Chances Are.

He noticed that she was desperately trying to locate a lighter. He recognised her from earlier, the girl who had been dancing near the bar, laughing with her friend, throwing her long hair around as she did so. She looked so happy, so confident and pleased to be in the company she was in. He couldn’t stop looking at her. When he snapped out of gazing at her, he realised he was dangerously close to seeming pervy. So he went outside for a cigarette.

Thing is, she didn’t mean to follow him. It wasn’t a strong, conscious decision to see where he was going, she just felt drawn to the direction he walked in. She followed him out of the club. He was standing there, on the pavement, smoking. They made eye contact and she felt embarrassed, assuming he would be annoyed about being pursued. She fished the emergency menthol cigarettes from her handbag, put one between her lips and then searched the bag for a lighter. There was none.

“Here, use this”, he said as he handed her a red plastic lighter.
“Oooh ta”, she replied, while still holding the cigarette between her lips.
“Having a good night?”
“Yeah, great thank you. It’s a nice crowd”, she smiled, thinking about her friends indoors.

And then they suddenly ran out of things to say, and they walked back indoors together. Together, but awkwardly separate. She wandered back to her friends, picked up her drink, and picked up on the conversations they had begun while she had been outdoors. She chanced a look behind her, to see where he’d gone. He was there, right where he stood before, looking right at her.

He was annoyed at himself, he shouldn’t have looked at all. She would surely think him a bit creepy now. He had the chance to chat to her, he blew it, and now here he was standing in the middle of a club, just looking. He smiled as broadly as he could, to make himself seem more friendly and less odd. She smiled back. Good. She laughed with her friends again and threw her hair back. He couldn’t not watch.

They didn’t speak again, but on her way home she thought of him. She remembered his face and the way he looked at her. It was warm, he was admiring her. No-one had looked at her that way for a long time. One of her friends had remarked on the man who was staring, but those eyes were good and friendly. She wished she had talked to him more, wished she asked his name, exchanged numbers, invited him to join her group of friends in the club.

Opportunity lost. He was unlikely to ever see her again. He had travelled miles to be at that club, and she sounded like she lived out-of-town too. Not from round there. But he thought about her as he fell asleep that night, wondered what could have happened, if only he had been more chatty. He wished that he could turn the clock back and start that conversation over. He wanted to be talking with her now, and regretted that he wasn’t.

She mentioned him to her friend as they drove home. “That bloke who was staring at you? You went to chat to him outside?”. She explained that she didn’t, she just happened to nip out for a smoke at the same time he did. And besides, they hadn’t really chatted. She was embarrassed to have followed him, and he didn’t seem to want to chat anyway. “Did you fancy him?”, asked her friend. She smiled, being unusually coy. She thought of his face, and decided that yes, he was lovely. “I did yeah…”, she smiled again.

Surprised by the revelation, her friend turned to face her and to see the smile. It had been so long since she’d smiled like that, and since she felt anything but mistrust for a man. It was good to see.

They laughed, and as they turned to face the road again, the headlights from the truck seemed to fill the car, followed by the scream of brakes. She closed her eyes, saw his face again, and then nothing.

Her friend screamed and sobbed hysterically she was cut free of the driver’s seat. Not from pain, but because she knew her passenger was utterly lifeless. She was still strapped into the near-side seat, covered in blood, not moving, and yet they made no urgent attempt to cut her free. There was no point.

As he woke up, blinked at the sunlight streaming in through the curtains, and reached for his glasses, he remembered the girl from last night. He tried to recall her name, and regretted that he’d never asked for it. He pictured her again; laughing, smiling and enjoying life.

He wondered what she was doing right now…

Railtown Loco Rollers

It’s been ages since I’ve blogged, and I know not why, just haven’t been stirred to write about much lately. There’s been loads going on though. I’ve been to loads of gigs here and there, met lots of nice people (as ever!) and I’ve even developed a liking for real ales. Who knew!?

