Thursday, August 30, 2007

Travelling Transpennine

I've been over in Manchester today finalising arrangements and thrashing out personal terms on a move there. The deal is(n't) subject to a medical. From mid-September I'll be sharing an abode in Fallowfield with one of my ex-uni housemates Anna. It is the first deal of its type in British lettings, whereby any of the third year 37 Johnson Road, Lenton, Nottingham crew have renewed living arrangements. Anna's a very good person to live with because she's easy going and we share an interest in lounging. In fact, she's the undisputed Queen of Lounging, and for this reason has often been compared to Celebrity Big Brother star Jackie Stallone. When I start a job there I fully expect to come through the door on an evening and find her propped on the settee in her trademark manner, with the legs bent and the feet tucked away neatly against the cushion while tackling a Sudoku. I'm sure she'll wander over to join me for a game of darts occasionally though. In seriousness, she's moving there to start her course in social work, which is a highly admirable vocation.

There's a cocktail of reasons for making the move: I've had a soft spot for Manchester for quite a few years, in which time I've harboured dreams of living there and perhaps bumping into Coronation Street's Deidre Rachid as she enjoys a cigarette in Piccadilly Gardens. My Mancunian pining was furthered by the fact my decision on a university destination in 2002 came down to a straight choice between Manchester and Nottingham. I picked Nottingham and had a ruddy good time but, as is often the way, my curiosity about Manchester lingered on. In my eyes it's a good, proper northern city with some delightful architecture, vibrancy, good industrial heritage, and my perfect climate whereby autumn lasts throughout winter and spring, and if lucky, summer. I'm quite keen on getting away from home too. It's been enjoyable and useful spending two years back here but it's become more frustrating recently and it's time for pastures new. I'll miss Teesside, but I'll still be back every few weeks for Boro home games to get my fix. Finally, and perhaps most crucially, I want to be closer to Morrissey (who lives in Rome, but shush).

The flat we signed contracts, laid down deposits, and postdated rent cheques for today is pretty nice. It was a relief to find somewhere decent because we were a bit late on the market, as demonstrated on our day of flathunting early last week when we saw some real dives. The worst of all was owned by an Open University tutor called Doctor Chris, who turned up in loafers and a fluffy white jumper to show us around. It was genuinely the worst flat I've seen in my life. Every door was an inhospitable, heavy swing-effort with metal panels to push them open, like the ones that usually lead to fire exits in shopping centres. Every room connected up in the kind of circular arrangement that would drive anyone insane. All the furniture looked like it had been used as landing gear in a monster truck display in the 1950s. Doctor Chris led us through the tiny, mouldy kitchen which smelt of rotten cabbage, and then to the bathroom, where he apologised for the fact the extractor fan had stopped working - as if that was going to swing our decision. Doctor Chris was taking the piss. We made our excuses and left. At the time we were a bit worried that this was the level of homestead left on the market, but now we can look back and laugh. All's well that ends well.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Geordie genes

Yesterday's Tees-Tyne derby at the Riverside provided its fair share of emotional rollercoastery. It was Mark Viduka's first visit back after his gutless transfer to the Geordies and, as dreaded in all of my darkest pillow-pummelling nightmares, he scored against us. Worse still: it put them 2-1 up with 13 minutes left and had looked like being the winner, a fate which would've been harder to stomach than a breaded razorblade - or indeed anything else that must be quite hard to stomach, such as glue. To my relief, and thanks to a delightful equalising volley from Julio Arca, it all ended 2-2, which was a fair enough result. And also one you have to be content with after being quite close to losing.

The attacking void left by Viduka's despicable defection has, of late, been filled by our new signing Mido: a more enthusiastic, energetic, eight years younger, and Egyptian version of him. He's got two in his first two games and it looks like he could prove to be something of a Boro legend. Until he leaves too, of course. Yesterday he was the subject of some quite appalling chants from the Newcastle fans, who continue to shroud themselves in increasingly large swathes of shame with each visit they make. You'll find racist and bigoted elements in any large congregation of humanfolk, but the fact the majority of their 3,000 fans joined in with "Mido - he's got a bomb you know" shows just how many numbskulls were present in their throng. And when some bright spark discovered that 'Mido' rhymed with 'paedo' they sang "Mido is a paedo" too, which was nice. They've been getting worse in recent years and, frankly, everyone who joined in with either of those chants must be a scumfuck. Anyway, when Mido scored our first equaliser he ran straight to the Newcastle fans and responded in the best manner possible:



Exactly.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sausage assault

No, not what you're thinking. I was watching GMTV early this morning (forgive me Lord for I have sinned) when they interviewed the 12 year old boy who was arrested and taken to court for throwing a cocktail sausage at an older man. These kinds of stories always make it into the news because they're (a) amusing, (b) baffling, (u) unusual, and (gffuqnd) good for filling up quiet news days. Especially when it's the Silly Season, i.e. now.

