Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Robbie And Olly

I went to see Robbie Williams on Friday night.

As with everything else in my life, I did this 10 years after it was 'cool' to do so. But you know my thoughts on 'cool'? Cool is so uncool. Regardless of what year it is (what year is it?) my thoughts on the controversial subject of Robbie Williams have not changed. I liked 'Lazy Days'. I like 'Not Like The Others'. I just didn't get chance to see him when he played Knebworth, and before that I was not the sort of person who went to gigs. My first live gig was Pink in Manchester in 2004. I was 28 years old. But I've always been a big Robbie fan. There you have it. Get over it. I'm not listening to Muse or Kings Of Leon because you tell me to and because they are not 'commercial'. I worry about people who give up on their favourite things because they have become 'commercial'. You're taking something enjoyable out of your life because other people have cottoned on to its value. Like a child who doesn't want any sweets at all if he has to share them with the other children.

So Robbie, anyway. He's been playing at Manchester City's Etihad Stadium, which is another good reason to write this piece. Just to see how many times I can mention the Etihad stadium and so annoy my Manchester United supporting friends. By the way, I can confirm that to my disappointment, there is a Bell Stand at the Etihad, but not a Bell End as has been suggested in some more whimsical pro-United circles. Anyway since I went to the penultimate Robbie show I had already seen how much trouble other people had been having getting there through the chaotic traffic. One horror story in particular told of a journey from St.Helens to Manchester (roughly 30 miles or so) which took three and a half hours. So I was glad that we had already thought this through and decided to stay over. The truth is we'd have stayed over if all other traffic had been banned from the M62 for the weekend, but as it turns out getting there early was a good idea.

Shockingly, the Premier Inn costs £135 on the weekend when Robbie Williams is in town. Most other times of the year you can get in for half a bag of grapes. The only thing that is not Premier is the price. Or something. I know someone who apparently paid £200 to stay in the Lowry where Robbie and his support act, pork-pie and braces wearing warbler Olly Murs, were staying. So I suppose you might say I got off lightly but this is a Premier Inn we are talking about. It's the very definition of basic, and our room had no soap and a sliding door to the bathroom which could best be described as temperemental. Of course as Dawn French will testify, this is not the first time that Lenny Henry has been economical with the truth. Now every time I see that advert it is going to remind me of the extortionate price, the faulty door, and the quite absurd amounts of people trying to use the check-in machines at the same time when we arrived. When did real life human receptionists stop existing, anyway?

Suitably unimpressed we decided to get out as soon as possible. It was already around 3.00 by the time we had checked in (and been given a room key which did not work and had to be replaced). There's a Wetherspoons on the corner of the street where the Premier Inn is situated so we spent the afternoon in there, eating an enormous fish (Fish Friday, of course) and drinking bottled beers available at £5 for two. That's reasonable in this day and age, and a quick look at the menu confirmed this. One bottled beer normally costs £3.45.

Suitably lubricated we can leave my penny-pinching there and move on to the tram journey. The leaflet which came with the tickets claimed that the Etihad Stadium (that's where Manchester City play, don't you know?) is only 20 minutes walk from the city centre. This might be true from somewhere in the city centre, but according to the information we picked up from the hotel it was more likely to take around 45 minutes. We considered it for a few seconds and then decided that we would be ok getting a tram before the gig. People arrive at different times so there shouldn't be too much of a scrum to get on. It's at the end when the problems start. I remember queueing for what seemed like hours in the rain to try and get a tram back to the city centre from Old Trafford after Grand Final defeats for Saints against Leeds in both 2007 and 2008. We repeated the trick in 2009, invited Wigan to crush our hopes in 2010 before allowing Leeds another chance in 2011. Only we weren't there after 2008. Emma had stood in one tram queue too many and trying to get any of my mates organised for a trip outside St.Helens for any reason is a bit like trying to get Ian Brady to finish his lunch.

Unlike on some other occasions the staff were very helpful. The only problem was that some trams which passed through were chock full of Robbie Williams gig-goers with about as much intention of leaving the tram as I have of having the Wigan coat of arms tattooed on my face. We had to let two go before one arrived with enough space for us to get on. The way was cleared for us to get on first and then we just found a space by the opposite door where I wouldn't get sat on by a fat lass who has drunkenly lost her balance. There were an abundance of these.