One new development I am DEAD proud of though is roller derby. I began to notice a few of my Facebook friends were getting into it, and really REALLY falling in love with it. They’re all looking fit, firm and fiesty and they’re all women who’s opinions I trust and who hold similar political ideals. A co-incidence? Mais non. Turns out that roller derby is a feminist movement on wheels. Community, support, fun, self-esteem building… all really good things in my book.

So where was the team in Crewe, a town I thought would need this kind of movement as much as any? Nowhere to be seen. Lots of teams around us in Stoke, Liverpool, Wirral, Chester and so on. But nothing here. Hmmm… strange.

I went to Liverpool with Michelle from OffBeat Brewery to watch the Liverpool Roller Birds bout at Sefton Park and was blown away. What a great afternoon! Everything impressed me, from the organisation, to the style of play, to the gear the skaters were wearing and the way everyone drops to one knee to shield and protect a skater who is down and injured. That is team.

I still don’t know if it’s a good idea, but I went a bit Billy Bonkers and decided to form our own team in Crewe. After a few false starts I came up with “Railtown Loco Rollers” as our team name, and as with anything worth doing these days, I set up a Facebook page. Unbelievably, people started ‘liking’ it and before I knew it, I had a dozen women saying, “So, where do we sign, when do we start?”. Shit!

I did a bit of emailing round, and Sir William Stanier sports hall were very good bout helping a fledgling sports team with some time on a Monday night. Brilliant! The worst bit was getting messages from friends saying they work on Mondays and couldn’t be there, but it was the only time and date we were offered so I had to take the hit.

One of the new team members messaged me and said she had just moved to the area from Blackpool, had been in their team until she left, and was DYING to get her derby on again. In addition, she’s a graphic designer and would be able to do logos… for cake and beer! That’s the kinda currency I like, so today we got our logo too!

So we have a roller home, a name, a logo and a few women who can’t wait to get their wheels on! We even have a sister team, Stoke City Rollers, who want to join up and train with us, and amazing offers of guest coaching from bout-ready ladies from other local teams. The rest will come, I’m hoping to get a bit of something in Crewe Chronicle this week which hopefully attract a bit more ‘fresh meat’. It’s all coming together ridiculously quickly!

But the one question everyone has asked is, “So, will you be putting skates on Chappers?”, and the short answer is no. There is nothing in the known universe that could induce me to put wheels on my feet. I have a terrible phobia of falling over. Wet leaves, wonky paths, ice and downward escalators are my nemesis. BUT I can organise the shizzle out of anything, so let me introduce you all to:

RLR Logo

Space & Fate.

Music rides over,
Air in this room,
It speaks to say,
It’ll be over soon.

A temporary feeling,
Sad, hollow days,
Will go quite soon,
Begin a new phase.

You’ll find a place,
Glue all the pieces,
Smile once again,
Rich as creases.

Soon home will be,
Beside him where,
I know I belong,
Just lying there.

Warm with love,
Bathed in light,
Glowing with heat,
In the dark of night.

Until that day,
I’ll rest in wait,
Time and destiny,
Space and fate.

Holidays Are Comin’ (early).

I haven’t blogged in ages, and although I felt like doing some blogging, I couldn’t for the life of me think of a topic to blog about. I asked my Facebook friends. They were utterly uninspiring, and a long and tawdry thread about vaginas began, but among the minges, was this suggestion:

“why do people celebrate xmas so early and decorations up in september……..dont know bout you but it annoys me to…….no need!x”

I have managed to see past the grammar, spelling and punctuation crimes, and have decided that this was the most interesting suggestion of all. Interestingly, the person who suggested it, isn’t even one of my Facebook friends, he just happened to see my plea, and responded sensibly. I need more friends like him.

So then, why DO people begin their Christmas in Autumn? Nope, I don’t know either. I mean I can guess at it being the one time of the year they can break out the feel-good overspending with impunity. We could also take a stab at childhood memories of happiness and wish-fulfilment and we may even cynically blame the marketing genius of Coca-Cola, Argos and John Lewis.

However, I think we’re not that stupid, as a population, and people only succumb to these pressures if it’s something they want to do anyway. If you want to begin your run-up to Crimbo in mid-November and use the Boots 3 for 2 offers as an excuse, go on then, do it! It’s no skin off my nose.

