Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Bosting Weekend

In Anglesey over the weekend. Didn't catch a sight of our famous neighbours, Will and Kate, despite hanging around in Waitrose for the very purpose - only joking, we were buying mucho meat for the barbecue and stocking up on Good Ordinary Claret.

We rejoined the National Trust, an act practically compulsory for the middle aged of middle England. With all this baggage it's something of a miracle that I manage to still be so massively down with the kids. Truth be told I work jolly hard on being this cool. Which is a difficult thing to say when you are sitting at the computer trying to get used to the new triathlon wetsuit which I have just recovered from the house round the corner to which the imbecile courier chose to deliver it. Have you ever had to don a wetsuit? It's frigging difficult - quite possibly the hardest part of a triathlon. Typing in a wetsuit is also very challenging. But I'll master it because that's the sort of gadgy I am.

As eaten by The Overgraduate
But anyway, the weekend. A challenging early dinner in The Antelope, a pub at the mainland extreme of the original Menai Bridge. Now you've got me marked down as a fine diner and gourmet I'm sure but I do also like to tackle the gourmand end of the market. For those of you not too squeamish about American excess I highly recommend Man v Food on the Food Channel, to be found on your common or garden Council House Tele. In this an Ivy League educated presenter eats ever more gigantic dishes in American fast food joints. It's bloody brilliant, a particular favourite of  The Overgraduate and his older daughter. We are, both of us, suckers for the over-filled platter. Which brings me to The Antelope's 'mega tower burger' as tackled by your correspondent last Saturday. My advice to you, if you feel minded to follow in my giant footsteps, is to avoid eating  a big breakfast on that day. The portion comprises four, yes four, quarter pounders, layered with bacon, cheese, salad, mayonnaise and onion rings, in the obligatory bun and coupled with a decent portion of chips. I also had a pint of Brains S.A.but that bit is not mandatory. Very satisfying but I couldn't manage a pudding.

Whilst on the fair isle I also availed myself of some Y Fenni cheese (see previous blogs) which I enjoyed each morning on toast. I did a bit of running to assuage my guilt at all the eating and drinking and I also watched three classic films. Little Miss Sunshine turned up on the schedules and I was reminded what a joy this film is. It is a work of great art to take senile drug delinquency, suicide, beauty pageants and semi-pornographic juvenile dancing and turn them into something sweet and uplifting. 

There is still a VCR at the house in Anglesey and all our old videos have gone into retirement there. From amongst this stash Helen selected Beauty and the Beast. I'm not wrong am I when I say they just don't make cartoons like that any more do they? The lyrics of some of the songs are genuinely brilliant. When the oafish Gaston sings, 'I'm especially good at expectorating' and, 'I use antlers in all of my decorating' I think that we have to concede that we are in the presence of greatness. Here it is in all its HD glory. 

Last but by no means least, Fargo, the joys of which I introduced to Sharon and Helen having found a copy I must have recorded years ago. Yes, a bosting weekend. Have to go now, the wetsuit's starting to chafe.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Temporary Kings

I have mentioned Anthony Powell's roman fleuve A Dance To The Music Of Time previously, though only to compare it unfavourably to Simon Raven's scurrilous Alms For Oblivion sequence of novels. Now here's something you don't hear that often - I might have been wrong. Raven is hugely entertaining but as I read Temporary Kings, the penultimate of the Powell books, I am struck by the sheer rigour of the literary technique, what The Oxford Companion calls its 'architectural command of structural rhythm.'

Powell manages to encompass great sweeps of time within a single narrative strand - typically a recollection sparked by a current encounter turns into a full-blown description before melting back into the original time-frame. It is fiendishly clever. If Cormac McCarthy had gone to Eton and Oxford maybe this is how he would have written. 

Admirable, but, no, on reflection I think I'd still want the Raven for company on my desert island. A man whose Times obituary gave him the headline 'Writer and Notorious Libertine' is probably better suited to my refined low tastes. Alms For Oblivion will keep depression away while I try to remember how to lash poles together to make a shelter - the sort of thing they used to teach us in Scouts. God how I loved that juvenile militia. Never did me any harm and no one ever so much as dared to lay an abusive finger on me. Mind you I was a fat ugly bleeder.

Merchant of Venice

The Overgraduate cultural roadshow rolled once more into Straford this afternoon. When last there I was gasping my way round the triathlon but today I went to the theatre darling. The new main auditorium at the RSC no less. Jolly nice space though I was struck by its very similarity (though obviously bigger) to the adjacent Swan where I saw Antony and Cleopatra a couple of months ago. Perhaps this is to allow easy transferability of productions but I would have thought it desirable to have the capacity to experiment with different configurations. But what do I know?

