Thursday, 27 December 2007

A roundabout way of spreading the news

I've never been much of a one for round robins. They smack, to me, of a bit of a cop out. Having said that, it's a brave man who accuses Bill Blunt of not embracing popular culture, especially when it saves him having to think too much about personal letters to people.

Here, then, is my annual round robin newsletter for friends and family. Happy New Year - when it comes!

Friday, 21 December 2007

Condiments of the Season

I know some of my stalwart readers have suspected that my recent 'radio silence' might be part of some elaborate scam, and that I would emerge,in due course, in a North London police station claiming to have lost my memory. Meanwhile, the former Mrs Blunt would be living it up in Hunstanton on the proceeds of a modest insurance policy she had the foresight to take out on me just before we divorced.

Nothing could be further from the truth! I admit that the circumstantial evidence is all there - in particular, my familiarity with a certain Seaton Carew has not gone un-noticed by the odd reader or two. But that's merely a co-incidence, I can assure you.

Instead, my last few weeks have been spent working. When I hung up my quill and faced the dizzy prospect of retirement, I little thought that my financial circumstances would alter so much that I would be forced back to work. However, a divorce and the need to move home have both taken their toll on the old finances, and needs must, etc etc. It's been a shock to the system, I can tell you.

Nevertheless, the holiday season now beckons, so I thought I would take a little time out and wish my loyal reader all the very best for the holiday season. May 2008 bring you all the health and happiness you deserve.

As a postscript, I must gratefully acknowledge that I have been tagged by the estimable Crofty, and I promise that sometime over the Christmas period I will get round to inventing 7 new things people don't know about me. Or I might just re-hash a few old ones!

Friday, 16 November 2007

Ever so humble...

When, at the behest of my son Jasper, I launched myself into the world of blogs, it was with no thought to the honours that might be bestowed on me.

Modesty almost forbids me from mentioning, therefore, that Bill Blunt's Blog has recently been awarded the coveted Golden C*** of Excellence Award by none other than that scion of upper class virtue, Lord Likely.

Throughout my career, I have always striven to maintain a modicum of respectability. Not for Bill Blunt the easy headlines to be gained by peppering my articles with words like 'Sex', 'Drugs' and 'Rock & Roll'. I think I know my audience, and those I do know are not comfortable with words calculated to cause my good friend, the Reverend Ivan Stang, to blush.

Lord Likely's award more than made up for the panning I got when my blog was recently reviewed by Humor-Blogs.Com.
I can't pretend I wasn't just a tad mortified to have my blog described as "an absolutely snooze-fest". Nor that someone seemed to think that my reflections on my recent marital breakdown were meant to be amusing: "All this person talks about is his wife leaving him. Maybe he isn't whining about it, but geez, I don't want to read about people's marital problems. If I did, I'd read the Enquirer..."

It would be easy to be wounded by such views. Fortunately, years of working in local journalism have hardened me to comments like that. I learned, long ago, that when the constant barbs of criticism are thrust towards your open heart, you need only to turn aside to deflect them.

At my age, recognition is enough.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Have your cake and eat it

As someone who has become increasingly concerned about my weight, a front page of the Independent newspaper came as something of a relief, last week. Apparently, marginally overweight people live longer than any other group of people. The scientists have given their blessing, it seems, to people being just a little bit porky. It’s better to be a few pounds on the plus side than either obese, thin or ‘normal’ (whatever that means).

I didn’t read the full article, in case the small print hid some kind of caveat or other. It’s quite enough to know that carrying a few pounds more than he should is not going to do Bill Blunt any harm. At the same time, another headline I saw seemed to suggest that exposure to the sun helps prolong life, too. That’s another tick in the box for Bill, then, as I reflect on all those summers spent in the ‘60’s at Juan Les Pins, before Mrs Blunt came along.

When I think about all those painfully thin, pasty-faced scientists who parade themselves on TV, telling us what we should and should not be doing to maintain our health, I can’t help stifling a smug grin. What nightmares must they now be suffering as they tuck into their fat-free cranberry and broccoli yoghurts?

As I savoured the good news (and made a mental note to book a place on that Tuscan cookery holiday I’ve always wanted to try), I couldn’t help but reflect on the wise words of the late Freddy Marple. “Women like a decent set of love handles, in my experience,” he used to say. And there were few men more experienced than Freddy. Before he settled down, his fabled address book could easily have been mistaken for the Thompson Local. Many were the times his friends, at a loose end for what to do on a Friday night, would ask to rifle through those well-thumbed pages for inspiration. It was said of any woman in Stockport that, if she hadn’t been with Freddy then she was probably only visiting for the day.

There’s hope yet, then.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Divided Loyalties

Imagine the scene. A young boy still in short trousers and knee high socks, accompanying his Uncle Jesmond to his first ever football match. The excitement of the capacity crowd, the dashing players in their classic 1950’s kit, the roar of pleasure as the pie-man started his trail around the terraces. A mug of steaming Oxo at half-time, to take away the biting wind-chill of the Boundary Park terraces. Those were, indeed, the days - and must, I am sure, have led me into my life’s career as a sports journalist.

Although I was to later to cover many other sports, it was always to football that I returned. The steady commercialisation of the game was not something that I relished. The glorious game, made dirty by the noxious whiff of money, was the living nightmare that enmeshed Association Football during the 1980's, as television got its grubby hands on the game.

As a leading sports columnist of my generation, I sat on the sidelines as Messrs Murdoch and Co sullied the sport with their wads of cash. Somehow, it took the pleasure out of physically going to the match, as you could now watch the entire proceedings from the centrally-heated comfort of your lounge. Grey school shorts and Oxo were swapped, in later years, for bermuda shorts and a few tins of fizzy lager.

Last night, however, I had a conversion on the road to Birkenhead. Having realised that Oldham were playing my new local team, Tranmere Rovers, I decided to forsake the sofa, and don my worsted overcoat. Even as late as a few moments before purchasing my ticket, I was unsure which side to support. But, like that famous psychological test of tossing a coin to make your mind up about something (so that if it falls the wrong way, you finally know), as I approached the turnstiles my mind was made up. You can take the man out of Oldham, but you can't take Oldham out of the man.

