"Feel free to add comments (no rude ones please). If you like my Blog, please pass the link on to your friends. Thanks - the Middle Man."

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Middle Man Is Moving Home

Thank you for visiting my site. Please be advised that I am now moving all my content to my Wordpress site. You will be able to find me here:


Please do come and visit me in my new home.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

The Belts Are being Tightened!

Yesterday saw some stark evidence of the further impact of the credit crunch and failing economy on the Middle Man household.

We were out shopping in Wilmslow, heart of the Cheshire stockbroker belt and home to many a Manchester United player and many minor TV celebrities. We surveyed the state of our finances having struggled to find change for the £2.70 ticket for parking the Audi TT at the back of Hoopers. We decided that we could not afford our usual chianti, Peroni, and repast in the local Pizza Express. We decided that we would have to grab a pasty from Greggs instead.

Until this day I was a Gregg's virgin. Greggs is one of those places which is usually sited between a JCB Sports and a charity shop. There is usually a gaggle of unhealthy-looking, fat, spotty rough kids outside accompanied by a drooling rottweiler and a couiple of moth-eaten pigeons. But today we checked around to make sure that there was no-one that we knew who could see us, and entered. C chose a cheese and onion pasty. I went for the meat and potato and a sausage roll. We ate them a little further down the road, standing outside the rather posh jewellers, so that we would not be mistaken for people eating a Greggs' pasty. I have eaten better. I felt hungry again within minutes.

But, when times are hard you have to economise. Mind you, this grand gesture did seem a little feeble. We were actually out shopping for items to accompany C's fancy dress outfit for the Goodwood Revival next weekend. A wrap and pearls from Hoopers and new red shoes from John Lewis. This was on top of the vintage 50s dress purchased on the web. When we do fancy dress, we DO fancy dress.

It was a successful trip despite our culinary disappointments. We made up for those in the evening when C rustled up Gressingham duck a l'orange! ;)

Friday, 12 September 2008

And Then The Knob Fell Off

I had to fly in and out of Schiphol Amsterdam airport again this week. This was a bit of a shock to the system because my 4am get-up followed a leisurely two week holiday. 4 am doesn't look good from any angle, but especially when you have to drive yourself to the airport.

The second shock to the system was the new security and departure arrangements at Manchester Airport. You now have to go upstairs, where you will be lost for quite some time in a queuing system akin to that you might find when they open a new ride at Alton Towers. It is slow. Lots of grumpy bleary-eyed red-faced holiday makers and stressed businessmen shuffling behind each other with all the enthusiasm of shackled prisoners walking the Green Mile. I felt like shouting at some of the parents with kids: "Why aren't your kids at school!" The schools here have gone back a good week or so at least, so clearly these parents were prioritising a cheap week in Marbella ahead of their progenies' education. Mind you, the kids themselves did not look overly concerned.

Consequently, they were already boarding my plane when I arrived. This did not help my stress level as, as regular readers will know, I like to board early in order to ensure I have space for my luggage in the overhead lockers, and, so that I can check out the other passengers as they file past.......checking for potential hijackers and terrorists and the like (see here and here for a better explanation). Nevertheless I boarded fine and tried to reconnect with my human side after the trials and tribulations of the early start, the dash to the airport, the queue and the rather disgusting egg and cheese sandwiches that were served as my breakfast.

I was relieved, however, that my trip this week was to be a short one. I was keen to avoid travelling on Thursday, it being the 7th anniversary of 9/11. Al Qaida seems to have a thing for anniversaries and for the number seven. I was also a tad concerned that I would spend my last seconds alive in a foreign land as a result of the Big Bang (Large Hadron Collider) experiment in Switzerland creating a black hole and causing the end of the world or something.

So, it was somewhat with relief that I found myself safe and sound back at Schiphol airport in good time to make my flight home, having survived the two hour drive from Doetinchem to Amsterdam - my boss, who was driving, seems to get a speeding fine every other trip and likes to change lanes as the best mechanism for ensuring he stays awake!

