Monday, October 30, 2006

4 Days!!!

After spending a drunken weekend going to mates parties, it's back to work time - although there's a silver lining in everything (apparently) and mine is that I have only four days to work this week before I head off to Tenerife.

Some people have said to me "You've only just been away..." but they're wrong - it was three months ago that we went away last - and it's been a stressful three months at that, so looking forward to swapping my coat for a pair of shorts and chilling by a pool in the sunshine with a drink by my side and some tunes on.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Walk Alone

Irvine Welsh once said that the only tragic thing Liverpool felt after the Lockerbie disaster was that it didn’t happen in Liverpool.

The future European capital of Culture has been named in the media as being the worst prepared city in the UK in the event of a terrorist attack.

Call me cynical, but somehow I feel that this isn’t a co-incidence.
The theat of terror isn’t something to be taken lightly, but Liverpool has always been a city which sings the loudest about how hard done by they are, and the first to fly the flag of self pity.

The city has a huge tendency to not only wallow, but to bask in self pity – all to the soundtrack of You’ll Never Walk Alone.

A politician whom I rarely would agree with, Boris Johnson hit the nail on the head recently when he said that Liverpool wallowed in victim status over the beheading of Ken Bigley.

Johnson was lambasted by the media and threats were made to put his windows through from all corners of Liverpool, although the fact remains that Johnson was speaking his mind, and also speaking up for common sense.

There are two sides to the Ken Bigley saga, and whilst there is no doubt in anyone’s minds what a tragedy Bigley’s beheading was, one has to remember that Bigley decided to go Iraq out of his own free will, and went over there to charge a fortune to repair Iraq’s damaged electrical infrastructure.

Bigley was certainly no saint, yet the floral tributes flooded the city of Liverpool and crying citizens were seen lighting candles outside the Liver Building, singing You’ll Never Walk Alone.

The latest victim celebre to come from the city comes in the attractive yet thuggish Michael Shields.

Sheilds was part of a group of football fans who travelled to Istanbul last year to watch Liverpool play and decided to take a break in the Black Sea resort of Golden Sands, close to the city of Varna.

There was a fracas in a bar, which resulted in a missile, in the form of a paving slab being thrown at a young Bulgarian waiter, which almost resulted in a fatality.

After a court case involving several witnesses Shields was charged with attempted murder of the waiter and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for the offence.

Suddenly there are cries of miscarriages of justice from the city.

The point remains – a serious offence was committed in a foreign country – and a person was tried and convicted in that country.

Bulgaria has not long opened her doors to Western European tourists, and I sense that the country does not want to become a mecca for lager louts and football hooligans and attract the same reputation as some of the resorts in the Spanish Costas.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Fear of Fanny

Monday night while having a flick to see what was on telly I came across Fear of Fanny on BBC4, which purported to be a biopic of the life of Fanny Cradock, the woman who brought cookery programmes to the silver screen.

Thinking this was going to be some starched pinafore style costume drama involving Colin Frith and a good helping of Victorian dialogue, I was about to turn over, but then I saw that Julia Davis from Nighty Night was playing the title role.

Unfortunately I missed the first five minutes, but the cast involved in the show was superb inlcuding Nicholas Burns who starred in the shamelessly undrrated Nathan Barley, as well as Mark Gatiss, taking a break from dressing up in womens clothing to play Fanny's henpecked husband Johnnie.

Usually these biopic type programmes are either so excruciatingly boring that Thora Hird would dismiss it as a pile of shite, or pandering and simpering like Sharon Osbourne at the Beckhams'.

What was unusual was the fact that the three main roles were played by comedy actors, although the programme itself was not intentionally funny - no laughter track dubbed over and nothing obvious to suggest that this even was a comedy.

Black comedy is something which is done brilliantly by Davis and Gatiss, who's on-screen partnership I'd genuinely love to see again.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Howard Marks

As opposed to spending Sunday watching Songs of Praise, Highway and Where The Heart Is, I decided to so something slightly more hedonistic.

I am in the middle of reading Señor Nice, the eagerly awaited follow-up to Mr Nice, which I have read from cover to cover so many times that the pages are falling out. So I thought an evening with Señor Nice would be a good experience as I have never seen one of his live shows before.

We queued outside the Manchester Uni Students Union in the rain waiting to go in, the last time I had been there was a couple of years ago when Federation took it over for a club night.

I looked at the type of people who were also filing into the auditorium, almost expecting to see scores of mind-blown hippies or people who resembled extras from Withnail and I staggering into their seat brandishing a Camberwell Carrot.

I was ever so slightly surprised that the majority of the punters were regular people.