And so it was that I joined the hardy band of away supporters, cheering on the Latics as they put up a sterling fight. Despite being close tot he bottom of the League, they fought valiantly against Tranmere, who looked shoddy and uninspiring by comparison. Tension mounted as the game drew to its close, the scoreline 0-0 after 90 minutes of play. Then, magically, Oldham managed to sneak in a winner in the final minute of extra time. Pleasure unbounded for the couple of hundred Oldham fans who had been in proud voice against the desultory silence of their Tranmere counterparts.

Tranmere Rovers 0 Oldham 1

Monday, 5 November 2007

Sex & Shopping

I’ve discovered that I’m a bit of a tart, when it comes to supermarkets. I know some people return, time and again, to the same, familiar shop to buy their weekly groceries. I always left the shopping to Mrs Blunt but have, since our divorce, had to learn the art of foraging for food amongst the aisles.

I won’t pretend it came naturally to me. My first attempt at buying fresh fruit came unstuck when I realised I hadn’t the faintest notion of what constituted a kilogram. Two kilos of nectarines sounds like a reasonable enough proposition, until you discover that’s about twenty of the little blighters – far more than any sane man would want to consume in a week. But mostly, I’ve taken to the grocery shop like a duck to water.

I find that I am as at ease in Morrison’s as I am in Sainsbury’s, as relaxed in Aldi as I am in Asda. I can get quite chipper at the thought of popping in to squeeze melons in my local Iceland. No one could accuse me of monogamy in my dealings with the major food retailers. I like to ‘put myself about a bit’, and have even been spotted in Netto, now and again.

Yet there’s one place that always makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s all that pseudo-patriotic red, white and blue … but I’ve never yet been seduced by Tesco. They just don’t do it for me. I know that the retail analysts will tell us that one pound in every eight spent in the UK finds its way into the hands of the Tesco family, but they’d be lucky if they got a tenner a year from me. They’re obviously doing something right as they steamroller their new shops across the country. A lot of folk clearly like what they do. Not Bill Blunt, though. The remorseless Tesco-fication of Britain leaves me cold. Their pioneering ‘out of town’ supermarkets almost spelled the death knell of Britain’s corner shop. What few are left will easily be seen off by the Tesco Metro’s that are springing up everywhere. Every time I hear that phrase ‘Every little helps’, I can’t help feeling just a little queasy.

Though I have forsworn setting foot in Tesco, there are still (thankfully) plenty of other retail giants offering the opportunity to saunter down the dairy aisle, coyly smiling at the rather attractive female choosing which brand of low-fat cottage cheese to buy, while I ruminate over yoghurts. Supermarkets are now the place of choice for the single, unattached male bent on picking up women, it seems. They perform the same social function as the dance hall or the coffee bar once did, in my youth. And a glance in the basket of any woman will give you an instant appraisal of the type of person she is.

My top tip, for any man who finds himself checking out ladies at the check-outs, is to look for a well-balanced basket. Plenty of fresh fruit, veg and all that stuff. A bottle of red wine, perhaps. Fight shy of the bottle of gin types: you can’t know for sure it’s not a daily habit.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Rhapsody in G

My recent return to the UK after a visit to Paris has brought with it a raft of fresh anxieties which, I can only hope, my readers will not mind me sharing. One of the young ladies I was fortunate to meet (as part of my research for an article on the much-vaunted new Eurostar service from St Pancras International) was, shall we say, quite amorous in her approach to me over cocktails. I can’t pretend I wasn’t flattered. After so many decades trapped in a loveless marriage, and now free to sample whatever delights the world can offer, it’s a tempting prospect indeed when a woman of 52 throws herself at you in a mist of perfume and silk lingerie.

It was during a post-prandial examination of our respective hotel rooms (strictly to compare notes—she being a fellow journalist covering the same St Pancras launch for a magazine for ladies of a certain age) that she made her move.

Out of due discretion, and the desire to spare you the gory details, suffice it to say that my performance was not considered entirely up to scratch. Too many years of the same, routine love-making meant that the lady in question had cause to err… question my abilities in the bedroom department.

Implausible as it may sound, I discovered that I have reached my seventh decade in life without having the foggiest notion about what or where a G spot is. For the young lady this seemed to be a matter of some concern. I lost track of how many hours we spent looking for this elusive bodily part, and I was reminded of the wise words of old Freddy Marple, a fellow-hack and former drinking partner from my days at both the Stockport Echo and the Birkenhead Beagle. Freddy it was who, after chancing upon a discarded copy of Cosmopolitan magazine on the 409 bus out of Manchester, subsequently made it his life’s work to discover, and document, his wife’s own G spot.

Each week, he’d fill in the boys in the newsroom with the latest developments, eternally hopeful that, with one further search, it would turn up. Alas, despite many years of expeditions, Freddy never did discover that spot. Before he died, he passed the torch on to a young colleague of his who, alas, had a similarly striking lack of success.

I was forced to conclude, at that point, that the G spot might be little more than an urban myth, one step down from the story about the old lady who accidentally killed her pussy in an attempt to dry it in the microwave after a it was caught in a shower. For her part, my former wife was never one to bother too much about spots of any kind, so the subject was, for many years, put to bed.

Nevertheless, the whole, sorry subject of my trystess’ dissatisfaction was a great blow to my self-esteem. On my return home, I quizzed young Jasper on the subject of G spots.

“Pa!” he said, with a guffaw that wouldn’t have disgraced his Uncle Jesmond. “Surely you haven’t fallen for that old line?”

I pretended to be unsure what he meant. “The modern woman came up with the notion of the G spot so she could persuade her partner to spend lots of time looking for it. It’s just a cover for what you might have known in your day as foreplay. It's the oldest trick in the book!”

