Saturday, 30 June 2007

Don't Ask Deidre...Ask Bill!

Life as a provincial journalist isn't all exciting interviews, scoops and front page headlines, as my acquaintance Ian Green will no doubt attest. The pressures of reduced staffing often mean that even a seasoned hack is called upon to undertake duties that might otherwise seem beneath them.

That's how I found myself pulled, at the last moment, to cover for the Birkenhead Beagle's resident agony aunt, Deidre Moffat. For over thirty years, Deidre was a mainstay of the Beagle, always ready to offer advice and 'a shoulder to cry on' to the teenage mothers of Bidston, the recovering alcoholics of Prenton and the confused homosexual bank managers of Oxton.

When, after a particularly heavy night on the Guinness, she failed to show up at the office, the then Editor, Benny Anderton, asked me to 'ghost' her column, I can't pretend I was entirely delighted. When he reminded me that I hadn't turned in my Court Report that week, however, I was shamed into stepping into Deidre's (famously size 8) shoes.

Never again. As I leafed through the pathetic pile of correspondence that had arrived in the woman's in-tray that week, I said a silent prayer of thanks to the Almighty that I had hitherto been spared such insights into the emotional traumas of the Wirral's residents.

As a professional, I nevertheless tried to muster a little enthusiasm for the task in hand, but there are only so many times you can write 'Pull yourself together, woman!' and 'Get a life, you sad individual!' before your concentration wanes.

It's a brave man who accuses Bill Blunt of a lack of empathy. I'll stand shoulder to shoulder with the unrequited lover, the man who has just discovered his wife in bed with his sister, the dipsomaniac who has lost his job as a forklift truck driver after one too many mornings on the Woodpecker. But not when they're the same person.

At least Benny Anderton never asked me to cover for Deidre again, and I'd wager that the management at the Beagle felt the £3,000 they subsequently spent on residential treatment for the Wirral's favourite agony aunt was possibly the best investment they ever made.

Not In Front Of The Children

Not for the first time, and probably not for the last, a posting over at Sugar Queen Dreams made me think. How could I find out if my blog was suitable reading for people of all ages?

As usual, it was young Jasper Blunt who came to the rescue. "Pa," he said, "you need to take the Cinema Test, which rates your blog content just as if it were a movie."

Well, having put my 'URL' to the test, it seems that Bill Blunt is not deemed suitable for children,at least not without some guidance from their parents...

This, apparently, because I mentioned the words 'death' and 'stab'.

My regular reader (and I know who you are) will doubtless be surprised, as you will be aware that this is not a place that encourages people to take knives to their enemies. And the thought that I must offer guidance to my children (who are all now in their late 30's or early 40's), before they dip into their father's writings, is not one that sits easily with me.

I must admit, I am careful with my language. I try to stay true to the maxim of my old colleague from the Birkenhead Beagle, Johnny Mercer, who famously said: 'There's no need for profanity when you can dazzle them with inanity'.

It's a brave man who calls Bill Blunt a prude, however. There are times and places when euphemism isn't enough, where only a carefully-chosen swear word will fit the bill. I won't easily sacrifice my PG rating, however, now that I've got it.

On the subject of profanity, however, I am aware that some readers have a more relaxed attitude than Bill does to the use of bad language. Such readers may enjoy this pastiche of the popular children's animation, Postman Pat, re-worked for an adult audience, which attempts to re-locate the beloved postie to a suburb in Middlesbrough.

But, please, don't press that 'Play' button unless you're prepared for more than a few shocking words...

Friday, 29 June 2007

8 Things About Me (Part 2)

I have been giving some thought to how I might best elaborate on the 8 Things You Didn't Know About Bill Blunt - particularly since some readers suspected I was hiding something.

I'll return to this theme in due course, perhaps starting with how I came so close to being banned from the USA. I don't wish to give too much away, but let's just say that an historic plaque was involved in the story, somewhere along the line...

I've returned to this theme because you may recall that I only fingered four blogs of the 8 I was required to find to continue what Justin tells me is a meme. I've now identified the other four, so here goes:

Anyone who can get a much-coveted 'R'-rating for their blog is deserving of another look. My Pal Tommy Hamburger made the faux-pas of imagining that the blog was authored by a man! After getting over his acute embarrassment, he sent me the link to Fracas' blog, and I have dipped into her pages regularly since then.
I know she saves up her tags for rainy days (and, for all I know, she may well already have revealed 8 things about herself, but she seems the kind of complex individual who would have 8 more up her sleeve, somewhere). If she lives in Doncaster, we may well read of these sooner rather than later...

Next up, a blog which would get my vote for a Thinking Blogger Award, if anyone ever had the courtesy to allow me to choose candidates for one (again). Vahe Balabanian is an Armenian living in Canada. His Hyelog blog is a window on a country we know little about in the West where, apparently, the top 10% of the population controls 40% of the wealth (making it, paradoxically, perhaps more equal than the UK, where we were always told the top 7% owned 84%). I can't be sure whether he's one of life's natural taggers, but he lists among his favourite books War & Peace by Tolstoy, and has an interest in genetics. It would be fascinating to learn more about the person behind the blog.

