Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Ritual hillside chase takes its toll

Lee Glendinning
Tuesday May 30, 2006


They come out of it with bruises, dislocations, the odd fracture and always cuts and grazes. But thousands of people chose to spend yesterday watching people diving for cover from a flying cheese, or somersaulting down after it on a Gloucestershire hillside.

Since the cheese rolling competition incarnation - thought to lie in a heathen festival celebrating the return of spring - it has been one of the ultimate displays of danger over logic. Competitors throw themselves down Cooper's Hill, near Brockworth, Gloucestershire (which has a 1:2 gradient) to chase a Double Gloucester cheese down a 200-metre slope.

Spectators, including the 3,000 who turned up in the turbulent weather yesterday, are far from immune to injury, and the number of the audience hurt this year almost equalled those injured in the competition. A mountain rescue team from Search and Rescue Assistants in Disasters, backed up by volunteers from St John's ambulance, treated 25 people for injuries. Two were taken to hospital.

Jim Jones, the charity's operations training manager, said 12 spectators and 13 competitors were hurt."It was a reasonable year, not too bad," he said."We usually average around 30-40 people who need treatment. The most serious injuries this year appear to be a dislocated finger and a possible fractured ankle."

Organisers said that the wet conditions had cut the number of injuries, because people slipped down rather than tumbling head over heels.

The winners take home a 3.6kg (8lb) cheese.

Jason Crowther, 24, from Wales, who won his race for the second successive year, said: "I have no real tactic; I ran and hoped for the best. I'm going to take my cheese to the pub and have a party."

Next year's event will be on Monday, May 28, 2007. For details check out www.cheese-rolling.co.uk

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

Thursday, May 25, 2006

End of an era in Soho

Norman calls last orders for the barred of Soho

By Christopher Howse

(Filed: 23/05/2006)

The strangely coveted title of London's Rudest Landlord is today open to competitors, as its long-time holder, Norman Balon, tenant of the Coach and Horses, Soho, tucks the sale price of the pub into his locally made suit and takes the Underground home to Golders Green.

Mr Balon, 79, has told more people to drink up and leave than Jeffrey Bernard drank large vodka-ice-and-sodas at his barside during the decades he wrote Low Life, his celebrated Spectator column. Quite a few, then.

Mr Balon outside the Coach and Horses on his final day

Last night, the pub nevertheless overflowed, like a badly pulled pint, with well-wishers. Richard Ingrams made a two-sentence speech: "The only man grumpier than me. I salute you." Dame Beryl Bainbridge cheered. Spencer Bright, biographer of both Boy George and Norman Balon, looked sad.

The pub is to be run by a consortium, with a restaurant reached by stairs where the gents is now.

This is the pub behind Michael Heath's extraordinary cartoon strip The Regulars in Private Eye, which once had one Regular saying to another: "I'm sorry I was rude last night. You see, I was sober."

Yesterday Michael Heath said: "I don't remember Norman being rude. In fact I don't remember anything from those years."

Actually, by classic Soho standards of breathtaking, stiletto rudeness, Norman Balon was measured. American tourists, enquiring after sandwiches, might, though, be puzzled to be told to leave now and not come back.

It was a defence mechanism against bores. The Coach, as everyone called it, was a pub for talking, since Mr Balon would tolerate no jukebox, among other things. But Jeffrey Bernard did not "hold court" there.

He had to compete in conversation with, among others, the unshameable Daniel Farson; Tom Baker, popping in from a voice-over; Conan Nicholas, the man who invented cat-racing; or with David Wright, the poet, who was profoundly deaf. It was he who, one morning after a particularly acrimonious shouting match, said, "Well, it seemed very quiet to me."

For the last three of four decades, Italians and shoplifters drank at the Greek Street or "shallow" end, and serious drinkers and talkers at the Romilly Street or "deep" end.

Generations from St Martin's School of Art filled in the gaps to suffocation point, including the girl who inspired Jarvis Cocker's song Common People, whom he can't remember, though she was very memorable.

