Saturday, 24 February 2007

Forgive and forget?

Today's track:
One Fine Day
(Madame Butterfly)

I've always felt that the human race should be able to heal it's own wounds, patch things up, move on and stuff like that. Today provides us the chance to see just how good we are at it.

Ireland face England in Dublin this evening in what, in our house, will come as a pleasant distraction to the preparations for the move to Orkney.

Nothing unusual about that, I hear you say, England turn up for their drubbing at the hands of the gallant boys in green every year.

Well yes, but this year the game is at Croke Park, given that Lansdowne Road is being rebuilt. Now, if you've been paying any kind of attention to sports news over the last couple of weeks, you will know that the stadium - the fourth largest in Europe and built in a matter of a couple of years (take note Wembley) - is the home of the Gaelic Athletic Association and previously reserved only for Gaelic Football and Hurling. Foreign (or garrison) games were always banned.

The GAA were a central part of the Irish nationalist movement in the late 19th century and actively surpressed, along with the Irish language, by the British authorities.

Worse still, in 1920, as a retaliation for the killing of several British agents by Michael Collins' IRA death squads, the Royal Irish Constabulary killed 14 players and spectators in the first Bloody Sunday. Michael Hogan, captain of the Tipperary football team was one of the victims.

Now I have to be careful here, coming from Orange stock, but I know I'm not alone in feeling uneasy about seeing English players line up in front of the Hogan Stand singing God Save the Queen, with Hill 16 - the terrace built on rubble gathered in the aftermath of the 1916 Easter Rising - to one side.

I know we should all be grown up about this and let bygones be bygones, but when so much remains unresolved in Ireland and crimes like the second Bloody Sunday have effectively been whitewashed by Britain, perhaps we should all take a trip to Dachau and wander around whistling the Horst Wessel.

That, I realise, is to overstate the case, and I sincerely hope that come 5.30 my only objection to England's anthem is that I don't much like the Royal Family, but I can understand why the issue has caused such a stir in Ireland.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

No Time for Sentiment

Today's track
I Can't Explain
(The Who)

Life on an eight-acre croft on the Orkneys means that tough decisions have to be made even before you've moved there.

Sacrifices have to be made and we are going to have to get used to it - how, otherwise are we going to send pigs to slaughter, wring chickens' necks, drink lager instead of Guinness and so on?

The first casualty is The Beast, the 30-year-old Series II Land Rover that I bought a few months ago mainly to make me look like a farmer.

I've had the chassis welded, it's passed it's MoT, but it's not really a practical proposition. Bouncing along at 40mph is great fun, but I'm not convinced it's the right vehicle for us. We now have the chance the buy a K-reg Land Rover Discovery. Less romantic, but very much more comfortable and far better at the business end of things such as towing and generally getting to places without breaking down.

The upshot is that the first person to thrust £1,500 into my hot and sweaty palm will get the keys. Sad, but there's no place for cry-babies in our situation.

Saturday, 17 February 2007

Bring on The Nigels

Another track:
Fields of Athenry
(Malc after a few black ones)

In case anyone was wondering - I have fully recovered from Ireland's unjust and unlucky defeat at the hands of the cheese-eating surrender monkeys last week and am now in full warm-up for the BIG ONE.

Yes, it's England next week at Croke Park and the chance to put yet another one over on the Evil (ex)Empire.

The Irish lads are taking this weekend off to answer their fan mail, but most of the lunkheads who turn out in white are on duty with their money-grubbing clubs, so, with luck, will turn up in Dublin feeling a bit peaky.

And, of course, Brian should be fit. Excited? You betcha!

Hair today?

Today's track:
In The Name of The Father
(Black Grape)

Looked in the mirror this morning and red lights and alarm bells went off - it's time for a haircut.

This may come as a surprise to those who know me, but I'm a wee bit vain about the Barnett, having, as I do, nice thick growth compared to one or two of my shiny-domed mates.

The instructions on entering the barbers' shop in downtown Yokelsville have been the same for some years - ever since I ditched the ill-advised and short-lived mullet - No.3 or 4 shave up the back and sides and neat and tidy on top - no frills.

I know it's time to get the thatch sorted out when I have to resort to artificial aids to look half-human in the mornings - by which I mean using combs or brushes rather than fingers.