BUT loads of people HATE when people start enjoying themselves too soon. It’s like they think there’s only so much Christmas joy available each year, and people who start using it up early are stealing other people joy portions.

Note to self: don’t say ‘joy portions’ out loud; it sounds rude.

My take on all this? Do what feels good. If you want to put yourself in debt and buy mountains of overpriced shite in order to show the world how much you desperately love each other, grand. If that’s your thing, do it.

If you prefer to painstakingly pickle and preserve fruits and berries, bake seasonal yummies and knit your own muesli in order to show the world you took time to create something lovely, that’s great. Actually, if you DO make this kind of Christmas gift, put me down for your leftovers – I heart biccies and jams.

Or if you’d rather give to charity on behalf of your friends and family, or even spend the time you would’ve spent present shopping and wrapping at a local soup kitchen, then that too is great. Beware though, I did it one year though and it actually properly pissed off a couple of close friends who wanted presents instead. Go figure.

Look, it’s not even vaguely about the little baby Jesus anymore. We (mostly) all accept that its all about a break from work, going crazy ape-shit in TK Maxx, drinking your own body weight in Bailey’s and Iceland party platters for breakfast.

But actually, if you really think about, it’s just about being happy. Just for a little bit of the year, people who wouldn’t usually justify it, let themselves be happy.

You know what? There’s nowt wrong with that.

Stand Upright.

It was a weekend of ups and downs, mostly caused by booze.
I shall start at the very beginning.

On Friday the 17th February, Dodgy gave a command performance at The Box, here in Crewe. It was to be the first gig of the tour to support their new album ‘Stand Upright In A Cool Place‘. A warm-up gig, if you like, before they hit the bright lights of the big cities. The band arrived on the Thursday and used the venue as a rehearsal room, to polish up a few rarely heard songs from the first album before adding them to the setlist.

In my new and shiny position at Redshift Radio, it was my absolute pleasure to get one of the band into the Redshift studios to discuss life, music, and other less important stuff. So on Friday afternoon I collected Mathew Priest from the rehearsal venue and deposited him into to studio for a half hour grilling by the lovely Liz Southall. The fairly hilarious results can be heard here.

Straight afterwards I met up with Elliot and Eleanor Howells, some more of the Dodgy family and we went for a slap-up carvery lunch together. The conversation very quickly found its level when Elliot sniffed the passenger car seat, after I told him that two minutes previously I had dropped Math off after the radio interview. I had been in their company for about thirty seconds at this point. I knew I was going to love them dearly from there on in. They were clearly very weird people.

Later on at the venue it was lovely to see so many familiar faces. Local friends who had come to see what all fuss I was making was about, as well as friends from further afield, such as London and Newbury! Blimey. A couple of liveners were had in the Corner Bar and then off to The Box to hear Smoke Feathers‘ set.

I’d never heard them play before, although I’ve heard some of their recorded output. I was blown away. I really rate them, and wholeheartedly encourage you to have a listen to them for yourselves. Their album’s out, and well worth a few quid of your hard-earned wedge.

Then Dodgy. We’d all built this gig up so much that I’m fairly certain that Dodgy could have walked on stage lowered their jeans, farted and walked off again, and we’d all have applauded and retired happily to the bar. Good though that they didn’t. They played songs from their first album that I have never heard live before, a great big chunk of their latest album which is wonderful both in a live setting and recorded, and then a selection of Dodgy favourites.

A drunk woman in the toilets said, “I wish they’d hurry up and play Good Enough, that’s the only one I know!” and with every fibre of my being, I fought the desire to punch her repeatedly in the face. Sometimes pacifism sucks, man.

The gig was utterly fantastic, and after a bit of a boogie at the indie disco afterwards, we all said big drunken huggy goodbyes and went our separate ways. Drunk, tired and very happy indeed.

