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1. Stella Artois

Once known for its advertising slogan “reassuringly expensive!” it is now recently been more linked to rowdiness and drunken yobbery. In fact so bad has the problem of violence among drinkers of Stella been, a number of pub owners refuse to sell it, and it is more likely to be known by the phrase “wife beater” than anything else. Stella was made more popular in the UK in the nineties after it was seen in the hit BBC sitcom, Men Behaving Badly, and judging by the effect it has on men of a certain age range, it was a very apt choice for the show.

  2. Budweiser

If the Americans think this is the “king of beers” then I would hate to see what the pauper is! This weak as piss fizzy flavourless water with colouring in is unfortunately the beer of choice of football’s world governing body FIFA, which is a strange choice given the American aversion to the game we call football but they call “soccer”! Before the 2006 World Cup in Germany, there was uproar that the German’s were not allowed to serve their own brew in favour of this shite! It is not often I agree with the German’s but on this one they had a very valid point.

  3. Heineken

In fact all Dutch lagers! It was a tough choice between this and Grolsch as to which to put on the list, but then I thought, “no they are all as bad as each other!” I don’t know what it is about Dutch lager but I just can’t stand the taste, any of them and I have tried a fair few I can tell you. In fact I know I’m not the only one who thinks this way as Dutch lager was the butt of a joke in the BBC cult comedy series Red Dwarf, when Kryten the mechanoid says “…and we’ve recycled the water so much, it’s beginning to taste like Dutch lager!” Sums it up for me and my impossible quest for a good Dutch lager continues…

  4. Carling (formerly known as Carling Black label)

I am probably going to get into trouble with this one, as the girlfriend brought a box load of them for Christmas, but it is probably testament to how low I rate this drink that there is still half a box left! Yes I did drink some, but hey its ok when it’s free right? Would I buy some myself however? No, I would not as I don’t ever imagining being in a position where I am that desperate for a alcoholic drink that I would need to buy this when there is perfectly good turps available at the local hardware store! Apparently it is England’s number one selling lager, which is a testament to just how many people in this country do not care what they drink, although it is probably down to the fact that all these piss poor beers seem to be attracted to sponsoring sports events!

  5. Carlsberg Special Brew

Or for that matter any high strength lager, such as Tennents Super, these are lovingly nicknamed “tramp juice” and if you have not seen them in your local supermarket then head down to your local bus or train station or dimly lit subway in order to see the full impact of  these super strength lagers on your community. If you are over 30 and still drinking this then you are either homeless, an alcoholic or a violent chav who has served his apprenticeship on Stella but who now requires something that hits as hard as they think THEY do!

Now for the 5 drinks you should be drinking, and this was a list that was a lot tougher to compile than the 5 you shouldn’t be drinking!

  1. Fullers London Pride

Now we are talking premium grade ‘A’ beer here, now you can accuse the Cockney’s of many things, but they know how to brew a bloody good beer, I first sampled this a few years ago and it has very quickly become my drink of choice, although trying to find a pub that serves it on tap in Hampshire is almost impossible!

  2. Theakston’s Old Peculier

However London Pride has some competition in my affections, as this new boy on the block is running it a close second (and thanks to its availability in my local shop may soon overtake it)  thanks to its distinctive flavour. The only way I can describe it is it tastes slightly of liquorice and it slides down a treat and at 5.6% ABV in packs a punch! Although being a dark drink it is more suited as a winter tipple than a summer one, and it is a classy drink too, no sponsoring sporting events here oh no, Theakston’s Old Peculier is the proud sponsors of a literary award for crime fiction, how cool is that?

   3. Kronenbourg 1664

The only lager that makes it on to the list of top 5 beers, this chic little French number has one of the most distinctive flavours of any lager on the market. The French are renowned around the world for their fine wines but this lager is one of the very best.

 4. Newcastle Brown Ale

If you are new to ales then you could do worse than choose this, One of the most popular ales in Britain it has also become more popular in the United States too. It has a smooth rich flavour and a sultry malty aroma that hits you when you open the bottle, it is light enough to enjoy even in the summer months.

