"for the happy, the sad, I don't want to be, another page in your diary"

Saturday 31 December 2011

Close To Nature

After paying £3900 for the campsite, well he did knock £3861 off when pushed, the expenses continue to mount as L’s coat is pinched. I did think she was being a bit daring leaving it in the drying room but she did say it was an old one that she wasn’t too bothered about. Still we didn't think some light fingered b****** would pinch it.

We embark on a wet weather walk along the valley floor. There are hills here apparently but we can’t see them though the cloud.

Then we pub crawl our way back down the valley. First, the Britannia but only for hot tea. Then the Wainwrights before we go very left field and head to the New Dungeon Ghyll for food. Always the least impressive of the valley’s bars due to it lacking quite the same atmosphere and a decent beer range. They have a band on tonight, so that should improve the atmosphere although it will upset the dogs, so we need to be out before they kick off. The beer range still needs attention though but the food is good, as we eat there for the first time in over ten years.

It was interesting reading about the history of the place. It opened on Boxing Day in 1991. Before that it was a farmhouse that in 1832 became a hotel, that apparently wasn’t finished until 1862, 30 years later. However in the 1950s it became a shop and a petrol station, then in the 1980s an outward bound centre for underprivileged children before the current owners bought it and turned it back into a hotel. It is still run by the same family today.

I wonder about the history of the nearby Sticklebarn but can’t find anything out. It must be of a similar age. It’s full to the rafters tonight, so we don’t go in and head to the Old Dungeon Ghyll instead, where the usual peculiar people were drying out and drinking beer that was neither old nor peculiar but may have gone by that name, awaiting the New Year. We join them but would probably have been on the floor by midnight, so we retire to the tent to see the New Year in there.

One of the problems of the Lakes in the winter is that you can’t really walk much beyond 4pm due to the lack of daylight and as we’re camping we can’t really retire to our accommodation for a few hours either, so you do tend to start drinking and eating a lot earlier than you would in the summer.

So we’re back in the tent before midnight, when I promise to dig L in the ribs so that she doesn't miss the year’s end, whether she wants me to or not and the evidence supplied by her dropping eyelids is that she probably doesn’t. In the end there is no need as fireworks light the sky, MD goes off on one and Doggo quivers in the corner. We restore order, eventually, and enjoy a happy New Year close to nature... as a howling gale brews up down the valley.

(Saturday 31st December)

Fantasy Shuffle Selection: Twenty Tracks From 2011

As the final part of my review of the year, my annual 'fantasy shuffle' selection. Again I tried really hard to whittle my ipod down to a varied selection of twenty-odd tracks that were released during 2011.

So here goes, in no particular order :-

Coming Down - Dum Dum Girls
Mongk II - British Sea Power
Roads - Chapel Club
Monday Morning - Death Cab For Cutie
A Heavy Abacus - The Joy Formidable
Aberdeen - Cage The Elephant
Sick - The Twilight Sad
Black and Blue - The Tamborines
Norgaard - The Vaccines
Face In The Crowd - Cat’s Eyes
Georgia - Yuck
Redemption - Frank Turner
Endless Blue - The Horrors
That's Where You're Wrong - Arctic Monkeys
Sunday - The View
Pumped Up Kicks - Foster the People
The Great Pan Is Dead - Cold Cave
Are You Who You Think You Are? - Spook School
Cheap Gold - Frightened Rabbit
Hello Sadness - Los Campesinos!

Friday 30 December 2011

The Cost of Camping

This morning Son is despatched back to Leamington by coach. Far cheaper than the train and it doesn’t involve again changes. We would have taken him but we’re heading to the Lakes and Leamington would have added a 100 miles to the route, so... no. He’s working New Year’s Eve for double time and a free bar, although apparently this may not be until 5am! Unbeknown to him and us, his boss is about to cancel his shift and not even open the nightclub, where Son works, on New Year’s Eve and 24 hours later Son will be heading back to Nottingham to see in the New Year. Oh dear.

Meanwhile though we leave Daughter in charge of the house. Oh dear.

We book into our usual campsite at Great Langdale. Yes, we’re camping and we just about get the tent up in the light, despite having all day to get up here. It’s actually unseasonably warm, although very wet. There are rumours about the beck flooding... Oh dear. It looks fine to me...

It isn’t actually raining as we pitch camp but the ground is so wet I don’t reckon it’s stopped much since we were here three weeks ago. The campsite owner confirms this as he charges us £3900 for 3 nights. Excuse me? I know prices often go up for the holiday periods but even so. We could almost have got a B&B for that. The most expensive camping trip ever.

We haven’t been here for a few years at New Year. Actually when we think about it, it’s been quite a few years. We were last up here at New Year in 2001 and 2002. So nine years ago. How time flies.