The rather pretentiously named Etihad Campus tram stop allows you to disembark right outside the stadium. A lift takes you out of the massive queues of people trying to ascend the stairs at the same time, and you come out just outside the stadium surrounded by food outlets. It's like the food court at your local shopping centre, except it's not McDonalds and Pizza Hut but smaller outlets, possibly independent. Spicy Rat, or something. We pass and try instead to find the right entrance. It is around 7.00pm and Olly is due on in half an hour. While it is possible to live without a rendition of 'Army Of Two' or whatever, you want to get your money's worth. And besides I'm curious to see what he's like. I just like live music and it's not like he can't sing or anything. X-Factor produces some proper talent. I just don't want to sit there and watch while it gets slagged off by self-important gits like Cowell and Barlow. Especially since most of it then disappears from public view, rendering the last 20 Saturday nights of your life a complete waste of time.

So finally we get in and are shown to our seats. It's a mixed bag of pleasant surprise and a weary feeling of 'there's always something'. On the plus side we are sat together. This might seem a small thing, but anyone who has ever been to a rugby league game at Castleford will know that there is no guarantee of this. Same here, as an unfortunate pair of girls are split up. One is sat in the seat next to Emma, while the other, the wheelchair user, has to sit the other side of me, two seats away from her friend. It's quite scandalous to note that in the 21st century it is not possible to accommodate one wheelchair user and her able bodied friend in seats next to one another in a modern stadium at a concert by one of the biggest musical acts in Britain. But that's where we are. They take it in good grace whereas I would have been throwing my beer at the stewards and questioning their parentage. What's worse than the lack of organisation here for me though is the 'it doesn't really matter' attitude of the staff. It's like she should be glad they let her in. As if to say, 'you're at a Robbie Williams gig, enjoy yourself!' Yeah, but she paid for the fucking privilege just like everyone else and deserves a modicum of respect. To borrow a phrase from Robbie, 'what shape of insanity' leads them to think that this sort of treatment is ok? I'm sorry to moan, but Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard wouldn't serving its purpose if it did not point these things out. Yes, it has a purpose...

The other problem is the shape of the stand. The roof hangs over quite low, meaning that if Emma stood up she was unable to see all of the stage. The stage was a little smaller than you might expect in any case, but the main problem here was that Robbie made his entrance from a position way up on top of the giant sculpture of his head which sat at the back of the stage. Both of us had to lean forward to then look up to be able to see him as he swung down onto the stage in the style of an old fashioned stuntman. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Olly played first, decked out in his pork pie and red braces combo. His dancing was a little Monty Python, but there's no doubting his vocal abilities. The only gripe I have is that he was on slightly later than billed and so must have played for not much more than an hour. He knows he is second fiddle and is making absolutely no attempt whatsoever to steal the show, but in many ways that's a shame. On the other hand it is good that he leaves us with some time before Robbie comes on to go back into the battlefield that is the queue for a beer. They kept it simple by offering few options but this didn't completely eliminate the nuisance that is people failing to make up their minds and spending four days getting served. Fortunately most of the queue-chat was good natured gallows humour about brewing it yourself, or the classic 'just run them all over'. As Blackadder once said, I thank God I wore my corset for I fear my sides have split.

And so back to Robbie. We've talked about his entrance so let's move on from that. The whole thing was just splendid from start to finish. Proper Robbie. Anyone who starts a gig by saying 'allow me to re-introduce myself, I am Robbie Fucking Williams' is not going to go into his shell once the music starts. And he didn't. It was an extravaganza of showmanship and plain old dicking around. But in an entertaining, amusing fashion. My highlight was Better Man. This is one of the greatest Robbie songs but he rarely plays it, and it is never played on the radio. But here he took out a guitar and plunk-plunked his way through it with great gusto. To be fair he played both chords faultlessly. Simplicity is genius. You can keep your concept albums and your Dark Side Of The Moon.

