Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Party time!

Those of you who read the other blog will know that I have occasional pretensions to being a song parodist. Like many before me I know that I have to bow to the master: Allan Sherman.

As a result of a burglary twenty-one years ago I lost my only recording of the brilliant "It's a most unusual play" and I miss it greatly. It's a track on one of his less well-known LPs "My Name Is Allan" and rarely gets played. A great shame as it's worth the hearing. For those of you below the age of umpty-thump it's a parody of Ray Noble's "Most Unusual Day."

It's a most unusual play;
Feel like throwing my tickets away,
'Cause the boy gets the boy
And the girl gets the girl
And it's way too far off Broadway.

It's a most unusual plot
Which I've either blocked out or forgot;
I don't know what it means
But they all wear blue jeans
And they scratch themselves quite a lot.

There's no scenery, there's no lighting,
There's no costumes; oh, what art!
If there only were no house lights,
I would sneak up the aisle and depart.

There's a most unusual scene
Where this man dates this Xerox machine,
So his girlfriend gets mad
And she murders the cad
To the tune of "Begin the Beguine"
In this most unusual, most unusual, most unusual play.

Oh, the language is a bit loose;
It's decidedly not Mother Goose.
Outside on the marquee
This quotation you'll see:
"I was shocked!" and it's signed Lenny Bruce.

It's a play where something went wrong
'Cause it's five hours, twelve minutes long.
If you sit there, my friend,
From beginning to end
Then your bladder better be strong.

There are people hitting people;
There's a couple in a cage.
There's neurotics, there's narcotics,
And the bathroom is right on the stage!
It's a great big critical smash,
And it's raking in all kinds of cash.
But the theater's appalling
With things that are crawling;
I think I am getting a rash
From this most unusual, most unusual, most unusual play
And to get a taste of the voice, here's the birthday boy singing the Mexican Hat Dance.

Have a good New Year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Nearly there

Christmas is nearly over. Tonight was turkey paprikash (surprisingly nice) and the last of the leftovers will be tomorrow's chili.

Hope you're all suitably Christmas puddinged out.

Editor's note: Normal curmudgeonly service will resume as soon as possible.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Unwelcome return of hoary old chestnut

Dear Santa,

For Christmas I would like a pair of sheer black silk ladies' stockings.

Yours in hope

Kevin, aged 7 and quite a few months

P.S. These are no use to me empty
I wish I hadn't bothered. Have you ever seen a reindeer in suspenders?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

All that stuff

Starting off with a heartfelt Christmas wish from Dora Bryan...

Something suitable from the sublime Paddy Roberts...

...who is worthy of a blog entry of his own someday (unless Chris beats me to it)

And a suitable anodyne...

Merry thingy all of you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

All buses go to Sorry

Another cancelled train, so I go sloping off for an half-hour wait for the next bus in the freezing rain. Sigh. It is an awful journey.

The bus is full to busting with late shoppers and kids coming back from 'Clifford The Big Red Dog on Ice' or whatever it was at the Hippodrome. One child's kicking the window petulantly. He looks over to another passenger and wails: "Mummy! That man's frowning at me!" Clip round the ear that's what the little bugger needs.

A couple of people old enough to know better are listening to music on their 'phones, sharing the tinny blather with an unwilling world. I had a transistor radio in 1974 that had a better tone. My brother keeps saying that I should get an ipod or some such. Perhaps I should. I could amp up the volume, as the teenyboppers say.

"There you are: Carroll Gibbons, you bastards!"

The clincher came a few stops before mine. A couple of ladies dressed as lamb lurched over to the driver.

"Hey! Is this the 159?"

"No, it's the 157."

"It said 159 when I got on."

"No, it's the 157."

I lost count of the number of times she went on telling us all that it said the 159 when she got on, hoping that constant repetition would change reality. One might have thought that she would have noticed half an hour earlier as the 157 takes an entirely different route to the 159. Eventually we are released as they take their leave of the bus and lurch over to the next bus stop.

Stepping off the bus, the cold wait at the bus stop finally takes its effect. A jolting spasm of cramp ran through my calf like a lightning bolt.

Another happy day.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sleeping with the enemy

Advert: Full-size mattress, Royal Tonic 20 year warranty Like new. Slight urine smell. $40

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Saturday singalong

While shepherds...

My small niece, hopelessly miscast as an angel in the nursery Nativity play, told my dad that:

"Ollie's a sheep-carrier."

which is as good a description of a Nativity play shepherd as I've ever heard.

Red cabbage

I did a few jars of red cabbage the other day, preparatory to the coming hostilities. My sister finally sold her old house the other day, which is some senses is a shame as it was very productive: we'd get stones of fruit from the redcurrant bush; the apples and cobnuts I planted for her are starting to be promising; and there's a big old pear tree of the "almost a William" variety that you could buy cheap from the newspapers in the seventies. This last is perplexing: there are thousands of fruit but they only have a day's grace between having the texture of parquet and being a liquefied mess. We found, by a process of scientific guesswork, that there's about a week in which you can chop and freeze the fruit so that you've the basis for a tasty pear puree throughout the winter. This recipe takes advantage of these pears and some of the five pounds of redcurrants I found when I was looking for the beefburgers. Red cabbage should either be snap-in-your-fingers crisp or meltingly soft, anything in between disappoints. This is meltingly soft.