The next day I woke up with a moderate to raging hangover, and collected Julia from Crewe station. She had travelled up from Harrow to spend the remainder of the weekend with me. For those of you who don’t know, Julia is the woman who was foolish enough to make me ‘Guardian Aunt’ of her firstborn daughter. That’s a bit like Godmother, but without the involvement of religion. Stu Thoy of Smoke Feathers summed it up for himself with, “So, right, if they die in a car crash, you’ve gotta like look after the kid? Wow. So what’s in it for you?”. There is a distinct possibility that he may have taken strong drink that night.

Julia came back to my place to meet Che the cat and to begin the weekend’s proceedings with a nice mug of coffee and a healthy splosh of Tia Maria in it. It was only 11:45am, but we figured it was Saturday, so what the hell. After I had gathered my thoughts and thrown some stuff into an overnight bag, we headed for the train station to catch the next train to Liverpool. Dodgy were to continue their new album tour at Eric’s, the famous venue on Mathew Street, and so Julia and I had treated ourselves to a posh room at the Hard Day’s Night Hotel.

Once at the hotel we reasoned that since it was lashing down with rain outdoors, there was no sense in going sight-seeing in Liverpool. As beautiful as my beloved spiritual home is, it’s true to say that it’s just as grim as any other collection of streets and buildings, when you’re huddled up to avoid a soaking. So we took advantage of our plush and palatial hotel boudoir. I fired up the coffee machine, Julia drew a deep, bubbly bath for a soak, and we chatted and nattered about all the things we needed to catch up on since last time we spent quality time together. It was bliss.

Heading towards gig time, we dressed, threw on some war paint and headed downstairs for expensive cocktails. Very swish indeed. However we realised quickly that we needed food before we embarked on any serious drinking and so we headed out into the direction of Pizza Express. “Have you got a booking? Ah well, you’ll have to wait 45 minutes then”. Oh bugger. So we left and  wandered along looking for an alternative.

A sign about the size of a postage stamp said, “Metro Bar & Grill” and so we followed it underground into a mainly empty, but properly lovely little place. It was tarted up kebab food, but beautifully done and jolly reasonable. We ordered halloumi and chicken, and a load of rice and chips and salad and you name it arrived too. Far too much for us, but we soldiered on, until we were at Mr Creosote bursting point. Once we’d left, we had a little walk along North John Street to ease our full tummies.

At Eric’s we laid heavily into G&Ts in plastic glasses. Smoke Feathers were playing, and so we caught most of their set again. Great stuff. One by one we said hello to all the people we expected to see there, and then joy of joys, we spotted Angela and John Devine! We hadn’t known they would be there, so it was great to see them. We took up our audience positions near to them.

There were a few weirdos in the crowd (a man called Mark who tried it on with every attractive female in the crowd – not me, a drunk woman with yellow hair who did a proper bump and grind to even the most sensitive songs on the set list, and two men who stood millimetres away from the 12″ high stage, so that pretty much no-one but them could see Nigel), but then that’s Liverpool for you.

The gig was monumental. One of the best ever. Julia was absolutely made up, I was beside myself with happiness, and the band themselves seemed rightfully pleased with the way it all went. John, Angela, Julia and I danced and sang and cheered and clapped, and gave each other knowing nods and smiles throughout the set. Just as it should be. Music, friends, love and happiness.

We saw lots of other friends there too: Prowsey & Bernadette, Olivia, Cath & Andy, Chris, Paul and others who the fug of drink has caused me to forget. Do forgive me.

We left the gig and Stu from Smoke Feathers was standing in the corridor brandishing a bottle of white wine. We chatted for a while, he offered us a swig from his bottle, and said the magic words: “There’s loads more booze backstage”. Music to my ears, as if more music were needed. So we toddled off, availed ourselves of a couple of very friendly vodka and oranges and got comfy as Prowsey and Math entertained the crowd with rock and roll anecdotes. Booze was being passed around and Julia and I drank well. At one point I turned around to see her swig neat tequila from a bottle, which is something I never thought I’d see Julia do. But then I never thought I’d ever hear her say ‘cunt’ either…

Time to leave and wander back to the hotel. We tumbled upstairs (or was it down? I’ve gone a bit fuzzy on that bit) and found a fantastic soul band playing to a packed floor of movers and groovers. We stayed for a while, threw a shape or two, but then conceded that it was bedtime for Chappers & Jules. Quite a merry gang spilled out onto Mathew Street and lots of boozy goodnights and goodbyes were said by everyone. I seem to recall leaning against a statue of John Lennon to smoke a cigarette, but where I got the cigarette from, I have no recollection.

