New Year New Food

It’s a new year and the gyms are full of people blinking like newborn fawns at the flashing dials of unknown machines. Regulars sigh, knowing only the toughest will keep up their new routines. Health food shops sit back; it’s their time to shine. There is a national courgette shortage. Healthy eating adverts are everywhere. People hold their wobbly bits and sigh, knowing that if only they could have the discipline to make 5 days worth of packed lunch on a Sunday evening they would be True Adults.

Food is the cause of so much guilt during the January purge. It feels extra naughty to some people to indulge in a chippy tea or eat out somewhere posh after the extravagance of Christmas. BUT NOT TO ME. This is important, as I guide you through the January blues with a sexy calorie count and a love of my own wobbly bits.

If you find yourself adding lentils or quinoa or couscous to a meal in lieu of delicious pasta, or if you use a can of fizzy drink to make a chicken curry sauce, stop. Pasta is not the enemy here, and neither is a delicious korma. The enemy is the insane amount of marketing designed to make you feel bad about what you eat and how you look, and people are getting richer by the second while you spend your wages on stuff which tastes like the box your crimbo pressies came in. Pasta won’t kill you.

If you’re convinced it’s the work of Satan, just put a bit less in your bowl or buy wholewheat. Likewise if you’re hell bent on a health drive, just chuck a handful of frozen veg into your sauce, you’ll feel virtuous without breaking the bank or your soul. Any veg is better than no veg.

I’ve spent January eating from the 5pm priced-down range at my local supermarket thanks to literally everyone I know having a birthday just after Christmas. Selfish…. Weird recipes involving malt loaf and 9p steak slices have formed the basis of our diets for weeks, and do I feel bad about it? Of course not. My kid has the energy for 3 after school sports clubs and I work night shifts, so we’re doing something right.

No need to spend hours soaking lentils until they transform into edible fart-nuggets, a bowl of spaghetti shapes and some tinned tomatoes keep us flying along nicely without me skimming the back pages of women’s magazines for ‘new fitness regimes’ and feeling awful about every part of my life.

So eat the chips, feed your soul and don’t let the media tell you that any time of year is a time to change. Diet if you want to, but not because you feel you should. Enjoy those carbs and use the time you’d have spent looking at calories to read a book or play outside or take up needlework. New year, same old you. You’re lovely as you are.

 

A Genuine Beestonian Accent

Our resident Robin Hood talks propah…

Over the years Sal and I have had a lot of weird things happen to us: watching the birth of our daughter become the top story on the BBC news website; being mentioned in a question on a national TV quiz show and recently discovering someone had written us into a play where the ‘real’ Robin and Marian appear in modern day Nottingham and bump into us, meaning we are genuinely characters in someone else’s play (which on reflection may explain a lot).

Performance-wise I have done a few other things over the years; some TV work, music videos and even a proper play (for most of which I had to stay hidden under a huge pile of empty beer cans, pizza boxes and other detritus so I could ‘amusingly’ emerge halfway through proclaiming ‘Great party, man’ which didn’t require quality acting skills so much as the ability to stay awake). And several years ago I was also hired to dress as a vicar and act out a marriage service for a couple of people who wanted it to be filmed; I still have no idea at all what that was about.

I’ve also been in a couple of movies – not huge, big budget epics or lavish musicals but more what you’d call ‘very low budget horror movies’, the splendidly titled ‘Dracula’s Orgy of the Damned’ and ‘Werewolf Massacre at Hell’s Gate’ written, directed and produced by my old friend James Baack in and around his home in Chicago (and even now available on DVD from Amazon in the US).

A few years ago James asked me if I’d like to appear in his films to narrate/introduce as ‘Lord Victor Fleming’, a collector of arcane and mysterious stories. Wearing evening dress and having dressed our living room look as much like a 19th century gentleman’s club as possible Sally filmed me setting the scene for the film (“The story you are about to see is a tale of terror that will freeze your very soul” etc.) including some filming at Wollaton Hall to imply it was Victor Fleming’s ancestral home. We both enjoyed the experience greatly and were delighted to get copies of the final, finished film(s) several months later.

And then reviews of the movies began turning up online, and oddly the one thing all the reviews had in common were comments on the narrator’s ‘fake English accent’, which amused us all greatly. I can maybe see why American reviewers watching a film mainly shot in America with American actors might assume my accent was fake (and to be fair my ‘posh’ voice may not be entirely consistent anyway) but when I jokingly replied to one such reviewer on the Amazon US site recently,  pointing out I was genuinely English in what I hoped was an amusingly and vaguely sarcastic way, the Nottingham Post got involved and ran a story ‘Robin Hood slammed for ‘fake English accent’’, and that really was weird.

