Rites of Passage

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This blog has eventually been obliged to acknowledge the slow but inexorable approach of what must be referred to as his Early Middle Age – in much the same way as Methusaleh may be described as “knocking on a bit”.

I’ve noticed that I’ve started to make a kind of sighing noise when I take the first sip of tea. I hand back plastic bags at the Waitrose checkout with the plea, “Could you open that for me? It’ll take me ages”, and youngsters have started offering me a seat on the train. No, sorry, cancel that one. You can only take imagination so far.

Last week marked a “big one”, my passage into “masters” status. My birthday meal comprised a burger in a bap at Lewes’s annual skittles competition.

Live on the edge, that’s my motto

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The customers in front of me seemed to be enjoying theirs

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This maintained a fine tradition. Mrs. Blog and I had celebrated our wedding anniversary the previous week with a bacon and egg roll (no butter, crispy bacon, open the egg or it’ll run all down your shirt) in a layby on the A27, courtesy of the Taj Mahal of burger vans. It’s these small romantic gestures that keep the marriage fresh, don’t you think?

Where was I? Oh, yes, celebrating birthdays.

Friday evening with four chums to the CAMRA beer fest at the town hall with brews like Skull Splitter and Rector’s Revenge. (Perhaps the word “beer” is superfluous there. What else would they be celebrating?)

“Skull Splitter (quoting the official tasting notes): An intense velvet malt nose with hints of apple, prune and plum. The hoppy taste is balanced by satiny smooth malt with fruity spicy edges, leading to a long, dry finish with a hint of nut.”

And you thought we were just there getting absolutely pixelated.

But how best to maintain a smidgin of credibility in terms of manly ale consumption while not consigning the next day to oblivion? I opted for turning up a bit late and supping half pints. One of our number opted to drink only “thirds”. I’m saying nothing but you know who you are… 

The five of us settled in for a long session 

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Anyway, all very well organised as ever. Three of our number with Manchester connections, including this blog, focused our not inconsiderable efforts on brews from our youth, though the price had risen. I didn’t eat the burgers this time as I’d had a nice salad before leaving the house.

Saturday to London where ten of us ate Greek on Bankside before seeing a performance of J Caesar at Shakespeare’s Globe. Blogdaughter had promised that the birthday boy would be encouraged by management to throw plates around after the meal. This turned out not to be entirely true but there was unexpected compensation in the arrival at our table of a flaring not-to-be-held-in-the-hand Roman candle embedded in a baklava, accompanied by two token mini-candles,  some embarrassing numerals and a posse of singing waiters. What more could a blog want? Other than 10% off the bill, of course.

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In a previous blog I furnished essential advice for those tempted to join in from the audience with what’s taking place on stage. At the Globe there are plenty of opportunities to engage with the cast, especially if you’re standing throughout the play in “the pit”. This may include blocking the actors’ passage to the stage with your bag (yes, I mean you, MT), but the most effective way of attracting their attention is either to faint (what conditions do you expect as a groundling when you’ve only paid a fiver?) or by calling out “Look out behind you” whenever Brutus goes anywhere near the star turn.

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Home via Blackfriars station. I know I’ve mentioned this in a previous blog, but the view from the platform straddling the Thames must be one of the finest in London, especially at night.

The following day found us back in London for “UpattheO2”, an assault both on the summit of the former Millennium Dome and on the wallet. This was highly enjoyable with enough of a sense of achievement to justify a good lunch afterwards. Mrs. Blog doesn’t usually do heights under her own steam, in the belief that, if the good lord had meant us to walk up high mountains and Blackpool Tower, he wouldn’t have invented Easyjet and escalators. That said, with the promise that the shortest route to the nearest branch of Marks and Spencer lay straight across the roof of the O2, she led our party from base camp at something close to a jog. The emerging views during the ascent reveal parts of London not so frequently seen, other than from the nearby cable car – the Olympic stadium, (ArcelorMittal) Orbit tower, City airport, Thames barrier, the docklands. We were lucky enough to have warm sun and very clear skies.

Mrs. Blog and I enjoying a hard earned view Up at the O2.

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Trying out our best moves to see if the rarer atmosphere helped us “fly”. It didn’t.

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From the Dome to Greenwich by way of a favourite of mine, the old foot tunnel under the Thames, then by river ferry back to Bankside and a jug of Pimm’s in the sunshine that scarcely “touched the sides”.  If this is what being middle aged is going to be like, bring it on.

I’m still awaiting my birthday present from Mrs. Blog but she assures me it’s on its way, just as soon as she thinks of something.

But perhaps the best thing this week was when Waterstones, our biggest national chain of proper bookshops, opened its first ever branch here in Lewes, in an attractive 18th century listed building in the pedestrian precinct. I was more or less down there when the doors opened. That’ll do me. That’s where my pocket money will be going. I share all the concerns about the threat of major chains and online sales to small independent shops, including the delightful (non-second hand) bookshop we still have, and which I frequent, but this arrival is likely to keep me shopping here in Lewes, rather than heading to Brighton.

I also understand the role of e-books, Kindles, etc and, believe it or not, am able to work them, but nothing will replace for me the look, feel and even the smell of an array of new books. Wonder if they can be persuaded to open 24 hours…


Waterstones in Lewes, with its elegant exterior…

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…and even more impressive interior

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