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Day 275 – Jack Frost

Song of the Day: Back to Black – Amy Winehouse

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A frozen pond at the Royal Ashdown Golf Club

Survived Christmas. In fact, it all went very well. Just the four of us on Christmas Day, a walk, a drink in the pub, then home for a big chicken with most of the trimmings (not bread sauce, though I love bread sauce), a proper game of Monopoly (when does that ever happen?), a bit of telly, some booze, chocolate, Christmas cake, mince pie. Lovely.

Après ça le deluge. Twenty-nine of us laying waste to a table full of meat, veg, pickles and puddings and playing silly games. The chili was left virtually untouched and I thought we might be eating it for breakfast lunch and tea until Easter, but it’s nearly all gone now, with a little help from our friends. Just enough for four in the freezer, waiting for one of those days when I can’t be bothered to cook.

The weather has been great. Normally Christmas time is mild and grey, but this year we’ve had cold, crisp, frosty mornings, blue skies and sunshine, albeit so low in the sky that you can’t see a thing when you’re driving towards it. Makes life interesting on the roads, especially for cyclists.

Today was one of the coldest so far, perfect for a round of golf in Ashdown Forest, home of Winnie the Pooh. The greens were so hard that if you landed directly on them your ball would bounce about fifty feet in the air and disappear off the back into the undergrowth. But when you putted the frost gathered on the ball so that by the time it reached the hole – if it reached the hole – it was too big to go in! I exaggerate. But then you know that.

At my current rate it’s unlikely I’ll post again before 2015 so I’d like to wish my few remaining readers a very happy New Year and health and happiness throughout 2015.

Chin chin.

Day 268 – Christmas

Song of the Day: Fairytale of New York – The Pogues

Today’s the day I would have come home for Christmas, had I still been in Qatar. Weird thought. It’s great to be around with Christmas in the offing. It’s great to be around anyway, but Christmas is special. I love it.

I heard Fairytale of New York in the shops for the first time yesterday, which probably shows how little I’ve been to the shops in the last month. I also witnessed the soundtrack in Sainsburys going round the loop for a second time while I was getting the Christmas food shop done on Saturday evening, and I realised why all the checkout staff have that thousand yard stare. It must drive you insane, having to listen to Shakin’ Stevens over and over and over again.

It’s often said that Fairytale of New York is the best Christmas song ever written, but I think Merry Christmas Everybody by Slade is a better example of the genre. FoNY is a great song, a moving lament and a rousing singalong, but MCE makes me feel more Christmassy. And it’s by Slade, who are one of the greatest bands of all time but are rarely given the credit for being so because of their Black Country accents. Harsh.

Here are the stats:-

  • Most successful English band of the 1970s by sales of singles
  • Six UK number ones
  • First band to have three singles go straight in at number one
  • Over 6.5 million singles sold to date

I challenge anyone to listen to Sladest and not be moved by it.

One of the things I love best about Christmas is the cooking. I’ve made mince pies and a Christmas Cake, which I’ll show you when it’s iced, and today I made a chili for 27, for Boxing Day evening, when both sides of the family will be packed into our house demanding succour. Here it is.

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Chili for 27

It’s going to get darker and more mischievous looking than that over the next couple of days as I add a few secret ingredients, but for now it’s simmering away. I just hope they’re all still hungry by Boxing Day evening, otherwise we’ll be eating chili for breakfast, lunch and tea until Easter.

Day 266 – Winter Solstice

Song of the Day: Here Comes the Sun – The Beatles

Today is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, or the Winter Solstice as we call it. I love the Winter Solstice because it means the days are now getting longer, i.e. more daylight, less nightdark. Of course, the nearer you get to the Equator the less of a difference this makes.

One of the best things about living in the frozen northern reaches of the planet is that summer nights go on for ages. One of my biggest disappointments on arriving in Qatar was the fall of night at about 6pm in the middle of summer. It also happens to be the most unpleasant time of day, weather wise. The sun going down seems to be the cue for the humidity to rise and engulf you like a stifling wet blanket. A simple exercise like popping out for a couple of eggs becomes tantamount to swimming the Channel. You come back dripping wet and gasping for air.

The real shock is the speed with which the sun sets. In England it takes a while to think before finally dipping below the horizon. In Qatar it just dives straight in. One second it’s there, the next it’s gone. I mentioned this apparently hasty disappearance of the sun to my dad once and he said, somewhat disdainfully I must say, something along the lines of, “Of course. It goes down more or less vertically, doesn’t it?” I think he oversimplified it, so I looked it up and the explanation I found is this:-

Because the Earth’s circumference is longest at the Equator (about 25,000 miles), the terminator (the line between sunlight and dark) travels across the Earth at approximately 1,000mph (25,000 miles / 24 hours). The Earth’s circumference at London’s latitude is about 16,000 miles, so the terminator travels at 666mph. Hence, the sun sets at two-thirds of the speed it sets at the Equator. In Doha, on the 25th parallel, the terminator travels at 937mph.

