Don't Look in the Mirror
25 May 2020
As someone known for his sartorial elegance and immaculate wardrobe you can well imagine that my inability to visit the barbers is causing me no end of stress. Last week I hit upon the perfect solution, purchased a set of cordless hair clippers off the internet and instructed the DG to start swotting up on home hair dressing instruction videos on YouTube. Let’s face it, just how hard can it be to cut someone’s hair? Well, pretty hard it now transpires.
The ploy of taking “just a bit more off” on one side to correct an error on the other side is not the recommended solution either. My grandfather used to say that “a bad haircut only lasts a week” whenever something went wrong. Turns out that is also not correct. I fear that my career as a Danial Craig look-alike will have to be put on hold until such time that the damage can be repaired. By someone who actually knows what they are doing.
Tea at a Distance
18 May 2020
“Lazy Sunday afternoon” sang the Small Faces, but at the moment each day just blends into the next and it is difficult to keep track of where we are. The Friday before last the DG suggested that as it was a lovely sunny day we ought to take afternoon tea in the garden. Next door’s cat has recently developed some very lax latrine habits so rather than spend half an hour in the back garden throwing the mess back over the fence onto their patio we decided to sit out in our front garden end enjoy the spring sunshine. What could be better? Well, where should I start…
Turns out that the rest of the street had the same idea and were busy celebrating VE Day. Gardens were decked out in red white and blue, we had a Vera Lynn lookalike who, quite sensibly in my view, refused to sing, and the DG had baked some scones which had the size, shape and texture of a WWII hand grenade. Initially I attempted to pass these off to the neighbours who I least like but with no success, before trying to tempt the Labrador who lives across the street and has a well-deserved reputation for eating absolutely anything and foul-smelling flatulence. It transpires that even this wretched hound’s palate has its limits.
Realising that some people were promenading along the street obviously desperate for conversation with a fresh face I quickly surmised that many of them would make a bee-line for me, eager to experience my erudite charm and sophistication. I swiftly selected an appropriate cane from the border next to me which had been inserted to provide support for the newly planted hollyhock. At 2m long is was the perfect social distancing guide and proved to be ideal for poking Wicksey in the chest with when he inevitably stepped to close. That was immediately followed by him pouring hot tea over me from our bone china tea pot. And as I leapt from my deckchair I couldn’t help thinking of the first line of the song.
11 May 2020
Seven weeks in or is it eight? And still little sign of early release. Apparently it is all down to the reproductive number or R number and no one seems to know what that is. We don’t even know our dear leader’s R number, but it is at least 6, which considerably better than Corona. Just after Boris was admitted to hospital he wrote to me with advice on how to avoid succumbing to the Great Pestilence. As one wag put it, writing to the whole nation is the only way he can be sure of communicating with all his children. So heeding his advice and in the interests of self-preservation I picked up the envelope from the door mat using the barbeque tongs, dropped it into a plastic bag, sealed it and then burnt the whole package on the aforementioned barbeque. Now, where is the bleach?
The Great Pestilence
4 May 2020
I am very pleased to report that this blog goes from strength to strength and will soon be the most popular page on the Chieveley website. Well, just as soon as Shepherd’s remove their on-line order form which is, quite frankly, cheating. Virtually the whole village, as well as quite a large area of West Berkshire have come to appreciate these calm, measured words during this time of the Great Pestilence.
And what strange times they are. Shepherd’s the bakers is now the village grocers; the village shop is the go-to source of scare and valuable commodities such as toilet roll and pasta; and the pub has morphed into a take-away restaurant complete with delivery yoofs-on-bikes. I remain to be convinced about the delivery service. We ordered a pizza a few weeks ago, said yoof rode his bike through my newly planted marigolds in the front border, skidded over the lawn and then posted the pizza straight through the letter box. We decided to collect our meals after that.
