Thanks Claudio

If it’s true that senior Leicester City players got Ranieri sacked then it’s absolutely shameful.

Some of the best managers in the world took years to turn failing clubs into successful ones. Ranieri took a club that were favourites for relegation, made very few changes and won the league by 10 points.

He knew it wouldn’t be repeated – other clubs with bottomless budgets would make sure of that, by spending, spending and spending again. Though what he did know was he had the fans on his side and he placed his trust in the majority of the side that became Champions.

And they let him down, big time.

They’ve spent 6 months on the champagne and they’ve let their manager take the bullet. I tell you what, he’ll walk into another job at a top European club.

As for those pampered multi-millionaire cry babies, they’ll never have it so good again. If they find themselves in the lower leagues next season it’ll be well deserved. I just hope it’s not with Leicester City, as their fans deserve better.

No manager is perfect and looking from the outside there are probably things that have happened I’m not aware of that he might have done differently this season, but he deserved the chance to make it right.

Good luck Mr Ranieri, thanks for putting some joy back into English football.

Autumnal Contentment

There’s something about this time of year which leaves me feeling extremely happy with my lot.

Not that I’m unhappy for the rest of the year – far from it – but there’s a twinkle in the eye of autumn that puts me at ease and makes me feel very relaxed and happy in my own skin.

I think it has something to do with the lifestyle we all tend to adopt when the coldness kicks in. The heating generally goes on making everything seem that much cosier. The food we rustle together is almost always comforting – the sort of food you dream about in summer when it gets a bit nithering.

Everything good about living in England comes to the fore in autumn – the plentiful produce from the harvest, the welcoming glow of roaring fires in country pubs, the multi-coloured show of the leaves on the trees turning the countryside into a tapestry, crisp clear autumnal days when the air feels just that little bit fresher. I love it all.

The onset of colder weather always excites me for some reason. Warm weather in summer is always lovely, but I can take it or leave it and I look forward to the changing of the season every year.

I can tolerate winter, I like a good summer, and I’m quite satisfied by spring – but I adore autumn.

 

Confessions of a Reindeer Impersonator

So another festive season is over. Millions of us are dusting down our gym kit and trying to remember where the healthy food is kept in the supermarket. Friends and family have dispersed back to wherever it is they live and the vast majority of us, several pounds lighter in the pocket and several pounds heavier around the waistline have been trudging, bleary eyed, through the winter darkness back to our generally mundane everyday lives.

There are more than a few people out there who will already be counting down the weeks and months until we can do it all over again. Those who love Christmas and everything that goes with it. I’ve got no problem with that. Despite the rather depressing introduction to this piece, I’m no Scrooge. Though apart from the genuine pleasure I derive from catching up with friends and family and the giving of well thought out gifts, I’m not one of those people who just can’t wait until the tinsel goes back up. The weeks filled with shitty advertisements, the same old Christmas music playing on a loop as we queue up in lines, waiting to pay for the items that our televisions have told us to buy, are certainly not my cup of tea.

You’re probably thinking that some childhood event may have been the trigger for my disdain towards the Yuletide period. You’d be wrong – I don’t need a shrink to help me work this one out.

You see, for a few months in 1998, it really was Christmas every day for me……

I left school in May 1997 armed with 9 GCSEs. I decided to continue my education studying a BTEC National Diploma in Travel and Tourism, in a misguided assumption that a career in this field would bring me fortune and enable me see the World for free. Initially, my dreams were shot down in flames after undertaking some work experience in a local travel agent, where duties consisted solely of making mugs of tea for orange faced ladies and putting stickers on brochures for holidays I’d never be able to afford.

Then, much to my delight, the college arranged for all the students to spend a summer working at various holiday resorts. Things were looking up.

Or not as it turned out. After a 9 hour coach journey, I found myself in the Scottish Highlands. The place I was to spend the summer of 1998 was ‘Santa Claus Land’.

Yes, you read that correctly. A children’s ‘theme park’ which opened its doors 365 days a year. Part of the mostly decaying ‘Aviemore Mountain Resort’, the place was an utter mishmash. Highlights included a dinosaur ride, an amusement arcade (including one of those old 90s virtual reality simulators), a go kart track, a crazy golf course, a petting zoo and various props from an old episode of ‘It’s A Knockout’ dotted around randomly. It needed a lick (well, a Tsunami more like) of paint and most of the attractions probably wouldn’t get past the health and safety police these days.

