With Roberts and Cox in front of the back four, we look a bit more solid and certainly seem to have stopped leaking goals for fun. That said, we still managed to throw away a two-goal lead in the last five minutes at Cheltenham... Anyway, hopefully, the run will continue on Saturday against Northampton, although it looks like we'll be missing Church as he's been called up for the Wales Under-21s.

Post-match Saturday, I'll have time for a couple of beers in the bar before heading off down to that there London. Once down there I'll be meeting up with my sister and her family. We'll be mooching round London on Sunday - I think the current plan involves going on The Eye and then up to the Natural History Museum. And then on Monday we're meeting up with my younger brother and his girlfriend and heading off to visit the Tutankhamun Exhibition. Woo Hoo! Our parents took us to the exhibition at the British Museum in 1972 (well me and Liz, not Eddy - he wasn't even born then), so we're both looking forward to it. Especially as so many of the exhibits are new. Sadly, I understand that the Lyons Cornerhouse, where we had dinner all those years ago, no longer exists. I've also been trying to find out if there are any decent gigs on in London on the Sunday or Monday night (or even, at a pinch, Saturday, although I won't be in town till 9.30-ish) but haven't been able to find anything I fancy that isn't already sold out. Anybody got any tips?

Anyway, I shall return from my London trip on Tuesday morning, hopefully arriving back in plenty of time to have a few beers and unwind before going off to watch my other team in action. Nantwich Town are taking on Cammell Laird in a league match that is also being shown live on Unibond League TV. If you've got money to waste you can "tune in" and spend your evening wondering which blocky, pixellated shape at the back of the stand is me. I'll be the big one with the shiny head. Although, I was taken with my mate Lee's suggestion that we should get a few of us lined up across the back of the stand and move from side to side whilst moving down the terrace, like the old Space Invaders games of yore. And perhaps even fix up for a Flying Saucer to zip across above our heads... Anyway, I won't be checking it out at home, because the site doesn't seem to like my browser. If you have problems too, please let me know.

Finally, comedy fans, the news you've all been waiting for, and probably seen already - the new series of The Mighty Boosh start on BBC3 tomorrow night. Normally this would cause a conflict of interest with the pub quiz, but we don't go that often anymore and also you can watch the first episode on the BBC's website. I've seen it three times already. I'm a Cockney nutjob!


Thursday 25th October

Toppermost of the poppermost

It's largely a music special this time round, gentle reader. Mainly because that what's been eating up my time, but also, I'd rather not talk about the depressing form of Crewe Alexandra. But before we get to the music though, anxious readers will be pleased to know there has been a sort of resolution to my wrangling with British Gas over the erroneous bill. On the very morning of the first of the 48-hour postal strikes, one of the last acts of my postman was to deliver my quarterly bill. Upon opening it, I didn't know whether to laugh, cry or journey down to British Gas HQ and smash up the place with an axe. Huzzah! They have adjusted the bill and finally removed the incorrect meter reading and inserted the correct one. So I don't owe anything. Boo! They've estimated my usage for the last quarter and now I owe them twelve quid. Except of course, I don't. My meter hasn't moved from zero since they flipping installed it! What is the point in them paying someone else to read the meters when they're clearly not doing the job! Gah! Needless to say I haven't paid the twelve quid and have pointed out that this reading is wrong too. I await another adjusted bill with bated breath.

And on to music-related stuff. This past month or so I have been to see me old mates Disarm, not once but twice. First time out was on a Sunday night at The Glebe in Stoke. There were three support bands on the bill, which was lucky because Disarm had a bit of van trouble and arrived at the venue mere moments before I did. Whilst the Disarm guys nicked off in search of food, I checked out the support bands, all of whom were in the same riff-heavy-nu-metal vein. First band up were Elysium, who despite not having a very original name (there are loads of bands who share it - try Googling them), did perform a fairly decent set and included some sampling which, although it wasn't terribly successful was a departure from the norm. They were probably my favourite of the three support bands. Next up were The Blackbox. Not to be confused with either Black Box or Blackbox Recorder, although a quick listen would surely clear up any confusion. They were more grunge than out-and-out metal. Last of the support acts were Blue Origin. Live they're a heavier proposition than their myspace stuff suggest and at times they were uncannily close to the sound Disarm used to make a few years back when Brendan was in the band. Not that Disarm had a monopoly on that sound, of course; a slightly more well-reference point would be Taproot, I think. Anyway, they were OK but came across as a bit too blokey. By the time Disarm hit the stage the place was sadly, virtually empty. The support bands were all local and the last bus in Stoke obviously leaves at 10.30 on a Sunday night. It wasn't the smallest crowd they'd had on tour but can't have been far off. They rattled through a set in 25 minutes that was tight, but all too brief for my liking. It was kind of understandable though - they'd had the van trouble, Brad wasn't feeling too good and the pub had to shut at midnight due to the crazy licensing laws.

The second trip to see Disarm was a lot more fun. They played at the Winnington Rec in Northwich, second on a bill which kicked off with the pseudo-punk of Geneva's Lab and was topped by the ska-punk of Fandangle. Geneva's Lab kicked off the proceedings with a set of that nu-punk stuff so beloved by 'mericans. I wasn't overly impressed but then I fell out of love with that sort of sound a while back. To me, the genre isn't developing and unless you have killer tunes, it can just sound a bit whiny and dull. By way of contrast, the death-sleaze-metal of Disarm is hardly ground-breaking stuff, but married to some killer tunes, a tight band and a bagful of swaggering attitude, it's top entertainment. At least I thought so. Topping the eclectic bill were Fandangle. A ska-punk band from Surrey. I wasn't too hopeful, having checked out their website, but live they turn up the guitars and the shouting and everything goes uptempo and they're fantastic entertainment - kind of like Snuff having a fight with The Redskins. All in all a top night out, and I have to tip the old hat to the Banned Network who put nights like this on regularly in Northwich. There can't be much money in it, given the average age of the audience was about 15...

In between visits to see Disarm, I met up with fellow Crewe-sufferer Jules, who runs the Images of Crewe blog. He'd suggested a night out of music and chat a few weeks back and I took him up on the offer. We went to the M Club in Crewe to see Stiff Little Fingers. It was a good choice. Not only is the M Club the sort of venue that I thought Crewe had needed for years, but it was heaving with 400 like-minded souls, all come to have a good time. We'd manaqed to time our pre-match beers fairly well so only caught the end of the second support act. They sounded OK, but clearly everyone was here for the main event. And what a main event it was. All the hits and more. And, frankly, when you've got songs in the bag like 'Alternative Ulster', 'At The Edge', 'Tin Soldiers, 'Nobody's Hero' and 'Suspect Device' I'm prepared to put up with the occasional clunker that sounds like a mid-period Jam cast-off. Those guys could have played all night and we'd still have wanted more. And just to round the night off, Jules, having already managed to get us in to the gig for free, managed to get us a very pretty taxi lady to take us home. Top fellah. Top night.

Despite having a web presence and all that, I don't spend all day every day trawling the web for new/interesting stuff (despite what my work colleagues might think) so some things pass me by altogether. For example the next thing I'm about to recommend is about a year old. I only stumbled across it because I was on youtube looking for a video of The Wurzels singing 'Remember Me' by British Sea Power. I didn't find it but instead found this crazy mash-up between some sweary chav rappers and The Wurzels classic 'Brand New Combine Harvester. It's NSFW (if your workplace objects to sweary things) but step this way for the Kwurzel Massive.

An old friend of mine, eels, recommended a website to me that I thought I'd share. Now, before we get to it, I ought to explain that normally my musical taste and Mr eels' coincide with about the same frequency as Crewe Alexandra win in the FA Cup, so I was a bit dubious about what the site may hold. To be honest, I've still never quite forgiven him for subjecting me to that night of stoner rock (Sunn 0)))), Goatsnake and Orange Goblin) at The Foundry, Birmingham, some years back. It wasn't so much that the bands were terrible (they weren't), it was the cumulative effect of all that heavy, yet not-quite-fast-enough riffery that ground me down. Anyway, back to the matter in hand, he recommended spoombung to me, with particular reference to 'The Pool Song'. The site, if you don't want to click through, is that of Kev Hopper, formerly the bass player with '80s oddballs, Stump. Their dense, Beefheartian music counterpointed with light comic lyrics never found a place in the heart of the British public, unsurprisingly. Since the break-up of Stump, Mr Hopper has produced a solid catalogue of work, which he is now sharing with the world. I can heartily recommend 'The Pool Song' and also the album 'Saurus' which features one of my favourite instruments - the musical saw. Go on check it out.

I'm sure someone else recommended Hush The Many (Heed The Few) to me a while back, but I can't remember who it was, so am claiming it as a discovery of my own! If it was you, feel free to correct me... Comparisons are odious, of course, so I'm honour-bound to compare them to Arcade Fire, with whom they probably have nothing in common except a lush, layered sound. The lyrics can be a bit "sixth-form poetry" (yes, I'm looking at you 'Story of a Page') but otherwise they're a treat. Anyway, check out 'Revolve', it's superb. Why isn't this on every radio in the land?

Another friend of mine, Charlie (one third of Amanda Huggenkiss) has foisted upon me a CD by a band that one of his friends is in, with the express desire that I forward it on to my little brother, who is music editor at TimeOut. Obviously I'm slightly irritated that Charlie didn't offer to pay the postage (which is probably just as well as the thing is still sat on my shelf) but have to report that of the two tracks on the Grantura CD, one is quite good and the other isn't. Annoyingly, both tracks are also on the band's myspace site. I do have to say though that if you're at all sensitive to the tragic holiday drowning in the Algarve recently, you might want to avoid 'Waves', which is, unfortunately, the better of the two tracks.

Anyway, by way of revenge I have posted some of Charlie's music on the web. Well, I say Charlie's music but in fact it's from an ancient "supergropup" that we were both in briefly, in the summer/autumn of 1986. Combining members of such luminaries of the Nantwich scene as Lost Onus, The Percy Sugden Experience and Destructible Sandwich, The Clodhoppers actually started life as a one-off comedy performance at the end of a youth club summer holiday. That one-off performance managed to somehow stretch out to three proper gigs, the recording of an album and the production of a limited edition Clodhoppers songbook. An edition so limited that I didn't get one even though I was in the band! And, well, I say "recording an album" like it was some big studio-based undertaking, but in fact it was just us in the back of the Methodist Church with a few amps, assorted instruments, a couple of microphones, a twin-tape karaoke machine and a lot of messing about. The whole thing was a ramshackle mess. Anyway, the basic premise of the band was that we, the allegedly competent musicians, provided the backing for the village idiot, who's songwriting talent was more than dwarfed by his complete inability to sing either in tune or in time. And whilst to some extent, we pulled it off (there are some decent tunes in there somewhere, honest) it was such hard work that recording the album killed off the band. It took about five minutes to knock up a tune and about five hours to get the singer anywhere near it, even when he'd written the lyrics for it. We played our third and final gig and announced, to general relief, that it was all over. Until now, when with the aid of a Heath Robinson rig-up I was able to digitize the album and put it on t'internet. It took ages and even with several audio programs I wasn't able to clean the sound up that much. There is a live recording of the final gig that I was going to transfer too, but the quality of that is so bad that I think nothing short of industrial sand-blasting will clean that sound up...

And finally, just to round things off, see if you can spot what's wrong with the information in the article below. Don't worry if you don't spot it, I'll tell you underneath the picture.

Numpty-ness from the MSN Music Editor

Yes, the numpty who wrote that clearly hasn't done his research. The Blondie "original" was actually a cover version itself. The song was written by John Holt and first recorded by The Paragons in 1967. Hello! Even bleedin' Wikipedia have got the skinny on this one, as they say. Obviously I dashed off a stern email to Mr Hurley pointing out his mistake but as yet I have had no reply.

Well, that's enough from me for now. It's taken far too long to get this update done and I still haven't got round to discussing football or the unoffical guide to the banter at Nantwich Town FC. I'm off to see some more bands tomorrow night at Mez Fest at the Civic Hall, Nantwich so better get this posted and get some beauty sleep. Till next time, salut maintenant!


Tuesday 2nd October

Quick and Dirty

Apologies for leaving it so long between updates but for some reason I seem to have no spare time in the evenings. It can't be because of work because that's just ticking along nicely, so it must be down to my hectic social life... Or it could just have been the other project I've been working on. It's nearly ready now, but don't go getting all excited. It's not worth it.

Anyway, you'll be pleased to know that there's absolutely no progress to report in the on-going saga of the erroneous gas bill. I've received a replacement statement from British Gas, that states I owe them no pounds and no pence, as expected, except this doesn't relate to the period which includes the erroneous bill. Hhhmmm. However, I'm working on the principle that no news is good news and until the bailiffs arrive to seize my worldly goods, I assume this is being sorted out. Of course, having said that, I'll get another erroneous bill tomorrow along with a demand for further costs...

Tip of the Day: Part 45 Don't go ordering custom T-shirts on the Internet late at night and after a couple of beers. It'll all end in tears. Especially if, like me, you order some comedy t-shirts to celebrate seeing Pavol Suhaj score an unlikely goal for Nantwich Town and a) you realise you've spelt it "Pavel", b) the shirts don't arrive in time for the Saturday game and then c) the Slovakian Scorcher whacks in a superb volley during said game. Ah, comedy, like making love to a beautiful woman, is all about timing and mine's obviously terrible. I'm now hoping Big Pav goes a couple of months without finding the back of the net so I can offload them at Christmas...

