Two cats go to Newport

If you have never had the experience of being in a war zone look no further than the city centre of Newport on the Gwent coast. The grunge Capital of Europe is known historically for its small unfashionable venues playing host to the likes of Nirvana, the grunge greats of Seatle; and centre for a great many charismatic bands from the Newport hinterland (aka known as South Wales). Rumour has it that the great Van Morrison lived in one of Newport’s prime hotels for some time; and if he hasn’t been seen for a while the hotel is shut and boarded up… who knows?

But today many of those venues are sad boarded up relics, still displaying tattered and torn posters and faded murals of past rocking nights… devastation-chic is the style of the moment. The anthem for the Newport of today is best summed up by the Stereophonics ‘Maybe Tomorrow‘! So, it was with unfocused anticipation that Fat Freddies Cat and I slinked into Newport, where the grey clouds coming in off the channel offered one of the few signs of hope. Many of the pubs offer the attractiveness of a perpetually underfunded homeless hostel, probably providing the very social services support that has been steadily strangled by the good folk of the Westminster village. The coalition government need look no further if they wish to showcase a living ‘Museum of Austerity’, in tribute to a policy of rewarding the rich, in the misplaced belief that the greedy bastards will then cascade their wealth downwards through generous investment.

As I have suggested in a previous post my fellow cat has a nose for the good pub; even if it happens to be an oasis in a desert of Euro-fizz Emporia. And so

ye olde murenger house      we find ourselves at ‘Ye Olde Murengers House’ sipping well kept Sam Smith’s Ales, chomping on some good quality pub nosh, and parting with very few of the standard beer vouchers for the pleasure. This claims to be Newport’s oldest public house, built in the 16th century; but then, so do many others. It can’t be a tourist trick, there aren’t any tourists who venture outside of the iconoclastic tin shed of a new railway station. But this pub has much to recommend it, particularly as an old pub that retains what the good old pubs were largely about, even with locals debating the forthcoming trials and tribulations of the future of the city’s chartist mural.

We could keep refilling our bowls at this fine watering hole, but cats staggering in the mid-afternoon gloom is not a desirable sight. So, what to do on a Saturday afternoon in downtown dereliction? There is a yellow stream flowing across the bridge (no, nothing to do with hours spent gargling the nectar!), so being cats of curiosity we follow… minutes later we are at one of those sporting venues known to very few people anywhere outside of the greater Newport metropolitan area… Rodney Parade. It seems that the old exiles of Newport County, recent victors of the mighty Welsh ‘Battle of Wembley’ (North v South against Wrexham, if you weren’t watching the world-wide coverage back in May), are about to take to the field against the English Riviera minnows of Torquay United.

We venture forward to the ticket office, to be halted in our muted enthusiasm by the dimly lit figure behind the iron bars stating that will be £20 each… Twenty quid! We might have come from Cardiff but do we look like foreign investors making a takeover bid? Do you throw in the keys for the Freedom of the City for that price? ‘Miss Newport 1973′ looks suitably unmoved by the remonstrations, and we walk towards the turnstiles, lighter of cash but grasping the magic tickets that will provide entry to a world of League Two football (real football, as the multitudes who don’t have the option of following the Mighty Bluebirds will quickly claim):

Ticket

So what does real football look like? Here I am with my chair seemingly placed on the pitch (down in this league for your twenty quid you can pretend to be the corner flag). We are all strapped in and ready to go…

Kick offThe problem with Premier League style of play is that teams have to adopt tactics, and play within systems. Down in the real world, when the ball goes missing you can just fire the starting gun and have a good old fashioned race instead, and even the referee joins in (probably benefitting from a head start over players half his age): and they're offAnd the more open stadium means that gusts of wind off the River Usk have the potential to suddenly blow most of the players over, or have they decided it is better to audition as a dance troupe for the old version of ‘Come Dancing’ before it got strict. Fortunately, some of the local houses on the other side of the pitch are suspended on ropes so they can withstand the climatic vicissitudes (not a phrase often associated with the Premier League matches): Gust of wind

 

For the record Newport County won 2-1, so the cats of Cardiff must have brought some of the magic dust along to share with our ‘Old Ironsiders’ cousins. Look out for the continuing rise of Newport up the leagues. I have been Juno, and my elitist Premier League representative will be back to report on another match soon.

