Friday, 21 December 2012

Christmas Dos, Christmas Don'ts

As I said last week, it is indeed the Christmas period, and while the last post was something of a general rumination on Christmas and the importance of booze, I thought it might be worthwhile to give you a bit of an update on what’s been going on this festive season.

Well, I’ve had four Christmas dos already (official and otherwise) and one more to come tonight. It’s proving to be an expensive time of year – more so than usual.

The first one this year was the Christmas curry night that I have with the group of lads I play football with. I don’t always go, but there was an especially good reason this year, in that it was an easy excuse for getting out of one of my main work Christmas dos – the one that all the top brass go to. Yes, it was on the same night. I actually managed to come in under budget on that one, and it was good.

I’m still waiting to hear if “Colin” had another mishap at this year’s work do – or indeed, if anyone else made a spectacle of themselves. Let’s hope so, eh?

Then there was my office’s Christmas lunch, which again I came under budget on, as my line manager managed to claim it on expenses.

On Friday I was invited to attend the Christmas do of the people at my new job, which I don’t actually start until January, but I thought I’d better show my face. I didn’t get the chance to show myself up, because I needed to get to town and pick up my new suits before Slater’s closed. That was ok though; I managed to get three pints and a bottle in during the one and three quarter hours that were available.

Real ales in fancy tankards
Next up was a double header – an old skool Christmas meal with friends at The Wharf in Castlefield where every single round of two drinks I bought for myself and Mrs Cake was £8.50… outrageous! That was on Saturday afternoon. The evening saw us heading out to Stockport for a medieval themed Winter Wassale. Basically, that was a beer festival in the market hall that some very generous friends gave us tickets for, so that we could hang out with them drinking real ale from special tankards.

There was an element of fancy dress, but we didn’t partake in that. It turned out to be the least busy beer festival I’ve ever attended, so that was a bit of a relief. There was still plenty of beer and cider available as well as the usual (for Christmas) mulled wine and, most interestingly for me, two types of mead – of which I tried one.

beer menu
It was the first time I’d ever tried mead. Available in thirds of a pint for £3.50, but at 14.5% ABV, it was certainly worth a go. It wasn’t what I was expecting; sweet with a slight taste of feet, and a consistency and colour not unlike brandy. It’s definitely one for sipping and enjoying slowly.

I also decided to conduct a further experiment into the dubious marriage between beer and chocolate, being that there was a ‘triple chocolate stout’ available. It was nice, but I still contend that beer and chocolate is a combination that just isn’t required – it just tasted like stout to me. My companions all assured me that it smelled very chocolatey, but for some reason I couldn’t smell anything. I have no idea why that was, because the next day I could smell an orange on Mrs Cake’s hands, when she had merely touched one some time before. Do I have a blind spot to the smell of chocolate and beer? Maybe the combination actually works, but it is simply the case that I am unable to taste it. I don’t suppose I’ll ever know, though presumably someone enjoys these flavours and gets something out of them.

Triple chocolate stout
Now, I actually finished work on Tuesday this week, but I still had one more work related drinks reception to attend. This would be the good one – the one that all my work friends go to. That was yesterday. It got a bit weird when we started getting all existential and discussing the universe and heaven and hell, and also the impending apocalypse, which I’m sure you’re aware, is due today. It was good, though.

An that just leaves tonight, which I suppose you could call my golf Christmas do, since it’s the golf people that are meeting up. Mind you, I had a text from Chris yesterday, asking who else was coming. I didn’t ask anyone else, I replied, was I supposed to?

stamp on the back of yer hand
It’s getting ridiculous really; the more things you do, and the more groups of people you know, the more Christmas dos you end up having. Come to think of it, my first this year was actually with my main group of friends, but I didn’t count that one, since it took place in November.

Mrs Cake has had three dos of her own this week also – but two were with the same people; a sedate one for those who have kids, and a more debauched one for those who want to get messed up. She still came back from the sedate one in a right state.

Why do people wait for Christmas to decide it would be fun to go drinking with their acquaintances/colleagues? It could be just as much fun at any other time of year – perhaps even more so, since presumably it won’t be as cold and wet. Perhaps that can be your new year resolution this year – go out drinking with people more often. Come to think of it, it’s easier to wriggle out at other times of year, but there’s an obligation at Christmas, and people are suspicious of you if you never attend, like you might be a terrorist or something. I wouldn’t like to stretch the obligation throughout the rest of the year because, I suppose, your colleagues and acquaintances aren’t always friends, they are merely colleagues and acquaintances, so you don’t really want to go out with them.

