Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Why Greg Dyke Can't Save English Football

Greg Dyke, FA Chairman, has set the target of winning the World Cup for the national side in 2022. It's an impressive target and an impossible one. Our players, tactics, coaching are light years behind the giants of the international game.

There are many disparate reasons England have continually failed at tournaments outside it's shores. I've long felt that the Premier League has corrupted the culture of the national game. Without wanting to make British football pre 1992 sound like some sort of Corinthian feast of virtue and diligence, the obsession with money in every aspect of the sport since the PL was founded has a lot to do with our more recent failings.

Whilst the Guardian's David Conn is to be applauded for his continuous highlighting of the stupidities and hypocrisies of the fiscal side of football, he is a one off. Headlines now aren't about promising new players, they're about the astonishing salaries they will earn. Chief executives are now celebrities. And fans of, by any other sport's standards, successful football teams, now spend their evenings deriding their team's supposed failings during the transfer window.

I've long suspected that the England manager, whoever holds that poisoned chalice at the time, is not the only person picking the squads and teams. The lucrative commercial interests must surely have a say. Shirt sponsor offers the FA, say £10 million. Would like to use Lampard and Gerrard on their promotional material. This material is produced months ahead of a World Cup. Now say England get to Brazil next year. Will Roy say "Well, here we are. I'm thinking of leaving Lampard and Gerrard at home. They've had piss poor seasons and will have low expectations of what we can achieve. Maybe it's time to pick some new blood, players who haven't got a history of failing at major tournaments."?

No, no, he wont.

And it won't just be because Sinister Sporting Goods Ltd have had a word in his shell. Roy, like the last few England managers, knows the cost of daring to venture outside the accepted version of events. The media will crucify him because they have helped create the beast. How many times have you seen a player described as "£75,000 a week ace" or "£40 million rated" in a match report? Players aren't described as promising or up and coming, it's all to do with their earning potential and it's poisoned the well of English talent.

Yes, there's coaching failings, there's a lack of sporting facilities at schools and grass roots level but there's still plenty of kids out there with raw talent. It's about nurturing that talent alongside nurturing the person with it.

The usual suspects will be there in Rio. And Russia. And Qatar. And they'll fail dismally each time. We've picked players on reputation and marketability rather than form and talent for years. The FA won't admit it, the Premier League won't admit it.

The England team is like the Rolling Stones. An embarassing relic trading on past glories, covering up its failing to catch up with the world around it, by celebrating and venerating it in a never ending world tour. The fans still come, they want to see Lampard, they want to see Rooney. They buy the T-shirt. They know all the songs and they don't mind paying over the odds for a ticket.

This isn't breakfast telly, Greg, You can't save it with a rat. The ship sunk years ago.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Quiz.

For every £1000 lost in tax evasion, the government spends less than a penny on advertising campaigns to ask people nicely if they would refrain from cheating on the system.

For every £1000 lost to fraudulent benefit claims, the government spends £5 on advertising campaigns to get people to inform on those who cheat the system. And for every one of those £1000s lost, the government saves £12000 in unclaimed benefits. So, benefit fraud, whilst entirely wrong, could be seen to have a mainly negative effect on the economy compared to, say, not paying taxes.

For every £1000 lost to procurement fraud in central and local government, the government, for obvious reasons, spends nothing on advertising.

The country loses, by even the lowest plausible reckonings, some £1.5 billion a week in tax evasion. That's higher than the ANNUAL figure lost in benefit fraud and the same amount as the ANNUAL figure lost to procurement fraud.

My house is on fire. It's been set alight by arsonists, people known to me.

Do I a) Go after the arsonists or b) Throw petrol on it, c) attack the firemen and accuse them of setting alight to get more work or d) spend every spare penny I have asking the arsonists to think of people who we mutually loathe so we can blame them. Or e) a mixture of b,c and d.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Who To Support In The Premiership?

Sport and politics make uneasy bedfellows, as the recently deceased chap who caught William Hague sniffing Seb Coe's judo pants once said. For a hardline lefty wanker like myself, my love of the beautiful game (football) has in recent years come at the cost of doubting my socialist credentials. How can anyone in love with the idea of a world where Thatcherism and all the other neo-con schools are finally defeated bring himself to cheer a bunch of millionaire arseholes playing another bunch of millionaire arseholes?

Truth is, he can't, not really.

I console myself with the knowledge that the team I support are going to be underdogs in a large number of their matches and try to ignore the fact their star striker is earning north of £50,000 a week. But this is the Premiership, a league that has long contrived to reward mediocrity with wages even a Barclays chief exec might blush at.

So, with a week until the new Premiership begins, and a sudden desire to join the other countless fools who think they can write a pre-season guide, here's my left-wingers ideological guide as to who they should be supporting. Although, after a while, I forget the politics and make jokes about Martin Jol's face.

Teams owned by the singularly unappealing.

Seeing as the Premiership is basically a race for cash, it's impossible to discount the owners from our thinking. And Premiership owners are, like F1 fans and members of historical re-enactment societies, pretty awful human beings. Manchester City are owned by the Mansour family, a happy go lucky despotic version of the Manson family, who like nothing more than putting their feet up to watch Sergio Aguero after a hard day's turning a blind eye to torture, human trafficking and other wacky shit. Chelsea are, of course, owned by Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch. I've never looked up "oligarch" but it's one of those words that get linked with "disappeared business rivals", "bribery", "corruption" and "despotic autocrat" quite a lot. Close personal chum of that perennial charmer Vladimir Putin, Abramovich has transformed Chelsea from occasional Cup winners into the obscenely funded employers of the likes of Brave John Terry - a player who does his best to embody much of what is wrong with our national game, and by extension, our nation as a whole. Newcastle United are the only sitcom that runs on Sky Sports. A regional obsession owned by a Londoner who is to footballing business decisions what Ant and Dec are to heart surgery techniques. Mike Ashley, owner of zero-hour contract shitfists Sports Direct, gave charmless, trophy free Alan Pardew an eight hour contract on the grounds of knowing the words to The Lambeth Walk. And then appointed an even bigger Cockernee geezer, Joe Kinnear, above him. The club wear shirts sponsored by financial misery peddlers Wonga, a phrase so utterly London that one can only presume business meetings at St James Park resemble auditions for Oliver.