In Pub Quiz news Amanda Huggenkiss completed a notable hat-trick of wins recently. Having won with a reasonable 48, (a full five points clear of the pack) we then notched up a storming 54 (out of a possible 60) the following week with an under-strength team, before completing the hat-trick with a 50 which saw us sneak home by a point. The final victory was marred by some "comedy" marking which could have cost us, but Charlie and Rob were quick to point out the error. We also completed another notable hat-trick in that we managed to select a different prize each time we won - a bottle of wine, a free meal for four people and eight pints of beer, if you must know.

And it's a big Congratulations to Microsoft whose "transformation" of Hotmail into Live Hotmail has rendered it unusable in my old version of Internet Explorer, forcing me to switch to Firefox 2.0. I've not gone the whole hog of importing everything and switching over completely, yet, but I suspect that I will do in the near future. I'm a bit annoyed as the only information I could find on systems requirements suggests it'll run fine in IE6 SP1. Clearly not my version of IE6... On the other hand it could rely on some fancy new Windows stuff that was introduced in XP, so I've got no chance. But then, if that's the case why does it work fine in Firefox? Anyway, the other "comedy" feature of Live Hotmail (or whatever the heck it's called) is that the upgrade appears to have resurrected hundreds of e-mails that I thought I had deleted. Nice.

There's a load of footy news and other stuff to update you with but that'll have to wait till the weekend as I'm off out to a footy match in a minute and then I'm out tomorrow and Thursday nights so won't get a chance to work on this till Friday. By way of compensation I leave you with the following splendid joke which will probably benefit from being read aloud.

Why do Anarchists drink herbal tea? Because all proper tea is theft.


Wednesday 29th August

blank holiday booze

Blimey, is it only just over a week since I last updated? Seems like a lifetime ago. I'd like to report that it seems that long because I've just been so busy, but the truth is, I haven't. I've even taken a rare week off work and all I've done so far is a bit of washing, a bit of washing up and have a Mighty Boosh marathon. (The good news is they're coming back for a third series. Yay!) I had so many plans - a day out, sort out my bank accounts, do the gardening, sort out all my web stuff, record a few tracks for posterity, that sort of thing - but I don't think I'll get any of them done. I'm a day late with this update as it is.

My gas bill saga rumbles on, of course. Having no confidence that Janet would apply the dunning block as promised, I rang to check last Thursday. And lo, the block was applied to my account. I should have left it there, but offered the chance to speak to the "Customer Escalation Team& quot; to try to sort my bill out I couldn't refuse. I had a brief chat with Tanya regarding the state of play and she assured me that she'd zero-ed the balance on my account, raised the action to correct the original erroneous meter reading and that a new bill should be with me within about two weeks. Wait a minute, isn't this precisely what Adam promised me two months ago? I'm even less confident about this being sorted out now. I'm not that bothered if they come round and cut my gas off, to be honest, but if the details of this "debt" get passed on to credit reference agencies, it's going to be a right pain in the proverbial to put right. Plus I'm not that keen on the thought of bailiffs paying me a visit over an amount that I don't actually owe. Of course, I suppose I'm paying the price for not taking my mate Rob's advice and insisting on speaking to a manager to sort this whole mess out. I beginning to realise that being reasonable just doesn't work. Ah well, let's see what happens next...

By way of light relief from my travails with British Gas I went to watch Nantwich Town in action against Alsager Town last Wednesday night. Truth be told, it was a fairly awful game, made worse by some weak refereeing and some comedy decisions from the linesmen, sorry, referee's assistants. It was a pretty even game till Nantwich introduced a bit of extra pace on the right through Ashley Carter. As the game went into the final quarter Nantwich were piling the pressure on and looked the likelier side to win the game. Sadly, in the third minute of injury time, Alsager scored. There was a large suspicion of offside about the goal, but as the referee's assistant had wrongly flagged for offside minutes earlier, I guess things evened themselves out. Not that that was any consolation to the disappointed Nantwich fans.

I then followed that up by going to watch Crewe at home to Leyton Orient on the Saturday. There's no getting away from the fact that it was a fairly dire game. Perhaps not as poor as the corresponding fixture last season, when Orient thunped us four nil, but there weren't that many chances and neither side really looked like scoring. Orient had the better chances, whilst our inexperienced strike force rarely got sight of goal, getting caught offside with alarming regularity. Even so, the game had nil-nil written all over it until Ben Williams fumbled a mis-hit cross-cum-shot into the back of the net. That was especially disheartening as the lad had been catching everything up till then. In the second half Crewe pushed on trying to find an equaliser but with one or two players tiring and others playing out of position, they lacked the cutting edge to really trouble the keeper. To compound the misery they conceded a late penalty and Orient went home with an undeserved two-nil win. It was a depressing result, especially as the strikers looked unlikely to score in a month of Sundays. To be fair, The Pope and Dickson are still learning their trade at this level, but it puzzled me as to why Miller (who does know where the net is) was only on the bench. Truth is though, that unless someone starts scoring regularly, we're going to have another season of struggle. Hurrah!

Oh well, at least Nantwich Town provided a tonic on Bank Holiday Monday with a fine win at home to Gresley Rovers. With ex-Crewe Alex "star" Pavel Suhaj giving yet another masterclass in how not to look good in front of goal, it was fortunate that new signing Glyn Blackhurst popped up with two first half goals to give them a comfortable lead. The first an excellent turn and volley inside the penalty area following a corner and the second a regulation header. Once the second went in Nantwich were coasting it, and although Gresley tried they never really showed much goal threat. Indeed the only trouble the keeper had was from an overhit back pass. Big Pav was finally subbed after he'd headed a cross away from goal instead of in it, and Andy Kinsey came on and gave us more effort in the last quarter than he probably did all last season. Nantwich got their rewards for some good passing when Ashley Carter got on the end of a flowing move to lash in his first goal for the club. Gresley did pull one back when the ball was poked in from close range, although it did look as if they'd kicked it out of the keeper's hands. It proved to be no more than a consolation and the game was well and truly over for them when their captain was sent off late on.

And that's about it on the footy front. The upside of the two games over the Bank Holiday weekend was that I had a perfectly good excuse for not attending the major muster or Big Battle commerating the Battle of Nantwich. I could have gone along on the Sunday, I suppose, but I was looking after my nephews, who had just got back from holiday and had no transport to get them there and back. Not that I really needed to see it - the major muster may have been a spectacular event but the battle re-enactment takes place every year on Mill Island in the town centre, usually on the third Saturday of January. I've stood freezing my nads off watching too many of those to feel any great desire to see any more. Especially as the Sealed Knot used to crowd into every pub in town afterwards and make it almost impossible to get served on that Saturday night, when I was a lad. This year, with them all being camped just outside town, there was not a single Civil War soldier to be seen in the pubs on a Saturday night. Of course, I could just have been lucky enough to have not been in the same pub, but I don't think so.

Whatever else I do this week, I'll have to be quizzing it on Thursday night, after Amanda Huggenkiss scraped in a poor second last week. Despite having bought The Sun every day for the previous week I still didn't know that Emma Bunton had given birth or that Canada had announced plans to build military bases in the Arctic. I also failed to make the connection between Julie Goodyear, Ian Botham, Jackie Charlton and a black hole. Apparently, it was Shredded Wheat. anyway, we consoled ourselves with the thought that we don't want to win every week as otherwise that puts people off.

And it looks like being a blank weekend football-wise for me this coming Saturday as both Crewe and Nantwich are away from home. I was tempted to go and see Nantwich at Colne in the Preliminary round the FA Cup, but The Lockdown are apparently playing an afternoon gig at The Limelight in Crewe and there's also my mates Disarm [playing with Dear Superstar at the Dry Bar in Manchester, so I could be heading off up that way. There's bound to be music-related capers and comedy gas bill nonsense to relate for my next update. Toodle pip!


Tuesday 21st August

A yard off the pace

It's all kicked off. The football season, of course. Since my last posting both Crewe Alexandra and Nantwich Town have been in serious action. Crewe kicked off their season first with a home game against Brighton and Hove Albion. Following the management switch around in the summer, this was Steve Holland's first real game in charge. Despite a bright start it all went pear-shaped within twenty-five minutes. First up, Crewe's defence failed to clear the ball properly and Brighton knocked it back into the box where Dean Cox poked it home for a simple goal. Then, our joy at Gary Roberts scoring an equalising penalty was cut short when, virtually from the re-start, Nicky Maynard broke his leg. The sight of our most experienced striker (and this season's expected success story) being stretchered off put a big damper on my hopes for the forthcoming season. Turns out he broke his fibula and damaged ankle ligaments and the prognosis is that he'll be out until the New Year. Not good. That said, debutant Byron Moore stepped into the breach and showed that the Academy production line is still turning out the goods. He didn't score but given that he's two years behind Maynard, he showed enough to suggest he'll make the grade. Anyway, the second half of the game was pretty even and although Brighton had the most of the ball, Crewe snatched the lead when Gary Roberts got on to the end of a Billy Jones cross. It looked like Brighton had a legitimate clainm for a penalty late on but the referee gave it on the edge of the area. They blasted the free-kick high and wide and that was just about it. When the final whistle went I had mixed emotions - pleased with the win and the three points, depressed over the injury to Maynard. Buoyed by the performance I decided to go along to watch the boys at home to Hull City in the first round of the Carling Cup on the Wednesday night. The Alex put on a better performance than the 0-3 scoreline would suggest, although they were architects of their own downfall in conceding a soft penalty for the first goal and blundering in defence for the third. That said, Hull City had enough experience to deal with whatever we threw at them and our inexperienced strike duo of Miller and Pope didn't quite have the nous to make the most of their chances. Worse still was the sight of Byron Moore being stretchered off late in the second half. Luckily his injury is not as serious as feared and he'll be back soon. He wasn't back for Saturday's trip to Bristol Rovers but Tom "The Pope" Pope scored a well-taken equaliser as the team fought back to secure a hard-earned point. From the two games I've seen this season there are definite signs that the team are trying to play more football in the middle of the park and are not being forced backwards as much as they have been over the last couple of seasons.

I didn't actually go to Bristol to watch the Alex as I was at the new Weaver Stadium to witness Nantwich Town's first game in the Unibond First Division South. I'd already been to the stadium to watch a pre-season friendly against Port Vale so had some idea of what to expect. However, I was expecting a bit more of an atmosphere. Perhaps it was the new stadium and perhaps it was the disappointing performance by Nantwich Town but it seemed to be a lot quieter in the new stadium than it used to be at Jackson Avenue. I think it'll take a few games for people to get used to it. For the record Natwich lost 2-0 to Quorn. A goal in either half was enough for the former Unibond Premier outfit. Nantwich's performance was a bit flat and the strikers never really created any clear cut chances. Andy Kinsey looked a yard short of the required pace, but that's nothing new. More worryingly, Crewe reject Pavel Suhaj looked no more suited to this level of football than he looked comfortable playing for Crewe. And after creating one or two openings in the first half Danny Griggs hardly saw the ball in the second. If the Qourn striker (Sidhu, I think it was) had been able to shoot with his left foot Nantwich could have been on the wrong end of a shoe-ing. As it was the guy constantly cut inside to try to get the ball on his right foot and wasted a lot of opportunities. Admittedly, Nantwich were also missing three first-choice defenders and a couple of a midfielders, but even so they were strangely poor. Next game up is at local rivals Alsager, who have been a bogey team in the past. I shall be popping along after work, possibly sporting my new (red) Nantwich Town top, but I'm not too optimistic. It could be a long hard season....

It was with a depressing predictability that I recently received a Final Reminder for my gas bill. I rang British Gas and spoke to Diane, who explained that there was an outstanding action against my account which is why I keep receiving demands. She said she'd put a block on the account so that no further action was taken but a mere week later I received a Notice of Legal Action. I rang British Gas again yesterday and spoke to Janet who said she would put a "dunning block" on the account so that it would go no further and she'd investigate why my account hadn't been updated. I have absolutely no confidence that either of these things will have happened so will be ringing them back on Thursday to find out what the state of play is. Things have dragged on now over this one mistaken bill and quite frankly I'm getting fed up. Anyway, for your amusement I am in the process of compiling all my documents and knocking together a webpage detailing the whole sorry saga. Mind you, if this unfortunate Kent couple are anything to go by, I've got a long battle ahead of me...

On a lighter note, a week last Monday night I went to the newly-opened M Club in Crewe to see Hayseed Dixie. I tried to time my arrival to miss the support act, but as with my trip to the Shakespeare a week or so before, I got it all wrong. I was forced to endure the delights of Neck, a London-based Oirish band. Whilst I'm not averse to Pogues-style treatments of traditional Irish music and songs penned in the same vein, the main problem with Neck was that every song sounded like the Pogues' "Wild Irish Rover". Even their version of Anarchy In the UK, which was no mean achievement. There may be more subtlety in their recorded output but live I couldn't hear the banjo (the guy might as well have stayed at the bar) and the fiddle was virually inaudible too, so all we had were guitar, drums, tin whistle and shouty vox. Oh, and a painful blast of feedback at one point. Hayseed Dixie, on the other hand, have tightened up their act even since I saw them at the Acoustic Festival last year. The sound was spot on, the banter was excellent and these guys know how to put on a show. I did wonder if the novelty of their one-joke act - rock songs covered in uptempo hillbilly bluegrass style - would wear off after having seen them already, but they play it wonderfully straight and are obviously splendid musicians. Even if the mandolin player - Deacon Dale Reno - does look like an overgrown Oompah-Loompah... Anyway, a good time was had by all, even if the beer was slightly on the expensive side and looked in danger of running out at one point. They played a lot of their "hits", included some stuff from the new album, pulled off a very amusing mash-up of Hotel California and Careless Whisper and finished with a storming version of Duelling Banjos. The only down side of the night was not being able to get a taxi from the town centre afterwards and having to walk up to the railway station in order to get home. Oh, and feeling knackered at work the following day.

