Writing 101. One.

I saw it at the last minute, an opportunity to take part in the Writing 101 Challenge, so took the plunge. Just write anything for 20 minutes, anything you like, a stream of consciousness where it doesn’t matter what you write, just write. Have they been reading my blogs? You see, I know that there is a whole community out there, millions of wordpretzels, all doing the same thing as me, all of them better than me. Do I have to do this every day? No. Do I have to do it at all? No. Will I do it every day? No. The real challenge for me to try and take part. As regular readers of my drivel will tell you, letting my butterfly brain loose on a piece of random writing could be a dangerous thing. I hardly make sense when I blog normally and that’s after I’ve spent several agonising minutes revising what I’ve written – most of my work is like a well insulated house, with hardly any drafts.

Yes, I realise that being English the word is draughts, but at least my American friends will appreciate the terrible pun. Yes, I’m English, home of queuing (a word I can never spell), poor plumbling, a lack of good dentistry and a tendency to hog all the sun loungers on holiday and blame the Germans.

At the moment, the whole nationality issue is big news in the UK. Scotland are having a referendum, where they’ll decide whether they want to be independent or not. But, like many others who can’t admit it, I’d be a bit confused if I were Scottish. If I vote yes, am I voting for independence? Or is it no?

It turns out it means this:

Yes, we don’t want to be part of the Union, no, we don’t, or No, we want to say yes to being part of the union, oh no to not being out. You decide. Or rather, they decide.

You see how it all goes around in my head? How the heck do I get through each day without a carer?

Oh well. Time’s up.

The twist is that I have to post this on my blog.

Sorry.

 

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The Colours, Man …

Wordpretzels, there’s something I have to tell you. I’m afraid I’m not quite as perfect as you think I am. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, I am, in fact, colour blind. Let me explain how I found out. Let me take you back to when I was 10 years old … (wibbly lines, wobbly music…)

My school decided to give us all an eye test, which included a colour blindness test – showing lots of multi-coloured circles with numbers and patterns in them. In order to up the tension in these tests, the school had thoughtfully invited mothers along to see how we performed. I have deliberately identified the ‘parent’ a mother, since these were the days when dads didn’t go near a school, a maternity ward, an iron, cooker, washing line, moisturiser or even deodorant. So, the moment arrived when I sat in the powder blue medical room with a man in a tweed suit who, like most figures IN AUTHORITY at the time, had a heady scent of stale tobacco. He showed me the first page in his book of colourful circles.

“Now, young man, what number can you see?” I looked intently at the coloured circle. Number? I stared at him blankly. I felt a nudge in the back. “Don’t be silly, tell the man it’s a nine,” my mum hinted, helpfully. The doctor gave my mum a reproachful glare.

“Please, Mrs Randall,” he said, “it would be best to let your son give me the answer.”

My mum was rather taken aback, but made no complaint since the man was IN AUTHORITY. The next circle produced the same result. I saw nothing. My mum shifted in her seat and gave a sigh.

“What about this one?” the man said helpfully, turning to the next page in his colourful book. Nope. “Could you draw the pattern you see with your finger?” he encouraged.

I waved my index finger vaguely over the page, drawing, well, I don’t know what. Mum couldn’t contain herself. I felt a gentle clip on the back of my head.

“Stop showing off!” she cried, “just trace out that number 8!”

“Mrs Randall,” said the man, “if you cannot contain yourself, you’ll have to leave,” he told her in a very calm, level tone.

I swallowed hard. Please let me get the next one. I didn’t. Nor the one after, even with my mum clipping me firmly on the back of the head and shouting duck. It was at this juncture she was ejected from the room and made to sit in custody under the watchful eye of the school nurse. By the end of the test, I’d managed to get one right. My mum was accompanied back into the room.

“I’m afraid your son is colour blind,” said the man IN AUTHORITY. My mum’s bottom lip wobbled momentarily. “Will he need bottle bottom glasses?” she asked, “ or a special operation?” Before my mum could go on to suggest a rainbow cane or colour seeking dog, the man IN AUTHORITY interrupted her.

“No. Nothing can be done. It’s genetic,” he explained.

We left the room together and for the next 40 years tried our best not to mention it again. Of course, explaining to people that you’re colour blind can cause some interesting reactions.