Introducing Fat Freddies Cat

This week I want to introduce you to a true polymath, a cat of infinite talents… the Leonardo da Vinci of Grangetown…

Whether it is beer or photography, travelling or just knowledge of the all-night sounds of downtown radio ‘FM San Francisco’, Fat Freddies Cat is the go-to guy. His knowledge expands across many fields, from the iconic Ninian Park in Cardiff (now only a lifetime of memories) to the Estadio do Maracana in Rio, via the greener parts of Scunthorpe and Walsall. Santiago and Kilimanjaro are no strangers to this world traveller; very much at home at any event in Cardiff; an occasional drifter into Fagins Ale & Chop House in Taffs Well; but never cooler than when he is purring through the old streets of Bath. If you don’t know Bath you just haven’t lived, in this cat’s eyes.

Nothing and nowhere in the animal kingdom or pub environment is a stranger to his inquisitive eye:

Just take a picture of this…           is that a fisheye lens? asked the bull  as many of God’s creatures collide in a cat’s eye perspective of a cow through a fish-eye.

max boyces £1 each  Always an eye for a bargain, with Max Boyce’s apparently available for £1 each.

And when the famous or infamous disrobe, reapers day off   beware, for Fat Freddies Cat just might be there to catch anyone on a day off… even the Grim Reaper (sans cloak and scythe)!

But never is this cat happier than combining interests, such as the unique ongoing series of ‘A pint in…’

The City Arms, Cardiff…       a pint in the city arms II

a pint in the packet  The Packet, Cardiff.

The Couer de Lion, Bath:           a pint in the couer de lion

a pint in the green tree   The Green Tree, Bath.

And when a watering hole is not the priority, you can always rely on this supreme opportunist to be on hand when the special moment happens; such as the relatively unknown ‘Welsh incident’ where an inexplicable giant cake-icer transformed Flatholme island…

from the delightful to the delicious:         welsh incident

And then there is Bath… did I mention Bath?

Any time of day or night, lamplight  any angle or perspective… and most of the city centre pubs… fall prey to this inquisitor.

Circus

evening falls on bath

Nowadays our friend the cat focuses his prying eye on people, and a curious bunch they can be (cat’s eye view of people)… check out the ever-growing gallery and you will find a merry band of folk celebrating all kinds of life on the streets of Cardiff… oh, and did I mention Bath? Click on and open the following links for Lindsey the tightrope walking violinist 9695091724; Cardiff LGBT Mardi Gras 2013 9638382836; Ninjah 9431888430; and Jah Scouse 9485654736. And if you’re talking beer and pubs you can’t help but entertain a cameo slot from my old friend Sean… still at home in his world: 9370359347.

So… did I mention Bath? If I didn’t just call in on The City Arms, and look for a cat on a stool at the bar, the one with a fish-eye to hand. Talk to him nicely and Fat Freddies Cat will organise special tours, even with the occasional reference to the history and architecture of the old roman city… between the pubs that is! Little do the tourist information folk in Bath realise, but there is a thriving franchise frequently to be seen boarding the buses and trains out of Grangetown, armed with a camera and more enthusiasm than Julius Caesar himself. As for me, I’ve been Juno, and all I got was a trip to Newport! See you again soon.

Tales from Dumbfuckistan

I seem to recall one George W Bush referring to many of the Eurasian countries as ‘the Stans’, which served well to demonstrate his expansive knowledge of world geography. While it came across to me as a simple way of grouping together totally separate countries, such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and others, he was clearly overlooking his own backyard… Dumbfuckistan.

I mention this because, being a cat for a stat, I was completely blown away (excuse the advanced pun) by a couple of articles about life in the US recently. The first was all about my cuddly cousins, with an all out assault on our favourite pass-time of baiting and killing other dumb creatures.

    According to academic sources we kill ‘billions’ of other creatures in the US each year. Not to be outdone, we clock up millions each year in the UK apparently, though my resident protector of the environment doesn’t allow me to join in, I just get to exercise vivid imagination, particularly where ‘dwaugs’ are concerned…….                    So, somehow we are the villains of the peace, when all we are trying to do is rid you lot of vermin and bring you warm gifts. At least we are doing our bit to keep researchers in jobs for obscure biology conservation institutes.

       Did I mention ‘a couple’ of articles? Well it was the more recent one by Henry Porter in the Observer newspaper on 22nd September 2013 that had me nearly falling off my cushion… American gun use is out of control. Shouldn’t the world intervene?

    With all the uproar about cats killing other creatures it seems to me that we have nothing to learn from you folk; at least we rarely go around randomly killing each other. These stories from the US about yet another gun massacre is one thing, but when you see all the statistics lined up end-to-end it blows your brains out (sorry!).

Total number of Americans killed in all wars from Lexington 1775 up to Afghanistan today is officially recorded as 1,171,177. Total number of civilians killed by guns (including suicides) from the killing of Edward Kennedy in 1968 to today is 1,384,171. Almost a quarter of a million more in 45 years than in the last 238 years of warfare. And still they demand their rights to an outdated second amendment to keep and bears arms, drawn up in days when the wild west was in vogue and coffee (or is that corrfee?) came in only one option, hot and wet.