I picked up a late ticket (princely sum of £14, good value) for the matinee of Merchant of Venice - Patrick Stewart as Shylock being the name that draws the crowds but quite deliberately not the star of the show. Any scenery chewing was left to Launcelot Gobbo garbed as Elvis and I don't mean this pejoratively because the Presley songs and impersonation fitted well in a production transported to an avaricious America. The American accents had some of the blue rinse set (predictably out in huge numbers for the matinee - I felt quite young and rebellious) tut-tutting in disapproval but this worked for me. I hung around for the brief question and answer session with some of the cast and they made a spirited and reasoned defence of this decision.

Any pretence of a happy ending was eschewed and at the finale Portia, far from being an assertive heroine, was left bewildered and afraid, unable to deal with her husband's love for Antonio (homoeroticism done subtly and justifiably).

To add to the fun and games of the afternoon, there was a fire alarm and full evacuation of the theatre in a vile rainstorm, such that Portia had to resume where she had left off with the quality of mercy still under fierce debate. The old lady sheltering next to me during the enforced break informed me she had once before been evacuated from this theatre on account of the 'great floods'. She could not be precise about the year, rather thinking it was the weekend before her seventieth birthday, an event merely labelled 'a long time ago.' Plucky lot the British, standing around in the teeming rain waiting for a four hundred year old play to resume.

A Minor Annoyance

In my enthusing about the Heineken final the other day, I omitted to mention the one minor irritant of the weekend. Sat around us were many immaculately behaved but boisterous Leinster fans. Good luck to them. Good cheer and Ireland need to become reacquainted in light of their economic disintegration. However there was one particularly noisome individual resplendent in his Leinster shirt (I somehow doubt he had ever worn a jersey in actual combat) which bore the 'look at me aren't I cool' logo 'London By Birth ... Leinster By Choice'. Talk about jumping on a bloody bandwagon. What a tool. We decided he would probably also be a Manchester United fan and come the World Cup he would support Brazil. Nuff said.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Sport For Kings

Leinster 33, Northampton 22. Even the bare statistics of last Saturday's Heineken Cup Final make impressive reading and yet the true tale of this epic is even better. For half the match Northampton were as good as their resources permitted and then for the second half of the match Leinster were quite simply irresistible. Super 15 eat your bloody heart out - this was proper rugby. Proper scrums refereed by a proper (French) referee. Turnovers, even a strike against the head which led to a try. My rugby season got under way with a fantastic trip to the Women's RWC final and it ended with an even better excursion to Cardiff for the Heineken. This was our third lads trip to the final and we have booked next year's tickets already. London surely cannot live up to the standard set by Cardiff as host city.

We arrived on Friday lunchtime and after booking into the cheap, cheerful and eminently well situated Etap Hotel the five of us found the nearest pub, The Golden Cross. Now admittedly the bitter was off but this was otherwise a fine establishment. Only after perusing the forthcoming attractions on the big screen in the bar did it dawn on a couple of us that this was a splendidly gay pub. Only at this moment of realisation did the white leather sofa in the corner of the bar became more explicable. Where else might such furniture be kept clean? Not in the least discomforted by this revelation we drank on, pausing only for the barman to mop up the pint I succeeded in knocking onto the floor. It was JRS's pint not mine so you might say I was acting in his best interests - he felt pretty ropey on Saturday morning but think how much worse he would have felt if he'd had that fatal one extra.

Will you tell Sergio Parisse
 he looks a bit of a nancy in this?
Anyway we filed The Golden Cross away for future reference and then moved deeper into the city centre for more drinks before a bracing walk out to the Cardiff City Stadium for the Amlin Cup final - this was not a great match in terms of quality but high on excitement with Harlequins winning 19-18 with a converted try three minutes from the end. One might feel sorry for Stade Francais if they didn't wear such daft shirts. In any event Harlequins deserved some luck after winning in Munster in the semi-final. Word on the street (or in the pubs more accurately) was that Munster fans had block-booked vast numbers of tickets for the final before the semi had even been played and that their absence explained the array of empty seats. I do like a good conspiracy theory on a Friday night.

Chip Alley
After the match it was back into Cardiff and more drinks before discovering the joys of Caroline Street or 'Chip Alley' - this is the thoroughfare onto which the clubs and pubs of Cardiff disgorge their revellers to enjoy the wide selection of takeaway food. This sounds ghastly but is not. Fast food that lived up to its name and a general atmosphere of good cheer. Very good kebab with garlic sauce. This is better for the triathletic constitution than the diabolic chili sauce which I blame for JRS's early Saturday dyspepsia. Late supper of champions.