Teams managed by racist bastards.

He's so passionate! He's so chic! He ruins his suits! When Sunderland appointed self-proclaimed fascist sympathiser Paolo Di Canio, the last tiny cell of whatever passed for top flight English football's soul died. At a club whose connections to the local community, an area long blighted by poverty, were best embodied by their commitment to affordable ticket prices - such an appointment was even sadder. And when it made even non-executive board member David Miliband, a fucking New Labour cabinet member for Christ's sake, walk off into the sunset claiming a duty of conscience, well you had to smile.

Teams supported by that smug sachet of shit sauce Piers Morgan.

For all Arsene Wenger's devotion to an aesthetically pleasing Anglo-French take on the tiki-taka style of Barcelona, Arsenal are supported by Piers Morgan. Every time Theo Walcott scores, the self-satisfied wank-rictus of Piers Morgan contorts in delight. Perhaps he even masturbates. Add to that the fact that sniffing cocaine on one of Richard Branson's soon come space planes is probably marginally cheaper than an Arsenal ticket and there you go, fuck Arsenal. Fuck them.

A BRIEF DETOUR INTO ANOTHER SUBJECT ALTOGETHER.

Is it just me or is anyone else looking forward to the inevitable moment when a Virgin space plane, packed with Piers Sugars and Roman Mumfords, blows up in the stratosphere, the only recognisable piece of debris being a falling slice of Virgin-emblazoned fuselage crashing faster than the Virgin share price.

Teams owned by chairmen who dare to pay for their new club's success and then reward the fans by adding an animal to the name.

Cardiff City and Hull City, having both been promoted in May, are both owned by Asian businessman very keen on rebranding their teams to capture part of the emerging "people who like their things named after animals or mythical creatures market". For many Cardiff fans, Vincent Tan's dream of naming their club Cardiff City Dragons is the last straw. Having made their Bluebirds wear red shirts was bad enough. Now he wants to add Dragons to their name. You might think a slice of gratitude might be owned Mr Tan, after all his time in charge has been their most successful since before the war. For now Tan has held off the Dragon rebranding but a sizeable contingent of their supporters are worried that they'll become the laughing stock of football should their club's identity and traditions be compromised any further. Hull City, however, have gone and added Tigers to their name, making themselves the most famous three word five syllable unit since the Bay City Rollers. Some fans are so up in arms about it they've written strongly worded letters to the local press. As far as I know, no one has ever taunted another club's fans about whatever creature is on the club's badge. It's not as if Hull have changed their name to Godforsaken East Coast Shithole Tigers or that Cardiff City have decided to rename their stadium Cavernous Monument To Out of Town Shopping Nausea. Still, tradition and all that. These huge pocketed millionaire bastards, eh?

Team supported by David Cameron, Mervyn King and Prince William.

It hurts, it really does. I've seen a Villa forward line of John Fashanu and Guy Whittingam. I've watched them lose to fourth-tier teams over two legged semi-finals. I remember Eric Djemba-Djemba, Simon Stainrod and Gabor Kiraly. But what hurts this Tory hating, banker loathing avid republican most is our association with the biggest shitbag in Britain. Not to mention Mervyn "oops" King and the Man Who Will One Day Be Heir To The Throne For Fucking Years. As if watching a team that still pays Stephen Ireland money isn't bad enough. And Randy Lerner was the single largest contributor to Bush's 2000 election fund. So, in a way, a very fucked up way admittedly, Martin O'Neill caused 9/11.

Who's left?

Liverpool and Manchester United are both way too large and unscrupulous to truly love. Both are owned by bespectacled American tycoon types who probably go to Bible groups and listen to the Gin Blossoms or some other shit. Liverpool's star player is the ever-charming Freddie Mercury lookalike Luis Suarez, a prodigious talent with a penchant for racist outbursts and biting opponents. Their manager is a fucking colossal David Brent-speak twat. Much of the traditional hatred for Man Utd will have dissipated following the retirement of Ribena-faced watchtapper Sir Alex of the Shipyards. But seeing as they were the first to really chase the title of COLOSSAL WORLDWIDE FRANCHISE WITH SHIRTS MADE IN ASIAN SWEATSHOPS, we can't cheer them on either. And they pay Rio "Whoops, Drug Test" Ferdinand and Wayne "Spellcheck" Rooney too.

Everton have lost their manager to the Dr Who job. When you lose your biggest asset to a fictional journey through time and space you are no longer a football club. Fulham are supported by both Hugh Grant and Keith Allen. And their manager Martin Jol resembles a blind toddler's attempts to recreate God with cheap plasticine. Tottenham recently turned down £83 million pounds for their best player. That's enough money to buy Cardiff Airport and both the planes that landed there last year.

Which leaves Stoke City, West Ham, West Bromwich Albion, Norwich, Southampton, Crystal Palace and Swansea.

