22 Feb 2009

Post 108: Seeing brilliant comic Andrew Maxwell and a progress update

Mercifully for reader and writer alike this should be a pretty short post because of time, energy and inspiration constraints.
On Friday I went to yet more stand up comedy and I think I can safely say it was one of the funniest sets I've ever seen. This sort of praise doesn't come easily to such a deep cynic as myself so I'll have a go at explaining why, the guy in question was a young Dubliner called Andrew Maxwell at the Soho theatre, word to the wise about Soho, the pavements barely seemed designed for walkers (especially pissed friday night ones), can you imagine what a nightmare it was for my wheelchair?! Only the grass on Clapham Common and 10,000 (Wasted) people at SW4 (Post 66) was more challenging.
One of the many reasons for Maxwell's brilliance is I've always liked my comedy with an accent (eg Mark Watsons Welsh, Frankie Boyles Scottish, Dara O'Brians Irish, Bill Baileys farmer, Jim Jeffries Australian etc...), In many ways accents are the first weapon in the comics armory but it is imperative the underlying material is funny a bit like that 'comedian' at the free fringe gig(Post96) (whose name fortunately escapes me) who it seemed expected his South West Accent to carry his frankly weird material about being a wrestling punk that collected My Little Ponies, there's comedy and there's plain wierdness. As my good friend Shaun would shout in clubs to imbeciles trying to invoke the celtic spirit (for example) 'STOP BEING WIERD'.
Maxwells style is one of anecdotal raconteur, he recounted some hilarious situations he'd been in the middle of and it's a wonder he's still alive actually, ones that stick in the mind are how he had done a gig for Sin Fein IRA (the properly scary provos) in a pub on the Falls Road in Belfast and so as not to be outdone the UDA/UVF had then booked him for a gig in a pub on the Shankhill Road in Belfast. I found it hilarious how he described several of the characters and how he meandered his way through both gigs all the time thinking about whether he would keep his kneecaps. The other anecdote that stuck was about how he had done a gig in Dublins maximum security prison ostensibly (and jokingly) to say thankyou for some excellent drugs he had done and how 'you ain't never been heckled till you've been heckled by the lifer wing of a maximum security prison) especially when one of the heckles related to anal rape and to get him out of the place with said virginity intact he resorted to taking the piss out of the screws to make the inmates laugh, a somewhat risky manoeuvre I thought at the time considering they had the keys.
I wished my Irish/N.Irish friends had been there to see this. Peter would have been howling instead I am extremely grateful to my mate Oli who has previously taken me to see the bonkers Mighty Boosh in December (Post 91). In amongst these side splitting anecdotes Maxwell wove in some excellent jokes like ' Could you believe how all the awfulness of modern China was just forgotten because they put on a good opening ceremony? I'm no choreographer, but give me a million slaves and I could put on something pretty special'. It was a pretty special night made even better by the intimacy of the venue (The Soho Theatre) Unlike somewhere massive like the Apollo you really get the impression that the Comedian is talking to the crowd rather than at some random point in the middle distance, maybe it's got something to do with my eyesight?
Anyways, while I'm here it's probably worth furnishing anyone who cares (anyone?) with a brief progress update as to the kind of shape I'm in. To be honest I still feel dreadful every waking second. The arrival of gorgeous Asli (post 103) has helped my mental condition a lot and I no longer have the same sense of purposelessness/uselessness anymore but it is going to take a while for my self esteem (which has taken a huge hit) to recover. In fact Andrew Maxwell said in his show it is wanting to build our self esteem that makes musicians/comedians write and perform. Having high self esteem makes us feel good , by that token, to much is not a good thing, it makes people arrogant which is one of the worst things you can be , my weekly chats to lovely Vicki ( bottom of post 81) have helped a lot and the two weekly visits to this professional counselor Harry (who Vicki found) help too. Harry is himself a stroke survivor and he has said that one of the best ways for me to come to terms with this is to 're-invent myself'. I guess I am trying but I need to get rid of this notion that I have become a 'miserable bastard' and learn to be grateful for small mercies like my friends and actually being alive. We are currently talking about adjusting my expectations, Harry suggested using the word 'adjust' rather than my original choice which was 'lower'. Too right. Walking is still depressingly difficult and even though my new regime (walking with a gutter frame three times a week in the village hall) appears to be reaping dividends in terms of distance ~300m at last count) it still feels exhausting and wipes me out, making me feel like 'real independent walking' is as far away as ever. Next Tuesday night I am going for this sleep study to test the hypothesis that some of my fatigue might be caused by 'sleep apnoea' apparently a condition common after stroke but obviously not common enough for two of the top hospitals in stroke rehab not to have mentioned it ONCE in two years. If this makes a big difference I will be asking some pretty serious questions about their qualifications. I'm incandescent that this was never investigated before. Bah, this was supposed to be a short post!

