Football Down The Pub

I have been looking at the computer screen trying to think of something to
write about that doesn’t include South Africa or football. Well I cant!
Mainly because, like a good number of other middle aged men, I have become
nine years old again.

I have kept the World Cup planner from the newspaper. I have bought an
England flag, an England air freshener, and a red and white hat.

I even spent a whole evening putting the fixtures into the calendar on my
iPhone even though I had previously bought an app (phone programme)
containing the full details.

To many of you, including Mrs M, this will all sound a little sad. In fact
my wife is under the impression that I might have World Cup Tourettes
because every now and then I get the urge to shout ‘Come on England’.

I know that I am not alone in this; every where I go I see grown men
gazing at newspapers and magazines containing details of the happenings
taking place on the African continent.

I spoke to an old school friend today and within seconds our conversation
became focussed on this, our favourite subject. My old pal is a Manchester
City fan whilst I support the team in red. This did not matter, however, as
we became joined as fellow supporters of our national team.

I mentioned Mrs M’s view that I might have World Cup Tourettes and he
chuckled as he told me about his need to sing the England football song
Three Lions at the top of his voice whilst alone in his car.

My wife said this confirmed her theory that the only difference between
men and cheese is that eventually the latter matures. I detected a little
too much sarcasm than I thought was necessary.

I enquired as to whether she was in any way excited about the competition.
‘A little she replied’ doing a mock Mexican wave as she sat on the sofa.

No matter, I continued with my pre-tournament preparations which included
ensuring that every TV in the house had good reception just in case we get
a failure, and fitting the flag to my otherwise unpatriotic car.

Mrs M, in a bid to manage my expectations, suggested that I book in for
some therapy should they not make it past the first round.

‘Therapy?’ I replied ‘I will form a whole support group should that

‘And where would you hold these sessions’ enquired my bride.

‘Down the pub’ I replied.

My wife did a second mock Mexican wave and I am sure I heard her say ‘Come
on England’ as she left the room.

World Cup Tourettes must be catching.

- Posted from my iPhone

Britain's Traditional Instrument

My World Cup tourettes has fast disappeared and been replaced by a self-help mantra.

I had spent the last few weeks randomly shouting 'come on England' at the sight of a St George's flag but now the nine year-old boy inside this middle-aged man has grown quiet and ever so slightly melancolic.

I have replaced my football chant with the one my wife regularly used in the lead up to the competition. Trying to convey that she didn't know what all the fuss was about she would offer 'it's only game'.

Before England's demise I would take the time to explain why she was mistaken in her view. Now it seems to offer only the slightest amount of comfort.

Mrs M, in an attempt at soothing my disappointment, removed all the England flags from the car whilst I was otherwise distracted.

It was a caring thing to do but the car, once proud, patriotic, and positive, now looked sad and ordinary.

It seems we were not alone in wanting to remove any reminders of our defeat. The streets around our home, which were once a proud mass of red and white, are all now as plain as my old car.

We have just started a few days away at a holiday camp in Norfolk and I am hopeful that this will restore my otherwise positive attitude.

On arrival I became quickly aware that there were no St George's flags to be seen. I presume that the the holiday camp managers followed my wife's lead in hiding anything that might disappoint.

My hope now is that I might meet some French or Italian supporters: I will feel it is my duty to encourage them by offering the reminder that 'it's only a game'. We are fellow Europeans.

If I come across some Germans (not sure of it counts as Europe) I will feel the need to be magnanamous in defeat. Even if Lampard's goal had been allowed we still looked second rate compared with their skill.

For now I will pick up my vuvuzela and shout 'Come on Ghana!'

The instrument, that made every game sound like it was being played inside a hornets nest, was allowed because it is said to be a traditional instrument.

If we ever host the World Cup in this great nation we should employ our traditional
instruments and turn up at the stadium with a pair of spoons or a paper and comb. That would show 'em!

And if they complained about the noise we could remind them that 'it's only a game'.

England - Glee or Porgy & Bess

Mrs M seems to be having withdrawal symptoms from the remote control. This object, once so regularly used to flick between various episodes of Next Top Model, has hardly left my side during the World Cup.

Realising her pain at such a loss I suggested she chose something good for us to watch whilst a less important match was on last night.

To my horror her remote controlling finger stopped pressing when we arrived at the latest American import known as Glee.

I had seen the odd trailer for the show so knew that it might be the type that I wouldn't fully appreciate. Nothing, however, could have prepared my for what I was about to witness.

For those who haven't seen it let me explain. It is set in a stateside high school and uses all the usual reference points to carry the story. Their are jocks and geeks and other groupings of American teens showing an unhealthy amount of disrespect for one another.

This series has a twist, however, in that it takes one such group and draws them together around their passion for performing arts, making them more Gleeks than Geeks.

This is where the show takes a turn for the worse as we are subjected to cheesy song after cheesy song set in a storyline that adds further helpings of savoury dairy products.

For this middle aged nothern male it represented sheer pain.

When I was at school the only musical we came near to performing was Porgy and Bess. That was because we had a substitute drama teacher for one term. She was full of enthusiasm and convinced that the boys in the class should experience the joy of singing in front of other people.

In truth, most of us were secretly drawn to the idea but we had to maintain our usual air of disdain for fear of being ridiculled.

Cast in the lead roll I was required to sing 'nobody knows the trouble I'm in' using my best deep south accent.

I didn't have such an accent and the teacher kept asking me to make it sound less like a football chant.