On arrival I was allocated a cramped room in a dismal staff hostel. My roommate for the next few months was a perma-stoned kitchen porter from Glasgow called Donald. I often felt like I needed a fog light attaching to my arse when negotiating the small room, such was the hash induced haze. He was actually quite good company when he wasn’t comatose underneath his grubby duvet, but it was hardly the sun soaked Spanish villa I had anticipated living in when I signed up for the course.

I was to work as a ‘Kids Club Co-ordinator’. Main duties involved organising games of rounders and football, face painting sessions and generally giving horrible, spoilt little fuckers the chance to bite and nip me and kick and punch me in the bollocks. I also had to take my turn dressing up as the various ‘fun’ park characters. Think what Disneyland would be like if it was taken over by Haven Holidays, and you’re along the right lines. I’ll introduce these to you as I remember them;

‘Santa Claus’ – The head honcho in Christmasville. We had to wear a big fake santa head and sit on a throne whilst someone else read stories to the little horrors – it was so hot and boring, we often dozed off hidden by the mask. A gentle nudge from the story teller signified that snooze time was over.

‘Polar Postie’ – A polar bear dressed as a postal worker. Obviously.

‘Bertha Bigfoot’ – An enormous white fluffy monster which was probably supposed to be a Yeti (I understand there’s a difference – please correct me in the comments below cryptozoology fans) but they couldn’t think of a good enough name – it looked like Miranda Hart wearing a huge fur onesie.

‘Rudy Reindeer’ – A reindeer wearing a t-shirt, dungarees and trainers. You know, standard winter wear in Lapland. He also had the biggest, heaviest false reindeer head you can possibly imagine.

After one rather hectic day dressed up as Rudy Reindeer and wearing his massive furry bonce, I retired to my narcotic infused flea pit and woke up the next morning unable to move, let alone get out of bed. I eventually managed to roll out, swallow my pride and I went to the local doctors. Not many people can say they’ve been given severe whiplash by a reindeer, but I certainly can. I spent the next week in a neck brace. With my ginger curly hair, I was surely the inspiration for Leigh Francis’ character, Avid Merrion.

After long days of looking after the spawn of Satan, in the evenings we partied hard. We were driven to booze. It was here I was first introduced to the delights of the original WKD – “Alcoholic Irn Bru? Fucking hell, they’ve really got problems up here”. We did pub crawls, ill-advised karaoke sessions and many late night hostel parties. Each morning the 5 minute walk to work was broken by a visit to the hostel vending machine to grab a standard Irn Bru and a packet of Space Raiders. A breakfast fit for a king.

Generally, Santa Claus Land made me feel about as Christmassy as a hot summer day. Christmas music played all day, every day but over a terrible tinny PA system. The park was falling to bits and some of the staff could hardly look after themselves, let alone a bunch of kids. It really wasn’t the sort of place you’d actually like to spend any time in at Christmas. It’s now been bulldozed to make way for the redevelopment of the Aviemore resort, which in some ways makes me sad, but in others makes me think it was long overdue.

Nevertheless I made some great friends, some of whom I’m still in touch with 14 years later – I’ll always remember that summer. I grew up a hell of a lot, it set me in good stead for adulthood and it made me realise that travel and tourism wasn’t really all infinity pools and cocktails. I now work in IT.

Most importantly though, each time I hear someone say “I wish it could be Christmas every day”, I can tell them from first-hand experience, quite certainly:

“No you fucking don’t.”

48 Hours in Yorkshire

I recently had one of the most enjoyable holidays I’ve ever had. In the past few years I’ve been to New Zealand, Australia, New York, Egypt and India, but this break wasn’t in any of those places. It was in Yorkshire, and it was fantastic.

Accompanied by my wife, parents, sister and her boyfriend, Robin Hood’s Bay was our destination – a collection of historic buildings clinging to the cliffs on the North Yorkshire coastline, tumbling down towards the sea. Still a working fishing village, there are picture postcard views from almost every angle.

After purchasing a bucket, a spade, a frisbee and a fishing net, our first morning was spent on the beautiful sandy beach. We spent the next few hours building sandcastles, playing frisbee, rock pooling and generally recreating childhood memories of holidays past. After a great pub lunch of sandwiches filled with succulent fresh local prawns and homemade leek and potato soup (washed down with a pint of local ale) the afternoon was spent walking along the cliff tops in the November sunshine, admiring the views out over the North Sea – and again recalling happy childhood memories of looking at passing container ships through my grandfather’s binoculars in Bridlington. After a rest and a home cooked meal in our fantastic holiday flat (in an old Victorian town house), we ventured out for the evening activity – the local pub quiz. The locals were very friendly – and remained so even after we won!

