When your options are “zombie” or “pirate”. 

enlight2Yeah: I don’t know how it happened. The eye, I mean. The website grew from an accidental purchase of a domain name that led to a realisation that I then had to use it. The eye, on the other hand. I woke up 9 days ago and my left eye had bled in the night. It looked horrific. NHS Direct said that, barring a head trauma (none recently) or high blood pressure (it’s amazingly good for a fat bloke) then it was nothing, man the flip up, and it’d be gone in 7-10 days. Tomorrow is day 10 and it’s almost a memory. Weird though.

Poems

I got a bit ruthless with my entertainment about ten years ago:

– stopped going to the cinema because of all the noise and because the films I went to see were flashing light shows (I used to like a bit of “arthouse” cinema but we never got to see that)

– stopped watching TV because the whole box-set thing stole your time: we lost a whole bank holiday watching a Danish detective thing and that was the end for me

– I love to read but Twitter finds me poems and newspaper stories that mean I read for two hours each day, but I barely read a book.

I finished a book of poems yesterday but only because our cricket match was rained off. We sat for three hours waiting to agree that it was off. I carry books in my cricket bag for just such an occasion. There I was sitting reading poems (the collection was terrible, btw) when one of them totally got to me. It was about a woman’s experience with her father’s Alzheimer’s and a verse about incontinence made me cry. So I’m sitting amongst these kids who think I’m weird for reading (let alone reading poems) and trying not to let them see that I’m properly blubbing. But of course, that’s the point of poems, right: to make you feel.

Let’s play a game

Last month, I was reviewing an USDAW publication that included Personal injury/ Employer liability claims that they had supported, during a training course at a warehouse.

As usual, there were lots of small claims for everything from bruising to back injury. Worth noting that the claims for discrimination were properly bigger than those for injury. (Well done USDAW).

But the problem with publishing these numbers is that you can play the “would you” game. It looks like this: would you take £500 for your employer to cause you to “sprain your wrist”?

Of course the answer is “yes” almost all the time: since the collateral damage isn’t considered (impact on work relationships, potential for it to be non-work-related, etc), and it’s 500 quid.

Trouble is, there are some shocking findings. Here’s a big one: “how much to break your arm”? Those of us who consider “Escape to Victory” to be the greatest movie of all time, that’s a tricky one. For my group, 14 out of 14 would do it for £16k

Clearly there are some trickier ones: how much to lose an eye? How much to have your leg crushed?

So: Merry Christmas. Why not play this fun game round the dinner table tomorrow?

You’re welcome!

Yes men

So the problem for Sparky is being in a band with me. The bigger part of that is being in *two* bands with me, one of which offers him no protection from my whims (see “Whims“). And I’m on what can only be called a “hot streak” of whims right now.

First up: our friend Amanda called to ask whether, after the success of me and him playing for an hour to a largely apathetic summer fete crowd at her children’s’ school last year, I would be prepared to “host” the music stage at this year’s do.

My response: “it’s not really what I do.”

Her: “you’ll be great”

Me: “but I don’t like children”

Her: “you were great with them last year”

Me: “no, Amanda: I actively dislike children. They scare me”

Her: ” I know; you’ll be great”

Me: “you weren’t paying attention, were you?”*

Her: “well the committee took a vote last night and they think you’ll be great for it”.

Me: “that’s not how comm…”

Me: “Sparky: we’ve um… we’ve got this gig”

So, that’s the first thing.

Second thing happened last Friday. Got a message on the band Facebook page asking whether we’d play a 45 minute set on May 4th and then let the “second band” use our PA. Now: you don’t have to know much about the natural order of things to know that that’s not how it normally works. The big band brings the kit and any support just plugs in to that.

I knew something was up.

So, adjunct information: it’s our local pub; the landlady has told the gig organiser that we’re the sort of band who’ll do nice things for charity; it’s a great charity; who are we to let people down?

I know enough that the answer to “is the band available to turn up and play for 45 minutes” is “no”, without even troubling the Cato WhatsApp group. Not least because we have two gigs the next day (get us!).

But for a bunch of reasons, I figured that I could say yes for Fatzorro & Sparky:

  • We like playing whatever
  • 45 minutes is a good slot for us
  • We get brownie points from the pub
  • The woman organising it seems innocently lovely
  • It’s for “Living without Abuse” which sadly is an important charity in Charnwood
  • Sparky wants an opportunity to try out some of his PA with a full band

Sure enough, he’s game on. I let “Kez” know the band’s not available, but we are. Her reply?

“Have you got any video of you playing?”

So, now, we’re having to audition for a slot on a charity gig where they want to borrow our PA. I know all of my friends in bands would have cut comms at this point but I thought it was funny.

Some minutes later, we’re hired. Phew.

I get the number of the main act and I’m asked to contact them. I text Richard and he says that they have no PA, just a bunch of cables. And no microphones. I ask him what kind of band they are and he goes quiet.

Two days later, a message from Kez: “richard’s gone on holiday. Can you contact the drummer Ezra”. Sure. Yes, yes I can. I do.

Me: “hi Ezra: can you let us know the type of band you are, and your setup, so we can figure out what PA you might need?”

