The Birmingham Christmas Market

Birmingham, England. Every year in the weeks leading up to Christmas, the city is invaded by Germans who bring with them the Frankfurt Christmas Market!

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Behold The Birmingham Christmas Market!

Year upon year it has grown in size. It draws thousands of Birmingham folk to enjoy the atmosphere and all the picturesque, German Christmassy stuff.

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I can take it or leave it; I’m not particularly overwhelmed by this event. To me, it’s a chance to see a load of homesick Germans selling beer, sausage and tat that a 34-year-old man has no interest in. Don’t get me wrong, it’s lovely to look at. But it’s a bit like Kim Kardashian. Initially you’re attracted to what you’re looking at but when you start to invest anything more and look below the sparkling surface, there’s not much more that really interests you. Besides, there isn’t anything that you’d be happy to take home to show your Mum.

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Stuff that a Grumpy Young Bloke doesn’t buy.

But this year I ventured out to visit and enjoy the ambience of this spectacle. It could be different; perhaps I was deluded before and the market had before caught me on a particularly grumpy day. Allow me to talk you through my Wednesday evening at the German Christmas Market.

 
I was attending with two of my comedy writing peers, Matthew and David. We’re a small comedy-writing group of six, thrown together by a con artist. That’s another story, but it’s been great to meet like-minded lovers of comedy writing, to discuss comedy and share ideas, gain critique and expand our knowledge and network.

 
Only three of us could make it Wednesday evening. I was last to arrive and so to join my writing brothers; I went and ordered a beer. I paid with a tenner; I received a sturdy tankard glass containing a pint of strong lager, a plastic chip and not much change. This was because they were anticipating that I might want to keep the glass and if I returned it with the chip it would prove I was the rightful owner and I’d get some money back. It was a nice glass, but it was a bit presumptuous to think that I’d want to steal it. Birmingham clearly has a reputation. But it’s completely unwarranted in my opinion. We are a kind, loveable and friendly people.

 
“Someone got glassed up here on Monday night,” said Matthew when I returned with my beer. On a Monday? At a Christmas market? Who glasses someone at a bloody Christmas market? Although, as I looked at the sturdy glass tankard I was holding, I couldn’t help but think that despite it being an atrocious thing to do, it did show a certain amount of ingenuity.

 
The beer was smooth and strong for a lightweight so it was just the one pint for me. So I returned to the bar with my tankard and chip. The lady serving asked if I wanted another. “No thanks, I’m feeling a little drunk,” I said as the friendly affable Brit. Hey, I was doing my bit for European relations here. I smiled and so did she. Well, I say smile, it was more like a half smile. Actually, on reflection, I think if you broke a smile down into thousandths, I’d go as far as to say it was 3/1000’s of a smile. Or it might have been a tick.

 
Food! It was time to sample the delicacy that is the German sausage and no, that’s not a euphemism. I approached a Bratwurst stand and ordered a standard hotdog. The lady grabbed a small sliced roll. It was a little bit larger than a choking hazard. The woman then shoved the sausage in it with the same disdain as someone throwing an ex-lovers underpants into a bin bag. The sausage dwarfed this bread roll. She thrust this thing into my face and demanded £4 for it. It was then I realised that this wasn’t a hotdog. This was a German sausage with a bread handle. Oh well, I thought, It’ll probably be nothing short of a taste sensation. It was, after all, a German sausage, made by Germans and sold by Germans.

 
It wasn’t. I’d added ketchup and mustard but still I couldn’t evade the overwhelming saltiness of this sausage. Who would have thought that extortion tastes so salty? There’s a gag there about sex trafficking, but I won’t go there. The sausage contained the equivalent of a weekly dose of salt. Probably, to encourage the sale of more beer. I was starting to feel myself dehydrate. I was fast resembling a raisin. I had learnt my friends, that I hadn’t just purchased a hotdog, I’d purchased disappointment for a sweet £4!

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More salt! Definitely more salt needed.

I stood there contemplating whether I had gone to the German Market for a nice evening but inadvertently purchased angina.

 
I still ate the bloody thing. I was hungry and I’d spent good money for this shit. Damn it I’ll eat that disgusting salty German sausage! Again, that’s not a euphemism.

 
Matthew had also bought one and he wasn’t exactly overjoyed with his. David was waiting for our reactions before buying one. David’s not stupid!

 
We concentrated on the evening’s entertainment. A fat German bloke with a Karaoke machine. I’ll level with you, he wasn’t so much a singer, more of a butcher. It’s kind of imperative that the words have to be sung in time with the music. He should have stuck to some German songs or even some Hasselhoff tracks.

 
Between songs he’d try to get the crowd pumped by shouting, “Where is Birmingham?!” Only the drunk would reply with a “Yey!” I couldn’t help think firstly, who tries to enthuse a crowd by asking them directions? You don’t see Prince get on stage and say, “I need directions to Walthamstow!”

 

Secondly, doesn’t this bloke know where he is? “You’re here!” I shouted. “Look around at these underwhelmed, disappointed and dehydrated people. These are Brummies you’re punishing here!”

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Then it got worse. He passed the mic to a female colleague who proceeded to sing Amy Winehouse’s version of Valerie. It was bad. “It’d help if she could pronounce her V’s,” observed David. He wasn’t wrong. It’d help if she had a gag, I thought. “Sounds like a pet shop burning down,” I said. “I feel like I’m in hell right now,” said Matthew, polishing off the remains of his sausage handle. She followed up with that classic Christmas hit, The lion sleeps tonight, demonstrating impeccable timing. Well, like that of Network Rail after gypsies steal the power cables.
She passed the mic back to the bloke. “Where is Birmingham!” Good God, this bloke’s still bloody lost!

 

I was still hungry and we decided to wander to the other part of the market which was less German, on the other side of the demolition site where they are tearing down the brutalist block building that was the old library.