“What colour’s my top? What’s green? How do you see traffic lights?” are a few of the questions thrown at you. It’s hard to explain exactly what colour blindness is. I know there have been times when my favourite dark blue shirt I’ve had for several years turns out to be brown, but most of the time, I can cope quite well. It’s not as if I dress like a children’s entertainer or somebody auditioning for X Factor. As far as I know. No. Most of the time I can cope. Snooker is a bit of an issue. I can’t tell the difference between the red balls and the brown one. Playing PES (Pro Evolution Soccer) on the X box is another problem. Which one am I? The player with the light yellow/orange/green/wtf colour above his head or what??

Then there are the jobs you can’t do:

Flight controller (my goodness can you imagine).

Pilot – the only reason I couldn’t be exactly the same as Tom Cruise in Top Gun.

Electrician – although the colours of wires has been changed to help blind people like me. But I’d still go bang, much like I would if I were a Bomb Disposal Expert – red, green or blue wire? What about the one in the middle?

Painter/decorator – But I can do this as an amateur. Lady BSM chooses the paint. I just put it on the wall. As far as she’s concerned, I’m taste blind as well as colour blind.

Colour Blindness Tester – 8, you say? OK…

Apparently, in some countries, such as Romania, you’re not allowed to drive if you’re colour blind, which seems a little extreme in a country where I believe it’s legal to marry at 14 and use a handgun in a supermarket. I could be mistaken, however. Just for some fun, here are a couple of those circles the man IN AUTHORITY showed me all those years ago. Good luck. I can feel my mum prodding me in the back as I stare at them now.

What? There's a number in this?

What? There’s a number in this?

Cross your eyes, it makes it easier. No. it doesn't.

Cross your eyes, it makes it easier. No. it doesn’t.

What about this one?

What about this one?

If you can see something in any of these pictures, my mum would have been proud of you. Having trouble with the last one? It’s the easiest for me. Of course, it’s 5. But you have to be colour blind in order to see it. Now you know how I feel.

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I Say Obrigado and You Say Obrigada…

“Where shall we go on holiday?” Lady Barton St Mary asked me, “What would you like to do?”

She’d only had a couple of days off this year, what with running a multinational company and supervising staff below stairs. I had also been busy. I was at least 4 episodes behind on Deal or No Deal. Noel would be livid.

I thought for a moment. Then another moment. Nothing came to mind.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said, exasperated, “what would be your ideal holiday?”

I thought a little longer and my butterfly brain went into freeze mode. I had a sudden realisation that I wasn’t actually interested in anything – what about staying at home, drawing the curtains, opening a bottle of scotch and turning on the X Box? Oh dear.

Of course, she came up trumps. 10 days in Portugal in the Western Algarve in The Penina Golf Hotel. Of course, I don’t play golf, but Lady BSM had carried out her research and discovered it had a running route. 10 days was long enough to relax and not too long before I started pacing up and down or offering to run a bar at the hotel.

We had a room overlooking the pool, the largest pool in Western Algarve. This again gave me the opportunity to watch the sun lounger reservists go into action. Disappointingly, there didn’t appear to be any on my first morning of observation, returning from my run. How civilised, I thought, until I discovered the pool gates were locked until 9 am. I saw them all queuing up to get in a couple of days later. The queuing gave it away, of course, in that all the lounger hogs were British. The thing about the Germans is all mythical, made up by the Brits.

The hotel was pretty much in the middle of nowhere. There was a bus service that took you down to the beach and we took a ride on our second day. We looked out over the golden sands, deep blue sea, sunbathers under little straw parasols.

“I can see you’re completely underwhelmed,” said Lady BSM, shaking her head. I managed to look impassive as we promenaded along the front, past the fisherman repairing nets and made our way into the centre of Alvor. It became apparent fairly quickly that Alvor the town was not the most picturesque of places, so we went to the local supermacado to buy our contraband.

You see, the hotel had a strict policy that you weren’t allowed to bring in any of your own food and drink ‘for security reasons’. I think the ‘security reason’ was that if you did so, they wouldn’t be able to charge such eye wateringly high prices for drinks and snacks. We returned to the hotel, Lady BSM doing her best to keep me upright as I carried in a rucksack stacked with gin, tonic, beer, lemonade and peanuts as nonchalantly as possible. It was only the following day when I watched a Portuguese family march through the lobby laden with carrier bags full of hooch and a defiant look on their faces that I realised the hotel staff were rather reluctant to challenge any maverick guests.