Obviously, it's slightly ridiculous. For a start, if hoping to maim a man, your standard cocktail sausage is not the best means with which to strike: they're rubbery and will just bounce back off their body. I've done worse and escaped the law. I mildly concussed my brother in 1994 after launching a stale scone at him because he destroyed my Lego village in a fit of pique. It was a pre-meditated attack, and I even launched it vertically so that it would gather velocity on the way back down. Sanity prevailed and I escaped a court appearance, for which I'm forever grateful.

Despite knowing how GMTV operates, I was still stunned when the presenter, Kate Garraway, came out with this line: "Yes we may laugh about this story at first, but the clear message from a lot of our viewers via the emails and texts is that a cocktail sausage can be just the start, and lead on to much, much worse." She then managed to link the story to the 11 year old boy who was shot dead in Liverpool last night. You've just got to admire such instances of wanton sensationalism, outright stupidity, and apparent lack of irony when they come in one handy bundle.

It reminded me of one of my favourite scenes from Father Ted, where the old woman accosts Ted to vent her fears about Craggy Island's imminent descent into a criminal dangerzone after the theft of a whistle (Old Grey Whistle Theft, Series 2):

"Hello Father. Did you hear about the whistle being stolen? I never thought I'd see the like. What next? Somebody'll be murdered, and then where are we? Drive-by shootings in the night: it'll be like 'Boyz N The Hood'. And then we'll have whores selling their wares in the street. And the pimps'll be using crack to keep the whores under control. I'm going home now Father to lock myself in the basement 'til they catch that fella. Goodybe to ya Father." (YouTube clip: 1:07 onwards)

Goodbye to ya Father.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Gig cancellation Antics

There was a new experience to tick off in my imaginary I-Spy book of 'New Experiences' last night in the form of going to a gig that turned out to be cancelled. And cancelled just half an hour before the band, Interpol, were due on stage. I didn't have a ticket originally - it was sold out - but I took up the offer of a spare one from David/D.B. (visit his superb People's Republic Of Teesside blog). I was looking forward to seeing them, especially as I'd never done so previously. But alas, after leaving the pub and walking up to Newcastle Academy at 9pm, theoretically just in time to see Interpol, we were greeted by a security type figure and told that the bassist had been rushed to hospital just fifteen minutes earlier. Although we hadn't gone in the venue ourselves, lots of people had done and were then told to leave. Never in all my life.

Thus it was something of a wasted trip north, but you have to be philosophical in such situations. What harm can an evening drive do anyway (apart from the fact I got another parking ticket too, so look out for 'Permitgate: The Sequel')? There is talk of a possible rescheduling, which would be nice, but we'll see. Myself and D.B. made the best of things and just headed off to a quiet pub and had a good old-fashioned chat. Slightly disappointed, yes. Bemused, even more so. But hell, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Or something.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Nicky Wire: What are you doing?

JUST STOP IT

I've always known he was a Spurs fan (well, not always of course, but ever since I first got into the Manics. Which is really when I consider my life to have started, so yeah, I'll go back to my original lexichoice: always), but this is awful. I don't like to see my heroes acting in this manner. This is the equivalent of Morrissey being photographed spitting in the street and then scratching his crotch and burping. I suppose I should be grateful Nicky hasn't donned a Sunderland or Newcastle shirt, but I bloody hate Spurs too. The White Hart Lane lot are so cocksure, so consumed with self-importance, so convinced they belong to football's higher echelons, and somehow so misled that their club represents the way football should be played in its purest form, that they're hard to like.

I admire Wire's encyclopedic knowledge of football, really I do. In fact I've often become quite excited whenever he's opened up about his love for the game during interviews, in between referring to 1960s US politics and slagging off other bands. I think the fact they're all football (and other sports) obsessives, and the way that doesn't particularly correlate with everything else the Manics are seen to have represented down the years, is brilliant. But photos like this are vile and unnecessary. He only started supporting them because he thought Glenn Hoddle was good when he was young. He simply can't be a real Spurs fan because he's from Gwent, Wales for Pete's sake. Who is 'Pete' anyway? Sampras? This is a rant by the way, so I'll carry on. The above photo was printed in the official Tottenham Hotspur magazine, along with an interview in which he gushes about Tim Sherwood (who played for Spurs at the time) attending gigs when Everything Must Go came out: "He was great - a proper Tottenham boy." Oh, please. I've had a quite miserable enough evening football-wise after watching Boro slump to defeat at Wigan on TV, and now this.

