Friday, June 29, 2007

New government (?)

I must confess to harbouring a smidgeon of optimism about the new Gordon Brown government. Not optimism in any forceful or monumental way of course, just a slight feeling that certain aspects of governance will be more appealing than the Blair years. So while I'm not holding my breath for the sudden emergence of a system of wealth redistribution and handing the means of production back to the masses, there should at least be a few pointers in a favourable direction, even if in reality they only scratch the surface. Firstly, it'll just be quite nice to have a bit more politics in our politics. Brown is a serious and old-fashioned politician, and no amount of media training will really be able to change that. He isn't capable of putting on the grand PR stageshow that Blair mastered, and this is a good thing. I'm also hoping he'll pay a bit more respect to parliamentary processes than his predecessor, and operate via a proper, functional Cabinet rather than handing excessive powers to a cabal of unelected political advisers. I'd like to think Brown will be slower to lick between the toes of the US. Of course, we'll always be cosy, but he must avoid pandering to their every whim in the manner Blair was so fond of. I think he will do - mainly because it's clear that it even makes electoral sense post-Iraq. Rather than shoulder-to-shoulder, we could be more shoulder-to-pancreas, or something. These are the little smidgettes that make up my cumulative smidgeon of optimism.

On the other hand, the general direction of New Labour will be the same as always. We look set for an equally draconian and reactionary Home Office and just as much jumping into the pockets of big business. The cabinet appointments of the supposedly hardline Jacqui Wilson as Home Secretary and the introduction of ex-CBI fuckpot Digby Jones as trade and invesment minister tell us that much. Don't get me wrong, I'm well aware the plus points of change with the Brown government are far outweighed by the chains of continuity that will hang around its neck.

Monday, June 25, 2007

This Weather

June is providing a joyous autumnal spell and I simply can't get enough of it. The photos for the animation above were taken from the window of my bedroom at Dillon Towers a couple of hours ago. The winds have been howling all day and the rain has been incessant, which is a welcome surprise given that I'm usually scrambling around for suncream and hay-fever tablets at this time of year. Long may this mini-autumn continue - I like the drama and unsettling qualities of a good storm. Yesterday, there were tornadoes in Middlesbrough and Guisborough, which is maybe going a bit too far with the theme. Less of that thanks, this is Britain afterall. Although it's about time something decimated Guisborough, soulless wasteland that it is.

I've just come out of an extended bath session and I feel immeasurably content. I lay submerged in my foamy trough, reading the paper with a cup of tea and a little pile of Bourbon Creams on the side while listening to the wind whistling on the other side of the wall. Instances of sheer bliss such as that are few and far between, and if I could choose to be suspended in any moment for the rest of time, it would be that one.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Deep in the forest

Last night I went to see Travis play on their forest tour with the mother figure. Way back in March, it was her joint Mothers' Day/birthday present that she'd get the chance to be accompanied by me to see a band she really seems to like in the tranquil surrounds of Dalby Forest. I wasn't particularly looking forward to it, but she was. That's the kind of band Travis are though; they're so abominably NICE that Mums just can't avoid liking them.

I ended up quite enjoying myself though, it was a great setting for a gig. We drove four miles into the forest until reaching the clearing where they'd plonked the stage. We really were in the middle of nowhere, and the silhouetted skyline of trees surrounding the crowd was a beautiful thing. Unlike those at Glastonbury this weekend, we even avoided getting wet. My concern beforehand meant I went as far as taking what some people refer to as a 'kagool' with me. Which just goes to show how worried I was - It's generally accepted that only the insane or worried wear kagools. I don't really own one, but I managed to dig an old one out of the cupboard from all those miserable family holidays in Ireland ten years ago. I hate the way it gets hot and sticks to your skin, and the fact the sleeves don't reach my wrist. Anyway, thankfully the bright and clear night meant it wasn't required and stayed in the car.