The following term our substitute teacher had disappeared along with my embarrasment at having to sing in front of the class.

Perhaps this is why I revile at the sight of these over enthusiastic American teenagers turning every mundane incident into a song.

I mentioned to Mrs M, in passing, that I preferred the football and she sang, with full musical actions, the main song from Glee as she went to make a brew.

'Don't stop believing'

'You might need that song when you watch the England match tomorrow' she said with a smile.

As long as I don't end up singing 'nobody knows the trouble I'm in' I replied hoping that my footballing dreams won't be shattered.

Cultured or Second Class

I have been trying to get a bit of culture in my fairly ordinary life.
This sounds like it should be a relatively easy exercise if it weren’t for
the fact that I am a full northern male with, what was rather
discouragingly called, a secondary education.

Perhaps this title isn’t meant to imply a sub-standard academic
environment; however the address given by our deputy head master at our
opening assembly certainly did.

We sat before him as a group of gangly eleven and twelve year olds looking
for the kind of pedagogic inspiration we have become accustomed to in our
primary schools.

‘At an establishment down the road’ he began, referring to the local
grammar school. ‘They are being trained to be the cream of society’ he
continued as if imparting wisdom. ‘I want you to know, however, that you
are not second class’.

Until that assembly I had never considered that I was, being glad to
attend a school that played both football and rugby.

Now, as I approach fifty, I consider it is never too late to become
cultured. So as I waited for Mrs M to finish her nursing shift last week I
listened to Pavarotti’s performance of Nessun Dorma.

At the same time I surfed the Internet to find the words. This didn’t
completely prove fruitful, as I didn’t learn Italian at my secondary

Fortunately the World Wide Web is not limited by my lack of education and
provided me with an English translation.

It turns out that Puccini was an old romantic and the song contains a very
moving lyric.

My computer didn’t stop there in trying to bring me culture. It seems that
those who know about such things are very passionate about naming their
favourite performer of this operatic masterpiece.

It seems that Britain’s Got Talent contestant Paul Potts doesn’t please
the opera going public of these fair isles.

When my bride finally arrived home I shared my newfound knowledge with her
and insisted that we did our own comparison by listening to several
one after another.

Mrs M wasn’t immediately keen on the idea but soon came round and so we
listened, and we listened, and we listened.

After hearing nine tenors I had two conclusions; Firstly, Pavarotti was a
genius. His performance stood out above the rest. Secondly, my education
was, to some degree, secondary because our deputy head master never told
about the brilliance of Nessun Dorma during any of his assemblies.

Nothing to wear

We are heading off to a conference this week and we have had our usual 'I haven't got anything to wear' conversation.

I don't want to sound unsympathetic but I approach the issue with a completely different perspective than my dear Mrs M.

We entered this dialogue immediately after an in-depth assessment of my wardrobe methodology. Apparently my bride doesn't feel that my system gives full honour to the hard work she has put into the ironing.

I foolishly asked her to explain her comments and so we stood in front of my proud collection of shirts and pants whilst my wife explained how I wasn't making good use of the available space.

I tried to seem interested but I couldn't help feeling that I was letting down all male members of the human race by spending too much time looking at cloth. I mistakenly said this thought out loud and was informed that I was as old fashioned as the corduroy jeans that have mocked me for the last five years. I bought them just after they changed the sizing system to make Medium the new Large.

Anyway, faster than a speeding knitting needle, my wife rearranged my clothes into an order that made her sigh with satisfaction.

'There you are!' she exclaimed.

In deed, there I was; my garments were now gathered in order of smartness and colour. My best shirts were neatly lines to the right and my comfortable, if slightly scruffy, T-shirts were waiting for me on the left.

Granted, it had a certain aesthetic appeal but I wasn't convinced that it offered me anything of any use.

Therein lies the difference between my bride and I; the question I ask when looking for clothes is 'are they fit for purpose?' Not so Mrs M who assures me that she looks at the bigger picture.

I realise at times like this that it is pointless arguing so I agreed to so order my wardrobe knowing too well that I would forget the next time I come to hang up the nicely ironed clothes.

I asked Mrs M why none of her many clothes would suit our upcoming conference. I didn't word it like this of course; that would imply a certain amount of sarcasm.

At this point she gave me lots of information that seemed, in her world at least, to sound rational. All I remember was that the black trousers weren't the right kind of black and that most of her outfits would be no use if the weather turned warmer.

After nodding my sympathetic agreement I put my shirts and trousers in the case; never once did I question their colour or suitability for warm weather.

Barbecues: Pretending to be Australian but without the weather.

We have just watched a promotional advert for the football World Cup that is about to descend upon us. At the same as I cheered my wife gave a little sigh!

It seems that Mrs M is less than keen on the idea of four-weeks of solid football. I suggested that we could give the England matches a party feel by having a barbecue at the same time
Meat, beer, and football. Excellent!

My bride looked to the heavens, as if for help, and asked me whether I would prefer to watch most of the matches in the local pub.

'Really!' I said trying not to look too excited.

'I'd like you to enjoy it' she said presenting the idea as if she was being kind.

Twenty-nine years of married life tell me that this is not so and that my bride, is in fact, trying to make the house a soccer free zone during competition.

I asked her whether we could still have a few barbecues and she reminded me that she has never been fond of this outdoor eating experience.

Disappointed about her lack of enthusiasm for both football and barbecues I asked her what she found so off putting. Here are the thoughts of Mrs M.

