Friday, December 31, 2010

A New Puppy

Doggo got a new football for Christmas and he’s like a puppy with a new toy. I’ve not seen him so animated about anything in years. Particularly not his agility competitions, sadly. Unfortunately our reborn puppy will be ten this year and he’s not really up to such shenanigans any more. Consequently he appears to suffer with a few aching limbs afterwards. I can sympathise. The same thing happens to me, when I think I can keep up with the youngsters in my 10k’s.

In the afternoon a rare victory for Derby at Preston is overshadowed by the antics of a duck. The duck in question being Deepdale Duck, Preston's mascot.

DD got in trouble for continually distracting Derby’s goalkeeper Stephen Bywater during the match. Bywater seem to complain to the referee who ignored his pleas at first, that is until the duck allegedly flicked two fingers at Bywater. The referee then requested that he be removed. Cue a couple of stewards trying to corner the duck, who was reluctant to be removed before finally he was marched down the tunnel and off the ground.

The duck has plenty of 'previous' but I won't go into that here.

We have a race tomorrow, finally, so we stay in but an intention to be AF doesn’t quite go to plan and quite a bit of wine is sunk. Which I shall regret if I’m down the field tomorrow.

(Saturday 1st January)

Favourite Albums Of 2010

Third part of my review of the year, my favourite ten albums of the past year.

10. The Winter Of Mixed Drinks - Frightened Rabbit

A more commercial offering from Frightened Rabbit. It's no 'Midnight Organ Fight' but then what could be. That's what happens when you set the bar so high.

9. Your Future, Our Clutter - The Fall

I haven't listened to a Fall album in years. I'm glad I did this year.

8. Existence - Detroit Social Club

Detroit Social Club's d├ębut album seems to tick every box for every musical style that it can but somehow comes out sounding pretty fine.

7. Renegades - Feeder

The album spawned from their Renegades side project, marking a welcome return to their noisier earlier days.

6. Romance Is Boring - Los Campesinos!

The sound of Los Campesinos! maturing slightly whilst still telling meandering tales of Gareths's multiple relationship failures and sexual disappointments.

5. Nobody's Coming To Save You - The Sunshine Underground

Welcome back to the Sunshine Underground. Another band who had the impossible task of trying to surpass a near perfect album. They gave it a decent shot.

4. Interpol - Interpol

Like Feeder, Interpol go backwards to go forwards. It's no 'Turn On The Bright Lights' but it's in the same moody sort of vein.

3. Ex Maniac - Babybird

Whatever happened to Stephen Jones. Well actually he's never been away and now his new record is Johnny Depp's album of the year, but he would say that, he played guitar on it. It's dark and depressing whilst at the same time oddly amusing and uplifting. Quite brilliant actually. Surprise of the year.

2. Expo 86 - Wolf Parade

I'd only just got into Wolf Parade's first two albums when they bring out 'Expo 86' which it could be argued is the best thing they've ever done.

1. High Violet - The National

Here's one band who have managed to achieve the same sort of heights as their previous works. As good, maybe, as both 'Boxer' and 'Alligator'. Simply Brilliant.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Seriously Hot Pot

Much to my surprise and delight, we get released from work at 3.15pm. It’s been a fairly uneventful three days at work, which is how I like it. A few support issues but nothing much. Though I do always get the impression over Christmas each year that our customers who do work, don’t have much to do themselves, so instead take the opportunity to try and break our systems by thinking up the most stupid of things to try to get it to do. This year is no exception.

We have booked a Chinese meal for this evening as we usually take my parents out on New Years Eve. The restaurant, the Dancing Dragon, claims to offer something new, a Chinese Hot Pot. The restaurant is full of oriental customers which is usually a good sign. Their Hot Pot is like a fondue but instead of skewering one item at a time as you cook it you load the pot up with meat and vegetables of your choice then spoon them out once they are ready onto your plate.

There is a choice of two sauces, a slightly creamy stock and a spicy chilli sauce. Now I like hot food but this chilli sauce was truly evil. They called it fiery and they weren’t kidding. I have never had anything approaching hot and spicy in a Chinese restaurant before so this was quite a shock. My parents steered well clear of it and my body will probably wish tomorrow that I had too. Not a bad meal though, although service a bit sluggish, particularly the table clearing. Oh and their credit card machine was broke so we had to have a whip-round.

Afterwards my parents head home to see the new year in at home whilst L and I have a few beers in the Ropewalk and see the year in there. It’s not too dissimilar from a normal Saturday and that's not a bad thing at all really.

We walk home, although there are some late buses running. I find it odd that Nctx stop running buses at 8pm and then restart them after midnight. Don’t really see the point of that.

(Friday 31st December)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Blame The Weather

With my bike out of action, I run in to work. Which isn’t particularly memorable other than for being quite a painful experience and the weather, which was dark and miserable, although dry, didn’t help.

The coffee at work is now black. At lunch time I walk to Sainsbury’s to fetch some milk and other supplies. No wonder no one works over Christmas when we are subjected to such third world hardship. No milkman and no sandwich vans.

In the afternoon L joins everyone else who’s on a prolonged Christmas skive at the pantomime. Yes another one, her third of the season. That must be worth some sort of award. She warns me that she doesn’t intend being AF. That’s totally understandable. I wouldn’t be AF if I was going to a pantomime either.

She goes to the pantomime with her parents who then come back to our place afterwards and we have another present giving session. We could blame the weather for being five days late, everybody else does, but we won’t. The post office would probably be elated at only being five days late.

When her folks are gone I get around to submitting that tax return, after only two glasses of wine as well.

(Thursday 30th December)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

So Good To Be Doing Something

Ah, cycling, I remember that. So back at work today, back on the bike and a debut for the new snug cycling trousers that L got me for Christmas. How did she know that's what I wanted... must have been the email with the hyperlink in it. The snow, ice and the cold have gone and in their place... fog, drizzle and a generally dark, dank morning. Wonderful. It's so good to be doing something. Although I have a gear problem and lose half my gears.

It’s so foggy in fact that had L been awake and looked out of the window, she’d have probably tried anything to stop me cycling. Damn, should have woke her and opened the curtains.

There's five of us in work and I’m the only one not in jeans, due to the fact having cycled in I have to wear what have stashed at work, e.g. normal work clothes, either that or stay in my cycling gear.