At the airport I bought a newspaper and read all about the collapse of the Liquid Bombers Terror Trial - which was probably not the best material to be reading just ahead of boarding a plane. In good time I made my way to gate D6, knowing that this was a security check and holding area ahead of boarding the shuttle bus which takes you to the plane. Exiting via D6 makes it even more difficult to ensure that you are amongst the first to board as, a) there is no obvious place to stand/queue in order to ensure that you are first on the first bus (it generally requires two busses to ferry all passengers to the plane) so people push in, b) you need to know where to stand on the bus to facilitate a quick exit at the optimum position to be amongst the first up the steps of the plane. This is not as easy as it may sound because there are doors on both sides of the bus and there are three doors on either side. Usually the middle door on the right side is best but you still have to gamble on how close to the plane the driver will park. Also, you cannot always retain your position on the bus due to people pushing and frequent requests to "move further inside please". Today, my desire to be amongst the first group was even greater due to the fact that I was sitting in row 1, meaning that my overhead luggage compartment options were limited and I would not be allowed to place my bag near my feet. Also, it was a smaller plane which meant that if you couldn't stow your luggage it would be removed to the hold which would mean a further hour of one's life being wasted at the luggage carousel at the other end.

Gate D6 was horrible. It was hot and everyone was a little sweaty and agitated. The queue for security was long and chaotic due to a number of drunk Geordies who had left it to the last minute to leave the bar and head to the gate for their flight to Humberside - they pushed to the front. Security was strict, so, the laptop had to come out of my bag, and, my see-through resealable liquid bag was checked (a bit of a worry as a colleague who had flown via Birmingham had had her's tested and her shampoo had tested positive for traces of explosive - mind you, if you could see the shocking red colour of her hair you could see how this was possible ;) . They also insisted that I removed my shoes and my belt. It is not the most pleasant experience being frisked by a large, sweaty security guard when you are half naked and trying to hold up your trousers!

Fortunately, I positioned myself leaning against the optimal pillar to be first through the ticket check to get on the bus. The wait until boarding was thankfully brief as, as well as being hot, I was becoming irritating by the annoying spiv who was walking up and down in front of me talking loudly into his mobile and by all the elderly people who insist on going to the desk to confirm "is this the flight to Manchester?" - can't they read the bloody sign?! I was third on the bus, behind a Chinese couple who pushed in the queue just ahead of me. I was able to retain my optimal position on the bus. The driver parked optimally. I was second up the stairs, stowed my bag successfully and sat down to survey the cabin crew and passengers. This was far from ideal, however, as most of the passengers seemed to be carrying large, heavy bags and insisted on bashing them into my shoulder (I was in the aisle seat of course) on the way past. Nevertheless we all boarded in time and they were just about to close the doors for an on-time departure........when the doorknob on the door to the cockpit fell off!

They tried to fix it unsuccessfully with one of the stewardess' harclips and a piece of chewing gum. It took them a further ten minutes or so to find a maintenance man with a screwdriver. He seemed more intent on chatting up the stewardess than fixing the knob. They then decided the knob could not be fixed and that we would all have to offload, get back on the boss, and move to a different plane, which fortunately they had spare and fuelled. I did wonder why it would be quicker and easier to relocate a full plane of passengers with their luggage and to prep a new plane rather than, a) fixing the knob (presumably they could have used the one from the spare plane), or, b) swapping the door.

The joys of business travel eh?

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

The Great Divide Part 2

I have been immensely proud of my country, Great Britain, over the last couple of weeks.

I think this is, in part at least, due to the fact that most of our politicians are on holiday rather than our TV screens. During the House of Commons recess the most bizarre political "news" story seems to have been some Tory think-tank's bizarre advice that people in Liverpool should "emigrate" to London because the North West economy is unsustainable. I mean, come on! They don't even speak the language. Think of the crime surge ;)

But largely my sense of pride is the result of the Olympics. Firstly, the excellent BBC coverage has meant that Bill Turnbull has been moved to some backwater on one of the Freeview channels, so that I have not had to endure him and his ginger banality first thing in the morning. Secondly, and most importantly, I have been hugely impressed with the performance of Team GB, currently lying in third in the overall medal table! They have done us proud and made us proud.

Most impressive has been the professionalism that the whole team has shown. The commitment. The drive. The desire to win! When I was watching the Olympics as a kid we were a team of well-meaning amateurs. Of course we had our heroes such as Coe, Ovett, Daley Thompson and the like, but athletics, and occasionally swimming, aside we were largely bit players in most sports. But look at us now. Heroes all.

John Major, be proud of your legacy! No not peace in Ireland or your extra-curriculas with Edwina Currie, but the National Lottery. The National Lottery funding for sport has turned us into a true sporting nation with the desire and ambition to win. We can feel pride in our nation again. And I do. While I am a little anxious about London's ability to put on a show to rival Beijing in 2012, I am, nonetheless, looking forward to it already.