 

I looked for more food and there was plenty to choose from. There was also plenty of stalls selling tat that I have no interest in whatsoever.

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Pretty to look at but, no thanks.

It was just a case of damage limitation now. I’d been ripped off with the sausage; I was going to be ripped off some more. £6 for a burger, £5.50 for a hot dog with onions! I opted for a £4.50 falafel. The main draw being, that I was getting more value for money. Making a falafel wrap is so much more labour intensive isn’t it? It would thus leave me with less of a bitter taste in my mouth.

 
Matthew had opted for a bag of pork scratchings. Perhaps he hadn’t yet had enough salt. David played it safe and had French fries. Both of whom had finished their meals by the time I arrived with my falafel. Okay, some might have called it slow service, I called it getting more value for my money. It actually tasted okay. Just missed that certain meaty quality that I like. No! That’s not a euphemism either!

 
It was time to bring the evening to a close. As we entered the German Market zone, the fat bloke was still going strong and still lost. “Where is Birmingham?!” I found myself wishing I still had that glass.

 
Same time next year then?

 

Merry Christmas folks!

Christmas Jumper

It’s Christmas Jumper day today at work. For once I thought I’d get in amongst it and searched high and low through the shops of Birmingham to find the tackiest monstrosity I could find. 

Thank you Primark for £9 of Christmas wearable tack!

Today at work, sporting this fine garment, it’s clear to see that jealousy is in the air. 

From me that is. 

For I am jealous that no one else looks like a dickhead. 

Now it’s Christmas! Now!

It’s the 13th of December. Now! Yes, now! Now it is Christmas and not a day before!

Twelve days of Christmas and all that, remember? I can’t stand it when people even mention Christmas in October, put their tree up in November and celebrate what essentially is now a consumerist festival which, for the vast majority of people, (Around here anyway) has lost it’s religious sentiment.

The birth of Christ and all that jazz seems to be less the focus of the season with the focus being more about buying and getting presents. Many, many presents and spending, spending and spending some more. Which is a shame really because the birth of Christ wasn’t about all that was it? Although, one of the gifts bought to him was Gold which isn’t cheap so perhaps the message has always been there.

Mrs Grump asked me what I wanted for Christmas this year. I don’t really want anything to be honest. If I need a jumper, I go and buy one and the only other thing I can think of asking for is something which I will actually get some practical use out of. But when I asked for a bumper pack of Gillette Razors for shaving my head, I was met with a stoney faced, unimpressed Mrs Grump. I think she thought I was taking the Mick. I really wasn’t. Just as well I’ve got my regular supplier through Amazon.

 

Anyway, to get into the Christmas spirit, here’s a Christmas song and I think it kind of sums up my feeling perfectly.

Have a Happy / Grumpy Christmas!

A Bit Of Grumpy Humour And Some Perspective Too.

I generally attempt to write humorous posts and rarely stretch to something more serious. I never really combine the two. Well here goes, it’s Christmas after all and that seems to be the standard excuse doesn’t it?

Eating and drinking way too much – It’s Christmas!
Spending too much – It’s Christmas!
Wearing a ridiculous jumper – It’s Christmas!

So here’s a few things that get me grumpy about this festive season.

1) Now call me a traditionalist but I always thought there were 12 days of Christmas. Not according to retailers! There are hints of it jotted about in supermarkets during October but it’s not until the day after Bonfire night, November 6th, that they go full on. It’s too soon. I don’t like to think about Christmas until about a week before when I start to panic buy presents.

Speaking of which….

2) Secret Santa. Pick a name out of a hat at work. That is the name of the colleague you have to spend £10 on and you’d better spend that much because they’ll know if you’ve scrimped on your present. So now you have the inconvenience and pressure of buying a suitable gift, for someone you really don’t know, and hope that they will like it. You know that fake smile and false gratitude through gritted teeth that fail to mask an internal bitter disappointment. You know because you’ve pulled it yourself! You see it when your colleague doesn’t have a sense of humour as they unwrap a Cliff Richard calendar. What’s not to love about the geriatric prince of pop stripped to the waste in February? I thought it was right up Geoff’s street.

Also there’s every possibility that you’ll end up with something crap.

In fact there are only two reasons to enjoy Secret Santa. To buy something that will offend someone. Or to buy soap and deodorant for the smelly colleague. It’s a subtle hint without the need for a manager to engage in that uncomfortable chat.

3) Crackers. Just what is the point? I mean, I can appreciate a masterful piece of origami like the next man, but to pull it apart only to receive a paper crown, an unfunny joke and something that you will never use? “Ooh look, a very small, cheaply made bottle opener!” I’ve already got a bottle opener! I don’t need tiny scissors! In 60 years time, if I kept every piece of crap from crackers, I’d have drawers full of stuff I’d never used! A waste!

4) Cards! I mean, really? Here’s a piece of paper with a pretty picture on the front with the same message we wrote to you last year. Why can’t I just keep the first card that someone sent? It’s the same message! If they get divorced, I’ll tippex out one of their names. If they have a child, I’ll write it in.

I hate feeling obliged to write cards to someone with the same generic message every year. Just because if I don’t, I know they’ll take offence.

That is of course unless it’s a card to the lovely Mrs Grump. I have to write a message in there because together we have ventured through another year, side by side and no one else could understand what we have had to deal with and overcome. So it’s only right to acknowledge that personally to the most important person in my grumpy world.

And that leads onto the serious bit.

The past couple of weeks, we have witnessed some tragedies in the world. The school children in Pakistan; the siege in Australia followed by the young family who so brutally lost their lives; and just yesterday, in Glasgow, a horrific accident when a lorry mounted a pavement into a crowd of shoppers.

There were plans to enjoy Christmas not only for the victims but also their friends and families. There were presents bought by them, presents bought for them and expectations for laughter and joy over the forthcoming days. But for the friends and relatives of the casualties, the next few days will be the polar opposite of what you and I are hoping for.