At lunch I have to wander to Greggs as unsurprisingly no sandwich vans have turned up. There's no fresh milk for coffee either. Our milkman hasn’t turned up this year, he usually does. So we’re drinking five day old semi-skimmed and out of date skimmed. We're assuming skimmed doesn't actually go off as it's just coloured water isn't it?

I notice in the news that the manager sacking madness isn’t confined to the Premier League. Burnley, ok they were Premier League last year, dismiss Brian Laws after less than a year in charge.

It was an odd appointment in the first place with Laws having just been sacked by League One bound Sheffield Wednesday. Laws was never the right appointment for Burnley but getting rid of him now seems odd.

Burnley sit ninth in the table, having lost just 6 of 22 games this season and only two points off the play off spots. In other words well placed. When they were promoted two years ago they scraped into the play offs by two points. So they’re in a similar position now to do the same.

I have a look at my bike and discover a frayed gear cable which is why I can’t switch to my large chain ring and have therefore lost half my gears. I manage to make it to the pool though, which is quite busy. Probably busier than usual actually. Then afterwards I meet L for mocha.

In the evening it’s the local derby, Forest v Derby. Which should have been yesterday but was moved to tonight, just to be annoying and I think in some misguided attempt to curtail the pre-match drinking... on a day when most people are not at work...

Anyhow I declined to go because at £32 a seat it wasn’t worth it, not for another defeat. Which is probably worse than I expected, losing 5-2. Although Derby scoring two goals was quite a surprise.

(Wednesday 29th December)

Favourite Films Of 2010

The second part of my review of the year, my favourite films of the past year. Usually I do a top ten but this year I haven't got out to see enough films to make a top ten meaningful. So here are just five.

5. Killer Inside Me (June)

A fascinating but meandering film about a disturbed individual, that I needed a stiff drink to get over.

Read My Review

4. Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (April)

A grisly tale of murder, set amongst the cold Swedish winter, lightened somewhat by an upbeat ending. Not as good as the book obviously but a good effort and the best of the three films, which were all released this year.

Read My Review

3. Four Lions (May)

Chris Morris tackles terrorism. An excellent film, entertaining, well written, thought provoking, very well performed and yes, funny.

Read My Review

2. Sex n Drugs n Rock n Roll (February)

A biopic of the late Ian Dury. An excellent and playful film, just like its subject matter.

Read My Review

1. Kick-Ass (April)

A very odd choice for me to pick... a superhero spoof movie. However, this one is funny, very knowing, it has a plot, a sharp script and even character development. It also has Nicolas Cage and of course 'Hit Girl'.

Read My Review

Monday, December 27, 2010

How To Avoid Doing The Tax Return

This morning’s Millennium Runs On 10K at Caythorpe has of course been cancelled. Probably unnecessarily as it’s now raining and most if not all of the ice seems to have thawed. We are going to be in such a mess when winter arrives.

Instead we stay in bed for most of the morning. Daughter is incandescent, pointing out she’s only had three hours sleep before going on to look shattered, as bad as the four legged wasters that we call collies, for the rest of the day.

I fit in a park session with the boys, before a quick brunch and then into town for the 3.30 showing of ‘The Kids Are All Right’. This gets me out of submitting my tax return which I had pencilled in for this afternoon. I could always do it later drunk.

So, for the second time in a week I go to the cinema in daylight. I’m breaking all sorts of taboos these days. I was always told you don't watch films or TV in daylight. For twenty years the TV companies even reinforced this by not putting anything of interest on during daylight hours. They tell me this is still the case but it no longer seems to stop people.

'The Kids Are All Right' is written, directed and I think most other things by Lisa Cholodenko. Who apparently writes from personal experience, so it’s kind of semi-biographical.

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are an 'old' married couple but, and the clue is in their abbreviated Christian names, a lesbian couple. They also each have a teenage child produced with the aid of the same anonymous sperm donor. The test tube version one assumes. In many ways it’s an ordinary family with the kids constantly embarrassed and annoyed by their parents.

The eldest, Joni (Mia Wasikowska), named after Joni Mitchell, is now eighteen and legally able to track down her biological father without her Mother’s permission. She isn’t that bothered but is convinced to do so by her younger brother (Josh Hutcherson). Though we don’t get given any background to why the kids feel differently about it and why her brother is so keen. The man they trace is an easygoing restaurateur and organic farmer called Paul (Mark Ruffalo).

The brother by the way is a fifteen year old called Laser... 'Cool name' says his new found Dad. Errr no. Well maybe for a dog. Then again, no not even for a dog.

Paul begins to regularly meet with the kids and is taken by surprise by the fact he starts to feel very paternal towards them. He seems to have a positive influence on them and it starts to change him a bit as a person.

As for the mums. Jules is intrigued by this man who is undeniably part of her kids make up, yet also a complete stranger and she agrees to design and construct a garden for him. While control freak Nic is suspicious and jealous of someone she sees as an interloper in their cosy family set up.

There is a side plot about Joni trying to discover herself sexually and about Laser, well there’s not much about Laser actually, other than him stopping a friend of his inexplicably peeing on a dog...

Nic and Jules’s relationship has obviously gone a bit stale and one night we get a comedic, well cringe inducing, scene where they attempt to spice things up by watching male gay porn complete with leather clad hunks. An odd choice, that they then have to attempt to explain, unconvincingly, to Joni when she overhears them.

The result is more old spice that hot ‘n’ spicy, so it's no wonder that Jules decides to get her next sperm donation the old fashioned way and throws herself into Paul's leather clad arms the next chance she gets. A turn of events that will no doubt annoy lesbians in their droves. Who knows if a girl can be turned that quickly and that easily but it’s a male fantasy that Paul can now cross off his things to do before I die list.

Consequently Jules spends more time getting athletic in Paul’s bedroom than digging his garden. Cue several gratuitous graphic love scenes, although we’d already had one earlier with Paul and his attractive female assistant. Jules will be pleased to know that he seemed to repeat the exact same repertoire in the exact same order with her.