  5. Wells Bombardier

Now Carling stand aside, this is the beer of England, as the label so concisely points out, and this is another ale that has recently come to my attention, probably thanks to the recent advertising campaign starring Rik Mayall. This ale has one of the best colours I have seen and the aroma makes you want to jump head first in to the glass, the flavour is mixed, almost tasting sweet with hints of fig and toffee. One word of caution though always buy the bottles as unfortunately it is available in cans and I think that this does tinge the flavour with more than a hint of tin!

 

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A ghostly short story

The man in the fog

Do I believe in ghosts? If you had asked me that question a few months ago I would have laughed at you, but ask me it now and I wouldn’t be so quick to express amusement. You are probably wondering why there has been an abrupt change in my disposition on all things ethereal. Well let me tell you a story, a story that recounts a very unsettling experience that happened to me last Halloween, describing it still sends a shiver down my spine even now nearly twelve months on.

It was a few minutes to midnight and Halloween was coming to and end, but it would still have a sting in its tale, well at least for me. Being on leave from the army I was looking forward to spending some relaxing time with my family and friends in London. So it was that I found myself walking towards Salisbury train station hoping to catch the last train home. To say that it was foggy would be an understatement, I had never
experienced fog as profuse as it was on this night, and it gave this particular Halloween a more sinister feel, it felt as if I was starring in an Alfred
Hitchcock film.

In the thick fog I had momentarily lost my bearings and I could not for the life of me find my way to the station, it was then that I nearly bumped into a man in front of me.

‘Sorry mate!’ I said and he turned his head to look at me although rather unsettlingly it seemed as though he was actually looking straight through me.

‘I’m heading towards the station, but I have lost my way in this fog, I don’t suppose you could point me in the right direction?’ I asked.

‘That’s alright.’ Replied the stranger. ‘I’m heading there as well follow me.’ He then proceeded to march quite rapidly and I had to be on my toes to make sure I did not lose him in the murkiness. The air was moist and acrid which made breathing difficult and almost painful, the dampness seemed to breach my clothing causing it took cling to my skin. The orange glow of the street lights, diffused in the fog, seemed
to add to the creepy ambience. As I strode up alongside the stranger he spoke.

‘So are you on your way back to your unit?’ I replied that I was in fact on leave and heading home to the capital for some much needed rest and relaxation. He explained that he had been in Salisbury on business and that he had decided to head back to London rather than spend the night away.

We soon arrived at the station entrance and finding the ticket office closed I purchased my ticket from one of those soulless automated ticket machines, before boarding my train, that was thankfully already waiting at the platform. I spotted my erstwhile companion
who was sitting alone in the “quiet zone” carriage. I sat on the seat opposite him and asked him if he minded if we could travel together as I could use the company. He said that he didn’t mind at all as he himself did not like travelling alone, especially at this time of night.

‘I tell you, I am so glad to get outof that damn fog’ I said

‘I know what you mean, it reminds me of a night back in 1980.’ He replied. I was a bit taken aback by what he said as he didn’t seem old enough to have been alive back then.

‘That’s a long time to remember, 1980?’ I said.

‘There is a good reason why I remember it’ he said whilst blowing his nose, ‘I’ll tell you about it. Like I said it was a night like this, misty and dank and so cold that it made my bones ache. I got on the train and managed to get a compartment all to myself, with the intent of having a snooze. However at the next station a man came in and sat himself down opposite me, he looked shifty and ill at ease and he kept staring at me. He unsettled me but as I said I was tired and I tried to ignore him, I reached into my jacket pocket for my fags, but instead my wallet fell
out, spilling some notes onto the floor. I picked it all up and sat back down, but I noticed that the man was watching me even more intently now, like a fox watches a chicken. The movement of the train was making me drowsy and I felt myself nodding off. Suddenly the man pulled out a long knife and leapt at me. I managed to grab his wrist and in the ensuing struggle we collapsed onto thefloor…’

I had been listening intently but I felt the urge to interrupt the man to ask him a question.

‘Did you win the fight?’ I enquired.

‘No I did not, as although my attacker was slim and wiry he was very strong and as I stood up to grab the communication cord, he plunged the knife into my back.’