You'll need:

  • A red cabbage. All the finely-tuned weights and measures in this recipe are based around your having a lump of cabbage about the size of one of those spherical plum puddings they always had in the comics. Slice it up finely; if you're to be trusted with a mandolin then go for it.
  • Two cloves of garlic, mashed if you can be bothered, otherwise finely chopped.
  • A pickled onion chopped finely.
  • About a litre of fruit juice: what you don't use you can drink. Apple juice is good. Cranberry juice or pomegranate juice are excellent, if extravagant (if you've some dregs of these left in a carton you could usefully add them to the apple juice). Blackcurrant juice doesn't quite work, the flavours become off-note.
  • Some vinegar. Balsamic vinegar's great for colour but red wine or cider vinegar's fine.
  • Fruit: the equivalent of two roughly-chopped pears; three roughly-chopped large, dark plums, the riper the better (or a dozen ripe damsons).
  • Berries: a large handful of redcurrants works best; cranberries are fine; you can think of better things to do with raspberries (but they work nicely if you want to do it). Blackcurrants don't work. Blackberries give a great colour but don't add anything to the flavour.
  • Spices: half a stick of cinnamon; two dozen turns of the black pepper mill; two cloves and half a teaspoon of Chinese Five Spice Powder (or a couple of Szchewan peppercorns).

If you've got a slow cooker, great. If not, use a big pot and the very lowest heat your hob will allow. Chuck the red cabbage, garlic, onion, fruit and spices into the pot. Add a slug of vinegar (you don't need much: the acid in the fruit juice will keep the colour). Now pour in enough fruit juice to just be visible near the top of the cabbage (you don't want to completely cover it - the liquor will expand when heated). Put it on the lowest available heat and leave it for a few hours. Come back, give it a stir, leave it to cool overnight. Next day, put it on a very low light and leave it for a couple of hours. Now it's ready to pack into sterilised jars. You can eat it straight away but it's nicer after a few days.

This goes well with all the usual stews. For the vegetarians, it's nice with pease pudding. It's also good on a butty with fiercely strong cheese.

If you're wanting a white cabbage recipe, Willow had one the other day.

Just said no

The "No" vote to Manchester's Congestion Charge referendum has been overwhelming. Had you asked me six months ago I would have said that I was voting "yes" and wondered why you bothered to ask. So why did I say "no?"

I'd struggle to tell you what the No Campaign's arguments were. They didn't sway me. I was swayed by the failures of the Yes Campaign.

They started off with a load of adverts showing pictures of various people with the strap line "I won't pay the Congestion Charge." Well, I'm sorry, that sort of beggar-my-neighbour nonsense never sits well with me. The way my love life is these days I'd not be troubled by a Shagging Tax but I'd not be voting for one. Then they started to tell us about all the improvements that would magically come our way...

  • "What would you say to more trains and more carriages?" I'd say: "weren't you promised when they privatised the railways?" When I moved here, just before privatisation bit, we had an hourly train service seven days a week. Now we have a two-hourly service (if it arrives) and nothing on a Sunday. I'm not living in some countryside backwater, we're within the proposed Congestion Charge area.
  • "What would you say to more buses and more bus services?" I'd say: "how would the transport authorities ensure that the buses improved services on routes that are currently under-provided? Most of the congestion in city centre Manchester is caused by the hordes of buses chasing students up and down Oxford Road and Wilmslow Road. Not only do these roads clag up but, when your bus from elsewhere tries to pull into the traffic island that is Piccadilly Gardens Bus Station it can't get in because there are a dozen number 42s queueing up for the same stop and blocking the roads and junctions for all other traffic.
  • When challenged about dealing with private rail and bus operators over whom the authorities have no sway, the response was that: "we don't need services to be re-regulated, we would be working in a new way with the operators." Bollocks. First and Stagecoach run most of the bus and rail services in Greater Manchester and if Mister First and Mister Stagecoach were interested in working in a new way to deliver better services to the poor bloody passenger then they'd have done it by now and we'd have seen a bit of the evidence. As it is, this autumn has seen cuts in rail services; and so many non-arrivals of trains and buses that one can only conclude that they were trying to panic people into a yes vote by demonstrating just how bad public transport can be in this country.
  • "The No Campaign is consorting with unsavoury characters like the UK Independence Party, Peel Holdings and the BNP" said the Yes Campaign, who were consorting with Stagecoach, First and Manchester United.
  • My daily commute is about twenty-two miles across Manchester and the timetables say it should take me about fifty minutes each way. At least twice a week it takes two-and-a-half-hours. Looking at the proposed "improvements" I found that the delays were to become even greater because 'feeder' services were being replaced by trams and additional stations were being added to ensure that trains would be as badly hit by weekday football matches as are the buses now.

I think the clincher was the last desperate poster campaign by the Yes Campaign: an old bloke with the strap line "I want to feel safer on the bus." And how, precisely, were they going to do that? Issue all the OAPs with Kalashnikovs? Great God in the morning, some of them have the manners of pigs at the best of times; what would they be like if they were armed and dangerous?

"When we asked people why they wouldn't vote for it they told us 'we wont vote for it because the transport is so bad'. But our argument was 'if you vote for it, the transport will get better'.”

If the public transport operators can't deliver on the modest promises that are their timetables, why should we trust them to deliver anything even remotely ambitious?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

In memoriam

I was going to do a tribute but the Dotterel's done a better one already.

And Scarlet. Time for bed, Baby Clanger.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

They don't make 'em like that any more

Had a meal with friends last night and repaired to their local for a drink. We reminisced about an old work colleague who was an inveterate old queen, camp as Christmas and always one for a cottage. We were laughing at the memory of the immortal line

"I went in for an honest pee and I stayed there all day!"

when one of their friends pottered over to say hello. Out of politeness we recounted the story to him.

"That reminds me of the time me and a friend went into a public toilet in York, of all places. A camp old queen came in, looks at both of us stood at the urinal and says: 'Hello, loves, would you like a sherry?' So I said yes please, and do you know what? He took a decanter and glasses out of a case he was carrying and asked:

'Dry or sweet?'"

Class act.