Stoke City are owned by Peter Coates, the man who also owns betting site Bet365. To compound the misery caused by the rigged illusion of gambling with the less than aesthetically pleasing sight of hoofing the ball through the sky to the head of Peter Crouch is vile and inhumane. West Ham are owned by the nation's fifteenth-favourite pornographer David Sullivan. The Olympic legacy is letting a man who makes his crust selling Widow's Friend dildos and Topless Nuns Monthly half fill the stadium of Ennis and Farah with the footballing vision of Sam Allardyce.

Imagine being single and hearing these two girls whom a friend knows are apparently both keen on seeing you. That'd cheer you up, wouldnt it? You might get some action. So you go to the club and both girls look like the Moog from Willo the Wisp. And while beauty is only skin deep and all that, it still doesnt count as much of a result. But you end up sleeping with them anyway. That's what signing for West Brom is like. A club supported by both flag-waving convert Frank Skinner and the only man to resemble the back of Martin Jol's spoon, Adrian Chiles.

Norwich are managed by former trade union shop steward Chris Hughton, a man whom it seems to me is pretty difficult to dislike. But Delia Smith. Delia fucking Smith. Not to mention Stephen Fry. I love the bloke as much as the next chap. He's our Renaissance man. But he's too pally with the Royals. So that's Norwich out of the equation.

Swansea? I love their football, it's pleasing to the eye. But I live in Cardiff. People will see this and find my family and kill them. And Michael Laudrup reminds me of Laugesen in Borgen. So they're out.

Which leaves a choice between Southampton and Crystal Palace. Southampton are owned by an Italian banker. An Italian banker. Hardly two words that combine to think "Yep, I'd love to go on the piss with them." You got to love an underdog and so I'll plump for the Sarf Lahndn newboys Palace. They've sold their best player to Man Utd and bought in Maurane Chamakh from Arsenal reserves. Like trading in your Mercedes for a lift with Peter Sutcliffe.

And on that less than enamouring simile, I'll fuck off.




Thursday, 25 July 2013

Sighs



Sighs.

A clapped out fifties coach, no doubt designed with daytrips to Denbigh in mind, coughed and spluttered through the rain to the village to pick us up. We were stood outside the shop, me and my sister, detached from the other kids.  Mutes in any language; refusing to betray our strangeness by speaking.
We got on after everyone else and sat quietly at the front, heads bowed in submission. There were whispers amongst the catch up conversation from the weekend.  I could make out the occasional English word in the vaguely threatening broadcast taking place behind us. One word kept falling from the crowded noise like a reluctant volunteer pushed forward by an angry mob. “Size” “Size”.
The journey to Tregaron only took fifteen minutes or so, the mechanical asthmatic dipping with the road in and out of the tired looking valley, all bleak fields and dying fences. Occasionally a leafless branch would reach out from the roadside and crack its dead knuckles against my window and wake me from my dream. The bus struggled with the last steep hill and sighed as it came to a halt outside the uninviting concrete school. “Size” “Size”. Maybe it was “Sighs.”
We followed the other children through a little door into a corridor typical of any school on a Monday morning, jostling shoulders and bobbing heads, locker doors being banged shut, the hormonal drone of teenage chatter relating weekend gossip. I located a teacher who pointed us to the secretary’s office up a little staircase. The secretary, a thin but kind-faced woman who looked a little bit like Gladys Pugh in Hi-De-Hi, led us back downstairs which had suddenly and magically cleared in the interim. We were led down a corridor so thin it may have been designed with the secretary in mind. Stopping outside a classroom, the secretary led my sister in, a brief moment of noise and then silence as the door closed again behind her.
Then it was my turn. The secretary explained to me that there were lots of English children at the school now, and that each year in the school had a form for these children, one for Welsh speakers and one for children who needed extra help with their lessons. Rhyd, Bont and Llan.
We were making our way into Rhyd 3. The third year for English kids. It was chaos. The room was packed and the teacher was struggling to make himself heard as he opened his register book.
The secretary told him my name. The teacher looked at me and said “We’ve got 42 in here now. You’ll have to go to a different class. Take him to Bont.”
Any relief felt at not immediately being categorised as someone with learning difficulties evaporated in the instance I entered another class on the far side of the school.  The secretary was clearly explaining the situation to the new teacher, a Miss Jenkins.
Miss Jenkins seemed nice enough, told me to grab a seat and smiled. It was the last smile I’d see for a while. The room was suddenly filled with hateful grimaces from the other children.  The teacher took the register; I noticed they didn’t do it by surname like in London but by first name.
“Llyr. Rhydian. Bedwyr. Angharad. Sioned.”
These names sounded like some mad spell designed to raise the dead.  Soon everyone was on their feet and I followed blindly, guided by magic to a school hall for morning assembly.  Ours was the last form in, no doubt my fault. A hymn sheet was stuffed in my hand as I entered. The headmaster took to the stage, dressed in his graduation gown.  At the moment he reached the lectern, he nodded to the pianist to cease her playing.  There was silence save for the frantic panic of my heart trying to jump free from my chest and return to England. 
This was Dr. Rees, the headmaster. He spoke almost entirely in Welsh; no doubt he was instructing the Welsh speaking children that both I and my sister would be stoned to death in the quadrangle this afternoon and that this feature would replace the swimming gala.
Another nod from the head and the pianist resumed her work, accompanied on percussion by the flapping of a hundred hymn sheets being unfurled. I glanced at the sheet. Laminated anagrams. My eyes traced the letters across the page but I couldn’t work out what was going on. 
“Efengyl tangnefedd. O rhed dros y byd.” The chorus of an old song was being worried in a couple of hundred ways.
I felt as though a thousand burning eyes were melting holes in the back of my head. Even the teachers who flanked the hall seemed to be shooting me glances of contempt. No point in me trying to sing along, not even worth lip synching. My eyes carefully navigated the hall until I saw my sister, suddenly looking much smaller, staring at her own hymn sheet; listening to her own homesick heart.

