Author Archives: Gary Stewart Smith

The end is nigh! Repaint! Repaint!

Some years ago (the wife will probably tell you it’s seven or eight years ago, but she tends to exaggerate for comedic effect, so I think she’s an unreliable witness in this case), I pulled off some wallpaper in the bathroom. Wood-chip, I believe – most of our walls seemed to be covered in wood-chip at the time, so I’ve little cause to think otherwise.

Several months later, I decided to remove some more of the wood-chip, enough so I could repaper the damaged area. Unfortunately a fair chunk of the old plaster came off with it – I should mention that my house is over 100 years old, so respect to the plaster for having stuck there for so long. Undaunted I continued – more paper, more plaster. When I say “plaster”, I’m sure it was plaster when it was put up, but in the intervening years it had reverted to its constituent parts of sand, cement and horsehair.

In for a penny, in for a pound, I thought, and continued stripping the brick walls of their sand and wood-chip coating. Eventually, three of the four walls were down to their not-very-neatly thrown together bare brick. The fourth wall – a partition wall between the bathroom and the corridor – seemed  rather pointless, so out came my friends Mr Clawhammer and Mr Crowbar. Oh what fun we had… until the ceiling came down on my head.

Having done away with the walls and ceiling, finally I turned my attention to the floor and took up the carpet – yes, we had carpet in the bathroom, is that unusual? Underneath the carpet I found fragments of older carpet. Underneath the carpet fragments I found old linoleum and under that, linoleum older still, until I finally reached the original wooden floorboards, which had clearly seen better days.

The fun part over, I was left with four uneven bare brick walls, a patchwork wooden floor, and a view of the roof tiles. On the plus side, it made for interesting viewing at bath time, and a talking point when friends visited the loo. On the minus side, the cold Autumnal winds blowing through the eaves meant the bathwater went cold rather quickly.

my old bathroom

A picture paints a thousands words.

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I too have been somewhat remiss

Now what the f**k have I been doing for the past two months? Besides baking this lovely Victoria Sponge?

My last post here was on the sixteenth of August. Two months: just what the f**k have I been doing with my time (besides systematically working my way through Mrs Beaton’s cookbook)? I don’t have a full-time job:  I’m a part time house-husband, part-time shopkeeper and part-time musician (I think I spend a disproportionate amount of my time in the kitchen). Surely I could spare a few minutes to update this blog every now and then (inbetween beating them eggs)?

I’ve said this before, I really need some order and discipline in my life. No, not that type of discipline, Simmons (“it was Smith, Sir! Chastise him with the egg whisk!”). Though some might say that I wasn’t beaten (or indeed whisked, folded or battered) often enough as a child.

So I really should write something while I’m here. Let me see if I can recall anything significant and/or interesting I’ve done in the intervening two months…

Nope.

Okay, let’s see if I can recall anything…

Anything at all…

Oh yes: August, the summer holidays. Where did I go? We had a week in the South of France, in a town called Agde, on the Med. Nice enough, though a bit of a problem with doggy doo. Not me, the town. Don’t recall it being that bad in other French towns I’ve been to. The landlord of the holiday home we were staying in blamed it on the immigrants. I thought it was probably their dogs.

We went on from there to spend a couple of nights in the university town of Montpellier. Very nice, clean – very little doggy doo to report. I’d recommend it for a weekend city break (unless you live halfway round the world in, say, Mission BC – it’s a bit of a trek). We stayed in a part of the town called the Antigone District, which used to be the site of the army barracks but is now a very impressive neo-classical commercial/residential development the size of a small town. Here, have a look for yourself.

Montpellier’s Antigone District: it’s big.

Our hotel is the first substantial building you can see on the right hand side of the picture, coming up from the bottom right hand corner. Antigone was all very nicely laid out and constructed – I was honestly very impressed. Well done you French architects! And all the architecture looks like this:-

Typical neo-classical architecture found in Antigone. I think this is a hotel.

So that was one of several holidays I’ve had this year. I’ll try to post something a little more insightful next time. And I promise not to leave it too long. Though I’m not going to make any promises. Oh hang on…

All Quiet on the Western Front

I don’t get the French sense of humour; I’m sure they won’t get mime. Sorry, I mean “mine”. Or maybe I was right the first time.

Well, here I am, back in Ye Little Olde Electrificatory Shoppe in Hoylake, doing a 5 day stint so the manager – my old Friend Chris – can have a deserved week off with the wife and kids. Not sure how relaxing it’s gonna be going camping with 5 young kids with a weather forecast of rain interrupted by brief showers, but that’s summer holidays in the UK for you.