If I'm honest, I even quite enjoyed Travis' set. In fact when you compare them to the support band, The Harrisons, they're positively mindblowing. Sad, talentless excuses for bands like The Harrisons are a plague on the musical landscape, and there seems to be more and more turgid, flatpack post-Arctic Monkeys imitators like them popping up by the day. Travis had the crowd in the palm of their hand while they reeled off all the hits (I'd forgotten how many they'd had), with Fran Healy and all his loveable, NICE between song banter. When they ended with 'Why Does It Always Rain On Me' (of course) he said he wanted the whole field to jump up and down for the chorus. And they did, all the way to the back. It was quite a sight actually.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Congratulations to young Lav and Laura on the announcement of their engagement. I was perusing a shelf in Boots for stomach calming products yesterday (I've been laid low for the first half of the week with a bug) when I got the text with the news. I had to take a seat by the prescription counter to pen a response. Yes, they're comparatively young to make the leap in this day and age, but it was only a matter of time. They've got a cat and everything.

Since they're both rabid Ash enthusiasts, I can only imagine what the wedding day will be like when it comes around. You can't move for Ash memorabilia if you pay to a visit to their abode in Sunderland. No doubt there'll be allsorts of references about the place; Ash confetti, cheesy song lyrics inserted into the vows, and 'Numbskull' as the first dance for starters. But regardless, well done to them.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

"You're weird"

I need some adult interaction (and no, that doesn't mean porn via the red button on your remote control. Just chat and stuff). I've just spent a day in the company of fourteen 10-year olds at my niece Caitlin's birthday party, where I was required to ferry a Vauxhall Corsa-load of youths from Ripon to Castleford and back in the Padmobile™. We went there because the time-filling activity of choice this year was Laser Quest, and excitingly enough I was allowed to take part. It wasn't all a bed of roses though. I was nursing a surprisingly bad hangover from last night to the point where I felt fragile, weak and sticky, so the reality of being incessantly harangued for six hours by cocky people half my height was quite unwelcome. But still, Laser Quest was good. I hadn't done it in the last ten years, or whenever it was that the nearest one at Teesside Park closed down. Ten year olds are easy to shoot. While you might think they'd be evasive and fleet of foot, they're actually just cumbersome and a bit dim. I stood in a corner and took them out as they passed by, like shooting ducks at a funfair. Cock of the North.

It was strange being back in that ten-year old environment, and they all seemed such a similar group to my class at school. The same characters, the same politics. There was a bit of an issue today when it became apparent that three of the girls were splintering off into a group, seemingly in a bid to gain status and influence through solidarity in numbers. They wanted to rearrange the car seating arrangements so they could sit together. A big ask in anyone's book. But the only thing their faction achieved was to attract distaste and chagrin from the other kids, which just goes to show how shallow a commodity power really is. Everything seems so important when you're that age, and it's a very fast-moving world where sentiment and alliegance can change in an instant. I've occasionally thought about how I miss the innocence of being a child, but I certainly don't miss all that stuff.

As I mentioned earlier, the characters were the same as my class too. I think every group of ten year olds around the globe and over the decades is identical. For the boys, there's always one loud, cocky gobshite. One vain, insecure hair-pruner who boasts that his Dad's buying him a car when he's 16. Then there's the other end of the scale, the 'geeky' source of light ridicule. I managed to pinpoint the ten-year old version of myself amongst my niece's friends today. The reserved one who keeps himself to himself but engages when required, and in a manner that gains the overriding respect of his peers. The insightful observations. The knack of summarising a situation with just one sentence where others would use six. The fierce wit. I could go on...