Er, and that's it really. Not much else to tell. I would boast of Amanda Huggenkiss's wins in the pub quiz, but to be honest, they're becoming a bit to frequent to be proud of. I think even the pub management are getting fed up of us - whenever we pick the "bottle of bubbly" prize now we get some cheap Italian fizz, whereas we when started it was proper champagne, albeit some chateau you'd never heard of. The one thing we have noticed about the pub quiz recently though is that there are a lot of people prepared to use their mobile phones in order to find out the answers. Last week, for example, a couple of girls sat near us spent virtually the whole quiz on their phones repeating the questions to whoever was on the other end of the line. It was a bit of a poor show but luckily the people they were ringing had no clue either. Plus both girls were rather attractive, so I was prepared to forgive them. However, they were by no means the only ones and it's now a matter of honour that we never use our phones during the quiz. That said, I have noticed that Charlie has recently taken to leaving his phone on the table during the quiz, but I think this is his way of showing off that he has lady friends (or indeed any friends) who want to speak to him at all hours whereas Rob and I don't...

And finally, for your delectation and delight a couple of gems from youtube. First up, an unlikely duet between Morrissey and Siouxsie Sioux, covering Interlude, a song from the film of the same name. Not sure how this one passed me by at the tme as it rather gorgeous. The video, by the way, is made up of scenes from the film 'Dance With a Stranger', which is all about Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain. And moving swiftly on from the sublime to the ridiculous - the strangely much-lamented late Bernard Manning sings The Smiths. A comedy LP obviously, but part of me can't help wishing I'd got this. Anybody seen it on ebay? Enjoy.


Sunday 5th August

A pint and a punch-up

As the Acoustic Festival was cancelled, I took advantage of my free weekend to see The Simpsons Movie. Well, I have to say that it IS like watching a long episode of the TV Series, but at least it wasn't interrupted by crappy adverts halfway through (or, if you watch them on Sky One, every five minutes...) and it did have it's genuinely funny moments. And it does feature a lot of cocks. Of course that could just have been my interpretation, but look at Homer's silo and the lightshades in the church and see if you agree. Oh yeah and of course you get to see Bart's tackle. All in all, it's a decent movie and the only thing it does really lack is a cameo from Troy McClure. Not going to happen though.

Having seen Rig Up Explosive at the Civic Hall in Nantwich (see below), I took a punt on seeing them again in The Shakespeare pub, to see if they could live up to the promise of their CD. Having noted the advertised start time of 8pm, I ignored it and turned up at about 8.30, knowing that there was no chance in Hell that the band would be on before then. Indeed, the support act hidesincaves didn't actually take the stage till 9.40, by which time I'd had a few beers and got chatting to an old mate or two, who I'd just happened to have bumped into in the pub. hidesincaves are proponents of that fast riffage/screamo vocal combination that seems to be popular with the younglings. I spent pretty much all their set in the beer garden, from where they sounded OK. By the time Rig Up Explosive came on, about 10.40pm, I'd had a few more beers and was stuck mostly in the beer garden - it was too crowded and too loud inside for my aged companions! However, from what I did see, they'd got the sound sorted and they sounded pretty damn good. I'm definitely impressed and will be looking out to see when they're playing live near me in the the future.

I know I don't mention work much, but I do have to mention that this week I had to upgrade to Office 2007. I'd been trying to put it off, on the grounds of incompatibility with RoboHelp, but I'm not going to be outputting anything from RoboHelp to Word in the near future, so it was pointless argument. As you may well know, the main feature of Office 2007 is the re-organistaion of the menus and toolbars in Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc into "The Ribbon". Of course, it's not really a ribbon, more an oversized toolbar that looks like it's shouting at you. The good news is that you can change your default settings so that you're not confronted with this monstrosity everytime you open Word or Excel or whatever. The bad news is that it appears to give you easy access to more ways of mucking up a document. Which is infuriating for those of us who spend their time setting up templates and styles. The last thing you want to see is a whole host of new ways in which users can break your templates. Anyway, to be honest, having had a play with Word for a week or so, I'm not that upset about it. True, the re-organisation of the menus and toolbars mean I've had to re-learn how to do things, and some of the changes make no more sense than they did originally, but if you hide the Ribbon and customize the Quick Access toolbar it's not that bad. I have ordered the Word 2007 Bible in order to understand evwen more about it, but I chose Super Saver Delivery from Amazon (which means free and slow) and I think I'll have sussed it all out by the time I actually get the book...

Anyway, thinking of cock, I see that that lovable football manager, Neil Warnock, has been responsible for talking a lot of it this week. That esteemed organ, The Sun newspaper has been serializing his autobiography this week. Obviously they've skipped the boring bits about his playing time at Crewe, Barnsley and York (amongst others) and gone straight to the bits where he blamed everyone but himself or his team for Sheffield United's relegation from the Premiership last season. And whilst you can have a bit of sympathy with him regarding West Ham and Carlos Tevez, he precedes to piss this away by blaming Fergie for playing a weakened United side against West Ham and Rafa Benitez for playing a much-changed side at Fulham, a mere three days after they'd got through to the Champions League final. Yes, of course, that was what got Sheffield relegated, not their own failure to get enough points during the season. In fact, had Sheffield United managed to avoid defeat at home to a poor Wigan team on the last day of the season they would have stayed up anyway. Yes, I know The Sun have a duty to make it sound more sensational than it might otherwise be (after all they have sell papers) but Warnock's blamestorming really does grate with me.

And don't get me started on Sir Elton John's recent claim that we should shut down the Internet because it's killing musical creativity... Twunt!

And relax. Anyway, if you're stuck for something to do during the August Bank Holiday weekend, then you really must move over here. Not only is there the annual Crewe Carnival and both Crewe and Nantwich having home games over that weekend, but also this year there's a mini music festival at The Boot and Shoe, Nantwich and the Sealed Knot's Major Muster has got the go-ahead. Sadly, the Big Battle Of Nantwich website appears to be down at the moment, but there appears to be a whole host of events on over the weekend. Of course what this means for us locals is a massive influence of hairy, smelly, scruffs in period costume, filling our pubs and rudely demanding "pints of foaming ale". And that'll just be the women! Thank you, I'll be here all week...


Wednesday 25th July

Irony, thy name is weather.

Of course, my healthy assertion that the Acoustic Festival was still going ahead despite the cancellation of the Nantwich Show, condemned the venture really. Either that or the organisers read my comment about my PVC catsuit and decided to spare the festival-go-ers the horror... Whatever the reason, the plug was pulled on the festival yesterday, and so my weekend has suddenly become very empty. In a neat twist the announcement of the festival's cancellation has been followed by the best two days weather of the last couple of months. It won't last. I was up at the site today to take in the International Cheese Show (well I had a day off and I wasn't going to waste it entirely) and I can't really see how they had any other choice. On the walkways that they'd laid it was OK but off-piste the mud was ankle deep and there was still standing water. Given that two of the proposed stages didn't have walkways and hard standing areas, we'd have soon have been in Glastonbury territory in terms of mud. And whilst the perils of the mud may be acceptable to the younglings that go to Glasto, this event is aimed at a more affluent, middle-class, middle-aged audience, the sort of people who have, in fact, left their Glastonbury mud experiences behind in the 70s and 80s and have no wish to repeat them, thank you very much. Evidence of the muddy conditions can be seen in the photos below - the first showing the Octagon tent (I think) in splendid mud-bound isolation and the second showing the condition of the flooring inside the Cheese show marquee.

Octagon Stage in muddy field

The temporary flooring in the Cheese tent, already showing signs of  the strain.

Of course, it's not all bad news. At least this means that I won't have to put up with the earnest folk-rock wailings of Jethro Tull or the tedious Oirish-ness of the Saw Doctors for at least another year! The organisers have promised to try to re-book as many of the acts as possible for next year's event, so here's hoping those aformentioned already have important engagements pencilled in...

As mentioned above I went up to the International Cheese Show this afternoon, mainly to get a first-hand view of the site, to be honest, but also to get a look at the usual displays of lovely cheeses from round the globe. The turn out from the manufacturers was still good, despite the weather, and there were plenty of eager young men and women trying to tempt me with their cheesy comestibles. There were also plenty of visitors there. The fact that it was free may have helped, of course, but there was still a decent through-put. It was good to see the many splendid hand-crafted cheeses and the many free samples available. And, as usual, there was the incongruous interloper in the display. This year it was Brunchettas making an appearance in the Snack Cheeses classes. How queer. Anyway, here's a nice picture of the cheese display and another one of the site, taken just at the edge of the walkway outside.

cheeses on display at the International Cheese Show, Nantwich

more mud at the Nantwich Show ground. Nice isn't it?

After visiting the show I took a bit of a stroll along the nearby canal. Which surprised the bloke sailing his barge down it, I can tell you. Actually, I walked along the towpath, not the canal itself. I took a few more pictures with my cameraphone because there were plenty of barges moored along there and also the weather was nice, so it looked picturesque. Sadly, all the pictures did was show up the limitatins of my cameraphone, so they're not presented here. Which is a shame because I'm not sure when the weather will be nice enough again for me to stroll down the canal and get some proper pictures with a proper camera. Also it prevents me from telling you about the mini sculpture trail that runs along the canal. It's a mini sculpture trail in the sense that it's not very long and not that the sculptures are very small, by the way. Start at Nantwich Marina and head towards the town and you'll see them. All canal-related, of course. Very interesting.

Changing subjects somewhat, regular readers concerned over my gas safety, will be relieved to know that I had an engineer round this very day, who inspected all the fires and pronounced them all safe and sound. Perfectly use-able and not a danger to life at all. So, great, I could have turned them on last winter instead of freezing my arse off the whole time... Still better safe than sorry. In other gas-related capers it will come as a surprise to no one that I have received a reminder for my outstanding bill with British Gas. You know, the one that I thought I had cleared up and didn't have to pay. Ah well, back on the phone to Adam tomorrow, I guess. Hope he's got a plausible reason why this should still be ongoing.

And in yet another swift change; music. Last Saturday night my mate Ian dragged me down to Nantwich Civic Hall to watch his son's band in action. We missed the first band, who are, I'm afraid, condemned to anonymity by the fact that their name wasn't on the poster. Next on were Samara Morgan. Fast riffage, screamy/growly vocals, you'll either love them or hate them. Unfortunately for them the guitarist broke a string during the first number and there was a lengthy delay whilst a replacement guitar was cadged. Doubly unfortunately for them they were playing at the Civic Hall and despite all the money apparently spent on the acoustics, once the volume gets over a certain level, everything disntegrates into a sludgy mess. The sprung dancefloor and the speaker stacks upon it wouldn't have helped matters, but you really need to either hang some speakers from the ceiling or turn everything down to get the best out of the venue, I think. Anyway, whatever subtleties there were to be had in the riffage were lost and it just sounded like a racket. Sorry guys but it did. Next up were The Lockdown, the act I'd been dragged along to see. Unashamedly indie, with strong overtones of Snow Patrol and slight hints of Placebo, they were probably the odd ones out on the bill. They suffered the same acoustic problems as everyone else but the songs were strong enough to shine through, notably "The Last Goodbye". And they delivered a decent stab at Muse's "Plug-In Baby" to finish. Enjoyable. They need to work on their stage craft, but that's only natural - I don't recall my own teenage band springing forth fully-formed. I'd pop along and see them again. Lockdown were followed by Footprints In The Custard. I'll be honest, they're not my cup of tea. They'd go down a storm at Download or some such rock festival but that's not my arena. They suffered the same sound problems as everyone else and as a result some of the humour was lost on me. I'll admit too, that we nipped outside for a breather while they were on so missed much of the set. The penultimate band of the crowded bill were The Almost Super Heroes Nu-punk, from the same school as NOFX, Lagwagon, those types. Pretty good at what they do, with some decent tunes too. Not the future of rock'n'roll but entertaining. Last band of the night were Rig Up Explosive. I'll be honest, I was intrigued. With the sludgy sound it was hard to pin down whether they were Arctic Monkey-wannabes, ska-punks or genuinely different. They certainly had tunes but there was no way of picking out any subtleties in the melodies. I bought ther CD afterwards and listening to it days later, I'm still intrigued. They are a bit ska-punk, but there's less punk in it than you might imagine and there are other influences pulled in there instead - Red Hot Chili Peppers, Gang of Four, Oasis, Ordinary Boys (but in a good way!) and someone else I can't quite put my finger on. Anyway, they're playing at The Shakespeare pub on Tuesday night so I think I'll pop along and catch them again. Purely for research purposes, of course.

Football-wise, you'll be relieved to hear that there's not much to report. I went to watch Crewe in a pre-season friendly last week, but I missed much of the match as that dirty beer got in the way. Or was it the football that got in the way of the beer? There's not been any pre-season excitement at Nantwich Town either, other than the fact that the weather has delayed the completion of the new stadium. The ground, to be named The Weaver Stadium, will hopefully be handed over to the club by the end of the month but in the meantime a few planned friendlies have had to be postponed/cancelled. Still not long till the start of the new season now, so you can look forward to more tedious football-based reports.