Ezra (who sounds delightful): “Excellent, we are a 5 piece and we play death metal with 2 vocals and we usually DI the bass, since he only has a medium small combo”

I had a moment where I thought he might be the funniest amateur band member I’d ever met. Then he sent me the link to this:

Two hours earlier, Kez had asked me to confirm what our act was called, so she could print the posters. So now we’re locked in.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how our acoustic duo got to be the opening act for the first death metal band to play Loughborough since the millennium.

I *might* need to learn to say “no” sometime soon. But not today.

I’ll let you know how we go.

*cut to us playing last year, for a field full of children and drunk parents:

Me: “You won’t know this kids, but do sing along and you can delight your grandparents next time you see them by singing this song. That’s if they’re still with us, of course. And if they’re not, sorry. But they will die one day, y’know”

Sparky: “stop it!”

Not crossing the Rubicon

So last night my band played its first ever Corporate gig. It was a 30th anniversary party for a recycling company held at a local football ground. A good friend of ours organised the whole thing and we’re delighted she invited us. We’ve never done corporate before and a bunch of heavy things needed to happen to enable it:

  • we now have public liability insurance (though how we could do £1million of harm is anyone’s guess (Sparky says “fall on the audience”)
  • we had to provide our electrical safety assurance to the venue.

Both of which were the kind of thing that people who take this seriously probably do to make themselves feel better.

Long story short: the day took us eight hours from set-up to break down. We played really well, a “best of” set for an hour. At five to eleven a Polish man told me that he didn’t know any of our songs and that if we played songs he knew then the dance floor would be full. I stopped the band as they were mid-way through the opening of “Monster” and asked the DJ to start playing.

We were clear of the venue by 1150 and on our way home. Sometimes gigs are euphoric and transcendental and sometimes they’re a transaction.

These are not our songs. This is our hobby. I doubt there’s joy in playing for audiences who are not ours. We’re deeply grateful for the opportunity to play at all, and to our friend Shirlene who booked us.

Needless to say, I had a great time and here’s a photo of me and their photographer, who’s also one of their drivers. If you’re ever at a “do” and there’s an amateur photographer, do take their photo: I’ve never met one who wasn’t deeply grateful to be noticed. I know the feeling.

I’m not sure we’re destined for the Corporate circuit!

Negotiain’t

Last week I was working in London in one of those anonymous meetings venues. Our group were the epitome of self-determining civil servants. They’ve been brilliant and conscientious and humane and thoughtful in all of our dealings.

On Thursday, we arrived at the venue and straightaway, one of our learners complained that the room was cold. Now, since 1999, I haven’t really thermoregulated terribly well, so I’m often the last to find out that a room is too cold.

Her peers confirmed that the room was cold.

Since I am in de facto control here (and either way, if the room’s cold it’s a rubbish place to learn and it’ll show up in the course evaluation) I announced that I would go and see what the options were for the room.

I met the two front of house staff almost immediately I left the room. They told me that the whole building was too hot, so the heating had been turned off. And since our room was cold, we were the exception. The building was full, so the option of a room move wasn’t possible. They were polite, apologetic, and clear that all that was on offer was a fan heater that they would bring to the room as soon as they could. I expressed my disappointment but recognised they had laid out the options and there was only one I could take. I am not a skilled negotiator, but I know when I have no cards left.

I returned to the room and announced my success. The learner in question told me that a heater wasn’t good enough. I told her that I was satisfied that I had gone as far as I could and that she was welcome to do better. “I’ll sort it”, she said with a purposeful swish out of the room.

Whilst she was gone, her colleagues agreed that they wish they were as assertive as her. I felt like a complete spanner, returning from a simple negotiation with a bum deal.

Ten minutes later, we had a fan heater in our room.

I’m going to suggest that it was a run-through for this week’s Brexit Stage 1 negotiation.

We ended up with the only possible option, but we had to wave our arms a bit to get the thing that was offered in the first place.

Onwards.

(Above is me standing in front of the EU parliament earlier this week. I think they’ve already moved our flag round the back)

The National Guard

We kept wondering what the National Guard was, for no big reason, the last two weeks whilst we were guests of America. 
Eventually, on the tram back from Tijuana, I remembered to check Wikipedia. 

Turns out it’s a set of state-specific reserve soldiers, who can be called upon to assist Federally but who are bound to their home state as a priority. Like a “well regulated militia, necessary to the security of a free State”. It’d be terrifying in the UK (Lancashire and Yorkshire would compete for stupid, Leicestershire would accidentally find it had an Italian manager and a mercurial striker, and Surrey would have bought a militia composed entirely of psychopathic Chechnyas and Jean Claude Van Damme). 


But it seems like a great idea in immediately-post-independence USA. 

That’s all you need, States, a militia. Just them. Probably best if you arm them: that was they can fight down when the people get unruly, as well as up if the Feds get a bit heavy-handed. 
And when you stop crying, let Jim Jeffries tell you what the rest of us did when this happened. 

Then buy a musket. 

Tijuana Brass

Well. I know I said there might be problems, but in the end, it was the easiest part of the journey. 