Beef burgers - Why would they take perfectly good steak and mince it up only to put it back again as a pretend piece of steak unless they are trying to hide something.

Cooking outside - It's like pretending to be Australian but without the weather.

The World Cup - I can cope with football but not when they are trying to steal our summer.

Needless to say, I don't agree with my bride on any of the points she makes above.

Beef burgers are a perfectly convenient way of hiding the bits of meat that you wouldn't otherwise consider consuming. I would call this being thrifty.

Barbecues are a great way of us Brits expressing our eternal optimism in spite of consistent bad weather. Up and down the land you will see families huddled under makeshift gazebos whilst dad cremates pig meat protected from the rain by an umbrella. We wont be beaten.

As for the World Cup; it is a great way of practicing for the result of our general elections. For four years we have all followed our own favoured team; but now we form a coalition in order to support our national side. In the case of my two son-in-laws and me it will be a Spurs-Man pact.

In this new alliance there is no room for people who don't like beefburgers and all our cabinet meetings will be done, in the cold, around a barbecue.

Floating Voters, CS Lewis, and 'That Woman'

Election day has arrived and, subject to decent weather, we should see a high turn-out. High in this context is a relative term as there has been a sharp decline in the numbers over recent years; the last election standing at a mere 61%.

I am sure that people have a variety of reason for how and why they vote. Here are just a few that seem likely:

Personalities. In this super fast, media obsessed world it appears that celebrity is a major motivating factor. Even so it can be difficult to find anything that resembles a personality.

Policies. I know people try to convince you that this really matters but you have to ask how many of the electorate have ever read the manifestos.

Ideology. Some have an idea of the kind of government they want and vote accordingly. Even if the current leader of their chosen party, or indeed their policies, seem less than attractive they will continue to offer electoral support.

I suppose which ever of the above becomes your main motivation it is at least better than being what the media call a 'floating voter'.

I overheard a conversation on the train last week where one man said to his female companion 'I will vote for whichever party knocks on my door first'. A simple approach if not exactly politically engaged.

Perhaps that is part of the problem; we think the whole matter of governing this incredible country is simple. And so like a crowd watching a football match we shout at the referee, sure that we could do better.

Our politicians don't help by trying to offer answers to the complex questions we face with the most simplistic of all responses; the sound-bite.

CS Lewis, the writer of The Lion The Witch & The Wardrobe, once said that reality is not simple. He went on to say that it is not neat but odd. This sounds like a terrible negative view but we human beings do seem to be not very neat and a little odd; probably a good description of British politics.

Just last week I was amazed to hear the response from Gillian Duffy at being labelled a bigot by the Prime Minister. Whilst everyone focussed on the nature of bigotry and the size of the gaff made by Brown, we seemed to miss the real cause of her upset.

'How dare he call me 'That woman'' she said.

Perhaps that is why there is such a low turn out to the election; none of us what to be known merely as 'that woman'.

Politicians of all parties need to remember the electorate may not be neat. We may be a little odd. But most of all we are real people

The Wrong Kind of Volcanic Ash

The sun is out the sky is blue there is not a jet trail in the sky to spoil the view. I am not sure whether that would work as a song lyric but it does seem to represent our recent aviation related events.

The media is full of stories about people paying over the odds for alternative transport solutions. One of our friends has just paid over three-hundred pounds for a taxi journey from Holyhead to Bingley. If she was old enough for a bus pass she could have made the same trip for free. Albeit having to change buses seventeen times on route.

I know that we covered volcanoes during my school years but never once did anyone mention Iceland in this regard. And yet here we are with our air traffic on hold due to one of its eruptions and the threat of further disruption from a second brewing mountain.

The conspiracy theorists are having a field day and have so far preferred to believe that the real cause of the problem is either aliens or terrorists.

It never ceases to amaze me that these ideas are usually offered by people who would rather believe the incredible over the plausible.

I have a theory that the same person starts all conspiracy theories; which in itself makes it the ultimate conspiracy.

Does this overdose of volcanic ash mark the start of an Icelandic spring? We are used to having an Indian summer and a Canadian winter so this is just another one to add to our collection.

Whatever is happening you have to feel sorry for all those who are stranded away from home. Of course there are some more preferable places to be stranded. Perhaps if you are able to sip cocktails, near a sun soaked beach, whilst you wait for northern Europe to be ash free, you would be able to see the positive side of things.

So whilst Britain is sending navy ships to Spain to collect stranded tourists the irony of Iceland's Keflavik airport still being open for business is not lost on me. Perhaps ash is more of an export activity for our northern neighbour than a home-grown luxury.

As the planes start to roll off the runways over the next few days we are told there will be a two-week catch up in operations due to all the chaos caused. Ash! Who would have thought it?

The situation was not helped by a recent expert trying to explain why there had been such a problem; apparently it was the wrong type of volcanic ash. Experts! You gotta love 'em.

Fishing - An Expensive Sit Down

The pleasant weather has brought the crowds out of their houses and on to towpaths of our local canal ways. In general the warmer climes bring out the best in people and we pass other travellers with a nod and a smile and an occasional 'thank you' to cyclist who offer us even the smallest of signal that they are steaming towards us from behind.

We like to think that we walk a good distance on these occasions but every now and then we see a sign that reminds us that the canal has a life outside of our experience of it.

Leeds is 19 miles in one direction whilst Liverpool is 120 miles the opposite way.

