Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Back to normal

THE roads are still quiet, but otherwise it's pretty much back to normal after an excellent Christmas break.
I think I may have found a new career for myself at the Totnes Christmas market. I am going to live on a commune in Dunkeswell, grown a beard and bake bread. That seems to be what these chaps do, and they look well on it.

Their bread is great, their beards are bushy and they all appear stress-free and serene. I'm signing on.
Elsewhere, there was ice aplenty, and the Caerphilly Kid's significant other, Rachel, fell and broke her wrist badly on a patch of ice about 50 yards down the road from us.
With the Kid out fearlessly delivering Her Majesty's Royal Mail in conditions of Arctic cold, we drove her to hospital, picking our way between crashed cars and sliding pedestrians as we did so.
Mrs H had her knee operation cancelled because the surgeon was stuck out in the sticks somewhere.
Alan even had to cancel our traditional Christmas Eve club run because of the ice, so we retired to a house of plentiful refreshment for a fried breakfast instead.
After a perfect Christmas Day with family and fine food, the Boxing Day Dip beckoned, and five fearless runners took the plunge.

Then it was Daughter of Caerphilly Kid's 18th birthday party, with Neil, younger son of Bazza and brother of Tom Down Under, performing DJ duties. It is a small world indeed.
I was in dancing mode, with several pints of cider on board, but Mrs H has been under the weather and didn't throw as many shapes as we might have liked. And not even a blast of vintage Abba could get Mr Fangio onto the parquet flooring.
Bob Sinclar's 'Love Generation' saw me in full arm-swinging soft-shoe shuffling mode. Click here for a great tune. Your arms will be swinging too.
Bank Holiday brought a long dog walk and an extraordinary lunch courtesy of Nanna and DIY Dave. Reg and Baxter drove one another to distraction while we dined on Nanna's wonderful cooking.
And so back to work. Happy holidays, and New Year still to come...

Monday, 21 December 2009

Festivities and humbug

IT'S all very festive.
Downstairs Mrs H is slaving away over a hot laptop, doing an assignment of some sort. Younger Daughter is having a nap, having started work at stupid o'clock this morning. All you can see of Reg the Jack Russell is his backside sticking out from under Younger Daughter's blanket. He is not for moving.
Older Daughter is still in Bristol, where it has by all accounts been snowing and looking lovely.
I have taken advantage of the break to wrap some presents. As usual they look as if they have been stuck together by a myopic orang-utan with his digits taped together.
Last night we joined Mrs H's mum and dad at the carol service at their church, and most convivial it was, too.
This is a church built in the middle of a bustling main street, so it always looks busy even when it isn't. It was full last night and the minister was very welcoming, particularly as he only sees us once a year.
On Christmas Eve the vicar down at our nearest church will see us for the one and only time this year, too.
They must get quite peeved at the people who only ever turn up for carols, especially when, like us, they spread their favours from one code to the other willy-nilly.
Anyway, Mrs H's dad, with whom you would be unwise to dispute territory, bagged a table and a large plate of mince pies in the middle of the church hall afterwards for the assembled family members.
It was all extremely friendly and festive.
It was a bit less festive at Oldway Mansion this afternoon where we lost the opening skirmish in the Battle for Paignton Green.
Torbay Council have granted planning permission for a big play park on the Green, which means the 2010 Paignton Regatta could be the last of its kind. If we carry on after that, it will be on a much smaller scale.
More than 160 years of tradition may be lost if the National Lottery now comes up with the cash for the play park.
There was plenty of good debate from both sides, and then the four Tories voted for the play park, and the three non-Tories voted against it.
We could all have saved an hour of our lives if we had only looked at the make-up of the committee in advance. We were done over by the party whip, and it was always going to be so.
Humbug.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Bananaman cometh...


IT was cold down on the prom tonight, where the Tuesday night crew assembled for training.
Alan had planned a pyramid of sprints between the lamp-posts, gradually stretching out to the furthest one and then winding back down again. A couple of minutes rest, then repeat.
It was tough, and cold, but back in the car park our beloved coach appeared with a Santa sack full of goodies. I got a banana.
Now I have hiccups. I never get hiccups.
Maybe I will be one of those people who has hiccups for 30 years. Maybe they will stop in 10 minutes. I will keep you posted.
Meanwhile, I blame Bananaman.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

You're a brave man, Mr Fangio

Today Mr Fangio joined the Dangerous Sports Club.
Because along with hang-gliding, skeleton luge and base jumping, taking the mickey out of Fangio's driving certainly ranks right up there.
You know that advert where the bloke goes white-water canoeing down some foreign cataract and breaks his leg, then the emergency services fish him out and everywhere you look you see the bill mounting up? Well, alongside that bloke in the other cot in the air ambulance is Mr Fangio.
What Mr Fangio did was this. Over on our sister blog, the Reg Skoda Advent Calendar I posted a clip of the start of the Le Mans 24-hour race, taken from the Steve McQueen film.

Bloggers with longer memories may recall that Mr Fangio was nicknamed thus after his wife attracted the attentions of a speed camera while driving like Dick Dastardly through the quiet back streets of Paignton. Hence she became known as Fangio.
I have mentioned this to her once or twice and I think I have got away with it up to now.
But Mr Fangio may not be so lucky.
He commented on the clip, saying: "This is what it is like every time she gets into the car". Or words to that effect.
Now, Fangio is a lovely lady, a fine, upstanding member of the Higher Paignton community, a women of peace and inner tranquility.
Or let's hope so for the sake of the latest member of the Dangerous Sports Club...

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Christmas is coming...where are the geese?

IT was quiet down by the farm as we walked Reg.
There is a farm tucked down behind the pitch and putt course at Elberry. It's incongruous there, on the edge of the holidaymakers' favourite beach, but it reminds you that there is more to life than buckets and spades and rash vests with 'Surf Dude' written on them.
Whenever you walk past the farm there is a cacophony of squabbling geese, all strutting around the yard looking for food and trying to pick a fight.
It's a great noise, but you can't hear it now.
The yard is silent and empty.
The geese have all gone somewhere, and no good will come of it for them. None of them is coming back.
If the farmer didn't send his geese off to slaughter so you lot can eat them, he wouldn't have a farm or a livelihood, and he'd have to get a job selling buckets and spades and rash vests with 'Surf Dude' written on them. Fair enough.
But as the old song goes, 'It doesn't make it all right'.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Laptops and cowpats

I have spent the evening wrestling with laptops - installing anti-virus software and word processing gubbins.
Everything works now, but it took a long time.
I was staring at Younger Daughter's new Dell Inspiron for a long time, wondering why my mood was getting darker and darker.
So I changed the desktop background from some angular beatbox things in black and white to a curved pink design and immediately felt better.
I even made some chocolate chip cookies while Mrs H was studying sinews or ligaments or something, and Reg scooped up the bits I dropped.
They came out of the oven looking like very hot cowpats. Reg and I looked at each other and decided they were probably supposed to look like that.
We ate a bit each and they tasted a lot better than they looked. Mrs H ate a bit too, but she was concentrating so hard on sinews or ligaments or something that she would probably have eaten an actual cowpat if it had been put in front of her.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Pardon?

I had forgotten how great it was to stand in a very small room with a very loud rock band going at it full pelt.
Fire For Effect rehearsed in one of those very small rooms at South Devon College tonight, comprising two former members of the lost-in-orbit Space Beacon Earth and a guitarist. There was no bass player present tonight, which was probably a good thing for my ears.
I got there straight from running - cold, wet, windblown and knackered - and felt considerably better the minute I got in through the door.
They are good, of course, proper musicians, and it won't be long before they're ready to go public. Brixham's Room Upstairs in January, probably.
And it's a good set list that I won't divulge for fearing of spoiling the show.
But when you've just done one of Alan's running sessions in a howling wind that almost brings you to a standstill, there's no substitiute for a few power chords and a drum that goes right through your solar plexus and out the other side to make you feel a whole lot better.
Trouble is, I can't hear a thing now.
Pardon?

Monday, 23 November 2009

Winter draws on...