An old Mr T thing

Because I need to link to someone else...


Sunday, 21 July 2013

Toy Story Trilogy - the meaning



The final segment of Pixar’s generation-spanning Toy Story trilogy has rightly attracted a great deal of praise for pulling off the rare feat of making a heart warming film that stays just the right side of sentimental without ever veering into histrionics or cliché. A number of theories have sprung up on what the stories themselves actually symbolise. In The Guardian, respected film critic Peter Bradshaw suggests that the discarding of one’s childhood toys represents our mordant fear of being rejected by our own children in our twilight years.

Elsewhere, some people seem to think it’s an endorsement of the pro-life, Papal approved side of 21st centuryliving.

With the kind of what the heck enthusiasm I used to reserve for swallowing shit E’s in the 1990’s, I’ve decided to throw my own two pennorth into the ring. Never mind the fact that with my paltry A-level in Film Studies (grade A, suck on that Kermode) and a knowledge of cinema summed up by only six visits to the pictures (the pictures!!) this century, I’m as well-qualified to comment on film theory as Martine McCutcheon is on the Korea crisis. That doesn’t matter. For, as Simon Cowell surely said of Amanda Holden, “qualified, schmalified”

My theory is basically that Toy Story is essentially a film about the mortality of masculinity. It’s a theory that evolved over a number of half-drunken minutes contemplating the marketing possibilities of my almost-written film Titantric, in which Leonardo Di Caprio fucks a boat for hours without coming. Don’t tell me that won’t work, he’s in a film where he walks around in people’s heads right now. Ludicrous. And don’t tell me you’ve never found yourself looking longingly at a catamaran and found yourself in a need for a cold compress.

Basically, how it works is this. Andy is the modern American male in crisis, we barely hear him talk but we do hear the voice of that most recognisably Everyman of contemporary American culture, Tom Hanks. Tom is the voice of a cowboy, Woody. Now we can all go on about Woody representing some kind of homespun version of traditional Americana but he’s not. Woody is a penis. He’s Andy’s favourite toy in the first film, always playing with him. But what comes along to threaten his love of playing with his old chap. Buzz Lightyear. Buzz is drink, Buzz is drugs. Buzz is the distraction, the shiny new plaything. Andy  goes from thinking about his old chap all day to reaching for the stars. There’s probably something important here about all of this being meta-textual and what have you but I’m on a roll now, this bong is starting to kick in and you’ll just have to bear with me.

Woody’s not physically attached to Andy but he might as well by, his dilemmas all spring from separation from his owner. Fear of castration and all that, a fear better symbolised by Woody’s continual losing of the hat. Yeah, yeah it’s Indiana Jones again I know but Indy’s hat symbolised a longing for being buttfucked. I read it in Take A Break. When Woody loses his hat, it’s a metaphor for being castrated.

Buzz is so clearly a cipher for hedonism. Like the erectile pun of Woody, Buzz’s name springs from the spine-tingling adrenalin rush one can only get from sitting around in the same clothes for five days straight smoking something you think might have been called “Summer Storm” but are now beginning to wonder if he didn’t actually say “Domestos”. Who in all three adventures goes mad, Buzz does. Buzz is the one who most clearly wrestles with his ego, his id. Buzz is the one who gets to go all Mexican, express his feminine side, and of course, convince himself of his ability to fly. He’s a space cadet.

Back in a sec, I just kicked over some Lilt. Fuck it, I’ll do it tomorrow.

The trilogy is basically still a story about growing up but it’s not so much the transition from childhood to maturity, as the rite of passage we must all make in between impregnating our first wanksock and gassing ourselves in a garage before the grandchildren come round for tea. It’s the hell of domesticity that Woody and the gang find themselves in constant battle with, despite the fact that that gang contains Mr and Mrs Potato Head whose love for each other is depicted in an endless display of self-harm, accidental disfigurement and transubstantive tortilla-based shape shifting. Suck on that, Mike Leigh, suck on that.

Anyway, that’s it. Andy’s toys represent all the conflicting fun urges he could be acting upon. Apart from Woody and Buzz, there’s cars (Bullseye), girls (Jessie), munchies (Ham), erm green dinosaurs. Look, I know I’m right. Science is just what they think they know and all that. And the journeys the toys make in each film represent the various forces stopping Andy from getting as much drunken action as he can be. In the first film they have to escape from the neighbours (SOCIETY) the second they have to escape from a wicked businessman (WORK) and the last, they have to escape other toys (PEER PRESSURE). When Andy says goodbye to the toys, it is a genuinely sad moment, because Andy is basically finished as a human being. He’s off to college. He’s off to get a mortgage, a middle management job with Pepsi Burger. His life is over. Cry much? I know I did.

And where's Andy's dad in all this? That's right, he's absent. Missing, presumed extinct, like those other great American male icons - the cowboy and the astronaut.

Next week, I’ll be discussing The Cannonball Run with a view to expounding on my theory that Burt Reynolds moustache grew thicker and more lustrous after Deliverance and that’s because he basically liked the squeal piggy bum rape stuff.