Incidentally, I also think that the BBC coverage on TV, radio and the net has been great - with the exception of Nicky Campbell on Radio 5. A couple of mornings ago he was asking Chinese people on the street how they felt about the injury to the great Chinese medal hope, Liu Xiang, while being hooked up to Shelagh (pronounced Sheila) Fogarty back in the UK. Nicky could not resist a little schoolboy attempt at a racist joke by asking a Chinese lady with heavily accented English to say "I love you Sheila". She spoke it perfectly, no doubt much to Campbell's chagrin as he clearly had hoped to elicit a giggle, expecting her to say "I ruv u Sheera" instead. Shame on you Mr Campbell.

But last night my British pride took a dent. I watched Channel 4's Secret Millionaire. The programme followed multi-millionaire, Nick Leslau, to the most deprived part of the most deprived city in the UK - Possil and Milton in Glasgow. Now Nick proved himself to be a caring, generous, thoughtful individual. You could tell that he was moved. You could tell that he was changed. Indeed the ladies who ran the disability forum and the riding school for the disabled are saintly. But, what struck me hardest was the abject poverty of the town itself. Nick himself described it as something out of East Germany, but, I suspect that that would be doing East Germany a disservice. How do people live in a place such as this? It made Wythenshawe and Walsall look almost desirable. And, I think that the link between the poverty of the area, the crime, the drugs, and the disabilities and poor health of the inhabitants was plain to see.

There is something very wrong in a country as great as ours, with an economy as strong as ours, that we "allow" our own citizens to "live" in a place such as this. So, while I do not begrudge the funding for sports, I would like to think that maybe our holidaying politicians, especially certain Scottish politicians, might also have seen the programme and shared my opinion. Perhaps, on his return (however brief it might be), Mr Gordon Brown might find a little more money to help people such as in Possil and not just suggest that they all move to London!

Thursday, 7 August 2008

The Godfather Part 4

Last Sunday I was honoured and proud to become Godfather to Harry, my nephew, and firstborn (and only so far) of any of C's three sisters and first grandchild for my mother-in-law). C was Godmother too.

This was my fourth Godchild alongside my own sister's two boys, and the daughter of one of my best friends from university. This christening was slightly different, however, in that it took place in Royston Vasey, and in a Catholic Church. Indeed, the Catholic Church where C and I were married nearly fifteen years ago.

The christening had been long and somewhat fraught in the planning. When you have four sisters (mother and three aunties) and two grandmothers, the clothes shopping alone can be perilous and tedious. I think that the youngest sister, R, had the right idea - she decided to opt out and go on holiday in France instead. Perhaps it was just a happy coincidence, but, I am not entirely sure.

So, that left just three sisters to a) confirm that all would be wearing summer dresses, b) ensure that colour schemes and styles were communicated so that there was no duplication and no clashing, and c) ensure the procurement of matching shoes, bags, jewelry, etc. and, d) kit out their better halves (husband and partners) in complimentary outfits. The main retail outlets of Cheshire and Derbyshire must have been wringing their hands with glee.

That said, I was immensely relieved and proud of C's shopping. She bought the first dress that she tried on and the first pair of shoes - although the shoe shopping was spread over two weekends and two venues due to the lack of availability of her size (pixie) at the first emporium. Normally, I would have been dragged around half of the shops in the city over a period of three or four weekends. Even C's trips to the hairdresser, pedicure, and leg waxer seemed to go smoothly. And, she looked gorgeous.

I was also kitted out with a new linen suit and shirt. I washed my hair and I had a shave. I'm worth it.

The planning for the after-church party seemed to be a little more hectic and frantic. No doubt this was due to my mother-in-law's desire to relieve her daughter of as much of the burden as possible, with her having her hands tied somewhat with taking care of the baby. I am sure that it had nothing at all to do with inter-family rivalry and the need to be seen to put on a good show ;
Consequently, the Waitrose Entertaining range was exhausted, and there was more than plenty to feed the twenty or so guests that went back to the house......and the entire population of the rest of the estate........for at least a week or so. Whatever, at least the toffee meringue, apple pie and chocolate fudge cake that C and I provided seemed to go down well.

C and I had to ferry the desserts to the in-laws, where we got changed and met up with Debs (sister-in-law) and Smithy (partner) before making our way to the church. Smithy was also sporting a light-coloured linen suit (although his was hand made in Bahrain, while mine was off-the-peg from John Lewis). Together we looked like Crockett and Tubbs out of the original Miami Vice. Or, to be precise, how Crockett and Tubbs might look in their early 40s. The similarity was further strengthened by the fact that we were both driving Audi TTs and had glamorous ladies on our arms.