Guaranteed Germ-Free Blog
When I was a kid we had Corona, except then it came in glass bottles, was often brightly coloured and had exotic sounding flavours like Dandelion and Burdock. It originated in the far-off and exotic Rhondda Valley, although the reality of that proved to be somewhat different as I later discovered. And in those days advanced Corona was called Tango. A bit later I discovered that you could get Corona, still in bottles, but this time it came from Mexico and it could affect your legs if you were over exposed to it. To be honest disappointment was guaranteed with it, but at that point I hadn’t tried Arkell’s. Wikipedia states that it was often drunk with a wedge of lemon in the neck of the bottle to impart some flavour. The latest version comes from the Far East, and as far as I can tell the main symptoms seem to be panic buying toilet rolls and pasta. After China the worst affected country seems to be Italy. Which probably explains the panic buying of pasta. I read on the internet the other day that over 70% of the toilet roll tubes are made by three factories. All in China, and actually all in Wuhan Province so perhaps the panic buying of the rolls is not such a smart idea after all.
Anyway, if you do have to self-isolate for two weeks just how much loo roll are you expecting to get through in that time? Quite a bit I guess if you are living off two bags of dried pasta a day. And what about soap? Soap and hand sanitizer are now in short supply because people have started buying them. Just what on earth were they doing before Corona? Probably explains the regular rounds of Noro Virus and reminds me never to shake hands with Wicksy again.
At least we can now sleep soundly at night safe in the knowledge that our beloved Prime Minister has returned from wherever he’s been since the election to take charge of the situation. His first action seems to have been to ensure that the Health Minister caught the virus to demonstrate just how harmless it is. It was then realised that as she had a good chance of recovering just as the rest of them were likely to be going down with it meaning that Nadine would be left in sole charge of the country. There are unconfirmed rumours stating that an un-named minister has now been deliberately infected to ensure that this does not happen. The government has been issuing advice on how to deal with the current pandemic but given that the average British parent can't follow the simple advice to switch off their engine when parked outside their own child's school, I'm not filled with optimism about our response if the situation worsens
Occasionally I like to take the DG out for a quiet meal. Not only does it give her the chance to enjoy my natural wit and charm without any distractions; but it also provides her with the opportunity to glean some fresh ideas for meals; proves that food does not need to be served charred and, frankly, guarantees me a hot edible meal which can be a refreshing change. So, resolving to continue with her education and enlightenment in 2020, we went to the PP the other weekend for a quiet evening out whilst we sampled the chef’s latest culinary endeavours.
Imagine my horror to discover that this normally calm, tranquil, and relaxing hostelry was bursting at the seams with a hoard of masked revellers, most of whom were wearing masks of our host for the evening, and all eagerly awaiting the arrival of two special mystery guests. Said mystery guests turned out to be none other than Orange Don’s nemesis and his boss – yes, Kim Jong un and Vladimir Putin. Neither stayed long and I am fairly sure both were imposters, in particular Vlad appeared to have a dodgy hip and was taller than I expected. Thankfully he was neither riding a horse or bare chested. So much for a quiet evening out, although on the plus side I did get a free pint of Arkell’s Best Effort. “Every silver lining” as Wicksey said.
The Bell Tower Brewery is back in full swing (and you won’t find jokes of that quality anywhere else). Or at least I assume that it is judging by the cacophony on Sunday mornings. I was walking through the churchyard the other Sunday and stopped to chat with one of the bell ringers who was having a fag break outside while the sermon was on. Apparently he was on a temporary ban from the whist club for card marking. He was most impressed that on the previous Sunday there had been a christening and rather than use the water from the font the vicar had christened the child by opening a can of lager. Apparently the kid was fostered.
And lo! Three wise men came from the east. Actually the only wise men who come from the east to Chieveley Services are those travelling the well trodden trade route of the M4 from London and whose prostates do not permit further onward travel without a break. If only they had been wise enough to turn right at the roundabout instead of left. For example a couple of weeks ago they could have joined in with the carols in the PP. A heady mix of traditional carols liberally mixed with Arkell’s Finest Throat Number and all carried out without the strident cacophony of the bells: a fine start to the festive celebrations.
