Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Hardly rock and roll, but I like it!

Nothing particular of note to get my teeth into this week so just a few little tit bits to keep the BlackLOG ticking over.

Mrs B and I went to see the Bluetones at "O2". Sadly for the Bluetones (or at least their bank accounts) it was the Indigo "02" and not the main arena, which was full of "Girls Aloud". Taking an educated guess this would feature a large number of over-excited little girls, who mistakenly believe that they are at a music happening (they'll learn), a couple of sad old gits (No not me,I was otherwise engaged) and enough costume changes to disguise any lack of talent that manages to get through the constant high pitch squeals from the aforementioned over-excited little girls. From our point of view it is great because the Indigo happens to be a fantastic little venue. As an added bonus the drinks are pretty reasonably priced, £4 for a G&T(aside 1) and a bottle of water not bad for a London venue. The toilets are clean and plentiful - hardly rock and roll but very welcome all the same.

I've always had a bit of a soft spot for The Bluetones They are not a huge name in the music world, they have been around for over 10 years but never really hit the big time. They lost out in the Britpop wars of the 90's to the likes of Oasis and Blur. The sort of group where most people like a number of their songs, they just don't happen to realise they are by the Bluetones. They are also such a polite band - no swearing. Strangely enough this seems to work its way through to the audience who were wonderfully behaved. The support group were excellent, a Liverpool group called Amsterdam One word of warning however, if you do ever see Amsterdam live - stand well back. I have never seen so much spittle coming out of a lead singer, the first three rows were soaked. I'll give the lead singer the benefit of the doubt and put it down to his passion.

The wrong Bag
The German security at Berlin Tegel airport have definitely got it in for me. This time I was shouted at because my clear plastic bag with toiletries was not clear enough. I explained that I had got it from security in Stansted. Rather reluctantly they let it through, but it was through gritted teeth and very clenched jaws.

What will the next airport security initiative be? See-through clothes? God I hope not, some of those travellers are gross

The Test Drive
Mrs B and I had a test drive in a BMW. This went fairly well until the salesman started banging on about the special two tier indicators that the car was fitted with. In my opinion they were somewhat over-complicated. Indicators should be simple -you press the indicator switch, the indicator comes on, you go around the corner they turn off. He was a little taken aback when I proclaimed " Ah, so it's the complications involved in using the indicators that is the reason why BMW drivers don't bother indicating and I thought it was because they were an expensive option...." it went a little frosty for a while. Give him his due he did recover and he knew more about the product than most car salesmen that I have encountered. Things could have ended better if I had not let the car roll into the fence at the end of the test drive. Just a little bit embarrassing.
It was only a little bump, hardly left a scratch really, I'm sure they can polish it out easily enough......

Dancing, but not as you know it
For the last few months Tuesday night has been salsa dance night, as I reluctantly got talked into some private dance lessons with some friends. Mrs B would make occasional guest appearances but managed to hide behind not getting back from work in time. I have hung in gamely but as we moved from Salsa into the murky world that is Tango I have been found out. While my upper body is almost perfect, possibly championship standard (OK, OK I've got my fingers crossed behind my back and my tongue firmly in cheek "ash I shay ish")my legs are absolute rubbish, they either don't move at all or make huge steps that just don't gel with the music. With Salsa my body just about managed to cover up my legs' deficiencies but with Tango, depending much more on precise leg movements, the jig was up. I've always been a bit of a free spirit when it comes to dancing anyway so it was time to resign. My masochist friends will have to find someone else to step on their toes...

To replace the dancing I have taken up Yoga. Who is the masochist now? During my second lesson Lorna, my Yoga instructor, demonstrated a position that my body is at least 10 years away from achieving. It does not help matters that it would be 10 years in my past.

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1) For some strange reason Mrs B only seems to really enjoy having a G&T when they are really expensive (I guess it's an atmosphere thing). Go to any high end restaurant and bar for instance and she can be seen knocking them back with the best of them. At the Indigo however, one reasonably priced drink proved more than enough to satisfy Mrs B's desire.
Now the question is, is this one of those reasonably priced G&T's or will we require another mortgage so Mrs B can have another one? (Return to text)

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Berlin - May your teeth and clothes be with you

During my last stay in Berlin, the hotel that I booked tried to put me into a smoking room. My single, not unreasonable request was to have a non-smoking room. I have a special skill you see; I can detect that someone has been smoking through at least three walls and over a time period of around three years. On a good day, I could give the princess and the pea a run for her money, in the detecting stakes. I went through four rooms before the hotel got the picture (aside 1) , they were dealing with someone who would not accept sleeping in, what amounted to be an over sized ashtray. They begrudgingly upgraded me. I have never done this before, requesting to change rooms in a hotel. I can definitely recommend it; it’s like the good old days when you could happily send food back in a restaurant (aside 2) before all those TV exposÄ“ programs appeared, demonstrating all the unspeakable things that happened to the food when you did.