Me, I’ve just come back from 7 nights in the ancient town of Agde and 2 nights in the charming university town of Montpellier in the South of France, followed by 2 nights camping in the less exotic but prettier looking Llangollen in North Wales.

Earlier in this blog, I asked the question Sud de France – Oui ou Non? I now know that I wouldn’t want to live just anywhere in the South of France, as I might have previously thought/suggested. Montpellier is one of the nicest cities I’ve visited (and I’ve been to many) and I certainly wouldn’t mind going back there sometime for a long weekend. Agde, on the other hand, was just OK; if it hadn’t been for its close proximity to the Mediterranean, it might not have been a great place to go holidaying. But the sun was warm, the wine was cheap, and I was there alone with my beautiful wife, so a good time was had.

If I give the matter proper consideration, spending a week or two out there is one thing, but selling up and moving lock, stock and barrel would be another – I can admit that to myself now. The main issues, as most people have always mentioned when I tell them I want to live in the South of France, are the language and cultural “barriers”. I can understand (if they speak slowly) and can make myself understood (if I speak slowly), and no doubt given time I would become fairly fluent (I lived in France for a few months back in my late twenties, and could communicate fairly easily towards the end of my time there). But I guess I’ll always be English and they’ll always be French, and they won’t get any of my jokes. Few enough people understand me here in the UK without exacerbating the problem…

In my last post, I summarized by saying that the only things I’d miss about the UK are real beer and real sausages and Cheddar cheese, and the only outstanding things about the South of France were the weather, the space, and fresh baguettes. Not a convincing argument to up sticks and relocate, I guess. In response to my post, you gave a very convincing argument for the charms of British Columbia. As I may have said, my only experience of Canada has been a fortnight in Nova Scotia. It was jolly nice, and we think we could happily live there for a long spell. But BC sounds a bit more civilized and a bit less cold. I wonder if you have a guest room and a welcoming manner, on the off-chance that we’re in the area for a week…?

Sud de France – Oui ou Non?

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So, changing the subject completely, as I am wont to do… The pros and cons of living abroad. I’m presently sitting on a sunlounger on the rooftop terrace of the little holiday apartment we’re renting in the south of France. I often talk about moving down here, but now I am here, what are my reasons for wanting to do so?

The most obvious reason is the climate, isn’t it? We’ve had a lousy summer at home so far (preceded by a fairly rubbish spring), whereas down here, it’s blue skies and sun for 90-odd% of the time. Okay, maybe the summer temperatures are a little too much for the average Englishman, but it’s bearable at the mo (early thirties). One can always wear a hat, or stay indoors.

What else? The food used to be a factor, but now we can easily get most of this mediterranean stuff at home. We can’t quite do the bread – there’s something about their baguettes – but the cheeses and meats are all readily available. Wine and beer always seems to taste better in their country of origin, and of course the wine is a hell of a lot cheaper than at home.

What else? Well, they have a lot more space here don’t they? The country is twice the size of the UK, and the population half as much – and most of them live in Paris. So the countryside is pretty, and pretty unspoilt.

So what would I miss about the UK? I used to say the pub culture, but alas, that seems to be dying, at least where we come from. There are lots of small, continental style bars at home now, and pubs are now the reserve (once again) of old blokes talking too loudly, farting uninhibitedly, and drinking pints of real ale. I used to think I’d miss real ale, and I still enjoy a proper pint, but I guess I’m just as happy now (almost) with a nice cold pint of Kronenbourg.

Proper English curry (!) I would miss, if it weren’t for the fact that I can make a pretty authentic one myself. Smoked bacon and proper English sausages I definitely would miss. Cheddar cheese.

Anything else? Hmmm… Nothing springs readily to mind.

So, when you add it all up, it’s warm weather, baguettes and a feeling of space versus Cumberland sausages and Cheddar cheese. The jury is out on this one.

So, Mr Simmons, pros and cons of emigrating to British Columbia?

Gary Smith’s Spectacular Schooldays

Happy memories from my wonderful time at Calday Grange Grammar School. Only without the “happy” or “wonderful” bits.

This is a belated response, Leo, to your earlier post Ordinarily advanced and unclassifiable (and yes, I see what you did there. Though only UK schoolgoers of a certain age will get it).

“Schooldays: best days of your life” was something always thrown at us by grown-ups when we were kids. I used to think: “holy crap! Is this the best it gets?” No wonder I was depressed as a kid. Did adults really believe these words themselves? What were they trying to achieve by worrying me like that? Were they trying to get me to go to school on a daily basis? (As you may recall, if this was their aim, the ploy went spectacularly wrong.)