By the second evening, we were suitably relaxed. Lady BSM, realising that she had to spend 10 days alone with me, followed her usual tradition of sinking a couple of stiff gin and tonics and sitting in a corner, rocking back and forth and weeping quietly for half an hour.

The buffet breakfast was OK. Buffet breakfasts are always more of an entertainment than a culinary experience. It’s great to sit there and make up the back stories of the other guests – he must be a former professional footballer; she’s run away with her boss; she’s the boss and he’s run away with her…

It’s also a great time to judge people. Lady BSM and I spent hours appreciating some the cosmetic surgery some women had subjected themselves to. One women looked as if somebody was continuously having her bottom pinched, her face in a permanent expression of surprise. A couple of others had so much botox injected into their lips they were pulling that face your kids make when you refuse to buy them an ice cream.

Talking of kids, this was a ‘family’ hotel, so there were quite a  few of them scuttling about; toddlers with hollow eyed parents discouraging them from headbutting concrete steps or chewing electric cables; other parents telling their children to do something or to be quiet in a loud voice; parents repeating their young child’s name over and over again as he/she disappears onto the fairway. All the things you’ve forgotten you did with your own children, but somehow find harder to tolerate as you get older. You see, children are like passing wind; you can tolerate your own most of the time, but anybody else’s can be hard to cope with and often appear downright obnoxious.

The cuisine at the Penina was interesting, as my mother used to say. To be more accurate, my mother would have said the ‘so-called’ cuisine at The Penina was interesting. We spent one evening having the ‘fine dining’ menu, where I chose the traditional Portuguese fish soup. The waiter was delighted, giving me many compliments and kissing his fingers passionately. It was memorable. Here’s the recipe:

Take one tin of salmon. Open and place in the middle of a large bowl. Pour hot water over it. Serve.

 

“The Penina is not renowned for its food,” a regular guest informed us.

We decided to go further afield after a few days, catching a taxi into Alvor. The bus stopped at 2.45pm, with one running in the evening to the hotel’s beach side restaurant. I asked if we could catch the bus, but alas, the member of staff told me it was for diners only, but if I paid for the meal in advance, we could have a seat. He wasn’t stupid, he’d obviously tasted the food himself.

We found a lovely restaurant called O Arco da Velha, recommended by Trip Advisor the sort of place you would have walked straight past normally. The fillet steaks were wonderful and the service fantastic. Alvor didn’t improve in the evening, but seemed busier than ever, all flashing lights and binge drinking opportunities.

Downtown Alvor. If you like that sort of thing.

Downtown Alvor. If you like that sort of thing.

The following evening, we ventured into Lagos, via Portimao and Praia da Rocha, which apparently has a beautiful beach. We never saw it. Both places were a Portuguese version of Croydon.

We found the best place to eat in Lagos – a restaurant called Xpreitique, which apparently means ‘have a look’. The tapas was fantastic, even though there was a power cut in the restaurant and the entertainment provided by several electricians fiddling about in the fuse box. So fantastic, we returned for a second time a couple of nights later. It was also far, far cheaper than the hotel, if you discounted the 40 euros we had to spend on the taxi to get there and back.

Ah, the taxis. We quickly discovered that the taxi company employed by the hotel consisted of the Portuguese taxi drivers’ version of the seven dwarfs – Chesty, Snotty, Sneezy, Smelly, Nutty, Speedy and Normal. Guess which one we had the least.

We spent our days walking around looking at the lovely villas on the golf courses or on a lounger a little distance from the pool with other European guests, since the British had commandeered all of the pool side loungers before catching their buses into Alvor to stock up on lager and baked beans. Lady BSM amused herself researching properties for sale. For a while, it looked like the dream I shared with Chicken Sue about running away to Portugal was going to come true. In hindsight, having to spend all day sitting next to my own pool writing my first novel wouldn’t be as romantic as I imagine it to be. Would it?

Lady BSM even contemplated the possibility of taking up golf, but after considering the cost and the disadvantage of having to dress in silly clothes, it started to look less appealing.

The day before we left, Lady BSM gave me a big hug.

