Breakfast, the most dislikable meal of the day

sunday-express-logoIn yesterday’s Sunday Express I was all over my dislike of breakfast.  People have occasionally noted I’m a rather negative soul and have a very long list of dislikes.  I wouldn’t dispute that but to balance things out a bit here are three things I adore: Carmen McRae’s mid-period LPs; the way the geraniums in my window boxes are blooming again after a few weeks of doing absolutely sweet Fanny Adams; and sharing the table at home with Rory while he is drawing or designing something and I’m pretending to write.  See, quite the wide-eyed optimist, actually.   


It was Somerset Maugham who once observed: “To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day.”  Assuming it wasn’t glum bowls of breakfast cereals with their discoloured milk he had in mind, I imagine he’d be pleased with some new research that indicates the popularity of the full English breakfast is on the rise.  And so quicker even than the fat man asking whether anyone minds if he takes that final sausage, I find myself reading yet again about the importance of the first meal of the day.  

A fact I don’t doubt, but the prospect of eating so soon after getting up, dressed as I am in a fetching combo of pyjamas and crumpled face, singularly lacks appeal for me.  Nevertheless it is the meal we’re told we mustn’t skip.  scott's porage oatsInstead, why can’t it be seconds of roast chicken and bread sauce with all the trimmings that nutritionists recommend?  Of course it isn’t.  Schools set up breakfast clubs so as to avoid legions of eight year olds turning into sugar-craving zombies by mid-morning and no doubt there are government statistics informing us that those who do without the first meal of the day are 400% less productive than somebody who stamps their little feet with delight at the prospect of a bowl of muesli and a banana.  

That’s my real problem with breakfast.  It’s what’s readily available to me that truly makes my heart sink.  If you asked me what my ideal breakfast would be then that’s easy: a cappuccino and a cigarette quickly followed by an espresso and another cigarette.  But as with the roast chicken I’ve yet to find a nutritionist advocating the virtues of this one and anyway I don’t smoke any more.  So, what’s left?   Cereal, toast, that sodding muesli, for heaven’s sake?  An egg, if you feel like pushing the boat out.  I think I’d rather take a bath in devilled kidneys and squirt grapefruit juice in my eyes if it’s all the same with you.  

About a year ago I was booked by a radio show to consider live on air the respective merits of a traditional English breakfast versus a vegetarian one.  Both were nice in their way and ideally I’d have combined elements from each plate.  But a winner had to be chosen, and to my own surprise I opted for the non-meat contender as at least it lacked baked beans –  an item I find unforgivable in a cooked breakfast.  

me comparing breakfastsComing home afterwards I realised to my even greater surprise I’d actually enjoyed any kind of breakfast at all; but surely it was because I was washed and dressed, had been up by then for about three hours, and most importantly someone else was preparing it.  In a word it was lunch.  

Indeed, if one morning I entered my kitchen to find some kind soul has prepared tea, kedgeree and hot toast then I wouldn’t complain.  If the following day, the devilled kidneys were scooped from my bathtub to be served alongside a pot of coffee then I wouldn’t object either.  But as things stand they tiresomely require me to actually cook them myself.  Before eleven a.m. most days I’ve found little more can be achieved other than to roll my eyes at Thought For The Day still being deemed an appropriate feature for a news programme and shuddering at the state of my bank balance.  The prospect of cooking and eating something nice is entirely beyond me.  So instead, I get up, hanker after the cigarette I no longer smoke, and try to ignore the whines of the neighbour’s cat through the back door which are certainly not heralding treats unless I can develop a taste for shredded starling.  

Of course, someone always suggests I try porridge.  Now, of course we all know it’s spiffingly good for you, adds six months to your lifespan with each spoonful consumed, and undoubtedly enjoys working with old people and children in its spare time but surely no one in their right mind thinks porridge tastes nice?  Someone prepared for me some admittedly delicious porridge once but it only acquired that status because it was awash with double cream, malt whisky and sugar.  Any good it might have done would be more than off-set by the ensuing heart disease and ulcers.  Clarissa Dickson Wright wrote that once upon a time in Scotland it was habit to make a vat of porridge, pour it into a drawer, let it set and then chew at cold slices of this culinary punishment throughout the week.  Was this actually a dream she had?  No.  It’s something that passed muster as a recipe north of the border.