Back at the room, we performed our ablutions, got into jimjams and as I turned out the lights, Julia said, “G’night Mary Ellen..”. Obviously, I replied, “G’night John Boy..”, at which point she sat up and exclaimed, “BUT I WANNA BE JIM BOB!”, and fell back down onto her pillow. To sleep; perchance to dream.

We woke at about 9am. Julia was satisfied that this was sufficiently late to count as a lie-in, in her capacity as a mother of two titchy people. So we lazed around a bit longer (because we could) and then checked out. I remembered from a previous visit with Lis Lambertsen that there was a branch of Patisserie Valerie round the corner, so I suggested eggs benedict and hot chocolates for breakfast. Nom and indeed nom.

Having further put the world to rights (the UN ain’t got nowt on us), we set out towards the Albert Dock, to go and pay homage to the mighty Mersey, and to visit one of my favourite places in the world – the new Museum of Liverpool. I especially wanted Julia to see it, because I knew she would ‘get’ it, and understand why I feel about Liverpool the way that I do. The exhibits in there say everything there is to say about the city and I insist that if you go to Liverpool, you MUST visit this museum. Julia hit the nail on the head when she said, “Seems to me, London is a city of business and buildings and things and activity. Liverpool is all that too, but it really is all about the people”.

As usual there are things in that place that make me weep. Four times I’ve been there, and every time I’ve sat down and shed tears, looking out of that huge pillar box window, the Three Graces to my right, the Mersey to my left, and the Irish Sea before me.

My mate Ann (Liverpool born and bred) says you don’t have to be from Liverpool to be a Scouser. It’s a state of mind, a way of life and kind of soul. I count myself lucky to be one of those people; not born in Liverpool, but as Scouse as I can be despite it.


Louder Than Amsterdam.

Today I am a little bit proud of myself. I’ve had an article used by the good people of Louder Than War. It’s about a favourite subject of mine; the band Amsterdam.

Those of you who understand how much I enjoy writing will understand how exciting this is for me. It’s just nice once in a while for someone else to say, “Actually, that’s not bad!”.

Anyway, here’s the article:

Royal Visit.

Around Christmas time there was a documentary on the telly box about the engineers, mathematicians and thousands of support workers at Bletchley Park, the top-secret location of the codebreakers who cracked the Enigma machine messages. I made a comment on Facebook about what an amazing story it had been, and what heroism those people had displayed – working against seemingly insurmountable odds.

My Facebook comment was responded to by Mike O’Connor who has largely been an internet friend of mine for about 7 years, having met him and his wife Sue at an Ian McNabb gig at The Stables in Milton Keynes, back in February 2004. I once referred to Mike as ‘Mikey Boy’ online, and believing this automatically made him cool and youthful again, he’s never really forgotten it.

We’ve all met up from time to time at various gigs, but we’ve never spent any proper time in each other’s company. Mike mentioned that he and Sue and their son Jamie live just five minutes from Bletchley park, and to their shame had never visited. We agreed therefore that I should go over to their house in Milton Keynes for a weekend, sometime in the new year, and we would all go together.

This weekend was that weekend. I packed a bag, bade farewell to the cats and caught my train to Milton Keynes Central. Some eejit train driver had turned his freight train over at Bletchley, causing network chaos and signalling fuckwittery.This meant that I had to disembark at Northampton, but very kindly Mike and Sue came all the way out to collect me from much further afield.

I had heard rumours of Mike and Sue going a bit billy bonkers on the welcoming committee, and there had even been whispers of a red carpet with brass band and various local dignitaries. However, since I was now arriving at another station, all of the pomp that had been arranged was apparently dispensed with, and happily I was met by the O’Connors about 10 minutes after my train arrived. I walked towards their car shouting, “Where’s my fucking brass band!?”, but I was appeased with the promise of a G&T as soon as we got back to the house.