In 2001 when the place was snow bound I reckoned there were around 50 tents on the campsite, it's probably down to around 40 this year. Probably due to the wet and a not very promising forecast.

We spend the night in the Sticklebarn, supping Snecklifter. What could be better?

(Friday 30th December)

Favourite Albums Of 2011

Third part of my review of the year, the oddball selection of my favourite ten albums of the past year. Not one of the the better years I don't think and the lack of albums I bought probably reflects this.

10. Skying - The Horrors

Not for me anywhere near as good as 'Primary Colours' but it has its moments.

9. What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? - The Vaccines

A right mishmash but again it has it's moments.

8. The Big Roar - The Joy Formidable

This 'debut' album borrowed heavily from their previous 'debut', which apparently now wasn't an album at all but an 8 track EP..., without which it probably wouldn't have made this list. A band stuck in a bit of a rut.

7. England Keep My Bones - Frank Turner

Excellent as ever but not as excellent as his past efforts.

6. Thank You Happy Birthday - Cage The Elephant

Discovery of the year for me. They're trying so hard to be the Pixies. 10/10 for effort.

5. Palace - Chapel Club

Judging by what they already had in the public domain this was bound to be excellent and was.

4. Suck It And See - Arctic Monkeys

I love a good story and Alex Turner gets back to telling them. His solo 'Submarine' effort was pretty useful too.

3. Hello Sadness - Los Campesinos!

More stories and I could listen to Gareth from LC! telling them all day long. An acquired taste but I have that taste.

2. Yuck - Yuck

1990's throwback maybe but something else taht is to my taste. They're awesome live too.

1. Valhalla Dancehall - British Sea Power

Not everyone's cup of tea of course but BSP can do no wrong for me. As good as everything else they've done.

Thursday 29 December 2011

Most Of Mine Seem Very Alcoholic

It’s wet and windy again today. I had wanted to bike again but wimped out. So I’ll just have to hope that I’ve done enough training for Monday’s half marathon, I’ve certainly done sufficient carbo loading and there’s more to come, but at least we’re running out of crème eggs here at work.

We have another family meal tonight, this time with L’s parents and some late Christmas presents. We cook the other leg from our lamb and serve a Chinese platter as a starter, a post-Christmas BOGOF from the supermarket. Then we light the anti-dog-smell candles and await our guests.

After dinner we exchange presents, Christmas really does go on and on these days... but more presents... yay! Most of mine seem very alcoholic, for some reason.

(Thursday 29th December)

Favourite Gigs Of 2011

This is the second part of my review of the year, my favourite ten gigs of the past year.

Not one of my most prolific years for gigs. Clearly I didn't get out as much this year as I should have done. When I did get to see bands it seemed to have quite a retro tinge to it with three anniversary tours and a farewell show.

10. Hard-Fi, Bodega Social Club, Nottingham, Wednesday 20th April 2011

A low-key comeback show that was a little disappointing.

Read My Review

9. The Horrors, Rock City, Nottingham, Wednesday 26th October 2011

A very brief perfromance. It was very good in the middle though, while it lasted.

Read My Review

8. The Subways, Rescue Rooms, Wednesday 21st September

Unvaried and predictable but great fun was had by all.

Read My Review

7. The Icicle Works 30th Anniversary Tour, Academy 2, Birmingham, Saturday 7th May 2011

A great career spanning show at the first of three anniversary shows in my top 10.

Read My Review

6. Feeder, Assembly, Leamington Spa, Thursday 17th February

Feeder being as predictable as ever but as good as ever, in a great venue that was new to me.

Read My Review

5. Bluetones Farewell Tour, Sheffield Academy 2, Tuesday 13th September

"We were The Bluetones...". sob but a good way to go out.

Read My Review

4. Yuck, Rescue Rooms, Nottingham, Monday 14th November 2011

A brilliant sort of early 90s territory evening with Kim Deal-esk thudding baselines and fuzzing guitars.

Read My Review

3. The Damned 35th Anniversary, Rock City, Nottingham, Tuesday 15th November

The Damned play not one but two classic albums. First ‘Damned Damned Damned’, the band’s debut from 1977 but it's their second choice, ‘The Black Album’ from 1980 that really stole the show.

Read My Review

2. British Sea Power, Rugby Library, Friday 4th March

BSP 'get it loud in libraries' and rock the book shelves.

Read My Review

1. The Mission 25th Anniversary , Academy, Leeds, Friday 28th October 2011

An unashamed retro night. The only criticism would be that it felt just like a Mission concert from twenty years ago, rather than an anniversary one... well, perhaps that’s no criticism at all.