It will come as no surprise that my presence is in great demand at numerous social functions at this time of year, but I also need to devote a few moments to the crafting of a carefully worded missive of complaint to Waitrose regarding the public humiliation I suffered last week. I rarely shop anywhere else as I find that a few minutes of wandering around the shop looking lost inevitably results in a kind member of the staff basically offering to do my shopping for me. They do draw the line if you try to hand over the list, however they will gladly lead you around the shop to find all the comestibles required by our housekeeper. I find that it speeds up the shopping experience no end, leaving time for a cup of coffee in the cafe before my absence from home is noticed. Last week I popped in on my way home from the office to purchase a bottle of something sweet, fizzy and alcoholic for the DG who likes that sort of thing. Having just the one item I decided to brave the ignominy of the self-service till secure in the knowledge that help would be at hand if needed. Sure enough as I was buying alcohol assistance was required. The lady hurried over but then in front of all the other customers and without so much as a second glance at me she clicked the button – “The customer is visibly over 25”
Stuck in the Mud
“It’s been several weeks since your last blog, just when do you propose to let me have the next pile of dross?” demanded the Webmeister of me in the PP last week as he downed his fourth Babycham of the evening. I politely pointed out that this is an exercise in quality and not quantity before returning to a pint of Arkell’s finest effort, a drink best savoured slowly over a long period whilst contemplating that the beer on offer at the fireworks would be nothing like this.
The son et lumière evening (but without the “son”) will start with the car park teams setting out to do battle. They are armed with high luminosity red wands, head torches and a can of lager and dressed head to toe in motorway specification high viz suits which evidently render the wearer completely invisible.
These men are the cream of the village; the ninja warriors of the fireworks family; men with razor sharp reflexes honed over many years of experience in the fields of West Berkshire and they venture fourth to do battle with their nemesis: the Volvo XC90. A four wheel drive behemoth; the suburban main battle tank of the 21st century. Lethal in the hands of a young mother with a crew of five children. They approach the Parking Ninjas at speeds of up to 5 mph, the engine screaming, the wheels spinning, the vehicle moving slowly sideways and lethal nano-particles spewing forth from the rear orifice.
It is usual at this point for the Ninja to make a deft flick of his wrist so that his wand points in the direction in which he wishes the vehicle to move. The rear wheels twitch momentarily sideways to lull him into a false sense of security and then it continues inexorable onwards, still sideways, the revs increasing to a pitch audible only to teenagers. The Ninja moves effortlessly sideways, his invisibility cloak glowing brightly in the lights of the vehicle as it comes to a halt several metres from its intended resting point. The wheels continue to spin and the engine continues to scream as it slowly settles a good few inches into the field before its commander finally manages to engage the stop button and the crew can now vacate the cabin leaving behind just a faint whiff of burnt clutch and a grey haze hanging in the frosty air.
Immediately the crew make a bee line for their main target. Neatly side-stepping the brightly lit food court, now with condensed fat dripping from the edges of the canopy and partially masked by a dense black cloud billowing from beneath its dome; and with the Burgermeister’s Anglo-Saxon battle cries ringing in their ears they head straight for the neon lights of the Novelty Emporium.
This is a small structure standing slightly aloof from the rest of the compound and manned by a formidable foe. A lady with a computer for a brain who can calculate the cost of seven glow sticks in a split second, add on a suitable sum to confuse the slow-witted XC90 crew member and then deftly swap the offered money for said glow sticks before any protest can be raised. Under normal conditions the Emporium is manned by a second defender of considerably younger years who is able to perform the necessary monetary magic in decimal but who has recently deserted the position in protest at single-use plastics. And obnoxious children.
And so the XC90 crew retreat wearing glowing pale neon yellow halos of defeat to the bar for a cup of tea and thence to the kitchen for a glass of thermo-nuclear mulled wine and await the big bang.
Fireworks and Fayre
The fireworks display looms large on the horizon and preparations are now starting in earnest for the big day. Or big night I suppose.
As usual the paying public can enjoy the finest fayre that West Berkshire has to offer. This obviously means that the beer will not be supplied by the Bell Tower brewery despite production being back in full swing. Yes, the bell ringers are back to full strength after the holidays, not that you can actually hear the difference but you can once again detect the aroma of cheap smuggled tobacco smoke wafting across the churchyard on a Sunday morning while the vicar is in full flow with the sermon. Last year’s experiment with giving the beer away rather than charging for it is apparently not set to be repeated after it was deemed a failure when a number of youths of dubious intellectual abilities still sought to save money by stealing some of the stock.