Although it was quite fun, albeit presumably on a slow news day, it also got me thinking. Much like Russell Crowe I know I’ve never spoken in a ‘Nottingham accent’ but I’m not sure what my accent is. I’m sure I do have some Nottingham influence but I don’t think it’s very strong (I’m sure growing up listening to a lot of Radio 4 has affected it much more) but that led me to further wonder – is there  ‘Beeston accent’? I don’t think there is, but is that due to the excellent cosmopolitan makeup of the town, with so many varying languages, people and cultures all mixing together?  Are there any particular words or phrases that we can claim as our own? Because if I’m going to be castigated for having a fake English accent I’d like to console myself with knowing I have a genuine Beestonian one…

Tim Pollard

Nottingham’s Official Robin Hood

Mr & Mrs Christmas

Scott Bennett pays tribute to his mum and dad who love Christmas

Well the festive season is almost upon us, where families come together as one.  It’s the same every year; you’re welded to the sofa, unable to move due to the calories consumed, it almost become normal to hurt after every meal. Sitting there in an ill-fitting Christmas jumper wearing a pair of slippers bought for you by someone who doesn’t understand either you or modern fashion trends.

You cast a booze addled eye around the room and look at all your relatives; uncles, aunties, Grandparents, parents and cousins all in your house and you think, “aww, look at them all, sitting there, isn’t it wonderful, you know I reckon its time they cleared off. Come on then, one more game of charades Nanna, two words, sounds like “your taxi” times up old cock.”

Christmas is a strange time to be a comedian. We are all now familiar with the phenomenon of “Black Friday” a tradition passed to us from our friends in the US, which sees retailers bombarding us relentlessly for a week with offers on the cheap tat that has been sat gathering dust in their warehouses for most of the year. We have seen people lose their minds in this capitalist orgy, men punching other men for coffee makers, and televisions being ripped out the hands of a frail pensioner in the foyer of an all-night Asda.

For a comedian the term “Black Friday” is something very different. It refers to that Friday before Christmas where a comedy gig can quickly resemble a bad day in Beirut. People on a works Christmas night out, sat in wonky Christmas hats, drinking heavily just to blot out the resentment and anger they feel for their colleagues sat just across from them. Shows that start hours late because the venue has tried to serve two hundred people a three course Christmas dinner with only three members of staff and being heckled mercilessly by an accountant called Nigel who thinks he’s the office joker.

I’ve had a few experiences with Christmas gigs over the years and it inspired me to re-write the classic Christmas hit Happy Christmas (war is over) by John and Oko. I see this as a fitting tribute to my fellow comedy warriors venturing out to entertain the British public this festive season:

A comedy show at Christmas oh what have you done

Another show ruined, no ones’ had fun

Comedy at Christmas It’s not a bad idea

But the bellends, the pissheads, they’re here every year

A very Merry Christmas, let’s try again next year

Please make it a good one and stay off the beer

Comedians at Christmas (the shows not over)

We try to stay strong (get off your phones)

We’re here to entertain you (the shows not over)

And It won’t last long (please stop talking)

So Merry Merry Christmas (the shows not over)

We stand in the lights (you’re the office prick)

Ignoring the heckles (the shows not over)

And avoiding the fights (stop being a dick)

A very Merry Christmas let’s try again next year

Please make it a good one and stay off the beer

 

Now I like Christmas, but some people just love Christmas, and I mean LOVE it, my parents for instance. They embrace the festive season like no-one else I know and it’s truly a sight to behold. Every year since I can remember they have had a party at their house for Christmas Eve. There are games, a lucky dip tub of presents, and food galore.

My mum starts cooking early, normally mid-November, the party goes on late into the night and only comes to an end once dad is too drunk to make it up the stairs and mum gets out the Dyson for some festive hoovering.

When I was much younger, my dad would even dress up as Santa Claus himself at the party, to give out presents to the other children. At the time I didn’t know this obviously, I assumed it was the man himself, particularly when I was very young. However I vividly remember the Christmas where I found out the truth about these bizarre moonlighting activities. I was nine years old and, as had happened every year before, with the party in full swing and the guests settled, at about seven o’clock my mother would suddenly announce to my father, loud enough for everyone to hear:

“Oh look Roy, we appear to have run out of beer and you’ll have to go to the shop for more”

My dad knew his line and played along with this ridiculous farce to the confusion of the assembled guests:

“Oh no love, this is a disaster I will go now I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

I’ve often wondered for years whether my mother and fathers friends thought he was a raging alcoholic or just incompetent when it came to judging drinks quantities for a social gathering, but no one ever said anything. Then came the moment, my mum, right on cue would switch on the outside light and we’d all have to look out of the window into the back garden. “Look everyone!” my mum exclaimed, “someone very special is here!” We’d all press our faces to the window and there sat on the garden bench, on the patio next to the water butt was Santa himself, it was a Christmas miracle.