Read My Review

Wednesday 28 December 2011

She’ll Have To Go To Starbucks Like Everyone Else

Back to the grind today. Back at work and back on the bike. Which as its very blustery and the rain is driving into my face perhaps wasn’t the best of ideas but it was needed.

There are seven of us in work, which is more than usual. L says there’s just one of them, just herself... but her boss is due in later. She could always pop round for tea with the Nuns if she’s lonely.

L carefully plans her evening schedule of gym, dog walking, painting, knitting and reading... Then I offer to come to the gym and spoil it, totally stuffing up her schedule, forcing her to rearrange everything. All so I can do 5k on the treadmill. Which was predictably hard and boring, particularly after 30 miles on the bike today. I’m kind of inspired after reading about the training that Dave Millar put himself through in his book 'Racing Through The Dark' that I’ve started reading.

A Christmas present you know and I’m actually reading it, from a book, made of paper, not listening to it.

I also get to try out my new sport headphones, another Christmas present. Then I do 1k on the rower before I crawl to the coffee machine.

Back home our wi-fi is dipping in and out, coincidentally it appears that this only happens when Son is on his xbox, which is mysterious. Daughter is not happy, not that this is unusual. I thought this was maybe because she has to get several essays in for just after New Year but no it’s because she’s missing skyping her housemates. She’ll just have to go use the wi-fi at Starbucks like everyone else.

(Wednesday 28th December)

Favourite Films Of 2011

This is the first part of my review of the year, my favourite films of the past year.

I saw some impressive films at the start of last year and at the end of this, with not much inbetween. Anyone would think that's the awards season...

10. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

You're supposed to describe this as compelling, tense, absorbing, involving etc etc and in some ways it was. Some would say dull. In reality, it's probably somewhere in between.

Read My Review

9. True Grit

Good film but... I'm still not sure why they made it.

Read My Review

8. Submarine

An excellent film, about the horrors of growing up and some.

Read My Review

7. 127 Hours

127 Hours is an experience that I survived. I think. Unforgettable, for several reasons.

Read My Review

6. My Week With Marilyn

Michelle Williams does an extraordinary job as Marilyn Monroe.

Read My Review

5. Drive

An absorbing piece of cinema. Some would call it slow but I’d call it tense and involving.

Read My Review

4. The Fighter

Much more than just a film about boxing.

Read My Review

3. The Social Network

‘You're going to go through life thinking that girls don't like you because you're a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won't be true. It'll be because you're an asshole.’

Read My Review

2. The Kings Speech

Excellent casting, excellent acting. A thoroughly entertaining piece of historical cinema that gives a fascinating insight into King George VI

Read My Review

1. Black Swan

An enthralling experience from start to finish, something you would not expect from a film about a ballet.

Read My Review

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Back To Basics

Another run this morning at Wheaton Aston, which is somewhere beyond Cannock and on the way towards Shropshire. It is organised by the Newport Running Club, whose website has been down for a month and therefore there is no race info. So I’m sure we’re not the only ones wondering if it’s still on. An email sent to all online entrants would have been nice, as is the usual form. This doesn’t bode well for the on the day organisation, if it's on of course.

Via Runners’ World's Forum we find out some details, that they have apparently contracted a virus on their website and that the race is actually full but at least we’re in. So we’ve not got to drive for over an hour to find a locked HQ and a cancelled race.

We do find a lack of toilet facilities, no portaloos tut tut but a butty van with a short queue although regrettably I'm not supporting today. In fact we haven’t even got the dogs with us.

The race is all a bit old skool, which is quaint in a way, a back to basics 10k, hand timing, a small ‘start’ sign at the side of the road that everyone misses and a chap sat on a farm gate giving the briefing. I didn’t mention the mile markers did I? For a 10k, my pet hate.

The course turns out to be generally flat with just a few gentle inclines, mainly through rural farmland. When two women running near me announce in the first mile that we are all being beaten by a 60 year old lady, who is just up ahead, it causes a surge in the field that nearly tramples the poor lady to death. Such boisterous antics subside as the race goes on and I get through it, albeit slowly, with another 44 minute plus time. L chips a couple of minutes off her Bolsover time to show she’s getting to normal after her bout of whatever she had.

At the end we are all handed a very nice technical shirt, which is unfortunately predominately yellow but you can’t have everything.

We head back to Derby for another family meet up at the Royal Standard with my brothers family, my parents and even the kids get the bus over and meet us there. Quite a gathering and decent beer too. I think that’s covered everyone on my side of the family this Christmas.

(Tuesday 27th December)

Monday 26 December 2011

Too Much Dog Power

This morning the usual 5k run on Darley Park. I usually do this with Doggo but had intended to do it with MD this year in my attempt to reclaim our title of first dog across the line. We were unfairly beaten last year by a Smurf and his husky. When I say unfairly, I mean they were faster than us, which is very unfair.