Well, we’re fast approaching my last post of 2012, and not long after that the anniversary of my first ever post. I’ve enjoyed  doing it – the drinking and the writing, so let’s hope there’s plenty more to come. I might even combine the drinking and the writing next year, like Charles Bukowski but with less loose women and violence.

That’s it for now, then. See you next Friday, hopefully.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Christmas! It's the most booze-fulled time of the year!

Christmas is a weird time - if you don’t count all the Jesus stuff… what is it all about? How has it managed to last so long? How has it come to be so all-consuming? The first time there was a Christmas, someone probably said, “don’t get me wrong; I like receiving presents, but this’ll never catch on”. How wrong can you be? Alexander Graham Bell once famously said that he could foresee a time when there was one of his new telephone contraptions… in every town. To predict Christmas would never catch on would be more wrong than that.

The telephone’s a great idea though, isn’t it? Can you imagine before there were telephones? Someone would have to think, “wouldn’t it be great if I could talk to someone in a completely different place, in the present moment, without having to be there? Perhaps I could send a voice down a wire.” You’d have to be a genius to even imagine that.

I strongly suspect that the idea of Christmas was conceived to give us something to look forward to in the midst of those cold, dark and damp winter months that, here in the UK, last forever – even into the summer it seems sometimes. Yeah, maybe, maybe not, but either way, that’s probably why it has caught on and lasted. Funny that Christmas isn’t so big in the Middle East, where it all began…

You know what else isn’t so big in the Middle East? Booze. Christmas is a special time in the booze calendar, so even though I normally fall into the ‘bah humbug’ category when it comes to embracing Christmas, there are still things I need to write about. I was going to say that you could think of this as the Drink it How You Like it Christmas Special, if you wanted to, but it isn’t going to be that special.

Just before Mrs Cake reads this and dies a little inside because she loves Christmas, let me just say, I don’t hate Christmas altogether. There are some things that I like about it very much. I like for example, how most people seem to be more cheerful than they might normally be. I like the goodwill to all men thing. I like giving and receiving presents. And I like pigs in blankets. Sure, there are probably more things I could think of, but that’s not the point of these posts – and I could start a list of the things I don’t like, but I’m trying to maintain a positive outlook.

So instead of focusing on boring Christmas things like mulled wine and Christmas markets, let’s have a good laugh at the fun, debauched side.

The real highlight when it comes to drinking at Christmas is the Christmas Do. It might be awkward, it might be embarrassing, but it will be very funny. People are going to get very drunk, and a certain amount of chaos is going to ensue – all to the tune of free booze provided by your employer, if you’re lucky like I am. If you’re unlucky, your employer might make you pay for it.

For me, Christmas dos always walk the fine line between awkward and fun, because I find social situations with anything other than good friends very stressful, and seeing work acquaintances in casual circumstances is akin to seeing a cat on a lead, or a dog in a suit. It’s just weird.

type "dog in a" into google, and "suit" is the first thing it comes up with
Go limp!
Speaking of weird things; I went to my football Christmas curry last night, and when I got there I didn’t recognise anyone because they were wearing normal clothes instead of football kits.

Christmas time is extrawkward (new word, you can have that one) for me because I always seem to be working in two offices at the same time, so there’s always going to be at least two Christmas dos. On top of that, I work at a university, so there’s a faculty do as well as two school dos, and one of my offices has two dos instead of the regulation one. So the amount of time I spend standing awkwardly on my own, drinking far too quickly, and looking for someone I know to actually talk to increases exponentially at this time of year.

The worst case scenario of course, is that you find another lost soul who you might have spoken to once during the year, and end up talking to them. It’s actually a relief at first, but then you run out of things to talk about and need to find a way to leave without seeming rude… Argh! Why is it so hard to talk to people?!

Eventually the free wine kicks in, and things get easier. And I usually find a group that I can hang out with, so it all becomes fun after a while.

You probably knew all that already – you’re a person aren’t you? You’ve probably had a job, and I don’t think the recession has quite hit that badly yet. I suppose you might just be out of school, and new to the whole world of work thing.

Anyway, now it’s time for the interesting part. You can join in here, too. It’s time to talk about the things that happen at Christmas dos as a direct consequence of people drinking too much – because they will, and because mad things will happen. When people are exposed to free booze they do things they wouldn’t normally do. Like stealing, or allowing their lesbian tendencies to surface and making a pass at the boss…

ew... supposedly these belong to a politician
The cliché things of course are things like photocopying genitalia or someone shagging their boss in the car park… I think though that reality often proves to be better than cliché.

Here are a couple of stories about a senior colleague at one of the schools I work in. To protect identities, let’s call him Colin, and say he’s the ‘Senior Head’. That’s a completely made up title, but it represents his position in the organisation.

