The M25 on the evening of the 17th January. Alastair Stewart kept going on about keeping an eye on the "IDIOT" in the pram launching red turtle shells at a monkey on a motorbike, before being dragged away frothing at the mouth by ITV executives.
Matthew Applegate had for a while been stating that 2011's Barrington Court Wassail was not going to be like previous ones. And he was right. It didn't help that the 17th January this year fell on a Monday, it also didn't help that the main man for the previous few years (one of those people who knows all about Wassailing) - a chap called Dick (stop it) wasn't available this year. We were also going to have to do without the Samba drumming band that had become a staple part of previous years - I guess the idea of pounding out Brazilian rhythms in the freezing pitch dark of a west country orchard in occasional pouring rain wasn't their idea of fun or complete job satisfaction. Fools. And we also finally had to make do without Rachel Brewer, the frankly insane, but infectiously enthusiastic pommelier at Barrington Court. She and her other half, Anthony, had decided to go for a six week holiday in Vietnam instead. What is wrong with these people? I wasn't helping much either as I had to be in Essex early on the Tuesday morning so couldn't stay for very long. I was there to read my usual poem, shout at the crowd and then...er... sort of clear off, really. So I said hello to all the usual group of lovely people at Barrington, even threatening Alf Trott with a kiss, snaffled a quick burger, read my poem and then slipped off into the night and my long drive up to Essex.
My wife Amanda was busy on the Tuesday attending a family funeral, so my job was to look after my lovely son James for the day. I took him to school first thing, then had to wait in for a carpet fitter to come and measure up for a job. After that I hit the bright lights and razzmatazz that is Basildon shopping centre. After exhausting the entertainment possibilities of the "99p Shop" and Asda, I decided to try and find some lunch. Forgoing the gastric rigours of Nando's, Taco Bell and the obligatory McDonalnds, I ended up at Ned's Noodle Bar, which was absolutely gorgeous! Proper pukka tasting oriental food served in one of those groovy cardboard cartons always seen in American movies to denote a Chinese meal is being eaten. After picking James up from school we went back to Amanda's house where my son proceeded to beat the crap out of me on Mario Kart on the Nintendo Wii. Now if you have never played Mario Kart let me describe it to you. It is like the old kids cartoon "The Wacky Races" only crossed with certain scenes from Mad Max 2. You drive along in a customisable car that can resemble anything from a fish to a Bugatti Veyron, fighting off other cartoon characters in their bizarre cars who attempt to slow you down by either simply pushing you off the road, or by blowing you to pieces with carefully aimed bombs, deadly turtle shells and even with a flying squid that sprays ink on your windscreen so you can't see where the hell you're going. James and I for some time had been using a character I had created on the Wii (you can create your own little cartoon of yourself.... I know you're all out there, I can hear you snoring), and we had pretty much opened up all the games - the more races you win, the more games you can access and more characters and cars become available. But I know James quite liked using his own character he'd created. Well, while he was at school, dear benevolent, kindly Daddy decided to do some of the easier races for him, pick up some wins and open the new cars and characters he desired. The difficulty of the races depend on the engine capacity you choose at the start. A 150cc race for instance is generally the hardest and is best left for hardened gamers and experienced drivers. 50cc is the easiest and is best for youngsters, beginners and George Osborne. James' character had not really opened many of the 100cc races so during the day I thought I'd have a bash at that for him. You race in four "Grand Prix" and an overall winner of those four races gets presented with a cup and, usually, the chance to open up new games, characters and cars. I set about my task with gusto. First set of four Grand Prix on the 100cc setting. I won the first two races at a canter and was feeling very confident. In the third race, due to constantly falling off a giant underground mine/roller coaster (don't ask) I came last by about 20 miles, but I was still second in the overall standings going into the last race. I led from the start and slowly drew away from the main pelaton. I drove within myself and tried not to take too many risks. I rounded the final bend - I could see the chequered flag! I could see it! I could almost touch it! Images flashed up in my mind of a rosy cheeked James, with big cartoon eyes, looking lovingly at me and saying "Daddy! You opened all these new characters and games just for ME?" as birds chirruped, and cherubim and seraphim's circled brightly above us and showered us with glitter and pearls on the world below. As I rounded the final bend I got hit by three bombs, two turtle shells, a squid and was then flattened by a giant car so that you could have slid my vehicle under the garage door. I finished 9th. Now we have been trying to teach James not to lose his rag when he can't win a game on either the Wii or his DS console. I forgot all of the training we have been giving James, and in that moment I think the cat learnt some new choice swear words. It was enough to make you want to chew your own foot off. After picking James up from school I couldn't face explaining to him that I hadn't managed to open a single other race, character or car, and took the feeble way out by taking him to Pizza Hut.
Well, I should be able to brush up my Mario Kart skills again next week. After Monday in Tiverton the rest of the week is in Essex and Hertfordshire so I will once again get a chance to have some lovely cuddles with my gorgeous son. Check here for the latest scores from the next Grand Prix, but if you see me sliding the flattened smoking wreckage of my car under the garage door, for Christ's sake don't ask me how the race went.