Monday, 8 July 2013

Tiger Man


No one escaped the clutches of Tiger Man.
            Tiger Man, with his striped face, and his orange cloak. Tiger Man, with his monkey sidekick and deadly foes; his array of weaponry and gadgets, his vehicles and accessories.  
            That song.
            Malcolm and Arthur, eight and six, sat in the back seat; each clutching a Tiger Man, each of them lost in some private Tiger Man game for they had long ago realised that, even in the seemingly limitless world of imaginative play there was only one Tiger Man.
            The city’s a jungle and the people are scared. They need a hero, a man who’s prepared.
            Tiger Man was going to be at Fairleader Shopping Centre from noon. Half hours drive, piece of cake.
            Can we please go and see Tiger Man?
            We have to see Tiger Man.
            Are we going yet?
            Are we there yet?
            Why aren’t we moving?

Their mother, Karen, sat in the front passenger seat. 
            Bill was driving, though he hadn’t actually trod even slightly on the accelerator in ten minutes.
            All because of a fucking cloak.
            If we hadn’t had to go back to get Tiger Man’s cloak we’d be there now.
            It was Arthur’s Tiger Cloak.
            No it wasn’t.
            It doesn’t matter.
            Look what you’ve started.
            I’m just saying.
            Are we going to miss Tiger Man?

That question hung heavily in the stale air of the car. Bill exhaled heavily knowing any answer given was a potential minefield.
            No, we’ll get there.
            Karen shot her husband a look. She had lots of those. Like Tiger Man and his endless conveyor belt of merchandise, her face was a smorgasbord of expressions, an unfathomable sea of glances, nods, frowns and winks that no one could ever truly be certain of navigating safely past.
            This particular look was somewhere past agreement but a little south of outright reproach, Bill felt. A tightening of the lips, a slight hooding of the eyes, but yet something sympathetic might be discerned by an experienced and optimistic traveller in those lands.
            To take on the forces of darkness and greed. Tiger Man’s the one that the villains should heed.  
            You can’t make Tiger Man fly.
            This was Malcolm.
            Yeah I can.
            Where’s his booster boots?
            He doesn’t need them in this game.
            He can’t fly without the boots.
            He can.
            No he can’t.
            Mum.
            Can you please be quiet please?
            There was beeping from up ahead. Distant but persistent, like a brass band at rehearsals.
            He’s quick to the chase and he doesn’t know fear, Watch Out Hoods! Tiger Man’s here!
            Why don’t you get out and have a look, see what the problem is.
            Bill closed his eyes and let out a sigh. He knew he shouldn’t but it was all he could do.
            One day, he thought, one day I’ll get out.
            Because by the time I get up to the end, the traffic will start moving and I’ll cause another hold up.
            I’ll go. Is that it? Do you want me to go?
            No. Just. I’ll go. Just hang on a sec.
            It had begun to rain. There was nothing on the radio about a hold up. Bill glanced to his right, to the car stuck in the same direction as his. A far more expensive car but the same dynamic within, two boys off to see Tiger Man, the tense parents up front.
            Bill wound down his window. In the other car a button was pressed to the same end.
            Do you know what the problem is?
            The woman spoke.
            There’s an accident up at the next junction, bad one. Radio said there’s a three mile tailback. We’re going to be here a while, I think.
            I hope not. We’re off to see Tiger Man.
            And us. Well, we hope.
            Silent looks of concern were exchanged, sly diagonal looks across the tarmac. They were strangers, united by a longing for Tiger Man. 
            Bill undid his seatbelt and turned to look at the boys. Malcolm was reading the ingredients off the side of a Tiger Juice carton. Arthur was whispering quietly to his toy.
            Are we going to miss Tiger Man, Daddy?
            I don’t know. We’re stuck here.
            We’re going to try, ok, kids?
            Why don’t you get out and have a look?
            It’s Tiger Man. It’s Tiger Man.
            Bill felt a tension rising in his chest, a raw congestion in his entire being. What to do, what to say? To lie, to guess, to give them hope, to take hope away. Life is a series of failed appointments and missed opportunities, he said to himself.  There was no way they would be seeing Tiger Man now. Their hearts would be broken. They'd get over it eventually. After a long teary drive home and some ice cream.
           
He closes his eyes and remembers a film he’d seen once, a long time ago, where a man floated up into the sky out of a traffic jam. He can recall nothing else about the film, just that image.  
            It’s Tiger Man. It’s Tiger Man. 
           He grips the wheel and begins to scream.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Why We Need The KLF.

A Twitter conversation last night about the shitefest that is Glastonbury provoked an idea so wonderful I can't sleep properly. That Glastonbury has made the journey from counter-cultural peace movement mung bean folk rock oddity to corporate staple of the musical calendar is hardly an original announcement but something is wrong with music and, as with most things, I'm pinning the blame on the Tories  (and by default New Labour).

Music needs to be overhauled every now and then. Beatlemania, Punk, Acid House all lit the fuse under a tired culture at the time. Now, in an age of Spotify and YouTube, where musical discovery is no longer the art of time consuming investigation and risk taking that it was in my day (IN MY DAY), everything seems to be heading towards some kind of homogenous sludge.

I want to be excited by music again. As a kid, there would be a new song every month or so on Top of the Pops that would make me feel something akin to delirium, a fever only soothed by that moment when I was finally able to see the stylus of the family record player hit the first groove of the vinyl I'd spunked my paper round money on. Occasionally I would fuck up and buy something like Toto's enduringly crass Africa but purchases like Eurythmics electro take on the Shangri-La's psychodrama , Frankie Goes to Hollywood's ballistic Cold War funk and this thrilling voyage into the brave new world of sampling made me feel that pop music would forever mutate into new exciting streams and sub streams, that despite the British public's fondness for novelty shit, sentimental shit and Euro holiday shit - there was still the very realistic hope that next week's edition of Top of the Pops would deliver something wonderful for me to feel that strange anticipation of the new.