         Henry Porter reminds us that since 9/11, when just under 3000 people died in that atrocity, there have been 20 terror-related deaths and 364,000 caused by privately owned firearms. Apparently, if the US witnessed that sort of carnage taking place in another country they would be hurtling down the United Nations by-pass on a mission to restore sanity, introduce democracy, and relieve the locals of their richer natural resources. For a nation notorious for its lack of passports and ambition for travel, perhaps the rest of us cats should be thankful… the less of their culture they export the better! If the obesity doesn’t get you the bullet probably will.

If Syrians had any humanity they would threaten to invade the US; after all, any country where over 32,000 of its own are being killed by its own every year has some serious anger issues, and probably needs some externally sourced mediation!

Then there is the advertising and accessorising of guns for little kids… a truly remarkable statement of a sick culture.

[All cartoons accessed from ‘images of…’ sites on the internet].

The style of entertainment has been slightly different this week, but I am still Juno, mainly because I don’t live in America. For those of you who do… stay indoors, lock all your doors, and listen out for the sound of the safety clip being released.

It’s only money!

My appointed football watcher tells me occasionally of a time when T.V. was only in black and white, how strange is that? They also say these were the days when football was cheap with little else to do in your spare time. So loads of people crammed into dilapidated stadiums for a regular fix of having their dreams and hopes crushed by the failings of their local team. Happiness is a strange concept in the minds of these sports enthusiasts. I hear that times have certainly changed, with this Premier League thing bringing in the big bucks. It reminds me of a song I keep hearing on the noise box inconveniently located near my favourite throne… It’s Only Money, which seems to be an anthem for all those ordinary people who can no longer afford the inflated prices charged for their regular torture sessions.

Whatever you happen to think about money-driven changes the reality is that the biggest recent spenders, Tottenham Hotspur, are parking their gold-plated limo’s in town this weekend. Oscar Wilde once said “When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is.” And just to prove a point, in terms of recent spending, today’s contest just happens to be a £33.5 million v. £107 million match. If there are a lot of boxes of Monopoly games around missing all the money, it might well have been syphoned off by a few of the Premier League teams, as the previously poor debt-burdened Cardiff City have a squad transfer cost of £46.8 million, against the mighty Spurs weighing in at £192.1 million.

Its kick-off, and it is customary in these games to name the respective line-ups of the teams facing each other:

Cardiff City                       Tottenham Hotspur

1.     Free                                  £8.0m

2.     £2.2m                               Free

3.     £8.0m                               £4.0m

4.     £0.75m                             £12.0m

5.     Free                                  Free

6.     £0.35m                             Free

7.     Free                                  £6.8m

8.     £11.5m                             £17.3m

9.     £2.0m                               £26.4m

10.   Free                                  £11.8m

11.   £0.65m                             £15.0m

Spurs even had the luxury of selling-on a Cardiff-born player for a mere £86m to recoup some of their recent massive expenses. And I haven’t even started talking about the multi-millionaire status of some of these young folk… delicate thoroughbreds who quickly come to believe the hype that they get tired after a few weeks of playing two football matches a week. This is why teams now need big squads to cope with such incredible demands… just don’t tell that to the older guys who used to play 65 games a season for mere wages, rather than the instant wealth of today.

City v Spurs [1]

So, what does kicking off with £25.45m v £101.3m of ‘talent’ serve up for the punters… the majority who pay the riches of the few? Entertainment, passion and drama I am told by the deluded one representing me at the match. Isn’t that what all football supporters say? I wanted more detail, and being a cat for a stat I got more than I bargained for (all the following figures are in MILLIONS!):

The first real chance of the game falls to the home team as 0.65 breaks through on goal only to be thwarted by 8.0. Spurs dominate the half with strong runs by Free & Free (so much for all the dosh then). But it is Cardiff who get the ball in the net just before half-time as 0.35 takes a corner and 0.75 heads into the net, only the referee (usually the blindest person in the stadium) sees a foul by Cardiff’s Free on Spurs 8.0. Half-time arrives and the all-important stat is Cardiff City 0 Spurs 0.

City v Spurs [2]

 

The second half kicks off, and within the first minute Free for Cardiff requires a good save from Spurs goalkeeper 8.0. Within minutes 6.8 for Spurs hits the bar. This half sees a slightly more balanced game with both sides having chances. The usual substitutions take place for each team, with Cardiff replacing 0.65 and Free by 2.5 and Free. Meanwhile Spurs replace 6.8, Free and 11.8 by bringing on 26.4, Free and 1.5. Cardiff’s goalkeeper, Free, certainly earns his money with a string of outstanding saves throughout the match, only for 17.3 to back-heel the only goal passed him in the 93rd minute.