My next nomination comes with some trepidation. Unica and Fiona wield an enormous power behind their blog, and manage to hold down day jobs, too! They give up a deal of their time to freely assessing blogs. My trepidation arises because I note that my own humble offering is listed for a berating in the near future. I, for one, would like to know what makes these girls tick, and am hoping that their 8 'things' will give me more of an insight into their characters.

Finally, wouldn't you like to know 8 things about Kevin and Sylvie Dixie that you didn't know? Kevin and Sylvie are key parts of the team who make up Fuel My Blog, which has it's own Blog. In a remarkably short time, FMB has become a 'one-stop-shop' where you can be guaranteed to find a range of blogs that have been categorised to let you dip easily into them. It's no mean achievement, and we must doff our caps to Kevin et al for their work over the last few months. Those 8 things will be pretty interesting, I'm sure!

A reminder of the Tag Rules
, for the 4 blogs listed above...

One: Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves. Two: People who are tagged need to write their own blog entry about their eight things and post these rules. Three: at the end of your entry, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names/pseudonyms/blogs. Four: Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Bill's First Big Up

Old Wally Green used to say 'Give a wide berth to any journalist who doesn't offer round their Players'. He little knew it, but his sage advice was to stand me in good stead in my subsequent career.

In those days, everybody smoked, of course. We hadn't quite reached the stage of countries like France and Spain, where it seemed to be almost compulsory, but we did our best. Helped along by seductive advertising, we may have been low in the league of European smoking addicts, but we held our own. As plucky British smokers, we always felt our brands were more distinctively superior to those of our neighbours over the Channel. Our Park Lane, our Mayfair and our Embassy led us to believe we wandered the exclusive parts of London every time we lit up.

Wally's wise words meant that it became easy to spot the tight-wad, the colleague who slyly pulled out a cigarette without giving a thought to handing them around. They, inevitably, were the ones who held onto their stories for dear life, never sharing a word of them for fear of losing a scoop.

Well, times have changed. I like to think that we've all become a little more generous now. With just two days left before the UK government implements its ban on smoking in public places, I was struck by a posting made by Sugar Queen, whose blog I stumbled on thanks to Fuel My Blog, which can always be relied upon to uncover a hidden gem.

It's a powerful piece, written from the heart, and I urge you to read it and share it with others.
It's inspired me to join my pal Tommy Hamburger, who has already publicly avowed that he intends to quit the evil weed.

And, it's earned Sugar Queen's Dream Bill Blunt's 1st Big Up! Should she wish to display the widget on her site, all she has to do is contact me, and I'll send her the necessary, courtesy of my son, Jasper, who knows a thing or two about that kind of thing.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

For the sake of humanity, your help is needed!

Those who have followed the news of the mounting chaos and misery in South Yorkshire, as relentless rain has brought in its train flooding of almost epic proportions, will doubtless wish to consider how they can help the unfortunate victims.

My pal on the Doncaster Free Press, Reggie Mackeson, recently e-mailed me with an up-date on the current situation - which is bleak.

Here's what he had to say:


A major flood hit on Monday evening, with the main damage occuring in
Bentley & Tollbar, England.

The town's 35,000 racing pigeons were pressed into action, swiftly taking news of the disaster as far afield as Hull and Keighley, as victims were seen wandering around the streets, aimlessly muttering "chuffinnorah".

Some estimates put the damage caused as high as £45, with several priceless collections of mementos from the Balearic Isles and the Spanish Costa's damaged beyond repair. Three areas of historic burnt out cars were destroyed as the waters rose.

Many locals were woken well before their Giro arrived. The local radio station
Trax reported that hundreds of residents were confused and bewildered,still trying to come to terms with the fact that something interesting had happened in Bentley & Tollbar. One such resident, 15 year old mother of 3, Tracy Sharon of Daw Lane was quoted as follows: "It was such a shock! My little Chardonnay-Madonna came running into my bedroom crying. The twins, Tyler-Morgan and Megan-Storm slept through it all. I was still shaking when I was watching Jeremy Kyle the next morning". Locals seemed determined not to be bowed, however, as looting, muggings and car crime carried on much as normal.

So far, the British Red Cross has managed to ship 4000 crates of Sunny Delight to the area to relieve the suffering of stricken locals, while rescue workers searching through the rubble have found large quantities of personal belongings, including benefit books, jewellery from Elizabeth Duke at Argos, and bone china from Pound-stretcher.

Can You Help?

Please respond generously to our appeal for food and clothing for the victims of this disaster.

Clothing is needed most of all, especially:
· Fila or Burberry baseball caps
· Kappa tracksuit tops (his or hers)
· Shell suits (female)
· White sports socks
· Rockfort boots or any other product sold in Primark

Culturally sensitive food parcels are harder to put together, but your efforts can make a real difference.

Microwave meals, tinned baked beans, ice-cream and cans of Colt 45 or Special Brew are ideal.

Please do not give anything that requires peeling.


