Monday, 25 August 2014


Never was a holiday so indulgently welcomed. Tenerife, an island that has revealed its layered charms to Family Atkinson time after time, again restored spirits as well as sangria and suntan levels.   

This was a hastily re-arranged trip. Granny’s deep resistance to the insidious cancer wracking her body was sadly overwhelmed at the end of July. The end to her tungsten struggle came with dignity and respect, and with grief and loss.

It also came the week before our planned holiday with Auntie Sue in the Canaries. In the circumstances, we considered simply binning aspirations for a holiday this Summer. Ultimately though, we felt returning with Sue after the funeral for a week of family-focused relaxation might just be the boost our collective serotonin levels would need.

The funeral was an epic of its kind. As befits a life full of love, friendship, selflessness and good humour, Granny’s final appearance at the Church she adored was played out before a packed house. Her religion was at the very core of her being and she had nominated the full Requiem Mass long ago, and even selected some of the hymns. She rightly got the send off she wanted.

We were grateful to the Priest who carefully indicated to the non-Catholics our precise location in the marathon service; and for which bits we should sit, stand, kneel, pray, sing and recite. Uncle Chris was particularly pleased and thanked him afterwards.
“Those prompts were handy. It’s all changed since my day.”
His newly interned Mother would already be spinning in her fresh grave, had she known of her son’s confession.

In fairness, the Priest played a blinder. He delivered the touching eulogy that Mrs A and the family had written with warmth, humour and the insight that his relationship with Granny brought. Though to announce his own support for Chelsea as well as Granny’s was rather unnecessary, in my view.  He also nearly burnt the baggy sleeves of his vestments on the candles that were crowded too closely around the coffin. Cousin Fiona, berthed in the outside stall, rescued him and averted fiery disaster on a number of occasions.

The candles and their ornate sticks remained a problem throughout the proceedings. Belligerent Auntie Betty paid them, and anyone else in her way, scant regard as she took her communion and bulldozed back to her seat, leaving a trail of hot wax and bruised toes in her tracks.

The potential for disaster was everywhere. As the service was getting underway amongst smoky incense and doomy organ, the Priest collared Mrs A and Auntie Sue, asking them if they would bring down the wine and the water at the appropriate moment from the back of the Church to the front for said Communion.

The vision of Mrs A inching her way down the aisle, visibly shaking with nervous mirth (despite the solemnity), clutching a jittery tray laden with silver cups and vessels of wine will stay with me for a very long time. As Sue said afterwards, it was all a little bit Mrs Overall. “One…soup? One...soup? Two soups?”

Fiona contributed in other ways too. It takes reserves of steely nerve to stand up and deliver a eulogy to your Grandmother at her funeral. That she did so with such controlled emotion and genuine feeling pays her a tremendous compliment. She hit so many evocative notes when recalling Nanny (as she, Robyn and Joe called her) and the limitless generosity with time for anyone and everyone, unfailing good humour – right to the end - and unplumbed wells of stories and songs. Not a dry eye in the house.

We followed the coffin back outside where the congregation were able to mingle for the first time properly. This is always my worst moment. More tears, group hugs and tender words with people who have often travelled miles, countries and continents to pay respects.

It was, though, nearly a double burial. Up at the cemetery, Auntie Sue had a bit of a moment with the holy water sprinkler. The immediate family all had a sober shake over the coffin to bless it. When Sue took her turn, she thought the aspergillum was coming apart and tried to grab it with her other hand. She was worried about it dropping into the grave. I was more worried about her following it in. She was perilously close to the edge…and Fiona wasn’t near enough to rescue anyone this time. But Sue recovered her poise in time, chucked in her rose and restored the air of decorum in the nick of time.
A dangerous implement
The Wake was held in The Plough, a pub where Granny had enjoyed many a vibrant Paddy’s night. Mourners spilled outside where tables were piled with drinks in every size and colour, plates of pastries and buffet food, and boxes of assorted tea towels. Granny had been a life long collector and had amassed over 500. She had indicated to Mrs A that this would be her finest legacy. Mrs A was not so impressed.
“Tell you what, I’ll give them away at your funeral”, she had laughed.
“OK then, I like that idea”, Granny had replied.
So that’s what happened. Everyone rummaged through the boxes and took away a tea towel to remember her by. It worked on so many levels. Some took souvenirs of places they had visited together, others claimed rhymes, humorous verses or religious proclamations. My Bruv took one that advertised double cream to mark the many stand-offs he and Granny had endured over the last scoop of trifle left in the bowl.