I'm not really sure how my presence went down with the group. I didn't really have to deal with the girls because my car was full of boys, including The Loud Gobshite, and although I think they quite liked me they also found me slightly baffling. On the way back home in the car The Loud Gobshite was repeatedly letting the air out of the balloon from his party bag in order to simulate rectal gas, and giggling non-stop. When I told him I thought he lacked decorum, he looked at me and said: "You're weird". And then asked what decorum was. To my surprise, a detailed explanation of the word's history and semantics failed to alter his impression of me. He's probably right anyway, I am a bit weird. I wasn't happy though when I later discovered I was being referred to as "that weird Patrick person" by most of the kids. Little shits.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Examine the situation

It's been rejected as nonsense by Labour and the Tories, as you'd expect, but there genuinely are too many tests in schools. The General Teaching Council's call for SATS to be scrapped for 7, 11 and 14 year olds had scorn poured upon it from a great height by ministers last week, largely on the grounds that they're the main basis for publishing school league tables, which parents apparently "greatly value". Not sure why though. If I was a parent, rather than greatly valuing them I'd probably be more concerned with wiping the saliva from my chin as I sit agog and incredulous at the sheer revelatory material before me. Grammar schools tend to come out on top! Schools in affluent areas filled with middle class kids tend to score higher than inner-city schools with sink estates for catchment areas! Good grief, somebody pinch me; these revelations are just too much.

My year group was the first to take SATS when they were introduced in 1991. We were the guinea pigs. I vividly remember being ushered into the school hall aged 7, taken behind a curtain by my teacher and whipped into submission (does this sound dodgy?) by a series of verbal questions. It turned out not to be too traumatic an experience but I was a bit worried beforehand. From then on exams were like a crescendo of concern. I got gradually more worried with each set that came along, and increasingly frustrated by the way each set were billed as being more important than the last. Of course exams are important for monitoring the basic level of kids' performance, but when there's too much focus on them (as there is now) it's dangerous, especially pre-GCSE. Genuine education is lost amid the clamour for drilling information into kids so they've covered everything that might pop up in exams. Past papers, model answers, pieces of card with little bullet points written on them... it's all bullshit. It's just one example of how the modern education system stifles free thought and creativity. If you train kids as puppets, you're bound to end up with a load of puppets.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

An afternoon (not) paragliding

Summer and its mischievous ways seems to be upon us again. I can tell because I'm allergic to it, what with all the sunburn, hay fever and eye sensitivity I suffer when placed it direct sunlight. It's a season that renders me effectively disabled. But as they say, one must battle on in the face of, erm, the sun. This afternoon I ventured out on a family trip up Carlton Bank (about 6 miles from my house), a regular haunt of mine because you get good panoramic views of the area and there's a nice bit of grass to play football on. There was some haze in the mix today though so the views weren't as good as they can be. Anyway, while up there, we encountered a crazed band of paragliders, who are people who find it fun to just run off hills and float about a bit.

Teesside sky (note the iconic peak of Roseberry Topping in the distance)

I'm not one for extreme sports, that much is clear. And although I'm not sure if paragliding is actually considered extreme by most people, it's quite extreme enough for me. What possesses these people to seek some abstract "thrill" from zig-zagging in the air, and placing themselves at unneccessary risk in the process? In my list of preferred methods of death, a paragliding accident is way down the pecking order. In fact, I think if I passed away after crashing into a hillside and being smothered in parofoil in an embarrassing manner, I'd be bloody livid. There are an infinite number of more dignified methods of death. Drifting off in my sleep, falling asleep in the bath, and taking a bullet to save a small child are just three examples. I consider dying in the name of "leisure" a bit of an insult to life, and I think that's the main reason I'm so lacking in adventure.

Here's an example of how fun can go wrong for you. I watched this inexperienced paraglider take off, only to crash back into the hillside less than a minute later. She wasn't hurt herself, but a nearby family (including two babies in a twin pram) were struck by her parafoil and it took nearly two minutes to free them from the mess of wires. Although nobody was fatally injured, I'm sure everyone involved will bear the mental scars of the incident for years to come.