After another run (this time along the harbour of San Diego) and, to counter that, the biggest breakfast burrito, we took the trolley to the border.

It was an easy crossing. 

Of course as soon as we were on Mexican soil, the selling began. Not as bad as Mumbai, but pretty bad. 

I got Mrs T all the way into Tijuana to the weird St Louis arch and back. This is her photograph

We stopped to have a crazy number of fabulous margueritas on the walk back to the border. Here are some of those 

As a child, one of the first records I heard was “This Guy’s In Love With You” by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. I pinched the album from my father’s record collection and it became a favourite of mine as a student. I can’t help thinking that the Tijuana Herb was thinking of wasn’t the gaudy mix of dentists, cialis pharmacists and trinket sellers that we encountered.
As a twenty-something, I fell in love with the music of Tim Buckley. I’m guessing that his Tijuana Moon wasn’t written about the hurried tourist crossing point to get your gob or knob sorted before queuing to head back to California. 
So here’s the thing. For most of my life Tijuana was shorthand for the most exotic place on earth. Having been there twice, I can confirm that it’s time has passed. (I just sang along to the Herb Alpert version of TGILWY and Mrs T will tell you that I cried. Of course I cried. I’m Welsh and it’s beautiful). 

As it happens, our trip was as good as I think it might have been. We crossed the border both ways with limited delay, were bothered by street peddlers relatively little, and had the correct quantity of frozen cocktails that the border guards didn’t hear us slurring. 

Tonight we will head to a piano bar that I remember from last time I was here, and tomorrow we’ll fold up the tent and head to LAX, thence to our home. 

This has been just the most delightful trip. Everything we’ve done has been fun and mostly effortless. 

We spent another hour in our favourite bar talking to our favourite SD lawyer (Tim Richardson – look him up if you ever need a defence lawyer for a crime you’ve committed in Southern California). Here’s Tim with us, last night. 

We shared thoughts on sports, Brexit, Scottish Independence, and he was astonished that if we had a referendum on capital punishment, it would be a landslide for hanging. 
Bless you, America. We’ve had the best time. You’ll understand that we can’t wait to get home. 

 

Choice

So we treated LA just like the great big freeway that Dionne told you it was and San Diego has already turned out to be a great final destination. 

From lucking out in a legendary hotel (here’s us on the roof terrace)

 we had an amazing hour with a local lawyer discussing medieval England in a brilliant Sports Bar/microbrewery. Claire battled on points of history; I drank beer and occasionally refereed. Then we struck out for what TripAdvisor said was the best pizza in SD. 

It was 20 blocks away. 

It was a studenty takeaway place. 

I liked it. 

There may well have been better, closer. 

There might always be better. 

That’s the problem with the internet. 

Next month I’m away with Finbar, the man with whom I did this trip in 2000 (pre-smartphone). He and I were in Bruges a couple of years ago. The effect of tripadvisor on him appeared to be paralysing. Everywhere he found that we could eat, we’d agree on. In the time it took to get there, he’d have found three other places that might be better. He eventually admitted that even his wife wants to kill him when he does it. It’s like an addiction.

There may well have been better, closer. 

We’ll never know. And that’s cool. 

Here’s the pizza

Whims

The plan (you’ll recall the plan) had been to dally and then spend a day on a lazy river in one of the very very many water parks that encircle Los Angeles. It was a brilliant plan and it’s conception was from a coin toss. Couldn’t be more me. 

Then I checked and it turns out that, if you choose to holiday after the school holidays (for obvious financial reasons) then there’s a good chance that “seasonal” attractions may be closed. Couldn’t. Be. More. Me.

Anyway: the mooch down the SF to LA coast has been unbelievably lovely. Monterey and the 17 miles we cycled to and from Carmel were just unreal. 

San Luis Obispo was a staging-post for us to consider the last two live days of the trip. SLO (voted America’s Happiest City, apparently) is bloody lovely. I’m writing this in a bar called the Frog and Peach and they have sport (sports, if you’re American) live music and “pint night”. Yup. 

So, in a panic, I threw to Mrs T, who has had a rough day today. She woke up feeling a bit under the weather and has boldly managed through a drive south and a sit on Avila Beach. She consulted her phone. She decided that Disney was out of the question (horrific for a day-trip). And so, to my astonishment, she picked tomorrow’s destination. 

We’re going to San Diego, baby. San Diego. 

My original target. 

We may yet wander to Tijuana, if the winds are with us. 

So, here’s the thing: I bloody love a whim. 

It was a whim that we stayed in Monterey for another day. A whim that we rented bikes and had an amazing day pedalling to and from Carmel. 

And then when we look back (post-hoc rationalising again) it was whims that got us:

  • A trip to Berlin because Lollapalooza was having its first trip to Europe
  • A summerhouse instead of another shed
  • Panda (by a mile our most popular cat; we’d only gone to collect two older cats from the sanctuary when his litter lifted him up so we could see him)
  • Me in Loughborough after I’d left for London and then Jersey

And when I put this to Claire, she told me that the other whim in her life was the one on which she decided to marry me. 

No biggie. 

Anyway, did I mention that the hills around SLO are tonight being consumed by a forest fire?