When the coalition formed a government in 2010, some wise heads consoled themselves with the thought that music would improve as it had under the last Tory regime. Though industries closed and millions of dreams fell by the wayside, the Thatcher era was ushered in by the post punk sound of Joy Division (led ironically by a Tory voter) and over the next decade or so bands as disparate as The Smiths, Culture Club and Happy Mondays made debuts on Top of the Pops that made a nation gawp - an ever evolving national soundtrack providing sweet relief from the miseries of Margaret.

But it hasn't happened. Top of the Pops finally died in the face of public indifference and the technological marvel of unending libaries of downloadable portable music. Indie became a marketing term for guitar pop as groups of identikit middle class kids from the Home Counties formed the "The" bands - Vaccines, Kooks, Fratellis and decided that vaguely hummable choruses were all that was needed to sustain some sort of career in the music industry. The jaw dropping global success of Mumford and Sons, tonight's headliners at Glastonbury, is the last straw. A band whose schtick is dressing like 18th century mill workers whilst playing mildly anthemic dross have sold 2 billion copies of their records. The nation that gave the world Slade, the Specials and Pulp are repackaging the Tolpuddle Martyrs as life-affirming rock and it wont do.


What we need is a band that understand the true fuel of pop music isn't ambition but an understanding that it should be escapist, absurd and thrilling all at once. That bands dont need stories or journeys that the public must be drip fed in the tabloids, that mystery is the currency of pop genius. What we need is revolution. What we need is the KLF.

The KLF took the entrepeneurial can-do mantra of Thatcherism and subverted it via the technological advances of sampling, hijacked an emerging dance culture and invented something called Stadium House. Epic, thrilling nonsense. What Time is Love - a hybrid of acid house, hip hop, illuminati references and air raid sirens was everything pop should be - a shock of the new containing references to the old. 3AM Eternal topped the charts and was banned from a war-sensitive charts due to its machine gun sample. These were gargantuan slices of lunacy that had no right sharing chart space with Beverley Craven and Simply Red but there they were persuading country queen Tammy Wynette to join them in a song about acid house ice cream vans nonetheless. They ended up burning a milllion quid and dragging sheep carcasses to the Brits - now that's rock and roll - irresponsible, irreverent and irritating all at once.

Watching the likes of Mumfords top Glastonbury with the grim prospect of tomorrow evening being headlined by the Dignitas advert that is the Rolling Stones, it's clear that pop music needs an injection of thrilling irrelevance. Dizzee Rascal won't provide it. There's an embryonic campaign kicking off on Twitter - KLF to headline Glastonbury 2014. The nation needs them, your ears need them. There's a generation of kids right now that think paying £150 to camp for three days in a Somerset puddle to watch some old rich men playing tired old songs half a mile away is a rite of passage. Let's save them.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Josh Ruins Christmas

Another piece of autobiographical writing about my son.



Part Time Dad

It’s the Saturday before Christmas and I’m on a packed Tube train headed for Oxford Circus. I hate Christmas. I hate the Tube. Shopping and people – I hate them too. I am devoid of the Christmas spirit but I have promised all year to take my son, Josh, who is nine, to Hamleys. We probably won’t buy anything there because it’ll be ridiculously overpriced because most of their customers are tourists who won’t realise there are other toy retailers within half an hour’s walk. Josh and I are standing – the train is packed and we’re up against a door.
                My son looks like the Milky Bar Kid. Little thatch of blond hair, spectacles that keep falling down his slightly freckled nose.  So far, so cute. Add to this the fact that he has somehow managed to cultivate an accent which combines the cut glass Sarf Lahndn voice of his father and the sing song soft Welsh lilt of his bitch mother and he has quite a sweet little voice too.
                A voice which, sadly for me, he is about to shatter the traditional silence of the packed Tube train with.
                “Daddy?”
                “Yes.”
                “What does homosexual mean?”
                Now, at this point, I ought to point out that I am wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the legend “GAY DAD” in big letters. They’re a band I went to see the weekend before. I liked the T-shirt and I knew that wearing it when I went to pick my son up would upset his evil cow mother.
                I look at the rest of the people in our carriage who have turned their heads to me as one, like some Christmas shopping Hydra. They’re all clearly keen on hearing me answer this question and, having clocked the T-shirt I’m wearing, have agreed between themselves on the events that have led me to this moment.
                I reckon they think that I’m gay and that my son was the result of a doomed relationship with a woman in which I lived in denial of my true sexuality until I could stand it no more. Perhaps they’ve added a boyfriend. A job too. Perhaps I live in Muswell Hill with a set designer called Piers.
                Their eyes haven’t moved. The Hydra, like my son, wants to know what a homosexual is.
                “Daddy? What does homosexual mean?”
                “Well, it’s a very long word for a small boy to be using. I’ll tell you when you’re older.”
                “Billy called me one.”
                “Well, Billy shouldn’t use words he doesn’t understand. It’s not an insult, ignore Billy, he’s being very childish.”
                Even my stupid hateful and ugly piece of shit of an ex would have to agree that I had displayed something approaching maturity here. The rest of the carriage, I feel, are about to break into polite applause at my thoughtful parenting skills. We’re all bonding together in the warm glow of my magnificent answer. I feel Christmassy. Come on Hydra, let’s go to the pub and drink some mulled wine and crack open a walnut.
                Josh ruins it though. Josh ruins Christmas.
                “It’s OK though Dad. I called him a cunt.”
 

Thursday, 13 June 2013

A Moment Of Madness

I like really short fiction.