Just 22p buys a biro for filling in compensation claims

£2 buys chips, crisps and a blue fizzy drink for a family of 9

£5 will pay for a packet of B&H and a lighter to calm a child's nerves

Urgently required: Tinned whippet food. Bones for Jack Russell Terriers

Please do not send tents for shelter, as such luxurious accommodation may lead
residents to believe they have been forcibly relocated to Doncaster.

There will be those who consider that, in an era of compassion fatigue, this is just 'another disaster'. For the people of Bentley and Tollbar, however, the situation is dire.

If it wasn't for the natural propensity of Yorkshire fowk to be able to laugh at themselves and their misfortune (honed under subsequent Conservative Governments since the 1930's), I am sure that the situation would be intolerable.

A New Day Dawns

It's not often that we awake, in the UK, to a new Prime Minister running our country. In the last 25 years, it's happened only 3 times, after all (and that's including today!). So, the occasion should give us pause to reflect, perhaps, on what the future might hold under Gordon Brown.

There are those who would dismiss Bill Blunt as someone who skips lightly across the pond of life, and ducks the hard political issues. Not so. I'm as much at ease discussing the future prospects for the nation as I am the Eurovision Song Contest. Anyone who takes even a cursory glance at the list of topics covered by my blog will see that I cast my net widely.

And so, what of this Brownian future?

Expect a big announcement on something major, soon. Just as he stunned the world by handing over responsibility for setting interest rates to the Bank of England on his first day as Chancellor, so he'll want to stamp his mark on the history books with some dramatic change. It's Gordon's way. He's a man of substance to Blair's style. He's a thinker with a rigorous, intellectual mind, where Blair was an instinctive popularist. I doubt he'll be so easily pulled into the role of lapdog to the American President in quite the way that Blair was.

For what it's worth (and I have never held a brief for the man) I think he will be good for Britain.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

When Life (in all it's dismal glory) Fails to Imitate Art...

One of my favourite cinema adverts dates from a good few years ago, and promoted that 'interesting' alcoholic confection, Southern Comfort. Whenever I saw the ad, it always prompted a yearning for me to be up there, on the screen, as a part of it. You may well remember it, yourself…

It’s late, on a balmy summer’s evening in New Orleans. A young couple are walking the streets, arm-in-arm, when a sudden cloudburst of almost Biblical proportions threatens to drown them. Fortunately, the neon lights of a jazz club beckon, and they are able to seek refuge, with all the others escaping the rain, in the warm bosom of the basement bar.

For an hour or two, everyone has the kind of spontaneous good time that we all dream of, dancing and cavorting the night away in a display of hedonism fuelled, we are invited to believe, by copious amounts of Southern Comfort. When the resident MC informs the crowd “It’s OK folks – the storms over!” it’s the cue for a collective groan, as everyone realises they’ll have to return to normality.

It’s always stuck in my mind that I’d love to experience that kind of wonderful, spur-of-the moment freedom, finding shelter from the storm in the warm embrace of a buzzing jazz club.

Well, the best I could manage when the heavens opened late on a chilly, Tuesday night (in a city which discretion prevents me from mentioning), was to dash into the doorway of the Liverpool branch of Kentucky Fried Chicken, where a sodden busker was gamely bashing out the hideously inappropriate Undertones classic, Here Comes The Summer, which young Justin played to death when it came out in 1979. I was able, at least, to reflect for a moment on the wide gulf that sometimes exists between imagination and reality. And watch the water, as it dripped from the end of my nose.

Staying True to Your Self

What a man has for his breakfast is his own affair. I know some of my friends who swear by the full cooked English, piling their plates with sausages, rashers of bacon, eggs, hash browns, griddled mushrooms and the rest. That's their business, and they're welcome to it.

For those of that ilk, Wetherspoon’s Full English Breakfast is something I can heartily recommend. When I have tried it, I have rarely emerged dissatisfied (although one or two establishments that it would be churlish for me to name have occasionally served the bacon just a little on the tepid side).

In my later years, I’ve found myself drifting towards eating cereal for my first meal of the day. What can beat a bowl of crunchy Bran Flakes, whether that be the Kellog variety or the reasonable and tasty own-brand alternative available at Aldi?

It’s also the case that I tend to stick to just one particular cereal each day. Not for me the constant swapping between Weetabix, Cornflakes and Shredded Wheat. I can go months and years eating the same variety, without getting bored, before I decide it’s time to switch to a new one.

Reflecting on this in the company of a delightful young lady who was attending a conference I was speaking at earlier this week, I characterised myself as a ‘cereal monogamist’. For some reason, that seemed to be her cue to terminate the conversation and leave the bar, so I never did get to find out her views on the subject. Perhaps I should have waited to discuss it over breakfast, the next day?

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Rocket Fuel

Those who have followed Bill Blunt's emergence in the blogosphere will know that I'm not much one for plaudits.

I've plied my trade as a professional hack for too long to be worried about what the so-called 'experts' think. Not for me the razzle-dazzle of awards ceremonies, with their attendant free nosh, drink and floozies. I'd much prefer a pint down my local, anytime.

However, now and again, it seems, the outside world takes note of Bill's musings. Jasper tells me that I've just made 'Blog of the Day' at that wonderful website, Fuel My Blog, where you're always (in the words of the song) 'Just one click away from reading a great blog'.