So let’s step away from the commercialism, the materialistic routine and expectation that Christmas seems to have become. Let’s empathise and spare a thought for those who have endured tragic circumstances. There are families and friends currently shedding tears and grieving at a time when it is all about the coming together of loved ones. If you are religious, say a prayer for them.

I think it’s important of recognise this, use one of the many things that makes us human; the ability to feel compassion for our fellow man and from that empathy, perhaps we can allow it to trigger something else within us; an awakening perhaps, a shift in perspective, an appreciation for the friends and loved ones we do have nearby. It’s important to tell people how much they mean to you.

I can’t imagine what the families must be feeling, but my thoughts and condolences to them.

To everyone else, I wish you all a very Happy Christmas.

2015 is fast approaching. What Grumpiness shall I encounter?

Do You Realise The Power Of Metal?

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Get out of my way! My brow is furrowed and I look angry. My stride is one of power and determination, much like one of the female candidates on The Apprentice. Yeah, I’m a strong, independent woman!

 

I may as well have a large neon sign over my head that says, “Don’t mess with me!” and if I could hear my footsteps, no doubt they would be pounding into the floor with large earth shattering thumps.

 

If I could roar, I probably would but as I’m just getting over a chest infection, it’s probably best that I don’t. (I’m feeling a lot better now. Thank you for wondering and your concerned thoughts that you no doubt had immediately after reading that sentence.)

 

That’s the power of music you see. From my ears there are two white wires leading into the inside pocket of my winter coat. The earphones emitting music, which I haven’t listened to in years. Not just any music. Metal!!

 

I don’t know why it affects me so. But alas, when the Metal is playing I become empowered. When doing the house work, if I have Metal playing directly into my head, then you’d better not stand in my way because I will vacuum straight through you!

 

The only other music to have such an effect is the Rocky IV soundtrack. I made the mistake of going out for a “short” run once whilst having that playing on my IPod. I don’t know what happened because I must have blanked out. I woke up in Aberystwyth, with a flat IPod battery and my trainers smouldering. When I asked a local what had happened, apparently I’d been shouting, “Drago,” a lot before collapsing. It made Forrest Gump look like a work of fiction.

 

Now, as I listened to the distorted guitars, pounding drums and aggressive wailing of the lead singer, who by the way had clearly suffered in their lifetime by the sounds of the screams, although I couldn’t exactly distinguish the lyrics but anyway, I was an unstoppable force. I was walking like a badass and if anyone were to get in my way, like a very large muscular thug, like a gang of racists, like a stampede of Dudley folk on giro day, God help them for they will meet an immovable object; me. Why? Because I’m listening to Metal!

 

“Sorry officer for all of the casualties left in my wake, but I had somewhere to go and I was listening to Metal!”

 

“What’s that? One of the unconscious is Britain’s most violent and highly dangerous escaped convict? Oh right. Didn’t even break into a sweat.”

 

“What? You want to nominate me for a special reward for heroism? Hey, it wasn’t me, it was Metal!”

 

“What was that Lord Mayor? You want to give me the key to Dudley? No, you’re okay thanks.”

 

So what if I was wearing a flat cap? So what if I had glasses on? So what if I was wearing sensible shoes and business trousers and a scarf because of my recent chest infection whilst shrouded in a sensible, thick, three quarter length, winter coat? Image is nothing, mind-set is everything and I was listening to Metal.

 

I was thinking, it could kick off right now and I would be the lone survivor!

 

Get out of my way woman with French stick! Don’t push that trolley into my path old man, you could end up wearing it! Easy there, old lady giving me evils, you could end up in the sprouts!

 

Because I am a man, listening to Metal, in Tesco, with a basket, in search for decent Christmas cards, perhaps some that are labelled as luxury.

 

What exactly is “luxury” about Christmas cards anyway? When I think of luxury, I imagine waking up in a swanky hotel room, overlooking a deserted golden beach, blue skies and calm blue seas. Or I imagine having a Jacuzzi or a bubble bath with a ridiculous amount of bubbles, maybe even scented candles but only for the missus of course!! When I think of luxury, I don’t think of a bloody Christmas card with glitter on it, which you’re begrudgingly filling in the same thing you say every year out of obligation because if you don’t give some people a card, they’ll take offence! Bah!

Anyway, thanks to the Metal I was in and out in about five minutes and when I got home I showed Mrs Grump the fruits of my labour.

 

She wasn’t impressed. She’s said that next year, I should give her the money and she’ll buy them for me. I think they’re alright.

 

Metal, good for aggressive cleaning or for taking on the might of Tesco. Not great for picking a Christmas card that gets the approval of the good lady.

What Not To Buy For The Only Child

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I was brought up an only child.

 

Only child! Spoilt, would be many people’s completely inaccurate assumption. I was far from spoilt. When everyone else at school had Nike and Reebok trainers, I was rocking up, trying to make my Hi-tecs go unnoticed.

 

While everyone else at school had Sega Master Systems and Nintendos, my Dad rocks up with an Atari under his arm. See my previous post.

 

Louis was spoilt. He was the fattest kid in my class and my main friend during the infant years until he moved away. I mean he had a f*cking toy room that was bigger than our living room! Shelves filled and boxes and boxes of toys stored on top of one another. When I used to visit his house, I remember thinking it was heaven. Everything and anything was in that room. I remember the disappointment when his mother used to call us for dinner and I never wanted to go home. But Louis was so chilled out about it. It was no big deal for him. It was normal.

 

Then he’d come round my house for my birthday and we’d play in the back garden climbing in and out of an old dryer and playing on an orange space hopper from 1972 that used to be my uncles.

 

In later years, compared to my piers at that time, I’m sure that I have steamed well ahead being the first…….to go bald.

 

But I do have to laugh when looking back because one thing that my parents used to get me for gifts, were board games. Board games for an only child! Not so bad if they would actually play with me, but this was very, very rare.