Younger Daughter is home in Bristol again after her birthday visit.
She joined us for the big quiz on Friday night, and helped us to a frustrating third place out of more than 40 teams. Frustrating because we have been second and third and third and second so many times, but have never won it.
This year a round on the songs of Kylie Minogue caught us out. For a start, we couldn't work out where one clip finished and the next one started.
Lovely girl, though.
We looked round the table for inspiration - Mrs H, Younger Daughter, The Caerphilly Kid, Caerphilly Kid's daughter, Bazza, Other Bazza, Lee, Shaun, Mrs Shaun, Their Friend....it was a big team, but none of us Kylie fans.
On Saturday I was warm and dry in the press box while Mrs H and Younger Daughter suffered the wind and rain on the Pop Side, and defeat at the hands of Rotherham United.
And that's when winter really kicked in.
Gale force winds tugged at the slates on the roof overnight and squalls came in like someone throwing handfuls of gravel at the windows.
Nine ships sheltered out in the bay - tugs, tankers, cargo ships and coasters. Time is money, so it must have been bad out beyond the protection of the headlands to drive them into the bay to drop anchor for the night.
Flotsam appeared on the beach when we went down there with Reg and Baxter. It won't be long before the winter jetsam joins it - washing powder boxes from Europe, plastic pots with Japanese script on them, lengths of rope and net and odd shoes.
Fulton Mackay made a whole house out of it in 'Local Hero'. Maybe I'll do the same down at Saltern Cove.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Pointy hats

DESPITE what Mrs H says, they are pointy hats.
I got to wear one, but not for long. It had to go back to its rightful place, on the head of Older Daughter, whose graduation ceremony took place in Bristol Cathedral yesterday.
She's in this picture, so it's a 'Where's Wally' quest if you want to find her.

She went up and received the acknowledgement of someone called the Pro Chancellor. I was pleased that they hadn't sent an amateur one, but it was gently pointed out that that was not what it meant.
Then we drank champagne and ate caramel shortbreads in a marquee, and mingled with the rest of the graduates and their parents who, like us, were absolutely bursting with pride.
It seems such a short time since she was a baby in a peach blanket; since she was a bridesmaid in a purple dress and fell asleep on my shoulder during the disco; since she threw her shoes at the wall and shouted and hated her parents, and now she's a Bachelor of Science with the whole world at her feet.
I didn't cry, but it was close.
Her sister is close behind her, training to be a teacher and practising with children at a tiny backstreet school in Bristol, hemmed in by pubs and houses and little factories. On the wall of her student flat is a hand drawn picture from one of the children in her class. It says "Thank you Miss Henderson".
When I saw that I didn't cry again, but again it was close.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Personal Best

It was a grumpy day today.
Several things wound my clock today, namely...
A national newspaper exploiting a mother's terrible grief to fit its own agenda;
Another national newspaper marking the 20th anniversary of the unification of a great nation and the end of generations of tyranny by giving away DVDs portraying the glory of war;
A whole nation gripped by X-Factor, not caring that they are being conned, swindled and manipulated by The Man, man;
Another professional footballer cheating his way to success, and the sport accepting that it's now just something that happens;
Rain falling steadily throughout my morning walk with Reg;
My website not loading properly.
Boy, was I grumpy today.
Then I ran a personal best, and everything got better.
We did a 3k time trial tonight. Jamie The Legs flew, as did Sun God and the rest. The Caerphilly Kid knocked a huge chunk off his personal best.
For me it felt as if it was going well. I don't have a stopwatch, so pacing is down to precision, experience and the fact that I am going as fast as I bloody well can at any given moment, stopwatch or no stopwatch.
But when I found I was 10 seconds behind the last runner in the men's race coming up Sands Road (I counted from the time he passed the gates of St Andrews until the time I passed them), and I was still exactly 10 seconds behind him at the finish, there was a danger of the grumpy cloud settling over me again.
But then Alan read the times out and it transpired the whole men's race was pretty fast, and I was a whole three seconds faster than I have ever done that course before.
Good stuff, and i think I know where I can take a chunk off next time...

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Best day of the season (2)

...and how about that?
Torquay United 3-1 Cheltenham Town, and off to the second round we go.
Told you it was going to be a good day.

Best day of the season

HERE in the press box at Plainmoor it's a little after 2.30 and it's the best day of the season.
It's FA Cup first round day and there is no other day like it if you follow a team in the lower divisions.
You get drawn against another team at random, maybe even a team from a different league. And while none of the teams playing in the first round today will win the FA Cup, one of them will get to the Fifth Round or maybe even the sixth, and we will all be right behind them.
Today Torquay entertain Cheltenham. I am the consummate professional, covering the game impartially of course. But inside I am 10 years old again....

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Bad blogger


Nine days and no blog.
Many excuses - learning to cook, watching TV instead, going to the pub, trying to write something of substance, sleeping, reading, listening to music.
Bad blogger.
Tonight the question - is Robert Kilroy-Silk really Nick Griffin Lite? The right-wing extremist you could take home to your mum.
Some of the things he said on Question Time tonight made the audience gasp.
And tonight, for the second time this week, we have been running in heavy, cold rain. Winter is fast approaching, even in the warm west of England.
Puddles and street lights, chip shops and junctions - all the beauties of running around town in the dark. We stand in the car park afterwards and steam gently, then make arrangements to do it all again on Sunday, or on Tuesday.
Tomorrow night we quiz at the Inn on the Quay. The Caerphilly Kid and I are masters of ceremony, and loads of people say they are coming.
And all the time the blog goes untended, and the literature of substance remains unwritten...
Bad blogger.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The festive season comes early for the traffic wardens

WHAT do traffic wardens want for Christmas?
We found out tonight down at the leisure centre, where you could hardly get a space in the car park because the fair had blocked off one end and the rest was full of stick-chuckers.
When we were young, the arrival of the fair was a huge event. It only came to Paignton once a year, for regatta, then it went to Torquay, then Brixham, then Dartmouth and then it was gone, wherever fairs go in winter.
I was never one for the scary rides, but I did love a good Noah's Ark, and Anderton and Rowland always had a good Noah's Ark, where you could perch on a wooden BSA Bantam and defy centrifugal force for a few minutes while the loudspeakers played 'Suffragette City' and the bloke in the middle hit the siren and yelled 'Do you WANNA go faster?'. And even if you didn't, you always yelled right back that you did.
And it always smelled of onions and candy floss and diesel, and the perfume of the prettiest girl in your class as she walked by.
But now the fair comes all the time, and it looks lame, and it doesn't have a Noah's Ark, and they don't play 'Suffragette City' any more.
And tonight it was parked where I wanted to park.
The stick-chuckers are in town for the championships of the National Baton Twirlers Association.
You can tell they are here by the knots of anxious parents smoking outside the leisure centre doors and the girls in their leotards racing up and down the stairs. They all have their hair scraped back and gallons of stage make-up on, like synchronised swimmers left stranded on land by an ebbing tide.
Outside after we had finished our run, the twirlers were heading home for the day, and many of their anxious parents were returning to their cars to find tickets on the windscreens.
Every now and then in a dark corner of the car park you could see the flash of a pocket camera as a warden nabbed another one.
They must have thought it was Christmas Day already.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Frank Turner

SAW this bloke and his band at the Lemon Grove in Exeter last night.
Utterly, utterly fantastic.
Tell all your friends, and see him live if you get the chance.



The gig came at the end of a great weekend in Bristol seeing older and younger daughters. Mooching around, shopping, eating, drinking, people-watching. I am so proud of them both.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Battling Tops

For no apparent reason I got all nostalgic for Battling Tops tonight.
It was just after watching Nick Griffin on Question Time but there's no deep significance in that.
The BBC took a huge gamble letting him on, but on the whole it probably paid off. He was completely unable to answer a straight question and made an utter pillock of himself. In that respect, the job's a good 'un.
Would anyone watching have been more likely to vote for him after seeing him squirm, fidget and lie his way through the programme? No.
Would it have made people less likely to vote for him. For all our sakes let's hope it's yes.
Anyway, I then got all nostalgic for Battling Tops, a game in which two, three or four little plastic spinning tops were unleashed into an arena and the last one standing was the winner. The picture on the box lid is actually a pretty fair representation of the game. Those American kids are really getting into it, eh? And the dad looks like Paul Whitehouse being Arthur Atkinson.
It was a great game, and I'll bet Popee and Tom Down Under had it. Probably the Caerphilly Kid, too.
You might think that being an only child was an obstacle to rewarding games of Battling Tops, but I developed a technique of firing them off in quick succession, so I was happy. They were simpler times.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Sleepyheads

THE street is oh, so quiet tonight. We have just been outside with the dogs (plural because we are walking a neighbour's while she goes to Cardiff to see Cliff Richard in concert)and ours are the only lights on as far as the eye can see.
There is a glimmer around the curtains at number four, which means Gerry may be watching the snooker or something, but everywhere else the good people of the street are in their beds, dreaming dreams of things they cannot have, like the people of Llareggub.
Even Bazza's lights are off. He will be dreaming fitfully of cruise ships in beautiful harbours and prolific goalscorers in Argyle green.
Everywhere people are going to bed, and I'm not tired.
I was just warming to a conversation about British cinema history when my blogger friend from Dorset signed off and turned in for the night.
Running went well again, if the Waterside hill can ever be described as 'going well'. With Alan absent, the Caerphilly Kid was left in charge, and a fine job he made of it. Ten sprints up the old road, ten recovery jogs down the dual carriageway. I put everything into the ninth and powered past one-two-three people, puffing and blowing like a decrepit steam engine. Then I ran like Mister Soft in the Softmints advert on the tenth and one-two-three people went past me again.
After running I took up an invitation to see Fire For Effect in rehearsal at the college. Matt and Alex, latterly of Space Beacon Earth, have put together a new band and they sound good. They played 'Word Up', as performed by Gun and not as performed by Cameo, plus a couple of Foo fighters covers. Good, very good.
Shower, late supper. No wonder I'm not tired.
Anyone out there want to talk about The Third Man?