I can't pretend I'm not flattered, of course. FMB, as it is affectionately termed by those who love it dearly, has recently had a bit of a relaunch, and I use it extensively to discover what new delights may be emerging in the world of blogs.

It's a pleasure, therefore, to be noticed (again). Forgive me if I pour myself a slightly larger than usual tumbler of whisky tonight, then.

Monday, 25 June 2007

Sorting Out The Wheat From The Chaff

I think it may have been Johnny Mathis who once said 'There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood leads on to fortune'.

As a leading columnist of my generation, the mantle of sorting out the wheat from the chaff is not one that I wear lightly. I am profoundly aware of my responsibilities as a commentator, and know that my words are eagerly devoured by readers as far afield as Daventry and Kettering.

I'm conscious, too, that in the crowded world of the blogosphere, readers need a quick and snappy way of assessing whether something's worth their time, or whether they should simply pass by, perhaps with a gracious nod. My quandary has always been how to best guide my readers through the jungle, not just of blogs, but of the wider world at large?

Not for the first time, it fell to young Jasper Blunt to suggest a solution to the dilemma. "Pa," he said, "what you need is a widget or two - and I've got just the thing!"

Far be it for me to cavil at the excess of youth. Bill Blunt will try anything once, and - if he likes it - he may well try it again. It's a philosophy that has steered Mrs Blunt and I through some rocky passages, whether in the bedroom or elsewhere, I can tell you.

Let me introduce to you, therefore the Bill Blunt Bigged Me Up! Widget.

At-a-glance, you'll be able to see that Bill has given his seal of approval to something - whether it be a blog, a website or something more tangible - a service received from a shop, the decor and ambiance of a pub, perhaps.

In a busy world, you'll know that someone - Bill Blunt - has taken time out to assess and pass comment on something that might well be worthy of your attention. It's a service I'm happy to provide freely, without expectation of reward or favour in return.

At the same time, look out for the widget's evil twin, as you travel, and you'll know that Bill has gone on record about some dismal showing, some poorly executed website, or some convoluted piece of fiction that might best be described as derivative drivel, were it not for the author's sensitive portrayal of the work's central character, a provincial journalist.

When you see the Bill Blunt Blasted Me! Widget, it's a signal not to go there, not to buy and not to waste your time. Human nature being what it is, I am sure there will be the odd reader who will ignore my recommendations. That is their business. But the rest of us can get on with our lives, saving time, money and energy by 'not going there'.

I already have one or two ideas for my first Big Up! As for my Blasts, I shall keep my powder dry, for the time being. Let's just say that I shall be watching the development of certain stories with close and extreme interest, and leave it at that, shall we?

Random Things About Bill

Matthew Didier, over at One Old Green Bus, has tagged me. My views on tagging are well rehearsed, so we won't go into it here. Perhaps it's because, as a child, I was always just a tad over-weight, but I always seemed to lose out when it came to games of tag.

Well, Matthew's looking for 8 Random things about me. Regular readers of my column will know that Bill Blunt is an open book, so you may already know some of these tidbits.

  • I wasn't really a little over-weight as a child
  • I was once almost arrested for stealing a piece of New York's Empire State Building (there's an innocent explanation, honestly)
  • I love pesto
  • When I was interviewed last by BBC TV News my hair was a little longer and less greyer
  • I am hopelessly addicted to Seinfeld and My Name Is Earl
  • I was once suspected of stalking Glyn Ford MEP (there's an innocent explanation, honestly)
  • I recently came into possession of a huge amount of piano sheet music (there's an innocent explanation, honestly)
  • By a hair's breadth, I managed to escape becoming Mayor of Daventry (my proudest achievement to date)
The singular pleasure of passing on the baton now falls to me, as I finger 8 other bloggers who must (at pain of death or, the very least, a minor headache, perhaps) similarly list 8 random facts or habits about themselves - as per The Rules, set out at the foot of this posting).

First up, an old friend of mine (and I do mean old) who has recently discovered the joys of blogging. As I already know everything in the known universe about Mystic Veg, I'll be intrigued to learn which 8 facts he filters out for public consumption.

Then, I think I'd like to know more about Larry Hnetka. After discovering his blog recently, I imagine he's the kind of person who would be delighted to be tagged. He's got some interesting things that make him go 'Hmmm' on his blog, so I would encourage you to drop by.

Next up, perhaps Cat would let us in on a few secrets, over at UltraJam? Although her views on long-term welfare recipients couldn't be further from my own, she posts some interesting thoughts on law enforcement (and I trust she takes a lenient view towards UK citizens who came close to being arrested on their last trip to the States).

Non-English blogs can sometimes be hard work, especially if, like me, you are shamefully unversed in foreign languages beyond the 'I'm afraid your beer disagrees with me, where is the gentleman's lavatory?' stage. But I can encourage you to take a look at a very intelligent blogger over at Pensamentos. It's worth the use of the Portugese bit at Google Translator now and again, I can tell you, and I'd be keen to learn more about the author.

I'm wimping out at this point, but will doubtless return with four other candidates in due course. You have been warned!