 

I did have friends who I used to play with on my street but they weren’t always around. There are times when you need to entertain yourself. Besides, my friends weren’t really interested in putting the football away for a couple of hours to play Game Of Life. A nine year old me could have said, “Hey, lads, shall we go round mine and play Game Of Life? Please, I’ve never actually played it with anyone yet and I’ve had it since Christmas!”

“F*ck off!” would have been their response, at which point I would have to avoid a house brick flying at my face.

 

“Be a winner at the game of life,

Find a job, and money maybe,

Get married, have a baby,

Take a chance, find romance, make your dreams all come true.

Be a winner at the Game Of Life”

 

That was how the advert used to go and I genuinely remember it. Why do I remember that? More bollocks stuck deep in my brain and available for recall at any random unnecessary moment. But it worked. It drew me in. I must have shown an interest and my parents bought it for me for Christmas.

 

That game is bullshit. In the three times I got to play it, I don’t ever recall there being a chance of getting stuck in the monotonous, incredibly dull and repetitive grind of the insurance industry and regularly feel depressed about it. Imagine rolling a six, moving your little figure onto a square that says, “After fifteen years in the deep rut of the insurance industry, you question the very purpose of your existence.” Roll a four, land on a square that reads, “Congratulations, your athletes foot has cleared up. Your monthly budget increases by £16.49 as you no longer need to pay for foot care products.”

 

Space attack was possibly the loudest game ever invented. You effectively had to wind up a metal spinning top as fast as you could, hit a button and it would fly onto the board where you and your opponent had a red slider at opposite ends to block the metallic projectile that bounced back and forth.

Try playing that on your own. Winding up the thing so it sounds like a f*cking jet engine firing up and then the clatter as you try to play as both opponents. It was a very confusing time. Are you a winner? Are you a loser? Is it a draw? How can you compete with yourself? I’d sit there in confusion, not sure whether I had won or not and trying to come to terms with the pierced ear drums. By today’s standards, I should have been wearing ear protection.

 

Don’t even get me started on Guess who!

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Then there was the board game that I specifically asked for because the cover of it was pretty badass. I’m talking about HeroQuest. The cover had a barbarian going mental, a dwarf, an elf, a wizard, orcs and other evil creatures from a gothic, mythical land. It inspired my 10 year old self.

 

Unfortunately, I never ever got to play a game of HeroQuest. No one would play it with me. So I spent hours, building the various rooms on the board and just pretended that stuff was happening. I still managed to entertain myself in some way for a few hours but I never got to enjoy the orc and ogre battering carnage that I could have unleashed as a barbarian. I could have been Conan damn it. Who wouldn’t want to be Conan?

 

I used to play in the garden, running around with a stick, trying to make Nunchuka with garden canes and a piece of string. Never worked. Then I’d climb in the old dryer and out again.

 

A ball was always fun. You don’t necessarily need anyone to play with, as long as you have a wall. Kick a ball at a wall and the thing will come back at you. Which is okay for ten minutes, kicking it at the neighbour’s extension, that is until they come out complaining about the banging.

 

My parents also bought me a Frisbee. How the f*ck are you supposed to play Frisbee on your own? Unless you’re a fast runner. I’d throw it down the garden, then run after it. Pick it up, throw it back up the garden, run after it and repeat.

 

I did actually manage to play Frisbee on my own, if I managed to throw it into the wind so it would come back at me, but this took great skill. It didn’t really last long. I miscalculated it and it went over the fence. But not the fence at either side of our house. No, the Frisbee flew into the garden of the house that shares a border with the property that you don’t generally act neighbourly with. I’m talking about the people who share the border at the bottom of the garden. You don’t socialise with them. You don’t even like to acknowledge they exist unless you’re looking into their house from yours with very good binoculars! But you don’t converse with these people. After all, they live in a different street to you! Practically aliens.

 

But they never threw it back. Probably because they questioned where it had come from. I had probably crossed their mind but then they thought, ‘No, that’s an only child. He runs around with a stick, annoys his neighbour with a football and climbs into that old tumble dryer. Who’s he going to play Frisbee with? No one. Must be from the pyromaniac kids next door.’

 

I’m sure those pyromaniac kids diagonally across from us ended up with that Frisbee.

 

B*stards!

 

In hindsight, my parents should have bought me a boomerang. Mind you I could still lose that. This is absolutely true. I had a little bit of a boomerang phase when I was in my late twenties. My friend John and I went into a large open space at a local place called Himley Hall. We lost a boomerang in an open field. The boomerang was yellow, in a green field. We thought we’d seen it land. For almost an hour we searched for it. Completely bemused by this disappearing yellow boomerang.

 

Our conclusion? That I threw it with such force, it hit 88MPH and went back in time.

 

I’m waffling so I’ll go now.

 

P.S. I’ve been blogging for two years now. Two years! I never imagined I’d still be doing it. But thank you to all who follow me and show your support. I’m very grateful. I don’t post as often as I’d like of late but I’ve had another project on the go. But you are not forgotten my Grumpyans. Please bear with me!

Many Grumpy thanks!

Scummy park, Aliens, Existentialism and A Valuable Life Lesson.

I started this post originally by writing about hunting and the difference between hunting for food and hunting for fun. I ended up with an additional 1000 words than what’s below but to summarise, to hunt and kill a creature for pleasure and to go against the natural equilibrium of Mother Nature means you are a prick. There, I’ve said it.

 

But then I wandered onto the subject of fishing. I understand fishing with the intention of eating your catch. Nothing wrong with that, unless it’s a koi carp from the neighbour’s pond. They don’t appreciate it.

 

Catching a fish, pulling it from the water with a hook through it’s mouth only to unhook it whilst it’s suffocating, throw it back in and hope to do it again to an even bigger fish is something I just don’t understand.