17 Feb 2009

Post 107: More Babies, my mate Tony and Keane in concert

I have been meaning to write this post since it has been fresh in my head and funnily enough the longer you leave it, you can actually feel it going stale in your head as you start to forget little details and jokes that you wanted to include. This is an occupational hazard of fatigue, being unable to write or easily get to the computer. I can't scrawl down ideas or do pro plus fueled all nighters. I just can't. My feeling of dreadfulness/hopelessness is too acute for me just to throw caution to the wind. Being clear, if I wake up shattered and down on a Monday it can spoil a whole week – sadly it hasn't yet worked the other way yet although finding Asli has helped restore some of my battered faith in humanity. Since the Awesome Keane concert on Friday which I will talk about in more detail later everything apart from the always entertaining visit from former Director of buying (now retired) in Furniture, Textiles and Lighting (John Lewis' biggest area) Carole Lee, so entertaining and interesting is she that my mother even specially timed a visit to coincide with hers just so she could catch up with the latest on Carole's Roses no doubt. I once half jokingly asked Carole on my mothers behalf what the secret of stopping the deer eating the Roses was , without flinching Carole said 'shoot them'. I know full well that the best my folks had was rather a weak airgun that didn't even trouble the rabbits so what chance a fully grown stag, 'no they'll have to get a 12 bore'. Just the thought of either of my parents wielding a 12 bore fills me with dread but Roses are pretty important, apparently. I have digressed, since the Keane concert , my weekend and monday were about babies, or rather proud friends bringing them round here to introduce them to me. First up on Saturday were Peter and Imogen Lee to introduce me to their tiny (born 6 weeks premature) several week old gorgeous daughter Beth. Peter said the funniest and most true thing I've heard in ages while he was here 'babies are like Heroin to middle aged women', This couldn't be more true, particularly of my mum who stayed longer on monday when she found out Rocio (My first carer when I got out of hospital) was bringing her new son Oliver over to pick up some new babyclothes mum had left here as a present. Mum has been a trooper in this respect and has a rapidly declining pile of babyclothes which she acquired from the States when the pound was stronger against the dollar. Without fail she has always given something to my friends who have had babies, this is an admirable quality but makes me think that I won't ever see my kids if one day I by some miracle have some! Indeed, grandchildren seem to have given her a new lease of life, Even though my sister lives in the States, I'm sure much to my brother-in-laws chagrin she is always popping over there, even though their American accents drive me nuts I can see why. The first two, Rory, 10 and Maddie, 8 are Angels whilst the third, Charlie, 6 is a creature of pure malevolence and can only have been spawned by Satan himself – interestingly, Dylan, my neighbours in-your-face attention seeking 6 year old gets on well with him when he's over here. Clearly, evil begets evil. While she was here, Imogen said a very perceptive thing to me. Having been on the wrong end of a less than pleasant hospital experience for a few days while giving birth to Beth she said she was closer to understanding the hell I must have been through having been in hospital for 2 + years. This is exactly it and lets hope the mental scars are rather less permanent than my brain damage. My old life may be over but life goes on.
