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Candle with care: I’m sick of the tick of the birthday clock

22 Oct

I USED to love birthdays. Particularly those big ones with a zero on the end. The ones when your boss would send you home early to have a quiet family celebration…only for all hell to let loose when you opened the front door.

One moment, silence and slight concern that nobody was in. Then, as you peered into the deserted hall, an explosion of noise as doors flew open, laughing faces appeared from nowhere, the kids rushed into your arms  –  and 100 voices burst into a chorus of you know what.
The party would go on forever as you ate, drank (too much) and caught up with the lives of surprise visitors from out of town and friends you’d all but lost touch with. Your boss and the colleagues who had masterminded the show would turn up after work and the party would go on through the night.
Yes, life was fun at 40…and blowing the candles out was a piece of cake.
How times change. Birthdays used to take forever to come round, yet I swear I’ve had four of them this year.
And the only good thing about the damned things is that if they keep coming, you know you are still alive.
I’d better amend that, because I don’t want my friends and to think I didn’t enjoy our little celebration at the weekend. Nineteen of us took our zimmer frames, hearing aids and skin tucks for a bit of a bash in Guardamar. It wasn’t a night at the Ritz, some would say more like the Pits. But, like so many local expats, my crowd love the bustle and boom of Vicente Jaen’s chaotic restaurant, where plates of freebie food fly at you from all angles before you even give your order – and then you are submerged by enough food to fill a herd of starving elephants.
There’s no written bill and the only till is the wad of notes tucked away in Vicente’s pocket. It’s all a bit of a shambles, really…but as irresistible as the march of time.

In the chaos, my plan for a table for 20 was redrawn as a 12 and an eight and I spent the evening  sitting with my back to most of my guests. The experience confirmed my mathematical theory that the volume of noise generated by a boozing Brit is directly proportional to the amount of alcohol consumed. The longer we celebrated, the louder some of us got (not me, of course)  – and the more disgusted looks headed like daggers in our direction.
It was all good fun and great to have so much support in the absence of my family, who are all in the UK. Thanks for the good wishes, cards and presents, guys, but you’ll have to remind me who gave what because everything got mixed up in the chaos of the evening.
One thing I did notice in the haze of alcohol (two gin and tonics – I can’t even get drunk these days) was that there were no candles on the cake.
Perhaps Restaurant Jaen is a no-blow zone, I thought. Because I could definitely have seen off all those little sticks of flaming wax. Well, three or four anyway – I can only eat a few in one sitting.
Anyway, in two years I’m due to hit another BIG birthday. I want whoever provides the cake to make sure it displays one candle for every year of my strife (pun intended).
I promise faithfully that when it comes to blows, every one of those candles will be extinguished in a couple of seconds.
And maybe the grandkids will let me help…
Published in The Courier (www.thecourier.es), October 19, 2012