It's all here tonight, from Come Undone, Feel, Hot Fudge from Escapology to Strong, Millennium and She's The One from I've Been Expecting You. And lots in between including versions of The Blues Brothers' Minnie The Moocher and Lou Reed's Walk On The Wild Side. At the end of the latter he mischievously muses that 'soon this will all be someone else's dream'. Along with a quick blast of Everthing Changes, this is the only nod to Take That on offer. But then this is Robbie, so that's ok. I would have liked a bit of No Regrets (another of my favourite Robbie songs) but you can't have it all. Remember, I got to sit next to the person I arrived with. How lucky am I? He doesn't sing Different either, contenting himself with just Not Like The Others from the Take The Crown album. It's perhaps an admission that the audience aren't here to listen to the new stuff so much as they are here to jump up and down to Monsoon and drunkennly well up to Angels. It's the obvious finale. It's probably written in Robbie's contract somewhere that if he plays a gig without ending with Angels he will be stoned to death at dawn the next morning. Before that we see Olly again for the duet Kids. He's no Kylie Minogue but somehow it works out alright in the end.

As expected, getting the tram back was a little more challenging. There was less help and more crowds, until one helpful soul advised us to get out of the queue and just get straight in the lift. From there the queues got significantly smaller which was merciful since I was becoming significantly more drunk and on the very edge of Pain In The Arse status.

I can't remember a lot thereafter, but I wouldn't mind betting that I got there in the end.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Man Of Steel

I've completely given up on my film blog, so in a cynical attempt to get you to read my thoughts on the films I see I'm going to write about it here. Still here? Then we'll begin.

Following on from Iron Man, Iron Man 2 and....yes....Iron Man 3 comes another metalic-themed super-hero flick, Man Of Steel. Thankfully this is not a reference to Sam Tomkins who, to paraphrase Bill Shankly, I wouldn't watch if he were playing at the bottom of my garden, but to the character formerly known as Superman. Cast in the leading role is Henry Cavill, a man hitherto known only to me for his turn as Albert Mondego, son of the dastardly but quite brilliant Fernand Mondego in a version of The Count Of Monte Cristo also starring Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce aswell as the ubiquitous James Frain and the late Dumbledore original Richard Harris. If you haven't seen this film then please do. The Count Of Monte Cristo is one of the greatest stories ever told and this is a tremendous update on it. It's also got Luis Guzman in it, and you can't go wrong with Luis Guzman. Or the quite unpronouncably named lady who plays Mercedes.

But is Man Of Steel any good? Well yes it is. It was always going to be better than the Brandon Routh version of a few years ago, but I was pleasantly surprised by how favourably it compares with the original Superman films of the 80's with which this version has most in common. Cavill is sufficiently older now to not remind me of Albert whenever he is on screen and anyway I'm told that he has been in The Tudors since then and several other things of note. I couldn't watch The Tudors on account of it casting Joss Stone as the ugly one who big fat Henry VIII didn't want. That struck me as a bit like casting David Beckham as John Merrick. I know, we've all seen 'Goal' and there's no way he'd pull it off even if he was ugly enough.

Man Of Steel is a star-studded affair. Aside from Cavill it features Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner and Laurence Fishburne, but the show is well and truly stolen by Michael Shannon. Fans of Boardwalk Empire will know him as Nelson Van Alden (or perhaps George) but here we seem him taking on the role of General Zod, a classic Superman baddie from the Christopher Reeve era, then played menacingly enough by Terence Stamp. Shannon's take on Zod is different, and the clothes are certainly an improvement on the 80s' garb sported by Stamp. However, what strikes you most about Zod is that he has a stronger motive for being fanatically hell-bent on destruction. It isn't just a hobby as it seemed to be for Stamp's incarnation of Zod. Crowe also has more to do than his predecessor in the role of Superman's father Jor-El. Those of you expecting him to do a Marlon Brando and disappear in the carnage on Krypton might be pleasantly surprised. Unless you don't like Crowe in which case you'll probably get very annoyed. Crowe's Brando-esque scenes at the start of the film are CGI heavy, with all scenes set on Krypton looking and feeling much more like a Star Wars prequel than any of the super-hero films we get beaten over the head with these days.