Before I get to my recollection of Keane, I just want to mention what an uplifting day Sunday was. Firstly I was visited by my best mate Tony pictured here relaxing at le petit ferme in the franshoek valley near cape town when went on holiday there years ago - it is without a doubt one of the best places on earth and i count myself lucky to have seen it before i was prevented going on a holiday like that ever again, who brought down his new girlfriend, Kate. For the last decade me and many others have been talking about the fact that a great guy like Tony deserves to find a truly nice girl, he is charming,funny, reliable, interesting,intelligent and successful and I'm not just saying that! For longer than some of us care to remember he hasn't found the right girl and now I think he has. Kate is pretty, articulate and lovely and one of the most important things to me is they seem really comfortable in each others company. I owe Tony so much so it's great to see him happy now! The rest of Sunday belonged to having a cup of tea with someone I met on the internet who lives down the road in Cobham called Sacha who represents my first attempts to get to know people locally as I'm new to this part of the world. She's lovely but worryingly she reminds me a bit of one of my old friends from Brixton who I spent far too much time with propping up the local bars! Ominous.
Finally, moving on to Keane last friday, as some of you will have read, my charming (recently single girls) cousin Danny managed to blag tickets by virtue of knowing one of the promoters. How to classify Keane? I think melodic soft rock will probably do or the slightly more trite Coldplay Style Rock or worse still 'Public School Rock'. OK, it's time for an admission, Danny and I were in the same house at school as Tom Chaplin (the singer) and Tim Rice-Oxley (the keyboard player) and knew them both pretty well, I wouldn't say we were friends or anything but we all certainly new each other, we've all gone our separate ways since, them to megastardom,Danny to a career in international development via Iraq and Afghanistan before selling out and going to work for Accenture because it's virtually impossible to subsist in this town on a development wage and worthwhile jobs are scarce, and me – near death, losing everything and seemingly endless convalescence. I am in bewildered awe of Tom and Tim, Keane is built round the frankly magnificent voice of Tom Chaplin. They have produced 3 albums. Their first 'Hopes and Fears is IMO one of the best albums ever made, beautiful melodic tune after tune, it is simply one of those rare things in life. An Album without a bad song. Rock it ain't, my mum loves it, everyones mum will love it but it's not cheesy easy listening. People who don't like it will think it's too soft and watery for them. Occasionally this sort of music is just rather nice to listen too. When I finally got my own room in hospital and could play music out loud 'hopes and fears' was one of the first I played. So, the concert, For starters I love the sound and the Ambience of the main Arena at the O2 and the pikey count was mercifully low because Keane are too nice and refined to be popular amongst the chavs of this world so it obviously depends a lot on the event and who's performing (sounds obvious now) so I have tried to imagine the worst possible thing to go to. Sadly I have tickets to two such things which might generate painful audiences but I don't have tickets to a couple of things that would probably be intolerable, The two I have tickets for are 'Pub Landlord' Al Murray in May who I always find funny on TV but his slightly jingoistic, xenophobic style is bound to attract chavs, and Britney Spears in June will attract the UK equivalent of ' trailer trash'. I think Girls Aloud would be worse and the worst would be 'lady Sovereign' or the 'Ting Tings', hopefully the sheer size of the O2 will deter these latter two.
Back to the Keane gig,Tom Chaplin has the sort of voice that brings a lump to your throat and a tear to your eye and even though their 2nd and 3rd albums are good, you could tell that the crowd wanted them to play the 1st album classics.They obliged and Tom's voice soared, weaving the singles from the 2nd album 'underneath the iron sea' and 3rd album 'Peerfect Symmetry' in amongst the 1st album classics, starting with 'everybody's changing' and finishing with the magical 'bedshaped'. The really nice thing was that Tom's many conversations with the crowd showed a certain humility and gratitude that you rarely see in the music world. It was indeed one of the best nights out I have hadout at the Dome and I've been there a few times.