As it turns out I run with both, as L isn’t keen to ruin her run by being attached to a dog, which is understandable. This has actually been my plan for the last two years but in both years its been too icy to have so much dog power at my fingertips. This year that’s not an issue as the weather is practically tropical.

My concerns about too much dog power appear justified when at the start Doggo’s wheels are spinning, his paws digging a channel in the soft earth, as I try to prevent us false starting. Meanwhile MD is spinning in circles trying to escape his lead. Total chaos. Which only gets worse when some idiot yells ‘go’ and the rest of the 150 or so runners head off onto the course. I try to hold the boys back for as long as I can. Impossible. So we rocket after the main field, achieving 0 to 60 in about two seconds.

Once we’re up to speed and heading in something approaching a straight line, things calm down a touch. Doggo takes control and leads us for the first 2k, then when he tires MD seamlessly takes over.

My father is waiting on the bridge, I don’t see him but Doggo does and slams his anchors on. It’s difficult to get him moving again after that, particularly as the course now takes us on a loop away from the finish but somehow MD gets us round. Then when we turn for home Doggo gets interested again and we power across the line. We come in a credible 51st but more importantly we are first dog or dogs home

After a quick pint we head to an annoyingly early kick off for the Boxing Day football match. From where I’m afraid I have to report the death of yet another Christmas tradition. Yes, the traditional Boxing Day defeat is no more as Derby beat Leeds, which is actually immensely satisfying as I text my Leeds supporting friend throughout.

After a quiet Christmas Day, Boxing Day is more manic with the kids now home and my parents coming over for a dinner of roast lamb. L cooks one of the two legs of lamb we acquired for the festive period, legs that I hope aren’t from the same animal as one is slightly shorter than the other.

(Monday 26th December)

Sunday 25 December 2011

Everything Booked

We opened our presents at midnight last night, which is something we’ve always done when we haven’t had anyone else around who might object to us putting Santa under such pressure to get to us so early on his shift.

So I can now reveal that I have granted L’s wish to complete her 500 mile challenge in Helsinki. Everything is all booked, subject to her getting with 13 miles of her target by May we will finish with the Helsinki Half Marathon.

If she’s behind schedule I’ll just have to take someone else and she'll have to run Lichfield as a punishment.

The dogs get a good walk, three miles or so to Beeston, where we have a couple in the Crown before walking back. Thankfully the weather is springlike so that we can sit outside and we have to, the pub is full. It seems everyone has the urge to get out and into the local on Christmas Day these days.

Christmas dinner is garlic mushrooms followed by Halibut in a blue cheese sauce. We are so diverse. £25 a lb diverse, so we probably won’t be having it often. We do have Christmas pudding, some things have to be done and we do have rather a lot of them, we’ll still be munching Christmas pudding well into next year.

Another traditional is Christmas TV, which gets worse every year or is it just me but it’s difficult to avoid as nothing is open and you’re usually welded to the settee by the weight of too much Christmas pud. We torture ourselves mainly with reruns of Top Of The Pops from 1976 before going through the PVR to see what there is we’ve taped over the last year and not watched.

(Sunday 25th December)

Saturday 24 December 2011

Getting Christmassy

Mince pies in bed this morning, the height of decadence.

Daughter is dispatched over to her father’s for Christmas where Son is already headed. At one point it looked as if one of them would be with us for Christmas Day and the other for Boxing Day but eventually they managed to get themselves grudgingly synchronised.

Then we head into town to see something Christmassy as is our festive tradition. On the way I continue my search for a Santa skirt for L. No, not for a sexual fetish, well not much, for her to run in, to go with her Santa hat and festive earrings. Unfortunately it seems the main supplier for such things is Ann Summers... so clearly it's a common fetish. In there though they have nothing smaller than a size 22, 24 or 26? Which it totally frightening. I wouldn’t want a size 22 Miss Santa coming down my chimney let alone a size 26 one. A quick wander though the market secures something similar. As it’s 4pm on Christmas Eve I think a bit of price haggling is warranted and proves extremely successful.

So to our Christmas film. In the last two years we’ve done ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and ‘White Christmas’ but this year I’m in charge. L has already taken us to 'Arthur Christmas', so I think I’m justified. So tonight it’s ‘Drive’.

‘Drive’ is the story of a ‘driver’ (Ryan Gosling), a man who is never named. He works in a garage but moonlights as a stunt driver, a budding racing driver and as a getaway driver for the local criminals. That’s a lot of driving.

He’s a bit of a loner, who doesn’t go much for words or even facial expressions. Although he does break in to a smirk of sorts when he finds out he’s got Carey Mulligan (who plays Irene) living next door.