“Thank you for a lovely holiday,” she said. I think she may have been suffering from heatstroke.

I would happily return to the Algarve and to Portugal. The people are genuine and friendly, quite happy to let you know how they feel. This was best illustrated on a visit to a bar in Alvore. A rather lugubrious looking waiter approached.

“How are you?” I asked him cheerfully.

“Shit,” he replied, “ I am so tired. I’ve been working non-stop for 9 months, the boss is an arsehole, I hate this place and I am paid hardly anything.”

“Oh dear,” I sympathised, pausing for a moment. He looked at me with a steady gaze. There was an uncomfortable silence.

“You want drink?” he asked.

We flew home on bank holiday Monday. As we stepped out of the plane, we were assailed by a stiff breeze and lashings of cold rain. The air smelled damp and the glowering clouds made everything appear dark. Welcome back.

Below are some pictures of the lovely beaches we never visited and the Atlantic Ocean we never swam in.

 

The beach at Praia da Rocha. I didn't see it.

The beach at Praia da Rocha. I didn’t see it.

portimao

Portimao. Portuguese style sunbathing. Clacton style town.

 

 

 

 

Posted in humour, life observations, relationships, Holidays, linguistics, wordpress, blogging, blogs, blog, humor, food, Portugal, Penina Hotel Portugal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Maybe it’s Suzanne Who’s Mad.

We spent Saturday evening at Brummie Lawrence and Jo’s house. They were having a garden party to celebrate Jo’s birthday, so the usual crowd was there: The Sexton and Pen, Jacko and Nurse Lynn and Mad Kev and Suzanne.

Now, as you probably know, Mad Kev is not known as Mad Kev for no reason at all. It’s because he is impetuous, clumsy, tactless and, well, mad.

This was a man who took the view that a narrowboat could be made to go at maximum speed with very little need to control it, since there were canal banks either side to stop it going anywhere it shouldn’t.

Many years ago, Mad Kev arrived at a gathering with an enormous gash in his forehead. He’d been chiselling a doorframe to take a new lock and decided the most accurate way of doing it was to stand with his eyes level with his working area and hammer away. Towards himself. Still, it was only 8 stitches, he reasoned.

The same Mad Kev, who, on a stag do, after we had been yelled at to leave by the angry landlord, hurled a stone doorstop in the shape of a hedgehog at the beleaguered man’s forehead, scoring a direct hit and rendering him unconscious.

Or the time he gave his first wife a birthday present by hurling it across the dining table where we all sat for a celebratory meal. Again, a perfect head shot. I think she regretted asking for cycle spanners.

Mad Kev tends to be more extreme after adding alcohol. When you see the special look in his eyes, you make sure to keep out of his way.

So it was more than a little surprising when Suzanne, married to Mad Kev for nearly 20 years, told us about Mad Kev’s latest DIY project from earlier in the week. He’d been fitting some worktops.

“Suzanne – hold this piece of wood whilst a saw it,” he requested.

She duly did and Mad Kev went to work with his circular saw.

Which just goes to prove that the love and trust that Suzanne had in her husband would overcome all his previous personal traits and accidents. It was truly inspiring and touching.

Suzanne only lost the tip of her index finger and a slice out of her middle finger. Hopefully the skin grafts will go well.

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Rural Spaceman’s Guide to Gardening

We are experiencing a particularly lovely summer in the UK at the moment, which means that many people participate in outdoor activities.

The older I get, the less enthused I am by the outdoor life. The sheer joy of selling our trailer tent earlier this year was only tempered by the disappointment of not being able to set fire to it and dance around its melting carcass in the light of the flickering flames.
Which brings me to the hobby of gardening. I know lots of people love gardening, but, for the life of me, I really can’t see why. What’s more, the older I get, the greater the number of people who are interested in it. They talk about plants together. Sometimes, a gardener tries to engage me in conversation about gardening.
“I don’t garden,” I explain to them. Most of the time, they back away and look for somebody else to talk chard with. Occasionally, they continue to tell me how they’ve planted seedlings and expect a good stock of tomatoes/lettuce/celery. I nod and feign interest before backing away slowly myself.
I remember my dad, a couple of years after he retired; we went to the pub together.  He’d always had the same opinion of gardening as me.He had a resigned look in his eyes. He shook his head, looking sadly into his pint of bitter.
“D’yer know what? I’ve started gardening and going to the garden centre. That’s how fucking bored I am.”
He was very productive, however, giving most of it away (see vegetables, below). So, on to a few tips:

