I’ve been very lax at writing over the last few months, the reasons for which are the subject of another post over the next few days, but regular readers will be familiar with my infrequent rants about the injustices of the world, and I’ve got a few to bring up now…
OK – first off, there’s a subtle erosion of human rights that is going on pretty much unheeded in our land. I’m not talking about rendition flights, I’m not talking about asylum seekers and medical tourists, nor am I going to launch into yet another tirade about the hypocrisy towards uncovering the truth shown by a certain Mr Julian Assange – though Lord knows that one’s way overdue.
No – I’m talking about something far more important, and far more damaging.
My two lovely daughters, and my wonderful wife, are afflicted with that curiously female ailment known as CSD – Compulsive Shopping Disorder. So as the bloke / taxi driver / nominal ‘head’ of the household, I get dragged off to shopping centres on a reasonably regular basis.
I didn’t really mind this, as there’s generally a store or two that provides release, a quiet space free of shoes, make-up, and ‘accessories’, where I can browse to my heart’s content, spending a fortune in my mind and a smaller amount if I reckoned I could get away with it.
Soon, these places, these havens of male shopping solitude, will be a thing of the past. Places like HMV are disappearing fast, as is Blockbuster Video, and most every independent movie and record store you can imagine, to be replaced with charity shops, pound stores, coffee shops doubling as young mothers meeting rooms, and shops selling anything from carpets to mobile phone unlocking services (and it’s ALWAYS mobile phone unlocking services, for some reason). And when the last one goes, it will be a sad, sad day for blokes everywhere.
There’s something inherently bloke-ish about going into a store like HMV, and wandering up and down, looking at every DVD case and CD they have. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s the old hunter-gatherer instinct kicking in. Maybe it’s the possibility of surprise when, moving down a shelf, we suddenly come across a movie that we recognise as filling a gap on what I term ‘the Bucket Shelf’ of DVDS we feel we have to own before we die. Maybe it’s the one area of a man’s life when being ‘touchy-feely’ has its place, for certainly there’s a tactile element to picking up a movie, checking out the cover art, and reading the précis and list of extras.
I guess that with the advances in technology and the delivery of music and movies via the internet, the demise of these stores was inevitable, but it will still be the major contributor to a phenomenon I see growing over the coming years – the sad, despairing bloke hanging dolefully around shops whilst the women in his life decide on whether they can justify a seventeenth pair of shoes that week. Girls, get used to it, because we’ll be stood there looking at our watches. It’s not like we will have any say in the matter.
At least with a movie or CD, you can read the cover and know what’s inside. Unlike the majority of processed food, these days, it seems.
I’m not entirely sure what the key issue is with the various ‘scandals’ regarding the presence of horsemeat in the food chain. As a meat, it’s probably no less safe to consume as beef.
Is it simply a labelling issue on our food? Is it that we reckon we are being ripped off by people pushing cheaper meat onto our plates (although people that complain about that should try a Tesco Value Beef and Onion Pie, inside which they will struggle to find any meat whatsoever, so a bit of Dobbin there wouldn’t go amiss). Or is it something to do with our view of horses as ‘pets’ or ‘noble beasts’, most of whom have names – and we draw the line at eating something we referred to as ‘Tony the Pony’.
Somehow, as with many other recent revelations such as phone hacking or the banking crisis, ‘Horsegate’ stirs up the wrath of that social barometer – the school mum. Every time there’s any kind of newsworthy story these days that involves a gauge of public opinion, there’s no end of camera crews outside the school gates – and they always manage to find a mum willing to describe the latest situation as ‘disgusting’ or ‘intolerable’.
And that’s what will ultimately determine whether we eradicate horsemeat from our processed Spaghetti Bolognese, or whether we’ll just be told in advance that some cheaper frozen food will always be a bit pony – the views of some ill-informed and badly motivated women hanging round outside a council estate school. Because as we all know, any stupid opinion is validated, as long as it’s delivered with the subtle caveat “think of the impact on my kids!”
I’ll be back soon, with more stuff that gets my gears grinding again!
It’s time for another trawl through some of the recent news stories, to find out what’s been grinding my gears lately…
One of the big topics, that has managed that migration from the back pages to the front pages, surrounds the sadly on-going issue of racism in football.
As everyone is no doubt fully aware, incidents of racist abuse in football have been happening both on and off the pitch over the past year. We recently witnessed some terrible racist chanting from Serbian supporters towards England’s Under-21 side throughout their Euro 2013 qualifier, which was won by a late England goal to put us through whilst the Serbian side were eliminated.