A reminder of the Rules:

One: Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves. Two: People who are tagged need to write their own blog entry about their eight things and post these rules. Three: at the end of your entry, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names/pseudonyms/blogs. Four: Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Cabin Fever

It's not often that I spend much of my time thinking about airline cabin crews. Unless I'm in a plane that's preparing for take-off, is mid-flight or is coming into land. It's at times like those that it's almost impossible to ignore the unsung heroes and heroines of the sky.

Whether it's the chic sophistication of an Air France air hostess, or the perma-tanned glow of an Easyjet flight attendant, it's too easy to dismiss them as merely glorified tea-ladies (and lads) in the sky.

We take their role as air-borne ambassadors for Revlon, Gallaghers and Rotary watches too lightly if we see them only as people paid to try to flog us expensive stuff in a bid to empty our wallets of the last bits of strange currency lurking there before we arrive back home.

Well, Bill Blunt isn't one of those who underplays their importance, I can tell you. I've seen them in action, re-assuring a nervous Mrs Blunt that the 114 tons of plane, people and luggage making up the Boeing 747 she's flying on really will take off safely, stay in the air and land at the other end without any foreseeable difficulty. And that's quite a skill, I can tell you.

And let's not forget their role in helping make sure that their planes run to schedule. Admittedly, some of them are better at this than others but, on the whole, they do sterling work.

Finally, let us not discount their impact on the night-time economies of city centres the world over. Without the sight of late-night stewards tripping gaily from bar to bar, Manchester, Liverpool and further-flung places would be the poorer for it.

It's a brave man that accuses Bill Blunt of over-gilding his case just to get some award or other. That's never been my style, and never will be. But if I've made you think again about the role of the humble cabin crew member, then I've done my job.

Of friends and family

Since our spell away on holiday I've seen less and less of my good friend, Thomas Hamburger Jnr.

I'm partly to blame for this myself, of course, as my tour of Wetherspoon pubs of England has taken me to some far-flung corners of our sceptered kingdom. In the process, I have become something of an expert on the esteemed chain's beers, food and wi-fi access points. I can almost feel a guide book coming on...

But I finally find a free day or two to catch up with his griping tale, Harry McFry Investigates The Mystery of the Missing Family, which I have watched develop with interest. It's a peculiar piece, and not at all what I would have imagined Tommy coming up with.

From what I was told would be a 'minor walk-on part', I see that my own role has developed so that it might, even, become quite central to solving the mystery. I can't pretend I'm not flattered. All those years working on the Birkenhead Beagle didn't bring a lot of recognition, and the idea of being a key character in one of Tommy Hamburger's books has a certain cachet about it.

I see that some readers have even begun speculating whether a movie might someday be made of the story, and have even gone so far as to suggest possible candidates for the key roles.
Enumerator (which is a grand name for any blogger) thinks my own role should be played by Bill Nighy, whereas 70steen has plumped instead for Jack Nicholson. I must admit, the idea of Nicholson tackling an Oldham accent is a seductive one... and one which, if pulled off successfully, might even be worthy of an award of some kind.

Personally, I'm not sure. Nighy is one of my favourite actors, even when he's had a bad hair day, whereas Nicholson's role in As Good As It Gets reminds me more of Tommy Hamburger Jnr himself than me.

Robert Lindsay as Harry McFry has a definite appeal, I must say - but Alan Rickman has his strengths, too, and Mrs Blunt has always had a soft spot for his suave 'come-to-bed' voice.

Anyway, my daughter Barbara couldn't resist coming up with a possible promo poster for the yet-to-be made film of the yet-to-be-finished and yet-to-find-a-publisher novel, which I include below for your amusement.

My best advice to you at this stage, however, is not to book your table for the awards ceremony just yet...

Thursday, 21 June 2007

The Price of Freedom

Sharp-eyed readers will notice that my flirtation with advertising has come to an end.

When I gave my blog a make-over courtesy of those fine people at Old Wisdon, New Lessons, I took the advice of young Jasper Blunt, who promised me that people were making oodles of cash out of something called 'pay per click' advertising.
"Pa," he said, "it's time you got your nose in the trough."

Well, I checked the figures recently, and in two months I appear to have generated the princely sum of 25 cents. I'm not a man who sells his distinctive voice quite as cheap as that, so I decided this morning that the adverts had to go. And good riddance to them. 12p hardly paid for the red ink for the make-over.

Some may accuse me of pique. That's their business. But, for those who might doubt my credentials, here's a clipping from a 1990's vintage Beyond The Boundary - the Oldham Athletic fanzine I was proud to write for. I wasn't seduced then, and I won't be seduced now.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

My Word!

Entries to the 3rd Fuel My Blog Caption Competition, which closed at midnight on Tuesday, kept the panel of judges mildly amused for a bit. Bussed in especially for the occasion from Bertha Street Allotment Association, the judging session diverted the panel from the internecine battles taking place locally.

I hope you agree that their selection of winners is a fine one...

HIGHLY COMMENDED - renalfailure

" What do you mean I'm adopted?!".

HIGHLY COMMENDED - renalfailure

"The Strom Thurmond Playhouse presents the most racist version of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner ever performed... starring Joaquim Phoenix in drag."