Weeds.
“Weeding is so therapeutic,” I heard one deluded lady gardener say once. I was made to weed the garden when I was a small boy. All I can remember is sunstroke, a very tired body, scratched, dirty fingers and an inability to sleep due to the discomfort.
Rural Spaceman’s Gardening Tip: Don’t weed. Tarmac. Or hire a gardener.
Vegetables
Yes, gardeners get lots of fresh vegetables, but usually all at the same time. I do not want to eat a dozen cos lettuces of varying sizes in two days. Or not eat any lettuces at all, since all sorts of wildlife are more than happy to eat it before it is picked (cropped? Harvested?)
This all happens after the gardener has spent months outside in all weathers, putting the plants into pots, then in big areas of mud , covered with nets and protected by various insect repellent materials either organic or not. Too much water, it dies. Too little water, it dies. Then there’s the blight and other diseases.
Rural Spaceman’s Gardening Tip: Go to a greengrocer. Buy what you like whenever you like.

Landscaping
I think this means setting out your garden to follow a certain style. There are town gardens, country gardens, Japanese gardens and probably lots of other gardens. I think ours is called a country garden, because it has a lot in it.
Melody Lane, the bare chested gardener, has worked in our garden for several years and finds the freedom of going topless necessary for her connection with nature. The other staff, especially Benfield the butler and Parslow the groundskeeper, fall over themselves to help her out whenever they can.
“Are you going to take some of these old plants out?” I asked her one day. Melody , crouching in the undergrowth, suddenly straightened up and glared at me. She put her hands on her hips , her nipples pointing at me accusingly. I stiffened.
“I think you’ll find this is a country garden border,” she informed me. She tends to converse with Lady Barton St Mary about anything horticultural.
Rural Spaceman’s Gardening Tip: Don’t upset the staff. Especially when they know more about it than you do.

Flowers
They’re nice. Some of them smell. Others don’t. Most of the ones we bring indoors end up as a brown mush in a vase after a couple of months. We have flowers in our garden, but not the type that Lady Barton St Mary likes from the supermarket with cellophane wrapping and a bow. I could pick some out of the garden for her, but she’d either accuse me of being simple or suspicious of my motives. Melody Lane TBCG would just be angry with me.
Gardeners know the names of flowers. Some of them know the latin names too. Lady Barton St Mary does. It’s like a secret code.
“Oh, Melody, have you planted any diplidocus delicious this year?” she’d ask.
“Of course, next to the smellus floridocus”, Melody would reply, puffing her chest out.
Then there was the time our friend She-La! a singer who had a hit in the 80s with Touch Me (but not there), called around to see Her Ladyship. I opened the door, but She-La! appeared to be distracted.
“Oh hello, I was just admiring your peonies,” she trilled.
I blinked before swallowing hard. I didn’t know whether to be flattered or shocked.
“Pardon?”
“Your peonies are lovely!” she smiled.
Before I corrected her subject-verb agreement, I realised she was talking about some flowers in the garden.
Rural Spaceman’s Gardening Tip: Buy flowers from a shop. Girls like them. Look out for misleading flower names that could possibly lead to problems or inappropriate knob jokes.

Nasty Things.
Then there’s the issue of dangerous plants. Last week I had to release our garden furniture, which had been enveloped by the hedge. Normally, I’d have given it a cursory tug before leaving it for another year, but I was feeling brave. The leafy substances I can deal with, but I also had to encounter what can only be described as organic razor wire. I went off to the shed to get a pair of gloves. The organic razor wire still managed to pierce through the gloves, making me howl like a wolf and swear like a trooper, confirming to my neighbours that I am indeed a potty mouthed clot.
Lady Barton St Mary informed me that this would have been something called ‘brambles’. I had another (few) names for it. I believe that some brambles grow black berries that you can eat, as opposed to those brambles that used to grow on council estate greens, producing beautifully shiny black berries. If you were to eat these, whilst hiding from somebody during a game of ‘2468Allevio Knockout’, you’d either go blind, shit yourself or both. I’ve seen many a child on my old council estate stagger from the bushes screaming, hands in front of them, walking like a penguin.
Rural Spaceman’s Gardening Tip: Kill all plants with spikes on, along with biting insects. Don’t eat berries from council estate bushes (Latin name blindycus shityerpants).
To conclude, here are a few examples of things you may or may not find in the garden:

IMG_0866(left) A wonderful example of flora unmorticus, commonly known as Zombie Flowers. Often found in gardens where plants have died and nobody could be arsed to get rid of it.