Final score is Bluebirds 0 Cockerels 1 (with the local parrots left feeling somewhat under the weather).

It’s only money, but Spike Milligan once said “All I ask is the chance to prove that money can’t make me happy.” Would he have retracted this request if he knew he might have to stroll around a field or even sit on a heated padded seat for 90 minutes to ‘earn’ his riches? As for me, I have been Juno, and no amount of money is going to shift me from another stressful 90 minutes on my favourite cushion…

Juno on cushion

… unless that bloody football comes on my colour T.V. yet again! See you again, before the next match.

Fat cat bankers

Some of my superior species seem to have attracted bad press in recent years. I was just telling my human credit card that I couldn’t understand why, when they drew my attention to a few uncomfortable truths, that some unsavoury characters leading the financial industry have been frequently referred to as fat cats… clearly not eating out of my bowl!!

[Pictures downloaded from internet search ‘images of fat cat bankers’]:

                

Economic disaster, casino banking, double-dip recession… the language of our day-to-day transactions has been transformed by a few people doing something to a mouse that hardly seems worth getting out of bed for:

     The majority of the reasonable population goes into spasms of indignation, demanding these cats be cut down to size. Yet they even seize on our well-known sense of nonchalance, claiming that any threat to their power and wealth will be met with the wholesale departure of talent overseas.

                 

Talent! Talent? Seems to me that anyone whose main talent is to screw everything up for everyone else is better off overseas… any contributions to the one-way tickets should be sent to my accountant for payment into the ‘I wouldn’t mind becoming a fat cat‘ account.

I do smile each time I hear a government representative boasting about all they have done to get our slick-suited armageddon merchants helping the honest trades-folk of Broke PLC, when the usual response received to a cap-in-hand request goes something like this: 

Even more impressive was the recent tactic in the City of London of creating buildings that can set fire to the ordinary peoples’ attempts to scrape a livelihood. While the casino bankers relax in the richest sun-belts of the world, they have found something they are happy to share with the proletariat… spreading the heat!

So, it was with great delight, as I slinked around the local city centre, that I came upon a vision of divine retribution… a Barclays Bank building now occupied by Poundland!

Barclays PoundlandCould it be true, that representatives of the once almighty financial institution of ‘total disrespect for the ordinary punter’, where numbers only mattered if they were interrupted by several commas, are now in the business of selling goods to the proletariat for numbers that don’t even need a decimal point!? Or will I wake up and find it was all just a lovely impossible dream? I have been your intrepid financial correspondent, Juno, until we meet again soon.

Searching for Lebanon

This week my global food navigator set the dial for Lebanon; we are eating Lebanese they said, without any further explanation as to how or when this event was going to occur. After all, we are in Cardiff; this isn’t exactly the multicultural banqueting feast that a London or a New York could boast of. Quick as a flash I jokingly replied… what breed of dog is that again? But my humour-deprived, equal opportunities promoting, sage of political correctness only threw me a look of disdain.

This search wasn’t going to be easy. So I consulted my world music collection for some background inspiration. Alphabetically pawing my way through, I arrive at Kyrgyzstan (top 10 crooners of the 1950’s)… Latvia (Elvis thrash metal tribute)… ah, Lebanon (Middle Eastern Motown Soul). Purring to the rhythmic sounds of a Beirut night, I try out the computer gizmo in search of the place they locally call ‘Naroush’. They are supposed to have a website, but the first part of the difficult search failed to locate it. Thanks to TripAdvisor the internet delivers again; and the reviews suggest a real treat is in store. ‘In store’ is an interesting phrase regarding this particular culinary delight; from the outside you get the picture that you have arrived, but… how do you get in? 

Naroosh [1]

 

The entrance looks like it is a clothes shop rather than a restaurant. Good observation, because it is a clothes shop! This suddenly brings back fearful memories of old American movies where you always have to go through some kind of a laundry at the street shopfront, and there would be some gangster types operating out back. Is this going to be the Hezbollah Kebab Shop? I wondered. Am I going to be the hors d’oeuvre? 

Naroush [3]All fears are laid to rest as we turn at the top of the stairs. We walk into a brightly lit all-white decor restaurant. It turns out to be a good omen, being blinded by the decor was a prelude to being blinded by the cuisine. Fortunately, my personal food taster had the ingenuity to have booked a veranda table in advance, so there was less need for me to continue using the shades while eating.

