RIP Big George

I’ve just heard the very sad news that George ‘Big George’ Webley has died.


Big George was probably best known for writing the theme tune for ‘Have I Got News For You’ but I knew him personally as he was a Milton Keynes resident – as was I before we moved to France – and we occasionally bumped into each other when our orbits crossed on the local music scene.

He was a very nice guy indeed, as well as being a highly talented composer, musician and TV and radio broadcaster.

I’ve played with George – he depped on bass for a band I was in – and one of my fondest memories of him was when he supported another band I was in at the Marquee Bar of the Bull Hotel in Stony Stratford one New Years Eve. He performed the HIGNFY theme on guitar and kazoo and he went down an absolute storm.

Sad news indeed and, at 53, far too young.

Goodbye Big George…

Any port in a snowstorm?

We’ve been watching coverage of the approaching snow in the UK with great interest as we’re due to visit dear old Blighty next week.

At first, we saw the usual dire predictions of doom and I have to admit that I scoffed at them. However, parts of the UK now have snow, and conditions in some parts seem quite severe.

A couple of talking points have stood out amongst all the usual media guff.

Firstly, the poor reaction of some drivers to snowy and icy conditions. Braking is the worst thing to do – you should brake with your gears – and staying a good distance away from the car in front is a good idea too – about 10 car lengths should do – and, it really should go without saying, keep your speed right down. If you do have to brake then don’t fight the direction of the skid – steer into it.

I’m struggling to understand why some UK weather reports are giving out the Fahrenheit equivalents to Celsius temperatures. The now standard Celsius scale seems to be more logical with 0° being freezing point, whereas it’s 32° in Fahrenheit which doesn’t seem as immediate or informative.

Although I was educated when imperial units were used, I use mostly metric units nowadays and exclusively so here – ounces and inches mean fuck all to the French after all. However, the difference between the two systems doesn’t seem as wide as that between Celsius and Fahrenheit – it’s not like a measurement of length will start in a different place, for example.

When it comes to standard units, money can also be subject to this strange species of nostalgia. You may remember when 12 pence made a shilling and 20 shillings made a pound. Of course, we then went decimal. The French also changed their currency, although going from 100 centimes to the franc to 100 cents to the Euro wasn’t that tricky maths-wise. However, the French still express prices in francs as well as Euros so that a supermarket till receipt will give you a total in Euros and then its franc equivalent.

Imagine going to your local M&S and getting a receipt telling you that the £12.67 you just spent was the equivalent of £12 13s 4d in old money.


Well, we sail from Caen on the overnight ferry and arrive in Portsmouth next Tuesday. We’re staying a few days in Milton Keynes to see our son and our friends and then it’s off to Gloucester to see our daughter and various relatives.

Snow seems to be forecast for next week both here* and in the UK, so it may be something we can’t escape. So, a shovel, blankets and a flask of cocoa will be loaded in the car as well as all the Christmas presents for the UK and our luggage.

Now, where’s my thermals?

*It snowed briefly here at about 4pm – just a few flakes but the white stuff all the same…

Catching up

Well, here we are – back in La Belle France and very glad to be so.

It was lovely catching up with friends and family but the comparative hustle and bustle of the UK – even in Milton Keynes and relatively quiet areas such as the Forest of Dean and the Gloucester countryside – was a real culture shock. So many people and cars and all seemingly in a tear-arse hurry to get somewhere.

Mrs Shark commented on how little I swore in France after hearing me let rip at a driver who cut me up on a roundabout in MK but even she used some colourful language at the utter cunt who overtook a coach just east of Chipping Norton and almost rammed us head on.

Admittedly, there’s more room in France – it’s a bloody big place – but even so, people seem just that bit less hurried and this all seems to contribute towards a more relaxed demeanour, generally speaking.

It’s cherry season here and we’ve come back to a bumper crop. The tree in the garden is laden with ripe red cherries and after bottling some with cognac yesterday, there’s now jam to be made. This means that Mrs Shark has been busy buying jars, thermometers and a great big sterilising machine for said jars.

It seems to be sales time here and we’ve bought some garden furniture and a couple of small barbecues so that we can reciprocate the many invitations we’ve had to go to eat charcoal-blackened meat…

The trip back to the UK also meant that Waterstones and other bookshops got a right rifling and we’ve returned with many, many books, having just about exhausted our supply of new books we brought with us last March.

I can’t recommend anything we’ve just bought (not finished anything yet!) but here are a few titles from the last batch that I can heartily recommend.

Dennis Lehane – The Given Day: the latest novel by one of my favourite authors. It’s a bit of a departure for Lehane as it’s an historical novel. It tells the intertwining stories of a young Irish-American policeman and a black fugitive set in early 20th century Boston. It had me gripped from start to finish and the superb characterisations made me really care about what happened to the two main protagonists.

Anthony Bourdain – Kitchen Confidential: inspirational stuff describing the true life story of a punk chef. It’s like Led Zeppelin hedonism meeting gastronomic armageddon with a seasoning of smack, sex and knives. Genius stuff with Bourdain pulling no punches whatsoever.

William Sansom – Darkfire: The fourth book I’ve read featuring Shardlake – a sort of Tudor sleuth. Again, great characterisation makes you care about the hero and a wry humour and sharp attention to period detail make this a delight to read along with the three others so far published. Sansom captures the atmosphere of Tudor religious/political paranoia very well indeed.

