16 January 2009

"So you go on your way, and don't come sneaking round the back door..."

My life is even more dull than normal right now, so it would appear. In an effort to keep up appearances as far as blogging is concerned, I give you *drumroll* another round of iPod roulette ... No, hold on, it might be a good one...

1: Orange Crush - REM
"I've had my fun and now it's time to serve your conscience overseas..." This was their first Top 40 hit over here, and as a 16 year old I loved it but wondered whether it was Bowie-esque cut-'n'-paste nonsense because I simply couldn't read into "I've got my spine, I've got my orange crush" and work out to what it referred. The Green album from which it came remains one of my favourites from a band I've liked since Finest Worksong was championed by all jocks but still got nowhere. The chant-through-a-handkerchief midway through is one I've still never managed to decipher. One day I'll look the lyrics up.

2: Blasphemous Rumours - Depeche Mode
"Found new life in Jesus Christ..." The anti-God anthem made predominantly memorable for me for Alan Wilder's thwacking of an anvil all the way through the band's Top of the Pops appearance. This got most of the airplay when it was released a double A-side with Somebody, which had Martin Gore singing and some orgasmic echoes from some random women adorning the intro and outro. The year was 1984 and therefore any song which glamorised sex and questioned religion was met with puritanical complaints, though this gloomy tale of the happy religious girl getting killed by a car while the atheist girl survived her suicide attempt didn't get half the reaction that It Ain't Necessarily So, by Bronski Beat, would later generate. And that was only because it wondered out loud whether Jonah did indeed live in a whale.

3: King of the Kerb - Echobelly
"All the shadows in the alley, the shapes at the bar..." I haven't much to say as I've never embraced bands of the 1990s to any great level, but I've always loved the intro, the vocal and the chorus of this song. And it might just be this singer who the man behind this blog over here once enjoyed some public arm-interlinking. He'll deny it, natch.

4: My Affair - Kirsty MacColl
"Making eyes at perfect strangers, I know that it could be dangerous..." What a great song this was. The imagery of Kirsty going from a mucky teenager caught on the floor by her folks, through a spell as an insatiable wife spending whole days in the sack, to a wronged lady flaunting herself in front of the husband who did the dirty is just superb. This came out as the follow-up to Walking Down Madison in 1991 and was, astonishingly, a flop.

5: Rock Me Gently - Andy Kim
"You were made for me by the stars above..." One hit wonder of the 1970s about whom I know little, but this is a tremendous bit of songcraft and contains a quite brilliant chorus.

Hmmm. Could have been worse. It's time I gave my iPod a clearout and started again, I think.

15 January 2009

Headline snipped from yesterday's Daily Mail

Yeah, sorry about that. I'm the new controller of Radio 2, y'see, and I've decided to give Jonathan Ross the breakfast show at £19.2m of your money per year, with a blank sheet of paper as to what he can do or say.

14 January 2009

Deal again?

Computer Solitaire (yes, Patience to you and I) is a right bastard. I could win every game I play by choosing the 'Draw One' instead of 'Draw Three' option, but I prefer to play fair and stick with traditional rules my grandad passed down to me. And it always beats me.

Computer Spider Solitaire (God knows what the English name is for that one) is a devilish game. With one suit it's a waste of time, with all four suits it makes my eyes hurt, so I play the two suits option. Invariably the reason I get stuck here is because the computer has decided that all eight cards representing one number (so all of the sevens, for example) will remain hidden forever and therefore bugger up every single row I have made up and defeat me.

I have time on my hands right now, as you can tell. I gave myself two weeks off following the ridiculous Christmas and New Year rush, which still isn't enough time for me to work out what the hell Minesweeper is all about.

They don't - on my arcane system, anyway - have a computer version of that Plus Nine Solitaire (or Plus Nine Patience - I must stop saying Solitaire, as that's the game where you take the counter out of the middle of the grid) which I used to play a lot with real cards - lay nine cards out in a 3x3 square and then lay further cards on top of each pair which adds up to nine, or any King, Queen and Jack you have on show together. Eventually, hopefully, you'll get rid of all your cards.

Then there was Clock Patience, which I still think is a very clever game. Lay out all the cards in a circle of 12, plus one in the middle, until you have four piles of 13. Then, imagining the numbers on a clock, overturn cards and put them in their appropriate places (Kings in the middle) until you have each rank of card neatly completed.

When the playing cards came out for rainy lunchtimes at school, we used to play Blackjack. Now in casinos, that name is attributed to what the underclasses I represent call Pontoon, of course. Blackjack to me was a wholly different game. You started with seven cards each and the idea was to get rid of them by connecting them to the card on show in the middle of the table. You could do this by matching by number, or by suit, and luckier players were able to lay down their cards in longish sequences. Most cards had an extra meaning or forfeit, to wit:

Ace - nominate a new suit which would benefit your chances of getting rid of your remaining cards quicker
Two - pick up two cards, unless you could trump it with another two and make your opponent pick up four cards
Eight - have an extra turn
Nine - next player misses a turn unless he can trump it with another nine, meaning the subsequent player misses two turns
Jack - if it's black, you can make your opponent pick up 11 cards; he can trump it with another black jack and make the subsequent player pick up 22, or cancel it entirely with a red jack
Queen - the next card in sequence can be anything of the same suit
King - change direction of play (obviously only works with three or more players)

I'm convinced we had something attached to playing a Seven too, but I can't remember it. With games like these, you could make up your own rules as you went along. The daftest rule was that on the point of winning, you had to say 'last card" before placing it on the deck, else you had to pick up some randomly inordinate number of cards from the downturned pack.