Monday, 19 October 2009

Baxter


AS you may have gathered from the previous blog, Nanna and DIY Dave have acquired a new puppy.
It is a border terrier/Yorkshire cross and they have named it Baxter, like Ron Burgundy's dog in 'Anchorman'. I tried in vain to get a picture of him on my mobile. You'll have to make do with the movie version.
He and Reg got acquainted over the weekend, as they are likely to spend a fair bit of time walking together.
He is a feisty little so-and-so for 12 weeks. Reg did his best to ignore him, but he finally snapped. They then ran around the house side by side like terriers do for a while, backing into one another and baring their teeth without actually doing any biting.
Then Baxter nipped underneath Reg when he wasn't looking and nipped his nuts - unduly sharply, I thought.
Reg was mortified.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Kiss my puppy

Much excitement tonight as a new runner joined the Lovely Lady Group - not another lovely lady but a bloke who used to be in the army and wants to have a run with us for fitness.
The poor bloke joined on the night Alan decided to send us on the worst of the winter routes, necessary now the dark nights have set in.
But he hung on along the sea front, and didn't bat an eyelid when we turned left and kept climbing pretty much until we had crossed the ring road and passed the Old Smokey.

Here it is. It isn't long, but it's a pig. Click where it says 'show elevation' if you don't believe me.
Two members, whose names should remain shrouded in mystery for the time being, discussed their two-pronged Dream Ticket campaign for the running club chairmanship and vice-chairmanship. They said they would be out canvassing and would be going door to door kissing babies.
Nanna said: "You can come round and kiss my puppy". It probably shouldn't have seemed quite as funny as it did.
Sometimes it's like running with the cast of a Carry On film...

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Giddy with excitement

BACK in the old routine after the great reunion weekend during which I acquired a whole new identity and danced with a Cornishman, I returned to speed training tonight.
Speed is relative, remember. What is eyeballs-out, lycra-singeing fast to me might just be a jog to you.
In fact it has been three weeks since I tested my speed skills as it was the Prague trip the week before. Anyway, those are my excuses and I am sticking to them.
Alan took us across to the Goodrington cliff walk for some lamp-post repetitions, up and down the 160-metre length of the prom, but we started with the lung-busting loop up to the top of the cliff walk and down the other side, just as a kind of a loosener. Cheers then, Alan.
Everton Keith stormed off at the front of the fast group up the steep hill, with a chasing trio of me, Alan and the willowy Michelle pulling away from the rest. Then Everton Keith took the speed merchants completely the wrong way when they got to the top, leaving the chasing trio in front as we pelted back down the slope.
I was giddy with excitement. So rarely do I feature near the front of any kind of competitive run that in my mind I was there on the podium collecting at least a bronze. I was busy preparing my trackside interview patter for the man from the BBC who is the best friend of all the athletes when Everton Keith shattered my dreams by bursting out from the steps and hammering through to deprive me of my third place. I held off the rest of the recovering fast boys to trail in fourth, but my moment of glory was gone.
Later, in the warm-down relays the three-man team which featured Everton Keith, Paul C and me was actually leading for the first few legs in the gathering darkness down on the prom, but Michelle did me again and hurtled through to give her team victory.
It's not competitive, this Tuesday night speed work, you understand. Not competitive at all...

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Say When


Just a couple of days to go now until the long-awaited work reunion, meeting up with people not seen for 30 years in some cases, and not since the last reunion seven years ago in others.
...and not since the last Torquay United home game in the case of Ross, the Cornish man...
I made a mix of music from 1978ish-1982ish and stuck it on a disc for some old friends to listen to as they drive down. They have, of course, cheated and listened to it already. They must be buggers at Christmas.
I put 'Say When' by Lene Lovich on it, and forgot how much I liked it.
Lene Lovich played Routes club in Exeter and a bunch of us went to see her. She had a great band, and her album 'Stateless' is a classic. Her version of 'I Think We're Alone Now' is the best of all, I reckon, and there have been plenty.
And if you're thinking the word 'Tiffany', please leave now.
So, it's 1978 or 1979 in the aromatic darkness of Routes, down among the exotic smokers and the skinheads in what the young people these days refer to as the 'moshpit'.
The front few rows of the crowd are composed almost entirely of sweaty blokes with a few beers on board. Then Lene sings 'Say When', which has some dance moves with it, and she's so good and we're so mesmerised that a hundred sweaty, beery blokes - skinheads and all - do the silly dance moves without question.
After the gig an old, grizzled, drunken colleague - a Yorkshireman whose prodigious alcohol intake back then means he must surely be long gone by now - goes to the dressing room to interview Lene. He makes a beery, leery pass at her and gets thumped by her guitarist for his troubles. He emerges dishevelled, laughing and bleeding.....and singing 'Say When'.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Weakly

It's not a spelling mistake, but it does kind of sum up how often I've been blogging lately.
But just when my enthusiasm is waning, an award comes my way.
According to the excellent World From My Window blog, I have received something called a Zombie Chicken, which is nice.
I have no idea where I go to receive this award or what it entails, but it has perked me right up and no mistake guv'nor.
Tomorrow, if I can get online before midnight, I will write something. Really I will....

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Odd

IT has been a peculiar week.
Older Daughter is settled in her new home, and Younger Daughter is now in Bristol, too.
University life seems to be suiting her, and tonight she has been playing crazy golf indoors at the Cabot Centre.
That's sophisticated city life for you.
We also lost a very good friend a few days ago and his funeral took place yesterday.
I have never seen so many people at the crematorium, and there were laughs as well as a few tears during the readings and tributes.
Later we had a jar at the Paignton Club in his honour, standing on the terrace in the evening sunshine looking out at the sea and telling stories. And he'll be right there every time we look out at that stretch of water framed by harbour and pier and headland.
Cheers, Graham.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Moose Testicles


I drove a Transit for the first time today.
We picked it up from the hire firm at the railway station this morning. The young man behind the desk had some late-issue Siouxsie and the Banshees going on the stereo at 8.05am which I thought was bold.
We filled the big white van with furniture and assorted gubbins, then headed up the M5 to move Older Daughter into her new abode, a cottage off the Whiteladies Road in Bristol.
The neighbours seemed very nice. They were off to a funeral so we made sure we had shifted the furniture and moved the Transit well before the big black cars came for them. Later in the afternoon they had what sounded like a very jolly wake in a marquee on their lawn, and people were pouring in to join them.
We went to Ikea and bought a wardrobe, then realised we didn't have a hammer to bang in the little panel pins that hold the back on. We debated going round to the neighbours to see if we could borrow one, but thought it might be inappropriate, what with them being in the middle of a wake and all that.
We banged the nails in with a rock we found on the wall instead. It did the job, but split into many pieces in the process, releasing a curious marsh gas aroma which may have come from the primordial swamps when the rock was formed in prehistoric Clifton.
At Ikea we ate lunch.
Older Daughter had the meatballs despite me suggesting they were actually moose testicles in a creamy sauce. Veggie options were limited but Mrs H had the soup and I had some pasta which tasted as if it may also have been formed in prehistoric Clifton.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Speed

THE concept of speed is relative.
For instance, I was running flat-out when Elmer went past me tonight. He was only cruising really, but I never even saw him coming despite his frankly garish Union Jack running vest.
We were on the 320-metre loop down at Clennon as the heavy brass-coloured clouds rolled in over the brow of Penwill Way and a rainbow touched down right on top of the caravans belonging to the tarmac travellers who have set up home in the service lane.
The grass was long and lush, and by the time 18 of us had completed 10 laps each in a pairs relay it was worn flat into quite a pleasing furrow.
To be fair, Elmer and his fellow speed merchants did 12 laps while the rest of us toiled into double figures, but the concept of speed is relative, OK?
Elmer lapped me on the fast descent that comes after about 100 metres, on about my seventh or eighth lap. I thought I was going pretty well, but he flew by.
Later we did a kilometre around the edge of the field as fast as we could. I started conservatively and then passed a few people including Rowdy Robbie, which was a pleasant surprise.
The Caerphilly Kid was out in front of me by some considerable distance, though. I think we should have him and Elmer dope-tested.
Even later, while I was wheeling the wheelie bin down to the pavement Bazza appeared on his bike and stopped for a chat. He was listening to The Beatles on his MP3 player and was heading up to the cash and carry car park for his regular timed session, zooming around and losing weight.
This exercise regime is paying off, for he is a shadow of his former self. The laws of matter and physics surely dictate that all these unwanted bits of Bazza must have ended up somewhere. I must pop up to the cash and carry car park when it's quiet to see if I can see any of them lying around.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Mr Mucus