Then Mulligan is at it too, throwing in big deafening silences and long evocative looks, in her case trembly, dewy-eyed and innocent ones. The two of them say so much by not saying anything but it works. In this way she sort of hits on him and he gets involved in her life, befriending her young son Benicio along the way.

You can only assume she’s fallen for Gosling's tough but caring persona and his silent charm, it certainly wasn’t his chat up lines, the few words he does utter are around the toothpick that hangs permanently from his lips. I’m not sure where he put that when he snogged her in the lift, which was the films only departure into passion and that was only as a diversion so that he could kill someone. This is a romance that never goes anywhere but then Mulligan does still only look about fourteen, despite having a son.

Now I’ve gone and mentioned the killing. Gosling's character bursts into violent life mid-film, embracing violence on a sort of ‘Eastern Promises’ level. It kicks off when Irene’s husband Standard (Oscar Isaac), who was in jail, is released on parole and people are keen to settle scores with him. Standard thanks our driver for looking after his wife while he was inside, seemingly oblivious to the chemistry sizzling off the pair of them, even in his presence. The two of them get on and our man offers to do a driving job for Standard to pay off his pursuers but it all goes horribly wrong.

The violence then gets ratcheted up with the driver doing a hatchet job on all the mobsters who come to get him until it’s a case of last man standing. Some of the scenes are accompanied by the sort of gallows humour that is right out of the Tarantino scrapbook.

Overall it’s an absorbing piece of cinema. Some would call it slow but I’d call it tense and involving. The soundtrack is pulsating, the cinematography great and the dialogue lean, obviously. Even the car chases, of which there are plenty, don’t irritate like they normally would.

Acting wise, Gosling is great, the man gets more impressive with each film he does. Mulligan is good too and backed by a strong supporting cast of mobsters. One of the best films of 2011 or 2012 depending on when you see it.

Broadway is very busy but imminently closing, so we decamp to the Major Oak which ambitiously tells us it’s open until 1am. One of the few places playing to the ghost of Christmas Eve past, the former best night out of the year. We stop for one, visit The Bell which is busy too before finishing off in the Borlase Warren which is quiet but cosy.

(Saturday 24th December)

Friday 23 December 2011

Not Terribly Festive

The roads are very quiet this morning; it seems a lot of folk have already finished for Christmas.

As requested by the people across the road the sandwich van parks right outside their office today to save them having to walk 50 metres to it, thereby increasing my already 50 metre+ walk by another 50 metres. I wouldn’t mind but they need the walk more than me and also only one of them is in the office today.

As a treat at work they are handing out Crème Eggs. Not terribly festive but equally I thought declining would be a very unfestive thing to do.

You can tell the Christmas shopping is over because L and her credit card have parted company. She says it’s over between them but I’m sure they’ll make up; they always seem to get back together. Her card always forgives her and takes her back.

After always releasing us at lunchtime on the last day of work before Christmas this year my company keep us in like naughty schoolboys. Bah Humbug. We finally get released at 4pm and I head off to meet L in Derby. Where she’s been cruising the wool shops...

Then together we cruise the Flowerpot, the Royal Standard, where we also eat, and the Silk Mill, where several people are clearly hoping to take a young elf home with them but she leaves them all disappointed. L seems to cope with the ale despite her taste buds still reeling after last night’s curry.

We get the bus home at 7.50! We’d make such crap teenagers but it’s been a cheap and productive evening. Off home to post-drink.

(Friday 23rd December)

Thursday 22 December 2011

A Druid On A Hill

There was a druid with a drum on the hill in Wollaton Park this morning welcoming in the Winter Solstice. Today is the shortest day, the first day of the winter solstice, druids delight. I hope MD saw her off. It was a girl apparently, a druidess.

As I head off to work, L heads off for coffee and mince pies with the Nuns... Not that she claims to even like mince pies and then, of course, she’ll be claiming she’s fat and unfit...

But not as unfit as the people I’ve just had to queue behind at the sandwich van.

Typical conversation –
Oh no, you’ve got no bacon and oh no was that the last of the sausages you’ve just sold. Oh well it’ll have to a sausage roll and a bag of crisps instead then. Hang on as its Christmas I’ll make that two bags of crisps.

...and I get the impression this is just to keep them going until lunch. Then one of them asks if the van could park a bit nearer their office as it was too far to walk. This is three doors down, about 50 metres.

The final game of squash for the year is a close one, 3-2. Followed by the end of season curry, for which we go to the Trent Bridge Inn, which is now a Wetherspoons. We’ve done their Thursday curry nights before and always been mildy impressed. Not so tonight, everyone’s curry is very bland or in the case of L’s painfully hot as well as bland. Won’t be going back there.