If it wasn't for such signs you could be blissfully unaware of the existence of either city as you walk through the Yorkshire countryside.

With renewed interest we started to look out for other signs on the towpath. Mrs M soon spotted one that informed us that we could fish for the day, if so desired, for the small price of £2.

I commented that this seemed a good price if fishing were your chosen hobby.

My bride did not agree and offered the comment 'it seems a lot of money just for having a sit down'.

I felt the need to defend the local anglers against such an onslaught even though I have not taken part since I was seventeen.

'Just having a sit down' I said somewhat exasperated, 'you could say a similar thing about most hobbies. Under such a system we might conclude:

The Cinema is merely £7.40 for sitting in a dark room.
Ten Pin bowling is just paying money to wait for your ball to be sent back.
And going swimming is just a more expensive way of having a bath.

Mrs M thought I was taking things too far but the point was made.

Knowing the value of your hobby is all about context. One man (or woman's) game of golf is another person's expensive long walk.

The same is true of canals; one person's three-mile stretch of inland water is another man's section of a Leeds to Liverpool highway. To be honest I am not sure if anyone travels the whole distance anymore but you get the point.

We travelled a little further in the general direction of Leeds, without any intention of visiting the city, and wondered if those engaged in fishing were getting value for money. After all if they weren't catching any fish it would make my wife's comment correct: two pound is a lot of money just for having a sit down!

One on a diet. All on a diet!

Mrs M is due to speak at a conference in a few weeks time and amidst all the excitement of getting ready for the event she has decided that she needs to go on a diet in order to fit into her chosen outfit. The only problem is that when she says 'I' she means 'we'.

Somehow I have been dragged into things. I suggested that I didn't need to be included because I am not attending said conference, and instead shall be spending the day in the pub with some mates. None of whom will be even faintly interested in either my weight or my BMI.

This didn't wash with my bride and it seems I don't have a choice in the matter. She muttered something about needing my support and she wandered off to gorge on some lettuce. I tried to point out that when I support my favourite football team it doesn't involve actually kicking a ball but she wasn't convinced.

As part of this new regime we have increased the length and intensity of our evening stroll. Included in our workout is a brisk walk up the towpath of the Five Rise Locks.

Our normal routine includes spending our time chatting about a variety of subjects. This has, however, been somewhat restricted by the incline we now have to traverse.

We start off with a few words but it isn't long before silence descends apart from the panting noises we make as we try to breathe.

Because Mrs M is due to speak at her conference she takes our walks as opportunities to rehearse her chosen topic in front of her audience of one. This means that I do little of the talking until, that is, we reach the Five Rise Locks and my bride has to concentrate on the incline and breathing.

I have taken this as my time to get a few words in edge ways.

Not happy with this intrusion into her thought patterns my wife asked me during our walk today to wait until we arrived at the top.

I asked her why it should matter given that she is unable to offer any input into the conversation during this time. Her reasoning; she feels frustrated when she thinks of thinks to add and can't do so.

At this point I take the opportunity of highlighting the fact that whereas she isn't fit enough to converse I, in fact, am.

I suggest that this means I don't need to join her in her decision to go on a diet.

'But I need your support' she gasps.

'OK' I reply 'But don't ask me to kick a ball

Tweeters or Twirlies

A few days ago I overheard one of my daughters calling us 'the wrinklies'; I immediately looked in the mirror and realised that the description was a fair one.

I offered some protestation, however, because it is not an accurate name for Mrs M. She may be three weeks older that me but she looks youthful. I know that I definitely married up.

Trying to offer support I commented that she didn't look a day over forty. She was quick to point out that we are at the age when such compliments don't work, mainly because forty still has the ring of age about it.

I shouldn't be too upset with being called a wrinkly as, much to their amusement, we have been using the title for our parents for a number of years; they must be thicker skinned than us.

I told my dad about the latest stage we have reached, and commented that, if we have arrived the moment where our laughter lines have determined our description, what should his generation now be called.

He informed me that his generation already had a new name. Apparently the local bus drivers in his locality have started carling them 'twirlies'.

I asked him why; suggesting that perhaps it referred to their dancing abilities and deftness of foot when getting on and off buses. But no!

He went on to describe how the name only applies to a five-minute period between twenty-five past nine and nine-thirty in the morning.

Evidently, as the drivers arrive at each bus stop during this period they are greeted to the sight of groups of pensioners all asking 'Are we too early to use our free bus passes?'

Hence the name Twirly. I guess it's a northern thing.

It does strike me as excellent that the elderly of Britain time their morning journey for maximum value.

Before the introduction of the free bus passes there was nothing to stop them setting off on their journeys as early as they desired.

I asked my dad why pensioners were so eager to travel during the early morning and he simple replied 'because we run out of sleep'.

'Added to this' he said 'is the fact that we need to get back for our tea'.

Apparently this is the age when you can no longer eat onions passed five o'clock without your whole sleep pattern being disturbed.

It struck me as ironic that whilst my wife and I are all too eager (tweagre) to use our social networking sites before nine-thirty our parents prefer to get out of the house and meet people for real.
Where we are tweeters whilst they are twirlies!

In Ballet They Don't Call It Skipping

Last weekend we celebrated our twenty-ninth wedding anniversary. We decided long ago that the main stay of our celebratory presents for such events would not be surprises.

