Happy Christmas 2011

Do you know what my younger brother said one Christmas? I’ll tell you. It was back in my diving days when emerging from a dry suit in a tuxedo seemed to me the epitome of cool. Logbooks, snorkels and PADI paraphernalia adorned every nook and cranny.

When I’d unwrapped my present from my brother Jake – an underwater camera – his face altered from one of elation to one of mild embarrassment. ‘35mm?’ he said, scrutinising the camera more closely than when he’d bought it. ‘Oh sorry, Barn – that’s not very deep, is it?’ Delightful young egg, he is. And when he was nine, he asked, ‘Were the Romans before or after The Beatles?’

My point is that, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, I hope you’re with your family, being silly and enjoying yourself. Presents? Pah! Don’t stress about all that; in fact, our family stopped bothering with presents once young Jake turned eighteen. Ever since, there has been no pressure of getting the “wrong” thing or dashing round the shops on Christmas Eve looking for something “thoughtful” – instead, all four “kids” simply get together, make merry and talk bollocks. It’s wonderful just being.

 

Book token?

 

Would you like a quick little story to send you on your way in this time of jollity and goodwill? OK then. These few lines, essentially pinched but with a half-attempt at paraphrasing to skirt the plagiarism issue, are from a super book, The Secret of Happy Children. I’m sure the author Stephen Biddulph won’t mind, especially as I’m plugging not only one of his books but also another great read – Raising Boys. If you’re mad enough to have had children and haven’t read these books, my advice is to log on to www.amazon.co.uk asap.

Now here’s the story, which could quite possibly come as an anti-climax after the build-up – like the depressing inevitability of a Cliff Richard Single at Christmas. Only joking. Shut up and recount the topping yarn? Rightho. Put your tea down and cast your optics over this. True story (I hope):

A couple appeared in the Family Court to obtain a divorce. The man was 91, his wife was 86 and they’d been together since the year dot. The judge asked why, if they can’t stand each other, they’d stayed together all these years. ‘Because,’ said the couple, ‘we wanted to wait until the children had died.

Well, it made me laugh. Anyway, I’ll be back in the New Year with anecdotes from the road as usual. In the meantime, a very Happy Christmas to you all.

P.S. The last picture was taken while unloading at a gig. Anyone care to guess the venue? Actually, why not go for a double whammy – which town is in the distance behind my dad in Picture Two (taken last Christmas)? Click on the picture to enlarge if you need to..

Haunted Hastings..

It’s an abomination. You won’t believe this, but Gemma “Blast her Eyes” Atterton didn’t email me last week. Extraordinary, I know, given my frightfully generous offer of a bath, but I guess she was either on a tight filming schedule or didn’t have access to Wi-Fi. No, I’m being obtuse – obviously, she was too nervous.

There she would have been, in her Hastings B&B, uttering an involuntary tinkly laugh at my blog. Cuffs of ecru lace no doubt kissed her cheeks as she blushed, fingers poised over the keyboard, agonising over an amusing repartee to email me. Chagrin in her heart…No, OK, I’m still talking bilge. I reckon it was really the cab fare up the hill that finally halted in her tracks, like a doe frozen in a Ford Fiesta’s headlights.

Anyway, there is far more to Hastings than the filming of Byzantium, so if you missed the movie stars you needn’t fret. Something far more titillating is afoot, something catapulting Hastings into the forefront of style and sophistication. Yes, Adult Panto graces our White Rock Theatre on January 6thJack and his Giant Stalk will no doubt draw hordes in their droves.

Oh yes, he is!

 

 

But there’s more. You know all that “He’s behind you/Oh no, he isn’t” tripe? Well, actually, maybe he is – you see, Hastings is seriously haunted. Oh, no it isn’t. Agh! I wish I hadn’t started this. Now, I recently joined a Hastings ghost tour to learn a little more about our poltergeist-strewn passageways..

‘I don’t allow note-taking on my tours,’ said the guide. I shan’t mention his name, but he was one of those inveterate control freaks, quite possibly shaped by decades of classroom teaching. I smiled, moleskin notebook flipped open, quill daubed liberally with ink. Surely he’s joking, I thought, glancing up airily.

 

Laugh a minute

 

Watery eyes stared back, his head waggling a little like an Indian waiter’s. ‘I find it distracts me,’ he continued, losing any shred of credibility. ‘And as far as I’m concerned, that’s a health and safety issue.’ Now, rarely am I gobsmacked. In fact, even Pervy Ray’s description of bukake had a considerably less marked effect.

But I was poleaxed, speechless and in a decidedly invidious position. Should I bop him on the nose or swallow my tongue? As he offered me a refund, the crowd hung with bated breath upon my reply.

‘Health and safety?’ mocked an auburn-haired girl in a cagoule, as we strolled around Hastings Old Town. ‘What are you going to do, stab yourself with a pencil?’ Our guide, fortunately, was out of earshot – and far too busy belittling any ignoramuses foolish enough not to take ghost walks seriously.  Crumbs, I hadn’t had so much fun since I was bullied at school.

But don’t let me put you off popping down here. There’s a splendid chip shop if hauntings aren’t really your bag. And the mini golf is to die for – we even host the riveting World Crazy Golf Championships..

NEWSFLASH: Hastings Goes Hollywood..