Finally, but better late than never and all that, here's a picture of me and my siblings all gathered together at Christmas. Provided for my sister-in-law, Kate. (I've got a bigger, hi-res original if you want, my dear.) Anyway, you don't need to be a rocket scientist to spot why I grew my beard back. And there's no prize for spotting I've got my little instrument in my hand. And a ukulele.

they're creepy and they're kooky, mysterious and ooky, the Lawrence family


Tuesday 17th July

Cocking Paints

Well, the bad weather has claimed yet another victim with the cancellation of the Nantwich Show. They haven't updated their website to reflect that sad news yet, though. Anyway, for only the second time in it's 111-year history, the show has been cancelled, and this is the first time the weather has been the cause. The last time the show was cancelled was, I believe, in 2001, due to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. It's not entirely a disaster though as the International Cheese Festival is still going ahead. Not that sure if I'll be popping along to that, to be honest. It'll depend on the whethers. Whether or not it's raining and whether or not the gas bloke finishes inspecting my gas fires at a reasonable hour.

It did occur to me, on reading the headlines about the show, that the Acoustic Festival is held on the same site a few days later and that this might also be in danger, but apparently not. So, great, it looks like those of us who missed out on the Glastonbury mud experience will be getting our own little South Cheshire version! Of course, that does give me an excuse to slip on the PVC catsuit and matching thigh boots - "Not only sexy, love, but wipe clean too.". Alright, maybe not.

In other news, I was off up in Grimsby last weekend. I went over to meet up with my old mate Kev, who I haven't seen for a while. It was nice to catch up. I'd been meaning to catch up with him for a while but, as virtually anyone I know will tell you, I'm rubbish at keeping in touch. In fact, if I do know you and you're feeling a bit resentful of the fact I haven't been in touch for a while, sorry, but I am rubbish at that sort of thing. Rest assured my lack of contact is not a reflection on the value I place on our friendship but a measure of my under-developed social skills. Unless, of course, I hate you. But then how would you know?

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Grimsby. It was great. Friday night we stayed in and had a curry, some beers and a good old catch-up chat. Saturday we went out to re-visit some of our old haunts from our student days. To be fair, both Kev and I hung around Grimsby for a fair while after being students so there aren't that many places in the town we haven't actually been in. Admittedly some of them only once, and we'll not being going back in a hurry, but a new experience in terms of Grimsby pubs wasn't on the cards. Especially as Kev wouldn't let me go in the lapdancing club! Anyway, it was a swift round of some old favourites - Wetherspoons, Swigs, The Barge - before heading up to Cleethorpes for a few more beers, some games of pool, fish and chips and an ill-advised last pint before getting a train back to Kev's. I was slightly disappointed that Kev wasn't up for a nostalgic trip to Gullivers, where we spent many an (un)happy evening, but I guess there's always next time... Anyway, Sunday morning was spent shifting furniture for Kev's elderly neighbour (thanks, mate) and then after a hearty lunch it was off to The Signal Box Inn, a.k.a. The Smallest Pub on the Planet, for a couple of refreshing scoops before getting the train home.

Speaking of trains, regular readers will be surprised to learn that despite travelling on Friday 13th, my journey to Grimsby via Derby and Sheffield was largely uneventful and the train arrived mere minutes later than advertised. On the way back on Sunday evening the trains were similarly punctual but unfortunately my journey was spoiled by the noise of my fellow passengers. Now,I appreciate that it's hard to keep kids amused and get them to behave even at the best of times, but after three-quarters of an hour of listening to a young girl's randomly-spaced ear-piercing shrieks, even I was beginning to get annoyed. Worst thing was that her mother appeared to think that not only was this behaviour normal but also that it was acceptable. Anyway, I uttered a silent cheer when they left the train at Doncaster, but I was premature in giving thanks. The irritating kid was replaced by the bungling, argumentative foreign family who not only managed to leave a pushchair on the platform (fortunately sans baby) but then proceeded to argue about it and shout into their mobile phones for the next forty minutes. Once they'd calmed down though, their babies (presumably unused to the absence of a row) kicked in. It was with a glad heart that I escaped the noise when leaving the train at Stockport. There was still time for a brief panic when I noticed that my planned connection wasn't included on the timetables on display, but in the end I got all the way back to Nantwich and managed to nip round to the curry house on my way home from the station. Result.

Anyway, that's it for now. I've got some more stuff to write about and a couple of pictures that might be worth posting but you'll have to wait for them. I'm off to watch Crewe play Alsager in a friendly after work tomorrow and then it's quiz night Thursday so I might get round to doing an update on Friday night if I haven't had a better offer in the meantime...


Tuesday 10th July

All aboard the Skylark!

Ah, first up, in order to appease the Gods of Quiz, who obviously weren't smiling upon us last week, I just have to mention that Amanda Huggenkiss have been doing fairly well in the quiz at the Cronkinson's Farm pub in the past few weeks. In fact, winners on four weeks out of the last six. I also have to point out that sequence includes a win when Charlie wasn't present, meaning that Rob can now reasonably claim to be carrying both me and Charlie, as he's been there every time we've won, whereas myself and Charlie have both missed a winning performance. Of course, this is at least partly true as both Charlie and I are fairly poor on the picture round. But then we all have different strengths - I know the soap and trivia stuff and Charlie knows all about Harry Potter - which is what makes us a formidable team. We ought to compete individually one night, just for a bit of fun, to find out who really is the best all-rounder, but I suspect that's just asking for trouble as Rob and Charlie are somewhat competitive (as brothers often are).

T'other weekend I went over to my parents place in Conisbrough. It looked a good opportunity to kill three birds with one stone - I had some banking business to do, I could go and see a couple of bands at The Civic and also get a lift to/from the annual Lawrence clan gathering. Well, the weekend got off to a less than auspicious start when I went into Doncaster to find that my bank branch had closed the previous day in preparation for a merger with another branch. And whilst the other bank branch was open, my account hadn't been migrated to their system so I couldn't do the transfer anyway. So one bird escaped. Still, I did manage to get to The Civic to take in the Goth-slash-doom-slash rock stylings of NFD and their goth-ish support band Rhombus. To be fair, apart from their rubbish '80s electropop name, Rhombus were actually quite good. The only other fault I could pick with then would be that the frontman's choice of outfit - jacket with sleeves rolled up, purple shirt, black tie and black hat (a Homburg, I reckon) - made him look like a a Peter Davison-era Dr Who companion. Perhaps that was the look he was aiming for though? NFD on the other hand appeared to be aiming for a look that was a cross between pirate chic and crusty. The band was formed from the ashes of the Fields of the Nephilim, the late 80s goth-slash-rock band. To much general apathy they re-united briefly a couple of years ago and then split up again. Still the bass player and drummer are keeping the torch burning and also reinforcing the impression that being a goth involves the wearing of a stupid hat...

Anyway, Sunday morning and it was off down to Welford-on-Avon for the annual family gathering. In an unlikely turn of events not only did we set off almost on time but, we arrived more than an hour early. My Dad had decided upon an early start to avoid the build up of traffic round Donnington for the British Motorbike Grand Prix. Fortunately for us the British Summer weather was in full effect and all the bikers making their way to Donnington were either still at home in the dry or parked up under bridges waiting for the rain to ease off. As a result, there were no hold-ups and we ended up killing time in a pub car park by the Avon in order to save ourselves from arriving too early. We were stil early, just not ridiculously early, although we were early enough that we had to kill time in the car park and not in the pub. Anyway, the usual suspects were all present and correct, the rain stayed away for most of the day and when it did rain we were handily protected by the enormous gazebo-cum-tent that Mike had put up. Not much else to report really - everyone was fine, the food was good and everyone who was there had a good time.

Having sensibly booked the following day off so that I could drink an enormous amount and not have to worry about getting up at stupid o'clock, it was with some concern that I woke to find Conisbrough and it's surrounding environs in the grip of a torrential downpour. It's difficult to describe how bad it was but, basically, imagine the worst British rain you've ever seen and then imagine that carrying on for 36 hours. I had to put my coat on when going out to the bin to avoid getting drenched. I'd planned to head back west around 3pm on the Monday but by that time the roads at the bottom of the village were flooding and the local rail service had been suspended. And it was still hammering down. I abandoned plans for the day and resolved to try again on Tuesday. Sadly the travel situation was even worse on Tuesday - I couldn't get anywhere near Sheffield due to flooding, the motorway and several major roads were closed and rail services in South Yorkshire were pretty much scuppered. I had to call work and let them know I was stranded. Fortunately, my parents live up towards the top of Conisbrough, so their house was unaffected, apart from losing the cable TV for 24 hours. Anyway, I was finally able to get out of the village on Wednesday morning but there was still such remaining chaos after the floods that the journey back was a bit of a nightmare. Of course, that's nothing unusual to me - I can have nightmare journeys even on days when the weather is perfect. However I was aiming to be back in work for lunchtime and ended up not making it by any stretch. I abandoned the attempt to get to work fairly early and finally got back to my house not much before 4pm. Still I did manage to get this nice picture of a rainbow from the train on the last leg of my journey home.

Rainbow over Wilmslow

Following my misadvetures in one part of Yorkshire, it was with some trepidation that the following weekend I headed over to Leeds to meet up with my brother, Mark and his wife, Kate. Well, the weather wasn't that brilliant there either but the company more than made up for it. Friday night we went for a curry at Raja's. I have to confess I'd never heard of the place but Mark and Kate assured me it was excellent. And even if I didn't take their word for it, there were enough clippings from the national Press pasted all over the place to demonstrate that the place had acquired a decent reputation. And I have to say it lived up to the billing - the food was excellent, the service was good and friendly and although I didn't get a look at the final bill the menu prices seemed pretty reasonable to me. It gets a Fatfakir Thumbs Up!, whatever that's worth. On Saturday, Kate had to work but, after a leisurely brekkie, Mark and I took a trip to Saltaire. It's a model town built by Sir Titus Salt for the workers at his mill. Some of the architecture is fabulous and I wished I'd bought that digital camera I was on about getting. Then after a rather damp wander round, through the showers, we had a nosy round Salts Mill. No longer a mill, of course, but a gallery-cum-bookshop-cum-diner-cum-tourist trap. If you've got a few quid spare you can pick up a limited edition David Hockney print or two (I don't have that sort of money spare, sadly) or you can get posters and the like. We had a nosh in the diner, which was nice, but a bit over-priced, in my opinion. Not that I paid the bill, mind you. Sunday was a lazy day spent watching the rain sweep over the house periodically. It wasn't bad enough for me to get stuck there sadly, so I had to come home. The return journey had a slight edge to it following the car bomb at Glasgow Airport. There were armed Police in Leeds station and everyone on the train was eye-ing up their neighbour whilst trying to look inconspicuous. Well, that's how it seemed to me. By contrast I saw one policeman at Manchester and none at Crewe. Crewe's armed Police obviously don't work Sundays but they were all over the station by Monday morning...

I've not been out and actually bought any new albums recently, but my brother did very kindly "lend" me a Jake Thackray box set. If you've never heard of him, I'm going to have a bit of trouble describing him without making him sound like the sort of act you should be running away from. But I'll give it a go. Jake Thackray was (aye, he sadly died a few years back) a singer -songwriter, who specialised in comic, slightly risque songs, delivered deadpan in his distinctive Yorkshire voice. You see, I agonised over that sentence and still it doesn't do him justice. Anyway, you can check out a couple of his masterpieces on YouTube - The Bull and On Again. Go on, have a look.

I mentioned below my recent run-in with British Gas, who appear to be unable to resolve a simple meter reading cock-up. Since "sorting out" my erroneous bill, I've had two replacement bills for exactly the same incorrect amount. Can't say I'm overly confident I won't get another Notice of Disconnection... This may yet run and run. Stay tuned for more developments.


Wednesday 20th June

Rescuing Roddy Random

Just time for a quick update before I go off gallivanting over the next couple of weekends. Got the annual Lawrence family gathering to look forward to next weekend and then seeing my brother in Leeds the weekend after. And no, that doesn't mean I'll see my brother two weekends in a row as he's missing the family gathering due to holidaying in Iceland. Or maybe he's just planning to be shopping at Iceland that day. I'm not entirely sure, to be honest. Anyway, because modern life is either rubbish or just far too complicated, depending on which newspaper you read, this latest update will be based on some things I have learnt over the last few weeks that might help you. Or possibly not.

One. If you decide to buy a cup of coffee on the way to work, make sure when you're drinking it that all the coffee is going in your mouth and not dribbling down your shirt. Sounds easy, I know but it's happened to me twice. Also, the usual tactic of donning a tie to cover the resultant offending stain will only work if you've spilled the coffee down the middle of your shirt front. There's no point in spending the day with your tie askew, covering your right nipple as you'll just look more foolish than if you simply exposed the stain. Er, apparently, so I've been told...

Two. If a man comes running up to you in the street asking for help because he's just been attacked, don't bother dialling 999 for the Police - they won't be interested. Even though, according to their own guidelines (here) I was right to call 999. Anyway, they'll just give you a local number to call instead. And the cops at the end of that number won't be very interested either. Admittedly said man didn't have any visible injuries and there was no sign of his assailants but he was clearly shaken up and scared. There were a number of back and forth conversations with a policewoman at the other end of the phone but it was fairly clear that they weren't about to send anyone out to attend. In the end Rob (who had just been dropping me off after another successful quiz night) and I ended up taking the poor chap across town to his car, exchanging phone numbers and advising him to report the incident in person. I thought I'd hear no more about it, but the police did then ring me about twenty minutes after I'd gone to bed, so the young man had obviously reported it. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to tell them much - we hadn't witnessed an assault or any assailants - so there was not a lot the police could go on. To be fair, I have had a subsequent call but apart from letting them know where the victim had parked his car I couldn't add anything else they didn't already know. I suspect this won't go much further. Not that they necessarily would have got any further if the Police had come out in the first place, but at least then the victim would have had the reassurance he was being taken seriously. And he wouldn't have had to rely on two total strangers playing the Good Samaritans.