I remember one year when the snow started to fall, this was the mid-eighties before global warming, when seasons were still individually recognizable. With Santa Claus sat there it was like an image straight from a Christmas card. All the children would then take it in turns to go and visit him, telling him what they would like for Christmas.

Most kids are quite gullible and most were none the wiser, “Santa comes to your garden Scott, how cool are you” “Yeah me and Santa are pretty close” I’d say, enjoying the adulation, “we go way back” I had quite good patter for a nine year old.

Then came my turn. I walked down the garden path and approached Santa. “Hello boy, said a booming Yorkshire voice, have you been good this year?” “Yes I said.” “Well come a bit closer and tell me what you would like me to bring you for Christmas” I moved in towards him, he had a jolly face which was strangely familiar. I looked him up and down, the red hat, the white beard, the red suit and belt, and then I looked at his feet.

It was at that point I knew. Santa Claus appeared to be wearing a pair of knackered old Reeboks, spattered with magnolia emulsion that my own father would use for doing the decorating.

My heart sank, the game was up. “I know it’s you dad” he looked at me and whispered, “I couldn’t find me wellies son, don’t ruin the magic” “Of course dad I said, I know Santa doesn’t come till I’m in bed anyway, I love you”

I walked back up the garden back to the house smiling. We then all had to turn and wave goodbye to “Santa” and then went back to the party. At that point there was commotion at the front door as my dad blundered back in with six cans of lager, (he still got the quantity wrong) “What a nightmare, everywhere was shut, did I miss anything?” “Santa has been!” my mum shouted, “You missed him, like YOU DO EVERY SINGLE YEAR!”

Marvellous.

Scott Bennett

Looking Back…Looking Forward

Apparently this issue of The Beestonian is a ‘festive bumper special’ which makes it sound rather splendidly like the ‘Beano’ and ‘Dandy’ comic summer specials I used to read (and re-read) as a child, now quite some time ago – so long in fact that the Dandy doesn’t even exist anymore. It turns out the older you get, the more things change, sometimes for the better admittedly, sometimes not so much.

I was talking with some friends in The Crown the other day (other excellent Beeston pubs are available) about just that; how certain phrases that used to be commonplace are now archaic anachronisms (obviously we didn’t use that phrase in the pub; we’d had beer).

Who remembers the term ‘Sunday drivers’? A phrase from a time where the roads weren’t as clogged on a Sunday as they are now a couple could jump into their Ford Zephyr and drive at a top speed of about 21mph along any A-road that took their fancy, possibly whilst eating a cheese and onion cob. Or ‘Half day closing’, which seems like an utterly prehistoric concept now in the face of 24 hour shopping (although as Tesco is now closing at midnight maybe they’re slowly bringing the concept back).

But 2016 has certainly been a year for change. We’ve lost a huge number of massive cultural icons, our collective political sense (pretty much globally) and who now remembers ‘public toilets near the Square’ eh? Beeston changes. Beestonians change – our own former editor Matt and his lovely wife Ellie have just had a beautiful baby boy so huge congratulations to them, that certainly is a life-changing experience. It’s genuinely surprising to me that no matter how many times people said to Sal and I “Cherish every moment, they grow up so fast” and we nodded and thought ‘Yea, right’ that come Boxing Day our wonderful Scarlett will be three years old. Three! And Sal will have been living with her cancer for over eighteen months and we’ll have been married for over three months.

Back before I was a responsible married man with a daughter I used to navigate the year not by days and weeks but by Robin Hood events and weirdly this time of year has always been the busiest… from 1991 to a decade ago it was the Christmas season at The Sheriff’s Lodge medieval banqueting centre on Canal Street in Nottingham (now sadly demolished).

In its heyday I’d do a run of over thirty evening banquets (plus matinees), starting in the middle of November. These days although the Lodge has gone Nottingham Castle still hosts the Robin Hood Pageant, the Robin Hood Beer Festival, the MySight Nottingham charity Firewalk (which I still take part in) and more – but with the redevelopment of the Castle and grounds now confirmed to start in early 2018 all of those will have to find a new home after next year too.