For the previous two years he’s been involved in incidents at one of the two school Christmas dos, so it will be interesting to see what happens this year. In fact, during the summer, he was involved in an incident where the girlfriend of one of his staff was lapdancing on him. Bizarre. He’s gay, which probably makes it ok, though that doesn’t seem fair. Like, how come gay guys are allowed to grope ladies’ boobies, and it’s not harassment or assault? I’m not saying we should all be allowed to, but the no groping rule should be universal. Just sayin’.

A-a-a-a-anyway… Two years ago Colin loaded up on far too much free wine, and a taxi had to be called. I was there when he was put into it, and somehow he couldn’t remember his address. How do you forget your own address?!? Someone had to call his partner to get it. That’s bad enough I suppose, but the real story is the part I played in proceedings. Colin had gone up to his office, and another member of staff had gone to get him, to help him to the cab. For some reason I was waiting for this other person so we could both join a group of people who had left for a pub a little earlier. The person I was waiting for came back and said, “Colin’s pissed in his office.”

Really? Blimey!”

So, come Monday morning, I went around telling everyone that Colin had been so drunk that he had had relieved himself in his office.

It was odd, though. No one had heard this from anyone else, and the rumour wasn’t really gathering pace. Colin’s office was just across the corridor from my team’s office, and no one had seen anyone make any attempts to clean the office. There should be a hell of a mess, shouldn’t there?

I decided I’d best get some validation for my story – after all, this was my boss I was slandering here! Eventually I managed to speak with the lady who had told me, “Colin’s pissed in his office”.

“Do you remember Friday night, when Colin had a piss in his office?”

“No. I didn’t know that had happened!”

“You told me! You said, and I quote, ‘Colin’s pissed in his office’!”

“Yeah, ‘Colin is pissed in his office’, not Colin has pissed in his office.”

“Oh. I’ve been telling everyone he had a piss in his office.”


“I’d best start quashing those rumours…”

Luckily the rumour didn’t take off to the extent it might have, so all’s well that ends well.

The second Colin story is from last Christmas. This do was at a club in Manchester, which will remain anonymous to protect anonymity, and involved a traditional style Christmas dinner, followed by some dancing. I left fairly early since it was on a Thursday and I was one of the few people who hadn’t booked leave for the next day. That was a relief, since it was a good excuse to get away from the predatory middle aged lady who was determined that I should bounce up and down with her on the dance floor, downstairs. By that, I mean ‘dance’ of course, not dry hump. Ew.

Nevertheless, it meant I left before Colin’s next alcohol fuelled faux pas. I learned the following Monday, when everyone returned to work that he had been so drunk he’d passed out in his chair and started to vomit turkey through his nose, all over the tables and in full view of diners from other parties. There’s no way someone could have misheard that one, is there? There’s too many witnesses and too much detail.

Aside from being very funny, this was actually a relief for one of my colleagues, as she’d gotten very drunk also and had been careening around the restaurant and club all night, falling over and into things, and aggressively asking academics if they thought she was a nob. So that she wasn’t the biggest disgrace at the school was something of a victory.

What fascinates me about people’s behaviour at Christmas dos is the clash between professionalism… and free alcohol. It’s not often you get free booze, so the temptation is to go a bit nuts, and get as much as you can before it’s too late – what I’m going to call the Booze Buffet Mentality. I think it leads to people remembering how much they used to drink as younger people, and thinking they can still do the same, even though they rarely drink anymore, and have been out of practice for years. If you’re going to fill your boots, it is essential you try to maintain some degree of match fitness during the year. And try eating something, too. That clearly didn’t work with Colin, mind.

So now it’s your turn. What are your funniest Christmas do related stories? I’d like to say there’s a prize for the best one, but there’s not. You just get the prestige of having the best one.

Friday, 7 December 2012

It's been a stressful week...

Aaaaah-AAAAH! Aaah-AAH-aah! DUM-DUM!
Good afternoon everybody! I’m going all current this week, and trying to fire off a post while it’s still relevant. I don’t normally like to post something so soon after writing it because all my best ideas come later – when the bulk of the post has been in existence for some time. This time, I’ll just have to hope I don’t get any better ideas. So here we go.

As I implied in my title, it’s been a damn stressful week, but today the light at the end of the tunnel has been reached, and no matter what happens, I’m in the mood for celebrating… at home… with the missus… in front of the telly… with a special bottle of something. More on that later.

See, a couple of months ago, I got wind of the possibility of a new job within my organisation – more responsibility, more money, more interesting and all that. I’ve been wanting all those things for a while so I figured that since my line managers told me I’d be perfect for it, that I may as well give it a go. And that’s where my problems began.