 

 

Down on Hastings seafront is a hodgepodge of film lorries. ‘Expecting any stars, are we?’ I asked a chap unloading his van. ‘Heaps of them,’ he said brusquely. I felt like one of those imbecilic fatheads (also known as fans) that have seriously approached me on a U2 Tour, asking, ‘So which truck does Bono sleep in?’ It has taken concerted restrain not to say that I string up a hammock in the trailer for him.

Regardless… Whoops, I nearly said irregardless then, something I’ve had to correct grown-ups on in the past. As a slight aside, you can discount anything lexicographers and etymologists might have to say on the subject; I’m telling you that the prefix and suffix cancel each other out and leave us with a nonsense.

So, irrespective – ah, that’s safer – of what the van driver had to say, we are expecting a star or two down here on the Sussex coast. Gemma Arterton is due, known by me at least as the character Stawberry Fields – she gave a coruscating performance in the James Bond film Quantum of Solace. Saoirse Ronan is playing her daughter.

 

Tidal Topography

 

Byzantium is an Irish film directed by Neil Jordan. And as far as I can tell, they’re trying to make shots of the sea in Hastings look like Ireland. Potty, but it might have something to do with the prices: beer is certainly cheaper here than in Dublin. And did you know that we don’t pay stamp duty? We’re regarded as a disadvantaged area. Anyway, it’s no good reading this and thinking about heading down the A21 at the weekend; the circus leaves on Thursday. Time is of the essence.

Gemma, if you’re reading this, is the shower in your B&B up to scratch? Does the hot tap give a deprecating cough? And have you been allotted any biscuits with those naff Nescafe sachets next to the kettle?

Well, luckily for you, I’m home during the day this week if you’d like to pop up the hill for a bath. There’s a Fisher Price watermill for you to play with, fluffy towels purloined from various spas, and I’ll even throw in a freshly brewed cafetiere…if you can introduce me to James Bond.

Late morning on Wednesday works best for me. So shoot me an email on your Blueberry – see my Contact page for details – and I’ll pop the kettle on..

Italian coffee Explained..

It’s easy to spot tourists in Italy. We’re the ones ordering lasagne and cappuccino at lunchtime. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but you might notice a slight snicker suffuse the waiter’s features. And it’s no good saying jingoistically, ‘Look here, Luigi, didn’t we own Italy once?’ We didn’t; I’ve already tried that line.

The English think they know a few things about coffee nowadays, it seems. Yes, we’ve got Costa, Starbucks and Caffe Nero, but look at the prodigious dimensions of the cups. It’s absurd. Even the smallest size would drown a meerkat and the largest… Well, who actually needs a bucket of coffee?

What’s my point? That the Italians do coffee. But you may find yourself intimidated by the confusing array of choice on arrival in Italy. Which is why I’m going to help. Next time, you needn’t point to a cup upon the coffee machine and mumble, ‘cafe per favore’, eyes glued to the floor because your Italian vocabulary is unjustifiably nonexistent or shit. No, not any more.

Jot down some of the following and you can brazenly approach Italian baristas, head held high. Of course you’ll still be wildly misunderstood: a blistering barrage of staccato questioning will undoubtedly scorch your fringe, heavily underscored by slammed saucers indenting the enamel. If this happens, nod sagely, shrug a little and say, ‘Si. Molte Caldo.’ It’s all part of the fun. Up for it? Course you are.

 Starbucks, Pay Attention!

 

Café Corretto = Espresso in a cup with a shot of sambucca. You can also ask for Baileys instead.

Cappuccino = A big cup of espresso, milk and froth. Add chocolate sprinkles to taste.

Café Latte =  (A flat white) A cappuccino in a glass (without the froth).

“Macchiato” means ‘stained’ so Macchiato (cold or hot) = Espresso stained with milk.

Latte Macchiato = Hot milk stained with coffee (served in a tall glass.)

Marocchino = “A small cappuccino”. Espresso, milk foam (froth) and chocolate powder.

Americano = (A long black). An espresso plus hot water in a large cappuccino cup. What we in the West might deem “normal” coffee.

Schiumato = Espresso with froth on top in a small cup (“schiuma” means froth). This is a marocchino without the cocoa powder.

Need a coffee yet?

 

Double Espresso = Bloody Obvious.

Café Lungo = A small cup of espresso but the machine is left running. If it takes say, eight seconds for an espresso, then a café lungo takes about fifteen seconds. The hot water continues through the coffee, as opposed to just adding hot water (as in an Americano). It’s really a diluted espresso.

Moka = a cafetiere. This is generally home-made and not found in cafes.

Café Freddo = Cold Coffee. I’m not dealing with cold/iced coffees, though, otherwise we’ll be here all night dealing with Ginseng Cream, or White Chocolate Cream and Nougat Pieces. Then there is granita di caffe (ice cream coffee) and shakerato (cold coffee and ice). You see what I mean?

So, has that made matters clearer? No, stick to the wine then. That’s another area they’ve got the hang of down there. One last thing, however:

Cappuccino isn’t ordered by Italians after about 11a.m. for some reason. But don’t let that stop you making even more of a fool of yourself. Yummmy, frothy coffee freckled with chocolate.. If you want one after your evening meal, then convention be blowed; the machine is still operable and the customer is always right. Risk the derision.

For an in-depth look at the cappuccino, check out James Hoffman’s blog post here..