I can't pretend I wasn't taken aback by this news. Jasper went so far as to blame ‘my generation’ for the whole business. “If your lot had spent more time on foreplay in the first place, there’d have been none of this G spot nonsense for me and my pals to have to contend with."

I did rather feel I was getting it from both sides. The sins of the fathers, and all that. Nevertheless, if I ever see that little hussy from the Eurostar junket again, I'll have a thing or two to say to her, I must say.

Friday, 19 October 2007

I Told 'Em, Oldham!

It would be easy to pretend that I have spent the last few weeks swanning around the Mediterranean, in search of the kind of love and affection denied to me for so many years during my marriage to Mrs Blunt.

It's not in my interest to divulge too much information, since my decree nisi has been delayed by one or two financial matters that still need to be tied up before our marriage can be truly said to be 'wrent assunder'. Suffice it to say that Mr Tommy Fishfinger will not be getting his hands on any of my accumulated assets. My accountant has been busy salting whatever I have to my name in little pockets, here and there. At one point, I believe even Antigua was mentioned.

The truth, as ever, is rather more prosaic. Over the last three weeks, I've been beavering away on a project that promises to shake the very fabric of the RAC Road Map of Great Britain - nothing less than a plan to obliterate the town of Oldham from the face of the earth.

I know there will be many who will think I am callous. The town which, for so many years, has been my home and safe harbour may, by my efforts, simply cease to exist. And, I'm pleased to report - I'm being paid for the privilege.

The people behind the Oldham - Old Hat! campaign have engaged my services to assist them in coming up with a new identity for the place. Apparently, Oldham carries too many negative associations in the eyes of the British public to make it the kind of place where private capital might choose to throw its cash. Local Liberal Democrat Council Leader, Howard Sykes. is reported as saying “the name Oldham annoys districts such as Chadderton and Saddleworth.” Cllr Sykes was all in favour of re-naming Oldham after a "local river". If that's the case, this re-branding exercise may cost a few bob more, and take a little longer to complete, than Sykes had originally contemplated. Engineering work on the scale necessary to get a river to pass anywhere near to Oldham would be a costly affair, and I doubt the council taxpayers of Oldham have the appetite for more than a new logo and a few fancy street signs.

Personally, I don't know why. they need to bother. Readers of my column will know that I've been around a bit, in my time. Stockport holds no terrors for me. Lately, even the Wirral doesn't scare me. Yet, with a frightening regularity, it is to the grey pavements of Oldham that I have always found myself returning...

However, the promise of a big, fat consultancy fee is always appealing. He who pays the piper, inevitably pays the tune. I'm as happy as the next man, therefore, to throw my hat into the ring. I've already suggested Bluntsville to the powers that be. If that doesn't grab them, I wondered whether they mightn't re-style the town as Newham.

I realise, of course, that this name has already been claimed by a place in London. But, I don't think that should stop them. The good burghers of the London Borough of Newham might do well to think about a name-change, themselves. If they do, I've got a suggestion they might like to consider...

That suggestion's gratis, boys. When you get around to re-branding the towns that have been borrowed and blue - you know where to come.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Doing it My Way

The late, great Wally Green used to say 'the cliche is the last refuge of the scoundrel'. As a young cub reporter on the Stockport Herald, I never fully appreciated his wise words at the time.

It's too easy to dismiss the wisdom of the elderly as just so much piffle. Of course, now that I've reached that point in life where I too am eligible for the substantial discounts on stairlifts offered by adverts in SAGA magazine, I can see the value of listening to the older generation. Theirs is a wisdom born of experience.

Sometimes, however, a cliche is all there is to hold onto. When Frank Sinatra sang that glorious refrain about Love and Marriage going together like a Horse and Carriage, I wonder if he stopped to think how true his words were? Over the last few weeks, I've had more than a little time to contemplate Frank's philosophy of life, as my long marriage to Mrs Blunt has unwound itself and I now find myself single again. Who was the horse, and who the carriage, in our relationship, I've wondered?

I've made a few decisions, too. There's nothing to hold me in Oldham, now, particularly given the rather disappointing performance of the town's so-called football team. The world is my oyster!

Now, late in life, I'm faced with a blank canvas. Young Jasper has suggested a long holiday, somewhere on Caucasus. "Pa," he said, "within a couple of days you'll have picked up a thirty year old blonde and the world will seem a sweeter place."

For once, I'm not taking his advice. My good pal, Tommy Hamburger, has offered to take me off to Bergerac again, and it's an offer I'm seriously considering. A snake has taken up residence in the compost bin there, by all accounts, and a party needs to be dispatched to err... dispatch it.
Any tips on snake killing that my readers may care to share would be most welcome.

Taking views from a wider circle of family and friends, I've decided to move back to the Wirral, where some of my fondest memories were forged during my days at the Birkenhead Beagle, and where Tranmere Rovers are at least putting up a reasonably decent fist of trying to make it into the Premier League.

I must admit I'm growing fonder, too, of my own company. Mrs Blunt's departure from the marital home has brought with it a more relaxed regime at Blunt Mansions. The constant drone of television has been stilled, and in its place the soothing tones of BBC Radio 3 and 4 have formed a more harmonious backdrop to my life. I've realised, too, that my endless hours spent trawling the internet was actually an escape from the reality of life with a woman whose idea of entertainment was to watch endless re-runs of The High Chaparral, The Waltons and Last of The Summer Wine, so that my life had come to feel like one long (and painful) Sunday afternoon.

So, as a new chapter in my life beckons, I leave you with this thought. It is better to have loved and lost - particularly if your wife was a High Chaparral fan.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Apologies Are Due

It's a brave man who accuses Bill Blunt of ducking out of things. Nevertheless, my apologies are due to those of my readers who have missed my curiously insightful take on the world these past few days. I could line up a thousand and one reasons why I've not been able to post to my blog of late, but suffice it to say that lack of internet access is proving the greatest disability.