I don’t think I ever liked going to school. Unlike you, Leo, I don’t have fond memories of Black Horse Hill Infant School (aged 5 to 7) or Junior School (7 to 11). To be honest, I don’t really have any memories of that period of time. Perhaps I started my life at 11 years old? Maybe I’m a robot, and my makers couldn’t be arsed* programming in any early childhood memories. Or an alien being, masquerading as human… well, it’s a possibility I guess.

I have a handful of photos and some school class photos from that period, and I can name most of the names. I’m still in touch with a number of my old classmates, via Facebook in the main (though my next door neighbour is Sue Slade, who was one of the girls in the other class – we only had two – throughout infants and juniors). These might remind me of people and events, but I’m not sure if they are real memories or just artificial ones implanted by my creators…

But I don’t really have memories of special times: I remember I fancied a little Welsh girl called Rebecca Henderson, who fancied a tall boy from Newton called Max Lintott (I remember me and him had a bit of a punch-up over her – I lost). I remember I had to sit next to a girl called Amanda Nelson for an entire school year, as a punishment for talking in class (a harsh punishment, though apparently she was a real babe in her teenage years). I remember playing football in the playground with Andy McCready (we won 27-23, I think my own personal tally reached double figures). I remember getting in a fight with John Knowles coz I pinched his bum (don’t ask why, he was nowhere near as cute as Amanda Nelson). But I don’t look back on those years fondly. Or at all, in fact.

I have a lot more memories of my time in big boys school – Calday Grange Grammar. I might be able to dredge up a few “happy” ones if I racked my brain. Though none spring immediately to mind. I was a bright boy, so I’m told. Maybe that was the problem. Maybe school didn’t challenge me. Maybe my teachers didn’t inspire. Or maybe I just couldn’t be arsed.

It was a bit of a shock moving to the big boys school: for starters, in the junior school we played football, nothing else; Calday being a grammar school, you played rugby, cricket, hockey – if you didn’t like those sports, it was the choice between cross country running or ritual flogging. I chose the ritual flogging every time. Didn’t do me any harm. Well, not as much harm as the big bruisers that were playing rugby would’ve done to me.

To be continued… because I still can’t be arsed.

* note: for those of you not brought up on Merseyside, “can’t be arsed” is a quaint but local colloquialism, which the Urban Dictionary translates as to be seriously demotivated or unwilling to do something.

Look ma! I’m on TV!

This is the video that Leo is referring to: Rose-tinted Glasses by Kings of Inertia. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. But that is indeed me in the wig and sunglasses and apparently not much else.

Yes, I admit, I am getting older. There are more grey bits in my beard than there are ginger. Not that I’m ginger: good God no! I’m mousy brown. No: salt and pepper! Only brown pepper rather than black. Do they do brown pepper?

Yes, I am aging. But, I feel, aging gracefully. Well, okay: disgracefully. But I honestly do think I’m keeping pretty well. Most people, when asked by other people who know my age to guess my age, normally put me in my thirties. And to be honest, I see people in their thirties that do look a bit more ravaged by the passage of time than I. I put it down to moderation in all things, a healthy amount of booze, no fags, regular sport, and no kids.

The “no kids” bit is a bit of a shame, as me and the wife would have been great parents and brought them up well. But alas, The Lord in his infinite wisdom decided to have a bit of a laugh and give the over-active fertility gene to all the people who need lots of kids for the state benefits that the UK Government reward them with (note: I don’t really believe in The Lord, but it’s handy to have some omnipotent being to blame).

I’ve still got almost as much hair as last time you saw me. Considering my dad had the typical male pattern baldness thing going on in his early thirties, I’m doing good. Touch wood.

Fat birds: I don’t mean to be sizeist here but… bleurgh!

Weight-wise, I’ve been heavier – I think when I worked full-time in the White Lion, the seven nights of boozing took its toll, and I got up to over 11 stone. Up until then, I’d been your typical nine and a half stone weakling. People would kick sand in my face – even when I was miles away from the nearest beach. But then all of a sudden: 11 stone weakling! I seem to have settled around the 10 and a half stone mark.

Five foot nine, with a 32 inch waist, that’s pretty good for our advanced age, don’t you think? If I cut down on the booze, the occasional cream doughnut/cornish pasty/sausage sandwich, and the weekend fast food treats (peperoni pizza/chicken tikka jalfrezi and nan) and did a little bit more upper body exercise, I’d be in pretty good shape. Giving myself options there, you see?

I think it helps that I have a beautiful wife who insists on maintaining her seven and a half stone fighting weight. If I’d married a fat bird? Well, I shudder to think!

Rock n Roll

Just chillin’.