Milton Keynes is not nearly as dull as people would have you believe. There are some really pretty areas, and it feels like it has alot of space. Mikey Boy and Sue’s home is beautiful and very welcoming. I was ushered in and introduced to Binnie the Jack Russell, who quickly became my new best friend. Then I saw the banner. And the t-shirts. And the mugs. And the typed and printed menus and itineraries. And the place settings. Bloody hecking hellfire. Mike had gone utterly mental and had all kinds of brilliant stuff printed up with “Chappers in MK 2012”, as though it were a bona-fide royal visit! Completely flattered, a bit gobsmacked, but highly amusing. Absolutely priceless!

The G&Ts started to flow and while Jamie began to entertain me with anecdotes about how totally EPIC he is, Sue cooked up an absolute storm with meatballs, pasta and a delicious tomato sauce. Over dinner the conversation got sillier and sillier and the laughter was non-stop. Mike was quizzing me about things he’d read on Facebook, but had hardly dared ask until I was a) tipsy and b) full of pasta. A great night with great friends, round a family dinner table, just as it should be. Full and drunk and happy, I stumbled off to bed in The Chappers Suite, which was in fact Jamie’s Dr Who themed bedroom, which had been temporarily renamed by him for the duration of my stay. Blessim!

The following morning, Mikey Boy made us all do PT on the lawn in our vests and knickers. Actually that’s a fib. What actually happened was we all performed our ablutions and sat down to a delicious cooked breakfast, to set us up for the day ahead. Following breakfast be repaired to the lounge with steaming mugs of tea, and carried on with nattering, catching up and having a larf.

At a suitable juncture we set off at a brisk rate to Bletchley Park, and by buggery it was cold. The wind was icy and a bit painful if I’m honest. Sue (a fellow Northerner) and I agreed that it was definitely colder down South, than it ever is up North. But then the Sun only shines on the righteous, I suppose. Bletchley Park was just as I imagined. Some huts have been renovated to look something like they did in the 1940s, some have been left as tumbledown prefabricated buildings, but I understand that finances are coming in slowly but surely to help renovate more of these historic buildings. Some of the unused land has been sold off for housing developments, which is not an ideal scenario in terms of preserving the site I suppose, but it makes economic sense, and since Bletchley Park is the very by-word for progress, one can’t complain.

There’s a large brick-built block with houses the majority of the exhibition, and the all important Turing Bombe – one of the decoding machines used to decipher the Enigma messages that were sent by the Nazis to each other, giving vital operational information during WWII. The Enigma machines were very complex coding machines that transformed plain text into coded text via wires, cogs, reflectors and valves, and the patterns were altered by the Germans every 24 hours. There were millions upon millions of possible variations, and every day WRNS who were trained to operate Turing’s Bombe (named after an ice cream sundae) cracked the enemy codes, and passed on the Nazi communications to the Home Office.

It was absolutely mesmerising to see a reproduction of the Bombe actually working, and to see how the 12 miles of wiring and shedloads of Bakelite were used to crack these codes, sometimes in less than 15 minutes. There were also a number of Enigma machines, including Mussolini’s own personal unit.

In the manor house itself, we learned about the Leon family who built Bletchley Park, and continued to own it until 1937. The actor Sir John Standing (the pervy bishop in V for Vendetta) is a descendant of the original Leons and is in fact the 4th baronet, but never uses the title.

The all important pit stop at the coffee shop (Mike’s poorly hip was playing him up – an old shrapnel wound perhaps?) found their refreshments to be both delicious and reasonably priced, except Mike expressed horror at the price of tinned pop. We reminded him there was a war on, and he plumped for a NAAFI cappuccino.