THREE fried breakfasts in three days - that's not the way to good health and fitness.
But that's just the way it was, and three of J D Wetherspoons' finest veggie fry-ups have found their way into me.
The first came at the Richard Hopkins in Newton Abbot before a round of golf with the Caerphilly Kid and his brother at Dainton. The eggs were a bit too well done, but otherwise it was good. The golf was good, too. The handicapping was generous, which meant I finished between the Caerphilly Kids. My finest moment came on the 17th, where I took four hacks to get out of the bunker, and the fourth dispensed with the formality of putting and rolled straight into the hole.
The second fry-up was on more familiar ground at the Isaac Merritt where the eggs were much better. It was A-Level results day and Younger Daughter had done the business. We celebrated with Mr Fangio and the Caerphilly Kid, who were already there having one of their high-powered business meetings.
The following morning Older Daughter, who had been working the previous day, decided she had missed out, so we went back to the Isaac Merritt for more. The eggs were good again, and Mr Mucus sat down at the table next to us, nursing an early-morning pint. He coughed a lot, sneezed, blew his nose noisily, coughed, sneezed and made that noise that comes with a big snort into the back of the throat.
Feeling a bit queasy, we left Mr Mucus to his pint and shifted to a quieter table. Later Mr Mucus got into a row with someone. It seemed a bit early in the day to be getting into rows, but Mr Mucus was ready for anything.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Cornwall

We went to Newquay, seeing as you ask, for a few days in the rain.
We went to St Ives and Truro, too. We walked the coast path from Porthcothan back to Newquay, and saw plenty of kestrels and a stonechat. There were seals in the harbour at Newquay, too, but most of the wildlife was of the human variety.
Newquay is as lovely and as rough as Torbay in pretty much equal measure. If you want to get hammered on lager and Jager-bombs, go into the centre and rub shoulders with the stags and the hens, then jump back quickly when the Jager-bombs put in a return appearance.
If you don't, don't. Find a quiet pub that does a decent pint instead.
It's that simple, really. People have to enjoy themselves and let off steam, and while you can sympathise with the people of Newquay whose town is over-run with city kids who can't hold their drink, they have to go somewhere.
We also went on the world's shortest brewery tour, at Skinners in Truro. It was pouring with rain so we decided to buy a tour ticket. The tour started with half an hour in the bar sampling beers, which was followed by ten minutes looking at sacks of malt, some hops, a big steamy thing with water in it and some foaming yeast vats. Then we saw the metal casks ready for loading on the lorries.
After a perfunctory 'any questions' it was back into the bar for more beer and the chance to pour some yourself.
I was driving so Mrs H made full use of the hospitality on offer and was quite giggly in the car on the way back.
Later at a pub overlooking Newquay harbour I asked a lovely, lovely barmaid for two Cornish Knockers. I hadn't intended any innuendo but she gave me one of those looks that made me wonder if I should perhaps have ordered something else instead.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Singing, Ringing...

My old friend Maddie Grigg, whose excellent blog 'The World From My Window' inhabits a Dorset village somewhere between Dibley and Royston Vaysey, asked for this.
It's a piece about the TV programme The Singing Ringing Tree, which was probably the most frightening thing ever to appear on TV.


I WAS never really that scared of Doctor Who.
I never watched episodes from behind the sofa.
I never peeked out from between my fingers at the Daleks or the cybermen.
There was one, in which people in cars were suffocated by some horrible expanding plastic dolls, which caused me a few moments of concern.
But, on the whole, I was all right with the Doctor.
However, somewhere back in my memory I knew there was a programme which had been bothering me for many, many years.
I occasionally had flashbacks to a land of brilliant colours and strange noises. There was a white horse with antlers there, and a giant golden fish with rolling eyes.
It sounded like something from the darker recesses of chemical-induced psychedelia, but I was at Hayes Road at the time and not in Haight-Astbury, so it can’t have been that.
It started to come back to me during an episode of the Fast Show, in which Charlie Higson dressed as a medieval prince and crossed a bridge into a magic kingdom.
As he stepped on the bridge, it played Gary Numan’s Cars.
And so it came back in a blinding flash.
The most frightening television programme of my childhood, in fact of my entire life, was The Singing Ringing Tree.
You may remember it.
It was made in 1957 in what was then known as East Germany, and had the first of its countless showings in Britain in 1964.
For some reason, presumably some film stock that had been left out in the sun for a while, all the colours were extremely bright, with great watercolour washes all over the scenery.
The characters all spoke in German, naturally, but instead of dubbing them into English, the BBC had a narrator speak over the German voices.
The story concerned a prince who set out to get the singing, ringing tree to impress a beautiful but selfish princess, but fell foul of a vertically-challenged gentleman in the magic kingdom where it grew.
He got turned into a bear, and then the princess learned the error of her ways by being nice to the animals in the magic kingdom and, after a battle with the vertically-challenged gentleman, they and their tree lived happily ever after.
As simple as that.
The antlered horse and the big fish came in at this point, by the way.
I know all this because I recently saw The Singing Ringing Tree on video, thanks to my mate Patrick.
He came into the office the other day and said he had a video which might interest me.
His wife, he said, had banned his children from watching it because it was too frightening.
It wasn’t the sort of thing she wanted to see in the house.
Would I like to see it, he whispered conspiratorially?
My mind boggled. What manner of video nasty could this be? Something with chainsaws and cannibals? Flesh-Eating Cheerleader Zombies III?
No, it was the Singing Ringing Tree, and yesterday I was terrified all over again as the story unfolded.
You see, it isn’t so much the ghastly colours and the hideous creatures.
It wasn’t even the state-of-the-art special effects of the chilling prince-to-bear transformation, or the shocking fiery demise of the vertically-challenged gentleman at the end.
It was the sound.
Every step on the bridge sounded like a Dan Hawkins power chord, and odd wibbly noises in the background gave way unpredictably every now and then to jarring, shuddering orchestra noises.
Sweat
My palms were sweating long before the princess walked through the flames to embrace the tree and the bear was transformed back into a prince once more.
By the time the credits rolled at the end, I was like a damp rag.
The Singing Ringing Tree belongs to an age when the BBC bought in cheap foreign films and hacked them into episode lengths for the daytime TV schedules.
And they got their money’s worth out of it.
Every time you switched on the TV during the day back then, it seemed to be on.
Mention it to anyone in their 40s and they will remember it. They may even burst into tears and demand counselling.
They certainly don’t make ’em like that any more.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Colour changing Hugh

IS July 15 too early to be going to a football match?
Probably, but Bazza's offer was too good to refuse.
My neighbour is a Plymouth Argyle fan, and on Wednesday Argyle were playing a friendly at Torquay United, whose blue and yellow colours have run through my veins for many a year.
"I'll give you a lift," said Bazza. "I'll even buy you a pint."
And so we found ourselves in Molloy's at Babbacombe sinking a pint of draught bitter and watching the sports headlines creep across the bottom of the Sky Sports screen.
We made our way to the ground, and Bazza was faced with an agonising decision. Would he come and stand with me on the Popular Side among the supporters of God's own team, or would he don his Pilgrim green and stand in the away end.
He thought long and hard, but he was drawn to his own kind and bade me farewell to stand among the visiting supporters. In fact, as we rounded the corner of Marnham Road a Plymouth fan of such immense girth rounded the corner with us that Bazza was pulled across two lines of traffic and into his gravitational orbit. The last I saw of him pre-match was his bald head disappearing into a seething mass of green. I hoped he would be all right.
I adjourned to the sumptuous surroundings of the press box to renew acquaintances with Dave T, Gordon, Darryl and Ross. You can keep the Bernabeu, the San Siro, the Maracana and all those, there is nowhere on earth I would rather watch football than the Plainmoor press box when the banter is in full flow. The conversation was erudite and intellectual as always. We spent half an hour eulogising about Mark Loram's left foot and Gordon's half-time coffee was a seething industrial strength concoction which would have kept me awake until about 4am if the ITV4 Tour de France podcast on my ipod hadn't put me soundly to sleep long before the final credits rolled.
The football finished 3-3.
I had a surreal moment in Bazza's car when he hopped out to get some cash and left me listening to Don Maclean singing 'Vincent' at high volume, What an interesting song that is, packed with fascinating characters. I would love to meet Colour Changing Hugh one day.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Yeovilton