The upgraded room was all of 1.5" bigger, had an extra mirror and a semi-organic kettle. How do I know it was semi-organic, some of you may ask. Well that’s easy, organic non-food items are biodegradable so that they do not have a future impact on our environment. This kettle started to break itself down as soon as it boiled. Incidentally, it is the actual boiling process that prevented it from gaining true organic status. By boiling, the kettle disqualified itself ; a true organic electrical item would fail to work, thus saving the Earths vital resources.
The Organic Kettle, environmentally friendly but like all Organic non-food goods, ultimately useless for what it is designed to do. Just don't get me started on the food.

With all the stress from the hotel, I decided to have a nice relaxing massage. Whilst I accepted that there would be a certain amount of nakedness on my part, I had not expected “inappropriate nakedness” from my masseuse. One minute it was all polite conversation the next her clothes just fell off, leaving me speechless to say the least. I was just relieved that I had gone for the “classic” rather than the "intimate" option. These Europeans just have no inhibitions. When my friend Mitch heard about it, all he wanted to know was "Did you get a boner?" Good god man I was too busy keeping my eyes shut to notice. Mrs B was equally unhelpful asking me if the woman had prodded and probed my nether regions and if she was sporting a Brazilian. I explained to Mrs B I was too busy doing a possum impression (aside 4) to take much notice. I am pleased to report that I was offered no extras, unless you count fruit and some chocolates; I really don’t believe it was "that" type of establishment and although the poor woman suffered from cheap clothing, that apparently fell apart with the slightest movement, she was actually a very good masseuse. I did not however leave a large tip in case it was misinterpreted.....

Readers of a more delicate nature will be delighted to hear that there are no pictures of this incident, at least I hope not. Until the next BlackLOG may your clothes and teeth be with you...

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1) The porter, who was showing me round was doing his best to sympathise, stating in broken English "I know vort u mean, I do nort like the Smokey smells myself". This would have cut more ice if he did not have yellow stained fingers and reek of cheap booze and fags. It was like being in a scene from "Withnail and I".

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2) I only remember sending food back once in my life. I was about 19 years old and some friends and I had spent a long weekend in Bournemouth (aside 3).We decided to stop off at a sophisticated restaurant on our way home, something like a “Bernie Inn”. We all ordered a Florida cocktail as a starter, believing mistakenly that it would contain prawns. We called the waiter over and questioned what we had received; he apologised, whisked the dishes away and returned about half an hour later. The only apparent change was the dishes now had a Glace cherry on top. Looking back, I hate to think what happened to those dishes during the 30 minutes absence from our lives. Having seen the film “Road Trip” where the guy sends his French Toast back I now feel a bit queasy…..

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3) I believe the purpose of the trip was to pick up ladies. Unfortunately we were a bit fussy and one of our requirements was that the ladies had to sleep with their own teeth and I don’t mean in a glass on the bedside table. In hindsight a little more research might have steered us away from Bournemouth and indeed Eastbourne, the destination of the next failure to pickup suitable women tour. We gave up touring shortly after that believing that no women under the age of 60 lived beyond an hour’s drive of Upminster.

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4) Yes Clive, having spent some time with you in India, your Possum demonstrations proved far more useful then I would have ever thought. Feel free to invoice me, you won’t actually get paid but do feel free to send it….

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McG demonstrating his possum pose

Saturday, 10 May 2008

The Cat, the hairdryer & the big cupboard

Regular sufferers of the BlackLOG will note that McG normally grabs any feline headlines that are going, but not this time as MizzyM (last year's failed attempt to give Mischief a bit more street cred) fights back and gets a complete BlackLOG for herself.

"Get lost McG, this is Mizzy time...."