So this last week (as I write) being so busy was a bit poignant – I ended up abseiling down the side of the QMC with NUH’s Chief Exec to launch an appeal for the Children’s Hospital (that’ll teach me not to read emails properly and then just say ‘yes, happy to help’ on the phone before I actually knew what they wanted), I announced the £14m HLF funding success for the Castle to the national press, helped turn on the city’s Christmas lights and was (very movingly) serenaded by a fabulous group of WW2 veterans raucously singing the old Richard Greene ‘Robin Hood’ TV theme to me after I guided them on a tour.

Seriously, having thirty Paras, Commandos, Army, Navy and RAF veterans doing that was quite amazing and a real honour – and I’m sure it’ll never happen again.

I live a very strange life sometimes, but I’m very grateful to everyone in it. As with Beeston, there’s bits I miss, bits I’d change and bits I want to stay the same forever. But hey, “Ch-ch-ch-changes” as David Bowie once sang. Remember him?

Happy 2017, Beestonian readers. You rock.

Tim Pollard

Nottingham’s Official Robin Hood

Christmas Dinner Disasters

It’s the most wonderful time of the cold, miserable, over-priced, consumerist month. The time we buy too much food and spend money on presents for people we don’t like which they don’t need or want. And yet, I bloody love Christmas.

pexels-photo-265393
DINNER

It’s taken me having a child to bring back its magic, and now as soon as Tesco’s start putting their selection boxes out in August I get a lovely feeling of lets-not-be-horrid-to-each-other which usually lasts until Boxing Day. Now, I know I may be in the minority here, so allow me to lay down a few contingency plans for the more Grinchy among us. It’s all going to be ok.

What to do if the dinner is a disaster: I say preparation is key here. Light a fire on Christmas eve, and if you don’t have a wood burning stove just set fire to a pile of old boxes in a shopping trolley outside. Either will do.

The warmth attracts wildlife, and inevitable something will either fall down the chimney/onto your bonfire and provide a lovely leg of venison/cat/hedgehog for your family the following day. If anyone asks, it’s smoked game.

What to do if the Christmas Pudding won’t light: This tradition is puzzling. I’m all for lighting shots of absinthe on a good hen night then having a Maccys at 3am, but why set fire to a perfectly good liquor which may otherwise numb the effects of an entire day with your family? Odd. My suggestion is to make everyone, including Grandma, down a shot of brandy before eating some profiteroles. No one actually likes Christmas Pudding.

Uncle Alan may only ever have enjoyed package holidays to Malaga before, so broaden his horizons with some chorizo or something.

What to do if Uncle Alan has too much to drink and gets a bit racist: If the conversation gets around to Brexit or Trump, here are my suggestions. Firstly, point to the nearest posh bit of food and explain that without the influence of European cuisine (or the actual word cuisine) we would all be sat around eating ham sandwiches or cocktail sticks with cheese and pineapple on.

Everything rich and nutritious has probably come from outside the UK. Uncle Alan may only ever have enjoyed package holidays to Malaga before, so broaden his horizons with some chorizo or something.

How to steer Aunty Dorothy’s dinner table conversation away from awkward personal information: You’re unmarried, and so in Dorothy’s eyes, highly abstract and possibly even ‘alternative’. You are still working in a ‘job’ job and not a ‘career’ job and have yet to put down any money towards a deposit for a house. My suggestion here is to crack open the Terry’s Chocolate Orange and explain that the baby boomers destroyed both the housing and employment market, and that it’s actually her fault that you are so overworked and depressed that no one finds you attractive any more. She’ll come round.

What to do with leftovers: Leave them in the fridge along with your best intentions. Literally no one actually makes turkey soup the next day. Just buy less next year and give the cat a day to remember with a leg or two of roast hedgehog. Your budget will thank me.

That’s it, and just remember folks, I’m not an expert.

Daisy

Take a vow

In keeping with this issue’s ‘Fifth Anniversary’ theme up until the very last moment my article was about how our wonderful town might look and feel in another five years. It was written before Sally (my Maid Marian) and I were married on September 10th but now (thanks to the kindness of the editors) I’ve rewritten it entirely with a single point to make.

Regular readers may recall that sadly Sal has incurable breast cancer which has already spread to her bones and liver and is still undergoing chemotherapy. In fact she had another treatment just a week before the wedding and was sadly becoming increasingly poorly as the weekend approached, but on the day she looked radiant dressed in a beautiful outfit she’d made herself whilst I was dressed like a Napoleonic Hussar (because… erm… I wanted to and Sal said I could. Seriously, that’s the best and most genuine reason I have).