After a week of beautiful weather back in the UK, we’ve come back to even better weather here with heat but not as much humidity as back in the UK. It’s currently about 38 degrees celsius outside our back door and it’s quite bearable. However, it’s starting to cloud up a little and I have a feeling that later today we might well have some spectacular thunderstorms.

(3 hours later)

In typical Mayenne fashion, the clouds just went away after an hour or so of warm breeze and it’s now yet another balmy evening. Barmy too, with 5lbs of cherries stoned and a huge vat of jam bubbling away under the watchful eye of Mrs Shark. 

We’ve just had chicken in satay sauce with noodles. Here’s my own recipe for the dish with a cheat satay sauce:

Mix together 2 tablespoons of crunchy peanut butter with a dessertspoon of dark soy sauce. Add 200ml of boiling water to which you’ve added about half a block of creamed coconut and then mixed to a paste. Blend this into the peanut/soy mix and add half a teaspoon of minced red chilli – more if you want it hotter. Stir into sauteed sliced chicken breast, red peppers and mange-tout peas. Serve with thin egg noodles.

‘33’ beer is currently 6 euros and 5 cents for a pack of 30 25cl bottles at the Super U this week. Goes very well, chilled to buggery, with the above dish.

Picked up some chicken rillettes on offer – let’s hope they’re as good as the pork ones.

After last week, during our sojourn in the UK we had three barbecues. Once we got back we bought all the kit and have had a couple here – one with sausages and pork chops and one with brochettes made of cubed beef, mushroom and red pepper. It seems that BBQs are the most popular way of entertaining during the summer months, so we’re having one with guests the weekend after next.

Mrs Shark claims to have seen a hoopoe whilst we were out driving to Pouance this morning. That evens out the Golden Oriole I saw the week before last. Last night we went out looking for glow worms and found several. There also seems to be a pair of kestrels that have taken up residence near here. They were both out hunting yesterday, so perhaps they’re working on a second brood.

I’ve made contact with a British guy living nearby who sings and plays guitar. We’re meeting on Saturday. If we think we can play together then gigs are – apparently – waiting. Be nice to play again. I have to admit that I’ve hardly picked up a guitar in the time I’ve been here so it’ll be good to have an excuse to play, being as I’m such a lazy sod!

The cats are pitiful in the heat – they just sack out under the hedge for hours and then emerge when it’s cooler. It’s too hot for even Django’s bloodlust – the local wildlife is safe during the day, although I should imagine that the nocturnal variety still gets an ass-whupping. The two cats are pathetically grateful to be home and although we can heartily recommend Les Creature Comforts at St Aubin Fosse Louvain for your cat or dog’s vacation, run by the lovely Stephanie Lack, there ain’t no place like home. For us and the ginger bastards!

Waterside Festival gig

Had a great time last Friday at the Waterside Festival here in MK.

Jean-Pierre was back and we were all well up for 75 minutes high-energy blasting. Mega-loud PA, great crowd with lots of impromptu dancing, nice weather, a great craic.

More great photos by Derek Gibbons – thanks, mate!

(If you can’t say anything pleasant about these photos then I’d like to ask you, very politely, to just shut the fuck up)

Council cockwittery

I see that one of our secondary schools here in Milton Keynes is being talked about as a potential city academy.

It owes the council £2.8 million after a land sale fell through after developers pulled out.

I then read in the same local rag that the council has decided to spend £400 000 on refurbishing the debating chamber.

I was in there about a year ago at a council hearing I was involved with as a witness and thought how nice it was.

I thought times were hard.

Plenty of council money for council chamber updates but none for schools…

How odd.

Mind you, the council’s track record with schools is pretty shitty.

Bordering, some have said, on the criminally negligent, with one new school being approved by the council only to remain unoccupied for several months due to its main structure being in danger of imminent collapse.

Cock & Bull in the Market Square

A little light relief from all this EDP/Davies stuff…

Last Saturday, one of the bands I’m in – the Cock & Bull Band – played a rare local gig at Stony Stratford to kick off the week-long Stony Live Festival.

Unfortunately, our piper’s father had died the week before, so he was in France attending the funeral. Lynn from Asha stepped in on flute and Sarah Malleson called.

A nice little gig and it was great to see Tony/Bob (don’t ask!) the sound guy again. I used to dep in a band he sang in when their regular guitarist wasn’t available.

Many thanks to Derek Gibbons for the photographs.

Street View rage

Well, it had to happen…

Yes, Google Street View rage has arrived in Milton Keynes.

I don’t know how much’outsiders’ know about MK as it’s known, but it’s quite a large place and has grown to take in several towns and villages as it’s expanded.

One of those villages is Broughton and because one whining shithead living there is worried that their ‘affluent’ village is now going to get burgled more times than Paris Hilton’s snatch, a mass petition to remove the whole village from Street View is now planned.

Let’s hope they’re as enthusiastic when it comes to voicing their disagreement with national ID cards.

Incidentally, we have 3 villages in the boundaries of MK that look as if their names should sound very similar:

Broughton, Woughton and Loughton.

But not so.

Broughton – Brought-on.

Woughton – Woof-ton.

Loughton – Low (as in ‘allow’) – ton