Well xmas is over. I hate xmas with a passion. I never use it`s old spelling because the modern-day celebration of consumerism has very little to do with any religion. The vague idea of presents for all and sundry follows on from the wise men ( or three kings) who popped into a barn two thousand years ago and dropped off gold, frankincense and myrrh. Nowadays the idea of xmas is to buy children violent computer games and for adults to gorge down as much food and drink as they can.
The original Yuletide celebrations go back to the dim and distant past. Many strange rituals have morphed over the years into todays winter celebrations. It all goes back to the winter solstice, the point at which the days start their long journey back until that wonderful three days of warmth and fun that us brits call “summer.”
In days of yore and before the discovery channel, people did not realise that the world spun around a giant nuclear reactor. In fact some thought the sun was hauled across the skies in a chariot. Winter was a time of suffering, endless repeats on the TV and cold frosty mornings with no food available. As the winter got harsher ( or if you are English, greyer and a yuck) the fear was that the sun would one day not show up at all. To this end most primative civilisations erected stone circles and temples, mostly with the benefit of being a timekeeper. Of course this being the olden days they had no fancy phones with a calendar and a clock app, so they needed to haul lumps of stone about the place.
At some point the sun would show at a low point, and the next day it would be a bit higher. Hurrah! It is not going to get darker, it`s going to get lighter! With the thought of three days of summer approaching, what would primitive man do? Eat and get drunk seems the most sensible option apparently! So was born the yuletide celebration.
Centuries later the yuletide was incorporated into the christian calender and moved until three days after the equinox, but pinched some of the ideas of mistletoe, logs and feasting. Come the modern-day and this festival has been nicked and turned into a massive gift-buying session, followed rather rapidly by the worship at the altar of the new year sales.
I often wonder if a few years from now, whilst I am sleeping contentedly in a box a few foot beneath the earth, that people will forget xmas and just celebrate the sales.Perhaps as they queue to buy stuff there will be a wrinkly old man grumbling about how when he was a lad they knew that the true meaning of xmas was,
hangovers and indigestion….
There are one or two differences between men and women, apart from the obviously different way that trousers and shirts are filled out. If you are dragged kicking and squealing towards a shoe shop it becomes ever more apparent. As a chap I look around and see women trying on the thirty-fourth pair of shoes and asking the husband/partner/boyfriend “What do you think of this?”. The bloke, (If he is a real bloke), will shrug and say something on the lines of “Yes, that`s nice”. At this point he will be asked a rapid set of questions that no amount of schooling, night classes or university courses prepare a man for. “Is it better than the last one?”, “Is it my sort of colour?”, “Should I have a heel or a flat?” and the killer question.
” Are you paying any attention at all?!”
Of course he is paying no attention. Real men don`t “do” shopping. To us proper men shopping is merely an inconvenience whilst we wait for the pub to open. Shoe shopping is done for me when my shoes are worn out or have got to the point that the aroma requires that they be kept in the shed outside. Even then a pair of trainers can be used for a while longer to enable a quick run to the dustbin in inclement weather.
I have a lot of items of footwear. One pair of trainers, one pair of casual shoes, a pair of wellington boots, a pair of walking boots and a pair of shoes to go with my suit.This does,as far as men go, make me slightly suspect. I mean what chap has two pairs of shoes? My defence is that of course the shoes to go with my suit are only ever worn with my wedding/funeral/interview attire, so do not really count. The posh shoes I own are naturally enough buried at the bottom of the wardrobe and covered with enough fluff that until they are cleaned I cannot remember if they are brown or black.
Wife is far from a shopaholic. She regards fashion labels as an excuse to charge thirty pounds for a five pound shirt. I am naturally very pleased at this as the money that she saves I can pilfer from her purse and put to good use at a bar. She still has about fifty thousand pairs of shoes, a million skirts, tens of thousands of blouses and tops yet still tells me that she has nothing to wear.
Currently there are several shops that are starting to sell fashion to men. I blame Burtons myself. That used to be a staid and sensible shop selling suits to men who had either received a wedding invite or given one out. Now they have designer underpants and fancy clothes.The toughest decision I used to make was what T-shirt to put on that day. That was normally made by simply seeing which one smelt the least. Life was so much simpler then, Jeans, T-shirt with a band`s logo on it and a jacket if it was cold. Fashion was for girls and men cared not a hoot as long as their clothing didnt repel a tramp from fifty paces or look too different from their drinking buddies.