Norman Balon was really invented by Richard Ingrams, when editor of Private Eye, from which William Rushton and Peter Cook and the rest came over the road for lunch each day.

Norman soon figured as "Monty Balon, the genial meinhost" in the magazine. For 40 years, Private Eye has held its fortnightly lunches for informants and prominent people in a chill room upstairs once described as "a National Health side-ward decorated from Army surplus stores".

In turn, Mr Balon invented Jeffrey Bernard, who used the pub as an office and had a supply of Senior Service cigarettes kept for him in the cupboard by the stairs.

Norman and Jeffrey probably loved each other, if Jeffrey ever loved anyone. They certainly had rows. "You're barred, and don't come back." But he did.

Immortality came in 1989 with Keith Waterhouse's play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, a sell-out with Peter O'Toole in title role and the pub interior as the set. Mr Balon would refer to it as "My play".

Norman Balon, who had "Norman's" painted on the side of the pub, which no one ever called it, wasn't actually born in the Coach and Horses, but he was bred there.

His father took on the tenancy on Feb 3, 1943, a noisy time in London. Norman, just turned 16, left school to help. They sheltered in the cellar during air raids.

The top-floor room where young Norman slept was in recent years used as a studio, first by Richard Ingrams's son, Fred, then by the successful painter Rupert Shrive.

Painters always drank in the pub: Francis Bacon sometimes, Lucian Freud generously, Frank Auerbach intently in conversation with Bruce Bernard, a writer about painting.

A small Maltese house-painter called Jojo would fill up on whisky before climbing a four-storey ladder with a sack of cement on his shoulder. Damien Hirst, when he drank, dropped in of a morning for a scale of the shark.

A low point came after Mr Balon's divorce. He sat scratching his wife's name off hundreds of matchboxes printed "Norman Balon, London's Rudest Landord, with the Most Charming Wife --." Since 1985 his life has been cheered by Grazia Weiner, a small, surprisingly vocal opera-lover from Venice.

Norman Balon used to work from 8am till midnight. He went seven years without a holiday.

He opened 365 days a year and at Christmas lunchtime presented regulars with a mug bearing a drawing by Michael Heath of him saying: "You're barred."


The (printable) sayings of Norman Balon

(Filed: 23/05/2006)

1 Here's your money. F**** off.

2 The beer is meant to be cloudy. I suggest you go elsewhere.

3 You're barred. You're too boring to be in my pub.

4 Spoof is not a game of skill eligible to be played in a pub, and if you don't like it you can p*** off.

5 I don't care whether you're a man or a woman, you can go now.

6 Out! Out! Out!

7 You're so ugly you're upsetting the customers.

8 Can't you see, you idiot, that

I'm on the telephone - to an MP trying to find the Private Eye lunch.

9 I am not obliged to give a reason, I don't want you in my pub.

10 And don't come back.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Goode Knights of Battle.

Anne, John, Hanesey, Hannah, Katie and Scott all took the A-Team van (consumption= 4km/litre!) down to Battle, East Sussex for a bit of medieval recreation action. In the grounds of Battle Abbey (site of a bit of an altercation in 1066), we witnessed the third round of the 2006 Knights' Tournament, a day's competition between teams from the South, East, West and North of Merrie England in such time honoured sports as jousting, Falconry, and beating the shit out of each other with axes whilst dressed in full armour. It was great fun, though the West won unfortunately. My favourite horse was Hawthorn, and Katie's favourite knight was the bloke in black armour.

We camped at a great site just out of Battle town called Brake's Coppice. Fantastic catering was provided by Team Holliday, and entertaining lectures on the theraputic benefits of footcream were provided by Hanesey.

On the way back on Sunday we stopped in Rye for a pub lunch, which is a beautiful little harbour town with pebble-cobbled streets and really old pubs. Harvey's Best bitter was the main poison of the trip. All in all, an outstanding little jaunt. I think I'm gonna join a medieval recreation society. Don't tell Katie. There's a whole album of pics right here.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Rodent and The Revolutionary

Hmmm.. A couple of interesting stories regarding two heads of state (sorry, Howard's NOT the head of state, is he?) currently on tour....