Looking at the job spec, I was perfect for this role, so the first obstacle was getting in an application. I don’t know about you, but I struggle so much with applications – in particular the ‘personal statement’ or ‘supporting information’ section. You’ll know from reading this blog that I can bang on and on about all kinds of things that are interesting to me, for thousands of words, but when it comes to writing about me, or rather the professional, employable me – someone I’m not that familiar with, I can barely construct a single sentence.

Needless to say, with only slight exaggeration, it took me about two weeks to get anywhere close. The problem this time, mind, was that I fitted the job too well – I had too much to say, and once I’d managed to crowbar it into sentences, then I had to go through five pages taking anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary out. And it all seemed necessary.

Mrs Cake was instrumental in helping with this, as usual. Also as usual, I didn’t agree or accept all of her changes, but she did keep me working on it until long after I’d lost the will.

So that’s all fine: application in, forget about it - until last Friday, when I received notification that I’d been shortlisted for interview. All right, fair enough, but not just interview. They also wanted me to do a test on Excel (easy), a prioritisation test (I can fake that) and a presentation.

Yeah, I know, if you’ve interviewed for jobs a little more high powered than me before, you’ve had to do all this, and what’s the big deal? Right? Well, I’ll tell you what the big deal is. I have heard (this is to be kept strictly on the down-low, by the way) that I’m the only applicant who was shortlisted. All right, no, I get it: they still want to be sure they’re getting someone that’s competent? Right? Fair enough, but get this. It’s only for a 6 month secondment , and by the time they recruit me (if I should be so lucky), it will only be 4 months. It’s a lot of jumping through hoops for a fricking four month secondment, and that’s for sure.

Seriously, I’ve never even had to do a presentation before, and while I know all about the subject that I’m presenting on, I was tearing my fricking hair out on Wednesday night. How do you do it? All I needed to do was explain a few things, which I could do if you called me up and asked me. But to then put it onto slides and form it into a cohesive presentation. It’s a fricking nightmare!

On top of that, I got an upset stomach on Sunday night and spent the night weeing out me bum and vomiting. After that it was a couple of days of feeling nauseous, tired and weak. Sure it got me a couple of days sick leave, but I spent the whole time worrying about the interview, and not being able to concentrate on actually preparing for it (recordings of South Park helped).

So anyway, the interview was this morning, and I felt it went ok. I could tell they were impressed with my presentation, and I know I did two of the three tests ok (it turned out there was also a written test that I didn’t have time to do properly). The interview itself seemed to go ok too. I floundered here and babbled there, but I managed to get a few good points in and got them to write a few things down – that’s always a good sign. They did throw me one question I wasn’t expecting though, and hadn’t prepared for, but after a few seconds hard thought, I managed to pull something out of the air.

Christ, don't you just want to climb inside this picture?
Presumably I’ll find out later whether or not they want me. They damn well better, given how much time I’ve had to put into this. Did I get to any time to relax last night? No. Play Football Manager? No. All right, I’m being a bit silly now, but I’ll tell you this for nothing: if they don’t offer me the job, I’m going to damn well explode. Are you fucking kidding me?! Give me my two weeks back! I want my two weeks back!

I am trying to keep looking on the bright side – it at least will be good practice for next time I need to apply for a job. That’s one good thing. The other good thing… is that it’s over. And to celebrate, I have a little treat planned. I managed to amass a significant amount in Amazon vouchers recently, and last week I made a special purchase; a bottle of Caol Ila 18 year old single malt scotch. I’m drooling just thinking of that peaty and salty goodness. The bottle isn’t as attractive as the 12 year old (it’s the same, but the colours are darker, to represent the light at a later time of day on Islay), but I can’t wait to see what the whisky is like. It immediately breaks my record for most expensive bottle I’ve ever bought, and oldest, so I’m hoping it’s worth it. Tonight I shall wait for the right moment and partake in some obscene scotch indulgence. I might even keep my suit on to make it more of an event. Maybe I’ll wear my suit every time I uncork a particularly special whisky… actually I just remembered we have a cat, and my suit is a cat hair magnet. Just step into a room where there was once a cat, and there’s hair all over it, it just sucks it out of the air. All right, the amount of cat hair floating on domestic currents isn’t that bad, but it does mean there is no point in me sitting down with a glass of scotch, and trying to get comfortable. You use those lint removers to get cat hair off clothes, right? Well, if you want to get cat hair off furniture, you use my suit. Just put it on and sit yourself down. That’s probably where the idea for Velcro came from. I can’t believe Word just capitalised Velcro on its own! Nope, this evening I’m going to have to go for the lounging wear – like every other evening.

Anyway, I’ve got nothing else to tell you for now, so wish me luck, and I’ll be back with something more alcohol related next week.