There were lots of displays giving a wider view of wartime Britain: a mock-up of a 1940s home, displays telling the stories of the carrier pigeon teams, HMS Petard (the crew of which won George Crosses for capturing the first of the Enigma machines) and various other amazing WWII heroes. Sue and I found a display about the important role of female spies and resistance agents very informative, but got the giggles when we reached a board about ‘FANY Support’ (First Aid and Nursing Yeomanry).

Eventually, having been in Hut 8 (Alan Turning’s workplace throughout his stay at Bletchley), seen the Bombe and Enigma decoding, and gradually starting to suffer the effects of hypothermia, we dashed back to the car, and buggered off back to O’Connor Towers for a warm up. There’s a slight possibility that I had another G&T at that point, but if I did, it was only to ward off the cold, and certain death.

Having provided me with a comprehensive overview of the region’s restaurants, Jamie had been keen for me to choose somewhere to eat out on Saturday night. Since he seems to be quite a young connoisseur, I delegated that choice to him, and he decided in his infinite gastronomic wisdom that we should go to the Red Hot World Buffet in Milton Keynes’ theatre district. Some of you may already be familiar with this concept, but for those of you who prefer the food on your plate to be of one nationality at a time, I will explain.

Basically you pay a plate price, and then  you stuff your fucking cake hole as much as you like. There’s Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Italian, Thai, Tex Mex and everything else that you can imagine or possibly want, all sitting there either in rows upon rows of bain-marie, under yards and yards of heatlamps or on hotplate upon hotplate of deliciousness.

We ate until we were a table of four Mr Creosotes. I guzzled down half a pint of Black Russian at one point, like it was tap water. It was a feeding frenzy, and there was a certain amount of very un-British jostling at the bain-marie when the fajita chicken started to run out, but all in all it was brilliant. Jamie chose well and it was a smashing night out.

It was snowing like a good ‘un by the time we left the restaurant, so back at the ranch, Sue and I changed into our cosy jimjams, and we all watched Paul (the Pegg/Frost alien film), while I washed my tea down with another couple of G&Ts. Rude not to, since they’d bought a whole litre of Gordon’s especially for me. At bedtime I trundled off to the Dr Who themed ‘Chappers Suite’ and utterly zonked out within nanoseconds of my head touching the pillow. Apart from a few minutes at 3:30am (when poor Jamie’s Red Hot World Buffet decided to make a re-appearance) I slept soundly, and all in all I thoroughly enjoyed a wonderful stay with great friends.

This morning we breakfasted together, but one eye was on the clock as we were thinking about me getting back to the train station, and since Milton Keynes was under about 4″ of snow by this time, we decided to take it easy and not visit the Peace Pagoda and Tree Cathedral, which had been on the itinerary. Sad, but I suspect they may be even more beautiful after Spring has sprung.

Goodbyes were said just after 1pm, and Mike dropped me off at Milton Keynes Central. Sad to leave good friends and a great weekend behind, but pleased to be going home to the felines. I’ve just opened my weekend bag to put my mucky (mostly food stained) things into the washing machine, and found a beautiful card, handmade by Sue, which encourages me to return to them.

Careful what you wish for O’Connors – I bloody well will!

Delayed Gratification.

When was the last time you had to wait for bloody YONKS for something you really, really wanted? In this age of immediacy, we rarely have to. Your evening meal can be ready (DING!) within four minutes. Your weekly shop can be done in ten minutes without leaving the house. If you hear a song you like, it is yours to download and listen to at will, in less time than it takes to clean your teeth. We very rarely build up a proper longing for things anymore, and I think perhaps that leads us to cherish them less.

There have been many times I have been worked up over the release of an album, but I think the last time was in 2004. Having seen The Zutons loads of times in little clubs and venues around the NorthWest, I was bloody bursting to get my mitts on their first album, and especially because there was a special 3D zombie giftpack with a limited amount of copies. I booked a holiday for the morning of the 18th of October, and was standing on the steps of Virgin in Crewe, waiting for them to open.

I was their first customer of the day, they hadn’t even had time to work up the customary record shop assistant apathy yet. I got back to the car, tore off the cellophane, put the CD in and drove to work, enjoying my own little piece of Zuton heaven. A moment of bliss I had waited weeks for, and it was worth every minute.