On the pitch behaviour has scarcely been better. We are still working through the consequences of the abuse levelled by Liverpool’s Luis Suarez towards Patrice Evra of Manchester Utd, which earned the Liverpool man an eight-match ban. And (a whole year on from the incident itself) Chelsea’s John Terry is currently serving a four-match ban for racially insulting QPR’s Anton Ferdinand. This latter case even warranted a criminal charge and a day in court, where the increased burden of criminal proof led to an acquittal, although Terry was later found guilty in an FA industrial hearing and banned, along with receiving a £220,000 fine.
These incidents are saddening, and have no place in what is still termed ‘the beautiful game’. However, they are indicative of society, and as racism still has a hold in general life, it’s not going to be easy to eradicate it from the terraces or the pitches.
One organisation trying to do this is the Kick It Out campaign, whose remit is to highlight instances and work towards changing the culture of players, supporters and institutions within football. The problem with Kick It Out is that it’s largely toothless. Or so say those players who refused to wear their t-shirts over the past weekend, a weekend when all players were asked to do so to show support for the campaign.
Now, the aims of Kick It Out are admirable, but there are several problems that I can see.
Firstly, the organisation (created under the FA banner) is woefully underfunded, with an annual budget of just £500,000 – barely double the fine levied on John Terry. In addition, they have no powers to actually do anything but talk (and print t-shirts) and there’s no real sense from the players and supporters (whatever their race) that they have any connection with Kick It Out.
So here’s what I would do:
Firstly, they need a remit to be far more proactive. Instead of just communicating, they need to be able to run training sessions, focus groups, even ‘rehab’ sessions where issues have been identified, all of this up and down the country at all levels of the game. There should not be a club in the land where Kick It Out isn’t visible and represented.
This of course, brings my second point into play, which is funding. There’s no way that the organisation can do all of the things it needs to do to be effective, given the budget. This budget needs to be drastically increased, possibly up to £10 million a year (yes, I know that’s a 20 fold increase, but the game is hardly in poverty).
The source of this extra funding will cover my final point nicely.
The additional cash will come from several sources: Firstly the FA themselves, who (if they are serious about cutting this cancer from the game, must properly invest in the organisation they set up to achieve that goal. Secondly, each and every club should contribute, based on their level within the league structure, as a commitment to the cause. There should also be a contribution from the players directly (possibly through their union) so that not only do players understand and acknowledge the issue and the campaign, they have a direct personal and professional stake in the success of Kick It Out. Lastly, supporters need to understand that some things go far above individual club or country allegiances, and that by contributing (through bucket collections at games, or at locally organised fundraising events) they engage with the aims and ambitions that we should all share.
An off-shoot of this is that certain black players have started talking about forming a breakaway black players association, thinking that only they can represent their views properly.
I agree with those who feel that this will only ever become more divisive rather than less so, as it creates an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality from the off.
What’s next? A separate Players Union for ginger blokes? Oh well, I guess someone has to look out for Steve Sidwell….
Riser had a great time on Friday night at the Victoria Arms. Fun was had by all, and we are back there on December 22 for a Christmas bash if anyone is local and free….
Anyway – here’s a little taster….
OK, a couple of big announcements….
Firstly of all, anybody who is in the vicinity of Binfield on Friday night, come down to The Victoria Arms, where my band RISER are playing. Have a beer or three and listen to some great rock music. Oh, and then come say hello.
Secondly, and clearly of more momentous importance, I am about to formally embark on the road to digital literary publication!
Yes, dear readers and…. yes, I feel I must say it… friends: I have decided that 2013 is the year I am going to write and publish my Grand Opus. There are a few little details to work out, such as title, topic, characters and the words, but I’m posting this notice as a marker, and so that you can hold me to it. It’ll be pushed out onto an unsuspecting world for minimal fiscal outlay via whatever Kindle markets I can access, and so this is also (sneak, sneak) an advance request for your pennies!
OK, off now, but remember – pub on friday, book next year!
…. this is what’s grinding my gears!
Yes folks, it’s time for me to start channelling the spirit of Peter Griffin once more, because at the moment my gears are well and truly grinding….
Where to start? Let’s kick off with something that’s always annoyed the bejeepers out of me, and it’s this: people who appear mentally challenged when they navigate traffic.
You see them all over the place – not just on the roads, but in the supermarket as well. Picture the scene: you’ve got your basket, and you’ve planned your route via the fruit and veg section, over to the cheese, then swoop through condiments and flavourings before heading towards the mecca of all male supermarket visitors: the beer and DVD aisles.