The gang began to break up. Liam and Eileen roared off down the road aiming to catch the 8pm sailing back to Dublin. Eileen hadn’t told her Mother she was coming over on the back of Liam’s bike. She’d only have worried. Bruv, Dad and I left the rest of the family to their remembrances as Uncle Chris was cranking out another rendition of ‘Fields of Athenry’…
Betty, Eileen and Liam
She would have loved this kind of send off. Her 80th birthday bash was a scream. An earlier Mug Punting post recalls some of the carnage.

One of the drawbacks of living in social housing is the short turnaround time given to clear out the family abode. Granny’s home for 50 years or so had to be stripped back to bare boards and empty rooms in a month. Some of this happened before the funeral. Mrs A and Auntie Sue unearthed a collection of Mass Cards sent by family and friends to commemorate the passing of recently deceased loved-ones in prayer at the next service. They had a box full. Somewhere exists a website dealing in swaps and rare issues, I swear. The box was tipped onto the table and the sisters played out a wholly disrespectful hand of Mass Card Snap. Or some kind of twisted poker game. “I’ll raise your two Uncle Johnnies and three Uncle Pats with one Sean Milner and one Auntie Annie!”

Then there was a curious bed-runaround game invented by Mrs A and Sharon. It mostly involved a single-spare-under and a double drawer-divan leaving Granny’s house and coming to us. They replaced one of ours which we gave away to a furniture project and another which is currently dismembered in my office, pinning me against the desk. That bed will return back to Milton Keynes next week with Chris and Sharon who brought the other two down in the first place. I don’t claim to understand their deeply strategic movements. I only hope they can sleep at night.…

Auntie Betty flew home to Florida on the Sunday. At a resilient and irrepressible 85, she is the last of the Moffitts. She is so tough and yet wears her heart on her sleeve. She is hurting as much as anyone, and in some ways more.  Betty could not have done more for her sister.

We departed for Tenerife after the weekend. I’d never flown with Auntie Sue before. I’d seen her pack though and that was scary enough… We booked three hold bags between five of us. She filled two-and-a-half and stowed a crammed cabin case into the overhead locker as well. On one visit there, Sue’s picnic hamper doubled as our hand baggage and on another trip Granny brought out her sewing machine. The challenges of life as an ex-pat. I suppose we should be grateful this reformed Goth narrowly decided against bringing her collection of The Cure 12” singles. (This time.) 
Mt Teide. Honest! 
The break was what we all needed. Sue was a fantastic host. Restorative days passed in her apartment and on her terrace; and when the mood struck, on the beach, by the pool, and in the bars and restaurants.  The trip to Siam Park waterpark was our most active day: a stunning complex of rapid rides, tunnel chutes and extreme slides. Easily the best we’ve been to. Daughter No 1’s screams are still echoing around my skull. Though as usual, despite the surfeit of high octane extremes, it was the wave pool and the lazy river that rocked Daughter No 2’s world. Who needs thrills and spills?

The day was rounded off by dinner in a rooftop food market overlooking the sunset in Los Cristianos. Spanish for The Christians, of course, it was the right sort of reflective moment. As Mrs A put it: sleep well, Christine. An inspirational woman. You deserve it.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

High Summer

Summertime rolls, as Jane’s Addiction sharply observed back in 1988. I don’t think they were talking about picnic provisions.

The season always seems to kick on with haste, leaving moments, events and experiences struggling for attention in its dusty trail.

Already the glittering World Cup in Brazil seems like a distant memory as the papers revert to transfer gossip and manager mind-game-mongering. In football terms, the tournament will be remembered as a success. We enjoyed more goals scored than in any of the previous Finals; witnessed some electrifying skill (Van Persie’s arched back header will live long in the memory); confirmed a new generation of talent (Rodriguez looks sublime) and marvelled at vibrant, emotional, spine tingling support from the home nation. And the best team won.
RVP makes his mark
Brazil’s problems won’t go away because of this success. The controversial investment in this World Cup and 2016’s Olympic Games at the perceived expense of local jobs, facilities, housing and transport will continue to spark fervent protests. Even Daughter No 2 boycotted the matches as a mark of solidarity with the locals who were ‘developed’ out of their homes. Then again, she hates football, so the real value of her sacrifice is difficult to calculate… At least there was some opportunity to raise the profile of these issues. Amongst these, I thought the Rio in Rio programme was excellent. If inevitably more about the player than the slums. The sections with the kids in the favelas were really well put together.