So, with cooking beyond me, smoking forbidden, and porridge inedible there’s nothing for it but to go back to bed.  I’ll see you at lunch.

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Maybe some other time, Google

victorian farmingWould I like you to translate that, Google?  That’s very kind of you but I’m pretty much okay with English, thanks.  Nothing too fancy, you understand; I’m not being arrogant.  For example, no matter how many times the word ‘gerund’ comes up and how many times I use your splendid search engine to explain it to me give it a few minutes and I’ll have forgotten what it means.   So, please don’t think I’m being cocky.  I’m willing to admit there’s plenty about the English language with which I’m still grappling but the word ‘pasture’ is not any part of it.  Whilst admittedly I’m not following everything about the soil improvement techniques detailed in this essay I’m currently reading on Victorian farming methods in Norfolk, the word ‘pasture’ is not one I need either translating into a language other than English, or indeed as a concept.  

But then I can’t help but wondering whether, Google, if it’s you that needs some help?  You see, for most people the opposite of the word Yes is No but you seem to think it’s Nope and I wonder why you want us to think of you as an entity that would use the word nope when the very much smarter and so much less dim-sounding word no is readily available?  Nope, I don’t need you to translate the word ‘pasture’ sounds odd, n’est ce-pas?  I can hear President George W Bush saying such a thing and that’s not a nice sound, you’ve got to agree.

Maybe it’s the down home, folksy attitude you’ve become accustomed to at Pancho’s – your favourite restaurant – that’s to blame.  Sweet as it is that as I fill in my Google calendar you’re always desperate for me to say yes to your suggestion of a 7pm dinner booking at Pancho’s I’m getting frustrated that you refuse to take no for an answer.  If it’s easier to understand (as with the translation of ‘pasture’) it’s a nope from me on that one too.  

I imagine you, dear Google, snuggling down in your favourite booth at Pancho’s and that smiling waitress coming over and you squirm a little because we all remember that night when you asked her out on a date and it didn’t go so well.  She smiled that cheesy smile of hers and you thought of those perfect bright white teeth heralding a bright new future but then she said she always dinner at pancho'sthought what a sweet guy you are, really bright too, generous tipper, but actually no she didn’t think a date would be a great idea, but really thanks so much for asking so, so, so much, you’re so sweet.  (I bet you she even told you that it was the nicest thing anyone had said to her for ages, didn’t she?).   To be honest, Google, you go into the same bloody restaurant every bloody night at exactly the same bloody time so she probably thinks you’re a bit boring.  

pancho's waitressSo, while you try to not to find the whole thing too embarrassing as she takes your order and hope against hope she’s somehow forgotten the time you asked her out on a date and you want to look interested as she enquires whether you’d like to know about today’s specials you can still hear her saying No in that definite way she unexpectedly had when you didn’t take no for an answer the first time.  “Just one drink?” you’d pleaded and she put away her teeth and simply said, “No.”  You can’t help but think, mistakenly, I’m afraid, that if only she’d said nope instead it wouldn’t have sounded so harsh and finite and so this much gentler let-down is the one you offer the billions of your users today.  You find it too painful for people to keep saying no to you.

That’s my guess how you got to using the word nope, Google, and I respect your reasons but we’ve all had to deal with rejection in our time – just look at Yahoo and Ask Jeeves – so you’ve got to grow up and take the word No on the chin.  If you really can’t, and I appreciate that these things can be hard, then go somewhere else other than Pancho’s for your dinner.  Seriously there are loads of nice places out there for a meal, even as early as 7pm.


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The lack of gays of Weatherfield

Here I am yet again on the subject of why I’ve stopped watching Coronation Street.  This appeared in a slightly truncated form in yesterday’s Sunday Express.  Maybe read it there, or you can, should you wish, read it below.  If you do opt for the newspaper version do treat yourself to the comments section at the end which include: “We too have stopped. Too many gays, too much talking with their mouths full…”  Although these weren’t my reasons for saying farewell to Weatherfield, interestingly they are why I gave up on attending gay orgies some years back.

eileen grimshaw at homeFor Eileen Grimshaw of 11 Coronation Street, Weatherfield cookery is a cause of some disappointment. Not being much of a whizz in the kitchen, her meals are unceremoniously slapped down on the table and then greeted with disdain by the vast numbers of people with whom she shares her two-bedroomed house. Therefore, I very much doubt she takes any pleasure whatsoever in the return of The Great British Bake Off on BBC1 what with all that lip-quivering excitement about perfect buttercream. Eileen and I, I feel, are as one at the prospect of watching competitive baking, an activity about as absorbing as watching uncompetitive baking.