Three. If your music journalist brother advises you that whenever music journalists rave about a band's latest release, then you ought to skip it and buy the previous release because that is almost certainly a better album, try to remember that at all times. Don't ignore that advice just because you saw the band doing an interesting cover version on The Culture Show on BBC2. Otherwise you'll end up with the frankly disappointing Neon Bible by Arcade Fire when you should really have bought their cracking debut album, Funeral, first instead. Could have saved myself a bit of time and money there, to be honest, although I probably would have bought Neon Bible anyway.

Four. British Gas are rubbish. It's true and it's official. Now, I never use any gas in my house. I only have four gas fires - no central heating, no gas cooker, no gas-fired boiler, nothing else. I never use these gas fires because, despite repeated requests, the letting agents haven't provided a Gas Safety Inspection certificate and not had the fires inspected. I don't have any Carbon Monoxide detectors in the house, so have firmly stuck to my safety first policy and not put them on. Not even in the middle of winter when I was freezing my proverbials off every day. Since moving in then, my gas bills have been zero, zero and zero, as you would expect. So imagine my surprise when, shortly after my meter was replaced, I received a bill for almost 1200. Especially as the bill related entirely to the period before my meter was replaced. Shurely shome mistake, I thought. Indeed there was - a simple comedy transposition of the meter number and the actual reading, both barely legible on the label on the new meter. However it took me three phone calls, totalling just under two hours, to an 0845 number before I could get it sorted and then I had to make a further couple of calls to the Frontline Support team to get it finally sorted. In the meantime, I received a reminder, and a final reminder despite assurances from the Customer Services bods that I wouldn't... Anyway, having finally sorted it out this morning I was delighted to be told that I'd be receiving another incorrect bill as it had been re-issued, and then to get a call from the Debt Collection department this afternoon, who clearly dialled my number before bothering to call up my account details.

Five. Er, well there was a number five, but I've obviously forgotten it. Perhaps it was that you should always write your best ideas down so that you don't forget them... Ah well, four useful bits of information there, I fancy.

Anyway, that's it for this brief update - as I said before I'm off over the next couple of weekends. I've then got a weekend free before a trip to Grimsby and after that the pre-season friendlies start and before you know it the football season will be back in full swing and it'll be back to the usual round of potted sports reports and the occasional piece of randomness.

Oh and quick Congratulations! to my old friend Lisa who gave birth to a daughter very recently.

Oops nearly forgot - every other twonk has had their say on the new Olympic logo, so here's my offering which conveys the spirit of the Games and also neatly illustrates how London won it's bid...

Olympic Logo maltreated

Monday 28th May

A day-trip to The Crunch

Eeh, more than a month before I get round to doing an update. It's terrible, anybody would think I'm just too busy to update the site, or more likely, that I'm not doing anything worth writing about. Sadly, I think it is mostly the latter. Ah, 'tis true, over the last few weeks I've mostly been working or sleeping or sleeping at work.

In between the work/sleep cycles I managed to get along to Crewe Alexandra's last home game of the season. Which was a frustrating draw with Tranmere, in which Crewe paid the price for not scoring in the first half, after the Tranmere 'keeper had been sent off for deliberate handball outside the area. They had enough chances but failed to put one away. Tranmere came out blazing in the second half, scored early and then tried to sit back and defend their lead. Fortunately, Shaun Miller came on to score his third goal of the season and save the day. At the final whistle there was the usual pitch invasion which briefly threatened to turn ugly when a few Crewe idiots goaded some Tranmere idiots into running onto the pitch for a spot of 'handbags at five paces', but that was largely snuffed out by the stewards and police. Post-match I had a few beers and a curry with some of my fellow fans, which was nice. Crewe went on to finish their season with a decent nil-nil draw at Nottingham Forest, and that was it - a somewhat disppointing season over and done with.

Off the field, of course, the work hasn't stopped for the Alex and the biggest news of the close season so far has been the sale of leading striker Luke Varney to Charlton Athletic for an initial fee of 2M. Whilst it's disappointing to see the club lose such an asset, especially after some of the dismal performances of a the last couple of seasons, it is undoubtedly good business on Crewe's part. I certainly don't think they would have got any more for him in a six months time and the money gives the club a bit of leeway to bring in new faces as well as covering this season's projected loss of around 1.6M. The other thing that will give the club a bit more flexibility in bringing in new players is the offloading of a lot of the squad players. The cull has started and by my reckoning the club have let nine players leave already and four have turned down new contracts, and there are two players who'll have to prove their fitness before they get offered contracts. Throw into the mix the 13 players who left last summer, and the couple who were let go in January and that's a turnover of nearly thirty players in the space of a year. Admittedly a lot of those players were on the fringes of the first-team and the club has had an overly-large squad for the past couple of seasons, but even so. The side that started this season bore little resemblance to the side that finished the season before, and whilst next season there may be a little more continuity, I suspect the side will be one that is still in transition. 'Twas ever thus, of course, but lately the pace of change seems to have increased.

Mind you, if the playing side is in transition, then so too is the management. The long-awaited succession plan has finally been revealed and, in typical Crewe style, they've made a mess of it in PR terms. Dario is still in charge although he's no longer Manager, the Academy Director is now also the First Team Coach and the Assistant Manager retains his title although he's got no Manager to assist... I suspect the arrangement actually reflects what's been happening off the pitch over the last few years anyway - the first team has been run by a three-man committee with Dario having overall control. The changes probably mean Dario will relinquish some of that control to Steve Holland (the 1st Team Coach) giving him more time to concentrate on the Academy and scouting. Neil Baker will continue to do whatever it is the Assistant Manager does, presumably going out scouting for decent players with Dario more often as Steve Holland gets on with training the 1st Team. Interestingly, the first change Steve Holland has made is to introduce afternoon training sessions. Not sure how well that'll go down with some of the senior professionals at the club, but if it improves the standard of the team it's got to be welcomed. Whatever happens, I'll be there next season,. Supporting that is, not training twice a day. I barely trained twice a week when I was playing rugby - twice a day would probably kill me now.

In other football news (yes, I'm getting it out of the way early) Nantwich Town have found out who their opponents for next season will be. Having achieved promotion to the Unibond Northern Premier League, there has been a bit of a wait whilst the teams were finalised. The Northern Premier League Division 1 has been split into two leagues - Midlands and Northern. Nantwich have been placed in to the Midlands Division along with Alsager Town, Belper Town, Brigg Town, Cammell Laird, Carlton Town, Colwyn Bay, Goole, Grantham Town, Gresley Rovers, Kidsgrove Athletic, Quorn, Retford United, Sheffield, Shepshed Dynamo, Spalding United, Stocksbridge PS, and Warrington Town. So, sadly, no money-spinning visit from FC United next season and some long-distance trips to look forward to. On the other hand there is the local derby against Alsager to look forward to and if Colwyn Bay away is on a Saturday at either end of the season, that'll be a nice day out. Knowing my luck though, it'll be on a freezing Tuesday night in November...

In other big news, I've been to see Spiderman 3. In fact I've seen it twice. On the same day. Well, I had to watch it twice - the first time to enjoy it and the second time to work out whether or not it was actually any good. Well, in terms of the three Spiderman movies so far this one definitely has the most stunts and the best effects, but sadly it's about 30 minutes too long. The end drags on a bit, there's too much faffing about in the middle and there are too many plotlines, meaning that they all suffer from not having enough screen time. There's plenty in this film that works and hangs together with everything we know about Spiderman and yet somehow the film isn't as good as I was expecting. All the elements of the film are right but it doesn't quite hang together and ends up dragging on for about 30 minutes too long. I think they could have dropped the Sandman out of the film and coupled Venom with the Green Goblin to take on Spidey. That way they could have used the Venom storyline and still have had Harry redeem himself at the end. They'd have also saved a good half an hour of the film and a stack of money on the Sandman effects. Money they could have spent on a better story editor. That's not to say that the Sandman was a bad character - they gave him a decent back story and the genesis of the Sandman is one of the outstanding set pieces in the film, but if you were trying to edit the film to make it leaner and better paced, the Sandman would be the easiest character to lose. Having said all that, I certainly enjoyed it the first time round and was only really aware of the faults of the film the second time round, when I was viewing it with a much more dispassionate eye. Probably worth seeing once but unlike the previous two outings this might not bear repeated viewings.

As well as my outing to the cinema I have been preparing for the empty Saturdays of summer by stocking up on DVDs again. Sadly, I've already watched loads, so the forthcoming Saturdays promise to be as empty as they ever were unless I start planning some days out or something. I did start writing some overly-detailed reviews for the DVDs, but then decided it would be a better idea to sum them up in one sentence - more of a challenge for me but less of an ordeal for you. Anyways, these were mostly picked up cheap from the supermarkets, so don't expect anything jaw-droppingly exciting in following list:

I had a rare day off on Friday. Rather than waste it by spending the day catching up on my sleep or something equally indulgent, I decided to take a day trip to Conwy to have a look at the castle, wander the town and look at the sea. Conwy Castle is one of the fortresses built by King Edward I during his second campaign in Wales. There's plenty of it still standing and for a mere four pounds and fifty of your English pence you can spend your time wandering round it. Which is what I did. And if you're a bit dubious with spiral staircases, like me, then my tip is to head up to the wall walks via the Prison Tower as this seems to have the best-kept steps and the shortest flight up to the wall. Here's lovely picture I took from by the Prison Tower, apologies for the quality, I had to use my phone camera and it was a grey day.

view across the castle top

The views from the higher towers across Conwy are quite spectacular but I didn't take any pictures as I was too busy making sure I didn't fall off to let go of either the railings or the castle wall and get my phone out. Not a good place for a fat bloke with a fear of heights. I didn't stay up top for too long. Still, it was worth getting up there for the views, even if it did seem to take forever to get back down. I did take some other pictures round the castle, and later in the town too, but none of them came out too well.

Once safely back on terra firma, I had a bit of a wander round Conwy itself before going for lunch at The Galleon. Very nice it was - haddock, chips and mushy peas and a pot of tea - very tasty and not a bad price. After lunch I set out to walk round the town walls. Somewhat naively, I thought it'd be a gentle stroll a la the walls of Chester. Oh no. The bit of wall I'd strolled along by the castle earlier turned out to be about the only bit of it that was level. The rest of it seemed to have an incline that varied between steep and ridiculous. About halfway up one stretch I seriously contemplated turning round and making my way back to where I started. However, looking across the town I realised I wasn't that far from the apex and that once I got there it was pretty much downhill all the way. Again the views from parts of the wall are spectacular, but most of the time I was concentrating on keeping moving. Having made it round the walls and seen pretty much all the town by mid-afternoon, it was back on the train and home in time for tea. All in all a good day out, despite the comedy capers with heights, and I'd recommend it for anyone who doesn't have small children to have to look out for.

I'm already planning some more days out for the rest of the summer, to fill up my empty weekends mostly, but I think I'll have to get a proper digital camera first. If you've got any recommendations feel free to post them here but please bear in mind I'm restricted to places easily accessible by public transport.

The disadvantage of not doing regular updates is that you forget stuff that you've done, or it's not got the same relevance by the time you come to do the update. For example, I did some marshalling at the Macmillan Race for Life at Oulton Park a couple of weeks back, both my sisters and my niece took part in the Playtex Moonwalk, and Team Amanda Huggenkiss have got back to winning way in the pub quiz, but these things only seem worth mentioning in passing now. Ah well, I suppose I ought to invest (time, rather than money) in some proper publishing software so I can publish via a web interface rather than this laborious hand-coding and FTP-ing I have to do each time. Don't hold your breath though, eh?


Tuesday 24th April

Pimping ain't easy

Right, let's get all this shit down before I forget what I've actually been doing over the last month. Sadly it's been the usual round of stuff, to be honest - music, football and impulse purchases.

Let's cover off the music first. The end of March saw me persuade my sister and her boyfriend to take an evening out to Northwich to see some old mates, Disarm, supporting Zen Motel and Patchwork Grace on the second night of the Trashstock Tour. Apart from being made to feel very old by the throng of 15 year-olds gathered outside the venue, it was a good night. Disarm opened proceedings and went down a storm. They were backed by a new drummer, Liam, who replaced Tez who apparently "went nuts". Although he was tight and efficient I thought they missed a bit of Tez's flamboyance. But that's quibbling really on a night when they proved to be the most popular of the three bands on. Zen Motel's more blokey metal riffs didn't go down quite as well with the younglings. Patchwork Grace put me in mind of early Hole, but with a more metal attitude. Not bad, and their frontwoman is certainly easy on the eye. During the course of the night I also picked up a free CD of a band called Obsessive Compulsive. They sound pretty good. I might even have to pop along and check them out next time they're playing, although I note that won't be until August according to their website. Moment of the night though was seeing virtually the entire room hit the dancefloor for that Scatman song from a few years back. It's obviously still very popular with the Northwich yout'.