Any guests who have stayed with us over the years may have noticed the huge cupboard in the main spare room (aside 1), it reminds me of the wardrobe in Narnia, small children and my mother often disappear for hours. While the cats have free reign over most of the house they are banned from the spare rooms, dining room and airing cupboard, which of course makes these the main goal of their lives. Once in the spare room both cats know that if they can make it into the cupboard they have reached sanctuary and can stay there for as long as they like …

As I came up the stairs the other day I caught sight of a little black tail vanishing through the spare room door. I called out to her to stop and rushed up to try and prevent MizzyM breaking into the cupboard. Alas, I was too late and I could hear her mewing the feline version of "Nah, na, nah, na, na" which got my heckles up. I decided drastic action was required. There are three sounds in life that are guaranteed to shift 99% of all known cats: hairdryers; hoovers; and lawn mowers. I grabbed Mrs B's hairdryer (lets face it, it’s been a while since I needed one) and entered the cupboard. I gave MizzyM fair warning and then turned on the appliance. After five minutes worth of waving it around, nothing. I decided that it was time to step up the action so went down stairs to grab the Hoover. Again I gave fair warning “Step away from the cupboard, this is your last chance.” A few minutes worth of hoovering and with my ears beginning to ring, nothing. I contemplated getting the Lawnmower, but the thought of having to explain to Mrs B why there were huge chunks missing out of the carpet did not bare thinking about. Rather dejectedly, I admitted defeat and made my way downstairs. To be welcomed by a certain black cat, who sat nonchalantly licking parts of herself that no polite Blog should ever have to mention. The little minx was wearing one of those “Don’t mess with me” expressions and purring like a well-maintained engine. As she swung around and made a slinky exit I’m sure I caught sight of some ear muffs……..

The "Don't mess with me" look

Apologies to C.S.Lewis that I should dare to sully the name of one of his books by parodying it in the title of this week's BlackLOG . I suspect he is on a fast spin cycle at the Holy Trinity Church, Oxford as I type.

(1) We have three spare rooms. The main one is used for guests and has the big cupboard for storing everything that won’t fit in the garages, loft or Shed. It is looked after by Mrs B and thus tidy and fit for visitors. The music room (containing Cd's and DVD’s) and the Study (containing things that overspill from the music room) are my responsibility and thus untidy and out of bounds to visitors, by order of Mrs B. On the occasions that we have to use the second spare room, Mrs B dispatches me to tidy up the music room. A couple of days later I emerge blinking into the daylight. This coincides with the study running at 150% capacity; you can almost see the walls bowing out…

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Saturday, 3 May 2008

Nafman takes a holiday

Regular readers of the BlackLOG, before it became a bonafide published Blog (I'm delighted to report that regular readership has recently increased from being counted on just fingers to now requiring toes as well), will be familiar with my love/hate affair with Nafman my sometimes car navigation system (one day I will get around to publishing some of the highlights of my pre-Internet days, which will, I'm sure, include some of the fun that I have had with Nafman). To help bring you up to speed, all you need to know is that Nafman delights in attempting to take me in the wrong direction, while I enjoy ignoring its instructions. This drives Mrs B up the wall. "If you must have the damn thing, at least use it!". I think it's a man thing, in that:-

1) It is a gadget. (No matter how rubbish a device, if it's categorised as a gadget most men will desire it, purchase it, worship it, unwrap it, use it for a couple of hours before reverently placing it at the back of a cupboard and then never talking about it again)

2) I don't have to ask for directions, it just provides them. This is very important for any man's self esteem.

3) It does not fall a sleep at vital parts of the journey. It might however decide to recalculate the route at inopportune moments, but at least I have the satisfaction that it is working, rather then snoozing, when it strands me in the middle of a very busy junction, while it makes up a new direction for me to ignore.

4) If it goes wrong, it never admits to its error, just cooly adds a new instruction as if it meant to take you through the Asda car park, under the underpass and into Mrs Ringsting's Greenhouse.

5) It does not snap at you if you miss a turning, it just surreptitiously adds another 20 miles to your journey

OK, so I have to admit Nafman does not always take the most sensible route, but as long as you ignore any instructions that take you along railway tracks, through people's gardens and passed no entry signs and as long as you have enough petrol, it will always deliver you to your requested destination (I'm not sure if this should actually read "almost always" or "always almost", I guess that depends on Nafman's mood) well certainly within 200 metres of that destination at least. (It is not always Nafmans fault that there is suddenly now a river, that appeared overnight, or a block of flats that happened to shuffle along the street and unfortunately collapsed at the very point that now covers your route).

Nafman selects another interesting route!