We get home to a house full of teenagers pre-drinking away time that in my student days we would have put to much more productive use in various bars around town. Still it leaves such bars freer for us to enjoy so I guess we shouldn't object. It also wasn't actually a house full, it sounded like a house full but in the end turned out to only be five, just a very noisy five. Pre-drinking was allegedly born out of a cost saving measure but they go out just before 11pm for the fag end of the night and still end up spending an astronomical amount. As they say, a drunk and their money are more easily parted...

Its Sports Personality Of The Year tonight, sadly on a Thursday this year as its usual Sunday slot would have meant it being aired on Christmas Day. Sports Personality Of The Year is hardly the most riveting of shows but looking at the schedule for Christmas Day, it would certainly have been an improvement even if they’d had pre-recorded it.

I imagine Mark Cavendish would have turned up even if they’d done it live on Christmas Day. He looked absolutely thrilled with his win. A win gained with nearly half of the entire vote. Thoroughly deserved.

(Thursday 22nd December)

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Everyone Loves A Cheapskate?

It’s good to be back at work... at least it’s a short week. The traffic wasn’t too bad coming into work but I think this is because they’re probably all already in the queue for Sainsbury’s car park. Well that’s certainly where they all are come lunchtime and some of them have probably been there queuing since 8am. I decide not to bother joining the queue and park next door at Homebase instead, then I walk across.

Sainsbury's car park is actually half empty, it’s just the access roads that are rubbish. Inside the store it’s fairly quiet too and everything has 50% off or more. Which begs the question, why would anyone shop more than a week before Christmas? Huge blocks of Stilton - half price. Port - half price. Pate, a whole block - half price. Wrapping paper - half price. Something else that I best not mention as it's going in L's Christmas stocking - half price. Hope she loves a cheapskate

Daughter rings to say she’s been awarded a bursary. Bloody hell. How did that happen? It turns out it’s because her sixth form college in Nottingham is a ‘partnership’ college with Sheffield Hallam. Whatever that means. It’s all a bit bizarre but don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, as they say. I imagine she’s already on the bus on her way to River Island.

L’s at another panto toinight. She really is a serial offender. The dogs and I stay in to cook stilton and port pate.

(Wednesday 21st December)

Tuesday 20 December 2011

This Apparently Is Progress

Day two of my course and we have a break in training when the fire alarm goes off. Down six flights of stairs, ten minutes stood stamping feet in cold in the Market Square and then back up six flights of stairs. So I’ve done by workout for the day.

Another day of HTML, XHTML, XML, S, M & XL etc (I made that last bit up). All a bit of a dogs breakfast really. It appears we are going to end up using HTML, CSS, Javascript, C#, ASP.NET, MVC and SQL at work. Why use one programming language when six will do? This apparently is progress. It’s just like the old days when people used to come up with new computer languages for a laugh. Those were the days...

I was worried that by coming back to Nottingham Daughter would be missing out on some important hangovers that she would have got in Sheffield but she seems to have rehabilitated herself back in to society ok. She’s socialising at one of those gain-as-much-weight-as-you-can-in-one-sitting Chinese places this lunchtime. My colleague and I had considered it for lunch from our course, so we quickly scrub that idea. We go in Fat Cat instead. Slow service but a decent pint.

In the evening I head up to the Leisure Centre to join L in the pool, I need my tick for attending to keep my cashback prospects rolling along. Amazingly I remember how to swim. It’s been a long time.

(Tuesday 20th December)

Monday 19 December 2011

Rooms By the Hour

I’m on another training course for the next few days, although we’ve been shunted out of the posh surroundings of the Lace Market Hotel into the old IBM building which is now mainly a rent a room job, probably by the hour. No not that sort of place, although the people in the room across from us do seem to be rolling around on the floor manhandling each other and with their lips locked together but I think it’s just a first aid course.

Today I’m studying HTML and CSS, who I thought were a band from São Paulo. It all goes well and now I know everything there is to know about internet development. We all head home to rewrite Google. We'll show those yanks how it's done. Beware the person who has been on a one day course and is now an expert.

L is horrified at the thought of my proposed search engine revamp, as she is rather fond of Google. Can't I redesign Twitter instead to make it useful? I'm not sure that's possible. That’s like redesigning a border collie to make it useful.

It’s back. That letter to a similar address of ours in Newark drops through our post box yet again. This time I rewrite the postcode in very big letters and repost it yet again. Fourth time lucky.

It’s Christmas Party night at dog training. Well not really, although L doesn’t believe me. It’s actually a normal serious training session just with chocolate and a touch of Secret Santa for the dogs.