Once again the gilded panoply of the food court will soar majestically over a choking fog of vaporised animal fat. This is the domain of the Burgermeister, an imposing 6’ 4” ex-drugs dealer who reigns supreme and demands the highest standards from his team of conscripted Flamemakers. He can be heard above the noise of the fireworks exhorting his hapless crew to strive harder whilst informing any foolhardy customers who have the temerity to complain that actually their burger is cooked to perfection. With streaming eyes and hoarse throats the Flamemakers provide a dazzling choice of burger options. Provided, that is, that you desire it to be crispy black on the outside and a delicate shade of red inside. The inclusion of cheese and onions are optional, although not optional to the customer. Random might be a better description.
Meanwhile inside the hall the discerning punter can purchase alcoholic beverages from the kitchen and tea, coffee or hot chocolate from the bar. The hot drinks will be served in a recyclable cup which is guaranteed to keep the liquid at a temperature too hot to drink until well after you have got home, and the beer in a recyclable glass that will have started the recycling process before you have drained it. You have been warned.
I would love to wax lyrical about the Novelty Emporium and the unsung heroes of the parking teams who risk life and limb dodging out-of-control Volvo XC90s but that and more will have to wait for a week or so due to the Webmeister’s parsimonious views on article length which if truth be told is more to do with his unwillingness to make the web pages any larger and his limited attention span.
As summer draws to a close the next event in the Chieveley season is the village fireworks due sometime in early November. A bit soon to be thinking about it I know but these things require rigorous planning and I am aware that the Chief Sparkler, or however he currently styles himself, is already busy perusing a well-thumbed copy of the fireworks catalogue trying to decide which ones to order for the big display. Once he has made up his mind on the pyrotechnics he then has to calculate the right length of blue touch paper for each firework to ensure the display goes off at the correct intervals and source his wind-proof matches with which to light said touch paper. Then, like a child anticipating Christmas, he will eagerly await the knock on the door signalling the arrival of the postman delivering a large cardboard box of incendiaries which will be stashed safely away until the night. But more on the fireworks next month.
This village is blessed with a multitude of leisure opportunities. Wicksy is always keen to try and retain the last fading vestiges of his youth and has lately taken to exercising on the out-door gymnasium at the Rec prompting one elderly lady dog walker to ask him if he wouldn’t mind doing it under cover of darkness. He also cycles everywhere, although mainly down to the pub if the truth be told. Fortunately he eschews lycra in favour of a tee shirt and baggy shorts of dubious vintage which afford no greater modesty than the afore mentioned lycra. He is a man widely noted for his sartorial inelegance. Not for Wicksy the latest carbon fibre racing machine which he once described as “a characterless lump of plastic and soot fit only for Ponces” but rather a vintage steed older than all of his kids and which was hardly at the cutting edge of bicycle technology when he bought it originally.
Imagine his child-like delight last year when he discovered that the council had constructed a bike park up at The Green complete with a multitude of ramps and jumps around the perimeter. For months he has bored us rigid with his talk of “hucking” at The Green which, once our initial incredulity had faded, turned out to be nothing more interesting than jumping off the new ramps.
Imagine our child-like delight to learn over a pint of Swindon Effluent at the PP last Friday that his bike had succumbed to a combination of over-exuberance, tin worm and his expanding waistline resulting in him rolling down the slope still gripping the handle bars with just the forks and front wheel attached to land in an ungraceful heap at the feet of the afore mentioned elderly lady dog walker. Apparently he is now seriously considering becoming a “Ponce".
It’s high summer and the village has taken on a somnolent atmosphere as a large part of the populous seems to have temporarily emigrated to the Continent; presumably whilst they still are able to do so before the wall goes up. School Road and the environs are mercifully free of large 4x4s abandoned on the pavements and verges as parents attempt to deliver children as close as is unreasonably possible to the school in an effort to ensure the minimum of exercise for their offspring or alternatively because they consider the pavements to be far too dangerous to walk along due to all the large 4x4s being driven along them.