Sal genuinely took my breath away with her grace, beauty and joy when I saw her appear at the top of the stairs, I have genuinely never been happier – but how she made it down them (accompanied by her father Steve, best friend Lou and our two-year old daughter Scarlett) I’ll never know as by the start of the wedding her nausea, constant sickness and tiredness were utterly debilitating and the greatest honour she could ever pay me was (by sheer force of will I’m sure) making it, smiling, through the whole ceremony. Surrounded by friends and family we happily made our promises and exchanged rings with each other as well as presenting one to Scarlett and suddenly… we were married!

Heading outside we managed about five minutes of photos before Sal needed first to sit down, then to be ill again and finally needing to alternate lying down and being sick which of course meant missing all of the usual family photos, the  meal and (probably thankfully) speeches.

With no improvement and Sal becoming increasingly frail I rang the emergency on-call cancer nurse who told us Sal needed to be seen straight away, so we left our friends and family at the venue to spend our wedding night in a shared ward at the City Hospital’s Specialist Receiving Unit – but I’ve never been so grateful to the dedicated staff there who saw exactly how poorly Sal was and gave her the very best of care. I sat by her all night and all of the next day too, still dressed like an escapee from a bad Adam Ant tribute band.

I hope five years from now Sal will be still going strong, happy and enjoying watching our daughter grow up

In fact Sal had to spend the next ten days in hospital. Our original plan had been to go on honeymoon but instead Sal was moved to a specialist oncology unit whilst they slowly stopped her constant vomiting, replaced fluids, calcium, potassium and blood and finally discovered the devastating cause of her worsening condition.

The cancer has spread again. Into Sal’s brain.

I cannot tell you how much that news terrified us. Even writing this it doesn’t seem real, but it is. The same day it was diagnosed Sal began an intensive ten day course of brain radiotherapy whilst still undergoing more chemo. She is utterly wiped, tired beyond all comprehension and I have to say if it wasn’t for our marvellous friends and family rallying round with support, babysitting and transport I’m not sure we’d have coped at all. She’s home now but we’re still making daily trips in for treatment.

So here’s my ‘five year’ hope… I hope five years from now Sal will be still going strong, happy and enjoying watching our daughter grow up. And I hope beyond words that all of us here in Beeston still have access to such world-class dedicated, supportive, caring and free at the point of contact NHS facilities on our doorstep, because they really do help us all in our darkest hours of need and Beeston is so, so lucky to have them on our doorstep. Thank you, NHS. And thank you all for your support too, we appreciate it hugely.

Tim Pollard

A tribute to comedy’s unsung heroes

Scott Bennett puts the spotlight on his behind-the-scenes supporters

When I first started stand-up people would often ask me if it was a hobby. At the time I couldn’t answer them. Now if feel I am more qualified to answer this question. Baking cakes is a hobby, playing golf once a week is a hobby, driving to Glasgow on a wet Wednesday night to perform to eight people at Bobby Wingnuts Cackle Dungeon, isn’t a hobby, it’s probably an illness.

Interestingly they never ask me how I do stand-up comedy, which would be a more revealing question. Much is said of the stand-up comedian, but the people behind the scenes often don’t get the credit they deserve. I’m not referring to agents, managers or producers; I’m talking about the unseen victims of comedy, the ones we leave behind to hold the fort and the ones who have to keep our fragile egos buoyant after a terrible gig in Glasgow. The sacrifices these poor men and women make are part of the reason we are able to get up on stage and show off for twenty minutes each weekend. I’m speaking of course about the silent partner in the double act and in my case it’s my wife Jemma.

I hope we never get burgled when I am away, as she would probably just wake up to ask him if he had a nice gig and then go back to sleep again.

When we met 19 years ago I didn’t do stand-up. We met at university, got married, had our first child and both embarked on proper careers, hers as a teacher and myself as a product designer. We both shared a mutual love for comedy. I knew she was the one for me when we both declared our obsession with Alan Partridge, her knowledge was remarkable, we would forensically analyse it for hours, like two tragic comedy geeks, it was marvellous. I still do it now, reciting bits of comedy, I’m weird like that, but often I’ll be told “not now love, can you take the bins out” things have inevitability moved on. As students would often sneak back home early on nights out, many people assumed this was due to unbridled lust, in reality though it’s because we fancied some toast and to listen to On the Hour.

I came to comedy quite late and although things are going well, it would have been much easier to have done it when I was in my early 20’s and living in my parents’ house, but I had nothing much to say when I was that age and certainly didn’t feel confident enough to know how to say it. Now, being married and having a family life is a sure fire way to create material. An expensive and stressful way perhaps, but it’s effective. Although, failing that, you can probably get away with people watching on the back of the night bus with a notepad; you could probably unearth some comedy gold without all that extra responsibility.