You might see this as a lack of romance but I am pretty sure the Mrs M was being pragmatic when she suggested we should adopt such a position. After all why risk valuable gift money being wasted on items that you might not want. In truth I have been known to buy things that seemed sensible to me but didn't fit with a female perspective on gift buying (we won't mention the sowing box of 1988).

For this year's anniversary my bride hinted well in advance that we had never been to see a ballet. She started this process well in advance during our trip to see Strictly Come Dancing. What started out as a reasonable wish to watch a tango from close up turned into a desire to spend a couple of hours viewing pirouettes.

With this said we set off for Sheffield to watch the Northern Ballet's rendition of Wuthering Heights.

The Lyceum theatre was superb and the cast were clearly were world class; it wasn't long before the whole audience were spellbound, including myself.

Mrs M lapped up every minute of the performance and during the interval she seemed eager to find out what I made of this dancing feast.

I pointed out that, although I appreciated the skill of both the performers and the orchestra, I wasn't fully sure what was happening in the story.

My bride tried to help by enquiring what was going through my mind as I watched; I think she felt that this might show that I understood at some deeper level.

'Well' I said, trying to be honest, 'most of the time I was thinking how much all of the male dancers looked like 'Alistair McGowen'.

She looked slightly disappointed as if hoping that somewhere inside this eighteen stone ex - rugby player was a cultured heart.

'In addition' I continued 'I was counting how many times they skipped'.

Apparently this wasn't the answer she wanted and she tried to tell me that in the ballet it isn't called skipping.

On the plus side I bought ice creams for us both; it seems that I didn't choose well and so I had to eat the one that Mrs M rejected and then go back for another of the one I had chosen for myself. Result!

We settled down to watch the second half and I tried to view it through enlightened eyes. At the end my bride again asked for my opinion. 'It would have been better if they had ended with the Kate Bush song' I offered.

The Back Seat Driving Panel

As Mrs M and I approach our twenty-ninth wedding anniversary I feel it time for some reflection. Early on in our marriage we agreed to share responsibility for the various tasks involved in raising a family.

I was assigned the role of chief driver whenever we travelled even though, to be fair, my bride is a better driver than I am (although I would appreciate it if you didn't tell her I said so).

My responsibilities as family chauffer, however, don't come without their share of challenges.

It seems, and the female members of my family are in agreement on this, that I don't drive in a way that meets with their approval.

I either drive too slowly or I travel to fast. I either park too near or I park too far away.

And so it is that I have developed a thick skin when it comes to car related comments. I normally reply with 'when you are driving you can park wherever you want' or something similar.

Still our trips are accompanied by a set of regular encouraging remarks; 'watch that car', 'the lights are turning red', 'I am sure the other way would be quicker'.

In recent months a new phrase has been added largely due the fact that my advancing years seems to have brought a small amount of hearing loss. The phrase is in fact just a single word; 'indicator'.

My problem is not helped by the fact that the steering wheel seems to be inconveniently positioned to obscure the indicator light from view.

Last week we have had some of our dearest friends over for a few days. It was good to catch up and we spent many happy hours putting the world to rights safe in the knowledge that we had no responsibility for having to put our ideas into operation.

During our trips out I reverted to type and took up my usual position behind the wheel. Mrs M offered her help by reminding me that the colour red meant stop. Daughter number two considerately added some advice about the correct use of bus lanes.

Eventually, encouraged by my wife and daughters wise words, our female friend joined the panel of driving experts. She seemed to think that I might have forgotten how to use round-a-bouts.

I looked across at her husband for support and he raised his eyes in acknowledgement of my dilemma. We said nothing but I was comforted by the fact that he understood.

When we arrived at our destination he offered me the greatest sign of solidarity by turning up the volume on the CD player in order to drown out the help offered by the back seat panel.

Faded Jeans

For several months my wife and daughters have been expressing the view that I am in desperate need of a style makeover. The sight of me once again turning up for an event in T-shirt and denim must have been too much for them.

Anyway after an overdose of Trinny and Susannah terrorising fashion victims on TV, the Molineaux females decided to take me on a serious shopping expedition. After driving for what felt like several lunch times we arrived at the temple to mammon and found refuge in an outlet where the beverages end in a vowel and cost more than my last pair of jeans.

Suitably energized by cappuccinos and skinny lattes we set off in search of fabric designed for slimmer waistlines than mine.

I chose what appeared to be acceptable items for a man of my age and headed for the unisex changing rooms to see if any of them would make me look thinner; knowing only too well that the mirrors provided are designed to flatter.

I was stopped on my journey by daughter number one wishing to inspect my find. One by one she held each item of clothing up to the other members of our party and they all joined in the laughter.

After enjoying themselves at my expense they lead me away to another section of the store to be shown the type of trousers that I apparently ‘really liked’.

I muttered and moaned but still found myself trying them on and then coming out of the closet (in the old sense of the phrase), to do my own version of a fashion show. After telling me that I looked fantastic and that they made me look years younger they were kind enough to ask me what I thought of them.

‘Call me old fashioned’, I said ‘But I like the notion that I can FADE my own denim ‘after’ I have bought the jeans’. They looked at me as if my two score years and seven had afforded me no right to an opinion.

Not to be defeated the girls encouraged, or should that be harangued, me to try on the second pair of their selection. I emerged this time with several areas of flesh showing as the jeans in question were ripped in at least three places and both the pockets and the hems were frayed making them look like the pair that I had thrown away just two weeks earlier.