One of the strongest moments of the film is when Nic has a scene with Paul at the dinner table, watched by the whole family, where she finally seems to come around to Paul's easy going charm, almost to the point of seduction. Jules looks mightily jealous and concerned. Then Nic discovers her partner’s hair in Paul’s bathroom and subsequently, when she snoops, in his bed... Hang on. A question if I may? Would you recognise your partner’s hair in the plug hole? I wouldn't. Long brown hair is long brown hair. You would have to be a mega suspicious person to jump to the same conclusion that Nic did and if your partner wasn’t even supposed to be into that gender, totally paranoid too.

This unsatisfactory discovery of their affair leads us to a very unsatisfactory ending. Well actually it’s a complete cop out. The film had created some interesting situations that were well worth exploring but then it all ended in such an illogical way.

Jules grovels to the rest of the family, apologizes for her actions and assures Nic that she’s still an All American lesbian despite showing more than a few traits of being a rampant bisexual. So Jules rejects Paul, despite the fact he confesses he’s fallen in love with her. As do the kids, the kids that Paul has now realised mean everything to him. Enabling Nic to triumphantly tell Paul to go and find his own family, when he comes to their house to make his own apology.

So in the end the film never goes anywhere and everyone appears to end up back where they started, resuming their previous lives as if nothing has happened. Which is something I really hate to see in films.

It also caught me off guard. I’d thought all the way through I was supposed to be rooting for Paul, who after all didn’t ask for any of this and it was the kids who initiated the contact with him, but all along it was a film about two lesbians staying together in the face of adversity.

It’s an entertaining film but one that fails, frustratingly, to fulfil its potential.

I imagine in the end both kids went on to maintain contact with Paul, Joni did takes his hat that he gave her to college with her, meanwhile Jules presumably left Nic, anything else just wouldn't be realistic.

We retire to the Hand & Heart for a debrief, which I reckon is pub seven of my twelve pubs of Christmas and we’re still home for around 8.30. It’s an odd thing this cinema in the afternoon.

(Tuesday 28th December)

Favourite Gigs Of 2010

This is the first part of my review of the year, my favourite ten gigs of the past year.

I had quite some choice this year. I went to thirty concerts plus the three day festival that was Summer Sundae.

An honourable mention must go to a few bands. Firstly Jonsi, who my partner will be pleased to know only just missed out, it was quite an experience. Also to Chapel Club who were excellent but we only saw so briefly I can't really count them. Also to We Are Scientists, The Joy Formidable, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Gaslight Anthem and Delays (twice) who were all as good as ever but perhaps over familiarity prevents them reaching the top ten this time. Maybe next year. Finally to two who I haven't seen for ages. Julian Cope, who hasn't really been away and the Primitives, who have. Both good but not good enough.


10. New Model Army, Rock City, Saturday 23rd October

New Model Army probably sneak in because it was a special occasion, their 30th birthday and for doing something innovative, two nights, different sets each night but it was also a great show and a great atmosphere.

Read My Review

9. Frank Turner, The Venue, Derby, Wednesday 25th August

You can't beat Frank for an entertaining stage show. So he just had to be in here.

Read My Review

8. The Sunshine Underground, The Venue, Derby, Friday 12th February

It was good to have these guys back in 2010 and sounding so good both on record and on stage.

Read My Review

7. British Sea Power, Leicester Y Theatre, Thursday 20th May

Another entertaining show from British Sea Power, who seem to get better and quirkier with every show. This was a tour for no particular reason, in a very odd venue, which is just so BSP and you get chocolate as well.

Read My Review

6. Los Campesinos!, The Musician, Leicester, Friday 19th February

A band I've wanted to see for ages and ages, then suddenly I see them twice in a year. Arguably they were actually better at Summer Sundae even without including the failed stage dive but The Musician was pretty good too.

Read My Review

5. The National, Warwick Arts Centre, Butterworth Hall, Thursday 25th November

A reunion with the National and a 'posh' night out at the Warwick Arts Centre. A frustrating setlist but most things can be forgiven after the show stopping ending of the unplugged rendition of 'Vanderlyle'.

Read My Review

4. Interpol, Rock City, Wednesday 24th November

This was a long awaited first and Interpol did not disappoint. Including an encore that dreams are made of, well mine anyway.

Read My Review

3. Wolf Parade, Glee Club, Birmingham, Sunday 12th September

This was the first time I'd seen Wolf Parade and boy was I impressed. Unfortunately it was one of those annoying early curfew shows and we got a truncated setlist. Which means somehow I've got to get to see them again.

Read My Review

2. Renegades (Feeder), Sheffield Leadmill, Sunday 18th April

This was the year that Feeder went back to their roots became Renegades and rattled the walls at several small venues across the country. I saw them three times in 2010. Later seeing them launch their album with a daytime show at the Camden Barfly and then a few months later play a full Feeder show in Leeds but it's their performance at the Leadmill in April that moved me the most. I think the Sweet 16/Descend finale is still reverberating around in my head.

Read My Review

1. Editors, Lincoln Engine Shed, Saturday 6th March

Last year I gave them 10th place and accused them of being flat, less than six months later they were sensational. The perfect set:- a good mix of old and new, an obscure B side, an unreleased new track, a hard to get one from a film soundtrack and they even did 'Escape The Nest'.

Read My Review

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Full House

Today should in theory be Boxing Day but isn’t. If you’re looking for it, you missed it, it was yesterday.

This morning the annual Aston Walk. L and I do it. We skip the bingo number checking, they have numbers tacked to trees and if you get a full house you win a set of clothes pegs or whatever else was on offer at Poundland but it's all for charity so I'm not complaining really.

We just walk it or try to. The congestion is of Pride Park standards and is at first very frustrating but things improve eventually.

We still get to check the numbers later and I actually win something. It’s also not a set of clothes pegs. I win chocolate matchmakers, which I had no idea they still made. Although they are now called Quality Street Matchmakers... which I can't see the relevance of at all!

Then a pub lunch at Packhouse in Kings Newton. The beer is good and the food ok but they took a week to cook it.

Forgot to mention this yesterday. Hardys And Hansons' legendary Rocking Rudolph ale is back, again brewed 'down south' by Greene King and is now down to a watery 4.2%. This once great winter ale was once 5% and 'rocked', it was even briefly 5.5% but last year Greene King sold it at 4.5% and now 4.2%, hardly 'rocking'. Next year... who knows.