Many are the ways in which this tale will be written. I want to recall it perfectly, write it purely as I see it from the distance of the sole hour that has passed since the occurrence. For, despite the warnings, already I imagine the varying interpretations taking place, the calculated Chinese whisper passing from powerful ears to weaker ones.
      At three minutes past noon today I went to a cash machine a few yards from my office. In error, I asked for a receipt. There was a queue behind me but I waited till it was printed lest others discover the extent of my poverty.
     I bought a cheese and onion roll.
     Opposite the baker’s there is a pub that sells cheap beer all day and cheap beer all night. Outside it there were the usual crowd of refugees from the world of work. There’s a bench a few yards up from there where I like to sit with my lunch if the weather’s not too bad. I took a seat and opened up the bag.  A pigeon heard the tiny crackle of paper and landed close to my feet.
     The pigeon looked at me. I thought about shooing him.
     And then it happened.

I knew it wasn’t just happening in my head because of all the spilt cars around me, the stumbling beers and crashing women, the way that people clutched their heads to listen closer to the voice, to blot it out, to protect themselves from the sudden madness.
     A voice, a voice like none heard yet in the sane world, spoke in all the heads on Earth.
     I am the Creator.
     I made you and I can unmake you.  Abandon your churches, your mosques and temples. Destroy your banks, burn your things. Eden exists. It is all around you. Your beliefs are confirmed but do not become complacent for your rituals disappoint me. Put down your weapons and feed each other. Abandon your wealth as you would your worries for the two are one. The next time I speak will be the last.
     I heard the church on the hill at the top of the town smash, saw the smoke rise from here and turned again as the town’s mosques, temples and banks fell into dust. I felt the coins in my pocket burn through the lining, fall and melt into nothingness.

As I speak, the televisions are beginning to crackle back into life silent. I can hear sirens and gunfire. The sky has emptied of clouds and the streets are filled with wondrous, upturned heads. A man on the radio is crying. There is talk of rioting.
     A pigeon nibbles at the dropped roll by my feet.  I think about shooing him.
     And then it happens.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

The Book Club



I overheard a conversation between two old women in the now closed Borders in Cardiff. "You never used to like crime, Mary" stood out as something I should at least try to draw inspiration from. So this is it, the second ever story I wrote.