It’s always unusual getting back home in the early hours of the morning when all the family is in bed and the house is silent. I like my little routine, the bowl of cereal at 2am and back to back couples who kill on the investigation channel; marvellous.  I then have to sneak into the bedroom and try to find my way to my side of the bed using only the digits of my radio alarm clock as a rudimentary landing strip. My wife rarely stirs. I hope we never get burgled when I am away, as she would probably just wake up to ask him if he had a nice gig and then go back to sleep again.

I’m very lucky in that my wife has not given me an ultimatum, which does often happen to some comedians in marriages, but there have been times when the bank of goodwill has been low on credit, especially with the arrival of our second child this February. I have to always remind myself that Jemma didn’t tick the WAC box on the marriage form (wife of a comedian) and I’m dragging her along on this venture, but the support she gives me had been unwavering and I will forever be in debt to her for that. We are getting used to a different lifestyle as a family. We are learning how to make it work. Twice now have all gone up to the fringe together, once staying in a flat and last year spending the month in a static caravan. We could have probably gone to Disneyland for the same price and I was probably one of the only comics whose fringe experience closely resembled that of Alan Partridge, but it was great having them with me.

My six year old daughter has had some very cool fringe experiences; it’s the perk of having a dad who does comedy. When she returned to school after the summer break last year she had to draw a picture of something she did during the holidays. She proudly handed in a picture of her onstage with the Funz and Gamez crew, (her teacher corrected the spelling) she has met Bonzo the dog and Jim the elf, smashed an egg over her dads head and had a brutal staring competition with Phil Ellis; she still talks about it to this day..

I don’t know what the future holds for me in comedy, there are no guarantees. What I do know though is that if I am ever fortunate enough to have some success in comedy, it certainly wouldn’t have been possible without the sacrifices made by my family waiting back at home.

Find the Scott Bennett Podcast on Soundcloud and iTunes

Scott Bennett

GBBO…and beefy banana loaves

With the return of GBBO, the nation has thrown down its floury gauntlet and challenged even the most terrible bakers to a flan-off in a marquee.

People the length of the UK have been rolling and kneading, burning and sweating, and inventing all sorts of new and interesting swear words this past couple of weeks. It’s like an episode of Last of the Summer Wine but with less casual racism and more sexy grannies.

In honour of this bonding experience, I have baked absolutely nothing. I’ve never even seen an episode, having not got a telly which plays actual programmes. I have, however, found awesome new DLC for Fallout 4, so the summer hasn’t been entirely wasted. I’ve got a go-to banana loaf which uses about 4 ingredients (one of which is optimism) so if you’re ever at a loss about what to do with a handful of browning bananas I’m your woman. It’s vegan too, so you can invite your vegan mates round if you have any. If not feel free to chuck some beef in or something, like that episode of Friends where Rachel makes a cake with mash and gravy in. It’ll give you something to laugh about for years to come.

I see some of the Pinterest wedding cakes doing the rounds and wonder who on earth manages to knock these things out

I’m not a cake person. Give me a couple of hours and you’ll have the finest roast you’ve ever tasted, but cakes are not my thing. Given that I can get a perfectly decent, ready made cheesecake for half the price of its actual components I’m happy to support my local, family-run, massive supermarket chain. Honestly, here’s £2 now gimme my cheesecake.

Cakes are best left to people who really want to bake them. They are a luxury rather than a necessity and so if you have the time and inclination, go nuts. My best mate made me an amazing cake for me hen party. It had a mouth on the front and I’ll leave the rest of it for you to think about. It was amazing and I know I could never reproduce such brilliance without either giving up work or putting my child up for adoption, and I’ve seriously considered both. I see some of the Pinterest wedding cakes doing the rounds and wonder who on earth manages to knock these things out. They are works of art! I couldn’t even DRAW a cake that beautiful.

So, I think what I’m trying to say is that I’m terrible at baking but I think people who are good at it are maybe some sort of wizard. Blessed with an almighty glucose-based super-power, they are worth of our true respect and admiration. Unlike me, who just suggested putting beef in a banana loaf.

Daisy Leverington

Summer Lovin? – Not for this guy

We are now in full summer mode and although I can’t argue against the benefits of the much welcomed injection of vitamin D into my pasty white carcass, I must admit I’m not a fan of the summer months. Don’t get me wrong I do enjoy the longer nights, a beer in the garden (but that’s mainly because of the beer) a chance to give friends and family food poisoning at my own BBQ and that mood of optimism in the air; but despite that I don’t think the summer agrees with me.