Whilst queing outside, there was a lone man in his 30s with a bald head clutching a copy of Mr Nice asking if anyone had any spare tickets, filing quickly up and down the queue in such a professional manner I wondered if he had done this before, then leading me onto thinking that if he was such a big fan of Howard Marks that he brought his book to have signed (I daren’t have done the same for fear of looking like a dickhead) – then why hadn’t he taken the sensible pracuation of buying a ticket.

I observed a dialogue between him and two Nigerians outside the Union, and ten minutes later whilst J was at the bar, the bald man joined the queue, and I congratulated him on obtaining his ticket, which he said he paid face value for.

The show itself was very enjoyable, there was around 200 people sat in the auditorium listening to Mark’s tales and repartee in a fug of marijuana smoke.

The fact such a gathering can now take place without 50 of the Greater Manchester Police’s finest crashing in with their truncheons is a true testimony of how the city has evolved over the past few years.

It almost reminded me of the Dutch Experience, a Coffeeshop which existed in Stockport for a few months in 2002 before immeasurable pressure caused its closure.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


After six months of searching online to find someone to teach us Bulgarian, and half a dozen phrase books being ordered from Amazon; last week I had my very first Bulgarian lesson in Manchester, and for the next 11 Thursday nights, that is what I’ll be doing.

My reason for wanting to do this is because the other half has a house over there, and having been over a couple of times in the past year, we’ve always received a warm welcome and great hospitality – but we have never been able to articulate our thanks, or even engage in the smallest of small talk.

Last summer was my first visit there and on one hot September morning we decided to go into Teteven, the nearest town to have a few beers and something to eat.

On the way, the woman from the house next door beckoned us in and gestured for us to sit down at a table on their balcony.

She poured us freshly brewed coffee and fed us home made cake, followed by home made fruit juice and attempted to find out more about these two English people who had just arrived in the village.

The neighbours spoke to English, and we spoke to Bulgarian, and unfortunately (or actually, fortunately) I was not in the Queen Vic Fun Pub in Benidorm where I could ask for “A pint of Carling and a full English please, luv”.

Through methods I can’t now remember I was able to tell the neighbours our names and found out that their daughter was an Optician and lived in Sofia.

Random bits of information are, I’ve been told, something I collect and hoard like how someone with OCD counts the amount of times a light switch is turned on.

On the way back I decided I never wanted to go through another hour of not being able to communicate with the neighbours, and decided, with J, to learn some of the language so that at least we can say “Please” and “Thank You”.

Of course, the road to hell is paved with good intensions, and to cut a long story short, I touched down in Bulgaria again at Bourgas Airport not knowing a word of the langauge.

My confidence that this time would be different was based on the mad assumption that because we were holidaying on the coast this time, then English would surely be more widely spoken.

To some extent this was true, but we had decided to break up the holiday by having a night in Veliko Turnovo and also a night at J’s house.

We managed to get to Veliki Turnovo, which is I suppose Bulgaria’s answer to Chester or York (or if you’re from the South, Bath).

The time came where we had to travel the 60 miles or so journey to the house, and after a terrifying incident in a Bulgarian hire car, we decided to make our own way there.

When it gets to the point where I need to be in B, as opposed to A, my usual reaction is to say “Fuck it, let’s get a taxi”.

This has served me well in everywhere I have previously been, however, not being able to tell the taxi driver where I wanted to go impeded our journey considerably – and not even showing the taxi driver where I wanted to go on a map did much good as I had no idea whether this journey was going to cost.

The friendly tourist information office booked us a taxi and an hour later we arrived at the house, the day was warm yet the mountain air was so clear.

We hadn’t been in the house five minutes before there was a knock-knock at the door and the man from across the road walked into the living room carrying a large bottle of Rakia, a locally distilled brandy. It was ten in the morning.

One of my friend’s brothers served in the army in the Balkans for some years and remember him once telling me that it was a Balkan tradition upon meeting new people to drink a bottle of Rakia, and drink it until it was gone.

And this is what I knew I had to do. 10am and between me, J, and the man across the road, I made it my intention to finish the bottle off as soon as humanly possible.

Whilst drinking the rakia, the conversation was all somewhat one sided due to neither of us, yet again, speaking not a word of Bulgarian.

So finally I’m doing something about it, and tonight sees me back for my second lesson.

Going away to Sofia in December so can only hope my next visit I can get by a bit better – like how to ask for a beer....
Your Personality Is Like Cocaine
You're dynamic, brilliant, and alluring to those who don't know you. Hyper and full of energy, you're usually the last one to leave a party. Sometimes your sharp mind gets the better of you... you're a bit paranoid!
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