Shame England’s brief contribution didn’t match the overall panache of the event. For the Costa Rica game, Nick had sensibly reserved a couple of tables in The Barley Mow. We reasoned that it might be a cliffhanger. Sadly, England’s tenuous grip on the chalk face had long since eroded. Their chances lay crumpled and forgotten at the bottom of the sheer slope, battered by wind and wave. By the time the game came around, only half of us half-heartedly turned up.

Whilst our beers flowed with unaffected regularity, it was curious to observe only distracted viewing of the game by those that had turned up, together with the higher level of background banter. The evening’s defining moment came after the dreadful 0-0 draw had concluded and the remaining punters got the telly turned over to watch Jimmy Anderson and Mo Ali almost bat out a heroic draw against the Sri Lankans. Every ball that Jimmy survived in the final few overs was greeted by a louder cheer than anything we had seen for the football. And when he capitulated to a fierce rising delivery, the match’s penultimate ball, we were crushed. At least it was a genuine moment. Something real for the indifferent crowd to get behind.

Talking of cricket, I went to a Twenty 20 game this year for the first time in about five. I had got a little tired of the format recently. Too many games shoe-horned into a domestic season with no structure or natural climax. The relaunch of the competition this year as the shorter, mid-season Nat West T20 Blast is welcome. The Oval has grasped the opportunity with outstretched hands. Many of their games are on Friday nights with start times geared to cash in on the end of the working day and London’s (usually) efficient transport system. 

Ben had sorted the tickets for Bryn, me and himself for the game v Hampshire.  This, even at the time, caused Bryn and I some hesitation. Ben does not have the most assured of reputations when it comes to this sort of thing.

Only a couple of weeks previously, Ben was meant to join Bryn, Steve and me at Sandown’s Brigadier Gerard meeting. He didn’t quite make the trip in the end. It wasn’t clear whether his Mrs was unavoidably late back from the office or whether, in fact, he had failed to categorically get his free-pass properly stamped and papers suitably in order… Add to this a no show at Royal Ascot (arrived late, got off the train, threw up in the car park, got back on the train and went home) and a half-show at the famous Oval Ashes Test in 2005 (when we got the tickets – mercifully – off him the week before and he arrived halfway through an epic first session because of train problems), plus sundry other incidents.  So when I’d sent a text asking him to DHL the T20 tickets to us by Wednesday, I was only half joking.

Bryn and I were sat in the White Swan enjoying a couple of pre-game sherberts with Ad, quite literally bemoaning Ben’s appalling ticket record, when he texted to say, firstly that he was late away from work; and then, about 20 minutes later, that there are no trains from Surbiton anyway.

Ad was pissing himself. He had a season ticket for the Oval. So about half an hour before kick-off, he shot off, mirth tickling his chops, telling us he’d text us score updates. Cheers mate. Bryn and I had no alternative but to tuck in to more of the Portobello Star and indulge in facebook abuse with our absentee buddy. 
“Hello mate. We've just devised a Duckworth Lewis penalty system for you. Every over we miss we deduct a quid from the face value. Power play overs cost double! We might make a profit!
“I’m praying for rain”, came the reply.
We finally hooked up with our ticket-bearer with a few overs to go of the Hampshire innings. The view from the premier seats at the top of the massive OCS Grandstand just about compensated for our late arrival. 
Bird's eye view
A few more beers helped too. Surrey made mince meat of Hampshire’s paltry total and Jason Roy smacked the ball around the park like he was lobbing catches for his labrador on the beach. I texted Callum, a Surrey supporter with whom I have had a many a ‘frustratingly-talented’ type conversation about Roy.
“At the T20. Roy is awesome!”  
“Yeah, I know’, he replies. ‘We’re here too!”
Turns out he was in the cheap seats at the bottom of our stand. Pauper. (Bet he saw the whole game though.)

Lincolnshire hosted a little family get together in early July. We managed to find a very pleasant cottage in Alford for a few days away with Dad and Bruv. Between the sea and the Wolds, the settlement was a strange mix of agrarian wealth, faded grandeur and lively market town. 
The Atkinson boys 
We got lucky with the weather and struck out for the seaside on the Saturday, exploring the dunes, attractions and caf├ęs between Chapel St Leonards and Mablethorpe. Because the area is so low lying, the coast seems oddly separated from the hinterland by a continuous sea wall, punctuated here and there by access roads, car parks and other cut-throughs. There are no sea views to be had unless you walk along the top of the coastal defences. It all seemed a little underwhelming and sniffed of missed opportunities.