Checking in the Ryanair way…with one in the ‘I’ from Michael O’Leary

2 Jun

RIGHT, I admit it. I’m paranoid about Ryanair. And it’s not fair on my pet cheapskate airline…or on me.
My tongue-in-cheek account of my flight to Manchester two weeks ago was, I now confess, a little over the top. I even blamed them for the ‘lobal’ warfare between my handbag strap and left earring at the security desk before I had even set eyes on anyone from Ryanair.
And the paranoia resurfaced last Thursday when I spent at least an hour trying in vain to check in for my return flight to Alicante. The check-in section simply would not accept my reservation details…and my warped mind decided there was only one possible reason. They had turfed me off the flight because of all the negative coverage I’ve been giving Ryanair in The Courier.
Either that or they had hatched a plan to charge me an extra 60 euros at the airport because I hadn’t checked in online.
Yes, this was Michael O’Leary versus Donna the Old Deary – and the Irishman had decided there was only going to be one winner.
You’ll gather from that last sentence that at this point I was also suffering from delusions of grandeur. Yes, Michael O’Leary actually had someone as insignificant as me in his firing line.
And he was now taking the Michael – for deliberately mixing him up with the other silver-tongued O’Leary who used to present the X Factor.
My reservation details listed the booking reference as QY312V – two letters, followed by three numbers and another letter. Quite simple and clearly noted at the time on my mobile phone calendar.
However, every time I attempted to ‘manage my booking’ in order to check in, I got a message saying the details did not match their own…and that I should re-enter them correctly.
On Friday morning, the problem persisted, so I took a deep breath and called Ryanair on their unexpectedly cheap reservations line. Within two minutes I was actually talking to a human voice with a body attached to it. A male one.
I had expected to be hanging on for 20 minutes and probably to run out of patience before I got through and slam the receiver down. But this was NOT the sort of treatment I had expected. I hadn’t even had time to work myself up into a very minor frenzy, never mind get angry.
The operator wasn’t interested in my name. He just asked me for my reservation reference . “I have it down as QY312V,’’ I said. “Q – Y – three – one – two – V.’’
‘’I tink you may find that is incorrect,’’’ came the reply. (No, he wasn’t Irish, I accidentally left the H out of think and don’t have time to go back). “It actually says QY3I2V, that’s Q – Y – three -the letter I – two – V.’’
I can see Dermot, sorry Michael O’Leary laughing at my stupidity. That’s one in the ‘I’ for me, he’ll be saying. What else can we do to annoy her?’’
Annoy her, paranoia… help, I need to see a psychiatrist!

Published in The Courier (www.thecourier.es) June 1st 2012

BIG BROTHER, BIG STAR? THE REALITY OF CELEBRITY

6 May

ASK any youngster what they most want most when they grow up and there’s a good chance the words ‘’to be famous’’ will be near the top of the list. And sadly, reality TV rubbish like ‘Big Brother’ has made that dream easier to achieve than ever before.

The problem is that talent and fame no longer go together. These days it’s a case of the bigger and louder the idiot, the better the chance of hitting the headlines.

Only in the world of 21st century television can moronic lunatics locked away in bizarre goldfish bowl become the idols of millions of brain-dead couch potatoes. And for what? Being able to say the F-word more times than anyone else? I despair.

There used to be a time when fame was a natural development for those blessed with a special talent. Were you not remarkably gifted, your only chance of achieving celebrity status would be to take the notoriety route. And anonymity has always been a much better option than spending a lifetime in prison.

 

It mystifies me why today’s ‘celebrities’ are worshipped like gods. Particularly those who have achieved that celebrity via the reality TV route. Perhaps it is the fact that the average person’s 15 minutes of fame amounts to the time they were pulled from the sea by a lifeguard at Clacton after swallowing a lump of seaweed in two feet of water.

Anyone who actually KNOWS a celebrity (a real one, not a Big Brother berk) will be aware that they are as human as the rest of us.

They eat, sleep, breathe, laugh, cry, have families, age…and ultimately they die. Just like the rest of us. Unless they are themselves the children of celebrities, they also begin life as nobodies. They go to school, they grow up…and NOBODY ever asks for their autograph.

During my youth, I knew at least two nobodies who later became somebodies in a big way. Today their names are instantly recognisable but when I was 19, they were simply men trying to build careers in their chosen professions. Both were ambitious, so was I. But while I went on to be relatively successful as a writer and editor, these two guys reached for the stars….and grabbed them with both hands.

Tommy and Linda Woodward as I remember them in 1962.

The guys I am talking about are Sir Tom Jones and the BBC’s John Humphrys. Tom – then plain Tommy Woodward – would wander into the Pontypridd Observer office almost daily to tell me about his latest attempt to break into the big time. His work ethic regarding anything but singing was, shall we say, questionable.

But he clearly had talent … and was happy to provide me with some decent stories about his latest vocal exploits for my weekly pop column. He had lots of rough edges as a person – but with a voice like his, it was only a matter of time before his career took off and my personal name-dropping list got its first illustrious entry.

Humph was a classmate at the National Council for the Training of Journalists day release course in Cardiff each Friday.