At the same time, it has allowed me to spend more time re-familiarising myself with the classic works of literature that line my library. I've never been much one for television, so spending time on the internet reading the many wonderful blogs out there has been a welcome diversion for many months now. I can't pretend I don't miss it. However, I'm starting to learn that it's important to have a balanced life, and not to squirrel myself away at the PC all the time.

My voice, however, has not been stilled. It is merely resting. I'll be back soon - bigger and bolder than ever!

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Bill Blunt's Guide to Wetherspoons: No 2: Birkenhead: The Brass Balance

After the acclaim which was accorded my first entry into the Bill Blunt Wetherspoon Guide, it's time, I think, to crack on with the second entry. Having settled on The John Laird as my starting point, it makes sense to review its Birkenhead younger brother,
The Brass Balance.

Nestling in a busy street off Birkenhead's rather beautiful Hamilton Square, The Brass Balance offers a (slightly) more up-market environment for the discerning Birkenhead drinker and diner. Named after its former role as the factory of W&T Avery, the scales manufacturers who occupied the site from the early 1900's until the Second World War (although it has had a few incarnations since then - including an Italian restaurant) the Brass Balance is a large pub with a beer garden to the rear to satisfy those individuals (such as Mrs Blunt) who like to pollute the environment with their foul-smelling cheroots.

The menu of food on offer is err... exactly the same as you'll find in any other Wetherspoons. The breakfast is again a good value option, available until 12 noon for just £2.10. The staff seem friendly enough - though perhaps a little more reserved than their counterparts across town.

Old pictures of Birkenhead decorate the walls, as do historical snippets on the town's great and good citizens. Little wonder that my old friend, Tommy Hamburger, was driven to make The Brass Balance the spiritual home of his fictional creation, Harry McFry, who had a bit of a bent for history himself.

The wi-fi access hasn't always been as reliable as it might be, but today (thankfully) it's top-notch. And so, to the scores...

Decor: 8/10
Food Quality: 8/10
Value for money: 9/10
Location: 8/10
Wifi Access: 9/10

Friday, 24 August 2007

East of Ipswich

When people read of the breakdown of my marriage, it wouldn’t be difficult for them to assume that another woman was involved, somewhere along the line. It’s a mistake anyone might make. As one of the leading newspaper columnists of my generation, I won’t pretend I haven’t had to fight off the attentions of a fair number of ‘groupies’ in my time. The very prospect of being pictured on my arm, leaving The Conti Club in Manchester, has enticed many a siren to her doom.

But I have always managed, somehow, to stay faithful to Mrs Blunt. Not for me the easy liaison with a blonde bimbo. I’ll leave that to any number of Greater Manchester football managers I could (and someday will) name. However, the cosy reality of my life has been shattered. Yesterday, I heard that my good wife has forsaken me, and fallen for the charms of a fishmonger from Ipswich.

I wouldn’t like to give the impression that I’m gutted (no pun intended) by the news. Avid readers of my blog will know that I have, for sometime, suspected that things between Mrs B and I have not been as convivial as they should have been. So, the fact that a haddock salesman had slid his way into the affections of my wife is not as distressing as it might be. From what my solicitor tells me, this fishy love affair has potentially saved me many thousands of pounds in settlement fees. Not to mention, drastically reducing the Blunt household bill for kippers.

I must admit, I was worried what might happen to the considerable assets that had accumulated during out marriage. The prospect was real that Mrs B could claim that she had been ‘the power behind the throne’. The income from my forthcoming autobiography (‘Fatha, Get The Coals In’ – Lacklustre Press – available shortly from all good booksellers, and one or two that aren’t very good at all) was under threat.

Now, thanks to Tommy Fishfinger from Ipswich, it seems I have been saved that expense. I hope they are very happy together. I hope I’m not too old, or too unattractive, to start my life anew. There are plenty more fish in the sea, Mrs B. And I, for one, don’t mind in the least if they are aren’t scaled and cleaned, before I net them…

Saturday, 18 August 2007

A Tale of Three Holidays

The end of a holiday almost always brings with it a certain wistfulness – a longing for the break from work to continue, of course, and the sadness of good times come to an end. One of the pleasures of holidaying in Frinton is that such feelings rarely pop into mind as you pack your valise to return home.

This year (entirely as predicted) Mrs Blunt and I spent innumerable hours sitting beside each other in our deckchairs, me with my copy of War & Peace, her with her copy of the Racing Post, with barely a word exchanged between us. Wally Green once told me, in a rare period of candour, that the sign of a good relationship between a man and a woman was the ability to endure the interminable silences. Alas, my patience with the silence has come to an end. My first step on Monday will be to instruct a solicitor to prepare my petition for divorce from Mrs Blunt. I know there are many who will be saddened by this news – and it’s not that I don’t appreciate their concern and advice.

I have always, to a degree, been able to put up with the drinking, the gambling and the smoking of foul-smelling cigars. We’ve raised three lovely children who each, in their own way, are talented and creative individuals. But, as I watched Mrs Blunt take to the microphone to perform yet another drunken rendition of “Me And My Sha-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-dow”, I knew it was time I moved on. In fact, that night I determined to cut the holiday short, pleading the need to visit our daughter, Barbara, to help her harvest her bumper crop of lettuce in her allotment.

And so it was, I found myself deserting Frinton, and travelling up the A1 to County Durham. Mrs Blunt seemed happy to stay on, saying she didn’t want to miss out on the ‘lovely kippers’ that the hotel served up for breakfast every morning.

When I arrived at Barbara’s, she was surprised at my decision - but supportive, nonetheless. I hadn’t realised her brother Jasper had also been roped in to help with the harvest, too, and was staying with her a few days after his own holiday in the South of France. Before we set to on the allotment, I suggested we have a few hours on the nearest beach, which happened to be Seaton Carew. Barbara is a frequent visitor there, as it’s just a tad over 10 miles from where she lives.

It’s an interesting place – a little run down, but it’s had a few million Euros invested courtesy of Brussels over the last few years, so it does at least now have a presentable prom. The vast expanse of sand is clean, even if the distant views of the North Yorkshire coast is partly obscured by the chemical works on the Tees estuary.