‘It is the fashion’, said my youngest ‘Everybody is wearing them’.
I tried once again to voice my objections.

‘Call me old fashioned’, I said ‘But I like the notion that I can RIP my own denim ‘after’ I have bought the jeans’.

This time my wife agreed with my complaint; pointing out to the girls that they were trying too hard to make me look younger.

We left the store without making a purchase only to enter another, seemingly identical, shop. It seemed to me that, even though I was the central figure of the day, I wasn’t really needed.

I made my escape and found a gadget store; joining all the other husbands who I presume had run away from similar shopping treats, I imagined owning a remote control spitfire and a walkie talkie watch.

My mobile phone rang and interrupted my enjoyment of a plasma ball; it was my wife complaining that I wasn’t putting as much effort in the day as they were.

When I arrived at the department store the females were loaded up with enough clothes to kit out an army.

You might think that I would have been daunted by this sight but I had a cunning plan; I was ready to agree to eight out of the first ten items I tried on whatever they looked like. It seemed the path of least resistance and would speed our journey to lunch.

It is for this reason that I sit here writing wearing brand new faded and a pink T-shirt. You might think that I am defeated but I take comfort in the fact that I refused to by the ‘man bag’ that they insisted were all the rage these days.

Hers, Mine or Ours

During our twenty-nine years of marriage I have noticed that my wife likes to claim ownership of certain things whilst rejecting others.

Whilst not wanting to step into the murky waters of sexism, I am assured by many of my male friends that she is not alone in this regard.

Just a few days ago she used the word 'my' when describing 'our' bedroom.

Granted there have been a number of nights over the last three decades when I have been banished to the sofa for some snoring related offence. Even so, I am sure that I should have equal share in its occupancy.

Now I think about it my presence in our bedroom is limited to a small proportion of it. I have just worked out that with the 18 inches square of my bedside cabinet and the hook behind the door I can only claim around four percent of the room.

Once our youngest daughter left for university my bride suggested I store my clothes in her old wardrobe; to be honest it is useful having my clothes available when I have to leave early for work. Fortunately I still have occupancy of an eighteen strip of our king size bed.

As far as the bathroom is concerned I do have half a shelf in the cabinet but where I do have the most space is on the shelf that contains reading materials. And, although my wife likes to purge the contents every now and then, I have a favourite sports book, a comedian's biography, and an electronics catalogue.

Even with this attempted take over bid Mrs M still calls it her bathroom. I need to work harder.

Over the years I have come to terms with my dessert being known as 'ours' when we are at a restaurant but this reshaping of our world is a little too much.

As I type I am reminded that my bride has made claim to two thirds of our sofa as she reclines next to me; she is trying to convince me that I can type and tickle her feet at the same time.

When I ask Mrs M why she feels the need to call so many things hers rather than ours she responds she tells me that it is a trade off. She gets the pretty things and I get the functional items. Apparently, because I love to cook I have ownership of two cupboards in the kitchen.

At this point she announce to me 'From now on you shall be known as lord of the pans'. I think I deserve more than mockery.

I responded by saying that I was just off to the pub to spend some money from 'my' joint bank account.

Feeling ill but still keeps her dignity

Mrs M and I have been a little unwell over the last two weeks. It seems that having avoided our entire coughing and sneezing family members during the Christmas period, we have caught the tail end of some bug trying its best to make us miserable just before spring arrives.

It is unusual for my wife to feel ill as, being a nurse, she seems to have built up a healthy amount of resistance to common bugs over the years. We have now, however, developed the same symptoms and as a result we have stereo sickness.

I don't want to appear selfish but being under the weather at the same time as your partner only adds to the complications; I now have to share the attention and sympathy with another person.

Our malady started with a slight sore throat and a cough that tended to sound like one of those false noises trying to convince others that we were not well. For a while it seemed that we would perform this drama in sync with each other.

That is where the similarity ends. Mrs M is a good patient and suffers in relative silence. I employ all my amateur dramatic skills to ensure that everyone knows the pain I am going through.

In a similar way I ensure that the scene is complete by looking as ill as I feel; Unshaven chin and sticky up hair until I become Stig of the Dump. My wife, however, still seems to maintain her natural amount of grace even through the most trying of circumstances.

Even after one rather painful and heavy session of nausea Mrs M, almost by instinct, picked up a brush as she returned to bed and tidied her hair. Even when we had to visit the emergency doctor in the middle of the night a couple of nights ago she still managed to look stylish and presentable whilst at the same time feeling ill and feverish.

Determined to see the positive side my bride took the opportunity of weighing herself after about three days of not eating exclaiming 'there must be some upside to being ill'.

She has obviously been in some pain and thus unable to function normally, yet she is still unwilling to let go of all the marks of dignity.

Not so I; other than the odd gargle with mouthwash my usual routines have been put on hold until I get back to wanting bacon again. (A sure sign of health in my book)

I mentioned the idea of bacon to Mrs M and she didn't seem too impressed. She ran off to brush her hair again.

One roast potato! I ask you.

Our dear friends Mel and Sheila took us out for the day to enjoy a country drive and some honest pub grub.

The food was excellent and, to my liking, came in ample measure.

I had started to feel that, in inverse proportion to my waistline, food size had reduced over the last few years.

But here in this Yorkshire country pub the landlady was bucking the trend.

The hotel we visited a few weeks earlier was the opposite end of the spectrum; I was served a small piece of lamb laying on a miniscule amount of mash. The plate also contained two baby carrots and only one, yes one, roast potato.