So is there anything not to like? Certainly not Amy Adams who is spellbinding as Lois Lane. Whether or not she was chosen for the aliteration of her name I'm not so sure. If that is the case then I suppose we should all be grateful that they did not choose to cast Susan Sarandon or Priscilla Presley. On the downside although Man Of Steel is action packed and really moves, some of the fight scenes are too long and are tediously repetetive. And if it is possible to have too much flying in a Superman film then this is it. These are minor quibbles but the film could probably have been 20 minutes shorter and you have to suspect that the extended action is down to the current obsession with all things 3D. Watching it in 2D as I prefer to do, you can still see which scenes are made almost entirely to suit the 3D audience. More worryingly, the action could be so relentless because director Zack Snyder doesn't think we as an audience are clever enough to cope with too much dialogue or character development.

The script too could have done with some extra work. Hearing Zod pronounce that there is 'only one way this ends, either you die or I die' can only lead you to the conclusion that he can't count. Though it is not clear how important mathematics was on the Krypton curriculum before it all went tits up. My personal favourite though, and the line which reminded me most of Blackadder's classic 'have you vanquished the nibble pibblies?', was Zod's instruction to one of his minions to 'release the world engine!'. Also, look out for liberal use of the word 'codex' which I am convinced exists only in this film's universe.

Man Of Steel is left wide open for any number of sequels, and I'll be among those lapping them up. If they're all as good as this first effort than that might not be any bad thing.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

A Mind Like Mine

It's not difficult to get inside a mind like mine.

A mind like mine. I'm not even sure there is such a thing. The more I think about them, the more I think my mental deficiencies could be unique. My mind is not a depressed mind. I've read up on depression and there are all sorts of symptoms involved which I have never experienced. Pains in the chest, falling over with lethargy, extreme insomnia. I have had anxiety and shortness of breath but I've also got one third of a kidney and had high blood pressure. There may not be a mind quite like mine.

Which as I say is not difficult to affect. Something happened today, something so small and matter-of-fact to most people that it barely merited a second thought, much less hundreds of words on my mental state. It was enough to send me on a downward spiral, however, and to ensure that I became quite unbearable for the rest of the day. The nature of it is actually too personal, too close to the bone even for these pages. Taking this refusal to divulge into account I'm not actually entitled to be offended by it. But I was. Mostly because I was just struck by how ignorant and intolerant we are, and yes I include myself in that. It made me feel small and abnormal, which is again not a conviction toward which I need much coaxing. We live in a judgemental society in which you have to conform to certain norms. Sometimes it is taken to extremes like trying to dictate what music you should like, what sport you should watch. Some norms we don't even think about because 99.99% of the population are able to conform to them. Nobody ever thinks about the 0.01% of the population who for whatever reason cannot. That's not intentional, it's just how people are. But try telling that to a mind like mine in the middle of a dull Thursday morning. At that time, a mind like mine thinks it's completely intentional, and feels utterly dehumanised.

The vagueness of this piece is probably working hard against the possibility of it resonating with anyone or making any sense. Suffice to say that I have spent the day being obnoxious towards other people on account of the fact that I don't like myself too much. But you knew that. If you have been here before, at any rate. People who have been here before and want to read about someone who likes himself are not here now. They are on IMDB or Simon Bleeding Cowell.com or whatever it might be. The point here is that I regret my behaviour, but also that I want to put across the clear message that actually I can't help it. I spend a lot of time telling people who would call me 'mentally weak' or whatever that they wouldn't last an hour if they woke up in my situation. This is mostly true, but it does not mean that I myself don't struggle with it aswell from time to time. To put this in some sort of perspective though, a friend of mine is going through something at the moment which to my uneducated mind is a lot more daunting than waking up in the morning and remembering that you can't feel - let alone control - your legs, or several other bodily functions that others take for granted. I try to take inspiration from this person's courage and, well, just bloody well man up. But there are times, like today, when the best I can do in the 'manning up' stakes is to sit there and quietly seethe instead of saying what I actually think. Today was one such time.

You'll be glad to know that my day got progressively better after that. I had my Charlie Bucket moment when I opened my tickets for next week's Robbie Williams gig in Manchester, and discovered that another friend of mine has read these pages. I always welcome the news that someone new has read this nonsense. Reaching people, entertaining them or making them smile or even just think for even a moment or two is the whole point of it. That and a bit of catharsis. Now that I have written this here I won't have to have the 'debate' verbally. I'm pretty hopeful that come tomorrow I won't even have to think about it again, much less discuss it. Which is handy because there won't be time amid the puerile debate about whether we should all be chuffed to bits that it is Friday, or take my view that it is just another day. As rubbish as all the others, or as good as any of the others, depending on events yet to be determined. It's amazing how long we have made this discussion last.