A week after Nafman came into our lives, I did manage to unsuccessfully use him in Menorca. The main problem being that it only managed to show us two roads on the Island. While this worked fantastically for the 10% of the time when we happened to be using the identified roads it was somewhat of a disaster for the remaining 90% of the time.

Nafman "Go to the nearest road".

Us "We are on a road".

Nafman "Go to the nearest road".

Us "This is a road".

Nafman "Go to the nearest road".

Mrs B "This is rubbish".

Nafman "Go to the nearest road".

Me "He's young,he'll learn".

Nafman "Go to the nearest road".

Ok I admit it, I was wrong, Nafman, Like me, seems to have developed a perverse pride in failure to learn.

"I might have been tempted if we had hired a 4x4, as it was, no thanks Nafman I think I'll pass."

I had planned to take Nafman to France for New Year, but could not find the European road map discs to load onto him. Inevitably I found the European map discs about 2 days after our return from France. I thought nothing more about it and safely packed the discs away ("safely", now that sounds like a recipe for disaster). When we decided to hire a car for our visit to our friends Richard and Denise in Portstewart, Northern Ireland (aside 1)I looked up their address on Nafman, nothing. Assuming that the loaded discs did not include Northern Ireland I unpacked the map discs and attempted to load them onto Nafman. Eeeek! While I now had the European Maps in my sweaty little mitts, I unfortunately was missing the vital program loading disc, which handles the transfer of maps between the PC and Nafman, Grrrrrr. Why could that not go on one of the three discs that contained the Maps. I guess that won't turn up until we least need it or until I've lost the European map discs. I was about to give up on Nafman when I decided to check out Belfast. Sure enough it was included in Nafman proving to me that Northern Ireland was already loaded. This was looking a bit more promising. Other bits of Northern Ireland appeared but, sorry Richard and Denise, Portstewart is just not important enough to be included.

Despite this slur on their home town, Richard came to our rescue and provided us with a number of links to Google maps, giving us various options on getting from Belfast International Airport to their house. This was great, if a little complicated, as there were different routes for almost every occasion :-
  • If we were travelling before 10am on a weekend there was one route,
  • after 10am another,
  • unless we happen to see two green cars parked at the first junction coming out of the airport, in which case we had to use a third option.
  • However if we passed an orange car with it's headlights on then we had to use a 4th option.
  • Unless the orange car was doing less than 30 and it was raining moderately, then we had to use the first option, even, and this was stressed most importantly, if it was after 10am.
We set off with a speed gun, watch and rain measuring instruments.

I had taken Nafman with us and was impressed to find that he correctly identified that we were at Belfast International airport, I was less impressed that no roads were shown leading from the airport. Nafman did not find a road that it recognised until we were four miles from the airport. He then behaved impeccably until he reached around four miles from Portstewart where once again he refused to recognise any of the remaining roads.

During the visit, Richard took on Nafman duties (aside 2). , guiding us correctly to each destination. My one complaint is that while Nafman can and indeed often does give the wrong direction it gives you plenty of warning. Richard on the other hand liked to wait until we were level with a turn off before expressing the desire for us to take that road. All very impressive if you are trying to lose someone in a car chase but not very popular with Denise and Mrs B who were being flung about the back of the car like rag dolls.

A few pictures from a weekend in Northern Ireland to end on. Plus a big thanks to Richard & Denise + the ankle biter, for looking after us with their normal high standard of hospitality.

A thin strip of cloud moved in across the coast, which took us about 10 minutes to drive through. Another triumph for the weathermen as they predicted rain followed by more rain"

This is more like the Med then Northern Ireland

Denise, Becks and Richard (it was all going so well until Richard tried to corrupt me with a TV program called "Iggle Piggle",while Denise and Mrs B went out for a walk. I'm sorry Richard but not even Becks was interested and she's not that fussy, I saw her eating rocks......

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(1) Our friend Kirsty mentioned that I seemed to be travelling a lot at the moment, France, Canada, Germany & Northern Ireland all in the last few months. I explained that I was having to off set my accidental organic food purchases (the damn supermarkets have started to sneak organic food out of the weirdo isles and have been secreting it amongst proper food) by dramatically increasing my carbon foot print.

(2) Richard working on Route 35 of 65, to get us back to the Airport.

It's Monday evening, there is 35% cloud coverage and you have been passed by three black cars and a red one. This is very similar to route 34, just needs slight adjustment to the route because there is only 33% cloud coverage.
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