The windmill in the village was good though. Five sails. A rarity apparently. The cakes from the tea room were splendid and Mrs A bought flour, stone-ground in the mill, for some future bread-baking experiments.
Windy Miller strangely absent
Meanwhile, Bruv and I had bought a junior cricket set at the coast and spent many tense hours (it seemed that way) tweaking leg breaks through 90 degrees out of the rough by the swing and flat batting long hops into the void under the shed. (Four and out for that.) I’m delighted to report that Bruv is still as unambitious with the bat as he was when we played down the Rec aged 12. Dig in!

We couldn’t get either of the daughters interested though. Looks of teenage derision shot our way as the tennis ball dollied past noses otherwise buried in social media.

That wasn’t the only top quality sport happening over Le Weekend. Yorkshire hosted Le Tour Grand Depart on Saturday morning. A massive coup for God’s Own County and thrilling to see country lanes winding through the Dales spray-painted with support and hanging with aficionados. A reet grand success by all accounts. Dad’s septuagenarian cousin Sylvia went out in Starbeck to cheer them through. She’s a hard core sports fan. Respect. Word has it that the Leeds Utd press office regularly rings her up to find out what’s going on at the Club.

Yorkshire TdF Grand Depart Tea 
I had a musical diversion the weekend after. Bacchy and I are long time fans of the craggy, enduring and unique Neil Young. This Summer he was pitching up at Hyde Park's series of British Summertime gigs with Crazy Horse. I’ve see Young once before, many years ago, when his backing band comprised most of Booker T and the MGs. Crazy Horse are legends and for me, Young’s output with them is amongst the very finest of his diverse canon.

Tickets were therefore snaffled and we met in The Grenadier off Wilton Row, a pub we both frequented when working around Victoria years ago. It was easy to tell we’d be not been for a few years – both independently getting lost amongst the cul de sacs, crescents and circuitous back streets before finding the boozer tucked in at the foot of an exclusive Belgravia mews. A finer pint of Timmy Taylors in London I cannot recall. The Woodforde’s Wherry was also a gem. Perfectly kept and expertly drawn.

I had said that Mrs A had thought about coming, but she felt that a couple of hours of Young and the Horse ploughing through interminable grungy solos, anarchic feedback and directionless jams might test her levels of concentration. I had nodded empathetically, whilst recognising that such output from the band was exactly what I was longing for. Bacchy said his missus also thought about it but had deferred when she realised I was going. 
“You two will just sit and talk about galloping all day”, she had said to Bacchy.
We both scoffed. Bloody hell. As if we couldn’t have conversations that didn’t automatically revolve around horse racing. Pah!

Anyway, I’m pleased to report that the reception in the pub was sufficiently strong for us to watch three races from York and Newmarket on the Bet 365 app on my phone. Perched on the kerb, bathed in sunshine, pints in hand, roaring home our bets on a four-inch screen, it didn’t occur to us for one moment that Mrs. C might have a point.

It was a perfect prelude to a great gig. Best of the year for me by a wide, tree-lined boulevard. Here’s the review: an unrelenting adjective-fest.

A word also for the stoned, vacant-staring bar-tender who gave me change for a twenty for the two pints of gassy lager I bought with a tenner; to Tom’s Pies for the finest Festival scram I’ve ever tasted; and to the weather for staying sunny for the most part. Top day out.

Slipping into August makes me feel like the free-wheel into Autumn isn’t far away: ‘Back To School’ posters are already in the windows of M&S. At least the Commonwealth Games have, in part, damned up the full bore of tabloid press Premier League wind up. I’ve loved watching the Games over the last 10 days. Not only because for the first time in decades we’ve stuffed the Aussies in the Ashes medal table scrap. Also because of Lynsey Sharp, Jo Pavey and Emma Pooley who say everything possible about spirit, guts and determination. Take a bow. 

And also because of Usain Bolt. It’s not often I agree with Gary Linekar, but Bolt just has to be my favourite sportsman on the face of the planet. Despite a touch of over exposure and under whelming reporting, how can anyone resist his cheerleading of the Hampden crowd with a shimmying ‘Ten Thousand Miles’ (or however many The Proclaimers proclaimed) seconds before a lighting fast 100m relay anchor leg? The man is cast iron box office.

Of course it hasn’t been a seamless stream of good times all Summer. Sad to say Mrs A lost her Mum and the girls lost their Granny last week. But in keeping with this upbeat post, all I want to say for now is that we’ll make her funeral next week a celebration of a full, selfless and positive life. I’ll blog a bit more about Granny after that.

For now, can I really face putting together a fantasy football team whilst these long golden rays of Summer continue to flood in to my office? Probably…

Friday, 1 August 2014

August Roster

No update since June. This is a disgrace and entirely accounted for by the pasting my gang took at Royal Ascot. Gubbed, if we are to borrow some Commonwealth Games vernacular.