As tedious as it is, a mind like mine will welcome its triviality. I'm a much better man when I'm dealing with the trivial.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

(Ply)Mouth Pain

You won't have heard from me in a while. Unless you are Emma, the doctor or the pharmacist you certainly won't have seen me since Bank Holiday Monday. That's only five days ago, but for anyone used to stumbling across the contents of these pages or my habitual status-updating it might seem like an unusually long period of time.

That's because I've been ill again. In truth, I am not having the best of luck with my health at the moment. Two weeks ago I had a water infection. What doctors like to call a UTI or a Urinary Tract Infection. Basically you get a lot of bladder and groin pain, feel quite sick, and your water smells like you died four years ago. Foolishly I did not allow this to interrupt my working life. I phoned the doctor for a consultation on a day when I was on annual leave in any case, negotiated the time-honoured course of leeches solution, and manned up. I did this because I had only recently had a day off sick due to another bad kidney day. I felt a bit of a plank having the week off I probably needed only days after my boss had told me that my sickness was pretty good all things considered. So I kept on keeping on. It was a mistake.

It all started in the unlikely surroundings of Plymouth. Emma and I had travelled down there for the christening/first birthday party of her youngest niece Alexandra. Though we both left work at 3.30 on that Friday, it still took four hours to get from Liverpool to Bristol. We were staying in Bristol on the Friday because we thought that in the first place it might break the journey up, and in the second place Bristol is a city we have always enjoyed. The plan had been to meet my cousin whose girlfriend lives in Bristol, but he had spectacularly unsurprisingly texted me to say that he couldn't make it because it was his sister's birthday. Of course, since his sister is also my cousin I knew this, and had pointed this out to him repeatedly when we originally arranged to meet. It'll be fine he said, which of course it wouldn't be and wasn't. But that's Alex for you. Indeed it is, but you can't help thinking that the phrase 'that's Alex for you' is the principle reason why that is Alex for you. If you follow.

So anyway since I learned long ago that the absence of expectation eliminates disappointment I was not too worried. We passed a perfectly pleasant evening anyway, once we got through the hideous traffic. There were no roadworks, no accidents, just some quite needless speed restrictions near every junction on the M5. There's no point trying to fathom it out. Maybe That's The M5 For You. We went to Bella Italia for what I believe was the single reason that Emma had vouchers for the place. We had been there a year or so earlier, the night before the christening/first birthday party of Emma's older niece Elizabeth. Clearly their family like Bristol too. Emma's brother Andrew used to live there. He's in the navy, hence the recent move to Plymouth and the even more arduous drive that I don't know about while I am enjoying my pizza, but which awaits me in the morning. Accompanied by the return of my health problems. Before that we stop off for a drink at the Wetherspoons close to the hotel, a place where last time we visited we were offered free champagne (sparkly wine) by a man dressed as Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He's not here tonight so instead we find the only quiet corner there is and try to keep ourselves to ourselves. Every female voice sounds like Alex's girlfriend and I keep thinking that maybe they are here after all. Their accents are....distinctive. Amid a group of these girls a bag seems to have been left unattended and we worry again about ending up on tomorrow's news bulletin.

On Andrew's advice we had given ourselves two and a half hours to get from Bristol to Plymouth on Saturday morning. To be fair to him it should have taken a little less than that. Yet if the traffic was improbably bad on the M5 on Friday, it had reached new levels of silliness by Saturday morning. Still no roadworks, no accident. Just someone no doubt giggling away to themselves as they lit up signs instructing everyone to slow down to 40 miles per hour. A few minutes of that and 40 miles per hour seems like a distant dream as you crawl along as a consequence of everyone being slowed down junction after junction. The plan had been to meet up with Andrew and his wife Cassie and the kids for lunch at 1.00. But at that time we were still around 90 miles away. It was after 3.00 when we got there, to be greeted by Emma's mum Susan with Elizabeth. She told us that she would wait in the nearby pub for us while we checked in to our hotel. Susan that is, not Elizabeth. Elizabeth is only two and as yet her linguistic skills do not extend to making meeting arrangements.