‘Wow’ I said ‘You were lucky he didn’t kill you, what happened did the knife deflect of a rib and miss your vital organs?’

‘No I was unlucky the knife penetrated my heart and killed me.’

‘It did what?’ I asked incredulously, but I never received an answer, the man had vanished into thin air, leaving me alone in the carriage as the train drew further and further away from Salisbury.

So there I was in Southampton town centre, window shopping, when I suddenly became overcome by an urge to drink coffee, so who was it to be, Costa or Starbucks? Well considering I have a Costa Coffee loyalty card with 100 points on it I thought I would head to my nearest Costa coffee shop and use my points to get £1 off a medium cappuccino, thus bringing the cost down from £2.45 to £1.45. Or at least that was the plan, the execution of said plan did not go… well according to plan! I ordered the coffee and handed over the loyalty card, “can I use the points on my card please?” I said to the young lady behind the counter. She replied in the affirmative, and went to scan the card, that was when she looked at me and said, “I’m sorry, but you don’t have enough points, you only have 100 points!” Slightly caught off guard by this riposte, I mumbled, “err so can’t I use them then?”

And apparently I couldn’t, well not towards the coffee, the assistant then went on to explain that you must have enough points to actually buy something outright. So now I am forced to pay the full price for the coffee and taking it to my table I couldn’t help but think about other loyalty cards that I have had or currently own. I used to have a WH Smith clubcard and you could use any amount of points to get money off anything, the same goes with my Waterstones loyalty card which I had recently used online and even there you don’t have to use all your points if you don’t want to.

So it got me thinking, are loyalty cards actually worth the plastic they are printed on? I currently own three loyalty cards, Coata’s, Waterstones and Ladbrokes, but how do they match up with respect to the amount of rewards they offer? As far as points earned per purchase then Costa do come out on top, with 5 points per £1 spent, whilst Waterstones offer a disappointing 3 points per £1 spent although they do offer double points for books by certain authors, plus they do run a large number of competitions and other offers. Ladbrokes fail miserably with their 1 point per £1 “reward” and I still can’t find out exactly how many points I need for a free bet. Plus the amount of bets I actually place are few and far between so it is not really worth me carrying the card in the first place! The loyalty card that annoys me the most, is one that I don’t even own and have no intention of owning, the dreaded Nectar card! The number of times I get asked when shopping in Sainsbury’s, “Do you have a Nectar card?” drives me mad, so much so that I’m thinking of getting a cap or t-shirt printed with the legend, “NO, I DO NOT HAVE A F**KING NECTAR CARD!!!” It would save time, and it is concise and to the point!

At the end of the day I do not want my wallet crammed full of useless bits of plastic, and if I don’t present my worthless piece of plastic at the checkout whilst making a purchase, please don’t ask me if I have one!

Week 6 – Twitterati

 

Write a piece of fiction using only 140 characters. This challenge is designed to make you think about your words, your letters and your punctuation. Write something that will allow your reader to fill in the blanks.

 

Remember, this is not ‘up to 140 characters’ – it is exactly 140 characters!

 

My first time at doing one of these challenges so here goes:

 

With her vow to walk with one more loss, he went “all-in” and as he saw the hand that beat his, he knew marking the cards had been wasteful.

 

Why I love Wales

I visited Wales for the first time in six years at the
beginning of September, for a short holiday, and it reminded me of why I find
the place so enchanting. A few years ago my parents lived for a brief time in
mid-Wales in a small sleepy village halfway between Aberystwyth and Newtown,
all it had was a small convenience store and a quaint local pub and a
population of no more than a couple of hundred at a guess. I spent some time
there visiting my folks and it was my little escape from the hustle and bustle
of life in a major city, no noise apart from the occasional bleating sheep,
clean crisp air and surrounded by hills and fields. I was bitterly disappointed
when they moved back to Southampton and I hadn’t been back to Wales since then, until last week.