After the Saturday morning 'All You Can Eat Continental Buffet Breakfast' (a snip at £3.75 if you put away as many croissants as I did - breakfast of champions) it was a stroll down to the rejuvenated Cardiff Docks so that I could pretend to be Captain Jack from Torchwood and the others could have a coffee. Suitably fuelled it was back into town to recommence drinking with thousands of other rugby fans. A word of praise is due to Greggs who supplied me with reliably fatty foodstuffs (snack of champions) at stages during the afternoon. One has to be very methodical about eating and drinking when faced with a 5.00pm kick-off. Luckily I am good at this stuff and only rarely keel over; certainly better than one Leinster fan who had clearly over-revved and was sleeping on some church steps next to a faintly indignant tramp. I wonder if his mates sold his ticket.

World's best sports arena?
If Cardiff City Stadium had been an impressive but modest example of the sports stadium oeuvre, then the Millennium Stadium is simply a masterpiece - massive yet atmospheric and embracing. Even the bar service was efficient. This is the best stadium I have ever been in and I'm afraid it puts Twickenham's austere concrete to shame. It helps enormously that the stadium sits squarely in the city centre and perversely (for anything so modern) ignores the requirements of the motorist. At the Millennium you cannot just drive up and then drive away afterwards. You have to engage with the city around it. Which I'm delighted to say we did with a yet further vengeance on Saturday evening. We spread our love around the various pubs and the weekend developed something of a theme when the multiple pierced bouncer at the James I politely informed us that we were very welcome but should know that this was a gay bar. Did we mind? We were happy to assure him that we did not and that indeed we were something of an authority on such matters. By now luxuriating in our modernity and after a return to 'Chip Alley' we rounded the night off with a few games of pool (pink table natch) at The Golden Cross.

Altogether a top weekend. Top sport. Top company. Cardiff: absolute top city. The locals were welcoming and seemed genuinely to be pleased that we were enjoying ourselves. I look forward to returning in October when my first operatic aria is to be rehearsed at the WNO. It is my hope that this last statement has taken you aback. It was meant to, though it is true. I'm only writing the words of course but nonetheless I hope you agree that it's pretty bloody incredible. More to follow.    

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Serious Subject ... Synthetic Rage

You'd think a chubby old codger like Ken Clarke would have trouble getting his foot into his mouth, but it seems not - Rape Controversy .

First and foremost, what an insensitive dickhead. But beneath the Westminster Punch and Judy show there is a deadly serious juridical issue underlying all of this and it is one which is rarely given a dignified airing. Because rape is problematic from a philosophical point of view. The debate is not moved forward even a tiny bit by synthetic rage from the loathsome Ed Milliband, who, by the way, is making me miss the good sense and charisma of Gordon Brown.

Let me ask you a question: if you were accused of a crime, would you expect the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty? I suspect you would. Would you want the right to be tried before a jury of your peers? Again, I suspect the answer will be yes. So why do so many seem to feel that accusations of rape could be singled out in the English legal system and tried differently? Because if you are one of those people who turns the focus solely onto the 'victim' of the unproved crime, then that is what you are proposing. You may in fact have a point, but please do not pretend that this is easy. It is fundamentally and intellectually difficult and deserves some adult thought.

Here's the news: scumbag scallies get off in court. On all sorts of charges - theft, robbery, deception, wounding, murder. Guilty men go free. That is the way we have chosen to tilt the balance because the other extreme where the innocent are punished fills us with dread. I am not persuaded that we can use a different set of scales just because the allegation is the heinous one of rape. Rape is indefensible but, if for rape, why not a new system for child sex offences? (is that cheering I hear at the back?) Or benefit fraud? Or tax evasion? All of these are reprehensible in their special ways. One of my favourite little sayings (you may have noticed) is 'be careful what you wish for.' And if you are of the 'no smoke without fire' school of jurisprudence, remember some day it may just be you on the receiving end. What we have is a bit like democracy ie a system that sucks but which is quite possibly better than all the alternatives.

And finally (that's twice already that I've started a sentence with 'and' - Miss Ross would be livid) just to prove I'm not some lily-livered liberal, rape sentences for the proven guilty should be harsh. I stop just short of 'chop off their nadgers' but I'd put them away until they can't use them any more. Hang the expense.

Light blue touch paper and retire.   

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Finishing Line Photo

Unlike the moon landing, this has not been faked. Cool shades hey?