 

“Ah but the fish don’t feel it. They don’t feel pain!” is a response a hobbyist fisherman has said to me before. How the f*ck do you know? Just because it doesn’t scream, “AAAHHH, F*CKING ELL!!!! I’VE BEEN TRICKED AGAIN! THERE’S A F*CKING PEICE OF SHARP METAL THROUGH MY MOUTH. AAAAAHHHHH!!!” No they don’t make a noise at all. But who’s to say that they don’t feel it?

 

It’s like aliens coming down to this planet but they only communicate through subliminal telepathic waves of common consciousness between their far superior brains. Something far beyond anything that us mere, simple, lumps of meat could contemplate. So a couple of aliens, let’s call them Brian and Steve. Brian has bagged himself a human. He’s currently sticking needles into the human’s eye. The human as you would expect is screaming in agony. But Steve turns to Brian and says, “Well there’s no form of communication, I don’t think they feel pain.” Brian says, “Great! That makes it perfectly okay to catch them, stab them in the eye and then put them back. We’ll call it a sport. Steve, we’ve just invented humanshing! Put it back and we’ll try and get a bigger one!” “Try Ohio,” says Steve.

 

But I admit that I have been fishing before. Although in my defence, I was only about Seven years old and driven by intrigue. My uncle Colin was an avid fisher. He loved it. I didn’t understand and so I wanted a piece of the action. When my mother said, you should go fishing with Colin, I jumped at the chance / invited myself whether he really wanted me to go or not.

 

In the week leading up to the big event, I looked forward to going fishing with my Uncle Colin. “I’m going fishing with my Uncle Colin,” I would shout to my classmates with an excitement you’d expect from a child who was going to Disney Land. I was clearly expecting great things from the exhilarating and adrenaline pumping activity that is called… fishing. My classmates looked at me like I was on some sort of “happy” medication.

 

The night before, I stopped at my Nan’s house. This meant sharing a bed with my Nan, which I didn’t like because she always fell asleep before me and snored. Nasal strips hadn’t been invented then and I’m not sure how my elderly Nan would have felt to be told by her Seven year old Grandson that she breaths like a walrus in the night and should try this plastic strip from the future!

 

4AM I was awoken with a little shove from my uncle Colin. I’d been warned of having to get up early, and I thought I got up early some mornings at 6.30AM but this was still dark. Still dark dark. Not dark with the early signs of the sky growing lighter as dawn approaches. No this was dark man.

 

Cold and a little disorientated I drank the cup of tea he had made me, got dressed, had the slice of toast he made me and snuck out of my Nan’s house. We were on a mission. A mission of extreme importance. A mission to… fish. Why so early? I wondered if Colin was excited like I was on Christmas morning. But no, we had to leave early because it’s better for fishing.

 

Deckchairs, rods, a big box on a trolley carted behind us as we headed out. We must have been venturing off to a distant body of water to catch the mighty beasts known as…. fish. But no, in a matter of minutes, we had reached our destination. The local park at the bottom of the road. This park in an industrial suburb of Birmingham called Oldbury, was not a place of natural beauty. West Smethwick Park had a big pond and a little pond. It had ducks, a couple of football pitches, swings, roundabouts and even a zip line type thing which today, would have health and safety going mental because underneath them, they didn’t have modern synthetic materials designed to cushion any fall. The ground can provide great encouragement towards not falling off. This park also had it’s fair share of litter and graffiti which included swear words and detailed phallic diagrams.

 

But at 4.30 in the morning, all of this was not visible. Because I discovered, thanks to Uncle Colin, that fish work nights.

 

We got our spot and Colin set us up. It must have been the best spot because we beat others to it. We were the fishing equivalent of Germans and sun loungers on holiday. With the skill of a pro, he got the rods ready with hooks and bait and a little rest thing that the rod would lean on and then positioned the deck chairs for us. I took my seat and Colin cast the lines into the water. I wanted a go but he wouldn’t let me. “What do we do now?” I asked. Clearly I was keen to see some action. I’d gotten up at a time I didn’t even know existed, we were the only ones in the shitty park and that must have meant that all of the fish were ours for the catching. “We wait and watch the float,” as he pointed to the brightest thing in the whole park apart from my enthusiasm, the luminous float gently bobbing on the slightly scummy water. This was to be the signal should we get a fish.

 

So I watched this fluorescent orange float and waited, and waited, and waited for what seemed like a long time but had probably been about three minutes.

 

This was fishing.

 

Telling a seven year old to sit and stare at a fluorescent orange blob on top of the skanky water, in the dark and stay still is unnatural. It’s like telling a dog to not salivate when there’s a piece of food in front of it or tell a cat to not be a selfish b*stard.

 

It doesn’t help when your Uncle Colin isn’t the most talkative of fellas.

 

This was fishing.

 

Nothing happened. Nothing happened at all and I was losing all sense of time. Dawn had broken and there were more cars driving past nearby which no longer became a distraction because when you’re sitting in the dark staring at a fishing float and wishing you were actually still forming part of the family snoring chorus with your Nan, the sound of a car and the sight of it’s lights passing by was a break from the monotony. Now the cars were just another piece of the monotony.

 

Then the extraordinary happened! Colin’s float dipped below the water. With lightening reflexes he grabs his rod and yanks it back whilst winding in. But there was no fish. It must have gotten away. Time for fresh bait and recasting the line into the murky waters of West Smethwick Park’s large pond.

 

Heart in mouth stuff. This, my friends is fishing.

 

I started to watch the scummy water and take in the various bits of litter floating on top. I would watch an old crisp packet sailing and think about where it had come from, where it was going. Had it been cast away by an inconsiderate youth walking through the park? Had it escaped from a bin bag that had been ripped open by hungry foxes or really selfish cats and had the breeze carried it down streets, under cars where it finally landed in the large pond of West Smethwick Park to eventually gently pass by a Grumpy Young Boy and his Uncle Colin who was glaring at a fluorescent float. When a seven year old is asking existential questions about a used crisp packet, you know he’s bored.