It’s 9 o’clock, Tuesday morning, and I’ve already

  • been out before the newspaper deliveries to take pictures of the deserted streets of West Kirby (for a video I intend to make for my Bruce Springsteen homage One Horse Town)
  • had fresh coffee and Cheerios for my breakfast while reading the day’s news in the free Metro newspaper
  • checked my emails on Yahoo and Google, read about Fernando Torres‘s annus horribilis on the Guardian website and responded to notifications on Facebook
  • made Amy her ham and pickle sandwiches
  • made pizza dough (as a special treat for the wife tonight)
  • been to Morrisons supermarket for tomato purée, tinned pineapple and grated mozzarella (for the pizza topping)
  • walked to Newton to pick up my car (we had dinner last night round at my friend Ehab’s – coincidentally, he’s the guy who runs the local pizza takeaway: he’s not getting my business tonight)
  • been to Lunt’s the greengrocer for tomatoes (for the homemade pizza sauce), red onions and green peppers (for the pizza topping)
  • updated the blog I write with my friend Leo (who lives half a world apart in Canada)

Such is the life of a would-be singer/songwriter living in suburbia.

Rock n roll eh?

Three Lions on a Shirt

“Don’t mention the war. I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it.”

No, no, Leo old friend, you misunderstand! I’m not getting inebriated because of an England win: I’m getting inebriated before, during and after an England win. Do you see the difference? The England win is not the cause, it’s an added bonus.

On Tuesday night, England played Ukraine, with a place in the quarter finals at stake. I met my friends Dave, Neil and Neall in Koi, a bar round the corner from us in Banks Road (didn’t exist when you lived over here).

Unbeknownst to me, but clearly beknownst to an awful lot of local youngsters on a budget, the bar had a deal on: all pints half price during every England game until the first goal is scored. This led to one memorable exchange:-

Young lad: “What’s your cheapest pint?”

Girl behind bar: “Becks”

Young lad: “How many pints can I get for twenty quid?”

Girl behind bar: “Twelve”

Young lad: “Twelve pints of Becks please!”

Bless his little cotton socks. Well, I’m assuming young folk still wear socks. Maybe I’ll look next time, if I think on.

Wayne Rooney scored, with a header that even I could have finished. Ukraine scored but the referee didn’t think it had crossed the line so didn’t give it. We won 1-0.

So another famous, albeit unexpected, England victory, meaning we top our group (wouldn’t have bet on that before the competition started) and now get to play Italy for a place in (the dizzying heights of) the semi-finals. Where we will no doubt, unless Greece pull off something miraculous, face Germany.

Always bleedin’ Germany.

What a lovely pair of knockers!

Knockers, don’t you just love them? Big ones. Small ones. Rusty round ones screwed to a large wooden door…

It’s a Saturday afternoon, the weather outside is damp and grey. I’m working behind the counter of the local electrical shop, feeling a little jaded from the night before. England played Sweden last night in their second game of the Euro 2012 football tournament. We won. We celebrated. I fell asleep fully dressed. You know how it is.

So here I am, killing time for the minimum wage (it works out at roughly two pints of Carlsberg Export, give or take a small packet of crisps), trying to think of something halfway amusing and failing miserably.

Ten years ago, when I was a wage slave to Her Majesty The Queen (Betty to her close friends), I may well have been at work this time on a Saturday. Overtime. Double the hourly rate of pay. Paid travelling time. Goodness knows how many pints per hour that equated to: possibly a whole evenings worth. Back in the days when work was still almost fun. Til some pocket-sized Hitler took over the running of the office.

But that’s a story for another day.

Balls to you too!

Due to the lowering of educational standards in British schools, Spot The Ball competitions have become really dumbed down.

I wrote the text below on the 10th, so you should read it as a reply to your post entitled A Strangely Shaped Ball. Wonder how come I didn’t manage to post the thing? You probably think I’ve been very rude. I can only apologise.

As you might well remember, I avoided any sort of sport at school, probably because they didn’t play the only sport I had any interest in.

Consequently, I didn’t start playing football til I left school, and even then rarely in competitive leagues, just with friends. And as a consequence of this, I’m still pretty active now (touch wood). Tore a hamstring once, but I think I’d damaged it jumping over the fence in Newton Park to retrieve the ball. Not coz I was sprinting against kids half my age (I was pushing 40, these guys were still in the 6th form at Calday. One or two are now married with sprogs of their own. If I felt at all conscious about my age, I’m sure that would make me feel old. As it is, I still feel pushing 40).

I’m a bit more careful with the old ligaments now. Intend to keep on playing for as long as I can, though I’ve dropped it down to once a week and taken up badminton instead. I used to think badminton was a girls sport, mainly coz the only people I knew who played it were girls. Now I realise that it is also a game for normal folk of a certain age, regardless of sex.

Well, I’m playing in half an hour –  better get my support bra on.