THIRD PLACE - Mystic Veg
"Dorothy felt ill at ease. George had brought his weird looking children with him again."

SECOND PLACE - Lord of Wealth

"Despite her pleas of innocence, Jack still believed Doris had an afair with Bobo."

- Kevin D
"I think he is ready to go stay with Michael Jackson.".

Of course, the judges claimed that ALL of the entries were witty and pithy and kept them chuckling: I think they need to get out more, personally.

Well done everybody, and I look forward to receiving entries for this week's competition.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Keep Music Live

A recent visit to my daughter's provided me with a fine opportunity to sample the delights of live music a la local pub. Monday night's aren't traditionally the busiest in any pub's week, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've been in a pub on that particular day of the week.

However, last night Barbara encouraged us to visit her local hostelry to listen to one of the many acts the landlord at Ye Olde Fleece Inn has booked to liven up this otherwise quiet spot in the week.

David Finney is a solo performer who mixes solid, gutsy vocals with a spot of acoustic guitar playing. His repertoire of covers spans the last three decades or so, and a pretty fine stab he made at them all, too - whether that be Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl or a particularly effective Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me), popularised by the inimitable Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel.

What set Finney apart from the crowd, however, was one of his own works, Burn Out or Fade Away. Written from the standpoint of someone who has just turned thirty, the song charts their thoughts about the choices that lie ahead, and their determination to live passionately and burn out rather than just fade away into the background. Hearing it last night, I couldn't help wonder why it hasn't been covered by someone else, so powerful was its sentiment and the depth of its emotion.

David Finney is originally from Nuneaton, but now plies his trade out of Sunderland, and can most probably be caught on the circuit of pubs and clubs in the north east of England. Good luck to him.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Bring it on, Mr Häagen-Dazs (or Mr Aldi)

I see that the estimable Crofty has been persuaded to give up the secret of one of his favourite recipes. And very good it sounds, too. It made me think there might be an interest among my readers for one or two gourmet cooking tips from the kitchen of Blunt Mansion.

Mrs Blunt isn't one for fancy cooking, so anything much beyond meat and two veg is my department. Here's a simple way to perplex your dinner party guests when next serving up the pudding.

Take a scoop or two of good quality vanilla ice cream per person, in individual bowls. There are lots of premium ice creams out there now, but I tend to reach for the Häagen-Dazs for this one.

Drizzle half a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil over each bowl of ice cream. Aldi sell a very reasonably-priced oil that is fine for these purposes.

Scatter a few grains of sea salt over each portion.

Serve, and watch as your guests try to fathom where the intriguing flavour has come from.

Now, I wouldn't like my readers to think that, just because I've mentioned Häagen-Dazs and Aldi that I'm somehow in their pay. Bill Blunt doesn't work like that. But he wouldn't be averse to a few tubs of the creamy stuff or a couple of bottles of the oily stuff turning up on his doorstep unexpectedly, if it were to happen - in much the way that Crofty found himself the proud owner of a free recipe book, recently.

Saturday, 16 June 2007

To Emulate is to Flatter

It's nice to know that Bill Blunt leads the way. My earlier posts about the pleasures of cutting the lawn clearly inspired Mystic Veg to set up a fine blog dedicated to the delights of 'growing your own'. More power to his trowel, is what I say.

However, it's a brave man indeed that ever accused Bill Blunt of resting on his laurels. I can spot a niche being invaded when I see it, so I thought my readers would like to share my recent education in the art of constructing a compost bin. You never know when you may need to do this, after all, and I am pleased to say that I have had the opportunity to learn what I am about to impart at the knee of a master - Dave 'The Compost' Perry, from North London.

I must say, it looked pretty easy to me. All you need is a lot of bits of 3" x 3" wood about 12 feet long, a saw, a few screws and a screwdriver, and copious amounts of pre-treated plywood.

Of course, Dave kept the precise instructions for the construction of the frame close to his chest. Much noise was heard from the garage, late at night, as the bin took form.

I was able to catch a few photographs of the bin being made, but only by plying Dave with a large amount of local red wine. As you will see, it is an elaborate, three bin affair, allowing the compost to be regularly 'turned' from one bin to another. That, he led me to believe, was the secret of good compost.

Once bin one and two were 'fully loaded' with a mix of grass clippings, vegetable peelings and mulched up trees, I was invited to join in the ritual 'watering' of the compost. The lid was then lowered, and there's nothing more to do but sit back, turn it a few times and wait around a year until the pure, organic compost is ready.

This post is provided as a public service. Enjoy.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

What a Difference a Decade Makes

Someone recently suggested I should change my blog strapline to The Man Who Gets About A Bit. They've formed the impression I spend my time flitting about the country - one minute in Oldham, the next in North Yorkshire and then, at the blink of an eye, in County Durham. Gallivanting is, I think, the term that has been used.

It's true, I do like to put myself about. It's one of the things that divides Mrs Blunt and I, she much preferring to spend her time around the hearth at home. As I travel the land, I try to stay alert to the changes that have occurred in places I used to know.