The Book Club


Ann and Mary were sat in Espressions, a book and coffee shop opposite the building site that occupied most of the city they had grown up in. They were both in their sixties and had seen a lot of change in Cardiff but it was getting ridiculous now, they thought. Having finally got used to one monstrous shopping centre, now that had been knocked down to build a bigger, better, brighter one.
            At the moment the bigness, betterness and brightness was represented by a set of nine foot posters depicting the ´capital´s exciting retail experience of the future´. That and a square mile of cranes, rubble and fat men in orange hats.
            Espressions wasn´t the sort of place they went to normally. But a lot of those places had gone. Once, if Ann or Mary had fancied a cup of tea, then they would have gone to one of the many cafes and teashops that used to operate in the city. Nice, quiet affairs. There were coffee shops everywhere now, all of them filled with horrible teenagers with those skateboard things. And you couldn´t tell if they were boys or girls. And the price of a cup of tea in those places. One pound fifty. For a cup of tea. Ridiculous.
            But now Ann and Mary were sat with a pot of tea for two and a cake each that hadn´t given much change from a ten-pound note. Sipping at their tea, they exchanged glances at each other´s little book-sized shopping bags, wondering what the other had bought.
            Ann and Mary were both widowed. They´d known each other all their life; they´d grown up on Claude Road together, kids next door. Ann had married Charlie, a bus driver and they were together forty-one years until he´d had his third heart attack and died loudly in his sleep. Mary had married Charlie´s brother, Roger. Roger was a salesman for a local brewery. He´d fallen down the stairs at home after several pints down the Conservative club. The neighbours claimed they´d heard a row but the police weren´t convinced. Still, Roger was well insured and Mary had finally had the house paid off as a result. She´d taken Ann on a cruise but they were both bored now they didn´t have husbands to be bored with.
            That was when they joined the Book Club.
          There was a poster in the window of a charity shop that they both volunteered at. The shop raised money for the care of rescued circus animals. A man they both recognised, whom Ann always thought smelt slightly of cough sweets, came into the shop with a bin liner full of stuff he thought they might be able to sell. As he was leaving, he did an about turn and asked if he could put a poster in the window.
            ´What´s the poster for?´ said Ann
            ´Oh. It´s a book club. A friend of mine is starting one up. Like on that Richard and Judy.´
           And so it was that Ann and Mary met Mr. Chubb or Peter as they got to know him. Peter Chubb was a friend of Isabella who was heavily involved in local arts. The Roath Book Club met every Tuesday 6pm at an old church hall off Albany Road. The first meeting it was just the four of them, Peter, Isabella, Ann and Mary. Ann and Mary didn´t know how it worked, that they had just turned up for something to do. Isabella explained that each week someone would suggest a book and the others would read it over the week and then talk about it. Also, somebody would be asked to nominate a book for the group to read the following week and so on.
            Isabella´s initial recommendation was The Life and Loves of a She-Devil by Fay Weldon. Ann really liked the book, Mary was not so keen. Ann’s first recommendation was a romantic novella she´d read on the cruise the summer before which was a predictable enough romp about an older woman who befriends a Turkish restaurateur with one leg. Mary chose Black Beauty as it was her favourite ever book and she was certain that no one else would have read it. Peter never turned up after the first meeting.
            Over the next few months, the book group swelled. There was little Vicky who liked stories where vampires and rape prominently featured. She worked in a bank. Then there was Matthew, a shy Northern man with thick glasses who also liked horror. He had that screeching violin from the film Psycho as the ringtone on his phone. People only knew this because Matthew would show them. The Book Club wasn´t like a library; you could have your mobile on just in case the babysitter rang or the police or whoever. Nobody could recall anyone actually ringing Matthew.
            There was Tony, the supermarket manager with a penchant for SAS memoirs. He was a fat man with a speech impediment and always stank of beer. Whenever he used to turn up, he would always try and sit next to Mary. The last time he turned up, he was clearly drunk and asked Mary to come for a drink with him after. She declined the offer and Tony was clearly mortally wounded by this snub as they never saw him again. There was something in the local paper a week or two later. He´d been found dead in his car. No note, just a bottle of Gordon´s and an empty packet of headache tablets.
            Mary had made an ill-advised joke when they next met. Vicky had brought in the local paper, trying to look sad and shocked but failing to pull it off. Tony´s picture was in the paper underneath the sad tale of his demise. The headline read ´Suspected Suicide of Supermarket Manager´
            ´Oh, his poor family, ´ said Ann. ´Why do they have to make such a big headline of that? It should be kept private, these things.´
            Mary began to giggle.
            ´I have a better headline. Who dares gins? ´she said.
            It was thought best to cancel the meeting that week.
         Catherine was next, both Ann and Mary thought she was a bit stuck up, partly because she had a double-barrelled surname but they admitted to each other that they really liked her recommendation, which was a book about a boy with cancer who could fly. Kim was a bored housewife who liked extremely erotic fiction, which made Ann extremely uncomfortable discussing. The book they´d been asked to read was set in Berlin in the 1920s. The things that people did to each other in that book. Ann was horrified; Mary called her an old prude. They´d had a bit of a row about it on the drive home but it was quickly forgotten unlike the daisy chain scene on page 48 of Verboten Loves.
            Then there was another Vicky, who liked something called chick-lit. Duncan liked detective novels. Mark liked detective novels. Ursula was a fat Irish girl with LOVE tattooed on both sets of knuckles. She liked a book called The Tesseract, which everyone pretended to read but didn´t get past page 19.
            As a result of this group, Ann and Mary had quickly expanded their literary tastes as well as the contents of their own personal libraries. It was Ann´s turn in a week and Mary´s the week after that. They had heard about Espressions from the other members of the group the week before. And so, one Wednesday morning a few weeks before Christmas, the two ladies caught the bus into the city. Surrounded by iPods and call centres, they felt almost like tourists and instinctively made their way from the bus stop towards the indoor market just to be somewhere that hadn´t changed from their childhood.
            Espressions was a big glass fronted department store on the other side of the Victorian market building. It had a coffee shop on the top floor and was staffed by excitable young people with strange facial hair and those headset things you saw assassins wearing in American films.
            It was a prime location and handy too as it sat on the space where there used to be a separate bookshop, record shop and an old cafe. The cafe, Bruno´s, had been there since before the First World War and both Ann and Mary remembered being taken there as young girls. Upstairs in Espressions, one wall had been entirely taken up by a huge black and white photograph of Bruno´s so people would remember it fondly.
            Mary stared at the moustache of the original Bruno on the wall. Blown up like this, his moustache was now wider than her head. She closed her eyes and tried to remember the sounds and smells of Bruno´s but all she could hear was a compilation of Argentine folk music that was free with every fifty pounds you spent in the store.
            ´Mary! ´
            The daydream ended. Ann was excitedly emptying her Espressions bag.
            ´Mary, come on. Show me your wares! This is what I´ve bought.´
        Ann had bought three books. One was a romantic novel by someone she'd seen on a cookery programme on telly. Next out of the bag was a selection of poems by Dylan Thomas. She´d probably give it to someone for Christmas. The last book was one she´d seen on display in the front of the store. Tunnel Boy was ´a harrowing memoir of an abused childhood´. Since they´d read the book about the flying boy with cancer, Ann had become slightly obsessed with tales of survival. She hadn´t yet read Robinson Crusoe. For Crusoe to appeal now, he would have to have been raped and partially eaten by Man Friday. This was the book Ann would read first, she found herself quite excited at the prospect of a quiet evening in with Tunnel Boy.
            ´So. Come on what´s in the bag? ´
            Mary emptied her bag. Works by Raymond Chandler, Elmore Leonard and John D Westlake lay on the table. Murders, robberies and more murders. In the last month alone Mary´s eyes had witnessed 27 murders, 14 armed robberies, at least a dozen rapes and various blackmails, beatings and buggeries. No wonder she looked tired, thought Ann.
            Ann looked at Mary. Mary stared at Signor Bruno’s 18-inch moustache.
            ´What´s got into you Mary? You never used to be into crime.´
            At this point Fate intervened in the shape of the clumsy looking assistant who´d had the decency to look apologetic when handing Ann the heartbreakingly small amount of change from their tea and cake. He was named Michael and he was, according to the hand written badge on his striped shirt, a barista. Michael had slipped on a piece of spilt tiramisu behind the counter and, in his effort to stop himself from falling, accidentally turned the stereo up to full volume.
            Consequently, the only person that heard Mary break down and confess to pushing her violent husband down the stairs and breaking his neck; to holding up a sub-post office near Monmouth with a sawn-off shotgun; and to a host of other criminal offences was Mary herself. Everyone else had their fingers in their ears trying to blot out the noise of an Argentine sheep herder mourning what could have been.
            ´What did you say Mary? ´
            ´Oh nothing´ said Ann.
            Outside, the cranes swayed uneasily in the wind as the rain picked up again. Shoppers ran for cover. Espressions filled with the sound of wet people pretending to be interested in literature.
            Mary stared at the window, at the fresh raindrops silently racing down the outside of the glass.