 

Then my Dad turned up to see how we were getting on. I remember being happy to see him. Perhaps he was coming to rescue me. He wasn’t. “Are you on a break Dad?” I asked. It was after all mid morning. “No, I’m on my way to work.” It was just after 7AM!

 

I had lost all concept of time. But was it any wonder? This was after all, fishing.

 

My Dad’s visit was brief. I couldn’t run, I couldn’t go back to my Nan’s, she was probably stretched out like a star fish in her bed without me there. I couldn’t get home. I was stuck and besides, I didn’t want to seem ungrateful to my Uncle Colin who had after all, introduced me to the white-knuckle intensity that was….fishing.

 

After another three hours, we packed up. Our haul for the day? Nothing. Zip. Nada. Zilch. But as a seven year old I learned a valuable lesson. That with the art form of scummy park based fishing, there are no guarantees. Well, perhaps, except for boredom. Oh, and it wasn’t Disney Land!

 

Fishing. No thanks.

Grumpy New Year, Ideas, Man Work & Red Bull

I hope you had an, amazing Christmas. I’m sure, like me, you are so glad to have been well and truly thrown back into the bosom of the rat race. For me, Insurance based stuff. What a relief it is to be back too. I mean, relaxing at home, taking your time, chilling out, watching films and spending quality time with Mrs Grump and other loved ones is okay, but it’s no comparison to being shouted at by angry Policyholders who have a mushroom growing out of their wall. Who insist that it has nothing to do with a gradual deterioration because of their complete lack of common sense, self respect, shirking of responsibility to simply maintain their home and look after it. Who expect their insurers and people like me to agree that yes, that mushroom growing out of their wall, which now blocks the TV and their daily viewing of the soaps, reality shows, other completely mind numbing, life wasting bollocks and ironically DIY SOS; was actually caused in a freak one-off isolated event!

In case you haven’t guessed, I’m being sarcastic. I’ve had back to work blues too!

Christmas is well and truly over. Gone for another 363 days to be precise. Perhaps you feel a sense of relief that you don’t have to see some relatives that you don’t actually like for another twelve months and of course don’t have to go to another crap Christmas party with people from work who you don’t like and feel obliged to actually spend some of your own precious unpaid time with.

Also, by now you have had ample time to get rid of any rubbish gifts you have been given by people who you would have hoped understood you better. It’s not being ungrateful. A gift after all is based on a thought. Perhaps a feeling of obligation, but still a thought. They thought of you. They didn’t think that you are in fact teetotal and that a small selection of ales from around the world (just England) wouldn’t be appropriate even if they are seen as a masculine thing to have. Still you grit you’re teeth, thank them through feigned smiles and start to rack your brain for ideas of who you could give them to. RE-GIFT!!!!!

Six boxes of chocolates Mrs Grump and I were given this year. SIX! We don’t even eat chocolate! Actually, we didn’t eat chocolate. Still plugging away, we are onto box number three!

So now a new year is upon us and as usual, it’s time to think about taking advantage of this new year as a chance to make a fresh start; to change something. A new years resolution. As I lay in bed yesterday morning, I pondered what my resolution could be and it was on the tip of my tongue. Quite literally on the tip of my tongue. I decided that I would try to find a cure for morning breath!

Can someone please explain to me what the biological use is for morning breath? Probably to keep predators away who would sneak up and feast on man first thing in the morning. Two sabre tooth tigers enter a cave, sneak up on a sleeping man, then one turns to the other and whispers, “Jeez, Graham, have you smelt his breath?” “No, why?” “God, it wreaks!” “John, what does that matter? Just bite his neck and be done with it. I’m starving!” “No! No way! If that’s the pungent wretched, eye watering, odour, coming out of his wide open, dribbling mouth, God knows what his insides must be like. I think it’s past it’s sell by date! It smells like it’s gone off!”

Perhaps I’m on to something there.

But morning breath is a bit of a passion killer isn’t it? Sometimes I wake up and want to cuddle up to Mrs Grump, whisper soppy stuff into her ear; thank her for not punching me in the back of the head or smothering me with a pillow for making that weird clicking noise in my sleep, but then I either catch her unawares and she suddenly turns green or I am faced with Mrs Grump using the duvet as a kind of makeshift SARS mask. The irony of this is that as a man, it’s normal to wake up ready for action, as it were. This is a dilemma. You’re anatomy would appear to say, I’m ready to go! Let’s hop on the good foot and do the bad thing! Your breath however is saying, come near me, you will lose oxygen to the brain and pass out, possibly vomiting in the process!

Hmm, Morning breath = natures Rohypnol?

I guess it could be useful if you were in a really shit version of The X Men. Could probably be called the Y Men. Instead of the ability to heal with adamantium claws that can protrude from your knuckles, you have the ability to strip paint with your breath first thing in the morning. Your team mates could include a man who can urinate like a horse and a man who can make fart noises with his hand in his armpit.

I’m pretty sure that if I discovered a cure, not only would I get billions of pounds but also, quite rightly too, I’d get the Nobel prize.

So that was how my New year started. With such pondering. The madness continued throughout the day as I put the Christmas tree back in the loft; did some vacuuming; went to Homebase to buy some sticky numbers for our new wheelie bin; having discovered that they didn’t have any in white, immediately, whilst still in Homebase, used the power of mobile internet and ordered some from Amazon; bought some organic meat and an ice scraper for my car and then returned home. It didn’t stop there. I’m not afraid of a little spontaneity damn it! That’s why I wasted no time seeing Mrs Grump, bent over in the freezer struggling, seized the opportunity, getting my large tool out which was no stranger to a long screw and hacked away at the ice that had built up over the past several months. Not only did the flat head screw driver prove useful in a kind of chiselling action, I looked outside the box and utilised Mrs Grumps hairdryer!