14 Feb 2009

Post 106: Marcus Brigstocke and a post I prepared earlier

This weekend is a little busy so I'm not going to have the time or energy to write a blog post but like some Grotesque Blue Peter-esque cookery show here's' 'one I prepared earlier', when I get the time (probably on tuesday morning) I shall elaborate on the quite brilliant Keane concert I went to at the Pikeydome last night, if you're not a Keane fan, you should be!
Instead this is what I'm going to talk about:
Last Friday (6/2) evening my legendary former colleague Simon Dawes pictured with his two little terrors (Joseph and Isabel), they're lovely really! took me to go and see Marcus Brigstocke, a posh ranter, not unlike myself, but he's a comedian and is actually funny. I will try (probably unsuccesfully to upload an audioclip of him ranting about religion on Radio 4, it's more or less exactly what I think.
Now this was a rather different occasion to a lot of stand up nights I had been too, usually, most stand up evenings with multiple acts on the bill involve a compere and then the comedians deliver their memorised material, a tried and tested (winning usually) formula. But this evening, called ' Totally Looped' a panel of comics (including Brigstocke) make up dialogue to say over the top of some muted film (hitherto unseen by any of the audience), the comedians talking when the characters talked and using themes suggested totally at random from the audience. This basically meant that the panel had to think on their feet. I was so impressed, OK, so obviously they get used to doing this but it was astonishing to see how fast these peoples minds work, it was like super fast mental arithmetic for comedy and it left me virtually speechless (a rare thing as those who know me well will atest). The rest of the panel were impressive, noteworthy were the young ladies Pippa Evans and Natalie Haverstock. I have always had a soft spot for female comedians, particularly (ahem) pretty ones, for some of the best times in my life have been when a girl or female friend or better still a girlfriend has made me laugh,it's a great feeling that is difficult to replicate. Genuinely funny female comedians do this which is why I'm such a huge fan of the achingly cute Lucy Porter or the foxy and dark humoured Lily Allen
when she's not singing. I just feel you'd have a great time chatting to them as well as finding them adorable. The other members of the panel were the cast of digital TV Victorian era Sitcom 'the Penny Dreadfuls',the whole evening was a different and very enjoyable experience and going to Guildford is so much easier than going into town. While I'm here I want to congratulate two of my old colleagues who I once upon a time used to manage! Anna Micallef and Paul Brennan, Paul better be a good boy now;-). I'm joking although his Wolverhampton (effect comedy midlands accent) roots occasionally shine through, you can take the boy out of Wolverhampton etc.. Seriously though, great news and as if the news couldn't get any better my cousin just rang me to say he's blagged us Keane tickets for friday at what I have newly christened the 'pikeydome'.