So, as I found myself (unexpectedly) in Daventry, Northants earlier today, I was able to reflect on how a decade had taken its toll on a town that - when I first knew it - was in something of a crisis. Well known high street shops had deserted the place in droves, leaving a phalanx of charity shops and run-down pubs in their train, fighting a desperate rear-guard action against out-of-town shopping centres.

Well, I was in for quite a surprise. Daventry has re-asserted itself. The pubs are smarter, the shops more varied and bustling, and there's even a very nice Costa Coffee shop that's opened up.

When I first visited Daventry back in the early 1990's, it was at the invitation of a group of locals who were trying to stop their local Health Authority closing down the much-loved Danetre Hospital. They'd heard from somewhere that the power of Bill Blunt's pen could cause bureaucrats to quake in their comfortable, leather office chairs, and wondered if I could help them out.

My initial assessment was bleak. The NHS managers seemed intent on closing the place and flogging off the land for housing development - a fashionable way of generating revenue at the time. If that happened, the opportunity would be lost forever for future developments, and it would be another nail in the coffin for the town.

My time with the group was brief - enough, however, to organise a lobby of local councillors, MPs and health service officials, produce a few well-aimed newsletters and organise a march through the town against the proposed cuts in services. Victory in the first battle was hard won, but sweet when it came: we commissioned an independent report on the health needs of the town, and argued that the Health Authority needed to carry out their own 'health needs assessment' for the local population. They eventually agreed to do just that. I was satisfied, at the time, that my work was done.

What a pleasure, then, to see today that (all these years later) the Danetre Hospital had not only survived closure, but had been augmented with the opening, late last year, of a brand new community hospital on the same site. This, on the land that would otherwise have fallen to housing development.

There will be some readers of my blog who think that old Bill Blunt spends his time wittering on about meat pies, prostitution in Oldham, MP3 players and Walthamstow Dog Track statistics. If that's what they want to think, that's fine by me. But they'd better take note: Bill's still got his quill, and it's ready for sharpening whenever the occasion arises.

The French Have a Word for It

Our friends across the Channel once characterised us as 'a nation of shopkeepers'. It was meant to be a criticism but, after experiencing a few French shops during my recent stay in Bergerac, I'd take it as more of a compliment.

Try wandering into any shop at five minutes to two. Take your wallet from your pocket to indicate, as clearly as you can, that you are here with the intention of buying something. Do what you have to in order to imply that you have the ready cash about your person, and intimate that you have made your choice of purchase.

None of this will be of any use. With the clock ticking away in the background, you can only watch, powerless, as the owner busies himself with the important task in hand of making sure he shuts up his shop at precisely 2pm.

Your protestations (in any language) will be in vain. He will mutter dark, French words at you whose meaning you can only guess at, while he glowers, disapprovingly. No other inference is possible but that he wants you out of his shop, and pronto. No matter that you might be planning to spend 300 Euros on an espresso machine (as a gift to your friend, who has been such a fine host to you by allowing you to mow his lawn). You will not be allowed to buy it.

Instead, you will leave the shop to the sounds of the Town Hall clock striking two, with nothing more substantial to show for your troubles than a flea in your ear, where it scurries around to the ringing of the shopkeeper's convivial final words to you: "Depart!"

The French, then, will never be a nation of shopkeepers, because they seem, fundamentally, disinterested in the notion of making money from their enterprise. The shop, to the French shopkeeper then, appears to be little more than a place they go to practice some strange, continental hobby of some sorts. Some might find such an approach rather charming. Not Bill Blunt, I can assure you!

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Chateau Le Con

How I formed the impression that my good friend, Thomas Hamburger Jnr, came to have a chateau in France, I don't know. Perhaps I just assumed, from what I knew about him already, that when he invited me to spend a few days in his 'home' in Bergerac, we'd be heading to some antiquated pile.

Not to. It's a perfectly pleasant place, of course - but it's no chateau, by any stretch of the imagination. Three bedroom cottage would more adequately describe it. It's set in a large garden, which is given over mostly to lawn, fringed with apricot, apple and pear trees. It's all very sedate and seductively French.

My views on gardens and lawns are already well rehearsed. Yet, Hamburger's silver tongue somehow persuaded me to spend fully six hours yesterday trimming the place back from the jungle it had become since he last visited. He'd also persuaded another pal of his to join us, and he was tasked with the job of constructing a sturdy, wooden composting bin.

Hamburger, meanwhile, seemed to spend most of his time swanning around Bergerac Town, striking the kind of pose outside the pavement cafes there that only a would-be writer can. He claims to have been working on his novel, of course, but I know better.

I should be annoyed, and feel duped, but there's a certain pleasure to be had in seeing the garden restored to something like its former glory, and to be able to claim full credit for that. I've had more relaxing holidays, of course. But the absence of Mrs Blunt has more than redeemed the situation. A man can only take so much of his wife nagging him to 'get that grass cut!'. Somehow, to be asked to do it (however disingenuously) feels a whole lot better.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Cap Still Doffed

Entries to the 2nd Fuel My Blog Caption Competition, which closed at midnight on Tuesday, kept the panel of judges (especially selected from retirement homes across Southern England for the occasion) busy into the early hours with their decision-making.