Even this was not straightforward. If the pointlessness of speed restrictions on the M5 is hard to understand, then I don't know quite how to describe the idea of having two Premier Inn's side by side on the same complex. But there they were either side of the family pub that we had agreed to meet the family in. Naturally enough we went to check in to the wrong one at first, and had to plod around the back of the pub on to the other one. We left the car in the car park of the wrong hotel. It just seemed easier than getting everything back in and driving around, and getting everything back out again. The family wouldn't be there by the time we had done all that.

Not that they were there anyway. Unfortunately Susan is rather prone to doing the exact opposite of what she says she will. But not in the same way as Alex is. Susan usually doesn't know she is going to do the exact opposite of what she says she will, whereas Alex is completely aware. Luckily everyone else around him is aware of it too 98% of the time. Emma's disappointed by this because understandably she wanted to spend some time with the kids. Now the plan was to meet at the pub at 7.00 for a few drinks watching the Champions League Final but by that time of course the kids would be in bed. So it would have to wait until tomorrow and the christening. This puts a dampener on our pub lunch and I feel a little guilty that I didn't suggest leaving earlier. After all, we had spent a good deal of the previous evening in traffic on the M5 and so might have guessed that it would be a difficult journey. But I've never had much common sense. I rely too much on Emma for that.

What is also putting a dampener on things is the state of my health. Near the end of the journey to Plymouth I started to feel a soreness on the right side of my mouth. Like an ulcer or a sore inside my mouth. Nothing too dramatic, but enough for Emma to suggest that, since we were already too late to meet Andrew and the family for lunch, that we stop to pick something up for it if we get the chance. We stopped at a Sainsbury's where Emma picked up some mouthwash and some Daktarin. At first it made things worse. When I was applying it at the hotel I felt like someone was trying to slice my gums apart with a rusty blade. But by the time we were eating at the pub it had eased a little and I felt like it might be ok. Yet at the back of my mind I also worried that it would not be. There's a pattern here. Whenever I have been on anti-biotics in the recent past I have had problems with my mouth afterwards. Oral thrush, in fact. My doctor has explained to me previously that this can happen when you are taking a lot of different medication orally. In addition to my anti-biotics there is the Solifenacin I take for my old man's kidneys, and the seemingly constant stream of painkillers I was taking to get me through the working week when I had the infection. It wasn't too bad on Saturday eating lunch then, but I remember thinking that if this develops into oral thrush then I will be in some serious pain come Sunday night or Monday morning.

Saturday night is unremarkable enough. We meet at the Holiday Inn which we take a pleasant walk to via the marina. We don't really do that deliberately for the aesthetic pleasure of it. The hotel receptionist advises us to go that way to make sure we don't get lost. After about 15 minutes of sea air and shitting dogs we come to a large park with some access issues. We have to walk all the way around the right hand side of it to get through rather than take the steps at the front. Mercifully the Holiday Inn is on the edge of the park and we don't have far to go. That venue has been chosen because Emma's auntie Diane works in a Holiday Inn in Sheffield and so gets discount. Everything goes on her tab, we are told, and we don't argue. I save my arguments for her husband Chris. Last time I saw Chris he made some rather disturbing comments to me about Hillsborough. Lamentable nonsense about fans misbehaving on the day. I thought I had put him straight then but to my astonishment he brings it up again, almost as if he can't think of anything else to talk about to a person from Merseyside. He tells me that 'we' (he doesn't say who 'we' might be) have a 'real problem understanding' to which I reply that we have a real problem with people who don't accept that the fans were not to blame, that the police failed in their duty, and that subsequently lies were told and statements changed to instigate a cover-up. He changes the subject. Let's talk about Saints. They're currently in the process of losing 48-22 to Warrington and my only distraction from Chris is the Champions League final and the constant stream of text updates from my mates on Saints' impending loss.

