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 Humor-blogs.com 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 MyHeritage.com (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 Frinton.org (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

Cheers!

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

INTRODUCTION

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?

Saturday, 7 July 2007

The Mystery of the Russian Lady

More years ago than I care to remember, I was fortunate to come into possession of a work of art which I love and dearly adore. I'm not normally a fan of the art of marquetry. I've seen too many poorly-executed scenes of ships at sea rendered in blocks of plywood to lead me to think otherwise. But this one's different, made up of carefully razored strips of birch tree.

I know little of its provenance, other than that it was created in Russia (possibly in Kostroma) in 1971.

Now and again, I've idly Googled to see if I could find something similar, in an attempt to find out more about the individual who created it, but never with any great success.

As usual, it was young Jasper Blunt who came up with the bright idea of 'harnessing the power of the internet'.

"Pa," he said, "why don't you post a photo of the picture on your blog? Someone, somewhere, is bound to recognise it!"

Well, it's an idea...

Here, then, is the mystery Russian lady, sculpted in birch bark.

Jasper tells me that, if every reader of this post were to include a link to it in their blog (perhaps even with a copy of the photo) with a plea to their readers to help solve the mystery, then it would be a matter of no time before we knew a little more about it.

Apparently, it's all something to do with 'incremental progression'.

I can't pretend I know what he's on about, except that I think he means it would bring fresh pairs of eyes to the problem.

It's got to be worth a go, I suppose.

So, can you - or your own blog readers - tell me anything more about this picture? Perhaps if you asked them to post a link on their own blog, the process of solving the mystery would be that much quicker?

Bill's waiting...




Friday, 6 July 2007

Now That's What I Call Art!

I've already said my piece about the woeful apology for an Arts Centre that can be found at Darlington. The people in charge there can only be thankful that I hadn't, at the time of my review, instituted my much-feared Blast.

No such worries need be felt by the fine people at Bishop Auckland Town Hall, just a matter of a few miles up the road. They're currently showing an exhibition by two talented local artists, Fred Wilkinson and Alistair Brookes, and I'm pleased to award both them and the gallery a Big Up.

Although they both hail from the former mining community of Ferryhill, they work in strikingly different media: Wilkinson has mastered the art of photographing people in a candid and unassuming style, whereas Brookes uses acrylic to capture the camaraderie of miners as they make their way to or from work, with clever use of black and grey and every shade between on huge white canvases.

Nowhere is this shown better than in the work he has titled Winter '47, which somehow manages to perfectly convey the heavy tread of miners as they make their way to work through the snow.

You'd need a second mortgage to afford most of Brookes' work, but it would be money well spent in my opinion.

The works of both artists are shown to good effect in the McGuinness Gallery in the basement of Bishop Auckland Town Hall.

The exhibition runs until 21 July 2007, and is timed to coincide with the 123rd Durham Miners' Gala which is due to take place on Saturday, 14 July in Durham City.

Although there are no longer any coal mines left in County Durham, local people are justly proud of their heritage, and the Gala has become Europe's largest regular political gathering.



Sitting On Top Of The World (or 6 floors below it)

Jesmond Blunt was a man of many talents, not least of which was an uncanny ability to spend as little money as necessary to get through life. When fate removed one of his legs in an accident at the mill, he didn’t dash off to the nearest surgical appliance shop to buy a replacement.

Instead, he patiently fashioned a surrogate out of the leg of an old dining table that a next door neighbour was getting rid of. It lasted nigh on forty years, and went with him to his grave.

He was, in his way, quite inspirational, and if I am ever tempted to splash out on some new consumer good or other, I pull myself back and ask ‘What would Uncle Jesmond have done?’

That approach has stood me in good stead throughout life - never more so than when I found myself part of a group of journalists on a study tour of New York newspapers. This was the post-Watergate era, and images of Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford bringing down the President were still fresh in my mind.

It wasn’t all work, however and, one afternoon, I found myself with a spare hour to fill and decided, on a whim, to visit the Empire State Building, the towering form of which I could glimpse from different places as I ambled around the city streets.

With the clock ticking before I was scheduled to re-join the study party, I eventually found myself outside the building, looking up at it’s err… towering form. As I made my way into the foyer, imagine my dismay when I found a queue of horrendous proportion snaking its way to the ticket desk to buy a ticket for the observation deck, which I saw was located on the 86th floor. As I checked my watch, I realised that I wouldn’t have time to make the trip, and dismay was almost settling on to my broad shoulders before a still, quiet voice inside me said: “What would Uncle Jesmond do?”

Hmmm. I guessed that the entire Empire State Building wasn’t here merely to hold up the 86th floor in order to accommodate tourists. There must, after all, be businesses and offices accommodated beneath.

I knew at once what I had to do, and strolled purposefully past the queue, towards a large block of elevators. A security guard challenged me as I approached them. “Where ya going, bud?” he asked.

Thankfully, right behind him there was, fixed to the wall, a huge board listing businesses who had offices in the building. Scanning it rapidly, I found one on the 80th floor – I forget it’s exact name now, but I reeled it off to him, and he said, helpfully “Second elevator, change floors for 80”, and ushered me past.

My exhilaration knew no bounds. Not only had I saved myself half an hour of queuing, but the ghost of Uncle Jesmond was quietly chuckling at the $15 admission fee I’d saved.

He wasn’t chuckling quite so hard when I emerged, finally, from the lift on the 80th floor, however. As I paced the corridors, I realised that there were indeed offices all around, and I knew, at the same time, that I could hardly just walk in and demand that I be allowed to look out their window for thirty minutes.