Only Mind of Madness and Telescope troubled the scoresheet. The former in a place capacity only, after a tame earlier effort in the Windsor Castle; the latter, in tremendous style, in the Hardwicke. I had a decent bet so some ground was reclaimed. Without him I’d have been close to 40 points down. As it was I ran away with a 15 point deficit overall, thinking I’d absconded with the Crown Jewels.

The Royal meeting is so tough. The losers included Aljamaheer, Roudee, Es Que Love (twice), Toofi, Cock Of The North and Tiggy Wiggy. Only the last named could really claim a hard luck story.

After this, some new blood was sought. Roudee was scratched. Euro Charline, Nafaqa, American Hope and Ray Ward were added on the basis of decent efforts over the Ascot jamboree. Smidge of aftertiming here as all six have run since my last post. However, at three bets including one short-priced winner and two reversals , plus one unbacked loser and one unbacked winner, the cost is effectively neutral.

July saw some profits restored. Hence the brass neck to post an update now. This is largely on the back of a cheeky win by Es Que Love returning to 7f at Newmarket and a blitzkrieg performance by Tiggy Wiggy in a big Newbury sales race. Bits and pieces from Cock Of The North (likes cut in the ground), Euro Charline and a place return on Es Que Love have also contributed.

Aljamaheer has been disappointing so far. Connections may step him back up in trip now. I’m keeping the faith. As I am with Toofi and G Force. The latter was beaten today for the 3rd time on the bounce, but isn’t running badly. Both, though, are in the last chance saloon. However, Mind of Madness hits the highway after another tame effort, having been flattered imho by his Royal Ascot 2nd.

Date                 Horse                        Bet                             P/L            R/T                                                                                                                                                                                            [b/f 2.5]
16th June       Es Que Love                 2.5 e-w @ 22-1            -5            -2.5
17th June       Mind of Madness           5 win @ 5-1                 -5            -7.5
17th June       Roudee                          2.5 e-w @ 20-1            -5           -12.5
17th June       Cock Of The North         2.5 e-w @ 20-1            -5           -17.5
18th June       Toofi                               2.5 e-w @ 16-1            -5           -22.5 
18th June       Tiggy Wiggy                   5 win @ 7-2                  -5           -27.5
19th June        Mind Of Madness          2.5 e-w @ 16-1          7.5           -20.5
19th June        Bright Approach            5 win @ 5-1                 -5            -25.5
21st June        Aljaamaheer                  5 win @ 9-4                 -5            -32.5
21st June        Es Que Love                 2.5 e-w @ 20-1            -5            -37.5
21st June        Telescope                     10 win @ 9-4               22.5          -15.5        
21st June        Made With Love            No bet (won at short odds)
4th July           G Force                         5 win @ 5-2                  -5           -20.5             
12th July         Aljaamaheer                  2.5 e-w @ 12-1             -5           -25.5
12th July         Cock Of The North         2.5 e-w @ 14-1 (R4)    5.5         -20.0
18th July         Nafaqa                           No bet (won at short odds)
19th July         Es Que Love                  2.5 e-w @ 14-1 (R4)    5.38       -14.62
19th July         Tiggy Wiggy                   5 win @ 5-1                  25           10.38
25th July         Euro Charline                 10 win @ evens            10           20.38
26th July         Telescope                       8 win @ 11-4                 -8           12.38
26th July         Toofi                                4 win @ 5-1                   -4            8.38
26th July         American Hope               3 win @ 8-1                   -3            5.38
29th July         Es Que Love                   4 win @ 8-1                   32           37.38
30th July         Ray Ward                        5 win @ 6-1                   -5           32.38
1st Aug           G Force                           5 win @ 8-1                   -5           27.38
Balance at 1st Aug                                                                                    27.38

(I really must work out how to do tables properly in HTML...)

Additions to the list after Glorious Goodwood: Windshear – a progressive Hannon horse who keeps hitting the bar. May be aimed at the Leger. Room Key – An Eve Johnson-Houghton two-year old who has improved with every run and didn’t get the clearest of passages last time. Madeed – Brian Meehan handicapper who has promise, but needs either hold up tactics or to drop back to a mile.

Full list as of 1st Aug: Aljamaaheer, G Force, Made with Love, Telescope, Graphic,Gospel Choir, Bright Approach, Es Que Love, Cock Of The North, Tiggy Wiggy, Ihtimal, Ballymore Castle, Euro Charline, Nafaqa, American Hope, Ray Ward, Windshear, Room Key, Madeed.

Roll on the Ebor meeting.