Related to flora umorticus domesticus, or Indoor Zombie Flowers.

Distinct smell: rotting vegetation.

 

 

 

 

IMG_0868(right) A country garden. Under no circumstances must you refer to this as a ‘bloody mess’. It upsets the staff and Lady Barton St Mary. Apparently this is what it’s supposed to look like.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_0869 (left)

This green stuff is called thyme. Or Rosemary. I’m pretty sure it’s not sage. Sage is a different green, which doesn’t help me, because I’m colour blind. You con convince yourself that it smells like any of the above. Or strawberries, tic tacs, cream soda or Brian Blessed.

It goes with lamb. Or pork. Or summat.

 

IMG_0870

(right) Catnip. Or Mint. I can’t tell. The best way to find out is to pick some and wave it in front of your moggy. If it ignores you, it’s mint. If it humps your arm, it’s Catnip.

IMG_0871(left) Something with thorns. Scratchy bastard. Kill it. Kill them all.

IMG_0872(right) Because this is growing in the middle of the driveway, I’m pretty sure it’s a weed. But don’t rely on me.

IMG_0877(left) I was fairly sure this was a weed too, but Melody Lane the bare chested gardener has tied it to a stick with some of her old knicker elastic, so it can’t be.

I hope you’ve found my guide informative and useful. If you will insist on gardening, just remember one thing. You’re trying to organise nature. You will ultimately be defeated.

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What the World Needs Now is Burt, Sweet Burt

Lady BSM’s brother, Drew, spotted it quite a few months ago. Burt Bacharach was playing at The Symphony Hall in Birmingham – did we fancy it? We did.
Now, the decision to go and see him may have been driven initially by some sort of post ironic attempt at celebrating kitsch, but on the journey to the concert, we realised perhaps it was something more. You see, Burt Bacharach played a major part in our childhood during the 60s.As soon as you hear the opening bars to a Bacharach song, The Look of Love or Alfie, for instance, I’m immediately transported back to those times of swirly carpets, sunny summers, mini skirts, radiograms and turtle neck jumpers.
In fact, when I was 7 years old I would imagine myself as a grown up, attending sophisticated cocktail parties, wearing sharp suits, smoking king size cigarettes and listening to … Burt Bacharach songs.
“So, what do you think the top 3 Burt Bacharach songs are?” asked Drew from the back seat of the car as we travelled up to Birmingham.
“Walk On By has to be a favourite, “ I suggested.
“Ooo good one, The Stranglers covered that,” replied Drew.
“I Say a Little Prayer, that’s my favourite,” said Lady BSM.
“Yes, Aretha is so good, “ said Drew, “so is Dionne Warwick – Anyone Who Had a Heart…”
The discussion continued until we decided to ‘Google’ it. The results were surprising at first, but after some consideration, made sense. (See the results at the end of this blog).

There's Burt!

There’s Burt!