Then working as a reporter for the Western Mail, John was a quiet, even shy guy…the last person you would pick out as a future BBC foreign correspondent, news presenter and Mastermind chairman. But like TJ, he clearly had a special talent which the BBC soon recognised.

The rise and rise of both sons of Wales taught me one huge lesson which today’s hero worshippers simply cannot identify with For all the glitz and glamour, celebrities are just ordinary people.

Spain’s anti-smoking laws head for the ash can

1 Apr

THERE are growing signs that Spain’s long-overdue legislation to curb the fag brigade is going up in smoke.

I suspected at the time the anti-smoking laws were tightened in January 2011 that tobacco-obsessed Spaniards would not observe it. And I’ve also been horrified recently that some Brits seem happy to risk a fine of up to €600,000 (as well as a horrendous death) by either smoking illegally themselves – or, in the case of some bar and business owners, allowing people to light up in enclosed bars, restaurants and even offices.

Clearly these people are playing with fire – both literally and metaphorically.

They don’t seem to realise it only takes one puffed-off colleague or customer to turn them in…and they could be relieved of every cent they own. At least, that’s what the law says.

Realistically, we all know that the Spanish police and bureaucrats are about as straight as Julian Clary and Alan Carr pairing up with the Kray twins on Strictly Kill Dancing. And since the protectors of the state smoke just as heavily as its citizens, the words ‘nudge nudge, wink wink, puff puff’ come to mind.

Last weekend, a friend and I sat in the glass-fronted dining area of an upmarket, sea-front restaurant (I’m not saying where) and ordered a late lunch.

Since the pullback roof was closed, we naturally we assumed the area was non-smoking. Until, that is, we noticed ashtrays on the tables. To add fire to the fuel, three members of a loud, ignorant group of Spaniards proceeded to manipulate a suspicious-looking substance into a trio of pathetically thin roll-ups and to set them alight. Within seconds, my pal and I were being passively poisoned via noise and nostrils combined.

“How come you allow smoking?’’ I asked a waiter. ‘’The room is closed in.’’ ‘‘It is permitted for people to smoke,’’ he countered, pointing to a tiny gap between the slats of the removable roof. (Well, he indicated a gap – though I couldn’t actually see it). “We have ventilation and air conditioning, so it is not a problem.’’

Now, either I have got it all wrong, or the law brought in on January 2, 2011, banned smoking in enclosed public places. In bars and restaurants the exception was to be establishments with a maximum of two walls or without a roof.

Since diners in this particular restaurant are visible to every passer-by, I can only assume that the police choose to ignore a seemingly blatant flouting of the law. Or maybe there’s some obscure small print which frees the restaurant management of compliance? There is, of course, another possibility…but I wouldn’t dream of suggesting anyone in Spain is corrupt.

Non-observance of the law is even worse in some places. A few days ago, for instance, a non-smoking friend went into a local Spanish bar for an early-morning coffee and was greeted by the sight of two Guardia Civil officers smoking away next to people eating breakfast. “It goes on all the time,’’ my pal assured me, adding: “Personally, I wish smoking was allowed in set smoking areas in bars but not in restaurants or eating areas.’’

Sounds to me like they don’t need a law for that…they’ve designated the smoking bit already. So much for the Spanish – what about the Brits who tell the legislators to go to blazes? The people who would not dare to defy the law in the UK, but seem to think it’s OK to bend the rules in Spain?

One publican admitted to me that when it’s cold, he takes a chance in the evenings by allowing smoking in the closed-in extension to his bar near Torrevieja. “I know I’m taking a risk,’’ he said. “But my customers want to smoke and I don’t want to send them out into the road.’’

On the contrary, I could give him 600,000 reasons why he SHOULD send them out into the road. I’m even more amazed by the smoker who lights up regularly in the open-plan office in which he works, just yards from his non-smoking boss and the entrance door.

Since smoke rises, the fumes drift to the office upstairs, not that the fumador is bothered. His defiance, despite the fact that the office’s few other addicts go outside to indulge their habit, astounds me as much as the fact that no one has made an issue of it. At least, not yet.