If I’ve got Eileen all wrong however I won’t actually know because after thirty years I’ve given up watching Coronation Street. The shenanigans of that fictional corner of Manchester have been part of my life since those famous opening titles heralded bedtime for me and my sister when we were small. Back then, as we reluctantly climbed the stairs we occasionally snatched a glimpse of Annie Walker and Elsie Tanner slugging it out on the cobbles or Hilda Ogden berating her poor, foolish husband Stan for yet another mess he’d got them into, and slowly my deep affection was formed.

As with most fallings out of love it was a gradual process but the arrival of Les Dennis who in theGreat British Bake-off 1980s used to do impressions of Mavis Riley but is now Gail-at-number-8’s burglar-cum-new-beau had something to do with it. Having said that, if I miss the episode where they entertain themselves by swapping impressions – hers of looking like a punched coin and his of the woman who used to work alongside Rita Fairclough in the days before she took to wearing quantities of mascara that could sink a dinghy – I’ll be more than a little sorry.

It was that and the realisation that Corrie, as with all soaps, would just keep going on and on,

and in middle age I’m not sure I want to invest the necessary hours in staying abreast of developments. Also, it slowly dawned on me that I couldn’t really face the prospect of yet more affairs undertaken in the ginnel and the ensuing violent deaths. To say nothing of the weird vocalising from Dev Alahan in the corner shop who shouts as if addressing someone on the other side of the street even when they’re only standing next to the fondant fancies. And all this is punctuated every decade or so by an almighty fire in the Rover’s Return which in turn leads to a debate about whether it should reopen as a fancy wine bar with olives on the menu, thus precipitating an uprising by the locals who insist Betty’s hot pot should be available to those who require it until the very end of time.

It’s not the writers’ faults; they have mere humanity to work with and we get up to only so much. It’s not as if they can suddenly add piquancy by having a family of shape-shifting alien lizards move into Weatherfield who six months later reveal their true intentions of kidnapping Deidre Barlow, whisking her off to their spacecraft circling directly above Nick’s Bistro and force feeding her with her beloved stuffed marrow. No, that sort of thing is best left to Emmerdale.

mary coronation streetBut in Corrie there is something of a sad shortage of its past splendours. Not just a scarcity of those matriarchs who lent the show distinction, but in the wit and linguistic playfulness often present in their dialogue. All that, by and large, departed along with Raquel Watts. Although credit due to Mary in her mobile home who gallantly holds this sputtering flame aloft. I shall miss her almost as much as that special ‘huh’ noise Audrey Roberts makes when she’s annoyed. Then as now, the drama was borne of familial and neighbourly tensions but the kind that more often than not failed to result in a bludgeoning.

Of course, the day may come when I return sheepishly to the fold but if so I can only hope certain things will have changed. Above all else, may Dev have endured a golfing accident resulting in him unable to even discuss the topic, indeed any topic, but instead only able to communicate by pointing at different tinned comestibles.

Until then, whether I’ll do anything more constructive with this two hours a week I’ve gained remains to be seen. I might I suppose learn how to knock up a seven-tiered wedding cake and some whimsical bunting followed by a main course of eating my own words. Probably not though. More importantly, however, when the end comes I shall have done my best to avoid the epitaph: “He Could Have Achieved More But At Least He Didn’t Miss Coronation Street” being etched on my metaphorical tombstone.



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Pestering you with my news

Hello.  If you are one of the many, many billions of people who have not chosen to receive my newsletter you might be interested to know I am of your number.  However, I don’t want you (or me) to get off that easily so I’ve posted it below.  Once you’ve read it you of course may change your mind about things and want to sign up (safe in the knowledge that with each missive I shall do my best to mix up a Hollywood star and a British comedian / actor / director with a similar name).  You can do so here and your inbox will be sullied by me on a monthly(ish) basis.  You can do something else equally time-wasting here.  Have a splendid weekend.  X


Welcome Reader!