GUIDELINES - HERALD EXPRESS 14.7.09
EVERYONE had come to see the Vulcan.
You had to feel a little bit sorry for the Royal Navy, celebrating 100 years of naval aviation with the spectacular pageant of the Yeovilton International Air Day.
The Royal Naval air station was decked out in its finest and it was estimated on the local radio that more than 30,000 people were making their way there.
Most of them, it seemed, were with us on the A303 near Ilchester watching distant helicopters flying to and fro.
But despite the Navy's best efforts, the aeroplane that everyone wanted to see was the Vulcan.
The last of the giant delta-winged bombers went out of active service with the Royal Air Force in 1986, four years after the extraordinary Black Buck mission to the Falklands.
Six years later the last flying Vulcan, XH558, was retired from airshow service, and that, it seemed, was that.
But ever since then the Vulcan To The Sky Trust has been using public donations, bequests and lottery money to restore the aeroplane to flying condition, and it is now airborne again.
There were Vulcans on show from the minute you got inside the gate at Yeovilton — on hats, on T-shirts and inflatable ones in the hands of small children. You could buy model Vulcans and DVDs of Vulcans flying.
All week I had been checking the weather forecast for Yeovilton on Saturday, and at no point in the week did it get any better. I checked the Herald Express online weather, the BBC, Metcheck and the Met Office but they were all unanimous.
However nice it was in the few days leading up to the weekend, it was going to hammer down on Saturday on the Somerset Levels.
But while the skies were grey and the clouds lowering, it was dry when we arrived and it stayed that way right up until the last 20 minutes.
Having battled through the jams, we got out of the car just as a flypast marking the 100 years of naval aviation swept overhead.
I was all excited.
Back in the 70s Dad and I frequented airshows at Exeter, Chivenor, Yeovilton, Farnborough and Greenham Common.
We saw the first flights of Tornados and Jaguars, we watched anxiously as the Red Arrows made the tricky transition from the Gnat to the Hawk, and we held our ears and grinned like idiots as Buccaneers, Lightnings, Phantoms and Starfighters tore great fiery holes in the sky.
I hadn't been to an airshow since, and I wondered if Saturday's excitement would live up to the memories. It did.
The low cloud meant things got off to a bit of a slow start, with the Typhoon unable to do its display and the Red Arrows making just a couple of red, white and blue smoky runs up and down the display line before heading back whence they came.
But that just gave us more time to enjoy the massive static display, where you could buy souvenirs and get up close to some aeroplanes.

Prince Andrew paid a quick visit and then departed by private jet. A Sea Vixen made lovely shapes in the sky and the Royal Jordanian Falcons performed intricate aerobatic manoeuvres in time to a slinky disco beat booming over the speakers.
A French pilot leaned casually on the crowd barrier in front of his beautiful Rafale fighter plane. He smiled a lot, chatted happily to the crowds and looked as if he should be modelling something. A few minutes later he ran his hand through his immaculate coiffure, climbed into his beautiful Rafale fighter plane and threw it around the sky in a rage of sound like a tempestuous tango partner to the cheers of the adoring crowd.
I hated him.
Back on the ground, the unmistakable sound of Vulcan engines sent a stir around the aerodrome. The great beast, visible across on the other side of the airfield, was being brought to life ready for its flight later.
And it still hadn't rained, although the low cloudbase was playing havoc with the programme.
Two giggling girls under an umbrella had their photograph taken by almost every photographer in the press area just in case it did rain later and their editors wanted a picture to illustrate the downpour.
Somewhere in the skies above, in the cockpit of his beautiful Rafale fighter plane, a handsome pilot shook his fist at the photographers below. "Photograph me!" he shouted. "Photograph me!"
Over on the apron, a blinking red light on top of the Vulcan's fuselage showed that another stage had been completed in its preparation for flight. Small boys of all ages gnawed their knuckles in excitement.
In the sky an F16 multi-role combat aircraft of the Belgian Air Component poked the low cloudbase in the eye and did a display anyway.
As it turned sharply through the wet air a cloud formed momentarily over its wings and was gone again. Then the pilot completed his display by simply hammering down the crowd line from one end to the other as fast and as low as he was allowed to.

My vital organs vibrated. Over in Ilchester people trying to watch the cricket on TV looked up at the sky crossly and said "Bah!". The photographer in front of us nearly fell off his little stepladder with excitement.
It was absolutely brilliant, and I remembered standing with Dad and grinning like an idiot at fiery holes in the sky again.
According to the programme, an F16 of the Royal Netherlands Air Force was up next, and this one was painted bright orange like a Dutch football shirt from the 1970s.
Now we were REALLY excited.
Imagine Johnny Rep and the drummer out of Golden Earring unleashed at the controls of a fighter plane.
Now THAT'S exciting.
But there was bad news. The orange machine had been shut down and the pilot had got out. A mechanical problem was blamed, but we preferred to imagine the pilot claiming a prior engagement with a blonde and a roll-up.
And anyway, we had the Vulcan to look forward to.
We walked around the static displays for a bit, finding ourselves in the Airfix tent where whole families were sitting at long trestle tables sticking little plastic aircraft together and grown men were discussing Vulcan kits.
The heady smell of modelling glue was thick in the air and we almost bought a 1/72nd scale Spitfire but fought the temptation.
Back outside, the bottom of the clouds had touched the top of the hills off to the south and that, according to the commentator, was A Bad Thing.
And worse was to come. In sombre tones normally reserved for the death of a pop star, the announcer gave us the news that the Vulcan had fallen victim to a mechanical failure and would not fly.
Its blinking red light had been extinguished for the day.
Its engines were no longer being prepared.
It was, he said, a hydraulic fault. The Vulcan, being made of the same kind of technology that propelled early Austin Minis down A-roads in the hands of men wearing caps and string-backed gloves, is as susceptible to gremlins as any other piece of technology of that age.
The crowds took it well, considering, and for those who hung around, there was a treat in store.
The Vulcan was towed slowly across the airfield in front of them behind a truck, and manoeuvred into an enclosure where they could all but reach out and touch it.
It was magnificent up close — not as good as seeing it in the air, but almost.
Then, as the clouds finally emptied their contents over the runways, the finale saw the Navy flyers reassert themselves with a display full of swooping helicopters and pyrotechnics so loud they must have woken the snoozing cricket fans of Ilchester all over again.
Fly Navy. You know it makes sense.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

We're rolling...


There are times when this job gives you an insight into something really special, and today was one of those days.
We were at the Music Mill studios in Newton Abbot where Digby and Shaun engineered the first efforts by Space Beacon Earth to commit their songs to posterity.
And the lads were stupendous all day, recording the instrumental parts of three songs, plus some overdubs. Tomorrow they go back in to do vocals, a cowbell or two and maybe some battered hub caps or shopping trolleys for shits and giggles in the percussion department.
They are all talented people, and it's a privilege to be there to see it all come together.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

BANTHAM today, and a chance to walk another bit of coast path. Big bad showers, though, and a curtailed picnic. Nature notes confined to a big yellow and black dragonfly and a big sign in the dunes saying 'Adders'. We had our picnic right next to it. Scared? Us? Pah!

Friday, 3 July 2009

Damp

Alan the coach, being a generous chap, let me organise the run.
I decided to go for Greenway, which is my favourite route for a summer evening. You go up to Galmpton, down through the village, up round the back of the tree-that-isn't-a-tree-it's-a-phone-mast on the muddy track, down to Maypool, up over the cow-field hill, down to Galmpton Creek and back up through the village and over the common before the drop back down to Paignton.
It's eight and half miles and hilly, and it rained for the first half, which wasn't so bad underfoot but made brushing through the overgrown narrow lane a bit of a soggy experience.
Nature notes were a bit thin on the ground, though. A hen pheasant literally dropped out of a tree on to the track in front of us just as we reached the field at Maypool with the spectacular view of Dartmouth. It skreeked a bit and made off. And Mr Fangio scared a heron into flight on the mud at Galmpton Creek.
Back in the car park the consensus was that everyone had enjoyed the slightly damp and eccentric route, specially the Jamie The Legs and his fast group, who did it in the opposite direction for reasons known only to themselves, then added a couple of extra miles on the way back for good measure.
Headbangers...