Little of any import or interest seems to be happening but that does not stop the Webmeister from harassing me for more copy. With his monthly request for “a series of articles based on things in Chieveley, oh, and please DO try and make it vaguely interesting” (and when I say “monthly request” it has now morphed into a persistent whine, a bit like a bored child in the back of the car on the way to the beach) the summer has proved to be a bit of a cultural desert as far as this blog is concerned. Half the bell ringers are away, not that you could tell, so the sight of white smoke emanating from the bell tower foretelling not the next Pope but the end of the end of a hand of whist and the muffled arguments are absent on a Sunday morning. Even the grass in the churchyard is taking it easy in the warmth of August meaning that the mowing teams are a rarer sight. One evening earlier in the year I passed through the church yard to see that Wicksy and Doc had finally plucked up the courage to tackle their allotted space. If only they had done so a few weeks earlier the task would have been so much simpler but the vigorous growth of late spring meant that the going was tough so Doc was lounging like a large Reubens-esque cherub on the grass, propped up on one elbow with a can of beer in hand while offering words of advice to Wicksy who was valiantly attempting to force the mower forwards against the tide of the grass.
At home about the most exciting thing to happen was being coerced into clearing out redundant clothing. I really cannot see the reason for throwing out perfectly serviceable items, even if they were manufactured and purchased in the last century. I strongly suspect that in common with the vast majority of the male population in this country, without outside interference I could easily make 12 pairs of underpants last an entire lifetime.
Summer has finally arrived and the summer sport season has already commenced. England gave their second best performance in the football world cup in 52 years and the cricket world cup is looking good for England with a memorable victory over the convicts/despite a spirited performance England were very unlucky to lose narrowly to the ball-tamperers (delete as appropriate at the time of reading). Apparently there is even some sort of tennis competition going on in London at the moment.
Chieveley luxuriates in sports facilities with football, tennis and cricket all being represented at the Rec. I’ve not watched the football up there, but judging by the language drifting across the sward on a frosty November morning it must be Premier League level stuff and Wicksy has told me on several occasions, although always whilst gripping a half drunk pint of Arkell’s finest, that the tennis courts are so highly regarded that Tim Henman plays there. I suspect that the Arkell’s is having a similar effect on his metal capacity as it has on my alimentary canal.
On another note I have still not seen any signs of the promised beaver colony despite several lengthy expeditions along the banks of the Winterbourne. In order to further my quest I fear that I shall have to resort to asking the early morning dog walkers if they have seen any beaver recently.
The Norse warriors from the frozen north believed that the Norns, or Fates, drew water from a pool which they used to sustain a giant ash tree at the very centre of the cosmos. This was, of course, in the days before ash die back became such a problem. The (Chieveley) fete still sustains the tree of life, different spelling I know, but that’s the French for you. Only now it is not the Norns doing the work but the likes of my good friends Rumpo and Wicksey who will be part of Doc’s security team providing stalwart advice on clutch control to young mothers in large four wheel drive vehicles and relieving villagers of a small sum to enter the grounds. Yes; you do have to pay to get in so please don’t complain, it is well worth the paltry cost as once inside you will be regaled by a cornucopia of attractions.
Foremost in my mind is the beer tent and the connoisseur of the hop can be reassured that the fare will not have been sourced from the Bell Tower Brewery. Use a glass of beer to wash down one of the burgers from the BBQ. Sadly the Burgermeister of fireworks fame will not be providing villagers with his signature “Bonfire Burger” – black on the outside, frozen in the middle; but a rather less adventurous team will be serving up the more mundane “evenly-cooked” version. For the adrenaline junkie there will be gambling at the tombola and the swing boats. Sadly the rifle range would seem to be no more. Beer and bullets. How American, and what could possibly go wrong?
Proceeds support local causes including our new Beaver colony apparently. The Winterbourne, as its name suggests is rather seasonal in its presence and so I don’t know just how successful a beaver colony will be in Chieveley but do be prepared for flooding down by the sewage works if they do manage to make a go of it. And that brings me neatly back to the Fates and the pool of life. See, you do not encounter writing of this standard in many places now which goes a long way to explain the phenomenal success of this website.
And They're Off
First we have the Gold Cup at Cheltenham followed by the Grand National at Aintree and then third in this triumvirate of classic cross country races is the Chase at Chieveley. Although on this occasion the only nags in sight will be those on the by-line urging recalcitrant children to get their plimsolls on before the race starts. In its short history this race has become one of the Spring Classics and provides the dual purposes of some welcome fund raising for the school as well as an excuse for many to up their training regime and aim for a new PB over the 5.7 mile course.