I don’t mean to brag, but I’m pretty sure that the smooth in and out gliding action of the freezer drawers would make many a house wife green with envy. Even more green than the onslaught of morning breath!

This led me to chose my second resolution! As I’m sure you have gathered by the highlights of my New Years day, I’m nothing short of a high speed, high octane, engine of mass adrenaline!! It seems only fitting that I should try to seek sponsorship from Red Bull!

Imagine the advert! We see Sebastian Vettel in his Red Bull Formula 1 car tearing up the track, cut to a Red Bull sponsored motocross bike doing a 360 degree spin, cut to someone sponsored by Red Bull, jumping out of a plane, cut to the Grumpy Young Bloke, ironing his work trousers, utilising a Red Bull sponsored heat reflective ironing board cover, really fast but getting creases in his trousers that would go through cheese like a knife through butter!

Right I’ve got to go. It’s late and I need to glue tic tacs to my teeth for when I wake up tomorrow morning.

Grumpy New Year everyone!

Common Phone Confusion

Smartphone_2697552bToday I called a customer on their mobile. They answered and I introduced myself explaining where I’m calling from and what the process would be for his insurance claim.

As I came to the end of the call, I started to explain that he would get a call from the surveyor to arrange a visit.

“Have you been passed my mobile number?” he asked.

“Yes, your insurers passed us the details,” I replied thinking he might be annoyed that we had his mobile number.

“They have definitely passed you my mobile number?”

“Well yes, I’ve called you on it now.”

“It’s ok, I’m in my car but you’re on hands free. I’m not driving.”

“Oh right.”

“It’s best that I’m called on my mobile by the surveyor. So you’ve got my mobile number?”

“Yes, I’m talking to you on it now.”

“Oh right. I wasn’t sure. I’m in the car see on hands free.”

I was somewhat perturbed by this and a little confused. What exactly did he think I called him on? Did he think I called him on the landline? In his car? Is he currently driving along with a 40 mile telephone cable stretching far behind him? Or is his mobile phone along with his office number and home number diverted to a banana in his car?

The thing is, this guy is supposed to be intelligent. He is a pharmacist!

I’m guessing there are people getting all sorts of crazy drugs in that area. A man simply wants to make love to his wife for the first time in years and thinks he’s picked up some Viagra pills but, Einstein the chemist has given him a powerful laxative. Alas, his evening is ruined, along with his self esteem and his marriage! Poor, poor man.

But everyone has a bad day and gets a little confused from time to time. Nobody is infallible. Even I make little brain farts now and again. Am I talking to my landline whilst driving along? It’s a genuine question to ask oneself.

A few years ago I joined the 3 mobile phone network. They were the pioneers in the UK for video messaging. I had one of their fancy flip phones at the time although I didn’t utilise the full potential of the video messaging capabilities that were within my pocket. I still considered myself a pioneer though by association. No one else had a 3 phone who I knew. It’s a lonely place being at the cusp, the cutting edge, the crest of a wave of new technology amongst your archaic piers.

One day in December, I received a message. It buzzed differently to the normal kind of message alert I received. I opened it up to find that I had received a video message. My very first video message.

So excited to receive this, I pretended that I needed the toilet. I entered the gents, flipped my phone open and hit open message. There in all it’s poor resolution glory, was a video message from…..who was that?

I was looking at a fat business man. A fat businessman in his car, driving. The man then looked at the camera and said, “I’m on the M6 stuck in traffic and I’m really pissed off!” With that, the message ended.

It was a strange message. Clearly he thought that he would take the time to divert his concentration away from the road, which happened to be one of the busiest motorways in Britain; record a little message, which lets face it, may have been one of many takes and then send it to the completely wrong number, who just so happened to be me! Luckily I had a 3 phone too otherwise I may have microwaved my own brain trying to retrieve it.

It was clearly an important message hence all that effort and additional cost. I had to do something. I had to let him know that he had sent the message to the wrong person. It seemed only fitting that I too respond to my new video pen pal with a revolutionary video message.

I walked into the office and with the help of a colleague I filmed a short message and sent it.

I got no response. I hope he didn’t crash the car. There was nothing nasty or aggressive about the  message. In fact, quite the opposite. I was merely showing empathy and understanding to his predicament.

But, it was a day in the office where people had given out their “Secret Santa” gifts. This little tradition involved team members picking a name out of a hat and with a pre agreed budget, would buy a christmas present for their chosen person. Usually, the presents would be of a comic theme. Unless you got someone old. In which case, chocolate, booze or a Cliff Richard calendar would suffice.

I borrowed two of these gifts from colleagues to use in the video message to my little fat business friend who was stuck in traffic.

He may have been stationary when his phone buzzed. He, like me, may have been excited to receive such a message. A little flutter of excitement, somewhere in his fat belly. He would then press “Open message.”

He may not have realised what he was looking at when the video began. I hope he didn’t concentrate for too long rather than  concentrate on the road.

He would have seen someone sat in a gimp mask with a hat that was shaped like a chicken, looking at the camera silently for a few seconds and then it spoke. Heartwarming words of empathy.

“Oh man….That M6 is a right bastard!”

As I said, I didn’t get a response.

I was hoping we could stay in touch.

The Festive Season, Gift Ideas And The Future!

It is an ordinary day at Chateau Grump. The dogs are still barking, the local children are still terrorizing the elderly and setting fire to things and somewhere in the distance you can always hear a sound of a woman on the verge of a mental breakdown, shouting at someone in the distinct local dialect, which is Yam Yam. Ah, the sounds of suburbia. How I miss it when I find myself in peaceful, calm surroundings far far away.