It's no wonder it now tastes so naff. I'm not really sure why they still bother with it, not now they have their own Abbot Reserve as a winter ale.

(Monday 27th December)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Christmas Sunday

So after the death of Christmas Eve, here’s another tradition that has bitten the dust ‘Christmas Sunday’.

For hundreds of years if Christmas Day was on a Saturday then the next day was known as ‘Christmas Sunday’ and Monday would become Boxing Day because traditionally, Boxing Day could not fall on a Sunday. It is the day Christmas boxes were given to staff and tradesmen who didn’t work Sundays, the ‘day of rest’ and all that. As a child I loved this concept, as it appeared to extend Christmas by a day.

Even today most dictionaries still describe Boxing Day as the first weekday following Christmas. So what went wrong? Call me a cynic but I think the rot set in with the Sunday Trading Act of the mid-1990’s when for the retailers, who along with the media are of course in charge of such matters, Sunday became pretty much a normal working day. In 1999 the country still seemed split on the idea but five years later in 2004, the last time 26th December fell on a Sunday, the tide had clearly turned the wrong way. ‘Christmas Sunday Sale’ just doesn’t have the same ring about it.

It probably didn’t help that a lot of people could never get their heads around Boxing Day being movable and would say it was the 26th with no thought into how it came into being. Now the whole country defaults to ignorance and even institutions that should know better, such as the BBC, seem to go with the flow rather than hold the line. It’s such a shame that old traditions like this are allowed to die out. Well, I shall celebrate Boxing Day on Monday or try to...

Another tradition of Christmas and of Boxing Day, which of course today it isn’t, is football. As it happens Derby’s ‘Boxing Day’ game is off. Nothing to do with the weather, power failure meaning no floodlights.

At a loose end I decide to trawl the web to see if anyone else has got it right.

You would kind of expect the traditionalists into fox hunting would get it right and the annual Boxing Day hunts are all scheduled for Monday or was that just to throw the protesters off guard.

Scarborough’s traditional seafront Boxing Day events are being held on the Monday. Kedleston Hall is holding its Boxing Day sale on the 27th. Some sword dancers got it right! As did Aston Old Edwardians and Bann Rowing Club. As well as the Boxing Day Windlesham Pram Race and Blewbury Village Boxing Day Walk.

Small fry maybe but at least there is hope.

Today is also the Furnace's 3 mile run of which I have no idea whether this is a Boxing Day tradition or not. What is tradition is that Doggo is the first dog across the finish line. I had hoped to run MD as well. Yep two dogs at once but just as it was last year it’s too icy to be tethered to two dogs, one of which is as skittish as MD, so he’s booted and looks utterly gutted about it. Sorry mate.

Partly because I chat on the course with an ex-colleague from work who I bump into and partly because we’re simply not fast enough, Doggo is second dog. We are both inconsolable. Another tradition dies. To be beaten by a man dressed as a Smurf, a bare-chested Smurf at that, makes it all the more galling. His dog obviously helped him. It appeared to be of a husky type too, which probably suited the conditions better.

Oh well. If one tradition dies, start another. I'll call it the twelve pubs of Christmas. We head into Wollaton to see what’s open. The ‘Wollaton’ nee ‘The Willoughby’ is oddly closing at 8pm even though it’s busy so it’s not surprising that next door the Wheelhouse is packed. Another reason could be the Greene King's Abbot Reserve at 6.5% on draft. We’ll stay here shall we?

(Sunday 26th December)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Not Officially A White Christmas

Christmas Day dawns cold but dry, so not officially a white Christmas but walking the dogs through snow covered Wollaton Park this morning it might as well be.

Presents are unwrapped, my parents arrive and then we head to the Plough for the traditional lunchtime tipple and leave the dogs guarding the goose. Sort of. Not that it’s going anywhere fast.

My attempted livening up of the pigs in blankets with sage, honey and black pepper doesn’t quite work, they taste just the same as usual but never mind, everyone seems to like them.

We are a more divided family on the Christmas pudding front. Christmas isn’t Christmas without rum sauce. Well that's my opinion. Anything else is sacrilege but Son has cream on his, L wants ice cream on hers. Some people. Daughter would probably have tomato sauce on hers if we let her but instead probably settles for a bit of everything.

(Saturday 25th December)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Time For An ‘Enduring Classic’

I think we are one of only a few companies open today, which is reinforced by the fact that lunch doesn’t turn up. Luckily we finish at 12.30 and I head into Derby to meet L. As its Christmas Eve, watching a film set on Christmas Eve seems just so appropriate.

It’s a Wonderful Life was originally released in 1946 and now has one of those tags as an ‘enduring classic’. It was nominated for five Academy Awards but won none in a year the board was swept by `The Best Years of Our Lives'.

I guess I must have seen it at some point, my Mother has always watched these sort of things, so I guess I must have experienced at least parts of it but it doesn’t seem that familiar when we take in the 1pm showing at Derby’s Quad Cinema.

George Bailey (James Stewart) is a man with big ideas. He wants to leave his home town of Bedford Falls, go to college, travel the world and make something of his life but it never happens for him. Life throws up situation after situation for George but each time he puts others and the well being of his town before himself. Which means that he ends up never leaving the town.

The bonus here should be that he is stalked, albeit laid back 1940’s style stalking, by the lovely Mary (Donna Reed). Frolicking naked in a bush, we know your game Mary. That was no accident was it? George proves to be a hard man to snare but Mary is a patient girl who waits around for the penny to drop and for George to realize that he loves her.

The film tells us all this in flashback because George has had enough of being a failure and is ready to end his miserable life by throwing himself off a bridge and would have done so if it hadn’t been for Angel Second Class Clarence (Henry Travers), a man yet to win his angel wings, who is sent to save him.

First though Clarence is given the story of George Bailey's life which is how we find out that as a child George saved his brother’s life, a brother who went on to be a war hero and he also persuaded his chemist boss Mr Gower that he had unwittingly prescribed poison to a child. Then when he was older and his father died he took on his father’s loans business. It was his father’s dream to build affordable houses despite the greedy Mr Potter's (Lionel Barrymore) influence on the town and the loan company being probably the only business that Potter doesn’t own. There follows many situation where George puts the town folk or his family before himself.