Last night, in prepartion for a night out at a Caribbean evening in Shropshire with, among others, the man who set up London's congestion charge (long story and not as interesting as it sounds), I felt forced to borrow my wife's hair-dryer. That extended the getting-ready time from six to 11 minutes - a horrible waste of five minutes.

So I will be on the bus in about 20 minutes rady to face the scissors and the curious choice of 'stylists' - a lugubrious 60something Born Again Christian with a huge moustache or the hyperactive 21-year-old lass with bottle-blonde hair and terrific cleavage.

Which brings me to a dilemma. What happens in a fortnight when I am stuck on a rock off the north coast of Scotland. I understand there is someone on Westray who cuts hair, but maybe it's time for a change.

It's been a long, long time since I let the hair grow - early 80s in fact, when, before a night out, I used to lie on the bed with my head hanging over the edge, slapping in the gel and blow-drying it in a pathetic attempt to look like Robert Smith of The Cure. (yes,I realise this is giving away far too much)

Anyhow, I'm kind of inclined to go for the long locks again - at least while I am on my own for a few months.

It's probably a horrendous idea, but if I only have dogs, pigs and chickens to judge me, why should I be bothered. My wife, when asked, shrugged and said "do what you like", my 14-year-old daughter added "no way, er maybe, well yes".

So I'm throwing this one out to all four of you who read this stuff. Let's have a heated debate. Should I go the full "Mel" as in Braveheart, stick with the sensible trim or go for something in between - Lulu maybe?

Until I've worked out how to set up a poll on the blog, e-mail your replies to

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Zut alors! Still in a sulk

Today's track:

To Win Just Once

(The Saw Doctors)

I like to think of myself as a reasonably easy-going kind of bloke, but I'm often proved horribly wrong. Over the years, women, money, ignorance, war, intolerance, misuse of the apostrophe and badly-poured Guinness have disturbed my sang-froid, but little rarely have I taken a sporting result to heart so much that I was still fretting about it days later.

So it comes as a surprise to find myself still festering and inwardly fuming over the outcome of 80 minutes of rugby.

My major sporting passion - since cash washed away what little integrity soccer ever had - is the Ireland rugby team. As the son of Irish immigrants and a proud Plastic Paddy, I have followed their fortunes since I was small. My prize for winning the school essay competition was Willie John McBride's autobiography. Sadly my own progress towards a green jersey was hampered somewhat by the fact that I am an incompetant coward on the rugby field.

Now I am too old even to dream of pulling on a pair of boots - it's a long way to reach - I content myself with the hope that I will live to see the lads win the Grand Slam.

My old man used to bang on about the famous 1948 side that won Ireland's only Grand Slam, led, as he was proud to announce to anyone within hearing, by an Ulsterman, the great Jackie Kyle.

Since I was old enough to sit up and take notice, I have wanted to have my little piece of history to witter on about into my old age. No way, Pedro. I have seen the coming and passing of the great Welsh teams, the Gallic flair and nonchalance of the French, England's big white machine has ground out three or four Slams that I can remember, while even the Scots have had a clean sweep.

I honestly thought 2007 was going to be it. This was surely our best chance since... well, ever. Do we not have the most powerful second row combination in the business, the finest back row, a half-back pairing who have developed a telepathic understanding, a top-class back three and the two greatest centres in the game in Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll.

So confident was I that I withdrew my previous offer to said Mr O'Driscoll that he could sleep with my wife if the Slam was won - an offer I never heard Sally complaining about, funnily enough. Incidentally, in a drunken moment I said he could sleep with me if Ireland won the World Cup, but I'm having second thoughts about that one.

Wales were edged aside in a classic game in Cardiff, setting up a thriller at Croke Park and O'Driscoll was injured, but, hey, we're at home and there are enough good players to see to the French. The first half was awful and Ireland lucky to turn round 13-11 down, but a second half rally brought put them in front and, with seconds left, we led 17-13, only to forget how to tackle, let the French in for a try and muck it up for the 59th year in a row.

Normally I get over a defeat in about ten minutes, or half a pint, which ever comes sooner, but this one has got to me. I'm not stomping around, kicking the cat, but I am upset deep down.

Sal is firmly in the 'it's only a game' branch of the sisterhood and she's right - I suppose. It's just that in a life where several of my dreams have come true, it seems that one of the most simple is destined never to do so and that makes me very sad.