Since then, it hasn’t been that music hasn’t excited me as much, it’s just that it’s been easier to get hold of. You could get an artist’s demo tracks and promo snippets on MySpace. There’s always a a ‘leak’ if something’s hotly anticipated, and there’s always ‘exclusive’ MP3s to stumble upon, download and enjoy, here and there. It’s all so immediate and this isn’t necessarily a Bad Thing. It’s quite exciting to think that you’re hearing a track that was recorded so recently, that the seats in the studio are still warm from the producer’s arse.

However, if you’re a bit ‘old school’ (as the ‘yoot’ would have it) like me, sometime you yearn for the days when you could work up a good set of tummy butterflies for an album. Lucky me then, that this year, I’m being treated to exactly that.

I had missed out on the whole Dodgy experience in my late teens and early twenties for various boring reasons, so when I received a text message in 2007, to tell me that there was a strong possibility that Dodgy were about to reform, I let out a little excited yelp. The day I got the text to say the tour was off because of Andy’s broken arm, I cried with disappointment. Standing at the front at their first Liverpool gig in 2008, there were tears of joy. Hearing rumours of new songs and studio time started the excitement building, and then news that they were off to Texas to polish up the finished recordings… SQUEEE!

At the end of last year, they played the album in full, at all dates on their Autumn tour. A big risk, but it paid off. Every tune was a diamond, and every fan rapidly picked a favourite. By the end of that tour in December, people in the crowd were singing the new songs back to the band, which was amazing considering hardly anyone had those songs to own and to listen to over again. They’d become familar purely in a live setting, which is a great feat for any band, let alone one that hadn’t released any new material since the late nineties.

It is now about three weeks away from the release of that album. Since it was mixed in Texas, I have had to resist countless ways of hearing it. I have been offered emailed MP3s, mini-mixes, promo copies and all sorts. I am only suprised that a car hasn’t been parked outside my house with the album being played at high volume, through a loudspeaker system, strapped to the roof. But I have stayed strong.

There is even the opportunity for Dodgy fans to get a copy of the album prior to the release date, if they come up with a great idea for a ‘listening party’. No thank you. The first time I listen to MY copy of this album, I want to be very much alone. I will prepare the lounge with dimmed lighting, some candles, and maybe even a sandlewood joss stick. I will pour myself a glass of something boozy (a Rioja, I think), headphones on, press play and close my eyes. I expect I will cry. I am a great spiller of tears, especially when it comes to music that makes you feel something.

So between now and the day I receive my copy of Stand Upright In A Cool Place, I don’t want to know. You can keep your sneaky peeks, and exclusive chances to hear a track here and there. I want MY copy of the whole thing, from start to finish, and it’s already making me feel a bit queasy to think it’s just three weeks away.

But something tells me that it’s well worth waiting for…

Fairy Tale.

It was Christmas Eve. Father Christmas had finished making all the children’s toys, and the elves had just helped him to load up the sleigh in a thick, snowy blizzard. He just had time to spend a few hours relaxing before setting off. Father Christmas got into his favourite armchair in front of a roaring log fire, put his cold feet up to thaw, and opened a bottle of ale that he’d been saving for just this moment. Bliss.

Just then there came a knock at the door. BANG BANG BANG! Father Christmas couldn’t believe his rotten luck. One of the elves was sent to go and see. The front door was opened, all the warmth from the fire disappeared and a gale howled through the house, blowing snow into the hallway.

Father Christmas shouted to the elf at the door, “Who is it? Who is at the door on a night like this?!”. Through the blizzard, the elf shouted back that it was the Christmas Fairy.

Shivering now, and not a little unimpressed, Father Christmas shouted back, “Well what on earth does she want at this hour on Christmas Eve, in weather like this?”.

The elf shouted back that the Christmas Fairy had brought them an enormous Christmas Tree, through the dark and wind and snow as a special Christmas gift. Father Christmas shouted, “Well tell her to stick it up her arse!”

And that, boys and girls, is how the Fairy ended up at the top of the Christmas tree.