Then on Christmas Eve, George's absent-minded Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) misplaces a large sum of the business’s money. Potter finds the money and keeps it. George realizes that he will be held responsible and probably jailed, finally allowing Potter to take control of his company.

After arguing with his wife and family, George gets drunk at a local bar and comes to the conclusion that he should never have been born. Broken and suicidal he heads for the bridge, where Clarence’s grants him his wish. Clarence shows George what life would have been like had he never existed and what would have became of the people he knew. It’s a nightmarish vision of Pottersville, a town mired in sleaze where all George’s friends and family are either dead, ruined, or miserable. Most horrific of all Mary has become a librarian and a spinster.

The film appears to say that we are all inextricably linked to each other’s lives and we each play an important part in one another's existence. True but not necessarily to the good. George was one in a million. No one else in the town had the back bone to stand up to Potter and as for Potter. What would have been Clarence’s spiel had it been Potter on that bridge? Or would he have even bothered getting out of bed for that one. Erasing his existence would have had a positive effect on everyone or at least you would think.

Perhaps the true message is one of sacrifice for the greater good. George sees the influence he’s had on friends and family and finally realises just what a wonderful life he's really had. He is restored to the present, gets down off the bridge and goes home. Where everyone is dredging up their life savings to raise the money to save George. It’s all heart warming stuff. Even I was a bit touched.

Of course theft is theft and George would be jailed anyway, as Potter never does seem to get his comeuppance, but that just wouldn't be Christmas.

After which we don't make the same mistake as last year by trying to spend the evening in town. That sort of Christmas Eve no longer exists, unfortunately.

We stay in Derby and at the Silk Milk, it’s packed and it’s staying open until 11pm. Not that that’s much good to us, the last bus home is 6.50 which we have to make sure we’re on.

(Friday 24th December)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Shovel Not Required

L has arranged the collection of our Christmas Day goose for around 7am this morning. Which she was going to do herself but she’d asked me to be on standby with a shovel in case we’re under a foot of snow. She was convinced that if the weather thinks she’s driving, it'll snow. Well we’re under about a few millimetres of the stuff, so I drag my hangover out of bed and help out anyway. Shovel not required.

That confuses the dogs, a trip out in the car at 6.30am before their morning walk. Our resident sock destroyer is probably relieved, not that we’re speaking. He’s been struggling a lot with his paws icing up. Someone has advised us to put baby oil on them. Baby oil on his paws would freak him out probably just as much as ice and can you imagine the mess on the kitchen floor. We’d need to leave a towel and a bowl of warm soapy water by the door for after his walk, which MD would probably drink.

My mid-morning my hangover is relenting. I should be 100% by the time I get to the pub at lunchtime. Which turns out to be quite a good session. Apart from having one of the seven dwarves behind the bar. Grumpy. Food service was slow as well which meant we had to have a ninety minute lunch and a second drink. Which was horrible as I’m sure you can imagine.

None of which is particularly good preparation for squash tonight. Not that I’m particularly bothered. It is Christmas after all. My present to him will be very little resistance on the squash court and so it proves. 5-0.

That’s despite my opponent complaining of multiple injuries obtained whilst ten pin bowling... back, arm, forearm, knee... Sounds like somebody chucked a bowling ball at him.

After getting home I concoct this year’s eggnog, just to add to the forthcoming, or has it already started, Christmas alcohol fest.

(Thursday 23rd December)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Something To Look Forward To

Yesterday Daughter’s college had a premonition, accurately forecasting snow when a lot of weather forecasters didn’t and announced they wouldn’t be open today, which was to have been the last day of term. Although they were right, we still get very little snow, certainly not enough to stop anybody getting anywhere but if the teachers have left their Christmas shopping this late it’s hard to see what else they could have done. Daughter is ecstatic obviously but I’m not sure there’s even sufficient covering to go sledging on.

Despite the 2mm high drifts, Trent Barton’s buses are excellent again. I was tempted to bus and run but wasn’t sure the buses would be on time but they were. I was reading on the Trent Barton website about a couple of their drivers; one who walked a remarkable 11 miles to get to work and another who walked some 8.5 miles from his home to the depot during the early December snow. Even I think that’s above and beyond the call of duty but it does show the work ethic they’ve managed to instil there. Some of which wouldn’t go amiss in the teaching sector or in our postal service. When I queried our lack of postal deliveries, their head office confirmed that there had been ‘no known problems’ in our area, which I assume means our postman simply skived off.

L announces sad news. The end of the beautiful, if occasionally turbulent, relationship between herself and her credit card. All good things must come to an end and all that. I take it her Christmas shopping must be complete then.

She says that over a very large glass of wine tonight, she will hand it over to me and I’m not to allow her to have it back unless she pleads on bended knee and gives me a damned good reason why I should return it. Sounds like something to look forward to. I will take some persuading. Then she tells me about the short skirt she bought in a last ditch blow out. Hmmm, so she’s already ready and armed with weapons that might assist her in re-attaining the card. Sneaky.

After work I head into Derby to meet a couple of old school friends for a pre-Christmas beverage. We have a few in the Brunswick, where we have a slight disagreement with a staff member, who is extremely diligent in collecting empty glasses but won’t remove a solitary stray chip that has been left on our table. Does he think that someone might be coming back for it? Oh for a dog to hoover it up. In the end we slip it into an empty glass, which means he has to collect it but he’s not happy about it.

We move up the road to the Viceroy Indian. It’s a good meal, although expensive and it takes us twenty minutes and three times of asking to get the bill which means I know I’m going to miss my bus. I throw a tantrum at the manager. Causing one of my friends to practically hide under the table in embarrassment. So the manager brings us a round of complementary brandies to calm me down. Suddenly my friend is happy again and glad I complained. Sometimes it pays to be a pain in the rear.

Still, not only do I miss the Red Arrow but also the next slow bus. Then I eschew all the other slow buses as it is only a fifteen minutes wait until the next Red Arrow, which would still get me home quicker. It is fifteen minutes late. Had it been this late on its last circuit I would have caught it! That’s over an hour waiting in a cold bus station. My night is rapidly going downhill.