… and Welcome! is about as exciting as this newsletter will get, I’m sorry to say.  The summer is the culprit obviously.  Come September I shall be returned from my villa in Marche (very unspoilt, barely any Brits) and be back both attending and hosting glitzy parties, working my arse off on glitzy stages by night and spending the days in Peckham Library doing various things that bring in so much money I might even find myself eligible for income tax.  I know, I know.  How do I cram it all in?  Enjoy the well-earned rest while you can, our house guests tell me.  So, in the meantime, the days are spent lounging by the pool, having those wise friends to stay (Kingsley Amis and Esme Cannon are due to drop in for a few days next week) and celebrating a cuisine that is both imaginative and yet peasant-like in the nicest not-that-frugal-really kind of a way.

So, give it a month or so and this newsletter will really come into its own.  In the meantime, I’m a bit stumped.  If you Google the word ‘newsletter’ Belfast and The National Geographic and The Economist magazines are pretty near the top of the search results.  No help to me as I write this, my inaugural missive.  I haven’t been to Belfast for over a decade; the last time I did Clement Freud brought a girlfriend along to dinner and I had to pay for her car parking at the Europa Hotel the next morning so it doesn’t hold the fondest memories for me, as I’m sure you’ll appreciate.  As for The National Geographic: my dentist fails to keep its back issues in waiting room as he bloody well should but rather Hello and FeMail, and I’ve never even opened a copy of The Economist despite their quite witty advertising campaign of the 1990s.  So, what I’ve learned from this poke around Google is nigh on utterly useless.

But you’re here for NEWS in my NEWSLETTER.  And I don’t want to let you down.  Using the dazzling imagination I’ve been blessed with here are some of the things that might have happened to me if I’d been at home and not having to cater to Frank Muir’s every fucking need instead…

1)    The greengage tree near me is happily weighed down with fruit this year and each day as I pass it I gather a few to eat.  Yesterday morning two girls, about nine or ten, I’d say, were clambering about in the tree and bagging the fruit up for sale.  I had a conversation with them about it and said I’d come back and buy some, but actually I intend to keep stealing their produce.  As the newspaper industry has discovered it’s very hard to ask people to pay for stuff once you’ve been giving it away for free.  These two need to learn this hard lesson before they get too long in the tooth.

2)    My favourite Cat poster attached to lamp posts in Peckham over the last month depicts a black cat under the headline TOO FAT and a request for people who find they are on the receiving end of his attentions not to feed him.  A smaller image of him is in the bottom right corner along with a black paw that is reaching out to a slice of pizza.  It is not the finest example of the Photoshopper’s art.  Try greengages on him is my suggestion.

3)    My second favourite Cat poster of the month was something I acted upon.  It’s a long story (not long really) but the upshot of it is that I single-handedly resurrected Call Me Dave Cameron’s Big Society from the dead.  There was a pleading poster, I spotted a cat, Rory took a photo, I texted photo to number on poster, woman called Amanda went to where we’d seen him waving about an open tin of tempting tuna.  Amanda and cat reunited.  My reward of course comes courtesy of the happiness I’ve brought to this one person and her cat (unless the cat had actually wanted to escape and Amanda had up until now been hobbling his attempts like Kathy Burke in Misery) nevertheless I’m very happy to be offered cash.

So, what else?

4)    Ooh yes.  My dad keeled over in a rather alarming way after we had all returned from my Mum’s 70th birthday lunch couple of weeks back.  The ambulance men decided he’d probably fainted and there was nothing much to worry about which is obviously good.  Indeed, Dad was back in the gym two days later whereas I would have opted for a fortnight’s bed rest.  Full of proud glee, he emailed me to say that he’d done 5000m in under 25 minutes on the rowing machine.  I’ve never even sat on a rowing machine for 25 minutes.

5)    I’ve come across a rather excellent pasta recipe in which the raw pasta is cooked along with all the other ingredients in one pan and a precise amount of water.  The idea is from Puglia and so therefore proves I’m interested and respectful of food traditions and not simply a lazy slut.

Talking of which…

I’d try to think up some other stuff but Kingsley has apparently developed a gluten intolerance and so I need to have a word with the nice girl from the local village who is giving us a hand in the kitchen over the summer.  She’s having an absolute ball, I can tell you, and when I bother to learn her name so I don’t think have to keep calling her Mmm, Err or Hi (in a light and breezy manner) she’ll probably be so over the moon she might not want paying.  Fingers crossed.