The Symphony Hall was an impressive venue- we had tickets in the circle, in the middle of the second row. This meant we had to disturb quite a few people to get to our seats and a chance to mention the audience demographic. Although not the youngest members, we were definitely at the younger end. There was lots of grey hair, slacks and spectacles. There was a queue to use the gents as men either tried to start or tried to stop peeing. You could tell this was the type of audience that wouldn’t tolerate any to-ing and fro-ing without a stern look or reproachful sigh. In fact, one or two bristled, their poise stiffening, when I stood up to remove my jacket. You could sense there suspicion. This young whippersnapper could have been a punk rocker, you could almost hear them thinking. They would have been correct.
There were arrows formed using white tape on the stage floor, pointing towards the grand piano.
“Do you think that’s to help Burt?” I asked Lady Barton St Mary.
“Well, he is 85,” she mused, “and it may be a bit dark when they turn down the house lights.”
Burt made it to the piano, looking good in a suit and bright blue shoes with white soles. He moved very deliberately, as if not to make any unintended movements.
“Good evening,” he said, “this is my first visit to Birmingham. What a beautiful city; canal boats! Wonderful architecture! What a gem of a place!”
He explained that tonight they would play some new songs as well as all the favourites, which was politely received by the audience, most of whom would have been happy with the ‘old’ stuff.
He sat at the piano, counted in the 10 piece band and they were off into a medley of songs. Suddenly Burt looked positively animated, his hands flowed over the keyboard as he played hit after hit… What the World Needs Now Is Love, Don’t Make Me Over , Walk on by , This Guy’s in Love with You , I Say a Little Prayer, Trains, Boats & Planes, Wishin’ & Hopin’, (There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me… all 2 minute vignettes of absolutely classic songs.
Stop, Burt, stop! Don’t play all your hits in the first 10 minutes! What are you going to do for the next hour and 50 minutes??!!!
That’s what we were all thinking. How naïve we are. Do you know how many hit songs he’s written?
The medley ended and Burt picked up the microphone to introduce Josie James, one of three singers for the evening, the other two being John Pegano (who did a pretty good impression of Elvis Costello and Tom Jones) and Donna Taylor. They were all very good – who would have thought?
Anyone Who Had a Heart, Windows of the World, I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself …
Burt then took some time to tell us little of his history; touring with Marlene Dietrich, writing songs in a New York block filled with publishers. Was it easy? No. In fact, he had to borrow $5000 from his father to carry on. Finally, one of his songs became a hit. Then another, then another. Burt paid his dad back. Burt played the songs – Magic Moments – yes, he wrote that! – The Story of my Life and then, to the delight of horror film aficionado Drew, the theme to the film The Blob.
Another medley: The Look of Love. Arthur’s Theme, What’s New, Pussycat? The World is a Circle, April Fools.
Then Burt had a go at singing. Now, Burt’s 85. To be honest, it was more like a Tom Wait’s tribute to Burt Bacharach. But, then I thought, they’re Burt’s songs. He’s 85 years old. He can do what he likes!
There was an encore. Burt led the singalong version of ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’, old people in the boxes started dancing and jigging about. It was like a geriatric mosh pit.
Then he thanked the audience once more and with a nonchalant wave, strolled away in that deliberate manner recognising his advancing years. But he’s still cool, as well as being one of the most successful songwriters on the planet.
On the way home, we realised that we were all suffering from Bacharach earworms – humming, whistling or singing sections of favourite songs. Drew suggested we see if we could catch each other singing a song and score points from each other. He was the first to fall with ‘Do You Know The Way To San Jose?’
‘Trains and Boats and Planes’ turned out to be my downfall. Lady BSM? ‘Say A Little Prayer’, of course.
The earworms continued the following day.
Yes, the songs are easy listening. Yes, some of them are cheesey. But with all the trouble going on in the world, do I want to be a grown up living like that?
I say, put on my lounge suit, pour me a cocktail, put ‘Look of Love’ on the radio gram and snuggle up to Lady BSM. What the World needs now, is love, sweet love…

Top 3 BB Songs according to The Washington Post:

* #1 – Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head #2 – Arthur’s Theme #3 – I Say a Little Prayer

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Retirement Practice

I am now officially on my summer holidays and Lady Barton St Mary has booked Monday off, when we will be travelling to Birmingham to see Burt Bacharach in concert. This meant we had a long weekend together, alone.

“Perhaps this would be a good way to see what retirement would be like,” she said on Friday night,

“spending the whole weekend alone together, just pottering about.”

It sounded interesting. We’re not quite ready for retirement yet, but the idea seemed appealing. Of course,when she said the whole weekend, she didn’t include the 1 hour manicure treatment with Nancy Cuticles on Saturday morning.

“Well, I won’t see much of you today, then,” I said.

“I’ll only be an hour and a bit,” she replied placatingly, “ you can make a start on cleaning all the garden furniture.”

She left at 11.15am and I made a start to my retirement weekend. I pulled the garden table which had been undercover for 3 years into the middle of the lawn. It was covered in moss and mud. It had also been used by the builders as a convenient position to store their scaffolding at one point, extremely heavy scaffolding that had put all the joints of the table under extreme pressure. So much so that the table formed a perfect parallelogram when finally revealed. This meant that my first duty as a trainee retiree was to fix said table. I collected all my tools and made a start.