That, my friend, was where fate (or was it the spirit of Uncle Jesmond?) intervened. I spied a door that was ajar, and slowly pushed it open. I had found, in fact, a room that was being renovated. Filled with a pile of old junk, the window was half open…

I slipped into the room, and closed the door behind me. As I navigated the tins of paint and sacks of plaster, I said a silent prayer of thanks to Jesmond, and I had soon pushed the window fully open.

For the next half hour, I stared out of the window at the great metropolis set out before me on this glorious day in May, disturbed only by the distant strains of traffic and honking car horns far, far below me. My only regret was to have been alone: with no one to share the moment with, I filled my time trying to capture how it felt so that someday I could explain it to my ‘significant other’.

Naturally, I am a man, so the thought also occurred to me of how pleasant (to say the least) it would have been to have had a young lady with me at the time, if only to be able to add our activity to the list of ‘most unusual places you have ever’ etc, etc.

Sadly, I had to content myself with my own company. As I finally turned away from the heady vista, however, my attention was caught by a plaque which had been casually tossed against a wall.

For a split second, I contemplated taking it: after all, it wouldn’t be missed, would it? It was an award from the American Society of Civil Engineers, given to the building to commemorate its wonderful design. At the end of the day, though, Bill Blunt isn’t a thief. And, anyway, I still had the urgent voice of Uncle Jesmond ringing in my ear: “Don’t be such a chuffing idiot, Bill – you’ll never get that through customs,” he was saying.

Wise words, from a wise man.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Schmoozing to Victory


I can't for a minute think why the admirable sylvied has accused me of being a Prize Schmoozer. Perhaps the people over at Fuel My Blog have the uncanny ability to anticipate future postings on blogs that are part of their great family? How else would she know I was just in the process of fessing up how I schmoozed my way up the Empire State Building during a study trip to New York a few years ago?

Whatever the reason, I'm not a man who easily spurns an award. However much I dislike publicly displaying my achievements, it is a brave man indeed that accuses Bill Blunt of being churlish.

Thank you, then, sylvied. I have spotted my own top 5 schmoozers while out and about in blogdom recently, and I'm pleased to nominate them for the same award:

The fine people at Green Communications who, being in PR, could teach us all a thing or two about schmoozing

My old drinking companion, Julian Syngen-Smythe who is a schmoozer of the finest order

Next up, someone who I think may be quite good at schmoozing - I hope she is, anyway, as it would come in handy for the interview she had today. I know she's a little 'memed out' at the moment, but hey, what's another when you've still got three to complete, Shinade?

Jonathan Beckett, over at Plugged Out: The Life & Times, looks like he should be a schmoozer, even if he isn't.

Finally, I know for a fact that Thomas Hamburger Jnr is one of the world's biggest schmoozers - I've seen him in action at cocktail parties from New Hampshire to New Brighton. In truth, he's one of the few individuals whose schmoozing can be described as positively emetic, which is quite an achievement, I am sure you will agree.


Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Bill's Away

Once again, I find myself on my travels, compiling my guide to the Wetherspoon's of England.

I do hope to resume normal service shortly.

Bill

Monday, 2 July 2007

When Life Fails (once more) to Imitate Art...

Perhaps it's because I've been following MoonDanzer's blog (purely as a way of re-assuring myself that the entire American population isn't slavishly following Bush in his awful obsession with war) recently, but my mind has (of late) sometimes turned to the subject of war.

Tony Blair's departure last week also gave me more pause for thought, as he is forever associated in my mind with the decision to deploy troops in Iraq. As a child, I was brought up to believe in the idea of the 'just' war. No war was more just, we were told, than the one against fascism. That was a moment in history when our cousins across the water stood (eventually) squarely behind, beside and in-front of us to defeat the most evil force mankind had hitherto ever seen.

When I think of the heroic sacrifices made by millions of American families to help keep Europe and Asia free of fascism, one image inevitably comes to mind - that of the US troops raising the Stars and Stripes atop Iwo Jima. It's apparently the most printed picture of all time, so it's little wonder that it's ingrained in my mind.

Just a few weeks ago, I saw a group of tourists trying to erect a parasol. As they struggled, gamefully and not entirely unsuccessfully, I couldn't resist taking a snapshot of their attempts.


The contrast between the tired and heroic soldiers, and the family out on a nice day trip in Cheshire, couldn't be more marked. Sometimes, we can easily forget how our cosy, middle-class lives have been shaped by the sacrifices of those who have gone before. Those sacrifices are still being made, even if the wars they are made in are not always as just and right as we are sometimes led by our political masters to believe. It's a particular pleasure that there are blogs such as MoonDanzer's that remind us of this.



Sunday, 1 July 2007

Brandon Got Branded

The task of awarding my first Blast was always going to be a difficult one.

There's so much in the world that is worthy of a 'thumbs down', that I could easily spend my every waking hour dishing Blasts out here, there and everywhere.

It was made easier thanks to the fine people at the Daventry Voice Forum, who devote their days to scouring the media and the internet for any and every reference to their wonderful town.

Thanks to them, I came across the story of young Brandon Hart-Caunt, which was highlighted in the Daventry Weekly Express this week.



I'm not familiar with the Hart-Caunt family, so can't know whether that's their real name, or whether it represents a proof-reading error on the part of some unfortunate sub-editor at the Express.

What I do know is that any mother who would allow their son to sport a quiff like that is irresponsible beyond measure. No doubt there are solicitors queuing to represent her as she defends the human rights of young Brandon to have his hair cut however he damn-well pleases.

Well, Mrs Hard-Caunt gets Bill's first Blast. I'm happy to supply it in tattoo format, if it helps.