I’m not the only one. When it eventually turns up I get on, along with a lad who is having trouble prising his sobbing girlfriend from his shoulder. Through floods of tears I overhear that her last bus to Ashbourne hasn’t turned up, she can’t afford a taxi and her phone battery is flat. As she hurriedly tries to ring her father on his phone, he takes it off her, wishes her goodnight (no kiss) and gets on the Red Arrow, alone. Awwww, young love.

When I get home it is to find that Doggo has chewed a massive hole in my eye-wateringly expensive best running socks. We are so not speaking.

(Wednesday 22nd December)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tap It And Unwrap It

I'm on the bus and then run the last four miles into work. I take the premiership footballer approach and go out in gloves, tights and snood. Well almost. It was actually quite pleasant, really pretty along by the river. Yep, I was even looking at the view but I did the whole thing without music because it was too cold to fiddle with my ipod.

Apparently a lunar eclipse is taking place this morning but I couldn’t even find the moon. Then I read in the Metro that you had to be in Northern Ireland to get the best view, which wasn’t very helpful.

L emails with the promise of a bedtime treat tonight, that pricked my ears up. She warns me not to get too excited.

I do two more runs on the way home. Around five miles to Borrowash then after jumping on the bus, another three to home. Totalling around eleven miles, which makes me feel slightly less unfit than I was feeling.

Then L goes out for her run whilst I make one of our annual festive treats, Port and Stilton Pate. Then after a hot bath to rest those eleven mile battered limbs, it’s time for the bedtime treat... Cool. Not had one of those for ages. ‘Tap it and unwrap it’ and no that’s not how I treat L.

(Tuesday 21st December)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

It Wouldn’t Be The First Time

L has a day off today and the chance for a lie in, until that is MD decides it’s time for her to get up because he wants his breakfast.

It’s alright for her at home. It’s me who has the task of finding vacuum packed chestnuts in Sainsburys. Goodness knows what section they’ll put them in, if they have any. I certainly can’t find any but I do discover some tinned ones, so they’ll have to do. All that remains now is to escape from Sainsbury’s car park, no mean feat at this time of year.

L engages in a spot of ‘life laundry’, whatever that is. She's cancelling various schemes that she’s in that she not having time to do justice to. Like one of her two gyms and the audiobook club which is very good but has left us buried under a pile of digital media that we can’t listen to fast enough.

Then later she asks me if I’ll do her iPod laundry for her. Happy to.

Final class of the year for MD tonight. L warns me he may be useless as he’s been going mad with a ball in the garden all day. Doubt I’ll notice. It wouldn’t be the first time.

On the way home, I collect L and then we both get stuck on the A52. What’s new? About half an hour later we get released and pass what looked to be quite a bad accident. Well at least I was stuck with pleasant company. It might even have been romantic had it been snowing.

(Monday 20th December)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

'Elf And Safety

You can catch up all the populist TV just by listening to other people talking about it, so there’s no need to watch it really. Whilst walking the dogs on the park this morning I find out that that quite cute ex-Eastenders’ chick won ‘Strictly’ and her prize was to keep her dancer and take him home with her. Though my ‘source’, two old women and an old chap chatting merrily away about it all (ok three old women then), tells me they won because the pairing came over as a much more intense and intimate partnership on the dance floor than the rest of them. Skills they honed by being an intense intimate partnership elsewhere. A tactic which probably wasn’t contemplated by Ann Widdecombe’s dancing partner. Oh and a hot tip. Alan Sugar will hire the blonde lass who happens to be very easy on the eye to be his ‘apprentice’ because you would wouldn’t you.

On the way back Doggo stops for the now obligatory ‘I’ve got ice in my paw’ stop even though there’s no snow or ice anywhere. I tell him not to be so stupid. He looked a bit hurt at that.

I’m only on the park because today’s Bolsover Castle 10k got cancelled. That might have been a bit rash but rasher was the fact that Chelsea cancelled today’s match against Manchester United a full 27 hours before kick-off. Today they look a bit stupid as the TV beams pictures of lush green grass but no football. A cynic might suggest that they didn’t fancy facing Manchester United in the middle of the bad spell that they are currently experiencing.

So with no run to run it’s the gym for me. Now for a dilemma. Do I exercise to music or to my latest audiobook, Ian McEwan’s Saturday. L is appalled and suggests that nobody could ever exercise to Ian McEwan. I think she has a point. Music it is for my 15km bike and 3km run.

Then we head straight into town and to Broadway. Tonight we take in a Christmas film, although admittedly a slightly offbeat one, which is quite different from the usual cheesy Christmas fodder. How refreshing. Kind of.

‘Rare Exports’ is actually a prequel to two short films that the same director made a few years ago and I mean short. ‘Rare Exports Inc.’ is eight minutes long and ‘Rare Exports Inc: Official Safety Instructions’ is ten minutes long. The premise of these is that Santa isn't the nice rotund gentleman dressed in red that we've come to know but is actually something far more sinister.

A few days before Christmas, somewhere in Finland, some faceless corporation are excavating something from one of the mountains. Meanwhile in the valley below, the local residents are getting ready for the annual reindeer round up, only to discover they’re all dead. They blame the excavation team but when they go to confront them no one is there and they appear to have left in a hurry.

A young boy called Pietari reckons he has, with the aid of a bit of dedicated research, discovered what they were digging up. Santa. Buried there centuries ago because he was an evil guy who punished naughty children in horrible ways. Now they’ve dug him up and suddenly being naughty or nice becomes a life or death decision. When Pietari sees footprints on the roof outside his window, he assumes Santa is coming to get him.

The next day, Pietari and his father discover an old man who has fallen into their wolf trap. Pietari is convinced it’s the main man himself and eventually persuades his father, who together with some friends attempt to sell Santa back to the corporation that organised the excavation but they tell him it’s not Santa Claus but just a mere elf.

Then suddenly dozens of naked old men with long white beards appear out of the shadows, elves galore. The man from the corporation gets an axe in the back of the head and his helicopter pilot is dragged away and killed. They all run for cover into a nearby aircraft hanger but inside there is another surprise. The elves have been busy collecting all the naughty children. They’ve bagged them all up in potato sacks and taken them to meet Santa or rather the large ice cube with horns that is still being defrosted by dozens of heating appliances that the elves have pinched. A total 'elf and safety nightmare.