Smithy and I were both feeling a little mischievous and anxious about the Catholic Mass ahead of the christening. But, neither of us were granted permission to go to the pub and catch up with them all later ;(

Fortunately the Church did not burst into flames as we entered. The floor of the aisle did not open up as we walked to our pews. The service was bereft of lightening bolts. The priest was friendly if a little camp. He pushed the boundaries somewhat talking about the romance and love affair between Jesus and Paul. He might not have been out of place in the American Anglican Church. Otherwise, he offered sufficient ritual and good humour to keep the audience/congregation interested/amused.

There were two baptisms on the day. Harry's and Damien from the Omen. I kid not. He was quite a bit older than Harry and stomped and screamed and shouted through much of the ceremony. For the rest of the time he glared suspiciously around him with "that Damien look". He was accompanied by two black dogs with red eyes at all times. I kid not.

Harry, in contrast, was angelic throughout. He was, of course, too young to be phased by the fact that he seemed to be dressed in a miniature judo outfit. He waved to his adoring fans at one point. Cute. He was suitably engrossed in the candle which was lit in his honour. I was the candle bearer and manfully carried on through the pain of the hot wax dripping through my fingers. And, he only cried when he was nearly half drowned by the priest. His hair was a mess after all that dunking and laying on and smearing of various oils. Poor chap.

C did a sterling job of the reading. She is not known as "the voice" for nothing.

Back at the party the two families suitably split apart - theirs inside (apart from the occasional smoker), ours outside, and the odd friend in between. My mother-in-law bridged the gap somewhat by sitting just inside the conservatory. But, she was sufficiently out of the way that she did not spot my father-in-law sneaking an extra glass of wine or two, and an extra slice of apple pie. As might be expected of several generations of teachers on both sides of the family, there was much reminiscing and explaining about whose elder brother or younger sister was taught by who. Everyone muddled along quite nicely. The drink and Abba's Greatest Hits seemed to keep everyone in a reasonable mood. As the wine and beer began to flow, the accents of C and her sisters became positively more Glossop.

All in all though, it went swimmingly and was enjoyed by all.

And, I am looking forward to getting Harry his first drum kit, his first set of boxing gloves, his first pint.......oh the pressure of being a role model and moral compass.......

Good luck, Harry, you'll need it.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Kill Bill 3

I awoke a little grumpily this morning.

In part this was due to sleep deprivation - the weather here in the north west of England has been uncommonly hot the last couple of days. Now, I am (unusually) not complaining but the evenings have been very warm and muggy. Despite dispensing with duvets and despite opening windows, the last two nights sleep have been brief and fretful. Mind you, the rather dramatic thunder and lightening at 03.40 this morning didn't help.

That said, the return of Bill Turnbull to the BBC Breakfast News Sofa alongside foxy Sian Williams helped my mood not at all. Why can't he just retire gracefully? In a kind of smarmy, fey, quite camp and irritating kind of grace that is.

Bill's return coincided with the Parliamentary Recess to deliver yet another morning session bereft of meaningful news stories. Again, it is official, absolutely nothing of any importance is going on, absolutely anywhere on this planet of ours, or the surrounding universes (unless you believe all the recent white noise about aliens living amongst us and UFOs and conspiracy theories and the like).

Instead, the whole morning was filled with tales of gingerbread men in the shape of Christiano Ronaldo, and a seemingly blatant advertisement for a male cosmetic firm trying to convince us that we hot-blooded men should be wearing eyeliner and mascara (or Guyliner and Manscara as it is wittingly branded). Of course, the "I'm not at all camp" Bill was all too reluctantly willing to try this out!

There was also the non-story about Carol Kirkwood, the must-have morning crumpet of choice for middle aged men (whose attention turns to Carol Vorderman in the afternoon and the female presenters of The One Show in the evening), not camping in Burnham-on-Sea. Despite looking pretty windswept, the supposed "joke" was that Carol actually stayed in a luxury chalet rather than under canvas.

Nevertheless, Carol found time to feed those sexual fantasies with tales of her time in the girl guides. I suspect that she still has a uniform. A very tight-fitting uniform. Also, it provided an opportunity for Carol to flirt with her "Billy" as she calls him and for banter implying that Carol and Chris Mullin, the sports presenter with whom Carol spent Ascot week and Wimbledon with, knew rather too much about each other - Chris implied that Carol snored and Carol implied that Chris had sweaty feet!