N.B. This has all been a bit negative towards the man (but not without reason), and so I'll provide a fine old Wire quotation by way of balance: "I do consider myself to be something of a pretentious wanker." (1993)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Baby Ballroom: The Championship

Thanks to my current policy of hardly ever watching television, I was unaware this series existed until it was about to finish altogether. But my lack of viewing does not alter the fact that it was actually broadcast: this isn't one of those "if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" or "if you put a broom in the cupboard and close the door, does it disappear?" situations. I'm fully aware that, even though most things I'm not aware of aren't worth being aware of, Baby Ballroom: The Championship was a very real nightmare.

I thought even ITV might be able to avoid sinking quite so low in filling up its Saturday evening family entertainment slot. The premise of the show was that dance-happy sprogs between the ages of six and eleven are invited to try and impress a panel of judges and compete for the title of Baby Ballroom Champion. It is utterly sick.



See what I mean? Just incase you're not aware, this is Joshua Malone (10) and Kimberley Jones (10), both from Liverpool. The show's website publishes one lonesome fact (probably definitive) about each contestant. The 'Joshua fact' is "he loves walking his four pet labradors" and the 'Kimberley fact' is "she's a big fan of Shakira's Hips Don't Lie." The desperate lack of punctuation in Kimberley's fact means I'll have to assume it means she's a fan of a song called 'Hips Don't Lie' by Shakira. Or does it just mean she likes Shakira's hips, and then always shouts "don't lie!" immediately after stating the fact, as some kind of pre-emptive retort to the common response of "oh, I can take or leave them"...?

Regardless, the point I'd started making in that paragraph, before it got too long and I had to begin this new one, was that those facts sum up what kids aged between six and eleven should be interested in during their years of innocence. Not being pressured into appearing on national TV by their no-doubt pushy parents to take part in a glorified popularity contest that will see them routinely criticised and their self-esteem cut to ribbons. It's reality TV sunk so low that it's right down on the seabed with all the dead plankton, and Ant and Dec. Actually I think I should've just said all the dead plankton: a phrase that is quite inclusive enough. When I saw the advert for it with my eleven year-old niece, even she said "don't you think that's wrong?" I facegrabbed her immediately and said: "Yes, my child, it is very wrong. INTERMINABLY wrong!" I think, amid all that, she gathered that I was concurring with her sentiment.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

So I convalesce, and I ease the stress

I went to one of the most bizarre gigs I've ever attended on Thursday night. It was held in the lounge room of the CIU (Working Men's Club and Institute Union) convalescent home on Saltburn seafront, where former miners usually spend their recuperative days supping pints and playing Dingbats. That's not what made it a bit weird though - it was more that I was just about the youngest person there. The crowd consisted mainly of women aged 50+, most of whom were the types you'd associate with things like church coffee mornings and houses with commemorative plates hung on every available perimeter wall. I hate to stereotype, but it's generally what 23 year-old males from the north east of England do, so I did anyway.

On the tables dotted throughout the room they'd provided a few nibbles in the form of crisps that had gone soft, and little blocks of cheese. Where you'd normally find the artist's merchandise stall, there was instead a Saltburn Convalescent Home merchandise display selling, fantastically, solution for the cleaning of dentures. It was very much a living room atmosphere (but with loads of pissed-up pensioners) and they kept the big light on throughout the gig. When it all got a bit sing-a-long towards the end and various grey heads were seen to bob, I was half expecting Noel Edmonds to burst in with a camera crew as a surprise for an elderly guest, like he used to on his yearly Christmas Day afternoon slot.

The lady I'd gone to see appear live was Middlesbrough-born folk singer Claire Hamill. She signed her first record deal in 1971 and came to be best known for joining Wishbone Ash and having one of her songs covered by Eva Cassidy. I'd never heard of her before last week, but I was intrigued when I heard of this homecoming gig, and then quite excited when I listened to her songs on Myspace and I decided she reminded me a bit of Kate Bush. She didn't in the live setting though. She was enjoyable enough, but its the setting of this gig that will linger in the mind the most. Mental (nearly).

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Abstract letter-penning

I almost choked on a Jammie Dodger in the bath last night when I read the following letter, which appeared in the 'Your Say' page of yesterday's Evening Gazette, my local rag.

'Cleverness of laughing clown'

IT TAKES a clever person to hold a serious job and now and again act like the fool.