Howard pushes for US action By Maria Hawthorne 16-05-2006
Washington: PRIME Minister John Howard has urged the United States to become more involved in international affairs, saying it is the only way to ensure world peace.....

Chavez: Imprison "Genocidal" Bush By Hannah K. Strange, May 15, 2006

LONDON -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the flamboyant foe of the U.S. administration, speaking during a two-day visit to London, denounced U.S. President George W. Bush as an "assassin" who should be imprisoned for his "genocidal" policies in Iraq.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Bud faces tough taste test in World Cup Germany

By Louis Charbonneau

BERLIN (Reuters) - Budweiser may be the "King of Beers" in the United States, but it's often laughed at in Germany, where it will be one of only two beers available in football stadiums during the World Cup.

An official sponsor of the month-long soccer tournament that kicks off on June 9, Budweiser parent Anheuser-Busch originally won the rights to a monopoly on beer sales at the 64 World Cup matches to be held in 12 German cities.

But the decision outraged Germany's fiercely proud beer drinkers, many of whom dislike the taste of weaker U.S. beers. The German television station n-tv summed up the country's reaction on its Web site: "A cry went out across the nation."

The St. Louis, Missouri-based firm took note of the furor and relented. It agreed to give 30 percent of beer sales rights to the family-run German brewery Bitburger to sell its popular Bitburger Pils, better known as "Bit."

"We obviously read the stories and are aware of the media ... the German fan, the German consumer, has great pride in the local beers," Anheuser-Busch Vice-President Tony Ponturo told Reuters in a telephone interview.........

Read the rest of the story here.

Here's a link to a German student's anti-Bud protest site.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Tasmanian Scrumpy...wassitlike?

I've just come across South Country Cyder's page. They're making real Westcountry style Scrumpy down there on the Apple Isle. About time too. Has anybody tried it? They have a stall down at Salamanca. If you buy it direct from the farm gate over here, it's usually no more than a quid a litre. Strength varies, but it usually starts about seven percent, and the sky's the limit. Give it a go, and reviews right here please.....

Blots on The Landscape....

Steve has just launched blotonthelandscape.org where he is mapping the density of mobile phone masts versus that of alternative energy generators (wind turbines & solar installations, etc), and arguing that the two may as well be combined.

" I look out from the 8th floor, casting my eye across the skyline. It teems with mobile masts, a massacre of meccano abusing so many rooftops and I wonder why so few wind turbines are visible, when to my simple mind, it would be logical to erect turbines' [wind or photovoltaic cells] at the same time......."

He really needs people to get involved with this project. How? Simple. Take photos of any mobile masts and/or alternative energy generators (anywhere in the world), upload the photos and mark the location on the website's map using Steve's xml files. If you've got any problems, drop him a line to mail@blotonthelandscape.org

Hamburg for Lenz' Birthday

We jetted off to sunny Hamburg last weekend (it WAS sunny, around 25 celsius!) for the fortieth birthday of the old Seadog/GT40 adventurer himself, Captain Lenz. On Friday afternoon/evening, we had a BBQ on the beach opposite the container terminals. It was Hamburg Harbour Festival weekend, and we got there just intime for the opening parade to pass us by. Obviously, the whole night degenerated into a degree of debauchery on the Reeperbahn. On Saturday, after rising at four (PM that is), we headed off to a raucous Italian restauarant for the second instalment, for which we were joined by all of the birthday boy's siblings and various signifcant others. This was followed by a few more drinks in the student area until the wee small hours.

Sunday, a bit of a late breakfast was had, before we farwelled the Bavarian contingent. Then Katie and I headed down to the harbour to check out the festivities on the harbourside.

We flew German Wings, which was a nice relief, as they go direct to Hamburg Airport, and not to Ryanair's version (which is 150km out of town).

Here's some photos of the BBQ, and there's another album of the Harbour Festival here.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

As a service to the good residents of N1 & N5, here's the home delivery/takeaway menu for the Thai Corner Cafe at 236 St Paul's Road, N1 2LJ. Tel 020 7704 8227. It's excellent.