Monday, 29 June 2009

Motorway miles

THE last shower of shale has settled in the rafters of the Millennium Stadium, the last blast on an air horn died away.
The confused pigeon that spent the last hour of Saturday night's British Speedway Grand Prix meeting flapping frantically around looking for somewhere safe and quiet to roost has hopefully found that place.
And the man who walked across the roof gantry, silhouetted high above the fireworks, has hopefully come down for some fresh underwear.
All in all it was a weekend of about 500 motorway miles, with some horrible traffic on Saturday, a crazy detour around unpronounceable Welsh villages, and then a trip to and from Bristol to collect Older Daughter on Sunday.
We have a house full now, as she is home for the summer. She has an end-of-term chest infection, though, and is busy coughing downstairs.
Mrs H is still struggling with a bad knee, so it's not the healthiest of households right now.
Space Beacon Earth were on fine form again tonight. Next week they go into the studio to record three songs for an EP. Will it be good enough to topple Michael Jackson off the number one slot?
Only time will tell.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Elliot takes one for the team

A great family meal to celebrate nephew Leigh's 21st birthday.
Good food and rather a lot of it, and Mrs H and I decide to pass on dessert, wisely as it turns out.
The rest of the party pair off to share giant chocolate/ice cream/cake desserts. For the most part they are evenly split but Younger Daughter decides her sugars are high enough and dips out after a few spoonfuls.
Elliot is sharing with her, and they decide not to let good food go to waste. Take one for the team, urges Younger Daughter, and 12-year-old Elliot manfully digs in until his spoon strikes glass at the bottom.
Then, within moments, he goes pale like Caspar the Friendly Ghost, begins sweating profusely and retires to the gentleman's cloakroom to be rather ill.
Younger Daughter is racked with guilt, but that doesn't stop her laughing.

Farrah Fawcett died tonight, and the BBC has just confirmed Michael Jackson's departure, too. What a strange night...

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Proper rules of golf?

IT all came down to the final putt on the final green after 18 epic holes.
The match ebbed and flowed between me and the Caerphilly Kid, with the prestigious Reg Skoda Trophy at stake. I moved into a slender lead and held it at the turn, at which point we downed clubs and strolled up through the woods to the Churston Court for a pint and a bag of crisps.
On our return, Jail Ale took its toll immediately and I fell behind, the Welshman chipping in from the fringe on the 10th. But I wore him down and tittered unsportingly when he thrashed about like Eric Sykes sending up little showers of sand in the bunker beside the 16th.
Finally, I needed to hole a four-foot putt on the last to square the match and thus retain the trophy.
I started the putt left, it ambled up to the hole, dithered on the edge, wobbled a bit and eventually dropped in.
Cue scenes of wild hysteria.
It was, it has to be said, a hell of a way to spend a day off in the sunshine.



05:29 21/06/2009 Berry Head

Thursday, 18 June 2009

A hundred sparrows, one buzzard, one skylark, one and a half Otters and two Avocets

SOON I may write about something other than running, but when it's as good as this, I just can't help it.
From Marldon out through Compton tonight on a course devised by Alan, then sharp left and away through a network of green lanes, bridle paths and footpaths. Over one brow the whole of South Devon opened up in front of us, with views over Ogwell Fort to Ashburton and Dartmoor beyond.
Lynda, wife of Alan, led our group and the pace was just right. We ran with no distance markers and no real grip on time, just following the muddy paths. It was running as it should be.
Eventually we joined another bit of Johnny B Musgrave's trail, climbed a bit, twisted a bit, went over a couple of stiles and dropped back down the steep hill into Marldon for a towel down, a fresh T-shirt and a rendezvous with Mrs H in the Church House.
Alan said it was seven and a half miles, and we finished in around an hour and a half, so no speed recoprds were set.
Tonight's nature notes included hedgerows alive with chattering sparrows, a buzzard wheeling around languidly over Compton woods and a tiny skylark barely visible against a heavy grey cloud but singing as loud as he could.
At the pub Mr Fangio, who had been hand-picked to accompany Jamie The Legs over the longer route for faster people, had a pint and a half of Otter while I took advantage of Mrs H's kind offer to drive and acquainted myself with a light, hoppy beer called Avocet. It arrived as a stranger but was soon a firm friend.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Johnny B Musgrave...

FOURTEEN miles as guests of the South Devon Ramblers Association, who invited us along to do half the Musgrave Trail in honour of us having done the full 35-mile monty last year.
Rob from running and his girlfriend Jo were leading the first stretch, along with Rob's young son who I think is called Tyler. This was a pleasant surprise as we had no idea they were ramblers. Maybe, like being a Morris dancer, it's something you only tell your closest friends.
After four miles we crossed the Dart at Greenway and got Rob into trouble by slipping into the Ferryboat for a crafty pint when the chief ramblers were waiting for us to arrive at the rendezvous a mile up the road.
No harm done, we pressed on with the second, nine mile, section to Totnes with the hot sun on our heads.
The pace was gentle and company convivial. More than 40 walkers completed the second stretch and we finished at the Steam Packet.
We missed Mrs H, though, who had to stay at home with her injured knee. And the Caerphilly Kid, who was in London indulging his passion for the musical theatre.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Ain't that a wonderment?

SURPRISINGLY, Mrs Fudd let Elmer bring her new car to training.
Surprising, because the little Cooper S is her pride and joy, and it's not silver, it's gunmetal grey.
When the Lovely Lady Group got back from nearly an hour and a half on the road and in the woods, there was a group of people gathered around the front of Mrs Fudd's car. They beckoned us over, and we found Elmer demonstrating a remarkable gadget.
At the touch of a button, a little stalk comes out alongside each headlight and squirts soapy water back onto the glass to clean it. Ain't that a wonderment, we thought, just like the cowboys in The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid when they see the steam engine going by.
Every time Elmer touched the button and the soapy water stalk came out, we threw our arms in the air and shouted 'Hooray!'. You might have expected the novelty to wear off quite quickly, but it lasted for some considerable time, and by the time we did tire of it, there was quite a crowd and a sizeable pool of soapy water under Mrs Fudd's car.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Ice bath


ALAN the coach came up with one of his bright ideas to follow the speed session.
After 10 relay laps of Darren's field, dodging dog walkers and trying not to put our feet in the rabbit holes, the sting in the tail was a dip in the sea.
Most of us went for it, and after the water levels had passed the point of greatest gentlemanly distress it wasn't too bad.
If you look closely at the picture, I am at the point of greatest gentlemanly distress; Elmer is not standing in a trench (that's actually his height); Keith who went in first and has had enough is coming out again and the Caerphilly Kid is running about like a buffoon with his arms in the air. Nothing new there, then.
Nanna is in there somewhere, too, on the far left I think.
They say ice water is the best thing for the calves and hamstrings after a run anyway, and as ice baths go, this one has some decent scenery going for it.
Marina took the pictures on my phone. She said being the photographer was her excuse for not going in the water. Feeble...

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Pole dancing with Fangio


PARTY time for the Skoda household with 25 years of marriage under our belts.
For months we had been planning a garden bash under a gazebo, with long shadows, real ale and blackbirds singing in the elderflowers.
What we got was a day of torrential rain and a small house packed with people. There was plenty of real ale, though, and a feast cooked by Nanna which lasted from the official start time of 3pm to close of play almost 12 hours later. There are still onion bhajias and samosas in the fridge, along with several spare bags of Cheesy Wotsits.
When the rain finally stopped we strolled in the vegetable garden and Bazza shared a few tips for successful crops. Reg barked at everyone before retreating upstairs to lie on the bed and glare at all and sundry.
A slideshow highlighting pictures of some of my old haircuts drew cruel laughter from the guests.
Highlights were too many to list, but outstanding moments included Elmer's mighty cheesecakes, the Sun God's arrival which coincided with the rain stopping, as it always does, and Fangio making one gentleman's night complete.
We were packed into the kitchen, as always happens at parties (shouldn't someone write a song about it?) and Fangio and her husband were taking an active role in some faintly ribald conversation about pole dancing. Fangio started to demonstrate the art, using Mr Fangio as the pole, not realising that another guest - an older gentleman with a twinkling eye for the ladies - had walked through the doorway at that point.
His view of Fangio's rear quarters at close quarters put a serene smile across his face which is unlikely to fade for at least a week. Fangio was mortified and overcome with embarrassment, although Mr Fangio found it all very amusing.

Monday, 1 June 2009

The gig

Space Beacon Earth performed on stage for the first time tonight, at the Spinning Wheel in Paignton. The four songs went down really well with the 'family and friends' audience, and they even got an encore.
An excellent night all round, and all credit to Gino, Matt, James, Alex and Steve.
Next Monday the work begins on new songs and an expanded set.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Catching up

The blog has been sadly neglected while we have been enjoying the holidays. Apologies. Here are some of the things we did.
Saturday: To Brixham for the Heritage Festival fireworks, which were top-notch as ever. We leaned on the harbour railings while the whizz-bangs whizz-banged and a slightly merry lady from one of the kiosks gave us the rundown on what a great place Brixham is. We hadn't the heart to tell her that we weren't on holiday and knew the place inside-out, so we just listened politely and nodded. Younger daughter ate ice cream out of a cone packed with fudge. I almost asked the man in the shop if he packed the fudge himself, but Mrs H elbowed me in the ribs and told me to stop being so childish.
Sunday: Gardening and mooching. Walking the dog. Motor racing on TV. Beer.
Monday: Mooching and gardening. Walking the dog. Me in a foul mood because Bank Holidays are for getting out and doing things, NOT for mooching and gardening.