Best wishes,

Chris x

Ps. Earlier today, a doctor told me that a colleague of his who works in the large A&E department of a London hospital says of a certain type of patient who frequents his place of work late on a Friday or Saturday night: “I’ve yet to meet a stab victim I wouldn’t like to stab myself.”



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Come the revolution there will be time for the soaps

gb communist partyThe eager young activists cornered me as I was walking passed the table tennis table positioned in what’s officially known as Peckham Square but which everyone else refers to as ‘outside the library”.  Our subsequent pretty good-natured chat took place whilst the four of us constantly shifted position to make way for the ping pong balls being inexpertly knocked about near us.  Why we didn’t move somewhere else I don’t know but intransigence is a watchword of the hard left and so it might have been policy.  As someone to their political right I should have suggested we shift over not only demonstrating my lily livered liberal credentials but also a practical solution to a real problem positively Blairite in its willingness to start from where we found ourselves rather than where we would like to be.

Clutching newspapers and leaflets from the Workers’ Revolutionary Party my three new chums nodded at each other as they each in turn told me about the nirvana that would follow on from the general strike they were advocating.  Apparently, once this merry state was formed in Britain as surely as night follows day similar brouhahas would quickly bubble up around the rest of the world, and before you knew it the capitalist system would be smashed and the workers would be at the tiller.  When you live in a country where the workers are no longer heroic coal miners and their ilk but the poor sods who toil away in Greggs and Poundland or do shifts in call centres selling everything from subscriptions to the People’s Friend to pet insurance I asked them what the first act of our new government would be?  “You’ll see,” one of them said somewhat flirtily.  peckham squareOr menacingly.  Or simply playing for time.  In whatever way he meant it I’m certain he winked at me.  The most pressing question I had for them at this stage of our encounter was less to do with the nuts and bolts of forging a new egalitarian society but instead why is it we call a table tennis table a table tennis table rather than simply a tennis table?  It will probably be rectified when the revolution comes, I guess.

We’ve all got to relish the prospect of change, I said, thereby kind of agreeing with them.  One of them fist-bumped me but didn’t do so again when I told him that I had specifically in mind my recent decision to stop watching Coronation Street.  Despite it being a programme billed on the ITV website as “the story of working people and the city street in which they live” there isn’t a peep about what Norris the newsagent will do come the uprising or whether arch-rubbish capitalist Steve McDonald, he of the cab company and the Rovers Return (is there no end to this man’s greed?), will be strung up from a lamp post.

coronation street kabin I’ve watched Coronation Street all my life and can’t say I won’t miss the old bird but a month or so ago I decided that with time marching on and at 45 years of age I simply didn’t have the spare two-and-a-half hours a week required to keep up to date with Weatherfield’s shenanigans.  Put simply, there is more pressing stuff.  Of course, whether I’ll do anything more constructive with this newly acquired time remains to be seen but at least when the end comes I won’t have to worry that the words, “He Could Have Achieved More But At Least He Didn’t Miss Coronation Street” might be etched on my metaphorical tombstone.



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The mysteries in the hearts of men

blue titsOne extremely hot day about ten years ago, at his brother-in-law’s funeral, a man approached my uncle. “I thought you were dead,” he said, laughing as he slapped my uncle on the back. “I could have sworn someone told me you’d croaked.” We all stared at this bloke and he seemed surprised by the attention. “No offence,” he offered, and slapped my uncle again. This time on the upper arm. There must be people for whom being stared at goes with the territory. For their fame possibly, for their beauty or astonishing dress sense. (Walking through Selfridges yesterday my long-dead grandmother spoke using my mouth. “You do see some sights, don’t you?” she said.) Or for something else entirely. This man was being stared at for confusing the living and the dead at funerals.