9 Feb 2009

Post105:Post104 continued: More ranting about the city

I said I would continue when I had the time and energy. Well, I have a little time and being honest, I never have the energy so let's see how this goes!
So continuing my rant, there was a funny bit in cityboy when he moves from Banque Inoutil to Scheisse Bank purely for the money, at the end of the book he qualifies himself by saying he has no aspirations to return to the city particularly in view of some of the admissions he makes about his drug habit and less than flattering references he makes about his former employers/colleagues. To be clear he changes names but even I reckon I can work out some of the banks he's talking about and I was only in the city for two miserable years.
Scheisse Bank becomes Mega Scheiss and is located in Canary Wharf, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to have a punt at who they are. His move to Mega Scheiss via the headhunting route is identical to the process I once followed. I soon learnt that the aim of everyone at our middle of the road British institution was to get poached by one of the big paying US bulge-bracket banks (one day I should really find out what that means). I received a shady headhunter phonecall one day from some ultra well spoken, ultra professional, ultra smug young girl who informed me that she had been retained by one of the 'top 3' US investment banks to go and get their team a 'ranked analyst' (by some miracle the HSBC telecoms team had done well in one of those 'popularity contest' surveys but I was far from a 'ranked analyst', I was little more than the 'team graduate', 'the grunt' who had quickly learnt peoples coffee orders, the best times and places to nip out for a cheeky fag (when I still smoked) and how to use excel bloody quickly. I had to stop myself howling with laughter at this girl, after the usual pleasantries like 'how'd you get this number?' and 'no, I can't talk now' we had convened a meeting in the local 'Corney and Barrow' that afternoon. She had told me to look out for her 'lilac Pashmina'. I needn't have asked what she looked like, she should have said 'imagine an equine blonde from the Chelsea branch of Foxtons.' After all, that is all headhunters for city folk were and probably still are, estate agents for people, they're all self-interested filthy liars. It transpired that she was acting for the big kahuna, Goldman Sachs and she proceeded to do lots of name dropping of analysts I had vaguely heard of, and that such and such was looking to 'build a young team' and they had an eye watering budget to do it. If she couldn't tell I was out of my depth she did a great job of feighning ignorance and within a week I had an interview at the mighty Goldmine Stacks with the head of their telecoms team. From the second you walk through the outer bit of their fleet street HQ you feel as if you're entering the domain of pure evil, the outer bit is the old front entrance to a printing press for the daily express (I think) and is all art deco but once through this is a monstrous modern structure of grey frosted glass presumably to intimidate anyone who enters or to impress the latest FTSE 100 CEO who happens to be passing through to haggle about their latest corporate finance bills.
I think he immediately clocked me as not being ready to sell my soul and so I waffled and bullsh*tted about such and such a client and what I thought of company X without asking him the question that was really on my mind 'how do you cope with having no life? Or do you really believe in this sh*t? Or what would you do if I pissed on your feet? But I didn't fancy being forcibly ejected so there endeth my brief association with the mighty Goldman Sachs, phew! So that experience taught me that I clearly wasn't motivated just by money and when a few months later I got a call from a headhunter offering me slightly less money than I was on as a banker but importantly an exit from the city I jumped at it and ended up working for Premium TV (PTV), not as dodgy as it sounds, a subsidiary of hopeless cable company NTL, a company that hilariously the guy who used to sit next to me had on a 'sell', actually his name was Jon Dann, picture of him in post 88. If only I heeded his words. NTL was technically insolvent a couple of years later with PTV reliant on ntl for funding I was quite rightly made redundant, PTV was supposed to have been ntls glamorous new media arm and was supposed to be the sky sports of ntl and to helpntl flog broadband,cable TV and landline telephony with exclusive content. At one point using comparable per user values PTV was worth over a billion pounds, god the internet bubble was mental. To try and lighten the doom and gloom of some of the stuff I was listening to I watched 'Enron: The smartest guys in the room' a sh*te docudrama to try and understand why it had gone bust so spectacularly after being such a stockmarket darling. Fine, people not interested would have switched off ages ago, I just thought it might be an interesting collision of stuff I used to do and stuff that for my sins, interests me, before I launch into that I would like to draw attention to and something that still makes me chuckle. Since starting on the telecoms team at HSBC our top pick in the telecoms sector was a company called Energis, Another stockmarket darling spun out of the National grid, from what I recall Energis was able to utilise the tunnels under the roads that national grid had paid to dig (with government money). The costs of digging up the roads is what had brought ntl to it's knees, so I found it hilarious when Energis went bust in 2002 proving that fibre optic networks couldn't make money. We had been talking for 2 years + about what a fantastic company this was largely, it transpired because the National Grid was an important corporate client and there were big riskless bucks to be made in corporate work and woebetide any analyst who jeopardised any corporate work by uttering the truth. This is why Enron went to the wall, Enron was the corporate client of many of the top US banks and actively withdrew corporate work from banks whose analysts whisphered that something funny was going on at Enron, a company whose profit figures would miraculously always just beat the markets expectations and how did they do this? By making them up of course! The trouble was that their accounts had been signed off by one of the big accounting firms, Arthur Andersen, who were subsequently sued and went out of business. This was just a precursor to the subsequent meltdown and credit crunch where a bunch of Maths phDs tried through the invention of lots of financial instruments that noone could understand virtually bankrupted the world by persuading lots of twatty bankers,traders and hedge fund managers that there was no risk that people with no income wouldn't be able to pay back money that had been lent to them. You don't have to GCSE in maths to work out that doesn't compute! The inevitable crisis has left few lives untouched, to me this illustrates somewhat depressingly the cancer that is destroying the world for the rest of us. It is greed and dishonesty by the worlds intellectual elites. I don't know what the solution is. Does anyone?