After Arjen Robben's late goal wins the Champions League for Bayern Munich and spares us the tedium of extra time it is suggested that we move on. I'm not that keen on the idea, and not only because the ale is cheaper here. It's also quiet enough to have a conversation and genuinely socialise. I'm so old now that the idea of going to a loud bar in which conversation is possible only through the medium of mime no longer appeals. But we go anyway. The row of bars around the marina are all chock-full and impossibly loud and we mercifully settle on the one which has the least of these attributes. Women at a hen party are all dressed in sixties get-up and it's like wandering into a Hall Of Lulus. My gaze is diverted by the girl behind the bar who has a slight look of Karen Gillan from Dr Who. But I'd still rather not be here. I've not sat through an entire episode of Dr Who since Tom Baker's day. I'm not one of those obsessives who will watch or listen to something because it features somebody attractive. Although I did watch the drama that Karen Gillan was in about David Bailey and Jean someone or other. See I can't even remember who she played. I was distracted. We take the long way back to the hotel over the cobbles because the bridge we crossed to get here closes to the public at 9.30pm. Every time I go over a cobble stone I think that either a wheel will fall off or I'll be hurled forwards out of my chair and into the street. Or the sea.

As with all church-going occasions I find the christening almost unbearable. I'm not one of those ignoramuses who spent last week blaming Islam for the horrible murder in Woolwich, but nor am I someone who believes in religion. As a friend of mine so succinctly put it last week, the most common cause of atheism is logic and reason. I don't believe in God any more than I believe in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, so to listen to the priest bang on about His Lord just irritates me. I've expressed the reasons for this elsewhere on these pages. It is enough here to say that I have seen too much death among the young, experienced too much suffering on account of the science of my condition, to hold any truck with the view that there is one all-powerful, Almighty making it all happen. He's a sick fucker if he does exist. The nadir of the service comes when the priest pulls out a Mars bar and uses it as an analogy for the father, the son and the holy spirit. Something about chocolate, nougat and caramel. Except that I can prove that all those three things exist. No doubt he would argue that I cannot prove that God does not exist but we're back to Santa Claus again in that case. He tells us that in previous sermons he has used a three-point plug to illustrate his point. He tells us this proudly, as if he is reporting that he has just saved a toddler from a crocodile. The only thing enjoyable about all of this is that the church dog walks on to the stage near the end and promptly falls asleep while the priest is still preaching at us. As votes of no confidence go it's pretty damning. Before that it had begun barking in between prayers. The only thing missing was for it to have taken a dump on the altar. I can't be the only one relieved to have left the church, with it's inadequate ramp (I had to bounce down the steps) and it's sub-zero temperatures.

We progress to a nice little family centre for the party, whereupon I make the mistake that seals my fate and ensures my disappearance from public life for the week. For some reason I have a quite outrageous thirst. I make this worse by nibbling on the crisps, quavers and twiglets (I don't even like Twiglets, do I?) that Susan has distributed in little bowls around the room. I down the first pint of iced coke rather too quickly and it does not quench my thirst. So I have another one. While the children play games of pass the parcel and musical chairs which are blatantly fixed to ensure that they all win, the sugar in my two pints of coke sets about bringing out the worst in my oral thrush. When we go back to the hotel Emma decides she needs a rest, but I go to the bar to see if a pint of something stronger might dull the senses. It just gives me stomach ache and it is all I can do to fight my way through it (I'm nothing if not courageous when it comes to lager consumption) before I am back up in the room and asleep myself. I awake around 6.30 with my mouth raging. I can hardly move the left side of it and I have absolutely no clue as to why something which started on the right hand side and seemed to have been stamped out by a tube of Daktarin can have now resurfaced ten times as painfully on the other side of my mouth.

Sleeping, even for just an hour, has had the effect of completely drying my mouth up and it is now something close to agony. I can still speak, but with all the mouth movements of Keith Harris. Susan and Roland are staying for the extra night too, and earlier we had arranged to meet up for a few drinks again. I almost don't go because I'm in no fit state, but then reason with myself that if I get up, clean out my mouth and hammer it with alcohol I will feel better than I will if I stay in watching Channel 5 and feeling sorry for myself. Probably not tomorrow, but I have never been one for tomorrow. So we go, to another Wetherspoons where this time the staff are dressed as pirates or something. One woman manhandles me in her attempts to help me find the camouflaged lift. It's just a piece of carpet that blends in with the rest of the floor next to the staircase and a door that might lead to a cloakroom or a toilet. There's no gate, no signage. But there is a button and it does work. Another pirate goes to the trouble of finding us a table amid the Bank Holiday crowds, and moments later he comes back with a chair for Emma. You don't get that kind of assistance in St.Helens or Liverpool, I remember thinking. I remember thinking that, and I remember thinking that my mouth hurts.