Suddenly, appearing much as the shopkeeper used to in Mr Benn, you’re stuck behind someone who has appeared from nowhere, pushing a trolley in which they have a single can of tuna chunks. Or maybe some quiche. And despite the speed at which they travelled to get in front of you, the first thing they do is to suddenly stop dead right in your path, causing you to fully check the anti-lock brakes in your ankles. And the purpose of their action? Organically pressed chilli-infused yak’s yoghurt from Mozambique. Nobody in the history of shopping has ever actually brought any of the stuff, but for some reason fate, evolution or intelligent design has thrown into your path a specimen who feels the need to check out the sell-by date and the serving suggestions.
So having stopped sharply to avoid impaling yourself on the end of her walking frame – because they are always elderly women – you squeeze between her trolley and the pallet truck the store shelf-stacker has thoughtfully placed in the worst possible location and turn the corner, only to have another old lady ram you in the shins with her trolley. And all this to the soundtrack of a half-dozen screaming kids.
Cars are only slightly different – the screaming kids are rarely an issue, and thankfully, old ladies seem more intent on dithering at junctions as they strain to peer above the steering wheel at the empty road ahead. But don’t imagine that the danger is averted. Because you have someone even worse in your rear mirror. Someone I shall term “Audi Man”.
He’s the guy who will zoom along the dual carriageway, doing eighty-seven miles an hour (must be 87, he hasn’t yet managed to disappear back to 1955 so the flux capacitor can’t have kicked in, and that only happens at 88, as we all know) completely ignoring the three hundred yards of empty lane behind you – then he swerves into the non-existent gap between you and the car in front just as you get to the roundabout. He then hugs the bumper of the car ahead, but only for the time it takes to get over the roundabout, before he pulls out again and zooms off in a cloud of diesel fumes, thus rendering his entire dangerously reckless manoeuvre completely unnecessary.
He used to be BMW Man, of course, but these days BMW drivers are only interested in getting their clubs to the golf course, and so pootle along in their own time. They have been replaced by Audi Man, about whom I have come to agree with Jeremy Clarkson – who thinks they are all ‘cocks’.
Talking of objectionable individuals, this brings me on to my second point today, which is Julian Assange, recently granted asylum by Ecuador and currently living at their expense at their London embassy, which I read is now surrounded by police to make sure he doesn’t make a run for the airport.
Now I have never been able to get inside the mind of someone like Assange. I really don’t understand how his brain functions. As we all know, he’s the founder of Wikileaks, the website that somehow gets hold of classified, confidential documents relating to governments, armies, financial organisations etc., and publishes them. He’s the grown up equivalent of the spotty kid that always got bullied at school for being a ‘tell-tale’. His whole philosophy appears to be that ‘The Truth’ is the only important thing.
Well here’s an open message for you, Jules: why not face ‘The Truth’ about the sexual assault charges you are wanted for in Sweden? Why not admit that ‘The Truth’ is you are subject to a European Arrest Warrant, and that you’ve only taken asylum in the embassy because you don’t want ‘The Truth’ to be told about you? You can bleat all you like about how much the Americans dislike you (and after what you have published about them, I’m not surprised) but there are always consequences for your actions, and you have zero credibility if you continue to expose other people’s secrets but run away from your own guilty actions.
All you were interested in was publishing and becoming famous. You should have realised that just because you could publish, it doesn’t mean that you should.
Maybe next time, you’ll think twice about making powerful enemies.
And finally, on a lighter note, it appears that paragon of footballing virtue, Joseph Barton, may be off to Marseille on a season-long loan. As a QPR fan, this possibility fills me with joy. Barton has been a liability from day one, a ticking bomb, a lit fuse fizzing away. Some of which you can maybe accept – but only if he was the star of the show when he stayed on the pitch. Sadly, Joey, you are not only a disciplinary statistic waiting to reoccur, you’ve not been a very good player. So farewell hopefully, I wish you a great career a long way from Loftus Road.
It’s always possible that he doesn’t leave, and sits sulking in the reserves and on the payroll – which is enough to grind anyone’s gears!
So it is farewell, London 2012. You leave behind a bucketful of emotions, memories, and images.
The fears over security, the outrage over ticket allocations and early empty seats, the worry about the weather spoiling the party – all are insignificant now in the wake of The London Games we have all just experienced.
I have loved becoming the world’s leading Armchair Expert in all of the minority sports I’ve been watching. I have learned the scoring systems to Archery, Handball, Beach Volleyball, Diving, Taekwondo, and Amateur Boxing over the past two weeks, all of which I ought to write down somewhere so that I remember them in four years time when I am glued to my tv set into the early hours, watching the competitiors in Rio in 2016.
So what have been the highlights for me?