After an hour, the table was rigid and fixed. Time for a break I thought, heading indoors for a refreshing pint of cider from a newly opened 3 litre box. It was still cider, not my favourite, but refreshing. So refreshing, I’d finished my pint in no time, so refilled my glass and went outside to continue my retirement.

With a big bucket of soapy water, headphones on, ipod playing, I started scrubbing the table, taking occasional sips from my cider glass. The sun shone, the cider was going down well. I decided it would be easier to bring the cask outside.

Lady Barton St Mary phoned after a couple of hours. She was going to visit her parents, was that OK?

I continued with my scrubbing and drinking.

Lady Barton St Mary arrived home several hours later.

“You’ve had quite a lot to drink haven’t you?” see asked,  looking at me askance.

Indeed. I’d successfully finished off the cider, helped by switching to beer every other pint. Quite a lot was an understatement. I was close to another level of reality.

Despite trying to act like a normal human being, I fell asleep in my tea, my salad making a rather comfy pillow.

“Perhaps you should go to bed,” suggested Lady BSM, calmly.

I lifted my head, peeled the cos lettuce from my head and admitted defeat. It was 7.30pm.

The first day of retirement had been rather challenging.

I awoke early on Sunday, somehow managing an 11.5 mile run with Noel and Dave. The last 4 miles saw Noel and Dave head off home, leaving me to chug in, but at least I did it. I was ready for retirement day two.

Lady Barton St Mary joined me to help with the cleaning process. We have some garden chairs that needed a fair amount of work. Now, I have to admit, I have an inexplicable dislike for these chairs. They’re heavy, awkward, and don’t fit under the table. Lady Barton St Mary, however, likes them and refuses to entertain my plans to put them on the wood burner.

After half an hour of scrubbing and rinsing, I suggested that perhaps our old pressure washer could do the job. I’d forgotten we had it; it has been sitting in a battered box at the back of the garage for years.

I unloaded it onto the lawn and tried to change the lance fitting. No joy. The lance would not budge. I pushed and pulled it. Lady BSM pushed and pulled it. No joy.

“Ah! There are some instructions in the box!” exclaimed Lady BSM, pulling something from the packaging with her finger and thumb.

She was right, in a way. Certainly, it was a book of instructions, which had got

The vital instructions. In English. With sticky pages and half eaten by rodents.

The vital instructions. In English. With sticky pages and half eaten by rodents.

wet at some point, sticking the pages together; whether this had happened before or after the mice had eaten half of them, I couldn’t tell.

Lady BSM went off in search of instructions. I tested the pressure washer, plugging it in. It roared into life. After a concerted effort to find the instructions for a B&Q Pressure washer TRY330PWA 1650W, she had no luck. Meantime, after a bit of heaving and swearing, the lance came off in my hand. Problem solved. I attached the brush and turned on the pressure washer. No luck, it wouldn’t start. More cursing, probably overheard by my neighbours, who have heard my cursing before, when I flooded their house with another of my DIY projects a couple of years ago. By now they probably think I have a specific form of Tourette’s.

I sent Lady BSM in search of a fuse, which she duly found. No luck. The pressure washer seemed dead. In on last vain attempt, I took the washer indoors and plugged it in. It roared into life, spitting soapy water all over my feet. Success!

The rest of the afternoon was spent eradicating all muck from the garden

furniture. The playful look in Lady BSM’s eyes told me I should keep my distance; otherwise I could receive an unexpected colonic irrigation if I inadvertently bent down to pick up my bucket.

We stood back and observed our afternoon’s work. Lady BSM reclined on the newly washed bench.

 

Before: dirty, ugly old garden chair.

Before: dirty, ugly old garden chair.

 

 

IMG_0879

Very clean, ugly old garden chair. No, it doesn’t look any different in the photos, does it?

“Shall we have a gin and tonic?” I suggested. She looked suspiciously at me.

“Only the one,” I reassured her.

We sat back in the early evening sun, the ice clinking in our glasses, full of gin and tonic, the light dappling through the trees.

“What do you make of retirement so far?” I asked her.

She gazed out across the garden, a wistful look in her eye.

“What, you mean washing garden furniture and making sure you don’t drink too much? “

Not so bad, then.

 

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