Big Fat Pig Completes First Triathlon

The Overgraduate without his Gok pants
I did it. Mark the date. Mark the place (Stratford-upon -Avon). All the greats have to start somewhere. I am now officially a triathlete. A very slow, stiff legged triathlete but a triathlete nonetheless. Photographic proof to follow, if someone can help me with the technology. I may even model the race T-shirt for you. I shall, of course, be wearing it casually about town for the next few months. I still wear my London Marathon shirt and that was 1996 for God's sake. I know I don't look old enough.

Because of my novice status and my (utterly accurate and honest) assessment of my swimming time I am out with those doing the relay triathlon (lazy bastards) and those doing the laughably named 'fun triathlon' (wimps) which meant they were only swimming and running half the distance but with the full bike ride thrown in. Indoor swim and we are sent off at 15 second intervals. I overtake a couple and one bloke overtakes me but I catch and repass him on the final length. Out of the pool, hand in my swimming cap (never worn one before - feels weird), down the slippery steel steps and into Transition 1. Have you ever tried to put socks onto damp feet really quickly without falling over? Bloody difficult. Swallow my pride and eventually sit down on the job. Number 955 grabs his mean machine and heads out onto the Warwickshire roads. As I had suspected this turns out to be my best discipline by a mile. I am passed by no one and I overtake a stack of people including quite a few who had gone off on their half swim before I started my full one. Feeling pretty chipper as I cruise back into Transition.

Been there, done that, got the T-shirt
Pride cometh before a fall. I have hardly done any running because of my penchant for injuring my legs and have definitely not done enough bricks (bike + run training - see Overgraduate 26 Feb 2011). The last fortnight spent carbo-loading with Guinness has not helped either. (Note to self - this form of sporting diet is crap). Anyway Pig pulls away smoothly enough and I soon pass a chap I had spoken to at the pool side and who is only doing the wimp version. Clearly an inexcusable lightweight. Legs feeling heavy as expected but wind feels good. I can do this. Do feel a litttle sick which is my own stupid fault for showing off by eating an unneeded energy bar during the bike ride. Then a new sensation - my back goes into spasm, something it hasn't done for years. Stop. Stretch. It eases. Run again. Spasm. Stop. Stretch. Run. You get the picture. Net result a few people pass me but not as many as I overtake, mind you we are not exactly the finest flower of English youth out on the course at this stage. I even muster the energy for some gallantry at the end. A woman suddenly halts to a walk ahead of me. I coast (this is an exaggeration) up to her and encourage her to run with me for the short distance that remains. We chat briefly - I am relieved to find she is only doing the 'Fun' tri and she kindly feigns admiration of my greater effort. At the finish line I let her sprint ahead - that's my story anyway.

I cross the line to the cheers of my fan club - all two of them (Sharon and Helen) and pose for the triumphant photo. Bloody marvellous. Back now fine of course.

Verdict? Bring on the next one - Yorkshire 19 June is the plan, including my open water/wet suit debut. Absolutely miles better than a marathon - at least this time there was no sod in a rhino costume outsprinting me.    

Saturday, 14 May 2011

... Are Brilliant Mark VII

Chapter seven in an occasional series on cultural icons and other stuff wot i like. Today we have: Modern Family. If you haven't caught this yet, please do so. Funny, warm, even edgy, all at the same time. This restores one's faith in the good old U.S of A. This is highly skillful mass market quality television comedy that we don't really do any more. Whatever did happen to the Likely Lads?

We are also today liking a newish beat combo called Goldheart Assembly, heard playing on Radio 4 and from whose website you can download their rather lovely new single for free - Goldheart Assembly

On an unrelated subject, please wish me luck because tomorrow the Overgraduate aims to become a triathlete. I have been carbo-loading for a full two weeks so if you see a fat middle aged bloke trailing around Stratford tomorrow hours after everyone else has finished, you will know who it is. If however he is lying on the floor please pick him up and point him in the direction of the nearest chip shop so that he can refuel.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Assignments Done .. Finis .. Finito

Next stop - dressing like a knob
It's over. I've handed in my last undergraduate assignment. So barring any retakes, that's me done for the second time. Let's be honest I've worked a bloody sight harder this time but I achieved that once I'd actually turned up for some lectures in my final year. It has been great, super, smashing , lovely. To all (well nearly all - it is exceptions that make rules fun) my fellow undergraduates a massive thankyou for putting up with me and catering to my inner juvenile. Both the juvenile and I have had a blast.

Similarly I have almost nothing but good things to say to the English Department at BCU. And today is not the time for the minor gripes. Regular readers needn't worry though because the Overgraduate has not forgotten his war with the forces of evil. I'm coming for you Howard (not his real name of course) with my steel toe-capped Converse. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Or not. You decide.