The usual games, otherwise - Rummy, Whist, Brag. I remember one of my teachers trying to coach a number of us at Solo but I'm buggered if I can remember the rules.

13 January 2009

Milk and thirteen sugars #7

This morning at about 10.50am, one of our three builders knocked on the front door to inform us that, at last, their work was done.

Their last task had been to rebuild the bordering wall which they had part-dismantled for access reasons four months ago on their first day with us.

Since then they have constructed an immaculate two-storey extension to the house, comprising of a new bedroom with en suite bathroom, a study, a dining area, a downstairs khazi and a double-angled hallway. They have also sorted out the drainage system for it, re-laid the back patio and put down a brand new driveway at the back and garden paving at the front.

What has been most impressive, beyond the extension's quality, has been their work ethic and attention to detail. Each morning, come rain, sleet or shine, they have been setting to work at 8am sharp, breaking for a brew at 10.30am and lunch at 1pm, before clocking off at 4pm. After every day, they tidied up their tools and materials and stored them away from prying neighbourly eyes. Their cleanliness as well as their ability has been their benchmark and numerous neighbours (especially the ones with skewiff extensions...) have commented, impressed and envious, on this trait. That workplace instruction to leave places exactly as you found them is one they follow to the letter.

The titles of these blog entries have been largely irrelevant too. I based them on the Viz one-off character Cowboy Builder, but these guys forever refused our offers of a refreshing brew, preferring instead to consume their own in their break time.

They've been worth every penny we've paid them.

Inside the extension, the wiring and most of the plumbing is long done, and the living room, en suite bathroom, study and ground floor bog are totally finished. My parents are on decorating duty now for the hallway, landing and dining area, and the new kitchen is being fitted by the end of this week. Slowly but surely, we are getting our house back and the main emotion I feel is one of relief that a) it's nearly over (the upheaval has been immense); and b) it looks absolutely ace.

12 January 2009

"The very best of order please!"

Darts is ace and I've watched it most of my life. Ever since Keith Deller wiped the smart-arsed grin off Eric Bristow's face by chucking that 138 in to win the 1983 World Championships, I've been hooked. Have a look at it here...

The BDO World Championships is the traditional tournament and the more prestigious, even though the PDC splinter contest on Sky has the higher prize money and more players. Last night, the final was a great contest, great sport and a viewing spectacle matchable by little in terms of high drama.

I had a vested interest this year as Tony O'Shea had reached the final. I've known him a few years as he is a proud Stopfordian. He lives in Stockport still, for many years was the greenkeeper at one of the local golf clubs and is a Stockport County nut. I used to see him at the Edgeley Park bar after every home game when I was commentating there and got to know him well. His wife and sister frequently come to my club night and Tony himself turns up when he's not at a match - either football or darts, that is.

Tony took the first set against Ted Hankey but then conceded the next two and for ages couldn't quite bring the deficit back entirely - from 2-1 down it went to 3-1, then 3-2, then 4-2, then 4-3, then 5-3, then 5-4, then 6-4. Each time Tony pulled a set back, his opponent would then re-establish the two-set cushion. At 6-4, Ted needed just one more set for the title.

Then Ted missed everything he would have thrown for jam in his own garage. Simple singles which would have left him a double and out, plus the doubles themselves. each time he flunked and his nerve went, Tony would step in and clean up. He got it to 6-5 then, when he had no right to, managed to level up and force the decider.

Sadly, Tony had shot his bolt by this point and Ted won the deciding set and the title. Tony had to contend himself with the £30,000 runners-up cheque and the goodwill of the majority of the watching punters at the Lakeside. He conducted his post-game interview grinning and, as ever, had a County scarf draped round his neck and shouted "Blue Army!" as the broadcast ended.

Darts has its detractors, but you try playing 13 sets on such a big stage with so much at stake. These guys are athletic as far as their mental and emotional beings are concerned. The game tests your brainpower, your eyesight, your aim, your concentration, your nerve, the steadiness of your hand ... it has far more merit than its many scathers would ever wish to offer credit for. And it's so dramatic - so much can hinge or turn on the accuracy or otherwise of one single dart, and no game is ever truly over until the last dart hits its double. Players are always capable of pulling back a big deficit from a losing position - two years ago Martin Adams led Phill Nixon 6-0 in the final but ultimately only won it 7-6.

I would have loved to have seen Tony wander into the club next Saturday carrying the trophy. The reception he would have received would've been just ear-shattering. Still, he was as heroic as any winner and darts will be only the richer for it.