In the UK we seem to have extremes when it comes to the weather. It’s always so unexpected, it catches us off guard. Snow that comes so heavy that everything grinds to a halt, floods that border on the biblical and days so hot and humid you feel like you’ve been parachuted into an oil field in Iraq. I find it hard to even think when temperatures creep into the thirties, small tasks seem as daunting as an expedition to Everest. On the hottest day of the year my wife and I had to change the bed, a task that makes me want to weep at the best of times.

After the first pillow case I was already wet through, the sweat was pouring down my back and running in between my butt cheeks like a river and I had so much sweat in my eyes I couldn’t see the buttons on the duvet cover.

The thing the summer does though is give us Brits something to talk about, our favorite subject; the weather. As the temperature increases our ways of describing it becomes more and more bizarre. “Ohh isn’t it muggy out there!” No, unless you’ve just being mugged, that makes no sense. “The problem is, it’s just too close” well yes it will be close, it’s the weather and it’s all around you. In Yorkshire they used to say “eeee its crackin’ flags out there!” meaning it’s so hot it’s capable of causing fracture to your patio slabs, quite poetic, but still sounds like utter bollocks. “It’s warm we can’t work; pass me a beer” that’s all the words you need.

Everyone has their own methods for coping with the heat; particularly at night. I’m almost used to falling asleep now to the gentle white noise of a humming desk fan. There is always that moment when you forget where the fan is and proceed to trip yourself up over the cable on the way to your 4th pee of the night.

I don’t wear my bed clothes in a heatwave, but I like a single sheet on me, there has to be a small amount of weight there. I can’t do totally naked, laid out like a human sacrifice, I feel far too vulnerable. Also the hot weather brings with it the increase in midges and blood sucking insects and the last thing I want is to offer myself up like some sort of human all you can eat buffet.

It’s normally the early hours of the morning when the heat subsides enough to allow you to drift off. You’ve then got at least 4 hours of fidgety, sweat soaked sleep before you are rudely awaken by that “summer soundtrack”. The buzz of a Strimmer, a lawnmower, the neighbour building yet another outdoor “project” that just seems to be him hammering the same nail in again and again for three straight hours, or a determined mosquito who proceeds to fly back and forth past your ear until you eventually declare war, put the light on and chase him round the room with a rolled up newspaper.

The daytimes are easier; you can always find relief in an air conditioned shop or supermarket. If you’re crafty you can spend twenty minutes in the frozen food isle leaning over some Aunt Bessies roast potatoes, wearing nothing but your underwear. It’s heaven and really reduces your core body temperature; the hour interview in the manager’s office and the subsequent court appearance is a small price to pay.

As a blonde haired white man, I burn like kindling in the most moderate of heat. I think we underestimate the weather in the UK, like the sun is somehow a different one to the one that you lie back and bask in on a foreign holiday. We seem to think nothing of doing a full day’s work in the garden, bear chested, without sun cream and with only the one cup of tea to hydrate us. “Its fine love, we are in Wigan on a Wednesday, it’s not going to burn me, this is British sun; best in the world!” the day after we are in agony, peeling sheets of skin of our bodies so large you could wrap presents with them.

In the summer months my hay fever condition announces itself with a new found anger and aggression, like a pit-bull on steroids. With eyes streaming like I’ve just been tear gassed, a nose itchier than that of a supermodel with a grand a day coke habit, hives and bumps on my skin a blind man could read as brail and body riddled with so many antihistamines I can barely stay conscious.  All in all it’s not a good “look.” They always warn you about not operating heavy machinery when you take antihistamines, which makes me feel sad, how many forklift truck drivers and welders are struggling out there? Unable to work because they have to walk that fine line between sleeping and sneezing.

Summer attire is also stressful. I am completely lost with the sock, sandal, plimsoll, deck shoe or moccasin etiquette. There are normal length socks, sometimes worn with leather sandals, which only geography teachers and bible salesmen are allowed to wear. There are trainer socks, which seem more socially acceptable, white socks though, never black, particularly if you are wearing shorts. Black socks with trainers and shorts looks like you’ve been doing P.E at school and forgotten your kit and had to rummage around in the lost property box. I find picking clothes for a heatwave is difficult. I never go commando though, I don’t care how hot it is, I still need some organization down there.

When it’s warm my testicles seem to be constantly in love with my inner thighs, I often have to peel them away from each other like I’m removing a sticker from a windscreen. It’s like a battle down there most days and both parties need to be segregated for their own good.