My first instinct was to take a photo, instead of running over to help them out. I must admit I'm quite appalled at myself for acting like a morbid, careerist photographer who'll take a picture before saving a life. I suppose I'm just the latest Kevin Carter (Manics reference for you there). Or maybe I'm more like one of the first paparazzi to reach Princess Diana's crash scene. Never mind though - I've already had Reuters and the Press Association on the line to make big cash offers. I just hope the relatives of the people in my photo won't try to get the courts to stop them being broadcast here. I think they're in the public interest.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

1967 And All That

This week there's been a fair bit of coverage of the 40th Anniversary of the Six Day War, the most important incident in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The swift military action in 1967 that saw Israel overcome armies from Egypt, Syria and Jordan to occupy East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Sinai Peninsula dominates the conflict to this day. A conflict that sadly still shows no sign of reaching a resolution of any meaningful sort.

I was listening to a Radio 4 report by the BBC's loveable little news pixie Jeremy Bowen the other day, and he provided a telling quotation from Moshe Dayan, Isareli Defence Minister at the time. In 1967 he predicted the Palestinians would respond to the occupation with a sustained campaign of violence, and when asked why, said: "Because it is exactly what I would do if I were in their place." Hardly a groundbreaking observation in itself of course, but coming from one of the key architects of the occupation it tells its own story about the background to Israel's oppression of the Palestinian people.

And yes, they are people, although you'd be hard pushed to tell by the majority of news coverage of the conflict, particularly within America where there's no real or balanced debate on the subject. It's deemed almost politically suicidal for a member of Congress to hold a balanced view on Palestinian rights, while lobby groups like the American-Israel Political Action Committee work to create enough of a climate of fear around criticism of the Israeli government's actions that the chances of reasoned debate are minimal. You won't find many negative references to the present-day apartheid in Palestinian territories, the aggressive settlements programmes with 450,000 settlers living in the West Bank, or Israel's constant defiance of every reading of international law except its own in the corporate, westernised mainstream media. Which, lets face it, covers the vast majority of the media. Forty years have passed, but unless the realities of the conflict get proper and balanced recognition in the US - the only power capable of ending it - it will easily go on for another forty.

(Dick jokes are on the way).

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Mark Viduka: How Could You?

To sport now, and football, where today Middlesbrough striker/fucknut Mark Viduka completed a free transfer to arch-rivals Newcastle United. The Australian ace/mercenary is reported to have agreed a £65,000 a week contract with the Geordies/Sickening Assortment Of Scumfucks having rejected a less lucrative contract extension/chance to serve the greater good on Teesside.

Not bitter though. More accurately, I’m gutted. It has been on the cards for about the last week though, so I have had some time to deal with the idea of this worst case of all worst case scenarios unfolding. It was bad enough that he wasn’t going to stay with Boro, but him joining Newcastle and sporting those hideous black and white stripes is a real double-whammy.

This move is entirely motivated by money. I know that shouldn't be of surprise, but for someone who openly and repeatedly stated how happy he was at the club and with his teammates in the last few months, it is a little bit. But anyway, if he can't appreciate the pricelessness of happiness then I hope he enjoys himself when it all goes tits-up up the road. I feel like swearing again: Twat. There.

At such times, I find it best to quote Marx: “The wage labourer does not count the labour itself as a part of his life; it is rather a sacrifice of his life.”

Monday, June 04, 2007

Middlesbrough Music Live 2007

Middlesbrough's annual free music festival took place yesterday. Although the line-up didn't feature as many crowd-pleasing names or bands in the early stages of being overhyped in the press as in past years, there was still plenty of stuff to cater for my tastes. Seven stages spread across the town centre with bands on from midday til 10pm, for free. Sometimes you just have to appreciate what's on your doorstep.