Is this right? Until I hear otherwise, I’ll assume it is.

Day 265 – Revealed

Song of the Day: Koka Kola – The Clash

The woman saw the poster, got in touch and brought the purse round. Christmas is back on in Ali’s house.

See, print is not dead.

Day 264 – Cliffhanger

Song of the Day: Tired of Waiting – The Kinks

About a week ago my friend Ali was out buying a Christmas tree and very kindly stopped to help another woman who was struggling to load a tree into her car. While she was doing so, Ali put her purse down in the other woman’s car so she could get a better grip of her tree and then, of course, she forgot to pick it up again, waved farewell to the other woman, watched her drive away and then realised she’d left her purse in her car.

She had the make and colour of the car but not the number plate. Nobody else had seen it and there was no CCTV at the garden centre. What could she do? I suggested she call the police, tell them what had happened and ask if they could trace all the cars of that make and colour in the area. She tried. They couldn’t. I’m sure they could have, they just chose not to. If the car had knocked down a toddler or there’d been a suspected terrorist in it, they’d have traced it in a trice, but evidently they don’t mobilise that sort of capability for lost purses.

So Ali was left waiting and hoping for the woman to find the purse in her car and return it, but as she’d left it in the boot (trunk, I think you all it in America and other funny places), that might not happen for weeks. And then, in desperation, she decided to test out the power of advertising. She made up a poster, basically saying ‘Did you get help putting a Christmas tree in your car the other day? If so, can you have a butcher’s for my purse please?’

And guess what happened.

I’ll tell you tomorrow…

Day 263 – National Radio Day

Song of the Day: On My Radio – The Selecter

Today is National Day in Qatar, the day the country celebrates the founding of the state in 1878. This was essentially the British recognising Qatar as being distinct from Bahrain, even though Qatar was under Ottoman rule at the time. Complicated stuff. Plus ça change…

I’m off to dat London today for a radio interview with Paul Hawksbee and Andy Jacobs, comedy kings of the afternoon airways on talkSPORT, who’ll be chatting about 100-0 at 1.40pm. Tune in on 1089 or 1053 AM, or go here to listen online.

This could be the big one – the bouncing bomb of publicity that bursts the dam and gets the masses flooding out to the shops to snap up the books. So what could possibly go wrong? OK, here are 10 things:

1. I miss the train and, therefore, the interview.
2. I catch the early train, kill time in the pub, get drunk and miss the interview.
3. Ditto, but I make the interview… drunk.
4. I eat something in the pub that disagrees with me and vomit live on air.
5. I forget who I am.
6. I forget who they are.
7. I forget everything I know about football.
8. I forget everything I know.
9. I forget what the books are about.
10. I forget to stop writing this and go.

Cheerio!

Day 262 – Dental Dilemma

Song of the Day: I’m Waiting For The Man – The Velvet Underground

About two years ago my dentist gave me a filling that went so deep I could feel it in my stomach. “This is quite extreme,” he said, and he warned me that it might not work and that the tooth might have to come out. I’ve been conscious of it ever since, in the same way you’re conscious that a slightly misfiring car might break down on you while you’re driving home along the motorway in freezing rain. Obviously if you’re reading this in the Middle East you might find that analogy hard to relate to, in which case just replace ‘freezing rain’ with ‘scalding sun’.

All the time I was in Qatar I cleaned my teeth very carefully because I really didn’t want it to break down on me out there. I used floss and those little wire brushes that poke you in the gums and cause you pain, but I got through with the tooth intact and no pain to speak of. But in the last couple of weeks it’s started to become tender and then, two days ago, it began to throb. I found the only thing that could take away the pain was swilling cold water every 30 seconds, which isn’t really practical because it means you have to go to the toilet every hour (that’s a direct correlation, by the way), so I rang up and begged for an appointment and I got one for 3pm yesterday.

It was quite exciting. There was a genuine sense of urgency about my dentist and his lovely assistant as they administered an injection powerful enough to fell a water buffalo, which kicked in after about 60 seconds and made me fall in love with them both on the spot. I’ve never been a drug addict, unless you count booze and chocolate, but in that moment I felt that sense of utter surrender and was quite happy to be dependent on the man.

There followed 10 minutes of drilling and prodding and a bit of wincing on my part and in 15 minutes flat I was patched up and ready to go. This morning I woke up feeling like I’d been lamped by Mike Tyson. The new boiler was pumping heat into the room, unnecessarily as it turned out because it’s a lot warmer today, and my head was in a dull fug of woozy anaesthesia. Whatever drug it was that numbed the toothache appears to have spread to certain vital sections of my brain, knocking them out one by one, like the bedroom lights in the Walton house.

So here’s my question: nerves in teeth – what’s the point?