Having taken in the Trashstock Tour, I was encouraged to check out the Cheshire scene. Luckily for me there were a few bands playing at the Civic Hall in Nantwich as part of the Nantwich Jazz & Blues Festival over Easter. I got there a little late and Crash Course were already going through their paces. After some "comedy" confusion at the bar (they wouldn't serve me without a wristband despite the fact I'm clearly over 18, so I had to go back out the front and get one) I had a cold pint in my hand just in time to catch the end of their set. They sounded OK but to be honest I don't remember much about them. Punk, apparently, but clearly nu-punk. Anyway, they were followed by Innuendo, who appear to be the only band on the planet without a MySpace page. Despite their crap name, their indie-rock has gained quite a following. It was OK, pretty tuneful and stuff, but ruined by the acoustics in the Civic Hall, which didn't really do any of the bands any favours - you had to be stood in just the right spot to hear everything properly. These guys play locally quite regularly, so I ought to check them out in an alternative venue, I think. Next up were "the new face of rock'n'roll" Wild Youth. Oh dear, if only they'd spent as much time and care on their tunes as they had on their hair and clothes. Maybe then I wouldn't have spent most of their set wondering when Towers Of London would be having them arrested for stealing their look wholesale. As for the music, well, the best tune sounded like one-hit wonders, Golden Earring, whose Radar Love got to Number 7 in the charts in 1973, and the rest sounded like the follow-up singles which failed to chart at all... Apart from the dreadful cover of Bob Marley's 'Redemption Song', that is. Headlining the night were The Tommys - an all-girl trio who seem to be going places. They're very young, easy on the eye and ear and have an attitude like the early riot-grrrl bands, only with more tunes, obviously. Closest comparison musically is probably L7. But with a bit harder edge, All in all, a decent line up for five quid, and an obvious success as more than 400 people crowded in there.

Having delighted in the adrenalin rush of rock and roll, I took things down a notch or two on Sunday lunchtime, when I went to see The South Cheshire George Formby Society. A mass of about 20 ukulele players faithfully recreating the tunes of George Formby, surprisingly. They did throw in one or two other old ukulele tunes, to be fair. They were very entertaining and have obviously got their patter down to a T, honed over years of playing to audiences with an average age of 50-plus I should imagine. The only thing I didn't like about their performance was the use of a backing track to provide the additional instrumentation. I was expecting something more like the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, I guess. Still, a jolly enjoyable couple of hours, even if it did feature probably the worst joke I've heard in ages. It's down the bottom of this entry if you want to skip the chat about football and other assorted crap.

And talking of football, the most exciting thing I've seen-slash-attended in the last few weeks has been Nantwich Town's last ever league game at their Jackson Avenue ground. After 123 years at Jackson Avenue, they are moving across town to a brand new stadium, Kingsley Fields. The new ground has arrived at about the right time as Nantwich have won promotion from the North West Counties League into a new Unibond Division next season. The last game at Jackson Avenue was against Squires Gate, who gave us a fright in getting back to 3-2 at half-time from being 3-0 down, but obligingly let in a couple more in the seccond half to let Nantwich run out 5-2 winners. Have to admit I missed much of the second half as I was in the bar watching the Grand National with my mate Lee and his next-door neighbour. We were back out for full-time and the obligatory pitch invasion and grabbing of souvenirs. At least Lee was a bit more successful with his pitch invasion than he had been at the FA Vase Final last season! Anyway, here's a couple of pictures, first a general one and then one of Lee. Sorry about the quality but I couldn't get my camera working so had to use my phone instead.

Pitch Invasion Pitch Invasion part 2

The old ground has been sold off for housing (because Nantwich apparently doesn't have enough new builds!) so I guess I can look forward to a summer of disruption and noise pollution over the back fence as my garden is adjacent to the ground. To be fair, I'll be at work most of the time the work is going on so it shouldn't be too bad. Anyway, I do have to say that Jackson Avenue has been the source of some good memories for me over the years, even if there was a slight gap of more than 15 years between my visits in the late '80s and my return last season. I shall miss it, but there's a new ground to build a new set of memories at from next season.

I must just note here, that after a full day on the beers and several more post-match I did go out to a party upstairs at The Red Cow in Nantwich, hosted by a couple of old mates of mine. I'm afraid I was very drunk, so apologies all round if you had your Saturday night at the Cow ruined by some drunken fat bloke. Unless it was some other fat bloke and not me, of course.

Crewe Alexandra have continued their slow meander to the end of the season. A scrappy 1-0 win over Rotherham virtually ensured another season of League One football whilst condemning Rotherham to certain relegation. We made the effort to go to Blackpool for that game, but mainly because it's a nice day out and the weather looked promising. We had a bit of a wander along the sea front and a bite to eat in the pub before the game and then spent the next couple of hours thoroughly frustrated with Crewe's lacklustre display. Admittedly, we did have a few players missing and nothing much to play for, but still it was poor. Not that I expected much - our two leading strikers were both missing, the midfield was missing a couple of regulars and Neil Cox plays so deep as a midfielder that he's practically in the back four, meaning they were always likely to lose the midfield battle. That said, they restricted Blackpool to a handful of chances and were always in with a shout with the game poised at 1-0. Then they gave away a soft free-kick and compounded that by having the wall jump over the ball as it was hit in and it crept in at the near post. There was still time for Shaun Miller to pull a goal back on his full debut for the club, but it was too little, too late. There was then a better performance at home to Brentford, with the Alex achieving a unique double - not only is that twice this season that we have beaten them but after both games they sacked their manager. I missed the meek capitulation at Port Vale, thankfully, as I was at the Nantwich game. By all accounts it was a poor performance and made all the worse by our former player, Luke Rodgers, netting the third. Still, there was a massive improvement yesterday in the 2-1 defeat of Oldham. It wasn't as close as the scoreline suggests - if Lowe and Maynard had had their shooting boots on it could have been five or six. A decent game, although Oldham got a bit niggly and dirty late on, and most of that Crewe team will be here next season. If we can keep Varney and Maynard fit and find a bit more consistency we could be challenging the top six next season. Last home game is next week against Tranmere and there's beers and curry arranged for post-match so hopefully we'll get another three points, otherwise it's going to be a gloomy evening...

I don't have a great interest in popularity contests (if I did I'd promote this site more heavily and have a more user-friendly colour scheme!) and I like to think that my mates aren't interested in that sort of thing either. So I was intrigued to hear Charlie saying to his brother that he was "the fourth most popular man in Britain". Surely, this can't be true. Vanity thy name is Charles, and all that. Anyway it turns out he's achieved a good rating on The Guardian's Internet dating site Soulmates. I note from the current Most Popular list that, having peaked at third, Charlie R has subsequently slipped down to fifth. Still, with the extra publicity I'm giving him, I'm sure you ladies will be rushing along to sign him up and get a date. Before you do though I should point out that whilst he may look moody and devil-may-care in that profile picture, he's also quite capable of looking like this:

monging minger

Of course, the reality is somewhere in between. And here I am mocking him, but who's the one going out on dates or getting involved in complicated long-distance relationships with women they would otherwise never have met in a million years, eh? It's OK, I'm not bitter.

In the market for a safari trip? Need to get in touch with some Lodge operators in southern Africa? Well, I happen to know the right people. Well maybe not, but I do happen to have a couple of friends who have taken their love of safaris and combined it with their own professional experience and created themselves a company which is doing sterling business. You can check it out at Kamili Safaris. They are not tour operators, so sadly no "mates rates" for me on a safari, despite the plug. And whilst I'm giving away free plugs, check out the National Biodiversity Network, who are responsible for collating of data on the biodiversity of the nation. Most of the information comes from local conservation groups and the like, and the best thing about thesite is that you can access the NBN Gateway and have a look at the recorded species in a 10km square area anywhere in the country. So you could for example, have a look and see what's been recorded for the 10km that includes Nantwich and then report if you spot anything that isn't on the list. Useful I reckon, although you might need to have a Google on some of them Latin names to find out what they refer to. Definitely of interest to you naturalists, though.

I did mention something of impulse purchases a lot earlier in this post. You'll be pleased to note that actually I can only remember four things I've bought recently. That's not to say I haven't bought more than that (I might not have since MusicZone went out of business) but this is all I can remember:

And finally, the world's worst joke. From the 1st July it will be illegal to smoke in public places, including pubs, clubs, restaurants and railway stations and the like. This is, of course, part of the Government's drive towards making the population healthier. What people don't realise is, that as part of this legislation, it will also become illegal to eat white bread. You'll only be allowed to eat brown bread and the government is assembling squads of inspectors who'll examine your larder to make sure it only contains brown bread. Yes, any day soon, you can expect a visit from the Hovis Witnesses...


Monday 19th March

How Did That Happen?

I had a rare free Saturday the other weekend, as Crewe were away and Nantwich Town didn't have a game. I was briefly tempted to make the trip to Gillingham to watch the Alex but the thought of a 9-hour round trip on the train soon put paid to that idea. So I ended up catching up with all the tidying and washing and stuff that I've been putting off over the last few weeks because I've been away or ill or working. It still felt rather strange to be standing in the kitchen at 3pm doing the washing up instead of being sat or stood somewhere waiting for a game of football to kick off. That said, I still didn't manage to get round to doing an update for this site, which had been about number three on my list of things to do. Fortunately I've had to wait in today for a someone to read the electricity meter and another chap to replace the gas meter, so I've had time to get this done today.

Having skipped the defeat at Gillingham and the subsequent mid-week draw at Millwall I was looking forward to Saturday's game against Bristol City, even though I was expecting Crewe to get a bit of a pasting. In the end they performed well and with a bit more quality up front could have taken at least a point from the game. Clearly, although Higdon and Jack try, they are not up to the same standard that Varney and Maynard have set this season. I'd have preferred to see Ryan Lowe up front with Higdon, to be honest, but with the injuries mounting, Crewe are short of experience for the midfield too. Still, Vaughan and Maynard might be back for the upcoming game against Rotherham. Let's hope so - we need the cutting edge in front of goal that hopefully Maynard will provide.

Having lost a couple of days at work earlier this month due to this horrendous cold-cum-flu that seems to be getting everyone, I followed that up with an attack of the comedy disease of the 17th Century - gout. I get occasional bouts of it - mainly if I don't eat properly and then get a bit dehydrated. Just the sort of thing that might happen if you've got a cold that kills your appetite, in fact. Of course, I couldn't have gout and the cold at the same time obviously. So I had a couple of painful days limping into work until the drugs took effect. And then finally, having recovered from the cold and the gout I managed to twist my ankle in bed. Sadly, I was alone at the time. Or perhaps fortunately, as I awoke with a start to find my left foot pointing in a different direction to the rest of me. Ouch! How did that happen? Well, I could blame the heavyweight duvet, crammed into an undersized quilt cover, but I'd surely be spraining my ankle every night if that was a factor. The worst thing, apart from the pain, obviously was the knowing that I'd got a support bandage somewhere, but could I find it? Could I heck as like. Cue more comedy limping into work.

Things I never thought I'd say: (Number 1 in an occasional series.)

"I must buy myself some smaller trousers."

You know, people laughed at me when I bought a rowing machine. Well, the joke's on them, because despite the fact that it's now tucked under the bed and hasn't been used for the last five months, I've still managed to lose weight. The real secret behind this is actually no secret at all - move more, eat less. I walk round to the bus stop in the morning, get off a stop early and walk to my connecting bus stop (or the railway station, if I've got up early enough) and walk into work. Then, obviously there's the return journey at the end of the day. In my previous job, I used to get a lift from door-to-door, which is obviously very nice but didn't really do me any favours in the fitness stakes, especially as I'm too lazy to do any proper exercise. And of course, now I'm living on my own, I have to walk to the shops and back if I want anything, rather than relying on my sister. Plus the fact that my recent bouts of illness and the long days I've been putting in at work have drastically reduced my intake of post-work booze. Anyway, whatever the reasons for the weight-loss, it must be doing me some good - some young lady slipped her phone number into my coat pocket on her way out of the pub on Saturday night!

Ethical dilemma time. The day has started badly. Your first bus was late and your second one doesn't show up. Abandoning the bus idea in favour of the (slightly) more reliable train, you trudge off to the station. On the way you pass a cash machine (ATM) and it's bleeping. Whoever used it previously has somehow forgotten to take their cash. Do you:

Well, I have to confess I simply walked on by. I'm still not sure that was entirely the right thing to do, but I would have felt guilty pocketing the cash and I didn't have time to hang around waiting for the bank to open. Well, actually I did, because my boss wasn't in, and playing the good samaritan is a much better excuse for turning up late for work than crappy public transport. I didn't do that though and now despite everything I still feel a teensy bit guilty I didn't rescue the money and try to return it. Mind you, I would have looked a bit of a twat if it had turned out to be a SWAG-TV style set up. Anyhow, I did think ATM's were programmed to take back any cash if it wasn't claimed within a certain time limit... I could be wrong.

Last week, after a number of near-misses and close things, team Amanda Huggenkiss got back to winning ways in the quiz at the Cronkinson Farm pub. It kind of makes up for the week we lost by a third of a point (yes, a third!) and the week we won because someone had added up our score wrongly and we pointed out the error, thus relegating ourselves to third. A strong performance in the last two rounds was enough for us to nick it by a point. For those who are new to this I should explain, the quiz is provided by professional quiz providers Redtooth and consists of six rounds. The first round is a picture round. The second round is based on current news. The third round has two questions with five answers each. The fourth round is 'Trivia trail' with the last letter of the previous answer being the first letter of the next answer. Round five is Connections - four answers all with a connection, obviously. The final round is the killer - Wipeout. Get all ten answers correct and get a five point bonus. Get one answer wrong and lose all your points for the round. Of course, you can also play it safe by not answering any question you don't know and just getting points for the answers you do know. We had a stint of "going for it" on a regular basis and wiping out on an equally regular basis. In fact, I don't think we've scored the bonus five points since our first win all those months ago. Still, it's not the winning that counts but the knowing that if we had max-ed out in the Wipeout round we would have crushed your puny scores into the dust.