The smart kid, Pietari, of course, saves the day. After only a few ‘the grown-ups won’t listen to me’ moments, he comes up with a cunning plan and the film descends momentarily into action movie mode with a quite improbable situation of dozens of kids in potato sacks being airlifted to safety by helicopter. Then again, what’s probable about burying Santa under a mountain? It's just a shame we didn't get to see the evil Santa before they blew him up.

It’s a very original storyline, creepy in places but all done with a very dark sense of humour and the lad who plays Pietari is simply superb. The elves also deserve an honourable mention. Just how did they get all those old men to stand naked in the snow for hours on end? Ok, so may have been fake snow.

The daring rescue of the kids and the destruction of Santa just leaves them with one small problem. Well quite a large problem actually, 198 naked elves, who now without their master seem to have become quite docile. Can they domesticate them, make them like all the kids and perhaps become nice friendly Santas. Of course they can.

After the film we relax in the Hand & Heart with a few refreshments. Naughty, as it’s a Sunday but it is Christmas, almost, and we had planned this as a post-race treat. It wasn’t our fault it got cancelled.

(Sunday 19th December)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Santa Sized Santas

It’s very cold on park and a bit surreal. It’s very quiet, due to the cold I assume, and the first person I see is wandering across playing an acoustic guitar. First I think I'm still drunk and it's Alan-a-Dale. This is Nottingham after all and he's a character from Robin Hood. Surely though, that’s a touch cold on your fingers in this weather.

It’s busier when I get across the other side. Notts AC are out training obviously, most of them in shorts.

The weather plays havoc with the football fixtures and as a consequence our Fantasy Football league. Derby again get their match on and regret it. Losing again. It was interesting seeing the half time dancing troupe in their skimpy attire dancing around more energetically than usual, presumably attempting to keep warm. As they’re pretty much all of school age doesn’t this, these days, constitute some sort of abuse. Although when I was at school doing PE in subzero temperatures was seen as part of your education. Wearing gloves would have meant you were in for some serious ribbing. I can barely imagine how much playground abuse someone would have got if they’d taken the Premiership footballer approach and turned up not only in gloves but in tights and snood.

L does her second pantomime in two days, this time in Derby.

I collect her afterwards and we all head over to her parents place for snacks and drinks. This was all supposed to be part of an alcohol free build up to Sunday’s Bolsover Castle 10k. Which of course has now been cancelled. They say, despite the fact we’ve had no snow here at all, the amount of ice at various parts on the course meant that it was not safe for runners.

As I wait for L and Daughter in the city centre, a stretch limo pulls up behind me and turfs it’s cargo load of Santas on to the pavement. Joining the dozens of Santas already out tottering from bar to bar. There’s not a male Santa in sight by the way, which is a odd as plenty have the physique for it. Although there’s a lot to be said for Santa mini dresses, well there was until the limo pulls up. Six Santa sized Santas (try saying that after a few pints) topple out and it’s not a pretty sight, then the token slim one follows them. She can’t fail to pull in that sort of company.

These two weren't among them.

Later we rush home to try to catch some pictures of the severe weather conditions that are occurring down south on the late night TV news. Is that it? Half an inch on the M1 and it grinds to a half.

(Saturday 18th December)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Into The Christmas Spirit

I decide it’s probably too icy for a repeat performance of yesterday's early morning run with the boys. One of us, probably me, would end up toppling into Martin’s Pond. Its so cold that MD’s football has frozen that hard it’s like a cannonball. Attempting to kick it for him means risking a broken foot. However when I walk for my bus, it isn’t that bad underfoot at all. Still, the extra hour in bed was definitely preferable.

Daughter has, in her words, 'an interesting day' and comes across a flasher on her way to college. It's a bit cold for that sort of thing. Unless that was his attempt to try to warm himself up.

L and Daughter are off to the pantomime at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal, oh no they aren’t, oh yes they are and they’re having Hogsmeade roasties from the Dickensian portacabins first.

Which will probably be a better feast than I get at my company’s Christmas party (for want of a better word) tonight. It’s at Derbyshire's cricket club, in a tent, which is thankfully heated. The outside toilets, however, aren’t.

We stagger there, having adjured to the Alexandra straight from work and having downed three pints of Christmas spirit whilst there. We are greeted at the door by group of Santas in little blue Santa dresses and Keith Loring, who is chief executive and formerly fulfilled a similar role at Derby County. Once inside we are handed a drink by yet more Santas, this time in little black Santa dresses. Definitely prefer the black ones.

Loring, it has to be said, puts in an impressive shift all night, circulating round all night, being master of ceremonies, sorting the wine and even waiting on tables. You would expect your average MD to just flirt with Santa's little helpers, grab a few glasses of wine and then leave early but not him. He probably even changed the loo rolls in the toilets, maybe, and he still had time to flirt with the Santas.

Each table is handed a quiz. Can you name the last fifty Christmas number one's? Of course you can. Anyone can with the help of Wikipedia. I would like to say we got a least forty without cheating. Then after cheating, amazingly, we still get one wrong. In fact only one table gets all fifty right.

For once I’m not on the wine because the keg Old Specked Hen is surprisingly drinkable. Well it tastes quite close to the cask version but that’s probably more an indication of how the cask version has declined since they lopped a whole percent off its strength.

The meal is actually excellent and even hot, which is a novelty for these sort of do’s. The disco, which is actually karaoked by the DJ’s, isn’t. The less said about that the better.

Then it’s a dilemma of whether to hike up to the bus station in subzero temperatures to get the direct bus or endure the slow bus that stops right outside. I take the slow bus. Probably not the right decision, it takes even longer than I remembered.

(Friday 17th December)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Up (at 6am) For It

Thank you for this morning, I enjoyed it’ so says L later on email. For what you ask? You’d think I’d done some great favour or something romantic. Nope. She’s thanking me for waking her up at the crack of dawn, well as it was 6am so I think it was actually pre-dawn, and taking her out in the dark for a training run around Martins Pond with the boys...

It was actually quite pleasant. Doggo was up for it and MD was relatively well behaved, although noisy. Even L seemed up for it. A training run with MD was in order as we have the Furnace run coming up on Boxing Day and MD might be doing it with me. Generally he’s rubbish at running on the lead and therefore needs the practice. Considering doing the same tomorrow...