For Jasper, the contrast between his recent holiday and the north east of England was too much, at first.
“Pa,” he said (with a scowl on his face), “it’s hardly Juan Les Pins.” But, by the time he’d gone for a dip in the North Sea, he had changed his view. The sea, he said, was cleaner than the Med, and he reflected on the thin strip of shingle and pebbles that forms the beach where he’d been staying, and realised that, at the end of the day, you couldn’t beat a good, ‘proper’, sandy English beach.

“Of course, the eye candy’s a bit better down there,” he said, somewhat ruefully, as he tucked into his Mr Whippy.

As we sat on our deckchairs watching the youngsters build sandcastles, we debated the issue further. Barbara felt you couldn’t beat a decent English beach. Jasper thought that was true, but you couldn’t rely on the weather. The consensus was that global warming, once it had settled down a bit, might help.

My own view – jaded by years of holidays at Frinton – was that we needed to develop our coastal resorts a little more. Our tastes, as a nation, have become more sophisticated. With a little imagination, Hartlepool Borough Council (the custodians of Seaton Carew) might even think of installing a few barbecues, or setting up a continental market along the promenade to attract people to the area. A few restaurants serving up something other than fish and chips, and they would have cracked it.

I’ve still to hear how Thomas Hamburger has fared in his cottage in Scotland. You can get some good weather up on the West coast there at this time of year. I hope it hasn’t distracted him too much from penning the final chapters of Harry McFry.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Time to put the Pigeons among the Cats...

Early in my days in the world of blogs, I was advised by Jasper that, if I wanted to drive traffic to my site, I should include a few pictures of cats.

“Pa,” he said, “I’ve been studying all these blogs in some detail – and there’s definitely a lot of interest in photos of cats just being sort of ‘cute’.”

Well, I’m not one who easily turns his back on the advice of his son, especially one as versed in the ways of the internet as Jasper so clearly is. At the same time, I can’t pretend I’m a great lover of cute cat and kitten pictures. Whilst on holiday, I was wracking my brains to see if I couldn’t come up with a new fix on the whole cat photo thing. And I think I’ve cracked it.

My regular readers may know that I spent part of my career as the editor of Pigeon Fancier Weekly. It’s an august publication, which over its 110 years of publication has always looked to be at the cutting edge of the world of pigeon fancying, and I was proud of my contribution as editor.

It’s easy to dismiss those who love pigeons as some sort of cranks. But that would be to miss out on one important aspect of the whole business. Pigeons are actually quite fanciable.

And what could be finer than to know you can release a bird, sometimes hundreds of miles from its home, and know it will use all its skill and judgement to navigate back to you, come rain, hail or shine?

And so, a new irregular Bill Blunt feature is born: Pigeon of the Month. I’m kicking off the feature with a photo taken of the triple north west champion ‘Lovely Gal’, who is owned by my good friend and drinking companion, Eddie Stubbs. Eddie has owned her for almost four years, and has lavished such love and attention on her that she’s risen to great heights in the pigeon world.

She may not be furry. She may not chase, stupidly, after balls of wool. But she’s living testimony to a passion and a desire that few outside the world of pigeon fancying really ever understand.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Oh, bugger!

Just as I was packing ready for the Blunt's annual trip to Frinton, I learn that the good people over at have scheduled my blog for one of their much-feared 'assessments'.

Having read how they work, I see that they look primarily for quality content ... a nice layout ... frequent postings. Hmmm - that means I'll fall at every hurdle, particularly since I doubt I'll be able to post anything while I'm sunning myself in the East Coast's answer to Juan-Les-Pins.

Timing, as Groucho Marx was always fond of saying, is the secret of good comedy.

Well, as my readers know all too well, I'm not one to cravenly seek awards or flattery from my peers. I've been around the block enough times to know that these things aren't important in life.

I hope, then, that the fact that I have pre-ordered Antisocial Commentary: From the Secret Files of the Mattress Police at the ludicrously low, give-away price of just $9.95 (with FREE post and packing, to boot) isn't misread as some cheap attempt to influence the judging panel in my absence.

I'm not so shallow as to worry in the slightest what others think of my writing. It's enough to know that my distinctive voice, quieted for so many years since I retired from full-time journalism, is being heard again.

The Beagle's still barking for you!

Bill Blunt

Addendum: In my absence, you are invited to continue Fuelling My Blog. Not that I'm bothered, you understand, if you don't.

I'm a celebrity look-a-likey: get out of here!

In an age which celebrates celebrity, it's always comforting to think that, as you wander down the shop to buy your paper, there's always the chance you might be mistaken for someone famous.

Sometimes, it's the only thing that gets me out of the house, and was the reason I invested in a decent fountain pen a couple of years ago.

Those seeking re-assurance that they have that 'certain something' could do worse than visit (as I recently did) to discover precisely who they resemble.

In choosing which photo of myself to upload, I chanced upon a snap taken from my days at the Stockport Herald. Wally Green was fond of using it atop my regular column, and I must confess it always led to a flurry of correspondence from ladies of a certain age. Looking back, that may have been the start of Mrs Blunt's insane jealousy, which has bedevilled our marriage ever since.

Of course, the process is hardly scientific. But it does go some way to explain why I was once beset upon by a horde of hippies who seemed a little high on something, all yelling "Tommy!" and demanding to be told the true story of Keith Moon.

And, why I was so popular on my holiday to the Nile delta in 1972, when taxi drivers were positively falling over themselves to offer me a seat in their cab...

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Frinton, Bloody Frinton!

I can’t be sure when Mrs Blunt and I first started holidaying at Frinton-on-Sea. I know, at the time, that there were no pubs at all in the place, and it was only the hotel bars that sustained us.

The Lock & Barrel didn’t open until the year 2000, and only then after stiff opposition from the locals. They like to think they’re a cut above, the people of Frinton. They describe one of their main shopping streets (Connaught Avenue) as ‘The Bond Street of East Anglia’. Hah!