8 Feb 2009

Post 104:Some thoughts on a couple of books

I have just bade farewell to some of my favourite people, the Betts' (Ian, Sharon and their toddler Oliver as per 3rd photo down in post 83) and the Tennants (Toby who was Ian's best man and seems to be psychokinetically linked to his sense of humour, Faye and their toddlette, Isla) after they took me out for a lovely lunch (at the Bear where else?) Now, I could go on for hours about what fantastic people they are (because they simply are) or how lovely Sharon and Faye are and how lucky their respective husbands are but that's for another time because I've been thinking about the subject of todays post for a little while.
Recently, I discovered something that has helped occupy me/pass the time much more effectively than watching TV, which isn't intellectually stimulating and worse still watching TV seems to be exhausting for someone with my kind of brain injury, and before anyone says or thinks it's sleeping, it's not that! I have mentioned it before, it is listening to digital audiobooks that I download from a great website called They're a bit more costly than regular books (which I can't work out why) but they have added another dimension to my fairly one dimensional excuse for an existence. I am no stranger to audiobooks, in fact when I had my own room in hospital I used to listen to the CD ones ever since the stroke robbed me of good enough eyesight to read books and the manual dexterity to hold a book, let alone turn the pages. I got put off CD audiobooks for several reasons:
1.The packaging. Removal of this was often (not always) Mission: Difficult if not impossible with one hand.
2.Reading the Numbers on the CDs was no picnic with my eyesight.
3.Changing CDs with my lack of coordination and my associated fatigue was more often than not, a fiddle or a mission, particularly if the CD player was not at arms length, changing a disc sometimes necessitated an exhausting and dangerous transfer into a wheelchair or
4.The clincher and the main reason I didn't listen to many CD books after: One day I was listening to a pretty taught John le Carre Spy Thriller and I got to the last disc and could I find it, could I ever? I mean, would you buy a book with the last 100 pages missing? I'm surprised I've got any hair left the amount I must have pulled out that day!
The point is pretty clear I suppose I have none of these issues anymore apart from not being able to listen in bed but because my wheelchair reclines I'm hoping this isn't a problem. Since I discovered audible in late january I have listened to over ten books and I wanted to talk about some of them here (2 in particular), because one of them scarily and often in an ironically funny way mirrors some of the dreadful experiences and people I encountered in the early days of my career in the city, and the 2nd book talks very technically about how the world got into such a fine economic mess, I thought being an economics graduate I'd understand it. Some (if not all of it) was written in double Dutch,the two books of which I speak are Cityboy (by pseudonymed Geraint Anderson)and ' the Trillion Dollar Meltdown' by Charles Morris.Cityboy talks about how the author goes into the city as a wide eyed, educated, arrogant, idealistic, ambitious, deeply cynical twenty something, coincidently a pretty similar position to me over a decade ago. Luckily for me I possessed neither his ambition or sheer bloody minded-ness to be capable of taking my life to the brutal excesses he took his life to. For starters we both got jobs for middle of the road investment banks him at the tongue in cheek false named Banque Inoutil which I took as .'useless bank' working as a utilities analyst. I myself was a telecoms analyst graduate trainee for HSBC Securities (the investment banking bit of high street bank HSBC surprisingly and this won't be a surprise to anyone, I hated everything about the place by the time I left in mid 2001. I had neither the sexual, chemical or financial excesses of Mr Anderson but there were one or two stories that were scarily on the money, particularly those surrounding how you got paid more if clients (investment managers) voted for you in the two annual surveys. It basically meant that it wasn't about which team was the best at predicting which shares went up and which went down, it was nothing more than a playground popularity contest! Analysts spent hours/weekends, hours at weekends trying to forecast the future financials of companies and the theoretical values of shares on huge excel models that bore about as much relevance to reality as Zimbabwes last announced election result. Sure, they were very clever models but altering the smallest assumption in them often meant a swing in the theoretical value of the shares from a 'buy' to a 'sell'. Not that the market seemed to care, It was the pre-Enron days where a company could be worth anything, you could almost pick whatever value you wanted rendering analysts,salesmen and investment banks pointless but no-one told the analysts and salesmen. Instead the value of technology, media and Telecoms (TMT) companies was decided by newsflow, rumour and what side people who traded in these companies had got out of bed. What was worse is that analysts and salesmen were being paid a fortune (£100k+) to spout/write that this horsesh*t was all happening for things that companies were actually doing. Rubbish, it was a bubble pumped up by all the hot air that was being talked into it by a bunch of people who know nothing about why some companies make money and some don't. I am embarrassed to have once been classed an 'expert' on telecoms companies. It is this belief by fundamentally unqualified people who think they are more important and worth more than they actually are that has got us into this mess today. Luckily I never took myself too seriously so I never became a complete city tw*t (I hope) but I can't say that for a lot of people I worked with and knew of back then, tw*ts. I wouldn't so much like to stab these people in the back, more, in the front.
To be continued when I have the time and energy. For good meausure a couple of snaps of where my long suffering parents have just come back from two weeks in (they deserved it but I can't hide my jealousy)