After which I’m nodding a bit on the bus on the way to work. Well at least I wasn’t driving it and a good reason not to take the car. Once at work I can have a bit of a kip.

Squash opponent emails to say ‘one down, one to go’. Car fixed and he's just nipping out in it to get some re-enforced squash racquets, the kind for people with short tempers. I have visions of attempting to retrieve a solid steel squash racquet from where he’d buried it in the wall. It would make another good photo I suppose. I consider wearing a helmet tonight.

L says it’s snowing in Nottingham, buckets of the stuff, massive flakes. Hmmm. Absolutely nothing here. Then finally, about two hours after it started in Nottingham a few flakes start to fall. Yay! but not much to get excited about, it's not settling.

Opponent arrives at squash with his new racquet, doesn’t like it and blames it for why he plays badly. A bad workman always blames his tools. I can see he’s itching to throw it across the court but at £50 even he can’t bring himself to do it. It’s a ‘Prince’ racquet, one of the big brands. I too have a ‘Prince’ racquet, perhaps that’s why I always play badly.

We draw 2-2. L’s in the gym and she joins us for a celebratory (in my case) beer.

(Thursday 16th December)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Eerily Quiet

It is announced that the Great Langdale 10k isn’t to be rescheduled. Which is a shame. With the cold weather due to return I just hope that this Sunday's Bolsover Castle race in on.

My father puts on his Christmas list Gordon Brown’s book. He does like his fairy stories does my Dad. Surprisingly nobody appears to be willing to buy it for him.

Oddly Sainsbury’s and all the retail park is eerily quiet this lunchtime. Either everyone’s finished their Christmas shopping, given up on it, or perhaps they’ve been forced to go back to work after running out of ‘snow days’. Either way, this week it takes me less than half an hour to get out of the car park. Result.

Squash could be in doubt tomorrow, my opponent has a bit of a problem; he doesn’t currently have a) an unbroken racquet or b) an unbroken car but still twenty-four hours to sort both.

Dog training is a bit of a waste. We have new beginners in our beginners’ class and that made for a slow class. Suppose that’s what it’s for but not an ideal time to join the group. From January though MD will be moving up a class. Infant school to Juniors if you like. So we’ll be above all that. Doggo doesn’t get to train so I take him for a sniff along the footpath instead. Ten minutes of that and he’s ‘as happy as Larry’.

(Wednesday 15th December)

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Poor Year For Cycling

With the temperatures apparently about to go negative again soon I take the opportunity of cycling into work. It may not be cold or snowy but it’s still not pleasant. It was misting heavily all the way in.

It was also very dark. L keeps threatening to get me some Christmas lights for my bike. Hmmm. I have in fact bought myself a new flashy front light. Where as my existing one is to see by, this one is intended to be seen with, but I can’t find anywhere to attach it. It won’t fit anywhere other than on my handlebars, where there’s no room.

It’s been a poor year for cycling. In 2007 I rode 4454 km, in 2008 - 4554 km, in 2009 - 4875 km but this year so far, only 3573 km. Not good. Although I have ran more but I don't have a log of that.

The ride home is also wet, proper rain this time, but still I head to the pool. I wave at L who is in the gym and then get a lane to myself. Perhaps the Nottingham students have finished as early as Son has.

I beat L home because she had headed straight from the gym to a wild Christmas party that is being thrown by her book club at the local library. It all happens around here. So I turn on the computer and continue my Christmas shopping.

About an hour later, I’ve finished it, the whole lot. I don’t think I’ve ever finished this early and I’ve done it all without going into a single shop. I usually end up visiting at least one real place because I leave it too late. Well I might have to suppliment things with the odd box of chocs but I can do that when I do our weekly shop at Sainsburys.

Of course there’s one almighty drawback... I’ve just got to hope everything arrives in time. It’s not going to snow again is it?

I’m so elated that I head into the living room where Daughter and the now returned L are, brandishing my triumphant credit card, which MD then attempts to eat. He’ll eat anything that dog.

(Tuesday 14th December)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hindsight Is A Wonderful Thing

Before we leave we drive up the Kirkstone Pass, where it's been snowing overnight, to see if the pub is walkable. It isn't.

Then we finally take a look at the Langdale Valley and by now it’s practically snow free. I’m sure the race could have been on. Sunday’s especially. They could probably have staged both days’ races on the Sunday but I guess they didn’t know the thaw was going to be as quick as this. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. It would be nice if they re-scheduled it for when we're next up here in January. We couldn’t be that lucky could we?

Then when head back to Nottingham for the main event of the day, Daughter’s parents evening. Which is totally surreal. I come away feeling we’re been discussing the wrong girl because nobody had a bad word to say about her. Surely she must have been crap at something? Surely she must have been a pain in the rear to somebody? Apparently not. Quite a transformation from a year ago.

Then finally, to round the day off, dog training. MD has been stuck in the car for most of the day so it gives him chance to stretch his legs and vocal chords. He doesn’t disappoint.

I get home to find that Blackburn Rovers have attempted to trump Newcastle United for the award of most ridiculous sacking by dismissing Sam Allardyce. Incredible. I don’t think anyone saw that one coming.

(Monday 13th December)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

That Must Have Been Some Road

With no race to do we spend the day walking. We had contemplated going to the start anyway where one of the organisers was giving out minced pies and mulled wine to all those that turn up. As these will have been bought with the race in mind I imagine he has quite a lot to give away and perhaps we should be helping him dispose of them.

In the end though we decide to explore where we are rather than return to an area we know very well. So we set off on a walk and follow the track up towards ‘High Street’. Which at 828 metres is the highest point at this end of the Lake District. It is named after the Roman road which ran from Penrith to Ambleside and bizarrely went over the summit. That must have been some road. Apparently it was easier and safer that hacking through the woodland in the valley.

We don’t intend going all the way to the summit and turn back once the path starts getting too icy to navigate. We need a dinky pair of spikes like the ones we saw one walker with.

So we return to Troutbeck via the Kirkstone Pass which was built the way the Roman’s refused to go and stop off for a jar at the Queens Head, a luxury not available to those road building Romans.

Robinson’s Old Tom on draft, you don’t see that very often. Like never. 8.5% and deadly stuff.

L has two! Halves I hasten to add. Thankfully it’s only a short stagger from there back to base camp.

(Sunday 12th December)