This will be a difficult holiday, I imagine. I sense storm clouds looming over our marriage, and fear we may be heading for the rocks in the not too distant future. Over the last 12 months, we’ve come to realize we want different things from life: Mrs Blunt, with her new-found love of karaoke and bizarre fetish for kippers, is a changed woman. For my own part, I’m starting to wonder whether there might be more to life than Frinton.

It looks like we’ll be too late to pop down to see the stranded bottlenose whale in the nearby River Orwell. The local newspaper website has milked the story for all it’s worth, including this report filed by an eager staffer at 6.21 am this morning.

The journalist's remarkable prescience was rewarded shortly afterwards, when the website flashed up a new story (timed at 7.53 am), when the poor beast was put out of it's misery. One thing less to do while we're in Frinton, then, and a bit of a shame, as I believe it was a bit of a crowd-puller. There's nothing like watching an animal suffer to draw in the spectators, I suppose.

We'll have to content ourselves with the Frinton Summer Theatre. Alas, we’ll be too late to catch that fine murder mystery, Gaslight, which has entertained audiences for many years. It finishes tonight, to be replaced by Neil Simon’s Chapter Two, which I’m not familiar with, but which (the font of all Frinton wisdom) summarises thus: “Comic misunderstandings lead two to happiness!”

Time alone will tell whether a couple of weeks on the 'long clean greensward' of Frinton is capable of serving up the level of comedic misunderstanding needed to set Mrs B and I back on a path to marital happiness...

Friday, 27 July 2007


The revelation that certain NASA astronauts have been caught ‘drunk on the job’ comes as no surprise to those of us who have closely watched the space race between the USA and the former USSR over the last 50 years.

It takes a certain courage to willingly strap yourself into half a ton of metal and be hurtled up into the bleak nothingness of space. And I don’t think it’s such a great secret that much of this courage is the Dutch variety.

In an age when some people seem to need a few swigs of whisky just to run a minor political party, should we be surprised that someone exposing themselves to the pressures of space travel might need the odd drink or two?

We shouldn’t be overly critical. Just lately, I find I need at least a couple of beers before I can be cajoled upstairs to nestle into the (admittedly ample) bosom of Mrs Blunt, so heaven knows how many crates of Budweiser I’d need before I could be persuaded to travel higher than 20,000 feet.

The Russians started it, of course. They established early on that a few vodkas didn’t get in the way of successful space flight, just as their initial experiment with sending a dog into space was designed to prove that it was possible to smoke up there. The plucky cosmonauts (Yuri Gagarin, in particular) had put their foot down, and refused to contemplate being rocketed into the ionosphere unless their nerves could be calmed by a few cigarettes during the process.

That’s why, when the Americans docked with the Russian space station, Mir, in 1997, they were alarmed to find the place awash with empty fag packets and vodka bottles, the whole place little more than a revolving, 120-ton garbage can by this stage. In the fine spirit of détente, they soon found themselves relaxing with their Soviet colleagues, even if their Cosmos cigarettes (famously advertised by Gagarin as 'The best in the Universe!') were a little harsh to their taste. Little wonder that there were reports of 'a small fire' and a 'collision with an unmanned spacecraft' during the American stay on Mir.

But no great harm came of it, at the end of the day.

So, let’s back off from criticising the brave lads and lasses who traverse the universe on our behalf, and salute them – or ‘Salut!’ as they say in Spain. They're as entitled to a good drink and a drag on a cigarette as anybody else.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Now there's a mystery...

Young Justin couldn't wait to tell me the outcome of his latest analysis of my stats. This time, he turned his attention to Fuel My Blog, where my blog appears to have been making a significant advance up their Top 100 Rankings.

His news was mixed, however. On the one hand, he noted that I had now entered the Top 20, and occupy the No 16 spot. On the other, when he unpicked the figures further he found an alarming mystery...

"Pa," he said (in what might be construed by someone who didn't know him as a rather snide way) "you won't believe this - but you get more votes on the days you don't post than on those you do."

I didn't believe him, of course, until he showed me the closely-tabulated report he'd prepared. And it seems it's true. My distinctive voice garners more support when it is quiet.

I'm not sure what lessons to draw from this exercise, except that my readers must prefer quality to quantity.

Anyway, I'm very grateful to the bods over at Fuel My Blog for making sure that I was randomly selected to receive an Amazon Gift Voucher after I entered their recent survey competition. Just as I'm grateful for every one of you who has assiduously voted for my blog, propelling it up the rankings at such a pace.

Kevin Dixie, who is one part of the dynamic team who run FMB, is scratching his head at the moment trying to come up with a fair way of assessing the popularity of blogs.

He's currently running a poll, which you might wish to participate in (after you've voted for Bill, if you are so inclined). Unlike my good friend, Tommy Hamburger, I have never been a man who preened and flattered himself, or sought to ingratiate myself with my blog readers in a craven attempt to court popularity. I leave that to the so-called 'authors' of this world. I'm just a simple hack journalist, carving out my own niche in the blogosphere. Where I am rapidly learning that less, for once, is more.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

The Collectors

It's a peculiarity of the English that we like to collect things. Of course, it's not confined to us, but there's something about our psyche that means we take easily to assembling - often in huge quantity - stamps (and call ourselves philatelists) or useless lists of train numbers (and are called, by others, 'sad').

I was reminded of this during my research for the Wetherspoon Guide Book. Falling easily into conversation with what I took to be a 'regular' in The John Laird, I soon discovered that I had encountered that rare phenomenon, the Wetherspoon Collector.

Readers might well be aware of my professed love of this pub chain. But I have always kept myself 'this side of the line', resisting the urge to collect their hostelries, as if they were a beermat, or a Dinky car.