The post is delivered but what is this that awaits Mrs Grump on the doormat? Amongst the seventy three Indian takeaway menus, a leaflet from someone offering to carry out exorcisms and the much needed eye brow, back, sack and crack threading service there are a couple of brochures wrapped in cellophane. Gifts For Girls, which has a nice use of alliteration. The brochure for the male counterpart didn’t utilise the same grasp of language. Gift’s for Guys? Bargains for Boys? No. Just Presents For Men. Oh well, straight to the point if nothing else.

Now, Mrs Grump clearly ordered these brochures and of course I’m not going to open her post even though I know what it is. It is wrong, illegal and most importantly, it is in the interest of my own self-preservation to leave it well alone. However, she has clearly ordered them, if I were to speculate, to look for some amazing presents for Christmas…for me. No doubt I will be showered with the awesome gifts that are within the pages of Presents For Men.

When the good lady is finished with the brochures I decide to have a look to see if I can guess what goodies I will be getting this Christmas. So I retrieved the brochures from the bin, wiped off the remains of dinner and had a browse.

I was amazed at how good the gift ideas were. Innovative, Cutting Edge, State Of The Art and Extremely Practical are all ways of describing the contents of Presents For Men.

Please, let me show you some of the delights contained within.

Bouffadou

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There have been many occasions where I have screamed at the top of my voice to the Good Lady, “For the love of God, this fire is not up to scratch! If only I had a bloody Bouffadou, I could breathe life into the fire and we could once again enjoy the comfort of a raging flame in our lounge whilst watching Last of the Summer Wine reruns on TV!” Only to be told by Mrs Grump that the fire is a gas fire so a Bouffadou would be completely pointless and furthermore, it was condemned and locked off following a Gas safety test earlier this year. It’s a pity because look how much joy the guy in the photo is experiencing, creating a raging flame in his front room. Although, he does look like he is sucking rather than blowing.

iStressed Phone

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It’s not easy being royalty. Okay, so you always travel first class, eat in the finest restaurants and will never have to wake up in a strange, damp and mouldy, dilapidated council flat being spooned by a clammy ex-convict called Brian. But you are a public servant and that carries a lot of pressure and expectation as you jet around the world in style for charity events and presentations. I would find that infuriating. Much like Prince Harry here. I’m sure I would want to damage something too. Fortunately, I would have brought my replica phone with me so I can give it a bloody good squeeze whilst screaming at it! Everyone does after all want to leave the house with two phones. If you do only leave with one phone however, please make sure it is the real one in case of an emergency. The fake one is only good for squeezing whilst in a rage, which may be required anyway when you realise you have the wrong phone.

Drumstick Pencils

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You don’t need a drumstick tip on the end of a pencil to be a desktop Phil Collins or Ringo. But they shouldn’t be encouraging this sort of behaviour anyway. Not only is it extremely annoying to colleagues it is also completely unpractical. Do you actually think that all that knocking does the lead inside any good? No it doesn’t. You will only cause several fractures within the lead in the pencil, meaning that the need for sharpening will multiply. Perhaps I’m looking too much into this but I’m only showing concern for the lead in your pencil.

The Bike Bag

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Bikes. A cheap mode of transport and a great way of getting fit. But what if you don’t want to ride your bike? But you might later on. What to do? Such complex puzzles have kept even the greatest minds amongst us awake at night. Not anymore though. With a bike bag you simply carry your bike wherever you want to go. Yes it might be easier to ride the bike than carry that large awkward thing but you’re missing the point. Look how happy he is. See? You are missing the point! There is a point. There must be. Surely?

Silly Socks.

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Remember back in the day when your dad would wear sandals and socks and it used to be so embarrassing? Well you don’t have to be as embarrassing as him but still embrace retro chic with Silly Socks that look like you are wearing socks with sandals…. inside the confines of your shoes. I think that when you get your smelly feet out in the middle of the pub amongst all of your mates, you will find that they will all laugh with you. You will be the comedy genius to blame for the most “hilarious” event to happen in the local community since Bernard Manning passed through in 1986. You may even get laid that night. Probably not though.

Deer Deterrent

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Ever been car jacked by a deer? It is not a pleasant experience. The victims wake up in the middle of the night screaming from flash backs and to hear the screams can strike fear into the cavernous depths of the very soul of a man. So I do not want to run the risk of running into a deer or a wild animal whenever I leave Chateau Grump. Just as well I live in a built up suburb called Dudley. No deer around here. Besides, the roads tend to be restricted to 30mph so it wouldn’t work anyway. Furthermore, the wild animals in the local community that threaten us, are the drunken chavs that roam the streets on scooters during the dark hours. Unfortunately, this thing doesn’t work on humans. But if I did buy it, fit it to my car and drive along a dual carriageway, I’m sure any dogs would hear and so would I inadvertently become the Pied Piper of dogs in the area? All the dogs would be drawn to my Vauxhall Astra as I thundered along at a steady 40mph. Imagine that!

Basically, I know that with such amazing gifts like the above, I am in for a real treat this Christmas.

I then thought that I would browse the Gifts For Girls to see if I could get any ideas for gifts for Mrs Grump. Throughout the brochure there was nothing really of any interest. The usual chocolate, fluffy, feministic anti men kind of stuff, which I quickly flicked past. And then, on the last page, I found this.

Talk To The Hand Bluetooth Gloves

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Ladies and Gentlemen, would you agree that the future has arrived? Alas it is only £34.99 to become the envy of your piers! The latest Bluetooth and Touch Screen Technology combining to turn your right hand into a phone. Unfortunately, the model is talking into her left hand. I also don’t know if the words being spoken by the person at the other end are somehow beamed into your brain, through some sort of futuristic language projection thumb to brain interface, hence placing the thumb on the temple. Either that or the model has quite remarkably never used a phone before. But what a great idea! Why hold a phone to your ear whilst wearing gloves? No, much better to make your hand into a phone shape and talk to someone whilst walking down the street. People won’t think you are insane at all!

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This Christmas is going to be brilliant!