My girlfriend and I had toyed with the idea of a short break
in Belgium but the cost was prohibitive and throw in the extra travelling time
it would have been a very short, short break indeed. After a thorough internet
search we happened upon a nice little set of holiday cottages about twenty
miles southwest of Brecon, set in the Brecon Beacons national park. It was
unusual in that the main entrance to the cottages was shared with the Dan Yr
Ogof caves, a set of caves that were only discovered in the last century. It is
also home to the largest collection of life-size replica dinosaurs in Europe
and it was strange to look out of the cottage window and see various dinosaurs
looking back at you. We visited the caves as soon as they opened the day after
our arrival and it was a very enjoyable couple of hours, the cave system
contained several breathtaking (and extremely noisy) waterfalls ranging from a
slight trickle to a full on cascade of freezing cold water.

Next on our itinerary was a trip to a Welsh distillery at Penderyn, opened in 2000 it released its first batch of whisky in 2004, due to
their prolonged maturing process. The tour was a short one as the distillery is
only small and it took no longer than an hour but it was very informative and
led by our tour guide “Dave” who spoke to us with warmth, charisma and with a
touch of humour. The best part of the tour (for me anyway) was the tasting of
the whisky itself which was a delight as was the single cream liqueur (like
Bailey’s only miles better) we also received some tips from Dave on how to
serve and drink single malt whisky. It is certainly a trip I would recommend to
anyone who is anywhere near south Wales.

On our last day we visited the town of Brecon itself a
wonderful place although its high street is blighted by the usual chain stores
that have turned every town and city in Britain into a clone of itself. That
aside it is still a picturesque place and we visited Brecon cathedral and the
canal. We finished with a tour of the South Wales Borderers museum which was
very informative and the Zulu war exhibit was very interesting. The South Wales
Borderers used to be known as the 24th regiment of foot who fought
so gallantly at the battle of Rorke’s Drift. They have also fought in many
other major conflicts such as the two world wars before they were finally
merged with another regiment in 1964.

All in all a very memorable trip and the weather
was ok apart from Saturday afternoon when we had a typical Welsh downpour, no
wonder the valley’s are so green!

Whilst trying to find some way to pass the time on a wet and dreary English summers day I suddenly had an idea, “I know” I said aloud to no-one in particular, “Why don’t I write about my top ten all-time favourite movies?”

So here it is! In deciding my top ten films of all time there wasn’t any rules as such, but I had to own them, and any films that I had owned on all three formats (VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray) had to be automatically included in the top ten, after all if I had gone to the expense of purchasing them three times then they must be good right? So pen and paper in hand I started to make a long list of films that would eventually have to be whittled down to just ten. Easy! Well no, it was actually bloody difficult! With three films already guaranteed a top ten place due to the three formats rule there was only room for another seven top films, but who should make the long list? I started looking at my DVD and Blu-Ray collection alphabetically (yes I have them in alphabetical order, it’s a bloke thing ok?) and there was some tough choices to make even at this early stage, after all if I have gone to the trouble of buying them then they must have been a film I have enjoyed watching. There were some early noticeable casualties including, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Heat, Ghostbusters, Field of Dreams and Donnie Darko, all top notch films but I just couldn’t count them in my all-time favourites.