I've been trying to curtail my habit of buying armfuls of CDs when I've got no money but it is very difficult. Especially when you pass the local record shop and they've got a b-movie compilation in the window. Well, it'd be rude not to pick up some more stuff while I'm in there so I picked up the following:

I watched probably the least funny comedy I have ever seen last week. How unfunny? Well, it contains fewer laughs than 'Carry on Columbus' for a start. It's about as funny as 'Welcome To The Dollhouse'. I'm even prepared to say it's got fewer laughs than Eddie Murphy's similar-sounding 'Norbit', which looks to be a real stinker. To which film am I referring? 'Borat'. It's a stunningly tedious exercise in stretching one unfunny joke further than you can possibly stretch it. Not one redeeming feature. Not even the mankini shots. Please, don't be suckered into buying this on DVD just because it's cheap. It's cheap for a reason and that reason is that it sucks big time. I'm surprised the studio even let this see the light of day. It makes 'Ali G In Da House' look like a work of genius.

The only interesting thing that came out of this was that it did start me thinking about the worst films I have ever seen in my life. And how do you qualify what makes a bad film? Clearly it's not just about bad acting or a poor script or a lack of budget. Welcome to the Dollhouse, which I mentioned above, must have been made on a shoestring but it's a great work. Unremittingly gloomy and depressing but a great film. You can watch stuff and you just know it's going to be rubbish - Eddie Murphy comedys, low-budget horror, teen comedies, any Schwarzenegger film, that sort of thing - but it takes a special awfulness to transcend the expected boundaries and just be a total waste of time and space. So here, ladies and gentlemen are my current five worst movies of all time:

  1. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace - surely the most unnecessary prequel of all time? Filled with George Lucas' trademark clunky dialogue, Ewan MacGregor's terrible beard and accent, the bleedin' obvious fact that whatshisname was also Emperor Palpatine. Oh, and Jar Jar Binks.
  2. Borat - for reasons already stated.
  3. Wolf Creek - based on a true story apparently. A true story where even the dimmest of the dim would surely have spotted that the bloke who turned up to rescue them in the middle of the night was a frickin' lunatic.
  4. Carry On Columbus - actually probably not the worst Carry On film ever (..England and ..Emmanuelle must vie for that, but given their heritage I expected them to be poor) but a lavishly-mounted, loudly-trumpeted affair which fell flat on it's backside. Largely because, despite the guiding hand of the original series producer, the director fairly obviously forgot to tell the newcomers to the cast that they were meant to be playing it straight and not pausing for the laugh or archly raising an eyebrow at the camera every time there some some innuendo or double entendre in the dialogue.
  5. My Little Eye - yes, another horror film and one that if you've got any sense you won't bother checking out. Blatantly poor. Badly lit, terribly acted, woefully edited together. You can spot the twists coming a mile off and not one of the characters is at all likeable. A big, fat, waste of time.

Feel free to add any of your own.


Monday 5th March

A man's best friend is his duck

Apologies for the lack of updates recently but I've been doing loads of other stuff and somehow not managed to find the time. Mostly, it has to be said, I have been being poorly and working like a dog. Following my trip to Doncaster (more of which below) I caught the evil cold that seems to have been doing the rounds and was laid up at home for a couple of days. Having fought off the worst of that, my gout then flared up just as I had to put in some long, hard days to finish off the User Guides for an imminent release. I finally got them finished last Friday and sent them out, feeling that usual mix of relief, anxiety and anti-climax. Relief that it's all over, anxiety that there might still be an obvious blunder in the guides that no one's spotted despite the review process and anti-climax as there was no fanfare, no parade, not even a trip to the pub to celebrate the documentation release. Anyway, I got in this morning and checked the documents again and they were fine apart from some minor cosmetic changes. All I've got to do now is get them on the corporate intranet and my first set of user guides for the company will be complete.

Anyway, enough of me, on to some local footballing news. Following the fog-bound farce of Nantwich Town's game against Formby (see below) common sense fortunately prevailed in some measure and the NWCFL ruled that Nantwich's 5-0 win should stand. However, the common sense stopped there as they also ruled that Nantwich player Adam Beasley had to serve a further one match suspension as the Formby game was not actually completed, so he had not missed one complete game. For the sake of seven minutes, Beasley's suspension had been doubled. Not exactly a fair result. Anyway, having dispatched Formby, a couple of weeks later Nantwich took on Bacup Borough at home. A comfortable 2-0 win ensued and a decent performance, setting things up nicely for the long-awaited league clash with FC United of Manchester last Saturday. It was a grey, rainy day and my gout was still playing up but I still managed to drag myself down to the railway station to meet up with my ex-colleague Tim and the rest of the FC travelling army. We repaired to the bar of the White Horse to quaff some ales and take in the Manchester United game on Sky. From there it was up to the Nantwich ground, which once again was packed. The game was a pretty good one, to be honest, with Nantwich shading the first half and taking a deserved lead through Andy Kinsey. In the second half FC United threw a few more bodies forward and looked the better side. They scored a deserved equalizer but Nantwich held on to take a share of the points. The right result on the balance of play, I thought. On a final Nantwich Town note, the last home game this season clashes with Crewe's trip down the road to Port Vale. This would be the cause of a dilemma if it were not for the fact that this is likely to be the last ever league game at Jackson Avenue because Nantwich are moving to a new ground next season. And, weather permitting, tomorrow night should see the last ever mid-week game at Jackson Avenue. I'll be there, boyos, as Max Boyce might say.

Following my other football team, Crewe Alexandra has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride in contrast. Having managed to hold Doncaster to a 3-3 draw at our place in the first leg of the Johnstone Paints Trophy area final, we travelled hopefully to Doncaster for the second leg. They've got nice new ground have Doncaster - the Keepmoat stadium - so this was a good opportunity to tick it off the list. Somewhat against the run of play, Crewe found themselves 2-0 up at half-time and we were all dreaming of Cardiff. It wasn't to be though, as Crewe wilted under a second half onslaught and Doncaster scored three goals without reply. That doesn't really tell the whole story - one goal was deflected in, another was from a soft penalty and Crewe had a legitimate leveller in the last minute ruled out for offside. It was heartbreaking, really, as I thought we deserved something out of the game, even if it was only to lose on penalties at the end. And just to rub it in, we got back to the car to find a flyer for coach travel to Cardiff, tucked under the windscreen wiper.

Still, my little smashers bounced back and won away at Bradford for what seems like the first time in years. We then followed it up with a small piece of revenge by beating Doncaster at home in the league. Michael Higdon, whose late goal in the Cup game had been disallowed, popped up to score the winner. I was really pleased for him because the lad had been taking a rather unfair amount of stick from a small section of the crowd at Gresty Road. The Alex followed that up with another win on the road at Huddersfield before facing league leaders Scunthorpe. Well, for an hour we gave them a good game, but our defensive frailties came back to haunt us. Having already conceded a soft equaliser in the first half when both Cox and Baudet inexplicably failed to get a boot on an innocuous-looking cross and then, just before half-time, giving Beckford time and space to pick his spot to put Scunny ahead, we shot ourselves in the foot again by giving the ball away on the edge of our own penalty area. A quick ball to the byline for a deep cross and Billy Sharp had time and space to pick his spot for Scunny's third. The fire and fight seemed to drain out of the Alex then and they never really recovered. The last ten minutes were particularly disappointing as we didn't even look interested in rescuing the game. Mind you, if that was disappointing we had an even worse performance against Brighton on Saturday, although we still managed to get a point out of it. We started brightly but things tailed off in the middle of the first half and got gradually worse in the second. Bas Savage, who had looked like a donkey of the highest order whilst on trial for the Alex pre-season, turned out to be not such a donkey after all. He wasn't skillful or even particularly good but he was effective in a limited role. Annoyingly, he even got the Brighton goal. I thought we'd showed enough in the first half to suggest there were more goals in the side and Varney did have a couple of chances late on, but he was looking even more knackered than usual by then. The effort of leading the line single-handed for the last few weeks, and getting booted up in the air for his troubles, just seemd to be catching up with him. I'm glad we haven't got a mid-week game this week because that poor boy deserves a rest. Anyway, back at the game Higdon also blasted an effort straight at the keeper from a tight angle, but really we were hanging on - Brighton were throwing men forward, our midfield had retreated alongside the back four and there was no outlet from the seemingly constant string of corners. Anyway, we managed a point and that's OK. I'd given up on the idea that we'd make the play-offs around Christmas, so whatever happens for the rest of the season I'm just going to enjoy it and not get too wound up whatever the result.

You know I used to think that procrastination was the thief of time but it turns out that actually, it's Broadband Internet. I even started this update yesterday and then decided to "just check my e-mail" and then ended up on the Internet for ages, "just looking at this" and "just checking that out". In order to make sure I get this done tonight I've even gone as far as unplugging the modem so that I'm not tempted. Of course there's no guarantee I'll not get distracted when I get round to uploading this and checking the links I've put in...

Anyway, talking of wasting time on the Internet, I've discovered that whilst myspace used to be a big draw for the dedicated procrastinator, YouTube is in fact the biggest. But then who wouldn't want to waste their time on there when you can discover gems like The Goodies singing A Man's Best Friend Is His Duck, or watch the adventures of Chad Vader, Dayshift Manager. True, there's a lot of dross involving teenagers dancing and/or singing badly, or earnest young men playing their guitars, but theres also still plenty of good stuff on there. Most of it probably infringing copyright but hey, I like to live on the edge. For example, check out this lovely clip of Stoneybridge's 1996 Olympic Bid.

On the music front there's not much to write about. The Nantwich Jazz and Blues Festival will soon be upon us. Although there are usually some classy acts playing at the Civic Hall (and this year is no exception) the reality is that the whole town and most of the surrounding villages pack out the pubs on Sunday afternoon, listening to the bands playing for free and getting very, very drunk because few people work on Easter Monday. I'll be staying tuned to the website to see who's playing where and when and making sure I avoid the Bob Dylan wannabes and tribute bands. Of Nantwich's other two music festivals, the Folk festival which used to take place on August Bank Holiday appears to have died the death of a lack of funding. On the other hand, the Acoustic Festival appears to be building on the success of it's inaugural year and has lined up a lot more entertainment and Jethro Tull. Hopefully, the atmosphere and the weather will be as good as last year and the beer will be cheaper. Not holding my breath on the beer, to be honest.


Tuesday 6th February

Bit of a cock-up on the ticketing front

Last Saturday (3rd Feb) I popped out round the corner to watch Nantwich Town take on the town of my birth, Formby. The weather wasn't looking too promising in the morning as there was a heavy mist that hadn't burned off. Anyway, about one o'clock the sun came out and the mist lifted a bit, so I thought we'd be set fair. It was still fairly misty when the game kicked off though and as the match wore on it got steadily worse. At one point, it was difficult to make out the stand on the far side of the pitch but then it lifted again and things were OK. Especially as Nantwich had taken advantage of some slack defending by Formby to take a deserved 3-0 lead. At half-time though, the fog came down and got steadily thicker. It was difficult to tell who scored Nantwich's fourth and fifth goals from where I was, about five yards the other side of the halfway line. It was getting impossible to see the other side of the pitch and any time Nantwich attacked down the far side of the pitch the players disappeared into the fog. It was getting to the point where it was probably worth shooting from distance as the keeper wouldn't see it till too late. Anyway, with about fifteen minutes to go, Formby had their keeper sent off for, we think, a professional foul on Andy Kinsey. It was all a bit farcical really and the referee could have called it off anyime after about an hour as conditions were pretty bad by that stage. In the end, he abandoned the game with about 7 minutes left. Sadly, we don't yet know whether the result will stand. Hopefully it will as the game went beyond 70 minutes and, to be honest, I'm sure neither side will want a replay. I await the adjudication from the North West Counties League with interest.

Sunday I took a trip to that there London. The idea was to meet up with a few people and to take in the wondrous Ted Chippington appearing at the Bull & Gate in Kentish Town. First up was a meeting with stroppycow and The Boy and her favourite Canuck, all of whom were splendid company and very entertaining. We spent the afternoon-slash-early evening chatting about all kinds of stuff and quaffing ales in the Doric Arch by Euston station. Can't be bad. From there it was off, via a small, diversion, to the aforementioned venue in Kentish Town. I was due to meet up with my brother, Eddy, and his girlfriend, but Eddy was off in Spain interviewing John Cale for work-related purposes. And then the replacement mate I'd fixed up to meet blew me out too, so I ended up in the gig alone. Well, I had a good time anyway. Support act Violet Violet were an entertaining riot-grrrl-cum-punk trio in the mould of Sleater-Kinney. Ted himself was on top form and very funny, despite the handicap of not really having any jokes in his repertoire. Top of the bill act, The Nightingales sounded pretty good, although I have to admit I'd repaired to the bar once they came on. Mainly in the hope of getting Ted to autograph a copy of the CD boxset I'd just purchased, it has to be said. Well, he came out and we had a bit of banter (I'm afraid the effects of all-day drinking were beginning to catch up with me) and then he went off for a beer or two. Fortunately, he came back later and did the honours and was a true gent. Top man. And then to finish the night on a true high, he joined The Nightingales on stage for a rollicking, climactic, show-closing rendition of 'Rockin' with Rita'. Cheers Ted, thanks for rocking.