Travelling along Oxford Street on the 94 bus last week, I was mesmerised by the man sitting across the aisle from me. Bald now for some years, I sometimes wonder what it might have taken for me to feel I could improve things by donning a hairpiece. I am still unsure. This man’s wig was so outlandishly terrible it could barely be construed as an item aspiring to be taken for a human’s head of hair. A mere six degrees of separation would struggle to forge a connection between the thing crouching where air or a hat might more sensibly have existed and anything whatsoever a human’s body could feasibly produce without biological warfare playing a role. Its only redeeming feature was that where it was supposed to make contact with the back of his neck, it instead stuck out leaving a tantalising darkened gap, a space which brought the word ‘eaves’ to mind. How I hoped an otherwise homeless family of blue tits or ducks might have found a place to nest in there. At least some good would have come of it this way.turkish restaurant

As we scooped up hummus, falafel and yoghurty kebabs I told my friend Karl about all this. Supposedly we were both both on a diet, and I wanted to distract us from the garlicky guilt which accompanied our meal. Having undergone chemotherapy, Karl knows what it’s like to lose your hair but even he couldn’t find an excuse for this monstrosity when I showed him the photo I’d surreptitiously taken. “I wore a cap all the time, didn’t I?” he said. “I wonder what he thinks he looks like?”  At the end of the meal, as we knocked off the icing sugar on our complementary Turkish delight by way of nodding hello to our weight loss regimens the question hovered, still unanswered.

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Radio listening for the eternally punished

dog trying to pass catRight now, I can’t get enough of a video doing the rounds of a pony frolicking in a paddling pool.  Do watch it; although I’ve given the ending away, as well as the beginning and the middle it’s enjoyable none the less.  Only one other video has so appealed quite so much and that was of an American voice coach attempting to speak with a Geordie accent – “It ran oop and doone me lags.”  If he’d recorded this whilst spread out in a paddling pool with a pony hovering nearby wondering when it would be his turn I think my world would have spun off its axis with pleasure.

More often, I’ll watch one of the hundreds of online videos of feeble dogs too scared to walk past cats.  These dramas usually take place on a staircase but sometimes porches or the vestibule near the bathroom provides the setting.  I’ve noticed these things because it’s the settings that usually provide whatever little variety there is on offer.  Like the breakfast coffee or that sad, mid-evening realisation that the washing-up is actually more enjoyable than the meal itself these videos quite regularly punctuate my waking hours.  I usually watch the cat-v-dog videos about 11.30 as an alternative to doing something more useful. 

The premise is this: the entirely calm cat seems non-threatening although the juddering, whining dog obviously knows differently.  The denouement involves a human entering the scene, thereby shifting the dynamic, triggering something in the cat who ineffectually swipes its paw at the dog whilst the dog takes its chance and rushes by.  With a congratulatory “Come on Buster, there’s my boy,” from his proud owner as the daft dog wiggles with admiration at his own achievement, the furious cat puckers up its arse hole and stalks off. 

As aficionados of Steve Wright In The Afternoon know the same grinding sameness can be a pungent brew. sisyphus Turning on Radio 2 at two o’clock is akin to Sisyphus thinking to himself, “here we go again,” as he starts to push that bloody boulder up a hill only for it to roll straight back down.  “I’ll give it another go tomorrow,” our ancient Greek myth says as he wonders for the umpteenth time whether cleaning out the Augean stables could possibly be more draining than listening to Old Woman battle with her false teeth.  To some degree, all radio is like this but this show seems to depict what Hell dressed up as a fun fair would truly sound like.  Looking beyond the main feature and enjoying the stuff you’re not supposed to notice is the only way to make it bearable: there’s the simmering antagonisms between Steve and those laughing hyenas of his gathered in a pen at the back of the studio; the ever-present fury in Wright’s voice as television’s very limited desire to have him as a friend plays on his mind; the jingles which when listened to carefully sound as closely related to fun, happy things as a baboon’s rictus grin indicates he’s really laughing at life.  The dog- v-cat videos might be samey but at least there isn’t an ugly subtext worthy of psychiatric intervention.

steve wrightUpsetting my personal apple cart a few weeks ago, however, another video started doing the rounds which this time depicted a cat fighting off a terrifying brutish dog as it tried to maul a small boy playing outside his house.  The cat was certainly the hero here and the dog wasn’t nervous, neither pathetically nor attractively so, but instead the out-and-out villain.  It’s healthy to have our prejudices challenged from time to time.  I watched this particular video over and over again.  Like observing a car going down a one-way street my neural pathways were shocked by these goings-on.  With this in mind, I suggest to Steve Wright and his cohorts they should take a peek.  It really might be just the spur they need. 

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