2 Feb 2009

Post 103: Snow!.... and some new hope

It does make me laugh, the way the country grinds to a halt in the way it clearly has today after about 2 feet of snow has blanketed the place. The idyllic and peaceful scene in my back garden masks the chaos in the wider world. Both my housemates have been unable to get to work and as if sent from the depths of Hell my neighbours 'damien-esque' 6 year old son Dylan can't go to school because it's shut and it's too dangerous for my physiotherapist to drive here for my exercise session. Gah! Civilised society as we know it has ceased to function. This may sound a tad melodramatic but for this whole week, England has become a third world country, People won't be able to get to work, schools will be shut, deliveries can't get to shops but that doesn't matter because there'll be no-one working in the shops. Who cares about the credit crunch? No wonder the UK economy's going down the Pan – we're going to lose a whole days production, it's a disaster but I'm still alive and for the first time since my stroke I feel happier because I've finally met someone new who's been able to look past the chair, the fatigue and my often less than positive outlook, a beautiful, gorgeous girl called Asli who has now been to see me a couple of times so I didn't scare her off (and I hope this doesn't) She also adores pickle (my cat) probably more than me (but that wouldn't be a first). This will be the last time she gets mentioned here without her express permission but her arrival has really helped, I look forward to being able to introduce her in person to some of you.

1 Feb 2009

Post 102: Being treated to dinner by the Tonbridge guys

OK, so I said Ihad a couple of things I could have yacked about last time so I chose the Pussycat Dolls because I'd seen them the night before but slightly lower key on Monday evening I was taken out very kindly to the Bear ( where else by a couple of my old schoolteachers,the master in charge of rackets John Gibbs, the rackets professional from school (er, what?, I hear you say) the master in charge of squash,John Maynard all organised by my old rackets partner James Pyemont (the guy in the cricket kit in post 88)
Let me try and explain. Between the ages of 13 and 18 I was one of the lucky few to have been put through a private school. To pay for it my dad eschewed early retirement and went back to work as an engineer and project director for the building of the new British LibraryThis was particularly heroic because it didn't sound all that pleasant, despite numerous costly and time-consuming blunders by the contractors and a few unhelpful words about the architecture from the spectacularly uneducated future king, all seem happy with the final product, particularly the people who have to use it, the readers. Anyway, I have digressed (again, sigh), the point was dad only did this so he could afford the exorbitant fees at Tonbridge School in Kent.Now, I could wax lyrical about what a great place it was, sure the academic stuff was great and I can attribute a great deal of my academic success to Tonbridge, but, and there was a big but , in order to be considered a big success by your peers academic ability counted for nought, it probably counted against you. In order to be considered a success you had to excel at a major sport, Rugby, Cricket or hockey and being a 5' loud arrogant squit (I grew too late) I didn't have the best start – I hated Rugby and contact sports. I excelled at hand/eye coordination sports like squash and Tennis. At Tonbridge these were minor sports, and didn't count for much with my peers. I took up this game called rackets, partly because I'd been inspired after seeing my mums godson ( a guy called Thorold Barker) play at a tournament at Queens Club in London and because rackets looked like fun. Rackets is an extraordinary sport, not many people in the world play it because there aren't many courts, a few dotted around North America with most in the UK at Public Schools, courts aren't really built these days because of the expense of building them and their sheer size, as a sport it's best described as squash on steroids, A huge black court (4 times the size of a squash court. Everyone has virtually the same wooden racket (still made only by Grays of Cambridge), extremely tightly sprung strings. It is probably the second fastest game in the world (after Pelota), with every game following the rules of squash scoring and it being the first to fifteen points, usually best of 7 games. If both players are pretty pony, rackets can be a pretty poor game but if both players are world class, as I often got to see and sometimes play with/against then it is one of the most amazing games in the world. Luckily, for public schoolboys who play it, it has long been a tradition that the schools with courts employ a rackets professional, Tonbridges, was a guy called Dave Makey, a character whose incredible chat was only matched by the incredibleness of his poodle Perm, what can I say about Dave? Incredibly, he has been the Pro at Tonbridge for 25 years! He has just recently won the world doubles title with a guy he taught how to play at Tonbridge, Rupert Owen-Browne, guy who hits the ball harder than anyone I have ever seen. This was my philosophy when I played, to try and hit it as hard as I could, this only worked sometimes because I neither possessed the size, talent or footwork but by the time I left Tonbridge, I was an above average player, a couple of years later getting into the Oxford teamto play Cambridge at Queens Club in London, yes thats me just to the left of centre in the photo! OK, so having done my best to explain rackets and some of my formative years being taken out and reiniscing with these guys was a very nice surprise, particulary because I'm sure I was an obnxious little bastard sometimes at school. Who knows,i'm probably an obnoxious wheelchair bound bastard now!



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