The next morning we headed along the coast to Whitby, home town of Captain James Cook and inspiration for Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’. We started at the top of the town and had a look around Whitby Abbey which dates from 657, and also St Mary’s Church next door. This beautiful church is complete with original box partitioned pews. Next we descended the 199 steps from the church down into the old town, and browsed through the gift and art shops which line the main old town street. There’s an abundance of ‘Whitby Jet’ shops here, selling a multitude of gifts made from the polished black semi-precious stone (fossilised monkey-puzzle tree) which is found along the coastline here and has been mined and collected for centuries.

It was soon time for a lunch of delicious fish and chips, and where better to eat them than the famous Magpie Café? The food here is superb, with a mouth-watering selection of fresh seafood all caught locally and landed on the harbour quay opposite. My haddock, chips and mushy peas looked like it could feed a small family, and tasted fantastic. The afternoon was spent walking off our lunch around the new town and admiring the Christmas lights which were already up and twinkling in the early evening darkness. We stopped off at a historic local pub for a drink before departing.

Back in Robin Hood’s Bay our final evening was spent listening to some good old fashioned Yorkshire story telling on the Original Robin Hood’s Bay Ghost Walk. Chilling tales of the paranormal collected over hundreds of years of history in this little village, yet delivered with genuine warmth and humour. This was hugely entertaining and informative, and adults and children enjoyed it equally.

Bringing an end to 48 hours of pure enjoyment then, I was left feeling very lucky to live in a place where I don’t even have to leave my own county to find such diverse experiences. I don’t know if I’ll be back to Robin Hood’s Bay soon – there’s plenty more places here for me to explore – but I am certain there’s something for everyone in Yorkshire, wherever it is you’re from.

 

10 Real Ale Discoveries At Skipton Beer Festival

As seen on Sabotage Times: http://www.sabotagetimes.com/life/10-real-ale-discoveries-at-skipton-beer-festival/

Like woollen hats which make the wearer look like they have an animal head, glasses without any glass in them and the plague of posters, cushions, mugs, cards with that ‘Keep Calm’ logo emblazoned upon them, beer festivals seem to be very much ‘in’ these days. However unlike all of that other nonsense, a beer festival is very much to my liking.

Skipton Beer Festival was first held in 2007 after the manager of the Town Hall decided the venue needed to stage more high profile events. Situated in the centre of Skipton, set back at the top of ‘UK High Street of the Year 2008’ the town hall is a decent central venue for this now annual shindig, organised by the Keighley and Craven branch of CAMRA (The Campaign for Real Ale). Despite a few gripes from some punters about the suitability and size of the venue (the beer and food is served in a small, often packed annex leaving the main hall free for people to stand, sit and drink), the festival is always good value and very well attended.

This year we are treated to a dizzying array of booze – a choice of 65 real ales in total, including a dedicated bar for Skipton based Copper Dragon Brewery, plus a choice of some bottled European beers and a selection of ciders, perries and British wines. Oh, and some soft drinks. And pie and peas. And bacon sandwiches.

So, armed with a notepad, a camera and my festival pint glass (with the now standard sheep based logo – the name Skipton is derived from the Old English for ‘Sheep Town’), I ventured forth to do some thorough investigative work.

The festival was officially opened by the town mayor, who seemed to have been enjoying the festival for a couple of hours when I arrived. Later in the evening the gentle hum of people chattering over their beers was broken by the crash of a pint pot hitting the wooden floor. Cue the inevitable cheers – which only grew louder and soon turned into laughter when it became apparent the glass dropper was the mayor himself – greasy palms?!

It’s fair to say this is a very friendly festival and has a very local feel to it – the evening raffle underlined this – almost like a school fete. The prizes were a trip for two around Copper Dragon Brewery, a meal for two at The Devonshire (the Wetherspoons in town, and not the Michelin Starred restaurant at Bolton Abbey with the same name), a Salamander Brewery t-shirt and a Trappist Monk ale glass. I didn’t win anything sadly.

So what about the booze then? Here’s what I tasted:

Bushy’s Brewery (Isle of Man) – ‘Ruby (1874) Mild’ 3.5% ABV

Described in the programme as a ‘classic full-bodied ruby mild’ this was a great way to start the festival. Nicely dark, but pleasant and not too heavy, I enjoyed this one very much. I would definitely buy this again if I spot it down the boozer.