My wife tried to subdue my inner outrage at such injustice by saying it was the way that the top chefs did it these days.

Then it struck me: what an incredible marketing campaign these resteratuers have waged recently. What a master stroke by these master chefs.

They have convinced the british public that fine dining is when you pay more money for less food.

Never has such economic brilliance been seen since the invention of the mini skirt.

Well this proud northerner has seen through their plan and intends to revolt by ordering a side dish of chips with every meal I have in one of these psuedo-chic establisments.

In addition to this I shall demand proper gravy when they try to offer my a smudge of, what the menus describe as, jus.

Gordon Ramsey might like to tell us that his 'F' word stands for food but we now know it means the customer is a Fool.

It is time for a revolution: up and down the country citezans no longer need to stifle an exclamation of 'is that it?' when offered a large plate with a solitary island of food in the middle.

One roast potato! I ask you.

Perhaps the best response when faced with such paucity would be to say 'if I had wanted a starter I would have ordered one'.

If the menu says that your meat comes on a bed of mash ask them for a king size mattress.

Human Bed Warmers Wanted For Hotel

When I was a kid we thought it was the height of extravagance to be offered a melon starter whilst on holiday at an average B&B in Prestatyn. Nowadays we even have the option of a pre-main course before our breakfast. During our recent hotel stay we had the choice of five different types of fruit before we hit the cereal bar. This was followed by a full English breakfast and a rack of toast and jam.

Back in the sixties the idea of having an en-suite toilet or a TV in your room would not have even entered our heads but now it seems to be the minimum standard; even the most budget of hotels offer tea & coffee making facilities, trouser press, and a telephone.

Well, hot on the heels of the turn down service and the chocolate on your pillow comes the Human Hot Water Bottle. That's right! Hotel chain Holiday Inn are trailing a new scheme to offer guest the option to have their bed warmed by a staff member before retiring for the evening.

Before your brain goes in to overdrive let me tell you that the employee first dons a full fleece bed suit before starting the warming process, and leaves the room before you get into bed. That's alright then!

Back in the years of my childhood you were lucky to be offered an extra blanket to stave off the nighttime chills. On the plus side it was the age of the nylon bed sheet, an invention that offered a full electrical storm of static every time you moved an arm.

The thought that humans have now evolved to need other people to warm their beds for them before they can rest seems somewhat ridiculous.

What next? Bedtime stories for the weary traveller, someone to cut your food up before your eat it, or perhaps a shoelace tying service. Bed warming seems to just a step to far.

Although I am not sure that I would want someone warming up my bed before I go to sleep it does strike me that it would be an incredible job to have. I wonder what the qualifications are.

You would imagine there to be a minimum height for the job otherwise the bed wouldn't get fully warmed. Even though I am probably big enough to meet the standard I am far too good at sleeping to be of any real use. Mrs M tells me that as soon as my head hits the pillow I start to snore in several octaves. A musical human hot water bottle; now there's a thought.

How big does your suitcase need to be for a two night stay?

Our recent trip across the Pennines was an enjoyable affair; not least because we stayed for two nights in a decent hotel.

A quick slice of net surfing, a seemingly out of date special offer code, and a cheeky telephone conversation with a person on reception and we managed to get a top suite in a good hotel for a basic price. I even wangled a free meal in the restaurant on the evening of our first night.

The weekend, in essence, belonged to Mrs M due to the Strictly Come Dancing tickets given to her by our daughters for Christmas.

This meant I felt committed to doing this her way; shopping for clothes, early morning swimming, and the largest suitcase available.

The fact that we were away for only two nights had no bearing on the number of clothes my bride decided to take. I would repeat the phrase 'only two nights' several times during the next 72 hours.

I was allowed a small corner of the available space but figured that I only needed one pair of trousers and three shirts to make the stay work. It's great being a fella.

I loaded the car with suitcase and laptop foolishly thinking my job was complete. I couldn't have been more wrong.

When I returned from the car my wife had assembled the following items that could not be fitted into the suitcase; make-up bag, hairdryer and straighteners, a six-pack of yoghurts, various toiletries, a handbag, and two extra pillows. (Both of these are for Mrs M - she says she uses them to cover her ears so that she cannot hear me snoring)

In addition to this, and I kid you not, my wife had included seven pairs of shoes (not including those that she was wearing).

I shoehorned the rest of these items into our tightly packed vehicle and we set off towards black-pudding country.

When we arrived at the hotel we signed in without taking our cases to reception; I didn't want them to think that we intended moving in for good.

Having unpacked and freshened up we headed out towards one of the area's biggest shopping centres and prepared for Mrs M to spend some Christmas money.

I got over the disappointment of not eating out my favourite Portuguese restaurant knowing that we had our table booked in the hotel for later that evening.

I took every opportunity of taking a seat having jarred my back lifting the oversized suitcase and wondered at the irony of the fact that the shopping expedition meant that my bride bought enough clothes not to have to wearing any of the items we brought. A fact that seemed completely lost on Mrs M.

A Lack Lustre Audience for a High Quality Strictly Come Dancing

Having just returned from the live tour of Strictly Come Dancing, Mrs M and I are all danced out.

We were only audience members but it is the type of show that requires maximum foot tapping.

The tickets had been a gift from our girls and what an excellent show it was; including some of our favourite stars from the TV series.