I can’t and won’t wear a vest and going topless isn’t something I feel comfortable with. The other day I saw a man with his top off, riding a ladies bike with a basket on the front. In the basket of the bike there was a pack of lager and a small dog keeping looking out; it was like a low budget version of the film E.T. It was 24 degrees and we were in a car park outside Lidl, it’s not the Algarve. Put your top back on.

It’s quite late now and the heat has subsided, I’m going to attempt to turn in for the night, or maybe the whole season? I might find the coolest spot in the house; black out the windows, fill my socks with ice, and survive on nothing but a freezer full of Magnum Classics.

See you in October

Scott Bennett

Robin Hood And Maid Marry-On

By the time the next issue comes out I’ll be married. That may not impress some people (especially the already married) but while I’m not turning into GroomZilla yet it’s definitely a Big Deal for me.

I’ll be *married*.

Yes I know, people get married all the time. Not the same people obviously (unless they’re Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) but as I’ve never been married before it’s all a bit of an adventure.

I’m quite used to adventures though, I’ve done any number of weird and amazing things as Robin Hood but that all seems rather tame compared to getting married and I guess that’s how it should be.

Sal’s just as excited. She’s making her wedding dress herself (no, it’s not going to be a Robin Hood wedding) and even our daughter Scarlett is looking forward being a bridesmaid. Everyone we know is gearing up. Great friends are travelling from the UK, the US and Europe to celebrate with us. It’s all *perfect*.

Except… Sal has cancer.

Just over a year ago she was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. It’s already too late to cure, having spread from her breast to her liver, pelvis and spine. As you can imagine, we were devastated. It was close to being the worst possible news we could have, and as Sal teaches genetics at Nottingham University there wasn’t much she didn’t know. It’s fair to say we were broken, for any number of reasons (us, our future, watching Scarlett grow up). All of it potentially ripped away in a single diagnosis.

But here’s the thing – Sal is a truly amazing woman. I love her without limits and for some reason she feels the same about me. So we wept, second-guessed, swore and wished. And then she decided to just get on with life. She started chemo and radiotherapy and after each treatment was back at work in days. I was – am – utterly in awe of her.

Her decision to live with cancer rather than giving in to it was inspirational, and not just to me. Sal took part in the University’s Impact campaign which aims to make a real difference in the lives of breast cancer sufferers. And because she was in a unique position (involved in research and a patient) the organisers asked her to give a presentation at their Open Day.

A year ago she couldn’t have done it. But a few weeks ago she gave a presentation so powerful it touched everyone there. And because the university press release mentioned that ‘Dr Sally Chappell, Nottingham’s official Maid Marian’ was speaking about having cancer local media found out too. We’d not told anyone (not because having cancer is anything to hide, far from it) but suddenly it was out in the open.

So when local media contacted her Sal could have ignored them. Instead she decided people should know that all this could happen to anyone. If any good can come of this she needed to convey a message. So she went on Radio Nottingham for a couple of really sensitively conducted interviews, she talked to the Post, raised over £2.5k for charity by doing a 5k run, and even did an interview for ‘Candis’ magazine (published later this year). And the message Sal really wants you to get is this:

Check your boobs. Check your partner’s boobs (male or female). Probably don’t check strangers’ boobs (that’s wrong and creepy) but if I can say it again one more time: CHECK YOUR BOOBS regularly. Sal didn’t have any of the ‘classic’ signs (lumps, orange peel skin, puckering) just a general thickening of the whole breast tissue that even her GP wasn’t initially worried about because breasts change after childbirth.

As I write, Sal is on round 2 of chemo and it’s dreadful to see her knocked sideways by it. Scarlett keeps us going, she’s an utter joy and gives us both love and smiles and we have a brilliant support network of incredible family and friends who help with babysitting, shopping, lending ears for us to bend, shoulders to cry on. We couldn’t do it without them. We’re really blessed, the bloody cancer withstanding.

And we’re grateful to everyone who asks how Sal is. Knowing that people care is very helpful, especially in the long dark, scary hours of night. Now even when I’m out Robin Hood-ing people I’ve never met before come up to me and ask in a very genuine and concerned way “How’s your wife?” as a lot of people think we’re married already.

I thank them for asking and don’t tell them we’re not married yet because the really great thing is we soon will be. After all of the fun we’ve had as Robin and Marian this is real, a proper grown-up adventure. There’ll be laughter and tears, love and sadness. It’s life. And it’ll be fun so wish us luck.

Oh and please remember: CHECK YOUR BOOBS