And, the visit to Burnham-on-Sea, conjured up images of past relationships/holidays which I would rather regret. Burnham is probably the closest seaside resort to the city of Birmingham. It is, therefore, also full of Brummies. And, when I was just 17 years old, this is where I went on holiday with my first serious girlfriend, Melissa, and her family. When I say "serious" she was the first girl that let me get further than base one - and, in case my mom is reading I am not admitting which base I got to, but........

I slept in the awning with the family dog, while Melissa slept in the caravan with her mom, dad and younger sister. Thankfully her two scary brothers - one a night club bouncer and the other a convicted GBHer - didn't join us.

It was not the most enjoyable holiday experience that I had. In fact it was right up there with the twin centre holiday to Sorrento and Rome when I got ditched by my fiancee, who subsequently admitted to having an affair with a married man with three children. This is what Bill Turnbill does to me, the swine. All this emotional turmoil just comes flooding back. And, Burnham is a dump.

Please BBC. Kill Bill.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Stab In The Dark

All the news is depressing at the moment. Mind you, you wouldn't think that we are busy fighting two major wars at the moment - Iraq and Afghanistan hardly get any coverage. They do not seem to be as important as Traffic Cameras in Swindon and holiday jobs for students! But, every news bulletin seems to include a piece on the imminent recession and the fact that we are all likely to be found dead on our doorsteps, murdered by some knife-wielding, maniacal twelve year old.

As I write, my friend Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, is busily backing down and performing u-turns and somersaults on the subject of knife crime initiatives. And there is much talk about extending the right to search of teachers to include searching for weapons, drugs, and alcohol. What has the world come to? In my day we would have jumped to comply with an "Empty your pockets, boy!" bellow from a domineering teacher. Mind you, in my day, all you were likely to find in a teenage boy's school trouser pockets were a snot-soaked hankie, a comb (metal ones with a sharp handle could be considered a weapon!), a pack of Top Trumps Cards, and illicit sweets or chewing gum (both of which were banned inside of school). And, of course, cigarettes. Cigarettes were schoolboy currency. You "collected" cigarettes even if you did not smoke yourself.

That is not to say that the problems with teenage kids so evident today did not exist twenty or thirty years ago. Kids smoked - the local shops around my school would sell cigarettes in singles to make them more affordable. Kids drank - not out of bottles of cheap cider on street corners, but, in pubs with a relaxed attitude to underage drinking (as long as you took your school blazer and tie off you were in). Kids had sex. Kids stole. Kids fought. And, kids carried knives. While I choose not to implicate myself in any of these various crimes and misdemeanours - my dad reads these posts, occasionally. I was personally impacted by schoolboy knife crime back in 1983 when a 13 year old bully was stabbed through the heart by a 12 year old victim and died in my arms. See my earlier post.

Indeed, I understand that 80% of kids who carry knives do so out of a belief that they need to defend themselves. A belief driven by a fear of bullying, mugging and gangs. Well, I hope my personal experience shows the foolishness of carrying a knife to deter a bully. From victim to killer in a single motion.

In reality, only 16% of kids admit to carrying a knife because of an involvement in criminal activity such as mugging and gang-related crime.

But, some of the initiatives that the Government and others are touting around to tackle the problem are just non-starters. Parenting classes? Many of these kids are born into single-parent families to pramface mothers who have dropped out of education. Jail? We would have to scrap all greenbelt initiatives to build all of the jails that would be needed. Awareness? Do we really think that these kids are going to be deterred by meeting convicts and victims? These are kids that are largely excluded from "adult" or "normal" society. They have few positive role models (unless you include Jeremy Kyle - which I do not). They do not read newspapers or watch the news. They live a You Tube, Facebook or Bebo existence. They live on street corners and in bus shelters. They have welcomed our politically correct world and become mini-lawyers aware of their rights (but seemingly not their wrongs).

So what can be done? Well I am all in favour of Alf Hitchcock's (the so-called Knife Tsar) for a form of National Service. Schools should be able to ban and confiscate those things which may encourage muggings such as mobile phones, MP3s, and designer goods. Schools should revert to strict school uniform rules which would eliminate gang paraphernalia. Parents and teachers should be able to use reasonable punishment to clamp down on bad behaviour, including the cane or a slap round the back of the legs. Put metal detectors on school doors and into the hands of the police. For those that get caught carrying knives, give them hard community service - cleaning the streets and sewers and the like. Lock up those that use the weapon. Remove the privileges and benefits for the families of repeat offenders - take their council house, housing benefit and unemployment benefit away until they and their offspring comply with a strict social contract.

Take away temptation, impose real and meaningful deterrents and punishment. And, make Jeremy Clarkson Prime Minister.........