Friday, 9 February 2007

Things I Won't Miss

Today's track:
Stamping Ground

It's 2am and I'm in the living room of an old friend - male, before you jump to conclusions.

The session has gone on and off for most of the afternoon and evening and the old friend lasted longer than I, thrusting the keys to his house into my hand as we sat, gurgling at each other, in Wolverhampton's premier vodka bar.

A rip-off taxi ride later (£8!!!), I was fumbling with the phone trying to find a takeaway curry at 1.45 on a Friday morning. Needless to say, I had a cheese roll for my tea/dinner/supper/breakfast.

No complaints, the evening was interesting. I've always wanted to drink Spanish lager in a bar full of chavs queueing up for the karaoke - no, really, you should try it just once.

I hope this last blast of Midlands hedonism will clear a lot of mental and physical gunk out of my system. It's time to focus on Westray and what it may or may not have to offer me.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Those We Leave Behind

Today's track:
(Paul Weller)

The snag with big life changes is that they are exactly that - big life changes.

Where exactly do all the relationships you have spent years, months, weeks , even days building, fit in?

I'm halfway through an afternoon/evening session with one of my two best pals, someone who has given time, energy and patience to support me in the past and for who I would happily do the same.

The fact that in three weeks time I will be 600 miles away, unable to pop round for a beer and a chat/laugh/go on the trivia machine, is hard to deal with.

I am realising just how many people I care about. From my 14-year-old daughter who only has to walk through the door to make me smile, right up (or down) to my former colleagues on the local newspaper.

A plan to be on your own for five months on a remote Scottish island sounds romantic enough, but the reality of leaving your friends behind and exchanging regular contact with the once-a-year (maybe) visit is something that is coming harder than I expected.

If you know me already you will know I am a romantic, sentimental dreamer and I refuse to be any other way, but I am going to miss every last one of you more than words can adequately describe.

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Pub Rules - Part 1

Second track of the day:

A quick word about pub furniture.

NO SOFAS. Not ever, no way, no how, no, no, no, no, no. Ever tried to relax back in a sofa and reach your pint at the same time? It can't be done, so please stop now.

Got that? Thanks for listening

The Return of The Beast

Today's track:
Too Tough to Die
The Ramones

A friend of the family is back with us after a spell in sick bay. The Beast, aka a 1977 Series II Land Rover, has returned to suburbia and is on full 'waking up the neighbours' duty.

The Beast was, I admit, a bit of a whim. The move to Orkney means the family's No. 2 car - a nice little blue Vauxhall Agila - is surplus to requirements as you can't fit a pig in the back. Well you could try, but getting the seatbelt clipped in would be tricky.

"What we need," said the wannabe pig farmer, to a dubious silence from the other inmates, "is a Land Rover."

So I scanned the websites, trawled through the magazines and, to cut a long story short, came up with The Beast. It wasn't perfect, but it didn't cost much either and at least gave the vague impression that I might know something about what I was doing.

I soon learned you get exactly what you pay for. Three weeks later it refused point blank to start. My stepson Pat - a motor mechanics student - narrowed it down to the starter motor or the solenoid, for which I offered to go and buy some cream. After a couple of hours grunting and swearing we retrieved Pat from under the vehicle and he stumbled upstairs to the shower muttering words like 'knackered', 'nail', 'sucker'.

The very very very nice people at a garage (garage, you note - not service centre) just outside our home town, said they would come and pick it up, get it started and then have a look at the rest of the 'damage'.

The getting it started cost just over £100 and the quick once-over unearthed rusting frame, brakes spongier than a Battenburg and a series of other expensive 'difficulties'. The only option other than to give the go-ahead was to say a tearful goodbye, flip the switch on the life support and move on.

Dr L Rover performed the surgery and in a week or so, The Beast was sitting up and joking with nurses, while I fumbled down the back of the sofa for the cash. Several hundred pounds later, The Beast was back in front of our house, blocking the light out of the neighbours' living room, acting as a mobile traffic calming measure.

It still rumbles as if the end of the world is imminent, handles like a hippo with a hernia and bounces like a. . . well, like a very old Land Rover. Somehow, though, I love the thing, although just how long the 600-mile journey up north is going to take fills me with dread.

Incidentally, the Agila is still for sale. It's on an 03 plate, 46,000 on the clock, regularly serviced at the local Vauxhall dealer and a bargain at £2,795.