The highlight of the whole day for me was undoubtedly St Vincent, who played the acoustic stage. She's definitely my type of songwriter. I love her strange, unpredictable melodies and the way her songs give off an atmosphere of impending weirdness. She was an absolute delight, and it was a privelige to see her. After her it was Euros Childs, another top highlight of the day. I saw him in March at a litle social club in Middlesbrough where he was brilliant, and last night was just the same. His songs sound like nursery rhymes and can't really fail to make you smile. Welford and Ed had joined me by this stage of the day but they had to leave half way through to catch the last train home, which was unlucky. I know how it feels to have to walk out of a gig you're enjoying from when it happened one of the times I saw Patrick Wolf in Sheffield, and it's massively frustrating. Anyway, Frank Turner was excellent too. His quite straightforward acoustic folk-punk songs are brimming with anger, especially the damning but amusing indictment of post-Thatcher child-rearing, 'Thatcher Fucked The Kids'. Oh, and Beth Jeans Houghton was fantastic aswell - listen to her.

I saw too many bands to mention here, but those were the highlights. A local festival wouldn't be a local festival without some local bands, and The Chapman Family were the pick of the bunch. It was the first time I've got round to seeing them, despite the fact I've been listening to them for a while. Of course, I saw some shite too. I watched Tony Christie for about ten minutes, which would've actually been quite fun except the sound was too quiet and he was outside on the main stage in the beaming sun. I preferred to retreat off to the cavernous indoor venues for most of the day. All in all it was a great day out, and a far more pleasant atmosphere than in usual. MML has gained a bit of a reputation as a place for teenagers to turn up, get hammered, and start fighting, as is often the way with free festivals. But a new security fence and ban on people bringing their own crates of beer really made a difference as far as I could see. I think it's probably best to coerce The People gently with - rather than an iron fist - a steel fence. Yesterday was proof, if proof be need be needbe.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Viewers Choose

I was dusting off some old video tapes I found in my bedroom drawers earlier on and, in between the ones featuring every television appearance by the Manics between 1998-2000 and haphazardly recorded snippets from dodgy late-night German satellite channels, I found a copy of my hour of music that was shown on MTV2. In the early days of the channel they had regular 'viewers choose' hours, where you could go on their website and choose 14 songs you wanted shown, and then hope you got picked. Mine was shown on Friday July 14th 2000 at 8pm, and I specifically remember getting 'the lads' round to watch it at my old house in Saltburn.

This was in the days before MTV2 became a kamikaze selection of advert breaks, relentless 'charts', and fast flashing coloured screens that make your head spin. And it was before Zane Lowe, if you can imagine that. Back in the year 2000 it had absolutely no adverts atall, and even boasted about the fact with regular 'No Commercials' messages between songs. They'd just play a great mixture of alternative hits and obscure offerings, interspersed with these occasional viewers choice hours. Great stuff.

I'm glad I've got it on tape. I sat down and watched it this evening for the first time since it was on, instead of enduring the inevitable tedium of an England friendly on BBC1. It's like having a time capsule of my music taste from a specific time in my life. The only downside is when it flashes up whose hour it's showing, and for some bizarre, unknown reason the 16-year old version of me had opted for the embarrassing gangster-rapper nomenclature of 'Paddy D'.

Here's the songs as they were shown, together with YouTube links to them so it can all be relived online.

The Music Of A 16-Year Old Paddy D: July 2000

Manics - From Despair To Where (view)
Muse - Uno (view)
Ash - Girl From Mars (view)
The Clash - London Calling (view)
Manics - Revol (view)
Placebo - Nancy Boy (view)
JJ72 - Long Way South (view)
Ash - A Life Less Ordinary (view)
Manics - Faster (view)
Muse - Muscle Museum (Original video) (view)
Soulwax - Conversation Intercom (view)
Stereophonics - Bartender And The Thief (view)
Green Day - Basket Case (view)
Manics - The Everlasting (view)

(The last track was meant to be Stay Beautiful, but for some reason they changed it, which was annoying as at the time I'd never seen the SB video. Paint galore, it's great).