Men shop so differently from women.With men there is no messing about, a time limit,a number of shop limit and of course a number of visits to the changing room limit. After that if it fits it is suitable to be purchased. If the waistband turns your legs blue but the pub is opening in ten minutes, tough, you made a poor choice and must buy the trousers and scurry to the pub and moan to your mates that you have spent ages shopping. ( Bloke talk meanes that “Ages” means more that fifteen minutes).
Naturally enough there are some exceptions. Even if the pub is open a man can spend as much time as he likes in Halfords. Carefully deciding which car polish to buy and not to use and of course the Halfords manuals to cars you do not own are there to be carefully browsed. They sell tools you don`t need and bikes that you will never ride.Blokes understand that you should look at ICE and subwoofers then nod sagely as the salesman talks in gobbledygook about the wattage per channel. We look at the carpet set for an M3 BMW despite the fact we have a ten-year old Ford Fiesta mouldering quietly in the car park.This is a man-shop. It just needs a bar to be perfect….
The other place a man is at home is in a DIY store. There he can gaze longingly at the powertools he has no use for but just wants. Wife complains as I leave the shop with another set of screwdrivers with the usual “But I thought you had already got a full set of screwdrivers?”.She does not understand. You can never have enough screwdrivers,drills and powertools. They come in handy to put another shelf up to store the eight-hundred and fourty first handbag.
Since I have just completed one of my excercise tasks for the week and am now sat replete from a chilli and beer, I have decided to help everybody out with my guide to walking.
1) Walking is good exercise. It is also cheap. You do not need special equipment to do it and the instruction book for walking boots is simple. Left foot forward, right foot forward and repeat.
2) You will need a pair of good boots. Pay a few quid for them and it is money well spent. As for point one, chuck the instructions away.
3) Get some good walking socks too. They cost a few bob more than your 20 pairs for a fiver from the car boot sale but again it is money well spent.
4) Walking poles are for experts. You are going to saunter along a footpath and perhaps up a mound. You do not need poles. If you are in receipt of a free bus pass, however, get a walking stick. It will not help you in the slightest as you wheeze and pant your way along a footpath in the great outdoors, but they are an invaluable pointing device and can also be used to wave at approaching friends.
5) When you go to an outdoor shop you will be approached by salesmen. Ignore them, they are there to divide you from your cash. You do not need equipment more suited to an attack on the north face of the Igor if in fact you are going for a gentle stroll around Derbyshire.
6) You may find it useful to have map and compass if you intend to head slightly off the beaten track. If by “off the beaten track” you are in fact wandering around Leicestershire then trust me, you do not really need a GPS system that can pinpoint your position to three meters, no matter what the salesman says.
7) If it is raining, you will get wet. You have two choices. The first (and possibly my favourite) is to glance out of the window and roll over and go back to sleep. The second, for the keener types, is to don the fantastic set of waterproofs that the oft mentioned salesman has sold you. His commission has already been spent down the pub, where, you will note, he is dry. You, on the other hand will head off to the hills and become damp as your sweat condenses on the inside of your waterproofs. You will be dry for the first part of the walk but after a bit you will wish that you had either rolled over in bed or joined the salesman for a swift half down the pub.
8) When you are out walking you will meet other walkers. If they are fat,unfit and sweating, talk to them. That is your fellow man. If they are barely drawing breath and speeding past you, try and hit them if you can. Whatever you do under no circumstances engage them in conversation. These are those salesmen on their day off. If you engage them in conversation they will merely point out that your boots are last years model and laugh at your paper map.
9) When you plan your route, try to make it either a circular route or one that starts and finishes somewhere where you can hop on a bus to finish your walk off. The there-and-back-again walks always seem so sad as you turn around and retrace your steps.
10) If possible arrange to finish your walk at a point of refreshment. If you are a girl it is acceptable to finish at a tea shop. Men are only allowed to finish at the pub. This is when the sweating actually pays off as by now you are guaranteed to get served as every body gives you a really wide berth at the bar.
11) If anybody approaches you at the bar to engage you in conversation, Allow the sweat to dribble down your forehead and then triple the actual distance you have travelled. If your fellow bar fly starts to name every hillock and tuft of grass make your excuses and run, he is a salesman and will try and sell you more stuff.