(Monday 19th December)

Sunday 18 December 2011

An Astonishingly Florescent Affair

Another run this morning but just for L. The boys and I are all just supporting today. We head to Bolsover, where we park in the town centre and before walking to the newly rebuilt Bolsover School on Mooracre Lane, where the race starts. There are a few patches of ice on the ground, which I’m sure won’t cause any problems but it’s another reason I’m glad I’m not running.

The start is delayed by about ten minutes; the rumour is this is because of the length of the toilet queue. You would have thought the toilet provision, as this is a race with a long history, is something they would have got right. Also having to filter everyone one through the start only then to start in the other direction was not the brightest thing to do but not my problem, as I’m not running.

Apparently the race always used to start at the school before being moved down the road to Bolsover Castle in 2009, causing the distance to go up to 11k. So they added a 1k walk to the start last year to get it back down to 10k but then oddly ended up not finishing in the castle at all but in the field beside it. This year we’re back at the school.

There’s a bacon butty van for us supporters but unfortunately it’s inside the school grounds, where the dogs aren’t allowed. So instead we stare longingly at it through the railings but not so longingly at the queue. Seems not only do they need more portaloos, they need more butty vans as well.

So instead we walk out across the fields to the 9k point, nearly get run over on the busy road and then walk back. ‘What was the point of that?’ Doggo’s knotted ears enquire. Just a walk, you know, dogs like them, apparently.

When we return to the school, half an hour after the race start, just ahead of the winner, I’m sure the same people are still in the butty van queue. The race winner, Richard Weir of Derby AC, crosses the line in a highly impressive time of 30:43 and a new course record. So he’s £100 better off.

L, still coughing, knocks a few minutes off her Langdale time but is still clearly not back to full speed yet, plus there was those 2-for-1 beers last night... That said, it worked ok for me yesterday. She collects her race t-shirt, an astonishingly florescent affair, ideal for those dark evening winter runs or for directing traffic in. Although they did run out of her size. So organisers... loos, butties and t-shirts. The rest was great.

Then we over head to Sheffield, hoping Daughter and her friend are up, it’s only 1pm, so that we can transport them back to Nottingham for the Christmas break.

In the evening we head over to Quad in Derby but pop into the Silk Mill for refreshment first (Burton Bridge Damson Porter, nice). Unfortunately there’s no Red Arrow as it’s a Sunday, so we have to take the car.

The film we see ‘My Week With Marilyn’ is based on the memoirs of a guy called Colin Clark. Clark was a twenty-three year old who made himself so annoying hanging around the offices of Laurence Olivier’s production company that they eventually give him a job, probably just to get rid of him. It turned out to be some job. When Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) comes to England in 1956 to film ‘The Sleeping Prince’ which was to become ‘The Prince And The Showgirl’, Clark (Eddie Redmayne) is hired as the third assistant director, or general dogsbody, for the film.

This film is not particularly meant to be a biopic of Marilyn Monroe but it does give a great insight into the craziness of her world. Monroe was a total nightmare to work with. The film portrays her as not some much a great actor but as a great star. One that was an immense frustration to Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) as she repeatedly messed up her lines and was constantly late arriving on set, that is when she turned up at all.

When she did she was constantly babied by her acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker) who spoon fed her most of her lines.

Meanwhile Clark, who had spent most of his time on set drooling after the film’s star, suddenly ends up being the go-between between Monroe and the production team. She takes a bit of a liking to him and he becomes her confidant, sympathising with her troubles while trying to get her to return to the film set. He gets to spend a week with her, taking her on, among other things, a tour of Eton, which somehow ends up with Monroe skinny dipping in front of him in a river.

We’re like in fantasy land for a young lad of that era or I suppose any male of that era. Unlike everyone else Clark can see through her many flaws and see the vulnerable person she really is. Lust can do this for you.

Of course the last thing you need when you're hoping for a tumultuous one night stand with the biggest sex symbol in the world is for Emma Watson to be hanging around on set, working I think in the costume department.

Clark dates Lucy (Watson) and seems to be in with a great chance of finding the back of the net, she is more his level, which is admittedly still some level but then there’s Marilyn... Would he be able to look the lads in the eye down the pub on a Friday night if he didn’t at least give it a go... Marilyn Monroe or Hermione Grainger? Tough call. It begs the question just how a big a star is it acceptable to cheat on a potential girlfriend with... Lucy doesn’t take his pursuit of Monroe well but she’ll get over it. Perhaps.

It's not really a film that really goes anywhere but it’s the acting that makes this film, in what is an excellent cast that also includes Dominic Cooper and the acting institution that is Judi Dench, as is enshrined in law. She plays Sybil Thorndike, who was in the 1950’s appropriately enough was also a Dame and an institution herself.