          620 × 414 – kittentoob.com [Picture from images of cats in sunglasses].

Don’t eat much before coming to this place, as the quality is great and the portions fit for a fat-cat. We tried the Mixed Mezza and a Fatoush Salad to share as starters:

Naroush [5]

 

Chicken Musahab and the Sea Bass rapidly followed (even before we had completely digested the starter):

Naroush [6]          Naroush [4]

 

 

There is no alcohol license here, but never fear you don’t need the ‘falling down juice’ when you have the best selection of mixed fruit cocktails and boosters we have seen. They more than compliment the food. Just for a change from my usual water bowl I tried the Mango, Strawberry, Kiwi & Mint combo… delicious. My fellow cat tried the Fig, Strawberry and Papaya. The only shame was the other 14 options of cocktails we didn’t get to try out. We left ‘pleasantly stuffed’, and with the feeling this is definitely somewhere to come back to again soon.

Naroosh [2]

 

The staff were friendly and welcoming, but we did need to chase up the order of drinks a couple of times. But it was certainly great value for money; which just goes to show how much gets spent on the alcohol so often in restaurants.

That is it from Beirut in downtown Cardiff. Until I get the chance to spin that globe again and put a paw on another country, I have been Juno your good food finder, and I hope to speak with you again soon.

Going nowhere

So there I was gazing out across all I could survey in this idyllic place I call home, when my appointed journey planner suddenly asked if I was going somewhere.  Plotting an escapeWell, I said in contemplative mood, to go somewhere you need to be sure about something and saddle up a means of somehow. Which only served to confuse my poor food fetcher, so I made do with a simple it’s a know-nothing going nowhere kind of day.

Much to my surprise this seemed to produce one of those butterfly-effect moments, and somewhere on the far side of ‘journey planners’ brain a couple of stray cells briefly rubbed together, and out tumbled all sorts of reminiscences about a long-distant past where a nationalised British Rail used to provide entertainment for the masses by organising ‘mystery trips’ by trains out of Cardiff Central station; or ‘Cardiff General’ as it was then, bearing in mind my groomer-in-chief is what I can only refer to as an ‘old git’, who seems to be thriving on my presence and attention.

Cardiff Central stationMystery trips, I thought. Seems to me that with all this privatisation malarkey one constant remains… go to Cardiff Central station these days, and the place is one big mystery trip in its own right!

If you are planning on going ‘somewhere’ just hope that nobody looking for a reason to play a practical joke suggests your train goes from Platform 5. On the other hand, if you are going ‘nowhere’ this is just the right place for you… go straight to Platform 0! Yes, you are right first time, I said zero.

Platform 0 [4]

Research on this computer contraption tells me this rather strange option for non-travel, or possibly even time-travel, is not just the preserve of the good people of Cardiff… the good, and in the interests of equality all other types of people, in Stockport (Cheshire), Preston (Lancashire) and Haymarket (Edinburgh), can all share in the global pursuit of going nowhere.

However, in Cardiff, we are talking about a mystery trip of a journey in the station itself.

Platform 0 [1]You might have been planning on a straight-forward visit to the M&S Food emporium, stocking up for your journey to who-knows-where. But, who can resist the message that blocks your advance… Platform 0 even has a staircase of its own. If this doesn’t convince you of its elevated status (excuse the pun), what will? So, you make the understandable decision… London can wait, Swansea has lost its appeal (if it ever had any), Manchester and the North (wherever that place is) will have to wait. We are off on what might just prove to be the experience that knocks Harry Potter’s Platform 9 and 3/4 at Kings Cross station into a minor footnote in the history of rail travel.

Platform 0 [2]As you overcome your initial trepidation, you climb the stairs. Ever the informative types, the railway company have even expanded your knowledge of Welsh, with what must be one of the most useful signs you are ever likely to come across in the whole Principality. But, at least you know you are on the right track (ok, produce your own puns then!). Then they really excel themselves… remember, you are on a mystery journey going nowhere. For this, the most vital guide should be ‘no information at all’; and wow, do they come through. To top off your mysterious journey they have even provided a customer information kiosk… closed and shuttered!

Platform 0 [3]

Armed with nothing, you are now fully geared up to go nowhere… the train company wish you a relaxing and pleasant journey; if you have any further questions, just don’t ask.

For those readers who use this rail equivalent of a black hole, on your way to all stations to Ebbw Vale, I am Juno you mobile DJ offering you a little bit of Going Nowhere by Oasis, or alternatively for you ‘valleys’ go-getters here is Somewhere by Tom Waits. See you at the end of your journey, where ever that may be.