Not so, Alan Mason. When I met Alan, he was enjoying a pint as he perused his guide book, listing the 600+ Wetherspoon outlets in the UK, plotting his next conquest. He'd travelled from Byker, in Newcastle, and was staying near Formby, just up the coast from the Wirral. When I quizzed him about his hobby, he admitted that he didn't rank the pubs in any sense - it was enough to be able to say that he had visited them. And so, he crossed them off his list, one by one. He didn't even have a favourite, as if that would be invidious.

He combined his hunt for Wetherspoons with the collection of football badges which he made en route, killing two birds with one stone. He was also, it transpired, a trainspotter, so his journey across the land in pursuit of football badges and Wetherspoons was always done by train.

What possessed a man to collect things in such a way, I wondered, and couldn't resist the urge to ask him. "Ah diven't knaa," he said (which, loosely translated, meant that he wasn't entirely sure). He'd been a collector of one thing or another most of his life, and now that he had lost his job he had the time, and the strange inclination, to develop his collections more systematically.

You have to admire the dedication - the sheer, unmitigated obsession - that would take a man to the far ends of the kingdom in the ruthless desire to tick a guide book, pick up a piece of cheap enamel and note down the number attached to a railway train.

And so, wherever you are (most probably having a pint in a pub near Blackpool FC's ground - and I'll leave it to you to guess the name of the pub) I salute you, Alan Mason. Without you, the world would be a slightly duller place.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

No Tags in August, Thank You

Call me a curmudgeon, but I've decided I need a month free from Tags. There's a lot to commend the process of tagging, but the prospect of a summer (when it arrives) spent creating a litany of my favourite music tracks, things people don't know about me, my top five Wetherspoon pubs or anything remotely similar fills me with dread.

So, I've declared my adherence to Tag Free August. It's a new campaign, brought to you as a public service (at no charge).

Before then, of course, I've a few loose tags I need to pick up, courtesy of those fine Bloggers, Archie and Shinade. I hope to get around to these very shortly.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Bill Blunt's Guide to Wetherspoons: No 1: Birkenhead: The John Laird


Following recent requests from my loyal readers, I have decided to launch the Bill Blunt Guide to Wetherspoons.

This occasional series will chart my own personal view of this pub chain. It already ranks quite high in my esteem in general terms, since it offers its customers free wi-fi access. This has often been a life-saver to old Bill, as I zig-zag across the country in search of all the news that isn't news, to keep my readers happy.

I must confess you don't see many Wetherspoon regulars using their laptop while having a drink. But I'm sure it's only a matter of time.

I'm kicking off my guide with a pub that I came to know well when I worked on the Birkenhead Beagle: The John Laird. Birkenhead is blessed with two Wetherspoon pubs, and I'll be covering the The Brass Balance at a later date.

The John Laird
takes it's name from the shipping magnate who helped make Birkenhead the thriving industrial centre it once was. It's located just behind the rather ugly shopping centre that dominates the town centre. Wetherspoons practices differential pricing in it's establishments - and The John Laird is most definitely one of the cheaper places in their chain.

It's not one of the biggest Wetherspoon's you'll ever go in, and it's clients are most decidedly among the more hardened drinkers of Britain. It's not unusual to see half a dozen elderly men taking a pint or two at breakfast.

The place is still suffering from the pre-smoking ban days, but a lick of paint will no doubt freshen up the decor a little.

But it's an honest enough place, with plenty of characters to meet. The staff are some of the friendliest you'll find in a pub, and they're equally happy serving Bill his 79p cappucino as they are the regulars with their pints of Marston's Pedigree at £1.39.

Wetherspoons keeps its prices low by fast rotation of stock. As a rule, you'll find a wide range of regional, guest ales, too.

The full English breakfast costs just £2.10 - a bargain, in anyone's language. Don't expect haute cuisine - but what you'll get will be well-enough executed, and pretty healthy for a cooked breakfast, with the preference being for grilling, rather than frying.

I've never had a problem accessing the wifi signal from this site (would that this were true in every Wetherspoons).

And so, to the score:

Decor: 7/10
Food Quality: 9/10
Value for money: 9/10
Location: 5/10
Wifi Access: 10/10

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Don't Laugh At Me

When I gingerly first set foot in the world of blogs, my friends all laughed when I told them I wanted to add a humorous bent to the otherwise serious world of news. Well, they're not laughing now...

To any doubting Thomas who didn't believe I'd find an audience, facts speak louder than words. It shouldn't be long before I'm welcoming my 6,000th visitor to the blog, and these same visitors have made almost 10,000 'pageloads'. That 6,000th visitor will be as welcome as the first one was. My own distinctive voice (free from all thought of ego and pride) is destined to find a comfortable home on the internet, and will not easily be quieted.

Thank you, readers - new and old. You've made an old man very happy.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Local is as Local does...

Never a one to miss out on an opportunity, I decided to stay on at Barbara’s for a few days to cover the parliamentary by-election currently taking place at Sedgefield. The prospect of a few extra quid to eke out my pension by ‘stringing’ for one of the nationals is not one to be sniffed at.

I’d like to say that the constituency is beset with by-election fever. But that would be to overstate the case by, err… quite some distance. You’ll see the odd poster in windows here and there, of course. And the big guns have been wheeled out, including the ever fragrant and Right Honourable Harriet Harman, MP, who is apparently now ‘Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and Minister for Women in Chilton’, at least according to the Labour Party’s own account of the visit. Chilton, from what I can gather, is an interesting enough place, although I’m perplexed as to why the women there deserve their own minister.

Of rather more interest is the description that Labour is keen to attach to their candidate, Phil Wilson – ‘Labour’s Local Man’. This is in an attempt, I gather, to distinguish him from the male candidates for other parties who are not local. The Labour Party literature makes a point of calling the Lib Dem candidate a ‘Newcastle reject’. It’s poor stuff, so far as propaganda goes.

In fact, it might only serve to remind the voters of Sedgefield that they have just lost their less-than-local MP, Tony Blair. I don’t recall Labour making a big issue about the localness of our Tony, when he was selected.