So what have we learnt these past three years. In no particular order:
  • Governments see it as a point of principle to bollocks up education. It was like that when I did my first degree but the charlies in charge back then had nothing on the current crew. Yesterday David Willetts (who went to KES so I suppose we shouldn't be surprised) proved that if he really has got two brains, neither of them works in the morning, not at least when he is on the Today show.  
  • Despite the politicians the young continue to make a fist of combining learning with pleasure. Quite bloody right.
  • I think I may finally have put my 'A' level English result from 1978 behind me. It's been bugging me for all that time and I knew I could do the subject really.
  • I can't play golf. I didn't have to go back to college to prove this but I am entering a phase of acceptance.
  • Corman McCarthy - brilliant.
  • Angela Carter - ditto.
  • J.G. Ballard - ditto
  • Dylan Thomas - ditto, I like a bit of pyrotechnics with my poetry.
  • Christopher Marlowe - ditto. If he was alive today he'd probably be dead by now. You know what I mean.
  • I still like Guinness. This is an affordable vice.
  • I like Barolo. This is not.
  • Evelyn Waugh - I had a crisis of confidence on this one but I'm over it now and turns out I was right all along - brilliant.
  • Jonathan Bate - outstanding critic.
  • I like Philip Glass and I discovered this by accident. If you keep looking (or more accurately in this case listening) you will find nice things. And bad things. But if you don't look, you will discover nothing and that is a spiritual crime.
  • I enjoy acting and wasted three decades before I got round to it. Don't wait like I did. Next stop Shakespeare if someone will have me. How old do you think Enobarbus might have been?
  • Years of rugby wrecks your body but it is totally worth it.
  • People still read Steinbeck. This is a good thing.
  • It is never too late to become a feminist.
  • Or a post-structuralist.
  • It is though too late for someone like me to become a teacher. The various institutions that rejected me will all I'm sure have good reasons but, you know what, sometimes you might want to take a punt on an unusual candidate. We might bring something to the party.
  • If I'm absolutely honest I had a considerable downer on me at the start of this course. I have improved and am now nicely ambivalent about myself. Progress.
  • Tonight I am going to have a big pizza. On Sunday I do my first triathlon. What's the worst that could happen? Don't answer that.
  • You cannot have too much of Shakespeare, which makes him even better than Guinness or Barolo. Praise indeed.
  • Most importantly, I owe Sharon so much for letting me have this much fun. God bless you sweetheart. I now fully appreciate why people have always said I don't deserve you. I hate it when people are right.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Overgraduate On Tour

As from Stena Nordica, Irish Sea.
Car ferries. Love them. Feels like an adventure every time you drive up the ramp and get swallowed in the sea-bound car park. Then you check into the executive lounge and order a breakfast you don't really want and definitely don't need. The boys are on the road again, four of us determined to refloat the Irish economy and play astoundingly bad golf between food and drink.

The team is: your correspondent here, fresh faced triathlete and bon viveur; team captain Big Willy Macfarlane still smarting from defeat in the warm-up at Bull Bay; John 'Boy' Brain will be flying in tonight trailing his usual chaos; Peter Johnson M.A. (Oxon) will drive over from Cork to lend a little class to proceedings. Wine will be taken, characters will be assassinated and a bloody good time will be had by all. I can tell you're jealous.

Willy and I have now finished the excellent Stena breakfast. Bring on the pudding. Free biscuits. Complimentary coffee etc. Today the Overgraduate is a happy bunny.

Overgraduate In Major Sporting Shock

Modesty prevents me from blowing my own trumpet so I will quote from Big Willy Macfarlane's entry in the visitors book here at the Roberts country estate,

Immensely difficult 15th at Bull Bay - easily parred by Overgraduate on the path to victory. Big Willy four putted.
Oh! What a beautiful morning - we're off to Dunmore East on another golfing pilgrimage. The only cloud in the sky is that I dreamt that David won the Bull Bay Classic yesterday. Pure fantasy of course. I will check with the Chavlings this morning.
Well, Willy my friend it was not  a dream. You really did lose to me at golf yesterday. This must be a low point in your existence, just as it as high one in mine. The Overgraduate has now officially cracked this golf malarkey - the key is not to play for eight months and not to hit even a single ball in practice. Having got a half decent round out of the way I can now concentrate on the serious business of the week ie getting legless and not sleeping. Number one boozing companion Brain flies into Waterford International (ie a field in Ireland) tonight. God bless us one and all.