I just hope the person concerned sees the light before the law moves in. Or, worst-case scenario, a misplaced dog-end sets fire to the building and his boss suffers a fate worse than debt.

Published in The Courier (www.thecourier.es) March 30, 2012

Trick or treat? For Fawkes sake revive that Bonfire Night Guy!

29 Oct

I BLAME it on the Americans. In fact, I blame everything on the Americans – they are big enough to take it. Even the ones who weigh less than20 stone.

I’m talking about the over-the-top Halloween hoo-ha that has whooped its way into Britain…and all but killed off one of the nation’s most treasured occasions.

When I was a child, Guy Fawkes Night was one of the biggest days of the year. A tradition marking the 1605 Gunpowder Plot, it commemorated a failed assassination attempt against King James I by a group of provincial English Catholics.

The plan was to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament – something I doubt many British 10-year-olds these days know anything about.

Kid today are more concerned with Halloween, where they are free to frighten the lives out of  old ladies by donning ­horrific masks and demanding sweets with menaces.

I wonder what you get if you ask for a ‘trick’ rather than a ‘treat’? Does one of the little demons remove his mask and turn out to be Paul Daniels?

To me, the Guy Fawkes culture of my youth was so much more embracing.

For days, even weeks before the event, we’d go from door to door with makeshift effigies of Fawkes and implore householders to give us ‘a penny for the Guy’.

Then, as darkness fell on November 5, the neighbourhood would gather for a fireworks spectacular in which Guys galore would go up in smoke on top of a massive communal bonfire.

How that delightful tradition came to be usurped by the hideous ‘trick or treat’ culture, I do not know.

I believe Halloween has Celtic origins and was originally a pagan holiday in honour of the dead.

But I honestly cannot remember anyone celebrating it when I was young.

We may have started it – but as with everything else, the world has pinged it back in our faces with interest.

But I yearn for my grandchildren to enjoy the atmosphere of Guy Fawkes Night as I did half a century ago.

November 5 has a special place in my heart.

And nobody will convince me that the Halloween takeover was not a devious plot by those over-the-top, razzamatazz Americans.

Published in The Courier, 28/11/2011 (www.thecourier.es)

They pink it’s all over – but I still love joke birthday cards

22 Oct

IT was my birthday a couple of weeks ago and no, I’m not telling you how old I am.
But judging by the sort of birthday cards I received, my friends (the few I have left after all my moaning) clearly believe I have reached my dotage.
Apparently I am no longer a suitable target for those corny joke cards the ‘younger’ community bounce off each other.I didnt even get a card making fun of my being old. You know, the sort that make you seem glam until you get the punchline inside.
A year older…and no sign of any joke cards

On the front, it will say something like ‘’What Do You Like To Get Up To In Bed, Sexy Lady?’ Then, when you turn inside, there’s an old dear in a flannelette nightie sitting on the loo saying ‘I Like To Get Up To Wee.’

That one’s dreadful because I made it up. But you know what I mean.

Anyway, virtually every card I received was one of those schmaltzy affairs you send to great-grandma on her 97th birthday.

I’m talking about the pink ones covered with pretty flowers and the message To a Dear Friend.

Admittedly, I automatically orientate to this type of card for my 83-year-old  stepmother – but with good reason. She gets the pink schmaltz treatment because she has no sense of humour – or sense of anything, for that matter.

Anyway, this plethora of pinko cards all but convinced me that my friends had made a pact to tell me subtly that, in their eyes, I am now officially OLD. The fact is I love funny cards…and always have done. Providing they are not too crude, that is.

I might be a boring old drone to some, but no one can say I don’t have a sense of humour. So I assume the reason no one sent me a card I could laugh at is that the entire planet now sees me as a coffin dodger.

I scoured the cards for even the slightest hint of humour and the nearest I could get to a giggle was one bearing the message ‘Especially For You…’’. Well, Who else would it be for, tonto?

That’s me off everyone’s Christmas card list. Now where did I put my Zimmer  frame?