Well, it will all come out in the wash on Thursday, when the voters go to the polls. A reduction in the Labour vote is almost inevitable. But at least local-born Phil Wilson should find himself with a seat in Parliament on Friday morning. Let’s hope he doesn’t find himself out of place in the big smoke. He should be OK, though – Labour’s ‘local man’ has been working as a ‘consultant’ there for some time, from what I hear.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Durham Big Meeting 2007

There was always a certain inevitability that I would find myself attending the 123rd Durham Miners' Gala today (that's 'gay-la', by the way, not 'ga-la': it pays to get the pronunciation right when you're in this neck of the woods).

After waxing lyrical on the exhibition of paintings and photographs at Bishop Auckland Town Hall, my daughter Barbara had insisted it was only right that I make the journey north to sample the 'real thing'. I'm glad I did.

The people of Durham are a sociable lot, who have never let the fact there are no longer any mines in the county stand in their way of enjoying their annual 'Big Meeting'. The event has, instead, become a celebration of the heritage of the Durham Coalfield, of which local people are justifiably proud. There's a certain sadness attached to the nostalgia: the closure of the coal mines brought tremendous social dislocation, unemployment and community upheaval to the area.

And yet, the resilient north-easterners have bounced back. It's not a bad place to live, by all accounts, and Barbara seems to have settled there well. Today was a chance to sample all that is good about the sense of community: families enjoying themselves on a day out, having a picnic on the racecourse, or watching the seemingly endless parade of banners and brass bands; meeting old friends and acquaintances or simply wandering the streets and enjoying sun and the music.

A previous British Prime Minister tried to tell us there was 'no such thing as society' by which, so many commentators told us, Margaret Thatcher meant 'community'. I'm glad to say she was wrong then, and she'd be wrong now. Community may have disappeared in whole swathes of our land, but it can still be found, alive and kicking, if you look for it.

Listening to Thornley Colliery Band playing the miner's anthem, Gresford, fair brought a tear to my eye. It's as well that we are reminded, occasionally, of the price that has been paid for our communities, however fragile they may now be.


Wednesday, 11 July 2007

All Bets Are Off

Early days for the Brown premiership, but I am already liking what I see.

The Blairite obsession with opening up gambling in the UK was always one I found disturbing. There was never any evidence, of course, but the suspicion was always there that money might have passed hands between US casino giants and politicians, or their stooges, to help sweeten the process.

The news today that Brown has turned his back on the deal to open up US-style super-casinos here in Britain has got to be good. I never bought that specious argument about how they'd bring growth, jobs and prosperity to our run-down inner-city areas. More likely, they'd bring in their train a focus for criminals, greater indebtedness and increased gambling addiction to areas of our country that need that like a hole in the head.

Hats off, then, to the new PM. Keep going as you are, and you may even tempt old Bill to vote Labour.

The Sweet Taste of Success

My old pal Ken Worthington is feeling cock-a-hoop just now. And who can blame him? It's a long time since he savoured the sweet taste of success, but one of his clients has made it into the UK Top 100 with a hit single!

Ken's laboured long and hard to ensure that John Shuttleworth, a former security guard in Rotherham best known for his homely Radio 4 programme 'The Shuttleworths', has finally hit the big time.

Ken's feeling well-pleased that John has, whether by accident or design, nudged his way into the charts. But it doesn't have to stop there. John's single could go yet higher still - here's a taste of what is available on the 4 Tasty Tracks EP:

As Ken couldn't resist putting it in a recent e-mail to me "NUMBER ONE HERE WE COME!!!! WHEY HEY HEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Well done, John - and well done, Ken!

Monday, 9 July 2007

From Father To Son

I have been reviewing my most recent posts, and I am worried that readers may have formed the impression that I give more of my fatherly attentions to young Jasper Blunt than I do to his siblings, Barbara and Justin.

It's true - Jasper is the bright one of the bunch, always coming up with interesting ideas and theories as to how we might further progress our journey in blogland. He assures me that my debut here has gone well enough, and that's good enough justification for the time and energy I expend.

But I would not like you to think I am on bad terms with the other two. Barbara is the artistic one - a trait, I like to think, she gets from her father. Since leaving art college, she's done well for her self, although her taste in avant-garde video and collage does not appeal to everyone.

Justin is another matter. At the tender age of 42, he is still very much a home-bird, spending more hours than is good for him cooped up in his room, trawling the internet or reading those magazines which he thinks are well-hidden from Mrs Blunt's prying eyes.

Jasper thinks he needs to 'get a life' and, certainly, I can't help thinking it's about time he flew the nest. It's possible I need to give him a good talking to, or at least point him in the direction of those sites that advertise ladies from Russia in want of a husband.

In the meantime, I'll make do with offering him some fatherly advice, I think, of the kind so well captured by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, in this excerpt from their '60's classic, Not Only But Also. That might do the trick.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Shoe-ly Not!

I am sure that readers of my blog will be as surprised as I was to learn that there are people in the world who spend their time worrying about Tony Blair's shoe size.

I only know this because of assiduous work by young Jasper Blunt, who has tonight furnished me with his latest report on how my blog is faring in attracting readers.

It makes intriguing reading, I can tell you. Fully 25 % of recent readers stopped by when they searched for information about Durham Miners' Gala. That's fair enough - and, I imagine, one or two more may drop by before next Saturday's 'Big Meeting', as it is euphemistically called.

I'm not sure what to make of the French visitors who were using the power of Google to discover what they could about 'enemas blunt' - and I, for one (on a Sunday night, at least) wouldn't want to pry much further.

It's certainly been a while since the Walthamstow Dog Track Statistics people popped by, however, even if my expertise on the Prolectrix MP3 Player continues to be recognised the world over.

Jasper still seems to think it's something to do with how my posts are being labelled by Tommy Hamburger - so I'll have to have words with him when I next see him. Personally, I just think it's a case of 'talent will out'. I can't, though, pretend I'm not flattered to be the first port of call for people curious about our ex-Prime Minister's shoe size. Who wouldn't be?