Anyway, a true story now. I was walking down the road the other day when this bloke came up to me. Actually he didn't come up to me, he rang me on my mobile phone, but I didn't hear it, so he left me a message on my voicemail. It was my brother Eddy, ringing to let me know that he had a bit of bad news. Oh dear. Due to a cock-up by the organisers of the Tedstock event, (a Mr Arse and a Mr Elbow, I believe) they'd sold all the tickets including those reserved for the press and the guest list. Stewart Lee had rung Eddy to give him a personal apology but quite frankly, not really worth the paper it was written on. So instead of seeing a line-up of top comedians last night, I was back home having a nice cup of tea. Incidentally, I note that of those self-proclaimed "good mates of Ted" on the Tedstock bill, I spotted precisely none in the audience at the Bull & Gate. Turns out Ted himself and The Nightingales did turn up at the Tedstock event anyway, which makes it doubly gutting that the ticket cock-up deprived me the chance to see him again. Still, he is playing in Birmingham on the 24th Feb...

I did feel a bit bad about not meeting up with Eddy, especially as I'd gone down there to see him, but when he gave me the bad news I was stood on Oxford Road, freezing, with a the remnants of a bad hangover, a horrible cold developing and sore feet from traipsing round London all morning. So thought I'd take a chance on getting home before too late in the day. I failed though because, as it turns out, despite being charged more than fifty pounds for my ticket to London, that wasn't sufficient to allow me to travel on a half-empty train, simply because it's designated as running during peak hours. I could have bought a single ticket for £60 or so but decided I'd rather get a paper and spend ten quid or so in the bar waiting the extra couple of hours till I could get home. And, as if this wasn't frustrating enough, I also missed out on picking up 808 State's Optibuk DVD for a mere three quid from Fopp. I'd seen it earlier but when I popped back to purchase it, the two copies they'd had had been sold. Not surprised though - at that price it was a right bargain.

Got to just point you in the direction of this incredibly cheesy dub reggae podcast-type thing. Right-click and save it to your PC - it's a 10MB file some make sure you're on the old broadband. Tis the second track you need to checking out. I wouldn't necessarily be tuning into this sort of thing myself, so it's a big up to me old mate Burnz for bringing this to my attention.

Finally, here's one for the techies - if you don't fancy having to check your website against several different browsers, or even different versions of the same browser, you can get someone else to do it for you. Simply upload your site URL to browershots.org, set the timer for the job and sit back and wait. The results are only available for a short time but ashould be there long enough to reveal any fundamental flaws in your programming, which might render your site unusable in some browsers, for example. Enjoy.


Wednesday 31st January

Halfway to the 21st Century

Well, as discussed last time, I finally got myself hooked up to Broadband Internet. However, because it was me, it was not without it's problems. First up was a realisation that I don't really have enough sockets in my bedroom to plug everything into. Not a real problem though because as I was waiting for the hub to settle down (as advised in the Start Up guide) I nipped out to the shop and bought another multi-socket board. Which was definitely to come in handy later. Anyway, the hub had settled down - the three green lights were steady, so I connected up my wireless adapter and booted up my PC. I slipped in the Installation disk and started following the on-screen instructions. Ah, hitch number 2 - the installation disk didn't recognise my wireless adapter. Good news though, I could connect via Ethernet. Great. I unpacked the supplied ethernet cable, but wait - hitch number 3, no ethernet port on my PC. Ok, I've still got a fall-back plan - I can connect via USB. Hitch number 4, the supplied USB cable isn't long enough to reach from PC to hub. Arse. Well, I can stretch the hub away from the telephone and power sockets to about halfway across the end of the bed and the USB cable will reach that far if I just move the CPU a bit, so there I am with wires and equipment close to breaking point, stretched across the room to complete my installation. But wait, what's this, a dialog requiring my new Broadband telephone number? Well, I haven't downloaded the email that had this, so now I'm starting to think I'm cursed. Fortunately I can connect to t'Internet so I retrieve the number and carry on. Bingo! I'm in. And apart from the ridiculously positioned equipment, everything's fine. Now I just needed to manually configure my wireless connection and I'd be laughing. Here comes hitch number 5 - once I configure the connection it becomes apparent that I can either have Wi or Fi but not Wi-Fi. When using the wireless connection my PC crashes more often than Barry Sheene... It's fine when using the USB connection, but there is the "comedy" wiring problem. I bite the bullet and nip out to get a telephone extension cable. I'm in Woolworths and faced with a choice of lengths, 3m or 10m. I think the 3m might do the job but am not sure whilst the 10m will definitely do the job and have plenty to spare. I go with the 3m. Luckily, with the cable from the hub to the microfilter added in I've got enough cabling to route uder the bed and re-postion the hub next to my PC. Sorted, even if the assorted lengths of trailing wires render my bedroom a Health and Safety nightmare. From delivery of kit at 11 a.m. to final tweaking and settling down for Internet browsing has taken a mere five-and-a-half hours. And there's still a final twist - I changed a few Internet Explorer settings when trying to combat the numerous warnings thrown up by the BT Yahoo homepage and now, for some reason, both the Shockwave Jigsaw page and Russell Grant's homepage crash my browser. Arse! Oh well, it gives me something to do when I'm not out enjoying myself, I suppose.

And I have been out enjoying myself over the last couple of weeks. Last Wednesday, for example, my old mate Charlie dragged me up to Manchester to take in the alt.country delights of Bonnie "Prince" Billy. Well, I'd heard of him but not really invested any time in seeking out his music. Charlie, who is a big fan, assured me it would be anjoyable evening and the ticket was a Christmas present so I couldn't really turn it down. It has to be said, though, that about halfway through support act Faun Fables' set, I did feel like ramming it down his throat. I have a fairly low tolerance for the single, white female with acoustic guitar, but tack on sub-Leonard Cohen dirges and folk twee-ness and I start looking for my gun. Having abandoned her guitar after a few numbers (Hooray!) she proceeded to "entertain" us with some a capella stuff (Boo!). A nadir was reached, I felt, as the "Greek War chant" (sung in Greek with stomping as accompaniment) was followed by "a Polish folk song" accompanied by the banging together of two sticks. I could stand it no longer and swiftly repaired to the bar. Charlie bravely sat through to the end and was rewarded by an apparently climactic finale which involved circular breathing and screaming. Probably mostly in the audience... Anyway, undeterred we returned for Bonnie Prince Langford, who turned out to be an engaging entertainer, despite resembling an English teacher, even down to the embarrassing dancing and the sub-Benny Hill banter with his keyboard player. Suitably impressed, I may well be investing in some of his back catalogue now.

And last Friday I found myself in the unlikely setting of Crewe Golf Club and the even unlikelier company of South Cheshire Harriers running club. The aforementioned Charlie is a member of said club and had roped in the rest of Team Amanda Huggenkiss in a blatant attempt at winning the quiz. Well, it almost paid off. We knocked up 57 points out of 60 but I let the side down by not being quick enough to answer in the tie-break. To be honest, I was still confused by the instructions the quizmaster gave for the tie-breaker. Well, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. You can see a lovely picture of my svelte form and also of the smug-looking winners here.(Of course, they have every right to look smug - they've just won a big box of goodies in a quiz.) It's OK, I'm not bitter.

I tell you what I have found as a result of my newly-acquired, superfast, Information High Street. That Youtube.com - it's as addictive as crack coacaine. You can never see too many clips of skateboarders and BMX-ers coming to grief.

The other thing I've found as a result of Broadband is that I've been browsing a few more shopping sites than before. Mainly because I don't have to wait forever for the product images to load anymore. As a result, I've spotted loads fo gadgets that I'd like including the following - a USB turntable, a USB cassette converter, a USB drum kit and, of course, to make sure you've got enough USB port-age for all these goodies plus your digital camera, mp3 player and flash drive, a TARDIS-shaped USB hub. Hhhmm, where's my credit card?


Tuesday 16th January

Shiny headlice stray into my eyes

Well, finally I've decided to join the rest of the Internet community and get myself hooked up to broadband. There wasn't much of a decision to be made, to be honest. I've been on a Pay As You Go dial-up for the last few months, mainly because I thought it would discourage me from spending all my spare time on the Web, especially given the likely cost and the frustrations of waiting hours for things to download. However, given that my telephone bill for the last quarter tipped over the 160 quid mark, about 140 of which were spent on t'Internet, that obviously didn't work. So it was a simple choice - continue throwing my money away or get broadband for about half the cost. So I signed up for BT's Option 2, which is their mid-priced offering. It looks alright and it'll run on my creaky old Windows 98 PC (subject to the installation of a network adapter). On reflection I probably should have gone the whole hog and paid the few extra quid a month for BT's top-of-the-range, all-you-can-eat offering, but I guess I can always upgrade if required. I've not got it installed yet, so things could still go wrong, but provided it doesn't, I should be up to the same speed as everyone else by next Thursday night.

Of course, I can continue using my steam-powered PC to connect to the web and that but, frankly, it's starting to show it's age and whilst I've patched the software to buggery and it's fairly stable, the hardware is beginning to creak and whirr in unsettling manners. The onboard CD-RW drive in particular is struggling. Add to that the fact that none of the recording software and hardware I've looked at supports Windows 98 and I'm now in the market for a new PC/laptop. Obviously, for recording I need at least 1GB of RAM and the best sound card I can get, and I'd also like Wi-Fi capability and an enormous hard drive (200GB). If I go down the PC route I'd also like support for a two monitor display. And if I go down the laptop route I'd like extended battery life. Whichever I go for I'd also like it as cheap as possible, preferably under 500 quids. Anyone got such a device they can sell me? Please?

In other news, the Tour De France committee have announced the routes for the English stages of this year's Tour. The opening ceremony takes place in Trafalgar Square on Friday 6th July. On Saturday 7th July there's the Prologue which is a quick sprint down Whitehall, through Green Park and then a loop through Hyde Park. A run-out totalling a mere 8km. The routes through the parks ought to bring out the spectators but given that the fastest of the sprinters are likely to be hitting something in the region of 50km/h+, I supsect that most people are likely to see little more than a succession of blurry flourescent tops as the riders whizz by. The first stage proper, on Monday 8th July, rolls out from London, down through Greenwich and Woolwich and on out into the garden of England (Kent, obviously), through Tunbridge Wells and finishing in Canterbury. Looks good. Anyway, you can check out all the routes and get information on road closures from the Official Tour site. Stick the dates in your diary and get yourself along to see some of the world's leading practitioners of virtually-undetectable doping, er I mean, cyclists.

Finally. no shots of me in action yet, but here's a nice picture of "The Beast"

my little ukelele


Thursday 4th January 2007

Follow the cops back home

A belated festive greeting to all my readers. I would have got round to updating between Christmas and New Year if I hadn't been alternating between drunk and hungover. Or wasting time with my brand new toy. No, not that sort of toy, (you lot have got such filthy minds!) but in fact a ukelele. Yes, a ukelele. You might think it's naught but a mere child's plaything but, coupled with a chord sheet or two and a folder full of guitar tabs, it becomes an instrument of great joy. It's the most fun I've had for fifteen quid since that trip to Amsterdam. Although, sadly, it's not the first time I've had people laughing at my under-sized instrument....

Anyway, the uke has added to the number of projects I've got to get on with this year. Trouble is there are just so many possibilities. Here are a few I'm toying with:

Anyway, that's enough, don't want to be giving away too many ideas - you never know who might be after stealing your stuff, man.

Not too much to talk about in terms of the football. Sadly, my comedy Santa prediction (see below) came true for Crewe Alexandra, who endured yet another miserable Christmas and only picked up 2 points from the possible twelve on offer. Not too surprising really, as the defence is looking flakier than something very flaky and midfield tends to sit a little too deep at times, inviting players to run at the defence. Perhaps we're just having a bad spell, but maybe we should expect that? After all neither of the other teams relegated with us last year are faring significantly better, and of the three teams that came down the year before only Nottingham Forest are doing well. And even they are going through a poor run. Factor in the team rebuilding that's had to be done in the summer and beyond, and obviously it's not going to be as easy to bounce straight back up as we did four or five seasons ago. I think it's time I took a deep breath, remembered the good times, how exactly I felt when we won the play-off final back in '97, and re-adjusted my expectations. It's not fantastic progress but pre-Dario Crewe played in this tier of the football pyramid in two seasons and got relegated both times. When I started suporting them back in 1981 a season out of the re-election places (as they were then) in the old 4th Division (as it was then) was considered a success. I'm not saying I shouldn't expect the team to be successful because Dario has proved that we can be good enough to compete at a higher level, but the weight of history suggests that, without a considerable cash injection, that level of success was never sustainable. And before anyone goes off on one about the amount of money Crewe have made selling players on, they should have a look at the ground improvements, the respected Academy and the financial stability of the club. Some of which doesn't help us get the points on a Saturday, but has ensured there's still a club for us to support now and in the future.

Think I managed to wander away from the point I was originally going to make, but never mind. Anyway, my "other" footy team Nantwich Town have been having a bit of a mini-crisis of their own. Not that their form is anything like as bad as Crewe's but their home form hasn't exactly been sparkling. A few draws against teams they ought to have beaten and the dropped points mean that other sides have gone above them in the table. This disappointing run has come at exactly the wrong time as FC United, the long-term league leaders have had a bit of a wobble too. Still, on paper Nantwich don't have too many difficult games between now and the end of the season, so hopefully they can get climbing back up the table. Especially as the promised restructuring of the Unibond League has left everyone confused about how many teams might be going up from this league this season.

Not much else to talk about really - I met up with all my siblings over the Christmas holiday. There may be some photos of that momentous occasion available next week. Additionally, I've added my mate Jules' blog and Ted Chippington's myspace site to the list of links on your left. Check them both out. And I did actually complete this post yesterday (Wednesday) but was unable to get online to upload it, due to comedy outage from my ISP. Er, and that's about it. I've corrected some spelling mistakes and typos from my last posts but probably missed a couple AND introduced some more in this post, so there's a special no-prize for anyone who spots any.