Eventually after the best part of half an hour, I had my long-list of 26 films. Now all I had to do was turn that into a short list of 15 or so cinematic delights that would be in with a chance of making the final ten. Each movie had to be judged on its individual merit, and if I thought it was difficult to make a long list, making a short list was looking impossible! This was getting tough, and it was with a heavy heart that I had to say farewell to the likes of, Alien, About a Boy, The Long Good Friday, and Stand by Me, to name just a few. So who made the short list? Well not including the 3 films who had made it through on the 3 formats rule (you’ll have to wait to find out who they are later on) the list is as follows: Goldfinger, The Ladykillers, Dirty Harry, Hell Drivers, Duel, Get Carter, Groundhog Day, Back to the Future, The ‘burbs, Croupier, Dead Man’s Shoes, Planes,Trains and Automobiles, and Secret Window. Now to whittle them down to the 7 films to join the other 3 for a place in my top ten. This was getting so difficult as all of the films I had left meant a lot to me and have given me hours of joy, but first to go was Planes, Trains and Automobiles, starring Steve Martin and John Candy, I really wanted this to make it to the final 10 but I just couldn’t do it as it is a superb film but I had to be harsh in my whittling down and it didn’t quite make it. Next to fall by the wayside was the British film, Croupier, starring Clive Owen and directed by Mike Hodges who also directed Get Carter, which was also on my list. Now being an aspiring writer myself I enjoy films where the main character is a writer and I really like this film, but it just falls short of being brilliant and so it failed to make it, plus I didn’t really want 2 films from the same director in the final 10, so in a shoot-out with Get Carter, it lost! The axe fell next on another UK film and I agonised for ages over this, but Dead Man’s Shoes didn’t make the final cut either, as it is a tale of revenge and I already in mind a couple of films of this genre that would make the top ten ahead of this and I didn’t want too many of the same type of film clogging up the final list. Now the whittling down had to get really tough and 3 more films had to go and I’m afraid Dirty Harry, Goldfinger and Groundhog Day were all unsuccessful in making the final ten. Leaving these films out was almost like asking me to cut off three fingers, it was painful and I felt that I didn’t really want to do it but I had no choice.

So I had my final ten, now came the almost impossible task of putting them into some sort of order, after tinkering with the list for a good 40 minutes I came to what I think is my all-time top ten films, but even now I can’t help but think I should move some about, but no I must stop tinkering with them. So here is my all-time top ten films in reverse order (drum roll please)

In 10th place we have The Ladykillers, starring Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom, this film is the oldest film in the top ten having been shot in 1955, a good 18 years before I was born, but what a great film. This Ealing studios classic about a bunch of crooks holed up in an old ladies house after a robbery who try to bump her off after she discovers what they have really been up to is one of the greatest British films of all time. Alec Guinness is superb as the scheming Professor Marcus and there is an early cameo appearance by Frankie Howerd also.

In 9th place is Duel, made in 1971 and starring Dennis Weaver who starred in the TV show Gentle Ben (who remembers that?) as a lone driver being terrorised by a psychotic lorry driver. This film was the first to be directed by a young Steven Spielberg, and in my opinion remains one of his best. The story is a simple one but it grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go until the end, and you feel as though you are in the car with Dennis as the tension and the fear mount.

In 8th place is what I consider to be one of Tom Hanks’ most under-rated works, The ‘Burbs. Tom is excellent as the beleaguered Ray Peterson a man so utterly devoid of any sort of life that he takes to spying on his new neighbours, with the help of the old ones. Anyone who has lived in a cul-de-sac (and I have) will tell you how quickly a clique develops and the old neighbours become suspicious of anyone new moving in, well this film obviously takes that to extremes but is very funny and entertaining.

In 7th place is Back to the Future. A film that doesn’t really need me to explain anything about we’ve all seen it right?

In 6th place is probably a film that will surprise a lot of people, and that film is Secret Window. Taken from a Stephen King novel, Secret Window, Secret Garden. It stars Johnny Depp as a writer who is trying to come to terms with his wife leaving him for another man, when John Turturro arrives at the door of his country retreat accusing him of plagiarism. There then follows a game of cat and mouse between the two that gets more and more sinister and violent right up until the twist at the end.

In 5th position and lower down as I wanted to place it but the competition for the top 5 places is fierce, is the western Tombstone a re-telling of the shootout at the OK corral, starring Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday, in what in my opinion is Val Kilmer’s finest acting performance to date. Powers Booth is also excellent as Curly Bill, the leader of the feared Cowboys gang.

In 4th we have a film that I mentioned earlier, Get Carter, the British gangster flick starring Michael Caine as Jack Carter, a London based gangster who returns home to Newcastle to discover the events surrounding his brothers mysterious death in a car accident. The film also stars playwright and poet Jon Osborne as the sneeringly menacing gangster Cyril Kinnear.

Now we enter the top three, and in 3rd place is the Sci-Fi thriller, Blade Runner, based on the book Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep? Written by the great writer Philip K. Dick. Starring Harrison Ford in one of his best roles as the Blade Runner of the title who has to terminate three highly dangerous androids who have escaped from a prison ship and landed on Earth.