I hope you agree that they've come up with a fine selection of worthy winners.

HIGHLY COMMENDED - daddy papersurfer

" And this is the delete button if you use a hammer".


"Wouldn't it be easier to buy the rum for the Ratings in bottles, Bursar?"

THIRD PLACE - Lord of Wealth
"Are you absolutely sure this new voting machine will give Bush 50.1% of the vote?"


"I have no idea what these are for, Number 1, but those WRANS seem to enjoy them."

- renalfailure
"Captain Larkspur readies himself to draw this week's Powerball number".

The usual judgly-platitudes accompanied the results: all the entries were quite worthy and witty, but somebody had to win, etc etc.

Anyway, well done everybody, and I look forward to receiving entries for this week's competition.

Monday, 4 June 2007


Sometimes, friends turn up trumps when you least expect them. I may have berated my old pal, Thomas Hamburger Jnr, for trying to write a novel via a blog. I may even have accused him of producing derivative drivel. In turn, he has been kind enough to refer to my own blog as a 'monster', which I believe is street-talk for something that is actually quite good.

He's clearly a man who doesn't bear grudges, and he has continued to help me along by managing my blog for me, sorting out the postings I e-mail to him, and dealing with the technical issues that are beyond a man of my advanced years.

Late last night, he rang me up to invite me down to his French chateau for a few days, where he's taking a break from the writing with a few friends. He promises a heady mix of discussion long into the night, exploration of our pasts and copious amounts of red wine. Best of all, there'll be no room for Mrs Blunt. This is a strictly 'boys only' affair.

Young Jasper tells me that my technorati ranking (whatever that is) might soon overtake Tom's. Healthy competition between old friends is always to be encouraged. On the subject of which, I haven't heard a dickie bird about how my submission in the Fuel My Blog / 'Perfect Weekend' competition has fared. I'm counting on daddy papersurfer to keep an eagle eye out for the results while I am away, and to deliver my winner's speech in my absence. It should take his mind of all the troubles of his recent house move, anyway.



Sunday, 3 June 2007

The Gnashing's Over!

News in from the smoky small-holdings of Lincolnshire, where the smell of weeds burning in a heap of soil lends an earthy tone to my final post of the weekend.

An old drinking partner of mine from my days at Beyond The Boundary magazine has just made his debut on the blogosphere. And a very fine debut it is, if I may be so bold as to say.

The author is a man who, back in 1994, stunned publicans across Oldham with news of his engagement to a Lincolnshire lass. Once he was 'withdrawn from circulation', some observers estimated that as many as 125 jobs were lost in the pub and brewery sector of the town in the months and years to follow.

His sage advice on vegetable growing looks destined to bring a whole new dimension to blogworld - filling a palpable void that has hitherto had seasoned allotment holders gnashing their teeth (and in some cases, their dentures) in frustration. They need gnash no longer.

May I introduce, then, MysticVeg.

Barbara Makes A Video

Ever since she read Ben Spark's top tips for using Window's Movie Maker, my daughter Barbara (the artistic one in the family) has been itching to have a go with it.

She's asked me to premier her first stab at making something called a wmv. I wish I knew what she meant, but I'm confident my old friend Thomas Hamburger Jnr will sort out a way of getting it up here. I think she can do better, myself - I'm not an expert on these things, but it looks a little poor quality for my taste.

She's asked me to thank Ben for his cogent and easy-to-follow instructions, without which (she says) it wouldn't have been possible.

Friday, 1 June 2007

It Doesn't Stick In the Throat

A very dear friend who heard of my recent spat with a family history website suggested it might be time to kiss and make up: to 'eat humble pie', as they put it.

It's not a dish that has ever much appeared on the menu at Blunt Mansion, I must say, but I decided on this occasion that they may well have been right.

It took some tracking down, I can tell you, but I finally found some in the unlikely venue of the North Yorkshire coastal town of Whitby, hitherto famous as the birthplace of antipodean explorer Captain James Cook and as the setting for Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula. I chanced upon it during a day out there with my brother, Colin Blunt, something of an epicure himself. Regular readers of my blog will know that there is no love lost between us but, since he was paying, I decided to let sleeping dogs lie.

Humble Pie 'n' Mash had been in business less than two weeks when we ate there today. As the name would suggest, it specialises in fine, home-made pies of the hearty and nutritious variety. From the menu, I chose a rather delicious Lamb and Rosemary Pie which came with a superb mashed potato and mushy peas that had been mushed to perfection, together with a tasty gravy. My dining companion had the beef mince pie, with similar trimmings. We both pronounced the pies to be perfect.

I hold no brief for the friendly and pretty proprietress, young Becky, nor for her partner Ben. But I know a good pie when I scoff one, and Ben and Becky are pie-makers extraordinaire, based at 163 Church Street, Whitby (telephone 01947 606 185). They should be proud of their achievement. As something of a connoisseur of the great British pie, I can heartily recommend the establishment for a visit when you might next be in its proximity. If you share my love of pies, then you may even decide to make a special detour to Whitby just to try these little beauties out. You'll be glad you did.