Tuesday: To Calais on one of Mrs H's whims. 'Why not?' she said, and it was hard to come up with a reason. Drove to Dover up the A303 and caught SeaFrance Rodin. Disaster as the Friterie des Nations was closed, but it was open again when we returned a little later in the afternoon. Sun broke through in the evening for a drive up to Cap Gris Nez and then on to Wimereux with horse riders on the beach silhouetted against the setting sun and a flock of sand martins doing their noisy thing. If there's a better stretch of road to drive on a sunny evening I've yet to find it.
Wednesday: A couple of cases of wine and general grocery shopping. Three French bulldog puppies for 999 euros each in the pet shop. Mrs H wanted to buy them, but got a bit confused with the exchange rate. When I explained the error of her ways she went a bit cold on the deal. Heard a cuckoo while strolling in the grounds of the fort. SeaFrance Rodin back again over a choppy Channel, then a nightmare drive home. M25 solid. M3 solid. A303 closed due to accident at Stonehenge. Nothing for it but to hammer back down the M4 and the M5 listening to the European Cup Final. Manchester United lost, so that cheered us all up a bit.
Thursday: Mrs H into hospital for long-awaited knee operation, carried out by Dr Nie (I kid you not). Saw a handsome fox in Primley Meadow while walking the puppy in the morning, which lightened the atmosphere somewhat. The operation went well and by 6pm I was driving her home again. I asked her what she wanted to eat, expecting the answer to be something like a poached egg and milky tea, but she wanted sausage and mash.
Friday: Mrs H is bored by convalescence already. We drove out to Ashburton to collect tickets for the Blues Festival and Mrs H tackled the stairs with gusto.
Saturday: Wall Park hosts a match between two teams of Brixham United veterans. They haven't asked me to play, which will probably seem like a good thing in hindsight. It's a 2-2 draw, and there are many familiar faces, including one man I haven't seen for 20 years and had in the meantime convinced myself that he must be dead. I am delighted to report that he isn't. Mrs H valiantly toils up those stairs again and sits with her bad knee shielded from the crowds as Nine Below Zero play a glorious set of red-hot R&B. Even Mrs H, up until now not a great advocate of Nine Below Zero, concedes that they were damn good. Now get me out of here before some bastard bumps into my knee.
Sunday: Garden centre, lawn mowing and an extraordinary finish to the Giro d'Italia. Space Beacon Earth rehearse in a carpet warehouse in Teignmouth in the evening ahead of tomorrow's big debut gig. For the first hour and a half they are woeful, and forget everything. Then suddenly the penny drops and they are right on top of their game. Roll on tomorrow.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Party Pit


Are The Hold Steady the best live band around at the moment?
Certainly the best I have seen for a long, long time, maybe since The Clash in their pomp in 1978, maybe since Nine Below Zero at the Piazza, maybe since the Manics at Plymouth Pavilions.
The gig at the Princess Pavilions in Falmouth was was the third time of seeing The Hold Steady for me and for Bridget, who took the picture from our vantage point in a seething mass of Cornishmen two rows back from the stage. It was robust in there, to say the least, especially during 'Massive Nights' and 'Stuck Between Stations'. But we handled ourselves pretty well and shook hands with the Sons of Trelawny after a mighty version of 'Slapped Actress' had brought proceedings to a close and we made our sweaty way out into the night for a two-and-a-half-hour trek back up through Cornwall in the early hours.
We saw them at The Point in Cardiff, which is now apparently closed. That was a 10 out of 10. Then we saw them at Bristol Students Union, where I made us late by getting lost in the Christmas shopping traffic. That was about an eight out of 10. Falmouth, where we had a pint in the evening sunshine and a bag of chips on the way up the hill to the theatre, was definitely another 10.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Victory Parade

It was Torquay United's victory parade through the town tonight - the players on the top deck of a clapped-out open-top double-decker with the big shiny trophy.
They went from Plainmoor down to the sea front, then back up to the Town Hall.
On the sea front the police helicopter hovered overhead and fans unfurled a giant flag from the Palm Court bridge so the players could pretty much reach up and touch it as they went by.
Outside the Town Hall there were hundreds of people singing and chanting, and when Pete the PR man put on 'Rocking All Over the World' quickly followed by 'We Are The Champions' it was deafening.
Inside there was a civic reception at which the Mayor said some nice things about the team but clearly demonstrated that football is not his number one interest.
There was a certain amount of tittering among the players as the Mayor said 'Hurrah!' for the third time and Elliot Benyon's phone went off.
Darryl from Plainmoor, in a voice like Alan Partridge, said: "This is comedy gold."
And he was right.
The leader of the Lib Dems was sitting there in a bright yellow wig, the Tory lady councillor who looks like the Queen Mother held up the trophy for everyone to see and Younger Daughter got her picture taken with her two favourite players.
This made Older Daughter, here making her first appearance in this blog, very jealous by text.
One by one the players melted away, most of them moving swiftly in the direction of Applebys, leaving just Greavsie and one or two others heroically mingling with the dignitaries.
Younger Daughter and I also melted away. The need to get home and do some work meant we had to decline a most tempting invitation to go back to the Devonport for a pint. Shame.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Training

All over the country running clubs train on Tuesday nights.
Some of them run on streets, in parks, round and round tracks.
Tonight we did 300m reps on the beach at Goodrington, with the evening sun turning the red sand to gold and the bay a steely blue all the way from Hopes Nose on one side to Berry Head on the other.
A red-sailed vintage Brixham trawler went across the bay from right to left and then went back again. Herring gulls squabbled in the storm water outflow and two blackbacks ambled around over the shallow breakers.
Lucky buggers, aren't we?

Monday, 18 May 2009

Wembley and more

That was some weekend.
Friday night saw me on taxi duty, collecting three rather inebriated ladies from the middle of Brixham where they had been the last to leave the pub by some distance.
Mrs H failed to recognize the car while Nanna and Debbie sat in the back and giggled.
They think I'm the perfect gentleman, but had one of them chucked Cherry B or whatever over my upholstery they might have seen a different side of me.
Saturday night was Cheese Night at the Fangios, and we didn't watch a single minute of Eurovision.
The Fangios had challenged us to scour the cheese shops and come up with something unusual. We thought we had done reasonably well with a couple of French examples, one of which was so runny that it turned to liquid the minute the rind was cut.
Elmer, however, excelled himself with something that looked, so a medical man said, like a gangrenous wound wrapped in clingfilm. It certainly smelled profoundly unpleasant, and was comfortably the winner of the Eurovision Pong Contest. We all ate a piece just for bravado and it was indeed vile, although not quite as bad as we feared.
Mrs H almost collapsed on the spot with the horror of it, but she survived and perked up remarkably when Elmer's cheesecakes put in an appearance.
Feeling somewhat the worse for cheese, I drove to Wembley on Sunday for the BSP play-off final in which Torquay United beat Cambridge 2-0.
I did the usual online stuff, then some player interviews and a page one, so it was 8.30 by the time we left and we were virtually the last people out of the stadium.
You can see me being professional and unbiased here...

...and I was on Setanta shaking hands with all the players as they went up to collect their medals. Will I ever grow up?
For more, I refer you to the Captain's Blog, the link to which is on the right, over here somewhere.
Then more Space Beacon Earth tonight. There are two weeks to go to the gig and tonight they were more together than they're ever been. They were all relaxed and enjoying it. I now know the names of all four songs which are in playlist order: Carnaby; Strawberry Fair; Rosemary's Sundial and Sunny Day Brain Chisel. I have now changed my opinon on Rosemary's Sundial. It does not, under any circumstances, require a cowbell. What was I thinking?
Apparently they are becoming known locally as Gay Bacon Sandwich, but having a nickname at least means people are talking about them.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Happy Birthday Nanna

Nanna's birthday today, so we celebrated her entering her 40th year with a couple of pints at the Torbay Inn after running.
The Torbay is a great back street pub with decent beer not costing a fortune, and a nice atmosphere where you can tell a few tall stories and have a laugh without upsetting anyone unduly. South Devon AC has kind of adopted it as home base, and they don't seem to mind a load of unkempt slobs in hoodies piling in every now and then.
There were plenty of tall stories tonight, with Mrs H, Mr Fangio, the Caerphilly Kid. DIY Dave and Nanna on top form.
I don't suppose Haile Gebreselassie goes for a couple of pints after running, then scoffs beans on toast at 11pm, but it's what we do.
It was a good run, too. Nothing hurt and I didn't feel like throwing up at the end, which has been a problem for the last few weeks.
We went out through Waddeton then round to Galmpton and back. About six miles with a couple of beastly hills in the middle. It was hot and heavy, but the severe weather warning I posted on the website this afternoon came to nothing.
There were skylarks and swifts in the fields, big ginger South Devon cattle peering over the hedges and a couple of horses racing round their paddock as we went by, just to keep us company.
It was the kind of spring night that reminds you why you go running.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Quadrophenia

PHIL Daniels, the very fine actor, warned Mrs H to steer clear of the roasted broad beans tonight, and thankfully she took heed.
We were at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth to see Quadrophenia. Phil Daniels starred in the film version in 1979, and had made a special trip down to Plymouth to be at the press night for the new stage show.