Like when Socialist Denis Healey, on the campaign trail here in Guisborough, was beckoned by myself and asked perfunctorily about his health. He replied thus: "I am full of beans." He then took my wife's hand and patted his tummy with it.

For those of you who did not know that Denis Healey got a double first degree (Hons) at Oxford, you do now. Oh, and I wondered whether or not Denis Healey had heard about the law of raspberry jam, that is the farther you spread it the thinner it gets. Not unlike culture.

ALFRED H LISTER, Guisborough


What? I've read it at least fifteen times now and still can't identify the basic idea or message the author is trying to communicate. It's a completely baffling contribution, but having said that, I like the cut of Alfred H Lister's jib enormously. The tone of the letter suggests to me that he is an elderly man. I don't want to appear ageist or prejudiced against those from Guisborough, but I wish I was old enough and from Guisborough enough to be able to get away with nuttiness like this. It's like an abstract work of art, which you can't grasp the meaning of immediately, and then when you analyse it further it becomes still less and less clear what it's saying.

There's almost a basic point about Healey playing the joker, despite having a double first from Oxford, I can see that much. But then why bring the jam conundrum into it? What has it got to do with anything? 'Not unlike culture'? Alfred H Lister is evidently a loose cannon with no regard for letters page etiquette and convention, and I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for any future contributions from him.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Permitgate: The Response

I'm sure you've been on tenterhooks ever since. Here are some edited highlights:

Dear Sir / Madam

Your letter of challenge has been carefully considered and in particular the issues you raised concerning parking on Harrington Drive. However The Penalty Charge Notice was correctly issued and there is no valid reason why it should be cancelled on this occasion as your vehicle was parked in a residents parking space without clearly displaying a valid residents parking permit.
...
The attendant noted that there was a sign situated within 5 metres from where your vehicle was parked denoting the restriction and displays the wording 'permit holders only'. Your vehicle was then observed for a mandatory period by the Attendant in order to allow the driver opportunity to obtain a permit from a nearby property. However, no activity was seen at the vehicle during this time. Therefore the Penalty Charge Notice was correctly issued in accordance with the Road Traffic Act 1991 and remains payable.
...
Please note that it is our policy to respond to only one letter of appeal against any individual Penalty Charge Notice.


I'd much prefer it if, when demanding my money, these people displayed a better grasp of punctuation. It's residents'. A true bunch of cunts.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

'Bring On The Dancing Horses...

...wherever they may roam'.

Bunnymen

This night, I have been to witness Echo And The Bunnymen appear live at Stockton Fringe Festival, where they were quite superb, what with all their timeless indie classics and bouffant hair. I found it extremely heartwarming to watch them reel off an effective Greatest Hits set with justified shamelessness. They exist as an Ode to a lost era of indiedom, when bands were far more lastingly iconic than most can hope to be today, and when I was but a linen-encompassed bundle of irritance, i.e. a baby. 'Bring On The Dancing Horses', 'The Cutter' and 'Killing Moon' were undoubted highlights, and worked up the crowd (a blend of forty-somethings harking back to their youths and fresh-faced types still plotting theirs) until, staggeringly, a security bloke set about telling them to "calm down". He even pointed down to the ground while saying it, the daft cretin.

Stockton Fringe is a free, three day festival arranged alongside Stockton International Riverside Festival, the street arts shindig. Although, in reality, the Fringe was probably a bigger event this year thanks to a more high profile line-up than it's had previously. Friday was headlined by The Ordinary Boys and Saturday by Badly Drawn Boy. Hardly inspiring stuff in my view of course, but much like Middlesbrough Music Live, free events like this have to be appreciated when they're on your doorstep. I went down on Saturday and Sunday with Welford and we had a ruddy good time on the site by the Tees, which, with its slow, soulful curve through Stockton, we agreed was highly reminsicent of the Seine as it cuts through Paris. But with less tree-lined quays and more stark concrete fa├žades.

One of the best things about events like this is that some of the better local bands get a chance to play bigger stages. I'm very fond of Middlesbrough's own Idiot Savant. They're dark, harsh and manage to sound both tuneful and tuneless at the same time, which is something I always quite like. They're a very good band, and could be a great band if they'd just all stand up.