The main plaudits though go to Michelle Williams, who really throws herself into the role of Marilyn Monroe and does an extraordinary job. You believe she's Monroe. A cert for an Oscar nomination you would think. Also Kenneth Branagh who’s portrayal of Laurence Olivier was also superb. Loved it.

(Sunday 18th December)

Saturday 17 December 2011

Standards To Keep Up

Oddly no hangover this morning, just a slight queasiness. What I need to sober up is a trip to West Bromwich for the Santa Paws 5k. Partly to chalk another three miles off L’s target but also to support the folk at K9Running who are trying to get their running with dogs events off the ground. Although they don't seem to be trying very hard. Little publicity and even their website doesn’t appear in a search engine. Rather worryingly the pre-race instructions were emailed to only three addresses and two of them were L and me. So I expect nothing less than a top 3 finish from both of us. We have standards to keep up.

It’s a good job we decide to go, when we arrive at Sandwell Park Farm this morning we double the race numbers. Yes, there are only four of us. A fifth person decided it was too wet and miserable this morning and has clearly found something better to do.

I hang back at the start, well try to. Not easy when you’re attached to a dog. The early leader doesn’t look particularly fast and certainly the dog assisted pace he is currently setting looks unsustainable for both man and beast. Hurtling out of control along the footpath, he comes across an icy path and down he goes. Oh dear. I stop to help him up like the good citizen/competitor that I am. Then we overtake him.

For once, when in front, MD doesn’t look back and we build a reasonable lead before backing off and taking it steady around the rest of it, feeling sure we have at least a minutes lead on him. What we didn’t expect was to come in and then wait around ten minutes for everyone else. As the minutes clock by, I look at my watch, thinking L should be in any time soon and second place is still up for grabs. Then the chap and L with Doggo come in more or less together. The chap beats them, just, so L and Doggo come in third or first lady if you prefer (sorry mate). The goodie bag includes antlers for the boys or are they for us, I’m not sure.

So I win and L wins. Can’t get better than that can you? A small field, yes, but you can only beat the opposition that is put in front of you. So a successful day really and as L points out my second win and again after a heavy night out on the ale. Which kind of rips the rules of perceived wisdom up.

In the afternoon they are holding a Fun Dog Show, you know ugliest bitch and all that, plus a variety of junior and ‘Have-a-Go’ 2.5K races, all presumably in the rain. Good luck guys, I fear you’ll need it, we’re off home.

Later we head into town and renew our Broadway memberships, which means we can then splash the resulting 2-for-1 drinks vouchers on getting oiled before we use two of the complimentary cinema tickets on something festive. Value for money so far.

We take our seats for Arthur Christmas, an Aardman production, which turns out to be informative stuff. It appears that the title ‘Santa Claus’ is actually a sort of hereditary peerage handed down from father to son. The current incumbent of the title is Malcolm Christmas (Jim Broadbent) who was passed the title from his father, the now retired Grand Santa (Bill Nighy). Malcolm is expected to retire this year to hand over the ‘reigns’ (ha ha ha) to his eldest Steve (Hugh Laurie). Steve is the smart arse currently in charge of the North Pole Command Centre that tracks the Santa ‘project’ across the world. Meanwhile his younger son Arthur (James McAvoy) can only look on in wonder, from the post room to where he has been banished, as he's accident waiting to happen.

Christmas night is now a high-tech military operation involving thousands of elves and a giant spaceship in order to get millions of presents delivered in one night. Now it all makes sense at last.

This year’s operation at first appears to be a great success and much to Steve’s annoyance, with Mrs. Santa (Imelda Staunton) by his side, Malcolm postpones his retirement. All though is not as it appears, one child has been missed and their present, a new bike, remains undelivered.

Steve refuses to attempt to deliver the missing gift being more than happy to accept that one minor blip has occurred in his operation, one present out of millions, not a bad ratio. So it is left to Arthur and Grand Santa, assisted by Bryony (Ashley Jensen), the elf from the Wrapping Department, to go on a renegade delivery mission using the olden day methods of sleigh and reindeers (albeit ones on drugs, they snort magic fumes to power them through the sky). All to ensure that one little girl is not the child Santa forgot.

The idea behind the film is original, fun and very creative, at first. The film loses its way badly in the middle third of the film where too much mayhem ensues as our ‘heroes’ get repeatedly lost and into many sticky situations. It cheapens a great idea and feels extraneous.

Eventually, perhaps half an hour too late, we meander our way to the expected heart warming finale that eventually just about saves the film. Good stuff but should have been better.

We pop into the old ‘Hogshed’ pub now known as the ‘Major Oak’. Very impressed with the good beer selection, including Ring O Bells, a Christmas Ale from Ringwood and a very retro video jukebox that does annoy as much as these screens usually do.

(Saturday 17th December)