As a former near-elite level athlete many of my acquaintances have expressed surprise that I will not be gracing the hallowed turf at the Rec with my spikes but just as David Gower never lifted a bat after retiring from 1st class cricket so I have vowed never to race competitively again. Plus there is every chance of sullying the pale blue genuine man-made fibre uppers of said shoes with mud or worse. I shall, of course, be availing all those willing to listen, plus quite a few who are not, with my not inconsiderable wisdom and coaching skills from the edge of the fray and offering moral support to the stragglers.
Bells and Beer
Exceeding all the Webmeister’s expectations this “blog” is rapidly becoming the most popular page on the website, if not the entire internet, despite his decision to affect a “soft launch” which I now understands means that he couldn’t be bothered to put any effort or resources into advertising it.
Chieveley once boasted three pubs but now we are down to just one; the Pink Pussy; the jewel in the crown of the Arkell’s empire; source of that unique beer, 3B. Well, it seems that they now have some competition.
The other week I attended a quiz at the church to find that the vicar was running a bar. Obviously the beer was not a patch on the oesophageal numbing qualities of Arkell’s and the barman never once threatened to ask me to leave but from little acorns and all that. Next week they will probably have Tripadvisor reviews hung on the vestry wall. I understand that the lucrative alcohol concession in the church is normally operated by the bell ringers, the vicar only serving wine at the altar. Apparently on this occasion there was an unresolved dispute over the previous Sunday’s Bell Tower Sweepstake, a betting syndicate based on the length of the sermon, and the bell ringers were refusing to talk to each other.
I am reliably informed that they brew their own beer in the tower which they imbibe on a Sunday morning after the initial peel, along with a couple of fags each and a few rounds of whist. This generally sees them finishing just in time to ring the bells again as the congregation leaves at which point they can then descend from the tower complaining that the organist missed a couple of notes in the last hymn
Walking in Circles
I have recently noticed a group of people in the village walking round in circles. Well, a circle to be a bit more accurate. Or an irregular loop to be even more accurate. Which started me wondering. What is the collective noun for a group of walkers? Google is the obvious solution to this important question and of course fails to provide a definitive answer. An “amble” or “stroll” seem the two most popular suggestions, and one web forum that I consulted had degenerated into personal abuse within seven posts. The internet never fails to disappoint.
Turns out that these are not lost souls aimlessly wandering the village like the Flying Dutchman neither are they doing it because they are at a loose end, but rather for Loose Ends a local charity looking after the homeless and vulnerable. The Webmeister has thoughtfully included some details elsewhere in this emporium so do have a look after you’ve finished reading this. The last night will include a torchlight procession to the pub. As in flaming torches with real fire, none of your cheap LED stuff. Naked flames and alcohol. What could possibly go wrong? That is before you start thinking of the connotations of a group of villagers carrying fire marching on the local pub like something from the Wicker Man. The Red Lion? More like the Charred Cheetah.
You have been warned
In an effort to revive the fortunes of his flagging website the Webmeister has been casting his net wide and far in search of new material and so in desperation has commissioned me to write a series of witty and erudite articles for him on any subject matter that I care to choose. For those of you who are now concerned that the village’s financial resources are being frittered away on mere fripperies I would seek to console you with the observation that in my wide experience his promises and deliveries are two camps separated by a wide chasm. To be honest I have far better things to do with my time than to serve as his lackey in his quest for dominance of the lucrative market for digital ephemera and therefore my output is likely to be limited not only to maintain the high standards which I strive to achieve but also to ameliorate the effects of my efforts on his quest for electronic dominance
Please do hit the refresh key on this page from time to time as without a steady stream of the curious, inquisitive, desperate and easily pleased my tenure will be cut short. However do not expect a daily or even weekly update as producing material of this quality does take its toll and is no task for the faint hearted. Maintaining the high standards that we have all come to expect from the internet in the 21st century requires a broad range of skills each finely honed to the keenest of edges with the slipstone of experience and thus this will very much be an exercise in quality rather than quantity. Possibly.