Dark Horse Brewery (Hetton, North Yorkshire) – ‘Best Bitter’ 3.8% ABV

This brewery is located not far from Skipton, in a hay barn in Hetton. They distribute their beers to several local pubs and nationwide. This, their ‘Best Bitter’, is a lovely easy drinking session beer. This pale brown beauty certainly was a dark horse and bolted from my glass pretty quickly.

Exe Valley Brewery (Exeter, Devon) – ‘Darkest Devon’ 3.9% ABV

This was a lovely dark mild beer, with hints of smokiness, treacle and chocolate. It actually had a dark golden tint to it. Very pleasant drinking, but not the best dark beer I’ve ever tasted.  Probably not worth the drive to Devon to find it again, but throw in a cream tea and I might just think about it.

Goose Eye Brewery (Keighley, West Yorkshire) – ‘Goose Eye Bitter’ 3.9% ABV

The brewery is based in Keighley but takes its name after the magnificently monikered village of Goose Eye. This beer was a treat. Despite only being 3.9%, it tasted much stronger and certainly tickled my taste buds, leaving me wanting more. Thankfully this is fairly local to me so I should be able to track it down again.

Hook Norton Brewery (Oxfordshire) – ‘Hooky Bitter’ 3.6% ABV

Hoppy and fruity, a decent session beer but nothing really stood out for me on this one. This was probably the most disappointing ale of the evening for me, but I’ll leave you to decide yourselves if you find it – it may taste better hand pulled rather than poured from the cask.

Houston Brewery (Renfrewshire, Scotland) – ‘Peter’s Well’ 4.2% ABV

This was an excellent, fresh and fruity ale, with as the programme says “the aroma of fresh cut grass”. In a word – delicious. I would definitely try this again. Very good indeed and highly recommended.

Kirkstall Brewery (Leeds, West Yorkshire) – ‘Three Swords’ 4.5% ABV

Beer has been brewed in Kirkstall since the Cistercian monks lived here at Kirkstall Abbey in the 12th Century. I think they’d have been rather proud of this offering – a very tasty, drinkable , fruity, citrusy beer and one of my favourites of the evening. Disappeared down the hatch very quickly and definitely a beer I could make a habit of drinking.

Moles Brewery (Melksham, Wiltshire) – ‘Mole Catcher’ 5.0% ABV

A delicious full bodied copper ale. Hints of spices, fairly hoppy and very pleasant. My initial thoughts were it smelt and tasted of the countryside – country air and ploughed fields. It would probably be a very good accompaniment to a massive ploughman’s platter. Excellent.

Phoenix Brewery (Heywood, Lancashire) – ‘Arizona’ 4.1% ABV

Despite being ‘over the border’ in Lancashire, I doth my flat cap and wave my ferret in appreciation of these fine brewers. This beer is exceptionally good. My initial thought was it smelt of hot cross buns – the mouth-watering citrus and cinnamon smell you get when they’re hot from the oven. A beautiful pale golden colour, light and refreshing, this ale was frankly superb and my favourite beer of the evening by a very long way.

Titanic Brewery (Burslem, Staffordshire) – ‘Titanic Mild’ 3.5% ABV

The Titanic was famously deemed to be ‘unsinkable’ however I’m pleased to report that this ale was quite the opposite. A nutty, dark beer with subtle hoppy hints, this was a pleasant experience and a good way to finish off a good evening.

Shed Heaven

This weekend I’ll be hoping the weather stays fine as we need to undertake one of the most important jobs in the DIY calendar (and one of Alan Shearer’s famous celebratory tasks) – treat our new shed.

We’ve had an allotment on the Middletown site now for a couple of years, and we’ve gradually made progress in turning it from a plain grass patch into a decent looking and productive allotment plot.

The addition of a shed is a welcome relief – having no car means we’ve had to carry all our tools on the 15 minute walk to the site each time we needed to do anything productive.

The next job is to build a fruit cage to keep the birds off our berries, expand the compost bin and I’m keen to put in a wildlife pond to attract some frogs to eat up all the slugs.

On a sunny day there’s no better place to be, out in the fresh air with our great view back down the valley towards Cononley.

Miserable Weather

As I left Skipton on the train this morning headed for another day in the office in Leeds, I looked back down the valley  and saw a low cloud hanging over Skipton.

The weather has reverted to type over the last week and we’ve certainly seen our fair share of April Showers.

Hopefully we turn a corner again soon and the weather behaves itself for the first of the year’s big Skipton Events – the Waterways Festival in a few weeks.