I don't know how I made it through another four hour drive home on Monday morning. I awoke at about 8.00 in the same amount of agony I had been in during my previous experiment with sleeping with oral thrush. Sleeping with oral thrush? That just sounds wrong. Anyway, you know what I mean. So we decide to go straight home. Emma's not one for breakfasting when she has been drinking and I couldn't get so much as a single baked bean into my mouth in my current state. On reflection I should probably have asked Emma to drive but I just wanted to get home and probably felt more in control of that goal if I did the driving myself. En route, we stop at a service station for some fuel. Emma has suggested that I try some Yakult yoghurt drinks because they have good bacteria in them or some such. I agree because I'm willing to try anything at this point, but I have reckoned without our legendary gift for misfortune. We have stopped at the only service station in the northern hemisphere which is not open for anything other than the purchase of fuel. There is building work going on around the forecourt and petrol is paid for in a little room next to the normal kiosk.

I'm desperate by now so I go straight to the walk-in centre in town. I am greeted by a receptionist who listens to my problem and assures me that someone will see me soon. About ten agonising minutes later I am called into a room by a nurse. She's a very nice lady and I suppose she is only doing her job. It's just that after our conversation I am not entirely sure what her job is. Her name is Linda, and when she finds out what I think the problem is she takes a look inside my mouth with a light;

"Can't see any little white specks." she informs me.

I nod with all the patience I can muster, and she goes on;

"See, normally we can't give you the Nystatin (the drug I take for oral thrush, or at least the one I have taken the other 17 times this has happened to me) if we don't know that's what it is."

"But I know what it is, I have had it before."

"Just let me go and ask the senior."

She comes back in to the room. She has asked the senior and the senior says no.

"We can't give you the Nystatin." she repeats.

"Cos it's not oral thrush, you see."

But it is.

She surpasses herself with;

"It's not life threatening though, is it?"

Well no. But what was not my understanding of the function of NHS walk-in centres. In fact, I could have sworn I saw a sign outside directing patients with 'minor injuries'. So are we saying that walk-in centres only treat minor injuries which are life threatening? This would appear to be a contradiction. Fuming, suffering, about to kill someone or something I give up the proverbial ghost and go home. At this point I make my last contribution to anyone other than Emma for the week, speculating with a friend on Facebook as to whether I was refused treatment at the walk-in centre because I failed to walk in to the walk-in centre. I suggest Mr Cameron looks into the prospect of building some wheel-in centres pretty smartly. There is obviously an urgent need.

On Tuesday morning I phone the doctor and ask for an appointment. They offer my 3.50pm and when I ask if they have anything earlier they offer me 9.10am. Why did they not offer me that in the first place? Why would they not offer me the first available appointment? Is there some sort of conspiracy to stop me getting better going on? My paranoia is reaching Fergie levels, and I'm only calmed when I actually see the doctor. Dr Cox takes a look in my mouth and confirms that I do have visible signs of oral thrush, just not white specks which the nurse had been looking for. He calls it a 'white sheen'. At last I am prescribed the Nystatin that I know will work and that I know I need. He also gives me a course of tablets which he says will blitz it once and for all, so much so that I should only take half and save the rest for the rainy day when it returns. I feel like a junkie must feel when they finally track down their dealer. It would be euphoric if I wasn't in so much fucking pain.

And ever since that doctor's appointment I have been holed up in the house feeling sorry for myself. I have read all of Jamie Carragher's autobiography and half of a book with some kind of Lemon Tree-related title by a man called Mark Rice-Oxley which is about his experiences with depression and other stress related illnesses. If you are slightly mad like me it is required reading. I have also watched Traffic with Michael Douglas, Benicio Del Torro, Catherine Zeta Jones, Don Cheadle and lots of other famous people too numerous to mention, The Libertine which is a quite awful historical drama with Johnny Depp and John Malkovich, and lots of tennis, cricket and NBA Basketball. All with a slightly forlorn look on my face as the medicine has taken it's time to have the desired effect. As I write, it is more irritating than painful and I intend to return to work on Monday, whereupon I will no doubt have a discussion with my boss about how my sickness record is not quite as good as it was a fortnight ago.

Until then I'm off for a Yakult.