Idiot Savant


We Start Fires are from Darlington, which is never nice, but they managed to make a bit more of a name for themselves nationally and are always good to see live [photo]. More recently, East Cleveland's Dartz! [photo] have also been getting a bit of a national following and, although I generally find that kind of slightly-emo (whatever that is) tinged pop nuggets slightly uninspiring, it's obvious they're talented. The weekend also saw us take in a couple of woeful stand-up comedians, the worst of whom was a woman from Yorkshire who tried to crack a succession of vagina gags to an early evening family crowd, with an annoyingly high-pitched delivery. She fell a bit flat and was well and truly flapping by the end.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Lowbrow bloggery

Since blogs are a refuge for egomaniacs and solipsists (hello), I occasionally feel compelled to check the site stats and see if the reader (singular) is still there. Recently, I've become slightly concerned at some of the means by which total strangers are accessing these pages. When you see someone has come here off the back of a Google search, you can look at the URL and see what they searched for. Aside from the inevitable phrases that keep popping up like 'definitive social commentary', 'gut-quaking humour' and 'where now for Paddy Dillon?', some of the ones that pop up are quite a damning indictment of my blog's content. On at least three occasions I've got hits from people looking for 'big balls door knockers' (hey, we've all been there). This week someone stumbled here with the phrase 'karl kennedy aka the fletch legend'. It was never meant to be this way. But perhaps worst of all, quite a while ago I had a visitor from Suffolk who used the term 'Patrick Wolf, crotch'. When your blog is attracting web-surfing sex people to its pages, you know it's time for a change of direction.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

News Jiffy

The standard of news delivery in Britain appears to be in freefall. It's becoming increasingly irritating in both its televisual and print formats, but for the moment I'll stick to just laying into the news broadcasters. Aside from the most obvious and distressing trends in TV news presentation, such as the rampant dumbing-down of content, lack of real information, and a continual increase in employment of silly graphics to drive home basic points (like Gordon Brown riding a camel to illustrate he'd 'got the hump' with Tony Blair), there are other real and pressing concerns regarding news broadcasting.

It took me long enough to deal with the idea that the BBC News studio doesn't really exist and Huw Edwards and Sophie Raworth are just sitting before a green screen. You'd expect such shenanigans from ITV, of course, but when your public service broadcaster turns to virtual backdrops it warrants a shake of the head. Secondly, the recent obsession with allowing newsreaders licence to leave their seat and roam around studios is deeply regrettable. When I'm being told about a potential resolution on peacekeeping forces in Darfur I want to be told by someone who is seated at all times, and whose legs and hands I can not see. The sight of ITV News' Nicholas Owen parading and flaunting himself around a semi-circular virtual dancefloor serves to lighten the gravity of bloodshed in Sudan and is monumentally inappropriate.

Having dealt with some of the aesthetic crimes, we can move on to the auditory concerns of news, i.e. what these people somehow credited with the task of newsgiving are actually saying. When the impregnable Andrew Marr left his post as BBC Political Editor he was replaced with a man who seems to be of the impression that none of his viewers have ever watched a news broadcast before: Nick Robinson. The man who condescends and wears gimmicky glasses for a living. He pauses and emphasises to such a degree that you wonder if he himself really knows what he's on about when he's standing outside Number 10. Worse still, he seems to emphasise the wrong words, which is dangerous and causes confusion (I mean 'causes confusion'). Any self-respecting correspondent doing a live link should offer their words in a straight-laced and pallid manner. They should speak in a way that doesn't distract the viewer from absorbing the facts. Lindsey Hilsum of Channel 4 News has got the right idea in this respect.

Hilsum, a veteran of warzone reportage, also excels in her content. She begins by offering up the bones of the story, and then gradually fleshes it out with background information without resorting to sensationalist and emotive eyewitness accounts. Too many correspondents are eager to tell you how they feel about things. I was listening to the podcast of Radio 4's From Our Own Correspondents today and reliable old hand John Simpson, the man who'd have you believe he single-handedly liberated Kabul from Taliban rule (and who would doubt him?), had this to say:

I've never been a great one for the kind of reporting that tells you how the journalist feels when something terrible happens. It seems to me that we need news reporters to be crisp, accurate and unexcitable, like ambulance crews. And you certainly don't want an ambulance man leaning over you and telling you how he feels about your injuries.
Absobloodylutely Simpson. Those of us who recall seeing Philippa Forrester break down in tears while covering the solar eclipse of August 1999 for the BBC will appreciate what the man is saying. As someone who is generally quite afraid of public displays of emotion, it wasn't nice to have to watch her trying to describe how it felt to be there. Honestly, you leave these people to their own initiative and they crumble... that's the lesson here. If news presentation keeps encouraging individual anecdotes and emotion-bulletins from our correspondents, the day will come when even the great bastions of present-day reportage like 'Scud stud' Rageh Omar, loveable news pixie Jeremy Bowen and, heaven forbid, Lindsey Hilsum are all dabbing their cheeks live on camera.

Next week: Weathermen.