We spotted him on the fringes of the far-West Country media glitterati, only two of whom we recognised, in the half-time drinks and nibbles area. As Mrs H pondered the little dishes of wholesome snacks, Phil Daniels issued his warning that the roasted broad beans weren't all that. He was right, too.

I seized the opportunity to shake his hand and engage in a brief conversation that embraced music and scooters, as if he hadn't had enough of those over the years.
He excused himself for a pee and we made our star-struck way back to our seats for the second half.
Then, as the cast took their well-earned standing ovation, Pete Townshend himself came on to take a bow.
Bloody Nora! Talk about a night of the stars...
Quadrophenia, by the way, is absolutely brilliant.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Cowbell

Rosemary's Sundial needs a cowbell, and I won't rest until it has one.
That's the conclusion I reached while sitting through Space Beacon Earth's rehearsal tonight.
They played their four songs in gig conditions, that is to say straight through, with any minor glitches left in. There weren't many, and I played the part of 'Enthusiastic Audience' while Steve the musician and mentor prowled in front of the band clicking his fingers. I applauded after each song, moving from seat to seat to make it appear as if there was more than one person in the auditorium. I'm not sure it worked that well.
Gino warmed to the 'gig' conditions, introducing the songs and making the other three laugh, which seemed to put them at ease. Matt, James and Alex played really well together, and the finishing jam saw them more relaxed than usual.
I clapped and Steve the musician banged two pieces of metal together during Sunny Day Brain Chisel to create some rhythmic atmosphere.
But Rosemary's Sundial definitely needs a cowbell, and I might just be the man to play it...
The gig is just three weeks away now, and they're nearly ready. In July we'll be going into the studio to make a CD.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Monsieur Citroen

Midnight, and the rain is pattering lightly on the window and some herbert is driving what is probably a midnight blue Citroen Saxo with an exhaust pipe the size of a dustbin around Bookers car park, which is just at the top of the road.
They leave their gates open at night, presumably in case the building catches fire and the fire engines need to get in, but most nights there is the sound of squealing tyres about now and the over-revving engine of some tiny car that has just scraped into insurance bracket one.
When Monsieur Citroen sat back in his deep leather armchair, sighed a sigh of hot Parisian pavements, twirled his waxed moustache and signed off the last pastel drawings of the prototype Saxo, did he think for one moment that his beloved creation would end up disturbing the peace thanks to some acne-splattered twat in a rain-soaked car park?
Non.

We ran a hash course through Occombe and Scadson Woods tonight, thanks to Alan and Jamie the course markers. It was wet, slippery and muddy, but tremendous fun. We ended up at the Old Smokey where the joy of a pint of Adnams was tempered slightly by the fact that the lovely barmaid took more than three pounds off me for it. Nanna was talking about some new wallpaper she has found with fibreglass in it. I asked if you could build a boat out of it. It seemed a perfectly sensible question when it left my head but Mr Fangio nearly soiled himself with laughter.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Controversy surrounds the appearance of the New Seekers in Torquay! Who'd have thought it?
Axccording to the Daily Mail today, all foreigners are horrid and we're all going to die of something. Oh, and the original New Seekers who aren't in the current New Seekers don't think much of the current New Seekers tour, which is the one coming to Torquay.
My interview with the man from the current New Seekers, who are under fire from the original New Seekers, could have descended into a load of nostalgic guff about Coca-Cola adverts. Now it looks as if it could be quite controversial.



Manic Street Preachers were on Jools Holland last night. Every time I see Nicky Wire on TV or up close, I resolve to grow old a little less gracefully.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Bank Holiday

Football is bound to crop up on this blog now and then, and today is one of those days.
This evening Torquay United lost 0-1 at Histon on a pitch more suited to my potato crop than a flowing game of football, but nonetheless thanks to the fact that they won the first leg 2-0, they will now be going to Wembley, again.
In fact it will be the club's fifth visit in 20 years, which isn't bad going, and on May 17 we will all be there to see if they can beat Cambridge and get back into the Football League.
I did the web updates, Twittering and Facebooking from the comfort of my sofa this time, watching the game on Setanta and thus avoiding an extremely long trip to Cambridgeshire and back. Bazza from down the road came up, bearing the noblest gifts of all, bottles of beer.
Younger Daughter's mate came round, too, and while Mrs H was out teaching children how to jump over hurdles and run at the same time, the rest of us watched the game.
I was terrible company, I'm afraid. I drank Bazza's Doom Bar and muttered and grumbled my way through a stressful match, occasionally banging away on the laptop keys to report a significant incident. My conversational skills left a lot to be desired, and for that I apologise to all.
After the final whistle I wrote some stuff for the paper, too, but by that time Bazza had gone home and the girls had melted away to another room. I must try to be better company when my team are playing, but it's hard. Sorry everyone.
Earlier in the day we had a stroll through Cockington. Reg made new friends and entertained the public by leaping in and out of the stream by the boardwalk in pursuit of sticks.
Two people, one of them the Mayor's official limo driver, quite independently remarked on the size of Reg's ears. The poor lad will get a complex.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Vegetable patch

The potatoes are going great guns, punching through the soil every time we try to cover them up. They're nearly ready to be left to their own devices now.
The purple sprouting is huge, meaning we will soon have to face the shocking truth that neither Mrs H nor I have a clue what to do with it.
Onions are thriving, as are carrots, beetroot and garlic. The leeks are looking a little puny, though, and may not give us much of a crop.
Thanks for asking.

Mystical Spheres


To the vet's with Reg, after he started scratching his ear madly and flapping his head all the time.
Of course, by the time we got to the surgery he had stopped scratching and flapping, and the vet could find nothing wrong with him.
So we had a chat with her about Reg having a certain operation which comes the way of all young dogs about town when they reach a certain age.
Back home again, Reg and I had a sit down in the sunshine with a cup of tea and a digestive to talk things through, man to man like.
I explained to him that the reason he is currently cocking his leg up everything in sight, including the vet's scales and Denzil the West Highland White, is that his brain is receiving messages from his Mystical Spheres telling him to do these things.
I told him it was fine, and that all men spend most of their lives acting on information supplied by their Mystical Spheres, and oh doesn't it get them into trouble.
But, I said, most men can manage to stop short of urinating in public every thirty seconds or so. And most men don't urinate over their friends when they meet them in the middle of Roselands fields. Well, not often.
And that's why those Mystical Spheres of yours are going to have to come off, young man.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Nanna's sausage rolls set the smoke alarms off this morning, which in turn set Reg the Jack Russell off.
Being veggies, of course, they're not really sausage rolls at all, but Nanna makes them and gives us a bag now and then.

There's swine flu in Paignton, and the world's press are here. All the satellite vans were parked in the zoo overflow last night. I was hoping Reg would have the opportunity to cock his leg on the Sky TV news-o-drome but by the time we went out for a walk this morning they had vanished in the night leaving not a trace, seeking something else with which to fill their endless hours of rolling news.
There's a great advert for the youth of Paignton at around the one-minute mark in this video clip from BBC News. Fair play to him, though. It's a good gag.



10cc were good last night, very good. What it must be like to be able to sing and play like that...

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

I'd like to teach the world to sing


I had a phone call from the manager of the New Seekers today.
He had read the piece with Graham Gouldman and wondered if it would be possible to do something similar with his band.
They're coming to Torquay in July.
Absolutely! I think we're cornering the market in Seventies pop icons. First Jimmy Osmond, then Graham Gouldman, and now a New Seeker. It's been quite a year so far.
Training tonight was 300 metres flat out on the newly-mown grass of Clennon Valley, then jog back. Repeat 10 times. I started badly but got faster. By the last one I was flying, relatively speaking.

Sunday, 26 April 2009


MRS H was on the television today.
Near the end of the Torquay v Burton game the cameraman swung round on the Popular side crowd and found her in full flow on the phone, looking rather lovely.
The commentator said: "They're on the phone but they have nothing to worry about at the moment, Burton Albion."
By the time we got home from the game several people had already told Younger Daughter "I've just seen your mum on television", so we watched the recording and sure enough, there she was.
For the record, she's not a Burton Albion supporter, and she wasn't anxiously following the score from the Cambridge game. She was arranging with her mother how to get her mother's windy Jack Russell back home to Brixham from our house.
In the picture the shoulder in the chequered jacket belongs to Younger Daughter, by the way. I was safely in the press box sipping champagne and eating swans and caviare.