12) As you return home and remove your boots and stinky socks, consider that you have burned off a lot of calories and have become fitter and healthier. Do, however, omit to mention to anybody the five pints of beer and the steak and kidney pie and chips you rewarded yourself with at the end of your forty-five minute walk.
As ever, I hope this handy guide will aid and assist you in choosing a new and healthy pastime.
I have just read an article in a newspaper describing how a chef whose restaurant had been awarded Michelin stars had quit as she felt she could no longer satisfy the palate of those who used the guide to find somewhere to eat. She seemed, to me anyway, more concerned with buying fresh and good local produce than impressing restaurant go-ers with fancy linen and attentive service. I enjoy a nice meal out, in fact i would rather go out than cook, however I do struggle a bit with what constitutes a good meal out. Pub grub to me is just that. A pie and a pint at the end of the day both feeds and lubricates me for a snooze on the sofa whilst ignoring the telly in the corner. On an anniversary or a birthday I am quite happy to put on a shirt and tie and forgo the pint for a glass of wine, ( not the cheapest, you look mean, not the most expensive, you look flash). The bill at a restaurant is presented with a flourish and my wallet is forced open by a crowbar and I grimace as I fork over my wifes hard-earned cash.
I do, however, find it difficult to pay some of the prices that a top-notch gaff charges. I watched in disbelief as a chef in one of those ” I am a chef get me celebrity big brother on ice out” programs not only podded the peas but proceeded to shell them as well! I have eaten peas for many a year and not once have sent them back on the grounds that they had an outer skin on them!
I can appreciate the difference between a five quid meal and a twenty quid meal, but much above that it gets a bit silly. Sometimes the best bit of grub is the simplest form of nutrition. As I pulled up in a lay by to have a break and a sandwich, the smell of a bacon butty from the little caravan at the end worked like the pied pipers flute. My meat paste sarnies are ignored as I wandered down to the source of the smell. Once there the service was not so much cordon bleu as simply blue. The menu featured bacon or eggs in any combination and would be served in a paper bag. Six thousand miles away and I can still here the voice of the chef as he said “Do you want red f******g sauce or brown f******g sauce?”
I defy any person, even vegetarians, to not salivate at the thought of a bacon butty*. Not a shelled pea in sight or even a “jus” of something, just a plain bit of non-healthy grub served over a stainless steel counter. Perhaps that is what the Michelin guide miss most, good straight forward snap!**
The day was warm. The boots sat in the corner whimpering slightly. I dreaded to say the word “walk” as they would head for the door without me. No, too hot to hike today so I fired up the venerable laptop and searched for somewhere to visit in this section of Asia. Some say I am a creature of habit, and it would be a little difficult to disagree. I have lived here for over a year and have two regular haunts and drink the same at each establishment. The menu is long ignored now and a nod is enough to bring out either the crab salad or the fixed special of the day. I even sit at the same place at the bar in the Globe. I know my route to and from my regular haunts and normally use autopilot to get me home. I decided that for a change I would go to Shek O. I used my usual train to get to Hong kong island, changed trains and headed to the east of the island. The final stage was done on a double-decker bus. I sat upstairs and gazed slack-jawed as the scenery brushed by the windows. The perception of Hong Kong as a built up metropolis is very quickly dispelled as the road twists through an incredible amount of lush greenery. Finally I arrive at Shek O. A brief walk from the bus leads me to a small but lovely beach. At the head of the beach are several BBQ establishments that offer a social meal out like no other. I am, however, flying solo so instead head off the beach to a chaotic and noisy restaurant. It`s charm is the friendly laid back atmosphere as locals and tourist peruse a long list that is disguised as a menu. I decide to go with a sweet and sour pork with rice. It arrives and is a delight. The food is simple but beautifully cooked. Not the sticky,cloying sweet and sour from a jar but a contrast in flavours that makes me become, for an instant, a dreadful food bore. The moment passes as I swill it down with a Tsingtao beer as opposed to an oaked chardonnay.
I am starting to get used to eating out in Hong Kong. Long gone are the days of walking past restaurant after restaurant because we failed to pluck up the courage to go in, although to be truthful there are some that display no English writing on the menu at all which we still pause by the door briefly before carrying on to one with at least pictures to point at. We have Chinese friends who have taken pity on us and taken us to some amazing places to eat. The food has been sublime and the cost has been miniscule but without our colleagues, we are like virgins in a brothel. We know what we should do but have no idea how to do it!