Throughout the night we booed Craig, laughed at Bruno, respected head judge Len, and cheered at the return of Arlene. The crowd seemed in one voice in expressing their disapproval at the BBC's decision to axe her from the recent series in favour of someone who had ten minutes of dance experience.

Sequins, lights, live music, dance, and the occasional burst of flames: what a night!

There were a couple of things that caught my attention that I feel are worthy of note.

Firstly, there was no Bruce. I shouldn't be too disappointed because it's not as if he is very funny anymore. But having watched him since the late sixties saying it was 'nice to see you' I wanted to be able to say it back to him in a live setting. The Queen might not like him enough to knight him but I have a soft spot for the Mighty Atom. I can't even ask Jim to Fix it.

Secondly, it was obvious from the reaction of the 7000 strong crowd that people had forgotten how to be an audience.

My wife and I felt almost alone as we applauded and cheered in response to the energy and expertise on show. Yet there were whole groups of people who just sat and watched as if they were at home viewing it on the telly.

I almost expected one of them to press pause on a remote control before going off to put the kettle on.

It was strange given both the price of the tickets and the nature of the show that there wasn't more engagement from them. One had to presume that this was the hardcore Strictly fan; The type of fan that knows every detail of Claudua Winkleman's hair and make-up.

Can it be that, as a nation, we have lost the art of being an audience?

It has suddenly occurred to me that perhaps it is our family that is odd in this respect. We regularly engage with the TV programme; taking time to applaud the best dances and respond to the cruel comments offered by the judges. It therefore seemed easy for us to continue such behaviour for the live show.

As for much of the rest of the audience it wasn't nice to see them; to see them it wasn't nice!

Chocolate in Context

As we all know Christmas has interrupted our normally healthy life style. There is no surer sign that the sugar overdose line has been crossed than when you finally eat the strawberry flavoured item from the chocolate selection, even though you hate the taste.

It's like the ultimate expression of over indulgence. Or so I thought until a few days ago.

We had been to one of our usual supermarkets; we have a few to choose from and I have loyalty cards with all of them. I know that it calls in to question how much fidelity I have but it is just a fact of life.

We were looking at the fruit and vegetable selection trying get excited about things that were not covered in chocolate when Mrs M declared that she was too cold to remain and wandered off to wander down warmer isles.

It was a little cool but given the snow outside the in-store temperature seemed a small price to pay in order to find a good selection of our five a day.

By the time I caught up with my bride I found her peering into the refrigerated section retrieving a couple of our favourite chocolate mousse desserts.

'I thought you were bothered about the cold' I asked

'Yes' replied my bride, 'but the things on offer here are a lot more interesting.

She had a point; it's amazing how context can change your point of view.

We took the mousse desserts home and set down for a chocolaty after dinner treat. After as couple of spoonfuls I looked at my bride and asked if she was enjoying the experience. They just didn't taste as good as I had remembered.

We wondered whether the manufacturers had changed the ingredients during the last few weeks. Then it occurred to me: we usually ate these delicious desserts as a weekend reward after days of eating yoghurts.

Yet recently we had so overdosed on chocolate during the Christmas period that they had no sparkle; nothing that made it stand out.

This, then, became the ultimate sign that we had overdone things during the festivities; even our usual delicacies were appearing bland to our exhausted pallets.

Now we head towards the land of sugar free produce and exercise machines hoping that one day we will fit back into our usual clothes without that pinching feeling.

My personal goal is to get back to the stage where my favourite chocolate mousse once again tastes special and I manage to resist the strawberry flavoured sweet.

Women's Shoes: The Real Cause of the Country Coming to a stand still in the snow

The recent snow has lead me to one conclusion. We don't do bad weather very well. What is the cause of such havoc at the slightest sight of falling white stuff.

I have concluded, from direct experience, that the reason for the above calcification is the state of women's shoes.

I know I might be I danger of creating a caricature but I have good reason for my diagnosis.

A recent shopping trip found me walking in the middle of a couple of female family members whilst trying to hold them upright in the face of mounting pressure.

Why is it, I would wondered, that my shoes offer me assistance in walking on the snow but my wife and daughter's refuse to help.

When we arrived in town we stopped, as we often do, for refreshment; it seems that a 5 mile car journey makes Mrs M feel like she is 'spitting feathers'.

I took the opportunity to look at the soles on the boots worn by my two companions and found that they had no grip available; merely a smooth surface of either plastic or leather.

It was as if the manufacturers had specifically designed them to slip in snowy conditions. It is difficult to imagine that it is cost related; the girls have always paid more for their footwear than I. And yet all of my shoes have a reasonable amount of available grip.

We continued our shopping expedition (an apt word if ever there was one); I couldn't help feeling like I was escorting Todd Carty around the ice rink. Every few steps there would be a high pitch yelp and a strong tug on my arm by one female or the other.

So could it be, as I suspect, that the cause of our recent stand still was women's shoes. If so then we are likely to be doomed ever time there is even the hint of a snow drift. My recent research, done whilst waiting for Mrs M and offspring to return from the changing room, convinced me that functionality has little place in the design of female footwear.

The only hint I could find of anything approaching practicality were a pair of slip on flat slippers that could fold up and fit in a handbag. Apparently they were for the journey to and from an event because, of course, party shoes are far too uncomfortable to travel in.

Whilst I admire the ingenuity of the product on offer I have to conclude that women's shoes are not intended to be functional. If there is to be snow in 2010 then you know what to blame when the whole country grinds to a halt!