Well, let me start by saying that – great acheivements that they were – the highlights for me are NOT Mo Farah’s two golds, nor Jessica Ennis winning the Heptathlon, nor any of the other ‘expected’ golds. For me, it was the unexpected successes, and the story behind the competiton that generated the emotional attachment.
Things like judoka Gemma Gibbons, whose reaction to winning her semi-final and a guaranteed medal was a heartfelt and emotional glance heavenwards, accompanied by a mouthed “I love you, mum” to her late mother.
Things like rower Kath Grainger, who followed silver in Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, and Beijing 2008, with a superb and long-deserved gold at the rowing lake at Eton Dorney.
Things like the bronze secured by diver Tom Daley, whose journey to the Olympics this year was full of personal tragedy but ended in joyous success.
The closest finishes were seen in the velodrome, where again we saw personal stories entwined with success. And even though the successes were more easily anticipated, seeing Victoria Pendleton go through the agonies of disqualification in one race, come storming back with gold in the keirin, and just get pipped in the Individual Sprint in her last race, highlighted what the Olympics means to people competing. Even Sir Chris Hoy was reduced to tears on the podium, when collecting his historic sixth Olympic Gold.
One thing I do have to say is that the BBC did a superb job covering the Games – adding the 24 extra channels for the duration of tha Games was brilliant, as it allowed you to watch every session of every sport, and really put the viewer in charge. Well done Auntie, I consider that bit of my license fee well spent.
And so we finish with 65 medals, 29 of them gold. We finish with a feel-good factor in the country that will hopefully take a while to dissipate. We finish our London oddessy and look forward now to Rio 2016.
Above all, we finish with a nation desperately trying to remember what they used to do on a Monday evening. Personally, I watched an 80s DVD. What did you do?
The word is bandied around all too freely these days. It used to be that to become an ‘expert’ you needed to work at it. Usually over some considerable period of time. You wouldn’t want, for example, to find out that the ‘expert’ lawyer you have hired tro defend you at your trial was a street sweeper three months ago until he saw an old recording of Rumpole Of The Bailey on UK Gold. Or that the ‘expert’ surgeon hadn’t previously been closer to a scalpel than the Hobbycraft Hour on QVC.
There are some things, however, that you CAN become an expert on, simply by sitting in a comfy chair with a mug of tea and a tv remote control.
I’m talking, of course, about Minority Olympic Sports.
I’ve personally gained ‘expertise’ in several sports over the past week. Beach Volleyball is one. True, there are always reasons for watching Beach Volleyball. One is the incredible architecture that surrounds the temporary stadium built in Horseguards Parade. I couldn’t see it myself, but as soon as a Men’s match started, it was much more obvious. I also know the rules now. Each game is best of three sets, played to 21, 21 and 15 respectively, with end changes after every seven points (five in the third set) and a mandatory time out halfway through the set. I know what a ‘spike’ is, and all about blocking, covert signalling, and setting. I’m also becoming quite the ‘expert’ on uniform, although not for the reason you’d imediately assume. OK – not only that reason. There’s a culture surrounding Beach Volleyball that lends itself to loud music, raucous crowds, and beachwear. Whatever you may think about the decisions to make female players wear swimwear whilst playing, there is at least one view point from where it makes some logical sense. Wimbledon, it ain’t…
I’ve also been watching Handball, something I only ever do every four years, and yet again I am left wondering why this is. It is a fast paced, quite physical sport, and can probably be best compared to Basketball and Water Polo. But where Water Polo is slow and players hang onto the ball for ages, and where Basketball players seem to get free shots to the net for even the slightedt brush with an opponent, Handball involves barging, grappling, throwing to the ground, penalties taken with the opposing goalkeeper less than fIve feet in front of your face. There’s passion, unbridled aggression, and no little amount of personal grudge-matches going on. And that’s just the women…
Of course, what has been most evident is the moments of Team GB success. It took a little while, but they came in the end, and in some style. Rowing brought us our first gold, swiftly followed by old Wiggo on his bike. and earlier today, we saw gold again in the canoe slalom and the double-trap shooting. All in all, it’s hotting up heading into the evening session.
I wonder where the next gold will come from. To be honest, will we care? Probably not – as every success is being cheered from the rafters, even it seems by those who previously sat on the fence as Olympic nay-sayers.
The football teams have both progressed to the quarter finals unbeaten, the divers still have their chance of success, Andy Murray is in the tennis semifinals where he’s bidding to be the first British Finallist at the All England Club since last month, and on top of all that, we’ve not even started the track cycling or the athletics yet.
I’m looking forward to becoming even more ‘expert’ in the coming days…