In the runner-up spot we have Martin Scorsese’s epic gangster movie, Goodfellas, starring Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci. Based on a true story of how a young boy worked his way up to become a top gangster before it all started to fall apart. An amazing film and an amazing story, yes it is violent as you would expect as it is a violent world they live in, but the story is gripping and the cinematography is immense.

And so to the winner and it is a film that I suspect very few people have heard about, it is a British film from 1957 entitled Hell Drivers, and for me it is not just about the story line (as silly as it is) but it wins because it is a who’s who of British acting talent at the time. The cast list is amazing, Stanley Baker plays the main character and is ably supported by Herbert Lom, Sid James, Patrick McGoohan, Sean Connery, Gordon Jackson, William Hartnell, Peggy Cummins, Jill Ireland David McCallum. The story itself is about an ex-con (Baker) who joins a local haulage firm who force their drivers to drive at breakneck speeds through narrow country lanes in order to fulfil their quota. Patrick Mcgoohan is excellent as the menacing and moody supervisor, Red, whilst Herbert Lom excels as Baker’s only friend, Gino. As Baker stands up to the bullying Red, he finds himself more and more isolated from the rest of the workforce who are reluctant to side with the newcomer. This film has a certain resonance to me as I myself have found it hard to fit in at a new job where there is a close knit group of workers, wary of newcomers and I guess that’s why it stuck in my mind all those years ago when I first watched one wet and windy autumn morning whilst skiving off school! So there you have it my top ten films of all-time and I think it is going to be difficult for any new film in the future to break into the top ten, but we shall see.

Following on from my last blog, the next few books I read in March weren’t very good, starting with Strangers on the 16:02, a short novella from the “Quick reads” collection, and to be honest its only saving grace was that it was mercifully short. There is very little story and it just seems to be a collection of characters thrown together, even the event at the end doesn’t add to much. Next up was Dead man’s hand, a collection of short stories based around the game of Poker, One word sums this book up, and that word is “disappointing”. I looked forward to reading it but the stories are badly written and some are difficult to follow, I gave up in the end. I finished the month with another collection of short stories called Speaking with the Angel, edited by one of my favourite authors, Nick Hornby who also contributes with a story. This was another disappointing book with only one or two good stories and the rest were mediocre.

Due to my Open University course reaching its conclusion I didn’t get to read as many books as I would liked to have done in April and May due to concentrating on getting a passing grade, and the only book I managed to read in April was, For richer, for poorer,  a compelling look at the world of poker, through the eyes of journalist and broadcaster Victoria Coren. She details how she became hooked on the game from her early days playing for small stakes in smoke-filled back rooms of pubs and clubs, right up to becoming the European champion. She has an uncanny knack of bringing to life the characters that she has met through the years and the anecdotes are interesting, funny, and sometimes sorrowful. Finally free from the constraints of studying the next book I read is currently the best book I have read this year, a biography about the life of actor Patrick McGoohan called Not a number. I wasn’t expecting much from this biography if I’m honest as all though being a well-known actor, Patrick McGoohan was also a very private person who rarely gave interviews, and when he did he usually gave very little away. However I was blown away by the sheer amount of research that has gone into producing this very well put together book. It is obvious from the very first page that a huge amount of time and effort has been put into finding obscure excerpts from magazines and video taped interviews, that help bring to life the man and his works. If you are a fan of Mr. McGoohan this is a must read book, and if you are not familiar with him then this book should inspire you to sit down and watch this great character actor in action. May finished with a visit to my local library where I picked up a copy of Coming up for air, by George Orwell, which despite enjoying early on it fell away somewhat from the middle onwards and failed to hold my interest.

June started with a Kindle only publication entitled, Diary of the displaced, which I found to be very dull and a little weird, next up was a book that I had been meaning to read for some time, John Haldeman’s The forever war, a science-fiction classic written in the early seventies about a future war against an alien race on a far off world. It is a very good book that kept me interested through out and having read one of his previous works I shall endeavour to read more from Mr. Haldeman in the future.

Well that is all for the first six months of the year, I shall review July to December after Christmas